Thoughts in the atmosphere

Things of the world, and out of it.

Archive for August, 2008

Hindu Myths – Allegories?

Posted by desicontrarian on August 16, 2008

Hindu (puranic) myths have always been a favorite target for leftists, liberals and other modernists. For example, here (among others) is the story of King Bali, Vaamana/Trivikrama.

One of my rationalist “hindu” friends cites this as an example of cheating by The Lord. Is this what grandfather Prahlaada gets for such steadfast devotion, he asked me with barely-concealed contempt. And what wrong did Bali do, apart from legitimately asking for Indra’s throne? Of course this must be because Bali must have been a “Dravidian” king, and therefore called a demon. Just another instance of “Aryans”, suppressing (paathaaLa!) “Dravidians”. Hidden morality tale – This of course being the normal morality of the ancient hindus, what else can you expect from this civilization?

On the one hand, my friend ignores the innumerable number of times Prahlaada is saved from death and torture. He also would not give much thought to Prahlaada’s words to his demonic father Hiranyakashipu himself – “You are the greater devotee of VishNu. You think of him constantly, even more intensely than me!”. He also ignored my reference to Prahlaada’s shaapa to his grandson. Still, the accusation of unfair discrimination and cheating by VishNu remains to be addressed.

This has been one of the most difficult puzzles for me. I have recently come to the conclusion that all these myths are allegories. The dramatis personae in these dramas represent cosmic concepts, entities, and phenomena. I have not put together all the pieces of this particular puzzle.

I got a clue to this from this article in The Hindu. According to the author (Ms Patricia Norelli-Bachelet),

Vishnu’s famous three strides (to measure the universe) cannot be more revealing. The first `step’ is like a lion (Leo), according to the Veda; the second is a bull (Taurus); the third, and most revealing of all, is the Friend. This is the same Aquarius of Agastya’s birth, which is also known as the sign of the Friend. More conclusively, they are given in their correct backward moving order, and are Vishnu’s own zodiacal domains because of their quality of PRESERVATION (`Fixed’ in zodiacal terminology, stable, balancing). This is just one among many explicit references in the Rigveda to the tropical zodiac with the same symbols still in use throughout the world, except in India.

To further illustrate their universal reach, we find the very same images recorded in The Revelation of St John (Chapter 12, 7.), written on the Greek island, Patmos, around 70 AD (PNB, 1976). With respect to that same cosmic sea the visionary sees four `beasts’ therein: the first is a Lion, the second is a Calf, the third is a Man, and the fourth an Eagle. If the Eagle, the fourth sign, was left out of Vishnu’s measuring it is because this Eagle is Garuda, his own carrier. He begins his measuring from that point in the wheel, also known as Scorpio, and takes `three steps’. Scorpio, otherwise known as the zodiacal Eagle, would be the fourth in correct sequence, similar to John’s text.

VishNu is also Naraayana. The etymology of this word is interesting -> nara + aayana. Sanskrit is famous for its dhaathu system where several meanings flow from the same root. The dominant meaning given here is nara = water + aayana = unending. Another meaning that can be given is Space + Time! Again, Paada means both feet and quarter! So VishNu’s 3 paadas may be the quarters of the 3 zodiac signs during the retrogade motion of these constellations!

Looked at it this way (in the Rashomon spirit), this fragment of the story takes on a very different meaning. This part is not a morality play at all! This is a description of the movement of the Zodiac. The other remarkable is the parallel to a Christian puranic text! Again, it may indicate a common higher understanding among the great religions in remoter times.

To my regret, I don’t know Sanskrit, though I have a feel for its words. But this line of thought i.e. (puranic myth = allegory with a deeper truth) is worth a life-time of study, don’t you think?

Amusing fact: My friend was born in the 1st week of february. Can you guess his zodiac sign;-)

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Sri Aurobindo

Posted by desicontrarian on August 16, 2008

“ No one can write about my life because it has not been on the surface for man to see.” – Sri Aurobindo from: On Himself

He was born in 1872. Father, Sri Krishan Ghose, a thoroughly anglicized atheist, wanted his son to be educated only in English culture. He sent his son to St. Paul’s, London at age 7. Then on to King’s college, Cambridge. Aurobindo mastered the classics and English literature. At that time, he felt an attachment and longing for India. Returned at age 21, in 1893. When he returned, he felt an immense peace, beyond ordinary experience. This was the beginning of the spiritual side of his life. Being an ardent radical nationalist, he threw himself into the struggle for independence. Started the journal Bande Mataram. He was the first to call for total independence. Was jailed for the possession of arms.

In the Alipore jail, he had a vision of Sri Krishna and later Swami Vivekananda. This is of course the unknowable higher aspect which materialists/physicalists (like most of us) find hard to understand or believe.

