The Muse

The sheer variety of symbols and artefacts in use across the ages and geographies does not necessarily point to a multitude of assumptions and values from which they spring. The study of mythology and folklore then, is a reverse approach to anthropology. This blog is dedicated to my favourite symbols, tales and artefacts - both ancient and contemporary.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

What would you wish for?

Me: I believe, that the things that belong to me and the people that belong with me will find their way to me eventually, and I to them. I have nothing to wish for.

Him: You may not wish to acquire, but you might want to reject some things and people. Wouldn’t you wish for that choice?

Me: I don’t believe in duality, dear friend. Darkness in my opinion, isn’t even the absence of light – it is just the inability to see it.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Rituals and Observances

I seem to have 'bettered the instruction', as Shylock would have put it, in the observance of fasts and sundry rituals. Or so say many of my friends. So it occurred to me to ask myself, why do I do it?

I'm not sure I can quote health reasons any more. Admittedly, fasts at least aren't much fun either.

I am not religious enough to be motivated simply by the spiritual and other benefits promised by associated legends. Legends are merely entertaining. And I don't value entertainment above sleep and nutrition.

I am not a masochist. I am a devotee. I believe that fasting will strengthen my will and my body. And by improving through my own actions what I've received from Him, I am sure I will please the object of my devotion.

I write this with the prayer that my well-wishers are comforted, and that I may succeed in my objectives.

Criminal Proceedings

For the love of God, stop this madness, this tarring and feathering of a brother at fault. Stop this violence that springs from retaliation.

He who has shown courage in confession must warrant repayment by compassion.

Stir not the hornet's nest, in search for justice. For rest assured that thou shalt receive justice in full. For he who points a finger at another will find three pointed back at himself.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Imhotep & Mithra

The city of Takshashilà, in Emperor Janmajeya’s reign, was host to a university of great repute. The city had the distinction, among similar centres of learning, of also having one of the highest GDP’s, owing to a number of emerald and silver mines unearthed by the snake-worshipping tribes who once resided here.

Here lived, in the twenty eighth year of the regent’s career, a student of law, named Sandhàtà. He came from a clan of low-caste miners in the forests of northern Jhàrkhanda. At 14 he had displayed a very organized, very different approach towards mining and metallurgy, which was fortunately seen as a sign of a promising academic career by the tribal elders. He was send to Pàtaliputra that very year during the annual tribute payments to the King of Magadha, who in an act of rare benevolence recommended him to the Takshashilà University in Gandhàra.

Also among the university’s cosmopolitan students that year was a student of astronomy, known as Jeb. He belonged to a family of affluent Assyrian traders in Thinis, the capital of Upper Egypt, settled there for nearly eight generations now. His family had gained favour with the Pharaoh by forging critical marriage alliances with the nobility. And it was in exchange for a promise of such compliance that Jeb’s mother had allowed him to get to Takshashilà on a myrrh-trading ship.

And so it was fated that the two would meet in this charming city, during the picturesque festival of Sharada Navaràtri, which culminated in the beginning of the academic year. On the ninth day, the day of the feasting of sacrificial meat, in a stall selling pork buns, Sandhàtà accidentally dropped his hot bun on Jeb’s lap.

They spoke to each other in Sanskrit, a language foreign to both. Sandhàtà’s few, yet eloquent words drew a cascade of wit and pleasantries from Jeb, and soon he was drawn to the other as a river is drawn towards the ocean.

Their friendship blossomed over the year like lotuses bloom with the rising of the sun. Their days began with bunking the perfunctory prayer sessions and ended in walks in the city’s gardens or in games of dice. They talked of what shone in the heavens and what lay in the bowels of the earth, of the waves of the ocean and the vagaries of human nature. In time they became inseparable, and in the second year of their study, Jeb accompanied his friend to his abode in the South of Magadha.

It was here, during the tribal festival dedicated to the yakshinìs or fertility goddesses of the forests that Jeb‘s kohl-lined gray eyes met the anjanì-lined brown eyes of Mahua, the betrothed of Sandhàtà. Neither uttered a word, for there was nothing between them that words could give expression to. They rejoiced with Sandhàtà’s kin, as details of the wedding were planned. And in this bittersweet disposition, Jeb left with his friend.

