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Indic Chat Live – An Indic Academy Round Table on The Tashkent Files

The 2nd Prime Minister of the world’s largest democracy dies under mysterious circumstances in a foreign land, the entire episode is deftly covered up (which involves a few more “accidental deaths”) and the stalwart of a leader like Lal Bahadur Shastri Ji is shamefully shrunk and caged in only a single line memory of school text books to be read by generation after generation – the guy who gave us the slogan “Jai Jawan Jai Kisaan”.

53 years laters, Vivek Agnihotri through his latest political thriller “The Tashkent Files”, which opened in the theatres on 12th April 2019, breathes life to all those unanswered questions and reasons behind Shastri Ji’s untimely demise.

Indic Academy is proud to be the Intellectual Partner of the brilliantly made, successfully running THE TASHKENT FILES, through a first of its kind of a unique collaboration.

As a part of this, Indic Academy organised a freewheeling pre-release conversation between a panel comprising of its members and the The Tashkent Files team. In this no-holds-barred discussion moderated by popular Author, Political commentator, Satirist, Social Media Influencer Shefali Vaidya (@ShefVaidya), the team gets insights into the making of the film – the research, approach and hurdles. Fascinating questions about political leadership and its direct influence on various eras of Bollywood; Millennials and their breaking out of whitewashed history; behind the camera anecdotes; experiences and more were asked, deliberated and views exchanged.

The other members Indic Academy panel included :

DV Sridharan – DV (@strawsInTheWind) is an ever young at heart septuagenarian from Chennai, who had a long career as a marine engineer and sailor. He published and ran the portal GoodNewsIndia between 2000 -06. In 2006 he found his passion in environment and land restoration when he adopted 17 acres of barren wasteland and planting trees for the past 13 years. He’s planted 2000+ trees in 10 acres already and the once barren land now annually harvests 4 million litres of rain water that’s charged into the ground!! DV Sridharan is an invaluable member of the Indic Academy family.

Gayatri Iyer – Gayatri (@psitsgayatri) is the curator for Indica Pictures, freelance creative consultant, writer and artist. She is also a Yoga teacher and an entrepreneur with a food start up Chef In A Box and a designer stationery line called Ahem. Gayatri is a multi faceted personality and her life as a free spirited yogi with a deep love for yoga, India, theater, food, watercolors and story-telling becomes evident through her book, Life’s Macchiato: A collection of your stories.

Arjun Singh Kadian – Arjun (ArjunSKadian) is a Professor of Geology at the Indira Gandhi University in Rewari, Haryana. In the last two years, he has been spearheading the work of Rashtriya Uchchattar Shiksha Abhiyan (RUSA) for Higher Education at the grassroots level. He is associated with the Saraswati Research Center, Kurukshetra, and has been giving inputs to state governments on research focus and direction, in an advisory capacity. He is also a writer and associated with different Indic projects.

Guru Prakash – Guru (Guruprakash88) is a Professor of Law at Patna University and a Fellow at India Foundation. He is currently completing his doctoral research on the theme of socio-legal-dimensions of Article 370 of the Constitution of India. Apart from his academic pursuits, Guru also doubles up as a writer/ columnist and contributes to several newspapers and online publications.

Vinay Mangal – Vinay (@vinaymangal) is a marketing professional and has a passion for cinema and writes film reviews. He is also a convener of the Jaipur Chapter of Indic Academy.

The team of Tashkent Files comprised of the Director of the movie Vivek Agnihotri, who is a well known filmmaker and the author of “Urban Naxals” ; Shweta Basu Prasad, the main protagonist of the movie, who is a student of journalism and was awarded the National Award for Best Child Actor for her film Makdee; and Prakash Belawadi, the acclaimed award winning writer director who plays an ex-intelligence officer in the film.

Enjoy this freewheeling discussion. Keep the conversation going at your end! And don’t forget to recommend this movie to your friends and family, for, each one of us needs to exercise our #RightToTruth

The Tashkent Files – A Review

One of the sad narratives of the modern India is that of a ‘disconnect’ – the disconnect between what most know instinctively as the reality and what is presented as part of a faux narrative in textbooks, public discussions, etc. This disconnect is visible at many levels in Indian discourse. One of them, undoubtedly, is history telling and it is also one of the most glaring one.

What we know as ‘common knowledge’ in history has been willfully omitted from historiography and what is taught in history textbooks doesn’t really reconcile with what most common folks grow up knowing about those facts.  Several scholars, authors, public intellectuals including Dr. Meenakshi Jain, Sanjeev Sanjyal, Rajiv Malhotra, Arun Shourie, etc., have publicly talked about this ‘disconnect’ in their scholarly works as well as in public discourse. Vivek Agnihotri’s recently released film The Tashkent Files attempts to bridge that very disconnect on the death of Lal Bahadur Shastri through the popular art form of cinema and does it really well.

Independent India’s second Prime Minister Sri Lal Bahadur Shastri died on January 11, 1966 in Tashkent, the capital city of Uzbekistan in Soviet Russia.  Riding high on his success against the Islamic Republic of Pakistan in the Indo-Pak war of 1965, Shastri was there in Tashkent to negotiate a peace settlement brokered by the Russians. After several days of bargaining and wrangling, Prime Minister Shastri and Pakistani President Ayub Khan signed on January 10, 1966, what is known as the Tashkent Declaration. At 1:00 hrs. on January 11, Shastri died of ‘heart attack’.

One of the unmistakable lacunas of this entire episode of Shastri’s death is the absence of a post-mortem report. While we have no record of a postmortem, either by India or the USSR, what we are left with is a mystery and many unanswered questions. Many, including Shastri’s family members, are not convinced about his ‘natural death’ theory and they allege a foul play. It may be a case of death due to some poisoning, they believe.  Their belief receives some credence from Dr. Nirmalya Roy Chowdhury, a member of the American Board of Internal Medicine who likens Shastri’s death to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s death. Arafat died suddenly in November 2004 due to some ‘mysterious illness’. Journalist and independent researcher Anuj Dhar in his book “Your Prime Minister is Dead” quotes Dr. Roy Chowdhury: “In 2012, with the permission of his widow Suha, Arafat’s body was exhumed by the Palestinian authorities. A thorough forensic investigation was done. Study results almost proved beyond reasonable doubt that he was poisoned with Polonium 210,

Vivek Angihotri tries to bring out all the idiosyncrasies of this case in a gripping cinematographic undertaking and he nails it.  The story starts a bit slowly but picks up the pace along the way. The director is able to extract clutch performances from its entire crew.  Shweta Basu Prasad, Pallavi Joshi, Naseerunddin Shah, etc. — they all put up a masterful performance. But Mithun Chakrobarty, who plays the role of the cunning politician Tripathi, steals the show on the screen. To me, it seemed like he was having the most fun with his role.

The film also gets into its own political narrative, the kind of narrative the Mumbai film industry seldom talks about.  It makes important references to the Emergency and the subversion of the Indian Constitution by inserting ‘Socialist’ into it.  It however, skips over the other similar insertion, namely ‘Secular’.  Being a child of the 70s growing up in Patna, I had the front row seat to many of the incidents of the dark days of Emergency and the historic JP Movement when arrests, curfew, MISA, forced mass sterilization, etc., were the order of the day.

The movie also talks about ‘second colonization’ and makes overt reference to the Leftist takeover of the intellectual space in India.  It does not take much to recognize this effect but being a former student of JNU certainly helps understand this subversion.  Within a few years of Shastri’s death,  in 1969, the Indian National Congress of A. O. Hume, Dadabhai Nauroji, Tilak , and Gandhiji was split owing to its internal power struggles and contradictions.  Already the Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi was 45 seats short of a majority in the Lok Sabha. She turned to the Communist Party of India (CPI) for support. The communists were too eager to oblige — but not without a price. Under this “support” plan, an openly Leftist historian and academic was made the Education Minister of India in 1971. Nurul Hasan’s policies ensured a Leftist stranglehold over the JNU faculty that it is yet to overcome. This same policy was executed in all educational institutions throughout the nation.

A reference to KGB archivist Vasili Mitrokhin to give an idea of Russian involvement in India is the key component of the movie plot.  But Agnigotri may have to make another movie to do justice to the Mitrokhin Files. However,  the Metrokihn Files reference backs up many of the claims made by the former KGB spy Yuri Bezmenov.  Bezmenov famously uses the word ‘useful idiots’ to describe the ‘intellectuals’ who were doped by the KGB without much pretense to it.

The movie also makes a brief reference to Netaji Sabhas Chandra Bose.  PM Shastri wanted to set up an inquiry to look into the disappearance of Netaji. A Congress functionary had told this to the Khosala Commission.  The Commission was set up to investigate the mysterious death of Netaji. Shastriji is said (by his son Sunil Shastri) to have met Netaji in Tashkent and he wanted to ‘speak’ to the people of India upon his return. The very thought that the two most intriguing deaths of modern India may have some connection is a reason enough to give anyone Goosebumps.

