Saturday, 31 March 2012

Lecture Tour of the US, April 3 to 18

I am leaving tomorrow morning for a lecture tour of Houston, Chicago, Atlanta, Philadelphia, New York and DC. Details:

Follow up tour being planned for *other* US cities in the Fall (October or so), and IndUS Forum is reaching out to partners right NOW for that: temples, universities, business groups interested in learning about Indian spirituality

If interested in partnering with IndUS Forum for a lecture in the Fall, please contact:

on the proposed Lokpal

Readers will be aware of my views on what needs to be done to fight the challenge of black money, specially Indian black money abroad.

Now a friend, in a chat with me, makes the following observation: "Lokpal (is) the only thing that can bring slightest change in theaready doomed fate of ppl of Republic of Inida".

I responded: "Dear XXX, please don't say that! Young people should have more hope! And not only in a Lokpal, which could be either effective or ineffective depending on the people who are appointed to run it. I don't mean only the top people, but also all the others down to the chaprasis....if they are corrupt, or corrupted, how will Lokpal help? The essential dilemma was raised by the Roman poet Juvenal in the 1st or 2nd century AD: "Who will police the police?" In other words: agar Lokpal logon ki palan nahin karengen, to log kya karenge?". No. Lokpal is only a mechanism. It could work or it may not work. It is wrong to put too much faith in it. We have to put our faith in examining and resolving the basic problem, wihich is the character of our people, particularly our leaders (and the Lokpal will also be one of our leaders). The character of our people was based on social restraints and on spiritual resources. Social restraints have gone as society has become more mobile and social values have anyway changed and are still changing. And our spirituality (which was never very incorrupt anyway) has become itself even more corrupt.... So these are the things that need to be addressed. New spiritual resources need to be put in place, and new mechanisms of social guidance."

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Emperor Ashoka versus King Venkatadari

The story of the Emperor Ashoka's supposed remorse at the destruction of life caused by his attack on the Kalinga kingdom, and his resulting conversion to Buddhism, is well known.

Not as well known is the story of Venkatadri, which I mention below.

But before I turn to that, I should remind readers of my skeptcism regarding the Buddhist version of the Ashoka story (above): I stated, in my INDIAN SPIRITUALITY that Ashoka's turn to Buddhism was more comprehensible as an attempt to free himself from the overweening power that Vedic priests had acquired by that stage in our history. If he simply wanted to express remorse, he could have devoted himself more actively to the Vedic religion in which he was brought up - as indeed Venkatadri did in relation to his own tradition (as I discuss in Venkatadri's story, to which I turn now).

Venkatadri (or, more properly, Vasireddy Venkatadri Nayudu, who lived from 1783–1816) was a member of the Vasireddy Clan. This clan had ruled, with possible interruptions, small parts of coastal Andhra Pradesh, from AD 1413. Venkatadri was the last ruler from this clan. As far as I can tell, there is no record of why he died or of what happened to the kingdom after him, though descendants of the clan still exist and have produced distinguished inviduals, such as writers, film-makers, and a Vice Chancellor of Andhra University.

Venkatadri had a retinue of several thousand men, 300 horses, 80 elephants, 50 camels and uncounted bullock carts. The magnificence of his palaces at Amaravati, Chebrolu, Chintapalli and his town-house in Guntur became subjects of folklore.

Supposedly famous for his benign rule, Venkatadri was a patron of the arts and literature, and his name is principally remembered today because he built, renovated or extended numerous temples in the Krishna river delta (Amaravati, Chebrolu, Mangalagiri, Ponnuru...). More than a hundred richly gilt brass pillars, over 30 feet high, were erected in his name at various shrines. Daily, he fed hundreds of Purohits. He often distributed shawls, gold and jewels among learned sadhus. The sums he spent on festivals, sacrifices, fire offerings and marriages became legendary. Several times, he distributed his own weight on gold or silver to Brahmans (the priestly caste)).

