National Panchayat Raj Day

A Time Tested Success Model

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?

An Insulating, Self Contained Model

The contribution of this Panchayat 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.

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Select Committee

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House of Commons

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Sir Charles T. Metcalfe’s observations on Panchayats

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You may wonder what this means!

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 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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Inscriptions at Uttiramerur

More on the System of Administration and Practice of Law in India through the times, can be found in our book on Administration, in the Bharath Gyan Series.

Probably, it is after understanding this ethos and the reasons for its proven success, that Mahatma Gandhi strongly advocated bringing back the Panchayat system of village administration, which in his opinion, was the administrative backbone for this prosperity.

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Mahatma Gandhi, Father of the Nation
A Charcoal Sketch, Artist – Kanan Chaudhari

It was a case of many small footprints together, having the sure footed stride of a big elephant. Many small power houses working together with an elephantine strength.

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Ants combined, Elephantine in Strength

Ants are known for their industrious nature.

Ants are busy workaholics.

Ants work in tandem.

Ants network beautifully.

Ants cooperate well.

We see all these, when we see a train of ants going about their work, unmindful of anything else.

This synchronised effort cumulatively is elephantine in strength.

Each man, each family, each Panchayat is like an ant, busy at its work. They carry out their Dharma, their duty. Collectively, their strength and output is akin to that of an elephant.

This work culture, along with the water harnessing skills, was the strength of the land and the reason for the prosperity of the land through the ages.

Sadly, the Panchayat Raj today lives as a namesake shadow with no real powers, no funds and no autonomy. It is embroiled in the tangles of the State and Central administrations.

More on this in our book – You Turn India.

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World Book Day

From ancient times

From time immemorial, books have been the best friends of man. When there were no media like radio, television, internet etc, books have been always there, as man’s primary source of information. They are also one of the main sources of information in the present day world, with printing being made easy by the technological advances. Thus we see, ever increasing publishers and books. The book stores are filled with large number of books on a large number of subjects, as never before.

From Childhood itself

As a child, one learns and understands the various aspects of life through a book. Many of us may recall reading some inspiring book or story in our childhood that greatly influenced and shaped our lives. Our school lives are invariably linked to the books.

But it is also true that, our interest in reading has been dwindling, over the last many decades, with the advent of electronic and digital media. Reading has been limited to our school text books. And, we abandon this friend of ours, once we have passed our education.

In recent times thought, eBooks have become a favourite among some.

World Book Day

World Book Day is a yearly event observed every year on April 23rd organized by the United Nations Educational and Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNICEF), to promote reading and publishing.

Scripts and Manuscripts

When we speak of books, script and language are intrinsic to it. A book is a flow of ideas that is expressed in scripts.

In ancient and medieval times, when printing had not yet made its advent, Books were all in the form of Manuscripts. Palm leaf manuscripts were common in ancient times.

Aksharam

Any script consists of alphabets, in a particular language. Alphabets are called Aksharam in Samskrt. Aksharam means that which cannot be destroyed or diminished. Kshara is that which is destructible.

Why did they call an alphabet as Aksharam, something that does not diminish or get destroyed?

The notion of an alphabet comes mainly when one wants to transform spoken words, speech, sound, into some other form, here a written form.

In this form, a word is broken down into phonemes, units of speech that can be discerned by the mouth and ear separately and when combined in various combinations, gives rise to different spoken words. Each phoneme is represented visually by a pattern of lines and dots called alphabets.

Unlike spoken sound or the phonemes which fade away with time, a written alphabet, which represents the same sound in a visible form, does not fade away or diminish. It remains as long as the medium on which it has been drawn, lasts. Hence the apt word Aksharam in India for an alphabet.

Phoenician Script

Phoenician script is considered to be the precursor of all European and West Asian scripts such as Latin, Greek, Roman, Hebrew (through Paleo-Hebrew), Aramaic, Arabic (through Aramaic), etc. The Phoenician alphabet is dates back to around 1200 BCE.

The Phoenician script comprised 22 alphabets, called abjad, which were listed in a sequence.

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Phoenician Alphabets

 

Bible from Byblos

The word Bible for “the book”, traces its origin to Phoenicia. The city Byblos of Phoenicia was a major trading centre for papyrus, the medium for writing in those days. So, what came from Byblos was the Bible meaning the book.

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Byblos, location

Christians are thus known as “People of Book”.

More on this in our book, Breaking the Myths of India – Vol-4.

Two forms of Communication

Any languages consists of two forms –the spoken word and the written scripts. Thus in ancient India, there were two ways in which knowledge system were passed on in ancient times

  1. Orally recitation
  2. Through books

Veda, were parts of the oral tradition in India, where this knowledge was passed on verbally from the Guru to the Shishya. The Guru Parampara is an important aspect of this tradition.

