Thoughts in the atmosphere

Things of the world, and out of it.

Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category

The Education System

Posted by desicontrarian on May 10, 2022

Awesome, detailed and comprehensive analysis. But depressing. I have felt this whenever I participated in any school or even college practices, for example in the CBSE or state boards, or an Engineering college. A system of extreme scores-orientation and filtering, combined with a Potemkin village-like teaching, learning and evaluation. Even the post-graduate students and teachers show zero interest in any work. They are pre-occupied with finishing the portions, administration, event management and social ceremonies.

There is a system design for subtle racketeering everywhere. The syllabus is hopelessly broad, the subjects irrelevant to a future career, the practicals a farce, yet the frequent tests, homework assignments and examinations are strenuous. Without doing private tuitions with either the same teachers who officially teach in the class, or more expensive coaching classes, a student is not even n the good graces of the evaluators.

Added to that are the large-scale evaluation rackets. Scores are arbitrarily changed and even distributed in weird statistical patterns. In the ICSE batch 2013, out of 140807 students, no one had a score of 56-57, or anywhere in the interval 0-30 and 96-100, in English. In history/civics, computer applications, science and Hindi, remarkably similar patterns were observed. What is this special score between 56-57 that no student gets? For all subjects the list of un-attained marks is – 36, 37, 39, 41, 43, 45, 47, 49, 51, 53, 55, 56, 57, 59, 61, 63, 65, 67, 68, 70, 71, 73, 75, 77, 79, 81, 82, 84, 85, 87, 89, 91, 93. Yes, that’s 33 numbers!

Clearly, there is a systematic yet lopsided assigning of scores done at some central level!

Other types of bad ecosystems, money-making opportunites and general bad sanitation are well described by Shri Pankaj Saxena here.

But we need more dissemination of such diagnosis, more such system-level analysis. We also need to remove things from the syllabuses like:

– lettering in Engineering Drawing (in these days of fonts and CAD)
– Handy Andy in High-school English
– whether a subject in on a state list, central list or concurrent list, process for legislating money bills in Class 9 Civics
– whether rivers/mountains are epeirogenic or orogenic, in class 9 Geography.
– and innumerable others

I say this because the language of such texts is unreadable, difficult to retain and only encourages rote learning. Who benefits from such learning in 10-12 different subjects every year? This does not equip a person to increase his aptitude, do well in various competitive exams or interviews or get practical knowledge in a vocation.

What is the way to seed an alternative eco-system?

Posted in Culture, Public affairs | Leave a Comment »

Why Indian traffic is bad

Posted by desicontrarian on May 10, 2022

The lack of training before issuing a driving licence is the main cause. The DL acquisition process is a farce that results n a tragedy.

In Dubai, Singapore, Scandinavia or Canada, the trainee has to undertake a rigorous schooling in safety. Huge text books on rules have to be learnt. Things like
1. margin to the vehicle before you,
2 braking distance at 60 or 90 kph, (i.e. physics of deceleration)
3. always have a 3 sec distance between own and the vehicle ahead of you – as it takes about that much time to react to a sudden breaking by that vehicle.
4. signaling correctly before lane change,
5. Changing lanes only after yielding to all passing vehicles on the lane
6. yielding to the vehicle on the priority road (marked by a Yield sign on the non-priority road),
7. constantly watching the rear-view and the two side mirrors,
8. night driving without high-beam lights,
9. how to join and exit a roundabout,
10. catching the blind spot between the rear-view and the side mirrors when changing lanes
11. Overtaking only on the fast lane
12. Choosing the exit ramp to make an over-bridge U-turn (no U-turn allowed on highways)
13. Knowing when the red light is likely to come and decelerating before that, to avoid beating a red light
14. How to start from stationary, by signaling, looking for clearance and yield to “in-motion” vehicles before joining the lane.
15. How to yield to buses starting from bus stops.
16. How to overtake on a two-lane road, calculating the probability of an oncoming vehicle even when you don’t see it. Especially in curves.
17. How to slow down and stop at pedestrian crossings, and ask them to cross with courtesy.

are taught. The lessons last from 4-9 months. The final driving test is frequently not passed on the first attempt. A theory test of 50 questions, out of which 45 have to be correctly answered. When a learner passes a driving test, she/he celebrates as though she/he got a degree !

