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.


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


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?

Path of Endearment


Path of endearment


The anxious people are not only the ones in trouble but also the ones who cause anxiety to others. So in other words the two groups of people though seemingly different from each other like chalk and cheese actually go through the same emotions albeit for different reasons. Apparently, falsehood, dishonesty, misplaced passion and rage, envy and forgetfulness of essential human values like compassion and brotherhood happen to be the main reasons for such a scenario.

The Bhagvad Gita records a criteria of a lovable person as told by Krishna to Arjuna. Krishna avers that a person who does not hate, envy, compare himself with others, holds others responsible for his fate and feels apprehensive about doing the right thing all the time is very dear to him.

Yudhishtira, the eldest Pandava prince in the Mahabharata, fits the definition of Krishna perfectly. His truthful and tranquil temperament fetched him many brownie points even among his rivals. The fact that he was called Ajatashatru – a person to whom the enemy is yet to be born – speaks in volumes about his character. Duryodhana, who resented Yudhishtira for being the first born and claimant to the throne, did not hate him as much as he detested Bhima or Arjuna. The eldest Pandava chose to overlook the attempts of murder made on him and his brothers when setting the house of lac on fire. Draupadi, the wronged wife of the Pandavas, had to constantly goad Yudhishtira to not forget the ignominy rendered unto her, because she knew that, left to himself, Yudhishtira would abstain from war.

On the day of the Great War, Yudhishtira was actually the first person who was ready to lay down his arms and call a truce. Krishna zeroed in on the straightforward royal to play his psychological mind game against Drona, because, he knew that the great Guru would validate and believe only the words of Yudhishtira when he would be appraised of his son Ashwaththama’s death.

Learning from the eldest Pandava who led a life with maturity and dignity can help us align ourselves towards path of endearment prescribed by Krishna.

Verify for Veracity

Misunderstandings can cause rifts in relationships. These days such cases are on a prolific rise because the differences and the distance between the virtual world and the real world is closing in. People are losing track of the difference between the two, mistaking one for the other. While the benefits of such development are unarguable so are the drawbacks.

An ancient saying goes thus, “One must not believe anything that hears about or sees perchance. On the other hand one should verify the matter for truth even if the incident happens right in front of our eyes.” Truer words could not have been spoken.

It is during these times one will do well to ruminate on the story of the descent of the divine river Ganga from the heavens. King Sagara performed an Ashwamedha Yajna. Towards the end of the ritual, the ceremonial white horse was lost. Indra, the lord of the heavens wanted to abort king Sagara’s endeavour. Hence he stole the horse and led it to the nether world and tied it near the hermitage of sage Kapila who was deeply engrossed in penance. Since the Yajna could not be concluded without the animal, Sagara sent his 60,000 sons in search of the horse. They scourged the earth and then made their way into the nether world. There they found the sacred horse grazing casually. Alongside they sighted sage Kapila in profound penance.

The princes deemed the sage to be the horse thief for the lack of the knowledge of the truth. They thought it fit to disturb the sage and berate him soundly for his misdeed. The sage, who was completely unaware of what had transpired, was very angry with the arrogant princes who dared to accuse him wrongly and belittle him unnecessarily. He used the power of his penance and reduced them to ashes within moments.

It is obvious that both the parties involved in this unfortunate incident acted on the basis of what they considered to be true and not on the basis of what was really true. They allowed their ego and anger to rule over them. If they had used a little patience and some discretion, they could have completely avoided the debacle.

Determinaton Vs Obstinacy

Many a time people want to achieve their goal by hook or crook. Their very attitude is proof of the fact that they are not in a position to distinguish between determination and obstinacy.

When a person refuses to weigh the pros and cons of a situation and pursues his ambition blindly, he is not only likely to harm the people around him but will wreak havoc on himself both physically and mentally.

An episode from the Mahabharata unfolds the unfortunate repercussions of tenacity. Ashwaththama, the best friend of Duryodhana had promised his dying friend that he would ensure the annihilation of the Pandava family at all costs. He manipulated the death of the Pandavas and ended up killing the five sons of Draupadi. In hindsight, he realised that his mission would be completed if he managed to abort the foetus if princess Uttara who was carrying the posthumous child of Abhimanyu. That way he could effectively put a full stop on the continuance of the Pandava clan. Accordingly, he went to the princess and aimed a potent blade of Darbha grass at her womb. The petrified Uttara ran away in panic. When Ashwaththama chased the pregnant princess, he was intercepted by none other than Lord Krishna.

Krishna understood that the son of Drona was not in a position to distinguish the right from wrong, and there was simply no way he would tarry to listen to the Yadava king. It was then Krishna looked at the gem signifying human intelligence studded on the forehead of the Brahmin. He hastened to pluck it out and prevented the perpetration of foeticide. The mindless Ashwaththama could not focus on his evil undertaking. Thus, Krishna rescued the unborn baby. He ensured that the last scion of the Pandava family – Parikshit- the one who was tested arrived safely on planet earth.

When one examines Ashwaththama’s behaviour, it is not difficult to see that he was being faithful to his friend and true to his promise although his bosom pal was dead. All the same, it is apparent that he lost sight of human propriety in his zeal to redeem his promise. Had he realised that the means is as important as the end he could have spared himself of the ignominy?

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.