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.

Genuine Thirst for Knowledge

Genuine thirst for knowledge

There was a time when people who thirsted for knowledge went to great lengths to acquire it. The passion to learn helped them to overcome distance, hardships and challenges without an iota of hesitation.

Once the students became erudite, they safeguarded knowledge fiercely with great care and awkwardness and passed them on selectively to some trusted disciples for reasons best known to them.

A story in the Upanishads records how Indra, the Lord of Devas, once initiated sage Dadheechi with divine knowledge like Pravarga and Madhu, because he was excessively impressed by the sage’s severe penance to learn the same. Since it was niche knowledge, he categorically told the sage that his head would be cut into 100 pieces if he passed on his learning to anybody else.

The Ashwini Kumaras, who happened to eavesdrop during the last segment of the conversation, were tempted to learn the special subjects. They did not want the sage to pay with his life. So, they cut off the sage’s head and hid it in a secret place and placed a head of a horse on the sage’s torso. The sage was awed by their genuine desire for knowledge, humility and the willingness to take such a huge risk for the love of learning. Dadheechi imparted the Vidya to them. At the end of the session, Ashwini Kumaras wanted to transplant the original head of Dadheechi on his person. They thought that even if Indra decided to carry out his threat, the head of the horse would be mutilated.

In the meanwhile, the enraged Indra decided to take the twin Devas for a ride. Indra took the original head of the sage into his custody. The nervous twins were forced to confess. Indra recognized their genuine thirst for knowledge and returned Dadheechi’s head which was duly fixed. The Lord of the heavens realized that it was impossible to hold back learning if the teacher and the taught were enthusiastic about gaining mastery over the subject.

Today we have come a long way. Just about every subject under the sun is available to us at the click of a button. The opportunities to learn and expand our mental horizons intellectually are infinite. Despite the immense and easy facilities, we find that most of us are not serious takers.

“Education ” By Question Banks

We are in the middle of the academic year. Students are busy taking periodic tests and midterm examinations based on the portions completed. Their answer scripts are being evaluated and assessed. Parents are being apprised of their ward’s performance.

Teachers’ meetings are being conducted to analyse their inputs and involvement in their responsibilities.

Everything seems to be going on like clockwork — just the way it should. Or, is it just a mirage? Perhaps this is the right time of the year for the parent, student and teacher to do a reality check.

Most schools have revision sessions before tests and examinations. They generate a question bank of sorts. The children are told directly or indirectly to concentrate on the revision sessions.

Parents and tuition teachers help the children out with the preparation. Most pupils get thorough with the “necessary portions” and score well. The tests and later on examinations are taken and evaluated — well, you know the drill.

While the process seems natural and harmless, it can turn out to be a quite a negative influence. It can uproot the fundamental aim of learning and education. Young students are being led by the nose to take up tests which prove to be a test of memory rather than understanding.

The very schools which claim to give holistic education shrink even the prescribed syllabus so that the students are not strained to look beyond a few questions.

Limited reading

Reading textbooks, ancillary reading material, referring to class notes are all relegated to the backburner because they do not count as “test portions”.

The learning that can be evinced from group study, working out varied problems, reference works are increasingly becoming non-existent because extensive reading or learning need not be displayed in answer papers.

The young learners cannot be blamed for wearing blinders because they are made to wear them by their teachers. When we look at the problem from the tutors’ point of view, it appears that they are shackled by several constraints. They are expected to cater to unwieldy numbers which makes it almost impossible for them to correct notebooks sincerely.

Then they have to live up to the expectations of the management and deliver cent per cent results as far as possible. When their increments and sometimes their employment depend on the results they deliver, they find it convenient to create “question banks”. This way they hope to step up the level of the results.

Multiple choice papers

The parents for their part do not really seem to mind this new infusion into the system right from primary school because their accountability comes down considerably. Sometimes, schools also opt for multiple choice question paper models partially or completely to make it easier for evaluation.

