A Blog on Mythology and occasionally on Reality.

This is a Blog on Mythology, both Indian and World and especially the analysis of the myths.

In effect, the interpretation of the inherent Symbolism.


Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Akshay Tritiya

Today is Akshay Tritiya, or Akha Teej, one of the most auspicious days of the year. ‘Akshay’ means never diminishing or something that is perpetual, and ‘tritiya’ is the third day of a month, and in this case it is the Vaishakh month. The day is considered to be so auspicious, that any new beginnings need not be subject to any special mahurat, or auspicious time. Thus on this day, many embark on new ventures, marriages, etc. Any beginning today is thus considered to have begun on an auspicious moment, so the venture or the relationship would be fruitful and everlasting.

As a child, I have seen my mother performing many rituals on this day. One of them which caught my fancy was donning the photograph of Lord Krishna, with a white soft cloth which would be smeared with sandalwood paste! The reason would be that the weather was turning sultry and the cloth with sandalwood paste on it would sooth the deity who was confined to the closed ‘mandir’ for the major part of the day! It did seem quite amusing, but in those days faith was not something that was questioned with the remarkable alacrity that is visible now! Some Krishna temples do resort to similar rituals albeit in much more elaborate manner.

The day has a number of mythological significances which are as follows –

  • This day is the birth day of Parashuram, the sixth avatar of Lord Vishnu
  • Kubera, who was the richest deity in the Hindu Pantheon, worshipped Goddess Lakshmi to maintain and sustain his wealth
  • The day marks the birth of Goddess Annapurna (goddess of food), who was born to feed the hungry
  • On this day, Ganesha and Sage Ved Vyasa got together to start writing the epic Mahabharata
  • According to the epic Mahabharata, on this day Lord Krishna gifted the Akshay-patra, the bowl which would never be devoid of food, to Draupadi
  • The river Ganga descended on earth on this day
  • The day also marked the beginning of the treta-yug in Hindu Mythology
  • On this day, Bengalis perform the ‘Hal-khata’, the beginning of the traditional book of accounts
  • In Orissa, the farmers sow the seeds on this day with a lot of religious and ritualistic fervour. Women in Orissa also worship ‘Sathi Debi’ the guardian goddess of the children, who also has the power to bestow children to the childless.
  • The construction of the chariots for the famous ratha-yatra of Puri, begins today after an elaborate ritual.
  • One of the most significant legends associated with this day is that of Krishna-Sudama. Poor Sudama was supposed to have visited Lord Krishna on this day to seek material help, but could not say a word and returned without saying anything, except sharing some rice that he had got along with him. On reaching home, he saw that he was gifted with all the riches that he had hoped for, or rather much more.

Such myths seem to lend credence to the fact that good deeds get rewarded on this day, thus many also resort to charity.

Astrologically, this is the day when both the Sun and the Moon are at its radiant best, which by itself is rare and only on this day. This could have given rise to the popular notion of buying gold and silver on this day, though there seems to be no mythological or religious allusion to this notion. It is said that some years back a few jewellers publicised that buying gold and silver on this day is considered auspicious and soon this spread to the entire country. This could be just another marketing success, similar to what the greeting card industry did a few years back with the numerous Days being celebrated. The value of gold and silver seldom comes down and is considered to be a good investment, so buying it on this day (or any other day) is always beneficial!

Finally, before I end, it is important to mention that this day is also an auspicious day for the Jains. According to the Jain scriptures, Lord Rishabhdev renounced worldly pleasures and distributed all his wealth and land among his children and meditated without food and water for six months. On attaining enlightenment, he went back to his village to accept food. Since he was the first monk of his era, people did not understand that all he was seeking was a morsel of food. Instead of food, people offered their erstwhile king, gold, jewellery, and all sorts of riches, but not food. When he did not get what he needed, he retreated and started meditating once again. After about another six months or so, his grandson understood why his grandfather had visited the kingdom and on this day of Akshay tritiya he offered his grandfather a glass of sugarcane juice and helped him break his fast. Since then, the Jains fast on this day and break their fast with a glass of sugarcane juice on this day.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Vishnu’s Dashavatar & Charles Darwin – Part 2

Yesterday, we read about the similarities of the first five avatars of dashavatar with Darwin’s theory of evolution. Let us now go through the other five avatars to trace the cultural evolution of mankind.

The sixth avatar of Lord Vishnu was Parashuram, a rugged primitive warrior with a battle axe. This form could be a symbol of the cave-man stage of evolution and his usage of the axe could be seen as man’s evolution from the stone age to the iron age. Man had learnt the art of using tools and weapons and exploit the natural resources available to him.

