All posts filed under: Perspective

Mudra Vijnana: Hand Gestures in the Female Figures of Rani Ki Vav

Indian temples are conglomerate monuments which incorporate many branches of science along with religion. The science of geology, geometry, engineering skills, iconography, astrology, Ayurveda, yoga and philosophical topics are some that can be named. Many temples are studded with infinite number of sculptures in which many of the above-mentioned branch of knowledge are depicted. Though the details are not inscribed in temple inscriptions, the devotees can understand and learn about multiple aspects of science and aspects related to our cultural heritage. Rani ki Vav, a seven-storied stepwell in the Mehsana district of Gujarat is one such monument (upgraded as a world heritage monument now) which has hundreds of well-preserved sculptures. The female figures which are classified as ‘Dakini’, described in the subsequent para are sculptures in great numbers alternating with the main deities which depict unique theme and hand mudras. These Dakini figures are distinctly different from apsara sculptures seen in other temples. The notable difference being depiction on lotus pedestal as semi divines, some in nude form and some well-dressed and positioned on either side …

Racing Towards Brahman

Participate in a 1000 km car rally through the heartland of Karnataka, with pit-stops at Hoysala temples, fuelled by dance and music, with the Heritage Trust and Indica. Creative ideas are often incubated over a long period of time. Sometimes, the seeds are sown in our childhood under the big banyan tree we call Sanatana Dharma. In some they are rarely revisited, in some they form an unconscious part, in some they burn with a fervour others can’t miss. For Vijayalakshmi Vijayakumar, founder Heritage Trust, getting a flying license before the age of 20 was as meaningful as performing Bharatanatayam on stage. Several decades later, last year, she along with the co-founders of Heritage, dancers Supriya Komandur and Rekha Raghavan, participated in the Times Women’s Drive 2018 from Bangalore to Goa. The all-woman team called TriShakti enjoyed the drive, but wanted to create their own Time/Speed/Distance (TSD) motor rally with temple and heritage stops. Seven-time Indian National Rally Champion B S Sujit Kumar is on board to bring the rally experience. First the temples are …

What Our Temples Can Teach Us

Historian Pradeep Chakravarthy says temple inscriptions provide invaluable insights on how to deal with mankind’s perennial quest for identity, conflict resolution and security In the heat and dust of Thanjavur one can see a circulation of what some call ‘Social Energy’. From the traces of the past, artistic and historical, there is a creation of collective physical and mental experiences. One has to only step out of one of the world’s greatest architectural wonders – the 11th century Brihadeeshwara temple or the Periya Kovil to see veena makers scoop out the core of a 15-year old jackfruit tree to fashion out an instrument whose sounds resonate with the sound of the temple bell. In the nearby Mela Raja Veedi is the Bangaru(gold) Kamakshi temple whose deity was originally from the Kamakshi temple at Kanchi. Due to the invasion of Kanchi, the solid gold icon was brought from Kanchi by the forefathers of Carnatic composer Shyama Shastri to Thanjavur via Udayarpalyam. The icon was smuggled out, smeared in punugu (a black paste), disguised as a child …

Vyasatirtha: The Guru With A Phenomenal Legacy

It is troubling, even tragic that many Indians are unaware of the huge contribution of Shri Vyasaraya to the rich intellectual and cultural traditions of the land. Acclaimed for being almost unrivalled in the whole field of Indian thought, the Guru’s influence has touched many domains. A week ago, many people woke up to the shocking news that the Brundavana of Guru Vyasaraja (also called Vyasatirtha and Vyasaraya) has been destroyed and desecrated. The religious site called the Nava Brundavana, which has the Brundavanas of nine seers of the Madhva Sampradaya is located on an island in the Tunghabhadra River in the historic town of Anegundi near Hampi. The Brundavana was rebuilt within 32 hours by hundreds of devotees in a poignant ceremony. However, it is troubling, even tragic that many Indians are unaware of the huge contribution of Vyasaraya (1460-1539) to the rich intellectual and cultural traditions of the land. This is the very person about whom the renowned scholar Surendranath Dasgupta wrote: “The “logical skill and depth of acute dialectical thinking shown by …

On the Guru-Shishya Relationship

A few months ago, I heard Swami Sarvapriyananda of the Vedanta Society of New York recount a story that touches deeply on the relationship between the guru and shishya. The shishya was a novice monk studying under a senior swami at the Ramakrishna Mission. The first day he joined the ashram, the young monk was invited by the other young monks to join them for tea before the evening meditation. He came back afterward to the old swami, who asked him where he had been. When he replied, the swami did not say anything. The next day, the young monk came to the swami without joining the others for tea. The swami asked him why he had not gone for tea. He replied that he had thought about it, and even though the tea was nice, there was a lot of gossip and chitchat and he did not feel like joining them again. The swami was very pleased at the young monk’s discrimination and judgment and said that had he continued joining the others for tea, …

