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, September 28, 2010

The Meaning of the Myth of Ahalya

The myth of Ahalya has generated enough controversy both in the feminist world as well as against the so-called Aryan-supremacy. But can we scratch the veneer of myth and see if it has any other meaning?

According to the myth from Ramayana, Ahalya was very beautiful and also the wife of the sage Gautama. She was seduced by Indra through trickery, and was later cursed by the sage to become a stone (a woman who cannot understand the difference between her husband and another man, even in the dark, is no better than a stone!). Needless to say, Indra too was punished, but let’s leave his punishment for the time being.

The myth goes on to the period when Ram is passing by and Ahalya is redeemed by the touch of Ram’s foot, and gets united with her husband, sage Gautama.

How insulting for a woman who was not quite at fault and how chauvinistic of the man to redeem a woman by the touch of his foot! I’ll leave one paragraph for my feminist friends to fill up!!

Let us analyse this myth –

When we break-up the word Ahalyā, अहल्या, it has three components
A – hal – ya

Hal stands for ‘plough’, hal-ya stands for ‘plough-able’ and thus a-hal-ya stands for ‘un-plough able’.

A deep study of the myth can be understood as follows –
Ahalya could be a tract of land or a region which was considered to be barren. As part of Ram’s socio-economic reforms, during his passage, he could have been responsible for teaching the residents a method of cultivation, unknown to them till then. The barren (stone) land thus becomes fertile (alive woman) by stepping (touching by foot) of Rama on the land.

Again some might ask, as to why the imagery of a woman? Well the earth has always been associated with the feminine principle across all cultures, so that’s not out of place.

Needless to add here that Ram in the entire Ramayana has been seen as someone who stands for the downtrodden, like Sabari, aborigine tribes better known as the Baali’s, Sugriv’s and the Vanara’s of Ramayana, etc. The myth of Ahalya could be another such act.

Friday, September 24, 2010

National Shame

Have you ever wondered why so much is happening around us, which is not of our doing but definitely for our suffering? Why are we being subject to international humiliation, by none other than our own people? Why are we witnessing instances of gross inability to deliver, crass corruption and shameless comments stinking of an organised cover-up?

Why is it that we simply see, hear, read but choose to move on?

It is because, from the time we are born, we are asked to compromise and accept. We are part of a mechanism, where we are taught through generations to suffer in silence and eulogise all who do so. We love the lady who does not protest and goes on to shed copious tears in privacy for the final moments (read seconds) of fame. We love and eulogise the Satyavati of Jai Santoshi Ma fame or Radha of Mother India and are taught to take them as epitomes of virtue. The virtue of silence, the virtue to hide our inadequacies from the glance of external eyes, is so ingrained in our collective psyche, that it is anathema to protest.

Today a bunch of jokers are out to shame us, our international reputations are at stake, our abilities to deliver is at question and all this laid on a large screen for one and all to see. Rhetoric and silly comments fill in the day, last minute mopping (of floors and brows) is on, and all we do is sit back and feel bad – but then what else can be do? After all God will punish the wrong-doers – isn’t this what mommy dear always said?

But no, God will not! Because He thinks that He has granted you enough knowledge and ability to do it yourself. He has given you enough insight into international standards, that you can today judge for yourself what your own capabilities are. He has given you enough self-respect, to stand up for yourself. He has enabled you with enough strength to slap the next person who equates his own pathetic standards of hygiene with yours, leave alone that of the foreigners, which today is no different for any human beings.

If the powers-that-be have decided to do a Dhritarashtra act and execute their responsibility by just issuing deadlines, we don’t have to follow suit by being Gandhari’s of the yester-world. Take up the cudgels and act.

Punish the menials who have been seated on the altars, who are doing only harm, and no good. Their coffers are full and they have no need to do anything else for generations to come, but you and I – the commoners still have to toil and we still have the burden of our raped self-respect to carry. We still have our spinal cords erect and can see any man on earth in his eyes without shame.

So wake up! Speak up! If not now, then when? If not at all, why?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Pitru Paksha – Shraadh

From today starts a fortnight of one of the most inauspicious period of the year as per the Hindu calendar. This period is known as Pitru Paksha and all good deeds, like asset purchase, investments, marriages, inaugurations of new ventures, etc. are put on the back-burner for a later and a better day. But this is the superstition part of it. Let us understand the concept first.

