Ignorance is Bliss


The omnipresence of divinity is seldom acknowledged in our day-to-day lives. It could be due to ignorance or simply lack of comprehension. However, our lives tend to become complicated when we do not grasp the lofty universal truths fully.

An anecdote from the repertoire of stories told by Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa puts across this point succinctly. Once, a layman was enlightened about the omnipresence of god. The happy man left the Ashram with his newfound knowledge. As he was walking down the street, he saw a rogue elephant. The Mahout shouted instructions to the people on the road to get away from the path of the pachyderm. Everyone slipped away in double quick time except the newly edified man. The elephant handled him roughly with his trunk and flung him afar. The hurt man was taken to the Ashram and rendered first aid. Then he was questioned on his foolishness. The naive  man said, “I thought that the God in the elephant would not harm me.” To which, the philosopher replied, “But, why did you not listen to the God who warned you through the Mahout?”

This incident enumerates the fact that spiritually oriented people need a lot of discernment lest they come to foolhardy conclusions like the protagonist in the tale.

An incident in the Ramayana expounds the facility of being in the dark about matters beyond our ken to help us function normally and genuinely. When the exiled prince Rama came to the banks of river Ganga along with Lakshmana and Sita, the local chieftain Guha extends warm hospitality and assures unflinching support to Rama. He even offers his position to Rama without blinking an eyelid. When all his offers were rejected politely, Guha personally takes the trio across the river. If Guha had the slightest inkling about the divinity of Rama he would have been awestruck by the mere presence of the trio. His gestures would have been punctuated with nervousness or simply decimated into inaction. Conversely, his lack of consciousness on the matter not only made him offer all his earthly possessions to the creator, but made him take the celestial navigator who helps his devotees to cross the sea of life to cross the river!


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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.

Effective Communication

Deccan herald 30th January 2018

These days we find plenty of courses that guide people into communication skills. Aspects like correct usage of language, body language, tone, clarity and confidence are emphasized in these soft skill sessions. At the end of the day people are taught to communicate pleasantly and effectively to forge successful personal and professional relationships. Hence it is no wonder that educational institutions, governmental organisations and corporate bodies do not hesitate to invest a pretty penny on honing these skills of their new recruits at all levels.

A reading of the Ramayana reveals the universal significance and the cornerstone of communication skills has remained the same right from the good old times.

Hanuman was sent as the most hopeful candidate to search for Sita because Rama was impressed by the simian minister’s intelligence, sincerity and communication skills. The emissary of Rama discovered Sita in the Ashoka Vana of Lanka. He realized that he would traumatize the doe like Sita if he appeared in front of her without notice. Therefore he narrated the story of Rama in mellifluous verse to attract her attention. The act of Hanuman construes the importance of using introductory talk as the unshakeable basis of every conversation. The fact that Sita gave him her Choodamani – the hair accessory, which happened to be her only earthly possession and proof of her existence to be given to Rama, speaks in volumes about the success of Hanuman’s ability to communicate effectively.

When Maruthi returned to Rama with the good news, he does not indulge in formalities or flowery language. Instead, he very simply hands over the Choodamani of Sita with a brief phrase that said, “Sita has been found.” The magical phrase sent a surge of joy through the being of Rama and prepared him mentally to take in the details about the disheveled and depressed status of Sita and her resolve to hold on to her life for another month till she was freed from the clutches of Ravana. Hanuman used speech as a tool sometimes eloquently and at other times briefly. He just proved that there are no hard and fast rules about the length of the talk. He had the discernment to understand that content is king in any conversation. When truth, tenor, confidence, clarity, humility and simplicity adorn the content, communication becomes complete.

Unresolved Misery, Remorse Can Be Fatal


There are moments in life when nothing seems to be under our control. An incident from the Ramayana enumerates one such situation. When king Dasharatha fixed the coronation of his beloved son Rama, he hastened to his favourite queen’s chamber to break the news to her personally. Little did the king realise that Kaikeyi’s mind had been poisoned by her maid Manthara. He was shocked beyond words when he heard her demands to redeem the two boons given by him long ago. He could not digest the idea of exiling his dearest son to the forests for 14 years after fixing his coronation. He was also not very open to the idea of crowning Kaikayi’s son Bharatha as the king of Ayodhya. Repeated pleas to his dear wife got him nowhere and he swooned from time to time. The king was truly caught between the devil and the deep sea.

On the one hand, he could not even dream of going back on his promise because he was a man of his word. On the other hand, he could not bring himself to inflict an undeserving heinous punishment on his faultless son. He tried to cajole and coax his beautiful queen. When she refused to respond, he berated her and even threatened her about her impending widowhood. When she refused to budge from her obstinate demands, he wondered if he was at the receiving end of his own Karma. He imagined that he must have separated thousands of cows from their calves, mothers from their sons and wives from their husbands to have merited such a state. He tried to recollect all the possible evil deeds that may have been perpetrated by him to reap such misery. He succumbed to his end without putting up a fight as he was depressed beyond measure.

Natural disasters, death of a beloved person or separation from a loved one can leave us devastated. Any amount of solace cannot reverse the incident. When misery and remorse envelop us, it will be better for us to accept the situation and contemplate on the next step forward. On the other hand if we choose to wallow in our despondency we might tumble into a bottomless pit of sorrow which can push us to a state of depression or death.

