Shravanabelagola

shravanabelagola

The majestic statue
high on the hill
invites us
for a rendezvous
of bliss and innocence.

It is fashionable
To come here
To be selfied and uploaded
And arouse  a little jealousy
“Look where we camped last weekend”.

A lone devotee infirm and old
Climbs up panting and chanting
To touch at least some height
Before her death.

Tiny flowers without leaves
Pop up from the hard rock
What  a humble offering
To the huge bare Bahubali
Standing tall on the bare hill,
With relics and  writings as ambiguous
as his silence!

How do they proclaim peace
in words of war -
The scholars fight it out.

The sun follows us inch by inch
As we limp up slowly
To rise above the world
And its maya.

 

(A detailed account of my visit to Shravanabelagola, Belur, Halebid and Shringeri can be read here :  Journey Through Karnataka’s Heritage Sites )

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A Pilgrimage

A package tour would definitely include the houses of murderers and tyrants, but not that of a humanist or humorist. So every travel brochure about Mysore, whether off line or online, include the places where the kings lived. I doubt whether even the ritual annual tours of schools include the house of RK Narayan.

What were the kings of yesteryear?  They lived the most luxurious lives while the common man of those days toiled day and night to keep his body and soul together. When the country was under colonial rule the kings were cleverly used by the British to act as their tax collectors, of course for a hefty compensation. Neither the British, nor the kings bothered about how the common men suffered.

We hear, how a king used the revenue of sixteen years and a quarter of the man power of the whole kingdom to build a great temple. Those who refused to provide quality work were hanged in public. And many others must have perished due to the collapse of the already fragile  public welfare system as every material and other resources were diverted to fulfill the whim of a mad king. At least that is what I felt when I visited the temple some years back.

Again in the name of art  what do you find on the walls of those palatial houses – the painting of soldiers, wars, weapons and other events glorifying mass destruction and the king’s hunger for more territory.

And these are the places that prominently feature on any package tour, whether for recreational purpose or educational purpose.

In our country we are only bothered about the memorial of politicians. Thank God, at last, at least we got a memorial to a writer like RK in India. Otherwise how many such memorials do you find in India. Tagore’s is a different story. He was in some way associated with the freedom movement and he got a Nobel.

In RK’s case, the house built by him was already there. So, no new memorial has been built. In fact had there been no such house, and had the house not been subject of a controversy (when some real estate sharks tried to demolish it), nobody would have thought of a memorial for RK. In a way, like his Guide protagonist who became an accidental Hero, his house too has become an accidental memorial.

RK’s works were not part of my high school or college syllabus. I first came across him through a translated short story published in the local newspaper. It was titled – ‘Another Ratnatkar who could not become a Balmiki’. The gentle irony and humour touched me even in the translated version. There after I developed a curiosity to read his works in original. This happened during my high school days. So, when I visited his house on Vivekanand Road, Mysore,  I was filled with a strange feeling of nostalgia. Moreover, his characters are no different from the people who I encountered around my home on a daily basis.

RK has written about how he built this house in his autobiography – My Days. It is a modest house compared to other houses in the locality. Of course the municipal corporation of Mysore that made effort to restore the house and develop it as a museum, has also put directional broads to the house, at many places in  Mysore.

The place is nothing in grandeur compared to the regal, religious and scenic  fares in store when you visit Mysore. Still, my feeling is that every tourist trip to Mysore should start from this place, in place of a temple. At least, for children it should be made a must see place so that it fuels their creative spirit. But this may alarm our Indian parents who do not want any career for their children other than medical or engineering. (I have also encountered many parents who strictly forbid their children to read anything other than what is there in the syllabus).

I have suggested, through the comment section of the visitor’s book kept in the house and by an email to the City Corporation,  to name the street as Malgudi Street. But I know the chances are less. Because the street already has a Shudh Deshi name. Had it been something like Victoria Road, things would have been easier.

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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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