Sunday, April 2, 2017

"Pancharatram" and "Uttara Kaanda"

That was the 13th year after Yudhishtira lost his kingdom and all wealth, for the second time, in the game of dice due to the cunningness of Shakuni. They were banished to the forests to live there for 12 years. Having completed that part of the commitment, they were now untraceable during the year of living incognito. There was no trace of the five brothers and their one wife. How such mighty warriors and their beautiful wife vanished into thin air was indeed a question for which nobody had an answer. Duryodhana and Shakuni were very keen that they be traced so that they can be compelled to repeat the cycle of 12 plus one year all over again. All their efforts were in vain and they were totally disappointed.

Duryodhana was always jealous of the "Rajasuya Yaaga" performed by his cousin Yudhishtira. He wanted to do something similar or better and earn some good name for himself. He embarked on performing "Vaishnava Yagna" and succeeded in completing it. Abhimanyu, son of Arjuna and Subhadra represented Krishna and others in the Vaishnava Yagna. Abhimanyu and Subhadra had stayed with Krishna during the thirteen year period. Even though all kings were present during Duryodhana's yagna, Matsya King Virata was not present. At the end of the Yagna, it was customary to make an offering to an elderly and respected person as the last part of the ritual. Duryodhana decided that Guru Drona was the right person for this distinction. He requested Guru Drona to ask for anything he wants as Dakshina (sacred offering) to complete the rituals. Drona asks Duryodhana to return the kingdom and wealth to Pandavas. This is my Dakshina, he says. 

Shakuni is not for it. He wants to avoid this at any cost. He suggests to Duryodhana that he would do so if the whereabouts of Pandavas is found within five days. This is Pancharatram, meaning five days (nights). Just then a messenger comes and informs that King Virata could not come to the Yagna because someone killed the 100 Upakeechakas, brothers of his brother-in-law and chief of army, Keechaka. Bheeshma is now certain that this was done by none other than Bheema, one of the Pandava brothers. He urges Drona to accept the condition of "Pancharatram". Drona does so and Duryodhana agrees to return the Kingdom of Pandavas and all their wealth if their whereabouts are known in five days.

Kauravas decide to wage a war on Matsya desha, King Virata's country. They feel that it has now become weak due to the death of Keechaka and Upakeechakas. Abhimanyu who is present with them joins them in the fight and becomes a part of Kauravas army. Kauravas are defeated by Arjuna. In the meanwhile Kauravas come to know that a single man without weapons but bare hands lifts Abhimanyu from the battle field and takes him away. Bheeshma and Drona are now certain that such a warrior could be none other than Bheema.

King Virata offers his daughter Uttara in marriage to Arjuna. Arjuna says that she is like his daughter and hence can accept her as a bride for his son Abhimanyu. Kauravas also get invitation to attend the marriage function. 

The identify of Pandavas is now known within five days. Duryodhana honors his words given to his Guru Drona. He returns the kingdom and all wealth of the Pandavas. Mahabharata war is averted and Kauravas and Pandavas live happily thereafter! 

Rama has defeated Raavana in the epic war. Vibheeshana was crowned as king of Lanka. Sita was freed from her captivity. Rama does not want to accept her. She decides to immolate herself in the fire before the entire gathering. At that time Lakshmana intervenes and makes Rama accept her. Rama and Sita return to Ayodhya together, but life is never the same.

Rama once again decides to renounce Sita who is now in advanced state of pregnancy. Lakshmana was forced to take her to the forest on the pretext of visiting the Rishis there. He does his duty by taking her there and returns to Ayodhya alone. Sita finds refuge in Maharshi's Valmeeki's hermitage. Lava and Kusha are born. The son's take custody of the father's Ashwamedha horse. Rama does not want to fight the sons. Valmeeki tries to bring the family together. The sons join the father, but the wife does not. She insists that once renounced, the relation of husband and wife is done for ever. 

Rama becomes even weaker after returning to Ayodhya and cannot manage the affairs of the state satisfactorily. Lakshmana deserts him and goes away to live separately. Rama comes out as a very weak personality and extremely indecisive. He wants to retire from active life as he is no longer in control of things. The "Ramarajya" is nowhere to be seen. He goes to take bath in the river Sarayu one day and does not return. His body is later found stuck to a rock, downstream in the river. Whether it was an accidental death, suicide or natural drowning is not known. 

Those in charge of affairs want Sita to come to Ayodhya and lead the life of a widow. She does not want to that but does not show the will of living on on her own. She gets fully dressed up with all ornaments on and ends up in a deep pit in her farm land. Valmeeki checks and confirms the death. She has left the body on her own volition, he says.

Neither Rama not Sita find a satisfactory end. Nor do others for that matter. Other characters are very hazy and weak. Rama is weak and does not survive. Sita is strong and yet does not survive.

