Tag Archives: Shakti

Why Character is so Important

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In our previous article, we discussed how there is a global epidemic of characterlessness. And contrary to characterless gyaanis, waxing eloquent on the glories of their genius and genetically determined birthright to oppress others, it is character that qualifies one for leadership of any sort (political or spiritual). This is not because talent and ability, etc, don’t matter, but rather that one with character will have the commitment to work to overcome deficits in talent and ability (i.e. the tortoise and the hare).

Naysayers may argue saying “Ok, Nripathi, character benefits society, but what does it do for me?”. Therein lies the other problem—the characterless ask, “What have you done for me, lately”.

Character is what gives meaning to life. Without character, everything becomes a consumable, even romance, and romantic partners themselves become interchangeable. The current courtship climate in the so-called “advanced economy”/”developed world” is more akin to musical chairs or Baskin Robbins. That is the reason why Sita & Rama are praised in our society, because neither viewed love and looks as a consumable. In an age where Kings (even his own father) had many wives, Rama only had 1, why? Character.

It is not that other kings did not have character, it is that Rama’s character was the highest. To him, the pleasures of life (even married life) only had meaning through Sita and sharing them with her—rather than successive or replacement trophy wives.  This is because character fundamentally means that who becomes more important than what or how much. YOLO and “Live for Today” are constructs designed to specifically subvert this, because a mania is created causing individuals to rush to gain an experience now…before it’s too late! But this isn’t character, it is consumption, it is vampirism. “If I cannot extract this life experience out of you, I shall extract it from someone else”. This exploitative outlook, in both communists and capitalists, is what defines the current line of characterless economic thinking.

Oordhva

Character is also the counter to circumstance. In life, those who live long enough, realise that their own success is not directly proportional (r^2=1/-1) to their own efforts, talents, or “IQ/Genetic superiority/Molecular perfection”. Circumstances have a critical influence. The historian Herodotus famously wrote “Circumstances rule men, men do not rule circumstances” after his survey of kings, queens, and commoners across civilizations. But if circumstances are so influential to the course of our lives, some ask why bother; why not just go with the flow and accept them via “eat, drink, and be merry”? Circumstances may indeed determine outcomes, but we have the power to determine our response to circumstances.

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Advice for the innocent & naive

When Rama’s circumstances became unfortunate, did Sita start considering other kings or did she remain loyal to him? Did not Ravana try this line of reasoning? After all, contrary to most recent popular portrayals, Ravana himself had looks, lineage, learning, and luxury (not to mention power)—all qualities most women consider, so much so, that many women voluntarily left their husbands to chase after Ravana (and they ended up as degraded objects of pleasure in his harem). Unlike the women of today, why did Sita not “consider her options”? –For the same reason Rama did not “move on” and remarry after she left the world—marriage is more than just about pleasure. Character itself ensures constancy, throughout the various vicissitudes of life.

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What women (& men) should start focusing on again

Character is also what prevents abuse of power. As we see today, power comes in many forms, not just the traditional wealth and power, but knowledge/education, ritual, beauty, intelligence, and yes, even circumstance. Draupadi’s circumstance is the most moving. An empress of royal & religious birth, reduced to bondage and finally disguised servitude in a foreign court….all through no fault of her own.

That is why character is so important. No system, no matter how intelligently designed, can be free of tyranny if the people themselves are completely characterless. It is why Sarasvati initially leaves Ujjain—because the people themselves had become immoral. Lakshmi leaves due to corruption, and Parvati leaves due to criminality. Criminality can be found in all castes and communities of society—character, and a society that values character, is what counters this. But today, India is the society of “Neethulu koodu gudda pettavu” and “Esh karo yaar!”…who has time for character? Having urges is natural, but having standards (for yourself an others) is meaningful.

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That is why, of all the qualities the eminently unromantic cynic Acharya Chanakya praised, the highest ( above all (above even birth)), was character in a potential spouse. It is character that matters most, that forges trust in each other (and in society), that gives meaning to our existence, and that defeats that universal feeling of “being alone” (perhaps that is the real reason why, despite temporary extreme highs, most hedonists are overwhelmed by the epidemic of loneliness today). If we only live for ourselves, rather than each other, then we truly are alone and without purpose.

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Casteists ruin Varnashrama Dharma. This is because for them, caste is the only consideration, the only prism, the be-all-and-end-all of everything. Rather than looking after Desh Kalyan and Lok Kalyan, they say one thing and do another, as all tyrants do. But the greatest virtues are those which are useful to other people.

“all science no philosophy”.

It is character that gives us purpose, and a purpose to our actions, and meaning to any pleasure we feel, and a point (and counterpoint) to our existence. Pleasure for its own sake is exceedingly risky. It does not mean that those seeking pleasure are bad—seeking pleasure is a natural instinct. But the danger arises in that selfish purposeless pleasure (i.e. pleasure as lifestyle—hedonism—or irresponsible pleasure with abandon or cruelty) may lead to gradual, and often undetected changes in our own character.

Sa yathaakaamo bhavati, tat kratur bhavati, yat kratur bhavati, tat karma kurute, yat karma kurute, tat abhisampadyate.[2, 272]

The best known paraphrase is as follows:

As your desire, so your will. As your will, so your deed. As your deed, so your character. As your character, so your destiny.

The harmless fun of a youthful indiscretion can lead to life-altering choices. And even those of excellent character can make a mistake. But if we continue to engage in wrong action, then it becomes not only our character, but soon our destiny.

The Flip-side

There are many of course who naturally object that character itself is not objective as it can be faked. After all, Ravana pretended to be an Ascetic, Kalnemi came in the guise of the Rishi, and [Insert here] in the guise of a “Modern Acharya” (to fool all the scientism fanatics). But that is why character is revealed (by circumstance and adversity). Individuals may do all the right things, and say all the right slokas, and even “perform all the right rituals”, but we subconsciously detect something off of about that person, and avoid anointing them “AchArya”. By waiting and watching, we observe their true nature, which incidentally, reveals itself at the right moment, when the Lakshmana Rekha is crossed, or the handler instructs.

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Others of course protest that politics is not for goody-two-shoes, and “we cannot be Satya Harishchandra”. No argument there. Yuga Dharma adapts Sanaathana Dharma to Time, Place, and Circumstance (Yudhisthira found that out the hard way over a game of dice). The Perfect Dharma of the Satya Yuga, drops to the imperfect but Rigid Dharma of the Treta, to the Nuanced Dharma of the Dvapara, to the near-imperceptibly subtle Dharma of the Kali. It is also why Dharma, especially Rajdharma, is necessarily balanced by Niti. Do your duty…but don’t be a dummy.

Even if personal sentiment, courtesy, or even Rna dictate one thing, Dharma determines another, and we must follow it, not for nationalism, not for ritualism, not even for traditionalism, but for our own personal character, which is rooted in Truth. It is Satya (Truth) which gives tradition, ritual, and even the nation their purpose.

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That is why no matter how great a personality may seem, no matter how much knowledge or what-have-you they have to share, if something (or someone) seems too perfect, it probably is.

Character is also why renunciation is considered virtuous. This is because if we are willing to renounce something (if necessary), then we are not beholden to it, we are not enslaved by it. That is why hedonists are pitied as slaves to their senses—just look at a drug addict; what is he/she willing to do in order to get his/her next high? Is it any different than some relationships some “girlfriends” and “boyfriends” and even wives and husbands have today? “Give me this/Do that, or I’ll find it somewhere else, from someone else”. That is also why in our tradition we say:

Na jithendhriyaanaam vishayabhayam | 262

Those who have control over their senses are not afraid of their indulgence in sensual delights. [1, 160]

Those who have conquered their senses do not fear sensual indulgence [because they can renounce it any time—especially if it risks becoming dangerous to anyone or disgraceful]

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Pleasure comes in many forms, the most obvious being marital. But even pleasure in our other relationships in society (be it with our friends and relatives or…AchAryas). The pleasure of being associated with a group can often countermand obvious higher duties to society. That is why not only the guru-moha of Arjuna to Drona, but also the bandhu-moha (the attachment to relatives) of Lakshmana to Rama also had to be renounced. His separation from Rama before the end of his life was necessary in order to show that despite his fierce loyalty to Rama, he would never let that interfere with his own personal commitment to Dharma. In contrast, we all know what Dushasana was prepared to do out of his loyalty to his brother Duryodhana.

That is why Prema is not Moha. That is why Dharma is so important—because Dharma is the path to perfect character. Rather than quantity of life, it is quality of life, quality of character, that matters. When character is perfect, not only the individual life, but existence itself has meaning, and we choose to continue to exist, not for ourselves, but for others…

In contrast, we have individuals reducing Dharma to only ritual. Ritual has its place, ritualism does not. This ritualism has in fact made  man insensitive and even foolish. Like the hedonist who seeks the series of steps that will grant him physical gratification, the fruitive man ever believes in that series of steps to fruitive rewards—hence their perversion of Vedic Truth.

The subconscious assumption that in any given context of life, almost algorithmically, if we perform x,y,z ritual, we gain the result (“I have completed my task, so I deserve the reward. I have done my job so I deserve my salary”) has made men characterless. Ritual certainly has its value to Dharma, as do the Yagnas that are prescribed in Karmakanda, but it is not the be all and end all as the overcompensating  publicly “hypermasculine” (but privately effeminate) charlatans declare. Ritual serves as a guide and as a regimen for men and women, but it is for a higher purpose. Just as the artist trains to create beauty and the aaesthete trains to appreciate it, the seeker of wisdom trains in ritual, and higher than that, tapasya, to improve character. Hence the traditional phrase: character-building.

But where is the importance of character building today? We want instant results, instant gratification, and seek knowledge only as the algorithm to attain them, rather than to appreciate the results or pleasure or beauty in all their layers. My Right (with pleasure as the aim) vs My Duty (with pleasure as a possible pleasant byproduct. Nishkaamya karma). No wonder women (and now men) are being objectified—it is not their duty to each other that matters, but how they have become objects from which to extract x,y, z, experience or pleasure or aim. No wonder relationship partners and even life partners are so replaceable today (given the epidemic of serial monogamy and polyamory), it is not the person (and her/his uniqueness that matters to us) but the experience or pleasure or objective that can be extracted…or given away.

Ritual & Tapas helps us build character, circumstances test character, but Dharma is the compass for character.  The essence of Dharma is not ritual. The essence of Dharma is Rta (moral order/harmony) which is the expression of Satya (Truth). That is the true purpose of religion (not robotic ritualism and fruitive reward from the Devas), but moral order and harmony in the universe, in the nation, and in the home. The spirit of Dharma is thus Rta and, above all, Satya. If Dharma is the compass, Rta is the Cardinal Direction, but Satya is the inner magnetism.

And that is the problem today. Ritualism has resulted in precisely the type of societal incompetence that continues to plague the “Modern” Hindu. This being the Kali Yuga, whatever the protestations and prevarications of the ritualist right, religion too has undergone corruption and all varnas too have been guilty of this. As Acharya Chanakya wrote, “A fish first rots from the head”. Ignore the charlatans, and seek what you know to be true in your heart: the Truth. That is the spirit of our age-old Dharma. It is not Rna-meva Jayate or Ritual-meva Jayate, but Satyameva Jayate—this is the spirit of our tradition, and shame on the selfish creatures who define it otherwise. Their agenda is known for all who see through their characterlessness.

This is the eternal way.

Bhagavad Gita 2:42-43

yam imam puspitam vacam
pravadanty avipascitah
veda-vada-ratah partha
nanyad astiti vadinah
kamatmanah svarga-para
janma-karma-phala-pradam
kriya-visesa-bahulam
bhogaisvarya-gatim prati ||

Men of small knowledge are very much attached to the flowery words of the Vedas, which recommend various fruitive activities for elevation to heavenly planets, resultant good birth, power, and so forth. Being desirous of sense gratification and opulent life, they say that there is nothing more than this.

Aesthetics

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What is beauty?—perfect nobility. What is ugliness?—imperfect character.

That is why real art about the outward expression of inward significance.

Even an ugly thought can be give attractive expression. It is only after we study the inner essence that we look beyond the makeup. It is why aesthetics is predicated upon the moral aesthetic of a society.

That is also why aesthetics cannot simply be translated as rasa, but is in fact rasalankara. The beautiful, ornamented expression of the flavours of life. Even the disgusting can be presented in aesthetically pleasing ways. Literalism is not the highest sophistication. Mere outward shows, even to the gods is not enough. It is pureness of heart, even with Bhakti.

Bhakti is important. But as with ritual, Bhakti can’t be the be all and end all for responsible citizens. Blaring Bhakti songs at 180 decibels does not substitute for having actual Godliness in your heart. Merely showing your Bhakti (or even feeling it while stomping over others at Temple) is not enough. Bhakti is not about being a whirling dervish whipping oneself into a public frenzy, and advertising it to all, but in feeling spiritual oneness with the Divine and having gratitude in your heart.  Those who advertise their religiosity the most are usually the ones who feel sincerity the least.

As with ritualists, so with the bhakti brigade. First a caveat: One should never dream of harassing either in their private dharmic endeavours…it is a matter between them and God. Bhakti, as with Knowledge, as with Ritual, is important, very important, and kudos to those who follow those margas. But the problem is when any of these become a substitute for character. That is the importance of Atma-vichara (introspection), and Viveka (distinguishment between right and wrong), and parinamavasya (willingness to change). The outwardly uber-religious donkey who justifies his ill-bred and even adharmic behaviour on account of his performance of ritual or bhakti kirthana is one who has completely missed the message to begin with. The path to perfection is not a one or two step move. It requires constant introspection of whether or not you are not only fulfilling individual duties, but general duties to society as well. But Bhakti has become a convenient excuse for individuals to forego any introspection let alone concrete accountability for civic negligence. “I work job, raise family, do puja…I am not responsible for anything else…who are you to tell me…I go to temple!”

When individuals so stubbornly dig in, constantly criticising or expecting change from others rather than asking whether they themselves might be in the wrong…this too is another type of characterlessness. That is why, time and again, we have said that the most valuable virtues are those useful to other people. Going to temple is very good, but it cannot be a shield for bad and irresponsible behaviour—otherwise it is hypocrisy.  Doing ritual is good, but if you use that as an excuse to justify misbehaviour or develop greed for power, then it too is hypocrisy. All these things exist to perfect ourselves—merely doing them does not mean we have already attained perfection…no matter what mummy says.

Some men think they are God’s gift to women, and many women think they have license to behave as if they themselves were gods. That is the danger of Ego—it divorces us from the onus, or even the basic responsibility, to ask whether we were in the wrong and need to either do better or correct ourselves. Introspection. But we live in a time when individuals can be proven wrong, without any facts on their side, and they will still stubbornly say “I stand by what I said”. Bear in mind, this brazening out is often not even a matter of Bhakti and Faith, but simply Ego on simple matters like history. By all means, keep doing whatever makes you feel closer to the Divine, but for the love of God, start taking responsibility for your own actions. All the patriarchy memes in the world won’t change the fact that a real man is one who takes responsibility for his own actions. That is what real character is and why it is so important.

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Have you done everything that can be reasonably expected of you?

Have you done contributed anything tangible at all to the cause you hold dear?

If you can’t do much, have you given minimal support or more to those that are?

Have you even thought about these questions while you were stuffing your face with samosa?

That’s our problem, people who are all talk but no action. Content that they have fulfilled their spiritual responsibilities they feel no obligation for their civic responsibilities—but they whine in impotent profanity or wait for Kalki.

From Satya Harishchandra in the Satya Yuga to Yudhisthira in the Dvapara to general Krishna Niti in the Kali, Dharma too has had to adapt, in order to protect Satya, sometimes with asatya. Chhatrapati Shivaji has embodied this. Similarly, Anusuya, Lopamudra, Sita, Sati, Savitri remain the highest standards of not only personal character, but moral character, and should remain so. Shakespeare may have said “Frailty thy name is woman” in Hamlet, but our Civilization has proven otherwise through women of character who held fast to their Dharma, whatever their external delicacy or circumstantial difficulty.

But character is not only determined by youthful pasts, but the behavioural present. Along with sexual morality there is ethical integrity and commitment to the common Dharma, the Saamaanya Dharma. Along with the golden Pativrata is the silver Sahadharmacharini of Kunti, Draupadi, Ahalya, Tara, & Mandodari fame. Arguably there is even a bronze (or copper/tamra) standard for women who are culturally & civilizationally loyal, whatever their complications. Moral judgment and condemnation is easy, living and leading by example is hard. If you demand character in others, demonstrate it yourself. Otherwise, expect to receive what you yourself have lived (whether you know it or don’t). Those who live for Dharma include aspirers to Seeta-Rama, but they also include those who have lived Kunti-Pandu.

