Journey Through Karnataka’s Heritage Sites

For the Christmas vacation of 2015, the initial plan was to go somewhere far away, outside Karnataka. But plan A did not work out somehow. So here was the plan B – why not visit some nearby tourist places of Karnataka that we have been postponing visiting for years. A day before the visit, we decided, our 2/3 days journey would start with Shravanabelegola, then on to Shringeri through Belur and Halebeedu.

So, early one morning towards the close of 2015 we hit the road, me – the driver, Subha – my wife as the mentor and Dipayan – our 13 year old son as the official navigator and photographer.

Our first destination was Shravanabelagola which is about 160 kms from Bangalore. As I learn that some years back the statue of Gommatesvara at Shravanabelagola was voted overwhelmingly in a Times of India poll as the first of the seven wonders of India, I wonder, “how come I have missed such a wonderful site even though I have stayed in Karnataka off and on for over 10 years.”

Shravanabelagola

Belagola means white pond and shravakas are Jain seekers. As the place is famous for both, it is named as Shravanabelagola. There is a beautiful pond- even though no more white – in the middle of the town which is flanked by two hills Vindhyagiri and Chandragiri.

On Vindhyagiri stands the majestic monolithic 57 feet high statue of Gommatesvara. There is no alternate to climbing barefoot or with socks the 650 odd steps to reach the sacred footstep of Lord Gommatesvara. Of course there are palanquin bearers for those who cannot climb. To reach the top, it takes a leisurely half an hour. There is no need to hurry. It would be better to take frequent breaks not only to stabilize breath, but also to appreciate the surrounding views as you climb. And of course to click those selfies to share on the social media.

As you climb up the Vindhyagiri Hill you can have a bird’s eye view of the Shravanabelagola town and the Chandragiri Hill across the town. It is here at Shravanabelegola that the Mauryan Emperor Chandragupta Maurya lived the last years of his life after converting to Jainism. On Chandragiri hills are a number of memorials to various Jain monks and a temple.

While climbing up the hill, you have the feeling that you are rising above the mundane affairs of the world and the majestic statue standing high on the mountain radiating bliss is inviting you to rise above the worldly worries and obtain the peak of bliss and innocence.

As one reaches the top of the hill through the winding steps one cannot but stand in awe of the magnificent statue of Gommatesvara Bahubali. Let it not be identified with the fictionalized character Bahubali of the eponymous multilingual movie.

When the movie Bahubali was released it drew protests from the Jain Community. May be, I think rightly so, they feared that the movie will evoke wrong associations and ideas concerning Jain History which is already misrepresented on many accounts by the scholars of Indian History.

On the rocks on both the hills are a large number of Kannada inscriptions that have survived the ravages of time for a thousand years. These have provided valuable information to the historians and archaeologists. However to me what was of special interest was the story of Bahubali written on a large board.

The story of Bahubali

Bahubali is the son of the first Jain Tirthankar – Rishavdeb who was the king of Ayodhya before entering into ascetic life. Rishavdeb had one hundred sons and two daughters through his two wives. Prominent among the sons were Bharat and Bahubali. Before renouncing worldly life, Rishavdeb crowned Bharat as the king of Ayodhya and Bahubali as the king of Taxshila. Other 98 sons were also made kings of various remaining provinces.

Bharat was highly ambitious. After subjugating 98 brothers he wanted Bahubali to surrender his kingdom. But Bahubali, which literally means the strong armed, would not consent. So war became inevitable. Fearing large scale devastation, the learned from both the sides, suggested a novel method – instead of the armies of both the sides engaging in battle, let there be a duel between the two brothers. Perhaps, it was keeping in line with the Jain principle of Ahimsa or where total Ahimsa was not possible to go for minimum collateral damage. Bharat was defeated in all the three rounds of the duel. But instead of being humbled, the defeat only infuriated him more and he sent his special weapon, known as Chakraratan – a wheel bestowed with magical powers, to kill Bahubali. To everyone’s surprise the weapon could not even touch Bahubali.

At first Bahubali was enraged. However, a sudden realization dawned on him and made him wonder about the futility of war and the craving for worldly gains. Thus, humbled in victory, Bahubali gave away his kingdom to Bharat and set on the journey of self-discovery. He engaged in deep meditation in the standing posture for such a long time that creepers grew over his legs. With a little help from Rishavdeb, Bahubali finally became enlightened.

Awestruck, as I climb down the Vindhyagiri, I cannot but agree with what the famous journalist Vir Sanghvi had written in an article after visiting Shravanabelagola – “It is a sobering thought that around 500 years before Michelangelo created his David, Indian craftsmen had created a statue that is much more beautiful and far more impressive. ….. Long before the European Renaissance and long before the great structures of the medieval era – such as the Taj Mahal – were created, India had a cultural heritage that was the envy of the world”.

The head anointing ceremony

Every 12 years, the head anointing ceremony known as Mahamasthakabhisheka is performed in an elaborate ritual where in the idol is bathed in sacred liquids like sandal paste, milk, ghee, turmeric paste etc. The grand ceremony, that draws millions of people, culminates with the showering of flowers from a helicopter. The next one is scheduled to be held in February 2018.

The message of Gommatesvara Bahubali

Bahubali, the strong armed one, stands alone, naked, innocent and majestic radiating bliss and peace atop mount Vindhyagiri to announce to the world that to patronize non-violence requires unsurpassed strength. It is not a sign of meekness and weakness. Defeat need not always humble someone. Real victory is victory over one’s own negative tendencies and ignorance.

