Monthly Archives: April 2016

Cleanliness is Next to Godliness

A version of this Post was published at Andhra Cultural Portal on Sep 23, 2014


The stain of irony mars yet another well-intentioned effort at civic hygiene

“Yessir, it is dirty. We are like this only…”, “It has always been this way”, “It is our kulchar, we don’t care, madam”…

Go to most of India’s cities and towns (and even villages) today, and filth, refuse, and even poverty strike the eye. Even in modernising and so-called high tech cities, such sights are not uncommon in parts of the city center, let alone outskirts. Why is it this way? Was it always the case?

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An unflattering blog about filthy conditions in India made the news

The answer is a resounding “No”. But our ignorant native informants seem to take an almost masochist pleasure in berating India’s traditional culture. Worse, some of the people from “phoreign” have also begun picking up this knack and even attributed it to assorted Hindu scriptures. Fortunately, this was vehemently opposed with counter-articles. Nevertheless, both the image, and the continuing public hygiene problem in India remain.

A few of you, particularly those who’ve had rather awkward run-ins with ABCD’s may also ask why I’ve limited this to public hygiene. But the reality is, the oft-mentioned “deodorant” critique is rather unfair. Assembly line deodorants and anti-perspirants are very modern, and fast moving consumer goods have only truly started breaking into India in the past decade. The reality is, the average Hindu is very fastidious about Personal cleanliness, bathing once, or even frequently twice a day.

There is a popular story, not sure whether it’s apocryphal or not, that the Duke of Wellington (the famous British General) in fact picked up daily bathing while in India. So if the average Indian has historically been rather clean, what explains the mess he makes of the country today, let alone himself in public? 1. Loss of civic sense and 2. Lack of consideration for others

Loss of Civic Sense

While many still debate whether or not India had a rough thousand years, it certainly had a rough 250. With the advent of the internet, the long suppressed miseries of Colonial rule are finally floating out.

  As a result of laissez-faire economic policies ruthlessly enforced by Britain, between 12 and 29 million Indians died of starvation needlessly. Millions of tons of wheat were exported to Britain even as famine raged. When relief camps were set up, the inhabitants were barely fed and nearly all died.

In contrast, cities such as Mysore and Baroda administered by indigenous Princely Rulers such as the Maharajah and Gaekwad were known for their cleanliness and organization (still seen today).

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But the predatory taxation of company and later crown rule ravaged the countryside, driving many off their land and into the cities. Flooded urban areas, unable to cope, could not be expected to manage the basic civic amenities. And as misery loves company, the poverty and slum life became generational. Thus, the once famously hygienic Hindu (it is the religion of ritual baths after all) became associated with uncleanliness. Cities degenerated, and the rivers became a mockery. But the greatest punishment of poverty is the breaking of the spirit, and with it, goes the dignity of living. Necessity begat squalor. This was further compounded by the blind ritualism that crept into religious practice. Ritual cannot be blind to its effect on society–it too, like Dharma, must adapt to its circumstances as needed.

This is not to say every Indian city had previously been a spotless Singapore. Rather, that standards of public hygiene and municipal ordinances were certainly in existence.

“the president, in his address to the nation on the eve of Independence Day, reminded Indians that they bore the legacy of a rich cultural tradition where ancient travellers like Megasthenes (4th century BC), Fa Hien (5th century AD) and Hiuen Tsang (7th century AD), when they came to India, have written about the efficient administrative systems, with planned settlements and good urban infrastructure.”

We certainly know the Indus-Sarasvati Civilization had the highest standard of civic hygiene (almost 2 millennia) before the Roman Empire, replete with a well planned drainage system.

Certainly, the ancient Great Bath of Mohenjo-Daro is emblematic of the high level of public cleanliness.

Great Bath of Mohenjo-Daro (Indus-Sarasvati Valley)

Kautilya himself stipulated strict laws regarding public hygiene. He mandated fines for

In fact, there are entire sections explicitly on “civic responsibility”, prevention of “nuisance”, and “public hygiene”. How ironic that that the country and civilization most criticised for its lack of civic responsibility and public hygiene had its most famous work on government specifically mandate them…

For the entire state and society to be clean, however, individuals too must also be clean. So let us also emphasize the importance of cleanliness. Indeed, cleanliness (saucha) is one of the pivotal aspects on the path to True Knowledge, as stipulated in the Gita.  The Ramayana too described Sita’s “usual scrupulous cleanliness” as emblematic of one of her many virtues. It is for these reasons we posited Saucha as a critical aspect of Achara and emphasised how it furthers the development of Pavitrata (Purity), an important aspect of Dharma. This is because personal uncleanliness not only results in public uncleanliness, but also increases acceptance/proclivity for unclean thoughts and acts. That is why we say Cleanliness is Next to Godliness.

