Read Me

“Books are uniquely portable magic.”

–Stephen King

Being in the 21st century, rightly called as the information age, which has entitled man to all that information he needs, through a palm-size monster called as smartphone, does it really matter to rethink on whether we should hold on to the age old habit of reading? A fairly large number of people feel- No. The reason being simple- Selective information access. Electronic media enables us to get what we want rather than get all that is available, unlike books.

It would be a fool’s argument if I am hell bent on asserting that books score over electronic knowledge base. That is definitely not the message I intend to convey. Putting the problem in a nutshell, we, the frontrunners of digital revolution essentially lack the ability to assimilate information into knowledge by sensible application of mind. To be precise, we have a broad idea of everything but deep knowledge of nothing.

The reason is not far-fetched. It is right in front of our eyes. We have been, by and large, paralyzed by excessive and injudicious use of technology. Let me give a few instances-

16% of 5600? –Where’s the calculator?

Dial a friend? –Search the phonebook.

Give a lecture? –Oh wait, let me open my textbook!

Solve this problem? –Sorry, I don’t remember the formula.

If we observe these four lines carefully, the hitch is clearly evident i.e. the memory element in the brain is losing its effectiveness due to lack of usage. At a grosser level, it may not be an issue. But at a subtler level, it is an undesirable brain impairment. The ability to derive knowledge from a life of sheer discipline, consistent study, reflective thought and contemplation is slowly depleting in the younger generation. With such trends continuing, generations to come will be rendered as a herd of mere human robots.

So, the need of the hour is to nurture the thirst for knowledge in young minds by encouraging them to read good, thought provoking books. Reading should be backed up by consistent effort to reflect upon what is being read and to reason logically, in order to discriminate between what is right and what is wrong. Use technology with awareness. This is sure to enhance a person’s problem-solving ability, his outlook towards the society, his character and his personality as a whole.

As an ending note, I would like to say, enjoy the pleasure of reading. If you are not a book-worm, become one. Ignite the reading hobby in you. Spread yourselves across various areas and choose that which interests you- science, literature, arts, economics, history, philosophy, spirituality etc. Instead of whiling away our time in wasteful activities let us pick a book and share the joy of knowledge.

The next time you see a book, don’t be surprised if it calls out, “Hey, read me!”

The Force Awakens by Sri Rajiv Malhotra

Psychographics. The first time I came across this book- “The Battle for Sanskrit” by Sri Rajiv Malhotra was when YouTube suggested me to watch the video below based on my online behavioural patterns. [Courtesy: Jagrit Bharat]

Having had peeked into few pages of one of his earlier books, “Indra’s Net” a couple of years back, I decided to read this book seriously since the title was very impressive. The book covers some of the key issues that need immediate attention in the field of Indology and Samskrit philology. Today, I had an opportunity to attend the author’s talk about this very book at MIT, Cambridge, organized by MIT Samskritam along with MIT Hindu Student Council and Samskrita Bharati, Boston.

Let me summarize my understanding of the brief two-and-a-half hour session.

rajivMalhotra

The Problem in Hand

To recognize an issue as a potential problem is itself the first step towards finding a solution to it. One such issue is West’s keen interest in studying history, cultures, languages and literature of the Indian subcontinent with an intention of becoming future custodians of vast knowledge repositories of India. This is one of the ways of colonizing the Indian minds. In order to counter this growing problem, Mr. Malhotra has proposed in his book, the need to have a clear picture of insiders and outsiders in a culture. For e.g. a practising Hindu is an insider whereas a person who studies Hinduism for the sole purpose of refuting what it preaches is an outsider. This is when Mr. Malhotra emphasizes the importance of the term—Hinduphobia.

In this book of his, he has extensively studied Prof. Sheldon Pollock, a scholar of Samskrit, the intellectual and literary history of India, and comparative intellectual history and critiqued some of his major works on Samskrit texts. This professor has been in controversy of late, for his association with the Murty Classical Library of India (MCLI) which has taken up the gigantic task of translating great literary works of India from the past two millennia. Mr. Malhotra’s argument is that while countries like China, Japan, etc have their own Indologists for such a project of reinterpreting their texts, why is that we have entrusted it to Western scholars who do not have a background of living the tradition at all! Throwing more light on the same, Mr. Malhotra showed the severity of the problem— most of the prestigious journals and conferences on Samskrit studies are controlled by Western editors. There are scholars who prefer getting their papers accepted or getting a doctorate from an Oxford or a Harvard for their booming careers.

The Germans, the British, the French scholars study Samskrit texts with their own backgrounds to prove the superiority of Western Civilization. Instead of understanding the magnitude of the problem, some of these scholars are given away prestigious awards of India like how Prof. Pollock was awarded the Padma Sri.

