The Significance of the Sacred Thread, Yagnopavitham

An interview by – Siddharth Swamy,
Student of Maths & Economics, Trinity College, Dublin

Today, Full Moon, Purnima in the Shravan month is the day when many Indians perform the thread changing ceremony. This is period when the monsoon rain is at its peak. There is a natural Bandhan, Bond between the Sky, which is liked to Father, and the Earth, which is the Mother. The Full Moon brings in fullness.

We bring to you an interaction of an inquiring youngster with D. K. Hari and D.K. Hema Hari of Bharath Gyan, on the relevance of this practice of wearing a sacred thread.

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What is this thread I have been made to wear? It was put on during my Upanayanam. What is an upanayanam?

Upanayanam is a function celebrating the transition from childhood to youth in a boy’s life.

Let us go to the etymological meaning of Upanayanam. Upa means ‘near’ or ‘by the side of’ and nayanam means ‘by the eyes’. Therefore upanayanam denotes being by the side or supervision of a teacher.

Upanayanam is typically performed at the age of 7 years, the time when a child is ready to start schooling. At that time, parents conduct this ceremony and then take the child to the Gurukula, school.

This thread ceremony, also called Brahma Upadesham (Brahmopadesham) is to prepare the child to enter school and the schooling phase of life – Brahmacharyam, one of the 4 Ashrama. They being,

  1. Brahmacharya
  2. Grhastha
  3. Vanaprastha
  4. Sanyasa

The word Upanayanam literally means “to take a person nearer to God and open his eyes of knowledge.”

What is the procedure followed in Upanayanam?

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I have heard people using the terms Yagnopavitham or Upakarman also for this ceremony.

Yagna, besides worship, sacrifice, also denotes commitment to a focused act. So committed, that one sacrifices everything else to ensure this act is accomplished. Pavitham means to cleanse. Yagnopavitham means to cleanse, purify one’s mind as well as intention behind the Yagna, act of commitment – studying in the case of a student.

Upakarman denotes preparation or that activity that aides the start, execution of any mission, it comes from Upa, beside and karman meaning activity.

Upakarma

A group  Yagnopavitham ceremony at the Art of Living Ashram

I was told that this thread I wear will protect me. How can this thread protect me and from what?

On your Upanayanam, this thread is given to you as a sign of committing you to schooling, education. It is a way by which parents tell you that you are now entering a phase where you have to stay fully committed to learning, avoiding all distractions.

The thread you wear acts as a constant reminder and helps you to make sure that you stay committed to the cause you have taken up and also to avoid all distractions, which may come in your wake.

Also, during the upananayanam you would have received the first lesson, i.e., the Gayatri Mantra from your first guru, who is your father. This is the Brahma Upadesham, counsel on the cosmos, from the father. This Gayatri Mantra is to be recited atleast twice a day, at dawn and dusk, the time windows in a day considered to be most conducive to learning.

This mantra is powerful and the vibrations it causes in the body and in the surroundings rejuvenate the body and mind with positive energy keeping them in good health and thus protected.

Is this protection only for Brahmin boys?

No, in older times every child, irrespective of varna/jati (loosely translated as caste in present times) at the start of schooling underwent this ceremony and went to gurukula to study basic veda and other subjects in line with their family profession or aptitude. So this particular investiture is meant for all, not just Brahmins.

What about girls then? Do they not need such protection during their studying age?

Scriptures show how girls too underwent such a ceremony. Perhaps in the medieval period when India came under onslaughts, girls being physically vulnerable, were kept away from schools to protect them from the invaders. With that maybe the number of girls going to gurukula reduced, thereby reducing the practice.

So if I do already know what this stands for and have a sense of commitment to my studies, then do I still need to wear it?

This thread is like a school uniform and gives you a sense of identity. When you wear a school uniform, your mind automatically gets conditioned and constrained  from indulging in acts that do not behoove school going children such as perhaps going to a bar,  discotheque or movies with the uniform on, this thread also conditions the mind and keeps one focused in their mission.