Pitru stands for ‘forefathers’. Paksha here means a ‘fortnight’. Paksha in Sanskrit refers to a wing of the bird. A lunar month with two fortnights is imagined as the two wings of a bird. Pitru Paksha – thus implying the fortnight of the forefathers is observed during the waning phase of the moon, ending with the darkest night (no-moon night) of the month, which is known as the Mahalaya Shradh Pitru Paksha, considered to be the most important day of the inauspicious fortnight.

As per the scriptures, after a person’s death his dead body (sthula sharira) is burnt and funeral rites (antyeshti) are performed. This is performed to liberate the soul (jeevatma) from the body, but the same needs a vehicle to do so, i.e. thru a linga-sharira (subtle body). Departed souls hover around the crematorium, and they are known as Pretatma (ghosts). These Pretatma’s have no physical existence and thus are in a continuous state of restlessness. The funeral rites are carried out to provide peace and rest to the restless souls. It is these rituals which help the Pretatma get an intermediate body, between linga-sharira and sthula sharira (dead body). This intermediate body helps the body to proceed to the journey to the Pitri-loka (land of the forefathers).

What is done after the death is antyesti and what is done during this period is shraadh (better defined as a commemoration for the departed souls). This period is strictly dedicated to ones ancestors, three generations of them.

According to mythology, it was Yama, the god of death, who is supposed to have explained the importance of shraadh performed during Pitru Paksha. Different Puranas, like the Agni Purana, Garuda Purana and Matsya Purana, have details given about the rituals of shraadh. It is also said that this is the period when the gods go to sleep, thus the souls get nothing from the gods. In hunger and thirst the restless souls come down to earth looking for their family members to provide them their food and drink. Ignoring their wants would not be quite becoming of their present generations.

The most auspicious place to perform such shraadh is on the banks of the river Shipra in the city of Ujjain. According to mythical references, Lord Rama is supposed to have performed the last rites of his father there and since then the place is known as “Ram Ghat”. If one is not able to go the Ujjain, then Gaya in Bihar is the next most auspicious place for this, besides many other places of regional significance.

Finally, shorn of all the rituals and myths, this is a fortnight of remembrances. It reminds all of us to be grateful to our forefathers for this day and it is not asking for too much to pray for the departed souls, who have left this world, either through natural or abnormal deaths. Even if our rational mind, seething with scientific virtues, does not justify the superstitions of the fortnight, it might still be a good idea to just remember our forefathers and silently pay obeisance to them.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Ganesha outside India

(With Anant Chaturdashi, we come to the end of the 10-day Ganapati festival. The following is my last article on Ganapati, for the time being, as the subject is so vast that one never knows when once again, I might want to write on Ganesha!)

Ganesha, though is a young god in the Hindu pantheon, his popularity rivals that of Shiva, Vishnu and other gods and goddesses. The Ganapati cult has also its followers in other parts of the world, especially in countries that were influenced by Buddhism. In many of the Asian countries, inscriptions, idols, etc. were found which bear testimony to the worship.

The worship of Ganesh was introduced in Japan around 9th century, by one Koloho Daishi. Ganesh here was worshipped as Kangi-ten of Daisho Kangi-ten (god of joy and harmony). Kangi-ten is not very famous today, but is secretly practiced by the Shingon sect. Representation of Kangi-ten is similar to the elephant-head god as we know, except that there is a difference. Kangi-ten is represented by two elephant-headed characters, one male and the other female, both facing each other and in an intimate embrace. This lends credence to the tantric roots of some branches of Buddhism. However, few representations show Kangi-ten without the female counterpart.

Mongolia too has seen some Ganesha worship. Temples have been found where four-handed Ganesh images have been found. Here too Ganesha has been seen in a similar form as above (Ganesha and Ganeshani) and is known to be fighting demons. In such images, he has always been shown with a radish in one of his hands, and in some, his vahana, the rat too has been depicted with a radish in its mouth.

Ganesha worship was also quite common in Burma, especially by the merchants. In Burmese language he is referred to as Mahapienne (great god), and merchants were known to carry small idols of the god whenever they travelled on work.

