Perceive with Sensitivity and Sensibility


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War can only precipitate two things in any age and place – death and destruction. When two mighty powers are at loggerheads with each other the lives of the innocent are at stake, no matter to which camp they belong to. Besides appearances can be deceptive and so can perceptions about ideologies.

The third act of the play Veni Samharam written by Bhatta Narayana has a very thought provoking prelude which discusses this syndrome peculiar to human beings. The dramatist employs irony to show the cruelty and the futility of war. Rudhirapriya and Vasagandha, the demon couple, have a very domestic conversation, revolving around the war of Kurukshetra where they discuss about storing the blood and flesh of great warriors who died on either side which will save them the trouble from scavenging for food in the coming months. Though the talk appears to be insensitive and gruesome, a little observation reveals that the conversation of the couple is only reflecting their natural state of mind whereas the fighters on the battlefield, trained and heroic men were behaving like barbarians killing one another in the name of war.

The sensitivity of the so called insensitive trolls  is highlighted further when they point out how the bereaved mother Hidimba who lost her only son Ghatotkacha was consoling Subhadra who happened to be sailing on the same boat  having lost her only son Abhimanyu. The ability of the Rakshasas to empathise the sorrow of the grief stricken mothers impartially speaks in volumes about their compassion, a quality rarely attributed to their kind. It is the author’s subtle way of saying that any war finally punishes doting and affectionate mothers who may send their sons to war voluntarily or otherwise. No one can efface the scorched souls of the kith and kin of the dead heroes who face the brutal brunt of war.

When we perceive with sensibility and sensitivity we  will not only realise about the futility of war but also understand that popular perceptions about typecasting and role play may not always be spot on.

 

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 !!!

 

 

 

 

 

Universality of Parental Love


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These days a lot of young and not-so-young adults are donning the roles of adoptive single parents. Being such a parent can be an arduous and fulfilling experience at the same time. For those of you who think it is a postmodern trend, think again. Kalidasa sketched the affectionate and responsible mindset of a single unmarried adoptive father in his famous work, Abhijnana Shakuntalam.

The abandoned baby of sage Vishwamitra and the nymph Menaka is adopted and brought up lovingly by sage Kanva. The child grows up amidst pristine beauty and selfless love absorbing those very qualities. As a young girl, she is once harassed by a recalcitrant bumblebee.

King Dushyantha of Hastinapura who is on a hunting spree in the vicinity observes the damsel and springs out of the bushes and saves her from distress. The couple fall in love in the aftermath and enter into a secret wedlock known as Gandharva Vivaha.

When it is time for the king to return to his royal duties, he does not want to take his young bride with him in the absence of her foster father. Soon, Shakuntala discovers that she is with child and languishes in the hermitage gazing at the regal insignia Dushyantha has left behind.

When Sage Kanva returns to the hermitage, he hears an aerial voice apprising him of the scenario awaiting him. Perhaps, this prepares him mentally to deal with the situation with patience and understanding. He immediately makes arrangements for his pregnant daughter to join her royal husband without much ado about the circumstances of the events.

Yet, the practical man is emotionally fraught with angst when he has to let go of his daughter. He wonders if a similar experience could be worse for biological fathers!

This incident brings a closure on the difference between foster and biological parents by subtly pointing out that a genuine parent-child relationship is an intangible web woven by innumerable strands of love, care, sharing and emotional support for each other.

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.

Strength of Strength


Published in Student Edition of Deccan Herald on 12th of February 2019

 Little Banta was watching the children play sitting on his wheel chair with a fractured ankle. He had gotten into a brawl with his younger brother Chintu and hurt himself in the process of pummeling the younger kid. He wished to goodness that he could become well so that he could play again. His mother noticed his helplessness. She felt sorry for him. Yet she knew that Banta had invited trouble for himself. She wanted Banta to stop bullying younger children. She was aware that he was likely to rebel, or submit grudgingly if she were to advise him. So she asked him what strength meant to him. Banta gushed with excitement. To him strength was synonymous with Bheema.
Even as he was uttered the name   Bheemasena his personal hero, Banta was filled with pride. To him Bheema was a symbol of towering strength and gigantic personality, the strongest amongst his brothers, besides he was talented and skilled too. Besides, his role model excelled in wrestling, wielding the mace and had amazing culinary skills too. Banta was never tired of listening to Bheema’s exploits.

So, his mother decided to narrate one of the numerous stories of his favourite hero from the great Indian epic The Mahabharatha.
While the Pandavas were in the forest, a Brahmin household gave them shelter for a short time. During this period, the Pandavas learnt that a demon named Bakasura who dwelt nearby had made a pact with the villagers that everyday a cart load of food would be sent to him for dinner. The demon would gobble the cartload of food and also eat up the driver as a part of his meal.
The villagers were angry with the demon’s cruelty. They hated him. They were terrified of his strength. They wanted to teach him a lesson. But unfortunately they could not bring themselves to confront Bakasura or in any way.

