Category Archives: On Mahabharata and Mythology

Can we inquire of human conditions?

Sulabha and Janaka

After reading the chapter ‘Sulabha’ in Chaturvedi Badrinath’s book: The Women of the Mahabharata: The Question of Truth’ (Hyderabad, Orient Blacswan Pvt. Lte. 2008, pp. 130-147), I wrote this song. It is a long chapter for me to give the summary. But this is a well-known dialouge between King Janaka of Mithila and the Yogini Sulabha.

After hearing about Janaka who ‘was making great claims in most extravagant language, which had become very widely known, about his having achieved in this life itself, even as a householder, ultimate liberation, moksha, and citing his personal example was pronouncing on what moksha truly was, [and] wanting to know if there was any truth in his claims, Sulabha resolved to visit him’. (p.131)

‘Using her yogic powers, she meanwhile transformed herself into a young and radiantly beautiful woman….entered Janaka’s Court, seemingly begging for customary alms….Satisfied with the fullest welcome accorded customarily to a sannyasini, Sulabha….wanting to have more a private conversation than a public debate with him, and again using her yogic powers Sulabha concentrated her eyes upon his, held the light in his eyes still, and then held his mind in a kind of mesmeric hold, yoga-bandha, and entered in a psychic sense, King Janaka’s subtle inner being. He quickly sensed what she was about, and smiled….(111-112)’ Continue reading

Sankara vs. Ramanuja

When I read a column on the occasion of the birth anniversary of both Sankara and Ramanuja by Sri Pranav Khullar, I thought of writing my thoughts about Sri Sankara.

After explaining about Sankara’s advaita and Ramanjua’s vishistadvaita and recognizing their difference in theology, the author closed the article saying:

“Both Sankara and Ramanuja were seminal thinkers; they were also great apostles of bhakti. Here in lay their mass appeal. Sankara’s devotional outpourings were meant to inspire and arouse people to their innate divine self while Ramanuja was already a torch-bearer of the Vaishnava tradition.” Continue reading

Seeking Endorsements for the Promotion of Ideologies

In a previous article, I said, “when it comes to others’ faith and scripture(s), without knowing the textual, historical and theological contexts, giving one’s own interpretation will misrepresent the tenants of that faith.”

But this view should not be limited only to the faith and scriptures of other faiths. In nearly every faith, their scripture is interpreted in such a way that one can find an endorsement for a certain ideology. However it may, “…prevail to some degree over any rigid fidelity to commentatorial tradition” (p.100). This fact is brought out by Mark Singleton, (Yoga Body: The Origins of Modern Posture Practice, New York, Oxford, 2010) in the life and teaching of Swami Vivekananda:

…Certainly, Vivekananda was outspoken in his belief in the necessity of physical culture for Indian youth and at times insisted on its sequential priority over mental and spiritual development, such as in the following dialogue recorded in 1897: Continue reading

Management by the Gita

I recently watched a lecture from Prof. B. Madhavan in IIM at Bangalore, on ‘Management thoughts from Bhagavad Gita’. He presented his thoughts with a nice oratory style and deep conviction. All the participants seemed to be scholars, scientist, or others from the university. From his talk one can understand his deep knowledge in Sanskrit and also in Hindu scriptures.

The main thrust of his talk was that since most of the ancient Hindu scriptures were composed and passed through oral tradition, they have to say precisely their views on everything. Therefore they cannot write a separate text for religious views, spiritual views and secular/scientific views (like time management, economic management, etc.) So it is left with the person who reads them to chose the lens they read with. With a careful reading and understanding, one can see even economic and time management from them.

Then he quoted from the first sloka from the preamble to Brahmasutra Bhshya by Sri Adisankara on ‘pravarti’ ‘nirvrti’ in which one can see a clear message to manage time well. I was unable to record his exact thoughts, but he elaborately explained the introduction and rest of the slokas in Chapter one through his ‘management’ lens. Continue reading

Arrogant Charity

“…Joy in philosophy was never considered incompatible with the pleasures of culinary art. It is true that there grew up also taboos and practices as regards to eating food, which became enormously complicated, often to the point of insanity. But they are not to be found either in the Upanishads or in the Mahabharata. But however complicated they grew to be, and however ludicrous the forms that they took, many of the practices displayed nevertheless the belief that the act of eating is not a solitary affair; one’s life is linked with the life of others. Eating is not complete until the food that one eats has been shared with others….” (p.39), says Chaturvedi Badrinath writing in the context of “Food, Water and Life” in his recent book: The Mahabharata: An Inquiry in the Human Condition, (New Delhi, Orient Longman, {2006} 2007.

