International Dance Day

Land of Dances

The International dance day is celebrated on April 29th every year. In the land of India, every festival is an occasion for dance, be it the dance for Holi, be it for Bihu in Assam, be it the dance of Dandya for Navaratri, be it the cowherds dancing for Mattu Pongal. So, every occasion, every festival is a reason to dance in this land.

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Difference dances in Indian tradition

Natya Veda

Brahma created the fifth Veda called Natya Veda. He took the lyrics from the Rig Veda, music from Sama Veda, the language of gestures and emotions from the Yajur Veda and the Aesthetic experience or Rasa from Atharva Veda.

Cosmic Dance of Shiva – the Legend

Once Vishnu recounted to Adishesha, the wonderful Cosmic Dance, Tandava of Shiva, He had witnessed.

Dance of Shiva

Adishesha was wonderstruck by Vishnu’s recital of the great dance of Shiva at Thillai, Chidambaram. He prayed to Shiva to grant him a chance to see that vision. Shiva then directed him to go to Chidambaram and await Him. Adishesha then assumed the form of Rishi Patanjali.

In the old times, it is said, there were 2 shrines within the inner precincts of Chidambaram, one of which was dedicated to Kali. Now, as Shiva made his second visit to grant his devotee the vision of the Tandava, Kali did not permit Him to enter the great hall of dance. So, they decided to dance it out, with the condition that the vanquished would give up all claims to the shrine & leave the town. Then began the great competition witnessed by all the devas. The 2 great exponents of the Natya Shastra were equally matched in wondrous steps and no clear winner seemed to emerge!

The devas watched with bated breath. At last Mahadeva resorted to a pose where he shot his right leg straight over his head! Mahakali, doubtless, could have done it equally well, but feeling bashful, hesitated. And thus it was that Mahadeva was declared the winner and Kali had to take up her abode in the outskirts of Chidambaram. Thus it was that Patanjali got his glimpse of the Master of yoga. And that dance is much more than just an art form for us & is deeply connected to the sacred is evident from these mudras adorning the walls of the Thillai, in Chidambaram.

Popular Dance festivals in India

There are various dances that are innate to that festival, to that region.

Some of the popular dance festivals today in India being,

  1. Mamalpuram dance festival in front of Arjuna’s penance bas relief

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 Mamalapuram dance festival

  1. Konark Dance festival

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Konark dance festival in the foreground of Konark Sun Temple

  1. Chidambaram dance festival

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      Chidambaram dance festival

  1. Khajuraho Dance festival

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Khajuraho dance festival in the foreground of Lakshmana temple

Nataraja

Dance is not unique to humans alone. Even the animals, the birds and beasts have their own varieties of dance. The plants and trees also dance swaying gently in the breeze. So, everything in nature dances. This dance is just not random movement or flaying of one’s limbs but is a movement that is aesthetic, beautifully and most importantly in rhythm with nature. This rhythmic movement of all components exists in this universe, in the cosmos, which is why it is called Cosmic Dance. Nataraja is the embodiment of this cosmic dance.

More on the correlation and details between the cosmic dance, Nataraja and the underlying principle, Shiva Tattva is discussed in our book “Understanding Shiva”, which is a part of the Bharath Gyan series.

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Ramanuja – Who Was He Really?

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Life Story – A 1000 Year Old History

60 yrs is the average life expectancy of man. Ayurveda states the full life expectancy of man to be 120 years. Very few people round the world are blessed enough to lead a fruitful life that long. Sri Ramanujacharya was one of the blessed few who lived a hale, healthy and hoary life for 120 yrs, a full life, Poornayush.

Ramanuja was born on 4th April, 1017 CE in Sriperambudur between modern Chennai and ancient Kanchipuram, to a pious, childless couple, Asuri Keshava Somayaji Deekshitar, a Vedic Pandit and Kantimati Amma, a devout lady. He was given the name Ilayazhwar at birth.

Descending Across Forms and Generations

Ramanuja, is a name which means younger brother, Anuja of Rama – a respectful way of referring to Lakshmana.

Ramanuja was also called by this name meaning the brother of Rama, since He was believed to be the incarnation of the Divinity Adisesha, also found to have incarnated as Lakshmana, the brother of Rama, 7100 years ago and as Balarama, the brother of Krishna, 5100 years ago. Ramanuja, is revered as a form of Adisesha, descended as an incarnation 1000 years ago.

Ascending Following

Ramanuja, who propounded Vishishtadvaita, a qualified form of non- duality, set Vaishnavism on the path that it has been followed since, for the last 1000 yrs.

In His long lifespan, He set the temple practices in all the Vaishnava temples across the land from Kashmir to Kanyakumari. Even the rituals at the premier temple of India, the Venkateshwara temple at Tirumala, were formalized by Ramanuja. He also reinforced the tradition of maintaining Nandavanams, flower gardens, attached to the temples for supplying flowers to the deities.

Ramanuja also set the Parampara of when and what rituals, Seva are to be performed in the temples and which hymns are to be recited during these Seva. This Parampara is since being followed in all Vaishnava temples of the land.

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Ramanuja

Transcending Languages

Ramanuja was a scholar both in Samskrt and Tamil. He was also a scholar in a language prevalent then called Manipravalam which was a beautiful blend of Samskrt and Tamil.

Vishishtadvaita in Samskrt

He has authored many works which present the Veda and Upanishad from a Visishtadvaita perspective. The prominent ones which are 9 in number, include,

  1. 3 Bhashya (commentaries) – Sri Bhashyam on Brahma Sutra, Gita Bhashyam on Bhagavad Gita and Vedartha Sangraha an overview on Upanishads
  2. 3 Gadya (Prose Texts) – Sharanagati Gadyam, Sriranga Gadyam and Vaikunta Gadyam on Sri Vaishnavam
  3. 3 Vedanta – Vedantasara and Vedantadeepa (concise commentaries on Brahma Sutra) and Nitya Grantha (Daily Rituals for a Sri Vaishnava)

These 9 popular texts are referred to as Navaratna – 9 gems.