In contrast, In India

1. Drivers grab road-space
2. Overtake from the prohibited side
3. Drive in curves and zig zags
4. Come straight frontal at you from “your” lane (i.e drive on your left and their right side)
5. Do not signal while changing from stationary to start in a narrow, busy street.
6. Crowd each other out on railway crossings, blocking every one for 20-30 minutes.
7. Keep their side mirrors closed.
8. Do not slow down for pedestrians even at pedestrian crossings.
9. Have no regard for school zones and child zones.
10. Cross you from the extreme left to extreme right without yielding to you, who is going straight.
11. Have a “might is right” attitude. (Trucks, Buses, Mini vans, Jeeps, big cars, then small cars)
12. Never bother who is at fault. Lung power or muscle power is the decider.
13. Use high-beams to blind the oncoming driver.
14. Drive without lights in a dark night street, at high speeds.

The Govt. Road Transport Dept. policy contributes by

1. Releases unbearable (and increasing) number of vehicles to ply on bad roads every day
2. Do not enforce traffic rules on basic safety
3. Do not train their own traffic personnel.
4. Traffic staff is understaffed and underpaid.
5. Have speed bumps without markers. Some of them are so bad that they hit the chassis of small vehicles, at the slowest speed.
6. Make U-turns available on highways, instead of exit ramps and overbridges to cross to the other side of the highways
7. Do not enforce public transport only lanes
8. Do not have sidewalks for pedestrians, separate lanes for bicycles, hand-carts etc
9. Dig up roads and leave them without putting up boards and signals.
10. Leave manholes uncovered.

If this insane traffic culture on all sides is not the main cause of accidents, I don’t know what is.

Posted in Culture, Public affairs | Leave a Comment »

The elephant in the room – problem with defenders of Hinduism

Posted by desicontrarian on July 3, 2013

As I went through Dr. Elst’s analysis of the Hindu defeat in the California Textbook controversy, I found myself welcoming the bitter medicine, while wondering if defenders of traditional Hindu POV can come out of the denial of reality.

The major problem is ignorance of own tradition, and unwillingness to correct this defect.  This problem is compounded by the sophistication of what is there to learn. It is akin to right away trying Quantum Physics, Chomskian Deep Structure Linguistics, and Genetics – without knowing basic building blocks of science, maths, theorems, proofs and so on. For example, most of us (English Medium Educated) do not know Sanskrit. Therefore we cannot read and understand sources, in the original. We depend on translations. The next wrinkle is the fact of Vedic Sanskrit, which is quite different from the Sanskrit that gets taught to normal students. So Vedic Sanskrit needs to be mastered! Already the mountain has become too big to trek.

An antipathy-filled Wendy Doniger, a Michael Witzel or their armies of followers work on mastering these things. And they occupy academic positions of power. Their interpretation of sources become the received truth where it matters. Their primary tool for this is philology and hostile or vulgar interpretation. Risa Lila is one such example of a battle lost, or at least not won. “Our side” does have a Srikanth Talageri, a Rajiv Malhotra, a Koenraad Elst, a Nicholas Kazanas, a Subhash Kak and so on, but they do not have comparable respect and influence where it matters. We also have plenty of self-goal scorers, who might be called amateurs in the game.

So when discussing AIT among ourselves, we almost always assume that it has been accepted universally as false. AIT continues to enjoy widespread acceptance in the ivory towers. We compound the problem by assuming that OIT has won! This is denial of reality. This denial syndrome has also manifested itself in the CAF case.

The primary philological problem is the deliberate ambiguity of sources. Look at the sophistication of semantic encodings in Sanskrit. We are looking at The Sun and The Moon! But we have cataract, and can’t really figure out their shapes. It is the multiple-semantics part that leads us astray and gives a handle to the hostile interpreters. Philology is the main weapon used by the Goliath called White Indology. In spite of contrary evidence from Genetics, Archaeology, Hydronomy, and satellite imagery of lost rivers, White Indology marches on with the same denigratory interpretations as before. The biggest problem is that the hostiles hold ideological and academic power, unlike in the case of Sinology, Jewish Studies, Christian or Islamic studies. This is what makes these repeated defeats likely.

