Ramayana – Really Regressive?

As you would probably know, I don’t much write about about things being discussed or debated (of late I don’t write much on any topic, but specifically …), but a topic which came up some time back, with some people referring to the incident from the Ramayana where Lord Rama asks for Agni-Pariksha for Goddess Sita as being regressive. Given that this didn’t quite make sense to me, I delved a little deeper, and tried to reason things out.

Now, this post is meant for people who find this incident regressive. There are a number of ways we could relate to the Ramayana. Lets look at these ways, along with where they lead us.

  • Ramayana as Literal History: One could take Ramayana as a literal telling of history, where a king asks his queen to walk through fire. Indeed, this would be regressive, but if one takes Ramayana as literal history, then one must also take a number of things, including Mareechh turning into a golden deer, Ravana abducting Goddess Sita in his Pushpak Viman, of Jatayu fighting Ravana, of the construction Ram Setu, of Lord Hanuman carrying the Dronagiri mountain, and many more, as being a literal telling of history. If one isn’t treating the Ramayana as history, then what exactly is regressive?
  • Ramayana as Social Commentary: One could on the other hand, take the Ramayana as a commentary on social norms and values of a given time. Again, if one does so, one must try to include very diverse societies, including humans, asuras, gods/demi-gods, astral beings and so on into a coherent social fabric. If one is to reject the existence of all of these, then one needs to be able to describe what each of these ‘social units’ stands for. If one isn’t even doing that, what does one find regressive here?
  • Ramayana as Fiction: One could treat the Ramayana as purely fiction, but if one were to do that, then there is only a story being told, and whats regressive about stories?
  • Ramayana as Philosophy: Many commentators have written that epics/scripture are written at multiple levels. There is a literal level, and one which is the deeper level, which actually deals with the philosophy of the scripture. The literal level is the first aspect addressed above. At the deeper level, there is immense symbolism to be found. For instance, one interpretation defines Lord Rama as the Self, the soul, the individual seeker (if you may), and Goddess Sita as the Mind. The self and the mind are in a state of perfect harmony until the mind is “abducted” by the tendencies and activities of the world (Ravana, who is defined as representing Rajo-guna, that which defines the tendency of unabashed participation in the goings-on in the world), and the mind and the self can be united only through the mind passing through a process of “cleansing” in the fires of spiritual contemplation, or meditation. Now, if one were to accept this interpretation, where does the notion of regressive come from?

So, as we can see, whichever way one looks at the epic, there doesn’t seem to be a way to define something as regressive. Unless, of course, one chooses to believe in bits and pieces from each such interpretation, and making a cocktail of beliefs. If thats what one believes, then one needs to articulate that.

Please do shed some light if you believe I missed out something.

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God and Science

Topics on which people hold very strong beliefs … sometimes these beliefs are no more than just those. While on the one hand some of those who believe in God take Scripture literally, and will tell you that indeed the world was made in 6 days, or that there was indeed a time when snakes talked or horses flew. Little does it occur to them that maybe these stories are more allegorical, and one must look into their subliminal meaning which seems to be a consistent characteristic of Scripture to get a true understanding. Scientists on the other hand use these same stories, read at their superficial level to try to prove that religion flies in the face of logic.

There is another aspect of the scientific discourse which tells us that there is no ‘need’ for God since all phenomena can be explained by science, those which can’t be explained today would well be explained at some point. Let’s take an example to see the folly of this logic. Let’s say you have to go from place A to place B. Now, you could do this commute on foot or by bus. Now, since your commute can be explained by walking, there is therefore no ‘need’ for the bus and therefore the bus doesn’t exist.

Another logic which is most prevalent is that there is no proof of God. Now, one could also on the other hand say that there is no proof for the non-existence of God, but then that takes us into a different byway, so for the moment let’s shelve that one. Let’s say, for instance, if you are asked to cook a meal with a pen, crayons, toothpicks, and a screwdriver and wrench. Doesn’t sound logical, does it? Fact is, different tools are meant to be used for different purposes and extending this it’s easy to see why science has not, maybe will not, been able to prove the existence of God … that as a tool science isn’t the right one.  Let’s try to analyze that. Science is essentially a study of this creation, maybe (if we keep the idea of the multiverse aside for a moment) of the universe. This means that science, meant to study nature, isn’t meant to study whence nature came from.

Is that why so many scientists are so antagonistic to the idea of God?


Conversation Context

If you are on WhatsApp, you are probably on a host of groups, which you have, in all probability muted. Ever seen a pattern in the conversations in these groups? If someone started a group, and you connect with old friends after say 20 years, the first few days are about exchanging notes, and reminiscing about old days. After that the lull comes in the conversation, and this is when most groups become about forwarded messages or jokes.

Friends from college have a group, which is the place for college-style conversations. After a while, the conversations turn towards politics, and discussions about the world, pretty much the way it used to be back in college (boys don’t grow up, remember?!). However, due to a number of reasons, we decided to start a separate group about political/intellectual debates. Yes, intellectual indeed, even if I myself say so. Over time, the original group, which all of us are still members of has become a group for forwarded messages.

The reason is simple … context. No conversation can happen between two people without some modicum of a shared context. Take the context away, and the conversation can’t last. As college friends, we have gone different ways in our lives. However, there is a strong shared context of our time together at college, but beyond that, the shared context is that of the world around us. And hence, these are the two topics on which conversations can sustain.

