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.


Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Insecure Theist

The kind of intolerance that is prevalent in the society today, makes me wonder the direction that we are heading towards, progressive or regressive? There is a growing intolerance to views which do not confirm with a certain segment of the society. The intolerance takes to violent recourse to ensure that the dissident voice is stifled, at times quite harshly, ensuring that the voice is done for ever and an example is set for a long time to come.

Were we an intolerant society since time immemorial or is this regressive intolerance a recent phenomenon? Are we emulating what we have inherited or are we creating new means to enforce and ensure a particular way of thought? Is anti-religious views anathema to a society which has a long and a diverse religious tradition?

Sometimes it’s worth looking at our past for many of our present day problems. Many might say that atheism and such thoughts are a recent phenomenon, as the ancient man was always god-fearing and had faith in god. There is as much truth in that as there is in the statement that the month of January has 38 days!

History is witness to the philosophies like Charvaka of the Nastikavada, i.e. the philosophy of atheism. Charvaka philosophy believed in the theory of materialism being prime and preached religious indifference. The philosophy challenged the existing notions, “There is no heaven, no ultimate salvation. No soul exists in the next world, nor are the actions of the four varnas fructuous in any way. .......If the animal sacrificed in the jyotishtom yagna goes to the heavens, why does one not sacrifice his own father?...” (as mentioned in Sarva Dharma Sangraha by the 14th century philosopher Madhava Acharya). It denied all the doctrines of the major religions of the day and believed in indulgence of sensory pleasures, as the sole objective of any life.

While the objective here is not to subscribe to the said theory and elevate it to a higher level; this is just to prove, that there were proponents of such theories who believed that the Vedas were tainted with untruth and self-contradictions. However, none stoned the proponents and nor were their works burnt and banned. This brings me to an excellent example of tolerance of divergence or even anti-religious views as seen in the epic Ramayana.

Jabali was a sage in the court of Dasharath, the King of Ayodhya. Jabali was an atheist and did not believe in any of the religious texts or rituals. His anti-religious views often made him ridicule the established rituals prevalent in the society then. On one of the occasions, he was supposed to have made fun of the post-death rituals by saying, that offering food to the dead, during the period of shradha was a sheer waste of food; whoever had heard that dead people could eat! He even went on to say, that the scriptures that contained the rituals for worshipping gods and the yagnas and other such rituals were prescribed by wise men only to keep people subjugated in the name of religion.

It is interesting to note as to what someone with such allegedly ‘devious’ thought process, was doing in the court of the great King Dasharath. Dasharath was of the opinion, that there were all sorts of people in his kingdom and if there was anything to do with such people, then Jabali would be the right person to understand them and help mete out justice to such people, since there was every possibility of the others condemning them even before their trial, due to their initial disposition towards religion. Truly, a broad-minded outlook given the times.

This further gets reinforced, during an episode in the epic Ramayana. When all who had gone with Bharat to persuade Rama to return to Ayodhya had failed, Jabali was supposed to have tried to convince Rama in his own inimitable way. He is supposed to have told Rama, that he was taking his father’s wishes a bit too far and as a designated King of Ayodhya he had every right to ascend the throne and enjoy the fruits of royalty. Man was born alone and died alone, and clinging to such parental emotions was man’s undoing. Just to honour some wish of his dying father, his leaving the comforts of a palace for forests, was nothing short of foolishness and it would be sensible to return to Ayodhya. Jabali felt rather strange that a man of Ram’s stature should leave a concrete objective like ruling the kingdom of Ayodhya, for some obscure religious norm that he wanted to honour.

Needless to say, that Ram was angry and wondered how his father had kept such a person as his advisor. What follows is a dialogue where Ram justifies his actions, and during the course of what seems to be a reprimand of sorts, calls him an atheist. Jabali is said to have withdrawn and ended the entreaty to return, with the words that based on the circumstances, he changed his belief system to suit the occasion. When needed he became a believer and when required he became a non-believer. While these words were seen as the words of an opportunist, we will debate this a little later. Having said what he did, Jabali was supposed to have withdrawn and went back to Ayodhya like the others, except that after the death of Dasharath, and during the exile of Rama, he was seen as an outcast, and he was supposed to have left Ayodhya.

