International Democracy Day

The idea to celebrate a day to uphold the values of democracy first came up at the meeting of United Nations General Assembly in the year 2007.

Etymology

The word democracy comes from the ancient Greek word democratia, demos meaning, “assembly of ordinary people” and kratos meaning “strength, rule”. Democracy is the rule of the land whereby the power rests solely in the hands of the people.

Mahatma Gandhi has said, “Democracy disciplined and enlightened is the finest thing in the world”.

Janapada

In different parts of India, right from the Mahabharata period, there have been many Janapada, republics. The very word, ‘Janapada’ means “People’s Republic, democracy”. Jana meaning people and Pada is position, where people come together, to choose their leaders.

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Janapada, democratic republics of Ancient India

Spirit of Democracy

Mahatma Gandhi in a quote expresses that, “The spirit of democracy cannot be imposed from without. It has to come from within.”

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Mahatma Gandhi

India has survived as a democracy for many millennia, as it is the innate spirit of the land.

Panchayat System

Panchayats are democracies at the village level. Democracy has been a part of the people and the ethos of the land. The thinkers of ancient India had realized the ground reality that, kings may come and go, kingdoms may change in size and boundaries, but the prosperous land needs to be governed such that, the change of powers does not affect the basic social fabric, nor the sustainability of the land.

It is precisely to meet this challenge, that they had envisaged a local administration system called the Panchayat System, a unique system of local governance, keeping in mind the vagaries of time.

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A Panchayat in Progress – An artist’s impression

What is so singular about this system and its practice that helped tide over the vagaries of time and rule?

Panchayat – A Self Contained Model

The contribution of this Panchayat democracy system to the prosperity of the land as a whole, has been summarized by Sir Charles T. Metcalfe in his Report of Select Committee to the House of Commons in 1832.

Select Committee                         House of Commons           

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Sir Charles T. Metcalfe’s observations on Panchayats

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While there were many kingdoms ruled by different rulers, the model of governance was framed, independent of the individual ruler and the kingdom. The Panchayat administration, followed in every village, was uniform across the land, across kingdoms.

This model of local self governance was uniformly practiced, undisturbed even during times when there was no king or kingdom.

Policies and priorities framed locally by the Panchayat were not disrupted, ensuring continued and sustained prosperity.

This Panchayat democracy model, could be singled out as one of prominent administrative reasons for the continuous prosperity of India for over 5000 years.

Local Self Governance

It is the local administration of the village, by the villagers, for themselves.

This village governance system has been followed in India from time immemorial wherein, people elect and empower a local village council to handle matters of

  • Fund collection
  • Fund allocation
  • Need assessment
  • Planning
  • Deployment
  • Community Development

It was a council of five members who would decide on matters. They were called Panch Parameshwar, the 5 leaders. Hence the name Panchayat, for this model of governance.

We can see a sample of this Panchayat System of administration of the villages, in the stone inscriptions at the Srinivasa temple, in Uttiramerur, in Tamil Nadu, listing the rules for the conduct of elections.

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D K Hari pointing at the Inscriptions in Uttiramerur

Uttaramerur inscriptions

The election system has been in vogue in the land from time immemorial. Voting rights were not suddenly introduced only after independence.

One of the early inscriptions specifically relating to elections in villages is available at the Vaikunda Temple in Uttaramerur village. Uttaramerur is a small prosperous town, 100 kilometres to the south of Chennai. These inscriptions are now popularly known as Uttaramerur inscriptions.

The inscriptions throw light on the mode of election to Village Assemblies, Panchayat of those days.

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Uttaramerur Inscriptions at Vaikunda Perumal Temple

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English translation of the Uttaramerur inscriptions

Democracy idea not alien to India

Thus we see that even though India had kings and kingdoms, the Panchayat institutions, the main stay of the administrations system of the land is based on principles of democracy.

Democracy since Mahabharata times

This existed in India, since the times of Mahabharata, which means for over 5100 years.

These show that democracy existed in practice in India, atleast 3000 BCE ago, which takes the antiquity of democracy back 2500 years, before the ancient Greece practiced it.

Sir. M. Visvesvaraya

Sir Mokshagundam Visvesvaraya’s is among the greatest Engineers that this country has ever seen. He is known to have built many structures throughout his life. He built the Vidhana Sabha Assembly in Bangalore. The dams built by him stand to this day as a testimony of his great engineering skills. His birthday is thus an occasion to honour all engineers.

