heights of beauty

Manushi Chhillar.jpgCan’t one be lovely without being fair? Is beauty only skin deep?  The facts, of a CBSE topper becoming the miss world this year and the balanced mix of whites, blacks, and browns in top ten of the Miss World pageant, are more than enough to bust these myths.

But one disconcerting question remains. One of the eligibility conditions to participate in the contest (for an Indian) is that a candidate’s height should be at least 5 ft 5 in ( earlier it was 5 ft 6 in). Even though this is the minimum, the past winners of Miss India contests have been around 6 ft. Hence, low height is a disadvantage for any contestant even though she may qualify. I don’t understand why should height be a limiting factor when it comes to be an eligible participant in a  beauty pageant?

I don’t think, from India, there has been any Miss World or Miss Universe who can beat Rekha in grace, elegance or mental agility. Same goes for Vyjayanthi Mala, Jaya Bachchan, Vidya Balan, and many of the past and present Bollywood divas. It is worth noting that the average height of Indian women is 5 ft.

Even though at the international level contest skin colour has never been a disadvantage, it seems it is a disadvantage to win the contest in India. I would be happy to be proved wrong if someone can inform me of a case when a black beauty in India was a finalist in the Indian version of the pageant.

Well there are some other limiting conditions. In order not to give a miss, the girl  should be a miss – literally and biologically and she should not be between 18 and 25. There is an ambiguous condition too: The applicant by nature and habits should carry the traits of a female. Maybe to give a chance to those who missed the contest for not being a miss, they have started the Mrs. world contest.

Such conditions keep a vast majority of the beautiful and talented women of India out of the context. Thus, chosen from the minority sample size, someone winning the contest at the international level contest is a great achievement indeed;  that too in a beauty contest where every contestant’s ultimate dream is to become a Mother Teresa or a female version of a Mahatma Gandhi.

It is wonderful that an Indian girl has become a Miss World. It has happened after a gap of seventeen years. India has equaled the record of Venezuela in terms of most number of winners. However, given the talent that is available in India, if some of the discriminatory conditions are removed, India will not have to wait for another seventeen years to get the next crown. Moreover, it will be in line with the philanthropic ideals of the beauty contests.

 

I give you divine eyes

I was surprised at the logic of one of the bestselling authors of India.  He tweets that even though, India is well known for yoga and Ayurveda, it has poor life expectancy. His further elaboration indicates that he means to undermine the efficacy of yoga and Ayurveda.

I replied, ‘Sir, agreed that yoga and Ayurveda originated in India. But, how many people do practice it? If you want to know the efficacy of yoga and Ayurveda take the health record of those who practice yoga and use Ayurveda and compare it with the non-practitioners, whether they are Indian or not.”

He did not have anything further to say. Coincidentally, this author is famous for writing fiction based on Indian Mythology. It implies that he must have read the Indian scriptures, seriously.

There are a section of writers among Indians who write stuff just to please those western sensibilities that take pride in undermining Indian culture. It is sometimes driven by commercial interests as they think that it will appeal to the western and the westernized Indian audience.

I would not have been surprised if the author had told that in spite of being gifted with such things as yoga, Ayurveda and spirituality, neither do we practise nor do we take pride in these things. I would have been happier if the author, instead of merely limiting himself to bookish knowledge of Indian scriptures, had practiced yoga and meditation and tried Ayurveda.

These days, along with Sri Sri Ravi Shankar (my spiritual master), spiritual leaders and yoga gurus like Baba Ramdev and Jaggi Vasudev are leading the movements to awaken the world to the ancient wisdom of India. Their popularity has also rang alarm bells for many who are not interested to see an awakened India. So, they raise pointless protests from time to time.

A case in point is the World Cultural Festival held on the banks of Yamuna River last year. Certain forces tried to portray Art of Living in a negative manner stating that it violated not only environmental norms, but also procedural norms. The press, which is always eager for such kind of baseless news also joined in. Of course now Art of Living has been cleared of all the allegations.  But, this does not make as much media buzz as the previous occasions when there were so many baseless allegations.

Similarly, the so called environmentalists are never seen when lakes are encroached and huge tracks of forests are destroyed by the Industrialists. But, when a Spiritual Leader raises a statue to create awareness about yoga, these environmentalists become alarmed.

Another incident that made headlines across India a number of years back was when the Shankaracharya of Kanchi was arrested. But when he was absolved of all charges, the news hardly made even to the corner of a fifth page in our newspapers. To a large extent, our media has been responsible for projecting a negative image about India and its heritage.

Coming back to the author, it brings out an interesting facet of human nature. Our ancient scriptures have been guiding lights to many for finding solution to their practical as well as existential problems. At the same time, some use the same scriptures to support their counter arguments.

Even Arjuna was not able to gain the insight that Lord Krishna had intended till Arjuna was given the divine eyes. It is very symbolic. One should have the eyes to see the gems in the scriptures. A yogeswara like Krishna can provide those eyes. Without those eyes, one will see dung heaps in place of the gems.

Even to get those eyes one should have a little bit of willingness and some basic eligibility. Arjun was willing, desperate and deserving to have those insights into the nature of truth.

But the propagandists and the activists that I am talking of are not interested in truth. Motivated by their narrow personal gain (which may sometimes include a promised better place in heaven), their ceaseless campaign is aimed at showing Indian spiritual and cultural traditions in poor light. Sometimes they may come in the garb of rationalists and humanists to hide their vicious agenda.

What kind of eyes can be given to them?

krishnarjuna

 

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)


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