International Chess Day

Chess is a game that India gave to the world. It was called Chaturanga in India because it comprised of 4 arms of the army – the infantry represented by the Pawn, the horse cavalry represented by the Knight, the elephant represented by the Rook and the chariot represented by the Bishop.

2

From Ramayana period

While the antiquity of Chaturanga lies in the mists of time, some of the legends suggest that this game was played even during the time period of Ramayana. Mandodari, the wife of Ravana, the king of Lanka, is said to have played a game of war movement strategies.

1

Mandodari and Ravana playing chess – An Artist Impression

A Sindhi Legend

Chaturanga has been in India for a very long time. There is an interesting legend from Sindh to this end.

Rishi Shashi took the 64 squares of the chess board to the then king of Sindh, Raja Bhalit. He asked the king to give him 1 grain for the 1st square and double it to 2 grains for the 2nd and double it to 4 grains for the 3rd, and to repeat it and double it to 16 grains for the 5th square.

                          
          Raja Bhalit                        Rishi Shashi
Rishi Shashi                                                Raja Bhalit

The king, considering this to be a childish request, conceded to this request. Little did he realize that by the 16th square, all the grains in his granary had to be put forth and by the 24th square, all the grains from his land had to be bequeathed to the Rishi.

Chess1Chess2

               Chess3Chess4

This incident became the talk of the kingdom and the popularity of the 64 square game spread far and wide.

The Persian Connect

This game was then taken to Persia during the reign of King Cosroe 1 Noshirwan Adel of the Sasanian Dyansty who ruled between the years 531 and 579 CE.

The king who introduced Chess is named in Persian sources as Deva Sharma.

View image on Twitter

An ancient Persian painting depicts an Indian ambassador (shown in dark skin) introducing Chess to Persians in the Pre Islamic Sassanid court.

As a reciprocatory gesture, King Cosroe sent the Persian game Nard to India.

One of the distinct features that the modern game chess has with Persia is the final move in the game of chess, ‘Checkmate’, which comes from the Persian word, “shah Mat”, meaning ‘the king is dead’.

king

Vedanta Desika

Another interesting reference to Chess can be taken from South India, in Kancheepuram. About 750 years ago, there lived a philosopher, poet par excellence called Swami Vedanta Desika. He composed two verses with each verse consisting of 32 Aksharas.

Chess board as a base on which 64 aksharas (letters) were laid one each on each square, was one such type of his composition. The cipher was the movement of the chess pieces.

For example, in a cipher based on the movement of the horse, each time a horse moved on the chess board in its unique pattern, those aksharas resulted in the birth of a new poem, with a new meaning.

7

One of the ciphers, encoded using Chess board and the moves of a horse but making a valid well meaning sentence

8

The encoded verse, placed on the chess board

9

The moves of the horse applied for decoding the verse

10

The decoded verse containing the same letters but in a different sentence with a different meaning

Vedantha Desika

Vedantha Desika

This sort of poetry writing is known as Chithra Bhandhana. It requires a high degree of felicity in a poet to be able to arrange letters thus on a 64 square board.

That the poet Swami Vedantha Desika had used the chess board as a frame for his poem and the unique L shaped movement of the horse as per the rules of present day chess game, clearly tells us that the chess board and the rules of the movement of the horse had been a common knowledge in this land even 800 years ago.

More on Chess in our book, Brand Bharat – Roots In India.

11

Thus we see that the game of chess, its components and usage have been an integral part of this land from North West to South, through the ages.

The ancient game, Chaturanga, modernised to chess, is a game that India thus shared with the modern world.

This game in early Samskrt works is also referred to as Kshatra Mruta. Kshatra comes from the word “Kshatriya”, meaning warrior. Kshatra here indicates the training session for the Kshatriya. Mruta comes from the word, “Mrtyu”, which means death. This was a game that taught war strategy to wipe out an enemy army.

In Amarakosa, this game is referred to as Ashta Pada, the 8 steps. There is an exclusive Samskrt text called Chaturanga Dipika which describes in detail the game of chess in its early form. It is from this text that we get the name Chaturanga.

Later in some of the other works, this game has also been referred to as Buddhibala, Buddhi meaning “Brain” and Bala, “Strength”. Such a name is indeed an apt tribute to the talent, intellect and logical reasoning that this game demands.

Advertisements

World Emoji Day

We all are familiar with the Emojis, the smileys of varied expressions that we exchange over the digital platform. These Emojis help us convey our emotions and is a popular form of communication. Emoji is all about speaking of emotion.

The word Emoji is borrowed from the Japanese, wherein E stands for an image and Moji for a character. Emojis are images that depict a character. They convey an idea or an emotion as an ideogram, and exist over various genres including facial expressions, common objects, places, weather and animals.

While Emoji is a modern term, these form of expressions existed over many centuries and millennia.

Five Modes of Written Communication

There are five main modes of written communication that had developed over the millennia.

  1. Ideographic
  2. Pictographic
  3. Syllabic
  4. Alphabetic
  5. Hieroglyphs
Ideographic

An ideograph is a symbol that represents an idea or a concept, independent of language and specific words.

