Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Caste: better times and regress

For those who slept through history, some happy memories of Progress: seeing our grandmas enjoy a ripe old age, from radio to TV, color TV, STD booths, then Internet and mobiles. Now Aadhar.
Gadgets came along with grain surpluses, milk and eggs; goodies like Metro, Autobahn, IIM, IIT, AIMMS,  low cost airlines, etc.   Now Made in China has replaced made in India, which only assembles.
Our educated masses of young people have caste certificates, speak broken English, have no job skills.  Lakhs of science students know all about some branch of science, but nothing of the humanities through which to glimpse at humanity.
Bas degree hai, mere paas naukri kyon nahi hai?  Usko kyon diya? Mujhe kyon nahi?   Boom, boom, boom .. unemployment figures zoom.  Is rioting and stone throwing  as easy and profitable  as selling pakoras?

Earlier educated classes, even collegians talked and debated, exchanged notes in a civilized fashion, not with plunged daggers and lynching. We celebrated all festivals, ours and others too.
That was the bedrock of democracy we grew up with; not as it stares us in the face now, and nor the Oligarchy of Time Immemorial when only landed people of certain castes were allowed to vote.
Manusmruti was Ancient death knell of democracy, gender, any other justice.   How many have actually read the whole?  It not only lists different types of marriages, sons, but also rules for divorce!!!
So divorce is also an Ancient Tradition of ours?  
Consider:  the Vedas spoke of 4 : Brahmin Kshtriya Vaisha, Sudra.   Even early travellers in ancient times  like Huan Tsang mentioned 4;  ditto Alburni ,  with not more than 40 mixed castes, related by blood.
Cut to the British: they counted 2378 main castes, 43 races, numerous subcastes, and a 1891 list of 1156 subcastes of Chamars alone!! Divide and Rule!  
Aadhaar was perhaps conceived as a counterpart of the Social Security number that citizens of the US and some other countries have.  Has anyone examined those models, how they were implemented and how they operate?  Like Nazis with deadlines?  Why are those without Aadhar cards denied rations from PDS shops?  When someone dies….  who will acknowledge the shame of starvation to TV channels?  And mysteriously slit open sacks of dal and rice find their way into a back room.  
Who is fooling whom here?

A Toast to the Man who put India center stage as the largest democracy in the world

It’s neither May nor November, yet suddenly Jawarharlal Nehru is being recalled. Perhaps memories triggered by the calumny poured over him and his descendants.

Why forget the Other PMs of India, Lal Bahadur Shastri – the short man with a long shadow,  Gulzarilal Nanda, I K Gujral, Morarji Desai – first Gujju PM, Charan Singh, V P Singh, Chandrashekhar – once reputed to be in the kitchen cabinet now on the other side of the fence, Deve Gowda – first PM aghast at Davos, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Narasimha Rao—who actually began solid economics reforms and Manmohan Singh?    The only names with recall are Indira, Rajiv, and Namo & Co.

Nehru was very much a man of his times, when socialism was on its way up.  His successors veered towards License Raj, chucked out in phases by Narasimha Rao …. now seeking a new Nom d’Plume.

Democratic enough to listen, plead, cajole, bully, bargain to maintain the unity of democratic India, earned Nehru kudos as a leading globally respected leader of his times – without resort to gimmickry of first names and jaddo ki jhappies.

Perhaps his achievement was possible because of  his acknowledgement of the talents of colleagues to best effect; Ambedkar’s steering of the Constitution, Sardar’s uniting of the Princes, Nehru’s pushing forward, building consensuses, and free democratic elections that wielded India into a modern democratic India, that would not have been possible on Gandhian policies alone.

A Toast to the Man who put India center stage as the largest democracy in the world!! 