The story of Shastri is more important for the millennials.  Already two generations of Indians have grown up without knowing much about leaders beyond Gandhi-Nehru dynasty.  Towering leaders like Tilak, Savarkar, Bose, Patel, Ambedkar, Shastri, Rajgopalachari, etc., have been relegated into virtual oblivion.  As D.K, one of the moviegoers at the local cineplex in Chicago suburb of South Barrington told me: “Vivek Agnihotri does a remarkable job in bringing to the fore not just the death of a Prime Minister of a nascent Republic but also his memory and his life back in the consciousness of the Indian nation almost 53 years after his death.”  His seldom known role as an economic reformer (he discontinued the socialist policies of Nehru) and a catalyst to India’s Green Revolution finds mention in the film. Despite being killed twice, as the film rightly proclaims, Vivek’s new venture ensures that Shastri’s legacy lives on, notwithstanding the unresolved mystery of his death.

Lessons From Mahabharata – Stri Parva and Gandhari’s Curse

How do you curse God, and do it justifiably so? What is the arc of the geometry of rage? Does it rise up into a crescendo and then subside after it has found an outlet? Or does it ebb and flow, crest and trough? How does one react to being cursed? How would God react to such a curse? As curses go, there are many instances in the Puranas of gods being cursed. Indra is perhaps in the unfortunate position of being the recipient of the most curses. Even Vishnu was cursed by Narada to be born as a human. Dharma was cursed, and was born as Vidura. The Vasus were cursed and had to be born as the sons of Ganga. But a god being cursed? Gandhari cursing Krishna is possibly one without parallel. Not only did Gandhari curse Krishna, she cursed his entire tribe, the race of the Yadavas. In it, there are several lessons to be learned.

Mahabharata, Volume 5, Gorakhpur Gita Press

Gandhari’s rage rose when she met Bhima after the war. All she could ask him in an anguished voice was, “Why did you not spare one, one who had committed the least crimes? O son! … For these blind and aged ones, why could you not have saved a single one?” [11.14] A reasonable question, one would think. Bhima could only point to the injustices meted out to the Pandavas, but that did not quell her rage.

Gandhari’s rage found an outlet, both physically and emotionally, when Yudhishthira came in front of her. Her gaze burned Yudhishthira’s nails, causing Arjuna to hide behind Vasudeva in fear. It then ebbed, and she found the equanimity to console Droupadi, who had also lost all her five sons – “O daughter! Do not grieve. Behold. I am also miserable. I think that this destruction of the worlds has been goaded by destiny. … One should not sorrow over those who have been killed in a battle.

It seemed as if Gandhari’s anger had been calmed. But it was not so.

Gandhari, Yudhishthira, Krishna, and others from the Kuru family proceeded to the battlefield, where Gandhari came by the dead Kauravas, one by one. As they walked the battlefield, the sight was a gory one. Thousands upon thousands of warriors lay dead, with frantic women running to identify their dead husbands, hope mixing with sorrow, anticipation with dread. Gandhari saw everything with her divine sight, and her commentary is as brutal as it is moving. War is not cinematographic, with surround sound, zoom shots, and nor is it anti-septic. It is brutal, ugly, and real. Gandhari’s account of what she saw is moving.

“They were being devoured by predatory beasts there, by jackals, wild crows, crows, demons, pishachas, rakshasas and many kinds of beings that roam around in the night.” [11.16]

“Their limbs used to be smeared with the paste of sandalwood and aloe. They are now lying down in dust. Vultures, jackals and crows are tearing away their ornaments.” [11.16]

“Having lamented a lot, some have become quiet. The women no longer know what another one is lamenting. Some have lamented and shrieked for a long time.” [11.16]

“There are horrible heads without bodies and bodies without heads, a sight that arya women should not see. On seeing this, they are delighted and confused at the same time. Affixing a body to a head, they are glancing at it senselessly. Miserably, they are saying, “This is not he. He is somewhere else.”” [11.16]

She walked by, stopped, and lamented Duryodhana, Duhshasana, Vikarna, Abhimanyu, Uttara, Karna, Shalya, Sudakshina, Lakshmana (Duryodhana’s son), and others. When Gandhari saw Shalya, maternal uncle to the Pandavas, she saw that his handsome face had been pecked by wild crows, and his tongue was sticking out. Virata’s body was being torn apart by vultures, jackals and crows. [11.20]

Gandhari could not but keep remembering her words when Duryodhana had come asking for her blessings before the war. She had replied, यतो धर्मस्ततो जयः – “Where there is dharma, victory exists there” [11.17]. But the sight of the carnage, of the pitiable lamentations of the widows, and the corpses of her dead sons caused her rage crest again, culminating in the most fearsome of curses, directed at none other than Krishna.

“Therefore, you will have to reap the fruits of what you have done. … I am cursing you. … you will slay your own relatives. O Madhusudana! When thirty-six years have elapsed, your relatives will be killed, your advisers will be killed and your sons will be killed. You will wander around in the forest. You will confront a horrible death. With the sons slain, with the kin and relatives killed, your wives will be tormented, as the women of the Bharata lineage are now.” [11.25]

How did Krishna react? Should he have asked Gandhari for forgiveness? Should he have diverted blame on her? He did neither. The queen’s curse could not be averted, and neither did Krishna want Gandhari to be blamed for the coming destruction of the entire race o the Yadavas. He responded thus to Gandhari:

No one other than me can destroy the circle of the Vrishnis. O kshatriya lady! I know what has already been decided. You have acted in accordance with what has been ordained.” [11.25]

In other words, Gandhari was but a traveller on destiny’s road, pronouncing in advance the fate that lay ahead for the Yadavas. Gandhari’s words would not, could not, go in vain. They had not been in vain when she had blessed Duryodhana, ” यतो धर्मस्ततो जयः  “, and they would not go in vain when she cursed Krishna. Yet Krishna’s response reconciled both realities – of the inevitability of the destruction of the Yadavs with the inescapable reality of Gandhari’s curse.

Krishna had embarked on a journey to quell the tide of adharma that risen in Bharatvarsha. He had taken on Narakasura and got back mother Aditi’s earrings. He had got Bhima to challenge Jarasandha and render asunder the king who had been brought together by the demoness Jara. Sage Muchkunda had burned down Kalayavana, but not before the Yadavas had to abandon Mathura. The great war in Kurukshetra had seen the power and adharma of the Kuru put down over the course of those terrible eighteen days. The Vrishnis of Dwarka were the one great mahajanapada that remained unchallenged. With unbridled power lay the risk of adharma. Krishna was cognizant of the dangers. What he had envisaged was given the stamp of inevitability through Gandhari’s curse.

Gandhari did not mitigate or take back her curse. Nor did Krishna ask for it. The destruction of Dvarka was the final chapter in the Mahabharata that would be written thirty-six years later. The end of the Vrishnis at Prabhas, near Somnath, and the destruction of Dvarka is itself a study in the futility of fighting against the inevitable. Krishna had done all he could have to stave off war between the Kurus. Thirty-six years later, he would watch as the Vrishnis killed each other. But that is a tale for another time.

The Stri upa-parva, at hundred and sixty-eight shlokas, is one the shortest upa-parvas in the Mahabharata. It is part of the Stri Parva, the eleventh parva, which also is one of the shortest of the 18 major parvas in the epic. As the name suggests, the Stri upa-parva recounts the sorrow of the Kuru queens on seeing their dead warrior husbands on the battlefield of Kurukshetra, culminating in Gandhari cursing Krishna. My reference is Bibek Debroy’s English translation of the unabridged version of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute’s Critical Edition of the Mahabharata. The chapter number indicates the chapter within the Shanti Parva, of which the Raja-dharma parva is a minor parva.

The Tashkent Files

Do you know:

  • Who founded the National Dairy Development Board that started Operation Flood? This move made India not only self-sufficient in milk production but also the largest producer of milk in the world, thereby leading to socio-economic development of the rural public.
  • Who started the green revolution to make our nation self-reliant in food production?
  • Who raised the morale of the armed forces after the debacle against China in 1962?
  • Who shared a birthday with Mahatma Gandhi?
  • Who gave us the slogan “Jai Jawan! Jai Kisan!”?

Shri Lal Bahadur Shastri

The second Prime Minister of India, Lal Bahadur Shastri was a simple person and a dedicated leader. His tenure as Prime Minister was from 9th June 1964 until his death on 11th January 1966, which is barely 19 months. Shastri was a short man but as they say “good things come in small packages” In the short duration of his stint Shastri ji achieved many things that are having a lasting impact on the development of our nation. A simpleton by nature and lifestyle Shastri ji was a true Mahatma Gandhi follower in his deeds. He wanted to change his last name so that his caste would not be revealed. He always wore Khadi garments and insisted the same of his wife too.

When Shastri became the Prime Minister, our nation was going through severe crises such as food shortage, sluggish economic growth, low morale due to debacle against China in 1962 and more. Shastri steered the nation to overcome these problems. Post the defeat of 1962 China war the morale of Indian troops was dismal and Shastri within a few months not only boosted the morale but steered India towards victory during the 1965 war with Pakistan. Shastri’s desire to make India self-reliant also severely hurt the established interests who ran the world order in those days.

Mid 1960s was the era of the cold-war. The world was divided into the communist-block headed by the Soviet Union and the NATO allies (capitalist block) headed by USA. Both the super-powers were trying to bring all the nations under their sphere of influence by hook or crook. They adopted either  coercion (which can be under the guise of giving humanitarian aid) or by arm-twisting. They would sometimes  buy out the country’s ruling class or adopt coup and other means. There were some countries, India being one of them, which were not aligned to any of the two groups. At that time India was following the Nehruvian policy of Non-aligned Movement (NAM).

