Tag Archive: history of India


 

Red_pottery,_IVC.jpg size 670pixels

Red pottery from the Indus/Saraswathi Civilization

 

By Sharon St Joan

 

There were no highways then and no paved roads. When the little girl went with her brothers to tend the cattle on top of the hillside, she could see a long way, out over sloping plains dotted with green trees. The sky was blue and the air was clear. When they returned at sunset, the small bricks of which their house was made shined gold in the rays of the setting sun, and there seemed to be magical beings dancing in the air. She watched as her grandmother took newly made, fired, ceramic vases out of the kiln, incised with red and white patterns, sometimes drawn in a row along with the horned head of a bull or a tree with outspread branches.

 

Nearby, the Saraswathi flowed, a vast, magnificent river, silver in the sunset, so wide that she could not see the other side. Her father had told her that it went all the way to the sea, and that the sea was much, much bigger than the lakes nearby – it was bigger even than the land on which they lived. No one they knew had ever seen the sea, but they had heard about it. On it sailed boats from other lands, and on these other lands, there lived people too. To the south, in the centuries to come, all along the river many other towns would grow up, possibly hundreds, and in the north among the hills, the river narrowed, and it sprang out of great rocks that lived near mountains, covered in snow year-round, that touched the sky, enormous high mountains where no one lived but only the Gods, and the Great God who brought into being – and would some day destroy – all the worlds.

 

Around seven thousand years passed, and during this immense span of time, the towns along the river, part of the Indus/Saraswathi Civilization, grew into enormous, well-planned metropolises, with great paved roads, two-story houses, indoor plumbing, great public buildings, amazing art work, and writing. Around three thousand BCE, they rivaled the cities of Sumer and may have been the largest, most highly developed, most populated cities in the world.

 

Mohenjodaro_-_view_of_the_stupa_mound

Mohenjodaro, one of the great Harappan cities

 

Over many centuries, the great Saraswathi River narrowed in width, growing thinner and thinner, like a ribbon. Eventually, around 2000 BCE, it went underground, and reappeared only seasonally, with the monsoons, when the water flowed again for a few months at a time; now it is called the Ghaggar. With the going underground of this river, the people were unable to make a living on a land with little water; they moved on, some to the west, and many to the east. A few stayed nearby, living on in the deserts of Rajasthan. The great cities fell into ruin.

 

Nearly ten thousand years after the little girl used to climb the hill to tend cattle with her brothers, her lost city was known by the name Bhirrana. Her family’s house and her neighbors’ houses were found and dug up out of the sand by archeologists. No one knew her name or even that she had lived there. At first, no one knew how long Bhirrana had lain asleep in the sands. Nearby village people had known that there was an old town there, buried by the winds, but no one knew its history or its age. Archeologists came and dug. The more they excavated, the clearer it became that Bhirrana was not only part of the Indus/Saraswathi civilization, but also that it was at least as old as the great cities of Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa. Now it appears that it is, in fact, much, much older. Going back to the very beginnings of the Indus/Saraswathi civilization, to around 9,500 years before the present, Bhirrana is now believed to be the oldest city that has been found anywhere in India.

 

The ceramic ware that the little girl and her grandmother made and fired in their kiln was similar to the ware fired in villages further west in what is today Pakistan and also in the other Indian towns along the Saraswathi River; it is called Hakra ware. Bhirrana represents the earliest phase of what became the great Indus/Saraswathi Civilization.

 

The true age of this little town was revealed quite recently – by work done in 2015 and 2016. A scientific team examined animal remains found buried in the riverbed, testing the bones and the teeth of Bhirrana’s cattle and goats to determine phosphorous isotopes and date the remains. (Please see the link below.) The dates they found go back to over 9,000 years ago.

 

1024px-YamunaRiver

The Yamuna River, which flows to the east of the Ghaggar

 

Renowned archeologist B.B. Lal, in his 2002 article, The Homeland of Indo-European Languages And Culture: Some Thoughts (please see the link below) also traces the Neolithic stage in the northwest Indian sub-continent back to 9,000 years ago.

 

This is far older than anyone had imagined until recently and extends the age of the Indus/Saraswathi Civilization – and the age of Indian civilization — back to nearly 10,000 years. India has some of the earliest cities ever found and, arguably, the oldest continuing civilization in the world.

 

1024px-Ghaggar

The Ghaggar River today

 

The life of the little girl is, on one level, imaginary, but not really, because surely there was actually such a little girl among the residents of Bhirrana. The continuity of India as one of the oldest, unbroken, ongoing cultures in the world cannot really be disputed. The threads of the other great early cultures of the world have been strained and broken, some recently, some long ago – ancient Egypt, China, and Sumer. Like many cultures in the Middle East and beyond, India too was invaded by foreign armies, but India survived. Her culture and her traditions were never extinguished by conquering armies, and they live on today.

 

This though may be just the beginning of all there is to discover about the story of India. On nearly every continent, there are hints, remaining to be followed up – of the profound influence of ancient India on the history of the world.