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I understand that India is not China to develop a system of internal passports that keep out poor people and bulldoze slums on a whim—I am not advocating that either. At the same time, each person should do his part to make his little patch of land clean—and occasionally chip in around the more public portions. Here is a wonderful program out of Bangalore run by mostly IT people.

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If they can do it, why can’t you?

Lack of Consideration for Others

Consideration for others is an important concept. Lack of it is not always the result of selfishness, in fact, frequently, it’s the end product of self-centeredness. When we are over-involved with ourselves, and unable to step outside and reflect on our own behaviors and practices, we do not think of how we affect others.

What about me?

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There is an embarrassing story from some PIOs who discussed what happened at a small, residentially run temple in the States. While the established NRIs/PIOs avoided behaving like a nuisance, the new arrivals not only engaged in noise pollution through their inconsiderate behavior, but were actually throwing trash (even used diapers!) onto the property of the non-Indian locals. But where in the Dharmashastras is such stupidity permitted?–nowhere. Kautilya himself expressly punished such nuisance behavior towards neighbours as seen above. Thus, it is self-centeredness and lack of consideration for others that is the culprit. These people simply could not be bothered to do their part for society, and wanted to get back to their cozy little routines as soon as possible.

True, many of the new batch of economic guest workers/migrants come straight from the villages, but still, there must be an awareness of changed circumstances & surroundings that necessitates some hesitance and reticence. It cannot simply be business-as-usual the moment you step outside your home (or country). So while we have previously written of the importance of atma-vichara (self-reflection) and viveka (discrimination between right and wrong), the third and possibly most important pillar, is willingness to change  or at least willingness to hear someone out (suśravasyā ) which ultimately comes from the placement of society above ourselves. That’s right, you’re part of a society…

We at ACP constantly talk about how you can dedicate 15 minutes a day for doing something for your culture/civilization. Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently said every Indian should dedicate 100 hours a year to cleanliness. You’re a multi-tasking person, so why not do both?

So there it is, dear reader, the importance of clean living, its evidence in our history, its centrality in our culture, and how it can better your life and country today.

References

  1. http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2014-08-14/news/52807674_1_clean-india-national-mission-mahatma-gandhi
  2. http://www.niticentral.com/2014/01/12/memsahibs-diary-gokarnas-cleanliness-is-gokarnas-godliness-178156.html
  3. http://www.niticentral.com/2014/05/20/why-modis-focus-on-cleanliness-makes-sense-225330.html
  4. http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Dedicate-100-hours-a-year-for-cleanliness-PM-Narendra-Modi-says/articleshow/42301078.cms
  5. Rangarajan, L.N. The Arthashastra. 148, 374, 375
  6. The Ramayana Of Valmiki (Vol. 5) Sundarakanda An Epic Of Ancient India

 

Questions of Identity

A version of this Post was published at Andhra Cultural Portal on December 24, 2014


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Read this article to learn about another type of “identity crisis”

Hi, I’m Nilambari and I’m here to share my ideas on a few subjects from Carnatic music and Kerala to Cinema and Historical math & science . Born a Mallu but having lived variously in Andhra, Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu, I am fairly comfortably multilingual and enjoy exploring languages (such as Telugu) and the cultural nuances transmitted through them.

While I enjoy our classical musical tradition (Nilambari is one of my favorite ragams), it must also be said that I do enjoy other forms of melodious music. However, rap or heavy metal is not my cup of tea or more correctly filter kaapi. I enjoy movies too but am a bit picky and choosy about the kind of movies I will watch. In general, I have a very high level of curiosity on most subjects which stems from a wish to understand what is at the root of the various topics that interest me. I will try and share with you my thoughts on various areas that pique my interest and hope you will enjoy the journey and be a fellow traveler.

Today I start with sharing a few thoughts on the question of identity with reference being only to the geographical territory of India. A great ancillary read for this essay is Why India Is A Nation.

Below is one of the popular links from a movie, which glorifies the legacy of our mathru bhoomi’s Sanskriti, and my own native Kerala.

Now, let’s start…

What is identity?

