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?

Tuesday, July 04, 2017



India has always had “Vellas”, those who have nothing to do except timepass; our record for employment was sad in those early days when agriculture was the major employer. That’s why cattle rearing and handloom weaving was a big boon.  But Vellas existed even then. 
Now times have changed; we’re heading up to the higher slots of the industrial table.  But we still have Vellas….  those young/ old men with nothing to do except gossip, candidates for indoctrination, ripe for mischief. Now the suggestions that they are paid to do that?

What do Vellas do?  They opine loudly on things they know nothing of, just enough to make headlines and mischief. Those men who thrashed the Dalit boys at Una … with something productive to do, would they have spent the better part of a day thrashing 4 half starved humans?
Those regularly in the headlines for thrashing someone somewhere, killing policemen, hit and run butchers, petty crimes, theft, eve teasing … would they do that if they had constructive jobs?  The anti-Romeo gangs and rapists,  whose pants come down so easily for gangrape?   Is that their version of Bharatiya Sanskar?
Just a minute.. I cant seem to remember the names of the mythological gangrapists.  Who were they?

The desperation in the world of Vellas is spiraling in our times. Inevitable? Ever since cash went out of fashion late last year, cash economies are floundering. Units paying cash daily or weekly closed down by the thousands. To enter the virtual money world, one needs to have a bank account and/or a debit card and/or a Paytm compliant phone that does not come in the 6-1200/- that labor had invested in their basic mobiles.  Had adequate numbers of mobiles had been stocked in advance?
Meanwhile, so many new Vellas are ripe for indoctrination… trishuls have come back into fashion.

Now there are the Vellis too.  In the inner city warrens of every small and big city, women combine home duties with commercial production to feed their kids; to protect the so-fragile male ego, they smile slyly when Hubby dear tells surveyors “Hamare ghar ki auratein kaam nahin karti”. They continue to roll out agarbattis, candles, envelopes, embroidery/crochet, cloth bags, pillow covers, petticoats, cheap baby dresses, blouses, fashion wear etc. for cash.
When the job markets dry up, so does demand and orders … long enough to make an impact… indoctrination … Vellis now land up at rallies and courts demanding arrested goondas be released, at other places as obstructions, to make noise, what have you.

Soon another set of elections will offer lucrative temporary jobs to the faithful; after that again -- Vellapan.  

Would that the new start-up culture would offer more jobs to all those losing jobs with amazing rapidity in this Brave New World; or the powers-that-be would plan labor intensive enterprises and factories, along with schools to train our Vellas to work in those!

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Ancient Takes on Modern Issues? L’affaire Tara and Chandra

Was Ancient India actually as straight laced as our later day patriarchial Dons would have us believe?  Evidence mounts for the Nyets.
Cursory looks at the carved, sculpted d├ęcor of numerous ancient temples and edifices around the country show proud, confident women/goddesses leading a good life. The Kamasutra certainly adds to the belief.  What of the Feminine Divinity that predates male gods in some ancient civilisations?
At what juncture did patriarchy overtake this evident celebration of the Feminine?  It is difficult to set a date or to pinpoint a culprit.  The movement was certainly invidious.  Although there is no historical evidence of cavemen slinging cavewomen over the shoulders, as depicted in Western cartoons, thank Heavens discernible clues to our own much better past do exist. 
It is the task of modern mythologists to brush away later day interpolations to such to arrive at the actual sequence of events logically … no mean task with so many centuries worth of suspect patriarchal and colonial impositions to examine against original texts, the Vedas, Valmiki Ramayan or Vyas’ Mahabharat for authenticity. 
Recent discussions on gender justice focus on apportioning blame between sexes, rather than hark back.   In that context, let’s take a look at the age old L’affaire Tara and Chandra:  
The lady was totally frustrated with her aged hubby Brihaspati.  She chanced to meet Tara, contemporary and compatible; she decided to stay with him.   Soon hubby dear, Brihaspati  came to fetch her home, knowing full well that he couldn’t satisfy her needs. He had weighty support, Brahma and Indra.    Tara had only his common sense. 

