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Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category

The tyranny of misplaced christian victimhood

In Political, Religion on April 1, 2015 at 9:08 pm

India is going through major socio-economic-political flux and I am delighted to see it all unfold. Like you, I have waited for a very long time for this day. Like you, I think of myself as an Indian first. My christian faith opens another charming window to view this world from. Lately I find myself attracted to the political dimension of our respective faiths. It gets ugly when we mark ourselves with a faith-based identifier. It gets uglier when we mark our territorial jungle trees with squirts of righteous pride. Instead of a faith based inclusion, we now face-off with a faith-based exclusion. In direct contradiction to the spiritual dimension stands an ugly political dimension of our respective faiths.

Unlike the west, Indian democracy has a unique blend of secularism. Instead of a constitutional separation between state and religion, we have a kludgy joint-family with resident cousins from all faiths. The state takes pride in your faith-based practice. Which is remarkably beautiful in itself. It is expected of us to actively participate in a state-sponsored orchestra of beliefs and non-beliefs, tooting our own horns.

This harmony sometimes threatens us with random cacophony. At times team work fails, and at other times the state actively promotes or passively mutes, one tooting section over another. We are familiar with our past histories and we do everything to not invite it.

It is in this light that a few events caught the media’s attention. This time around, the unlikely minority candidate were the christians. A string of mostly light stone peltings that can be best termed as vandalism, were termed as “church attacks”, and a few grunts of dissaprovals became “huge outrage” on social media. Rupa Subramanya discounted each one of them, to make sure the integral was never greater than the calculus.

I adore what social media is doing to the public discourse. As a loop-back mechanism to our governance, we are to be proud of what we have created. But there was dissonance here. It was not only a percieved threat that was amplified, it was false to begin with. And many took that argument at face value. NDTV and it’s anchors lost no time in weaving a popular narrative and my christian brothers consumed it like cola going out of stock.

As a Christian, suddenly I am a stranger in my own country, writes Julio Ribeiro, blared The Indian Express. He expresses his grief for his people thus:

“…the attack on Christian churches and schools in Delhi, all added to a sense of siege that now afflicts these peaceful people”.

An article in The Hindu “Being Christian In India” by Mari Marcel Thekaekara, attempts to sustain a narrative that I find faulty. She says:

“And I, too, as retired IPS officer Julio Ribeiro said in a recent article, feel threatened for the first time in my life, in my country.”

Reading these reactions, I had a momentary lapse of bearing. I did not feel the same way as some of these fellow-mates. I can dismiss the media hype, but can I discount my fellow christians? I asked myself:

1. Am I doing something wrong?
2. Am I a lesser christian than Ribeiro?
3. Is my identity less dependent on my faith than on my nationality? Should I be reversing it?
4. Why is there such comfort in christian victimhood?
5. Who among us takes refuge in it?
6. Why does media love it when I take refuge in minority victimhood, than if I do not?
7. Why is it that this is not a simple law and order issue and is being treated as a clash of disparate faiths?

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Alaipayuthey – My heart’s aflutter

In Carnatic, Music, Poem, Religion on July 7, 2013 at 9:27 pm

 
 
krishna

 
 


Kudamaloor Janardhanan – Flute
 
பல்லவி:

அலை பாயுதே கண்ணா
என் மனம் மிக அலை பாயுதே
உன் ஆனந்த மோஹன வேணுகானமதில்
அலை பாயுதே கண்ணா
உன் ஆனந்த மோஹன வேணுகானமதில்
அலை பாயுதே கண்ணா

Pallavi:

My mind is all aflutter, Oh Krishna, listening to the joyous,
enchanting music of your flute, My mind is all aflutter!

அனுபல்லவி:

நிலை பெயராது சிலை போலவே நின்று
நிலை பெயராது சிலை போலவே நின்று
நேரமாவதறியாமலே
மிக விநோதமான முரளிதரா
என் மனம் அலை பாயுதே
கண்ணா….

Anupallavi:

Transfixed, I stood there like a statue, oblivious of even the passage
of time, hey, mysterious flautist!