To me, identity is intimately connected to geography and language. I believe it is good for both to be in agreement so that the identity formed is secure right from childhood. When I say agreement, I believe that if one is a Malayalee for instance, it is good that the formative years or childhood years are spent in the geography that is the birth place of Malayalam and the resulting culture. This means that a Malayalee child is better served if s/he spends childhood in Kerala. In earlier times, that was indeed the case for the large part of the population of India. However, post independence, the need to earn a livelihood meant that many people left their land of birth to look for livelihood options elsewhere and eventually ended up making a life in their karma bhoomi and not janma bhoomi. Their children were born in the new home. The parents carried the culture and language of their janma bhoomi and hence had a secure identity. Their children however, being born in a new place did not have it easy. They spoke the language of their parents at home and followed a culture that was passed on to them from their first generation displaced parents. At the same time, the children were exposed not only to the culture of the new place, but also various other influences some of which will be discussed below.

A child born to immigrant parents learns to adapt and interact seamlessly when moving between the inherited culture and the lived culture. The negative, though, is that over time a sense of rootlessness about intrinsic identity starts creeping in. Added to this sense of confusion is the acquiring of English skills as a pre-requisite to a “good education”. The newly immigrant parents working hard to fend for themselves and their small families generally gravitate to schools offering English as the medium of instruction since they believe they are providing for a bright future for their child. They believed that “English opened doors“.

The small and nuclear family is one of the first departures from the culture of their original land. Immigrant (not extremely poor), reasonably educated parents are most often found staying as a nuclear family without the traditional Indian joint family support structure. This forms a significant break with the parent culture since the joint family is an absorbing and cushioning medium for the shocks that life deals out to people. It must be understood here that the entire family is coping with the changes that the move away from the homeland forces individuals to make.

It is inevitable that in time, the parents also adopt certain ways of the local culture into their own lifestyle thus beginning to modify the primary identity. This adoption happens either through necessity or through own volition. For instance, if a Malayalee lives in say a place like New Delhi, s/he is forced to make certain eating habit changes. For example, coconut oil is an essential ingredient in Malayalee cooking for that is the oil that is geographically abundantly available in Kerala. However, the Malayalee in Delhi would not be able to cook with coconut oil since it is not widely available and even if one can procure it, it is rather expensive and cannot be an everyday option. Thus, it becomes an adaptation out of necessity. So, a dietary change has already happened in the displaced Malayalee household.

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The parents with fond nostalgia for the coconut oil of their culture adapt to the locally available oil for cooking. The children, being used to the local oil right from birth either begin to consider coconut oil as an exotic indulgence or even begin to dislike it. Thus, there is a subtle shift away from the original culture. This is highlighted as an example to say that there are multiple small shifts away from the original culture that eventually becomes a blend of various ingredients locally available in the new place adapted to the original one.

Indeed the cross fertilization makes for an interesting study and does shape the individuals of the first generation immigrants differently from the origin culture. In many ways, it exposes the children of such displaced parents to pluralism early. The child learns to navigate between different worlds and this is a precious skill that stands her/him in good stead in adult life. The flip side of course is that a certain rootlessness begins to make itself apparent in the child which can create disorientation regarding a secure identity. This rootlessness starts getting accentuated when the child begins schooling thereby getting introduced to English to add to the mother tongue and the local language exposure. Soon, the three language formula in Indian schools and the insistence on English in urban, upmarket schools starts working on the child. The thought processes start getting framed in English–another step away from the parent culture.

While the child usually does follow and speak the mother tongue at home, more often than not, reading and writing in the mother tongue is not learnt. Thus, another link to parent culture via literature in the mother tongue is lost to the child. Access to the local culture and language is also alienated as a result of the imposition of English. English literature and English discourse starts replacing original or even local culture and discourse. Slowly, the narratives favored by English speaking peers and intellectuals start to seep into the mindset and psyche of the child. The result is a growing alienation from the roots and a growing disdain for the original culture. This happens because English language discourse hardly respects the regional language’s intelligence or culture.

As the child grows and as English replaces the original tongue as a medium of expression, the child begins to inhabit a world rather divorced from the reality on the ground. Thoughts, ideas, ideologies and worldviews begin to resemble what the English narrative propagates. The result of this slow indoctrination is that the child becomes confused about his/her identity. At home, parents still live according to some of the customs remembered from older times from their land of birth. The child on the other hand picks up some amount of the old homeland narrative, but increasingly also believes in the English narrative that is shaping his/her thoughts. This rootlessness created as a result then leads to a quest for identity for a small minority. Most go through life without resolving this confusion which leads them to commit many blunders along the way. The few who address the problem start out with a directionless, general quest. However, they finally find out the reasons for their restlessness and then work towards correcting that imbalance. If they are persistent, they eventually work back towards their original roots.

