Time for Truth


https://www.deccanherald.com/opinion/oasis/time-for-truth-873042.html

The universe has a way of checking the indiscreet and exploitative ways of mankind periodically. Of late, it has manifested itself as an invisible microbe and is taunting the uppity attitude of our race. Oftentimes, when the mind is riddled with fear and doubt; it resorts to various means to resolve its uncertainties. When rationale of science and medicine fail to provide answers, the faithful seek solution and solace through worship and prayers.

As far as India is concerned, the believers turn to one or many of the gods from the pantheon, each of them who have the special ability to alleviate specific ills. In such times as these, when bogged down by baffling illnesses and challenges devotees turn to lord Sudarshana to quell the obstacle and throw open the path of progress. Kings, leaders, communities and householders perform the Sudarshana Homam as prescribed by the Shastras in a view to seek relief.

History chronicles that about six centuries ago, Nigamanta Vedanta Desikar a Vaishnavite, scholar, seer and saint composed a powerful prayer in Sanskrit popularly known as Sudarshana Ashtakam. The seer disseminated the same among the local populace that was being bogged down by a pandemic. It is strongly believed that the continuous chanting of these eight potent verses ensconced not merely the essence of the ruling deity but also promised the one who chanted them liberation from the problems that perplexed them.

For those who are new to the subject, it will help to know that Sudarshana Chakra or the celestial serrated disc which is considered to be an integral part of Lord Vishnu was actually created by the divine architect Vishwakarma. It is said that he fashioned the disc using a slice of the effulgent sunbeam and gifted it to lord Vishnu who used it from time to time to behead the pestilences which harassed the earthlings in the form of demons.

The fact that this powerful weapon was granted the status of a god and act independently by the lord himself speaks about the supremacy of Sudarshana.

An etymological interpretation of the deity’s name will help us decode the mystery of life itself. When pursued in earnest, Su -Darshana will not only show us the way out of the maze but will help us to arrive at the supreme Truth or Goodness. The time for reckoning with the truth has arrived.

Our Naada Habba


Appeared in the student edition of Deccan Herald  23rd September 2019

 

The Pooja vacation is round the corner. A welcome respite for students indeed,         especially as it crops up during the middle of a hectic academic year. Maybe you should keep this article aside and read it at leisure during the vacation.

The Mysore Dusshera our Naada Habba is a world famous event which attracts tourists from every nook and corner of the globe. The reverence towards the goddess Chamundeshwari coupled with pomp and glory exhibited during on these days reflects on the ambience of an age that has flit past. Though one can view the entire ceremony on the television shows which relays the occasion in great detail one must make it a point to enjoy the experience first hand at least once in your lifetime. It can be a joy to re-live the splendour and the grandeur of a prosperous era which is represented by caparisoned elephants, royal relics besides the food and music fit for a connoisseur.

The Dusshera festival is also known as the “Gombe habba” or dolls festival in south India.  Temples and homes have wide stairs built, numbering up to eleven in number and display figurines of gods and goddesses in addition to several dolls representative of historical or contemporary life. This also an occasion to unveil the creativity and imagination by setting up parks, railway stations, cricket grounds to add colour to the occasion.

Dusshera is symbolically celebrated to mark the struggle and the ultimate victory of goddess Chamundi to vanquish the demon Mahishasura. It is believed that this demon assumed the form of a wild buffalo and troubled the sages and disrupted their Yagas. He was very powerful and was blessed with immortality by Bramha who said that the demon would never face death until a woman exterminated him. Mahishasura was extremely pleased with the boon and took his life and power for granted and acted ruthlessly. He knew no woman would dare to even look at him, let alone kill him. It was at this juncture goddess Shakthi assumed the form of Chamundeshwari at the behest of the pantheon of Gods and waged a battle against Mahishasura for nine days.

Puranas reveal that the strength of the goddess was supplemented by Lakshmi, Saraswathi and Durga in phases of three days each, to empower her to destroy Mahisha eventually.

A closer look at this story appears to disclose a coded message for us. The assets of the goddesses are representative of different strengths like wealth ( well- being) , education and power. The goddess also employed Yantra (Mechanisations), Mantra ( synthesized information in the form of formulae) and Tantra (Logic) to kill Mahisha. Hence it becomes apparent that one needs a strength which is a combination of physical power and mental power to achieve one’s end for success does not come very easily without a struggle.

