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Sattva and Bharatanāṭyaṃ

The following Post was composed by Prakruti Prativadi. You can follow her on TCP.


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Abhinaya

Bharatanāṭyaṃ performances often standout for the striking and realistic portrayals of characters and their stories which are powerful and moving and live in the memory of the audience. Audience members even share their experience with the dancer, often telling how the dance made them teary-eyed, or get goose-bumps. The technique and theory of emoting and embodying characters is referred to as Abhinaya in Bharatanāṭyaṃ and Indian classical dances. The word ‘Abhinaya’ literally means carrying the meaning of the art to the audience. In Indian classical dances like Bharatanāṭyaṃ, the means by which this is done is significant, since the dancer must have expert knowledge of the Abhinaya techniques and nuances in order to genuinely embody and communicate the essence of the song to the onlooker and, most significantly, to awaken the Rasa experience in the spectator.

The general understanding of Abhinaya is that it is the emotive and expressive aspect of classical Indian dance. However, Abhinaya consists of more than just the enactment facet of Bharatanāṭyaṃ; Abhinaya consists of four major types. But before going into the technical aspects of Abhinaya and its varied uses, we must first understand the purpose of Abhinaya. The point of Abhinaya is not just to tell a story or play a role. Abhinaya is how the dancer awakens the Rasa experience in the audience. In Indian Aesthetics, Rasa is a supreme aesthetic experience and is the paramount aim in any classical dance performance and is described as a conscious-uplifting experience, in which the spectator feels a bliss-state that is similar to the bliss of Brahman knowledge.

“The experience of Rasa is similar to the experience of Brahman” – Abhinavagupta

Per the Natyashastra, a dance, drama, or music performance that does not generate Rasas and is not offered to the Gods is not really art and is Nīca (vulgar). This kind of performance will not benefit either the audience or the performers. According to Bharata, no meaningful communication can exist without producing Rasa.

Rasa is not limited to the stage or court; Rasa comes from a set of conditions the dancer creates. Rasa is born after the generation of many and varied Bhāvas (mental and emotional states) that differ based on the character and circumstance. Rasa is awakened in the spectator as result of:  Vibhāvas (determinants), Anubhāvas (consequent reactions), Vyabhicāri (impermanent mental states), Sāttvika (with Sattva) and Sthāyi (permanent mental state) Bhāvas emerging first. According to Bharata, Abhinavagupta, Śārṅgadeva, and other scholars, the Rasa experience is the ultimate purpose of Nāṭya (dance, drama and music). Without Rasa, the performance does not bring a benefiting and lasting effect to the onlooker. Rasa experience is filled with joy and is akin to the knowledge of Brahman.

The Rasa experience stays with the audience for some time even after the performance has concluded; the audience wants to experience it again. During the Rasa experience, the very consciousness is transformed to reflect the true inner Self. The concept of Rasa is ancient and found in the Vedas and Upanishads. For example, the Taittriya Upanishad declares that: Raso vai Saha: Rasa (is) Him (Brahman).

Rasa is not isolated to dance, but also exists in poetry, music and drama. The dances of temples, performed by Devadāsis and in some cases even temple priests also have the same goal of generating Rasa in the onlooker because these dances are not just rituals, they generate Bhāvas which result in Rasa; the Devadāsis also offered their dances to the Divine Gods, which is the same motive of the dance performed on the Raṅga (stage) described in the Nāṭyaśāstra. There is no difference in purpose between the dance described in the Nāṭyaśāstra and the dance of the temples.

Abhinaya consists of four types:

Āṅgika Abhinaya: Using the body, including the arms, hands, feet, legs, torso, face, and head in dramatic representation.

Vācika Abhinaya: Dramatic portrayal through the use of speech, in Bharatanāṭyaṃ Vācika Abhinaya consists of the songs and compositions that are danced.

Āhārya Abhinaya: Consists of make-up, jewelry, flowers, props and accessories used by the dancer to aid in dramatic portrayal.

Sāttvika Abhinaya: Emoting and portrayal of characters and situations through Sattva.

All these types of Abhinaya are essential to generate the Bhāvas and awaken Rasa in the audience. Amongst these, however, the more intangible and indefinable type is undoubtedly Sāttvika Abhinaya. Sāttvika Abhinaya is portrayal that is full of Sattva. This is a crucial ingredient, because it is required to genuinely embody the Bhāvas that will generate Rasas.

Bharata states that a successful performance is not one in which the dancers win awards or gain materially but one in which the Rasa experience was powerful and experienced by the audience. This is the measure of Siddhi (success) that Bharata emphasizes.

Sattva

“One must take particular care of Sattva… for Abhinaya resides in Sattva” -Nāṭyaśāstra 

Sāttvika Abhinaya, as the Nāṭyaśāstra states is an intangible but vital element in generating the Bhāvas and Rasas. Generating Rasa in the audience is not a simple task. The dancer must possess the technical skill, imagination, intellect and a certain state of mind to be able to embody the characters, stories, and movements that evoke Bhāvas and Rasa. According to the Nāṭyaśāstra and other dance treatises, like Saṅgīta Ratnākara, in order to evoke Rasa in the audience, the dancer’s mind and consciousness must be in a state of Sattva.

“Sattva can only be accomplished by a tranquil, peaceful and concentrated mind” -Nāṭyaśāstra

Bharata and Abhinavagupta emphasize that a performance without Sattva will not move the audience and will not produce Bhāvas and Rasas, and thus, will be unsuccessful and meaningless.

Sattva is a Sanskrit word that has no direct translation in English or non-Indian languages. Interestingly, even Indologists like A.B. Keith, agreed that Sattva has no translation. So, what does Sattva mean?   Sattva is a concept that is present in other ancient Hindu philosophical and sacred works like the Vedas, Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita and is important in the Hindu worldview and in Hindu practices. Sattva is one of the three Guṇas (attributes, qualities, threads, tendencies); the other two are Rajas and Tamas.

Sattva Guṇa is one that is bright, pure, luminous, buoyant, happy and stainless. Under the influence of Sattva, the mind is calm, unagitated, filled with Śraddha, steady, and reflects the Self (Brahman). A person with a Sāttvic mind renounces the results of his or her actions; in other words, actions motivated by Sattva are offered to the Supreme. As the Nāṭyaśāstra makes clear in the very first chapters, Nāṭya, which consists of Indian classical dance, drama and music, whether performed on a stage or in a temple must be an offering to the Divine Gods.

Rajas is agitation, activity, pain, egotistic, seeking sense-pleasures, and Tamas, is dark, inert, lazy, indifferent and exhibits low passions and tendencies. Our actions are controlled and directed by the mind exhibiting a combination of these three Guṇas.

Sattva also means Rajas and Tamas are not present. When the mind is purified, it is Sāttvic and in a state of Śānti and Ānanda and is able to reflect the Self (Brahman). The Rasa experience itself, is likened to the bliss of Brahman knowledge. Sattva modifies the consciousness to bring out Rasa.

In the Nāṭyaśāstra, Bharata describes eight Sāttvika Bhāvas which are:  paralysis, sweating, goose-bumps, change in voice, trembling, pallor, weeping and fainting. According to Bharata, these Sāttvika Bhāvas give genuineness and realism to the dance and make the audience to become one with the performance, hence generating Bhāvas and Rasa. Bharata states that in order to embody the Sāttvika Bhāvas, the dancer’s mind must be in a state of Sattva – purified of the Rajasic and Tamasic attributes.

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Thus, a prerequisite to an outstanding dance performance is that the dancer must accomplish a state of Sattva before the performance and maintain this state of mind during the performance to generate Rasa. How does the dancer go about preparing the mind to be Sāttvic? It is not just a matter of motivating oneself through pep talks or having a few minutes of quiet solitude before the performance. These, of course, can help and all Bharatanāṭyaṃ dancers, to some extent, will use these techniques. But to have the mind in a state of Sattva prior to and during the performance, the dancer would need more than just motivational techniques, and this observation did not escape the perceptive Bharata.

Yajña

So how does a dancer get into the state of mind that has Sattva? The third chapter of the Nāṭyaśāstra is dedicated to explaining, in detail, a series of Pūjās and a Homa that the dancer and musicians should perform. In these instructions, Bharata clearly states that these Pūjās and Homa are the equivalent of performing a Yajña and will help the dancer achieve a calm mental and conscious state necessary for a successful performance. Siddhi or success in a performance, per Abhinavagupta and Bharata, does not mean winning banners (prizes) or material objects, but Siddhi of the performance occurs if the audience witness compelling Bhāvas and experience the different Rasas.

Therefore, these Pūjās and Homa are not robotic superstitious ritualistic acts; they are a science of connecting one’s own consciousness to the Supreme consciousness. They are an offering and a means for the artists to transform and purify their inner-selves to be Sāttvic.

In these pre-performance sacred activities, Bharata details how the Raṅga (stage) must be constructed according precise measurements depending on the type of Nāṭya to be performed. Significantly, the Vedi (altar) of a Yajña must also be constructed in a precise shape with exact measurements depending on the type of Yajña performed. Bharata then specifies how the dancer must sanctify this stage, and even the entire theatre where that audience will be seated, the dancer should then do a Pratiśṭāpana (sacred installation) of the Gods on the stage, and do a Pūjā to each one of these Deities in a certain order and with particular sacred Mantras. The dancer must sprinkle sanctified water on each limb to purify the body and must partake of the Pūjā and Homa with the utmost Śraddha (belief, Bhakti, and diligence) in order to bring his or her mind into a state of Sattva.

These actions along with their subtle effects will give Siddhi (success) by preparing the dancer to be capable of a performance that is rich in Bhāvas and Rasas. These performances are a few hours long and in some classical dances, like Katakaḷi and Yakśagāna, last through the night, so the dancer needs to muster tremendous energy, enthusiasm and concentration. The musicians too must do a Pūjā to their instruments. In effect, the stage and entire theater (where the audience are seated) become a temple, with the consecration of Deities and Pūjās and finally with the performance of the Homa. Bharata instructs that the point of doing the Pūjās and Homa are to offer the performance (dance) itself to the Devatās. This, advises Bharata, will bring Siddhi (success) to the performance.

Among these preliminary activities, the Homa (similar to a Yajña) is of distinct interest and serves a special purpose. Yajñas are ancient Vedic practices that are transformative and have subtle effects on the consciousness of the performer. Homa derives from and is an adaptation of a Yajña, but a Homa is performed in Pūjās to specific Gods. Both feature a specifically constructed altar, sacred fire and sacred materials. Yajña comes from the root word Yaj which means offering, reverence, adoration and bestowing. A Yajña and Homa, are Tyāga (offering) of Dravya (special sacred material) to the Devatās (Gods). They are complex activities that have subtle and powerful effects. Every offering during the Yajña and Homa results in Apūrva Śakti, which is a subtle effect and hidden power of an action (Karma) on the person who is the beneficiary of the offering. Thus, Yajñas and Homas have an effect on the one who performed it in a subtle manner, by affecting the Śaktis (energies, powers) of that person. Every action produces a Śakti which will produce a result. The dancer and musicians are transformed by the Homa; they exhibit Sattva and subtle energies as a result.

VedicYajnaIt is no coincidence that the Nāṭyaveda (classical dance, drama and music codified in the Nāṭyaśāstra) directly derive from the four primary Vedas contain Vedic ceremonies. Furthermore, Bharata states that performing these Pūjās and Homa is the same as performing a Yajña and the same benefits will be received. Here we see the beautiful connection between the preliminary activities of the performance and the performance itself because the Bharatanāṭyaṃ performance is also a Yajña. The Yajña conducted prior to the performance is a transformative experience for the dancer and musicians, and the Yajña of the dance performance itself is a transformative experience for the audience because they will experience Rasa bliss. Thus, Indian classical dances are themselves an offering, a Yajña conducted by the dancer on a specially built Raṅga (stage) and offered (Tyāga) to the Gods with love, Śraddha and Bhakti. In this case, the Dravya, or sacred material, is the dance which is offered to the Devatās. The ones who enjoy the fruits (Rasa bliss) of the Yajña are the attuned and receptive spectators (called Sahṛidaya).

HomaSome of the above Pūjās are done even to this day. Today’s dancers sanctify the stage and consecrate Mūrtis on the stage and perform a Pūjā offering the performance to the Gods. The Pūjās are offered to Ganapati and Nataraja and Saraswati and Vishnu. The Ārati is done, the sacred dance anklets (Gejje or Śalangai) are worshipped, the musicians also worship their instruments. This is not a mere ritual, but is the time when the dancer, Naṭavanār and musicians come together to conduct the Pūjā with Śraddha and Bhakti and offer the performance to the Gods. Dancers look forward to performing this Pūjā, taking it seriously, performing it with the utmost Śraddha and reverence because it brings them inner Śānti, happiness, and connects them to the Gods. In effect – it makes their mind Sāttvic, which is then reflected in the dance. After the Pūjā, the artists remain in this state of mind, now fully immersed in the art, centered, calm and ready for a rigorous and demanding Bharatanāṭyaṃ performance.

 Bhakti

Therefore, Bharatanāṭyaṃ (and other Indian classical dances) are not practiced by merely perfecting techniques and movements, facial expressions or time and rhythm. Traditional practitioners of Bharatanāṭyaṃ know that they require total immersion into the art and its philosophy, must have Bhakti and humility and reverence to dance successfully. A person who may know the technical movements of Bharatanāṭyaṃ but lacks these Sāttvic attributes such as Śraddha and Bhakti is not qualified to do the dance. Śārṅgadeva states that only one who is pure in mind (Sattvic) can be a dancer. The Devadāsis had this intrinsic Śraddha, and they certainly understood Rasas and Bhāvas. Theirs was not a mechanical ritualistic dance devoid of Rasa. The great exponent dancer Bala Saraswati, a Devadāsi, emphasized the importance of Bhakti as an integral requirement for Bharatanāṭyaṃ:

Bharatanāṭyaṃ is grounded in bhakthi…. In fact bhakthi is at the center of all arts of India. Our music and dance are two offerings to God…This experience may only occur once in a while but when it does for that little duration, its grandeur enters the soul not transiently but with a sense of eternity. As one gets involved in the art, with greater and greater dedication, one can continuously experience throughout the few hours of the dance, the unending joy, this complete well-being, especially when music and dance mingle indistinguishably.” – Bala Saraswati

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Shree Bala Saraswati. Eminent danseuse.