Belur and Halebidu

Our next destination on the heritage tour was Halebidu which is at a distance of about 80 Kms from Shravanabelagola. We reached there by lunch time, hungry enough to devour whatever was on offer. So we did not mind the shanty hotel near the Hoysaleswara temple offering typical south Indian Thali.

Belur and Halebidu bear the testimony to not only the grand and distinct architectural style as the Hoysala style of architecture, but also the ravages done to a culturally advanced society by the barbaric Muslim invaders from time to time. A UNESCO study says that out of the 1500 temples built by the Hoysala rulers, only 100 survive today. Many temples were destroyed by the army of All-ud-din Khilji led by his general – Malik Kafur.

Belur was the first capital of the Hoysala Rulers whose empire spread all over Karnataka and some of the neighboring states. During their reign from the 10th to 14th century AD, art, architecture literature and spiritual practices thrived due to generous patronage of not only the rulers but also the influential citizens. In addition to the places of religious rituals, the temples served as centers of art and culture and sometimes even as courts. The Hoysala style attempted to achieve grandeur in ornate design with profusion of intricately carved stone sculptures, in contrast to the temples of other styles built to grand size , both vertical and horizontal.

The Chennakesava temple at Belur was commissioned in the early part of the 12th century by King Vishnuvardhana. The Vaishnavite Temple was earlier known as Vijayanarayana Temple to commemorate the victory of King Vishnuvardhana over the Chalukyas, as one legend goes. It is said that the Saivite Hoysaleswara temple at Halebidu was built by prominent merchants to rival the Chennakesava Temple in grandeur and glory. However after the completion of the temple it was dedicated to King Vishnuvardhana, who shifted his capital to Dwarasamudra which was later on called as Halebidu meaning the Old City. Some say King Vishnuvardhan was converted to Vaishnavism from Jainsim and his wife Shantala was also a Jain. Nevertheless, she patronized many Hindu temples. Overall, it is seen that during the Hoyasala period, a highly culturally and intellectually developed plural society developed making immense contribution to Indian and Kannada art, culture and literature.

The main attraction of Halebidu are the two conjoined temples of Hoysaleswara and Shantaleswar. There is an archaeological museum inside the compound of the temple. Other places of interest are the Kedareswara temple (also built in Hoysala style) and the Jain Basadi which are at short distance.

I was intrigued by the story behind the Garuda Pillar to the south side of the Hoysaleswara Temple. Usually Vishnu’s vahana Garuda sits on the Garuda pillar in front of many Vaishnavite temples. However, this Garuda Pillar here is erected in honor of the body guard of King Ballala II. I learn that Garudas were highly skilled and loyal body guards of the kings. With the death of the king they served, they also ended their lives. In this particular case, the body guard Kuruva Lakshma was so loyal that he took the life of his whole family along with his own.

Inside the the Chennakesava Temple at Belur are a number of other temples, some added later on after the consecration of the main Vishnu Temple. As I enter the large temple compound in the afternoon, roam around and sit down for a while to meditate, it gives one a feeling of timelessness. Nothing much has changed inside the temple during the last 800 years, including the form of temple ritual that has been carried on without even a day’s break .Of course men have come and men have gone. The carvings on the outer walls and the inscriptions provide valuable information and hints about the life in those days.

Each image, each carving has a story to tell and they are in thousands. The history and archeology enthusiast may need months to explore and fathom them. Even for a casual visitor, one day is definitely not enough to appreciate various historical land marks (that includes Hoysala-style step wells) spread in and around Belur and Halebidu.

At the end of a tiring day, falling asleep was not much of a problem. However certain vague and dreamlike feelings lingered on as I felt being transported back in time to those golden days of history. I hear the sounds of sculptors chiseling and bringing into life, lifeless objects, with the hope that the creations outlived the creators. I see them signing off their work with a feeling of pride and accomplishment (literally, because many of the carvings bear the name of the sculptor in local language). On various pandals inside the temple, discourses and discussions are going on as to the origin of the universe, the nature of reality and the ultimate aim of life. In another corner, the compositions of poets find expressions through accomplished dancers and singers. In the streets outside, the common citizens carry on with their lives as usual while the threat of battle and devastation looms large. Soldiers return from battle, wounded and tired, yet surviving to tell the tales of camaraderie, courage and victory.

Shravanabelagola, Halebid and Belur have been proposed to be included in the list of UNESCO heritage sites. There has been no such recommendation for Sringeri. May be because, Sringeri does not boast of any monument of architectural grandeur. Nevertheless it is an important landmark contributing to the notion called India and towards the preservation of ancient Indian spiritual and intellectual heritage. Thus seen, it is no less a heritage site than Shravanabelagola.

On to Shringeri and Shirimane Falls

The 100kms odd journey from Belur to Sringeri was mesmerizing. The winding road through the ghat sections of Chikmagalur district is flanked by coffee estates. In between there are stretches of roads that are in need of repair and it slows down our journey. Otherwise also, we stop frequently to have a panoramic view of the surroundings and examine the plantations of the estates. My wife gets fascinated with the creepers that grow on the tall trees which provide a canopy to the coffee plants. We learn that these are the creepers that produce black pepper. We reached Sringeri long before lunch time to take a little rest and visit the temples of Sringeri Sarada Peetham. The guest houses constructed and maintained by Sharada Peeham are well maintained and the charges are very nominal. Of course one can opt for one of the more expensive private lodges or home stays located throughout the town and the outskirts.

