Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Three Treasures of Travancore

Fifteen months ago, in July 2011, a rich treasure was found in a temple in Travancore or, as it is presently called, Thiruvananthapuram.  The town or city, the capital of Kerala, is Ananthapuri, the city presided ovr by Lord Anantha.  Anantha in short for Ananthapadmanabha, the Lord in yoganidra; lying in sleeping posture on Aadishesha.  Thiru-Anantha-Puram with respect and devotion, but called as Travancore by the British.  The five sealed vaults in the Padmanabha Swamy temple were opened after 130 years and inventory of the contents found in them were taken in a process that lasted several days.  The hoard of gold, diamonds, emeralds, precious stones, jewellery and artifacts beat even the wildest imagination of a true treasure.  It is being variously described as richer than King Salomon's mines and Indiana Jones's perceived treasure hunt. Contents included over a ton of gold, sacks of diamond and other precious stones, gold necklaces over 3 meters (10 feet) long and weighing over 2.5 kg.  The treasure's real value is a matter of speculation; it is quoted variously as 100000 crore rupees (One lakh crore rupees), 22 billion US Dollars etc.  Some say its antique value exceeds 100 billion US Dollars.  That would be more than the total wealth of Bill Gates and Warren Buffet put together!

A hundred years ago, three treasures were found in Travancore.  In fact, centenary celebrations are being held during the last two years, but not many have taken note of it.  That was mainly because it was not the treasure of Goddess Lakshmi, but her daughter-in-law Goddess Saraswati.  The three treasures were unearthed between 1909 and 1912. These three sets of treasure have given us an insight into a vast area of knowledge and a peek into the rich heritage of our forefathers.

In 1909, R Shama Sastry found a manuscript of Kautalya's "Arthasastra" in one of the private libraries of Travancore. The scholar took great pains to edit the manuscript and bring it to light. Chanakya or Kautalya's life and work were centered around Maghada (Present Bihar) kingdom.  His works are believed to have been lost towards the end of Maurya Dynasty.  His treasure of wisdom was found in the form of a manuscript after nearly 2000 years, in Travancore!  This is the first treasure.  An international conference was held in Oriental Research Institute, Mysore, in 2009 to celebrate the centenary of the finding of the manuscript in Travancore and publication of the book.  Thanks to this effort of R Shama Shastry, we have the wisdom of Chanakya available to us today.

Three years later, in 1912, Mahamahopadhyaya T Ganapathy Sastri found 13 Sanskrit plays in another private library of Travancore. These were a part of the well known "Koodiyattam Plays" of Kerala.  Ganapathi Sastry was an acknowledged scholar and principal of Travancore Sanskrit college.  He sorted out the manuscripts and found that one of the plays was "Swapna Vasavadatta".  Thus came out the famous "Naataka chakra" of Bhasa Mahakavi.  A second treasure of nearly 2000 years was placed in our hands by Travancore.  A playwright par excellence, Bhasa is acknowledged as a model by Kalidasa himself, in his "Maalavikaagnimitra".  But for the finding of this treasure in Travancore, Bhasa would have been just another name like Soumilla and Kaviputra, the other two names mentioned by Kaalidasa in the same reference.

The third treasure is indeed unique.  Pandit N Ramaswami Sastriar was scanning through the old manuscripts in another private library of Travancore around the same time.  He found a bundle of 61 moth-eaten palm-leaf manuscript sandwiched between two totally unrelated works.  These palm-leaf writings were part of a nine chapter work titled "Madhura Vijayam" or "Vira Kamparaya Chariram".  The writer is Gangambika alias Gangadevi, wife of Kamparaya who is the hero of the work.  Kamparaya or Kampanna was the second son of Bukka, who co-founded the Vijayanagara empire with his brother Hakka.  The manuscript was edited and published by two other scholars, G Harihara Sastri and V Srinivasa Sastri, in 1924.

Kampanna was assigned the task of expanding Vijayanagara empire by his father Bukkaraya and sent to Kancheepuram to conquer the area.  After his victory in Kancheepuram, a strange woman visitor (believed to be Godess Meenakshi of Madurai)  meets him and advises him to proceed to Madurai and liberate that area from Sultan's rule there.  Kamparaya proceeds to Madurai, defeats the Sultan's army and kills the sultan in single combat.  Kamparaya then restores the Srirangam temple, ravaged by Malik Kafur  and Khusroo Khan, to its old glory.  Gangambika accompanied her husband to Kancheepuram and Madurai and has recorded her husband's victories as she saw them. This third treasure is a rare work of an earliest medieval  poetess and there are indications that she was from a Telugu lineage. Her account of the war and history, of the period in second half of 14th century (1370s), is considered accurate and reliable.

A subhhashita (words of wisdom) says:

पृथिव्यां त्रीणि रत्नानि जलं अन्नं सुभाषितं
मूर्खाः पाषाण खण्डेषु रत्न संज्ञा विधीयते

Pruthivyaam treeni ratnaani, Jalam Annam Subhaashitam, Moorkhaha paashana Khandeshu ratna sangna vidheeyate!

