Unlocking the secret of Om Mani Padme Hum


As one traverses across the scenic lands of Sikkim — a beautiful land nestled in the foothills of Himalayas — there’s a definitive hum that envelopes self. Emanating from the numerous monasteries that are perched on different top of hills, it is aided by the scores and scores of colorful flags that gracefully flutter in the winds that glide along. If that was not enough, there are the cylindrical drum-wheels that in the clockwise rotation, add to this subdued hum. These wheels could be as small as a little-finger, and could be as bigger as any human around. Frankly, the hum is actually a hymn, a six-syllable Sanskrit one that pervades the whole land, cleansing and purifying the minds and possibly the souls of the populace.

“Om Mani Padme Hum”(ॐ मणिपद्मे हूं) is how the hymn goes, generating a relentless flow of energy that inter-mixes in the air. There is no escaping this vibrant energy, actually there is no need to so. It is like a force of magnetism that exists but can scarcely be defined.

The hymn is an integral part of Mahayana Buddhism, and is
especially found in the places where this branch of Buddhism exists and flourishes, namely Tibet, northern parts of India, Sikkim, Bhutan and so on.

According to Wikipedia, the first known description of the mantra (Om Mani Padme Hum) appears in the Karandavyuha Sutra. Accordingly, inside the sutra Sakyamuni Buddha (Or the Siddhartha Gautama-Buddha) said, “This is the most beneficial mantra; even I made this aspiration to all the million Buddhas and subsequently received this teaching from the Buddha Amitabha.” This text is dated to around the late 4th-5th Century CE. Continue reading Unlocking the secret of Om Mani Padme Hum

Fighting for Lady Sita, Whom we know Not

Ask any Indian do they know “About” the Ramayana, and invariably they will shrug the shoulders at the sheer stupidity of the question. “Of course, I know of the Ramayana,” would be the most likely response. Query further if they actually “Know” the Ramayana, and their response will still be in the affirmative. Proceed on, and ask them if they have actually “Read” the Ramayana? There will be a long pause and in all likelihood the answer will be in the negative.

Strangely, we live in a weird time, where almost every Indian is Sita 2pretty sure that he or she knows the Ramayana (in all its intricacies) and yet has not read it in person. And when I mean reading the Ramayana here, am talking about an unabridged version of it, say like Valmiki’s Ramyana, or Tulisdas’ Ramcharita Manas, Kamban’s Kambaramayanam, the Bengali Krittivasi Ramayana, or even the Jain Paumachariyam. There are many versions of the Ramayana that are readily available in many languages. In fact, the late AK Ramanujan in his erudite (and unnecessarily disputed) essay, 300 Ramayanas had spoken about how the narrative of Ramayana had percolated in various cultures and regions, transcending the boundaries of race or religion. Little wonder, there are a plenitude of Ramayanas for any person to choose from.

Yet, even with so many versions, so many forms of Ramayana, there are not many I know, who have read a single, let alone a few of these Ramayanas.

BTW, before you go eh–wait a minute, let me clarify, reading popular fiction by Ashok Banker, Devdutt Pattanaik, or even Anand Neelkanthan does not classify as reading the Ramayana. Neither does reading the Amar Chitra Katha Series.  All these are derivatives and interpretation, at times very shoddy and unscholarly, of the Ramayana. And they don’t really count for much.

sita7The essential trouble is, thanks to the popular Ramayana series, where you had the ever smiling Arun Govil as the Ramji and beatific Deepika as Sita maiyya (which almost all people of my age and time saw rather religiously every Sunday without fail) has given us a familiarity to the epic without us ever striving for. Add to it the fact that tales from the Ramayana are staple in any Hindu home, as say dal-chawal, only deepens the connect to the epic. We feel that we know the Ramayana like a back of our hand, without ever really knowing it.

I personally came across this weird dichotomy when I attended a lecture by Dr. Arshia Sattar when she was lecturing in Mumbai. It was there, that I suddenly realised that in spite of knowing Ramayana (at least believing to be so) quite well (and there being a copy of the same in the bookshelf), I had not got down to actually reading it. Of course, am aware of the characters, the narrative and even the intentions of all those, even so, I had not taken a serious effort to read the Ramayana in its entirety. Have started the process now, as I realised my inherent ignorance. So When Dr. Sattar decided to present to us a new facet of Sita as penned by Valmiki, it came as a rather pleasant surprise.

Sita, as we know her, is a genteel goddess of goodness, often presented as an avatar of Mahalaxmi. She is a docile and dedicated wife, who sticks by the husband no matter what is thrown at her. She is the epitome of Indian values, of domesticity. Yet, even so, she is sita14not really the counter-weight to the Maryada Purshottama, she is not the Maryada Streeuttama. That is because that are a few chinks in her personality, which results in her suffering. There are many things that she does are actually meant to be a strict no-no for the rest of the ladies to do.

On the brighter side though, Sita goes through a whole ton of miseries that actually not of her making, yet she winces not, complains not, takes no offence. She is like that perfect wife that a man can wish for; loyal, faithful, obedient and yet so gorgeous that she could move a man down the path of ruin in his desires for her. She is always standing right behind her man — remember behind, not in line, a step behind.

In many ways, Sita was a creation of a masochistic and misogynist society that wanted to create a template for all the ladies to follow. Her character was crafted to send out a message, of monogamous-devoted-love towards the husband at whatever cost. This was the Sita that has been presented in front of us, and not surprisingly this is a Sita we all know; a frail woman who was a victim of her fate and could not ever stand up against the injustices perpetrated against her, especially by her beloved husband.

sita11Yet, the original Sita, as penned by Valmiki, was anything but a weakling or a frail lady. She had a mind of her own, and stood her ground when needs be. While the narrative of the Valmiki’s tale is more or less the same. The essential difference is that Sita is here not merely a caricature or a shadow as we know her to be from the later renditions, but rather an impressive lead who influences the course of the events.

Sadly, this Sita, is not known too well known beyond the literary circles. And possibly, not many would like to have it so. Let me pick a few instances from Valmiki’s Ramayana to introduce you to the Sita as she apparently was, or rather, meant to be:

Outspoken and Equal

While Sita is indeed married to Rama, and that gives her a sort of lower stature in the Indian society, but that does not mean that she considers herself to be inferior. When Rama decides to proceed to the vanwasa, he decides to do so alone. He proceeds on to inform Sita of the decision, and almost orders her to stay back. His mind is made, and his manner is curt, “You stay back here and do your duties as my wife, while am away.” Sita outrightly refuses Rama’s proposal, and says that she is coming along come what may.