A comprehensive  and brief argument against the AIT was given by Rajeev Chandran a long time ago, but it is not widely disseminated.

1. There is no archaeological attestation of aryan invasion/migration in spite of more than a hundred years of archaeological effort.
2. There is no traditional memory or mention of aryan invasion/migration/intrusion in any of all the diverse historical traditions of India.
3. There is no genetic trace of foreigners to attest to such a historical mixing. If at all Indian genotypes not only closer to each other but substantially more diverse and much older than European or middle eastern genotypes – therefore suggesting a reverse migration. After Africa the most ancient and diverse population happens to be that of India. In essence most other non-African people descended from prehistoric Indians.
4. Philology is a tool of uncertain provenance and its conclusions are highly debatable. Aryan invasion/migration are hypothesis emerging basically from philology – hence open to debate.
5. Development of historical theories on ancient India through more accurate means (archaeology & traditional history) rather than philology points to the indegenity and antiquity of Indians.
6. Self references in many ancient Indian texts points to indegenity of Indians in a time-scale far older than those proposed by Aryan Invasion theory.
7. In ancient Indian texts Arya means ‘noble of conduct and character’ rather than a race. If the oldest texts negate Aryan being a race – the idea of Aryan being a race of people can be traced to the rise of British imperialism and German nationalism – both historically discredited and defunct ideologies.
8. Geology (mapping of the old Saraswati), archeo-metallurgy (iron working in ancient india), archeo-agriculture (maize, rice farming) etc points to a far greater antiquity of ancient Indians (which does not agree with Aryan Invasion Theory).
9. Archeo-astronomy, archeo-mathematics, hydronomy (river names) seem to corraborate ancient indian texts on thier antiquity and claims of indigenity.
10. Study of ancient Indian history has been held hostage to various extraneous constraints notably – euro-centricism, communism, various kinds of religious and regional chauvinism, and hence must be discarded

Posted in Culture, History, Ideology | 1 Comment »

Hindu and Greek/Roman Pantheons

Posted by desicontrarian on January 12, 2010

There are remarkable parallels between Hindu,  Greek and Roman Gods.

Some definitions are needed before we proceed.

At least in Vedantic Hinduism, there is only “The One”, Parabrahman. He is incorporeal, formless.  He wills to become Many, and so creates the Trinity, Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. They are aspects of Him. There is no difference between them, being the closest to Parabrahman. They represent Creation, Sustenance and Dissolution. They also represent the triune nature (triguNaatmaka) of everything, like

a) Positive, Negative and Neutral

b) Sattva(Goodness),  Rajas(Energy) and Tamas(Inertness)

c) Sat(Truth),  Chit(Conciousness), Ananda(Bliss)

d) Knowledge,  The Knower and The Known

e) Perception,  The Perceiver and the Object of perception and so on.

For example, when I taste a mango, I am the taster, the mango is the object of taste, and the tasting is the process. Similarly the other 4 senses.

There is also a division by Gender, so we have something called Prakruthi and Purusha. We also call it Brahma-Saraswathi, Shiva-Parvathi and Vishnu-Lakshmi.  Prakruthi is Change, Purusha is Changeless.

Out of these Primary Beings, come the Suras and the Asuras.  They are children of Prajapati Brahma by his two wives Adithi and Dithi. According to Shri Aurobindo, Adithi means Undivided Consciousness, Dithi means Divided Consciousness. (Aside:I find this statement enchanting. The origin of evil is explained here – divided consciousness. Of course, Vedantins actually say ignorance, not evil. In Europe and Christianity, the philosophers seem to be struggling with The Problem of Evil.)

Suras are what we call Gods in Greek terminology. Asuras are Demons.

We also have the 4 elements, Earth, Water, Fire and Air (These are NOT the elements of modern chemistry).  They are called Prithvi, Jala, Agni and Vaayu. The cosmic forces representing these are Agni, Varuna and Vayu.

Prithvi is the field of operation both for Suras and Asuras.  There is a 5th  element called Akaasha (Space or Ether).  These elements are more like states of matter in modern terminology.