But his benignity apparently did not extend to all the people he ruled. Legend has it that, during his reign, the Chenchu forest-dwelling were raiding villages around Amaravati (there is no mention of why they were doing so - if history is any guide, they would have been prompted to do so because their forests were being felled and their lands occupied by the expansion of Amravati - and it is extremely unlikely that they could have put up any effective resistance against an army as powerful as Venkatadari must have commanded; anyway, the rest of the story suggests that it is made-up justification for eliminating the resistance of the Chenchus).

Venkatadri invited about 600 (another version of the legend says about 1000) of the leading Chenchu men to a luncheon, with the premeditated intention of having them murdered.

The village where this incident took place is today called Narukulapadu ('Naruku' in Telugu apparently means 'to axe' or 'to chop' - though, in Sanskrit "Naraka" is "Hell" - and Chavupadu ('Chavu' apparently means death in Telugu)).

As in the case of Ashoka, after this incident, Venkatadri became remorseful at what he had done. Unlike Ashoka, however, Venkatadri went to Amaravati and devoted his entire life, time and revenues to temples that were devoted to Lord Siva.

There is no record of whether the clan had traditionally worshipped Lord Shiva or another of our deities (though Shiva is not a Vedic god). So, in the absence of any mention of any related matter (presumably if the clan had within living memory worshipped another god that would have been mentioned somewhere), we can only surmise that the clan had worshipped Lord Shiva for at least a considerable amount of time.

In other words, while Ashoka rejected his ancestral Vedic ways (and even forbad Vedic worship in his kingdom), Venkatadri kept his ancestral faith and simply became more devoted to it.

Strikingly, neither Ashoka nor Venkatadri made any reparations to the people they had wronged.

The Chenchus are, even today (perhaps because of their memory of the betrayal by Venkatadri) among the most retiring of tribal groups in India, and among the most reluctant to respond to any blandishments that are offered by the Government of India or others to enter mainstream "civilised" life.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Poem voicing a shudra soul, in forthcoming special issue of Forward Press Magazine dedicated to Bahujan literature

Forward Press Magazine (FPM) is probably the most important magazine in north India if one wants to understand and dialogue with dalitbahujan issues. So it will not be an entire surprise to learn that FPM is bringing out, next month (April 2012), its first special issue dedicated to Bahujan Literature. But it may be a very great surprise to learn that FPM's Editor-in-Chief, the ex-Bombayite and now-Delhiwalla, Mr Ivan Kostka, is an accomplished poet (he has not yet published much of his poetry). So I am particularly delighted to have the privilege of first publishing here a poem of his, in the original English, as well as in Hindi translation by Mr Ashish Alexander (with permission from them both); the copyright naturally belongs to Mr Kostka:


How can we speak
when we know not
who we are?
We are the peoples
who are not –
Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaisya,
no, not even untouchable.
We are the peoples
in-between, in-visible,
hidden in the bulging middle
between the forward top and
most backward bottom of the pyramid.

How can we speak
when we know not
who we are?
Our name is unspeakable,
unspoken today,
buried under shibboleths of
alphabet soup: BC, OBC, MBC –
not royal honours or eras
but euphemisms for our most ancient name.

How can we speak
when we know not
who we are?
Even if we knew it
we would not utter it.
The forward and most backward will barely whisper it:
ss … ssh … shu … shu-dra –
and recoil the darting tongue
into the dark cavern of caste.

How can we speak
when we know not
who we are?
If you know it, poet,
speak it, say it out loud:
shu-dra, Shudra, SHU-DRA!
Say it loud, say it proud –
We are not ashamed of work –
yes, even toiling with our hands,
mingling sweat and soil
to feed, clothe, house a nation.
We are the craftsmen –
working earth and clay and cloth,
wood and stone and steel and gold -
working, working, crafting
the body of a nation,
no time to recreate
the soul of our peoples.

So, poet, working with words,
take our name
upon the anvil of your art,
beat out the shame,
hammer, hammer away,

until all that is left
is the sharp, shining steel –
a two-edged sword: Shu-dra!
Weld it, wield it
until it carves out our name
upon our very souls.

