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.


Friday, December 31, 2010

The Year that was….

Its curtains for 2010, and when I look back at the achievements of the year, I don’t know which glasses to see through – the positive or the negative glasses. To avoid the confusion, I decided to put on my bifocals!

The good things about the year were that we did well in sports. India has started collecting medals and we have started showing up in the medals tally! India has come out of the shadows of being a single-sport (read Cricket) nation, and has started flexing muscles, literally, in other sports too. We seem to have done well in the international arena, where we are standing tall and all by ourselves. We have done away with the crutches of the developed nations and are a nation to reckon with and the visits by the premiers of six developed nations, is a testimony to that.

The list of bad things can go on, what with the second half being the year of scam-stars and fraudsters. When the sportsmen brought us laurels, the officials made sure, that the country hangs its head in utter shame. When technology was trying to show its potential, the serpent of corruption raised its venomous hood. When the system was trying to shelter its war-widows, the powers-that-be tried to take it away from them, in a crass display of cheap greed. Mangroves are making way for airports; Social workers are made to suffer humiliation by a few wanton justice-keepers, politicians are stooping to cheap gimmickry called funeral-politics, brazen outburst, and what have you.

As a nation we are today a combination of manav and danav. Some are epitomes of humanity and we can still some living examples of them, but unfortunately we can also see the danav’s in their full nakedness. It is said this is prakriti, nature, a blend of both. Life is all about striking a balance. But as a law-abiding citizen, the layman seems to be having law against it, and the upholders of law, seem to have made a slave out of the blind-folded lady. So what should the mere mortals like you and me do? Wait for Lord Vishnu to don the Kalki avatar or be one himself/herself? What if Lord Vishnu is in his cosmic slumber?

Rise O ordinary Indian! Speak your mind, and take action for yourself. Vishnu will come when he has to, but you do your bit. Vote for the right candidate, speak out in forums, stop paying bribes, teach true values to our children, raise your voice against child-labour, stop female infanticide and vulgar displays of misplaced honour……. The list can go on. But that’s not the point.

The point is with so much to do, how much is each one of us willing to do? How far are we willing to traverse naked-foot that extra mile? It is said – that god helps them who help themselves, and that is the truth behind the delay in Vishnu’s Kalki avatar. We have not done enough for Him to feel that we have done our bit. If as a nation we resolve to do our bit, we might not even need Kalki, the danav’s, asura’s, and the rakshasha’s of our nation will meet their end anyways. This is the time for the might of the mortal. So wake up O Indian and take your rightful place in the limelight. Don’t let any botched hand take away this right of yours. If we do our bit, I am sure as the noted lyricist Sahir Ludhianvi has said – ‘Woh subaah kabhi to aayegi, ….’

With this optimism, which is the hallmark of every Indian, I wish all my readers a very happy New Year and may 2011, bring the much needed dawn in the resurgent India!

This has been my 100th article in this Blog, and I would like to thank each and every one of you who have been following my Blog! Have a great 2011!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Do you know why Brahmins are Poor?

Well there is an interesting myth regarding why Brahmins are poor.

First another myth from Brihatdharma Purana. According to this myth, Goddess Lakshmi was an ardent devotee of Lord Shiva and she used to worship Shiva everyday and as a ritual used to offer one thousand lotuses during the worship. During one such day, she realised there were two lotuses less, and it was already too late to go looking for the lotuses. It was then that she remembered that once Lord Vishnu had described her breasts as blooming lotuses. She immediately decided to offer them for her worship. Lakshmi cut off one of her breasts and when she was about to cut off the second one, Lord Shiva appeared and stopped her. Satisfied with her worship, Shiva then changed the breast into a the Bael (wood apple) fruit and sent it down to earth to grow outside every temple of Shiva’s. 

Though Bael fruit and its leaves are offered to Lord Shiva, it is supposed to be the house of Goddess Lakshmi. Now let’s get back to the original question, as to why are Brahmin’s poor?

Once Lord Vishnu asked Lakshmi that she visited everybody and changed their fortunes, but why did she never visit the Brahmins, especially when they were responsible for the upkeep of temples, the abode of gods on earth, and were also knowledgeable and followed all religious rituals and practices and also helped other people to follow them?

To this, Lakshmi replied, that she was upset about the fact that the Brahmins, kept tearing off leaves from her home (i.e. the Bael tree) and offering them to Shiva. When they didn’t take care of her home, then why should she enter the homes of Brahmins? 

I guess, Vishnu had no answer to this, and we have probably got the answer to first question!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Sharabha Deva – A form of Lord Shiva

All of us are quite well aware of different forms of Shiva, be it in the form of Pashupati from the Harappan times, or Rudra from the Vedic times or other forms like Mrityunjaya, Sadashiva, Maheswara, or Nataraja form. The ascetic form and the family form of Shiva or the Linga form of Shiva are all well known.

However, let me introduce a relatively unknown or lesser-known form of Shiva and probably a form whose motivation was more ‘political’, which I will come to later. It is the Sharabha form of Lord Shiva.

Sharabha Deva killing Narasimha
According to Shiva Purana, Sharabha was a fierce looking creature. It had the wings and beak of a bird, body of a lion, sharp teeth, many legs and huge arms. It had sharp claws and was blazing fire. Its voice was like thousands of thunders striking together and the three eyes were like raging fire.

