Records From India Then and “Records” From India Now.

Records From India Then and “Records” From India Now.

Our’s is a land of stories.

The nation seems to be full of them and in ancient times, most of the “stories” were transmitted orally .

If some dedicated 10,000 people among us start sorting, documenting and translating all of them in English, it would take each of us more than a life time to complete.

There are stories about Devatas, Avatars, devotees, Kings , Queens , ordinary people , animals and there are stories on just about every subject.

They all are about the highest human values .They are wonderfully told tales of love, war, supreme devotion, sacrifice and all that makes humans better humans.

Some of us might think of them as records and others as just expertly woven stories.

Whichever way one looks at them, one can’t deny they are tales about the loftiest of human ideals, [which are reachable, if we try hard enough.]

When we read the many tales of bhakts [ or the translated , rather lame-sounding ” devotees”], we come across every kind of them.

Some of them were Kings,[ King Thirumangai ,Cheraman Perumal Nayanar], some were “mad” saints
[ Abhirami Bhattar, Shri Ramakrishna and many others who were mad in the eyes of the World] and some were hunters[ Valmikhi before he discovered Ram japa, KaNNappa Nayanar-the devotee who donated his eyes to Lord Shiva] , many other people who belonged to the socially oppressed class at that time and who weren’t allowed inside temples .[ Nandan ,Kanakadasa to name a few].

The last mentioned type of stories intrigue me as I feel they have a lot of answers for those questions that haunt us even now.

Discriminations based on birth and the ill treatment meted out to some groups even today, is  always a hot topic and unfortunately "caste " has been made to sound synonymous to "Hindu"ness.

An eighteen year old who was studying in the College where I taught for  sometime told me  he was disgusted with the religion because it endorsed ill treatment of people based on their caste.

Diplomatic discussions followed and the youngster agreed that the ills of caste system had nothing to do with the religion but everything to do with the decadence of the nation in general.

Coming back to the stories,the common thread that connects all these stories is supreme devotion, rock-hard faith and the assertion that God cares only about the strength of one’s devotion and nothing else that may seem important to ordinary human minds.

Miracles seem to be common place happening in these stories-the Lord seems to play with his bhakts at first, to test their faith , gets them very close to danger and gets them out of that danger or difficult situation when the drama reaches its climax.

Some bhakts whose supreme devotion that Lord wanted their fellow men to understand and appreciate, other bhakts who suffered from ”I “ complex that had to dealt with firmly,…they all are discussed in these stories dispassionately.

I am giving below some examples I know of-please add to them or correct them wherever they are factual errors.

*The panchama man Adi Shankara meets at Kashi asks the great seer, when asked to “move away” some hard questions.[ that takes up two verses- a sort of prelude to the five verses that make up “Maneesha panchakam.”]

“Who should move away? This body or the all pervading Atman?”

Shankara answers them in five short verses about the nature of Atman.
Untouchability was practiced at that time, but it looks like it was questioned and the freedom to question existed.

*The story of KaNNappa Nayanar
ThiNNan the hunter had great love for the Lord at Kalahasti [ now in AP] and offered all that he hunted [ and that included fresh meat of the animals he killed] to the Lord at nights. The Shivacharya [ temple Priest] was upset by this and the Lord appeared to him in his dream asking him to watch the happenings that night. The Lord had planned an elaborate drama.]

The Shivacharya was taught a lesson that night [ a gentle one, though it must have been jolting for him to watch KaNNappa gouge his eyes out and subsequenty “paste” them on the Shivling when one of the Shuvling’s eyes started bleeding.

KaNNappa is my favorite cut and paste artist and the way the story was narrated to me by a Grandmother it wasn’t difficult to understand the feelings of the priest too, who was upset by the non –vegetarian offerings ThiNNan made for the Lord. [ Wild boar meat, for example. The Shivacharya must have been scandalized, one can only imagine how much ] .
The Lord addressed ThiNNan as KaNNappa– [KaNN in Tamil meaning eyes, Appan-an endearment meaning Father and in some cases, Son] , as the blessed hunter proceeded to gouge out his remaining eye to “cure” the Lord’s second “afflicted” eye, just after ThiNNan had “cured” the first eye.