The Path towards Solution

Having discussed about all the above issues and many more in his book and today’s talk as well, Mr. Malhotra proposes to form a home team to defend and counter-attack the intellectual barbarism by the west. We have to have strong ‘insiders’ who are capable of doing a purvapaksha of  the works of the Indologists of the West and debate their stands with a scholarly uttarapaksha. One such effort has already been initiated by Prof. K. S. Kannan by starting a conference series for Purvapaksha on Western Indology.

At the grassroot level, for one of the questions from the audience, Mr. Malhotra said, we ought to awaken the “Intellectual Kshaatra” in us. We have multitude of challenges facing us— first of all, getting to know our culture depth for which we have look for unbiased sources: living Gurus and original texts, second, sharpening our debating skills like how the Buddhist schools train their disciples even today.

Q & A

There were some mind-boggling questions from the audience. I will try to recall some and summarize the answers.

For a question on ‘insiders’, Mr. Malhotra answered, in the course of writing this book he met many scholars in India of whom some were serious researchers and took his side but many of them were either ‘sold-out’ to the West or were simply incapable of identifying the problem as a problem. In other words, they were the early Arjuna of the Kurukshetra war in the ‘escapism’ mode.

For a question on Dr. Shatavadhani Ganesh’s review on his work, he said he would be answering all those questions raised by the former on his work.

For a question on how as an American Indian could one study Vedanta, Mr. Malhotra’s answer was that he should find a living Guru.

For a question on the reason why Indian Government isn’t funding research in Indology, the author answered that we would have more scholars flocking from the West to Indian Universities taking up prestigious positions and ruling the game in a much powerful way.

For a question on Dr. Rohan Murty’s MCLI project, the author commented that the project has to be more transparent by having eminent Indian scholars review the translated works before they are published.

For a question on the Aryan Invasion theory and Germans adopting the “Swastika” symbol, the author gave a summary of how German Indologists have been claiming that they have ancestral roots to the Vedas and have been trying to distort the historical dates since over40 years by saying that Aryans were the ancient Europeans.

For the last question of the session as to how one can contribute towards this battle for Sanskrit, Mr. Malhotra said that owing to each one’s individual capability, one could contribute towards building the home team.

End of the Talk

The talk was concluded with a book signing session by the author.

Event flyer:

forceAwakens

Breathing happiness – thanks to Sri Sri

Source: Breathing happiness – thanks to Sri Sri

ಮೌನಧ್ಯಾನ

Age 22

ರಾಗವೇ ನೀನಾದೆಯೋ?
ರಾಗಮಾಲಿಕಾಧರನಾದ ವನಮಾಲಿಯನ್ನೇ ಸ್ತುತಿಸುವ ಸೌಭಾಗ್ಯ ನಿನ್ನದಾಯಿತೋ?

ಪರಮಹಂಸರ ಮಾನಸದಲ್ಲಿ ವಿಹರಿಸುವ ಹಂಸಧ್ವನಿ ನೀನಾದೆಯೋ?
ಚಾರುಕೆಶಿಯ ಅಂತರಂಗ ಲಹರಿಗೇ ಸ್ವರವಾಗುವ ಸೌಭಾಗ್ಯ ನಿನ್ನದಾಯಿತೋ?

ಆಭೇರರು ಮೈಮರೆತು ಹಾಡಿದ ಅಭೇರಿ ನೀನಾದೆಯೋ?
ಮೋಹನರೂಪಿ ಗಾನಮೂರ್ತಿಯನ್ನೇ ಕೊಂಡಾಡುವ ಸೌಭಾಗ್ಯ ನಿನ್ನದಾಯಿತೋ?

ವಸಂತಗಳ ವಸಂತ ಕಲ್ಯಾಣವಸಂತ ನೀನಾದೆಯೋ?
ಖರಹರನಿಗೇ ಪ್ರಿಯನಾಗುವ ಸೌಭಾಗ್ಯ ನಿನ್ನದಾಯಿತೋ?

ಗೀರ್ವಾಣಿಯ ವಾಗ್ಝರಿಯಲ್ಲಿ ಹರಿಯುವ ಕೀರವಾಣಿ ನೀನಾದೆಯೋ?
ಪೂರ್ಣಷಡ್ಜದಲ್ಲಿ ಲೀನವಾಗಿ ಪೂರ್ಣತ್ವಕ್ಕೇ ಏರಿದ ಸೌಭಾಗ್ಯ ನಿನ್ನದಾಯಿತೋ?

ಶೀನಿವಾಸನನ್ನು ಒಲಿಸಿದ ಶ್ರೀನಿವಾಸ ನೀನಾದೆಯೋ?
ಶ್ರೀನಿವಾಸನನ್ನೇ ಸೇರುವ ಸೌಭಾಗ್ಯ ನಿನ್ನದಾಯಿತೋ?

