Bird’s Eye View of Sanskrit

To many of us, the word “Sanskrit” suggests a wonderful language which belonged to a hoary past. We know that India is the land in which this wonderful language originated. Ancient Indians were well versed in the language. The Vedas, the Puranas, the classical texts – The Ramayana and the Mahabharata were written in this language and they have been recognised and revered by people across the globe even to this day. The Indian way of living, its ethos and flavour is directly related to the language and what it has to offer by way of classics and literature. Just about every subject under the sun has been covered in one way or another in some of these texts. Linguists and scientists marvel at the precise nature of this language. The inherent binary code of the letters in the language has been discovered to be compatible for codification and for use by computers. All the contemporary Indian languages have been derived from this source, with the exception of Tamil.

This ancient language has a hoary past running into millenniums hence it is very difficult to arrive at some consensus about the origin of the language. Traditionally, Indians, believe that the language was initially used by our pantheon of 33 crore gods to communicate amongst themselves. Hence Sanskrit is also called Daiva Bhasha or the lingo of the gods. Later on, the language was gifted to mankind by goddess Saraswathi and hence Sanskrit is also known as Geervana Bharathi.

The fairy tale like origin of the language apparently had few takers amongst the hardcore linguists across the globe who think that Sanskrit evolved from Prakruth derived from the sounds of nature. They believe that long, long ago when man evolved into an intelligent being, he found the necessity to communicate his thoughts, feelings and ideas. He probably played “dumb charades” and sometimes took to hieroglyphics to put across his thoughts and aped sounds from nature in order to communicate. Over a period of time the language was organised and honed till it reached the point of perfection. The phonology, syntax, vocabulary and grammar of the language has the world awestruck with its finesse and completeness.

When an ancient language has so many feathers in its cap (or is it crown?) one would think that the language is on velvet and nothing can ever go wrong in its kingdom. Yet sadly enough, we have come a long away from such a pristine state of affairs. A brief study of the history of the country will reveal that, we as a nation have been introduced to varied cultures and civilisation over the course of history. The invaders left their stamp behind that influenced our way of living and thinking to a large extent. Lots of factors changed. Yet the change cannot be considered complete as we have retained the basic Indian values despite innumerable onslaughts. Perhaps it is at this juncture, we should recognise the power of the Sanskrit language which helped us to carry forward the basis of Indian-ness for it has been the cementing factor which has sustained the spirit in the oral and written format.

All of you are perhaps aware that Sanskrit is one of the most ancient languages in the world which is complete in its own way. Have you ever wondered about the origin of this language? As students, whenever you are taught something new or asked to learn a novel concept, you may have found yourself wondering whoever started it all. Some of your questions may have interesting answers and some may not.

If you have ever wondered about Sanskrit, well, there is a very interesting tale about the beginning of the language in our ancient texts. It is said that lord Shiva lapsed into one of his ecstatic danced to the beat of the Dumroo, a small percussion instrument (see picture alongside) and several variations of sounds flowed out of the instrument. It is said these letters were gathered in this order and used as the basic letters of the language and were represented in the ‘Devanagari’ script.

The sound and the symbols of the language were effectively used by the people to compile a comprehensible vocabulary and record their observations and inferences in the form of Vedas which are called Rig, Sama, Yajur and Atharvana Vedas. A close reading of the Vedas will reveal that they not only give guidelines to lead a life that emphasises on living in harmony with nature and fellow human beings but also have a wealth of information on just about every topic under the sun.

A few copies of the Vedic literature was etched on processed palm leaves by scholarly students for reference, but most of them committed the entire text to memory and passed on the texts orally to their juniors. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why, we do not have too many copies of the entire text available as on date.

Many a time some words were lost in mis-pronunciation and lapse of memory. In such cases, people resorted to the basic rules of grammar which helped them to supplement the blank with an appropriate word. This procedure is almost akin to solving a crossword puzzle where you have a clue of both the meaning of the word and the number of letters in the answer word.

Our ancestors had evolved a wonderful way of understanding and learning a language. Panini an ancient grammarian who is believed to have lived in eighth century BC formulated 3964 “Aphorisms” also known as “Sutras” each running into a word or a phrase. If a student of Sanskrit grammar learned these sutras by heart, his language was sure of becoming impeccable. These sutras dealt with different aspects of language like grammar, analogy, vocabulary, communicative language among other things which facilitated the learning of the language almost faultlessly.

