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Hinduism is a complex mixture of sublime Vedic philosophies, dogmatic Brahmanical rituals, Yogic mysticism, Tantrik occultism, fertility cults, monastic orders, pagan customs and the belief in one God who manifests as innumerable divine beings. The oldest text known to Hinduism is the Rig Veda that reached its final form around 1500 BC. For at least 2000 years before that, a great urban civilization existed in NorthWest India on the banks of the Indus and its tributaries. The sacred motifs of this mysterious civilization like the bull, the serpent and the swastika are still part of Hindu worship. There are many contradictions within Hinduism because Hinduism has tried to assimilate every belief it has come in contact with. Hinduism acknowledges that the Ultimate Truth manifests itself in infinite ways, and the human mind cannot fathom it all.


Hinduism is a socio-cultural phenomenon that evolved in the Indian sub-continent and spread to South-East Asia. It does not have a clearly defined God or one dominating philosophy or one holy book or one prophet or one church or one religious hierarchy. The secular and the sacred are not separated. Hence, Hinduism is referred to more as a wayof-life than as a religion. Some common features of Hinduism are: 1. Reverence for the Vedas 2. Belief in God (Bhagawan, Ishvar) whose is part of the universe, not distinct from it and who incarnates as innumerable divine beings 3. Adoration of the mother-goddess (Devi) 4. Absence of the concept of evil and the Devil; all negative things in life are seen as the products of ignorance and lack of awareness 5. Ritualism (yagnas, pujas, vratas, samskaras), including idol, plant, animal, ancestor and Nature worship 6. Belief in reincarnation and the fatalistic acceptance of present situation as a consequence of actions performed in the past life (karma) 7. Search for liberation from the cycle of existence through guidance of gurus or wise teachers 8. Balancing righteous conduct (dharma) with material aspirations (artha), sensual pleasures (kama) and spiritual pursuits (moksha) 9. Acceptance that there are many means (marga) to reach the divine 10. Caste system (varna, jati) 11. Belief that Hindus are born and are not products of conversion 12. Perceiving the environment, the body and the mind as illusion (maya) and only the soul (atma) as the True Self that can be identified with the Supreme Divine Being (brahman)


Raw milk for Shiva and butter for Krishna. That is what my mother told me whenever we went to temples. I have come to realize this divine culinary rule is very much the norm across India. Last month I was had the opportunity to visit both Tirupati and Varanasi. At Tirupati, the offering made to the distant and awesome Balaji (a form of Vishnu/Krishna) was food cooked in pure clarified butter. At Varanasi, I poured unboiled milk on the linga of Kashi Vishwanath (a form of Shiva). Most Hindus follow this practice mechanically. For Hinduism is an orthopraxic religion. Piety is in the doing, not in the understanding. For hundreds of years, millions of devotees have poured raw milk on Shivas sacred image and offered butter to Krishna/Vishnu without trying to understand why. The answer has a logic, a mythical logic, based on faith not reason, offering a window to the Hindu soul. Shiva is an ascetic god. So withdrawn from all things worldly that he does not have a form. Anyone, men and women of all castes, are allowed to touch his sacred image. His temples except those in the Brahmanical superstructures of the south are usually open-air under Banyan or Pipal trees. By contrast, Vishnu participates in worldly life by taking various incarnations. As Krishna, he dances and sings and celebrates all things worldly. His temples are like palaces. He is the king, distant yet loving, reaching out to his devotees who stand for hours seeking an audience and presenting petitions. If one imagines, milk to be a metaphor of life, then raw milk is life as it comes while butter is what one can make out of life/milk. Raw milk is fit for the ascetic Shiva who does not bother to change the world. Rich creamy butter on the other hand is for the royal Vishnu who changes the world/milk, with effort churning, struggling, fighting, loving, enjoying. Seen through the language of symbols, the Hindu practice of offering milk to Shiva and butter to Vishnu/Krishna makes sense. We rarely notice that blood sacrifice is offered primarily to the Goddess, rarely to the Gods. It is always milk and milk products for male deities, blood for female deities. Female deities are also offered lemons and chillies, sour and pungent food. Why? The reason is, in the language of symbols, female forms represent the world around us external reality. Male forms represent the world within us the mind, the soul, the consciousness, the inner reality. The world is everything there is good and bad, right and wrong. In her benevolent forms, the world/Goddess is associated with sugarcane and milk. In her malevolent forms the world/Goddess is associated with blood and sour/bitter/pungent stuff.

Shiva and Vishnu are forms of consciousness responding to this world. The former prefers her as raw milk and accepts her soaked in blood. The latter prefers her butter and loves and protects her so she does not cry for blood. Shiva reflects the individual who accepts life as it comes; Vishnu who demands the best of life and is willing to work for it. These are the language of symbols through which are ancestors are communicating their wisdom to us. You may be relishing your milk and butter. But are you listening to them?


With disaster striking Mumbai in the form of rains, media reports constantly refer to rain gods. But who are the rain gods? Indra? Yes, but when was the last time you saw a temple dedicated to him. Monsoon, in fact, is the time when Hindu gods go to sleep. For four months, from Shayani Ekadashi to Prabhodini Ekadashi, when rains lash the earth and flood waters rise, Vishnu slumbers on the great hooded serpent, Sesha. His going to sleep and his subsequent awakening are marked by fairs and festivals in Vaishanva holy spots such as Pandharpur in Maharashtra. The rainy season falls during the night of gods, in the inauspicious half of the year, when the sun moves south along the horizon from the house of Cancer to the house of Capricorn. This is Dakshina-yana. Days get shorter and colder. The demons rise. It is the time of disease and disaster. Of Asuras and Rakshasas. This is Chatur-maas, four months, when holy men are prohibited from traveling. Powerful Asuras rumble into the sky in the form of dark monsoon clouds, withholding water until Indra hurls his thunderbolt and causes the rain to fall. In Vedic times, yagnas were performed in summer to empower Indra clear the skies. Vedic poets described monsoon clouds as a herd of wild trumpeting elephants. Indra rode a white elephant, symbol of white clouds associated with clear skies. Elephants have long been associated with water. As have yakshas, pot-bellied demi-gods as misshapen as monsoon clouds. Also asparas or nymphs. Many scholars believe that fertility rites associated with elephants, serpents, Yakshas and Apsaras, with their inherent erotic content, are pre-Vedic or at least, extra-Vedic. They were absorbed into the Vedic mainstream through later Vedic texts such as the Atharva Veda. That debate is academic. What is interesting is that as in modern times with the debate over censorship, since ancient times there has been a conflict between monastic orders and fertility cults and this conflict manifested in rituals and symbols. For ancient Indians, celibacy with its otherworldly goals represented sterility and drought There is the story of Rishya-shringa whose father kept him away from women so long that the rains refused to fall. As soon as he was seduced by a courtesan sent by a local king, the rains poured. The earth awakened and women became fertile. Rishya-shringa became renowned as the rishi whose yagnas helped childless kings. He was the sage in the Ramayana who helped Dashratha bear four sons on his three wives. Rain linked the masculine sky, Dyaus, with the feminine earth, Prithvi. Rain happened when the hermit submitted to the charms of the nymph. These ideas resonate in the

summer festival known as Ganga Dasahara that marks the descent of the river Ganges from the heavens. Ganga is described as a water-nymph whose fall would have destroyed the earth had the great ascetic Shiva not risen from his deep meditation and caught her in his matted hair. She became his wife, he stopped being a hermit and the dry earth became fertile all year round. As Hinduism became more monastic, Indras popularity waned. The lascivious god, lover of nymphs, became the cause of torrential rains to be humbled by Krishna who raised a mountain and turned it into a giant umbrella protecting the cowherds and milkmaids of his village. In the Bhagavata, Krishna tames the sexual urges with devotion. The clandestine eroticism of Krishnas love for Radha is balanced with his submission to social obligations and his marriage to Rukmini. This is manifest in Krishnas many triumphs described in many tales over the lascivious nymph-loving Indra. Krishna is the only form of God born during the inauspicious Chaturmaas. This makes him most suitable form of God to cope with Kali Yuga, the age of spiritual darkness, we apparently live in. With the rise of bhakti, offerings to Indra stopped. People ignored the sexual symbolism of rain. Chaturmaas became the time to stay indoors and pray and fast. But the yakshas and asparas survived the onslaught of monastic discourses, taking the form of bejeweled women and plump men adoring even Buddhist and Jain shrines. Though invisibilized, they exist even today in temple rituals prescribed for summer. In Puri, Orissa, at the peak of summer, the image of Krishna-Jagannath is brought out of the sanctum sanctorum, bathed with water and covered with elephant masks. The devadasis or temple courtesans, while they were around, danced at night in front of the image of Jagannaths brother, Balabhadra, believed locally to be a form of Shiva, hence celibate. This use of pouring water, elephant masks and courtesans is known as imitative magic, i.e. ritualistic representation of what one deeply desires rain.


It started as a tribute to dead warriors. Homers Iliad mentions that Achilles held funeral games on the shores of Troy in honor of his male lover, Patrolocus. Marcus and Decimus Brutus held the first gladiatorial games in Rome in 264 B.C. in honor of their father. There are a number of possible explanations for the practice of funeral games. First, it honored the dead warrior by reenacting his military skills. Second, it served as a symbolic affirmation of life to compensate for the loss of a warrior. Third, it was an expression of the aggressive impulses that accompany rage over the death. Perhaps they are all true at the same time. Games were also held to celebrate the killing of a foe. The Pythian Games celebrated Apollo's slaying of the Python. The Nemean games celebrated Hercules' killing of the Nemean lion. The ritual nature of the ancient Greek games and their association with death, war and victory suggests that these were organized ceremonies held to enable a people to come to grips with the eternally present fact of death. Antiquity was, after all, a time of high infant mortality, death by diseases we are now in control, and almost incessant warfare. Through ritual sport, death was brought under human control. Sometimes the outcome of these shows was purposeful submission to death (as in the gladiatorial games); at other times, it was victory. The origin of the Olympic games, according to Greek mythology, is also enmeshed with death, war and victory. The most common story was carved on the walls of the famous Temple of Zeus at Athens. It associates the games with Pelops, a Greek hero who lent his name to the Greek island of Peloponesse. Pelops was a prince from Lydia in Asia Minor who sought the hand of Hippodamia, the daughter of King Oinomaos of Pisa. Oinomaos challenged his daughter's suitors to a chariot race under the guarantee that any young man who won the chariot race could have Hippodamia as a wife. Any young man who lost the race would be beheaded, and the heads would be used as decoration for the palace of Oinomaos. With the help of his charioteer Myrtilos, Pelops devised a plan to beat Oinomaos in the chariot race. Pelops and Myrtilos secretly replaced the bronze linchpins of the King's chariot with linchpins made of wax. When Oinomaos was about to pass Pelops in the chariot race, the wax melted and Oinomaos was thrown to his death. Pelops married Hippodamia and instituted the Olympic games to celebrate his victory and/or honour the memory of his dead father-in-law, Oinomaos, and all Hippodamias suitors who had died early. By being fair in the game, the athletes honored Zeus, king of Greek gods, and the keeper of the balance of universal justice. Another story comes from the Tenth Olympian Ode of the poet Pindar. He tells the story of how Herakles, the great grandson of Pelops, on the fifth of his legendary twelve labors, had to clean the stables of King Augeas of Elis, which were reputed to be the dirtiest stables in the world. The city of Elis had long association with sports. One of its early kings, Aethlios, an ancestor of Augeas, organized athletic games in the region, thus lending his name to the words' 'athletic' and 'athlete'. Herakles approached Augeas and promised to clean the stables

for the price of one-tenth of the king's cattle. Augeas agreed, and Herakles rerouted the Kladeos and Alpheos rivers to flow through the stables, thus sweeping the stables clean. Augeas did not fulfil his promise, however. An enraged Herakles after finishing his labors returned to Elis and waged war on Augeas. Herakles sacked the city of Elis and instituted the Olympic Games at Olympia in honor of his father, Zeus, supreme arbiter of justice. Some say, Herakles merely regulated the games Pelops had instituted. During the games Herakles taught men how to wrestle and measured out the stade, or the length of the footrace, from which comes the term stadium. Herakles honored the victors of the games with wreaths made of branches of the wild olive tree, which he had brought from the magical land of the Hyperboreans. The name Olympic was a reminder to all mortals that the first games where death/war/victory were honored were organized on Mount Olympus, home of the Greek gods. It was held to mark the death of Cronos and the victory of Zeus over that king of the Titans. During this game Apollo, the sun-god, beat Hermes, the messenger-god, in the footrace, and Ares, the war-god, in boxing. As a result Apollo, the embodiment of Greek male beauty, became the patron of all sports and the Olympic games in particular. Ancient written sources record the year 776 B.C. as the year when the Games began, or at least the year when records of Olympic victors began to be kept. The first recorded Olympic games had one event, a race, called the stade (which is also a measure of the distance of the length of the track). By 724 B.C. a two-length race was added and by 700 B.C. there were long distance races (although the marathon came later). By 720 B.C., men participated naked, except in the foot race in armor (bearing 5060 pounds of helmet, greaves, and shield) that helped young men build speed and stamina in preparation for war. The epithet of Achilles (which literally means swift footed), the hero of the Trojan war, and the belief that Ares, god or war, was fastest of the gods indicate that the ability to win a race was a much admired martial skill. The Olympic games were not proving grounds for real combat. Just because skills in the Olympics matched valued martial skills does not mean the Greeks assumed the best wrestler made the best fighter. The games were more symbolic, religious, and entertaining. The ancient Olympics were individual sports which allowed an individual Greek to win glory. The Olympic games forged the national, racial and intellectual unity of the Greeks. The Games connected the deeply spiritual ethos of the Greeks with their past, combined to the maximum degree the cultivation of the body, mind and spirit with universal philosophical values and the emergence of the individual as well as the cities of Greece with the paramount ideal of freedom. The games were a time when a truce was declared between the warring cities. The truce was, in effect, an interim of civic and military neutrality in honor of Zeus, the supreme judge and arbiter and source of wisdom, a pan-Hellenic gathering and renewal of cultural and blood ties among the Hellenic peoples from all parts of the civilized world, a peaceful interim. Substitute the word panHellenic with global and cities with countries and we might as well be talking about the modern Olympics. It's a curious aspect of sports that even when they are part of a celebration of global peace, like the modern Olympics, they are nationalistic,

competitive, violent, and potentially deadly. One just have to look at the war cry of football fans, the waving of national flags by cheering crowds, the street parties to celebrate Indias victory over Pakistan in a cricket match and it is clear that it underlying the sport is the game of politics. Sports, in general, could be described as ritualized warfare where one power competes with another, where each hero (star athlete) strives to defeat a worthy opponent within a setting where death is unlikely. Ritualized sport is undoubtedly an outlet for or way to sublimate humanity's aggression. But defeat in the stadium is any day a better alternative to death on the battlefield.


Last year around February 14, there were a group of people who attacked shops selling Valentines Day trinkets denouncing them for pressuring Indian youths with Western ideas like `going on dates and encouraging pre-marital romance (hence sex). We Indians and I guess many citizens of planet Earth are generally squeamish with the idea of romantic love, especially one that does not manifest itself between a man and a woman bound by marriage. If love has to be accepted in Indian society, it must be between an older man and a younger woman, both unmarried, and it must culminate in marriage. For other forms of love there are myths and epics, even novels and films, but no place in society. But the problem with `love is that it refuses to respect the law of the land. A man can fall in love with a married woman. A woman can fall in love with a married man. A married man can fall in love with a married woman who is not is wife. And vice versa. A man can fall in love with a man. A woman with a woman. People can fall in love despite disparities in their social and economic status. Older women can fall in love with younger men. There can be love between people who are not adults. Between an adult and a child. There can be love that is not reciprocated. There can be love that cannot be expressed. Little wonder then that in Greece, the love-god was visualized as a childlike mischiefmaker called Eros. The Romans called him Cupid. An avid archer, he carried two kinds of arrows one tipped with gold, the other with lead. Gold-tipped arrows made people fall in love; leaden ones made them hate. This explained why some people loved each other, why some people hated each other, why sometimes love went unrequited and why sometimes people of the same gender fell hopelessly in love with each other. This son of Venus, goddess of beauty and fertility, did not care for social rules, much to irritation of Apollo the god of organizations and order, and much to delight of Dionysus the god of creative chaos. In India, the love-god was also an archer. His name was Manmatha, he who churns the mind. Popularly known as Kama-dev, he entered every ones life riding a parrot, holding aloft his fish-banner, raising his sugarcane bow and drawing his bowstring of bees to shoot flowers-arrows that stirred the senses, excited the heart and filled the mind with yearnings that often refused to align themselves with the rules of good conduct. In the Rig Veda it is said that the world came into existence because desire for creation arose in the heart of the creator. In the Atharva Veda therefore, Kama-dev is described as the one who existed even before the gods. According to Brihadaryanka Upanishad, desire of the primal father for his first creation, the daughter, led to the creation of all creatures big and small. While the `result was good, the incestuous nature of the `cause made sages and seers wary of Kama-devs capabilities. In the Puranas, therefore, Kama-

dev is reduced to dust by the supreme-ascetic Shiva. The gods had enlisted the help of the love-god to make Shiva abandon his acetic ways, embrace a woman and father a child who would be a great warrior, a killer of demons. They had never anticipated such a violent response. In the violence response of Shiva lies the eternal conflict of all religions that between the monastic ideal that offers spiritual bliss and the pleasure principle that offers material joys: Sex the most tangible expression of union was essential to rotate the cycle of life, yet yearning the emotional component of union was an obstacle to spiritual bliss. For Buddha, Kama-deva was Mara, the demon of desire, the one to be conquered in ones quest for liberation from the miseries of the material world. For Jain munis, their leaders who had conquered the senses and subjugated emotions were Maha-viras, great heroes, conquerors of the senses, greater than men of war and violence. Hindu Siddhas and Nathas were all celibate men who believed in the magical powers of retained semen. To them all women were temptations, daughters of Kama-dev, who forced them to shed seed and anchored them to earth. If the plays of Kalidasa, Shudraka and Harsha are to be believed, there was a time in India when images of Kama-dev were worshipped in gardens during spring in festivals such as Vasant-utsava and Madan-utsava. At that time, there was no conscious effort to distinguish fertility from sensuality. Women were encouraged to bedeck themselves and walk on the streets, exciting the gods, enticing them to share their heavenly delights with mortals. During festivals, women danced and sang in orchards. Trees were said to burst into bloom on hearing the laughter of lusty women. Plants embraced by beautiful maidens were said to express their delight by producing nectar and shedding pollen. The bejeweled heavy breasted `nayika was auspicious. Temples were said to be incomplete unless their walls depicted beautiful and happy couples indulging in love-sports. Poets described with great delight the trumpeting of elephants in heat and the mating songs heard through the night. But with the rise of monastic ideas, this erotic and romantic mindset had to be curbed. Spring festivals were stripped of their erotic charm. Kama-dev became Ananga, the bodiless one. It was hoped that by denying his form, the ideas associated with him would not corrupt the youth. Suddenly, nearly 2000 years after the heritage of sensual delights gave way to monastic ideals, we find that Kama-dev striking back through Valentines Day: a day when the deluge of advertisements and television programs force us to think of romantic potentials and possibilities. Only the vocabulary is Western. February 14 was first set aside to honor St. Valentine by Pope Gelasius in 496 A.D. He did so in an attempt to outlaw the pagan festival of Lupercalia. In Rome at the time, February 14 was a holiday at which Romans honored Juno, the Queen of the Roman gods, goddesses, women and marriage. The following day, February 15th, began the Feast of

