Friday, December 23, 2022

Shiva: The Mahabharata’s God of Vengeance

Shiva statue (1300 CE)

Shiva makes several appearances in the Mahabharata in the form of the fiery God who grants vengeance. The characters who are burning with the desire to annihilate their enemies invoke Shiva for strength, weapons, and warriors. The Mahabharata is a Vashnavaite text, devoted to extolling the deeds and philosophy of Krishna, the eighth avatar of Vishnu. Shiva stands on Krishna’s side—the characters he empowers are Krishna’s acolytes. 

The first character who prays to Shiva for vengeance is Amba, the daughter of the King of Kashi. She wants to kill Bhishma. She goes to the mountains and performs austerities. Shiva appears before her and grants her the boon that she would be the cause of Bhishma’s death in her next life. To expedite Bhishma’s death, Amba commits suicide by jumping into fire. She is reborn as Shikhandi in the household of King Draupada. At the time of the Mahabharata war, Shikhandi was instrumental in the slaying of Bhishma.

The second character who prays to Shiva for vengeance is Draupada. Half of Draupada’s empire had been usurped by Drona and other Kauravas. He asked Shiva for children who would slay the Kauravas. Shikhandi was born in his family. After that two more children were born through him: Dhrishtadyumna, a powerful warrior who would behead Drona in the Mahabharata war, and Draupadi, a beautiful maiden who married the five Pandava brothers and played a pivotal role in the ensuring the destruction of the Kauravas.

The third character who prays to Shiva for vengeance is Arjuna. After Yudhishthira's defeat in the gambling match, the Pandavas were exiled in the forest. While they were living in the forest, Arjuna was instructed by the Lord of Heaven, Indra, to seek arms from Shiva. Arjuna left his brothers and Draupadi, and went to a remote part of the forest to perform his austerities. Pleased with Arjuna’s prayers, Shiva granted him the Pashupatastra weapon.

Thursday, December 22, 2022

Bhishma and the Kuru Bloodline

Vyasa with Satyavati

(Geeta Press Illustration)

The Mahabharata is generally read as the saga of the great war between the two factions of the Kuru dynasty: the Pandavas (the sons of Pandu) and the Kauravas (the sons of Dhritarashtra). But in a biological sense this is not correct. The Kuru bloodline ended with Bhishma—Pandu and Dhritarashtra did not belong to the Kuru bloodline. 

Bhishma was the son of Shantanu, the king of Hastinapur, and Goddess Ganga. When Ganga left Shantanu and returned to heaven, Shantanu married Satyavati. They had two children Chitrangada and Vichitravirya. Bhishma had renounced the throne in favor of the children of Satyavati, and he had also taken the vow that he would remain a lifelong celibate to ensure that he did not sire children who might someday challenge the descendants of Shantanu and Satyavati for the throne of Hastinapur.

The task of taking the Kuru bloodline forward belonged to Chitrangada and Vichitravirya.

Chitrangada was an arrogant and violent man. He got into a fight with a Gandharva of the same name. After a fierce battle, which went on for several days, he was killed. Now Vichitravirya was the only one left who could take the Kuru bloodline forward. But he was a man of strange masculinity—the term “Vichitra” means strange, and the term “virya” means masculinity. He could have been impotent, weak, sterile, or sexually divergent. 

Since Vichitravirya was incapable of doing the needful, Bhishma took matters into his own hands. The King of Kashi had organized a svayamvara for the marriage of his three daughters—Amba, Ambika, and Ambalika. Bhishma forcefully entered the svayamvara, abducted the three daughters, and brought them to Hastinapur with the intention of marrying them to Vichitravirya. Amba insisted that she wanted to marry the King of Shalva. Bhisma allowed her to leave.  Ambika and Ambalika were married to Vichitravirya. 

Unfortunately, Vichitravirya died before he could produce a child with Ambika and Ambalika. Satyavati pleaded with Bhishma that he should produce children with Ambika and Ambalika for taking the Kuru bloodline forward. But Bhishma refused to break his vow of celibacy. Satyavati then pleaded with Krishna Dvaipayana (Veda Vyasa), her first child with the wandering Sage Parashara. Her union with Parasara had happened before her marriage with Shantanu—this was a divine union which left her virginity intact despite her becoming a mother. 

At that time, Vyasa was engaged in extreme austerities. Having compiled the four Vedas, he was famous in the three worlds. He accepted the plea of his mother and impregnated Ambika and Ambalika. From Ambika the blind Dhritarashtra was born. From Ambalika the pale and weak Pandu was born. Satyavati was dissatisfied by the deformity of her two grandchildren. She sent Vyasa to Ambika again. But Ambika did not want to have another tryst with the fearsome ascetic. She asked her maid to take her place in the bed. From the maid, Vidura was born. 

By the custom of Niyoga, which was prevalent in that age, Dhritarashtra, Pandu, and Vidura were regarded as the sons of Vichitravirya and hence a part of the Kuru dynasty. But they were the sons of mothers, Ambika, Ambalika, and Ambika’s maid, and father Vyasa—who were not of the Kuru bloodline. Since Vyasa was a Brahmin, it can be argued that the Pandavas and the Kauravas belonged to a Brahmanical bloodline. Bhishma was a Kshatriya and the last of the Kurus.

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

The Sons of Indra and Surya

Sunrise in Uttarakhand

The feud between Karna and Arjuna in the Mahabharata can be seen as a continuation of the ancient rivalry between the two Gods: Surya (the Lord of the Sun) and Indra (the Lord of Swarga-Loka or heaven). Karna is Surya’s son; Arjuna is Indra’s son. In the Mahabharata war, Arjuna killed Karna with the help of Krishna, the eighth avatar of Vishnu. 

