Sunday, November 23, 2008

Rules. What rules? Just pray.

Bhaja Govindam
Verse 1

भजगोविन्दं भजगोविन्दं
गोविन्दं भजमूढमते |
संप्राप्ते सन्निहिते काले
नहि नहि रक्षति डुकृञ्करणे ||

Bhaja Govindam, Bhaja Govindam
Govindam Bhaja Mudhamate
Sampraapte Sannihite Kale
Na Hi Na Hi Rakshati Dukrinkarane

Seek Govinda! Seek Govinda!
Seek Govinda! Oh Fool!
When the appointed time (death) comes,
rules of grammar surely will not save you.

Adi Shankaracharya's teachings (well i havent imbibed it all!) has always held a fascination for me. No sooner than someone explained a bit about his teachings and the concept of his philosophy, i believed that this path or his explanation rang close to what i could accept as the truth. I dont claim to have understood it all, nor do i claim to have read them all either. But this simple song or poem, call it what you want, has contained in it, many thoughts of philosophy and theology.

I have listened to the song, before i even knew what it was. The refrain of Bhaja Govindam, and the other most commonly quoted verse 'Punarapi Jananam  Punarapi Maranam' were well entrenched in my mind, much before i sat down to understand what it all really meant. These verses have also held a special place, thanks to music. Musicians, Carnatic and otherwise have sung these as a song tuned with music, again helping it take root in your psyche.

Adi Shankaracharya, and his disciples, credit with the creation of these verses, did not merely mean this to be a sing-song tune or a bhajan to raise the frevor of bhakti. It is instead small tidbits of advice to help one navigate their life through the ocean of maya and moha - delusion and desire. These verse promote the very core of the hindu philosophy, attainment of universal bliss - moksha. Moksha is attained many ways, and one path is the shedding of ego, desires and other worldy passions and emotions that rock your mind and soul.

To me personally, these verses have helped many a time, by allowing my mind to ponder about these 'rules' of life. How should we behave? react? respond? It is almost always at times of hopelessness, despair, loss of wealth or family or at time of deep fear. Fear again, because of not knowing what all your efforts will achieve ? Fear again of losing.

It also hold special signficance today, when people of differnt hues and religious persuasions, are attemping to color god and religion, with a singular safforon color. It shows to them, all rules, are to be broken, in the pursuit of god. Rules not just of grammar, but of who is of a high and low caste. Rules that tell you how to divide people. And funnily even rules that tell you how to annoint god. May be, this one verse goes out all of them, 'Bhaja Govindam......'.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Krishna - Govardhanadhari

In the era, that Krishna was born, and before, people worshiped god in the form of Indira, Agni, Varuna, Vayuu, etc. The nature, its forces and fury were paid full obeisance. The original forms of god, were these. Slowly but steadily, they were replaced by other forms of beings for worship. Like all other living beings, and life on this earth, it appears religion too evolved along with the human social upliftment and civilizations.

Krishna, was not the first of the reformer, or the creator of a new paradigm for our religion, nor was he the last. But even after many thousand years, he seems to have caught the fascination of people. People seem to be able to bond with Krishna at all levels, in all forms and through different means. The puranas and bhagavatham are filled with stories of how Krishna changed or challenged thoughts of the time he lived in. Constantly explaining and reintrepreting religion as we knew it then. Constantly reminding his followers, he is god, and none other.

One story about Krishna attempts at reform, centers around the Govardhan hill. Krishna came up on his tribe and villager, preparing for rituals and tributes to be offered to Indira, at the end of the monsoon season. He disauaded the villagers from offering prayers to Indira, the rain god. He explained that it is foolish to pray to someone sitting in the heaven, and someone who is supposedly responsible for all the good harvest. Instead, prayers should be offered to Govardhana, the hill right in front, that nutures live and provides the people and animals with all their needs. The story goes on to illustrate how Krishna taught Indira a lesson. How he protected the people by lifting the Govardhan hill, with his little finger.

If you choose to believe these theatrics, then you still come to understand that Krishna is the god almighty. If you dont, you then can gleam just the philoshpical truth behind the story, and still come to the same conclusion. There in, lies the essence of religion, specially the story of Krishna. As a child you can revel in the naughtiness and the playfullness of the baby. As a youth, you learn about love, like it shown or taught anywhere else. As you grow older, then you can reflect on the same stories, and see the more plainer truth and the real meaning of god, prayer and religion.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Hindu fundamentalism

It is often said by promoter and followers of the Hindu religion, that is 'a way of life' or 'Universal Religion'. It is one of the very few religions in the world that does not have a prohpet or a founder or single person responsible for its inception. Most detailed discourses about the evolution, for want of a better word, of Hinduism, center around the fact that there were numerous ideas and ideators, which helped fashion the core. The religion, practices, rituals, books, motifs, symbols and gods are just as many as there are followers. It is therefore virtually impossible to determine clearly when and how this religion came about. Although, religion as a concept required a certain evolution of social form of the humankind, before it had to take shape or form.