The months rolled by in Takshashilà just as happily as before and soon it was Vijayàdashami again. But ill winds blew in the news of the death of the Kuru emperor, and the King of Magadha showing his true colours withdrew all scholarships he had issued – including Sandhàtà’s. Needless to say, Jeb came to the rescue.

They completed their studies without further event. Both being fine youths of 21 summers now, it was time for Jeb to return to Egypt, where he was to continue the family tradition of marrying the only daughters of powerful matriarchs, and for Sandhàtà to pursue a career in the court of Pàtaliputra. But the gods had other ideas.

One of Jeb’s elder sisters’ fleets had been caught smuggling olive oil from Cyprus, and in an act of extreme xenophobia, the whole family was sentenced to exile in Muab. News of this scandal reached them in Gandhàra, and Sandhàtà who was now a Doctor of Law boldly decided to cross the seas and accompany his friend to Egypt.

In Thinis his credentials were accepted by the Pharaoh Narmer, then reigning for the twenty first year, and as counsel to Jeb’s family he was able to restrict the sentence to just his elder sister and her children. Impressed by Sandhàtà’s erudition, an influential scribe offered his daughter Renizneb’s hand in marriage to him, with the promise of establishing him in the Thinite court. Silenced by gratitude, Jeb witnessed his friend’s fall to temptation.

Thus, when Sandhàtà returned home to bid his tribe farewell and be married a second time, he was accompanied by his new bride and old friend. Seeing this state of affairs, Mahua refused the alliance and in defiance of Sandhàtà boldly asked for Jeb’s hand in public. Jeb was momentarily shocked, but was encouraged by his friend to accept, which strengthened his own will. And so our newly-wed heroes proceeded to Egypt, never to return.

Mahua and Jeb’s marriage, as was inevitable, was frowned upon by his family, who went to the extreme step of disowning him when he refused to divorce her. Luckily, Jeb was offered the position of The Master of the Temple Scribes in the holy town of Sais in Lower Egypt, which he gladly accepted.

Two years passed thus, as Sandhàtà’s influence grew in the capital, and Jeb’s repute rose among the priests and scholars. The political divide between Upper and Lower Egypt was scarcely strong enough to keep the friends apart, as they frequently sailed up and down the river. Even the times were changing in conspiracy with their friendship. Young Menes, son of Narmer and heir to the throne of Thinis was eyeing the conquest of the Nile Delta, to fulfil an ambitious plan of uniting the two kingdoms.

In the twenty third year of the Pharaoh’s reign, Mahua and Jeb were blessed with a daughter. An overjoyed Sandhàtà immediately sailed downriver to see his friend. Renizneb, who was still childless and green-eyed, hatched an evil plot as she invited Jeb and his family to Thinis.

Renizneb’s family was a key supporter of Menes’ design and her uncle a prominent part of its execution. She plotted with him to have all four of them caught in the revolts in the river port of Ankh Tawy en route to Thinis. The ingenuity lay in the fact that she and her husband would easily slip through due to her allegiances, and Mahua & her child would be put to death.

Well things went wrong, for her, as her uncle was slain and the revolt quelled by the forces of the Lower Kingdom. Sandhàtà was found guilty of conspiring with her uncle and sentenced. Jeb, in spite of being in danger of condemnation himself, pled on his behalf. His pleas fell on deaf ears. However Sandhàtà could convince them that Renizneb was innocent and was given time to escort her back to Thinis, during which Jeb would stand as his bail & proxy.

Once in Thinis, Renizneb knew it would be a matter of time before Menes’ forces turned the tables and Jeb would become more than a proxy. She delayed her husband long enough, and soon he was out of danger. Fortunately he realized her scheme in that duration, and fled to Jeb’s aid after divorcing her.

He reached Ankh Tawy just as Jeb was about to be thrown to the crocodiles, and narrated his tale. Astonished by his devotion to his friend, the newly crowned Menes pardoned both of them and established them in the new capital of united Egypt.

