International Yoga Day

Yoga-The Union

 

Yoga-1

The Roots

Yoga, the latest rave across the world, comes from the root Yug, Jug which means to align.

It is the same root as for the word “Yoke” which is used to align bullocks to pull a cart.

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YogaYug/Jug – Yoke – Join

The root of the word Yoga and its practice, lies in India.

The Practice

Yoga is not just exercise or postures.

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Yoga, as the name suggests, is the practice by way of which mind, body and breath are aligned to achieve a state of harmony with each other and to become homogeneous with the cosmic consciousness – a state that brings with it a sense of freshness, energy and calm, a sense of balance of the various senses and emotions.

The extent of harmony and balance maintained, defines the depth of insight the Yogi has gained.

In a simplistic form, it is a structured combination of

  • Asana – exercise postures for the body,
  • Pranayama – regulating energy through control of the breath and
  • Dhyana – meditation for the mind,

along with maintaining physiological, psychological and sociological hygiene through Yama (control / abstinence), Niyama (adherence) and other guidelines.

Daily activities as Yoga

In our life, the various activities that we perform are also various aspects of Yoga. For example,

  1. When we greet each other with Namaste, it is Anjali Mudra.
  2. When we sit down on the floor to eat, the sitting position is called Suhasan, one of the asana, postures of Yoga
  3. After eating, the asana, posture that is  suggested for easy digestion is Vajrasana
  4. The sleeping posture is Shavasana. The act of sleeping with awareness is known as Yoga Nidra

The common punishment asana is called Palikarsha. In Hindi it is called Baski and in Tamil Topukaranam. It is the act of crossing one’s arms and holding the opposite side ear lobes and performing situps.

Mistakes usually happen due to lack of knowledge and awareness. The Palikarsha posture stimulates the nadi, nerve which helps enhance neuron cells, their perfect connectivity and thus improves knowledge acquisition and transfer process within the body. It also helps to internalize whatever is learnt and to become more aware.

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Palikarsha

Like this, every simple activity is linked to one of the yogic postures or the other.

Child – An Expert in Yoga

Yoga comes to us naturally right from our childhood.

Many of the different poses that a child does in its antics are yogic poses. As we grow from childhood into youth, we need to continue our practice of Yoga.

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Children bending their bodies in play like Yoga Asanas

Yoga as a structured practice by the adults can be traced to India to beyond 7100 years ago at the very least.

A 7100 Year Old Structured Practice

The general opinion is that Yoga is 5000 years old. But we can see the trace of Yoga even during Ramayana times, 7100 years ago. Yoga was a specialized practice then too and hence must date to times before Rama as well.

Yoga Vasishta

The antiquity of Yoga can be ascertained from the fact that Rama’s Spiritual Guru, Vasishta, counselled and groomed Rama’s mind through the treatise Yoga Vasishta. One of the longest texts in Samskrt after Mahabharata, Yoga Vasishta forms an important text for Yoga and Advaita Vedanta (Non duality).

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Vasishta imparting Yoga Vasishta to Rama – An Illustration on Art of Living CD Cover

Rama’s birth datable to 5114 BCE, makes Yoga Vasishta and the concept of Yoga, atleast 7100 years old.

Continuous practice

From the timeless Veda, we can see that Indians have been in the habit of this continuous practice to keep both mind and body fit. Antiquity can be seen both in art and text.

In art, we can see a continuity of Yoga practice right from Mohenjodaro and Harappan times in the form of terracota Yogic posture figurines.

146 Yoga Poses Fig.jpg

As far as texts go, across the times, illumined minds have given structure to this practice, through a large body of texts, thereby giving Yoga practice, a breath of fresh air every few generations.

Rishi Patanjali and Yoga

Rishi Patanjali, one of the earliest pioneers of Yoga was born in the land known today as Afghanistan.

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An idol of Patanjali

When Rishi Gonika was praying to Surya, Sun with cupped hands – an Anjali Mudra, a yogic posture, a baby fell into it. The child was thus named Patanjali, meaning one who fell into cupped hands.

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Anjali to Surya

Rishi Patanjali had his education at Takshashila University, the premier centre of advanced learning then, which is near present day Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan. Takshashila was a sought after centre for higher studies in Yoga, Ayurveda among many other subjects.

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Takshashila Ruins of today

Patanjali Rameshwaram Connect

Rishi Patanjali attained his Samadhi in Rameshwaram in South India.

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Rameshwaram Temple

Rama installs Rameshwaram Lingam

Rameshwaram is one of the hallowed places of India, where Rama installed and worshipped a Shiva Lingam, before his battle with Ravana.

More on Rama installing the Lingam at Rameshwarm in our book ‘Historical Rama’.

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Rama praying to Shiva Linga                  Rameshwaram Temple                                                        Historical Rama

Rameshwaram – A Jyothir Linga

The Lingam at Rameshwaram is one of the 12 Jyothir Lingas. We discuss the significance of Jyothir Linga and Rameshwaram in our book ‘Understanding Shiva’.