Rama yields not, and tries different tracks, even going to the extent of trying to scare her, by stating that the forest is a dangerous place full of wild animals and unknown beasts, not a place for a lady like sita12her. Undaunted, Sita taunts Rama, “I always thought you were a woman in a man’s body, you can’t even take care of your wife. What sort of man are you?” Sita’s arrows find their mark and Rama has no option but to take her along to his banishment into the jungle.

A Wise Counsel

One day when Sita and Rama are in the Dandaka vana discussing things several things. In a candid moment Sita expresses to Rama her fear of his violent nature . She tells him that he is a perfect man in many ways, but yet because of his “kshatriya” or martial roots, he has a natural affinity towards violence be towards beasts or rakshasas or anyone else. According to Sita, there are three essential flaws that typical men suffer from, namely, “telling lies, coveting another man’s wife, and violation of dharma”. Since Rama has not these flaws, he is rather perfect except for his tempestuousness. Continue reading Fighting for Lady Sita, Whom we know Not

‘Mythology sets our moral positions, history just records events’

Among the many Television series that were aired on Doordarshan in the 1980s, Bharat Ek Khoj holds a special place. The series not only introduced Indians to their historic past but also its sheer cultural spread, across race, language, and ethnicities. Based on Jawaharlal Nehru’s book Discovery of India; Bharat Ek Khoj was an iconic series that enthralled Indians for over a period of one year,  during  which it captured the shift of time from the Indus Valley Civilisation to Mahatma Gandhi’s freedom struggle.

The credit for Bharat Ek Khoj achieving such success largely lies with the extraordinary team of actors and technicians that was led by the celebrated director Shyam Benegal. Benegal at the time was a much celebrated name, especially in the art-film circuit (a term that he abhors). Renowned for his taut scripts and realistic story-telling, Benegal’s films were often like a mirror held up to the society, be it Nishant, ManthaSbenegal1n, Mandi or Kalyug. Little wonder, when Benegal decided to bring Nehru’s book to life, there was much expectation and hope that was associated with the series.

And he did not disappoint either. Debuting in 1988, Bharat Ek Khoj went on to become one of the most popular series on Doordarshan, in spite of facing stiff competition from the likes of Ramayana and Mahabharata aired around the same time. Over the 28 odd years later, the series is still referenced in many schools and colleges for its historical content, translated in different languages and so on.  In fact, Bharat Ek Khoj has even gone digital, as the episodes are a big draw on YouTube.  

What is the reason for the longevity of the serial? What makes Bharat Ek Khoj so special? What was the ethos behind its creation? These are part of the many queries posed by Shashwat DC when he met up with the director Shyam Benegal, discussing history, mythology and how the two come together or clash with each other

So, without much ado, here is Shyam Benegal journeying down the corridors of time, helping us discover the what’s and whys of Bharat Ek Khoj. Read on in the exclusive interaction:

What is mythology to you? And how did you integrate it in Bharat Ek Khoj, which was essentially a historical series?

In Bharat EK Khoj, we were looking at Indian history from essentially two point-of-view, one in terms of historical tonality of events and people, namely, what happened with politics of the time. We were very interested in the connection between history and our mythology, especially how we mythologize, and the motivation for it. Let me illustrate the connection with an example of Prithviraj Chauhan. Much of the aura around Prithviraj emanates from the Raso. But the epic poem Prithviraj Raso is actually a mythological rendition, it isn’t history. It is a great work of literature; it is also a great work of imagination. Historically speaking the real life Prithviraj Chauhan was a relatively minor king; his kingdom was around what is present day Delhi. The tragedy was that he lost the battle (second battle of Tarrain with Muhammad Ghori). Yet, to accept that the great hero actually lost is very difficult for people to accept. So you have a whole new persona of Prithviraj Chauhan emerges in the Raso; of a heroic and brave warrior. This is something that quite normal in our tradition. We tend to glorify our heroes and events often contrary to what happened in history.  (This is what mythology is all about.)

But then such deification is important in every society as one has to create heroes, even if there aren’t any in real life. We all need heroes to believe, and to be reassured, to take pride in…. There is a constant intermingling of history and mythology in every society and I am personally very interested in this connection between mythology and history.

But then Prithviraj Chauhan is a historical figure, what do you say about a religious one like Ram?

Mythology is important there too. If you look at Ram in real terms, his rejection of his wife is really terrible and sad. But then we mythologize, in order to draw and define a concept of morality. You delve deeper and you will find in the book, a story of archetypal sacrifice, story of a person willing to give up his personal happiness for the happiness of his people and so on.   . This is what mythology Bharat_ek_khoj_DVD_coverdoes for us. Mythology actually sets out our moral positions and standards. History is very different; it is the record of events. Thus, there is an essential difference between the ways you deal with history as against mythology. The connection between the two is very interesting.  This is why I made Bharat Ek Khoj in the first place.

How do you feel about the interplay of mythology and history, from complete ambivalence in the past to complete obsession with it now?

While it is our undeniable fact that mythology is something that we need as a society, all societies need them, but it should never be mistaken for history. Neither should mythology be manipulated to seem like history. Because if you look at the present-day scenario, we have certain vested interests that want us to believe that our mythology is actually our history. It is an approach designed to cater to certain sections of our society. This might be a way to create and strengthen our self-esteem. But then if you   are seeking a realistic view of history, you have to separate it from mythology.

But then mythology is also an emotional subject for us Indians, how can we deal with it?

It is certainly not easy to differentiate. You see, your faith and your belief are the motors that drive you. How can you not be emotional about it? But what is necessary is to place it in perspective. You or I may have a certain kind of faith or belief. I have to place that in perspective to the society I live in, because I have to live with other people, and I should not use my faith or beliefs to manipulate or dominate other people and their views.  That’s a lesson you learn from both history and mythology.

Talking of Bharat Ek Khoj, it was aired on Doordarshan in 1988-89, which was a very turbulent time for the nation, there were issues in the north, north-east, Punjab in turmoil and so on. In this context, how would you place Bharat Ek Khoj that essentially celebrated the diversity of the nation?

