Friday, July 18, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: " WHO WROTE THE BHAGAVAD GITA? " BY MEGHNAD DESAI


1) WHO WROTE THE BHAGAVADGITA? : A SECULAR INQUIRY INTO A SACRED TEXT: MEGHNAD DESAI: HARPER ELEMENT: PAGES 191 : PRICE : RS 299/-


“The Geeta is the universal mother. She turns away nobody. Her door is wide open to anyone who knocks. A true votary of the Geeta does not know what disappointment is. He ever dwells in perennial joy and ‘peace that passeth all understanding.’ But that peace and joy comes not to the sceptic or to him who is proud of his intellect or learning. It is reserved only for the humble in spirit who brings to her worship a fullness of faith and an undivided singleness of mind. There never was a man who worshipped her in this spirit and went back disappointed”. - Mahatma Gandhi

Written into the frame of the ‘Mahabharata’, the Bhagavad Gita (BG) is universally accepted as one of the world’s great scriptures and whose teaching is of the highest value. It gives philosophical advice as to how one should lead one’s life, one’s duty in this transient world and it shows the exit route for the ultimate release or Moksha.

BG occurs in the Bhisma Parva of Mahabharata and comprises of eighteen chapters. At the beginning of the Mahabharata war, Arjuna suffers an existential collapse and declares that he will not fight. Krishna, his dear friend and charioteer takes in hand the task of treating Arjuna’s neurotic mind. Krishna conveys his message and exhorts Arjuna to “get up and fight”. In 700 verses, Krishna covers the entire gamut of Hindu philosophy. Arjuna ultimately realizes the meaning of “My Dharma” under the guidance of the Supreme Lord Krishna. In the last chapter of BG, Arjuna declares that all his delusions have ended.   


The author, Meghnad Desai, is a confirmed atheist, a well-known economist and Marxist. He has achieved eminence in the academic world and in public life in the UK where he has received honours for his contributions. He is also a recipient of Pravasi Bharatiya Puraskar in 2004 and Padma Bhushan in 2008. Triggered by reading D D Kosambi’s book on Indian history, the author was particularly attracted by his critique of BG. He dug deeper into the thought process of Kosambi and developed his own ideas on this sacred text. He was also influenced by reading Dr G S Khair’s book ‘Quest for the Original Geeta’ translated into English from Marathi. Interestingly, while doing his research, Desai found that the older authors of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries including Justice Telang who was the first Indian translator of BG in English had made a critical assessment of this sacred composition unlike the present approach of accepting it ‘in toto’ and as the last word. He decided to dig deeper and examine whether indeed BG had multiple authorship. The BG has 700 verses and eighteen chapters as generally accepted. There are different views about the number of chapters and the number of verses which are in variance with the accepted status. The author quotes Dr S. Radhakrishnan (former President of India) where he hints at the possibility that the cryptic advice given by Krishna to Arjuna was worked up into a poem of 700 verses by another author. Actually Desai goes on to establish that indeed as per his research and understanding there are three authors as concluded by Dr Khair with whom he was in full agreement. Dr Khair had named the three authors as Vyasa (119 verses), Vaisampayana(126 verses) and Souti (455 verses) who wrote it in different periods of time spread over 800 years. Dr Khair claims that he arrived at this conclusion after examining the style, concepts, vocabulary, terminology and the nature of BG’s contents. Desai who has gone along with Dr Khair’s theory has tried to prove his reasoning by attributing certain motives to these authors. The first author wrote during pre-Buddhist time around 600 BCE, the second author was a Buddha contemporary and the third author whom he considers as the Editor is supposed to have done it around 300 BCE. It was an attempt to deflate the popularity that Buddhism had gained and to inflate Brahminism which had seen a decline during Buddhist domination. And that the contradictions supposedly observed in the treatise may be attributed to the plurality of its authorship. In his attempt to question Krishna as the author of this religious and philosophical treatise, Desai quotes Swami Vivekananda who had hinted at the possibility of Shankaracharya (who wrote a famous commentary on BG) to have implanted it in the body of the Mahabharata. In short, the author’s attempt is to establish that the authorship is human and not divine.
   

