A Benevolent Lineage

Maharaja Uthradam Marthanda Verma of Thiruvananthapuram Samsthanam has passed away. A noble king, a simple man.

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We had the opportunity of meeting him many years ago when we went to pray at the Anantha Padmanabha Swamy Temple in Thiruvananthapuram.

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Anantha Padmanabha Swamy Temple

This temple has been in news recently for the enormous wealth that it possesses in its vaults. All this wealth – gold, silver and precious gems is a result of consistent donations by the royal family, for the last 500 years.

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While the existence of this wealth is news to us today, this King Marthanda Verma as well as his predecessors were all well aware of this huge wealth that was safely kept in the vaults of the temple.

What is pertinent to note in this connection is that, even in this day and age of avarice, this noble King Marthanda Verma, had not shown any interest in this amazing wealth nor laid a finger on it.

As he departs this world to join his ancestors, let us look at his illustrious lineage.

The Travancore Dynasty

Forerunner of the Padmanabha Dasa

The most famous king of the Travancore lineage was Maharaja Anizham Thirunal Marthanda Verma.

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Maharaja Anizham Thirunal Marthanda Verma

He, in a decisive move, handed over the reign of the kingdom to the presiding deity of Travancore, Lord Anantha Padmanabha and vowed that he and his descendants would from thereon serve the kingdom on behalf of the Lord as His servant. For this, he and his successors would take on the title Padmanabha Dasa, the servant of Padmanabha.

Maharaja Swathi Thirunal, the composer musician

The other famous king of this lineage was Maharaja Swathi Thirunal Rama Verma from 1813 till 1815. This king was also a great musician and composer of songs.

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Swathi Thirunal Rama Verma

There is an interesting story about the birth of this king. When the king was still in the Queen Mother’s womb, the earlier King had passed away.

As per the doctrine of Dalhousie, imposed by the British rule then, if a kingdom did not have a successor, the kingdom had to be handed over to the British. It was using this doctrine, that the British had taken over many of the kingdoms in central India.

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Lord Dalhousie

The agent for the British in the Travancore court then, was Thomas Munro who had much faith in the Indian thought and was a confidant and advisor to the Queen mother.  To safeguard the kingdom from a claim to the throne laid by a rival to the royalty as well as to ensure British interests, even as the Queen Mother was still pregnant, Munro informed his superiors that the Queen Mother had already given birth to a boy, a legitimate heir to the kingdom and hence neither the claim of the rival nor the Dalhousie doctrine would be applicable. He thus saved the Travancore kingdom from falling into rival hands.

This he did with the confidence that, on conception, the Queen Mother had undergone the ritual known as Pumsavanam, a ritual to facilitate a male progeny. It is also said that in order that his ploy would not go in vain, he had prayed to Lord Anantha Padmanabha that the Queen Mother should deliver a male baby, failing which he threatened the Lord that he would blow up His temple.

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Col. Thomas Munro

Lord Anantha Padmanabha did not fail Munro nor the people of Kerala. A baby boy was born to the Queen Mother who grew up to become the famous music composer, Swathi Thirunal.

This  gamble of Thomas Munro not only saved the Travancore kingdom but it also shows the faith Thomas Munro had reposed in the traditional Indian systems.

Unique Customs

An interesting aspect to be noted about this lineage is that it is not the King’s son who becomes the king as in the patriarchal system. The kingdom of Travancore followed a matrilineal system.

Another unique custom of this lineage is that the royalty are not to by their given name. They are respectfully referred to by the star they were born in. This holds good for both male and female members of royalty. For example Maharaja Swati Tirunal was born in the Swati star.

 Wealth of the Travancore Dynasty

All the wealth of this kingdom, of its kings and its temple did not come about by plunder, but were internally generated in this kingdom and from its trade with lands far away across the seas such as Arabia and beyond.

This brings forth to us that the prosperity that was prevalent in this kingdom through the ages was of a sustainable nature and it brought untold wealth to this kingdom.

Obviously, just a portion of this would have been donated to the temple.

If this was just a portion, then one can well imagine what would have been the whole wealth of this small but prosperous kingdom?

