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!

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the sentinels of vishnu – part #2

 

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Dying dance form Prahlad Natak staged during Kalua Jatra in Berhampur, Odisha. Image source: DNA India

Continued from Part #1

Hiranyakha’s brother, Hiranyakashipu learns of his brother’s death at the hands of Vishnu in the form of a boar. It fills him with rage and he vows to take revenge. He thinks that the boon of Brahmadev, the creator would help him achieve this. He goes to the Himalayas and engages in severe penance to appease Brahma.

Meanwhile, the devas connive to abduct his pregnant wife Kayadhu. Here, Seer Narada comes to her rescue and protects her. While in the womb, the child, who is later known as Prahlad, is spiritually influenced by Naradji. Prahlad grows up to be a great devotee of Lord Vishnu to the consternation of his father.

Pleased by the severe penance, Lord Brahma appears and asks Hiranyakashipu to put forth his wishes. Hiranaykashipu wants nothing less than immortality, to which, Brahmadev expresses his inability. Alternately, Hiranyakashipu asks to be granted a highly improbable conditional death. He says, “Oh Lord! Grant that let me not be killed by any God, man, demon or beast. Let me not be killed at day nor at night. Let me not be killed on land, in water or in the sky”.

“So be it”, says Lord Brahma and goes back to his abode. When Indra and other gods come to register their protests, Brahmadev assures them that all will be well when Lord Vishnu takes up his next avatar.

Empowered by the boon of Lord Brahma, the arrogance of Hiranyakashipu knows no bounds. He is enraged as he sees that his own son has become the ardent devotee of his sworn enemy. First he tries to win back his son through reasoned friendly counseling. But the hardcore devotee of Lord Vishnu would not budge. Hiranyakashipu runs out of patience and resorts to desperate measures, to the extent of intending to do away with his own son. All his attempts to kill his son is foiled by the timely intervention of Lord Vishnu, who is well known for never failing to protect his devotees.

One such attempt to kill Prahlad involves Hiranyakashipu’s sister Holika. She has an invisible cloak and when she wears it she can pass through fire unharmed. Hiranyakashipu orders her to carry Prahlad in her lap and enter fire so that Prahlad is burnt to ashes while nothing happens to her. However, it so happens that by the grace of the Vayudev – the wind god- the cloak flies out of her body and enwraps Prahlad. Holika is burnt to ashes. This event is celebrated as Hollika Dahan  every year in Feb/March.

Tired of hearing the omnipresence of Lord Vishnu, one day Hiranyakashipu asks Prahlad whether Lord Vishnu is in the pillar nearby. Prahlad says, “Yes”. Enraged, Hiranyakashipu hits the pillar with his mace. To his surprise a strange creature emerges from the pillar. It has the face of a lion and the body of a human being. After engaging with Hiranyakashipu in a duel, at the time of dusk this creature who is actually Lord Vishnu in Narasimha avatar lifts Hiranyakashipu on to his thighs and using its nails tears apart his belly to kill him. Thus, no condition of Bramha’s boon is  violated while killing Hiranyakashipu. The story further goes on to describe the untold rage of Narasimhan which could not be pacified easily even though all the devas applied various means. Finally, Prahlad is brought in and with his humble prayers the Narasimha avatar of Lord Vishnu is pacified.

Indian BloggersPleased with Prahalad’s devotion, Lord Vishnu offers him a boon. Unlike his father, Prahlad does not ask for power, riches or glory.   He is content being a devotee of Lord Vishnu, and asks for his steadfast devotion to continue. Even though his father had been so cruel towards him, he  prays that he be forgiven.

The remote villages and small towns, where I spent most of my childhood days, provided healthy doses of entertainment in the form of dramas, puppetry and other folk performances conducted in open theatres.  Most of the performances would be based on stories from various epics like Ramayana, Mahabharata, Bhagavat Purana etc. At such places, by the time a boy/girl was into his/ her teens, whether he was educated or illiterate, he/she knew all the major stories from the epics, along with their moral and ethical implications.  One such popular performance  was Prahlad Natak, a musical dance drama with resemblance to Kerala’s Kathakali dance format. The drama would start in the morning and continue till late night or the morning next day. Before the battle finale, the actors playing Narasimhan and Hiranyakashipu would be bound in iron chains with two groups of strong men in control of each actor. The elders would explain that if it is not done, the actors may kill each other. Towards the end, the actors identify themselves with the characters so much they forget that they are acting out the roles. As I remember, after the killing episode of Hiranyakashipu, the actor playing Narasimha would reach a trance like state. The actors playing the roles of Hiranyakashipu and Narasimha, have to be not only highly skilled in acting, but also disciplined enough to  follow prescribed rituals strictly a few days before the enactment of the play till its end. Unfortunately,  many of such traditional performances are on the verge of extinction due to lack of artists, audience and patronage.

