An evening at Novel London

Reading out the first chapter of your novel to an audience enthusiastic about reading and writing in a small world of books, be it a book store or a library, is an exhilarating experience. It is so much different from the the usual blitzkrieg of a book launch or a tea talk with a kind celebrity who pulls crowds for you. Because at Novel London, you are reading out to the best audience you can get, all of them authors, published or soon to be published. Your first chapter is heard by those who are stationed in the various milestones of this beautiful journey of writing.

Novel London is such an initiative by Safeena Chaudhry (author of Companions of Clay) to provide a platform for upcoming authors. Must say Safeena takes a lot of care to ensure voices are represented from all over the world. The monthly reading events, usually held on the first Friday of every month are a must attend for book lovers in London. I had come across Novel London’s events through some Meetup groups earlier this year, but had not pushed myself thinking that my genre might not be of interest to the Western audience. Destiny had other plans and I ran into Safeena herself during London Book Fair in April after which she took the efforts to slot the reading of Abhaya into an appropriate theme and proactively followed up. I totally loved the rehearsal session and Safeena being a professional with Video making, had some great tips to share about public reading/speaking.

On Aug 5 2016, I got to read the first chapter of Abhaya for “An Evening of Theosophical Fiction” along with Adam Bethlehem who read out from his second novel, The Universal Theory of Immigration (highly recommend it). Swedenborg Society, Bloomsbury made for a perfect location. It was worth noting, the amount of literature one man (Emanuel Swedenborg) could write and inspire.

Here is the video of my reading out the first chapter of Abhaya -. Was pleasantly surprised to see the amount of interest the reading generated among the audience gathered during the event. (Adam bought the Kindle edition on the spot!) It was a proof that audience irrespective of their ethnicity would really connect with your writing when they feel it coming from your heart. Do watch and leave your comments below.

Also, please don’t forget to visit Novel London ‘s Website and do attend the future events. I’ll not miss it while I am in London 🙂

Free Ebook – Creators of Telugu epic literature

My friends and readers are aware of my love for Telugu literature. Prompted by the ebook carnival hosted by Theblogchatter, I put together a collection of my older blog posts on historical Telugu poets into an ebooklet.

Do please download the ebook Creators of Telugu epic literature. It is also featured in the above Ebook carnival.

 

Telugu Epic poets

Ebook Cover design

 

It is an ongoing work and I hope to cover more Telugu poets and composers in future. Please feel free to leave me suggestions and comments below.

Of Asuras and alternate readings

First published on Myindmakers in February 2016

A big addict to old Telugu puranic films, I remember this film Bhookailas vividly. It had the story of Ravana Brahma’s attempts to acquire the Atmalingam of Lord Shiva. In the popular lore, Ravana is the antagonist. But this movie had him as the protagonist. I can’t help sharing one of my favorite songs from the film – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7voWulyF2mc

The scholar that he is, Ravana does deserve his share of tales and movies as a protagonist (especially when it is Sr NTR donning the role with Sri Ghantasala singing for him, the combination is deadly! :-)). Coming back to the point of the reverential attitude towards the titans in our Puranic lore.

Asuras fundamentally are not ‘hated’ in the Hindu Puranic lore like the ‘evil’ is despised in the Abrahamic lore. Rather, they stand as examples for the pinnacle of human achievement when it comes to Tapasya. They also exemplify scholarship.  They are ambitious just like many of the Kings revered in the lore (Like Bharata, Sagara and others too have undertaken conquests). They upheld the knowledge of Vedas. The conversation between Hiranyakashipu and Prahlada in Andhra MahaBhagavatam is a proof.

దువనివాఁ డజ్ఞుం డగు
దివిన సదసద్వివేక తురత గలుగుం
దువఁగ వలయును జనులకుఁ
దివించెద నార్యులొద్ధఁ దువుము తండ్రీ!

The one who does not pursue knowledge remains ignorant. The one who studies can acquire the ability and discretion to identify the ‘sat’ and ‘asat’.  To the one born as a human being, the pursuit of knowledge is a must. This is why I shall send you to study under the tutelage of Aryas (the noble scholars). Study well, my son.

Forget the demonic side of Hiranyakashipu, How many among today’s fathers tell their children that the aim of education is to acquire the discretion to deparate truth and untruth?

After the schooling, here is what Hiranyakashipu asks Prahlada

త్సాహ ప్రభుమంత్రశక్తి యుతమే యుద్యోగ? మారూఢ సం
విత్సంపన్నుఁడ వైతివే? చదివితే వేదంబులున్ శాస్త్రముల్?
త్సా రమ్మని చేరఁ జీరి కొడుకున్ వాత్సల్య సంపూర్ణుఁ డై
యుత్సంగాగ్రముఁ జేర్చి దానవవిభుం డుత్కంఠ దీపింపగన్

Filled with eagerness and joy about his son’s education, Hiranyakashipu welcomed Prahlada. Seated the boy on his lap, he asked, “Did your pursuit of Vidya encompass the Kshatra (warriorly) skills and endow you with the requisite  capability? Did you also pursue the path of knowledge? Did you complete the study of Vedas and Shastras?”