While books like Purana, Upanishad, Ramayana, Mahabharata etc, belonged to the latter method of passing information, through written manuscripts, books.

Ancient Manuscripts, Books

The writing and creation of manuscripts in Byblos, dates back to 1500 BCE.

Before that, the concept of writing and scribe existed in Egypt around 2000 BCE.

The art of writing manuscripts, books dates back to much before that in India,

Mahabharata, Purana and Upanishad were written around 3100 BCE. The image of Veda Vyasa dictating to His scribe Ganesh is a familiar one.

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Mahabharata  being dictated by Krishna Dwaipayana to Ganesha

And even before that was Ramayana authored by Adi Kavi Valmiki dating back to 5100 BCE.

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Valmiki composing the Ramayana

More on this in our book and film, Historical Rama and book Historical Krishna.

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Need to excavate ancient manuscripts

Today, there are hundreds of manuscripts scattered all across the country. But, alas, only a 6% of them have been read.

On this World Book Day, let us make efforts to revive them, and thereby get access to a huge reservoir of information, that could verily transform the fortunes of our country.

Ramanuja – Who Was He Really?

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Life Story – A 1000 Year Old History

60 yrs is the average life expectancy of man. Ayurveda states the full life expectancy of man to be 120 years. Very few people round the world are blessed enough to lead a fruitful life that long. Sri Ramanujacharya was one of the blessed few who lived a hale, healthy and hoary life for 120 yrs, a full life, Poornayush.

Ramanuja was born on 4th April, 1017 CE in Sriperambudur between modern Chennai and ancient Kanchipuram, to a pious, childless couple, Asuri Keshava Somayaji Deekshitar, a Vedic Pandit and Kantimati Amma, a devout lady. He was given the name Ilayazhwar at birth.

Descending Across Forms and Generations

Ramanuja, is a name which means younger brother, Anuja of Rama – a respectful way of referring to Lakshmana.

Ramanuja was also called by this name meaning the brother of Rama, since He was believed to be the incarnation of the Divinity Adisesha, also found to have incarnated as Lakshmana, the brother of Rama, 7100 years ago and as Balarama, the brother of Krishna, 5100 years ago. Ramanuja, is revered as a form of Adisesha, descended as an incarnation 1000 years ago.

Ascending Following

Ramanuja, who propounded Vishishtadvaita, a qualified form of non- duality, set Vaishnavism on the path that it has been followed since, for the last 1000 yrs.

In His long lifespan, He set the temple practices in all the Vaishnava temples across the land from Kashmir to Kanyakumari. Even the rituals at the premier temple of India, the Venkateshwara temple at Tirumala, were formalized by Ramanuja. He also reinforced the tradition of maintaining Nandavanams, flower gardens, attached to the temples for supplying flowers to the deities.

Ramanuja also set the Parampara of when and what rituals, Seva are to be performed in the temples and which hymns are to be recited during these Seva. This Parampara is since being followed in all Vaishnava temples of the land.

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Ramanuja

Transcending Languages

Ramanuja was a scholar both in Samskrt and Tamil. He was also a scholar in a language prevalent then called Manipravalam which was a beautiful blend of Samskrt and Tamil.

Vishishtadvaita in Samskrt

He has authored many works which present the Veda and Upanishad from a Visishtadvaita perspective. The prominent ones which are 9 in number, include,

  1. 3 Bhashya (commentaries) – Sri Bhashyam on Brahma Sutra, Gita Bhashyam on Bhagavad Gita and Vedartha Sangraha an overview on Upanishads
  2. 3 Gadya (Prose Texts) – Sharanagati Gadyam, Sriranga Gadyam and Vaikunta Gadyam on Sri Vaishnavam
  3. 3 Vedanta – Vedantasara and Vedantadeepa (concise commentaries on Brahma Sutra) and Nitya Grantha (Daily Rituals for a Sri Vaishnava)

These 9 popular texts are referred to as Navaratna – 9 gems.

For all these, He earned the title Bashyakara which is one of the highest accolade one can receive in connection with the Veda. For, understanding the Veda itself is a great feat. To be able to write commentaries on the Veda for others to understand is an even greater feat. The Bashya works are usually bigger than the originals that they comment upon.

Ramanuja travelled all the way to Kashmir at the northern end of the land to read Bodhayana’s exposition, vritti on Brahma Sutra before completing His Sri Bhashyam, His commentary on Brahma Sutra.

Vaishnavism and Tamil

Ramanuja popularized the Tamil form of Vaishnavism.

He brought to fore the primacy of the Nalayira Divya Prabandham, the 4000 divine, specially composed verses in the traditional Tamil language by mandating their recitation as a daily temple ritual. He thus elevated Tamil to the status of a divine language.