It is not only school uniform, any uniform be it that of a soldier, a policeman or a nurse, conditions one to conduct oneself in a manner specific to the category / institution they represent, when in that uniform. This thread is like that.

In that vain of thought, this helps us to be centered to our commitment at hand.

Similarly, when one gets married, there is an additional thread that gets added to the previous set. This is to condition one to stay on the path of societal norms of a married man who has to look after his family as well as support the community.

Why should he continue with the previous set of thread, now that he is already married and out of school?

The other set is to remind him that in life one is always a student and has to seek knowledge that can help one journey through the various phases of life with ease and relish.

Why do we change this thread every year?

It is to renew our commitment every year, the way people make resolutions every New Year. Since this thread is made from cotton yarn, it needs to be changed atleast once a year from a point of hygiene.

 

 
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Shravan Purnima

Shravan is the month in the Indian calendar that falls between July-August in North and between August-September in the South.

Full Moon against Shravan Star

This month is called Shravan, since the Full Moon during this month, occurs against the Shravan star.

Shravan – To listen to

Shravan also means to listen to scriptures. It is this month when people are mostly indoors due to heavy rain, when they have opportunity to listen to traditional scriptures, read by elders in the family.

Shravan Purnima

Shravan Purnima is the Full Moon day of this month, an auspicious day in the Indian calendar.

This period is characterized by heavy rains. The monsoons are on and the sky is covered by thick clouds. The stars and moon are hardly seen in night sky. When the Full Moon peeps through the gaps in these clouds, it offers a grand sight, making Shravan Purnima a wonderful sight to behold.

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Full Moon on Shravan Purnima

The lakes, ponds and rivers are filled with water. Lotus and Water Lily bloom in them at night. The intermittent reflection of the moon on the waters, when it is visible through the clouds, is a magical sight to behold. Visually, this makes Shravan Purnima a special Full Moon night.

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Reflection of moon on Sharavan Purnima Day, a wonderful sight to behold

A Day of festivals

On this day, important festivals like Rakshabandhan, Hayagreeva Jayanthi and Upakarma, changing of sacred thread are celebrated.

Rakshabandhan

Rakshabandhan is a festival celebrating the bond between the brother and sister. A brother ties Rakhi on her sister as a symbol of protection.

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Brother tying sister a Rakhi on Rakshabandhan

Hayagriva Jayanthi

Hayagriva is an Indian divinity who has the neck of a horse, Haya. The word “Griva” means neck. It is from this word “Griva” that we get the word “Giraffe” for it has a very long neck.

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Giraffe

Hayagriva is venerated as a divinity of learning. Hayagriva is an embodiment of Vishnu who is venerated for the powers of learning and education, for He restored the Veda in an earlier aeon, Yuga. Hayagriva is a zoomorphic image expressing a concept, tattva of the Indian knowledge system.  Hayagriva denotes the capacity to grasp and disseminate knowledge loud and clear.

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Hayagriva

Jandhyam Purnima

Shravan Purnima is also the day when Upakarma, the changing of thread ceremony is performed. Upakarma denotes preparation or the activity that aides the start, execution of any mission. It comes from the word Upa, beside and Karman, meaning activity. The day Upakarma is performed is called Jandhyam Purnima.

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A group Upakarma ceremony at the Art of Living Ashram

Narali Purnima

Shravan Purnima is celebrated as Narali Purnima in the states of Gujarat, Goa and Maharashtra. On this day a coconut, Nariyal is offered to the Sea, to propitiate Lord Varuna, the Lord of waters. This day also marks the beginning of the fishing season in the Konkan coast.

Kajari Purnima

Shravan Purnima is observed as Kajari Purnima in the states of Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Chattishgarh, marking the last day of the of Kajari Festival that begins on the navami of Shravan month. Kajari is festival of sowing of certain crops when the land is wet and waters are aplenty. It is also festival when women pray for the well being of their famalies and society at large.