However, sometimes the journey back to roots can also leave one dissatisfied because the root culture has also been exposed to the vagaries of time and has changed complexion. Those who eventually retrace their steps back to their roots then look for those elements in the root culture that can be adopted by them. In a way, the displaced seeker has a much wider angle view of his/her original culture and is able to see the distortions and changes that have happened to the original culture. A person still immersed in the original culture is more prone to accept changes without much questioning thinking that change is the only constant in life.

In conclusion, displacement from original culture has both positives and negatives. The positive is that for those who understand that they are grappling with a rootlessness, it is a rather enriching journey to get back to the roots. They have the wider exposure to be able to appreciate better their own traditions but for those who do not understand or study this restlessness that they experience, they live a life where they are continually trying to grasp at an identity that will neither be wholly theirs nor be fulfilling. It’s a privilege to be born and to spend your life in your homeland. However, if you are displaced, see it as an advantage to understand your mother culture better. Make sure you recognize your restlessness as actually the manifestation of rootlessness. Be a seeker and find your true identity. Love your motherland and the language and culture that defines it; for ultimately you are defined by it whether you like it or not.

Before I end, here is an excellent talk by Shri. Rajiv Malhotra who touches on some other aspects of identity especially among the urban youth of India who today are going through some very confusing times as a result of the shrinking of the globe and the pervasiveness of a global culture.

I Leave you with a montage that certainly defines who I am. Until we meet again…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uqqPlgpNsMM

Shubha Sri Rama Navami

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Happy Rama Navami! Shri Rama Navami Shubhkamnayein! Jai Shri Ram!

It’s been quite the back to back celebration of holidays, but none is more beloved than the day of the birth of our most beloved figure.

Born on the 9th day (Navami) of the Month of Chaitra per the Hindu Lunar Calendar, he is the Seventh Avatara of Lord Vishnu in this Manvantara. He is the ideal man, the ideal husband, the ideal brother, the ideal father, and the ideal king.

Ignorant revisionists criticize his actions, but forget that for a king, his subjects come even before his own family. As Rama was the polar opposite of individualism and selfishness, the small, self-interested person of the Kali era has difficulty understanding the concept of tyag, self-sacrifice, that he and his wife, brothers, and sisters-in-law all represent.

Strength with Gentility, Valour with Compassion, Knowledge with Wisdom, Power with Restraint, Wealth with Charity, Victory with Magnanimity, Achievement with Humility,  Obedience with Conscience, Authority with Love, Companionship with Responsibility, he is the very embodiment of Virtue and Grace.

May his qualities ever inspire us.

Happy Sri Rama Navami. May this blessed day of Bhagavan Rama’s Birth and Marriage bring tidings of happiness, prosperity, and blessedness. Let the message of Maryada Purushottam, the Shiromani of the Raghus, the Best of Bharatas, resound throughout the ages:

Dharma Protects those who Protect it.

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Puthandu Vazthukkal & Vishu Ashamsakal

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From all of us at ICP, Vishu Ashamsakal! Puthandu Vazthukkal! Happy New Year to Malayalis and Tamils alike.

At last, we complete the cycle of Indic New Years (the exception of course being our Gujarati friends). The Solar Calendar New Years are celebrated today. From Yugadi to Vaisakhi to Vishu/Puthandu, we see just how closely all these calendars (varshapada) coincide.

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Best wishes to all of you, and Happy New Year!

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Shubha Vaisakhi

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From all of us at ICP: Shubha Vaisakhi! Happy Baisakhi! Baisakhi di lakh lakh badhai! Shubho Nabo Borsho! Pana Sankranthi ra Subheccha! Shubh Jude Sheetal! Happy Bihu!

The other half of the assorted New Year’s of Bharatavarsha fall this well. Though the majority are today. We have two more tomorrow.

Today is most famously the Baisakhi Mela of Punjab, celebrated vivaciously by Sikhs. It is the Harvest Festival, and a time of great happiness.

In Vanga, that is the Bengal region, it is referred to as Pohela Boisakh.

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In Utkala/Kalinga, that is Odisha, it is called Pana Sankranthi, and is celebrated with a delicious sacred drink of the same name.

Maithilis ( the people around the region of ancient Mithila, Bihar/Nepal) call it Jude Sheetal.

The rest of Nepal celebrates Vikram Samvat. Their New year refers to the Vikrama Era of King Vikramaditya Panwar of Ujjain. This day begain in 57 B.C.E, and the New Year for most Nepalis begins this day.

