Obon

The Japanese observe a period every year called Obon, which the Indians observe as Mahalaya Amavasya. This is one of the most important traditions in Japan. It is a time when people pray for the spirits of their ancestors.

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They invite the spirits of their ancestors back to their homes to reunite with their family. Hence most Japanese, wherever they may work, try to make it back home for Obon.

The name Obon originally comes from Urabon which in turn traces its origin to the Samskrt word Ullambana meaning hovering. This is the time to pray for the spirit of the ancestors that are hovering around.

Obon was originally celebrated around the 15th day of the 7th month in the lunar calendar. It continues to be so in some parts of Japan such as Okinawa, whereas in some others it has shifted to the 15th of the 7th / 8th month of the Gregorian Calendar, namely July and August.

It is interesting to note further similarities not only in the philosophy of the practice of praying for the souls of the ancestors but also in the rationale behind the time of doing so, namely the 7th month of the lunar calendar.

In the Gregorian calendar, even though September and October are the 9th and 10th month in sequence starting from January, September – October was originally the 7th month of the lunar calendar, as the names Septa, 7 in September and Octa, 8 in October suggest.

The star Bharani, ruled by Yama, the divinity of death, throws light on Mahalaya and Obon.

Obon

Food set aside for ancestors during Obon in Japan

More on this Japanese festival in our book “Indo Japan – A Connect Over Millennia”.

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Balochistan Independence Day

Balochistan Independence

Balochistan became an Independent state after 100 years of British rule. The tripartite agreement between Balochistan, Pakistan and the British to grant independence to Balochistan was formally announced on August 11, 1947.

Balochistan Occupied

But this independence was short lived as Balochistan was recaptured by Pakistan 7 months later.

Were Keen to Join India

In 1947, Khan Sahib of Balochistan and people of Balochistan, showed interest to join India, but Jawahar Lal Nehru dismissed it of by commenting that Balochistan was far away.

If Pakistan could have been in two wings, India also have had two portions, with Balochistan being a far west province.

Doesn’t USA have a far west province in Alaska? Did Americans give it away, citing that the region was far away?

This is one of the 97 blunders of Nehru, which has been published as a book. After 70 years we see that, China has evinced interest in the Gwadar port and wants to make it one of the key sea port hubs in the Arabian Sea. India through Nehru, lost a place of strategic importance in Balochistan.

A Buffer State

From time immemorial, Balochistan has been a buffer state between Indian civilization and Persian civilization. Buffer state is a country between two major countries which facilitates friendship between two big countries.

Natives of Western India

The Baluchis who were natives of western most part of India. This region was known as Balochistan, the native place of the Balochis. This region was a land of many important rivers such as Zhob, Nari, Bolan, Pishin, Lora, and Mula.

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Balochistan Region

Balochistan and India, Connection

Language

Baluchi is the language of the Baluch people and is seen to be very similar to Samskrt.

Shakti Peetha

The Shakti Peetha extend from Tripura in the east to Baluchistan in the west, all part of the land of Bharatha. Hinglaj is an important Shakti Peetha located in Balochistan. The annual four day pilgrimage to the Hinglaj Shakti Peetha is organized every April.

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Shakti Peetha in India

Pishey Art Work

Baluch people are known for their Pishey art work, out of which a variety of works like bags, shoes, hats and baskets are made.

Bollywood

Three famous Bollywood actors have their origin from Balochistan.

Kadar Khan, Amjad Khan and Raj Kumar

Muslim League

In early 1940s, Mohammed Ali Jinnah and the Muslim league were flexing their muscle for an independent Pakistan for Muslims.

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Muslim league

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Mohammed Ali Jinnah

Direct action

Since the 1940s, many have been of the opinion that the freedom fighters of India then let down the Balochis in their plea to be with the Indians.

Taken aback by the call for direct action by Jinnah which unleashed violence across many parts of India. The congress leaders were then forced to succumb to the demands of Muslim league. In retrospect, this direct action and the violence that followed directly on the Hindus does not seem much different from jihads by some of the narrow minded fanatics.

If Pakistan could get two options one in the west and other in the east as East Pakistan, then why could the Balochi region not have joined India as a separate geographical entity in the far west region of the land?

The Balochis since 1948 of being forcefully captured by Pakistan has been continuously clamoring for being an independent country. The struggle of Balochis is observed every day.