Lupercalia. Priests (luperci) of two colleges (Quintilii and Fabii) met at the cave where the she-wolf supposedly nursed Romes founding twins Romulus and Remus. Vestal Virgins offered their holy salt cakes. Priests sacrificed a dog and a goat, and smeared the animal blood on two boys who, clad only in a bit of goatskin, later led a band of revelers (luperci) whose antics included whipping bystanders with a goatskin strip (februa). Women so whipped even barren ones were thought to become fertile. The priests also have paired up youth of both sexes who were to stay paired up for the remainder of the year. Another widely believed origin of Valentines Day is one involving Claudius the Cruel. This legend contends that Valentine was a priest who served during the third century in Rome. When Emporer Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families, he outlawed marriage for young men his crop of potential soldiers. Valentine defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret. When Valentines actions were discovered, Claudius ordered that he be put to death on the 14th day of February, about the year 270. Some believe that Valentine actually sent the first valentine greeting himself. While in prison, it is believed that this Saint Valentine fell in love with a girl, possibly his jailers daughter; who visited him during his confinement. Before he was killed, he allegedly wrote her a letter, which he signed From your Valentine. Still other historians say there is no link between the Roman festivals and Valentines Day, and that before the poet Chaucers time, there wasnt any link between the day of St. Valentine and courting but after him, the link became established. This theory suggests that Chaucer was responsible for inventing the modern traditions of Valentines Day. It was based on an old belief that birds begin to mate on this day, as he relates in The Parlement of Fowles: For this was on seynt Valentynes day, Whan every foul cometh ther to chese his make. During the medieval days of chivalry, the names of English maidens and bachelors were put into the box and drawn out in pairs. Each couple exchanged gifts. The girl became the mans valentine for that year. On his sleeve he wore her name and it was his bounded duty to attend and protect her. Hence the expression, `He wore his heart on his sleeve. History tells us the first modern valentines date from the early years of the fifteenth century. The Young French Duc dOrleans was captured at the battle of Agincourt and kept a prisoner in the Tower of London for a number of years. The duke wrote a series poems to his wife from captivity. About sixty of them remain. They can be seen among the royal papers in the British Museum. Flowers as valentines appear nearly two hundred years later. A daughter of Henry IV of France gave a party in honor of St. Valentine. Each lady received a bouquet of flowers from the man chosen as her valentine.

There is no denying that Valentines Day has its roots in the West. There is no denying that Greeting Card and gift manufactures of the world have made it popular in recent times to exploit the commercial opportunity it offers. Granted that `going on dates seems to be a very MTV-planted thought in the Indian psyche. Granted that `arranged marriages are still very much the norm in India. But the idea of celebrating love and fertility when winter is giving way to spring is hardly alien to Indian culture. The timing of Valentines Day matches the timing of the ancient spring- and love-festivals such as Vasant-utsav and Madan-utsav. And it is no coincidence that festivals such as Lohri, Makara-Sankranti, Shiva-ratri and Holi are celebrated around this time. Both Lohri and Holi are associated with bonfires, reminding us of the burning Kama-dev. Lohri is associated with harvest and fertility. It is the Pongal of the North. A time to worship the sun who enters the House of Capricorn (Makara). Capricorn a creature which is part fish and part goat in the Western tradition and part fish and part elephant in the Indian tradition is the emblem of Kama-dev. Holi is a festival charged with sexual energy as ribald jokes are cracked and men and women throw color on each other. A fortnight before Holi, one celebrates Shiva-ratri, the night of Shiva, when the ascetic renounced his ascetic ways and agreed to marry the Goddess so that the cycle of life continues to rotate. Today Kama-dev is no longer worshipped. But he exists. His symbols have been taken up other gods such as the sun and moon whose rays are supposed to heat the body with passion. In the Bhakti period, Kama-dev was visualized as the son of Vishnu and Lakshmi. Like Kama-dev, Vishnu is associated with parrots, bees, Capricorn, butterflies, flowers, sugarcane, fragrance, beauty and an alluring mischievous smile. One of Vishnus forms is Mohini, the enchantress. As Krishna, Vishnu becomes Madan-mohan, he who enchants even Cupid. This winsome lover plays the flute and invites Radha to dance with him on the banks of the Yamuna in the bower known as Vrindavana. There romance is rediscovered. But it is a celebration outside the village, at night, in secret, reminding us all that love, howsoever true, is often at odds with the demands of society.


Two thousand five hundred years ago, Prince Siddhartha Gautama of the Sakya clan wanted to know the cause of suffering. When he discovered it, he became known as the Buddha, the enlightened one, enlightened enough to forge a path out of suffering into bliss.At the moment of discovery, exhilarated by the insight, did the Buddha laugh? Could he have laughed perhaps at the foolishness of humankind that causes it to suffer the world of delusions? We will never know. Still, out there, on shelves across the world, we find images of the Laughing Buddha, a bald, pot-bellied monk raising his arms as he roars in laughter. Who is this Buddha, so different from the curly haired, slim and serene founder of Buddhism we otherwise know? To identify him we must journey from Thervada (the ancient monastic school) that originated in India to Mahayana (the later compassionate school) that spread across China, was influenced by Taoism and ultimately metamorphosed in Japan into Zen (the contemplative school). The word `Zen has its roots in the Sankrit word, `Dhyana meaning reflection. In the mythosphere of Zen masters, Sakyamuni Gautama was but one of the many Buddhas populating the cosmos. According to the `laughing school, many of these Buddhas did laugh to achieve, transmit or express enlightenment. The `serious school disagreed. They felt laughter was too frivolous to fit into the rather solemn monastic path of the Buddha. This led to hair-splitting debates on the nature of jocularity in monasteries across the Orient. The scholastic attempt at resolving the apparent contradiction between laughter and an enlightened state began by distinguishing between six types of laughter. The classification based on Bharatas 5th century classic `Natyashastra (much of Indias Sanskrit literature made its way to the Orient thanks to the silk route) arranged the spectrum of smiling through laughter in hierarchical fashion from the most reserved expressions to the most raucous. These included:
* sita, a faint smile serene, subtle, and refined, reserved for the upper caste * hasita, a smile which slightly reveals the tips of the teeth, also reserved for the upper

* vihasita, a broader smile accompanied by modest laughter, for the masses * upahasita, a more pronounced laughter associated with a movement of the head,

shoulders, and arms, again for the masses

* apahasita, loud laughter that brings tears to the eyes, for the lowest caste * atihasita, uproarious laughter accompanied by doubling over, slapping the thighs,

rolling in the aisles and the like, again for the lowest caste

Given this hierarchical schema it is predictable that the Buddhist scholastics would incline to the view that the Buddha had only indulged in sita, the most reserved, tranquil, and circumspect form of laughter; actually, in terms of the English word, no laughter at all, only a barely perceptible smile. Sita is the level at which one approaches the spiritual, the transcendent, and the sublime. It is manifested by the Buddha at all only because he is standing at the threshold between the unenlightened and the enlightened, like the yogic state of bhavamukha where one sees with both physical and spiritual sight. The Buddha sees the juxtaposition and the contradiction of the unenlightened and enlightened states. From this vantage point the world of samsara, maayaa, and avidyaa has the appearance of a comedy as the Buddha looks back upon the folly of the unenlightened and `laughs in the exalted sense of sita. This is the gist of the view that prevailed among the Buddhist scholastics, and has persisted by and large throughout the Buddhist world since. With this historical setting and predisposition in mind, what is especially striking about the Zen Buddhist tradition, in both its Chinese and Japanese forms, is that in its literature, art, and religious practice, what one often encounters is the opposite of sita, namely, the fifth and sixth and supposedly lowest levels of laughter, offered both as authentic expressions of Buddhist enlightenment and evidence of the authenticity of the enlightenment. In Zen, Bharatas aristocratic and spiritualistic schema seems abruptly to have been stood on its head. Zen anecdotal records contain frequent reference to loud roaring laughter: of the master in response to a foolish statement by a monk, or of a monk in experiencing a breakthrough to enlightenment, or of the master in attempting to precipitate such an experience. Zen tales document the comical activities of enlightened masters. There is Gutei who amputated his attendants finger when the latter imitated his one-finger Zen representing the oneness of life. A Zen anecdote that has been circulating recently tells of a contemporary Zen master who lay dying. His monks had all gathered around his bed, from the most senior to the most novice monk. The senior monk leaned over to ask the dying master if he had any final words of advice for his monks. The old master slowly opened his eyes and in a weak voice whispered. Tell them Truth is like a river. The senior monk passed this bit of wisdom in turn to the monk next to him, and it circulated around the room. When the words reached the youngest monk he asked, What does he mean.Truth is like a river? The question was passed back around the room to the senior monk who leaned over the bed and asked, Master, what do you mean, Truth is like a river? Slowly the master opened his eyes and in a weak voice whispered, Okay. Truth is not like a river. Another Zen tale has a monk asking, Where is the Buddha now? The anticipated answer would be, The Buddha is in Nirvaana. The answer given, however, is: The Buddha is taking a shit! The humor in these Zen narratives is an example of reducing a line of inquiry to an absurdity so that one is jolted into moving beyond the boxes and labels within which one

hopes to capture and incarcerate reality. Perhaps thereby will be effected a direct and immediate realization of the truth which is beyond name and form. In Zen art, monks were often shown in various stages of hilarity as if privy to some cosmic joke. The characters seem more raucous than reverential. One favorite theme has been the Three Laughing Sages. The reference is to the story of a Taoist hermit who for thirty years had faithfully kept a solemn vow never to cross a mountain stream that separated him from the material world, but when he was accompanying two visiting hermits on their departure, he was so enthralled with their conversation that he inadvertently walked across the stream with them, whereupon all three burst out in hearty laughter. Master Sengai, noted for his many humorous sketches and caricatures, does not depict the Buddha soberly instructing his disciples, but rather a naked little boy leaning over, farting! Another of Sengais sketches shows a bullfrog sitting, as if in meditation, but with a smirk on his face. The accompanying calligraphy reads: If by sitting in meditation one becomes a Buddha (then all frogs are Buddhas). At the heart of these comic images lies a confusion of categories, ordinarily kept distinct. Humor delivers something very different from ones expectationsthe comic surprise. In the process, humor breaks down the categories with which we would divide up experience into such dualities as sacred and profane, sublime and ordinary, beauty and ugliness, and even nirvana and samsara. Thus making humor the `midwife of truth, Zen masters converted Buddhas laughter into the medium of enlightenment. But laughter was also an expression of enlightenment, Buddhas laughter is a state of release from inner tensions into inner harmony. The Buddha does not laugh at himself or at others, he does not laugh because he has acquired something others dont have. The laughter is neither cynical, sarcastic, bitter nor defiant. It is the laughter of compassion, an amusement at the interplay of knowledge and ignorance that makes up the joys and sorrows of what we call life. Something of this spirit is reflected in the story of the late Zen master Taji, who lay dying. One of his disciples, recalling the fondness the roshi had for a certain cake, went in search of some in the bake shops of Tokyo. After some time he returned with the delicacy for the master, who smiled a feeble smile of appreciation and began nibbling at it. Later as the master grew visibly weaker, his disciples asked if he had any departing words of wisdom or advice. Taji said, Yes. As they drew closer, so as not to miss the faintest syllable, Taji whispered, My, but this cake is delicious. With those words he died. Here is neither a cynical humor, born of resignation and despair, nor a defiant humor, making some last gesture of rebellion against the meaninglessness of life. Nor is this a sarcastic and bitter humor, mocking the disruption or cessation of the best-laid schemes of mice and men. The spirit is quite different. This is a humor of acceptance, a final yes

to the opportunity of life, albeit transient. It expresses the joy of life, and of the smallest particulars of life, without at the same time frantically clutching after life. The popular Laughing Buddha now found in many Indian homes is the Japanese Hotei, whose Chinese name, Pu-tai, literally means linen sack. He was a jolly, roly-poly monk of the tenth century who traveled from village to village, playing with children, bringing them trinkets and sweetmeats in his sack, like an Oriental Santa Claus, and otherwise using his sack as a sleeping bag. He is sometimes identified with the Buddha of the future, Maitreya, the compassionate one who will get rid of tears and bring back smiles. His laughter is both an expression of, and a inspiration for, enlightenment.

You cannot avoid commenting on Dan Browns book, The Da Vinci Code which has taken the world by storm. Especially when you are a mythologist, and everybody asks you, Is it true? Is Mary Magdalene really the Holy Grail? Was she really the wife of Jesus Christ and the mother of his children, a truth that has been violently suppressed for centuries by the Catholic Church? In my opinion, if the da Vinci decoding were really true and the conspiracy theory holds merit (nobody can ever prove or disprove it), then it is terrible tragedy. For it would reduce the Holy Grail to a mere historical riddle and take away from it the power to reveal the secrets of our soul. Tales of the Holy Grail or Sangreal, as it is known in French, originated in and around France around the 12th century AD. That was the age of the Crusades. Responding the passionate plea of Church leaders, young men from Europe led by charismatic leaders from France and England made their way to Palestine to reclaim from the Muslims, whom they knew as Saracens, the holy city of Jerusalem. On their way they passed through the Eastern Roman Empire of Byzantium, quite different in character from the Western Roman Empire controlled by the Papacy in Rome. They also realized that contrary to propaganda, the Saracens were not barbarians but a cultured people well versed in art, science, poetry and philosophy. When the young men returned home, they brought back with them not just the wealth of the East but also its wisdom including the idea of the Holy Grail. Intimately linked with the idea of the Holy Grail was the concept of courtly love and the idea of the divine feminine. According to Eastern Orthodox traditions, the Holy Grail was the cup used by Jesus Christ during the last supper. According to another tradition, it was the cup that caught the blood of Jesus Christ that flowed out of his right side where the Roman soldier, Longinus, pierced him with a lance during the crucifixion. The cup was in the possession of a wealthy Jew called Joseph of Arimathea who provided the tomb where Jesus was buried. When the body of Jesus Christ disappeared three days later following his resurrection, Romans accused Joseph of stealing the body. They threw him into prison and deprived him of food. There he languished for decades. When he was released, he had not aged a day! This was the miracle of the Holy Grail which Joseph had carried into the prison. It had transformed into a cornucopia and sustained Josephs body and soul. It is said that during his stay in prison, Jesus appeared to Joseph and revealed to him many secrets including that of the Holy Grail. Joseph and a small group of followers left Jerusalem for Europe. Some say France, some say Britain. He and his descendants became guardians of the Holy Grail. They were known as Fisher-kings, kings of all fishermen a term used for all those who brought the wisdom of Christ to the world and thus fished the lost souls of men in the net that was the church. The Fisherking lived in the Grail castle with the Holy Grail in the care of his daughter, the Grail Maiden. One day, one Fisher-king, named Pelles, lost his faith and committed a sin. Was it adultery? It is not clear. Whatever it was, the Fisher-king was injured on his thigh. Some

say, he was castrated. Or was at least rendered impotent. With this loss of virility, the land around the Holy Castle, once a bountiful garden, became a wasteland. The barren landscape and the impotent king never allowed to die but simply suffer his festering wound for all eternity became symbols of spiritual collapse. Together with the Holy Grail, they disappeared from history, awaiting discovery by those who could restore faith and harmony in the world. From then on, from time to time, kings and knights, received tantalizing visions of the Holy Grail held by a beautiful maiden, the Grail maiden, and her unfortunate broken father, the Fisher-king. The vision was an invitation to find the lost Grail. While kings could conquer lands and knights could rescue damsels in distress from the clutches of dragons, could they restore the spiritual incompleteness of their souls? That was the challenge. This was the Grail quest. Tales of the Holy Grail cannot be separated from ideas such as knightly chivalry and courtly love. Knightly chivalry represented the highest ideals in a warrior: he fought not for personal fame or glory or earthly power, but in the service of a king, preferably a Christian king, to protect the weak and defend his righteous order. Courtly love was a subversive concept that crept into French literature around the 12th century AD, that challenged the unquestioning obedience of knights by proclaiming the glory of love. While obedience of the knights respected the rules of society, love challenged all rules and demanded satisfaction. Courtly love was at once adulterous and pure. Local bards known as troubadours, inspired by Arabic poetry, sang songs of this forbidden love between a knight and a lady of high rank, who invariably was married to someone else, often the king. The love consequently was either unrequited or could not be consummated. Yet the knight loved her. He fought for her. Even died for her. The suffering, the struggle against temptation, the heartache of sin, inspired soulful lyrics moving people greatly. This was the age when the concept of Notre Dame or Our Lady reached its zenith. For some, at a spiritual plane, Our Lady was not the knights lady love. She was Mary, Mother of God. Or perhaps, more dangerously, she was Mary Magdalene, one of Jesus Christs early followers, a reformed prostitute, and according to some, wife of Jesus Christ. There were whispers across Europe. Was the Grail quest a search for a magical cup or the quest for spiritual fulfilment through Mary, mother of Jesus, or was it the search for his children born of Mary Magdalene, the true church? The questions gripped the imagination of the people. The most popular manifestation of this imagination was the story of Arthur and the knights of the Round Table. The tale, based on Celtic legends, is rich in Christian symbols. The round table represents the round table around which Christ was supposed to have his last supper. Around it were 13 chairs, for the 12 apostles and Christ. The 13th chair, the unlucky chair, represented for some Jesus, and for others, the traitor, Judas. Around Arthurs table, sat 11 knights and one seat was left empty, for the one who would discover the Grail. Anyone else who dared sit on this chair died instantly. That none of the Arthurs knights could sit on that chair and hence were deemed unworthy of the Grail was a constant reminder to Arthur that despite the earthly glory achieved by Camelot it remained spiritually incomplete, a fractured soul, much like Adam after the Original Sin