Pictographic

Pictograph is an ideograph that conveys its meaning through its physical resemblance to the physical object.

Hieroglyphs

Hieroglyphs are a combination of alphabets, syllables and images, with many distinct characters forming a script, of communication.

Syllabic

Syllabic form of communication consists of specific syllables conveying a meaning.

Alphabetic

Alphabetic form of communication, consists of specific alphabets, through which words and sentences are formed, giving form to a language through which one communicates.

Emojis and Communication in Ancient India

It is also interesting to known that emojis were also used in ancient India.

Harappa and Mohenjodaro Script

The ancient Indian civilizations of Harappa and Mohenjodaro had used ideograms. Thus this way of expression with ideograms was practiced by Indians 5000 years back itself. This method of communication is now known as Rebus.

Meluhha / Mlechha hieroglyphs

Meluhha is the Sumerian name of a prominent trading partner of Sumer. The historians most commonly associate them with the Sindhu Sarasvati Civilization. In Samskrt and the scripts of this civilization, they were known as Mlechha, dating around 3000 BCE. Mlechha hieroglyphs document ancient trade on Tin Road from Malhar, Uttar Pradesh, India to Haifa, an ancient port of Israel. The script transcribes Proto-Indian speech of Mlechha language glosses. Rebus cipher of Mlechha provide plaintext readings of hieroglyphs and prove that cipher text rebus renderings detail traded resources and processes of ancient times, mostly stone, mineral, metal and alloyed artifacts as catalogs in Mlechha language.

Dr. S Kalyanaraman has done pioneering work on this, and has documented the same in his book, Indus Script.

Emoji 1

Dr. S. Kalayanaraman

Emoji 2

Epigraphia Indus Script

Kalidasa

This is what the great poet Kalidasa in his work Raghuvamsa speaks about how communication should be. In this work, there is an invocation addressed to Parvati Parameshwara, where he asks them for blessing so that he can communicate what he wants to.

Emoji 3

The person who wants to communicate has a three step process,

  1. Think
  2. Mean
  3. Speak

 

The person who receives the message has also a three step process

  1. Listen
  2. Understand
  3. Assimilate

Emoji 4

So what the great poet Kalidasa is asking is, to give him felicity to communicate and reach his message to the receiver of communication at all three levels.

What we call modern understanding has been understood and sought as a blessing to communicate.

Kamban

This is the same thing that the Tamil poet, Kamban who wrote Ramayana, popularly known as Kambaramayanam.

Emoji 6

Kamban

Today, in the smartphone world, we are reapplying the same method of communication and giving it a new name, a more current name and calling it Emoji. This form of communication has come a full circle in 5000 years.

World Emoji Day

World Emoji Day is celebrated every year on July 17th, with Emoji events and programs. On this Emoji day let us know that this form of communication has existed across times and across places, and popularize it with ever new Emoji across the digital platform.

Ways of a Guru

A Guru for All

In Indian thought, the word for anyone or any force that is capable of lifting – people, things, thoughts etc. is denoted by the root word Gur from which we get

  • Guru for a teacher and guide – one who lifts one’s quality of life and thoughts,
  • Gurutva Akarshana for gravity – that which attracts and prevents lift off / drift away,
  • Gaurav for pride – which is a form of a lifted ego, etc.

3 Women and Their 3 Ways To Their Guru

3 Strong Women of the Kuru Dynasty

The Mahabharata, in many ways can be seen to have been steered by the influence of 3 powerful women.

  1. Satyavati – the widowed wife of King Shantanu, who strove hard to revive the Kuru lineage when both her sons died with no heirs
  2. Kunti – the daughter-in-law of Satyavati and widowed wife of King Pandu, whose return to the Kuru kingdom with the 5 sons of King Pandu, the 5 Pandava, post her husband’s death in the forest, sparked off jealousy and feud between heirs of the Kuru lineage
  3. Draupadi – the daughter-in-law of Kunti and wife to the 5 Pandava, whose physical abuse and ensuing vow kept the fires of revenge raging among the heirs of the Kuru lineage, finally leading to one of world’s most bitter wars for the throne of the Kuru kingdom, that too within the very same Kuru lineage, at the end of which, were hardly left any offsprings in the next generation to carry on the lineage.

1

Satyavati, Kunti and Draupadi

It then needed Krishna, to work out ways to revive atleast one offspring from an entire Kuru lineage of over 108 descendants who went to battle.

The rest is history. It is indeed the history of this land called Bharat, India.

Each of these 3 women were the daughters-in-law of the Kuru dyanasty.

Each of these 3 women had turned to a Krishna then, for counsel.

2

Krishna

Satyavati

Satyavati had turned to her premarital son Krishna Dwaipayana, more popularly and reverentially known as Veda Vyasa, for help.