He consecrated idols of the 12 Alwars, Tamil poets who had composed this divine poetry, in all temples from Tirumala to Thiruvananthapuram. He thus gave a position of pre-eminence to these Tamil poets, to their poetry and thereby to the whole Tamil language and made poetic Tamil an integral part of daily life.

In appreciation of His service to Tamil and divine Tamil poetry, after His times, people out of reverence added His idol too at the end of the line of the 12 Alwars. This happened in every Vishnu temple, in every town. It speaks volumes of the spontaneousness, the readiness with which people venerated Him and took to His teachings.

Of these 12 Alwars, 8 were not Brahmins. Treating them all on par, showed how Ramanuja looked at all as equals irrespective of their Jati – Varna.

Vaishnavism Across India

Not just in the Tamil land, Ramanuja travelled far and wide to not just spread the tenets of Vaishnavism but also to learn principles of Veda and Upanishad from across the land.

Besides Kashmir, Ramanuja also travelled to the northern slopes of Himalaya to Muktinath Kshetra in present day Nepal.

1000 years ago he had travelled across the length and breadth of the country from Thiruvananthapuram to Dwaraka in the west, to Kashmir and to Muktinath, Nepal in north, to Puri Jagannath in East to establish a parampara both in worship and good living. His prescribed format of rituals is still followed in many Vaishnava temples of India today.

Ramanujacharya’s codes of Vaishnavism was taken up and spread further through the Vallabhacharya sect of Gujarat and Rajasthan, Varkari sect of Maharashtra, Chaitanya sect of Bengal and Central India, Shankar Dev sect of Assam and Eastern India as well as the Swami Narayan sect followed today. Ramanujacharya and His teachings thus were a source of inspiration to many.

Ramanuja had travelled all through the land, uniting people, for, He saw the land as one timeless cultural entity with many kingdoms that kept coming and going with time.

In Service of the Community

Water Harnessing

Temple Tanks, Pushkarani, Kalyani, Sarovar Tirth, Teppam, Kulam are a common sight in every temple town that Ramanuja spent some time in, be it Tirumala, Kanchipuram, Srirangam or elsewhere. In all these places Ramanuja focussed on Theerthavari Seva wherein, He had the temple tank, Pushkarani cleaned, repaired and restored, thus ensuring clean water for the Lord and the community.

Ramanuja was one of those visionaries who had understood the importance of harnessing waters be it for serving the Divine or for the community. He built a few and renovated the many temple tanks right in the middle of the village, as a practice. This not only ensured availability of water for temple rituals but due to percolation, also ensured that the wells of those living near the temple, stayed ever full.

A standing example of the importance He gave to water harnessing can be seen in the form of the still in good repair, large, 2200 acre temple tank at Tondanur, called Tonnur Kere about 20km from Melkote.

With the derelict state of the temple tanks today, we need to take a leaf out of Ramanuja’s practice and renovate each temple tank, Pushkarani, to rejuvenate the ground water for the village community living around each temple. Pushkaram means fertile. Pushkarani is that which gives fertility to the land, in this case the locality.  This will be a socially useful, productive and befitting obeisance that we can pay to Ramanuja, on His 1000th year anniversary.

Free Feeding

Ramanuja also formalized the parampara of giving prasadam, food, to devotees in every temple as He had recognized that this food, prasadam was one way of bringing people together. It was a land of prosperity and there was plenty. So He brought in the concept of locals coming together, contributing food grains to the temple, which in turn, after due rituals to the Lord, was offered back as Prasadam to the people. This one act brought locals together as it became a community service.

In times when hotels and restaurants were not the norm, travelers, mainly pilgrims across the land, had to rely on locals to offer them food and shelter. This practice of prasadam ensured that pilgrims visiting the temples did not have to starve or go door to door seeking hospitality.  The needy of the village too were looked after due to this practice.

Selflessness & Compassion

There lived a great saint of those times in a temple town called Thirukoshtiyur near Madurai. Ramanuja learnt from this saint, His Guru the Moolamantra which when recited would lead the one reciting it, to Moksha, liberation.  The only hitch in this was that, there was a Nibandana, a bond, that it should be taught only to a true disciple, one to one. There was a condition that if it was taught to everybody, while the one who receives the knowledge would attain Moksha, the one who imparts the Mantra, will be denied Moksha.

Ramanuja walked from Kanchipuram to Thirukoshtiyur to the ashram of this guru seeking audience and this Mantra. He was refused audience repeatedly by His Guru, 18 times, before the Guru seeing Ramanuja’s perseverance, relented to impart the Moolamantra to Ramanuja along with the Nibandana that went with it.