In the Ramayana, which happened in an earlier Yuga, the rivalry between Surya and Indra has been depicted through a clash between the two brothers Vali and Sugriva. Vali was the son of Indra and Sugriva was the son of Surya. In this case, Rama, the seventh avatar of Vishnu, sided with Sugriva. With Rama’s help, Vali was slain and Sugriva proclaimed the king of Kishkindha, the kingdom of the divine vanaras.

Thus, in the Mahabharata, Indra’s son destroyed Surya’s son; in the Ramayana, Surya’s son destroyed Indra’s son. The decisive role in both cases was played by the avatar of Vishnu. Victory went to the side supported by Vishnu. The question of who is more powerful between the two Gods—Indra and Surya—remains unanswered till this day.

Who Controls Social Media and Mainstream Media?

In his tweet on 17 December, Matt Taibi said: “Twitter’s contact with the FBI was constant and pervasive, as if it were a subsidiary… The #TwitterFiles are revealing more every day about how the government collects, analyzes, and flags your social media content.” 

The #TwitterFiles show that the FBI used to give Twitter management a list of individuals that they wanted to be silenced. Twitter used to immediately comply. If the American intelligence agencies (basically the political establishment in America) can control social media, then why do we expect them to allow the mainstream media to remain free? I don’t think the mainstream media in America and other countries is free. The mainstream media pretends to be free, but in every country, they are in control of the political establishment.

The trending stories in social media, the breaking news stories in mainstream media do not provide a true picture of the world—these stories are fake; they are propaganda.

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

A View of the Mahabharata War

Statue of Krishna and Arjuna in chariot

Kurukshetra (Haryana)

The Kauravas lost the Mahabharata war. The Pandavas were victorious. But the entire Kuru clan (the Kauravas and the Pandavas) went to Swarga-Loka (heaven) after the war. What does this imply? It implies that Dharma was on both sides. In Hinduism, Dharma is one of the four components of Purushartha (the primary objectives of life). The other three components are: Artha, Kama, and Moksha. Dharma means righteousness and observance of moral and religious values. 

The Mahabharata war was not about Dharma. Both sides were righteous. Both sides were strict in the observance of moral and religious values. Since there was no difference between the two sides on the issue of Dharma, it was difficult for Lord Krishna’s Yadava clan to decide which side they should support in the war. Lord Krishna joined the Pandavas because he felt that injustice had been done to them. But he did not pick up arms against the Kauravas; he served as Arjuna’s charioteer. His army joined the Kaurava side. Krishna’s brother Balarama, who was the commander of a powerful army, refused to join either side, as he could not see any difference between the two sides—he remained neutral. 

The Mahabharata war was about Kurukshetra and justice. The word “kshetra” means land— Kurukshetra signifies the land of the Kurus, which in context of the Mahabharata means the planet earth. The Pandavas believed that, according to the tenets of justice, the earth belonged to them; the Kauravas believed that it belonged to them. Both sides were intent on becoming the king of the world. Since neither side was ready to compromise, war was the only option.

Monday, December 19, 2022

Garuda and the Metaphysics of Death and Rebirth

Vishnu and Lakshmi on Garuda

(12th century sculpture)

A major difference between Hinduism and the Semitic religions is in the area of the metaphysics of death and rebirth. In Semitic religions death is permanent—when an individual dies, his soul goes to heaven or hell, depending on his deeds, and there it resides till eternity. In Hinduism, death is not permanent. After serving in the world of afterlife, a dead man’s soul returns to the land of the living. The process of birth and rebirth is eternal, and all beings, even the supreme sages and Gods, are subject to it. 

Every year, Hindus observe Pitru Paksha for a fortnight—the word “pitru” means ancestors and “paksha” means fortnight. The sixteen days of Pitru Paksha fall on the 2nd fortnight of the Hindu lunar month of Bhadrapada (September). In this period, Hindus perform rituals to venerate and feed the souls of their dead ancestors. It is the metaphysics of death and rebirth that drives these rituals—the living believe that by performing these rituals they will facilitate a quick return (rebirth) of their dead ancestors from the land of the dead. 

The metaphysics of death and rebirth, and the custom of observing Pitru Paksha is one of the oldest features of Hinduism—these religious and philosophical ideas were developed in the Vedic Age, about 4000 years ago, and are explicated in the Garuda Purana, which is one of the major Puranas of Hinduism. Most historians believe that the Garuda Purana was systematized between the seventh and ninth centuries CE, but the religious and philosophical knowledge contained in this text is to a large extent of Vedic origin. 

Garuda is the divine eagle who is more powerful than Indra and all the Devas. He is the vanquisher of nagas, and the mount of Lord Vishnu. He is capable of flying anywhere in the universe. He is full of wisdom and dharma. When he receives Amrita (the elixir of eternal life) after defeating Indra and the Devas, he does not drink it. He faithfully transports the Amrita to the right place, and ensures its eventual return to the Devas. He does not crave for power, wealth, and glory—he wants wisdom and knowledge. His desire for wisdom and knowledge is fulfilled by Vishnu. 

From Vishnu, Garuda learns about the metaphysics of death and rebirth, and what the living must do to ensure the happy rebirth of their dead ancestors. Garuda transmits this knowledge to his father Kashyapa Prajapati. Kashyapa taught this knowledge to Bhrigu, who taught it to Vasishtha. From Vasishtha this knowledge went to Parashara, who told it to Veda Vyasa. For the benefit of mankind, Vyasa compiled this knowledge in the text called Garuda Purana. During the observation of Pitru Paksha, it is a tradition to recite the verses from Garuda Purana.

