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Monthly Archives: August 2012

Buddhism and medicine

Buddhism and medicine

The Pali texts describe the Buddha as the physician (bhishak) and as the surgeon (sallakatta).Ashvagosha the poet (80-150 B.C.E), calls Buddha Maha –Bhishak (the great physician). At a later stage in Buddhism, Buddha is worshiped as Bhaishajya Guru (the Guru of all physicians).

There is a natural association between Buddhism and medicine. Buddhist doctrine recognizes the phenomenon of suffering, unravels its causes, understands the state of elimination of suffering and prescribes the right method for elimination of suffering.

This procedure involving four steps (also found in Samkhya Yoga) is analogous to the four-fold approach of the physicians’ viz. recognition of the ailment, diagnosis, visualization of health and prescription of therapy. In later Buddhist texts like Bhaishajya Vastu, the Buddha uses medical terminology and suggests remedies for physical and mental ailments.

Incidentally, some of the celebrated physicians and surgeons of the ancient  India were Buddhists. Jivaka well known physician was a friend and physician of the Buddha. Akasa-gotra, his cotemporary was also a famous physician. Nagarjuna (c. 120 to 250 A.D.) a scholar, saint and mystic was associated with medicine. Later in 4th century A.D. Vaghbhata, a great name in Indian medicine after Charaka and Shushrutha was a Buddhist. There were of course many well –known physicians among the Tibetan Buddhists.

 
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Posted by on August 31, 2012 in Buddhism

 

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What is quality of life?

Ancient Indian texts ask us to make a choice between survival and extinction. Survival or extinction by itself, they say, is meaningless. Survival has to be purposeful and enlightened. Survival can only be in terms of quality of life. What then is the quality of life?

Bhagavad-Gita tells us it is not enough merely to live; one must live well. What is to live well is a matter of understanding, aspiration and fulfilment. Towards this end, Bhagavad-Gita suggests a framework of values integrating   man’s work, emotions and knowledge in order to give his life a meaning. The main plank on which the quality of life rests, it points out, is the Spirit of Man.

The Spirit of Man has to survive amidst challenges and changes in a complicated structure of needs, enjoyments and power. It has also to transcend the constraints of time and narrow confines of circumstances. At such times, it reaches excellence, evidences creativity and pushes the wheels of progress. (E.g. lives of Buddha, Ashoka, Gandhi)

History enriches itself by highlighting such transcendence of Man and by not merely chronicling conflicts and events.

What is quality of life?

 
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Posted by on August 31, 2012 in General Interest, Speculation

 

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Rig Veda and the Gathas

Rig Veda and the Gathas

I am  intrigued by the close relation between the Rig-Veda and the Gathas–the language, the locale, the names of the principal characters etc.

It is generally accepted that the language of the Gathas (the older scriptures) known as Avesthanis close to that of the Vedic Sanskrit (please see the notes at the bottom mentioning some similarities as also  differences between Sanskrit and Avesthan). Avesthan Gathas were reflected in a hymn kakshivant Ausija – Zarathustra representing the side of the defeated Anuras (Asuras?) and Usijica representing the side of the victor. Hashurva is recognized as Sushravas who entered into a truce with Diwodasa, while Vistapa  the patron of Zarathustra  is found to be Ishtashwa of Rigveda.There is  also references to Devas(Daevas ?) , Asuras(Ahura) , Gandharvas , Anavas , Turvashas(Turanians) etc . In the Gathas the word Asura is pronounced as Ahura because the Indic  “S “ becomes Iranian “H”(like Sindhu – Hindhu , Soma – Homa,Saptha – Haptha). Similarly the Indic “V” becomes Iranian “P” (Ashwa – Aspa); Indic “H” becomes Iranian “Z” (Hind – Z(s) Ind) et al. Apparently, both the scriptures speak of the same set of Deities / Characters.

Further, in the Avesta the Asuras (Ahura) are the Gods, and Devas (Daeva) are the demons. It appears the Angirasas were the priests of the Vedic Aryans and the Bhrgus were the priests of the Iranians. In addition, that there was a period of acute hostility between the Vedic Aryans and the Iranians, which left its mark on the myths and traditions of both the peoples.

Now we have two issues here :

1) Where and when did this hostility take place?

2) Many hold the view that it is impossible to understand Indian pre- history unless:

a) is also taken into consideration .The whole of Aryana () should be taken as one unit of Aryan prehistory .

 b)The original Gathas of Zarathustra and Rig-Veda is comprehended together because the Sixth and Seventh Mandalas of Rig-Veda represent Devas (Daevas of Zarathustra) and the   likely (?) scene of action was the present day Iran: and the Caspian region

Can some learned members on the forum please throw light on the issues 1?