Character is 3 parts:

1.Moral Character (living according to Moral Standards, religious, sexual, etc)

2.Personal Integrity (holding true to your obligations, beliefs, and promises)

3.Ethical Civility (treating other with respect and acting for societal good)

For too long, we have only emphasised the top most and used that to excuse all-sorts of treacherous behavior (“well, he goes to temple and does all the rituals, etc”). The net result is youthful allergy to morality or any sort of sexual constraint or personal restraint, due to this hypocrisy. But a moral or sexually moral traitor is still a traitor. Rather than browbeating youth from the inside out, encourage them to live with character from the outside in. Let us start with basic ethical civility, then go to personal integrity, and then some semblance of Sexual morality. Educate and inculcate the highest standards, yes. Teach them Sita & Rama. But also show them the way back if they take unfortunate detours. Dignity is not brow-beating. Dignity is not severity. Dignity is self-respect. People will fail and fall, but at least they will rise again, and seek to live lives of character and dignity.

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It is not simple about karma, but about kriya (doing). Actual doing. Actually doing something to improve something, some small aspect of the world, the nation, the state, the city, or even the community around you. Something![Ram Raj] was not built in a Day. The characterless have all the time in the world to criticise others and give gyaan about what others should be doing…but what are you actually doing, gyaani? Simply hiding behind past glories of your caste or ancestry does none of us any good.  What you actually do today is how posterity will judge you tomorrow.

Character, after all, is not simply a matter of personal entry into svarga or praise from your parents or even personal success. It is a matter of national & civilizational survival.

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References:

  1. Chaturvedi, B.K.Chanakya Neeti.Diamond: New Delhi.2015
  2. Radhakrishnan, Sarvepalli. The Principal Upanisads. London: Unwin Brothers. 1968

Shubha Dasara (2016)

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Happy Vijaya Dasami, Happy Durga Pujo, and Shubh Dussehra! On this Tenth Day of Victory, Durga Mata defeated Mahishasura and Bhagvan Ram defeated Ravana.

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Satyameva Jayate

Whether in Kathmandu or Kanyakumari, whether it through Raas-Garba or Bhajans, hope you all enjoyed the Nine days of Navaratri. May this Tenth Day usher in victory for good over evil. From all of us at ICP, Happy Dasara!

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Shubha Raksha Bandhana

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From all of us at ICP, Shubha Raksha Bandhana, Raksha Bandhan Shubhkamnayein, and Happy Rakhi!

Not all cultures celebrate the bond between brother and sister as colourfully and joyously as Bharatavarsha’s.  Rather than viewing relations between female and male through only 1 or 2 prisms, our ancestors recognised that the most holistic societies are the ones that also hold as dear the relations between siblings, cousins, friends, and fellow citizens.

To women, men are more than just fathers or husbands or sons, but also brothers and cousin-brothers. To men, women are more than just mothers or wives or daughters, but also sisters and cousin-sisters.

This wonderful festival celebrates what all other women or men beyond the top 3 should be to men or women: sisters or brothers. Rakshabandhan celebrates this bond and raises it to festival heights with a joyous utsav where brothers and sisters honour each other.

The loneliest societies are the most selfish ones. Unselfishness and protection of brother by sister & sister by brother is what makes ours the civilization of Subhadra & Sri Krishna.

Rakshabandhan Shubhkamnayein!

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Personalities: Savitri

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After the great King Sagara, the time has come to study the life of yet another exquisite Royal Personality in Bharat’s great tradition. Not just men, but inspirational women too, have set an example on how to balance personal dreams and aspirations with familial and national duties.

Our next Personality in our Continuing Series is none other than the legendary Savitri.

Background

More than just a timeless, girl-saves-guy love story, Savitri & Satyavan is nidarsana katha in its highest form.

Savitri is among the five Satis of Sanatana Dharma and is held up as being a role model for pativrata. The story of Savitri and her husband Satyavan, first occurs in the Mahabharata in the Vana Parva. Her story is recited by sage Markandeya when Yudhisthira asks him if there is any woman who is as devout a wife as  Draupadi.

Princess Savitri was the daughter of the King of Madra, Asvapati, and his wife, Queen Malavi. Asvapati was a childless ruler, and as he grew older he began to feel anxious that he did not have an heir to succeed him. He thus undertook all sorts of penances and prayed to the goddess Savitri, residing in the sun, to bless him with a son to carry on his line. 18 years of hard penance earned him the goodwill of the goddess who appeared to him and told him he will be blessed with a spirited daughter. Soon, a daughter was born to him and he named her Savitri in honour of the goddess who blessed him.

Aryavarta

Savitri grew into a beautiful young woman and her beauty was so bedazzling that suitors got intimidated by her. Hence no one came forth to ask for her hand in marriage. Finally, her father told her that since no one was coming forth to marry her, she must go out and find a husband for herself. She set off on the search for a husband, and soon fell in love with Satyavan, the son of the  blind and impoverished king Dyumatsena. This ruler had been exiled from his kingdom (Salva desa) and was living as a hermit in the forest.

Savitri’s father was very displeased with her choice and wanted her to make another choice, but she refused to change her mind. Her father wished to hand over the kingdom to the groom so that his daughter would have a comfortable life. However, she refused this too and was adamant that she would stay in the forest with her husband and his parents.

But there was something even more dire than all the previous issues with the choice that she had made. Satyavan was destined to die one year from the day they got married. This was unbearable for Savitri’s father, who tried to dissuade her from going ahead with her plan. But Savitri, being the ever independent minded person said to him, “Once only one gets one’s inheritance, once only a daughter is given away and once only a father says, ‘I give her”’ These are three ‘once only’ acts. I have once chosen my husband, long-lived or short-lived, virtuous or wanting in virtue, I have chosen my husband once, and I shall not choose for the second time”. Faced with such strong resolve, Savitri’s father could only give in to his daughter’s wishes. Thus were Satyavan and Savitri married.

Savitri had not the slightest hesitation in giving up her royal robes and riches for the simple and humble attire of a hermit’s wife. She settled into her new life as wife and daughter-in-law and won the hearts and minds of all in that hermit’s abode, with her conduct. However, she never lost sight of the fact that in a year from the date of her marriage she was destined to lose her husband. She kept close watch on the count of days passing by and when there were but four days left to the date of Satyavan’s death, she undertook a fast for three days and three nights in order that her husband might be spared.

AchievementsPhoto: kidsgen

  • Saved her husband’s life
  • Restored her father-in-law’s health and wealth
  • Safeguarded her father’s future and her native kingdom’s security

On the appointed day of his death, when the day was halfway through, Savitri’s in-laws told her that she should break her fast. But Savitri refused, saying that she would eat only after sunset. Satyavan, in the meanwhile, had picked up his axe and was going out of the hermitage when Savitri came to him and told him that she would accompany him into the woods. Satyavan tried to dissuade her from accompanying him, telling her that her fast of the past three days would have tired her out. This, however, did not deter Savitri, and she followed him into the forest.

As Satyavan was working, he suddenly felt his head beginning to ache and began to sweat profusely. He felt so weak that he felt unable to stand. Savitri immediately took him in her arms and sat down, letting his head rest in her lap as he began to collapse. Yama, the god of death (and Dharma) appeared before her said that Satyavan’s life on this earth had reached an end and he was going to take his lifebreath away. So saying, he took a thumb length of Satyavan’s sookshma sareera even as his material body lay lifeless on the ground, and started proceeding southwards.

Savitri began to follow Yama and seeing her follow him, Yama asked her why she was following him. This was Savitri’s answer. She said, “I must go wherever my husband goes. It is established by the eternal ancient law that the wife should always follow her husband wherever he goes or wherever he is taken. By virtue of the austerities I have practised, and by the power of my love for my husband, as also the potency of my vow, and by your grace too, unimpeded I would go.” This was the Pativrata Dharma (one echelon of Stree Dharma) that she had been taught and what she lived by. Savitri then began to converse with Yama in her most elegant and refined manner, which gladdened the heart of Yama though he disapproved of her accompanying him. At last, her cultured and refined behaviour wore down his defences and he told her she could demand a boon of him as long as it was not the life of her husband. She demanded that her father-in-law’s eyesight be restored and that he be allowed to become “strong and shining in spirit like the sun and the fire.” That boon was granted and yet Savitri continued to walk with Yama.

After a while, seeing she had no intention of turning back, Yama inquired of her why she was still trailing him and whether she wasn’t tired. To that, the ever virtuous Savitri replied, “Why should I be tired when I am with my husband? I go wherever he goes. Besides, even a solitary meeting with the great is desirable; it never goes in vain. It is always beneficial to be in good company.” Now, Yama is not a welcome entity, normally, because he is the harbinger of death and hence grief. But Savitri living by her Dharma of seeing the goodness and greatness in everyone and stating that, made the normally bad tempered Yama feel honoured.

He asked her to name a second boon that did not involve bringing her husband back to life and she promptly asked that her father-in-law’s kingdom be restored to him. That wish was also granted and they continued on their way. In her pleasing manner, Savitri thus received additional boons; the third was that her own father should be blessed with a hundred sons, the fourth that she herself would be blessed with a hundred sons. Yama smiled, and said so be it.

As Yama began walking away, Savitri again followed him. Finally enraged, Yama asked how Savitri could continue to follow him after he had blessed her with so much. The clever Savitri then said “Oh Yama deva, you have graciously blessed me with a hundred sons, but how can I conceive them without my husband?“. Realising he had been out-witted, the Deva of Death praised this wise and devoted wife as an example for all time, and happily told her to ask for final boon (but this time he omitted his previous injunction against asking for Satyavan). She naturally asked for Yama to return her husband to life, which he did. Yamadeva  blessed Savitri and Satyavan, and disappeared.

In all the above chronology of the wishes expressed by Savitri, we see her selflessness shining through. Though her burning desire was to see her husband brought back to life, she was always aware of her duties a as a daughter-in-law and daughter to the elders that made up her family. Her concern for her in-laws and her own parents was placed before her own concerns and this alone was enough for Yama to understand the depth of her love for her  husband and her deep understanding of the values that a woman has to uphold and live by. Both women and men are expected to be unselfish under Dharma.

What is the lesson to be drawn from this story?

Satyavan_Savitri

The lesson of Savitri is that even the Gods bow before a woman who is forever protecting her husband and safeguarding his well-being. What she achieved through wisdom and prayer, other women may also do through the sword and strategem. But more than that, Savitri is a model for how husbands and wives are expected to be devoted to each other—that is the true driver of love.

We all are governed by the karmas we have accumulated over our many lifetimes and hence our destiny is pre-ordained. But, while that is the broad grand plan, how we respond to them and the dignity and unselfishness with which we conduct our lives, determines who we really are.

However, there are no short cuts or quick fixes to achieve it. Only by upholding dharma in the highest possible way and living life according to the Dharmic principles prescribed for each one of us, as daughters, women, wives, daughters-in-law, mothers and so on (in the case of women, with a similar list being there in the case of men), can we hope to overturn destiny. The greatness of Dharma lies in the fact that there is a possibility to make changes in our destiny but that it requires great will and tapasya to actually be able to accomplish it. The most meaningful lives, for both women and men (yes, I mean you too, boys..), are those that are lived for others. The selfish existence is the empty existence. Savitri stands as a shining example for all time. She was an empowered woman who charted her own course in life, but while she asserted her rights, she never forgot that rights go together with duties.

Such selfless women are rarely ever matched by men, and fewer still are the stories where the girl saves the guy. Savitri is one such heroine who commands our respect and admiration.

Legacy

SavitriVsYama

Contrary to modern debutantes, Savitri is a strong character and embodiment of Bharatiya Stree Shakti. Neither passive nor aggressive, she is assertive. She is intelligent, knows both her duties and her rights, and is not afraid to live up to the former while asserting the latter. But she does so with maryada (courtesy & propriety)—this is the true mark of culture and refinement.

Like the Great King Sagara, whether she too is Legendary or not, Savitri is an example and exemplar of Dharma. She exemplifies the very concept of ardhangini, which demonstrates that women cannot and should not be trod and trampled upon, but have 1 half of the share of responsibilities and rights in society. They are not worth only half of men like other cultures, but in fact the other half of men, and entitled to their share of respect and influence in society. Savitri personifies precisely how real strong women command respect.

vat_savitri_vrat_sms_wishes_3735098624

Savitri is an extremely wise woman from our epics who outwitted Yama himself and brought her husband Satyavan back to life through her intelligence. This was truly the ultimate girl-saves-guy love story. She is revered as a pativrata, as one of the pancha-satis and “Women worship Savitri by tying colored sacred threads to the Vata (banyan) tree as part of observance during the rainy season in many parts of India, the occasion being called Vatasavitri”. [2] This festival is to this day honoured, so that women too can hope to gain the wisdom and character of such a complete woman.

mahaSavitri

Beyond movies in languages such as Hindi and Malayalam, the English composer Gustav Holst was even inspired by the story to write an opera on it in 1916. What inspires even foreigners, Bharatiyas take for granted.  From the ancient Puranas to modern Popular culture, Savitri of Madra is one of the dazzling lights of our sanskriti, who attained eternal fame, and even gave the very name “Sati-Savitri”.

It may be a common joke in today’s jaded, pub-hub, dance club age for “liberated” girls to say “don’t be such a Sati-Savitri!“. But if Savitri means being an empowered woman who chose her own husband, saved his life, and secured the happiness of her family, in-laws, and nation, maybe we in fact should be.

References:

  1. Sarma, Bharadvaja. Vyasa’s Mahabharatam. Academic Publishers. 2008. pp. 329–336. Vana Parva
  2. SarDesai, D.R. India: The Definitive History. Westview: Boulder, Colorado. 2008

Thoughts about Bharat Mata on “Mother’s Day”

bharatmatacharan

At first glance, many of the anglicised (reluctantly or otherwise) may wonder why, on Mother’s day of all days, I would write a piece on the Clash of Civilizations. The more ardently suspicious of anything foreign may even say “We’re Bharatiya, for us, every day is Mother’s Day!” [much to every Bharatiya daughter-in-law’s chagrin…] or “Parent’s Worship Day was on February 14th!”.

And yet, at the same time, perhaps there is a need for reasserting precisely why Civilizational understanding is so crucial. After all, “know yourself and know your enemy, and you will be victorious in a hundred battles”.   Civilizational contribution is not merely a once in while, recreational activity. Nor is it a favour to do to make nagging friends (or mothers) happy. Rather, it is a fundamental duty for those who care about all that is good and sacred in this world.

Bharat Mata

bharat-mata-pic-312934.4The idea itself is being made taboo by the self-same global citizens who happily have no loyalty. To them, their own libido is the greatest good. When you get your morality from moral degenerates, what value will you have for your mathru bhoomi? The point isn’t prudery or even moral posturing. Even the most flawed of persons is worth listening to if he or she is speaking the truth. But when moronic Marxists famously state “there is no truth”, only “perspective” then there is no fact—only opinion, and every idiot can live in his or her own perspective since “perception is reality”. But perception isn’t reality. There is objective truth, and the goal of every person should be to put aside ahankara and svaartha to understand it.

The fact remains, whatever the antiquity of the name “Bharat Mata”, the idea of the mathru bhoomi has always been a part of Dharma. Motivated “histories” by academic propagandists love to cite stray cases of the Chalukyas or Mauryas as examples of temple iconoclasm, which they in fact weren’t. Here, the murthis (statues of Gods) were not destroyed, but simply relocated. Because in each case the particular form of a devata was the “personification of the state”. As Virupaksha was to Vijayanagara, as Eklingji was to Mewar, so too were these respective divinities to the Pallavas and Kalingas. Kharavela famously took back Kalinga’s state murthi after avenging Utkala against Magadha. Unlike with the Linga of Somnath in the medieval period, Magadha did not destroy the murthi of the Mahameghavahanas. Even going as far back as the Mahabharata, we see the import of desa.

“Tyajet ekam Kulasyarthe, Gramasyarthe Kulam tyajet; Gramam Janapadasyarthe, Atmarthe prithivim tyajet”

But of course, according to NIRs, patriotism is ok for Pakistan, Bangladesh, China, Germany, and even the US. Only in India do pseudo-historians ministering to pseudo-Indians make it taboo. But then, the love of adarsh liberals for everything but India is all too well known. Their “Idea of India” after all is about “Breaking India”. No wonder they have little love for “Bharat Mata”. Columbia, Britannia, and of course, Roma, can all be venerated, but Bharat Mata must be psycho-analysed and pseudo-historicised to oblivion. So who cares what they think anyway? They aren’t really even Indian.