For all these, He earned the title Bashyakara which is one of the highest accolade one can receive in connection with the Veda. For, understanding the Veda itself is a great feat. To be able to write commentaries on the Veda for others to understand is an even greater feat. The Bashya works are usually bigger than the originals that they comment upon.

Ramanuja travelled all the way to Kashmir at the northern end of the land to read Bodhayana’s exposition, vritti on Brahma Sutra before completing His Sri Bhashyam, His commentary on Brahma Sutra.

Vaishnavism and Tamil

Ramanuja popularized the Tamil form of Vaishnavism.

He brought to fore the primacy of the Nalayira Divya Prabandham, the 4000 divine, specially composed verses in the traditional Tamil language by mandating their recitation as a daily temple ritual. He thus elevated Tamil to the status of a divine language.

He consecrated idols of the 12 Alwars, Tamil poets who had composed this divine poetry, in all temples from Tirumala to Thiruvananthapuram. He thus gave a position of pre-eminence to these Tamil poets, to their poetry and thereby to the whole Tamil language and made poetic Tamil an integral part of daily life.

In appreciation of His service to Tamil and divine Tamil poetry, after His times, people out of reverence added His idol too at the end of the line of the 12 Alwars. This happened in every Vishnu temple, in every town. It speaks volumes of the spontaneousness, the readiness with which people venerated Him and took to His teachings.

Of these 12 Alwars, 8 were not Brahmins. Treating them all on par, showed how Ramanuja looked at all as equals irrespective of their Jati – Varna.

Vaishnavism Across India

Not just in the Tamil land, Ramanuja travelled far and wide to not just spread the tenets of Vaishnavism but also to learn principles of Veda and Upanishad from across the land.

Besides Kashmir, Ramanuja also travelled to the northern slopes of Himalaya to Muktinath Kshetra in present day Nepal.

1000 years ago he had travelled across the length and breadth of the country from Thiruvananthapuram to Dwaraka in the west, to Kashmir and to Muktinath, Nepal in north, to Puri Jagannath in East to establish a parampara both in worship and good living. His prescribed format of rituals is still followed in many Vaishnava temples of India today.

Ramanujacharya’s codes of Vaishnavism was taken up and spread further through the Vallabhacharya sect of Gujarat and Rajasthan, Varkari sect of Maharashtra, Chaitanya sect of Bengal and Central India, Shankar Dev sect of Assam and Eastern India as well as the Swami Narayan sect followed today. Ramanujacharya and His teachings thus were a source of inspiration to many.

Ramanuja had travelled all through the land, uniting people, for, He saw the land as one timeless cultural entity with many kingdoms that kept coming and going with time.

In Service of the Community

Water Harnessing

Temple Tanks, Pushkarani, Kalyani, Sarovar Tirth, Teppam, Kulam are a common sight in every temple town that Ramanuja spent some time in, be it Tirumala, Kanchipuram, Srirangam or elsewhere. In all these places Ramanuja focussed on Theerthavari Seva wherein, He had the temple tank, Pushkarani cleaned, repaired and restored, thus ensuring clean water for the Lord and the community.

Ramanuja was one of those visionaries who had understood the importance of harnessing waters be it for serving the Divine or for the community. He built a few and renovated the many temple tanks right in the middle of the village, as a practice. This not only ensured availability of water for temple rituals but due to percolation, also ensured that the wells of those living near the temple, stayed ever full.

A standing example of the importance He gave to water harnessing can be seen in the form of the still in good repair, large, 2200 acre temple tank at Tondanur, called Tonnur Kere about 20km from Melkote.

With the derelict state of the temple tanks today, we need to take a leaf out of Ramanuja’s practice and renovate each temple tank, Pushkarani, to rejuvenate the ground water for the village community living around each temple. Pushkaram means fertile. Pushkarani is that which gives fertility to the land, in this case the locality.  This will be a socially useful, productive and befitting obeisance that we can pay to Ramanuja, on His 1000th year anniversary.

Free Feeding

Ramanuja also formalized the parampara of giving prasadam, food, to devotees in every temple as He had recognized that this food, prasadam was one way of bringing people together. It was a land of prosperity and there was plenty. So He brought in the concept of locals coming together, contributing food grains to the temple, which in turn, after due rituals to the Lord, was offered back as Prasadam to the people. This one act brought locals together as it became a community service.

In times when hotels and restaurants were not the norm, travelers, mainly pilgrims across the land, had to rely on locals to offer them food and shelter. This practice of prasadam ensured that pilgrims visiting the temples did not have to starve or go door to door seeking hospitality.  The needy of the village too were looked after due to this practice.

Selflessness & Compassion

There lived a great saint of those times in a temple town called Thirukoshtiyur near Madurai. Ramanuja learnt from this saint, His Guru the Moolamantra which when recited would lead the one reciting it, to Moksha, liberation.  The only hitch in this was that, there was a Nibandana, a bond, that it should be taught only to a true disciple, one to one. There was a condition that if it was taught to everybody, while the one who receives the knowledge would attain Moksha, the one who imparts the Mantra, will be denied Moksha.

Ramanuja walked from Kanchipuram to Thirukoshtiyur to the ashram of this guru seeking audience and this Mantra. He was refused audience repeatedly by His Guru, 18 times, before the Guru seeing Ramanuja’s perseverance, relented to impart the Moolamantra to Ramanuja along with the Nibandana that went with it.

On learning the mantra, Ramanuja offered His respects to the Guru and then promptly climbed on to the Gopura, tower of the Thirukoshtiyur temple. He called all the village folk and broadcast this MoolamantraOm Namo Narayana” to everyone.

Hearing of this the Guru admonished Ramanuja for breaking the Nibandana, the bond. Ramanuja obediently asked of His Guru what the punishment would be. The Guru responded that Ramanuja Himself would be denied Moksha for breaking the bond but all those who had now heard the Moolamantra “Om Namo Narayana” and shall chant it, shall attain liberation.