Can some one pl recommend to me book/s on a comprehensive comparative study of the Rig Veda and the Gathas as also of their language…issue2.

Thanks
Please read the next part of the article @

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[Similarities and differences between Rig Vedic Sanskrit and Avestan .Source : Encyclopedia Britannica.

The long and short varieties of the Indo-European vowels e, o, and a, for example, appear as long and short a: Sanskritmanas- “mind, spirit,” Avestanmanah-, but Greek ménos “ardour, force; Greek pater “father,” Sanskrit pitr-, Avestan and Old Persian pitar-. After stems ending in long or short a, i, or u, an n occurs sometimes before the genitive (possessive) plural ending am (Avestan -am)—e.g., Sanskrit martyanam “of mortals, men” (from martya-); Avestan mašyanam (from mašya-); Old Persian martiyanam.In addition to several other similarities in their grammatical systems, Indo-Aryan and Iranian have vocabulary items in common—e.g., such religious terms as Sanskrit yajña-, Avestan yasna- “sacrifice”; and Sanskrit hotr-,zaotar- “a certain priest”; as well as names of divinities and mythological persons, such as Sanskrit mitra-, Avestan miqra- “Mithra.” Indeed, speakers of both language subgroups used the same word to refer to themselves as a people: Sanskrit arya-, Avestan airya-, Old Persian ariya- “Aryan.” Avestan

The Indo-Aryan and Iranian language subgroups also differ duhitr- “daughter” (cf. Greek thugáter). In Iranian, however, the sound is lost in this position; e.g., Avestan dugdar-, dudar-. Similarly, the word for “deep” is Sanskrit gabhira- (with i for i), but Avestan jafra-. Iranian also lost the accompanying aspiration (a puff of breath, written as h) that is retained in certain Indo-Aryan consonants; e.g., Sanskrit dha “set, make,” bhr, “bear,” gharma- “warm,” but Avestan and Old Persian da, bar, and Avestan garma-. Further, Iranian changed stops such as p before consonants and r and v to spirants such as f: Sanskrit pra “forth,” Avestan fra; Old Persian fra; Sanskrit putra- “son,” Avestan puqra-, Old Persian pusa- (s represents a sound that is also transliterated as ç). In addition, h replaced s in Iranian except before non-nasal stops (produced by releasing the breath through the mouth) and after i, u, r, k; e.g., Avestan hapta- “seven,” Sanskrit sapta-; Avestan haurva- “every, all, whole,” Sanskrit sarva-. Iranian also has both xš and š sounds, resulting from different Indo-European k sounds followed by s-like sounds, but Indo-Aryan has only ks; e.g., Avestan xšayeiti “has power, is capable,” šaeiti “dwells,” but Sanskrit ksayati, kseti. Iranian was also relatively conservative in retaining diphthongs that were changed to simple vowels in Indo-Aryan.Iranian differs from Indo-Aryan in grammatical features as well. The dative singular of -a-stems ends in -ai in Iranian; e.g., Avestan mašyai, Old Persian cartanaiy “to do” (an original dative singular form functioning as infinitive of the verb). In Sanskrit the ending is extended with a—martyay-a. Avestan also retains the archaic pronoun forms yuš, yuzm “you” (nominative plural); in Indo-Aryan the -s- was replaced by y (yuyam) on the model of the 1st person plural—vayam “we” (Avestan vaem, Old Persian vayam). Finally, Iranian has a 3rd person pronoun di (accusative dim) that has no counterpart in Indo-Aryan but has one in Baltic.

 
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Posted by on August 31, 2012 in History, Rigveda

 

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ANCIENT EGYPT AND INDIA – Cultural relations

ANCIENT EGYPT AND INDIA – Cultural relations

 I am new to this forum I noticed quite a few posts were made on the interesting subject of relations between Ancient Egypt and . Then I said to myself “let me add one more to the heap “.

1. Books
 

1.1 Peter Von Bohlen (1796 – 1840), a German Indologist, in his two volume monumental work Ancient with special reference to . He thought there was a cultural connection between the two in ancient times. 

1.2 Many others have also written on similar lines (e.g. El Mansouri, Sir   William Jones, Paul William Roberts, and Adolf Eramn et al). 

2.Anthropolog

2.1. Many Anthropologists have observed that the Egyptians as a race (type ‘P’) are more Asiatic than African.

 2.2 As per the legends and lore, the early Egyptians were from PUNT, an Asiatic country to the east of . Going by the description given of its coastline washed by the great seas, its hills and valleys, its vegetation (coconut trees among others), its animals (including long tailed monkeys) the Punt, the scholars surmise, may in fact be the Malabar coast.