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Sir M Visvesvaraya

Birth and Education

Sir Visvesvaraya was born on 15th September, 1860 at Muddenahalli village of Chickballapur district in Karnataka.

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Birthplace of Sir M Visvesvaraya

He did his graduation in Arts from Madras University in 1881 and went on to pursue civil engineering at the College of Science in Pune.

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First Project

Sir Visvesvaraya’s first major project was when he joined the Indian Irrigation Commission where he was give the task of constructing an irrigation system for the Deccan region.

Flood Security System, Hyderabad

His next major work was to build flood security system in Hyderabad.

Father of Karnataka

Karnataka is a state that has benefited greatly from the skills of Sir Visvesvaraya. He is considered the ‘Father of Karnataka’.

Role in many industrial ventures

His skills both as an engineer came into play in many projects that have this day become major institutions and industries. He played a major role in the building of

*Iron and Steel Company in Bhadravati

*The Mysore Soap Factory,

*The Bangalore Agricultural University,

*Vidhana Soudha Assembly, Bangalore,

 *The State Bank of Mysore, Bangalore and

*Jayachamrajendra Polytechnic Institute among many other industrial ventures.

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Visvesvaraya Iron and Steel Plant, Bhadravati

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Jayachamrajendra Polytechnic Institute

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Vidhana Soudha, Karnataka Assembly, Bangalore

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State Bank of Mysore, Bangalore

He was also the chief engineer of the construction of Krishna Raja Sagar Dam.

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Krishna Raja Sagar Dam

An Administrator and a Visionary

Sir Visvesvaraya was not only a great engineer and outstanding administrator but was also a visionary.

Integrity

There are many anecdotes about his integrity and honesty.

He used to use the candle, pen and ink provided by the government when writing notes related to work and, use his own candle, pen and ink when writing letter to his wife.

Engineer’s oath & Sir M Visvesvaraya

The Canadian universities, engineering graduates, oath ceremony for graduation reads,

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Engineer giving his oath

When we go through the oath ceremony, we realize that Sir Visvesvaraya actually lived the above oath through his life.

Commander of Indian Empire

For his great engineering skills and contribution in the same field, he was made the Commander of Indian Empire by King George 5.

Bharat Ratna

Sir Visvesvaraya was conferred the Bharat Ratna, the highest civilian award in the country, in 1955.

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                        Bharat Ratna                 Sir M Visvesvaraya with Jawaharlal Nehru

Sir Visvesvaraya lived till the age of 101 and passed away on 12th April, 1962.

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Sir M Visvesvaraya memorial in Muddennahali

Educational Institutions in Name

Today, there are many educational institutions in his name in the country such as the Visvesvaraya National Institute of Technology in Nagpur, Visvesvaraya College of Engineering in Bangalore and Visvesvaraya Technological University, Belgaum.

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Visvesvaraya Technological University, Belgaum

Statues

His statues can be found in many places across the state of Karnataka.

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A Statue of Sir M Visvesvaraya

In Stamp

A stamp has been released in his honour by the Government of India.

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Engineers, the problem solver

Engineers are the foundation of any developed civilization. India being the oldest surviving civilization has a long lineage of Engineers who are referred to as Vishvakarma.

Why Engineers are called ‘Engineers’?

Is it from ‘Engine’?

But steam engine was made only in the 19th century whereas engineering as a profession came in to existence centuries before.

The word ‘Engineer’ has nothing to do with the word engine. Engineer did not originate in Engine. The word ‘Engineer’ originated from ‘ingenium’ which is a Latin word meaning ingenius meaning someone who solves problems that elude normal persons.

From ‘ingenium’ came ‘ingenieur’ ( which is the French word for engineer even now) and from it came the English word Engineer.

Engineers are ingenius people who solve the problems for the society and ameliorate life of all.

Let us honour them

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Let us on this Engineer’s day honour Bharat Ratna Sir M Visvesvaraya along with engineers of modern India.

Hanuman’s return from Lanka – 14th September, 5076 BCE

Hanuman, after meeting Sita and going on a rampage over the capital city of Lanka and setting it on fire, returns back across the sea, to where his other friends of the search party were waiting for him.

During this return journey, Hanuman observes the stars in the early morning sky, which are mentioned in a sloka in the Ramayana text.

  • The Sun and Moon are shining together.
  • Mars and Jupiter are shining.
  • Also seen are Pushya Cancer, Swati Virgo, Airavat elephant of Indra corresponding to Scorpio.