Vallam Kali Boat Race

The Vallam Kali Boat Race is held every year in the Punnamada lake of Alleppy district, Kerala. Vallam Kali in the local language means boat race. This tradition of boat race here has been prevalent for many centuries.

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Nehru Trophy Boat Race

Chundan Vallam Kali

The major attraction of this event is Chundan Vallam Kali, meaning Snake Boat Race.  When these boats move fast, they seem like huge crawling snakes in water.

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Chundan Vallam Kali, Snake Boat Race

Nehru as Chief Guest

In 1952, the then Prime Minister, Jawahar Lal Nehru was the chief guest at the event. Nehru thoroughly enjoyed sailing in a snake boat.

Nehru Trophy

He gave a special trophy to be awarded to winner of the competition.

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Nehru presenting the trophy on the occasion of Boat Race, 1952

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The current Nehru Trophy of the Boat Race

From then on, this event is popularly known as the Nehru Trophy Boat Race, conducted on the second Saturday of every August.

Other Boats

Apart from the Chundan Vallam, Snake Boats, the other boats of this event are Odi Vallam, Veppu Vallam, Kochu Vallam and Churulan Vallam.

Preparations

The preparations for this event are made atleast two months before. A selection process is conducted to choose the best oarsmen who would represent their respective villages in the event. The practice sessions are held many weeks in advance. Arrangements are made with people who would like to contribute towards feeding the participants and the masses during the event.

The whole race course is about 1370 metres, divided into many tracks in the lake for the competition.

Communal Amity

One of the specialities of this event is that, people of all communities participate, bringing about communal amity.

Inaugural function

The festival begins with a procession of a variety of snake boats. The numerous beaded umbrellas are held aloft in each boat. The different patterns of these umbrellas give a colourful look to the lake.

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Vallam Kali Snake Boat procession

Many aspects of the cultural heritage of Kerala is depicted, with artists performing kathakali, theyyam, panchavadyam, and padayani.

The Race

After the inaugural function, the snake boats are lined up at the starting point of the race. Roars from crowd are heard when the go ahead is given for the race.

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The Vallam Kali Event

Each snake boat races through hissing like a snake, with crowds cheering up their respective village participants.

All through the event, many people from different parts of the state come together and make this a grand event in Kerala.

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A scene from Vallam Kali Boat Race

Eclipse: An Ancient Indian Perspective

An eclipse occurs when the sun is obscured by the moon or the moon comes under the shadow of the earth.

Lunar Eclipse

A Lunar Eclipse occurs when the moon comes under the shadow of the Earth.

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A Lunar Eclipse – Earth’s shadow falling on the moon

Solar Eclipse

A Solar Eclipse occurs when the sun is obscured by the Moon.

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A Solar Eclipse – Moon hiding the Sun

Around 5 to 6 eclipses happen every year.

Recordings of eclipses are available in texts, temple inscriptions, copper plates and legends of the land.

In the Veda

The Veda are considered to be the oldest literature of mankind available today. One among the 4 Veda is the Rig Veda. In this text, in verses 5.40.5 to 9.

A Solar Eclipse- Svarbhanu

It states that, “Svarbhanu, i.e Solar Eclipse etymologically meaning a powerful phenomenon which takes away the splendour of the heavens, occurs, leaving the world bewildered.”

Rishi Atri, the first observer of Eclipse

Atri, the seer or Dhrishta, who observed this eclipse and understood the phenomenon of eclipse, is explaining it to the world through these Vedic verses.”

This makes Rishi Atri, probably the earliest astronomer to have expounded on eclipses for posterity.

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Vedic Rishi Atri, observing an Eclipse

In Ramayana

Notable amongst the celestial events mentioned in the Ramayana is the description of the solar eclipse that occurred on the day of the fight between Rama, the hero of the epic and the two demons Khar and Dushan.

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Solar eclipse on the day of the Khar – Dushan Episode in Ramayana

Searching for this eclipse using the Planetarium Software and the planetary configuration listed in the text, experts have dated this event to 7th October, 5077 BCE or over 7100 years ago, making this eclipse, perhaps one of the earliest recorded eclipses.

This date is substantiated by the internal consistency seen in the dates of other events arrived at by the Planetarium software using the description of the sky configuration from the Ramayana text, their sequence and elapse time between these dates tallying with the sequence and gap between the events as mentioned in the text as well.

Through the times, we see a continuity in the understanding and recording of eclipses.