Similar worships were known to have taken place in all those areas which came under the spell of Mahayana Buddhism. There were difference myths woven to make stories where the Buddha and Ganesha were supposed to have interacted. The mythological intermingling is quite common as cultures started losing their borders.

Finally, the Roman god Janus. Janus was not an elephant headed god, but was a two headed god, one looking at the past and one towards the future, and thus the month of January is named after him. However, Janus like Ganesha, was worshipped at the beginning of all things, prior to planting and harvest, besides a host of auspicious moments, like birth, marriages, etc. This is the common aspect that Janus shares with Ganesha. Another similarity that can be inferred is that Janus was known to be a good of the gates, and Ganesha was created to guard the gates of Parvati.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Ganapati – Names and Forms

As we know, Ganapati has many names and some of them also imply a form. We already know about the most common ones like Ekdanta, Dhumravarna, Vinayaka, etc. already mentioned in some of the earlier articles.

Let us discuss some lesser known or seen forms of Ganesha –

Bala Ganapati – this is the child form of Ganapati with four arms. In his hands he carries a mango, a branch of a mango-tree, a stem of sugar-cane and a sweet.

Gajanana – is red in colour and is again a four armed form, mounted on a rat. He is supposed to have killed Lobha, who was the demon of greed.

Mayureshwar – this is a six arm form of Ganapati who is white in complexion and is seen riding a peacock. This might have some resemblance to his brother, Skanda or Kartikeya who is normally seen atop a peacock. In this form he battled the demon Sindur.

Mahatkota – is a ten armed form, seated atop a lion and shines like the sun. In this form Ganapati is supposed to have killed two demons, Narantak and Devantak

Vakratunda – is a form where Ganapati has a curved trunk and is generally seen atop a lion. In this form he is supposed to have battled the demon Matsara, who was the symbol of jealousy.

Vighnaraja – is a form where Ganapti is seen lying on the Shesha, the snake of eternity, in a form similar to Vishnu on Sheshanag. In this form, Ganapati is supposed to have defeated Mama, the demon of ego.

Bhalachandra – Here Ganapati is shown as wearing the crescent moon in his head

Vira Ganapati – is Ganapati as the hero, where he is shown as sixteen armed, in which he carries the trident, an arrow, an axe, a sword, the club, a pestle, a spear, a noose, etc. All signs of a warrior god.

Heramba Ganapati – is a five headed form riding a lion. In this form he has ten arms, which have a combination of both arms and other religious symbols like the rosary, etc.

Nritya Ganapati – is the dancing form of Ganapati with four arms.

Urdhva Ganapati – is the rising Ganapati. Here he is shown seated with his Shakti on his left thigh and has eight arms, once of which clasps the goddess. The end of his trunk is rolled around the right breast of the goddess.

Sankatahara Ganapati – is a ganapati seated on a large lotus with his Shakti and has four arms of which one of them holds a bowl of sugared rice (payasapatra)

The above are just a few of many forms of Ganapati, which have been included in different texts like the Ganesha Purana, Mudgala Purana, and other such texts which have recorded different myths eulogising an aspect of the deity and his escapades. Depictions of the form have been open to the artists imagination. Some of them have a strong resemblance to many a Puranic god and each has its own myth.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Ganapati – Ekadanta

Lord Ganesha is also known as Ekdanta (one toothed). There are a number of myths associated with him being one-toothed.

The most common one is do with the epic Mahabharata. Since sage Vyasa was going to recite a poem of epic proportions he asked Lord Ganesha to write it for him. But Ganehsa’s condition was that he would write only if it was recited uninterruptedly. The sage countered with his condition that he would do so if and only if Ganesha understood what he wrote. This way, Vyasa would take a breather by reciting a difficult verse! Anyways the dictation began and while writing, his pen broke. To avoid a delay, Ganesha broke off one of his tusk and continued to write.

Down South the prevalent belief is that ploughing first began with Lord Ganesha ploughing with the help of one of his tusks. One more instance of the Lord’s association with harvest.

In some other reference it is said that Lord Ganesha lost one of his tooth in a battle with Parshurama (Vishnu’s avatar), when Parshurama’s axe hit him on one of his tusks.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Lord Vishwakarma

Lord Vishwakarma is the celestial architect, master craftsman and the Indian counterpart of the Roman god Vulcan (refer to the article on Volcanoes, dt. 31/08/10). Vishwakarma is credited with having made the heavens and the earth and many a divine creation are credited to him.