The myth has its origins in the Narasimha avatar of Vishnu. Having achieved its purpose of killing the demon Hiranyakashipu, Lord Vishnu was supposed to go back to his original form. But Narasimha having tasted blood was in no hurry to return to his original form. There was a growing belief that Vishnu might not go back to his form, and so to tame it, Lord Shiva had to take a more dangerous form to subdue it. A battle ensued, where Narasimha tried to strike at Sharabha only to realise that Sharabha was invincible. On striking Sarabha, it was Vishnu who groaned in pain only to realise that it was none other than Lord Shiva, and thus was Narasimha subdued, who later sang praises of the Sharabha Deva!

This rationale of such a form of Shiva can be found in the conflict between the Shaivites and Vaishnavites. The Bhagvata Purana mentions Hiranyakashipu as a terror to mankind and to eliminate him, Lord Vishnu had to come to earth in the form of Narasimha. The Skanda Purana however, mentions Hiranyakashipu, as just an irritant on earth and not at all a terror. One must not forget here, that Hiranyakashipu was an ardent devotee of Lord Shiva, though the boon given to him was by Lord Brahma! The Shaivites believe in this form of Lord Shiva and find its rationale of taming a form of Vishnu, quite palatable, however, the Vaishnavites do not believe in Narasimha being defeated by Sharabha. Rather, they believe that Narasimha manifested itself into Sharabha after killing the demon and Sharabha even finds place in the 1000 names of Vishnu (Vishnu Sahasranama)!

Believing in Sharabha Deva is left to ones individual inclination. Sharabha Deva in due course stands for the Lord who destroys those who cross moral and ethical boundaries.  

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Jujube Tree

Ber is the fruit of the tree Zizyphus jujube – a small, hardy tree that yields small berry like fruit, called the ber. Not many know that the ber tree or the Jujube tree can grow from just a small root leftover even after it has been cut. Some say, because it is a sturdy plant, but as usual the answer of this trait of it lies in mythology.

In Ramayana, after Sita was kidnapped by Ravana, both Ram and Lakshman were looking for Sita. It was then that they heard a faint voice, calling them and it was none other than an ill-kept Jujube tree. When Ram went to it, the tree, recounted the incident, that when Sita was being taken away, it tried to stop with all its might, but because it had weak branches, all it could manage was to tear off a small piece of cloth from Sita’s sari, which was also a testimony to its effort to stop the kidnapping.

Ram was moved by the gesture and granted it immortality, by saying that henceforth, even if the tree was hacked from its roots, it could grow back to life from a small leftover of the root.

The ber fruit has been again immortalised in the episode of Shabari and her ber, where Shabari would bite a bit from each ber before offering it to Ram, in the later chapters of Ramayana. Many scholars feel that the selection of the ber fruit is kind of odd, as it is not a very popular tree in India, but to put in some logic in the selection of the fruit could be that ber could have been a totem tree of the concerned tribe which Shabari belonged to.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Santa Claus

Is Santa Claus a mythical character? Well many might know that Santa Claus is based on a true character of the 4th Century Bishop of Myra, who was known as St. Nicholas. Just how did he change into a “ho-ho”-ing Santa Claus? Well it seems to come from the Dutch pronunciation of St. Nicholas, which is Sinterklaas!

So what is it about Santa Claus coming down the chimney bringing gifts for children? This ‘belief’ comes from the famous and oft-recounted, story of St. Nicholas and the merchant Demetri. Nicholas (who was anointed Saint later), was well meaning and was known for his kindness and generosity. There are numerous stories of his generosity being extended towards numerous people including children, women and just about anybody who needed aid. One such instance is about a merchant Demetri who didn’t have money for the dowry of his daughter’s wedding. It is said that Nicholas, dropped a bag of gold coins down Demetri’s chimney. Such stories and many other were later adapted to the character of St. Nicholas post his Sainthood. Though, December 6th was celebrated as the Feast Day of St. Nicholas, over the years, it has got merged with Christmas and is now celebrated on December 25th. 

Though the origins of St. Nicholas have Dutch roots, the modern day version of Santa Claus, has its beginnings in America of today. The present day avatar of Santa Claus being a cute old man who is slightly overweight, is based on the drawings of cartoonist, Thomas Nast. Over a period of time, the cute drawings got well ingrained in people’s mind and the present day pot-bellied, bearded Santa Claus is what has stuck on in people’s minds. Along with Santa Claus, Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and other characters and concepts have got attached and today you have a whole bunch of myths associated with St. Nicholas.

So Santa Claus or St. Nicholas, children have loved this character over the ages. Parents have helped perpetuate this myth of Santa watching children from the heavens, and bringing gifts only if you have been good all the year, etc.! Children over the years have been children, but parents still buy gifts keeping up with the tradition of Nicholas, giving gifts to all who are in need. Many also feel that the practice of giving gifts to all during Christmas is based on the gifts brought by the Three Wise Men (Magi) to the new-born Jesus.

Whatever, the practice, or the belief, and despite the accusations of commercialising a religious festival, I for one feel, that anything that brings a smile on someone’s face is worth doing, and that should be the true nature of any festival. So this festive season, spread the cheer and joy and give from your heart!

Merry Christmas to all and hope Santa visits your home, through the door as many of our apartments do not have chimneys anymore and may he bring along with him all the goodies that you need or want or simply wish!!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Are Marriages made in Heaven?

Marriages they say are made in heaven, may be, I have no clue, since I haven’t been to heaven as yet and am in no hurry to do so, either. For that matter, I don’t know anybody, who has gone to heaven or would be! Do you?