Many like Dr. Pradip Bhattacharya have referred to Jabali as a ‘Freethinker par excellence’, while many have seen him as a rank atheist and taken Ram’s reproach and reprimand as the final word against atheism. Many have gone to suggest that Jabali made those radical statements only to coax Ram to return to Ayodhya and he didn’t quite mean the words he used, and the final words were an indication to that. However, the final words that he changed his views based on circumstances, had more to do with the typical dilemma, a lot of us have in mind. Did god really exist? Some aspects denote the presence of a Supreme power, but some incidents make us question the very presence of such power, which seems benign at certain times. The statement was a case of dilemma which is what majority of the people suffer, when they are not so stubborn or dogged in their views about matters of God, and have an iota of grey matter to ask questions and not give in to blind belief system. The statement is apt when a simpleton does not get answers to his questions, and gives in to moments of weakness or frustration.

Jabali went on to write the Jabali Upanishad and the modern city of Jabalpur in Madhya Pradesh, India, is supposed to have been named after him. The origins of Jabali too make interesting reading.

According to Samaveda-Chandogyopanishad, once a sage came across a boy who had an intense desire to learn, but none were willing to accept him as a disciple. The sage asked the boy his name and he said, Satyakama. After this the sage asked the obvious question, about his father, to understand his caste and if he deserved education. To this Satyakama is supposed to have said, that he didn’t know the name of his father, but his mother had asked him to say, if asked, that he was the son of Jabala, which was her name. Not knowing the name of one’s father, meant questionable paternity and also put his mother’s reputation in question. But the sage could not overlook Satyakama’s intense desire to learn, and much to the displeasure of the others, the sage accepted Satyakama as his disciple who was since then also referred to as Jabali, the son of Jabala.

To conclude, I would urge the upholders of religion, that any religion stands by its own strength and does not need pillars to uphold it. Religion should be able to protect its followers and not the other way round. A fragile religion is a sign of weakness and any efforts to ‘save’ it would only prove counter-productive. Divergent views give way to debate and debates are a must for the thoughts to flower and find new meanings. Don’t thwart this growth and when the vision is faint, look back. Even Rama was sympathetic to the likes of Jabali, just who are you guys, if I may ask?

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The myth of Adonis and Aphrodite

Front panel of sarcophagus with a myth of Aphrodite and Adonis.
Parian marble. Late 2nd century A.D., Mantua, Ducal Palace.
The Greek myth of Aphrodite and Adonis is an interesting myth of love, lust and rejection, peppered with revenge and jealousy. It’s a classic love saga with layers of symbolism. Let us first understand the birth of the main characters in the myth.

Aphrodite was born from the place where the genitals of Cronos were thrown after he was castrated by his son, Zeus. In art, Aphrodite is generally shown as a beautiful young woman standing on a scallop shell. Aphrodite was the Greek goddess of beauty, love and carnal pleasures. Though she was married to Hephaestus, she was known to be having affairs with many other gods, Ares, the god of war being one of them (Read “Aphrodite’s Infidelity”   http://utkarshspeak.blogspot.in/2013/05/aphrodites-infidelity.html ) and mortals like Adonis amongst others.
The birth of Adonis is a bit scandalous and different. It has many variations, but let’s refer to the most common version here. Adonis’s mother was the beautiful Myrrha, the daughter of King Cinyras. Myrrha’s mother would boast that Myrrha was the most beautiful of all and that her beauty surpassed that of even Aphrodite. This angered Aphrodite and she cursed Myrrha to fall in love with her own father, King Cinyras. Accordingly, Myrrha fell in love with her father, and without knowing what was at play, one night in the cover of darkness, Myrrha managed to seduce her father to sleep with her, after getting him drunk.

When the father discovered that he was tricked by his own daughter and that she was expecting his child, he chased her with a sword to kill her. The
Myrrh Tree
gods however took pity on the girl and changed her into a tree, better known as the myrrh tree, a tree which produces resin. Later, the goddess of birth enabled her to deliver a baby and Adonis, the baby was found near the myrrh tree. Aphrodite took pity on the baby and gave it to Persephone, the wife of Hades, the god of the underworld, managing to hide the baby from others, as it was a sinful birth out of incestuous relationship. Adonis was a child whose mother was also his sister and whose father was also his grandfather!