Instead of remorse, Ramanuja was overjoyed on hearing this. He replied to His Guru that if at the cost of Him alone not attaining Moksha, if everyone else would attain Moksha, then He had achieved the purpose of His life.

It is then that the Guru realized the quality of a true guide and teacher as someone who is selfless in teaching and benevolent in nature, having the interest of the pupil, the people and welfare of the society at large, in heart.

With this selfless act, from thereon, He was referred to as Ramanuja Acharya.

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Leading by Walking The Path

The word Guru, etymologically comes from the root Gur, which means to lift, draw up, draw towards. A Guru is one who elevates thoughts, words and deeds of people around. Guru also denotes heaviness as heavy objects tend to pull and Gurutva Akarshana in Samskrt is the phonetic and semantic root for the sound and understanding of Gravity.

If Guru is one who elevates us, an Acharya is one who helps us stay elevated by showing us how to act, to stay elevated. An Acharya leads by action, by example. For, the very word Acharya comes from Achar, Acharam meaning practices, acts.

This land has been fortunate to have been adorned by hundreds and thousands of noble Acharya. Of all these, 3 stand apart for expressing clearly the 3 basic philosophies. Adi Shankara for Advaita, Madhva for Dvaita and Ramanuja for Visishtadvaita.

With His choice of propounding Visishtadvaita as well as His teachings, Ramanujacharya was building the bridge between Dvaita and Advaita.

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Social Engineering

Ramanuja was one who found social discrimination to be incorrect and acted on it to bring in the concept of Thirukulaththor where everybody was regarded as belonging to the same Kula, the lineage that comes from the divine.

Today people speak of social engineering as a new age jargon. What Ramanuja had practically implemented 1000 years ago itself, was way beyond all this jargon.

Temples and Rituals As Tools for Uniting Than Isolating

He established a model keeping the temple as the centre, creating roles for each community around it, finally joining them all through food, prasadam as a SamaPankti bhojana, eating food, sitting as equals in a row. Pankti meaning row and sama is equal.

Every community in the village had an important role to play in the running of the temple. He thereby amalgamated different sections of the society by associating them with a local temple the center of their community.

Every conceivable community such as potter, weaver, carpenter, ironsmith, farmer, oil producer, had their roles carved out to ensure the smooth and successful functioning of the temple.

He thus setup a model that brought in families from different communities, all as one, in service of the divine.

This was a major achievement, executed 1000 years ago, an amalgamation that had stood the test of time till recent years when such a model of using the temple itself as a uniting edifice, was wrecked in the name of “secular” Government policies.  No other social engineering effort of people building, community building and harmonious living has stood the test of time for 1000 years like this.

Quality and Equality

He appealed to people to accord more importance to the quality of a person than the person’s stature or Jati in society. He also walked the path that He preached. Many incidents stand out as shining examples for His equal acceptance of one and all in society.

One was the incident concerning Kanchi Purna, a man belonging to the lower strata of society but who was pious and lived life with the spirit of humanity and devotion. Even when society shunned him and even when Kanchi Purna himself was diffident, Ramanujacharya, moved by Kanchi Purna’s innate qualities and character, begged Kanchi Purna to accept Him as His disciple and gave Kanchi Purna the status of His Guru.

Further, when Ramanujacharya found His own wife practicing social discrimination, He renounced family life and took Sanyasa to dedicate His life wholly to remove such stigma in society. From this was born His multifold strategy

  1. revamping temple, worship and religious customs to include people of all strata by giving all – men and women across Jati, a definite role to play in the daily running of the temple and continuity of religious practices
  2. propounding the Visishtadvaita form of Sri Vaishnavism with focus on Seva of Bhakta,  i.e service to devotees as a form of keeping these customs alive and the society integrated.
Caste and Gender Equality

Yet another instance of Ramanujacharya placing quality and character above Jati or strata can be seen in His appointment of Mudhali i.e forerunners for Sri Vaishnavism. Out of the 74 Mudhali that He appointed, many were not Brahmins and atleast 5 were women.

His life history abounds with narratives of many instances of how Ramanujacharya forced situations to highlight messages of equality by birth, by gender, by vocation, to people.

He once asked a woman from the lower strata to step aside as He walked with His followers. This made her ask of Him, as to how, when surrounded on all sides by the Divine and purity, could anyone be regarded impure in this world, leave alone find an impure place to resign to? As a constant reminder of this message to people for times to come, that everything and everyone in this world is Divine and pure, Ramanuja established a shrine for her in Tiruvali Thirunagari in south India, where this incident took place.

Harmony Across Religions

When Ramanuja was oppressed by a parochial Hindu, Chozha king, He fled to the region of Melkote near Mysore to reestablish His Mutt. Melkote means the fort on the hilltop.

When the Badshash of Delhi attacked the Mysore kingdom, in that war, he also took the idol of Melkote, ThiruNarayana as war booty, back to Delhi.

Ramanuja at a ripe age of 80, went all the way to Delhi, to retrieve the idol back for worship. The daughter of the Delhi Badshah, Laachma Bibi, who had taken a fancy to this idol and was adoring it with all her love, refused to part with it. Ramanuja sang paeans to the idol, cajoled and convinced the young princess to part with it, brought the idol to Melkote and reinstalled it for worship once again.

It was a feat that was thought impossible in those times.

Commemorating this, the idol has since been called Chellappillai meaning the adorable child. There stands a shrine for this Islamic princess who looked after this deity in Delhi and came to Melkote as she could not bear to be separated from this idol. She is known as Bibi Nachiar and the offering made to her is Roti, in line with her tradition.

His consecration of an idol of the Islamic princess Bibi Nachiar as a Divine mother Goddess in Melkote temple is an example of His efforts to integrate people not just across strata but also across religious boundaries.

A Role Model to Emulate

In the demographics of the present, the instructions and examples on inclusive community development and administration from the social engineering practices and models followed by Sri. Ramanujacharya can serve as a beacon.