The Hindu religion was born out of arguments, discourse and dialogue between numerous proponents. It evolved from a clash of ideas. Sometimes diametrically opposite each other, as in including and support for the concept of atheism within its fold. If one philosopher taught that there was 'one god, with many names', another was quick to add that 'there were none and the god you prayed, was in you'. Every new century opened and introduced new paradigms. The wax and wane of the vaishnavites and shaivites, brought to fore the supreme nature of each of these gods. Mantras, rituals and sacrifices were the bane, introduced by some. While atman, brahman, and karma are the grace described by some. With Polythesim in practise, Monothesim as a concept, it was but natural to see how some people could be driven away.

It is in this context that you cannot, but react with a sense of amazement, that people who are the so called proponents of this religion today, take a very narrow centric view. The religion or culture has supported many of today's so called social evils for eons and centuries. But yet, we awaken each day to marauders burning and pillaging in the name of god. Again, they are only trying to save a tradition or ritual, which possibly is only a hundred years old, all in the name of a lord, who has been in existence for about a thousand or two thousand years. 
It is always difficult to rationalize with these. And there is no reason to do so either. This religious divide, which today is fought in the name of different gods, and externalized as hindu vs islam vs christianity, was very much a part of the internal divide within hinduism.  Kings who favoured different sects within the Hindu religion, have warred with others. Viewed from this angle, it just means we are going through a different revolution. Even in the last hundred years, movement like the Brahmo Samaj, Arya Samaj, Theosphical Society, Ramakrishna Mission and people like Gandhi, Narayana Guru, Aurobindo etc., have reformed or propounded different doctrines. While all these havent lead to bloodshed, they still have resulted in upheaval.
To all those who behave like fanatics and fundamentalist in the name of religion, they only need to look back in history, and see that they are not alone. However, they do need to understand that barring a few situations, mostly created by fewer individuals, many of these so called changes or thoughts have come in a peaceful manner. This religion promotes and depends on discussion, discourse and most importantly disagreements. If it weren't for disagreements, we would have missed out on many important texts and studies, that are considered integral part of the Hindu religion today. The first and foremost that sticks in my mind, is Adi Shankaracharaya and his theory that there is difference between the individual and god.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Saying thanks.

Kabir's Doha
दुख में सुमिरन सब करें, सुख में करे न कोय |
जो सुख में सुमिरन करे, तो दुख काहे को होय ||

Dukh Mein Sumiran Sab Kare, Sukh Mein Kare Na Koye
Jo Sukh Mein Sumiran Kare, Tau Dukh Kahe Ko Hoye

in pain prayers come to all, in joy no one at all
to those who thank for joy, why would pain befall

Kabir and his doha. They were a nightmare, when i had to study them as a kid in school, to pass the hindi examination. Although these were simple hindi statements, i remember having to read it repeatedly to suck it all in. These lines stuck in my head the most. The only one for which i got the meaning too.

The words of wisdom seem rather simple, and also easy to comprehend, 'cause many of us, including fall into the category he speaks off. Every moment we are faced with pain, sadness, challenge and or problem, we look to someone for help. A prayer is said, manytimes silent, and sometimes even cried out aloud, asking for help to solve the crisis ahead. Even if this does not translate into a miracle, many of us believe in them, because the pain or sadness goes away. Many times, you simply learn to endure, but with a new found friend, it becomes easier to share.

On converse, Kabir, is saying that if we are thankful of all the joy and pleasure that is granted to us day in and out, which invariably measures out to be a thousand times more than the pain and sadness, we will be able to comprehend pain a little better. And for such people, this moment of pain will not necessarily have the same effect. People who view pain and pleasure with the same metric, will surely understand, that you cant have one without the other.

Life is always full of ups and downs, what matters is how we react to each of these situations.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Soul

Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 2, Verse 23

छिन्दन्ति शस्त्राणी नैनं दहति पावकः|
चैनं क्लेदयन्त्यापो शोषयति मारुतः||

nainam chindanti shastrani nainam dahati pavakah

na cainam kledayantyapo na shoshayati maarutah

it is not harmed by weapons, not burned by fire
cannot be wet by water, nor dried in air

The first time i heard this verse, it was sung in the form of a song by KJ Yesudas in his rendering of this chapter from the Bhagavad Gita. For a long time, through my teens, we went through our morning rituals listening the melodious assembly of un-understandable words. All it mattered to me at that time, was it helped soothed a stressful mind. Much later, after i knew how to recite these words and verses, i set about to understand, what i was saying. I did, however, the profoundness of this verse struck me much later when i was listening the chanting on TV, after the assassination of Indira Gandhi.

