Guru Arjan is the 5th Sikh Guru who became a Guru at the age of 18.
He built the base of the Golden temple in 1601 CE and also compiled the sacred Adi Granth, which was in the year 1708, conferred the title of Guru Granth Sahib by Guru Gobind Singh, and is revered as the Holy Book of Sikhs.
Guru Arjan and his team compiling the Adi Granth beside the golden temple
Guru Arjan was also a poet and composed 2312 hymns. These hymns were called “Sukh Mani Sahib”. They console our minds and hearts and have a soothing effect on the reader, the listener and the singer.
Guru Arjan composed these hymns sitting on the banks of Ramsar Sarovar.
Sukh Mani Sahib
The oppression from the Mugals led Guru Arjan to sacrifice his life at a young age of 43 in 1606 CE for which he is reverentially referred to as “Shahid De Sartaj”.
Guru Arjan was sentenced to death by the then Mughal King Jahangir for including Islamic references in the Holy Book. He was made to sit on a hot sheet and burning sand was put on him.
Guru Arjan passed away on 30th May, 1606.
Many years after his death, Guru Arjan’s social, spiritual, and poetic legacy along with the golden temple still stands a testimony to the vision he had for the people.
Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, born on May 28, 1883, was a major player in India’s Independence. He was a poet, a writer and a politician, who shaped Indian nationalism through the concept of Hindutva, a term that was coined by this leader.
Concept of Hindutva
Hindutva has been a much misunderstood word these days, for, the term Hindu has been equated with the religion, Hinduism and many people have termed this concept as an idea of following and promoting one religion.
Hindutva, a Value System
In actual sense, what Sarvarkar meant was a value system based on the culture and traditions of this land. It was a value system that revolved around the core principles of Universalism, Humanism, Positivism, Pragmatism and Rationalism.
Savarkar believed in influencing the masses towards independence, by reminding them of their unique cultural identity.
Activities as youth
Savarkar’s pro independence activities began from his student days in England, where, as a part of the India House, he founded the twin student societies, Abhinav Bharat Society and Free India Society to encourage the youth to participate in Indian revolution for independence.
He also brought out many publications towards this effect. “The First Indian War of Independence” was one of his major works highlighting the Indian struggle of 1857 against the British misrule. The work was banned by the British administrators.
Fighting untouchability and casteism
Savarkar was against religions, untouchability and openly spoke out against castism. He thereby played a vital role in forging unity among masses. He is credited to have facilitated in discarding the practice of untouchability in the remote areas of Ratnagiri in Maharashtra, in less than 10 years.
Netaji on Savarkar
Netaji in his speech of June-25, 1944, acknowledged Savarkar’s perspicacity.
Starting Ganesh Utsav
Savarkar was also one of the leaders along with Bal Gangadhar Tilak who started the Ganesh Utsav that became and is still one of the major festivals of Maharashtra, to build national and cultural unity.
For all these, Savarkar was arrested in London in 1910 for carrying out anti-colonial activities. While being shifted to India in a ship, Savarkar tried to escape when the ship reached Marseilles by diving into the water and escaping to the shore. But, the alarm bells were rung before he could be saved by his friends and he was rearrested. He was now sentenced to two consecutive terms of life imprisonment, i.e, 50 years in jail and was shifted to the Cellular Jail in Andaman and Nicobar islands. His brother was also in same jail at the same time for many years, but both did not know of each others’ presence.
Cellular Jail, Savarkar Cell
This did not impede Sarvarkar as he carried out his pro independence activities from jail. He wrote his biggest work on Hindutva while serving his sentence.
In 1921, Savarkar was released on the condition that he would not hence forth encourage and carry out any revolutionary activities.
Speeches across land
Once outside jail, Savarkar concentrated on travelling across the country and giving speeches on the concept of Hindutva that he had formulated while in prison. As an able orator and poet, he was able to greatly influence the minds of the people towards his idea of India.
President of Hindu Mahasabha
He was elected the president of Hindu Mahasabha in 1937, which he served until 1943.
Savarkar was vehemently against partition. His position on partition has been aptly summarized by Ambedkar in his work, ‘Pakistan or Partition of India’.