Also, the Sinhalas of Sri Lanka celebrate Aluth Avarudda today, which is their New Year. Tulus of the Tulu region of Karnataka celebrated Bisu today.

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This completes the New Year’s Celebrations for all Bharatiyas using the sidereal calendar (except our fabulously wealthy Gujarati siblings). The Solar Calendar New Year festivals remain.

Shubha Vaisakhi! Happy Baisakhi!

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Why “Men of Conscience” are Dangerous

A version of this Post was published at Andhra Cultural Portal on April 20, 2014


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“I am yay man of conshunce” (sic), “I have to follow my haaart” (sic), “I have a conscience, don’t you?? ”three of the many tired bromides offered by our senti intellectual elite—yes, even on the conservative right. But the reality, my friends, is that such men of conscience will be the death of us.

While such preferred actions are couched in the verbiage of conscience, they are really substituting conscience for sentiment, because, let’s face it, we Indians are a ridiculously sentimental people. While the opponents of all that is good and sacred in this world may feign various sentiments, often as a ruse, when push comes to shove, they show no such ambivalence.

History itself has shown time and again how such men of conscience conveniently hear that little voice at the worst possible time. The Mahabharata and the Gita, in particular, are in fact a specific repudiation of such senti based decision-making. This is of course not to say that we shouldn’t have a conscience—we absolutely must!

Pleasure without conscience is one of the greatest sins against humanity, because it leads to exploitation, especially of the innocent and unwilling. But what I have a problem with, and as the Gita itself explicitly rejects, are these self-proclaimed “men of conscience” who conveniently discover it at all the wrong times.

Where was Yudhisthira’s conscience when he agreed to the unjust wager of Draupadi?

Where was Arjuna’s conscience when Bhishma’s conscience permitted Draupadi’s disrobing? 

Where was Shalya’s conscience when Drona and Karna participated in the unjust killing of mighty Abhimanyu?

Fortunately for Arjuna, and the Pandavas, Krishna was there to talk some serious sense into him. Thus the issue with these so-called men of conscience is not so much that conscience itself is wrong—in fact, it is a critical first step towards the path of Dharma—but rather that conscience must be entwined with principle.

Conscience must not become an excuse for sentiment. Indians are notorious not only for their prickliness but the ridiculous extents to which their sentiments can extend, in all things. But this sentiment or moha cannot blind us to balancing all interests, least of all, the right course of action. For when this happens, all of society suffers.

That is why Dharma is not Rna, but about Rta. These “men of conscience” remember their obligation at all the wrong times. They dance to the direction of Duryodhana’s, no matter how damned, all in the name of “Dharma”. That is why true Dharma is not about obligation, sentiment, or Rna, but Rta. It teaches us what obligation, or what Rna, matters at what time, due to Satya.  It is Dharma that creates Rna, not the other way around, otherwise, these are the consequences.

A political commentator I greatly respect—a man who has been able, in the darkest of days, to get us all to put aside differences of caste, creed, and sampradaya to see the greater good— recently engaged in similar such rumination, because of his personal attachment to a friendship with a particular MP. But said MP had no compunction in choosing to join the most anti-national party in India and adding legitimacy to the most corrupt administration in India’s history—and this is only the confirmed of the MP’s crimes, among many alleged ones. While I believe the noble commentator will make the right choice in the end (and not support this MP)—this episode is nevertheless testament to how we are all—even the very tall among us— subject to this, the greatest temptation of all—Moha (attachment). Fortunately, Yuktata (or justice) is the cure for it.

Our conscience (or sentiment) or even pride is often stoked to blind us to the regimented and orderly application of justice. Feelings are used to deceive us of the danger that lurks should we fall for the ruse. When Sun Tzu famously wrote that “All warfare is deception”, should we not be unsurprised when this is applied in politics and even Sanskrit? Simply because someone presents himself/herself in a pleasing, charming, learned, and intellectual manner, does not mean we should judge the book merely by its cover. Actions are what speak volumes, and it is through action and intent that we administer justice. Actions and intent must be judged against the common good.

While this well-known blogger certainly does not deserve association with the likes of the Prashant Bhushans and Arundhati Roys of the world (in fact, he is among their greatest opponents), the reality is they, unlike him, specifically tout themselves as men and women of conscience …and we all know how selective their conscience is. While I must reiterate that said blogger remains in the ranks of the very tall among us, this particular development goes to show just how susceptible we all are to moha, whether brave Pandava or brilliant columnista. Arjuna ultimately made the right choice, and despite his admiration for Karna, I believe that in the end, this blogger will as well.