Krishna Dwaipayana is considered in Indian thought as an incarnation of the Divinity Vishnu. Across the last 5 millennia since the Mahabharata period, this Krishna Dwaipayana has been held as the Muni Sreshta and Guru Sreshta, by all, for His compilation of the Veda and Purana, the guiding works of India. His birthday has since, been celebrated as Guru Poornima.

3

Veda Vyasa

But, Satyavati had turned to Krishna Dwaipayana, not as a great seer alone, but as an affectionate mother who was in despair. It was a grave situation then in the light of absence of heirs to the Kuru lineage and it gave way to intense discussions on the course of Dharma to be followed by Bheeshma, Satyavati and Krishna Dwaipayana inorder to find a way out.

It was a situation that had pitted marriage and Dharma into contrasts where,

  1. in the case of Bheeshma, it was the decision to stay celibate, conflicting with Dharma to break the vow and create progeny, for the sake of extending the Kuru lineage.
  2. in the case of Satyavati, it was the ambitious condition of right to the Kuru kingdom in return for marriage, conflicting with Dharma to release Bheeshma from his already effected vow, for the sake of extending the Kuru lineage
  3. in the case of Vyasa, it was his vows give in marriage to his wife conflicting with the Dharma of having to heed to the request of his mother Satyavati, to create progeny through other women, for extending the Kuru lineage.

It was finally the Guru Sreshta, Veda Vyasa, who had resolved the problem for Satyavati, Bheeshma and the Kuru dynasty through his selfless action.

Kunti

Kunti had turned to her nephew Krishna, the eighth son of her cousin Vasudeva and his wife Devaki, for help. This Devakiputra Krishna was held by all as a Maha Acharya, a great teacher since He was a Veda Acharya and a Yoga Acharya. This is why Krishna was also referred to as Yogeshwara. He always showed the way out, to whoever approached Him with sincerity and humility.

Kunti had approached Krishna with awe and humility, as a Divinity. For a continued association with this Divine Yogeshwara, she was also prepared to keep facing ordeals one after another, which would give her the chance to seek Him out each time.

Draupadi

Draupadi too had turned to Devakiputra Krishna for help.

Devakiputra Krishna was held by a few as a trustworthy, dependable, unfailing friend. Draupadi and the 5 Pandava were among the select few who enjoyed such a relationship with Krishna and Draupadi led the list with her complete surrender and faith in her friend, Krishna.

Krishna had never failed her.

Myriad Ways To The Divine Counsel

We thus see the 3 prime movers of Mahabharata, themselves turning to the Guru Tattva in the form of one Krishna or the other, for help. But each had approached for guidance in their own way, from their own perspective and their own emotion.

The Guru Tattva too, had heeded to all their varied pleas, in its own way –

  • as a philosopher cum seer with Satyavati,
  • as a Divine counsel with Kunti and
  • as a soul friend for Draupadi, answering even silent calls  from the heart.

Mahabharata has thus placed before us various ways in which someone who is sought after for counsel and help, has been approached – with commanding love, with awe and humility and with total faith.

In all 3 cases, the counsel and help rendered, has lifted them up from that doom.

Though Satyavati, Kunti and Draupadi had been the 3 strong women of the powerful Kuru dynasty, they had also needed a Guru and through their conduct towards such a guide, they had shown how a Guru, the Guru Tattva can take the form of a friend, a philosopher and a guide depending on each one’s mental makeup, how each one relates to the Guru Tattva and approaches his / her Guru.

Is it with commanding love, is it in despair, is it with awe and humility, is it with admiration, is with respect or is it with complete trust?

There is a Guru to answer all such calls and there will always be a need for a Guru by all.

Arjuna’s Need for a Guru

As the narrations of Mahabharata go, when Arjuna throws down his bow in despair on seeing that the army he has to fight with, comprises of none others than his Guru, elders of his family, cousins and friends, it puts Krishna in greater despair.

Krishna finds Himself in a fix now.

He had promised Draupadi, that even though He would not lift any arms in the war, in accordance with the word He had given to Duryodhana, He would ensure that the wrong done unto Draupadi is set right.

Now, if Arjuna refused to fight with the Kaurava, how would the world see right from the wrong?

How would Krishna be able to face Draupadi?

A Guru’s Need Too

Traditional narrators cite here, how it is the thought of Draupadi at this instant, which makes Krishna resolve to teach Arjuna the concepts of the 4 principles that sustain existence namely, Dharma, Artha, Kama, Moksha.

This motivation, resolution and trigger for Krishna Himself, is what makes Him liver the greatest of all counsels, the Bhagavad Gita, the song of the Divine.

4.jpg

Bhagavad Gita Upadesha

This episode shows that a Guru too needs atleast one soul who looks up to him / her.

For otherwise, where is the outlet for all the selfless love, knowledge, counsel and help that a Guru is a reservoir of?

Who can the Guru lift then?

With the advent of every Guru, also arrives on earth atleast one worthy follower.

A Guru-Sishya pair is an eternal, ever complementing one.

This is why there had to be a Nara for Narayana and an Arjuna for Krishna.

The pinnacle however has been the case of a Draupadi for Krishna, who signified a total surrender with faith and got an unfailing upliftment in return.