In response, Prahlada cites his devotion to Vishnu and we all know the story after that. But one of Prahlada’s noteworthy responses is about what his studies encompassed.

దివించిరి నను గురువులు
దివితి ధర్మార్థ ముఖ్య శాస్త్రంబులు నేఁ
దివినవి గలవు పెక్కులు
దువులలో మర్మ మెల్లఁ దివితిఁ దండ్రీ!

As the teachers taught me, Father, I studied the Shastras like Dharma and Artha and much much more. I studied the various books and also realized the essence of all that I studied.

Those of us looking down upon Asuras will have a lot to learn from the conversation about their passionate pursuit of Vedic knowledge and patronage of scholars who were well versed in these studies. This also counters the half-baked claims about Asuras being a race different from Aryas and that they denounced the Vedic system. Ravana’s compositions perhaps are another example.

But barring the exceptions like Prahlada, the Asuras drifted. Many of them who acquired powers of invincibility, lacked the discretion of using those powers. Some of them gave into temptations that made them lose discretion. Most of them asked for their destruction by violently stopping the offering of the havis by the Rishis to Suras (or Adityas headed by Indra). In a way, they interfered with the religious freedom of the Rishis, sometimes resorting to violence and even rape. (Wasn’t the whole scholarship and the power of Tapasya coming to a zilch here?).

This formidable combination of merit of Tapasya and antagonizing attitude often united the world against the Asuras and required the Supreme forces to manifest in order to eliminate them. To their credit, each of the Asuras has been instrumental in adding a deity to our Hindu pantheon. Tarakasura forced the reunion of Shiva with Shakti resulting in the birth of Kumara. Ravana forced Vishnu to manifest as an ordinary human being and the devas as Vanaras. Hiranyakashipu’s merit went ahead making Vishnu alter the manifestation to become Nara-Hari. Each of them disrupted the universal balance causing the universal forces to synthesize a counterbalancing force. The scholar Bhagavandas in his work, Krishna, A study in the theory of Avatars calls the disrupting forces as Prati-Narayanas who cause the manifestation of Narayana.

Those sympathizing with Asuras would be doing a great disservice, not to others but to themselves by ignoring this repeated lesson from the history. Revere their knowledge and celebrate their contribution like the Shiva tandava stotra of Ravana is sung today in almost all the Shiva temples and in popular media. Also, revere the valuable lessons that they left us (they did so at a high cost and we better respect that).

The patrons of ‘alternate readings’ better keep that in mind before propagating baseless theories about Rama being an invader and Devi Durga being a prostitute. Apart from being useless, such ill-intentioned theories only serve to cause animosity and don’t really add value to any knowledge system. There is no such thing as blasphemy in the Hindu eco system. Only point to note is that this universe can very well do this job of repeating the lesson with ease when the spirit of harmonious coexistence is threatened. As someone quoted, “Nothing in this world can do the job of repeating itself as history does.”

उत्तिष्ठत जाग्रत प्राप्य वरान्निबोधत। क्षुरस्य धारा निशिता दुरत्यया दुर्गं पथस्तत्कवयो वदन्ति ॥ – कठोपनिषत् १।३।१४

My first novel Abhaya, live on Kindle Store

It is a memorable moment when your first novel goes live. Abhaya and the world she lived in were in my thoughts constantly all through in the last five years and it gave me a surge of mixed feelings when I let the book go out into the market. It was a feeling akin to seeing your child go to school on her own!

Front-Nov25

Sangeeta Bahadur, author of Kaal Trilogy had some gracious words to share about Abhaya :

“An excitingly different take on one of the myriad legends celebrating the light vs darkness matrix that defines Diwali. The sparkling narration adds new facets to the compelling tale of the killing of the demon, Narakasur”

Reviews are pouring in as the book is gathering its initial traction. I am happy with my decision to go indie with publishing it on Kindle. A pleasant surprise that Kindle threw on the very second day was by listing it as the second best selling among the fantasy novels on Kindle Store!

Abhaya Sales rank

Hope you all find the book as exciting as some of the initial readers are finding it. Here is the brief :

An assertive and idealistic Princess Abhaya meets the enigmatic Krishna Vaasudeva. A bereaved Dhatri, hounded by her own family is saved by Lord Bhauma. When subverted religion becomes a tool in the hands of power thirsty and strikes Bharatavarsha, the land of Aryas, Abhaya finds herself face to face with the impending doom.

