Category Archives: General Interest

Discussions, Debates and Arguments: Ancient India- Part One

Discussions, Debates    and Arguments:  Samvada – Vaada – Jalpa and Vitanda

 Part One

In the Indian traditions, including the Buddhist and Jain traditions, four formats of discussions, debates and arguments are described. These are named as:  Samvada, Vaada, Jalpa and Vitanda.

The merit and esteem of each of these types of discussions is graded in terms of the honesty of their purpose, the quality of debate, the decorum and the mutual regard of the participants.

Of these four forms of discussions, Samvada is regarded the noblest type of dialogue that takes place, in all earnestness, between an ardent seeker of truth and an enlightened teacher. Most of the ancient Indian texts are in this format.

While Samvada is a discourse or imparting of teaching, the other three – Vaada, Jalpa and Vitanda – are clever and structured (Tantrayukthi) debates and arguments between rivals.  

Let’s talk of  Nyaya (well-organized logical ways of ascertaining the true nature of the objects and subjects of human knowledge) and Samvada on one part; and, the debates/arguments on the other. 


Nyaya Sutra

As is well known, there was a long and a time-honored tradition in ancient India where philosophers and thinkers met to discuss metaphysical issues over which there were multiple views. There are detailed narrations of such discussions, debates and dialogues recorded in Chandogya-Upanishad, Brihadaranyaka Upanishad and Prashna-Upanishad.

The other early texts such as Aitareya Brahmana , Kathopanishad  and others  use terms  like : tarka (reasoning); Vada (debate); Yukti (sustained arguments), Prameya (object of knowledge); Pramana (proof); Nirnaya (ascertainment)  etc. which later became the principal terminologies of the Nyaya School. It is also said that the idioms of inquiry (Anveshiki) dealing with the theory of reasons (Hetu-vidya or Hetu-shastra) were mentioned in Manu-samhita and Panini’s Astadhyayi.

Although the intellectual debates were quite common during the Upanishad-times, and even later, there was perhaps no well laid out theory or an approved structure for conduct of various types of debates.   It is said; it was during the Sramana and the Buddhist period that debates became really very serious.

As Bimal Krishna Matilal observes (in The Character of Logic in India):

.. The intellectual climate in India was bristling with controversy and criticism. At the center of controversy were certain dominant religious and ethical issues. Nothing was too sacred for criticism. Such questions as: “Is there a soul different from body?”; “Is the world (loka) eternal?”; ”What is the meaning, goal, or purpose of life?”; and, “Is renunciation preferable to enjoyment?” etc. were of major concern. 

While teachers and thinkers argued about such matters, there arose a gradual awareness of the characteristics or patterns of correct, acceptable and sound reasoning. There were    also concerns to evolve the norms to distinguish sound reasoning from pseudo-reasoning (hetvabhasa) which is unacceptable. 

According to Dr. Benimadhab Barua, even among the Sramanas, the wandering monks, there were famed debaters who were “clever, subtle, and experienced in projecting controversies; hair-splitters who ruthlessly splintered into pieces the arguments of their adversaries”.

The debates tended to get more passionate, animated and even noisy.  Gradually, the notions of ‘good’ and acceptable debates took shape as distinct from wrong and ugly arguments. That gave rise to the development of a branch of study dealing with theories of reasoning and logic (Hetu-vidya or Hetu shastra). It was perhaps around the fifth century BCE that manuals came to be written for conduct of proper and successful debates (Tarka vidya or Vada vidya).

Such manuals included instructions and learning methods for the guidance of aspiring debaters. The earliest known text of that genre was Tantra-yukti (structured argument) compiled perhaps in the sixth-fifth century BCE to systematize debates conducted in learned councils (Parishad). 

Debates and arguments then came to be recognized both as art of logical reasoning (Tarka-vidya) and science of causes (Hetu-shastra) following the path of a well-disciplined method of inquiry (ânvikŝiki) testing scriptural knowledge by further scrutiny. 

The monks and priests belonging to various Schools and sects were imparted training in Tarka–vidya: the art and skills of conducting impressive successful debates and disputations (Sambasha or Vada vidhi) in learned assemblies (parishad).

Apart from  methods of presenting arguments as per a logically structured format, the training modules included ways to stoutly defend ones thesis  by means of genuine criteria of knowledge (Pramana) and to attack the opponent’s thesis by means of indirect arguments (Tarka); estimating the strengths and weaknesses of arguments of either side; establishing one’s own points while setting aside those of the opponent.

They were also trained for handling different types of challenges, such as: how to vanquish a person of blazing fame; how to behave with a senior opponent; how to handle an aggressive and troublesome opponent; and,  how to conduct oneself in prestigious Parishads, to influence the flow of debate and to impress the judges and the onlookers  etc.

These types of debates and arguments broadly came under the purview of Nyaya or Nyaya Shastra.

[The Charaka Samhita , a principal Ayurveda Text (dated around the second century), in its  third part, called Vimanasthana, along with other topics like training of a physician, ethics of medical practice, pathology, diet and nourishment, taste of medicines, etc.,  also  contains a discussion on the principles of debate

The related doctrines are treated in Caraka-samhita under three heads, namely:

    • 1) Karyabhinirvrtti, the aggregate of resources for the accomplishment of an action
    • (2) Pariksa, the standard of examination, and
    • (3) Sambhasha-vidhi, or vada-vidhi, the method of debate.

 This is followed by detailed discussions on these three topics. For example, there is a discussion on the various resources that are to be examined to accomplish an action.

These resources include Karana (the actor, or agent who accomplishes an action), Karya (the action), Karya-phala (the effect), Desha (the place of the action), Kala (the time of the action), Pravrtti (the activity or exertion put forth for achieving the action), etc. The second head, Pariksa, deals with the standard of examination.

These standards are: aptopadesa (reliable assertion); Pratyaksa (perception); anumana (inference); yukti (reasoning). The discussion under the third head is much more elaborate.[

The examination of vada-vidhi begins by dividing debates into two classes, namely, anuloma sambhasha (peaceful debate) and vigrihya sambhasha (hostile debate).

The respondents are then classified as superior, equal and inferior. Also, the assembly witnessing the debate is classified as learned and ignorant. Each of these is then further classified as friendly, indifferent or hostile. There are suggestions as to how to handle the debate depending on the nature of the respondents and of the assembly. The treatise then goes on to give a list of 44 items a thorough knowledge of which is essential for the successful conduct of a debate.]


Nyaya, as a system,  is one among the six Darshanas (systems of Indian philosophy). It deals with well-organized logical ways of ascertaining the true nature of the objects and subjects of human knowledge (Pramana-Sastra).  Nyaya is also called Tarka-vidya (logic) and Vada-vidya or Vada’rtha (reasoned argument); and, is included among the fourteen principal branches of learning. 

Nyaya is founded on the belief that knowledge is not self-revealing; man must make effort to gain correct knowledge ; and, to abandon incorrect knowledge, through a systematic process. It asserts that the analytical way of Nyaya is the greatest protection to a young person whose intellect is still in the process of growth and is yet to attain equanimity. And, it is only by thorough examination of the modes and sources of correct knowledge that a thinking person can gain a clearer perspective of life. It asks each one to think for himself; and, not to tacitly accept beliefs handed down by the older generation. And, therefore, it instructs, the teachings that have come down to us through traditions must be critically examined before accepting them.

Vatsayana in his Nyāya Bhāya , Commentary on Nyaya Sutra (1.1.1) , asserts that the analytical investigation and examination (Anveshiki) of issues which bring clarity into the intellectual aspects of man’s life help him to attain freedom (moksha) from delusions and confusions in life. Nyaya which enables us to discern the true from the false is therefore regarded as Moksha-Sadhana the way to absolute freedom or liberation.

nirdeśe yathāvacanaṃ vigrahaḥ|
cārthe dvandvaḥ samāsaḥ|
pramāṇādīnāṃ tatvamiti śaiṣikī ṣaṣṭhī|
tatvasya jñānaṃ niḥśreyasasyādhigama iti ca karmaṇi ṣaṣṭhyau|
ta etāvanto vidyamānārthāḥ|
so ‘yamanavayavena tantrārtha uddiṣṭo veditavyaḥ/ NyS_1,1.1 /


Nyaya, in particular, also denotes a method or a scheme of logic employed to prove or to disprove a proposition through proper evidence (pramana). The employment of a Nyaya would become necessary when the subject discussed was either vague or was disputed; and when the other methods of reasoning were ineffective.

The Nyaya School was essentially logistic in its orientation. It tried to examine the sources and contents of valid knowledge. It built a logical link between the subject, the knower (pramata); the means or method of obtaining knowledge (pramana) ; and the object , the knowable (prameya) . In addition, it put forth analogy (Upama) as the fourth method.

Analogy (Upama), it is said, comprehensively includes in itself the other three methods. However, the main purpose of Upama is to illustrate. This  models attempts to represent something that which cannot be perceived. However, this Nyaya is like the finger; and, it is not the moon. Therefore , Analogy, the Upama has its own limitations; it could be brittle at times; and , if pressed too hard it might even crumble .

In its working method; Upama employs something that is already familiar , in order to explain certain concepts that are at once abstract and real. But, an analogy cannot be perfect; as there cannot be complete identity between the  subject and the object.  Therefore, there  cannot be a perfect analogy; and, mere  argument is not evidence.

Which is to say; while the analogy or illustration is important, the more important than that is the validity of the argument, its  precision and its import. Therefore, there is always an element of inadequacy in the Upama . One has to strive to extract from the model what is called “a positive analogy”; or Samanya-guna a relevant factor that is common to both the subject and the object . The notion of transformation (Vivarta) is thus what one could call a logical construction.

Nonetheless, the value of these Nyayas consists in that they facilitate a passage from the observable to the actual ; and,  from the factual to the theoretical .

[ Prof. Surendranath Dasgupta explains in A History of Indian Philosophy, Volume 1 (p.406):

Pramana in Sanskrit signifies the means and movement by which valid knowledge is acquired Pramata means the subject or the knower who cognizes, Prama – the result of pramana i.e., right knowledge, knowledge of reality or valid cognition, prameya – the object of knowledge and pramanya – the validity of knowledge acquired. 

The verbal root ma of these terms derived with the prefix pra, means also to measure (apart from meaning to cognize) . Thus, what is to be measured is the prameya; and, that by which to measure is pramana.]

[In Sanskrit, the term Jnana stands for all kinds of knowledge – whether be it of truth or of falsehood. The term Prama, however, is used to designate only a true cognition (yatartha-jnana) as distinct from a false one (mithya-jnana). A Pramana is an active and a unique cause of Prama or knowledge. Pramā means ‘knowing an object as it is’: tadvati tat prakārā-anubhavaḥ  pramā.  The term  pramāṇis also  understood as the actual experience is pramā. 

pramāyāḥ karaṇam, pramāṇam. Alternatively, yathārthā-anubhavah pramā –

To see a rope as rope is pramā. If we see a snake instead of the rope, it is apramā-ayathārtha-anubhavaḥ apramā.

The Samkhya and Yoga Schools of Indian philosophy accept three means of cognition, Pramanas: 

Pratyaksha : direct perception generated through sense organs – indriyārtha – sannikarṣajanya . That is,   when there is a contact between the senses and the object – jñānamakam pratyakṣam. Gautama defines Pratyakṣa as meaning – ‘knowledge born of sensory perception, such as eyes is pratyakṣa

– akṣam akṣam pratityutpadyate iti pratyakṣam 

And. Pratyaksha is regarded as the basic (Mula) Pramana; because, the other pramānas such as Anumāna, Arthāpatti, Upamāna and śabda are dependent on it.

Anumana (inference) literally means knowledge gained  afterwards ; i.e. knowledge that ‘follows other knowledge’ –  jñāna-kāraka-jñānam.). In Anumāna, first the liṅga (minor primise) is seen, then by liṅga or hetu, the sādhya-sambandha-jñāna  or vyāpti-jñāna (invariable concomitant) takes place. This Sādhya (major primise) is known as anumiti. Thus, since this knowledge takes place after liṅga-darśana, this is known as Anumāna

And Sabda is verbal testimony , through scriptures. Bhartrhari asserts, the traditional knowledge (Agamawhich consists of the revealed (Sruti) or remembered (Smrti) scriptures cannot be set aside by inference, since they are more dependable than inference.


The Mimamsa School accepts six types of Pramanas: Pratyaksha, Anumana, Sabda, Upamana (analogy), Arthapatti (presumption) and Abhava (non-apprehension). 

The same set of six Pramanas is also stated by Vedanta. There are, of course, variations among these Schools regarding the specific understang of each of the Pramans.


Within Vyakarana, Bhartrhari in his Maha-bhashya-tika accepts three Pramanas: Pratyaksha (perception), Anumana (inference) and Agama or Sabda (scriptures). He argues that perception, at times, could be erroneous because of weakness or improper functioning of sensory organs. Some even think, he says, that inference is superior to perception. But he asserts that Agama or Sabda which consists of the revealed (Sruti) or remembered (Smrti) scriptures is a strong Pramana; and, it is more dependable than inference.

According to Bhartrhari, it is not justifiable to replace scriptures (Sabda) with inference particularly in non-empirical matters. He also says that philosophical views (Vada) cannot be independent of the scriptures. He argues that inference alone, without the steadying influence of the scriptures is an inadequate means of valid knowledge. In his Vakyapadiya (1.34), it is said: ‘whatever is inferred with great effort through clever reasoning can easily be put aside  by a much more clever reasoning or argument’.

yatnenānumito+apy arthaḥ kuśalair anumātṛbhiḥ / abhiyuktatarair anyair anyathaivopapādyate -VP.1.34

The words of the Rishis convey super-sensory knowledge that cannot be set aside by inference. Thus, Bhartrhari asserts that Dharma or right conduct cannot be determined by reasoning alone, without the guidance of the scriptural traditions. Even the knowledge which the sages possess has the scriptures for its reference (Vakyapadiya: 1.30). Thus, tor true knowledge, the support of the scriptures (Sabda) is essential.

na jāgamād ṛte dharmas tarkeṇa vyavatiṣṭhate /  ṛṣīṇām api yaj jñānaṃ tad apy āgamapūrvakam – VP.1.30

In this context, Bharthari says that the role of Vyakarana (Grammar) is very important,  as it helps  to safeguard the correct  transmission of the scriptural knowledge , and to assist the aspirant in realizing the the truth of the  revealed knowledge of  Sabda.]


The Sutra text attached to Nyaya School is the Nyaya Sutra ascribed to Akapāda Gautama (variously estimated between 6th-century BCE and 2nd-century CE). Nyaya Sutra treats mainly five subjects: Pramana (instruments or means of right knowledge); Prameya (the object of right knowledge); Vaada (debate or discussion); Avayava (the elements or steps of syllogism); and, Anya-matha-pariksha (review or examination of the doctrines of other Schools).

[Please click here for The Nyaya Sutras of Gotama; Translated by Mahamahopadhyaya Satish Chandra Vidyabhushan; Published by The Panini Office, Bhuvaneshvari Ashram, Bahadurganj, Allahabad – 1913 ]


While discussing Vaada, Nyaya Sutra talks about sixteen padarthas  (topics or categories ) involved in the development of the debate (Vada marga);  the four reliable means of obtaining valid knowledge (pramāa) viz.:

    • Pratyaksha (perception),
    • Anumana (inference),
    • Upamana (comparison) and
    • Sabda (reliable testimony);

the five-part syllogism (Nyaya):

    • the structure (vada vidhi);
    • the ways of developing sound evidence (pramana);
    • the logical reasoning (tarka) to support ones thesis which needs to be proved (Pratijna) and its object (nirnaya);
    • the disciplined (anusasana) mode of presentation (vadopaya); and
    • the exceptions (prthaka-prasthana), as also the limits or the ‘dos and don’ts’ (vada-maryada) of three formats of such debates.

(vāda-lakṣaṇam : pramāṇa-tarka-sādhanopālambhaḥ siddhāntā-viruddhaḥ pañcā-vayavopapannaḥ pakṣa-pratipakṣa-parigrahaḥ vādaḥNyS_1,2.1)

Gautama’s text was followed by commentaries; the first of which being Nyāya Bhāya by Vātsyāyana (c. 450–500 CE). The commentary by Vatsayana was followed the ones by the Nyāya-vārttika of Uddyotakāra (c. 6th–7th century); Tātparya-tīkā by Vācaspati Miśra (9th century); Tātparya-pariśuddhi by Udayana (10th century); Nyāya-mañjarī by Jayanta (10th century); Nyaya-sara by Bhasarvajna (10th century); and Tatva-chintamani by Gangesa (12th  century). These commentaries further developed the Nyaya Sutra expanding upon Gautama’s work.

As per these texts, the debates and arguments are grouped under a broad head titled ‘Katha’. In Sanskrit, the term ‘Katha’, in general, translates as ‘to inform’, ‘to narrate’, ‘to address or to refer to somebody’. In the context of Nyaya Shatra, which provides the knowledge (Vako-Vakya or Vada-vidya) about the methods for presenting arguments as also the rules governing the debates, the term ‘Katha’ implies formal conversation (Sambasha) as in a debate. The conversation here is not in the casual manner as in day-to-day life. But, it is articulate, precise and well thought out utterances.

The Katha is described as ‘polemical conversation’, meaning that it is passionate and strongly worded , but a well balanced  argument against or in favor of somebody or something. That is why; the discussions (Vaada) are never simple. A Katha, in essence, is a reasoned and a well-structured philosophical discussion.

Vatsayana at the beginning of his commentary on Nyaya Sutra (1.2.1) mentions that Katha is classified into two kinds of debates (Dvi-vidha sambasha):  Vaada (the good-Sandhya sambasha) on one hand; and Jalpa and Vitanda (the bad- Vigrahya sambasha) on the other.

Uddyotakara in his Nyāya Vārttika further explains that this threefold classification is according to the nature of the debate and  the status of the persons taking part in the debate.

(padārtha-uddeśa-sūtram:pramāṇa-prameya-saṃśaya-prayojana-dṛṣṭānta-siddhāntāvayava-tarka-nirṇaya-vāda-jalpa-vitaṇḍāhetvābhāsa-cchala-jāti-nigrahasthānānāmtattvajñānāt niḥśreyasādhigamaḥ- NyS_1,1.1 )

The first variety ,  Vaada is an honest , peaceful  and congenial (sandhaya) debate that takes place between two persons of equal merit or standing, trying to explore the various dimensions of a subject with a view to ascertain and establish ‘what is true’.  The Vaada, at its best, is a candid friendly discussion (anuloma sambasha or sandhya sambasha) or debate in the spirit of: ’let’s sit-down and talk’.

The other two are hostile arguments (vigrhya sambasha) between rivals who desperately want to win. Thus, by implication, while the goal of a Vaada is establishment of truth or an accepted doctrine; and that of the other two hostile debates (Jalpa and Vitanda) is seeking victory.

Of the two types of hostile debates, Jalpa is described (in Nyaya Sutra 1.2.2) as a disputation or wrangling or a ’tricky’ debate between two rivals , where each is thoroughly convinced that he is absolutely right and the other (termed as the opponent – Prativadin) is hopelessly wrong. The first party to the debate is dogmatically committed to his own thesis, while the other party takes a rigid contrary position (Prati-paksha) on a given subject; and, sometimes at the cost of truth. Each is prepared to employ various deceptive or sophistic devices, such as quibbling (Chala); unreasonable (A-hetu) responses; shifting the reason or the topics (Hetvantara or Arthantara); irrelevant rejoinders provoking the opponent to lose focus , to get perturbed and yet continue with the dispute (Jati) somehow; and , such other devices to outwit the opponent.

(jalpa-lakṣaṇam :  yathoktopapannaḥ chalajātinigrahasthānasādhanopālambhaḥ jalpaḥ-NyS_1,2.2)

Unlike in Vaada, the purpose of Jalpa is not so much as to ascertain the truth, as to establish one’s own position or thesis, and to prove the opponent wrong; and, make him accept defeat. What is at stake here is the ‘prestige and honor’ of one’s School (Matha). And, therefore, each will try to win the debate by fair or foul means.   And, when one senses that he might be losing the argument (nigrahasthāna), he will try to invent every sort of face-saving device or ruse to wriggle out of a bad situation that is quickly turning worse , like being trapped on quicksand sinking down each moment . Jalpa, predictably, could therefore be noisy , unpleasant and even be desperate.

And, Vitanda is the worst type of argument or squabbling descending to the level of quarrel and trickery. It is  described as a destructive type of argument; the sole aim of each party being not only to inflict defeat on the opponent but also to demolish and humiliate him .

The Vaitandika , the debater who employs Vitanda, is basically a refuter; he relentlessly goes on refuting whatever  the proponent says. He has no thesis of his  own – either to put forward or to defend.  Sometimes he might pick up a thesis  just for argument’s sake, even though he may have no faith in the truth of his own argument. The aggressive Vaitandika goes on picking holes in the rival’s arguments  and destabilizes his position , without any attempt to offer an alternate thesis.

Both the participants in a Vitanda are prepared to resort to mean tactics in order to mislead, browbeat the opponent by fallacies (hetv-abhasa); by attacking the opponents statement by willful misrepresentation (Chala) ; ill-timed rejoinders (Atita-kala) and, make the opponent ‘bite the dust’. It is virtually akin to a ‘no-holds-barred’ sort of street fight. The ethereal values such as: truth, honesty, mutual respect and such others are conspicuously absent here.

(vitaṇḍā-lakṣaṇam : saḥ pratipakṣa-sthāpanā-hīnaḥ vitaṇḍā –NyS_1,2.3)

It is said; in the case of Jalpa the contending parties have a position of their own, fight hard to defend it, and aim to make the rival accept it, by whatever means.  However, in the Vitanda, the disputant has neither a position of his own nor is he trying to defend any specific thesis.  He is merely trying to derange and humiliate the other party to the debate. Vatsayana in his Nyaya-sutra Bhashya calls one who resorts to Vitanda (Vaitandika) as self-destructive.

Even in the case of Jalpa and Vitanda, the disputants had to agree, beforehand, to certain rules, norms and devices, so that the defeat could be forced by the judge (Madyastha) on one or the other party.

A debate with the mere aim of win or humiliation of the other is looked down. Therefore, Jalpa and Vitanda are deemed contrary to the overall aim of the Nyaya Shastra which is oriented towards determination of the true nature of objects.

[The skills in waging debates and arguments (Vada-vidya) of the Jalpa and Vitanda might have been relevant during the medieval times when the inter–religious or intra-religious debates (Shastrartha) were held among the rival traditions (Sampradaya) or sects, each trying hard to prove the superiority of its Matha (thesis or sect) over the others. In the present context, such beliefs and arguments have become obsolete in India, though their techniques are very well preserved and practiced in Tibetan Buddhist debates.

Having said that , Prof. A L Basham remarks : ” Modern logicians might make short work of these rather pedantic systems of ontological and epistemological relativity, but they have a fundamental quality of breadth and realism, implying a full realization that the world is more complex and subtle than we think it, and that what is true of a thing in one of its aspects may at the same time be false in another.”

Further . the syllogism, logical structure and methods of presenting reasoned arguments as described in the ancient texts  are still of great interest. Its methodology based on a system of logic is the same for us today in our lecture halls and programming desks as it was for the medieval scholars.]

vada samvada

 Let’s look at each of these types of discussions and arguments in a little more detail. 

lotus design



Samvada is a dialogue that takes between the teacher and the taught in all earnestness.  The one who approaches the teacher could be a disciple; student; friend (as in Krishna-Arjuna or Krishna-Uddhava) ; son (as in Shiva-Skanda or Uddalaka-Swetaketu); or spouse (as in Shiva-Prvathi or Yajnavalkya-Maitreyi);  or parent (as Sage Kapila teaching his mother Devahuthi);  or anyone else seeking knowledge (as in Nachiketa -Yama or the six persons who approach Sage Pippalada in Prashna Upanishad).

What characterizes the Samvada in such cases is the sincerity and eagerness of the learner; the humility in his/her approach; and the absolute trust in the teacher.  The wise teacher , in turn , with full of grace , imparts instructions out of enormous love for the ardent seeker of truth.

kapila teaching his motherUhdava  Krishna.JPGUddalaka Swetaketu -samvadaSatyakama

(siddhānta-sūtra : jñāna-grahaṇā-abhyāsas tad-vidyaiśca saha saṃvādaḥ- 4.2.47vidhya-artha-vādā-anuvāda-vacanaviniyogāt;vidhiḥ-vidhāyakaḥ;stutiḥ-nindā-parakṛtiḥ-purākalpaḥ itiarthavādaḥ; na-anuvādapunaruktayoḥ-viśeṣaḥ,-śabdābhyāsopapatteḥ ; śīghra-tara-gamanopa-deśavat abhyāsāt na aviśeṣaḥ; mantrā-yurveda-prāmāṇyavat ca tatprāmāṇyam, āpta-prāmāṇyāt (2.1.63-69)

shiva skanda

Another remarkable text of this genre is The Vijñāna Bhairava Tantra (a component of Rudrayamala Tantra), a principal text of the Trika school of Pratyabhijna (KashmiraShaiva Siddantha). It is composed as a discourse (Samvada) between the Lord Bhairava and his consort Bhairavi.  Here, Bhairava imparts instructions to the Devi; teaching her as many as 112 Tantric meditation methods or centering techniques (Dharana or types of Yoga). The Vijñāna Bhairava utilizes all the traditional techniques of Yoga (such as Mudra, Pranaskthi, mantra-japa, awakening of Kundalini, bhakthi, jnana etc.). These include several variants of breathawareness, concentration on various centers in the body, non-dualawareness, mantrachanting, imagination and visualization and contemplation through each of the senses. These techniques are said to help / guide the aspirant along the path to realize her/his identity with the highest reality – recognized here as Bhairava, the Absolute.

The Devi listens to the Lord with rapt attention : Shrutam deva maya sarvam rudrayamala  sambhavam.


Similarly, the Svacchanda-bhairava-tantra, belonging to the Śāktāgama (or Śākta-tantra) division of the Āgama tradition, is rendered as a Devī-Deva-saṃvāda, where Lord Bhairava is drawn forward to teach the Goddess Bhairavi. The Devi implores ,  O Parameśvara, you taught the  Svacchanda Tantra  a profound Tantra  (mahā-tantraṃ) having  four parts (catuṣpīṭhaṃ ) and leading to the four types of attainments (catuṣṭaya-phalodayam)

mudita Bhairava dṛṣṭvā Devī vacanam abravīt || yat tvayā kathitaṃ mahyaṃ svacchandaṃ Parameśvara || śata-koṭi-pravistīrṇaṃ bhedā-anantyavisarpitam | catuṣpīṭhaṃ mahā-tantraṃ catuṣṭaya-phalodayam ||

Then the Devi requests : Teach me, O Maheśvara, how this Tantra will be successful now that the Kali Age is upon us (kalim āsādya siddhyanti tathā brūhi maheśvara). |

The Lord responds : That was really good, O blessed Goddess. Now I will teach what you have requested in order to bestow grace upon mortal beings.

sādhu sādhu Mahābhāge yat tvayā parichoditam || anugrahāya martyānāṃ sāmprataṃ kathayāmi te

Svacchanda Bhairava

Another well known text , in the form of a Samvada, is the  Siddha Kunjika Stotra , a Tanric stotra, which occurs in the Gauri Tantra (section) of Rudra-yamala Tantra. Here, Lord Shiva, the Adi Guru, imparts instructions to his consort Parvathi; and, extols the virtues of the Kunjika Stotra.

It is said; the  Kunjika is the Key ,which  unlocks the powers of the Chandi Paatha. And, its prefix ‘Siddha’ implies that the stotra leads to the attainment of the  ideal state. 

It is also said; Kunjika, here, is in form of the Devi Chamunda, the Supreme Goddess; and, there is nothing beyond Her (Anuttara).

While invoking the Devi Chamunda, the Kunjika Stotra  explains the meaning  of the syllables (Bija mantras) in the Navarna Mantra – Om̃ ai hrī klī cāmuṇḍāyai  viccey.


A Samvada is thus a discourse or a dialogue that teaches, imparts instructions or passes on knowledge to a sincere seeker of Truth. 

The bulk of the Upanishad teachings have come down to us in the form of Samvada, which took place in varieties of contexts. Apart from intimate sessions where an illumined teacher imparts instructions to an aspirant , there are instances of varied kind, say, as when : a wife is curious  to learn from her husband  the secrets of immortality; a teenage boy approaches Death itself to learn the truth of life and death; a king seeks instruction from an recluse sage who speaks from his experience ; Brahmans advanced in age and wisdom sit at the feet of a Kshatriya prince seeking instructions as also inspiration ; and , when sometimes the sages are women who are approached by kings .There are other sorts of dialogues , say, when Jabala is taught by bulls and birds (Ch. Up 4.4-9) , Upakosala by the sacred fires (Ch. Up. 4.10-15), and Baka is by a dog (Ch. Up 1.12). 

Nothing in the Upanishads is more vital than the relationship between a student and his guide. The teacher talks, out his experience, about his ideas of the nature of the world, of truth etc. or about particular array of phenomena visualized through mental images that stay etched in memory. 

An Upanishad-teacher ignites in the heart of the boy a spark that sets ablaze his desire to learn and to know the central principles which make sense of the world we live in. The guide inflames the sense of challenge, the urge to reach beyond the boy’s grasp and to know the unknown. The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad calls upon :

‘You are what your deep, driving desire is; as your desire is, so is your will (sa yathā-kāmo bhavati tat-kratur-bhavati); as your will is, so is your deed (yat-kratur-bhavati tat-karma kurute) ; as your deed is, so is your destiny (yat-karma kurute tad-abhi-sapadyate”- (Brhu. Up. 4.4.5).

sa yathākāmo bhavati tat-kratur bhavati | yat-kratur bhavati tat karma kurute | yat karma kurute tad abhi-saṃpadyate || BrhUp_4,4.5 |

In the end, all achievement is fueled by burning desire. 

The Bhagavad-Gita suggests that an ardent seeker of truth should approach a learned teacher in humility and seek instructions from him; question him repeatedly: 

Tad viddhi pranipatena pariprasnena sevaya I Upadeksyanti te jnanam jnaninas tattva-darsinah II (B G.; Ch.4; verse 34) 

The student questions the teacher not because he doubts (samshaya) the wisdom or the understanding of the teacher; nor is he / she questioning the authenticity of the teaching . The questions are asked with open mind and guileless heart; and, are meant to clear doubts, and to gain a flawless understanding of the teaching.

The teacher is neither annoyed nor does he discourage the student from asking questions.  On the other hand, he encourages the learner to examine, enquire and test the teaching handed down to him.  A true teacher, in a Samvada does not prescribe or proscribe. He lets the student the freedom to think, to ponder over and to find out for himself the answers to his questions. A student needs humility, persistence, and honesty of purpose to go further and to arrive at his own understanding. 

lotus design

Yaska  tenders sage-like counsel. Yaska instructs (Nir.1.18): what is taken from teacher’s mouth, but not understood and, is merely repeated, never flares up. It is like dry firewood flung on something that is not fire.

  • Don’t memorize, seek the meaning
  • What has been taken from the teacher’s mouth  but not understood,
  • Is uttered by mere memory  recitation,
  • It never flares up, like dry firewood without fire.
  • Many a one, although seeing, do not see Speech,
  • Many a one, although hearing, do not hear her,
  • And many a one, she spreads out Her body, like a wife desiring her husband.
  • The meaning of Speech is its fruit and flower.

yad ghītam avijñāta nigadena eva śabdyate/  anagnāv iva śuka edho na taj jvalatikarhicit/  sthāus tiṣṭhater artho arter araastho vā / Nir. 1.18 /

lotus design


The Buddha, the best of the teachers, also adopted a similar approach. He insisted that his followers should not try borrowing ideas or experiences from him; but they should arrive at their own.  In the first sermon he delivered (Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta) in the Deer-park (Miga-daya) at Isipatana (Saranath), soon after attaining enlightenment, he asked his listeners:

O monks and wise men, do not accept my Dharma merely out of respect for me, but analyze and test it the way a goldsmith examines a pieces of gold by  burning , cutting and rubbing it on a touchstone.(please  see the note below)

A teaching would not be true, valid or trustworthy merely because it was uttered by an eminent person of great renown. It would be so only in case it is thoroughly tested, clearly understood and truthfully brought into one’s own experience.  

The Buddha guides the aspirant on the path that leads to right-understanding. But he disclaims any personal authority; and asks the follower to work it out himself. The follower when he succeeds in attaining the enlightenment will not become a second Buddha or a replica of the Buddha. In the final analysis, both the Buddha and his follower free themselves from the bonds of samsara; yet, each retains his individuality.


[This often quoted analogy of testing a piece of gold  appears in many texts ; such as :  Jnanasara-samuccaya (31) a Sanskrit text of a later period (perhaps a translation of the Tibetan text – sTug-po bkod-pa’i-mdo); in  Nyāya-bindu-pūrvapakṣa-saṃkṣipti, a commentary on Dharmakīrti’s,  Nyāyabindu  (1.18–1.21) and also  in Śāntarakṣita’s Tattva-saṁgraha (verse 3588) .

It reads in Sanskrit as :

Tāpāc chedāc ca nikasat svarnam iva panditaih / Parikshya blikshavo grāhyam madvaco na tu gauravāt

However, the kalama Sutta  (or Kesamutti Suta) – delivered to the Kālāmas of Kesamutti – appearing in Aṅguttara Nikaya (III.653), which is a part of Tipitaka, merely lays down the principle of taking an objective view after a thorough examination (charter of free inquiry); but, it does not specifically mention the instance of ” jewel-testing” :

“Come, O Kālāmas, Do not accept anything thinking that thus have we heard it from a long time (anussava). Do not accept anything thinking that it has thus been handed down through many generations (paramparā). Do not accept anything on account of rumours (itikirā). Do not accept anything just because it accords with your scriptures (piṭaka-sampadāna). Do not accept anything by mere surmise (takka-hetu); nor upon an axiom (naya-hetu). Do not accept anything by mere inference (ākāra-parivitakka). Do not accept anything by merely upon a bias towards a notion that has been pondered over (diṭṭhi-nijjhān-akkh-antiyā). Do not accept anything by coming under another’s seems ability (bhabba-rūpatāya). Do not accept anything merely because the monk-teacher says so (samaṇo no garū). Do not accept anything thinking that the ascetic is respected by us (and therefore it is right to accept his word.)