Eclipse: An Ancient Indian Perspective

An eclipse occurs when the sun is obscured by the moon or the moon comes under the shadow of the earth.

Lunar Eclipse

A Lunar Eclipse occurs when the moon comes under the shadow of the Earth.

 1

A Lunar Eclipse – Earth’s shadow falling on the moon

Solar Eclipse

A Solar Eclipse occurs when the sun is obscured by the Moon.

2

A Solar Eclipse – Moon hiding the Sun

Around 5 to 6 eclipses happen every year.

Recordings of eclipses are available in texts, temple inscriptions, copper plates and legends of the land.

In the Veda

The Veda are considered to be the oldest literature of mankind available today. One among the 4 Veda is the Rig Veda. In this text, in verses 5.40.5 to 9.

A Solar Eclipse- Svarbhanu

It states that, “Svarbhanu, i.e Solar Eclipse etymologically meaning a powerful phenomenon which takes away the splendour of the heavens, occurs, leaving the world bewildered.”

Rishi Atri, the first observer of Eclipse

Atri, the seer or Dhrishta, who observed this eclipse and understood the phenomenon of eclipse, is explaining it to the world through these Vedic verses.”

This makes Rishi Atri, probably the earliest astronomer to have expounded on eclipses for posterity.

3

Vedic Rishi Atri, observing an Eclipse

In Ramayana

Notable amongst the celestial events mentioned in the Ramayana is the description of the solar eclipse that occurred on the day of the fight between Rama, the hero of the epic and the two demons Khar and Dushan.

4

5

Solar eclipse on the day of the Khar – Dushan Episode in Ramayana

Searching for this eclipse using the Planetarium Software and the planetary configuration listed in the text, experts have dated this event to 7th October, 5077 BCE or over 7100 years ago, making this eclipse, perhaps one of the earliest recorded eclipses.

This date is substantiated by the internal consistency seen in the dates of other events arrived at by the Planetarium software using the description of the sky configuration from the Ramayana text, their sequence and elapse time between these dates tallying with the sequence and gap between the events as mentioned in the text as well.

Through the times, we see a continuity in the understanding and recording of eclipses.

Why were our ancients interested in eclipses? Why did they learn to predict eclipses?

Dos and Donts surrounding eclipse

We see, there are many elaborate dos and donts surrounding eclipses which have been a tradition of this civilization. Some interesting ones that have continued to this day are

  • eating food atleast 4 to 6 hours before an eclipse and not carrying forward food cooked prior to an eclipse
  • the use of Dharba grass to protect food items and other perishables
  • protection of pregnant women from the rays of sun during solar eclipses
  • not seeing solar eclipse with the naked eye

Advice for Pregnant Women

Scientists have shown today how during a Solar Eclipse, the amount of Ultra Violet rays and other cosmic rays reaching the earth are higher. These rays are harmful to the foetus. Hence pregnant women were advised to cover themselves and stay indoors during an eclipse to protect the foetus from these rays. Even today pregnant women are advised to stay away from radiation exposure of all kinds for example X Rays.

Contamination of Food

The increased exposure to such rays also contaminates food. Carrying forward of food cooked before an eclipse is therefore not advisable. Further more, there is the need to ensure that all food in one’s stomach is digested before the start of an eclipse.

Using Dharba grass

The antidote for preventing the food from contamination by radiation has been the practice of covering food with Dharba grass. This points to our ancients having used the Dharba grass as a shield to absorb the unwanted radiations in the atmosphere, especially those arising during eclipses.

Dharba grass absorbs X Rays

Nascent, independent research on Dharba grass has revealed its ability to absorb X Rays. These early finds make Dharba grass a very promising field of study.

We see a good grasp of astronomy, physics, biology and mathematics all rolled into the practice of predicting eclipses and the traditions followed during an eclipse. This holds good for a host of other astronomical observations and traditions followed too.

Donations During Eclipses

De Dhaan Chute Grahan – is a slogan one got to hear on the streets about 4 to 5 decades, during the time of eclipses.

It means Give Alms To Release The Eclipsed.

It was a common practice in India to give donations during eclipses and other cosmological events such as:

Ayana, Solstices – Dakshinayana, Summer Solstice and Uttarayana, Winter Solstice

  1. Vishnuvrata Equinoxes – Mesha Vishu, Vernal Equinox and Tula Vishu, Autumnal Equinox
  2. Grahana, Eclipses – Surya Grahana, Solar eclipse and Chandra Grahana, Lunar eclipse
  3. Amavasya, New Moon
  4. Yugadi, New Year

Many explain that such Dhana were given in the superstitious belief that the donor will gain relief from the evil forces that were capable of even devouring the Sun and the Moon.

On the contrary, we find from traditional literature that the people were well aware of the scientific nature of these cosmological events. They could predict their occurrences due to their understanding of the motions of the earth, moon and various planets as well as their proficiency in Mathematics, which is needed to model these motions and calculate dates for their occurrences in advance.