Indra is the King of Gods. His equivalent in the Greek Pantheon(GP) is Zeus. Jupiter in the Roman Pantheon (RP).

VaruNa is the ruler of the sea.  Poseidon in GP.  Neptune in RP.

Yama is the lord of Death and the underworld.  Hades in GP.  Pluto in RP.

Manmatha is the God of Love.  Eros in GP.  Cupid in RP.

Saraswathi becomes Athena, the Goddess of wisdom. She is Minerva in RP.

Rathi (Manmatha’s consort) becomes Aphrodite in GP. Venus in RP.

Like Ganesha in Hindu pantheon(HP),  Apollo is the God of music and poetry in GP/RP.

Soma is moon and god of drink in HP.  Dionysius is the God of wine and ritual in GP.  Bacchus in RP.

Artemis is the Goddess of forests in GP. She is Diana in RP. She may be called Vanadevi in Hindu Pantheon.

Ares is the God of war in GP.  Mars in RP. He may be Skanda in HP, as well as Kuja, one of the Nava Grahas.

The Pleiades are 7 sisters, called the Kritthika constellation in Hindu astrology.

The more interesting parallels are in the epics.  Iliad is a Greek epic about the war between Greek kingdoms and Troy in Asia minor.  Helen, the wife of Menelaus, elopes with Paris, the junior prince of Troy.  Menelaus and his brother Agamemnon gather all warriors of the Greek kingdoms to avenge the insult.  It includes Ulysses and Achilles and they sail to Troy and wage war for 10 years.  They finally conquer Troy by means of a trick.

The parallels are not exact, but the loss of Seetha seems to be similar to the loss of Helen. Helen is also similar to Draupadi in beauty and the object of all men’s desire. The difference is that she is not chaste.

Achilles has an invulnerable body, except for his heel. As a a child, his mother Thetis dipped him in the river Styx to make all parts of his body immortal, except for the heels.  This reminds me of Gandhari making Duryodhana diamond-hard in all parts of the body except the thighs.  Achilles is gifted with great skills in sword-fight and archery.  He is born with a body-armour, like KarNa in Mahabharata. He is also unbeatable in battle, like Bheema or Arjuna.

Ulysses is the smartest and wisest of the Greeks. It is he who thinks of the Trojan Horse trick. He is also called Odysseus and there is another Greek epic Odyssey, which occurs during his return from the Trojan war. He is similar to KrishNa, as well as Shakuni!  When Achilles, following a dispute with Agamemnon, refuses to fight the war, Ulysses initiates an “embassy” to persuade Achilles to return. The attempt fails. Here there are parallels to KrishNa’s embassy with Duryodhana and KarNa’s refusal to fight the war under Bheeshma.

Take a look at the Greek pantheon’s family tree here!  As you can see,  many of these gods and goddesses are personifications of cosmic forces. The root God(dess) is Chaos.  This is similar to the Nasadiya Suktam in the Rg Veda.

The gods are also metaphors for concepts,  like fate,  death,  love, sleep, wisdom etc.   Studies of parallels can be endless, and they show that the ancient cultures had a lot in common.  They were not isolated from each other, rising and falling on disconnected lands and times.

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Interpreting a phenomenon

Posted by desicontrarian on October 8, 2009


The second dancer is now gazing intently in a small hand mirror at the entrance of the hut, identifying himself with the goddess. As I watch, the dancer stamps his feet, ringing the bells and cowrie shells on his anklets. He stamps again, loudly and more abruptly. Then he jerks his body suddenly to one side, as if hit by a current of electricity, before stretching out his hands and sinking into a strange crouching position. His body is quivering, his hands shaking and his eyes are flicking from side to side. The figure who had been still and silently staring only seconds earlier is now transformed, twisting his head in a strangely eerie series of movements that is part tropical fish, part stinging insect, part reptile, part bird of paradise. Then he is gone, bounding out into the clearing, under the stars, closely followed by two attendants, both holding burning splints.



“It’s only during the Theyyam season—from December to February. We give up our jobs and become Theyyam artists. For those months we become gods. Everything changes. We never eat meat or fish and are forbidden to sleep with our wives. We bring blessings to the village and the villagers, and exorcise evil spirits. We are the vehicle through which people can thank the gods for fulfilling their prayers and granting their wishes. Though we are all Dalits (untouchables) even the most bigoted and casteist Namboodiri Brahmins worship us, and queue up to touch our feet.”