The next avatar is that of Rama, a king who obeyed all the norms of the society as laid down, even at the cost of his personal discomfort. This form also displays a sense of altruism that was expected from a man amongst men – who was to set the ideals of living and even set an example of exemplary ethical standards. This also shows that society had started forming norms and rules and the life of savagery and might-is-right was over. Kings, government, rules and a distinct class system was beginning to fall in place.

This brings us to the next avatar of Lord Krishna, who was shown as a philosopher who taught the methods to deal with the contradictions of the society. He gave mankind the novel ways of handling ethics and evils both in an objective manner. Showing Lord Krishna’s childhood as a cowherd also depicts the fact that man had learnt the domestication of animals and had learnt to make use of the animal resources available to him and respect the same. Along with Krishna, is his brother Balarama, who is depicted with a plough, which goes on to show that man had also begun to depend on agriculture and had learnt to make use of land and earn from it. This also puts an end to the nomadic life style of the uncivilized man.

During the times of Rama and Krishna, there are a number of concepts introduced to man, which shows that man had begun to even think in a creative manner. The earlier avatars dealt with and depicted the baser instincts of man. But these two avatars had started giving wings to man’s thought process. Thus in Ramayana we find the mention of Pushpak Vimana (a flying machine), crossing of seas by Hanuman, sanjivani-buti (life saving drugs), etc. Similarly, in Mahabharata, which also deals with the life and times of Krishna, we see the evils of the society, games played by the people (chaupar), Sanjay relaying the battle from a distance through divya-drishti (divine-vision), mention and occasional usage of weapons of mass-destruction (brahmastra and divyastra), births which were not normal and which needed external help, all akin to modern methods of aided-reproduction, etc. (Please note that I am not saying that people had the ‘technology’ then; all I am saying is that man had evolved to a stage where he could allow his creative thoughts to think of such aspects of life – which too is a stage in the cultural evolution of mankind).

This brings us the ninth avatar of Lord Vishnu, i.e. Lord Buddha. The story of Buddha symbolizes the emergence of non-violence and human rights as viable doctrines. Till the stage of Rama and Krishna we have seen man thinking of rules and norms of living in a society. We have seen aspects of politics and forms of governing and the life of battles and its repercussions. Buddha gives man a meaning of existence. He gave man the ideals of a class-less society and that all were equal, irrespective of status. Buddha taught man to think beyond material comforts of life. He introduced the concept of Moksha and Nirvana, and made them the ultimate goals of life. We are supposedly still in this stage of evolution and each one of us are seeking our own ways of achieving individual Moksha, though we have not quite found the formula of world-peace!

This completed the entire evolution of man, which started from nothing, to an evolved evolution.

The tenth avatar of Lord Vishnu, i.e. Kalki, is an imaginary incarnation and is still awaited. Kalki depicts a warrior mounted on a flying horse with a sword who is ready to fight any extra terrestrial invader. The symbolism here is not very clear. Different scholars have opined different regarding this avatar, some say that this avatar will bring a complete destruction which will take us back to where we started, whereas some say that this could be the idea of a single leader who will unify the world under a single rule/ruler. (We will have to wait and watch and if something happens during my lifetime, please be ready to find it in this Blog!).

To conclude – it is important to understand that Lord Vishnu’s dashavatar came much before Darwin propounded his theory of evolution. However, this does not undermine Darwin’s efforts in any way, as his theory is more granular and with a lot of scientific evidence that our rational mind has got used to. On behalf of Charles Darwin, I would also like to mention that he had never read the Hindu scriptures and in no way did he use this to formulate his theory of evolution!

Vishnu’s dashavatar has definitely eliminated some stages of evolution, but one can’t overlook the beauty of presenting what today is scientifically an acceptable theory. Moreover, Darwin stopped at the evolution of man, but the dashavatar goes beyond the physical evolution of man, it traces man’s cultural and cerebral evolution too. Needless to say, that the theory has some overlaps, like Parashuram making an appearance during the times of Rama and Krishna, but if you leave such things to the theorists and as aspects of ‘creative indulgence’, then one can’t help but agree that this is definitely one of the best theories of evolution. 

Finally, my favourite statement, (at the cost of repetition) – all that we read in mythology is not without meaning and every aspect has more to it than what meets the eye!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Vishnu’s Dashavatar & Charles Darwin – Part 1

All of us know about Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution – read it in schools. All of us also know about Lord Vishnu’s ten incarnations, better known as dashavatar. How many of us have seen a connection?