Dhana for noble causes was given on these significant days as these days were considered as markers of time and hence would be easily remembered over time.

Every king, landlord, zamindar, royalty made it a point to give Dhana every year from their accumulated wealth. Various kings like Krishnadevaraya, Harshavardhana and others, repeatedly gave Dhana every year and during such events as eclipses.

Many temple inscriptions speak about such Dhana, endowments made to the temple and thereby to the people at large, on the occasion of eclipses.

Eclipses continue to happen and many just ignore them. Inscriptions continue to remain as evidences of the ones gone by but are hardly known to many.

The request for alms on eclipses are no longer heard on the streets. Neither are there donors, nor are there receivers on this day.

But misconceptions about the Indian perception of eclipses continue to loom large in everyone’s minds.

More on Eclipses in our book, Triple Eclipse.

Image result for triple eclipse bharath gyan

World Snake Day

1

Revered and Feared

Snakes are both feared and revered. While the venom of a snake can take away one’s life, venom is also collected to counter poison in treatments.

1

Snake venom being extracted

Snake venom being extracted

Snakes are diverse, found across the world, except in Antarctica. There are around 3000 species of snakes in the world, living in diverse ecosystems like deserts, mountains, forests, rivers, lakes and oceans.

However, it is to be noted that only about 24% of world’s snakes are poisonous. Moreover, maximum snake bites have happened only when humans stepped on these creatures.

Snakes are ecological predators that keep the rodent population in check.

A day for snakes

World Snake Day is an occasion to study and protect these creatures, considered dangerous, but nevertheless admired. On this day, many snake conservationist hope to create awareness among people and dispel their fears and misunderstanding about this marvellous reptile. Many programs, including seminars, talks and plays are held for the same.

1

Snake, a popular concept

A Snake is a popular concept across all ancient civilizations. The Mediterranean civilizations, the Indians, the Cambodians and the Mayans revere the concept of a snake.

In Mediterranean

In the Mediterranean coastal plains, a Phoenician deity called Eshmum, the God of Medicine has serpent for his symbol.

2

The symbol of professional medicine

3

God Eshmum holding a stick with coiled snake

In Egypt

In the Egyptian civilization snake was attributed with life giving powers, particularly due to its nature of shedding skin and thereby exhibiting a “New Body” continually.

In India

In India, snakes are adored along with many Divinities. Lord Vishnu’s couch is a snake. Lord Shiva wears snake as an ornament. Lord Ganesha has a snake for the sacred thread.

Anantha, Infinity

Narayana, the primordial divinity, who lies in the cosmic water in a quiescent state, is always depicted in a reclining form on the bed of a coiled snake called Adi Sesha in literature, sculpture and all other art forms.

This multihooded snake represents Infinity in the ancient Indian thought and perhaps goes to form the basis for the symbol  for infinity and the root for the word “infinite” too.

17

Anantha, Infinity

Anantha denotes the infinite number of cycles of Creation, Dissolution and Recreation of the Universe.

More on this in our book and Film, Creation – Srishti Vignana.

5

Vasuki, Alertness

Shiva wears a snake around his neck as an ornament, which is known as Shankarabaram, and which symbolizes alertness.

18

 Lord Shiva wearing snake as garland

In Carnatic music, there is Ragam called Shakamabarnam. Like the way snake slithers and moves, the Raga intertwines.

Intertwined Snakes in Villages

The fusion of two giving rise to life is reflected in the basic building block of every life form, namely the DNA.

The double helical, intertwined structure of the DNA reflects this aspect of the separate but inseparable components of life. Shiva – Shakthi as Ardha Nari represent the source of life, Shiva being the potential for manifestation for life with Shakthi being the trigger and energy behind the creation of life.

Many would have noticed small stone idols of double helical intertwined snake under trees in temples and villages in India, which represent Shiva and Shakthi. There is an age old custom in India where people pray to this idol of a double helical snake in order to beget a child.

7

                                DNA                       Praying to double helical Naga

More on this in our book and film, Understanding Shiva.

        8

This double helical intertwined snake represents the Indian view and understanding of Shiva and Shakthi and their roles in creation, procreation and re-creation.

Naga Panchami

Nag Panchami is a festival celebrated in the month of Aashada or Shravan as per the Indian calendar, dedicated to snakes. This festival is also known as Garuda Panchami, Garuda being an eagle.

9

Eagle and Snake, Arch Enemies

Both snake and eagle are arch enemies. How come there is a festival on the same day for these 2 arch rivals?

 More on this in our article on Naga Panchami:

https://bharathgyanblog.wordpress.com/2014/08/01/naga-panchami-garuda-panchami/

In Inca Civilization

In the ancient American Inca civilization too, they worshipped Naga and Garuda.

Carlos A.Irigoyen Forno, of Peru is a descendent of the Incas of South America.

He too has researched on this subject and his statement based on his research reads as,

The Incas, who are part of the tribal population of Peru, share many things in common with Hindus; they have the same belief in Sun and Moon worship, besides worshipping Garuda and Snake”.