Then, we shall speak
- yes, sing and shout
our names, our stories, our history -
for we shall know
without a doubt
who we are.

Ivan Kostka
Inspired by the Second All-India OBC Literary Conference,
Nashik. Feb. 16-17, 2008

शूद्र आत्मा

कैसे कहें
जब जानते ही नहीं
कि कौन हैं हम?
हम जन हैं
जो नहीं हैं --
ब्राह्मण, क्षत्रीय, वैश्य
नहीं, अछूत भी नहीं
हम जन हैं
बीच में, अदृश्य
फूलते मध्य में छिपे
अगड़े शीर्ष और
पिरामिड के तले में सबसे पिछड़े
के बीच

कैसे कहें
जब जानते ही नहीं
कि कौन हैं हम?
नाम हमारा अकथनीय है
अनकहा है आज
गड्डमड्ड अक्षरों में दबा
बीसी, ओबीसी, एमबीसी
राजसी ठाठ या युग नहीं
बस हमारे अति प्राचीन नामों की व्यंजना है

कैसे कहें
जब जानते ही नहीं
कि कौन हैं हम?
अगर जानते
तो भी कहते नहीं
अगड़े और सबसे पिछड़े बस बुदबुदाएँगे
श... शश... शू... शू-द्र --
और तीर-सी ज़ुबान मुड़ जाएगी
खो जाएगी जाति की अँधी गुफ़ा में

कैसे कहें
जब जानते ही नहीं
कि कौन हैं हम?
अगर तुम जानते हो, कवि
तो कहो, ऊँचे स्वर में कहोः
शू-द्र, शूद्र, शूद्र!
ऊँचे स्वर में कहो, गर्व से कहो --
हमें शरम नहीं काम करने में --
हाँ, अपने हाथों से मेहनत करने में
मिट्टी और पसीने के मिलने से
हम हैं शिल्पकार --
धरती और मिट्टी और कपड़े
काठ और पत्थर और फ़ौलाद और सोना
सब लाते काम में
काम, काम, शिल्प
राष्ट्र की काया
लेकिन समय नहीं कि फिर से गढ़ें
अपने ही लोगों की आत्मा

तो कवि, शब्दों के शिल्पकार
लो हमारा नाम
अपनी कला की निहाई पर
पीटो हमारी शरम
चलाओ हथौड़े तक तक
जब तक रह न जाए केवल
प्रखर, चमकता फ़ौलाद --
दोधारी तलवार -- शू-द्र!
चलाओ, चलाओ तब तक
हमारा नाम न उभर आते जब तक
हमारी अपनी आत्माओं पर।

तब बोलेंगे हम
-- हाँ, गाएँगे और चिल्लाएँगे
अपने नाम, अपनी कथाएँ, अपना इतिहास --
क्योंकि जान चुके होंगे कि
कौन हैं हम

आयवन कोस्का
20 फ़रवरी 2008
दाभेल, दमण
दूसरे अखिल भारतीय ओबीसी साहित्य सम्मेलन, नासिक, 16--17 फ़रवरी 2008 से प्रेरित हो कर

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Who killed Vedic religion?

Have been thinking about this.

I think the credit or blame goes to the Emperor Ashoka, because he forbad the performance of the Vedic sacrifices.

This is ironic, because he is supposed to have been highly tolerant and a great example of how to build and maintain a multi-ethnic and multi-religious kingdom.

However, we may safely say that this “tolerance” is an Ashokan myth. He not only disadvantaged Vedic religion while pretending to instruct his citizens to listen to Brahmins and munis, he consistently used state taxes to found and support Buddhist institutions as well as to fund Buddhist missionary activity all the way from and Egypt to Greece and Central Asia, round to Vietnam, Cambodia, and Sri Lanka.

We may fairly say that the first attempt at world evangelisation using the instruments of state was accomplished by Buddhism, and that it was not always as peaceful as Buddhists like to think.