In August 1965, when Pakistan army made major incursions into Indian territories, unlike his predecessor Nehru who took defensive positions during war, Shastri adopted more aggressive policies in this matter, which got India a decisive win in the war. In January 1966, Shastri went to Tashkent to participate in a Soviet mediated peace talks with General Ayub Khan, the then military dictator of Pakistan. On 10th January, Shastri and Ayub Khan signed on the peace treaty which later came to be known as the Tashkent Declaration. On the early morning of 11th January at 2 a.m. Shastri died in his room at Tashkent under mysterious circumstances. Two people were witness to the final moments of Shastri ji, Dr. Chugh and Shastri ji’s personal attendant Ram Nath.  The official statement given out by Dr. Chugh and a team of Russian doctors mentioned that Shastri died of heart attack.

When Shastri’s dead body arrived in India, people could notice that the body was swollen and had turned blackish-blue. There were cut marks on his body with dried blood. These raised serious suspicions about the reasons behind Shastri’s death. Most people were of the opinion that he must have been poisoned. Shastri’s family and the public demanded a post-mortem report on his body and an investigation to be made into the circumstances leading to his death. The then government ignored this request and over a period of time this matter faded from the public consciousness. This way Shastri died twice, once in Tashkent and again when the suspicions behind his mysterious death were ignored and eventually erased from the general public’s consciousness. Not only that, Shastri’s legacy was also forgotten by his own party men. The subsequent Congress government never acknowledged Shastri’s grand contribution to country’s self-reliance in food production and military strength.

Recently released hard-hitting film “The Tashkent Files”, produced and directed by non-conventional film maker Vivek Agnihotri, is an effort to bring Shastri back into public consciousness. The material in this film is based on the well researched book “Your Prime Minister is Dead” written by journalist Anuj Dhar. While the film has fictional characters and the story attempts to make  inquiries into mysterious circumstances that led to the death of one of independent India’s tallest leaders based on true evidence.

In the film a young journalist Ragini, played aptly by Shweta Basu Prasad, raises questions surrounding Shastri’s death in a cover page story. This cause is taken up by opposition party leader Sham Sundar Tripathi, amazingly enacted by Mithun Chakraborty, who demands an inquiry commission be setup to investigate the matter. Thus an inquiry committee is setup chaired by Sham Sundar Tripathi consisting of Ragini, a historian and writer, beautifully essayed by Co-producer of the film Pallavi Joshi, a retired judge of supreme court, played by senior actor Vishwa Mohan Badola, a social worker and socialite (Mandira Bedi), an Artificial Intelligence expert (Pankaj Tripathi), retired chief of RAW, ex-chief of National archives and a young leader from the ruling party.

The committee finds that the evidences and the witnesses of Shastri’s death had also vanished under suspicious conditions. Hence, after almost 53 years of Shastri’s death it is now extremely difficult if not impossible to find out how he must have died or who must have killed him. This leads Ragini to think about who would have benefited from Shastri’s death and who would have conspired to get him killed. Was it the CIA or the KGB or was it an insider job? Investigation into this leads Ragini to the Mitrokhin Archive.

Vasili Mitrokhin, an archivist at the KGB, had secretly prepared hand-written notes from the KGB files. These hand-written notes contain information about the clandestine intelligence operations of the Soviet Union around the world. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Mitrokhin defected to the United Kingdom in 1992, taking along with him the archive of his hand-written notes. The official historian of the British intelligence agency MI5, Christropher Andrew along with Mitrokhin wrote two books based on the material from the archive – The Sword and the Shield (1999) and The World Was Going Our Way: The KGB and the Battle for the Third World (2005). The release of the books naturally created havoc across the world. The second book, The World Was Going Our Way, has two chapters dedicated especially to India.

The chapters describe how one political party in India was funded by the Soviet Union since the 1930s and how it danced to the tune of their masters in Moscow. Towards the end of 1960s, the KGB also started funding a major political party in India, almost 12 newspapers and a news agency. In the 70s almost 40% of Lok Sabha MPs were on the payroll of the KGB. The Soviet Union was deciding what the Indians will see, read and learn. The country was almost up for sale. It was as if the country was recolonised and the people were blissfully ignorant.

Was it the KGB that wanted to remove the incorruptible and dedicated leader like Shastri out of the way and so conspired with some from India to kill him? This is beautifully conveyed in the film with stellar performances from the cast of the film. Shweta Basu Prasad successfully portrays the angst of the youth of our country who demand to know the truth. Mithun Chakraborty’s acting as the opposition leader and chairman of the inquiry commission is nuanced acting at its best. Pallavi Joshi essays the role of an historian with ease. Pankaj Tripathi’s acting as an AI expert is convincing. I do wish that the characters of ex-RAW chief, retired supreme court judge were given more depth. Naseeruddin Shah’s acting as the wily leader of the ruling party adds well to the story and reveals the typical theatrics of political games. The editing could have been more crisp, this would have taken the film to another level. The cinematography of the film is excellent. The close-ups of the actors have revealed their acting prowess. As they say the eyes talk more than the spoken word.

This film asks all the right questions about the mystery behind Shastri’s death. As they say, intelligence is not so much about giving the right answers but asking the right questions. As a country that continues to reap the fruits of Shastri’s vision and work, this film might serve as the impetus that moves the citizens to demand answers which have been denied for so long. The movie also makes one think of the dangers a leader of the third world country faces who chooses to keep the country’s interest at heart. While India won the war against Pakistan in 1965 the geo-political players of then forced India to travel to Russia to sign a treaty which took six days to arrive at a conclusion. When we juxtapose the movie to current political scenarios one realizes that there many lessons to be learnt from the Tashkent debacle to maintain India’s sovereignty in truest terms.  Kudos to the director, Vivek Agnihotri, for working on a project which forces people to ask questions, think and read. He has proven yet again that he is a thinking man’s film maker. I was on the edge of my seat from the first to the last scene of this film. This film and the message that it wants to convey will remain in the people’s consciousness for a long time.

(Editor’s Note: Indic Academy is the Knowledge Partner of The Tashkent Files)

Shastra Mining Projects By Indic Academy, MIT SVS & Veda Vijnana Gurukulam

Ancient India had a rich scientific tradition based on the tenets of evidence-based reasoning, strong emphasis on systematic thinking and real-world practice. Some of its insights are being discovered to be highly relevant and valuable even today – in mathematics, linguistics, logic, aesthetics, psychology, management and wellness sciences to name a few. India’s analogue of modern science is the shastra, which has a rigorous definition based on the concept of Yukti or rationality and rules to model real-world phenomena. All Indian shastras employ a common methodology of structured inquiry and discourse derived from its three native fundamental knowledge sciences – the science of language (vyaakarana), the science of discourse (mimamsa) and the science of inference (nyaya).

India’s robust gurukula system of education has been preserving its rich native knowledge system across millennia, sometimes against immense odds. However, due to being cut off from its educational roots, modern Indians have lost touch with this rich knowledge base. Though many are realizing the need to reconnect with their roots, they face a hurdle due to being unfamiliar with its language and thought process.

Collaborating Organizations

To bridge this intellectual gap and reinvigorate Indic Knowledge Studies for the benefit of the world at large, MIT-ADT University Pune’s School of Vedic Sciences (MITSVS, mitvedicsciences.com) is developing new ways to paraphrase the sophisticated Indic scientific treatises to be intelligible to modern youth using the latest pedagogical methods such as concept mapping and linguistics tools.

Indic Academy is a non traditional “university” for traditional knowledge seeking to build a global renaissance that is based on Indic civilisational thought. IA pursues a integrated strategy across intellectual, cultural and spiritual domains to preserve, protect and promote Indic thought. IA seeks to transform the individual and build and nurture an Indic ecosystem through its ‘self, selfless,Self’ and ‘connect, co-operate, collaborate’ strategy.

Inter Gurukula- University Center for Indic Knowledge Systems, a center established by IA to promote the study of Shastras, Indic Knowledge Systems and Indology as well as act as a bridge between the three disciplines, has initiated this project.

Veda Vijnana Gurukulam Bangalore is one of the premier traditional educational institutions in India grooming authentic Indic shastra scholars in Vedic fundamental sciences. Vedavaapi.org is an open-source technology platform for publishing Indic knowledge content for easy search and processing.

Project: Concept Mapping of Vaakyapadiiyam

These organizations are coming together to paraphrase and teach seminal scientific works of India in intuitive and intelligible ways to the next generation via online courses and resources to spur new scientific innovation and applications. As a first step in this direction, IA and MITSVS are sponsoring a 6-month shastra mining project at Veda Vijnana Gurukulam from June 2019 to develop a detailed mindmap / conceptual index of “Vaakyapadiiyam” by Bhartrhari to be published on Vedavaapi. Vaakyapadiiyam is an acknowledged monumental thesis that propounded the world’s first and most comprehensive universal theory of communication in all its forms. Its theory of the fundamental nature of language and communication is at the core of Panini’s famous Sanskrit grammar treatise, Ashtadhyayi as well as Bharatamuni‘s famous treatise on the Science of Art, Natyashastra.

Vaakyapadiiyam is a huge treatise of around 32000 verses of highly sophisticated discourse and is considered as a tough text even by scholars. Though numerous modern books have been written on its various aspects, a comprehensive understanding of the text and its modern applicability eludes the modern seeker. But its insights are essential for improving the effectiveness of aesthetic communication, an unaddressed challenge in modern AI and robotics.