More on this in our book – 2012 – The Real Story.

Kaliya, Pollution

The story of Kaliya Nardhan, where Krishna subdues and dances on the snake Kaliya is one of the popular stories around Krishna’s childhood.

Krishna and His friends were grazing their cows when one of the cows went to the riverside to drink water from the river Yamuna. Soon it dropped dead from water poisoning.

Krishna’s uncle Kamsa had been sending his emissaries on and off to kill Krishna and they too had tried various methods to kill Him, but in vain. So, many thought that this must be another ploy of Kamsa but soon realized that the culprit behind the poisoning of the Yamuna was Kaliya, the dreaded Naga, snake.

The friendly waters of the Yamuna soon became green and nobody could go near the Yamuna any longer. Krishna seized of this, entered the water to seek out and rout out Kaliya.

The people of Braj were shocked and anxious at Krishna’s dare. Krishna’s father Nandagopa and mother Yashoda came running in panic, worried about what would happen to their dear son. The whole village assembled on the banks of the river and everyone started pleading with Krishna to return to the shore.

Krishna however waded further and sought out Kaliya. A fierce struggle ensued between Kaliya and Krishna. At one point, both Krishna and Kaliya disappeared beneath the waters. People on the bank prayed with bated breath.

Krishna suddenly emerged from the waters, dancing on the hood of the fierce Kaliya, holding Kaliya’s tail in His hand.

Seeing her husband in this plight, Kaliya’s wife emerged from the waters and pleaded with Krishna, not to harm Kaliya but to let them off, so that they could go away somewhere far off and not disturb the people of Braj anymore.

Krishna let Kaliya and his family off and peace returned to Braj. The waters of the Yamuna sparkled once again. Krishna and His friends returned to their favourite pastime of grazing and playing by the Yamuna.

This incident of Krishna subduing Kaliya has come down as Kalinga Nardhana, one of the popular tales around Krishna’s childhood.

It has found a place in everyone’s heart and in almost all homes in India through millennia in some form of art or the other, including song and dance.

This legend of Kaliya has to be understood and internalized beyond the miracle and beauty of Krishna’s dance on the hood of a venomous snake.

10

Krishna dancing on Kaliya

Even today, there are people who continue to poison our waters with modern day pollutants and garbage. They are the “Kaliya” of today, who need to be identified and suitable steps taken to rescue our water bodies from the inconsiderate acts of such Kaliya.

Aghasura

Krishna is also slays another snake, Aghasura, during His childhood. Aghasura, associated with the form of a huge snake, was a friend of Bakasura and Putana and was dispatched by Kamsa to poison and kill Krishna when He was a child. Krishna in turn slays this Asura snake.

11

Krishna and Aghasura, Image Courtesy – Iskcon

More on this in our book, Historical Krishna.

Samudra Manthan

Another legend relating to a snake ingrained in the cultural fabric of this land is the Samudra Manthan. When Deva and Asura decided to churn the Ocean, they used a snake called Vasuki as rope to move the Mandara peak, to secure Amrita.

19

Samudra Manthan

In Cambodia

This Samudra Manthan legend has found a place even in other countries. The capital city of the then Cambodian Khemer kingdom was designed and built on the concept of Samudra Manthan.

6

The huge snake idol in Cambodia

In Thailand

In the new airport named Suvarana Bhumi in Thailand, Bangkok, the central theme is of a gigantic Samudra Manthan.

15

Samudra Manthan in Suvarna Bhumi Airport

In Buddhism

The snake is also revered in Buddhism. At Bodha Gaya, Buddha is shown as sitting on the coils of a snake, Mucalinda. The serpent is supposed to have protected Buddha from the elements of Nature.

16

Buddha statue at Bodha Gaya

In Christianity

In Christianity however, snake is considered evil. A snake is said to have tempted Eve to eat the forbidden apple.

17

A snake tempting Eve

In Islam

Similarly, in Islam, a snake symbolizes struggle with misfortune and remorse.

Multidimensional

Like this, the snakes symbolize positive factors like fertility, protection, healing, transformation, alertness, infinity. They also represent negative factors like pollutants, temptation, misfortune and other qualities, based on one’s belief. These contrary values goes to show the multidimensionality of snakes viewed from the radars of different civilizations and faith.

Cannot ignore snakes

It can be seen that, snakes are not just physically everywhere, but seem to pervade almost every thought, land, civilization and religion.

We just cannot ignore snakes and more so on this Snake Day.

Vyasa of Veda – Compilation of the Veda, Where and When?

It was at the crossroads of time. It was towards the end of Dwapara Yuga and the start of Kali Yuga. It was the time when King Shantanu, the Kuru king who had ruled Hastinapura ably for years was nearing his end.

The Vedic knowledge that had come that far in time through many millennia prior to their times, was strewn all around and was becoming unwieldy. They were spread all over the land right from Afghanistan to Burma. The Veda Samhita composed by the various Rishi over millennia were also numerous.