சரணம்:

தெளிந்த நிலவு பட்டப் பகல் போல் எரியுதே
திக்கு நோக்கி என்னிரு புருவம் நெரியுதே
கனிந்த உன் வேணுகானம் காற்றில் வருகுதே
கண்கள் சொருகி ஒரு விதமாய் வருகுதே!
தனித்த மனத்தில் உருக்கி பதத்தை
எனக்கு அளித்து மகிழ்த்த வா
ஒரு தனித்த வனத்தில் அணைத்து எனக்கு
உணர்ச்சி கொடுத்து முகிழ்த்தவா!
கணைகடல் அலையினில் கதிரவன் ஒளியென
இணையிரு கழல் எனக்களித்தவா!
கதறி மனமுருகி நான் அழைக்கவா
இதர மாதருடன் நீ களிக்கவோ
இது தகுமோ? இது முறையோ?
இது தருமம் தானோ?
குழல் ஊதிடும் பொழுது ஆடிடிடும்
குழைகள் போலவே
மனது வேதனை மிகவோடு
அலை பாயுதே கண்ணா
என் மனம் மிக அலை பாயுதே
உன் ஆனந்த மோஹன வேணுகானமதில்
அலை பாயுதே கண்ணா
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Mother Mary in Tribal Attire

In Religion on June 20, 2013 at 5:27 pm

mother-mary

 
 

 
 

A statue of Mother Mary in a tribal attire, created a row in India. They were protesting the deliberate use of tribal attire and symbols, by local priests, to affect easier conversion of tribals to Christianity.

Conversion of pagans to Christianity is an ancient pass to the promised kingdom. So believed many of the followers of Jesus Christ, including St. Paul. Anybody outside of the faith was waiting to be saved, and it was the Christian prerogative to save as many as possible in one’s lifetime.

That was then and this is now. But more about conversions later. I was looking closer at our Tribal Mother to see if there is a semblance to existing art. I found there was.
 

lady1 lady2

 

 
I find that Yashoda and Mary were approximately in a similar predicament, with their respective sons Krishna and Jesus. The song here is almost an equivalent to the Christian one above:
 

 
I like the fact that Mother Mary is being given an Indian attire. It is beautiful and I have seen these before. The church I go to has one in a blue saree. That color is a more usual representation. I find in our Tribal Mother, a unique deviation.

This is definitely an Indian mother with a naked child in a shoulder sling. I think the common posture for the child is to straddle it’s legs around it’s mother’s waist. In this case the posture is closer to the western depiction, probably to bring the faces of mother and child a bit closer. I doubt that the tribe wears the sling with child this way. If it does, it needs the support of a hand, and the whole purpose of the sling is to free up the mother’s hands while she multi-tasks.

This posture and the mother holding the child’s hand bears close match to a 15th century Byzantine icon – Our Lady of Perpetual Help. This Byzantine imagery is very popular in India.
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Aye Maalik Tere Bande Hum

In Arts, Music, Music, Poem, Religion on May 18, 2013 at 7:27 am

 
 
ankhen
 
 
The song ‘Aye Maalik Tere Bande Hum’ is from the 1957 classic Do Aankhen Barah Haath directed by V. Shantaram The song pleads for the strength to be virtuous, embraces death as a reality, accepts human fraility, and implores God to take all our sins and weaknesses. The lyricist Bharat Vyas penned this eternal classic.
 

 
Album Title: Divinity 4 – Spiritual Music for Peace

Artists: Akhlak Hussain, Ashit Desai, Rakesh Chaurasia (Flute), Sunil Das (Sitar), Ulhas Bapat (Santoor)

divider2
 
 

ऐ मालिक तेरे बन्दे हम
ऐसे हों हमारे करम
नेकी पर चलें और बदी से टलें,
ताकि हंसते हुए निकले दम

O Lord, you are our creator
Our deeds are the outcome of
a righteous path we walk and evil we shun
we smile fulfilled till our last breath
O Lord, you are our creator

बड़ा कमज़ोर है आदमी,
अभी लाखों हैं इसमें कमी
पर तू जो खड़ा, है दयालू बड़ा
तेरी किरपा से धरती थमी
दिया तूने हमें जब जनम
तू ही झेलेगा हम सबके ग़म
नेकी पर…

Frail is the human being
With a million shortcomings
But you who stands tall, is forgiving
The world exists by your grace
You who breathed life into us
Will surely bear our burdens?

