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Navaratri Dolls (Gombe) Display from Mysore

Saptha Matrikas and Devi

The arrangement and display of colourful dolls (gombe) is very much a part of the festivity and celebration of Navaratri in the Mysore region. The children take great delight in dressing up the dolls and in innovating new themes each year.

Since Navaratri is primarily the celebration of Mother’s Glory, her images are prominently displayed. Here is a most delightful collection of traditional deities –Saptha Matrika, a set of seven aspects of Devi, comprising: Brahmi; Chandika; Indrani; Kaumari; Maheshwari; Varahi and Vaishnavi. Please also see the Devi Mantapa and the silver idol of the Devi meant for daily worship. I trust you will enjoy the Gombe display on screen.

[ I gratefully acknowledge the delightful source of the Gombe-s, the Ramsons Kala Pratishtana, Mysore.

Shri R.G. Singh writes : 

I am delighted to see these pictures of ‘Bombe Mane 2008’ here. It was in 2008 that we at Ramsons Kala Pratishtana had put up this Sapta Matrika display at the Bombe Mane exhibition at Pratima Gallery, in front of Zoo, Mysore. I am also delighted with the positive response to our display. You can read more about Bomabe Mane at http://bombemane.blogspot.in ]

 

Brahmi                                                                               Chandika

Indrani                                                                              Kaumari

Maheshwari                                                                       Varahi

Vaishnavi                                                        Devi silver idol for daily worship

Gombe Mane2

Mysore jaganmohan palace

Mysore Dussera sepia

mysore procession cropped

Mysore Dusserah 1890

MYSORE DUSSEHRA  Ca. 1900 (Painting by Alfred Bastien ,Academy of Brussels) 

Mysore palace222

All pictures are from Internet

 
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Posted by on October 8, 2012 in Devi, General Interest, Saptamatrka

 

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Kashi the city of lights

During the past couple of weeks I read some richly illustrated posts on Varanasi, as it appears today; and as they experienced it. That stirred in me some memories of Varanasi of old, the ancient city where a great numbers ‘lived and passed by throughout the ages”.

I thought I could talk a bit of Varanasi in the lore and legends of ancient India; and of the Varanasi of the time of the Buddha, where he first taught and wandered.

It is city of light; the City of delight ; the abode of Visveswara; the city of the well of knowledge – Jnanavapi ; the City of purity, where the Mother Ganga purifies all who surrender to her in love and reverence;  the City of Maha-smashana the ultimate end of all; and, above all, it is home of the graceful and loving Mother Annapurna.

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deepavali lamps

Ancient city


1.1. As it has often been said; Kashi is without doubt the oldest inhabited city in the world. It never stopped being a living city for over three thousand years. Mark Twain who visited India in the last decade of the nineteenth century said Kashi is “Older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend, and looks twice as old as all of them put together.” The old texts call the city Avimukta, the city that never was abandoned despite invasions, repeated ravages and bigoted violence. Kashi has reigned over the upheavals of time; and, has never stopped being a lively and animated town.

1.2. Kashi is the holy city not only for the Hindus but also for the Buddhists, the Jains and the Sikhs. Sri Guru Nanak is said to have visited the Holy City two times around 1502 and 1506. It has also long been a major center of education, of philosophical debates, of dialectics; and, of   traditional medicine (Ayurveda), yoga and astrology.

1.3. As Alain Danielou says:

“Kashi the city of refinement and beauty was the spiritual and cultural capital of ancient India. It had always been a sacred city, a centre of learning (jnana puri), of art and pleasures, the heart of Indian civilization, whose origins are lost in the mists of antiquity”.

[A Geo-exploration study conducted by IIT-Kharagpurusing GPS, one of the latest tech tools – indicates that Varanasi (particularly, the Gomati Sangam area ) has been a continuous human settlement since the days of the Indus Valley Civilization, around 6000 years ago..]

The ancient city has always been at the centre of Indian consciousness. Kashi has a distinct individuality, which it developed over the ages since the hoary past. Its history, culture and people; its temples and tirthas, mathas and institutions; its scholars, some of them the best in the country; its festivals; its literature, music, painting and culture; its silk trade and craft; and, its typical inhabitants: sadhus, courtesans, pundits, musicians, artists, weavers, wrestlers, pandas, babus, thugs and gundas are archetypal of its cultural milieu; and , are uniquely Indian.

2.1. Prof. D Sampath elsewhere remarked “Benares has a very strong geo-physical significance…it is one of the navels of earth”. That seems to be supported by R.E. Wilkinson who in Temple India observes that the holy city of Varanasi lies in the arc of Capricorn. According to Wilkinson : “The Capricorn sign’s 30 degrees begin at 60/61 degrees the Capricorn east and continue to the mouth of the Ganges. Its alignment identifies India and   Varanasi as the point of the clearest spiritual vision.

“It is the one point”, said the Mother of Sri Aurobindo Ashram, “where the psychic law can and must reign, and the time has come for that to occur.”

India Capricorn India Capricorn2

[There are interesting varied sets of Tantric interpretations of Kasi’s geography. According to one such mystic geography of Kasi, Manikarnika the Smashana is, truly, symbolic of intrinsic death of the ascetic when his Prana soars up the Shushumna attaining the final release.

Kasi is sometimes identified with the Ajna-chakra, the mystic centre between the nose and the eyebrows.

But as a city, it is also identified with the subtle body as a whole. According to this identification, the central vein of Kasi’s mystical body terminates at the cremation ground, equating it with the highest centre of the anatomy.   It is said; “The Rivers Asi and Varua at the extremities of the city, and a third river (invisible) which flows through the centre, represent the three main veins of the yogic body-respectively with the Ida, Pingala and Shushumna “. ]

2.2. It is no wonder, therefore, that a massive literature, in all Indian languages, has grown around the city over the ages. Many myths and legends have gathered round  the luminous Kashi or the vibrant Varanasi; celebrating its sacredness as the abode of the recluse Shiva and of the gracious Mother Annapurna who guides the aspirant striving to attain knowledge (jnana) and detachment (vairagya).

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City of contradictions

3.1. Kashi is a city of contradictions. It is Anandavana the grove of happiness as also Rudravasa or Maha-shmashana the great cremation ground. The cycle of life and death is nowhere more pronounced than in Kashi; for , this is the ‘City of Good Death’ to where people come to die, to rid themselves of the cycle of birth and death. The fires of cremation burn here ceaselessly; and, Lord Shiva whispers the sacred verse of liberation to the departing.

3.2. In this city of blazing summers and chilling winters, the contradictions hit you in the face; the sublime and the sordid coexist. Varanasi continues to be the holiest city ; and yet,  a crass cult of greed thrives and holds sway , as the priests fleece you and the touts sell you custom-made doses of phony spiritualism. Its tight net of dark alleys and lanes hold the depths of human despair , depravity and vulgarity; where fake sadhus and tricksters lay in wait for the gullible. The sight of countless old widows abandoned or driven away by their families, helplessly loitering the narrow lanes , waiting for death to relieve them of pain and humiliation of what is called life , is truly wretched.

3.3. The contradictions are so evident and yet too close.  Just a thin line separates the spiritual from the sham; sanctity from the profane; faith from deceit; purity from filth; and, culture from grotesque.

Yet, some manage to find an inexplicable charm in this strange blend of the sublime and the profane. It is said; in Kashi you reach what you walk for; and , you find what you seek.

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City of lights

4.1. Kashi was the ancient name of the kingdom; one of the sixteen Maha-janapadas of ancient India. It was also the name of its chief city, which was also called as Varanasi or Baranasi.  Since the arrival of the British in India , the city has also come to be known as Banaras or Benares.

4.2. The name Kashi is derived from the root kash meaning light (kashate pra-kashate iti kashihi). Kashi , literally means the city of lights. It is said; as one sails up the river Ganga at night, the city with myriad temples, mansions (prasada) and palaces glows like festival of lights.

Right from the ancient times, Kashi was reckoned among the seven primer sacred cities (Saptapuri) that granted liberation (moksadayikah). Its name also suggests that Kashi was the ‘luminous’ or pre-eminent of all the seven great and holy cities of ancient India: Ayodhya, Mathura, Maya (Haridwar), Kashi (Varanasi), Kanchi, Avanthika (Ujjain), Puri, and Dvaravathi (Dwaraka) .

Ayodhya Mathura Maya Kashi Kanchi Avantika | Puri Dvaravati chaiva saptaita moksadayikah ||

4.3. Some scholars opine that Kashi is in fact a later name; its earlier name being Varanavati. Through the ages, the city had various other names such as: Avimuktaka, Anandakanana, Mahasmasana, Surandhana, Brahma Vardha, Sudarsana and Ramya; besides Kashi and Varanasi. But in most legends and lore , the city is celebrated as the holy city of Kashi or Varanasi.

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Varanasi

5.1. Kashi is Varanasi ; because, the city included the land bound between two rivers the Varana and the Asi. The Varana is a rivulet, which rises to the north of Prayaga (Allahabad) ; and, has a course of about hundred miles; while Asi  a mere brook , which , as Ether says,  is now reduced to a lamentable nullah. The Varana joins the Ganga at the north of the city, while the Asi joins the Ganga at its south. The distance between these two confluences is around 2.5 kosas (One Kosa is about 1 ½ miles; making 2.5 kosa to about 3.75 miles); and, the round trip is known as Pancha-koshi –yatra (about 7.5 miles). The great city of Kashi lies on a higher ground at the confluence of three rivers, metaphorically a trident.

[But it is difficult to ascertain the original topography of Varanasi because the city’s current location may not exactly be the same as the one described in the old texts].

On the bulge of the river bend

6.1. The city of Kashi is situated on the convex side of the river , presenting a semi-lunar phase; and, at a considerable height than the opposite shore. When the river-face of the city is viewed from the breadth of the Ganga or from the low – opposite bank, the city appears as if it is mounted on a pedestal of immense flights of the Ghats lined along the margin of a beautifully formed bay. Because of its elevated location, the city, to an extent, is protected from the ravages of floods and the deluge that the Ganga occasionally causes.

Manasara, an ancient text of Shilpa-sahstra, recommends that if a town has to be located along a river bank, it should then be at a height sloping towards the east or north (praganutham uttara natham samam va bhumi); and, it should be situated on the convex side of the river bend. The text mentions Varanasi as a classic example that satisfies this norm; the other instance being the ancient city of Madurai along the convex side of the Vaigai.

View of the city from the expanse of the Ganga

7.1. The city of Kashi is clustered with temples and magnificent mansions; yet,  more than anything else, it was the view of the city from the expanse of the Ganga, the delightful panorama of the Varanasi riverfront that enchanted the hearts of countless travelers and pilgrims over the centuries. Many of them have left behind delightful pictures – in words and sketches- of their impressions.

Hiuen Tsang who visited India in the first half of the seventh century was impressed by the temples of the holy city of Varanasi (Po-la-na-ssu) “several stories high and richly adorned with sculptured decoration” standing at the edge of the waters “set in thickly wooded parks and surrounded by pools of clear water”.

Most British officials were properly shocked by the “impurity and extravagance” of the superstitious reverence of the Hindus for all sorts of idols”. They gave, in their letters to family and friends back home, the  graphic descriptions of “hosts of hideous beggars, cripples, and hunchbacks, assembled here (who) torment you with their lamentable cries; and, will not leave you until they have extorted a few coppers.”

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The British artists – sketches and paintings

But ; it was the British artists , who were enchanted by the riverfront , which they described as : “one of the loveliest sky-lines in the world”,  which no painter could wish to miss. Apart from that, the British, especially the families, who habitually traveled from Calcutta to Allahabad by boat, enjoyed halting at Benares , in the midway.

There was indeed a busy traffic on the Ganga.

Diwali in Benares  from 'Le Tour du Monde 1874

An engraving from 'Le Tour du Monde', 1861

The view from the river front was enchanting.The families, on their way, would spend an afternoon in Benares, wandering through its streets.

Ghat at Benares

Benares Brahma Ghat 1832

It was said : Benares was certainly the most interesting and most remarkable city of Hindostan over which the British have any authority.  The British artists found the city quite  exhilarating.

For instance; the great photographer  Richard Lannoy , who  made several visits to Varanasi, went  into raptures in his description of the city :

“On climbing the Ghats and entering the crowded Banaras streets,” he goes on, “one is assailed by the bewildering variety o the scene, no much as that in the simultaneous assault of the senses, it seems that colours have sound, and sounds colour…Though the crowds wander old men who have come to the sacred city to die, men resembling Father Christmas or King Lear, while on who carried the trident of Siva looked like Neptune. Once I saw what seemed to be a conversation between Leonardo da Vinci and Dante, while Nebuchadnezzar wandered by, quietly reciting some Sanskrit verse.”

Benares street scene

William Hodges, the first British professional landscape artist to visit India during 1780 to 1783, not only made several drawings of Varanasi , but also left a vivid account of what he saw. Varanasi, Hodges wrote:

“city is built on the North side of the river, which is here very broad, and the banks of which are very high from the water, its appearance is extremely beautiful; the great variety of the buildings strikes the eye, and the whole view is much Improved by innumerable flights of stone steps, which are either entrances into the several temples, or to the houses. Several Hindoo temples greatly embellish the banks of the river, and are all ascended to by Gauts, or flights of steps. Many other public and private buildings possess also considerable magnificence. Several of these I have painted, and some on a large scale, such as I conceived the subject demanded”.

benaras 1795

Lieutenant-Colonel C.R. Forrest, a highly talented amateur landscape artist , visited Varanasi early in the nineteenth century; and, was enthralled by what he saw.  Varanasi, he wrote:

“ one of the most ancient cities of India, ranks among the principal cities of the world. It is situated on the left bank of the Ganges, here a noble stream; and its extent along the bank of that river is full five miles; its breadth inland being in proportion. Built upon a rising ground, sloping gradually upwards from the water’s brink, its buildings appear very lofty, when seen from the boats in passing it. .. .Indeed the whole face of the city towards the river is one continued line of ghauts, which are the exclusive ornaments of Benares”.

Benares By Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Ramus Forrest - 1824

[The painting depicting two temple towers leaning into the river waters  was made by  Lt-Col. Forrest perhaps during 1834. The artist William Daniell Writing in The Oriental Annual, 1834, explained :

“One of the most extraordinary objects to be witnessed at Benares and which is generally one of great curiosity to the stranger, is a pagoda standing in the river, there is nothing to connect it with the shore. The whole foundation is submerged, and two of the towers have declined so much out of the perpendicular as to form an acute angle with liquid plain beneath them….It has been surmised, and with probability, that this temple was originally erected upon the bank of the river, which then offered a firm and unsuspected foundation; but that, in consequence of the continual pressure of the stream, the bank had given way all round the building, which, on about of the depth and solidarity of the foundation, stood firm while the waters surrounded it, thought the towers had been partially dislodged by the shock. Or it may be that even the foundation sank is some degree with the bank, thus projecting the two towers out of the direct perpendicular, and giving them the very extraordinary position which they now retain.”

There is another painting of the leaning pagoda by Captain Robert Elliot. He  was  in  the Royal Navy as a Topographical Draughtsman, from 1822 to 1824; and, made a series of sketches, which were later published , in parts,  by Fisher & Co., during 1830-3. 

Benares Captain Elliot ]

*

Emma Roberts visited India in the first half of the nineteenth century. Her articles and books about her Indian travels are highly interesting and informative. Her description, in flowery language, of the panorama of Varanasi from the river is particularly engaging.

“The views of Benares from the river”, she writes, “are exceedingly fine, offering an infinite and untiring variety of scenery, of which the effect is greatly heightened by the number of trees, whose luxuriant foliage intermingles with the parapets and buttresses of the adjacent buildings. In dropping down the stream in a boat, an almost endless succession of interesting objects is presented to the eye. .. The view of Benares from the ever-shining river must be considered the most beautiful and imposing”.

She also speaks of :

“numerous birds of the brightest and most resplendent plumage, flocks of every variety of the pigeon and the dove common to the plains, blue jays, yellow-breasted sparrows, and whole battalion of ring-necked parquets, with their brilliant feathers gleaming like emeralds in the sun, as they skim along soaring far above the mango trees which bear their nets, yet seldom overtopping the crowning pinnacle of the minaret, whence the spectator surveys the singular and beautiful objects revealed to his admiring gaze”.  

The British artist Edward Lear, who visited Varanasi in December 1873, too was struck by the plentiful birds he came across in the city, and noted in his journal: “The pretty myna birds are numerous everywhere; pigeons by 10,000,000.”

Benares December 1873.

Louis Rousselet, a Frenchman who arrived in Bombay in July 1864; and spent about six years travelling widely in India, provides a delightful description of the Dashashvamedha Ghat. In his India and its Native Princes  (Chapter LVI –page 564), he wrote :

The Ghat is situated at the Western extremity of the large bend, which the Ganges makes at this point, so that we look in it at a glance, the whole view of the town, standing in tiers like an amphitheater on the right side of the stream. The situation occupied by Benares has often been compared to that of Naples; and, the comparison is not without some accuracy. The bed of the stream, in fact, which is half a mile in width forms a sort of calm blue-bay, in which the picturesque facade of the City ranged along its banks is reflected like Crescent.

We entered an elegant Gondola; and, soon were gliding gently in front of the City, gazing on the long succession of the admirable pictures unfolding themselves before us.

Benares by night

Seen at a little distance from the river, the Ghats of the Dasashvamedh forms a picture no painter could wish to heighten by a single touch . Its large flights of steps crowded by small temples with their bristling spires have for their background, on the one side, the stately masses of a group of palaces surrounding the crest of the plateau ; and, on the other the plain and elegant facade of the Man Mundir , the great observatory of Benares, erected by the celebrated Jey Singh of Jeypore.

Benares window at Man Mandir

**

And, Lord Valentia , who traveled extensively all over India at the beginning of the nineteenth century,  wrote:

“The River forms here a very fine sweep of about four miles in length. On the external side of the curve, which is constantly the most elevated, is situated the holy city of Benares. It is covered with buildings to the water’s edge, and the opposite shore being, as usual, extremely level, the whole may be beheld at once   …. Innumerable pagodas of every sizes and shape occupy the bank, and even have encroached on the river, uniformly built of stone, and of the most solid workmanship, they are able to resist the torrents, which in the rainy season beat against them. Several are painted, others gilded, and some remain of the colour of the stone.… The contrast between these elevated masses of solid masonry and the light domes of the pagodas, in singular and pleasing are the trees occasionally overhand the walls”.

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Kashi in Scriptures, epics and puranas

Rig Veda

8.1. In early Vedic literature, Kashi does not figure either as a center of pilgrimage or as a center of learning. Rig Veda does not often mention the Ganga; and,  it does not also refer directly to Kashi. That might be because they were outside the geography of the Rig Veda, which , basically, was the land of seven waters (saptha sindhavaha).

However, Katyayana in his Veda-Anukramanika (a sort of Vedic glossary), mentions a hymn (RV.10.179.2) composed by a certain Bharatha who attributed the hymn to his ancestor Pratardana King of Kashi (Pratardanaha kasirajah – प्रतर्दनः काशिराजः) ; the son or the descendant of Divodasa (Divodasithe king of Kashi (Kashi-raja: 10.179.2.).

[There is however a dissenting view on the identity of Pratardana and Divodasa. Yet, the reference in the Anukramanika is taken to suggest that the early Bharata kings of the Rig Veda were descendants of the Kings of Kashi.]

The Sukta No. 179 having three verses in the Tenth Mandala of Rig Veda invoking Indra, is jointly ascribed to the three sons of Madhavi (daughter of the legendary monarch Yayati) : the first is Sibi the son of Ushinara (prathamo ushinarah Sibihi – शिबिरौशीनरः); the second Pratardana King of Kashi (dwithiyo kasirajah Pratardanaha- प्रतर्दनः काशिराजः); and, the third Vasumanasa son of Rauhidasva (thrithiyasha Rauhidashwo Vasumana rishihi – वसुमना रौहिदश्वः) . In this Sukta, Haryasva   is named as Rauhidasva.

Here, Pratardhana, son of Divodasa from Madhavi, is described as: the King of Kashi (dwithiyo kasirajah Pratardanaha)

 [ Mantra Rig 10.179.001 ;  Mantra Rig 10.179.002  ;  Mantra Rig 10.179.003 ]

Atharva Veda

9.1. The earliest reference to the people of Kashi appears in the Pippalada-samhita of Atharva Veda. It is said they were closely connected with the people of Kosala and Videha.

9.2. The Atharva Veda (4.7.1-2) mentions that the waters of the river Varanavati had the magical power to cure the effects of poison: “May this water from Varanavati ward off the poison”.

vār idam vārayātai Varaṇāvatyām adhi | tatrā amṛtasyā-siktaṃ tenā te vāraye viṣam || AVŚ_4,7.1 || arasaṃ prācyaṃ viṣam arasaṃ yad udīcyam |athedam adharācyaṃ karambheṇa vi kalpate ||AVŚ_4,7.2 ||

Based on this reference, the scholars surmise that Kashi is the later name of the town which was known as Varanavati.

Brahmanas and Sutras

10.1. There are numerous references to Kashi in the Brahmanas . For instance; Shatapatha Brahmana (Sa Brh. 13. 5.4.1.9) mentions the defeat of Dhrtarastra the king of Kashi at the hands of a Bharata king Satanika son of Satrajita. Satanika is then said to have taken the ritual horses from the defeated king and performed the Govinata Yajna. Thereafter the King of Kashi (Kasya) again performed the Yajna (Sa.Br.13. 5. 4. 21).

govinatena śatānīkaḥ sātrājita īje kāśyasyā śvamādāya tato haitardavāk kāśayo’gnīnnā-dadhata āttasomapīthāḥ sma iti vadantaḥ AV. 13.5.4.[19]

tadetad gāthayā abhigītam śatānīkaḥ samantāsu medhyaṃ sātrājito hayam ādatta yajñaṃ kāśīnām bharataḥ satvatāmiveti – AV.13.5.4.[21]

10.2. The Sankhayana Srauta Sutra mentions Kasya, the king of Kashi and Jala Jatukarnya (i.e. Jala son of Jaatukarni) , who became the king’s purohita after performing a Yajna for ten nights (yajña.upavītī.iti.jātūkarṇyaḥ – 3.16.14). That Sutra mentions that one person (Jala Jatukarnya) functioned as the purohita for the kings of three kingdoms: Kashi, Kosala and Videha.