“Mr. Savarkar… insists that, although there are two nations in India, India shall not be divided into two parts, one for Muslims and the other for the Hindus; that the two nations shall dwell in one country and shall live under the mantle of one single constitution…”
After Independence, Savarkar continued his agenda of promoting Hindutva through his oratory, poetry and writing skills. He had to sail through a few controversial moments when he was accused in Mahatma Gandhi assassination case, but was later acquitted.
Savarkar passed away on 26th February, 1966. Around 2000 Rastriya Swayam Sevaks conducted a grand funeral for this great freedom fighter. The term ‘Veer’ was added to his name in recognition of the great courage he had shown in fighting the British Rule.
We, Hari and Hema got the opportunity to visit his cell in Andaman Jail. We recollect with pain to have seen the many torture tools that were used then.
The struggle, the freedom fighters have gone through to give us, the next generations, the freedom we are enjoying today truly leave us tearful and speechless!!!
The only words that arise in the silence are,
“Are we living up to the dreams they cherished for India, for the sake of which they underwent so much torture?”
Munro was one British officer who was friendly to India. He
was a friend of India. He was an officer, who unlike the other colonial
officers, had great respect and admiration for the native customs of the land.
Sir Thomas Munro was born on 27th May, 1761 at Glasgow. He arrived in India in 1789.
In 1820s, the British did an extensive All India survey of the education system of the land, which was conducted by Sir Thomas Munro, who later went on to become Major General Thomas Munro.
British Survey of Educational System
As per Sir Thomas Munro’s survey, in every village, there
was more than one Gurukula. Every temple had a Gurukula attached
to it. Every region and kingdom prided in the Mahavidyalaya, the
institutions of higher learning that were nearby, at hand.
He saw a vibrant education system that existed in India, prior to the imposition of the British education system.
His survey also showed that in the traditional education system, caste played no role, and was not restricted by gender or religion.
He started this survey from Bellary, which is in the centre of Deccan.
Prosperous Bellary of antiquity
Bellary was a prosperous land, rich in minerals. This Bellary was associated with the Kishkinda Kingdom of Ramayana times. Hampi, the capital of Vijayanagara Kingdom of Krishnadevaraya was also located in this Bellary area.
Bellary was thus not a backward area but a prosperous land from ancient times. In the recent few decades too, Bellary has yielded mining wealth of legendary proportions.
It is from such a well-to-do region, that Thomas Munro started his famous education survey. The survey was extended all over South India.
Survey of Madras Presidency
Thomas Munro was then posted in the Deccan region and was given the task of conducting an extensive survey of the schooling system that was prevalent there. He did a caste wise enumeration in each district that came under the purview of his survey.
His report is an eye opener for all.
The above statistics emphatically show that, in the Madras
Presidency Area of those days, which covered most parts of South India, the Shudra
and Athishudra children were the majority of students, uniformly in
all the 4 language regions.
It can be observed that Madras Presidency Province extended
from Orissa coast in the North to Kanyakumari in the South as well as to the
Malabar Coast in the West. Adjoining kingdoms of Hyderabad, Mysore, Travancore
and Calicut were also included in this extensive survey.
The survey also placed before all, district wise data of student of different castes studying in the same school together.
Going through these statistics in the survey report, we see
that district after district, without fail, Shudra and other castes
outnumbered the Brahmins in schools. The word Soodra was the way Shudra
was spelt in those days.
This emphatically brings out the fact that, it was not only
the Brahmins who went to Gurukula. All students of the society
had equal opportunity to go to the traditional and native schools of India.
In the analysis of this chart, what comes out clear is that
it was the kings, the Raja who did not send their children to Gurukula
but instead seemed to prefer home schooling.
Whereas the students of Brahmana, Vaishya, Shudra and Athishudra, all studied together in the same schools, under the same teachers, in same classrooms and studied the same subjects. These statistics clearly bring out, that the interest of Shudra in education and enrollment in schools were in equal numbers or infact a lot more.
Religion and Gender not a barrier
Major General Sir Thomas Munro touched on the aspect of gender and religion, at Fort St.George, Madras on 10th March, 1826. As per what he said, in the Malabar region from 1822 to 1825, 11963 boys and 2190 girls went to school. Of these 1,122 girls belonged to Muslim families. He conducted this survey when he was posted at Malabar.