 

© Text, Sharon St Joan, 2017

 

Photos:

Top photo:

Author: Thorsten Vieth

“This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.” Wikipedia.

The Yamuna River, near the Haryana border, as it crosses the Taj Mahal, flows to the east of the Ghaggar River.

 

Second photo:

Author: Amy Dreher

“This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.” Wikipedia.

Red pottery with red and black slip-painted decoration from Harappa , around 2500 BCE.

 

Third photo:

Author: Saqib Qayyum

“This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.” Wikipedia.

A view of Mohenjo-Daro, existing around 2500 BCE.

 

Fourth photo:

Author: NoiSe84

“This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International, 3.0 Unported, 2.5 Generic, 2.0 Generic and 1.0 Generic license.” Wikipedia.

The Ghaggar River today.

 

Sources:

 

One: http://www.nature.com/articles/srep26555

Oxygen isotope in archaeological bioapatites from India: Implications to climate change and decline of Bronze Age Harappan civilization

  • Authors: Anindya Sarkar, Arati Deshpande Mukherjee, M. K. Bera, B. Das, Navin Juyal, P.Morthekai, R. D. Deshpande, V. S. Shinde & L. S. Rao
  • Scientific Reports 6, Article number: 26555 (2016)
  • doi:10.1038/srep26555

 

Two: http://www.hvk.org/2002/0302/200.html

The Homeland of Indo-European Languages And Culture: Some Thoughts

Author: Prof. B. B. Lal

Publication: Bharatiya Pragna

Date: March 2002

Re-published in Hindu Vivek Kendra

 

Three: http://indiafacts.org/aryan-invasion-myth-21st-century-science-debunks-19th-century-indology/

Aryan Invasion Myth: How 21st Century Science Debunks 19th Century Indology

A.L.Chavda

Site: Indiafacts

5/05/2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1tundrabadrione

 

By Sharon St Joan

 

Centuries ago, as today, travelers waited at crossing points to go across the Tungabadra. Nearby are stone platforms no longer in use where the heat of the Indian summer was broken by leaves overhead as they rested in the shade waiting for their turn to cross the great river. Round boats called coracles would carry them to the island just across the way.

 

2DSC00710

 

A few yards downhill was a small shrine to Ganesha where they could ask the God’s blessing for their trip.

 

From the fourteenth to the sixteenth century, Hampi was the great capital of the Vijanagara dynasty, which ruled all of south India. Many of the citizens had leisure time; they were well off, and their city, estimated to be three times the size of Paris at the time, may have been the largest and wealthiest city in the world.

 

The British economic historian, Angus Maddison, has described India as the richest country on earth for well over a thousand years, possessing from one quarter to one third of the entire global wealth – until the advent of the British.

 

How short our memories are that some of us do not even think of the ancient lands of Asia, Africa, and South America in any way other than as “developing” countries struggling to catch up.

 

6DSC00614

 

The Tungabadra is a broad, pale, blue-gray river, wide, as many Indian rivers are, nearly a mile across, it winds its way along the border of Hampi, narrowing and deepening, as it runs through a gorge with spectacular huge boulders on either side. These boulders, scattered throughout the area, are a distinctive feature of Hampi. Some are as big as houses; looking for all the world as if a giant hand has swept them up and dropped them again in great heaps; they line the roadsides, as well as the horizons, in towering piles.

 

 

4Tundrabhadri photo

 

A beautiful river with many small green islands, the Tungabadra, along with the amazing boulders, forms natural defensive barriers that helped protect the city for hundreds of years — reasons that this site was originally chosen to be the capitol of south India.

 

The line of the Vijayanagara kings who ruled this area began with two brothers, Harihara I and Bukka Raya I. It is said that, as boys, they were enslaved and forcibly converted to Islam, in 1327, when their father was taken prisoner by advancing forces.

 

The two boys grew up, took back their freedom, and in 1336, they set up their capitol city at Hampi, and spent the rest of their lives staging a firm resistance to the Moslem intruders who were sweeping down the western regions of India from the north. The line of rulers and the empire they established held its ground against repeated incursions for around two hundred years.

 

Even though the city of Vijayanagara, or Hampi, was eventually overrun, the brave centuries-long stand of the Vijayanagara kings and their people meant that regions of India’s far south, like Tamil Nadu and Travancore (which was divided up later in the twentieth century), were able to retain their freedom, and unlike the central and most of the northern states, were never taken over and ruled by invaders.

 

4DSC00100

 

Since the sacking of Hampi in 1565, the city has never been rebuilt. No one lives there now, but the area has many people all the same. Tourists visit, especially from all over India. Guides offer their services, there are cold drink stands, and young boys, some clearly destined to be future entrepreneurs, sell guide books.

 

5DSC00106

 

No small family houses remain at Hampi, but hundreds of fascinating stone structures still stand in the approximately two mile by three mile area south of the river, which is a UNESCO heritage site.

