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 🙂

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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