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?

Path of Endearment


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Oasis

Path of endearment

S RADHA PRATHI

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


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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.