Vishwakarma is considered to be ‘devshilpi’, the architect of the gods. In Mahabharata, when the Pandavas were given Khandavprastha, Lord Krishna invited Vishwakarma and asked him to build a capital for the Pandavas. As part of the capital which was named, Indraprashta, Vishwakarma also designed a palace for the Pandavas. The palace made by Vishwakarma was a palace of illusions, where the floors looked like still waters and the waters gave an impression of floors. It was a true architectural marvel which went on to provoke more jealousy in the heart of Duryodhana .

Vishwakarma was also responsible for creating and making chariots and weapons for the gods. One of his most important contributions was the vajra – the thunderbolt, created out of sage Dadhichi’s bones (this myth, some other day) for Indra. Another myth says, that when Shiva got married to Parvati, Shiva had requested Vishwakarma to make a palace of gold for them. Ravana (of Ramayana fame) was asked to preside over the rituals of the griha-pravesh, the house-warming ceremony. After the ceremony, when Shiva asked Ravana to quote his dakshina, Ravana asked for the palace itself! Shiva obliged and it is said that it was this palace that was later seen in Lanka, the capital of Ravana’s kingdom.

Lord Vishwakarma is generally worshipped on September 17. All factory workers, architects, artisans, etc. who make use of implements and machines, etc. worship Lord Vishwakarma on this day. The festival is more common in the eastern region of India, especially, West Bengal, Orissa, Tripura and Bihar.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Ganapati – The Chief of the Ganas

The name Ganapati comprises of two words, ‘gana’ and ‘pati’. Amongst the numerous meanings of the word ‘gana’ the one that comes close to is that laid down by Wilson - "a flock, a multitude, a troop, a tribe or class, etc.” Subsequent authors like MacDonnell and others too accepted this definition. The word ‘pati’ means chief. Collectively Ganapati could imply a tribal chief or a chief of a tribe. To take this explanation, the same could go on to imply a tribal deity.

In the Rig Veda, the word ‘gana’ appears many a times in both its original form as well as derivatives. The word ‘gana’ has also been referred to Maruts. Maruts were the sons of the Vedic god Rudra and were the constant companions of the Vedic Indra. Maruts were handsome young spirits and ferocious warriors, who were integral to Indra’s army during his battle with Vrtra the demon. However, the word Ganapati in the Vedic times then refers to the chief of the ‘gana’s, which is Indra himself here. So was Ganapati another name of Indra in Rig Veda?

It is important to mention here that the Vedic Rudra was precursor to the later day Puranic Shiva and it is this relationship that continued to stick to the relationship of Ganesh (aka Gana, Marut) and Shiva.

The above is another example of evolution of gods in mythology. Some gods lose their followers and supporters and new gods take their place or lesser gods get prominence. An analysis will show that the Vedic gods in due course took a back-seat and the Puranic gods came to the fore-front.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Ganapati's Vahana The Rat

Let us understand the origin/relevance of Ganesha’s vahana, the rat or the Mushika.

Ganapati is referred to as the Mushhak Vahan, or the rider of the rat. As we have seen that Ganesha is a harvest deity and the rat is one of the major problems of a farmer. Rats are known to devour the farmers produce and having a deity who rides a rat, is seen as someone who can control the menace that a rat is, for the farmers. Ganesha is known to have conquered the menace and riding the vanquished is a very common motif in our mythology (Krishna dancing on the serpent Kaliya, Shiva riding the bull, etc.). Riding the rat also depicts the control Ganesha exerts on the devastative power of the rats on crops.

Continuing with the same logic, Mushhak also means thief and the title Mushhak vahan also implies the lord who rides on the field rat, who is also the thief of the field.

The rat is also an animal that multiplies rather rapidly, is again symbolic of fertility and its productive power. The rat’s association with the harvest god, Ganesha could collectively symbolise the significance of a bumper crop brought in by the arrival of the god.