Sringeri is a small town with a population of about 5000 and is situated on the southern side of the river Tunga. There is ample parking place in between the town and the river and adjacent to the Sarada Peetham.

The majority of tourists were school children who came as a part of their annual excursion during the Christmas vacation. It was a bit crowded. At other times we may not see so many footfalls. As the place was meant to be a citadel of learning and contemplation for those who took to the monastic order, it would be fitting if the place is not filled with bustling crowds all the year round.

However, there is a story behind the place being chosen to be the first of the four original ‘Maths’ established by Adi Shankara. While passing through Sringeri, Adi Shankara saw a unique site near River Tunga. It was a very hot day and a snake had spread its hood over a frog to shelter it from hot sun. Adi Shankar could discern the special vibes permeating the place. The story has a modern parlance. Huge number of fish gather at the river bend near the temple to be fed with puffed rice by the human beings. They have so much faith of not being caught and fried that they come near you without any iota of fear or hesitation. Truly, it is a place with special vibes. The presence of ancient temples, the river flowing by leisurely and the green mountains standing still create a serene and peaceful atmosphere.

Here it may be remembered that today there are hundreds of swamis and saints who claim to be the torch bearers of the traditions started by Adi Shankaracharya. However, Adi Shankar established only four ‘Maths’ – one each in the southern, western, northern and eastern part of India, entrusting each Math to be administered by one of his four prominent disciples- Sureshwara, Hastamalaka, Totakacharya and Padmapada. Thus, in the south we have the Sharada Peetham at Sringeri, in the west at Dwaraka we have the Dwarakapeetha, Jyotirmath is located at Badrinath in the north and at Puri in the east we have Govardhan Peetha. Presently the Sharada Peetham is headed by Sri Sri Bharati Tirtha Mahaswamiji who is the 36th in the lineage of head pontiffs of the Peetham.

The temples of Sri Saradamba, Sri Toranaganapati, Sri Vidyashankar, Sri Adishankara and another dozen odd temples are located inside the temple complex on the southern bank of the River Tunga. Sri Vidyashankar Temple was constructed in 14th century combining Hoysala and Dravidian style of architecture. Different temples inside the complex have been constructed at different times. Our visit and prayers at the temples on the southern side culminated with the partaking of the free lunch (annaprasada) inside the temple complex. The lunch consisting of kheer, rice, sambhar and butter milk was simple yet sumptuous. Temple authorities claim that every day on an average of 8-10 thousand people are provided free lunch and dinner.

In the evening we went to the northern side of the peetham across the river. A narrow high bridge over river Tunga connects both sides of the premises of the peetham. Of course, nearby there is another hanging foot bridge for the use of the villagers on the other side of the river. The northern side across the river houses the living quarters of the pontiffs, other swamis and disciples. It has the ambience of an Ashram. One can have an audience with the head pontiff Sri Sri Bharati Tirtha Mahaswamiji and his successor designate Sri Vidhusekhar Bharati at prescribed timings in the morning and evening subject to their availability at Sringeri. Luckily for us on that day both of them were available for darshan.

There are a number of other temples in and around Sringeri. Another interesting place that we visited in the afternoon was the Sirimane Falls located at a distance of about 20 kms from Sringeri. Even though the road was so bad that it created doubts as to whether it would survive the next few days to be regarded as any kind of motor-able road, the waterfall was worth a visit. Here again the crowd consisted primarily of sportive school students running to enjoy a bath while their shouting, reprimanding, threatening guardians and teachers played the spoilsport.

The Article originally appeared on TourMyIndia. Visit the site for more photos.

 

faux pas – e- kabootari

pigeon kabootar

Thus went our distorted version when the Bollywood song- Kabootar ja ja ja – was at its height of popularity:

Kabootar ja ja ja

Pehle pyar ki

doosri chithi

teesre ko de aaa

Have you ever been the unintended recipient of a love message from another’s wife? Well, I have been. I recoil with horror when I recall the three days of the ordeal that followed after, unfortunately,  my wife discovered the message.

Well, more of that later.

Of course, you must have felt jealous when your spouse got flattering attention from another of your sex and you were a little sidelined. If you think it is only the ladies who get more jealous in these matters compared to men, you are thoroughly mistaken. Count me out of course. When my wife gets undue attention from a male member of the society I just end the matter with a gentle chide.

Social media (facebook in particular) have become vine yards to display ones’ vanity without any impunity. While young girls display the specialty of their pouts, ladies want to extract as much jealousy as possible from their friend circle by flaunting their latest acquisition of  jewellery or costumes. Let us not be unfair to the fairer sex. Men also have found numerous ways to flaunt their vanity on Facebook and make fellow men livid with envy.

You may also read:  If dogs could have status updates

Once it so happened that when I came across the frequent FB status updates of a lady who is a family friend, being an occasional mischievous fellow, I heaped exaggerated praises on her beauty and sense of dressing. This did not go down well with my wife when she discovered this and demanded an explanation. Of course all ended well when my friend’s wife  explained that she was well aware of the satire behind my exaggerated praises. Her husband too laughed it off when he came to know about it. Finally no damage was done either to my reputation or to our relationship.