Thomas Munro’s experience at Mantralaya
When Thomas Munro was the Collector of Bellary, he made a survey of the lands and fixed rents and taxes on a uniform scale. However he was not able to appropriately determine the ownership of the lands that were in the hands of the Matnralaya Mutt, the place where Sri Radhavendra Swamy’s Samadhi is located.
The devotees of Swamy Raghavendra told Munro that even though Raghavendra Swamy has been in Brahma Samadhi for the last 130 years, He will continue to live for the next 700 years. They asked him to meet Raghavendra Swamy and seek from him clarification regarding the lands. Thomas Munro was moved seeing the faith of the people, and decided to meet the Swamy. He arrived at Mantralaya and sat by the Samadhi. He was astonished to see Raghavendra Swamy appearing before him in a manifested form.
The Swamy then explained to him in detail regarding the extent of the land belonging to the Mutt. He then became invisible again. Thomas Munro who was awed at getting darshan of the Swamy in person, passed the lands in the Mutt’s favour.
Sir Thomas Munro
Sir Thomas Munro passed away on 6th July, 1827 at
Gooty, after being infected with Cholera, in the then Madras Presidency. He was
buried at a graveyard in Gooty.
For His efforts of the education survey and his other such
untiring efforts, such as redesigning a peasant friendly land revenue system
and a more people friendly district administration system which survives to
this day, Major General Thomos Munro was knighted as Sir Thomas Munro. That is
the honour and importance that the British had accorded to his sincere efforts
and the survey.
A magnificent bronze statue of Sir. Thomas Munro stands to this day in the centre of Chennai, erstwhile Madras city, as a sign of the high esteem, in which he was held by both Indians and the British.
The interesting bit of information on the side is that, this
statue, made in Britain by Sir. Francis Chantrey, a popular sculptor, shows Sir
Thomas Munro without a stirrup, stirring up a controversy on whether it was an
oversight or a true depiction of Munro who loved to ride bareback.
Stirrup or not, popular sentiment overrode and Munro continues to sit astride on his horse, as one of the landmarks of Chennai.
More on Thomos Munro and his education survey in our book, Breaking The Myths – About Society.
Ashutosh Mukherjee born on 29th June, 1864 in Patna is among the foremost educationist that this country has every produced. He is the father of Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, a leader who gave an alternative to the Nehru narrative in the early 1950s.
Tiger of Bengal
“Banglar Bagh”, “the tiger of Bengal,” was the popular name by which Sir Ashutosh Mukherjee was referred to, for, for his high academic skills and at the same time high self esteem and courage with which he interacted with the British. He was indeed a ‘tiger’ in the field of education.
Vice Chancellor of Calcutta University
Ashutosh Mukherjee was the Vice Chancellor of the Calcutta University from 1906 to 1914 and again from 1921 to 1923.
He made the University one of the foremost centers of learning in India during his stint. His ability to identify and groom young talent is well known in the field of academics even today.
As the Vice Chancellor, Ashutosh Mukherjee persuaded the famous Indian Physicist C V Raman to teach at the University.
At the time Raman was posted at the government’s Finance department who were reluctant to release him. Moreover, the terms of endowment professorship that Raman had to fulfill disqualified him.
Ashotosh Mukerjee however, convinced the budding physicist Raman to work as a Palit Professor of Physics at the Science College that was affiliated to the University at a much lower salary. Raman’s pioneering research in Physics called the Raman Effect led him to win the noble price.
In 1921, he was able to convince another budding philosopher, Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan to join the Calcutta University. Dr Radhakrishnan went on to become one of the great philosophers of the land and finally the President of India.
Ashotosh Mukherjee also inspired the famous Mathematician, Srinivasa Ramanuajam and helped him to put forth his theories in the academic circle.
Encouraged Samskrt scholars
Similarly, Ashotosh Mukherjee also identified Mahodaya N S Ananthakrishna Sastry and Mahomaya Chinnaswamy Sastri, great Samskrt scholars who were living in deep south near Tanjare in a village called Tiruvaiyaru. He took them to Calcutta, provided them both physical and mental space, and encouraged them to bring out tens of volumes of Samskrt literature, which formed the basis of a great revival of Samskrt studies in eastern India then.