Based on the outcome of this project, IA, SVS and VVG will jointly design and deliver a 45-hour online certification course on Introduction to Vaakyapadiiyam: A Universal Model of Communication. In addition to helping modern seekers become familiar with Indic thought models, this project also provides excellent training for traditional shastra students in paraphrasing Indic knowledge for contemporary relevance. The course will be designed and taught by Prof. Nagaraj Paturi, a highly acclaimed authority on the subject and its modern applications. It will tentatively be available for enrolling in early 2020.

DhYana – Part 2

We are all aware about Yogacharya T.Krishnamacharya being a pioneer in using yoga (specifically asana and pranayama) for therapy and well-being. But little did we know that he was a great scholar of our sacred knowledge and traditions. One of his long-standing students Raghu Ananthanarayanan has put together an interesting note about what is dhyAna and the interconnected nuances around it. He has used the device of an innocent conversation between a young, curious child, Chiku who is Gayatri Iyer, and an elderly teacher Rita, just like the dialogues that used to take place between student and teachers at ashrams.

In resuming my discussions with Raghu who is Rita in the writings, I continue my exploration of “what is dhyAna?” and through that try and disperse the misinterpretations of symbols and rituals of our Hindu culture.

Chiku: How is nidhIdhyAsana different from dhyAna, is it closer to dhAraNA ?

Rita: nidhIdhyAsana is doing dhAraNA on understanding the words that are being told to you by somebody. So, it starts with shravaNam, mananam and nidhidhyAsitavyam. So, shravaNam is to listen very carefully to what your teacher is saying.

Chiku: Why should I listen so carefully? So many people say so many things

Rita: The potency of the meaning is not only in the words being spoken. Listen to a person who is an Aptavachana like Krishnamacharya, an embodiment of yoga. When he spoke, his words were not mere words but carried the energies of the sAdhana he had done. The words were a wholesome experience for me, in the sense that it impacted my mind, body and senses; this is shravaNam. mananam is when I take in some of these things; for e.g. if I took the meaning of a sUtra that Krishnamacharya has explained then mananam for me is a process where I contemplate on what it may mean for me, some things will happen to me and I will remember oh this is what was said. So, some part of my mind is constantly engaging with discovering the artha, artha means the actuality of what this word refers to in my life. nidhidhyAsitavyam is when the meaning starts transforming me and I can embody the meanings of the statements that I have understood. I have internalized the meaning and it has become embodied knowledge.

Chiku: Must the physical body also change for the learning to be complete?

Rita: Yes. The yoga sUtra-s clearly say so. Remember we are speaking about ourselves, how we create our own duHkha and how we can end it.

Chiku: What are the other qualities of the object for dhAraNA?

Rita: The object you focus attention on will impact your mind, so that is why all our deities are sculpted with balance, proportion, aesthetics etc. Even if you focus on a lamp, the lamp should not flicker and so on. If I want to quieten my mind, then I cannot go to an ocean side with rough waters. The object along with the space where I am placing the enquiry etc. are equally important. All of it is ensured so that only sAtvika guNA is evoked in me. That is the key, the object of enquiry has to be sAtvic and preeti; balanced calm and joyous. Thus, an Aptavachana becomes so important. So, the same words coming from Krishnamacharya and coming from someone else will have different impacts on me.

Chiku: So, the choice of teacher is so important.

Rita: Yes, you can even choose nature, music, dance, literature etc. as your teachers.

Chiku: One of my friends also did Buddhist meditation and vipassana. Is it different from what you are talking about?

Rita: They are the same, except that in vipassana you start with observing the sensations in your body because then there is nothing left to imagination. Then the process of unfolding will start as one observes quietly.

Chiku: The process of getting in touch with your body, mind and emotions is a lot of churn. So, it is very difficult to stay still and just watch, I feel like running away before something happens. Why?

Rita: Chiku, this is the reality of the mind so that is a good observation.

Chiku: But what kind of a practice should I then do?

Rita: 1st chapter of yoga sUtra-s talk about abhAyasa and vairAgyam, and for us the practice keeps us oscillating from being deep and profound to becoming disturbed. To stay in that place of churn is the tapas.

Chiku: Do I also need shraddhA to stay in that place?

Rita: Just watch and observe. The beginning of distraction is when the mind tells you ‘Now, you have to or must stay there…’or say ‘you must find a way out’. Stepping away, you need to even watch how the mind is distracting you, that is also an understanding. Let me explain, most of time you start the enquiry for a specific purpose or goal. For e.g. if I lose my temper, then I tell myself ‘I should not get angry and I must do something about it’. This is not true enquiry, you need to set aside this phala or objective because it will meddle with the process of dhyAna, then naturally you are not watching but only trying to control the outcome.

Chiku: I also become angry and sad when I try to quieten.

Rita: So, watch that also…where is it coming from?

Chiku: Yes, but I am angry or at conflict with myself that why have I not changed or why are all these things taking so much time? I have seen so many of my patterns come up regularly, but I am dedicatedly doing my sAdhana and ‘trying’ to watch but many times there is anger.

Rita: What does this anger do to you?

Chiku: Distracts me and causes some bodily reactions too.

Rita: Ok, so observe those things. But I am also hearing you make deal with this process saying, ‘I am doing this practice for so long yet why I am not getting results?’. You should see where this is coming from.

Chiku: Yes…true…like a child crying for a lollipop and if I do not have it then I will just stand here and cry.

Rita: Just because you create certain conditions to sit and quieten that does not mean the inner voices have quietened.

Chiku: But what else can a person like a normal householder do?

Rita: Interestingly, the Upanishads say that the grihastha has the maximum opportunities because the path of the householder is very tough but very important in society.

Chiku: My mother is not very educated and is not well versed with yoga etc. But yet in the last 8-9 years I have seen so much change in her from being an agitated woman to be a quiet person, almost like in a state of vairagyam. She does many small routine works like putting kolams, cooking, puja and japa etc. Are these practices responsible for a change?

Rita: Well, I can only speculate, so it is not because of these rituals but something has triggered her to accept things around her as is. This inner quietness is what you are noticing when she does what you call the ‘small routines’ with attentiveness. The inner quietness would be reflected in all the activities that she undertakes.

Chiku: There are so many chores and responsibilities of family, career to manage, then where is the space to get into the deeper processes.

Rita: Ah! ChiKu, you just spoke about how your mother seems to have turned these very chores into her practice. That is why so many Upanishads, Mahabharata and Ramayana talk about like Rama, Krishna, as Shiva as householders.  They are portrayed as people who have not only done extraordinary things but also as people who face everyday issues. Every experience you have and every engagement you have with life is a possible mirror.

Chiku: Did Krishnamacharya give any specific practices for a grihastha to do dhyAna?

Rita: You must do you nityakarma is what he said. He also recommended that you and pause every now and again, watch your breath regularly just like the Buddhists also say. Lastly, whatever you do must do be done with an attitude of seva.

Chiku: What is nityakarma?

Rita: nityakarma is daily practice.  To illustrate, sandhyAvandana, or the Morning Prayer to the Sun comes down to give oneself a pause, reflecting on how one is engaging with one’s world and to doing pranayama. It is done three times a day just before eating. Obviously will enable us to introspect, eat mindfully and prepare ourselves for the next part of the day. Time spent in quiet prayer, or walks to the Temple are all meant to give scope for a pause, a stepping back from the pressures of the day.

Chiku: how is sevA going to help?

Rita: Do you like to paint?

Chiku: Yes

Rita: So, when you approach a painting you do it with care and love?

Chiku: Yes

Rita: So, if you approach every action with care and love, it will bring a quality of graciousness or lightness because you are paying so much attention to it. This is the starting of dhAraNA.

Krishna ji used to talk about 2 words when talking about meditation- The first word is contemplation which comes from the word ‘temple’ which is a space to observe and this is what the sUtra from the 3rd chapter is speaking about:  deSha-bandhaH cittasya dhAraNA- deSham means space, bandhaH means to stay with and cittasya means observation of the mind.. The 2nd word is meditation, which comes from the root word ‘meditari’ which means to measure i.e. discovering an accurate measure of myself.

Now, dhyAna is a way to create space to observe myself and my vAsana and when I do that, I get a true measure of myself.

Chiku: I am trying to connect it to my day, where I do certain things throughout the day and in the evenings; I sit and watch a replay, which brings up some emotions like disgust, ecstasy or anger. So, I am not really sitting and doing dhyAna but more so a reflection. Will this help in the process of dhyAna?

Rita: This form of dhAraNA is recommended too because you are enquiring into your whole day and introspecting on the way you responded during the day. This is very real because you are getting in touch with your emotions at the body level too. This process if done before sleep is called it is very helpful.

This also answers your question how in a work-a-day life a grihastha who has many responsibilities, can do this process. If you are cooking and you can watch every action of yours attentively while you chop, stir etc. it is dhAraNA and it might take you to a stage of dhyAna. You may get sudden insights to your health, food habits etc.

Chiku: This is exactly like watching the mouse hole.

Rita: Correct

Chiku: One of my friend’s was telling me that in the Mandukya Upanishad, dhyAna is the process of exhausting one’s karmaphala. Which means I burn the vasana-s or residue of anything that has come through from my previous births. Is this true?