Connection between a scientific theory and a mythical narration of god’s incarnation? This is no joke and nor is it a concocted theory meant to superimpose scientific theories on a religious point of view. Nor is this some sort of ‘we-thought-it-first’ kind of pseudo-nationalism leading to a feel-great emotion. This is a natural outcome of what I have always maintained in my blog – every myth has a hidden meaning. There is more to it than what it says and above all, look beyond the story.

The ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu, talk about the forms of Matsya (fish), Kurma (tortoise), Varaha (wild boar), Narasimha (half lion half man), Vamana (dwarf man), Parashuram (angry fighting man with a war axe), Rama (the ideal man/king), Krishna (the philosopher), Buddha (the peace maker) and Kalki (messiah of the future).

If you follow the above forms, you will find a familiar sequence. Yes, it is the chronology of the evolution of mankind.

In the evolution chronology, life evolved in the waters and thus the first form of life is an aquatic animal i.e. the fish (matsya). Lord Vishnu took the form of a huge fish and towed the primordial boat carrying good people and cattle to the new world of the future through the waters of the great deluge.

This was followed by the form which could survive both in land and water, which is depicted through a turtle (kurma), which can survive both in land and water. In the Kurma incarnation Lord Vishnu takes the form of a great tortoise to support churning of the primordial ocean with the mountain, to beget the elixir of immortality. Evolution from Pisces to Amphibians is also what Darwin had proposed. Around the time amphibians evolved, tectonic movements and upheavals of great landmasses were recorded. The churning of the ocean can be seen to symbolise this movement giving rise to new landmasses. At the end of this massive upheaval of earth, mountain ranges such as the Himalayas, Andes, and the Alps were supposed to have come into existence. These mountains later made way for dense forests and rivers which became the source of survival of fast evolving species on earth.

Please note that Darwin’s theory had many intermediate stages of evolution, which is not found in the dashavatar. Instead of the stages of reptiles and birds from amphibians, the dashavatar straightaway evolves to the mammals from the stage of the amphibians giving us the nest avatar of Varaha, the wild boar. In the Varaha avatar Lord Vishnu is seen fighting and eliminating the demon in the oceans, to rescue the abducted land maiden (Bhu-devi) for the benefit of people.

Many scholars have found strange coincidence with the scientific finding that more than about 70 million years ago, the Indian land mass had torn itself from the Antarctic and moved north to join the Eurasian land mass, thus lifting up the Himalayan fold mountains. The tropical forests of the western Himalayan ranges, fed by the great river systems of Indus and Ganges later facilitated the evolution of pre-human species. They further surmise that the conquest of the demon by a wild boar could symbolically signify the end of dominance of giant reptiles (dinosaurs?) and the emergence of mammals as the leaders of life forms.

Once the mammal had evolved, the next stage of evolution was a form of human beings who resembled animals both in looks and in behaviour. This takes us the next avatar of Narasimha, where Lord Vishnu is described as a form of half lion and half man. In short, the theme is that of transition. The human evolution did have a transitional form in this period, which is aptly named by Indian anthropologists as "Rama Pithacus" and "Sugriva Pithacus". This species is supposed to have been found in the Himalayan region and they were said to have had long manes on their head and were bipeds, the first step of human form that stood on two legs, but was still animal like, and in this case the animal resembles a lion. Narasimha is supposed to have killed a demon Hiranyakashyap, father of Prahalad, who was an ardent devotee of Lord Vishnu. The manner in which the demon was killed was typical to animalistic-man who was still in his savage stage.

From this stage was evolved a slightly smarter and intelligent species of mammals, i.e. the monkey clan who were short but intelligent. This brings us to the next avatar, of the Vamana avatar (the dwarf man). The way Vamana uses his cunning sense to eliminate Mahabali to gain power of earth is a case in point. Symbolically speaking, the three steps of Vamana could well symbolize the mastering of the three key aspects of the human beings at the said stage of evolution - homo-erectus (upright walking), homo-habilis (use of tools) and homo-sapiens (discriminative thinking), which distinguished humans from non-humans

The first five avatars are the symbols of Darwin’s biological evolution theory. The sequence may well represent the forms of fishes, amphibians (reptiles), mammals, advanced primates (hominids) and finally the thinking man respectively. If we look deep and go through the stories in details, they all give hints of the physical evolution of man. However, the next five avatars show the cultural evolution of man.

We will take this aspect of evolution tomorrow…..keep reading!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Twist to a Folk Tale

Once upon a time there was a kingdom called Purano Bagan (old garden) which was in the clutches of a King who had grown too old and ineffective. He was given to literary debates of no significance and in his absence, his goons had taken over. There was lack of governance and the kingdom was in a state of anarchy.