Why were our ancients interested in eclipses? Why did they learn to predict eclipses?

Dos and Donts surrounding eclipse

We see, there are many elaborate dos and donts surrounding eclipses which have been a tradition of this civilization. Some interesting ones that have continued to this day are

  • eating food atleast 4 to 6 hours before an eclipse and not carrying forward food cooked prior to an eclipse
  • the use of Dharba grass to protect food items and other perishables
  • protection of pregnant women from the rays of sun during solar eclipses
  • not seeing solar eclipse with the naked eye

Advice for Pregnant Women

Scientists have shown today how during a Solar Eclipse, the amount of Ultra Violet rays and other cosmic rays reaching the earth are higher. These rays are harmful to the foetus. Hence pregnant women were advised to cover themselves and stay indoors during an eclipse to protect the foetus from these rays. Even today pregnant women are advised to stay away from radiation exposure of all kinds for example X Rays.

Contamination of Food

The increased exposure to such rays also contaminates food. Carrying forward of food cooked before an eclipse is therefore not advisable. Further more, there is the need to ensure that all food in one’s stomach is digested before the start of an eclipse.

Using Dharba grass

The antidote for preventing the food from contamination by radiation has been the practice of covering food with Dharba grass. This points to our ancients having used the Dharba grass as a shield to absorb the unwanted radiations in the atmosphere, especially those arising during eclipses.

Dharba grass absorbs X Rays

Nascent, independent research on Dharba grass has revealed its ability to absorb X Rays. These early finds make Dharba grass a very promising field of study.

We see a good grasp of astronomy, physics, biology and mathematics all rolled into the practice of predicting eclipses and the traditions followed during an eclipse. This holds good for a host of other astronomical observations and traditions followed too.

Donations During Eclipses

De Dhaan Chute Grahan – is a slogan one got to hear on the streets about 4 to 5 decades, during the time of eclipses.

It means Give Alms To Release The Eclipsed.

It was a common practice in India to give donations during eclipses and other cosmological events such as:

Ayana, Solstices – Dakshinayana, Summer Solstice and Uttarayana, Winter Solstice

  1. Vishnuvrata Equinoxes – Mesha Vishu, Vernal Equinox and Tula Vishu, Autumnal Equinox
  2. Grahana, Eclipses – Surya Grahana, Solar eclipse and Chandra Grahana, Lunar eclipse
  3. Amavasya, New Moon
  4. Yugadi, New Year

Many explain that such Dhana were given in the superstitious belief that the donor will gain relief from the evil forces that were capable of even devouring the Sun and the Moon.

On the contrary, we find from traditional literature that the people were well aware of the scientific nature of these cosmological events. They could predict their occurrences due to their understanding of the motions of the earth, moon and various planets as well as their proficiency in Mathematics, which is needed to model these motions and calculate dates for their occurrences in advance.

Dhana for noble causes was given on these significant days as these days were considered as markers of time and hence would be easily remembered over time.

Every king, landlord, zamindar, royalty made it a point to give Dhana every year from their accumulated wealth. Various kings like Krishnadevaraya, Harshavardhana and others, repeatedly gave Dhana every year and during such events as eclipses.

Many temple inscriptions speak about such Dhana, endowments made to the temple and thereby to the people at large, on the occasion of eclipses.

Eclipses continue to happen and many just ignore them. Inscriptions continue to remain as evidences of the ones gone by but are hardly known to many.

The request for alms on eclipses are no longer heard on the streets. Neither are there donors, nor are there receivers on this day.

But misconceptions about the Indian perception of eclipses continue to loom large in everyone’s minds.

More on Eclipses in our book, Triple Eclipse.

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World Indigenous People’s Day

There have been indigenous people in different parts of the world from time immemorial.

Jarawa

In India, we see the word “Jara” being used in such a context of old, in the name of the native tribes of Andaman islands in India, considered to be among the oldest tribes of the world. They are called Jarawa, implying the very old tribe.

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Jarawa of Andaman

More on this in our book Historical Krishna.

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Adi Vasi

Adi Vasi is another term that denotes indigenous people.

Adi means first, and Vasi means dweller.

In other words, they were the first to appear in this land.

An example

Srinavasa is a name of Lord Venkateshwara of Tirupati. Sri refers to Lakshmi, and Nivasa, is place of dwelling. The residence of Lakshmi is in the heart of Venkateshwara, who is an aspect of Lord Narayana.