The ancient dance treatises have noted that a person best fit to dance is one who learns with Śraddha and Bhakti. Many expert Bharatanāṭyaṃ dancers and Nāṭyācāryas have observed that if a student does not have Bhakti, their dance is not genuine and has a mundane quality to it and few, if any, Bhāvas are produced. For example, if the dancer does not have Bhakti for Śri Kṛṣṇa, how can they embody the episode in which Yaśoda saw the entire universe in his mouth, and was overcome with awe and emotion? How will the non-believing dancer produce the Bhāvas that are required to generate the Rasa in the audience?Abhinaya is not a mere enactment, it is an exalted, lofty, glorified reenactment that will produce Bhāvas and the Rasa experience.

If the dancer interjects her personal opinions and portrays characters such as Sītā and Rāma through a non-Dharmic lens, the result will not be Sāttvic but a pale imitation, a counterfeit, and will not have any lasting effect on the onlooker and the Yajña of Bharatanāṭyaṃ will be a failure. The dancer must be in total sympathy with the character’s viewpoint and beliefs to embody that character authentically. This does not imply that these dances are somber and boring. Quite the contrary, Bharata states that a successful performance brings about happiness, entertainment, diversion, and knowledge to the onlooker and should generate all of the Rasas (Śṛṅgāra, Hāsya, Karuna, Vīra, Bhayānaka, Bībhatsa, Raudhra, Adbhuta and Śānta).

Philosophy, Language and Tradition

To do justice to the complex songs and poems that are danced, the dancer should do a serious study of the different philosophies of Hinduism. This understanding needs to be deeper than a superficial knowledge of the main features of Hinduism. Knowing the composer’s philosophical leanings to will help the dancer understand the significance of their compositions. As an example, many are familiar with Vaiṣṇavaism, however, there are different schools of Vaiṣṇavaism and their core philosophies have subtle variations that are significant nonetheless. For instance, the Vaishnavism of Sri Vaishnavism, Gauḍiya Vaiṣṇavaism, and the Brahma Sampradāya of Madhvācārya may seem the same, but in fact, they have significant differences and comprehending these will aid the dancer to authentically embody the compositions of those respective philosophies.

For example, the sacred poems of Ānḍāl follow the Śri Vaiṣṇava school whereas Caitanya Mahāprabhu and Purandara Dāsa reflect the Gauḍiya and Madhva schools of Vaiṣṇavaism respectively. Not fully comprehending these subtle differences will lead to missing the beautiful meanings and themes of the songs and even blatantly misinterpreting them in the dance. Ānḍāl’s Tirupāvai has profound meaning as does Gīta Govindaṃ of Jayadeva; however, the refined nuances in these compositions cannot be missed if the dancer wishes to bring about the right Bhāvas and Rasas. The same is true of Śaivism and Smārtism. How can a dancer embody Nirguṇa Brahman without understanding what this profound concept is and the difference between Nirguṇa and Saguṇa Brahman?

Hand-in-hand with this philosophical comprehension, is the practice of the customs and rituals that embody these philosophies. Hindu philosophy is embodied in Hindu practices and customs; they are not just rituals. Just like the Yajña, they are transformative experiences and have effects on the consciousness of the doer. An academic study or an observation of Hindu rituals or interviews with practitioners is woefully inadequate to understand them. These customs and traditions can be understood by experienced and performing them with Śraddha and Bhakti. Therefore, practitioners of these customs are best suited to portray them, because they are not conscious-less ceremonial activities.

CompositionsAndal

This brings us to a vital requirement to dance Bharatanāṭyaṃ and Indian classical dances. Since, as stated by Bharata and other scholars, the dancer’s mind should be Sāttvic and in total understanding with the characters, philosophies and customs and traditions of Hinduism, knowledge of the language in which the compositions are written is crucial. The traditional practitioners of Bharatanāṭyaṃ, Naṭavanārs and Devadāsis, were fluent in several languages and well-versed in our philosophy and traditions. The classical compositions are complex and difficult to comprehend even for a person fluent in the language in which they were composed. However, trying to understand the meaning of a composition by translations, especially from an Indic language to English (or other non-Indic language) will not be sufficient. Knowing another Indic language is helpful, but a dignified study is required with the aid of an expert in that language. Understanding the colloquialisms of the language and a detailed explanation of the philosophy and narrative is critical.

Even dancers who know the language often must do a diligent and serious study of the composition. English translations fall short in conveying the composer’s viewpoint and themes that are embedded in the cultural mores which the native language naturally communicates. These compositions are lofty and refined, and contain much symbolism which will otherwise be missed. Understanding the song through the Dharmic viewpoint, from the composer’s perspective and the times in which they lived is essential to bring out the Rasa of these works. For instance, the composition ‘Yār Āḍinar, ina yevar Āḍuva?’ in Tamizh tells of the great Cosmic Dance of Nataraja. Another composition “Ānanda Kūtāḍinar” is also about Nataraja and His celestial dance. So, are these compositions essentially the same? Well, a closer study of the above two songs shows they are similar on a topical level but convey different themes and evoke different Bhāvas. Similarly, two famous songs of Purandara Dāsa, Jagadoddhāraṇa and O’ḍi Bāraiyya are about Sri Krishna as the Divine child. A sensitive study of these songs reveals they are dissimilar and portray two distinctly refined themes with powerful meanings. The great composer Tyāgarāja is renowned for his beautiful songs devoted to Sri Rāma, but one should not make the mistake in thinking that all these compositions are the same.

Bharatanāṭyaṃ dance, and all Indian classical dance, is a complex rich transformative knowledge system. Bharata has codified the foundations and details of the sacred Indian dances. These codes are purposeful and not optional. They contain a profound philosophical aesthetic that is manifested physically in our ancient dances. The dancer’s mind (Manas) should be transformed into a state of Sattva and remain so during the performance so that the audience experiences the Rasas, which is the ultimate aim of these dances. Bharatanāṭyaṃ and other Indian dances are Yajñas that have a deep lasting impact on the consciousness of the dancer and the Sahṛidaya audience. Understanding these core fundamentals is the foremost prerequisite in the journey to be an accomplished and successful dancer.

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About the Author: Prakruti Prativadi is a Bharatanāṭyaṃ dancer and Founder Director of Kalā Saurabhi Dance School in the US; she actively performs in the US and India. She has spent seven years researching the Nāṭyaśāstra and other Sanskrit texts on Indian aesthetics. She has written a book based on her research, Rasas in Bharatanāṭyaṃ, available on amazon.com


References:
  1. Ghosh, M.M. 2006. P. Kumar (Ed.) Nāṭyaśāstra of Bharatamuni. (Vols. 1-4). Delhi: New Bharatiya Book Corporation.
  2. Prativadi, Prakruti. 2017. Rasas in Bharatanāṭyaṃ. South Charleston: Createspace.
  3. Sarangadeva, Sangītaratnākara. Adyar Library Series.
  4. Srinivas, P. N. 2000. Mathugalu [Talks on Kannada Literary Criticism, in Kannada]. Bangalore: Purogami Sahitya Sangha.
  5. Subrahmanyam, Padma. 1979. Bharata’s Art Then and Now. Bombay: Bhulabhai Memorial Institute. Madras: Nrithyodaya.
  6. Swami Harshananda. 2001. Vedic Sacrifices. Bangalore: Ramakrishna Math.

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.

Copyright: Prakruti Prativadi. All rights reserved.

ICP Celebrates its 1year & India’s 70th

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Hard to believe it’s been 1 year for Indic Civilizational Portal, let alone 70 years for India. But with the passage of time comes occasion for both celebration and reflection.

1 years is both a short and long time for a website. The body of work produced by a group of individuals is always more interesting and meaningful than just that of one person. More importantly, the dreaming of common dreams and construction and implementation of a common vision is the true measure of not only a Dharmic people, but a competent one.

Due to outstanding teammates, its been possible to tackle a vast array of issues spanning from Women’s Empowerment to the Science of Computation. The real task, however, is whether Bharat, and those who make pretence to being part of its elite, can do the same.

One young lady over at our daughter site, Andhra Cultural Portal, has taken a step towards doing the same…and has taken out her metaphorical pen to do just that. Here is a wonderful message for those who would rather sit in their cozy salons and talk shops than to plan and do something useful in the common interest.  Hope this inspires at least a few to hear the clarion call and take up the mantle of praja dharma.

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From all of us at ICP, Happy Indian Independence Day, Shubha Swatantra Dinotsava, and here’s to many, many more!

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.

coconut

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

Set Mundu – A Kerala Woman’s Quiet Dignity

The following Post was published at Andhra Cultural Portal on May 31, 2015


India is a land of varied geography. But geography in India is not just about physical features; it is sacred. The geography of a particular place is intimately intertwined with its culture and its people and people mould their lives according to the geography they are in. Living in a certain geography in India means to be in harmony with it, to enhance it, and to make it more beautiful. I dwell on the subject of aesthetics here with the example of dress and particularly female dress.

Let us take the two examples of Rajasthan (desert landscape) and Kerala (lush vegetation). The women of Rajasthan wear flowing lehengas with cholis and chunaris which are in bright shades of yellow, red, blue, green and so on. These bright colours do enhance the beauty of the stark, sandy, desert landscape and are a feast for the eyes. On the other hand, the state of Kerala, a tiny strip on the west coast of India is a riot of green, blue and brown because she is richly endowed with lush vegetation, is by the sea, and has a high hill range protecting her. When she is endowed with so much natural beauty, people don’t need to add more colour to add to her beauty; which is why the predominant colour of the dress that Keralites wear is white or off white, with some minor embellishments. It is so apt, for this simplicity just adds elegance and a look of purity/freshness to the greens, blues and browns of the richly endowed land.

So, my focus here is only on one of the off white garments that Keralites wear. I refer to the set mundu that is the most simple attire of a lady in Kerala but which has evolved into one of the most understated, lovely, fashion statements at least in sections of Malayali society today.

The set mundu is essentially a two piece clothing worn with a blouse which has evolved to be worn like a saree in the present day. However, the origins of the garment were certainly not in the present form.

The Evolution of the Set Mundu – A little bit of history

Kerala is a very hot and humid place and I contend that its society was not overly concerned with issues of clothing and fashion. Moreover, the Western Ghats bordering Kerala act as a natural barrier and cocoon the land from overland influences. Hence influences from outside reached Kerala only slowly except if those influences came via the sea route. The preferred dress was to wear a simple white/off white cotton cloth called mundu which was tied at the waist and fell to the ankles or below the knees. A light piece of cloth across the breast and over the shoulders was called the upper cloth or melmundu.

Malayali Nair Women wearing Mundu

Slowly, the present day blouse that most Indian women wear with a saree began to gain popularity in Kerala.

And the melmundu began to be worn over the blouse in the traditional way.

The Weaver Story

As I was researching for this subject I came across information about the creators of this garment. There are I think principally 3 regions where the weaver community who create this garment live. One is Balaramapuram near Thiruvananthapuram, another is Kuthampully in Thrissur district and the third is Chendamangalam near Ernakulam. The weavers In Kuthampully and Balaramapuram trace their origins to Karnataka and Tamil Nadu respectively. Kuthampully weavers say they are from the Devanga community in the erstwhile Mysore state who left their ancestral land during the period of Turkic rule which was hostile. They settled in Kuthampully, a village on the banks of the Bharatapuzha (Nila) and became the weavers for the Royal family of Kochi (Cochin). The Balaramapuram weavers trace their origins to the Shaliyar community of Tamil Nadu who were again brought to Thiruvananthapuram by the Travancore kings to be weavers for the Royal family.

How did the Set Mundu evolve to its present avatar?

With the coming of the weavers from Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, a part of their culture would have come to Kerala. Both in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, there is a culture of little girls wearing chattai pavadai /Langa (two piece garment with a long pleated ankle length skirt from waist down and a waist length blouse for the top).

This garment metamorphoses into dhavani-pavadai as the girls turn into their later teen years. A dhavani-pavadai is a three piece garment. Like in chattai pavadai, you have the ankle length long pleated skirt, the waist length blouse of the childhood years turns into a blouse that is used with a saree. Over this ensemble is worn the dhavani which is a long piece of cloth which is pleated and goes across the left shoulder with the other end tucked into the pavadai. Essentially it looks like the pallu of a regular saree. This culture was probably brought into cocooned Kerala by the weavers who were anyway familiar with these clothes.

pattupavadai

Now, once the girl got married, she graduated from the dhavani phase into the mundu blouse phase. That’s probably when the melmundu began to be redesigned like a dhavani with pleats going across the bosom and over the left shoulder with the other end end tucked into the mundu. This gave the whole ensemble a saree like look.

Generally, the set mundu is quite simple when it comes to embellishments. For the larger part, it is plain off white, cotton cloth both in the mundu and the neriyathu (melmundu) with just the borders of the cloth and the two ends being either woven with jari/gold thread (kasavu) bands or with bands that are of different colour thread. The garment is elegant, understated and extremely comfortable to wear. And most of all, it gives a pristine, fresh look when contrasted with the lush vegetation. It is everyday wear for older women and it is really a pleasure to see elder women start each day wearing a fresh, starched set mundu after a bath. The look of freshness is enough to wake one up and be thankful for the new day!

Kerala Mundu Saree. First ReporterSaree Drapes, Saree Collection, Onam Saree, Kerala Mundu, Kerala Saree, Saree Traditional, Indian Saree, Kerala Style, Mundu Saree

This garment while it was regularly used by the older generation, generally by women over 45-50 since it imparted an air of maturity and understated beauty, it has now been adopted by youngsters too as a style statement. In the Namboodiri community, this garment has become the rage in recent years with it being adopted as the standard dress code for occasions. For occasions such as a wedding, it has now become the norm to order set mundus in bulk. They are ordered like a uniform with the groom and bride’s side being distinguished by the respective uniform set mundus.

The set mundu is a definite requirement when doing the traditional folk dance of Kerala for women, called the Kaikottikkali or Thiruvathirakkali. It is also worn on festive occasions like Onam , Vishu and Thiruvathira.

Problems facing this sector

As everywhere else, this is purely the handloom sector and facing an existential crisis. As I did my research, I chanced upon news item after news item which spoke of the penury of these handloom weavers. All the three places Kuthampully, Balaramapuram and Chendamangalam have been given intellectual property rights through the Geographical Indication Act. But even this has not prevented the decline in their means of livelihood.

Their profession is not seen as being respectable and the younger generation is clearly not interested in taking up the trade in a 100% literate state. Many of the weavers themselves do not encourage their children to take up the profession. They push them towards professional courses so that they have better prospects in the ‘marriage market’[2]. This is in Kuthampully.