“Kalamas, when you know for yourselves —these things are immoral, these things are blameworthy, these things are censured by the wise, these things when performed and undertaken, conduce to ruin and sorrow – then indeed you do  reject them.

“But Kalamas, when you know for yourselves –  these things are good; these things are blameless, these things are praised by the wise; these things when undertaken and observed, lead to well-being and happiness- enter upon and abide in them. ]



Continued in Part Two

.. Vada, Jalpa and Vitanda

Sources and References:

A History of Indian Logic: Ancient, Mediaeval, and Modern Schools By Mahamahopadyaya  Satis Chandra Vidyabhusana

The Character of Logic in India Edited by Bimal Krishna Matilal, Jonardon Ganeri, Heeraman Tiwari

The Nyâya Sûtras of Gotama by Nandalal Sinha

Hindu Philosophy by Theos Bernard

Categories of Cognition and Proof – Shodhganga

A History of Indian Philosophy, Volume 1 By  Prof. Surendranath Dasgupta

The Birth of Meaning in Hindu Thought by David B. Zilberman

History of Indian philosophy: The philosophy of the Veda and of …, Volume 1 by Erich Frauwallner

All images are taken from Internet


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Shishira Rtu

[Ms.B i; January 22, 2014; Dear Mr.Sreenivasa Rao,

I am currently working on indianising the curriculum for the school that I work for. In my research, I stumbled upon this article and the one on Sharad Ritu. It is very relevant to the work I am doing, as the curriculum is imparted mainly through stories embedded in local culture.

We are now in the season of Shishira. Would you be able to give a similar description of this season?

Ms.B ; January 24, 2014; what is said about this particular season in these translations is something that I cannot use… these descriptions cannot  be given to children.

I can see that there aren’t many flowers around in this season, but there still are. How are they coping with the cold? How about the birds, squirrels, worms and other creatures? What are the first things to change at the end of Shishira, when Vasantha begins to set in? ]

floral design3

Dear Ms.B , I wrote the article on Rtu Varnana mainly thanks to my friend   Ms. Venetia Ansell, a Sanskrit Scholar from Oxford University – now in India. I expanded on Rtu Varnana by bringing in Barahmasa poetry and painting, just to make it a bit more complete.

Venetia Ansell is managing a Publishing House (Rasala) ; and also a website devoted to Sanskrit Literature

Please check on the latter link; and that could, perhaps, answer many of your concerns.

On that page, under the table ‘Categories’ you may click on Seasonal Poetry . There you will find that Venetia has written extensively on seasonal poetry in Sanskrit; as also on flowers of each season as described in the poetic works of Kalidasa and other eminent poets. I am sure the detailed references would be of much use to you in your task.

As regards Shishira please check on pages 10 and 11 of ‘Seasonal Poetry’ at   the following link for a brief description

Yes Maa, I agree. Those translated poems on Venetia’s site are about the pleasures of Shishira, enjoyable delights of lovers within the confines of the bedroom.  They, of course, are   not suitable for children. Those pieces of poetry were created in an entirely different context for the pleasure of a totally different set of readers. In contrast, the stanzas you have written are purposeful and serve your objective better.

I have just tried writing a few lines about Shishira. I now realize how difficult it is to write about these subjects for the children. It calls for a special way of understanding and a style of putting across the information in a manner that is at once simple, inoffensive, educative and enjoyable by the children. I had not attempted it earlier.  This is a new experience for me.  I am not sure I got it right. My respect for you, therefore, goes up all the more.

See, if the following could be any use to you. Modify it in any way you think best. I am sorry; I have not been of much help to you. Pardon me.

[As regards Yakshi and others you mentioned, let’s talk of them at another time.]

A. Shishira

Shishira Rtu

1. 1. In the part of country we live, Shishira and Hemantha run into each other. That is mainly because, unlike in the North, we do not experience severe winters. Though Hemantha is described as pre-winter and Shishira as late-winter, both the Rtus are moderately cold, and dewy. While Hemantha is colder, Shishira is its diminishing phase. 

1.2. Shishira is the Rtu comprising Magha and Phalguna, the months related to winter’s cold and snug- comfort.  The Shishira Rtu, season, usually starts in January and ends in March. The mild winter gradually gives place to spring (Vasantha), which itself transforms into summer (Grishma).

1.3. The temperatures during Shishira are pleasant, breaking into enjoyable sunshine, evoking images of warmth, the stoking of the fires.    The sun shines weakly and even the moon is pale. Days are short and nights long. Few flowers or trees are in bloom.  During the latter half of Shishira, trees may shed their leaves.  The life-force of the plants lie dormant, waiting to burst forth at the advent of Vasantha, the spring.  These seasons are typical to tropical and subtropical regions. Some, therefore, even call Shishira; the early spring – prelude to Vasantha.

2.1. Shishira is one of the many names of Vishnu (Shishira sharvaree Kara – Vishnusahasranama 97). And yet;   as Venetia says: ‘Śhiśhira is the much neglected step child among the seasons’. It doesn’t seem to have definition of its own. Shishira, unlike Vasantha or Varsha, is not much celebrated in our poetry.  In the ancient days of the Vedic texts, when the Rtus  were counted as five, Hemantha and Shishira were considered as forming one Rtu. Some texts did not even regard Shishira as a Rtu, but called it a month – Shishira Maasa.

2.2. Shishira (magha –phalguna) is the transitory season of cool days; the waning phase of winter, when the season of cool comforts steadily picks up heat gets quietly warmer. Shishira stands at the threshold when earth changes its fabric. It acquires a rather rough surface after the dry winter. Then the earth switches into its explicit warmer mode.

Aayanas and change of seasons

3.1. Shishira marks the Parva-kaala – change of seasons – from winter into spring; from short days into longer days; and from Dakshinayana into Uttarayana.  It transfers from the night (Dakshinayana) of the gods to the day (Uttarayana) of gods. Shishira stands at the head of Uttarayana. 

3.2. The Indian year is divided into two semesters (Aayana): the fiery (agneya) in which the Sun rises higher in the sky with each passing day, spreading heat, blowing winds, and sapping out (aadana) fluids from all living things. The other is the lunar season (saumya) during which the moon is relatively higher up in the sky than the lowering Sun. It pours in (visarga) moisture through the rains.

3.3. The first of these, the hot season, roughly corresponds with the period between the winter (14th January) and summer solstice (14th July). During this Aayana, the Sun’s angle of elevation increases; and the point of sunrise moves northward (Uttara) along the horizon with each passing day. This is known as Uttarayana; and roughly corresponds to the period between 14th January and 14th July.

3.4. The second is the period between summer and winter solstice, when the Sun’s angle of elevation decreases and apparently moves along the horizon southward (Dakshina). This is the Dakshinayana – the period between 14th July and 14th January.

4.1. The turning points (Sankarnathi) fall on or about 14th January (Makara Sankranthi) and 14th July (Karka Sankranthi) when the Sun’s orientation shifts, and when winter and summer change places. Shishira Rtu covers the transition period from winter to spring, from Dakshinayana to Uttarayana. Uttarayana Sankranthi (14th Jan) is celebrated to mark the beginning of the sun’s journey in the northern solstice. On this day prayers are offered to Surya, the visible representation of the God.  This is followed by Ratha Saptami marking the seventh day of Sun’s journey in the north-easterly direction. And, with that the day temperature increases gradually. Ratha Saptami heralds staring of the harvesting season; and, are celebrated as Surya Jayanthi (birthday).

[This traditional explanation is from the point of view from the Earth.  But, we all know that the Sun does not move; and it is the Earth that rotates on its axis round the Sun.  The earth is titled at about 23 degrees and circles around the Sun with this tilt. It is this tilt that creates the various seasons on different parts of the Earth.


The tilt of the Earth and its rotation round its axis is very important for the creation of seasons. Supposing the Earth did not tilt round its axis, and had been erect (zero degree), the sun would always have been below on the horizon; the Sun would set and rise at the same time everyday of the year; there would be no variation in daylight hours; there would less sunlight towards either ends of the Earth; and, It would be warm at the equator and cold at the poles. That is to say; with zero tilt,    a single uniform weather condition would have prevailed over the Earth. All through the year, it would have been as if it is the middle of fall or spring; we would have a totally different plant and animal life. Or , it could possibly have been something else; who knows !

With no tilt, the most profound impact on temperatures would have been at the poles where the sun would always circle round its horizon and the temperatures throughout the year would have been uniform.  The day in the Polar Regions would be shorter and colder; the effect on animal and plant life would have been significant without having any ‘growing’ or migration seasons.

Therefore, the earth’s 23 degree tilt doesn’t just give us the variations of the seasons and all the wonderful things we’ll be experiencing from season to season.  The tilt is really important for setting the basic foundations of the environment we take for granted in our part of the world. As you can see, we’d have a very different planet without those 23 degrees.

Having said that; let us be aware that the earth hasn’t always rotated with a 23 degree tilt. Its tilt varies by a couple of degrees every 41,000 years or so. And, that changes the strength of the seasons on the earth as we experience it.  When the tilt is greater, summers are warmer and winters are colder; and, when the tilt is smaller there’s less of a difference in the seasons. Over the last million years the changes in the tilt have   just been 2 or 3 degrees. And, that is huge enough to force huge climate shifts of the glacial cycles that the earth has experienced. Scientists say that the Earth’s tilt is slightly decreasing, which means the variations among the seasons ,  ever so slowly,  is getting less perceptible  .]

5.1. The Dakshinayana begins with pouring monsoon rains beating down the heat and ushering in cool relief, And, as the Aayana ends, the mild winter steps into prelude to spring. Dakshinayana is the life giving season in which all creatures and vegetation thrive. The thirsty plants and animals fanatically drink and soak in the elixir of life, and regain their vitality.   It is the season of life and festivity.  All the major festivals from Krishna Janmastami, through Gauri, Ganesh, and Nava Ratri, on to Deepavali are celebrated during Dakshinayana. This particularly is the Aayana of the Devi – the Mother. Dakshina is also understood as the grace; the feminine principles, the Mother who can create, unfold and manifest. Dakshinayana is the time of receptivity and is the feminine phase of the Earth.

5.2. In contrast; the Uttarayana (Jan – July) is a long period of dry heat, blazing summers and swirl dusty winds. During this uncomfortable season of heat, dust and winds the life withers and dies.  The heat takes away moisture from all living things. It is also the season of ‘hot’ diseases and epidemics. The village minor goddesses such as Sitala (small pox) are ‘cooled’ or appeased (shanthi).

small pox

At the same time; Uttarayana is also the invigorating   , new good healthy wealthy beginning.  It is the time of harvest, gathering the fruits of your efforts.  Uttarayana is also the northward noble path (Deva Yana) that leads the virtuous to gods; and, is therefore called Uttarayana Punyakaala. The old warrior Bhishma of Mahabharata lay in wait on the bed of arrows for the arrival of Uttarayana. On the dawn of Uttarayana the Grand-old Bhishma chose to give up his life. Uttarayana is the time of fulfilment, while Dakshinayana is the season of growing up.

5.3. Maha Shivaratri which heralds the true beginning of hot summers, as also the Holi  the festival of colours marking  the burning down of Kama are celebrated during Uttarayana . Shivaratri, it is said, is the remembrance, in gratefulness, of Shiva the Neelkanta who saved the world by consuming the deadly poison thrown up after Samudra Manthan, churning of the ocean. And, Holi, in some parts of the country, is day on which the fearsome Lord Narasimha killed the tyrant king Hiranyakashipu. 

Many of the festivals in Uttarayana are in celebration of male gods. The season of six months from January to July is regarded   masculine in nature, while Dakshinayana is the feminine phase of the Earth.

[In the ancient and medieval times, Dakshinayana was also the season of re-union; when men travelling on business hurried back home before the rain bearing clouds broke out in torrents; and, when the separated lovers ran into each other arms.

Even for the ascetics, the recluse and the Parivrajakas (wandering monks) the monsoon was a period of retreat. During the four months (Chatur-masa) of Dakshinayana when travel used to be difficult and hazardous the monks in the olden days used to assemble at a place far away from towns for exchange of views and experiences. It was essentially a period of study, reflection and contemplation. The period of retreat commenced from the end of Ashada (June–July) and through the months of Shravana, Bhadrapada, Asvina and ending in the Kartika, the day after Deepavali (November) marking the beginning of  winter ]

6.1. The Rtu of Shishira bridges the winter and hot seasons, marks the transformation of the Earth in its nature and appearance. Shishira stands at the threshold when earth changes its fabric; switches from Devi to Shiva; from thriving into fulfilment. It leads on to way to openness and liberation.


B. Birds and flowers


7.1. Shishira is the season of migratory birds. Every year, in this season, varieties of colorful migratory bird species flock to the   habitats that suit them in Southern India. In these sanctuaries, the arrival of migratory birds commences in the last week of October and continues till February end. 

sea geese in ontario

The annual migration of snow geese turning up in Ontario, Canada is  not only an incredible demonstration of the unique and amazing ways the flocks of birds  have evolved to survive;  but,  it’s also a visual spectacle

7.2. For instance, birds from North Europe, Afghanistan and West Asia make their home in the wetlands of Malady in Udupi district between September and March. The influx of waterfowls in the wetland crosses 1.2 lakh every winter. The best time to watch them is in January and February. Some birdwatchers say they have identified here even the bird species from Patagonian region of South America. These include different varieties of ducks, coots, swans, birds of prey and many others.

[It appears, during this season, in the warm waters of South India, Olive Ridley Turtles arrive to lay eggs.]

7.3. The other is the famous bird sanctuary at the mini-islets of Ranganathittu along the River Cauvery, near Mysore. During the months of January and February, more than 30 species of birds are found here. About 50 pelicans have made Ranganathittu as their permanent home. The season of the sanctuary is from November to June, when Ranganathittu comes alive with birds of different species flocking there to herald the nesting and breeding season. About 40,000 birds of various plumes arrive here from the cold regions of Siberia, Latin America and the Himalayan regions in North India, to nestle and hatch eggs. They stay throughout the summer and fly away after breeding ahead of the onset of monsoon.

7.4. The migratory birds that arrive at Ranganathittu are of wide variety .They range from Pelicans, Painted Storks, Open Billed Storks, River Terns, Spoon Bills, Night Herons, Cormorants and other birds. A lot of other varieties such as Kingfishers, Hornbills, Wagtails and many other species can also be found. Between February and April you’ll find a greater variety of birds with their breeding plumage are at their finest. And, between April and July, you’ll still get to see the Mother birds with their offspring.


8.1. As regards the flowers of Shishira as described in the Sanskrit poetry, you may refer to Venetia Ansell’s most delightful series of posts on Seasonal poetry. Please click here for the link.  

Here, she talks of:” Priyagu creepers, their young shoots bowed under their burden of golden yellow  blossom, outshine the beautiful hue of women’s arms arrayed with jewellery – Ritu Samhara of Kalidasa; 3.18.

; And of Kunda – Jasmine buds that bloom in Shishira and withers at the onset of spring  (Vasantha)  , and  “that shine with a glistening sheen as if stars, terrified of the cold, have taken refuge in the kunda creeper: Verse 3 of Śiśira in the Subhāitaratnabhāṇḍāgāram.

 8.2. The season of Shishira is special, as both winter and summer flowers blossom around this time of the year. While the winter flowering plants do wither away, the summer ones begin flowering around January and February.  “In January and February, winter flowers cease to bloom slowly and summer flowers start blossoming”.

The biannual flower show at Lal Baugh celebrates the culmination of the seasonal flowers of winter and summer.


8.3. Though it is true that flowers bloom in full in spring and summer seasons, there are yet a large variety of flowers that can decorate and brighten-up your garden with their colour and style in the cold months of January and February. These include, among others: 

Witch Hazel, a shrub which produces sweet-smelling flowers having yellow;

the elegant looking Pansies of white, purple, pink or yellow;

the graceful winter Jasmine glowing in mild yellow  strung along creepers lazing on garden slopes;

the coloured snow Drops that create an illusion that garden is covered with snow drops;

and, the Winter Iris of  deep blue, white and lilac that are refreshingly aromatic having  lemony-vanilla-fragrance

. For details please click here.

 Flowering trees

9.1. There are a number of trees in South Karnataka that flower during the Shishira Rtu – January and February. The list is exhaustive. But, let me mention here just a few of the flowering giants of January – March:

Booruga (Kannada) – Red Silk Cotton – bearing   large, cup-shaped, crimson flowers that attract a variety of birds; 


Muttuga (Kannada) – Flame of the Forest – like many of the other trees in this season sheds most of its leaves before putting forth clusters of bright orange red flowers that stand out amidst  dry and leafless vegetation;


Honge (Kannada) – Indian Beech Tree – the native, evergreen and hardy Honge – that bear small – pea-plant like flowers – in colours  from white to pale purple attracting butterflies;


Haladi Mara (Kannada) –  The Tree of Gold – bearing large clusters of bright yellow flowers on its crooked branches;

Haladi mara

Another type of Honge –  Moulmein Rose Wood – bearing   bright mauve flowers on its  drooping stalks ;

Moulmein Rose Wood

and,  Pink Tabebuia- stunningly beautiful clusters of  flowers in deep pink with a pale yellow centre  .

Pink Tabebuia

For details, please click here for Karthik’s Journal on Flowering Tree.

This is a wonderful site where Karthik has posted information and pictures of about twenty-six flowering trees that are found in Bangalore. He has also identified the locations in Bangalore where such species are to be found.

 C. You asked what do the birds, squirrels, worms and other creatures do in winter


10.1. Yes, when the weather gets colder, the days get shorter and the leaves loose colour and fall off the tree, it surely is a hard time for birds, squirrels, worms and other creatures. But, animals are amazing creatures and are very inventive. They learn to survive the cheerless winters by resorting to many tactics. They might: migrate, hibernate, adapt to the situation, and find many other ways to see through the cold unhelpful conditions.

You may find these links useful while teaching the children

Let’s look at these with reference to moderate climatic conditions, setting aside the extremes in polar and desert zones.  ;



10.2. The birds, for instance, might migrate to far off warmer places if they can fly long distances. Else, they may just fly into a nearby more tolerable place. Similarly, whales, fish etc travel South or move into deeper, warmer waters. Insects also migrate. Some butterflies and moths fly very long distances.  The mammals in the colder regions also move out in search of food. But, this happens only in extreme conditions. And, it is not warranted in South India which enjoys moderate climate.

As regards the insects and termites, they move through holes in the ground downward into the soil looking for winter shelters. Earthworms also move down, some as far as six feet below the surface. Insects, most times, take shelter beneath the bark of trees, deep inside rotting logs or in any small crack they can find.


Snakes and many other reptiles find shelter in holes or burrows, and spend the winter inactive, or dormant. This is similar to hibernation.



10.3. Animals, like Bears and some bats, hibernate for part or all of the winter. This is a special, very deep sleep. The animal’s body temperature drops, and its heartbeat and breathing slow down. It uses very little energy. Every living thing learns to adapt.

In the autumn, before the onset of winter, these animals are prepared to live through winter by eating extra food and storing it as body fat. They use this fat for energy while hibernating. Some also store food like nuts or acorns to eat later in the winter.

 As regards the insects, every type of insect has its own life cycle, which is the way it grows and changes. Different insects spend the winter in different stages of their lives. Many insects spend the winter being dormant, or in hibernation. It is a time when growth and development may temporarily halt. The insect’s heartbeat, breathing and temperature drop. Some insects spend the winter as worm-like larvae. Others spend the winter as pupae. (This is a time when insects change from one form to another.) Other insects die after laying eggs in the fall. The eggs hatch into new insects in the spring and everything begins all over again.



10.4. If an animal or plant is to survive it must be able to fit in with the environmental conditions which surround it in its habitat. This adjustment is called adaptation.

Depending on what sort of habitat it lives in, an animal or plant may have to adjust itself to changes in its environment.  In winter, the most obvious changes are those of shortening of daylight hours and decreasing temperature. This is what happens when autumn turns into winter.

Some animals continue to be active in the winter. They however learn to adapt. Sheep, for instance, grow thick fur or wool to keep warm. So do the Rabbits.

Animals may find winter shelter in holes in trees or logs, under rocks or leaves, or underground. Some mice even build tunnels through the snow. To try to stay warm, animals like squirrels and mice may huddle close together.

Food is hard to find in the winter. Some animals, like squirrels, and mice, gather extra food in the fall and store it to eat later. Some, like rabbits and deer, spend winter looking for moss, twigs, bark and leaves to eat. Other animals eat different kinds of food as the seasons change.

Other ways


The puffin species have predominantly black or black and white plumage, a stocky build, and large beaks. They shed the colourful outer parts of their bills after the breeding season, leaving a smaller and duller beak. Their short wings are adapted for swimming with a flying technique under water. In the air they need to beat their wings rapidly (up to 400 times a minute) to stay airborne (Samuele Parentella)


10.5. Water makes a good shelter for many animals. When the weather gets cold, they move to the bottom of lakes and ponds. There, frogs, turtles and many fish hide under rocks, logs or fallen leaves. They may even bury themselves in the mud. They become dormant. Cold water holds more oxygen than warm water, and the frogs and turtles can breathe by absorbing it through their skin.


References and sources

The Alchemical Body: Siddha Traditions in Medieval India by David Gordon White



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IPC 377 and Indian Society

[ Mr.  Humphreys  had raised questions about Supreme Court’s verdict; residue of Colonial rule; and cultural practices in ancient India.]


Dear  Humphreys , I think the verdict needs to be put in its perspective.

 1. The Supreme Court of India does not pass Laws, nor does it frame rules under it. That is the function of the Parliament, the Legislative body. And, whenever a specific issue is litigated upon, the Judiciary examines the matter that comes before it, with reference to the relevant Laws in operation and in the light of the provisions of the Constitution of India.  

In the present case; the Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) framed in the year 1860, during the British Raj, is still in operation. It is a relic of the Colonial rule.  It comes under the Federal list. This Section has neither been repealed nor amended by the Parliament. Going, strictly, by the Book, Homosexuality is still a punishable criminal offence in India.

It is quite a different matter that no one has been booked under that Section, so far; and, that in the popular perception being gay is not a crime, after all.

The Supreme Court has merely pointed out that gay relation is bad in law, as it stands at today.

After the recent verdict of the Supreme Court, the ball is now in the court of the Government of India. The Government has to take a quick action to repeal/amend/replace the Section either by getting it approved by the Parliament or by passing an Ordinance, on its own.

2. You mentioned about Indian ethos on Homosexuality. Yes; the Indian Society even in the ancient times did recognize gay relations; and, it had been tolerant about it. That Society did not consider homosexuals as perverts or sinners. They were described by the term tritiiya-prakriti or those of the third nature. And, that nature was not regarded un-natural .And, they were not blamed for not following heterosexual norms ; for they were born with that nature.

The KAMASUTRA of Vatsyayana does explain ‘tritiiya prakriti’ or third nature. The persons of third nature are of two kinds; one of the female kind and the other of the male kind (“dvividhaa tritiityaaprkritih, striiruupinii purusharuupinii ca.” 2.9.1). Vatsyayana goes on to say that among the Females, the “she”, who behaves like a woman, is to be employed for oral sex (“tasyaa vadane jaganakarma tadauparisht.akamm aachakshate” 2.9.3).As regards the ‘male kind’ of Female who has the desire for males, ‘he’ could take to the profession of massage-giver and thus coming into contact with males to satisfy them through oral sex (2.9.6-10). In this context, the act of auparisht.aka is described in detail in the Kama sutra. Else, ‘he’ could have lesbian relation with a Female of ‘she’ nature.

The Arthashastra of Kautilya did provide a place for the ‘third kind’ in its society. It even imposed a fine on those who persecuted a homoerotic person (3.18.4). Though their position was disadvantaged, and regarded ‘not ‘respectable’, they had the freedom to move about in the Society.

But, at the same time, the Hindu society recognized marriage as a credible institution to bring forth and raise a new generation of able, educated and responsible individuals who would contribute to the welfare and integrity of the  society,  carry forward its  life and its traditions. The coming generation had duties not only to the living but also towards their departed ancestors. The householders’ life had three aspects : to fulfil his duties and obligations to the family and to the society (Dharma) ; to earn wealth to take care of his family and other dependents (Artha) ; and , to procreate children to take his place in the future society . The last mentioned was Kama (desire); it had in it both Dharma (duty) and Rati (sheer pleasure of sex act).

The homosexual relation, they said, provided only Rati – the sexual pleasure. And, it did not fulfil an obligation or a duty that could be of any benefit to the society. There, certainly, was also the perception that such relation was unhealthy for the institution of family. Therefore, the gay relation, though tolerated, was not accorded a high status; and, was placed below the legalized husband- wife relation in a marriage. The gay cohabiters did not enjoy the same rights as did the married heterosexual couples.

3. Coming to the present-day India, the solutions provided by their ancients have been jumbled up. The British who ruled India for nearly a century imposed upon the Indian people the then British taboos and prejudices.  In the process, The Rulers criminalized homosexual relations through a Section of the Indian Penal Code (1860).  As successive Indian Governments have been too slow to alter the Criminal Procedure Code, the section stating punishment for homoerotic contact has not been still eliminated from Indian Law.

There are loud voices arguing that Sex preferences are highly personal matters; and it is best left to the discretion of those involved. They should have the freedom to exercise their choice/s.  There is also the question of the constitutional guarantee of life and liberty to all citizens of India. Yet; some are likely to fudge the question whether maintaining a Gay relation is a fundamental right?

This offending Section should soon be done away with; and, the traditional free outlook restored. Having said that; the mindset of the common people that is created over a century may not perhaps be so easily erased. There is a notion, largely unfounded, that gays are found a lot in fashion and film industry; and, not among the ordinary ones who slog.

The Rights of the Homosexual/Gay individuals seems to be one of the major agendas of social reforms in India today. The Supreme Court verdict has triggered uproar, putting the Government on the spot.

This tornado has caught the Indian Government at its worst time when:  it has just suffered a severe drumming in the Elections held across North India (Delhi in particular) ; its popularity is  at its Nadir; the inflation is at its Zenith (11.3 %); industrial production is down to 1.8%; the value of INR is going down the drain; and , its precious vote-banks are slipping away while  it is apprehensive of the impending Lok Sabha elections.

Yet; the Government of India has to act and provide the initiative, rather hurriedly.

Let’s await Government’s response.

In the mean time, pressure may also be brought on Supreme Court to take a re-look at its judgment-suo moto.


4.  The next question would be: while gay cohabitation may not be illegal, whether or not a gay marriage should be legalized; and, whether Gays should be legally allowed to adopt children. These contentious issues are bound to be debated hotly*. Many may argue that it is necessary to maintain some difference between gay partnership and heterosexual marriage, in the interest of society’s healthy growth. They might point out that children adopted by gays are very likely going to acquire a gay syndrome that would threaten the health of the family. There is  , of course , no paucity of examples from Europe and America where the institution of marriage is almost on the verge of extinction.

There would also be others who assert that there should be no discrimination; and, increasing the population was no longer a necessity or a priority in today’s India. Therefore, they would say that gay marriages are in no way detrimental to Indian society.

In any case, TV Channels and Blog Sites are sure to be set ablaze with furious debates in the coming weeks.  It will be the show-anchors’ delight.


 [**Please also see a Research Paper on:  The Effects of Same-Sex Marriage Lawson Public Health and Welfare by Handie Peng, Department of Economics, Emory University, Atlanta, GA. The paper is done with particular reference to USA. It hypothesizes that same-sex- marriage-ban may (i) foster intolerance for gays which may drive risky homosexual behaviours; and increased the syphilis rate (II) codify and signal traditional family values, which may raise the benefits of heterosexual marriage.]


[Male sand-sifting sea star in the coastal waters of Australia; butterflies , beetles and  many animals exhibit same-sex sexual behaviors despite their offering zero chance of reproductive success. Given the energy expense and risk of being eaten that mating attempts can involve, why do these behaviors persist?

One hypothesis, hotly debated among biologists, suggests this represents an ancient evolutionary strategy that could ultimately enhance an organism’s chances to reproduce. In results published recently in Nature Ecology & Evolution, Brian Lerch and M… Maria R Servedio, from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, offer theoretical support for this proposed explanation.

They created a mathematical model that calculated scenarios in which mating attempts, regardless of partner sex, might be might be worth it.

The results predicted that, depending on life span and mating chances, indiscriminate mating with any available candidates could in fact yield a better reproductive payoff than spending precious time and energy sorting out one sex from the other.

Although this study does not address sexual orientation or attraction, both of which are common among vertebrate species, it does get at some persistent evolutionary questions: when did animals start distinguishing mates by sex, based on specific cue; and why do some animals apparently remain indiscriminate in their choices?

Evolutionary biologists have proposed several explanations for indiscriminate mating attempts that include both same-sex and different-sex sexual behaviours, and Lerch and Servedio’s work adds a new theoretical underpinning to the literature. To predict how time, life span, and sex-specific cues might affect reproductive success, they established a model that had two sexes, one dubbed the “searcher” and one the “target.” They also set some adjustable factors: sex signals from the target could range from “nonexistent” to “always present,” and could be detectable by searchers in a range from “never” to “always.” If the signal were always present and the searcher always detected it, then indiscriminate mating would be nonexistent. But with no signals or weak ones, and with high risks involved in searching, mating with any available partner might tilt the scale scale toward evolutionary benefit

The model also suggested an effect involving death and time: for species with short lives, the indiscriminate approach might be the best use of time, maximizing odds of at least one success. Species with the longest lives would likely have more mating opportunities. But indiscriminate mating might benefit them as well—with the luxury of time to take a gamble, these animals might boost reproductive success by taking every mating opportunities.

But indiscriminate mating might benefit them as well—with the luxury of time to take a gamble, these animals might boost reproductive success by taking every mating opportunity that comes along and still be able to compensate for misfires.]


Posted by on December 12, 2013 in General Interest


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‘Wish to Belong, Want to perform’

Wish to Belong, Want to perform’

Wish to Belong, Want to perform’

1.1. Prof. DSampath’s Book ‘Wish to Belong, Want to perform’ is a refreshingly unique book on management principles.  It is an unusual attempt, in many ways. It deals with layers and layers of intricate management operations, the nuts and bolts of management machinery; but more importantly it goes beyond these and delves into the very heart of a company – the people who make the company, manage it purposefully, run it efficiently and enliven it with their vibrancy.

1.2. Making a Company work successfully is more than ‘work’. Each one – the leader, the manager, and the employee – brings along with him his own interpretation driven by his own necessities, his own priorities, his own objectives and his own hopes and expectations. It is the synthesis of  these dreams, aspirations, fears, commitments of the people who participate in its operations ,  with a sense of belonging , at all levels , that truly drive the Company along the right path for the good of all. A well working Company is the fruit of the harmonious blending of the ideals, the expectations and efforts of the core leadership , the managers and the employees even at its periphery.  The wellbeing of a Company is in its internal harmony; and is also in its harmony with the well-being of the community at large and the environment that surrounds it. A successful Company is the fulfilment of all – within and outside of it.

2.1. Having said this let me also mention that the Book does recognize the fact that a Company is there basically to do business. A Company is essentially interested in getting a job done, and that done well; as well as it could possibly be done. That is to say that a Company has a corporate-mind; and, its behaviour is plainly economic in orientation. A business organization has to be focused on profits; and ‘profit’ is not a bad word. Profit is an index of a company’s health, the soundness of its strategies, and its acceptance by the community. And, it provides the company the strength and resources to develop, research and to reinvent itself.

The question the Book raises is about priorities. Is profit the only value in business? In case that is so, then the company could turn very shrewd, callous, cold-blooded and indifferent to integrity. It could also lead to conflict between the managed and the managers; between the company and the community.  The Book therefore suggests that ideally profit could be viewed as a means to an end; as having instrumental value.

3.1. There is an air of positive longing that pervades ‘Wish to Belong, Want to perform’. It looks to the future and to the next generation of leaders, managers and workers with hope. It urges them to create a vision with values which provides space and opportunity for the enterprise of all the participants to flower, allowing them to grow, to express themselves, to realize their aspirations; and, at the same time to seamlessly blend with the Company’s healthy growth in achieving its goals. The balanced interdependence amid the employees themselves and the Company as a whole is the true lifeblood of the Organization. It is this vibrant culture that Prof. Sampath and his team cherish.

3.2. An endearing aspect of the Book is its readability. The various intricate management issues are lucidly discussed and analyzed in the form of narrative stories, anecdotes, and conversations between the Professor who is the leader and his young associates. The discussions follow an interesting pattern. One of the associates raises dissent disguised as questions; the other associate comes up with half-answers to those objections; and, finally the Professor rounds off the discussion on the issue offering explanations and a satisfactory conclusion.

[ That reminds me of the narrative pattern of  Patanjali’s  Mahabhashya , which is composed in a conversational style employing a series of lively dialogues that takes place among three persons: Purvapakshin (who raises doubts); the Siddanthikadeshin (who argues against objections, but only provides partial answers); and Siddhantin  (the wise one who concludes providing the right answers)   . Its method is engaging, dotted with questions like “What?” and “How?” posed and resolved; introducing current proverbs and   references to daily social life.