Listening to a lecture by Chinamayananda a little after, i remember him trying to explain the concept of the soul as the life in the body. He sighted the parlance in India, where people referred to a dead person as simply the 'body'. The reference was to the fact, once dead, the body was soulless, and therefore just the remnant shell used by someone.

Our body is made of cells, and other organs that simply cease to function, when dead. When life departs the body, the body starts decaying, since otherwise functional organs have stopped. Why? Where inside the body, does life exist ? How come over a million years since life was first created, and thousands of years since humans started walking around the earth, these cells and organs have not evolved their own survival mechanism? They still seem very attached to this 'life' or soul as some of us call it. When this soul departs, these organs have no defense mechanism.

What is a soul ? Where does it come from ? Where does it go ? Who does it owe allegiance to ? Who controls it ? How does it know its time to come or go ? Why does it leave otherwise perfect bodies ? Why does it stick around in ones that are shriveled and motionless with broken bones ?

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

A Theism

Atheism is rejection of 'theism' or as i would call it, belief in an alternate 'theism'. Atheism is not new to India or the Hindu religion itself. Neither is it the prerogative of people from the sub-continent. In Europe and the western world, atheism seems predominant within the scientific society or within societies that established political and government structures centered around Communist and Marxist philosophies.

In India too, today, the Communist are large preachers of the atheist theory. In Tamil Nadu, where i come from, atheist philosophies have been propounded by the Dravidian movement to counter the Brahman influence within the erstwhile congress party. The Dravidian party also provided my first indulgence with atheism and interaction with atheist philosophy. Thanthai Periyar from Tamil Nadu was alive when i was born and have some vague memories of news surrounding him.

Recently i also met a staunch communist in my family (family as we malayalee's call it, my brother-in-law's father-in-law !), who is self proclaimed atheist, while his wife and everyone else in the family are staunch believers. He has no problem in living with these believers, while he upholds his principles. It was an interesting experience, and i pulled up courage to ask him, who he called out to, in times of crisis or need. He didnt, was his answer.

While i am not an atheist, i dont condone this philosophy either. I think there is some rationale and meaning to it all. Come to think of it, we did evolve from a monkey, so then why is our god not looking like a monkey (well with an exception to Hanuman). Instead we have turned mortal philosophers into god, be it Krishna, Buddha, Mahavira, Jesus or Mohammed. All of them were born into this world and also died. And then there are stories about their immortality. Well about 200 years from now, people will find it difficult to believe that a half-naked old and fragile man was able to bring a mighty empire to its knees. Am sure stories told then will include magical staff, bullet-proof shawl and dhoti and also a powerful drug that he manufactured at the beach which was used later to overpower the British. Phew !!! What a story !!

So the long story short. Who is god ? Did god create us ? Or did we create god ? If there is no god, then how do you explain the fact that 'faith' has such a remarkable effect on people ? If God didnt come down and preach to us and show miracles and prowess, how does one explain these ? If we created God, why did we stop at one, two, twenty or hundred ? Why didnt we create a billion of them ? And if there is a god, why does he allow people to be killed in his name ?

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Mine vs Yours

This is a debate that probably started when two women, men or whatever sex we were called then, started to contemplate metaphysics and created religion. Which is better? Mine or Yours? I think we are still not sure where the answer lies.

Hinduism is considered by many to be 'a way of life', an 'universal religion'. Growing up in India, you will surely believe this, since there is no true way to explain what being a Hindu is. I have attended the lectures on Gita given by Swami Chinmayanda. Poor soul has since given up speaking, well not because of me, but he answered his call from the powers above. In one lecture he stated the same, 'hinduism is an universal religion'.

Idle mind, they say is a devil's workshop. Well soon i had a letter drafted from my workshop, addressed to the Swamiji, asking him why then should he be worried about the conversion issue (in those days conversion to christianity/islam was a big issue - because of some mass conversions back and forth!!). My question was "If Hinduism is truly an universal religion, then why worry about conversion?".

I got a reply. I wasnt convinced. I wrote back. And i got an explanation update. I still was not convinced. I gave up. I still am not convinced. I admire him for the eloquent way, he explained the Bhagavad Gita. A lot of my thoughts were actually seeds placed by him. I also thank him for taking time out to reply to 'some arbit' me. But then at the end of the day, religion fails when it transcends into politics. This swami was not into politics, but began expressing worries about conversion, islam, christianity, the ganga jal yatra by the BJP etc. I stopped my association with his organization (i had enrolled with his yuva kendra) when he felt we must support the last mentioned program by the BJP.