I happened to chance upon a blog by a young boy who is from Kuthampully but not into his ancestral trade anymore. From the tenor of the post, I felt the boy is quite apologetic about his ancestors’ profession and does not look upon it with pride. He of course seems to be employed in an IT firm in some other state. He seems to feel his village is a relic of some bygone era and one senses that he feels he has escaped the drudgery. Irony is that education has meant becoming disassociated from your past. Education has meant devaluation of a skill and its ability to become your livelihood. Weavers face many hardships too because earnings are low, peoples’ choices have evolved and hence their market has shrunk, and they are unable to repay debts as institutional funding is not easily available to them. However, the few who remain in the profession say that it “gives me immense pleasure to see the finished product[3]. I can only agree with her that that is the unalloyed joy one gets when one creates something.

The Road Ahead

While the market for set mundus will not die out for another generation maybe, its long term prospects are certainly in Intensive Care as the younger generation moves on to trendy western clothes and salwar kameez (which incidentally was a rarity in Kerala even in the 90s). I sincerely hope something is done to restore this extremely humble and simple yet elegant garment regain place of pride. For nothing brings more beauty to the lush landscape of “God’s Own Country” than a beautiful Malayali woman donning this fresh and simple dress with the simple accessories that go with it. Nothing rivals it to exude that quiet elegance which contrasts with the riotous colours of nature.

References:

  1. http://www.newindianexpress.com/states/kerala/A-Life-without-Zari-for-Kuthampullys-Weavers/2014/11/10/article2516445.ece
  2. http://www.newindianexpress.com/cities/kochi/A-story-of-the-struggle-for-survival/2013/10/22/article1848198.ece
  3. https://myshadowflowers.wordpress.com/2012/09/07/kuthampully-the-village-of-weavers/
  4. The Spirituality of Basic Ecclesial Communities in the Socio-religious context of Trivandrum/Kerala, pg. 109
  5. http://pazhayathu.blogspot.in/2012/02/kerala-dress-1500-till-now.html
  6. http://www.mkhandlooms.com/about_us
  7. http://www.ashahandlooms.com/history.php
  8. http://www.kaithary.com/about-us

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.

Classical Indic Literature II: Poetics

A version of this Post was published at Andhra Cultural Portal on June 12, 2015


Kalpa Sutra Manuscript-Auspicious Dreams of Jina's Mother (wikipedia)

Continuing our Series on Classical Indic Literature is Part II: Poetics. Long time readers may recall our previous post on Literary Theory. This piece will very briefly recap some of the related concepts before quickly moving on to expand upon our discussion of our traditional art of poesy.

ACP’s coverage of Andhra literature begins at its origin point, in Classical (sastra-based) Indic Literary Theory and Poetics. Andhra’s all India auteurs like Mallinatha and Princess Gangadevi were properly schooled and cultivated in the great tradition, in order to permit their own future works.  In fact, the rajkumari of Vijayanagara herself mentions the main figure of today’s discussion as an highly accomplished poet, and noted authority on poetics.

Poetics (A reintroduction)

Literary theory in general and Poetics in particular were highly developed and sophisticated in ancient India. Indeed, it would be difficult to find a peer culture or civilization in this regard. This is apparent not only in the cultivation of the world famous Ancient Indic Nava Rasa theory, but also in the explication and categorization of works of fiction and drama, romance and comedy, poetry and prose, elite and common.

In fact, despite attempts to criticize, or failing that, digest it into the tradition of parvenus by poseurs, Classical Indic Literary Theory managed to incorporate both the elite and common worlds. As written previously, Sanskrit and Prakrit were used alongside each other, not only by the same author, but in the same dramatic compositions! In our preceding posts we discussed the theory of rasa at great length, and by association, rasavat, that which provokes sentiment. These dramatic concepts and alankara (art of rhetoric) are critical to poetics. Few demonstrated this as well as Dandin, famed for his way with words.

Upama Kalidasasya, Bharaverartha gauravam ! Dandinah padalalityam, Maghe santi trayogunah !!

The simile of Kalidasa, the depth of meaning of Bharavi, the word-play of Dandin, in Magha all three qualities are found! [3]

While Mahakavi Magha and his Sisupalavadha may be dealt with at another time, it is Acharya Dandin and his masterly art of wordplay that is our topic of today.

Dasakumaracarita

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Having already discussed the Dasakumaracarita at length in the last piece, we will merely place it in context here, vis-a-vis Dandin and Poetics.

The Dasakumaracarita is considered an Akhyayika. An Akhyayika should include a genealogical account of the poet’s family and also of other poets; its verses may occur in it at intervals. Its chapters are called Asvaasas, which should contain introductory verses suggestive of episodes in the story. While the Dasakumaracarita does not strictly conform with this definition of the Akhayayika, it is nevertheless considered one.

Regarding the differences between the Akhyayika and the Katha, Visvanatha of the 15th century wrote in his SahithyadarpanaIn a Katha a charming plot is composed in prose, which is interspersed with stanzas in the Arya, Vaktra, and Aparavaktra metres; in the beginning there should be a salutation to a deity, a description of the nature of villains,etc. “[2, xii].

While most non-religious stories of Ancient India tend to claim descent from the Brihat-katha of Gunadya, the Dasakumaracarita of Dandin appears to be wholly original. If Kalidasa’s couplets read like supple vines, Dandin’s verses read like a rolling brook, pleasantly bubbling in our eyes and ears. The passage below illustrates this:

There, in the course of conversation with regard to her lover, she, coming to know his family and name from Balachandrika, was overcome with intense love (with the fall of Cupid’s arrows), and began to grow emaciated day by day, like the crescent of the moon in the dark half of the month, from the pangs of separation. She gave up taking food and her other daily pursuits, and in her secret chamber restlessly rolled her creeper-like (slender) frame on a bed formed of (tender) leaves and flowers wetted with sandal-juice. Her female friends, seeing the delicate princess in that state withering with the fire of love, and feeling very sad, tried to cool her body, with materials for relief from the torment, such as water prepared for her bath, mixed with sandal, usira and camphor and kept in gold vessels, garments of lotus-fibres, and fans of lotus-leaves. Even that application of cooling reeds simply [causes] fire to appear on all sides in her body like water dropped in heated oil…(the princess) of delicate limbs was affected by the highest stage of the feverish condition of love” [1, 250-1]

 The Dasakumaracarita is a must read for any lover of great literature, particularly the Classical and  Indic. To understand the poetics and art of rhetoric that helped craft such perfect prose-poetry, Acharya Dandin’s own treatise must be read.

The Kavyadarsa

kavyadarsaThe Kavyadarsa promulgates and expounds many canons of poetic composition which show that its author had refined notions about style and its functions [1, xv]

Dandin’s work on poetics is itself poetic. Literally meaning ‘Mirror of Poetry’, the Kavyadarsa imbues us with knowledge of kavya and alankara-sastra (rhetoric) in a language redolent with the art of poesy Dandin himself extols. It is one of the earliest works on Alankara [2,ix].  Rather than being a boring list of categories and a lexicon of terms, it is fluidly composed and easy to read and digest even for the unschooled. A work of poetics that is itself poetry, it commences in appropriate fashion.  It is tradition in Sanskrit literature to begin with a benediction.

Pariccheda I

Chaturmukha mukhaambhojavana hamsavadhur mama

Maanase ramataam nityam sarvasuklaa Sarasvati P.I,S.1

May the lovely lady swan that sports among the lotus-mouths of Brahma, the all-white Sarasvati roam for ever in delight in the lotus-pool of my heart. [2,1]

Goddess Sarasvati is particularly praised by poets of all ranks, as she is the fountain of knowledge, truth, and speech. As for the work itself, it is divided into three Paricchedas, or sections. First and foremost in the first Pariccheda, where he stresses grammar, and how it is critical to understanding and evaluating poetry.

He then moves on to discuss the body of a poetic composition.

This (body) is classified threefold, as Padya, as Gadya as Misra (i.e. as verse, as prose and as a mixture of prose and verse). Verse has four feet; and (again) it is divided into two classes Vrttam and Jati (according to Varna and Matra respectively).” [2, 6]

Types of verse include Muktata, Kulaka, and Sanghaata, and are dealt with collectively as part of the Sarga-bandha. The truly great work of Poetry is the Mahakavya (Great Poem). A type of this is the Sarga-bandha, which is” a Mahakavya that has a beginning with a benediction or indication of contents, it deals with purusharthas and has one of the four types of heroes. It describes the various phases of romance between great lovers, their journeys, trials and tribulations, uses rasa and bhava, has reasonable size chapters and will survive several kalpas. [2, 8-10]

In contrast to poetry is prose, which is a sequence of words not constructed in metrical feet. Prose is divided into Akhyayika and Katha. The former, according to Dandin, is told only in the first person (from the mouth of the hero), while the latter may be told by all. The last type of literary body is Misra, which is a mix of prose and verse, usually in Nataka (dramatic) form and in Campu verse. Literature was further divided into four linguistic classes. [2,16]

“Samskrtam is the name of the celestial language which has been used by great sages; Prakrtam is divided into many ways as Tadbhava, Tasama and Desi.

In such language is the ocean of gemlike saying Setubhanda and other works.” [2,17]

In Poems, languages, like the Abhira and the like are considered as Apabhramsa; but in the sastras … any language other than Samskrtam is considered Apabhramsical. “[2, 18]

Sarga-bandha and other types of similar verses are Samskritam, Skanda and similar types are considered Prakritam, Aasara and others are Apabhramsa, and Nataka and others are considered Misrakam (due to their mixed linguistic nature).

Dandin then continues,  explicating the path of word being twofold, the path of Vidarbha and the path of Gauda.

He describes the Vidarbha as having the characateristics of “Slesa (compact), prasada (charity), Samata (evenness), Madhuryam (sweetness), Sukumarata (elegance), Arthavyakti (expressiveness), Udaratvam (excellence), Ojas (vigour), Kanti and Samadhi (structure)”[2,21]

Gauda is referred to the as the opposite of these. Slistam is when the letters are not loose and not of small breath-value while Sithilam is loose. The latter is a key part of the Gauda and adds dignity to the composition. For the uninitiated, Gauda may be deemed cumbersome, compound (sandhi), and consonant, while Vidarbha is light, short-syllabled, and easy to grasp. Evenness of composition, or samatam, is divided into Mrdu, Sphuta and Madhyamam (soft, hard and medium).

He criticizes easterners as effecting a want of evenness in literature stating “unnevenness and desiring the display of pompous embellishments, the series of Kavyas of the Paurasyas (easterners) have developed.” I guess some reputations haven’t changed! It is the general poetry of his poetic work, and witty remarks like this, that truly make Dandin a delight to read. Indeed, he moves on by extolling sweetness (Madhurya) as the flavour in words and in sentiment. The wise, he says, are like bees in that both are intoxicated with honey. The related concept is Anuprasa, which is word sequences that conveys flavour or sentiment (rasa) through evenness with prior words. [2, 29]

Examples of Anuprasa in words and metrical feet are then given, followed by descriptions of Sruti and Saithilya. Sruti here is sequences of similar sounds and saithilya is want of coherence of sounds rugged in build. The recurrence of the same sequence of sounds in uneven fashion is called Yamaka (alliteration, i.e. consonance and assonance). Daksinatyas (Southerners) did not like incoherence of sounds. It appears the South’s reputation for stricture and conservatism was intact back then as well!

Perhaps the most critical sloka on poetics for our era of vulgar parvenu poetry is the following:

Granting that all arts of speech (Alankara), and delectableness to the idea (conveyed) it is the absence of vulgarity of expression alone that is mostly responsible for delectableness” [2, 33]

Gramya is vulgarity in expression examples of this are given, as well as the opposite. The Acharya is very critical of vulgarity but also of unnecessary and overly complicated constructions to appear intelligent.

There has been a tendency, which Dandin appears to attribute to pretentious easterners, to preference difficult to pronounce compound words (sandhi) under the impression that they constitute grandeur.  He exhorts that it is only by Sukumarata, tenderness (i.e. use of non-harsh letters) rather than over-embellishment that we get approval in the minds of the good. [2,39]

Moving on, he describes Udara as when all sequence of words find their excellence when the word sequence’s excellence is clear, while “Ojas [vigour] is in abundance of compound words. This is the soul of Gadya (prose;) in verse Padya also for the non-Southerners this alone is the goal” [2, 43]

While kantam (not straying from standard meanings) is mentioned, most important, according to Dandin, is the concept of Samadhi. It is structural embellishment or the simultaneous application of many characteristics.

The guna or characteristic of poetry called Samadhi is the very treasure-house and constitutes the entire wealth of poetry. The entire group of poets follows (and uses) this characteristic.”[2, 53]

Pariccheda II

dhwani-theory-and-alamkara-9-638

The Second Pariccheda focuses on Alankaras proper. This is the critical aspect of poetry that makes embellishment possible and sets it apart as an high art. But why explain what an old master does better:

They give the names of Alankaras to the characteristics, which render kavyas attractive. These characteristics are even to-day diversified anew; who then can treat of them exhaustively?” [2, 57]

The old masters have shown the following alankaras (figures of speech: -Realistic expression, simile, metaphor, light, repetition, objection, illustrative citation, differentiation, cause terseness, hyperbole, conceit, reason, subtlety, minuteness, sequence, felicity, provoking sentiment, vigour, paraphrase, unison, sublimity, denial, paronomasia, specialty, equation, direct praise, concealed praise, conjunctive expression, exchange, benediction, confusion and expressiveness. Realistic expression also called Jati or group description is the first alankara and describes the actual forms of different conditions of objects.” [2, 59]

Dandin moves on to discuss realistic expression of species (Jati), of action (Kriya), of characteristic (Guna) and of substance (Dravya). He then provides an entire section on the various and numerous types of upama, that is simile. This is delightfully done with poetic examples of this essential aspect of poetics. As it is too long to reprint here, we will merely list the different types of simile:

There is the simile of quality (Dharmopama), the simile of object (Vastupama),the transposed simile (Viparyasopama), the simile of mutuality (Anyonyopama), the simile of exclusive determination (Niyamopama), the simile of indetermination (Aniyamopama), the multiple simile (Sauccayopama), the hyperbolic simile (Atisayopama), the simile of conceit (Utpreksopama), the simile of wonder (Adhbutopama), the simile of delusion (Mohopama), the simile of doubt (Samsayopama), the simile of certainty (Nirnayopama), the paronomasiac simile (Slesopama), the simile of exactness (Samaanopama), the simile of contempt (Nindopama), the simile involving praise (Prasamsopama), simile involving the desire to express (Acikhyaasopama), the simile involving opposition (Virodhopama), the simile involving exclusion (Pratisedhopama), the simile of truthful expression (Asaadhaaranopama), the simile of impossibility (Adbhutopama), the simile involving statements contrary to nature (Asambhaavitopama), the simile of super-excellence (Vikriyopama), the simile in a series (Maalopama), the simile of sentences (Vaakyarthopama),  the simile stating the object (Prativastupama), the simile of equalising (Tulyayogopama), and finally the simile involving a statement of the reasons (Hetupama). [2, 62-82].