So the next time you come across another such man (or woman) of conscience (however temporarily they may be affected by moha), ask him if his conscience isn’t merely a way to avoid having to do the difficult thing—i.e. making the right choice. Good friends may be hard to come by, but an ignorant friend leads to destruction and destroys Dharma.  And supporting such a friend in their adharmic escapades is also wrong.  Dharma destroys those who destroy it. Attachment to a famous friend or a “learned” leader is still attachment. Greater than learning is wisdom. That is why Rishis are rightfully venerated…not for Knowledge, but Wisdom.

We are often in our lives misled by the charm and charisma of the fair among us. The smooth talkers, the sophisticated davos men, and ye ever present “liberal intellectual” who take pleasing forms to deceive us all, as they forge their rings of power.

But one of the newest tactics is actually an oldie. An array of self-appointed modern “Acharyas” has arisen in our midst, claiming the mantle of “traditionalist”. But true Traditionalists and true Acharyas are in the Agrahara and Matha…who is this bunch trying to fool? We have seen this trick before. In appropriating the Adhikar of the Agrahara, they are commandeering our karma,Dharma & Sanskriti for their own pusillanimous purposes.

But the reality is, our judgments and even loyalty to such people should be premised on principle and gauged not by how they make you feel or how much you enjoy their company, but by whether their actions and policies are in line with the common good. Whatever good they may once have done, whatever knowledge they may have shared, their true merit is determined by character and noble action. Thus, such blue-eyed boys (and girls), whether “liberal” or “traditional”, may often seem fair, but mask a foul agenda.

I will end with a line from one of the most beloved stories of our time, the Lord of the Rings. In it, one of the characters said the following:

“I think a servant of the enemy would look fairer, but feel fouler”

…the next time ye men of conscience waffle in the name of moha, remember this wisdom, for therein lies, yours and all of our salvation.

And so my friends, rather than being a man of conscience, be a man (or woman) of principle. Because while our conscience may sometimes betray us, virtuous principles never will.

Shubha Yugadi

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From all of us at ICP, Shubha Yugadi, Shubh Chaitra Shukla Pratipada, Happy Ugadi, Shubh Thapna, Cheti Chand ki Shubhkamnayein, Gudi Padwa Shubheccha, Happy Sajibu Nongmapanba, Shubh Navreh, and finally Ugadi Subhashayagalu and Subhakaankashalu!

Ugadi comes from the Sanskrit term Yuga Adi, or new era.

In Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh & Telangana, Karnataka, and Goa it is celebrated as part of the sidereal (luni-stellar) calendar. In the land of Shivaji it is called Gudi padwa.

In Rajasthan, some communities notably celebrated Thepna to mark the same. In Kashmir, Hindus celebrate Navreh. Most of North India and Nepal mark it as Chaitra Shukla Pratipada.

Sindhis celebrated Cheti Chand as their New Year due to the importance of their Rashtra deva Jhulelal.

If we missed any, let us know in the comments!

While the Gujarati calendar celebrates New Year on/around Deepavali, and the Solar Tamil Calendar usually a few weeks after us, the Telugu/Kannada/Marathi New Year is based on the sidereal calendar (combination of Lunar, Solar and Stellar positions), and begins on this day.

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Today we mark the arrival of the year 5118 (Kali Yuga reckoning), in this 28th Chaturyuga of the 7th Manvantara (Vaivasvata) in Sveta Varaha Kalpa.

As the name suggests, Durmukhi will be a year of changes, requiring a resolute face in the wake of the bhayanika. Many have turned from the path of Dharma, especially many who claim to support it. Therefore, mankind too must be prepared for the days ahead to move away from materialism and pettiness and remember spirituality and common goodness.

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In many parts of India today it is common for ladies to do Rangoli/Muggu/Kolam as a mark of auspiciousness. Please see Shivoham’s excellent article on the topic.

Here is our Post from Andhra Cultural Portal explaining the Festival and its Traditions in detail, from the Telugu point of view. Those from other parts of Bharatavarsha are welcome to share below.

Whatever, wherever, and however you celebrate, Best Wishes to all of you!

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[Guest Post] TiruNrittam — When the Gods Dance in Our Midst

The following Post was composed by P.N. Namboodiri ji. You can follow him on twitter.


