Onam Festival – Part 3, Significance of Onam

Onam-Bali Pada is an occasion for us to relate to the story of Vamana where Vamana grew from a short young boy to a giant form and with His 3 strides covered earth, skies and finally placed His leg on the head of Maha Bali, a good but arrogant king and pushed him into Pathala Loka.

This legend where Vamana measured the whole universe does sound like some childish mythology. Even from a cosmological perspective, it appears to be unscientific and self-contradictory. If with His first step, Vamana had measured the whole of the earth then it should have included Bali’s head too as he was also on this earth.

Next, with the second step of His foot, if Vamana had measured the whole sky, then “this earth which is also a part of that sky”, was also included in the second step.

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Earth in the Solar System

Then where does Bali stand separately, to offer his head for the third measure?

Is this not self-contradictory?

Is there anything rational about this legend?

We must bear in mind that the legend of Vamana avatar is Puranic, i.e. it is an expression of a deeper truth, a moral lesson from historical or scientific incidents, clothed in a story, such that the commoner can easily grasp the essence of the incident and model his conduct accordingly, right through the ages.

What is the moral that lies behind this story of King Maha Bali?

Maha Bali was a great Asura king and ruled over all the lands he saw. While he was basically a good person and his intention to honour the knowledgeable was great, there was also an arrogance in him because he owned all the expanse that he could see on land and was considered invincible. That ahankara, arrogance, ego, blinded him and so, despite his goodness and the keen intention to respect knowledge, his ahankara, ego, did him in.

While he had his preceptor, Guru Sukracharya, next to him, who had warned him to pause, think, take sagely advice and act with caution, King Maha Bali had brushed aside the warning in order to keep up his image, of one who was willing to give away everything. This ego and arrogance, got him banished to Pathala Loka.

Knowledge and humility help one transcend ego which can grow as huge as this earth and sky. This ego can be conquered in three simple steps like Vamana’s.

Step 1 – Measure the earth – Look around and be humbled by the sheer number of other living beings like you on this earth.

Step 2 – Measure the skies – Look up into the sky and be humbled by the sheer vastness and multitude of other worlds in the cosmos and how insignificantly small we are in this cosmos.

Step 3 – Place your hand on your head – Realize that in the cycle of births and deaths not only of living beings but the cosmos itself, the time span of each of our lives is very small and the role we play in the larger picture of the order of the cosmos, is even smaller. 

This story by example has had a timeless relevance in conquering ego, ahamkara which has also been timeless. A little ahamkara is essential but when ahamkara takes over, it just suppresses the person, however mighty he may be.

These 3 steps of Vamana will keep our ego, ahamkara limited to the necessary.

But why remember this story on Onam Day? Why choose this particular day?

Read the next part in this Onam series- https://bharathgyanblog.wordpress.com/2019/09/11/onam-festival-part-4-story-from-the-skies

Onam Festival – Part 2, Pathala Loka

The Puranic legends of India speak of many worlds.

As per the Puranas, when Vishnu, in the form of a young scholar Vamana, humbled Asura king Maha Bali, Maha Bali was banished to Pathala Loka. When the Deva overcame the Asura in battles, the Asura were forced to migrate to the Pathala Loka, the netherworld or the world below.

Where is this Pathala Loka?

People have conjured up images of Pathala Loka as being vertically downwards inside the earth.

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Asura going down to Pathala Loka

an incorrect understanding

The Puranic legends describe how the world is divided into different habitable regions. They list 14 regions, with 7 regions being the “nether worlds”, the Pathala Loka. The Puranic texts also give the notion of the Pathala Loka as being beyond the seas.

The words like location and locomotion are etymologically similar to the word, “Loka”.

There are other technical texts that mention the location of Asura and their adversaries, the Sura.  A sloka in Surya Siddhantha throws some light on the exact location of the Pathala. The relevant sloka is,

 Surasuranam anyonyam diva – ratra viparyayaha

For Sura and Asura, days and nights are interchangeable

According to this sloka, Sura and Asura would have lived on opposite sides of the earth as only then can their days and nights be interchangeable. The region of the earth diametrically opposite to the Indian subcontinent is the central parts of South America which was the Pathala Loka of the Asura.

 PathalaLoka 

If we want a modern analogy, we have the British calling Australia as Down Under. That does not mean that Australia is in the underground areas of England. What the English really mean by the phrase “Down Under”, is that, for England, high in the northern hemisphere, Australia is on the other side of the earth, down in the south.

