Chitra Purnima

Chitra Purnima is a festival celebrated on the Full Moon day of Chithirai month.

Dedicated to Chitra Gupta

This festival is dedicated to Chitra Gupta, the deva who keeps record of human actions, on behalf of Yama, the God of death.

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        Chitra Gupta

Chitra means, “picture”, and Gupt, “hidden”.

Chitra Gupta keeps a secret record of all our deeds in the “ethereal system”.

On this day, people worship Chitra Gupta to make amends for any wrong actions. Thus this is a day to remember that, “You reap, what you sow”, because nothing escapes the divine software. We need to perform good actions to reap good results. This is the “Law of karma” that is ingrained in the ethos of this land.

Chithirai being the first month, in the Indian calendar, Chitra Purnima is an occasion to look forward, as well as back at what we have come through – the good and the not so good.

Wedding of Sundareshwara and Meenakshi

Chitra Purnima is also the day when the celestial wedding of Lord Sundareshwara, a form of Shiva took place with Goddess Meenakshi, a form of Devi Parvati.

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The celestial Wedding of Devi Meenakshi and Lord Sundareshwara

Sundara– Divine Beatitude

Sundara means beauty, Eshwara refers to the Lord.

The words Sathyam Shivam Sundarm is used to describe the divine, which stands for Truth, Auspiciousness and Beauty.

Lord Sundareshwara here stands for divine beatitude, the beauty in Creation and the beauty in its understanding.

More on this beauty in Creation, is in our book and film – Creation – Srishti Vignana.

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Meenakshi – Beautiful eyes

Meen, means a fish and akshi, eyes.

The Devi has a beautiful eyes, similar to that of a fish. In expressing the beauty of a lady, one of the expressions is that of beautiful eyes. These description are sometimes linked to an animal, flower and also a fish.

  1. Mrigha Nayani, the beauty of the eye of a doe, a female deer
  2. Kamala Nayani, lotus eyed
  3. Here in this context, it is Meenakshi, eyes of a fish.

Kayal Vizhi

At the time of wedding, the bride’s eye is beautified with Shingar as a doe eyed or fish eyed. Madurai, where Meenakshi temple is, being the centre of Tamil culture, it has another equally ancient local Tamil word for Meenakshi, which is. Kayal Vizhi, Vizhi meaning the look and Kayal is a type of slender fish. Here it means Slender Eyed.

Inner Significance of open eyes

A fish always has its eyes open. This signifies that the Devi’s grace are always on Her devotees.

Apart from the continuous flow of divine grace, there is another significance to the eyes of Devi Meenakshi.

A fish hatches its eggs through staring by its eyes.  This signifies that Devi Meenakshi’s bestows on us fertility, creativity and prosperity in our material life with graceful looks.

Indra Legend

There is a legend associated with Chitra Purnima, which throws more light on the aspect of Divine Grace.

Once Indra, the Lord of the Deva, had an argument with his Guru Brihaspati. The Guru then distanced himself from Indra and refrained from advising him on any matters. Indra then began to commit wrong deeds, for which he had to reap the consequences. At this time, Guru Brihaspati returned and asked him to undertake a pilgrimage on earth, so as to reduce some his sins. Indra started his pilgrimage, and visited many scared spots. At one place, he felt the burden of his sins being lifted. He discovered a Shiva lingam at this place in Madurai, which he worshipped. Indra was thus relieved from all his sins.

Chitra Purnima was the day when Indra performed this worship to the Shiva Lingam and propitiated the Lord.

Thus goes the legend which shows that divine grace can mitigate our sins, if we propitiate the Divine sincerely with faith.

Azhagar Attril Erunghirar, the festival after Chitra Paurnami

Chitra Paurnami is the biggest festival in Madurai city, from time immemorial, which involves Lord Vishnu too.