The first part above is a short summary of a play titled "Pancharatram" by the famous Sanskrit poet Bhasa. Many people are not aware of the existence of such a play with a very innovative idea. Bhasa lived much before Kalidasa and reference to his plays can be seen in Kalidasa's "Malavikagnimitra". Bhasa has taken the liberty of totally changing the plot created by Maharshi Veda Vyasa. His disruptive thinking has succeeded in averting an epic war and concluding with peace prevailing everywhere. Whatever may be the history or folktale, the idea is refreshing and brought out in a very novel fashion. We have to remember that this was probably as old as two thousand years ago!

The second part above is a short summary of a Kannada novel titled "Uttara Kaanda", published recentlyIts author is a highly respected and prolific writer Shri S L Bhyrappa. Shri Bhyrappa is known for his qualitative and quantitative contribution to Kannada Literature. He has been conferred upon the prestigious "Saraswati Sanman" as well. He is known for extensive and painstaking research before writing his novels. 

Uttara Kaanda is his latest novel, but disappoints many readers. Nearly forty years ago, he came up with a similar novel on Mahabharata, titled "Parva". The main idea behind both Parva and Uttara Kaanda is to look at the epics by removing all supernatural things and view them from what could be from common life as we see it. The idea itself is refreshing and indeed appreciable. Nevertheless, execution falters and the language used in some parts is of poor taste. It is true that adultery is indeed a part of life; but that does not mean that it should be glorified. Life does have use of words that are not proper. They are better left there and need not be brought out in print. 
When Parva was published nearly forty years ago, a review by well known critic T P Ashoka appeared in a kannada daily "Prajavani".  When I was reading it, a well known author who had just finished reading it was sitting near me. He asked me what I thought of the review. I said the review was good. He asked me to read the last line again. Its rough translation was "Parva as a novel is a success even in its failure". When I read it again loudly I understood its import fully. It is no surprise if someone else now writes that "Uttara Kaanda is a failure even in its failure".

I have no qualms if you do not agree with the above analysis. You are, after all, as much entitled to your opinion as I am to mine!  

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Security Verification

The young Assistant Manager was eager to acquire the knowledge and skills required to make him an efficient bank manager and leader. His first posting as an officer was in a big metropolitan branch. He was one among the nearly hundred staff members in the branch as computerization was not heard in those days. He did not have any opportunity to work in loans department. His promotion as assistant manager and posting to a medium sized rural branch was personally inconvenient to him. But he was encouraged by the chances coming his way to learn many new things. He proceeded to the new place of posting with lot of hope and expectations.

The young man was welcome by his branch manager and given charge of the loans department. The well experienced branch manager started grooming the assistant in right earnest, to shoulder his responsibilities. He was first initiated into processing of loan applications, scrutinize information provided by the applicants, assess loan eligibility and sanction process. Analyzing and accepting securities offered by the prospective borrowers followed soon. Obtaining documents for sanctioned loans and method of disbursing the loan amounts was the next step. The young assistant manager was now confident of handling small and medium sized loan requests on his own and place the cases before branch manager with his recommendations.

The branch's annual inspection was due any day now and the branch manager was preparing the young assistant to face his first inspection confidently. All aspects of a branch's working were checked and verified by these inspectors and the process went on for two to three weeks. Inspection days were difficult for branch functionaries as they had to manage attending to inspectors in addition to the regular bank work. Attitude and working methods of the inspectors was also a cause of concern for branch managers. Some inspectors were indeed difficult to work with, while some others were more understanding and co-operative. 

Inspectors were deputed by the bank's Inspection Division at Head Office to various branches for annual inspections. Their programing was a secret affair and known only to Inspection Division and the concerned inspectors. This was required to keep the surprise element intact during audit and inspections. Inspectors usually arrived at the branch on a day of their choosing, an hour before opening of the branches in the morning. The branch would be opened under their supervision and all physical securities starting from cash would be checked first to prevent any manipulations. The inspectors would then proceed to verify the other areas of branch functioning. One of the important components of such inspection was visiting the borrower's place for physical verification as well as checking the records of the party. The places comprised shop, factory, godown, house or any such business place or location where securities charged to the bank were kept. Branch Manager or a representative of the branch would usually accompany the inspector on such visits. Inspection was a time bound activity and was expected to be completed in a specified number of days linked to the size and business level of the branches.

An inspector arrived at this branch one morning and started his work. After introducing the assistant manager to the inspector and exchange of pleasantries, branch manager called the assistant manager aside and advised him to assist the inspector during the inspection period. "This inspector and I are from the same batch and we have worked together earlier. It is no secret that we do not like each other. But he is a professional and does not mix personal things with official work. Same is the case with me. I will have limited interaction with him. You will be my representative during inspection. Remember that he is an expert inspector and highly respected for his skills. You can learn a lot from him in the next two three weeks", said the branch manager. The assistant manager did not understand this background initially, but slowly learnt the truth in those words with each passing day of inspection work.