Infact, one of the leaders of post Independent India, who found Sri Ramanujacharya’s teachings to be relevant for the India, as India has evolved into, was Dr.Babasaheb Ambedkar, who was influenced by Sri Ramanujacharya’s message and His models of social engineering. He openly expressed his acquiescence of Sri Ramanujacharya’s acts, approach and advise in his writings, prominent among them being his editorial in his news magazine Bahishkrit Bharat (Untouchable India) of 3rd June 1927.

An Unique Honour

There are 3 idols of Ramanuja that are specially associated with Him. In the Tamil language, Thirumeni means idol, figurine. Ugandha means be worthy, be right, fit, rise up to occasion, to be suitable.

  • Sri Perumbudur, near Kanchipuram got Thaan Ugandha Thirumeni – an idol that became sanctified on its own while Ramanuja was in Srirangam.
  • Melkote, near Mysore got Tamar Ugandha Thirumeni – an idol that was fashioned and sanctified by Him for His disciples
  • Srirangam, near Trichy got Thanana Thirumeni – an idol that is He, Himself.

He was such a celebrated saint of His times who had codified the worship system itself that post His passing, a life size idol of his form has since been kept in a sitting posture in a shrine in the Prakara, a circumambulatory path of the Srirangam temple complex itself. Such an honour has not been bestowed on any other saint.

A unique honour for a unique saint indeed!

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For being such a distinguished saint, he also earned the title Yati RajaYati etymologically comes from the root ‘Ya’ meaning “to spread”. Yati denotes one who spreads, propounds knowledge or a message. Yati thus stands for a knowledge messenger, a saint. Yati Raja is king among saints.

So, Who was Ramanuja?

It is 1000 years since his birth. But who was the real Ramanuja?

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From A Smartha to A Vaishnava?

Not Dvaiti and Advaiti but A Visishtadvaiti?

A Yati? Or A Raja?

A Guru? Or An Acharya?

A Bashyakara? Or A Vedanti?

A Samskrt Pandit? Or A Tamil Pulavar?

A Poet? Or A Literatur?

A Disciplinarian? Or A Radical?

An Administrator? Or A Community Worker?

A Student? Or A Teacher?

A Seeker? Or A Guide?

A Religious Leader? Or A Social Engineer?

A Humanitarian? Or A Devotee?

Man or Divine?

Through which lens must we see Him?

From which perspective should we understand Him?

With what words can we appreciate Him?

By what acts may we revere Him?

Sarva Desa Dasa Kaleshu Avyahata Parakrama |

Ramanuja Arya Divyajna Vardhatam Abhivardhatam ||

Meaning: Let the most Magnificent instruction of Sri Ramanuja increase and pervade through all countries at all times, without any hindrance.

Shankara Jayanthi

Adi Shankara was the saint who propounded the Advaita Vedanta, which speaks of the unity of Atma and Brahman. He unified the various thoughts of Indian philosophy, as He travelled across the country, conducting discourses, and taking part in debates with other philosophers, while defeating many through His arguments. Thus He established Advaita philosophy, which establishes the existence of one formless Divine Reality – Brahman, while considering the universe and its creatures to be an illusion.

Dr. U Ve. Swaminatha Iyer

Dr. Uttamadhanapuram Venkatasubbaiyer Swaminatha Iyer, known as U.V. Swaminatha Iyer, was one of the famous Tamil Scholars, born on February 19th 1855 in Uthamadhanapuram nearby Kumbakonam, Tamil Nadu.

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For his efforts in the publishing field, he is respectfully referred to as “Thamizh Thatha”. The grandfather of Tamil Literature.

His father Venkata Subbu Iyer was a leading Musician.

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Sri Swaminatha Iyer
WhatsApp Image 2018-05-01 at 7.41.23 PM

The original image of Sri Swaminatha Iyer

Education

Dr. Swaminatha Iyer did his schooling and music in his own town. In his 17th year, he started learning Tamil from Thirisipuram Sundaram Pillai, who was a teacher in Thiruvaduthurai Saiva Athinam. U.V.Swaminatha Iyer learned Tamil for 5 years and later he worked in a college at Kumbakonam in the year 1880, and then he worked for some time in Presidency College, Madras.

Salem Ramaswami Mudaliyar’s encouragement

When he was working in Kumbakonam, he made friendship with Dr. Salem Ramaswami Mudaliyar, who gave him the idea to edit and reproduce ancient Tamil Classics and Tamil poems.

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Dr. Salem Ramaswami Mudaliyar

Important Publications

He edited the manuscript Seevaga Sinthamani, a Jain Classic first.

In 1887, Dr. U.V Swaminatha Iyer successfully published Seevaga Sinthamani, and after that he published Pattupattu.

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Dr. UV Swaminatha Iyer continued his publishing works. He published many prominent books. Otherwise we may not have a single line from the books like,

  • Silapathigaram written by Ilango Adigal, one of five epic in ancient Tamil Literature,
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  •  Manimegalai written by Seethalai Saathanar, one of the five Epic in ancient Tamil Literature and
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  •  Purananuru, one of the Pathinen Melkanakku books of Sangam Period written by more than 150 poets,

which were published by UV Swaminatha Iyer.

He published more than 100 books including Tamil classics, poems, devotional books etc, during his life time.


Thiyagaraja Vilas, where ‘Tamil Thatha’ U V Swaminatha Iyer lived and published his works

Work continues in Retirement

In 1919, Swaminatha Iyer retired and later he joined as a principal in Meenakshi Tamil College, Kumbakonam. Due to health problem he resigned his job in 1927 and he became involved in manuscripting, editing and publishing until his death.

Tribute of Subramanya Bharati

Subramanya Bharati, the famous Tamil poet who inspired people during the freedom movement, wrote a poem in tribute to U. V.Swaminatha Iyer, whom he considered to be of the statue of Sage Agastya.

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Subramanya Bharati

He has sung in the poem:

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Rabindranatha Tagore’s Tribute

In 1926, Sir Rabindranath Tagore called on Swaminatha Iyer, and even penned a poem on him, praising his great efforts in publishing ancient Tamil works.