Bahudayana Sutra mentions Kashi and Videha being in close proximity.  But, Gopatha Brahmana says Kashi and Kosala were close ; and , calls the two kingdoms by the compound name Kasi-Kausalya (kāśi-kauśaleṣu śālvamatsyeṣu – GBr_1,2.10 )GBr_1,2.10 )

Bharatavarsha crop

Upanishads

11.1. But in the Upanishads, it is the kingdoms of Kashi and Videha which provide the main backdrop for the philosophical discussions. The Brhadaranyaka (Ajātaśatruṃ kāśyaṃ-brahma te bravāṇītiBrh.U. 2.1.1) ; Kaushitaki (Kush. 4.1) Upanishads report, in detail, the debates held in the courts of Ajathashatru Kashya, the king of Kashi ; and Janaka Videha the king of Videha. The Upanishads mention Kashi-Videha as being close; while the Buddhist texts describe the close connection between Kashi and Kosala.

11.2. During the time of the Upanishads, the city of Kashi was yet to acquire the esteem of being the holiest of the holy cities. But, Kashi , over a period,  gained the glorious reputation of being a center of learning, of culture; and of refinement , although it never rose to the power of an empire or of a major state.

For a long time, however, Taxashila was a more famous center of learning than Kashi. Kings of Kashi used to send their sons to far-off Taxashila. And, many of the teachers of Kashi that figure in the Jatakas were the past-students of the Taxashila. In the course of time, however, they could attract scholars from far and wide , to Kasi (Ja. Nos. 480 and 438)

Even in the Jivaka Sutta (Madhyamanikaya), Jīvaka Komārabhacca (Sanskrit: Jīvaka Kumārabhṛta), the personal physician and a close disciple of the Buddha, had his medical education and training in the city of Taxashila under the well-known teacher Disapamok Achariya. There, he studied medicine diligently for seven years, before he settled down at Rājagṛha, the capital of the Magadha Kingdom , during 6th century BCE. 

But, by about the 7th century BCE., Kashi  had developed into probably the most famous center of education in Eastern India. And in the later times, with the imperial patronage under Asoka, the Sarnath monastery on the outskirts of Kashi must have become a famous-center of learning. It went on continuously prospering; and, in the 7th century A.D., it possessed resplendent and beautiful buildings , with tiers of balconies and rows of halls.

Unlike the neighboring Nalanda, Kashi does not seem to have organised any public educational institution. Its learned scholars continued to teach individually in the traditional manner. Their fame, however, was gradually reaching to all the corners of India. Scholars and philosophers from other parts of India traveled to city to get their new theories recognized and published. In the 11th century A.D. Kashi and Kashmir were the most famous centers of learning in India.

Map_of_Vedic_India

12.1. According to the Upanishads, the ancient city is said to have been located on the banks of the river Varanavati. The kingdoms of Kashi and Videha were closely connected, as was natural in view of their geographical position. The compound name Kashi-Videha occurs in Kausitaki and Brhadaranyaka Upanishads (kāśye, vaideho vā videhānāṃ vā rājā – BrhUp 3,8.2)

12.2. Videha was situated to the north of Kashi , across the Ganga. The kingdom of Videha corresponded to the present-day Tirhut with Mithila as its capital. The high esteem of the kingdom was due to its sage-king Janaka. Videha was situated to the east of Kosala the Sadanira (Gandaka) serving as the common border for the two; and, it was bound on the east by the Kaushitiki.

[According to the Brahmanas and the Upanishads, during the age of Janaka, besides Videha, there were nine states of considerable importance, viz: 1. Gandhara (north-west part of Punjab and the adjoining western areas); 2. Kekaya (region to the west of Gandhara); 3. Madra (Sialkot area); 4. Usinara (central Punjab); 5. Matsya (former state of Jaipur); 6. Kuru (western UP and Haryana); 7. Panchala (from the Himalayan region extending south) ; 8. Kashi (Kashi – Lucknow region) and   9. Kosala (state of Oudh)]

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Kashi in Epics

Ramayana

13.1. Kashi was a famous kingdom in the age of the Ramayana. It is said; Sumitra the wife of King Dasharatha was a princess hailing from Kashi. In the Adi-kanda Vasistha asked Sumantra the minister to invite many pious kings including the king of Kashi (tataḥ sumantram āhūya vasiṣṭho vākyam abravīt – 12th sarga). And, in Kishkinda-kanda (46th sarga), Sugreeva the king of Vanaras instructs Vinata leader of a monkey brigade to search for Sita in the regions of Kashi (adṛṣṭvā Vinataḥ sītām ājagāma mahābalaḥ uttarāṃ tu diśaṃ sarvāṃ – 4.046.008)

Mahabharata

14.1. Kashi figures more prominently in Mahabharata. And yet, it is not described as the holiest city or the most preferred place to give up one’s life. Mahabharata narrates the story of four generations of the kings of Kashi (Haryyashwa, Sudeva, Divodasa and Pratardana) who ruled and fought series of battles with Haihayas of the neighboring Vatsas (with its capital at Kausambi – the Kosam Ruins of the present day) to retain possession of the city of Kashi (MB. Book 5, Chapter 117; Book 12, Chapter 233).

Divodasa, the great king (mahāvīryo mahīpālaḥ kāśīnām īśvaraḥ prabhuḥ Divodāsa – MBh.05,115.001) is said to have built (or re-built) the city of Kashi or Varanasi (kāśīśo Divodāsas tu vijñāya vīryaṃ teṣāṃ mahātmanām Vārāṇasīṃ mahātejā nirmameMBh. 13,031.016) which became richly populated and soon developed in to a great trading center.

His son Pratardana from Madhavi (Mādhavī janayām āsa putram ekaṃ Pratardanam) seems to have been successful in finally beating back the Haihayas who then moved to the Narmada region.

The city of Kashi resplendent as a second Amaravati  of Indra, was then described as located on the north bank of the Ganga and to the south bank of the river Gomathl (gaṅgāyā uttare kūle vaprānte rājasattama gomatyā  dakṣiṇe  caiva śakrasyev Amarāvatīm MBh. 13. 031.018). 

As per the other details scattered  over many Texts, one can surmise that :  To the direct north of Kashi of was one of the Nishada kingdoms on the banks of Gomati river. Further North was Eastern Kosala ;and, then Central Kosala, which had its capital as Ayodhya. To the south was the Hiranyavaha river . To the west were the southern parts of Vatsa kingdom, including Kausambhi (capital of Vatsa). Maghada and Rajagriha were located west of Kasi. To the northwest was Bharga kingdom and the northern part of Vatsa. To the Northeast was the kingdom of Gopalkasha and southern Malla. To the southwest was Chitrakuta mountain and to the southeast was the kingdom of Suparsava and a Matsya territory

[It is likely, Kashi was then a part of Southern Central Kosala kingdom. And, it appears the site of a city known as Kashi or Varanasi shifted over the centuries. It is difficult to ascertain the topography of the original Varanasi; and, the city’s current location may not exactly be the same as the one described in the old texts].

14.2. And of course, the three luckless sisters Amba, Ambika and Ambalika  (the daughters of Hotravahan, the king of the Srinjaya tribe of Panchala) abducted by Bhishma for his sickly younger brother  Vichitravlrya  were the princesses of Kashi.

14.3. Numerous other references to Kashi occur in the Mahabharata. They refer either to the events in the lives of the kings or to the kingdom of Kashi. However, there are no specific allusions to indicate Kashi being exclusively a holy-center.

It is said; Vapushtama , the wife of Janamejaya, the eldest son of the Kuru King Parikshit, was the daughter of Suvarnavarman, the king of Kasi (Mbh. 1, Chapter 44). And, Sunanda, the daughter of Sarvasena, the king of Kasi, was married to Bharatha, son of Sakuntala and Puru King Dushyanta . They had a son named Bhumanyu- (Mbh.1, Chapter 95). 

Tuladhara Sage_Jajali

There are , however,  stories of its sages and other wise men  who were commoners such as Tuladhara a very pious and well-informed merchant dealing in perfumes, oils, musk, lac and dye etc.

 It is remarkable that Tulādhāra being a shopkeeper should impart instructions to a sage . It is said; sage Jājali , who had performed severe austerities had turned highly conceited . He was therefore advised by his teacher to approach  the merchant Tulādhāra , living in Kashi,  for enlightenment.  Jājali , accordingly, approached Tulādhāra  seeking  clarifications on the true nature of Dharma ( Mahabharata,  Śhāntiparva Chapters 255 and 256 ).

The gist of Tulādhāra’s  discourse was : One should earn one’s livelihood causing least injury to other beings; one  should  cultivate equanimous temperament  and be a friend of all;  one  should  strive to be free  from fear and prejudices; practice detachment and  self-control ; and, one should  try to understand the true nature of Dharma  and practice it with a clear uncluttered mind.

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Kashi in the Puranas

5.1. The age of Puranas introduced into the Vedic religion many concepts that were not in the Samhita and the Brahmana texts. Those ideas and concepts have since taken a firm hold on the Indian ethos. These include faith in: a personal god or goddess (Ista-devata); family deities (Griha-devata or Kula-devata) who had to be propitiated on specified days in the prescribed manner; vows (vrata); and pilgrimages etc. In the process , legends were developed for each major pilgrimage-center, proclaiming its holiness and its pre-eminence over the rest; and also detailing the merits to be gained by devotedly worshiping its presiding deities.

It is in this context that in the related Puranas, Kashi gets fully established as the holiest city; as the abode of Kashi Vishwanatha; as one of the twelve revered jyothi-lingas of Lord Shiva; as the home of ever graceful and loving Mother Annapurna; as the kshetra-thirtha where goddess Ganga in her loving kindness washes away the sins of all who seek refuge in her;  and,  as the most sacred place presided over by Shiva who grants release from the cycle of births and deaths.

Kashi-kshetra  located along the banks of the holy river Ganga (Tirtha) came to be recognized and revered as  one among the seven primer Sacred cities (Saptapuri) that granted liberation (moksadayikah):  Ayodhya, Mathura, Maya (Haridwar), Kashi (Varanasi), Kanchi, Avanthika (Ujjain), Puri, and Dvaravathi (Dwaraka) .

Ayodhya Mathura Maya Kashi Kanchi Avantika | Puri Dvaravati chaiva saptaita moksadayikah ||

It is believed; most of the Puranas were developed during the Golden-age of the Guptas (330-550 CE). It was a period of revivalism, transformation and vitality. During which the Vaishnava traditions, the cults of Skanda, Surya and local guardian deities flowered. The temples of such deities came up in Kashi. And, legends were woven around  Shiva, the Ganga and the Ghats.

15.2. Since the time of the Buddha, Kashi is   the pilgrim center for the Buddhists. It is also the birthplace of Parshvanatha the twenty-third Jain Thirthankara. Kasi is also associated with Guru Nanak hence a holy place for the Sikhs. Each of these religions have, in a way, their own set of puranas.

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Kashi in the Buddhist tradition

City of Kasi and its people

16.1. The Buddhist texts mention that Baranasi city extended over  twelve Yojanas (say about 84 miles): (dvadasa yojanikam sakala Baranasi nagaram: — Sambhava Jataka) whereas Mithila and Indapatta were each only seven Yojanas in extent .The Jatakas mention that the resplendent city of Kasi was called by many names, such as:Surundhana, Sudassana, Brahmavaddhana, Puspavati, Ramma and Molini .

In the Chinese texts Kasi is transcribed as Ti-miao meaning ‘reed-sprouts’. That perhaps follows from the derivation of the name Kasi from Kasa  meaning  kusa grass.

16.2. The Jataka stories mention Varanasi as a great city of abundance; of seven gems; of wealth and prosperity , extending over twelve yojanas (a yojana at the time of the Buddha perhaps meant seven or eight miles). The city extended about four miles along the banks of the river, descending into steep brink. Down the brink , were the flights of steps (Ghats) , where the pilgrims bathed and the dead were cremated.

16.3. Several Jatakas recite the superiority of Kasi over other cities of India; and , speak highly of its prosperity, opulence and intellectual wealth. A later Jataka also remarks that Risi-gana (sadhus) were unwilling to go to Kasi ; because, the people there questioned too much, perhaps Suggesting that the people of Kasi were either argumentative or knowledgeable. (Brahmadatta Jataka- 336).

17.1. The stories in the Jatakas indicate that the people of Kasi were generally of charitable nature ; and , they habitually offered alms to the poor, the wayward and the beggars. They also devotedly fed the hermits and wandering ascetics.

17.2. It appears from the Jatakas that Kasi was ruled with justice and equity; and, the king’s officials were honest. Not many cases or disputes came before the king’s courts.  There was a belief current among the people of Kasi that when king rules with justice and equity, all things in nature retain their true character.  But, when the king is unjust, all things lose their true nature. Oil, honey, molasses and the like, and even the wild fruits would lose their sweetness and flavor.

17.3. The king occasionally wandered about the town at night, in disguise, to learn people’s true opinion of his rule.

Despite attempts of good governance, the kingdom was not free from crimes. There were instances of organized highway robbery and housebreaking , which were taken up as a family profession.

18.1. The Jatakas also narrate delightful stories of cheats and tricksters who took advantage of the gullible. The Jatakas tell stories of Kasi’s carpenters who promised to make a bed or a chair or a house and took large advances ; but, deliberately failed to do the job. When pursued by the annoyed clients , the carpenters would just flee to another town.

There is also a story of a physician Cakkhupala , who deliberately blinded his patient in one eye when she cheated him of his fee.

18.2. The people of Kasi were prone to superstitions, just as the people of any other city. A king of Kasi paid 1000 kahapanas to learn a mantra that would reveal to him the evil thoughts of people. There were also persons who would predict whether the sword one bought was lucky or otherwise. Slaughter of deer, swine and other animals for making offering to goblins was in vogue in Kasi.

18.3. There was a time-honored drinking festival,  in which people got drunk and fought; and, sometimes suffered broken limbs, cracked skulls or torn ears.

18.4. The Jatakas recount some unusual professions; as that of a carpenter who got rich by making mechanical wooden birds to guard the crops. There was also a gardener who could make sweet mangoes bitter and bitter mangoes sweet.

18.5. Jatakas also tell the stories of those who followed traditional professions like farmers; corn dealers; hunters; snake charmers; elephant trainers skilled in managing elephants; horse dealers who imported horses ‘swift-as-the-wind’ from the Sind region; carpenters; stone cutters or experts in working stone-quarrying and shaping stones; ivory workers who had their own market place; rich merchants trading in costly wares by sometimes taking out long  business trips;  small traders  hawking their wares or corn on back of donkeys  or by bullock carts; and there were, of course,  the gallant warriors.

19.1. Even in those distant days , the city was noted for its fine silks and brocades, for its handicrafts , such as brass-ware, ivory goods, glass bangles and wooden toy etc.

The Jatakas often mention of  Kasika-vastra or Kasiyani – exquisite fabrics of silk worked with gold laces. The Majjima Nikaya also refers to Varanaseyyaka (Varanasi textiles) of radiant colors of red, yellow and blue used for wrapping the mortal remains of the Buddha after he attained Maha-pari-nirvana.

19.2. Kasi had close relations with the distant Takshasila about two thousand Kms  away to its west. Ardent Students from Kasi went to the Universities of Takshasila , seeking higher learning in scriptures, medicine, archery and other subjects. The traders of both the cities had, of course, close business relations.

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Kingdom of Kasi

20.1. Anguttara Nikaya mentions Kasi as one of the sixteen Maha-janapadas [Solasa Mahajanapada :

1.Kasi; 2.Kosala; 3.Anga ;4.Magadha; 5.Vajji; 6.Malla; 7.Chetia (Chedi); 8.Vatsa (Vamsa); 9.Kuru; 10.Panchala; 11.Maccha (Matsya); 12.Surasena; 13.Assaka; 14.Avanti; 15.Gandhara; and , 16.Kambhoja].

The little kingdom of Kashi was surrounded by Kosala on its North; Magadha on its East;  and,  Vatsa on its West.

20.2. The Mahavagga mentions that Kasi was a great realm in former times. During the seventh century BCE; Kasi was perhaps reckoned as one of the more powerful among the sixteen Maha-janapadas. The Kingdom of Kasi was said to be three hundred Yojanas in extent (Jataka no.391).

21.1. On the political arena; the Jatakas narrate rivalry of Kosala, Anga and Magadha to take possession of Kasi. There was a long struggle among them for gaining  supremacy.  It is said; all these monarchs aspired for the pride of being the foremost among all the kings (sabba-rajunam aggaraja) ; and, for the esteem and glory of ruling over all of India (sakala-Jambudtpa).  All the surrounding monarchs contended for possession of Kasi. And, Kasi was, most of times, forced to fight to defend itself. But, Kasi’s strongest rivalry was with its neighbor Kosala . Kasi, in the mean time, also caused the downfall of Videha, the neighbor on its north.

Kosala , situated on the banks of the Sarayu (roughly corresponding to the erstwhile state of Oudh) , was bound by the Sadanria (Gandaka) on the East; the Panchala country on the West;  by the Saprika or Syandika (sai) river on the South; and, by the hills on the North. The kingdom was later divided into North and South Kosala; with the Sarayu demarcating the two. The cities of Savatti and Ayodhya were the capitals.

21.2. The flourishing period of many of the sixteen Maha-janapadas ended in or about the sixth century BCE. The history of the succeeding period is the story of the absorption of small states into powerful kingdoms; and, ultimately merging into one big empire, namely, the empire of Magadha.  Kasi was perhaps the first to fall.

21.3. The Mahavagga and the Jatakas refer to bitter struggles that took place between Kasi and her neighbors; especially, Kosala. Kasi seemed to have been successful at first; but later,  it gave in to Kosala. Initially , the King Brihadratha of Kasi had conquered Kosala; but later, he lost to the king of Kosala.

Eventually, Kasi was overpowered by Kamsa, the king of Kosala earning him the title ‘Baranasiggaho’– the conqueror of Baranasi-which he added to the string of his titles (Seyya Jataka and Tesakuna Jataka).  

During the time of the Buddha, Kosala was an important kingdom ; and , Kasi was a part of the Kosala. But later, both Kasi and Kosala were   absorbed into the powerful Magadha kingdom. The Mahavagga mentions that Magadha king Bimbisara’s dominions embraced 80,000 townships; the overseers (Gamikas) of which used to meet in a great assembly.

22.1. During the time of the Kosala King Mahakosala (sixth century B.C. E), Kasi was part of the Kosala kingdom. When the King Mahakosala gave his daughter Kosala Devi in marriage to Bimbisara, the king of Magadha, he gifted his daughter the village of Kasi yielding revenue of a hundred thousand Karsapana to take care of her ‘bath and perfume expenses’ (Ilarita Mata Jataka No. 239; Vaddhaki Sukara Jataka No. 283). It is said;  Ajatasatru ascended to the throne after murdering his father Bimbisara; and, thereafter the heartbroken queen Kosala Devi died of loneliness  , pining for her departed husband.

22.2. Even after the death of his mother Kosala Devi, Ajatasatru continued to enjoy the revenues from the Kasi village , which had been gifted to her for ‘bath money’. Ajatasatru’s ‘impertinence’ deeply disturbed Pasenadi who by then had succeeded his father Mahakosala as the king of Kosala. He was determined that an unrighteous person (Ajatasatru) who murdered his father, should not undeservedly collect and enjoy, as if  by right , the revenues from a village gifted to his widowed mother (Kosala Devi). Pasenadi and Ajatasatru (uncle and nephew) thereafter fought seesaw battles, with no clear winner.

23.1. During the time of the Buddha, Pasenadi had gained control of Kasi ; and,  was hailed as the King of Kasi-Kosala.  In the Lohichcha Sutta, the Buddha inquires a person named Lohichcha: “Now what think you Lohichcha? Is not king Pasenadi of Kosala in possession of Kasi and Kosala?” Lohichcha replies “Yes; that is so Gotama”. The Mahavagga (17. 195) mentions that a brother of Pasenadi was appointed   to administer Kasi.

23.2. The conquest of Kasi by Kamsa (king of Kosala) might have taken place just prior to the rise of Buddhism. That is because;  Angutta Nikaya remarks that the memory of Kasi as an independent kingdom was still fresh in the minds of its people during the Buddha’s time; and , the people sometimes seemed to forget that their king was somewhere else.

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Kasi in the life of the Buddha

first-sermon

24.1. Kasi played a very important role in the life of the Buddha. It was on the outskirts of Kasi that the Buddha delivered his First Discourse (pathama desana) , introducing the essence of his teachings. It marked a watershed in the Buddha’s life. It was at Kasi that Gautama the Buddha emerged as The Revered Teacher (Bhagava), as the Blessed One (Araha) and as the perfectly enlightened One (Sammaa -Sambuddha).

25.1.After he realized the futility of extreme austerities and self-mortification; and,  after his fellow seekers dissented and departed, Gotama retired into the forests of Uruvala in the Maghada country;  and , engaged himself in his Sadhana.

25.2. On the full moon night in the month of Vesaka – the sixth month; on one of those nights he spent under the Bodhi tree, he understood the sorrows of earthly existence; and , of the supreme peace, unaffected by earthly attachments. He said to him, “My emancipation is won… Done what is to be done. There is nothing beyond this ” (katam karniyam naa param itthattaya) .