The journey to nationhood – succeeds when we celebrate the idea of unity irrespective of diversity — this is a long and difficult journeySbenegal5 one to make.  When you look at India, the sheer amount of diversity is mind-boggling, right from ethnicities, languages, religions and even nature which ranges from the glacial mountains and the temperate plains of the north to the lush landscapes of the tropical south. In a geographical space such as this, to be able see yourself as a nation, takes some doing. The spirit of nationhood often emerges in times of stress, like we saw during the 1965 and 1971 wars. Subsequent to these events, there were number of issues that arose across India, creating disharmony; demands based on ethnicity and language in many states.

With Bharat Ek Khoj, we were attempting to define a pan-India identity, a celebration of   Indianess, so to speak as   Fortunately, just prior to that series I had worked with Doordarshan on another series, called Yatra, in which we took the audience on two of the longest journeys you can take by train in India from Pathankot to Kanyakumari and from Jaisalmer to Dum Duma close to the border of Myanmar.  After this geographical exploration, the next step was to look at India through history – Bharat Ek Khoj was to try.  This enabled us to look at the cultural, ethnic, linguistic contours and the many cultures, we have nurtured in our country…

So, in that perspective, what made you choose Discovery of India?  It is not recognised as a great historical work?

It is not. But, among all the politicians of his time, Jawaharlal Nehru had an extraordinary awareness and understanding of history, not only Indian but also world history. In all, he wrote three books on history, the first two were not really books; they were collections of his letters written to his daughter during her growing years.  They came out of a concern for her education and upbringing as he was incarcerated and her mother was sick. He first started writing to her when she was about 8-9 years of age, later published with the title. Letters from a Father to his daughter.

Subsequently, as she was growing up, he started to write her letters on world history, which was then compiled into the book Glimpses of World History, which he edited later. On the eve of Independence, which was also his last stint in Ahmednagar Jail, he articulated his vision of India, which was the subject of his book, Sbenegal2Discovery of India. It encapsulates Nehru’s understanding of Indian history, the direction it took and the history of the movement for India’s freedom especially from the time Gandhi took the leadership of the freedom movement…  He had friends among some very eminent historians in Oxford and he had his writings vetted by them as he could not check his references in the jail he was lodged.  The great thing was that he never saw himself as a scholar, but rather a politician and a freedom fighter.

Bharat Ek Khoj was based on Jawaharlal Nehru’s book Discovery of India. Now, Nehru penned the book with the objective to essentially to crystallise his own views of India, its past, present and future. He was not recording history as a historian probably would. His quest was to delve into the past with objective of finding the essential characteristics that makes us and to discover India; the country, the nation.  It is a book that celebrated the extraordinary diversity of India.  This is the reason I chose the book for my television series.

Did it follow the book closely?

No.  We took the liberty of taking a binary look at Indian History.  One was from the point of view of contemporary, historical scholars and the other from the point of view of Nehru himself.  We used the book as a springboard to discover our own country and nation. There are two voices; one voice is that of Om Puri, which is the voice of the historian. The other is that of Roshan Seth who plays Jawaharlal Nehru.  Occasionally there are often subtle differences of opinion between the two. There are times when Nehru says something on screen, and then Om Puri comes in with a view that is somewhat a different from what is spoken by Nehru.

We laid a great deal of emphasis on the historical aspect. I had altogether 15 historians as consultants for the different periods of history.  These are all extremely well known scholars in their domain. In addition, I had close to 30-35 researchers.  I was verySbenegal4 clear, that if I am going to do something like this, it should go beyond
contemporary controversies. Because the subject we were dealing with can be interpreted in many different ways.  And the closer we come to our own historical time, the worse it becomes. To give you an instance, one of the things that I was worried about was the depiction of Shivaji in Bharat Ek Khoj. You see, there are a couple of regional political parties who see Shivaji in a particular way and will not accept any other interpretation. The question was whether they would object to my representation. However, I was pleased no controversies took place on account of the historical representation… It was accepted across the spectrum and the reason for that is because we incorporated all the different views; some through the visuals, while others through the sound track.

How difficult was it for you to deal with controversial figures like Aurangzeb, whom your series showed as a jealous son who felt a great sense of deprivation?

Not really, don’t forget that before the British colonised the whole country, Aurangzeb’s India was the largest single geographical size it had ever been. It was bigger even than Ashoka’s India almost two thousand years before him. In his time, a large part of modern day Afghanistan was also a part of India his Indian Kingdom.

How did you personally chance upon Discovery of India?

When I was around 8-9 years old, I received ‘Letters from a Father to his Daughter’ as a birthday present. I was much impressed with it. And then, around my 14th birthday, I was presented ‘Glimpses of World History’. The book help develop an great deal of interest in world history and shaped my world view.  I read Discovery of India sometime after that.  So, I was familiar with Nehru’s writings right from my childhood. But let me share with you an interesting anecdote. Back in 1988, there were three TV series that Doordarshan had commissioned and had invited three film makers
Sbenegal6to create those programmes…  I was one of them. Ramanand Sagar chose Ramayana; the second was BR Chopra who chose to do Mahabharata.  I was personally very keen to do Mahabharata, but since Mr. Chopra had already taken it.   I was left with the book Discovery of India.  I was a bit apprehensive at the time because it was not a single narrative like Ramayana or Mahabharata and therefore presented a considerable number of challenges.

Bharat Ek Khoj was aired in 1988-89, Ramayana was aired in 1987, and Mahabharata was in 1988, so how was the interplay between complete mythological (and hugely popular) serials at that time and your series? Especially since, you even had episodes covering Ramayana and Mahabharata within Bharat Ek Khoj?

We were running parallel almost. Though to be fair, Chopra’s Mahabharata was a very secularised (for a want of better word) version of Mahabharata, which Ramanand Sagar’s wasn’t. Sagar’s Ramayana had things drawn from multiple sources, an amalgamation of several works including both the Valmiki and Tulsidas versions too.

What we were trying to do in Bharat Ek Khoj was to place these epics in a historical context – taking inspiration from the work of the great historian/anthropologist/intellectual DD Kosambi. 

The title track of Bharat Ek Khoj was based on the Nasadiya Sukta. How and why did you choose it?