In such a scenario, people were getting oppressed and those who spoke up were tortured in dungeons and some never got to see the light of the day. Many started leaving the kingdom. In the kingdom there lived four friends. One was a rich businessman, the other an intellectual, the third was a medicine-man and the fourth was a simpleton. Though they belonged to different professions and background they were good friends. Like the others, they too one day decided to leave the kingdom, much against their wishes.

The businessman wanted to leave as he was not able to invest and conduct business safely in the kingdom. The intellectual’s views were being suppressed and were seen as an alternate ideologue as he was proposing ideas for a change and the kings goons were against that. The medicine-man wanted to leave as there was no atmosphere for research and thus no development in the field of medicine. The fourth was a simpleton, and wanted to leave as he saw no future in the city for simple folks like him.

So one fine morning they all decided to leave. From the outskirts of the kingdom, they gave one last look to their beloved land and turned their faces in sadness. Just then, they saw a battered woman lying on the ground badly wounded. They immediately knew that she must have been a victim of the oppression of the king’s henchmen. Surprisingly, all the three, except the simpleton seemed to have an idea, as if together!

The medicine-man said that he could manage to revive the woman and give her all the physical powers that she might need, but that would require a lot of money. The businessman immediately agreed to fund the treatment. The intellectual said he would be able to feed her with all the education on ideology that would be required. The simpleton was puzzled – “What for” he asked. As if in unison, they all replied – “The change that we need, you silly! She will be the harbinger of change!!” The simpleton was not sure and said that he wasn’t sure if he was willing to go with them. He tried to dissuade them, but the three would not listen to him. Sadly the simpleton, decided to leave the kingdom all alone.

The three friends were too excited to care for their friend and they got to work. They took her to a nearby empty hut. The businessman paid a lot of money based on which, medicines and some life saving drugs were bought secretly. They nursed the woman, who seemed to be reviving faster than expected. As soon as she was in a position to sit up and listen, the intellectual started reading out the classics and teaching her all about the philosophies of the world. He told her all about the liberal ideologies and how culture flourishes in an open atmosphere. How debate is the foundation of all societies and consensus ought to be the main way of resolving all issues. Soon the woman was ready to be sent to the king’s court.

The woman was named Ma as she was going to give birth to a new regime. On her way to the court, she gathered more supporters who were awed by her very gait, her radiance and her demeanour. She entered the court and challenged the King to a verbal duel on any topic of his choice. The king was too old to challenge, and her goons were too awe-struck to oppose. To cut short the story, Ma won hands down. There was celebration in the entire kingdom as now they would live in peace and harmony and the three friends were called to the court the next day for felicitation.

The three friends put their finest dress and walked in to the court with pride on their face. On reaching the court, they looked at Ma, their own creation sitting on a green throne – green was the colour of prosperity and change. Ma on the throne was looking royal and a leader to look up to. The King was gone and so were his henchmen. However, what took the three friends by surprise was that the replaced people looked no different from the Kings henchmen, but then this was not the time to be cynical, after all this is the day they were waiting for.

The three of them bowed as Ma looked at them from her throne. Ma then spoke. Her first order was that the businessman’s property be confiscated, so that she could usher in a regime of equality where all would be equal. Next she said that the medicine-man be not allowed to practice as he and the businessman could join hands and create monsters which could be detrimental in the new regime. As far as the intellectual was concerned, he was ordered not to teach and debate as his lectures and deliberations could mislead people to an unnecessary revolution and that is one thing that the kingdom did not require. What the kingdom now required was a single point of agenda, to eliminate the old order and change all that she thought it better. In this new order there was going to be change, but change the way she saw, change the way she wanted and not what the others wanted.

She then called the Minister for Education and suggested a series of changes in the text-books and suggested the deletion of many important aspects of history from the books. She then called the Minister of Culture and suggested the kind of music that the people in her kingdom should now onwards listen to, irrespective of whether people wanted to hear or not. She then called the Minister for Law and Order and suggested guidelines on what should be passed as crime and what should not be, irrespective of what people wanted to complain about. She also suggested that all lawlessness charges be levelled on the erstwhile Kings henchmen, and that there was no need to verify prior to levelling of the charges. She and her men were beyond reproach.

The businessman, the medicine-man and the intellectual were shocked to learn that they had created a Frankenstein. If only they had listened to the simpleton and left with him, they would have been better off. But it was too late.

