Mahatma Gandhi Martyrdom Day – Martyrs’ Day

On January 30th, 1948, Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated before his evening prayer at Birla house in Delhi.

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Gandhi going for evening prayer in Birla House

The road where the Birla house stands has been renamed as Thees January Marg since the assassination took place on January 30th.

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Cement Foorprint of Mahatma Gandhi at Thees January Marg

The government of India observes this day as Martyrs’ day, in remembrance of all those selfless people who sacrificed their lives in the freedom struggle.

The person who was standing next to Gandhi then, was his young personal secretary, Sri Kalyanam.

We had the good fortune of meeting Sri Kalyanam, who released our book “You Turn India” in Chennai.

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Sri. Kalyanam, Personal Secretary of Mahatma Gandhi, 2nd from left, releasing our book “You Turn India”

Hey Ram

Did Gandhi say “Hey Ram”, after being shot?

Sri Kalyanam, who was standing nearby, says he did not hear those words being uttered by Gandhi. Abha Gandhi who was pushed by Godse and into whose arms Gandhi fell, had countered Kalyanam. She says he said Hey Ram as he saw the gun. Kalyanam was a little behind and of course could not hear it.

Who heard what then, is in the realm of conjuncture.

The fact is the world has come to accept it, that Gandhi did say “Hey Ram”.

Speaking about prayer, Gandhiji once said,

“Prayer has saved my life, without it I should have been a lunatic long ago. I feel that as food is indispensable for the body so was prayer indispensable for the soul. I find solace in life and in prayer.

With the Grace of God everything can be achieved. When His Grace filled one’s being nothing was impossible for one to achieve.

Prayer is nothing else but an intense longing of the heart. You may express yourself through the lips; you may express yourself in the private closet or in the public; but to be genuine, the expression must come from the deepest recesses of the heart… It is my constant prayer that I may never have a feeling of anger against my traducers, that even if I fall a victim to an assassin’s bullet, I may deliver my soul with the remembrance of God upon my lips.”

At Peace with Oneself

For a person to say Hey Ram when one is shot at, shows the internal calm of a person. It shows the peace a person has come to be with oneself, with life itself.

A task accomplished in one’s life, for one’s purpose of being born.

In Gandhiji’s case, a mission to liberate India from colonial yoke and set a model which the world did emulate.

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Raj Ghat, the memorial, marking the cremation spot of Gandhi

Beating the Retreat

The Republic Day festivities last for four days until the 29th of January, since 30th January marks the day when the Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi was shot dead. Therefore 30th January is also observed as Martyrs’ Day in India besides being remembered as Gandhi Martyrdom Day.

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Beating the Retreat Ceremony

On 29th January, Beating the Retreat, starts at sun down, from Amar Jawan Jyothi, the memorial for martyrs, who lost their lives during the freedom struggle. It is a march to the tune of mellifluous music, signalling the end of Republic Day festivities, with which the armed forces return back to their respective duties.

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Beating the Retreat Function

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Military Bands Sound Beating the Retreat

Sound Knowledge

The River Sarasvati flowed in the North Western part of India through Haryana, Rajasthan and Gujarat. The river has gone dry in the last few millennia, but the Sarasvati festival is celebrated on Basant Panchami in February, popularly called as Sarasvati Puja. Sarasvati is the name of a river as well as the Divinity for knowledge.

Vak devyaicha vid mahe

Virinji patnicha dheemahi

Thanno vani prachodayath.

O Divinity of Vak, I take cognizance of you

O consort of Brahma, I think of you

O Vani, May you kindle my intellect.

This verse is the invocation to the divinity Sarasvati who has been the embodiment of knowledge in this land from as far as one can trace the source of knowledge. Knowledge in this land has been synonymous with Sarasvati, also called Vak Devi, the divinity for Vak.

Why Sarasvati?

What is Vak?

What have Vak and Sarasvati got to do with knowledge?