जब ज़ुल्मों का हो सामना,
तब तू ही हमें थामना
वो बुराई करें, हम भलाई भरें
नहीं बदले की हो कामना
बढ़ उठे प्यार का हर कदम,
और मिटे बैर का ये भरम
नेकी पर…

When put to the test
O Lord, hold us firm
To our evil-doers, we are kind
May there be no desire for revenge
May every step ahead be for love
May every thought of enmity be wiped

ये अंधेरा घना छा रहा,
तेरा इंसान घबरा रहा
हो रहा बेखबर, कुछ न आता नज़र
सुख का सूरज छुपा जा रहाहै
तेरी रोशनी में जो दम
तो अमावस को कर दे पूनम
नेकी पर…

The world is engulfed in darkness
Your creation is afraid
He is uninformed and blind
The light of peace and happiness is hidden from him
Such is the strength of your presence,
a moonless night glows bright

 

The original song The movie online

 
 
Notes

  1. First translation to the prayer
  2. I saw a bit of Akira Kurosawa in this classic. An early part of Bollywood history, effectively indigenizing a western media/format with song and dance. The song presented here, is woven as part of the movie’s fabric, not in isolation but very much part of the story. It’s as memorable a hook, by Indian sensibilities, as say the theme in The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.
  3. Some Kurosawa elements in this Shantaram movie:
     
    The season as guide: Shantaram takes his convicts into a barren place. With the fury of the summer sun giving way to the joy that rain and spring brings, he highlights the transformation of beasts to men.

    Wilderness meets Village: Like Kurosawa, Shantaram toys with civilization meeting the frontier. This is a cusp where rules are flexed. It throws up surprises. The frontier convict does not know how to handle a villager.

    Ambiguous ally: The convicts are reluctant participants of an idealists’ open air freedom project to reform prisoners. They actually want to kill him and escape to freedom.

    Challenges to change: Shantaram gets deeper here. His convicts have not experienced freedom in a long while, and so when offered it, they cannot sleep in peace. They tie their legs with heavy weights, so it feels like regular leg irons, thus inducing “normalcy”

    Fake Opponent: The seller of toys is their unwilling partner. She turns around and imposes higher moral standards that the convicts adhere to without much resistance

    Sacrificial leader: The protagonist eventually gives up his life in saving the work of the convicts. He trades his life for his ideals.

    The transforming talisman: The idealist’s two eyes are looked upon as the watchful eyes of a jail warden, ensuring that the convicts do not escape. This trope in the end transforms itself in the eyes of the convicts. They no longer look at it as eyes that will catch them doing wrong, but as benevolent eyes that look down from the heavens to protect them.

    There is another transforming talisman: the dead tree: The convicts after their morning ablutions at a tank, take mouthful of water and spit water on a dead tree, more in jest than anything else. In the end, this tree grows leaves and becomes a beautiful blossoming tree. The convicts take flowers from this tree and gift it to the superintendent of police. This tree represents themselves. Society spits on these convicts as murderers and cheats. In the end, they are transformed to become useful citizens of the same society that ostracized them.

    Of deeper psychological interest are the talismans: Not only does the talisman transform the convict, it transforms itself, or in how it is being viewed over a period of time.

 
 
 

Other poems
tucker raghu vatican2
Aaj jaane ki zid na karo Hey Bhagwan – Raghu Dixit Hum Ko Man Ki Shakti Dena

 
 
 
 

Calling Muruga

In Media, Music, Poem, Religion on April 6, 2013 at 2:42 pm

 
 
lord_murugan
 
 
 


 
Koovi Azhaithal, Poet Vaalee, Valaji Ragam, Aadhi Thala
 
 

Pallavi
 
Koovi azhaithAl kural koduppAn, Kumaran,
Param kundram Eri nindrA KumarA, endru…

The one who stands tall on the divine hill,
will listen to my cry

 
Anupallavi
 
poovidhazh malarndharuL punnagai purivAn,
puNNiyam seidorkku kaNNedhiril terivAn (Koovi…)

He blesses with a blossoming flower-like smile,
He appears in front of them,
who perform good deeds,

 
Charanam
 
Deviyar iruvar, mEviya guhane,
thingalai anindha Shankaran magane
pAvalar yAvarum pAdiya vEndhanai,
pon mayil Eridum Shanmugha nAdhane (Koovi…)

Oh Guha, loved by two divine damsels,
Oh Son of the God bathed in moonlight,
Oh King, every great poet sings your praise,
Oh Lord Shanmuga, mounted on a golden peacock

 
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Pieta Carnatic

In Arts, Music, Music, Poem, Religion, Women on March 30, 2013 at 6:42 am

 
 
PIETA
 
 
A Good Friday reflection, set to the Carnatic raaga, Jounpuri. Aadi taalam
 
Mahakavi Bharathiyar, wrote this poem when he had misplaced a photograph of his mother. He pines to see her face again. I have set this poem and it’s lyrics to the sorrow of a mother who has just lost her son.
 