“Can we combat the fear with faith? Can we keep our faith undeterred when the last traces of hope melt away? Can we receive blame and adulation, accept them and yet not give in to them?”

The book is available exclusively on Kindle Store . Do please check out and let me know your honest reviews. Looking forward for the rich learning that would follow this immensely fulfilling journey.

 

The Oneness of Hari-Hara in Telugu Bhagavatam

First published on Myind Makers in October 2015

Harihara-abheda or Harihara-advaita, the non-duality of Shiva and Vishnu was an intellectual movement in the Telugu literary sphere led by Tikkanna Somayaji (13th Century CE), one of the poet-trinity who composed Andhra Mahabharatamu. Though the concept of the oneness of Hari and Hara did exist in the older scriptures, the contemporary conditions warranted its revival as a movement. I have blogged about what led Tikkanna Somayaji to found the movement here. This article will dwell upon how the movement influenced Bammera Pothanamatya, the composer of Andhra Mahabhagavatamu. 

Pothana, is a 14th Century poet who hailed from the village Bammera (in the current day Warangal district of Telangana). He had the distinction of being a Sahaja Kavi, the one who got to imbibe the skill of poetry by his own nature. He is credited to have composed the Bhagavata in Telugu.  This Andhra Mahabhagavatamu is a work of epic proportions containing over 9000 poems and prose, largely following the content of the Sanskrit version. Can a text that is assumed to be proclaiming the supremacy of Lord Vishnu, provide the concept of oneness of these two prime deities Shiva and Vishnu? The composer of Sanskrit Bhagavatam would not have faced this intrigue as the Puranic age provided a platform to each of the faiths to proclaim supremacy of different deities and yet co-exist harmoniously. The early medieval India and the later medieval India, sadly had lost the harmony of the Puranic age. After a deep introspection, one can realize that it is the power mongering feudal elements carrying the religion badge that caused this unrest (and not the other way round, as some historians would want us to believe).

 

Bammera Pothana provided an interesting example of this concept of unity. His was a family that adhered to Veera Shaiva religion. But his chosen deity or Ishta Daiva was Sri Rama to whom he dedicated the Andhra Mahabhagavatamu. Sri V Sambasiva Rao, in the preface of his venture digitizing the text, says that Andhra Mahabhagavatamu is the first regional version of the Bhagavata.

The very second poem of this text is a soul filled adulation to Lord Shiva.

వాలిన భక్తి మ్రొక్కెద నవారిత తాండవ కేళికిన్, దయా
శాలికి, శూలికిన్, శిఖరిజా ముఖ పద్మ మయూఖ మాలికిన్,
బాల శశాంక మౌళికిఁ, గపాలికి, మన్మథ గర్వ పర్వతో
న్మూలికి, నారదాది మునిముఖ్య మనస్సరసీరుహాలికిన్

 I bow down with utmost devotion, to the one who delights in uninterrupted Tandava, the one with compassion, the one wielding the trident, the one who is the ‘Sun’ that makes the ‘lotus’, that is the face of Parvati bloom, the one who wears the crescent on his head, the one with a garland of skulls, the one who uprooted the pride of Manmatha and the one who resides in the minds of Munis headed by Narada.

Wasn’t Narada counted among the foremost devotees of Vishnu? But Pothana chooses to mention him in a poem on Shiva. May be that is the true devotion which would enable one to see the oneness. Narada was capable of that and so was Pothana! But the usage is worth noticing and contemplating on. Going to the poetical extremes of this unity, he also says

చేతులారంగ శివునిఁ బూజింపఁడేని,
నోరు నొవ్వంగ హరికీర్తి నుడువఁడేని,
దయయు సత్యంబు లోనుగాఁ దలఁపఁడేనిఁ, 
గలుగ నేటికిఁ దల్లుల కడుపుఁ జేటు.

The one who does not worship Shiva and praise Hari or does not imbibe the qualities of compassion and truthfulness, should such people be born at all, just to remain as a curse of their mothers’ wombs?

If the whole purpose of devotion is to imbibe compassion, then what is the use of a religion that shuns compassion? One can remember the verse of Bhagavad Geeta where Lord Krishna says that those devotees are dear to him who sees every creature in this universe with Maitri and Karuna. We encounter another heart-warming example in the 10th Skanda of the epic, where Lord Krishna is described as a toddler. The Sanskrit Bhagavatam in the same juncture, describes Shiva’s visit to have the Darshan of the delightful toddler god. Pothana, however departs from the episode and presents a poem visualizing the oneness between the two deities.