As the story goes, Meenakshi is the sister of Vishnu, who is to give her beloved sister, in marriage to Lord Shiva. Lord Vishnu in His aspect as Kallazhagar lives some distance away from Madurai, in the forested hills. He takes His time in reaching the ceremonial Kalyana Mantap. The auspicious hour of marriage was nearing, and he had not yet reached the venue. Then the Vishnu aspect from the local temple, Kudal Azhagar, came and gave away the bride in the wedding. By the time Kallazhagar reached, the wedding had already been performed.

Kallazhagar then returned, on His horse, back to His temple, getting into the nearby Vaigai River, which in that season has only knee deep water. He wades in the river itself reaching all the way back to His temple. Along with Him, the lakhs of people, who had to come to witness the Meenakshi Sundareshwar Kalyanam also get into the Vaigai.

This over the centuries and millennia has become a festival, and is celebrated the day after Chitra Paurnami.

This festival was popularized by King Tirumal Nayak, Raja Tirumal Nayak, the popular king of Madurai, who ruled about 350 years ago.

The event of Kallazhagar getting into the river, is thronged by lakhs of millions of people, and is a festive sight to behold, to rejoice, to take part in.

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Azhaghar Attril Erunghirar

This journey in the Vaigai river is symbolic of a groom’s party returning after the marriage, leaving the new bride in her new home with her spouse.

This event is called in the ancient Tamil language as, Azhaghar Attril Erunghirar, meaning Azhagar wades into the river.

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Nrsimha Jayanthi

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The incarnation of Nrsimha happened on Vaishakha Shukla Chaturdasi, in Swati Nakshatra.

Nrsimha in the evolution theory of avatars

Nrsimha was the 4th incarnation, Avatar of Divinity Vishnu.

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.

These avatars are Matsya, Kurma, Varaha, Nrsimha, Vamana, Parasurama, Rama, Balarama, Krishna and Kalki.

The beast like Nrsimha form is symbolic of man living like a savage.

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The Legend

King Hiranyakashipu was a mighty Asura king who was blinded by ego and greed for power. He was a tyrant king, who had a son called Prahlada, who was pure at heart, a believer in good and the Divine.

Prahlada believed in Narayana, the ultimate source of the entire Creation and hence earned the wrath of his father Hiranyakashipu for not regarding him as the ultimate master. Hiranyakashipu therefore tried various means to kill Prahlada, his own son, but Prahlada always emerged unscathed.

Finally, Hiranyakashipu challenges Prahlada to prove that Narayana is indeed real, supreme and resides in everything including the inanimate. He then breaks a pillar in his palace with his mace to disprove Prahlada.

Lo and behold, the pillar splits and from within, emerges a ferocious being, of half man-half lion, the 4th avatara, incarnation of Vishnu, who lays Hiranyakashipu on His lap and slays him. This form was Nrsimha meaning half man, half lion – Nara, “man” and Simha, “lion”.

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Why did Narayana have to manifest in this peculiar form?

Hirayanyakasipu had won a boon from Lord Brahma, that He shouldn’t be killed by a man or an animal or God, neither during day or night, neither indoors or outdoors, neither on earth or sky, or by any weapons.

Thus the Lord comes in the form of Nrsimha, and slays him during the dawn, by placing him on His lap, on the steps of the palace, and piercing the Asura with His claws.

Where exactly did this slaying of Hiranyakasipu take place?

This is at Ahobilam in the state of Andhra Pradesh.

The Ahobilam Hills in Kurnool district of present day Andhra Pradesh, are the Avatara Kshetram, place of the incarnation of this Nrsimha avatar. It is no wond therefore that all over Andhra, there is affinity towards Lord Nrsimha, be it in Simhachalam near Visakhapatnam, in Mangalagiri near Vijayawada as Panakalu Nrsimha Swamy or in Yadagiri Gutta near Hyderabad.