It is to such an illustrious lineage that Raja Martanda Verma belonged to. Kerala should be proud of this noble son of a noble lineage that had once ruled it benevolently.

 

The other works of authors D.K.Hari and D.K.Hema Hari can be viewed at www.bharathgyan.com

Man, Woman and The Other in India

Section 377 being debated about much today is an article in the Indian Penal Code, IPC. It is all about what constitutes permitted sexual act in humans. The debate is whether this act should continue.

 What has been the ethos of India with regards to this subject that goes beyond sex between a man and a woman?

Delving into the Samskrt language, we find a word Napumsaka. Pumsa means male. There is infact a mantra/ritual called Pumsavana performed in early conception for avana, i.e. to wish, hasten, a pumsa, male progeny. Pumsa denotes the spirit of being a man, masculinity.

Here we see the specific word Napumsaka meaning, “not pumsa”, those who are not fully male either by body or in character, in other words transgenders.

We also come across another word Samalingakamin, meaning those who desire the same gender, in other words homosexuals.

The fact that these words exist implies that such people existed too. If such people existed, then their practices of sex and other aspects would have existed too. Acknowledging them, also acknowledges their lifestyle.

While most languages in their usage have only 2 genders, one comes across 3 genders in prayoga, usage, in Samskrt and other Indian languages. So, it was an accepted fact in the Indian ethos, that besides the two genders, male and female, a 3rd division also exists in reality.

Transgenders were therefore accepted as a 3rd form of humans as Nature expresses itself in many forms.

The 3rd gender have been referred to in India by diff names – Eunuchs in English, Hijara in Hindi, Urdu, Persian, Arabic languages, Jogappa in Kannada, Aravani, Ali or Thirunangai in Tamil. Nangai means womanly and Thiru is an honorific title given to males. Thirunangai means male and female in one body. This word for the transgenders in Tamil Nadu implies that they are not looked down upon.

When did this scenario change in India?

In 1870, the Indian Penal code (IPC) was formulated by the British administrators. In article 377 of the IPC, non heterosexual sex between male and female humans has been classified as “unnatural” and punishable upto a period of 10 years in jail.

Why was it classified as “unnatural”?

In 1870s, it was the Victorian puritan view that was prevalent in medieval Europe. That view was imposed on India through this section 377.

But since then, in the last 140 years, Europe and England have moved on in thought and practice, whereas India has been stuck with an outdated, alien law section – alien to the views of this land, alien to the jurisprudence of this land.

The origins of this thought in England and medieval Europe comes from the Biblical incident of Sodom and Gomorrah wherein it is expressed that the city of Sodom was burnt down by a fiery shower because some of its residents had indulged in homosexual acts.

It is from the name of this Biblical town Sodom that certain types of sexual acts are now called sodomy.

Modern science and analysis have proved that there was a meteor strike in the Alps mountains over 3000 years ago. Rebounding of the meteor parts as they hit the Alps, caused a spray of molten rocks on Sodom. This astral event has now been scientifically analyzed and explained with specific dates. In the wake of this analysis, to link the fiery shower to the act of sodomy of a few in Sodom makes it irrational, unscientific.

We need to now move ahead shedding behind the unscientific as well as Victorian views.

The issue concerning 377 can be viewed at from different perspectives.

It is a bodily fact that a person is born as a transgender. It cannot be expressed as a bodily defect. Mutations are a process by which evolutions evolve.

In the bodily realm, besides the physically noticeable bodily differences, what is physically not seen but is equally potent are the effects of hormone play in a person. The play of hormones is not limited to the stage of puberty but continues through the life. Imbalances in these can give rise to such situations in a person.

The other factor is the mind play. We all know that mind can play a substantial role in determining tastes, preferences, attitude in all aspects including sex.

While the case of physical body variations gives to transgenders, the other cases of hormonal and mental influences tend to take the preference towards homosexuality (gay or lesbian or bisexual).

In modern parlance the homosexuals, transgenders and transvestites have all been brought under the broad term LGBT – Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgenders, to distinguish them as a community different from the heterosexual community.