According to me, Rig Veda is one of the most extraordinary creations of the human mind. In Nasadiya Sukta you have an extraordinary exploration of universe and of life itself.  God created the universe and life in it – does anyone know who created God and whence he came?

It is the spirit of enquiry that makes it unique.  It seemed appropriate for the TV series.

You had also assembled a very extraordinary team for Bharat Ek Khoj, right from technicians like cinematographer VK Murthy, Music Director Vanraj Bhatia, to actors like Om Puri, Naseeruddin Shah and other illustrious actors.

This was very important and played a very critical part in the success of the series. As I said, we were all passionate and committed to creating something that would be both unique and perennial. We were shooting every day for all of 18 months – we didn’t miss a single day. We were like driven people. In the mornings, I would leave my house at 7 am and return at 11 pm, at night, each day.  Being able to create the series was a reward in itself. I look back at Bharat Ek Khoj with a great deal of satisfaction.

Speaking of the team, you also had on-board one of the most renowned Sanskrit and Indian mythology scholar, Dr. Sadashiv Dange who was also the founder of the mythological course at the Mumbai University. How was your experience with him?

Professor Sadashiv Dange’s scholarship was really formidable. His 12079143_875246262553330_1919820204655494890_nknowledge was vast and his Sanskrit learning was immense. My team of writers, particularly Shama Zaidi along with Atul Tiwari consulted him frequently   particularly for the episodes on Ramayana and Mahabharata and also for the period of history what
we now call the golden age of Indian history from the Mauryas to the Gupta period. He also selected those exceptional Sanskrit hymns of the period for all the episodes of those epochs.  He was a very shy and reticent human being and wore his enormous scholarship very lightly.  It was wonderful to work with him. It is not very easy to find a person like him anymore.

Can you recall some high points from the series, some scene or episode that you still recall?

The long speech that Krishna delivers and the speech of Duryodhan who questions the legality of the Pandavas to rule, were by far the most compelling sequences – Krishna being played brilliantly by Salim Ghouse and Duryodhan played with finesse by Om Puri.

Finally, serials from those days are being done and redone again, like say Ramayana and Mahabharata; do you really think Bharat Ek Khoj can be remade, especially considering that it was one of the costliest serials of its time?

But then, Bharat Ek Khoj wasn’t really the costliest serial, made at the time.  The most expensive was Mahabharata. What is of significance is what we achieved in within the budget we had. Attempting to do something that we did in those days will probably cost at least ten times more today. Both actors and production costs Sbenegal3have become far more expensive now.    At the time we were making it, there was a great deal of dedication and passion in all of us:  we did not really look at it from a commercial angle, something that will make us money. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity to do something like that.  I remember, when I finished the series someone asked me; how long do you think that the series would last. I had said that it would certainly last through my lifetime without anyone else wanting to do it again.


Top 10 Indian Mythological Movies

Mythology & Movies in India are linked through an intricate umbilical cord, from start to today.  Here’s looking at the top Bollywood mythological films — Check the slideshow:




When Gods get crazily angry

In one of a brilliant harangue, British comedian Stephen Fry deplored the very notion of there being a god, or if at all him (for the sake of this piece we will deal with god as a masculine entity, as he is so often presumed) having any real sense or intelligence at all. On being asked, as to what he would say to the god in case he ever met, Fry’s response was brilliant, “Bone cancer and children! How dare you create a world in which there is such misery that is not our fault? It’s not right. It’s utterly, utterly evil. Why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid God who creates a world which is so full of injustice and pain?”

Come to think of it, indeed on assessing the misery that surrounds us all the time, it does make it a little tough to believe that all this is part of an ‘intelligent design‘. And as Fry points out that indeed if there is a god, would he not be a heartless brute? What sort of face he would have to do things like such?

It was this wily face of god that was invoked by many in the aftermath of the recent heart-breaking gods1disaster in Nepal. As the crisis ballooned and reports streamed in of the horror of destruction, some ingenious souls were quick to blame the tragedy in Nepal on the ‘paganism’ pervasive there. According to a few of these gents, the Christian or the Jewish god up there was not too happy about the idolatry religious practices of the Nepalese (read Hindu). And so, decided to punish them with earthquake that caused mayhem all across. But don’t be sad, there is still a silver lining, as the Nepalese people can still had assuage the supreme being by walking down the road to perdition and seeking refuge from the very same god that had so brutally hammered them. Apparently, by a sprinkle of water on the head and repetition of his name, the same god that was so jealous, full of vengeance, and ready to hit with all spite, would turn into a benign shepherd, simply on being addressed as master.

That gets us to the central theme; of what is a god and can he be capable of human emotions like jealously, anger and murderous rage. Why does the Christian or the Jewish god (and even the Muslim Allah) lapse into such an inexplicable act, just because the people are not adhering to his words? What sort of fatherly god would kill and maim little children, just because they weren’t visiting his office or repeating his name? If there is indeed such a god, is he really fit enough to be called one?

god4Yet, in all fairness, the notion of a god who is murderous and not so benign is pretty common recurring theme since ancient times. Remember the Noah Ark? The floods to engulf all and destroy all were caused by none other than our dear Mr. God. The Biblical god, who created the world tirelessly in 6 days, was driven to destroy it because of the sin that abound. Though, even while killing all, he somehow wanted a sort of continuity thus made Noah build on a blueprint he supplied, and made him carry a gene pool of all animals and birds. Continue reading When Gods get crazily angry

What the Myths say about the Earthquake

Myths and legends were often result of mankind’s attempt to explain natural phenomenon. For instance, the ancient man knowing not that the yellow ball shining above was a hydrogen-star, used allegories of gods and kinds to explain what the sun was and where it went. Similarly, all such things that boggled the mind, and could not be answered or explained by the means of stories and tales.

Earthquakes were one such occurrence, devastating and destructive, the ancients explained it through a variety of tales, using animals and other worldly creature as motifs. Here’s how they tried to explain the shift in the tectonic plates:

Greek Mythology:

According to the Greeks, Poseidon is the cause and god of earthquakes. Whenever he is in a bad mood, 625px-Poseidon_Penteskouphia_Louvre_CA452he would strike the ground with a trident, causing earthquakes. Apparently, he also used earthquakes to punish and inflict fear upon people as revenge. His unpredictable, violent behaviour earned him the nickname “Earth-Shaker”. Similarly, the Romans ascribed earthquakes to the restlessness of the giants whom Jupiter buried under high mountains.