For example, there is evidence of Buddhist kings enforcing Buddhism by violence on native populations in Tibet and Sri Lanka.

Naturally, such kings would not have wanted their deeds to be preserved for posterity, so took care to expunge as much evidence as possible.

However, we can still see the inheritance of this attitude in the Lamaistic Buddhism of Tibet, in Cambodian, Vietnamese, Thai and Burmese Buddhism, and in Sri Lankan Buddhism which took to violence to subjugate its indigenous majority and its Tamil minority in a declared or undeclared war lasting from the 3rd century BC to 2009 (roughly 3 years ago).

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Government and Court kick Rabbi out of India on the grounds that the Indian government is incompetent

According to a news report in The Telegraph, a Rabbi and his wife who visited India in order to perform religious rituals for the ancient Jewish community in Kerala we deported from the country a few days ago.

Apparently, an intelligence report, claiming fears of a repetition of 26/11, were shown to the court, and that was the basis on which the deportation order was issued.

Is the government really unable to protect the oldest existing synagogue in India, built in 1568 and the forty six or so mostly ageing Jews that are left here of that ancient community?

If so, that is a staggering admissio,n and is tantamount to a confession of incompetence on the part of the government.

The original case against the Rabbi claimed that he had “violated visa conditions by organising activities related to their religious life and belief”.

What were these "religious activities" that they organised? Apparently, he helped the community, which has NO qualified priest of its own, with the traditional Torah reading during the Sabbath services, and conducted funeral services for three elderly Jewish men who passed away in Cochin in the time he has been in Cochinn as a volunteer - having done similar duties during a previous visit in 2010, in which he had also applied for a visa by stating his intention.

According to the news report, the couple first came to Kerala on a double entry visa on a request from the synagogue. They went back upon expiry of their permits but the synagogue took up the matter afresh. The rabbi and his wife returned to India on April 4 last year (2011), on a multiple-entry visa expiring on April 1 this year. So the case, which has become a diplomatic incident and soured relations with Israel, has resulted in the Rabbi and his wife leaving the country only a few days earlier than they would have left anyway.

It is not clear whether the government is claiming that it cannot protect any foreign Rabbi in the country, or any foreign Jew in the country, or any Indian Jew in the country. Or whether the government is claiming that it cannot protect anyone in the country at all.

A defenseless and tiny community has been upset, international relations have been soured, and our government has made itself a laughing stock around the world.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

India's only political party committed to building a cadre to serve the people, responds to the UP election results: Crushed But Not Destroyed

The darkest night is before the dawn!

Here is the mail I have just received from the Adarsh Rashtriya Vikas Party which, in spite of all its efforts over the last 2 years, did not win a single seat in the UP elections:


"The dust has settled and results are out. To say that we are dismayed and disappointed is to state the obvious. At this moment, we are still trying to assess why we couldn’t make a dent. It will take us some time to analyze the results after a series of discussions with all layers of people who are involved. As the days go by, there is a sense that everything is not as bleak as we imagine. The people involved continue to show resolve and a commitment to continue this battle. The mood is one of knowing that this movement is absolutely right and necessary. This result has shown us that this is going to be a long drawn out battle. The present political scenario will revert back to type in a few months from now. It will be business as usual with very little likely to change for the poor, marginalized and oppressed.

"We have to convince our people that unless leaders with a high level of integrity approach politics with a heart to serve, nothing much will change in their lives. As we travel into the villages of U.P., we see the reality and harshness of poverty, hopelessness, injustice, inequality and lack of hope for the future. We are deeply moved and concerned. We need to continuethis battle for their sakes.

"Thank you so much for standing with us. We pray for your continued support in this endeavor. We are definitely struck down, but not destroyed! We arise once again to be counted, with renewed resolve and fervor in the message we have burning in our hearts for the sake of the millions who must see light. We do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are determined!"

Friday, 9 March 2012

Strange reactions to Holi Greetings

A friend of mine, on receiving my Holi Greetings this week, writes back with an expletive as follows:




I don't know if my readers have had other such responses to greetings they have sent but, if so, I guess we usually keep them quiet or don't know how to respond to them?