 

3DSC00090

 

Many of the temples have been excavated in recent years, and archeological work is ongoing. One can walk up sloping rock hills to visit palaces, giant sculptures, and beautiful sites of worship, peering into the windows of the past. Long stone bazaars now stand empty – once they thronged with crowds where merchants sold diamonds, rubies, and gold; others fruits and vegetables, or simply trinkets and bangles.

 

An impressive 162 feet high dam has been built on the Tungabadra River to provide electricity and irrigation to the region around Hampi. Completed in 1953, it creates a large reservoir and the dam itself is lit up at night with colored lights. Despite the dam and the seemingly huge quantities of water, the area is suffering from a severe drought.

 

Trees dot the hillsides, some with leaves faded from the lack of rain. There are many date palms too, not originally native to south India.

 

DSC00153

 

In the fading light of the sunset, one can sense the presence of ancient spirits among the immense sculptures and temples; in them the glory and majesty of this great empire lives on. There is a gentleness in the beautifully carved sculptures and a lingering memory of the heroic strength of those who fought well to defend their land.

 

Top photo: The Tungabadra river where people can cross by boat to an island.

 

Second photo: A Ganesha shrine.

 

Third photo: Huge boulders, a natural feature of this region.

 

Fourth photo: The Tungabadra where it widens.

 

Fifth photo: Boys selling guide books.

 

Sixth photo: Tourists and a toppled pillar.

 

Seventh photo: This used to be a row of shops.

 

Eighth photo: Palms around a little shrine.

 

 

© Text and photos, Sharon St Joan, 2017

 

 

 

 

 

page one Popular upraising_invitation front mail

march 23, 2016 Popular upraising_invitation back mail

Nanditha receiving dr. of literature IMG_4954

 

Many congratulations to Dr. Nanditha Krishna on receiving an Honorary Doctorate of Literature on March 3, 2016 from Vidyasagar University, at Midnapore, West Bengal.

 

This honor was presented to Dr. Nanditha Krishna (right) by Dr. Ranjan Chakrabarti, Vice Chancellor (left) and by His Excellency Sri. K.N. Tripathi, Chancellor and Governor of West Bengal (center).

 

As well as being the author of over twenty books and hundreds of articles about Indian culture and traditions, Dr. Nanditha Krishna is the President of the C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar Foundation, which is active throughout south India, running schools, museums, the C.P.R. Institute of Indological Research, the C.P. Art Centre, and the C.P.R. Environmental Education Centre.

 

resized Doctorate of literture - threeIMG_1484

 

The C. P. R. Foundation carries out a vast array of programs and special projects – from the Kindness Kids Project to the restoration of over fifty sacred groves. Some programs further an awareness of Indian art, culture, history, and archeological discoveries. Some provide assistance and encouragement to those who may be less fortunate – people, especially children and women, of many diverse backgrounds and circumstances.

 

The work of the Foundation casts a light on many thousands of years of the life of India, from great classical art and history to folk art and folk traditions. At the heart of all these traditions and the work of the Foundation lies a deep appreciation of the natural world, animals, the earth, and the environment.

 

The C.P.R. Foundation was founded in 1966 to continue the work of one of India’s greatest statesmen, C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar.

 

To visit the website of the C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar Foundation, click here.

 

Older than time

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

 

By Sharon St Joan

 

The stone steps, narrow and slightly sloping from centuries of use, extend downwards from between the paws of the great lion down into the green waters of the tank where devotees put their hand into the water and sprinkle it on their heads. The largest and oldest of the temples in this area, the Vrinchipuram Margapandeswarar Temple stands near Vellore, in Tamil Nadu, in south India.

 

 

Its outer walls tower perhaps forty feet into the air and are massively thick, like those of a fortress. The atmosphere in the courtyard paved with giant stones is peaceful and very ancient — its ancientness being interwoven with its peace and its massive structure. Like eternity, it seems indestructible, permanent, and unmoving, calm like the great stones that dot the nearby granite hillsides.

 

Two Ganeshas in bas relief stand near the temple entrance – one for the main deity, Shiva, who is called here Margapandeswarar, the other for his consort, Parvati, called Maragadambal. They have two marriage halls in the temple where once a year crowds gather to celebrate anew their divine wedding. Steps lead up to these huge platforms that are adorned with hundreds of columns.

 

The Vrinchipuram Temple gets its name from Brahma, who is known here as Virinjin, and who worsipped Shiva at this place. In the sixteenth century, the Bomma Nayaka kings added the two wedding halls, for Margabandeswarar and the goddess Maragadambal, filled with beautiful sculptured columns, delicate and intricate, in the Nayaka style.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

Nayak rulers assumed power in south India after the defeat of the Vijayanagar Empire in 1564 by Moslems from the north. The Nayaks built many pillared halls in existing temples and tall gopurams.