On learning the mantra, Ramanuja offered His respects to the Guru and then promptly climbed on to the Gopura, tower of the Thirukoshtiyur temple. He called all the village folk and broadcast this MoolamantraOm Namo Narayana” to everyone.

Hearing of this the Guru admonished Ramanuja for breaking the Nibandana, the bond. Ramanuja obediently asked of His Guru what the punishment would be. The Guru responded that Ramanuja Himself would be denied Moksha for breaking the bond but all those who had now heard the Moolamantra “Om Namo Narayana” and shall chant it, shall attain liberation.

Instead of remorse, Ramanuja was overjoyed on hearing this. He replied to His Guru that if at the cost of Him alone not attaining Moksha, if everyone else would attain Moksha, then He had achieved the purpose of His life.

It is then that the Guru realized the quality of a true guide and teacher as someone who is selfless in teaching and benevolent in nature, having the interest of the pupil, the people and welfare of the society at large, in heart.

With this selfless act, from thereon, He was referred to as Ramanuja Acharya.

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Leading by Walking The Path

The word Guru, etymologically comes from the root Gur, which means to lift, draw up, draw towards. A Guru is one who elevates thoughts, words and deeds of people around. Guru also denotes heaviness as heavy objects tend to pull and Gurutva Akarshana in Samskrt is the phonetic and semantic root for the sound and understanding of Gravity.

If Guru is one who elevates us, an Acharya is one who helps us stay elevated by showing us how to act, to stay elevated. An Acharya leads by action, by example. For, the very word Acharya comes from Achar, Acharam meaning practices, acts.

This land has been fortunate to have been adorned by hundreds and thousands of noble Acharya. Of all these, 3 stand apart for expressing clearly the 3 basic philosophies. Adi Shankara for Advaita, Madhva for Dvaita and Ramanuja for Visishtadvaita.

With His choice of propounding Visishtadvaita as well as His teachings, Ramanujacharya was building the bridge between Dvaita and Advaita.

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Social Engineering

Ramanuja was one who found social discrimination to be incorrect and acted on it to bring in the concept of Thirukulaththor where everybody was regarded as belonging to the same Kula, the lineage that comes from the divine.

Today people speak of social engineering as a new age jargon. What Ramanuja had practically implemented 1000 years ago itself, was way beyond all this jargon.

Temples and Rituals As Tools for Uniting Than Isolating

He established a model keeping the temple as the centre, creating roles for each community around it, finally joining them all through food, prasadam as a SamaPankti bhojana, eating food, sitting as equals in a row. Pankti meaning row and sama is equal.

Every community in the village had an important role to play in the running of the temple. He thereby amalgamated different sections of the society by associating them with a local temple the center of their community.

Every conceivable community such as potter, weaver, carpenter, ironsmith, farmer, oil producer, had their roles carved out to ensure the smooth and successful functioning of the temple.

He thus setup a model that brought in families from different communities, all as one, in service of the divine.

This was a major achievement, executed 1000 years ago, an amalgamation that had stood the test of time till recent years when such a model of using the temple itself as a uniting edifice, was wrecked in the name of “secular” Government policies.  No other social engineering effort of people building, community building and harmonious living has stood the test of time for 1000 years like this.

Quality and Equality

He appealed to people to accord more importance to the quality of a person than the person’s stature or Jati in society. He also walked the path that He preached. Many incidents stand out as shining examples for His equal acceptance of one and all in society.

One was the incident concerning Kanchi Purna, a man belonging to the lower strata of society but who was pious and lived life with the spirit of humanity and devotion. Even when society shunned him and even when Kanchi Purna himself was diffident, Ramanujacharya, moved by Kanchi Purna’s innate qualities and character, begged Kanchi Purna to accept Him as His disciple and gave Kanchi Purna the status of His Guru.

Further, when Ramanujacharya found His own wife practicing social discrimination, He renounced family life and took Sanyasa to dedicate His life wholly to remove such stigma in society. From this was born His multifold strategy

  1. revamping temple, worship and religious customs to include people of all strata by giving all – men and women across Jati, a definite role to play in the daily running of the temple and continuity of religious practices
  2. propounding the Visishtadvaita form of Sri Vaishnavism with focus on Seva of Bhakta,  i.e service to devotees as a form of keeping these customs alive and the society integrated.
Caste and Gender Equality

Yet another instance of Ramanujacharya placing quality and character above Jati or strata can be seen in His appointment of Mudhali i.e forerunners for Sri Vaishnavism. Out of the 74 Mudhali that He appointed, many were not Brahmins and atleast 5 were women.

His life history abounds with narratives of many instances of how Ramanujacharya forced situations to highlight messages of equality by birth, by gender, by vocation, to people.