There are three precious things on this earth - Water, Food and Good or kind  words.  Only fools consider pieces of stones as Precious ones!  Kaveri river water dispute has reminded us of the first two.  We know the value of third one.  If anyone still has any doubt, King Maidas may be consulted. 

Monday, October 1, 2012

Save or Spend?

Some say "Life is very Simple".  We often realize that it is not that simple.  For many, life is too complicated.  When we see such complicated persons, we feel life is not all that complicated!  Then which is true?  Does the truth lie somewhere between the two?  Does its simplicity or complexity change depending on the position at which we stand and view it?

One such issue in life that confronts us repeatedly, on some days more than once, is "Save or spend?".  While spending money the thought that often crosses the mind is, "Is this necessary?  Should I not save this money by avoiding this expenditure?".  While saving money, more so while investing long term, a question that may arise is, "Is it worth saving this money for that long? Do I really live long enough to enjoy the fruits at maturity?".  To "Save or to Spend" is as big a question as the one of  "To be or not to be, that is the question" that confronted The Prince of Denmark, in the play "Hamlet".  The dilemma is all the more intense for those who have crossed half way mark in life, but do not want to recognize that truth.

Each one has his/her own philosophy about saving and spending.  They may not realize it but they do practice it.  From Chaarvakas who believed in drinking Ghee (as against eating three or four spoonful a day) from borrowed money to ultra-savers who save even used plastic carry-bags.  And each carry-bag saved containing another nine in them, safely tucked away for future use. Even after knowing that they may never be used because there is fresh addition each day. What is the right proportion of saving and spending? Whether surplus should be saved or creating surplus for saving is the key ingredient?  Should we spend tomorrow's money today as if there is no tomorrow?  Or should we be frugal today to save everything for tomorrow, a tomorrow that is too uncertain and may never come?

There are some who believe in saving.  Saving from an early age.  Saving from the day earning starts.  If possible, even earlier when pocket money is given by the parents liberally.  Then go on saving. The only enjoyment they get out of life is watching their savings grow.  Growth due to added returns on the earlier savings as well as additional savings month after month.  There was one such "Savings Man" who saved regularly.  Maturing Fixed Deposits were always renewed with interest. Then there would be a new Recurring Deposit on the first day of the first month each year.  That meant one more new Fixed Deposit at the beginning of the next year.  Record of amounts and dates of deposits were maintained meticulously.  Due dates were memorized.  He would never eat in a restaurant.  Food was brought from home. Leave Travel concession (LTC) was never availed but Leave entitlement was duly cashed in.  That meant another Fixed Deposit in the basket.  He wore the shirts discarded by his son.  The shirts were small for him when his son was in school and college.  That did not bother him.  "Why throw away clothes that are still good enough to last another year?", he would ask.  Once a colleague asked him why he was saving so much money.  "Don't you need money to educate a son?', was his answer.  "You don't need to construct a college to educate a son!", the colleague retorted.  When he retired he was worth ten times more than his colleague who joined the service in the same batch and retired on the same day.  Perhaps the time had come for him to enjoy the fruits of his mammoth savings.  But BP and diabetes had also grown in his body like his savings in the bank.  The habit of saving did not end at his retirement.  Old habits die hard.  He went on saving his pension also.  He died within two years of retirement.  Saved too much but enjoyed too little.  Hundred on one side and Zero on the other.

Then there was another man who was the exact opposite of this "Saving Man".  He was the "Spending Man".  Total enjoyment and no savings.  Every available loan was taken by him before others realized that there was such a scheme.  He would be the first shareholder of every co-operative society that would promise a loan.  Anybody in need of money would go to him for consultation.  The consultant would never disappoint those who went to him with full faith.  He would always have a lesson to raise money form some source or the other.  Expensive clothes, perfumes and restaurants were his passion.  When his employer came up with a scheme for ex-Gratia payment to the legal heirs for meeting the funeral expenses of employees who die in harness, he even inquired whether the same can be discounted in advance.  He had a good argument to boot; death is certain as well as a funeral for the dead.  Then why not pay the employee when he is alive? He had a bunch of credit cards in his wallet.  Meet the bills on one of them by using another.  After some years, he had no friends because all of them had turned creditors.  Borrowers are afraid of lenders and avoid them.  But for this man, creditors avoided him for fear of further demands to lend.  What is already lent may not come back, but let us avoid further damage, was their strategy.   He realized that this was too good to last long.  Unfortunately, it was too late.  He had to sell his beautiful house to ward off some tough lenders. He had to take early retirement to en-cash retirement benefits to pay some other harder creditors.  Unlike the "Saving Man" who did not live long to enjoy the fruits of his savings, the "Spending Man" lived long to suffer the life of penury.  Zero on one side and hundred on the other.  At least until enjoyment lasted.

Both these are extreme but true cases.   But there are hundreds who are close to these two.  Either very little savings or very little enjoyment.  What is the right model to live?  80:20?  70:30?  50: 50? or 20: 80?  Difficult to quantify as they revolve on many variables.  The formula could be simplified to a limited extent; save the surplus.  In order to create surplus to save, keep the wants limited.   Savings should be like blood pressure.  Neither too high like the "Saving Man" nor too low like the "Spending Man".