 

Before entering the interior space of the temple, one walks along the wide stone pavements, inside the four outward walls. The temple goes back to the eighth century CE, to the time of the Chola kings, with Raja Raja Chola, who constructed the main shrine, being one of the earlier builders. Before Charlemagne held sway over his empire in Europe, people were coming to these halls to worship.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

As if to emphasize the expanse of time, a sundial stands in the courtyard, telling with its shadow cast by the sun, the correct time of 10:30 in the morning.

 

Growing along the walls, are palms which are the temple tree; here they have the unusual property of, on alternating years, producing black, then white flowers. No one knows how or why.

 

One of the greatest Hindu saints, Adi Shankar, who brought back Hinduism in the eighth century, after it had for some time been eclipsed by Buddhism and Jainism, visited this temple, to sing a sacred song by the waters of the tank at the feet of the lion.

 

Eight centuries later, in 1520, Sri Appayya Dikshithar (1520-1593), was born here. An enlightened Vedic teacher, philosopher, and writer, he is remembered as one of the greatest intellectual and spiritual lights of Hinduism, after Adi Shankar. A large cross-shaped indentation has been dug out in the courtyard and lined with stones. Once a year, it is filled with water as a memorial to him. His brother was a direct ancestor of the statesman C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar, in memory of whom the C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar Foundation was founded in 1966, in Madras.

 

Among a row of Shiva icons is a representation of a female Tamil poet and saint, a woman living in the sixth century who spent her life writing poetry to Shiva.

 

As in most Hindu temples, one may circle the icons of the nine planets, the navagraha. These are the sun; the moon; the five visible planets, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn; Rahu, who is the north lunar node; and Ketu, who is the south lunar node (lunar nodes are points along the moon’s orbit that relate to eclipses).

 

Unusually, the roof above the main sanctuary is made of strings of rudraksha beads. These are reddish seeds from a particular sacred tree. They are widely used and often worn as garlands for their properties to induce healing and spiritual well-being.

 

Beautiful and serene, massive and unmovable, the Vrincipuram Temple stands unperturbed by the din of the modern world, a doorway to worlds and levels beyond this one.

 

Photos: Nanditha Krishna

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A view of the Brihadeshwarer Temple

A view of the Brihadeshwarer Temple

The best thing about the six-part BBC documentary series, The Story of India, first aired in 2007, is Michael Wood’s boundless enthusiasm for India. He is joyful, respectful, admiring, and when he does occasionally laugh at one of the millions of paradoxes in Indian culture, he does so only gently and with kindness.

Part Four, the one I just watched, “Ages of Gold,” opens in the fourth century CE at the city of Patna, in northern India. In Europe, this is around the time of the fall of Rome, the onset of the Dark Ages in the west.

In India, it is the start of the great Gupta Empire. The Gupta kings have just defeated the invading Huns, and they now set into motion the Golden Age of classical India, when all the arts flourish.

The Ganges descended to earth by falling on to the hair of Lord Shiva.

The Ganges descended to earth by falling on to the hair of Lord Shiva.

Michael Wood next travels further east along the Ganges to Benares (Varanasi), where he arrives in time for the festival of the Goddess Durga, Durga Puja. At this time, the plays of Rama are being shown. The Ramayana, one of the two great epic poems of India, soared to great prominence in the fifth century CE, during the time of the Guptas.  The theme running throughout this wonderful epic is the quintessentially Indian concept that one must, above all, live a life of virtue. This concept is embodied in the hero, King Rama, and is present, even today, in the psyche, of all Indian people.

The Chinese traveler, Fa Hsien, visited India during the fifth century and wrote an account of his journey. Going along the Ganges plain, he described “great cities and towns,”  where the people were “rich and prosperous.” He said that there was “no capital punishment” and that “the people do not kill any living creature.”

The art of the Guptas was unsurpassed, but it was not only their art, but also their technology that was amazing. Michael Wood finds himself next in Delhi, admiring the Iron Pillar of Delhi, which stands 35 feet high, and according to the inscription on it, was commissioned by Chandragupta II.  This remarkable pillar, though made of iron, has never rusted, and even today, no one is sure how this was accomplished.

The Gupta period was also the golden age of science. India pioneered the use of the “zero,” a concept which is the foundation of mathematics.

The mathematician and astronomer, Aryabhata, who lived in the fifth century CE, proved that the earth went around the sun. He found the value of pi, and calculated the circumference of the earth. These and many other discoveries of his were not arrived at by Europeans until many centuries later during the Renaissance.

A gopuram of the Brihadeswarer Temple.

A gopuram of the Brihadeswarer Temple.

Early Indians knew that the universe was billions of years old. The belief in vast eons of time was not new to them.

All this is only the beginning of this enchanting hour.

Lord Shiva -- 11th century Chola bronze

Lord Shiva — 11th century Chola bronze

The episode “Ages of Gold” also covers the magnificence of the Chola kings, around the eleventh century — their extraordinary temples, their astonishingly beautiful bronze castings and how they are made, their libraries and histories, their classical dance, and their environmental achievements, such as the building of a 1,000 foot long dam, in ancient times, where the two great streams of the Kaveri River come together, which enabled the irrigation of vast areas of land so that rice could be cultivated, turning the land into some of the most productive agricultural fields on earth.