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Understanding Shiva

It is in such a holy place that Patanjali lived, practised and propagated Yoga and eventually attained samadhi.

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Rishi Patanjali Samadhi, Rameshwaram

Patanjali Yoga Sutra

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra composed by Rishi Patanjali, which goes back by many millennia, has been a forerunner and guide for the practice of Yoga in all these years.  Traditional Yoga as in Yoga Sutra is about meditation and mantra (OM-pranava). Asana had a secondary role. Yoga must lead to meditation and Samadhi to achieve its true goal of self-realization.

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Patanjali Yoga Sutra being explained by H.H.Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, Founder, Art of Living

Rishi Patanjali recorded, systematized and expounded Yoga through the entire stretch of land from north-west Afghanistan, where He was born, to Rameshwaram in south-east India, where He attained Samadhi.

Thus the structured practice of Yoga was not limited to north India alone, but has stretched from north-west India to south-east India, covering the whole civilization of India.

Shiva-Adi Yogi

Shiva is referred to as Adi Yogi, represented as a bodily form, Shankara.

Indus Valley Pashupathi Seal

Probably one of the earliest representations, can be found in the Harappa – Mohenjodaro seal of Pashupathi, where Shiva or Pashupathi is shown seated in a Padamasana pose with all the animals surrounding Him.

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Pashupathi seal from Harappa

Gundestrup Cauldron

A very interesting archaeological find in Denmark, of a very ancient bowl, at a place called Gundestrup, throws new light on Pashupathi and His following. This bowl, now called the Gundestrup Cauldron, bears in one of its panels, an image very similar to the Pashupathi seal unearthed from the Harappa – Mohenjodaro sites.

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Gundestrup cauldron, Denmark, Unearthed in 1891 Dating back to 150 BCE & Pashupathi

Indo-Euro Yogic connect

This shows that this yogic form was prevalent not only to the Indus Valley sites but even to far away Denmark in North Western Europe.

Krishna – Yogeshwara

Sri Krishna was an exemplary Jnana Yogi. Krishna also speaks about other Yoga such as Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga and Raja Yoga to Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita.

The Gita Upadesha was given on 22nd November, 3067 BCE. How we have conclusively arrived at this date, is discussed in our book, “Historical Krishna”.

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                  Gita Upadesha                                 Historical Krishna

This implies that Krishna and His Upadesha, counsel on Yoga are historical and real.

This means that Yoga and it benefits are also real.

This positions Yoga as not just exercise postures, Asana, but as knowledge, action, devotion, all coming together, to verily become a harmonious way of life.   

Yogasana and Namaz Postures

There are interesting similarities between Yogasana Postures and the Muslim practice of Namaz.

Namaz Postures have their equivalent names and poses in Yogasana as can been in this chart.

Yogasana Namaz Postures
Namaste Qiyam
Ardha Uttanasana Ruk’u
Vajrasana Julus
Balasana Sujud

yoga

Similarities of Yogasana and Namaz Postures

The similarity of Yogasana and Namaz Postures shows unison. For, Yoga itself means to unite, to come together.

Yoga Travels World Over

This structured practice of Yoga has now travelled and become popular world over as one of the preferred forms of keeping body and mind fit with one move.

Yoga to Near West

A look into the past shows that even Sufi saints from the Near West, Sultans and Mughal kings have interacted with Yogis, with an open mind inorder to learn of the good aspects of Yoga from its master practitioners.

Yoga to Far West

The visit of Swami Vivekananda to US in 1893 was a kick off point for Yoga in the modern international arena. Yoga kicked off and spread as a big  in the US and worldwide.

Yoga to the East

Yoga went to the East from India along with Buddhism more than 2000 years ago, for Dhyan, meditation lies at the heart of Buddhism.

A sitting example is at the west entrance of Wat Phra Kew, the main temple attached to the Grand Palace at Bangkok, Thailand, in the form of a bronze statue popularly called “The Hermit Doctor”.

The locals refer to this statue as their patron of medicine, an Indian hermit Jivaka, who gave them Yoga and herbal medicine and hence offer prayers and other offerings here, to get cured of illnesses.  This Jivaka was none other than the personal physician of the Buddha.

This statue at the front of the temple is placed on a stone pedestal, with another pedestal in front, bearing a stone mortar and pestle – an indication of how he practiced medicine with herbs, he used to grind.

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Jivaka, Patron Hermit of Yoga and Medicine, Wat Phra Kew, Grand Palace, Bangkok

Further more, many Yoga postures can be seen displayed by statues in the gardens of Wat Pho, the temple adjacent to the Grand Palace in Bangkok, which houses the Reclining Buddha and is home to the original Thai massage. Housing many plaques with inscriptions on the pressure points in the human body, this temple from a long time has been renowned as a study centre for Ayurveda including Thai style of massages and Yoga.