The Shroud of Turin, was made public after 40 years. It is assumed to be an image of Jesus. Mostly wrapped in controversy and mystery! Pope Emeritus, Benedict XVI, signed it’s public viewing, beginning Good Friday 29th March, 2013. The need to see a picture of the divine christ, bears an uncanny but easy human parallel to the poet’s intense need to recover his mother’s picture. It is this intense need that keeps the Shroud of Turin very real for many believers of the faith, irrespective of what science confirms as true or untrue.
 
Good Friday commemorates the death of Jesus. Pieta is a marble statue of Michaelangelo that depicts a limp and dead son in his mother’s arms. I wonder if these words of the Mahakavi, did not pass through a grieving mother’s mind?
 

 
 
Aasaimugam marantho pochey,

Alas, I have forgotten love’s very face,

idhai yaaridam solven adi thozhi;

My grief is unbearable, my friend;

Nesam marakavillai nenjam,

My heart remembers the tender affections,

enil Ninaivu mugam marakalaamo;

Memory cannot fail me now;

Kannil theriyuthoru thotram,

I perceive him in my mind’s eye,

athil Kannan azhagu muzhuthillai

But I fail to capture his beauty in full;

Nannu mugavadivu kaanil, andha

and I find his eyes,

Nallavalla sirippai kaanom;

Wanting of his winsome smile;

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Church of the Dispossessed – Part III

In Political, Religion, Social on March 17, 2013 at 8:34 pm

 …in need of a Theology of Liberation

libtheo

Joseph Ratzinger was a trusted lieutenant of John Paul II.  He was the able administrator  of Catholic orthodoxy.  When he was elected pope in 2005, it was widely believed, that he would extend the conservative reign of the previous two popes.

A challenge of geographic representation:

About 7% of the world’s Catholics are in North America,  24% in Europe, 15% in Africa, 11% in Asia and a whopping 42% in Latin America.  In 1970, 40% of Catholics were in Europe.  Today that has declined to 24%.  The center of numeric gravity has already shifted from Europe to LatAm, over the years.  But the papal make-up has never reflected that tectonic shift.  The flock has continued to be lead by a shepherd not their own.

A challenge of theology:

The First Vatican Council of 1870 was a conservative response to the modern world that was  bustling with scientific revolution and emerging from the French revolution and beginning to steep into European nationalism.  This First Council adopted the doctrine of papal infallibility and condemns the following:  liberalism, science and the separation of church and state.  It rejected the world view.  It emphasized a monologue with itself and took a position of exclusion.

The Second Vatican Council of 1962, sought to open the windows to let in some fresh air.  It emphasized a dialog with the world and attempted to take a position of inclusion.  It adopted the following:  There exists a salvation outside of Catholicism, built bridges of understanding with Judaism and Protestantism.  It changed the language of the Mass from Latin to regional vernacular dialects.  The most visibly arresting of them all, was the priest turned 180 degrees, to now face the congregation instead of facing the altar.  Some of the important First World issues were sunk by the two popes that held a conservative sway:  Homosexuality, contraception and women priests.  These, by the way, were not Third World issues!  The third world tended to be much more conservative on issues related to sexuality and gender.

The challenges ahead:

The new pope has to initiate inter-faith dialogues between the Judeo-Christian-Muslim worlds to bring harmony and peace to a world at war with each other.  He has to take a firm stand against pedophilia and sexual abuses by the clergy.  The church’s first response is towards the victims of abuse.  He has to set the financial house in order.  He needs to be cognizant of the new emerging balance of power in the world.  He needs to invite a disillusioned youth back into the church.  Sending one way tweets and working the social media is a narrow strategy, if the reality on the ground is that your clergy is not in talking terms with the youth of today.

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@Pontifex Habemus Papum Franciscum – We have Pope Francis – Part II

In Music, Religion on March 14, 2013 at 9:00 am

pope1
Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina was elected in a surprise choice to be the new leader of the troubled Roman Catholic Church on Wednesday, taking the name Francis and becoming the first non-European pontiff in nearly 1,300 years.