Pavitropana

Pavitropana is another festival observed on this day in the state of Gujarat. People offer special worship to Lord Shiva on this day.

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Lord Shiva

End of Amarnath yatra

According to the Purana, the Amarnath Yatra starts on Guru Purnima and ends on Shravan Purnima.

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Amarnath Yatra

Balaram Jayanthi

This is also the day when Balaram was born.

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Balarama

Let us enjoy & celebrate

On Shravan Purnima, when you look at the dark clouds that bring prosperity to our land and the Full moon that peaks here and there through the clouds, sometimes reflecting from the water bodies, let us enjoy these sights of Nature along with the knowledge of what Shravan Purnima stands for in our heritage.

Raksha Bandhan

The word Raksha means protection and Bandhan means bond. Raksha Bandhan is the mutual protection, Rakhsa that comes with bonding, Bandhan.

Raksha Bandhan is the day when this bond, bandhan between the brother and sister is relived, renewed. The festival falls on the Full Moon day of Shravana Masa, August – September, observed all across India.

Raksha, Rakshai

Raksha or protection is often symbolized by tying string around one’s wrist when one visits a holy place, temple or even an holy occasion, even weddings both bride and the groom. The string is tied as a guard against ill health, evil eye and generally for protection. This is called as Rakshai.

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Rakshai being tied

In earlier times, Akshada, unbroken rice, was rolled into a longish piece of cloth, which was used as a band to tie.

Mutual Protection

In Raksha Bandhan, the sister ties the string on her brother. It is not just the brother who promises to protect her, but the sister also prays for the welfare, well being and protection of the brother. It is a mutual bond, band, bandhan, bandhana between the brother and sister.

Woman – The Source of Shakthi

Women are often called weak. In the ethos of India, it is the contrary. Women are looked up to as the embodiement of strength, Shakthi.

Women possess a unique power within themselves, the Sankalpa Shakti, the power of will and determination. With this power – Shakthi, a woman protects.

There are timeless and classic examples of inner strength of women.

Savitri

We have heard the story of Satyavan and his wife Savitri. With courage and intellect, she argued with Yama, the very Lord of Death, from taking her husband away and brought him back to life.

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Savitri arguing with Yama

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Women – An embodiment of Inner strength

Women possess the power of feelings and emotions, and have great inner strength within them. This is the greatest strength that one can have. If one loses one’s inner strength then outward physical strength is of no use. Inner strength here includes  both – the power of the intellect and also the strength of inner will and emotions. A woman possesses the unique and beautiful combination of both of these.

Lady’s vow to protect

Thus on Raksha Bandhan day, it is the lady who takes a vow to protect their brother by tying a sacred thread on their wrist.

There are many stories of well known personalities and even divinities, observing Raksha Bandhan, right from ancient times. This bandhan is not just limited to brother and sister, but also between wife and husband, mother and son, grandmother and grandson, and various other relationships.

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Indra and Sachi – Between Husband and Wife

Shachi, the wife of Indra, tied a Raksha Bandhan on her husband, before he undertook the battle against Asura King, Mahabali.

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Lakshmi and Bali – Between Devi and Danava

In Purana, when Vishnu, in his incarnation as Vamana took away the three worlds from Maharaja Bali, He inturn being pleased with Bali, offered him any boon. Maharaja Bali then requested Vishnu to stay with Him at his palace, in Patala Loka. Devi Lakshmi could not bear the separation from Vishnu, in Vaikuntha. She approached Bali, and tied Raksha Bandhan on him as a brother. When Bali asked Lakshmi what she wanted, she asked him to allow Vishnu to return. Bali accepted this request and Vishnu returned to his abode Vaikuntha.

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Yashoda and Krishna – Between Mother and Son

Krishna in his childhood was upto all kinds of mischief. He was also being attacked time to time from the enemies sent by Kamsa. At this time, Yasoda, Krishna’s mother tied a Raksha Bandhan on Him as protection.