Sunday, December 18, 2022

The Four Sons of Lord Shiva

The Pashupati Seal Depicting Shiva

Mohenjo-Daro (2350–2000 BCE)

The Puranas and other ancient texts (Itihasas) narrate the deeds of Shiva’s four sons: Kartikeya, Ganesha, Ayyappa, and Hanuman. The four sons had divine births and became the powerful Gods of Hindu tradition. All four are probably celibate—I use the word “probably,” because in some native legends, the marriages of Kartikeya and Ganesha have been described. 

Kartikeya is warlike, muscular, ever-youthful, and armed with divine weapons. He is the leader of the army of devas (Gods) and a slayer of demons. Ganesha is corpulent and profound. He is the granter of fertility and prosperity. He is the God of wisdom and the most proficient scribe in the universe. He wrote the verses of the Mahabharata as they were being recited by Veda Vyasa. 

Kartikeya is associated with the peacock and the rooster (warlike and masculine symbols); Ganesha is associated with the elephant and the snake (fertile and feminine symbols). Based on the story of his divine birth, Kartikeya is sometimes depicted with six heads; Ganesha is always depicted with an elephant’s head which was given to him by Shiva.  

Ayyappa is handsome and rides a tiger; Hanuman is the monkey God and the central character in the Ramayana. Both are celibate, warlike, dharmic, and always engaged in austerities. Like their father Shiva, both are hermits. They are the epitome of dharma, truth, and righteousness. Ayyappa is the slayer of the shape-shifting demon Mahishi; Hanuman is the invincible divine warrior and the dedicated follower of Rama, the seventh incarnation of Vishnu. 

Ganesha and Ayyappa are the Gods of dharmic living—they enable individuals and societies in discovering the right balance between Yoga and Bhoga so that the values of Artha (economic values), Kama (pleasure), Dharma (righteousness), and Moksha (liberation) are attained. Kartikeya and Hanuman are the philosopher warriors—they are the Gods of protection from worldly dangers and evil spirits. 

The four sons of Shiva represent the values of tapa (pursuit of dharma and moksha) and rasa (pursuit of happiness and the fulfillment of one’s worldly obligations).

Saturday, December 17, 2022

Aurobindo: Nationalism is the Work of God

Copy of Bande Mataram

Edited by Sri Aurobindo

September 1907

Shri Aurobindo viewed nationalism as the work of God. In his lecture delivered under the auspices of the Bombay National Union, on 19th January, 1908, he said:

“You call yourselves Nationalists. What is Nationalism? Nationalism is not a mere political programme; Nationalism is a religion that has come from God; Nationalism is a creed which you shall have to live. Let no man dare to call himself a Nationalist if he does so merely with a sort of intellectual pride, thinking that he is more patriotic, thinking that he is something higher than those who do not call themselves by that name. If you are going to be a Nationalist, if you are going to assent to this religion of Nationalism, you must do it in the religious spirit. You must remember that you are the instruments of God…. Nationalism survives in the strength of God and it is not possible to crush it, whatever weapons are brought against it. Nationalism is immortal; Nationalism cannot die; because it is no human thing, it is God.”

In context of the history of the world since the fifteenth century, Aurobindo was right in comparing nationalism with God. The European states were the first to develop a sense of nationalism—that is why they managed to colonize large parts of several continents after the fifteenth century. People in other parts of the world were divided into many religious and tribal groups—they did not possess a sense of nationhood. The Europeans were united under the banner of “One God, One Monarch, One Nation.” They were motivated by the aim of furthering the racial, economic, and political interests of their nation. Aurobindo understood this aspect of history—he understood that European nationalism was the fountainhead of European global success. He understood that India could not become a great nation until the Indians developed a sense of nationalism.

Friday, December 16, 2022

Ram Mohan Roy’s View of Sanskrit Education

Stamp Dedicated to the Sanskrit College

(Issued in 1999)

In 1823, work began in Calcutta to build a new Sanskrit college. Ram Mohan Roy was opposed to this college because he was convinced that education in Sanskrit had no practical use. He felt that Anglicization was the best option for India. He wrote, in his perfect English, a letter to William Amherst, the Governor-General of India from 1823 to 1828, to denounce the project for building a Sanskrit college in Calcutta. 

Here’s an excerpt from Roy’s letter:

“We find that the government is establishing a Sanskrit school under Hindu pandits to impart such knowledge as is already current in India. This seminary… can only be expected to load the minds of youth with grammatical niceties and metaphysical distinctions of little or no practical use to the possessors or to society. The pupils will acquire what was known two thousand years ago with the addition of vain and empty subtleties…” (Sources of Indian Tradition, by Theodore De Barry; Page 593)

Roy goes on to say that he was opposed to the Sanskrit college because “the Sanskrit system of education would be something best calculated to keep this country in darkness…” (Page 595)

In the middle part of his lengthy letter, Roy (who was himself educated in a Sanskrit institution in Banaras) makes disdainful comments on several aspects of ancient Sanskrit texts and the system of Sanskrit based education. But Roy’s analysis of Sanskrit culture was outrageously incorrect—those who are acquainted with ancient Indian texts would recognize these aspects as the greatest achievements of ancient Sanskrit literature, philosophy, linguistics, and political theory. 

Most Indians prefer to blame British intellectuals like Thomas Macaulay and James Mill for creating a negative opinion in India and Europe about Sanskrit literature and Hindu culture, which persists till this day, and promoting the Anglicization of India’s education. They ignore the role played by prominent Hindu intellectuals like Roy.