Considering his unpredictable nature, he does not find place in Mt. Olympus and Zeus rather has him in the oceans.

Egyptian Mythology:

In ancient Egypt Gebb (the rare earth god that is a male) is the god earth and supplied the minerals and precious stones found in the earth as a god of mines and caves. Whenever he was happy and ecstatic, and laughed, it caused earthquakes.

Buddhist Mythology:

The Buddhist believe that the earthquake is an indicator of a great passing or demise of someone great. Not only that great events are accompanied by earthquakes as well. Immediately after Buddha attained Nirvana (at Kushinagara in 483 BC), the earth trembled, stars fell down and celestial music was heard. Three months prior to this final act, the traditional texts state that when Buddha was camping in a grove to the north of the village Upabhoga, there was an earthquake. Buddha himself is said to have interpreted the earthquake as the sign that he would soon pass away into Nirvana.

Considering the increased frequency of quakes now, wonder if the idea that earthquakes are harbinger of something important is valid or not.

Indian Mythology:

The_hindoo_earthSomehow, Indians love many or anything single. For everything there have ‘many’ options, like many gods, many foods and similarly many explanations for earthquakes. According to one tale, there are eight elephants (Mahapadma) that support the earth on their back. They are balanced on the back of turtle which stands on the coils of a cobra. Whenever the elephants are tired and shake its head, or any of these creatures shift, an earthquake is caused.

The Rig Veda has another interesting explanation, in the olden ancient times, mountains could fly and move. And to top it all they were frequently falling on the earth causing earthquakes continuously. On the request of Prajapati, Indra cut the wings of the mountains with his Vajra. But yet, a few hid and were saved (like Meru), and they are still causing earthquakes apparently.

The amazing thing about the Indian mythology is the great balance of the animals that manage the earth. No wonder it is so unstable, and no wonder there are so many earthquakes.

Japanese Mythology:

earthquake1It is the fish (rather the catfish) in Japanese Mythology that are responsible for the quakes. According to legends, the island of Japan rests on the back of a giant catfish Namazu, the god Kashima guards Namazu and restrains it with a stone. But whenever there is a lapse on the part of Kashima, Namazu thrashes its tail sending out violent earthquakes.

Could that be a reason why catfish sushi is not such a popular delicacy in Japan?

Chinese Mythology:

According to the Chinese, the earth rests on the back of a giant frog that quakes periodically, producing earthquakes.

South American Mythology:

According to the ancient Mayans, the world was actually shaped like a square and held at each of the four corners by the Vashakmen (gods) who maintained watch over the number of people in the world. When the world became overcrowded and overpopulated, one of the four Vashakmen would merely tip the square and the excess people would fall off planet. This act of tipping is actually the earthquake.

In Chile, earthquakes were attributed to two snakes. One snake dug holes in the earth to store water in, but the other snake filled them in with stones. This caused the reptiles to fight, which caused the earthquakes.

For one, I really liked the population and earthquake correlation, the metaphor was truly ahead of its time.

Norse Mythology:

Loki,_by_Mårten_Eskil_Winge_1890The trickster god Loki was punished for killing Baldur by being tied to a rock. Where Overhead, Skaði placed a venomous snake which dropped poison onto Loki’s head. Sigyn, Loki’s wife, sat with him holding a basin beneath the dripping venom, yet when the basin became full, she carried the poison away; and during this time the poison dripped on to Loki, causing him to writhe with such violence that all of the earth shook from the force, resulting in earthquakes.

In another version, at the root of the World Tree, Yggdrasil, is the serpent Nidhog gnawing at its roots which makes its stability uncertain.

Ultimately, Loki got free and went on to fight the Great War Ragnarok, but somehow the earthquakes have not yet stopped. Guess will have to ask Odin why, if and when I meet him next.

Maori & Polynesian Mythology:

In the Maori myth, when the kids manage to separate Rangi (sky) & Papa (earth), Rangi cried, and his tears flooded the land. To stop this, the sons decided to turn Papa face down, so Rangi and Papa could

rangipapano longer see each other’s sorrow. Rūaumoko (the god of earthquakes) was at his mother’s breast when this happened, so he was carried into the world below. He was given fire for warmth by Tama-kaka, and his movements below the earth cause earthquakes and volcanoes. In some versions, he is still in the womb of his mother Papa, and the kicks in the tummy cause the earthquake.

Meanwhile according to the Polynesian myth Ngendei is the creator, and head of all the original gods of Fiji and the supporter of the world. He is described as half snake and half rock. Every time he moves there is an earthquake.

Interesting other myths:

In East Africa a cow stood compliant on a stone, all on back of a giant fish. The earth balanced on one horn, caused her neck to ache. A bovine toss to the other horn caused the earth to quake.

People of Kamchatka (Siberia-Russia) believe that a god named Tuli drives an earth-laden sled pulled by dogs. The earth is located within the sled. BTW, the dogs are infested with fleas, and when the dogs stop to scratch, it caused an earthquake.

Meanwhile, the Kukis of Assam have an interesting legend. According to them, there is a race of people who lives inside the earth. They sometimes shake the earth to find out if anyone still lives on the surface. Thus whenever the Kukis felt a quake, they shout “Alive! Alive!” to assure the people within the earth that someone was still there.

Shashwat DC


How mythology is not a science, and why it should not be treated as one!

“Who really knows?
Who will here proclaim it?
Whence was it produced? Whence is this creation?
The gods came afterwards, with the creation of this universe.
Who then knows whence it has arisen?”

 Rig Veda, 10:129-6

 Somewhere embedded deep inside the Rig Veda — which happens to be one of the important canonical texts of Hindu religion, the four Vedas — is Nasadiya Sukta, or what is known as the hymn of creation. Of unknown authorship, this hymn poses some very cryptic and incisive queries on the purpose of life and the very existence of an all-bearing god. There is an element of agnosticism, of query, of doubt. It starts in a rhetorical fashion, posing incisive queries questioning the singularity itself. And while numerous interpretations of the Sukta have highlighted the scientific temper and the inquisitive Indian mythology1temperament of the early sages who penned this and the very many hymns found elsewhere, the fact remains that Nasadiya Sukta is also a very humane and emotional query. For instance, when asked to believe in something, don’t we always begin with scepticism and doubt, it is only later when through understanding and acceptance that we move to the next level. Until then, we are atheists, sceptics, agnostics and so on.