Rita: Chiku, I will avoid the discussion on the poorva janma because all I can deal with is what I am experiencing now. It is immaterial to discuss where the residue came from and why. What is material is to be able to take this process of watching oneself to more and more and more profound levels, so that the roots of the self get completely exposed or the seed energy  gets completely exhausted. My teacher Krishnamacharya endorsed this too. Now as you go deeper, you may come across flashes of your birthing process, some old memories which a normal mind may not remember, which is fine. Breath work and vipassana also help you get in touch with these. The 2nd chapter of the yoga sUtra-s tells you very clearly to watch your avidyA, the unfolding and so on. This is a doable practice for a householder.

Chiku: Yet, all the meditation-mindfulness apps do not really help too much.

Rita: That is because they have simplified the idea for mass consumption. But sometimes, these practices invite people to go deeper than just relaxation. I think Krishnamacharya gave a very simple practice ‘just focus on your breath, see where is it going, pause and then follow it. It will automatically slow you, the pulse rate, the monkey mind etc. This is the starting point for pratyahara and dhAraNA

Chiku: Yes, I think all that you have said can only have meaning if they trigger me to look within and measure for myself where am I and what am I doing.

Rita: An external stick to beat yourself and make a progress chart is not going to help if you are a serious sAdhaka or seeker.

To understand more about how can we use dhyAna as tool in your daily life, reach out to us at Ritambhara (ashram@ritambhara.org.in) where we as a sangha consciously walking on the path of yoga.

Ganga Dasahara Retreat Festival 2019

Ganga Dasahara is a spiritual retreat organized by Purna Vidya Foundation. The location of the retreat is Tapasyalayam, Uttarakashi.

Tapasyalayam

On the banks of the sacred Ganges River, Tapasyalayam offers the spiritual seeker an opportunity to enjoy not only the rich culture of the Ganga Belt, but the spiritual truth behind their own inner desires. Here you will find Ganga Dhyana Mandir, a beautiful natural cave temple dedicated to Ganga Devi, where worship, pujas and bhajans are conducted daily. This retreat will also involve a dip in the Ganga, to seek Her blessings.

The retreat also includes courses on Vedic chanting, meditation and the Mundakopanishad. Other recreational activities organized are trekking and visiting some local shrines in Uttarakashi.

Indic Academy will sponsor one deserving candidate to attend this program. If you would like to avail our support to attend this retreat, please fill this form.

Lessons From Mahabharata – Reclaiming The Epic For The 21st Century

As India continues on its journey from a $3 trillion to $10 trillion economy, as it reorients its political pendulum from permissions and entitlements to development and prosperity, as it resets its strategic stance from apologetic-defensive to confident-expansive, and redefines its cultural arc from being moored in a timid crust to one that carries international hues, it needs not merely the modern tools of engagement and technology to negotiate the world’s constantly-changing landscape but a stronger civilisational base upon which it can stand with knowledge, dynamism, force and stability; it needs to re-imagine itself and re-identify with its own ethos and its own experiences.

Amongst its experiential kaleidoscope evolved over millennia, there are four important civilisational legs that have sustained India for more than five millenniums – the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Puranas and the Epics (the Ramayana and the Mahabharata). The Vedas captured the insights of rishis and eternalised them into words and three notes, a combination of language and sounds that resonates with our deepest parts even today as truth, a living entity in our being, and a universal reality. The Upanishads condensed them into an intellectual treatise of spiritual knowledge using which a seeker could confirm her intuitions with experience and not be limited to logic of the mental mind. The Puranas, essentially commentaries on the Vedas and the Upanishads, converted the knowledge into stories and metaphors. The Epics brought all this knowledge to the people through two of India’s greatest sagas, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata.

This essay focusses on the Mahabharata and how it had been lost and now finally reclaimed by scholarship (and for scholarship) over the past five decades. As every Indian knows, the Mahabharata brings together not just the scriptural knowledge of the Vedas and the Upanishads into one comprehensive Indian treatise, but is equally an encyclopaedia of all practical matters, from complexities of governance to intricacies of statecraft . The idea of creating and using the bureaucracy to run a kingdom, for instance, is rooted in this text, the world’s largest, ten times longer than the Iliad and the Odyssey combined. With equal intensity the Mahabharata showcases models of governance, military and strategy.

The ideas of dharma, artha, kama and moksha the Mahabharata expresses and which were relevant five millenniums ago to kings, kingdoms and praja (the ‘governed’), remain equally relevant to individuals and families, organisations and companies, communities and nations today.

In the course of Islamic invasions, much of this knowledge and culture residing in temples was systematically exiled to the peripheries of India. The conscious decimation of the education system by the next set of rulers, the British, impoverished it. As if the physical and economic strangulation of Indian knowledge were not enough, 19th century European Indologists created a narrative that hijacked the Mahabharata, colonised it intellectually and pointed fingers of suspicion on its authenticity, its origins, its culture, its authorship, its characters, its physical and metaphysical truths. Despite these assaults, the Mahabharata refused to die. The knowledge of a civilisation – different from the confines history places on scholars – rests in the consciousness of its people and the dictum that ‘no Indian reads the Mahabharata for the first time’ is something every Indian can vouch for experientially.

Post-Independence, the rebirth of a free India also saw the resurgence of the Mahabharata. Today, a three-pronged scholarship is according the Mahabharata its rightful place, cleaning it of colonial contamination, bringing India’s definitive text back to the people of India, in whose DNA it resides, in whose blood it runs, in whose bones it thrives, in whose consciousness it becomes ubiquitous, in whose souls it has always been present, and will remain. Stripped of all biases and politics embedded into it, this scholarly troika has taken 50 years to mature and reclaim the epic verse by verse. And now, it has brought a new direction to the way we can view our ancient moorings.

First, through the heroic effort of V.S. Sukthankar, who, as the first general editor, created the Critical Edition of the Mahabharata, published by the Pune-based Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute. Supported by fellow scholars and adventurers who continued Sukthankar’s work, including the use of mathematical methods to arrive at the precise text, one parva after another, one verse at a time, the scholars consulted 1,259 manuscripts over five decades to release the complete Critical Edition in September 1966. Until then, there were multiple recensions of the text from all over India, with varying narratives and details.

Through the Critical Edition, Sukthankar established the definitive text, the earliest source from which all surviving manuscripts were copied, which scholars call the ‘archetype’. This text has not only put out the final word – including, for instance, the fact that the Mahabharata has 73,569 verses across 1,995 chapters, plus an additional 6,073 verses in 118 chapters in its Harivamsha appendix — but also preserved all the regional recensions in the form of a gigantic apparatus of variant readings and additional episodes. Many of these manuscripts have since been lost, so the Critical Edition now represents the Mahabharata and through it the intellectual and material heritage of India. This must now be preserved in every form, using every available technology.

Second, the conversion of this text from Sanskrit into English for a wider reach, access, critical examination. The first attempt at translating the Critical Edition was by J.A.B. van Buitenen at the University of Chicago, who between 1973 and 1978 published five volumes till Virata Parva, and remains a work in progress under his successor James L. Fitzgerald. Other major translations have come from the Clay Sanskrit Library that began the translation of the Kinjawadekar Edition in 2006 but abandoned it in three years. Of course, the earliest attempted English translation of the Mahabharata remains the Calcutta Edition, first by Kisari Mohan Ganguly in 1896 and followed by Manmatha Nath Dutt in 1905. More recently Bibek Debroy has successfully translated all the volumes of the Critical Edition and made it accessible to the lay reader, a herculean effort spread over four years of intense work that concluded in 2014.

And third, using the Critical Edition as a base and deep scholarship as a tool, reframing the narrative such that the Mahabharata returns to where it belongs – a timeless-seamless flow of the story in its mundane, ethical and metaphysical planes, containing every aspect of the Indian experience in it. In the war of interpretation of the Mahabharata, Vishwa Adluri and Joydeep Bagchee through rigorous study have explored the idea of the scientific method in the human sciences (The Nay Science in 2014) and the history of Western interpretive approaches to the Mahabharata and their evaluation in terms of their intellectual cogency using textual criticism (Philology and Criticism in 2018). Together, these two books give us robust arguments about the Mahabharata, expose the biases of Western scholarship that has dominated the intellectual discourse around it, and motivate us towards deeper understanding and further explorations.

All three – Sukthankar’s text, Debroy’s translation and the Adluri-Bagchee resituating – are tools to recover the Mahabharata. In a modern Mahabharata of sorts, a war of ideas and views fought on an intellectual Kurukshetra between the dominant Western and Leftist views on the one side and the Indian tradition on the other, truth, a complex one, has finally emerged. Sukthankar revealed the text in its entirety with meticulous line-by-line comparisons, the manuscript stemmas or the relationships between a text and its various versions, and delivered to us the final word. Debroy made it accessible to the English reader, in a more contemporary language. And finally, Adluri-Bagchee framed their arguments to illustrate that the Indian intellectual tradition has the means and knowledge to interpret its texts in its own way, recognising the philosophical-logical path of Adi Shankaracharya.

The 20th century saw Mahabharata scholarship being snatched away from India to the West, and then shredded and discarded argue Adluri and Bagchee in their Philology and Criticism. Here were born theories of contamination, ideas of reconstruction, arguments of a single manuscript. This line of thinking had reduced the Mahabharata to an extension of Brahminism, the original story nothing more than a fratricidal struggle for kingdom, the light-skinned and handsome invaders from the north who brought culture to a dark, weak, ugly, savage people who needed to be civilised. It was conveyed that the text is little more than an expression of several hands that have twisted and moulded the story of invaders and made it Indian.