25.3. For several days, he wandered among the woods, enveloped in peace and tranquility. He enjoyed his quiet serene days and lonely walks in the forest. He wished the idyllic life would last forever. He pondered whether he should share with others his newfound wisdom , which helps in seeing things clearly, as they are. He wondered whether anyone would be interested or would appreciate his findings, He debated in himself; there might still be those not entirely blinded by the worldly dirt. He thought of his teachers Alara Kalama and Uddaka Ramaputta (son of Rama) both “wise, intelligent and learned; and of nature scarcely tainted “; and, said to himself they would quickly comprehend the knowledge he had just gained. Then, he sadly realized that Uddaka son of Rama had just passed away; and, Alara Kalama died about seven days ago. Then,  the thought came to him of his erstwhile fellow Samanas, those who left him to pursue their ways. He decided to talk to his fellow seekers; and, share with them the new wisdom. (Majjhima Nikaya; Sutta 26)

25.4. He journeyed from place to place from Gaya; and, at length reached the holy city of Varanasi, after nearly seven weeks, covering by foot a distance of about 144 miles. On his way, a monk named Upaka inquired Gautama where he was headed to, “To set in to motion the wheel of Dhamma (Dhamma Chakkam pavattetum)” ,he replied , “I proceed to Varanasi”.

25.5. He reached Kasi after crossing the Ganga. There at Varanasi , he learnt the five ascetics (Kondanna, Vappa, Mahanama, Assaji, and Bhadda) whom he knew before , were at Isipathana or Isipatana (Rishipattana – where the ascetics live; now called Saranath), on the nearby outer area of the city. He found them in Isipatana at the garden Migadaaya (Deer park) , where the deer roamed without fear. They were surprised to see him . They greeted him pleasantly “Look, who comes here; our friend (avuso) Gotama”; and, offered him seat and water for ablution. They were highly impressed by Gotama’s majestic, pure and serene demeanor. They wondered whether he had achieved uttari manusa dhamma, the super human state.

The Buddha then informed the five ascetics , he had done what had to be done. He had attained That. He asked them to listen to his findings : “I teach about suffering ; and, the way to end it”.

25.6. They listened to him in all earnestness. What he spoke to those five ascetics (Pancavaggiya bhikkhus) later gained renown as one of the greatest and most important discourses in religious history. It was the Buddha’s first teaching (Pathama desana), the celebrated Dhamma-cakka-pavattana Sutta, the discourse that set in motion the wheels of Dhamma. At the end of his talk, the Buddha emerged as the Great Teacher. He came to be revered as Bhagava (the Blessed One).

Buddha sadhanamala

25.7. The Buddha spoke to the five ascetics at the garden of Migadaaya, where the deer roamed unmolested and in peace, located in Isipatana , near the holy city of Kasi, in the evening of the full moon day in the month of Asalhi – the eighth month (Ashada-July). He spoke in simple Magadhi , the language his listeners understood well. The discourse was brief, with short, simple and precise statements. There were no definitions and no explanations. It was a direct, sincere talk. It was a simple and a straight rendering of how Samana Gotama transformed into the Buddha. He spoke from his experience; narrated his unfolding; his findings;  explained the four truths and the three aspects of each; and, the middle path (majjhiama patipada)

26.1. It was at Isipatana , Migadaya,  that the Buddha delivered many significant sermons that established his doctrine. Later in his life, the Buddha visited Kasi many times; went out for alms on its streets. He met and talked to whole cross-section of its people:  kings, queens, noblemen, merchants, bankers, householders, women, youth, the poor, the homeless, the ascetics, the believers and non believers. The Jatakas narrate stories woven around the lives of those impacted by the Buddha’s message.

sarnath

[Later, by about the tenth century the Risi-patana (Saranath) area, sadly, became a den of Kapalikas, Aghories and the Buddhist Vajrayana tantric cults practicing weird tantric – vamachara (left-handed) rituals, which scared away common people. By the time of the Gahadvala kings (eleventh century),  the weird sects of tantrics had grown so powerful that they attacked and beat back king Chandradeva (Ca. 1089–1103),  who tried to enforce  on them some order, discipline and code of  social conduct.

During the latter half of 12th century Saranath was ransacked by Turkish Muslims. It was in ruins until it was re-discovered by British in 1835-6.]

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Destruction of the Temples

27.1. During the eleventh and the seventeenth centuries the city, its temples and its people fell victims to series of attacks and atrocities inflicted by the Muslim rulers.

[ Please click here for the general order issued by Aurangzeb for destruction of temples]

But, somehow, the city found strength in itself to survive; and , to rebuild after each attack.The glorious Kashi as of the Puranas that existed till 12th century had almost vanished by 17th century.  But, the city was not defaced or totally defeated.   I have to mention here the repeated destruction of the Sri Vishvanatha temple and of the final obliteration of the Kritti-vasesvara and Bindu-Madhava temples.

27.2. During the year 1194,  Kutbuddin AIbak of the slave-dynaty,  plundered the city and destroyed the ancient temple of Sri Vishvanatha, said to have been built during the reign of the King Vinaya Gupta (505-508 AD). Aibak, it is said, carried away about 1,400 camel loads of wealth from Kashi. Later, Razzia Sultana (1236 -1240) raised the Bibi Razziya mosque over the site of the temple destroyed by Aibak , using the pillars rescued from the ruins.

Again, during the thirteenth century a temple of Sri Vishvanatha was erected by the local Hindus, near the adjoining Avimuktesvara temle. This temple too was destroyed , but  partially ,  by the Sharqi kings of Jaunpur (1436-1458). Sikandar Lodi, however, completed the job during 1490 , by destroying it entirely.

About, ninety years thereafter , mainly through the efforts of  Raja Todarmal and a scholar Narayana Bhatta (1514-1595) , a temple  of Sri Vishvanatha  was erected on the site of the one destroyed by Lodi.

But again during 1669 CE, Aurangzeb destroyed this temple; and,  built a Mosque in its place. But, he spared its hind portion, perhaps as a sign of warning. He built on the destroyed portion of the temple what is now known as the Jnanavapi mosque. The remains of the erstwhile temple can be seen in the foundation, the columns and at the rear part of the mosque.

[Please click here to view the Firman Issued by Aurangzeb in August 1669 for destruction of the Vishwanath temple (Maasiri Alamgiri, 88) preserved as Exhibit 11 at the Bikanir Musem , Rajasthan]

Temple_Of_Vishveshwur_Benares_by_James_Prinsep_1834

Jnanavapi Mosque sketched as Temple of Vishveshvur in 1834 by James Prinsep.

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Reconstruction

In 1742, the Maratha ruler Malhar Rao Holkar planned to demolish the mosque and reconstruct Vishweshwar temple at the site. However, his plan did not materialize, mainly because of intervention by the Nawabs of Oudh (Lucknow) , who controlled the territory. Around 1750, the Maharaja of Jaipur commissioned a survey of the land around the site, with the objective of purchasing land to rebuild the Kashi Vishwanath temple. However, his plan to rebuild the temple also did not succeed.

Ahilyabai Holkar

Again , in 1780,  that is  almost a little over a hundred years after its destruction by Aurangazeb, Malhar Rao’s daughter-in-law Rani Ahilyabai Holkar, (formally : Shrimant Akhand Soubhagyavati Devi Shri Ahilyabai Sahib Holkar) – (31 May 1725 – 13 August 1795) – the  Queen of the Marathas, ruled the Malwa kingdom with its capital at Indore , caused the construction of the present temple , adjacent to the mosque. Rajamatha Ahilyabai  undertook the task out of her personal wealth ; without recourse to the State fundsThis is the Sri Vishvanatha temple that now stands in Kashi; and, the one which is in active worship. The reconstruction of the temple also marked the revival of the native spirit.   Besides, Rani Ahilyabai , renowned for her benevolence, used her personal funds for the reconstruction and restoration of numerous temples spread across India.

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Plan_Of_The_Ancient_Temple_Of_Vishveshvur_by_James_Prinsep_1832 varanasi visvesvara temple elevation

Plan and the elevation of the Ancient Temple of Vishveshvur, by James Prinsep

In 1828, Baiza Bai (1784-1863) , widow of the Maratha ruler Daulat Rao Scindhia of Gwalior; and, who ruled from 1798 to 1833  (renowned as the Banker-Warrior Queen),  built a low-roofed colonnade with over 40 pillars in the Gyan Vapi precinct. In 1830, she also built a temple close to the south turret of the Sindhia Ghat, one of the grandest Ghats on the riverfront. During 1833-1840 , the boundary of Gyanvapi Well, the Ghats and other nearby temples were constructed.

Many noble families from various ancestral kingdoms of the Indian subcontinent contributed towards the maintenance of the temple. In 1841, the Bhosales of Nagpur donated silver to the temple. And, in 1859, Maharaja Ranjit Singh of Punjab , donated one  tonne of gold for plating the temple’s dome.

Benares temple worshippers

27.3. The series of destruction during 1658-59 as ordered by Aurangzeb, of the Krittivasesvara temple and the destruction in 1673 of Veni Bindumadhav temple which stood at the highest spot in Kashi, and erecting mosques on the site of destroyed temples, was the gravest wound inflicted on Kashi. It has not healed even today. The events leading to the destruction form the subplot of Shri SL Bhyrappa’s well written historical novel Avarana , in Kannada language.

27.2. The only available description of the ancient temple of Bindu Madhava dedicated to Vishnu then standing on the Panchganga Ghat  comes from   the travel accounts of Jean-Baptiste Tavernier, (1605-1689) the celebrated French jeweller and traveller. He travelled extensively round the country in the middle of the seventeenth century. His travelogue is particularly valuable because it is the only account left behind by a foreign traveler of the ancient temple of Bindu Madhava before it was destroyed in 1673. He visited the temple on 12 – 13 December 1665. The mosque constructed on the site has dominated the riverfront ever since. The following is an extract from Varanasi Vista by Jagmohan Mahajan.

The building, Tavernier says,

“is in the figure of a cross having its four arms equal. In the middle a lofty dome rises like a kind of tower with many sides terminating in point, and at the end each arm of cross another tower rises, which can be ascended from outside. Before reaching the top there are many niches and several balconies, which project to intercept the fresh air: and all over the tower there are rudely executed figures in relief of various kinds of animals. Under this great doe, and exactly in the middle of the pagoda, there is an altar like a table, of 7 to 8 feet in length and 5 to 6 wide, with two steps in front, which serve as footstool, and this footstool is covered with a beautiful tapestry, sometimes of silk and sometimes of gold and silk, according to the solemnity of the rite which is being celebrated. The altar is covered with gold and silver brocade, or some beautiful painted cloth. From outside the pagoda this altar faces you with the idols upon it; for the women and girls must salute it from the outside, as, save only those of a certain tribe, they are ant allowed to enter the pagoda. Among the idols on the great altar one stand 5 to 6 feet in height; neither the arms, legs, nor trunk are seen only the head and neck being visible; all the remainder of the body, down to the altar, is covered by a robe which increases in width below. Sometimes on its neck there is a rich chain of gold, rubies, pearls, or emeralds. This idol has been made in honor and after the likeness of Bainmadou [Bindu Madhav], formerly a great and holy personage among them, whose name they often have on their lips. On the right site of the altar there is also the figure of an animal, or rather of a chimera, seeing that it represents in part an elephant, in part a horse, and in part a mule. It is of massive gold, and is called Garou [Garuda], no person being allowed to approach it but the Brahmans.”

[ Please click here for the report sent to Aurangzeb after the destruction of Bindu Madhav temple : Exhibit No. 27]

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Kashi and the British

28.1. The British who travelled in India extensively during the last quarter of the eighteenth century provided an excellent exposure to Kashi . The west became aware of the wonder of the east, mainly through the narratives of their visits to Varanasi, providing varied, detailed and delightful as also fanciful descriptions of life in the city. They were especially struck by the splendid panorama of the Varanasi riverfront, the picturesque Ghats with   flights of broad stone steps leading down to the great river swarming with people performing their daily prayers.

28.2. Those who truly immortalized the fabulous riverfront of Kashi were the landscape artists , most of them poor; but, valiant. They  had set out into an unknown world in pursuit of the cult of the “picturesque” and the exotic. Their sketches gave the outside world, and , in fact, even to the Indians themselves, the first visual impressions of the spectacular Varanasi Ghats, as also of the magnificent monuments and scenic beauties in India.

(Please click here for many more drawings)

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James Prinsep

29.1. I cannot resist mentioning here James Prinsep (20 August 1799 – 22 April 1840) who in his short life spent ten of his most productive years in India and contributed to Kashi more than anyone else did in the past several centuries.

James Prinsep was a Fellow of the Royal Society ; and, in fact, the youngest to be elected a Fellow of that body. He was a many sided genius : Assayer, Architect, Engineer, Linguist, Epigraphist, Artist, Demographer, Cartographer, Urban Planner and many other things rolled into one. Prinsep is credited with deciphering the Brahmi and Kharoshti edicts of Asoka and Kanishka; bringing to light the names of the old emperors.

James Princep2James Princep

29.2. The twenty year old James Prinsep arrived in Calcutta, together with his younger brother who had got a commission in the East India Company’s Bengal Army. James commenced service in the Calcutta Mint as an assistant to the Assay Master, Horace Hayman Wilson,  an eminent Sanskrit scholar and also the Secretary of the Asiatic Society. In less than a year Prinsep was posted to Benares , as the Assay Master.

30.1. James Prinsep fell in love with the city of Kasi, where he arrived in 1820 and where he was to spend the next ten years of his short life. Apart from taking charge of the construction of the Mint building, James surveyed and produced a detailed map of the city by the end of 1821. He later had the map (29 x 19 inches) lithographed in 1825, at his own expense. For long years it remained an outstandingly accurate map of the old city.

30.2. Along with the map, he also produced a comprehensive directory of the various Ghats, Temples, open spaces, important buildings; and also a list of pundits specialized in each branch of learning. Sadly, his directory is unpublished ; and, is now said to be in the archives of the Royal Asiatic Society.

30.3. Following the city map and the directory, Prinsep took up ,during 1826, the census of the city , which was particularly difficult for a city that depended on floating population.

30.4. Then   in the beginning of 1825, Prinsep commenced the work of providing the old city with a reliable drainage system, a much needed amenity for a pilgrim city. He successfully completed the project in a matter of 19 months. Prinsep’s drainage system with a few extensions and new outfalls, serves the city to this day.

30.5. Prinsep then went on to design and build a bridge, the Karam Nasha Bridge, over a waterway across the city.

30.6. He also took up the restoration of the Gyaan Vaapi mosque or Aurangzeb’s mosque, built originally in about 1675. It is said; Prinsep dismissed the mosque as an architectural atrocity , but for its soaring minarets.

Varanasi Gyan vapi well

30.7. He achieved all these in just a matter of ten years, before he turned thirty. He , in the meantime , improved his Sanskrit and astronomy. And, he set up a printing press, the Benares Literary Society as also an observatory. He caused compilation of a meteorological profile of the city, using instruments acquired with his personal money.

31.1.  Essays on Indian Antiquities, Historic, Numismatic, and Palaeographic, a collection of Essays written by James Prinsep was brought out in Two Volumes by John Murray , Albemarle Street, London during 1858

Please also check the 1833 Number of the Royal Asiatic Society of Bengal , edited by James Prinsep. 

One of his other endearing contributions to the city is his Benares Illustrated published in 1831 with 35 plates. Two further volumes of 13 and 10 plates respectively were issued in 1832 and 1833. These volumes were reprinted in India during 1996 and after. The following are just a couple of his Benares drawings.

James Prinsep eclips of the moon 25 Nov 1825

Benares_Kashi-James_Prinsep_1832

Preacher Expounding The Poorans. In The Temple of AnnaPoorna, Benares. Lithograph by Prinsep (1835)

32.1 After spending about a  decade in Benares, James Prinsep came back to Calcutta. He completed a project, started by his brother, in building a canal to connect the distributaries of the River Ganga near the delta, in order to make them navigable.

Thereafter, he returned to England; and, died in 1840.

A year after Prinsep’s demise, the work was started, in 1841, on the construction of a new Gaht or a landing space, with  a flight of stone steps leading to the river , along the banks of the HooghlyRiver in Calcutta. This was meant to replace the old and dilapidated Chandpal Ghat.

The new Ghat, located between the Water Gate and St. George’s Gate of Fort William beside the Hooghly River, was designed by W. Fitzgerald; and, was completed in 1843.

This Ghat was named as the Prinsep Ghat; and dedicated to James Prinsep, in honour and recognition of the services he rendered to Varanasi, Calcutta and to India.

The Princep Ghat was considered to be one of the finest examples of colonial architecture in Calcutta; and, one among the grandest gateways leading to a river. 

Calcutta Princep's Ghaut, Calcutta - 1851

calcutta prisep ghaut

The Princep Ghat bears a resemblance to Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate, though on a much smaller scale. The monument is built on 6 sets of Ionian columns holding a 40 feet roof painted in white; and, presents a grand view from a distance.

The Prinsep Ghat was, for a long time, used as the principal point of embarkment and disembarkment for the distinguished visitors to the city of Calcutta. For instance; in 1875, when Albert Edward, Prince of Wales and the eldest son of Queen Victoria visited Calcutta, he was welcomed at the Princep Ghat. Later in 1905, when Prince of Wales (later King George V) and in 1911, the British royal family visited India, the Prinsep Ghat was the witness to all those visits and events.

mandala-

33.1. James Prinsep died soon after he turned forty. But, the details of his last days are unclear. Some say; Prinsep overworked himself to death.

William Prinsep , the brother of James Prinsep was a noted artist , in his own right. Please click here , for replica of his art works. 

[Rajah Ram Mohan Roy came to Britain in 1833, to petition the government to ensure the practice of sati remained illegal.  He decided to come and visit Lant Carpenter (father of Mary Carpenter) in Bristol.  Sadly, Raja Ram Mohan Roy died of meningitis on 27 September 1833, in Sophia Haldimand’s home at 31 Belgrave Square. And, was originally buried on 18 October 1833, in the grounds of Stapleton Grove, where he had been staying.

His body was placed in its wooden and lead coffin in a deep brick-built vault, over seven feet underground. A large plot on that Ceremonial Way was  bought by William Carr and William Prinsep,  as they realized that the original burial place of the Raja was not appropriate.

Two years after this, Dwarkanath Tagore helped pay for the Chattri (a small but splendid Mantap, in Indian style) that is raised above this vault.

The mausoleum – Chattri (literally meaning umbrella) – was designed by the artist William Prinsep , the elder brother of James Prinsep, to honour the remains of Raja Rammahun Roy Bahadoor, known as the father of modern India; and, the first Indian to be buried in Britain, in 1833.

Although the Raja’s died in 1833, he was moved to his final resting place on the 29th May 1843. 

Rajah Rammohun Roy | Arnos Vale

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Prinsep

http://gibberandsqueak.blogspot.com/2009/03/unreal-city-dhrupad-nights-in-benares.html ]

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Kashi today

34.1. The problems of today’s Kashi, as anywhere else, are human callousness and lack of reverence for life; but, they somehow look more pronounced here. You witness here , more than what you would normally put up with,  pollution, squalor, ignorance, dirt, deceit and wretchedness. How much and how long can the beleaguered Ganga Maa wash the unrepentant sins of the countless multitudes who pollute her each day …!!

kashi today

Sources and References

Ancient Indian tribes by Bimala Churn Law, 1926

Political History Of ancient India By Hemchandra Raychaudhuri,  1923
Varanasi Vistas (Early view of the Holy City) By Jagmohan Mahajan
Benares Illustrated in a series of Drawings by James Prinsep
Luminous Kashi to Vibrant Varanasi by Chandramouli
ALL PICTURES ARE FROM INTERNET
 
33 Comments

Posted by on October 8, 2012 in General Interest, Kashi -Varanasi

 

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Greek comedies, Sanskrit drama and Bollywood

This follows a discussion we (a bunch of old goats) had on the ancient drama forms , which led to the question why there are no well known Greek comedies and why there are not many “ Tragedies” in the Indian theatre.

Greeks

1. The Greek tragedies are of course unsurpassed in their grandeur and in depiction of the failings of the mighty. They are the inspirations for countless works of merit in all other languages.

Before going into the their Dramas ; it appears to me that the ancient Greeks were a rather inward looking people and did not interact with other cultures in their (other’s) terms. You do not come across many instances of ancient Greeks learning the language of the Egyptians, Persians or the Indians. They preferred to look at the world through the Greek prism and turned everything around into a Greek term or a Greek name or Greek pronunciation.

Even, during the times (ca. 500 BCE) when Greece was a part of the Persian Empire and when large number of Greeks served the Empire as its officials , it appears they transacted in Greek and  not in the language of Persia. For instance Ktesias who served the Persian king Artaxerxes Mnemon (404–358 B.C.) as his personal physician for eight years (405-397 B.C.) mentioned that he invariably wrote and transacted in Greek language. The two books he authored on the events in Persia (Persika), and the events in India (Indika) were in Greek. Similarly, Skylax of Karyanda who served as a naval commander in the army of the Persian Emperor Darius Hystargus (512–486 BCE) also managed in Greek.

Old comedies of Greece

2.1. The Greek tragedies are of course widely appreciated the world over. But, what is commonly not known is that the so-called “old comedy” was in fact the favorite entertainment of the common Greeks. It is not that the ancient Greeks loved only tragedies and nothing else. The Greek people witnessed the vicissitudes of life as any other people of those times; and loved all forms of drama. It is just that the Greek tragedies travelled abroad, in translations, and gained great fame.

2.2. The ‘old comedy’ was more popular among common Greeks. The comic plays were performed at the village festivals with jovial gaiety and jesting license in honor of Dionysus the god of wine and fertility. The comedies were    mostly vulgar ballets with male actors wearing masks and gaudy costumes enacting indecent farce and satire about phallic jokes. Sometimes, young fellows disguised grossly as beasts or birds broke out into riotous phallic dances.

2.3. It was however later during the times of Menander, the first of the great writers of Greek comedy, and Aristophanes (between about 456 BCE and 380 BCE) that Greek comedy gained some credibility. It is said that the comic playwrights produced their works for dramatic competitions at two festivals in honour of  Dionysus Lenaius held in the cities Dionysian (in March) and the Lenaea (in January), on the same stage as the tragedies.