But then, what to do when our much ballyhooed braggarts have been ultimately feckless in their efforts? Any idiot can get on his digital soap box and obscenely outrage, tweet, and even “weep” for his country. But the true patriot doesn’t weep or whine, even when he (or she) is wounded. He quietly does his work and aims to restore that which is most precious to him. He even puts aside rivalries (excepting opportunistic traitors and pusillanimous careerists of course) and petty jealousies to ask and do what is in the common interest: Better to defeat a common alien foe than win against a native rival under common slavery.

That is the value of strategic thinking over pompous pedantry. Victory is not about he who outrages (or gives gyaan) the most. It is not about sending soldiers to fight the other guy’s soldiers. It is not about surrounding the other guy’s fortresses. Victory is about defeating the other guy’s strategy. Hence the time tested dictum of Sun Tsu: “The great general first seeks victory, then seeks battle”. Our idiots are ready to battle even without taking stock of the situation and understanding precisely what faces us. That is the problem Rajiv Malhotra has been justifiably and angrily tweeting about time & again. It is also precisely why he, above all, was targeted by malicious smear campaigns to begin with.

Our well meaning morons act before thinking or talk rather than doing. He thinks before acting—guess which approach the other side finds more threatening? Our idiots engage in the most vicious and most malicious petty politicking against their own side, but then suddenly find their conscience and preach “dharma” when fighting the shatru…our real shatru. That is why there is a separation between adhyatmika and laukika vidya. Sastra, Sanctimony, and Pseudo-Science will not win war. Strategy is the realm of the statesman and senapati —not the srotriya. Whatever your caste, understand this cannot be about caste. The focus must be on what will safeguard us, all of us, that is true pragmatism.

Gyaani Complex Continues

Those of you who like to tweet or retweet like robins on crack without thinking, and give gyaan without processing, need to understand that this not about time pass. Nor is this about individual efforts. A perennial favourite phenomenon is the darthi ke laal who cry for their country day in day out but then refuse to work as a team, or prioritise giving gyaan over participating in collaborative efforts at documenting and preserving the common culture. For them, insolent behavior and glib one-liners are the highest good.

Even funnier are those clueless tweeps who are forever wasting the time of people like Malhotra who don’t have time for petty banter or for idiotic questions that could best be gathered by…Google.

You aren’t fooling anyone. You, the serial outrager, You the the prevaricating pontificator, You the phony moraliser. Just because you produce pedantic piffle, does not mean your hypocritical moral indignation is not undercut by your obvious, private petty politicking.

Intellectual arrogance serves no one but the enemy, least of all when it’s by those who have little action beyond self-promotion to show for. And sacrificing critical thinking to submit to the diktat of extra-party institutions is no way to victory either. Dharma was, is, and always will be about decentralised power.  This is because power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Everyone is out for his pound of flesh, who is looking to preserve the common boat? 

When we value possessions over people, Libertinism over Life, this is what we get. Who is not tempted?-by fame, by flesh, by finance? The questions isn’t temptation, it’s whether our conscience speaks out and wins out over cravings, cowardice, and cruelty.

Glib one liners are easy to produce. Facile factoids are facile to recite. The question is whether you have the discipline to consistently focus on the necessary over the popular, you applause hungry monkey. What have you sacrificed for society?

It is not a Clash of Civilizations, but verily a Clash for Civilization

 Clash civilizations.jpg

Ironically, despite the famous Huntingtonian riposte to the Fukuyama Thesis, and in spite of the Kaganesque revival, what we (and in fact, the world) face, is not a clash of civilizations, but verily, a clash for civilization.

Understand what is at stake. Romance didn’t die because of the West. Romance died in the West because it modernised and post-modernised. Why is India on the same track?

Family didn’t break because of the West. Family broke in the West because it modernised and post-modernised. Why is India on the same track?

Incest and perversion weren’t traditionally advocated by the West. It is advocated now because the West modernised and post-modernised. Why is India on the same track?

So for all its moralising, perhaps the West should turn its attention back on its own moral state, and tend to the crumbling edifice of its civic society, rather than hectoring India on crime statistics where western nations in fact perform much worse. Otherwise, political agendas become all too obvious and apparent, and spotlights shine back.

When sacred bonds between man and woman, brother and sister, father and daughter, and son and mother are desacrilised, destroyed and perverted to animal behaviour on the basis of “nature” and “freedom of choice”, then what else could we possibly have besides Matsya Nyaya (law of the fish).

Is the answer to turn back the clock? No. Without modern technology and knowledge, how will you defend yourself? Is the answer to unthinkingly apply the smriti? No, times have changed, and mistakes have been made along the way. What civilization is free of mistakes?

We also have made our fair share. There are some Brahmins today who eat beef and many Dalits who refrain from it. Why is the first feted and the second deprecated? Times have changed, even lineages are broken. The true brahmana is known through his conduct, that is why he is respected for not only speaking on morality but also for providing a moral example to emulate: that is the true purpose of a Brahmana. So it is long past time we assimilate Dalit communities and fight for their downtrodden in full zest.

Some cultures now seek to destroy civilization itself. Others have forgotten or have been made to forget it. And the West is ever increasingly rejecting it. Why do Indians seek to repeat the same mistakes? Why are Indian women glorifying the SATC consumer lifestyle and abusing 498A?. Why are Indian men seeking to become shameless and asinine “Red Pill” pick up artists, condemning women? Why are Indian parents increasingly being left in hospices masquerading as retirement homes?

While we are importing intellectually bankrupt Western “liberation” theories under lazy rebranding efforts, Westerners are increasingly taking to Indian perspectives. The point is not about fashionability, supremacy, racism, or racialism. It is about understanding what civilization is actually about. Before you can protect it, you must understand what it actually means.

While Comprehensive National Power, weapons, bank balances, are all important, it is not your bank balance that protects you and your society, but your values. Why was there no succession crisis in Ayodhya? Why didn’t the sons of Dasaratha fight among themselves for the throne? Why do idiot brothers (let alone idiot politicians) backstab each other today? How can you ever protect your civilization or society if you can’t even protect your own family…from itself?! That is why values matter, that is why morality matters. Ethics protects us from others, Morality protects us from ourselves. That is why Bharata remains a shining example in the face of the ambitious and ahankari mediocrities we have today.

“Dawkins this”. “Ayn Rand that”. “AIT uber alles”. Don’t you douchebags have any capacity for critical thinking? Just because you went to IIT doesn’t mean you understand history and strategy—even if you can rote-recite it. Just because you have a successful  popsicle stand business doesn’t mean you understand the modern business world. When there are numerous well-educated politicians who don’t know the full story, what makes you, some loser twenty-something with a receding hairline, dubious fashion sense, and general ignorance of your own stupidity, what makes you think you know it? Shut up, listen, and learn. Better to stay quiet and be thought a fool than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt.

Why the Laconic Chinese run circles around the Argumentative Indian

A rickshawallah can be respected for sheer anubhava (experience). That is why even the brilliant Chanakya wrote:

Naasthyahamkara samah shatruh | 287

Arrogance is one’s greatest enemy.

And

Vinayasya moolam vruddhopaseva | 6

The root of humility is in the service of the seniors—elderly or older persons. When one renders honest service to elders one learns the worth of humility.

Thus, it is vruddhopaseva itself that is the key to wisdom, despite many a philos for philognosis. Humble yourselves, ye high and mighty morons, and you will realise that true wisdom lies in humility.

The current batch of “young guns” and swaggering studs are nothing but a bunch of over-credentialed, over-bold and unthinking duds. If they don’t understand the concept of chain of command and the strategic value of respect for elders, and the necessity for collaborative action over individualistic pontification, they are as good as the children they behave like.

All it takes is one look at the fate of yazidis or the cultural genocide of a certain Himalayan people to realise just how deadly the danger is to our “darthi”. Despite the stakes, we still have tone-deaf, selfish, overly-ambitious, and unjustifiably arrogant ass-clowns whose preferred pass-time is condescension to those perceived as “beneath them”, combustion before those who show they are “above them”, and perennial misanthropy in between. In the process, they dilly-dally, navel-gaze, “eat samosas and give commentary”, all while civilization itself is on the brink. If they find some area in which an actual karma yogi does not have expertise, their first inclination is to tear him down, as was attempted with Malhotra and the Battle for Sanskrit.

That’s why it is ultimately amusing to see the sheer number of pompous, pedantic, and pusillanimous pugilists giving him unsolicited advice in the most disrespectful of manners. Let them first accomplish a millionth of what he has on behalf of society, then they can open their foul traps and give their juxtaposing judgments and endless opinions, which are, indeed, very much like themselves…

However moronic the masses may be for ignoring dangers facing us and mouthing unthinking bromides such as “We are all global citizens, yaar”, “Don’t be regressive, be progressive!”, “Arey aish karo, yaar!”, “YOLO” or “Bindaas”, I can’t, in fact, be too hard on them. After all, ignorance is bliss…who can blame them?

But the question is, what are you who are in the know, you who are aware, you who make pretense to being part of the elite, what are you doing…besides talking and tearing others down?

Gender wars, Caste-conflict, Sampradaya battles, general infighting, ambitious politicking, failure to respect chain of command, lack of unity, emotional indiscipline, and above all, inability to shut up, listen, and learn, are all putting Bharatavarsha on a collision course with catastrophe. And you are responsible…yes…You!

Make no mistake, there is a storm, and the storm is coming. You have been told to wake up. You have been advised to prepare. You have been warned to correct. And now, the reckoning is upon us.

What’s the point, yaar”, say our bollywood addled “kool dudes”. Yes, what is the point, you spoiled brat. You enjoyed your privileges, you gamed the system, you got your degree, Ayn Rand told you selfishness is virtue, you don’t care. But then don’t whine when you find yourself in need, and there’s no one around to help you. Real intelligence doesn’t lie in gaming the system. Real intelligence lies not in simplistically raising A to fight B, but in long-term strategic thinking.

Conclusion

Ultimately, the question is whether Bharatiyas have the sense to put aside their differences and focus on the big picture…at least until common foes are tackled. Whatever jokes are made about them regarding barbarity and the like, a certain land of horse-breeders has a famous dictum:

Me and my brothers against my cousins.

Me and my cousins against the world.

Some may dub them as fools, but at least they aren’t stupid. The same cannot be said for Indians …of all castes …who were long ago dubbed as knaves. Ostensibly their policy is:

Me and the world against my cousins! Me and my cousins against my brothers!

If ever there were a recipe for slavery, it is this…

Caste battles to oblivion. Missing the Woods for the Trees. Destroying states wholesale for petty politics. Allowing the senses to run wild without even the slightest bit of self-control or shame. Celebrating the shameful and making celebrities out of the shameless. But above all, forgetting even the basic sanctity of relationships between young and old, and justifying exploitation in the name of “freedom of contract”, all these things only play into the hands of those wish to destroy us.

Shri S.Gurumurthy famously coined the phrase “Bahuka Economics”. Is that not what we have today? Kakistocracies have always existed since the days of Kamsa. His own minister suggested the following policy: When people themselves are willing to sell the very rope by which they are hung, all in the name of swatantrata, then we know stupidity has reach its maximal limit.

Responses to date have mostly been tone-deaf, uni-dimensional, and based on reaction rather than action. Blindly mimicking once mighty and courageous, but ultimately failed models, will only lead us to the path of destruction. That is why one must look past surface level analyses and understand what is truly authentic. Aping others will only lead to “mimic men” of a different sort. To ultimately succeed, we must look within and understand who we truly are.

Many, of course, are overwhelmed by the task. Some have been coerced and others compromised. Still others simply refuse to face facts and prefer to keep their heads in the sand or up somewhere else. After all, it is easy for the ambitious and knavish to join with a more powerful enemy than to fight against great odds.

But it is in fact in the face of great odds, that we find out just who we truly are. Courage isn’t the absence of fear. Courage is having fear, but saddling up anyways to protect what means the most to you.

Not just things, not just land, not even just people. But in fact, something beyond the sum of all our parts, persons, and possessions: an ideal

When possessions mean more than our parents, When social partying matters more than societal prosperity, When physical relations means more than relational love, When money matters more than morality, When perversion matters more than promises…

What hope is there for society?

For all the armchair acharyas and chicken-hawk “chankias”: anyone can talk tough. Starting wars is easy, it is finishing wars that becomes difficult. The Germans found that out, twice. Before you first begin fighting, you must first fully understand what it is that you are fighting for. Then and then only will you know not only know where to fight, or whom to fight, but even what to fight…for it may very well start within yourself.

What is it that we are fighting for? What is it that we are striving for? What is it, that one idea, that one word, that one syllable that creates culture, that composes the very word of our highest ideal, from which all relationships stem from, the greatest of all goods, synonymous with right over wrong, the very beating heart of civilization itself?

   DharMA

                            Vande MAtaram              

                                                                               mere paas MA hai

                                                    MAthru Devo Bhava

                                                         a aa e ee nerpina amMA

                                                                                             Meri MA nu na dasseo

                                                                                                 AmMA endrazhaikkaatha

                                                                                                         MA oh meri ma

                                                                                 kalithozhiMArenne kaliyakki  

                                                                                                         MA tume maamatara

                       nisvarth prem maatrishwar no ane MAta no chhe

                                                           Kab door bahar chaMAn se

               Bharat MAta ki Jai

Personalities: Srinivasa Ramanujan

The following Post was composed collaboratively by N.R.I.pathi & Shivoham


srinivasaramanujan

With the occasion of his Vardanthi last week, and the premiere of his new international movie this week, we inaugurate our comprehensive Series on Indic Personalities with self-taught genius, devout Shakti bhakta, and quite possibly India’s most brilliant mathematician, Srinivasa Ramanujan.

But the story of this great figure of Indic Civilization is one that is as touched by spirituality and tragedy as it is hard mathematics. In his brief lifetime, he would leave an imprint on Modern Maths that both the Academic and Cinematic worlds are only beginning to unravel.

Background

Born in Erode to a poor Tamil brahmin family, Srinivasa Ramanujan Iyengar spent his early years in what is now Tamil Nadu. His father was an accountant in Kumbakonam to a cloth merchant. Nevertheless, the family would face financial difficulties for long periods.

He studied in a “Pial” school, which was the traditional institution for boys of his background. The young lad was noted for being quiet, but frequently asking about the distances between stars [1] (much like ancient Indian mathematicians once did). Despite growing up in trying poverty, the precocious boy would develop an impressive mathematical faculty in relative isolation and with focused self-study. “He had a prodigious memory, and at school he would entertain his friends by reciting the various declensions of Sanskrit roots, and by repeating the value of the constant ‘pi’ to any number of decimal places.” [7]

But that was not all. Innate ability aside, it was an unmatched drive and focused concentration as an autodidact that would forge his name in the annals of history.

Srinivasa Ramanujan displayed advanced mathematical ability since age 11 after reading a book on advanced trigonometry written by S. L. Loney, lent by two college students, who were lodgers at his home, which he mastered by age 13 and discovered sophisticated mathematical theorems on his own. [5]

He used an introductory book to study Trigonometry and even basic Calculus even before his teen years. Once in his teens, he would master 18th and 19th century mathematics with another book. G.S. Carr’s work, “A Synopsis of Elementary Results in Pure and Applied Mathematics”, is credited with providing him with exposure to modern Mathematical methods, in tandem with his existing foundation. Ramanujan mastered it all on his own. If ever there were proof that our education does not end with school work, it is this.

A brilliant student, he received various awards and certificates from his early teens onward.  He would later go on to Government College in Kumbakonam but famously did not succeed in earning his B.A. in Maths. This was later repeated at another Chennai College. Though he scored hundred percent marks in Maths, he failed in his F.A., known as First Intermediate Examination in Arts.

Ramanujan “really scored a very high percentage of marks in mathematics. His failure was due to poor marks in the other subjects. This is the true story.” [6] In fact, according the acclaimed biography “The Man who Knew Infinity”, this uncontested genius and intellectual giant appeared for his exams four times and was unsuccessful each time!  He lost his scholarship, and failed out of college. Compare that to today where students are committing suicide even after getting into college…

He finished a three hour maths exam in thirty minutes, but due to his lack of interest in other subjects, was unable to perform on the others.[6] What gave him the strength to go on and endure?