According to some scholars, a study of ancient India shows that there was the rule of Matanga (elephant) dynasty. There is a mention of a King of Kharvela of Kalinga who during the third quarter of the first century BC is supposed to have attacked the city of Musikas. Ancient India saw such dynasties with the totems of elephants and rats and there are records of the elephant dynasty being victorious over the rat dynasty. We can safely surmise that it is not entirely impossible to depict such aspects of history into mythological references of the conquered yielding to the conqueror.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Ganapati – Harvest god

Ganapati by many is considered to be a Harvest god. His association with harvest might not be too prevalent to us today, but if we trace the origins of the faith, we can see the association of Ganapati with vegetation and harvest.

Some scholars feel that the familiar sight of a farmer carrying bundles of corn with the lower ears of corn swinging to and fro resembled a lot with the head of an elephant and its long snout hanging. This led to the idea of a bumper crop overriding the menace of the rats might have taken the expression of a god with the head of an elephant riding a rat, with the god being pot-bellied – resembling a barn, surrounded by a snake, which is again the destroyer of the rats.

Ganesha is also referred to as the ‘Surpakarna’ and ‘Ekdanta’. The meaning of ‘surpa’ or the ‘supa’ is actually the ‘winnowing basket’. Also some references of ‘Ekdanta’ are with that of the ploughshare. Both the references are with harvest, and thus the association with a harvest deity.

The other reference of being a harvest deity is that of the rat. The rat is a menace for the farmers and Ganesha is seen riding the rat, implying that propitiating the god can lead to a control of the rat menace, which is a major source of problems for the farmers. We will discuss the significance of the rat in a later article. However, it is pertinent to mention a ritual followed in certain parts of Ratnagiri district of Maharashtra, India. There is a special day called the ‘Under Bi’, i.e. the second day of the rat. On this day, food is offered to an idol of a mouse which is worshipped along with Ganesha. The food offerings made to the idol on that day is the next day, thrown in the fields for the field mice to eat, and spare the standing crops.

Again the chief offerings the god is modak which is a sweet made out of sweet rice, sugar and coconut, again all things bearing a strong association with harvest.

The time of the celebrations and some of the rituals bear a very strong association with Harvest and thus Ganapati’s association with Harvest.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Ganapati - Birth Part 2

The Myth of Gajasura

A very interesting myth exists about Ganesha’s elephant head – the myth of the demon Gajasura.

As the myth goes, Gajasura – elephant headed demon was doing a very strict penance to seek blessing from Lord Shiva. Shiva granted him a boon as his satisfaction from the penance. Gajasura, asked that he be able to emanate fire from his body, so that nobody could dare come near him. Shiva granted the wish.

Gajasura continued his penance and Shiva would occasionally come and grant him his wishes. Finally Gajasura asked that Shiva inhabit his stomach and quite obviously Shiva granted the wish without thinking of the consequences. Soon Shiva was missing from his abode and Parvati was getting restless with the absence. Parvati then approached Lord Vishnu for help.

Lord Vishnu figured out soon regarding the whereabouts of Lord Shiva. He then devised a plan and took the form of a flautist and got Shiva’s Nandi bull to become a dancing bull. Together they performed in front of Gajasura who was so impressed by the performance that he granted a wish to the flautist – “anything you desire”. Lord Vishnu immediately asked for the release of Shiva.

Gajasura immediately saw thru the charade, but released Lord Shiva as promised. However, he asked for one last wish from Shiva. He said that he would want people to love him and his head should be remembered for ever after his death. Lord Shiva then got his son Ganesha there and substituted his head with that of Gajasura. This was one last gift by Shiva to Gajasura.

Ganesh – Marriage

There seem to be different versions of Lord Ganesha’s family. Was he married, and if so who were his wives? Let’s see the details of his wives and his family.

Popular myth says, that Lord Ganesha was married to two daughters of Prajapati, Siddhi (wealth) and Buddhi (wisdom). This could be symbolic of the fact that propitiating the Lord could help mortals attain both wisdom and wealth. Amongst the pantheon, goddess Lakshmi is associated with wealth and goddess Saraswati is associated with wisdom (learning), but then some myths say that both were Ganesha’s sisters! Coming back to Siddhi and Buddhi, his wives, both give birth to two sons – Shubh (auspiciousness) of Siddhi and Labh (merit) of Buddhi.

In some temples in North, his two wives are referred to as Riddhi (prosperity) and Siddhi, however, there are no significant textual references of Riddhi available.