He also supported young Subhas Chandra Bose, then a student of the Presidency College where he assaulted English professor Oaten for abusing Indians. Subhas was removed from the College.
As the Vice-Chancellor, there were persuasions on Ashotosh Mukherjee to remove him from the University as well. Mukherjee did not want to destroy the career of a brilliant student who had stood up against injustice. He made alternate arrangements for Subhas to study at the Scottish Church missionary college.
Ashutosh Mukherjee nurtured many such young students who contributed to the progress of the land.
Teacher to the teacher
Today, we celebrate Teacher’s day on September 5th as the birthday of Dr Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan.
For this teacher, it was the teacher Ashutosh Mukherjee who facilitated the rise to great heights that Dr Radhakrishnan came to. A good teacher is known by the student he creates. Ashutosh Mukherjee’s name shines for the youth he picked and nurtured.
It is through the efforts of such great men, the foundations of the modern university system of education as built on.
Let us further his legacy
Let us further the cause of education in India that this great educationist had nurtured and stood for through his life.
We look at the land of India as Mother India, which in local parlance is called Bharat Mata. We not only revere our motherland as our Mother, but look upon the whole World as our Mother.
In the Indian thought, we look upon our planet as Mother Earth, and refer to Her as Bhu Maa Devi, Bhu meaning “One who can bear”, for she bears us.
While all the planets like Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, and also the Sun and the Moon are expressed as masculine, it is only earth that is expressed as feminine, in the Indian thought. This is because only Earth supports life.
From time immemorial, this concept of the land, earth and country being feminine has been a part of the ethos of this land, and is ingrained in the Vedic and Puranic thought. Bhu Sutra is one of the Veda Samhita on Mother Earth.
Tortoises and turtles are reptiles. They are able to survive both on land and in water.
They were one of the early creatures to make the evolutionary shift from living in water to also living on land. A big shift.
Tortoise Turtle – Difference
The major difference between a turtle and a tortoise is that turtles mostly live in water while tortoises mostly live on land. Some of the other differences being,
Dome shaped shells
Bent legs and short feet
Webbed feet with long claws
Hatchlings move to mother’s burrow from their nest soon after birth
Hatchlings stay in their next on their own for 3 to 4 months
Tortoise legends across the world
There are numerous legends associated with tortoises across many civilizations.
In the sequence of Dasavatara, the 10 incarnations of Divinity Vishnu, Kurma Avatara, the tortoise incarnation, is the second Avatara, incarnation of the Divinity Vishnu. The first in the 10 incarnations was Matsya, the Fish, which can live only in water. The second is Kurma, a tortoise which can live both on land and water, representing the evolutionary leap.
Vishnu takes the form of a tortoise and supports the hill on His back during the churning of the oceans, Samudra Manthan by the Deva and Asura.
Sri Kurmam Temple
There is a temple in Srikakulam district of coastal Andhra Pradesh dedicated to this Kurma Avatara of Vishnu. The temple is called Sri Kurmam. The idol in the temple is not a sculpture designed by man, but a fossil of a real tortoise.
Tortoises and Tectonic plates
Indian geological texts also describe the earth as being supported by 8 tortoises.
Here, the analogy of the tortoise stands for the 8 solid tectonic plates on the earth’s crust, over the molten core of the earth, which are constantly moving but very slowly, just like a turtle and its hard shell which covers the soft animal inside.
The architectural representation of this turtle legend can be seen in the old archaeological sites of central Java in Indonesia and the adjoining Bali islands too.
There is a similar turtle legend that is explicitly expressed in the ancient American legends too, where a turtle dives to the bottom of the ocean to bring back mud to create the earth.
Thus, we see that turtles have been revered across civilizations from time immemorial.
Charles Darwin on his study of various life forms, conducted his research on the famous Galapagos tortoise of Galapagos Islands in the Pacific Ocean that live for over 100 years.
World Turtle Day
World Turtle Day is observed every year on May 23rd to raise awareness on turtles, tortoises, and their protection.
On this day, animal lovers and organizations come together and organize events around turtles and tortoises.