నువున నంటిన రణీపరాగంబుపూసిన నెఱిభూతి పూఁ గాఁగ;
ముందల వెలుగొందు ముక్తాలలామంబుతొగలసంగడికాని తునుక గాఁగ;
ఫాలభాగంబుపైఁ రగు కావిరిబొట్టుకాముని గెల్చిన న్ను గాఁగఁ;
గంఠమాలికలోని ననీల రత్నంబుమనీయ మగు మెడప్పు గాఁగ;

హారవల్లు లురగహారవల్లులు గాఁగ;
బాలలీలఁ బ్రౌఢబాలకుండు
శివుని పగిది నొప్పె శివునికిఁ దనకును
వేఱులేమిఁ దెలుప వెలయునట్లు.

The mud smeared on the child (Krishna) was, but the cover of ash of Shiva. The string of pearls which kept his lustrous curls in place was, but the crescent that adorned Shiva’s head. The mark of musk on Krishna’s forehead was, but the very third eye that won over Kama. The sapphire studded neck jewel of Krishna was, but the serpents that adorned Shiva. Thus the all-knowing child in his games manifested as the very Shiva himself, to proclaim that the Hari and Hara are one and the same!

I shall have to end the article with an admission that I haven’t yet read the full text of unabridged Bhagavatam in Telugu. My knowledge of the few verses is the legacy given to me by my parents and grandparents whose post dinner routine included a light minded recitation of poems that made a mark in my mind.  

References: Those interested to read the full text in Telugu can refer to this site –http://telugubhagavatam.org/

Easy To Mock Hindoos And Their Holy Cows, Difficult To Truly Revere Nature

First published on Swarajya Magazine on 15 October 2015.

Jaitirth Rao in his article, this matter of beef starts with making a right statement that the present laws protect neither the cows nor the dairy farmers. This post of mine is not just a reply to his article but a call to all those who think of themselves as truly liberal (on both sides of political ideologies) to examine their arguments about beef and environmentalism and yes, ‘economic viability’.

Before I proceed, please read my ceremonial disclaimer (written for those friends who have some special intellectual capabilities to assume otherwise).

—What happened in Dadri was a crime and is punishable by law. No less, no more and I don’t support lynching, beating up or murdering on taking law into own hands in any form, given any reason.

—I respect Mr Jaitirth Rao very much. The article is a counter to his arguments and is not to be taken otherwise.  

The inability of dairy farmers in sustaining the old cows which are not economically ‘useful’ is real. My deeply hurt emotions aside, let us accept that it is a problem that a farmer faces. The death of animals in stray accidents and by consuming harmful plastic waste (our precious gift to nature and our callous denial to think about recycling processes, lest we forget) is regrettable.

Ranjit Sinhji’s culinary choices don’t define my sensibilities, nor does Bhavabhuti’s supposed liking for veal. Not even the supposed verses of Rig Veda or whatever part of scriptures that mention cow meat define my sensibilities. As a Hindu, it is a matter of pride for me that the Hindoos (Continuing Mr. Rao’s advised spelling) have gone ahead and defied their Vedic references to beef and have stood against slaughter(assuming such references exist). I call this evolution of thought. We all evolved from cannibalism too. Just that there were no religious texts in that period. In course of evolution, we moved away from it and equated cannibalism with Rakshasatva or demonic nature. Agriculture is considered a breakthrough in human civilization. Why? Logically because we stop being predators and become creators, limiting the harm done by us to the environment.

Any asset (and a domesticated animal, since Mesopotamian times has been viewed as an asset) automatically becomes a less attractive investment if it loses its residual value.

This is the kind of statement that could hurt the sensibilities of a Hindu who claims to have even an iota of care for the nature and to any lover of environment. Cattle are the one main reason behind our evolution from predators to creators. A Hindu mind considers them as a partner in the civilization and not mere assets that exist to provide economical value. One can argue that cattle was considered as ‘wealth’ in any civilization and hence the argument. A Hindu heart considers even ‘wealth’ as worship worthy. In fact it owes its reverence to every animate and inanimate object that contributed to universal sustenance and the ‘holy cow’ is a symbol of this universal reverence.

Humane slaughter does sound like a desirable alternative to the otherwise painful death. But it does so assuming that the animal’s right to life is a function of its economic viability to the human being. Mr. Rao also feels that keeping the animals whose meat is protein rich at the cost of humans remaining protein deficient being a tad stupid is regrettable. No, the civilization and evolution we pride about, if it has just turned us into sophisticated predators, there is too less to be proud of being a human and lecture about humanity.

“Keeping alive surplus cattle which contribute to the dreaded methane in the environment (Dear Reader: I shall spare you the scatological details) is clearly a very very bad thing as far as Eco friends are concerned”

I shall reserve my reaction on this statement and it might just be a worthy task for each of us to contemplate on the multitude ways in which we release dreaded stuff into environment. May be we can make a case for humane slaughter of humans too! (I am not serious, but the logic suggests it this way).