What Roy’s letter to William Amherst proves is that the educated class of Hindus have mostly been people with amnesia. Even intellectuals like Roy did not really possess a sense of India’s history, or even interest in it. They were not aware of the fact that the Indian subcontinent was one of the earliest centers of human civilization. They were not aware of the achievements of Sanskrit literature, philosophy, linguistics, and political theory. 

Despite Roy’s opposition, the Sanskrit College was founded on 1 January 1824, and the college rose to prominence during the principalship of Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar in 1851.

Thursday, December 15, 2022

The Master of Eclipses: Rahu and Ketu

Statue of Mohini

(Avatar of Vishnu)

The devas (Gods) can be defined as the beings who drank the amrita (the elixir of eternal life), and the danavas (demons) can be defined as those who were denied the amrita in the primordial age when Samudra Manthana, the churning of the cosmic ocean, took place. Svarbhanu was a special danava—his head drank the amrita, the rest of his body didn’t. He became the progenitor of the two entities, Rahu and Ketu, who have the attributes of both devas and danavas. 

The story of Samudra Manthana is given in the Vishnu Purana and several other ancient texts, including the Mahabharata (Adi Parva; sub-parva: Astika Parva). 

The devas, the sons of Aditi, and the danvas, the sons of Diti, were fighting over the pot of amrita that Dhanvantari, the heavenly physician, had brought out of the ocean during Samudra Manthana. To prevent the danavas from becoming immortal by drinking the amrita, Vishnu appeared in the form of Mohini, the goddess of seduction. Mohini wooed the danvas, and made them agree to her plan for distributing the amrita. She made the devas and the danavas sit in rows, and began to distribute the amrita—the devas were the first recipients. 

Svarbhanu became suspicious. Disguised as a deva, he sat in the row of devas and received amrita from Mohini. The moment the amrita dropped into his mouth, the Sun God and the Moon God recognized Svarbhanu. They alerted Vishnu, who used his Sudarshan Chakra to slice Svarbhanu’s neck before the amrita could drop into his body. 

Svarbhanu’s head became Rahu, the implacable enemy of the two Gods—the Sun and the Moon—who were responsible for alerting Vishnu. Rahu took the vow of eating the Sun and the Moon from time to time, and since then he has been the cause of eclipses. The torso of Svarbhanu became a headless demon called Ketu, a directionless comet. Rahu is represented as a cosmic serpent’s head, while Ketu is represented as the serpent’s tail.

Rahu and Ketu are part of the Navagraha (nine planets) system of Hindu astrology which is based on nine cosmic bodies: Surya (sun), Chandra (moon), Mangala (Mars), Budha (Mercury), Brahaspati (Jupiter), Shukra (Venus), Shani (Saturn), Rahu, and Ketu. Identified as the invisible cosmic bodies which reside at the points of intersection in the paths of the sun and the moon, Rahu and Ketu possess the power to influence, mostly unfavorably, the life of human beings.

Wednesday, December 14, 2022

The Sutras and Bhasyas of the Six Schools of Hindu Philosophy

Shankaracharya with disciples

Painting by Raja Ravi Varma

Of the six schools of Hindu philosophy (Vaishesika, Nyaya, Samkhya, Yoga, Mimansa and Vedanta), Samkhya is the oldest. The root sutra of Samkhya (by Sage Kapila) is not extant—we know about this philosophy from references in the Vedas, Puranas, and the Mahabharata. Isvara Krishna’s Sankhyakarika is the earliest exposition of Samkhya that is extant. 

The root sutra of Yoga is  Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra. The dualistic metaphysics of Samkhya underpins the practical and action based psychology of Yoga. 

The root sutra of Nyaya, the school of logic and argumentation, is Gautama’s Nyaya Sutra. The root sutra of Vaisheshika, which is an atomistic tradition, is Kanada’s Vaisheshika Sutra. In the ancient age, Nyaya and Vaisheshika were separate schools. But in the early Middle Ages, they started coming together, forming a single syncretic school, Nyaya-Vaisheshika, which specialized in logic, argumentation, epistemology, and metaphysics. 

The root sutra of Mimamsa, the school of scriptural exegesis, is Jaimini’s Mimamsa Sutra. The school of Vedanta (also known as Uttara Mimamsa) focuses on the teachings of the later Upanishadic texts and its root sutra is Badarayana’s Brahma Sutra

For every root sutra, there is a bhasya (commentary), which comes at a later stage.

For Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, the bhasya is Vyasa’s Yogabhasya. For Gautama’s Nyaya Sutra, the bhasya is Vatsyayana’s Nyayabhasya. For Kanada’s Vaisheshika Sutra, the bhasya is Prasastapada’s Padartha-dharma-saṅgraha. For Jaimini’s Mimamsa Sutra, the bhasya is Shabara’s Shabarabhashya. For Badarayana’s Brahma Sutra, the bhasya is Adi Shankaracharya’s Brahma Sutra Bhasya.

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Language and Grammar in the Vedic Age

Birch bark manuscript from Kashmir of 

Panini’s Rupavatara

Panini (about 800 BCE) was the last of the Vedic grammarians. Several grammarians came centuries before him. In his works, Panini has admitted his debt to Yaska (the author of Nirukta, dated to the 9th century BCE), Paraskara, Sakatayana, and Vyasa. Old Sanskrit was probably fully systematized at the time of the composition of the early verses of the Rig Veda (before 1500 BCE).