He once asked a woman from the lower strata to step aside as He walked with His followers. This made her ask of Him, as to how, when surrounded on all sides by the Divine and purity, could anyone be regarded impure in this world, leave alone find an impure place to resign to? As a constant reminder of this message to people for times to come, that everything and everyone in this world is Divine and pure, Ramanuja established a shrine for her in Tiruvali Thirunagari in south India, where this incident took place.

Harmony Across Religions

When Ramanuja was oppressed by a parochial Hindu, Chozha king, He fled to the region of Melkote near Mysore to reestablish His Mutt. Melkote means the fort on the hilltop.

When the Badshash of Delhi attacked the Mysore kingdom, in that war, he also took the idol of Melkote, ThiruNarayana as war booty, back to Delhi.

Ramanuja at a ripe age of 80, went all the way to Delhi, to retrieve the idol back for worship. The daughter of the Delhi Badshah, Laachma Bibi, who had taken a fancy to this idol and was adoring it with all her love, refused to part with it. Ramanuja sang paeans to the idol, cajoled and convinced the young princess to part with it, brought the idol to Melkote and reinstalled it for worship once again.

It was a feat that was thought impossible in those times.

Commemorating this, the idol has since been called Chellappillai meaning the adorable child. There stands a shrine for this Islamic princess who looked after this deity in Delhi and came to Melkote as she could not bear to be separated from this idol. She is known as Bibi Nachiar and the offering made to her is Roti, in line with her tradition.

His consecration of an idol of the Islamic princess Bibi Nachiar as a Divine mother Goddess in Melkote temple is an example of His efforts to integrate people not just across strata but also across religious boundaries.

A Role Model to Emulate

In the demographics of the present, the instructions and examples on inclusive community development and administration from the social engineering practices and models followed by Sri. Ramanujacharya can serve as a beacon.

Infact, one of the leaders of post Independent India, who found Sri Ramanujacharya’s teachings to be relevant for the India, as India has evolved into, was Dr.Babasaheb Ambedkar, who was influenced by Sri Ramanujacharya’s message and His models of social engineering. He openly expressed his acquiescence of Sri Ramanujacharya’s acts, approach and advise in his writings, prominent among them being his editorial in his news magazine Bahishkrit Bharat (Untouchable India) of 3rd June 1927.

An Unique Honour

There are 3 idols of Ramanuja that are specially associated with Him. In the Tamil language, Thirumeni means idol, figurine. Ugandha means be worthy, be right, fit, rise up to occasion, to be suitable.

  • Sri Perumbudur, near Kanchipuram got Thaan Ugandha Thirumeni – an idol that became sanctified on its own while Ramanuja was in Srirangam.
  • Melkote, near Mysore got Tamar Ugandha Thirumeni – an idol that was fashioned and sanctified by Him for His disciples
  • Srirangam, near Trichy got Thanana Thirumeni – an idol that is He, Himself.

He was such a celebrated saint of His times who had codified the worship system itself that post His passing, a life size idol of his form has since been kept in a sitting posture in a shrine in the Prakara, a circumambulatory path of the Srirangam temple complex itself. Such an honour has not been bestowed on any other saint.

A unique honour for a unique saint indeed!

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For being such a distinguished saint, he also earned the title Yati RajaYati etymologically comes from the root ‘Ya’ meaning “to spread”. Yati denotes one who spreads, propounds knowledge or a message. Yati thus stands for a knowledge messenger, a saint. Yati Raja is king among saints.

So, Who was Ramanuja?

It is 1000 years since his birth. But who was the real Ramanuja?

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From A Smartha to A Vaishnava?

Not Dvaiti and Advaiti but A Visishtadvaiti?

A Yati? Or A Raja?

A Guru? Or An Acharya?

A Bashyakara? Or A Vedanti?

A Samskrt Pandit? Or A Tamil Pulavar?

A Poet? Or A Literatur?

A Disciplinarian? Or A Radical?

An Administrator? Or A Community Worker?

A Student? Or A Teacher?

A Seeker? Or A Guide?

A Religious Leader? Or A Social Engineer?

A Humanitarian? Or A Devotee?

Man or Divine?

Through which lens must we see Him?

From which perspective should we understand Him?

With what words can we appreciate Him?

By what acts may we revere Him?

Sarva Desa Dasa Kaleshu Avyahata Parakrama |

Ramanuja Arya Divyajna Vardhatam Abhivardhatam ||

Meaning: Let the most Magnificent instruction of Sri Ramanuja increase and pervade through all countries at all times, without any hindrance.

International Astronomy Day

International Astronomy Day is an event, observed on different dates, every year. This year, it is being observed on April 21st. An opportunity for the common man to interact with those specialized in Astronomy.