This method not only encourages blind guessing among students, but also conveniently circumvents the need to comprehend, work out or articulate their thoughts. The net result of this phenomenon precipitates as a mockery of education. No one is any wiser at the end of the day though everyone, the students, parents and teachers have gone through the exercise.

Today, we live in a world where education has been systematised. Learners go through the process of education in a set pattern and emerge as ‘educated’ people at various levels.

Where will all this spoon-feeding and holding hands lead them in the long run of life? Will their education stand them in good stead? Will they be in a position to think out of the box and handle unforeseen circumstances in life?

Can they come up with original or creative solutions to deal with problems? Will they employ just means to achieve their ends? How will they compare with their peer group across the globe? Will their accomplishments fill the lacunae that exist in the world?

The concept of “Question banks” was introduced at the university level, to help examinees to focus after browsing through an exhaustive material. To introduce the same, while shaping minds in their formative years in schools, amounts to committing intellectual suicide.

It is time to break this pattern and pay attention to learning for learning’s sake so that we can pave the way to developing inquisitive, fertile minds that are willing to go that extra mile before arriving at answers!

Green Building for a Better Future

Every creature on earth worth its salt has carved a niche for itself in some portion of the earth by way of shelter to see them through the inclemency of extreme weather conditions. Such being the case, can man, the most intelligent creation of them all, be left behind?

Archaeological surveys across the globe have revealed that ever since the evolution of man, he has felt and acknowledged the need to be sheltered from extreme conditions exuded by natural elements. Natural caves chosen as residence by the Paleolithic man had all the makings of a rudimentary home. Gradually, he gleaned know-how from the natural life around him and learned to build secure liveable homes deriving his sources from nature.

We have come a long way since then. Today we have the know-how to build state of the art buildings with every possible facility under the sun. Yet there is much to be desired in terms of planning and having equal accessibility to these conveniences. Startling realities of life like congestion and pollution are wreaking havoc especially in Indian cities.

Alarming urbanisation on the one hand and the need for cost effective housing on the other is pressurising architects and builders alike to construct homes for just about everyone who chooses to live in the cities. Every prospective house owner dreams of having a sleek, functional aesthetic contemporary home that is reinforced with strength sourced from premium housing material at an affordable price.

The expectations of the public appear to be reasonable and the builders are only too eager to fulfil them but in the process. Hence, homes are built all over the place without really ploughing through the pros and cons of the issue. The housing sector is riddled with chaotic posers from environmental, economic and ethical issues. There are a plethora of other related aspects that need to be sorted out.

It is high time man realised that global warming across the world is not a coffee table topic of the “eco-friendly lot” anymore; it is a serious issue that needs to be reckoned with. Conservation of natural resources and abstinence from using non-biodegradable materials should become the sovereign duty of each and everyone who walks the planet earth.

This does not mean that man does not have the right to enjoy his life, build his home or do it up the way it pleases his aesthetic sense. Yet if man remembers the words from the “Good Book” he will understand that “Charity begins at home.”

Dignity of labour
Home builders, owners and users should realise that the strength of eco-friendly architecture can go a long way in replenishing or at least sustaining the natural resources to a large extent. For starters, we can circumvent the use of extensive machines in the building industry and rely upon skills of people, thereby attempting to revive dignity of labour besides empowering labourers economically.

Eco-friendly ideas span across several possibilities like building materials, construc-tion technology, attitudes towards workers, alternative lifestyle, passive solar cooling, embedded energy, localising the act and such others. No construction can have all these possibilities explored in one, but may adopt as many ideas as possible towards a greener future.

Using natural building material tempered with technology can prove not only to be cost effective but can revive several traditional time-tested building techniques by master artisans across India.

If this measure is taken seriously by architects, builders, interior decorators and prospective house owners alike, we will not only be supporting the livelihood of several masons and artisans but will indirectly promote and rejuvenate a dying art which is eco-friendly and the need of today.

These days, space is a constraint in growing cities hence most people have to compromise on translating the home of their dreams on terra firma and look forward to realising them in one of the floors of a high rise building. Strong and light materials will prove to be invaluable companions in providing more floor space and letting in light and air in good measure.