Vak can be limitedly explained as “speech”.  It is speech that forms the backbone for communication and it is communication that forms the backbone for knowledge transmission.

But Vak goes beyond mere speech. It transcends into the realm where thoughts originate. It goes into the thought itself. It takes the shape of words that describe that thought. It forms the speech sounds that enable the words to be spoken and thus the thought to be carried across, for it to be heard.

Vak is thus the subtle, yet perceivable form of thought, intellect, knowledge.

Sound Communication

The domains traversed by Vak, speech, in Indian thought has been understood and described through various stages.

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These four stages of speech have been further listed from the subtlest to the human sounds as,

–         Para, the origins of an idea or thought in the mental realm, beyond description (para means beyond grasp)

–         Pasyanti, that which emanates as an impulse to talk and is the first “visible” sign in the body of the thought (Pashyan means to see)

–         Madhyama, the intermediary stage between the impulse and the actual voicing of the thought, the stage where thought takes form of words (madhyama means intermediate)

–         Vaikhari, when it finally emerges as sound from the mouth, after passing through the vocal chords and getting manifested as sound waves (khar denotes solid, vaikhari is that solidly manifested utterance )

These subtle aspects of Vak, communication, have been brought out beautifully by the medieval poet Kalidasa in his ballad Raghuvamsa, through the verse.

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Vagartha Viva Sampruktau

Vagartha Pratipattaya

Jagathaph Pitarau Vande

Parvati Parameshwarau

–         Raghuvamsa by Kalidasa

A speaker should

Speak what he means and mean what he thinks.

A listener should

Listen to what is said, Understand what is meant and Assimilate the thought behind it.

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The speaker and listener are complementary to each other and form a pair similar to the divine pair Parvati and Parameshwara.

It is only then, does complete communication take place.

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Parvati – Parameshwara

Vak embodies all these aspects of thinking, meaning, speaking and communicating, all of which are vital for transmission of knowledge in a society.

The knowledge expressed by the power of Vak goes beyond knowledge needed for day to day living and the various sciences. It transcends into the realms of knowledge of the gross as well as the subtle Universe, knowledge of the self and knowledge of knowledge itself.

Knowledge thus stretched from Vignana – sciences, to Pragnana – wisdom, to Gnana – knowledge.

The root Gna, in the word Gnana is the root for words related to “knowing” in Latin and English such as gnostic, gnosis, gospel, know and knowledge.

Sound – A Sound Carrier

While mind, memory and intellect give rise to the thought, it is speech with sound, Vani, that acts as the medium for transmitting the thought, knowledge in a communication.

This is the power of sound, vani.

Sound travels as waves agitating all the particles in its path and in the process transfers its contents, its payload, its energy, through vibrations. Sound attracts and captures attention. It focusses the mind. When we hear any sound, our mind is immediately drawn to it and what it is conveying, i.e. the thought it is carrying. Other thoughts vanish.

This is the power in sound, vani.

Thus the medium of sound has been an effective carrier of knowledge, communication, wave after wave, across generations.

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Sound Waves

Knowledge Flows With Grace

These concepts of Vak – speech, Vani – sound and Vidya – knowledge, are symbolized by the divinity Sarasvati also called Vak Devi, Vidya Devi, Vani.

Sarasvati, means “one who flows gracefully”.

Sarasvati is the embodiment of a ceaseless, unending, graceful, gracious flow of knowledge.

It is along the banks of the wide Sarasvati river that much of the Veda were composed many millennia ago. Her gracefully flowing waters carried this knowledge, nurturing the civilization living by her side to flourish and carry this knowledge further into lands spread far and near.

Sarasvati is depicted as a gracious lady seated on a solid rock in a gracefully flowing stream, playing a stringed instrument called Veena, flanked by swan like birds called Hamsa.

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Sarasvati, courtesy Ravi Verma

The rock symbolizes the soundness of wisdom that can make one stand rock solid even amidst flowing waters.

