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Martin Luther King Day

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A man who followed in the footsteps of Gandhi

In the 1960s, Martin Luther King Junior led the Afro-Americans of America to freedom from slavery, both in deed and in thought, to a period of equality for one and all.  This movement had nonviolence as its basic tool to fight the unequal policy of the land then.

Martin Luther King Junior has expressed in his works that he took the non-violent struggle route drawing inspiration from the Ahimsa policy of Mahatma Gandhi.

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Martin Luther King Jr.

John Lewis, Congressman of Georgia, USA, while referring to Dr. King as ‘one of the most courageous persons the Civil Rights Movement ever produced’ says,

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“Dr. King picked up Gandhi’s teaching and message.

And if it hadn’t been for this message, America would have probably been more like South Africa, Lebanon, Northern Ireland. It would probably have been a much more divided nation.”

Rev. Jesse Jackson, an American Civil Rights activist while delivering the Gandhi Memorial Lecture in 2008, speaking about Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi said,

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Rev. Jesse Jackson alongside statue of Mahatma Gandhi

It is the Non Violent Movement of Civil Rights, inspired by Martin Luther King and Ahimsa that has held a super power like America together as recently as in 1960s.

Asiatic Society

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The Asiatic Society was founded by Sir William Jones on 15th January, 1784 to carry our Oriental research.

The senior members of the East India Company based out of Calcutta then, met on 15th January 1784 at the Grand Jury Room of the Supreme Court of Calcutta. They were Warren Hastings, Governor General, Jonathan Duncan, who later became the Governor of Bombay, Charles Chapman, Hasting’s emissary to Vietnam, Justice John Hyde Cunningham Charles Wilkins and William Jones, judge of the Calcutta Court.

William Jones in his inaugural speech of the Society had said,

“Asia is the nurse of sciences, and the inventors of delightful and useful arts. Our investigations will be bound by only the geographical limits of Asia, encompassing Man and Nature; whatever is performed by the one, or produced by the other.”

He ended his address by proclaiming that the organization shall be called “The Asiatic Society”.

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Asiatic Society of India

In 1837, James Prinsep took charge of the society. He is credited with deciphering the Brahmi script

In 1789, Sir William Jones made this famous speech at the Asiatic Society,

“The Sanskrit language, whatever be its antiquity, is a wonderful structure more perfect than the Greeks; more copious than the Latin and more exquisitely refined than either.”

The Asiatic Society later got its permanent residence at 1, Palk Street, Calcutta. In the last 200 years and more, the Asiatic Society has done yeomen service not only in translating the Indian language works into English but also in furthering the priceless heritage of India to Indians and foreigners.

For this effort, William Jones has been respectfully referred to as “The Orientalist.”

William Jones also wrote books on, The laws of Hindoos and Mahomedans, the history of the ancient world, proofs and illustrations of the scriptures, traditions concerning the deluge, modern politics and geography of Hindustan, Arithmetic and Geometry and mixed sciences of Asiatics, Medicine, Chemistry, Surgery and Anatomy of the Indians, natural products of India, poetry, rhetoric and morality of Asia, music of the Eastern nations, the best accounts of Tibet and Kashmir, trade, manufacturer, agriculture, and commerce of India.

Army Day

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The Indian Army is the third largest army in the world after the People’s Liberation army of China and the US Army, with 1,129,900 Active personnel and 960,000 Reserve personnel.

The roots of the Indian army can be traced to the Madras regiment.

This was the first regiment formed in 1746. It was raised under Major Stringer Lawrence. This has grown into the Indian Army of today.

In 1746, there was a war in the outskirts of Madras called the Adyar War. It was fought between the French commanders who had thousand soldiers on his side against the local Nawab who has a 10,000 strong army. The local Nawab was routed at the Adyar Estuary. The handful of British who were present there were bystanders during the war.

Major stringer Lawrence who was present then collected all the local soldiers post this battle, made them into a fighting force and called them the Madras Army.

This is the genesis of the Indian Army.

Here is an interesting anecdote on how it became a fully Indian army post Independence and then grew from strength to strength.