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Rabindranath Tagore

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The poem composed by Rabindranath Tagore on Swaminath Iyer

Titles

Iyer was awarded the title of Dakshinathya Kalanidhi in 1925 by Madras University. He was also conferred the title Mahamahopathiyaya, meaning: “Greatest of Great teachers”.

Dr. U V Swaminatha Iyer passed away on 28th April 1942.

The Indian Postal Department issued a commemorative stamp in his name in 2006. His house in Uttamadhanapuram has been made into a memorial.

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A stamp released on Dr. Swaminatha Iyer

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Swaminatha Iyer House

A great literary figure and son of Tamil Thai who salvaged the ancient Tamil texts, from palm leaf manuscripts. This is the debt that the Tamil literature owes him.

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Tamil Thai

Akshaya Trithiya

Akshya-Trithiya-1

Akshaya Trithiya or Akha Teej, is a highly auspicious day which falls on the third day after Amavasya (No Moon / New moon) in the Indian calendar month of Vaishakha.

This traditional festival seems insignificant in comparison to some of the more glamorous festivals of the land.

For whatever reason this festival came into being, today Akshaya Trithiya day is being marketed as a day for buying gold, even better platinum now. Advertisements are being splashed all over urging one and all to buy gold.

                        gold with black bg                Platinum%20Jewelry%20Collage

Gold and Platinum

Is this festival Akshaya Trithiya, a festival for buying gold or better platinum? We have also heard our parents telling us to start things on this day because anything started on this day is expected to grow.

So, what is this Akshaya Trithiya all about?

Let us examine the word Akshaya first.

We would have heard of the phrase Akshaya Pathra, for the vessel that provided unending supply of food, during the Mahabaratha period. Draupadi has this vessel with her to feed her husbands the Pandavas, while they were in exile. It was given to her on this day by Surya Deva, the Sun God.

Kshaya is something that diminishes. Akshaya is one that never diminishes.

Droupathi

Draupadi with Akshaya Pathra

So the word Akshaya denotes endless limitless provision of food, prosperity and wealth, wealth that never diminishes.

Why is this festival celebrated as that of limitless prosperity, Akshaya?

What is the event which gave this land this limitless prosperity, that is being commemorated as this festival?

There are quite a few reasons why this festival is celebrated, some of them being:

  • The day the Treta Yuga started.
  • Ganga descended to earth on this day
  • The day Sun God gave the Akshaya Pathra to the Pandavas and Draupadi.
  • Birthday of Parasurama the 6th avatara of Vishnu.
  • The sun and moon are seen at their brightest best from the west coast of India.
  • The day Sudama, the poor childhood friend of Krishna met Krishna with just a handful of puffed rice and received a lot of wealth in exchange without asking.
  • Adi Shankaracharya composed Kanakadhara Stotram on this day.
  • Adi Shankara was born 2 days after Akshaya Trithiya.
  • The construction of the chariots for Ratha Yatra begins on the day of Akshaya Trithiya
  • The day Krishna Dwaipayana, whom we reverentially call as Veda Vyasa, started dictating his family biography called Jaya, which is now known to us popularly as the Mahabharata.

Veda Vyasa

Vyasa dictating Mahabharata

While all these are reasons enough to celebrate a festival, it still does not provide us any answers as to what is the limitless prosperity, that we are celebrating on this day.

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In the Purana, the legends of ancient India, we have the story of Bhagiratha, an ancient king of this land belonging to the Surya Vamsa, Solar Dynasty. He was the illustrious forefather to Rama and Dasaratha, illustrious because he diverted the waters of the Ganga by his extraordinary effort, to the present day Gangetic plains.

ganga

Bhagiratha Prayathna

This effort of Bhagiratha is celebrated in the legends as Bhagiratha Prayathna, the extraordinary or superhuman effort of Bhagiratha in bringing the waters to his parched kingdom.

Once the river Ganga was brought this side of the Himalaya and started flowing through the land, the waters gave prosperity to the land through the ages. So Ganga, with its waters has been giving unending prosperity to a civilisation for generations and generations to come.

Akshaya Trithiya is the day Bhagiratha cut through the rocks in the upper Himalaya and brought the waters of the Ganga, this side to give unending prosperity to his land, kingdom and people.

It is this event of bringing prosperity with the waters, that has been commemorated with the Akshaya Trithiya day.

Unfortunately today our thought has diverted from waters to gold and platinum.

Gold and platinum are only a result of prosperity and not the cause of prosperity itself.

Unending water supply is the cause of prosperity.

This is a key thought this civilisation seems to have forgotten in its hurtling haste.

Festivals like this are celebrated by us every year to recollect the yeomen efforts of our forefathers, to make our lives better in this world.

Ganga, the object of Akshaya Trithiya, today is being polluted by us continuously and is also on the verge of vanishing due to climatic changes, being hastened by our lack of concern and action.

Now, apart from appreciating their effort in providing for us a better life, the true way to honour them for their effort and surely a better way of celebrating, would be to safeguard our water sources – Ganga and all other sources, big and small, for ourselves and the future generations to come.

This would be a harbinger of everlasting prosperity.

A true way to celebrate Akshaya Trithiya, apart from just buying gold and platinum!

Srinivasa Ramanujan

Srinivasa Ramanujan, the genius mathematician was born on 22nd December 1887. In December 2011, Ramanujan’s birthday was declared as ‘National Mathematics Day’, in recognition of his contributions to the field of mathematics.

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Srinivasa Ramanujan

A person who lived for a little over 32 years, Ramanujan was born in Kumbhakonam, the famous temple town in the Cauvery River delta.

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Kumbakonam

Kumbakonam, the rice bowl of Tamil Nadu has been famous for many things, from temples to rice and now for the aromatic Kumbakonam Degree Coffee.

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Kumbakonam Rice Fields

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 Kumbakonam Degree Coffee

 But, the greatest son of Kumbakonam is the mathematician, Srinivasa Ramanujan.

