The Osmosis of Life


Published in Today’s Deccan Herald

http://www.deccanheraldepaper.com

How often have we been told that God is One. It does not really matter which religion we profess, because ultimately we hope to realize the Truth that has the world functioning the way it is. Every religion aims at establishing peace and harmony in the universe using the same key ingredients. All streams of theology swear by the power of truth and compassion and urges man to become better than himself morally to attain spiritual fulfillment.

The Keshava Smrithi, clearly states that, just like rain water reaches the sea one way or another, so also the obeisance rendered to various gods reach Keshava. In other words, the import of the Shloka highlights the fact that there is only one God, no matter what we call him. While comparing prayers to rain water, the couplet gently points out the scientific principle of how the waters of the oceans evaporate, form clouds and precipitate as rains. The rain in turn contributes to the various water bodies on earth eventually flows back to the sea. So also, we could be worshipping the supreme power in many different ways. Yet the spirit of prayer, the intensity of faith and the awe we have for the almighty is the same. If our appeals are fervent and sincere we do not have to worry about the method for our prayers will surely be answered in one way or another.

When we analyze the idea pragmatically, it still makes sense. We know that water finds its own level. The concept of osmosis has proved the theory of equalization. Water helps life of all genres to emerge, evolve and sustain no matter how large, deep or pure it may be.

It is interesting to note that the very practical osmotic process has a very lofty philosophical connotation. If people understand that the underlying principle of every way of life is essentially the same, we can thrive in an integrated way despite the vast diversity.

 

 

Our Naada Habba


Appeared in the student edition of Deccan Herald  23rd September 2019

 

The Pooja vacation is round the corner. A welcome respite for students indeed,         especially as it crops up during the middle of a hectic academic year. Maybe you should keep this article aside and read it at leisure during the vacation.

The Mysore Dusshera our Naada Habba is a world famous event which attracts tourists from every nook and corner of the globe. The reverence towards the goddess Chamundeshwari coupled with pomp and glory exhibited during on these days reflects on the ambience of an age that has flit past. Though one can view the entire ceremony on the television shows which relays the occasion in great detail one must make it a point to enjoy the experience first hand at least once in your lifetime. It can be a joy to re-live the splendour and the grandeur of a prosperous era which is represented by caparisoned elephants, royal relics besides the food and music fit for a connoisseur.

The Dusshera festival is also known as the “Gombe habba” or dolls festival in south India.  Temples and homes have wide stairs built, numbering up to eleven in number and display figurines of gods and goddesses in addition to several dolls representative of historical or contemporary life. This also an occasion to unveil the creativity and imagination by setting up parks, railway stations, cricket grounds to add colour to the occasion.

Dusshera is symbolically celebrated to mark the struggle and the ultimate victory of goddess Chamundi to vanquish the demon Mahishasura. It is believed that this demon assumed the form of a wild buffalo and troubled the sages and disrupted their Yagas. He was very powerful and was blessed with immortality by Bramha who said that the demon would never face death until a woman exterminated him. Mahishasura was extremely pleased with the boon and took his life and power for granted and acted ruthlessly. He knew no woman would dare to even look at him, let alone kill him. It was at this juncture goddess Shakthi assumed the form of Chamundeshwari at the behest of the pantheon of Gods and waged a battle against Mahishasura for nine days.

Puranas reveal that the strength of the goddess was supplemented by Lakshmi, Saraswathi and Durga in phases of three days each, to empower her to destroy Mahisha eventually.

A closer look at this story appears to disclose a coded message for us. The assets of the goddesses are representative of different strengths like wealth ( well- being) , education and power. The goddess also employed Yantra (Mechanisations), Mantra ( synthesized information in the form of formulae) and Tantra (Logic) to kill Mahisha. Hence it becomes apparent that one needs a strength which is a combination of physical power and mental power to achieve one’s end for success does not come very easily without a struggle.

To this day we worship machines, even laptops and palmtops on the ninth day of the festival also known as Ayudha pooja day as a mark of deference towards the instruments that play a part in our success. The last day of the festival is called – a day of victory when the victory of the goddess is celebrated.

It is also celebrated as teachers’ day by traditionalists. It is considered as an auspicious day when new learning or projects can be launched without fear of failure.