 3. Sphinx and Buttocks

There is very a delightful finding about the Sphinx. Joshua T Katz of Princeton  University in his scholarly paper “The riddle of the Sp (h) ij   and her Indic and her Indo-European Background”    has come up with a view that the name Sphinx is related to a Greek noun which in turn is derived from a Sanskrit word Sphij, meaning  “ Buttocks”. Now you know to where it all comes down.

Interestingly, when you type in sphij in Google search, it shoots back “Did you mean Sphinx?”

No, I am not joking. Mr. Katz’s research paper is a very serious work though   a pedantic one. Check this link

http://www.princeton.edu/~pswpc/pdfs/katz/120505.pdf

4. Emperor Ashoka’s contacts with

4.1 A very authentic record of is, of course, Ashoka’s 13th rock edict (3rd century B.C). Here in, the Emperor refers to his contact with Ptolemy II of (285-246 B. C) in connection with the expansion of Dharma (Buddhism) into Egypt and its neighboring lands.

 4.2 Ashoka ,  in his Second Edict refers to philanthropic works (such as medical help for humans and animals, digging wells, planting trees etc.) taken up by his missionaries in the lands ruled by Theos II of Syria (260 to 240 B. C) and his neighbors , including Egypt.

 4.3. Pliny (78 A, D) mentions that Dionysius was Ptolemy’s ambassador in the court of Ashoka. The Emperor’s rock edict records that Dionysus was one of the recipients of Dharma (Buddhism).

5. Gnostics and Buddhism

5.1 Coming to the present era, Dio Chrysostum (1st century A. D.) and Clement (2nd century A. D) have written that at Alexandria Indian scholars were a common sight.

5.2 Many scholars have has pointed to a number of similarities between Mahayana Buddhism and the Gnosticism of the early Christian centuries that developed in ancient Egypt..The Greek term Gnosis is a derivative of the Sanskrit term Jnana both meaning knowledge.  In both Gnosticism and Buddhism, the emphasis is on Wisdom, compassion and eradication of the opposite of gnosis/consciousness, that is, ignorance the root of evil.

http://www.webcom.com/gnosis/thomasbook/ch22.html

5.3 In the Gospel of Thomas (translated by Peterson Brown), at verse 90, Yeshua says Come unto me, for my yoga is natural and my lordship is gentle—and you shall find repose for yourselves. It is startling to find term “Yoga” in a first century Christian document written in Egypt Perhaps it refers to Sahja Yoga. Check the following link

http://kuriakon00.tripod.com/tom.html

6. Oxyrhynchus Papyrus

During the early years of the 20th century a number of fragments of papyri –dating from 250 B.C. to 100 A.D- were discovered at Oxyrhynchus (now called el Bahnansa) in Egypt. The excavations yielded enormous collections of papyrus from Greek and Roman periods of Egyptian history. Among the finds was an incomplete manuscript of a Greek mime ( a skit) .For purpose of identification this fragment of papyrus it is called Oxyrhynchus Papyrus 413 .The scene of action of the skit is India and there are a number of Indian characters who speak dialogue in an Indian language. Dr. E. Hultzsch (1857-1927), a noted German Indologist, identified some words of the dialogue as an archaic form of Kannada, one of the four major languages of South India. Recent studies have supported Dr. Hultzsch’s finding. The papyrus is dated first or second century A.D.  This seems to prove that there were cultural and trade contacts between and the Mediterranean region at least as far back as in the early part of the first millennium CE.

7. Quseir

7.1 The excavation of the Quseir (a  Red Sea port in  Egypt)  shipwreck  also point to trade links between Egypt and India in the early Roman Imperial period.  The wreck site revealed Campanian- amphoras (A cylindrical two-handled amphora with oval-section handles and an almond-shaped rim) from Century AD.  Perhaps the ship was outbound for  India and was part of a fleet sent by Augustus to capture a controlling interest in the Indian Ocean trade

7.2 Further, three of inscriptions, one in a Prakrit and two in Old Tamil, found in Qusei also support the likelihood of flourishing trade between . This Suggests South India may have been the origin of the Indian merchants  stationed in Egypt.

8.
–Neela – Kali

John .H. Speke (1827 – 1864) an officer in the British Indian Army , who discovered the source of the Nile , in 1844 , attributed his success , among other things , to the guidance he received from an Indian. The advise given was to look for the Neela (meaning Blue in Sanskrit, hence the  Nile) flowqing between the peaks of Chandragiri  (Mountains of the Moon) below the country of Amara. To his wonder, what Speke discovered fitted with the location indicated by the Indian.

9. What Next?

9.1 Both the old countries have been through thick and thin of things over the ages .It is not surprising if they interacted over a number of issues.