Sandhàtà married again eventually, and left the bar for good. He went on to become a polymath – architect, physician, scribe and High Priest, and served four Pharaohs – including the Pharaoh Djoser, under whose reign he was deified as Imhotep (Egyptian for Sandhàtà). Egyptologists today search for his tomb in vain, because he was cremated in accordance with his native religion.

Jeb wrote several texts on astronomy and mathematics, and was most famous in his ancestors’ land of Assyria, where his works were published under the name of Mithra (Sanskrit for Jeb), and was also deified later by the followers of Zoroaster.

Though the chroniclers of their time have rendered these celebrated names disparate, their tale is whispered still in the cells of the university ruins and the harbours along the Nile. The sands around Thinis and sacred Santhal groves narrate till this day, this story of true fraternity that was not established by ties of blood. This tale I dedicate to my friends everywhere, with a promise of sorority, just as true.

This story is composed of exactly eighteen references to a legend, mystery or historical event. Happy Hunting! – Ishita Roy

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Jatayu & Sampati

Jatayu & Sampati

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Legend of Ram... The Big Brother

Most tales that talk of the victory of good over evil talk also of the merits of unity and universal brotherhood. But the epic of Ramayana outdoes them all, by being exclusively a tale of many sets of brothers, full and half. Each set of siblings seems to serve as the vessel for a different message, but the fact that the story revolves around fraternity is the biggest message of them all.

The Children of Kekasi
The Ramayana is very accurately the tale of the rise & fall of Ravana, Kekasi’s first born. It is interesting to note that every event in his downfall was the doing of one of his siblings.
It is Surpanakha who introduced Rama to her brother, and instigated him to avenge her humiliation and the massacre of her clan at Janasthana by targeting Sita as Lakshmana had targeted her. Blinded by rage to the fact that the attacks were not unprovoked (a fact that Ravana didn’t know or care about), she goaded her brother to wage a war that he would never return from.
Both Kumbhakarna & Vibhishana gave him good counsel, and tried desperately to save their family. And while both made widely different choices after their counsel was rejected, both are equally responsible for Ravana’s downfall.
Vibhishana’s desertion only brought things to a conclusion, in the sense that he revealed Ravana’s mortal weaknesses and aided the progress and health of the monkey army. But Kumbhakarna’s support, however unwillingly given, actually served to encourage Ravana towards his end. Had he followed his younger & wiser brother, Ravana might have changed his mind.
It is to Kumbhakarna’s credit, however, that when on the battlefield, he recognised Rama & the other leaders to be the prime enemy, not his brother.

The Kings of Kiskindha
Bali and Sugreeva had different fathers, but monkeys being matriarchal creatures, it never bothered them. Here too, the elder brother falls when he fails to listen to his brother’s explanations. If ego was Ravana’s folly, rage and spite were Bali’s. Unlike Vibhishana, however, Sugreeva’s motives in allying with Rama were not so much about siding with righteousness, as it was about delivering his vengeance.
In his vindictiveness, in his sheer impatience and even in physical appearance (as a frustrated Rama found out), Sugreeva matched Bali. But even as he repented on his deathbed, Bali could not match Sugreeva‘s grief over losing him.

The Grandsons of the Sun
Oddly enough, the paragon of brotherhood in this tale seems to be a pair of vultures, Jatayu and Sampati. In their childhood, the brothers had started a race to the very top of the skies. But as they got nearer to the sun, it very nearly scorched Jatayu. Sampati, the elder, rescued his brother at the cost of his own wings. Later, even as he learnt of his brother’s death at Ravana’s hands, Sampati finished what Jatayu had started, by pointing out Lanka to Hanuman and his team of searchers.

The Half-Brothers of Kosala
In sharp contrast to the full siblings who caused the downfall of their eldest, and consequently their clan, are set the heroes of this story, who stand together in spite of the heavy politics of the women’s quarters. Such unity among step brothers is unheard of even in the Treta yuga, and Valmiki’s emphasis on the bond between Rama and Lakshmana, and Rama and Bharata, and Bharata and Shatrughna, portrays his own tone of surprise at such an occurrence.
The relation between the identical twins, on the other hand, is taken for granted, and while each twin favours a different half-brother, neither is shown to be indifferent or hostile to the other’s favourite.  Even Lakshmana’s suspicions about Bharata are only short-lived, and severely chided by Rama.
Of course, it may be argued that the half-brothers’ closeness is attributable to their being parts of Vishnu’s essence – or the Charu, and the order in which it was administered to the 3 queens. But even this argument is just demonstrative of the scepticism against such a thing occurring naturally. Besides, birth order is just as easily a determinant of the twins’ favourites. Eldest and youngest stick together, as do the ones in the middle.
But the fact is that they all stick together, hear each other out (unlike the monkeys), take each others’ counsel (unlike Ravana), and watch out for each other (very like the vultures). And it is such fraternity that is the foundation of strength and prosperity – this is Valmiki’s message.