To this day we worship machines, even laptops and palmtops on the ninth day of the festival also known as Ayudha pooja day as a mark of deference towards the instruments that play a part in our success. The last day of the festival is called – a day of victory when the victory of the goddess is celebrated.

It is also celebrated as teachers’ day by traditionalists. It is considered as an auspicious day when new learning or projects can be launched without fear of failure.

The north Indians take pride and happiness in celebrating the event as Durga Pooja or Navrathri. The traditional Garba dance in worship of the goddess has caught the imagination of youngsters in a big way nowadays who spend the Pooja holidays in fun and frolic.

The Ramayana mentions that Rama returned to Ayodhya with Sita and Laksmana after his exile of fourteen years during this period. Ram Leela is celebrated with great fervour in Uttar Pradesh and surrounding states when an effigy of the ten headed Ravana is set on fire.

The Mahabharatha says that Arjuna the Pandava prince retrieved his bow Gandeevi from the Banni tree on Vijayadashami after living incognito for a year to fight Duryodhana and his forces as he took the side of prince UttaraKumara.

A closer observation of their activities will reveal that each geographical area has a different custom which has been followed over the ages though the core value and understanding the festival is uniform throughout the country.

Did you know that this Pooja season has a lot of relevance to mans relationship with the environment around him?

For instance, people give a lot of importance to different cereals and food grains during the first nine days of this festive season.

This tradition has a lot of practical connotations when we delve deeper into it. We all know this festival falls at the fag end of the rainy season. There is usually a dearth of fruits and vegetables during this time. The greens also do not thrive during this season. When man is cut off from a major source of nutrition he is likely to fall sick hence he resorted to utilize the food grains stored by him.  The cereals which are a rich source of protein supplement as nutritious food during the season which is punctuated with fasting and feasting.

Down south, families display dolls and images of gods and goddesses recreating myths, historical and contemporary events during the ten days. If you have noticed they also build a small park where they allow food grains to germinate and grow into young plants.  The site of greenery indoors not only lends beauty to the atmosphere but also acts as an indicator of the condition of the soil. In the past, in a predominantly agricultural society the festival proved to be a platform for experimenting on a possible bumper crop using this aesthetic mode. Farmers collected soil from their fields and sowed different food grains and watered them regularly till they developed into healthy little plants. At the end of ten days they got a fairly good idea of the crop which would do well that season in their soil. This little agricultural experiment formed the basis on which farmers could exchange seeds and agrarian know-how.

This custom encouraged the “give and take policy” among people and helped them to live in harmony amongst themselves and the nature around them.

A study of ancient Vedic texts reveals that each food grain was identified for its specific strengths and its ability to nourish and medicate the various parts of the body when consumed or distributed on a particular day of the week. It has been discovered that intake of rice on Mondays, Toor dal on Tuesdays, green-gram on Wednesdays, channa on Thursdays, beans on Fridays, urad dal on Saturdays and wheat on Sundays can prove to be potent. Recent studies by dieticians and healthcare researchers have confirmed the veracity of the tradition.

Just like any other festivity in India, there are several reasons assigned    for the celebration of these ten days which commence on the Mahalaya Amavasya day during the Sharath or the autumn season. Nevertheless they convey the same messages – the triumph of good over evil and how it is important for us to live in harmony with each other.

The festivities begin on a somber note at riversides, beaches and the several water bodies of India which are generally flooded with people who offer their obeisance to their dead ancestors and pray for the peace and general well being of the departed souls. The following nine days are celebrated with variations that suit the geographical and social backdrops of the various regions. It is amazing to know that each one of our festivals have several layers of meanings and relevance to people from all walks of life. They have been tested and formulated by our ancestors in a purposeful manner to bring added meaning and joy into our lives!!! Happy Dussera !!!

 

 

 

 

 

Of Perceptions and Responses


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Many of us respond to a situation as we perceive it. Our perceptions are usually based on the situation, venue and our state of mind. We could be right most of the times, yet there are instances when we can go wrong horribly very simply because we have no clue about the other person’s circumstances.

The Mahabharata lays out one such instance which proves to be fatal to Parikshit the king of Hastinapura. Once, the Kuru king went on a hunting spree. He was lost and exhausted after an energetic chase. Soon he reached a clearing. There he found a sage immersed in a serene state of meditation. The royal scion bowed to Rishi with great reverence and offered the customary respects. Then he asked the Rishi if he could have some water. The Sage did not respond. The king’s repeated queries and request for some water seemed to fall on deaf ears. Parikshit was frustrated. The disgusted king looked around. He found a dead snake lying in the whereabouts. He picked up the carrion with one of his arrows and tossed it around the neck of the sage, mouthed some inanities and insults at the still silent sage.