Desai starts his book with the statement that he was thoroughly confused while reading the BG and that he could not make head or tail of it. He considers it as ‘ a confused philosophical book.’ He cites the examples of many Hindu terrorists who while fighting British colonialism used BG to justify their actions. He questions whether Krishna was a historical character. “Why are we respecting the text uncritically which has so many flaws?” According to Desai, BG has sections attacking lower castes and non-Aryan people and considers certain verses disturbing and corrupting. He concludes that it is a war-mongering scripture of the ruling class, misogynist and not suitable for a secular and modern India.

It is a natural state in untrained minds devoid of bhakthi to think on the above lines. Desai’s confusion would have been cleared had he approached a Guru in all humility and understood BG’s philosophy. Perhaps his intellectual arrogance came in the way. He should also introspect deeply over what Krishna says to Arjuna. “ I have given thee words of vision and wisdom more secret than hidden mysteries. Ponder over them in silence of thy soul and then in freedom do thy will.” Desai should know that his contrarian approach, interpretation of BG and questioning the authorship and philosophy of a ‘symphony which represents a peak of Indian spirituality’, reflects insufficient knowledge bordering on ignorance, a biased attitude and an inability to appreciate an outstanding philosophy which embodies the reasoning mind and brings out the essentials of karma and dharma and which is admired by philosophers all over the world. Sadly, Hinduism has become a ‘punching bag’. Many authors have attempted to beliitle Hindusim. His interpretation of BG will certainly hurt the religious sentiments of millions of Hindus. Would Desai have dared to write such a book on Islam or Christianity?

A discerning reader will naturally come to the conclusion that Desai has made a vain attempt to discredit a sacred philosophy through hollow and unsubstantiated arguments and to bolster a fanciful theory of multiple authorship of a sacred book universally accepted by Hindus as the voice of God.
          
           

BOOK REVIEW- " THE ACCIDENTAL PRIME MINISTER " BY SANJAY BARU


    THE ACCIDENTAL PRIME MINISTER : THE MAKING AND UNMAKING OF MANMOHAN SINGH : SANJAYA BARU : PENGUIN BOOKS : PAGES 320 : PRICE RS 599/- : Contrary to the belief that the book is ‘a work of fiction’ and a ‘stab in the back’ as Congress spokesmen and some others claim, actually the book is kind to Manmohan Singh and a bit flattering too. The book is essentially a tell-all memoir and about how the author ran the PM’s media affairs and his view of men in the PMO and also of some of the PM’s colleagues. Sanjay Baru who was media advisor to the PM from May 2004 to August 2008 claims that he has given a true account of the goings on in the country’s CEO’s office. Sanjay Baru traces Manmohan Singh’s first four dream years in UPA1. His reputation was squeaky clean then nationally and internationally. He enjoyed an excellent rapport with some of the world’s great leaders who considered him to be a practical and effective economist and a true statesman. His zenith was the government’s victory over the nuclear deal for which he put his reputation at stake. In the second term, however, unfortunately, a few things went horribly wrong. Firstly, Manmohan Singh thought he was the architect of the UPA victory in the elections which his colleagues never liked and that he could do no wrong. Secondly, the Maran affair, 2G scam and the coal scam which came one after another during the UPA2 regime, dealt a debilitating blow to Manmohan Singh and his reputation. He was seen clearly as a person who did not have his own mind. He was seen as a PM who sought instructions from the Congress Party President and bent backwards to execute them. According to the author, Sonia Gandhi appointed Manmohan Singh under compulsion after her bitter experience with Narasimna Rao. That led to a dual power structure resulting in lack of clarity and confusion. Manmohan Singh continued to support his cabinet colleagues who were involved in the humongous scams till he was compelled by the Opposition party to sack them or force them to resign. In the process, he brought the party to the brink of disaster. During this period, the country remained practically leaderless and directionless. The author projects him as a good man, but one who succumbed to pressures even from ministers and MPs in policy matters. He bowed down to coalition chieftains and compromised on governance. Unable to counter vested interests within his government and party, he often remained a mute spectator resulting in a state of policy paralysis. Though the book is about Manmohan Singh, the author also covers other personalities like Natwar Singh, M K Narayanan, A K Antony, Pranab Mukherjee and a few bureaucrats. Here was an opportunity for readers to understand the contemporary political history of India from an insider. Was he truly a puppet or his own man? What was the reason for Manmohan Singh to be so subservient? Sanjay Baru definitely could have thrown more light on this subject. Sanjay Baru has been criticized for several reasons. That he tried to give an impression that he was a very important person and privy to confidential information as a) an adviser to the PM helping him to decide on important filling-up of senior bureaucratic positions which were lying vacant and b) on the affairs of the State. Also, the timing of the release of his book on the eve of the General Elections came in for a lot of flak. There could be some merit in that criticism but then few authors could have resisted the temptation when they think that they have a best-seller on hand and which could generate record sales.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