dharmic nature of aggression

Are the non-aggressive, tolerant attitudes of Hindus a liability, so much so that many of them have become victims of apathy, conspiracy and forced displacement in their own homeland. Ref: Kashmiri Pandits, Col Purohit, Sadhwi Pragnya. #hindusvictimised – Thus goes the topic for Indispire Edition167

The premises are definitely wrong. I say this not only in the context of Hindusim, but also in the context of any other religion.

Indian BloggersIn the western media and intellectual circles, the liberal use of words like ‘Islamic Terrorism’ and ‘Islamophobia’ has become fashionable these days. It gives  an impression that any adherent of the religion must match such characteristic. Thus, the vast majority of Muslims who lead their life as normal responsible citizens get tinged with these negative characteristics. It also undermines the humanistic and mystic contribution of many liberal groups like the Sufis.

Terrorism and other aggressive means are used either by an individual or a group of individuals, quite often for their own vested interests. However, these individuals or groups associate themselves with a religion or a few selected tenets of religion (twisting the tenets out of context)  to give their activities a kind of legitimacy. This does not mean all the followers of that religion or ideology subscribe to such hardliner views.

In fact, it is India that has been the victim of ‘jihadi’ terrorism much  more than the west. Yet, in our country, neither in mainstream media, nor in intellectual circle do we use the word ‘Islamic terrorism’. It may appear this shows our maturity as a democracy.

But the double standards of our so called secular intellectual circles are evident. Of late, there has been liberal use of the word ‘Saffron Terror’ and ‘Intolerance’ to indicate as if the country is infested with Hindu Militants. Such double standards show that the mainstream media is subjugated to some forces that want to give an impression, ‘Look, this religion as a whole qualifies to be associated  with negative attributes associated with extremism and intolerance’.

In fact a campaign has already started to bring words like ‘Hindu Militancy’, ‘Hindu Phobia’ , ‘Hindu Intolerance’ and other such terms to mainstream narrative so as to tinge  the religion and all its followers with this negative connotation. It is in this context that I have used the hash tag  hidusvictimised.

Once again, to make my stand clear, I strongly feel that it is never the whole of the religion (let it be any religion) that is to be blamed because a few adherents of the religion, to fulfill their own megalomaniac tendencies and other human afflictions like excessive greed and lust,  use violence in the pretext of religion or some of its tenets.

This said, it is also worthwhile to examine specific allegations made against Hinduism to prove its nature of intolerance and tendency of  violence. Those who bring these allegations, like the proverbial elephant judging blind men hand pick a few partial events that suits their preconceived notions and ignore the vast body of evidences and  events that would depict a different story.

One important factor that should be kept in mind while making any evaluation concerning Hinduism is that it is a dynamic religion, or, what Rajiv Malhotra in his book ‘Indra’s Net’ calls a religion with an ‘open architecture’.  It means the tenets and practices of Hinduism are not frozen across time and space. Hinduism today is vastly different from the Hindu practices and principles that prevailed even a couple of centuries back. All the Dharmic religions (religions that originated in India), due to close interaction with one another, assimilated many elements of each other over a period of time and these religions still continue to evolve, discarding certain elements and taking up new ones.

If Chandashok was the epitome of violence, Dharmashoka was the epitome of compassion. Had there been no transformation of Ashoka in the aftermath of the Kalinga war, the war itself would have been forgotten being just another war of an ambitious emperor. Kalinga war gained prominence in history because of the transformation of Chandashoka to Dharmashoka.

How many rulers in history went through such transformation? Did it happen with the Alexanders of that era whose hunger for power continued till their last days. Did such transformation happen with any of the Islamic rulers  whose violence both at the time of conquest and during their rule surpassed all inhuman treatments imaginable.

The Hindu aggression that we see manifested in the form of Shivaji and other warriors of the Mughal era  was a secondary and defensive aggression in the sense that it was in response to counter the aggression and atrocities of the Mughal rulers.