When Parikshit self righteously turned to go away from the scene, another sage entered the scenario. He happened to be Shringi the son of sage Shamik. The virtuos son was infuriated to see his father insulted with a  dead serpent round his neck. He did not care that the perpetrator of this great sin was the king of the land. He pronounced a terrible curse on the ruler saying that the emperor would die of snake bite in a week’s time. Parikshit became jittery. He was aware of the potency of the curse. He hastened back to Hastinapura and got a royal quarters built on a tall column and moved in, in the hope of averting death. That he was overcome by death is another story.

This episode shows that each man did what he perceived to be right based on his experience and the given situation. It is easy to see that both of them did not act justifiably.

Most of us behave in more or less the same manner and end up wondering about what went wrong when matters turn sour.

Nourishing Neem


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It is impossible to pass an unworshipped neem tree, especially in rural India. Neem tree, also famously known as sarva roga nivarini, has proven to be a sure panacea for many physical problems. Here are the many benefits of neem:

Chewing a couple of tender neem leaves can deworm your stomach, help you recuperate from jaundice, and also help in regulating blood sugar. It can also treat mouth ulcers, bleeding sore gums, and can prevent tooth decay.

Regular intake of neem leaves after meals regulates your digestive system, and can also get rid of psoriasis.

Consuming tender neem sprouts or capsules for a fortnight to a month can detoxify the body and strengthen the immune system. A healthier immune system helps your body in fighting off many illness and diseases.

When a paste made of neem leaves mixed with coconut oil and turmeric powder is applied to the face and washed off after an hour, it can leave it glowing.

Regular consumption of tender neem leaves can help you deal with fever, cough, aches and pains, sore throat, fatigue and nasal congestion.

Make your own insecticide by making little cloth bags of dried neem leaves and leave it in your provisions, clothes cupboards and bookshelves.

Bacterial infections in the nasal passages and respiratory system can be decreased by inhaling steam from boiling the leaves with a drop of eucalyptus oil.

This neem tree was outside our home.

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Accomodating Our elders


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A random study of the civilisations across the globe reveals that mankind as a single unit has certainly recognised the fact that it is inevitable that man grows older and experiences a deterioration of his faculties and general health over a period of time.

In spite of this physical weakening, he grows stronger in spirit and emerges as a wise person which he derives from the various experiences of life.
Perhaps an African proverb which goes, “A library dies when a old man dies” speaks volumes about how the elderly were looked upon in the past.

As each day rolls by we grow older, little realising that old age will be taking toll of us very soon. Yet most young people have a firm belief that they will never age and hence become insensitive to the older people around them.

The ever-growing number of old-age homes in a traditional country like India is an alarming development that needs to be checked as early as possible.
At this point it will be of essence to remember an old fable where a man served his aged father gruel on a cracked plate day after day as he felt that he had no more benefits to reap from the old man.

One day, when the old man left home with disgust and melancholy because of the treatment meted out to him, the young grandson picked up the cracked plate, cleaned it and wrapped it up neatly in a brown paper. When the surprised father asked him to explain his action, the little boy said that he was keeping the plate safely so that he could serve gruel on the plate when his own father became old and infirm.

This answer struck the father like a lightning and he immediately set off to find his own father filled with remorse and guilt.

Even as the world is progressing, old-age homes mushrooming around the world are taking the role of a reliable support system.

Each of us will do well to remember that we must not let the golden chance of showing our gratitude to the elders who shaped our lives slip by. After all did they not spend the best part of their lives caring for us?

STRENGTH OF KARMA


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The law of Karma makes it amply clear that we will most definitely experience the consequences of our actions.

Largely, people do not have any objections about harvesting the benefits of their good deeds. It is only when we go through a rough passage of life we cringe and cower at the thought of bearing the brunt of our misdeeds.

A level-headed person will understand that when one lands a bad bargain, he or she should hope for the best but be prepared for the worst. By doing so, at least the quotient of regret of not having tried enough to circumvent the problem can be done away with.

An episode from the Mahabharata documents this nugget of wisdom through the predicament of Parikshit, the king of Hastinapura. Once, the sovereign succumbed to unreasonable anger. He humiliated a reverent sage Shamik by garlanding him with the flaccid dead body of a snake.