That day it was the turn of the host family to send one member of their family as lunch to Bakasura. The very thought of it made the family sad and depressed. The Pandavas felt very sorry for them. Even as they were wondering as to how to help the family,Bheemasena  volunteered to take the food cart to Bakasura.
The following day, Bheema escorted the cartload of food to the forest. When he reached the demon’s cave he dismounted the cart and spread out the food. He heard the demon snoring. He realised that he had not eaten a sumptuous dinner for a long time now. So he helped himself to the feast. When he was through with all the goodies, he belched loudly.

Bakasura woke from his slumber and came out of his cave. The sight of the empty vessels infuriated the demon. He pounced on Bheemasena with all his might. Soon they started wrestling. After fighting an equal battle for sometime, Bheema overcame the demon and swooped him up in the air. He used all his might to twirl the demon over his head and threw him to his death.
When Banta’s mother finished narrating the story, she gently pointed out that both Bheema and Bakasura were endowed with equal strength, but interestingly enough they both were looked upon differently by the people. While Bakasura used his strength to terrorise and destroy people, Bheema used his strength to protect and empower the weak.
Bheema was not merely strong. He knew how and when to use his strength. Soon Banta realised that he should not have displayed his strength on his younger sibling. He looked at his ankle in plaster and told his little brother to fetch his sketch pens. When Chintu did his bidding meekly, Banta asked Chintu to use his cast as a canvass. Soon the brothers were laughing and enjoying each other’s creativity while their  mother fetched them their favourite smoothies with a smile.

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!

Palm Leaf Paper


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Long long ago in India, when children of your age went to schools known as the Guru Kula they had lots to study just like you but they certainly did not have to write as much as you do! They committed whatever they learned to memory and sometimes noted down some very important definitions or formulas on palm leaves for later reference. You see they did not have note books then as you have them these days! If you are wondering whether they were lucky, unfortunately they are not around here to answer your question but they were certainly an eco-friendly lot as they were not using reams of paper made from trees!!! In such a case you could always argue that the palm leaves they used were also sourced from trees! Very true, indeed! In those days there was really no dearth of palm fronds, besides the rudiments of language like grammar and core subjects like science and mathematics were reduced to verses running into two or four lines. These couplets and quartets captured the essence of the subject in as few words as possible. The student had to understand these formulas which were popularly known as “Sutras” and he needed to memorise them to help him remember of all the aspects of the theory at a later date.

They were tested on the subject from time to time orally just like you are tested, but then all of you also take up a written test to show that you have writing skills too ! Perhaps they were spared of the exercise because processing palm fronds into writing material was a long drawn process.

Centuries before paper was invented our ancestors hit upon the idea of using hardy dried leaves as paper.  They were known as “Patra” which means both letter and leaf in most Indian languages used till date. Students processed palm leaves not only for their use, but also for their teachers and scribes who were engaged in making copies of important manuscripts.

Processing palm leaves was no mean task, but it was certainly fun –filled too! Palm fronds cut freshly from the tree were allowed dry partially for a couple of days in  sunlight and then they were then buried in swamps for a week so that they become sturdy and later on the leaves were washed and dried completely in the shade.

Then they were cut along the borders so that they formed rectangular pages which measured eight to twelve inches in breadth and about an inch or two in height. Some times when longer sheets of palm paper were required they were sewn together using plant fiber.

Once the palm paper was ready for use a fine tipped iron stylus (pencil) was used to etch the words or diagrams on the leaf so that it made a depression without actually damaging the leaf. Then powdered vegetable dyes usually green or charcoal powder made from burnt coconut shells were mixed with sesame oil and rubbed over the leaves in such a way that the colours settle down in the depressions. Then the palm leaves were coated with turmeric powder mixed with sesame oil to add sheen and strength to the leaves. Then they were bundled together and wrapped in silk or cotton cloth for safe keeping. Our ancient texts like the Vedas, Puranas, the epics, scripts of plays and treatises have been passed on to us on palm paper.

Possibly this is the reason why we are able to see manuscripts preserved in this manner for over a millennium in a fairly good condition in spite of the gross neglect they are subjected to.

Over a period of time when paper was invented and mechanization made it possible for it to be easily available paper made from palm leaves made an exit. Today these processed leaves are used as canvass on which creative artists showcase their talent.

If you happen to be traveling in Orissa make sure you visit a small village called Raghuraipur in the district of Puri. There are several craftsmen and artists who make a living there by etching wonderful designs on processed palm leaves. Even little children in the village know how to make the longer lasting palm paper. Now that you have an insight into the method, why don’t you try making your own name plate on processed palm leaf?