Aristophanes and Menander
 **
2.4. At these festivals, comedies were more important and popular than tragedies. It is said, at least five comedies entered the competition each year (except during the Peloponnesian war when only three comedies were performed). The comedies included singing and dancing performances of Dithyramb (hymns in honor of the god of wine Dionysus). It is not clear when these festivals were abandoned; but it is believed the competitions at Lenaea continued into the second century BCE.

Attic relief (4th century BCE) depicts a qulos player and his family standing before Dionysus and a female consort, with theatrical masks displayed above.

 **
Aristophanes and the comedies

3.1. Aristophanes, I reckon , was a sort of stand-up comedian of his times. His performances were packed with pungent political satire and abundance of sexual and vulgar innuendo. He was also fond of drinks ; and, used to say at his performances  : Quickly, bring me a beaker of wine, so that I may wet my mind and say something clever. 

He was adept in stringing together several words into a long unpronounceable compound word that confounded the listeners .

“In my opinion,” he said , “producing comedies is the hardest work of all.”

” How many are the things that vex my heart! Pleasures are few, so very few – just four -“

Aristophanes lampooned the most important personalities and institutions of his day. His ridicule was feared by influential contemporaries. Talking about the politicians of the day, he said ” “You cannot teach a crab to walk straight. Under every stone lurks a politician” . 

He described the Characteristics of a popular politician as : a horrible voice, bad breeding, and a vulgar manner. “Politics, these days, is no occupation for an educated man, a man of character. Ignorance and total lousiness are better.”

But , “Ignorance can be cured; but,  stupidity is forever”. 

‘Look at the orators in our republics; as long as they are poor, both state and people can only praise their uprightness; but once they are fattened on the public funds, they conceive a hatred for justice, plan intrigues against the people and attack the democracy.’

You [demagogues] are like the fishers for eels; in still waters they catch nothing, but if they thoroughly stir up the slime, their fishing is good; in the same way it’s only in troubled times that you line your pockets.’

He quipped : “they looked like rascals when seen from the heavens and, seen up close, they look even worse”.

And , when Amynias who had lost money in gambling was appointed ambassador, Aristophanes sang:

Way up there in Thessaly /  Home of the poor Penestes/ Happy to be where everyone/Is as penniless as he is.

**

3.2. Plato, as all know, was a studious philosopher. But, his favorite dramatist was Aristophanes, the writer of comedies. Plato, it is said, endorsed to his friends the comedies of Aristophanes. Plato, in his Symposium, made Aristophanes deliver a discourse on love, which the latter explained in a sensual manner. Aristophanes, in his work The Clouds, ridiculed Socrates; and, in his lyrical-burlesque The Frogs, he lampooned Euripides. Yet, Aristophanes was well regarded; and, his plays were very popular.

3.3. The ‘old comedy’ survives today in the form of about eleven plays of Aristophanes. The later historians described those plays as ‘the last of the great species of poetry Greece gave to the world’.

3.4. The philosopher Aristotle (c.335 BCE) was, however, not much amused by the antics of the ‘old comedies’. He wrote in his Poetics that those plays were representations of laughable people, their blunders and their ugliness. He softened the blow by adding that the comedies did not however cause pain or disaster.

3.5. If the Greek tragedies notably of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides are better known and admired world over, it was because of their superior script, treatment of the subject and the conflict they depict between the human will and the Greek idea of fate. Had the conflict been between the will of two humans it would have turned the play into a social drama or even a comedy. [Perhaps, it is  here the genius of Shakespeare shines forth].

The ancient Sanskrit drama

4.1. The ancient Indians did not consider catharsis as a legitimate purpose of a play. The tragic plays did not flourish as they did in Greece or in England. The reasons for this are many.

But, the prime objective of a Drama was considered to be to  provide wholesome entertainment (ananda) . Dhananjaya, in his Dasarupaka,  taunts; and mocks at one who naively believes that Drama, like history (itihasa), is there only to give knowledge. He wryly remarks ‘ I salute  (tasmai namah) that simpleton  (alpabuddhih) who has averted his face from what is delightful ..!’

anandanisyandisu rupakesu / vyutpattimatram phalam alpabuddhih/ yo ‘pitihasadivad aha sadhus/  tasmai namah svaduparah mukhaya//DR.1.6//

Much earlier to that; Bharatha, in a way, had summed up the virtues and merits of Nataka , a dramatic work that captivates the hearts of the spectators and brings glory to its playwright , producer and the actors .

The work of art that satisfies all classes of spectators ; and is a happy and enjoyable composition, which is graceful on account of being  adorned with sweet and elegant words; free from obsolete and obscure meaningless verbose ; easily grasped and understood by the common people ; skillfully arranged ; interspersed with delightful songs and dances; and,  systematically  displaying varied types of sentiments  in its plot devised into Acts, scenes, junctures etc.

mdu-lalita-padārtha gūha-śabdārtha-hīna ;   budha jana sukha bhogya,  yuktiman – ntta-yogyam  bahu rasa kta mārga , sandhi-sandhāna-yukta  bhavati  jagati  yogyaaka  prekakāām  16.130

That does not mean that the Sanskrit Dramas were all about fun and laughter; nor were they tales of sorrow. The Rupaka, is a fine combination of the two; as it reveals the sorrow as well as pleasure in proper perspective.

Bharatha explains: when the nature of the world, possessing pleasure and pain both, is depicted by means of representations through speech, songs, gestures , music and other (such as, costume, makeup, ornaments etc ) it is called Natya. (NS 1.119)

yo’ya  svabhāvo lokasya sukha dukha samanvita  som gādya abhinaya ityopeto nātyam ity abhidhīyate  119

Thus, according to Bharatha, the Drama is but a reflection or a representation of the actions of Men of various natures (Prakrti) –avastha-anikrtir natyam . That is to say; the Drama, in its various forms of art, poetry etc., strives to depict the infinite variety of human characters.

A Rupaka is that which delights and gladdens the hearts of the Sahrudya, without shaking their moral fiber. Its characters might, momentarily, be tempted by an illusory wickedness; but, eventually the goodness triumphs.

In Indian Dramas, characters like Karna, Rama, Hariscandra, Sakuntala, Sita or Draupadl face severe adversities in their life; and, no one thinks of putting an immediate end to their miseries by terminating their life. They face the adversities with courage and confidence.

The principal characters  are  not caught on the horns of a moral dilemma – ‘To be or not to be’– ; they impulsively are rooted in the accepted norm of their Dharma, depending upon the stage and their standing or status in life – as the son, friend, King or Wife etc. The conflict is not always between a good and an evil; but, often between a good and another good. The heroes and heroines always choose what they deem to be the greater-good, in the larger interest.

Unlike in the Greek tragedies, the Nayakas and Nayikas of a Rupaka are neither daunted by the fear of death; nor are they confronted by an obscure Fate in an unequal battle. In fact, not many seem to blame the Fate as the cause of their strife and struggles. Interestingly, the concept of fate is a rather late entry into to the Indian ethos. (For more on that, please check here.)

The evil, if any, was personified as Ravana, Shakuni or Shakara (btw, Shakara, the villain who also provides comic relief, later turned into a sort of role-model in the Indian movies). They are deemed evil because they shake ones faith in goodness and in the very roots of life. Apart from these, there are not many truly evil characters, acting as unprovoked malign agencies wrecking havoc.

For instance; the ever impatient irascible Durvasa who hurls a curse, causing the separation of Dushyanta and his Love Shakuntala, is not an antagonist. In fact , he is external to the story-line. Similar is the case with the impulsive Sage Vishvamitra, the cause for the dethronement and exile of Harishchandra. But,  towards the end , their curses are amply compensated by generous boons.

**

4.2. The ancient Sanskrit drama  distinguished one form of drama (Rupaka)  from its other forms  on the basis of its Vastu (subject-matter), Neta (Hero) and Rasa (sentiment) – vastu neta rasas tesam bhedako .

It did not recognize classification based on how the drama ended, on whether the characters lived happily ever after or whether the characters struggled in vain against almost impossible odds and eventually failed. There is no clear classification of happy or sad ending.

For instance, the epics Ramayana and Mahabharata end in a somber note; the evil undoubtedly was vanquished in the end, but the virtuous victors were neither jubilant nor were they at peace. It is not a tragic ending in the sense the evil did not triumph; and it is not a comic ending either because the heroes did not seem to have ‘lived happily ever after’. Rama, Krishna and Pandavas, all ended their earthly sojourn on a rather solemn note; and, returned to their heavenly abode.

Even after winning the Great War, Yudhisthira is not happy; for, none could enjoy the fruits of his victory; the death had cast its shadow everywhere. There was no joy.

Krishna, the incarnate of the Divine, died of a hunter’s arrow. And, the whole of his clan was drowned in a Tsunami. Even the sinless (Parama-pavani) Sita, the ideal of womanhood, finally disappears into the depths of mother-earth; as if returning Home. And, she never unites with her husband again. Rama spends his later years in loneliness.

And, all those fabulous characters were on the side that won the wars.

4.3. The struggle depicted in the ancient dramas, based on the epics, was not about a person’s comfort; but, it was about what they stood for and the values they represented. The pith of the story was in the manner the virtuous men and women faced their adversaries and adversities, within the frame work of Dharma; and, finally triumphed after sustained fighting. At the end, it was hailed as the triumph of the Dharma.

The object of the play was to demonstrate the proper way to live; a way which the generations to come can follow and adopt as a benchmark or a norm of attitude and behavior , while grappling with the conflicts confronting them in their lives.

4.4. It also had to do with the perception of life in general. One’s view of death is related to what one regards as life. One way of looking at death is as a dreaded terminator, which irrevocably puts an end to ones relation with all existence. There are however beliefs that prefer to treat “life” not as an interval between two extremities; but, as a continuum in space and time; and, that space could be elsewhere and not necessarily here on earth.

4.5. The life jivita on this earth, according to their beliefs, is a continuum propelled by causes and effects (karman) spread over several jivitas. The disappointments and miseries that one has endured in this life can be put behind; and, one can always look forward with hope. There is no “End” or “Finis” to life.

Take for instance; Banabhatta’s classic novel Kadambari (c.seventh century) re-rendered by Ms. Kalpita Raj as PunarmilanThe reunion… (Love-story From Ancient India) , a torturous love story filled with frustrations , disappointments and failures as each character passionately strives for love. The story spills into three re-births; and finally love triumphs. It is perhaps a way of saying that love defies death. In fact, it is the persistence of love through a series of re-births that holds the story together.

*

In all these cases, the Death is viewed only as a temporary phase in the continuous life of man. If a person suffers, his suffering is on account of his misdeeds or sins in his previous life. Such suffering is a means to test  man’s character and his integrity. There is nothing disastrous about  it.

The theme of tragic suffering is not excluded from the story-line; but only a tragic closure or the ending is avoided . No one turned his back on the tragic experiences in life , as also in Drama. Sanskrit poets were not escapists. They depicted all tragic elements in life; but, softened it with the experience of happiness.

By rejecting death as the ultimate end, the significance of sorrow, suffering and confrontation with the evil in life, are reduced in their magnitude and in their effect to cause irrevocable harm.

Here, in all such cases, the Tragedy raises the question of the ultimate meaning of human existence; and, its resilience to fight back adversities. Most of the Indian Dramas  deal with the set of similar problem.

The central idea of Greek Tragedy is that man learns through suffering; and, it is through suffering that he becomes modest and humble. Man realizes the futility of ambitions and accepts his own insignificance. But before he learns this lesson, he has to pay heavily for it; having done that he becomes a nobler and purer soul. That is precisely what happens in Urubhanga also.

The heroes and heroines of the Sanskrit Dramas, placed within their limited confines battle extraordinary situations with courage and conviction; but, finally , they emerge out of the ordeal with composure and dignity, though a bit bruised .

Though we do not have technical tragedies , in the Western sense, we have serious tragic situations in our literature, where man is at grips with adversities; as also with the  inter-play of characters and circumstances . But, here again , the Good eventually triumphs.

This is the Indian way or approach to life; whereas, the Western approach to life is altogether different; and, when they face severe complexities in their life, they think of putting an end to their life. For them death is the liberation from the serious problems of life. Perhaps, this difference in outlook towards life is one of the main reasons for the happy-ending in Sanskrit dramas.

 

4.6. The ancient Sanskrit plays generally portray four categories of heroes: dhirodatta (ideal person like Rama); dhiralalitha (lover boy like Dushyantha); dhirashanta (calm and collected like Charudutta); and dhirodhhata (the tragic hero like Ravana, Duryodhana or Karna).

The tragic hero is endowed with all virtues such as good looks, wealth, strength and power;  but, is afflicted with a single gnawing flaw in his character, which brings about his ruin.

For instance; Ravana with lust; Duryodhana with greed and jealousy; Karna with embitterment were the classic examples. The tragic hero is all the while aware of his tragic flaw; he fights with himself; nevertheless, embraces his fate, death and destruction in a strange mixture of detachment and bravado.

He is heroic in most ways and he is very important to the play; but, he is a counterpoint to the hero. And, In Sanskrit drama, the good always triumphs over the evil.

It was Bhasa the celebrated playwright (ca. 2nd century BCE to 2nd century AD) who in his plays uru-bhanga and karna-bhara treated Duryodhana and Karna with great sympathy and appreciation. Bhasa was the first to break away from the conventions of Natyasastra to show physical violence on the stage; and to end his plays in pathos and in the death of his heroes. In his prathima-natakam he treats Kaikeyi, the deluded queen of the old king, with sympathy and understanding. Bhasa was the first significant Indian writer of what you might call the tragic plays.

***

4.7. Coming back to the question of tragic plays, There is no unhappy ending in Sanskrit Natakas; and, that is why most of the commentators say  that no tragedy has been written in Sanskrit drama.There is a faith that  Good is bound to triumph ; Truth will survive and last long. Suffering is not the final end of life. That is perhaps why we do not have tragedies.

*

Perhaps, a major Sanskrit Drama that could have been turned into a Tragedy is Bhavabhuthi’s Uttara-Rama-Charitra, narrating the woes, sufferings and separation of Rama and Sita. Such an unfortunate situation rudely befalls them after they had gone through an acutely distressing  life of exile, separation and battles; and, when they were just about to settle down to a peaceful , normal conjugal life. 

This cruel blow is struck, when a washer man flippantly comments about the plausible infidelity of Sita, during her confinement in Ravana’s garden. The then social norm demands that Rama should send Sita away; and, he promptly dispatches the pregnant Sita far away into the woods. And, what follows thereafter is bitter agonizing suffering for both. Vasanti, the presiding deity of the forests, rebukes Rama for having abandoned Sita; and, Rama becomes remorseful and experiences untold agony.

Over the centuries, many have been troubled by the strange exit of the unhappy Sita from her life .

Bhavabhuthi questions, and cries out ‘why?’: How could Rama ever think of abandoning such a wife as Sita? And, having abandoned her for whatever reason, how could they be again united in any real sense until all clouds, all vestiges of doubt and distrust, had been entirely banished from their minds ?

If Rama’s moral conflict had been between his kingly duties and his love for his wife; and , had it been kept as the central theme; and, if the  play had  been based upon it; and, if the banishment of Sita, after much inward struggle , suffering, had come toward the end of the play, we might then have had a worthy tragedy .

Apparently, Bhavabhuthi was not satisfied with such inadequate motivation: he was not content to bring, somehow, the estranged pair together; and then leave them to settle their causes of dispute later amicably or otherwise.

He felt that a reunion, to be meaningful, must first be a reunion of hearts; and this was the psychological problem which he deliberately proposed to himself in this play; especially, in the first three Acts. The complicated chain of events leading to the actual reunion and the recognition of the princes forms the burden of the last four Acts

Remarkably, Bhavabhuti’s major concern in his play, is the healing of Sita’s mind and bruised heart. Her doubts about Rama’s love and her anger at the repudiation have to disappear. Her own capacity for love, benumbed by her long suffering has to be revived before any reconciliation with honor is possible. Only then would justice be rendered to Sita,  and to all Indian womanhood.

The play ends on a happy note.

*

Similarly,  some of the Sanskrit plays like Vikramorvasiya of Kalidasa ; Nagananda of Harsha; Malatimadhava of Bhavabhuthi;  etc. could have been rendered as  tragedies , had their authors followed the original story line. Instead, they preferred to slightly re-adjust the scene; and, altered the endings.

Let us take, for example, the Vikramorvasiya of Kalidasa. Although he had a fine tragic plot ready  for his poetic touch, in order to avoid the tragedy; and, to arrive at an assured  happy conclusion, Kalidasa  greatly changed the original story of  Urvasi and King Pururavas. In the original , they were allowed  to remain together so long as the King did not behold the son to be borne to him by Urvasi.

Kalidasa changed the story ; and lowered the heroine from her celestial status into a mortal; and, allowed her to live happily with her Lover and her child.

Had Kalidasa  followed the original story-line, in the last scene, king would have been placed  in a tragic conflict of emotion between his joy of  beholding, for the first time, his son and heir; and, his agony of sorrow at the loss of Urvasi,  resulting from the sight of this same child.

*

Similarly, the Nagananda of Harsha could quickly  have been  transformed into a tragedy by altering some of the lighter scenes slightly and eliminating the intervention of the gods at the end. Had not  Jimutavahana been  restored to life, the play would  not only have been more tragic; but it would also have been more artistic. A fine contrast could have been made between the hero’s love for his bride and his devotion to what he felt to be his compelling duty. The hero would have sacrificed his life willingly for the greater good.

**

If we take away the last Act or scene of these plays, they could certainly become good examples of Tragedies, in a formal or technical sense.

But, perhaps , due to certain established traditions of the  Sanskrit dramatic theory and practices ; the outlook which mold the life and attitudes of people; the response of the audience;  the outlook of the Sanskrit dramatists , and, of the  producers of the plays,  these dramas were converted  into ‘happy-endings’.

The study of tragic consciousness in Sanskrit drama is a fascinating problem from the literary and aesthetic point of view. ‘Tragedy,‘ basically, is a western concept; and, therefore, it has to be viewed in the framework of the Aristotelian aesthetics. However, the tragic consciousness (Karuna) is a universal notion and sentiment; and, it can be traced in the classical Sanskrit drama and aesthetics , as well.

The Indian scholars opine that  a drama, which above all, embodies Karuna Rasa or the sentiment of pathos is essentially a Tragedy , in as much as it excites the feelings of pity and terror, which according to Aristotle are the essence of tragedy.

Bhavabhuthi considers Karuna as the only sentiment; and, all other sentiments as  its different forms (Eko Rasaha Karuna eva nimita bhedam bhinna pruthak pruthavashrayate vivartan). This Karuna or, pathetic sentiment is the basis of tragedy.

And, there is abundance of Karuna Rasa in the Sanskrit Dramas; and, has been a source  of aesthetic enjoyment for  the Sahrudayas. There is a close relationship between tragedy and tragic consciousness (Karunya).

In fact, the Ramayana Epic commences with a poignant note, when the poet Valmiki cries out, empathizing (Karunyam) with the pain and the mournful lament of the Kranunchi bird, whose mate had just been shot down by a hunter’s arrow. Valmiki gives voice to the inarticulate painful, heart wrenching shrill of the mourning female bird. That Karunya permeates the Epic throughout.

Anandavardhana says, the sorrow (Shoka) of the First Poet, which arose out of the separation of the couple of the krauncha birds, took the form of a verse (Shloka).

Kavyasyatma sa evarthas tatha cadikaveh pura/ Kraunca dvandva viyogottha sokah slokatvamagatah (Dhyanyaloka.1.5)

Abhinavgupta explains; the Shoka which took the form of Shloka is the sthayibhava of karuna-Rasa that was experienced by the Adi Kavi Valmiki. And, that sorrow is not to be taken merely as the personal sorrow of the sage-poet (na tu muneh soka iti mantavyam); but , it belongs to the Muni and the bird alike; and, indeed, it is also the generalized (Sadharinikarana) or the universal form of sorrow that is experienced  by the aesthetes (Sahrudaya) of all the generations.

Bollywood

5.1. Though the Sanskrit plays are virtually dead in India, they live and thrive in the spirit of the Indian movies, popularly labelled as Bollywood movies.

5.2. In the structure of their plots, depiction, treatment and conclusion of the story , most Indian movies that have done well at the Box office follow , consciously or otherwise, the time-tested formula prescribed by the ancient Sanskrit theater.

Just as in the Sanskrit plays, our movies too are stuffed with navarasas; embellished with virtuous heroes having comic sidekicks; good-hearted loving mothers blessed with obedient sons; adorable heroines with plain-Jane friends; good-looking  and powerful villains toying  with vamps and sometimes providing comic relief ; loose script studded with chorus, songs and dances as also some fights; and the story always ends on a happy note with the good and love triumphing over the bad and loveless.

The initial scenes are always auspicious and happy-feeling (adi-mangala); and as the story unfolds , unbearable miseries are unjustly mounted by the crafty villain on the virtuous hero or at times the unsuspecting good-hearted hero walks into a snare specially designed for him by the  dark-hearted bad guy. In the midst of all the heart wrenching misery, near about the mid-point of the story, inevitably, something good happens to the hero or his family (madhya-mangala); and after a bitter and suspenseful struggle in which the gentle heroine, for no fault of her, is somehow drawn in. Eventually the good and love triumphs; and all ends well (antya-mangala).

Somewhere in the second-half of the story when the hero is wedged in a tight spot, the usually inept, food and fun loving sidekick, the vidushaka  (immortalized by Rajendranath and tribe) comes handy and aids the struggling hero.

5.3. The Sanskrit plays are thus the forerunners of the Bollywood formula movies. Now, any film that deviates from that time-honored formula , depicting realism, stands, out like a sore thumb ; and , acquires the unenviable title of an Offbeat. And , what is even worse is that it might be dubbed an Art film.

[That , I feel , is rather unfortunate. Because, it fails to recognize and applaud the innovative and path-breaking spirit  that augurs well for the future of the Indian Cinema.  It is particularly so , as such ventures are taken at risk to ones  career; though after  much introspection . The least we can do is to encourage such creative trends, which allow the Indian Cinema to reinvent itself.] 