The Rig Veda contains verses which indicate that the Vedic sages were aware of the art of writing, and the rules of grammar and vocabulary. Here’s a translation of the Rig Veda’s verses 1 to 4, from Hymn 71 of Mandala 10 (T.H. Griffith’s translation): 

1. WHEN-men, Brhaspati, giving names to objects, sent out Vak's first and earliest utterances,
     All that was excellent and spotless, treasured within them, was disclosed through their affection.
2. Where, like men cleansing corn-flour in a cribble, the wise in spirit have created language,
     Friends see and recognize the marks of friendship: their speech retains the blessed sign imprinted.
3. With sacrifice the trace of Vak they followed, and found her harbouring within the Rsis.
     They brought her, dealt her forth in many places: seven singers make her tones resound in concert.
4. One man hath ne'er seen Vak, and yet he seeth: one man hath hearing but hath never heard her.
     But to another hath she shown her beauty as a fond well-dressed woman to her husband.

In the above verses, the sages are insisting on distinct and correct articulation of letters and words. They believed that if the words in a hymn were not articulated correctly, the Gods would be displeased. Language and speech were of such importance that they were regarded as a Goddess. In Mandala 10, Hymn 125 of the Rig Veda, the Goddess Speech describes herself and the role that she played among the Gods and humans. Here’s a translation of verses 5 and 6:

5. I, verily, myself announce and utter the word that Gods and men alike shall welcome.
     I make the man I love exceeding mighty, make him a sage, a Rsi, and a Brahman.
6. I bend the bow for Rudra that his arrow may strike and slay the hater of devotion.
     I rouse and order battle for the people, and I have penetrated Earth and Heaven.

Another point worth noting is that the Vedas and the Upanishads contain references to very large numbers. Without possessing the knowledge of writing, the Vedic sages could not have made such complex calculations. 

Study of language and grammar was an essential component of the six limbs of Vedanga—Shiksha, Chandas, Vyakarana, Nirukta, Kalpa, and Jyotisha. The Upanishads describe the six limbs as an essential part of the Brahmanas section of the Vedic texts. It is justified to assume that these subjects were in existence throughout the Vedic period (before 1000 BCE), and were an essential part of the Vedic education system. 

Shiksha was devoted to the training of articulation; Chandas to the study of poetic meters; Vyakarana to grammar and linguistic analysis; Nirukta to etymology or the explanation of words; kalpa to the training in rites and rituals (geometry or sulva sastra was part of it); Jyotisha to the study of the movement of planets, stars, and other heavenly bodies.

Monday, December 12, 2022

India’s Unlikely Hero: P. V. Narasimha Rao

P. V. Narasimha Rao

The irony is that India’s strongest political and economic reforms were conducted by its weakest government—the government led by P. V. Narasimha Rao (PVNR). 

When we think of the strong leaders of the twentieth century, personalities like  Stalin, Churchill, Xiaoping, Nehru, Thatcher, and Reagan come to mind. No one would think of PVNR as a strong leader. Normally dour, he was a lackluster politician. He had a feeble connection with the masses. But in retrospect it is clear that he had as great an impact on India as Stalin, Churchill, Xiaoping, Nehru, Thatcher, and Reagan had on their own countries.

Before becoming the prime minister, PVNR never exuded strength. He never said or did anything that might create the impression that he had an ideology and the ability to act decisively. While he held several important portfolios, in his public appearances he looked like a faceless bureaucrat whose sole purpose in life was to follow the orders of his political masters. In his speeches and interviews, nothing except the politically correct banalities came out of his mouth. 

In 1991, he was catapulted into the office of prime minister by powerful politicians who took him to be a weak man who would always be a blind follower of the almighty Nehru-Gandhi family. They expected him to keep the seat of prime minister warm till the time a descendent of the Nehru-Gandhi family became ready to take that office. 

No one expected PVNR to do anything that would jeopardize the interests of the Nehru-Gandhi family. No one could have believed that he had it in him to take any political decision without taking permission from the Nehru-Gandhi family. No one could have believed that he would initiate economic reforms and liberate the country from Nehruvian socialism. No one could have believed that he would unleash cultural forces that would transform India’s politics.  

PVNR was the prime minister for five years, between 1991 and 1996. The office of prime minister transformed him. He started taking decisive economic and political decisions. The history of India after independence can be divided into two phases: the after-PVNR phase and the before-PVNR phase. With a few decisive moves, he destroyed the edifice of Nehruvian socialism and opened a large chunk of India’s economy to investors and entrepreneurs. 

The Ram Janmabhoomi Movement (RJM) gained new strength while PVNR was the prime minister. Though the RJM was being spearheaded by the BJP (under L. K. Advani’s leadership) and other affiliates of the Sangh parivar, PVNR contributed to the strength of this movement by refraining from ordering a decisive police or military action to squelch it. It is not clear if PVNR was secretly in favor of the RJM. Was he a supporter of the Rama temple in Ayodhya?

The India of the twenty-first century, where there is high economic growth and growing consciousness of Hindu traditions, was founded in the years when PVNR was the prime minister. Strange to say, but PVNR was India’s unlikely hero.

Sunday, December 11, 2022

Sankhya and Yoga in the Mahabharata

Bhishma Lying on the Bed of Arrows

Sankhya and Yoga are founded on the same metaphysics; the difference between them is in practice. Sankhya seeks to achieve a vision of the Purusa (atman) through intelligence and knowledge; Yoga seeks to achieve it through physical and mental activities. There are about 900 references to Yoga in the Mahabharata, and about 150 to Sankhya. In several cases, the Mahabharata passages contain combined references to Sankhya and Yoga.

In the Shanti Parva section of the Mahabharata (sub-parva: Moksha-dharma Parva), Yudhishthira asks Bhisma to explain the difference between Sankhya and Yoga. Bhisma replies: “The followers of Sankhya praise their system and the Yogins praise the Yoga system. For establishing the superiority of their respective systems, each proclaim that their system is the best for attaining the goals of life. I consider both these views to be true. I approve of both Yoga and Samkhya. There is no knowledge equal to Sankhya, and no power equal to Yoga. If practiced with devotion either would lead to the highest end.” 