The Professor in Shri Sampath’s book is the Siddhantin]

At another level the conversation could as well be taken as a dialogue between the author and the reader.  The ‘Interludes ‘at the end of each chapter, following the main presentation, I find are the most fascinating and engaging parts of the Book.   These are, in effect, dialogues with the readers to discover ways of humanizing the Organizations.  The casual readers as also those who have grown grey in the maze of management can enjoy and find something to reflect upon.

3.3. The group discusses the working practices of some selected successful organizations based in India and other multinational companies. The discussions are rooted in the vast experience, research, deep understanding and insight that Prof. Sampath has gained over the years as Manager, teacher and mentor. It brings focus on concerns that relate to the Organizations’ leaders, managers, the customers, the employees and the surrounding social systems. The bouquet of the selected organizations is spread across a fairly wide spectrum of business, social and educational institutions. It also covers Government bodies at the other end family business houses. As the authors put it:  The idea was to study organizations that had, besides profitability, ideology and community orientation as the main focus. We wanted to research those organizations which visualized themselves not merely as economic entities, but also as viable communities with a distinctive worldview.

4.1. The message of Book, as it appears to me, is that:  The success of an organization depends on the cohesive groups of people as also on its core that provides the organizational environment, values, vision and social goals i.e.  the leader, the entrepreneur and the team managers. The harmonious relation between the groups and the core creates vibrant feeling of oneness, charges impetus for action and opens fresh perspectives for further growth. This identification gives the employee a sense of belonging which promotes a harmonious feeling with just not a task group but also with the interrelated social collective. In these helpful circumstances the possibilities of personal and organizational goals coming closer are higher.

 As the Author put it :   This book is more about creating an exciting ambience in the workplace that facilitates an employee to perform and identify with a sense of belonging to the organization, concurrently enhancing his well-being as a person.  And , that an organization is not merely a place of work but is also a social community.

4.2. The Author and his associates have put forward convincing arguments for  why a company must consciously attempt to integrate its task and social systems , foster human connections inside as well as outside ; and, how it would lead not only to better results but also to preserving the happiness and commitment of its employees. The book aims to bring forth the value of fostering social and task connectivity, energizing strong themes for identification and belonging; and, the importance of bringing about dynamic changes in the internals. These measures do   ensure maintaining a very high calibre of professional task orientation and nurturing an energetic organization culture.

5.1. To me, personally, the Book has a special interest. It touches upon some subtle but elusive issues that are usually glossed over in the traditional or typical Management Books. Some of these issues have been buzzing around my mind; and, I have not been able to articulate them candidly. That is mainly because I have been, for a long-time, away from the field of happenings.  I was delighted to sight some of these speculative concerns surfacing in the Book.

5.2. For instance; it was interesting to read   the debates that skirt around the questions whether there is a link between organizational wellbeing and community wellbeing? How wise it is or how far can   a Company go in mixing business with community welfare?  Whether there is a thing called ‘corporate conscience’, where does it reside, is it different from merely complying with legal obligations etc. There is also the uncomfortable question: whether there is a place for morality in business? Is ethics different from business-ethics? There is also a question of the limits of internal democracy, non-judgemental space for expressing ones opinions, or for socializing in the business ambiance. And, whether an employee is valuable merely because he has stayed with the Company for a long time? And, in the present-day multinational, multi-cultured work atmosphere is there a meaningful place or relevance for ‘cultural homogeneity’?

5.3. ‘Wish to Belong, Want to perform’ may not have provided a panacea to all the management concerns. But, it does surely make an honest attempt to look at them in the face.  Let’s quickly glance through just a few of those issues.

The Organization and the Community

6.1. There is an interesting stream that runs through the Book. There are references to links between organizational wellbeing and community wellbeing; as also to organization working in harmony with the community. The Book believes it is essential for an organization to link harmoniously with its extended social and task systems.  It dwells on the idea of enrolling the community as a partner, be in harmony with the environment, create an environment where the community joins in. That, it says, is important for growth of the individual as also for the group.

That ambition, truly, is both fascinating and challenging; it steps onto an explosive field.  The Author does not deny or turn blind to the harsh reality that there would always be conflict of interests between individual and organization; the organization and the community; as also between individuals, groups and the State. All these have several facets of relationships. And, many times, it might so happen that the conflict is not between the good and the bad; or between the right and the wrong; but between two rights. Ultimately, it is a question of priorities, feasibility and maximum good with least damage. The dynamics of the situation might also be rendered more complicated by interference of agencies not directly involved in the process.

6.2. There are individual values and there are organizational values. They may not always converge.  Between the employee and the Company, the Book therefore urges:

Organizations ought to foster… creating a wholesome identity where employees can identify with the organization and derive meaning from their association…  Ideally, an employee’s set of values needs to be convergent with the organizational values.

6.3. As regards its links with community at large the Authors strongly believe that the organizations which survive and grow need to have a strong core and have a harmonious relationship with the extended task system and the community.  Ideally, an Organization should have the community as its partner.

6.4. How does one wade through such maze of mutually competing priorities.  There are, of course, no ready-made answers. One has to be guided by wisdom, faith, an understanding heart and lots and lots of patience.  The Book attempts to look at the very essence of interdependence between internal and external, between roles, between people and the world view around it…how enterprises need to focus on processes which supports interdependence. This is the main theme of the Book. And, it aims to provide means to achieve these desirable goals.


Corporate power – conscience – ethics

7.1. The Book believes: Like every individual, organizations too have an identity.  It implies that a corporate body has a personality of its own; and, can act like a person. Highly interesting speculative discussions, elsewhere, revolve around the question whether a corporate could be said to have conscience.  The term conscience here for the limited purpose of discussion could be taken to mean a sense of moral responsibility an individual  is required to have as a person and as an entity of the organization. Whether an aggregate  of such individual ’conscience’ amounts to collective or corporate conscience; or whether it is of a totally different nature which might perhaps include inbuilt elements of self-control, integrity and a sense of concern for its employees and the larger community. Whether such a balanced internal control system could be called corporate conscience? In which case, does an industry have moral responsibilities beyond legal compliance and their obedience, in addition to commitment to its shareholders?

7.2. The related question is about ethics. Ordinarily, ethics in business management is taken to mean compliance with the legal requirements, to steer clear of legal hurdles. Does this morality or amorality in business have a place for ethics? It seems ethics in business is distinct from business-ethics. It is perhaps hazardous to carry ethical convictions too far into commercial ventures. Besides, there are no uniform standards of ethics, globally. It is often a function of the region, culture, social structure and even of religion.

7.3. Ethical conduct invariably involves self-control. In the case of a business organization it might imply being critical of its own actions and attitudes; and, be conscientious while designing a product, providing services or dealing with the community. Self-management and ethics – both involve judgment of values such as what is to be pursued or sought after; and the judgment of obligations such as what requires to be done. The power in the corporate body should be tempered with consciousness. That becomes easier when there is degree of freedom within the Organization. It is perhaps here that internal dialogues and effective feedbacks play a vital role.

7.4. Yes; ultimately, self-management or self-regulation is a more effective form of control in corporate activities. But, who sets the tune to Company’s operations? The moral responsibility of the Company is usually pinned upon its top executives rather than on its other components. The fortunes of the Company too depend to a very large extent on the foresight, skill and honesty of its top executives. At times, the very name or presence of the core group leaders evokes image of the Company.  To put it in other words, any business Company is seen to acquire an effective front through its main executives who are identified with the Company.  Having said that, it might be incorrect to identify the Company with few individual however important they might be.  Ideally, it is essential that a sense of responsibility is shared by each of the employees as a person and as a worker.

8.1. The Book therefore explains:

Vibrancy of an organization begins with a strong person or set of people and engulfs the leadership team. The core team creates a composite of their vision, values, practices, and perspectives for energizing the group through role modeling, personal interventions, and also actions; this spreads across the organization through continued practices and traditions at varying degrees of intensity, focus, and content.

“Organizations have to articulate the way the work is to be done and the way organization culture needs to be built, and create constant communication mechanisms and consistent practices to convey it to the employees”.

Further it says:

“The style of management determines learning process in organization development. Learning in organizations is continuous control over experience transformed into accessible knowledge for the benefit of the organization. It involves competence and knowledge-management “.

Therefore, ethics and ethical conduct in an Organization is a shared responsibility.

Cultural harmony


9.1. The Book raises a topical issue that is of great interest in these days of multi-national, multi-cultural work places spread across the globe.  It observes that in an Organization “Culture homogeneity of people and inducting them to both social and task culture becomes important.”  The question is ; how do the factors of ‘cultural homogeneity ‘meaningfully operate in a multi cultured organization, let’s say in TCS located in Cincinnati OH having a mix of local Americans, Hispanic and  Desi Indians.

 It is obvious that sets of people from diverse cultures with different values would find it difficult to create a common social culture, though they may create a professional task culture.

I believe ‘culture’ in the given context could be taken to mean an organizational culture with its own set of values and objectives that are shared by all its components regardless of their regional or cultural backgrounds. It may also include inspiring mutual confidence, respect for individual, wide communication which accepts honest mistakes, mutual support and stress on continuous learning.

9.2.  It is explained  in the Book ,  that ‘ culture’ here implies  sharing certain cherished values such as  “getting the right incumbent for the role both culturally and task wise; creating/ communicating role expectations; coaching and mentoring process for aligning and training the person for proper behaviour; affirmation of positives and censor or censure process for eliminating the negatives.”

Prof. Sampath, elsewhere, explained:

Certain cultural homogeneity is essential, and the rigor applied in the selection of people determine the quality and sustainability of the culture.  There is a need to induct people into technology, philosophy, and culture, and also into the practices of the organization to seek alignment in task as well as social behavior.

 “The evolving culture in any subgroup (say TCS in Cincinnati) should be able to find a negotiable alignment within and with the ruling culture at the apex (say the core group). Homogeneity is not in forms of actions but in the Meta values and objectives shared; forms of culture may be different in each subgroup. This is the most creative and innovative task of the organization. This creative dignified negotiation to get at the optimum balance is the role of wisdom leaders.  Organization has to relook at its common systems policies and processes and devise a process with Meta principles of simultaneous equations and differentiation.”

It is in this sense that Cultural homogeneity of people and inducting them into both social and task culture become important.

 Informality in work place

10.1. The Book argues that :

An organization can create a context which helps in fostering an atmosphere where people are connected as a social community, looking for togetherness and well-being, and also connected together as a task group focused on results. It can also configure ways of bringing in the outside realities seamlessly within the system. This creates a connected organization.

10.2. Perhaps the desired stress here is on a work- space where people come together through social interaction, social learning and networking’; and experience a ‘feeling of togetherness’.  I, however, reckon that  striking the  right balance between professional – task approach to work, and the informality in workplace is a delicate task.   It is essentially a matter of good judgment and restraint. And, that needs to be honed with skill to ensure to arrive at a right mix of comfort and work-discipline. I also feel, it is a task that is best monitored by the Group Leader in each unit at the basic level and the senior in charge at a higher level. It calls for experience and  sound commonsense.

Family Business

11.1. Prof. Sampath is an expert in the studies on Family-Business houses in India. The magazine Family Business Review mentions him as one of the leading family business consultants.  His views on the subject are therefore treated with much respect. His book Inheriting the Mantle by Sage Publications is one of the few books published on Indian family business; and, it is adopted as a textbook by some teaching institutions.

11.2. In the Book ‘Wish to Belong, Want to perform’, Prof. Sampath explains: “Family businesses and the long-standing organizations have ways of pursuing both economic and collective goals simultaneously by devising two different structures for managing them. This concept of two different objectives is driven by two different structures and final decisions are the result of deliberations and negotiations.

In the case of the family, the head and other elders, help in smoothening out the deviations through communication and negotiation. In a family business, the eldest is able to combine the family theme with economic viability by devising two power centres of equal weightage.”

 11.3. I however find that in the Family Businesses, the levels of motivation and dedication as also the quality of approach and attitude of the first generation of enterprisers towards their business markedly differ from that of the subsequent generations. The latter somehow tend to take lot of things for granted; and their attitude to business, business-methods and goals are far removed from the intentions of the founding fathers. The later Family-establishments also tend to dissipate and breakaway mostly because there is neither a sense of purpose nor pride of achievement.

Comfort – Discomfort Zone

12.1. Now, there are frequent references to persons staying with a Company for long years and being satisfied with their placement and performance. It is rightly projected as a symbol of the virtue of both of the employee and the Company. The arguments in favor of loyalty and steadiness are well accepted; and, the value of their services rendered is never denied or discounted. But, it also points out to the harsh fact that such long-lasting employees, in the middle level, would generally not be able to notch up their creative responses to new challenges. Whenever a situation presents itself they tend to dig out of their past experience and try to apply the same solutions to same or similar situations. They may have lost the urge or the sharpness to think ‘out of the box’. The creative aggression seems to have lost its edges and might be fading away.

Discomfort Zone

12.2. Next, is the mirror image of the above issue:  that of the employees changing Companies or jobs periodically for verities of reasons.  Now, each time a person changes his Company he does strive to adapt well and quickly to the new work scenario and to the new work-culture.  And, he does attempt to perform his best in each of his new jobs. That is to say, he learns to survive and prosper by proving his usefulness in varied environments. He is tested in ‘Discomfort Zones’.  As the person successfully migrates, say, from Company One to Company Three or Four he would have moved up the scale and honed his skills and creative responses. I understand that some of the recruiters do look for those tested in “Discomfort Zones’.

12.3. Having said this, the issue needs to be placed in proper perspective. Just as a ‘job-for-life- loyalty’ is no longer valued as a virtue in the present-day business world,  the frivolous ‘company – hopping’ too is not viewed with favor. The tendency of Job-changing and creativity is not an arithmetic relation.  It is context-sensitive and should be endowed with a sense of balance.

The Company needs to look for a judicious mix of experience, expertise, stability and enterprise.

13. ‘Wish to Belong, Want to perform’ is the fruit of wisdom and Love. It is a Book for the future; and for the entrepreneurs and for the managers; and, for anyone genuinely interested in leadership, management or organization development. The authors have attempted to provide a fresh perspective for building vibrant organizations having a set of values, through its work culture and social culture.  They firmly believe that creation of creative interfaces within the organization and with the environment is essential for the healthy growth of a Company. It longs to foster in the individual a sense of belonging, and identification with an organization. It asserts that Organization development is scarcely possible without ensuring the development of individuals; and, that the wellbeing of the Organization and the Community are related.

I wish the well written Book is   avidly discussed in the academic circles.  More importantly, the main aspirations of the Authors need to be turned into reality by putting to practice their recommendations.

[Wish to Belong, Want to perform by Prof. D Sampath; Authorspress; New Delhi -110016; 2013; Rs.284]

Please click here for the link on Amazon


Posted by on October 13, 2013 in Books, General Interest


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Chitrakavya – Chitrabandha

A. Chitrakavya

1.1. Sanskrit poetry has an amazingly vast variety of forms and structures. There is at the top the most elaborate Maha-kavya in classic style narrating a noble story element (kathavastu) of sublime characters   spread over several cantos (sargabandha),  adorned with eighteen types of descriptions (asta-dasha-varnana),  with well chosen forms (guna) of expression, syntax, and graces of Rasa and beauty (alankara) and endowed with  eloquent imagination; and, at the same time, satisfying all the norms and principles  (kavya-lakshana)  prescribed  for a Maha-kavya by the Alankara-sastra texts. The sophisticated thematic construction of such courtly epics is presented as a splendid unity of descriptive and narrative delight.

There is at the other end of the spectrum, the rather flippant or absurd minor poems, as also terse lyrical couplets that dispense in capsule form erotic or didactic (niti) wisecracks.

1.2.  In between there are verities of slightly less elaborate Laghu-kavya or Khanda –kavya, Champu Kavya (written in a mix of prose and poetry), Giti Kavyas, Mukutas, biographical poems, anthologies and stotras etc.

Among these, is a wonderful class of poetry based in brilliant flexible or rather mischievous play of vowels, consonants, words and sounds. The elements of the verse are, at times, picturesquely patterned into designs (bandha), geometric figures or into images of familiar things in life such as a flower, wheel, flag, drum, umbrella, mace etc. Perhaps because of its figurative quality this class of poetry is known as Chitra-kavya.

2.1. The term Chitra has several interpretations such as image (or picture), uniqueness or peculiarity (as in vichitra) or wonder. The Chitrakavya aims to generate a sense of wonder by resorting to unusual (peculiar) management of certain meters; innovative poetic structures, designs or patterns (bandha) resembling objects (vastu) or their movements (gati) that one commonly sees in life. The Chitrakavya also attempts to evoke poetic or emotive images.

And in that sense it is an imitation, a reflection or an image (Chitra) of true poetry (Kavya); but,  it is not the poetry itself. It is ‘image- poetry’.

The other way to look at it is to treat Chitrakavya as architecture of poetry where the sounds of syllables (matra) and letters (akshara) take a visible form.

[Incidentally, the Chitrasutra of Vishnudarmottara  wonders why the concept of Rasa is extended to all arts but not to architecture.]

2.2. The other interpretation extended to the term Chitra is: the figure of speech (Chitra-alankara),  where the poet plays on the sound of the letters with particular importance to similes (upama) and metaphors.

3.1. Even from its early stages,  the Sanskrit poetics has recognized the close association between the word and its sound; and,  between speech (vak) and meaning (artha). The word is that which when articulated gives out meaning; and meaning is what a word gives us to understand. The tradition, therefore, believes that Kavya is a unity or composition (sahitya) of word (sabdalankara) and its meaning (arthalankara).

The concept of Chitrakavya however seemed to be: whatever be the source of its inspiration, kavya is a ‘thing made of language’. The elements that go into a kavya are the words, meanings and the way in which the words have to be compounded. The Chitrakavya , therefore, treats pictures evoked by the sound of the word and its meaning as separate figures (sabda –chitra and artha-chitra); and , it also in some other ways, combines the word and the meaning into a common figure or an image (ubhaya-chitra).

3.2. Chitrakavya (marvel-poetry) embraces all ingenious forms of poetic compositions. The skillful  artistry of words and dexterous enterprise of the poet  is displayed in  unusual  and clever arrangement of letters, in  different combination of words , to evoke varied meanings where the sequence of words when read from the reverse direction –right to left – produce a different meaning; in alliteration of letters (anuprasa); alliteration of words (pada prasa); in ambiguous use of a word where it conveys different meanings depending upon the context (latanu-prasa); in the play of pun (slesha or sabda slesha) ; in change of voice (kaku) or in poetic subversion  or deviant expression (vakrokthi) and so on .

Chitrakavya also  uses certain other features that are peculiar to Sanskrit language. For instance; yamaka is a permutation of  identical set of syllabic strings described by the poet Bhamaha as ‘chimes’ where a letter or a word is repeated regularity at fixed positions in a stanza , say at the beginning, or the end of only  line , or at the middle of only two lines (paada).

4.1. As said; the object of Chitrakavya is to ignite awe and wonder; to evoke amusement and pleasure; and, to offer intellectual challenge. Such poetic tricks or riddles (kuta) have been employed in Sanskrit poetry for a very long time. In Mahabharata there are verses that play on alliterations, puns and chimes.  

For instance; (in Jatugriha Parva, a sub-section of the Adi Parva- CXLVII) Vidura, the uncle of the Pandavas , employs kuta an oblique form of verse, as described in Chitra-alankara, where the real intent is concealed ; and, is couched in philosophical or mystical words. Through a Kuta verse (riddle) Vidura, (who was conversant with the jargon of the Mlechchhas), successfully cautions Yudhistira that the house built for them at Varnavata by Duryodhana is actually a lac -house (Jatugriha) ; and , it is meant to burn them all into ashes.

He that knows the schemes his foes contrive in accordance with the dictates of political science, should, after knowing them, act in such a way as to avoid all danger. He that knows that there are sharp weapons capable of cutting the body though not made of steel, and understands also the means of warding them off, can never be injured by foes. He lives who protects himself by the knowledge that neither the consumer of straw and wood nor the drier of the dew burns the inmates of a hole in the deep woods. Those who live in a hole like rats will not be harmed by fire.  The blind man sees not his way: the blind man has no knowledge of direction. So always be vigilant.  He that has no firmness never acquires prosperity. Remembering this always be upon your guard. The man who takes a weapon not made of steel (i.e., an inflammable abode) given him by his foes, can escape from fire by making his abode like unto that of a jackal (having many outlets). By wandering a man may acquire the knowledge of ways, and by the stars he can ascertain the direction, and he that keeps  his five (senses) under control can never be oppressed by his enemies.’

paureu tu nivtteu vidura sarva-dharma-vit
bodhayan pā
ṇḍava-śreṣṭham ida vacanam abravīt

” prājña prājña pralāpajña samyag dharmārtha-darśivān
tathā kuryād āpada nistared yathā
niśita śastra śarīra-parikartanam
yo vetti na tam āghnanti pratighātavida
aghna śiśiraghnaś ca mahākake bilaukasa
na dahed iti cātmāna
yo rakati sa jīvati
ur vetti panthāna nācakur vindate diśa
tir bhūtim āpnoti budhyasvaiva prabodhita
anāptair dattam ādatte nara
śastram alohajam
śvāvic chara
am āsādya pramucyeta hutāśanāt
caran mārgān vijānāti nak
atrair vindate diśa
ātmanā cātmana
pañca pīayan nānupī

Its inner meaning was that the rogue Purochana would set the house on fire; he is a dreadful foe; you can guard yourself only when you runaway through the underground tunnel. 

Yudhistira replies “I understood what you said” (vijñātam iti tat sarvam ity ukto viduro mayā) ; and, saved himself, his brothers and their mother.

vidurea kto yatra hitārtha mleccha-bhāayā
vidurasya ca vākyena suru
ādyā pañca-putrāyā suptāyā jatu-veśmani
purocanasya cātraiva dahana
sapra-kīrtitam – 01,002.08

And thereafter, the Pandavas set out on the eighth day (aṣṭame ‘hani) of the month of Phalguna when the star Rohini was in the ascendant; and , arriving at Varanavata they beheld the town and its people.

aṣṭame ‘hani rohiṇyāṃ prayātāḥ phalgunasya te / vāraṇāvatam āsādya dadṛśur nāgaraṃ janam


 4.2. The other major poets such as Asvaghosha (sundaranabdana), Sri Harsha (naishabha-charitra), Bharavi (kiratarjuneeya), Magha (sishupalavadha), Kalidasa (Raghuvamsha) and many other later poets also enjoyed using Chitrakavya techniques as playful indulgence.

Further  , it  is surprising that Anandavardhana the rhetorician who looked down on Chitrakavya did himself used Chitra techniques in  his works Dhvanyaloka as also in Devistataka.  For instance; in Anandavardhana’s Devisataka (850 AD) almost every stanza contains a verbal display of some sort: Verse eight when read backwards becomes Verse nine; in verse ten,  four lines can be read forwards and backwards; in verse forty six , only two letters Ma and Na are used with the  vowels; in verse fifty nine ,  only two letters Tha and Va are used.

Anandavardhana’s stricture seems to have had   little impact on its practice.If anything, the popularity of Chitrakavya only increased in the following centuries.

4.3. Among the scholar poets, Sri Anandathirta who later became Sri Madhawacharya the founder of the Dvaita philosophy in his Yamaka-bharata narrates the Mahabharata in verses employing yamaka – chimes.

Sri Vedanta Desika (12-13th century) the remarkable scholar – poet in his Paduka Sahasram celebrating the glory of Sri Ranganatha’s Padukas in 1008 verses   employs Chitra-paddathi for 40 verses (911-950)- (we shall return to Sri Desika’s work later).

The noted Advaita scholar Sri Appayya Dishitar wrote a descriptive text of literary criticism Chitra Mimamsa studded with illustrations.

5.1. There are also kavyas written entirely in the Chitra paddathi. These are generally of two types: the poems of chimes (yamaka-kavya) having varieties of chimes yamaka at fixed positions in stanza to convey different meanings; and the other being the poems of pun (slesha-kavya) having the same set of words so that a line (paada) conveys more than one meaning.

5.2. An instance of Yamaka-kavya is Chaturvimsatika  ascribed to a Jain monk Shobanamuni (10th century). The poem has four groups of verses. The first group of verses is in praise of twenty – four Tirthankaras; the second of all the Jains; the third adulates the Jain doctrine; and, the fourth sings the glory of all deities.   The verses are so constructed that the fourth line has the same set of letters as in the second line, but conveys a different meaning.

5.3. There are too many Slesha-kavyas where each of its lines gives forth more than one meaning. For instance, the Rama-pala-charita   by the court poet Sandhyakar Nandin depicts at once two stories (dwi-sandhana—kavya), one of the Sri Rama and the other of King Rama Plala of Bengal (1104-1130) .

Another is the Raghava-yadava-Pandavveya(राघवयादवपाण्डवीय) by Chidambara-Sumati (16th century), a court poet of Vijayanagara which narrates simultaneously three stories (Tri-sandhana kavya’) those of Rama, Krishna and Arjuna. Such Slesha – kavyas, by laborious splitting compound words; by repetition of sounds (srutyanusara), of vowels (varna-anusara) and of words (pada – anusara);    and by interpreting the words depending on the context, can yield five or even seven stories.

The authors of the Slesha-kavyas must have gone into enormous  study and trouble in crafting  multiple headed literary works , employing varieties of techniques. Such works are unique to India;  and, in particular to Sanskrit. I believe no other literary tradition in the world has such bi-textual poetry, equaling the Slesha Kavya.  But , sadly, the theorists of the classical Sanskrit Kavyas deplored the Slesha Kavyas ; and, pushed it down to a low level. It was even treated as an aberration. Even during the modern times, there have hardly been any serious academic studies. concerning the Slesha Kavyas. As a result, this fascinating  creative literary form is now left in utter obscurity .

[ For more on Slesha , please read :Extreme Poetry , the South Asian movement of simultaneous narration by Yigal Bronner.]

5.4. There is also a Viloma-kavya where the first half of the verse is repeated backwards (viloma) in the second half; and they together form an entire line (pada). When the method is extended in a certain order the verse becomes all-moving (sarvathobhadra) or half-moving (ardha-bhrama).

A 16thcentury poet Daivajna Suryadasa Kavi from Godavari district in Andhra Pradesh wrote a Chitrakavya in the Viloma (reverse) style narrating the story of Rama and Krishna (Rama-Krishna-Viloma-Kavya) in 38 slokas.

Each sloka has four lines, of which the first two lines relate to Rama-story while   the next two lines to Krishna story. The specialty of this Kavya is that the third line is composed by reversing the order of letters in the second line, while the fourth line is a reversal of the order of letters in the first line.

For instance :

तं भूसुतामुक्तिमुदारहासं
वन्दे यतो भव्यभवं दयाश्रीः ।
श्रीयादवं भव्यभतोयदेवं
संहारदामुक्तिमुतासुभूतम् ॥ १॥

(Forward) तं भूसुतामुक्तिमुदारहासं वन्दे यतो भव्यभवम् दयाश्रीः ।

Taan bhoosuta mukti mudaarahaasan vande yato bhavan dayaashree ||

“I pay my homage to Him who rescued Sita, whose laughter is captivating, whose incarnation is grand, and from whom mercy and splendor arise everywhere.”

(Backward) श्रीयादवं भव्यभतोयदेवं संहारदामुक्तिमुतासुभूतम् ॥

Shree yaadavan bhavy latoy devan sanhaaradaamukti muta subhootaan ||

“I bow before that Sri Krishna, the descendant of Yadava family; who is a
divinity of the sun as well as the moon; who destroyed Putana who only gave destruction; and who is the soul of this entire universe

[ Please check for the text of the

 :  ]

There is also a Viloma kavya by Venkatadvari titled Yadava-raghaveeyam. The Yadava-raghaveeyam a poem with two meanings (anuloma-viloma-kavya) comprises 30 verses and deals with the story of Rama and Krishna together by adopting the style of anuloma and prathiloma, that is, reading each stanza as such and in reverse order, the former telling the story of Rama while the latter narrating the story of Krishna. Hence this work actually consists of 60 slokas in all.

For instance :

वन्देऽहं देवं तं श्रीतं रन्तारं कालं भासा यः ।
रामो रामाधीराप्यागो लीलामारायोध्ये वासे ॥

“I pay my obeisance to Lord Shri Rama, who with his heart pining for Sita, travelled across the Sahyadri Hills and returned to Ayodhya after killing Ravana and sported with his consort, Sita, in Ayodhya for a long time.”

In reverse

सेवाध्येयो रामालाली गोप्याराधी मारामोरा ।
यस्साभालंकारं तारं तं श्रीतं वन्देहं देवं ॥

“I bow to Lord Shri Krishna, whose chest is the sporting resort of Shri Lakshmi;who is fit to be contemplated through penance and sacrifice, who fondles Rukmani and his other consorts and who is worshiped by the gopis, and who is decked with jewels radiating splendor.”

It is said; Sri Venkatadhvarin or Venkatacarya was the son of Raghunatha and Sitamba of the Atreyagotra . His grand-father Sririnivasa known as Appayaguru was the nephew of the great Tatacharya of Kancheepuram , a contemporary of Appayadiksita .

Venkatadhvari who lived in the 17th century is believed to have been born at Arasanipalai a hamlet near Kancheepuram and was a follower of Sri Vedntadesika. He had mastery in poetry and rhetoric. He composed 14 works, the most important of them being Lakshmisahasram a hymn to Goddess Lakshmi which is modeled on “Padukasahasram” [पादुकासहस्रम्], the well-known work of Sri Vedantadesika.

5.5. And as late as in the 19th century a poet named Krishnamurthy (son of Gauri and Sarvajna) of Kanchipuram succeeded in producing a very difficult form of Chitrakavya. He narrates the story of Ramayana in a sloka by employing only 32 letters (syllables) and by arranging them in a circular form, as like bangle (kankana).The reading of the letters backward and forward, from a particular starting point can produce in all 64 verses. I learn a copy of his Kankana-bandha –Ramayana is placed at the Saraswathi Mahal Library of Tanjore.

: नेतादेवालीनामाशाधानाधीनानेकालोकी | मास्यानंभाख्यायोगीशं पायादेतं रामेराजा ||

6.1. Good and enjoyable Chitrakavyas are extremely difficult to compose and structure. It demands enormous skill and patience. A Chitrakavya poet should also have excellent command over the language and be thoroughly familiar with its mechanics for manipulating their multiple applications. The difficulty of the poet in constructing these types of poems is exacerbated by the requirement that each type of Kavya should be structured in its own prescribed meter.

For instance; the verses patterned into design of coiled snakes (kundali-naga-bhanda) are to be composed in a meter that has twenty-one syllables in each line. Such restrictions impose additional constraints on the poet.

The Vishnudarmottara a text of 6th century lays down that a riddle should be expressed in less than two full verses . That explains why Ubhyachitra class of verses which aim to maintain a balance between the sound and the meaning of the word, are difficult to produce. Much of the trouble is often of the poet’s own making; and that is compounded because of the tendency to use inscrutable or difficult words and expressions.

There are innumerable poems of the Chitrakavya genre, displaying immense variety .It is almost impossible to list out even their various   classifications.

[Shri V. Venkateswara  mentions : there is a long tradition of Chitra Kavyas in Telugu also, such as ,  Paada bhramaka, padya bhramaka, niroshtya kavyas, dwyarthi kavyas, bandhas etc. from 11 th century till date.]


7.1. Though the Chitrakavyas are highly enterprising and extremely difficult to compose, they are not rated high by the scholars specialized in literary criticism. The Chitrakavya  ( particularly its Sabda-chitra component )  is classified as an inferior type of poetry (Adhama-kavya) because it is viewed mostly as an artificial language-acrobatics, verbal jugglery that is not easy to understand; and confronting the reader with riddles, distractions and confusions. Generally, it is accused of giving the ’word-puzzles’ a poetic garb.

7.2. The Sanskrit scholars have always held that the emotive content (rasa) is the soul of poetry, while sound (sabda) and meaning (artha) form its body. The votaries of classical poetry, therefore, point out that Chitrakavya does not merit to be recognized as true or authentic poetry because it does not satisfy the objectives of a good poetry. It has no soul (kavyasya=atma) . Chitrakavya might amuse or entertain but it lacks the poetic beauty, the sensitivity of suggestion (rasa-dhvani) and does not inspire or elevate the reader to higher ideals. It also lacks, they say, mādhurya (sweetness), rasa the emotional content, or exquisite turn of phrases (pada-lalitya), descriptions (varnana)or vision (darshana) etc.

7.3. Shri Kalanath Jha in his scholarly treatise Figurative Poetry in Sanskrit Literature (1975) – ( which is a rare  book that is devoted entirely to discussion on all aspects of Chitrakavya; the others being Chitra Bandha by V Balasubraumanyam and The pattern Poetry : Guide to an Unknown Literature by Dick Higgins )  – defends its merits and remarks :

”What is called Chitrakavya, especially the one endowed with  arthachitra  (meaning), can be poetry of very high order provided there is a concord between the meaning of the word and its representation; and there is consistency in treatment of the subject. The figures with which this division of poetry is constituted are not irrelevant, as they succeed in evoking a fine poetic sense; or an equally superb poetic image. All this is related to creative urge of the poet. The strength of Chitrakavya is in evoking a visual image of the poetry, throwing open a new perspective and stroking imagination. These create a class of poetry which inspires and also impresses”.

7.4. Shri Jha also says, Chitrakavya is essentially not inferior; but the overuse of sterile techniques caused it great harm. The other reason for relegating Chitrakavya to a low position, according to him, is that adequate attention was not paid to the development of its Arthachitra component. And, because of that the figures of sound lost their inner appeal in the midst of verbal jugglery. Shri Jha concludes that Chitrakavya which entertains and challenges, far from being ‘inferior’, demonstrates the amazing possibility inherent in a language, along with the potential for originality and creativity. The excellence achieved in Chitrakavya is unmatched in any of the literature in the world over. Backed by a history of more than a thousand years, Chitrakāvya still continues to be composed by small pockets of scholars throughout India. Yet, sadly, it seems to be a dying art.