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Army Day is celebrated on 15 January every year in India, in recognition of Lieutenant General K. M. Cariappa’s taking over as the first Commander-in-Chief of the Indian Army from General Sir Francis Butcher, the last British Commander-in-Chief of India, on 15 January 1949.

Thiruvalluvar Day

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Thiruvalluvar is a Tamil poet well known for his work Thirukkural. He lived around 2000 years ago. Thiruvalluvar day is observed every year on January 15, in the Thai month of Tamil Calendar, in honour of this literary giant.

Thiru Valluvar

Thiruvalluvar is also called as Valluvar as he belonged to Valluvar jathi, the weaver class. The word ‘Thiru’ is honorific to the name Valluvar. He is respectfully referred to as Thiruvalluvar.

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Thiruvalluvar as a Weaver

While it is not conclusive, Thiruvalluvar may have belonged to the Jain Religion.

A Towering Personality

As one of the towering personalities of this land, in the field of literature, his statues can be found all across the Tamil land. His statue at Kanyakumari is one of the prominent symbols of Tamil Nadu.

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Thiruvalluvar Statue in Kanyakumari

In Indian stamps and coins

He has also been featured on stamps, coins and Indian currency.

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Thiruvalluvar featured in Indian Coin and Stamp

Conferences and Courses in his name

Much like the conferences and university courses for Shakespeare, there exists the same for Thiruvalluvar, where the depth of his work and influence is researched and analyzed.

Thiruvalluvar Calendar

There is also a calendar in his name, the Thiruvalluvar Calendar which starts from his birthday. It is recognized as one among the official calendars of Tamil Nadu government.

A honour that no poet or literary giant enjoys!

Thirukurral

Thirukurral, a major work of Thiruvalluvar in Tamil has been a guiding light on human morals and behavior to the people of this land for centuries.

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A Palm leaf Manuscript of Thirukurral

Thiru means revered and Kural is a style of poetic writing. This revered work consists of 1330 couplets in 70 chapters and deal with many aspects of life, not just philosophy, but also about worldly matters. It is available in 37 major languages of the world, including foreign languages like Arabic, English, Chinese, French, Japanese and Spanish among others. Probably, the most translated work after Bible.

On this day, let us imbibe atleast a few morals that this great poet brings out in his couplets, in ‘just 2 lines’.

Mattu Pongal / Kannu Pidi

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Animal Festivals

Celebrating festivals with Nature is not only for the humans. The people not only realized but also cherished the animals as part of nature. The domesticated animals had their own festivals every year which was celebrated with gusto and gaiety.

Worship of Animals

Different parts of India had their own festivals in which they worshipped the animals and had animal races. The cows, the oxen, the buffaloes are washed, painted, anointed with Turmeric, Kumkum, taken round in processions in festivities.

In Tamil Nadu and Andhra, the cows and oxen festival is celebrated the day after Shankaranti, Pongal as the festival of Mattu Pongal.

Mattu Pongal

Pongal being a harvest festival, the cows and the oxen that help in the harvest are the key components of Mattu Pongal. As part of the festival the oxen are washed, decorated and paraded with tilak on their forehead. The oxen are also offered the fresh food in appreciation of their contribution to the harvest.

Kannu Pidi

This festival Kannu Pidi also known as Mattu Pongal is specially celebrated in Tamil Nadu, one day after Pongal. The varieties of rice dishes prepared from the newly harvested rice is taken by the women of the house to their mother’s or brother’s house and made into ceremonial rice bowls. These are then fed in the courtyard to birds-the crows, house sparrows, squirrels and such other domestic creatures.

Recognizing Animals

This festival has twin perspectives. When you feed the birds and the squirrels, with the remnants of your rice dishes after your major festival Pongal in a ceremonial way, then you recognize your coexistence there with these birds and squirrels that live with you in the same living space.

We then tend to look at them as people who share the space and not as people who compete for the same space. This brings in our heart a sense of live and let live. A sense of compassion for our fellow creatures. If we do it one day of the year in a ceremonial way, then we tend to continue this practice through the year.