When Wit Goes Wrong


Good humour is a very sensitive emotion. It succeeds only when both the perpetrator and the person or the people in the receiving end are both sensible and sensitive about the contents of their joke. In other words, a healthy joke will steer clear of vulgarity or exploiting a weakness of a person or a community. Sometimes, the most well intended humour can go awfully wrong creating resentment and even enmity for the humorist.

A tale from the Shiva Purana recounts how even the mighty Lord Vishnu was not spared for having played a practical joke on his dearest devotee Narada. Once, Narada was besotted by the beautiful princess Shrimathi. He wanted her to choose him during her Swayamvara. He realised that if he wanted his dream to come true, he must be the most attractive suitor. Narada was also aware that Mahavishnu possessed the most charismatic face in the universe. Therefore, he sought to be blessed with Harimukha (the face of Vishnu also known as Hari) for the Swayamvara. The amused Lord decided to play on the pun on the term Hari which also meant monkey. Narada’s visage was transformed to that of a simian, but he was unaware of the joke. He went along to the Swayamvara only to be laughed and jeered at.

When Narada realised that he had become the laughing stock at the court, he was deeply hurt. He cursed the Shiva Ganas who prompted him to look into the mirror and embarrassed him. He marched to Vaikunta and confronted Lord Vishnu angrily about the breach of trust. He cursed the very Lord he adored to experience separation from his spouse. Once Narada gave vent to his rage, Mahavishnu explained that he had made Narada the butt of his joke to make him realise that he had swerved from his chosen path of eternal celibacy. In fact, the whole episode was structured to awaken the sage from his disillusionment. Narada understood his mistake and made haste to retract the unreasonable words blurted out in a fury. However, Mahavishnu accepted the curse gracefully because it would facilitate him to play out his manifestation as Rama, but more so because he wanted to establish the fact that when humour does not go well with the recipient then things can sour up.

Human and Divine


The Dashavatara, which chronicles the ten manifestations of Lord Vishnu, defines the Lord’s role very distinctly. Parashurama Avatara happens to be an exception. The manifestation as Parashurama which precedes Ramavatara finds presence in Krishnavatara also. Parashurama’s appearance in both Ramayana and Mahabharata has made some people wonder whether the two epics speak about the same person or different person who lived through the Treta Yuga and Dwapara Yuga.

Towards the end of Parashurama Avatara, Maha Vishnu had completed his mission and was reborn again as Rama. It is believed that in the last portion of Parashurama Avatara and the first portion of Ramavatara there was a combination of the human and the divine. The manifestation of Lord Vishnu as Parashurama lasted till he met Rama. An incident in the Ramayana speaks of a time when Rama was returning to Ayodhya with his bride Sita after his wedding, he was confronted by Parashurama.

The axe wielding Brahmin knew that Rama had broken the Bow of Shiva in the process of stringing it in order to win Sita’s hand in marriage. He was aware that the power of Maha Vishnu was split between the two Avataras. Parashurama waylaid Rama and challenged the prince of Ayodhya to prove his prowess by stringing the bow of Maha Vishnu. Rama was struck by the temerity of the Brahmin. He took the bow quietly and did the needful in a trice.

In that moment, the component of Maha Vishnu in Parashurama merged with that of Rama. However, the body of the Brahmin in which the Lord resided continued to live as sage Parashurama. As Raghava handed over the bow to Parashurama, he laid a condition. He told the ascetic that the latter could forfeit the merits of his penance or his physical mobility as a sign of his penitence.

Interestingly, Parashurama surrendered the Punya he had garnered over his lifetime and opted the power to be on his feet so that he could retire to the Mahendra mountains and spend his days in prayers. He went on to tutor great pupils like Bheeshma and Karna as he went on to live as the contemporary of Sri Krishna. The Lord reiterated the theory of Karma was applicable to one and all himself included!

Dignity Of Labour


Each one of us would like to lead a life of luxury. If that is not possible we at least crave for a life of comforts. There is nothing wrong in wishing so! Yet the fact remains that, not everyone can land a white-collared job.

All the same, let us imagine that the wishful thinking of our collective conscience is translated into reality by the universe. The world would be chaotic. Who will grow the food for us? Who will tailor our clothes for us and clean up after us? You must have got the drift by now. We are a close-knit world where each one of us contributes directly or indirectly to the well being of another. Such being the case, it will be ridiculous for us to assume that one job is superior to another in terms of importance. If everyone does their job conscientiously and earnestly, not only will the world be a better place, we can march ahead of time.

The Ramayana, Mahabharata and the Puranas record the life story of king Harishchandra who was known for his impeccable integrity and his unswerving principle to honour his promise at any cost.

The king of Ayodhya unwittingly got into a situation where he was obliged to pay an astronomical amount of gold to sage Vishwamitra. All the wealth in his treasury could not redeem his promise.

Though the sage tauntingly told the ruler that he was ready to negate the amount, Harishchandra would not hear of it. He gave up his kingdom to pay the price of the capital amount. He still owed the dakshina to Vishwamitra. The king decided to work off the loan. Since the sage had no use for him, he sold his wife and son to a Brahmin as slaves and paid part of the amount. Then the sovereign sold himself to a grave keeper and took up the life of a Chandala in right earnest just in order to honour his promise.

The ability of the king not to stand on formality and take up his diversely varied roles seriously speaks about the importance of dignity of labour. That Harishchandra underwent harsher travails to prove his worth is another story.