The essence of Bhisma’s teaching is that Sankhya and Yoga are the same. What the practitioners of Sankhya experience, the same is experienced by the Yogins. The ones who are the knowers of truth see no difference between Sankhya and Yoga. In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishan reiterates the same point: “both lead to the same goal, even though Yoga is a more action based practice.”

Saturday, December 10, 2022

Naubandhana Peak of the Vedic Age: Mt. Everest of Our Time

During the Vedic age, the tallest peak in the Himalayan mountain range, Mount Everest, was known as Naubandhana. Naubandhana means “binding of the ship.” According to tradition, the boat carrying the great sages and the seeds of all life on earth was tied to Naubandhana at the time of the great deluge (mass annihilation). 

The story of Naubandhana is narrated in the Mahabharata, and in several Puranas. The high mountain called Navaprabhramsana, which is mentioned in the Atharva Veda, corresponds to Naubandhana of the Mahabharata and the Puranas

In the Vana Parva section of the Mahabharata (sub-parva: Markandeya-Samasya Parva), the great Sage Markandeya arrived at the Kamyaka forest where the Pandavas were living during the period of their exile. As they do with all great sages, the Pandavas asked Markandeya several questions regarding dharma and the state of the universe in ancient times. 

When the Pandavas inquired about Vaivasvata Manu, the progenitor of the human race in the present kalpa (aeon) of Hindu cosmology, Markandeya narrated the story of how life on earth was saved at the time of the great deluge. 

One day when Manu was performing his austerities on the banks of the River Virini a small fish came to him. The fish said: “O Illustrious one, o divine one, I am small and feeble. I am frightened that the larger fishes would devour me. It is a rule of the water-world that the large fish devour the small fish. You are good in dharma. Please save my life.” 

Overcome with compassion, Manu took the fish out of water and placed it in a water pot. He started caring for the fish as if it were his own child. The fish soon became so large that it could not move in the water pot. Manu took the fish out of the water pot and placed it in a pond. The fish continued to grow and in a few years it was so large that it could not move in the pond. 

The fish beseeched Manu to take him to the River Ganga. Manu picked up the fish and placed it in the River Ganga. After a few years, the fish became so large that it could not move around in the River Ganga. Manu then picked up the fish and took it to the ocean. Despite the great size of the fish, Manu could carry it with ease because of his divine powers. 

When Manu released the fish into the ocean, the fish seemed to smile. The fish said: “O divine sage. You have always protected and sustained me. Now hear from me what you should do at the right time. The time of destruction of the earth is near. You must build a sturdy boat and ascend it with the sapta-rishis (the seven sages of the Hindu tradition) and carry with you the seeds of all forms of life. At the time of destruction, you should wait for me in the boat. I will come and rescue your boat. You will recognize me by my horn.” 

Manu realized that the fish was an avatar of Prajapati Brahma. (In some Purana texts, the fish is described as an avatar of Lord Vishnu.) He replied: “O lord. I will do what you say.” Then they took leave of each other. 

Manu became engaged in building a large and sturdy boat. He collected the seeds of every form of life on earth. On the right time, he ascended the boat with the sapta-rishis and the seeds he had collected. The great deluge began; the earth started filling with water; there was destruction and mass extinction in every direction. Manu’s boat moved into the ocean. He saw the great fish which now had a large horn growing on its head. Manu tied the boat’s rope to the fish’s horn.

The fish pulled the boat into the vast ocean that was being churned by waves as high as thousands of mountains. With its great size and strength, the fish protected the boat from being crushed under the waves. Eventually the boat arrived at the place where the Himalayan mountain range was once visible. Now only one peak, the highest one, was above the water; all other peaks were under water. The fish told Manu that he must tie the boat to the peak. 

On hearing the words of the fish, Manu tied his boat to the peak. Once it was tied to the tallest peak, the boat with its precious cargo was saved from the great deluge. 

From that day, the peak was known by the name of Naubandhana. The Government of India should rename Mount Everest as Naubandhana. The name Mount Everest, imposed on this peak in 1865, is a legacy of British colonialism—it is named after Sir George Everest, the British Surveyor General. The name of India’s tallest mountain should be based on ancient Hindu tradition. The right name for this peak is Naubandhana.

Friday, December 9, 2022

What Can Narendra Modi Learn from George H.W. Bush

Netanyahu and Modi

Tel Aviv 2017

In his article, “Trends Are Bad, Events Are Worse, But ‘Trevents’ May Surprise Us” (Bloomberg; October 2, 2022), Niall Ferguson writes:

“Remember the fate of George H.W. Bush, who finished the Cold War with spectacular success, only to fail in his bid for re-election in 1992.

"Bush was in many ways the maestro president when it came to foreign policy. With extraordinary dexterity, he handled the fall of the Berlin Wall, the collapse of all the communist regimes in Eastern Europe, German reunification and then the Soviet disintegration. On his watch, Nelson Mandela was set free and apartheid consigned to the history books; and Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait was reversed.

“And yet still the presidency was won by a scandal-prone Southern governor with the banal but brilliant slogan: “It’s the economy, stupid.””

Ferguson is making a good point. The foreign policy of George H.W. Bush was spectacularly successful (from a Western conservative point of view)—despite that he lost the election to a man who is probably America’s most crooked and immoral politician: Bill Clinton. 

I think Narendra Modi should pay heed to the fate of George H.W. Bush’s presidency.

Like Bush, Modi is an arch-conservative. Like Bush, his political program is focused on cultural issues and foreign policy. Despite doing reasonably well (not spectacularly well) in the areas of culture and foreign policy, Modi could lose the election in 2024, if the country’s economic woes continue to exacerbate. 