9.2 However, there have been no serious studies, in the recent past, on the subject of cultural relations between ancient Egypt and India. In case such studies are taken up, recently, can some one please enlighten me?

 
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Posted by on August 31, 2012 in History

 

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Aadhyasa

Aadhyasa is a concept introduced by Sri Shankara. It is difficult to find an exact English word for Aaadhyasa. It may, among other things, mean “superimposition”,”projection” etc. Aadhyasa is more comprehensive than that. 

2. He also recognized three levels of existence. The Absolute, the relative and the illusory. 

3. Adhyasa consists in superimposing one level of existence (relative/illusory) over the other (The Absolute) and accepting the former as true while it may actually be untrue. (Untrue does not mean false. It is a neutral term that lies between the Truth and falsehood.) 

There is nothing strange or startling about this. We experience it every day in our life. 

4. Let us take an example. We have accepted a “day” as a working unit of time. We have divided / sub- divided it into hours, minutes, seconds etc. We measure our work and life in terms of these units. A “day” itself is reckoned with reference to sunset and sunrise. We may call this a relative view. 

Further, what you call, let us say, 08.00 AM is not 08.00 AM to people living in other time zones. It will be a different time in their day/night. A single point in “time” signifies different “time” to different people. Each sets his “time” by his sunrise.  

However, all  of us know  that sun neither sets nor rises. From the Absolute point of view, there is no day or night. In other words, there is no “time”. It is a time- less universe (because “time” as we understand it, is measured with reference to an event.) 

We, thus, in our daily life impose a relative concept (day) over the Absolute (time less ness).This we do, because we are living in a relative world and not because we are ignorant of the sun’s status. Otherwise, how else can we live in a relative world? 

5. Let us see another example. One may mistake a stump of wood at night for a thief and get alarmed. Another may mistake a coiled rope, in semi darkness, for a snake and get panicky. In both cases, when some one  else throws light, after the event, they may learn the identity of the objects they “saw”. They may then say to themselves, with a sigh of relief,” Gosh! It was just a piece of wood/rope”. 

In these instances, the persons involved imposed an illusory existence over the real one. They realized the identity of the objects only after someone threw light on the objects. 

Here the interesting thing is while the perception may be illusory the alarm/panic  experienced was real. 

That again leads to another story.

 
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Posted by on August 31, 2012 in Indian Philosophy, Sri Sankara, Vedanta

 

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Education system – Indian Universities

This is a response to Melody Queen’s article Education and Character Building , a re- look at our education system; of what education should truly be

I invite view and debate on issues of education systems in India and state of affairs in Indian Universities

***

That was a thoughtful and well articulated. Your concern for education system and its products comes through. There is a disconnect between education and demands of life, as you mentioned. Many are ill equipped to face life and its realities.

Paradigm of education has changed drastically. Even that paradigm is bursting at its seams. It struggles to provide a framework for explanations and understandings of life and learning. Our universities are no longer idyllic havens of learning; and guiding enquiry of knowledge is no longer their primary objective. This is because our universities represent our priorities and reflect the anxieties and aspirations; ills and wells; strengths and weakness; and of the values of the society we live in.

Many challenges and motivations that entered into the campus are beyond the ken of its administrators. Further, campuses are open to influences of the interests that poach on the gullibility of student community.

We live in a violent world. That is understood; but occasionally we get very shocking reminders of this fact. I recoil from the shock and horror occurring on the campus of JNU and in Madhya Pradesh where a Professor succumbed to student attack. They reflect the hate and violence in the heart of the society.

The manifestations of violence are varied. The source is always the same; our society and its value systems. These events drive me to silence. When it erupts, it crosses the boundaries of civilized behavior, and then barbarism just takes over. Those who indulge in it justify by their own frame of reference. When it breaches the frame of reference of civilized behavior, it backfires on the society. That is the reason civilization is circumscribed by what we forbid ourselves to do than what we are permitted. I wonder how universities can ever keep their campuses safe while respecting the rights of individual students and the dignity of its teachers.

A case in point is the Jawaharlal Nehru University of New Delhi (JNU).It is a hotbed of politics. Every political party has its group in the student unions. “The complexities of JNU politics leaves me longing for the simplicity of Iraq ” remarked one Indian diplomat.

On campus, NSUI represents the Congress – which runs the UPA Government; ABVP is the representative of BJP family; SFI-AISF stand for the CPI (M) and CPI; and in addition, there is AISA -led JNUSU. There are also separate Dalit groups, OBC groups and other interested groups. Each political party highlights its agenda by organizing demonstrations, rallies etc. through its control group in JNU.And, parties opposing that organize counter demonstrations. All these are carried out in routine and a matter of fact fashion.