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Astronomy, Etymology

The word ‘Astronomy’ is derived from the Greek word ‘Astronomous’ meaning ‘star arranging’.

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Dirghatama

Astronomy is a field India has excelled in. Deergatama is the first Astronomer in the Indian tradition. Dheerga means long and Tama is darkness. An Astronomer is the one who studies for long the darkness – the space.

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Jyotisha

The field of Astronomy is denoted by the term Jyotisha in India. The word Jyotisha comes from the word Jyoti, meaning to illumine. This body of knowledge called Jyotisha is about the astral bodies that emit light, Jyoti.

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Astral Bodies

Ganita Jyotisha and Phalita Jyotisha

The word Jyotisha while being used for Astronomy is also used to denote Astrology.

Astrology is known as Phalita Jyotisha and Astronomy is called Ganita Jyotisha, a mathematical observational science. Astronomy is also known as Siddhantha Jyotisha, an exact science.

Astrology is a predictive field which deals only with the zodiac belt, Rashi belt of stars and the transit of the sun, moon and the five planets namely Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn within this belt and its probable impact on earth and earthlings. In contrast, astronomy deals with the whole sky and not just the zodiac belt. There is nothing predictive in astronomy. It is clearly an observational, mathematical science.

Scientific Aspects in Ganitha Jyotisha

The scientific aspects discussed in Indian Astronomy, Ganita Jyotisha include,

  • Heliocentric view in Indian Astronomy
  • Navagraha
  • Scientific naming of planets and stars
  • Comets
  • Eclipse
  • Parallax
  • Distances in space
  • Horizon
  • Measurement of astral bodies
  • Ashtami/Navami

Heliocentric Model-An Indicator of the advanced Indian Astronomy

The west had adopted the heliocentric model after Galileo proposed it, 400 years ago, and before that it was the geocentric model that was in vogue.

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The Geocentric model

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Galileo

In contrast, the India texts pertaining to Ganitha Jyotisha, the Veda and other texts have all along been mentioning heliocentric model for many millennia.

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The Heliocentric Model

Heliocentric comes from the Greek word Helios, meaning Sun. In this view, the sun is at the centre of everything in the sky. Ganitha Jyotisha, Astronomy with its inclination to accurate recordings has always held the helio-centric view point. This is clearly indicated in a shloka in Rig Veda, compiled over 5000 years ago.

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The Shloka in Rig Veda

According to the above shloka, the moon which is the satellite of the earth revolves around its mother planet and follows it in its revolution around the sun.

This shloka clearly indicates that the people of this country had recorded the helio-centric model, 5000 years ago.

If we see the arrangements of idols in a Navagraha temple, it is always seen that the idol of sun is in the centre, surrounded by the idols of other planets.

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Navagraha shrine with the idol of sun in centre

This again testifies that Indians always knew and followed the heliocentric model. They knew that all the planets revolved around the sun. Hence, the Solar System is called Surya Mallika, Surya meaning Sun.

 ‘Wonders of Indian Astronomy’

More on the Heliocentric Model and the other scientific aspects of Ganitha Jyotisha, Astronomy in our film, ‘Wonders of Indian Astronomy.’

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Science Par Excellence

These collectively show that Indian Jyotisha, Astronomy is a science par excellence that the ancient Indians had developed. Indian astronomers have written a series of astronomical treaties through millennia which form a rich contribution of Indians to the world of astronomical sciences.

Election System in Ancient India

Election season is on. Indians will soon be making a choice on who should lead them. From when did the people of this country get the right to vote and choose their leaders?

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The constituent assembly framed the constitution of India to be republic. Being a republic entails voting by every person – Universal Adult Franchise. All adults above the age of 21 were eligible to vote.

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Jawaharlal Nehru moving the resolution for an independent sovereign republic in the Constituent Assembly

  It is interesting to note that India gave equal voting rights to women in 1951 itself, whereas countries like Switzerland gave voting rights to women only in 1972.

When doubts were raised about whether the illiterate people were capable of voting, Dr. Rajendra Prasad, a member of constituent Assembly, who later became the first President of India gave a fitting reply in the constituent assembly.

His observation is pertinent even to this day, 65 years after his speech.