*

5.4. The song and dance “item-numbers” which are unique to Indian movies, also seem to be inspired by the ancient Sanskrit drama.

Bharata, the author of Natyasastra and also a producer of plays, in the middle of one of his plays, introduces a song and dance sequence that apparently had no relevance to the narration of the story. The learned among the audiences are promptly confused. They inquire Bharata “We can understand about acting which conveys definite meaning. But, this dance and this music you have brought in seem to have no meaning. What use are they?”- 

yadā prāpty artham arthānāṃ tajjñair abhinayaḥ kṛtaḥ / kasmān nṛttaṃ kṛtaṃ hyetatkaṃ svabhāvam apekṣate । na gītak ārtha sambaddhaṃ na cāpy arthasya bhāvakam ॥ 262॥

Bharata agrees that there is no meaning attached to those dances and songs; and goes on to explain calmly “yes, but it adds to the beauty of the presentation and common people naturally like it. And, as these are happy and auspicious songs people love it more; and they even  perform these dances and sing these songs at their homes on marriage and other happy occasions”(Natyasastra : 4.267-268)

maṅgalamiti kṛtvā ca nṛttame tat prakīrtitam । vivāha prasavā avāha pramodā abhyuadayādiṣu ॥ 4.265॥ vinoda kāraṇaṃ ceti nṛttame tat pravartitam । ataś caiva pratikṣepā adbhūta saṅghaiḥ pravartitāḥ॥ 4.266॥

Bollywood

5.5. And, finally what is remarkable about Bollywood is that it is notional or abstract; it exists only in the mind and has no physical location or existence. Yet, it is close to all. Its primary form exists in what used to be called Bombay; but it has no specific location and could be anywhere in India, since the outside world has come to know all branches of Indian cinema as Bollywood. Truly, Bollywood is closer to Indian concepts of abstraction and phenomenon, than anything else we know.

abstract-forms-

 
 
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Posted by on September 30, 2012 in Art, General Interest

 

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On reading DMRSekhar’s ‘Genopsych’

 My friend Dr. DMR Sekhar, sometime back, wrote a learned paper on genopsych. It was a term coined by him (I presume). Genopsych, as I understand, is a hypothetical property that causes disturbance, propels evolution and directs variations in the genome. It has its roots in second law of thermodynamics, which deals with the relations between heat and other forms of energy . And,  Dr.Sekhar’s Genopsych  is a rather an unusual interpretation as it involves physics, genetics and philosophy. It is a very daring exploration. Let me admit, I don’t pretend to understand all that has been said in his paper. My academic background is, to say the least, is wafer-thin. Yet I admired it.

What I have written under is neither a comment nor a direct response to the concept of genopsych. It is just a short note of my thoughts on reading Dr.  Sekhar’s article. It is based in my understanding of the concept, as I read the paper. I could be wrong in my understanding.

I am not sure if my note serves any purpose. Yet, I hope it might spur Shri Sekhar to look at the other dimensions of the issue.

A. I read with great interest the article crowded with ideas and concepts. I tried to be focused on Genopsych.

Genopsych, as I understand from Shri Sekhar’s article is that:

  • Genopsych is not physical
  • Genopsych may directly control/operate our behaviour.
  • Our behaviour and many things we do may be attributed to genopsych.
  • Genopsych of all individuals is similar.
  • All living things at genetic level are same.
  • Genopsych undergoes updating and development due to evolutionary reasons.
  • Soul is described to exist without physical body whereas genopsych may not exist unattached to genes.
  • Meditation, it appears , is the advertent way of communication of mind with genopsych.

As he says, genopsych is not the soul, in the sense it is not the absolute, immutable pure consciousness; nor is it the individual soul jiva either, because the concept of genopsych probably may not allow reincarnation. Yet Genopsych is not dying. There is no death to genopsych along with the body because Genopsych is not physical .And, it continues to survive along the gene flow firmly attached to it; and it controls/operates our behavioural patterns in the next phase of existence too.

Genopsych is not mind, either. What is called as mind is a bunch of thoughts; and has no independent existence. The mind always exists in relation to something gross; it cannot stay alone. When the mind becomes quiet, the world disappears. Sri Ramana says when one persistently inquires into the nature of the mind; the mind will end leaving the Self (as the residue).

**

B. That reminds me of a much discussed concept in Indian thought – both Hindu and Buddhist.

Vasanas are subconscious inclinations, likes and dislikes, which drive habit-patterns or direct ones attitudes. It emanates from every thought, every feeling or every deed that one has done or does. The Vasanas are ego-centric in the sense they are centred on “I”.

In a way of speaking, Vasanas are ‘fragrance’ of past experiences, lingering memories. (It is just as a waft of air that  flows over a flower-bed carries along it  the delicate fragrances).  They are the subtle impressions; and their effects are long lasting. When Vasanas manifest as desires, they cause agitations in the mind, and the mind becomes restless until those desires are fulfilled. It is thus the other-side of entropy; it causes disturbance and propels evolution.

It is explained that when the individual jiva departs it takes with it the casual body that is the accumulated Vasanas, and gravitate towards a field that is conducive to ones experiences and inclinations (Vasanas).

The Buddhist texts say that Vasanas are stored in a latent form in “Alaya”, a sort of storehouse, ready to be set in motion. Alaya, impressions stored as a kind of seed, is sometimes known as Bija (memory/sowing seeds). Lankavatara sutra, a renowned Buddhist text, says the world starts from seed-memory retained in the Alaya universal mind. The text asks one to be rid of false memories that impede true perception.

ālayāt-sarva-cittāni pravartanti taraṃgavat / vāsanā-hetukāḥ sarve yathā pratyaya saṃbhavāḥ // Lank_10.871 //

It appears Vasanas are not merely individual memories; they are also collective, experienced by all conscious beings. (I am not quite clear on this)

C. Sri Sankara in his most erudite introduction to Brahma- sutra–bhashya also talks about memories that impede the understanding of the true nature of things. He examines the nature of error that prevents us from experiencing things as they really are; and explains it through the concept of Adhyasa, which means superimposing ones memory previously gained in another place and another time. We tend to recognize or interpret our experiences, sometimes incorrectly, by superimposing our past memories.

At another level, it is said; those memories or impressions, formed are the subtle traces or vasanas of events- not only of the present life but also of events of multiple past lives. They condition our sense and experiences.

Another explanation is that Vasanas are born out of samskaras, the accumulated experiential impressions formed out of our actions. The Vasanas (tendencies) in turn, give rise to thought patterns which again lead to attitudes and mental dispositions. These inherent inclinations of the mind are called vritti. The vrittis in their turn influence our actions.

That is, we act as directed by our mind (chitta vritti) to satisfy our desires or inclinations (vasanas) which arose out of the impressions (samskaras) gained out of previous experiences or acts (karma). It is a cycle.

Karma (action) — samskara (impressions)— vasana (tendencies)— chitta vritti (thought patterns) — karma (action)

D. The concept of vasana is also of importance in Yoga psychology. In Patanjali’s text, the term appears to have the meaning ‘Specific subconscious sensations.’ Mircea Eliade in his book Yoga: immortality and freedom interprets the term as ‘states of consciousnesses.

Yoga is the restriction or control of the ‘citta vrittis’, Yogah chittavritti nirodhaha. The chitta vritti perhaps refers to the various modifications or thought-forms. The methods prescribed for evading the grip of the Vasanas and to be thought-free, is complex.

E. As I understand, genopsych is a property (vastu-vishesha) ; and, its attributes can be auspicious or otherwise; while Soul is said to be beyond all attributes.  It, therefore, seems to me, the concept of genopsych is closer to that of the casual body (karana-sarira) the carrier of Vasanas the accumulated subconscious inclinations, tendencies, rather than to the immutable Soul.

[Please read: Yoga, Immortality and Freedom by Mircea Eliade; Translated by Willard R. Trask; published by Princeton University Press. And, please also check

http://www.advaita.org.uk/discourses/sadananda/vasanas2_sadananda.htm

http://www.mentalstates.net/add_h.html#f200 ]

F. Dr. Sekhar also talked about meditation and control of mind; and said meditation appears to be an advertent way of communication of mind with genopsych.

The texts believe that breath is the gross form of mind. And, the exercise of breath-control is regarded an aid to render the mind quiet (mano-nigraha).The practice of breath control or watching over the breath therefore somehow became a part of meditation.

When the breath is controlled the mind becomes quiet; and when the mind becomes quiet the breath is controlled. But mind will be quiet only so long as the breath remains controlled; otherwise, the mind will wander as impelled by residual impressions (vasanas).

That is because the mind is influenced by residual impressions (Vasanas).Mind could , therefore, be better directed or controlled by moving away from Vasanas – attachments, eschewing  desire and hatred. The real freedom is being free from Vasanas the self-centered desires; and, when that happens one could be free from thoughts. That is reversing the trend of Vasanas towards low entropy.

One has to move away from Vasanas – attachments; and realize ones true nature.

Sri Ramana said, Self is the residue when there is no ego, no attachments (Vasanas) and no mind. That is when there is no “I” thought. That is “Silence”.

rose-SG.2 jpg

 
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Posted by on September 28, 2012 in General Interest, Speculation

 

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Meditation and Entropy

Just the other day, I was reading an interesting blog Meditation and medication -2 strands of a DNA helix of LIFE  posted by  Shri Santhemant. He said, among other things, when the mind is palliated , the body gets its benefit too. Meditation is also the medication of the mind.

I was wondering if the state of meditation could also be interpreted in terms of entropy- one of the favorite subjects of my friend Shri DMR Sekhar.

Entropy in physics is a measure of disorder. I believe we all have mental entropy.

Before we get to meditation, let’s get familiar with entropy.

***

When we boil water, the temperature of its molecules increases. As the water molecules get energized, they tend to be excited ; the system gets more chaotic; and, with that, their disorder too increases.

On the other hand,  if the entropy of a system decreases, the system becomes more ordered or structured. For example ; when we cool water to its freezing point, it becomes ice. The normal ice has tetrahedral structure.

Now coming to the human situation, the human brain, it is said, is an overcrowded network of billions of neurons, each of which is perpetually trying to assert its presence, in one manner or other. There is , therefore , a ceaseless chaos running in our waking state , side by side with our structured thinking process [programmed psychological behavior]. The activities of these neurons (thoughts) influence various biological changes through complex mechanisms. The impulses and interactions spread to the human organism through its intricate network of nervous system.

The level of psychological chaos in certain individuals might be higher (that is, higher entropy levels). They are “distracted” easily; are restless ; and,   find it hard to concentrate. They , therefore, need to control and reduce the inputs that tend to excite the system. Perhaps, closing the eyes might help them to concentrate better (reduce entropy levels by cutting down inputs). A good-sleep also helps greatly in minimizing excitation impulses. Otherwise, lack of adequate sleep leads to fatigue the nervous system – that is, it exacerbates disorder or pushes up the entropy levels.

Therefore, when you put away or ignore distractions, there is less disorder within. The tendency to waver and scatter also decreases. In other words, in an ordered mind , free from distractions, the entropy level is very low.

In the waking-state, when the entropy of the mind is consciously brought down, there is less disorder; the mind becomes calm and clear.

If you extend the logic further, you might say that when the entropy approaches near-zero level ,the mind tends to be thought-free. A thought- free mind is free from distractions and conflicts; and, a state of calm and quiet envelops you

lotus 888

 
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Posted by on September 28, 2012 in General Interest, Speculation

 

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Sharad Ritu – season of tender beauty, grace and celebrations

sharat ritu

Traditionally, Indian seasons– Ritus – are six, each of about two month’s duration. In the part of the country where I now live, in Southern Karnataka, there are virtually five seasons: a short spring, summer, monsoon, post monsoon and winter,  where Hemanta and Shishira run into each other. Each of the seasons, – Ritus – has a beauty and splendor of its own. Sadly, we have lost the links with nature; as also with the songs and the Ragas inspired by nature.

Ritu is a division of the year , reflecting the change of seasons. The concept of Rtu occurs in Rig Veda also, where only three Ritus are mentioned: Varsha , Grishma and Sharad. Later, the year was further divided; and, two more Rtus were added. A hymn in Taittareya Brahmana has a beautiful graphic presentation of the Ritus in the image of a bird: Vasantha is the head of the bird called Samvathsara (year); Grishma its right wing; Sharad its left wing; Varsha its tail; and , Hemanta its middle part.

Tasya re Vasantha shirahah/Grishmo Dakshina pakshahah/ Sharad uttara-pakshhah/Varshap pucchyam/ Hemanto Madhyama. (TBrh: 1.10.4.1)

It was during the epic period that the seasons were counted as six: Vasantha – spring; Grishma – summer; Varsha – rainy season; Sharad – autumn; Hemanta – winter; and, Shishira – cool season preceding the spring.

The Puranas (say, the Brahmanda Purana) mention six seasons. The Matsya Purana has a whole chapter dedicated only to the month of spring; and, the Samba Purana gives a reference to the different colors of the sun in the Six Ritu’s : Kapila (tawny or yellowish-brown) in Vasantha Rtu ; Tapta-kanchana (furnace  gold)  in Greeshma ; Sweta (white) in Varsha Rtu; Pandu (pale) in Sharad Rtu; Pingala (coppery or reddish brown) in Hemanta Rtu; and , Raktha (reddish) in Sishira Rtu.

The Chitrasutra of the Vishnudharmottara-purana (5th– 6th century), however , mentions four Ritus; and,  outlines their general features.

Summer : Under trees, languorous men seek shade from the harsh summer sun, buffaloes wallowing in the mire of muddy waters, birds hiding under a thick abundance of leaves, and lions and tigers seeking cool caves to retire in.

Rain: An overcast sky, with heavy rain filled clouds weighed down with their aquatic excess, flashes of lightning and the beautiful rainbow, animals like tigers and lions taking shelter in caves, sarus (cranes) birds flying in a row.

Autumn: Trees laden with ripe fruit, the entire expanse of the earth filled with ripened corn ready for harvest, lakes filled with beautiful aquatic birds like geese, the pleasant sight of blooming and blossoming lotus flowers, the moon brightening up the sky with a milky white luster.

Winter : the earth wet with dew, the sky filled with fog, men shivering from the cold, but crows and elephants seem euphoric.

harmony

Two sets of calendars – solar and lunar – for the  twelve  months  of the year were developed over a period. And, the names of the months of the solar year , at one time , carried different  sets of names. 

The names of  the  months , according to solar calendar (Sauramana) , in each of the six seasons (Ritus)  are: Vasantha  (Madhu and Madhava) the sweetness of spring; Grishma: (Sukra and Suci)  the blazing light of summer; Varsha: (Nabha and Nabhasya ) the monsoon rain bearing clouds; Sharada : (Urya and Isa) the fertility and mellow of autumn; Hemanta: (Saha and Shahya ) the cold and winter; Sisira:  (Tapa and Tapsya )  the beginning of the hot season.

It is also said; these were the names used in the ancient days. For instance; the Maitrayani-Samhita of Krishna Yajur Veda   enumerates  the  very set of  names of the months . 

madhuś ca mādhavaś ca vāsantikā tū agner antaśleo ‘si // śukraś ca śuciś ca graitū;  nabhaś ca nabhasyaś ca vārikā tū;  iaś urjaś ca śāradā tū ; sahaś ca sahasyaś ca haimantikā tū; tapaś ca tapasyaś ca śaiśirā tū agner antaśleo ‘si   //MS_2,8.11//

*

The names of the months of the lunar calendar (Chandramana) in the respective seasons are: Vasantha (Chaitra and Vishakha); Grishma (Jestha and Ashada); Varsha (Shravana and Bhadrapada); Sharada (Ashvina and Kartika); Hemanta (Margashira and Pushya); and, Sisira (Magha and Phalguna).

solar months 2

*

Srimad Bhagavatha -Purana(Skanda-4; Chapter-2) lists the Adityas, Rishis, Yakshas, Rakshas, Nagas, Gandharvas and Apsaras , associated with each month of the year .But, here, the names of the months , their sequence and the related Adityas slightly differ.

Bhagavatha Purana Table

***

It is said, in the ancient days; the month of Margasirsha also known as Agrahayana was at the head of the twelve-month period; which is to say, it marked the commencement of the year from the vernal equinox. But, in the later periods the sequence of the months was changed to what we are familiar with now. And, similarly, the Nakshatras were reckoned from Krittka; and, not from Ashvini, as of now. The scholars opine that during the period when the sun was near Orion at the time of the vernal equinox, i.e. around 3000 years ago or more, the year was reckoned as commencing from the month of Margasirsha (Agrahayana).

And, Margasirsha was the best , most auspicious and the most enjoyable of all the months of the year ; neither too hot nor too cold, neither too wet nor dry; when the udders of the cows are full of milk. And, it was also the harvesting season when the long months of hard work fructified. There is a sense of peace and joy enveloping all existence.

The Mahabharata war is believed to have commenced on the eleventh day of the bright fortnight of Margasirsha (Agrahayana) – Margashirsha Shukla Ekadasi, when the star Krittika was in ascendancy. And, it was on the First Day of the Great War that Lord Krishna delivered the celestial Bhagavad-Gita.

In the Bhagavad-Gita, Krishna says that among the months, he is the MargashirshaMasanam Margashirsha nam- Bhagavad-Gita. 10.35

design star

[Alberuni c.1030 observed that Vasudeva Krishna had a special place in the hearts of the common people who loved to call him by many names. He says , people called out Krishna , out of sheer love , by different names in each of the twelve months; such as : in Margasirsha:  Keshava; Paushya:  Narayana;  Magha:  Madhava;  Phalguna:  Govinda;  Chaitra:  Vishnu;  Vaisakha:  Madhusudana; Jyestha:  Trivikrama;  Ashadha:  Vamana;  Shravana:   Sridhara;  Bhadrapada:  Hrishikesa; Ashvayuja:  Padmanabha;  and , Karttika:  Damodara .]

[The earliest inscriptional reference to Indian seasons and months appears on the Edicts of Emperor Asoka (c.272 B.C.) found at Dhauli and Jaugada. It mentions Tisya Naksatra (Tisya or Pausa) and Chaturmasi (full moon in all seasons). The casket inscription from the time of Meander (c. 115-90 B.C.) at Shinkot is the earliest known inscription to mention a month. It refers in Prakrit, to two months – Karttika and Vaisakha in connection with the relics of the Buddha.]

*

The Solar year (Sauramana) was based on ‘solar division’ – the diurnal motion of the Sun ; and,  the Lunar year (Chandramana) was based on the ‘lunar division’- the phases of the moon .

The solar year is approximately 365 days and the months are calculated by the sun’s entrance into a particular Rasi or Zodiac sign. These are divided into twelve, Mesha (Aries), Vrsabha (Taurus), Mithuna (Gemini), Kartaka (Cancer), Simha (Leo), Kanya (Virgo), Tula (Libra), Vrscika (Scorpio), Dhanus (Sagittarius), Makara (Capricorn), Kumbha (Aquarius), and Mina (Pisces).

Astrological signs

The Lunar calendar is roughly around 354 days; ten less than the solar year(*) and its months are named after Nakshatras or constellations in which their full moons are placed. The lunar months lasts from one new moon to the next but it is named after the Indian solar month in which it begins. As mentioned earlier, the lunar month are Chaitra and Vaishakha for spring (Vasantha) ; Jyestha and Asadha for summer (Grishma); Sravana and Bhadrapada for the monsoon (Varsha); Asvin and Karttika for the autumn (Sharad); Agrahayana and Pausha for winter (Hemantha) ; and. Magha and Phaguna for  later cool season (Shishira).

The poets have sung of the glory of each season either individually or as a garland of seasons. The Great Kalidasa’s Rtu Samhara is of course the most celebrated of all such romances of the six seasons.

[*  It is said; a Solar year actually measures 365.2422 days; while a Lunar year is shorter having only 354.372 days ; the difference between the two reckoning being 10.8702 days , each year. In order to reconcile the difference between the two calendars, an additional month is added to the Lunar calendar once in three years. Such additional month is termed as Adhika –masa. And, the year in which such Adhika-masa is added would thus have 13 months, as compared to 12 months in other years. In the cycle of 36 months, the Adhika-masa would be the 33rd month; and, would commence from the close of the 32nd month – that is , from next day of full moon and up to end of Amavasya. The Adhika-masa would actually measure 32.6106 days.]

design star

It is the post monsoon season – Sharad Ritu, which is dearer to me. It is a season of festivals marked by benevolence, grace and beauty. As per the lunar calendar, Sharad Ritu follows the Varsha (monsoon) and precedes Hemantha (early winter). It comprises months of Ashvina and Karthika, which is September to November months in the Gregorian calendar. In the year 2007 , Sharad Ritu commenced from Oct 12, Sharad Ritu corresponds to early autumn in the West but it is not the same.

The nature is at its benevolent best in Sharad Ritu. The oppressive heat of the summer is a distant memory and the chill of the winter is still on its way. The annoying downpour of the monsoon has just ended. The weather is mild, pleasant and refreshing. Sharad is a season of moderation, comfort and peace. It is the season of the middle path.  It is a soothing delight, as its designated Raga Malkauns a pentatonic haunting melody. The rivers are neither dry as in summer nor flooded, muddy brown, twirling with orphaned twigs and overflowing menacingly as in monsoon. In Sharad Ritu, the rivers are moderately full, transparently clear; rippling down the gentle slopes in peals of temple bells.

Sharad Ritu brings a blush to the countryside. The nature is bedecked as a bride with light green, decorated with profusion of colorful flowers and bountiful laden fruit trees with chirping birds. There is peace, joy and fulfillment abounding in the air.

The days are sunny, yet pleasantly cool and comfortable. The skies are clear blue with white cotton clouds floating lazily. The nights mildly intoxicating are slightly chill, clear and cloudless.