While many figures of speech may seem similar to the simile, there is a rule in Sanskrit poesy that a simile cannot be in verbs. This is the word of the Aaptas (or authoritative writers). [2, 148]

As one can see, the exhaustive and methodical classification of the simile, so elementarily treated in english, reaches a near-impossible level of sophistication. Perhaps it is not for nothing Alankara, like the sastras, are ultimately credited to divine beings in the Classical Indic Tradition.

Next, Dandin describes the Metaphor. Simile itself where the difference is implicity is called the metaphor, for example, arm-creeper, palm-lotus, foot-tendril” [2, 84]. There are 66 types of compound metaphors, which for reasons of brevity, won’t list here. The sanskrit word for metaphor is rupakam. The numerous varieties are so copious, there is even a rupaka-rupakam or metaphor on metaphor. [2, 94]

We move on from the two major concepts to other types of Alankara. The concept of Dipakam (or light) is unique as it is the notion of a word helping the entire sentence through jati (genus), kriya (action), guna (quality) or dravya, which is the subject-matter.[2,96] Avrtti, or repetition, is then discussed along with its assorted types and uses both in word and meaning. Aaksepa, which is objection and has a variety of classes. Interestingly, of the different types of objection includes anujnaksepa, that is objection in the form of apparent permission–a phenomenon with which married men the world over are all too familiar! Indeed, the section on Aaksepa is a veritable playbook for a woman in a relationship to influence her beloved!

Then there is illustrative citation (arthantara-nyaasa). Assorted figures of speech are used to express ideas by citing other objects such as those that are universally applicable (visvavyaapi), special (visesastha), panoro-masiac (slesa-viddha), having opposition (virodhavaan), incongruous (ayuktakaari ), fitting (yuktatma), partly incongruous and partly fitting), and contrary (viparyaya). [2, 123]

Acharya Dandin asserts that “Reason (hetu) and subtlety and minuteness (suksma and lesa) constitute the best alankaras of words” .[2,151] This is because a slight reference to a thing discloses (lesa) both indicates and excites the imagination.Correspondingly, Ingita and Aakaara are mentioned as facial gesture and condition of the body respectively. [2,163] Paryayoktham is the paraphrase .[2,178] Drstantam is defined as illustration.

Udaattam (sublimity) is the alankara used to express the pre-eminent greatness of a person, both his qualities and his riches. Apahnuti is denial and is used to great effect in order to enhance the description. [2,184]. Slistam is paronomasia, or words with a single form but many meanings [2,187]. Indeed, there is an entire sub-section on specialty, which again, for brevity’s sake, we will leave at here.

Among other interesting concepts include variations of ninda (insult/deprecation) and praise, stuti. There are numerous categories of stuti, such as Aprastuta-prasamsa (indirect praise) and Vyaajastuti (concealed praise). Concealed praise is where it is in the form of despise and virtues are described through mention of vices.

With all these alankaras, or embellishments, Dandin uses examples to not only illustrate, but to very frequently entertain. What could easily have been an exhausting effort because engagingly educative.

Pariccheda III

In the third pariccheda, Dandin moves on to the more structural aspects of poetics. He discusses recurrences of letters (Yamaka) and various types of feet (pada), one through four. Types of recurrences are discusses such as Vyapeta-Yamaka (mediate recurrence) and Avyapeta (mixed recurrence of mediate and immediate). [2, 228]. This is described with great complexity with all the permutations and combinations of letter recurrences.

Finally, this magnum opus of poetics concludes with a veritable lesson in linguistics. From the listing of vowels to the various consonant types, it is highly detailed and worth a review. He also discusses Prahelikas (or Amusing Riddles). These are described as “useful in the entertainment of sportive assemblies; and by those who know them for the purpose of secret consultation in a crowd and for setting riddles to others” [2,262]. Once more, he goes into the technical aspects of riddles, and the various components and component types. In fact, there were as many as 16 types of Prahelikas.

Ten faults of artless poets are also discussed: Apaartham (or meaninglessness), Vyartham (or contrary meaning), Ekaartham (or identical in meaning), Samsayam (or doubtful meaning), Apakaaramam (or want of sequence), Sabdahinam (or wanting in word), Yatibhrastam (or absence of pause), Bhinnavrttam (or metrical defect). Visandhikam (absence of Sandhi, or pause) and impropriety in place, time, in branch of learning, etc.” (desadhi-virodhi,kala-virodha, nyaya-virodha, etc) [2, 276-7].  He nevertheless mentions how a clever poet can use any and all of the improprieties to lift up from the region of fault to the good qualities of poetry.

He concludes with concepts associated with love. Laya is the blending of tunes. Harmonious laya is said to promote Raaga or Love while”Utka and Unmanayantya both convey the longing of the beloved“. [2, 281]

Thus, with an exhaustive but easy-to-read treatise, Acharya Dandin explicates his educative exegisis on kavya and alankara-sastra. Fittingly, he ends with the following advice for would-be poets:

With his intellect, trained by this Path of guna and dosa (Excellences and Faults) shown according to the rules, the blessed person sports like a youth attracted by Words, who have loving eyes and who remain in his control; and he also obtains fame. [2, 305]

References:

  1. Kale, M.R. Dasakumaracarita of Dandin. New Delhi: MLBD. 2009
  2. Sastrulu, V.V., and Ed. Rabindra K. Panda. Kavyadarsah of Dandin. Delhi: Bharatiya Kala Prakashan. 2008
  3. Das, Sisir Kumar. A History of Indian Literature, 500-1399: From Courtly to the Popular. New Delhi: Sahitya Akademi. 2005. p.75

Nilambari’s Kutcheri: A Primer on Carnatic Music

A version of this Post was published at Andhra Cultural Portal on January 31, 2015


Carnatic Trinity: Muthuswamy Deekshitar,Thyagaraja & Syama Shastri

This is a post on the structure of a Carnatic music Kutcheri (a traditional musical performance gathering) accompanied by a virtual kutcheri that I have put together.

The Kutcheri format as we know it today is said to have started out in the 1920s. That is not to say that it didn’t exist before that.

Traditionally, a kutcheri starts with a varnam. A varnam is a composition which basically tells you the swaras (notes: Sa, Ri, Ga, Ma, Pa, Da, Ni–> Shadjam, Rishabham, Gandharam, Madhyamam, Panchamam, Dhaivatham, Nishadam) that are present in that particular ragam both in the arohana (ascending scale) as well as avarohana (descending scale). It lays down the rules of how the various swaras can be combined in both the scales. It is split into specific parts and is a rather technical piece which lays out the rules for the development of a particular ragam. Thus the varnam is a composition which a student of carnatic music learns as a primer before going on to explore more elaborate nuances of ragas through kritis.

At this point let’s do a little more study of classical music. Carnatic music is made up of 72 fundamental ragas called the melakarta ragas or the janaka (giving birth) ragas or the parent ragas. All other ragas, and there are literally hundreds of them are derived (janya or given birth to) from these 72 janaka ragas. It just means that there are 7 swaras with  12 semi-tones in one octave. They are both in the ascending and descending scales combined in different ways to form these primary 72 ragas, i.e, these 72 ragas have the entire scale (Sa-Ni with their semi-tones) both in the ascending and descending scales. Hence they are called sampurna (complete) ragas. Janya ragas however are derived from these 72, meaning that they have have swaras left out from the parent. The number of swaras left out from the parent janaka raga can vary.

The list of the swaras and their semi-tones are like this: S, R1, R2=G1, R3=G2, G3, M1, M2, P, D1, D2=N1, D3=N2 and N3. Of these S and P do not have semi-tones.

In conjunction with swara is tala, which refers to the number and type of beats within a cycle. This is similar to the concept of meter and helps track the pace and time in a composition. There are 7 basic talams (Adi, Dhruva, Rupaka, etc), and 108 total talas, due to combinations with other factors known as angas and jathis.

I admit I have a fondness for the 28th Melakarta Raga called Harikambhoji. Many of the songs from the janyas of this raga are a favorite with me.

So, here’s my choice of varnam to start this personal kutcheri. I would love my kutcheri to start with this beautiful varnam called “Mathe Malayadhwaja”. Its not a traditional varnam nor an easy one, but its beautiful and captivating for me. So, here is Sudha Raghunathan singing “Mathe”, in raga Khamas, janya raga of the 28th melakarta raga Harikhamboji set to Adi talam.

Raga: Khamas

Arohanam: S M1 G3 M1 P D2 N2 S                                                  Avarohanam: S N2 D2 P M1 G3 R2 S

Following this, the kutcheri format prescribes one or two compositions of the trinity in Ghana ragams. We will have only one.

Who are the trinity?

The Trinity is a group of three composers who are known as the creators of almost all the compositions that are sung today. They are Muthuswami Dikshitar, Syama Sastri, and  Thyagaraja. While the latter two are Telugu origin, Muthuswamigal is Tamizh. Though our common Bharatiya Saastriya Sangeeta is obviously very ancient, the Carnatic School is traced to Karnataka’s Purandara Dasa in the 1500s, during the Vijayanagara Empire. This title is highly deserved, but honorary as he is predated by a number of other composers. Northern and Southern Indian Schools diverged in the medieval period, and Carnatic remained essentially unaffected by foreign influences. North or South, Classical Indic Music originated in the Natya Sastra of Bharata Muni.

What are Ghana ragams?

First, there are eight Ghana ragams in Carnatic music. They are Nattai, Goula, Bouli, Reetigowla, Malavasri, Arabhi, Varali and Sri. They are so called because they are said to be able to effectively portray masculine emotions like shouryam (ferocity), veeryam (bravery), roudram (anger) and so on.

So with this information, here is my second offering in the kutcheri. This is in Raga Nattai, janya raga of the 36th melakarta ragam Chalanattai and sung once again by the supremely talented Sudha Raghunathan. The song is “Swaminatha paripalaya” set to Adi Talam. The composition is by Muthuswami Dikshitar.

Raga: Nattai

Arohanam: S R3 G3 M1 P D3 N3 S                                                   Avarohanam: S N3 P M1 G3 M1 R3 S

After this now we must have a composition in the shuddha madhyamam scale. Let us see what this is. This essentially means that the melakartas are divided into two types, the ragas which have shuddha madhyamam i.e, the first semi-tone of the swara M, M1 and those which have prati madhyamam or M2. So, now we have to select a raga that has shuddha madhyamam from one of the melakarta ragas. Let me choose my favorite melakarta raga Harikhamboji itself. It is after all my favorite one.

Here is the next offering from Balamurali Krishna in Harikhamboji. The song is called “Rama nannu brovara”, a Thyagaraja gem set to rupaka talam.

Raga: Harikhamboji

Arohanam: S R2 G3 M1 P D2 N2 S                                                   Avarohanam: S N2 D2 P M1 G3 R2 S

Moving on to a composition in the prati madhyamam scale, let us see what this means. As I stated earlier, the melakarta ragas are divided into two: the shuddha and the pratimadhyamam scales. In fact, the first 36 ragas in the melakarta are in the shuddha madhyamam scale and the second 36 in the prati madhyamam scale. The most common one is Kalyani, also called the Mechakalyani. This is the composition “Nidhichaala Sukhama” by Thyagaraja rendered by the peerless and timeless M.S. Subbalakshmi in adi talam. Do enjoy.

Raga: Kalyani

Arohanam: S R2 G3 M2 P D2 N3 S                                                   Avarohanam: S N3 D2 P M2 G3 R2 S

I cannot go on to the main composition without having my favorite raga in my kutcheri, can I? So, I will have a Dwijavanthi in my repertoire. This raga is a janya raga of the 28th melakarta raga Harikhamboji. The composition is “Akhilandeshwari” by Muthuswamy Dikshitar sung by the Trichur brothers. The composition is in adi talam.

Raga: Dwijavanthi

Arohanam: S R2 G3 M1 P D2 S                                     Avarohanam: S N2 D2 P M1 G3 M1 R2 G2 R2 S

Now we come to the main piece of the concert where the kutcheri format says that the composition should be a rakti/naya raga.

A rakti  or naya raga is called a feminine ragam. In fact, the entire set of ragams are classified as ghana ragams, rakti/naya ragams and desiya ragams.As we discussed earlier, ghana ragams are said to be masculine ragams. Desiya ragams are those that have been imported into the Carnatic school of music from either Folk music or the Hindustani school. Hence the rakti/naya ragams are those which are said to be feminine. This means that the large majority of ragams are feminine ragams which are said to be capable of portraying feminine emotions like karunam (compassion), sringaram (romance), vatsalyam (parental love) and so on. This is not to say that ghana ragams cannot portray feminine emotions or vice versa. For more on this, please refer to this excellent lecdem by Sri. R Visweshwaran.

This main piece is the one where the vocalist, the violinist and the percussionists all get to display their talents and can sometimes go for an hour. It is called the ragam-tanam-pallavi where the raga is first explored in all its nuances through the alapana (where the swaras comprising the raga are sung in a melodic form to set the mood of the raga). This is then followed by the tanam or the main part of the composition.

Tanam was first developed for the veena but began to be practiced by vocalists too, and it means expanding the raga rhythmically with the use of syllables like ta, nam, tom, aa and so on. In the tanam phase an extremely versatile and accomplished singer can also incorporate a few other ragas than the one s/he originally started out with. Then, in the pallavi section, the singer sings a single line and then explores it in different speeds. Finally, the percussionists are given the time to explore the rhythms in their turn and the whole can take about an hour or more. For more on this very complicated form of singing, please refer here.

Now, I present for your listening pleasure, a superbly crafted Ragam-tanam-pallavi by Sanjay Subramaniam. This comes with a warning however: The piece takes over an hour to listen to but I assure you its well worth the trouble 😉 . The composition is “Sabapathiku veru deivam” in raga Abhogi and rupaka talam. Raga Abhogi is a janya raga of the 22nd melakarta raga Kharharapriya. Gopalakrishna Bharati has composed this song.

Raga: Abhogi

Arohanam: S R2 G2 M1 D2 S                                                                   Avarohanam: S D2 M1 G2 R2 S

Before we end the kutcheri, after such an intense encounter with ragam-tanam-pallavi (RTP), we have to unwind and lighten the knots that we had got into. Its now time for some lighter yet melodious and easier pieces called tukkadas. Let us listen to two of them.