Science is a great way to look at development. But looking at it from just a curious statistical evidence might not make case for slaughter. Slaughter to win a couple of cricket matches then makes it look like it is fine to kill a being for our sportive delight. I would rather prefer to lose a few matches or to come up with any breakthrough that could enable a sportsperson to depend less on height. Alternatively, can we think supplements?

The questions about the effectiveness of the law remain. But we need to choose how we would proceed to make them effective. Of course it is easy and tempting to mock at the Hindoo’s tailored protection of the holy ‘cow’. It is also sane to challenge the Hindoos to arrange for alternative protection centres as opposed to abandoning them on the road to die. (We can alternatively watch the way we dispose plastic unless we are fine with the thought that we are the blessed species with sole rights to pollute environment with plastic while the animals can be humanely slaughtered for their dreaded methane).

I know that it hurts the high egos of intellectuals to recognize the simple minded environmental symbolism of Hindoos. As a Hindu, I would look up at anyone taking this love for the holy cow forward to a stage of saner implementation where being a human does not mean coming up with ridiculous arguments to justify slaughter. If supporting slaughter makes me a liberal, the word seems to lose its sheen. Would prefer to be called otherwise for siding with life.

Ganesh Chaturthi – A divine reminder to conserve nature

This is one festival that held me in absolute charm ever since childhood. Of Course, Indian festivals have that in them to bring out the child like enthusiasm from everyone celebrating it.

Ganesh Chaturthi however is personally significant to me in many ways. In childhood, the festival was an occasion where all my cousins came to my native town. The morning’s Pooja was usually followed up with a competition of eating the maximum kudumulu (Deep fried modakams that we used to prepare) and in the evenings, we used to tour the Pandals in the locality.

The festival had an added attraction. The ritual pooja needed us to keep our school books in front of Lord Ganesha, praying for his grace through out the year. As the books could not be moved till the next day, nobody could tell us to do dampening things like doing homework or studying 😀 Yes, this was a festival ‘made for the kids!’

The Pooja for those aware, also ends with a Katha, a story of the Syamantaka Mani involving the moon’s curse and adventures of Lord Krishna ending with his wedding to Jambavati and Satyabhama. This story too has an unexplainable charm and it feels unique every time I read! In our evening Pandal tours, we used to remind each other to not look at the moon in order to escape the curse of an ‘undeserved blame’. (Yes there were also moments where we cousins/friends used to trick each other into seeing the moon as well as we grew up!)

Growing up, the ecological concerns around the festival grew. One can blame it on excessive ranting by those who feel the Ganesh pandals block their usual roads. Cannot deny the inconvenience for sure. But a bigger concern was of the water pollution caused when the hundreds of idols of all sizes would be immersed in the local tanks and lakes for the Visarjan. As mud idols made way for the gypsum statues, the concern was huge.

I would like to point out the ritual we follow in my marital home. We do not buy a clay/gypsum statue of Ganesha every year. But my father in law or my husband makes an idol of the deity out of turmeric! You can find below, this year’s idol my husband made this morning! Yes, we used kohl for the eyes, rice grains for the tusks and a custom fashioned Yajnopaveeta 🙂

Ganesha

Visarjan involves in immersing this turmeric idol into a vessel of water which subsequently would be disposed in the garden. I love this method for its sheer eco-friendliness. Those aware of the pooja-vidhana for Ganesh chaturthi would realize that this festival is a lot about conserving nature. The divine elephant headed remover of obstacles himself represents the nature around us. The rituals where worship is offered with 21 different types of leaves, a procedure where only Dhurvayugma (Grass) is used for the worship along with flowers are all a reminder to every worshipper about protecting and conserving nature!

Sermonizing is not something I like to do in my blogs. But I would request every Hindu to ponder over how eco-friendly his or her Ganesh Chaturthi is. We love our Gods and they are not just of the past, but are our past, present and future. The true worship we can offer this delightful son of Parvati, the daughter of Snow mountains and Pashupati, the Lord of all beings, is our deep sense of reverence to mother nature.

Wish you all a very happy Ganesh Chaturthi.

Aum Gam Ganapataye Namah

Gajendra Moksham – When the God rushed to the rescue

This is in continuation to the last Sunday’s post on Gajendra’s Prayer

The best part of the episode of Gajendra in my view is not the prayer itself, but the response to the prayer by Lord Vishnu. At that time as Pothanamatya describes in a descriptive poem about what Lord Vishnu was immersed in,

అల వైకుంఠపురంబులో నగరిలో నా మూల సౌధంబు దా
పల మందారవనాంతరామృత సరః ప్రాంతేందు కాంతోపలో
త్పల పర్యంక రమావినోది యగు నాపన్నప్రసన్నుండు వి
హ్వల నాగేంద్రము పాహిపాహి యనఁ గుయ్యాలించి సంరంభియై

Vishnu was delighting in the company of Rama (Lakshmi) in the gardens of the principal mansion of the city of Vaikuntha, beside a lake of nectar on a bed of flowers. This was when he heard the pleas of Gajendra. Pothanamatya uses the adjective Apanna-prasanna (The one who can delight those in distress) and ends the poem indicating his sense of urgency with the word Samrambhi (One filled with extreme eagerness)

His response to the prayer is filled with an urgency to save the one calling out to him. Here, Pothanamatya unleashes his narrative best, slightly departing from Vyasa’s narrative in the Samskrita Bhagavatam.