As late as the early years of the 20th century, lower-caste tenants were still regularly being murdered by their Nayar landlords for failing to present sweets as tokens of their submission. Today people are rarely murdered for violations of caste restrictions—except sometimes in the case of unauthorised cross-caste love affairs—but in the presence of persons of the upper castes, Dalits are still expected to bow their heads and stand at a respectful distance.

These inequalities are the fertile soil from which Theyyam grew, and the dance form has always been a conscious and ritualised inversion of the usual structures of Keralan life: for it is not the pure and sanctified Brahmins into which the gods choose to incarnate, but the shunned and insulted Dalits. The entire system is free from Brahmin control. The Theyyams take place not in Brahminical temples, but small shrines in the holy places and sacred groves of the countryside, and the priests are not Brahmin but Dalit.



Two priests, stripped to the waist, approached her, head bowed, with a bowl of toddy, which she drank in a single gulp. It was as she was drinking that the drums reached a new climax and suddenly a second deity appeared, leaping into the open space of the clearing with a crown of seven red cobra heads, to which were attached two huge round earrings. A silver applique chakra was stuck in the middle of his forehead, and round his waist was a wide grass busk, as if an Elizabethan couturier had somehow been marooned on some forgotten jungle island and been forced to reproduce the fashions of the Virgin Queen’s court from local materials. His wrists were encircled with bracelets of palm spines and Exora flowers. It was only after a minute that I realised it was Hari Das.

He was unrecognisable from before. His eyes were wide, charged and staring, and his whole personality seemed to have been transformed. The calm, slightly earnest and thoughtful man I knew from my different meetings was now changed into a frenzied divine athlete. He made a series of spectacular leaps in the air as he circled the kavu, twirling and dancing, spraying the crowd with showers of rice offerings.

After several rounds in this manner, the tempo of the drums slowly lowered. As Chamundi took her seat on a throne at one side of the main entrance to the shrine, still twitching uneasily, the Vishnumurti theyyam approached the ranks of devotees, in a choreographed walk, part strut, part dance. All of the devotees and pilgrims had now respectfully risen from their seats and from the ground, and were now standing with heads bowed before the deity.

In one hand the Vishnumurti now held a bow and a quiver of arrows; in the other a sword. These he used to bless the devotees, who bowed their heads as he approached. With the blade of the sword he touched the outstretched hands of some of the crowd: “All will be well!” he intoned in a deep voice in Malayalam. “All the darkness will go! The gods will look after you!” Between these encouraging phrases in the local dialect, he muttered a series of Sanskrit mantras and incantations. The personality of the deity was quite distinct from that of Chamundi—as benign and reassuring as the latter was disturbing and potentially dangerous, even psychotic.

The deity now returned to the shrine, and taking a throne, looked on as the various priests and attendants now prostrated themselves before him, each offering a drink of toddy. Like Chamundi, Vishnumurti drank the offering in a single gulp. This was the signal for the spiritual surgery to begin and the devotees to queue up, and to approach the deities for individual advice and blessing.

After an hour or so of this, the queues began to dwindle, and the drums struck up again. Such was the reassuring calm of the gods’ surgery that nothing prepared me for what followed. As the tempo rose, the attendants handed both deities coconuts which they took over to a sacrificial altar and threw down with such force that the coconut exploded.

Then the gods were handed huge cleavers. From one side a pair of squawking chickens were produced. Both were held by the feet and were flapping frantically. Another attendant appeared, holding an offering of rice on a palm-leaf plate. Seconds later, the cleaver descended and the chickens were both beheaded. The head of each was thrown away and blood gushed out in a great jet on to the rice. Then, as the drums climaxed, both deities lifted the flapping carcasses up to their faces, blood still haemorrhaging over the costumes and head-dresses. Together, Chamundi and Vishnumurti placed the severed neck of each chicken in their mouth, drinking deeply. Only then did they put the carcass down, on to its feet, so that the headless chicken ran off, scrabbling and flapping as if still alive. Only after another full minute had passed did the chickens pitch over and come to rest at the edge of the crowd.