But in another occasion I was not so lucky even though I was not the harbinger of any mischief intentionally or unintentionally.

One day I got a message from a friend’s wife through whatsapp, “Janu, I love you”.

Knowing my personal romantic history and capability I was dead sure it was not meant for me. But still then.. may be … who knows? So to confirm my hope against hope I messaged back, after two days when I had partially recovered from the shock,  “Are you sure?”

She was surprised, and asked back, “Sure of what?”

Then I became double sure it was not intended for me. Just to show off what a gentleman I am, I wrote back to the lady that I have received such a message from your mobile no and I am sure it is not meant for me. Please send it to the intended person, most probably your husband in this case and please take care in future to see that such messages reach the right recipient. Immediately, she apologized and the matter ended there.

Or, so I thought.

Being a fellow of casual attitude on such sensitive matters  I did not bother to delete the message and coincidentally my wife came to know of it. I could sense the storm gathering. She also wanted to clarify the matter. But, we had some guests in our house. So, it was only after three days that we could sit down and settle down the issue after due verification, confirmation and counter verification of all the facts. But, those three days. I lived with a feeling that any time an earthquake was going to happen.

The above is a mixture of what actually happened and what might have happened. However, here is my message to all frantic users of social media:

When you are feeling romantic, please take extra care so that the kabootar – e-digital doesn’t convey your romantic feelings to an unintended recipient with a sensitive spouse. Your lousy faux pas – e – kabootari has all the unintended ingredients to rock someone’s steady boat. 

do self help books help?

self-help

Those who can, they do; those who cannot, they teach – thus goes an old maxim.

This can be a bit harsh to the teachers and coaches. Of course I include the writers of self help books and motivational speakers in this category. I say this even thought I myself have been and still do, off and on,  teach, give pep talks and write on ‘Art of Living’.

It does not mean that teachers are not successful. Only thing is that their growth, in the field that they are teaching now, has stopped.

Now  consider this. If somebody is passionate about science, he (she included) would go into the depths of science and come up with some invention or land mark scientific theory. He would not plunge into teaching science right after graduation or post graduation.

Players usually become coaches when they are well past the time when they could win at professional sport. In a sense they are teaching because now they can’t.

In fact I would rephrase the saying to say that  those who can should not teach, at least while they are still doing it and in the filed they are doing it. There comes a conflict of interest issue here. When a writer conducts creative writing workshop  I do not think she will honestly pass on all the secrets and tricks that has made her successful. Similarly, a professional payer cannot share all his secrets to others who are either his competitors or his potential competitors.

Today the book market is flooded with self help books. It is another issue that that the majority of the self help books do not help as was found out in a survey done some time back.

Before picking up a self help book one should do this simple probing. Did this author succeed in any thing other than in the field of writing self help literature. Recently, a book titled Success Mantra became a best seller in India. At least it was claimed to be so. The writer of the book is Mr. Subrat Roy and he wrote this book while he was in jail for his fraudulent practices. No doubt he has been successful. But what kind of success are we talking of?

Those who never worked in an office writer books about how to succeed in the workplace. Sometimes, people who failed in every field they tried their hands on, write books about how to achieve success and suddenly the book becomes a best seller.

Similarly,  I come across a number of motivational speakers whose only claim to fame is being a successful motivational speaker. Many of them chose this field because they could not stick to and persevere in their earlier chosen fields. Some of them might have been kicked out of their earlier jobs. Yet, they are hired by companies by paying hefty sums to motivate their employees to work hard and be more productive.

It is not that I have been a strict adherent of the wisdom I am dispensing here. I have also read a number of best seller self help books. One thing I have noticed is that if you pick any book, not only does it say why this book is the best book,  it also tries to convince you that all the other books are totally out of time and useless. Now examine another scenario. Suppose there are 100 self help bestsellers. Every books proclaims that other ninety nine books would not work. So by the authors’ own collective admissions 99% of self help books do not help.

But all self help books are not totally useless. Occasionally, you may comes across a book that dispenses wisdom and insights to uplift you.

I have come across friends and colleagues who are addicted to self help books. They do not read anything else. If you are one of them, remember: there had been successful people since the time of Adam, long before the Americans started flooding the market with self-help books.

Of course, you may take solace in this positive possibility. If you read enough number of books on how to become a motivated productive employee, one day you my end up becoming one of those motivational authors or speakers.

Well, what has been your experience? Please leave your opinions.

five simple principles of holistic health

To be whole is to be healthy. The Sanskrit word Swastha is defined as, ‘to be established in self’. Seen this way, to be healthy is not merely to be physically fit. Nor is it mere absence of physical ailments. The ancient medical practitioners, not only in India but elsewhere, took into account all dimensions of existence while recommending healthy ways of living.

There was also much importance on preventive methods. It is said that in China the family doctor was paid his annual honorarium if nobody in the family fell ill during the year. What an advanced concept!

The ancient health exponents have recommended five basic principles to be inculcated into daily life. These are in terms of food, work, rest, mental purification and direct contact with the five basic elements.