The fact that there have been little or no revisions in the basic rules of the language ever since reflect on the level of perfection that had been attained by the grammarian. The famous Vedas, Puranas, epics, classics and even contemporary literature have been written in the language which subscribes to these rules. Perhaps, it is features like consistency and the completeness of the language that keep it going on till this day despite so many setbacks.

The Ubiquitous Protector

People, especially the city slickers do not have any reasons to exert themselves unless they make a conscious attempt to remove themselves from their comfort zone. All we have to really do is kindly breathe, eat and excrete because most of our needs and jobs are taken care of by machines and the rest by electronics and the help we employ.

Just when we are ushered into that idyllic world of doing nothing, there is an official declaration that most of the health problems of the present age stems from our sedentary lifestyles. So being the quintessential couch potato with matching chips alongside is no longer the most favourable position to be in. Those people who have pledged that they will not budge from their comfort zone for love or money will have to think again.

These days, even momentarily opened doors and windows happen to be ushering in winged creatures which are mostly mosquitoes. They breeze in and hum around our ears, settle on the exposed portions of our bodies and merrily quaff on our life blood.

As a rule, we humans do not resent the resultant itching or the sharing of half a drop of blood if it were not associated with a host of diseases. So we started using sprays, lights, coils and repellants with negligible results. Then, the brainier section of mankind invented the mosquito bat. All we have to do is place our thumbs on the button to activate the electrified battle-ready weapon and brandish it around ourselves and vanquish the bloodsuckers that dare to venture into our orbit. If we are lucky, our success is celebrated with some fireworks and we can slip back into indolence till the next beastly pest flies along.

Initially, the conscientious Samaritans were hesitant to indulge in conscious “himsa.” It took a few gurus and their disciples to use the implement in full public view to put across the message that the insects were probably wretched souls seeking liberation so that they could move on to higher planes. Then on, no one seems to have any compunction about using their bludgeons blissfully. On the contrary, they feel secure when they have one such racquet beside them.

The users of the bats will vouch for the fact that their arms have been strengthened while protecting themselves from some dreadful diseases. More enterprising batsmen and women also manage to burn a few calories when they scout for victims in the vicinity of their homes. In fact, a couple of engineering students have started working on the sports model of the bat which can keep scores of hits and misses quite on the lines of Pokemon Go!

Now that the power and position of the haloed bat has been established, the day is not far when the mosquito will be declared as an endangered species. True blue users of the bludgeon will understand that one of the sovereign duties of a desi is to safeguard the cesspools, potholes, garbage piles so that we have a never ending supply of offerings to the ubiquitous bats that each one of us possesses. After all, is it not our duty to protect our protector?

Kanyaka Parameshwari 2018

I had the privilege to handcraft the jewellery and the accessories of goddess Sree Vasavi Kanyaka Parameshwari using Kundan stones, pearls and mirrors. The idol in the sanctum sanctorum has been adorned with the same on Friday, the 9th of February 2018.KannikaParameshwari 2018

KanyakaParameshwari 2017

10th February 2017, Friday

Today the goddess is wearing a quilled dress.

Paper Quilling has come a long way from the Renaissance period in Italy and France to the craft classes of school children across the globe.

The art which involves rolling strips of paper and pinching them to shape ranges from the simple to the complicated has been employed to adorn the goddess.

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Connecting Dots, Spiritually

Every festival is celebrated with grandeur in our country. So isDhanur maasa which falls between December and January. The south celebrates this season both spiritually and musically.

One cannot miss the mellifluous music that rise from our temples early in the mornings.

Sabhas and music halls compete with each other to provide a stage for both the established and upcoming artists alike. Similarly, one can not miss the art of rangoli/ kholam designs either, which are drawn in front of homes at the crack of dawn.

These days one sees them drawn out even in apartment complexes and gated communities. Some commission rangoli artists in their social circles to draw different rangolis for each day of the month.

If you are wondering what is special about Dhanur Maasarangolis, VR Bhat the Archaka at the Ganesh temple on New BEL Road explains, “Ideally a rangoli should be drawn in front of homes every day, except when the household is mourning. Creative and colourful rangolis can earmark special days in the family and festivals. Patterns based on dots, instil a sense of harmony and connectivity.”

Dr Shatavadhani R Ganesh explains the origin of rangoli, “What we call rangoli today, has its origins in the Sanskrit word Rangavalli. It means creeper-like lines on a stage. They have been a part of Indian art and culture ever since Vedic times and have been used as embellishments and as an expression of aesthetics and faith.”