In that way Nasadiya Sukta is most special, it accepts doubt and empiricism as part of the man’s spiritual and scientific journey. It encourages questioning the very fundamentals, even the existence of a supreme being or many is not taken for granted. It is in this sense, Hinduism differed from all else, you did not have to believe anything that your rational mind did not. Faith was not a mandatory imposition; that is, not believing in the trinity — Brahma, Vishnu, Mahesh — did not make you any lesser of a Hindu, than say a temple priest who spent a lifetime propriating the very triad. And so the ancient Vedic Hindu was a questioning, open-minded, person, not a self-deluded proud oaf who saw Meru as the centre of the universe, denying everything else.

Much has changed in the journey from a Vedic Hindu performing a homa on a vedi in the ancient time, to the modern Hindu blogging and posting on the Vedas on FB and Twitter today. The progress of technology and evolution has left its mark on the religion itself. New gods have emerged, old have been dislodged, there have been numerous reformist movements from Arya Samaj to Theosophical Society, from Iskcon to Art of Living. Hinduism probably is the only religion in the world, where new deities keep emerging at different time, and all the time. Take the case of Sai Baba, there are numerous temples dedicated to him and many more are sprouting all the time. In fact, Shirdi which was the seat of Sai Baba has become a huge pilgrimage centre, with annual donations running in many millions. Faith is always good business in any religion.

Sadly, the Vedas to a large extent have now been relegated to the domain of the experts and the scholars, with newer texts taking their place. The Hindu theology can be broadly classified into three buckets:

  • Vedas & Brahmanas
  • Upanishads 
  • Puranas & the Epics

The four Vedas – Rig, Yajur, Attharva, Sama — primarily are a collation of hymns, rituals and prayers, propitiating the various Vedic deities (32 approximately), like Indra, Agni, Varun, Maruts, Prajapati. There’s much lesser storytelling in them, and whatever are there, the purpose is to present a reasoning for a certain ritual or sacrifice. For instance the tale of Apala in the Rig Veda provides a clue as to why certain rituals like the turmeric

Indian mythology3ceremony is performed during the nuptials. Thus, the tales are a sort of story to explain the science. There is a purpose, a well-thought objective. The sheer depth and complexity of the Vedas are tempered by such tales. Also, it is important to note that there is a lot more cultural and scientific material in the Vedas, through careful examination and interpretation, one can understand the nature of being, and the natural world that surrounds it. Indeed, there is theology and philosophy, but only to a limited extent. For instance, we get to know about how the world was created through Purusha Sukta and to an extent the Nasadiya Sukta. Matters like philosophy of religion is dealt with much greater emphasis in the subsequent works like the Upanishads.

So, broadly speaking Vedas are the scientific texts, Upanishads are the philosophical treatise, and by the time we reach the Puranas, all we are left with tales and myths. The Puranas are much later compositions and were written for a specific purpose to promote and endorse one deity over all else, thus in the Shiv Purana, you are told that Lord Shiva is ‘dev adi dev, mahadev’ (the super-duper god), the Vaishnav Purana would tell you about the Maha Vishnu, who creates a million universes with each breath lorded over by a smaller Vishnu in his own image. The Devi Purana, similarly pronounces the supreme-ness of the female deity. All this is done through prose stories, and almost every time the story of creation is reinvented with a new twist.

Meanwhile, the epics Mahabharata and Ramayana penned by Vyas and Valmiki respectively are Maha-Kavyas, great poems and work of fiction, like say Iliad and Odyssey. These are fantastical tales possibly of fantastical people and times, but then in lack of larger proof in terms of historical finding or artefact, they cannot really be considered as real.

Yet, since the epics are much a part of the religious ethos, the Hindus treat them Hindu mythology 2with much deference and respect. Considering that the two major Vishnu Avatars are at the core of each of this epic, raises the religious value of these works beyond comprehension. Little wonder, when the same epics were adopted on television the actors playing Rama and Krishna were treated like gods, and there are stories of how people would offer flowers and fruits to the TV when the episodes aired. In that particular timeslot the television set would turn into a temple of sorts. That is the power of belief.

Little wonder, the amazing tales told in the epics, or even the Puranas, are not fiction for many. There are numerous who believe them to be real, and so many scholars and researchers spend their lifetime looking for clues, meanings and physical markings of all the things and places etched out in them. This is a sort of retrofitting research, wherein you try and find the physical manifestation of a fictional object or thing. People give real world dates, 4000 BCE, 8000 BCE, 80000 BCE and so on. Ramayana came first, Mahabharata second, and so on.

Ravana_seizes_the_chariot_Puspaka_from_KuveraAnd this is essentially where the anomalies start, in the fascination and fastidiousness of proving the epics as historical contrivances, supposed scholars start building fancy hypotheses.  Thus, a Brahmastra in Arjun’s  quiver becomes an equivalent of an atomic missile, Ravan’s Pushpakvimana turns into an early age helicopter, Gandhari’s mechanism of having kids by raising 100 embryos in 100 earthen pots is like test-tube baby, replacement of Ganesha’s head with that of an elephant is surgical procedure, the Jambudweepa is another term of the ancient Pangea, the extreme slowness of Brahma’s time is actually time dilation, the Krishna’s precise and pinpointed Sudarshan Chakra is actually a cruise missile, and the list just goes on and on.

Looking from the prism of today, these scholars try to reinvent the past using the epics as the base. The core idea is to impress upon us that our lineage actually hails from a very scientific and advanced race. It is like reading Verne’s ‘20,000 Leagues under the sea’ and deducing that the medieval man had a powerful nuclear submarine like Nautilus, or using HG Wells novel to claim the indisputable existence of a time machine. The lines between fact and fiction gets blurred.

By the way, in no manner do I imply that our great ancestors were some pastoral oafs. Indeed they were ahead of their times, inquisitive and used science as a tool. Anyone who has ever visited any Indus Valley Civilization’s ruin — even excepting Harappa & Mohenjo Daro (because they are far too superlative to not impress) — would immediately realise the scientific temperament of the ancient Indians, the town planning, the right-angled streets, the sewer system, the trade mechanism, etc. do provide a glimpse into the scientific past. Continue reading How mythology is not a science, and why it should not be treated as one!