However, the question remains.... "is your religion better than mine?". I wrote a similar piece but in a different context on my yahoo blog, titled "Blood Religion". But, the question there too, was the same.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Krishna & Karna

Many people compare Krishna and Karna, in Mahabharata and quickly choose the side of Karna. The typical reasons are because he was abandoned as a child, he was cheated by Krishna, he should have been treated as their brother, he was loved by Dhuryodhana and because he never said 'no' to anybody. Nothing seems to irk me more. Not because i dont agree with all of the above. But because with all of this, Karna still sided with the untruth or adharma.

I also did some research, thanks to the web, and discovered that he was also instrumental in the vastraharan of Draupadi. When Draupadi questioned the court how she could be used as a 'bet' when Yudhishtra himself had already lost. Karna in his explanation said that since Yudhishtra himself had lost, it was immaterial what happened later, every of his belongings, now was lost to Dhuryodhana. He further added insult with these commands, "O Duhsasana, seize the garments of the Pandavas and the robes of Draupadi and hand them over to Sakuni".

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Why did Karna do this ? Why did he, a supposedly noble person, insult a woman in the court? Was it because she had refused to acknowledge his skills during her swayamvara? Was it because his hatred for the Pandavas was such that he didnt mind this path?

People who talk about his childhood and the injustice, should also not forget the injustice he served unto others. He, tho' noble in several deeds, is surely not the epitome of all that is noble. He was haughty as any other character in the great epic. And was filled with just as much pride. In the end, he was killed because he too was part of wrong.

Krishna had no qualms in killing him. I say Krishna killed him, because Arjuna was just an instrument. Through his Gita, he clearly explained this to Arjuna and us. People can question if the lord can take the law into his hands or if the lord can adopt not so straight forward means. Krishna himself says 'no'. Everyone will pay for his or her actions.

In the entire Mahabharata, Krishna gave ample oppurtunities to either side to exercise prudence and to correct their ways. He even approached Karna to change his ways, and the truth about his brothers. Karna, rightfully stood behind his friend. But he never tried to reason with Dhuryodhana, about his wrongs. Why ? Is it because he knew he was usefull to Dhuryodhana only if he spewed hatred against the Pandavas. What Krishna also highlights with these characters is that, it doesnt matter what the arms, protection, skills, knowledge, friends and family you have to support you? What matters, most, is that Krishna is on your side ?

Thursday, January 3, 2008


What is it about Krishna that attracts me ? Well, what is there not to be attracted to this icon? One of the few gods, that appeal to children, women, men, young and old, and even the rogues
? I think i must also thank NTR for my liking of Krishna. He is the one who constantly played the role of Krishna in movies. That was an image that stuck in my head for a long time, till Nitish Bhardwaj carried it off, with the same elan.

No its not about the image alone. There is the message. Numerous, tho some attributed to him, but you cant discount the whole Bhagwad Gita, which is his song to us poor souls. His vision for our salvation. There is so much in there and i have only scratched the surface.

I was born in Trishoor, Kerala. I grew up in Madras (now Chennai), but Trishoor was the place i lived every summer vacation for first 16 years. My grandmother (ammooma) was the first to introduce me to Krishna. I was also fortunate that i lived near the Thiruvambady temple in Trishoor. Between the sanctity of this temple and the stories narrated by my ammooma, i fell in love with this character who stole butter, irritated the towns people, women folk and other cowherds, played the fool with his brother and family, always caused worries for his mother but most importantly had his heart in the right place. It must have mirrored some of my qualities as a child. Think of it, so here is a god, that does everything you do as a kid. Now why would you conjure up anyother person to protect you from evil and bad dreams. Hanuman comes close, but then he is half monkey.

As i grew up, i was introduced to the Krishna, who saved his village form the wrath of another god, Indira. He did this, when Indira was angry because the people prayed to the mountain Govardhan instead of him. This story of Krishna taught me that rituals are just that rituals, and truth lies elsewhere. The Krishna in Mahabaratha was the epitome of all things right. His means to achieve dharma, also seemed so appropriate in todays worldly sense. He didnt hide behind all things godliness. He believed in the end, good must win, evil must be vanquished.

The ultimate revelation was the story of about Krishna's death. He died because he was not above the rules of his own dharma. He died to pay for his sins from a previous janma. It doesnt matter what these stories are, what matters is the hidden truth you see. And each person has to read and understand this on their own. My ammooma narrated these stories and explained her rationale, i took what i wanted and made some on my own

To me, these two lines from Bhagawad Gita, defines my entire purpose of religion and life.
karmaNye vaadhikaaraste maa phaleshu kadaachana|
maa karma phalaheturbhuu maate saNgotsvakarmaNi||"

Soon, for me, every god became just another name for Krishna. Talk about avatars. This was more than that. I used to call his name, no matter which temple i went, no matter which god i prayed to.

I am still far away from nirvana, as i have to pay for all my sins i have committed and a few i am working upon. I think it will take a while before i see the paramatma as described by Krishna. Till then, i have only one lord and god to look up to.