Vinayak Damodar Savarkar

Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, born on May 28, 1883, was a major player in India’s Independence. He was a poet, a writer and a politician, who shaped Indian nationalism through the concept of Hindutva, a term that was coined by this leader.

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Vinayak Damodar Savarkar

Concept of Hindutva

Hindutva has been a much misunderstood word these days, for, the term Hindu has been equated with the religion, Hinduism and many people have termed this concept as an idea of following and promoting one religion.

Hindutva, a Value System

In actual sense, what Sarvarkar meant was a value system based on the culture and traditions of this land. It was a value system that revolved around the core principles of Universalism, Humanism, Positivism, Pragmatism and Rationalism.

Savarkar believed in influencing the masses towards independence, by reminding them of their unique cultural identity.

Activities as youth

Savarkar’s pro independence activities began from his student days in England, where, as a part of the India House, he founded the twin student societies, Abhinav Bharat Society and Free India Society to encourage the youth to participate in Indian revolution for independence.

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Veer Savarkar and his friends

Img: courtesy Flickr

Publications

He also brought out many publications towards this effect. “The First Indian War of Independence” was one of his major works highlighting the Indian struggle of 1857 against the British misrule. The work was banned by the British administrators.

Fighting untouchability and casteism

Savarkar was against religions, untouchability and openly spoke out against castism. He thereby played a vital role in forging unity among masses. He is credited to have facilitated in discarding the practice of untouchability in the remote areas of Ratnagiri in Maharashtra, in less than 10 years.

Netaji on Savarkar

Netaji in his speech of June-25, 1944, acknowledged Savarkar’s perspicacity.

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Savarkar with Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose

Starting Ganesh Utsav

Savarkar was also one of the leaders along with Bal Gangadhar Tilak who started the Ganesh Utsav that became and is still one of the major festivals of Maharashtra, to build national and cultural unity.

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Ganesh Utsav

In Jail

For all these, Savarkar was arrested in London in 1910 for carrying out anti-colonial activities. While being shifted to India in a ship, Savarkar tried to escape when the ship reached Marseilles by diving into the water and escaping to the shore. But, the alarm bells were rung before he could be saved by his friends and he was rearrested. He was now sentenced to two consecutive terms of life imprisonment, i.e, 50 years in jail and was shifted to the Cellular Jail in Andaman and Nicobar islands. His brother was also in same jail at the same time for many years, but both did not know of each others’ presence.

Cellular Jail, Savarkar Cell

This did not impede Sarvarkar as he carried out his pro independence activities from jail. He wrote his biggest work on Hindutva while serving his sentence.

In 1921, Savarkar was released on the condition that he would not hence forth encourage and carry out any revolutionary activities.

Speeches across land

Once outside jail, Savarkar concentrated on travelling across the country and giving speeches on the concept of Hindutva that he had formulated while in prison. As an able orator and poet, he was able to greatly influence the minds of the people towards his idea of India.

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Veer Savarkar giving speech

President of Hindu Mahasabha

He was elected the president of Hindu Mahasabha in 1937, which he served until 1943.

Against partition

Savarkar was vehemently against partition. His position on partition has been aptly summarized by Ambedkar in his work, ‘Pakistan or Partition of India’.

“Mr. Savarkar… insists that, although there are two nations in India, India shall not be divided into two parts, one for Muslims and the other for the Hindus; that the two nations shall dwell in one country and shall live under the mantle of one single constitution…”

After Independence

After Independence, Savarkar continued his agenda of promoting Hindutva through his oratory, poetry and writing skills. He had to sail through a few controversial moments when he was accused in Mahatma Gandhi assassination case, but was later acquitted.

‘Veer’ Savarkar

Savarkar passed away on 26th February, 1966. Around 2000 Rastriya Swayam Sevaks conducted a grand funeral for this great freedom fighter. The term ‘Veer’ was added to his name in recognition of the great courage he had shown in fighting the British Rule.

We, Hari and Hema got the opportunity to visit his cell in Andaman Jail. We recollect with pain to have seen the many torture tools that were used then.

The struggle, the freedom fighters have gone through to give us, the next generations, the freedom we are enjoying today truly leave us tearful and speechless!!!