Fundamentally it denotes a sexual minority of people who vary from a stereotype male or female in their physical body parts, physique, physiology, psychology or preferences. It is a variance that reveals itself in their choice of partners for sex and life.

While the heterosexuals look at LGBT as a deviance, the LGBT community which over the last few decades have found a global voice, express in loud and clear terms, that it is not a deviance but another way of thinking where there is no harm done to other members of the society.

In the traditional Indian view also the personal preferences of LGBT were acknowledged. They also realized that the LGBT community were not harmful to society and were allowed to live their lives as per their preferences quietly. People from the LGBT community were given their lawful share, stake, pangu of village resources. They also figured among the rightful pangudhars, stakeholders in the village.

India had devised its own way of dealing with this community. The LGBT formed cults of their own and intermingled within themselves without intruding on the lifestyle of the rest of the heterosexual society.

The Kama Sutra also contains mention that homosexuality is something that is enjoyed by its practitioners. Narada Samhita, Manusmriti and a whole host of other texts acknowledge the existence of such people and their personal preferences. In a few temples there are sculptures of not just heterosexual couples but of homosexual couples as well. These are strewn all over the land and have been sculpted through the ages.

Literature and art thus showcase existence of homosexuality in ancient India.

These highlight that while heterosexuality is needed for procreation, homosexuality is seen to have been practiced by a minority few, purely for pleasure and solace.

This distinction can be seen in depictions even while dealing with concepts, principles, Tattva.

Everything in Nature including divine forces was attributed a gender – masculine, feminine or neuter.  There are stories of two masculine divinities, Tattva, Hari and Hara, coming together for a purpose – to bring forth Ayyappa, another divinity with their combined qualities, principles.

But here too, inorder to depict the concept of procreation, Hari or Vishnu principle takes the female form of Mohini, as the legend goes. The divinity Ayyappa however is commonly referred to only as HariHara Putra, meaning son of Hari and Hara.

There is another very interesting story in the Mahabharata legend. Where there is a dialogue between Yudhishtra and Bhishma. Bhishma is on his deathbed, on a bed of arrows. This dialogue takes place in the month of January 3066 BCE. Yudhishtra asks Bhishma as to, in sex, who enjoys more – man or woman. Bhishma then narrates the story of a king of a bygone era who had got converted into a woman, lady. In that king’s opinion, it was the woman who enjoyed the sexual act more.

What this brings out is that there were incidents where people of yore did consider changing their gender to enjoy the sexual act.

What is even more interesting is that such a topic was discussed between two men of high esteem, separated by two generations, such as Yudhishtra and his grand uncle Bhishma, on a solemn occasion when Bhishma was on his deathbed. Even on such an occasion, it was not out of the norm to discuss such a matter.

This tells us of the openness with which this subject was discussed.

As the heterosexual community does not make a big noise about their sexual preference, the LGBT community also did not, about theirs. It is only when one group tries to look down upon the other and intrude through laws and punishments, on the other’s right to live their lives as per their choice, do such issues come to the fore and seem larger than life.

In conclusion, the Indian ethos has been an open one where issues of sex, gender and LGBT have been given their due place in discussion and freedom of choice. We too, this day, should discuss and come up with laws that are in tune with the times, with the nature of this land and Nature “herself” to address this issue which perhaps is as timeless as the origins of man and woman.

International Mountain Day- 11th December

“International Mountain Day”, instituted by United Nations General Assembly in 2003 to highlight the importance of sustainable mountain development.

The theme for the year 2013 is, “Mountains – Key to a Sustainable Future”

In the Indian ethos the mountains have not been looked at as only a geographical phenomenon but have been intrinsically linked with the ethos of the land. The mountains have formed an important aspect of the sustainability ethos of the land through the ages.

Vanavasi

The people who have lived in this land in the forest of the mountainous region have been respectfully referred to in the Indian tradition as vanavasi. They have been the custodians’ guardians of these mountains big and small.

Adivasi

In the name of development and classification these vanavasi have been now classified as adivasi and as scheduled tribes. These modern classifications have been a restricting factor in the activity of these vanavasi. These nomenclatures also have a shade of non-respectful reference.