Field visits and verification of securities started in the third week. As the branch had many villages surrounding its location, many agriculture and allied advances were to be inspected. The inspector and the assistant manager proceeded to one of the villages one morning. They went to a borrower's place (Borrower A) a little before noon for checking sheep and goats given as security for bank loan. There were no sheep or goat in the yard. Inspector noted his observation on his rough sheets. After checking some pump set and tractor loan accounts, they went to another borrower's place (Borrower B) around 3 PM for checking sheep and goats. The number of sheep and goats available in the yard were matching the number given in the records. Inspector made some noting again in his note sheets.

An inspector was required to give his observations to the branch manager for rectification of deficiencies or give his comments each day, before incorporating them in his final report. On the next day of the visit to above villages, inspector gave the list of observations on the findings of the previous day's visits. When the assistant manager saw the report he was surprised to find that inspector had erred in his noting. He had recorded that security was intact in Borrower A's place whereas it was noted as missing in Borrower B's place!  He immediately ran to the inspector and pointed out the discrepancy. 

The inspector smiled at the young assistant manager. "We went to the two borrowers on either side of noon. Where do you expect the sheep and goats to be at that time?" The assistant manager could not give a definite answer. The inspector explained further. "At the time of day when we visited the two places, sheep and goat are not expected to be at home. They have to be out on the hill side grazing and return only by sunset time.  In borrower A's place there were no sheep or goat, but there was enough evidence to show that the animals were kept there overnight. The wetness of the yard where the animals were kept and the pungent smell of sheep and goat in the yard clearly showed that he has the animals with him. In borrower B's place there was no such evidence. The land was dry and the air was fresh. Having realized that inspectors have come to the village, he managed to bring the animals from some other farmer's place and show it to us. I have also made enquiries locally from other farmers during the visit, when you were away checking directions to the next village. My observation as recorded in the sheets is correct", he said.

When the assistant manager shared this with the branch manager, he got further insight into various aspects of security verification. "You have to be watchful during field visits. One should not be carried away by what he sees during the visit. What is seen is to be linked to the type of business, local practices, details in the records and above all commonsense. Conclusions drawn based merely on what is visible at the time of the visit may often be erroneous. But that does not mean that you have to ignore what you see physically. Each of these should get due consideration and one should come to a proper judgement after careful analysis of the circumstances obtaining at the time of the visit", concluded the branch manager.

The young man had never thought of all these things. There is a lot more in security verification than a mere visit to a place, he learnt that day.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Saraswati's Son and Parvati's Daughter

Long long ago, Godess Saraswati, who is the presiding deity of all knowledge, desired to have a son. She went to Himalayas and undertook a long penance with this as the goal. After a long time Lord Brahma appeared and gave her a boon to have a son. She delivered a son as a result of the boon. The boy got up as soon as he was born and prostrated before her. He sang in praise of her in rhythmic and perfect meters; his utterance was the earliest poetry. Saraswati was extremely happy and told him that he embodied everything poetry represents. She also told him that there was only prose before him and he is the first person to bring poetry to this world. She blessed him wholeheartedly and named him as "Kavya Purusha" (काव्य पुरुष). As she wanted to have the pleasure of tending to her child for sometime, she advised him to go back to the state of a child for the time being, which he dutifully did. 

Saraswati lifted the child and proceeded towards the sacred river Ganga to take a holy dip in the river. She placed the child below a tree and went to the river. The child started crying after sometime. Maharshi Shukracharya who heard the noise came to the child and took him to his hut. Maharshi Shukracharya was mesmerized by the child's beauty and composed a poem in praise of Mother Saraswati. Saraswati returned from the river but could not find the child. Maharshi Valmeeki who was close by informed her about the child being taken by Maharshi Shukracharya and took her to the Rishi's hut. When Maharshi Valmeeki saw the child, he also composed a poem that led to his writing Ramayana. Later on Maharshi Vyasa also saw the child and composed Mahabharata. Thus Shukracharya, Valmeeki and Vyasa become earliest poets in history of development of rhythmic poetry.

As Kavya Purusha was growing up and Mother Saraswati was enjoying the growth process, a dispute arose between Rishis and Devatas on the interpretation of an important issue in the scriptures. Lord Brahma advised Mother Saraswati to proceed to heaven and mediate in satisfactorily resolving the dispute. Saraswati proceeded to heaven. Kavya Purusha also followed her. Saraswati told him that he cannot go with her without permission from Lord Brahma and he has to stay behind till her return. Kavya Purusha stayed back and grew into a handsome man. He became friends with Kumara Swamy, son of Lord Shiva and Godess Parvati. In due course of time, Kavya Purusha felt lonely, became restless and started wandering aimlessly.

Kumara Swamy could not tolerate the suffering of his dear friend. He went to his mother Parvati and requested her to help his friend Kavya Purusha. Parvati thought for a while and decided that the best way to bring Kavya Purusha on track was to tie him in the knots of love of a girl. She produced a beautiful girl and named her as Saahitya Vidyaa (साहित्य विद्या). She told the girl that her fiancee was going away from her and she should follow him and get married to him.  Saahitya Vidyaa started following Kavya Purusha and followed him wherever he went.   