When we take practical realties into consideration, it is obvious that one cannot turn the wheel of time back and undo all the damage that has already be­en wreaked on earth yet, if the decisions we make while constructing or renovating homes can be examined philanthropically, it automatically becomes our duty to switch over to eco-friendly building material.

Empowered by Powerlessness

When Namma Bengaluru decided to keep its temperatures soaring, little did it know that it was uniting the denizens of the city in some way. It had all of us whining endlessly besides prompting us to collectively pray for the rains. The pleased heavens opened up with a hail storm one evening.
Once the initial rejoicing set in, kaput went the transformer. The area was shrouded in the dim fading light of dusk.

Alternative power solutions lit up the homes, offices and shops within seconds. The skies cleared up for the night. Several hours passed. There was no sign of electricity. Complaints were lodged more frantically when the batteries running the show began exhausting. The sporadic showers had escalated the heat indoors. Premises that opened doors even for a moment were invaded by motley insects which decided to plague our homes post rains.

The horribly hot night passed without electricity. The next morning dawned ushering in new problems. We did not have access to water as motor pumps were lying dead without power. Communication was cut off since most cell phones could not be charged. Making breakfast seemed a nightmare to people who heavily depended on toasters, microwaves and juicers.

As daylight enveloped the layout, people who had barely acknowledged one another started speaking in one voice. The limited resources were put to best use. Water, food and cell phones were used judiciously on the basis of priority. A team of people went to the local power station to learn about the actual cause of delay. They found out that the electricians were not lazing around, but had been working on various poles overnight. It was just that the ratio of men was hopelessly low to the number of repairs that they had to make.

A few more powerless (pun intended) hours lapsed. The refrigerators were raided and salvaged food was put to good use. Water tankers were hired to supply water. The children were rallied around and sent off to a movie to keep them cool, well-fed and out of the way. Finally, power was restored late afternoon.

The 20 hours of power cut, which seemed to be a nightmare to live through, was actually an eye opener of sorts. For starters, it revealed how helpless we were without electricity. But more importantly, it helped us renew ties with our neighbourhood on common grounds and appreciate the value of men whose expertise we think is available to us at our beck and call. The power cut which we thought had made us powerless had actually empowered us.

Save Yourself from Rainy Days

Radha Prathi, March 24, 2017

problem It has been identified that water has a tendency to seep into adjoining walls that are at different levels. 

Come rainy season, and urban India is on tenterhooks, when it comes to their houses.

The reasons for these are many, ranging from poor construction to lack of a good rainwater draining system. Sometimes, a good many number of building parts, or even entire buildings have little or no exposure to sunlight. Correcting these anomalies is beyond the realms of practicality. Such being the case, it will be only wise to take the next best recourse.

Architects, builders, consumers and the waterproofing industry have identified the problems associated with moisture in buildings and have come up with solutions that can keep the building dry for the most part of the year. When the rainy season sets in, they have come up with techniques that will get the water off the building fast, so that pooling and leaking of water into the structure can be contained. Adding slopes in the roofing area wherever possible and rainwater harvesting project incorporated into buildings can stem this problem to a large extent.

It has been identified that water has a tendency to seep into the adjoining walls that are at different levels. Extra care during construction and plastering of these areas can control the damage caused due to dampness. Sometimes, water seepage can happen when there is error in the installation of the plumbing system. Then there are those instances when there can be inadequate surface preparation, improper use of primers, failure to take into account the thermal and wind movements of the structure etc which can undermine the strength of the construction over a period of time.

No matter what the problem, there are mostly ready-to-use products available that can repair possible damages to the buildings. If you are constructing a new facility, you can use them in the first instance, but if you are trying to protect an old home, you might have to walk that extra mile. Nevertheless, you can be sure that it is worth the effort.

Structural waterproofing

Open areas like balconies, porches and terrace slabs, which tend to be exposed to rainwater directly and for a longer time, will do well to mix admixes which will plasticise the walls and plug in the pores so that they do not retain water and absorb it later. As always, the market offers a range of these admixes with various grades of plasticising agents both in the paste and powder form. People looking at longevity of their constructions even have the options to fill hollow cement bricks with this mixture to make it waterproof from within.

