Maharaja Uthradam Marthanda Verma of Thiruvananthapuram Samsthanam has passed away. A noble king, a simple man.
We had the opportunity of meeting him many years ago when we went to pray at the Anantha Padmanabha Swamy Temple in Thiruvananthapuram.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
“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.
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.
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.
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”.
Himalaya, “the abode of snow”
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.
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.
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.
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’.
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.
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.
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 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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
Ahom Dynasty Insignia
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
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.
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.
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.
Assam has one of the most famous Shakti Sthal in Guwahati, the Kamakya Temple.
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.