  1. Food: When you go to an Ayurvedic Doctor for any ailment, first the doctor ascertains the composition of your three basic humours known as bata, pitta and kapha. According to Ayurveda the imbalance caused in the three humours is the main reason for all ailments. Hence food can be divided into three categories in terms of their effect on a particular or a combination of humours.  – (1) Foods that suppress, (2) Foods that aggravate and (3) foods that bring in balance. The humours are also related to the mental attitude of a person. Hence food for a particular individual is decided keeping in view the ratio of humours in one’s body, one’s mental state, the type of work one is engaged in and the time of the year. It is good for everyone to know his or her dominant humour so that food can be chosen or avoided accordingly. One should never over eat. To have a balanced diet one should have food consisting  of all the six tastes –

  1. Work: Here work implies physical labour. Most of the lifestyle diseases today are attributed to lack of physical activity. Physical activity is also closely related to hunger and food. These days, there are many who never feel hungry. Hence they try to compensate this by inventing ways to make the food more and more delicious and thus palatable. People, whose nature of work is sedentary, must find time to do some physical exercise. Combined with other forms of physical exercises, yogasanas and pranayama are very good for overall mind body balance.

  1. Rest: Along with food and physical activity, rest is a vital need for life. Rest and activity are complementary. Sound sleep in the night rejuvenates the body. Usually people give rest to the body but not to the mind. Body may lie still but the mind keeps on moving, even in sleep in the form of dreams. Meditation is the best way to give rest to the mind. Likewise, living a pure life keeps the mind away from unnecessary agitations. It is only when both the body and mind rest that one gets rests in the true sense.

  1. Mental purification: there is a close relationship between the body and the mind. Now even modern medical science is slowly waking up to the fact that man is a body-mind complex. When the mind is purified one gets positive thoughts that give rise to beneficial actions for self and the society. When the mind is agitated due to excessive greed, anger or envy, the body’s defence mechanisms get weak and it is an invitation to hosts of diseases. To keep the mind cool and be in a pleasant mood one should engage oneself in doing good deeds, reading good literature and  avoid bad company.

  1. Direct contact with the five basic elements: Our body is made up of the five basic elements – Earth, Water, Fire, Wind and Ether. Direct contact with these elements in their purified forms depending upon the seasons is beneficial for health. Modern lifestyle in cities dotted with skyscrapers and filled with smoke emitting vehicles prevents one from being in direct contact with these elements in their purified forms. It is good to go to a remote place once in awhile to be in touch with mother nature. While in college,  I spent most part of my vacation in a remote village, either my own or somewhere else being part of the NSS team. I made sure that for the most part of the stay, I  walked barefoot, swam on the water bodies in the surroundings, sat near the blazing fire in the kitchen or a yagnakund if it was happening,  remained outdoor as much as possible and slept under the open sky on the village cemented chouraha. After a few days it gave me a feeling of ‘returning to source’, even though I did not do any’ formal’ meditation then. Now such an experience would be the ultimate luxury. May be one has to cough up hefty sums to a health resort or nature cure centre and book months in advance to get such an experience.

come back divine ancestors and be fulfilled

mother and childShe was not like Gorky’s Nilovna who was immortalized for supporting a revolutionary son even though she herself was not educated enough to understand what the revolution meant. She did it for the seer love for her son. But, she was a mother and every motherhood is as great as it can be. I do not think any rating is possible as far as motherhood is considered.

Of course, I am talking about my own mother. But why do I remember her today? The fact was that when she was alive, she was so much part of my life neither did I felt her presence, nor her absence. She lived that way or rather preferred to live that way, just a whispering presence like the gentle breeze, not asserting yet as life sustaining as the air. Today is her twenty first death anniversary, or what we call shradha divas according to our sanskara.

Our ancestors never foresaw we would have to see the unfortunate days when the children will remember or give special importance to their parents while they were alive once a year on a day designated as Mother’s day or Father’s day.

It was envisaged that generations would live under one roof in the presence of parents and other elders for years to come. You do not remember when someone is present with you, day in and day out. Of course there is a need to remember them when they are away or dead and gone.

The word Shraadha is derived from Shradhaa which means fondness mixed with respect. So, on Shradha days, in our Hindu tradition, we remember fondly not only the departed  parents, but also three lines of progenitors from father’s as well as mother’s side.

My father was an avid ritualist. It was worth watching and being around when he performed Shradha for his own parents and ancestors. He himself did all the Brahminical rituals while my mother cooked elaborate satwik dishes that were too good to resist.  The rituals would take four to five hours. He was very meticulous. He saw to it that no part of  the ritual was left out.

It was a great occasion to skip school. I would also urge my contemporary cousins to skip school so that we would be able to assist my father in preparations. Our adventurous duty started before sunrise by practically stealing flowers from the nearby temple premises. In case my father felt the quantity of flowers was not enough we raided the village zamindar’s well-guarded gardens. We also had to collect Jackfruit leaves for making plates and bowls by stitching these with coconut sticks.

Then, we would be ordered to go and take bath so that we earned the merit  to sit near the place of Shradha proceedings. We could  understand neither the elaborate mystical drawings that my father made on the floor, nor his Sanskrit chanting. But his chanting, which were sometimes in a whisper barely audible to others and at other times  in a high pitch voice that reverberated around the whole village, created a mesmerizing and mystical effect.

Now I remember a few lines – “Ranganahta deva sharma  atra gachha, iha tishtah, achamanam kuru……… Ranganatha deva sharma trupytam” which may roughly translate as – “Oh Godlike Ranganatha (his father), come here, take your sit, wash your feet and have these many delicious dishes……. Oh, departed ancestors come and be fulfilled ……”

But as children, our real interest lay in the dishes that were served. We would eagerly wait when all these mumbo jumbo would  be over so that we relished those dishes, fruits and sweets. Sometimes out of compassion, my mother would urge father to finish the rituals and not unnecessarily prolong the proceedings.  My father would act as if he had not listened and would go on unruffled, to make it doubly sure he did not miss any part of the ritual.