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Statues depicting Yoga Postures at Wat Pho Temple in Thailand, Bangkok

The statue, 2nd from left in the 2nd row, just under the large leafed plant can be seen

doing Pranayama, breathing exercise, with his hands on his waist

Yoga, Now a Global Brand

It was Paramahamsa Yogananda and then Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Sri. Krishnamacharya, Sri B.K.S.Iyengar, their disciples and Gurus such as Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and Baba Ramdev, who have literally taken Yoga to the world.

World Yoga Day

His Holiness Sri Sri Ravi Shankar gave a clarion call to have an World Yoga Day declared, to raise awareness of keeping mind and body fit through Yoga.

The Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi in his address to UN Assembly in September 2014, made a request to formalize a World Yoga day. The UN body adopted this resolution and passed it with a overwhelming majority in December 2014.

The world now has a new day to observe and celebrate – A World Yoga Day!

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June 21st of every year, which is the day of Summer Solstice, i.e. the day when the Sun is seen longest in the sky, the day when daylight is maximum, was declared by UN on 12th December 2014, as World Yoga Day.

It is an apt day to be chosen as a World Yoga Day for every Yoga session typically starts with Surya Namaskar, the reverence to the Sun. What could be a better day than a Summer Solstice, the day when the Sun is in its peak to revere and celebrate the connection between our body and the Sun. It is the connection which drives the very metabolism clock in our bodies.

What is even more amazing is that, the proposal from India to the UN, to declare June 21st as World Yoga Day was seconded and co-sponsored by an unprecedented number of 175 nations out of 193.

This is indeed a remarkable feat. Normally, so many countries coming together in the UN General Assembly to pass a resolution for a commemorating day is rare.

For the 1st time so many nations have unanimously voted for a declaration in the history of UN General Assembly and that too within a record 3 months of the proposal having been put up in September 2014.

This in itself is proof of the universal acceptance of Yoga.

The popularity of Yoga and universality of Yoga, is what led so many countries to come together to jointly announce a World Yoga Day.

“Yoga embodies

  • unity of mind and body;
  • thought and action;
  • restraint and fulfilment;
  • harmony between man and nature;
  • a holistic approach to health and well being.” ,

were the words with which India described Yoga and garnered this support.

No wonder then that people across the globe, across times have therefore held and continue to hold Yoga in high respect and demand. The need for Yoga and the benefits of Yoga are as universal, as is our breath and our desire to be in union with the divine.

Yoga is a universal offering from India which has the potential to align all bodies and minds, across the world, towards the common goal of self realization, oneness, unity and peace.

Himalayan Tsunami, Waiting to Happen, Happened – Why?

What is different about 2013?

June 2013 has been a month that will be etched in the minds and hills of the Himalaya for the large scale devastation wrought about in the valleys of Kedarnath.

The Himalaya are known to be earthquake prone. But this devastation was not due to an earthquake but floods due to a cloudburst.

The pilgrim towns in the Himalayas that have been devastated by floods this year have been where they are for so many millennia. Would they have come up there if it were so flood prone?

Have these hills not witnessed cloudbursts before, in all these years? What is so different this time around then?

In the last few years, have we been doing something different in these hills?  Something that our predecessors did not?

An Overpowering Situation

The journey upstream along the major rivers Alakananda and Mandakini reveals the answer.

Dotted with more hydel plants than green plants is a barren mountainscape that greets our eyes as we go up along these rivers to the upper reaches of the Himalaya. We see a plethora of Hydel power projects being built on the main river itself at close proximity.

With 42 hydel power plants operational and 203 more in various stages of approval, planning and development, it boils down to one hydel power plant every 5 to 7 kms of the river flow downstream.

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Power Plants being constructed on the slopes

This was not the landscape that was home to the humans, flora and fauna that have been living there since millennia.

The number of Hydel projects in these hilly areas of Uttaranchal have infact prompted these regions to be derisively nicknamed as Urjachal Urja for power, achala meaning mountains.

Aren’t these numbers overpowering? Is this not a sign of overpowering greed?

Could this sudden surge of power plants be the reason for the recently being witnessed disaster in this belt?

Contract With the Hills

Most certainly, for the amount of funds and effort being invested in the erection of each power plant, sufficient attention may have been given to test the soil conditions. The ability of the terrain there to withstand the drilling, blasting and damming needed for the power plant would also no doubt have been analyzed and necessary approvals procured.

But hills being hills and a fragile ecosystem and terrain at that, the effects of such heavy duty construction cannot be expected to stay localized to the ground on which that power plant is being constructed alone. The vibrations would ripple across the hills and valleys causing the rocks and soil to loosen and crack at the slightest cause.

It is like a pack of cards stacked up like domino. It is hard to say which card will cause the pile to cave in.

