Walk Your Talk


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Five centuries ago, a warrior from the Nayaka clan, a scion of the Kaginele town in Karnataka observed the society around him and did not quite like what he saw. He did not approve of the inequalities created by the caste system in our society. He was Kanakadasa, the devotee of Lord Krishna who made the lord turn towards him. It is said that he was forbidden from entering the temple premises in Udupi as he was born of a lower caste so he sadly made his way to the backyard of the temple and stood against the central section of the back wall where he deemed the lord to be standing. Then he sang soulfully in praise of the lord. Apparently, the Lord was pleased for he turned around in his idol form. Not only that, but the Lord also generated a hole in the wall to enable his favourite devotee to have a look at him from the back of the temple. The people in power and the temple authorities realised the purity of his devotion and have ever since maintained the ‘Kindi’ or the window in the temple. The idol remains that way till date.

Kanakadasa was a unique teacher who did not run a school nor prescribe books to be read because he understood that many people around him were illiterates or were very busy with their daily business. Therefore, he chose to compose simple lyrics bearing social and spiritual messages in the local language Kannada and sing it tunefully to attract the attention of the people around him. The homilies presented in the vernacular tongue helped people to reflect and ruminate on the vagaries of life. The lyrics enabled people to evaluate themselves morally and socially. They were able to see the connection between Indian mythology and its relevance to daily life.

The warrior-turned-saint poet walked his talk both literally and metaphorically. He put his heart and soul into what he thought was universally appropriate. The fact that we look up to him through his verses to resolve our problems in this digital age speaks in volumes about the multidimensional social reformer who made a difference to the world, just by walking his talk!

 

Bhikshatana-Soup for the Soul


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We live in times where begging is a sign of abject poverty or perhaps laziness coupled with lack of self respect. It is generally looked upon as the last resort of an individual who possibly refuses to lead a procreative life.

Yet going on Bhikshatana or a tour of begging was a part of student life and that of the men who belonged to the Brahmana sect of the ancient Indian society. A little trip down our traditional society will reveal that the practice finds its roots in the Varnashrama system that was propounded and followed during Vedic age.

Those were times when people contributed to society in which they lived on the basis of their physical and mental capabilities. The students and Brahmins who expended their time in rites and rituals, research, learning and disseminating knowledge, had little time to take care of the daily logistics of life. Hence, society took it upon itself to sustain such members in their community as and when their help was sought.

Thus, Bhikshatana or seeking of alms came into practice. The seekers of alms would arrive at the doorsteps of their potential donors and call out loudly and humbly for their requirement. The charitable household would take stock of their situation and then the lady of the house would give away one or two items. Usually it would be some food grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts or a length of cloth according to their financial strength.

Rarely though, there were times when the seekers of alms would receive very little or face rejection or derision from the public in general. This experience taught the seekers to accept discourteous or negative response without feeling offended or judgmental. They learned the valuable lesson of humility in the practical way.

Moreover they imbibed the value of curtailing the impulse to save up or hoard for a future time. In other words, Bhikshatana served as soup for the soul to evolve as a mature personality.

Indian culture introduced and included the practice of Bhikshatana variously, with the intent of inducing charitable and humble traits in our society.

Tactlessness Can Be Hurtful


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Sometimes, we end up saying or doing tactless things with the best of intentions in mind. Our idea boomerangs and shows us in bad light. A little introspection will reveal that lack of right approach and choice of wrong words land us in such unpleasant situations.

The plight of sage Jaabali is one such as recorded in the Ramayana. When prince Bharata knew that his mother Kaikeyi was the architect of the twin catastrophe that struck Ayodhya, he decided to go to the forest and impress upon Rama to return from exile.

An entourage of family, well-wishers and ministers followed him. Repeated requests by Bharata pleading Rama to return were turned down by the Ikshavaku prince.

At that point of time, Jaabaali, an advisor in the court of Ayodhya, took it upon himself to convince Rama. He pointed out that it would amount to folly if the prince turned down the kingdom, especially in the new scenario when Kaikeyi and Bharata wanted him to assume throne. When Rama refused to breach his promise, Jaabaali he discounted the value of the promise of Rama in the altered circumstances.

Jaabaali felt emboldened by the calm attitude of the exiled prince and started elucidating his point with a very insensitive example. He said that people perform Shraaddha for their forefathers and feed Brahmins in the belief of satiating their dead. If such a practice had any genuine value attached to it, one could also perform Shraaddha to people going away on a long journey and then there would be no need for them to eat on their way.

When Jaabaali tried to ply his point using such tactless examples, he ended up enraging Rama. Raghava who was unperturbed when his crowning ceremony was cancelled and sent on exile, was enraged by the insinuations of Jaabaali. Rama, who was determined to redeem his promise to his father, actually faulted his sire for having entertained an atheist and foolhardy advisor like Jabaali in his court.

Jaabaali confessed that he had resorted to nihilistic ways in the hope of changing Raghava’s mind following which he sought the latter’s forgiveness.

