Power of The Puranas


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Our Puranas are nothing but a compilation of stories which are metaphorical in nature. Listening to them or reading them for merely entertainment value can at best keep us amused. Ruminating over them and interpreting them in terms of situations can help us deal with quandaries of our lives in an informed manner. The necessity to look upon these fables beyond the frills and fancies has been put across very lucidly in the Bhagavata Purana.

Dhundhukari was the wayward foster son of a pious Brahmin Atmadeva. Perhaps he was genetically programmed to become a denigrated delinquent wastrel because of the nature of his birth. His mother Dhundhuli was not interested in bearing children. When she was asked to eat a divine fruit  to help her become a mother she fed it to a cow, pretended to be pregnant and went on to make a deal with her pregnant sister Mriduli. When her sister delivered a baby boy she led her husband to believe that her sister’s baby was theirs. The cow gave birth to a human child and was adopted by Atmadeva. The boys were pampered and sent to the best of teachers. While Gokarna thrived on education, Dhundhukari did not seem to learn much. He was more interested in frivolous activities. He was an antithesis of Gokarna. He lacked ethics and values. He distressed his parents with his debauchery. Atmadeva retired into Vanaprastha. Dhundhuli, who was ensnared in the web of deceit committed suicide. Gokarna also left his foster home in search of greater knowledge. This development only made Dhundhukari more decadent. He would stoop to any level to keep his addiction for wine and women alive. Once, the women, whose company he kept, ganged up  and killed him. His unrequited soul wandered about terrorizing those who crossed his path. Once when Gokarna returned home he learned of the new developments. He advised the ghost of Dhundhukari to take up austerity and listen to the narration of Bhagavata Purana.

Dhundhukari did as instructed. At the end of the session he was personally liberated by the lord. When Gokarna was puzzled by the unexpected development, the lord clarified the matter. True, Dhundhukari had been depraved, but he had also made a genuine attempt to correct himself. He listened to the Purana with rapt attention and reflected on it with devotion which redeemed him from his profligate existence.

 

Tall Task of Taking Risks


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There are two kinds of people in the world. The ones who like to play it safe and the ones who like to take the road not taken. Both kinds have their own justifications based on their knowledge, experience and circumstances.

The pioneering lot can once again be classified into two groups.

The ones who are willing to explore the unknown for personal benefits and the rest who do not think twice about throwing in their lot if it can add value to another person, people or a commendable cause.

These are the Samaritans who do not mind working behind the curtains or toiling away without an iota of expectation.

The Devas and Asuras yearned become immortal. They were told that imbibing the Amrutha found in the heart of the mighty ocean could help them fulfill their desire.

Therefore, they churned the ocean with the help of Vishnu who manifested himself as a giant tortoise to form the base of the churning pole.

After a strenuous bout of activity, they were appalled to be enveloped by toxic fumes which emerged from the sizzling poison that was garnered from the ocean.

The Devas and Asuras choked over highly poisonous air and did not know how to take things forward. Vishnu prompted them to appeal to Lord Shiva for help. Accordingly, the cousins pleaded.

Lord Shiva manifested himself almost immediately and without further ado swallowed lethal fumes and liquid, much to the shock of his onlookers. That he saved them and helped them gain the treasures from the ocean including the elixir of life forms the rest of the story.

Shiva who came to be known as Neelakanta from then on, because his neck turned blue after the consumption of venom, became the torchbearer of the tribe of people who are willing to go to any extent to help those who seek no matter what the possible consequences could be.

Shiva’s selfless act also comes under the category of “Nishkaama Karma” prescribed by Lord Krishna in the Bhagvad Gita.

True Love is Immeasurable


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We promise God money, gifts and sometimes harsh penance as a token of our thanksgiving for fulfilling our wishes. We praise, clothe, feed and entertain God as we see fit.

A lot of us who go out of the way to please God simply forget that God – – our creator does not expect anything from us either in cash or kind. We are only expected to extend sincere affection towards our maker and he will take care of all our needs.

An incident from the Bhagavatha Purana reiterates this viewpoint. Satyabhama, the spouse of Krishna, once lost her husband to Narada in a game of dice. The distressed wife beseeched the celestial sage to let go of her husband.

She offered to give gold that equaled the weight of her dear husband. The sage agreed to alter his condition. Accordingly, Satyabhama sheepishly poured out the details of the awkward bet to the king of Dwaraka.

Then she requested him to sit on one plate of the balance. She placed all her jewellery on the other plate of the scale. The gold did not measure up to the weight on the other side. Then she ordered that the gold from the household and then even the treasury.

To her despair, she found that her best attempts failed. At that point of time Krishna gently told Satyabhama to seek help from his senior wife Rukmini. Satyabhama nurtured envy towards the said co-wife and generally steered clear of her. Yet, in the given circumstances, she approached Rukmini in order to redeem their husband.

Though the senior queen was aghast to hear what had transpired, she rushed to the spot. When she saw the scale in a state of gross imbalance, she quickly plucked a leaf from the Tulsi plant and placed it reverentially on the gold uttering the lord’s name.

Lo and behold! The plate holding the lord rose high immediately. Krishna helped himself out with a knowing smile that said it all. Immediately, Satyabhama felt ashamed but also felt enlightened. She realised that true love is immeasurable in worldly ways.