Srimad Bhagavatam describes the resplendent beauty of Sharad Rtu in Venu Gitam (Canto 10):

ittham sharad svaccha jalam padmakara sugandhina /nyavishad vayunavatam sa gogopala kochyutaha / kusumita vanaraji sushmibhrunga dvijakula gushta sarah sarIn mahidram / madhupatir avagahya charayangAha saha pashupAla balahaschukUja veNum //

It says; the water is pure, fresh and playing host to the beautiful lotuses waiting to bloom. In the autumn, the monsoon clouds too have disappeared, making way for clear sunshine; the lotuses bloom and spread their fragrance everywhere –padmakara sugandhina.

Flower buds, that had hitherto been soaked and ruined by incessant monsoon rains, now bloom joyfully–kusumita vanaraji – adorning the trees with colour. The aroma and nectar of these flowers attract the buzzing honey bees (sushmi bhrunga). With fragrance, color and cheer all around, can the cuckoos and peacocks help themselves but sing and dance to their hearts content – dvija kula gushTa sarah sarin mahIdram.

In Sharad Ritu, the cows graze happily and produce abundant milk, bringing prosperity all around.

**

In certain regions of India, the bright, soothing and joyful Sharad Purnima, is celebrated as a harvest festival; and, is known by other names such as : Kumаrа Рurnimа, Kоjаgiri Рurnimа, Nаvаnnа Рurnimа, Аshwin Рurnimа оr Kаumudi Рurnimа.

It is believed that on the Sharad Purnima, the moon glows with all its sixteen phases (kalas). On this night, the sky is clear; and, the moon is at its largest, brightest; shining without a blemish.

On this auspicious day, many divine pairs like RadhaKrishna, Shiva Parvati, and Lakshmi Narayan are worshipped ; and, are offered flowers and kheer (sweet dish made of rice and milk).

sharat Moon

The splendid cloudless full moon night of Sharad Ritu is an idiom of glory, peace and joy in the Indian poetics. It is the delight of eager young lovers that long to be with their beloved. The ecstatic beauty of Sharad Purnima is etched in Indian psyche. Its glory, tenderness and joy are celebrated in songs, legends and poems of love. Our classical poets and epics sing lovingly the beauty and joy of the delightful moonlit nights of Sharad Ritu.

Soundarya-lahari, meaning waves of beauty, a tantric work in poetic form   dedicated to the Mother, in devotional ecstasy,   calls her Saratchandra Vadana, one with a face as    radiant and blissful as the moon in Sharad Ritu. And, Goddess Sarasvathi is described as Sharad-indu Sundara Vadane  – having a blissful radiant face as beautiful as the moon of the Sharad Rtu. 

atriversedge

The tradition of Rtu-Varnana, describing the seasons, became frequent when such descriptions came to be recognized as a mandatory feature (ashta-dasha –varnana, eighteen types of descriptions) of a Maha-kavyas the major epic like poems

The classical Indian poetry abounds with expressions like Sharadendu vilasam (the glory of the moon lit nights of Sharad), Sharath-chandrika – dhavala-prakasham (glorious brightness of Sharad) etc. The food – loving court jester encouraged by bright cool comfort and a feeling of luxury compares Sharad night, gleefully, to curd rice and ghee (Gritha-supa-samanvayam).

Maharas

It was under the resplendent full moon of Shard Ritu, amidst the mango and Kadamba groves along the banks of the gentle flowing Yamuna that Sri Krishna and Gopis enacted their celestial dance Rasa Leela. It was the night; the haunting melody of Krishna’s flute enraptured the hearts of Gopis. Srimamad Bhagavatham sings the glory and joy of Rasa Leela with love and divine ecstasy. Every region and every language in India cherishes at its heart in lyrical rapture the love, graceful beauty and bliss of that Sharad Purnima. Year after year the devotees throng at the Vraj-bhumi on the Sharad Purnima  under the heavenly glow of the scar- less full moon , to re enact Rasa Leela with longing and elation as an act of devotion  and humble tribute to the love of Krishna and the Gopis.

The Great Poet Valmiki in his Epic Ramayana (4.29.27) talks of ‘The Mountains washed spotless by great clouds and their glittering peaks now shine as if bathed in moonbeams’.

abhivṛṣṭā mahāmeghair nirmalāś citra-sānavaanuliptā iva ābhānti girayaś candra-raśmibhiḥ ||

Kalidasa the great poet of ancient India in his Ritu-Samhara (song of the seasons) sings of the “golden plenitudes” of Sharad Ritu in passages of high lyrical imagery. (RS.3.21- 3.28) Sharad is the season of slenderness and grace; cool as the sandalwood (candanaṃ candra-marīci-śītalaṃ); of clear moon (śarad-indu-nirmalam); of radiant moon (vimala kiraṇa candraṃ); and of light, floating, soft colored silks. Kalidasa fondly talks of cheerful women dressed in light-hearted elegance of “silks dyed scarlet with mallow juice, delicate silks saffron dyed and shining pale gold veils”- anupama mukha rāgā rātrimadhye vinodaṃ śaradi taruṇa kāntāḥ sūcayanti pramodān –  KalRs_3.24 .

He compares Shard Ritu to a bride; decked in white as the moon and the swan, adorned with jewels and flowers; moving with gentle grace like the rivers in Shard Ritu. The sky scattered lightly with thin clouds is as a king fanned with a white fly-whisk. The women adorn their hair with jasmine and ears with blue lotus; pine for the beloved. The travelers see in the lotuses the dark lustrous eyes of their beloveds; in the infatuated swans, they hear the tinkle of the beloveds’ golden girdle; and in Bhandu-jiva, flowers look for the gleam of their coral lips. Travelers sigh and pine for their beloveds –  bandhujīve priyāṇāṃ pathika jana idānīṃ roditi bhrānta-cittaḥ- KalRs_3.26.

Autumn

Viśākhadatta in his Mudrārākāsa (3.8) sings the tender grace of the Sharad :  The tumult of the rains gradually gives way to the stillness of Sharad.  The sky is free of clouds, water grows clear at the rise of the star of Agastya (not surprisingly says one poet – they heard he swallowed the ocean in one mouthful and are scared stiff) and the torrents of the monsoon become gently meandering rivers once again.  The sound and light special effects – flashes of lightning, drumbeats of thunder – are replaced by a finer beauty, characterized by the superfluity of white, in the bright moon, the swans, the lotuses and the tall kāśa grass.  The world is freshly washed and now sparkles in the sun:

Apām uddhtānā nijam upadiśantyā sthitipadaṃ Dadhatyā śālīnām avanatim udāre sati phale |

Mayūrānām ugra viam iva harantyā madam aho I Kta ktsnasy’ āya vinaya iva lokasya śaradā ||

And, Bhāravi, in his Kiratarjuniya, describes a river whose sandbanks white cows are gradually leaving as if her white silk robe was slipping down. 

**

This tradition of Rtu-Varnana occasionally spilled into Dramas. For instance, in the Bhana plays of the Gupta Era (4th-6th centuries) the tradition set by Bhasa and Kalidasa was continued by including songs singing the glory of one or the other season.

Let me say a few words about Bhana plays (a type of Rupaka) because not many of the Bhana plays have survived. . The Bhana plays are essentially short dramatic presentations (Prahasana) or burlesque one-act plays which , flippantly, satirized the respectful figures in the society . They are different from elegant Sanskrit court-plays. They deal with the common place and the trivial. They expose the seamy side of urban life and of the court officials, in particular ; and,  debunk the hypocrites  moving under the guise of the virtuous.

These short plays were , usually in monologue, featuring a single actor who assumes the role of a Vita (paramour) or a Dhurta (rouge, swindler, gambler or cheat) . He is described as : a clever and shrewd parasite who  describes roguish exploits (on subjects invented by himself) through imaginary conversations  engaged with himself or with  some one else or  with imaginary persons  (akasa-bhasita).

Generally the eloquent Style is employed ; the subject, which is invented by the author, is treated in a single Act. The Bhana has two Junctures, the opening (mukha) and the conclusion (nirvahana), with their subdivisions.

bhanas tu dhurtacaritam svanubhutam parena va / yatropayarnayed eko nipunah pandito vitah / sambodhano -ukti-pratyukti kuryad akasabhasitaih / sucayed vlra-srngarau saurya-saubhagya-samstavaih/ bhuyasa bharati vrttir ekankam vastu kalpitam / mukha-nirvahane sange lasyangani dasapi ca.

Singing and music, from background , precede and close the performance; and in between also  give musical effects to the imaginary conversations that the single actor  carries on. 

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Usually, the narrator is a Vita who loiters in the locality of the courtesans where he is a familiar figure and picks up conversation with whoever passes his way. He also calls on any courtesan at his sweet will.

Vita is a very interesting character in the plays of this genre. He narrates dramatically, a variety of occurrences as happening either to himself or others. He is generally a cultured, shrewd; but a deprived person; but, very familiar with the ways of the courtesans (vaisika sastra). He is quick-witted and knows how to manipulate courtesans through flattery and sweet-talk . He is truly the man of the world; gifted with jab of the tongue, wit and humor; and has familiarity with arts, poetry etc. He has also a strong sense of friendship and ever ready to help the needy. But his special interest is in enjoyment of worldly pleasures, and the sensuous company of the cheerful, fun-loving courtesans.

On the flip-side; a Vita would usually be one who was once wealthy; but squandered it all through misplaced trust or sheer gullibility or in gambling . Quite often, his family would have disowned him tired of his reckless and irresponsible ways. He is also disappointed in love.

In other words: basically , he is good at heart; but, a looser, incompetent or unable to succeed. He is described as a gallant parasite (Vita) who preys on courtesans and their paramours.

The Dhurta- vita-samvada presents the picture of one such  seemingly clever , experienced, but worn-out Vita, who  finding the rainy season too depressing, comes out seeking some amusement. He has no money either for a game of dice or for a drink — even his clothes are reduced to one garment. He , then  , wends his way towards the street where courtesans live, transacting with  their clients  of various kinds . He , sadly, cannot afford a courtesan, either.  At the end, dragging his feet, he reaches the house of the roguish couple Visvalaka and Sunanda, who were then busily engaged in a  discussion on certain awkward problems of sex-act. He gleefully joins the discussion.

Vatsayana in his Kama -sutra has immortalized the Vita characters.

The three playwrights of this period scripted  Bhana plays to highlight the features of certain seasons: Padma-prabhrur-takam (by Shudraka) and Ubhaya-abhisarika   (by Vararuchi) described Vasantha the spring, while Dhurta-vita-samvada (by Isvaradattadescribed Varsha the rainy season. The last mentioned also carried brief descriptions of Sharad, Grishma, and Vasantha Rtus, as in Kalidasa’s epic poem.

Here is a simplified and abridged version of Sharad as in the Dhurta-vita-samvada:

In the Shard Rtu the veil of the clouds vanishes; moon shines up in the blue night sky; breeze is gentle and pleasant; and whole of delightful existence is filled with intoxicating fragrance of flowers withering gently from the Aasan trees; the lover swims in the scented lotus pond  with his beloved who as the Chakravaka bird is well versed in the secrets of love; the air around is scintillated with the music of Saras birds and the peels of girdle bells and anklets of cheerful beauties playing around the pool whose forehead is adorned with the Bindi bright as the Bandhuka flower .

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Dakshinayana is the Ayana (half year) of the Devi, the Mother Goddess. Dakshina is also understood as the grace; the feminine principle; and, as the Mother who creates, unfolds and brings forth manifestation. Dakshinayana is the life giving season in which all creatures and vegetation thrive. Dakshinayana is the time of receptivity and is the feminine phase of the Earth. It is the season of re-generation, in which all creatures and vegetation come to life and thrive. The thirsty plants and animals fanatically drink and soak in the elixir of life, and regain their vitality.  

It is also the season of festivity.  All the major festivals from Krishna Janmashtami, through Gauri, Ganesh, and Nava-Ratri, on to Deepavali are celebrated during Dakshinayana.  Sharad Ritu, in particular, is the Rtu dedicated to  the Devi.

In the ancient and medieval times, Dakshinayana was also the season of reunion; 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 

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 in as a  prelude to spring

[ 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).

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.

Many of the festivals in Uttarayana are in celebration of male gods.  Maha Shivaratri heralds the true beginning of hot summers. It is followed by   Holi  the festival of colours marking  the burning down of Kama .

The season of six months from January to July is regarded   masculine in nature, while Dakshinayana is the feminine phase of the Earth.]

sarasvathi tanjoresarasvathi

Sharad Ritu is aptly named after Sharada the goddess of speech (vac), learning and fine arts. She is the presiding deity of the Ritu. Sharad Ritu personifies the mild- glowing beauty, serenity, grace and compassion of mother Sharada. The ten days following the new- moon in the month of Ashwina in Sharad Ritu are celebrated as Navarathri (Sharan navarathri) in devote reverence and in worship of the mother. Display of learning, performance of arts and honouring the learned and the virtuous during Navarathri are all in humble submission to the mother. Bengal has a tradition of commencing the Durga Puja with Saraswathi Puja. Saraswathi is regarded as daughter of mother goddess Durga.

Navaratri

The tenth day of Navarathri in Sharad Ritu, Vijaya- Dashami is one among the three most auspicious days in our calendar. It is the most sought-after day for launching ones hopes and ventures. Vijaya-Dashami signifies rescue of Dharma from the creeping shadows of the unjust, instating the virtuous to their rightful position and the victory of good over evil. On this day, the Pandavas ended long years of their humiliating exile and incognito; the friendless brothers found an ally in Virata and celebrated it with the bonding of young Abhimanyu and Uttara.  On this day, Sri Rama with his consort was enthroned in Ayodhya on return from years of exile and vanquishing the demon king Ravana. It was on this day the Goddess Durga mata destroyed horde of evil forces, restored light and hope in the hearts of the virtuous. It is a day of victory and rejoices.

The later month of Sharad Ritu is Karthika, the month of the infant commander of the divine forces, Karthekeya the vanquisher of evil and darkness. Karthika is the month of lights. Numerous Little lamps are lit in homes and temples to dispel darkness and ignorance.

diyas full

Karthik-ki-chauth (Karwa chauth) the fourth day after new moon in Karthika is the day when women in the North and Western parts of India fast and pray in loving devotion for the longevity and prosperity of their husbands.

Sharad Ritu, which commences on a pious note of devotion and fulfilment peaks into a burst of sparkling and spectacular lights and lavish celebrations. Deepavali or Diwali certainly is the most popular and the noisiest of Hindu festivals.  Deepavali (array of lights) is a festival of four days, which literally illumines our hearts, homes and streets; dazzles with sparklers and firecrackers; and draws friends and neighbors together in a net of goodwill. It also signifies victory of good over evil, delivering from darkness and leading towards light. It is a festival in celebration of life, its goodness and fulfillment.

As Sharad Ritu nears its end, the leaves on the trees turn from green to yellow to red and to dusty brown. The trees let go the aged leaves, that once clothed, fed and sheltered them; with grace and gratitude. They gently place the departed friends, with reverence, on the floor.

If the spring signifies the exuberance of youth; and the sizzling heat of summer, downpour of the monsoon represent the rigors, vicissitudes and uncertainties of life; Sharad Ritu is the mellow maturity and fulfillment of life before it slides into its evening. It inspires a sense of amazement, grace and reverence towards life. It is the golden mean, away from extremes of burning passions and debilitating regrets. It is the summation of the quality life.

Our seers visualized a life worth- living as spans of Sharad Ritu; not merely, because it is the most enjoyable season but also because it suggests an interpretation and a sense of balance that life should have. That perhaps was the reason our ancients measured meaningful life spans as representations of Sharad Ritu. A young person on threshold of life greets his beloved at the time of wedding “Oh! The auspicious one, the cause of my life, may we live to see a hundred Sharad seasons (subhage, tvamjeeva sharadahshhatam)”.

The Vedic aspirations of living a long, rich and purposeful life are expressed as enjoyment of life as in Sharad Ritu.

Paśyema śarada śata| jīvema śarada śata| budhyema śarada śata| rohema śarada śata | pūema śarada śata| bhavema śarada śatam | bhūsema śarada śata| bhūyasī śarada śatam | (AVŚ_19,67.1-8)

May we see a hundred Sharad Ritus. May we live a hundred Sharad Ritus. May we be wakeful in a hundred Sharad Ritus. May we ascend through a hundred Sharad Ritus. May we enjoy prosperous hundred Sharad Ritus. May we adorn a hundred Sharad Ritus .May we live more than a hundred invincible Sharad Ritus.

All pictures are taken from Internet.

Please do read

Shishira Ritu

 
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Posted by on September 20, 2012 in General Interest, Sanskrit, Sharad Ritu

 

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Oral Traditions

Oral Traditions

1. The essence of all religions and spiritual paths has come down to us mainly through oral traditions. It was passed on from generation to generation by speaking or singing them to one another, to their children and to their children’s children. The traditions were safeguarded, kept alive and revitalized by the teacher or the story teller or the singing minstrel.

1.1. Besides carrying the core of the doctrine, the oral tradition was luscious with song, poetry, myth, parable and wonder. These appeared to have had a more lasting and a stronger impact than did the codes, dogmas and the formal texts. Consequently, the great stories have become a part our collective- psyche.

2. Let’s take a look at the other worlds before we reach the classical oral traditions of India.

2.1. In the western world, most people, regardless of their religious affiliations, are familiar with the events in the life of Jesus – his forty days  in the desert; or changing water in to wine; or his last supper and his crucifixion. Similarly, the events in the life of the historical Buddha are also well known. His life as a prince shielded from harsh realities of life; his renunciation; his enlightenment under the Bodhi tree; his perambulations teaching Dharma and his death have been celebrated in song, dance and visuals.

2.2. The stories of the great ones bring alive, to us, their teachings and traditions. Jesus, in turn, used parables as vehicles to convey his message. His parables were simple stories that brought his tenets closer to the lives of ordinary men and women. The Buddha too had earlier employed such teaching methods.

2.3. Tibetan Buddhism, in contrast, has a more interesting and a complex method of storytelling. The Termas  of the Tibetan Buddhism  are, in fact, texts in disguise .They are the stories of wonder and awe, concealing within their womb the seeds of true message.  Such termasare said to be time-coded, waiting for a designated adept (treasure-gatherer) to reveal itself.

2.3. In Sufism, the clever and entertaining fables of a beloved – seemingly foolish  Mullah Nasruddin demonstrate the stupidity of self obsessions of the humans, in a manner  that all could recognize and enjoy. The Sufis told stories, made jokes, entertained and offended human sensibilities by holding a mirror to their frailties, in a way that no other one did.

3. In Zen Buddhist tradition, the stories and koans have been in use, for a longtime, as a tool for training the mind ( or dissolving the mind). Koans are designed not to reveal their meaning to the student easily and instantly; but, to throw his mind in to a vortex and a crisis .That crisis should be so intense and overpowering as to break   through the barriers of reason and barge into non-conceptual, direct apprehension of reality, the Satori.  Such Satori would occur, unexpectedly, in a flash after years of struggle trying to “understand” it.

3.1. Entertainment never was (or is) the object of a koan. One can still read the stories and be amused; but, that is not why the koans were narrated. Within a Zen tradition, the teaching-stories were preserved and passed on a lineage as a part of its training traditions. There is a certain simplicity and purity about those stories; and, they have to be placed, essentially, within the student –teacher relationship and in the context of sadhana.  The story finds its fulfillment in the satori attained by the student.

3.2. Going back into the Zen history we find that  the seeds of the Zen were in the Dhyana school of Bodhidharma who discouraged mere book learning. He said, Dhyana is not an intellectual exercise one can learn from books. Instead, it’s a practice of studying mind and seeing into one’s nature. The face-to-face transmission of the Dharma was important. That meant, the student and the teacher have to work together face –to – face. That made the student –teacher relation and interaction critical to its success.

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4. Before we come to the classical oral heritage  of India, let us briefly talk about that fabulous folk tradition of India.

The folk oral traditions of India go back into timeless antiquity. The heroes and heroines of the bygone eras are kept alive through songs and dances of simple rustic people. The nomadic tribes that wandered far into distant valleys in search of pastures and waterholes to tend their herds burst out into poignant soulful songs pining for their beloveds and yearning for the smells, sounds and feel of their motherland. Nehru, in his Discovery of India talks about how tribes that had drifted apart long ago, recognized each other through their songs, after centuries of separation.

4.1. The two major epics that shaped the Indian sensibility, the Ramayana and Mahabharata, were preserved and spread as oral epics. The Suthas narrated and sang the glory of its heroes and heroines in divine fervor. Even to this day the tradition of devote groups of listeners gathering around a sutha to listen to the ancient stories, rather than read the epic poems themselves, is still alive.

5.1. Though poetry is easier to remember than prose, the oral tradition in Indian literature was not confined to poetic literature. Indian story telling has been molded to suit oral form right from the very beginning of narrative fiction in India. The stories in the Kathasaritasagara and the Jathaka are structured for oral rendering by wandering minstrels.

5.2. India owes a lot of its rich tradition of story telling to its tribal people.

The tradition of story telling evokes pictures of weary travelers, at the end of a long day’s hard journey, gathering around a fire lit on the sands of a river bank under the starry night, listening with rapt attention and amusement to the stories of wonder and awe of distant lands inhabited by exotic people, narrated by an elder, in magical soothing voice with theatrical and lyrical interludes. With each re-telling, the stories gathered additional narrative, becoming more circuitous to enhance the drama of the live recitation.

The power of the spoken language to ignite the listener’s imagination and transport him to the world of ideas, dreams, myths and fables, is truly amazing. And, Myth is a very effective ancient way of teaching. What cannot be conveyed through philosophical discussions and logical debates can be transmitted more easily through myth and metaphor. Ancient myth speaks to us in multiple ways both rational and non-rational. 