To watch six fascinating hours of Michael Wood’s The Story of India, you can find it at Netflix.

Photos:

Top, third and fourth photos: © Sharon St Joan, 2011

Second photo: Wikimedia Commons: “This media file is in the public domain in the United States. This applies to U.S. works where the copyright has expired, often because its first publication occurred prior to January 1, 1923.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Mythsofthehindus00niveuoft_0389.jpg

© Sharon St Joan; to find Sharon’s ebook on Amazon, Glimpses of Kanchi, click here

NandiKailassanatharDSC02374

 

The city of Kanchipuram first intrigued me when I visited there in 2010. After four more visits, this enchanting city seemed only more spell-binding than it did in the beginning.

 

Glimpses of Kanchi is a small ebook – made up of impressions of Kanchipuram (also called Kanchi) – its people, its history, its past, and present, its ancient temples and the spiritual traditions which have grown up there.

 

Today, Kanchi is a small city, at first glance perhaps not especially striking, except for the extraordinary temples, some over a thousand years old, which seem to have taken root everywhere. It has been called “the city of a thousand temples.”

 

There is also a long tradition of art and craftsmanship, especially beautiful fabric and sarees. And an erudite tradition of scholarship too.

 

Kanchipuram has a glorious past, and was the capital of the Pallava empire, which ruled most of southern India for many centuries, and which sent emissaries, to conduct trade and as missionaries, to the far corners of Asia. These missionaries were instrumental in the spread of Buddhism throughout the east, and, in that way, Kanchi made a unique contribution to the history of the Asian continent, which endures today.

 

To those for whom India is a magical event, with ancient threads going back into the most distant past, Kancipuram is like a brilliant jewel, glimmering in the Indian sunshine.

 

To find out more about Sharon’s ebook, Glimpses of Kanchi, click here.

 

Photo: © Sharon St Joan 2013, Nandi at the Kailasanathar Temple, Kanchipuram

 

Kurukshetra

The combattants “blew their loud-sounding conches and cymbals of sweet sounds…a frightful dust arose and nothing could be seen, for the sun himself, suddenly enveloped by it, seemed to have set….both armies, filled with joy, stood addrest for battle, on Kurukshetra like two agitated oceans.”  At the start of  the Kurukshetra war, recounted in the Mahabharata, two armies stood poised on the battlefield.

 

The Mahabharata is one of the two great epic poems of India.  It is long – eighteen volumes, and much of it deals with a great war that lasts eighteen days.  It is a civil war fought between two branches of a royal family – the Pandavas and the Kurus.

 

The Pandavas are the five sons of King Pandu, who has died, and the Kurus are the one hundred sons of King Dhritarashtra, who cannot rule because he is blind, and the customs of the time forbid him from ruling.

 

There has been much speculation about when in history this war may have occurred, with estimates ranging from 5,000 BCE to around 600 BCE.  No one knows for sure.

 

The entirety of Book Five is an account of the peace efforts that take place before the beginning of hostilities, as representatives of the Pandavas tried unsuccessfully to arrange a truce in order to avoid bloodshed.  The Pandavas did not want to fight.  Duryodhana, prince and leader of the Kurus insisted on war.

 

The Pandavas were closely related to the Kurus. They had grown up in the same family. Although the Pandavas, by right, could have demanded half of the lands claimed by the Kurus, which comprised a large part of India, they asked only for five villages – a tiny request – one village for each of the five Pandava brothers.

 

It may seem odd that a village should belong to someone, but this was a feudal system, not unlike the feudal system in medieval Europe where the people, villages, and lands belonged to the lord of the domain.

 

In any case, the Pandavas asked for only five villages, but this request was denied, and the Kuru leader, Duryodhana, was bent on going to war.  This followed many years of unfair and unjust treatment that Duryodhana had inflicted on his cousins, the Pandavas.

 

Krishna_Mediating_between_the_Pandavas_and_Kauravas

 

Even the divine Krishna himself traveled to Hastinapura, the city of the Kurus, to make a plea that this war should not be fought, that there should be peace, and that the two branches of the family should rule the great kingdom together in harmony. The olive branch that he extended was rejected.

 

With all attempts at reconciliation having failed, war was now inevitable. Seeing that they had to fight, all the young warriors turned their attention to boasting about how they would vanquish the enemy. They were at this point, eager for battle and confident that the victory would be theirs.  The next morning at dawn, they would begin the battle. Both sides anticipated victory and looked forward to a good fight.

 

This was not a small war. Hundreds of thousands of warriors traveled from all the corners of India and beyond to take part in the war.  They brought with them many thousands of war elephants and horses, who, sadly, would also be wounded and killed in the fighting.