Another popular myth says that Santoshi Ma (goddess of satisfaction), was Ganesha’s daughter. Again no textual references have been made available except the famous movie by the name of ‘Jai Santoshi Ma’.

A very famous representation by Raja Ravi Verma, shows Lord Ganesha with Ashtasiddhi, representing the eight spiritual attainments obtained by the practice of Yoga. According to Ganesha Purana, these Ashtasiddhis are personified to attack the demon Devantaka. Sometimes all of them are united as a single shakti of Ganesha.

In South a popular myth says that Ganesha was a celibate due to a curse by his mother Parvati. According to the myth, Ganesha was asked as to what kind of woman would he like to have for a wife. His response was a woman like his mother (like a true Indian son!). He is supposed to have said - "Bring me a woman as beautiful as she and I will marry her." This is supposed to have angered Parvati as she felt that he was seeing his mother in a manner inappropriate for a son (does this smack of a reference to the Greek Oedipus Complex?), and thus curses him to be a celibate for life. Some other references say that he was a celibate as he wanted to pursue the path of spiritual wisdom. He is thus also referred to as Abhiru, meaning “without a woman”.

In Bengal, during the Durga Puja, Ganesha is worshipped along with a banana tree (kala bou) as his consort. Not much is available in terms of details of the origin of the banana tree as a consort, except that it could be his association with vegetation as he is also seen as a harvest deity. But on a lighter note, one can also associate the banana tree with an elephants love for bananas!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Ganapati – Birth

The birth of Ganapati has its own myths. However there seem to be quite a few of them in the texts.

The most common one was that of Parvati giving birth to Ganesha all by herself, i.e. with the help of Shiva (thus also referred to as Vinayaka – ‘vina’ i.e. without; ‘nayaka’ i.e. male principle). Once Parvati wanted to go for a bath and so she created a child from her ‘ubtan’, i.e. turmeric paste (and thus Ganesha is also referred to as Dhûmravarna, "the Lord with a tawny colour") with instructions not to allow anybody inside the house. As luck would have it, Shiva returned from somewhere and Ganesha stopped him, unknown to him that Shiva was his father (though not biological). To cut short the whole story, a battle ensued between the two and Ganesh was beheaded by Shiva. Later, on realising the mistake, an elephant’s head was attached to the body of the child Ganesha. This is the most common and well-accepted myth from Shiva Purana.

Staying on with Parvati, another myth says that once the used bath-water of Parvati was thrown into the river Ganga, which in turn was drunk by the elephant-headed Goddess Malini. In due course of time, she gave birth to a baby with four hands and five elephant heads. Goddess Malini claimed the child to be hers, but Siva declared the child to be Parvati’s. Shiva then reduced the five heads to one and thus was born the elephant-headed god.

Still another myth says that once Shiva had slain Aditya, a son of Sage Kashyapa. Though Shiva restored the dead son, it did not pacify the sage who cursed him that his son would lose his head too. When this happened with Ganesha later, the head of Indra’s elephant was used to stick to the body of the child.

A lesser known myth says that a child was born to Parvati after a long tapa, penance. All the gods were invited by Shiva and Parvati to see and bless the child. All gods blessed the child except Shani dev. He did not want to look at the child as his gaze could harm the infant. But Parvati insisted that he see the child. But as is known, Shani’s gaze was so severe, that one look at the child and the child’s head gets severed. Lord Vishnu immediately mounted Garuda and flew to the Pushpa-Bhadra river and got the head of a young elephant and joined it with the body of the child Ganesha. This myth, though lesser known, is documented in Brahma Vaivarta Purana.

Ganapati Festival

The 10-day Ganapati Festival starts across Maharashtra from today. Though Ganapati was predominantly a Harvest deity, and also a household deity, it took the form of ‘sarvajanik utsav’ (community celebrations), due to the efforts taken by Bal Gangadhar Tilak as a part of the freedom movement.

Tilak was a Maharashtrian Brahmin and was an active member of the Freedom movement as believed in the concept of self rule. One of his contributions was to invoke religious sentiments through religious celebrations. The Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations initiated by Tilak got the sense of unity amongst the Hindus in Maharashtra and more important gave an opportunity for the freedom fighters to meet and discuss, as the British had illegalised such gatherings as they could incite violence.