प्रगटे है चारों भैया, अवध में बाजे बजैया 

Friday, March 26, 2010

Mors Mortis

Death is a poorly understood phenomenon, in spite of the sheer volume of philosophy and research dedicated to understanding it. One potent indicator of this is the prevalence of myths and legends about the undead.

These lores and legends talk about the consequences of an interrupted transition to the afterlife. The creatures that are born out of such consequences have been described differently across the ages, and much can be surmised about the original purpose behind describing them and the inspiration behind those descriptions.


I.            Incorporeals – Ghosts, Spirits, Poltergeists, Banshees, etc.

These are apparitions which arise spontaneously as a consequence of the deceased having unfulfilled desires. More often than not, the cause of death is foul play, but COD and post-mortem treatment are not a major criterion for their origin.

These beings are not attached to corpses, but are very location specific.

II.            Reanimated Corpses – Zombies, Mummies, Inferi, etc.

These creatures are generated by special post-mortem treatment and usually have limited sentience. In the rare occasions that they have a will of their own, such as in the case of Frankenstein, it is usually derived from the past experiences of the inhabitant of the corpse in question. Cause of death is deciding factor.

III.            Modified Corpses – Vampires, Lycanthropes, Dementors, etc.

The living body is sustained by food, breath and water, and has corresponding powers and limitations. When the body loses the capability to sustain itself and hence its life-force, death occurs. Theoretically, death can be ‘cheated’ by modifying the mode of sustenance. Naturally this gives rise to a whole new creature, with different powers and limitations. The term Undead is most usually applied to such creatures.

Lycanthropes, such as werewolves, and Mr. Hyde, are creatures that are capable of dual existence i.e. both in human and supernatural forms, the latter being parasitic on the former. Vampires, on the other hand, are immortals, requiring blood or some other form of life force – ichor, or chi, for example – for sustenance.


Vampire lore is one of the most enduring legends in the world. Its timeless appeal is attributable to both its foundations and its adaptability. I present here some of the key components of the lore.


Blood is one of the two liquid connective tissues, and along with breath, the very symbol of vitality. It is unsurprising, therefore, that it is held in reverence. But unlike breath, blood is also intimately linked to procreation, which makes it especially venerable; fit for a sacrifice to the gods, even.

World over, various rites and practices have been reported that are founded upon the sanctity of blood. These practices range from the Mayan human sacrifices, to the smearing of jurors’ lips with blood before they passed judgment, in Ancient China. Most notable among these is the Catholic tradition of Corpus Christi – the symbolic partaking of the blood and the body of Christ.

Thus, one of the original reasons for condemning vampires was that they partake of the essence of godliness, the divine offering – in effect denying and denouncing the divinity of the Deity.


What makes a vampire fundamentally different from a mosquito? A mosquito wreaks much more havoc, is zealously hunted, yet never condemned – merely accepted as a part of creation. Why then, are vampires not treated as a separate species and left at that?

More often than not, it seems, vampires are punished as humans are, because they have lost their humanity. But is the resemblance to a human adequate reason for judging a vampire on the human scales of good and evil?

Is it that like the humans, vampires are damned by an Original Sin of their own, because their progenitor was created out of an act of heresy or a curse?

These are only some of the questions that arise out of the possibility of such creatures. The fact remains that evil has been as misunderstood by humans as death has been. Perhaps the vampire legends are an indicator – a litmus test of sorts – for the concepts of good and evil popular during the creation of those legends. Dracula, for example, is described as being wholly evil. Modern tales like the Vampire Diaries and the Twilight Saga, however, ascribe to them a choice, an attempt at redemption.