Politically, it complemented the quest for power and powered colonialism. When reduced to caste and religion, it became a weapon.

In the war of civilisations, this weapon attempted to shred the dignity of the colonised and catalysed the capture of many imaginations. In the conquests of Africa, South America and Asia, if guns and canons were the tools of physical control, scholarship laced with religion was the medium of psychological subjugation and cultural appropriation. In the areas of social sciences, as scholarship degenerated into creating motivated narratives, scholars become mercenaries of control, missionaries of evangelisation.

Pulling the Mahabharata out of these narratives would have been impossible had it not been for these three legs of scholarship – the text, the translation and the analysis – now giving the Critical Edition the stability of form, its translatio n a global access, its analyses an Indian intellectual context. They allow us to reclaim learnings, experiences and histories from the hands of those whose entitlement to knowledge is questionable. Wendy Doniger, for instance, has termed the Critical Edition a “Frankenstein’s monster, pieced together from various scraps of different bodies”, and its editors “the Frankensteins”. She is not alone in her contempt for another’s reality, but for scholars this is a trait devoid of scientific temperament and humility.

In fact, the Critical Edition is a rigorously scientific and logical text – it is not an amalgamation of several texts; it is a mathematical synthesis to arrive at textual precision. It has created a dharmic context for its timeless expression. It has shown how the Mahabharata is indeed the fifth Veda with spirituality compressed into its pages, and equality of access an integral part of its structure. It has offered us a handbook containing every nuance of Indian thought, from the individual to the State, foreign policy to strategy, rituals to dharma, well-being of the people to their taxation. It has delivered a philosophical treatise that captures the essence of Indian civilisation through the idiom of storytelling.

Above all, it has given us the literary infrastructure upon which to ride, to explore and to produce new knowledge. This is now leading India to salvage the Mahabharata, through fictional retellings, through non-fiction books and papers, through theatre, cinema, mass media, feeding an unquenched thirst for Indian knowledge. The new reclamation is a function of new facts, new contexts – and eternal truths of the Indian intellectual tradition. We need to appreciate the labour, understand both the text as well as the politics, and set sail on an intellectual adventure to discover the unknown. On the Kurukshetra of scholarship, India has won the Mahabharata, and reclaimed its civilisation.

The way forward lies in having the conviction to bring the Mahabharata into the Indian mainstream – in literature, of course, but equally in statecraft, foreign policy, military studies, philosophy, economic management, administration and justice.

In strategic studies, for instance, our policymakers need to study the 4,512 verses in the Rajadharma Parva (part of the 12th chapter, Shanti Parva). These verses must essential reading for policy professionals in the areas of military studies and international relations. In policy conversations, they need to be able to use and quote Ved Vyasa’s Mahabharata or Chanakya’s Arthashastra, at least half as well as they do Sun Tzu’s The Art of War or Machiavelli’s Prince.

Narratives need communities. And communities comprise people, who grow and evolve. The new and young demographic of India needs to take learnings from the Mahabharata and apply them to present day questions, from geopolitical strategies to the future of work in the fourth industrial revolution, that have deep, lasting and robust answers in the Mahabharata. No conversation about a ‘New India’ can be complete without an intense reading of the Mahabharata, an eternal text that awaits the country’s preordained 21st century manifestation.

This article was first published by the Observer Research Foundation and has been reproduced here with permission.

Flight Of Deities: A Tale Of Dharmic Resistance

प्रतिष्ठायां सुराणां तु देवतार्चानुकीर्तनं |

देवयज्ञोत्सवं चापि बन्धनाद्येन मुच्यते ||

One must know the true nature and power of divine murthys while consecrating them; By worshipping such images through utsavas and yajnas, one obtains liberation from this worldMatsya Purana

Meenakshi Jain’s latest book “Flight of Deities and Rebirth of Temples, Episodes from Indian History” is an extraordinary narration of an unfortunate part of Hindu history. It documents the struggle and, in some cases, survival of Bharata’s splendid temples and their revered deities. It is the product of a painstaking effort on the part of the author to gather information from primary sources and observation of the remnants of the heroic struggle of the Hindu community to protect their temples and murthys in the wake of centuries of attacks by Islamic invaders and other non-dharmic civilizations. By covering every part of the country, the author highlights how the problem of iconoclasm affected every nook and corner of this great civilization and brings forth an interesting truth about how a common zeal and belief bound the dharmic citizens of this country.

It is an often asked question as to how the Hindu religion survived foreign onslaughts for over a thousand years. Meenakshi Jain’s book offers a possible explanation to this question. A combination of the extreme allegiance of the Hindu rulers of this country towards Dharma and the unflinching faith and devotion of the ordinary Hindus of this country in their deities and places of worship ensured this survival.

With 600+ pages the book packs accurate historical account and chronicles the struggles of the temples and deities in different parts of India. . The history of the temples of Multan, the destruction of sacred sites in Kashmir, the battles in Ayodhya to reclaim the most revered spot in Bharata, the tenacity of Somnath, the tragedy of Tamil Nadu’s holiest kshetras – all of these are well highlighted in separate chapters in this book. However, there does emerge three distinct themes in the story of each of these places,

  1. The doggedness and religious zeal of the iconoclastic invaders over hundreds of years. Narration of their relentless attacks on the epicenters of Bharata’s dharmic religions.
  2. The heroic fight back from our dharmic rulers. Their sworn faithfulness to sanatana dharma and never-say-die attitude to ensure its survival.
  3. The unflinching faith of thousands of ordinary people of this country who valued the temples and deities more than their own lives.

Bharata under attack – a thousand year war

If you are looking for a single book that gives you a comprehensive account of the wanton destruction unleashed on our glorious temples, look no further. Every chapter of this book provides minute details on the barbarity of the invaders from the west. In her typical style, Meenakshi Jain supports every one of her assertions about these unfortunate incidents with copious references and quotes, leaving one staring at the harsh, but irrefutable, truth.

The details of every one of our invaders from Ghori to Ghaznavi to the Khiljis to the Tughlaqs finds mention in the appropriate chapters. Aurangzeb’s maniacal obsession with eliminating temples is highlighted in multiple chapters, indicating how widespread his atrocities were. The destruction of so many of our precious lands due to the Anglo-French conflicts and the contributions of the Portuguese in the loot of this civilization also finds mention.

The great Sun temple of Multan was one of the early victims of iconoclasm. In the early part of the 8th century C.E it was attacked and destroyed by Muhammad Bin Qasim. The author quotes Alberuni to show how it was religious iconoclasm that led to the destruction of the most revered temple of those times.

“When Muhammad Ibn Alkasim Ibn Almunnabih conquered Multan, he inquired how the town had become so very flourishing and so many treasures had there been accumulated, and then he found out that this idol was the cause….. therefore he thought it best to have the idol where it was, but he hung a piece of cow’s-flesh on its neck by way of mockery. On the same place a mosque was built”

In the chapter on Kashmir and its temples, the author describes the destruction of innumerable temples by Sultan Sikandar in the 14th and 15th century. So complete was the annihilation he brought about that he earned a special nickname.

“The process of destruction and denudation started in the later part of the reign of Sultan Sikandar (1389-1413) who earned the epithet Butshikan (idol breaker) by virtue of his breaking the images and demolishing the temples”

These temples were burnt down by piling heaps of timber in the temples and setting fire to these heaps.

Kashi, of course, is ground-zero when it comes to places of tirthayatra in Bharata. For the very same reason, it was a marked place – by the invaders. The scale of destruction too was keeping in mind the hallowed position of the place.

“In 1194 C.E Qutubudding Aibak, military commander of Muhammad Ghori, led a force that devastated Benaras. Hardly a shrine survived the offensive…Hasan Nizami claimed that over a thousand temples were ravaged….”

What common event occurred in Bharata that connects the 1st, 7th, 10th, 11th, 14th and 17th century C.E? The answer lies in the chapter on Gujarat. The Somnath temple, located in the eastern entrance of Bharata was destroyed repeatedly in these time periods. Mahmud Ghaznavi, Alauddin Khilji, Sultan Ahmed Shah and Aurangzeb were some of the infamous attackers who oversaw the repeated bringing-down of the ‘Eternal Shrine’.

In a chapter detailing the plight of temples and deities in the south, Meenakshi Jain documents how the great Srirangam temple in Tamil Nadu too was subject to repeated attacks and wanton destruction. In the 14th century, the temple was attacked twice within a period of 12 years – first by Malik Kafur and then by Ulugh Khan. The deity was displaced as a result.

“The Koil Olugu stated that the exile of Perumal lasted fifty-nine-and-a-half years, of which two years were spent in the palace of the Sultan”

In addition, Malik Kafur’s southern expeditions led to the savage destruction of the temples in Devagiri, Warangal and Dwarasamudra (Halebidu, Karnataka).

The Islamic invaders were not alone in destroying the Hindu heritage. The Portuguese engaged in similar activity during their initial phase of occupation of Goa. Their scale of destruction was equally shocking.