It was a huge body both in terms of geographical spread as well as the number of verses. There was a popular saying –

Ananta Vai Vedah,

Veda are endless, infinite.

Also Kurukshetra which had been the region of many prominent Vedic ashrams, that had kept the Vedic tradition alive, was in a state of wilderness as the ashrams had been wiped out in an attack from the near west. The Rishis had relocated themselves from the banks of the river Sarasvati to the banks of other rivers such as the Yamuna and the Ganga.

Rishi Krishna Dwaipayana’s father, Rishi Parasara, who had attempted to consolidate all the 4 Veda and restore Kurukshetra, as the land where the Vedic tradition had flourished, was no more.

Krishna Dwaipayana, who was extraordinarily gifted with skills to learn the Veda even as a young child, committed himself to the cause initiated by his late father, of compiling all the 4 Veda for posterity and restoring Kurukshetra to its glory.

Using his winful ways, he secured the patronage of the Kuru dynasty of Hastinpura to accomplish his mission.

He convinced King Shantanu to perform the Vajapeya Yagna, one among the supreme endeavours along with the Rajasuya Yagna and Ashwamedha Yagna. These were Yagna that could only be conducted by those who had an emperor status as the efforts and resources required for conducting such Yagna were enormous.

vedavyasa1

To restore Kurukshetra to its original state, Krishna Dwaipyana chose it as the venue for the Vajapeya Yagna, so that it would be cleared and made habitable once again. Since the Yagna would attract many Veda practitioners, Krishna Dwaipayana also used this Yagna as an opportunity to create an assemblage of Rishi and get the Kuru dynasty to commission a project of compiling all the Vedic knowledge that had come that far in time.

He commissioned a gathering of Rishi to compile all the scattered Veda into a structured collection.

On the request of Krishna Dwaipayana therefore, an august gathering of Vedic Rishis from all across the lands was convened, to compile all the Veda into a structured collection and give it a formal body. It was commissioned by King Shantanu, as a formal project, supported by the Kuru kingdom. After the death of King Shantanu soon after this announcement, Bheeshma, the son of King Shantanu, who had taken over as regent on behalf of Vichitraveerya, the son of King Shantanu and Queen Satyavati, provided the necessary support to see this project through.

Under this patronage, Rishi Krishna Dwaipayana embarked on the onerous task of compiling all the Veda Samhita that was available during his times and giving a format, a structure to this body of knowledge. He assumed the role of the compiler-in-chief for this project called the Shrauta Satra, which went on uninterrupted, for the next 12 years in Kurukshetra, thus restoring it back as a Dharmakshetra even much before the Gita was delivered by Krishna to Arjuna before the start of the big, bloody war there, many years later.

Veda Vyasa 1

This region, Kurukshetra can be unambiguously identified with the region around the town by the same name today, in the state of Haryana. This has been made possible due to the identification of the path of the lost river, Sarasvati and the innumerous archaeological sites along its banks – sites which were locations of the flourishing, vedic,  Sindhu-Sarasvati civilization and its various Ashrams.

vedavyasa3

History of the Veda is therefore not hazy. The details are intrinsic in the ancient texts of the land.  There is clarity on

  • the person who commissioned its compilation – King Shantanu,
  • the compiler in chief – Rishi Krishna Dwaipayana,
  • the benefactor who saw this project through – Bheeshma
  • the time frame when it was carried out – after the death of King Shantanu,
  • the duration for which the compilation went on – 12 years,
  • the geography for the assemblage of the vedic scholars who compiled it – Kurukshetra,
  • the purpose for this effort of compilation – structuring and preservation of the Veda.

This was the grand act of Veda compilation, for which Rishi Krishna Dwaipayana was bestowed with the title “Veda Vyasa”, the compiler of the Veda and the Kurukshetra region came to shine again as Dharmakshetra, the region which was the source of Dharma, in the form of Veda, the guide to knowledgeable living.

1

The name given to Krishna Dwaipyana on his birth, had two parts – Krishna denoting “one with a dark complexion” and Dwaipayana meaning “the island born”. Krishna Dwaipayana has been one of the most erudite sons of India who has enlightened humanity with his act of compiling the Veda.

The Veda have gone through such compilations periodically and each time the one who takes on the onus of collecting and putting them together for their times, is called a Vyasa, meaning compiler. Krishna Dwaipayana was the 28th such Vyasa. Each Vyasa compiled it into a body, for the needs of their times and future.

Using astronomical data embedded in the Mahabharata itself, we are able to date the Kurukshetra war to 22nd November 3067 BCE. From the narrative in the work and other corroborating works, we can draw a broad chronology of major events in the Mahabharata as follows.

vedavyasa4

This chronology indicates that Bheeshma, the grand sire of the Kuru dynasty must have been about 90 years old at the time of the Kurukshetra war, i.e in 3067 BCE.

It also indicates that Bheeshma must have been between 16 and 33 years of age at the time of King Shantanu’s demise. It was during this period, that on behalf of the Kuru dynasty and King Shantanu’s promise to Krishna Dwaipayana, Bheeshma patronized the compilation of the Veda by Krishna Dwaipayana and the assemblage of Rishi at Kurukshetra.