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Monolithic stone sculpture of Lord Narasimha emerging from pillar, carved on a stone pillar at Ahobilam, Andhra Pradesh

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When Lord Nrsimha, after the Vadham, the slaying of the Asura Hiranyakashipu, was still very angry and visibly ferocious, it is one of the young tribal girls of the local Chenchu tribe, by name Chenchu Lakshmi who manages to calm down Lord Nrsimha from His wrathful state, marries him and makes him shower His blessings on the people of that region.

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This incident tells us that Lord listens and can be calmed even by a young loving and affectionate girl. For the Lord, there is no Jaathi or Varna as He married this local, tribal girl. This legend also tells us that, to the Lord, all people are one and the same.

In commemoration of this event, even to this day, the Chenchu tribes through the ages, to this generation, are the custodians of the Ahobila Kshetram and the Ahobilam Hills.

After Hiranyakashipu was slayed by Nrsimha, Prahlada, the son of Hiranyakashipu, continued to live here and ruled a large part of this land from Ahobilam. We should remember that even though Prahlada was born to Hiranyakashipu of the asura kula, he was still accepted as the prime devotee of Vishnu and an embodiment of knowledge and humility, again going to show that irrespective of one’s birth, all areequal when it comes to acquiring true knowledge and divine love.

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Prahlada ruling from Ahobilam – an artistic impression

More on this in our book, Telugu Talli – Her Unknown Side.

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Multan – The Seat of Lord Nrsimha

There is also an an interesting footprint of Nrsimha at Multan in Pakistan.

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Multan location

The word Multan is synonymous with Multani mitti, a clay like substance known in English as Fuller’s Earth and used as a mud pack for treating acne, oily skin etc. For ancient India, Multan was also synonymous with Nrsimha, a divine incarnation of the divinity Vishnu in the form of a Half Man, Half Lion. Nara means man and Simha, lion.

It has been widely held from millennia that it was at Multan that this King Hiranyakashipu met his end at the hands and on the lap of Nrsimha. Multan has thus been revered as the place of incarnation of Lord Nrsimha. Sculptures showing a pillar splitting into 2 have been identified from here as also the ruins of the temple here called Prahladapuri in honour of Prahlada for whom the Lord incarnated.

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The present day ruins of Prahladapuri temple are believed to stand where Prahlada had built a temple originally to Lord Nrsimha. Successive generations have ensured the presence of a temple here through the flow of time.

Multan was known as Kashyapapura in ancient times. The name Multan is a shortened form of “Mula Sthan” meaning the “place of origin”.

More on this in our book, Breaking the Myths – About Identity, in the Autobiography of India Series.

Symbolic Meaning of Nrsimha Story

There is a symbolic message relevant for our present times, from the legend of Hiranyakashipu and Prahlada.

The name Hiranyakashipu means, “one who has a golden bed”. Hiranya means gold or golden hued and Kashipu denotes a bed. Hiranyakashipu was a King who rolled in absolute wealth, wealth that led to ego and arrogance, which in turn demanded submission and recognition as he being the supreme power.

Hiranyakashipu symbolises the greed for wealth, power and recognition in the society today which has eventually now led us to a corrupt society.

Prahlada means, “one who naturally evokes a feeling of happiness and peace”. It comes from the word “ahlada” which means, “reviving, refreshing, cheerfulness, joy, delight, gladness”. It denotes the gladness that leads to peace and happiness which can arise only from the possession of true knowledge. Pra means “special”, “natural”. It is akin to how the vision of a full moon inherently gives rise to a feeling of peace, comfort and happiness.

The slaying of Hiranyakashipu by Nrsimha is a moral lesson on how one should not cultivate ego, not be blinded by uncontrolled greed and desire for power, as it can finally lead to unprincipled ways of living and a violent end.

Mohini Ekadasi

Mohini Ekadasi is the day when Lord Vishnu manifested in the form of Mohini at the time of Samudra Manthan.

Mohini means “enchanter”, is derived from the word Moha which means to ‘allure’ and ‘disillusion’.