[When I penned the part preceding this segment, four months ago, I ended it with a quote from St. Francis of Assisi.  That quote and the saint proved to be accidentally prescient!]

He takes his papal name from a thirteenth century frair – St. Francis of Assisi. St. Francis took to a vow of poverty and preached the gospel in street corners. He is known as the patron saint of animals, the environment, and is one of the two patron saints of Italy. He took to nursing lepers in Assisi. After a pilgrimage to Rome, where he joined the poor in begging at the doors of the churches, he said he had a mystical vision of Jesus Christ, in which the Icon of Christ Crucified said to him,

Francis, Francis, go and repair My house which, as you can see, is falling into ruins.

He took this to mean the ruined church in which he was presently praying, and so he sold some cloth from his father’s store to assist the priest there for this purpose.

A very touching prayer attributed to him is the hymn Make me a channel of your peace. This rendition of his prayer by Sinead O’Connor, to me represents an acute pain that needs to be healed now:

escher-saint-francis-pope-2

Make me a channel of your peace:

Where there is hatred, let me bring your love,
Where there is injury, your pardon, Lord,
And where there’s doubt true faith in you.

Make me a channel of your peace:
Where there’s despair in life, let me bring hope,
Where there is darkness, only light,
And where there’s sadness, ever joy.

O Master, grant that I may never seek
So much to be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand,
To be loved, as to love with all my soul!



Make me a channel of your peace:
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
In giving of ourselves that we receive,
And in dying that we are born to eternal life.


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The Pearl Fishers of Mani Ratnam’s “Kadal”

In Arts, Movie Reviews, Music, Music, Place, Religion on February 10, 2013 at 9:43 am

A brief history of Christians in coastal Tamil Nadu

manapad_boats

A picturesque Manapad, the cradle of coastal Christianity in Tamil Nadu.

ஏலே கீச்சான் வெந்தாச்சு – நம்ம சூச பொண்ணும் வந்தாச்சு ஹே ஈசா வரம் பொழிஞ்சாச்சு Mate, the tiger fish curry is done cooking and Joseph’s girl is here. Jesus has showered his blessings
Elay = Mate; Keechan = Tigerfish, freshwater fish available in Tuticorin and Cuddalore Joseph’s girl = Mary. In this case Beatrice

This opening title song Elay Keechan, immediately brings to mind a certain people.  Elay and Yekki are how you would address a boy or a girl in this coastal town.  It’s a corruption of the Portuguese terms Ela and Equ.

How did the Portuguese come to influence the language, culture and religion of the fishermen here? 

Mani Ratnam’s latest movie Kadal is about a fisherman from a village close to Tuticorin called Manapad.  This is of immense interest to me, as I consider the place my cultural roots.  Having grown up in bigger cities all my life, I always come back here, to figure out what makes me me. That journey of self-discovery is absolutely thrilling.  I wanted to see if Mani Ratnam added to my understanding of myself through this movie.

Let me introduce my cultural heritage to you then, via a popular song.  A 1973 movie Do Phool saw Mehmood singing and dancing to a funny Tamil song.  The Hindi speaking population ingloriously mutilated a Tamil song in Muthu Kodi Kawari Hada much less understood what it meant.  Apparently Mehmood used to love mimicking Nagesh and Asha Bhosle loved LR Eswari and the song and dance in Do Phool was a remake of another tamil song called Muthu Kullika Varigala from a 1967 Tamil movie:  Anubhavi Raja Anubhavi.  

What does Muthu Kulikka Vaarigala mean?

Muthu Kulikka Vaarigala,  in Tamil means Do you want to go deep sea fishing to harvest oysters for pearls?

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Will Vatican II ever be Vatican 2.0? – Part I

In Religion on October 31, 2012 at 1:42 am

What is Vatican II?

After World War II, the Vatican under the leadership of Pope John XXIII, convoked in 1962 a meeting of over 2500 Catholic Bishops from across the world.  This meeting is commonly referred to as the Second Vatican Council or Vatican II for short.  In the last 500 years, there have been only three such ecumenical councils of such magnitude and importance:  Council of Trent, Vatican I and Vatican II.  Needless to say, Vatican II was an important gathering of bishops.