The slogan—“It’s the economy, stupid”—might play on the mind of the Indian voters and lead them to vote against Modi.

Thursday, December 8, 2022

Gandhi and Nehru

Jawaharlal Nehru is regarded as Mahatma Gandhi’s acolyte but they stood for two different Indias. Gandhi stood for India of spinning wheel, self-sacrifice, and non-violence; Nehru for India of secularism, socialism, and modernization through Public Sector Units and Soviet style five year plans. 

Gandhi was a fabian saint and a Westernized utopian; Nehru was a pukka sahib and a Westernized Maharaja. Gandhi derived his high moral stature by conducting morally and physically demanding experiments on himself, on his vision of truth, and even on his wife and children (whose lives were wrecked). He conducted politically and culturally demanding experiments on his countrymen (mainly the Hindus). Nehru was a strong supporter of Gandhi’s personal and political experiments but he never felt the need to conduct his own experiments, on himself or on others, since he was convinced that he was morally and intellectually perfect, and that he was destined to rule and modernize Indian society through his policies of fabian socialism and secularism.

Gandhi was not bound by family ties; he saw the entire country as his large family; Nehru became a nepotist and he ended up founding a dynasty which continues to be very powerful till this day. Both Gandhi and Nehru were heavily Westernized; they had a simplistic knowledge of Ancient Indian history, theology, philosophy, and culture—that is why Gandhi developed the belief that non-violence was Hinduism’s core principle, while Nehru became a secular fundamentalist.

Wednesday, December 7, 2022

Is Journalism the First Draft of History?

It has been claimed that journalism is the “first draft of history.” We the people of the present know how incomplete, biased, opinionated, corrupted, momentary, mercenary, facile, frivolous, and politically correct this so-called first draft of history is. If the reports of modern journalists were to serve as the foundational material for our period’s history, which would be written 25 to 50 years from today, then this history would consist of nothing more than a stream of falsehoods and propaganda—it would not provide a true picture of the state of our world. Journalism does not reveal the truth; it is the antithesis of serious historiography. The work of today’s journalists belongs in the trash can; it cannot be viewed as the first draft of history.

Tuesday, December 6, 2022

On Bharavi’s Kiratarjuniya

Shiva granting 

Pashupatastra to Arjuna

In the Vana Parva section of the Mahabharata, there is the story of how Arjuna received the mighty Pashupatastra weapon from Lord Shiva. After Yudhishthira's defeat in the gambling contest, the Kauravas exiled the Pandava brothers in the forest. While they were living in the forest, Arjuna was instructed by the Lord of Heaven, Indra, to perform austerities for propitiating Shiva. Arjuna left his brothers and Draupadi, and went to another part of the forest to perform his austerities. 

Shiva was pleased with Arjuna’s prayers. When a demon called Muka who had the form of a wild boar attacked Arjuna, Shiva appeared in the form of a hunter called Kirata. Arjuna and Kirata simultaneously shot their arrows at Muka. Struck by their arrows, the demon was instantly killed. The demon’s death led to an argument between Arjuna and Kirata over whose arrow had killed Muka. A battle broke out between them. Arjuna was amazed to find that he was unable to vanquish the hunter. Finally it dawned on him that the hunter was the same God that he was trying to propitiate, Shiva. He surrendered himself to Shiva, who blessed him and granted him the Pashupatastra weapon. 

The story of the battle between Arjuna and Shiva (in the form of Kirata) has been retold in the epic poem called Kiratarjuniya, by the poet Bharavi, who probably thrived in the sixth century BCE, or before that. The epic poem consists of sixteen cantos and is regarded as a great Sanskrit classic. It is known for its decorative composition, brevity, and elaborate similes and metaphors.

Monday, December 5, 2022

Yoga in Katha, Shvetashvatara, and Maitri Upanishads

Statue of Patanjali, (Haridwar)

The Katha, Shvetashvatara, and Maitri Upanishads contain some of the oldest descriptions of the philosophy and the methods of Yoga. The Katha Upanishad recommends Yoga as the path for attaining self-knowledge and focused mind. The verse 2.6.10-11 of this Upanishad says: 

“Only when Manas (mind) with thoughts and the five senses stand still,
and when Buddhi (intellect, power to reason) does not waver, that they call the highest path.
That is what one calls Yoga, the stillness of the senses, concentration of the mind,
It is not thoughtless heedless sluggishness, Yoga is creation and dissolution.”

The Shvetashvatara Upanishad gets more specific and gives advice on the practical methods of conducting Yogic exercises. The verse 2.10 of this Upanishad makes the following recommendation about the place where Yogic exercises can be performed:

“In a clean level spot, free from pebbles, fire and gravel,
Delightful by its sounds, its water and bowers,
Favorable to thought, not offensive to the eye,
In a hidden retreat protected from the wind,
One should practise Yoga.”

The Maitri Upanishad contains a more extensive discussion of Yoga. Between sections 6.18 and 6.30, the six limbs of Yoga for self-knowledge and a healthy mind and body are described. These are: Pranayama (regulation of breath), Pratyahara (withdrawal of senses inwards), Dhyana (meditation), Dharana (concentration of mind on one idea), Tarka (creative, contemplation of idea), Samadhi (absorption with the idea, a state of being one with the idea).

In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras which came after the Katha, Shvetashvatara, and Maitri Upanishads, eight limbs of Yoga have been described.