The graceful, legendary Hamsa is a bird that had the singular prowess to separate milk from water. Sarasvati flanked by these Hamsa, symbolizes the ability to discern and seek out true knowledge.

The Veena is a stringed instrument that can produce discrete notes like that of the human voice. Strings, with their visible wave like vibrations, depict sounds, harmonics and resonance, visibly.

The stringed instrument, Veena, in Her hand draws our mind to the nature of knowledge to flow gracefully, wave after wave, generation after generation, over the medium of sound, speech, vak.

The metaphor and symbolism in Sarasvati, speaks volumes for the manner in which this civilization has held knowledge dear and relished it. It also speaks volumes for the sublime expression of how knowledge flows gracefully.

It is a civilization that has connected sound and knowledge to create impressions that have lasted millennia.

Sarasvati worship in Japan

India celebrates Sarasvati festival on Vasanta Panchami day in February to propitiate Devi Sarasvati, the divinity for knowledge and wisdom and during Devi Navaratri festival in September-October.

Sarasvati – The Graceful

In India, the Divine pair, Brahma and His consort Sarasvati, represent the divine forces in play in the growth, expansion and evolution of the Universe. This aspect of the growth of the Universe is thus steeped with the knowledge of all that has transpired since the moment of Creation and continues to drive the further evolution of the Universe. This driving force of knowledge is called Sarasvati, as it is a knowledge that continues to flow through the expanse of the cosmos, gracefully and incessantly like waves. Saras means gracefully flowing.

Sarasvati in India is associated with the Veda, wisdom, knowledge, intellect, faculty of speech, music, musical instrument called Veena, all art and craft forms and purity.

Sarasvati Worship in Japan

A similar vein of thought seems to have been held by the civilization of Japan as is evidenced by the presence of a goddess like Sarasvati in Japan.

Sarasvati and Her forms are popular divinities in the land of Japan. There are 131 temples of Sarasvati in the city of Tokyo alone as recorded in the census of 1832. This shows the prevalence of Sarasvati worship as an intrinsic ethos of Japanese culture.

Sarasvati by different names in Japan

The Sarasvati Divinity in Japan is associated with different faculties like music, sweet voice, wealth, fortune, beauty, happiness, eloquence, wisdom and as one who confers strength on warriors.

The Divinity is known by different names, the most popular one being Benzaiten.

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Names of SarasvatiInvoked for
BenzaitenTalent and wealth
MyotenSweet voice
Daiben, Dai BenzaitenIntelligence
Sama BenzaminiInspirer to poets and artistes. Sama in Samskrt means equilibrium, balanced, state of mind required for poets.
Benteu, BentenSpeech with a flute in her hands
Krodha BenzaitenViolent form worshipped by generals before going to war. Krodha in Samskrt means anger, fierce.
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We see a commonality in the association of Sarasvati in Japanese culture too, with different faculties of arts and knowledge such as music, sweet voice, beauty, happiness, eloquence, wisdom, and additionally with wealth, fortune and as one who confers strength on warriors.

Sarasvati Temples in Japan

There are many Sarasvati temples in Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Nara among other cities of Japan.

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Sarasvati Temples In Japan, A Map

Veneration Still Prevails

The veneration of Benzaiten is not only a medieval practice of Japan. Post World War 2, a new religious sect has sprung forth, called Benten Shu, in Osaka.

This shows that the understanding of Benzaiten, is still current in modern industrial, westernised Japan.

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Indo Japan Connect – A New Book

India and Japan, the land and the people are separated by the seas. Yet they seem to be connected by the same thought waves that have flown gracefully between the two countries since time immemorial and connected by the grace of the Divine Sarasvati.

More on Indo Japan Connect in our new book, ‘Indo – Japan A Connect Over Millennia’, released recently by Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.

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A smaller E-version of the book can be accessed here: http://goo.gl/e8QB3d

 

Vasanta Panchami – A Festival for Sarasvati

Vasanta Panchami or Basant Panchami festival heralds the arrival of spring in India, Vasanta Ritu.