The sage’s son Shringi, who was outraged by the king’s misdemeanor, cursed him to be dead in a week’s time by a snake bite. The petrified king realised that no amount of penitence could salvage him from the imminent death. Nevertheless he thought out the situation pragmatically.

He got a royal residence built on a tall tower and moved in. The food, drink and even the very air that he breathed were scanned before being permitted into the premises. Now it was customary for Brahmins to offer a fruit to the king. That day also, it was given to the king after the usual security check.

When the unsuspecting ruler cut open the fruit, a worm fell on the ground and grew up manifold. Takshaka, the king of snakes, metamorphosed himself into a tiny worm and had reclined in the heart of a lemon. Parikshit recognised Takshaka – and he fell dead when stung by the reptile and the prophecy was fulfilled.

Though Parikshit could not save himself, the fact remains that he left no stone unturned to protect his life. His approach is worthy of being emulated, for while it is sad to fail in one’s mission, it will be a shame and pity for not having tried to decimate the problem. If a righteous sovereign could not salvage himself from the consequences of his misdemeanor, we must think twice before we err consciously!

An Ode to My Music Teacher


https://www.deccanherald.com/opinion/right-middle/ode-my-music-teacher-693371.html

S RADHA PRATHI, SEP 18 2018, 23:25PM IST UPDATED: SEP 18 2018, 23:26PM IST

When my music teacher taught me the Sargam when I was a mere child, she had asked me to visualize them as a set of steps, which I had to ascend and descend. Just like the steps, the musical notes would remain static in their designated places and if I needed access over them, I had to reach out to them. She probably said it just once and may have said it to put across the point, but somehow the image has remained with me ever since. I have always imagined that each step represented a Swara.  I would step, skip, linger or bounce over them in accordance to the lessons taught. Thus I practiced Sarali varase, Genti varase, Dhatu varase and Alankaras  mentally when I paced and hopped up and down the stairs without particularly going up or down. All the jumping left me breathless especially when I tried going through them in the second and third speed. Not to mention, that I would be reprimanded for being so very restless. Now I find it amazing that I had not divulged what was going on in my mind or explained all the ascending and descending. Though the exhausting exercise did not impact the quality of my singing then, I learned the basic difference between constants and variables at an impressionable age. I was able to understand the distinct distances between musical notes which helped me hone my skills as the years passed. However what fascinates me to this day is the fact that whenever I catch myself alone on a staircase, I immediately assign them the Sargam in a raga that catches my fancy at that point of time and  hum a pattern of notes in my mind and step accordingly. In other words, I can never go past a set of stairs without thinking of music.

Interestingly, it was my music teacher who had helped me understand Algebra several years before it was introduced to me in school when she explained the concept of octaves in music. She said in passing (again) that the first note of the Sargam determined the placements of the other Swaras. Whenever, I had to find the value of “x”, in an equation, I could not help thinking of it as the “Aadhar Shadja”. Learning sets and drawing Venn diagrams was cake walk to me in school because I had been taught about complete octaves which paved way to mini ragas with  a few notes, the similarities and differences in the notes between ragas which made them distinct . I could not shake off music when I was taught   the concept of 360 degrees around a point which can be segmented. I was well aware of the raga chart akin to a pie chart into the 72 major ragas were segmented. Sums to be solved on Permutations and combinations seemed easier when I converted marbles or balloons into musical notes. I have never been able to overcome the sense of déjà vu in the mathematics classes.

When I reflect over the deep seated influence on thinking that my music teacher had over me besides helping me to learn music I realise that teachers do have the knack of influencing you for eternity!

Ignorance is Bliss


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The omnipresence of divinity is seldom acknowledged in our day-to-day lives. It could be due to ignorance or simply lack of comprehension. However, our lives tend to become complicated when we do not grasp the lofty universal truths fully.

An anecdote from the repertoire of stories told by Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa puts across this point succinctly. Once, a layman was enlightened about the omnipresence of god. The happy man left the Ashram with his newfound knowledge. As he was walking down the street, he saw a rogue elephant. The Mahout shouted instructions to the people on the road to get away from the path of the pachyderm. Everyone slipped away in double quick time except the newly edified man. The elephant handled him roughly with his trunk and flung him afar. The hurt man was taken to the Ashram and rendered first aid. Then he was questioned on his foolishness. The naive  man said, “I thought that the God in the elephant would not harm me.” To which, the philosopher replied, “But, why did you not listen to the God who warned you through the Mahout?”