Sit back and enjoy a soothing, gentle and lilting “Hey Govind, hey Gopala” in raga Desakshi and rupaka talam. Suddha Desi is a janya raga of by now you know which melakarta!…yes, it is a janya raga of the 28th melakarta raga Harikhamboji. This divine song is rendered by the sister duo Ranjani-Gayatri and is composed by Surdas.

Raga: Suddha Desi

Arohanam: S R2 M1 P N2 S                                                                Avarohanam:  S N2 D1 P M1 G2 R2 S

Second to last in the kutcheri is another gem from the evergreen and ever remembered M.S Subbalakshmi. This time it is a ragamalika, meaning that the song is composed of multiple ragas. This one “Kurai ondrum illai”, is composed in three ragas Shivaranjani, Kapi and Sindhu Bhairavi. Shivaranjani and Kapi are janya ragas of the 22nd melakarta raga Kharaharapriya and Sindhubhairavi is a janya raga of the 10th melakarta raga Natakapriya. The composer of this song is the famous Indian politician and freedom fighter C.Rajagopalachari.

Ragamalika: Shivaranjani, Kapi and Sindhubhairavi

Raga: Shivaranjani

Arohanam: S R2 M1 P N3 S                                                                Avarohanam:  S N2 D2 P M1 G3 R2 S

Raga: Kapi

Arohanam: S R2 M1 P N3 S                                                         Avarohanam:  S N2 D2 N2 P M1 G2 R2 S

Raga: Sindhubhairavi

Arohanam: S R2 G2 M1 G2 P D1 N2 S                                    Avarohanam:  N2 D1 P M1 G2 R1 S N2 S

Finally, we round off this kutcheri with the standard sign off raga which is Sowrashtram. The signature song is “Pavamana suthudu battu and here it is rendered by K. J Yesudas. Sowrashtram is a janya raga of the 17th melakarta raga Sooryakantam. It is a composition by Thyagaraja set in adi talam.

Raga: Sowrashtram

Arohanam: S R1 G3 M1 P M1 D2 N3 S                             Avarohanam:  S N3 D2 N2 D2 P M1 G3 R1 S

I hope you enjoyed the kutcheri as much as I did putting it together for you!!

References:

  1. http://www.ragasurabhi.com/carnatic-music/raga-comparisons.html
  2. http://www.shabda.co.in/?q=node/65
  3. Concert Format Sequence – Carnatic Music
  4. http://www.chennaionline.com/musicnew/CarnaticMusic/174th.asp
  5. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Melakarta
  6. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Janya
  7. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trinity_of_Carnatic_music
  8. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harikambhoji

The Death of Romance

The following Post was published at Andhra Cultural Portal on Feb 7, 2015


Antônio Parreiras, The End of Romance

It is sometimes said that “Analysis is the death of sentiment”, but I disagree. As with all things in life, balance here is required as well. The truly fulfilling life is the one which is equidistant to the two. It uses reason to determine the correct course of action based on duty to others, and uses sentiment to experience the splendid possibilities and experiences and rasas life has to offer, with romance and true love being the most prized.

However, in our era of “hookups”, one-night stands, and office relationships, has the so-called “sophistication” of modernity killed off true love? Has the rise of prurience uber alles resulted in destroying the very bonds that once raised armies of rescue and launched a thousand ships? Is The Death of Romance upon us?

Real romance is not a function of skill in the bedroom or the frequency of neurotransmitter release, despite what people today may read in cosmo, playboy, huffpo, jezebel or whatever other intellectual cul de sac they rely on to educate themselves. Real romance is about putting the other person’s needs above our own–even thinking about their interests before our own. It is not about convenience, but constancy. It is not about hopelessness, but hoping against hope. But do materialism, fancy shoes, and “Mr. Right now” instead of “Mr. Right” ultimately lead to happiness? Whatever the latest push to downgrade monogamy as boring and marriage as “obsolete”, the end result of the lives of these fictional characters below (and their real life imitators–male and female) is instructive.

Indeed a poster for the movie Nymphomaniac features a series of men and women in various states of tumescence featuring the caption “Forget About Love”.  This isn’t just limited to Hollywood, but rather, the state of Bollywood, and now increasingly Tollywood, is testament to this.

Somewhere along the lines of the mid-2000s, the soulful sentiment that once pervaded mainstream Hindi filmdom ( I am purposely avoiding the word cinema here) from screenplay to song, diluted, and then vanished.

Hits steeped in sentiment like “humko humise churalo” have been replaced by chart toppers like “char bottle vodka”…Even the romantic songs once riveting with equal parts longing and mourning and charm and rapture now pass off romance as de riguer, easily substitutable in the buffet table of modern hedonism. A timepass or recreational commodity, on demand courtesy of tinder, snapchat, okcupid or whatever else the kids are using these days, that separates the desired product (romance, sex, etc), from the person. These of course are punctuated with nice club dance beats and other assorted chart toppers.

Even the word “beloved” has been cheapened beyond the point of recognition. What was once deemed a word worthy of our spiritual other half, our second heart, is merely a detachable moniker for the infatuation of the moment or the source and recipient of a serial concupiscence. The reality however is that love without sincerity is mere simulacra.

Men, you may now have been taught by the media to think that all girls are wannabe Sunny Leones who want bad boys, and Ladies, you may think all men are the same or only run after “insincere” girls. The truth, however, is most men either want a good woman to settle down with or after wasting 20 year of their lives, realize the value of a good woman. And most women may often confuse arrogance with confidence, but they too dream of a gentlemen. Yes there are bad man and bad women, who are only “about that thing”, but the majority are in the middle. The question is whether catastrophic loss of culture will cause them to gravitate to promiscuity over Prema.

Given all this, the Death of Romance is invariably upon us. And this is not an East vs West commentary, but a Modern vs Traditional one, as it is only circumstance that has resulted in the western world first being infected by this plague of insincerity—rapidly affecting “Modern India”. Nowhere was this more obviously seen than in the TV series How I Met Your Mother.

*Spoilers Ahead*

In our era of global satellite television, many of you in both hemispheres may be familiar with How I Met Your Mother (HIMYM). While the 2005-2014 production was hailed for its creativity and crisp writing/performances, it was above all the story of a young man, Ted Mosby, in his 20s/30s seeking his one true love over the casanova lifestyle. In fact, while one friend openly embraces it, and another escapes it by sheer good fortune of meeting his future wife at a young age, Ted consciously chooses to pursue it–and over the course of 8 years, is punished for it, repeatedly. Despite all this, he nevertheless soldiers on.

If the story of Ross & Rachel were about how true love is possible, but is frequently complicated by other romances, Ted & Tracy was about choosing real romance in a distinctly unromantic time. What  was originally hailed as the F.R.I.E.N.D.S. of the 2000s decade, and arguably the TV show for all hopeless romantics, had all the potential to be one of the great small screen romances of our time.

Flat panel had accomplished what today’s film was increasingly failing to do–capturing and communicating real sentiment of longing for love.

Ted Mosby, a Manhattan Manmatha had committed to finding his Rati, and after  e ^ 1000 embarrassments, heartbreaks, bad advice, and wrong-turns over the course of a decade, he finally did.

One would think the finale and story would have ended there…but nooo. 9 years of character development and story-telling were ruthlessly destroyed in a mere five minutes with this abomination from network-approved naraka:

As you can see, the final scene is emblematic of how the show’s internal logic was destroyed, and also why it contributes in general to the Death of Romance…real romance. While it was fittingly panned as one of the worst finales in small screen history, it had nevertheless done its work. In the process, it led to such pearls of wisdom from pan-hellenic Platos and other assorted tequila fueled supporters as “omg! it makes perfect sense, you have many one true loves!!“, “yeah, i completely get it, you don’t stop loving after your lover leaves“,  “i totally want that–true love and a back up relationship!“…”i want to have my cake, and i’ll eat it too!

Now don’t get me wrong. Life most assuredly isn’t simple. There is indeed an element of bittersweet in romance as all lovers are doomed to be parted on this Earth. Indeed some die far too soon. But what this show, and celluloid in general, is today advocating is that lovers are indeed replaceable. Thus from the Ayodhyan heights of Ram refusing to marry again and having a gold statue fashioned in Sita’s image, we have fallen to widowers deluding themselves into thinking old casual relationship exes (who never themselves were really interested in romance) can fill the void left behind by the woman they claimed to have dreamt of for the better part of an era. It is almost as though the very nature of romance had been mutilated, convoluted and turned into a consumer good.

*End Spoilers*

Why this tangent“–you ask? Well, admittedly in our fast-paced world where professionals don’t necessarily have arranged marriages, or have relationships prior to having one, Pehla Pyaar may not be an option for everyone. Indeed, divorce/remarriage may be appropriate for some and romantic pasts are never simple. Nevertheless, simply because we end up falling short of the ideal, or need a Dusra or Teesra , doesn’t mean we shouldn’t aspire towards it in the first place. It is certainly  better for us in the long run than Sau or Sahasra. Waiting is not weak. Principles are not prudishness.

Now, I’ve always been part of the camp that was always fine with Valentine’s Day. Whatever the actual history behind it, in theory, it’s a rather lovely way to celebrate and connect with the one whom we love. The problem however is what it has become in practice. Rather than a day of soulfully cherishing love for one’s spouse (or soon-to-be spouse), it has become a mere veneer of romance to legitimize mechanical debauchery, with unseemly displays of public affection. Those left alone due to circumstance are mocked or seen as curiosities, while the elect happily trot about adducing their rent-a-date or fling-of-the-moment as evidence of their possession (consumption?) of “love”.

This much is made additionally clear from friends with benefits and serial monogamy substituting for real relationships to pornography’s psychologically and sociologically harmful effects to laws that destroy incentive for trust in marriages.

What’s more, the rise of the PDA is feted as somehow as a sign of liberation rather than indecency. Blatant disregard to civic decorum and respect for elders is not romance. While I certainly don’t support the institution of a “Ministry of Vice and Virtue”, those young people feeling prohibitively passionate should keep personal acts for the private sphere. True, Classical Indic society was not repressive in these matters, but it wasn’t libertine either. It merely stressed that there was a time, place, and manner for such things.  There was and is no “right of way for ribaldry”. Rati-bhava divorced from Sringara-rasa is not love at all, but lust seeking pretext.

It has become part of common parlance to say chivalry is dead, and feminism killed it. A corollary of that of course is that romance is dead, and lust killed it. The moment a society exults in the divorcing of sensuality and marriage, is the moment romance truly dies. Because when marriage itself is no longer looked forward to by the majority of society for having children or moving in together, let alone maithuna, that is the moment when it becomes a mere formality. Rather than the fulcrum of one’s life, it becomes merely a trophy or label.

When “Love” is commoditised, the consumers themselves become replaceable and interchangeable.Living for the moment, treating lovers as disposable, and lust as an assortment of flavors may be fun and fashionable, but this lifestyle more often than not leads to this result.

Real romance is not a mere veneer for licentiousness, but has an element of sacrifice. “The Beloved” is not merely the flavor-of-the-month object of prurience, but a person willing to sacrifice for us and for whom we are willing to sacrifice. It is reciprocal.

Marriage is not the end of romance, rather it is the celebration of it. And true love is the highest form of romance. It recognises the inherent oneness of the male and female halves of an individual soul to the exclusion of all others. It is why a Sati could voluntarily commit sati or an Aja (grandfather of Rama) could climb on to Indumati’s (his wife) funeral pyre in inconsolable grief.

There is an old joke that men need money for women, and women need men for money (though such equations have been changing). Now assuredly, however tempting money may be for women, so it is for sex and men. Thus, there are men and women who sacrifice the pursuit of romance for these mere commodities instead. But as with all material things, we need more and more only to feel less and less. In their waning years, such men then realise the value of a good woman (rather than many “hot” ones) and such women realise by serially pursuing Mr. Money Bags or Mr. Right Now, they lost the interest of Mr. Right. The greatest of lotharios from Don Giovanni to Sam Malone may be the envy of most men, but in the end, do the sheer notches on their bed posts fill their inevitable void of loneliness?

To get the woman or man we seek we must be the man or woman that person would want. Love that stands the test of time is not driven by superficial states or faddish fetishes. Looks fade, money comes and goes, but companionship and qualities are truly timeless.

In our topsy turvy age of polyamory and serial monogamy, such notions may seem quaint. After all, these gyaanis and gyaaninis ask, “isn’t restriction of our love to only one person (or gender) selfish, even primitive”? But as always, a little knowledge, in the hands of the foolish, is a dangerous thing. Setting aside the fact that monogamy comes naturally to us, the benefits are manifold as well.

First and foremost comes validation (real validation that one-night stands and serial lovers could never afford). The idea that someone out there is eager and willing to commit himself or herself to us to the exclusion of all others is not only validating but downright scintillating. It affirms not only our sense of self and self-worth, but adds to our esteem in a way that single-serving lovers never could. After all, if we are irreplaceable, there truly must be something to us. And if we’re not, well, we’re just emotion-less commodities driven by base pleasure.

Second, comes security. Not only the security in having someone you can trust no matter what, but the security in knowing that the connection isn’t temporary (as all superficial infatuation tends to be) like fads and fetishes. Ultimately, marriage forms the ideal environment needed to ensure that children from this union will securely have a mother and a father as a parenting unit, providing the steady love and care required in child rearing.

Family First, and Marriage makes it one

Fundamentally, marriage is about children, whatever our modernistas may say. That is because society then mandates that a man not only fulfills his responsibility to provide for the pregnant mother, but not abandon the children after birth and leave them without food and shelter. While it is true that there are those who marry and do not have children, since when is the exception the rule? Because of “except after ‘c’, does that mean ‘i’ shouldn’t be before ‘e’?”. Because the vast majority of marriages past and present have resulted in children, they must be the fulcrum of our consideration, not our passing fancies and whims.

Third, it gives us a sense of balance and stability. Life is full of ups and downs. Career success is fleeting, even friends fade in and out, but a true life partner provides us with both wind and ballast as needed. When we are sad, they cheer us up, when we are angry, they cool us down, when we are lonely, they give us companionship, and when we need a kick in the seat of our pants, they gladly give us one. After all, just as the meal that is shared is more delicious, so to is the life that is shared more fulfilling.