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Mohini, the Enchantress

The are two well know occurrences of Mohini, in our Purana.

Samudra Manthan

Mohini is a female form assumed by Lord Vishnu to lure the Asura away from the Amrita pot of Ambrosia, which gives immortality, which had come forth from the process of churning of the Ocean, Samudra Manthan.

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   Samudra Manthan, churning of the Ocean

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

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Samudra Manthan, Churning of Ocean Model

Suvarna Bhumi Airport, Bangkok, Thailand

Coming back to the story, a dispute arose between the Asura and Deva as to who should get the Amrita first. Mohini appears on the scene. The enchanted Asura, deluded by the beauty of Mohini, their attention diverted, away from Amrita.

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Mohini with the Amrita pot 

Mohini, the ‘distractress’, distributes the Amrita among the Deva. Thus, the Asura, who were, till her arrival, in control of their senses were denied a rightful share of Amrita.

The lesson being, not to be distracted from the job at hand.

Bhasamasura

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Mohini and Bhasmasura, a painting by Raja Ravi Verma

Image: Courtesy Wikipedia

There is another legend attached to Mohini.

Lord Vishnu assumed the form of Mohini to rescue Lord Shiva from Bhasmasura who undertook a severe penance to propitiate Lord Shiva to get the boon of burning anybody to ashes by merely touching them on their heads. When Lord Shiva appeared before the Asura, and had finished giving him the requested boon, the Asura ran towards Lord Shiva Himself to test the boon on Him. Lord Shiva fled the scene and Bhasmasura chased Him all over.

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Bhasmasura chasing Lord Shiva

To save Lord Shiva, Lord Vishnu assumed the form of Mohini. The Asura stopped in his tracks seeing the enchanting beauty of Mohini. Mohini called the Asura towards Her and compelled him to dance along with Her. While dancing, the Asura was cast in a spell by Mohini’s beauty. In the course of the dance, the Asura was unknowingly enticed into placing his hands on his own head, and was burnt to ashes.

However mighty one may be, one can easily be distracted. To overcome this, we need to be in the present, constantly.

The above legend is said to have unfolded in Yana Village, by a hill called Mohini Shikhara, in the state of Karnataka known for its unique rock formations.

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Mohini Shikhara

 The rocks here are formed from solid black, crystalline Karst limestone.

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Yana rocks in Yana village

On this Mohini Ekadasi Day, let us resolve to develop focus and presence of mind while performing any work at hand.

Thrissur Pooram

The most spectacular festival

Thrissur Pooram is celebrated every year in the month of April-May at the Vadakunnatha Temple in Thrissur city of Kerala. The UNESCO has referred to Thrissur Pooram as, “The most spectacular event on the planet.”

Started by Raja Rama Varma

The festival was started by Raja Rama Varma, the then Maharaja of Mada Rajyam, the present day Kochi in the year 1798. The Maharaja brought together many temples around the main temple, Vadakunnathan and organized the event as a mass festival.

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Raja Rama Varma, also called Sakthan Thambaran

Coming together of Gods

These temples are, Kanimangalam Temple, Chembukkavu Bhagavathy Temple, Panamukkumpally Sastha Temple, Pokkattikkara-Karamukku Bhagavathy Temple, Laloor Bhagavathy Temple, Chorakkottukavu Temple, Ayanthole Bhagavathy Temple, Nethilakkavu Bhagavathy Temple, Paramekkavu Bhagavathy Temple, Thiruvambadi Bhagavathy Temple and the main Vadakunnatha Shiva Temple.

As it happens, the gods and goddess of these various temple come together for celebration.

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  Vadakunnatha Shiva Temple

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Mass Festival

The festival attracts tourists from all over the country and also from abroad. One of the important features of this festival is that people from all communities participate and play a key role in organizing the festival.

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People celebrating Thrissur Pooram

Elephants, the main attractions

The Elephants are the main attractions of this festival.