Any political or social moment in the country has its ripples in JNU; be it Narmada Andolan or agitation against SEZ or the land grab in Nandigram, OBC reservation issue, reservation for SC/ST/OBC in Multi nationals , you name it ,will be showcased in JNU.

There is intolerance of pluralistic view; total disregard for individual rights and debate. Opinions are thrust by violence rather by debate. It is fueled by its own justifications. JNU is virtually an on going chaos.

JNU and other varsities serve as recruiting grounds for political parties.Smart politicians and leaders poach on students to further their (leaders) ends. The campus rage business is both a means and an end. This is a special contribution of the subcontinent to public life.

You mentioned about teachers; teaching, in India today, is the last resort of the average achiever. He resorts to teaching when all better avenues are closed. Even here, recommendations and quotas play a greater role than merit. The quality of teaching staff is therefore indifferent. The teachers in turn get involved in-group affiliations by design or accident. The ugly incidents you cited might be a fall out of this unfortunate phenomenon.

Various quotas, recommendations and donations (buying admissions) and merit to an extent regulate the admission of students to professional colleges. Its students range from angles to virtual devils with a large section being clueless sleepwalkers.

Educational assessment in India is largely based on exams whose score alone is given maximum weightage.There is no appreciation for individuality or enterprise. That may be one of the reasons you do not see many Indians in decision-making positions. There is a gaping wide between college output and industry requirement. An IIM alumnus remarked, “We are dealing with the best-educated generation in our history. But they’ve got a brain dressed up with nowhere to go”.

Our boys and girls are lauded and appreciated, all over the world, for their hard work, commitment and ingenuity. That is not because of the system but it is despite the system we have.

Our universities are not merely a microcosm of our society but are the prototype of its future. Its quality depends on the values we nurture and respect at home, on streets, in communities and in political life. Our education systems will be as good as we allow them to be. It is a reflection of the way we live. Unless there is a marked improvement in these areas there is no way the campus culture would improve.

 
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Posted by on August 31, 2012 in General Interest

 

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Of poverty – literature – Sarat Chandra Chatterjee

Shri Ratan Datta in his two blogs wrote lucidly about poverty displayed in arts and cinema .He said,” I find nothing wrong in the approach”. He also referred to the colossus of Indian cinema Satyajit Ray and his Apu trilogy.

 
There appears to be a stubborn bond between art, artists and poverty. In some cases the artist might seek it because poverty is the great reality; but in most other cases poverty is the only reality that artist is familiar with. Who can forget Van Gogh driven to insanity by punishing poverty, cruel neglect and suffocating loneliness?Somehow a view has gained ground that the artist is given to sense more keenly than others only while placed in poverty, prison, or illness. Rainer Rilke said, one cannot be a good poet unless one loves poverty, indifference and wretchedness.The passion in human nature chooses “the one precious thing” and urges him to pay for it through poverty, conflict, deprivation, and endurance of anger from rejected divinities. As if to prove him right, Dostoevsky, Kafka and others of the tribe lived their miserable life in ignominy and penury while producing masterpieces. Strangely, an artist who gains success and affluence would be seen as one who has lost his authenticity; and, he would live the rest of his life on borrowed glory.
 
Whenever a debate about poverty and literature comes up, I cannot help thinking about Charles Dickens and our own Sarat Chandra Chatterjee.
 
Dickens portrayed the urban poverty, deprivation and the wretchedness it brought, especially, upon the slum- children of the Victorian society. No other author of that era presented a more realistic and “humanized” face of poverty. He created some of English literature’s most memorable characters. Some People might mock Dickens’s style; but no one, I feel, has been able to capture such variety of human nature. His characters are all amazing, so vivid that by the time he reaches the end of the novel, the reader comes to know them on a personal level.
 
Dickens’s was a study in abuse of power.Dickens’ novels criticize the injustices of his time; but are dedicated to the suffering poor everywhere. He pictures poignantly their starving, rumbling stomachs, bare feet, cold lives, empty staring eyes and the fear lurking behind them. He says it is all because the mighty ones snatch away their rights and refuse to help them. His novels, at a later time, succeed in bringing about some changes in social conditions and criminal laws of England; and above all in the attitudes towards the poor.

sarat chatterjee

This article is mainly about Sarat Babu that is Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay (Chatterjee). He is one of my favorite writers, in any language. His portrayal of poverty was lot more understanding and sensitive. His characters carried around them their poverty with a great sense of dignity. They never were ashamed of their poverty; instead they seemed to feed on the misery mounting on them and eventually claimed out of the heap with composure and dignity.

 
Sarat Chandra Chatterjee knew Poverty very intimately.
 