"CIRCLES OF DANCE" - DANCE PERFORMANCE BY ANITA RATNAM








"People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel." - Maya Angelou

Anita Ratnam is a multifaceted personality and well-known in India and abroad. She is a scholar, choreographer,TV personality, cultural activist and importantly a sensitive dancer. Trained in the Bharata Natyam dance form from an early age, she is a dancer of exquisite grace and eloquence. Highly accomplished in Bharata Natyam and other classical Indian dances, she has developed her own style of contemporary dance form
influenced by theatre which she refers to as 'Neo Bharatam'. Her forte is her creativity, skill in infinite improvisations, passion, dedication and commitment resulting in an unique and balanced mix of song, dance and theatre. She is a woman of substance who did not give up her passion for dance after her motherhood. On the contrary, motherhood acted for her as a catalyst enabling her to further explore her innate creativity and talent for visualisation and imagery.

Last Sunday, Anita Ratnam gave a scintillating dance performance called "Circles of Love" at NCPA (National Centre for Performing Arts), Mumbai, on the occasion of the Mudra Dance festival 2014 being held from 24th to 30th April. The festival was centred around the subject of motherhood and its relationship with dance. In a breathtaking performance, Anita Ratnam kept the audience spellbound with her presentation of the various facets of motherhood projecting her own life as an example of intergenerational bonding of five generations - her great grandmother, grandmother, mother, herself and her daughter all of them symbolically represented by the famous Russian Matryoshka nested dolls, one smaller one emerging from the bigger one.

Anita Ratnam portrayed the roles of Devaki and Yasodha from Hindu mythology - one who gave birth to Lord Krishna but did not have the fortune to nurture Him and the other who lived on the other side of the Yamuna river and was lucky to tend to Him and take care of Him and enjoy His sports. The emotions of love and angst of these mothers were beautifully conveyed by Anita Ratnam. The SriVaishnavite mystic saint Aandal in her Thiruppavai had expressed how Lord Krishna was transferred from one lap to another. (Orutthi maganai pirandu, or iravil orutthi maganai ollitthu valazha). Born as a son to one woman and brought up as a son by another in secrecy. The depiction of Jabala and Satyakama from the Chandogya Upanishad were also poignantlly conveyed by Anita Ratnam. It is a touching story of Satyakama who had a burning desire to learn the Ultimate Truth (Brahman) but was initially disallowed to join the select group of students of higher caste and pedigree by Muni Gautama. When asked about his gothra, Satyakama had no answer. He rushed to his mother Jabala in tears who consoled him and asked him to tell the truth to the Muni that even she did not know who was the father. Impressed with Satyakama's honesty, Muni Gautama accepted Satyakama into his fold in the Gurukul lauding him for his truthfulness. "Dear Satyakama, honesty is the greatest virtue of a true Brahmin and I therefore accept you", said Muni Gautama.