 The relevant extract being,

“Some people have doubted the wisdom of adult franchise. Personally, although I look upon it as an experiment the result of which no one will be able to forecast today, I am not dismayed by it. I am a man of the village and although I have had to live in cities for a pretty long time, on account of my. work, my roots are still there. I, therefore, know the village people who will constitute the bulk of this vast electorate. In my opinion, our people possess intelligence and commonsense. They also have a culture which the sophisticated people of today may not appreciate, but which is solid. They are not literate and do not possess the mechanical skill of reading and writing. But, I have no doubt in my mind that they are able to take measure of their own interest and also of the interests of the country at large if things are explained to them. In fact, in some respects, I consider them to be even more intelligent than many a worker in a factory, who loses his individuality and becomes more or less a part of the machine Which he has to work. I have, therefore, no doubt in my mind that if things are explained to them, they will not only be able to pick up the technique of election, but will be able to cast their votes in an intelligent manner and I have, therefore, no misgivings about the future, on their account. I cannot say the same thing about the other people who may try to influence them by slogans and by placing before them beautiful pictures of impracticable programmes. Nevertheless, I think their sturdy commonsense will enable them to see things in the right perspective. We can, therefore, reasonably hope that we shall have legislatures composed of members who shall have their feet on the ground and who will take a realistic view of things.”

Did elections in India come in vogue only when the constitution was framed in 1950?

Elections in ancient India have been recorded in the different stories and texts of the land.

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

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Some of the Mahajanapada of Ancient India

These are some of the Janapada, republics of yore that the historians have been able to list. Like this other parts of India also have had their republics. Similarly, to the west of Sindhu River in the west of Afghanistan comprising of present day Pakistan, there were a few such Janapada, republics.

 Among these, one of the mentioned example is Uttaramerur.While the exact election mode in Janapada then is not available, the Uttaramerur inscription is a classic example, of eligible and disqualifiable candidates.

Uttaramerur Inscriptions

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.

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Uttaramerur Inscriptions at Vaikunda Perumal Temple

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D K Hari at the inscription site

The Election System was then established by Royal Order under the Chola King, Parantaka Deva Parkesari Varman who ruled between 907 and 955 CE.

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Chola King Parantaka Deva

As per these inscriptions we learn that, the village assembly, panchayat was formed in Uttaramerur Chaturvedi Mangalam, consisting of 30 wards. The period of the assembly was for one year. The area of operation of the village assembly, panchayat, included Village SabhaGrama Sabha, Garden Sabha – Thotam Sabha and Tank Sabha – Eri Sabha.

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

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English translation of the Uttaramerur inscription

Election Pot

There was an election ballot, a pot, in which the electors polled candidates of their choice with names written on palm leaves. Each person’s preference vote was inscribed on a palm leaf and was dropped into the ballot pot.

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There were also qualifications and disqualifications for contesting an election.

Qualifications for contesting an election

  1. Own more than ¼ th veli of tax paying land

  2. Live in own house

  3. Age 35-70 years

  4. Must know Mantrabrahmana, be well read enough in general knowledge, to teach others

  5. If he owns 1/8th of veli, he must have learnt atleast 1 Veda, Marai, and 1 of the 4 bhasya, i.e. explanation, its Porul, its Artham

  6. Should be conversant with business

  7. Should not have been on any other committee for the last 3 years

Disqualifications for contesting an election

  1. One who has been on any of the committees but has not submitted his accounts.

  2. Following relations of a contestant are also disqualified

  3. The sons of the younger and elder sisters of his mother

  4. The sons of his paternal aunt and maternal uncle

  5. The uterine brother of his mother

  6. The uterine brother of his father

  7. His uterine brother

  8. His father-in-law

  9. The uterine brother of his wife

  10. The husband of his uterine sister

  11. The sons of his uterine sister

  12. The son-in-law who has married his daughter

  13. His father, his son

  1. One against whom incest (agamyagamana) or first four of the five great sins are recorded.

  2. One who is foolhardy

  3. One who has stolen the property of another

  4. One who has committed sins and has become pure by performing expiatory ceremonies

  5. One who is guilty of incest and has become pure by performing expiatory ceremonies

All these persons thus specified, shall not to the end of their lives, have their names written on the pot-ticket, to be put into the pot for any of the committees.

The Contrast

It will be interesting to know that in today’s scenario almost all the politicians who have got ticket to fight in election would be automatically disqualified by this traditional, local law of the land.

Such was the high level of accountability, transparency, morality and ethics in local governance.

It is no wonder that the people were well governed by themselves, by their laws and consequently were prosperous as a civilization which had sustained itself for over 1000 years.

Charles Darwin

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Young Charles Darwin

An illustrious Family

Charles Darwin was born into a religious family. His wife came from the illustrious Wedgewood family, who were well known for making the famous blue China pottery for royalty.

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Chinese Pottery

His mother Susannah Wedgwood, was the daughter of Josiah Wedgwood, the famous potter.

Downe Village

When he grew up, he lived in the countryside, an hour south of London, in the picturisque Downe village. He chose this place as a spot of recuperation from his continuous illness.

Visiting Church, Sitting outside

While Darwin’s wife, Emma Darwin was religious, Darwin wasn’t. This arose partly from his scepticism about Christian theology.