సిరికిం జెప్పఁడు; శంఖ చక్ర యుగముం జేదోయి సంధింపఁ; డే
పరివారంబునుఁ జీరఁ” డభ్రగపతిం బన్నింపఁ” డాకర్ణికాం
తర ధమ్మిల్లముఁ జక్క నొత్తఁడు; వివాదప్రోత్థితశ్రీకుచో
పరిచేలాంచలమైన వీడఁడు గజప్రాణావనోత్సాహియై.

In his eagerness to save the elephant, He does not stop to tell Sri (Lakshmi, about Gajendra’s plight) He does not even take up his Shankha and Chakra, He does not call out to his retinue, nor does he summon his vehicle, Garuda, He does not even stop to set right his hair which had fallen over his ears He does not even leave the garment of Lakshmi which he had caught in the middle of a romantic interaction, thus forcing her to follow him.

తనవెంటన్ సిరి; లచ్చివెంట నవరోధవ్రాతమున్; దాని వె
న్కనుఁ బక్షీంద్రుఁడు; వాని పొంతను ధనుఃకౌమోదకీ శంఖ చ
క్రనికాయంబును; నారదుండు; ధ్వజినీకాంతుండు రా వచ్చి రొ
య్యన వైకుంఠపురంబునం గలుగువా రాబాలగోపాలమున్.

This alarming way of his leaving Vaikuntha leaves everyone unsettled and they all follow him with Lakshmi only speculating what could have caused her spouse to leave in the middle of their union, as she hurried along with him. The women folk attending to her follow the couple. Garuda hurries to his side and his weapons, the Shankha, the chakra and the Gada follow him to be available at his invocation. Behind them Narada and Vishvaksena followed. An unprecedented spectacle of an exodus of the whole Vaikuntha with none of them knowing about the reason!

Thus the Supreme Lord makes every cosmic being follow him only to find that the cause of all the disturbance were an elephant and a crocodile!

One can’t help admiring the style of Pothanamatya for striving to show how the Supreme Lord is deserving of the prayers of Gajendra and not the other way round! In literary magnitude, Vishnu’s response, his rushing to the Trikuta Lake and his act of saving Gajendra took almost equal number of verses as the prayer of Gajendra itself! The heartening highlight of the episode of Gajendra is the God’s eagerness matching with that of his devotee, thus hinting the inseparable relationship between both.

The literary lovers of Telugu can also observe that the chandassu used by Potanamatya for these poems is called Mattebhamu (literally translating to an ‘intoxicated elephant’), suiting the context beautifully. This was pointed out by @Vamsee9002 in one of our #Kavitvamu twitter chats.

Gajendra Moksham as an episode made its presence felt in popular folklore and in the lives of philosophers and reformers.

As an anecdote goes, a humorous conversation is believed to have happened between the Mughal emperor, Akbar and his favourite minister Birbal regarding this episode of Bhagavata. Akbar laughed at the urgency shown by Vishnu saying the God could have easily sent one of his guard, servants or his weapons to kill the reptile. Akbar found it laughable that the Supreme Lord rushes in such a (almost embarrassing) manner to save a mere elephant from a mere crocodile.

Birbal responded after a while by throwing a heavy stone into the Yamuna and spreading the scare that the emperor’s only son had fallen into the river. A distraught Akbar is believed to have rushed and jumped into the river to save his child from Yamuna’s currents. After he was pulled to safety, Birbal puts the emperor’s question back to him that Akbar could have ordered any of his guards who were better swimmers. Akbar then is said to have realized the intensity of compassion and love Lord Vishnu bore towards his devotees as something similar to that of a caring parent and not that of a powerful ruler.

It is also widely believed that Bharat Ratna. Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya chanted Gajendra Moksham as he was immersed in the challenging project of building the famed Benares Hindu University.

My introduction to Gajendra moksham began as a bed time tale from my grandparents and my interest increased by my parents reading out the verses of Bhagavatam. One can’t help appreciating the magnetic effect Bhakti can have whether or not one chooses to tread the path.

I had earlier written about Pothana here.

For the full Telugu version of Vishnu’s arrival, please refer here.

My last post had also got an interesting suggestion from a friend about studying the social and cultural fabric that influenced this 13th Century version of Bhagavatam. A bit of pondering led me to a new discovery. Shall write more about it as time permits.