Though the concept and the rationale of such celebrations have seen sea-changes from Tilak’s vision, and the celebrations today are both big in proportions and money. Over the next 10 days we will see some facets of Ganapati which is a cult and also see some popular and not-so-popular myths centred on the great god, who has numerous names.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Why as a family, we must watch the ‘Saas-Bahu’ serials on TV.

I personally am of the opinion that the prime time ‘saas-bahu’ serials must be watched by each and every member of the family and that too together. Sceptics please don’t look aghast! I can give you many benefits of watching these serials.
The following are just a few of them:

Benefits for women
1. Women can learn the art of looking younger as times progress in leaps of 20 years – (all you need is a new hairdo and a change of wardrobe)
2. The saas-brigade can learn the art of looking younger than their bahus (sometimes in spite of a dash of grey on the head)
3. Housewives can learn the art of succeeding in the corporate world, without even going to the workplace or by just attending a couple of meetings (so what if they have lasted less than a few minutes)
4. Women can get a rare insight in the new designs of jewellery (where chandeliers are passed off as ear-rings)
5. They can learn to make ‘rangolis’ on their foreheads which can be passed off as ‘bindis’ (Mr. Hussain – your canvas just got smaller!)
6. They can learn the art of working in the kitchen with the best of designer wear and perfect make-up (not to mention the matching stilettos)
7. The art of finishing small work while the husband is catching up on prime-time news (where the poor man is allowed nothing more than the headlines)

Benefits for children
1. In times of dwindling family sizes our children get to know what joint families are/were (so what if they conclude that they never want to be a part of the organised chaos)
2. Our children learn what a Chacha or a chachi is (so what if they are all wicked and scheming)
3. Our children will grow up much faster than what they should because they get to learn a lot from these serials (bad relationships, broken families, scheming relatives, extra-marital affairs, pre-marital sex, what-have-you?)
4. Our children are much better prepared for the intricacies of family life because the serials have exposed them to all such cases (however impractical and improbable many of them may be)

Benefits for the family as a whole
1. The family can learn the art of talking less, precise and to the point (during the breaks and before the next scene begins)
2. Working with a clock-like precision with house-hold chores happening robot-like (especially between 8pm and 10pm)
3. The family can learn the art of getting shocked on hearing a bad news one by one (in accordance to ones hierarchy in the family)
4. The art of wearing crisp and ready-to-go-out clothes all the time (even if you are going nowhere)

Before you think that men folk have nothing to learn from the serials, here are the benefits for men:

1. They can learn the art of getting promoted to the post of an MD of a large corporation (from a nobody a few episodes back)
2. They can learn how to age, again in leaps of 20 years, with grace, just grey hair and no paunch or wrinkles (wrinkle-free creams – Quit India)
3. The art of handling growing children who have never been to college (but suddenly leave for abroad to do their MBA)
4. The art of handling problems of the new-generation children – wayward sons with pierced body parts and tattooed to scare, daughters who are on their way to become un-wed mothers, obnoxious mannerisms picked up from the backstreets of New York or LA (though they wouldn’t have crossed the borders of Mumbai)
5. How to afford big cars for your children (irrespective of your means of livelihood)

Aren’t these good enough reasons to watch these serials all together as a family, especially during meal times? Some bright fellow has said – a family that eats together, stays together. Well we are eating – he didn’t mention anything about talking – did he????

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Teacher’s Day

Teacher’s Day is akin to what we also know as Guru Purnima, a day sacred to the memory of the great sage Vyasa, though on a different day. A Guru or a teacher in India is seen as someone who is on earth in place of god.

In earlier days, all knowledge was acquired at the feet of the Guru, and no amount of dakshina (fees) could cover up the education received.

According to the Upanishads – a guru is god, since he knew the Vedas and thus to acquire the knowledge, one had to submit oneself to the guru. Overtime, the guru’s syllabus increased from the Vedas to the vidyas and shastras (dhanurvidya, arthashastra, natyashastra, kaamshastra, and even chaurya shastra – the science of thievery as mentioned in Shudraka's celebrated play Mricchakatikam).