As a professor of Mass communication remarked, “In the saying of the word, something is also done, and cannot be undone. Indian literature is full of tales in which a word was misused, uttered capriciously or wrongly, with mischievous or even disastrous consequences. And, in some ways the power of words can be seen as magic; but this is not mere magic. “

6. The period around and after the 10th Century, was the glorious period of Indian oral heritage. The groups of inspired poets, charged with devotion and love – Nanak, Dnyaneshwar, Eknath,  Tukaram, Kabir, Mira, Allamaprabhu, Akkamahadevi, Purandara Dasa, Narsi Mehta, Surdas and a hoast of others known as the bhakti poets, sang.  pouring out some of the very best poetry in the Indian literary history. They created poetry of abiding beauty in the languages spoken by the people.

Before that the Alwars and Nayanmaars of South India sang in pristine Tamil; and charged with devotion and dedication, poured their hearts out to their gods in musical ecstasy,

6.1. The songs of all those bards, permeated with fragrance of devotion, also carried love and concern for their fellow beings. They tried to guide and steer their brethren away from ignorance and superstition. Their messages   were a challenge to the established theology and social order. The lines and verses of their poetry, easy to remember and recite , have an amazing range and depth of philosophic, social and moral concerns. In many instances they held their communities together and brought about social integration. Those songs are relevant, even today; and are sung in the villages and cities. Their influence is so profound and pervasive that those songs are now a part of our collective psyche.

7. 1.There has never been a central agency or an organization in India to monitor or diffuse cultural values among its people. The spread of cultural values has always been, at the grass root level, by countless iterant, unassuming bards, fakirs, saints many of them outlandish and exotic. They came from all segments, all divisions of the society. They came from different regions, different religions, different sects and sub sects. They roamed about the countryside without any expectation or reward .They preached and lived what they believed. Those nameless, non-conforming selfless savants have been the guardians of Indian culture.

7.2 . Lets briefly talk about one such group of unassuming bards; the Bauls of Bengal. They belong to a fabulous folk tradition, which has a history that stretches back to about seven hundred years. Their tradition is a delightful amalgam of bhakthi of Vaishana School, tantra of Shajiya Buddhism and the mysticism of the Sufis. The Baul synthesis is characterized by four elements: there is no written text and therefore all teachings are through song and dance; God is to be found in and through the body and therefore the emphasis on kaya (body) sadhana, the use of sexual or breath energy; and, absolute obedience and reverence to Guru.

7.3. Bauls are easily noticeable by their attire, demeanor and way of living. They are wanderers, beggars, poets and musicians praising God in song, dance and mystical poetry. The message of the Bauls is encoded in their song and poetry; and is accessible through the appreciation and understanding of its rich symbolism.

7.4. Baul singer though romanticized in folk art, music and poetry, is a part of the fast vanishing tribe. As wanderers and beggars Bauls are looked down upon; are considered vagrants in polite society; and kept away as heretics by the orthodox. Their religious life is not bound by conventions and rules; but springs from intuition and lived-relationship with the divine. Bauls life is permeated with the fragrance of a passionate yet profound reliance upon the Beloved, the personal god within. The celebration of that relationship with all its ecstasy and heartbreaking agony is the lifeblood of a Bauls existence.

[ Please do check here for Reading the metaphors in Baul songs: some reflections on the social history of rural colonial Bengal – Thesis Submitted for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophyby Dr. Manjita Mukharji (nee Palit)]

8. 1. As regards other forms of folk art and drama in particular, they continue to thrive in most Indian languages. Even during the ancient times the Sanskrit drama made a generous use of folk elements and folk dialects.

8.2. In the present day, the Kannada and Tulu languages have the Yakshagana theatre, the Gujarati language has the Bhavai theatre and the Marathi has the Tamasha performances. These regional forms do not have a fixed and written text to support the performance. They are spontaneous and depend on improvisation by the actors. And for that reason, when compared to plays with written scripts, they are closer to the audiences. That does not mean they are primitive forms of drama; on the contrary they are sophisticated in technique, presentation and performance.

8.3. The plays of modern Indian playwrights such as Girish Karnad, Habib Tanvir and others are rooted in the oral traditions of literature. They are less marked by the influences of the west and are closer to Indian culture and tradition.

8.4. Even today, access to traditional knowledge of subjects like art, music, grammar or   philosophy is widely held to require a direct oral transmission from   master to pupil.  In India, it is this oral tradition that is held to embody   the pure transmission of music;  its teachers and students, alike, are still not comfortable in reducing musical sounds in to written notations.

8.5. Among the many traditions (parampara) inherited in India, the tradition of Vishwakarma (the sculptors and architects) is unique. The principles , rules , measurements , proportions as also the aspects of expression of the deities to be sculpted are described in Shilpasastra, Natyasastra and various other texts; and all of which are in Sanskrit. The scholars who could read those texts knew next to nothing about sculpture. While, the Shilpis who actually carved the images had no knowledge of Sanskrit or access to the texts; and therefore could not know the texts or interpret the shlokas. This dichotomy was bridged by the generations of Shilpis who through experience learnt the craft, imbibed its principles and concepts; and passed them on to their succeeding generations and to their disciples

The mode of transmission of knowledge of this community was both oral and practical. The rigor and discipline required to create objects that defy time and persist beyond generations of artists, has imbued this tradition with tremendous sense of purpose, and zeal to maintain purity and sensitivity of its traditions; and to carry it forward. This has enabled them to protect and carry forward the knowledge, the art and skills without falling prey to the market and its dynamics.

8.6. India’s age-old love for the oral found a powerful means of expression in cinema. Indian cinema, with descriptive passages than narrative sequences; as also studded with songs and dances; and with the story always ending on a happy note with the Good and Love triumphing over the bad guys and the Loveless., is more akin to folk tales than to what cinema is in the western world.

9. 1. The most amazing of all the oral traditions preserved in India are the oral traditions of the Vedas.

“The three worlds would have merged in darkness had there been no light called Sabda” said Acharya Dandin (6th century) the celebrated author of prose romance and an expounder on poetics.

9.2. For Indian thinkers, language was primarily the spoken word or speaking itself (vaak). Indian philosophy has been even more emphatic than Western thought with regard to the priority of the oral over the written. The tradition in both Hindu and Buddhist philosophy has been to correct the written text with the oral. It is the oral word, carefully memorized, guarded by the discipline of the prathi_shakins, and passed down from teacher to student through succeeding generations that has remained authoritative and authentic in India.

Not merely that; the meaning or the purport of a term in a  text  is derived and explained based on its precise pronunciation. Because, the written word, inscribed on a surface,  is unable to bring out the various shades of the term . For instance, Sri Sayanacharya offered several interpretations to the term ‘Asat’. He explains, the form of Asat – with ascent of the first syllable – in many ways :  in the sense of untruth ‘ (asatya); and once each in the senses of ‘ inauspious ‘ (ashubha); ‘ un-manifest (avyakrta), and ‘ indescribable ‘ (nirupdkhya) . The form of Asat –without ascent- is understood as to mean:  ‘ goes or reaches ‘ (gacchati, prapnoti), and ‘ fruitful (phala-sadhana-samarthah).

Sri Sankara commenting on symbols and reality, curiously remarks, “ We see that the knowledge of the real sounds  a, aa, e, ee  etc., is reached by means of the unreal written letters.”(B.S. 2.1.14). He perhaps was suggesting that the spoken language is the real language.

9.3. The ancient Indian philosophers and Grammarians just loved elaborate discussions on all aspects of the spoken word: its origin in the mind and body of the speaker; its articulation; its transmission; the grasp of the sound and the essence of the word by the listener; its ultimate reception by the speaker’s intellect and such other related issues.

9.4.Each of the major schools of Indian philosophy such as Mimamsa, Tantra, Yoga and Prabhakaras viewed and interpreted the origin and nature of the Universe by exploring the nature and manifestations of the sound. They built elaborate philosophical edifices around the concepts they evolved during that process. Those traditions considered sound as one of the most important principles of existence; as the source of matter and as the key to be free from it. They described Sound as the thread-like link between the material and spiritual realms.

Panini’s Astadhyayi, the Grammar, is also based on the sound of spoken Sanskrit.

9.5. The French philosopher Jacques Derrida said: The spoken word is given a higher value because the speaker and listener are both present to the utterance simultaneously. There is no temporal or spatial distance between speaker, speech, and listener, since the speaker hears himself speak at the same moment as the listener does. This immediacy seems to guarantee the notion that in the spoken word we know what we mean, mean what we say, say what we mean and know what we have said.

It is only of late we have come to regard that speech and writing are expressions of one and the same language; and that language can be best understood by combining both the form and content of writing.

10. 1. Perhaps the most salient feature of ancient Indian linguistic culture was the concern for the preservation of sacred texts and the purity of the language in which they were composed. This concern arose out of the willingness of the society not only to commit the resources (time, effort, energy,  enthusiasm and material resources) for this transmission, but also to the development of a technique that would guarantee the purity , entirety  and constancy of the texts. The decision or strategy devised was to commit the sacred texts to memory and to transmit the sacred texts orally, but in a highly controlled way that was rightly felt to be the only way to avoid the introduction of error into the texts. As anyone who has witnessed a demonstration of this technique can attest, the outcome seems to be fairly foolproof, better anyway than via literacy and handwritten transmission, where scribal error and individual additions and emendations can often be introduced.

10.2. Tradition accepts that Rishi Veda_Vyasa categorized and compiled four Vedas by splitting the primordial single Veda and rendered the Vedas more amenable to study and to memorize. The task of preserving and perpetuating each branch of the Veda, in its entirety and purity , was assigned to a specified Shakha (meaning branch).The followers of each Shakha , identified as Shakins of that particular Vedic school, were responsible for preserving their assigned part of the Veda. Followers of each Shakha would learn and preserve one the four Veda Samhitas along with their associated Brahmana, Aranyaka, Upanishads and the Sutras such as Grhyasutra and Shrautasutra. Only a small number of these Shakhas have survived; the prominent among them are Sakala and Baskala. [For more on Shakas, please see the link in the comments section]

It is astounding that large bodies of Vedic texts could be preserved in oral traditions for over thousands of years, safeguarding their purity and entirety.

10.3. In order to achieve this difficult task, an elaborate and a meticulous system of recitations were devised. These systems of discipline with their checks and balances , ensured the correctness of a text including the correct sequence of its words; purity of the language; exact pronunciation of the words; precise stress on syllables ; measured pause between syllables; appropriate tone, accent, modulation and pitch of recitation; proper breath control etc. Shiksha one of the six Vedangas (limbs of Veda) that dealt with phonetics and phonology of Sanskrit, laid down rules for correct pronunciation of Vedic hymns and mantras. Please click here.

10.4. Along with this, several patterns of Vedic chants were devised to ensure complete and perfect memorization of the text and its pronunciation including the Vedic pitch accent. These patterns called Pathaas ensured correct recital of the Veda mantra by weaving the mantras into various patterns and complex combinations of such patterns. There are eleven acknowledged patterns or Patahaas Viz. Samhitha or vakhyaa, padaa, krama, jataa, maala, Sikhaa, rekhaa, dhvajaa, dandaa, rathaa and Ghana. Please see the links in the comments section

10.5. Among these, The Samhita Paathaa and Pada Paathaa are natural (Prakrithi) way of reciting the words of the mantras, in their normal sequence. The rest are Vikrithi (or artificial) Paathaas. Recently mathematical series have been devised to work out the Krama, Jata and Ghana Paatha patterns. For more on this and for greater details on Paathas please click see the link in the comments section.

10.6. By applying such stringent methods of learning and complicated patterns of recital, each generation committed to memory long passages of its assigned texts through incessant practice spread over a number of years, retained the form and content of the texts in their pristine purity; and  succeeded in transmitting it, orally, to the next generation. This was how the Vedic texts were retained in oral form, uncorrupted, over the centuries. It was an act of intense reverence, dedication and love.Rarely has any other oral tradition of poetry been so venerated and so well preserved as the Vedic tradition.

11. 1. Because the regimen was already so well established the epics too were committed to the oral tradition. In the mantra tradition, orality was best suited to preserve the purity and the secrecy of the sacred syllables. The primary purpose here was to talk to gods and not merely to know what gods had spoken. The mantra had therefore to be learned in a proper way from/by a proper person and pronounced in a proper manner. Writing the syllables and words on paper (stone , copper , bark or whatever) would not therefore be a substitute for learning  and pronouncing the mantra  properly. The efficacy of precisely articulated sounds is believed to be in its power to invoke gods and spirits.

As my friend Shri DSampath says the mantras and the dhyana slokas have audio – visual dimensions to them, to enable better retention. And , knowledge transfer in such cases would be  effective when it is oral.

As regards the religious life of a community , the oral traditions have a very strong affiliation.

With the invention of the printing press, there was a radical shift away from hearing to the scriptures or Epics, recited by a Suta or a Puranica, the one who recites. The study of a text turned into ‘silent reading’. But, the worship practices, the core of the religious life, invariably, involve chanting Mantras or singing prayer hymns. Further, music is the most refined of all the sound-events; and, is ideally suited for devotional worship. Beautiful sounds have a special capacity to convey ones emotional appeals more eloquently than the written texts can do. The ‘silent reading’ of the written words, in such contexts, just do not have a place.

One has to; therefore, recognize the strong bond that exists between religious practices and oral traditions.

12.1. It was however in the Sutras – the pithy, unambiguous, aphorisms laying out all the essential aspects of each topic and dealing with all aspects of the question, free of repetitiveness and flaw – the oral tradition functioned as key to open a vast treasure

12.2.. Sutra literally means a thread but technically it meant in the ancient Indian context, an aphoristic style of condensing the spectrum of thoughts of a doctrine into terse, crisp, pithy pellets of compressed information that could be easily committed to memory. They are analogous to synoptic notes on a lecture; and by tapping on a note, one hopes to recall the relevant expanded form of the lecture. Perhaps the Sutras were meant to serve  a  similar purpose. A Sutra is therefore not merely an aphorism but a key to an entire discourse on a subject. Traditionally, each Sutra is regarded as a discourse rather than a statement.

12.3. Problems arose when the sutra-concept was overdone and often carried to its extremes. It is said a Sutrakara would rather give up a child than expend a word. The Sutras often became so terse as to be inscrutable. And, one could read into it as many meanings  as one wanted to.

It was left to the genius of the commentator; the Bashyakara to pinpoint Vishesha Vakya the exact statement in the Vedic text referred to by the sutra; to maintain consistency in treatment – in the context and spirit of the original text; to bring out the true intent and meaning of the Sutrakara’s reasoning and conclusions. It was therefore said, each according to his merit finds his rewards. But, it was here the written and printed texts came to rescue of the teachers and learners, alike.

13.1. The oral method of preserving and communicating knowledge had a fatal flaw. There are instances where the collective wisdom of a race acquired throughout the centuries was ruined and  wiped out of existence  in a flash by catastrophes, earthquakes, tsunamis , war or whatever. Those unfortunate occurrences demonstrated time and again the risks involved is storing the racial memories in a line of individuals.

13.2. The inevitability of the spoken word has also vastly diminished in today’s world. The reliance on spoken word is no longer necessary, nor it is always possible; and in a large number of instances it is treated not merely as unreliable but also relegated to the status of non-communication. Even in the field of literature oral literature was seen as a sign of cultural backwardness.

14.1. It would be wrong to assume that one type of communication is superior to the other. Each has its strengths and weaknesses. 

The spoken word can be beautiful and soul stirring in a way that the written word can never be; it alone is capable of preserving the purity of the word, its sound and its form.

On the other hand, the written word preserves thoughts in a very meticulous manner for dissemination and further study; and it surely can be disbursed more easily.

Each tradition has its value and its place in the scheme of things.

14.2. The unique feature of the Indian classical literature is the interaction between the oral and written texts, Sheldon Pollock in his The Language of the Gods writes:

In contrast to Veda and its strictly oral transmission,    large post-Vedic literatures were expressed in writing. Nevertheless, writing did not extinguish the spoken word. Rather, we find new performing styles; recitatives in simple meters without accentuation, songs and dramatic staging.

None of this should be taken to suggest that the rise of the manuscript culture in India, whether diachronically or synchronically viewed, entailed a clean and permanent break between the oral and the written. To the contrary, the ongoing interaction of the oral and literate constitutes one of the most remarkable and unique features of Indian literacy culture.

That is to say; the oral and written texts are relevant and important in their own context. While the Vedic oral rendition has its own status, there would have been no effective distribution of Puranas and epics without the written texts.

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Prof. Shrikant S. Bkhulkar, in his paper, titled ‘Orality and Textuality: (A) In Relation to the Text of the Śaunaka Sahitā of the Atharvaveda’ writes:

As is well-known, the tradition of the Veda recitation has continued in India at least for the past three thousand years. In this tradition, the text preserved through the oral transmission is generally considered authentic, if compared to that preserved in the manuscript tradition. While editing a Samhita text of a Veda, it is essential to take into consideration the evidence of the actual recitation of that text, for the oral transmission is supposed to have greater authority than the written text

In the case of the V, there was and still is a living tradition of the V recitation well-preserved in various parts of India. That tradition could be treated as trustworthy in preference to the manuscript tradition.

On the other hand, the tradition of the Atharva-Veda-Śamhita was not preserved meticulously. The manuscripts of the AVŚ have a number of variants. The accent of the text as preserved in those manuscripts is at times irregular. The Pada-text appears to have been prepared arbitrarily. There is no much help from the ancillary texts. The Samhita underlying Sri Sāyaa’s commentary sometimes differs from the Samhita text represented by the manuscripts

Further, there are a number of mantras quoted by sakalapāhas in the Kaulas most of which are found in the present text of the Pippalāda Samhita, in its Kashmiri and Orissa transmissions. These mantras were probably used by the followers of the Śaunaka Śākhā and were incorporated into the Kaulas at the time of its composition or at a later stage.

Unlike the tradition of the V or the Yajurveda, there is no well-preserved tradition for the recitation of various mantra modifications (viktipāha), namely, krama, jaā, or ghana. The living tradition of the AVŚ was thus not perfect as compared with that of the V.

Fortunately, there lived some good Atharva-vedins who were able to recite the entire Samhita as they learnt from their Gurus. The text as finally corrected in places by reference to the oral renderings of the Vidwans.

Considering their importance; the tradition of the recitation of the AVŚ has been revived in recent years. All the Veda-murtis belonging to the Rigveda and continue the vrata of recitation of the AV, following the example of their predecessors

However, they no longer use the traditional pothi for their study and memorizing; they use a authentic printed text, particularly, the edition prepared by well-known scholars. The oral tradition is thus being preserved on the basis of a printed text, which is much free from mistakes and variants. Thus, on the basis of the inter-textuality of the oral and the written traditions. the original reading is restored.

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References and Sources:

.

1. Paragraph 10.2: For Shakhas please click here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shakha

2. Paragraph 10.3. For Shiksha Please click on:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shiksha

3. Paragraph 10.4. For eleven acknowledged methods of pathas , please click on:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samhitapatha

4. Paragraph 10.5. For mathematical series devised to work out the Krama, Jata and Ghana Paatha patterns please click on :

http://pvkalathur.blogspot.com/2007/08/v-e-d-s.html

5. Sources and References:

http://www.theosophy-nw.org/theosnw/world/general/ge-kavi.htm

Unbroken Chain of Oral Tradition by Dr. Harischandra Kaviratna

http://ccbs.ntu.edu.tw/FULLTEXT/JR-PHIL/ew95321.htm

“Speech versus Writing” In Derrida and Bhartṛhari by Harold G. Coward

http://www.rocw.raifoundation.org/masscommunication/BAMC/DevelopmentofContemporarymedia/lecture-notes/lecture-17.pdf

Mass Communication in Ancient India

https://mailman.rice.edu/pipermail/sasialit/2003-May/016866.html

Telling a Ramayana by G N Devy

 
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Posted by on September 13, 2012 in General Interest, History, oral traditions

 

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The future Blogging

Ms. Uropinion  in her The brave new world of blogs talking about the future of blogging in India predicted that a time has come for specialized blog-sites that cater to the needs and aspiration of those interested in their chosen fields ; they might be authors, journalist, social and political commentators, artists and musicians; and as such.

I also often come across comments expressing disappointment with the sort of response they obtain from Sulekha and its participating members to their earnest and thought provoking articles. They also remark, with a wry smile, while their light hearted pieces and flippant forwards gather comments in bushels and carry away the cake; their real efforts are left sniffing the candles. Many enlightened bloggers (such as Giridhar Gopal, Dr.Saurav Basu and a few others) would prefer to focus their energies on Book projects or other projects that interest them rather than post copiously on Sulekha.

I think, the two issues that I mentioned are in some way related. Let me explain.

Uropinion was talking, largely, from her experience on Sulekha which is not a site for specialists.Sulekha, on the other hand, is rather a social blog-site that feeds on feel-good factors; and caters mainly to Indian interests. It is a heterogeneous but a friendly community that looks for comfort, camaraderie and appreciation. You see, predominantly, short accolades and appreciations – verbal and non verbal- without saying why you found the effort likable. You do not generally come across elaborate or involved debates flying across the pages and carrying forward your issue.

Its function and utility is not specialized. I understand there are, in fact, a few members who post articles on subjects such as world or European history, economy, study of languages etc. on other sites; but prefer to post light pieces and blogs of Indian interests on Sulekha. In addition, the stars of the vintage Sulekha, the eminent writers such as Rajiv Malhotra, Ramachandra Guha, Subash Kak and other scholars who posted masterly essays on Indian history, culture, and philosophy  migrated out of Sulekha long back. In a way, a sort of specialization or call it non-specialization had already arrived in Sulekha, by default.

As Shri DSampath remarked, every portal has its ambiance; and every portal has its congruous identity. The people, who make up the composite culture of the portal, mobilize and respond to only that which is congruent. If some Bloggers are disappointed with the tepid response to their serious writing; it is just in the nature of things. To put it rather crudely, Sulekha is the wrong tree. As DSampath says, this phenomenon of selective support is true in any portal; that might happen anywhere, in any portal given its ambiance.

Having said that, the quality or the relevance of a post cannot be judged merely by the number of hits it gains. Nor can the importance of such contributions be belittled. Limited viewership does not translate to negligence. It just means the appreciation here is selective, as anywhere else. It also means that all are not capable of presentation or appreciation of rare perspectives on non- ephemeral subjects. Not many can do that; and those that do, add to the richness and to the diversity of a portal, albeit a non-specialized one as Sulekha.