How one interprets and describes phenomena depends on one’s belief system.

The modern human being has a belief system. It is called Reason. This system is based on the belief that all things experienced by the 5 senses really exist. And that things not perceived by the 5 senses and the mind do not exist.

Science basically operates on this paradigm. Thus the scientist

  1. Observes a phenomenon
  2. Gathers sense data about the phenomenon.
  3. Forms hypothesis, theory or a model of the phenomenon. (S)he may either describe it in these terms or form hypothesis about the causes.
  4. Tests the hypothesis with more sense data of the type observed and gathered, varying the controlling conditions in a measured manner.
  5. Proves that the hypothesis/theory holds for a set of data and conditions.
  6. Gets/allows other people to also repeat the tests and validate the hypothesis.

A diligent, admirable and overwhelmingly successful method no doubt. This is an iron-clad, closed-loop system. Does it have limitations?

Science forgets, disregards or minimizes the following fact. All data about phenomena are sensory inputs experienced by the perceiver. Any perceiver with X number of senses and the step-by-step, sequential reasoning mentality – will tend to experience and think about the phenomenon in question in broadly the same way. It is a highly left-brain oriented thinking style.

Imagine a remote planet where human-like beings exist.  The only thing lacking in them is the sense of sight. They are all blind. Thus shapes, colours, forms, changes of state of these properties etc cannot be perceived. They do not see clouds, the blue sky, the far-away stars, birds flying silently in the sky, distant blue seas, lush green forests and so on. Undoubtedly a greatly diminished life, compared to people like us.

Now, if one or two of them acquire eyes somehow, a whole new world opens up. They start experiencing and describing things that seem incredible to other people. Thye may be considered to have too much imagination, or even mad. They may eventually be persecuted or thrown out of the human community.

The history of science itself has plenty of these happenings. Until radio waves were discovered, Science did not know of its existence, though radio waves have existed for all time. This example extends to x-rays, gamma radiation and many other phenomena discovered at some point in time.

If due to some future catastrophes, suddenly the faculty of colour is lost, then Science will gradually start to deny the existence of colour. If people with long memories, or memories of their ancestors’ tales, talk about these things, they will be considered superstitious.

Another way of looking at it is as a dream. Everything that happens in a dream is unreal outside that dream, but real inside it! The community of scientists and reasoning members can also be considered to be in a collective dream, experimenting, verifying, validating and reinforcing each others’ experiences and belief systems!

Observing, describing and interpreting phenomena like the Theyyam dance, is also an activity dependent on an ideology described earlier, the ideology of Science and Reason. Things will seem bizarre, meaningless, dangerous and barbaric. One cannot begin to understand the ideology that gives rise to these rituals. It induces a remoteness, a separation, a disbelief, and a superiority complex in the modern observer.

Can there be an ideology that gave rise to these rituals? Do they have another kind of logic? If one has a philosophically open mind, one can allow for other ways of knowing and experiencing.

In a book called “Pleasure Cults of India”, Mr. P. Thomas surveys this area from the point of view of Hindu Cosmology. In this belief system the human being is not merely the body. Behind the body is a subtle body, consisting of thoughts, feelings and mental states. Behind it is a causal body, where these things are in a latent form.

External worlds are also many. Our 3-dimensional, physical world is one of many worlds that exist in the Universe. Other types of beings inhabit other worlds. There are worlds “below” and worlds “above” our world.  These may not be accessible to our 3-dimensional perception.

Hindu cosmology identifies 14 such worlds, 7 below and 6 above. These are called Hells and Heavens. Buddhism has a similar scheme, though the names are different. The 7 hells are Atala, Vitala, Rasatala, Talatala and Patala. The 6 heavens are Bhuvarloka, Swarloka, Mahaloka, Janaloka, Tapoloka and Satyaloka.

Beings may move from one world to another through trans-migration and reincarnation, driven there by desires and previous actions. Each world has beings having various shapes, faculties, powers and tendencies. There are Devas, Gandharvas, Kinnaras, Apsaras in the upper worlds. There are Asuras, Daithyas, Danavas, Rakshasas etc in the lower worlds.