Sunday, December 4, 2022

The Subversive Character of History

History is not politically correct—it is brutal and subversive. That is why the leftist intellectuals try to hide real history from the masses. If a significant part of the population learned about their true history, there would be large-scale unrest—governments would fall, economic systems would collapse, intellectual establishments would lose their influence, and cultures would be transformed.

Saturday, December 3, 2022

Shriharsha: The Philosopher and Poet of the Middle Ages

Nala leaving Damayanti 

while she sleeps

(Raja Ravi Varma’s painting)

Shriharsha, the great Hindu philosopher and poet of the twelfth century, was the author of several works, two of which are extant: Khaṇḍanakhaṇḍakhadya and Naishadha Charita. His other works are mentioned by him and referred to by other scholars of the Middle Ages. 

He was a critic of the realist philosophy of the Nyaya school. His Khaṇḍanakhaṇḍakhadya (Sugar-candy Pieces of Refutations) is regarded as an important philosophical text of the Advaita Vedanta school. In this text, Shriharsha uses dialectical arguments to refute Nyaya’s realist principles, and establish the idealistic principles of Advaita. He preached that the scriptures prove the existence of Brahman (the Ultimate principle and divinity of the universe). In a passage in Khaṇḍanakhaṇḍakhādya, he declares that he had achieved the awareness of Brahman. 

In chapter three of his book, Classical Indian Metaphysics, Stephen H. Phillips has examined the philosophy of Sriharsha. On Khaṇḍanakhaṇḍakhadya, Phillips writes: 

“The [Khaṇḍanakhaṇḍakhadya] for its part is not only a central work relative to the entire span of classical Indian philosophy—about two thousand years—it is also a masterpiece of prose style, full of wit and humor, employing a vocabulary unusually rich for a philosophical text… The [Khaṇḍanakhaṇḍakhadya] dismantles the Nyaya realist view detail by minute detail, and the Advaitin shows deep appreciation of Buddhist Mimamsaka, Jaina, Carvaka, and of course Vedantic philosophies.” (Page 77)

Naishadha Charita is a mahakavya (epic poem)—it is a retelling of the love story of King Nala of the Nishadha Kingdom and Princess Damayanti of the Vidarbha Kingdom. This love story originally occurs in the Vana Parva section of the Mahabharata, and it is probably the most famous love story in India. On Naishadha Charita, Phillips writes: 

“The Naishadha Charita is one of the finest accomplishments of world literature: an elegant poem, encyclopedic in its mythological allusions and masterful in its use of poetic figures and rhetorical devices, it brims with the wisdom and sensibility of the classical culture (at a time, moreover, that some have considered its zenith). The long poem also contains many explicit, though unusually playful, recountings of doctrines forged in the full array of classical schools.” (Page 77)

Friday, December 2, 2022

Ferguson’s Conception of the West’s Challenger

Grinning Nixon meets Dour Mao

(21 Feb 1972)

“What we are living through now is the end of 500 years of Western predominance. This time the Eastern challenger is for real, both economically and geopolitically. It is too early for the Chinese to proclaim “We are the masters now.” But they are clearly no longer the apprentices.” ~ Niall Ferguson in his book Civilization: The West and the Rest (2011) 

Ferguson is the arch-conservative propagator of the idea that the West is the best. According to his myopic worldview, the West is always pitted against the rest. He sees the end of the West’s global hegemony as a great cataclysm for all of mankind. 

His argument that China has graduated from being the West’s apprentice to a challenger is wrong. The West and China are conjoined twins—they share the same economic and ideological heart. China is a creature of Western ideology (a mix of communism and capitalism) and its economy is closely linked to the economies of the Western powers. If one falls, the second will be doomed. 

In the twenty-first century, the West and China are like two Titanic ships which have crashed into the same iceberg of reality. They are going down together.

Thursday, December 1, 2022

A Note on Gurcharan Das’s India Unbound

Gurcharan Das’s key argument in his bestselling book India Unbound was that with economic reforms India’s economy could keep growing, resulting in the country becoming a world leader. He predicted that India would dominate the field of Information Technology and become an IT superpower. His book was published in the year 2000—those were the days of optimism, the days of high economic growth and rising power of the middle class. Westernized libertarians like Das used to appear on TV regularly—they used to challenge the political establishment by proclaiming that India’s economic reforms were unstoppable. 

The days of optimism came to an end in 2004, when the UPA (a coalition of socialist and communist parties led by the oligarchic and dynastic Congress Party) won the election. The process of economic reforms came to an end. The ten years of UPA rule were marked by geopolitical setbacks, economic collapse, factionalism, terrorist attacks, and massive corruption. The Information Technology sector, in which Das was overconfident, stagnated and was captured by a bunch of unenterprising crony capitalists. In this political environment, all the pollyanna-like predictions about India’s glorious future that Das had made could not come true. Instead of becoming “unbound,” India was bound in layers of socialist red-tape. 

I read Das’s book in 2003—then I was naive and so I was enthused by his economic vision. Since then I have realized that Das’s economic vision was bound to fail because it was not based on India’s civilizational reality—it was the “imported vision” of a Westernized libertarian intellectual. Being obsessed with economic reforms, Das failed to take note of India’s political, cultural, and religious problems. In his book, there is an excellent critique of Nehruvian socialism but from a purely economic angle. He does not examine the political, cultural, religious problems created by the policies of Nehru and his successors. He does not examine the causes and the consequences of the intractable religious and geopolitical issues that the country faces. 

I have realized that economic problems cannot be seen in isolation from the country's civilizational problems—economic reforms cannot succeed until there is strong action to solve the political, cultural, and religious problems. Civilizational supremacy is the fountainhead of economic success. Despite its shortcomings, India Unbound is a very interesting book. The book’s copy which I purchased in 2003 still rests in my bookshelf.