After winter solstice, the sun starts its northward journey from the tropic of Capricorn, Uttarayana. With this, winter slowly ebbs and warmer days begin to arrive.

Vasanta Ritu – A change in Season

Vasanta Ritu is welcomed in the northern parts of India which reel from severe cold in winter. We see a pleasant change in seasons with the arrival of spring.

In the celebrations of Vasanta Ritu, the pinnacle is the festival of Vasanta Panchami.

Sarasvati Brahmotsav

While Vasanta Panchami is celebrated as spring festival, it also was the festival of River Sarasvati. In many parts of India, Sarasvati Brahmotsav, a festival spanning 5 days, starts from Vasanta Panchami.

Vasanta Panchami – A Festival for Sarasvati

One may wonder what is the connection between Vasanta Panchami and the festival for Sarasvati?

With the arrival of spring, the glaciers in the Himalayas, which used to feed the River Sarasvati would melt causing an increase in the flow of River Sarasvati in days gone by.

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River Sarasvati

Mother Sarasvati – The very life line

River Sarasvati, the mother of all rivers, nourished the Sindhu Sarasvati civilization which flourished more than 5000 years ago. She was literally the life line of this civilization.

Greek records of 300 BCE, i.e., a little over 2000 years ago speak of over 1500 prosperous cities along the banks between the Sindhu and Sarasvati. This finds mention in Elphinstone’s book, ‘History of India’.

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1500 cities along Sarasvati River

For all these people of this civilization, the gush of fresh Himalayan waters augured prosperity. With Sarasvati waters, also came the Himalayan riverine soil which made the lands on either banks very fertile and that led to good harvest in the seasons to come.

Yellow flowers – A sight to behold

During this season, the mustard plants, Sarson, cultivated along the banks of this river, go into full bloom. In days of yore, when this mighty Sarasvati was in full flow, it must have indeed been a breath taking sight to see miles and miles of land along its banks swathed in yellow colour from the mustard flowers.

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Yellow Mustard Flowers

This sight is what gave River Sarasvati and Goddess Sarasvati who was embodied by this river, a yellow drape during this time, and since time immemorial people have therefore associated Goddess Sarasvati with the colour yellow during this season.

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Goddess Sarasvati draped in yellow

As a tradition, people continue to wear yellow clothes on Vasanta Panchami.

Birthplace of Veda

Along with the fertile lands on the banks of the river, education also gained prominence during the times when Sarasvati was in flow, because, the Rishis of India lived along these banks and composed the Veda, the universal knowledge base, on the banks of this river.

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Hence, the River Sarasvati and Goddess Sarasvati embodied by this river came to be associated with education and knowledge.

Vasanta Panchami –The day to Revere knowledge

So, for people across India, Vasanta Panchami is also the day to revere knowledge and education. Children are initiated into education system on this day with the understanding that their knowledge will grow in leaps and bounds just as the gushing flow of the mighty River Sarasvati.

Today, instead of the flowing river, we have only dry rivers beds of River Sarasvati here and there along its original path.

This river went dry more than 2000 years ago. But, the mustard flowers continue to bloom in this belt, bathing it yellow even today.

People may have forgotten the River Sarasvati with the flow of time, but, the traditions from those times have continued from generation to generation, and Vasanta Panchami is a living festival even to this day.

Sister Nivedita’s Arrival in India

Today, 28th January, in 1898, a young British lady, a school teacher from Margaret Elizabeth Noble set foot on Indian soil to come and live as an Indian and learn Vedanta as an ardent disciple of Swami Vivekananda. She took on the name Sister Nivedita and shared his vision for India.