There are Yakshas and Yakshis who may live in trees in Bhuloka (Earth). There is a special class of beings called Bhoothas, Prethas and Pischachas. These beings inhabit the earth, but without a physical body. This can happen if their “soul journey” after death was interrupted due to some reason, like strong attachment to earthly pleasures – eating, sex, drink etc. These beings are in a difficult state. They have strong, overwhelming desires, but no physical body to fulfill those desires. So they try to possess or enter the body of a human, in order to enjoy their desires.

For the unfortunate human owners of the physical body, this is a like a major mental disease. The possession has to be exorcised. This is the context in which exorcism was born and is practiced. It has its own rules which appear to outsiders as rituals. It has its doctors and sorcerers.  Traditions like the Theyyam dance have their origin, place and operation in this belief system.

Ghosts can inhabit the lonely places where recently they had died as human beings. They may have been murdered, died in accidents, committed suicide etc. They have some unlived life which they crave. So an exorcist tries to find out the character of these ghosts. What kind of people had such mishaps, what their unfulfilled desires and fears were, what attracts them, what repels them etc. Using such data, the exorcist will try to entice, cajole, threaten or drive out these possessions.

There is a popular belief in Kerala in a spirit called Kutti Chatthan. He holds a sword in his right hand and rides on a buffalo. He has a shrine in Avangode, where people afflicted by his activities visit. A sudden death, drowning of children, fire, dementia are attributed to him. Rattling of crockery in a room with no crockery, appearance of filth in kitchen edibles etc are common symptoms of his presence.

These belief-cum-knowledge systems may be true, partially true etc. The degree of truth of these cannot be properly judged by unsympathetic outsiders. As in any system, there may be exploiters, quacks, charlatans, opportunists and half-knowledge practitioners. The system may have been of high quality in the past, and ignorance may have crept in, decaying the knowledge. It can happen to modern medicine one day. These possibilities must be acknowledged. Then one can observe the system from a sympathetic point of view, and get insight into the minds that accept and practice the rituals.

Looking at it from the point of view of caste equations, standards of barbarity or primitivism, will usually produce the interpretation characteristic of Modern Reason. A primitive, ignorant, backward society that needs to be taken out of this state – nudged, pushed, thrust or forced into the Rational System of Belief. In some cases, it is like the power-wielding community of the blind humans pushing the seeing humans to denying their sight faculty. Contempt, antipathy, patronization etc create barriers to emotional understanding of the observed phenomena, its actors and society. It also perpetuates the invisible point of view and ideology of the observer. Broad-minded people need to acknowledge that this is possible.

“There are more things on heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamed of in your philosophy”.

Posted in Culture, Mysticism, Philosophy | Leave a Comment »

Secular syncretism – half-baked patch-works

Posted by desicontrarian on June 5, 2009

Justice Katju has undertaken a cultural  initiative. He has started a Kalidas-Ghalib Academy to foster cultural understanding. It looks like a secular, Nehruvian mind-set to me, without an inkling of religious feeling behind it.

This is my reaction to it.

1. “The road to hell is paved with good intentions”  (I wonder who said that).

2. a)The underlying axioms are invalid.

b) There was no Aryan Invasion of India. Aryans were indigenous to India.

c) Thus India has only historically recently become a “country of immigrants”.

d) This is typical of modern intellectuals, looking to define India as another America.

e) Similar false analogies are there between American black movements (black panthers) and Dalit movements (Dalit Panthers). Can these intellectuals never be original? Do they have to borrow all ideas from Anglos or Americans, even if black?

3. a) Ghalib was a worldly drunkard.

b) He was not in the same class as Omar Khayaam, Rumi and Amir Khusro.

c) Whenever he used the word Nasha, it meant alcohol-induced.

d) Not so with the others. They meant divine intoxication, caused by meditation practices.

e) This is the true unity of religions, authentic sufism is close to vaishnavism, sikhism and bhakthi movements.