Upanayana Samskara

Among the sixteen prominent samskaras that a dharmika is mandated to undergo, there are three samskaras that are in vogue even today, and relatively well practiced. The namakarana samskara where a child is given an identity, the upanayana samskara where the child is initiated into adhyatmika studies and the vivaha samskara through which an individual enters into a marital bond are the three which are still very much practiced. Out of these three, the namakarana and the vivaha samskaras have evolved into more of a social practice. The traditional rituals have taken a backseat although they are performed, and the samskara is nowadays more of an ‘event’. The vivaha ceremony, especially, is undergoing rapid changes, with some help from the law of the land as well (!), and is mostly a secular event now. On the other hand, although the number of practitioners is dwindling, the upanayana samskara has mostly survived. In the present essay, let us try to explore the various facets of this most important samskara in a little detail. As we have …

Indian Culture and Traditions: “Circles of Trust” for Next-Gen Aspirations – Part 2

Read part I here. I. Culture and System Change This part outlines 3 concepts that can enable and even drive system change involving Indian C&T and will use examples of lived experience and “trust circles” to illustrate and guide action. 1. Cultural Navigation This concept describes a) individual agency to maneuver through cultural symbols, practices, beliefs represented by others in immediate and extended trust circles (family, friends, gurus, local influencers) in order to slowly bring about change in their own interest; and b) how circles of trust in family and neighborhood respond dynamically and adjust to new needs and aspirations as the economy grows. This is particularly important in managing women’s aspirations for study and career while they also simultaneously try to fulfill their roles of wife and mother. While conducting a training program in enterprise in the state of Jharkhand, I saw Kunti Devi, a middle-aged semi-literate tribal woman, enter the rural venue with two books hidden in her saree pallu to avoid being questioned by community members in her village as to why, …

Shodasha Samskaras – The Sixteen Rites To Mark The Passage Of Life

Introduction The word ‘Samskara’ is used in different contexts in Indian languages. In North India, the word ‘sanskari’ is often used for a refined and cultured person or for refined behavior. The word ‘samskara’ used in its classical context refers to a rite or ritual performed to mark stages in a person’s life or for achieving certain personal goals towards Self-Realization. Let us analyze, for a bit, the etymology of the word ‘samskara’ to understand the meaning of the word. The word is a composite of the root ‘kr’ – to do – qualified by ‘sam’ – well or appropriate. That ‘karya’ which is done ‘samyak’ – an activity which is done well or appropriately – is samskara. One can take any activity – karya – and evaluate for ‘samskruti’ (refinement). A task can be done badly, routinely or exquisitely. Depending upon how it is done, it gets classified as vikara, prakrutika (yatha-prakara) or samskara. This test can be put to any activity that humans undertake. As an exercise, let us take the act of …

The Play Of Consciousness and The Śiva Sūtras

Who are we? Why are we here? Are we free? If yes, what is the source of our freedom? Science tells us we are machines, and looking from it our freedom is an illusion. In science there is no place for the spirit. We are sure that there is something real to our inner world. But ordinary science cannot reveal to us the nature of consciousness. This is because science can only tell us of the laws of objects which are expressed in language. With language we can only speak of objects. But Consciousness is not an object. It is the searchlight with which we see objects in our inner or outer spaces or through the medium of the senses. Consciousness is the perceiving subject. Science, through its study of the brain in the search of the source of awareness can only reveal its limitations. It can show that the brain is like a machine but it cannot create a machine that is like the brain. We face paradoxes; science has reached its limits. That …

Yogasutra Of Patanjali – A Scientific Exploration

Tradition places the sage Patanjali’s life somewhere in the fifth to third centuries BCE. He is supposed to be a famous grammarian, writing a commentary on the discipline of grammar to better preserve the meaning of vedic literature. He is better known to practitioners of yoga around the world for his seminal treatise, the Yogasutra. His name itself is suggestive of his life’s purpose. “Pata” in Sanskrit means to fall and “Anjali” is a pose familiar to adherents as one of offering and salutation. Patanjali, thus implies the offering fallen from the heavens, to guide people toward a realization of the Unified Self. Yoga means unification and one effect of the Anjali pose is the connection it brings about between the left and right hemispheres of the brain, creating balance in the mind and body. While a philosophical understanding and the practice of yoga was prevalent in Patanjali’s time as seen from contemporaneous texts, the Yogasutra is likely the only compendium that is solely devoted to the subject. The term sutra in Sanskrit implies the …