and the Fall from Eden. Only a true knight, not the bravest or the smartest, but the one who was spiritually pure, would find the Grail and make Camelot paradise on earth. In effect, Arthur was the wounded Fisher-king, wounded because beneath the material prosperity of his land lurked dark secrets of spiritual failure. Arthur was a child of rape; his father, Uther, duped his mother, Igraine, by using magic to take the form of her husband, Duke of Cornwall, killed by Uther himself in battle. Arthur had a son following a brief incestuous affair with his half-sister, Morgan, Igraines daughter by the Duke. Arthurs queen, Guinevere, was in love with his First Knight, Lancelot. Everyone, except Arthur, knew of the affair. Lancelot, himself, had fathered a son called Gala had on a woman he did not know was the Grail Maiden, daughter of the Fisher-king. Thus, Arthurs First Knight had come close to the spiritual prize and had misused the opportunity to satisfy his carnal frustrations. Then there is the story of Perceval. His mother, abandoned by her husband who favoured the knights life of quests to the ordinariness of family life, raised him in the forest without any contact with kings or knights. But as fate would have it, the boy came upon a knight one day and was so enamoured by their armour and manners that he ran away from home to become a knight, leaving a grieving mother to die of heartbreak. He learnt from the knights of Camelot the rules of courtesy and politeness and follows them with such earnestness that he forgets basic human values of compassion and empathy. One night, he gains entry into the Grail castle. There he finds the suffering Fisher-king and has a vision of the Holy Grail and the Grail maiden. Bound by rules of courtesy and politeness, he does not ask the king the cause of his suffering or the purpose of the Grail. A golden opportunity is lost. All that is required for the Grail quest to end is a simple question by one who finds the Grail: Whom does the Grail serve? The answer is twofold. The Grail serves (helps) the Fisher-King, representation of spiritually fractured humanity. The Grail serves (contains) the blood of Christ, symbol of his sacrifice that offers completion and perfection to spiritually fractured humanity. The Holy Grail offers a deep insight into the Christian worldview. Of course, if one is content with the historical explanation: the Holy Grail is Jesus Christs wife and the blood within is the missing line of his children, then this insight is best overlooked. To me, the conspiracy theory helps in mocking the authority of the Catholic Church. But does such an endeavour help the soul in anyway? Does it take away the restlessness that gnaws the core of our being? For that one needs to relook at the mythical, not the historical, Sangreal.


Adam and Eve ate the Fruit of Knowledge and learnt how to differentiate good from bad. They began judging Gods creation. They became conscious of their nakedness and covered themselves. They became mortals, destined to toil until the day they died. This story of the Original Sin has profoundly influenced Judeo-Christian traditions. Taken metaphorically, the ideas expressed are universal. According to Indian philosophy, mans Fall from Divinity comes from Ego. Ego destroys our equanimity and makes us discriminate between what is right (that is beneficial to the Ego) and what is wrong (that is hurtful to the Ego). Ego makes us cover our true personalities (our nakedness) and hide behind make-up, fashion and snobbery. Ego makes us crave and hence suffer. Ego dooms us to the eternal fear of death. Ego is the Forbidden Fruit that has cast us out of Paradise. And we shall remain out. For like Adam and Eve we still do not take responsibilities for our actions. She made me eat the fruit, said Adam pointing to Eve. The serpent tempted me, said Eve. We too blame others society, parents, politicians for our frailties. We fear exposing ourselves. We cringe behind the fig leaf of self-delusion. We refuse to throttle our Ego that makes us sin. Satan is our Ego externalized, making us doubt Divinity. He challenged Jesus. Prove that you are the Son of God, he said. Jesus did not fall for the bait. He did not have to prove the existence of Divinity. He knew. He believed. We dont. We seek proof. We demand reasons and validation. When that is not forthcoming, we feel abandoned, alone. We seek consolation in the Ego and go out to prove ourselves. We stand up and show off, seek applause and exert authority. We surrender to our pettiness, our arrogance, our delusions of grandeur. Each time we do that, fetters clamp on our feet and drag us away from Eden into the dark dungeons of despair and loneliness. Jesus rejected Satan to become the Son of God. Everybody else crucified him. Pinned to the cross, gnawed by a thorny crown, naked with arms outstretched, he moved his lips to say, Father, forgive them for they know not what they do. No one was blamed, no one accused. Here was the union of compassion and wisdom. Here was a resident of Eden. Here was God. When man indulges Ego, he loses Paradise. He finds himself washed away by the Flood or atop the Tower of Babel unable to understand the language of his friend. He finds himself enslaved in Egypt or lost in the wilderness. Ego brings war to the plains of Judea, Ego makes Saul his own enemy, Ego rejects the cries of Jeremiah, Ego wipes away the writing on the wall. Perhaps the greatest victims of the Forbidden Fruit are the right-wing defenders of every faith. Look how they transform altars into battlegrounds, scriptures into weapons,

faith into outrage. Look at their lack of compassion, their desire to hurt and kill, to rape and plunder in the name of God. Look at how they market their whims as the will of the heavens. Look at the swords in their hands, the anger in their eyes. If that is not Ego in action, what is? When they strike, can we turn the other cheek? Should we let them suffer the poison of the Fruit? Or should we strike back and become poisoned ourselves? Answers are not easy to come by. Perhaps that is why we seek a savior, a messiah, someone who will guide us, direct us, help us transcend Satans temptations. We want to be compassionate, but we lack the wisdom. We want to forgive unconditionally, but are weak. The Fruit still festers strong. Purging out the Fruit requires more than baptism, communion and confession. It requires more than listening to sermons. It requires Armageddon in our hearts where the Ego shall confront Divinity and we shall choose the winner.


Some leaders of our country believe that schools should begin their day with prayers to Saraswati, goddess of knowledge. Why not with a hymn to Lakshmi? After all, isn't wealth and power the motivation for parents to send their children to school? In universities, medical schools, engineering colleges, management institutes, art academies and other centers of learning, isn't Saraswati being worshipped with Lakshmi in mind? Information no longer enlightens it exploits. Education is no longer seen as something that opens the mind and expands the horizon. For the teacher, it has become the source of livelihood. For the student, it is merely an investment to reap a rich harvest. Few bother with philosophy and literature anymore. They don't pay enough! Arts are being crafted to excite rich patrons. Skills are being prostituted. Knowledge is being sold to the highest bidder. Even textbooks have become battlegrounds for political power. Lakshmi is without doubt an important goddess. Without her, trees would not bear fruit, animals would starve, kings would be shorn of splendor and sovereignty. When the gods churned her out of the ocean of milk, she brought with her the promise of affluence, abundance and authority. Not surprisingly, both the asuras and devas desired this goddess of fortune. She went from king to king, from god to god, offering each one moments of glory before turning away. Her restless spirit earned her the title Chancala, the fickle-one. The demons said, she was capricious; the gods accused her of being too demanding. Ultimately, Vishnu won her eternal affection. Known for his uprightness, Vishnu is the guardian of the universe, tirelessly working to maintain order, dharma. Unlike other beings, Vishnu did not seek Lakshmi; the goddess chose him. She was attracted by his commitment to his work and his detachment from all rewards. There probably is a message in their union: that wealth and power help sustain life, they do not make up life. What then is life? If wealth and power are means, what is the end? Who better to answer these questions than Saraswati, repository of all knowledge. Even Brahma sought her companionship to find his way out of the labyrinth of material passion. The story goes: Brahma was so enamoured by Shatarupa, goddess of material existence, that he sprouted five heads to look upon her at all times. He chased her wherever she went, but no matter how hard he tried, he could not possess this mercurial being. To restrain Brahma's lust Shiva, the supreme ascetic, wrenched off one of Brahma's heads. Sobered by the experience, Brahma took Saraswati and learnt to rein in his bewitched mind. Unlike Lakshmi, Saraswati does not adorn herself with flowers or jewels. She wears a white sari, thus rejecting the cosmetic pleasures of life. She is not associated with any fertility symbol or any emblem of power. She rides a swan, symbol of discernment and detachment. Discernment because it is said that swans can separate milk from water and thus reality from illusion. Detachment because though swans need water for their survival, they can always fly away without a drop of water burdening their wings. Lakshmi and Saraswati embody the dual purpose of life: the demand to pleasure

the senses and the need to liberate the soul, the desire to indulge the ego and the hope to transcend the flesh. It is difficult to find a compromise between the two. As the Jains say, "You cannot be the chakravarti (emperor) and tirhthankara (seer) at the same time." One way out was the ashrama system, when after enjoying the pleasures of the world as a householder, men renounced worldly life to become ascetics. However, looking at old politicians still clinging to power in the twilight of their life, it becomes apparent that such choices are not easy. One has to either fly on Saraswati's swan or remain rooted in Lakshmi's lotus.


"How do you worship the lord?" asked the master. "By renouncing the world and fixing my mind on Him," replied the first student. "By appreciating worldly beauty and bounty," replied the second. The master smiled and embraced the second student for he had understood the essence of pushti marga. Pushti marga realisation of the divine by acknowledging divine grace forms the foundation of a Vaishnava cult patronised mainly by the trading communities of Gujarat and Rajasthan. This marga attributes a personality to the divine godhead. That personality Shrinathji is enshrined in a haveli at Nathadvara near Udaipur. To the believer, the idol of Srinathji is svarupa, the living image of the Lord, to be lavished with offerings of raga, bhoga and shringara music, food and adornment. Each day, priests toil lovingly to make sure the Lord wants for nothing. They wake him up to the tune of gentle music, bathe him with perfumed water, feed him the choicest delicacies and bedeck him in rich robes for festivals and feasts. Such indulgences befit Srinathji, `the lord of fortune. He is Vishnu, the celestial patron of worldly life. He is Krishna, the divine partaker of material delight. With his upraised arm, Srinathji holds up the cosmic mountain Govardhana to shield his devotees from universal sorrow; with his angular eyes, he beckons all to enjoy, without restraint, the gift of life. World-affirmation has always been at the heart of Vaishnava philosophy. Traditionally, however, Vaishnava teachers have insisted on tempering all worldly deeds with devotion (bhakti), detachment (karma) and discernment (gyan). For, as they explain, the world is merely an illusion, a dream that helps one realise the divine. Vallabhacharya, an inspired mystic of the fifteenth century, did not accept this cheerless interpretation of maya. To him samsara was not as an intangible mirage. It was Krishnas work-of-art inspired by Radhas beauty. How could anyone distance oneself from this god-given splendour, he wondered. Vallabha hailed from a family of Sri Vaishnava Telugu brahmins and he prescribed to the belief that Vishnus consort Sri, who is the bestower of worldly wealth and fortune, is the medium through which the lord can be be realised. He considered Shankaras interpretation of the Vedanta as kevala advaita, mere monism, because it attempted to dissociate the tangible world from the Absolute. Vallabha called his interpretation suddha advaita, pure monism, according to which the tangible world is the Absolute. Unmanifest, the Brahman was lonely and joyless. And so it manifested itself as the colourful cosmos, the rangabhoomi. The abundance of the world is thus an expression of divine delight. He who appreciates this the connoisseur, the shaukeen is a true bhakta. At the height of his intellectual evolution, Vallabha came upon the idol of Srinathji atop the legendary Mount Govardhana in Vrajabhoomi. The idol became the concrete manifestation of his philopophy. He enshrined the idol in a temple while his eldest son Vittalnath established elaborate rituals that humanized the deity and made

him more accessible to the masses. Thanks largely to Vitthalnathjis efforts, Srinathji `wakes up, `eats, `plays, `grazes cattle, `holds court and even needs be protected from the `evil eye. The highly refined rituals of pushti marga have played an important role in consolidating the cult. Through them the devotees, who barely get a glimpse of the lord during the eight daily darshans, get the oppurtunity to get in touch with the manifested Unmanifest. In the seventeenth century, in the midst of religious intolerance, the idol of Srinathji had to be moved from the banks of Yamuna to the deserts of Rajasthan, to be housed not in temple but in the haveli, protected by Rajput warlords. The haveli and the village around it became known as Nathadvara, portal of the Lord. To this day merchants and artists go there seeking refuge in the grace of Shrinath: lord of the goddess of affluence and abundance.


Why is Shiva-ratri one of the few Hindu festivals to be celebrated in the not-so-auspicious dark half of the lunar cycle? Why is it celebrated just as winter draws to a close? These are questions to which real answers may never be known. However, one can always speculate. Speculation helps one explore sacred mysteries and thus gain insight into the divine. The traditional story is that on this night a thief climbed a Bilva tree, which is sacred to Shiva, to give his pursuers the slip. He spent the whole night on the tree, plucking leaves that unknown to him fell on a Shiva-linga. This act of unintended piety earned the thief an eternal place in the lords heart. Stories running along these lines are narrated on Shiva-ratri as devotees hold an all-night-vigil in Shiva-temples. But these narratives tell us why Shiva should be worshipped during Shiva-ratri. They do not tell us what makes Shivaratri sacred. One story, popular in some parts of South India, says that it was on this night that Shiva drank Halahala, the cosmic poison churned by the gods and demons from the ocean of milk. The goddess Parvati did not want the poison to enter her husbands body, so she caught hold of Shivas neck. The gods did not want Shiva to spit the poison out. So they began singing songs in praise of Shiva. With bated breath, the gods stayed awake wondering how Shiva could save the world without annoying his wife. Finally, at dawn, Shiva locked the poison in his throat for eternity until it turned his neck blue. The allnight-vigil on Shiva-ratri commemorates Shivas benevolence. The unconventional tradition of worshipping Shiva in the dark half of the lunar cycle is not surprising considering there is nothing conventional about Shiva. He is the only god who does not adorn himself with flowers or jewels. He smears his body with ash, wraps himself with elephant hide and tiger skin and bedecks himself with serpents, wild Dhatura flowers and Rudraksha beads. He intoxicates himself with hemp, is surrounded by wild and fearsome Ganas and lives on icy barren mountains. The crescent moon on his head the same moon that can be seen in the skies on Shiva-ratri offers another possible reason why the 13th night of the waning moon is sacred to Shiva. The moon-god Chandra was married to the 27 Nakshatras, lunar asterisms, but he preferred only the company of Rohini. The neglected wives complained to their father, Prajapati Daksha, who ordered Chandra to change his ways. When the moon-god did not, he was struck with the dreaded wasting-disease. As the days passed, Chandras luster waned. No one came to his rescue for fear of incurring Dakshas wrath. In despair, Chandra turned to Shiva who placed the moon-god on his forehead where Dakshas

curse had no effect. The crescent-moon on Shivas head is a reminder of how Shivas grace saved the moon-god from oblivion. Those who fear death, those who cannot come to terms with the fleeting nature of existence therefore take refuge in the cosmic ascetic who has transcended the eternal cycle of birth and death. In Tantra, the moon represents the cooler, submissive and fleeting aspect of Nature. The sun represents the warmer, dominating and eternal aspect of Nature. Together they represent the totality of life, the union of opposites. While Shiva represents lunar energy, Vishnu represents the solar. Shiva transcends worldly life, Vishnu actively participates in it. Shiva did not want to marry but Vishnu coaxed him into the cycle of existence. In Shivas willingness to be Devis groom one finds the reason why Maha-Shiva-ratri is celebrated just before the arrival of spring. It must be remembered that in the Hindu calendar, the festival to follow Shivas holy night is Holi, the festival of fertility, love and joy. Shivas marriage to Parvati is a major theme of Shaiva lore and is often narrated during Shiva-ratri. The union transforms the hermit into the householder and couples worldrejection with world-affirmation. With the Devi by his side, the yogi becomes a bhogi. A balance is achieved between the spirit and the flesh, the ego and the infinite. Maybe that is what Shiva-ratri is all about. A time to stay awake through the night contemplating on the dualities of life of mortal desires and immortal bliss, earthly obligations and heavenly aspirations, material needs and spiritual demands. When the balance is met, when Shiva is in the arms of Shakti, when the dance is in perfect harmony, there is truth, awareness and bliss sad, chit, anand.