Baby Adonis grew up to be a very handsome man,
which made both Persephone and Aphrodite fall in love with him! Soon a fight broke up between the two as to who should keep the handsome young man. Zeus had to intervene, and it was decided that Adonis would spend one third of the year with Persephone, one third with Aphrodite and the remaining would be left on Adonis to decide. Adonis decided to spend the rest with Aphrodite, as he preferred to be on earth. However, Aphrodite was still not happy with the arrangement, as she wanted Adonis completely to herself. It is said that Aphrodite had seduced Adonis, into lazing around when at Hades, and enjoying him for the rest of the year, leaving Persephone fuming.

Venus and Adonis, 1794,
Antonio Canova (1757-1822),  *
Soon Adonis started spending more time with Aphrodite, however, popular versions say, that he wasn't quite in love with Aphrodite. Adonis loved hunting instead. Aphrodite had a premonition of hunting leading Adonis to some trouble. She kept warning him against hunting. She had an uncanny fear that some animal would want to take revenge on her by harming Adonis, especially lions, as she had cursed two lovers to become lions since she was upset with them over something (which is another story). To further dissuade him, she had warned not to challenge animals which charged back or came back at him, or were not scared of him.

Once, when Aphrodite left for some place, Adonis
The Death of Adonis,
by Giuseppe Mazzuoli, 1709
(Hermitage Museum)
charged into the forest for hunting. Soon he came across a wild boar, which had long tusks and started to chase it. The boar surprisingly could not be scared away and the hunt changed sides. The boar ended up chasing Adonis, and before long the boar plunged its tusks deep into his groin and killed him. Later it was found that the boar was no ordinary boar, but Ares, one of the lovers of Aphrodite, who was jealous of Adonis for taking so much of Aphrodite’s, attention and affection. Some versions say that it was Persephone, who had told Ares about the relationship, as she was jealous of Aphrodite! In a severely wounded state Adonis called out for Aphrodite, who turned back to the forest to find Adonis breathing his last.

The place where the drops of Adonis’s blood fell,
gave birth to beautiful red anemones, a flower found during the spring in the Mediterranean, and the rest of the blood flowed into a river, which today flows as the river Nahr Ibrahim in Lebanon, also known as the Adonis River.

Adonis, after his death went to the underworld, where he was greeted by Persephone. The very idea of Adonis being in the company of Persephone forever, made Aphrodite uneasy and she landed at the doors of the underworld, leading to another confrontation. Once again Zeus, had to intervene, and it was resolved that Adonis would now spend half year with each of them.

As mentioned earlier, the myth has layers of meaning. The story symbolises many things.

Adonis’s six month term can be seen in two ways. The first one is symbolic of man’s spending half his life with his mother and the other with his wife, the former being symbolised by Adonis being brought up by Persephone and the latter by Adonis spending his youth with Aphrodite. The other symbolism is the change in seasons. When Adonis spent time with Persephone, it was winter and when he came back to Aphrodite, he brought with him spring and summer, a time for love and romance, his relationship with Aphrodite. The struggle for Adonis was the perennial struggle for love (as life) and death. An important aspect of the myth was the death and resurrection of Adonis, which represented the perishing and the revival of the plants annually.

Adonis was the symbol of masculinity and good looks. Adonis, though born out of an incestuous relationship, which was out of jealousy of Aphrodite, ensured that Aphrodite, who brought disgrace to his mother, did not find love herself. Aphrodite was known for having many lovers, but never loved her own husband. Though she loved Adonis, Adonis loved hunting. The anemone flowers are a reminder to Aphrodite’s frustrated love. It is said, that the flowers, have a short span of life. No sooner they bloom, the wind pulls them down, as the flowers have weak and slender stems and cannot withstand slightest of the breeze! 

The theme of incest, though provoked by Aphrodite out of sheer jealousy, gets the disdain that the society understands or should. The incestuous relationship between the father and daughter, receives poetic justice, by Adonis avenging the trauma and pain that her mother underwent, in causing similar grief in Aphrodite, after his own death.

All in all an interesting Greek myth of tragic and unfulfilled love and lust.