In other words, context is key.


Social Eminence

A discussion I was having the other day with colleagues about eminence and the role of social media in creating the persona of people who are experts at things brought out some rather interesting thoughts. One of the ideas that came out was that social reputation is based on one’s willingness to share knowledge. While I completely agree with that, this viewpoint confuses knowledge with the act of sharing. One can actually share things on social media without really knowing much about them. One of the things I see, for instance, on twitter, is that the rate at which people share links must mean they are reading like probably a thousand words per minute. Quite a few people I know just glance through an article or blog, and share it on social media. This is why I say hat sometime knowledge can be confused with the act of sharing.

Another important thing to understand is that it is very easy to manufacture things on social media. You might have seen a number of quotes from Albert Einstein on the web, and I don’t know how many of them are attributable to him. Taking an instance of a talk show I was watching, the analyst on the show was quoting a long-departed leader as having said something. This didn’t quite sound logical to me, so I started searching. After much searching, I found a blog which told how a lie was fabricated and why, and how it was circulated all over the world over social media. The “fact” may find it’s way twice around the world before folks start finding out. Also, there will be a number of folks on social media who will have spread the word, and very few who would take the effort to validate. What this means is that social eminence can be manufactured, and while there are self-correcting mechanisms which are there in the social ecosystem, these methods may not always be effective in a world with a very short memory. By the time you figure out something is wrong, nobody’s really interested, and setting the record straight is a moot point.

The point I am trying to make is that we need to be selective in the sources we subscribe to, and that we need to do our research before publishing something, a thing which is seldom done.


Folk Dances in India

Heres a nice blog about folk dances in India. The point the author is making is that in India, folk music and dance has two purposes. One is the dedication to God and religion, where the dances play out episodes from the epics or from mythology, and the other is to celebrate life, and to mark the passage of seasons, with their importance to the agricultural cycle, especially the harvest season.

Folk Dances in India

And do check the videos. Really nice ones!

Happy viewing, and Happy Dasahra!


The Tigress …

This one is from Jim Corbett‘s My India:

I once saw a tigress stalking a month-old kid. The ground was very open and the kid saw the tigress while she was still some distance away and started bleating, whereupon the tigress gave up her stalk and walked straight up to it. When the tigress had approached to wihin a few yards, the kid went forward to greet her, and on reaching the tigress it stretched ot its neck and put up its head to smell her. For the duration of a few heartbeats the month-old kid and the Queen of the Forest stood nose to nose, and then the queen walked off in the direction from which she had come.

Wonderful passage … just tells the sheer grace, elegance (a oneness maybe?) which comes with real power.


Krishna Leela

This is a sign of laziness that one thinks of writing about something quite amazing, and then takes a few weeks to get round to doing it. Especially when it is an amazing performance of the Krishna Leela, the story of the life of Lord Krishna.

As children, there are certain things we hold in very high esteem. Could be a restaurant, a particular shop which we went to with our parents, and which we thought, as children, to be something so amazing that we look forward to the day when we go back to those things as grown ups. I am sure all of us would have something which fits this description. Then life takes you away from those places or things, and after a gap of a few decades, you happen to have the chance to revisit those grand places that you so admired as a child. Usually, though, they dont quite seem to be the same, grand places that were painted in your mind’s eye. But this is an amazing exception.

I remember, as a child, watching the Krishna Leela … the story of the life of Lord Krishna. This was performed by the Shriram Bharatiya Kala Kendra, and the performances used to happen around the time of Krishna Janmashthami at the Pearey Lal Bhawan, right next to Shankar’s Doll’s Museum. I also remember having been to performances of the Ram Leela, the story of Lord Rama, which used to happen at the place where the Shaheed Bhagat Singh Terminal stands today. And i remember these performances being grand, and quite a treat to watch, as a child.

Recently I got a chance to watch the same Krishna Leela after more than two decades, and nothing of what i have written seemed to hold true. The performance was every bit as grand and fascinating as it was, and enhanced by the use of technology which is available to us today.

In this performance, the story of Lord Krishna is played out in the form of a dance-drama. There are no dialogues, except only at specific points of the performance, to make specific points, and the entire story is told in the form of a play which is enacted in the form of dance. A number of dance forms, from across India, including Kathakali, Odissi, Manipuri, Bharatnatyam, Chhau performed by the players to enact different roles in the life of Lord Krishna. And each of these blend into each other quite nicely, so that you dont get the feel of a patchwork of dance forms which might happen when such disparate dance forms are brought together. Rather, you find the story being compellingly told through the brilliant harmony of the different dance forms, and the way they blend with each other, and the usage of the appropriate dance form to portray particular characters in the life of Lord Krishna.

Here are some images:

Lord Krisna with Radha

Lord Krisna with Radha

The Divine Leela

The Divine Leela

 

Krishna with Arjuna

Krishna with Arjuna

As you can see, no words are necessary. The art of the dance is used to the fullest to powerfully tell a compelling story. And these pictures are not from the performance (photography isnt allowed inside the auditorium), but as you might have guessed, these are photographs of the posters of the performance.

The same Shriram Bharatiya Kala Kendra also delivers equally powerful performances of the Rama Leela, so if you are in Delhi during the month of October, leading up to Deepawali, do make it a point to explore the wonderful story of Lord Rama, told beautifully.