Result: a wordy battle in male ranks. As related by Mumbai mythologist, Utkarsh Patel, what is intriguing is that there is no discussion of emotion or love, nor of morality or reproach.    “The text itself is bold, focussing on aspects of physical attraction and lovemaking skills as perceived by a woman.”
The crux of the issue, shorn of morality and duty, as enunciated by Chandra, was:
=     Can the Other Man be blamed if a woman wants to stay with him?
=   Would the family be actually happy, when only the husband happy despite his wife’s unhappiness?
The interventions of Indra and Brahma, both insisting that Chandra must go back to her husband, hit a pause with news of her pregnancy. She names Chandra as father and the latter promptly names the child Budh.

Here comes a twist:
As mythologist Utkarsh Patel relates the tale, while Brahma insists  on Tara going home with Brihaspati, Tara’s word is accepted to establish fatherhood.    
“Nowhere is Tara chastised or blamed, nor is she reprimanded for leaving her husband and living with another man. Her word is accepted to establish fatherhood.” 
No lectures of morality or reproach?  Could that happen today despite tests, FIRs and pontifications on the chastity of women and purity of races in a land of genetic mixes, blah-blah-blah?

Saturday, May 27, 2017

What is OBOR?

China’s One Belt One Road initiative is neither new, nor about A road. Essentially it proposes to resurrect the ancient land and sea Silk Routes from China to the West, with modern infrastructure in roads, rails, ports, power plants etc. China will play $115 billion Santa Claus to 60 odd countries strung across Asia, Europe, Africa and Australia.
It scored early by co-opting earlier projects like the Europe-China rail and CPEC into OBOR … since there is no definitive project list anyway.  
The aim of OBOR?   Anything from using up China’s   mythical cash hordes; to resurrecting centuries-old domination over South East Asia, later Africa and now Europe and Australia too; to establish its hegemony over more than half the world with cheap loans, after its moves over the South China Sea.
The territory is familiar to India, History’s hoary Trading Nation. International trading routes cannot ignore India, straddling the Indian Ocean, with Zanzibar, Nairobi in the West and Gujarat and Kerala in the East; further east Kolkata, keyed into OBOR as South China’s access to Mynamar, Bangladesh etc to bypass the Malacca Straits, if ever blocked. 
Why would it be blocked??

India’s relations, cultural and trade, with East Africa, Far East and Myanmar are hoary.  First Hinduism, then Buddhism went East in peace. Witness Balinese Hinduism, Ramayan influenced dances, the Borobudur temple in Java, a colossal heritage Angkor Wat temple.
China’s came too, with dark spots of hegemony and overrule; worst being China-supported Red regimes that overran Indo China, split Vietnam and resulted in horrendous brutality by local regimes, the Reds and Americans.
To them and Europe, China’s OBOR avatar offers ports, rails, roads and other infrastructural goodies, funded by China and its financial sector. 
The question is: What is the catch?
Meanwhile, India rests on her past, Non Aligned laurels and pennies: a petroleum hub at Trincomalee, a maritime hub at Andaman; China sells intercontinental railways, we sell railway database. The gas pipeline and highway linking Iran to us, via Afghanistan, offering access to Central Asia malingers over Bogeyman Corruption/Delays.  Projects with multi nodal links (ship-rail-road) to Europe, via Turkey, Gulf, Central Asia, Russia sank into mire.
In the run up to the grand OBOR festival, we ‘discovered’ that CPEC cut through what we fondly call Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, disputed territory that is the pet cottage industry of various central ministries under successive governments. 
What were our diplomats doing since 2013, after which Xi Ping was entertained at Ahmedabad and PM Modi in China?   Talking about Arabs and Chinese being ‘unnatural allies’, or the dams being built along our border with China?
Let’s face facts: POK is the nub of Central Asian land routes that kept those areas bound to India since Time Immemorial.      Sindhis serviced Central Asian trade financially, amongst others; their hundis respected across Eurasia. At Partition, when Pakistan got Sindh, Hindu traders fled. While they rebuilt global connections, we forgot about them.
Now India whistles in the dark alone, “They’ll have to come to me to complete their circle”.  Who’s coming along?