 

The war was catastrophic, and nearly everyone on both sides was killed.  The Pandavas won the war; however, it was a hollow victory; with the destruction and deaths of so many, nothing was gained, and there was no happiness or joy in the victory, only a sense of sorrow and desolation. The five Pandava brothers, and their wife, Draupadi, in despair, climbed a mountain to end their lives. (The five brothers shared one wife, with each of them spending one year at a time with her. It is explained in the story how this came about.)

 

One by one they died during the ascent up the mountain, until, at the summit, only the just King Yudisthera, the eldest of the Pandava brothers, remained alive. A little dog had accompanied him on his way up the mountain. On the summit of the mountain, he was offered the chance to ascend to heaven, but only if he went on alone, abandoning the dog who had followed him so faithfully. Yudisthera declined, refusing to enter heaven if his dog could not come with him.

 

434px-Mahabharata06ramauoft_1182

 

Then the dog revealed himself as the Lord of Dharma or righteousness.  This had been a test of Yudisthera’s loyalty.  He had passed the test, and he and his dog entered heaven together.  His four brothers and Draupadi who had already died, would follow them into heaven as soon as they had fulfilled their karma.

 

The war of the Mahabharata brought the end of the great cosmic age, the dvapara yuga, which was an age when heroes, courage, and noble values still existed. The ending of the war ushered in the current age, an age of degeneration and corruption, which is the time we live in today.

 

There is much more, of course, to this story, which fills eighteen volumes. It is a story relevant to all times and places. As the story of a terrible war that ended in immense calamity, it is perhaps particularly relevant today.  Despite every effort of the Pandava princes to prevent a conflict that would end in disaster, they were drawn along relentlessly by the inexorable forces of war which they could do nothing to stop.

 

 

Images:

 

Top image: Wikimedia Commons / “A manuscript illustration (18th c.?) of the Battle of Kurukshetra, fought between the Kauravas and the Pandavas, recorded in the Mahabharata Epic.” / “This work is in the public domain in the United States, and those countries with a copyright term of life of the author plus 100 years or less.”

 

Second image: Source: http://www.mfa.org/collections/object/krishna-mediating-between-the-pandavas-and-kauravas-from-an-illustrated-manuscript-of-the-razmnama-mahabharata-148638 / Wikimedia Commons /  “This image (or other media file) is in the public domain because its copyright has expired.

“This applies to Australia, the European Union and those countries with a copyright term of life of the author plus 70 years.

“You must also include a United States public domain tag to indicate why this work is in the public domain in the United States.” / Indian, Mughal period, about 1600 / “Krishna Mediating between the Pandavas and Kauravas, from an illustrated manuscript of the Razmnama (Mahabharata).”

 

Third image: Source: http://archive.org/details/mahabharata06ramauoft / Author: Ramanarayanadatta astri / “This image (or other media file) is in the public domain because its copyright has expired.

“This applies to Australia, the European Union and those countries with a copyright term of life of the author plus 70 years. /

“You must also include a United States public domain tag to indicate why this work is in the public domain in the United States.” / Wikimedia Commons / Yudisthera ascending to heaven with his dog.

 

 

 

 

 

Rama and Sita – history or myth?

Grove School students re-enact a scene from the Ramayana

Grove School students re-enact a scene from the Ramayana

 

 

The Ramayana, one of the two great epic poems of India is known, not just throughout India, but all of southeast Asia, and to an extent, throughout the world.  It has captured the hearts of billions of people over millennia.

 

Briefly, this is the story of Rama and Sita, who are believed to have lived around 1,000 BC:

 

One of four brothers, Rama, as the eldest son of King Dasharatha, is about to be proclaimed the crown prince.  Before this can happen, one of the wives of Dasharatha, Kaikeyi, demands that her own son, Bharata, be named crown prince instead, and that Rama be sent off to live in the forest for fourteen years.  She demands this as her right because, once, many years before, she had saved the life of Dasharatha during a battle.  At the time, he promised her two wishes, which she never claimed, and spurred on by her scheming maid, she chooses this moment to claim the two wishes.

 

Students from the Grove School in a scene from the Ramayana

Students from the Grove School in a scene from the Ramayana

 

Virtually everyone in the city of Ayodhya is aghast at the thought of the beloved Rama, who is adored by all the people, being exiled to the forest.  No one is more profoundly distressed than his father Dasharatha, who worships the ground that Rama walks on.  Only Rama himself seems unperturbed and calmly accepting of his fate.

 

Dasharatha is king, and as king he must honor his commitments, whatever the cost. He promised the two boons to his wife, and he must not go back on his word. He has no choice but to grant the two wishes, pledged so many years ago, and to send his beloved son into the forest.

 

Rama leaves for the forest, accompanied by his loyal brother Lakshmana and his wife, Sita, who has insisted on going with her husband to live in the forest.

 

After spending over twelve years living in the forest, one day Sita is abducted by the demon, Ravana and is carried off to Sri Lanka, Ravana’s kingdom.  Rama, in despair, sets off to find Sita, and is only kept going by the help of his brother, and the many friends he meets along the way, including an army of monkeys and a wise old bear.  One of the greatest heroes—perhaps the true hero of the story, Hanuman, is a divine monkey, who exemplifies the qualities of absolute loyalty and selfless devotion to Rama.