4. a) However, the content on Akbar is interesting and largely true. Some new information is there.

b) My quibble is about calling him the greatest of them all, and founder of modern secularism! Secularism is about separation of religin and state, whereas din-e-elahi was about finding the One True Emperor!

c) What about Asoka, Vikramaaditya, Bhoja, Kanishka, Harsha Vardhana, Raja raja Chola, Krishna Deva Raya and so on? Such comparisons wiil turn out to be as foolish as Outlook and Filmfare awards for lifetime achievements.

5. a) Industrial development is not a satisfactory answer to the problem of poverty. It pollutes the environment.

b) We need to find other ways to get rid of poverty, perhaps by reducing the value of being rich?

c) The quality of living in out mega-cities is much worse than rural and semi-rural towns. Cities have much less time and much more stress than towns.

6. a) Divisiveness is a product of the competitive processes in a democratic setup.

b) Politicians, intellectuals & ideologues need to mobilize people on their behalf, in support of their views and agendas.

c) Dividing people into ‘Us’ and ‘Them’ is a time-honoured, universal way to climb the ladder of power.

d) The constitution of India was not organically developed from our soil. It is a foreign graft & is part of the problem, not the solution. It is not a good vehicle for the expression of our spirit.

7. The intention of the initiative is good, but secularists should be aware of the possibility that the opposite may be achieved, due to faulty assumptions and paradigms!

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Indian intellectuals – colonized borrowers of ideas

Posted by desicontrarian on June 5, 2009

About 20 years ago, I was reading John Keay’s ‘India discovered’, while living abroad. A beautiful coffee table book, with great illustrations of the Stupa at Sanchi, the discovery of Ajanta and Ellora, and the euphoric panygerics for various kings. Prof. William Jones had started the Asiatic Society of Bengal, enchanted by the classical languages of Sanskrit, Prakrit and Pali. He was wonder-struck that Sanskrit, ‘more mellifluous than the greek, more perfect than the latin’ was a living language! He said that this was like living in Greece during its civilaizational peak. The man who took over from him, James Prinsepp, had a great eye for detail. He painstakingly deciphered the Brahmi script, learnt the language from pandits at kashi, and nearly lost his eyes and his mind due to his efforts. He came across an inscription by one Piyadassi in 1837. It was utterly unlike the overflowing eulogies that other kings’ inscriptions had. It simply said

“The Beloved of the Gods, Piyadassi the king, has had this inscription on Dhamma engraved. Here, no living thing having been killed, is to be sacrificed; nor is the holding of a festival permitted. For the Beloved of the Gods, the king Piyadassi, sees much evil in festivals, though there are some of which the Beloved of the Gods, the king Piyadassi, approves.”

It was not known who this Piyadassi was. It took many years for the veil to lift slowly, and for India to reidscover Ashoka, the greatest of her emperors.

The book is filled with details of the various ways to depict The Buddha – the taxila style, the gandhara style, the varanasi style and so on. After drinking in all this, I read this.

In his infamous minute of 1835, Lord Macaulay wrote that he had “never found one among them (speaking of Orientalists, an opposing political faction) who could deny that a single shelf of a good European library was worth the whole native literature of India and Arabia”.

He articulated the goals of British colonial imperialism most succinctly: “We must 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, words and intellect.”

His blueprint abolished the teaching of Sanskrit in Gurukulas, and Arabic & Persian in Madrasas. The plan to cut the roots of Indian civilization from the future generations succeeded beyond his wildest expectations.

This class of people took the reins of power also in 1947. Their leader was Jawaharlal Nehru. In the debate on the national language in the constituent assembly, his was the decisive vote for English, against Sanskrit (advocated by Ambedkar).

Thus, ever since 1863, the loss of our cultural roots has been a fact. The surprising thing is the low level of awareness of this loss, and how the leading intellects of the nation have been the agents of this destruction. They continue to be the intellectual sepoys of the Raj which has supposedly dissappeared.

The principle reason for the rennaisance in Europe was that their intellectuals abandoned christianity and went back to the Greek and Latin roots. India has not had a life-changing rennaissance precisely because we are not well-aware of our own conditioning by Macaulayism. Thats why we cannot study humanities the way Europeans study theirs. There is no emotional link. Thats why we have more science and technology studies than classical studies. Thats why we have a mediocre, borrowed, ape-like  intellectual culture, with no original contributions in any field of knowledge, for the last 200 years.

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