#carnatic-music, #mandolin, #u-shrinivas

Thus Stumbled Ramanandsagar

In my previous post, I had spoken about my Linguistic Journey in Sanskrit. Taking cue from the last few lines of the post—“Why reading an original version of any epic is important and of what relevance it is to the present day world”, I am starting a new series called—“Thus Stumbled Ramanandsagar”.

To answer the question, let me take a recent news article that was published in a national newspaper.

On July 14, 2015, The Times of India published a news article (see below) on BJP national President, Sri Amit Shah’s address at the inauguration of the BJP’s Maha Jansampark Abhiyan in Madhya Pradesh.

acchedin

Minutes after the news was out, BJP started crying foul stating that Amit Shah had been misquoted and it also released the video of the speech. The same newspaper clarified itself on the next day (see below).

amit2

What we can understand from the above incident is that

  1. The actual speech was something but what was published was a misinterpretation of the same thing.
  2. If not for the video clipping, the party could never have proved that TNN had twisted Amit Shah’s statement.
  3. Do not rely on second hand news. Reach for the source.

On the other hand, what would have happened if the party had not attended to this article seriously? Very simple,

  1. Public would have felt betrayed about the promises made during elections.
  2. With many such unauthorized news coming to light, people would gradually lose trust in the government.

The conclusion is—Whatever you see, whatever you hear, do not consume as you get. Reach for its source. Dig for truth.

Coming to the topic of our interest—“Ramayanam”. If there is one epic which is abused and misunderstood widely today, it is Ramayanam. It has become a fashion to condemn Srirama and glorify Ravana. Intellectuals may argue that the freedom of free speech of contemporary writers and artists to bring out creative works based on epics is unquestionable. One such creative work that I came across Sujay Ghosh’s short film—Ahalya, a story loosely based on Ramayanam.

Looking at Ramayanam from a story point of view is one perspective, looking at it as a living example of human and social values is another perspective and looking at it as a book which guides a mumukshu (spiritual aspirant) through his path of sadhana to the ultimate moksha (realization) is a totally different perspective. Maharshi Valmiki who lived during the period of Ramayanam was the only one who recorded the entire story. Having been blessed by Chaturmukha Brahma himself that he shall narrate the Ramayanam as it had occurred, Maharshi Valmiki brought it out as a collection (काव्य) of 24,000 shlokas.

रहस्यम् च प्रकाशम् च यद् वृत्तम् तस्य धीमतः || १-२-३३
रामस्य सह सौमित्रे राक्षसानाम् च सर्वशः |

वैदेह्याः च एव यद् वृत्तम् प्रकाशम् यदि वा रहः || १-२-३४
तत् च अपि अविदितम् सर्वम् विदितम् ते भविष्यति |

Ramayanam being attributed as a literary work of the highest order has several folds of meaning and is equated to the Vedas. Unless a learned person, a Guru, an Acharya deciphers the paradoxical shlokas through discourses and kalakshepams, one can never understand Ramayanam in the light of Vedas.

Giving wings to one’s creative fantasies, if he/she changes the story, the kind of message that reaches people thus, will be very far from what Maharshi Valmiki intended to say. Maharshi Valmiki can never be improved upon.

The upcoming series—“Thus stumbled Ramanandsagar” is going to be a comparison of the famous TV serial on Ramayanam by Sri Ramanandsagar ji and the original text. Though Sri Ramanandsagar ji has done a commendable job in bringing out Ramayanam to laymen, there are certain areas which he could have done better by sticking to the original. This series is an attempt to show the difference between the two and definitely not to demean the work of Sri Ramanandsagar ji.

Let the beauty of Srimadvalmikiramayanam permeate everywhere.

Jai Sriram!

A Linguistic Journey: Sanskrit

On December 9, 1867, Max Müller wrote to his wife[1]:

… I feel convinced, though I shall not live to see it, that this edition of mine and the translation of the Veda will hereafter tell to a great extent on the fate of India, and on the growth of millions of souls in that country. It is the root of their religion, and to show them what that root is, I feel sure, the only way of uprooting all that has sprung from it during the last 3,000 years.

Friedrich Max Müller was a German indologist and a Sanskrit scholar who translated the Rgveda and many other scriptures[2] into English. It was after this scholarly work that he wrote a letter to his wife stating its purpose.

Lord Macaulay who was responsible for introducing English education in India during the British regime made statements of similar kind.

mcl 

On February 2, 1835 in his Minute of Indian Education:

… 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.