B. Chitrabandha

Classifications under Sabdachitra by Bhoja

8.1. There are too many texts and authorities on Chitrakavya. For the limited purpose of this post let me follow the explanations offered in Sarasvathi-kanta-abharana (ornament in the neck of Sarasvathi) edited by KN Sharma and V.L , Pansikar (1934). It is a text of the Alankara-sastra ascribed to King Bhoja (1018 – 1063) of the Parmara dynasty, ruling the Malwa region from its capital at Dhara (according to some, Bhoja shifted his capital from Ujjain to Dhara). Sarasvathi-kanta-abharana is an elaborate text of 643 verse enriched by as many as 1,563 examples (or illustrations) spread over five Chapters.

8.2. As said earlier, the concept of Chitrakavya seemed to be that kavya is a ‘thing made of language’. The elements that go into a kavya are the words, meanings and the way in which those words have to be compounded. In such a scheme of things, the Sabdachitra the word-picture occupies a key position.

9.1. Though the Sabdachitra , which relies more on the sound of letters and words than on their meaning , was  not rated highly the scholars of his time,  However,  Bhoja considered it as an important  aspect of  Chitrakavya; and , accorded it elaborate treatment.  He classified Sabdachitra into six varieties.

The first and the second are based in the use of vowels and consonants –Svarachitra and Vyanjanachitra. And they together constitute Varnachitra – the play on alphabets and syllables. In the Varnachitra he gives detailed descriptions and instances of verses composed of only one or two consonants having no dental or labial or palatal letters; or having any two or three of the short / long vowels.

9.2. The third is Sthanachitra, which is the use of sounds by classifying them dependent on their origin (pronunciation) in different parts of mouth and throat. Bhoja provides instances of verses composed by use of only one or two consonants not involving teeth or palate or throat; as also of verses using only two or three short/ long vowels.

[In the Sanskrit arrangement, all the vowels come first, alternating long and short (- a -, – â- etc.); then those consonants like –k-, -kh-, -g-, and – gh – which are pronounced in the throat, alternating aspirated and un-aspirated, voiced and unvoiced;then, in similar alternating fashion, those consonants that are pronounced on the palate, like –ch– and -j-; and after them those on the teeth, like -t- and –d-; and last but-one those on the lips, like -m- and -p- . All sounds are arranged as those from the inside of the mouth proceeding outwards, in order. The list is rounded off with semi-consonants like -ya- and -va-, and aspirated and sibilant sounds like -h- and -s-. No other ancient system of writing seems to have been so systematically thought out.]

9.3. The fourth and fifth are Aakarachitra and Bandhachitra , which closely resemble each other; and, therefore their distinction was not strictly followed in the later times. These categories detail the bandha-techniques by employing verses which  can be designed and woven into various patterns of objects, animals, birds etc.

Under the former , the Aakara-chitra , which is based on the shapes and forms of things, Bhoja mentions that the padma-bhanda (lotus) and chakra-bandha (wheel) are popular. Besides, there are mangala-chitras, the patterns of poetic structures that resemble auspicious designs such as Swastika, Shanka, and Chakra etc. About twenty such patterns are mentioned.

Among the Aakarachitra, Bhoja mentions varieties of lotus designs: four petalled, the eight petalled, the sixteen petalled; and an eight petalled one bearing the name of the poet. As regards the chakrabandha (wheel), it depends on the number of spokes on the wheel that one adopts.  There could be as many varieties as there are spokes on one’s wheel. Ten such types are described by Bhoja.

And, Bhoja remarks that all other designs can be treated as falling under the latter variety, the Bandhachitra. An important feature of  Aakarachitra or  Bandhachitra or even ofGatichitra is the repeated use of certain letters in certain specified positions in order to enhance the sense of wonder.  Thus,  alliteration and chimes is important to these designs. Bhoja however cautions that in the case of Bandha poetic-designs , it is essential to predetermine the positions for certain letters.

There are more than 200 known varieties of Bandhas. These include 12 types of Naga-bandha of single or multiple coiled or uncoiled snakes; 19 types of Ayudhas, weapons, such as sword, knife, mace and such others; 16 types of Abharana-chitras   resembling ornaments , such as bangle, armlet, girdle etc; and , 38 types of miscellaneous formations , Anya-aakara-Chitra: those resembling umbrella (chatra-bandha), banner or flag (pataka-bhanda), mace (gadha-bandha) in addition to  sun, moon , Meru, bed, swing, lamp, pestle, bell and so on.

The Yantras (charts) , which are drawn by Tantrics , employ many types of Bandhas. And, as poetic designs too the Bandhas seem to be gaining popularity, even in recent days.

9.4. The sixth is Gatichitra (movement) where a striking verbal effect is created through movement of certain letters or groups of letters in a specified order. The techniques commonly used in the Gatichitra are basically Viloma-chitra (reverse order), which when extended in certain order produce Ardha-bramana (half reverse) and  Sarvatobhadra (multiple movements).

Regarding the specific types of patterns under Gatichitra, six are mentioned. Of these, the first two are of Yamaka character where similar sounding letters are repeated giving out different meanings, depending upon their position in the Chitra. One is Aavali, an unbroken series of same letters; and, the other is  Srinkhala-bandha , a chain like formation where the entire verse is composed in such a manner that every succeeding word starts with the last letter of the previous word.

The next three Gatichitra patterns – rathapadagajapada and turagapada – are based on Chess board moves of a camel (Bishop), elephant (Rook) and horse (knight) respectively. The specialty of the knight-walk pattern is that when all the letters of the verse are systematically written so as to fill all the 64 squares of the Chess board , then the letters in the squares  where the knight lands on  each of its move give forth another verse.

And the sixth is Kakapada (crow feet), where riddles are posed in verses arranged in the shape of crow’s feet.

In addition, verses in image of musical drum (muraja) complete with straps ; and also Gomutrika – resembling patterns made by cow’s urine while the cow is on the  move –  are usually included under Gatichitra, by the later scholars.

Gomutrika , in turn, has several varieties . That which consists two or more lines is pada-gomutrika; a verse of four lines giving rise to another is ardha-gomutrika; and, where it involves two verses is sloka-gomutrika. There is also a class based in verses of reversed order or written in varied meters.

hamsa 5

C. Illustrations

All the illustrations provided under belong to the Sabdachitra class of Chitrakavya.

11. Varnachitra

11.1. Consonants

The following is a verse composed by aligning all the 33 consonants in Sanskrit in their natural order (It is like writing a verse by stringing together a, b, c etc in their order).

Who is he the lover of birds, pure in intelligence, adept in stealing other’s strength, leader among destroyer of enemies, the steadfast, the fearless, and the one who filled the ocean. He is the Maya, whose blessings destroy all foes.

At the other end, is a verse written by using only one consonant –da

Sri Krishna the one who confers all boons, the destroyer of evil minded, the great purifier, whose arms punishes the wicked and protects the virtuous shot his lethal arrow at the foe.

There are In between are plenty of verses made by using two or three consonants.


11.2. Vowels

The following is a witty verse formed entirely by the vowel Uu

The gods took refuge in Brihaspahi, the lord of speech, the Guru of gods in heaven, as they went into the battle. They prayed him to stay happy and strong; and not to fall back into sleep again and again.

This sloka uses only one vowel (e) in the first line and one vowel (a) in the second line.

O Lord Shiva of three eyes , knower of all existence, destroyer of the worlds, Lord of the eight-fold super-powers and of immense wealth, the Lord who killed Daskha and Kamadeva do protect me.


11.3. Vowel and Consonant

Here is an amazing sloka of 32 syllables using only one consonant (Ya) and one vowel (Aa):

यायायायायायायायायायायायायायायाया।  यायायायायायायायायायायायायायायाया।।

The Paduka (footwear) which adorn the Lord , which help in attaining all that is good and auspicious, which removes all ills, which gives knowledge, which inspires desire to be in presence of the Lord, by which all places of the world can be reached , these padukas are of the Lord

(This verse is taken from Sri Vedanta Desika’s Padukasahasram)


12. Sthanachitra

Sthanachitras are composed by using consonants of only one group. This verse uses only gutturals.


You the traveler who bathes in the rippling waves of the Ganga you are unaware of the sufferings of the world, you go up Mount Meru to rest, come down to save us from sins.


13. Akarachitra

Aakarachitras are based on the shapes and forms of things. Among these the padmabhanda (lotus) and chakra – bandha(wheel) are popular.


13.1. Padmabhanda

The following is an Illustration of an eight petalled lotus with a central part. The letter ya is placed at its centre. In this instance on two petals carry one letter each. And the other six petals have two letters each.

Now beginning with the central ya move upward to the vertical petal where there is the letter Sri and above that is the letter ta l. With this, you got the first four letter word: ya-sri-ta = Yasrita. Then move in the clockwise to the next petal which has the letters pa and va; then move to the next petal which has letters ta and na. Then move to the center of the lotus design to pick up the letter ya. And that gives: pa-va-na-ta-ya which forms the word pavanataya. Continue in similar manner clockwise following the dotted lines. And, finally you get the verse which reads:

Yasrita pavanatya yatanacchadanichaya/   Yacaniya dhiya maya yamayasyamstutasriya//


13.2. Naga-bandha

R. Rajaraja Varma (A. R. Rājarājavarmma; 1863–1918) known as Kerala Panini, was very well-educated in many fields of study. Although he wrote in Sanskrit and Malayalam; he was also English-educated. He knew Tamil as well ; and, had a working knowledge of Telugu and Kannada.

Rajaraja Varma created in 1880, when he was only seventeen-year-old, Citra-nakshatra-mālā, having twenty-seven stanzas, in various Chitra forms, using the whole range of possibilities. Here, Rajaraja Varma composed verses in the shape of magic square (Sarvatobhadra), drum (Muraja), snake (Naga) and the lotus flower (Padma).

Of these, his Naga-bandha is a extremely well crafted type of Chitra-bandha.

 And, it is addressed to the poet’s patron, Visakham Tirunal (19 May 1837 – 4 August 1885), Maharaja of the erstwhile Indian kingdom of Travancore from 1880–1885. He was held in high regard, for his contribution to the development of literature, arts and Sanskrit.

In this stanza, the poet picturesquely lauds the Maharaja’s devotion and love for the land, his commitment to the people of the Vanchi.


The text of the stanza can be read tracing the serpent from the head to the tail. Since at every fold and intersection the letter is read a second time, the pattern requires from a poet the repetition of the same syllables at particular positions. The easiest to notice are the repetitions of the second syllable at the end of the stanza (syllables in bold) and syllables placed at four folds of the serpent (underlined syllables)

  • ro ttaṁsakṣitīśāyutamakuaghaṭatpādavikṣobhitāre 
  • suśroṇīśreṇicittāvasatha damadamūrtiprayuktāvamāda |
  • pādātākṣīṇapāṇīsa danada parahr̥ttāpatīvrārtisoma
  • śrīvañcikṣoṇipālo raṇa ratasuguṇaśreṇipūra praroha ||CNM 21

He, the one adorned with a king’s diadem combined with a hero’s garland, the one who makes enemies’ legs tremble, [filled with] the number of thoughts concentrated on the goddess, giving punishment and abode, having the favour of being united with the idol, embodied passion, effecting exhaustion of not drooping hands of infantry, the nectar removing burning, excruciating pain of others, the protector of glorious land of Vanchi, filled with the mass of extraordinary fondness for the fight. Arise!


13.3. Chakrabandha

There are several varieties of wheel designs (chakrabandha) depending on the number of its spikes. In the instance given here the wheel is designed by using six spikes.


The Śiśupāla-vadha, of Māgha contains a verse written in the difficult wheel -design, or Chakra-bandha. If you rearrange the syllables in the form of a wheel, there is a message hidden among the spokes:

Magha Shishupala vadha

The following Chakrabandha was created in recent times by DEMIAN MARTINS

Here every line of the verse begins and ends on a separate spike. Except that the first and the last letters are on the rim of the wheel. The fourth line is on the rim of the wheel.

The middle letter of all the three lines is one and the same; and therefore it appears on the hub of the wheel at its centre.

Every fourth letter of the line on the rim is shared by the line that it relates to.

The verse is a prayer at the feet of Lord Chaitanya the personification of Krishna ; and ,also seeking the blessings of Srila Prabhupada.

[This chakrabandha was designed by DEMIAN MARTINS  in 2010]


13.4. Murajabandha -musical drum


This also is a popular example of Akarachitra. To start with, the four lines of the verse are written in their natural order. The first two major strings to tighten the  drum are (ABC in ‘V’ shape ) are drawn touching the top two sides of the drum and the middle of the bottom side.Then the next major string (DEF in inverted V shape) touching the bottom two side and the middle of the top side. The syllable laying on these two major strings form the first and the fourth lines of the verse. Then two minor strings are drawn forming two diamond shaped figures (GHIJ and KLMN) – the letters I and M are at the centre of the drum. The syllables on these two minor strings form the second and the third lines of the drum.

The army was very efficient and as it moved the warrior hero was very alert. The soldiers in that army raised a huge noise. The army was fierce with intoxicate and restless elephants. There was no thought of pain.


14. Gatichitra

14.1. The entire verse is a palindrome – the line can be read in both ways (say as in Malayalam, Noon etc)

O immortals, the lover of sharp sword s does not tremble like a frightened man in his battle full of grand chariots and demons the devourers of humans.

Magha is known for the beauty of his poetry and his skill of the storytelling.  That has impressed scholars throughout the ages.  Besides that, Magha was a manipulator of the Sanskrit language; and, there is none equal to him. The following verse, in the 19th chapter of Śiśupāla-vadha could be taken as an illustration of his skill in creating a palindrome in four directions ; the most complex poetic device ever created.

रसाहवा वाहसार-

rasāhavā vāhasāra-

Now, if you reverse the lines as though placing a mirror beneath them, this forms a palindrome in four directions:

Shishupala Vadha mirror effect

“ [That army], which relished battle (rasāhavā) contained allies who brought low the bodes and gaits of their various striving enemies (sakāranānārakāsakāyasādadasāyakā), and in it the cries of the best of mounts contended with musical instruments (vāhasāranādavādadavādanā).” (Trans. George L. Hart)

[ Source : Paul M.M. Cooper · in Art & aestheticsBooks, Literature & Creative Writing.]


14.2. Ardha-bramana


Ardha-bramana is half movement. In this design:

i. Only eight letters are used in the entire verse (otherwise, it just does not work)

ii. The verse has four lines.

iii. When that is converted into a grid it will have 32 cells.

iv. The first four letters of the top (first) line is formed by the first letter of each of the four lines, picked up in descending order in the grid.

v. The next four letters of the top (first) line is formed by the last letter of each of the four lines taken in ascending order in the grid.

vi. You will notice that the first four letters of each line are mirror reflections of the last four letters of that line (that is to say, the last four are the reversed order of the first four).


14.3. Sarvathobhadra

Sarvathobhadra is also a viloma (reversed) type of Chitrabandha. As seen above, in the Ardha-bramana the first half of the line (paada) is reversed (repeated backwards – viloma) in the second half. When this the design is extended into the Sarvathobhadra  grid of 64 cells (8 x 8) the verse gains  greater mobility.

Oh man , this is the battle field which excites even the gods. It is not mere battle of words. Here the men fight and risk their lives , not for themselves but for the sake of others. The field is dangerously filled with mad and intoxicating elephants. Those eager to fight and even those eager to survive but not fight have also fight.

[This is verse taken from Bharavi’s kiratharjuneeya. It is a description of a battle. It is said that both Sarvathobhadra and Gomutrika represent battle formations (vyuha). While Sarvathobhadra is a hallow square formation or disposition of troops facing outwards, the Gomutrika is a diagonal disposition of troops.]


Sarvathobhadra resembling a Chess board is a type of magic square. The 64 letters of the verse are systematically filled into each of boxes in the square.

You will find that the verse can be read horizontally, vertically and even backwards; and you will get the same verse. That becomes possible because each quarter-stanza (16 letters) is  composed of two sets of  palindromes (of eight letters each)  where in each set the last four letters are the reversed order of the first four. Again the first four syllables of the first quarter (de, va, ka, ni) are formed by taking the first syllable of each quarter, in sequence. Similarly, the first four syllables of the second quarter (va, hi, ka, sva) are the same as the second syllable of each quarter .

Sarvathobhadra is a complicated mix of a double palindrome and acrostics where the letters picked up from other quarters form a new word.


14.4. Gomutrika

Gomutrika, as the name indicates, is a design similar to the zig zag patterns on the ground made by the sprinkling cow’s urine, while the cow is on the move. In this composition, every alternate letter of the first and third lines of a verse is the same as every alternate letter of the second and fourth lines.   The first two lines of the verse are written in one sequence and the other two lines are written as another sequence.

May Indra, who wields the thunderbolt who disperses the clouds in the sky, who desires pleasures from his consort Sachi, the daughter of demon puloma-may that Indra remove illusions, protect you from fear of all dangers and misfortunes.


The following is another example of Gomutrika-bandha from Sri Rupa Goswami’s Citra Kavitani I – an amazing Sanskrit Poetry.  Sri Rupa Goswami (1489–1564) was a great Guru, poet, and philosopher of the Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition.




14.5. Turaga-bandha – the knights walk

The Turagabandha which mimics the moves of the knight pawn on the Chess board is the most celebrated of all the bandhas. Before discussing Turaga-bandha let me talk of a few other things.

There was for a long time a mathematical problem known as the knight’s tour problem. It involved the moves of the knight pawn on a empty Chess board. The problem posed was to move the knight so that it visits every square (64) on the board – but only once. And, at the end of the tour it must come back to the square from which it began. The first mathematician to investigate the Knight’s tour problem was Leonhard Euler (1707 to 1783) , a Swiss mathematician. Since then it has come to be known as Euler Chess Knight Problem.   (For more on that please





Sri Vedanta Desika (12-13th century) the remarkable scholar-poet in his Paduka Sahasram celebrating the glory of Sri Ranganatha’s padukas in 1008 verses   employs Chitra-paddathi for 40 verses (911-950).

Among these, the verse No.929 and N0.930 are hailed as astounding solution to the ‘knight’s tour problem’.

The syllables of the first Sloka (No.929) are posted, in sequence, on the squares of the Chess board.

स्थिरागसां सदाराध्या विहताकततामता । सत्पादुके सरसा मा रङ्गराजपदं नय ॥

O the sacred Padukas of the Brahman, you are adorned by those who have committed unpardonable sins; you remove all that is sorrowful and unwanted; you create a musical sound; (be pleased) and lead me to the feet of Lord Rangaraja.

Then if the syllables on the squares that the knight visits are put together in their sequence it produces the Sloka No.930

The Padukas which protect those who shine by their right attitude; who is the origin of the blissful rays which destroy the melancholy of the distressed; whose radiance brings peace to those who take refuge in them, which move everywhere,  -may those golden and radiating Padukas of the Brahman lead me to the feet of Lord Rangaraja.

The same table in English



The second verse not only provided the solution to the knight’s tour problem but went far beyond that.   It is said composing     such verse is far more difficult than solving the original Chess-knight problem. It is all the more amazing when you realize that Sri Vedanta Desika lived at least six hundred years before Euler.

References and Sources

1. Sarasvathi-kanta-abharana edited by KN Sharma and VL Pansikar (1934).

2 . Figurative Poetry in Sanskrit Literature by Kalanath Jha (1975)

3. Chitra Bandha by V Balasubraumanyam (2010)

4. The Wonder that is Sanskrit by Sampadananda Mishra and Vijay Poddar (2006)

I acknowledge the figures and Slokas taken from

The wonder that is Sanskrit  And from  The Figurative Poetry in Sanskrit Literature

The rest of the images are from internet


Posted by on October 10, 2012 in General Interest, Kavya, Sanskrit


Tags: , , ,

Tagore and Sarat Chandra

[The following may be treated as companion to my earlier post: Of poverty- literature – Sarat Chandra Chatterjee]

1. The renaissance period in the nineteenth century Bengal that followed the Indian Rebellion of 1857 witnessed a uniquely refined blend of dazzling intellectual brilliance fueled by western rationalism on one hand, and, on the other, of the outburst of art creations brought to life by the simple beauty and graceful expressions inspired by the traditional styles of ancient Indian murals.

The Bengali literary horizon, it was playfully said, was guarded by three celestial sentinels: Bankim Chandra (bent moon); Rabindra (regal sun); and, Sarat Chandra (autumn moon).

It was Bankim Chandra the creator of classics in chaste Bankimi-Shadhu-bhasha that ignited the fervor of nationalism in the hearts of his countrymen. The later writers of the period, taking his lead, brought into mainstream Bengali literature the fiery national issues and uncomfortable social practices, in  Cholito bhasha  the everyday – conversational language. 

A. Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay

bankim chandra chatterjee

2. Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay (Chatterjee) – (1838-1894), the eldest of the trio, is regarded as the pioneer of literary renaissance of Bengal. He gave a new impetus to Bangla fiction by refining its prose, coining sparkling- fresh phrases and aesthetic expressions of great beauty. His was the sweetest voice that ever spoke prose. He revealed to the world a literary beauty, never known before. He was the forerunner of Bangla literature that flowered in the next century.

Bankim Chandra was also the first to popularize historical romances, as Walter Scott had earlier done in Scotland.  Both tried to bring to life the remarkable heroism and patriotism of the inhabitants; and, their struggles against the oppressor. Scott created his historical novels at a time when the traumatic events of the French Revolution had scattered his generation; and, brought forth a forced merger of Scots with the English.  Walter Scott made his mission to refresh Scots’ awareness of their nation’s past.

Bankim Chandra was a young man of nineteen, in the flush of youth, at the conclusion of the first war of Indian Independence in 1858. As the rest of the nation, he too was shocked at the failure of the revolution; and, found it hard to live with the ignominy of defeat and humiliation.

He set himself the task of understanding the problems of India’s political life; and, to come face-to-face with the causes for its predicament.  He, thus, began writing at a time when India was colonized by the British; when the wounds and horrors of the failed War of Independence of 1857 were still raw; and, when the ruthless British reprisal was terrorizing Indian people into abject submission.

Those were the days of strangling imperialism, tightened by the Queen’s Declaration; adding salt to the sore. There was also utter lawlessness, robbery, looting and plunder. The shame of helplessness had burnt deep into Indian soul. That naturally gave rise to a searing desire for nationalism and consolidation.

[Incidentally, it is said, when once Bankim Chandra called on Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, the latter punning on Bankim’s name teased him on the meaning of Bankim (Bent a Little). The sage playfully asked what was it that bent him. Chatterjee laughed aloud and replied that it was the kick from the Englishman’s shoe.]

3. Bankim Chandra was a superb story-teller, and a master of romance. No other writer in India, in all its regions, has enjoyed such spontaneous and universal acceptance as Bankim Chandra Chatterjee. Romantic idealism; its stunning beauty and intense passion; its heroic and enthralling vigor are the lifeblood of Bankim Chandra’s historical novels. Bankim Chandra delighted in reconstructing the earlier days of his country, as his imagination pictured them. Through his works, he yearned to arouse Indian people to rebel against their oppressor; to drag the sedate common people out of hopelessness and uncertainty; and, to instill in their hearts a new zeal.

Bankim Chandra learned to handle historical themes from Sir Walter  Scott. The historical romance had the added advantage of providing scope for the expression and encouragement of the young nationalism.

Bankim Chandra Chatterjee was also the first to write novels of domestic life and manners. With the reforming zeal, he introduced a new character into Bengali literature, the widow. Nowhere in the long and rich literature of the old period does a widow find any place. The abolition of suttee drew attention to her presence in society. She was unattached. With her, for the first time, a personal as distinct from a social relationship became possible between a man and a woman.

Punya Sloka Ray writes : Bankim Chandra depicts,in his Bishabriksha (The Poison Tree) and Krishnakanter Will (Krishnakanta’s Will), the evils that the marriage of widows may lead to . His men and women fail to work out their own fates, as members of the new society in the process of formation. They are caught in the coils of circumstance. The first widow, Kunda, commits suicide. The second is murdered. Bankim’s uncompromising conscience frequently forces an artificial solution. Both Bankim Chandra and Romesh Chandra belonged to the Bengal Renaissance, but their views on many subjects were diametrically opposed. Bankim Chandra did not go all the way with reformers like Ram Mohan Roy (1774-1833) and Isvar Chandra Vidyasagar (1820-91); but, he did disapprove of polygamy; and in Indira makes it possible for an abducted wife to return to her husband and home.


3.1. Bankim Chandra raised Nationalism to the level of religion by identifying the Motherland with the Mother-Goddess. The tremendous impact and thrilling upsurge that Anandamath and Vandemataram had on the Indian National Movement is indeed legendary. Bankim Chandra’s immortal song Bande Mataram (Hail to the Mother), set to music by the young Rabindra Nath,  became India’s national song ; and , the voice of the Indian people fighting against colonial rule.

Bande Mataram expresses Bankim Chandra’s vision of the Mother India as goddess and of a woman as holy and venerable. His vision ignited the imagination of the whole of Bengal and rest of India.

[Please do not miss a most beautiful rendering of the Bande-mataram , in its full version to the accompaniment of a vast philharmonic orchestra. Please do watch.]

Bankim Chandra’s Sanyasins , in Anandamath , are fabulous characters rather like the heroes of Mahabharata. They did practice selfless militancy as a Dharma, echoing the ideal of Bhagavad-Gita. Dharma, here, meant Maitri brotherly bond with fellow-beings, togetherness; Dharma or Jeevana Dharma; and, not separateness. That, he said, is the essential quality of life. It is the way to honing perfection in human relations; by gently stepping aside ones egoistic tendencies; by bonding with ones fellow beings ;and, by discovering the fundamental unity of us all. It is the principle that holds us together and leads to the best welfare of all. Dharma is ‘the synthesis, the harmonized disposition’ of all faculties, vrittis.  In that sense, Dharma is the best form of civilization. 

Anandamath created, in its wake, a class of patriots who willingly vowed to sacrifice their life for the cause of Motherland. The women accepted the idea of their men renouncing their life and turning Sadhus, in service of Motherland. In the Bangla literature that followed , the patriotic  mother  at home came to be projected as Mother Goddess , arousing her sons, cultivating in them principles of morality and disciple;  and , preparing her sons (santan – band of warriors)  for the battle for liberation of Mother land. A widowed mother came to be looked upon as a symbol of purity, patience and selfless sacrifice. A household mother need not have to be militant; but , she had to be the  mother of heroes. 

Aurobindo Ghosh and other revolutionaries acknowledged Bankim Chandra as their political Guru. They, following his ideal , regarded him as: the inspirer, a new spirit leading the nation towards resurgence and independence.

Anandamath continues to stimulate the ideal of nationalism, as India struggles to ‘westernize’ without losing its soul; to go hi-tech yet retain its unique gifts which she can bring to the troubled world. Bankim Chandra’s voice is still  resonant and alive.

3.2. Bankim staunchly opposed British rule and imposition of Western culture over Indian culture. Yet; he regarded the cultures of the West and East as mutually complimentary. He did encourage imbibing the healthy aspects of western heritage; and asserted that the ideals of East and West can be harmonized for the welfare of all humankind. He is believed to have said: ‘the day when the European science and mechanical skills healthily unite their forces with the philosophical idealism of India, then truly the man will become god’; ‘Preserving peoples identities, choices and integrity is a continual process; a challenge in which many voices struggle to speak for the spirit of the society’.

4. in the later part of his life, Bankim Chandra preached national regeneration , through religious revival. He came to believe that there was “No serious hope of progress in India except in Hinduism-reformed, regenerated and purified”. With that in view, Bankim Chandra tried to reinterpret ancient Indian ideals by cleansing them of the accumulated floss of myths and legends.

In the process , he produced: ‘Krishna Charitra’, ’Dharmatattva’ (Philosophy of Dharma), ‘Devatattva’ (Principle of Divinity) and a commentary on Bhagavad-Gita. Not many in world literature have excelled in both philosophy and art,  as Bankim Chandra has done.

4.1. Of his books of that genre, I have special regard for ‘Krishna Charitra’ a classic par excellence. It is a pioneering work where Krishna is subjected to pragmatic inquiry. Bankim Chandra strives to understand Krishna as a historic personand, as a rational human being; but, not as a fabrication of myths and legends.

5.1. Young Robindra  was an avid follower of Bankim’s novels, which were then serialized  in Bangadarshan :  “It was bad enough to have to wait till the next monthly number was out, but to be kept waiting further till my elders had done with it was simply intolerable.”

Tagore grew up as  Bankim Chandra’s literary disciple, owing much to the Master. When Tagore, in his initial years, came under severe attack by the critics for voluptuousness in his lyrics, it was Bankim that supported the young poet.

Towards his last days , Bankim Chandra named Rabindranath, just out of his teens, as his successor. The young protege accepted that with grateful appreciation.

The poet- scholar Romesh Chandra Dutt recalled a very touching incident, which , perhaps, took place soon after the publication of Tagore’s collection of poems Sandhya Sangit (the evening songs) in 1882. In this collection , Tagore had broken away from the classical mold; and, had  adopted the innovative romantic style . Romesh Chandra Dutt , recalling the incident, mentions that Bankim was the honored guest at a party hosted in connection with his (Romesh Chandra’s) eldest daughter’s wedding.

Young Tagore, who also attended the party, introduced himself to Bankim ;and , sat at his feet. Romesh, Chandra Dutt honoring Bankim Chandra offered him a flower garland. To the surprise of everyone present there, Bankim Chandra took off the garland and placed it around the neck of  young Tagore, saying: ‘this garland truly belongs to him (Navya yuger bhavya kavi – elegant poet of the new age) . I am the setting sun; and, he is the sun now rising. ‘ Romesh, have you read his Sandhya Sangit?’ Tagore, it is said, was overwhelmed by this act of kindness and the affection showered on him by the Master.

 [It appears; there is a background to this incident. It had to do with Bankim Babu’s attempt to lend a new sense of direction and identity to the Hindu religion. He did not seem to regard the Brahmo Samaj as the exact remedy. And, Rabindranath who was at that time the youthful Secretary of the Adi Brahmo Samaj did not quite appreciate Bankim Babu’s stand. Further, there was the moral question of relative merits and the interpretations of what is Truth (Sathya); and,  what is untruth (Mithya), over which the two held conflicting views.   In that context, the two entered into protracted arguments through the medium of the magazines. And, that, sadly, led to strained relations between the two great sons of Bengal.

Rabindranath, in his  My Reminiscences (Chapter 40), writes about that phase of his relation with Bankim Babu.

I was then coming out of the seclusion of my corner as my contributions to these controversies will show. Some of these were satirical verses, some farcical plays, others letters to newspapers. I thus came down into the arena from the regions of sentiment and began to spar in right earnest.

In the heat of the fight I happened to fall foul of Bankim Babu. The history of this remains recorded in the Prachar and Bharati of those days and need not be repeated here. At the close of this period of antagonism, Bankim Babu wrote me a letter which I have unfortunately lost. Had it been here the reader could have seen with what consummate generosity Bankim Babu had taken the sting out of that unfortunate episode.

Bankim Babu praising Rabindranath and graciously garlanding him at the wedding of Romesh Chandra’s daughter was seen as a symbolic gesture of putting an end to the differences between the two.]

5.2. Bankim Chandra through his magazine Bangadarshan, encouraged and provided opportunity for several young unknown writers to publish their writings. Tagore, who later came to edit Bangadarshan, wrote of Bankim Chandra:

Bankim Chandra had equal strength in both his hands (sabyasachi – meaning ambidextrous). In one , he created literary works of excellence; and in the other he guided the young and aspiring authors .With one hand the ignited the light of literary enlightenment ; and with the other he blew away the smoke and ash of ignorance and ill conceived notions. Bankim Chandra alone took charge of creative writing and wholesome constructive literary criticism. He was the first Bengali of the modern period to give criticism the status and respect it commands today. For thirty years Bankim Chandra exercised a formative influence on Bengali literature.

Between 1872 and 1878 , Bankim Chandra wrote eight essays which have become modern classics. A stern moralist in his general attitude to life and the chief advocate of the new, nationalistic Hinduism that was developing) he did not import his didacticism into creative literature. On the contrary he declared that the object of poetry is not ethical instruction, but to attract man’s heart and mind so that they are stirred into a beneficial activity that enhances their awareness and effects their purification.


B. Rabindranath Tagore

RBT cropped

6.1. Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) in contrast to his predecessor belonged to the Brahmo Samaj ; and, to the most cultured and eclectic family in that circle. He , perhaps, was not quite familiar with ordinary Hindu life. Bankim Chandra and Tagore held slightly different attitudes towards Hindu Society and religion.

Punya Sloka Ray writes : The history of the Tagore family carries the amalgamation of diverse and often conflicting traditions a step farther. The Tagores were Pirali Brahmins, the epithet Pirali indicating that they had had connections with Muslims. Their heterodoxy enabled them to respond more effectively to the challenge of the times than others. Complaints against Tagore alleged that he was not sufficiently Hindu, that he was not sufficiently realistic and that his doctrines encouraged immorality.

[Many Bengali Brahmin families have extensive genealogical records called the Kulagrantha or Kulapanjikas. It is said; the Kulin-Brahmins of Bengal were earlier classified under different groups; such as:  Bandyopadhyaya (Shandilya-Gotra); Mukhopādhyāya (Bharadhwaja-Gotra); and, Chattopadhyaya (Kashyapa-Gotra). Later, a few Groups which forged connection with Turko-Persianate ruling class were designated as Pirali-Brahmins. Rabindranath Tagore, is said to have descended from the Pirali-Brahmin sect –

. ]

The family fortune was founded by the poet’s grandfather, Dwarkanath Tagore, a merchant who by trading with the British earned himself the sobriquet of prince. His son, Devendranath, became a leader of the Brahmo Samaj, a reformist sect founded by Ram Mohan Roy. The Brahmo Samaj repudiated idolatry. Its various branches took the lead in social and cultural progress, aiming at a synthesis between East and West. Devendranath was a man of profound spiritual vision. His home became a centre for the intelligentsia of 19th century Bengal.

