Ganga Jayanti

Imprints of Ganga

For many millennia, even though India gets her name from the Indus, i.e Sindhu River and Veda, the oldest compendium of literature in the world were compiled by the river Sarasvati, it is Ganga that has defined India. India is known as the land of the Ganga.

Coming down from the snowy heights of the Himalaya and flowing through the northern belt of India to join the Bay of Bengal in the East, this perennial river has been revered as the holy mother “Ma Ganga”, who washes away all sins, not only by the Indians but by many of the South East Asian civilizations too.

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Bhagiratha Prayathna

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.

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Bhagiratha Prayatna

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

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.

The worldwide popularity of Ganga

Ganga has captured the hearts of so many across the world that she can be found depicted in many lands across the world in form, fame and name. (Preethi in murthi, kirthi and sruthi).

In Rome

For instance, one of the oldest depictions of Ganga river is actually in Rome. Ganga forms one of the 4 rivers in the fountain at Piazza Novonna built in 200 CE.

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Piazza Novona in Rome depicting the 4 popular rivers of the world in 200 CE – Tiber, Nile, Rhine, Ganges

In Sri Lanka – Kelani Ganga

In the south of India, in Sri Lanka, there is a place called Kelaniya on the banks of the river Kelani Ganga. Kelaniya from many millennia is held as the place where Vibhishana had his palace. A temple in honour of Vibhishana stands here even to this day. The outer wall of the temple building, which also houses a Buddhist shrine and monastery, bears a mural depicting the Coronation, pattabhisheka of Vibhishana by Lakshmana, the younger brother of Rama.

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Buddha Vihar and Vibhishana Temple

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Ganga Sculpture at the temple on the banks of Kelaniya Ganga River

It is interesting to note that the river by this palace was called Kelani which is a morphed version of the word Kalyani, meaning abundance giving, auspicious.

More on this in our book, Ramayana in Lanka.

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Ganga – Perennial Rivers, Oya – Minor Rivers

The river was called Ganga since the word Ganga means one that is perennial. It has now come to be associated with larger rivers whereas minor rivers are called Oya in Sri Lanka.

Other Gangas in Sri lanka

For example there are Kalu Ganga near Bentota, Menik Ganga, Gin Ganga etc. in Sri Lanka itself.

In Early European Maps

Early European navigation maps of the world clearly depict India as a land of Ganga.

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Tabula Peutingeriana showing Indi by Peutinger in 200 CE

Ganga made her way not only to the seas of the Bay of Bengal but her name and fame had made their way all over the world.

Alexander’s wish

Alexander’s wish to see Ganga flowing in 326 BCE, the erection of a fountain in Rome in commemoration of the 4 major rivers of the world with Ganga figuring in that list in 200 CE and India being distinguished by the Ganges river on the maps of Europe right from 2000 years ago, are proof enough of her popularity around the world through the times.

India was mapped by the Ganga. India was branded by the Ganga.

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India delineated as “India Intra Gangem” and “India Extra Gangem” on either side of the Ganga by Ptolemy in 140 CE

In Cambodia

If Ganga is found in the West, she can also be seen in the East in Cambodia. Tucked away in the jungles of Kulen Mountains, she is found as a concept, sculpted on the hard rocky stone. She is shown originating from Vishnu’s feet, touching Shiva’s head and then flowing over Sahasra Shiva linga carved on the bed rock of the headwaters of the Stung Kbal Spean river which is a tributary of the Siam Reap river that flows down from the Kulen Mountains to Angkor Wat. Dating to 11th century CE, Ganga has been depicted here as a legend.

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Sculptures of Ma Ganga story in the upper reaches of Stung Kbal Spean, a tributary of Siem Reap river, which in turn is a tributary of Mekong, flowing through the Kuhlen mountains near Angkor in Cambodia

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This stone carving of the 1000 Linga in Cambodia, built during the time of King Udayadityavarman II, in turn is found back home in South India too.

A similar depiction of Ganga and 1000 Linga can be found on the river Shalmala in the jungles near Sirsi, Karnataka. It was built in the 17th century during the reign of Sadashivarayavarma, the king of the Sirsi kingdom.

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Mekong – A Morphed version of Ganga

The Mekong of Cambodia is a morphed version of Maa Ganga.