It may be worth while to note that, during Military campaigns,  Shivaji forbade his soldiers to kill women and children and destroy Mosques.  This was in contrast to the aggression of the Mughals and their predecessors who killed indiscriminately and destroyed thousands of temples. In fact many of the Mosques that stand today have been built out of destroyed temples.

Same way, when events like Godhra are discussed, our so called secularists conveniently forget the events that led to the incident. To be specific, the incident of the burning of innocent Hindus in the railway coach is kept out of discussion, as if loss of Hindu lives do not matter. The issue of the ethnic cleansing of Kashmiri Pandits and their displacement from their homeland is not given as much importance in our national narrative as the loss of lives post Godhra incident. Same way, the regular destruction of thousands of temples, post independence, not only in Pakistan and Bangladesh, but also in our own country do not find mention even in the eighth page of our newspapers. These activities continues to happen even to day. On the other hand, the destruction of a dilapidated unused Mosque in a prominent place of pilgrimage for the Hindus, continues to drive the anti Hindu debate in our mainstream narrative.

Our journalists continue to target Hindu religious and spiritual leaders, blowing out of proportion any seeming error committed by them, quite often without even verifying the facts. Going by the trends in the last couple of years, it seems Bollywood too has joined the bandwagon of Hindu bashing. This is evident not only from the statements made by some celebrities, but also from the kind of movies being made. In some of the block busters of last couple of years, criminals, terrorists and Pakistanis have been shown to be somehow more humane than Hindu spiritual leaders.

Quite often the ground reality may be quite different from the picture attempted to be projected by a section of our intellectuals and  journalists.  No doubt these groups have their own vested interests clothed in secular ideals.  When the debate about intolerance was at its height of attention in the mainstream media, I went around the streets of India, like the jesting Pillate searching for truth. But, I was as disappointed as the Pillate of ancient Greece. I could not find any trace of intolerance among the common men in the streets of India.

I have put forth some facts and historical contexts to bring to light those sides of the events that we pretend to forget. Now, it is for the reader to decide – considering the tenets of Hinduism and taking into account its overall history, are the Hindus as intolerant as the so called secular intellectuals would like us to believe?

Bangalore Literature Festival 5.0

Right at the moment of start I was stuck by the usual fear:  “Will I get a place for parking? Even if I get it how far will it be from the venue?”.  Added to this fear was the feeling of loss as we missed a couple of interesting sessions caused due to poor judgement of Saturday Bangalore traffic. So, it was a pleasant surprise when the hotel staff offered valet parking even though neither was I going to stay in their hotel, nor was I going to eat anything dished out by their chefs.

But for some pressing personal engagements,  I would have liked to attend all the sessions of the Bangalore Literature festival held at Hotel Royal Orchid on 17 and 18 December. Then of course the events took place simultaneously at three venues. If you sat through one, you missed two others. Or, you had the option to be a casual bystander at each of the venues hopping from one to the other. It is like you have a number of  marriage functions to attend on the same day and you cannot afford to miss any of them.

Indian BloggersIn this post I am not going to give a journalistic narration of what happened. I will give some glimpses into the events, some titbits and my ruminations spurred by the discussions that happened among the panelists.

It was for the consecutive second time that the BLF was conducted at this hotel on Old Airport Road. I wanted to suggest the organisers to shift the venue every year, preferably to a venue in North of Bangalore (where I stay :D) so that it would be convenient for those who were coming from outside via Bangalore Intentional Airport. In fact a similar suggestion came up during the discussion on ‘Askew- A short Biography of Bangalore’,  where in one of the panelists suggested that an event like this could be held at a heritage site to create awareness about the golden Heritage of Bangalore.

There was this session with the representatives from the famous publishing houses. In a literature festival it could be expected with a fair degree of confidence that a large chunk of audience would consist of wannabe writers. It was heartening to note a few of them petitioning, cajoling, praying to the high priests and priestesses of publishing industry to consider publishing their books which they have already published through self publishing route.

Somewhere I had read that if you are a first time writer, you have to write better than the established authors to make any impression on the publishers. Moreover, if you read the guidelines of the publishing houses they make it clear that if Salman Khan writes junk, they would prefer it over your brilliant book that may turn out to be a turning point in the history of literature. Of course it is understandable. The roti, kapda and makan needs of he owners and the employees of the publishing house depends upon the ‘sale-ability’ of the books.