Tagore by sasi kumar hesh 6.2. Rabindranath Tagore was a multifaceted splendor.  He combined in himself a poet, prose writer, composer, painter, essayist, philosopher, educationist, and a social reformer. But, it was as the poet that he gained universal recognition. He brought lyricism into Bengali poetry. His poems breathed freshness, an elegance and beauty which were hitherto unknown in Bengali literature. Tagore was admittedly a greater poet than a novelist; though as a writer of short stories he had hardly an equal.

Tagore’s real interests were romantic and social. These predominate in his thirteen novels. He quickly realized that he should begin where Bankim Chandra left off. Unlike the older writer, he was in full agreement with the progressive forces of the Reformation. Although his novel Chokher Bali. (Eyesore), 1903, bears a superficial resemblance to Bishabriksha (The Poison Tree), there is a fundamental difference in approach. The moral sentiment is less pronounced, although, of course, social considerations inevitably triumph. Binodini, the widow, goes to Benares, where she promises to engage in good works. Tagore gives the long drawn out love analysis sympathetic treatment. There is less preaching and no declamation.

The period of Tagore as a novelist lasts roughly from 1901 to 1916. Several of his later novels were written after that date but no major new development took place either in his style or subject matter. He had taken the novel a long way down the road to realism and Bankim’s idealism had been left far behind. But , Tagore’s world turned out to be an enchanted world after all. Whenever he writes about human life he seems, like Goldsmith, to pay it a compliment. His light handling works magic with his subjects. His work and attitude is pervaded with a gentle, tender humanism.

[ Please check here to read the Translation of Tagore’s Essays on the Aesthetics of Literature.]


7.1. Rabindranath was awarded Nobel Prize for Literature in the year 1913 ; gaining the distinction of becoming the first non-European to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature. That was also the year in which Sarat Chandra, at the insistence of friends, started contributing regularly stories to Bengali magazines in Calcutta.

Star of the Order of the Star of India 1861

And, in 1915 Rabindranath was awarded a knighthood by King George V as a  part of the commemoration of his Birthday Honours. And, it was only a year later i.e., in 1916, Sarat Chandra returned from Burma, with the hope of entering into literary circles.

That is to say, while Tagore was at the zenith of his literary career, Sarat Chandra was gingerly stepping into the small world of magazines ; and that too by proxy. By then Sarat Chandra was already about 37 years old, a rather late age for a debutante.


My connection with literature was severed soon after (I moved to Burma). I clean forgot having ever composed a single line in my life. I had a long stay abroad. I was quite in the dark about how modern Bengali literature had made great strides meanwhile with the poet (Rabindranath Tagore) as the key figure. I was never fortunate enough to come in close touch with the poet; nor was I privileged to come under his literary tutelage. I remained totally isolated.

When, unexpectedly, I was one day called upon to serve the cause of literature, I had already met the demands of youth and reached middle age. Fatigue had set in and enthusiasm had dwindled—I was well past the learning stage. I lived abroad, unknown and cut off from all. Nevertheless, I responded to the call; fear did not creep in at all in my mind.


C. Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay


8.1. Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay (1876-1938) had more in common with Bankim Chandra. They both came from orthodox middle-class background; and, had similar attitudes towards Hindu religion and society. They both were fired by the zeal to cleanse and reform Hindu society. And, both were fiery patriots.

8.2. 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. Sarat Chandra’s impatience and anger against social discrimination, superstitions, and bigotry in the name of religion simmer through in his writings. Yet, his criticism of the establishment is never vitriolic; he never flouts the accepted moral basis of the Hindu society.

And, both shared a deep rooted respect for women. Bankim Chandra depicted women with great feeling and power; giving men much on which to reflect.  In his novel Krishnakanta’s will, Bankim wrote: “Woman is full of forgiveness, of compassion, of love; Woman is the crowning excellence of God’s creation …Woman is the light; and Man is shadow”

The poet –scholar Sri Chinmoy remarked :

‘We shall not be far from the truth if we hold that Bankim Chandra is the creator of an epoch and Sarat Chandra is the announcer of an epoch in Bengali literature. With his inquisitive mind, Sarat Chandra went deep into the heart of Bengal to discover both her tremendous sorrow and her stupendous joy’.

The themes in his early novels 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 most marked departure from the Bankim Chandra tradition was his concern for the inner-life of his characters. Most of his novels are explorations of personal relationships; uncomfortable compromises between judgment and compassion; torturing conflict between instinct and ideals; and, problems of finding space between social consciousness and half-awakened personal instincts.

8.3. Later in his life, he fondly recalled how as a village lad , with almost no schooling , he was enthralled and captivated by Bankim Chandra’s classics. He wrote:

Now came the time for me to know about the works of Bankimchandra. I could not even imagine then that there could be anything greater beyond this in fiction. . I never even suspected that there could be any literature outside Bankimchandra. I read all his novels over and over again until I almost memorized them. Perhaps this was a drawback with me. Not that I have never followed the path of blind imitation. All such attempts have proved fruitless as literary compositions ; but as literary exercises they   provided  a  profitable  occupation  for  me  as I  can   feel  even  today.


D. Tagore and Sarat Chandra

9.1. Sarat Chandra and Rabindra present a splendid study in contrast, in many respects — in birth and pedigree; in taste and outlook;  in conviction and philosophy.

Rabindra was born into an illustrious family of considerable wealth, fame and cultural refinement; grew up in the heart of Calcutta when the Brahmo Samaj was enveloping its Bhadrolok elites; and when the literary renaissance ignited by Bankim Babu was just beginning to glow. Rabindranath was an ethereal being in an unending pursuit of unalloyed love and blemish -less beauty.

9.2. While Rabindra watched life and its common folks from a distance, Sarat Chandra was born into the very fire of poverty. He said:

“…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… I was brought up in a family where poetry or fiction was considered a euphemism for immorality and music was dubbed untouchable. My first introduction to Literature was through a veil of tears.”

Sarat Chandra , all his life, remained a restless wanderer; a tormented soul.

9.3. Saratchandra later said:

“It is true that my irregular life has caused me much pain and loss. But this was more than compensated for by the people I met. They taught me that man was not simply a bundle of faults, sin and wickedness. They gave me a glimpse of the real man behind all this wickedness and sin. Let not my writings insult this real man!”

9.4. While Rabindra was a superb poet, a creator of sublime poetry and a sage like mystic, Sarat Chandra could never be a poet. He was a die-hard skeptic and social rebel. Their views on fight for freedom differed significantly. But, both shared boundless love for the Motherland and a great humanism. And above all, they shared admirable mutual respect and regard.

10.1. Sarat Chandra was also much influenced by Rabindra who was senior to him by about 16 years. Rabindra had been writing poetry since he was eight years of age; and, had published his collection of verses, while he was barely sixteen. In contrast, Sarat’s formal entry into the field of Literature was rather late after he had’ already met the demands of youth and reached middle age’.

“My contact with the journal ‘Banga-Darshan’ inaugurated a new era for me. Rabindranath’s Chokher Bali began to be serialized in this journal (in 1902 when Sarat was about 26). The language and style were of a new order, and I felt very happy. I never even dreamt that an author could delineate reality so picturesquely. After such a long time, I had the taste of realistic literature. The saying ‘the more you read, the wiser you become’ is not true. I have not the language to express my gratitude to that great master who gave me an invaluable treasure in those few pages.”

10.2.   As regards his life away in Burma, he wrote:

 “In that foreign land I had with me some of the poet’s books —in prose and verse. And in my heart I had profound regard and faith. In those days I read and re-read those very books. I never pondered over such high subjects as what were their rhythm and diction, and what Art was, how it was to be defined, and whether there had been any flaws anywhere according to the standard. All this I considered redundant. What I cherished was just the deep-rooted conviction that a more comprehensive creation was unthinkable.

During that period I was not even aware of the Bengali literature’s progress wrought by the achievements of the ‘Biswakabi’. I had not had the good fortune of acquaintance with him, nor had I the fortune of having lessons in literature from him. This is the truth. But I have been an ‘Ekalabya’ (A disciple in absentia). I even carried his stories, poems and other publications abroad. I read those books several times, but I could not pick up his mastery in the majesty of his language and expressions. I had the deep conviction in mind that there could not be any creation more complete than this. I strongly feel that his works became my literary stock-in-trade”.

11.1 Even later in his life , after he was established as a writer of great merit in Bengali Literature, Sarat Chandra did try to adopt Rabindra’s Gora (which, he said , read more than twenty times) into his biggest novel Grihadaha (Home Burnt-1919).

Similarly, Sarat Chandra’s novels Chandrakantha  and  Charitraheen are said to run parallel to Rabindranath Tagore’s story Tyag and his Novel Chokher Bali.

[ Punya Sloka Ray , in his  review of Bengali literature writes : Sarat Chandra is primarily a story-teller. His books describe the sorrows and joys of men and women. They do not provide any solution for their grievances. He wrote about rural Bengal in the tradition created by Tagore in his early short stories. In his work the social problem is seen in the light of individualism. He had a romantic strain which made his books immensely popular.]


11.2. Sarat Chandra had earlier tried the Gora-theme – or rather the mirror image of it – in his   ‘Bamuner Meye’ (Brahmin’s daughter) – (1916) , in which the female protagonist Sandhya believed she was born to a Brahmin; and, could therefore dominate the relationship with the foreign-returned Arun (now technically a mlechcha) . Eventually, she discovers to her horror, that she was in fact a Barber’s daughter.

11.3. Again, it was Tagore in his Chokher Bali who first portrayed the plight of the child widow (Binodini) and sympathized with her yearning for a married life.  Sarat Chandra picked up the theme of ‘forbidden love’ and developed it with subtle and skilful artistry, capturing the heart of Bengal and the world. Tagore spoke of Sarat Chandra’s efforts with much admiration:

“Saratchandra focused his attention into the depths of human heart—of happiness and sorrow, at meetings and partings; he presented us an unexpected picture of artistry and nuance. The proof of this is the never ending pleasure of the Bengalis in his writings. With no other writer have they felt such deep inner satisfaction as with Saratchandra. Others have won more fame by their meritorious works, but few have attained such mastery over the hearts of his readers.”.. “He has imparted a new power to our language…and achieved the best reward of a novelist: he has completely won the hearts of Bengali readers.” (March 1935)

11.4. I think, Sarat Chandra was at his best when he drew upon his own life-experiences, as in Srikanta (1917-18), Palli Samaj (1916), Biraj Bahu (1914)and Charitrahhin (1917). All those works were written just as he burst upon on the Bengali Literary field ; and, was gaining reputation as the a powerful writer with a heart . Yet, in the later years, he kept returning , again and again, to the disturbing theme of caste and to the stringent criticism of its evils. He was driven by the anxiety and desperation to cleanse the Indian social system of that evil.

[Palli Samaj (Village Society), in which the village community, riddled with superstition and ignorance, triumphs over the enlightened and emancipated individual, was written in 1916. In Bamuner Meye (The Brahmin Girl), 1920, he shows the harm done by blind observance of custom. In Charitraheen, 1917, the wife’s sweetheart takes her away by force, fails to win her consent, and restores her to her husband.]

12.1. Sarat Chandra often remarked that he walked into the mainstream Bengali Literature by ‘accident’. He had no serious intentions of becoming a professional writer of fictions. Several years before he began writing, Sarat Chandra had left Bengal and was employed in the Rangoon Secretariat. He had outwardly no touch with Bengali literature; and , none in Bengal or elsewhere was aware of his existence.

He wrote in his articleMy Life’:

I wrote short stories when I was barely seventeen. 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. 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 suddenly 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 had 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 Yamuna. This became at once extremely 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.

12.2. It all started when his story ‘The Child of Bindu’ appeared in the monthly magazine Jamuna. He contributed the story under the name Anila Devi (his elder sister). The story captured the imagination of the Bengali readers. And, as the installments continued, the public interest also grew with it. ‘The Child of Bindu’ was followed by ‘Charitraheen’ , half of which was published in Jamuna ; but , not completed*. That was replaced by Baradidi (The Eldest Sister) , which was very well received. The readers were captivated by the powerful characters, lucid depiction, clarity in thought and humanism at its heart. His readers were attracted by the manner he created the climax of each installment. In another serial ‘Pandit Moshae’ , the climax was so well concealed that the readers fell into a debate among themselves whether  or not  Kusum was a widow; while some others argued that she was not even married.

12.3. Many of his early novels were serialized in monthly magazines. He was one of the few authors of those times that earned his living by his pen. He  never was  rich; and, yet he did not go after money. Sri Chinmoy recounts of an event when Deshabandhu Chitta Ranjan Das asked him to contribute a story to his journal Narayan. Sarat Chandra complied; and, sent for publication his story ‘Swami’. Chitta Ranjan Das was immensely pleased by the story. He sent Sarat Chandra a blank cheque, with a covering letter saying that he was not in a position to put a price on such a wonderful story; and , Sarat Chandra could fill in his own figure. Sarat Chandra did eventually drew only a hundred rupees.

[*The magazine editor was forced to take off Charitraheen as some subscribers threatened to withdraw if the immoral tale was not stopped forthwith. They were shocked by its love-theme which seemed to disregard and insult the conventions and morals of a civil society. The author had chosen to depict a love-episode between an educated young man from a middle-class family and a maid servant in a boarding house where the young man was lodged. No respectable Bengali writer, they said, would dare portray the character of a ‘low-class’ woman in such favorable light.

Though many readers viewed Savitri, a maid servant of a mess, as a fallen woman, Sarat Chandra regarded her as a symbol of self-less love, unaffected by its consequences. In his letter dated 13 May 1913 to Upendranath Gangopadhyay, he compared the character of Savitri to diamond: “You have seen Savitri as the maid servant of the mess. But, you have mistaken the diamond for a glass-piece. If only you had that eye… if they (readers of the magazine) had understood which priceless diamond comes up from which coal mine, they would not let slip that diamond.”

And again, years later, in a letter to Radharani Devi, Sarat Chandra compared true love to diamond. “True love does not come in the life of all men. If this rare thing comes in one’s life and if one can recognize it, then his life achieves success. You know many ignorant people throw a rare diamond, mistaking it for a glass piece. True love is tested in sacrifice.]

12.4. The stories took everyone by storm. Almost everyone assumed the author of the stories must be none other than Rabindranath, writing under a pen name. Who else could wield his pen with such great felicity, they all wondered. Rabindranath, however, kept denying he had anything to do with it. He was getting rather tired of persistent queries, and was frankly bewildered , wondering who in Bengal could be such a powerful writer.

Once the real author emerged out of the shadows , he became an instant celebrity and a household name in Bengal and in all of India.

Years later, perhaps after passing away of Sarat Chandra, Rabindranath wrote in the special supplement of the ‘Bharatbarsha’:

“The emergence of Saratchandra in the arena of Bengali literature was a sudden occurrence. He was not long in passing from obscurity to fame. At that time, because of pressure of work and difference in age, I remained aloof. Left Calcutta…and in the meanwhile Sarat had reached the acme of his career.  I never got the opportunity to meet   Sarat at close quarters which I count as a personal loss. Not that we did not meet or talk. But real fervour could not develop. If, instead of being confined to formal meetings and exchanges, our fellowship had ripened into genuine understanding, it would have been much better.”


13.1. At a time when Kabiguru Rabindranath Tagore held sway over all aspects of Bengali literature with his many – splendored genius, the sudden emergence of a new dazzling talent was something for the literary world to behold. Sarat Chandra had touched the nerve center of the Bengali middle class families. He put in front of them the examples from their own social and family milieu; but, in his own way of thinking; and, in his unique style of analysis couched in sparkling-fresh spoken Bengali prose. Even the rural Bengal clasped him to its chest , since he brought to life, as no one else did, the vivid pictures of life in the villages, with its petty jealousies and ignorance, superstitions and absurdities (as in Pallisamaj ). Sarat Chandra belonged to both the facets of the society; but, dealt with their maladjustments with sympathy and humanism , in a manner that was never done before.

sarat chandra2

13.2. Sarat Chandra succeeded in projecting the ethos, the aches and pains of the world around him from a progressive point of view. He did that while being a part of the mainstream , without cutting himself off from its social and cultural heritage. Saratchandra did not, of course , provide solutions to the problems raised by him; did not solve the riddle of  Sesh Prasna the unanswered questions . Saratchandra said with candor: “In my works I have given no solutions, but posed only the problems ….. I hope new writers will treat these problems with greater poignancy and clarity and, give them real direction and solutions,”

13.3. Shri Dilip Kumar Roy the noted poet, singer and philosopher recounts Sarat Chandra saying:  

‘There are, in each of us, two ever-warring elements – judgment and compassion. They represent two opposing viewpoints; hence, they cannot but clash…. Man drifts away in diverse directions in the cross-currents of life — how and why, nobody knows for certain…I have witnessed , even among fallen women, strange nobility or unthinkable generosity. On the other hand, I have come across instances of abominable meanness and incredible small mindedness among members of polished circles. I have often shuddered; but, believe me, I have not succeeded till now in describing the real nature of Man.’

14.1. Some say that apart from Sarat Chandra’s genius and his flame like imagination, the other key to his spontaneous acceptance and popularity could perhaps be the timing of his advent on the literary and social scene of then Bengal.

The early years of the twentieth century were a period of transition through which the whole of Indian society was passing through. This was particularly true in the case of the  Bengal region , which was then passing through a transitional stage of decaying feudalism and incipient industrialization. It  was also  engaged in a struggle between the old and the new; decadent traditional and modern; rural and urban; caste rigidity and liberal social customs; religious fanaticism and rationalism.

The feudal exploitation; Zamindars’ tyranny;  visible caste-division; child marriage; prohibition of widow’s right to remarry; decaying extended family ; and, losing the traditional person-to-person relationship, were some of the striking features of the cultural milieu  the then  Bengal region.

Further, the new middle class was just emerging out of the sprawling shadows of joint families that were about to disintegrate. The newly (western) educated middle class was leaving age-old hereditary professions; and, was adopting new ones in different spheres of life. They were heading towards ‘freedom’, which meant escape from joint family-responsibilities.

The accepted social and religious values were brought into close scrutiny. The well settled-educated-middle class found in the Brahmo Samaj fresh interpretations that accorded respect to an individual’s thinking. That, at times, brought into debate the traditional Hindu beliefs and the rationale of the emerging Brahmo Samaj.

14. 2. Sarat Chandra captured with great imagination and understanding , the unrest and anxieties that a transition always brings in its wake. He refrained from value judgment. His appraisal on social norm was only a suggestive message; and , never an agenda. His sketches on the social canvas had just that subtle reformist touches. He wrote with great restraint and understanding about the inadequacies and contradictions of the old and new ways of living; and, the imbalance in the lopsided  fight of  the disadvantaged against  the powerful .

[Take for instance, the short story Mahesh, in which Sarat Chandra presents a perceptive reality – the socio-economic deprivation as well as the exploitation of the poor. In a way, Mahesh epitomizes the state of the rural Bengal societies in the early part of the twentieth century under colonial rule. The story shows the abyss in which the hapless poor find themselves trapped. In fact, they do not even know how and why they are unwittingly caught into troubles. It effectively depicts how the marginalized are oppressed by powerful; and also their courage to defy it rather valiantly.

The story Mahesh presents how Gophur Mian and his  daughter Amina;  and his bull Mahesh , which eventually is killed , all suffered; but, did not gave up till the end. The relations of the characters  here, transcend the bonds of caste, creed and religion; and, extends beyond to include the livestock as well. Mahesh  fights till his death; and, humanity somehow survives even in most inhumane circumstances. The point is, they might not have succeeded in defeating the oppressive system; but, they did have the courage to question it; subvert it; and, to refuse to give in. Thus, at the end there is no rescue; no escape. And yet, there remains a flickering hope for a future.

The story

A poor peasant Gophur had a pet bull Mahesh. Both are old; and, Mahesh after eight seasons of ploughing can no longer work in the field. It was difficult for Gophur to feed himself and his daughter Amina. One day , while Gophur was returning home, empty handed, found the hungry Mahesh eating  away the last stock of grain and a part of the dry paddy grass covering the house roof. Overpowered by anger he beat his pet Bull who died on the spot. Next morning, Gophur left his house along with his daughter to a small town seeking  a job at the jute mill there, which  he had earlier refused to accept, despite his poverty that drove him to  near starvation.

The death of Mahesh is also symbolic. Till the time Mahesh was alive Gophur persistently rejected the idea of working in Jute Mills. He believed that it cannot save woman’s honor and one’s religion. But after Mahesh’s death he accepts the work which, in a way, symbolizes the  death of  his  ideals.

Now, a bigger fight awaits Gophur in Phulber, the jute-mill, a place of no religion and no honor for women. Perhaps, that would be Amina’s turn to fight on beside Gophur.

Please check here for an analytical study of  Mahesh  by Mrinal Sarkar]

14.3. His women characters, in particular, placed in the very cauldron of life were the obvious victims of such agonizing conflicts; and, they endured the pain, suffering and humiliation it brought upon , with a sense of rare dignity and honesty.

[ All the three authors showed remarkable sensitivity in the creation of their leading women characters. And, yet, there is a marked difference in the social, cultural and economic status of the women characters depicted by each of them.

Bankim Chandra’s women have strength of character, personality, courage. Tagore’s women have charm, intelligence, dignity.  Sarat Chandra introduces the scorned, oppressed and fallen, holding a passionate brief for them. He points up their good qualities, underlines their humanity, and reveals the strength of spirit which enables them to survive indignity and humiliation.

For instance; even in the social novels of Bamkim Chandra, the leading ladies, generally, come from wealthy or upper-middle class; are well educated; intelligent ; and, are very beautiful. In fact, Bamkim Chandra, in his Rajmohan’s Wife, devotes a whole lyrical passage to describe the beauty of Matangini. Many of his heroines are modeled after the leading characters in classical Sanskrit drama (say, Malathi-madhava and Shakuntalam) or Shakespearian plays.

The women in Sarat Chandra’s novel generally come from middle-class or economically weaker class, living in precarious conditions trying to make a living; and, some are deeply hurt too. Many of his leading ladies are ‘fallen women’; but,    blessed with tranquil poise, having an aura of saintliness and a bleeding- heart ever willing to endure pain for the sake of that elusive love. Almost all of his novels are set in the times when the whole of Bengal society was passing through transition: from feudalism to urbanization; rural to industrialization; and form colonialism to nationalism .That was also the time when the rationale of religion and its practices were questioned; when Brahmo Samaj was attempting to synthesize a rational approach to religion; and, the questions about equal rights for women and widow re-marriage were passionately debated. Generally, it was the vibrant and restless period of confrontation between the old and the new; between the decadent and the liberal; the dogmatic and the  rational.

And, as regards Tagore’s characterization of women, it falls somewhere in between the two. His women characters generally come from upper middle-class; and, are intelligent and educated. Their problems are not so much related to survival in a harsh society , as to loneliness and sense of neglect and dejection in love. They also endure pain from complications arising out of the extended family-situations. At the social and cultural level, his women are active, rebelling against unjust attitude towards women in the male dominated conservative society. The questions of nationalism and participation of women in the freedom struggles also figure prominently.

All the three authors show enormous regard for women; are sympathetic to their struggles, and especially towards the plight of the young widows. The approach of the three towards widow remarriage is also graded.

In Bamkim Chandra’s novels, some women take a defiant stand against social injustice and inequality ; and, even try to defy the society. But, somehow, they all end their lives in unhappiness (Kundanandini in Bishabriksha; Shaibalini in Chandrasekhar and Rohini in Krishnakanter Uil). Even in his Debi Chaudhrani which glorifies the heroism and the independent spirit of a courageous woman, Prafulla the rebellious, at the end, returns to her husband’s family and his other wives.

On the question of widow-re-marriage, Bamkim says:  the right to remarry was given to the widows only to be “taken away in the name of chastity and morality”. The widows in his novels do not , of course, marry again.

In Tagore’s novels, the leading women die rather young and childless. The motherly aspect of women is not much depicted. And, many of his widowed heroines (including Binodini of Chokher Bali) do not actually get married, though they could have. Damini the young widow in Chaturanga appears to be a rare exception. But she too dies young and child-less.

In the novels of Sarat Chandra, the young widows and their problems are much discussed. He did show compassion for the fallen women and toward those who forsook their families, not because they wanted to, but because it was foisted on them by the male-dominated society. And, at the same time, he juxtaposed their steadfastness in love with hypocrisy and ugliness of the society. For instance ; look at  his characterization in delineating the characters of Tagar Bostabi (Shrikanta, Part 2); Kamini Bariuli (Charitrahin), Mokshoda (Charitrahin) ; and, so on.

The question of widows marrying again is also debated in several ways. But, I am not sure if any of those  young widows  married again. Sarat Chandra did not also offer a solution. The question of widow-re-marriage was left hanging.

Though Sarat Chandra tried to delineate his women characters, project and fuel their inherent desire to get out of the deep rut into which they were stuck, he  could not go beyond the social strictures  hoisted on women.

Even the ‘awaken’ women (jagrat-mahila) who dared to question and protest against the injustices heaped on women, eventually, somehow, fade out; and, sadly, do not succeed in becoming ‘free-women’. Take for instance; Achala of Grihadaha or Rama of Pallisamaj or even the intellectual Kamal of Shesh Prashna, though they all were eloquent on the question of equal-status of women in a free and a fair society , they  could not become free women.

This was particularly true of his Sesha Prashna . The theme and narration of Shesh Prashna are riddled with uncertainties. One of the major difficulties that its reader encounters is the rather vague, hesitant and half-hearted  nature of the novel, both in terms of its theme and the future of its characters; all are left hanging and unresolved. 

In response to a  letter from a female correspondent , pointing out the rather unsatisfactory  treatment of the problems of ‘un-free‘ women and the unresolved conclusion of the Shesh Prashna  (The Final Question, 1931), Saratchandra remarked  that his purpose in scripting the novel was not to reform the  society; but,  as a writer, to  depict and highlight  of human problems.  And, he can offer no quick remedies to the problems confronting the lives of individuals and the human society, as a whole.

[For more on Shesh Prashna, please read Dr.Supriya Chaudhury‘s (Jadavpur University, Kolkata) Introduction/ Afterword: Saratchandra Chattopadhyay, The Final Question, 2001]

Sarat Chandra’s stand, in general, was that he did not  intend to be a social reformer; and, as a novelist he depicted human problems as they existed in the context  of the then social situations . That echoed the oft-quoted words of the French novelist who wrote under the pen-name Stendhal (Marie-Henri Beyle-1783 –1842), belonging to the Realist School: the novel is a mirror walking down the street; and, if it reflects the mud and the puddles, it is not the fault of the mirror’. From Stendhal onward, the French writers became  increasingly concerned with making the novel , as realistic slice of life as possible, both in form and content.

A similar phenomenon occurred in Indian literature, during the post Sarat Chandra period.

During the thirties these desultory trends were gathered into a comprehensive attitude which Sudhindranath Dutta (1901-1960) describes and defines in the first issue of the quarterly, Parichaya, which became a powerful and formative influence under his editorship. He says: “The task of the poet is to integrate the disordered and fragmentary experience of everyday into a supreme realization…; to integrate the fragmented lives of all around him and place them in the flowing stream of life; to absorb the particular consciousness of his time into the eternal and essential consciousness. Success in this great undertaking is not achieved through the cultivation of an ascetic aversion to the world.” ]

14.4. Sarat Chandra said ‘the subject-matter and theme of my literary creation are not wide and extensive; but, narrow and limited. Nevertheless, it remains my claim that I have not divested them of truth, by giving them colorful touches of unreality’.

14.5. His experiences reinforced his liberal outlook on life. He believed that ‘the physical chastity of woman is not a social convention; it is her own training and discipline. If this discipline were to exist even in the unmarried, the security of society will not be affected… Love is greater than the body and the individual nobler than society… I do not grieve for the death of man; I grieve only for the death of humanism in man.’

In a short story titled ‘Sati’, while writing on Narir Mulya (value of woman), it is said, he tried to lend a special meaning to the term ‘Sati’. According to Sarat Chandra, ‘Sati’ does not merely imply chastity; it is , indeed,  something else, as well. He says, ‘to remain sexually chaste is regarded here as a criterion for judging human character. But everyone knows, it is next to impossible to adhere to chastity throughout one’s life. This concept passed down through generation after generation has bound men and women to the cruel social strictures and tugs at them’.

Here, in this story, Sarat Chandra mocked at the concept of chastity that the society imposed upon woman ; and , how it shattered conjugal life.

[During the time of the Buddha, the earliest Buddhist Order of Nuns did not place a premium  on the state of virginity of the women entering the Sangha. A vast number of its inmates had been mothers and wives; and, a few had been courtesans. The Master himself was once a husband and father.This again was an assertion of the Buddha that the road to enlightenment is not blocked by the state of the body and its condition.]


Sri Chinmoy says: ‘Sarat Chandra’s works tell us that he had the profoundest respect not for the men of vast learning or wealth, but for the men of virtue. He was terribly hurt by the fact that the present society is under the subjugation of the so-called men of learning, and tortured by the men wallowing in the pleasures of riches. His heart was ready to tolerate everything save and except hypocrisy. His life was an illustration of his teaching’


E. Interactions

Tagore, a sketch by Rothenstein flip

15.1. Sarat Chandra the newcomer, it was said, stayed at a safe-distance from the burning sun of the Tagore-genius. The autumn moon, they said , was not dimmed by the regal sun. All of that was merely to say that Sarat Chandra was not overshadowed by Tagore. He was a more popular story-teller than either Bankim Chandra or Tagore.

15.2. It must be said to the credit of the Great Sage Tagore that he acknowledged Sarat Chandra’s merit, appreciated and accepted him with open heart. Sri Chinmoy recalls how the great poet in humor and cheer remarked , in his letter of  Baishak 3, 1333 (1926), addressed to Dilipkumar Ray, wrote: “Many deem Sarat a better novelist than me. In story-writing many people place Sarat above me; but, that does not affect me. For even the greatest censor cannot deny my superiority over him in poetry.”

Sarat Chandra too in all earnestness revered Tagore as Kabisamrat – the sovereign poet. In another context,  Sarat Chandra regretted that he longed to be poet; but, his restlessness does not let him be a poet.

15. 3. Rabindranath had much affection for Saratchandra. In 1932, writing Punascha at Santiniketan, he wrote a poem Sadharan Meye. It is now a famous poem. Some lines of it are:

I am a girl of a common household,
You wouldn’t recognize me,
Sarat Babu, I’ve read your latest — 
‘Garland of wilted flowers’.

Your heroine, Elokesi,
At the age of thirty five
Competed with one of twenty five.
Indeed you are great;
you made the former win.

 I beseech you, Sarat Babu, write a story
Of an ordinary homely girl,
A hapless one who has to contend from afar
With six or seven most extraordinary ones — 
Like seven charioteers.

I know it well, misfortune is my lot ;
I have lost the fight.
But, of whom you write,
Let her win, for my sake,
Reading which one’s heart will swell.
May your pen be twice blessed.

16.1. Sarat Chandra was fifteen years younger than Rabindranath; but, died three years earlier to the poet’s demise. Despite their differences on certain issues concerning literary, non-literary and political matters, they shared a common bond ; mutual regard; and affection  . Each held the other in great esteem.

Sarat Chandra regarded Mahakavi Veda-Vyasa, the author of Mahabharata, as the greatest writer of India. And, he reckoned Rabindranath Tagore as the next best, the second greatest.  He called him as his Guru and the Literary-guide. In his listing, Valmiki and Kalidasa followed thereafter.

On the occasion of the celebrations of the seventieth birth anniversary of Rabindranath Tagore, in December 1931, Sarat Chandra submitting his salutation to Guru Dev, the Great Master, wrote:

We never cease to wonder, when we look at you… We all have received a lot from this world; but, we have also given it back a lot through you. O Sovereign Poet! Kabisamrat! We salute you on this auspicious day. We bow again and again to the Supreme expression of your beatitude. You are the wonder of wonders:  Kabiguru, tomar prati cahiya amader vismayer sima nai

[ Please also read an extremely well composed Forward written by Sri  Ramananda Chatterjee to the Golden Book of Tagore – A homage  to Rabindranath Tagore – from India and the world – in celebration of his seventieth birthday]

Tagore seventieth birthday

A few months before the death overtook him, while replying to the facilitation on his 62nd birthday broadcast over the Calcutta station of the All India Radio in September 1937 , Sarat Chandra  paid his tribute to the Great Poet Maha-kabi Rabindranath , saying :

As I step into my sixty-second year , before seeking the blessings of other elders, I wish to submit my Pranams to my Gurudeva, Rabindranath Tagore, who is now lying ill  . His blessings have been the guiding light and protection of my entire literary efforts. These are the priceless treasures that every writer would cherish to gain. On this day, I again seek the blessings of the Kabi-Guru, the greatest poet of our age.

Yes; there was genuine love and regard between the two greats; but, that did not mean they had no differences at all.  They did have their differences. But that was on basic attitudes towards certain issues; and never on personal matters or prejudices. For instance; Sarat Chandra , in the later part of his career, drifted away from his natural moorings and strayed into barren intellectual debates (Sesha Prashna) and violence, preaching sedation (Pather Daabhi). Tagore did not approve of Sarat Chandra advocating violence. In fact, the British Government proscribed Pather Daabhi  under 99 (A) of IPC ; and, was about to charge Sarat Chandra for sedition under Section 124 (a) of IPC. In that context, Tagore advised Sarat Chandra that the anger against the foreigner was a distraction, drawing his attention away from the more useful programs benefiting the people we love. He added , that by focusing all their attention on the enemy the nationalists were inadvertently or covertly assisting the British. That would amount to offering the British our admiration. (Feb 10, 1927- Tagore, Selected Letters – 347).