But on this day, I have a very basic question to ask, to people who come out with such sayings, and end up making mountains out of pimples. Why heaven? Let me analyse some great couples whose marriages are definitely subject of the heavens. How many of we mere mortals would like to exchange places with these great couples?

Ram & Sita from Epic Ramayan
A marriage which was definitely destined to take place and such a godly couple was never to be seen. A wife like Sita and a husband like Ram, who was the maryada purushottam – a man amongst men! The marriage began well, till things came to a state of exile ending with the kidnapping of Sita, followed by a battle. Such a heavenly wedding was rocked by palace intrigues and the taunts of laymen, ending up with the banishment of Sita during her pregnancy. She then gives birth to twins and continues to battle the hardships of a single mother in the jungle, till she manages to reunite her children with Ram, but ends up giving up her life. Anybody willing to exchange this marriage with theirs? Not me – not beyond the kidnapping, for sure!

Shiva & Parvati from Hindu Mythology
Shiva, a loner, an ascetic and living a Bohemian lifestyle; Parvati a princess, in love with Shiva, and willing to go to any extent to appease him. Parvati after a lot of penance manages to convince Shiva and the two get married. The wedding procession of Shiva had, all sorts of ghosts, goblins and creatures, with the groom on a bull! It is said that Parvati’s mother had fainted on seeing the wedding procession, but that’s not important. Also, the wedding attire of each member of the procession – a subject that is best not delved in, is also I guess not important! The groom stays on a mountain top. If all this is not enough, Shiva is known for his famous anger which burns up everything and makes the world tremble under his feet. Supposedly, the only husband whose anger surpasses that of his wife, but that is a different matter! Any takers for such a married life? Let’s move on!

Zeus & Hera from Greek Mythology
Zeus and Hera, the two chief deities of the Greek pantheon. Zeus, known for his affairs, with goddesses, nymphs and mortals and Hera known for her jealousy, and her vindictiveness. All through his life, Zeus keeps his affairs on and Hera chases him and his partners everywhere, with his partners bearing the brunt of her ire. Any takers for such a married life? Well to begin with, I do envy Zeus and his ability, virility, but wouldn’t it be better with a bit of a less nagging wife than Hera? Food for thought!

Vishnu & Lakshmi from Hindu Mythology
My last couple, considered to be the best of all, a life of fun, glamour and colour. Vishnu, the man amongst all, with an ability to do all that gods are well known for – has it all. Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, one who grants prosperity. Great wife to have. But all the myths suggest that the two seldom spend time together. Vishnu is busy taking different avatars on earth, chasing demons, and the chanchal Lakshmi left alone quite often, keeps moving all over the place (this place is quite huge) like a butterfly! Both happy and seldom complaining. I think the lack of proximity is the key to the success of this marriage! As they say, ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’.

Having analysed all the four marriages, I must say, I am happy my marriage was not made in heaven, but on earth, and like earth, my marriage has its mountains and valleys and sometimes deep drowning oceans too!

I don’t want a wife like –
  • Sita, who suffers in silence, because I am used to a lot of shout-back by now!
  • Parvati, even though she never complains – that’s too much of a luxury for a mere mortal like me!
  • Hera, as she is too much of a nagging and suspicious woman.
  • I wouldn’t mind a wife like Lakshmi who is the embodiment of wealth, but on second thoughts, I don’t want a wife who is so ‘chanchal’, and keeps flying away like a butterfly!

I am happy and content with what I have, besides the fact that I love status-quo! I do agree with the fact that change is good, but only if I was Zeus! But since that might not happen in the 21st century,

  • let me trust my wife and be by her side, especially when she needs me the most, unlike Ram;
  • let me remain worldly and control my temper (do I have a choice?), unlike Shiva;
  • let me be true to her unlike Zeus, &
  • let me always be with my wife, unlike Vishnu!

Who cares where my marriage was made – I feel on top of the world today!

Happy Anniversary – my dear wife!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Mythical Birds

We have till date read about real birds like peacocks, roosters, owls, etc. and their mythical symbolism. Today we will talk about mythical birds – birds that existed only in myths. Creative, unbelievable and magical, to say the least!

Phoenix is the most famous of all the mythical birds. Phoenix was a bird which resembled an eagle, found in the Greek and Egyptian myths. According to the myths, a Phoenix could live up to 500 years and then it would build a nest of fragrant herbs and spices and set itself on fire. However, a new bird would emerge from the ashes. The act was more of a symbolism for immortality or the concept of rebirth. It is from this myth that we derive the English phrase – to rise like the Phoenix.

Harpies were Greek mythical birds, which had the body of birds with the faces of ugly females. They were agents of punishment and were cruel and violent. Harpies, who were three sisters in all, were actually the personification of the destructive nature of the winds.

Griffins again were Greek mythical birds, with the body of a lion and the head and wings of an eagle. Their main role was to guard treasures.

Hoyl was a mythical bird, in the Garden of Eden. According to the myth, hoyl was a bird which did not eat the forbidden fruit that both Adam and Eve had eaten. As a reward, the bird was granted immortality of sorts. The bird never dies, it just goes off to sleep, till it is destroyed by a divine fire, in which an egg remains, and from that comes out a full grown hoyl.