The only words that arise in the silence are,

“Are we living up to the dreams they cherished for India, for the sake of which they underwent so much torture?”

Ashutosh Mukherjee

Ashutosh Mukherjee born on 29th June, 1864 in Patna is among the foremost educationist that this country has every produced.

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Tiger of Bengal

Banglar Bagh”, “the tiger of Bengal,” was the popular name by which Sir Ashutosh Mukherjee was referred to, for, for his high academic skills and at the same time high self esteem and courage with which he interacted with the British. He was indeed a ‘tiger’ in the field of education.

Vice Chancellor of Calcutta University

Ashutosh Mukherjee was the Vice Chancellor of the Calcutta University from 1906 to 1914 and again from 1921 to 1923.

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He made the University one of the foremost centers of learning in India during his stint. His ability to identify and groom young talent is well known in the field of academics even today.

Supported Raman

As the Vice Chancellor, Ashutosh Mukherjee persuaded the famous Indian Physicist C V Raman to teach at the University.

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At the time Raman was posted at the government’s Finance department who were reluctant to release him. Moreover, the terms of endowment professorship that Raman had to fulfill disqualified him.

Ashotosh Mukerjee however, convinced the budding physicist Raman to work as a Palit Professor of Physics at the Science College that was affiliated to the University at a much lower salary. Raman’s pioneering research in Physics called the Raman Effect led him to win the noble price.

Persuaded Radhakrishnan

In 1921, he was able to convince another budding philosopher, Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan to join the Calcutta University. Dr Radhakrishna went on to become one of the great philosophers of the land and finally the President of India.

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Helped Ramanujam

Ashotosh Mukherjee also inspired the famous Mathematician, Srinivasa Ramanuajam and helped him to put forth his theories in the academic circle.

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Shielded Bose

He also supported young Subhas Chandra Bose, then a student of the Presidency College where he assaulted English professor Oaten for abusing Indians. Subhas was removed from the College.

As the Vice-Chancellor, there were persuasions on Ashotosh Mukherjee to remove him from the University as well. Mukherjee did not want to destroy the career of a brilliant student who had stood up against injustice. He made alternate arrangements for Subhas to study at the Scottish Church missionary college.

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Ashutosh Mukherjee nurtured many such young students who contributed to the progress of the land.

Teacher to the teacher

Today, we celebrate Teacher’s day on September 5th as the birthday of Dr Sarvepalli Radhakrishna.

For this teacher, it was the teacher Ashutosh Mukherjee who facilitated the rise to great heights that Dr Radhakrishna came to. A good teacher is known by the student he creates. Ashutosh Mukherjee’s name shines for the youth he picked and nurtured.

It is through the efforts of such great men, the foundations of the modern university system of education as built on.

Let us further his legacy

Let us further the cause of education in India that this great educationist had nurtured and stood for through his life.

Rasbehari Bose

Rasbehari Bose was one of the prominent Indian leaders who fought against the British Rule.

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Role in Ghadar revolution

He played a prominent role in the Ghadar revolution, a pan Indian mutiny in the British Indian Army that was planned by Ghadar party and carried out in February 1915.

Leaving for Japan

Post the Ghadar revolution, Rasbehari Bose had to leave India to escape from the British hunt. He left for Singapore on May 22, 1915 and from there went to Japan in June, under the impersonation of Raja P N T Tagore, a distant relation of Rabindranath Tagore.

In Japan, he played a key role in the formation of the Indian National Army.

On arriving in Japan, he met his colleagues of the Ghadar Party, Herambalal Gupta and Bhagavan Singh and formulated the agenda against the British, in hiding.

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Becoming a Japanese citizen

When Japan, an ally of the British in the First World War, discovered their identities and wanted to extradite them, Herambalal escaped to US, while Rasbehari came out of his ‘hiding’ by marrying the daughter of a Japanese bakery owner and becoming a citizen of Japan. Through this bakery, he also introduced Indian Curry to Japan.

As a journalist

Rasbehari became a journalist and explained the Indian view to the outside world for the next 20 years. It was due his earnest efforts that a conference was held in Tokyo in 1942 to discuss political issues.