Anita Ratnam exuded an aroma of deep spirituality in a language of visions, concentration and illumination. Like a humming bird darting between shadows, with her rhythmic body movements she conjured up different images. Her poise and grace together with strength, stamina, flexibility and agility of body and feet were a treat to watch. Her swiftness and grace captivated the audience. The dances were interjected with poetry on motherhood composed by famous national and international poets which were read out by poet Malavika Sanghvi. A seven decades old sari passed on to her by her mother was the subject of a dance very touchingly performed. Accompanied by Vedant Bharadwaj who sang an immortal Tamil lullaby which featured in a Tamil film of yesteryears was one of the highlights of the dance performance. The continuous and melodious background music was very pleasing to the ear.

Anita Ratnam refers to herself as a 'contemporary classicist' and an 'intersectionist'.These expressions clearly identify the genre of her dance form. It is modern yet rooted in history and culture. It addresses sensitive and other  feminist and social issues creatively. As founder Director of 'Arangham'- a performing arts organisation to promote performing and visual arts of India, her dances are essentially to modern audiences who get spiritually enlightened and uplifted. She is a role model for budding young mothers who wish to continue dancing.

Her dances have an element of humour too. Like the modern dance with the red sari around her neck in which she refers to grandmoms, moms, supermoms and tigermoms with the last words "Mere paas Ma hai."

The finale of the dance performance was the symbolic presentation of rice and the clay pot. Dancing exquisitely, Anita Ratnam pours the rice on the ground with both her palms and places the 'kalasha' (clay pot) over the rice, the pot signifying sanctity and the rice signifying fertility.

"Janani janamabhoomischa swargaadapi gariyasi." Mother and motherland are superior to even Heaven says an old Sanskrit saying. Nothing could be truer. Thaai (mother), thaaimozhi (mothertongue) and thaainadu (motherland) are indeed very dear to Anita Ratnam.

How can one sum up such a phenomenal performance from the viewer's perspective? A splendid programme and a delightful thrill for the audience. It was a "Wow" experience.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

BOOK REVIEW- SREE KRISHNAM BHAJA MAANASA


1    
     SREE KRISHNAM BHAJA MAANASA: PARVATHI SANKARAN AND  G SANKARAN: BHARATIYA VIDYA BHAVAN : PAGES 467 : PRICE RS 300/- 
    
    This is a book consisting of a compilation of Krithis on Sree Krishna by late Smt Parvathi and her husband Sri G Sankaran. Smt Parvathi was well-versed in Sanskrit and a devotee of Guruvayurappan. The authors, ardent Krishna-bhakthaas, were a part of a four-member team that translated the Malayalam Bhaktharanjini commentary on Narayana Bhattathri’s ‘Sriman naarayaneeyam’. This book contains about 245 classical krithis of 32 outstanding composers of both Carnatic and Hindustani classical music such as Naarayana Teertha, Muthuswamy Deekshitar, Swaati Tirunaal, Mysore Varadachariar, Annamaachaarya, Tyaagaraaja, Aandaal, Paapanaasam Sivan, Purandaradaasa, Meera, Soordaas and many other luminaries. The Carnatic krithis were composed in Kannada, Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam languages. The authors in their Introduction have stated that Lord Krishna is considered to be a ‘poorna avatara’ of Lord Vishnu and that many of the composers have identified Krishna with Lord Vishnu and that many such kirthis have been included in this collection. The book contains a short write-up on each of the 32 chosen composers followed by the text of their kirthis consisting of pallavi, anupallavi and charanam and its meaning. The authors have effectively conveyed to the readers the meaning and purport of the lyrics in simple English. Understanding of the meanings of the lyrics would also help vocalists to express the sentiment or bhaava which the composers had wished to convey through their compositions. A combination of eruditeness with a devotional fervour is not very common. The couple’s deep and abiding devotion to their ishtadevata Lord Guruvaayurappan gets manifested in the brilliant translation of this select collection of lyrics. They have done an unforgettable and yeoman service for bhakthaas, music lovers and practitioners of classical music in this very difficult task of selecting and bringing together the kirthis on Sree Krishna and translating them from various languages into English. This book will always remain on my study-table to constantly remind me of the Supreme Lord and thus keep me in a permanent state of God-consciousness.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

eBook Review - 'THE LAST PANDAVA'