Sita-Rama

So if you want to rekindle romance (sringara) in society again, you must be the change you want to see. Without Juliet, there is no Romeo. Without Sita, there is no Ram. It is the virtues of women that ultimately inspire the virtues of men. That is why, in ancient civilizations, muses are personified as feminine. Even in our Indic civilization, it is Goddess Sarasvati who inspires. Indeed, it is Sarasvati’s knowledge that is the source of Brahma’s creative power, Lakshmi’s prosperity that is the source of Vishnu’s preservation power, and Parvati’s Shakti that is the source of Shiva’s destructive power. That is why our society does not stress being overly masculine or overly feminine—but advocates balance.  Yin and Yang, Female and Male, Nari and Nara must exist in harmony. It is the synergy between that two that empowers society and rekindles real romance, just as Sita’s chastity adorned Ram’s nobility.

The point is not to advocate hypocrisy, but to educate that one cannot have one’s cake and eat it too. Actions have opportunity costs, and to seek what we really want, we ourselves must be worthy of it, for nothing in this world worth having comes easy. Many of you may be despondent about being alone a week from now, but fear not. It, or many such days, may come and go, but if you truly commit to true love, it commits to you.

So what then is the cornerstone of a good marriage and true love? Fidelity. This is because Fidelity breeds Trust, Trust breeds Friendship, and Friendship breeds Love. And that, dear reader, is what will result in the reincarnation of Romance.

Classical Indic Literature I: Literary Theory

The following Post was published at Andhra Cultural Portal on November 20, 2014


At long last, we touch on Literature proper here at the Andhra Cultural Portal.

The importance and impact of this aspect of Indian Civilization and Andhra Culture cannot be minimized. After all, the stories, heroes & heroines, great romances, beautiful places, and wondrous accomplishments of yore are all preserved in and passed on via the literature of a people.  It is this, the documentation of the sum total of a civilization’s life, society, and above all, values that connects the young with the old, and for those yearning for star-crossed sringara, connects lover with lover as well. However, to properly appreciate the nuances of a sophisticated culture’s Literary Accomplishments, one must first understand the structural theory it is founded upon.

Those of you following us on Twitter may have seen our recent tweets about videos and articles educating layreaders on the logic and principles of Classical Indian Music and Artistic systems. In that light we continue today with the first in a series on Classical Indic Literature: Literary Theory.

Intro to Classical Indic Literature

Scene from the Kurukshetra in the World’s Longest Epic Poem: Mahabharata

India’s Classical Literature Traditions indubitably begins with its unmatched Sanskrit Literary Heritage. By some counts of Indologists, there are some 30 million Sanskrit Texts on various subjects: some political, some religious, some scientific, some literary, some romantic, some historical, and many not even properly catalogued.

In the recent past, the study of Sanskrit has been highly and unfairly politicised. It was not just the language of Brahmins nor was it limited only to Vedic rite. In fact, Sanskrit was the language of high culture, and the speech of the elite and refined. Although most of the credentialed-but-ignorant think its poetry was merely limited to the epic Ramayana and Mahabharata; the reality, however, is that there is a galaxy of romantic poetry and comedic prose in this most elegant of tongues. Poets and Dramatists ran the spectrum and included such literary jewels as Kalidasa, Bhavabhuti, Bhasa, and Dandin. Poems such as Meghadootam and Uttaramacarita captivated our forbears with their sentiments of passionate love. Plays such as AbhignanaSakuntala (Recognition of Sakuntala) and Malavikagnimitra (The Romance of Malavika & Agnimitra)made their heroic and comedic marks as far as Germany and beyond, with the former even developed into an Opera during the Enlightenment era.

Tragically, due to the vicissitudes of history and the travesty of politics, Classical Indic Literature was neglected, much like the Classical Indian Education. Therefore, to properly appreciate the literary accomplishments of Ancient India, one must first be properly acquainted with its literary theory  and creative logic. Much like aesthetics is taught to artists, and music theory to musicians, so to is it with the civilized written word.

While our tradition maintains that Dharmic Civilization’s musical and theatrical canons originate with the Saama Veda (the fourth of the Vedas–the other three being the Rig, Yajur, and Atharva), India’s first great treatise specifically on these canons is the Natya Sastra of Sage Bharata.

Classical Indic Literary Theory

Natyasastra of Bharata Muni in Four Volumes

Classical Indic Literary Theory [Saahithyalochana] was highly developed, with a host of treatises expounding its structure and a constellation of commentaries applying its critical theory. Works such as Ghantapatha (commentary on Kiratarjuneeya) and Saahithyadarpana  along with names such as Jaggaadhara, Bhaamaha (a rhetorician), and Andhra’s own Mallinatha respectively provide expository on detailed structural theory and incisive analysis. Unlike today, many of these critics and commentators were successful litterateurs in their own right.

The origin of Classical Indian literary theory is traced to the Sanskrit treatise of Rishi Bharata, Natya Sastra. Natya translates to the performance arts (histrionics). Conservatively dated to 200 B.C.E, but very likely much earlier,”[i]ts comprehensive treatment of artistic experience, expression and communication, content and form emerges from an integral vision which flowers as a many-branched tree of all the Indian arts”.

This mighty work runs the gamut from literature, music, and dance to painting, sculpture, and architecture. While a discussion of this seminal opus of genius could take a series of blog posts or a book itself, the relevant aspect for our post today is the originality of Bharata Muni’s rasa theory, and its pervasiveness in not only dance and music, but literature as well.

The Rasa

Nava Rasa: The Nine Emotions of Natya

Rasa theory is the outstanding contribution of Classical India to World music, dance, and above all literature. This sentiment is the lasting impression or feeling of the author that he/she aims to impress upon the audience. These are nine in number (hence the term Nava Rasa): Sringara (Romantic), Veerya (Heroic), Haasya (Comedic), Karuna (Pathos), Raudra (Furious), Bhayaanika (Frightful), Bibhatsa (Loathsome), Adhbuta (Marvelous), and finally Shaantha (Calming).

The Sthayibhaava is the leitmotif or permanent sentiment of a composition. There are generally eight in number, based on eight of the nine rasas. They are as follows: rati (erotic), haasa (comic), shoka (sorrowful), krodha(angering), utsaha (enlivening), bhaya (frightening), jugupsa (disgusting), and vismaya (amazing). A ninth, sama (tranquility), is associated with Shaantha

Bhaava is the complete affecting of the heart by any emotion. Vibhaava is the Excitant which builds up the main sentiment and is divided into Aalambana, the subject (i.e. hero, heroine) of the Rasa  and Uddeepana or the object that excites (i.e. the moon, beauty, seasons, etc). Anubhaava means the Ensuant. This is the “outward manifestation of internal feelings, through the eyes, face, etc.”

There are other literary elements such as metre (chandah); however, such an expository on the Natya Sastra is best dealt with another day, the present focus being literary theory in general.

Dramatics

A Drama on Political Intrigue

The Literary structure of Classical India chiefly aggregates into Dramatics and Poetics.

Literature (saahithya) in Sanskrit has typically been divided into drusya (what can be seen or exhibited on stage) and sravya (what can only be heard or read).

Dramatics falls into the first category. Nataka is the word for a play, while rupaka is the term applied to dramatic compositions. Minor or short dramas, such as the Ratnavali of Sri Harsa Deva (Emperor Harsha Vardhana of Kanyakubjya (Kannauj)), are called Natikas. While there are 17 other classes, they needn’t be examined for our purposes.

The 3 main aspects of a Rupaka are (1) The Plot (Vasthu) (2) The Hero (Neta) (3) The Sentiment (Rasa). There are two main kinds of Vasthu: Principal (Adhikaarika ) and Accessory (Prasangika ). The Principal Plot is that which concerns the main characters of the piece and the central storyline. The Accessory Plot is that which deals with the supporting characters, and may in fact further the Principal Plot. There are two kinds of Prasangikas: Pataka and Prakari. The Pataka (meaning : “Banner”) “is an episode by which the progress of the plot is illustrated, furthered or hindered”. This further piques the audience’s interest in the story. It frequently spans the entire play to the very end. In contrast, the Prakari is only a short and minor episode of limited importance. The principal characters do not play any role here.

The other main plot devices in the classical Indic drama are the bija (seed), bindu (drop), and karya (the final issue or object of the plot). Together with the above two, these five dramatic constructs are called ArthaprakritisVasthus may borrow from history (Natakas) or may be wholly or partly fictitious (Prakarana).

The five stages of a play are called Avastha (conditions): (1) Aarambha(Beginning) (2) Yatna (Efforts ) (3) Praaptyaasa (Prospects of Success) (4)  Nityataapti (Obstacle Removal) and  (5) Phalaagama ( Attainment of Object). Links to connect them and other parts of the main action are called Samdhis, of which there are five kinds (mukha, pratimukha, garbha, avamarsa, and nirvahana). Mukha is where the seed is sown (including the various rasas), pratimukha is where the chief end is revealed, the garbha establishes the attainment or non-attainment of the object, avarmarsa is where the seeds attain growth and the attainment sprouts, and finally, the nirvahana is the consummation of the all of the preceding, in the story’s denouement.

The Hero of the Play (Neta) is expected to be “modest, decorous, comely, munificent, civil, of sweet address, eloquent, [and]…from a noble family” or a ministerial family. There are four kinds of hero: Dhirodaatta, Dhiralalita, Dhirashaantha, and most importantly, the Dhirodatta.

The Dhirodatta  is the hero of sublime qualities. He is known for his magnanimity, patience, modesty, self-possession, resolve, concealed high spirit, valor, and keeping of promises.

Heroic Rama defeating Ravana

Rama is the best example of this as well as Veerya rasa (heroism/manliness). This quality of his is best seen in the drama Mahaviracharita by Bhavabhuti. Rama’s romantic (sringara) qualities are highlighted in the same dramatist’s follow up work, Uttararamacharita.

The Hero’s principal assistants are the Peetamarda (key figure in the accessory plot/episodes), who is clever in speech, loyal to the Neta, and only slightly lesser to him in his manly qualities. Next is the famous Vidusaka, or comic relief. He is known for his wit and for assisting the hero in his romances. Finally, there is the Vita, who is skilled in one art (of the traditional 64).

Sita-Rama

The Nayika is the heroine, and must generally be the equal of the hero in his various virtues, as Sita is to Rama. She may be the wife of the hero, a woman who already is obligated to another, or a common woman. The helpers of the heroine are the sakhi (friend), daasi (servant), dhaatreyi (nurse or mother), and patikesika (neighbor).

The hero’s rival, or villain, is called the Pratinaayaka, and is generally “avaricious, bold, impetuous, criminal and of evil conduct”.

The Nataka is typically conducted by commencing with a benediction (svastivachana), followed by a prastaavana (prologue) introduced by the Nandi (the introductory portion which suggests the plot). All this is conducted by the Sutradhara (stage-manager). Typically divided into Scenes and Acts (which may be as many as five to ten in number), the Classical Nataka of Ancient India had long-standing rules on structure and even subject-matter. There was a historical rule against tragedies, since the rasas themselves are thought to imbue a spiritual quality in the audience. However, at least 1 play, Nagananda by Sri Harsa, is known to have broken this custom.

The most intriguing aspect of the classical drama is the diversity of languages. The aristocracy and other elites are seen conversing in Sanskrit, with the more common folk relying on various types of Prakrit for dialogue.

Poetics

meghdutamPoetry is divided into Prose (gadhya), Verse (padhya), and Mixed (misra). The vast majority of our classical literature has been in padhya.

Gadhya is further divided into katha and aakhyaayika. The distinction between the two is generally considered to be minimal. The modern understanding is that the aakhyaayika gives a detailed prose narration of the litterateur’s family history and background (i.e. auto-biographical), while the katha does the same in a short verse, and therefore, is seemingly less formal. This is because the latter is rarely divided into chapters, and there are no embedded stanzas suggestive of future events.

Aakhyaayika is also strictly narrated by the hero, which is not the case in katha. There are other distinctions as well, such as names of chapters in Aakhyaayika being called ucchvaasa, but they are not important for our discussion today. The key takeaway is that, according to the treatise Alamkaarasamgraha, the Aakyaayika is based on historical facts and events, whereas a katha is considered purely fictional.

We end this post with a brief sample of a famous Aakhyaayika by a famous poet and scholar of Poetics: The Dasakumaracarita of Dandin.

Dasakumaracarita

One of four known historical prose romances, the Dasakumaracarita of Dandin is a remarkable work. Literally meaning History of the Ten Princes, it is a composition of prose par excellence. The author Dandin is celebrated for his word play (pada-lalityam) in a famous sanskrit sloka (couplet).

Since the author himself will be discussed in detail another time, the work will be the object of brief focus. A truly delightful story, Dasakumaracarita has it all, from political conflict and war to action/adventure to feverish romances. It is centered around the escapades of ten princes and young ministers as they all seek to gain the necessary allies and strength to defeat their King’s enemy. It nevertheless is set in a background that gives a vivid picture of common life and is a detailed rendition of Indian Society during that period.It is divided into three parts: the Purvapithaka (Prologue), Dasakumaracarita proper, and the Uttarapithaka (Epilogue).

This piece of prose is dated to the 6th-7th centuries C.E., although tradition holds that the author was a contemporaneous rival of Kalidasa himself, which would date him to the 1st-4th centuries C.E. While Dandin is also famous for his incisive and erudite work on Poetics, it is his lyrical command of language (apparent even in translation) that truly defines him and this magnum opus of literature.

Frustratingly, due to the baggage of history, only an incomplete portion of the original text was discovered. Thus, it effectively begins in medias res and two of the ten narratives are missing/incomplete. One of the foremost scholars of Sanskrit literature, the late Moreshwar Ramchandra Kale, wrote that the Dasakumaracarita is officially classified as an Aakhyaayika, though it doesn’t appear to carry the main markers of one. Therefore, he designates it a gadhya kaavya (prose-poem or prose romance). Whether or not it is based on historical events, the Dasakumaracarita gives us a panoramic view of classical Bharat.

The Ten young noblemen in the story have various run ins with kings from throughout India, including Andhra, further demonstrating Bharat’s historical civilizational unity. While it is particularly famous for making delightful and frequently scintillating reading, we will end this post with a short passage that emphasizes its wisdom more than its word-play.

Foolish, indeed, are the worldly people that place Artha (wealth) and Kama (pleasure) on an equal footing with Dharma (virtue)…To be sure, Artha and Kama cannot come into being without Dharma; but even without regard to them, Dharma alone is the creative cause of final beatitude, and is attainable only by the concentration of the mind. It does not (like Artha and Kama) much depend on external means. Supported (i.e. held up) by the knowledge of the reality, it is not affected by Artha and Kama, howsoever pursued; and, even if affected, it is set right by a little exertion, and redaicating that defect also, it conduces the highest bliss.