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TiruNrittam — When the Gods Dance in Our Midst

Every year, sometime in March, I make a pilgrimage to my ancestral village to attend the annual festival of the village temple. I am not alone in such a pilgrimage. There are many others, people who are displaced from their ancestral roots like me, who do the same. Elders say that this is important for migrants to undertake, to maintain their links with their cultural roots. It can be said that temples are an integral part of Bharatiya culture and they are the bedrock of its evolution and maintenance.

Kerala can be considered to be a collection of villages, as villages are present across the length and breadth of the state. All these villages are dotted with temples and many villages have more than one temple. This blog is a fond reflection of my thoughts after my recent visit to my ancestral village for this year’s Utsavam (festival) and the impact of such events on the religious, cultural, and family bonds of the life in a typical Kerala village. I have also included brief information on Nrittam, a unique temple ritual in this part of Kerala for the benefit of readers. The description of festival and Nrittam is with respect to our family village diety Chuzhali Bhagavati or Goddess Durga located in village Chuzhali of Kannur District of Kerala.

Temple Worship

“अग्निर्देवो द्विजादीनां मुनीनां हृदि दैवतम् ।

प्रतिमा स्वल्पबुद्धीनां सर्वत्र समदर्शिनाम् ॥

God is Agni for the Brahmins,

In the heart for the Sages,

Idol for the less wise

Omnipresent for the Enlightened.

“Puja”, or ritual worship of “Ishta Devata” is the most common and most simple method of being one with the divine. Thus, we have Puja rooms in our homes though household Pujas have become rare due to various reasons. Many are unable to maintain the prescribed discipline at home to perform Pujas. This is one of the reasons we have temples where the public worship the Ishta Devata through an Archaka. The Archaka is the agent here between the deity and devotee, who maintains the prescribed discipline and has the authority to perform Pujas.

Temple Rituals

There two types of rituals in a temple – “Nityam”, the daily rituals like pujas performed everyday and “Naimittikam”, special rituals like Utsavam and other celebrations on important occasions every year. The practices of a temple under both categories are believed to be followed from the time the temple has been in existence in accordance with an unwritten understanding between the priests and the temple owners at the time of original installation. Thus, the rituals and celebrations of a particular temple are more or less in line with those being traditionally followed from the very beginning, acting as a direct link to the cultural roots of the population.

Annual festivals in temples are occasions for celebration for the entire village. This is the time when the deity moves out of the sanctum sanctorum. Special rituals like Sribhutabali /Sheeveli (Ritual Offerings to the Devaganas in the temple premises), Pallivetta (Divine hunting ritual), Gramabali (Offering to the devaganas of the Village), Aarattu (ritual bath of the deity), etc. involve majestic processions accompanied by percussion instruments within and outside the temple premises to different locations within the village. In many such processions, the idol or murti is carried on an elelphant, sometimes accompanied by more elephants as part of the divine entourage. There is active participation of the local population in these celebrations. As against the devotee visiting the temple and praying to the Ishta devata, confined within the inner sanctorum, the local people consider it their good fortune to have the deity in their midst during such special processions. It is common to see villages festively decked up for such occasions and each family, en route to the procession, makes it a point to accord ceremonial reception to the deity.

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All processions outside the sanctum sanctorum uses the Thidambu, a replica of the original diety which is made of Panchaloha, Silver or Gold (Photo 1, Thidambu).

tirunrittam2Thidambu

The murti is carried by a priest, sometimes seated on an elephant, and the accompaniments include traditional oil lamp, percussion instruments in the front followed by someone holding a traditional umbrella at the back. See Video 1 to see these accompaniments.

Tiru Nrittam or Divine Dance

The art of Thidambu Nrittam has been prevalent for at least over 600-700 years in many temples of north Kerala. It is believed that Tulu Brahmins, who migrated from nearby locations of Karnataka to the northern part of Kerala were responsible for introducing this unique temple art, which is also prevalent in that part of Karnataka. Nrittam abides by the principles of dance which has its root in Natya Sastra.

“Tiru Nrittam” (Divine dance) also called “Thidambu Nrittam” is a part of annual temple festivals in many temples of northern Kerala. It is considered divine, as it is a part of a ritual performance with the artist carrying the temple murti on his head. That is the reason why it is also popularly known as “Thidambu Nrittam”, thidambu being the Malayalam word for representation of the temple murti outside the sanctum sanctorum.