* Aphrodite was referred to as Venus in Roman Mythology

Monday, September 29, 2014

Worship of Shakti

Victor Hugo is supposed to have said, “Woman is the most sublime ideal", and it is this sublimity that we celebrate during the Navratri, the ideal that a woman is. The principle of Shakti is invoked and the nation worships this feminine principle which is the driving force behind the world.

According to Devi Mahatmya, once upon a time, there was a demon, who had threatened the very existence of the universe. Due to the boons he had received during his numerous penances, he had become invincible; at least the gods couldn’t do much harm to him. All the gods got together and breathed their energies into a powerful ball of energy, which shaped to form the Shakti. This Shakti was responsible in eliminating the demon, after a waging a powerful war, where the demon took different shapes to elude the powerful force, but at the end die in her hands. The goddess came to be known as the Mahisasur-mardini, the slayer of the buffalo-demon, and the quintessential woman-power.

On earth, we commemorate this divine act of the goddess and celebrate, Navratri, Durga Puja, etc.

Durga slaying Mahisasura
The principle of Shakti cannot be undermined, rather, any god without its shakti is meaningless and a beautiful verse explains this as candid as शक्ति के बिना शिव भी शव के समान हैं, i.e. without Shakti, Shiv is like a dead-body. Shakti is the personification of the divine feminity, the creative powers of the earth. No god is complete without this principle of Shakti, and together they create a beautiful harmony of the union of the two principles, the purusha and prakriti, the union of which is the root of all creation on earth.  

Hold it, I think, I have got a trifle carried away in my explanation of some concepts which only make good scripts, and just that. Did you like that? If you did, then let me pat my back, to say that I do write well. Don’t make that face; humility is not the domain of men! Such behaviour on our part is confidence, awareness and truth; however, if such behaviour was expressed by a woman, then they would be over-confidence, arrogance and brazenness! Whoever said, the world was equal, don’t believe her – aren’t there mountains and valleys on the same surface of the earth?

The earlier paragraph is a utopia painted with all the colours of the rainbow, and more. Those words of wisdom were only to make the women folk feel good and raise them to an altar after treating them like paanv-ki-jooti, for major part of the year and in more than 90% of our country. These occasional rhetoric of Shakti, etc. served well, to ensure that the women-folk got back to the grind, the fields, the kitchen and the beds to cater to all the needs of the man, and the society at large! And just in case a solitary one, did not, then there were means to bring them back to senses – kangaroo-courts, Khaps, stoning to death, rape and murder, naked-parade, etc. If nothing, it served its purpose well in others, who wouldn’t dream of any misdemeanour as inane as staring eye-to-eye with ones younger brother, leave alone any boy!

What a manly sense of achievement! First raise them to an altar, and then drag them to your beds. First talk them into such harmless divinity and them have them croon whatever you want. First offer them some rituals and then ensure that they perform ritually for you.

Dear Indians, let’s get off the high-horse of big talk, and take stalk. Except in a few homes and an even fewer Corporate, the woman is a second-class citizen, if one at all. Let’s not resort to such fancy concepts, if we don’t mean it. As a nation, we have failed our women, when one Nirbhaya takes place in Delhi and the other follows suit in Mumbai, Badaun, and just about everywhere else. If we still have to enact laws to catch hold of them legally, then we sure have failed as a society. If our politicians tell us what women should wear and what they should not, just to avoid getting raped, then such talk of Shakti is pure high-decibel talk and that’s it, and if such politicians who suffer from verbal diarrhoea too often, still move around freely in our society, then let’s take some blame for allowing the moronic retrogrades to move around freely.

A society, which feels proud to allow their men to behave like stray dogs and is not ashamed to ask the women to cover themselves, since the salivating strays cannot be controlled, then stop worshipping the feminine principle – it’s a sham, if not shame!

Ma Durga, my apologies for writing what I wrote, but sorry to tell you, that this is the truth, sordid but truth. The eulogies die a quiet death, even before you turn your back and are yourself reduced to left-over’s in rivers and ponds. I am rather appalled, that you are unable to control the terror that has been unleashed on your daughters by a certain segment of your own followers, especially when the victims had faith in you.
Image Courtesy – Taproot India’s campaign ‘Abused Sisters’
I dare you to show us that you care for the daughters of this country, and I further dare you to show the principle of Shakti that I so eloquently waxed, a few paragraphs back.

Or retire hurt……..