He would later marry Kumari Janaki at the age of 22, and barely subsist by tutoring other students. To support his family, he obtained a job at the Madras Port Trust Office. A local mathematician named S.N. Aiyar encouraged him to correspond with Western Mathematicians; Ramanujan eventually clicked with one an entered into a friendship with G.H.Hardy of Cambridge. A letter with 120 Theorems was what secured the attention of this academic from Trinity College. Invited to study there, Ramanujan was initially reluctant, as his family resisted. It was here that the one of many spiritual experiences would intervene in the course of his magnificent life.

Eventually booking a ticket to England in 1914, Ramanujan would disembark from his ship only to find himself dogged by health problems, which would claim his life years later. Long thought to have been Tuberculosis, exacerbated by the dreary British climate, his health problems were a mystery then, though the present consensus is that a parasitic liver ailment was the actual cause. Unfortunately, this curable disease was not properly identified by doctors at that time, and hepatic amoebiasis would periodically assert itself when minor illnesses would give it cause. Ramanujan would heroically carry on his research both in collaboration with Hardy and on his own. In the process, he would earn an A.B. from Cambridge and be inducted in the Royal Society. Health (and dietary) problems, nevertheless, proved too much. He would return to India in 1917.

In a terrible loss to not only the Indic world but the mathematic as well, Sri Ramanujan passed away in 1920, only in his early thirties. One can only imagine how much more cosmic the contribution of this meteoric mathematician would have been had he lived a natural lifespan.

Spirituality

All sources, even mathematic academics, recognise that Srinivasa Ramanujan credited his remarkable work to the Goddess Namadevi, an incarnation of the Mahalakshmi aspect of Shakti. Particularly in an era where scholarship is intensely ego-driven, to the point of a new law being developed, Ramanujan’s lack of ahankar and respect for the divine is refreshing. Although critiqued by outsiders as “unrigorous” due to lack of “formal training”, Ramanujan is emblematic of a different sort of tradition that recognises not only the value of discipline and training, but realises that there is a significant space for ’embodied knowledge’ as well.

Ramanujan was deeply spiritual and credited his mathematical ability to his family goddess, Mahalakshmi of Namakkal. He apparently claimed to dream of blood drops that symbolised her male consort, Narasimha, after which he would receive visions of scrolls of complex mathematical content unfolding before his eyes. [5]
G.H.Hardy’s own book attested to the importance of religion in Ramanujan’s life. Aside from his own birth being credited to his family’s prayers to Goddess Namakkal, the man himself was “Fond of the Puranas” and he “used to attend popular lectures on the Great Epics the Ramayana and [M]ahabharata. He believed in the existence of a Supreme Being and in the attainment of Godhood by men by proper methods of service and realisation of oneness with the Deity. He had settle convictions about the problem of life and after, and even the certain approach of death did not unsettle his faculties or spirits. In manners he was very simple and had absolutely no conceit.”  There may be something to the Great Tradition, after all.

Achievements

  • Auto-didact par excellence and Self-taught Mathematics genius who produced 3 notebooks of brilliant theorems and conceptual analyses.
  • The 1st notebook has 351 pages, in 16 chapters.
    The 2nd notebook is a revised enlargement of the 1st with 256 pages, in 21 chapters.
    The 3rd notebook has only 33 pages. [2]
  • Published more than 30 individual research papers in three years. Collaborated on several others with G.H.Hardy.
  • The most notable collaboration was written on the partial function, which counts the number of ways a natural number can be reduced to smaller parts. This is now called the Circle Method.[7]
  • Another collaboration resulted in the Normal Order Method. This paper gave birth to an entirely new branch of Mathematics called Probablistic Number Theory. [7]
  • Wrote “a paper that would connect the computations of the digits of ‘pi’ to modular forms, a theory developed largely in the 20th century. “[3]
  • Accordingly to Academics Murty & Murty, “the paper that really changed the course of 20th century mathematics was the one written by Ramanujan in 1916, modestly titled “On certain arithmetical functions.” In this paper, Ramanujan investigated the properties of Fourier coefficients of modular forms. At that time the theory of modular forms was not even developed. However, Ramanujan enunciated three fundamental conjectures that served as a guiding force for the development of the theory. “[7]
  • A number of Theorists would go on to win Fields Medals (the “Math Nobel”) studying concepts that stemmed from Ramanujan’s work. Others would make a career out of teasing out numerous insights from his papers that would have implications for areas of study such as Physics.

According to an article at the Indian Mathematical Society:

So long as our planet continues to exist in the Universe, and so long as civilization exists on our planet, Ramanujan will be remembered because of the outstanding research contributions made by him to Number Theory and Analysis, because his work has kept first rate mathematicians busy till this date, because his work has had a tremendous influence on modern mathematics and has opened up new vistas for research, but also because he was able to do so without any formal training, without any means of support, and more so because he continued to produce work of the highest order even in the face of death.

Maths Anecdote

We see that many Indians supported SR in India. He did not go to England because he was “let down” etc, but possibly because his work could be shared with a wider audience and many could benefit. He knew he was doing a lot of new stuff. He also received support from Indians during his stay.

Here is an interesting math anecdote from the “Man Who Knew Infinity Book” . [9] This is a challenging combinatorial optimization problem known as ‘classroom scheduling’ since there are zillions of different combinations possible, and it has to also satisfy a variety of complicating constraints and objectives (see bolded point below). Universities solve such problems today using specialised techniques and algorithms, and SR was given this task when he was around 14 yrs old. He wasn’t just solving cutting-edge math problems for journals that had future value, but also complicated real-life resource-allocation problems that were important to the local community and had immediate value:

“Occasionally, his powers were put to good use. Some twelve hundred students attended the school and each had to be assigned to classrooms, and to the school’s three dozen or so teachers, while satisfying any special circumstances peculiar to particular students. At Town High, the senior math teacher, Ganapathi Subbier, was regularly shackled with the maddening job—and he would give it to Ramanujan.” [9]

The goal was to make sure that the students and teachers both show up in the right place and at right time. Headmaster, R. Viswanathan, gives the number of students in the school at about one thousand. N. Govindaraja Iyengar, quoted in P. K. Srinivasan, puts the figure at fifteen hundred. Ramanujan deserved higher than the maximum possible marks. [10]

Resources on Ramanujan’s Work

Legacy

In a tragedy worthy of Natya itself, there is something about the number of years Srinivasa Ramanujan spent on this Earth. There is something to this number 32. Not only did this bright luminary pass away at that young age, but so too did  Adi Sankaracharya himself.  The communion with the Divine by these giant figures of Indic Civilization is an oft-recognised, but quickly discounted, aspect in an age marked by materialism and atheism. But perhaps there is in fact something to that and them, after all.

Both were undoubtedly astonishing intellects, who attained great intellectual achievement, but rather than pontificate with bloated ego, they humbly credited their accomplishment to the grace of something greater than themselves. They wielded this humility to make the most of their brief lives. And in that, whether we are blessed with mathematical or analytical, linguistic or strategic, or the highest of them all, spiritual, intelligence, these two figures who lived to thirty two are an example to us all.

Cinema

With the release of much advertised and much acclaimed movie The Man who Knew Infinity, starring Dev Patel and Jeremy Irons (as G.H.Hardy), interest in Ramanujan is higher than ever before. Such artistic endeavours from abroad surely should receive appropriate support. At the same time, we must remember efforts that have already attempted to celebrate his life in the native idiom. There is of course the 2014 Tamil-English movie called Ramanujan, directed by Gnana Rajasekharan. Previous efforts to honour in celluloid the legacy of this legend can be found in such movies as the Matt Damon movie Good Will Hunting and countless documentaries. There is even an app that pays tribute to him!

Yet his legacy was not merely mathematical, cinematic, or spiritual, it was also cultural. At a time when India and Indic Civilization was at its lowest depth, when questions of not only competence but innate capability were popping up (or propped up…), Ramanujan inspired countless Indians at home and abroad, including no less than Nobel Prize-winner Subramanyan Chandrasekhar. [7] He proved a pivotal Personality at a time when India was just beginning to rediscover itself. His adopted son and family by this lineage carry his torch on today.

Conclusion

Ultimately, Ramanujan’s life and legacy remain as much an enigma as his notebooks. How could a man without “rigorous” and “classical training” manage to reach the Kailasan summits of the field of Mathematics? How could a man who lived so brief a life manage to make such an enormous impact that gifted academics continue to parse over his handwriting to this day? How can a tradition that mixes the sacred with the “secular”, and philosophical speculation with empirical fact, be credited with producing such a genius?

All these, and many more such questions best left to the pure theory professionals, will be answered in the days and years to come. But surely, there must be something worth learning about where the man came from and how he was taught, to determine why he accomplished what he did. Genius quite possibly is in the genes. But achievement, accomplishment, and academic legacy transcend even the genetic. Sometimes, there is something to not only the scholarly tradition, but to the sacred as well.

There is also a lesson for our suicide-prone, over-emotional and over-exam’ed students: even if you fail out of school, it is no reason to end your efforts or your life.

Long after the humiliation of failing is forgotten, your true potential may be revealed in a way that marks and entrance exams and placements never will. Perhaps, in a way, that is Ramanujan’s greatest legacy of all.

His work has had a fundamental role in the development of 20th century mathematics and his final writings are serving as an inspiration for the mathematics of this century [7]

References:

  1. Hardy, G.H., P.V. Seshu Aiyar et al. Collected Papers of Srinivasa Ramanujan. Providence, R.I.: Chelsea Publ. 2000
  2. “Srinivasa Ramanujan”.Indian Mathematical Society. University of Pune.http://www.indianmathsociety.org.in/sramanujan.htm
  3. “Srinivasa Ramanujan: Life and Mathematics”. University of Vienna. http://www.mat.univie.ac.at/~kratt/vortrag/ramanuja.pdf
  4. “An Overview of Ramanujan’s Workbooks”. University of Illinois. http://www.math.uiuc.edu/~berndt/articles/aachen.pdf
  5. “Remembering Mathematical Genius Srinivasa Ramanujan”. Mid-Day. http://www.mid-day.com/articles/remembering-mathematical-genius-srinivasa-ramanujan/16792165
  6. “Did Ramanujan Fail in Math?”. The Hindu. http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/did-srinivasa-ramanujan-fail-in-math/article6254934.ece
  7. “The Legacy of Srinivasa Ramanujan”. The Hindu. http://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/science/the-legacy-of-srinivasa-ramanujan/article2746988.ece
  8. Murty & Murty. The Mathematical Legacy of Srinivasa Ramanujan. New York: Springer. 2013
  9. Kanigel, Robert. The Man Who Knew Infinity: A Life of the Genius Ramanujan. New York: Simon & Schuster. 1991
  10. Srinivasan, P. K. An introduction to Creativity of Ramanujan. AMTS.1987.pg 121
*Special Acknowledgement to Shivoham for his time and intellectual contribution to this article,despite other obligations,and for making it a more "rigorous" endeavour than it otherwise would have been.

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

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


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TiruNrittam — When the Gods Dance in Our Midst

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

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

Temple Worship

“अग्निर्देवो द्विजादीनां मुनीनां हृदि दैवतम् ।

प्रतिमा स्वल्पबुद्धीनां सर्वत्र समदर्शिनाम् ॥

God is Agni for the Brahmins,

In the heart for the Sages,

Idol for the less wise

Omnipresent for the Enlightened.

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

Temple Rituals

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

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

tirunrittam1

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

tirunrittam2Thidambu

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

Tiru Nrittam or Divine Dance

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

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

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

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

tirunrittam3

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

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

Nrittam at Chuzhali Bhagavati (Durga Devi) Temple

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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


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

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

Kolam — Computing and Cosmology within Indian Art

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copyright: Indicportal.org
Introduction

Kolams are curved line patterns drawn by the women of Tamil Nadu every morning in front of their houses after sprinkling water and cleaning the ground. Traditionally, this is done using rice flour and is not intended to be a permanent design. Over the day, birds, ants, and tiny insects feed on it, and the wind and footsteps disturb it. The Kolam is disturbed and eventually erased, and the whole cycle is repeated the next day, and the Kolam is reborn.

Kolam patterns are quite fascinating and have caught the attention of researchers worldwide. ‘Ethnographers’ study the Kolam and compare it to ancient designs from other world cultures, while scientists seek to better understand the computing, linguistic, and mathematical rules embedded within these ‘mysterious’ curved lines. Many admire the aesthetic aspect of this female artistic expression. Some are moved to poetry. But it is the Indian woman, from vegetable vendor to ISRO rocket engineer, who have actually practiced and kept the tradition of Kolam alive across centuries. They are connecting with the sacred and the auspicious while creating a new Kolam in front of their home to start off another busy day.

Here are a couple of beautiful Kolam websites that you must visit. Kolams can be done in a variety of different ways. They can be something really simple that takes only a couple of minutes, or they can turn into serious art projects like the one shown in this video below.

In other regions of India, Kolam, especially with colors (e.g. see above video) is known as RangoliRangavalli, etc.  Each region has its own distinct version of Kolam or Rangoli. An incomplete list is provided below [1].

  • Muggulu (Muggu): Andhra
  • Alpana: Bengal
  • Puvidal: Kerala
  • Chowkpurna: Madhya Pradesh
  • Rangoli: Maharashtra, Karnataka
  • Mandana: Rajasthan
  • Kolam: Tamil Nadu
  • Sanjhi: Uttar Pradesh

Women artists in each of these Indian states create Kolam themes that are distinctive and reflective of their regional culture. However, one cannot fail to notice the commonality and consonance between the Rangoli patterns spread all across India, exemplifying India’s unity in diversity.  In southern India, Kolams are often drawn daily, while in other places, women may choose to do so during festive occasions.  There are also Kolam variations within any given region. For example, in Tamil Nadu, we have Pulli (dot) Kolam, Padi Kolam, etc.  Here is a video of a step-by-step construction of a Padi Kolam.

The Kolam structure naturally lends itself to a rich artistic expression. Indeed, the word ‘Kolam’ itself suggests ‘beauty’. It has certain fascinating mathematical properties, as well as a sacred cosmology associated with its construction. Let’s look at all these ideas after a brief review of its history

History of Kolam

Creating paintings on a natural surface has a really ancient history in India, as evidenced by the Bhimbetka frescoes that are at least 15, 000 years old.  This news article [2] talks about the use of Rangoli in the Mahabharata while another forum mentions the design in the Ramayana. Other floor designs, such as the endearing floor drawing of the footprints of little Krishna walking into the house during Janmashtami are well known in Indian tradition. One of the 64 arts mentioned in ancient India is तण्डुलकुसुमवलिविकाराः , i.e. Tandula (rice) Kusumavali (array of flowers), Vikara (transformation).  This is an art form of organizing an offering of rice and flowers. Rangoli appears to be an instance of this art form. Rangoli is mentioned in the Chitralakshana [3], one of the oldest Indian treatises on paintings, attesting to its ancient origins. In Tamil Nadu, Kolam floor designs were popular during the Chola rule [4].

An article summarizing the amazing work of Dr. Gift Siromoney, a pioneer of Kolam research, comments on the historicity of the Kolam patterns in Tamil literature [5]: “Contrary to popular belief, the common threshold patterns are not very ancient. The practice of decorating the floor may go back to about six hundred years and not more. A few designs may be traced to the Jain temples of South Kanara and at least one to Mahayana Buddhism“. The first conclusion is incorrect. While it may be possible that the usage of the word ‘Kolam’ in Tamil to denote these sacred designs may have been no earlier than 16th century, the actual practice of such floor drawings in Tamil Nadu and other parts of India is ancient, as mentioned earlier. The author is quite right in his second observation that the sacred practice of Kolam is common to all three dharmic systems of India.

Another interesting point mentioned here is that: “To save time in “drawing” the Kolam, many women use devices such as perforated rolling tubes and perforated trays“. We find that attempts to automate Kolam generation were made several decades ago. Of course, such a mechanical device would reproduce a single pattern.

The global research community appears to have noticed the Kolam of Tamil Nadu in 1929 via the work of Mrs. Gnana Durai [3].

Mrs. Durai’s note (source: jstor.org)

A few years later, American anthropologist Layard published a detailed treatise [4] that has been cited extensively. More recent studies done by researchers have covered a wide range of areas including art, computer science, math, sociology, etc.