Sensing that my father was in no mood to take a short cut and finish early, she would call us to the kitchen on some pretext. In the kitchen she would have a kept aside a few sweet cakes  specially for this occasion. She would tell us to eat those cakes without making any noise, wash our mouth and hands and re-join the proceedings.

With my generation, the tradition of elaborate Shradha ritual has become almost extinct. Now a day, we go to a temple and donate something to the priest and the temple in cash and kind. In return, the temple priest gives his blessings, the intensity of his blessings being dependent upon his mood and his ability to chant those difficult Sanskrit stanzas.

Since I write this article on the occasion of my mother’s death anniversary I must pay my tribute to her. She was no special mother- that was her specialty. She was like any other mother, an Indian mother to be precise -not educated beyond the primary classes, yet unschooled enough to follow her motherly instincts and insights to know at what precise time which of her children needed what. I felt she had a special corner for me, being the youngest of the siblings. If I recall all events great or small to exalt her motherhood, it will fill a book. But, the following  incident haunts and will continue to haunt my memories for a long time to come.

My parents usually stayed with my elder brother. I studied staying in a hostel and then joined Indian Air Force where you cannot live outside the bachelor quarters till you are married. It was going to be her first visit to my place of posting. I was coming back to Bangalore with my wife, parents and my three months old daughter. We were waiting for the train at Berhampur, my home town. It was announced that the train was going to be late by a couple of hours.   Coincidentally, the child fell sick. We rushed to a doctor and got medicines. Being novice parents we panicked and decided to cancel the journey. But my mother would not listen. She insisted we carry on with the journey and that everything was going to be alright. So we carried on with the journey, though not sure whether it was the right decision.

We reached Bangalore without much problem. Still I could not forgive my mother for being so adamant and putting us to such risk. After a few days she explained during a casual conversation, “ See, first of all I knew there was nothing serious about the baby and at this age these are common ailments. Secondly, if I cancelled the journey you would have got a very bad name. Without understanding he situation the neighbours would have murmured that you were trying to avoid the responsibility of taking us with you. Thirdly, who knows whether I will be able to visit you again at your place of posting?”

Hardly convinced, I told my mother not to say so. But the depth of her concern and her foreboding could be realized only after her death three years later. Even though everything for her second visit to our place was arranged for, she died just three days before the proposed visit.

She preferred to be misunderstood so that her son was not condemned. That is what distinguishes mother’s love.

And she had a premonition that she would not be able to make it for a second time. If I had missed the chance first time, it would have been a regret of a lifetime.

On my mother’s twenty first death anniversary as I recall her, I am reminded again of the Shradha chantings done by my father in his mesmerizing and mystical voice inviting the ancestors to come, partake of our offerings and go back fulfilled.

 If only, we could really get those ancestors back, even if for a day!

mother

A SOLDIER SPEAKS

 

It is not that Army is fighting external enemies only. It is not that Army has to fight at physical level only. There are internal enemies, there are psychological enemies. Unfortunately, many of our own people are trying to undermine the morale and ethos of our soldiers by irresponsible statements. Or, who knows these people are agents of some external forces that want to destabilise the fabric of our nation.

In spite of all these anti india forces both external and internal, I am confident Army will come out with flying colours.

MAJOR GAURAV ARYA (VETERAN)

They know that the Indian Army is the last argument of the state. They know that after the Indian Army, there is nothing…no fallback. And so, with malice and cunning, they seek to undermine the institution and the man who leads it.

It’s a vicious web of half-truths, outright lies, deceit and ill gotten wealth. It is an eco-system where greed is king and the nation, a commodity to be sold to the highest bidder.

If you want to undermine India, what better way to do it than to undermine the institution with the utmost credibility and integrity? If you want to undermine the Indian Army, what better way to do it than abuse its Chief?

They know that the army will never respond. They know that the Chief of Army Staff will never respond. They are honour bound not to. So, the Indian Army and its Chief will maintain…

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yoga #2: common yoga myths

yogaThe celebration of international yoga day has brought a lot of limelight to the ancient Indian practice of yoga. However, the myths surrounding yoga still continue.

In fact, as more and more people take to yoga in various capacities as practitioners, teachers, propagators and entrepreneurs new myths are created and propagated to suit vested interests. Here, let us explore a few of such myths.

 

  1. Yoga is all about asanas and body contortions

Now a days many forms or rather distortions of physical postures and activities are practised and are passed for as yoga.

In a wider context yoga is all about bringing integration to one’s various levels of existence. The word yoga which has been derived from the root ‘yuj’  means to join.  The English word ‘yoke’  has originated from the word yoga.

Asanas or the physical postures are part of the branch of yoga known as ‘Hatha’ Yoga. The broader context of yoga can be understood from the fact that various chapters of Bhagavat Gita are named as various types of yoga. Like Arjun Bishad Yoga, Sankhya Yoga, Gnana Yoga etc. Lord Krishna is also known as yogeshwar even though he is not known to have taught any kind of asanas. However, whenever there is talk of yoga, people understand the physical part of it.