Compared to the images, stories of Ardhanareshwara are relatively rare. Below are a few retellings: In the beginning, a lotus bloomed. In it sat Brahma. On becoming conscious, he realized he was alone. Lonely, frightened, he wondered how he could create another being to give him company. Suddenly a vision flashed before his eyes. He saw Shiva whose right half was male and left half was female. Inspired, Brahma divided himself into two. From the right half came all things male and from the left half came all things female. [Linga Purana] Sages who visited Mount Kailas were at first horrified to find Shiva copulating with his consort disregarding their presence. Then they realized that for Shiva to stop and pull back would be like asking the right half of the body to separate from the left half. So they saluted Shiva and visualized him as the half-woman god. [Nath oral tradition] Bhringi wanted to circumambulate Shiva but not Parvati. Parvati would not allow that. She sat on Shivas lap making it impossible for the ascetic to pass between them. When Bhringi took the form of bee to fly between their heads, she merged herself with Shiva so that she became his left half. Now Bhringi took the form of a worm and tried to bore his way between them. Parvati was not amused. She cursed Bhringi to lose every part of the body given to him by his mother. As a result, the ascetic was left with neither flesh nor blood (the soft parts of his body). Reduced to a skeleton he could not stand upright. Taking pity on him Shiva gave him a third leg so that he stood like a tripod, reminding all the price man pays if he does not revere the feminine half of the divine. [Tamil temple lore] When Parvati saw Ganga on top of Shivas head, she was furious. How could he keep another woman on his head when his wife sat on his lap, she wondered. To pacify Parvati, Shiva merged his body with hers. He became half a woman. [folk tale from North India] While the image and stories of Ardhanareshwara evoke a sense of sexual interdependence, harmony, completion and fulfilment, a careful observation raises two questions: Why are the two sides not interchangeable? The female half almost always occupies left half, while the male occupies the right. Why is the identity of Ardhanareshwara male? It is a form of Shiva, never Shakti. It is always Ardha-nari-ishwara (half-woman-god), never Ardha-nara-ishwari (half-mangoddess). This essay addresses these questions and speculates on different paradigms that make such an obvious `hierarchy of halves acceptable. Left or Right

Directions matter in the Hindu world. The world-rejecting Shiva raises his left foot when he poses as Nataraja, while the world-affirming Krishna bends his right leg when he plays the flute. The sacred thread hangs from the left shoulder while feeding gods while it hangs from the right shoulder while feeding ancestors. Wives sit to the left of husbands, often on the left lap. In deference to these rules governing directions, the female half of the Ardhanareshwara occupies the left side. Even when Vishnu (or Krishna) takes a halfwoman form, his consort Lakshmi (or Radha) is on the left. Together, or apart, the goddess remains `vamangi the left-sided one. Left is the side occupied by the heart. It is the side for the one who rules the heart a mans wife, a mothers child. With the one who is dear on the left, the right hand is free to wield the sword or hold the scripture. With the left side associated with the heart, the right side comes to be associated with the brain. One can defend this stance with the help of science as the right-brain, which controls the left side of the body, has been found to be associated with `feminine traits such as intuition, abstract thought and creativity while the left-brain, which controls the right half of the body, is associated with `masculine traits such as logic, systematic thought and mathematics. The left side is reserved for the dependent one in a partnership. When Shiva and Vishnu merge to become Hari-Hara or Hara-Hari, the right side is occupied by the `dominant God, which is Vishnu in Vaishnava tradition and Shiva in Shaiva tradition. The left-sided path in Hinduism, or Vama-marga, refers to things occult and unorthodox. Vama-marga is the Tantrik way while the Dakshina-patha, the right-handed way, is the Vedic way. The Tantrik way disregards caste hierarchy and is open to all initiates of the guru. It gives greater value to the mechanistic performance of the ritual activity than its intellectual analysis. The aim is often the acquisition of siddhi, control over things material rather than samadhi, release from things material. While the presence of women is essential in both Tantrik and Vedic rituals, in the former she is `shakti or power, while in the latter she is `maya or delusion. The left is associated with things sinister, inauspicious, inferior, even polluting. Hence, food is received with the right hand, while the left is reserved for performing ablutions. Man or Woman Sex matters in Hinduism. It means many things, much more than biology. It helps give form to many abstract concepts of Hindu philosophy and metaphysics. The female form has long represented materialism, while the male form has represented spirituality. He is the ascetic or the householder. The former seeks to transcend material things while the latter tries to control it. The woman seduces the world-rejecting hermit and eludes the world-craving householder. She is enchanting yet mercurial like a nymph. Ideally, she (materialism), should support and submit to him (spirituality), hence she

occupies the inferior left half. The male form is otherworldly. The female form is worldly. Shiva rejects worldly life; Shakti celebrates it. By uniting the two, Shiva harmonizes the worlds of the hermit and the householder. And yet, the `hierarchy of halves remains. The material world remains in the profane left half. Yoga, restraint, embodied in the male form demands a higher position over bhoga, indulgence, embodied in the female form. Such insights lead one to the conclusion is that Ardhanareshwara with its left half reserved for the woman is very much a product of a society where men call the shots. Such conclusions, however, offer no answer or hope. It merely affirms the welldocumented irrefutable gender realities of history. At this juncture, it is necessary to step away from the limitations posed by sex and gender. One has to stop looking at tales involving gods as `mythology about men and tales involving goddesses as `mythology about women. One has to look at the idea beyond the form, at the gender-free metaphysics beneath the gender-limited mythology, which grants the symbol its mythic power. The problem with anthropomorphic forms is that they, like words, are limited and are unable to fully express the subtleties of metaphysics. Mythology seeks to express to a culture its own understanding of the world using symbols, narratives and rituals. This understanding is formless in metaphysics but formed in mythology. The latter is more immediate to the masses, which cannot grasp abstract concepts. One must be careful not to mistake mythology as mere allegory, however, because the forms are not secondary to the subtext. The form and the formless are two sides of the same coin. Mythic forms are essential components of a sacred vocabulary. Without them, the culture cannot talk to its people and the people cannot communicate with the cosmos. The paradigm shift In Hindu metaphysics, there is no objective world out there. Things exist only because they are perceived. No observation exists independent of the observer. Without the seer there is no scenery. Life is a subjective phenomenon. In this worldview, the subject `creates all objects by experiencing them. But the subject has no existence independent of these `creations. Without the object, the subject cannot isolate or identify himself. The object is the `other that helps in the subject in the quest for self-determination. `It cannot exist unless `what it is not does not exist. Unless the `rest exist, the `self cannot be. Thus subject and object, seer and scenery, perceiver and perception need each other. The former creates the latter, the latter validates the former. This idea is expressed through the male and female constituents of Hindu mythology, including the ones in Ardhanareshwara. The complementary relationship between subject and object, the individual and his/her world, is best expressed through the mutual

interdependence of the left and right halves and the male and female forms. Neither can exist without the other. The male form represent souls who are sensitive to experience while the female form represents the experience itself. Thus, the goddess as Saraswati, Lakshmi, and Shakti represent impersonal, passive, knowledge, wealth and strength that one is free to create, sustain or destroy. The gods on the other hand as Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva represent ones ability to crave, control and transcend experiences. The goddesses represent the stimuli to which the gods react too. Since everything that exists is a manifestation of the divine in the Hindu scheme of things, the gods represent the divine inside each one of us; the goddesses represent the divine, which is all around us. There is clearly a gender bias in the selection of the female form to express the idea of object/scenery/perception and the male form to express the idea of subject/seer/perceiver. But the idea beyond the symbol is clearly gender-independent. Perhaps then this is what one of codes locked within the image known as Ardhanareshwara: You are Shiva; your world/life is Shakti You know you are alive because you experience your Shakti. She is your eternal companion; without your world/life you cease to be Your Shakti is unique to you because she is the product of your unique experiences and expectations Your world/life can enlighten (as Saraswati), enrich (as Lakshmi), empower (as Shakti) You are free to covet your world/life (like Brahma), control her (like Vishnu) or transcend her (like Shiva) She is matrix of delusions (Maya) constantly changing. You give her value because you are the fountainhead of Truth (Brahman). Thats what you are, tat tvam asi.

Walk along Marine Drive. Sit on Juhu beach. Watch the sea. That vast expanse of water. The limitless horizon. The tide rising and ebbing with the phases of the moon. The waves flirting with shore. This tide saw you as a child, searching for shells in the sand. These waves will carry your ashes when you die. Such is the sea. Ever-changing. Never-ending. Patient. Mysterious. Holding Mumbai in its liquid palm, caressing it along the shores, nourishing it with water, and helping it regenerate year after year after year. The sea is Varuna, source of water, source of life, source of all things. Lakshmi, goddess of wealth, is his daughter. The father surrounds Mumbai. The daughter resides in Mumbai. Together they breathe life into the metropolis. Varuna gives the rains which fill the lakes of Powaii. Varuna gives the salt when the water evaporates in the pans of Vasai and Navi Mumbai. Because of the sea Trishna and Mahesh Lunch Home can create mouth watering cuisines. And what do we give the sea garbage and sewage, tons of it, every day. The sea does not mind. It regenerates itself and continues to give, asking nothing in return. The sea does not have to be tilled. Its wealth is always ready for harvest. But one day, the sea which sustains life, will take life away. That is the way it has always been. Ultimately, on the day of Pralaya, the sea will rise and dissolve all existence into a formless, nameless liquid mass. We got a taste of the seas fury this monsoon. The sea is where all things come from. The sea is where all things go. Krishna drew the city of Dwarka out of the sea which became the home of the Yadavas. Years later, after Krishna left the earth, the sea rose and reclaimed Dwaraka. Arjuna, the Pandava, wept in memory of that wonderful city. Suddenly an image flashed before his eyes. A little baby, gurgling in excitement, suckling his right toe covered with butter, lying on a Vata (Banyan) leaf that was cradled by the waves of the sea. This was Krishna giving Arjuna a message. The baby was the symbol of renewal, the Vata leaf the symbol of permanence. The stormy sea represented the interplay of creative and destructive forces that weave this ever-changing in the world. Nothing lasts forever. But everything returns. Nothing is permanent in life but everything is cyclical. What goes around, comes around. Eventually. So why despair. Enjoy the moment like a child relishing rich creamy butter. Every year, Mumbaikars visit the sea, after the rains. To immerse images of Ganesha, and a month later, images of Durga. The gods and goddesses go away every autumn. But we all know that they will return the next year, and the year after that and after that. Like the rains. Like the flooded streets. Like the pot holes. Like our moods. Like the traffic jams. Like the elections. Like the fashion shows. Like the stars. Like page 3. Like the day which follows the night. Like the seasons, the waxing and waning of the moon, the dancing waves, and the rising and ebbing of tides.

There are two types of magic in this world. The first one is called `imitative magic. The second one is called `contagious magic. In the first type of magic, you imitate what you want using symbols and rituals. In the second type of magic, you believe that an object contains the power of a person or thing even after being separated from it. A classical example of imitative magic is the practice of distributing sweets on our birthday. Sweets=Joy, happiness, positive feelings. By distributing sweets on our birthday or when we are sharing good news, we are imitating what we want: that the person receiving the sweet shares our happiness of the moment. More importantly our good news does not leave a bitter/sour feeling in the recipients mouth. When we come back from any pilgrimage, we always bring back ashes or water or tiny lockets with the image of the presiding deity or saint or some food item from the shrine. We believe that the sacred power of the deity is transmitted with the objects we bring back and by sharing the object with family and friends we can share that sacred power. This is contagious magic. Sir James Frazer introduced these two concepts in his famous book, `The Golden Bough. He used these ideas to explain `pagan beliefs and customs. It is fairly obvious that these principles extend beyond `pagan communities to `non-pagan ideologies. We, however, hesitate to do that. The word `magic leaves a bad taste in our mouth. Just like `myth. We are rational, reasonable creatures. We dont want anything to do with `magic or `myth. We want our world to be full of real and rational things. But the fact is that our world is full of magical and mythical things. Look at the ads on the television screen and what you will find it is all about magic, either imitative or contagious. Let us first define magic. Magic is doing something that does not make rational sense. Since all things natural are rational/scientific, magic = unnatural / irrational / unscientific. With this definition in mind, let us ask ourselves why do we buy or want to buy a Mont Blanc pen. We need a pen to write. That is the rational thing to do. A good quality pen is preferred. And it may be more expensive than an ordinary pen. Ink pens are classical, but ball points are convenient. They have to look pretty if one is carrying it around. But paying Rs. 10,000/- or maybe 20,000/- or maybe 50,000/- for a pen. Are you crazy? For what? A signature? And yet we do that. We want a Mont Blanc pen. Not for any rational reason but because we know and those around us know, or should we say believe, Mont Blanc is more than the pen. Its advertising has transformed it into something greater than a writing tool. It has acquired a personality of its own. And that personality comes at premium price. We are buying something that we `believe is there. Show that pen to someone who has never heard of Mont Blanc, someone who has not been exposed to

the magic of the `Mont Blanc advertising, and he will never ever pay the price commanded by it. Advertisers call this branding. Making a product more than what it is. Branding transforms soap into a personality. A powerful personality. An embodiment of beliefs. More than something that is used to reduce surface tension and remove dirt. It becomes the carrier of affection, love, protection. Branding transforms a product into a symbol, a representation of something else. And so when people pick it up from a shelf, they submit to its magic and buy the myth. You want to be the intelligent, efficient housewife. You use the sympathetic magic of Surf. It is the symbol of efficiency and dependability. Kyoki Surf ki Kharidari mein Samajhdari Hai or Surf Excel Hai Na. You want to appear as the concerned yet cool mom. You use the imitative magic of Maggi noodles because now it gives `vitamins and `proteins within two minutes. Who wants to be the boring mom who insists you eat your greens or chew on that apple? You want to express the sincerity and enduring nature of your love for a woman, you buy a diamond. Rationally it is a shining rock. But after the imitative magic projected by the advertising, you believe diamonds are forever, hence lover is forever. Now unless you give a diamond to your wife, she will find it difficult to believe that you really will love her forever. Thats magic. Today there are bikes that carry the personality of John Abraham, diamonds that carry the beauty of Aishwarya Rai, mobile services that contain the earthy wisdom of a good married couple a.k.a. Ajay Devgan and Kajol, male underclothes that contain the virility of Bobby Deol, a whole range of products that contain the charisma of the great allpowerful Amitabh Bachchan. It is no more about the product. It is about the magic they contain when they come in contact with the gods: I mean, the stars we admire.


Imagine walking into your house and finding a rat scurrying across your sofa. Or imagine opening your kitchen cabinet and a rat leaping right at you. Sharp teeth, red eyes. A painful bite. Open your desk and there are the gnawed remains of your text book. And the excrement of rats. Go to the toiletsmell that rotting flesha dead rat somewhere. See that open sewer next to your house what do you see there? Rats, for sure. Dozens of rats. Rats everywhere. Imagine them under your bed, in your attic, behind the sofa, in your toilet, in your pantry, your storehouse, your basement Rats evoke feeling of disgust. There is something inherently dark, and unclean, and sinister about them. Think rats and you think garbage, gutter, plague, disease. Rats means destruction of property. Pilferage. Filth. There is nothing adorable or desirable about a rat. So why is Ganesha always associated with a rat, lovingly called Mooshika? But it is not a rat, you are corrected. It is a mouse. Rats are nasty. Mice are much gentler. Cute Ganesha rides a cute mouse, my nephew insists. The fact is nobody is sure what Mooshika is exactly. Scholars and general public can argue about it endlessly referring to obscure Sanskrit texts: Rat. Mouse. Maybe even a bandicoot. Whateverbasically a rodent, a pest, the bane of the storehouse, enemy of the farmer, a denizen of the sewer. Rats are inauspicious. You definitely dont want it in your house. Ganesha is Mangala-Murti, the embodiment of auspiciousness. Why then does he have as his mount something so inauspicious as a rat? What is the message there? For Hindus, God is the container of all ideas. Every god or goddess (spelt in lower case) symbolically represents a particular idea. All Hindu gods and goddesses if they can ever be enumerated represent all the ideas contained in God. Shiva, for example, represents renunciation. Vishnu represents worldliness. Kama represents love and lust. Yama death. Kali is wild nature. Gauri is domesticated nature. Lakshmi is wealth. Saraswati knowledge. Ganesha represents prosperity and power. Hence he is fat (prosperous) and has the head of an elephant (powerful). But prosperity and power are meaningless if life is plagued with problems. And what better way to represent problems than as a rat/mouse/bandicoot. Mooshika represents that issue which makes our life miserable. That problem which though small eludes resolution and continues to exasperate us, irritate us, outwit us at every turn. It is that bill that will never be cleared by the boss. It is that pimple which will never go away. It is that neighbor who always keeps his garbage right in front of your door. It is that dripping water tap that no plumber can fix. That set of car keys which you cannot find just when you have to leave the house. It is that case in court which is not moving for years. These are the rats in our lives, the insatiable thieves who are gnawing into our sense of well being.

Imagine someone who gets rid of all those irritating rat-like problems of your life. That someone, for Hindus, is Ganesha. Around Ganeshas giant belly is a serpent that friend of the farmer who eats the rats, controls pilferage and thus protects the harvest. With the grace of Ganesha, problems disappear and prosperity and power appear. You can imagine Ganesha catching hold of a problem (rat/mouse/bandicoot) by its tail, dragging it away, sitting on it, so that it troubles you no more. No wonder Ganesha is such a popular god. Remover of the rats that plague our existence. Remover of obstacles, remover of hurdles. Vighna-harta. Rats are also symbols of fertility. They breed like crazy. Ganesha is always associated with fertility symbols. The Dhurva grass for example, which keeps growing even when uprooted. If Dhurva is the plant-symbol of fertility, rat is the animal-symbol of fertility. Even in China and Japan, rats are associated with fertility, children, prosperity. Rats are also unstoppable, relentless, breaking through any obstacle to get to the grain. Simultaneously, rats are symbols of avarice and greed. They are relentless hoarders. Thus, rats have a positive aspect (fertility/unstoppability) and a negative aspect (pilferage/plague). With Ganesha sitting on top of Mooshika only the positive aspects reach devotees while the negative aspects stay away. Ganeshas image may evoke a sense of prosperity and power and auspiciousness for which fertility is important but his Mooshika reminds us not to be complacent: the rat may be fertile and unstoppable a contributor to our wealth but it is also capable silently and secretly gnawing into our ethics, our morals, our values, the very foundation of our apparently fulfilled lives.