Quetzalcoatl was one of the most important figures of the Mesoamerican mythology. Quetzalcoatl was a feathered serpent; the green-plumed part symbolised the heavens and the wind and the snake symbolised the earth and fertility. Quetzalcoatl was one of the most important gods in the Aztec culture and images of the god were found in the temple ruins in Mexico. The images of Quetzalcoatl have been found with images of rain and water, suggesting the gods association with the rain and vegetation.

Thunderbird was one of the most important figures in the Native American mythology, representing thunder, lightning and storm. The Thunderbird was also the protector of human beings from evil spirits. According to the myths, the bird caused thunder by flapping its large wings and it caused lightening by opening and closing its beak and eyes. The natives also believed that the Thunderbird was also involved in the creation of the universe.

Garuda was a mythical bird from the Hindu mythology. This bird was eagle faced and was also the vahana of Lord Vishnu, but was also a minor deity in its own right. Garuda has many myths associated with itself and is very well known for its hate towards the serpents or nagas, and also has a role to play in many of the major Hindu myths.

Firebird was a mythical bird with golden feathers and crystal eyes that appears in the Russian folklore. It was the bird which would help Ivan the son of the Tsar and a number of tales have been woven around the benevolence of the bird.

Yatagarasu was a three legged Japanese mythical bird. Except for the description of three legs, there isn’t any mention of the nature of the bird. However, scholars have surmised that it looked like a raven or a crow. In Japanese myths, the appearance of Yatagarasu was considered to be an evidence of divine intervention. In some myths, Amaterasu, the chief deity is said to have changed into this bird and at times the vice versa. Nothing much however, is mentioned about this bird. The Chinese too have a similar three legged crow, known as Yangwu, which though has a description of a crow, is not black, but red.

Roc – or Rukh was a legendary bird from the Arabian mythology. The Roc has been described as an enormous eagle looking bird, often white, with huge wing-span (eight yards each), but with unbelievable strength, whereby it could lift an elephant in its talons. It used to lay massive sized eggs. A mention of this is found in the famous stories of Sinbad the Sailor. Many feel that this could have been a bird from the times of the dinosaurs, but there is no analysis on this.

The mythical birds, as mentioned earlier, were a creative delight. The earlier thinkers gave it a form and meaning as they saw or understood nature or the causes of nature. These birds were definitely not major parts of the myths, with a possible exception of Quetzalcoatl, who was amongst the prime deities, but were significant with their acts of benevolence, or impediments, or inherent symbolism. They added that extra aspect of fantasy to the myths, which makes the myths so endearing in its totality.

Thursday, December 16, 2010


An Owl is a very intriguing bird probably because it is a nocturnal bird. Besides, its nocturnal habits, it is also supposed to be amongst the oldest of the vertebrate animals in existence as fossils dated back to more than sixty million years back have been found, and surprisingly it hasn’t changed much. Just as Wisdom over the ages doesn’t change much!

Owls have a special place in mythology across the world. Some mythologies see them as a very important bird whereas some see them as a sign of bad omen. Let us see how some of the cultures treat the owl as a bird.

In Hindu mythology, owl is the vahana of the goddess of wealth, Lakshmi. There are mixed interpretations of the bird. Some feel that sighting an owl brings luck whereas some feel that it’s a sign of bad omen. However, one common observation has been that a white owl brings luck, whereas any other owl is a sign of bad omen. Owls also have their association with things dark and sinister and death. Popular representations have associated an owl with the cemetery and the hoot of an owl is always associated with spooky feelings, and sometimes as harbingers of death.

Like the Hindus, the ancient Greeks too believed that owls were a symbol of good fortune and it had its association with the Greek goddess of wisdom, Athena. But the Romans, like some Hindus, felt that the owls were bad omens and their cries always indicated death. It is said that the deaths of famous people was always predicted by owls, including that of Julius Ceaser and few other notables. The Romans also felt that sighting an owl before a battle was a prediction of defeat and dreaming of an owl by sailors was an indication of shipwreck.

The Welsh have a very interesting myth associated with Owls. According to the Celtic mythology, Blodeuwedd was a beautiful goddess created out of flowers by Gwydion to wed his son, Lleu. Blodeuwedd did not want to marry Lleu who was madly in love with her; instead she wanted to marry someone else. Together, Blodeuwedd and her lover conspired to kill Lleu, but Lleu was protected from death by the gods who had made him invincible, and could be killed under some very strange circumstances. Blodeuwedd seduced Lleu to reveal the secret, and later she and her lover manage to kill Lleu. However, Lleu still did not die since he was restored back to his original form. For this treachery, Gwydion cursed Blodeuwedd to turn into an owl and since then the owl haunts the night in loneliness and sorrow and is rejected by all the other birds.

According to the Sumerian mythology, their goddess of death was attended by owls. Besides the Sumerians, ancient Egyptians, the Chinese, Japanese and the Indians of Central and North America, also associate the owls with death. However, in the Navajo creation myth, an owl resolves a dispute between men and women, leading to the creation of the human beings.

Though the early cultures in Mexico considered the owls as sacred to their rain gods, the Aztecs later saw them as evil.

William Shakespeare in some of his plays has referred to the owl as harbingers of death. In spite of all its sinister leanings, the owl is also associated with wisdom and learning. The Greek goddess, Athena had an owl perched on her shoulder, which had the ability to see things that Athena couldn’t focus on, thus adding to Athena’s natural wisdom.

I think it is the nocturnal aspect of the bird which makes it so evil and deadly. The hooting of the owl too is not a very pleasing sound and this too seems to have added to the common thinking of the owls being the harbingers of bad news.