References:

  1. Kale, M.R. Dasakumaracarita of Dandin. New Delhi: MLBD. 2009
  2. Malhotra, Rajiv. Sulekha. 2002. http://creative.sulekha.com/the-axis-of-neocolonialism_103313_blog
  3. http://www.exoticindiaart.com/book/details/bharata-natyasastra-IDD947/

Reviving Shakti: Restoring Feminine Balance in Indic Society

The following Post was published at Andhra Cultural Portal on February 22, 2015


Parvati Devi

Switch on the TV and with almost frightening regularity you will see an instance of horrendous rape being reported or a young girl being snuffed in the prime of her life by her husband and in-laws in what is known as dowry deaths. On local TV channels it becomes 24/7 screaming headlines until the next breaking news event occurs. It’s a case of lots of noise with expert analyses which gives the viewer no new insight nor tackles the underlying causes for it. This then is picked up by international media and “atrocities on Indian women” becomes the talking point internationally. The result is that the image of India that gets perpetuated internationally is one of a country of rapists and wife beaters/burners where women are simply not safe.

My point here is not to deny that such things take place but to state that we are no wiser at the end of each such episode on how to tackle the underlying cause for this deviousness. Instead what we have in the TV studios are assorted women’s rights activists who do not offer much more than outrage at the events and who use the opportunity to vent ire, usually at male dominance and patriarchy. The terrible fallout of all this loud “debate” is the international image of India. At this point it is important to ask if being pro-women, as activists claim to be also includes being pro-society. I ask this question because it often seems to me from the TV debates that one is exclusive of the other: that to be a truly liberated woman, one has to essentially be anti-society and a rebel. Does being a truly liberated woman mean that one is divorced from society, and if so is that really a pro-woman stance? This is a question that should be asked by women and particularly young women. I would like to show here that there is a different way to approach this issue. In Dharma lies the solution to correct the ills of society if we only take the time to rediscover it and respect its profundity. We have to revive the Shakti–the Divine Feminine– in Indic Society.

Status of the Indian Woman today

Indian society did and does have its share of ills and baggage, but the context and situations of Indian women are not the same as in the West. India is the one land where women enjoyed an exalted position in the past. India is the only culture that sees divinity in women so much so that goddesses are the custodians of the domains of wealth and knowledge. Lakshmi and Saraswathi are the goddesses in charge of the two respectively. Apart from this it is again a goddess who is said to be the Ardhangini or the other half of a divine marital couple. Goddess Parvati is the Shakti to Shiva and Shiva is often depicted as Ardhanareeswara (a complete form with one half male and the other female). However, as we should be willing enough to admit, India is now also the land where girls are killed even when they are in the womb resulting in a skewed sex ratio in many parts of the country. Women are beaten, oppressed and exploited by males especially when poverty which is widespread in this ancient land, is also accompanied by alcoholism.

Alcoholism which is a major problem both in the extremely poor sections as well as the extremely well-to-do sections of society is generally ignored by the government and powers that be; for alcohol is a major source of revenue for the State. Here is a very revealing article on the state of affairs in Tamil Nadu, but which in varying degrees can be the story right round the country. This menace can have a devastating impact on women in general. It is compounded further when the State colludes to exacerbate the problem.

If alcoholism is one kind of problem, the male gaze is another (though not unique to India). Sexual advances are regularly made by males on the streets and in public places, and generally women are too diffident to speak out against it for fear of being branded dishonorable. Generally it is assumed that it is the girl who invited the unhealthy attention, and it is her lot to bear up. Honour is very intimately tied to chastity.

Girls are discriminated against in households where there is preference for a male child, and while there is a perception that this generally not explicit, there are many subtle ways in which the discrimination plays out.

It has come to the point where the Central Government is thinking of measures to undo the imbalance. The centre has announced the scheme called Beti Bachao Beti Padhao (Save the girl child, Educate the girl child). India’s Prime Minister Modi in a very telling address to a large gathering at the launch of the program, describes very poignantly the ills that plague Indian society today with respect to the girl child. This initiative shows that the Indian state has started responding to the skewed balance and slowly this will then drive the Indian society to change their attitude too. But what are the forces driving this positive change? Are they external and foreign or internal and indigenous?

Indian Feminism

Swami-Vivekanand-Quotes

Indeed, the trajectory of Indian feminism has been quite interesting. For all the global discourse about India being a patriarchal society, the feminist movement in India was initially spearheaded by males. In the 19th century, Indian males were the first to own up to the problems that Indian females faced and worked to abolish the system of sati, child marriage and encourage widow re-marriage to name a few. They were also the first to demand that women need to be better educated. Women joined the men only much later, and then the movement got put on hold while the nation was engulfed in the throes of nationalism. Men and women from all across the country worked shoulder to shoulder to oust the British from India.

Gandhiji brought women to the fore exhorting them to join the freedom movement, but this call was always in sync with the ethos of the Indian woman’s way of living. He made it a point to accord utmost reverence to the roles that an Indian woman played as a caring, sacrificing, giving mother, sister, wife. And probably on account of that, he inspired millions of women across the country to rise in revolt against the British.

Independent India drew up a constitution that guarantees equality to women. The constitution also gives Indian women the right to vote, and indeed she exercises her franchise most decisively at every election. This is something for which the Western woman has had to fight. It is also interesting to note that rural women go out to vote more than their urban counterparts. So do rural women understand their rights better and indeed care more about whom they ask to govern them, compared to the urban? It’s a point worth thinking about.

Post-Independence Indian Feminism

Post independence, a brand of feminism that has been championed by the West has gained ground in India. Some of the ideas are indeed good and need to be implemented fully. For example, equal wages for similar jobs among men and women is certainly a much required and indeed necessary demand of the Indian woman.  Access to education is another which unequivocally is a must for restoring the dignity and importance of the role an Indian woman plays in all spheres of human activity. While these are positive and affirmative actions in the social and economic spheres, when western feminist notions enter the familial space, it is a different ball game. I tend to think that such notions play havoc with the fabric of the familial identity in ways that could be potentially devastating for the future of the family as a unit. Worrying signs are present even as we speak, but it is still not too late to reclaim them.

India has been a family oriented society since millennia. The western idea of the primacy of the individual and her/his rights are not part of the genetic make- up of Indian society. India is a very traditional society that has rights and more importantly duties built into the family structure. Hence, the way the family unit has functioned here is vastly different from the way it has panned out elsewhere. Dharma is the bedrock of the Indian family. Dharma works on the concept of Purusharthas loosely translated as the objects of human pursuit. Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha are considered as the valid purusharthas for man. Briefly, Dharma is living by the rules of the universe. It means going by the primordial rhythm that makes life possible. In short, it means the “right way of living” which includes having rules, laws, and conduct in all spheres of activity and for all manner of organisms.

Artha is the pursuit of means to sustain life, or simply put, it is the pursuit of wealth or economic success. Kama is the pursuit of pleasure, physical, emotional and psychological. Moksha is the ultimate goal of all living beings. It is the liberation or release from the cycle of birth and death. It is the state when one is not different from the One. However, our shastras state that Dharma alone is the means to this Moksha and is placed above Artha and Kama. What this essentially means is that the right way alone is to be used for the pursuit of the other two. If Dharma is sidelined in the pursuit of Artha or Kama, it leads to social chaos.

I find this an extremely profound way to regulate lives. And in it, I clearly see the way for progress of society. But the Western idea, being a very seductive and attractive proposition in the short term while being ruinous in the long term, has women being drawn to it like flies. And it is slowly beginning to take its toll on the Indian family. S. Gurumurthy insightfully provides us with a lesson in what Indian society is all about. He says, “Ancient Indian literature in all Indian languages reveres parents, teachers and women as the divine in human form. But reverence, on which tradition rests, is anathema to modernity[1].

The discourse, that has its roots in the western feminist movement, has surreptitiously slipped into the small conversations, messages and jokes that get shared on social media platforms like Whatsapp, Facebook etc. Sample this message which came as a forward on Whatsapp. It goes like this:

“She changes her name, changes her home, leaves her family, moves in with you, builds a home with you, gets pregnant for you, pregnancy changes her body, she gets fat, almost gives up in the labour room due to the unbearable pains of child birth, even the kids she delivers bear your name. Till the day she dies everything she does, (cooking, cleaning your house, taking care of your parents [….])” and then says, “So who is really doing whom a favour? It rambles on further and then does an expansion on the word “Woman”. All good, except that when giving an explanation for the letter “n” in “Woman”, it says, “N-NICEST GIFT TO MEN FROM GOD”. The caps too are part of the message by the way.

There are many problems with such ubiquitous messages which are supposed to be uplifting for women. I will dwell on just a few, those which have been marked in bold.

Does the woman in a marriage get pregnant for her husband? I do not think any educated Indian woman will really subscribe to this. It would then mean that the coming child is an unwelcome one to at least one partner in the marriage who in this case happens to be the woman. Are urban Indian women ready to accept that? Now, let’s come to the fact of getting fat after a pregnancy. Since when did Indians start obsessing about the statuesque figure?

Empowerment through Objectification?

Yes, it is very much in vogue today. However, I see this obsession to be thin and reedy only in the women of today. I think Indian men by and far still like women to be voluptuous. I agree that it’s not healthy to be obese but this obsession with maintaining a figure dictated by western mores is something that has gained currency since the advent of satellite TV and global content, which has resulted in the import of Western notions of beauty to India. Body image is a huge problem in the West affecting many a girl’s self esteem and self worth.

choeating

Do we want to replicate this syndrome among Indian girls? Do we want our girls to start dwelling so much on that perfect figure that they turn out to be bulimics or anorexics?

Now let’s tackle the favor aspect of the marital relation. When you say “So who is really doing whom a favor”, are you not making it a case of tolerance on the part of the wife towards the husband? Is tolerance the basis of a modern urban marriage? Then it is certainly a bad commentary on the state of the institution of marriage in India. When faced with such explanations, I am sure most women and indeed some men too, forwarding such sexist messages in the garb of glorifying womanhood, will and should pause to think.

Finally, after supposedly championing the cause of the woman, the message ends with a blatantly regressive remark stating that a woman is the nicest gift to men from God. Is the woman not entitled to an existence without being a “gift” to men? Is she not someone who has an equal right to existence just as the man has? It is seriously a message which is completely confused about its content. It is peddled in the garb of liberating the woman and making her feel special and instead at the end, she is finally told that she has an existence only as a gift for man. Nothing about partnership, nothing about complementarity. And this is a message which I believe must have been forwarded countless times by women and also by some men who thought they were celebrating women.

Its not just Indian women; there are women who live in the West who have been so fully influenced by the Western narrative that they have only the most hateful things to say about India and its culture which is a rather sad thing. Sample this article where a daughter talks of the anguish and daily hell that her mother endured while she went on living the pretense of a marriage with her ever absent father. The daughter heaps abuse on Indic traditions for the plight of her mother because she feels her mother lived exactly by the rules laid down by Indic traditions and obliterated herself for family when married. She talks of how getting a divorce and giving wings to her dreams and ambitions has helped her mother become free.

This is how a self hating, inferiority complex ridden native informant trashes her mother culture without any credible knowledge of the deep and profound essence of its teachings. Many young Indian women may express indifference as they may feel Indian men are being rightfully criticized, but they should remember that they too are under the scanner…

It is rather amusing when Western media comments about Indian culture and Indian mothers as this article does, with nary an idea about what it is. The article talks about the preponderance of mother-in-law, daughter-in-law conflicts and serials in India. While I do not endorse the over the top, ludicrous caricaturing, it’s rather hypocritical of the Western media to comment on a different society when the structure of its own is in shambles. Maybe its better for them to analyze their own before they proceed to analyze others.

Ulterior Motives?

        

This assault on Indic culture was first started during the period of colonial rule in India. It has its origins in the atrocity literature which was regularly churned to highlight ills (imagined and real) which existed in Indian society by the British. A similar thing happens even today when Stanley Kurtz, an anthropologist specializing in Indian studies makes a ridiculous statement like this on Indian women and his interpretation of how they treat motherhood (hear in this 30 Second Clip) [2]:

I am sure no Indian woman would subscribe to the above view of the Western scholar. Indeed in a talk during the launch of Invading the Sacred held at Mumbai in 2007, the audience could only laugh heartily to see such absurdities being peddled in the name of Indian motherhood.

We find it very amusing but the westerner takes it in all seriousness, and this is the kind of information that gets compiled into reports which are then used to paint a horrible picture of the human rights scenario in India. Such kind of scholarship mainly emanating from the West and lately being further facilitated by Indian scholars completely out of sync with the true story of India, is serving to demonize this ancient society and certainly this does not bode well for the future of Dharma. Do we need this human rights report from outsiders? Is it even factual? And if not, isn’t it time to question whether this human rights industry seriously has any real concern for the Indian woman.

ReversingTheGaze1

The background picture of this twitter handle IndiaRapeWatch should make you wonder whether there is any real concern for the Indian woman by this supposed watchdog. The picture seems to want to state that white women are unsafe in India which is full of leering, loutish men. There is nothing whatsoever (in the visual) about the Indian woman for who it ostensibly professes concern.

Evolution of Indic Society

Given this atrocity literature industry dating back to the colonial era, perhaps this is the time to take a look at our roots and a second look at whether our own ancestral heritage can provide the inspiration to elevate Indian women to their rightful position in society. Indic society is very old. In Vedic times, women enjoyed an exalted position in the social order. “The Vedas, Upanishads and other scriptures give numerous examples of women philosophers, politicians, teachers, administrators and saints[3] . There were women like Gargi, Maitreyi and Lopamudra among others who were equal to or more accomplished than their male counterparts in their knowledge of the Vedas and their grasp of philosophy. We also have the example of Ubhaya Bharati, the wife of Mandana Mishra who was defeated by Adi Shankara in a debate in as late as arguably the 8th century C.E. Ubhaya Mishra, a woman, was chosen to be the judge for the philosophical debate between Adi Shankara and Mandana Mishra for she was considered to be a very accomplished scholar in her own right. The beauty of the story was that Ubhaya couldn’t declare a winner until she too was rhetorically defeated by Sankara, because she was her husband’s other half.

These are only some examples of the prowess of our Dharmic women. However, like in any society, norms established for societal behavior, changed over time and certain unwanted elements crept in too. Certainly, every system goes through an evolution from birth, to youth, maturity, degradation and demise and rebirth. And so it was with Indic culture. Indeed, Bharat was a self correcting society and whenever societal structures stagnated, there would come a movement which would infuse new life into society and give birth to another movement. In India, all changes until about the 10th century C.E came from a system that was inherently grounded in Dharma be it the Jainism movement or later, the Buddhism movement. Both these systems were born from the bedrock of Vedic Dharmic culture. Hence reforms happened without the dismantling of the basic foundation of Dharma which is considered to be Sanatana or eternal.