If we have to look at the mountains to be sustainable component of our land, we should not only respect the mountains but as well respect the people who have made these mountains their homes and given them the right to safeguard the mountain scape which they have been innately capable of, which they have been maintaining from the past many millennia.

Parvat- Parvati

In the Indian thought the mountains, hills have been revered through the ages. The hills are called Parvat. The chief of the hills is Parvat Raja. The daughter of this Parvat Raja is Parvati who is the consort of Shiva. Parvati is thus the daughter of the hill. That is the reverence that the hills and the hill people have received in the Indian thought. The tallest and the mightiest mountain range in the world is Himalaya. The very word Himalaya comes from the word him meaning “snow” and alaya meaning “the abode of”, hence, “the abode of snow”. It is the same term as alaya which we use for temple. Thus we respectfully refer to the grand mountain as alaya, the “temple of snow”.

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Himalaya, “the abode of snow”

Goverdhangiri

Krishna who lived around 3100 BCE asked his people to venerate Goverdhangiri the nearby hill which provided the gracing pastures for their cows and livelihood for all of them. The consequent episode of Goverdhangiri is well known and has been retold many a times in poetry and different art forms.

Boundaries of India

In the north we all know it is bounded by the Himalayas, the great snowcap mountains. In the East, the boundaries of India start from Arunachala, aruna meaning the first rays of the sun and achala meaning the hill. So Arunachala meaning where the first rays of the sun fall on the hills of the land which is today referred to as the hills of Arunachal Pradesh. In the west, the boundaries of India are extended till Astachal, ast meaning to set, achala meaning hills, the hills over which the setting sun sets. These were the hills in the west of Afghanistan. Thus we see even the boundaries of this great land through the ages has been referred to the three mountains; Himachal, Arunachal, Astachal. Every hill is venerated and festivals are celebrated around the hill by the local throughout the land. Such veneration has been there for many millennia for the people recognized that their hill formed a sustainable part of this life. While the term sustainability may seem like a new age word, it was seen in practice in this land in many fields, here in this case with the hills and mountains.

Let us, this day, the International Mountain Day, recognize the intrinsic role that shall play between man, flora, fauna and mountains in sustaining each other.

From Chaturanga to Chess of today

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.

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.

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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.

As a reciprocatory gesture, he 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 come from the Persian word, “shah Mat”, meaning ‘the king is dead’.

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Vedanta Desika

Another interesting reference to Chess can be taken from South India, in Kancheepuram. About 800 years ago, there lived a philosopher, poet par excellence called Swami Vedanta Desika. He composed a poem of 64 aksharas (letters), which was meant to be laid one each on each square of the chess board.

Vedantha Desika

Vedantha Desika

Each time a horse moved on the chess board in its unique pattern, those aksharas resulted in the birth of a new poem. This was a sort of poetry writing which is known as Chithra Bhandhana.

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.

Chess poetry

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.

Assam’s integral role in India

Assam is one of the prosperous states of India watered by the mighty river, Brahmaputra. The river Brahmaputra has many names. In Tibet, where it originates, it is called Tsangpo. In Arunachal Pradesh, when it enters India, it is called Yarlang. It is only in Assam, it is called Brahmaputra. When it enters Bangladesh, it joins the distributary of Ganga, the Padma River.

One mighty river with 4 names!

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Brahmaputra, the mighty River

All the rivers in India have a feminine name, barring Brahmaputra which is masculine. Brahmaputra means “Son of Brahma”. The river is almost 11 km wide and floods the low lying areas of Assam. The Himalayan silt that comes from the flood gives the soil its fertility year after year.

 Literary Records of the land

The literary records of this land are available from the times of Mahabharata, i.e. from 3000 BCE.  This region was then called Pragjyothisha. The king of those times was Bhagadatta, who fought in the Kurukshetra war under the Kaurava and was defeated by Arjuna.

Kirata

The people of this region were also known as Kirata which is recorded in Greek records of 100 CE, the “Periplus of the Erythraean Sea” and “Ptolemy‘s Geographia” refer to it as Kirrhadia.