Forming of Indian Independence League

The Indian Independence League was soon formed, under the leadership of Rasbehari.  Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose was made the president of this league.

Formation of INA

Many Indian prisoners captured by the Japanese army in Burma and Malaysia were persuaded to join the Indian National Army under this Independence league.

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Thus, the Indian Army took shape due to the efforts of Rasbehari Bose. It was named Azad Hind Fauj.

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Conferred prestigious title

Rasbehari passed away on 21st January, 1945. The Japanese government honoured him with the prestigious title, ‘The Second Order of Merit of the Rising Sun’, the highest recognition for a foreigner.

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It is even more heartening to note that a royal coach was sent by the Japanese Emperor Hirohito, to carry the mortal remains of this great Indian revolutionary.

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Vata Purnima

“Vata Purnima” is a festival that is celebrated in GujaratMaharashtra and Karnataka on a Full Moon day in the month of Jyeshta-June. Purnima refers to the Full Moon in this month.

Vata Vriksha – The Banyan Tree

Vata Vriksha, the Banyan tree is intertwined with the traditions of India from time immemorial. The botanical name for this tree is “Ficus Benghalensis”. It is a tree that grows all over India.

Vat Vriksha

Vata Vriksha, Banyan tree

Vata Purima and Savitri -Satyavan

The legend of Vata Purnima is connected with the story of Savitri and Satyavan.

Savitri and Satyavan were a young married couple. One day while resting, with his head on Savitri’s lap, under a Banyan tree, Satyavan breathed his last. Savitri, a devout wife could feel the presence of Yama, the Lord of death at this moment. When Yama turned to leave with Satyavan’s soul, Savitri with determination, started following Yama, to ask him to return Satyavan’s life.

Savithri Sathyavan story

Savitri debating with Yama

Savitri’s dogged pursuit of Yama and her winning debate with him, made Yama restore Satyavan’s life as a boon to her.

Savitri returned to the Banyan tree, Vata Vriksha and found Satyavan stirring back to life. This Banyan tree, which was a witness to the death defying devoutness of Savitri, came to be associated with the power of faith and perseverance and with longevity.

This event gained popularity through the ages and came to be observed as Vata Purnima festival. For, it was under the Banyan tree, that Satyavan’s life was plucked and later restored. The perseverance of Savitri in a trying circumstance, her overcoming the odds and winning over Yama with wit and thereby getting back her husband to life, is a story that finds resonance with every devout married woman.

Vata Purnima – The Fasting Festival

Praying for a long life for their spouses and a timeless togetherness, women observe a fast and tie a string around a Vata Vriksha on Vata Purnima.

The tying of the string around the girth of the Vata Vriksha is a gesture to symbolize that the bond between the husband and the wife should be as strong as that between Savitri and Satyavan. That their progeny should grow as the roots and shoots of the Banyan too.

Women celebrating Vata Purnima

Vata Purnima celebration by women in India

While the Vata Purnima festival is celebrated in Karnataka, Maharashtra and Gujarat to commemorate Savitri-Satyavan legend, similar festivals are also celebrated in other parts of India on other days. For example, the Karadaiyan Nombu is celebrated in Tamil Nadu around March where married women and girls tie a yellow thread around their neck to symbolize a strong, immortal bond between husband and wife.

Vata Patra Sayi

The Vata leaf is found in art forms as a leaf floating on waters with the divine child, Balakrishna sucking His toe in the classic pose of a baby. This depiction of Krishna is called Vata Patra Sayi. Patra means leaf and Sayi, is one who is resting. It comes from Sayana meaning to repose, recline.

Vata Patra Sayi

Vata Patra Sayi

Vata Vriksha, the Tree of Knowledge

The Vata tree also symbolizes knowledge, the timeless knowledge of the land. For, it is under this tree that Dakshinamurthi, the divinity associated with knowledge, imparts knowledge in silence to his four Sishya, disciples.