Last month, October 11th, we celebrated Vatican II’s 50th anniversary.  I reflect on what the fuss was all about back then and it it had any desired impact on Christendom.

Why did they meet?

Pope John XXIII did not have a specific crisis to solve.  They were not meeting to solve any particular burning issue of the day.  In the words of John XXIII, Vatican II aimed

…to open the windows of the Church to let in some fresh air.”  

The world was rapidly changing in front of them.   New divisions, alliances gave rise to new boundaries.  The church had to go through a tectonic shift in ideology to be relevant to a globalized citizen.  Vatican II wanted to reach out to all people in a new way that has never been done before.  Pope John XXIII called this updating of church ideology as aggiornamento.  A remarkable change in attitude, considering it’s previous rejection of modern, liberal life as heresy. 

What did Vatican II accomplish?

After three years of deliberations, Vatican II came out with some new directions.  Some of the documents developed new directions and underscored these important ideas for a modern world:

  1. building ecumenical bridges, especially across the  Christian-Jewish faiths
  2. permitting Mass to be celebrated in regional local languages instead of only in Latin
  3. defining the church as the people of God. Emphasis on the active role of laypeople
  4. make the church more effective in proclaiming the Gospel to the modern world.  Bring to light the positives in modern culture
  5. all Catholics to remain effective messengers of Gospel values in a pluralistic public square.

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The Symbolism of Ganesha – Sri Sri Ravishankar, Art Of Living

In Religion on October 30, 2012 at 9:48 am

I love the symbolisms found in Hinduism.  There is always a deeper and enlightening meaning underlying them,  I found it in this article written by Gurudev Sri Sri Ravishankar. I admire him for his teachings. Why do I like him?

Through his Art of Living foundation, he has brought an urgently needed simplicity and elegance to a complex philosophy of living called Hinduism.

Reproduced in it’s entirety, without his permission, is his writing below.  But first enjoy this Mahaganapathim fusion by a Mumbai based band called Confluence:


Ganesha is the formless Divinity – encapsulated in a magnificent form, for the benefit of the devotee.

Gan means group. The universe is a group of atoms and different energies. This universe would be in chaos if there was no supreme law governing these diverse groups of entities.

The Lord of all these groups of atoms and energies is Ganesha.  He is the supreme consciousness that pervades all and brings order in this universe.

The essence of Ganesha is brought out beautifully by Adi Shankara.  Though Ganesha is worshiped as the elephant-headed God, the form (swaroop) is just to bring out the formless (parabrahma roopa).  He is, ‘Ajam Nirvikalpam Niraakaaramekam’. This means Ganesha is Ajam (unborn), he is Nirvikalpa(attributeless), he is Niraakaar (formless) and he symbolizes the consciousness which is omnipresent.  Ganesha is the same energy which is the reason for this universe. It is the energy from which everything manifests and into which everything will dissolve.

We are all familiar with the story of how Ganesha became the elephant-headed God.  Parvati became dirty when she was celebrating with Shiva. When she realized this, she removed the dirt from her body and created a boy out of it. She then asked him to keep guard while she bathed.

When Shiva returned, the boy did not recognize him and obstructed his passage. So Shiva chopped off the boy’s head and entered.  Parvati was shocked when she saw this. She explained to Shiva that the boy was their son and pleaded with Shiva to save him at all costs.  Shiva then instructed his helpers to go and get the head of someone who was sleeping with their head pointing to the north. The helpers then got the head of an elephant, which Shiva affixed to the boy’s torso and Ganesha was born!

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Sita, Interrupted

In Religion on October 25, 2012 at 3:09 am

Sometimes the only way to stay sane is to go a little crazy – Girl, Interrupted

I have to admit that writing about Sita was a complex undertaking on my part!  This stuff is not for the faint-hearted for sure.  The layers of understanding, interpretations and myriad sources of the Ramayana, add to that a variety of interpretations make it the most complex study I have undertaken and truth be told, I have not even scratched the surface yet!  My greatest achievement will be to get a shrink-to-fit understanding of Sita for my blog post.  How wrong can this be?

If we have to be truthful to the Ramayana we have to break away from our own mythical logic and understanding of Sita.  Our perception of Sita’s conformity to our social constructs of woman, their sexuality and their role in a patriarchal society is plain wrong.