Rabindranath and Saratchandra

16.2. On the eve of Saratchandra’s fifty-third birth anniversary, Rabindranath blessed him saying:

Let your powerful pen clear the path of progress; and, I bless you wishing your long life…. You have conquered the heart of your country by your genius; and, thus earned the right to fathom its very depths. Your pen has touched the chord of the Bengali psyche in newer and deeper sensibilities of laughter and tears

Saratchandra acknowledging Rabindranath’s blessing, revered it as the ‘greatest reward’ he ever received. He in his letter (of Asvin 29) responded saying :

I accept with a deep sense of gratitude and honor this gift from someone whose minutest charity is a prized treasure for any writer.


Again, on the eve of the 57th birthday celebration of Sarat Chandra on 15th Sept 1933 (2nd Ashwin, 1339 BY) organized at the Calcutta Town Hall, Tagore greeted him with  a beautifully well written letter full of love and admiration for his achievements.

He advised his junior that a writer must continually keep reinventing himself; else , like a faded photograph he would in time blur and become indistinct…When men render homage to a writer who has passed the middle years of his life, they not only gratefully acknowledge what they have received in the past; but , also express hopes for what is yet to come. Joyfully, they say , this man has more to yield…This is the significance of our felicitations of Sarat Chandra today.

16.3. The last three paragraphs of the letter are truly remarkable for the benediction, love and regard that Tagore showered on Sarat Chandra.  Surely, Sarat Chandra could not have asked for more. It was his greatest Blessing; and, the fulfillment of his life.

“I would have specially prided myself in today’s felicitations had I been able to say that he was entirely my discovery; but, he needed no formal letter of introduction. Today , every Bengali home, spontaneously greets him with praise. Not alone in the field of letters—on the stage, on the screen—the Bengali’s eagerness to come close in contact with his genius ever increases.   He has evoked,   through   his words,   the   agony   of the   Bengali   heart.

In the world of literary activity, the creator ranks much higher than the critic; for, it is the all-encompassing vision of the imagination, not the analytical sharpness of the intellect that reveals always the true greatness of literature. As a poet, I now come forward to garland this creator, this man of vision,  this Saratchandra.

May he live a hundred years to enrich Bengali literature; may he impart to his readers the wisdom that brings with it real knowledge of man; may he reveal human nature clearly with its faults and its virtues, with its good and its bad; and, may he enshrine through the clear limpid melody of his words—not isolated incidents that surprise or instruct—but the eternal experience   of the  human   mind “.

16.4. Sri Aurobindo said: “As for Bengal, we have had Bankim; and, still have Tagore and Saratchandra. That is an achievement enough for a single century.”

16.5. In his last days when he was asked to write his autobiography, he said with characteristic straightforwardness, “I cannot write my autobiography. I am neither that truthful nor that courageous.” And on one occasion when Rabindranath Tagore also made a similar suggestion, Sarat laughed aloud and replied: “Gurudev ! Had I known I would become such a famous man, I would have lived a different sort of life.

17.1. Sarat Chandra died of cancer on 16th January 1938, at Park Nursing Home, in Calcutta, just as the whole of Bengal was preparing to celebrate the birth centenary of the great Bankim Chandra Chatterjee the pioneer of the re-awakened Bengal and one who helped us realize  and sing  with enormous pride the glory of  Mother India in  Love  and reverence . What a wonderful hundred-years it had been for Bengal and India..!!!

Sarat Chandra’s untimely death was a great loss for thousands of his countrymen. They felt it as a personal loss. And Tagore, too, was one of those. But the way he consoled his bereaved countrymen was sincere and very touching.

On learning of Sarat Chandra’s death on 16 January 1938, Rabindranath Tagore said:

I am profoundly grieved , along with the rest of  my countrymen, over the sad demise of the most beloved and popular writer of the modern age , who portrayed with great sensitivity and understanding of the agonies and ecstasies in the life of the common people of Bengal. His ability to delve deep into the heart of every type of character was his unique genius.

And , ten days later, Rabindranath Tagore wrote in a poem:

He who has his place carved
In the heart of love,
Death’s law can give us no sense of his loss.
He who has been taken away
From the bosom of the earth
Has been held in the heart of his country.


17.2. In the seer-words of Sri Aurobindo: Sarat Chandra was blessed with large intelligence, an acute sense of observation of men and things, and a heart full of sympathy for the sorrowful and the suffering . Sarat Chandra with the fineness of his mind was too sensitive to be quite at ease with the world. He was perhaps also too clear-sighted.

“What is stamped on Sarat Chandra’s photograph, everywhere, is a large intelligence, an acute and accurate observation of men and things, and a heart full of sympathy for sorrow and suffering. Too sensitive to be quite at ease with the world, and also perhaps too clear-sighted. Much fineness of mind and refinement of the vital nature.”

17.3 Sarat Chandra was fond of Tagore’s poem Sahjahan; and quoted it quite often. He perhaps found in it  a reflection of all those  who create works of Art  .


18.1. And, this was how Sarat Chandra wished to be remembered:

…I do not aspire after immortality, for like many other things in life the human mind is subject to change. So what looks important today may appear insignificant some other day, and small wonder. Even if, in the long run, the major portion of my literary attainment is submerged under the neglect of unborn generations, I shall have no regrets. It remains my only hope that if there is an element of truth anywhere in it that much will survive as my contribution defying the ravages of time. It matters little if it is not abundantly rich; it is in order to pay my homage to the Muse with that humble offering that I have sacrificed my life-long labour. This heartening reflection will illumine my hour of departure at the end of the day and fill me with the assurance  that  I  am a blessed  being  who  has  not lived  in  vain.


References and sources:

1. Sarat Chandra by Sri Chinmoy

2. Preface to Srikanta by E.J. Thompson

3. Letter to Saratchandra from Rabindranath Tagore

4.My Life by Saratchandra Chattopadhyay

5.Sarat Chandra : an evaluation by GV Subbaya

6.Sarat Chandra Chatterjee by Abani Nath Roy

Images are taken from internet


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Of poverty – literature – Sarat Chandra Chatterjee

sarat chandra2

One of my friends 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 who was 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 the cauldron of poverty, prison, or illness. Rainer Rilke said; one cannot be a good poet unless one loves poverty, indifference and wretchedness. Accordingly, his world-view became uniquely skewed.  And, in Rilke’s view the city of Paris was not the belle époque, capital steeped in luxury and eroticism; but, it was indeed a city of abysmal, dehumanizing misery, of the faceless and the dispossessed, and of the aged, sick, and dying. It was the capital of fear, poverty, and death.

According to Rilke , 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.

And, W.H. Auden, in his poem ‘Musée des Beaux Arts’, with  special reference to Pieter Breughel’s famous landscape painting Icarus, writes about the relation between the miseries of life and  the  European painters, the Masters: “About suffering they were never wrong; the Old Masters: How well they understood Its human position; how it takes place… They never forgot that even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course..”

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 indeed 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 reforms in social conditions and criminal laws of England; and  above all ,  some change in the attitudes towards the poor.



This article is mainly about Sarat Babu ; that is Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay (Chatterjee) – (15 September 1876 – 16 January 1938) . 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  succeeded in climbing  out of the heap , with composure and dignity.

Sarat Chandra Chatterjee experienced Poverty  rather 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 story-lines for his life-like characters placed in rural family settings. All his stories are about the depictions of the various shades of the characters; the characters with  their flaws ; the characters that had their imperfections celebrated by the author, rather than brushed under the carpet. Sarat Chandra 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, are 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 the  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 Nyadha) was born in Devanandapore – a village in Hooghly district of West Bengal, on 15th September 1876 (31 Bhadra 1283 Bengali Samvat). He came from a poor family. He was the second of the seven children of Matilal Chatterjee and Bhubanmohini Devi.  Sarat had an elder sister (Anila Devi) ; four younger brothers (two of whom died in their infancy); and, one younger sister (Sushila Devi). His two younger brothers, who survived were : Prabhas Chandra and Prakash Chandra .

sarat chandra birth place Devanandapur

Sarat Candra – birth place-Debanandapore

His father was a restless dreamer; and, for all purposes epitomized failure in one’s life. He had passed matriculation examination; and, by the standards then prevailing, he was considered as a fairly well educated person. But, he had no steady job or income. Since Matilal was unable to make two ends meet, the family was forced to shift to Bhagalpur, in Bihar, to be taken care by Bhubanmohini’s parent (Kedarnath Gangopadhyay), much to her discomfort.  Therefore, while the rest of the family lived in Bhagalpur with Bhubanmohini’s parents, Matilal, for a time, was employed  elsewhere in Bihar.

Bhubanmohini, a person endowed with a great sense of self-respect, and sacrifice for the well-being of her children, had a great impact on the  mind and the outlook of young Sarat. In most of his stories and Novels, it is the female characters that dominate the scene. And, almost all his leading ladies, particularly the mothers, are invariably,  self-sacrificing, in one way or the other; but, without rancor.

Because of the semi-nomadic nature of his father’s life ; and, his ever stringent financial situation, Sarat had to change schools frequently. And, his education was also incomplete. 

When Sarat was five years of age, Matilal admitted the boy to a Parish Scholar’s School in Devanandpur, where he studied for two or three years. Later, while he was in Bhagalpur, Sarat’s uncle enrolled him at the local Durga Charan Boys School.

In 1887, Sarat Chandra was admitted to Bhagalpur District School.  And, in 1889, when Matilal again lost his job, he returned to Devanandpur with his family; and, Sarat was forced to leave the District School at Bhagalpur.

Sarat was later admitted to the Hooghly Branch Government School near Devanandpur. But, due to the stringent condition of Matilal, Sarat could not pay the school fees; and, had to again discontinue his education.  The family had to return to Bhagalpur in 1893.

After Matilal returned to Bhagalpur, Sarat secured admission to the Tejarnarayan Jubilee Collegiate School. In 1894, Sarat, at the age of eighteen , passed the Entrance Examination (equivalent to the present SSC examination) in the Second Division.  He also completed his FA (present intermediate/PUC ) course.

During this period, Sarat managed to earn some money as tuition fee, by teaching his grandfather’s two sons Surendranath and Girindranath.

Despite this, Sarat could not appear for the University examination; for he was unable to raise twenty rupees required to be paid as the examination fees.

 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.


Just a year after he passed his entrance examination (1894), his mother Bhubanmohini Devi died in 1895, when Sarat was nineteen years of age. With the passing away of his mother and discontinuance of his studies, Sarat became rather rudderless and a sort of drifter. For a short time he worked at Banaili Estate in Bhagalpur. But he did not stay in Bhagalpur for long, as Sarat’s father deemed it un reasonable to stay at the in-laws’s place even after the death of his wife. He could not also go back to his own house  in  his native village Debanandapur; because , he had already sold it for a mere Rs.225 to repay a debt. The family had to stay  at a rented  house in the low-cost  area of Kanjarpalli  in Debanandapur.

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 Banaili 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 aimlessly around graveyards at dead of night. Later, for a while, he joined a group of Naga Sadhus and drifted to  Muzaffarpur (1902).  He returned home on learning of his father’s demise. His father, Matilal died  in 1902, by which time Sarat was about twenty-six years of age.

On completing his father’s last rites he left Bhagalpur. Before that, he left his two younger brothers in charge of the relatives; and, his sister under the care of the landlady in whose house Matilal’s family had been a tenant. He then left for Calcutta in search of a job and a future. While in Calcutta, for a short time, Sarat 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 Aghornath Chattopadyaya  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 for Rangoon, Burma, in January 1903, just in time before a severe plague broke out there. But, sadly , Aghornath died of pneumonia soon after, that is in January 1905. His family traveled back to Calcutta to get Aghornath’s  daughter married there. And, 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. Thereafter, from April 1906 to April 1916, until his return to Calcutta from Burma, Sarat worked in the Public Accounts Office of the Government.


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 (Chaya, meaning shadow) while he was studying in Entrance class at Tejnarayan Jubilee College, Bhagalpur. But, it was only in September 1917, when Sarat was forty-one years of age; the revised and enlarged version  of Kashinath  came to be  formally published in book-form.

It is said; following the death of his mother (1895) Sarat moved to Khanjanpur (a suburb in Bhagalpur), where he came in close contact with a number of people. And, one of the close associates of Sarat since his Bhagalpur days was Anupama (who later changed her name to Nirupama Devi – author of the Annapurnaar Mandir) . She was the widowed younger sister of Bibhutibhushan Bhatta; and, she used to contribute poems to their magazine Chaya

Nirupama Devi is said to have tacitly influenced Sarat as a writer and as a person, even during the later stages of his life. But, in the last years of her life, Nirupama Devi stayed at Brindaban , ‘ as did many women of the middle-class families in the yesteryears of Bengal.’

Another friend of  Sarat , of  those days , was  Rajendranath Majumdar (Raju) . The lovable character Indranath (of the story Mahesh) is said to have been patterned after  Rajendranath Majumdar (Raju). Sarat Chandra mentions elsewhere that in a way he  liked his character Indranath.

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 Girindrandranath , sent a short story Mandir for the Kuntaleen literary competition. He submitted the story under name of Surendranath Ganguly, 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 Jaladhar Sen , the veteran editor of the  বসুমতী (Basumati) magazine, (elected twice as the Vice President of the Bangiya Sahitya Parishad), was the adjudicator , enhanced  the prestige of the award. 

_Jaladhar_Sen2 bangiya parishad

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 (his childhood friend).

[Later in his life Sarat Chandra recalled with gratitude, the help and patronage he received from Jaladhar Sen. In 1932, Sarat presided over  a function to facilitate Jaladhar Sen , held in Rammohan Library.]

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.

Sarat chandra in 1911-1914

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. This period also witnessed changes in his personal life too.

His first wife Shanti Devi Chakravarthy  , whom he married in 1906 , died of plague in 1908 along with their 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.

After a couple of years, while he was in Rangoon, he is said to have married  the second time in 1910; and, his bride was Mokshada Adhikari an adolescent widow. He renamed her Hiranmoyee. This marriage lasted for more than twenty-five years, until the death of Sarat Chandra Chatterjee  in 1938. They had no children.

It is said; Sarat Chandra and Hiranmayee Debi were devoted to each other; and she had a sobering influence on his life. She diligently and lovingly steadied and regulated his ways of living and thinking; inspiring and enabling him to pursue his literary career. The Biographers of Sarat Chandra have observed that it was only after his marriage with Hiranmayee Devi, Sarat could find his bearing as a writer; and , all his major literary works followed thereafter. Sarat Chandra,  it is said, held Hiranmayee Debi in high esteem all his life. It is believed; a few female characters in his Novels are modeled after her.

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.  

It was only after his return to Calcutta from Rangoon in April 1916 , Sarat Chandra was able to produce his major works : Srikanta ; Charitraheen; Datta; Grihadaha; Denapauna; Pather Dabhi ; Sesh Prashna; Bipradas; and a volume of essays under the title Swadesh-O-Sahitya , apart from several other stories etc.


By about 1916, when Sarat was about forty years of age, he gained some sort of recognition as a writer of merit, who could earn One hundred rupees a month from his writings.

He started contributing to the monthly Bharati; and, thereafter to Jamuna, edited by Phanindranath Pal. It was from here that Sarat Chandra’s literary career began to flourish. The story Badadidi published in Bharati during 1907 created a stir in Bengali literary world. This was followed by other popular writings, such as: the stories Ramer-Sumati and Bojha; and, the essay Narir Lekha published in Jamuna.

The Badadidi was later published by Phanindranath Pal , in book-form, during 1913. The other famous works of Sarat Chandra – Chandrakantha; Charitraheen; and the essay Narir Maulya – were also published by Phanindranath Pal.

Later, Sarat was contracted to a well-known publishing House M/S. Gurudas Chatterjee and Sons, (with which Sarat’s childhood friend Pramathanath Bhattacharya was associated), which had just started bringing out a Bengali monthly periodical Bharatbarsha.

The Bharatbarsha indeed played a very important role in establishing Sarat Chandra as the most popular writer of Bengal.

Sarat Chandra Chatterjee was perhaps one among the rarest who, in those days, made a living through his writings.


Sarat Chandra’s literary career was comparatively not very long. When his first book was published in 1913, Sarat Chandra was past thirty-seven years of age; rather late for commencing a literary career. And, he died in 1935, before he completed the sixty-second year of his life. During that period of 22 years, spanning from 1913 to 1935, Sarat Chandra wrote about 36 books; and, most of which were not longer than 200 pages.

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;  and, between the pure and the profane.

sarat chandra

It was neither the volume of his writing; nor the length of his literary career that distinguished Sarat Chandra; and earned him great fame and ever enduring popularity.

What then was the secret of Sarat Chandra’s success? This was decoded by none other than the most eminent Rabindranath Tagore, who himself, at that time, was at the peak of his literary career. While explaining the enigma of Sarat Chandra, Rabindranath Tagore, during October 1936 by which time Sarat Chandra was also established as the premier literary figure of Bengal, said in a felicitation address:

Sarat Chandra’s vision has delved deep into the mysteries of the heart of the Bengalis. He has portrayed so vividly the variegated creation made up of happiness and grief; union and separation; as to enable Bengalis to see themselves. The proof of this, we see in the inexhaustible pleasure imparted by that creation.

The Bengalis have never been so sincerely happy with the writing of anyone else as they have been with Sarat Chandra’s writing.

He portrayed the middle class Bengali life with all its virtues and blemishes. He laid bare its blind prejudices, superstitions, selfishness and even cruelty; along with its ingrained strength and resilience to accept suffering; and, to live in poverty with a sense of dignity. He pointed out the universal element that binds all human beings together; and, the need to act; and to step beyond the narrow prejudices that divide the society.

No doubt, other writers have received praise; but, none could gain that universal hospitality in the heart of the common men and women as he has done. This surely is not a startled admiration; but, is a pure guileless love.. His words touch the tenderest spots in the life of the Bengalis.


The two towering personalities of Bengali literature – Bankimchandra Chattopadyaya and Rabindranath Tagore – had a lasting and pervasive influence on the literary career of Sarat Chandra. In fact, for a considerable period of time he was under their influence; and, followed their themes and their presentations in his early writings. For instance, it is said; the early part of Sarat Chandra’s Devdas resembles much to Bankimchandra’s Chandrasekhar; and, his essay Kshudrer Gaurab was patterned after Bankimchandra’s Kamalakanter Daftar.

Similarly, Sarat Chandra’s novels Chandrakantha and Charitraheen are said to run parallel to Rabindranath Tagore’s story Tyag and his Novel Chokher Bali.


But , in particular, Sarat seemed to be more attached to Bankimchandra. Sarat Chandra’s earliest writings clearly 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.

In his stories, 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, to 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. 

After the death of his wife in 1895, Sarat’s father moved to Khanjanpur (a suburb in Bhagalpore). There, Sarat came in close contact with a number of people who would play a significant role in his literary career. Notable were Anupama (later changed her name to Nirupama Devi – author of the Annapurnaar Mandir) and her brother Bibhutibhushan Bhatta and Rajendranath Majumdar (Raju). Incidentally, Raju is said to be the model for Indranath character in his masterpiece Srikanto.  

During this period, Sarat was influenced by the then popular romantic English novels by Ellen Wood (better known as Mrs. Henry Wood) and Marie Corelli. His short stories or novels like Abhimaan, Bojha, Anupamar-Prem, Sukumarer Balyakatha, Bardidi, Chandranath, Debdas, Pashan and Abhimaan were written during this period. The last mentioned, Abhiman, was said to be based on East Lynne by Ellen Wood. And, Pashan followed the theme of the then spectacularly popular English novel Mighty Atom by Marie Corelli. His Debdas belonged to this romantic era.

It is believed that Sarat Chandra  completed writing his long-story or novel, Debdas somewhere around 1901, when he was about 25 years young or a little earlier.  And, it does not seem to have been written when Sarat was a teenager of 17 or so. In any case, Debdas was his early work — written some time before he left for Rangoon in his mid-twenties,  in search of a livelihood.

His Debdas, basically a love-story, differs from his later works both in the story-line and the depiction of its characters.

It is said; Sarat Chandra did not like what he had written; and, he did not want it to be published. He didn’t approve the negative and the escapist streak in Debdas.

But, while Sarat Chandra was in Rangoon, his friend Pramathanath Bhattacharya persuaded Sarat to allow him to publish Debdas. Vishnu Prabhakar, a biographer of Sarat Chandra (Awaara Maseeha,1973), mentions of a letter that Sarat wrote to his friend Pramathanath during 1913: “Don’t give Devdas to them. Don’t even think of it. It was written in a drunken state. I am ashamed of the book now. It is immoral… “.

Nevertheless the book got published four years after his letter to Pramathanath. And, it was initially serialised in the Bharatbarsha. Following which, it was published by GCS as a book on 30th June, 1917 (Asharh of [B] 1324).

When he had eventually agreed to publish the story, reluctantly, in 1917 (sixteen years after it was written), Sarat Chandra begged the readers to have pity and forgive Debdas.

And yet, Debdas enjoyed unprecedented popularity first in Bengali, later in a number of other Indian languages as well.

The literary critics point out that – ‘Devdas – a romanticised despair of youth sunk in inaction and defeatism – is marked by an unevenness that may be attributed to the fact that it was an apprentice work. Terseness alternates with verbiage, objectivity with sentiment. The racy childhood chapters are delightful; but after that the novel begins to get bogged down by maudlin attempts to evoke sympathy for a weak-willed and self-obsessed hero.’

Debdas was translated to Gujarati in 1925 by Brajlal Thakkar. And Naresh Mitra made a silent film of it in 1928. Pramathesh Chandra Barua’s Bengali film Debdas was released on 3rd March 1935, with himself as Debdas and Jamuna Barua as Parvathi. And, on 21st September 1936, Devadas was made in Hindi with the legendary KL Saigal as Devdas and Jamuna Barua as Parvathi. And, the rest, as they say, is history.

On the question : why  have Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay’s works been a  favorite with Indian filmmakers, please read an analysis made by Ms.  Shoma A Chatterji.

For more please check]

sarat_chandra_chattopadhay_midnapore (1)

1st row from left : Himangsu Roy , Gour Hari Mitra ;2nd row from left : Friend of Sarat Chandra, Bijoy Krishna Khan, Sarat Chandra, Khitish Chandra Dutta, Manmatha Nath Das ; 3rd row from left : Tinkori Sen, Binoy Dasgupta, Chandra Sekhar Dutta, Sudhamoy Bandopadhay,  Hemchandra Kanungo, Bibhuti Bhusan Das, Sibomoy Bandopadhay, Shantimoy Bandhopadhay 

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. The Novel Pather Dabhi was banned by the British Government, on the grounds that it questioned the continuance of British rule in India;  and tried to incite rebellion by resorting to violence.

His last complete novel Shesh Prashna (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;  also of women rooted in their sense of values ; and , those 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 Srikanto 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 Srikanto.

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 to form her/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 signature

Sarat Chandra, while talking about his method of crafting a Novel , once said :

My approach to writing is somewhat different from that of the other authors. I start with identifying the main characters; listing them numerically; and, outlining each ones specific nature , outlook, ways of behavior and speech. I have no special difficulty in commencing the narration of a story or in delineating the characteristics of the principal women and men in the story-line.  I try to delineate the compulsions behind the behaviour of every character.  Such compulsions take different forms at different times. Later, I go over again and again, polishing the narration and diction.

Sarat Chandra regarded Mahakavi Veda-Vyasa, the author of Mahabharata, as the greatest writer of India. And, he reckoned Rabindranath Tagore as the next best, the second greatest.  He called him as his Guru and the Literary-guide. In his listing, Valmiki and Kalidasa followed thereafter.


Among the Novels of Sarat Chandra, Srikanta is generally lauded as the most popular. But, Sarat Chandra regarded Grihadaha as his best Novel. Dr. Subodh Chandra Sen Gupta, in his work Sarat Chandra: Man and Artist (Sahitya Academy, 1975) , attempts to rationalize  why it was so . According to Dr. Sen Gupta:

Grihadaha is Sarat Chandra’s most perfect achievement in fiction. It is flawless in its construction; its style is a unique combination of simplicity and richness; and, in its heroine Achala, there is an attempt to un-fathom the mysterious depths of the human heart; at revealing the contradictions and intricacies of love. Sarat Chandra can analyze and portray stirring emotional conflicts minutely; and with sympathy and understanding he gradually unfolds the agonizing drama that takes place within a woman’s heart. He tried to discover the essential integrity which sustains a person through the entire vicissitudes one’s life.  Here, Sarat Chandra surpasses all his other endeavors and achievements. Thus, Grihadaha is indeed, one of the greatest Novels of the world.


After returning from Burma, Sarat Chandra stayed for 11 years in Baje Shibpur, Howrah.

sarat cahandrs baje shibpore

Thereafter, in 1923, he made a house in the village of Panitras or Samtaber village (Deulti, Howrah) on the bank of the river Rupnaraya.

sarat chjandra samtaber

It was here at Samta, Sarat  spent the later twelve years of his life with his wife Hiranmoyee Devi ; as a novelist; and, as a busy politician. His Burmese-style house is known as SaratChandraKuthi or  Sharat Smriti Mandir . It is said;  his younger brother , Prabhas Chandra, who had entered Belur Math with the name Swami Vedananda, also lived here  for some time , till his sudden death in October 1926 (Kartik 10,1333).

  Sarat chandra house,Saratchandra plaque


Commencing with 1921, and for the next fifteen years till 1936, which is almost until his last days, Sarat was associated with politics. He participated in the Non-Cooperation Movement launched under the leadership of Gandhi in 1921. He also unsuccessfully contested an election for a seat in State legislature.

[Later, Sarat Chandra, somehow, lost faith in Gandhi’s Charkha Movement; and, apologized to Rabindranath Tagore (in his letter of 9 May, 1922) for having disagreed with him earlier.

And , at the same time, both Tagore and Sarat Chandra did not support Gandhi’s idea of boycotting educational institutions, recalling the inadequacies of national education in the Swadeshi period.

Tagore wrote disapprovingly in 1921

To one and all he simply says: Spin and weave; spin and weave. Is this the call: “Let all seekers after truth come from all sides?” Is this the call of the New Age to new creation? 

When nature called to the bee to take refuge in the narrow life of the hive, millions of bees responded to it for the sake of efficiency, and accepted the loss of sex in consequence. But this sacrifice by way of self-atrophy led to the opposite of freedom.

Any country, the people of which, can agree to become neuters for the sake of some temptation, or command, carries within itself its own prison-house.]


Sarat Chandra was engaged with other activities as well. For instance; he was the president of the Howrah branch of the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals; he was the paper-setter in Bengali literature for B.A. examination conducted by  the Calcutta University .

He also enjoyed a fair share of success in the academic field ; and, was rewarded with the Jagattarini Gold medal in 1923 by the Calcutta University , in recognition of his achievements in the field of Bengali literature.

And, later during 1936 the Dacca University conferred on Sarat Chandra Chatterjee the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Literature.

sarat Chandra Dacca 1936


After living in the house in the village of Panitras for nearly twelve years ( 1923-1935) , Sarat Chandra  built another house in Calcutta; and, sometime in early 1935,  Sarat Chandra moved into his new home with his family , which included his wife;  his younger brother Prakash Chandra along with his wife and two children ; and, the retinue of domestic staff.  

His health had started deteriorating even while he was in Rangoon, caused mainly due to his reckless way of living. But it became worse after he moved to Calcutta. 

His Calcutta years, from 1935 to 1938, the last three years of his life , were not happy. His writing had slowed down almost to a halt; there were numerous distractions that unsettled his composure; and, most of all, his health had broken down due to multiple complications such as  the chronic hemorrhoid, failure of kidney, lever ; and related ailments.

During 1937, Sarat Chandra was often ill. On the advice of the doctor, he returned to Calcutta after spending three to four months in Deoghar to recover his health. At this time, he was diagnosed with liver cancer, which had spread to his stomach.

Sarat Chandra was first admitted to a European Nursing Home on the Suburban Hospital Road in South Calcutta; and, later to the Park Nursing Home located at Victoria Terrace No. 4. He underwent surgery on 12 January 1938.

Four days later, Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay breathed his last in Calcutta at 10 .10 AM on 16 January 1938 (2 Magh 1344). He was then 61 years and 4 months old.

His end came just as the whole of Bengal was beginning to celebrate the birth centenary  of the great Bankim Chandra Chatterjee  . With that,  Bengal and India lost one of its most gifted sons, a tortured soul and one who loved his country and its people from the core of his being.

About ten days later, Guru Rabindranath Tagore paid  heartfelt tribute to one of the remarkable sons of India.

Yahar amar sthan premer asane / ksati tar kasti nai mrtyur sasane / Deser matir theke nila yare hari / Deser hrday tare rakhiyache bari  //

Death cannot harm one whose place is secured forever by Love.He may be lost to the land. But, he has it’s reassuring affection.


Sarat Chandra did not write his autobiography because he said he “lacked the courage and the truthfulness to tell his true story”.

Yet; I reckon, Sarat  projected himself , to an extent, as Srikanta. “As I sit down to tell my story in this fading afternoon of my wandering life, I am flooded with memories.”

Thus begins Sarat Chandra’s lyrical novel Srikanto. Its protagonist Srikanta – just as Sarat Chandra – was an aimless drifter, a socially conscious passive spectator, who reminisces on the years gone by; subjecting  himself to analysis. Srikanta too , as a young man,  had traveled to Burma seeking  new experiences; came in close contact with a couple of rebellious women; wandered on; and, finally resigned himself to life, breaking free of the social values he grew up with.

sarat chandra chatterji

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 had sent me a Note that the picture of Sarat Chandra (please click for an enlarged view) , which 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 Calcutta ,  at the instance of Shri Manindra Nath Roy.

sarat2 He added that Sarat Chandra habitually wore long unkempt hair; and, Smt Nirmala Debi (wife of Shri Manindra Nath 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 Manindra Nath Roy (Dr. Subroto Roy’s grand-father). I am told, the Note is about transport of a table (or writing-desk?) by rail. There is also Note (1925 diary entry in English) by Manindra Nath that mentions of  his travel to Shibpur and Sarat’s  visit for  breakfast.  And, they then visit “Ram Mohan Library” . These Notes , thus , provide  a glimpse of the relationship that existed  between Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay and Manindra Nath Roy.

There is another letter (in 1919) addressed  to Manindra Nath by  Sudhindranath Tagore (son of Rabindranath’s elder brother), which refers  to the literary journal Bichitra ; enquires  about  Sarat.

Please click on the pictures for a larger view.

For details : Please visit Dr. Roy’s pages :

Please also read Tagore and Sarat Chandra


Other references and sources

Subhash Chandra Sarker “Sarat Chandra Chatterjee: The Great Humanist.” Indian Literature, vol. 20, no. 1, 1977, pp. 49–77. JSTOR.

Illustrations are from Internet


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Why do the children have to suffer so horribly?

[This, in some way, is related to my earlier post Fate and Human Endeavour]

1.1. In Fyodor Dostoevsky’s final but incomplete novel the Brothers Karamazov, Ivan Karamazov , the argumentative intellectual among the three brothers,  is highly disturbed by the apparent senseless suffering in the world. Ivan proclaims that he rejects the world that God has created , because it is built on a foundation of suffering; especially the suffering of the innocent children. In an impassioned speech he tells his brother Alexei (a.k.a. Alyosha) that nothing can justify the suffering of innocent children; nothing can console it; nothing can compensate for it; and, nothing can restore a sense of order and purpose in the world in the face of a child’s suffering. What good any theology can do for children who are suffering, he demands.

To deny the reality of a child’s suffering ;and, pretend to justify that in the name of religion and ethics , he bursts out, is nothing but piling up falsehood, ignominy and perhaps worse. It is cruel to the suffering child.

Ivan then says, “Listen! If everyone must suffer in order to buy eternal harmony with their suffering, pray tell me what have children got to do with it? It’s quite incomprehensible why they should have to suffer. I would rather remain with my un-avenged suffering, and unsatisfied indignation, even if I were wrong. The whole of  truth or harmony is not worth such a price. If I am an honest man, out of love of humanity, I must give my ticket back. And that I am doing. It’s not God that I don’t accept, Alyosha, only I most respectfully return His ticket.”(The Brothers Karamazov; Part Two; Book V; Chapter 4; Rebellion)


1.2. Why do we suffer? Why do innocent children have to suffer so horribly? It is a question that assails every parent bringing up a handicapped child. I found a resounding echo of that question and of Ivan’s outburst in Arun Shourie’s book ‘Does He know a mother’s heart?’ (Harper and Collins India;  2011).

I could, in some way, relate to both.

2.1. Shourie’s book is a probing and an honest outpouring of a father, straight from his heart, in humility and out of immense love for his 34 year old son Aditya, suffering from cerebral palsy. Aditya ‘cannot stand or use his right arm; his vision is impaired ; and, he speaks haltingly. He has the mind of a child’. Looking after him has been a major preoccupation for Shourie and his wife Anita, for past thirty-four years. Life has neither been easy nor kind to them, with each day bringing up new complications- including Anita Shourie’s own painful bout with Parkinson’s disease. Now in his 70th year, Arun Shourie is at a loss, as he faces questions that have no answers, such   as: “Who will lift Adit out of bed as I weaken with age?” and “Who will look after him when we are gone?”

2.2. It is a moving and an intensely personal book written as a mature and a reflective father mellowing in age and sorrow attempts to  grapple grief, anguish and anger while he is bewildered by ‘Why’ of all unjust suffering. In his suffering he is lonely and helpless, as are most of the parents saddled with handicapped, autistic and such other children.

3.1. To start with, Shourie, just as Ivan, relentlessly indignant, questions god’s ways. Why does He subject children to such sufferings? Why does god make someone perfect while some are inflicted with imperfections? Aren’t we all equal in his eyes as we are told to believe? Isn’t his love for all the same? Then why are some discriminated… He is angry how a kind, benevolent and all-knowing God could allow innocents to be in agony.