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Periplus of the Erythraean Sea Book

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Ptolemy

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Ptolemy‘s Geographia

Kamarupa

Later this region came to be called Kamarupa, from 350 CE to 1140 CE, of which the most noted king was Bhaskaravarman, in whose reign Huan Zang, the famed Chinese traveler visited his court.

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The Kamarupa Kingdom

What remains of Kamarupa today are distant memories, inscriptions and a district by that name – Kamrup.

All this show that Assam was not an insignificant far-flunged land of India, but has played an important role. Infact, its name and glory was even known in faraway Greece 2000 years back.

Ahom dynasty

The Ahom dynasty ruled this region from 1228 CE to 1826 CE. Infact, the present name of the state, Assam comes from the word “Ahom”.

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Ahom Dynasty Insignia

Many Capitals

Assam has had to shift its capital 3 times since independence.

The first capital was Sonari and later was shifted to Shillong.

When Meghalaya attained a separate statehood and Shillong became the capital of Meghalaya, a new capital in Dispur has since been built for Assam.

All along through the centuries, Assam has played a vital role in the development of India

Dong

All over the landscape of Assam, we see local ponds called Dongs. They have been indigenously built by the Bodo tribes of Assam to harvest rain water.

Majhi

Brahmaputra being such a big river that flowed in the center of Assam, as its arterial river, the boats men on the Brahmaputra are called Majhi.

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Majhi ferrying Boat

The Majhi were not just plying their trade but were people who shared the culture of the inhabitants on both banks of the river, their songs, the Majhi songs bring out these facets.

Bhupen Hazarika, a son of Assam, was one of those who brought to the rest of India, the lilting melody of Majhi and Assam.

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Bhupen Hazarika

Shakti Sthal

Assam has one of the most famous Shakti Sthal in Guwahati, the Kamakya Temple.

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Kamakhya Shakti Peetha Temple

One of the prominent and much respected religious saints of medieval India, Shankardev, who lived between 1449 CE and 1568 CE, also hailed from Assam.

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Shankardev

Digboi, an oil town

Digboi is one of the older oil production centers of India.

When a colonial engineer was trudging through the forest of north east Assam, he saw oil stains on the legs of elephants. Excitedly, he screamed ‘dig boy dig’, urging his porter boys to dig there for oil. From this exclamation this name came to stay for the town that grew around the oil fields.

Not Just the Past, but the Future

Assam and the adjoining states of the North East have traditionally been the contact point, the path to reach out to Burma, Thailand and other East Asian countries. As India is today developing, we need to look back at our old friends whose friendship we have nurtured not just in the past few centuries but in the last few millennia. In today’s world of geo politics, these aspects play an essential role.

Burma has been an oil producing nation of South East Asia. The belt from Digboi and Dibrugarh in Assam to North West of Thailand, is an oil producing belt. In today’s world of energy needs, this belt becomes an important economic source that this part of the world can use for their mutual collective progress.

Apart from tradition and culture, Assam has a lot to offer in this sphere in future through its generations of friendship with these neighbouring countries.

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All this shows that Assam is not an obscure part of India, but the people of Assam have played a vital role in the development of India, Bharatha, right from the times of Mahabharata, through the Greek records to records of a Chinese traveller, right from the sphere of religious philosophy to music to other aspects of India’s culture.

The people of Assam through its stages of evolution from Pragjyothisha to Assam, have played their part as Bharatha Desa evolved to become India.

Since independence however, Assam has faced severe problems. There has been a regular influx of migrants from neighbouring Bangladesh. This has changed the demography of the land and brought in serious intrusions to the native culture of Assam.

In some districts, in the border, the locals have become minorities in their own land.

The situation has become so alarming in recent decades that it is now threatening the fabric of Assam itself.

Concerted efforts have to be taken on a war footing by the people of Assam, the government and the army to ensure that Assam stays as Assam and remains an integral part of India for generations to come.

Assam Day

December 2nd is celebrated to commemorate the glory of Assam, a North Eastern state of India. It is celebrated as Asom Divas, Assam Day, Sukaphaa Divas in commemoration of the advent of the first Ahom king Siu-Ka-Pha who reigned from 1228 CE to 1268 CE.