Vata and Gita

Lord Krishna gave the Gita Upadesa beside a Banyan Tree, Vata Vriskha, in Kurukshetra. Portions of this Banyan tree are believed to have survived to this day. The Vata Vriksha in Jyotisar, Kurukshetra, is believed to be a part of the original tree that was a witness to the Gita Upadesa.

Banyan tree Gita

Banyan Tree at Jyotisar, Kurukshetra

Vata and Nothing

An interesting point to note is that, the seed of such a mighty tree like Banyan is so small and when you break open that small seed, what you see inside is a hollow space. Indeed it is hollow and empty!

Similarly the vast Universe that we see around us too has come from such nothingness, Shunya. Shunya is not literally nothing. It is referred to as there is no point of reference to this tattva, concept in Creation. In reality, this nothing is everything, the source of whole Creation. This nothingness is also referred to as Chit. The sublime consciousness.

The Shunya Vada discussion, takes us there.

This timeless truth was revealed to Shweta Ketu by his father Rishi Uddalaka. This incident is recorded in the Chandogya Upanishad.

Vata Vriksha – A Meeting place

It is under a banyan tree that travellers rest. For, this tree is wide enough to accommodate even a caravan full of travellers and provide shade from the heat that beats down most parts of India. It is during this rest that people are regaled with stories and legends are told and retold across generations, across time.

The Vata Vriksha has been a focal point for the culture of the land.

It has been one of the favoured spots for trading. Traders in India are called baniya. The common name “Banyan” for this tree, originated from the fact that this tree was the meeting center of the baniya.

Vata Vriksha – Tree of Life, Fertility

Banyan tree is a tree that sprouts roots, also from its branches. They grow downwards from the branches, go into the ground, to give rise to an extension of the tree. The Banyan tree is hence also called Nyagrodha meaning that which is growing downwards too. The Banyan tree is considered timeless, for, its aerial shoots spread wide and develop roots that support the spreading branches, enabling the tree to spread far and wide.

This is how the Banyan tree, over time, spreads wide over many acres.

Due to this felicity to propagate far and wide, across time, across generations of trees, the Banyan tree has connotations with life, longevity, fertility and timelessness. In many parts of India, the placenta of a newborn child is buried at the foot of a Banyan praying for its longevity.

With the legend of Savitri-Satyavan, the Banyan came to be connected with timeless bonding between a couple.

In common parlance, fertility which gives rise to a new life, is synonymous with the biological functions in the female gender, a woman. It points to the progeny arising from the union of a man and woman alone.

Fertility concept however, extends beyond, to encompass everything that creates and sustains life such as

  • the land resource which acts as the womb from which grows our food

  • the water resource which helps germinate anything on the land,

  • the seeds that germinate life every season and

  • the cows and other organisms that nourish the soil – in short fertilize the soil.

It is this encompassing nature in Nature that is also to be venerated as fertility – fertility in Mother Nature. The Banyan tree, as the Tree of Life reminds us of this aspect in Nature.

Significance of Vata Purnima

The Vata Purnima fast, not only signifies an everlasting, timeless, strong bonding between a husband and wife, but the association of this fast with the Vata Vriksha ascribes a deeper significance to it.

A message that, the timeless association between the husband and wife, is for the creation of progeny who will take the roots of the family, civilization and mankind far into future.

A message that, fertility that gives rise to life is not limited to that which springs from the womb of a woman alone but encompasses everything in Mother Nature too, which sustain life on earth.

Vata Purnima is the occasion to pray that the thread that binds man and woman as well as the fertility chain, stays timeless, sustained year after year, generation after generation, century after century, millennia after millennia.

World Turtle Day

Amphibians

Tortoises and turtles are reptiles. They are able to survive both on land and in water.

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They were one of the early creatures to make the evolutionary shift from living in water to also living on land. A big shift.                             2

Tortoise Turtle – Difference

The major difference between a turtle and a tortoise is that turtles mostly live in water while tortoises mostly live on land. Some of the other differences being,

Difference in Tortoise Turtle
Shell Dome shaped shells Flat shells
Feet Bent legs and short feet Webbed feet with long claws
Diet Mostly Herbivorous Omnivorous
Hatchlings Hatchlings move to mother’s burrow from their nest soon after birth Hatchlings stay in their next on their own for 3 to 4 months
Life span 80-150 years 20-40 years

Tortoise legends across the world

There are numerous legends associated with tortoises across many civilizations.