3.2. Pain is a universal equalizer. It grinds down all to the irreducible; to their minimum. Shourie goes through range of emotions before he arrives at a rational approach to manage the reality of all life: the suffering. He goes beyond fate and faith; and accepts the reality of suffering; discards the ‘props’ ; learns to take the child  upon himself  without passing him on to a god or a Guru;  or without hiding behind a theoretical abstraction about suffering as handed down by someone else.”Suffering is real. Anything that dismisses it as ‘Maya’ or unreal is to mock at the pain of the other.” He shares his experiences; and urges all such parents to realize and give expression to the power of selfless love that is within them. He dedicates the book to the suffering mothers of the Special Children. He also lists out suggestions to manage such children.


4.1. Arun Shourie goes beyond “Why me?” crosses over to “Why?” and looks for explanations to human suffering as offered by numerous religious texts and the sages. His search for answers to these question forms the bulk of the book (I wish he employed the services of a good editor). First; Shourie examines the texts of the Semitic religions, comparatively and in the light of modern knowledge. Then he focuses on the explanations given by religious thinkers of modern India, like Gandhi, Sri Ramakrishna, Sri Ramana Maharishi and J Krishnamurti. Next he puts to scrutiny the classical explanations for the cause of misery; of karmic beliefs; of notions of illusion and unreality of the suffering. Further, he investigates metaphysical props such as god, fate and god-men. He also talks of the sheer desperation that drives the parents to irrational occult practices imposed by the Babas.  He then analyzes s the numerous alternatives that emerged.

4.2. As regards the god, he finds that god is a complex idea; each a product of its culture. The concept of God has changed over the centuries as human needs and knowledge too has changed. He finds all those notions do not provide adequate answers to the problems of suffering in life . He is disappointed at the explanation that a child’s suffering is in some way related to the  whole process of  problem-solving that is happening in a totality of the whole universe. “No cosmic purpose is served by our suffering or that of those dear to us. Just as no cosmic purpose is served by our being born or by our dying and that for the simple reason that there is no cosmic purpose”…. “We have no clue, hence god comes in as a filler of a mysterious unknown”…  “On the simple elementary fact, which the religion tries to hang on to god, that concept does not stand to examination.”

4.3. He is dismayed at the oft repeated logic of prarabda karma adduced to justify suffering: “Your child suffers for sins committed in a past life”; “and your child will enjoy great joy in his next life for the pain in this”.  If someone tells the mother “Your child suffers for your sins”, it is insensitive ; and, it is an insult to motherhood. No mother can be asked to prove she ‘loves’ her child. He cries out “Does He know a mother’s heart?

According to him “The explanations that scriptures proffer for the occurrence of pain and suffering do not stand up to the slightest examination”. And, “Suffering refutes religions.”

4.4. When a distressed mother seeks the help of a Swamiji or a Baba it is an act of desperation, more in hope than in faith. These are truly most agonizing experiences for the mother, as the hopes raised by the Baba soon crash down when nothing good happens to child. The pain, disappointment and helplessness grow many folds. Another is the anger and frustration that builds up nearing the point of explosion. It is the mother who suffers most. Is there a threshold for her pain? How much and how long can she bear the pain and sorrow?

The most noticeable feature of faith deposited in a Baba is that very few questions are allowed. Any question, no matter how reasonable or incisive, is dismissed with a simple “God’s ways are inscrutable” or “Our minds aren’t evolved enough to understand His higher purpose” or “All will be made clear at the End of Days”.

5.1. In a way of speaking, relying only on divine intervention, begging, beseeching  the Swamis and Babas to cure the child ; and, to relive the child  of painful suffering , basically mean  handing over our burden and our responsibility to someone else; and, expecting them to solve our problems. We surrender all decision-making, our attitudes to life and to suffering to Babas and others.  And, they are more than eager to act like pack leaders or like life-guards at the beach perched on high stools throwing instructions to a drowning person. Such help does not always work. Should we rest our hopes on a phantom reed?

5.2. Gods and god men are facilitators who aid our own introspection and internal growth. They are, at best, the props. Unless we learn to discard the props, strive to stand on our own and to fight our own battles there is no reasonable way out of the distress. Let’s stop doing things by proxy.

6.1. That veers Shourie towards the Buddha. Our Teacher recognized suffering the way it is, as the reality of life. He asked each one to formulate his attitude and to work out his salvation without relying on props or merely looking for explanations. “There is no use looking for explanations to suffering. Instead, attend , on priority, to the problem at hand, as if you are attending to a man whose hair is on fire  or to the one who is shot with a poisoned arrow”… “Whether the world is finite or infinite or both; whether the Tathagata survives after death or not , these are matters of speculation …there is birth, there is aging, there is death, there is sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair .These are the realities.  They have to be dealt with….” And there is a way of dealing with that. The only way is to accept it and deal with it rationally.

When the Buddha finally says ’workout your salvation with diligence’ he places the responsibility on us alone, relying on our effort and our experiences.


7.1. Viktor Frankie, a survivor of Nazi death camps, believed that ‘the last of human freedoms’ is the freedom to choose one’s attitude in any given circumstances; to choose one’s own way. It is not the freedom from conditions; it is the freedom to take an attitude towards the conditions. This he calls it as ‘the last of the human freedom’. And there were always choices to make.

Taking a cue from that, Shourie says “Everyone struck a blow will find his own ways to cope – if it works then each of them is valid”.

7.2. When we see the helplessness of our child we are filled with anger, bitterness and lot other emotions questioning the very sense of our existence. Then, observe those emotions that swell up just as an outsider who looks at an object. That will help you to look at things as they are.

8.1. The child is as much a victim of circumstances as are his/her parents.  The everyday pains, aches and suffering surround both. But, so are the moments of joy and laughter. The helpless child laughs, loves and loves to be loved. Let not the parents’ unhappiness dampen the spirit of the little one battling the affliction.  Do the chores that have to be done, in good cheer. Thank him for letting you help.

8.2. Most emphatically what is needed is not pity, and not even sympathy. Empathy is the word – not feeling sorry for; not even feeling for. But getting into the skin and feeling like what the child must feel. It is hard to attain that  except by the mother  who ‘Loves –till it hurts’. It is said; ‘If you want to be truly selfish,   do help (love) someone who cannot do anything in return’.

8.3. Learn to look at the suffering and also at the child as a sort of teacher who taught you patience, non-attachment and above all to love unselfishly. We need to look at the situation afresh. Stop asking “why this has happened to me?”  But ask “how do we put the lessons we learnt to work for us as also for others?” It is extracting a purpose from debris. Do whatever has to be done, promptly, without postponing. Perseverance is as relevant as reflection.

8.4. The suffering of a helpless child forces us to subordinate our interests and our  pursuits to his needs. It teaches us to empathize others suffering. It might possibly lead to the path of service, in even the smallest way possible, contributing whatever skills or resources we have. Perhaps, pain is a sort of megaphone that awakens humanity in man.

The issues raised in the book concerns almost all who suffered ‘a blow’. One may agree with or sharply refute the book. Regardless of that, his conclusions offer a perspective to the problem of pain; and to the realization of the power of love.

Shourie lists the lessons he learnt in the light of his experiences.

8.5. Shourie’s outlook is life-affirming. He states that he found the strength to equip himself “to take the first step towards dealing with the suffering that we have to confront…. the illness is beyond our reach, but the quality of love we pour into the child and to his service, the extent to which we reach out to serve the one we love dearly ,  is in our control… the circumstance remains but what fills our mind now is not the circumstance, it is the thing that we have to do for the one dear to us”.



Posted by on October 9, 2012 in Books, General Interest


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Fate and Human Endeavour

I recently read some posts which presented in ingenious ways their take on irrational and rational  faiths and beliefs. The term rational–faith seemed rather confronting, with the two contradictions placed face to face, as if one was challenging the other.  In that context, the fate and its inevitable part in human life were also mulled over. And, I found the posts interesting. I reckon there is a bit more to fate and its related issue: the human endeavor; hence this post.

What is fate?

1.1. It is common experience that most of the things that happen in one’s life result from one’s efforts or in the process of trying to do something. One is naturally gratified to see ones endeavors crowned with success, either immediately or after a passage of time. And, the persons who succeed,deservedly, congratulate themselves over their efforts. 

However, there are also occasions, though seldom, when things seem to just happen, almost on their own accord. And at times , things seem to happen despite oneself. Such a rare happening could either be a delightful surprise or be a cause for  agonizing distress.

1.2. When a person is happy; when life is easy and pleasant; when things are flowing like milk and honey; or, when one is overwhelmed in joy from a windfall, then it is the good-fortune or Luck that smiles on him/her. When you or your dear one is suddenly cured of an ailment, it is then a miracle. When you just escaped an accident that could have grievously injured you or could even have killed you, it is then providence or divine intervention. You thank god profusely for his mercy.  You also come to accept providence as the divine will, the super-natural entity or will that governs all events in the universe.

1.3. There also comes a time when ones effort does not bring forth fruits as expected; or, the things that started well begin to show signs of going weary. And it is worse when your project slides into an abject wreck, for no fault of yours. Nothing seems to reasonably explain your failures. The disappointments, sufferings and sorrow that follow are then blamed on fate.

2.1. Thus, a windfall or bright fortune is good luck. But, Fate  has come to  be understood as  one that is  inseparably linked to prolonged or acute suffering, undeserved punishment , reverses in life, unexpected losses , humiliation, poverty, disease , loss , death of near and dear ones etc. It is especially agonizing when the suffering is undeserved and unjust.

What should one conclude when such acute loss or sorrow is brought about by no apparent fault of hers/ his; and, when failures are not rationally linked to any agent or any action?  It is his Fate, he laments.

2.2. Fate serves as a gap-filler to fill the vacuum in his understanding of the world around him when other visible or rational explanations fail. The concept is reinforced further, in a negative way, at the sight of an evil person enjoying happiness and good things in life, while a righteous one suffers eking out a miserable existence. Since neither the comfort nor the misery – undeserved in either case – can be explained in a rational way, they are routinely blamed on the inevitable play of the fate.

3.1. Having said that, what one calls Fate is not an objective reality. It cannot be perceived by human senses. Some call it a creation of human imagination ; or, at best, is a default-inference. One could even say that man invented fate by re-ordering his moral world , so that he could ascribe to it whatever that did not fit into its paradigm. It may also have been born of man’s refusal to accept the idea that life is wholly irrational; and, out of his pet-belief that there is an unknown area beyond all that is known, which would explain life and its mystique.

In a way of speaking, it might not be wrong to call fate a projection of man’s fears and helplessness in the face of strange, untoward, unexpected, undeserved occurrences for which he is wholly not-responsible and is unprepared; and, for which he has no explanation. It is something towards which he feels is driven, going by his hard experiences in the world.

3. 2. Fate, by its very concept, is thus, irrational. One could lament that Fate is blind; it gives solace but not light; and, never  guidance. Yet, one cannot entirely deny the unknown and the unpredictable elements of life.  Man, therefore, calls fate : a capricious phantom.  And yet, a brave person manfully challenges this caprice, unwilling to surrender to its whims, to deflect its moves through precaution, valor, and various other brave and crafty ways. That is the crux of life.

[Please do read :Why do the children have to suffer so horribly?]

Fate in Indian ethos

4.1. Surprisingly, the concept and the belief in fate is a late entry into the Indian ethos. None of the four Samhitas, the Aranyakas, the Brahmanas or the Upanishads speaks of fate. In Rig Veda, particularly, prayers are addressed to benevolent gods who are gently or fervently persuaded to grant fertility in crops and cattle, to bless with plenty of sons and wealth. There is a joyous optimism looking forward with hope to be truly alive over a ‘span-of hundred – sharad ritus’, the best of the seasons. These texts do not have trace of fatalism.

But, the concept of fate and fatalism gained prominence much later in the Epics and the Puranas. We shall talk a bit more of that in the paragraphs to follow.

4.2. The first philosopher to formally propound the theory of fatalism (Niyati-vada) was Makkhali Gosala, an early contemporary of the Buddha. Some say; he was called Gosala because he was born in a cow-shed. Panini the Grammarian (around 5th century BCE) described him as Maskarin (maskara-maskariṇau veṇu-parivrājakayoḥPS_6,1.154 – a mendicant who carries a bamboo staff).  

Makkhali Gosala was a follower of Parsvanatha, the twenty-third Tirthankara,    in the Nigantha Nataputta Order of Jainism. Gosala too was a naked ascetic. Due to differences with the main Jaina Sangha, Makkhali Gosala left the Order; and , founded his own sect: the Ajivika.

[ Dr. Benimadhab Barua (A History of pre-Buddhistic Indian Philosophy) says, Ajivikas cannot be entirely identified with naked recluse/ascetics. They were, in general, independent and self-respecting individuals who had following among the Jains as also Buddhists. The Ajivika thesis, in main, according to him, is that the universe is a purposive order where everything is assigned its place and function (niyati).The law of change is universal and all beings are capable of transformation; and most attain perfection in due time. The man’s life has to pass through eight stages of development at each of which physical growth proceeds along with the development of senses, moral and spiritual faculties. And, finally leading to purity of mind; purging it of all impurities that have stained it.

Thus Dr. Barua’s rendition varies from the popular versions of the Ajivika-beliefs.

Dr. Barua gives some biographic details of Gosala that are not mentioned by others: The Jain sources mention his name as Maskarin – one who carries a staff; also known as Ekadandin.  Maskarin preceded Mahavira by sixteen years. His actual name was Gosala Mankhaliputta – son of Mankhali and Bhaddha; and was born at Saravana near Savastthi. His father Mankhali derived his name from the profession he followed – a dealer in pictures. Gosala followed his father’s profession until he turned a monk.]

4.3. Prof A L Basham writes (The Wonder that was India):

No scriptures of the Ajivikas have come down to us, and the little we know about them has to be reconstructed from the polemic literature of Buddhism and Jainism. The sect was certainly atheistic;  and its main feature was strict determinism.

The usual doctrine of karma taught that though a man’s present condition was determined by his past actions he could influence his destiny, in this life and the future, by choosing the right course of conduct.

This the Ajivikas denied. They asserted that the whole universe was conditioned and determined to the smallest detail by an impersonal cosmic principle, Niyati, or destiny. It was impossible to influence the course of transmigration in any way.

All that have breath, all that are born, all that have life, are without power, strength or virtue, but are developed by destiny, chance and nature, and experience joy and sorrow in the six classes £of existence There are … 8,400,000 great aeons (Maha-kappa), through which fool and wise alike must take their course and make an end of sorrow. There is no question of  bringing unripe karma to fruition, nor of exhausting karma already ripened, by virtuous conduct, by vows, by penance, or by chastity. That cannot be done. Samsara is measured as with a bushel, with its joy and sorrow and its appointed end. It can neither be lessened nor increased, nor is there any excess or deficiency of it. Just as a ball of string will, when thrown, unwind to its full length, so fool and wise alike will take their course, and make an end of sorrow.”


4.4. Ajivika sect was perhaps the first to put forward fatalism as being absolute and final. It embraced the concept of fate rather too tightly ; and, affirmed fate as the ultimate reality in human life. It believed: ‘there is no such thing as human endeavor, human strength or determination; all things are pre-determined’.

His parent body, the Jainas , did not however quite approve of Gosala’s theory; and , promptly labelled it ‘ajnana-vada’, the doctrine of ignorance.

4.5. Gosala seems to say you are free to take the first step; but as soon as you take it, you are bound by the outcome of your act and have lost your freedom of choice.

For instance; let’s say you are about to plant a sapling. As long as you have not done it, almost all options are open to you. But, once you decide on your choice, its outcome is also determined.  If you plant a mango tree, then you reap only mangos; and , no other fruit. In other words, you can act, but its outcome is predestined.

[This sounds very similar to Prof. Cassius .J. Keyser’s concept of Logical Fate which essentially means that from premises consequences follow. Choices differ . . . and when we have made it, we are at once bound by a destiny of consequences   beyond our will to control or to modify (See his Mathematical Philosophy). ]

5.1. Makkhali Gosala had declared :

“There is neither cause nor basis for sins of human beings (ahetukavada). None of the deeds of man can affect his future births. All beings, all that have breath, all that are born, all that have life, are without power, strength, or virtue; but, are developed by destiny, chance and nature. All existence is unalterably fixed (niyata). Suffering and happiness, therefore, do not depend on any cause or effect; but, are pre-determined by niyati (fate). And, niyati being adrsta is unseen and preordained . Suffering and happiness, therefore, do not depend on any cause or effect ”.

5.2. The Buddha totally disliked the fatalistic theory ; called its promoter Gosala as the most dangerous of the heretic teachers; and, remarked  :

“Just as the hair blanket is  the meanest of all woven garments , even so, of all the teachings of nagga-samanas (naked recluse) that of Makkhali is the meanest” (Majjhima  Nikaya :1:513).

5.3. The reason that the Buddha summarily dismissed the fatalism of Gosala was perhaps because, it rendered human life utterly irresponsible; robbing it of accountability for man’s evil or even good deeds. Gosala had said , man was not responsible for his deeds, as he was under the control of fate.  Further, Gosala had discounted the role of Karman in life as also in life-after-life of all beings; but , had  asked all men and women to put faith in fate. Gosala had thus attacked the very foundation of the Buddha’s fundamental theory of the chain of cause-and- effect, where the effect is produced by a cause through modifications. The Buddhist law of causation – Pratītyasamutpāda – was the basis of every other doctrine in Buddhism including rebirth, karma, samsara, dukkha etc.

[But , the later forms of Buddhism could not keep out the element of fate. For instance, a Jataka tale (No.257 Gamanichanda) makes out that chance predominates and takes over the course of human life as the agent of fate. And in another Jataka (No.538 Mugapakka)   a king chased by ill-luck for long period says “I know not where I go, the fate watching never sleeps”.]

Karman and rebirth

6.1. But what is Karman? Simply put, it is action, any action, good, bad or indifferent which involves a moral decision. But, occasionally, unwitting action – good or bad – also counts for Karman. It is the belief that ‘as a man decides, he acts; and, as he acts , he reaps the fruits of action  ‘.

6.2. It was much later that rebirth came to be associated with Karman: a man was born and lived according to what he did in his life on earth. This association had many facets.

Initially, the rebirth had reference only to the future. But, with Karman , it became a two-ended proposition: a man’s past Karman determines his present station; and, his present station determines how he will fare in the future. It also meant that Karman took time to mature and to yield its results. This time gap (karma-pari-paka) was compared to the interval between sowing and harvesting; or between administering medicine and regaining health.

6.3. Karman in association with rebirth was , largely , an assumption (just as many of these concepts) ; and , was not proved by any of the valid means of knowledge or the methods of cognition (Pramana). But, Karman seemed to offer an explanation to the illogical inequalities and relative-injustices that one comes across in the world. That made it easy to explain the fact that certain persons , though thoroughly undeserving,  occupy higher positions in the social hierarchy, enjoy the power and all the benefits that come with their status because of their Karman in their past births.

7. 1. But, these elucidations seemed to have a limited range, as they   did not adequately explain all events in human life. It was pointed out that similar actions do not always produce similar results. And, it did not explain the vast range of variations that occur even among the fortunate ones, who are better placed in life.

Further, it was argued,   how could an individuals’ Karman explain a natural calamity like famine, epidemic, accidents, disasters etc involving mass-deaths. Does it mean that all those victims had identical Karman which matured at precisely the same instant?

7.2. It was then put forward that   there had to be another factor which influenced human life , in tandem with Karman and rebirth. That unknown factor came to be accepted as the Fate. It was brought in as a powerful agent to reinforce ; and, to strengthen the Karman-theory. The apparent injustices were ascribed to fate, whose mystique could neither be remedied,  nor unveiled.

Thus, along with Karman and rebirth, fate became the third factor in controlling human existence, life and destiny.

Fate and religion

8.1. All religions, cultures and sects have element of fatalism, in some form or other. A faith in an unknown force which controls human destiny is at the base of most religions and mythologies. Elaborate tales are spun to drive home the conviction that a mystery surrounds human existence; and, it will never be fully revealed.

8.2. Most systems seek to see the God or  gods and fate as distinct powers. In some theologies, the God is seen playing  (Daiva Leela)with the fate , the grief and joys of his creatures; in some others , gods are subservient to fate; and , in few others, the gods and fate together exercise power over human destiny. In some cases, the fate , in one or other names, occupies a key position in the pantheon.

For instance; Fate is also equated with Time, kaala: ‘if kaala is adverse and angry, how, then, shall we escape? ..!’. Time , in human life , runs along a single direction; and , it rushes towards death. Hence , Time becomes synonymous with death. And, death becomes an essential constituent of fate, which terminates the course of  life.

8.3. In the Vedic religion, which has a fluid pantheon, where new gods come and old gods fade away , rather quietly, Karman, rebirth and fate continued to play a role. The fate, here, is both dependent and independent of Karman, as it was deemed possible for an individual to exercise his free-will in order to correct himself ; and , to improve his future prospects.

8.4. In monotheism where nothing can happen without the will of God, the God will necessarily have to assume the role of fate too. Otherwise, if its follower believes in destiny as determined by fate, then there would be no room left for God, as the dispenser of destiny. Conversely, the fate , in effect, will necessarily have to be deemed as the will of god. 

9.1. The things get bit more complicated when you put together the fate, the Karman, the grace of god and the human effort.

If one strongly believes in fate and its role in determining human destiny, then Karman becomes redundant. If ,on the other hand, one subscribes to the faith  and belief  that it is the Law of  Karman , which governs human life and its future , then fate has no place in such a  scheme of things. And, if one has immense faith in God , who in his infinite grace, over rides Karman and fate; then they together are rendered ineffective. In which case, total submission to god’s grace is the ultimate panacea for all worldly ills.

The diversity of the views regarding the relative merits of Karman, fate, divine favor and personal effort represent or depend upon the different anchors of human faith. Most theologies seek to reconcile these factors.

[Unfortunately, the theory of Karman got horribly tangled with ‘fate’; and , got confused for fatality; particularly when one grew feeble and was disinclined to do ones best. It became an excuse for inertia and timidity; and, it turned into a cry of despair, lacking hope.]

9.2. As regards human endeavor, one can never discount its efficacy in life. It is after all the man who decides the attitudes to adopt at varying times as he battles with life. It is also his decision to discard all or any of those approaches, or to relay on his own effort and judgment. Life has no meaning and is not worth living when human endeavor is not valued. Therefore, in day-to-day life, human endowed runs alongside some sort of faith.

Fate in Epics and Puranas

10.1. It is in the Epics and the Puranas that fate seems to take the center stage.

In the Ramayana and Mahabharata Epics, several situations are so crafted as if to bring human endeavor face-to-face with fate. In the many incidents narrated in the epics, fate does not act directly;  but it takes subtler methods of clouding the victim’s wits. Sometimes, fate acts as a living human enemy, hurting the unsuspecting victims.

10.2. There are homilies that acknowledge the supremacy of fate as that which cannot be grasped by thought; and, as that which is not destroyed in creatures”(Ram: 2.20:20). 

There are also remarkably brave statements which applaud human effort (purusakara or purusha-prayatna) ; and , decry dependence on fate as ‘false-games that people play and delude themselves ‘ : “when he  cleaves to fate without conducting himself like a man, he  labours in vain like a woman with an impotent husband (Mbh: 8:6:20)”; and, that “Low men given to indulgence of the passions blame the fate for their own evil deeds ” (Mbh: 8:67:1).

11.1. The principle characters of the Epics – Sri Rama and Yudhistira – lament and blame their miseries on fate: Who can fight against fate?”(Ram – 4:22:20); ”The man to whom fate allots defeat, it robs him of his intellect first and then he begins to see things in a reverse order. Fate robs him of vision, falling like an eye of fire on him” (Mbh: 2.73:8; 3:295:1).

But what is more important here is that the heroes of the Epics, despite their miseries and delusions, do not give up;  but , keep on fighting resolutely  till the end.

11.2. But, it is the relatively minor characters that stand up for human endeavour ; and, refuse to accept the verdict of fate. For instance; Lakshmana argues with his   dejected brother : “why an able bodied man with his faculties intact should accept unjust verdicts of fate without protest?”.

His argument has a subtle point : when success is achieved by ones brave efforts, people tend to ascribe it to fate and destiny. That is unfair, according Lakshmana, as it robs the brave man of his well deserved glory. To Lakshmana, it is cowardly to submit to fate, to suffer injustice without protest, while it is possible to do so, and then blame the fate for his misery (Ram: Kishkinda Kanda).

11.3. Karna the tragic hero of Mahabharata though a Kshatriya by birth was not aware of his origin, because he grew up as a charioteer’s son. When others jeered him of his low extract, Karna retorted  : “A charioteer or a charioteer’s son, whoever I may be, my birth was decreed by fate; but, I am the master of my valour”. Here was an instance of a proud self-confident person , who undertakes tasks and performs with faith in Purushakara.

11.4. The great battle of Mahabharata was, in one sense, a battle between fate and human effort. The warriors on either side knew well that victory was essentially uncertain; and, their own life was highly threatened . Yet, heroic men fought with great courage. Every warrior, mighty and small,  had realized that meek acceptance of fate meant negating the glory of his manhood. Yet, each one was also prepared to conditionally accept his fate as a venture into an unknown zone riddled with startling events. And, regardless of the outcome, each fighter , even the ordinary one, was determined to battle courageously, more manfully and to fight against the mightier odds, if only to redeem his  pride and that  of his clan.

11.5. Mahabharata has some great statements on fate and human endeavour :

“Whatever the enterprising man ever does, he must do it fearlessly; and , the success however depends on fate (yasmād abhāvī bhāvī vā bhaved artho naraṃ prati aprāptau tasya vā prāptau na kaś cid vyathate budhaḥ – Mbh: 8:1.47)” ;

“as a lamp grows weak as the oil runs out, so the fate grows weak when the fruits of action are exhausted” (tasyādya karmaṇaḥ karṇaḥ phalaṃ prāpsyati dāruṇam – Mbh: 8:5:32).

12.1. Puranas were written mainly to glorify the powers, the splendor and supremacy of their principal gods or goddesses. They urge the devotee to surrender to the will and mercy of gods and goddesses. But, at the same time, they call upon men not to give up their efforts: “Some wise men call fate as the false hope that feeble cling to. For the powerful men, no fate is ever noticed. The heroic and the feeble take recourse to effort and fate respectively “(Devi Bhagavata: 5:12:28-30); and, “the wise hold that prowess is the best. Even an adverse fate can be overcome by the prowess of those of good conduct who are ever active and dedicated” (Matsya Purana).

Here, the emphasis is laid on human effort, without which even fate is powerless to achieve anything. Here , cleaving of fate is not condemned; but, doing so and abandoning personal effort is.

12.2. The Puranas tried to reconcile fate and human effort. There are several statements that emphasize that one should always be active in ones prescribed field of activity. And , that only the people without prowess talk of fate;  many alas do not realize that it is primarily their effort (purusha-prayatna) that paves way for their salvation. They emphasize the importance of self-initiative. The Puranas and its legends assured that human effort (purushakara) blessed by fate would surely bear fruit, in due time.


Stoics – Fatalism –Freewill

13.1. Some of the Stoics believed in fatalism; but, none believed in complete Freewill.  Throughout the history of philosophy, there has been a long debate; and, that, perhaps, will never be settled. 

Freedom, they said, is relative and not an absolute. They argued; in a material universe,  in which everything is subject to the laws of cause and effect, how could we possibly have free will?

Surely, if everything is governed by cause and effect, we are too. Everything we do — and our future ahead of us — is governed by causes that are out of our control. In fact, do we even have control over anything?

The Stoics believed that God was in all of nature. If God is in all of nature, then nature must be determined, there can be no room for “free will” in a universe that is all God ; because God is perfection.

The universe may seem flawed to us, but we have only a partial understanding of it; because, we are but a fragment of the whole. As a fragment of the whole, we simply could not stand apart from the universe to be free of the causal connections that make it up.

The problem with free will is that it is logically incoherent. To have full control of your destiny, you would have to be the cause of yourself.


The basis of Stoicism is to not take things for granted; but, to contemplate the very nature of our being

The ultimate lesson of Stoicism is this: to live a fulfilling life is to ask yourself difficult questions about what it is to be a human being. The Stoics prized reason above everything else; and, reason requires discipline.

According to Stoicism , knowing yourself and your place in the world will  enable  you to live up to the values that you set for yourself.


13.2. Chrysippus of Soli, head of the Athenian Stoic school in around 230 B.C. E, was probably the most famous Stoic in the distant past.  All his writings are lost. All that we know of his work is through the later writers like Cicero.

Chrysippus is credited with creating a philosophical system of Stoicism, as we understand it. And, it had three equally important parts: logic, ethics and physics.

Further, there are three broad positions in regard to  the human agency in a universe of causes and effects:

Fate or Determinism: is the belief that free will is impossible. The hardest determinists would argue that your life — every action and thought — has been mapped out since the beginning of time.

Free will:  is the idea that we have free will. We can make choices in our lives that are influenced by, but not determined by, the external universe. Such Libertarianism would hold that we are wholly responsible for our actions.

Compatibility:  takes for granted the idea that we live in a deterministic universe of cause and effect. However, it tries to reconcile an idea of human free will with the acceptance of determinism (Fate). Compatibility can be thought of as “soft determinism”.


The renowned philosopher Marcus Aurelius eminently summed up the basic tenets of Stoic philosophy

All things are linked with one another, and this oneness is sacred

Everything that happens happens as it should, and if you observe carefully, you will find this to be so.

[The Stoics believed that all events are predetermined; and , that you have either no control or very little control over circumstances. Everything is fated.]

You have power over your mind — not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.

[You may not be able to change the course of events, but you do, however, have control over your own thoughts and emotions.

The difference between the Stoic and the common man is in this example; the common man prays that he is spared of misfortune; the Stoic prays that he can find the strength to accept misfortune.]

The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.

[Since everything, according to the Stoics, is determined — “everything that happens happens as it should” — you could not do anything about the obstacles you may face. Instead the mind can only find an opportunity in the obstacle because the mind is all that we truly have control over.]

Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.

[The universe is perfect and true, but we are but one fragment of the whole so therefore cannot fully know that perfection and truth. ]

…the infallible man does not exist.

[Since there are only perspectives that are more or less true (and never fully true), there can be no definitive judgment.]

Waste no more time arguing what a good man should be. Be one.

[ Good conduct emanates from good character.]

The things you think about determine the quality of your mind. Your soul takes on the color of your thoughts.

[Since ethics lie in virtuous character, ones  conduct depends on ones thought and reason.]

What we do in life ripples in eternity.

[We are a part of the universe and what we do in our lives is part of that eternity.]

The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts


Chrysippus, the philosopher, made a distinction between internal (mental) and external (physical) causes. To illustrate his point, he used the visual metaphor of the cylinder. If we push a cylinder on a flat surface it will roll forward. Our push was one necessary cause to get the cylinder rolling.

However, the cylinder’s shape — an intrinsic property — is what was sufficient to make it roll. If you pushed a cube, it would not roll, because it’s not in a cube’s nature to roll.


He then offered a complicated human situation. Let’s say I offer a bribe to a prison guard to get a friend out of jail.

My wad of cash is necessary for the guard taking the bribe — it is an external cause — but it is not a sufficient cause for the bribe to happen. What is sufficient for the successful bribe is the prison guard’s lax moral judgement.

Like the shape of the cylinder allows it to roll, the guard has to have an internal cause to take that decision. Chrysippus describes such decisions as “primary” causes for our actions.

Whether or not the guard takes the bribe is “up to him”’; but, it’s not a free choice. The guard’s choice is determined by his own internal make-up.

His “character”, which creates his dispositions, is again determined by a combination of his complex internal and external causes .

Because of the involvement of both the internal and external factors, the Stoics hold that our actions primarily belong to us, who are, in essence, the combination of both .

Thus, our actions are determined by a complex set of external and internal causes.  


The Stoics avoid using the word “free-will” in the context of fate.

Chrysippus’ idea of “will” or “character” is determined by various degrees of “freedom; but it is more or less determined. We are more or less responsible for our actions; but, never entirely responsible.

The degree of freedom we have (and therefore responsibility) in a given situation depends upon two things: how narrow the choice permitted to us is; and , how cultivated our faculty for judgement is. The Stoics paid a lot of attention to the latter.


13.3. Freedom, they said, is rational self-sufficiency. The desire for material wealth, sex, fame and luxury is impinged upon us by extraneous causes – we are, by necessity ,dissatisfied when we desire.

Desire can be hard to fight. It is a “passion” that will inevitably rise up within us, but always remember that you have control over your emotions. Marcus Aurelius wrote in his Meditations:

“You have power over your mind — not outside events. Realise this and you will find strength.”


13.4. In effect, the Stoics argue that the more rational you are, the freer you are. The rational choice is easy; because, there is only one choice: the necessary choice.

Freedom is, therefore, a double-bind: freedom is choice; but, to be truly free , we should avoid choice. Our reason would dismiss desire as unnecessary to live in virtue and as freely as possible.

There’s not much choice in not wanting; but, wanting is not something that a rational person would choose.

But, the lesser you want; freer you are. This must seem absurd. Being free is surely about choice, after all. But there are different senses of freedom.

It is a paradox.


Fate and Human endeavor

14.1. It can be seen that absolute dependence on fate and the absolute reliance on human endeavor are projected as two extreme positions. It would however be prudent to recognize the limits of both; which is to say, one is powerless without the other or that where the one ends the other begins. Human endeavour, for instance, is the very act of living ; and, life has no meaning when human endeavour is not valued. Therefore, in day-to-day life, human endower runs alongside some sort of faith. But, one has also to recognize that even the most sophisticated of all human endeavors – let’s say launching of a space shuttle – involves and is subject to an element of unknown and unpredictable. You might assign that unpredictability in life whatever name you choose.