Something happened around the 10th century C.E which would repeat over the next few hundred years. This would go on to take a toll on the Dharmic cultures that had existed side by side in this country until that point of time. Wave after wave of foreign invasions by people of non-Dharmic faiths from about the 10th century C.E. engulfed India in a tide of civilizational Total War. This was followed by colonial subjugation for a period of over 200 years. Obviously, in the course of this 1000 year continuous assault many things worked their way into the collective psyche giving rise to all sorts of societal ills. For example, the Sati system where the wife gives up her life when her husband dies, by immolating herself on his funeral pyre, became widespread. What was originally a voluntary act at first became a way to safeguard honour when the Turkic hordes came invading and began to ravage the spoils of war. Whole groups of women began to commit what was called jauhar, a mass self immolation, to escape becoming slaves of the foreigners. This later began to be considered as an obligatory act when the husband died. Thus it began to take on the colour of oppression and patriarchy, whatever its original intent.

Similar stories can be found for the practice of wearing of the ghoonghat (covering up one’s face or head when in male company. Interestingly, this practice was never followed in south India which was generally shielded from the worst impacts of the invasions). Dowry considered as such a scourge in India today is an interesting phenomenon that merits study. Veena Oldenberg, author of the book Dowry Murder, The Imperial Origins of a Cultural Crime says in an interview to Times Of India, “Prior to the arrival of the British In India, land was not seen as a commodity which could be bought and sold”[4]. She goes on to then say that the British made land property ownership exclusively the right of males which led to the creation of a male economy. This then made the practice of female infanticide more rampant for people who wanted a male heir to their property.

The attempt by the British to codify all social and cultural practices which were inherently flexible, into a set of legal codes which of course excluded women, made the systems frozen and hostile to women. Dowry–originally known as Stridaan–began as a local practice of honoring a bride with a property gift from her father which would only be inherited matrilineally. However, it later began to be looked at as a means to extort money by grooms who were anyway in high demand due to the administrative policies of the British. In the midst of this corrupting of the Indian society, it must be emphasized that the British were no champions of women causes. They had absolutely no qualms in treating Indian women as chattel via indentured labor.

Sikkimese Woman carrying a Brit “Gentleman”

Such practices later, began to be used as tools for oppression and exploitation of the Indian woman. The sad consequence is that the girl child has today come to be looked upon as a burden rather than an asset to a family. 20th century saw India getting independence from the British but the independence was only in name and we had as a civilization just become incapable of picking ourselves up in any meaningful way. Our mindset had become colonized and the foreign system of education that was thrust upon us (incidentally started by Macaulay for a specific reason) ensured that we remained chained to the way of thinking that the British had institutionalized over the course of their 200 year stay here.

Along with impoverishing our nation they brilliantly succeeded in impoverishing our minds too. And if we had the British then, we have the foreign funded NGO movement today which does its utmost to work on the faultlines existing in Indic society, exaggerating them even more and making divisions where none existed before. We would do well to listen very carefully to what Madhu Kishwar has to say about the workings of these NGOS in the below video. The video touches upon the aspect of how these NGOs treat the incidents of sati, dowry and the newest phenomenon under their scanner, the Khap panchayats.

So what is the Feminist Movement?

Feminism can be called as a collection of movements and ideologies that have a common goal. What is this common goal? This ostensible goal is to define, establish and achieve equal political, economic, cultural, personal and social rights for women. It also includes seeking to establish equal opportunities for women in education and employment.

To understand the feminist movement, it is important to understand the role of Christian theology regarding the status traditionally accorded to women in the West. Linda Woodhead, a professor in the sociology of religion states that it’s the Book of Genesis that first mentions the Christian theological basis for forming a position on the roles of women. In the Book, the conclusion is that women are generally inferior to men. It also states “that the image of God shines more brightly” in men than women. All Abrahamic faiths and Christianity is no exception, have traditionally accorded a very inferior status to women. Women had no rights, social, political or economic and indeed no rights even over their own body and how they related to it.

Sin is at the heart of Abrahamic theology and hence while it is a truth claim of Christianity that all mankind is sinful, the woman is exceptionally so for it is she who initiated that first act of sin in the Garden of Eden. Eve, the biblical first woman on earth, was the one who was tempted by the serpent to eat the fruit from the “tree of knowledge of good and evil”. She not only ate from the tree herself, she also made Adam do the same and hence compounded her guilt. This eating of the forbidden fruit made both of them realize they were naked which fact they weren’t aware of until that point. Thus was born sin. This then was what shaped attitudes to women in the West. So the first wave of feminism was a reaction to the general status of women in Western society and their lack of political voice. This first movement, which started in the late 19th century, brought voting rights to women.

The second wave of feminism which began in the 1960s was more about the skewed gender relations and the effects of that on economic and social equality. Second wave feminists strove to change the sexism inherent in power structures whether they be in the political, economic or social spheres and were greatly influenced by the communist ideology. There is also a third wave of feminism which co-exists with the second wave and deals with issues of sexuality which, according to them, were not addressed properly during the second wave. While second wave feminism was firmly and shrilly of the view that pornography was a form of violence against women, third wave feminists prefer to look at it as an exercise of free will.

Andrea Dworkin was a leading feminist voice and was called a radical feminist. Such feminists are of the view that patriarchy is the sole reason for all of woman’s problems. They posit that the woman is the “Other” who needs to be suppressed and marginalized by the patriarchy. Dworkin’s  astonishing views on sexual intercourse have very deeply influenced  third wave feminists who are advancing a trajectory of gender relations that has potential for immeasurable harm to the natural relations between sexes. Dworkin’s strong views made her a very controversial person and her detractors say that she peddled hate in the garb of feminism[5].

Third wave feminists are associated with the “raunch culture” as they see it as “expressions of femininity and female sexuality as a challenge to objectification”. They believe that women should be allowed to dress, act or express themselves in any manner they pleased since they are only exercising their basic freedom. Third wave feminists are also at the forefront of what is called as reclaiming abuse words like “b*tch”, “slut” and so on, associated with women and giving it an expression that they think defines the word for today.

Taking off from radical feminism, third wave feminists are advancing a position which sees heterosexuality itself as a political regime which needs to be overthrown and destroyed. Are we then to say that the day is not far off when women will wholly make do without men?

threeminusone
3 Parent Baby Minus 1 = A different 2 Parent Baby?

Given the advances in reproductive technology, it’s not an impossible scenario.

Are the romantic dreams of a woman wishing to find her right man going to be doomed?  Is this society envisioned by feminists ultimately beneficial to women or indeed men when women are viewed only in such objectified nominally “sex positive” terms? Is this what women really want?

 Has Feminism helped the Plight of the Western Woman?

After taking a brief look at the movement and its evolution, let us now look at some statistics. “Nearly 1 in 5 women in U.S Survey say they have been sexually assaulted”[6]. The fact is that women, for all the feminist movements, do not find themselves in a safe place in the West. “Approximately 2/3rd of rapes were committed by someone known to the victim”[7]. These are stats with respect to rape in the West.

Women of course have become more independent and earn on par with their male peers in the West. They are very much in control of their destinies in general but what about the institution of marriage and the concept of family? An eye opening article by Pew research points out that, “Less than half (46%) of U.S kids younger than 18 years of age are living in a home with two married heterosexual parents in their first marriage”[8].  The article also says that the trend is that Americans generally seem to be delaying marriage or not reposing faith in the institution at all. It is worthwhile to go through the article for some very interesting stats. Fatherlessness is another of the fallouts of this movement. It is a growing concern in the U.K. and is often accompanied by economic disparity. “Fatherlessness is now reaping a whirlwind of destruction in U.K society[9] says Jonathan Bellamy .

Has Feminism helped the Indian Woman?

If the feminism of the West has been so liberating, why is it not borne out by facts? Worse, why is India buying into the idea? The horrific gang rape of a woman in Delhi in 2012 saw a spontaneous outpouring of emotion on the streets and there were many in the West who were indeed warmly surprised by the reaction of the Indian people. While such righteous outpouring is welcome, let’s see some stats on where India stands globally on the issue of rape. “United Nations data shows that in Sweden the rape rate is 63.5 per 100,000. In the US, it is 27.5; but as more than four-fifths of forcible rapes in the US are not reported at all (National Crime Victims Research and Treatment Center Report July 2007), the effective rapes in the US will be more than 137.5 per 100,000! And what is the figure for India? Just 1.8!”[10].

The extreme left in India has what is called the Naxalite movement and this movement has abused and exploited women under the guise of women’s or worker’s rights, especially in the tribal areas where they are ostensibly there to improve the lot of the tribal woman. “Sexual exploitation of tribal women cadres in the Maoist camps have been disclosed in statements of several surrendered women CPI (Maoist) cadres of Odisha, Maharashtra, Bihar, Jharkhand and other states. Such instances of sexual exploitation include rape, forced marriage and molestation by senior male CPI (Maoist) cadres”[11]. The draconian anti-dowry laws are instruments used by feminists to willfully extort and demonize men as Deepika Bharadwaj will testify.

Sankrant Sanu in an article said. “Violent gang-rape is indeed an aberration in our society, hence the outrage[12]. But we have to indeed analyze and understand why such heinous acts are committed for it is not there either in our millennia old texts nor has it been prevalent in our society on such a scale until recently. We have to think and reflect on whether the “increasingly sexualized mass media message” is responsible for the changing behavior patterns. Sankrant’s article argues also in favor of lower marriageable age at least for rural communities as was the practice earlier so that youngsters can be sexually active at an earlier age within the bonds of a legal relationship like marriage. While this may or may not be an acceptable solution to all, and is indeed open to debate given our shock at any suggestion so contrary to our laws, it nevertheless is one which should be explored. In a bid to correct the wrongs of a previous era, we have arbitrarily applied a one-size-fits-all kind of law without pausing to understand the ramifications of such a draconian move.

The Way forward: Reviving Shakti

Ardhanareeshvara

All this is relevant to me as a woman and as a member of Indic society. Dharma has always been context sensitive. It has never been about rigid unbendable absolutes. There is right and wrong, but it is always placed within a context and a situation. Society always occupies background space applying reasonable restrictions which helps to keep individual relations in equilibrium. Dharma is even handed and follows a middle path veering neither towards one extreme of mortification of flesh and ascetism nor towards the other extreme of selfishness and hedonism.

Therefore, measures for restoring the dignity of ideally half of India’s population should be in accordance with Dharma: context sensitive and in keeping with the times. Dharma offers the best chance for an individual and specifically for a woman to find herself fully. We have many examples of Dharmic women from history who were trailblazers for their time.

Today, an Indian woman may be educated and be part of the workforce driving the economy of the country. However, she should have the choice to also step out of it to nurture her family if she so desires. And there should be no derision attached to this choice. Often, we now hear people (especially those wanting to make a point about feminism) deriding the choice of a highly qualified woman choosing to stay at home to look after home and hearth. Education can never go in vain. It will help her guide her children to make the right choices and become responsible individuals. Such individuals then make a responsible society.

Creating a responsible society is no less a valid choice than one to pursue Artha in material terms. Kama is a valid pursuit in Dharma, but it is not a commodity to be paraded on the streets. It is to be enjoyed privately between two loving partners according to norms that are mutually comfortable without having labels of misogyny and misandry attached to it. The ultimate aim of a person’s journey according to Dharma is Moksha. Isn’t it better to aim for it in harmony with the rhythm of the cosmos than to seek it kicking and screaming and trying to bend nature’s will to yours? Would take you that many more lives if you try the second path…

Purusha and Prakriti or Shiva and Shakti: whichever way you want to look at it, one is not complete without the other. It is only the partnership and complementarity between the two that can lead to the One. And therein lies the potential of awakening Shakti in Indic society once more.

I wish to thank N.R.I Pathi for the help rendered  to bring out this article. It would simply have not been possible had I not received such generous help and guidance.

References:

[1] http://www.newindianexpress.com/columns/s_gurumurthy/Modernity-has-failed-to-stop-deviance/2013/10/15/article1835599.ece

[2] Pg. 60, http://rajivmalhotra.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/Invading-the-Sacred-Final.pdf

“The special relationship between the Hindu mother and her son appears here as a variation on a distinctive Hindu pattern rather than as a mere intensification of a style of intimacy found in the West . . . Nursing is not therefore, an occasion through which mother and child cement on an emotional union. The child is frequently fed, yet the mother seldom lingers to mirror the baby’s satisfaction. Thus, while the child no doubt develops a strong emotional attachment to the mother as a result of the physical gratification she provides, the mother does not respond by setting up a Western-style loving, emotional partnership.”

[3] http://indiafacts.co.in/status-women-ancient-india/

[4] http://www.ibtl.in/news/opinion/2021/how-the-british-created-the-dowry-system-in-punjab/

[5] http://reason.com/archives/2005/04/19/womans-hating

[6] http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/15/health/nearly-1-in-5-women-in-us-survey-report-sexual-assault.html?_r=0

[7] https://www.rainn.org/get-information/statistics/sexual-assault-offenders#.U5SBGMQ1AsM.twitter

[8] http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/12/22/less-than-half-of-u-s-kids-today-live-in-a-traditional-family/

[9] http://www.crossrhythms.co.uk/articles/life/Rioters_Are_NOT_Scum_They_Are_The_Fatherless/44210/p1/

[10] http://www.newindianexpress.com/magazine/article1453514.ece

[11] http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Naxals-extorting-Rs-140-crore-annually-Govt/articleshow/45453398.cms

[12] http://www.rediff.com/news/column/view-is-rape-a-new-development-indicator/20121231.htm

http://beingdifferentbook.com/


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.

Announcement: Tamizh Cultural Portal

tamizhportal

As Sankaranthi winds down, here’s the surprise announcement we mentioned in our greeting. Many of you following ACP on twitter probably already saw, but one of the sharpest minds (and wits) in the dharma blogosphere has just launched our first sister site:

Tamizh Cultural Portal

The Network, Interface, and Database for the Serious Tamizh person.

TCP marks an important milestone as it provides India’s southernmost state, the wonderful people of Tamil Nadu, a chance to enjoy their own culture as well, while appreciating the Integral Unity they share with other parts of Bharatavarsha.

Our Tamizh brothers and sisters are more than welcome to continue reading and participating at ICP. But we encourge all of you, Tamizh and non-Tamizh, to check out this site, and not only learn about another region, but encourage cross-pollination as well.

 Happy Makara Sankaranthi/Magh Bihu/Lohri…and especially, Happy Pongal!

ACP Logo4ICP Logo1tamizhportal