Indian Myth-busters and their unmythological bullsh**t

It is said that people that are in a tearing hurry, are often people that are terribly mistaken. While, in India we have a set of individuals who like to take immense pride and thump their chest about the vitality and immortality of their culture (read Hindu), there is another set that is virulently trying to debunk everything about it (read Hindutva). In this battle of ego and posturing, truth often gets beaten about. So, at one end you have the proud constituents claiming the superiority of ancient science by referring to tales and stories, the opponents are eagerly taking pot-shots debunking any story or theory. In the hurry to come out with fancy headline that will attract eyeballs, like “Raving Loony Hindutva History“, people tend to debunk everything or anything.  To be honest, I really liked the titled, and am sure many would have been enticed to read it just because of it.

And so is the case of another gem of a story that promises to “Rani Padmini and four other Hindutva history myths exploded“. Wherein the author, Girish Shahane, take upon his shoulders the onerous duty of showing the way. He goes on to start with a sort of sermonising stoicism, “BJP’s misreading of history, however, is also underpinned by versions of history that circulate as truth within the mainstream.” And then in reverse chronological order lists five major “myths that have gained mainstream acceptance in India”.

Before I delve deeper into what my fellow journo brother listed, I wish to clarify a few things beforehand. First up, let’s define “myth” (and I know I go through this painful exercise so very often). Now Oxford Dictionary  beautifully describes it as: A traditional story, especially one concerning the early history of a people or explaining a natural or social phenomenon, and typically involving supernatural beings or events. Without even venturing into the domain of Joseph Campbell, where he artfully defined myths as “Myths are clues to the spiritual potentialities of the human life”, we can safely conclude that myths are tales, stories and pretty fantastic.

Sadly, many educated (the uneducated can be excused) make the mistake of mixing falsity with myth. According to popular notion, myth means false, whereas actually myth means story (which could or could not be true). Thus, myths cannot be debunked, destroyed, exploded, blasted, thrown, jumped, sat, vomited (speaking of vomiting there is an interesting myth of a branch of Vedanta was revealed through vomiting — read about Taitriya Yajurveda). Myths are stories that have been far and widely accepted, they are not some ugly heirloom that needs to be smashed to smithereens. When you start with that “pehalwan” or wrestler mentality, you are bound to go wrong. Like our friend does, when he talks about myths that have gained mainstream acceptance, I mean, myths are myths because they have widespread acceptance, else they will not be so.

So, just like him I will list out his points, and see if there is any sense that can be made here.

1.  The Myth of Rani Padmini

The first one is the beautiful tale of the ever so-very beautiful queen of Chittorgarh, Rani Padmini or Padmavati. The story is pretty simple; she is supposedly a hell-of-a-looker, hearing tales of her beauty, Allauddin Khilji, attacks Chittor and asks her husband to Queen_Nagamati_talks_to_her_parrot,_Padmavat,_c1750surrender her (as part of harem) as part of settlement. Instead of doing so, the king of Mewar and her husband Ratan Singh makes a suicidal dash against his army, while, the queen and rest of Rajput ladies commit “jauhar” (stepping into fire, rather than risking their honour). The story is gleaned from an epic poem written in 1540 by Malik Muhammad Jayasi. And in a society where honour came before everything, the tale sort of became a sort of an answer to what should be done in similar situations. “Jauhar” or “Sati” was pretty common in Rajput society, and understandably so, considering they always bore the full-frontal attack of any invader making a foray into India. The story of Rani Padmini thus was meant to be an inspiring tale for the rest of the Rajput Princesses or ladies, as to what must be done, in case their husbands lost the battle.

Indeed, as the article points out, there are no real historical records of Rani Padmini, but then, that is pretty common isn’t it. Am sure, if Rani Padmini or even Rani Jodhabai would have known that their existence would be questioned epigraphically by writers centuries later, they would have surely made more efforts to that end. But then, since they did not, let’s not hold it against them. I mean for god’s sake, Christ also had no historicity associated with him, but then don’t we accept him as so.

2. The Myth of Prithviraj Chauhan

Prithviraj Chauhan was a brave and courageous Chandel ruler, in the 11th Century AD. Among his many exploits, the most defining was with Afghani invader Mohammed Ghori. He fought two battles with him, in the first one Ghori was defeated and at Chouhan’s mercy, who rather foolishly let him go. Ghori made good of the second chance, and returned with a much larger force, defeated Chauhan and then had him killed. Now this is history.

220px-Prithvi_Raj_Chauhan_(Edited)There was a poem composed by Chand Bardai, Prithviraj Raso, wherein the exploits of the king has been vastly exaggerated and he is shown as being blinded by Ghori, and based on a cryptic message from Chand which gives the detail of Ghori (Char bans, chaubis gaj, angul ashta praman, Tau par sultan hai, mat chuko Chauhan), Chauhan let flies an arrow and kills Ghori. Now this is fiction.

Sadly, our friend here is unable to distinguish between the two, and blames everyone including Amar Chitra Katha for his ignorance. I mean a person who believes and writes on history based on what he read as a kid in Amar Chitra Katha, must be kidding right? Apparently not.

3. The Myth of a Non-Violent India

The history of India, recorded and accepted, stretches thousands of years back. In all these very many centuries numerous empires came up and vanished, starting from the Maurayas, the Guptas, Cholas, Mughals, Marathas and so on. Yet, in all these years, there was never an invader on the lines of say Alexander or even say Genghis Khan from Indian soil. Yes, the Cholas and Chalukyas expanded their scope of influence in South Asia, but it was rarely of LEAD Technologies Inc. V1.01the military type.

In fact, when our friend here talks about the invasion of Lanka by “Hindu” kings like Chola, he forgets about the first ever ‘invasion’ of Lanka by an Indian king, way back in 3rd Century BCE, when Ashoka sent his son Mahinda and daughter  Sanghamitta down south to propagate the idea of Dhamma. Today, Sri Lanka is a majoritan Buddhist country, because of the seeds that were laid by Ashoka and not anything else.

India had this unique ability to assimilate, so most of those who invaded India got entwined within it, and were subsequently assimilated. So, be it the Greeks (Seleucus Nicator’s daughter was married to Chandragupta Maurya), then came the Islamic invaders, the Mongols, the French, the Portuguese, the British and so on. Each of these were in somehow integrated within the big cultural-melting pot.