It’s an enjoyable story but also an impassionately told one .
The story was retold by Sekkizhar in his “Periya Puranam.”

*The story of Kanakadasa who belonged to a caste that wasn’t allowed in to temples at that time-Its said the idol at Udipi turned towards him [ 180 degrees] and stays that way even now. Another lesson taught.

* Nandan for whom the Nandi idol in Chidambaram, TN [ Traditionally installed before Shivlings] moved away so that he could get a better darshan of the Shivling form from where he was standing.

One more on- the -target but gentle lesson taught to people who discriminated against their fellow men based on birth.

*One of the 12 Alwars [ Vaishnavite saints] ThirupaaNazhvar, belonged to a caste that was considered low and the Lord made those who needed a lesson [ people who belonged to an “upper” caste] carry him in a palanquin. He certainly knows how to drive home a point.:-)

*The Akshada Prasad Shri Raghavendra handed out to an ordhodox Brahmin who didn’t want to eat in the math [as he was offended about people of another caste being present too] turned black-the repentant man apologised and the Prasad became normal again.

More lessons.

*Nearly two centuries ago, Thiruvisanallur[ TN] Sridharan Aiyer, a Brahmin, was ostracized from his caste as he dared to feed the poor on his Father’s Shradda day.

He composed Ganga Ashtakam and Ganga gushed out of the well in his backyard-it’s said this happens on the same day every year and one can perceive the increase in water level.

Just some of the stories I remember now.

These were not stories written by Marxist Historians or Dravidian leaders. [ They write other kind of stories] .

These are stories discussed by Upanyasaks and read with devotion by many Brahmins themselves.

No twists, no distortions , no draping colored plastic sheets over the original works, no suppression of unwanted unfavorable ideas.

Just devotion , real freedom and objectivity.

The History of the last millennium is a very complex one and it has become an officially accepted theory that Brahmanical hegemony caused all the miseries that the nation has gone through [ and still going through.]

Politically correct .

“Brahmanical Hegemony” sounds high and scholarly and may be used to even place the blame for the Tsunami of 2004 and other natural disasters, one can’t be too sure.

But what sort of people would NOT try to suppress stories that portray them in a bad light?

If this group controlled temples as even the History of Architecture textbooks tell us , why didn’t they rearrange that Nandi idol or the Krishna idol in Udipi to remove the incriminating evidence?

This point has always intrigued me and I also feel we need a thorough revamp of all existing official theories and a clear mind to research the complex History of the past.[I know I am talking about a miracle, given the present day’s climate!]

We need not be part of any one social group but thinking about this issue dispassionately, what conclusions should one arrive at?

All of us might not have learnt the lessons about the sin that is discriminating against people based on birth but the records are there for us to learn from.

Call them stories or call them records [ if you are a stubborn irrationalist like yours truly].

Brahmins like Sridharan of Thiruvisainallur stood up to the existing taboos then.
One had be brave to do that when the times were against them. To Talk [ yes, to just talk], the way some of our elected leaders do] about social justice now, one need not be brave at all.

But the contribution of people like Sridharan and in more recent times ,Poet Bharathi ,in fighting social ills, is conveniently swept under the carpet.

We Indians [ by that ,I mean people who don’t feel apologetic about that fact , but feel justifiably proud ,those who can look at themselves objectively and initiate positive changes]are the best people to initiate any cleaning process that’s required now, for our society.

We need to objectively look at the evil within and root it out.

We have the records from our collective past to inspire us. If we to look Eastwards [and inwards, to introspect] we can bring about positive changes.

The “stories” of yesterday speak clearly and we need to take time to listen to them.

But compare them with the “records” we have now in “modern” India-the books written by our scholars, the articles written in popular magazines by many other scholars, the about –turns, the unashamed , unrepentant attitude even when proved wrong about facts, the wanton distortions, the spins that would put M.Muralidharan to shame, the mountains of yarns, the complete suppression of unwanted, unfavourable news

The difference is striking.

To solve our problems and to build a better India, we should take time to read and research works from the India then rather than the accepted /official theories from the India now. [ However,we may do so to amuse ourselves when we are bored].



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