Who then can guarantee that scooping out of portions of one hill will not cause damage elsewhere?

Do the few government bodies really have the wherewithal to ascertain and rule out such implications?

Imagine the strain on the hills when it is being blown up and drilled every 5 kms.

Little wonder then that a heavy downpour due to a cloudburst can literally pull the ground away from under one’s feet causing breeches, landfalls and flashfloods.

Media had been highlighting this issue for a while, villagers too. Warnings were there for the traditional stake holders of the land to see physically and raise orally. They seem to have got drowned in the channels of power.

Development in this region does not appear to be an ecology based model but more of a contractor driven model.

Worse still, this so called development in this area is not for the people on the hills but to benefit the people living in the plains and cities below.

Does this not seem like a case where approvals hardly have a role to play?

Does this not seem like a free for all or first come – first served or first claimed scenario?

Shifting the Silt

Silting is Welcome Here

Every river by nature has silting. But heavy to very heavy silting is a unique feature of all Himalayan rivers, whether they flow north, south, east or west. These rivers originate in glaciers high up in the Himalaya. As the glaciers grind over the rocks and flow out as these rivers, these rivers bring down mineral rich silt from the hills.

It is because of this silting nature of these rivers, that right from Haridwar where Ganga enters the plains, to Bangladesh, the land is fertile. It is the silt, alluvial soil brought by the waters that has made these lands fertile.

The Gangetic plains of eastern Bihar, Bengal and Bangladesh were formed by such silt naturally filling up the sea bed. The enormity of silt brought down from the mountains, every day, every hour of the river flow, can now be imagined.

This silting has been a boon for the people in the plains. No wonder then, that this belt is one of the most fertile and consequently densely populated regions of the world.

Cost of Silt

Look at the cost of building dams across such silting rivers.

When a dam is built across such rivers, the storage area of the dam will be filled with silt within a few years to a decade. While the cost of desilting is one factor, where can so much silt be manually relocated?

Is sale of silt perhaps anticipated as a byproduct of this power generation?

Instead the better way would be to tap all the excess water flowing over a certain level, which will have lesser silt and take it away downstream through series of canals for other needs. This method has stood the test of time and has been found to be sustainable.

One of the earliest examples, dating back to over 2000 years ago, is the Sringaverapura water diversion system built near Varanasi. While this system is in the plains, this principle is time tested and valid for the Himalayan rivers.

Another drawback of building dams across such heavily silting rivers has been observed by the CAG. As explained in their report, the silt in a river slows down the river as it comes downstream, making it less turbulent. With the construction of hydel projects across these rivers, the river waters are routed into turbines for generating power and then released back into the river stream.

The silt in the river therefore gets withheld upstream due to this. Not only is the downstream flow made devoid of this silt but the turbulence of the water flow also increases downstream due to lack of silt to slow it down.

This makes downstream regions of the river more prone to damage from breaches of river banks and flash floods due to higher turbulence.

In the name of development and supplying power, we are going to impoverish the farmers in the plains by robbing them of the fertile silt that the rivers naturally brought with them for free. We are not far from the times when the farmers may perhaps be asked to buy the silt to enrich their land – just like they have been made to buy seeds and fertilizer, which were earlier available to them from Nature for free.

In this scenario, does it seem a wise option to build not one, but hundreds of dams, across the river flow of such silting rivers?

Footprints on Himalaya

The Himalaya is one of the youngest mountain ranges of the world and is still very fragile and volatile. So what holds good for mountain ranges elsewhere in the world may not necessarily hold good here.

Except for the villages dotting the hills, Himalaya has always been a spiritual destination for people of India. It has been a place to experience spirituality through solitude, meditation, penances, pilgrimage, adventure, art, living with nature and such other pursuits which demand discipline and respect for the space around. Journeys to Himalaya were therefore undertaken with some austerity. As a result this has been a region not frequented by many and infrastructure too was minimal.

This in a way also maintained the ecology of this region and kept it pristine.

All of these activities are different from commercial tourism. There is now an overlap emerging between the two due to various social, economic and technical advancements in society. This to an extent is increasing footprint here but bringing down the pristineness of this mountainscape.

Commercial opportunities have presented themselves in such times and man’s greed to make the most of them without thought, is evident from the way these regions have grown into shanty towns with abysmally low, ill planned and neither human friendly nor eco friendly facilities.

Now to support these towns and the large number of tourists flocking there, other infrastructure such as large scale power plants, roads, garbage disposal, water supply and such others too have had to be setup. We are slowly taking footprints of the plains into the hills and that too delicate hills at that. Not only delicate, but hills which are core to life on the plains below. Hills that have nourished the lives in the plains with waters, alluvium, rains and much more!

By reducing the moutainscape to the landscape of the plains, are we not, in a way, snuffing out the sources for our own sustenance and lives?