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Srinivasa Ramanujan’s house

In his Dreams

Ramanujan attributed the mathematical formulae that he came up with, to Namagiri Thayar, the Goddess of Namakkal temple.

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                         Namakkal Temple                                                               Goddess Namagiri

He often mentioned that it was Goddess Namagiri who came to him in his dreams and gave answers to his mathematical problems.

From Wife

The wife of Ramanujan, Janakiammal has an interesting input about her husband.

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Janakiammal

Ramanujan used to feverishly do all his basic calculations on a black slate. This was the norm of every student in India then.

She says, “Ramanujan did his calculations on a hand held slate, then transferred the final results to his note books, erasing the slate.”

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Ramanujan did his calculations on a slate

Thus we have few clues as to how he arrived at these equations, and there is no doubt that they are true.

This is expressed by the mathematics historian George Gheverghese Joseph in his book ‘The Crest of the Peacock’, Page 11.

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The Crest of Peacock Book

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George Gheverghese

His work notes and formulae that he arrived at are available in his now famous notebooks.

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Ramanujan’s notebook

Mathematicians till to date are trying to understand and use them.

To Cambridge University

When Ramanujan was working as a Clerk in Madras Port Trust, he sent some of his mathematical workings to Prof. G H Hardy of Cambridge University.

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Prof. G H Hardy

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Cambridge University

Ongoing through the notes, Prof G H Hardy felt that here was an absolute genius at work.

Prof Hardy invited Ramanujan to the Cambridge University.

Ramanujan spent 6 to 7 years in Cambridge. The work that Ramanujan did then along with Hardy has now become a part of the legend of Mathematics.

The mathematical formula that Ramanujan came up has been used as algorithms in modern computer systems.

Unfortunately, due to severe cold weather of England, Ramanujan who was more used to the tropical climate of Kumbhakonam, could not acclimatize and picked up an illness. The illness grew from bad to worse and he sailed back to India.

A sick and sad Ramanujan returned to Madras on April 2nd 1919.  He passed away on 26th April, 1920 at Chetpet in Madras.

Ganitham

Srinivasa Ramanujan belonged to an illustrious lineage of mathematicians that India has offered to the world starting from Boudhayana, Apastambha, Aryabhatta, Varahamihira, Brahma Gupta, Bhaskaracharya, Madhava and a galaxy of others.

All these illustrious people through the ages specialized in this field of Ganitham, the Indian term for mathematics.

The word Ganitham has in it the phrase Gana, meaning weighty, heavy.  The field of mathematics has always been weighty and heavy.

The Lord of Mathematics in Indian tradition is Ganesha, Ganapathy. The term Gana also means numbers.

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Lord Ganesha, the lord of Mathematics

An illustrious lineage

India has had an illustrious lineage of people who excelled in Ganitham.

Srinivasa Ramanujan is one among this illustrious lineage.

Today in our midst, we have another illustrious mathematician of Indian origin settled in USA, Prof Srinivasa Vardhan who is an Abel Laureate.

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Prof Srinivasa Vardhan

Abel Laureate

It is to be noted that in mathematics there is no Nobel Prize as Alfred Nobel did not like Maths.

The same Norwegian Academy which confers the Nobel Prize year after year has instituted an award for mathematics, equal to novel prize in the name of their Norweigian mathematician, Niels Henrik Abel.

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Niels Henrik Abel

It would be nice if the Indian government could institute an international award in the name of Srinivasa Ramanujan for the lineage that India has given to world in the field of Ganitham, mathematics.

Srinivasa Ramanujan Centre

A centre in the memory of Srinivasa Ramanujan was established in the year 2003 at Kumbakonam known as Srinivasa Ramanujan Centre. A museum on Ramanujan and his work is also housed therein which is the house of Ramanujan. This museum is maintained by Sastra University. This centre and museum was dedicated to the nation by President Abdul Kalam in 2003.

International Award

An international award of 10000 US dollars per annum has also been instituted for a mathematician who has done research on works of Ramanujan. Every year an International Conference is organized by Sastra on 22nd December, the birthday of Ramanujan, where the awards are given away to the selected recipients.

Mathematics – Crest of Peacock

Mathematics among the sciences is given a high place in India, like the crest of a peacock among its colored plum, in its ancient treatises. Vedanta Jyothisa, an ancient treatise on mathematics and astronomy mentions this.

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We discuss in detail on India’s contributions in the field of Mathematics, in our book Brand Bharat – Roots In India, which include zero, infinity, numerals, metrics, algebra, algorithm, geometry, 360 degrees, Pi, trigonometry and calculus.

Image result for brand bharat roots in india

The Man who saw Infinity

In the last decade or so, there has been a spurt of interest on Srinivasa Ramanujan. Books are being written and films are being made on this great man who saw infinity.

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The Man who knew Infinity

We need to sustain this interest to encourage more Indians to take up pure mathematics.

World Malaria Day

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

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World Malaria Day

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

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Anopheles mosquito

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

Source – Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

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

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

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Sir Ronald Ross

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finally as a dejected man, he returned to England.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

National Panchayat Raj Day

A Time Tested Success Model

The thinkers of ancient India had realized the ground reality that, kings may come and go, kingdoms may change in size and boundaries, but the prosperous land needs to be governed such that, the change of powers does not affect the basic social fabric, nor the sustainability of the land. It is precisely to meet this challenge, that they had envisaged a local administration system called the Panchayat system, a unique system of local governance, keeping in mind the vagaries of time.

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A Panchayat in Progress – An artist’s impression

What is so singular about this system and its practice that helped tide over the vagaries of time and rule?

An Insulating, Self Contained Model

The contribution of this Panchayat system to the prosperity of the land as a whole, has been summarized by Sir Charles T. Metcalfe in his Report of Select Committee to the House of Commons in 1832.

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Select Committee

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House of Commons

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Sir Charles T. Metcalfe’s observations on Panchayats

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You may wonder what this means!