Eight hundred years ago, Europeans believed that a Christian priest-king called Prester John ruled India. Those were the days of the Crusades. Under the spiritual leadership of the Pope, Christian soldiers fought to reclaim the Holy Lands, especially Jerusalem, which had been under the control of Muslims since the 700s. In the midst of all this turmoil, the Catholic leadership received word about a mysterious Eastern ruler known as Prester John, or Presbyter John, or Priesty Juan, or Priester John, or any one of a dozen or so similarsounding names, whose empire stretched beyond Persia and Arabia across Three Indias. With an eastern Christian flank opening up, European Christian monarchs hoped to trap and crush the Muslims once and for all. Who was this Prester John? According to an old legend, one of Christs apostles, St Thomas, was supposed to have traveled to India, there to establish a Christian community that retained many of the ideals of the original church, and which would blossom into an almost perfect Christian kingdom, ruled over by this legendary king, Prester John. The legend of the journey of St Thomas to India was current by the 3rd century AD, and was widespread enough in the 833 for Alfred the Great to send two priests with gifts to St Thomas shrine on the east coast of India. The first authentic mention of Prester John occurred in the 1145 chronicle of Otto of Freising. Otto recounted that the first news of Prester John had been brought to the Holy See by the Bishop of Gabala (near Antioch). According to the Bishops report, there was ruling in the East somewhere a Christian king named Prester John, who was descended from the Magi, and who ruled over a fantastically wealthy kingdom. Prester John had recently destroyed the armies of Media, Persia and Assyria, and was was heading for the Holy Land to defend Jerusalem against the Muslims, but, according to the report, was prevented from getting there by adverse conditions: his vast army waited in vain for years for the River Tigris to freeze in order to cross it an enter the Muslim lands. In 1165 the original secondhand report of Otto of Freisings chronicle was overshadowed by the appearance in Europe of a seemingly authentic letter from Prester John. Prester John described himself as the ruler of the Three Indias, a realm that extended from the Tower of Babel to the rising of the sun; he gave an elaborate account of the marvels and riches of his kingdom, and declared his intention of visiting Rome after defeating the enemies of Christ (the Muslims). I, Presbyter Johannes, the Lord of Lords, surpass all under heaven in virtue, in riches, and in power; seventy-two kings pay us tribute Our land is the home of elephants,

dromedaries, camels, crocodiles, meta-collinarum, cametennus, tensevetes, wild asses, white and red lions, white bears, white merules, crickets, griffins, tigers, lamias, hyenas, wild horses, wild oxen, and wild men men with horns, one-eyed men, men with eyes before and behind, centaurs, fauns, satyrs, pygmies, forty-ell high giants, cyclopses, and similar women. It is the home, too, of the phoenix and of nearly all living animals The Amazons and the Brahmins are subject to us. This is how his army is described When we ride abroad plainly we have a wooden, unadorned cross without gold or gems about it, borne before us in order that we meditate on the sufferings of our Lord Jesus Christ; also a golden bowl filled with earth to remind us of that whence we sprung and that to which we must return; but besides these there is borne a sliver bowl full of gold as a token to all that we are the Lord of Lords This is how his palace is described The palace in which our Superemincency resides is built after the pattern of the castle built by the apostle Thomas for the Indian king Gundoforus. And perhaps the most fantastic of all is the magical mirror that enables him to see and control his vast empire from one spot. Before our palace stands a mirror, the ascent to which consists of five and twenty steps of porpyry and serpintine This mirror is guarded day and night by three thousand men. We look therein and behold all that is taking place in every province and region subject to our sceptre. Apparently this letter had first been sent to the Emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire in Constantinople, where copies of it had been made and circulated around the courts of Europe. The letter had arrived at a time when the Muslim pressure on the crusader states in the Holy Land was increasing; its promise of relief was a welcome message. In 1177 Pope Alexander II wrote what is generally understood to have been a reply to Prester John, entrusted it to his personal physician, Master Philip, and sent him off on his way to deliver the letter. It is known that Master Philip and his letter got as far as Palestine, but after that all reports of him disappeared. The anxious pope received no reply. Sometimes the concept of Prester John could be confused with actual living kings. For instance, for a long time many Europeans believed that Genghis Khan was in fact Prester John. The Mongol hordes had invaded the Middle East in 1221 and had seriously damaged the Islamic occupation of the area. This invasion seemed to many to be the actual invasion of Prester John at the head of his Christian army, driving westwards from central Asia in order to drive the Muslims out of the Holy Land. In a contemporary chronicle, a monk wrote of the rumors sweeping right across Christendom of the coming of King David of India, whose other name is Prester John, to the aid of the crusaders.

To add to all these reports and rumours, an apparently independent report out of Hungary in 1223 declared that the king of Hungary informed the Pope that a certain king David, or Prester John as he is being called, has entered Russia with a great multitude of people. He had left India 7 years before, taking with him the body of the blessed apostle; and during this [westward] journey his army killed 200,000 Russians and Rumanians. In 1248 a church envoy to the court of the Mongols, a Franciscan friar called Giovanni Capini, further added to the legend of Prester John by reporting that P John was the king of Greater India who defeated the Mongols (this time) by creating men out of copper, filling them with Greek fire, and placing them on horseback, so burning the Mongol army completely. By the early fourteenth century, most of the European rulers, popes, etc. seemed to have given up hope of finding Prester John anywhere in Asia after all, by this time numerous diplomatic envoys as sundry other travellers had been through most parts of Asia without finding the wondrous king himself. It took several centuries for Europeans to, regretfully, admit that Prester John was nothing more than a legend. The question that they asked themselves, and which historians and the curious have asked themselves ever since, is who wrote the supposed authentic letter from Prester John to the rulers of Europe that turned up in 1165? Theres a theory that it was written by a cleric with a good knowledge of ancient Latin sources because of some of the information contained within the letter. The argument goes that it was actually written on behalf of the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa, who wanted to assert temporal power over the spiritual power of the papacy by inventing a magnificent Christian king in a distant land. This would not have been possible if people had not strongly wanted to believe in the tale of a mighty Christian king who would relieve the Holy Lands of the Islamic menace; the many fantastic details of the letter simply related what medieval people believed the mysterious Asian kingdoms were like. Even when most European travelers in Asia failed to find any trace of Prester John, Europeans still wanted to believe in this king so much they simply moved his kingdom to a different place, then a different place again, in order to keep on believing in him. Traveling friars insisted that they had been to the country of Prester John perhaps because it made their journeys more fantastic and exciting. Some of the sights and societies they encountered in the Far East were so strange that it must have been easy for someone who so desperately wanted to believe that theyd found the kingdom of Prester John (even if they hadnt found the man himself). Their reports once they got home simply lent weight to the argument that Prester John existed.

There are many who still believe that Prester John was a historical figure, albeit a distorted one. Theories include but are not limited to: Prester Johns tale was a cheap rip-off of a medieval romance about Alexander the Great. Prester John was a Christian-Tibetan llama who ruled the mythical kingdom of Shambala and/or Shangri-La. Prester John wasnt Christian at all, but was in fact a Tibetan or Indian or possibly Mongol ruler who just had Christianity attributed to him after the fact. Prester John was the king of Ethiopia, where more Nestorian Christians could be found. Prester John was Patriarch John of India, who visited Pope Calixtus II in 1122, with all the rest of the legend being simply embellishment. The legend of Prester John is, apart from its curiosity value, really helped stimulate exploration of the Far East and Asia. Numerous explorers and official diplomatic envoys set out in order to make contact with this wonderful king. If it hadnt been for Prester John, then quite possibly some of the European contacts with the Asian world in the medieval period would never have been made, or at least left to a much later date. An understanding of his fabulous mythology helps us appreciate how India was viewed in Europe before Vasco da Gama made his monumental journey in 1498. It also helps us appreciate how myths are created in history and die as soon as they outlive their utility.


From Saturn comes Saturday. From the sun comes Sunday. From the moon comes Monday. But what is the origin of Tuesday? Wednesday? Thursday? Friday? The answer takes us to the mythology known variously as Teutonic, Norse, Viking and Germanic that dominated North Europe for centuries before the arrival of Christianity. The Germanic tribes who subscribed to this mythology were the barbarians who constantly threatened the northern frontiers of the Roman Empire. The Vikings of Scandinavia who also subscribed to it plundered the monasteries and settlements on the coast of England and France in the 9th and 10th centuries. The principal god of this mythology was the one-eyed Woden, god of wisdom and divination, whose crows told him everything that happens in the world and who with his rune stones could always see the past and the future. His day, Wodens day, is now called Wednesday. The day before Wodens day, Tuesday, belonged to Tiw, the brave god of war, who placed his arm in the mouth of a giant wolf so that he could be chained by the dwarves and thus restrained from destroying the world. The day after Wodens day belonged Thor, the great hero, lord of thunder, Wodens son by Friia, the love-goddess who gave her name to Friday. Tiw was associated with the planet Mars, Woden with Mercury, Thor with Jupiter and Friia with Venus. India had no contact with the Germanic or Viking tribes. Yet, in the Hindu calendar of India Tuesday is called Mangal-vaar or the Day of Mars, Wednesday is called Budhavaar or the Day of Mercury, Thursday is called Brihaspati-vaar or the Day of Jupiter and Friday is called Shukra-vaar or the Day of Venus. The practice of naming days after planets has been traced to the Ramayana, a Sanskrit epic, dated between 200 BC and 200 AD. This leads us to the question: How is it that the planets associated with the days of the week in the European calendar are the same as the planets associated with the days of the week in the Indian calendar? The answer according to many scholars lies in Mesopotamia, the cradle of civilization, that stands between India and Europe. Babylon, the greatest of Mesopotamian cities, was the centre of many occult sciences including astrology and divination. Babylonian scholars looked at the skies and mapped the constellations. They gave great importance to seven celestial bodies in particular: the sun, the moon, and the planets Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus and Saturn. The movements of these astrological bodies across the lunar and solar mansions of the sky helped Babylonian stargazers figure out the destiny of man. A day was reserved for each of these 7 astrological deities in sequence creating a ritual cycle of 7 days which became known as the week. This 7-day week based on astrological deities was adopted by India and Egypt. From Egypt it spread to Rome. In Rome, the Babylonian names of deities were replaced by Latin names and later Germanic names while in India, the Babylonian names of deities were replaced by names of Hindu gods. Ancient Romans had their own 8-day

week. This was gradually replaced by the 7-day week of Egypt and Babylon. When Rome became Christian, the 7-day week became a religious, not merely an astrological, measure of time. Like the Jews, the Christians, and later the Muslims, believed God created the world in 7 days. In Hebrew, the days of the week are simply numbered with the 7th day being addressed as the day of rest and prayer, Shabbat. In Arabic, the days of the week are also numbered, but it is the 6th day which is the day of gathering and prayer. In Greece, which held the banner of Christianity before Rome, the days of the week are also numbered, but it is the first day which is special it is the Lords day. When Rome became Christian, the days of the week were not merely numbered; they were named using Latin and/or Germanic nomenclature. In the early 4th century, the Roman Emperor Constantine regulated the use of the week due to a problem of the myriad uses of various days for religious observance, and established Sunday as the day for religious observance and rest for all groups, not just those Christians and others who were already observing Sunday. While the Jews believed Saturday as the last day of the week and hence the day of rest, the Christians made Sunday, the first day of the week, the day of prayer. This is because in Rome, the greatest challenge to Christianity came from the solar cult of Mithra and the best way to cope with this challenge was to absorb symbols and rituals associated with sun-worship into Christianity. This included declaring 25th December the birthday of Jesus Christ, although the time of his birth was more likely to be around spring. As a result of this strategic initiative, the day of the sun, Sunday, became the day of the Lord. Muslims, to differentiate themselves from Jews and Christians, made Friday or the sixth day of the week the day of gathering. The curious thing about the Latin/Germanic nomenclature, clearly using the planets, is that the ancient order of the planets, rising from the Earth to the Fixed Stars, can be read off by starting with Monday and jumping every other day for two weeks: Monday (Moon), Wednesday (Mercury), Friday (Venus), Sunday (Sun), Tuesday (Mars), Thursday (Jupiter), and Saturday (Saturn). One is left with the impression that the names were assigned in a kind of code, so that the Sun would come first in the week, but then the true order of the planets could be read off nevertheless. Saturn comes both at the end of the week and at the end of planets. The day that many people consider to the the 1st day of the week, Monday, is the first planet and does begin the sequence of planets. We must remember that unlike the year that is a natural phenomenon (the period during which the earth goes round the sun) the week is an artificial unit of time with no corresponding natural phenomenon. In parts of Africa, a week is 3-day long and the new week is marked as market-day. The ancient Mayans had a 5-day week. The Romans had a 8-day week. Babylonian astrology and Jewish faith gave rise to the 7-day week. According to some Christian scholars, the 7-day week is not manmade. It is divinely ordained. As proof they refer to the circaseptan biological rhythm. It is known that plants and animals go through physiological changes depending on whether it is day or night (diurinal changes) or depending on the season. Researchers have discovered that there are changes in certain species of algae which are 7-day long suggesting that the 7-day week is based on

not human intelligence but on divine intelligence. In an attempt to make the week a natural phenomenon, some people believe that a week is half a fortnight which in turn is half a lunar month. But a lunar month is over 29 days and not 28 days, hence an attempt to make a week a quarter of the lunar month seems rather contrived. Weeks can be thought of as forming an independent artificial continuous calendar running in parallel with various calendars based on natural phenomena. To break free from the religious legacy of the 7-day week, French revolutionaries tried to create the 10-day week. They year was made of thirty-six 10-day weeks followed by a week of 5 or 6 days. The Soviets wanted to abolish religion and hence they abolished the 7 days week. Everybody worked for 5 days and rested for 2 days but the days of rest was never specified. It was not global. Thus every day 80% of the workforce was operational increasing the countrys productivity. Both exercises failed. The 7-day week typically involved 6 days of labour and one day of rest. In traditional societies, the Sabbath was not for rest and relaxation but for prayer. A day to remember God. The 5-day weekday followed by a 2-day weekend originated following the Industrial Revolution and the passing of labour laws. The question is why was Saturday and Sunday, rather than Sunday and Monday, chosen as holidays. One theory holds that the owners of many industries were Jews while the workers were Christians. The former wanted Saturday as holiday while the latter wanted Sunday. Finally, both days became holidays and we got the 5-day working week. Following European colonization and the subsequent rise of global corporate business, the 5-day weekday with a 2-day weekend has become universal in keeping time, even in cultures that did not practice it before. Each time we use this unit of time, we must remind ourselves of the power of manmade constructs, hence myths.

Change. It is a constant. But the rate of change is not. Nor is the direction of change. Sometimes things can change for the better. But when we talk of change we often think of change for the worse. Change is often slow. Giving us time to cope, adapt, adjust. But sometimes, it swoops down with a terrifying speed. Like a tsunami. Or a cyclone. Or an earthquake or a terrorist attack. There is no time to cope, to adapt, to adjust. How does one survive then? In Hindu mythology, the world is seen as fluid as water: sometimes a stagnant pond giving rise to the lotus, sometimes a turbulent river threatening to wash away the earth, sometimes a gentle stream nourishing its fertile banks, ultimately the sea from where all things begin and where all things will end. Ancient texts such as the Taitriya Aranyaka and the Satapatha Brahmana describe how the divine boar Emusha lifted the earth from the sea and placed it on the back of Akupara, the giant turtle. For centuries, Hindus have revered the sea as Varuna who rides a dolphin-like aquatic beast called makara and who carries a noose made of a sea-serpent. The makara is a symbol of life and fertility, the noose the symbol of death and destruction that which the sea gives, it also takes away. In Vedic times, Varuna was the great father, keeper of moral order. With his thousand eyes, he saw the flight of every bird and knew what transpired between all men. In post-Vedic times, he was the generous god, source of rain and rivers, who freely lets man harvest his wealth of water and salt and fish and pearls and coconuts asking nothing in return. Varuna is not capricious and demanding like his Greek counterpart, Poseidon, who on not receiving due respect caused Odysseus to wander away from home through tempests for 10 years. Nor is Varuna like the drunkard Aegir of the Vikings whose underground brewery fills the sea with froth and whose randy wife and mischievous daughters, the wave-maidens, sway seductively before sailors and drag the smitten under the sea. In Hindu mythology Varuna is the quiet almost indifferent overseer of life on earth, constantly giving of his treasure, following the cycle of tides, until the time of Pralaya, the dissolution of the world, when he takes the sea waves rise and submerge all life. Nothing is spared. Not even Krishnas Dwarka. Flowing water is a powerful symbol of change. One never steps into the same river twice. Never has this been more evident than the tsunami of 26 Dec 2004 that marched inland on the shores of Thailand, Sri Lanka and India like the horseman of doom, relentless, merciless, gnawing all in its wake. Then withdrawing. Sucking into a watery grave hundreds of thousands of lives and livelihoods, leaving behind a desolate land bereft of hopes and dreams. In humanitys collective unconscious, the sea has always been feared as the ultimate killer. Ancient myths from every part of the world speak of a Great Flood when the sea rises and submerges life as we know it. The Bible informs us that God, upset at mankind's wickedness, resolved to destroy it. God told Noah to build an ark. Noah did so, and took aboard his family and pairs of all kinds of animals. For 40 days and nights, floodwaters came from the heavens and from the deeps, until the highest mountains were covered.