Badrinath

The very name Badrinath for this holy pilgrim spot, comes from the Badri tree. Badri is a type of berry. This region used to be a place of Badri trees . Today there is hardly any greenery around. All one gets to see are closely packed lodges, shops and eateries.

badrinath-town2

Badrinath

(the building with yellow roof is the temple)

Kedarnath

The word Kedar means a meadow, a flat table of land or water, a flat basin that can hold water.

One look at the terrain around the present day temple of Kedarnath confirms why this place was aptly named so.

kedar1880-GSI kedar1880-GSI2

Kedarnath in 1880s (from GSI collection)

This picture brings out lucidly, the strategic location of this temple on a high ground in the flat land amidst many hills.

It is a flat basin surrounded by hills. Naturally when it rains, the water would flow onto this meadow from different heights, different directions. It is both a meadow of pasture as well as a water meadow. In times of torrential rain and floods, this meadow would but naturally be inundated, true to its name.

But have we ever given a thought as to why this land got this name?

In this picture of the Kedar valley in 1880s, we see the temple standing alone and nothing much else other than a few lone huts.

Before this deluge, the whole area around it had mushroomed like a shanty town with very little adherence to organized planning and proper understanding of the heavy water flow or the seismological implications.

Infact the temple seems lost amidst other buildings.

 KedarnathView KedarnathShantyTown

Kedarnath before the 2013 floods

Soul Searching In These Hills

Does that mean that no development should happen there beyond what was there in 1880?

Development for Yatri, pilgrims is essential. But it should take into consideration both seismological and ecological factors.  While the temple area needs to be pristine, the development area with facilities could have been properly planned, some kilometers away down the valley, where it could have been both ecologically and seismologically safer. Facilties could infact be staggered across different valleys along the route.

This would bring up only small footprints around the temple and not a large shanty town.

The capacity of every piece of land to house anything, be it people, animals or plant life, is defined by its spread, its topology, its environs and natural resources available to it right there, not elsewhere on another piece of land. Stretching things beyond this capacity is bound to cause stress to the land, its environs and its inhabitants eventually leading to an imbalance and breakdown.

This holds good whether the piece of land lies in the Himalaya or on the plains.

Given this, just because we have the technology and economic resources on hand, we cannot create almost city sized towns in the hilly heights. Even though we may think of these pilgrim towns or tourist spots as having only a floating population which stays for a night or two, seen over the few months that these pilgrim and tourist spots are open to public, the average number of people who fill these towns are higher than those on the plains. Also floating people leave behind larger footprints than permanent residents who conserve for future.

It would be prudential on our part to rethink our approach to pilgrimage and tourism in such ecologically and geologically difficult terrain.

For example, even today, access to Gangotri is restricted for those below 15 and above 65. Also the number of people who can trek up in a day are limited. Besides lowering risk of health calamities, this is to limit modern man’s footprints in such highly sensitive ecological places.

Instead of concentrating all facilities near the temple just because it is a flat land and easier to build there, the money and effort could have been put into development of towns with planned infrastructure, lower in the hills, connected by technically advanced, safe mountain roads and tunnels, wide enough to enable quicker, daytrips to and from these pilgrim spots higher up. Food and other provisions could be sent up with the travelers and the waste brought back with them for proper disposal at lower grounds.

This would not only reduce the need for housing, electricity, water, food and other infrastructure at those pilgrimage areas to enable people to stay overnight and return, it would also reduce the amount of pollutants being released in those delicate heights. Environment friendly medium of transport too could be deployed to prevent pollution of the hills.

These wider roads and transport would also be a boon for the locals of the hills enroute in times of emergencies which are not uncommon in this region.

After this catastrophe, it will be foolish on our part, if still we do not learn the meaning of the word Kedar and continue to be deceived by such flat lands in the midst of high, snow clad hills, as they can be equally dangerous as the narrow ridges.

Another point to note here is that while the modern structures have been washed out, it is the traditional architecture of the Kedarnath temple, that has stood this test of Nature’s fury and human’s folly.

Neighbouring Bhutan

The people of Bhutan rate high in their happiness index inspite of their poverty as measured by the western yardstick. So happiness is something that is more than the comfort that comes from  economic wealth.

While in the Paro region of Thimpu, the capital city, most modern facilities are available, the basic structure of all the buildings follow the traditional norms because of which, even under heavy rains or seismological activities, the damages are mitigated. The traditional façade also adds to the beauty.

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Thimpu, Paro in Bhutan

No wonder the people here are high in the happiness index as they adhere to the basic principles of sustainable living based on time tested methods.

Happiness is innately made up of many components and sustainable living, living in sync with Nature figures as one of the high points.

While Bhutan has maintained the core principals of traditional architecture, still attracted tourists in large numbers and given them all modern amenities to live by, in adjacent India, the facilities in the Himalayan circuits leave a lot to be desired.

It is a stark contrast to see, for after all, Bhutan is a neighbour of India.