 DownUnder

Similarly, there is another popular term in the US, called the China Syndrome.

People often joke that, in case there were to be a nuclear mishap in America, then the nuclear explosion would burrow a hole beneath America, continue to burrow through the earth and come out on the other side of the earth, in China.

ChinaSyndrome

These phrases, Australia Down Under and China Syndrome, are examples of usage by people on one side of the globe to bring out the concept that, there is another side, opposite to them on the earth, which is also inhabited by people.

It is in this similar vein of expression that the ancient Indians had used the term Pathala Loka, as the area on the other side of the spherical earth. It is not to be erroneously understood as an underground cavern or kingdom.

To have had this knowledge, the ancient Indians must have known that the earth was not flat but spherical in nature.

Does this mean that Pathala Loka is for real and the story of Maha Bali, real?

Read the next part in the Onam series- https://bharathgyanblog.wordpress.com/2019/09/11/onam-festival-part-3-significance-of-onam

Onam Festival – Part 1, The Story of Onam

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Onam commemorates the homecoming of the great Asura king Maha Bali from Patala Loka.

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Onam Procession In Cochin, Kerala in 1940s

Vamana Avatar and Mahabali are mentioned in the 13thcentury text Thirunizhalmala praising Lord Vishnu of Aranamula. Even now, the Boat race, and the extravagant feast of Aranmula Parthasarathy temple during Onam is impressive.

Trivikrama sculpture at Mahabalipuram

Maha Bali, the grandson of Prahalada, was a strong and learned king. The name Bali means strong. Bali was also a person who gave a lot of respect to knowledge. This is evident from the famous episode of his encounter with Vamana.

Maha Bali was performing a Yagna, a focussed and austere act, towards achieving a goal, by sacrificing one’s pleasures and possessions.

At that time, a short, young, radiant boy entered the yagna shala. He seemed to be the epitome of true knowledge. Maha Bali as is the custom, welcomed this radiant youngster and enquired upon the reason as to why he had come to attend this yagna. The youngster requested for just that much space, as could be measured by three of His footsteps.

Bali and Vamana 

Vamana and Maha Bali

When Maha Bali thinks of this request to be very small for a man of his stature and immediately offers to give the youngster what He desires, Guru Sukracharya, the mentor of Bali and the Asura, intercedes, to restrain the Asura King Bali from granting the requested three measures of space, without giving the request a due thought.

Shukracharya advising Bali 

 Sukracharya advising Bali

Maha Bali does not pause to think, as cautioned by his mentor Sukracharya. Instead, brushing aside the warnings, he goes ahead and grants three measures of space, as asked for, by this radiant youngster Vamana.

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As the legend goes, no sooner were the three footsteps granted, the youngster Vamana assumed a gigantic form known as Trivikrama and with the first step of His foot, measured the whole earth. Then with the second step of His foot He measured the whole sky. These two steps had covered the whole of Maha Bali’s kingdom, the earth and the sky. Vamana then asked the King, as to where he should place His third step.

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Trivikrama

King Maha Bali recognizing the divinity of Vishnu in Vamana, understood his folly, bowed and offered his own head to Vamana, for placing His third step on.

Seeing Maha Bali’s sincerity and reverence, Vishnu forgives him. He sends him “down” to Pathala Loka and offers to stay guard for Maha Bali, Himself.

      Trivikrama           

Vamana’s leg on Bali’s head

Acceding to the request of Maha Bali’s people, Vishnu grants Maha Bali permission to return to his kingdom from Pathala Loka, once every year to be in the midst of his people. This day is celebrated as the Onam festival.

Where is this Pathala Loka?

Read the next part in this Onam Series- https://bharathgyanblog.wordpress.com/2019/09/11/onam-festival-part-2-pathala-loka

Subramanya Bharati

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Subramanya Bharati, popularly known as ‘Mahakavi Bharathiar’, is one of the greatest Tamil poets, who through his poems encouraged patriotism among people at the time of Indian Freedom Struggle.

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Mahakavi Bharathiar

Three Contemporary Freedom Fighters

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Moovar (1)

Leading Literary Figure

Considered one of the leading figures in Tamil literature, Subramanya Bharati’s works mainly ranged in social, religious and patriotic arena.