While there were many kingdoms ruled by different rulers, the model of governance was framed, independent of the individual ruler and the kingdom. The Panchayat administration, followed in every village, was uniform across the land, across kingdoms.

This model of local self governance was uniformly practiced, undisturbed even during times when there was no king or kingdom.

Policies and priorities framed locally by the Panchayat were not disrupted, ensuring continued and sustained prosperity.

This Panchayat model, could be singled out as one of prominent administrative reasons for the continuous prosperity of India for over 5000 years.

Local Self Governance

It is the local administration of the village, by the villagers, for themselves.

This village governance system has been followed in India from time immemorial wherein, people elect and empower a local village council to handle matters of

• Fund collection
• Fund allocation
• Need assessment
• Planning
• Deployment
• Community Development

It was a council of five members who would decide on matters. They were called Panch Parameshwar, the 5 leaders. Hence the name Panchayat, for this model of governance.

We can see a sample of this Panchayat System of administration of the villages, in the stone inscriptions at the Srinivasa temple, in Uttiramerur, in Tamil Nadu, listing the rules for the conduct of elections.

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Inscriptions at Uttiramerur

More on the System of Administration and Practice of Law in India through the times, can be found in our book on Administration, in the Bharath Gyan Series.

Probably, it is after understanding this ethos and the reasons for its proven success, that Mahatma Gandhi strongly advocated bringing back the Panchayat system of village administration, which in his opinion, was the administrative backbone for this prosperity.

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Mahatma Gandhi, Father of the Nation
A Charcoal Sketch, Artist – Kanan Chaudhari

It was a case of many small footprints together, having the sure footed stride of a big elephant. Many small power houses working together with an elephantine strength.

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Ants combined, Elephantine in Strength

Ants are known for their industrious nature.

Ants are busy workaholics.

Ants work in tandem.

Ants network beautifully.

Ants cooperate well.

We see all these, when we see a train of ants going about their work, unmindful of anything else.

This synchronised effort cumulatively is elephantine in strength.

Each man, each family, each Panchayat is like an ant, busy at its work. They carry out their Dharma, their duty. Collectively, their strength and output is akin to that of an elephant.

This work culture, along with the water harnessing skills, was the strength of the land and the reason for the prosperity of the land through the ages.

Sadly, the Panchayat Raj today lives as a namesake shadow with no real powers, no funds and no autonomy. It is embroiled in the tangles of the State and Central administrations.

More on this in our book – You Turn India.

World Book Day

From ancient times

From time immemorial, books have been the best friends of man. When there were no media like radio, television, internet etc, books have been always there, as man’s primary source of information. They are also one of the main sources of information in the present day world, with printing being made easy by the technological advances. Thus we see, ever increasing publishers and books. The book stores are filled with large number of books on a large number of subjects, as never before.

From Childhood itself

As a child, one learns and understands the various aspects of life through a book. Many of us may recall reading some inspiring book or story in our childhood that greatly influenced and shaped our lives. Our school lives are invariably linked to the books.

But it is also true that, our interest in reading has been dwindling, over the last many decades, with the advent of electronic and digital media. Reading has been limited to our school text books. And, we abandon this friend of ours, once we have passed our education.

In recent times thought, eBooks have become a favourite among some.

World Book Day

World Book Day is a yearly event observed every year on April 23rd organized by the United Nations Educational and Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNICEF), to promote reading and publishing.

Scripts and Manuscripts

When we speak of books, script and language are intrinsic to it. A book is a flow of ideas that is expressed in scripts.

In ancient and medieval times, when printing had not yet made its advent, Books were all in the form of Manuscripts. Palm leaf manuscripts were common in ancient times.

Aksharam

Any script consists of alphabets, in a particular language. Alphabets are called Aksharam in Samskrt. Aksharam means that which cannot be destroyed or diminished. Kshara is that which is destructible.

Why did they call an alphabet as Aksharam, something that does not diminish or get destroyed?

The notion of an alphabet comes mainly when one wants to transform spoken words, speech, sound, into some other form, here a written form.

In this form, a word is broken down into phonemes, units of speech that can be discerned by the mouth and ear separately and when combined in various combinations, gives rise to different spoken words. Each phoneme is represented visually by a pattern of lines and dots called alphabets.

Unlike spoken sound or the phonemes which fade away with time, a written alphabet, which represents the same sound in a visible form, does not fade away or diminish. It remains as long as the medium on which it has been drawn, lasts. Hence the apt word Aksharam in India for an alphabet.

Phoenician Script

Phoenician script is considered to be the precursor of all European and West Asian scripts such as Latin, Greek, Roman, Hebrew (through Paleo-Hebrew), Aramaic, Arabic (through Aramaic), etc. The Phoenician alphabet is dates back to around 1200 BCE.

The Phoenician script comprised 22 alphabets, called abjad, which were listed in a sequence.

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Phoenician Alphabets

Bible from Byblos

The word Bible for “the book”, traces its origin to Phoenicia. The city Byblos of Phoenicia was a major trading centre for papyrus, the medium for writing in those days. So, what came from Byblos was the Bible meaning the book.

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Byblos, location

Christians are thus known as “People of Book”.

Jews were originally the People of Book. For, the Torah is their main book of worship, which comprises of the first five books of Old Testament, also known as the Books of Moses.

More on this in our book, Breaking the Myths – About Ability.

Image result for breaking the myths about ability

Two forms of Communication

Any languages consists of two forms –the spoken word and the written scripts. Thus in ancient India, there were two ways in which knowledge system were passed on in ancient times

  1. Orally recitation
  2. Through books

Veda, were parts of the oral tradition in India, where this knowledge was passed on verbally from the Guru to the Shishya. The Guru Parampara is an important aspect of this tradition.

While books like Purana, Upanishad, Ramayana, Mahabharata etc, belonged to the latter method of passing information, through written manuscripts, books.

Ancient Manuscripts, Books

The writing and creation of manuscripts in Byblos, dates back to 1500 BCE.

Before that, the concept of writing and scribe existed in Egypt around 2000 BCE.