Kolam Computing

Dr. Gift Siromoney at Madras Christian College co-authored a series of articles on Kolam in the 1970s-80s [5] by analyzing Kolam patterns as a ‘picture language’ in the context of computer graphics, image processing, and theoretical computer science topics. Dr. Siromoney was by all accounts, a remarkable multi-talented personality. His key contributions include:

  • A systematic analysis of Kolam that breaks down the construction of any complex design into a finite sequence of simple ‘Kolam moves’, which remains a key idea in Kolam pattern research even today. Based on this analysis, he was able to develop one of the earliest computer programs that could generate multiple Kolam designs.
  • Identifying the initial placement of Pullis (dots) to create a grid as a key facilitating step toward rapid Kolam creation.
  • A method to determine whether a given Kolam pattern is made up of a single curve (kambi) or multiple lines (multi kambi). He showed how single-line Kolams could be transformed into multi-line Kolams and vice versa, using certain elementary operations that are also noted in Circular DNA Splicing Theory (!). We also note here the single-kambi Kolam connection to an Eulerian graph.
  • Experiments that empirically demonstrate that Kolam creation requires skill that can be learned and improved via experience. Seasoned Kolam practitioners were able to store, recall, and more quickly create sophisticated patterns compared to novices.
  • Determining that a Kolam practitioner’s skill level had little correlation with their attained level of academic education.

After the pioneering work of Siromoney, a variety of western and Japanese research contributions were published. One of the common goals was the design and analysis of algorithms that could efficiently generate a variety of Kolam patterns. Innovative ideas from math topics ranging from knot theory to topology were employed to come up with methods for generating valid Kolam patterns. Some others tried to enumerate the number of single-kambi Kolam combinations possible for a given number of dots in a grid (not surprisingly, they grow exponentially).

Since the earliest works, several researchers have remarked on the ‘endless lines’ within some Kolams, which we discuss in the next section. Contemporary research is also trying to better understand how single-strand Kolam patterns can be encoded via a ‘sequential language’, i.e. the sequence of gestures employed by Kolam creators.  Recently (2011), researchers at SASTRA university in Thanjavur patented a steganographic  method  (encrypting and transmitting data using an image or pattern), using a pulli Kolam. Note that FIG 2. below resembles a single kambi Kolam. There may also be beneficial applications in the analysis of the Traveling Salesman Problem, a famously difficult problem in Computational Complexity Theory. Clearly, we have a long way to go before we fully decode its magic.

source: google.com (USPTO)

Whereas the western approach to art, science, and math is based on a separate and independent existence of the material and the transcendental world, the Indian approach sees no such dichotomy. Indian art, including Kolam, is rooted in a sacred cosmology, which we examine next.

Cosmology of the Sacred Kolam

Why do Tamil women draw Kolams daily at the threshold of their homes? Why not do something else?

This informative article poses such questions and provides an explanation from a western universal perspective. I present an alternative point of view from my Indian perspective. The linked article also has a nice discussion of the significance of a Kolam’s location at the point of entry into a home. It is clear from this discussion, as well as the history of Rangoli, that these designs involve a sacred transcendental dimension.  In Itihasa [1], Rangolis were drawn by the Gopis anxiously awaiting the return of their beloved Krishna, and by the joyous citizens of Ayodhya in anticipation of Rama’s return. Why did they do it?

We can see from Dr. Siromoney’s research, that 16th and 17th century Tamil works record Kolams being drawn prior to a puja invoking Ganapati, the deity who is a remover of obstacles. Today, Kolam drawing in front of their houses remains an integral part of daily life for many Indians, and is also a part of sacred Hindu festivals across India. A deeper understanding of Kolam (and Indian art in general) can be obtained via the traditional Indian approach that views art, science, etc. as not merely secular aesthetic-intellectual subjects, but also as a link to the sacred realm and worthy of reverence. We can recall that the Ganita genius Srinivasa Ramanujan employed this approach while generating truly astonishing results.

From an Indian perspective, we can find not one but several key dharmic ideas embedded within the observations made by various researchers about Kolam. We discuss some of them here.

  1. Order and Chaos: The harmonious existence of a Kolam and nature within an endless cycle; a gradual dissolution into chaos followed by an equally inevitable restoration of order the next day. Furthermore, there exists within the seemingly complicated ‘spaghetti’ patterns, some really simple and orderly moves that generate them.
  2. Recursion: for e.g., the fractals identified in the kolam [10]
    • Fractal Kolam: The Anklets of Krishna (source: math.yale.edu)
  3. The idealized Kolam: a single, unbroken line used to create the entire kolam
  4. The embodied skill required to recall and create complex Kolam designs

The reader is referred to [8] to better understand the first idea. As far as the second concept, many have observed a recursive generating rule pervading Indian art. A similar inductive approach is apparent in various fields such as Sanskrit Grammar (Paninian rules), and Ganita (e.g., Pingala‘s Mount Meru, Hemachandra series, etc.). For example, consider the Hindu representation of the cosmos as the Sri Yantra, which clearly exhibits this recursion. Here’s a simple DIY Sri Yantra Kolam.

Sri Yantra (source: sutrajournal.com)

The third feature suggests dharma’s integral unity:  the externally visible plurality of designs in a single-strand Kolam have no independent existence of their own, but exist within and as a single line (cycle) that has no beginning and end. This also represents the cosmological idea of a Brahma Mudichchu, or Brahma’s knot. Dr. Siromoney travel notes mention that “The South Canara district of Mysore region is studded with Jain temples and each temple has an ornamental flag-staff or dhvaja stambha. The Thousand Pillared Basti at Mudabidare built in the fifteenth century has many ornamental pillars. In some of the pillars there are some complicated designs similar to the Kolam patterns made of unending lines….The unending lines are clearly depicted showing a line superimposed and going over another line at the crossings..” Note that idea of integral unity is common to Hindu, Jain, and Buddhist dharma traditions. In fact, it appears that the Buddha may have been an expert at this art.

Today, multiple independent lines are often used to quickly complete Kolams that become too complex to be completed using a single line. However, mathematicians have been able to recreate elaborate integral Kolam instances (e.g. Pavithram (sacred) is the term used to denote kolams that have ‘never-ending lines’. See the Pavithram design below from [9]) by employing the principles of symmetry and recursion. Similarly, in Indian art, reconstruction of lost art traditions (actual examples include classical dance and poetry) is achieved via the resemblance principle of bandhu. In [8] we learn that “integral unity is not expressed only in terms of divinity and devotion; transcendence to such a state is also available through art. Since time immemorial in India, art has been a way to connect the manifest and the un-manifest, evoking through form the experience that is beyond form.

Brahma Mudi

This cosmic knot is not only present in Kolams. The knot that binds the three sacred threads (‘Poonal’ in  Tamil), as well as the joining together of the ends of the garments of the bride and groom during a Hindu marriage ceremony symbolizing their seamless and unending union, are other instances of a Brahma Mudichchu.  The Brahma knot is also present as the deep and sacred Yogic concept of Brahma Granthi in Kundalini Yoga.

A simple answer to the question of ‘why Kolam?’ is ‘why not Kolam’? All Indian art traditions seek to connect with the sacred transcendental and the Kolam is no exception. This reverence has a practical impact. Traditions rooted in sacred practice endure, while those that exclusively rely on the aesthetic or the intellectual become ephemera.  Our closing discussion on the fourth and final point shows how sacred Indian practices such as Kolam are preserved and transmitted.

Here is an interesting statement by a Japanese researcher praising the knowledge of Kolam practitioners [11]: “In southern India, there are many great female mathematicians who solve a complicated line pattern every morning, with white rice powder on the ground. The pattern is drawn around a grid pattern of dots so that the lines minimally encircle each dot, which is so called “Kolam” pattern in Tamil.”

Dr. Siromoney was able to practically demonstrate that a Kolam practitioner’s skill is an outcome of what we recognize today as the important Indic tradition of embodied knowing [8]. Dr. Siromoney’s experiments show: “… Expertise in Kolam drawing is, thus of the nature of a skill and exhibits all the attributes that psychologists associate with skill-acquisition and performance.” However, immediately after saying this, the article concludes that “Although the performance of this skill results in products (i.e., Kolam patterns) that possess complex grammatical properties, the practitioners of the skill are themselves unaware of this fact since a large proportion of the practitioners are nonliterate.”

This conclusion can now be recognized as inaccurate. Such decisive dismissals have been repeated by several western researchers, who, after using sophisticated instrumentation to record the amazing results achieved in Yoga and transcendental meditation by Hindu and Buddhist Yogis and monks, labeled them as eastern ‘mystics’ [8], in direct contrast to academy-trained ‘scientists’. Even Srinivasa Ramanujan was not spared since he did not provide a deductive proof for his results. Later, of course, almost all his results were proven by western researchers to be true to their satisfaction.

This confusion can be resolved when we understand that embodied knowing does not require literacy [8] or knowledge of scriptural text, and can be systematically accessed and transmitted in-person from Guru to Sishya, and mother to daughter. This is exactly how Sangeetam and Nrityam (traditional Indian music and dance) is taught via repeated demonstration-replication, where no dance-move textbook or musical score sheet is essential. Arguably, the depth of awareness, knowledge and skill acquired via embodied learning may be more than that achieved by tunneling through mountains of text.

Embodied knowing also democratizes and decentralizes the transmission and reception of knowledge. In fact, it appears that India’s scientific and technical prowess since ancient times until the 1700s was a result of the embodied knowing traditions being passed down from generation to generation by its artisans and engineering communities [8]. The assumption that text-parsing ability is vital to acquiring the deepest knowledge appears to be more typical of Abrahamic tradition, which has been internalized by both secular and religious scholars trained in western academia.

If you haven’t done so before, draw a Kolam at home and teach your kids. Let us rediscover this beautiful Indian tradition, and bring the sacred right to our doorstep and connect to infinity, and beyond! 

References
  1. Pongal Kolam. http://www.pongalfestival.org/pongal-kolam.html (2016).
  2. Colourful Tradition http://www.thehindu.com/thehindu/mp/2003/01/07/stories/2003010700050200.htm (2003).
  3. Rangoli History. http://www.rangolidesign.net/rangoli-history.html. 2014.
  4. Explorations in Applied Geography, edited by Ashok K. Dutt et al. PHI Learning, New Delhi. (2008)
  5. Dr. Gift Siromoney’s work on Kolam. http://www.cmi.ac.in/gift/Kolam.htm. T. Robinson.
  6. Preliminary note on geometrical diagrams (kolam) from the Madras Presidency. H. G. Durai,  Man, Vol 77  (1929)
  7. Labyrinth Ritual in Southern India. John Layard. Folklore, Vol 158 (1937).
  8. Being Different: An Indian Challenge to Western Universalism. Rajiv Malhotra. Harper Collins India. 2011.
  9. Reconstruction and extension of lost symmetries: Examples from the Tamil of South India. P. Gerdes,  Computers & Mathematics with Applications, Vol 12 (1989).
  10. Thinking in Patterns: Fractals and Related Phenomena in Nature. By Benoit B. Mandelbrot, edited by Miroslav Michal Novak World Scientific Pub Co Inc. (2004).
  11. Solving Infinite Kolam in Knot Theory. Yukitaka Ishimoto. Computing Research Repository(2007).

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.

Reviving Shakti III: Raising Durgas

RaisingDurgas

The Third Part of our Shakti Series of Posts is one that is both long-needed and the need of the hour. In parts I and II, readers may recall our exegesis on the importance of restoring feminine balance and the power of Stree Dharma. Part III asserts that the need for Raising Durgas.

In this concluding installment, we will discuss the imperative of raising powerful warrior women who can contribute as citizen, guide as leader, nurture as mother, and if need be, protect as fighter.

Introduction

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Modern Indic Society and modern Indian women are at a crossroad. Traditional Society vs Modern “my choice”.

What’s more, recent controversies have rocked the nation and parliament, and have brought the story of Mahishasura Mardini to the fore. The story of Durga destroying Mahishasura is a well known one from the Siva Purana.

But she is in the news today for all the wrong reasons. She has been defiled in the most derogatory terms by students of JN University and it has taken a Durga-like form in Smriti Irani to call out the dishonor meted out to her.

In these times when Devi Durga has been so maliciously maligned, it is time we parents looked into how we should bring up our daughters. Our civilization looks upon the feminine as divine, worships it and looks upon it as that which sustains and nurtures. However, today, we live in a completely globalised world where other cultures and other worldviews easily flow into our living rooms via the television and internet. Other worldviews have not had a civilizational trajectory like ours and don’t necessarily understand ours either. As is amply evident from this infuriating article, condescension and often a dismissal and denigration of our culture is what goes for reporting about us, and now, even Indian women are not spared.

So for all you girls who stupidly think foreigners are coming to save you, think again. Yesterday they demonised old conservative men, today it is mummy jis, tomorrow, by virtue of being a different race, the one being demonised will be you. You may be able to change your passport, you may be able to change your religion, but you cannot change your race. Even if you get plastic surgery, you, like Michael Jackson, will always be reminded of who you really are. And if even this is not enough to convince you, remember, 1 day, you too will become a mummy ji or a behen ji.

In their cultures, mummy ji may be feared, but in our culture, mata is respected. They may have no regard for women of a certain age, but in our culture, the wisdom of and respect for women only increases with age. Recent attempt to malign Goddess Durga perhaps demonstrates underlying euro-abrahamic fears of strong women & the divine feminine. Rather than caving in by acceding to girls being exploited as “trophies” or “exotic erotic assistants” in the name of “my choice”/”liberation”, perhaps it’s time we revive their Shakti by Raising Durgas.

On the one hand we have the uber-conservative traditionalists who advocate pativrata and on the other we have those who advocate “my choice” debauchery. But in this dichotomy of SitaSatiSavitri vs Surpanakha, I choose none of the above. Instead, I choose Durga and it is a natural choice for me coming as I do from a state that is famous for its matrilineal traditions.

As mentioned by Neha Srivastava, to face the challenges of the coming years, the answer should not be to lock up your daughters (though common sense during riots is advisable), rather, we should be inspiring them to think like Durga. As such, Part III of our Shakti Series of Posts is to inculcate Stree Dharma by “Raising Durgas”

Raising Durgas – A Curriculum

Maa_Durga-870x1110Who is Durga? What does she represent?

Durga is Mahishasura Mardini and she represents the fierce and valorous side of feminity which is invoked only in the most extreme circumstances. In normal circumstances, she is the soft side of feminity but when Dharma is in danger, it is Durga who is invoked. Hence a woman needs to be prepared not only with the soft and nurturing side of her nature but also as the fierce side which is unleashed only with due care and under extraordinary circumstances. Durga unleashed is very potent and can consume everything.

Not all women have the same inclinations, and hence the preparation to be Durgas differ for each of them. Education is a lifelong process and does not stop once you leave the halls of a formal educational institution. It is not for nothing that it is said that life is the greatest teacher of all. However, formal education has its place and access to basic literacy is a must for ALL women. Some however want to go beyond basic literacy/primary education, and they specialise in one stream and become well-educated. A tiny fraction however love to go deeper and do super specialisation in their chosen field thus becoming highly educated. So basic literacy is a must for all girls while going beyond depends on the girl’s interest and inclination.

Formal education is only one aspect. Sanskriti as practised in homes through immersion in rituals, stories, food habits, festivals, and celebrations, embed the vitals of the civilization in a girl. Niti (lessons of life) comes from problem solving which should be promoted through exposing the girl to real life problem situations. Finally, Dharma is the bedrock of any Bharatiya and so dharma should be ingrained in the girl by helping her understand that pursuit of Artha or Kama are always in line with Dharma. She will imbibe these as she watches her immediate family living their lives. Apart from all this, and specifically to keep the fire of Shakti burning for today’s circumstances, every girl must be trained in some martial art like kickboxing or krav maga, though traditionally it would have been Kalaripayattu or karate.

I. Pregnancy

durgafire

Seemantam is a samskara that usually is conducted in the 7th month of pregnancy. It literally means parting of the hair.

It is an auspicious ritual praying for the well being of the foetus and a safe delivery for the mother. It essentially prepares a mother for her new role.

II. Infancy (birth to 1 year)

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Various samskaras are performed in infancy. Namakarana (naming ceremony), Karnavedha (ear piercing ceremony) and Annaprashna (first taste of cooked food) are some of the samskaras that are performed in the first few months after the child is born. Rather than recognise dowry for greedy bridegrooms, restore the traditional Streedhana to be given to the daughter at her wedding. Saving within means for that purpose will ensure she will be empowered as an adult, to use the money as she deems necessary.

Each of them is a milestone of the child becoming an individual separate from the mother. The child should be welcomed and an auspicious environment should be created with a positive view of the birth of a daughter, bringing music and laughter to the home.