Kavya Purusha wandered into different parts of the country. Saahitya Vidyaa followed him wherever he went. She tried different varieties of dresses and methods of beautification. Womenfolk of the respective areas also followed the same methods of dresses and beautifications. She tried different methods of music, dance and other allied methods to please Kavya Purusha. Kavya Purusha slowly took interest in her and started his own methods of dressing and appearances. The menfolk of the respective areas also followed him and therefore we have different methods of dresses and appearances in various parts of the country!

While moving around in the various parts of our large country thus, Kavya Purusha and Saahitya Vidyaa reached a city in Vidarbha called Vatsagulma, on the outskirts of Dandakaranya. The place got the name Vatsagulma as a Rishi by name Vatsa lived there. Saahitya Vidyaa and Kavya Purusha finally got married in this Vatsagulma city. (This Vatsagulma is presently known as Washim and is the headquarters of the Washim district in Maharashtra.) 

The newly wed pair went to Saraswati and Parvati and sought their blessings. Both the mothers were very happy and blessed the pair and gave them many boons. They created a special heaven for them and named it as Kaviloka (कविलोक). The mothers advised Kavya Purusha and Saahitya Vidyaa to reside in the minds of all poets and bless them by inspiring them from time to time. The couple are following the advice of their mothers and are thus a source of inspiration to all poets even today.

Mention of Kavya Purusha is found in many places in puranas and also in Mahabharata. However, the story of Kavya Purusha and Saahitya Vidyaa in the above form is given to us by poet Raajashekhara in his "Kaavyameemamsa", considered as an epic in the field of Poetics.  The story is indeed interesting and inspiring!

Sunday, March 5, 2017

The Man and The River

Emperor Yudhishtira came out of his room ready for the day's official work. As he came out of the main door of his private palace, he saw a line of priests standing with "prasad" and ready to greet him with the usual Vedic chants befitting his status. Such arrangement was common on some important days like his birthday or anniversary day of ascending the throne. There was no such occasion today and yet the priests had assembled in full numbers. He was perplexed and looked at Bheemasena, his younger brother who now also held the post of his senior most minister. Bheemasena just smiled and signaled to the priests to start their chants and offer prasad to the emperor. The emperor received all the prasad with reverence. Once all the priests had left the hall, he asked Bheemasena as to what was the reason of this special arrangement.

"I had ordered special pooja and offerings to all the deities in the capital today. The priests had come with the prasad after such special pooja in their respective places", replied Bheemasena.

"What was the reason for such special celebrations?" asked Yudhishtira.

"I was happy that you had conquered Death for one day" said Bheemasena.

"I do not understand what you are indicating" said the emperor.

"Yesterday an old man came to you asking for some gold coins for managing some function in his house. It appears you told him to come tomorrow and he will be given the same", said Bheemasena.

"What is special about it? It was late when the man came to me. Hence I told him to come tomorrow", said Yudhishtira.

"That is why I was happy and arranged the celebrations. One never knows whether he will be alive on the next day. But you were confident that you would be alive to meet the old man's request. Does it not mean that you had conquered death for one day?", asked smiling Bheemasena.

Yudhishtira understood the lesson his brother was indicating. He nodded and said, "Yes. I knew that nothing is certain in this world., but had forgotten for a moment yesterday. Thank you for reminding this eternal truth. Change is the only certainty in life. But Life itself is uncertain".

Similar references can also be seen in philosophies of other parts of the world. "No man ever steps into a river twice" is a famous saying in Greek Philosophy. Why is it so? Can a person step into the river, come out and after sometime step into the same river? No, it is not possible. Because he is not the same man now. Nor the river is the same. The person is now older than what he was when he stepped into the river last time! Similarly, the river is also not the same. The water flowing at this moment is different from the water that was flowing in the river when he stepped into it last time. Therefore, No man ever steps into the same river twice. When he steps in for the second time, he has changed as also the river. This appears strange; nevertheless it is true!

Heraclitus (535 BC - 475 BC) was a Greek philosopher who lived before Aristotle, Plato and Socrates. He lived in Ephesus, then a part of the Persian empire and present day Efes of Turkey. He was known as the "Weeping Philosopher" and is credited with many wonderful expressions that try to explain the "Laws of the Universe". Heraclitus was the earliest known philosopher of the west who identified that Change is the essence of life. He believed in the Theory of unity of opposites and stated that "No entity ever occupies a single state at a single time". He believed that Fire was the basic element from which all other elements took shape. 

Some of the other sayings of Heraclitus are equally interesting:

  1. Men who wish to know about the world must learn about it in its particular details.
  2. If you do not expect the unexpected then you will not find it, for it is not to be reached by search or trail.
  3. It is hard to contend against one's heart's desire; for whatever it wishes to have it buys at the cost of soul.
  4. God is day and night, winter and summer, war and peace, surfeit and hunger.
  5. Our envy always lasts longer than the happiness of those who we envy.
  6. Good character is not formed in a week or a month. It is created little by little, day by day. Protracted and patient effort is needed to develop good character.
  7. Much learning does not teach understanding.
  8. Big results require big ambitions.
  9. Man is most nearly himself when he achieves the seriousness of a child at play.
  10. To God everything is beautiful and just; humans however think that some things are unjust and others are just.
and many more......