Subramanya Bharati, affectionately called Bharathiar was born in Ettyapuram on December 11th, 1882. He completed his education in Tirunelveli and Varanasi.

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Birth Place of Bharathiar

Taking part in Freedom struggle

He joined the Indian National Congress and carried out revolutionary activities against the British rule, an aspect of which was his stirring poetry through which he kindled nationalism in people.

He also wrote articles for newspapers such as Swadeshamitra and India.

A National Poet

Mahatma Gandhi called him a national poet.

Poems on Women Emancipation

Among his poems were also many songs for women’s emancipation with the title of Kannama.

Coming to Pondicherry

The British police issued a warrant against him in 1908 for carrying out revolutionary activities. Bharathiar then went to Pondicherry, a French colony and lived there for the next 10 years. Here, he translated the Bhagavad Gita into Tamil.

Friendship with V O Chidambaram Pillai

Bharathiar was a close friend of V O Chidambaram Pillai, the other great freedom fighter who started the Swadeshi Shipping Company, forcibly closed by the British, as they perceived it as a threat to British interests.

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V O Chidambaram Pillai                 Swadeshi Shipping Company

The End

Bharathiar’s end came when he was shoved aside by an elephant in mast, at the Parthasarathy Temple in Triplicane, Madras. His condition deteriorated rapidly and he passed away on 11th September, 1921.

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  Parthasarathy Temple, Thiruvallikeni

Among his great grandchildren, Rajkumar Bharati is carrying forward his legacy.

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Rajkumar Bharati

The home where he spent the last few years of his life in Triplicane, also called Thiruvallikeni, has been named Bharathiar Illam, which stands adjacent to the Parthasarathy Temple.

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                    Bharathiar Illam                             

Vast Popularity

In Tamil Films

The songs of Bharathiar have been used in the Tamil films and Carnatic Music, for the past many decades.

Feature Film – Bharathi

Bharathi, a film on the life of Bharathiar was released in the year 2000. This film won the National Film Award for best Tamil Feature Film, for the year 2000.

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Bharathi Film on Bharathiar’s life

Streets, Associations and University in name

Almost every town of Tamil Nadu has a Bharathiar street. Tamil associations in different cities of the world have been named after him. There is a University in his name at Coimbatore. Such are his literary achievements.

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Bharathiar University, Coimbatore

Stamps in name

There are also stamps and coins released in his name by the government of India.

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Stamp on Bharathiar

Statues and Idols

Many statues have been erected for Bharatiyar all over Tamil Nadu. There are also some temples where his idol can be found. One such place is in Madhya Kailash temple in Adayar, Chennai, which has an idol for Bharathiar.

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                  Statue of Bharathiar, Chennai                                     Statue of Bharathiar, Pondicherry  

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Bharathiar Statue in Varanasi

All these speak of the immense popularity and wide acceptance of this Mahakavi.

Swami Vivekananda Day

On this day, Swami Vivekananda gave his epoch making speech at Chicago.

The Governor of State of Illinois, United States, declared this day as Swami Vivekananda day, in 2018 to commemorate the 125th anniversary of the famous lecturer in world parliament of religion at Chicago.

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Swami Vivekananda’s speech at Chicago conference on September 11th, 1893, was only for 6 minutes consisting of 887 words, but what he stirred up with that has been echoing across continents for 120 years and will continue to echo for centuries to come.

Vivekanand Speech 1

 

Swami Vivekananda

Swami Vivekananda

Arousing interest on India

This short speech recreated an interest about India in the west, in the 20th century.

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Swami Vivekananda, Front row, 4th left from center, in a black robe and turban at the World’s 1st Religious Parliament, Chicago

Indians discover themselves

It also helped Indians discover Swami Vivekananda and through him discover themselves, the strength of their tradition, culture and the respect for their own spirituality. The awakening of Indians among the American intelligentsia had resonance back in his homeland in India.

Paved the way to Freedom

This awareness of their strength later paved the way for the Indian independence movement which was fulfilled in 1947.

Religious Tolerance

People today talk of religious tolerance. The seed of this idea of religious tolerance was sown by Swami Vivekananda at this speech. Unfortunately, in the last 100 years, this tolerance has now come down to tolerate.

Gave impetus to Yoga and spirituality

The speech also gave impetus to Indian yoga and spirituality. Today, yoga is a thriving industry in the west but its seeds were laid by Swami Vivekananda in the west.