On the origins of this art, he says, “The lines are blurred between the classical and folk form of the art, leaving us guessing. The geometric Mandalas of Vedic times paved the way for some of the Rangoli patterns drawn to this day.”

The constellations with their relationship to the cosmos, the power of the forces of nature have been symbolically, geometrically and graphically represented as a rangoli, which are also called Yantras.

Sheela Sankaran, a student of Indian Art and Aesthetics, Mumbai University notes, “The Margazhi month in the solar calendar has been earmarked for the art because south India is at latitude of 32 degrees from the Equator. Since this solstice brings the earth closest to the sun, our ancestors decided to highlight the season by infusing music and art in the Rangoli form to celebrate the season.”

It is heartening to see that a few homes in our city still draw out these intricate designs in front of their homes.

Syamala Subramaniam, a 77-year-old home maker reveals she has “not missed drawing a kolam outside my home since I was seven. I enjoyed making huge designs as I had time and space. Ever since I shifted to Bengaluru, my rangolis have become smaller.”

Shackled Capabilities

These days, I cannot resist chuckling to myself when I pass a police station in Namma Bengaluru. The billboard in the premises triggers me into a muted convulsion. The writing in Kannada says, “There are chain thieves around. Beware of them.”

When I saw the impressive board for the first time, I read it aloud to my curious friend who could not read the lingo. Almost immediately, the driver of the auto in which we were travelling chimed in and said that truer words could not have been spoken. He added that the board spoke of the thieves ‘within’ the premises, including the catchers and the caught. His unexpected sarcastic wisecrack had us in splits.

Soon he turned serious and reeled out a dozen instances of chain snatching incidents which met their Waterloo in the area earmarked for public security. Although we were amused, we could not discount the earnestness that we detected in his voice.

We realised that the men in khaki largely fail to inspire respect in the general public. We were reminded of a family anecdote. When one of my uncles was selected by the police department to join as a sub-inspector, my straightforward grandfather categorically threatened to disown him, if he did take up the job.

We in the sub-continent seem to have little or no faith in our law and order system. That explains the reams of jokes on pot bellied policemen and their wayward ways. Our movies invariably picturise them rushing in the last leg of the climax and nabbing the culprits after the hero has bashed them up.

Recently, a news report in Deccan Herald published a story about 10 boys from Bihar, who worked as shoeshine boys in Kolkata. The boys had inadvertently come across a treasure chest which fell off a van belonging to a bank. They divided the spoils amongst themselves and went back to their native places, only to be nabbed by the long arm of the police and that too within a matter of a few days.

This incident is proof of the fact that our police system is perfectly capable of doing its duty efficiently in double-quick time. Perhaps, they were empowered to do so because there was no interference from political or financially sound circles. May be they did it because the perpetrators would not grease their palms. No matter what the reason, the mission was accomplished, truly and well. The incident holds mirror to the general opinion of the common man about our police.

Conversely, we as a nation also look up to upright officers like Kiran Bedi or H T Sangliana as the totem pole of integrity and duty consciousness. May their tribe increase!

Bread Fruit Recipes

Get a taste of the tropics


Breadfruit Podimas

Ingredients: Two raw breadfruits; 1 tsp of turmeric powder; 2 tsps of salt; ½ tsp of hing; 4 red chillies; a sprig of curry leaves; 1 tsp of channa dal; 1 tsp of urad dal and 1 tbsp of cooking oil.
Method: Turn on the stove and place the raw breadfruit on it. Turn it around frequently to cook it evenly on all sides. The skin will carbonise, it but will conduct heat to cook the insides and protect them from getting burnt. Once cooked, wait for it to cool and peel off the burnt skin. Heat oil in a pan and fry the channa dal, urad dal and red chillies with hing. Grind the fried ingredients coarsely, toss the cooked breadfruit with the ground spices and run it for a minute in the food processor. Now crumble the mixture with a blunt ladle. Serve the podimas with hot rice and a raita of your choice.

Breadfruit  & Coconut Curry

Ingredients: Two raw breadfruits; a cup of grated coconut; 1 tbsp of tamarind extract; 1 tsp of turmeric powder; 2 tsps of salt; ½ tsp of hing; 4 red chillies; 4 garlic pods (optional); 1 sprig of curry leaves; 1 tsp of channa dal; 1 tsp of urad dal; 1 tbsp of coriander seeds; 1 tsp of cumin seeds; 1 tsp of mustard seeds and 2 tbsps of cooking oil.
Method: Skin the breadfruit, dice it and pressure cook it using little water. Marinate the cooked breadfruit in tamarind extract mixed with salt, turmeric powder and hing for 10 minutes. Fry the channa dal, urad dal, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, red chillies, garlic and curry leaves in little oil and grind the ingredients finely. Take a heavy-bottomed pan, add a tbsp of oil and add mustard seeds to it. Add the marinated breadfruit to the pan and sauté it for a while. Add the ground ingredients and sauté the same. When the curry appears golden brown, add the grated coconut and mix it well before turning off the heat. Serve as a side dish for rice or roti.