Tech-at-heart, take a dip into the confluence of ancient Indian arts and science

This was written for Yourstory. Yourstory.com is  India’s no.1 media platform for entrepreneurs, dedicated to passionately championing and promoting the entrepreneurial ecosystem in India. The article was published in March 2015

What connects the Amish Tripathi, Pranav Mistry and Manjul Bhargava? I bet the answer is something that connects the crores of Indians across the globe. The Indian scriptural knowledge, be it the ‘as it was’ epics, myriad of Puranas or the contemplative Upanishads, has captured our fascination. It always had and will continue to do so. The versatility of Indian scriptures in terms of rich interpretations has penetrated to grassroots since millennia, which has resulted in what we pride as our civilization. My interactions with people across multiple spheres of life brought me interesting anecdotes.

My mother Usha Krishnaswamy is a soft skills coach by profession and a language teacher at heart. I grew up watching her teach vocabulary to students using anecdotes from the ‘Ramayana’ and ‘Mahabharata’ and the benefits were multifold. She prizes the holistic nature of education that school students would benefit through those stories instead of monotonous rote learning.

My father Krishnaswamy Kumar, a senior advocate at Anantapur, AP, mentions how the immortal stories help putting things in perspective. He says that the villagers who form a large portion of his clientele vouch by them and the anecdotes are endless. One such intriguing tale was about a faction leader reforming himself and his feudal group influenced by ‘Ramayana’. He also admitted to my father about his routine, including reciting some Telugu poems about the epic every night.

A rural entrepreneur, Haritha, says that an anecdote from the ‘Mahabharata’ about Krishna cleaning up the empty leaves and leftovers by the guests at Rajasuya changed the attitude of men in her family. She is happy that from that day, the men started to help women in all domestic chores in her family.

My father added in the end that rural population is more connected to roots than their urban counterparts. But my interactions with the urban peers left me pleasantly surprised. I have been a great admirer of Adi Sankaracharya for his ever inspiring ‘Atma Shatkam’ that emphasizes the limitless nature of the self. My initial years as a startup consultant revealed to me that many entrepreneurs and corporate professionals treat this as a life mantra for inspiration. Geeta Vaidyanathan, a Bangalore-based marketing professional says the ‘Bhagawat Gita’ helps her keep her faith. Remembering the stanzas from there are helpful, she claims, to stay balanced through challenging presentations and negotiations.

A Hyderabad-based founder of a startup applauds the experimental nature of ancient scientists. The mathematical works of Bhaskara II, especially the discovery of ‘infinity’ influences him the most. He also highlights the work done in the field of differential mathematics and series expansion by a 14thcentury mathematician Madhava which evolved later into a comprehensive mathematical branch called Calculus. A coder and algorithm lover at heart, he cites with a lot of zeal, the unique experimental aspects in which classical music, mathematics and literature intertwine. The tech-at-hearts sure have a lot to explore there!

Srishti Rai, an aspiring animation artist from Pune, dreams of building what she calls India’s Pixar Studios one day.  The form of Durga as the epitome of ‘shakti’ or spirit is her favourite. The thought of Durga mounted on a lion she says helped her combat a physical condition during childhood and pursue her passion of drawing. A trained Hindustani singer herself, Srishti likes it that music and dance are accepted as a worshipful offering to the divine.

Mahesh, a Physics Researcher based in Australia, a history enthusiast and a dear friend (with whom I have never ending debates), bemoans how the once excellent ecosystem for philosophical debates has just become a largely ritualistic belief system. Citing the rituals followed around eclipses, he asks why people still follow it when it is proven that it is just a periodic celestial conjunction and not some snake devouring the Sun. He blames the fearful theistic attitudes for the loss of the basic ecosystem for debate.

Pavan Kumar Kunchapu, a solution architect at Purnatva Solutions, a Bangalore-based startup, however is more optimistic about the takeaways in Indian ancient literature. He quotes a story of Vikramaditya by Kalidasa which was a part of high school curriculum as his source of strength during tough times. For someone with a humble rural background, Pavan says Bhartrihari’s anthology, also taught in school made him see the positives of life and use every barrier as a stepping stone.  Sheelena Shobhate Vidya (character is what glorifies education) remains his favourite quote while facing corporate intrigues.

The round of interaction with everyone left me enlightened about the innocent and intellectual ways people connect to their roots and find solace, inspiration and even ethical caution. My pondering always brought me new questions. As a civilization with multi-millennial history, haven’t we seen shameful and horrendous incidents? We have. Is everything of past as glorious as some of us boast with no dark spots? No it isn’t. Then what keeps it going?