The north Indians take pride and happiness in celebrating the event as Durga Pooja or Navrathri. The traditional Garba dance in worship of the goddess has caught the imagination of youngsters in a big way nowadays who spend the Pooja holidays in fun and frolic.

The Ramayana mentions that Rama returned to Ayodhya with Sita and Laksmana after his exile of fourteen years during this period. Ram Leela is celebrated with great fervour in Uttar Pradesh and surrounding states when an effigy of the ten headed Ravana is set on fire.

The Mahabharatha says that Arjuna the Pandava prince retrieved his bow Gandeevi from the Banni tree on Vijayadashami after living incognito for a year to fight Duryodhana and his forces as he took the side of prince UttaraKumara.

A closer observation of their activities will reveal that each geographical area has a different custom which has been followed over the ages though the core value and understanding the festival is uniform throughout the country.

Did you know that this Pooja season has a lot of relevance to mans relationship with the environment around him?

For instance, people give a lot of importance to different cereals and food grains during the first nine days of this festive season.

This tradition has a lot of practical connotations when we delve deeper into it. We all know this festival falls at the fag end of the rainy season. There is usually a dearth of fruits and vegetables during this time. The greens also do not thrive during this season. When man is cut off from a major source of nutrition he is likely to fall sick hence he resorted to utilize the food grains stored by him.  The cereals which are a rich source of protein supplement as nutritious food during the season which is punctuated with fasting and feasting.

Down south, families display dolls and images of gods and goddesses recreating myths, historical and contemporary events during the ten days. If you have noticed they also build a small park where they allow food grains to germinate and grow into young plants.  The site of greenery indoors not only lends beauty to the atmosphere but also acts as an indicator of the condition of the soil. In the past, in a predominantly agricultural society the festival proved to be a platform for experimenting on a possible bumper crop using this aesthetic mode. Farmers collected soil from their fields and sowed different food grains and watered them regularly till they developed into healthy little plants. At the end of ten days they got a fairly good idea of the crop which would do well that season in their soil. This little agricultural experiment formed the basis on which farmers could exchange seeds and agrarian know-how.

This custom encouraged the “give and take policy” among people and helped them to live in harmony amongst themselves and the nature around them.

A study of ancient Vedic texts reveals that each food grain was identified for its specific strengths and its ability to nourish and medicate the various parts of the body when consumed or distributed on a particular day of the week. It has been discovered that intake of rice on Mondays, Toor dal on Tuesdays, green-gram on Wednesdays, channa on Thursdays, beans on Fridays, urad dal on Saturdays and wheat on Sundays can prove to be potent. Recent studies by dieticians and healthcare researchers have confirmed the veracity of the tradition.

Just like any other festivity in India, there are several reasons assigned    for the celebration of these ten days which commence on the Mahalaya Amavasya day during the Sharath or the autumn season. Nevertheless they convey the same messages – the triumph of good over evil and how it is important for us to live in harmony with each other.

The festivities begin on a somber note at riversides, beaches and the several water bodies of India which are generally flooded with people who offer their obeisance to their dead ancestors and pray for the peace and general well being of the departed souls. The following nine days are celebrated with variations that suit the geographical and social backdrops of the various regions. It is amazing to know that each one of our festivals have several layers of meanings and relevance to people from all walks of life. They have been tested and formulated by our ancestors in a purposeful manner to bring added meaning and joy into our lives!!! Happy Dussera !!!

 

 

 

 

 

Gratitude is the Best Attitude


Published in the Oasis column of today’s  Deccan Herald

In the Ramayana Hanuman, was identified to cross the ocean and scout for Sita the abducted wife of Rama.  When he was midway across the ocean Mount Mainaka rose from the depths of the ocean and intercepted him. Hanuman was annoyed by the obstacle and started pounding the great mountain with all his might. Mainaka bore the brunt gracefully and spoke gently to Hanuman requesting the latter to accept the hospitality of the ocean. He sourced fresh fruits and water from his being and humbly requested Hanuman to avail the same and rest awhile before continuing on the journey. Maruthi was highly appreciative of the hospitality made a token of acceptance and continued with his journey.

The meekness of the once powerful Mainaka may seem in order with his altered status as a refugee. A little introspection of this story will reveal that Mainaka was being humble and grateful for what he received. It is said that long long ago all mountains were winged. They flew around with their massive bodies and landed where they pleased. This exercise proved to be a menace to earthlings. Therefore the Rishis requested Lord Indra to help them. Consequently, Indra chopped the wings off the mountains using his Vajrayudha. Mainaka, the son of Himavaan did not want to lose his wings. He sought refuge in the southern seas. Sagara obliged Mainaka and allowed the mountain prince to hide himself in the bosom of the ocean.