The fact that senescence and death are essential to the renewal of life on this planet, give them a place of honour among the theistic laws of the universe – all those are born, must die. The vampire legends give them the powers of immortality, but not invincibility – they can still be destroyed.

Nevertheless, the vampires’ existence, if only in theory, tells of a way to flout this divine law. And it is for the transcendence of this law that vampires are also often condemned. But all legends concur on one thing – that eternal life itself is punishment for seeking it.

Life can be harsh, even for those who are seemingly well provided for. It requires courage to face the here and now, and live every moment. Much has been written about life being wasted on the living. Imagine how much harder it would be to try to live on for eternity, with nothing but a conscience (if any) for company.

This is most prominent in Anne Rice’s works, whose vampire protagonists fight the eternal battle between the loneliness of the damned and their lust for preternatural power.

Whatever they may be, sentient, or evilly so, or maybe just a glorified human, the concept of vampires is definitely unfamiliar to those who do not see death as an end or to those who’ve never believed in any evil force like The Adversary, and generally find both death and evil easier to accept.

The western mentality makes it hard to accept both Death and Evil. And hence the origin of the lore surrounding the Undead in the Occident. Creatures who have cheated death. Creatures who resemble humans yet prey upon them. Creatures who must do evil to sustain themselves.

These things, vampires and such, are powerful insights into occidental ideas of death and evil. The lore is ubiquitous and contemporary, because they deal with questions which are eternally on the western mind.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

How Indra became king

...Then the Lord omnipotent, the Bramhan, created the five elements, and the five sensibles. To perceive them he created the five sense organs and five organs of action, to react to them. He created the mind with its four components, and from these twenty four elements he created the cosmic being - the prototype of all creatures to be...

...And for each of these twenty four elements, He incarnated himself as a master or mistress - Chandra, master of the subtle mind, Dhara for the earth, and so on. He called these masters the Devatas...

...As the ages passed, however, dissension grew between them, as they fought among themselves for superiority. To destroy their conceit, and to establish order, Bramhan appeared in the form of  a yaksha...

...The devatas were perplexed by the shape-shifter, and decided amongst themselves that whoever could determine its true nature, would be crowned sovereign among the gods...

... When Agni accosted it, it appeared as a piece of straw that he could not burn; to Vayu it appeared as a feather he couldn't blow away... and so on and so forth till all but Sakra, the Lord of the eyes, met it. To Sakra, it became invisible...

... And Sakra, the mighty thousand-eyed deva wondered what could create an obstacle to the very element that he was master of , and realized that it could only be his own creator. The Lord then acknowledged his answer and crowned him Indra, king of the gods, master of the rainclouds.


This tale describes the Sankhya account of the genesis of the universe and the Vedic pantheon, and the coronation is described in the Kena Upanishad. The story talks not only of the superiority of Sakra among gods, but of the eyes among all sense organs.

Truly, eyesight is the strongest of the relatively weak human senses. We are gifted with binocular vision, i.e. the power to judge depths and distances, for example. The ancients noticed this, and it is reflected in the etymology of the Sanskrit word "Pashu", meaning animal. The word literally means "those who can see".

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Mid-term Anthology

My encounters with verse this term were mostly of the order of doggerel. Here’s a few worth display. Written in the last few minutes before I left for home last term...
Water in my cupped hands
Trickles swiftly by,
I sit by myself waiting
For my time to die.

Last term it was HRP, this term, SRM. And so the cycle continued...
Adder's bladder, eagle's eye,
Roofie tainted apple pie,
The merciful YHWH hath looked my way,
Now my days go happily by.

Also written in the same class, but expressing dismay over PRD (tools), BFM (terror), Marketing (Ronin) and STM (games), was this.
Tools of terror, Ronin's games,
Sissy knights & brazen dames,
The poetess me is made undead,
By this topsy-turvy chivalry.

I was sitting next to Mausami, hoping to keep her amused with these verses, when I happened to look back and found that the interest of even the twin rubies was ebbing away.
But who?
Sparkling water loses shine,
And muffles his gay song.
The season I try to keep amused,
But I can’t hold on long.