But a recent sighting of an owl from very close quarters convinced me, that it needs some attention and study. I hope I have been able to do justice to the poor owl who had got lost in the concrete jungle that I live in!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Romance of Echo and Narcissus

A Painting of Echo and Narcissus
According to Greek Mythology, Echo was a nymph, who was well known for talking a lot. Once when Zeus, the King of Gods, was busy romancing some other nymphs, Hera, his jealous wife came down to earth looking for him. Zeus used Echo to distract Hera. Every time Hera asked something, Echo would start talking endlessly, giving enough time to Zeus and the nymphs to move away. It took some time for Hera to realise this and it upset her to no end.

Hera cursed Echo, that from then onwards, she would not be able to speak on her own; she would only repeat the last words of the person who speaks to her!

Narcissus was the son of a river god and a nymph. On his birth, the sages had predicted, that Narcissus, would live very long, provided he didn’t see his face. His mother immediately ensured that all mirrors be removed from the vicinity, and soon Narcissus grew up to be a handsome young man, who spurned, the love of many a nymph, man and woman, as he believed that none were worthy of his love.

After Echo had lost her ability to speak on her own, once she saw Narcissus, and fell in love with him instantly. During the chase in the jungle, Narcissus said – “Who’s there?”, and all poor Echo managed to repeat was “there”, and this went on, till Echo flung herself on him, to be violently rejected by Narcissus. This left Echo heartbroken.

Narcissus Flowers
The chase had left Narcissus, very tired and thirsty. He came across a clear still brook and decided to quench his thirst. Narcissus had always seen his shadow, but never his reflection. On seeing his reflection, he instantly fell in love with himself. He tried to kiss the beautiful boy he saw, only to realize that his love would never be reciprocated. But he was too much in love with himself and could not come to terms with the reality. He remained there near the brook, till his life drained out of him. When Echo reached there, all she found was a flower in the place where Narcissus, lay. This flower Narcissus is said to grow on the sides of rivers and brooks, as if Narcissus is still gazing at himself.

Echo in the meanwhile was saddened by the death of Narcissus, and it is said that she still wanders around in the mountains of the world, seeking her love. She is found in deep valleys and caves, and if you call out to her, and if she is home, she will answer back, the last words of the caller! That’s how we get the meaning of ‘echo’. Now you also know why a person who is so full of himself is known to have a ‘Narcissistic’ personality!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Parijat Flower

Parijat is a beautiful small flower, with snow-white petals and a red stalk. This flower blooms only at night and sheds flowers before sunrise. They flowers have its medicinal values, but we will focus on some of the interesting myths associated with the flower.

The first myth is a sad romantic myth. According to this myth, Princess Parijataka was in love with Sun, but her love was never reciprocated. Having lost in love, she committed suicide and from her ashes rose the Parijat tree. Since she is unable to bear the sight of her love during the day, she blooms only at night, and sheds the flowers as tears, before the sun rises. Some myths go on to say, that the tree sheds its tears on the touch of the first rays of the sun! The fragrant flowers spread their fragrance in the entire area, during the day, as a sign of undying love for her lover, the Sun.

Another myth too has a romantic link, but more as a bone of contention. According to this myth, the Parijat tree was planted in Indralok (the abode of Lord Indra) which was one of the gifts received from the samudra manthana, and thus was a celestial plant, not available on earth. To sow seeds of discord, Narada, brought some flowers from Indralok and gave them to Lord Krishna, and waited to see as to which wife he gave the flowers to. Krishna gave the flowers to Rukmini. On seeing this, Narada went to Satyabhama; Krishna’s other wife and told her about it. When Satyabhama’s jealousy was aroused well enough, Narada went on to give a solution to her. He suggested that she should insist on Krishna getting the plant itself from Indralok and plant it at her home, instead of a few flowers! Satyabhama decided to do that and when Krishna came to her quarters, she showed her anger and disappointment on the whole incident and insisted that he get the plant from Indralok.

True to his nature, Narada, in the meanwhile went and warned Indra that some earthlings were out to steal the celestial plant from his Indralok! When Krishna and Satyabhama were about to leave after taking a branch of the celestial Parijata tree, they were accosted by Indra and a battle took place, leading to Indra losing the battle. But Indra would not let it go so easily, and cursed that the plant would never bear fruits, though it might bear flowers, and thus since then the Parijat tree does not bear any fruit.

Having brought the tree to Dwarka, Rukmini too took fancy to the tree, because of its flowers. So Krishna planted the tree in such a manner, that though the tree was planted at Satyabhama’s house, when it bore flowers, they would fall in Rukmini’s home! Satyabhama had asked for the tree and she got it, and Rukmini wanted the flowers, and she had it too!

Another example of Krishna’s diplomacy.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Reality Shows, Gladiator Style


In ancient Rome, events that took place in the Colosseum and other such amphitheaters were of general interest to the people. Among the most common were gladiator fights and leaving prisoners of war and slaves in front of hungry wild animals. People in the Colosseum cheered at the sight of men fighting men and animals tearing men to shreds.

Today, TV reality shows have become a great source of entertainment. Bigg Boss is a very successful show. In this show, a
set of losers, ex-convicts, out-of-work-models and stars and other such also-rans live in a house together, under the full glare of multiple cameras, with no interaction with the outside world.  They shout, shriek, fight, romance, backbite and scheme, all of which provides much entertainment to viewers. People watch these programmes for the crass display of vulgarity and foul-mouthed behaviour, which is despised in family situations but accepted when it is on television.