Today, the term Adi Vasi is used derogatorily and brings in an incorrect concept of the tribals being the first dwellers of the land and the town and village dwellers are later migrants. This is ethnographically erroneous.

Vana Vasi

These people who have been living in pockets within the forest, are the true custodians of this ecosystem. They are known as Vana Vasi, Vana meaning forest and Vasi meaning dweller.

All are Adi Vasi

In this land, which has a majority of indigenous people from many millennia, and only a miniscule of migrants, we are all Adi Vasi.

During the British Rule, the colonial rulers created the myth of Aryan Invasion Theory, where in order to divide the local people of India, it was floated that almost half of India’s population living in the North are migrants, who immigrated to this land a few centuries ago.

This theory has been denounced as myth, by many scholars, in the last few decades.

More on this in our book, Breaking the MythsAbout Society.

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India, A land of indigenous people

Unlike India, which has majority of indigenous, the idea of giving respect to indigenous people became prevalent in other countries, where the migrated population is more than local people, and they have political control over the native.

Nobody is Superior

But, it should be clearly understood that not everyone was born of the same parent in the same place.

This is true not just of humans but of every other living creature on earth, be it plants and animals.

Each variety of indigenous people, flora and fauna evolved in different parts of the world. They adapted well to their local environment and lived there, indigenous to that land. No one group is superior to the other.

Habit, Habitat, Habitation

An Eskimo cannot be transplanted to the Sahara with his life style. Similarly, a person living in Sahara cannot be transplanted with his life style to the Arctic.

Achar-Desachar

In Indian ethos there is the concept Achar, individual habits and Desachar, local customs in tune to local needs of people living in the area.

People’s habits are based on habitat, from which come habitation.

World Indigenous Day

This day and every other day, let us recognize the indigenous people who have lived in conformance with Nature before the developments in Science and Technology, Conquests and World Politics created the modern world as we know today, along with it creating a separate class called “indigenous people”.

We are here today in this modern world because our forefathers and their forefathers were indigenous to their land.

World Indigenous People’s Day reminds us of a simple fact that when one adapts to and lives in sync with the Nature of the region in which one resides, one becomes indigenous to that land in time.

Indigenous People

Infinity Day

8 – ∞

August 8th, 8-8 is observed as the Infinity Day. It is interesting to note that 8 placed horizontally is similar to infinity ∞.

Infinity day

Anantha, Infinity

The concept of “infinity” comes from the Samskrt word “Anantha”. Anantha means infinite.

Narayana

Narayana is a primordial divinity, whose name means “that One who is moving in equilibrium in the waters”. Waters here denote the Cosmic waters, the form and nature of the cosmos prior to manifesting as the Universe we know. Narayana is depicted in literature, sculpture and all other art forms, as floating in the cosmic waters, reclined on a bed called Anantha Sesha, Adi Sesha. 

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Narayana lying on Anantha Sesha

Anantha Sesha

Anantha is popularly depicted as a coiled snake called Anantha Sesha or Adi Sesha.

Adi means beginning and Anantha means no end, endless, infinite.

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Anantha Sesha

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Anantha and Infinity

Anantha Sesha denotes the infinite number of cycles of Creation, Dissolution and Recreation once again of the Universe. The endlessness of these cycles have been brought forth through the form of a snake called Anantha Sesha, Adi Sesha.

Anantha Sesha, Coiled Serpent à Infinity

Anantha, the symbol of the coiled serpent in the ancient Indian thought perhaps goes to form the basis for the symbol ∞ for infinity and the root for the word “infinite” too.

Why these names for this coiled snake? Is there any scientific purport to this naming?

Adi Sesha

To unravel this enigma we should go to the understanding of the root of the word Adi Sesha. “Adi” means prior or beginning and “Sesha” means remnants.

Adi Sesha denotes the remains that were at the beginning. In an endless cycle of Creation, Dissolution and Recreation, Adi Sesha denotes the remnants of the previous creation. Adi Sesha as a coiled serpent also represents the endlessness in the cycles of creation and dissolution of the Universe through its ability to uncoil, lengthen and coil back again or withdraw.

Symbolic of state of Creation

Adi Sesha and Narayana in Indian thought are symbolic of the state of the cosmos between any 2 successive cycles of creation.

It seems that along with trade, the Indian concept of Anantha, infinity and its depiction as a coiled snake too travelled to the west. The result is perhaps the symbol we see for infinity.