Caring for Turtles
Turtles might not be favourites of people, like dogs, but it is vitally important that we care for this species, one of the ancient creatures of our planet.
Need to protect Turtles
This Turtle’s day, let us take steps to protect this endangered species, by saving the turtle hatchings on the coasts.
Biodiversity is defined as variety and variability in living organisms. From our immediate environment to the whole world, the flora and fauna are intensely diverse.
How many amazing varieties of lives we encounter in our life, from insects, to animals, to plants. Each ecosystem brings with it its own set of creatures, who are dependent on each other.
Every life is dependent on the other for its survival, and are part of the food chain. And, even if one life becomes extinct, then the whole food chain is affected.
Thus understanding of the Ecology of living creature, will help us to understand how vital it is to preserve the Biodiversity.
Biodiversity in India
India has been a richly biodiverse civilization from ancient times, partly because of its diverse terrain. From the Himalayas in the north to the Indian Ocean in the south to the Thar Desert in North West, to peninsular plateau, India is a home to a variety of ecosystems.
Ecology and Biodiversity are integral to the ethos of this land.
This diversity is echoed in our Upanishad, which has the sloka, “Ekoham Bahushyam, meaning, “I am One. I shall become many.” Thus Divinity divided Himself into infinite lives, through the universe.
The concept of Biodiversity and food chain is beautifully depicted through Shiva Parivar, Shiva’s Family.
Shiva has Nandi, bull for his Vahana, vehicle and wears a snake. Parvathi has a lion, Ganesha has a mouse and Karthikeya a peacock. In real world, the lion considers bull as its prey and the bull fears the lion. Similarly, snake preys on the mouse and a peacock preys on snake. Here we see that the family members of Shiva have Vahana that are by nature antagonistic to each other. This is symbolic of Biodiversity and food chain that are the very nature of Nature.
4 types of Creatures
In the Mahabharata, Chapter-5, Sanjaya describes to Dhrtharashtra, the types of life, immobile and mobile.
Sanjaya describing to Dhrtharashtra
Three Categories of animals
Similarly, animals were categorized into three.
Vayavya – those of the air
Aranya – those of the wild
Gramya – Those of the village
Ramayana speaks of the biodiverse nature of the forests.
At the time when Rama was leaving for exile, Kaushalya, His mother expressed her fear about His safety, wherein she says,
“May the huge elephants not harm you my dear son, nor the lions, tigers, bears, boars or ferocious horned buffalo.”
At another place, Sita expresses her delight in witnessing the forest, where she refers to lotus ponds, herds of deer, geese and ducks.
Ayurveda, the Indian science of medicine, consists of profound knowledge of Biodiversity. Ayur means life and Veda, knowledge. Ayurveda is the knowledge about life. In Ayurveda, the inter-relationship between living creature and their habitat was establish.
Vriksha Ayurveda, is a branch of Ayurveda that studies the science of flora. In it, various aspects of plant life and forest ecosystems are dealt with. It also describes varieties of plants that have medicinal properties, and are widely used in treatment.
Chanakya’s Arthasastra, gave importance to preservation of Biodiversity.
The Arthasastra divides the environment into several regions like,
Aranya – Forest Areas
Parvata – Mountains
Audaka – Wet and humid regions
Bhauma – Drylands
Sama – Plains
Visava – Uneven lands
Protection of each of these ecosystems, as well as the creature are given prominence in Arthasastra, which specifies penalties and punishments for injuring living creatures.
Jungles to Concrete Jungles
Today, in the name of progress and prosperity, buildings replace trees in most major cities. Water bodies disappear to make way for residential and business complexes. Jungles are slowly giving way for concrete jungles. This has greatly affected the Biodiversity of our planet.
Humans are the Cancer of this planet
A thought-provoking quote from the Hollywood movie, Matrix states:
“Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment but you humans do not. You move to an area and you multiply… until every natural resource is consumed and the only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern.
Do you know what it is?
Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet”.
International Day for Biodiversity
International Day for Biodiversity is a UN instituted day observed every year on May 22nd to raise awareness on preservation of Biodiversity.
Only preservation of this diversity can save us from the adversity that our planet is facing these days.