In ancient Rome, gladiators volunteered to fight. If they did not live up to expectations, they face disgrace and shame. If successful, fame and fortune were theirs. The gladiator would be accepted in society as a free man.

On shows such as Bigg Boss, Sach ka Saamna and Temptation Island (the Indian version of this one has not been launched yet. Thank God!), volunteers have agreed to live under banks of cameras for hefty sums — and the ultimate prize of fame and fortune. In the process, many face disgrace and are sometimes rejected for their unacceptable behaviour. Sometimes, though, the disgraced gets them more attention and success than the winner of the show has reaped. Fame, whichever way it is achieved, can lead to new career opportunities for the star whom the world would have otherwise forgotten.

With the Roman gladiators, the loser’s life was in the hands of the spectators. When a gladiator was overpowered by his opponent, the loser would raise his hand accepting defeat. The winner would let go of him and appeal to the audience for a decision. If the spectators showed thumbs-up signs, it meant the losing gladiator should be killed. Thumbs-downs indicated that he should be pardoned.

In reality shows, the contestant’s fate is in the hands of the viewers, who vote an inmate out of the house every week, thus eventually selecting the winner. Meanwhile, a minuscule percentage of the audience has realised that such shows are an insult to one’s taste and mental faculties, besides being offensive. So they prefer to be old-fashioned and tune in to the news or a quiz show.

What is the reason for the continued success of reality shows, then? It is Man’s inherent appetite for voyeurism.

Every individual has a secret desire to know what’s happening in people’s homes, behind closed doors. We all want to know — Rukmini Rukmini, shaadi ke baad kya-kya hua… khidki mein se dekho zara? This peeping-tom habit was always clandestine but television has brought it out in the open. Such open acceptance of voyeurism, and that too being satiated for children even without their asking or realisation, is making children lose their childhood before time and making all of us seem like hungry, salivating hounds.  

When such shows are promoting a culture of exhibitionism, glorifying humiliation, then why not ban them?

Times have changed. We do not live in the times of the gladiators and we do not have Roman emperors who could act on a whim. We supposedly live in an age of free speech, emancipation, self-control and, of course, democracy. Can we exercise some control and use the finger for the right button — to change the channel?

Do not degrade yourself just because a set of also-rans have decided to sell themselves to an audience hungry for scandal.

You decide!
The above has been published in the Mumbai edition of Hindustan Times dt. 12/12/10.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The crime of Julian Assange

According to Greek Mythology, Sisyphus was the King of Corinth, who had some heroic deeds to his credit, but was punished by the gods for the heroism.

Sisyphus was witness to one of the escapades of Zeus, the King of gods. Once he saw Zeus kidnap one of the river nymphs and when the river god came looking for his daughter, Sisyphus revealed the location where Zeus had taken her. Zeus was outraged at this impudence, and as a punishment sent Thanatos, the god of death, to take Sisyphus’s life. But Sisyphus was too smart and decided to cheat the god of death, so that no mortal would ever have to encounter death! He managed to chain the god of death, till the gods came to know about it and sent another god to get the release of Thanatos. After some more events, all the gods were upset with Sisyphus, at his audacity. His crime – first, he revealed the secrets of the King of gods, Zeus, and second, he tried to keep death away from mortals.

His punishment was that he would have to eternally push a big boulder up a cliff, till he managed to put it on top of the cliff. If he stopped, then the boulder would crush him, and if he reached the top, it would roll off on the other end, and he would have to start again this never-ending task.

Doesn’t this sound very familiar to a recent hero, who too is being punished for revealing secrets? Julian Asange.

Asange (Sisyphus?) too has committed the ‘crime’ of revealing the secrets of the Big Brother (Zeus?). As a punishment for revealing the secrets, Sweden (Thanatos?) has been let loose behind him to try him for a crime, which is hardly a crime. His other crime, he supports the freedom of press and speaks against censorship (death?). For this crime, he is being tried under a different crime (alleged sex crimes). Are Big Brother and its friends, going to put him on trials after trials, so that he does not come out of them, and does not try to do them more harm, by revealing more secrets? Zeus didn’t have as many secrets as the modern day governments have!

But then, this is no Greek Mythology and we are no more mere mortals. Shouldn’t we take up the cudgels for a fellow mortal who is revealing the secrets of another set of mortals, who are on the pedestal, thanks to us? If this is a debate of freedom of speech, vs. censorship, then let us have the debate, but not hang the whistleblower before trial. In today’s time, let us behave like men, not like ancient Greek gods.

On a lighter note, to quote somebody, if anybody needs to be tried, then it is the condom manufacturer for selling condoms that leak, not the head of WikiLeaks. Let WikiLeaks, continue to leak!!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


A recent corporate honcho has built himself a modern-day citadel, christened, Atlantis. So what is with the name and where does it come from?

According to some writings of Plato, Greek philosopher, Atlantis was a mythical country in the middle of the modern day Atlantic Ocean. Atlantis comprised of intelligent people and was mineral rich country, of the size of a continent, which had it all – fame, wealth, and the wherewithal of a dream nation. They were supposed to be advanced in their agricultural processes, whereby, they had two harvests a year, as against one, in later times.