Many management experts conduct workshops on "Change Management". It is better for them to remember Heraclitus. And his saying: "Nothing endures but Change".

Saturday, February 25, 2017

I Salute You, Dear Mother

Each one on this earth, man or woman, is beholden to one's mother. "Maatrudevo Bhava"  is the first lesson for the young initiated, advising them to see the Lord first in their own mothers. There is no existence for any of us without our mothers. Some are fortunate to see their mother and live with her for several years. Some have the luxury of having her by their sides till their own ripe old age. A few are unfortunate to lose her at birth itself or before they are able to understand and acknowledge her presence. 

Many devout Indians go to Gaya in Bihar for offering Pindas to their forefathers. Pindapradan or sacred offerings is a way of remembering our elders and expressing our gratitude to them. Is there any place which is specially identified for remembering one's mother exclusively, the who makes innumerable sacrifices to give birth and nurture the child?

MatruGaya or Siddhpur in Patan District of Gujarat, located on the banks of the holy river Saraswati,  is the place for devout Indians to visit and make Pindapradan for the mothers. It is a two hour drive (110 KM) from Ahmedabad airport. Siddhpur has a very interesting history.

Kardama Prajapati was the son of Lord Brahma and chose Shristhal, earlier name for Siddhpur, for his penance. Pleased with his long penance, Lord Vishnu advised him that Manu and Shatarupa Devi will be approaching him for marrying their daughter, Devahuti. Lord Vishnu also told Kardama that he will himself take birth as their son in due course. Kardama and Devahuti had nine daughters and Lord Vishnu was born as their son Kapila later on. Sage Kapila is recognized as one of the main contributors of the Dualistic form of Indian Philosophy.

Kardama Prajapati renounced the world and proceeded to the forest after handing over the care of Devahuti with son Kapila. In due course of time, Devahuti approached Kapila to enlighten her about higher spiritual pursuits and reaching the Lord. The advice given by Kapila to his mother Devahuti is detailed in Bhagavata Mahapurana in the third skanda (canto).  Kapila lays emphasis on visualizing the Lord as a person and worshipping his lotus feet. As this discussion took place in Shristhal, presently known as Siddhpur, it has become an important pilgrimage center for those who remember their mothers and want to do Pindapradan in their honor and memory. While doing so, the sons remember the varieties of troubles they gave their mothers before, during and after their births. Sixteen pindas are offered by reciting a sloka for each of the pindas. The content of each of the sloka is indeed filled with profound feelings.

Siddhpur has some more history behind it. It is believed that Bramharshi Dadeechi gave away his backbone here to Lord Indra for making of "Vajraayudha" to enable him to kill Vrutrasura. There is also a lake here called "Bindu Sarovara" which is believed to have been formed from the drops of water that fell from the eyes of Lord Vishnu. Pindadaan is done around this holy lake.

What does the son tell his mother while offering the sixteen Pindas? Their rough translation is somewhat like this:
  1. I was responsible for the difficulty you experienced while walking on earth during pregnancy, when I was in your womb.
  2. I caused immense hardship for you while growing from month to month in your womb.
  3. I kicked you often with my legs without realizing that it would hurt you.
  4. I gave you trouble in the form of death-like pains while staying in your womb.
  5. I gave many other troubles till the tenth month, when you delivered me.
  6. I was the cause of all the suffering you faced as delivery date approached.
  7. You had to drink and swallow many bitter liquids and medicines before and during my birth.
  8. Your body suffered a lot after birth, while nurturing me.
  9. You were rendered miserable due my wetting the bed frequently, especially during nights.
  10. You always gave me food and water on priority even while ignoring your own needs.
  11. I caused pain and trouble while you breast fed me day and night.
  12. You suffered during summer and winter months due to my dependence on you.
  13. You suffered more than me whenever I was sick.
  14. You ate little and yet gave me full, always.
  15. There are no sons like me; I troubled you the most.
  16. As you cross the gates of heaven, I remember you and offer these Pindas.

While offering the sixteen pindas, the son mentions that it is for atoning for each of the sins mentioned above.

Kardama Prajapati, Devahuti and their son Kapila have become an integral part of the lives of people who remember MatruGaya or visit that place for sacred offerings.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

It Has Meaning!

The Chief Guest for the function of the day was interacting with the students at the University of Calcutta. The University was itself established in the year 1857, on the recommendations of The Court of Directors of the East India Company. The University was modeled on the lines of University of London. The distinguished guest asked the students a simple question. "What is your opinion about your epics?" he asked, with reference to Indian epics like Ramayana, Mahabharata etc. The students answered that "It is all fictitious and meaningless". To a further question as to whether they had read them, the answer was no. The visitor exclaimed, "Don't say it is meaningless without reading them. It may be good or it may be bad. But it has meaning!"