Roof & terrace

It is universal knowledge that the roof and the terrace of any building are always exposed to the natural elements. This, coupled with bad upkeep can make the area develop cracks. Hence, waterproofing the terrace can protect it. You really do not need professionals to do this job, for the method is very simple. Sweep the terrace clean, wash it with clear water. Leak-guard pastes available off the shelf can be used to plug in cracks, dents and chipped area of the terrace.

Similarly, waterproof powder and chemical can also be bought in any hardware shop. Mix the powder as instructed in a bucket of clear water and apply the liquid to the surface with a wide paint brush. Apply a second coat after three hours and be rest assured that your terrace is safe for the next three to four years. As of now, there are no permanent waterproofing techniques for the roof; hence the need to repeat the exercise time and again.


Basement areas tend to become swimming pools during monsoons. The slope and the rainwater drains don’t help much, unless planned and executed well. You can prevent your basement from becoming redundant if you use appropriate waterproofing. While new basements can use structural procedure, old buildings have to first release the surface of the mould. Fumigation and subjecting the area to hot air blasts can clean it to a large extent. If the walls of the basement have started chipping or flaking, it will be worth the investment to get them plastered again before working on the floor.

Then, use non-metallic heavy duty floor hardener to reinforce the floor. Though this measure is costly, it has a long life and can be easy to clean and maintain. Waterproofing buildings has come of age. There are plenty of options in terms of both price and quality. The best time to waterproof buildings will be summer. Make sure that your homes and offices wear their rainproof cover before the first drizzle.

Memory Vs Photographs

Even as I saw the zillionth person clicking pictures or selfies and sharing them relentlessly, I inadvertently stepped into my personal realm of nostalgia. I remember that we did the most enjoyable things around our homes and with our families, but they were rarely photographed. Every evening, my metre-long tresses would be braided into a plait, and a tassel (kuchchu) would mark the end of it.

Long strings of jasmine buds would be woven around it. Once, a special day was earmarked for me to wear a moggina jade (a readymade pad with jasmine buds and an occasional rose fit on the back of the head and the plait). This red-lettered day was preceded by elaborate preparations.

My mom sourced fresh mehendi leaves, ground them into a fine paste, and applied it on my palms and feet before the event. The following morning, I was given a traditional oil bath and the fumes of frankincense were waved over my drying hair to perfume it. Then, I wore the traditional silk skirt, some pieces of antique jewellery, and got ready to get my hair braided and wear moggina jade. After receiving glowing compliments from all our guests, I was relieved of the same with equal care. I thoroughly enjoyed the exercise while it lasted, and have ruminated on it many times over.

As the years rolled by, I used to feel a little vexed with my parents for not having photographed me in my moment of crowning glory. I would be tersely told that the enjoyment was the reward, while photographing it would have amounted to merely documenting it. Their explanation used to irk me all the more because it sounded like a lame excuse for not having thought of it.

I entertained uncharitable thoughts about their miserliness until one day, when a family friend began showing us her holiday album.

The pictures were glossy and beautiful, but the smiling lady who was ever-present in all of them had little memory of the place or its distinction, or even the names of the other members of the group, because she was always grooming herself to look good in the shots.

It was then that I understood the meaning of what I had been told. A photograph of my long braid would have merely retained the visual. I might have been happy and proud of the picture, but might have relegated it to an album and put it away safely.

However, the fact that it was not photographed possibly preserved the memory of the smells and sounds associated with the event.

Surprisingly, quite a few of them who had seen me enjoying my moment in the sun also seem to remember it quite well, and have since shared it with their spouses and children.

It happened long ago. Few people wielded the camera then. Yet, special moments of the privileged were captured on camera. Since they were far and few, they attained the status of precious family and national heirlooms. Today, technology has made photographing a cake walk. However, we must remember that if we spend all the time behind the lens, we may not have memories attached to them when we look at them at a later date. Let us not miss the woods for the trees.