I think it is the ability to question the past without delinking from it. It is the legacy which once believed in conducting ritual yajna to please Indra for rains. It is the same legacy which let Krishna oppose the same ritual and replace it with nature worship of Govardhana. It is the legacy that once advocated division of labour through Varna(caste) classification. But the very same legacy included the Bhakti movement, which challenged such stratifications citing the omnipresent spirit.

Owning the past but adapting to the present, nurturing dissent but coexisting with diversity is what that makes the ancient, ageless. Just the same way the field of science has a place for all the theories from old and disproved to new and empirical. Can science ever age? Generations of thinkers, implementers and reformers contribute to the dynamic culture of the land lying to the east of River Sindhu. The continuous evolution defines its eternal nature –Sanatana – built to last?

Gajendra Moksham – The roller-coaster ride of Bhakti in the Supreme

Gajendra Moksham or “Liberation of the King of elephants” is an episode in the Eighth Chapter of Bhagavata Purana believed to be composed by Vyasa and narrated by Shuka to Parikshit. The story revolves around the struggle of Gajendra, the elephant against a crocodile in a lake at the foot of Trikuta range. My reference for the current post however is Andhra Maha Bhagavatam by Bammera Pothana, a close translation of Vyasa’s Srimad Bhagavatam.

The crocodile tries to drag the elephant king into deeper waters when Gajendra is engrossed in playful bathing along with his consorts. The detail with which Pothana (assumedly Vyasa too) describe the environment of Trikuta and the lake which subsequently turns into a battle field is noteworthy. The episode is believed to symbolize the struggle of a human between materialistic indulgence and spiritual pursuit. The battle between the two as the author describes goes on for a thousand years in which the crocodile gains over the elephant. Gajendra, at the end of his wit, will and strength turns to pray to the Supreme spirit.

The prayer of Gajendra has many interesting aspects to observe, mainly its tone which transits from a philosophical and scholarly beginning to a pleading tone at the end. The prayer begins with Gajendra invoking the Supreme Spirit who is the reason behind the emergence, sustenance and collapse of the universe himself being beyond the cycle of birth and death and the one who is the cause of his own existence.

Gajendra then compares the Supreme Lord to that of an actor who plays different roles and is yet unaffected by the nature of those roles. The Supreme spirit while described to be having many forms is still beyond the physical constraints of those forms. The Supreme spirit is also extolled as the one whose level of purity is unattainable by any thought, word and deed. He is beyond the Gunas, names, forms, actions, creation and deluge.

The next part of the prayer tends to elaborate more on the compassion of the Supreme Lord (Gajendra needs that more than anything!) with attributes like Dayasindhu (Sea of compassion), Soumya (gentleness personified), Dukhanta Kriti (One adept at ending miseries) and still balances with attributes related to detachment, knowledge and being beyond sensory constraints.

The prayer then goes on to elucidate the various kinds of people who are favoured by the supreme spirit. Gajendra describes them as being free of materialistic desire and as seeking the truth and as those who have surrendered themselves to the Supreme Spirit. The Supreme Spirit though described largely with male characteristics is then acknowledged as someone who is beyond the three genders (Male, Female and Transgender).

The Human psyche that doubts its own faith is acknowledged by Pothana (Assumedly by Vyasa) in this turn of the prayer. Here Gajendra who is now tired of extolling even doubts the existence of the Supreme spirits. The loose translations of those doubtful prayers are given below.

He who is described as present in those who pray for his grace and the great Yogis, in all directions and everywhere, does he exist at all?

Why doesn’t he come to my rescue, the one who is famed to protect the oppressed from the hands of oppressors, why doesn’t he listen to me? He being the one who protects his refugees without qualifying their merits and demerits, why does he heed my call of distress?

To a keen reader, the increasing desperation in each verse becomes evident in this second half of the prayer. Before the prayer, Gajendra is described as the one who is the lord of the most exalted species of elephants (Bhadra Gajas) and as someone who supported the sustenance of multiple trees by his constant watering and as the one who sported with tens of thousands of female elephants. (Quite some reasons to feel arrogant and egoistic, right?) He is the King who cannot be seen as rescued by any lesser being than the Supreme spirit himself! The distress of Gajendra towards the end can melt even the agnostic readers where he says his strength, every ounce of it is spent, his courage is exhausted, his vitality is slipping fast and he is near fainting as his body is collapsing. At this stage of helplessness, Gajendra says he knows nobody but the Supreme Spirit and only that spirit can protect him.

The swing of tone between extreme surrender and doubt intensifies when Gajendra again says he is now doubtful of that compassionate being who can listen to every being in the universe, who can move even among the inaccessible spaces, who is a witness to every event and who rushes to help those seeking refuge. One can observe the striking similarity with one’s own experiences where one’s faith passed through a similar roller coaster ride.

In the next Post, I shall write about the response of Vishnu to this call and it is more exciting!

For a verse by verse reference of Gajendra’s prayer in Telugu, refer here