Thursday, January 11, 2018

A little book explains a vast religion: Hinduism:Path of Ancient Wisdom By Dr.Hiro Badlani

In an era of untrammelled attacks on traditional religious beliefs from a forceful Hindutva and Islam, Dr. Hiro Badlani has performed signal service to Hindu youth diaspora, in unraveling facets and percepts, as they evolved over millennia to our times.
Today, the young generations of the substantial Indians scattered around the world do need a versatile introduction to the richness of their own religion: away from the old mumbo jumbo to an understanding of how its evolution over millennia allows adapting and synthesizing to a technological future, while abiding by ancient creeds of tolerance and kindness, and adapting to whichever corner of the globe they are in, to ensure the peace and harmony that made India a great nation.
Dr. Badlani’s research reveals a wealth of information and archives of the most ancient religion, preserved not only all over India, but also institutions scattered at different foreign locales, that have preserved manuscripts, even some digital formats from various schools of thought including the remarkable Kashmiri Shaivite philosophy, reckoned outstanding in many ways, with its startling modernism: accepting the reality of the world but adding that the world is a “play of consciousness”.
The book traces philosophies and thought flows, from the earliest Vedic culture and heavy ritualism that culminated in the germination of Jainism and Buddhism, to sidestep the stifling emphasis on Brahminism.  Both stress on less dogmatic approaches to problems, with room for differences of opinions, reminiscent of the older Vedic free flow of ideas.  
The Vedas spoke of one Supreme Divine, “One alone exists; sages call by various names…”,  manifested and worshipped in the various gods of Nature.  Interesting to note that “Supreme Being” in the Constitution of the USA replaced the word “God”, after hearing pleas quoting the above from the Rig Veda.
The later Upanishads led the way to more internal spiritual realization. Short readable chapters trace evolution of an abstract Supreme God, to the Brahma, Vishnu Mahesh trinity with all their human faces and avatars, including Buddha and Jesus Christ…Kalki on a white charger yet to arrive, akin to Persian, Jewish, Christian, Tibetan, native American and some Central Asian cultures too.
The unique features of Hinduism cover Karma: as you sow, so shall you reap; punarjanam: i.e. reincarnation; moksha i.e. salvation and avatarkaran: incarnation samsara, the eternal cycle of birth- death; so that turning the mind towards  virtue and divinity mitigates past sins and errors, for spiritual knowledge gained in one life does not vanish but flows into the next life.  In Hindu philosophy, death is part of an immortal life journey or mahaprasthama -- An interlude in the passage of the soul, neither to be feared nor prematurely enticed.
Badlani exposes a ‘modern’ nonviolent Jainism, with emphasis on animal rights, wildlife preservation and eco. issues; while Buddhism inaugurated global interfaith movement with the dictat disallowing anyone from saying anything derogatory to any other ….. Oh, would we learn that in today’s world.
Describing temples as the homes of God where Hindus and non Hindus came seek solace and peace, the writer emphasizes free flow of ideas and philosophies, over centuries through innumerable acharyas, from Adi Shankaracharya through Guru Nanak and bhakts enjoining a breakdown of the caste folds and Ista Dev, meaning personal gods, to Vivekananda and numerous godmen discourses.

This readable little book, with its reasonable explanations and brief catch-all coverage could become a valuable go-to for young Hindus, in the diaspora, and at home for seekers in Gen Next India too.