This perhaps stems from the fact that for Bhutan, Himalaya is their entire country and they have lived there all along.

Whereas for India, Himalaya is at one end of the country. While majority people of India enjoy the benefits that the Himalaya provides such as perennial water supply, rich silt, protection from cold northern winds, to name a few obvious, they are far removed from the realities of what such a ecosystem really means.

The ones who know and value it, are the locals who have been living there all along. But they cannot do anything, for, even though they may live in the heights, they have been forced to bow down to the political and economic power in the plains.

Can those from the plains, unfamiliar with the terrain and ecosystem of the hills, decide what must be done on the hills, with the hills and for the hills?

Have we gone too deep into a centralized model of governance that understanding local field and needs have become peripheral issues?

Barren Without the Banj

The lower to middle Himalaya, has been home to varied species of flora and fauna. One among them has been the White Oak tree, called Banj by the locals. This Banj tree had been pivotal to the ecosystem of Himalaya so much so that the ecosystem of the Himalaya had grown around this tree. Let us look at the roles this tree has played.

Benevolent Banj

banjtree1

Water retention – the broad leaves of this tree retain water and proliferation of this tree meant more water evaporation during summers and so more rain and snow in the upper reaches of the Himalaya and hence more river water flow during summer again.

Water percolation – the falling leaves of the Banj on mulching, created a thick carpet of Humus on the floor of the forests making it conducive for bushes, plants and other undergrowth under these trees, which again contributed to increasing the humus on the floor of the forest. This Humus absorbed the rain water falling and allowed it to percolate slowly into the ground rather than just get washed away down the slopes. This percolation led to increase in ground water and water springs at various places along the slopes.

Preventing Soil Erosion – The carpet of Humus held the soil firmly and prevented it from getting washed away down the slopes along with the waters. This prevented landslides and consequently breaches and flash floods.

banjwithundergrowth

Banj Tree with Undergrowth, Humus

Unfortunately from the times of the British, these massive oaks were felled and instead replaced with Chir Pine trees for their quick commercial value. Chir Pine was suitable for resins and timber and had a quick turn around.

But what no one looked into was that the leaves of the Chir Pine were fine and needle shaped. What did that imply?

Needle Pine, The Sharp Contrast

chir pine

Chir Pine

Water retention – Being fine and needle shaped, the leaves of the Chir Pine, did not absorb and retain water. Consequently they had nothing to offer by way of evaporation and hence did not help rains or snow.

Water Percolation – Being fine and needle shaped, the fallen leaves rolled away and did not mulch below the tree to form humus. Hence there was no undergrowth of bushes and other plants beneath the pine tree. The ground beneath the pine tree was barren without any undergrowth. Hence any rain water that fell on the ground just quickly rolled off down the slopes of the mountains as there was no carpet of humus to absorb the water and allow it to soak into the ground. Consequently there was no percolation of water underground and water springs and aquifers went dry soon.

Soil Erosion – As there was no undergrowth, the soil under the trees were exposed to the falling rains which would wash away the soil as it ran down the slopes. During torrential rains, which these regions are bound to experience, when these rain waters flowed unchecked down the slopes they started creating flashfloods and landslides.

This difference came to light when the local Pahadi, women of these hills started noticing reduction in fuel wood and ground water. Nobody had concerned themselves with the Banj trees and hence the women could use their lower branches as fuel wood.  Pruning the lower branches regularly also allowed more sunlight to reach the ground and aid more undergrowth and humus.

Whereas, the pine trees were part of plantations for commercial exploitation and access to their wood was barred to these women.

The search for the root of the problem subsequently led to the understanding of the pivotal role the Banj tree had played in maintaining the ecosystem of these hills.

Sadly, it was too late. Most of the Banj had gone. The local women who wanted to safeguard the few left behind rallied round under a movement called the Chipko movement during the 1970s. The Pahadi women formed human chains and hugged the Banj trees to prevent them from being felled. The word Chipko means to hug, to stick to.

Chipko

Chipko Movement 1970s – Women Hugging Banj Tree

The barren landscape of the hills today tells us the remaining part of this story as to what happened to these women and their trees.

Were we not shortsighted when we could see the money in Pine but not the boon in Banj? Did we make a mistake, when we felled all the Banj trees off the Himalaya?

Insignificantly Small Yet Significant Benefactors

There is a significant phenomenon which is slowly coming to the light of the scientific world.

It has now come to be accepted in the scientific community that one of the key inducers of rainfall, snow is an insignificantly small organism – a  bacteria called “pseudomonas Syringae”.

Rain falls when water molecules in the clouds gather around particles of dust that have risen into the atmosphere, to form ice crystals which then melt and fall to the ground as rain. It has been found that the bacteria pseudomonas Syringae, which are found on the green cover of forests, rise up into the air in large quantities. They act as nuclei around which the water molecules crystallize as ice and then condense into rain, snow.