The waters flooded the earth for 150 days; then God sent a wind and the waters receded, and the ark came to rest in Ararat. In Greek mythology, Zeus, king of the gods, sent a flood to destroy the men of the Bronze Age. Only the righteous Deucalion and his wife Pyrrha survived after floating in the chest for nine days and nights. When the rains ceased, they sacrificed to Zeus at whose bidding they threw stones over their head. The stones which Deucalion threw became men, and the stones which Pyrrha threw became women. According to Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh, distressed by the disturbance from human overpopulation, the gods on Enlils advice decided to wipe out humanity with a flood, but Enki had Ut Naphishtim build an ark and so escape. Also on the boat were cattle, wild animals and birds, and Ut Naphishtims family. When the storm came, Ut Naphishtim sealed the door with bitumen and cut the boat's rope. The storm god Adad raged, turning the day black. After the seven-day flood, the gods regretted their action. Ut Naphishtim made an offering to them, at which the gods gathered like flies, and Enki established barren women and stillbirth to avoid the problem in the future. As a girl was grinding flour, a goat came to lick it, says a tale from Cameroon in Africa. She first drove it away, but when it came back, she allowed it to lick as much as it could. In return for the kindness, the goat told her there will be a flood that day and advised her and her brother to run elsewhere immediately. They escaped with a few belongings and looked back to see water covering their village. After the flood, they lived on their own for many years, unable to find mates. The goat reappeared and said they could marry themselves. Mongolians tell the story of Hailibu, a kind and generous hunter, who saved a white snake from a crane which attacked it. Next day, he met the same snake with a retinue of other snakes. The snake told him that she was the Dragon King's daughter, and the Dragon King wished to reward him. She advised Hailibu to ask for the precious stone that the Dragon King keeps in his mouth. With that stone, she told him, he could understand the language of animals, but he would turn to stone if he ever divulged its secret to anyone else. Hailibu went to the Dragon King, turned down his many other treasures, and was given the stone. Years later, Hailibu heard some birds saying that the next day the mountains would erupt and flood the land. He went back home to warn his neighbors, but they didn't believe him. To convince them, he told them how he had learned of the coming flood and told them the full story of the precious stone. When he finished his story, he turned to stone. The villagers, seeing this happen, fled. It rained all the next night, and the mountains erupted, belching forth a great flood of water. When the people returned, they found the stone which Hailibu had turned into and placed it at the top of the mountain. For generations, they have offered sacrifices to the stone in honor of Hailibu's sacrifice. The Great Flood is never an end. It is always followed by spiritual and material renewal. The Bhagavat Purana informs us that the sage Markandeya was once granted a vision of Pralaya. He saw the waters rise and sweep in on everything, submerging all the hills and plateaus and valleys and islands. It was terrifying. Then he saw a banyan leaf cradled by the waves. On it, was a little baby, with a divine face and eyes twinkling with mischief. It held its right foot in its hands and was

sucking away at the big toe. It looked up at Markandeya and smiled. Markandeya realized that the child was a symbol of renewal, floating on the banyan leaf, symbol of permanence, riding the waves of relentless change. There was a message there. Everything dies, eventually. Yet life regenerates itself. It is difficult to explain why the tsunami happened. Why did people have to suffer? It is like trying to understand why change happens, why loved ones die? Nature which gives also takes. It is a time to remind ourselves that human civilization has been built by taming, sometimes rather forcefully, the might of Nature. We may believe that we have conquered. Then Nature shrugs. Volcano, earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, tsunamis. A time to shed human arrogance and cultural chauvinism. A time to remind ourselves that when the gods churned the sea for Amrita, the nectar of immortality, and Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and fortune, they also churned out Halahala, the venom of obliteration.


The gods are conspicuous by their absence, said a friend after he watched the recently released film Troy starring Brad Pitt. And it is true. No Aphrodite. No Zeus. No Apollo except as an idol enshrined in a temple. No myth or magic. None of the fantastic plots and subplots inspired by the legendary city and its eventual collapse that for hundreds of years fired the imagination of the ancient Greco-Roman world. What we see on screen is a realistic recreation of a war that might have taken place in 1000 BC inspiring Homers great epic, Iliad. Iliad means the epic of Ilium, which is another name for Troy. Homers Iliad, one of the oldest work on the Trojan war, focuses on the dispute between the leader of the Greek army, Agamemnon, and the Greek champion, Achilles, in the tenth year of the siege of Troy. Ten years thats how long the walls of Troy built by the gods withstood the Greek onslaught. But in the film, it is a war that lasts a few days, ending with the legendary Trojan Horse with which the Greeks trick their way into the great walled city and finally plunder it. The film rightly portrays Odysseus as the mastermind behind the Trojan Horse trick. Odysseus is the hero of Homers other epic, the Odyssey that describes his 10-year struggle to find his way back home, a miserable fate that awaited each and every Greek warrior who fought on Trojan shores. The director, Wolfgang Peterson, of Troy has ensured that the characters of the film display the many qualities attributed to them by Homer. Agamemnon may plunge into war to satisfy his ambitions, but he is also the visionary who seeks to unite the warring Greek cities. Achilles may be a great warrior but he is self-absorbed and narcissistic and fiercely independent. Hector a man who stands by family and country to the point of stupidity. Priam a great king and loving father who superstitions spell his doom. Nestor, Agamemnons chief advisor is wise but also a diplomatic sycophant. Melenaus, Helens husband, is more insulted than heartbroken by his wifes behaviour. Paris, Helens handsome and passionate lover, is a wimp. Each character is well rounded with strong and weak points. There is no clearly defined hero or villain. Judgement is left to the audience. One is overwhelmed by the simplicity of the films narration and the grandeur of the scenes. The battle scenes look real especially the scale of armies, thousands of Trojans and Greeks marching towards each other. What one regrets is not what is on the screen, but what could have been on the screen, with or without the presence of the gods. To simplify the plot the scriptwriter writer has sacrificed many interesting characters: Priams wife Hecabe who hates Helen; Priams daughter Cassandra whose prophecies of doom though true are never believed; Agamemnons daughter Ipigeniah who is sacrificed by her own father before the Greek ships set sail for Troy; Agamenons wife Clytemnestra who in her husbands absence takes on a lover and plots to have her husband killed when he returns from Troy; Oenones Paris first wife who he abandons after falling in love with Helen and who takes revenge by showing the Greeks the route to Troy and by refusing to use her knowledge of herbs to save Paris when he is fatally

wounded in battle; Helenus, Priams younger son and oracle, who turns against his people when he is not allowed to marry Helen after Paris is killed. The film does not mention Pentheselia, the amazon warrior woman who fought for the Trojans, who Achilles fell in love with after he killed her, mistaking her for a man. So smitten was he by her beauty that he made love to her dead body, an act of necrophilia that disgusts all. There is no sign of Memnon, the king of the Ethiopians, who fights for the Trojans and whose death his mother, the goddess of dawn, still mourns by shedding tears of dew. Besides avoiding characters, a few plots have been edited or changed perhaps keeping the audience in mind. The most important of change is the relationship between Achilles and Patrolocus. The film presents the latter as Achilles cousin. In the epic and in the entire Greek narrative tradition, Patrolocus and Achilles are lovers. Their homoerotic affection has lead to many artworks and volumes of literature. This was the love between two perfect men of equal stature, a love that according to Plato was the ideal love. In fact, Ganymedes, cup bearer of the gods and boy-lover of Zeus, poster boy of man-boy love, was a Trojan prince, an ancestor of Paris. The Hollywood Helen hardly looks like the ravishing beauty who every man fell in love with, who was abducted by the great Theseus of Athens when she was but a child. There is no reference to the tale of how, to protect his future son-in-law, whoever he may be, Helens father demanded that every man who sought her hand in marriage take a vow to protect the life and honour of the man who would eventually marry her the legendary reason why every Greek warlord supported Melenaus and launched a 1000 ships to bring Helen back from Troy. In legend, not in film, Melenaus and Agamemnon survive the war. Instead it is Paris who dies. As the city is plundered, Melenaus rushes into the royal palace intent on killing his unfaithful wife. But she bares her breast and so overwhelms him with her beauty that he forgives her and takes her back to Greece, where according to some traditions they lived happily ever after. According to other versions, on the way home they stopped at an island where the women, whose husbands had died in Troy fighting with the Greeks, were so angered by Helens indifference to their sacrifice and grief that they lynched her and hanged her by her hair from a tree. The tragic fate of Trojan women is hardly dwelt upon. We are never told that the Greeks enslave the noble Hectors lovely wife and hurl his infant son to his death from the city walls. One does get a brief glimpse of Aeneas and his old father towards the end of the film. His name is never mentioned and we are not told that Agamemnon himself spared his life because he was touched by the lads devotion to his father. We know this character as Aeneas because he is given the sword of Troy and asked to ensure the survival of Trojan legacy. According to Virgils Aeneid, what Aeneas took with him was not a sword but an image of the goddess, Athene, which he later enshrined in the city he founded Rome. When the film draws to an end, Achilles does die with an arrow piercing his heel tendon, the Achilles heel of legend. But he does not die because of that wound as Greek mythology informs us. As the soldiers surround the dead body of their great champion, one can almost imagine the birth of the Achilles myth. They would have whispered to their children, Nothing harmed Achilles because

his mother, who was a demi-goddess, dipped him in the river Styx, that separates the land of the living from the land of the dead, holding him by the ankles, leaving that part vulnerable to weapons. That is where an arrow struck him. That is why he died. Many people are convinced that at the heart of an epic or legend is an event that occurred a long time ago, that narratives becomes sacred because they are the only available records (however distorted and embellished they may be) of a communitys past. To these people the Trojan war, like the Mahabharata war, did occur. Those who seek to rationalize myths by reducing them to history, often forget that the purpose of myth is not to report an actual event, rather to communicate to a people their own understanding of the world. According to traditional Greek belief, the Trojan war was merely a temporal expression of a quarrel on Mount Olympus, home of the gods. Eris, the goddess of discord, a ngry at being the only member of the Greek pantheon not to be invited to the wedding of Achilles father, Peleus, threw a golden apple in the court of Zeus. On the apple were written the words, For the most fairest goddess. Three goddesses vied for this exalted status: Aphrodite, the goddess of love, Athena, the goddess of wisdom and Hera, the goddess of marriage. Not wanting to judge on such a contentious issue, Zeus sent the goddesses to Paris, prince of Troy. Paris gave the apple to Aphrodite, not because she was the fairest goddess but because she offered him the love of Helen, the most beautiful woman in the world. In rage, Athena and Hera swear to do everything in their power to destroy Troy. Athena, who once protected the city of Troy, abandons it and grants Odysseus the cunning to conjure up the Trojan Horse. The film Troy may look real in the absence of the gods, but it fails to convey what Homers Illiad did about the Greek mindset: that for the Greeks, humans were merely pawns in a bigger game played amongst the gods. Bad things happened (pestilence in the Greek army) when the gods frowned (Apollos rage when his priests daughter is raped). A hero (Achilles, Odysseus) for the Greeks was the one who triumphed in life despite the frowns of the gods (Eris, Poseidon). It is this mindset of fearing and disdaining the gods that spawned the birth of rationalism and individualism, so much a part of Western ethos.

During the Savitri vrata, married Hindu women go around the Banyan tree. For centuries, the Banyan tree has been the symbol of permanence. It was there when you were born and it will be there even when you die, barely changing its form during your lifetime. It provides shade all year round, in spring, in summer, during the monsoons, in autumn and in winter. By going around the Banyan tree, the housewife is ritually expressing her intense desire for stability, permanence, security in her household. May my life be as stable and predictable as this Vata-vriksha, she says through her actions. Rituals and symbols are essentially expressions of intense desire. In a society where the husband is the only source of the familys income, his life is the households lifeline. His survival and his health are essential if the household has to enjoy a stable source of income. How does his wife, his primary dependent, secure this? Besides taking care of him practically, she has to vent her fear and frustrations through ritual means. The Savitri vrata offers her this opportunity. The ritual is without doubt rooted in patriarchy. The husband, who also depends on his wife in emotional if not material terms, was never asked to pray for his wifes wealth. But thats not the point here. The point is to observe how rituals and symbols have played an important role in coping with fears and insecurities that make us human. The need for stability and permanence is universal. It is an implicit acknowledgement of lifes uncertainties. Nothing in the world is permanent. Not even the life of the person on whom you depend for your material and emotional well being. Life insurance companies feed on this human anxiety. Perhaps it is more appropriate to say that their business model is built on the human desire for certainty. They give assurance. They give certainty. They guarantee. They insure. Today, the market is flooded with companies offering you a wonderful and magical product called a secure future. In the frontline are the insurance companies. Insurance companies have to tread a fine line. They can, on the negative side, frighten you into buying an insurance policy. What will happen if your husband died? What will happen if he met with an accident? How will you pay for your childrens education or marriage? Or they can be positive about it, You have been independent all your life. We will ensure you stay that way in the future. Or they can make purchasing their policy an exercise in philanthropy, as ICICI is currently doing, Give a shoulder to your loved ones. They are always two ways of saying the same thing. A nice way and a nasty way. All this reminds me of Birbals story where he strongly advised the astrologer to tell Akbar, You will longer than your relatives rather than, Your relatives will die before you. It is fascinating to observe ancient symbols of security still being used by to communicate the message of security in 21st century advertising. One ad shows does it rather blatantly. It tells the story of a widow. She is dressed in white. No ornaments. No cosmetics. She is not smiling but she is not miserable either. Why? Her husband, whose huge photograph hangs on the wall with a garland round it, has ensured she lives a rich life. The house is rich. Her daughter, who is getting

married, is laden with jewelry. Thanks to his timely investment in insurance policies she could, even in his absence, get her daughter educated and married. In case of ICICI prudential, the message is more subtle and more powerful. There is no widow. But widowhood is implied by showing the sindoor traced in the parting of a womans hair by her husband during a Hindu wedding. This red vermilion mark makes a woman a Sumangali or a Sowbhagyavati which means one who is lucky and auspicious. This ad speaks to the Indian womans soul. She is lucky and auspicious so long as her husband is alive because through him she has material prosperity and emotional stability. The ad then informs us that the womans husband is a soldier. And he is going on journey. Probably to fight a war? Will be come back alive? Will she always wear the sindoor? The woman is anxious. Insurance is being sold. Another image used is that of a lamp. Lamp in India has always been used to represent prosperity and long life. Lamps are therefore lit during Diwali, to welcome Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and fortune. Blowing out of a lamp is equaled with death, bad luck and all things inauspicious. One of the reasons that many traditionalist oppose the modern practice of blowing out candles on a birthday cake. The symbol of LIC is a pair of hands ensuring the lamp does not blow out. This is assurance. This is insurance. Significantly, it implies that insurance is not about re-lighting a blown out lamp, it is about not letting the one currently lit being blown away. In other words, to by insurance policies is more about securing secure the future (preventive) and not about surviving an unwarranted calamity (curative). Perhaps the greatest threat to any life insurance companies are the great gurus of India who keep saying things like Uncertainty is the truth, dont fight it, or Have faith that the Lord will provide, or Dont let your mind be a slave of impermanent material things. If this fear of future material loss did not exist in our minds, we would not have savings banks or fixed deposits, let alone life insurance policies. Imagine what would happen if all of us internalized this message. I mean, think about it. Would a Buddha pay insurance premium?


Privacy is a luxury in India. You are never alone. Crowds every where. At home. At work. In trains. You are expected to share everything. Your room. Your car. Your toilet. We can blame the population. Our obsession with marriage and children. Our economics. But the fact remains we simply cannot afford privacy. Until now, that is. Now we can buy a cell phone and have a space that is ours and ours alone. We can carry our contacts, our messages, our ring tones with us wherever we go, like turtles, and share it with no one. That is what the mobile revolution is all about. Privacy. Space. It is the first thing the youth yearns to buy. No wonder Reliance says, kar lo duniya muthi mein. But culturally speaking, Indians frown upon privacy. Solitude is for the hermit. The rest have to engage with the world, with family, with friends, with neighbors. If you dont step out, the world will step in. Interfere in everything you do. Perfect strangers will walk up to you and ask you if you are married. If you say yes, they will ask, where is she? Do you have children? How many? Where do they study? If you say no, they will ask you, why. You are not allowed to be single in India. It means disengagement. Isolation. Traditionally, a single man is either a brahmachari, a student preparing for life, or a sanyasi, a hermit. Everybody else is married. Both the student and the hermit are expected to live stark and simple lives. Only after marriage does one have the moral right to enjoy material things: artha and kama, pleasure, power and prosperity. Because marriage implies children, family, the next generation, continuity. And you need material things to provide for them. But Indian society is changing. Increasingly more and more men and women dont want to get married. And if married, dont want to have children. These are not students and hermits. Their lives are anything but stark and simple. They are single but they want to enjoy all things material. They dont have children but they still want wealth, property and power. And this discomforts the traditional mindset. Some will say this new trend is the influence of the West. The concept of individualism after all has roots in Greek mythology. Hercules, Jason, Ulysses, were heroes because they triumphed on his own, all alone, against all odds, despite the opposition of the gods. One rarely finds images of Greek heroes and Greek gods with their wives. But think of an Indian god without a wife. And all you can come up with is a Hanuman or Ayyappa, both of whom are celibate yogis. Everyone else has a wife. Even the ascetic Shiva, who is forced into marriage by the Goddess. Culturally speaking, marriage is about connecting with the world. Mobile phones are also connecting with the world. But while traditional mobile phone/service advertising focuses on connecting the individual to the community, Tata Indicom seems to be taking an altogether different approach. It is being sold by a couple. Not a very sophisticated couple. But one which aspires to be sophisticated. Aspires to speak in English. And what a couple. A star couple. Ajay Devgan and Kajol. Both Bollywood successes in their own right. And what a wife. She quietly slips away from the limelight after marriage, enjoying her husbands success, appearing in public years later but only as

Manorama darling, her husbands very traditional wife. She is fair and intelligent. Her husband a dark village bumpkin. But she loves him, adores him. She walks behind him and covers her face with a ghungat but comes out fiercely to his rescue and fights tooth and nail for him. She is his strength, his shakti. She is his Lakshmi, the harbinger of his wealth and fortune. Together, they make up dampatya, a couple, a team working for family, children, material success, wealth, power, prosperity. Tarakki. Tata Indicom makes mobile phones not just a tool to connect with the world but also to profit from it. Why do you get the mobile phone? For the same reason you get a wife. Tarakki karne ke liye. Without a wife next to him, says the Uttar Ramayana, Rama cannot perform the Ashwamedha yagna that will make him ruler of the world. Even today only married couples are allowed to perform Satya Narayana pooja. Without a wife a man is considered to be incomplete. She is his ardhangini the other half of his body. When a Hindu bride walks into the house she is asked to kick in a pot of rice or she is asked to leave her impressions of her feet at the threshold. Without her, a man cannot have children. Without children, what right does he have to worldly wealth, ask the scriptures. The wife is thus the gateway to all things material. Implicit in the wife, especially a beautiful, loving, intelligent and capable wife, is the idea of tarakki. Success is important. It is about validation of ones existence. It is about self-actualization. It is what the scriptures call purusha-artha. Success may be spiritual or material. For material success you must have a wife, says tradition. And a mobile phone, says Tata Indicom.