 

Rama, Sita, and Lakshmana in the forest

Rama, Sita, and Lakshmana in the forest

 

With the assistance of so many loyal friends, Rama is able to defeat Ravana and rescue Sita.  The two return to Ayodhya triumphant and, with the fourteen years of banishment over, Rama, with Sita at his side, is crowned king, in a happy conclusion.

 

This is only the barest outline of the story which is infinitely complex, with every character existing on multiple levels, good and bad – divine and human –demonstrating nobility and a higher purpose, as well as human failings and flaws.

 

The overarching theme of the story is that Rama illustrates the profoundly Indian concept of dharma – or righteousness. Never deviating from his appointed path, he is unfailingly loyal and obedient, first and foremost to his father. It is Rama himself who is determined to obey his father and who never hesitates a moment, following his destiny, to endure a hard life in the forest for fourteen years.

 

This theme of loyalty, respect for one’s parents, and profound humility has carried through all of Indian culture, throughout the millennia, and is very much alive today in the heart of every Indian.

 

The story of Rama and Sita, the greatest legend of India, and perhaps the world, was for a long time relegated by western historians to the unhistorical status of myth.  One of the extraordinary reasons early European writers gave for this was that James Ussher, an Archbishop of Ireland in the seventeenth century, had calculated, based on the Bible, that the earth itself had been created on October 23, 4004 BC. Consequently, any records, anywhere in the world, which went back before that date must be mistaken. Rama and Sita thus fell into the category of myth, and there they remained until recent years.

 

During the Ramayana Festival Conference at the C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar Foundation in Chennai, India, February 1-3, it became abundantly clear that the age-old tale is in fact based on history and is not simply mythical.

 

Indian scholars and authorities are increasingly questioning the assumption by western authorities that the tale is nothing more than a story.

 

Every event in the story is firmly based on geography, having a precise location that can be pinpointed on a modern map.  The Ramayana is filled with lovely descriptions of trees and plants which are all geographically and scientifically precise.

 

The trees near the kingdom of Ayodhya are those species that are found there today.  The trees in the various forests where Rama and Sita lived – and those on the mountain where they met the army of the monkeys are all real, botanically correct trees.

 

Hanuman carrying the mountain

Hanuman carrying the mountain

 

Amazingly enough, though this is quite hard to explain scientifically, there is a mountain in Sri Lanka that is pointed, not rounded like the surrounding mountains. On it grow plants and trees that are found only in the Himalayas, over a thousand miles away.

 

In the Ramayana, Hanuman, the monkey god, is sent off in the midst of a major battle, to bring back an essential herb that is found only in the Himalayas.  Hanuman flies through the air, finds the mountain, and then realizes that because he is not a herbalist or a botanist, he has no idea how to recognize the herb he has been sent to get, which is urgently needed to revive Rama’s brother, Lakshmana, who is lying unconscious on the battlefield.  All the herbs and plants look alike to Hanuman.  Perplexed, he solves the problem, by picking up the entire mountain and flying back to Sri Lanka with it held aloft in one hand.

 

Lakshmana is given the correct herb and recovers.  Whatever all this means, who knows, but the herbs and plants growing on the only pointed mountain in Sri Lanka, grow nowhere else except in the Himalayas.

 

The tribal peoples of India have many legends about Rama, Sita, and Ravana.  The Gond people, for example, have legends that Rama and Sita visited them.  These stories are unique to them, and are not found in the standard story of the Ramayana.  This means that they have had a separate, native origin.  They are not simply derived from the Sanskrit version of Rama’s and Sita’s life.  This fact serves to confirm the authenticity of the historical reality of Rama and Sita – since they exist not only in Sanskrit stories, but quite independently – in tribal sources.

 

The evidence for the historical reality of the lives of Rama and Sita grows only stronger as time passes.  Tales and legends from many cultures throughout the world are being found to be not just made up as had for so long been the assumption, but to be based on the actual lives of people and on real history.

 

Top photo and second photo: Sharon St Joan / Students from the Grove School enacting scenes from the Ramayana.

The Grove School is run by the C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar Foundation and the students took part in the Ramayana Festival.

 

Third photo: Raja Ravi Press /1920’s / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain / “The lord Rama portrayed as exile in the forest, accompanied by his wife Sita and brother Lakshmana”

 

Fourth photo: Raja Ravi Varma (1848–1906) / Original Raja Ravi Verma Lithograph / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain / Hanuman carrying the mountain from the Himalayas

 

To visit the website of the C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar Foundation, click here

 

The ancestor and the bandit

Dr. Nanditha Krishna, by a tree in the Grove

A November 27 article in The Deccan Chronicle, by R. Bhaghwan Singh, tells the tale, recounted by Dr. Nanditha Krishna, of the adventures of one of her more colorful ancestors who lived in the 1700’s, and who was the grandfather of the well-known Indian leader, Sir C. P. Ramaswami Aiyer.