‘THE LAST PANDAVA’ - ‘HE WHO DEFIED DEATH TWICE’ : sairvaidyanathan@gmail.com : /sairvaidyanathan.blogspot.in : Pages 49 : Price Rs 50/-

This is an eBook written and published by Sai R Vaidyanathan. He wears many hats. He is an author, journalist and graphic designer. He writes extensively on mythological subjects, Hindu religion and culture and on the Vedic civilization. He is also an avid blogger. His writings are factual, interesting and impressive. He has seamlessly interwoven ten tales from the Mahabhaaratha and made it into a fascinating eBook on Arjuna’s grandson Parikshit and how he defied death twice over.

At the end of the great 18 day Kurukshetra war, only 12 warriors survive the massive bloodbath. The Pandavas have completely vanquished their cousins and bitter enemies the Kauravas. Duryodhana not one to easily give up asks Ashwatthama to kill the Pandava brothers before he gives up his mortal body. Ashwatthama had his own revenge to take for the death of his father Drona by Arjuna. So he goes to the camp at dead of night where the Pandavas are resting and supposedly kills all of them and announces the news to Duryodhana. Duryodhana is satisfied and dies.

The Pandava brothers are not really killed. In fact all the brothers survive. All of Draupadi’s five children are killed by Ashwatthama in the mistaken notion that they are the Pandava brothers as they look like their fathers. Bhima goes to kill Ashvatthama in retaliation and he is followed by Arjuna on the advice of Lord Krishna to protect him. Ashwatthama retaliates with his Brahamaastra. Arjuna saves Bhima by firing his Brahmaastra. Ashvatthama redirect’s the Brahmaastra towards Uttara’s womb which is carrying the unborn child of Abhimanyu, Arjuna’s son. Parikshit is the only hope now for the continuation of the Pandava legacy. Uttara prays to Lord Krishna who saves Parikshit from the attack. That is Parikshit’s first brush with death.

Yudhishtira, the eldest of the Pandavas ascends the throne of Hastinapura. Over time, Parikshit succeeds Yuddishtira as the king of Hastinapura and the first king of Kali Yuga. He rules benevolently but due to an unfortunate incident gets cursed that he would die within seven days bitten by the king of serpents  Takshaka . Petrified of his impending death and knowing its inevitability, he approaches his preceptor for solace. He is advised to listen to the glories of Lord Krishna by Shukdeva, a person of great wisdom, over the seven days. The narration by Shukdeva is the Bhaagavat Mahapurana. The suspense for the reader during this tantalizing period is skillfully built up by the author. Parikshit gets killed by the Takshaka on the seventh day as cursed and in retaliation his son Janamejaya conducts a huge sacrifice (mahayagnya) to kill all the world’s serpents. A clever Brahmana boy Astika pleads to Janamejaya to stop the mass killing of snakes which would have resulted in the death of the serpent king Takshaka. On the advice of Vyaasa, the sacrifice is abruptly stopped by Janamejaya.

Mahabharatha is a complex epic with hundreds of characters and running into one lakh verses. No less a genius than Vyaasa could have composed such a massive work. To read it in full is no easy task. But stories culled out artistically and skillfully and presented to the lay reader make them instructive and absorbing. That is what Sai Vaidyanathan has done. He has fired the curiosity of the reader by the title of the book. He has then brought in the very important characters of the Mahabharatha like Lord Krishna, Arjuna. Bhima, Ashvatthama and Parikshit and has smoothly crafted the incidents into a very readable eBook. The eBook has 18 chapters with interesting titles. The 49 pages of the eBook  can be easily read in one sitting. At the end of it, the reader gets a fairly good perspective of the Mahabhaaratha war, the meaning of life, the cycle of birth and death, how destiny cannot be escaped and how in this Kali Yuga chanting the name of the Lord (naama japa) can help us to attain salvation. Sai Vaidyanathan has done a commendable job by writing this eBook in a short and gripping form and it will definitely appeal to all earnest readers - young and old alike.