When Sagara learnt that Hanuman was crossing the ocean for Rama, the Ikshavaku prince he bid Mainaka to offer respite to the messenger. Sagara extended this support because he was grateful to Bhagheeratha, an Ikshavaku prince who had added sanctity and volume to his being by bringing down the divine Ganga to earth which eventually flowed into the seas.

This well known story has the mighty and the powerful eager to show their gratitude for favours received, and all of us are well aware that gratitude is the best attitude one can ever have to keep us happy.

 

Overcoming Timidity


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Most of us must be familiar with a certain type of people who are timid to the point where they allow the domineering to walk all over them. While we cannot discount the fact that they are the tribe who are responsible for the little peace we enjoy on earth, we must also not forget that we are punishing them with untold trauma for being good natured.

A tale from the repertoire of stories from the Ramakrishna Ashram suggests a panacea for diffident denizens. There once lived a cobra in a little hamlet. He was feared by everyone. One day a saint came to the village. The cobra noticed the contrast in the attitude of the villagers towards himself and the saint. He approached the saint and spelled out his observation. The sage told the cobra to follow austerity. The snake who was determined to garner admiration even gave up hunting and lived on leaves shed by the trees. When he became noticeably meek and amiable, even little children in the village picked up him up by the tail and swirled him around just for fun. The serpent put up with this ordeal, to achieve his goal. Sometime later, the saint visited the settlement again. He heard about the saintly cobra. The good man visited the emaciated serpent and told him, that being nice did not mean accepting rude or violent behaviour. In fact, no one should ever accept an onslaught on their self esteem or accept discourteous behaviour, especially when they have done nothing to merit it. The Samaritan told the cobra to continue to be affable but also draw the line when others tried to take advantage of his goodness. When the reptile wondered as to how he could straddle both the situations, the saint told the cobra to unfurl his hood and hiss to frighten the mischief makers. He need not necessarily harm them, but threatening to do so could keep them at bay and also ensure his sanity and serenity.

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.

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!

The Sublime and the Ridiculous


https://www.deccanherald.com/opinion/right-middle/sublime-and-ridiculous-671464.html

The other day, I watched an interesting documentary on the life of nomads who live in the desert region. They were answering several questions regarding their history, demography and relevance of their lifestyle to a keen interviewer. When the next phase of the show began, the group was asked what they thought about random subjects. Their treasury of knowledge oscillated between the absurd and the astute. For instance some of them did not know the name of the region where they had camped; but seemed to have an uncanny knowledge of the natural resources of the land like where to find water and supplies for their caravan. They hardly cared that their kids were not going to school. Yet they seemed to have been made of grey cells all over. They were able to tell the time and weather without any contraption; they reeled off a dozen home remedies ranging from a bad cold to scorpion bites. They seemed to know a repertoire of words from a series of languages including English, useful for their survival. The tribe did not bother about lack of potable water or sanitation facilities, but were perfectly capable of optimizing what came their way without obstructing or polluting their environment. In other words they epitomized the concept of wild wanderers to the core!

Then there was a query on lord Ganesha. The interviewer called upon an elderly woman in the group and asked her why she thought the lord was pot bellied. Pat, came the answer; “Because, he has the earth in his stomach.” Even as the eyes of questioner lolled with disbelief, a slow and deliberate explanation as if to a child followed. The lord protected the world by placing it in his stomach; it was but natural that the round world bulged over his middle. I mulled over the outlandish answer. For a while it appeared as if the lady had reduced sublime to the ridiculous.

Then, I was reminded of Thomas Paine who once said, “The sublime and the ridiculous are often so nearly related that it is difficult to class them separately, one step above the sublime makes the ridiculous and one step above the ridiculous makes the sublime again.” The words which had seemed like a cryptic code to me until then suddenly came alive.

I was able to appreciate their interpretation of the deity despite appearing different. It was pretty much on the lines of what the devout would say, about the lord protecting the universe. In retrospection I realized that their set of life skills and knowledge albeit different were on par, perhaps even superior to the so called civilized society.