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III. Childhood (2-9 years)

SarasvatiShakti

Vidyarambham is a samskara which signals that the child is now ready to start education. It is usually performed around the age of three now but in earlier times, it used to be around the age of five.  Essentials such as puja, pranayama, and mantra should be taught, and she should be regaled with tales from her mother and grandmother. While this is the time for play, it is also the best time to learn and absorb, especially languages.

  • The girl should at this stage be enrolled in an educational environment where she will start interacting with peers for the first time. These are important lessons in community behaviour.
  • Various practical exercises to introduce the alphabet and the basics of maths should be started.
  • While the school imparts some lessons, sanskriti is the domain of the family. If you want your daughters to grow up dharmically inclined, then this is the time to fill their environment with dharmic symbols: exposure to classical music, classical dance, visits to temples, kirthana, flowers in hair, bangles, anklets, traditional dresses, stories from the Panchatantra, Ramayana and Mahabharata, stories of veerata (valour) both from women and men and so on. Slightly older children should be introduced to Amar Chitra Katha. There is no better source for stories from our puranas and itihasas than these. The child will be wonderstruck by the magic and drama in Uncle Pai’s comic books.
  • It is imperative that the girl picks up her mother tongue in these formative years. Conversation at home should be only in the mother tongue. Other tongues (i.e.English) will be learned at school. Foundational thinking should be in the mother tongue.

IV. Youth (10-16 yrs)

gajalakshmi

Upanayana is the formal initiation into the serious world of study. In vedic times it is believed to have been done even for women, but in later times ceased to be a practice for women. Whether this is done or not, essential values and morals should be communicated and also explained as to why they are important.

  • At this stage, focus on studies should become more pronounced. This is the time when the girl starts to decide how she would want to steer her adult life.
  • As they learn to read, write and decode the physical world around them, they should also learn to understand their own physical self and the changes it undergoes as they move from childhood to youth. Today most families have done away with the coming-of-age rituals, but in times of yore, a girl who attained puberty was feted and celebrated as passing from girlhood to womanhood attaining the ability to bring a life into being on her own. The rite was called ritu kala samskaram.
  • The girl should also pursue interests in the arts. She could take up music or dance or drama or any of the 64 traditional arts (prescribed by the sastras). This is the time to hone the skills both academically and aesthetically. It is a way to channelise the energies constructively. Talent at this time should be nurtured and given opportunities to excel.
  • Training in any one of the martial arts is a must for the present world is not such a safe place for women. Sastra should be balanced by Suhstra.
  • Of particular importance is the art of debating. If your daughter is exhibiting a flair for language, get her to understand logic and use it to hone her skills at debating. It is a big asset to have if your daughter is going to go into the public domain where she will need to be an effective communicator with conviction in her ideas. If possible introduce her to Sanskrit education which has excellent potential to helping her develop logic, wisdom and conviction and thus help her in debating.
  • As the physical changes appear in the girl, the mind also changes. Attraction towards the opposite sex is also very natural at this stage. Traditional parents advise against dating, and there are good reasons for this advice. These have to be explained tactfully to the girl by someone older to her in the family, i.e. aunt or elder sister.
  • Mother, aunt, or elder sister should also educate her (not just lecture but also examples/news items) to ensure she is worldly-wise and knows how to avoid dangerous people, and if she decides to have relationships anyway, to be wise enough to avoid being taken advantage of.
  • A girl should be taught that there is no such thing as a free lunch, and strange men may seek to ply them with flattery, attention, gifts, or wine for bad agendas.
  • Self-respect should be inculcated by teaching that true beauty is inner beauty. While it is good to look good, one should be healthy too, and external validation or magazine models should not negatively affect a girl’s self-image and sense of worth.
  • Just as there are many types of intelligence, there are many types of beauty. Because not everyone sees it, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

V. Post-secondary Schooling

TriShakti

All women may not wish to go beyond secondary schooling, but for those who want to, this should be the period to consolidate the knowledge they have acquired. Women in Ancient India were not only Upadhyayinis (teacher’s wife) but also Upadhyayaa‘s (lady teachers). Irrespective of whether she becomes a traditional teacher or professor, a girl should be taught to stand on her own two feet, give sound advice, and even lead when required.  Girls must become complete women, like the three forms of Goddess.

  • They should start building the capability to expand on this knowledge and probably look to take it further with their own new insights.
  • They should learn how to dharmically generate wealth, manage it, and give charity
  • They should know how to wield power (social, political, financial) effectively and for collective and societal good.
  • As for the arts, this should be the period when the public performances should begin. For music and dance, there is the ritual called Arangetram (the first formal solo stage performance) which should be undertaken at this time. This sets the stage for the formal entry of the girl into the adult world.
  • Even if she doesn’t go to college or even vocational school, she should be taught a valuable and honourable occupational skill so she can be self-reliant.

This is also the period when girls are deciding whether they want to go for the traditional way to marriage or whether they want to go for ‘love marriage’. Better to introduce her to our stories rather than simply “ban” or disourage reading. This will captivate her imagination in positive ways. For girls who decide they want ‘love marriages’ however, here is some practical advice as well, that parents or at least elder sisters/cousins should impart.

  • It is good to broaden horizons, but also smart to avoid bad influences.
  • Understand if the men in your family tell you an area is not safe.
  • Be aware of surroundings and timings, be careful of accepting drinks, be wise about choosing friends.

VI. Single Woman

sitasvayamvara

The single woman is a phenomenon from the recent past since in earlier times girls were married at a younger age. Hence there are no clear cut samskaras defined for this group, only preparation for vivaha, if not previously done. It is the period when the woman is most often in an earning position these days and when she enjoys financial independence. It is also the time when the girl potentially leaves the parental home because she has found a job elsewhere. But increasingly, this is also the time when women can get carried away and indulge in inappropriate behaviour drunk on the intoxication that financial independence brings them. It is the time when the sanskars they have imbibed from their upbringing play a decisive role. If these are strong, the woman stays steady to her sanskriti and starts to become an actively contributing member to her rashtra and desa.

  • Pay attention to societal issues facing community, state, nation
  • Read widely (history,etc )to understand how world works,not just how we want it to
  • Give guidance to younger women, particularly those in college so they make wise and responsible decisions. Teach them to use technology carefully.
  • While it’s good to be empowered, keep family or at least sisters/female cousins in the loop about decisions. The world is not a Bollywood movie.
  • Socialise responsibly. Avoid bad company and keep good company.
  • Do not trust strangers easily, especially strange men. Test them, trust your instincts, and avoid risky situations where you don’t have friends you trust around.
  • Values and advice exist to protect us. Seek wisdom over gossip.
  • Being a patriot doesn’t mean being a jingoist, but it doesn’t mean being anti-national either. Take pride in your culture, but critique intelligently.
  • Be cosmopolitan and appreciate the world, but stay connected to your roots. No matter where you are or what your citizenship, you will be seen as Indian only. Be a good citizen, and a good Indian person. Appreciate without losing your culture.

For girls who decide they want ‘love marriages’ , here is some practical advice as well that parents or at least elder sisters/cousins should impart.

  • Learn to distinguish between men who are superficial and flattering you only to gain your acceptance. Relate to men who respect you, and care for your safety and comfort and make sure you are not drawn into vulnerable situations.
  • In this age of size zero and chemically aided beauty treatments, it is important for you to feel comfortable in your own skin. The natural look is always preferable to peroxide and is safer for you in the long run. Do not obsess about body but do not become obese or anorexic. Eat healthy and keep positive thoughts.
  • Rights come with responsibilities. The law is there to protect you, not for you to use it as a weapon for personal anger.
  • It’s all about inner beauty, moral independence, and strong character, and if you are comfortable on the inside, naturally it will show up on the outside.
  • To find a good mate, a girl must respect herself first (without ahankar). This is the path to not just finding a stylish or fashionable man, but a good man.

VII. Married Woman

IndiaTvc12821_debina-gurmeet-ramayan

Vivaha completes the cycle of samskara for the woman. The woman who is grounded in her sanskriti will be at this point a very attractive and intelligent person whether she has studied only till the secondary level or whether she has gone on to earn further accolades. From here, the married woman has to be the other half of her husband within the family and grow to become the mother that Bharatiya society venerates, fiercely protective and nurturing of all that is hers to shape. Increasingly, she is also playing the role of shaper of the rashtra’s destiny outside her home too because she is an active contributor to its economy. And in this, she becomes the Durga, the one capable of holding her own within and without the traditional home and hearth.

shiv-durga-poster-DG94_l

  • Marriage is about creating a culture. Women are the fountain of culture
  • Raising a big family is not a burden, but a societal good. Single child families might raise entitled, selfish children. Larger families of 3 or 4 teach children how to share, work together, and ensure retirement security for parents(rather than gov. security).
  • Modern education of children should be balanced by cultural education. The world is not a Bollywood movie.
  • Just because a movie says some people can be trusted with your children, doesn’t mean its true.
  • Don’t just gossip with other women, form committees to improve your community
  • Get to know your neighbours, especially if they follow your sampradaya, and take care of their children when they need you to, so they will do the same for you
  • Encouraging women to perform prayers for family well-being (like Lakshmivratha, and Durga Puja) is good. They re-emphasise respect for wife as Griha-Lakshmi
  • Understand if the men in your family tell you an area is not safe or if people are attempting to take advantage (financially, etc). Women know motives of other women. Men know motives of other men.
  • Learn to be a wise woman like Upakosa, who protected her family, outsmarted her enemies & defeated lecherous men with her wits. She was honoured by her people
  • It is always good to be prepared for a rainy day or an emergency. It’s just good common sense.

Streeya Maryada Uttama

Conclusion: Reviving Shakti

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In our culture, we have the concept of Ardhanareeshwara, of Shiva and Shakti, of Purusha and Prakriti. These two are complementary and one is not complete without the other. Indic society is not complete without the other gender. Here we are not talking of equality. We are talking of complementarity.

I don’t want to ask for reservation of any kind as a woman. For instance, I think it is simply more beautiful to have a man vacate his seat in a bus on seeing a woman than a woman forcefully demanding it as a right or complain if he vacates. Chivalry still makes a woman feel special and helps to keep her softer feminine side alive. I believe that when a man vacates a seat of his own volition, he does so because he respects the woman and values her as a person. When you force the man to do it because of a regime of rights and reservations, it is done under duress and with some level of dissatisfaction of having been forced to do something. This in turn affects the respect one feels for the woman because inherently, one is having to forego one’s rights to accommodate another. This breeds a certain transactional value in relations which can then turn into disrespect and at its worst, abuse.

It is becoming increasingly clear that not only the media but entire governments are turning a blind eye to the subject of women’s honour. True, many men out of genuine concern for the safety of women, object to them being in the armed forces or being outside in the late evening due to realities about rape, abduction, and unit cohesion.

While there may in fact be a very good argument against inducting women into regular combat as part of mixed units, the time may be fast approaching where every day women will need to know the basics of combat. I am personally not for women taking to combat roles. Woman is the protectress of society. She should be invoked onto the physical battlefield only as a last resort. It is not because woman is not capable of fighting alongside men. Durga herself is a fierce form. And we have many examples ranging from Rudramma Devi to Jhansi ki Rani, women warriors who never flinched from fighting for their land. But a woman is not made for the warfront. She is the one who keeps society from becoming barbaric. She is the check and balance to a man’s natural aggressiveness.

MahaShakti

Our civilization of course has had very principled rules for warfare. In times of yore in Bharatvarsha, women were not called to the battlefield and not used as trophies. But other ideologies from other lands seldom have the same respect for women. A woman even today values her honour immensely and I can only imagine the devastation of a woman who might fall into enemy hands at the battlefront. War is about baser instincts and a woman is made for finer things. We don’t have to go far to know about what war can do to women. A cursory look at the Bangladesh liberation war of 1971 or the tragic case of Captain Saurabh Kalia, is enough to make one’s blood go cold, and help us understand why men are so protective of women.

At the same time, if called to fight at last resort, then the Bharatiya naari has vaunted lineage of warrior women from which to take inspiration. Rani Naikidevi famously defeated Ghori at the Battle of Mt. Abu, with her son Rajkumar Mulraj in her lap. Even beyond Rani of Jhansi or Rani Rudramma Devi or Rani Durgavati, even the common women have fought beside their men. In fact, when the Turkic Khiljis invaded Maharashtra under the Seunas, these warrior women did just that. “The opposition was organised by Kanha the local administrator and consisted of soldiers provided by his friends and two noblewomen of the area with their armed retainers. According to Isami, the Marathas charged the invaders who were nearly swamped and forced to fall back but a counter-charge led by Ala-ud-din ended with the withdrawal of the Marathas after suffering heavy loss. Ala-ud-din addressed his troops and pointed out the difficulty of their undertaking because in a country whose women could fight so well, the men were bound to be formidable foes.”[5]

We need to rediscover ourselves. We need the Durgas only to intervene at the most crucial moments to restore the equilibrium between Shiva & Shakti. Our Durgas must be empowered and equipped to strike: strike with both words and weapons, sastra and suhstra. They must be trained in the art of self defense as also the art of vigorous and fearless debate. When Durga strikes, it should be to restore Dharma. And such a day is now approaching in Bharatavarsha.

Jai Bhavani!

References:

  1. http://indicportal.org/reviving-shakti-restoring-feminine/
  2. http://indicportal.org/reviving-shakti-stree-dharma/
  3. Kane, P.V. History of Dharmasastra. Poona. Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute. 1941.
  4. http://theweek.com/articles/442947/woman-standing-indias-abused-husbands
  5. Sandhu, p.222
  6. http://hinduonline.co/Scriptures/Puranas/ShivaMahaPurana.html
  7. http://www.economist.com/news/christmas-specials/21591745-curse-mummyji
  8. Kumbhare, Arun R. Women of India: Their Status Since the Vedic Times. Ne York: iuniverse. 2009
  9. Radhakrishnan, Sarvepalli. The Principal Upanisads. London: Unwin Brothers.1968
  10. http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/magazines/panache/why-my-choice-featuring-bollywood-actor-deepika-padukone-is-not-everyones-choice/articleshow/46790471.cms
  11. Mathur, Ashutosh Dayal. Medieval Hindu Law: Historical Evolution And Enlightened Rebellion. Oxford University Press. 2007

Reviving Shakti II: Stree Dharma

MahaShakti

Continuing our series on Reviving Shakti is Part II: Stree Dharma. Part I discussed the historical path of Indic Society and how each Civilization has its own trajectory, and Dharmic Society must chart out its own.  However, it must do so while adapting to time and place and the modernity in our midst.  We cannot turn back the clock and we must understand that society has changed, and we cannot force-fit stone tablets from another Millennium or Yuga into the present one.  Dharma must adapt to the present time.

With that in mind, having reviewed Sastra, Smriti, Itihasa, and Purana,  we present a Dharmic guidebook of Principles for Young Bharatiya Ladies to ensure society empowers them, and also educates them on being ethical citizens, equal stakeholders, and responsible co-leaders in the Revival of our Civilization.

I.Introduction

The events of the recent past have made this Post a necessity. In this 21st century, the lines between the genders are fast getting blurred. This is a welcome phenomenon to skewed traditional imbalances in societies around the world. However, it does make me wonder if all such movements eventually have as their aim, the enrichment of the future world for all. From the current discourse, it seems as if wholesome unity and complementarity of the two sexes is not the goal of such fulsome movements. The clamour for individual rights (more from the side of women), is ironically leading to fissures in society while “liberating” the individual.

When these issues are playing out as per rules and paradigms defined and presided over by the West, I thought the time has come to do a stock taking of the narrative from our own civilization. After all, our civilization has followed a different path from the rest of the world and I felt that it was worthwhile to trace gender relations and especially Stree Dharma through the ages and see if our culture offers more harmonious options regarding the relationship between the sexes than is seen today.

Down the ages, the status of women has undergone a change. This can be attributed to many developments that impacted Bharatiya civilization but the end result is that by the 20th century, the Bharatiya woman had lost the exalted status she once enjoyed. From Maitreyi who was wife of Yajnavalkya and an expert of the Vedas, much water has flowed down the river Ganga. The 20th century also saw many movements working for the emancipation of the status of the women in the West, who had never enjoyed it all through history. I believe that adopting the same narrative of emancipation that the West used for its women, to help change the condition of the Bharatiya stree, was and is still an error and inflicting huge damage to the fabric of Bharatiya society.