Veda Vyasa 2

From these milestone events, we can fix the period in Indian history when this monumental act was last undertaken by Rishi Krishna Dwaipayana, as between 3141 BCE and 3129 BCE – about 5100 years ago.

What comes out very clear in all this, is the single minded commitment of Krishna Dwaipayana – Veda Vyasa, towards the preservation of the Veda. The whole compendium of Veda as we have it today, is because he gave it a form, a shape and a technique of storage that has survived the onslaught of time and has been recited by generations of Vedic scholars since then.

At the end of this compilation, Veda Vyasa and team gave us the Veda which had 1130 Shakha, recensions. Today, we are left with only 10 Shakha that can be traced. 1120 Shakhas have been lost in the passage of time.

vedavyasa5

These 10 too seem to be struggling for survival.

Knowledge always needs redaction ever so often to keep it current with the state of the civilization.

India, the land called Bharath, had recognized this aspect as evident from the fact that the Veda itself had gone through so many redactions.

Little wonder, since its name Bharath denotes a land where people relish knowledge. Bha means knowledge and ratha denotes one who relishes knowledge.

Guru Poornima

GP1

Guru Poornima festival is celebrated every year around July-August.

It is the Poornima, full moon day, on which we pay our obeisance to our Guru and through him to our Guru Parampara of this land, this civilization. This civilization has its ethos coming down to us over the last five thousand years or more, not because of the kings who ruled or administered this land, but primarily because of the various Gurus who came generation after generation, in different parts of this land. Gurus who have nurtured the civilization, given solace to the troubled minds and who given a continuity to the ethos of this land.

Why do we celebrate Guru Poornima, in the monsoon months of July – August?

The answer to this question, is embedded in the question itself, as is, in many of the questions of this land. India is a monsoon fed land and in the four months from June to September, the rain spreads all over the land. This heavy rain during these four months makes it difficult for people to travel from one place to another. This aspect of the annual rains, perforce makes one stay put in one place. This feature of nature was used by the various Gurus, through the ages, through the land to observe their Chaturmasya vrata.

What is this Chaturmasya vrata?

The word Guru comes from the Samskrit root meaning “to attract”, “to draw.” It shares the root with the word Gurutva meaning Gravity or the attraction force of any body.

A Guru draws people with his radiant knowledge and soothing words of wisdom.

rishi with student

  Guru with disciples

A Guru by his Dharma, radiates light and knowledge, to the people he meets.

A Guru’s Dharma in the Indian civilization is also to travel regularly from one place to another, sharing his knowledge regularly with the common folk of the land. This work of the Guru entails that he travels continuously. During the monsoon season, as we have already discussed, because of the heavy rains it becomes very difficult for them to travel from one place to another.

Given this, our Guru Parampara has been designed such that, for these four months, the Gurus stay in one place. During this lengthy stay at one place, they read from the voluminous literature of the land, meet the locals and enhance their own knowledge. It’s an annual, compulsory sit-down and upgradation of one’s knowledge.

After this annual study period, the Gurus are rejuvenated to travel once again through the land, to share their knowledge for the remaining 8 months. This study period is known as Chaturmasya period.

With the passage of time, this 4 month study period came to be reduced to a 4 Paksha study period. A Paksha is a 14 day period between a full moon and a new moon. With the passage of time it thus settled down to a 2 month period.

The land of India has been very fortunate to have a continuous series of prominent, well educated and noble Gurus.

Of all the Gurus, who can be called as the primary one? A very difficult question indeed!

If we look back at our civilization, the one Guru who has probably contributed the most, by far, is Veda Vyasa. Veda Vyasa as the name itself suggests compiled the knowledge available then, 5000 years ago, into 4 VedaRig, Sama, Yajur, Atharva. As if this one task is not enough achievement for a person’s lifetime, Veda Vyasa also went on to compile the 18 voluminous Purana, so that the legends of the land, along with the associated morals of right living, could come down to us, generation after generation. After having accomplished these two colossal tasks, he then went on to write the autobiography of his family, called “Jaya”, which over the years has come down to us as the Mahabharata epic.

 vedaVeda Vyasa

For a person whose contribution is truly gigantic, he is considered as one of the great Gurus of this land and Veda Vyasa is propitiated to, in the Guru Poornima prayers. As, Veda Vyasa has given us the Veda, Purana and Mahabharata, which between them, form the major portion of the Indian literature, he is  but naturally, revered as one of the greatest Gurus of this land. Given this fact, when we conduct our Guru Pooja, while we pray to all the Gurus of the land, the place of importance, primacy, is given to Veda Vyasa.

With this understanding of the concept, the purpose, the reason, for celebrating Guru Pooja, Guru Poornima, Chaturmasya, let us all read some aspects from the Indian knowledge system, understand a bit from the vast reservoir of knowledge and see how it can be applied in our lives.

This could be our fitting tribute to our Guru and through him to the Guru Parampara of this glorious land.