Another day, another uninteresting lecture, I wrote my notes on a brand new notepad. The title for this poem stems from the fact that I found an interpretation for this poem (3 actually) after I wrote it.
Colours on a tinted paper,
Rarely appear true,
But lack of paleness scarce affects,
The richness of their hue.

Same lecture, different theme - the सुभाषितानि
The darkness of ignorance,
Doth many fancies make,
A halter thus innocuous,
Appears as a snake.

Fear inspires reverence,
Reverence desire,
All hope of seeing light,
Is extinguished by such fire.

In striking similarity to my HRP course, I found myself unaccompanied by my trusty file in many an SRM class, the first time due to the fact that I’d just returned from the Visarjan of the Goddess. Fortunately, every time this has happened, I have managed to make a fair and duly embellished copy of the notes. The yields:
Full Moon
I first glimpsed my true love,
Alas on such a fateful day,
Although my shafts had hit him true,
They’d wounded him the wrong way.

The Refuge
Every once in a while, comes a time,
The most prosaic must resort to rhyme,
When the mind cares not for the mores of the gross,
And the soul is lost in depths sublime.

For the uninitiated, in Greek Mythology, Hypnos (sleep) and Thanatos (death) are twins.
O Somnus Deo, Lord of rest,
Don't you put my powers to test,
For how may anyone well-disposed,
Refuse thy charms and make protest?

In an inanely trite STM guest lecture on entrepreneurship, it hit me harder than before, that I wrote just to keep the cogs in my head running...
I'm bored and sleepy,
I really need to leave,
I can't help but writing,
In such quality.

My prose is dying,
My verse doggerel,
And yet I can't stop writing,
Such dense drivel.

My eyes are drooping,
My hand is disarrayed,
But I've got to keep writing,
Or I'll be dismayed.

Another lecture, different passions, different meters...
Heartstrings ache & gizzard growls,
At the sight of pleasure, scowls,
How may I faultless my soul placate,
And reconcile to my poverty.

When the scorching hype,
Burns not the actor so lit,
Shadows cross my life.

And one fine day, I was suddenly the most sought after person. It was RAJAXI night, and I found myself without pen or paper or Bare Act in a Law presentation class. So I borrowed some, and decided to keep myself engaged. Four doggerel verses later, something sensible came out. The first and last one describes peoples' various attempts at creativity, and the reactions that some of them face.
Classroom Battles
Beautiful minds fill the rows
flanked by comrades.
Armed by notions several
they fight for grades.

Attempt at Sense
Ennui pushes my pen
Inanity flows as ink
Such is the sorry result
When I write before I think

The Law of Pleadings
So if you got a valid point,
Don't you bogey that joint,
For the law of pleading is misleading,
And will all your pleas ignore.

Cows with Guns
Towering folks short on guts
Face cow-dung
Big promises and bigger buts
Will be hung

After that I swore to end my romance with doggerel. This means that I rarely give in to my urge to write nowadays. But then promises like that don’t last long. Here’s one describing a friend’s SRM ppt.
Water minus fluidity,
Chills me to my funny bones.
I bare my teeth in mirth,
To conceal my slaked thirst.

Sometimes the sight of ointment (salve) can bring you pain. It happened to me, making me write this...
The sight of alien salve
Opens sore wounds.
Yet even lowly salt
Remains to them elusive.

All in all, life's been good. Winter has given up the stage to summer, with spring visible only in the deciduousity of the deodar trees. I've given in to the dangerous habit of extreme sleepiness, while ensuring that no one, not even me, can blame yours truly for lack of diligence and enterprise. As the countdown to the end of this term starts, I wish all my companions (willing or no) in the journey of life, as much self-awareness, as they can tolerate.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Legend of Ram... The Khiladi

The story of Ram, like one luminary rightly pointed out, is themed after what later came to be known as the archetypal theory i.e. the fight between Good and Evil. But long before the story existed, or the character itself, there was just a name - that of Ram.

The first lesson in Sanskrit grammar is of noun declension. And the first masculine noun to be traditionally taught is the word Raama, and the first feminine noun, Ramaa (Another of Sita's names). The reason is far from religious. Both words come from the root Ram (pronounced rum) which means 'to play, or to have fun'. The noun form therefore means 'player'. The idea is, that knowledge of grammar is the key to be a player of words, hence the choice of the first noun.