The art of writing manuscripts, books dates back to much before that in India.

Mahabharata, Purana and Upanishad were written around 3100 BCE. The image of Veda Vyasa dictating to His scribe Ganesh is a familiar one.

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Mahabharata  being dictated by Krishna Dwaipayana to Ganesha

And even before that was Ramayana authored by Adi Kavi Valmiki dating back to 5100 BCE.

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Valmiki composing the Ramayana

More on this in our book and film, Historical Rama and book Historical Krishna.

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Need to excavate ancient manuscripts

Today, there are hundreds of manuscripts scattered all across the country. But, alas, only a 6% of them have been read.

On this World Book Day, let us make efforts to revive them, and thereby get access to a huge reservoir of information, that could verily transform the fortunes of our country.

World Earth Day

Our Earth, reverently called Mother Earth, is as alive as any other living being. Mother Earth constitutes everything that contains any or more of the five elements (Panchamahabhuta) – earth (bhumi), water (jala), air (vayu), fire (agni) and space (akash) – that constitute prana or life-giving energy.

In Indian tradition, Earth is called Prthvi which means ‘wide, heavy’. It is also called Dharti-‘that which bears’. This land reveres our planet as verily a Divinity, Bhu Devi.

In Veda

The Veda were compiled over 5000 years ago. In the Veda there are two separate chapters titled – Prthvi Sukta and Bhumi Sukta. Sukta, meaning a collection of mantra.

  1. Prthvi Sukta

      2. Bhumi Sukta

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The First verse with meaning from Bhumi Sukta

Prthvi Sukta

Prthvi means broad, expansive and heavy. Prthvi Sukta of the Veda deals with the earth, and on how it stands without any support on its base, being supported by the forces of Nature, to remain at its location in the universe.

Isn’t it really wonderful that the Vedic Rishi observed, understood and recorded these details about the earth, over 5000 years back itself!

Bhumi Sukta

Bhumi means earth and Sukta is collection of mantra. The etymological meaning Bhumi, means to be steady, stable, secure and sustained.

Steady

Our Bhumi has been steady for more than a few lakhs, millions of years.

Stable

The Bhumi has also been stable. The earth has been rotating and hurtling through space in its revolutionary motion at great speeds, but it has continued to give a stable perception to all beings on it.

Secure

The Bhumi has been a secure home to all living creatures.

Sustain

Apart from all these features of being steady, stable, secure, the other key meaning “is to sustain”. The earth sustains all plant life and animal life that have been fortunate to be born on it. This sustaining nature of earth has not only been understood and appreciated but has also been incorporated in the naming, and in the thought process.

Prthvi and Bhumi

We have seen above how Bhumi has a layer of meanings. It is to express these meanings, this concept, that the ancient Rishi the knowledgeable men of ancient India have separated the two facets of this earth and given it two distinct names – Prthvi and Bhumi. Prthvi for its broad, heavy and expansive nature and Bhumi for its stable, secure and sustaining nature.

The earth as Mother, Dharti may innately bear and sustain everything, but there is a limit to the extent to which She can bear the brunt of man’s actions.

Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s needs, but not every man’s greed’ – Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi.

Observations of Chief Seattle

The observations of Chief Seattle in 1964 is apt here on the relationship between man and earth.

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Chief Seattle

“The earth does not belong to man, man belongs to the earth. All things are connected like the blood which unites one family. Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons of the earth. Man did not weave the web of life; he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.”

Greenery and Water Bodies disappearing

Greenery and Water are interrelated. The water bodies ensure an increase in the greenery cover all around them and more green cover ensures more rains and more water.

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. The city is the centralized congested hub to which people from the rural areas migrate, in search of livelihood. This is in stark contrast to the era of ancient India, when most of the local community lived in villages with abundant greenery in their surroundings. Each village had its own water body called Pushkarni, which nourished the greenery in the village surroundings. The villages supported the cities. Agriculture flourished in the villages.

Water bodies are also disappearing, making way for residential centers and shopping malls.

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Huge buildings have replaced greenery

Decentralized System

In ancient India, the decentralized system was followed. Instead of a centralized hub like the cities where all people migrate to, there were many decentralized villages everywhere where the local community lived. The communities in these villages were smaller, and thus there was more greenery. Moreover, each village had its own water bodies called the Pushakarni, which contributed to the greenery of that area.

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Pushkarni surrounded by greenery

In ancient India, the villages supported the cities. Agriculture happened in villages. Decentralized manufacturing of products such as steel, zinc, copper, also happened in the villages. The cities were just a trading hub. The ecological footprint was thus spread out.

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Indian Ethos

The Indian ethos and practice of sustainability emanated from the Bhumi Sukta and Prthvi Sukta of Rig Veda and has flowed through the civilization therefrom. Bhumi Sukta speaks of the need to appreciate the life giving qualities of earth and hence need to keep it sustainable for generations to come.

A Thought provoking quote

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?

A virus.

Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet”.

Time to sensitize ourselves

The urgent need of the hour is to stop and think about what we as custodians of Planet Earth, can do, to stop this ‘gang-rape’ of the planet. Let us, together and individually, sensitize ourselves and others towards saving the Earth. Let us take that extra effort to avoid plastics.

  • Let us use our own bags and our own water bottles.
  • Let us car-pool, use the public transportation, use the bicycle or walk to health, as often as we can.
  • Let us desist from using environment-harming chemicals.
  • Let us plant trees and saplings and more importantly, nurture them through their lives and our lives.
  • Let us be sensitive to our fellow creatures in birds and animals. Let us respect their home space in nature, along with ours.
  • Let us realize that we are infesting the earth. We need to control our population.

Small, but persistent steps in the right way, will surely help wean the Earth away from the fatality it is threatened with today.

World Earth Day is a time for us to resolve to revive these sustainable practices by becoming aware of them and putting them to right use and protect our planet.

More on sustainable practices of ancient India in our work, “Sustainable Ethos of India.”

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Time to come together to protect Mother Earth