Darwin’s wife, Emma being a devout Christian, used to visit church every Sunday. He used to accompany her to Church as a husband. But while she attended the Church Mass, Darwin sat outside waiting for her.

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Emma Darwin

Today, Charles Darwin’s is remembered as someone who revolutionized science. How did he find such an esteemed place in the annals of scientific world?

Voyage on Beagle

At a young age of 22, Darwin set out on an ocean voyage on the research vessel H M S Beagle. He got this opportunity as one research scholar opted out at the last moment. This chance opportunity that Darwin got, to go on this research vessel, changed his life and subsequently the course of our understanding about evolution.

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The Vessel, H M S Beagle

Christian Theology

Until then, the prevalent view in Europe was that which was dictated by the Christian Theology which states that God created the earth in 7 days, with earth, man and animals in a set sequence.

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Darwin’s Study

During the voyage, Darwin studied various forms of life, right from butterflies, insects, to tortoises, including the famous long living tortoise of Galapagos.

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Galapagos Tortoise

At every port of call, he collected samples and studied them. The ship route covered southern hemisphere, including Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Brazil, lasting for 5 long years.

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The Voyage of the Beagle

On the Origin of Species

After he came back to England from the Voyage, he settled down to write his master piece book, “On the Origin of Species”.

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Charles Darwin’s Book, The Origin of Species

Intitially the publisher was hesitant to print and publish his book.

He was so sure about his theory being accepted that He offered to buy back the 1250 printed copies of the book if they did not sell.

This book soon shook the very foundations of science and Christian theology.

Evolution Day is a celebration to commemorate the anniversary of the initial publication of On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin on 24 November 1859.

Charles Darwin & the Avatar Theory

It is interesting to note that, some aspects of his theory are in sync with the Indian story of evolution.

According to Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, aquatic creatures were the first to come into existence, followed by amphibians and then land creature.

In India, the concept of evolution has been discussed in the sequence of Dasavatara of Vishnu, starting from the fish and evolving all the way to the intellectual human.

Matsya  – A Fish

As the legend goes, when the world was to be engulfed by a Pralaya, dissolution, the Rishi are taken to safety by Vishnu in the form of a large fish.  The fish here is symbolic of life emerging from waters.

Kurma – A tortoise

At a time when there was a tug of war between the Deva, equated with the divine forces and the Asura equated with the demonic forces, they used a mountain for churning the ocean. When this mountain kept slipping, Vishnu in the form of a large tortoise supported the mountain and this allowed the Deva and Asura to complete their churning of the ocean from which emerged the good and bad of the universe. The tortoise here is symbolic of an amphibious life.

Varaha – A Boar

Later in time, when the Earth is held under the oppression of Hiranyaksha, an Asura, a demonic power, Vishnu in the form of a boar, bores through and releases the Earth from captivity. Boar is here symbolic of land based forms of life.

Narasimha – A Beast, man lion

Soon after, Vishnu emerges in the form of a ferocious half man – half lion to wipe out Hiranyakashipu, anotherAsura, whohad terrorised the world. This beast like form is symbolic of man living like a savage.

Vamana – A dwarf

As a dwarf Vamana, Vishnu humbles the ego of another Asura called Mahabali. This form is symbolic of man in his early stages of evolution where thinking and learning sets in.

Parashurama – A hunter

As Parashurama, a hunter, this form of Vishnu highlights the phase of mankind where man lived by hunting and as a forest dweller.

Rama – A leader

The Rama form of Vishnu and the good governance of Rama, showcases the stage when man started living by rules as a disciplined society.

Balarama – A farmer

Vishnu as Balarama, the bearer of a plough, is symbolic of the stage when man took to organized farming, irrigation, cattle rearing and trade as an industry.

Krishna – A strategist

Vishnu as Krishna, highlights the stage when man after the setting in of societal living, industrialization and trade starts to strategize to improve his position.

Kalki – A horse rider

This is an avatar of Vishnu which is yet to come but when it does, is expected to herald the dissolution of the world. In this as a horse rider, Vishnu symbolizes the speed and power which eventually are believed to become the cause of the destruction of the world.

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A Connect

We see here a great connect between Darwin theory and the Indian Avataric concept. While Charles Darwin’s theories challenged the idea of Divinity in the west by propounding an evolutionary origin of humans, the same theory was in line with the Indian concept of Avatars, incarnations of the Divinity Vishnu. The people of this land had understood the concept of evolution even before Darwin.

Great Scientist

Charles Darwin was a great scientist with the similar insight of an Indian Rishi. No wonder, at his death people queued up next to pay their last respects to him, probably one of the longest queue, showing the respect, the common men had for this great man.