When I came across the above excerpts for the first time, I was shocked to know how translations can entirely misguide a reader whose intention is to understand a text as it. My Acharya’s words echoed in my ears, “Beware of translations! Never fall for them.”  That is when I decided that if I happen to develop interest in Hindu mythology, I am going to read original manuscripts only. Lo and behold! All of them are in Samskrtam! Though I had some familiarity with the language, I was not proficient enough to understand ancient literary works. In one of his discourses, my Acharya suggested to take up the four exams (Pravesha, Parichaya, Shiksha, Kovida) in Samskrtam and then read Valmiki Ramayanam. He also said that in due course, Ramanayam would show its way. I didn’t find much difficulty in preparing for the exams at home as the syllabus was simple. But, I wasn’t happy with the progress that I was making.

One day it struck to me, I speak better Kannada(my mother tongue) than English; why? The reason is that I didn’t learn the grammar first but learnt speaking first, and the grammar crept in automatically. Added to it, I used to read Amar Chitra Katha, Champak, Balamangala and other story books —all of them in Kannada. So, I got my answer— if I apply “the English learning strategy” to Samskrtam, it is not going to take me anywhere.

Luckily, there was an ongoing book exhibition at the Palace Grounds, Bangalore, and I went with a hope to find some simple story books in Samskrtam. What I found there, left me totally surprised and I returned home with one year subscription for Champak in Samskrtam! After a few months of reading, I could derive three observations:

  1. Samskritam is not a complicated language. It is complex but simple.
  2. I wasn’t that bad at it as I had thought. I could understand most of the stories in the book without a dictionary.
  3. My decision on learning a language naturally, was right.

Months later, I cleared first three of the four exams (fourth one is due), resorted to watching Samskrtam news in the national news channel and reading other monthly magazines.

Off late, Valmiki Ramayanam has cast a bewitching spell on me which is when I started reading the Gita press, Gorakhpur edition of the text.

gpa481

The text is seemingly simple and can be understood by rearranging the words in the shlokas as prose with some elementary knowledge of the language. I will share one such homework that I did for the past few days.

In posts to come, I will share why reading an original text is important even for stories like Ramayana or Mahabharata and of what relevance it is in present day world.

References:

[1] “The Life and Letters of Friedrich Max Müller.” First published in 1902 (London and N.Y.). Reprint in 1976 (USA)
[2] http://www.goethe.de/ins/in/en/lp/uun/mxm.html

Karma Annihilation

“Hey, I am taking a short break. I may come back to work in the evening, not sure though!”
“No. You aren’t going. You aren’t allowed to.”

“Why!”
“You haven’t exhausted your karma yet.”

“What! Hahahaha… You are kidding. Aren’t you? See you later.”
“Yup, I was. Bye”

One full day passed by before I could recall this conversation with one of the kitchen crew from Switzerland at a public programme in New England. Away from India, it was one of the rarest opportunities to connect with like-minded people. I chose to volunteer at the dish room in cleaning and assorting dishes. With an apron, a hairnet, a pair of gloves and a pair of croc shoes I landed in a beehive where everyone seemed to be knowing the entire process, where everyone worked in a perfect sync at a steady pace, yet relaxed. Not knowing whom to approach, I stood their exchanging smiles with the crew. Then, there came a man, whom I called “Chief” from then on, to assign me a small task of arranging cleaned reusable cups in stackable plastic storage crates. While I was doing that, another crew-member turned up to teach how to arrange spoons, knives and forks in trays. Having observed that, I tried my hands at arranging bowls, plates of different sizes and juice glasses with some guidance from Chief and others. All of these dishes had to stacked so orderly that they wouldn’t make any rattling sound while they were ported from the dish room to the kitchen, dining hall or cafe.

Next in my do-list  was to learn how to remove hot and cleaned dishes from the gigantic dishwasher, inspect them and put them in appropriate places. If they weren’t clean they had to be fed into the dishwasher conveyor belt again for re-cleaning (just like how the souls which aren’t free of their karma have to take birth again and again until they exhaust all of it.). Except for scrubbing and feeding the dishwasher with soiled dishes I had tried my hands at almost everything.

The new-bee just got competent enough for the second day of volunteering. Time flew so fast and least did I feel fatigue at all. I took leave of one of the crew members there when he laughingly forbade me to. My thoughts sped backwards to what I read at the Volunteer sign-up desk or the Seva Desk in the morning— “Seva means selfless service. An attitude of selflessness gives joy. By helping others we are actually helping ourselves. Please sign up!” The spirit of Karma Yoga— one of those few ways towards perfection by exhausting the karma— unfolded so beautifully. How meaningful the whole day turned out to be!

With such an atomic experience in my diary, I need not look into the translation to understand this verse anymore. Joy!

तस्मादसक्तः सततं कार्यं कर्म समाचर |
असक्तो ह्याचरन् कर्म परमाप्नोति पुरुषः || (भगवद्गीता 3.19)