The difference in crystallization by these bacteria versus that around dust is that the bacteria cause freezing of ice crystals at higher temperatures causing rains, snow to fall earlier than otherwise.

This singular ability of the bacteria is now being exploited by ski resorts to make snow at will. It is shot as cannons into the atmosphere with water to cause snow to form and fall.

These bacteria grow where there is healthy green cover and mulching leaves.

In the case of the Himalaya, sadly, the disappearing Banj and consequently the disappeared undergrowth and Humus, should have caused a fall in the population of these bacteria – both growing on the ground as well as those risen into the atmosphere with the potential to make rain fall.

Without knowing their role in entirety, these bacteria, seen as pests, are also being destroyed by the heavy use of pesticides.

What is the significance of this rain making bacteria in connection with the flashfloods at Uttarakhand?

What typically causes flashfloods in the Himalaya?

Flashfloods occur commonly in the Himalaya due to cloudbursts which bring down torrential amounts of rain in a short span of time. Being a hilly region, the voluminous amounts of rain waters from the cloudburst, cascade down the hills with tremendous force causing landslides and flashfloods.

But the major and root cause for such damage is the cloudburst.

Cloudbursts occur when huge columns of monsoon clouds, heavily laden with water molecules are triggered by either a physical barrier or other dynamics in the atmosphere to discharge their heavy payload in a rush. This leads to rapid and voluminous rainfall in a short duration.  It is like a Tsunami but from the skies.

Here is where the rain making bacteria comes into act.

The presence of this rain making bacteria in the atmosphere causes ice crystalization in the clouds earlier and rain to fall sooner. This prevents huge build up of clouds, causes precipitation then and there in many places, reducing the potential for formation of conditions that can lead to heavy cloudbursts. Basically it acts to decentralize the clouds and distribute the rains rather than converge into a huge cloud capable of bursting.

So, when the green cover in the Himalaya was more healthy and conducive for the bacteria due to the presence of the Banj trees, these rain makers were many and they were busy making rain and preventing cloudbursts.

With the disappearance of the Banj, its undergrowth and the humus on the floor of the hills, we have driven the rain makers away and clouds are bursting uncontrolled.

The sheer fact that many of the old shrines and old settlements have survived so long in these hills in the same places that are reporting frequent landslides, flashfloods, cloudbursts and casualties today, is an indication that these hills were perhaps not so perilous even till a few centuries ago. Man, flora, fauna and the elements had struck a perfect chord and were in harmony with each other.

How can we engage this rain maker again?

Power of Energy, Shakti

The guardian deity of the Uttarakhand region is Dhari Devi, a goddess, whose idols stood near the village Dhari, named after Her. This temple stood on the banks of the Alakananda in the Garhwal region of Uttarakhand.

This Dhari Devi temple was not some new temple that had come up in the last 50 to 100 years. It was a Shakti Sthal, one among the 108 Shakti Peeth, a seat of Shakti,  which means it has been there and venerated continuously by the majority people of the land for more than a couple of millennia. Shakti Sthal are places where the Shakti Tattva, subtle energies are considered to be manifest.

The Dhari Devi temple had a subtle connect with the temples of Kali Math and Kedarnath. These temples were designed and installed at specific angles with each other to balance the Shiva – Shakti energies. Shiva in Kedarnath and Shakti in Dhari Devi and Kali Math.

DhariDevi

Dhari Devi

One day prior to the deluge, the idol of Dhari Devi was removed from its consecrated, long standing location to make way for a dam to be constructed there.

Angles were well known in this land for it was the ancient Indian science of Trikonamiti which gave rise Trigonometry, a branch of modern mathematics. Kona means corner, angle. Trikona is a triangle. The east coast town of Konarak, famed for its ancient Sun temple was also built in specific angle to the Sun, which is why it was aptly named as Konarak.

Angles denote alignments. Concept of angles, their meanings and the powers in alignments, whether of planets in the sky or objects on the ground, was well known to this civilization.

Without realizing the meaning, the purpose of these angles and the precision with which these temples had been located where they were, the Dhari Devi temple was shifted consequent to Supreme court order.

While development should happen around such ancient and honoured places, here development has been ordered by overturning the places of honour.

While the Shakti Peeth has been there beyond human memory and would have continued to be there for some millennia more, these modern dams have a life of just 100 – 200 years.

These dams can be built in this valley or the next.

“Can structures of timeless nature, which form the heritage of the land, be moved in the name of short term development projects?” is the question that a full bench of the Supreme court has to analyze now.

In Conclusion – Acts Cause Impacts

Tampering with the Shakti Peeth could well have been the proverbial last straw on the camel’s back, inviting the wrath of Shakti, the power in the fury of Mother Nature, for the cumulative destruction that we have caused to her over the last 300 years.