That was nearly a hundred years ago. The situation has not changed much over the years. 

Sir John George Woodroffe (1865-1936) was a British Orientalist and educated at the University College at Oxford. After his education and practice for a brief period, he was enrolled as an advocate at the Calcutta High Court. He was later appointed as the standing counsel for the Government of India. His books on Law are used as text books even now. His distinguished work took him to occupy the post of a Judge in Calcutta High Court for a period of 18 years. He was a Fellow of the Calcutta University and the above episode was during one of his visits to the University. John Woodroffe was knighted in 1915 in recognition of his invaluable services to the empire. On his return to England later he was a Reader in Indian Law at the Oxford University.

This in itself is an impressive achievement for a fact. But Sir John Woodroffe's contribution was much more. He was highly interested in the study of the Indian epics and philosophy. He learnt Sanskrit and made a study of Indian epics. His friends called him a "Public Judge and Private Student". He made a scholarly analysis of the various aspects of Indian Philosophy and was highly influenced by the richness of the diversity and multi-dimensional Yogic practices. Under his pseudonym Arthur Avalon, he translated 20 Sanskrit texts to English and was instrumental in bringing the richness of the Indian Yogic practices to the west. His book "The Serpent Power" on Kundalini Yogic practices is highly valued even today. The Garland of Letters is another of his scholarly works.

Woodroffe's lectures and essays opened the doors of Indian practices and philosophy to the westren world. His collection of essays titled "Is India Civilised?" is an example of his many essays on Indian Philosophy. He also translated Mahanirvana Tantram into English. Study of these translations influence many westren scholars later on and helped in giving wide publicity to Indian Yogic Practices in other parts of the world. 

Many psychologists have used John Woodroffe's works to further the study of mind and its impact on body. Notable among them is Carl Gustav Jung, the Swiss Psychologist and Psycho-analyst. Carl Jung is recognized as the founder of Analytical Psychology. It is on record that Carl Jung was greatly influenced by the readings of the works of Sir John Woodroffe which opened the gates of Indian spiritualism and mind studies to him. Jung's principles of "Individual unconscious" and "Collective unconscious" have influence of Indian Yogic Practices.

We have to be grateful for the services of scholars like Sir John Woodroffe for bringing the treasures of Indian spiritualism to the rest of the world. It is also time that we recognize the worth in our own backyard instead of always quoting westren scholars in psychology studies.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Three Mountains and a Stone

The young ascetic had a solitary goal in his life; the one of learning as much as possible during his lifetime. He started his pursuit at a young age and never looked back. He renounced all earthly pleasures and moved forward in his life's mission without interruption. All his time was spent in learning, mastering whatever was learnt and further learning. Days flew fast and he was not even aware of it. Days became years and decades. He continued on his path unmindful of all other things.

Father time waits for none. The ascetic was now at the end of his life span and was a hundred year old. There is a limit to human body and the end for his body was near. Pleased with his application and dedication to learning, Lord Indra appeared before him and wanted to bless him before his separation from the human body. The sage realized that the Lord of the Devatas, Indra was standing before him. He now knew that his end was near. He had no qualms about embracing certain death and renouncing the body. But he was unhappy that he had not succeeded in his mission to learn everything that is there to learn. 

"Time has come for you to leave. You have achieved a lot in your lifetime. You are a model to other learners. You are eligible to enter higher worlds due to your achievements", said Lord Indra.

"Thank you, Lord Indra. I am indeed grateful. I have no worries about death. How I wish I had finished my learning! Unfortunately that is not to be.", said the sage.

"I will make a special boon for you. I will extend your life span by another hundred years. This is not generally done. However, I am impressed by your urge to continue learning. Finish your studies. I will come after another hundred years.", saying so Lord Indra disappeared. 

The sage continued his goal for another hundred years. Time flew and he was not even aware of limitations of time. Lord Indra again appeared before him and repeated his lines. 

"Time has come. You are to move to higher worlds now. I will provide a place of choice for you in heaven", said Lord Indra.

"I am again beholden to you, my Lord. But my learning is not complete. How I wish I had some more time to finish my learning!", said the sage.

"I am extending your life span by another hundred years to complete your learning. But remember, this is the last chance. I will be back after hundred years.", said Lord Indra and disappeared.

Another hundred years flew in learning new things. Time was gone but learning was not complete! Lord Indra dutifully appeared before the sage and asked whether he was now finished. The sage said that still there was a lot to learn and he was far from finished. Lord Indra asked the sage to turn back and look at the scene behind him. As the sage turned, he saw three big mountains before him. Lord Indra asked the stage to pick up a small stone lying near his foot. His instruction was followed by the sage.

"The stone in your hand represents what you have learnt in three hundred years. The three mountains before you represent the amount of unfinished learning. However much I extend your life span, you may not be able to finish your learning.", said Lord Indra.

"I appreciate the enormity of the task, my Lord. But there must be some method of achieving this task. You are the one capable of helping me in this pursuit. Please guide me.", said the sage. 