Breadfruit Roast

Ingredients: Two raw breadfruits; 1 tbsp of tamarind extract; 1 tsp of turmeric powder; 2 tsps of salt; ½ tsp of hing; 1 tbsp of red chilli powder; a sprig of curry leaves and half a cup of cooking oil.
Method: Skin the breadfruits and slice them into thin wafers. Marinate the breadfruit slices in tamarind extract mixed with chilli powder, salt, turmeric powder and hing for an hour or so. Take a heavy-bottomed pan, add a tablespoon of oil and heat the same and spatter the mustard in it. Add the marinated breadfruit and curry leaves to the pan and sauté it for a while. Add oil from time to time to the pan and attend to the vegetable till it turns into a fine roast. This roast can be served as a side dish with rice or simply eaten as a snack.
Note: You can even deep fry the marinated the breadfruits and eat them as chips.

“Education ” By Question Banks

We are in the middle of the academic year. Students are busy taking periodic tests and midterm examinations based on the portions completed. Their answer scripts are being evaluated and assessed. Parents are being apprised of their ward’s performance.

Teachers’ meetings are being conducted to analyse their inputs and involvement in their responsibilities.

Everything seems to be going on like clockwork — just the way it should. Or, is it just a mirage? Perhaps this is the right time of the year for the parent, student and teacher to do a reality check.

Most schools have revision sessions before tests and examinations. They generate a question bank of sorts. The children are told directly or indirectly to concentrate on the revision sessions.

Parents and tuition teachers help the children out with the preparation. Most pupils get thorough with the “necessary portions” and score well. The tests and later on examinations are taken and evaluated — well, you know the drill.

While the process seems natural and harmless, it can turn out to be a quite a negative influence. It can uproot the fundamental aim of learning and education. Young students are being led by the nose to take up tests which prove to be a test of memory rather than understanding.

The very schools which claim to give holistic education shrink even the prescribed syllabus so that the students are not strained to look beyond a few questions.

Limited reading

Reading textbooks, ancillary reading material, referring to class notes are all relegated to the backburner because they do not count as “test portions”.

The learning that can be evinced from group study, working out varied problems, reference works are increasingly becoming non-existent because extensive reading or learning need not be displayed in answer papers.

The young learners cannot be blamed for wearing blinders because they are made to wear them by their teachers. When we look at the problem from the tutors’ point of view, it appears that they are shackled by several constraints. They are expected to cater to unwieldy numbers which makes it almost impossible for them to correct notebooks sincerely.

Then they have to live up to the expectations of the management and deliver cent per cent results as far as possible. When their increments and sometimes their employment depend on the results they deliver, they find it convenient to create “question banks”. This way they hope to step up the level of the results.

Multiple choice papers

The parents for their part do not really seem to mind this new infusion into the system right from primary school because their accountability comes down considerably. Sometimes, schools also opt for multiple choice question paper models partially or completely to make it easier for evaluation.

This method not only encourages blind guessing among students, but also conveniently circumvents the need to comprehend, work out or articulate their thoughts. The net result of this phenomenon precipitates as a mockery of education. No one is any wiser at the end of the day though everyone, the students, parents and teachers have gone through the exercise.

Today, we live in a world where education has been systematised. Learners go through the process of education in a set pattern and emerge as ‘educated’ people at various levels.

Where will all this spoon-feeding and holding hands lead them in the long run of life? Will their education stand them in good stead? Will they be in a position to think out of the box and handle unforeseen circumstances in life?

Can they come up with original or creative solutions to deal with problems? Will they employ just means to achieve their ends? How will they compare with their peer group across the globe? Will their accomplishments fill the lacunae that exist in the world?

The concept of “Question banks” was introduced at the university level, to help examinees to focus after browsing through an exhaustive material. To introduce the same, while shaping minds in their formative years in schools, amounts to committing intellectual suicide.

It is time to break this pattern and pay attention to learning for learning’s sake so that we can pave the way to developing inquisitive, fertile minds that are willing to go that extra mile before arriving at answers!