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Krishna and Draupadi

During the battle between Krishna and Shishupala, Krishna injured His finger. Draupadi then tore a strip from her Saree, and tied it around Krishna’s finger, to stop bleeding.

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Kunti and Abhimanyu – Between Grandmother and Grandson

Kunti tied a Raksha Bandhan on her grandson Abhimanyu, before the Kurukshetra Battle.

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Alexander’s wife and King Pururuva

Alexander’s wife, known as Roxana in Greek and Roshanak in North West Indian language, sent a Rakshai, to King Pururuva, requesting Puru not to kill Alexander.

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Rani Karnavati and Mughal King Humayun

Rani Karnavati, the widowed Rajput Queen of Chittor, Rajasthan, sent bracelet as a Rakshai to the Mughal King Humayun in the year 1535 CE, seeking help to defend Choitoor, against the Sultan of Gujarat, Bahadurshah, who wanted to capture the Chitoor Fort.

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Maharani Jindan and Maharaja Ranjit Singh

Maharaja Ranjit Singh, was the king of the Sikh empire, who ruled from Lahore. His wife, Maharani Jindan, inorder to encourage intefaith communication sent Rakshai to Hindu King of Nepal, Jang Bhaadur, in 1849.

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This bandhan was later honoured by the Nepal King, when he gave refuge to Maharani Jinda, after the downfall of the Sikh Empire against the British.

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Rabindranath Tagore popularized Raksha Bandhan

During independence struggle, Tagore made Raksha Bandhan popular, to create a bond of brotherhood and sisterhood between different communities during the tumultuous period of independence struggle. This bond was further utilized during the forcible split of Bengal, by the British, in the year 1923.

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  Unified Bengal Pre-partition

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Young Rabindranath Tagore

One of his poem reads:

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In Odisha

Raksha Bandhan is celebrated in Orissa as Gamha Purnima. On this day, the domesticated cows and bulls are worshipped. The cow is given a traditional bath early in the morning and a garland made of fresh flowers is put around its neck.

Thus we see that Raksha Bandhan bond was mutual between man and animals. The bond, bandhan was not only among different relations of humans, but also between humans and animals, in this case domesticated animals, pashu – cows and bulls. Raksha Bandhan was also at this level, and so beautifully brought out in this land of Odisha.

Raksha-Bandhan-Odisha

Through the ages, the concept of Raksha Bandhan has been used across the land in different ways, to suit their times and needs. It is the ethos that bonds, not just the brother and sister, but the time and practices as well.

Svatantrata – True Independence

Independent-Day

Swatantrata

We have all heard this word, being mentioned frequently in connection with the freedom struggle of India against the British. The word Swatantrata is easily understood to connote independence.

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Meaning

If you break the word Swatantra, it has two components to it, swa and tantra.

Swa denotes self and tantra stands for sciences, techniques, practices of a land, the way we live, in consonance with our surroundings and nature in a sustainable manner. Tantrayukti is a discipline of studies where the word tantra stands for scientific. Tantrayukti is a work of scientific reasoning or scientific debates.

From this meaning, we realize that swatantrata is more than independence, just political independence. When one fights for swatantrata, it is not just for political independence. It is not just for governance independence. It stands for a higher level of freedom, a higher dimension of independence.

It is the freedom, the right to practise one’s own sciences and techniques. It is the independence to practise one’s own indigenous way of living, that which is sustainable and in consonance with nature – the nature of the land, the nature of the people and the nature of Nature itself.  It is to maintain oneself free from all influences and act under one’s own will. It thus stands for the notion of Independence, freedom.

Against British

So when our immediate forefathers fought for Swarajya, freedom, independence, it was not a call only for Swa rajya, meaning self rule or primarily, political freedom of India. But the overall call was for Swatantrata too.