I responded saying I responded saying:

"Dear ..., I quite understand your sentiments and am aware of some of the facts you mention.

"However, you and I were brought up on the custom that 'any excuse is good enough for a celebration'.

"If your celebration of your birthday becomes a source of envy and provocation to violence on the part of one of our neighbours just because you are alive, then should I stop sending you best wishes on your birthday, or should I avoid coming to your birthday party? No, I shall continue greeting everyone on every occasion for any festivity connected with births and weddings and "natural" anniversaries.

"However, you raise an important point: should I send out greetings on festivals that celebrate the "victory of good over evil", where evil is defined as either an individual or a group of people? For example, in this case, Holi, where it represents the victory by violence of one tribe of Vishnu worshippers against another tribe of Brahma worshippers who were for some reason allied with what we today call our Dalitbahujans but were then called asuras.

Anyway, I hereby forswear from henceforth sending out any greetings on any such day. I guess the others are mainly Diwali and Dussehra. Though I shall have to watch my step in relation to all festivals from now on!”

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Puzzles - 2

While the brahmin gotras were originally classified according to EIGHT rishis
(now of course many more - on which see Puzzle 1),
the pravaras were classified under the names of SEVEN rishis.

Why eight versus seven?

I can't find any information on this matter at all.

Can anyone throw any light on this?

Puzzles - 1

I have been puzzling recently:

the brahmin gotras were classified initially according to eight rishis.

Now of course there are many more gotras.

When and why were the others added?

Can anyone throw any light on this?

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Happy Holi - and some thoughts on Bhang and Soma

A happy Holi to all my readers!

I was brought up on the approach, common in my childhood, though sadly uncommon in India today, that "any excuse is good enough for a celebration!".

That happy attitude is nowadays roundly chastised by my Dalitbahujan friends, who berate me for celebrating a festival that commemorates the burning of Holika who they associate with the original peoples and religions of India, and they think of her burning as the symbolic burining of the original peoples and reltions of India, which were then replaced by Brahmminic religion.

I am not sure I know what to make of that, which is why I take refuge in the adage about celebrating on every possible occasion!

But, clearly, there is no reference to this festival in the Vedas, nor indeed is there any reference in the Vedas to the Shri Krishna with whom the festival is mainly identified today.

Apparently, the earliest written reference to the celebration of Holi is found only in the 7th century AD, in the Ratnavali.

Moreover, as the centre of the Holi celebrations are Mathura and Varanasi, it is possible that this is where the celebration originated, as a movement which then spread through most of north India. In south India, the festival was hardly known in my childhood, though it is nowadays celebrated in some places. I should say that there is a Shaivite explanation for the celebration, but it doesn't really hold water, so I surmise that some Shaivites have recently accepted the celebration of Holi but, instead of sticking with the Vaishnavite explanation, have invented one of their own - I hope they will not be offended by my saying so but will produce any evidence to the contrary that may be available - in which case I will immediately apologise, and modify my position.

The above is only an introduction to what I want to discuss today about Holi, which is that while external attention focuses on Holi as a festival of colours, Holi is associated widely with the consumption of liquor and bhang (could we describe them as "internal colours"?). Bhang is consumed in every which way, even in the most respectable homes. I know of liquors made of or with bhang, desserts and sweets made with bhang, and of course bhang is smoked....

The question is whether bhang is the same as the Vedic soma.

No one really knows because knowledge of what exactly soma was, even though as many as 114 hymns praise soma's energising qualities in the Rigveda's Soma Mandala. In fact in Rigveda 9.4, soma is called "the God for Gods", thus lifting it to a level above that of Indra and all the other Vedic gods!!!

Along with much else in the Vedas and in Vedic times, knowledge of what soma was lost as Vedic religion was replaced by Jaina, Buddhist, and Hindu gods, sects, traditions and practices which were invented and are popular today.