I have often been asked if the war at Kurukshetra actually took place a few thousand years ago. History is real. Is the Mahabharata a document of facts? Historical? Real? I say: no. No, it is not real. It is not historical. To call Mahabharata a story based on historical war is to strip it of its magic, its power, its sheer magnificence. To make Mahabharata historical is to confine it to one period of history. If one does that, it holds little relevance in modern times. To be relevant, it cannot be confined to one period in history. It must be a-historical, timeless, free of geographical and historical moorings, independent of space and time. To me, that is what Mahabharata is. To me Mahabharata is a symbolic narration that reflects the thoughts and feelings, concerns and commentaries of the Indian people over centuries. That is why it is an epic. That is why it is sacred. It continues to enchant and enthrall us just as it enchanted and enthralled audiences a hundred years go. Through the story of the Pandavas and the Kauravas, it discusses the nature of human society. In the Mahabharata, the five Pandavas share a kingdom called Indraprastha and a queen called Draupadi. Historically speaking, this is indicative of a primitive society where polyandry was practiced. So what? I ask myself. But if this is decoded symbolically, we discover ideas that enrich our life. In the world of symbols, a queen personifies the kingdom and a kings royal power. Draupadi, like Indraprastha, is the royal power of the Pandavas. Only after marrying Draupadi, daughter of the powerful king of Panchala, are the Pandavas bold enough to come out of hiding and demand from their uncle their half of the inheritance. The kingdom thus carved out, Indraprastha, owes its existence to Draupadi. Indraprastha is Draupadi. What is done to Draupadi is done to Indraprastha. The domestication of the forest to create Indraprastha using fire is the domestication of Draupadi through marriage. When Indraprastha is gambled, Draupadi is gambled. When Draupadi is abused, Indraprastha is abused. The name Indraprastha, the residence of Indra, chosen by the Pandavas for their city is interesting. The Puranas refer to the Pandavas repeatedly as men who in their former lives were Indras. Indra is the king of the gods. That, the Pandavas are no longer Indras

means that they had to abdicate their former exalted position because they were found wanting in some qualities. To be Indra forever, one must possess all five qualities of a perfect king: one must uphold the rules, one must be physically strong, one must be a skilled warrior, one must be handsome and one must be knowledgeable. We are told that in her former life Draupadi had invoked Shiva and asked to marry a perfect king with all these five qualities. Since no man possesses all five qualities, Shiva said that she would marry five men each with these five qualities, all former Indras, individually imperfect but collectively perfect. Only Vishnu has all five qualities. He is the perfect Indra. He is Trivikrama, lord of the three worlds. His kingdom is the cosmos, the world, the Goddess. When he descends as Rama, he is the perfect king and the perfect husband, and his wife, Sita, is the Goddess, embodiment of his perfect kingdom where everyone does their duty without question. One king, one kingdom, one wife. Perfect alignment. Eternally faithful. When Vishnu descends as Krishna, logic dictates that he should marry Draupadi. But it is not so. Draupadi has many husbands but not Krishna. Krishna has many wives but not Draupadi. It seems a mismatch. A dissonance. An indication that all is not well with the world. Ramas world is more perfect than Krishnas world. Ethics and morality of Krishnas world lack clarity. Krishna is present at the swayamvara of Draupadi. But the author never explains why Krishna does not participate in the archery contest. Krishna is not Rama. He is not of a royal family. His upbringing is amongst people of the lower social orders. He has many wives and lovers. He is not king. Draupadi refused to let Karna contest for her hand in marriage because of he was raised by charioteers and did not know his true origins. Could this be the reason why Krishna voluntarily kept out of the swayamvara? Symbolically speaking, the kingdom (Draupadi) prefers men of high birth (either kings or priests) over men of high merit (Karna). She ends up marrying five priests, who are really not priests, but princes in disguise, all of them imperfect, all of them of questionable birth their father could not make his wives pregnant and so the wives invoked gods who gave them children. That choice seals her fate. Significantly, Krishna comes into the life of the Pandavas, only after the episode of Draupadis marriage. Clearly they are not as important as she is. She is the kingdom. A kingdoms welfare is dharma. Vishnus descent as Krishna or Rama, as we learn in the Bhagavad Gita, is primarily to restore dharma. On Krishna advice, each of the five brothers agrees to be the husband of the common wife in turns, one year at a time. Being imperfect, the Pandavas are not entirely faithful. Each Pandava has wives other than Draupadi. As long as Krishna is with the Pandavas, all is well. When he is away in Dwaraka, comes the invitation to the gambling match which the five brothers accept. Symbolically speaking, Krishna is good sense. He is tact and discretion that unites the five brothers. He is buddhi, intelligence, while the five brothers

are the indriyas, which means sense organs in Sanksrit. From Indriya comes Indra. Indra is passionate and sensual. Uncontrolled and imperfect. Krishna is the intellect, the good sense, the wisdom, which is why he is Bhagavan, God, greater than the king of the gods. We are told in the Puranas, Indras come and go but his wife, Sachi, like his kingdom, Svarga, remain the same. The kingdom and queen are faithful to no one man. Whosoever lords over them becomes their master. When th e Pandavas handover control of their kingdom to the Kauravas, the Kauravas can do to the kingdom, hence the queen, as they please. This brings us to a very important question. Why do kings exist? To do as they please with their kingdom and their people or to govern the kingdom, ensure welfare of the land. In traditional Indian philosophy, a king exists only to uphold dharma. And what is dharma. For God, dharma is ensuring welfare of all living creatures. For a king, it is welfare of the all his subjects, from the strongest to the weakest. Gods kingdom is the whole world. Nature. Where all animals are given an equal chance either brain or brawn to survive. In mans world, the definition of dharma changes. The aim is to provide for the weakest of men. The weakest of men cannot survive in the forest. And so man tames the forest and establishes fields. This cannot be done unless an ecosystem is destroyed. This is brought out in the episode the burning of Khandavaprastha when Arjuna and Krishna kill hundreds of plants and animals to set up Indraprastha. Implicit in the idea of human culture and human civilization is the destruction of nature. Symbolically, the burning of the forest to create a field is expressed as the tying of the hair of the Goddess and the covering of her nakedeness. If Vishnu is the king of the cosmos, then the cosmos or nature or the earth is his kingdom, his wife. She is the Goddess. In her natural state she is wild and free until we domesticate her. In her wild state, her hair is unbound and she is naked. She is Kali. She drinks blood. She is fearful. Mother of all living creatures. In her cultured state, she is transformed by man into a field or an orchard. She ties her hair, wears clothes and jewels, and offers milk like a cow. In this demure form she is called Gauri, mother of all human beings. Sita is Gauri, tame, dutiful and domesticated, the perfect wife and the perfect kingdom of the perfect king, Rama. Draupadi is also Gauri, the perfect wife of five kings. But the kings are not incarnations of Vishnu. They are imperfect. When Krishna is away, they gamble her away. And the winners dont respect her. They drag her by the hair and disrobe her in public. In other words, they destroy culture. Gauri is made Kali and Kali demands blood. Draupadi refuses to tie her hair until it is washed in the blood of her tormentors. This is reason enough for the war. But the war does not take place. The Pandavas and the Kauravas agree to play another game of dice. If the Pandavas win they regain their

possessions. If the Pandavas lose their forfeit the right to their kingdom for 13 years. The Pandavas lose. They go into exile in the forest for 13 years. When they return, Krishna goes to the Kauravas and asks that they give the Pandava kingdom back. They refuse. Give them at least five villages, says Krishna. Not a needlepoint of land will I give them, says Duryodhana. And that becomes the trigger for the war. Because in not giving back the land to the Pandavas after the stipulated period of exile that both parties agreed upon, Duryodhana is bringing the law of the jungle might is right into human culture. He says what he says because he can. He can get away with it. Because he is powerful. He has eleven armies while the Pandavas have only seven. This is adharma, the collapse of culture, of civilization, when man, the fountainhead of culture, subscribes to the law of nature, the law of the jungle. If nature is the opposite of culture and if in nature only the fit survive then in culture even the weakest should thrive. This is what civilization and culture is all about. This is what human dharma is all about. Today, we find ourselves in a country where we feel that if you are rich and powerful you can get away with murder and rape and crime. Newspapers are full of reports of how easy it is for criminals to walk free. What we are witnessing is the unclothing of Draupadi. Every one in the gambling hall knows that disrobing a woman in public is just not done. Yet no one neither the wise Bhisma or Drona come to Draupadis rescue. They argue on the letter of the law and ignore its spirit. In the war, Krishna therefore shows them no mercy. They may be old and wise but they have to be killed by fair means or foul. It was they who allowed the law of the jungle to permeate and pollute human culture. So they die by the effects of their own misdeeds. The law of the jungle which was used to abuse Draupadi turns around to kill them. When law does not protect man, man rejects the law. Increasingly Hindi films like Rang De Basanti are venting the frustration of society when they depict heroes taking the law into their own hands. It represents a collapse of faith in a tired old judiciary. Mahabharata thus reflects an eternal human concern. What is cultured conduct? Culture is created by controlling and overpowering nature. Implicit in civilization is the forceful suppression of natural instincts. Is such suppression good or is it just necessary? How much is good? Too much of suppression causes stress. And release of the suppression unleashes dark and ugly forces we can do without. The Pandavas represent that side of us which yearns for culture and order. The Kauravas represent our desire for power and domination. We want to be rule over others. But civilization forces us to make space for others. Culture says we bow to the rule. But we would rather get away with it.


What does Tragedy mean? Goats song, said the ancient Greeks. Long ago, the Greek god of nature, wine, creativity, intuition and imagination, was honored through a choral lyric called the dithyramb. These drunken ecstatic performances were said to have been created by the satyrs, half-goat beings who surrounded Dionysus in his revelry. The dithyramb was performed in a circular dancing-place (orchestra) by a group of men who may have impersonated satyrs by wearing masks and dressing in goat-skins. Eventually, the content of the dithyramb was widened to any mythological or heroic story, and an actor was introduced to answer questions posed by the choral group. The questions and answers dealt with issue of the human conditions: life, death, fate, discipline, obedience, family, state, love. Thus was born the goats song or tragedy. Curiously, the answerer who responded to the questions of the goat-chorus was called a hypocrite, from where we get the English word hypocrite. Could it be that the goats mocked the answers given as being false, untrue and full of prejudice and presumptions? The truth was deeper. Perhaps revealed only when all defenses were broken down which happens after consumption of wine and narcotics that the satyrs freely distributed? Tragedy depicts the downfall of a noble hero or heroine, usually through some combination of hubris, fate, and the will of the gods. The tragic hero's powerful wish to achieve some goal inevitably encounters limits, usually those of human frailty (flaws in reason, hubris, society), the gods (through oracles, prophets, fate), or nature. Aristotle says that the tragic hero should have a flaw and/or make some mistake. The hero need not die at the end, but he / she must undergo a change in fortune. In addition, the tragic hero may achieve some revelation or recognition about human fate, destiny, and the will of the gods. Aristotle quite nicely terms this sort of recognition "a change from ignorance to awareness of a bond of love or hate." The tragic hero is "a man who is neither a paragon of virtue and justice nor undergoes the change to misfortune through any real badness or wickedness but because of some mistake." Greek tragedies were used as a means to convey particular political and ethical testimonials about society, usually in order to convey certain morals or to ensure order. In such chronicles, a protagonist grapples with a particular conflict or sets of conflicts, usually pertaining to some universal moral code.

Aeschylus' The Oresteia, like many Greek tragedies, is no exception to the rule. The Oresteia, like many other Greek tragedies of its time, deals with issues of justice, honor, and kinship. However, the play itself does so in a way that even mystifies the audience. Unlike other Greek tragedies, it is difficult to ascertain whom exactly the protagonists and antagonists are. Moreover, the epic itself presents the audience with characters who are righteous in a sense, but very flawed morally. Agamemnon is such a character. Agamemnon is first presented to as a man of honor, bravely leading his troops into victory during the Trojan War. But then Agamemnon, in order to change the winds to win the battle of Troy, sacrifices his own daughter, Iphigenia. The complexity of Agamemnon's character leaves the audience spellbound- is the man cruel, ambitious, virtuous? Before examining Agamemnon's acts, it is important to note the historical and political context for which the play was written. In the context of this particular story, the act of sacrificing one's kin for the sake of the state could indeed be deemed as righteous. Because Greek plays were very political, the theme of family loyalty was oftentimes presented as a danger for society and order. Unlike the Romans who worshipped family, Grecians were more focused on the importance of the state. Because of the historical and political context of the play, Agamemnon's decision to sacrifice his daughter could be deemed as a logical decision, especially since the sacrifice was for the sack of Troy and the victory of the Greek army. In Sophocles Antigone, goes against the state for the sake of family loyalty is seen as a very dangerous thing to do, resulting in dire consequences for all. Oedipus had two daughters and two sons. After his infamous incest, Oedipus blinded himself and left the city of Thebes in the care of his sons. Years later, war eventually broke out between the two sons. During the conflict, the two brothers, Polyneices and Eteocles, fought against each other as leaders of the two different sides. Eteocles was of the entrenched faction, in power in Thebes. Polyneices was the upstart, a returning exile, and he brought an invading army against the city. In the course of the battle, the two brothers killed each other. But Eteocles' army eventually triumphed. In the aftermath, Creon ascended to the throne. Creon declares Eteocles shall be given a full and honorable funeral, while the body of Polyneices will be left for the animals and the sun. Anyone who tries to perform the proper funeral rites for Polyneices will be killed by public stoning. Antigone begs her sister, Ismene, to help her bury their brother. Ismene refuses. The two girls bewail their situation as daughters of a doomed mother and father, and sisters of two men who have slain each other. But while Ismene in fear sides with Creons decree, Antigone refuses to give in to this harsh and cruel decision and demands Polyneices be given due respect. In her confrontation with the state, she is willing to choose death. Antigone is a play about a war between different values as much as it is about the struggle between two strongwilled people. Antigone is struggling against Creon, but she is also struggling against patriarchy, the power of the state, and the rules of larger society. Creon is battling Antigone, but he is also fighting against chaos, disorder, the unraveling of the social fabric. In the twentieth century, the theme of the individual and the individual conscience

struggling against the power of law and the state has caught the imagination of audience members most vividly. For modern audiences and the Athenians who first saw Antigone, Creon is the symbol of a certain kind of tyrant. His good intentions, even coupled with his stubbornness and pride, would seem to frustrate shelving Antigone as a play that teaches the clich lesson of "Power corrupts." Creon's mistake is not that he puts lust for power ahead of the interests of the state; rather, Creon's weakness is an absolute confidence in a certain set of values. Again and again, he praises patriotism, loyalty to fathers, and civil obedience, elevating these values so highly that other kinds of justice are forgotten. His position, however, is in many ways more comfortable for audiences then and now. His view means that there is at least a definite set of guidelines and rules, and the abuses and vagaries of individual conscience are not allowed to pose a threat to social order. Creon fears disorder; in the wake of civil war, his need to establish himself as ruler is clear. Antigone's struggle is just as single-minded. Her devotion is to her brother and the dictates of her conscience, through which she claims to know the "unwritten" laws of God. But Antigone's actions are also an affront to important values. The Chorus declares that Antigone is in opposition to "the throne of Justice," reminding us that her actions are a threat to order and the institutions of law that protect the good of the people. There are different kinds of justice at work in the play: there is the justice of man-made laws and institutions, symbolized by Creon, and the justice of the conscience and morality not written in law, symbolized by Antigone. Antigone proudly defies the laws of men, and suffers at the hands of those laws. Creon, in his pride, defies the laws of the gods and unwritten morality. He suffers at the hands of fate and divine retribution. The Chorus pities both of them while condemning both characters' actions. Anthropologists say, the function of drama was to reflect the subconscious and cosmic patterns by reenacting the everyday world. It was acknowledge inherent conflicts of civilization that demanded but defied easy resolution. The earliest plays were religious rituals. Indias Natyashastra has origins in yagna ritual manuals known as Brahmanas. Even today drama is an integral component of religious rites. For example, the Nativity plays during Christmas or Rama Leela during Navratri. Through the play one enacts a holy event. As the years pass, the drama remains the same but those watching the drama are growing up or growing old. They discover different layers of meaning in the same play, in the same character, in the same dialogue. With that consistent and repetitive interaction with theatre more light is thrown on the meaning of life. The goats song thus joins us in our struggle to make sense of existence.