It was also in prison that Sri Aurobindo was visited by the soul of Swami Vivekananda, who instructed Sri Aurobindo about the workings of the superconsciousness which was above the mind. Sri Aurobindo also became aware of a divine inner guidance, that was never to leave him. From this divine source he was given an Adesh “inner command” that henceforth he should not worry about politics. India would gain her independence in due course but this would be achieved by others. The task for Sri Aurobindo was the renewal of “sanatana dharma, the eternal religion.” To pursue this spiritual task it was necessary for Sri Aurobindo to leave the political arena. In his own words Sri Aurobindo said of his mission.

”We must return and seek the sources of life and strength within ourselves… It is the spiritual revolution we foresee and the material is only its shadow and reflex.” – (from

He gradually became more interested in spirituality, though he never lost interest in India’s politics of that time. In 1914, he started a magazine, Arya. This was when Mira Alfassa (later known as The Mother) met him. She recognized him as the one who had been secretly guidng her. She and He established the Ashram in Pondicherry in 1926, as their teaching was attracting more and more people. Sri Aurobindo discovered a spiritual entity that he called The Supramental Conciousness. He developed a system called Integral Yoga, for the development of all important aspects of the human personality. He passed away on 5th December, 1950.

Today is his birthday (Oops, wrote this yesterday:-)). Compare Canto 1 (Dawn) from Savithri to Tryst with Destiny. The themes are mysteriously similar and yet, there are huge qualitative differences! And Sri Aurobindo’s insight and mystical knowledge is also visible here.

One of the striking things about him is the escape from parental & peer conditioning. Reminds me of Siddhartha, son of Shuddhodhana. I wonder if thats what sets them apart from people like us…

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Posted by desicontrarian on August 13, 2008

Basically this is a hybrid idea. Its popular form is of course shown in the fillum Amar, Akbar and Anthony – 3 brothers belonging to 3 different religions. The unintended absurdity of the fillum seems like a good metaphor for the absurdity of the idea. Hybrids are never authentic. They are grafts on a social body which puts up with the foreign bodies uncomfortably. They are also violent and unhealthy grafts.

Secularism is a mask for what one can call Brown Sahibism. It starts with Macaulay’s appreciation of Indian civilization. And its adherents, from the illiterate to the sophisticated were all schooled according to the famous Macaulay’s Minute. The relevant passage for me is this.

“We must at present do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern; a class of persons, Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals, and in intellect. ..I have no knowledge of either Sanskrit or Arabic. ..(But) I have conversed with men distinguished by their proficiency in the Eastern tongues. I have never met one among them who could deny that a single shelf of a good European library was worth more than the whole native literature of India and Arabia. ..The dialects commonly spoken among the natives of this part of India contain neither literary not scientific information, and are so poor and rude that, until they are enriched by some other quarter, it will not be easy to translate any valuable work into them. The intellectual improvement of the people can at present be effected only by means of some language not vernacular amongst them. ..I would at once stop the printing of Arabic and Sanskrit books, I would abolish the Madrassa and the Sanskrit college at Calcutta. ..Are we obliged to teach false history, false astronomy, false medicine, because we find them in company with a false religion. ..Assuredly, to encourage the study of a literature admitted to be of small intrinsic value, only because that literature inculcates the most serious errors on the most important subjects, is a course hardly reconcilable with reason, with morality, or even with the very neutrality which ought, as we all agree, to be sacredly preserved. ..The superiority of the Europeans becomes absolutely immeasurable.”

Thus, the conditioning of the young child’s brain (a process called imprinting) was started by abolishing the traditional systems of education (Gurukulas and Madrassahs (pdf)) into class-room based, English-medium, mass-oriented, factory-like production of good clerks and bad clerks. The uprooted children naturally were conditioned into admirers of English civilization. The first prominent one was Ram Mohan Roy (I know, I know, he was the fellow used by Macaulay in the Minute!) . These people were called Reformers, by the newly emerging anglicized class. They were actually the desi version of the British orientalists. The first thing they thought of when observing any Indian social phenomenon was, how would it look through European eyes? The normal emotion they felt was shame. The normal reference point was something akin to the Greenwich Mean Time. kaaLidaasa (6th century CE) had to be the Indian Shakespeare(16th century CE) i.e. he was defined in terms of a later-period British playwright. The subliminal message was to define the English measure by which the ancient Indian had to be thought of! Telugu (1500-1000 BCE) was the Italian (10th century CE) of the East. Well, the vernacular sounded like that to the English gentleman! Arabia was situated in the Middle East!