        Dasavatara

In the sequence of Dasavatara, the 10 incarnations of Divinity Vishnu, Kurma Avatara, the tortoise incarnation, is the second Avatara, incarnation of the Divinity Vishnu. The first in the 10 incarnations was Matsya, the Fish, which can live only in water. The second is Kurma, a tortoise which can live both on land and water, representing the evolutionary leap.

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Vishnu takes the form of a tortoise and supports the hill on His back during the churning of the oceans, Samudra Manthan by the Deva and Asura.

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           Sri Kurmam Temple

There is a temple in Srikakulam district of coastal Andhra Pradesh dedicated to this Kurma Avatara of Vishnu. The temple is called Sri Kurmam. The idol in the temple is not a sculpture designed by man, but a fossil of a real tortoise.

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        Tortoises and Tectonic plates

Indian geological texts also describe the earth as being supported by 8 tortoises.

Here, the analogy of the tortoise stands for the 8 solid tectonic plates on the earth’s crust, over the molten core of the earth, which are constantly moving but very slowly, just like a turtle and its hard shell which covers the soft animal inside.

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          In Indonesia

The architectural representation of this turtle legend can be seen in the old archaeological sites of central Java in Indonesia and the adjoining Bali islands too.

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       American Legend

There is a similar turtle legend that is explicitly expressed in the ancient American legends too, where a turtle dives to the bottom of the ocean to bring back mud to create the earth.

Thus, we see that turtles have been revered across civilizations from time immemorial.

Charles Darwin

Charles Darwin on his study of various life forms, conducted his research on the famous Galapagos tortoise of Galapagos Islands in the Pacific Ocean that live for over 100 years.

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World Turtle Day

World Turtle Day is observed every year on May 23rd to raise awareness on turtles, tortoises, and their protection.

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On this day, animal lovers and organizations come together and organize events around turtles and tortoises.

Caring for Turtles

Turtles might not be favourites of people, like dogs, but it is vitally important that we care for this species, one of the ancient creatures of our planet.

Need to protect Turtles

This Turtle’s day, let us take steps to protect this endangered species, by saving the turtle hatchings on the coasts.

Raja Ram Mohan Roy

Socio Religious Reformer

Raja Ram Mohan Roy was a socio – religious reformer during the British rule, who was a major player in effacing some of the evils prevalent in the Indian society. He challenged some of the practices that had crept into Indian culture which was detrimental to the progress of India. He played a key role in the abolishing of Sati and pitched for women’s rights at a time when superstition and social bigotry was much prevalent in the Indian society.

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Raja Ram Mohan Roy

Father of Modern India

For laying down the guidelines for the development of the Indian society under the British Rule, he was given the title ‘Father of Modern India’.  His ideas were propagated through Brahmo Samaj which he later founded.

Raja Ram Mohan Roy was born on May 22nd, 1772 at Radhanagar village of Hoogli district in Bengal.

An Independent Thinker

From his young age Raja Ram Mohan Roy was an independent thinker. He had differences with his father, an orthodox Brahmin, on certain superstitions and practices that were followed in the society. He was also against idol worship.

Travel to Himalayas

He soon left home for Himalayas seeking true wisdom and travelled upto Tibet. He returned home after this Himalayan sojourn.

Entering Marriage

After his return, Raja Ram Mohan Roy was compelled to enter into marriage by his parents, inorder to bring about a change in his thinking process and outlook.  The marriage however did not have any impact on his progressive mindset.

Learning Vedas and Upanishads

Raja Ram Mohan Roy travelled to Varanasi and pursued his interests in Indian philosophy, studying the Veda and Upanishad.

Forming Atmiya Sabha

Raja Ram Mohan Roy was against all superstitions, which he wanted to remove from the society. His first step in bringing about a change in the society was taken when he formed the Atmiya Sabha. The main aim of this association was to trigger socio religious reforms in the society. He vehemently opposed the practices of Sati and Polygamy and pushed for women rights, such as women’s right to own property. Another area of activity for this Sabha was women’s education.  Raja Ram Mohan Roy was seen as a savior for women, working to improve their lives.