According to a myth, Poseidon, the God of Oceans, fell in love with a mortal, Cleito, who bore him sons (five sets of twins), and the eldest of them, Atlas, was the king of Atlantis. Atlantis rose in its stature till it followed the rules laid down by their ruling deity, Poseidon. But soon, the kings started living by their own rules and the success of the nation’s health had started to yield fruits of corruption. People were becoming greedy and corrupt by the day. All this angered the gods at Mount Olympus, headed by Zeus. Zeus and his gods decided to teach them a lesson, and sent in series of calamities, in the form of a volcanic eruption and huge tidal waves, to submerge the whole nation of Atlantis.

Atlantis is referred to as the forgotten civilisation and also stands for all things that began well, but was destined to be doomed, due to pride and corruption. This incident or the myth has led to many an expedition to find the remnants of the lost city, in the Atlantic, even today.

It is not known if Plato really believed in the myth or wove a tale as a lesson for the people, but it has a long lasting impression on people of Greece. Many scholars feel that Plato was painting an idea of an Ideal state and what happens when falls from grace due to slipping ideals.

With such a background of Atlantis, I wonder which aspect of Atlantis was behind the naming of a residence. I would think it must be the dream nation and its prosperity that it once stood for. What else?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010


Hanukkah is a Jewish festival of lamps, celebrated for eight days and nights. It commemorates the miracle of oil, which is part of the Jewish lore.

The incident is supposed to have taken place around 165 BCE, a place near Jerusalem, which was taken over by the Syrians, under Alexander the Great. Accordingly all places of worship were converted to Greek temples. During once such incident, a Jewish temple was converted to a temple of Zeus, and to hurt the Jewish sentiments, pigs were sacrificed at the temple, which was a sacrilege for the Jews.

This continued till one day, a Jewish High Priest, by the name of Mattathias, and his five sons decided to revolt against the Greeks. They did not rest till they managed to get back the control and drive out the Syrian-Greeks. As a part of the ritual cleansing of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem, they decided to burn the ritual oil at the Temple for eight days. But they found that they had stock of oil for only one day. They nevertheless went ahead and started the ritual only to find that the small quantity of the oil, miraculously burnt for eight days. Since then Hanukkah is being celebrated to mark this miracle and the regaining of the Jewish temple.

During this festival, the traditional Hanukkiyah which is a candelabrum with eight candleholders in a row, with the ninth one being slightly elevated, is lit. The Hanukkiyah is lit for eight days, one on the first day, two on the second, till all eight are lit on the eighth day. As a part of the celebration, the children play the dreidel, which is a four-sided spinning top with Hebrew letters on each side. Children usually play the dreidel for chocolates, candies or just about anything.

Hanukkah is an important festival of the Jews and coming close to Christmas holidays, its importance is all the more great. However, there is no significance of the fact that Hanukkah is so close to Christmas, and it is purely coincidental. Hanukkah in Hebrew means ‘dedication’, which is a reminder to people that the festival is for the re-dedication of the Jewish temple after taking it back from the Syrian-Greeks.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Gods of Love

Greek mythology has Eros and sometimes better known as Cupid as god of Love. Eros is a handsome man (the word "erotic", meaning sexual love, comes from his name), who is the son of Aphrodite, who had fallen in love with Psyche. However, it is as Cupid that he is better known. Cupid is a small winged child, who is both very good looking and extremely mischievous, with a penchant for shooting love arrows blindly (thus giving the phrase – love is blind). The ‘victim’ of his arrows is supposed to fall in love with the very person they see after being hit by the arrows. Cupid is sometimes shown riding a dolphin.

Hindu mythology has Kamdev as the god of love, and he too is handsome, moves around with bow made of sugarcane, strung with a line of bees and his arrows are flower-tipped with desire. His wife is Rati (passion) and together they create love, desire and passion. Kamdev’s is shown riding a parrot. Kamdev is supposed to have been born from Lord Brahma’s heart and his main supporter is Vasanta (Lord of Springs).

According to a myth, Lord Shiva was engrossed in deep meditation after the death of Sati and a mighty asura needed to be killed by Shiva’s offspring. Shiva needed to be disturbed from his meditation to even look at Parvati. All the gods requested Kamdev to wake him up by shooting his desire-filled darts. Kamdev knew the risk on hand, but complied with the request. When Shiva was disturbed, he was angry and when he found out the god responsible for this, he opened his third eye, and reduced Kamdev to ashes. But by then Shiva was very agitated and was being overcome with desire and love for Parvati, whom he had seen on opening his eyes. Later, on seeing the sad state of Rati who could not come to terms with the outcome of such a noble act by her husband, Shiva agreed to restore Kamdev, but only in spirit, which implied that Kamdev did not represent only physical love, but also true love and affection. Thus Kamdev is also known as Ananga, the bodiless! His other names are Madan (one who intoxicates with love) and Manmatha (one who agitates the mind with love)

We can see that both Cupid/Eros and Kamdev have similarities. Besides being handsome and evoking love by shooting arrows, they too have their own love stories. Eros with Psyche and Kamdev with Rati. Overtime, the love they evoke has gone through a metamorphosis in its implications, but the original response of their arrows continue to be carnal love, as we see in the case of Eros himself and Lord Shiva and Parvati. Mythology has never looked down on carnal love; rather there are numerous instances of such love in all mythologies. However, with the rise of man establishing moral standards, such examples were given a coating of philosophical interpretation.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Gift of Fire

According to a Greek Myth, Zeus, the King of all gods got bored with all the creation, and so decided to create living beings to inhabit the earth. So he gave the task of creating living beings to two brothers by the name of Prometheus and Epimetheus. Prometheus meant foresight and Epimetheus meant hindsight.