Ramayana is not to be blamed for our conceptions or misconceptions of women of our times.  It is our interpretations and adaptations that are squarely to be blamed.





The epic Ramayan has been retold many times.  Each of these retellings adds a concentric circle of understanding different and unique from the previous retellings.  True to the Gnostic traditions of oral histories, many shades of meanings have been added, derived and adapted in a plethora of Indian languages.

The Ramkatha is a fluid narrative flowing through ages of narrative interpretations by creative authors.  The moment we stop this fluid narrative undergoing adaptations by localizations through the ages, we risk fossilizing our understanding of the core teachings.

Valmiki interpreted Sita in Sanskrit.

Kambar interpreted Sita in Tamil.

Here are a few that interpreted Ramayana through their short story Ramkathas re-envisioning Sita, much more boldly than the above two.

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The Body, Blood and Water

In Religion on July 8, 2012 at 5:02 pm

This is a picture of Shiva and Parvati. Shiva is sometimes called the Ardhanareeswara – the God who is half woman.

This iconography instills the duality of destruction and rejuvenation, of thandava and lasya, of ascetic and householder.

Shiva is the God of not only destruction but also of rejuvenation. He is known for his dance of destruction called the thandava. Parvati his wife is the one that tames him, seduces him away from his destructive ascetic penance of mortification and severe austerity, with her dance of lasya.



Switching religions to Christianity, Jesus in the Essene tradition dances only in the rejected books outside of the four approved gospels that make up the new testament of the Bible. I wish Jesus’ dancing were included in the main approved gospels too. It would have lightened the preachy theme and context a bit. His dance according to the rejected gospels were always happy.

If thandava is the dance of destruction, then lasya is the dance of beauty, grace and happiness. Together they have an identical Christian parallel:

In Jesus’s last supper with his disciples, just before he was crucified, he left behind an act of symbolic legacy for them. He offered them bread and wine, representing his body and blood.

He broke the bread and lifted the pieces and said:

Take this, all of you, and eat of it:
for this is my body which will be given up for you.

He lifted the chalice of wine and said:

Take this, all of you, and drink from it:
for this is the chalice of my blood,
the blood of the new and eternal covenant.
which will be poured out for you and for many
for the forgiveness of sins .
Do this in memory of me.

I interpret this body and blood part thus: The body is offered up and the material world is renounced. This is a Shiva principle and ascetic in nature. The body is mortified and given up to achieve a greater goal. To remember this great sacrifice on the cross, the Christ asks his disciples to eat the unleavened broken bread in memory.

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The Rabbani effect

In wikiLeaks on July 30, 2011 at 4:31 am

Hina Rabbani Khar is the new Pakistani Foreign Minister.  Indian media covered her stunning looks and fashion accessories like they would cover a starlet from Bollywood who has suddenly arrived into the scene.  Pakistan FM in India.  The message and the messenger have traditionally been shot down instantly by all.  The military strategy involved in this case has been brilliant.  We have been check-mated and we love it.  It would require more than a resounding slap in our face, to snap out of this Khar-induced stupor.  What exactly was her message?

Khar brings home a new Pakistan.  The ideals of the youth of Pakistan apparently quite different from our generic over-arching assumptions of Pakistan.  One that the legendary ex-cricket captain, Imran Khan is trying to build.  We hope that they find inner peace, before they launch global ones.  Education and a bustling economy seems to be the healing balm that can save this country.  Trading with neighbors is key to achieving inner peace, hence the reach is beyond the border.

While Khar is bridging the border, there is an increasing need for peace and harmony within India.  We are moving away from, and out of an ideology slump of the 90’s in India.  How do we look at Muslims in India?  Do we have an opinion about their aspirations?  Are they different from the rest of us?  Are there borders between them and us that need to be bridged?  A recent wikileak document exposed Muslims and their aspirations in India quite favorably.  This cable was sent by David Mulford to US State Department in December 2005.  While Rabbani searches for peace, I think this wikileak goes some distance to help us in our own quest within.

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terror and it’s response

In Religion on July 21, 2011 at 4:15 pm

Let us start with Pakistan.