Saturday, July 22, 2017


This is a little known but very ancient poem, believed to be the precursor of the Mahabharat. 
The poem, sung at bards at courts,  recounting  a king overcoming  his rival kinsmen; wandering minstrels sung the tales far and wide for the people, ala Luv Kush.   The various singers were banded under the name ‘Sutas’, often illegitimate offspring of Kshtriyas who performed several courtly duties, including charioteers and bards.
Jaya is believed to be the forerunner of the Mahabharata and its wide ranging tales of the Kurus; along with the Ramayana, it spawned the Puranas i.e. tales of the various dynasties and everything to do with them.  Dr. S V Ketkar called this Sauta literature, composed, preserved and sung by the Sutas.
This literature had a more ritualistic counterpart that Ketkar called the Mantra literature that focused on hymns, rituals, sacrifices, philosophical and esoteric discourses; later even grammar and philosophy, religious literature that was in the hands of the priestly Brahmins.
Subsequently, Sauta literature also passed into the hands of a Brahman Bhrigu clan, which is believed to have interpolated their own valorous stories. But scholars of the Mahabharata are able to identify those interpolations.
Our today’s Mahabharat was recounted by several narrators.  Where, you would ask, is   Ved Vyas, the Mahabharat’s creator, eye witness and participant?
Dr. Irawati Karve reveals that Vyas told his stories to his disciples, possibly on the basis of that earlier Jaya.    The Mahabharat backstory reveals Vyas as Krishna (dark) Dvaipayana (born on an island); chiranjiv i.e. very long lived.  He was also credited with editing and putting into order the hymns of the Rigveda, Atharvavda and Yayurveda. 
As a ‘Vyas’ i.e. an ‘arranger, a man who throws together’, could it be that he took the Jaya story as told by different bands of Sutas with subsequent additions and rearranged them into the wide-ranging epic we know today?
Vyas was also a participant of that story, inducted by his mother, Satyavati, the wife of Shantanu to perform niyoga with her childless daughter-in-laws to beget Kuru heirs, after Bhishma refused to oblige.   Heirs to the throne were all important to stave off the greedy eyes of avaricious kings, eying both the empty Kuru throne and widowed princesses.
The tragedy was that Satyavati did not prepare her bahus for the Niyoga, not did Vyas make himself less alarming. The young bhabhis were expecting their handsome jethji (Bhisma); instead in walks a fearsome smelly man with fearful eyes and a long scraggly beard.
Terrified out of their wits, one closed her eyes to shut out the sight. Her child Drithrashtra was sightless. The other paled in fright and her Pandu was born a pale  impotent albino. Only the lusty maid produced a healthy, wise Vidur, cursed to always be the Other, despite his mental prowess.
Modern bards?   Why, the advertising fraternity that sells nonexistent qualities; British historians who rewrote histories to suit that Nation of Shopkeepers; Rajput bards sung of valor, not  repeated sellouts to settle internal quarrels!


Some years ago, Dan Browne’s Da Vinci Code captured the imagination of the world in its print and cinematic versions, opening a whole new range of thought in popular minds to the teachings handed down about Jesus Christ.
Now the Sana’a Code, under study since discovery from Yemen’s National Museum over five decades ago, holds out similar promise of possibly revealing the earliest versions of the teachings of the Prophet himself.  
Recent hardening of stands in Islam has suspended earlier dialogues between the various schools of thought. Hence the excitement over the unveiling of the Sana’a Quran to serve as a reminder that open, yet respectful conversation is possible.    Some experts opine that if written from a firsthand account within 15 years from his death, this may become doubly precious as THE words of God, for 3 Judiac religions; despite the over writing on this palimpsest, common practice for ancient recycling of expensive parchment.
Radiocarbon dating after painstaking salvage from age losses and onslaughts of insects, mice and mold, revealed an age close to the Prophet, around 578 to 668 CE.
Defying death several times, the sacks full of manuscripts were finally sorted and studied with state-of-art digital tools for reconstruction by the Corpus Coranicum, a project of the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Humanities and Sciences at Potsdam – each character retraced by hand, sometimes using ultraviolet imaging to render the washed-away lower text visible.
The hope is that this Code will reveal not only the words of God, but also the world in which those words were born and first gained meaning; from the study of ancient Islamic manuscripts, the varying ways they are read, and their relationship with religious texts in Syriac, Hebrew and Greek traditions, possibly familiar to the peoples of those times.
“The Quran did not arise in a vacuum,” says Michael Marx, research director at the Corpus Coranicum, “it has a history. Part of that history lies in Christian and Rabbinic traditions” – perhaps even testimony that the Arabia of Muhammad’s times saw lively debates over Christian, Judaic, pre-Islamic monotheistic and pagan traditions, as borne out by word usages familiar to Hebrew, Christian and Islamic readers. 
Scholars point out that unlike the neat schisms in religions in our times, in earlier times, “boundaries between beliefs were not so neat” – witness the merging of so many festivals in India. 
In Mecca itself, the heartland of Islam, claims David Kiltz, a Corpus Coranicum scholar, both traders and pilgrims would have dealt with a Babel, including pagans, Jews, Nestorian Christians, even Zoroastrians, converging from different parts of the then known world.
This is borne out by French scholar Christopher Robin’s revelation that around 380 CE, the Himyar kingdom, south Yemen to Riyadh, converted to a hybrid Judaism to ward off Ethiopian / Byzantine Christians and Persian Zoroastrians!
Anything suggesting a rapprochement would auger well for Mankind, would it not?