Ma then took to learning to play the sitar. She got so engrossed in it, that she did not bother to see what was going on in her kingdom. Once there was a fire which led to many more fires and it seemed that the whole kingdom was up in flames. When people rushed to tell her about it, she was engrossed in playing her sitar. Disappointed, people went back, saying – “While the kingdom is burning, Ma is busy playing the sitar.” This reminds us of Nero playing the fiddle when Rome was burning.

Does anybody remember what happened to Nero after that?

(Adapted from an old folk-tale – “The Four Brahmins and the Tiger”)

Published in LITIZEN on 03/07/2012



Monday, April 16, 2012

The Unwanted Girl Child

Distraught mother of Baby Ameena
First it was Baby Falak and now Baby Ameena, all in the heart of the metros of India. Thousands of girls are killed every day in what is made to appear as natural deaths, but these two names have shocked the nation recently due to the way the babies were battered. Many more don’t even get to see the light of the day, in what is better known as female-infanticide.

Why is there such a dire need for a male child? Is it because girls are expenses personified in a poor man’s world? Or is it because a girl does not carry on the name of the father?

Is it at all necessary to find reasons as to why people kill the girl child, except for the fact that this is done by inhuman and uncaring blot of a human being, who is misguided in his thinking and bestial (with due apologies to the animals!) to say the least?

Isn’t it ironic that such things should happen in a country where a girl is referred to as Goddess Lakshmi (goddess of wealth) and where the worship of Mother Goddess is prevalent in every nook and corner of the country? A country that celebrates the nine-day Navratri festival which heralds the arrival of the daughter to her parental home should see spates of men killing their infant goddesses is a shame in itself.

Has this a precedence of sorts, though we have seen many cultural practices, or malpractices to be precise? None that I know of; though I don’t claim myself to be someone who knows a lot on such issues. But it has now become a practice to rummage in the past, however, the same is not to justify the happening, but could help understand the age of such customs and its prevalence as a thought-process.

I am reminded of a tale from the epic Mahabharata. This pertains to the birth of Satyavati. Let me begin from the start! Once upon a time, King Uparichara was on a hunting expedition and while resting under a tree, the thought of his wife got him excited and this led to the ejection of his reproductive fluids. The king wrapped this body-fluid as it was an auspicious period when such fluids were not to be wasted and gave it to a parrot to take it to his wife. The parrot was attacked on its way by a falcon and the leaf fell into a river and the fluid was swallowed by a fish. This fist was actually an apsara who was cursed by Lord Brahma to be a fish till she gave birth to human children. Sometime later the fist was caught by the fishermen and they found a boy and a girl when they cut open the fish. The head of the fishermen took the babies to the King of the land, who was none other than King Uparichara himself. The King decided to keep the boy and gave the girl the head of the fishermen! This girl was brought up as Satyavati who later went on to marry King Shantanu and was responsible for Bhishma’s vow. She was also the mother of Sage Vyasa, the author of the epic Mahabharata, and grand-mother of the Pandavas and Kauravas.

In this tale, there is a very clear case of rejection of the girl child, though the rejection has not been discussed in details. The King accepted the boy, who then grew up to be the king of the region and founded the region of Matsya, but the girl was left to be brought up by the head of the fisher-folk. Could this discrimination be the reason for Satyavati’s condition that her sons be rightful heir to the royal throne? Till her presence in the epic, she does take a number of strange steps which bring out her contempt for the men in the epic, but that is a  topic for another day.

To reiterate, the above is not being related to the present day killings of infants. The above was just a case of an unwanted child. However, we do have other instances where an abandoned girl child was given all the love and care a child would need. The case of Sita in the epic Ramayana is a good example. She was found by King Janak in the fields and took her as her daughter. Or the case of the birth of Draupadi who got an equal status along with her brother Dhrishtadyumna, both of who were born out of fire to King Drupada.

Mythology is a mirror of the past and a thought-process of what went through the minds of the people then. Even there, when there was a difference in the status of a woman, such acts of bestiality cannot be found. I think that the modern man is more archaic than the men of the past and no explanation or justification is enough for such cruel methods of eliminating girl child for a boy. To say that poverty drives one to do so, is probably just an excuse for ones inherent desire for a boy child. Hypocrisy and such acts of bestiality should be condoned and punished in the severest way possible.

Social ostracism should be an obvious by-product.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

All Fools Day!

With the Financial year coming to an end, the new financial year begins with the All Fools Day!

Is there some significance?

I know not!

But the day does seem to have some significance.....can anybody guess what?

Till then, read my last years post on the same day about the day!