Keeping up Bond with family

The Kannu Pidi festival has another important aspect packaged into it. The lady of the house takes these house dishes and visits her mother’s house, maternal house, brother’s house to offer these dishes to the birds. This act keeps up the bond of the married women with her parents and siblings.

Breaking the Ice

In villages and small towns, where families live in close proximity through the year, there could be instances where frictions arise between families. These frictions could drift the families apart. On Kannu Pidi occasion, the married lady visits her estranged mother’s, brother’s house; then it is an opportunity to break the ice and get back to a congenial relationship.

These two nice aspects of oneness with the creatures living in the house area and continuing the relationship on the maternal side is built in beautifully in this one festival Kannu Pidi.

Makara Sankranthi

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Equinoxes and Solstices

As the earth keeps going around the sun, there are certain points in the orbit, when due to the angle of the earth’s tilt, the days and nights either become equal (equinoxes) or day is longest in the Northern hemisphere (summer solstice) or night is longest in Northern hemisphere (winter solstice).

This occurs due to the tilt of the earth’s axis by 23.5 degree.

Seen from the earth, it gives us a perception that the sun is moving northwards and southwards every 6 months between the Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn which are latitudes at 23.5 degrees north and south of the equator, respectively.

Uttarayanam

The perceived, northern movement of the sun from Tropic of Capricorn to Tropic of Cancer is called Uttarayanam in India.

Uttar meaning North and Ayana, the journey. It is the day when Sun starts its Northward journey. We celebrate this day as Makara Sankranthi.

Makara – Crocodile

Why is this day called Makara Sankranthi?

Makara is the Capricorn zodiac. Sankranthi means change over, transit into. This day marks the Sun moving into Makara Constellation.

The Tropic of Capricorn is also called “Makara Rekha” as this is the lattitude when the Sun transits into the Makara zodiac. Makara is also the name in Samskrt, for a wild sea creature that resembles a Crocodile.

If we look at the shape of our galaxy, the Milky Way, Akasha Ganga along with the Dark Rift, it does seem like a crocodile with its mouth open.

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Representation of Dark Rift

Resembles a crocodile

As cycles of time go by, life forms and meaning of life also happen to evolve. These goings-on are known as parinama, change, evolution and they continue to happen. New forms and meanings happen to life, be it from the ocean to land or from sky to land, creating a spectrum of life.

Makara Sankranthi marks such a day of change, a change of season to come with a change of lifestyle, a change in mindset and a change in spirit.

Solstice

“Sol” means sun and “Stice” means stationary. Sun seems stationary over the tropic of Capricorn for a couple of days.

Now

The Winter Solstice, the starting day of Uttarayanam today occurs on 21st December. December 22nd is start of Uttarayana Punya Kala Tithi.

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Why do we then now celebrate Sankranthi on 14th January every year?

Then

In ancient days, the starting day of Uttarayanam, i.e. Winter Solstice fell on 13th January every year.

There is a text called Kaushitaki Brahmana, an accompanying text to the Veda, which has been authored by Rishi Kahola Kaushitaki. This text also mentions that Sankranthi was celebrated around this time.

Precession of Equinox and Solstice

How do we account for this gap?

As the earth keeps revolving around the sun, its own axis of rotation, about which it spins, also undergoes a slow spin like that of a rotating top. This movement is called Precession.

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Precession of the Earth about its Axis

Due to this Precession movement, the dates on which the equinoxes and solstices occur, keep shifting by one day every 72 years.

This cycle is called “Precession of Equinox and Solstice”.

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Precession of Equinoxes and Solstices – A Depiction

This accounts for the difference of 22 days. Thus, the Uttarayanam Punya Kala Tithi fell on 14th January every year then.

Makara Sankranthi is still celebrated on the same day every year.

While the Uttaranyanam has preceded from January 14th to December 21st over the last 1500 years, Makara Sankranthi of the Sun moving into constellation, Makara occurs on January 14th.

The celebration of Makara Sankranti every year, brings to our focus, our understanding of the annual turning of the Sun, of the changes taking place in Nature and new hope of life.