The Brave New world of Blogs, the future that Uropinion was predicting entered India many years back. There are in existence for quite some years a large number of forums that cater to special interests such as history, religion, sports, music, technical subjects etc. The number of blog-sites devoted to gossip on TV soaps and movies are literally countless. Many national level newspapers (say Times of India, Economic Times, The Outlook and many others) and TV -News channels (Say NDTV, CNN-IBN and others) carry blog-site where political and current affairs are hotly discussed. The recent phenomenon in Indian world of weblogs. , is the entry of Mega- Stars including Big B; the great and inimitable Laloo  too is chugging along merrily  riding his royal saloon.

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The future of blogging is no longer the specialized sites of the kind we were talking about; but it is  something else. That might perhaps relate to the effectiveness of the blog-posts and the roles they can play in the society.

A couple of years back, PBS, headquartered in Arlington, Virginia, a non–profit media enterprise, broadcast a series of programs reviewing the alarming state of the major national –level news papers in US , the predicaments they face and the bleak future they stare at.  The programs also reviewed the mounting pressure for profits faced by the daily newspapers, as well as growing challenges from cable television and the Internet. The telecast highlighted the sad tale of the Los Angeles Times and the trials and tribulations of its beleaguered editorial staff; because the saga of the Los Angeles Times had become emblematic of the difficulties facing many daily newspapers.

According to the review, the problems confronting the national level news papers such as The Washington Post and The New York Times and the L.A. Times were:  the fall in Newspaper stocks caused by the dwindling circulations coupled with huge loss in advertisement revenues. The other problems faced were the saturated market in media industry and lack of fresh investment which in turn was related to the tardy economic growth (the US economic growth is around 2.4 percent as compared to that of China at 9.9 percent and India at nearly 8.5 percent.)

The genesis of the Newspaper problems were traced to the change in the ownership patterns which shifted from eminent families who just enjoyed the prestige of owning a major Newspaper and were satisfied with moderate profits; to public corporations who not only had to show decent profits but also had to keep chasing profit graphs quarter after quarter to satisfy the stock traders. In order to keep happy their faceless masters the newspapers cut costs by economizing on the production, marketing and even in the news rooms by downsizing the staff strength.

In the process, the reporter on the street who investigated, verified, gathered, and reported the news was served the layoff notice. The newspapers had to run twice as hard, just to stay where they are. That was just as the Queen said to Alice “Well..! In my country you have to run and run to stay where you are.”

The problem was exacerbated with the invasion of internet which cut into the revenue from the classifieds and other advertisements, which accounted for more than 70 percent of a newspaper’s revenue. With the internet spreading into all aspects of life, those hunting for houses, used cars, jobs, antiques etc. increasingly resort to internet to search for those items rather than run through the classifieds.

The other problem from the internet was that the websites like Google; Yahoo etc. collate news items from newspapers and post them on their web pages. They are not gathering news from the field but are recycling news gathered by the newspaper reporters. The newspapers do not, however, derive income from such news updates.

The major problem was however the content of the newspapers; to strike a balance between International, National and Local news. This was the hardest part. The fall in circulation of the dailies that publish international news was attributed to this factor. The average American is more interested in local news than in international affairs. He buys a newspaper not to be educated about unrest in Iraq but to learn what is happening in his neighborhood or town. That led to hyper localization of news.

In an attempt to bridge the gap between the international and local news, many Newspaper magnets speculated whether the phenomenal increase in Bloggers and the explosion of posts  on blog-sites could be tapped for better use? Whether blog sites could complement news-papers? The speculations even spread to whether bloggers could be employed as grassroots intermediary to distill information for a specific niche of readership.

In this context, the role that bloggers could play in local journalism was also discussed. Let’s say, if any one who reports a happening is accepted as a journalist; then by that norm, any one who posts an event on his blog page could also be considered a citizen journalist. If that is so, can blogging be employed for reporting and spreading of news and events – just as local newspapers? If that possibility is acceptable, do we need specialists who report to newspapers and pursue that as a career? Or can not the bloggers supplement or replace their efforts; and help to cut costs?

The issues involved in pursuing that line of thought were: Will the entries posted by the bloggers carry any weight or value? Do they have the credibility to be accepted as news? In the larger context, are they capable of bringing about changes in attitudes or of influencing events in our living-world?

How far can the bloggers go in that direction? Anyone with a camera, a phone and a laptop might be able to record, but do they have the background knowledge and history to make a proper assessment. Does that person even know whether or not something is new or news? What happens if that person makes a mistake in their reporting? Are there fact checkers? What happens when students, researching papers relay on those news-items? How do we deal with sensitive issues such as libel and slander? What separates the professional journalists from Joe American the blogger who slanders people online and puts erroneous information on the Web without bothering to check and see if it is accurate?

The debate has so far remained inconclusive

A majority of the Newspapermen thought that blogging and traditional journalism play by different rules and will remain distinct.But they too thoght that at some stage the two need to come closer.

Preesently the biggest impact of blogging on mainstream journalism has been the adoptation of a more personal voice in reporting and in narration.Further , many mainstream news media outlets are now incorporating blogs on to their websites.A reporter’s or an editor’s blog provides a way to include details that might not make it to the published official article.It serves  as a tools to a journalist to air his own views and to radiate his personality.

The assimilation of bloggers in to mainstream journalism is still a faraway prospect. It is likely that the two might, someday, become a bit closer

[As regards the position in India is concerned, it is very different from the one in US; and such exigencies as we discussed are not even in sight. Because, India is one of the few countries in the world where newspaper readership is soaring, and where the print media is doing wonderfully well. The growth prospects of India’s newspaper publishing industry are phenomenal. At the same time, blogging is yet to gain credibility as a source of news and events.

Further, the invasion of internet into newspaper’s ad-revenue from classifieds is not significant yet, thanks to low level of internet penetration in the hinterland as also the literacy levels.

The growth in technology and changes in financial structures are yet to catch India. Influx of foreign capital into dailies, if that happens, might perhaps have a huge impact. It is rather not very predictable right now.The Govt. is therefore cautious about increasing the threshold limit.

Having said all the good things about Indian journalism, I cannot help mentioning that Editorial columns/pages are rapidly loosing their voice of any kind (let alone the sage like voice). The issue is related to India’s present standing in the International diplomatic community. India’s economic status might have shown an improvement, but its role in International diplomacy is vastly diminished. The reason for that is that India does not seem to have an opinion on any major international issue/crisis. Even in case it has one, it is put out very cautiously and timidly that hardly any one takes notice of it. India is also not on any group specially designed to solve a crisis or to mediate or to recommend a way out. This status is reflected in Indian newspaper editorials also.]

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The next stage of improvement in blogging would mostly be in technical aspects- in terms of content display, versatility, transfers, access modes, encryptions etc.

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The other new thing about blogging is the Corporate Blogging or Blogging as a career. A number of businesses are hiring people to write blogs or to update online journals. Companies are looking for candidates who can write in a conversational style about timely topics that would appeal to customers, clients and potential recruits .For instance,a number of products in stores like Whole Foods have stories on their labels: stories about how this little artisan bakery was founded, about how this family got into organic cheese-making, about how that wine is donating part of its profits to a charity. These companies aren’t trying to be cute; they’re just trying to get you to connect to the product.

Interestingly, even a mega company like IBM is now promoting blogging. A recent announcement by IBM posted on its Intranet site encouraged all its 320,000+ employees’ worldwide to consider engaging actively in the practice of “blogging”. Most of the posts are however tech related.

It seems that an increasing number of people now blog for a living; or they blog as part of their work. In many cases those who blogged for fun or as a hobby graduated into “professional” status. In addition, a lot of former journalists are becoming entrepreneurial bloggers.

Those interested in writing blogs that deal with professional or work-related topics might wish to read Robert Scobel’s “Corporate Weblog Manifesto, and his follow-up post. A great deal of it is based in common sense, but there appears to be something about blogging that encourages us to set common sense aside.

**

All said and done, I think the future of blogging is limited only by the imagination of those who may blog now or in the future.

 
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Posted by on September 11, 2012 in General Interest

 

Tags: , , , ,

Why Is The Year Of Alexander’s Death Important To Indian History?

The major problem with the events in ancient Indian History is not so much as their historicity but as their chronology. That is the reason that the dates of the Mahabharata war, the date of Nirvana of the Buddha or of Mahavira or even of Sankara are still matters of debate, study and research.

Although the ancient Indians were great calculators of time, they, somehow, did not standardize the dates of important events in a uniform manner. That might have been because  the ancient India, except for the two relatively brief imperial periods of the Mauryas and the Guptas, 321 BCE  to 185 BCE  and 320 AD to 467 AD , for  rest of the period  was largely politically and culturally fragmented into regional segments. There were  also numerous ancient Indian calendars, each with its own commencement year, which were used by different dynasties or religious communities or regions.

The chronology, which we now refer to, was put in place during the later years of the 18th century (around the year 1793) largely due to the efforts of Sir William Jones. It was built around two factors: One, the date of the death of the Alexander the Great; and two, the identification of Sandrocottus mentioned in the Greek accounts with Chandragupta Maurya.

Of the two, the former, that is, the date of the death of Alexander the Great is verifiable from other sources. However, it is the identity of Sandrocottus with Chandragupta Maurya that is still a matter of debate.

Thus the chronology of Indian History, as we now follow, is supported on one leg by a fact and on the other by an assumption.

**

This was, broadly, how the chronology was worked out.

The first fixed point in this chronology was the year 326 BCE, when according to the Greek writers Plutarch and Justin a young Indian prince Sandrocottus met Alexander then camping at Taxila. After the death of Alexander in 323 BCE, his empire broke up and Sandrocottus of Palibothra established himself and ruled over a large region.

Now, the Indian scholars of 18th century identified Sandrocottus with Chandragupta Maurya and Palibothra with Pataliputra (in the region of present day Patna), because of the phonetic similarities.

That was how the death of Alexander and equating Sandrocottus with Chandragupta Maurya became the sheet anchor of the ancient Indian chronology.

The working of the dates of the Buddha, Asoka and others was attempted along the following lines.

1. Alexander the Great died in the year 323 BCE (taken as an undisputed date).

2. Sandrocottus equated with Chandra Gupta Maurya began his reign in the year of Alexander’s death (323 BC).

3. According to the list of Kings given in the Puranas, Chandragupta Maurya ruled for 24 years, so did his successor Bindusara (323 -24-24 =275 BCE)

4. Asoka came to the throne some years after the death of his father Bindusara because of the succession wars (275 -6 = 269 BCE), Asoka ruled for 36 years (269-36 = 233 BCE).

5. According to the Sinhalese chronicles, Asoka’s coronation took place 218 years after the death of the Buddha. Therefore, the Buddha’s Nirvana might have taken place in the year 487 BCE (269 + 218).

6. The Buddha lived for about 80 years. He therefore might have been born around 567 BCE. His date might therefore be between 487 BCE and 567 BCE.

**

Another method was also employed. The king Bimbisara (Vidhisara) was a contemporary of the Buddha. Bimbisara sent his personal physician Jivaka to attend on the Buddha. His son Ajathashatru of the Sisunaga dynasty of Magadha succeeded Bimbisara. When Ajathashatru came to the throne, the Buddha was 72 years of age. The Buddha died 8 years later. All generally accept these events.

According to these events and with reference to the Puranic records the time of Bimbisara is reckoned as 580 – 552 BCE and that of Ajathashatru as 552 – 527 BCE.

Since the Buddha died 8 years after Ajathashatru came to throne, the year of the Buddha’s death is taken as 544 BCE. And, the life of the Buddha is therefore taken as between 644 and 544 BCE.

***

The dates of the Buddha’s birth and death are still uncertain .The most commonly used dates are between 644 BCE to 544 BCE. Yet, all dates within 20 years of either side are also acceptable.

In any case, the Buddha’s period is in the sixth century BCE.

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Identifying Sandrocottus with Chandragupta Maurya, though looks rather convenient, has given rise to a number of unanswered questions. It sometimes looks as though Sandracottus might not have been Chandragupta Maurya afterall.

1. According to the Greek accounts, Sandrokottus deposed Xandrammes and Sandrocyptus was the son of Sandrokottus. In the case of Chandragupta Maurya, he had opposed Dhanananda of the Nanda dynasty and the name of his son was Bindusara. Both these names, Dhanananda and Bindusara, have no phonetic similarity with the names Xandrammes and Sandrocyptus of the Greek accounts.

1. a. Some scholars surmise that Sandracuttos mentioned by the Greek writers might actually refer to Chandragupta of the Gupta dynasty. The kings before and after Chandragupta Gupta were Chandramas and Samudragupta. The phonetic similarity is quite apparent for Chandragupta Gupta and not Maurya.

Chandragupta of Guptas is now placed in fourth century AD. In case he is indentified with Sandracottos, then the entire chronology will shift back by about eight hundred years .Then the Buddha might as well have been in the 14th century BCE.

2. The Greek accounts cover the period from 4th century BC to 2nd century AD. None of them has mentioned the names of Kautilya or Asoka. It was with Kautilya’s assistance that Chandragupta had come to the throne. Asoka’s empire was bigger than that of Chandragupta and he had sent missionaries to the Yavana countries. However, both of them are not mentioned. The Greek writers did not say anything about the Buddhist Bhikkus though that was the flourishing religion of that time with the royal patronage of Asoka. The Indian scholars wonder why the Greek accounts are silent on Asoka and Buddhism.

The ancestry of Chandragupta is still shrouded in mystery and not known for certain. There are divergent views regarding the origin, and each view has its own set of adherents. Please check the following site for further discussions on the issue. Please also visit Talk: Ancestry of Chandragupta Maurya

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ancestry_of_Chandragupta_Maurya

Please check the following for the other side of the issue:

http://www.salagram.net/aryaninvasion-page#12. Chandragupta, the Sandrocottus

**

The another reference point that is often relied upon is the work of the famous astronomer Aryabhatta who wrote his definitive mathematical work in 499 AD. Aryabhatta through his astronomical calculations,  claimed that the year of completion of his work (499 AD) also marked 3,600 years of the Kali Yuga. It , indirectly,  meant, that Kali Yuga commenced in or around 3101 BC.

The other method was calculating the dates from the start-year of the Islamic lunar calendar (622 AD). According to that reckoning, Mahmud of Ghazni attacked India in 1000 AD.

But again, the modern European system of dating is not entirely accurate either.  That is because,   Christ was born at least four years before what we consider to be its start-year of 1 AD , supposedly the year of his birth. Apart from that ,  there have also been both slippages of days and days added artificially by the Church  at different times in European history.

Nevertheless, the present dating system is commonly accepted; and, is compared with many Indian calendars.  Of course, one needs to be constantly reminded that all dates of ancient Indian history are somewhat fluid; and,  in the dating of some events one has to accommodate  a certain ‘give and take’ of a few decades or even a couple of centuries , at times .

***

Talking of chronology in Indian History, Shri Niraj Mohanka (not a professional historian) has produced a remarkable set of spreadsheets – 23 columns wide, 350 rows deep and over 8,000 cells in MS Excel – basically on the chronology of Indian history. The like of which I had not come across. As the chronology in Indian History is always a matter of debate, one may quarrel a bit with the dates indicated by Shri Mohanka, this way or that. But that does not, in any manner, take away the sheen from the dedication and the amount of scholarship and work that has gone into producing the document.

Please check : http://www.newdharma.org/royal_chron.htm

In the webpage, the following link opens up a Microsoft Excel file that contains four spreadsheets (see the four lower Tabs when you open up the Excel file):

1) Royal Chronology of India (Columns K through P on the right-hand side describe other civilizations – Egypt, Israel, Iraq, Iran and China).  On Page 21 of this file is a Population Chart of India from 8000 B.C.E. to 2200 C.E.  On Page 42 is a list of assumptions and sources used to build the timeline.

2) The History of World Religion- major religions [Eastern AND Western] have roots in the Vedas

3) Comparison of All Religions

4) Festivals of India

In the webpage please click on the above picture

 
11 Comments

Posted by on September 7, 2012 in General Interest, History

 

Tags: , ,

Individual freedom and religion

The debate surrounding Ms. Taslima Nasreene and her books has opened a can of worms . The debate is interesting but splashed with morbidity. It refuses to go away quietly.

Everyone agrees that protecting freedom of expression and speech is absolutely critical for freedom in a democratic society. But at the same time should one be allowed to take his/her religion to task? Should criticizing religion be tolerated?

When this issue comes up as a subject for general debate . most people would say , “ Absolutely – religion and religious beliefs don’t merit special deference not accorded to others.”

But when it comes to specific religions , you will notice that some religions are more tolerant than the other. The recently published “Invading the sacred” by a team of scholars amply demonstrated how Hinduism has been abused and ill represented by the learned men and women in American universities. But these abuses and insults hardly caused a ripple in India .Not many did care. Further , when MF Hussein depicted Hindu goddesses in his own way , many Hindus defended him in the name of freedom of expression .That might both be the genius of Hinduism and its soft underbelly.

Islam on the other hand has been militant in more than one sense .The reaction to the cartoons and caricatures demonstrated that during 2006 and more recently the violence against Ms.Taslima overwhelmed her and its tide swept away the dignity of the Union and WB governments.

In the context of the cartoons controversy , The Economist of London , in 2006 explained:

Freedom of expression, including the freedom to poke fun at religion, is not just a hard-won human right but the defining freedom of liberal societies. When such a freedom comes under threat of violence, the job of governments should be to defend it without reservation.

Shouldn’t the right to free speech be tempered by a sense of responsibility? Of course. Most people do not go about insulting their fellows just because they have a right to. The media ought to show special sensitivity when the things they say might stir up hatred or hurt the feelings of vulnerable minorities. But sensitivity cannot always ordain silence. …The Muhammad cartoons may be such a case. 

But the question is how do we deal with it ; if such expressions hurt the feelings of individuals or groups and damages social harmony.

The Taslima writings bring to fore such issues. If anything, the writings of Taslima is made more important by reactions to it than by its own merit. The reactions demonstrate the existence of too much intolerance and violence within the Muslim community.

The reaction to Taslima , in a way , validates her writing , whatever be it. The reactions bring out the inclination among Muslims to censor criticisms and speech they don’t like, then resort to violence when censorship doesn’t occur or doesn’t work.

Professor Abdul-Aziz Sachedina , a Muslim scholar writing about “ Freedom of Religion and the Question of Apostasy in Islam” , explains this phenomenon :“The system based on the millet, which means a “religiously defined people”..did not recognize any principle of individual autonomy in matters of religion. In addition, the system allowed the enforcement of religious orthodoxy under the state patronage, leaving no scope for individual dissent, political or religious. “http://www.islamiclearning.org/Article15.htm

It is precisely this intolerance that the Muslim reaction to Taslima , who criticizes the use of religion as an oppressive force, was about .

Some Muslims find all the hullabaloo distressing. “What it shows is that we lack confidence. If we were confident about our faith we wouldn’t have to react so hysterically.” But most Muslims hate Nasreen for saying Islam and other religions oppress women. ; and demand her submission to dogmas and her death.

The Muslim reaction is thus predictable . But what is not understandable is the reaction of the CPM and congress parties. The W Bengal government believes Taslima does not have a right to live in the state because its minority vote bank does not like her and their dislike can possibly affect CPMs survival.

The CPM which is a minority partner in the Union Government and is piggy riding  the majority party ,yet manages get its priorities done. It enjoys power without accountability. The parody is played out in reverse in W Bengal , where the minority community holds to ransom , rides the majority secular party and pushes it to the brink. Who is the ultimate Boss , then ? There seems to be no end to travesties and ironies in Indian politics.

Regardless of the brickbats thrown at me by a few on this forum for saying that , I believe ,a person is free to express no matter how many people approve his writings, works of art or expressions. The authors of Indian constitution fought for that right. Democracy , they thought , should be a system of government based on common agreement on issues that must be agreed upon, and tolerance—however grudging—on all other differences.

Taslima Nasreen for all purposes is no longer a person and is not an issue by herself. She is a test case for governments of India and WB. Having cried hoarse of “Freedom of Expression” over MF Hussein’s money spinner, the Congress and the CPM find themselves in a bind. Looking into the Taslima mirror India might find it is not the fairest of all.

When I last heard , the Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee said that historically, India had never refused shelter to those who had sought the country’s protection. “This heritage, which is now government policy, will continue, and India will provide shelter to Ms. Nasreen,” he told parliament; “While guests are in India, the union and state governments provide them protection. This will also apply in Ms. Taslima Nasreen’s case.”

Taslima Nasreen in turn said that she was withdrawing some controversial lines from her autobiographical novel ‘Dwikhandita‘ as those evoked strong protests from “a section of people in India.”; and hoped that from now on there would be no controversy and “I’ll be able to live peacefully in this country.

”What then , was all the shouting  and screaming about ?”

Does this look like a happy Bollywood ending ? I am not so sure. This might be just the intermission. Her visa is due for review  and lot more to follow.

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Protecting freedom of expression and speech is absolutely critical for freedom in a liberal democratic society. When freedom of expression is not protected, the result is oppression and tyranny. Should criticizing religion be allowed ? Absolutely – religion and religious beliefs don’t merit special deference not accorded to others.

Democracy deserves the best thinking possible. … The right of an individual to create new ideas and to expect a respectful, supportive climate for their expression is a human right too often ignored. The human right to think and be heard at higher, more complex and mutualistic levels is a necessary added freedom if diversity of religion or belief is to be guaranteed for the diverse human family.

No action must be deemed a crime but what the law has plainly determined to be such: No crime must be imputed to a man but from a legal proof before his judges; and even these judges must be his fellow-subjects, who are obliged, by their own interest, to have a watchful eye over the encroachments and violence of the ministers.

The Economist – London, 2006
*****

Please also read:

Democracy , Individual freedom , Liberty and the rest.

 
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Posted by on September 6, 2012 in General Interest