However, as far as I can make out, soma was a plant that was reasonably easily obtainable in Persia and in north-western India, but not so easily available east of the Indus Valley. So the use of soma gave way slowly to other substitutes, including bhang (which is what is most popular today). In fact, there is a prayer apologising to the gods for the use of a substitute substance rather than soma. And there is an extensive list of plants that can be used as substitutes: the list ends by saying that any plant is acceptable for ritual purposes, provided it is yellow in colour.

I doubt that our ancestors rolled about all the time under the inebriating influence of soma, as is the case today under the influence of bhang in Varanasi (for instance): in the Vedas, the use of soma appears to have been confined to specific religious rituals at certain times. There was no class of sannyasis who did nothing but live in a brown or green stupor.

So what of bhang at Holi time nowadays? I have never had bhang in any form, so have no idea of its effects. As I don't tolerate alcohol very well, it may be that my system won't appreciate bhang either. However, it could also be the other way around - on the analogy of different types of tea, some of which one may like and some of which one may not. And there are some advantages to bhang, it is claimed (improves the appetite and digestion, relieves stress, and so on). The main disadvantage appears to be that one can easily consume too much and get "too high". Though bhang is supposed to be non-addictive, it can be dependency-creating (witness the people on the banks of our holy rivers who seem to be permanently under the influence). So, as with many other things, bhang may not be healthy in itself, but it could be that there is no harm in having a little of it once in a lifetime or even once in a year or two.

That still leaves the question of soma, what it was, and what exactly were its effects, apart from being "energising"? We still don't know....

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Lawyers go on the rampage in Bangalore, making a global laughing stock of India

Even in relatively calm South India, lawyers have now disgraced themselves by going on a rampage.

Yesterday, Friday, the 2nd of March, there was apparently a free-for-all in the Bangalore courts. Lawyers physically attacked reporters and police officers, stoned TV vans, and so on.

In response, all the major Kannada news channels — TV9, Suvarna News, Udaya News, Janashri, Samaya, Public TV, and News 24 — blacked out their screens for two minutes at 8 pm, and broadcast the same message: “We strongly protest the violence unleashed on journalists by lawyers.” Why ever did they not include a protest regarding violence against the police?

Anyway, I hope the news channels will do more than merely protest for two minutes. I hope they will insist that the guilty be charged and duly punished.

In the larger national context> of course it is terrible that reporters were injured and TV vans smashed, however what's really important is that, as this happened in the courts in Bangalore, which is the IT capital of the world, India's legal system has suffered incalculable reputational damage - and even more so has the reputation of our country.

Apparently, even our lawyers don't want to uphold the dignity and sanctity of the law.

So the question is: what action(s) is our national legal profession and legal system going to take to restore the dignity of the law in the country?

I suggest, as a minimum:

A. The judicial enquiry which has been promised have as its terms of reference the speedy *let us say within one week) gathering of all available evidence regarding who the perpetrators were. A week is not a long time, but we don't need exhaustive evidence, we just need sufficient evidence.

B. All perpetrators be brought to trial in a specially-constituted court say 3 weeks from now.

C. The guilty lawyers be held collectively responsible for the financial damage, and for the compensation that should be paid to all journalists and police officials who were injured.

D. All guilty lawyers should be immediately suspended from undertaking any sort of legal or law-related work for a period of one year, after which they should be allowed to return to practice with a strict warning that any repetition of such behaviour will result in their law degrees and legal accreditation being stripped from them,and their being banned permanently from ever practicing law again.

But I can hear someone arguing that lawyers have a justified complaint about one-sided coverage by the media.

If so, then lawyers, more than anyone else, should know how to use the law to address that problem - and, if they feel that the law is inadequate, then they should propose and work for better laws and better implementation, not tarnish and pull down the legal system in our country.

If the legal system breaks down, then everything will break down.

As a country, we have very few competititve advantages in a global context, and our legal system is one of them. Impugn or destroy that, and you attack our ability to attract international capital for investment in the country.

So if you attack our legal system, you attack our nation.