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Support to Bose

The Basu Vignan Mandir (Bose Research Institute) in Calcutta founded by Jagdish Chandra Bose the multidiscipline scientist of India found an ardent supporter in her. She helped JC Bose in raising foreign funds for his research, much against British opposition and even edited his works. Bose is the anglicized version for the Bengali / Bangla word Basu. Basu is the Bengali way of saying Vasu meaning earth, wealth and worth. This institute came up with the help of Sister Nivedita’s tireless and valiant efforts. For, despite being born British she had to fight the British in India to help set it up.

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Sir Jagdish Chandra Bose

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Basu Vigyana Mandir

Fulfilling India’s Science Dream

The British were against promoting a scientific temper in India then. Infact to thwart this hostile environment Swami Vivekananda dreamt of setting up Indian’s 1st indigenous science research institute instead. He discussed this dream with Sir. Jamsetji Tata while travelling from Yokohama to Vancouver.  He told Tata that Tata might get machines to start his industries but not scientific minds. Such minds would have to come from India he said. So Swami Vivekananda told Jamsetji Tata to set up his steel industry but set aside some funds from his steel business on founding an Indian institute for research in natural sciences. Thus was planted the seed for IISC Bangalore which came up in 1908.  Sadly neither Swami Vivekananda nor Jamsetji Tata were there to see it take shape.

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IISC Bangalore

Swami Vivekananda had left us in1902 and Sir Jamsetji Tata in 1904. It was Sir Dorabji Tata and Sister Nivedita who came together to see this dream come true amidst severe opposition from the British led by Lord Curzon.

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Design to India’s first flag

It was also Sister Nivedita who in 1904 gave the design for the first flag for India – a red and yellow flag with a vajra in the centre and the words Vande Mataram in Bengali writing.

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Flag designed by Sister Nivedita

A day to celebrate

28th of January, the day Sister Nivedita who has done so much for the development of science in India besides others, set foot on the soil of India with an intention to be an Indian in 1898 is a day to be remembered and celebrated.

Lala Lajpat Rai

Lion of Punjab

Lala Lajpat Rai was born on 28th January 1865 at Dhidika village in Punjab. He aggressively fought against the might of the British Empire. He was popularly called, Punjab Kesari, “The lion of Punjab”.

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Lala Lajpat Rai

“Lal Pal Bal”

The Trio of “Lal Pal Bal” were forerunners of the freedom struggle much before the times of Mahatma Gandhi. Lal was Lala Lajpat Rai from Punjab, Bal was Bala Gangadhar Tilak from Marartha, and Pal was Bipin Chandra Pal from Bengal. They came from different corners of India and asked for Swaraj in united voice.

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Lal Bal Pal

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The lion that he was, Lala Lajpat Rai gave tough time to the British through his demonstrations, demanding Swaraj.

Hindu Orphan Relief Movement

Lala Lajpat Rai founded the Hindu Orphan Relief Movement to keep British missions from securing custody of orphans.

Punjab National Bank

He also established the Punjab National Bank. The Bank opened on 12th April, 1895, at Lahore.

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“Simon Go Back”

Lala Lapat Rai succumbed to injuries sustained during a lathi charge while leading a non violent demonstration against the Simon Commission, with the slogan “Simon Go Back”. He passed away on 17th November, 1928.

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“Simon Go Back” protest led by Lala Lajpat Rai

“Every Blow a Nail in the Coffin of British”

One of his strongest statements from his last moments, still etched in the mind of the people is, “Every blow on my body will prove a nail in the coffin of British Empire.”

Roads in his name

The people of both India and Pakistan remember the contributions of this Freedom Fighter towards Freedom from the Colonial Rule.

Many major cities in India have roads named after this Freedom Fighter.

Pakistan has also named a road after Lala Lajpat Rai in its Quetta town. It is for the first time since partition that Pakistan had named a road after an Indian leader.

Statues

There are also statues erected in honour of Lala Lajpat Rai in many parts of the country.

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Lala Lajpat Rai Statue, Shimla

Stamp

A stamp has been released in his name by the Government of India.

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It is due to the efforts of such Freedom Fighters that India finally attained Freedom in 1947.