 
He did not have to obtain his material from research. It was his encounters with life as a country lad and youth that provided him the inspiration, ingredients and storylines for his life-like characters placed in rural family settings. He molded them in his own inimitable style. The distinctive features and the essence of purpose that he added rendered them larger than life. That is the reason   his stories have gained such universal appeal.
 
His real heroes are not those under the limelight, but those in the corners, the shadows of life. They are the ordinary men and women placed within their limited confines battling extraordinary situations with courage and conviction; but finally emerge out of the ordeal with composure and dignity though a bit bruised and looking tired. He seemed to believe, One’s true test is in one’s daily life; and in one’s reliability and integrity as a human being.
 
Most of his stories relate to rural life and society. Sarat Chatterjee is at his best when he draws from his experience and writes about women from poverty stricken rural Bengal who hold on to their values even while placed in the very caldron of life. He had a deep affection and respect for Bengali women. Some of his women characters stand out; they are the dominant personalities without in any way losing their femininity. 

 
 
*****

Sarat Chandra had a great admiration for the fortitude of the poor and respect for their undemonstrative courage. In his acceptance speech delivered on 2nd Ashwin, 1339 BY (15th Sep 1933) at a gathering organized at the Calcutta Town Hall to celebrate his 57th birthday, Sarat babu acknowledged his debt to the poor and depraved:

My literary debt is not limited to my predecessors only. I’m forever indebted to the deprived, ordinary people who give this world everything they have and yet receive nothing in return, to the weak and oppressed people whose tears nobody bothers to notice and to the endlessly hassled, distressed (weighed down by life) and helpless people who don’t even have a moment to think that: despite having everything, they have right to nothing. 
 
They made me start to speak. They inspired me to take up their case and plead for them. I have witnessed endless injustice to these people, unfair intolerable indiscriminate justice. It’s true that springs do come to this world for some – full of beauty and wealth – with its sweet smelling breeze perfumed with newly bloomed flowers and spiced with cuckoo’s song, but such good things remained well outside the sphere where my sight remained imprisoned. This poverty abounds in my writings.

***

Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay (Chatterjee) (nickname Nyarha) was born in Devanandapore – a village in Hooghly district of West Bengal, on 15th September 1876 (31 Bhadra 1283 BY). For a time, his father was employed in Bihar – the rest of the family lived in Bhagalpur with his maternal grandfather. Because of the semi-nomadic nature of his father’s life and his ever stringent financial situation, Sarat had to change schools frequently. In his own words: 
 
My childhood and youth were passed in great poverty. I received almost no education for want of means. From my father I inherited nothing except, as I believe, his restless spirit and his keen interest in literature. The first made me a tramp and sent me out tramping the whole of India quite early, and the second made me a dreamer all my life.
 
Father was a great scholar, and he had tried his hand at stories and novels, dramas and poems, in short every branch of literature, but never could finish anything. I have not his work now – somehow it got lost; but I remember poring over that incompleteness. Over again in my childhood, and many a night I kept awake regretting their incompleteness, and thinking what might have been their conclusion if finished. Probably this led to my writing short stories when I was barely seventeen.
 
 
Sarat Chandra lost his mother in 1895. He had to give up studies for ever, because he could no longer afford formal education; and had to return to the native village Devanandapore. But he did not stay there long as Sarat’s father was forced to sell his home for a mere Rs.225 to repay a debt. The family moved to Bhagalpur, again.
 
Young Sarat was very sensitive and fragile. He left home following a disagreement with his father. Forced to earn his livelihood, Sarat started working early in his life. In 1900 Sarat found work in Banali Estate in Bihar and later in Santhal district settlement as an assistant to the Settlement Officer. He disliked both the jobs and gave them up. Alone, unhappy and indifferent, Sarat lost sense of direction. Dejected and aimless he wandered around graveyards at dead of night. Later, for a while, he joined a group of Naga Sadhus and drifted to Mujaffarpur (1902). On his father’s death he returned to Bhagalpur and on completion of his father’s last rites he left for Calcutta in search of a job. He worked at a few temporary jobs and later secured a job as a translator for a Hindi paper book on a monthly salary of Rs.30. He then worked as a translator at the Calcutta High Court.
 
After he lost both his parents, Sarat Chandra left Bengal, in 1903, to live with his uncle in Rangoon and to find a job there. He often referred to Burma as the karma-sthan of the middle class Bengalis (Bengal being the janma-sthan).Sarat left Calcutta just in time before a severe plague broke out there. But, sadly his uncle died of pneumonia soon after Sarat reached Rangoon. Sarat rendered destitute and insecure was on the streets again. After he served a number of temporary jobs, he secured a permanent job in the Accounts Department of Burma Railway- where he served until his return to Calcutta in 1916. 