The Message of the Three Monkeys


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By RADHA PRATHI

Celebrating Gandhi Jayanthi and observing Martyr’s day can become more meaningful if we introduce the values propounded by Mahatma Gandhi into our everyday lives.

We could actually revolutionize the universe we live in, in a very unique way by following a simple code of conduct as seen by Gandhi in the three monkeys. They prompt man to hear no evil, speak no evil and see no evil. He perceived that human life would become simple and more meaningful if we lead our lives based on the message of the monkeys.

We should realize the distinction between listening and hearing. For instance, he could avoid participating and listening to gossip and talk which are worthless and time stealing. This practice will make his mind uncluttered and more procreative. It is obvious that no man is going to be cherished if he shut his ears literally in the contemporary world. Nevertheless he could move away from the unpleasant spot in a discreet way. If he finds that he cannot avoid the distasteful situation he need not pay attention to the matter and much less repeat or discuss the gossip in fresh company following the message of the second monkey shutting its mouth which suggests — speak no evil—.

Well-known adage goes Silence is golden, speech is silver. Yet speech is necessary for communication. In such a backdrop it would be best if we adopted prudence while speaking. All of us know that an unnecessary hurtful word can ruin the psyche of a person much more than weapons can do. We could do well to avoid speaking such evil words. At the same time flattering and insincere praise could also amount to speaking evil. It has been proven that a good conversationalist is a good listener, for listening helps the listener to make an assessment and also understand the speaker. The third monkey suggesting — see no evil — implies that revolting scenes of sex and violence are best not seen for they have a disquieting effect on the human mind.

MATURITY AND PATIENCE


Published on 18th June 2018 in the Oasis Column of Deccan Herald

A lot of parents, teachers and team leaders find that they are inadequate when it comes to sorting out rivalry amongst their children, students and teammates respectively. Damages caused by the lack of grace and niceties can actually rankle the mind, leaving long term hurt or irreversible scars. Hence it is of paramount importance for people to exercise infinite patience and profound maturity to handle such situations to the healing point.

A story from the Bhagavatham can be used as a reference point to resolve similar problems in the present age. King Uttanapada had two wives called Suneethi and Suruchi, who had a son each who were called Dhruva and Uttama respectively. The king’s favouritism encouraged Suruchi to cherish the fond hope that her son Uttama would ascend the throne one day despite the presence of the crown prince Dhruva.  This confidence also braced up Suruchi to look down upon the legitimate queen mother. One day, the five year old Dhruva saw his little half brother Uttama seated on the lap of their father Uttanapada. The child in him craved to climb on to his father’s lap. Even as he tried to do so, he was reprimanded sharply by his step mother. Suruchi snapped at him saying, “Only God can bestow you with what you want to do.” The confused lad ran to his mother to seek comfort. Suneethi knew that she was powerless to direct the king to do her bidding as he was besotted with Suruchi. At the same time she was mature. She did not want to influence the young mind negatively by telling him about the lopsided equations in her marital relationship. Since Dhruva was persistent, Suneethi worked around the words of Suruchi to advantage. She told Dhruva that there was no greater power than God in the universe. If the supreme power was appealed to with sincere devotion, everything would become possible. Dhruva was consoled and convinced. He went out to seek God. He was initiated by the celestial sage Narada and performed a severe penance. In fact, he not only gained his father’s affections and the kingdom but also went on to become one of the greatest Bhagavathas ever. Suneethi managed to steer her son out of a life of discontent, disappointment and directing him towards eternal glory!

Unlearn and Relearn


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Great minds across space and sands of time have always agreed that the cornerstone of society revolves around how it responds to a situation. This, in turn, depends on the domestic, social, economic and educational backgrounds of its people.

An incident in the life of Valmiki, the author of the Ramayana, throws the spotlight on this issue effectively. Once, Valmiki was returning after completing his ablutions on the banks of river Tamasa. There he saw a hunter poised with his bow and arrow, ready to bring down a pair of cranes perched on a tree. Almost immediately, one of the birds was shot dead and its companion wailed inconsolably.

Valmiki was disturbed and inadvertently cursed the hunter for perpetrating a heinous crime. That, the expletive of Valmiki, the expression of his “Shoka” which metamorphosed into a “Shloka” is another story.

What needs to be examined here is the fact that as far as the hunter was concerned, he hunted the bird down probably as a part of his routine. Perhaps, he looked upon the cranes as his meat.

Valmiki, who had a violent past as a dacoit, must have behaved like the hunter very many times in the past. Yet, his attitude towards his way of life changed when he realised the futility of robbing others to cater to the needs of his family. Possibly, this enlightenment helped him to see the incident in a new light.

His reaction towards the hunter’s act precipitated as a metric verse, one of the high points of a culturally evolved society.

The contrast in the two reactions to the same incident also serves as a divider in the cultural quotient of the two men.

This incident also serves as an example to people who want to change for the better as sensible and sensitive human beings.

If we tarry a moment and retrospect, it will not be difficult for us to realise that we can weave woofs and warps of changes in the world at large when each of us ready ourselves to unlearn and relearn for the betterment of self and society.

Bird’s Eye View of Sanskrit


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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.