Sometimes I wonder what do the publishers learn from the history of some of the books that made history,  yet were rejected for publication umpteen number of times. Take this extreme example of the comic novel called, “The Confederecy of the Dunces”. Now the book is among the all time top ten comic novels. But the author was so much depressed by the consistent rejection of the book that he committed suicide. A decade after his death the book was published due to the initiative of his mother and the interest taken by another publisher.  It won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1981.

God must have said to the common man long long ago, “Come ye to me, but only thorough a priest”. Following this dictum one of the panelists suggested that new authors should go to literary agents in stead of coming to them directly to better their chances of getting noticed. I wonder why the publishers cannot have some policy and a dedicated section for new authors in their own set up. Of course, even in this route things are not easy. JK Rowling got a simple rejection letter from the first literary agent that she sent the book. The next one sent it to twelve different publishers, before it was selected. The rest is history.

At another venue, there was a melee around and a long queue. Wondered what might it be? After a little tussle with the crowd, discovered that the queue was to get the books autographed by the author  Shashi Tharoor, whom I spotted on Day 2 as well. This time he was on the first row of the audience along with his relative to cheer his son Kanishk Tharoor. Kanishk read out a few paragraphs from his book – Swimmer Among the Stars. Found the paragraphs quite humorous.

Next to Sex in the taboo index in India are discussion of topics concerning Hinduism and Evangelism. It was heartening to note the open  and non-hostile discussion on these topics involving both the panelists and the audience. For the entire session I was engrossed in the discussion on the ‘Clash of Civilisation’ between Mohandas Pai and Rajiv Malhotra. Since the media houses in India are sold out to various vested interests for various reasons, Rajiv Malhotra suggested that we should more and more depend upon the social media to counter misinformation and the bias of the mainstream media. Here again the problem is that most of the social media organisations are controlled by the west. Hence he suggested that Bangalore being the hub of IT activity the Bangaloreans should take the lead in developing desi social media apps in line with China who have their own version of Facebook and other social media apps.

It was equally heartening to see the enthusiasm of people to buy books (in hard copies) at the venue even in this age of Kindle, Amazon and Flipkart.  The queue to pay for the selected books was as long as the one to get the books autographed by the authors present.

And this gentlemen who shifted from venue to venue reminded me of the jesting Pillate who would ask what is truth and would not wait for an answer. This gentleman in question would be missing through out the duration of the discussion and appear from nowhere towards the end of the session holding a mike to ask a question. Actually he did not have a question to ask.  Nevertheless, the compassionate panelists  would somehow guess what he wanted to ask and answer it. And how he managed to appear holding the mike to ask questions consistently events after events and venue after venue was a miracle, because, there would be more than thirty candidates vying for the honour of asking one of those those three to four questions permitted towards the end of each session.

Did not have time to hang on to the last event to listen to Piyush Mishra. However, we had enough time to attend the first half of the the penultimate session when Shatrughna Sinha regaled the audience with his inimitable style and humour.

It was anything but, Khamosh.

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Premila Paul in conversation with Aishwarya Rajnikanth Dhanush
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What’s cooking? The future of Indian Food – Antonie Lewis, Sanjeev Kapoor, Manu Chandra with Surewsh Hinduja
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The Art of Heart : Vasudev Murthy in conversation with Sabah Currim, Kanchana Banerjee, Nandita Bose, Kiran Manral
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Finding answers to a question or the other way round?
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Guru Charan Das
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G Sampath with Kanishk Tharoor
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Listen Papa – Mr Sashi Tharoor and his relatives in rapt attention to Kanishk
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India-Reclaiming our Civilisation’s Heritage: T V Mohandas Pai and Rajiv Malhotra

The Idea of India

 

Even to this day the accepted idea of India in the west has followed the concept propounded by Sir John Strachey (1823-1907), a British Civil Servant posted in India. He said, “ ….. India is a name which we give to a great region including a multitude of different countries. There is no general Indian term that corresponds to it….. There are no countries in civilized Europe in which people differ so much as the Bengali differs from the Sikh …. That there is not, and never was an India, or even any country of India, possessing according to European ideas any sort of unity, physical, political, social and religious: no Indian nation, no ‘people of India’ of which we hear so much. We have never destroyed in India a national government, no national sentiment has been wounded, no national pride has been humiliated and this not through any design or merit of our own, but because no Indian nationalities have existed.