This incident enumerates the fact that spiritually oriented people need a lot of discernment lest they come to foolhardy conclusions like the protagonist in the tale.

An incident in the Ramayana expounds the facility of being in the dark about matters beyond our ken to help us function normally and genuinely. When the exiled prince Rama came to the banks of river Ganga along with Lakshmana and Sita, the local chieftain Guha extends warm hospitality and assures unflinching support to Rama. He even offers his position to Rama without blinking an eyelid. When all his offers were rejected politely, Guha personally takes the trio across the river. If Guha had the slightest inkling about the divinity of Rama he would have been awestruck by the mere presence of the trio. His gestures would have been punctuated with nervousness or simply decimated into inaction. Conversely, his lack of consciousness on the matter not only made him offer all his earthly possessions to the creator, but made him take the celestial navigator who helps his devotees to cross the sea of life to cross the river!

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Unresolved Misery, Remorse Can Be Fatal


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There are moments in life when nothing seems to be under our control. An incident from the Ramayana enumerates one such situation. When king Dasharatha fixed the coronation of his beloved son Rama, he hastened to his favourite queen’s chamber to break the news to her personally. Little did the king realise that Kaikeyi’s mind had been poisoned by her maid Manthara. He was shocked beyond words when he heard her demands to redeem the two boons given by him long ago. He could not digest the idea of exiling his dearest son to the forests for 14 years after fixing his coronation. He was also not very open to the idea of crowning Kaikayi’s son Bharatha as the king of Ayodhya. Repeated pleas to his dear wife got him nowhere and he swooned from time to time. The king was truly caught between the devil and the deep sea.

On the one hand, he could not even dream of going back on his promise because he was a man of his word. On the other hand, he could not bring himself to inflict an undeserving heinous punishment on his faultless son. He tried to cajole and coax his beautiful queen. When she refused to respond, he berated her and even threatened her about her impending widowhood. When she refused to budge from her obstinate demands, he wondered if he was at the receiving end of his own Karma. He imagined that he must have separated thousands of cows from their calves, mothers from their sons and wives from their husbands to have merited such a state. He tried to recollect all the possible evil deeds that may have been perpetrated by him to reap such misery. He succumbed to his end without putting up a fight as he was depressed beyond measure.

Natural disasters, death of a beloved person or separation from a loved one can leave us devastated. Any amount of solace cannot reverse the incident. When misery and remorse envelop us, it will be better for us to accept the situation and contemplate on the next step forward. On the other hand if we choose to wallow in our despondency we might tumble into a bottomless pit of sorrow which can push us to a state of depression or death.

Go with the flow of Life


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Life is certainly stranger than fiction. Yet if we decide to go with the flow of life after overcoming the initial shock, it will not only make life easier for us, but will also make life more bearable to our loved ones.

Sage Dhaumya narrates the story of Maharishi Chyavana and his spouse Sukanya to the exiled Pandavas and their consort Draupadi to help them understand the unpredictable aspects of life. Once, king Sharyathi went on a picnic with his royal family. Sukanya, the young princess wandered away from the group. She was attracted to an anthill. When she got closer, she noticed two shiny spots which seemed to be within the ant hill.

The little lass felt tempted to tease out the glittery worms from their position. She scouted for a long sharp twig and began digging into the spot. What began as a fun exercise, horrified her as she noticed blood oozing out from the anthill, punctuated with agonizing cry of a human being.

The royal family rallied around her after they heard her hysterical shrieks. The king immediately knocked off chunks of the anthill steadily and gently. He was shaken when he saw an old and wizened sage bleeding in the eyes. Young Sukanya realised that she had inadvertently poked the gleaming eyes of sage, mistaking them to be glow worms.

The king and his entourage apologised profusely. The king offered his daughter Sukanya in marriage to the sage to make amends for the damage rendered to his eyes. The princess had no choice but to accept the blind sage as her groom to assuage her guilt and also to uphold her father’s respectability.

Though Sukanya’s marital life began as a compromise over bizarre inequalities, she accepted her new station in life. She took her role as the dutiful and loving wife seriously. She surmounted many more trials, but that is another story. Her intrinsic values and determination to make the best out of the given situation transformed her into a worthy role model. Life sometimes has the penchant to take us through unimaginable paths. At such times it will be in our best interests to remember that if life gives us a lemon, we must make lemonade out of it!