“At the time of the Portuguese advent, there were at least 124 distinct temples for 564 divinities in Goan villages. The temples were subjected to large-scale destruction by the Portuguese, many were converted to churches”

Thus the book provides a comprehensive, and eye-opening, historical account of the travails of our temple towns and cities and their pitiable fate at the hands of invaders.

The Dharmarajas of Bharata

The second key insight from Meenakshi Jain’s extensive research is the dedication and efforts put by various rulers all over Bharata to negate the intentions of the invaders. In each chapter, the author narrates details of the kings and rulers who fought the invaders (many a time leading to their death), reconstructed temples as soon as the threat of the invaders receded, made grants for the upkeep of the temples and assured safety of the places. They kept the fire of devotion burning in the hearts of the devotees. They passed on the baton of dharma to the next generation. They ensured our heritage lived on in temples, rather than in museums.

While discussing Mathura, the hallowed land of Krishna, the author describes how the Gahadavala Kingdom who ruled the region in the 12th century C.E went to great extents to protect sanatana dharma. They were “champions of Hinduism” who declared themselves as the protectors of the Indian “tirthakshetras”. As a response to the Islamic challenge they even shifted their capital from Kanauj to the holy city of Varanasi! In order to effectively respond to the military might of the invaders, the Gahadavalas even levied a “Turks tax” called as turuskadanda.

The author narrates a similar effort by Sawai Jai Singh, the ruler of Amer, following the death of Aurangzeb at the beginning of the 18th century. He successfully pleaded with the Mughal ruler to abolish the jizya tax on the pilgrims of Gaya. In addition

“Jai Singh strove to improve conditions for Pilgrims in Hindu sacred sites. In 1773, he secured the faujdari of Gaya, in addition to that he held of Mathura, which enabled him to contribute to the betterment of holy sites in the regions…”

While discussing the unique contribution of Rajasthan in providing resort to numerous deities during the tyranny of various invaders, the author enlightens us about the tremendous contributions of Rai Singh, the ruler of Bikaner.

“In 1583, Rai Singh succeeded in obtaining from Akbar the 1050 Jain idols looted from Sirohi in 1576 C.E. He dedicated them to the Chintamani temple at Bikaner”

The extra-ordinary dharma-karya of the Peshwas throughout Bharata is also well brought out. The construction of a Vishwanath temple at Kashi, the rebuilding of the Mahakaleshwar temple at Ujjain by the Diwan of the Peshwa in 1745 C.E, the repeated grants made to the Tuljapur Bhavani temple, the grants by Shivaji’s son Rajaram to the Pandarapur temple and the frequent visits, and grants, of the Peshwas to the Tirupati temple have been highlighted throughout the book. The Marathas truly displayed their affiliation for Dharma by upholding the same in all four corners of the country.

The story of Bharata’s dharma-protectors can never be complete without mentioning the contributions of the Vijayanagara rulers. A great amount of detail has been provided in the book about the contributions of this kingdom.

“An interesting inscription (No 5 from Bennur, dated 1347 C.E) stated that the divine cow, Kamadhenu, complained to Shiva that it was very difficult to walk on one leg……..Shiva recognized the gravity of the situation and said he would send King Sangama, and dharma would stand firmly again. The inscription was a declaration that Vijayanagara was founded to re-instate dharma

The greatest amongst the Vijayanagar emperors, Sri Krishnadevaraya, was an ardent devotee of the Pandarapura Vittala. When the place was confronted with a Muslim threat

“Krishnadeva Raya took the image for its security, and it was returned in safer times (Ranade 1933)”

The fine analysis of the case of the Vittala idols of Pandarapura and Hampi is a treat to read, and one of the highlights of the book.

Similarly, during the discussion on the temples of Tamil Nadu, the author elaborates how the main idol of Srirangam was taken to Melkote in Karnataka and subsequently to Tirupati to save it from the marauding invaders. An officer of Vijayanagara king Harihara II, Gopana Udaiyar, helped in reinstating the idol back at Srirangam.

At the end of the reading, one is left with no doubt that the Hindu dharma has survived due to the strong and continuous patronage it has received from devout rulers of this great land. This, however, is no longer true in post-independence India where the rulers of the day take pride in calling themselves “secular” and trying to “stay away from anything to do with religion”.

Ordinary people – Extraordinary sacrifices

The third highlight of the book is the fascinating narration of the efforts put in by ordinary people to save their deities and their abodes. Followers of the sanatana dharma have always believed that the murthy of a deity, once consecrated, has the divine presence of the deity and that its exalted status does not diminish especially if the consecration was performed by a great sage or devata himself. This has reflected in the great lengths to which people went, during the past ten centuries, in trying to save precious murthys and preserve them for safer times. The book contains details of many such incidents from all over the country.

While narrating the history of the controversy over the Rama Janmabhumi site at Ayodhya, the author explains how the sacred spot has always been sought back by the devotees of Rama. Ever since Babur destroyed the mandir, the people of Ayodhya have been seeking it back. Meenakshi Jain quotes the report of Muhammad Ibrahim, Inspector of Waqf, 1948, on the never-say-die attitude of the Hindus.

“At the time of the Shube namaz, a lot of noise is created, and when the namazis leave, from the surrounding houses shoes and stones are hurled…the bairagees said the Masjid is Janmabhumi, and so give it to us…I spent the night in Ayodhya, and the bairagees are forcibly taking possession of the Masjid…”

When Aurangzeb issued a royal decree in 1669 C.E to destroy every temple in Mathura and Vrindavan, the pious devotees and priests of the temples there arranged a mass migration of the deities. In order to protect the murthy of Govindadeva from the onslaught of the Mughal rulers, the devotees moved the deity to eight different places over a period of 48 years! At eight different places, from Radhakund to Kaman to Govindhagada to finally Jaipur, temples were built and the deity worshipped. He found his permanent abode at Jaipur in 1727 C.E.

At Shatrunjay in Gujarat, the Jain devotees of Adinatha came up with a most unique, but painful, method to prevent the destruction of their revered temple and its deity.

“Henry Cousens observed miniature masonry idgahs in front of the tower of the Adinatha temple, as well as above the south corridor, and the adjoining temple. According to him, Jains claimed to have built the idgahs themselves to protect the temple from Muhammadans!”

Having learnt that it was contrary to Islam to destroy an idgah or mosque, they built the mosque in such a way that if the Adinatha temple was razed it would fall on the idgah!

Another fervent attempt to safeguard a deity is described in the chapter on Eastern India. The Jagannatha idol of Puri, Odisha, was protected by the temple priests on countless occasions between the 16th century and the middle of the 18th century, when the Marathas took control. The priests had to escape with the deities on several occasions. On other occasions, the images were buried in sand, at other times kept in mud houses and worshipped.

When Aurangzeb explicitly ordered the destruction of the Jagannath temple in 1692 C.E, the ruler and the priests came up with a unique plan

“…the then Raja of Khurda met the Subadar and agreed to arrange a pretended demolition under his supervision. Some minor structures were pulled down, a replica image of Jagannath sent to Aurangzeb, and the main temple gates closed. Some priests, however, entered the temple through a secret side door in the southern wall and continued the daily rituals”

This arrangement continued for 15 years, till 1707 C.E when Aurangzeb died.

In the southern state of Tamil Nadu, the devotees and priests took resort to the instructions in the Marici Samhita, a Vaikhanasa Vaishnavite text, that allowed for metal images to be buried in moments of calamity and restoring them for worship in propitious times.

“When there is fear from robbers, enemies, invasion by the opponent kings, or disturbances in the village, in order to protect the kautuka, snapana, utsava and balibera the metal images, and that of the goddesses should be hidden”

The great sacrifices of the Ullanat Panicker family of Kerala is narrated in the chapter on Guruvayur. In the aftermath of Tipu Sultan’s savage destruction of the temple and surroundings and declaration of Malabar as a part of Madras Presidency by the British (after Tipu’s death), the temple of Krishna fell into troubled times. Out of their own personal wealth, the Panickers took complete care of the temple for over seven decades!

“For seventy-five years, from 1825 to 1900 they served the temple free, and used the wealth of their vast estates to ensure it survived

The book is full of many more such wonderful tales of the heroic resistance of ordinary Hindus and their successes (and failures, sometimes).

Conclusion

Meenakshi Jain’s book is an absolute must-read, and a must-have for one’s personal collection. The chapters need slow reading, only because one needs to assimilate every bit of information it provides about the penance of our ancestors attempting to preserve our glorious heritage only so it could be passed on – to us!

Sticking to our roots, culture and heritage is only possible if our efforts are built on the foundation of knowledge, and consequent belief and pride in our tradition. A factual knowledge of our history, however bitter it may be, is therefore a pre-requisite. This is to be substantiated by stories of the efforts put in by our forefathers. Only then can the path laid down by them serve as a guide for us and our next generations. The present book is sure to serve as an invaluable instrument in our efforts.

Meenakshi Jain deserves our heartfelt thanks for creating such an honest work. It deserves to be read by every Hindu.

Title: Flight of Deities and Rebirth of Temples: Episodes from Indian History

Publisher: Aryan Books International (2019)

ISBN-10: 8173056196

ISBN-13: 978-8173056192

Disclosure: A short work of the reviewer has been referenced by the author in the book.

Devgiri Fort – A Microcosm Of Indian History

During one of our respected Prime Minister Narendra Modi Ji’s public contact program “Pariksha pe charcha” one mother shared her worries with the Prime Minister. The lady said that her son is hooked on to computer and internet games, which is adversely affecting his studies. And the Prime Minister’s response, which has since become viral on social media, was “ये PUBG वाला है क्या?”