The biggest and most successful exports of India have been Buddhism and Yoga, not some swords or gunpowder. Even India’s freedom struggle inspired many countries and leaders; Gandhi was an inspiration from Martin Luther King to Barrack Obama. And am sure when Swami Vivekananda was speaking about a non-violent India, he was referring to such things.

4. The Myth of Sanskrit

While, indeed, the Sanskrit is not really the “mother of all”, but yet, it is certainly not too easy to debunk either. Sir William Jones, who proposed the commonality between Sanskrit and other European Language, did so as a hypothesis. His claim was based on linguistic similarities between Latin, Spanish and Sanskrit; this led him to believe that there was a Rigveda_MS2097common “proto Indian-European source” to all these languages.

Subsequently, there have been many claims and counter-claims to the same, and the theory has been yet to be conclusively proved. That should not stop us from celebrating the sheer depth and amazing spread of Sanskrit language. Today, the biggest universities across the world are offering courses on Sanskrit, and there are many researchers doing very interesting linguistic study of the same.

And while, we are talking about the antiquity of language, did you know that the written inscriptions found at Indus Valley Sites, called as Harappan Script are not yet deciphered. Now, if and when that is done, it will be a revelation.  But then since, there is no real hypothesis to prove there, not many seem to be interested about it.

5The Myth of a 5,000-year-old civilisation

Among the 5 myths that our friend busted here, this one, without an iota was the most silly and stupid one. But before we delve deeper into the mathematics of this claim, let’s first begin by defining what exactly is “civilisation”. Oxford defines it as, “the stage of human social development and organization which is considered advanced.” The level of development and organisation can be discerned by the level of infrastructure built. Thus, a village with mud huts is not really considered ‘civilised’, while an urban centre is.

Now, when we speak of the past, Indus Valley civilisation is considered to be a hallmark on Shiva_Pashupatithat front. So, dating “civilisation” should be as simple as dating an Indus Valley site. Mehrgarh (in modern day Pakistan) is considered to be one of the oldest ruins of Indus Valley. The date of the Neolithic site has been estimated by archaeologists to be around 6500 BCE. According to Wikipedia page; “It is assumed that early Mehrgarh residents lived in mud brick houses, stored their grain in granaries, fashioned tools with local copper ore, and lined their large basket containers with bitumen. They cultivated six-row barley, einkorn and emmer wheat, jujubes and dates, and herded sheep, goats and cattle. Residents of the later period (5500 BCE to 2600 BCE) put much effort into crafts, including flint knapping, tanning, bead production, and metal working. Mehrgarh is probably the earliest known centre of agriculture in South Asia.”

This would easily mean that the proof of Indian civilisation stretches as far back as 6500 BCE that would make it, close to 8500 years old. So, the 5000-year-old myth is not really a myth but is actually history.

In the end, the purpose of articles like these is not generate a healthy discussion or encourage deliberation, but to garner hits and eyeballs. If in that pursuit, sanity, rationality and truth has to be sacrificed, then so be it. That really is the travesty of such myth-busters, who know little but claim much. Guess, one must write an article with an interesting title like “Raving Loony Myth Busters” and then possibly they will stop. Or probably not.




Here is what they should not tell you about Hindu mythology

While I much respect and admire the kind of work Devdutt Pattanaik is doing in bring Indian mythology to the fore, he has written numerous books and spoken at various TedX events on the same, yet I am much disappointed by his latest post on qz.com, titled “Here is what they don’t tell you about feminism and sexuality in Hindu mythology”. It is a well-written piece on a well-read website, yet at the core of it, it makes a lot of errors not only in terms of judgements but also on inferences drawn from them. The very first words of the piece start with, “Hindu Mythology reveals”.  This can be a very dicey phrase to beginMahabharat1 with. You see, mythology by a simple definition is actually a story or a tale. And being one, it cannot really reveal anything; one can only make interpretations of it, to guess what the thought process was in that time when the same had been supposedly penned. Thus, as a corollary, etiological study of epics like Mahabharata or Ramayana are as prone to misinformation, as say an archaeological study is.

Coming to the primary premise of the said piece that talks about a very important issue of feminism and equality in ancient Indian times. The objective is much noble, but then, it starts of in a weird manner, stating that in the Mahabharata, there is an allusion of a time, where “men and women were free to go to anyone, until it became important to establish fatherhood.” Mahabharata is a vast epic that has much in it, like an ocean, where you can dive and find different gems every time. Hence, finding instances that support such inference is not really a surprise. Yet, in the phrase above, the allusion seems to be either on promiscuity or freedom to choose partners in ancient India.  Continue reading Here is what they should not tell you about Hindu mythology

In the name of Uncle Pai!

There is a tradition in India, any new venture or a project is kicked off at an auspicious time and more importantly at that very time, you invoke a deity or a person who is considered lucky and blessed. Usually, vighnaharta (the remover of obstacles) Ganapati is invoked at the onset, his blessings sought. “Shree Ganesh” is also considered a synonym for making a beginning.

While in all humility, I do seek the elephant-god and his benediction. At this juncture, there is another name that comes to mind and who is the fountainhead of all knowledge of my scriptures, mythology and history. Without his work, I don’t think my thoughts or my beliefs would have shaped such. He was the Guru for me and many more millions, whose lives he touched and shaped through his stories and tales. Anant Pai, or rather Uncle Pai, truly is the pole-star on the Indian skies, a guiding light to many through his simple Amar Chitra Katha and Tinkle comics. He instilled values, beliefs, pride and most importantly Indianness into the very hearts of millions of children across this land, and even to this day, one merely has to pick up his book and feel inspired.

To this day, whenever I have to recall an anecdote of a historical character or story from folk-lore, I visualise the square panels from one of his books. Whatever little knowledge, that I have or do possess, it is but a blessing from Uncle Pai. There was never possibly a greater story-teller than him, or possibly never will.

And so, with all humility and dedication, I invoke the blessings of Uncle Pai on the day of start of Youmythology.com, a collective hub for mythology and more. His life, thoughts and work will always be an inspiration to pursue perfection, while being honest. Let his light shine bright on this work, which is but a small molecule in front of the mountain he fashioned. If it could be turned into a shloka, it would be something like ” Shree Uncle Pai Namah”. And so the journey begins. Wait and watch…