World Dance Day

Land of Dances

The world 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

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

Popular Dance festivals in India

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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Akshaya Trithiya

Akshaya Trithiya or Akha Teej, is a highly auspicious day which falls on the third day after Amavasya (no moon) in the Hindu 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 Lord Krishna.

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.

  • 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 Krishna gave the Akshaya Pathra to the Pandavas and Draupadi.

  • 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.

  • 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.

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 great mathematician passed away on 26th April, 1920.

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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.

Mathematics – Crest of Peacock

Mathematics among the sciences is given a high place, 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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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, Book

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 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

Indigo Rebellion of 1859

‘Land of Million Mutinys’

In India there have been many rebellions before and after 1857 War of Independence. The celebrated English writer Vidiadhar S Naipaul refers to India as ‘Land of Million Mutinys’, his book title.

   Vidiadhar S Naipaul and his book

Indigo, famous Indian export

One among them is the rebellion of Indigo growers in March 1859. Indigo has been a cash crop, a famous export of India for many years.

                   Indigo dye Factory in Bengal, 1850s                                   Indigo Plant

Infact, India had the exclusive technology and monopoly in indigo trade till the blue coloured dye was chemically made in Europe, by Alfred Bob Buyer in 1902.

Forced to grow Indigo

In the 1800s, when the British had a threshing control over India’s economy, trade and its agrarian society, the British traders and rulers directly forced the farmers to grow indigo only repeatedly.

To meet the avarice of the traders, Indigo was heavily grown in crop rotation with rice and other crops, to keep the soil fertility and sustainability.

Farmers become bonded labourers

The British administrators bypassed the zamindars who knew the local system and directly threatened the farmers to grow only indigo. This led to a situation where the farmers became almost like bonded labourers to British administrators.

The Indigo Rebellion

This oppression continued for decades culminating in what is now referred to as indigo rebellion that occurred in Bengal, between 1859 and 1861, couple of years after 1857 War of Independence, which was ruthlessly crushed by the British.

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Areas of Indigo revolts in Bengal

Act XI

The British went to the extent of enacting infamous law – Act XI of 1860, which made breach of contract on the part of ryots a criminal offence.

This act passed on April 21st, 1860, brought to the fore that, even though the ryots owned the land, they only had tenancy rights over the land. They were infact bonded labourers, for if they did not grow indigo, they could be jailed.

Sisir Kumar Ghosh

English educated Indian lawyers and intellegentia took up the cause of indigo growers. One among them was the young Sisir Kumar Ghosh who wrote about the plight of the indigo planters in the weekly, “The Hindoo Patriot”, in January 1853. He later went on to start the now famous Amrita Bazar Patrika.

    Sisir Kumar Ghosh                                              Amrita Bazar Patrika

Nil Darpan

The plight of the indigo planters was so bad. One of the famous playwriters of those days, Dinabandhu Mitra wrote the Play, Nil Darpan, – ‘The Mirror of Indigo’, which reflected the plight of the indigo planters.

 Dinabandhu Mitra                                                                      Nil Darpan

Treated like animals

How the planters were forced to cultivate indigo without remuneration, confined to their farms, beaten up and treated worse than animals all for the sake of avarice of indigo traders.

Eventually crushed the British

The rebellion of the indigo farmers is among the many rebellions that the native Indians fought in eventually crushing the British Rule.