Lord Indra was pleased with the approach of the sage. He advised him to appeal to the Sun God to help him to learn the essence of all knowledge. The sage sat in penance and prayed for the blessings of the Sun. He then succeeded in his mission by guidance of the Sun.

This is the story of Rishi Bharadwaja. Due his unquenchable thirst for knowledge and achieving the essence of all knowledge, he is recognized as one among the seven top most rishis of the present period. The seven sages are collectively called as "Saptarshis" (The seven sages) and have the responsibility of protecting all knowledge sources till the end of present times (Manvantara).  

Rishi Bharadwaja is credited with texts of many branches of knowledge including Rigveda and Ayurveda. He is a highly revered and loved sage. His reference can be seen in both Ramayana and Mahabharata. Rama and Seethe visit Bharadwaja Ashram and spend some time with him during their Vanavas (life in the woods) period. Sage Bharadwaja had a son through a celestial Nymph by name Ghrutachi. This son was named Dronacharya and was given training in use of weapons and warfare, a training he received from his father initially. Dronacharya had a major role in Mahabharata as a Guru to the Kauravas and Pandavas and the Kurukshetra war.

Sage Bharadwaja's story has many lessons for us. There is no end to learning, is one of them. Continued perseverance in achieving the set goals is another. Finding a short path to understand the essence of learning is one more. There can be many others as well.

We may sometime feel proud about our achievements when certain things we do succeed and bring a sense of elation. Remembering Sage Bharadwaja at such times tempers our sense of pride and instils humbleness in our approach.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Idolville or Lingamburg

Rituals at the marriage hall were in full swing. Hosts were engaged in receiving the guests and everyone was busy doing his part. Refreshments were being served in one part of the hall. On the other side was a long line and yet more people were still coming in and joining the line. Those joining the line were empty handed. When they moved out from the front end of the line, there was nothing in their hands. The distinguished visitor from a foreign land was surprised at this spectacle. What were these people waiting for in the long line? He went along the line to check it out. He did not find anything special there. When their turn came, each one in the line received a spoonful of water from a shining vessel kept on the table. The spoonful water was consumed with reverence and each one felt gratified for the same. The visitor enquired from the host as to what was going on there. The host replied that "Gangajal" was being distributed to the guests. It was the holy water from the river Ganges, the visitor was told. People are standing in a long queue just for receiving a spoonful of mere water! The visitor was flabbergast and stood there dumbstruck. He was having yet another taste of the uniqueness of the country he was visiting.
Born as Samuel Langhorne Clemens but famous by his pen name Mark Twain (1835-1910), the American writer and humorist is remembered for his writings and contributions to society even today. When he was 11 years old, his father who was a judge died. Samuel joined as a printer's apprentice and later joined as a typesetter in a newspaper. He started contributing articles to the paper and thus started his writing career. He worked in various cities on the Atlantic coast as a printer and spent evenings in libraries. His regular visits to the libraries helped him to educate himself much more than in conventional schools. Among his famous works are Adventures of Tom Sawer, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Innocents Abroad. 

Mark Twain earned considerable amounts of money from his literary works. He was also an entrepreneur and keenly interested in scientific inventions. He invested his earnings in various ventures and lost his money. He also made losses from his publishing business Charles Webster and Company. Certain developments and help from friends absolved him from legal responsibility of payment to other fellow investors. But Twain wanted to pay them off even if he was not required to do so. He ventured on a year long journey abroad for a lecture tour that could give him enough earnings to meet his repayment efforts. His tour in 1895-96 took him to Canada, Fiji, Hawaii, New Zealand, Australia, Sri Lanka India, South Africa and England. 

The above incident was one of the several interesting episodes he encountered while traveling in India.

Mark Twain visited India between 18th January and 5th April 1896. His experiences in India and elsewhere during the lecture tour of 1895-96 are chronicled in his travelogue titled "Following the Equator", first published in 1897.  His visit to India made a lasting impression on him and he was struck by the contrasts that existed side by side in its cities and villages. Among its many cities, Benares (Varanasi or Kashi) touched his imagination the most. The number of Shiva Lingas there was something he could never fathom. He is reported to have exclaimed thus: "If Vishnu had foreseen what this town was going to be, he would have called it "Idolville" or "Lingamburg". Notwithstanding his  seemingly uncomfortable sojourn in Benares, he still recorded that it was one of the most wonderful places he had ever seen. Among his many remarks during visit of India is this frequently quoted exclamation: "India is the cradle of the human race, the birth place of human speech, the mother of history, the grandmother of legend and the great grandmother of tradition".  
Mark Twain was a pauper (insolvent) when he set out on his lecture tour. The tour made him solvent again. India probably made substantial contribution in this change. Hence this parting note from him: "In religion, all other countries are paupers. India is the only millionaire".