Namboodiris are the specially trained artists who perform this dance. They are specialists with rigorous training under the tutelage of a guru. A percussion player has an important role during the training with the guru and Marars, a traditional group (families) play the percussion instruments for the performance. The same is the case with the persons who carry traditional oil lamps in the procession. They have traditionally been the ones entrusted with the task of carrying the sacred lamp and they continue to do it to this day. The dance is performed with the thidambu of the temple murti carried on the head by the priest. Foot work is most important and this is executed to the rhythm of drums and other percussion instruments. As the dance progresses, the tempo picks up momentum to the delight of the viewers and there are many stages and variations of the rhythm of the dance.

The thidambu is decorated with garlands, flowers and ornaments, all beautifully arranged on a circular frame made of bamboo strips. The artist himself does the complex decoration on the concentric frame, first with the garlands of fresh flowers, then with the silver or gold flowers and finally with the ornaments as seen in the picture. This decorated frame is then fixed on the thidambu. The artist then carries the decorated thidambu for the divine dance in the temple forecourt. See the decorated frame and the thidambu ready for the dance in the pictures below. See Photos 2 and 3.

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thidambu decoration (Photo 2 & 3) and Artist Costume (Photo 4)

The artists also wear a striking costume and ornaments – White dhoti with bright borders worn in traditional style with pleats, Uttariyam (diagonal vest) of bright silk, necklaces, bangles, earrings and nicely decorated turban known as ‘Ushnipeetham’ form the impressive attire of the Nrittam artist. See Video 2.

Nrittam at Chuzhali Bhagavati (Durga Devi) Temple

Nrittam is performed on three days during the annual festival. The main performance extends to over two hours in the evenings and there is a mini event in the nights which is of a much shorter duration.

The artists come out of the Sanctorum clad in conventional attire to the forecourt of the temple. Standing under the kodimaram (flag mast) facing the deity, they ritually place the thidambu on their head at the start of the performance or procession. During the main event, the procession covers four parikramas or circum-ambulations of the temple, each regulated by a different Thaalam (rhythm) by the percussion artists. The artists move from one end to the other and then backwards and this repeats for a while. The dancers make rhythmic footwork based on the music of the drums and this is the Divine dance giving a unique artistic and spiritual experience to the viewers. Here’s a video which takes a fuller look at the dance. However, this is not from my temple but another one in another village of northern Kerala. It so happens that the artist is the same.

There are many stages in which the performance unfolds with unique Thalam for each Parikrama. It starts with a special item called ‘Kotti Urayal’, or the summoning of the deity into the performer, and starts from the northern end of the temple forecourt. The artists, standing still are awakened by the percussion artists who play the drums and other instruments in a gradually increasing rhythm. This induces rhythmic movements in the artists and they start the dance in line with music tempo. This is an enjoyable experience for the viewers filling the entire courtyard as they stand most of them with folded hands, observing the ritual with total devotion.

After the Kotti Urayal, the dance slowly moves towards the kodimaram in front of the diety and this marks the beginning of a special occasion where the devotees get an opportunity to make their offerings to the diety directly. The artists with the thidambu on their head are now considered to be transformed into the temple diety with the Kotti Urayal ritual, and when they stand under the kodimaram they are considered to be Bhagavathy herself standing right in the midst of her devotees. Starting with the temple priest, practically all of them make their offerings personally to deity, into the hands of the artist. This goes on for almost half an hour in the first Parikrama with the artists moving from north to south and backwards many times all the time accompanied by the entourage.

This is then followed by the main dance performance which continues for half an hour before the Parikrama and the action repeats under a different Thala for the next three Parikramas. Finally, standing under the kodimaram, the thidambus are taken off their heads with loud chantings of “Amme, Amme, Govinda, Govinda” …. from the crowd, marking the end of Nrittam.

Conclusion

I go every year for the Utsavam and the rituals are the same. However, the joy and rejuvenation I feel each year is fresh and new and this is what makes me want to go back to my sacred janma bhoomi again and again. Bhagavathy helps me deepen my bonds with my janmabhoomi and also gives me Shakti, the strength to resume my worldly duties. I come back refreshed and grateful to have witnessed yet another Utsavam. I wait for the next one to come along with the same enthusiasm I have had for it all these years,  and I hope that Bhagavathy will bless me with her Shakti until next year, when it is time for a recharge.


About the author: PN Namboodiri is a retired Chemical Engineer, a Sanskrit enthusiast and volunteer with Samskrita Bharati. He is very interested in Bharatiya culture, traditions and customs and has been teaching Sanskrit for 5 years. He is also involved in vedic documentation projects.

Disclaimer: This article represents the opinions of the Author, and should not be considered a reflection of the views of the Indic Civilizational Portal. The Author is responsible for ensuring the factual veracity of the content, herein.