Swaraj is my Birthright

Rajya is to rule. Swa rajya is self rule. This slogan of Swarajya was made popular by one of India’s early freedom fighter, Lokamanya Balganagadhar Tilak, when he raised the clarion call,

Swarajya is my birth right and I shall have it.”

1956-Tilak

Bal Gangadhar Lokmanya Tilak

This uprising, due to the rising yearning for Swarajya, Swatantrata, from the British, in every common man’s mind as well as collectively in the entire population of the land, was not a one off event. It has been the turning point of our history. Many personal uprisings have occurred many a times over, at many a crucial juncture, in the long history of this civilization.

Chandragupta

One of the other prominent, better known examples of such an uprising, is when the king, Raja Chandragupta, with the help of master tactician, Chanakya, successfully threw off the yoke of repression, of the Nanda tyranny, so that people could practise “their practices” freely.

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Chanakya – an artist impression

Knowledge of tantra

For a group of people to be called a civilization or society, it is essential that they have their own set of indigenous practices. For a society or civilization to follow their own practices, what is essential, is the knowledge of what their practices are? How did these practices come about? How have these practices evolved and got refined through the ages? Are these practises in consonance with Nature? And how can these practices help them lead a sustainable, prosperous and happy life?

It is only when one is aware of these habits, practices, culture and ethos, does one begin to understand one’s society, civilization and culture.

It is only then, will one also know if one is practising the tantra, scientific practices of one’s civilization.

Science is not just theory alone or laboratory experiments.

Science is the principle of the functioning of Nature, the cosmos, which includes man and his society. In short, science stretches right from the subtle rules that govern the creation of the cosmos to the conduct of every entity in the cosmos, whether living or non living, in its own sphere of existence. A vast domain indeed!

When a society or entity, either out of repression or out of choice, does not practice its own tantra, set of indigenous practices or a sustainable way of living, the urge for swatantrata will eventually arise in that society, in the minds of the common man of that society.

Such a call for swatantrata could also finally result in the desired power to the society or group, to practice its own set of ways.

But when such a call for swatantrata is not further followed up with tantra, which are in sync with the basic sciences, tantra of the cosmos and which can sustain the society, it will not be long before it leads to a call for another swatantratra once again.

On this Independence Day, the 15th day of August, let us understand the real meaning of Independence, swatantrata, as a society’s practice of its own indigenous way of living, in line with its history, geography, geology, topology, climatology, ecology, biology, cosmology and all other sciences, which go towards shaping the society and its culture.

Swarajya vs Swatantra

What we fought for and obtained from the British is swarajya, self rule. We have a long way to go to achieve our true Swatantrata, the courage and will to practice our own, indigenous, proven, sustainable techniques.

To practise Swatantrata, Swarajya is a fundamental need. For without self governance it will not be possible to freely practise the practices of one’s land. As a corollary to the statement, if we have Swarajya it does not naturally mean that we are practising Swatantrata too. Swarajya aids, helps in practising Swatantrata. But to practise Swatantrata, Swarajya + gyana is imperative.

Let us with this knowledge, Gyana and Vigyana, march towards swatantrata, true Independence.

Independence day

Malabar Tsunami – 2018 – eBook

Intense rains have lashed Kerala and Kodagu district of Karnataka in August 2018, causing unprecedented floods and misery across the state. In August until the 16th, the rainfall was 619.5mm, when usually it is 244.1 mm, during this period. Almost all the 14 districts of the state have been effected, by huge waves of flood, on the opening of the over-loaded dams, and has been nothing short of a Tsunami.

Know More: Malabar Tsunami – 2018 – eBook :

Malabar Tsunami

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Madam Bhikaji Cama

Madam Bhikaji Cama-death

A Freedom Fighter

Madam Bhikaji Cama played a prominent role in the early Indian Freedom Movement.

Madam Bhikaji Cama 1

Madam Bhikaji Cama

Born into a rich Parsi family, Bhikaji with her flair for languages and good education, grew to be a persuasive orator when it came to speaking on and standing up for the issues of India.