This is the age of computer, internet and mobile games. Youngsters are hooked on to these games. In some of these arcade games are mazes (in which one gets lost) with trap doors, dark alleys, tunnels and secret passages. The player’s computer-avatar has to successfully cross this maze. There are difficulties and dangers at every step. One mistake and you are out! In computer games your avatar may get two life-lines, but the third time, “The game is over!” There is a lot of excitement about these games amongst youngsters. But in real-life you only get one chance. Only a brave person will take on such challenges.

Is there such a place in real world? Yes! There is one such place. Let me give you a hint. This place in central Maharashtra was once the capital of India.

It is the impregnable, invincible Devgiri fort situated 14 kms north-west of Aurangabad.

Situated on the top of the 200m high Devgiri hill, this hill-fort was built by cutting through the basalt mountain rock. This amazing, unique, impregnable and invincible fort was never won in a battle by a straight fight but always changed hands by deceit or treachery.

Devgiri Fort

A millennium ago, a major part of south India was under the rule of the Kalyani Chalukyas. By the end of the twelfth century their hold on power weakened and their feudatories and chieftains revolted and established their own independent kingdoms. One of these feudatory kings was Bhillam V of the Seuna Yadav dynasty. Bhillam established his kingdom in today’s central Maharashtra. In 1187, Bhillam made Devgiri his capital and due to this the Seuna Yadavs came to be known as the Devgiri Yadavs.
Since ancient time rishis, sages and saints had done their penance on this land. There are many Hindu, Buddhist and Jain temples near Devgiri, thereby giving the place it’s name. The world famous cave-temples of Ellora are located very near to the Devgiri fort.

Bhillam later ordered his engineers to build an invincible and impregnable fort. The engineers built such an amazing fort that the fourteenth century Moroccan traveler Ibn Batuta called it the strongest fort in the world of his time. This fort is one of the best examples of the magnificence of ancient Indian architecture, construction technology and also military genius.

Yadavs built thick and high fortification walls around the hill. At regular intervals on this wall and at every bend, bastions were constructed for the security of the fort. The doors of the fort were constructed at an angle to the walls so that the elephants don’t get a free straight run to smash them. On top of this sharp spokes (or nails) were fixed to these doors. Upon crossing the first door, another door door is found at a sharp angle to the first one. Beyond the second door are narrow lanes with twists and turns, where hidden groups of soldiers would wait to ambush the enemy. Amongst these are also doors and lanes which lead to dead-ends to trap the intruders.

Yadav kings had built many temples and palaces inside and surrounding the fort. Unfortunately all that remains now are their ruins.

Crossing the fortifications and climbing up a little bit leads to moat that is 60 feet wide and 80 feet deep. This moat was made by cutting the hard basalt rock of the Devgiri hill. There was only one way to cross this moat and that is a bridge situated about half-way the height of the moat. But when the enemy intruded into the fort, the moat was filled up with water, thereby submerging the bridge. Snakes and crocodiles were then released in this water so that no one dared to swim and cross the moat.

Moat at Devgiri

The yadavs had carved approximately 150 feet height of hill rock into a straight vertical face and had it polished so that no one could climb the mountain. This is why Ibn Batuta had written in his travelogue that let alone men, even snakes and ants could not climb this fort. Above this part the hill is chiseled at a slight slope to the vertical and polished to be smooth so that “not even a monitor lizard (गोह in Hindi) could climb up this hill”.

After one crosses the moat, the only way to reach the citadel or the inner fort is through the dark maze carved into the Devgiri hill. A new comer can spend his entire life trying to find his way out of this maze. Some paths are such that one wrong step by a person can land him into the moat below. Soldiers hidden in secret passages can ambush and slay the intruders. At some spots in this maze boiling oil used to welcome the intruders. There was an arrangement to fill certain parts of the maze with smoke to suffocate and kill the intruding enemy. On top of all these the path (i.e. the maze) to the citadel had iron gates which were closed to trap the intruding enemy soldiers.

All these arrangements had made this fort impregnable.

The Yadav era was a golden period in the history of Maharashtra. The Yadav kings encouraged art, literature and learning. Sages, saints, scholars and teachers were respected by them. The fame of Devgiri’s strength and prosperity had spread far and wide.

After hearing about Devgiri’s fortune Alauddin Khilji’s evil eyes were set on Devgiri fort. Hence, he laid siege to the Devgiri fort in the year 1294 AD. At that time Ramchandradev was occupying the throne at Devgiri. It was obvious to Khilji that he could never win over Devgiri in a straight fight. It is said that he had bribed and replaced the sacks of food grains being supplied to the granaries of the fort with sacks of salt. After a few days of siege, the Yadavs were facing a scarcity of food, forcing them to sign a peace treaty with Khilji on the twenty fifth day of the siege and give away a huge stash of treasure as ransom. The Yadavs also had to pay annual tributes to the Khiljis.

Ramchandradev was succeeded by his son Shankardev as the king of Devgiri. Shankardev stopped paying the yearly tributes to the Khiljis, in response to which Khilji’s general Malik Kafur attacked Devgiri. In the ensuing battle Shankardev got killed. Malik Kafur appointed Ramchandradev’s son-in-law Harpaldev as governor of Devgiri. However in 1317, Harpaldev revolted against the Khiljis. Malik Kafur again attacked Devgiri, killed Harpaldev and annexed Devgiri to the Delhi sultanate. This ended the Yadav era at Devgiri.

After a few years the Khilji rule ends in Delhi and they are succeeded by the Tughlaqs. Mohammed Bin Tughlaq understood the strategic significance of the Devgiri fort. Devgiri is situated approximately at the centre of India. Tughlaq realised that if Devgiri was his capital ruling the Deccan was much easier. He planned to use Devgiri as a base to expand his kingdom’s boundary far into South India and effectively defend his kingdom from incessant attacks from the north-western boundary of India. For these reasons in 1327, Tughlaq shifted his capital to Devgiri. He also built a city outside of the fort walls and built new double fortification walls separated by a distance of 60 feet between them, around his newly built city. He also dug a moat in between the double fortification. This fortification was called Mahakot. This further strengthened the Devgiri fort. Impressed by the prosperity of Devgiri he renamed it Daulatabad (city of fortunes). However, his plans to turn Devigiri into his capital were a failure and he returned to Delhi after 17 years.

When the Tughlaqs declined, their governor of the Deccan province Bahman Shah revolted and established his independent rule in Deccan. In this way Devgiri came under the control of the Bahmani sultans, who established their capital in Gulbarga. In 1435, to commemorate his victory over the Gujarat sultans, Alauddin Bahmani built a 210 feet high Chand Minar at Devgiri.

Chand Minar

By the end of the 15th century the Bahmani sultans hold on power weakened and their provincial governors rebelled and established their own independent kingdoms. One of these governors, the governor of Ahmednagar established the Ahmednagar Sultanate. In this way, Devgiri came under the control of the Nizams of Ahmednagar. Nizams of Ahmednagar had built a palace named Rang Mahal at Devgiri. This palace is now in ruins.

Rang Mahal

In 1605, Malik Ambar, the general of Ahmednagar, made Devgiri the capital of the Nizam-Shahis. To protect Devgiri from the attack of the Mughal army, Malik Ambar built one more outermost fortification wall called the Ambarkot. As a result the defences of the fort were further strengthened.

In 1633, Shah Jahan’s army laid a siege to Devgiri fort for 4 months and captured the fort. This ended the Nizam-Shahi rule in Ahmednagar. Shah Jahan had built a palace named Baradari in the inner fort at the top of the hill for his stay. You can get a bird’s eye view of the beautiful surroundings from the top of the Devgiri hill.

Baradari

Aurangzeb had stayed at Devgiri during his Deccan campaign to annex the Deccan sultanates and the Maratha kingdom. He had placed many big and small cannons in the Devgiri fort, many of which can still be seen today. Aurangzeb had built a palace here in which Chinese tiles were inlaid; hence this palace came to be known as Chini Mahal. The last Adil Shahi sultan of Bijapur, Sikander and the last Qutb-Shahi sultan of Golconda Abdul Hasan Tana Shah were imprisoned in this palace. Aurangzeb had also imprisoned Chhatrapati Sambhaji’s queen Yeshubai and his son Shahu Maharaj in the same Chini Mahal.

Chini Mahal

After the death of Aurangzeb, the Mughals weakened and the era of Maratha dominance began in India. The Mughal governor of Deccan, Asaf Jah revolted in 1724 and established his independent rule in Hyderabad. In 1760, the Maratha general Sadashivrao Bhau (nephew of Peshwa Bajirao), defeated the Nizam of Hyderabad and seized control of Devgiri. But later, in 1769, due to internal conflict between Maratha sardars, the Nizam of Hyderabad again got control of Devgiri, which was later recaptured by the Marathas after the battle of Kharda in 1795.

In 1948, after Independence Sardar Patel conducted operation Polo and freed Hyderabad from the Nizam and at last Devgiri was returned to its real inheritors, the people of Bharat. Thus, Devgiri remained invincible for eight centuries and it changed hands only through deceit and treachery. All in all, Devgiri fort enlivens the history of not only Maharashtra but also that of India.

A microcosm of Indian history