How this secular and seemingly innocuous word took on the power to invoke both devotion and hatred, hatred strong enough to threaten our noble republic is what I intend to discuss today.


The religious system that goes by the name of Hinduism today, is what a theologist would classify as 'polytheistic', i.e. worshiping multiple divine entities, which are parts or representatives of a single Almighty being/consciousness. But history is proof, however, that these entities have always vied for dominance over public consciousness, in the form of cults and cult wars.

Most ancient polytheistic religions, like the Egyptian for instance, were wiped out largely because of the weaknesses induced by constant warring between the cults. And in the same fashion, Hinduism too was once threatened.

The Hindu religion was (and still is) composed of numerous cults, of which finally six had dominated (one exclusive to the south of India). Four of the deities involved were reconciled, by giving them the status of family, i.e. Shiva, Shakti and their sons Ganesha and Karthikeya. The Solar Cult reconciled with all five cults. This resulted in the formation of essentially two remaining factions that clamoured for domination - the Shaiva and the Vaishnava. These cults fought possibly the bloodiest of the battles ever fought in the name of religion, easily surpassing the eight crusades combined. It is in these conditions that the Name was born.

Now the vaishnavas' chief and most powerful mantra was the asthakshari "Om namo naaraayanaaya", of which the essential, or original syllable was the syllable "raa". The shaiva equivalent was the panchakshari "Om namah shivaya", of which the original syllable was the anusvara sound "m". Pronouncing these powerful sounds together resulted in the word "Raama" which was already attributed the meaning of 'player'. This was the most potent discovery in Indian history and theology. For now a phonetic form was discovered that contained not only the powers of both the dominating schools of spirituality, but also gave the image of an Almighty who was "the player", and whose creation were all pawns.

Valmiki's Ramayana was indeed written with the purpose of unifying the cults into a single faith system. It starts with the story of Valmiki's reformation, aided by the name "Raama", clearly establishing the precedence of the name to the character. Although the character himself was an avatara of Vishnu (then the dominating deity), he is shown throughout his journey as a worshiper of Shiva and his family, and as a scion of the Solar clan. Later in the epic, we come across an instance where Hanuman uses the name of Raama to repel the arrows of Raama himself, proving the powers of the name to be superior to the avatara himself.

The years passed, and the war was by no means over, although no longer as physically manifest. In time Vaishnavism took the upper hand, and the name which was previously neutral was firmly associated with Naaraayana. But its powers were never undermined.

In the Vishnusahasranaama (narrated by Bheeshma in the Mahabharata), Shiva responds to Parvati's query by saying "the name Raama equals and exceeds the power of all of Vishnu's thousand names, and by chanting this name alone may humans derive the benefits of reciting the whole Vishnusahasranama"


Valmiki's intentions in naming his hero "khiladi" however, wasn't as religious as it was spiritual. His inherent message seemed to be "you are not pawns of any power, but players yourselves - remember your powers, and live by them".

The idea was, that the Lord has created the universe to be a self sustaining system, with its own laws. It is a gameboard in which the Lord has split his attentions into moving the various pawns, our bodies & characters, giving them sentience. But, engrossed in the gameplay, we lose the realization that we are not beings of the gameboard, but the player Himself. We, all of us, are the Lord descended into the gameplay. We are all avatars. But this loss of memory makes us feel that we are the characters, the pawns. The intention of Valmiki was to refresh our memory, to make us realize that we're masters of the gameplay, that we're responsible for our destinies.

Raama, by virtue of his name itself, is a apecial avatar. He realizes that He is indeed a Khiladi. Throughout the epic, we see him making choices, with the determination and confidence that he was making his destiny. And he was constantly reminding his companions to do the same. Through his life, we are all taught how not to be manipulated by the situations, but to use them .

Today, on the day we celebrate the birth of our republic, we need this lesson more than ever. For only in acknowledging this truth and accepting the responsibilities that come with this power, can we claim to be true citizens, or even living beings.

Friday, January 8, 2010


This is a picture of my study, the room I spent most of my waking time in. Not that I actually study though.