Today, the C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar Foundation, established to carry on the work he began in his lifetime, along with its affiliate, the C. P. R. Environmental Education Centre, are both run by Dr. Nanditha Krishna, their Honorary Director, and are located in the Grove in Alwarpet, Chennai.

Their institutes there include two schools, the Grove School and the Saraswathi Kendra Learning Centre for Children, the C. P. Art Centre, and the C.P.R. Institute of Indological Research Centre, as well as the offices of CPREEC.  The C.P.R. Environmental Education Centre (CPREEC) carries out extensive environmental educational programs throughout southern India. A nursery and primary school, and the Shakunthala Jaganathan Museum of Folk Art  are located in Kanchipuram and Dalam, an hour or so to the west of Chennai, and another nursery and primary school is in Kumbakonum, further south along the coast.

Sir C. P. Ramaswami Aiyar, among the most influential figures in modern Indian history, was a statesman and lawyer, who served for ten years as Diwan of Travancore.  A diwan is a chief minister.  Travancore was one of the southernmost states of India, located in what is now Kerala. He was originally from Madras (Chennai).

A 1,000 year old stone carving of Ganesha in the Grove

He held many offices and left behind a great wealth of writings, having had during his years of public service a major impact in many fields, political, social, and economic; one of the enduring reforms he brought about was the issuance, in 1936, of the Temple Entry Proclamation allowing all Hindus of every caste and class, including the Dalits (“untouchables”) to enter and worship in Hindu temples. Previously, entry to temples had been restricted to the upper castes.

He had a striking profile, which still commands attention, even today, and his portrait overlooks the main hall of the C.P Ramaswami Aiyar Foundation, as well as the hall of the Shakunthala Jaganathan Museum of Folk Art in Kanchipuram.

The main hall of the Shakunthala Jaganathan Museum of Folk Art, Sir C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar is in the photo on the wall, fourth from the right.

Since it would be hard to exaggerate the respect with which “Sir C.P.” as he tends to be called, is regarded in India—the tale of his adventurous ancestor provides an unexpected, light-hearted background to the family history.

His grandfather, Chetupattu Ramaswami Iyer was born the seventh son of a family in North Arcot.  A seventh son in those days wasn’t going to inherit much of the family fortune, and to make matters even more challenging, his only education had been a traditional Brahmin one—in yoga, and the vedic scriptures—not likely to equip him in any really down-to-earth way to compete in the changing world of the eighteenth century.

North Arcot  was an inland district of what is now the state of Tamil Nadu, lying to the west of what was then the Madras (Chennai) Presidency.  A Wikipedia article speculates that the name Arcot came from the Tamil words, “Aaru Kaadu,”  meaning “six forests.”

To the north of the district lie the Tirupati Hills.

The young Chetupattu Ramaswami Dikshitar left his home in North Arcot and set out to seek his fortune in the big city of Chennai on the coast,  where he obtained a job as a policeman. There he took up using the name Iyer (derived from Arya), which was being used by other Brahmins in Madras (Chennai).

An enterprising young man, looking for a way to better his prospects in life, he was drawn to an ad offering 5,000 rupees—in those days a gigantic sum of money—as a reward for capturing an outlaw named Arunachalum.

He captured the criminal, Arunachalum, collected the award money, and Arunachalam was sent off to prison.  However, this was not the end of the story.  Arunachalam swore that he would get even.  He escaped from prison, hunted down Ramaswami Iyer, and assaulted him at a secluded spot by the roadside.  Ramaswami Iyer escaped being killed only by using his yogic skills, which enabled him to control his breathing and pretend to be dead.

After he recovered from the beating he had received, he set off again in pursuit of Arunachalam and once more succeeded in capturing him.  This time Arunachalam remained in prison and did not escape.  Ramaswami collected the reward money a second time.  With this ten thousand rupees, he and one of his relatives by marriage bought 100 acres of land in Alwarpet. A few of his descendants later sold off much of the property, but the Grove now stands on the remaining five acres, which today are among the most valuable real estate in Chennai.

This land is now the focal point for the work of the C. P. Ramaswami Aiyar Foundation, which promotes Indian culture and art, while educating and advancing the well-being of people of many diverse circumstances and backgrounds.

Rudra Krishna, the younger son of Dr. Nanditha Krishna and Dr. Chinny  Krishna, and a descendant of the original Ramaswami Iyer has just published a book about his adventurous ancestor:  The Onus of Karma.

You can purchase it from Amazon.com.  I have ordered it, but haven’t read it yet.  It looks fascinating!

For the website of the C. P. Ramaswami Aiyar Foundation, click here.

For the  CPREEC Foundation website, click here.

For the Facebook page of the Onus of Karma, click here.

To read the article mentioned above in the Deccan Chronicle, click here.

Photos: Sharon St Joan