You are wrong Sir Strachey, as wrong as you can be. You have not only missed the sacred geography of India but also its impression of inexplicable  ‘oneness’ that was deeply felt by a western educated Nehru, who was one of the greatest votaries of secularism post independence. He wrote in his Discovery  of India, “ It was not her wide space that eluded me, or even her diversity, but some depth of soul which I could not fathom, though I had occasional and tantalizing glimpses of it. Though outwardly there was diversity and infinite variety among our people, everywhere there was that tremendous impress of oneness, which had held all of us together for ages past, whatever political fate or misfortune that had befallen us. The unity of India was no longer merely an intellectual concept for me: it was an emotional experience that overpowered me.”

The word India is a Greek word that referred to the land beyond the river Sindhu. The Greek historians wrote works they called Indika to consolidate knowledge received from this land. Of course the people did not call their own land India. The indigenous term was Bharata, derived from the famous son of King Dushyanta. It was also called Bharatavarsha, the land of Bharata. The Indian sub continent was known as Jambudwipa (Rose Apple Island) or Kumaridwipa (the island of the Virgin Goddess).

The names Bharatavarsha and Jambudwipa are not only ancient, but also very much in vogue.   Every Hindu Sankalpa, to make explicit one’s position in the cosmos, starts with,  “In Jambudwipa, in Bharatkhanda, in so and so city …….”.  This tradition has been followed since time immemorial.

What is so special about India’s landscape is that in addition to being diverse and dramatic, all its landmarks like rivers, mountains and seashores etc.  are alive with myths and stories, ranging from being local to pan Indian, being little known to being part of famous legends known throughout the length and the  breath of the country with links to the great epics like Ramayana or Mahabharata.

india-a-sacred-geographyWhatever I have written so far in this post have been excerpted, deduced or distilled from the book, India-a Sacred Geography. Diana L. Eck- the author of the  book is a professor of comparative religion and Indian Studies at Havard University. She has won numerous accolades and awards for her sensitive portrayal of religious history in Indian as well as American contexts. The book attempts to explore the myths and realities surrounding the idea of India giving us the historical perspective beginning from the vedic age.  At the core, it tries to establish that: (as excerpted from the book blurb)

“ ……….  ultimately Eck shows us that from these network of pilgrimage places, India’s very  sense of region and nation has emerged. This is the astonishing and fascinating picture of a land linked for centuries not by the power of kings and governments, but by the footsteps of pilgrims.”

The book also explores the impact of muslim invaders and colonialism on this sacred landscape and how even the replicas of this interlinked sacred places have been created by Muslims and Christians in India. However, the book primarily focuses on the sacred geography of the land from the point of view of Hinduism and there are detailed explorations of the places of pilgrimages and how they are linked to each other across India and some times find there local replicas.

Contrary to the belief that all the desecrations of temples that took place during Muslim rule were due to religious bigotry of the rulers, the author is of the view that it was more to do with stripping the conquered from their association with the source of power. For many rulers the patronizing of a particular place of worship was closely linked to his extent of power. Of course, many of the places of pilgrimage that they destroyed or tried to destroy – like the Somnath Temple, the Jagannat Temple at Puri, – have bounced back to their former glory.

My own view is that you may try to destroy the idea of India by destroying its sacred landscape, but how do you destroy the myths which are harbored in the minds of its people? At  a deeper level, perhaps, the idea of India lives in the collective consciousness of its people through the myths that have been handed down since time immemorial, construction of temples and associating the geography with the myths being a part of that process.

Prodding  through volumes of ancient Indian texts, the author has brought out many interesting facts, narrations and insights of the ancient seers. Here is one that I found interesting: India’s imaginative world map, as envisaged by the ancient seers, did not make India the centre of the world as did Anaximander who made Greece the centre of his world map. In fact the Indian seers were not only aware of the existence of the other parts of the world beyond Indian sub-continent, but also  idealized other parts of the world some of which they named as Ketumala, Uttarakuru, Bhadrashva etc. According to them in many other countries people led far better lives and had more material resources to enjoy life.

Then of course they had this final warning: However, it was only in India that the ultimate freedom or moksha was possible as it was the karmabhumi (lands of spiritual action) while other countries were bhogabhumi (lands of worldly enjoyment).

Therefore this Bharata is the most excellent land in the Rose-Apple island, O Sage. For the others may be lands of enjoyment, but this is the land of action” (Mahabharata)

Is not the above statement true even today? In fact it is so true that sometimes I doubt it was written thousands of years ago.

Isn’t it India where the serious spiritual seeker lands up, ultimately? (In spite of all her shortcomings)


Indian Bloggers