The very name Mekong for the main river of South East Asia, is the Cambodian way of saying ‘Ma Ganga’ – ‘Me Kong’. The reverence of the South East Asians, for Ma Ganga, can be seen in Mekong, right from its name to the sculptures along the river that depict its legend.

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Map highlighting Ganga and Mekong

In India

Most perennially flowing rivers in the Indian subcontinents and S.E.Asia were called a Ganga, as they were nurturing their respective regions like Ganga does, through the year.

Wain Ganga, PenGanga, VedGanga

In India too, besides the Ganga, we have the Wain Ganga, PenGanga, VedGanga etc.

Godavari – Vrddha Ganga

Another long and wide river of India is the Godavari which rises from Trimbakeshwar in Nashik and flows from west to east across India to drain out into the Bay of Bengal.

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Godavari River, location

One other name for this Godavari is Vrddha Ganga meaning the “Older Ganga.”

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River Godavari, also known as Vrdha Ganga

Krishnaa – Elder sister of Ganga

Yet another river of India, Krishnaa, is also referred to in legends as the elder sister of Ganga.

Interestingly both are Deccan Plateau Rivers and flow through the Telugu lands.

Telugu Ganga Canal

Similarly, the canal that brings Krishna river to Chennai, an initiative of N T Rama Rao and M G Ramachandran, is known as Telugu Ganga.

Cauvery – Dakshina Ganga

Cauvery River is known as Dakshina Ganga, meaning the Ganga of the South.

Ganga Talao in Mauritius

Likewise, further south, in Mauritius, the Indians residing there have named one of their reservoirs as Ganga Talao, meaning Ganga Lake.  This shows the connect they still have with Ganga. It also shows how Ganga is held as a symbol of a nourisher by people all over.

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Ganga Talao

Ganga Sagar

With the Ganga River, draining into the Bay of Bengal, the Bay of Bengal, naturally and rightfully has been called the Ganga Sagar for many millennia, till the British in their maps started referring to Ganga Sagar as Bay of Bengal.

More on Ganga as a timeless brand of India, in our book, Brand Bharat – Unique To India.

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Ellora

If we travel to the heart of India, near Aurangabad we find the heritage site of Ellora.

Ellora is one of largest rock-cut monastery-temple cave complexes in the world today. Built through 400 years, from 600 to 1000 CE, it has been declared a UNESCO World heritage site.

The unique feature of Ellora is that the temple complex was carved top down from a single rock, rather than built from bottom up.

It is an architectural marvel, in that, the sculpting was started in 600 CE and completed in 1000 CE. The design was envisaged by the architects who lived in 600 CE and the temple was completed by the 8th generation of architects down the line.

In this famed temple, one can find sculptures of Ganga on the caves.

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Sculptures of Ganga at Ellora cave

Udaygiri caves

Further central to India, in the much more old Udayagiri caves in today’s Madhya Pradesh, dating to 5th century CE, one can find Ganga on the wall near the Varaha caves of Udayagiri.

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Sculpture of Ganga at Udaygiri Caves, Madhya Pradesh

Mahabalipuram

One of the best depictions of Ganga in India by far is the bas relief of the Descent of Ganga, carved on the hard granite rocks in Mahabalipuram, near Chennai in Tamil Nadu.

Dating to early 7th century CE, this panel forms an exquisite backdrop for the Annual Dance Conference held here, every year.

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Bas Relief of the descent of Ganga at Mahabalipuram

Why is Ganga held so dear in every one’s heart?

Aren’t other rivers equally special, after all they too nourish the lands they flow through?

They are long, wide and full of water like the Ganga too.

Did not the Sindhu and Sarasvati nurture the civilization of Bharat along their banks?

What is so special about the Ganga?

Ganga – The Jiva Nadi

The term Ganga itself means Perennial. All across the civilization, some of the key perennial rivers had the suffix of Ganga, implying tis perennial nature. The term for perennial nature in Indian language is Jiva Nadi, the one that has Jiva, life, for it is the perennial waters that sustain Jeevan, life. The perennial waters that which sustains civilizations. What apt naming! The intrinsic connect between perennial rivers and sustainable civilization brought out so beautifully in the continuously surviving civilization of Bharata Khanda.

The Worldwide imprints of the Ganga are not just for its size or discharge but because of the nature of it being a hydraulic river engineering marvel of a bygone era.  Let us in our generation strive to keep this symbol of India, clean and flowing with Divinity and vitality.

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.