Founding Brahmo Samaj

In 1828, he founded the Brahmo Samaj through which he furthered his mission of educating people to give up what he called ‘evil practices’ that had crept into Hindu religion.

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Brahmo Samaj

Sati

According to him, evil practices such as Sati and polygamy were actually allowing Christianity to get converts and bring a bad name to Hindu religion.

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The practice of Sati

Immediately a year later, the efforts of Brahmo Samaj and its founder bore fruit, when Sati was abolished in 1829.

Establishing Schools

Raja Ram Mohan Roy established many schools under Brahmo Samaj to spread his idea of education, which was an amalgam of Vedic and Western thought. He felt a change in the education system was necessary for India to make progress in the modern world.

Ever Indebted

Brahmo Samaj remains the legacy of Raja Ram Mohan Roy to this day, an institution that has grown over the last two centuries.

This country will be ever indebted to Raja Ram Mohan Roy for ridding the society of unwanted superstitions and inculcating the true sense of modernism in people at the time of British rule, to bring about a progressive outlook in the minds of the people, away from conservatism.

Let us honour the ‘Father of modern India’ on his Birthday.

Jala Kreeda Ekadasi

Jalakreeda Ekadasi is a day  to understand the inner significance of Krishna’s Jalakreeda.

Images of Krishna stealing the clothes of women when they bathed in the river and they begging Him to give their clothes back, have been imprinted onto the minds of many with the colourful stories woven around them.

This scene has been ridiculed by many and some have even derogatorily mentioned it as being voyeuristic. This incident warrants a philosophical look in.

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Krishna’s Jala Kreeda, a popular illustration

Jalakreeda – Meaning

The word Kreeda means play, game, sport. The word Jala normally means water. The word Jala can also be split into two where ja stands for jananam, “birth” and la is for layam, “to melt”, that which leads to pralayam, “dissolution”.

Jananam and Pralayam, form a rhythm, a cycle that is represented by each and every body in the Universe. The meaning and concept of pralayam is explained in our book “Understanding Shiva”.

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From origin to dissolution, everything is shrouded in maya, illusion.

It is in this play, Jalakreeda, a play with the word jala, that Krishna helps remove the shroud of maya from our minds, enabling us to see the real play from ja to la, from origin to dissolution. It is this whole play from ja to la which is the real ja-la-kreeda. The setting for this was with the Gopi.

Gopa and Gopi

The word Gopa comes from Go and Pa. Go stands for “cow” and Pa for “one who looks after”, “nourishes”. Gopa literally means “cowherd”, one who tends to cows.

From another perspective, Gopa also implies one who cherishes knowledge. This again comes from the roots Pa to “cherish”, “nurture”, “look after” and Go which also means knowledge. Gopi is the feminine gender of Gopa.

Gopi is also explained from the root Pi, as one who is drunk, consumed by the thirst for divine knowledge, Go.

Gopa and Gopi, the cow-herd folk, constantly sought Krishna out, surrounded Him and relished spending time with Him. The Gopa and Gopi, their yearning for and cherishing of Krishna, signify symbolically every soul’s yearning, thirst and cherish for true knowledge, symbolized by Krishna.

Raslila – A Metaphor for Devotion

In recent years however, based on looking at the poetic descriptions of such Lila at a superficial level, for just the literal meaning of the words used, some have loosely cast the image of Krishna into the mould of a young man who flirted with the Gopi.

The Raslila dance stands as a metaphor for the emotions of single minded love, devotion and unification with the divine that prevailed in the seeker, the simple Gopi.

The Krishna, Gopi and their Jalakreeda also provide an intrinsic insight into the kreeda or interplay in the Universe at an ethereal level.

The whole Universe itself is the twinning of the two – the gross and the subtle. The Lila of Krishna, gain relevance, meaning, significance when one elevates one’s thoughts from the gross, physical level to the subtle, ethereal level. It is the twinning of the two that will help us recognize and realize reality.

 (The above is an extract from our book – “Historical Krishna”)

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