In earlier days, Guru’s used to teach in Gurukuls, which soon took the shape of universities and education moved into a larger domain in the well known universities of yesteryears – Nalanda, Takshashila and Vikramashila, to name a few.

In mythology, we come across some well known teachers; Parshuram and Dronacharya are two well known guru’s in Mahabharata. Prior to that there is mention of Shukracharya who was the guru of the asuras. His contribution was that he helped the asura’s avoid destruction in the hands of the deva’s.

To quote a verse from Brahmanda Purana -
"Guru is Shiva sans his three eyes,
Vishnu sans his four arms
Brahma sans his four heads.
He is parama Shiva himself in human form

However, in the modern times, it has become a tall order to maintain standards of the erstwhile guru’s. When education has moved from the jurisdiction of goddess Saraswati to goddess Lakshmi, it is not surprising that we do not come across gurus of yester-ages! But on this day, let us thank all teachers who deserve to be thanked, if not worshipped like the way Karna, Arjuna or Eklavya did.

Thursday, September 2, 2010


On the day of Lord Krishna’s birth (Janamashtami), one can tell numerous stories which have already been told and retold, each time more fascinating than the previous one. So on this day, I thought of raising a very pertinent question.

Who is Lord Krishna?

Lord Krishna is different to different people in our country. For children he is the lovable prankster who revels in stealing butter from every other household and teasing one and all. For the one with romance in his/her heart he is the one who can romance many together and reach heights of both sublime and erotic romance as immortalised in Jayadev’s Geeta-Govinda. For the religious, he is the ultimate God, Vishnu’s avatar who was on a mission to rid the world of evil and show mankind the path – the marg-darshak. To the not-knowing-where-s/he -belongs, he is both to be revered and ridiculed depending on the course of conversation; he is an opportunist who has his way and justifies all thru with his gift-of-the-gab.

The epic Mahabharata is incomplete without Krishna. He is an important character in the epic and his absence is felt in many a scene and the mind does tend to feel at times – this would not have happened had Krishna been there.

But herein lies the dichotomy that is Krishna. Some say, he is an enigma, and some say he is the answer. When tales of his heroic acts along with him being the fountainhead of knowledge exists, then why do we still see only aspects of his guile and deception?

Depending on which group one belongs, Krishna can be anything from a prankster, to a romantic hero to a politician to a philosopher to a modern day corporate leader. As someone would say – he is all and all is he.

So who do you think is he?

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

A Fat Pay-cheque!

Lately, a lot is being written about fat pay-cheques of CXO’s. Some corners have been suggesting ‘moderation’ in salaries, while some have been suggesting ‘austerity in conduct’, while some have even called such figures as astronomically obscene!

Let me ask, why? What’s wrong with such so called fat-cheques?

But as they say, let’s begin at the very beginning…

Let’s start with the word ‘Profit’. What are profits? Marx claimed that profits were surplus value that should be removed from the economic system. I disagree. Instead, shouldn’t we view profits in the same light as we see prices, just like wages, rents and interest? Profits are actually the ‘price’ we pay to the entrepreneurs for taking risks and developing products and services for us. Isn’t it unfair to expect the entrepreneurs to provide this service for free, since these costs are necessary in any viable economic arrangement? If it’s fair, then shouldn’t they be paid a price for it?

Let me tell you a story here -

A man decided to have his portrait sketched by a sidewalk artist.
He received a very fine sketch, for which he was charged Rs. 10,000/-.
"That's expensive," the man said to the artist, "but I'll pay it,
because it is a great sketch. But, really, it took you only ten

"Twenty years and ten minutes," the artist said.

But, as the story of the artist above illustrates - sometimes it's not obvious what we are paying for. Does one pay for the act or does one pay for the experience? If the experience is his (i.e. the artist’s), but the act was for you, then shouldn’t one pay only for the act? But again, wasn’t the act so accomplished, thanks to the experience? This is not a case of Catch 22; it is very clearly a justification of the price the artist has asked for.

The case is no different for CXO’s. On behalf of the people who have set up such large corporations (i.e. the entrepreneurs), it is these CXO’s who risk their experience and reputations and so earn huge remunerations. So what’s the harm in their earning fat salaries? The risks they take are equally big and fat!

In a capitalist society, this is absolutely justified and people suggesting austerities need to look at their own backyards.