When she was attacked by plague and was advised to go to Europe to recover in 1902, she came in contact with Sir.Dadabhai Nowroji, another Parsi freedom fighter from India living in England. Working under him, she came into contact with several patriotic students of India and European intellectuals who sympathized with India. This gave her the platform to launch her own ways of supporting India’s freedom struggle.

At International Socialist Conference

In August 1907, Madam Bhikaji Cama attended the International Socialist Conference in Stuttgart, Germany. Here she described the devastating affects of the manmade famine perpetuated by the British and on India’s struggle for freedom.

Tearing Sari, Making Flag

While at the conference, somebody made a comment to the effect that India did not even have a flag to talk about freedom. This comment made Madam Bhikaji Cama tear off her sari, stitch a flag out of it, and display it at the conference. She called this “The Indian Flag of Independence” and displayed it on 22nd August. It was based on a design by Veer Savarkar.

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Madam Bhikaji Cama

The flag becoming Vande Mataram Flag

The design and colour of this flag was adopted back in India as the Vande Mataram Flag.

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Design of the “Flag of Indian Independence” raised by Bhikhaiji Cama

There were eight lotuses representing the eight provinces of India then and the Sun and the moon to present Hinduism and Islam.  The red colour stood for strength, yellow for victory and green for boldness and enthusiasm.

Now in Maratha Library

This flag that she raised then was brought to India by Indulal Yagnik which is now displayed in Maratha and Kesari Library in Pune.

Rekindling fervour

This deed of Madam Bhikaji Cama made her a favourite among the masses. The fervour for independence among the people, was further kindled.  Apart from this act, Bhikaji Cama played many prominent roles all through the freedom struggle such as printing and publishing Savarkar’s book “First Indian War of Independence” which was banned in India and oteh magazines such as “Vande Mataram” and many more, all of which went to keep the fire for freedom burning in the hearts of the Indians in Indian as well as foreign soil.

After relocating to Paris when she learnt of a conspiracy by the British to kill her, she finally returned to Bombay despite a ban by the British only to pass away on 13th August, 1936.

Streets in her name

The government has in memory of Madam Bhikaji Cama has over the years named many streets and roads under the name of Madam Bhikaji Cama.

For example, a street in Delhi is named Bhikaji Cama Place.

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Bhikaji Cama Place

Vessel in her name

In 1997, a fast patrol vessel was named ICGS Bhikaji Cama after this freedom fighter.

Recall this great freedom fighter

Madam Bhikaji Cama’s name is recalled for actively fighting in Indian Freedom Struggle.

International Left Hander’s Day

Lefties not inferior

A day for left-handers! Aha! In modern parlance, left has got a connotation of being less than equal. So, certainly we need a day for the left handers to say that the lefties are no way inferior.

Left Hander 1

Dexterity, Daksha

Dexterity is a matter of capability of the hands. The words “Dexterity, Dexterous” trace their roots to the Latin word “Dexter”, meaning skillful, which in turn is etymologically similar to Daksha, the Prajapati in Indian legends.

Daksha

Daksha is a Prajapati, a progenitor. The word Daksha means one who is capable, strong, competent, skillful and who can lead. Daksha is probably the earliest recorded person, equally skilled with both hands.

Left Hander 2

Daksha Prajapathi

Arjuna

Arjuna is one of the earliest recorded ambidextrous person. He was called Sabyasachi, meaning ambidextrous. Even now people are named Sabyasachi in India in memory of the first recorded ambidextrous person in History of the world.

Left ideology

The communists are derisively called as “leftists” which is given as a left-handed complement. They have accepted this complement as their ideology being inferior.

Left Handed excellence

There are many left handed persons who excelled in different parts of the world including sports and music where their left handed posture is clearly to see for one and all.

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Left Hander 4

Left Handers displaying their skills in their unique left handed postures