These observations, when plotted in the Planetarium software, show these star observations to be of the morning succeeding, Hanuman’s meeting with Sita, thus validating both these events and their dates, which were arrived at independently.

Hanuman thus returned from Lanka on 14th September, 5076 BCE.

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Hanuman’s Return from Lanka – 14th September 5076 BCE

Observation at 6.30 a.m.

South South Cooperation Day

North Countries more developed

The concept of South-South here implies that the countries of the South are developing or underdeveloped.

This day is to earmark a day of cooperation between the developing countries. This also implies that countries of the north are more developed than countries of the South. The countries of the north have been developed in the last century or so.

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South South Cooperation

Wealth derived from Colonization of South countries

Where did they suddenly get the influx of money for this development?

Economic historians now clearly state that this influx came from colonizing these South, tropical countries and thereby sucking out their prosperity. When we look historically through centuries, it is so called South, that is, the tropical countries that were naturally prosperous.

Reestablishing the prosperity of South Countries

The time has now come again for the South countries to reestablish back their natural prosperity. It is in this light that the South-South cooperation day should be looked at as reasserting their path to prosperity which they have naturally had for many millennia and not for a day to come together and ask for aid from the northern countries. A shift in mindset would lead to a shift in prosperity.

Hanuman’s visit to Lanka – 12th September, 5076 BCE

Sugreeva dispatched a number of search parties to different parts of the land to locate the whereabouts of Sita.

In one such search party, deputed to the South, was Hanuman. Hanuman crossed over the seas in the southern part of India to reach Lanka. There he found Sita in Ashokavana grove, having a forlorn look. The description of the look and state of Sita, is beautifully intertwined in the story, with the occurrence of a partial Lunar eclipse, during their meeting.

Hanuman found Sita looking like a full moon which was eclipsed by Rahu.

 Ramayana 5.10.14

Sita’s face looked like a full moon that had just been released from Rahu’s captivity. (released from an eclipse)

Ramayana 5.29.7

Sita’s face resembled the full moon released from the grip of Rahu.

Ramayana 5.35.87

With this information, when we look for such an eclipse, which could have been seen from Lanka in the early part of the night, we do notice that such an eclipse did occur on 12th September, 5076 BCE.

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Hanuman finds Sita

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Hanuman’s Visit to Lanka – 12th September 5076 BCE – Lunar Eclipse

The eclipsed moon rose in the eastern sky. It was not a total lunar eclipse. The place of observation is Lanka.

Ganapati Bappa Morya

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When Lord Ganesha’s idols are immersed in various water bodies on the 10th day after Ganesh Chaturthi, many chants of Ganapati Bappa Morya fill the air.

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Significance of Bappa Morya

“What is the significance of the word Morya in “Ganapati Bappa Morya”?

Devotees chant Ganapati Bappa Morya all the time to sing the praises of Lord Ganesha. But how many of us know what the word Morya signify?

Morya, a devotee of Ganesha

The word Morya refers to a famous devotee of Lord Ganesha in the fourteenth century called Morya Gosavi, originally from village called Saligram in Karnataka, where his devotion was looked upon as madness!! He later travelled and settled in Chinchvad, near Pune and invoked the Lord with severe penance.

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Saligram, Karnataka

He attained siddhi (special powers and blessings) at Shree Chintamani and his son built the temple to commemorate the event.

It is said that Moryaji also performed penances at Siddhi Vinayak temple in Ahmedabad and in Moreshwar/Mayureshwar at Moregoan where he also built the temple. Overwhelmed by the devotion of Moryaji, he was blessed by Lord Ganesha to fullfill any of his wish. Morya asked to be remembered forever on this earth whenever anyone remembers his Lord, as his ‘Param Bhakt’. Thus this depicts the inseparable relationship between God and his devotee.”

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Bappa as mark of respect

The word Bappa meaning father, is added as a mark of respect.

Always remember this when you say ‘Ganapati Bappa Morya’.

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Onam Festival – Part 4, Story From the Skies

Onam Festival, Shravan Month and Shravana Star

This word “Onam” is the shortened form of Thiruvonam or Shravanam, since this event occurs in the Shravan month under the Shravana star in the Indian calendar.

Shravan is the month in the Indian calendar that typically falls between July-August in North and between August-September in the South. This period is characterized by heavy rains and many other festivals such as Narial Purnima, Raksha Bandhan, Ganesh Chathuthi, Krishna Janmashtami to name a few.