On earth, both started their creations. Prometheus made man, in the shape of the gods and Epimetheus made animals. On creation, Epinetheus expended all the gifts to be given, on the animals, without much left for man. Thus the animals were endowed with swiftness, cunningness, physical strength and protective fur. This left Prometheus literally nothing to be given to man as endowment. So Prometheus decided to teach man, the art of fire, which was known only to the gods in Mount Olympus. This angered Zeus to no end.

To show his gratitude for creation, Zeus sent a beautiful maiden by the name of Pandora, along with a box, with an instruction that the box should not be opened. Prometheus knew that Zeus was up to something and so he declined the gift, but Epimetheus not only accepted Pandora, but even got married to her not heeding to Prometheus’s warning.

Zeus was further offended by Prometheus’s refusal of the gift from the gods, and so he decided to punish him by chaining him to a rock in the Caucasus Mountains where every day and eagle would come and eat his liver, leaving only at night, when the liver would begin to grow again, only to be eaten again the next day. (Modern science tells us, that amongst all the body parts, liver is the only organ which has regenerative powers, seems as if the ancient Greeks knew about this aspect!)

On the other hand, Pandora got very curious to know what was in the box that she was not supposed to open. One day, the curiosity got the better of her and no sooner she opened the box, out came all the miseries – vice, labour, old age, insanity, illness and death. Pandora however, managed to shut the box, just before ‘hope’ could escape, and thus today amidst all the miseries, it is hope that sees man through. (It is from this act, that we get the phrase ‘opening a Pandora’s box’).

So just as Pandora weakened man with all the miseries she let loose, fire managed to see mankind through civilisations! In Greek Mythology, Prometheus is regarded as a hero for rebelling against Zeus and giving mankind the gift of Fire at the cost of risking his life.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


Thanatos is the Greek god of death and is the son of Nyx (night) and Erebos (darkness) and is the twin brother of Hypnos (sleep). As god of death, Thanatos’s siblings are Geras (old age), Oizys (suffering), Moros (doom), Apate (deception) and Nemesis (revenge). The association of Thanatos is with all things grim and negative. After all what else is death to a mortal? But, then Thanatos also has lent its name to Euthanasia – where ‘eu’ stands for ‘good’ and Thanatos for death – thus implying ‘good death’. Sometimes Thanatos was associated with peaceful death, as Keres stood for violent deaths!

A recent Hindi movie has fuelled an ongoing debate on Euthanasia, or ‘mercy-killing’ in common parlance. Let us see how the subject is seen in our myths.

Hinduism is aware of Prayopavesa, which stands for starving to death, in Sanskrit, or death by giving up food and water. However, Prayopavesa can be performed only by someone who has no desire to live or no responsibilities left towards the family or society at large and at times in cases of terminal disease. The phrase ‘desire to live’ is quite dubious as a reason, but we will leave this for the time being. According to the scriptures, the Bhagvata Purana was narrated when King Parikshit was observing Prayopavesa. A similar practice is found amongst the Jains, which is known as Santhara.

Another reference to such an act is Mahaprasthana, i.e. great departure, which leads to death. This was undertaken by those who did not believe in taking lives (even if it was their own), and so one proceeded on Mahaprasthana, which would eventually lead to death, due to reasons, not known or not found out ever.

History is witness to such acts by the likes of Veer Savarkar and Vinobha Bhave. Veer Savarkar is supposed to have written in an article, titled - 'Atma-hatya or Deh-tyaag', saying that Suicide was taking one’s own life, but renouncing life when it was not capable of functioning properly was a different matter altogether. Buddha and Mahavira are also supposed to have ended their lives on their own.

Are there any specific references of embracing death (if we simplify the term Euthanasia) in our Mythology? According to Ramayana, Mother Earth parted under Sita’s feet and she merged in the ground. Could this fantastic idea be an euphemism for embracing death? It further states, that Kush tried to save his mother, but failed. Again Valmiki’s Ramayan mentions that Ram took ‘jal samadhi’ by simply walking into the river Sarayu, but when Hanuman decided to join him, Ram stopped him from doing so. This shows that somewhere, embracing death was limited to few people and not people at large.

Another obvious reference to embracing death is that of Bhishmapitamah in Mahabharat. Though he had the power to choose when to die, he chose it after much suffering. A bed of arrows could imply severe bodily trouble, and embracing death, when he could take it no more.

Some compare Euthanasia with Suicide, calling it Legal Suicide. However, it is here that I beg to differ. Suicide is a matter of impulse, which is never a well-thought out decision, by a loser (be it loss of faith, trust, or material). But Euthanasia is a well-thought out decision and at times gives a chance to make a mid-course correction (if it is going the Prayopavesa way for example). But Suicide does not give you such options. Also Euthanasia is taken only under cases of severe or terminal illness. It is important to mention that Euthanasia is carried out by a medical practitioner, which again is a key differentiator from Suicide. Euthanasia is not a stand-alone concept; there are other issues like Voluntary vs. Involuntary Euthanasia, Active vs. Passive Euthanasia, which is beyond the scope of this article.

The subject has moral and ethical connotations and the debate needs to continue. I am not making a case for Euthanasia, but was only trying to see if there are any references available, which is not a justification for the act though. I insist that I am not posturing here, but only putting some facts on the table, or should I say, on your screens!