That the shifting of the Dhari Devi temple could have invoked the wrath of Shakti to cause such a catastrophe, can be a faith based reason, which the modern rational mind would not be willing to agree upon as a point of argument. The underlying fact however is that the Chardham Yatra, the pilgrimage to all these temples, the whole trek and experience is founded on the same faith that has come down from eons and millennia.

So, dismissing the shifting of Dhari Devi as one of the causes for the catastrophe, as just a faith based or an irrational reason, would not be looking at this incident from a wholistic perspective. The whole system there is faith based.

Now we are left with the faith that perhaps atleast this Uttarakhand disaster, even at the cost of so many lives and damage, will shake us out of our apathy towards environment and tendency for quick and dirty, ill planned solutions that bear ill effects.

It is a lesson on how not to be overpowered by greed. It is not that we in present times have discovered new technologies or commercial avenues. Our ancients had known many too. But they had discovered something more … how to live sustainably with Nature – when to use technology and when not to. Technology and commerce go hand in hand and shape lifestyle. It is easy to discover new technology. The difficulty is in deciding when, where and how much to use. The difficulty is in limiting it to catering to needs and not greeds.

It is a lesson on how to respect ancient traditions. It is not that they do not work, we do not understand them well enough to make them work.

It is a lesson on how not to tamper with Nature. It is easy to cut a tree, a forest even. But is it possible for a man or a machine or even another type of tree to substitute for its function the same way, from the very next moment? Even if a sapling of the same type of tree is planted, who can perform the functions of that tree for the interim years till this sapling can grow into another tree?

It is a lesson to tell us how every being on this planet has a role to play, be it a human, a tree or a bacteria. How each of us – humans, trees, organisms and natural elements like rain and earth are all part of one single eco system.

Acts of each, impact the others. It may not show in the short term but over time it will and when it does it will seem like the hand of fate and then it will be too late.

Kurukshetra Battle and the number 9

The Kurukshetra battle between the Pandava and Kaurava army can be rightfully termed as one of the greatest and bloodiest battles of the ancient world.

The range of weaponry used in this battle is indeed amazing. The number of people involved in this day battle are also equally astonishing.

There is an interesting correlation with the number 9 that we see in this battle.

The battle lasted for 18 days, with the sum of the digits, 1+ 8 being 9.

The Bhagavad Gita which happened at the beginning of the Kurukshetra War has 18 chapters.

There are 18 Parva in Mahabharata.

When we look at some of the Army figures, we are again left surprised at how they all arrive at number 9.

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Akshohini of Kurukshetra War

In the above numbers on the Mahabharata Armies, Kaurava had 11 Akshohini of Sena, Army, while the Pandava had 7 Akshohini. When we add 7 + 11, the number again is 18.

The number of chariots involved in this battle were 21,870.  2+1+8+7+0= 18

The number of elephants in this War also equaled to 21,870.

The number of cavalry are 65,610.  6+5+6+1+0 = 18

The total Infantry who took part in this war were 1,09,350. 1+0+9+3+5+0 = 18

In all the above cases, we have the number 18, the digits of which add to 9.

Also, the ration of the above 4 figures, comes to  1:1:3:5

Similarly let us look at other numerical figures, in this Kurukshetra battle.

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The number of people who took part in the battle

In the above figures too, we cannot miss the number 9.

In the number of people in Infantry equaling to 19,68, 300, we have 1+9+6+8+3+0+0 = 27.

The number of people fighting in the Cavalry were 11,80,980, and we have 1+1+8+0+9+8+0 = 27.

The number of people with the elephants were 7,87,320, leading to 7+8+7+3+2+0 = 27.

The number of persons involved with Chariots were also 7,87,320, arriving at 27.

The total number of people who took part in the battle were 47, 23, 920, which is 4+7+2+3+9+2+0 = 27

In all these numbers, the sum of the digits add up to 27, and 2+7 = 9.

 As per some Indian texts, the number 9 represents Brhm, the Divine Consciousness. Brhm, Brahma comes from the root word, Brh, which means to expand. As per the divine text, Ekoham Bahushyam, – “I am One. I Willed to become Many”, Brhm, the Supreme Consciousness multiplies into innumerable forms and bodies that we see as Creation. Inspite of all this, Brhm remains the same.

So, what is the connection with number 9?

The digits of the multiples of 9 always adds up to 9, be it 18, 27, 36, 45, 72, 108, etc. Thus number nine remains the same, inspite of multiplication.

The number 9 is thus held sacred in the Indian thought.

There are 9 Maha Purana, 9 Navarasa, 9 Navagraha, Navaratri.

There are 27 constellations.

In the 360 degrees of circle, 3+6 = 9.

The number 9 represents wholeness, unity and justice, as the same Divine Consciousness pervades all.

When there is Unity and Justice, there cannot be any War. This is the message that we can take from these numbers of the Mahabharata.

More on Mahabharata and the historicity of Krishna, in our book, Historical Krishna.

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