To Wax Or Wane is the Question


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All of us know that the waxing and waning of the moon is a visual occurrence as the result of the satellite revolving around our planet.

It is interesting to note that the Skanda Purana has an interesting take on the subject which aims at educating its readers to show due respect to the modesty and independence of women. The handsome and accomplished moon personified as Somadeva had married the beautiful twenty seven stellar sisters of the cosmos.

He lived a happy and contented life till he coveted and abducted Tara, his guru Brishaspathi’s wife. The gods waged a war to redeem their preceptor’s spouse. Somadeva trounced them in a trice. The Devas approached Lord Shiva for help.

Brahma the creator who was witnessing this pantomime foresaw a great disaster. Hence, he advised Somadeva to surrender to Lord Shiva and apologise to Brihaspathi and send the pregnant Tara back to her husband. (The question mark over the patriarchy that dangled over the unborn child is another story.)

The war-weary Somadeva who was stricken with leprosy saw better sense now and did as he was bidden. The once haughty lunar deity became penitent and took up rigorous penance and appeased Lord Shiva. As a result he was cured of his deadly disease but was cursed for life to wax and wane every fortnight.

The Lord in his superior wisdom hoped to alert mankind that one can never get away from karma no matter what the status or penance quotient. Apparently the story is meant to be a subtle warning to all those people who lust for other people’s spouses, wealth and belongings, that they have to pay a price for it.

Apart from the punishment factor that awaits the wrongdoer, the tale also underlines the act that women are not commercial commodity who can be taken, used and rejected at the whims and fancies of the mindless and the powerful.

The Skanda Purana points out that our personalities will wane like the moon when we indulge in unethical debauchery and cause unwarranted pain to others. All the same, if we are suitably chastened and repent for our misdeeds, we can reinforce our intrinsic values. This, in turn, will help our personalities wax like the moon.

Beauty is Only Skin Deep


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People often get distracted. They start paying attention to the flimsy and the mundane aspects of life which are fleeting by nature. This can prove to be a great impediment in achieving one’s target.

A story from the Shiva Purana highlights the importance of staying focused and also reiterating the fact that intrinsic beauty is a combination of truth and humility.

Once when the self-declared celibate Rishi Narada was wandering through the universe, he was smitten by the extraordinary beauty and grace of princess Shrimathi. He was seized by a sudden desire to marry her. Hence he decided to attend her Swayamvara. The sage realised that he could marry Shrimathi only if she chose him as her groom.

Since he had always led an austere life, he wondered whether the princess would choose him over the royal, youthful, good-looking kings and princes who had come to seek their luck. All the same, Narada felt that he could not pass up the opportunity. He appealed to Maha Vishnu to bestow him with Harimukha.

When he was granted the boon he went to the Swayamvara happily. Narada seated himself confidently because he knew that the princess could not reject him as he was endowed with the handsome face of Hari. The Swayamvara began.

When the princess entered with the garland, Narada stood up eagerly. The court laughed in unison. Narada was annoyed and disappointed when the princess walked ahead and garlanded a striking suitor.

When he expressed his displeasure, he was asked to look into the mirror. When he did so, he was aghast to see that he was monkey-faced. When he confronted Maha Vishnu furiously, he was told that he was bestowed with Harimukha as desired. Then the Lord clarified that Hari also meant monkey.

Besides, the Lord had to play a seemingly cruel joke on his most ardent devotee to awaken him from his disillusionment. Though Narada was hurt and angry, he understood that he was beleaguered by distractions that would serve him no purpose in the long run.

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?

Misuse of Power


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S RADHA PRATHI

When power gets to the head of those on top of the ladder, they can no longer prove to be ideal leader material. The followers of these megalomaniacs will become disillusioned sooner or later. Eventually, they will not hesitate to decimate the egotist to a non entity.

Perhaps the earliest documentation of this time-tested truth is found in the Vishnu Purana. Vena was crowned the king post the death of his father Anga. The young king was carried away by his newfound authority. Soon he started throwing his weight around. He expected every subordinate of his to worship him. He even expected the Rishis of his kingdom to cease conducting Yajnas and concentrate on eulogizing him. The citizens did their best to pander his bloated ego, but apparently their efforts did not please him enough. Sometime later, the sages of the dominion rallied around and tried to sensitise him to the omnipotence of the almighty.

However, Vena was not the one to be convinced. He wanted the Rishis to perceive him as a living God. He harassed those who acted at cross purposes to his dictum. The entire kingdom which was engaged in compulsory sycophancy soon stagnated in every possible way.
The sages headed by Bhrigu, discussed the unfortunate state of affairs threadbare. They had implemented the traditional formula of Sama friendly approach, Dana– compromise, Bheda- debate and Danda- punishment, on King Vena with no avail. They realised that the situation was out of hand. They unilaterally decided to kill the king and redeem the people of the tyrant’s monopoly, in order to redeem the people of his autocracy.

The noteworthy aspect of this incident happens to be that the most timid, well-meaning and wise people were compelled by their discretion to take such an extreme step. History has stood testimony to the fact that anybody who has thought no end of himself or herself has always, invariably been subjected to the same end. Leaders must remember that the unconditional power and position bestowed on them are acts of faith. They have no right to breach the trust of the people who put them up on the pedestal.