Friday, January 20, 2017

Lotus Feet and Foot-care

Vaamana was standing before Emperor Bali, who was in the middle of a sacred ritual. The word "Vaamana" itself signifies small in stature. The small boy had arrived there on a mission. Bali, son of Virochana and grandson of Prahlada, was a benevolent King and had displaced the mighty Indra from his throne. Indra and other devatas were now out of power. Their mother Aditi could not tolerate the sufferings of her sons. She requested her husband Sage Kashyapa to find a solution to the problem. Sage Kashyapa suggested her to undertake a course of worship called "Payovrata", worshipping Lord Vishnu by consuming only milk during the worship period. Pleased with Aditi's worship, Lord Vishnu took birth as her son and was named Vaamana. As he was the younger brother of Indra, he became Upendra. Upendra set out on a mission to restore the throne to his brother Indra. He was now standing before Emperor Bali, with a broad smile on his face.

Bali was flabbergast at the divine aura of little Vaamana. He desired to give something to the boy standing before him. When asked to seek something, Vaamana wanted only three feet area of land to carry on his daily rituals. Before Bali could fulfill the requirement, his Guru Shukracharya wanted to prevent it to save his disciple. Shukracharya knew that Vaamana was none other than Lord Vishnu. He blocked the outlet of the holy pot to prevent flow of water required to complete the transfer of land, by assuming a small form and sitting in the outlet. Vaamana knew this and he pierced the opening with the holy hay ring in his hand. Shukracharya lost one eye in the bargain and came out bleeding in the eye. Bali completed the transfer of land and now Vaamana started measuring the three feet of land transferred to him. Vaamana grew to unbelievable size and became Trivikrama. He lifted his foot and for the first time someone (Bali) was able to see the lower part of the feet of the Lord.  

The entire earth was measured by the right foot alone. As Vaamana lifted the left foot to measure the worlds above the earth, the tip of the top of the thumb pierced the golden shell of the upper universe. The entire thumbnail was not required nor its top part. A small tip of the thumb was adequate to pierce the golden shell of the universe! The holy waters of the upper worlds came out of the hole in the shell in the form of Ganga, the mighty holy river. Lord Brahma came running to collect the holy water in his Kamandala, and washed the feet of Vaamana who was now standing as Trivikrama. This started the practice of washing the feet of the Lord and elders in due course. Prahlada also came running and was happy for his grandson. Happy because he himself was able to make Lord Vishnu to take one form of Narasimha, but his grandson was able to make the Lord take two forms of Vaamana and Trivikrama. Legend has it that with no space available now for the donated third feet of land, Vaamana placed his foot on Bali and sent him to the worlds below (not underworld!). It is believed that Vaamana is still standing as a guard at the gate of Bali's palace in the lower world, as a boon to the donor.

How was the Lord's foot that Bali saw when Vaamana's foot was raised? This has been described at length in various epics and sources. It is said that the Lord's feet are like Lotus and much much better than that. It is said to be like Lotus only because we do not know anything better than Lotus. Lord's feet are said to be more red than the rising sun. 

What about our own feet? The most tender feet we ever know of is the feet of a just born child. Each day thereafter, the feet change in colour as well as in tenderness. An adult's foot is often something similar to the ground we walk on. Feet happen to be one of the most important part of the body, but hardly receives a fraction of the care one's face gets. They are often cracked and rough. As a person ages, the nails of the fingers in the feet become hard and brittle. Clipping the nails using common nail cutters is a big task. Aged people find this a very exacting affair. In-growing nails, especially in the thumbs, result in severe pain. Diabetic patients suffer from ulcers and many have their fingers removed surgically.

The top tip of the nail of the Lotus Feet of the Lord was good enough to pierce the golden shell of the upper Universe and release holy Ganga water. Unclipped nails of a man often brushes and cuts his own skin and muscle, releasing blood and resulting in wounds and pain.
Pedicure clinics attend to the treatment of feet, corns and trimming of toenails. A Podiatrist is a person who is trained to identify and treat foot disorders. Woodlands Hotel in the city of Bangalore, located on the Sampangi Tank Road, is a popular place for stay, food and functions like marriage ceremonies etc. In a side shed at this hotel lies a Pedicure clinic that is hidden among the trees and not easily visible. Mehaboob Sharieff and his associates provide footcare services here. Sharieff learnt foot care technique under one Azam Khan, who was trained in Czechoslovakia when Bata made advent in India some seventy years ago. One can get an appointment for foot care session and may have to wait for weeks to fix one as the place is visited by many regulars and diabetic persons. Mahaboob Sharieff's client list includes many well known personalities from the world of films, sports and politicians.

The treatment starts with soaking of the feet in salt water and thorough cleaning of the feet to remove dead cells. A modified dentist chair allows the patient to relax during the nearly one hour process. A number of instruments are used for clipping the nails and cleaning the feet. The instruments are sterilized before another use. The amount of dirt and dead cells that are removed during the process are to be seen to be believed. The clinic also offers foot-friendly footwear that are on display at the clinic. Mahaboob Shariff advises soaking the feet in warm salt water frequently to keep them healthy and in shape. 

Those having problem of foot care and clipping nails in the foot may visit the clinic to have a first hand experience of the service.