In a recent post by Aatish Taseer Why My Father Hated India, he explored the notion of Pakistan. He says the poetic architecture for the ideal was laid out by Muhammad Iqbal in the 1930s. While Pakistan was not too clear what it wanted to be, during it’s seminal partition from India, it was very clear on what it did not want to be:

The pluralistic Indian society with its composite culture

This created what Pakistan is today. The opposite of an Indian society. What could possibly be the opposite of social, philosophical, racial, ethnic, cultural and religious pluralism? Pakistani monism was in response to India’s pluralism. The underlying singularity in the Islamic tradition is what governs all things Pakistani.

The monistic Pakistani society with its unique culture was founded on Islamic principles

While modern Pakistan is in fact pluralistic in parts, the Taliban with its complex networks reaching into ISI and the government has effectively nullified the all-encompassing embrace of secularism.

Secularism needs explanation in the Indo-Pak context. The western meaning of secularism is the separation of religion and state. Whereas the eastern meaning of secularism is the acceptance of all religions by the state, without favor for one.

Pakistan has been exporting terror into India for quite some time and India on it’s part has shown passive resilience. Terror works in peculiar ways. When it’s evil tentacles reach into India, our reactionary questions seems to be:

[…continued]

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wikileaks: Indian Muslims reject extremist creeds

In Religion, wikiLeaks on July 26, 2010 at 3:03 pm


SUBJECT: INDIA’S DEMOCRACY AND ECONOMY MINIMIZE EXTREMIST RECRUITMENT OF JUVENILES
Friday, 02 December 2005

1. (C) India’s over 150 million Muslim population is largely unattracted to extremism. India’s growing economy, vibrant democracy, and inclusive culture, encourage Muslims to seek success and social mobility in the mainstream and reduces alienation. With Indian Muslim youth increasingly comfortable in the mainstream, the pool of potential recruits is shrinking, while Muslim families and communities provide little sanction or support to extremist appeals. This cable is in response to Reftel requesting information on methods used by extremist groups to recruit and train youths under the age of 18. Post notes that India is home to a wide variety of extremist groups, including religious extremists (Hindu, Muslim and Sikh), ethnic separatists, and extremists from the political left (Naxalites) and right (primarily Hindu fascists), all of whom recruit children. However, reftel requests information only on Islamic extremist groups such as Al-Qa’ida, Ansar al-Sunnah, the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), the Taliban and Kashmiri militants, and we will confine our analysis to such groups.

The Muslim Minority
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2. (C) According to India’s 1991 National Census, the Muslim population constitutes just under 15 percent of the country’s total. It grew by 33 percent between 1981-2001, while the general population increased by 24 percent. Islam is India’s largest minority religion. In many towns and cities, particularly in Northern India, one third or more of the population is Muslim. The largest concentrations of Muslims live in the states of Bihar (12 million), West Bengal (16 million), and Uttar Pradesh (24 million). The overwhelming majority (92 percent) are Sunnis, the remainder being Shias. India’s Muslim population is estimated to be as large as 150 million (the second largest in the world after Indonesia), and suffers from higher rates of poverty than most other groups in India, and can be the victims of discrimination and prejudice. Despite this, the vast majority remain committed to the Indian state and seek to participate in mainstream political and economic life. Only a small number of young Muslims have concluded that mainstream politics will never address their grievances and have gravitated toward pan-Islamic and pro-Pakistan organizations, which sometimes engage in acts of violence. India’s vibrant democracy, inclusive culture and growing economy have made it easier for Muslim youth to find a place in the mainstream, reduced the pool of potential recruits, and the space in which Islamic extremist organizations can operate.

A Vibrant Democracy
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3. (C) Although there are a wide variety of Islamic religious, political and social organizations, most Muslims join or support secular groups without a specific Islamic identity. The ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA), spearheaded by Congress, projects itself as the secular alternative to the opposition National Democratic Alliance (NDA), dominated by the Hindu-nationalist BJP. Muslims generally join secular parties as the best way to ensure that the BJP does not attain political power, although the BJP does have Muslim members as well. No exclusively Muslim organization has succeeded in mobilizing more than a small portion of the Muslim faithful. Muslim organizations that support terrorism against the Indian state and non-Muslim Indians are very small and lack influence or popular following outside of Kashmir. India’s vibrant democracy has ensured that the large Muslim community has a voice in politics and recent elections have demonstrated that Muslim voters are courted actively by political parties. With a Muslim President (Abdul Kalam) occupying the highest political position in the country, Muslims have been encouraged to seek political power in electoral and parliamentary politics, all but eliminating the appeal of violent extremism.

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