Both the Mahabharata and the Upanishads reflect the ideology of a perfect society, whereas the practical life is determined by other rules and regulations (that too guided by Dharmasastras). So the Mbh., like any other (ethical) scripture/literature does not necessarily reflect reality but gives guidance to an idealized situation for humanity.  Continue reading

Finding the (Un)Hidden Meaning

When I look back on my first Bhakti Theology Song, it doesn’t make any sense to me. The last two stanzas don’t have compatibility with the first two. Often, as I got the first word or sentence, I would continue to write as the words came to my mind.  The song ended asking for bhakti, though I began with Jnana. Of course I can say that the culmination of true Jnana is bhakti, and this is what I conveyed in this song too. But this is the way several later commentators and followers try to reconcile the contradictions which appear in the text or the teaching of their gurus and acharyas.

Out of my experience I can say that we should not try to dig out too much doctrine or theology from poems that, especially from bhakti and romantic poems. Exaggeration and too much of imagination is part of every poem. As Vairamutthu wrote (for a film) ‘Lie is the beauty to a poem’ as kajal (in Hindi; mai Tamil) gives beauty to the eyes (கண்ணுக்கு மையழகு; கவிதைக்குப் பொய்யழகு). Continue reading

An Alternate Riddle

The following is an imagined comedy, so please don’t take it literally or seriously as if I am degrading women. Even though I like to tease women sometimes, I have great respect for them. Read my article on women on my blog.

But now it is my turn to prove that Yamuna was wrong based on the very sastra.


A Missed Chance

I think the poor King missed one golden opportunity to claim a right for him as a husband. When I first heard the answer to the original riddle, I couldn’t understand and took pity on the King. Then I thought about what I would have done if I were in Achi’s place.

The origin for my imagined comedy begins with the promise given by the Queen. I still cannot believe a woman could give such a PROMISE to her husband that is practically impossible for her to follow (that she would she would never open her mouth to argue with him or disobey him on any matter, and would remain obedient for the rest of her life). At that time I reasoned out and prepared my refutation for Yamuna’s answer. But I wondered why Achi missed them?

That night in my dream, Achi came and told what actually happened. Continue reading

An Indian Riddle

Sri Vaishnavites are celebrating the millennium birth (avatara) of Ramanuja this year. Sri Ananda Padbanabacharyar has been sharing about the ‘avatara of Ramajuja’ on Podigai channel from 6.45am to 7.00 am from Monday to Friday. On November 18th and 19th he shared about Yamunacharya the grandson of Nathamuni. He shared one interesting incident to show the greatness of Yamunacharya.

There lived one great scholar who could not be defeated in any debate in the entire Chola kingdom known as ‘Vidhya dhana kolakalan’, or ‘Achi Azhvan’. He defeated several scholars and made them serve at his place. Yamunacharya was a young boy when he heard about it, and he went to challenge Achi Azhvan. Continue reading

Badrinath: The Mahabharata

For some reading is a hobby. Although I started it as a hobby, gradually it has become a part of my life. When I was working as a sales representative, I used to keep a book by my side to read while I was taking orders. When the client was busy attending his customers, I would read a few lines until he came back. When I was going to office, I took a book and would read while I walked when there wasn’t any traffic. I still remember the way my mother snatched the book I was reading while I was eating. So, I am not merely a bookworm, but books have become a part of my being.

When I read, I don’t do it casually. I take notes and arrange them according to topic and record my comments, side by side in the book itself. This helps me to reflect on certain points that the author conveys. Naturally, I never accept the views of the authors without questioning them, though I appreciate their sincere efforts to present them.

Though I read books related various topics, my main interest is related to religious scriptures and historical ones. In all these years, though I enjoyed the writings of many authors, I cannot forgot the influence of few who helped me to understand the subject in depth and forced to change my views.

Though Prof. Kane cannot be replaced by any one else as my most favorite writer, there are a few both in the past and present who often challenge my views. One such author is Sri Chaturvedi Badrinath.  When I first read his book: Dharma, India and World Order, he helped me understand the concept of dharma in its proper context. This book forced me to get all his other works to read. When I completed his recent book: The Mahabharata: An Inquiry in the Human Condition [New Delhi, Orient Longman, 2007] again I found his special mark in this work too.  Continue reading

Scripture and Idealism

Though one can ‘enquire the human condition’ from the Mahabharata’s point of view, it never going to reflect the reality of life, at least here in India. The Indian worldview is shaped by various thoughts, apart from the known authoritative scriptures of sruti and smrti.  However, the average Indian uses these thoughts either to explain away or justify his/her actions rather than to use them to set her/his course of life. Of course, this should not be treated as a sweeping generalization. This is my personal experience, and the observation of other’s life as well. Unless we allow the scripture to be the final authority to decide our action, every (valuable) thought coming from the scriptures or tradition will be ‘used’ to serve our purpose rather than guiding our life. But the Hindu dilemma always is: which is the scripture to which one should submit? Continue reading