This video shows the current discourse that is taking firm root at least within the circle of “Idea of India elites”. It is heartening that our civilizational ethos is still not yet damaged beyond repair because the above video was not very well received as this article demonstrates. The video prescribes a stree hood which is quite removed from the sanskriti that defines and marks Bharatiyas. “My Pleasure could be your Pain“?–is this ethical living? I think not. So obviously an imported ideology and framework cannot help in helping defining the Dharma of the Stree.

Today, ideas about family as a social unit itself are changing, “The spread of liberal attitudes to love and marriage empowers individuals, especially young women, but it causes its own complications. One is the increasing fragility of the nuclear family, especially in the rich world.[1] Hence I believe it is important to revisit Dharmic ideas of yore to understand if there are lessons to be learnt and adapted for today’s scenario.

Another aspect that needs to be re-defined is the concept of power in gender relations. Today’s woman is certainly quite powerful. But with power comes great responsibility and tragically, that maturity is not being exhibited as this article is testimony. Hence, we need new paradigms and definitions of stree empowerment.

It is now time to revisit Stree Dharma as it was conceived and perceived in our civilization. But before we do so, it is important to assert that rights and responsibilities are reciprocal. In fact, what creates a society (especially an ethical and dharmic one) is reciprocal duties. So before we provide principles for women, let us first issue some demands to men. And so,  I briefly hand the palm leaf manuscript over to my colleague and co-author, Nripathi.

II.Nara Dharma to Naari

sitaram

If there is a Naari Dharma, then surely, there must be a Nara Dharma to Naari. If rights come with responsibilities, then men who seek to assert their rights must remember that they too have responsibilities under the Dharma, especially to women, their other half. Therefore, here we summarise Nara Dharma to Naari.

  • Maathru Devo Bhava
  • Streeya Maryada Uttama
  • Protect thy society. Neglect not thy wife.
  • Daughters are Music of the Home

§. Maathru Devo Bhava

Man’s relationship with Woman is not 1 dimensional, as it may be in other modern societies. In fact, in our Tradition, we view women first and foremost as mother.

It is first Maathru Devo Bhava…then Pithru Devo Bhava…then and then only Acharya Devo Bhava…and in this era, depending on his character and cultural origin, maybe, Atithi Devo Bhava. But above all a mother. Because even if she is not our mother, she is a potential one, or a mother to someone else. This is the foundation of respect for women in our society. And it has been since time immemorial.Though modesty (of demeanor and dress) are advisable for both  genders, it is mentality that matters more. If you lust and lech, no amount of modesty is enough, it is mentality that needs to to change. Also, this ensures healthier relationships with the women who will be the mother of our kids. Mother is the fountain of all good things.

It is not for nothing we say…

§. Streeya Maryada Uttama

Those of you familiar with Sanskrit and Sanskrit-enriched languages (like my own honey sweet Telugu) know that a single phrase, can mean many things. So it is with this one.

Firstly, Streeya Maryada Uttama

Honouring of women is the best path. The first lesson we are taught is Mathru Devo Bhava, and for good reason. Mother is the first guru. How can we not honour her? In our tradition, there is no lower form of life than an ungrateful student. A criminal may not be able to help his criminal tendencies, but even a thief looks after his mother. But like the Rakshasa who immediately seeks to use his boon against Mahadev, so too is the son who fails to respect and look after his mother. Showing honour to women, especially the one who gave you birth, is the best path not only for men, but for women, and for civilization itself.

Secondly, Streeya Maryada Uttama

Protecting a woman’s honour is of highest importance to man. More than his, more than his family’s, more than even his religion’s, is protecting a woman’s honour. In fact, it is the essence of all true religion. A society that fails to fight for its women’s safety, a society that seeks not to safeguard its stree, is no society at all. Dharmena heenaha pashubhih saamannaha. One without Dharma is like a beast.

In the great divide between “honour societies” and honourless societies are various questions about whether honour itself should be honoured. But whether a woman is honourable or not, the Shakti within her should be honoured through man’s good behaviour.

This means first and foremost controlling himself around her and not behaving like an animal. Man’s own civilization spouts from and depends upon his relationship and treatment of women. A man who barters his own woman’s honour or preys upon the women of others, is no real man. Whether she is his woman, someone else’s woman, or she’s her own woman, a man is not his own man if he cannot seek to protect women.

Rakshabandhan exists for a reason. Every woman who is not your wife is your sister (or mother or daughter). Safeguard her, welcome her, and above all cherish her.

Thirdly, Streeya Maryada Uttama

In the presence of women, being honourable is best. Here, Maryada means not just honour, but also propriety. Man should not simply content himself with not being a criminal.

Uddaret atmane atmanau. One should elevate one’s self. This means behaving appropriately in the presence of women. This neither means being an uxorious wimp nor a rude, crude, ruffian. It means being a man who respects others because he respects himself. For a woman to lose respect for a man is the kiss of death and a quest for cuckoldry. So man must respect himself. But, a true gentleman treats women well, not because of what it says about her, but because of what it says about him.

Finally, Streeya Maryada Uttama

For women, honourable courtesy is best.

Bhagvan Ram was known as the Maryada Purushottam not just for his propriety around women, but for his courtesy. A true gentleman of gracious mien.  Whatever “Surpanakha’s Daughters” may say, Ravana’s sister was not punished for being a wanton woman or a “liberated lady”. Lakshmana punished her for attacking Sita. Rama had been courteous to her up until that point.

Sri Rama was not only only proper in the presence of women and elders, but was also courteous and pleasant to all. It is chivalry and gentlemanliness that delights young and old or  our mother and mother of your children. It is not just good manners or due courtesy, but that rare charm of friendly decency, to high and low, man or beast. It is not over-sophistication, but cultivation, of not just manners, but personality & prudent ideals.

So yes, accept the exhortations of the Smritis and be like Ram! But also be, the Ram…of the times. Yudhisthira attempted to be the Satyaharishchandra of the Dvapara, but Draupadi paid the price via dice as she was not born in the Treta. True Dharma lies in honouring women, safeguarding women’s honour, being honourable in the presence of women, and honouring through courtesy. Streeya Maryada Uttama.

DharmaMandir

§. Protect thy Society. Neglect not thy Wife.

Do your duty as a citizen, as a leader, as a protector, and as a father, but also as a husband. Do not neglect your wife.

If protecting one’s society first means protecting one’s womenfolk, then it also means not neglecting them. If Selfishness is the Real Root of all Evil, then neglect is its CO2. There is no greater poison in a relationship than neglect. There is no worse emotional feeling than feeling alone when you’re in fact with someone.

Not being a neglectful husband is more than just asking how her day was, or taking her out once in a while, or listening to her for 15 minutes then tuning her out the rest of the day. Neglect is also emotional distance, isolation, and cold-hearted selfishness: brutishness. If you can’t think of someone before you think of yourself, then you are not doing your dharma to your marriage, and your society.

This isn’t to say women are perfect. Nilambari has described at great length how ill-treatment of men and abuse of marriage laws is a precipitous path for society. But she and others like her have stood up for men. It is time we stood by such women, and not neglect our good fortune.

§. Daughters are Music of the Home

Sons may carry on lineages. Sons may carry on names. Sons may even carry us on to the afterlife (all per the Smritis). But daughters are the music of the home.

For far too long has the place of daughters been diminished in our own eyes as a dowry burden. Researched and presented by Nilambari in the first of our Shakti Series of Posts, dowry is adharmic, stridhaan is not. Stridhaan is not a profitable asset for greedy bridegrooms, but a gift to a bride from her own family, for her own security and maintenance.  Even the Dharmasutras permit a young woman to choose her own suitor if one cannot be found by her father. If there are only greedy, money hungry would-be matches, better to let her be, and make her own choice and meet her own match.

Therefore, the birth of daughters should no longer be a financial calculation, let alone a burden. Daughters are in fact the music of the home. If we encourage young men to marry a wife to add colour to his life, then we should encourage them to welcome daughters to bring music to his home. From laughter, to singing, to dancing, to innocence, to sweetness, more than his own wife, it is his own little girl that softens a man, and his own rough edges.

At a time in the dread Kali (5117), when daughters more than sons are increasingly looking after parents, the veritable dhvani for any true garhapati is his putri and dauhitri.

Thus spake Nripathi on Nara Dharma to Stree.

III.Stree DharmaSatyabhama&Krishna

Following from where Nripathi left off. I want to say this is not a set of laws written in stone for all time. Rather, it is a guidebook for women of all ages (and an education for some spoiled brat men) on what the Dharma of the Bharatiya Stree is. In the context of Reviving Shakti, Stree Dharma is naturally not passive nor long-suffering nor meek, but powerful and empowering. Unlike the pie-in-the-sky ‘my choice’ clap trap and irresponsible individualism and selfishness of adarsh liberals, it re-establishes women as ardhanginis and saha dharmacharinis and equal stakeholders of society. As opposed to other traditions who say women are worth only half of men, we of the Dharmic Tradition and Indic Civilization say, Women are the Other Half of Men! And here is our Dharma, the Dharma of the Stree.

  1. Streeya Maryada Uttama. Oh Ladies! Propriety is best.
  2. As a young girl, be immersed in living the symbols or the external adornments of dharma ie. in dress, in stories, in going to temples, in arts and so on.
  3. Precociousness of childhood should slowly give way to sabhyata, saujanya, maryada and achara through the medium of external adornments as in 1 above at younger ages and through conscious guidance of elders as they grow older.
  4. For the teenager, awareness of the physical changes in her body and how it ties in with cultivating appropriate qualities like those described in 2 is paramount.
  5. Pursuing with passion and with aim to do the best in any field or fine arts/crafts is a must.
  6. Cultivation of the habit of helping around with household duties in preparation for her eventual role as a house manager is a must.
  7. Pursuance of academic goals with intent to be useful not just to self but to society at large is a must. Studies are good. Study of Niti is better. Study of Dharma best of all.
  8. Healthy interaction with the opposite sex with ability to lay down personal boundaries in order to be able to deal with the adult world is a must.
  9. As a young woman, having clear sight of academic goals and working towards it is a must.
  10. If working, should be able to independently take decisions in professional domain so as to maximize personal growth while not affecting family and peer dynamics.
  11. Traditional dharmic principles are not in favour of either drinking or smoking. Even today it is advisable to follow these injunctions, but if one chooses otherwise, then it should be done responsibly with consideration for health, safety and reputation.
  12. Traditionally, it is not advisable to indulge in pre-marital sex. In the age of STDs, cancers and unwanted pregnancies, it is still the best advice but if a young woman disagrees, then the same advice as given for 11 above holds good for this too.
  13. Abortion has traditionally been considered a Mahapataka, and advised against, and its still so in the modern time unless there are dire circumstances. Therefore, it is better to be safe than sorry with regard to sexual relations both without and within marriage.
  14. As a wife, the woman has to balance to the best of her abilities, duties towards her marital household while not abandoning her own parents.
  15. Conjugal relations between the husband and wife have to be mutually respectful and fully consensual. Fidelity leads to Trust. Trust leads to Friendship. Friendship leads to love.
  16. Conjugal relations when being for pleasure should not lose sight of the procreation aspect. Pursuit of Kama should be in line with Dharma.
  17. A woman is fully entitled to be protected during her pregnancy and her wishes respected with regard to where she would like to deliver her baby.
  18. As a mother, it is the prime duty of the woman to give care and comfort to the child in its growing years.
  19. A mother is responsible for transmitting the cultural values, customs, and rituals to the child through whatever means.
  20. Usually, the mother is working these days and she has to balance her work commitments along with her commitments as householder.
  21. Financial decisions and planning for the future has to be joint exercise between the husband and the wife. Saving for a rainy day should be the goal in order that those in your care do not suffer hardship.
  22. Greed is Not Good.
  23. In-laws have to be respected and consulted on decisions that impact them.
  24. Silence is Golden
  25. Age gracefully and see to it that you withdraw respectfully from your children’s lives once they become independent and start their own lives.
  26. Be the grandmother your grandchildren need and nurture them without interfering unduly. Neither smother your grandchildren nor abandon them. It is your duty to transmit while you are here, what you learnt of dharma through living your life.
  27. Beware the Arishadvargas (kama, kroda, lobha, moha, mada, matsarya). [2]
  28. Be a good global citizen by being a good local, state, and national citizen.

IV. Stree Dharma Principles & Explanation

While traditional Stree Dharma focuses on the married woman and her duties and responsibilities the most, a woman has to perforce go through other stages in life. She begins life as a little girl, grows into a teenager, then a young woman, a married woman, a wife and a grandmother. There is an Achara (conduct and custom) for all these stages which Bharatiya women unconsciously imbibe through generations of transmission.

a. Svadharma 

Nripathi was being kind to us ladies when he told men there were four different meanings for Streeya Maryada Uttama! The truth is, there is a fifth: Oh Ladies! Propriety is best!

This one guidance ensures not only that a woman makes the right and ethical decision in situations, but guilts men into behaving properly around them. This is also rooted in the purusharthas as maryada is a stepping stone to dharma, which guides, artha (wealth) & kama (love & pleasure) and leads to moksha. Wealth and love have their rules not to imprison us, but to guide us and protect us from greed, selfishness, and jealousy. Therefore, if there is one principle a lady,  young or old, takes from this, it is this. But from here, we move on specifically to the young.

The most significant stages of a woman’s lifecycle are the next two stages, that of a wife and then a mother. It is so because it is the stage when the stree has to align and adapt her svadharma with those of her husband’s and her new family’s and then go on to be the role model for her children. The below is an illustration of what I was saying about aligning svadharma as your circumstance changes.

As can be seen from the picture below, Bharatiya mothers and modern ones at that are quite capable of marrying tradition and modernity with elan i.e doing their svadharma. Surely most of them are mothers and it is important for today’s mothers to also nurture their individual talents along with caring for their family and children. Indeed, such mothers are beacons for their daughters, being achievers in the normally male dominated world of the sciences and also being wholesome and rooted mothers. These women below are certainly worthy of being worshipped for they are serving themselves and their families according to their svadharma and thereby contributing to Bharatiya society.

isro-celebrates

Lady Scientists of Indian Space Research Organisation

b. Pativratha

Gurumata Anasuya, the wife of Maharishi Atri, teaches Sita the spirit of Pativratha

Sita is upheld as an epitome of pativratata and while she is not a figure very dear to many “liberated” modern women, her story has shaped the worldview of almost all Bharatiya women. Pativratata is the defining quality of a married woman whereby she reveres a man as her lord and surrenders herself to him. The Vishnu Dharma Sutra lays out the relationship between husband and wife in quite a practical manner. It says, “...now then the duties of wives (are declared); they should perform the same vratas (observances and vows) which the husband undertakes; they should honour the mother-in-law, the father-in-law, other elders, gods, guests and keep the household utensils well arranged; they should not be extravagant in giving to others; should keep the goods well guarded; they should have no liking for magical practices (to win love) and should be devoted to auspicious conduct.“[3]

An aspect of pativratata is decision making. Issues on which the wife feels differently from the husband are sorted out through dialogue and action is taken after mutual consent. The end result could be one of three possibilities with the wife winning or the husband winning or they jointly taking an alternative route. And this does not even violate our sastras! The sastras say, Husband and wife (pati and patni) made for one complete entity, with wife mentioned specifically as one-half of the whole (ardhangini).Marriage vows to date have included the groom consulting his soon-to-be spouse in all matters involving dharma (religion and duty), artha (material matters), and kama (enjoyment of sex). [4]

On the issue of conjugal relations, it is worth noting that our sastras were extremely fair minded. Both husbands and wives were entitled to expect their spouses fulfil their conjugal duties, the punishment for the husband being double that for the wife” [5]. Sexual relations were primarily for the process of procreation but procreation with sacredness for how else can one reconcile the Kamasastra, with a biological act for procreation? The Kamasutra has very detailed procedures for the act of consummating a relationship. Prior to consummation of marriage, it is then the appropriate time for an aunt or elder sister to pass on limited knowledge from Dharmic selections of it. Sexual union, maithuna, is not considered dirty per the sastras. But dharma stipulates rules for cleanliness, before, during, and after. They apply not just to women, but also to men. Menstruation rules are known to women, but they should know that men too have similar rules for 2 days after a sexual act has been committed.[6]

Staying with conjugal relations, abortion or bruna-hatya is considered as an aparadha, indeed mahapataka (terrible sin) except in some extremely rare situations. Varahamihira in his Brihat Samhita advises that couples avoid relations during certain sacred festivals, pujas, and phases of the moon. By regulating the frequency of relations, he writes that there will be no need to resort to dreadful measures (i.e. abortion, etc) for family planning. Hence moderation, as in all things, is advised for dharmic enjoyment of conjugal relations. Arthasastra asserts that “Causing abortion was a serious crime”. [7] Ashwatthama was punished because he committed bruna hatya on Abhimanya’s unborn son Pareekshit.

