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.