From such a conditioned collective brain comes the notion of modern Indian secularism. The formal idea is of course that religion and the state have to be strictly segregated. This is a pure European idea, which grew organically in that soil, out of that continent’s own history (1, 2). Hindusthan’s history was qualitatively different. There were periods of religious and sectarian harmony, and periods of animosity (1, 2). A religion was a belief system followed by a certain community. Different laws applied to different communities. There was room for atheism within a particular religion or sect. There was room for parallel ideas of devotion, conjugal love and surrender to grow in vaishanvism, sikhism and sufism. But all this background did not matter. The brown sahib intellectual elite were probably unaware or uninterested in it. They certainly had no emotional connection to that kind of history. The idea of separation of church and state was grafted on to the Indian constitution. It is even translated into Hindi today as Dharma Nirapekshatha i.e. religious indifference!

So today we have the secularists in a frenzy over the continuing rise of Hindutva among the larger populace and a new generation of counter-intellectuals. The former, with their alienated mind-set, were responsible for this backlash. And now they mount the same old intellectual assaults on their (younger) rival ideology. As I read these arguments, I am bored by the stale thoughts that have been repeated since Nehru and Nurul Hasan’s time. As George Santayana has said, those that do not remember history are condemned to repeat them. And the secularists do not remember their own part in the rise of Hindutva.

Update : Remarkable coincidence! Minds greater than mine think like me! Jayakrishnan Nair has a more knowledgeable, in-depth look at the preamble to this tragedy.

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Posted by desicontrarian on August 13, 2008

I grew up as a shy and introverted eldest child. My parents labeled me as muLumaan (tamil – silent one). I was also inarticulate, timid, studious (i.e. a square, as they say in Amerika) and passive. Growing up, I absorbed the argumentative, politically engaged, polemical arm-chair philosophy of my father, the English teacher. Still, I could never argue a point convincingly with him or any other members of my extended family, until I crossed the twenties. Intelligent, only enough to solve exam papers. Occasionally passionate, only to trip up in my thoughts. Generally inadequate, compared to what I wanted to be.

A voracious reader, I absorbed many “philosophies”. Reader’s Digest comes to mind first. What beautiful logic! How much one can do to self-improve! Boy, are the Russians evil or EVIL! This was the 1960s. My favorite aunt cried on hearing about JFK’s death. The Chinese invasion of India in 1962 caused a surge of patriotism and sense of betrayal by a false friend. Pandit Nehru cried when Lata Mangeshkar sang that non-filmy number “Aye mere watan ke logon”. He died of a broken heart soon after.

After the first 3 years of school in the local medium (ಕನ್ನಡ – Kannada), I studied the rest of my life in English. So I developed a ಕನ್ನಡ-my-mother, English-my-father attitude! It mapped physically on to my parents as well! On the one hand, we students had Kumaaravyaasa Bhaaratha, poets D.V.Gundappa, Raajarathnam, Bendre and Kuvempu. On the other, King Lear, Macbeth, Oliver twist. And then there were forms of life, arithmetic and “social studies”. Loved math, liked science, hated civics and geography!

My mother, a carnatic musician, trained me in saraLe varase, alankaaras, geethas, varNas and keerthanas. I had a high, female voice until it broke in my 16th year. Though I consider myself left-brained and logical, music filled the right-brain gap. Whenever I had trouble memorizing, my aunt (also a musician of the same age as my mother), would set the piece to a tune and it would become easy after that! The pleasure I get from good music generally is higher than any other. It has very little egoism in it, unlike things like good grades, promotions, wins in competitions & contests etc. However, the satisfaction from any achievement comes a close second, and it is of course egoistic.

Hindi film music of that time attracted us (me & friends) enormously. This was the last decade of the golden age (1960-69). Again, we had our favorites. Lata was and is a lifelong idol. Rafi’s songs, I could sing almost like him. My brother was a Mukesh fan. And of course we had favorite composers. I liked Dada Burman the most, but Salil Chowdhury and Roshan came close. On the whole, Hindi films and music connected us to the Idea of Hindusthan, quite different from Sunil Khilnani’s IDEA of INDIA. There was a non-anglicized, tradition-loving, soft, indirect, old-world values system in it. How romantic and coquettish the heroines were! And what skills with their eyes, flutters and hand movements! So we used to debate the best of them. Who was the most beautiful – Madhubala, Vyjayanthi Mala or Meena kumari? Who was the best actress, Nutan or Meena kumari? And of course the male triumvirate – Raj Kapoor, Dilip Kumar and Devanand. Easy to imagine as Trimurthis!

In my 50s now. Of late, there is some impulse to communicate my thoughts and find like-minded people. I have become a frequent letter writer to some magazines. I relate intimately to thoughts & ideas, both those that I like and those that I dislike. Too many people repeating similar ideas with variations makes me react. Especially in writing. Nowadays, the phenomenon that bothers me most is our (English-educated) ape-like imitation of the Anglo-Saxons. This is a degenerate form of worship of success. We do not delve deeply into the causes of this continuing success, but want short-cuts to the same status for “India”. I’d like you, gentle reader, to join me in exploring our roots, and find rejuvenation there.

Desi Contrarian

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