*****

As regards his literary activities, his earliest creations were two short stories Kakbasha and Kashinath (later expanded into a novel) published during 1894 in the handwritten magazine while he was studying in Entrance class (similar to PUC of the present-day) at Tejnarayan Jubilee College, Bhagalpur.

Referring to writings of his early years , he later said : 

But I soon gave up the habit as useless, and almost forgot in the long years that followed that I could even write a sentence in my boyhood.

In 1903, on the eve of his departure to Rangoon in search of a job, he at the instance of his uncle Girindrandra nath sent a short story Mandir for the Kuntaleen literary competition. He submitted the story under name of Surendranath Ganguli, another uncle. From among about one hundred fifty short stories that entered the competition, Mandir was adjudged the best for the year in 1904. The fact that Sri Jaldhar Sen the veteran editor of the Vasumati magazine was the adjudicator enhanced the prestige of the award. Mandir published in the name of Surendranath was the first ever printed story by Sarat Chandra. For some reason, Sarat Chandra continued to send his stories in someone else’s name. He contributed stories regularly to the Jamuna magazine in three different names – in his own name and in the name of Anila Devi (his elder sister) and Anupama. 
The magazine Jamuna played an important role in setting his literary career on course. According to Sarat Chandra, Jamuna was the catalyst in reviving his literary career whilst he was in Burma. He said: 
 
A mere accident made me start again, after the lapse of about eighteen years. Some of my old acquaintances started a little magazine, but no one of note would condescend to contribute to it, as it was so small and insignificant. When almost hopeless, some of them remembered me, and after much persuasion they succeeded in extracting from me a promise to write for it. This was in the year 1913. I promised most unwillingly – perhaps only to put them off till I returned to Rangoon and could forget all about it. But sheer volume and force of their letters and telegrams compelled me at last to think seriously about writing again. I sent them a short story for their magazine Jamuna. This became at once popular, and made me famous in one day. Since then I have been writing regularly. In Bengal, perhaps, I am the only fortunate writer who has not had to struggle.
 
 
The years he spent in Burma (1903-1916) turned out to be a significant phase in Sarat Chandra’s life. It not merely spurred his literary activity but also established him as a leading creative writer. By the time he returned to Calcutta (1916) his stories and novels were being serialized in most leading Bengali magazines; and his popularity was soaring. This period witnessed changes in his personal life too. His first wife Shanti Devi whom he married in 1906 died of plague in 1908 along with his one year old son. To fill the void in his life, he turned to books, read voraciously on sociology, history, philosophy and psychology etc. He also dabbled in Homeopathy; opened a primary school and formed a singing group. In 1909 he suffered a major health problem and had to cut down his studies He then took to painting. Sarat Chandra married the second time in 1910; and his bride was Mokshada an adolescent widow. He renamed her Hiranmoyee.

*****

 
 
 

Sarat Chandra wrote in all more than 30 full-length novels, dozens of short stories, plays and essays. He wrote about the evils of society, social superstitions and oppression; and in his later works he wrote about the patriotic and rebellious spirit of his times. Many of his early novels were serialized in monthly magazines –just as in the case of Charles Dickens. Both were prompted by the sheer need to earn a living by pen. But, while Dickens specialized in creating a great number of wonderful and fascinating characters, Sarat Chandra focused on crafting intriguing situations depicting conflicts between conservatism and social change; superstitions and rebellion;  pure and profane. 

 
Sarat Chandra’s earliest writings show influence of Bankim Chandra Chatterjee. They display his displeasure with the core of Hindu orthodoxy and the prevailing social system. His impatience and anger against social discrimination, superstitions; and bigotry in the name of religion simmer through in his writings. His criticism of the establishment is never vitriolic; he never flouts the accepted moral basis of the Hindu society. His novels such as Devdas (written in 1901, published 1917), Parinita (1914), Biraj Bau (1914) and Palli Samaj (1916) belong to this phase. The themes and their treatment are not much different from Bankim’s; but their presentation, their locales are updated; the language, particularly of the conversations is easier and matter-of-fact. 
 
The women in particular step out of the system with agony, passion and intensity to cleanse the guilt ridden system. There is a burning desire to blow away the old cobwebs and usher in a new order, a new dispensation. Their restraint; and the clarity of thought and speech are remarkable. That is the reason his stories retain their freshness even nearly a century after they were written. Many read over and over  weeping and laughing with his characters.