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Vivekananda, the harbinger of yoga in west

 Swami Vivekananda at the Parliament of Religions, Chicago, 1893

4 years in America

After this speech, Swami Vivekananda kept getting invitations to speak at different occasions and was compelled to stay on in America for 4 years.

From Swami to a powerful thought provider

This momentous speech catapulted Swami Vivekananda, an unknown swami of the orient to become one of the most powerful thought providers of those times.

Bagha Jatin

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Jatindranath Mukherjee is one of the main Indian revolutionaries from Bengal, who fought against the British Rule.

Leader of Yugantar Party

He was the leader of the Yugantar party that carried out freedom related activities, against the British. He was actually at the helm of the party at a very young age.

Bagha Jatin – A Tiger

He was nicknamed Bagha Jatin, Bagha meaning tiger, for the great courage he showed at a tender age, in revolting against the British.

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Young Bagha Jatin

Indoctrinating Indian Soldiers

One of the main contributions of Bagha Jatin was that he and his party inculcated cognitive strategies and revolutionary spirit in Indian soldiers, for an uprising against the British.

His Slogan

His famous slogan was, “Amra Morbo, Jagat Jagbe”, meaning “We shall die to awaken the nation”.

‘A divine personality’

Gandhiji was so impressed by this revolutionary youth that he referred to Bagha Jatin as ‘a divine personality’.

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 Mahatma Gandhi and Bagha Jatin

Loved by Englishmen

Irrespective of Bagha Jatin’s revolutionary activities, he was also loved by many Englishmen. Charles Augustus Tegart, a colonial police officer had once remarked that if Bagha Jatin was born in England, then probably a statue would have been built for him and placed next to Nelson’s at Trafalgar Square. What he meant to say was that the great personality that Bagha Jatin was would have been highly revered in England.

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Charles Augustus Tegart

Hard and Soft

The impeccable character of Bagha Jatin was both hard and soft. He had a soft corner for those suffering and a charitable nature. At the same time, he demonstrated great physical bravery and prowess while fighting the colonial rulers.

Above caste and religion

Another striking quality in Bagha Jatin was that he was beyond the narrow confines of caste and religion. He even financially helped a Muslim women by sending her money every month.

Brave End and appreciation in death

Bagha Jatin’s revolt against the British led to a backlash from the colonial rulers. Bagha Jatin was mortally wounded by the British police and passed away on 10th September, 1915.

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Bagha Jatin during his last moments

Even at his death, there was a word of appreciation from the opponent forces. Charles Tegart, the colonial office who was part of the police squad that killed Bagha Jatin said, “Even though I had a duty to perform, I had a great admiration for Bagha Jatin. He died in an open fight.”

Statue

Today, his statue stands tall at the Victoria memorial in Kolkata.

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Bagha Jatin statue at Victoria Memorial, Kolkata

Institutions, places in name

Many institutions and places in Bengal have been named after this great freedom fighter.

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Bagha Jatin Railway Station, Kolkata

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Bagha Jatin Passenger

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Bagha Jatin Hospital, Kolkata

Amar Chitra Katha

Amar Chitra Katha paid a fitting tribute to Bagha Jatin by bringing out his story.

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It is due to the sacrifices of such freedom fighters that finally led to the British vacating India in 1947.

International Literacy Day

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Literacy Day

September 8th was proclaimed International Literacy day by the UNESCO in 1965 to remind people of the importance of literacy.

Literacy, etymology

The word “literacy, literate” is derived from the latin word “litera”, meaning “letter”. Litera was the one who “knew the letters”, referring to those who could read.

Lipi, Kshara, Akshara

In Samskrt, we have the word ‘lipi’ which means “script, written word”.

In Samskrt, letters are also called Akshara. Kshara is that which is perishable, melts away. Akshara means that which is indestructible. Once written, the thought is etched in time.

Indus Valley script

The Indus Valley Script, etched in clay tablets, is one of the oldest scripts in the world going back to 6000 years and more.

Medium to carry thought

What one thinks, is put down in script such that, when this script is read, it conveys the same thought to the reader. The letters, literals, lipi, akshara act as the medium to carry a thought across to many, across times.

Literature – A Bridge to connect people

Literacy and literature play the role of a bridge, a setu that connects people and allows them to share knowledge, ideas.