This month is called Shravan since the full moon during this month occurs against the Shravana star.

But why did this particular star get the name Shravana?

Which is this star in the sky?

The 3 footprints in the sky

Before we go to skies, let us recollect the story behind the Onam festival and why it came to be celebrated. How this festival marks the day when Maha Bali, the great Asura king was humbled by Vamana with His 3 giant strides.

The star Shravana is the set of stars known in western astronomy as Altair the bright star in Aquila constellation along with Beta and Gamma Aquilae that flank it on either side.

Aquila constellation 

Altair-Shravana, Beta and Gamma Aquilae in Aquila Constellation

These three stars are pictured as the 3 footprints of Vamana in His gigantic Trivikrama form.

One may wonder what does the legend of Maha Bali and Vamana, have to do with the name Shravana for this star?

The word “Shravana” means to listen, to pay heed to. The legend of Maha Bali from time immemorial has been a moral story on how one should pay heed to one’s mentor, teacher, failing which one could fall into trouble. Hence these 3 stars which depict the outcome of Maha Bali’s disobedience stand as a constant reminder in the sky to caution people to listen and pay heed to good counsel.

Another way in which the name of this star is spelt is, Shrona, which means “lame” or “to limp”, in Samskrt. Shrona is one who limped. Trivikrama after measuring the 2 steps, stood limping, with one leg raised in the air, asking Maha Bali where He could place his foot for the third step?

Trivikrama 

Trivikrama with one leg up

Hence these 3 stars, as Shrona, also depict the footsteps of Trivikrama as He covered the earth and the skies with His foot.

Another Angle to the Triangle

There is yet another tale associated with how these 3 stars came to be called Shravana.

Much later, closer to the times of Rama, Shravan was a young lad who lived in the time of Dasaratha, father of Rama. He used to dote on his parents and take care of them with love and affection. Since they were old and blind, he would carry them in two baskets hanging on either side from a rod on his shoulders, like a weighing scale, balance.

One day, he was filling a pitcher of water from a pond for his parents. King Dasaratha, out on a hunting trip, mistook the gurgling sound of the pitcher for an animal and shot an arrow in its direction. He rushed to catch his prey but instead found young Shravan Kumar mortally wounded. Even in that state, Shravan requested the king to carry water to his thirsty parents. Dasaratha, approached them with trepidation in his heart and from the sound of his footsteps the old couple realized it was not their son. On being asked, he narrated what had happened. The bereaved father cursed Dasaratha that one day he would also have to bear the sorrow of his son leaving him. Strangely, the king expressed happiness on being cursed because he did not have children at the time and was pining for a child. For the curse to come true, he would have to have children. Just this thought made him so happy, that he took mud and grass from the ground and showered it on his head. As fate would have it through, Dasaratha was later blessed with 4 sons out of whom he loved Rama, the eldest dearly. But when Dasaratha grew old and had pinned his hopes on Rama to take over his kingdom, he was separated from Rama – a separation that took away his life.

Shravan Kumar, even today, is remembered for his dedication towards his parents. Altair in the Aquila constellation, in the sky has been named after Shravan.

Why is Altair equated with Shravana?

Altair, flanked by the two dimmer stars, Beta and Gamma Aquilae gives an impression of a balance, just like how Shravan Kumar carried his aged parents.

shravan Kumar and Shravana constellation Shravan Kumar and Shravana Constellation

What lies in a name?

The ancient astronomers of India had a practice of giving scientific names to stars, names that denote their function, characteristic. Sometimes legends from Purana have been mapped to these objects to symbolically explain scientific principles or facts.

The story of how the Shravana star got its name is just one among many.

Does naming Altair and these 2 dimmer stars as Shravana indicate that the two stars flanking Altair are dying stars while Altair in comparison, a star in the prime phase of its life? This could be a lead for further analysis.

Incidentally Beta Aquila, also known as Tarzed though not very old, has burnt up all its fuel and has entered its dying phase. It has swelled into a giant and is expected to blast and later become a white dwarf.

Delving into understanding the detailed description of Puranic legends in connection with the stars they point to in the skies, could perhaps help provide more clues to understand these stars better.

We will understand why our ancients chose to name the stars what they did?

We will understand our ancients and our heritage better!

Thus concludes the story of Onam from Kerala, to Pathala Loka, to the skies.