[His Devdas appears to be an exception. It is basically a love-story written in the early stages of his literary career (1901), It is said, Sarat Chandra did not like what he had written; and did not want it to be published. He didn’t approve the negative and the escapist streak in Devdas. When he eventually agreed to publish the story, reluctantly, in 1917 (sixteen years after it was written) he begged the readers to have pity and forgive Devdas.]
Towards the latter half of his life Sarat Chandra wrote Pather Dabi (1926) spun around a revolutionary movement, inspired by Bengal, operating in Burma and in Far East. His last complete novel Sesh Prasna (1931) was crafted around a slender theme , inflated by ethereal talks on problems of love and marriage; and of the individual and of the society. These were almost ‘intellectual’ monologues. 
 
But, Sarat Chandra was at his best when he wrote with understanding of women, their sufferings, their often unspoken loves, their need for affection and their desperation for emancipation. His portrayal, particularly, of strong-willed women of rural Bengal defying the convention; and also of women rooted in their sense of values and who set a benchmark for other characters to be judged by the reader, stand out as authentic. His women are admirable for their  courage, tolerance and devotion in their love for their husbands, lovers or children. These stories also picture husbands who do not know or do not care to express love for their beloved ones. Somehow, the women in his stories never attain happiness in their personal lives.
 
Just to cite an example, his Srkanta quartet(1917, 1918, 1927, 1933), encompassing lives of many women, is a remarkable study in the conflicts between the individual and the social perception of purity and profanity; and between rebellion and timid submission to orthodoxy. For instance, take a hurried glimpse at the thumbnail sketch of a few characters in Srikanta.
 
 
Rajlakshmi, Srikanta’s lover, in order to erase her past (of fallen woman) and to reform her present (her relationship outside the marital state with Srikanta) goes through a series of purity rituals. She is a sort of benchmark to other characters.

In the first book of the Quartet, Annadadidi, a very properly brought up middle class woman, revolts against propriety, and runs away with a Muslim snake charmer. She suffers not because of her socially unacceptable love; but because the  husband she chose was unworthy of such love .

In the second part, Abhoya, deserted by her husband, breaks out of her social environment to live in sin with a man she accepted. 

In the third, Sunanda, a scholar, rebels against the poverty imposed upon the peasant by the land tenure system.

In the last book, Kamal Lata has walked out on her people and joined a Vaishnava sect based on surrender and devotion.

 
Sarat Chandra refuses to be judgmental. His critique on social norm was only a message and never an agenda.  He lets his characters to speak for themselves; and lets the reader form his own opinion of the purity concept in the Hindu Society. He tried to heighten the social awareness; and to ignite revolt against the oppressive social cults, which debased and degraded humanity.

*****
Sarat Chandra Chatterjee died of cancer of the liver on 16th January 1938 at Park Nursing Home in Calcutta. Bengal and India lost one of its most gifted sons, a tortured soul and one that loved his country and its people from the core of his being.
 
Sarat Chandra did not write his autobiography because he said he “lacked the courage and the truthfulness to tell his true story”.
 
I gratefully acknowledge the material from the Sarat Sahitya Samagra (Complete Works of Sarat Chandra), Ananda Publishers Private Limited, Calcutta ,1993 .And from the introduction to Srikanto Part I published by Oxford University Press, London 1922.
 
*****

 
Poverty is a smoldering fire in the belly and in the heart. It drives one to reach out, to explore and at times to explode. But when the heat is too much to bear, it could reduce one to ashes which any can trample upon with impunity. It takes great courage to be poor and to live with dignity.
 
 
[A brief Note on the photographs posted on this page:
 
On reading this blog Dr.   Subroto Roy of Kolkata sent me a Note that the picture of Sarat Chandra I posted at the bottom of the article was a part of a photograph taken in 1927 when Sarat Chandra visited Dr.Sobrato Roy’s great-grand father Surendranath Roy. The sofa on which the two sit, he says, is still in use at his home; and indeed if you are in Kolkata some day, you are welcome to view and even sit on the sofa.
 
Dr. Roy also mentioned that the iconic picture of Sarat Chandra, posted at the top of this article, is from a photograph taken at Bourne & Shepherd Photographers of Kolkata at the instance of Shri Manindranath Roy. He added that Sarat Chandra habitually wore long unkempt hair; and Smt Nirmala Debi (wife of Shri Manindranath Roy) combed his hair neatly before the photograph was taken. According to Dr.Roy, Sarat Chandra/s Pather Dabi is perhaps dedicated to Smt Nirmala Debi.
 
Dr. Roy also asked me to view and to reproduce on my page, a hand-written note sent by Sarat Chandra (1931) to Manindranath Roy (Dr.Subroto Roy’s grand-father). I am told, the Note is about transport of a table (or writing-desk?) by rail.
 
Please visit Dr. Roy’s page at
 

 

Other references and sources: 

 

 

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Of poverty – …

 
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Posted by on August 31, 2012 in Books

 

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