  1. Maharshi Patanjali is the harbinger of yoga

Interestingly the word asana occurs in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras only a couple of times. Patanjali’s compilation of Yoga Sutras explores the basic philosophy of yoga. It does not contain any technique or procedure regarding how to do yogasanas or prayanama etc.

Various forms of yoga including Hatha Yoga have been in existence long before Maharshi  Patanjali compiled the Yoga Sutras  around 200 BC. Proof of yogic postures have been found to be in existence in the lost civilization of Mahenjodaro. Like the Upanishads whose writers preferred to by anonymous, the exact inventors of ancient yogic postures and practices are not known.

  1. With so many fake gurus around, it is better to self learn yoga. 

There are black- sheep in every profession. There are fake or fraud doctors. That does  not prevent us from going to a doctor when a need arises. Nor, do we brand the whole profession as frauds because of the existence of a few fraud doctors. Ravana came to abduct Sita in the garb of a saint.

In the Yogasara Upanishad it is said, “Gururantike yogabhyaset”-  Learn yoga under the guidance of a Guru. Similarly, setting aside their friendship, Arjuna accepts Sri Krishna as a Guru and seeks his advice for his existential dilemma. (Shishyasteham trahi mam prapanna… thus goes a stanza in the Bhagavat Gita)

Authority from the scriptures apart, let it be known that any kind of yoga, even hatha yoga is not just a kind of sundry exercise.  Many subtle energy centres and channels get activated while doing yoga.  So, the presence of a master or an expert is always a safer option.

Self learning of yoga is a kind of self medication where trial and error may sometimes lead to  dangerous consequences. Even if one may not face any kind of danger, one has to do a lot of trial and error and spend a lot of time unnecessarily to find out what form or pattern of yoga would suit one, considering that various combinations of yogic practices may run into thousands. Either way, it makes sense to seek the guidance of a master.

It is better to learn yoga first under the guidance of a master- a genuine master.

what is all that fuss about yoga?

idy.pngWith the International Yoga Day round the corner, posters pop out from every street corners and there is a buzz in the air, even the unlikeliest people suddenly joining the discussion to break a few myths associated with yoga. Of course,  there will be controversies galore as yoga may seem threatening to the perceived identities of certain belief systems. But how much do we really understand the various concepts and ideas associated with yoga?

Contrary to the often propagated concept that yoga is all about creating contorted body postures and holding on to them, it has a broader connotation encompassing all areas of life.

While Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras expounds the basic philosophy of yoga, each chapter name of the Bhagavat Gita ends with yoga, Arjuna Bishada Yoga, Gyana Yoga and so on. Interestingly these two popular scriptures do not give any description about the body postures which are so passionately propagated as yoga. Sri Krishna – the Lord of yoga did not teach even a single asana to his foremost disciple Arjuna during the entire length and breadth of the Bhagavat Gita. Nor did Arjuna had to do a Sirsashana (head stand) on a yoga mat amid the battle cries of Kurukshetra to a get a distorted view of the prevailing state affairs so as to fall into such depression that Sri Krishna took eighteen chapters with 700  verses to bring him to his senses.

By the way, references to various body postures and other physical yogic techniques can be found in Hathayoga Pradipika. However, Many of the asanas have been handed over to us in master-disciple tradition, some of them refined and  some distorted, in their long passage through 5000 years of the yogic history.

The meaning the word yoga is to join, to connect. So purpose of yoga is to connect all the loose ends of life. At a basic level it is to connect with oneself. Surprisingly, the first chapter of the Bhagavat Gita is Arjunabishada yoga – the yoga of Arjuna falling into depression and the last chapter is Mokshasannyas Yoga- the yoga of enlightenment . When one is happy, one spreads out and forgets oneself. But it is during the times of misery and depression that one starts to remember oneself. But that is only the starting point. As it happened in Bhagavat Gita, through the guidance of a master of yoga like Lord Sri Krishna, Arjun was led from the state of depression and dismay to the state of ultimate awareness- from Arjunabishada Yoga to Mokshasannyas Yoga. In the Gita, Lord Sri Krishna is referred as Yogeshwara – the lord of yoga. At one place He says – Samatwam Yoga uchyate – to be in a state of equanimity is yoga. So, the scripture is full of description of the yogic state and how to attain that state.

In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, yoga is defined as yogaschttabritih nirodhah. Even though different authors translate it in different ways, keeping in view the spirit of the book, I feel the nearest would be – Yoga is all about mastery over the modes of consciousness. Unlike Bhagavat Gita, the Yoga Sutras start with Samadhi pada – the state of ultimate bliss and equanimity. With scientific precision it describes,  explores and categorises the inner world of a human being.

Different religions and scriptures use different symbols and techniques. When one goes beyond those symbols or when one tries to decipher the real indications of those symbols, I feel, one may find those things touching upon some concept of yoga, even though they may  not be using the word.

Anything that you do, whether it is religious activity or secular activity, whether it is dictated by tradition or something new, if it gives you a glimpse into your real nature, if it brings you bliss, peace calmness and contentment, that is your yogic path.

If at the basic level yoga joins you with yourself, in a larger context yoga is being in harmony with your surroundings and the humanity at large. Thus, it starts with the well being of oneself but, ultimately it must spread to the society.

Do not all religions claim it to be their basic purpose in spite of the disagreements as to the methods to be followed to do this?

to judge or not to judge

The dictionary too has two contexts to judge the word judgement. One is secular, the other one is religious.