The festival is celebrated for 36 hours continuously with an array of elephants decorated with golden headdress, ornaments, bells, palm leaves, peacock feathers, umbrellas and beautiful paintings that are swayed along with the music. The sight is wonderful to behold!

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Array of elephants at Thrissur Pooram

There is a magnificent display of colours during the kudamattom competition which involves a rhythmic alteration of coloured parols by those sitting on elephants.

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Coloured Parols on elephant top

Pakal Pooram

The next day of the Pooram festival is Pakal Pooram with people displaying their skills in various traditional instruments such as Thimila, Edakka, Kombu, Chenda, Elathalam and Sanghu.

Display of fireworks

The Thrissur Pooram festival is concluded with a display of fireworks. A wide variety of colourful crackers are let up, delighting the spectators. The farewell is marked with 2 elephants greeting each other and fixing the next Pooram date.

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Display of fireworks

World Malaria Day

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World Malaria Day is commemorated every year on April 25th, to encourage global efforts to control Malaria.

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World Malaria Day

Malaria is a mosquito-borne infectious disease affecting humans and other animals. It is usually transmitted by an infected female Anopheles mosquito and is common in tropical regions of the world.

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Anopheles mosquito

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Geographical Distribution of Malaria across the World – Typically all tropical regions

Source – Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Malarial symptoms typically include fever, tiredness, vomiting and headaches. In severe cases, it leads to yellow skin, seizures, coma and death.

The first cure for this deadly disease came from a British scientist Sir Ronald Ross who was born on Indian soil at Almora, Himalayas.

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Sir Ronald Ross

Sir Ronald Ross who was sent to England to study as a boy, trained in medicine in England and returned to India to serve in the Indian Medical Service. Challenged by the Malaria disease which was killing people by the thousands, he took it upon himself to find the cause, as only then could cure follow.

His path breaking finds, for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1902, included the following facts :

  1. that Malaria was transmitted by mosquitoes
  2. that the mosquito was only a carrier of the malaria causing parasite, which bred in its gut
  3. that the parasite was stored in its salivary gland and was transmitted to people through its sting when the mosquito bit people
  4. that the parasite further bred in people, moved around in their blood and entered new host mosquitoes when they bit the infected people thus creating a long chain of infected persons and mosquitoes.

But his further research was cut short when he was transferred to Kherwara in Rajasthan immediately, a desert, where there was no water stagnation and consequentially no malaria mosquito breeding.

This posting was in a way, a punishment handed over to Ronald Ross. For, it was then the policy of the British government in India to create famine and epidemics in order to suppress the Indian masses.

Sir Ronald Ross had then cynically remarked, “Columbus having sighted America was ordered off to discover the North Pole.

Finally as a dejected man, he returned to England.

Not only this, even native Indian scientists were not encouraged to pursue further research on Malaria and its cure.

More than 14 lakh people died in India due to Malaria, in 1939 alone.

So much for the British having encouraged science, medicine and discovery, during their colonial rule of India.

It was the combination of a British man, born on Indian soil and parasites nourished by Indian blood and Indian mosquitoes which led to one of world’s leading discoveries and cures for humans.

The relentless pursuit and success of this man can be seen from the poem he wrote to his wife on the night of his discovery on 21st August 1897.

This day relenting God
Hath placed within my hand
A wondrous thing; and God
Be praised. At His command,
Seeking His secret deeds
With tears and toiling breath,
I find thy cunning seeds,
O million-murdering Death.
I know this little thing
A myriad men will save.
O Death, where is thy sting?
Thy victory, O Grave?

Poem by Sir.Ronald Ross, describing his discovery of the malarial parasite in mosquitoes in 1897, Pg. 210, A Dictionary of Scientific Quotations By Alan L. Mackay

India has honoured the memory of his contribution by naming several institutions as well as roads in various cities across India, after Ross.

The connection between India and the cure for Malaria is coded in blood.

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.