14.2. Shri DSamapath , elsewhere, remarked that in situations where one is faced with extremes there always are other possibilities open for resolving the conflicts. Those options might range from the middle path to the simultaneity of all possibilities. These, he calls as the metaphors of thought. Such multi-pointed approach would, naturally, take into account not merely the whole of a ‘metaphor’ but also its specific variations. It is in that context that the Vedic religion re-worked on the theory of Karman; and, rendered it more dynamic , by providing for the freedom of individual will, enabling him to correct the errors and to improve upon his good-performance. That was  meant to convince  that the outcome of one’s past action is not always beyond control or beyond modification,  provided there is a strong will to so.

14.3. Shri DSampath’s observation also implies that there could be as many approaches or attitudes to life as there are individuals. I agree with him. It appears to me that amidst all those options, what is important is to retain a  sense of balance in life recognizing the limits of each of the factors that play an effective role in the different contexts  of the varied spheres of human life.

As Uddalaka Aruni counsels his son, one has to understand life through reason grasped in faith: ‘śraddhatsva somyeti; Have faith, my dear’ (Ch. Up. 6.12.2). … What that faith is at the very core of each being.

To sum up:

Haman initiative and endeavor is highly essential in life; without that, life would collapse on itself. But, that does not say everything. At almost all levels , even at its most sophisticated and highest level , human effort involves and is subject to elements of unknown and unpredictable; you may assign them any name/s . Which suggests that human freedom is  just operational; but, it is not absolute freedom.

Roger Sperry (1913-1994) a psycho biologist (neuro-psychologist and neuro-biologist) who won the Nobel Prize for his split-brain research) explained free will as follows

What one wants of free will is not to be totally freed from causation, but rather, to have the kind of control that allows one to determine one’s own actions according to one’s own wishes, one’s own judgment, perspective, cognitive aims, emotional desires and other mental inclinations.

We are free to select our assumptions. But to exercise this freedom, man must first realize that he is thus free. There could be as many assumptions and beliefs as there are individuals. Fate, god or such others could also be one of those beliefs. If one has firm conviction in ones belief and strives towards that, then ‘That’ would become the reality for him , in due time.  And that is his faith, the very core of his being.

Leaving aside remarkable sages and saints, it appears to me, for the men and women of the world,  it is important to retain a sense of balance ; and, to understand life through reason grasped in faith, as said.



Posted by on October 9, 2012 in General Interest, Speculation


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The other migrations


1.1. It is said; the Vedic region broadly comprised three areas:  Ila the western regions, Bharathi the tracts of the alluvial plains of the Ganga and Jamuna do-ab, and the third region being of course the Sindhu or the Sarasvati.

1.2. There is a view which asserts that ’Ila’, in fact, refers to the Land’s End  of the Sothern India the parts of which were rescued from the Great Flood  of  the very distant past. It also mentions about the migration of people from the lands threatened by flood waters towards safe upper reaches and to regions in the North. The ancient texts such as Shatapatha Brahmana and the Puranas as also the ancient Tamil texts seem to support that view. Let’s talk of Ila of the South.

Yayathi and sons

2.1. Yayathi the legendry king of the Vedic people is said to have had two wives: Devayani the daughter of Shukrachaya of the Bhrigu clan; and Sharmishta the daughter of Vrisha Parvan, the King of Asuras in the south west (Gujarat area) bordering the central region ruled by Yayathi. Vrisha Parvan too was a follower of the Bhrigus.

Devayani had earlier fallen in love, desperately, with Kaccha the son of Brihaspathi of the Angirasa clan. But her love was rejected.

2.2. Turvasha and Yadu were sons of Yayathi (an Angirasa) by Devayani of the Bhrigus; while Anu, Druhyu and Puru were his sons by Sharmishta of the Asuras.

2.3. Yayathi’s story indicates that the five great lines of Vedic rulers were born of an alliance of Deva and Asura kings, the followers of Angirasa and Bhrigu seers. Yayathi’s marriage with the Bhrigu women was perhaps an attempt to bring together the two rival clans.

2.4. According to Vishnu Purana (4.10.17-18) the king Yayathi divided his kingdom among his five sons . To Turvasha he gave the south-east; to Druhayu the west; to Yadu the south and west in the Narmada –Godavari region; to Anu the north; and to Puru the centre. Purus ruled as the Supreme king of all earth.

dhanāśā jīvitāśā ca jīryato ‘pi na jīryataḥ // ViP_4,10.17 //
pūrṇaṃ varṣasahasraṃ me viṣayāsaktacetasaḥ /
tathāpy anudinaṃ tṛṣṇā mamaiteṣv eva jāyate // ViP_4,10.18 //

2.5. In the lineage of the Puranas, the Purus and Yadus rule famously, for long years, as the prominent kings of Chandra-vamsha, the lunar dynasty. The descendents of Puru and Yadu branched into Pauravas and Yadavas, respectively. Dushyanata followed by his son Bharata was the pioneer of the Puru clan in which line descended the Kuru and Pandava princes. While, Krishna son of Yadava prince Vasudeva was the culmination of the Yadu clan.

The west and the south combine

3.1. Turvasha and Yadu, the two sons of Devayani of the Bhrigus were said to be twins; and were particularly close. The kings of the Dravida region were the descendents of Turvasha, while the kings of the island of Sri Lanka were Yadus. The regions ruled by the two clans stretched from the upper regions of the Narmada to the end of Southern land mass which perhaps extended   beyond the present-day Sri Lanka. The entire region was ruled practically as one kingdom, because the ruling families in the South had very friendly relations with the Yadus of the Narmada region in the west. All were in the line of the Bhrigus.

3.2. The later legends mention of the sizable presence of the Asuras- Yadus – Brighus in the Narmada and Godavari region. It is said that Lavana, a Yadu and a disciple of the Brighus controlled that region. Lavana was related to Ravana who was a Yadu; a militant Yadu just as Kamsa of Mathura in the much later era. The followers of Lavana (including Ravana’s sister) roamed freely in the region. It was from this area that Ravana abducted Sita.

The Deluge and after


4.1. The Shatapatha Brahmana (I.8.1.1) describes the floods that swept the lands of the Vedic people, the rescue of the lands from the advancing floods; and of moving people and animals threatened by waters to the upper regions in the North. The other Vedic texts too carry similar legends of floods and the rescue. The later Puranas   and Srimad Bhagavatam turned the great event associated with the rescue from the floods into the legend of Matsya-Avatara of Vishnu, his emergence as a Fish, the first of his ten principal incarnations.

manave ha vai prātaḥ | avanegyamudakamājahruryathedam
pāṇibhyāmavanejanāyāharantyevaṃ tasyāvanenijānasya matsyaḥ pāṇī āpede (I.8.1)


4.2.The Shatapatha Brahmana (I.8.1.5) says that a little fish (a shaphari crap fish)  asked a  king to save its life while he was performing his early morning- austerities  standing in the river : and it kept growing bigger and bigger. The fish also informed the King of a huge flood which would soon hit and sweep away his land. The King thereafter built a huge boat to rescue his people, nine types of seeds, and animals in order to repopulate the earth. Accordingly, the king was taken to a Northern Mountain, where all were saved from the flood.

tamevam bhṛtvā samudram abhyavajahāra | sa yatithīṃ tatsamām paridideṣa tatithīṃ samāṃ  nāva mupakalpyopāsāṃ cakre sa augha utthite nāva-māpede taṃ sa matsya
upanyā pupluve tasya śṛṅge nāva pāśam pratimumoca tenaitam uttara
atidudrāva 1.8.1.[5]

[H.S. Bellamy in his Moons, Myths and Men, estimates that altogether there are over 500 Flood legends worldwide. Ancient civilizations such as – China, Babylonia, Wales, Russia, India, America, Hawaii, Scandinavia, Sumatra, Peru, and Polynesia- each has its own version of a giant flood].


5.1. The common features of most (not all) of the Indian legends of the Great Flood are: The king who rescued the land and its people from the encroaching flood waters was Satyavrata of Bhrigu clan, perhaps a king in line of Yadu or Turvasha. He ruled in the Southern region — Dravida Desha. When the little fish jumped into his palms holding water as offering to gods, the king Satyavrata was standing in the waters of the river Kritamala flowing down from Malaya Hills .

Bhagavata Purana (8.24.12-13) also mentions that a fish jumped into the palms of King Satyavrata  of Dravida Desha (Dravieśvara), holding water – Satyavrato añjaligatā saha toyena Bhārata.

Tasyā añjalyudake kācic chaphary ekā abhyapadyata / Satyavrato añjaligatā saha toyena bhārata / utsasarja  nadītoye śapharī Dravieśvara BhP_08.24.012-13

After he built the boat, Satyavrata sailed north, away from the floods, and he rescued humans, nine types of animals and plants by taking them to safety in the regions of north and west.

Ila is the name of Satyavrata’s daughter; she is described as Maitra-Varuni (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad: 6. 4.28) suggesting she descended from the line of the Bhrigus.  Ila is also the name of the land the parts of which were rescued from the flood waters.

athāsya mātaram abhimantrayate — ilāsi maitrāvaruṇī vīre vīram ajījanat |
sā tvaṃ vīravatī bhava yāsmān vīravato ‘karad iti 

boat rescue

5.2. The Malaya hills mentioned in the legends refer to the ranges in the peninsular region of India stretching south from Sri Sailam to the southern end of the Western Ghats, which could be the border areas between the Nilgiri Hills and the Anaimalai Hills. An account of the pilgrimages undertaken by Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu (1486–1534) mentions: “The Lord next visited the places known as Pandya-Desa, Tamraparni…, Panangudi, Carntapura, Sri Vaikuntha, Malaya-parvata and Kanya-kumari”.  As regards the Kritamala River, it is believed to be the Vaigai River or its tributary. The river Kritamala is mentioned in Mahabharata in the context of Balarama’s pilgrimage: “After the Setubandha (Ramesvaram) Lord Halayudha then visited the Krtamala and Tamraparni (of the Tirunelveli district) rivers and the great Malaya Mountains”. Kritamala is also mentioned in the travel accounts of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. Satyavrata might have therefore been a Yadu king of the Pandya country.

The king Satyavrata later became the progenitor of this eon: Vaivasvata Manu. He then was described as being in the line of the Vivasvan, an Aditya, a solar deity. Here too, Ila is his daughter.

The Rig Veda (I.31.11) mentions that Ila  , the daughter of Manu was the first teacher to the sons of mortals. She is associated as a River, and also with Agni.

tvām agne prathamam āyum āyave devā akṛṇvan nahuasya viśpatim | Iām akṛṇvan manuasya śāsanīm pitur yat putro mamakasya jāyate || RV_1.031.11||

5.3. All these suggest that king Satyavrata came from the South (Draviḍeśvaraḥ). And, the lands and people rescued from the deluge were part of a large landmass called Ila or Ilavar or Ilam named after the daughter of king Satyavrata who became Vaivasvata Manu. The people rescued from Southern waters were moved to north and west. And, the Vedas existed before and after the deluge.

The Land of Ila

6 . 1. That fuels the argument that ancient Ila – mandalam ‘The Land of Ila’ lay to the South, and its Vedic- tradition of the Aryans was rescued by the efforts its king and his people. And thereafter   , following a great migration, it rejoined the Vedic culture on the banks of the Saraswati River and flourished afresh. Since the rescue was by means of a huge boat that could sail over turbulent waters, the rescued population of the South could have reached the Saraswati basin by setting sail from a port situated along the west coast, nearer to the Pandya country. That possibility seems to give wings to the view that some of the early Vedic people in the Sindhu valley were migrants from Ila of the South; and that an early form of Dravidian language was one of the languages of the Indus people. Scholars assert that the Dravida influence was certainly present in north-western India by around the middle of the second millennium BC.

Shri Bhadriraju   Krishnamurti in his ‘The Dravidian Languages  Cambridge University Press, 2003 ; mentions that the Rig Vedic society consisted several different ethnic components who all participated in the same cultural life; and that the Rig Vedic Sanskrit had several borrowed-terms from the Dravidian e.g. ulukhala (mortar); kunda (pit); khala (threshing floor); kana (one eyed); and mayura (peacock).

dravidian languages

Dravidian languages

6.2. A Russian Indologist, Nikita Gurov, claims that there were as many as eighty words of Dravidian origin in the Rig-Veda, ‘occurring in 146 hymns of the first, tenth and the other mandalas , e.g. RV 1.33.3, vaila (sthana-) -open space : wayal– open space , sunlight ; RV. 10.15, kiyambu –a water plant; RV 1.144, vril – finger: RV 1. 8.40, vilu- stronghold; witu – house, abode, camp; sira – plough; and kanuka –gift. Gurov also cites some proper names, namuci, kıkata, paramaganda; and suggests these could be of Dravidian origin.

6.3. The legends of Ila thus help to bind together the Vedic tales and the tales from the old Tamil texts.

The ancient Tamil legends

7.1. The ancient Tamil texts recall legends of a sunken kingdom that lay to the South-East of India. This land was known as Kumari Kandam ‘The Virgin Landmass’ or Ilam; and it included other parts of the now visible lands of Sri Lanka. That could be quite possible, since in the scale of geological time, the mountain ranges in the south-central Sri Lanka are regarded the oldest in the world. The geologists believe that these mountains existed while the Himalayan regions were still under water.

The Silappadhikaram, one of the Five Great Epics of Tamil Literature   said to have been written in first few centuries BCE, states that the ‘cruel sea’ took the Pandiyan land that lay between the rivers Pahruli and the mountainous banks of the Kumari.

Adiyarkkunallar, a 12th-century commentator on the Silappadhikaram, explains that there was once a land to the south of the present-day Kanyakumari, which stretched for 700 kavatam from the Pahruli River in the north to the Kumari River in the south. the precise modern equivalent of a kavatam is not known. The speculations about the extent of the lands devoured by the ocean range from 6-7,000 square miles;  or  a smaller area .



7.2. The deluge and its consequences caused large movements of people towards the upper regions in the north and to west. Early Tamil texts  mention that the present-day Madurai came up as  the new capital in remembrance of the old  capital Ten-Madurai sunken underwater (the ruins of Ten-Madurai are supposed to be lying under water in the region of the Great and Little Bases in the Indian Ocean off the south eastern coast of Sri Lanka).

7.3. Even several centuries after its  surrounding lands submerged under the sea , the author of The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea (dated around the first century) names the island of Sri Lanka as  Palaisimoondus  , which actually meant Palaya –ila- mandalam, meaning the old-land – of Ilam.

(please see the map or  click here for an enlarged version).


[ After a deadly tsunami hit the coast of Mahabalipuram on 26 December 2004; and, uncovered some stone remains of a structure , the BBC, on 11 February 2005 , reported that the Archaeologists  believe these could be the remains of an ancient port city that flourished off the coast in southern India, housing the famous 1200-year-old rock-hewn temple.]

Sage Agastya


8.1. The sage Agastya a revered seer of the South was the brother of sage Vasistha. The two are described as Bhrigus and carried the name Maitra-varuni; say like, Agastya Maithravaruni. The Puranas describe them as born out of water (children of Varuna), perhaps to suggest that the brothers escaped the flood waters and sailed out of it.

The brothers helped in controlling the floods and in rescuing the people. Thereafter Vasistha sailed back north along with the rescued people, while his brother Agastya stayed in the South. He then settled down at an ashram in the lower regions of   Western Ghats.

Vasistha seemed to have enjoyed his voyage back home and recalls the happy days on board the ship:

“Boarding the ship, when Varuna and I entered the mid-ocean and floated with other vessels on water we indeed very much enjoyed the delightful rocking of the ship “(RV 7. 88. 3-4).

 ā yad ruhāva varuṇaś ca nāvam pra yat samudram īrayāva madhyam |
 adhi yad apāṃ snubhiś carāva pra preṅkha īṅkhayāvahai śubhe kam |7,088.03|
vasiṣṭhaṃ ha varuṇo nāvy ādhād ṛṣiṃ cakāra svapā mahobhiḥ |
 stotāraṃ vipraḥ sudinatve ahnāṃ yān nu dyāvas tatanan yād uṣāsaḥ |7,088.04|

8.2. Agastya seems to have been a remarkable sage. He is described as ‘born small, not more than a span in length”; nonetheless he travelled from north to south along with eighteen groups of disciples chartering a new land route to South; and for that feat, he was accorded the epithet Vindhya-kuta, the one who tamed the Vindhyas . Until then, the chain of the Vindhya mountains,  though by no means as impressive as the Himalayas, formed  a formidable  barrier between the North and the peninsula . And, the people were forced to use mainly the rivers or the coast to move about within the sub-continent. There were of course no regular roads during those times; and travel by land routes was very hazardous. The position remained so until about late 19th century.

[The Sea route

sea route

I reckon even the people of Harappa used the river or canal transport wherever expedient. With Himalayas being a vast stretch of high mountains, horribly cold and inhospitable, India’s trade and contacts with other countries had to be mainly through the sea routes, particularly through the ports along its west coast. Even during the earliest periods, it is said, the Brigus who dwelt in the Indus and the lower Narmada valley were great navigators, expert mariners, and enterprising tradesmen who controlled the trade between India and the peoples to its west, such as the Assyrians.

[As Prof. AL Basham  mentions in his monumental work – The Wonder That Was India- :

The importance of the mountains to India is not so much in the isolation which they give her, as in the fact that they are the source of her two great rivers. The clouds drifting northwards and west¬ wards in the rainy season discharge the last of their moisture on the high peaks, whence, fed by ever-melting snow, innumerable streams flow southward, to meet in the great river systems of the Indus and the Ganges. On their way they pass through small and fertile plateaux, such as the valleys of Kashmir and Nepal, to debouch on the great plain…

The roads were dangerous to the merchant-caravans. Many of the trade routes linking centers of civilization passed through dense jungle, and over hills where wild tribes dwelt. ..The great rivers were used to carry both goods and passengers in vessels  large and small. Chief of these was the Ganges, the artery of the Great Plain, but the Indus and the rivers of the Deccan were also important as trade routes.


The chief ports of ancient India were on the West Coast—Bhrgukaccha, Supara, not far from the modern Bombay, and Patala, on the Indus delta. Hence coastal shipping plied to the South and to Ceylon, and westwards to the Persian Gulf and the RedSea until, in the 1st century a.d., seamen took to using the monsoon winds to sail straight across the Indian Ocean to the ports of South India. In the East the Ganges Basin was served by the river port of Campa, from which ships sailed down the Ganges and coasted to the South and Ceylon.

The merchants and seamen of Roman Egypt knew India well, and there survives a remarkable seaman’s guide, compiled in Greek by an anonymous author towards the end of the 1st century a.d.. The Periplus of the Erylhrean Sea. From the Periplus, Ptolemy’s Geography, of the following century, and the early Tamil poems which look back to this period, we learn much of the trade of the Tamil lands. Here many flourishing ports are mentioned, the three chief being Muziris (Ancient Greek: Μουζιρίς, Malayalam: Muciri or Muciripattanam possibly identical with the medieval Muyirikode) , in the Cera country (Malabar), Korkai, in the land of the Panclyas, not far from the modern Tuticorin, and Kavirippattinam, the chief port of the Cola country, at the mouth of the Kaviri.

 In the early centuries of the Christian era maritime trade became most vigorous, especially with the West, where the Roman Empire demanded the luxuries of the East in great quantities. With the fall of the Roman Empire the trade with the West declined somewhat, though it was maintained by the Arabs, and improved gradually with the rising material standards of medieval Europe. Before the time of the Guptas contact was made by sea between South India and China, and as trade with the West declined that with China increased, the Chinese demand for Indian spices, jewels, perfumes, and other luxury commodities continuing down to the present day]


The ancient Indian naval ships protected trade and carried troops to war zones. Kautilya (c. 4th century BCE) in his Arthashastra mentions the protection of the kingdom’s shipping and destruction of those threatening it, such as pirate ships (himsrika). However, while Kautilya devotes many pages on to how to fight on land and on wartime espionage and siege warfare, he is completely silent on naval warfare. While the army and forts are part of the seven constituents (saptanga) of a king’s sovereignty, without which he could not call himself king, the navy is not. The navy created by Chandragupta Maurya (321 BCE – 297 BCE) thus most likely performed these coast guard functions in keeping with Kautilya’s views.

In the Mauryan Empire where the 30-member war office was made up of six boards, the first board looked after shipping and was headed by the navadhyaksha (Superintendent of Ships). The navadhyaksha is tasked by the Arthashastra with examining accounts related to navigation and maintaining security over different kinds of water bodies. He is not given any direct military role. No naval battle fought by the kingdom of Magadha (6th century BCE – 4th century BCE), the Mauryas, or any other succeeding dynasty like the Guptas (3rd century CE – 6th century CE), has as yet come to light. Neither do the contemporary works elaborate on or discuss in detail the naval aspect of warfare.

The main aim was thus to protect maritime trade, merchant ships, port towns, and shipping in general. Any naval operation, whenever carried out, would have been very small-scale and on inland rivers rather than the high seas, since the maritime trade of most of these kingdoms was through rivers. The navy, when created by a dynasty based in the landlocked northern or eastern parts of India, does not seem to have been used aggressively or for conquest. In case of the Guptas and later dynasties, ships did exist as part of the army, but their use was much limited and not as extensive as the land forces. They were mostly used to conquer islands, as has been presumed for the campaign of the Gupta emperor Samudragupta (335 CE – 380 CE), or for fighting seafaring peoples as the Satavahanas (1st century BCE – 2nd century CE) did. 

In the western, southern, and (coastal) eastern parts of India, the situation was markedly different. Being situated on the sea coast, the dynasties there relied heavily on maritime trade and the sea and built navies that were used in war. To them, the navy was an essential part of the military establishment along with the land forces. It was in these parts and the adjacent high seas that ancient India saw most of its naval warfare in practice. The most compelling reason was the capture of the highly lucrative foreign trade of the enemy; it was necessary to destroy the navy that protected it. Combined with land warfare, war on the sea became a prerequisite for defeating the seafaring enemy.

The dynasties which had well-developed navies were:

    • Mauryas (4th century BCE – 2nd century BCE)
    • Pallavas (3rd century CE – 9th century CE)
    • Cholas (4th century BCE – 13th century CE)
    • Early Cheras (3rd century CE – 9th century CE)
    • Later Cheras or Kulashekharas (9th century CE – 12th century CE)
    • Chalukyas of Vatapi (6th century CE – 8th century CE)
    • Palas (8th century CE – 12th century CE) 

Western coast  

Local dynasties like the Mauryas of Konkan maintained a navy as well as coastal forts. The navy of the Early Cheras was developed to protect trade as most of the ports involved in international trade, particularly with Rome, fell under Chera territory. This fleet was extensively used in fighting foreign (exact identity unknown) pirates and against the rival kings supporting them. The Later Cheras or the Kulashekhara dynasty continued this naval tradition. Their war fleet was stationed near Kandalur Salai (modern-day Valiasala, Kerala state). Port towns, such as Vizhinjam (present-day Vizhinjam, Kerala state), were also heavily fortified. The Vatapi Chalukyas maintained a vast fleet that was used to transport thousands of troops to the war zones on land.

Southern & south-eastern coast

The Cholas, in time, became ancient India’s leading naval power. Beginning with Raja Raja I (985 CE – 1014 CE) who triumphed over the fleet of the Kulashekhara king Bhaskara Ravivarman I (962 CE – 1019 CE), successive Chola kings destroyed the Kulashekhara fleet off Kandalur Salai, conquered islands such as Lakshadweep (part of India) and the Maldives, and sent overseas expeditions to Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia.

The existence of the navy did not always help either. Despite being the prime maritime power, the Cholas were beaten many times on land by land-based powers such as the Rashtrakutas (8th century CE – 10th century CE) and the Kalyani (Western) Chalukyas (10th century CE – 12th century CE). As these powers existed outside the Chola naval zone of influence and operation, the navy could not be used against them and thus could not help in avenging or preventing the disastrous losses on land.     

Ships & crew

The ancient Indians had a good knowledge of the materials, varieties, and properties of wood which went into the making the different classes of ships. The Yuktikalpataru written by King Bhoja (c. 1010 CE – 1055 CE) of Malwa is the only ancient Indian work dealing in detail with the subject of shipping. It mentions a kind of vessel called agramandira, which had its cabins towards the prows and was thus seen as being suitable for naval warfare (rane kale ghanatyaye). One such ship is depicted in the Ajanta paintings (Cave II). It is a seagoing vessel with high stem and stern and has three oblong sails attached to three masts and ports. Steering-oars hang in sockets or rowlocks on the side, with an oar behind.

Ships were single, double, or triple-masted. The mast was known as naudandaka. The shipbuilding harbours were known as navataksheni. Ships were both large and sturdy, equipped with up to a hundred oars, as they had to carry thousands of troops across many nautical miles.

In the Arthashastra there is a mention of large boats (mahanavah) provided with a captain (sasaka), a steersman (niyamaka), and servants to hold the sickle and the ropes and to pour out water. It is quite possible that the same terminology would have been used for naval ships too. The naval ships would have had a number of oarsmen depending on the size of the vessel and warriors who went into combat.

Naval battles    

No direct references are available as to how naval battles were actually fought. Based on whatever little evidence is available, as well as patterns of land warfare and ancient Indian warfare in general, some assumptions can be made. It is likely that the ships or boats carried warriors who were equipped with the standard-issue weapons of the period, swords, javelins, maces, and spears. Archers would have been heavily involved in the fighting, shooting fire arrows. The Ramayana mentions men waiting in 500 ships displaying full sail to obstruct the enemy’s passage.

As soon as the enemy ships or boats came in range, soldiers of both the sides could engage in hand-to-hand combat and attempt to jump onto the enemy vessel in order to kill the enemy, destroy their ship, and then return (if still alive) to their own. The main aim was to destroy the enemy ships, as contemporary authors make no reference to capture, unlike in the case of enemy forts and elephants. This destruction was accomplished by breaking the ships or setting fire to them. There is no mention of war engines, but it is likely that some kind of contraption would be on-board to pelt stones on the enemy ships so as to break them. At the first battle of Kandalur Salai, Raja Raja I Chola is expressly mentioned as killing the Kulashekhara or Chera warriors, splitting in two a naval vessel belonging to their king and destroying a number of boats (or ships).


Naval developments on the west coast continued well into the medieval and colonial periods, with the dynasties there giving a tough time to their enemies, including the Portuguese and the Dutch. The arrival of the British and their virtually unquestioned naval superiority led the Indian powers to concentrate on fighting on land. The decline of the indigenous Indian navy was then complete. The naval traditions built over time and especially in the ancient period, however, continued to influence the development of the navy undertaken by independent India. The biggest contribution of the ancient Indians was that they created an unbroken seafaring tradition. Though seen as being secondary to the land forces, the various navies in ancient India did leave a mark and leave on naval warfare.

[Source; I gratefully acknowledge the source: Naval Warfare in Ancient India by Dr. Avantika Lal ]

satavahana ship

Satavahana ship

The Archaeologists state that based on terracotta tablets and a graffito on a potsherd secured from Mohenjo-Daro, Harappans were the builders of large ships and their maritime trade extended up to Mesopotamia during third millennium BCE. From the terracotta models and the engraved seals unearthed, five types of sailing vessels have been identified. It is also said; the Harappans had built tide-docks for berthing and servicing ships at the port town of Lothal.

There are also abundant references in ancient Indian literature, including Rig-Veda, Baudhayana Dharmasastram, Manava-dharma-sastra, Kautaliya’s Arthasastra, Ramayana, Mahabharata, Jataka tales in Pali, and in the Sangam works of the ancient Tamils about the maritime activity of the Indian people in ancient times for domestic, trade and naval war.

The celebrated Grammarian Panini (about sixth century BCE) in his Astadhyayi refers to various types of river crafts and ships during his , such as  utsagna, udupa, udyata, utputa, pitaka etc. A large boat was called Udavahana or Udakavahana. He mentions about cargo transport (dvaipya) form a nearby island and about large (dvaipa or dvaipaka) vessels coming in from mid-ocean. Panini makes brief mention of the ferry changes, cargoes, marine trade etc of his days.

ancient Indian ship

There is also abundant material on ship building in ancient India

A  Sanskrit work of the post-Gupta period Yukti-Kalpa-Tatru, a compilation ascribed to one Bhoja Narapati (King Bhoja ?) provides amazing details about the Indian shipping and ship-building of the ancient period. It deals with the characteristics of  different types of wood that are best suited for construction of ships . (For more, please do read the paper produced by Dr. Mamata Chaudhuryof  Indian National Science Academy)

Under three broad categories, Bhoja mentions the details of about twenty-seven types of vessels. The River-going ships are treated as Samanya (general) and ocean going ships are treated as Visesa (special).   The three classes of ships described by Bhoja were: Sarva-mandira, a peace-time , large cargo  vessel meant for goods , animals and common people ; Madhya- mandira with a covered deck or living quarters in the middle to provide shelter from sun and rain; and, Agra-mandira  , a large vessel with the living room located in front or at the top of the vessel, meant   for distant voyages and carrying up to   about seven hundred passengers. The commentators mention that the largest vessel measured about 276 ft. X 36 ft. X 27 ft. weighing roughly 2,300 tons.

The treatise also gives elaborate directions for decorating and furnishing the ships with a view to making them comfortable for passengers. Also mentioned are details about the internal seating and accommodation to be provided on the ships.

Three classes of ships are distinguished according to their length and the position of cabins. The ships having cabins extending from one end of the deck to the other are called Sarva-mandira vessels.

These ships were recommended for the transport of royal treasure and horses. The next are the Madhya-marnandira vessels which have cabins only in the middle part of their deck. These vessels are recommended for pleasure trips.

 And finally there is a category of Agra-mandira vessels, these ships were used mainly in warfare.

 ( _)

Please also read : Indian Shipping, a history of the sea-borne trade and maritime activity of the Indians from the earliest times.djvu/71



Further, because of the established trade route in the western sea, the Yadu people used the Harappan port cities such as Lothal or Dholavira in Gujarat and Kutch to trade with Sri Lanka. That trade went back to the third millennium BC. Therefore, migration of large number of people from Pandya Desha in south India to the Sind – Gujarat region, after the great deluge, does not seem improbable.

ancient Indian ship2

During the times of the recorded history, the Indian direct trade in textiles, minerals, gems, perfumes and spices   with Egypt and Rome could flourish because the sea routes from Maziris (Pattanam?)  along the Malabar Coast as also the monsoon trade (Hippalus) winds helped avoiding the middlemen, the Arabs. I believe the Greek/Egypt trade with India and the Roman one that followed thereafter came as a culmination of the relations that existed between India and the West several centuries prior to Christian era.

 Dr. Casson, a specialist in ancient maritime history, mentions that historical records refer to ships in the India trade being among the largest of the time. According to Dr. Casson, they could have been as long as 180 feet and capable of carrying 1,000 tons of cargo. Such ships had stout hulls and caught the wind with a huge square sail on a stubby mainmast. The researchers said the ships might have been built in India and were probably crewed by Indians.

The trade on the eastern side somehow came about much later; and was confined to the islands of near east and China . It maintained contacts with Cambodia (Kambuja); Java (Chavakam or Yava dwipa);Sumatra; Borneo; and, Socotra (Sukhadhara)

But   Japan being mostly insular having a culture of its own remained a distant proposition; India had very limited direct contact with Japan.

Pandya desha to Fareast sea route ]

As regards the naval battles , on the east coast facing the Bay of Bengal maritime activities led to colonizing expeditions to Southeast Asia. The navies of the South Indian powers were geared towards launching invasions in Sri Lanka, separated from India by the Palk Straits. The warships were used in battles which, compared to land battles, remained low in proportion.

ancient Indian ship3


Now, coming back to the very ancient Vedic period: 

8.3. Agastya too had a role in controlling the flood waters. That was turned into a legend of his drinking up the ocean (Pitabdhi . He also perhaps devised ways to divert the Cauvery River to Chola-mandalam. or Samudra-chuluka)

Bali – Vamana legend

bali vamana

9.1. There is also a talk of another migration at a later era. It relates to the migration of the Brighus – the Yadus from the Saraswathi and Narmada regions to far south and to Sri Lanka. And, that has to do with the Bali – Vamana legend.

9.2. The Mahabali – Vamana episode is at times explained in the context of Brighu- Angirasa rivalry. Maha-Bali (aka Indrasena) the son of Virochana and the grandson of the legendry devote-prince Prahlada, was an Asura. Shukra the son of Brighu was his preceptor. The king Mahabali, whose preceptors were the Brighus, ruled and controlled vast area called Brighu Desha or Brighu Kakshya – the domain of the Brighu (Brighu kaccha – Baruch) that covered the west, the north-west and the south west of the Indus. He performed a sacrifice on the southern banks of the Narmada situated in Brighu Kakshya.

9.3. Vamana represents the arrival of Angirasas into the kingdom of Mahabali. Vamana the son of sage Kashyapa, in the linage of the Angirasa, initially asked the king for a small piece of land for their settlement; and the king consented to his request despite warning from his priest (Shukra).  The Bhargava Shukra seemed to be aware of the designs of the Angirasas. The Kashyapas, starting from their small settlement, spread throughout the kingdom of Mahabali and eventually overthrew him from his kingship. The story of Vamana, perhaps, signifies the transfer of power from the Asura kings and their Brighu priests to the Devas and their Angirasa priests.

9.4. The Brighus and Yadus who earlier formed the majority in the Bhrigu country were now overwhelmed by the fresh immigrants. They were thereafter resettled – through sea route – by Bhargava Rama (in the linage of the Brighus) along the western coast and in what is now Kerala. The resettled Brighus carried to their lands the legend of their beloved King Mahabali and also the Krishna cult.

[Some of these are views; may not necessarily be verifiable facts. Chronology and ordering the events in sequences is the other issue.]

lotus white

References and Sources

All pictures are from Internet


Posted by on October 8, 2012 in General Interest, Speculation


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