The secular meaning of the word is : the ability to make considered decisions or come to sensible conclusions, a couple of the synonyms associated being discrimination &  discernment. In practical world judgement is necessary to make choices.

The religious definition is: a misfortune or calamity viewed as a divine punishment. In stead of feeling  sympathetic to another’s suffering  one can have a little devilish pleasure without feeling guilty by believing in this definition. Maybe, that is the reason the biblical injunction warns us: judge not, lest you be judged.

All judgments are based on certain facts. But. do the judges get all the facts? Is it possible to get all the facts?

After getting all the facts, the judgement is worked out based on certain premises. Then, how to decide whether the premises are not questionable?

judgement hammerIn my earlier post I see you as you are I have narrated how forming prima-facie opinions and labeling people can some times lead to funny situation and sometimes to disastrous consequences.

But, in society, judgments have to be delivered. The guilty needs to be punished. The social structure needs to be preserved. No doubt quite often the innocents get punished while the guilty go scot-free. But again, who am I to judge as to who is really guilty?

The fallacy of  wise judgement is illustrated best by this Zen story:

Once upon the time there was an old farmer who had worked his crops for many years. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit. “Such bad luck,” they said sympathetically.

“Maybe,” the farmer replied.

The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses. “How wonderful,” the neighbors exclaimed.

“Maybe,” replied the old man.

The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune.

“Maybe,” answered the farmer.

The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out.

“Maybe,” said the farmer.

If nations brought in Zen and Budhha into their judicial system all the jailers would be jobless. Nevertheless,  the Buddha story about the angry man who spit on his face illustrates the futility of judging people solely based on their past deeds.

Maybe, that is the reason the Nobel committee awards Nobel Peace prize not based on the awardee’s past  but, the future. While Mahatma Gandhi, inspired by whom many got the Nobel prize, was not considered for the prize, Obama got it.

Obama was nominated for the prize just nine days into his office and was awarded the prize, to the surprise and shock of many including himself, when he had barely finished nine months in his office.

Then, of course, you always have the excuse in hindsight – the error of judgement, when the irreparable damage has already been done.

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the sentinels of vishnu – part #3

continued from part #2

Waking_up_Kumbhakarna

In Treta Yuga, Jaya and Vijaya were born as Kumbhakarna and Ravana. Assuming that most of the readers are familiar with Ravana, I will skip writing about Ravana now. Along with Ravana, Kumbhakarna is also well known, so well known that one who sleeps too much is called a Kumbhakarna and one who has a very sound sleep (including sound making), is said to have a Kumbhkarna nidra.

Kumbhakarna is a very complex character. It is said that even Lord Indra was jealous of him. Once, Ravana, Kumbhakarna and Bibhisana did penance together. When it was time to ask for the boon, by a twist of the tongue, instead of asking for Indrasana, Kumbhakarna ended up asking for Nidrasana. The twist of tongue was caused by Goddess Saraswati at the behest of Lord Indra. Lord Brahma said, “tathastu, so be it”. Later on when Ravana realized the mistake he pleaded for the reversal of the boon. Lord Brahma modified it and said that Kumbhakarna would sleep for six months and would be awake during the other six months.

In Dwapar yuga, Jaya and Vijaya were Sishupala and Dantavakra. They were both Krishna’s cousins.

Life is full of strange phenomena. Who knows when your benefactor becomes your malefactor.

Born with three eyes and an extra limb, Sishupala was an odd child. The prophesy was that when someone special takes Sishupala into his hands, he would be cured. But that special person will also be the cause of Sishupala’s death. In search of that special person, his parents invited many eminent persons to their palace and asked them to take him in their hands. However, nothing happened for a long time.

Once, Lord Krishna paid a visit to his aunt and casually took his cousin Sishupala into his arms. Sishupala was instantly cured. Seeing this, his mother was happy. At the same time she was reminded of the other part of the prophecy. So she begged Lord Krishna to spare Sishupala and forgive him in case he did anything wrong or insulted Krishna. Lord Krishna promised that he would forgive one hundred times, but no more than that.

sishupalaLater in life, Shishupala’s would be wife Rukmini was abducted by Lord Krishna. Of course, it was done at the request of Rukmini as she was in love with Lord Krishna and did not want to marry Shishupala. But this was cause enough for Shishupala to nurse a grudge against Krishna. The opportunity to even out with Krishna came during the occasion of Rajasuya yagna of Yudhisthira. Shishupala opposed the selection of Krishna as the chief guest of the function. Arguments followed and Shishupala began insulting Krishna. When the insults crossed one hundred, the Sudarsana chakra beheaded Sishupala. But it was also the moment of mokha for Shishupala and made him regain his place in Baikuntha.

Dantavakra was not only a cousin of Shishupala, but also a close friend of Salva whose death was also caused by Lord Krishna. In order to take revenge an enraged Dantavakra invited Krishna for a mace duel. Dantavakra got killed in the duel. Thus ended the earthly parts played by Jaya and Vijaya as part of Lord’s Leela during three of his avatars.

The stories of Jaya and Vijaya illustrate the oneness and the wholeness of the creation. The best or the worst, all are filled with the divine light and the whole world is a playground of the creator. You may hate somebody thinking he is bad or is villainous. But he is as much a child of the divine as you are. He is as close to the divine as you are. This is the key to unconditional compassion.