However, as stated before there are some exceptional cases like this tragic one where an abortion would have saved the woman’s life. It is clear that abortion is neither ‘on demand’ nor a birth control option. It is considered as paap just as in other cultures around the world. However, if the woman engages in abortion, it should be done in a responsible manner so that the women undergoing the abortion do not have to face this.

For those advocates of free love, free sex and individual rights, here is a MUST READ article which shows how a society will collapse if it works on these principles.

Savitri is an extremely intelligent woman from our puranas who outwitted Yama (the god of death) and brought back her husband Satyavan to life through her intelligence. She is revered as a pativrata stree, as one of the pancha satis and “Women worship Savitri by tying colored sacred threads to the Vata (banyan) tree as part of observance during the rainy season in many parts of India, the occasion being called Vatasavitri” [8]

Photo: kidsgen

vat_savitri_vrat_sms_wishes_3735098624

 

Saha-dharma-charini (“one with whom dharma is conducted equally”) is probably a better role for the women of today.

Ahalya Draupadi Kunti Tara Mandodari tatha |

Panchakanyah smarennityam Mahapataka nashinim ||

Ahalya, Draupadi, Kunti, Tara and Mandodari

One should forever remember the panchakanya who are the destroyers of great sins [9]

The Pativratha standard as extolled in the Dharmasastra and Purana, is indeed the highest most aspirational form on the path to moksha. But those of us who live in the modern context may require a more accessible standard. These women (the panch kanyas mentioned in the sloka above) may not be Pativrathas in the traditional sense of “complete virginity before and chastity mind/body/soul within marriage, “, but they were nevertheless great women, great stakeholders of society, and great “saha-dharma-charinis”. They shared the dharma of their husbands equally, and managed despite their own complicated circumstances. So let that Pativratha standard be there for those who pray for Rama, but for women who hope for Arjuna (given his complicated love life), this second-highest standard within Dharma exists as well, that of saha-dharmachara.

Dharma is a big tent.Every saint has a past. Every sinner has a future.” Even the commentaries on Dharmasastra provide for separation from or reconciliation with wives who have transgressed. Whether or not a husband chooses to forgive, ladies, remember all make mistakes on the path to Dharma. But the best course is not to consort with or ogle other men. Husband should be the object of affect. Fidelity leads to Trust. Trust leads to Friendship. Friendship leads to Love. That is the basis for a strong marriage and the Hindu Family System.

Inheritance & Finance

The daughter, according to the Hindu family system, becomes a part of her husband’s family after marriage, and inherits her husband’s or son’s property according to well laid down principles. However, dharma sastra and vyavahara (formal law digests) have tried to create some security for the unmarried daughter (and a married daughter in distress). The unmarried daughter has the right to be maintained by her father and brothers, and also the right to be married off for which the father or the brother may draw from the ancestral corpus.After the death of the father, property devolves upon the brothers, and they are under the obligation to look after the unmarried sister. They also have the pious duty to arrange her wedding.”[10, 87]

On the issue of women having the right to property, our sastras have this to say: “The purpose of giving women the right to property is to afford protection in the case of calamity’ (3.2.34)”.–meaning protection not only of women, but protection by women of their family.[10]

As such both women and men have a responsibility to think not only of their individual needs, but to think of the needs of the family/society and plan for a rainy day.

With respect to non-ancestral property, “Apastamba said that husband and wife had a joint interest in the (acquisition and disposal of) wealth.” [11]

With respect to ancestral property, “Devana, Madhava, Candesvara, and Varadaraja agree with Vijananesvara that a wife who has received her stridhana gets only half the share or proportionate share” [12] The traditional rule is that if she has received her stridhana, then she is not entitled to ancestral property.

Bharatiya economy is a feminine one because it is the women who run it. Shri. Gurumurthy explains it well in this video. He writes about Indian economy as feminine, with women as leaders of the household and key decision-makers.Even per the sastras, men may be Chief Executive Officer, but women are Chief Operating Officers. Rather than being Gandhari and covering her eyes, she should give sight when her husband lacks it.

c. Mathru Dharma

YashodaKrishna

Mathru devo bhava.

This is one role revered by our civilization. Stree as a mother is the most exalted status that a woman can enjoy. Bharatavarsha is imagined as a mother and motherhood is considered as the pinnacle or crowning glory of being a woman. Manu says, “The acharya exceeds by his greatness ten upadhyayas, the father exceeds a hundred acharyas, a mother exceeds a thousand fathers“. [13]

But for mother to be a guru or herself to be an emanation of God, she must behave like one and be a good example, not just after motherhood, but even before. Also, mother herself cannot spoil her child. While her first principle is to love the child and nurture it, the second is to teach and punish where necessary. In an era where corporal punishment is frowned upon by modernists, mothers who refuse to engage in it still have other tools to correct misbehaving children (such as refusing gifts and not rewarding bad behaviour). The consequences of a mother indiscriminately indulging the child rather than disciplining it when occasion demands lead to an irresponsible adult as can be seen from the clip below.

On the other hand, Jijabai was the example of a mother, a strong Independent woman who raised a Shivaji to become a brave and fearless patriotic warrior. Her love for him was not blind but one in which discipline was a key ingredient to help him realise his potential.

jijabaiputra

d. Kutumba Dharma

whatfamilymeans

While families in Bharatvarsha are turning more and more nuclear, strangely there is a spate of regressive and outright moronic genre of soaps playing out on tv sets across the country; the saas-bahu soaps. In a cruel twist to traditional dharma, the characters who play daughters-in-law and mothers-in-law in these myriad serials are shown to be uni-dimensional characters portraying only good or bad. Nuances are lost, and these characters have no resemblance to real life people. Yet, these mindless serials hold our women in thrall, and worsen relations not only with in-laws, but even mothers and sisters. It is a bit frightening to think that households might soon start mirroring such mindless nonsense with real life resembling reel life.

We turn to our Itihasa, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata to draw inspiration. In the below clip form the Ramayana, Sita’s mother is advising her daughters and nieces who have been married to the brothers Rama, Lakshmana, Bharata and Shatrughna on how to deal with their mothers-in-law, particularly Kaikeyi who has banished Sita to vanavas with Rama.

In reality, mature relations between parents-in-law and daughters-in-law engender that there is mutual respect between them. Decisions may not always be acceptable to all concerned but if they enjoy a mutually respectful relationship, things can be sorted out through discussion and dialogue. And where there is no middle ground possible, the son (husband of daughter-in-law) should be allowed to take a final decision which may be least trouble to all concerned. The daughter-in-law has to understand that if they are in-laws to her, they are parents to her husband and that he also has his dharma to uphold. The Mahabharat has a scene (see below) which shows Kunti clearing telling Draupadi that she will step back and let the daughter-in-law take primary responsibility. If such maturity was displayed then by putting Stree Dharma principles into action maybe it is a lesson for today’s bickering saas-bahus if they are there, that there is another way to go about things.


e.Samaaja dharma

Mothers are indeed people who form the citizens of tomorrow through their sons and daughters. Hence it falls on the mother to inculcate such values in her children so that they in turn become upholders of dharma.

If that is one part of the deal, the other is that when the child strays away from the path of dharma, the mother has to correct the child for the greater common good of the society even if it means punishing the child severely. For instance, in this clip from the movie Mother India.

We can see how a mother keeping aside her matriarchal affections towards her son, does not hesitate to draw the trigger on him when he behaves badly with a girl from the village. Here, the mother has discharged her samaaja dharma by sacrificing her son who had gone astray from the path of dharma, to keep the honour of the girl who he tried to violate. “She is a daughter of this village”. Here we see here not only as a mother in a family, but a leader of a community. Dharma is not one dimensional, but must balance these different interests.

f.Rashtra/Desa dharma

rani(2)

Our tradition is filled with examples of women who were extremely well versed in political administration and many were also brave warriors & participants in society.

If we take the Satavahana dynasty of ancient Andhra desa, “Royal ladies like Naganika, Balasri played a dominant role in the affairs of the state….One of the outstanding features of the Satavahana society was the high status accorded to women. One can presume that some women occupied high positions in the administration as we come across the terms like Mahabholi, Maharathini and Mahasenapatini in the inscriptions…

The Satavahana women were fashion-conscious. In the paintings at Ajanta and sculptures of
Ellora and Amaravati we come across different hairstyles that were in vogue in those times. They were also fond of ornaments and bedecked themselves with a variety of jewels like earrings, necklaces, bangles,bracelets, and anklets. They did not have any inhibition in partaking intoxicants or participating in entertainments like Madanotsava, Ghatani
Bandhana Kaumadi Yagam where both sexes mingled freely.

In short, the Satavahana society was free and open but not permissive. The
people had developed a healthy attitude towards religion, morals, and sex” [14]

Chandra Gupta II’s reign is rightly known for the efflorescence of culture”. [15] His daughter Prabhavati Gupta ruled the Vakataka Empire of Maharashtra as regent. Yet she did not usurp the throne for her family, but did her duty on behalf of the family she married into and passed the throne on to her son.

The Portuguese traveler, Fernao Nunez, says, before: ‘[The king of Vijayanagar] has women who write all the accounts of expenses that are incurred inside the gates, and whose duty it is to write all the affairs of the kingdom and compare their books with those of the writers outside;….even the wives of the king are well-versed in music…It is said that he has judges, bailiffs and watchmen who every night guard the palace, and these are women” [16]

Then there is the story of Rudrama Devi who was the daughter of Kakatiya king Ganapati Deva. Since the king did not have sons to continue his lineage, he conducted a putrika ceremony that made his daughter the legal equivalent of a male successor. She proved herself to be an illustrious and worthy co-ruler along with her father.

Besides, there is the famous Maratha Ruling Queen of Indore, Ahilyabai Holkar, and the more modern story of Jhansi ki Rani who is held up as a symbol of valour and an icon of the First War of independence in 1857.

Hence dharma is replete with examples of brave and valorous women who took rashtra and desa dharma to be part of their stree dharma. Today’s woman also has a duty towards her state and country, and must remember this as a single woman or a married mother. There is also plenty of stree shakti in Bharatvarsha’s armed forces. Besides, there are many women in positions of power and responsibility in politics, economics, environment etc., who have the potential to be game changers in the growth story of this sacred bhoomi.

g. Bhoomi dharma

Satyabhama

Be a good global citizen by being a good local citizen. Be a custodian of the environment in your own land and own patch of land, and the world will benefit.

In the rural milieu, land has always been considered as sacred and tilling the land for sustenance and not exploitation has been a way of life for the Bharatiya farmer. This means that everything associated with that land, be it people, be it the animals, be it the crops themselves are considered as sacred. This safeguards against the tendency to exploit the land and its resources indiscriminately. The rural family believes that even its livestock is part of its sampatti and usually it is the woman who  nurtures and cares for this sampatti.

Therefore, there is a Bhoomi Dharma too, to honour the Earth and living harmony with it rather than taking more than we need for fashion or fashionability. Decisions we make as consumers affect more than just us, and therefore, must be made responsibly. Woman feeding healthy organic  food to her family especially her children, ensures healthy individuals are being nurtured to become responsible and contributing citizens of this country. This also promotes human civilization and agriculture that is in harmony with the land. By valuing nature and Mother Earth (Bhoomi Devi) at the local level, we become better global citizens in the process.

BhoomiDevi
V. Teaching Stree Dharma 

After going through all the texts and reflecting and debating, it all comes down to what is practically possible and feasible in today’s context. Our smritis are not written in stone and are meant to be adapted for the times. Thus Stree Dharma is a constantly evolving concept rooted however to its tradition. So, even if we change something today, it is an organic evolution of a principle that was previously there in our texts.

Women are the culture carriers of a civilization. Hence what Dharma a mother, an aunt, a grandmother follows will be transmitted to the child of the next generation. This transmission should be both overt and subtle; overt via visible symbols, rituals, stories etc, and subtle via how the elder women conduct themselves in various situations.

This is the only way dharma has survived thus far and how it will in future too. So, the onus is on you, the woman reader, to take the lead. Prepare well the dharmic women of tomorrow.

VI.Conclusion

rp_Dharmachakra-300x300.png

Today, Bharatavarsha stands at the crossroads. In fact there are two Bharats today. One, the rural Bharat where the woman works as hard as the man but that is just in keeping with her dharma of providing for the home and hearth. She tills the land, cooks, looks after the children and her husband and is the general manager of the family. There is the urban Bharat where the woman fills two roles. One as the general manager of the family and the second as a career woman in whatever role at her workplace. Thus her loyalties are divided between her personal and professional spheres. And it is among these women that Stree Dharma has its confusions and complexities. It is here that sometimes the woman is unable to prioritize and understand her roles and responsibilities.

While it is not possible to turn the clock back and go back to archaic ways of thinking about what constitutes Stree Dharma, it may well be that when in doubt, the modern working woman, should go over the practical dharma prescribed for a woman of today (drawn from the traditional dharma itself) and decide whether following any of those will give her the peace and harmony that she is entitled to in her life. I think most women do that unconsciously and without much reflection. This has been the reason for the reasonable stable nature of Bharatiya families.But such compromises do not come easy and without the reflection, they can be cause for dissatisfaction with personal life.

However, if the woman stops to reflect and understand her traditional roles and responsibilities and then make the compromises in a conscious fashion if she chooses to, she will be more comfortable with her decisions and in turn will transmit this harmony to her family. For, there is no doubt that it is the stree who is the glue of the family and therefore the society and finally the country. If she is at peace with her decision, peace is ensured for all the remaining.

Therefore, O Bharatiya naari, arise, awake, revisit your traditional roles, adapt them and make them practical for today, understand them and make your decisions after due reflection. It will really define Stree Dharma for you, and your coming generations. What values we imbibe is what we transmit. And what we transmit is what will be carried forward by our daughters. And our daughters will define the Bharat Varsha of tomorrow.

bharatmatacharan

References:

  1. http://www.economist.com/news/special-report/21688585-love-and-marriage-have-become-more-individualised-smaller-smarter-families?fsrc=scn/tw/te/pe/ed/smallersmarterfamilies
  2. see “7 should defeat the 6)http://indicportal.org/reprint-post-prema-is-not-moha/
  3. Kane, P.V. History of Dharmasastra. Vol.2.P.1. Poona: Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute. 1941.p. 564
  4. Sardesai, D.R. India: The Definitive History. Westview. Boulder, Colorado 2008
  5. Rangarajan, L.N. Edit, Kautilya. The Arthashastra. New Delhi. Penguin.1992
  6. Same as 5 above
  7. Rangarajan, L.N. Edit, Kautilya. The Arthashastra. New Delhi. Penguin.1992. p. 68
  8. Sardesai, D.R. India: The Definitive History. Westview. Boulder, Colorado 2008. p. 110
  9. Apte, Vaman S. The Student’s Sanskrit-English Dictionary (2 ed.). MLBD. 1970.p. 73
  10. Rangarajan, L.N. Edit, Kautilya. The Arthashastra. New Delhi. Penguin.1992. p. 66
  11. Mathur, Ashutosh Dayal. Medieval Hindu Law: Historical Evolution And Enlightened Rebellion. Oxford University Press. 2007 p. 70
  12. Mathur, Ashutosh Dayal. Medieval Hindu Law: Historical Evolution And Enlightened Rebellion. Oxford University Press. 2007 p. 73
  13. Kane, P.V. History of Dharmasastra. Poona. Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute. 1941.p. 580
  14. Rao, P.R., History And Culture Of Andhra Pradesh, Sterling. Delhi.1994.p.18 Satavahana Dynasty Of Amaravati
  15. Sardesai, D.R. India: The Definitive History. Westview. Boulder, Colorado 2008. p. 79
  16. Sardesai, D.R. India: The Definitive History. Westview. Boulder, Colorado 2008. p. 152
  17. http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/magazines/panache/why-my-choice-featuring-bollywood-actor-deepika-padukone-is-not-everyones-choice/articleshow/46790471.cms
  18. http://m.ibnlive.com/news/india/on-womens-day-read-the-suicide-note-of-a-man-971895.html
  19. Radhakrishnan, Sarvepalli. The Principal Upanisads. London: Unwin Brothers.1968
  20. Iyer, N.C. The Brihat Samhita of Varahamihira. Delhi: Satguru.1987