It all began in Eden. Food restrictions, that is. God said, You may eat of all trees expect that one. Eve disobeyed. So did Adam. And since then we have been inflicted with cultures and traditions that judge us by what we eat, and what dont eat. So we have non-vegetarians who think vegetarians are wimps, vegetarians who think nonvegetarians are cruel, and everyone who believes egg-eating vegetarians are simply confused. Things get more complex: non-vegetarians who dont eat beef think they are superior to non-vegetarians who do. Vegetarians who eat onion and garlic are considered inferior to those who dont. Food has over time clearly evolved into a positioning tool. What you eat, and what you dont eat, the table you sit on, and the table you dont, more often than not indicates your belief system and your self-image. Mythic Trivia: Did you know that the Forbidden Fruit in Eden was visualized as an apple by Christians, as a pomegranate by Jews and as a banana by Arabs? We would like to believe that eating is a rational act. That it is governed by the rules of hygiene and nutrition; but in most cases it is not. We eat because food is tasty. We eat because we are hungry. We eat because that is what our family told us to eat. And more importantly, we eat some things and dont eat others because by doing so we reaffirm our links to a particular group. Chinese emperors were known to use food as tool to indicate station in society. Only feudal lords were allowed to eat beef. Mutton was for high-ranking ministers, pork for lower ministers, fish for generals and only vegetables for commoners. The reasons for religious dietary laws are often shrouded in mystery with reasons ranging from hygiene to divine decree to unquestionable tradition. But they boil down to segregating the believers from the rest. It is popularly believed that Jewish dietary laws involving kosher foods were instituted for health reason because certain foods get spoilt easily, because one can get trichinosis from pork. If that were the case then these laws would have been abandoned with the advent of modern food processing. When one argues out all rational reasons for kosher food, it becomes clear that the prime objective of these dietary laws was to help the Jewish Diaspora reassert their separateness, and retain their cultural identity through centuries of exile and persecution. Kosher means that which is fit or proper, and the rules determining kosher are complex. Only fish with fins and scales are kosher. Thus clams, shrimps, and crabs are nonkosher. Animals that chew the cud and have cloven hoofs are kosher. This makes pigs, horses, and camels nonkosher while goats, sheep and cows kosher. Milk must not be mixed with milk or milk products, and so a kosher meal will not include the two items simultaneously; there must be a gap of a few hours (depending on how orthodox one is) between the two items. Blood is nonkosher. Eggs must be checked for blood spots. Hunted animals must not be eaten, as their blood has not been let out. Liver can be consumed only after it has been thoroughly processed to wash the blood out. Jesus was

born in a Jewish family and no doubt followed the kosher dietary laws. During the last supper he equated wine as his blood and offered it to his followers. Was this an act of breaking free from the Jewish fold since blood is nonkosher? That the Church did not impose any dietary restrictions, Jewish or otherwise, on its followers helped it break free from its Near Eastern origins and become a global religion that welcomed people from all walks of life into a fold. The absence of dietary restrictions was in keeping with the allembracing ideology of Christianity. Anyone, who ate anything, could be Christian. The Church welcomed all. Little wonder then that Christianity grew in numbers and gradually became the dominant religion of Europe by the 10th century. Interestingly, for 400 years, a section of the Church practiced Meatless Fridays, especially during the month of Lent and definitely on Good Friday. It began during the reign of King Edward VI of England when there was an acute meat shortage and a crisis in the fish industry. Parliament, with backing from the Church of England, ordered people to replace meat meals on Fridays with a fish dish. Gradually all devout Catholics adopted the personal sacrifice in memory of Christs supreme sacrifice and made it mandatory. So much so that eventually tradition decreed that to consciously eat meat on Friday was sin. This continued until the 1960s when the ban was lifted as part of the papal drive to modernize the church. What began as a rational economic measure became a religious tradition because of deeply symbolic nature of Friday and fish. It would be naive to accept that the Church of Englands advice did not take into account the fact that Friday is the day associated with fertility and Christs resurrection and that fish, since the days of the early Church, has always represented Christ. While shunning meat and eating fish on Friday benefited society economically, it propped up spiritual beliefs too. For it was akin to partaking the body of the savior on the day of his supreme sacrifice, a kind of a household Eucharist. Like its origin, discontinuation of Meatless Fridays was not the result of reason but belief in the doctrine of papal infallibility. The 7th century saw the rise of Islam. With it came practices and taboos, some expressed through dietary laws, that helped Muslims distinguish themselves from other peoples of the book. To distinguish themselves from Christians, Muhammad forbade the consumption of pigs. To distinguish themselves from pork-shunning Jews, Muhammad forbade the consumption of wine, something that was part of the Jewish sacrament. The 20th century saw the rise of Nation of Islam amongst African Americans who wanted to establish for themselves a new identity that broke free from their past as the descendants of slaves. Like their Muslim brothers elsewhere in the world they shunned pork and wine, but they also shunned tobacco and a whole list of vegetables commonly consumed by their black brothers who were following Christianity, the religion of their enslavers. Over centuries, Hindus made an art of segregating people on the basis of food. The idea of jati was reinforced by preventing people of different castes from eating together. This limited social interaction and reduced scope of intermarriage. Today the idea of jati is so rooted in Hindu consciousness, that a Hindu may convert to Christianity, Islam or Buddhist but he carries his caste-based prejudices into his new belief system. Any discussion of Hindu diet cannot avoid the beef issue. Rationally

speaking there is no particular reason for Hindus to shun beef. In fact, Vedic scriptures seem to suggest that in Vedic times, over 4000 years ago, eating beef, even horse, was part of ritual. Somewhere along the way, especially with the rise of Buddhism, Jainism and the Bhakti movement with their doctrine of non-violence, eating animals in general and the cow in particular became taboo in the Indian sub-continent. Ban on beef today has tragically less to do with protecting the cow and more to do with asserting one political ideology over others. Hundreds of re asons are given by the anti-beef lobby why cow slaughter must be banned and why beef must not be eaten. Each one looks quite rational. Hundreds of rational reasons are also given by those who are opposed to the projection of egg as a complete meal. Reasons are given why milk should not be consumed by humans, why Muslims dont eat pork, why Jews will eat only kosher meat. With some effort every food habit can be rationalized and made scientific. And yet ultimately, it is all about what you believe and what you dont believe in. The food we eat may project things about us (that we are nonviolent, that we are less polluted) but it does not necessarily influence our behavior. The non-garlic eating mother-in-law may believe in protecting tiny creatures who live under the soil but that does not stop her in any way from harrassing her garlic-eating daughterin-law for dowry. The non-beef eating politician can rouse mobs against beef-eating communities despite belief in the holiness of cows. Two nations may agree only why pork must be shunned, but that will not stop them from slaughtering each other in wars. As one sees the artificial nature of dietary laws desperately rationalized by believers and their inability to overpower primal instincts to dominate and be violent, one is drawn to the following verse from the Upanishad: Everything in the universe is food. We eat some. Some eat us.


Where does the small Indian investor put money: in lower-risk debt instruments or higher-risk equity instruments? Twenty years ago, the preference for the salaried class was the former. Fixed Deposits, Provident Fund, Public Provident Fund, Insurance Policies and Postal Certificates. Different avatars of debt instruments that lend money and earn interests. Returns were low but generally secure, thanks to the Governments safety net. Then came UTI promising dividends of over 20% each year. Many invested here, assuming that such returns were guaranteed forever. Most did not realize this was an equity instrument that made the investor an indirect stakeholder in the market (unlike shares where one is a direct stakeholder), sharing market fortunes and misfortunes. Then came the spectacular fall a combination of mismanagement and market reality. The salaried class felt cheated. They recoiled in horror from all equity instruments despite promises of great gain and shrunk back into a risk free hole, content with debt instruments with returns barely covering the rising inflation. Now, they are back. Mutual funds are every where. From Business Houses to Banks, Reliance to Tata to Franklin Templeton to HSBC and HDFC. They are Monthly Income Schemes and Systematic Investment Plans. You can see them on hoardings, in television, in mailers. They call you, enchant you, enthrall you. The zeal is missionary. They are out there to convert you as they share their Rich Dad, Poor Dad wisdom of letting your money make money and pay yourself first. Because the consumer is changing. They are spending more. Buying capital goods and luxury holidays on installments. There is clearly room for more investment. But analysts observe, investments continue to be in low risk debt instruments. The shift to high risk equity instruments is rather sluggish. That is why the Business Houses like Reliance and Banks like HDFC offer not only Mutual Funds but also Insurance Policies. Indians have traditionally been risk averse. It has perhaps something to do with the monsoons. Fear of droughts and floods is so ingrained in us that we prefer being moneylenders to farmers. Interests are more secure than harvests. This preference of debt-instruments over equity-instruments is similar to the preference in ancient times for dakshina over daan. Daskhina is a fee paid to a Brahmana for his services. Daan is an act of charity given spontaneously to the Brahmin. One can be encouraged to do daan but one is obliged to pay dakshina. Both are ways of making wealth flow (only towards the Brahmin, of course). Daskhina is a karmic debt-instrument. By giving a Brahman dakshina, one repaid ones debt to the priest incurred when he invoked God through various rituals on ones behalf. This is why, especially in South India, when the lamp waved before the image of the deity is brought to the devotee as a physical manifestation of divine blessing, the devotees first place a coin on the aarti plate and only then receives Gods warm grace. Daan, by contrast, is a karmic equity-instrument.

You dont have to do daan. It is a purely voluntary. But by doing so, you earn good karma or punya that goes a long way in wiping out the bad karma or papa earned in the past. Other karmic equity generating instruments are going on a pilgrimage or visiting a temple or taking a bath in a holy river of fasting. The story of Harishchandra brings out the difference between daan and dakshina very clearly. Harishchandra disturbs the sage Vishwamitras meditation. Enraged, the sage, who was on the verge of acquiring magical powers, threatens to curse the king. To prevent this, the king offers the sage all his wealth. The sage accepts. Harishchandra leaves his kingdom to the sage and walks out with his family and the clothes on their body. Then Vishwamitra stops him. What you have given me is not daan, he clarifies. It is a ritual act to cover for the damage caused when you interrupted my meditation. By accepting your kingdom, I have protected you. You are in my debt. Now where is my dakshina. A helpless Harishchandra has no choice but to sell his wife and son as slaves to generate money for paying Vishwamitras fee. When Krishna gives a portion of his wealth to Sudama, it is an act of daan. An expression of spontaneous and unfettered generosity. Sudama, an impoverished Brahmin, comes to Krishna seeking some financial assistance but is too overwhelmed by Krishnas affection to ask for anything. Krishna eats the puffed rice brought by Sudama with relish. But Krishnas wives stop their husband from eating everything. Leave something for us, they say knowing that Krishna planned to give an equal proportion of his wealth to his poor friend. While the scriptures extol the virtues of daan, the Puranas recount many tales of people who have got into trouble because of their fondness of daan. There is Bali, king of the Asuras, who in an act of charity offers the short Vaman the three paces of land. Vaman turns into a giant and in two steps claims overlordship over all of Balis dominions and shoves him under the ground with his third step. Karna of Mahabharata loses his protective amour because he offers all that you desire to anyone who approaches him. Investing in dakshina is necessary to repay all debts and liberate oneself from the cycle of rebirths. Investment in daan not only washes away past debts but also offers the promise of future fortune. But there are no guarantees. Hence caution is advised. He who ventured into the realm of daan was admired as daan-veer or the hero of charity (there is no such thing as a dakshina veer). For to invest in personal or social equity is indeed heroic. You need to have the skills and the heart of a veer. The winds of fortune may not always blow your way. And you may fall spectacularly like Enron. But should you win (as the investors in Infosys have realized) the glory will all be yours.


In India, everybody is either married or on the way to getting married. The unmarried man arouses curiosity, the unmarried woman pity. Traditionally, no one asks if you want to marry. The spouse is simply chosen for you. Just as you dont get to choose your gender or your parents (hence your caste, family or inheritance), you do not get to choose your husband or your wife. You have to submit to it. You have to adjust and accommodate just as you adjust and accommodate to your gender and your family. But what if it does not work out. If the husband is a jerk or the wife a pain, could one terminate ones marriage? Was divorce allowed in traditional Indians society? Its a question that is difficult to answer. Vyasa, the author of the pan-Indian epic, Mahabharata, arrogantly proclaims, What is not there in the Mahabharata is not there anywhere! But there is no mention of divorce anywhere in the Mahabharata. In the epic there are tales of men with many wives (Arjuna), a woman with many husbands (Draupadi), women who have sex before marriage (the birth of Karna), infidelity (the beheading of Renuka), women who want a man only to have children (Uloopi), women who want a man for pleasure alone (Urvashi), men who dress as women (Brihanalla), men who force themselves on women (Jayadratha), husbands comfortable with their wives going to other men (Pandu), men who become women (Bhangashvana), men who have mistresses (Dhritarashtra). So many stories of sex and sexuality and the social context of the same, but none of a man and woman terminating their relationship as husband and wife and moving on. It is not surprising therefore that the Indian audience reacted with alarm to the theme of Karan Johars latest, Kabhi Alvida Na Kehena. Experts say that the film, clearly targeted at the NRI, has done better abroad than in India. Could it be because the notion of divorce is quite alien to India? You can walk out of your husband or abandon your wife, but you cannot break away for them. Husbands and wives, like brothers and sisters, and fathers and mothers for better or for worse are forever! One could say that divorce has been traditionally suppressed in India. But then so has love marriage which has always been seen as the greatest threat to Indias caste hierarchy and religious divide. But the idea of falling in love, indifferent to its social complications, has been the theme of the most traditional of songs and the most ancient of stories. Society understands the pain that a man or woman go through when they are forced by the family to marry against their wishes. The same society knows that sometimes marriages does not work out, but there are no stories of divorce. Think about it. The Indian word that comes to mind when we talk about divorce is talaq which is an Arabic word. The film Nikaah starring Salma Agha and before that Saudagar

starring Amitabh Bacchan and Nutan produced years ago explored the idea of talaq. Both film were successful. These tales of divorce were placed in a cultural context hence the idea did not seem alien. KANK discomforts the audience. Is Karan Johar reflecting the reality Indians shy away from or is he selling a way of life that Indians are adopting with increasing Westernization? Films have dealt with the idea of divorce before. Hesitatingly though. In Andhi, Sanjeev Kumar and Suchitra Sen separate in the pursuit of power. In Artha, the horror of a onesided termination is explored in painful detail by Shabana Azmi. In Silsila, the couples involved draw back from the precipice of divorce. In Intezzar Rekha walks out of and marries Sashi Kapoor. Television has been for more up-to-date than the cinema. In Kahani Ghar Ghar Ki, divorce is not just restricted to the vamp Pallavi but also to the heroine Parvatis daughter Shruti. In Kasauti Zindagi Ki, Prerna grow out of relationship and divorces her husband. The everfaithful Tulsis daughter as well daughter-in-law have divorced their spouses in Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi. In the Indian legal system, the notion of divorce, like marriage, is closely aligned to religious beliefs. Hence we have Hindu Marriage Laws and Christian Marriage Laws and Muslim Marriage Laws. We have to ask ourselves is marriage a legal construct or a religious construct. In ancient Greece and in ancient Rome, marriage was a legal construct. You could marry a man and later divorce him or be divorced by him. Islam permits a man to marry four women and divorce any one by saying talaq three times. Divorce there is a termination of a contract. The Catholic Church has struggled hard to impose the concept of insolubility of marriage, facing many challenges because of it. For Hindus, marriage was never a mere legal contract; it was a rite of passage through which a man repays his debt to his ancestors and gets the moral right to enjoy the pleasures of worldly life. The groom receives the gift of a wife from the brides father, a gift that he can never refuse or reject. It is not that divorce is totally alien in India. There are references to divorce in the Arthashastra of Chanakya but that is a legal and political document not a religious scripture. And there are some Indian languages, such as Marathi, that have words for divorce. In many tribal communities as depicted in the film Jait re Jait starring Smita Patil divorce happens when the wife repays her husband the price he bought her for. By and large, however, the notion of divorce remains alien. It was perhaps easier for a man in traditional society to divorce his wife de facto if not de jure by simply abandoning her and marrying again. For women who were not allowed to remarry even when widowed things were never easy. That divorce is now becoming an acceptable part of Indian society in modern times is evident in the matrimonial columns of newspapers. We find divorcees seeking new partners, with or without encumbrance, consummated or unconsummated. Even

applications of divorcees is considered acceptable. Today pre-married state is equated with post-married state with a word called single. KANK acknowledges that marriages can break down. That couples can grow out of relationships and find solace in extra-marital liaisons. The betrayed Abhishek and Preity ask their respective spouses to leave the home not because the marriage has broken up but because they have been unfaithful. But the traditional disgust at infidelity is missing. Parting is dignified. As it should be if it has to be.

Many people are convinced that at the heart of an epic or legend is an event that occurred a long time ago, that narratives becomes sacred because they are the only available records (however distorted and embellished they may be) of a communitys past. To these people the Trojan war did occur, Moses did lead the Hebrews across the Red Sea to Palestine, Arthur was once an ancient Celtic king, and Osiris was a wise Egyptian leader and harbinger of civilization whose murder at the hands of the boorish Seth was avenged by his brave son, Horus. The idea that myth is nothing but warped or hyperbolic history goes back to 300 B.C.E., when the Greek philosopher Euhemerus of Messene wrote in his Sacred Documents that Zeus and other gods of Olympus were in fact deified humans. In India medieval Jain scholars, in their commentaries on the Hindu epic Ramayana, opined that the monkeys of the narrative were in reality tribes whose banners bore the emblem of monkeys. Hindu scriptures rarely differentiate between traditional beliefs and historical data. Hence the oldest collections of myths are known as Itihasas (histories) and Puranas (chronicles). In these documents narratives of gods, kings, and sages trace the history of India from the beginning of time to the prophecies of anarchy that will herald the end of the world. Historians, however, do not consider these narratives to be records of facts. Early Indian history is shrouded in mystery. First there were the stark, functional, brickladen cities built along the tributaries of the Indus and the now-dry Saraswati around 2500 B.C.E. About the same time the earliest Vedic hymns were being composed. This civilization, covering a territory of more than 1.3 million square kilometers, disappeared around 1500 B.C.E. as inexplicably as it appeared. Some believe that the composers of the Vedic hymns destroyed the civilization; others believe the cities simply died out, letting Vedic culture dominate society. Still others believe that the Vedic culture was spawned within and around the city civilization itself. For more than a thousand years, from the collapse of the city civilization to the establishment of the Magadhan empire following Alexanders invasion, historians have no material relics for the study of Indian history. There are no ruins of cities, no monuments or inscriptions. The only archeological evidences for this vast stretch of time are a few tools and potsherds. In place of material evidence there is Vedic literature, which is primarily liturgical and philosophical but which offers tantalizing glimpses of the historical conditions that witnessed the spread of Vedic culture from northwest India to the east, and then south of the subcontinent. Given this situation historians, anthropologists, and sociologists often turn to the tales of the Itihasas and Puranas to understand what could have happened in India between 1500 B.C.E. and A.D. 500. Hindu narratives clearly retain the memory of the integration of three main groups of people whose ideas fermented the Hindu psyche: nomadic herdsmen, settled

agriculturists, and animist hunter-gatherers of the forest. If one believes that myth is essentially proto-history then the following story from the Mahabharata clearly refers to a war involving the nomadic herdsmen, the agriculturists, and forest tribes. Kadru, the mother of serpents, or nagas, and Vinata, the mother of the eagle known as Garuda, once saw the celestial horse Ucchaishrava gliding along the horizon at dawn. Kadru said the horse had black hair in its tail; Vinata said the horse was spotlessly white and wagered her freedom on it. Determined to win the wager, Kadru ordered her children to cling to the horses tail. The next day, from a distance Ucchaishravas tail did appear to have black hair. As a result Vinata had no choice but to serve as Kadrus slave. The price of Vinatas freedom was the jar of amrita, the nectar of immortality that was possessed by the devas. Garuda flew into the city of Amravati, fought the devas, took the jar of amrita by force, and gave it to the nagas, thus securing his mothers freedom. He requested that the nagas drink the amrita only after taking a bath. While they were away he let Indra, king of the devas, reclaim the nectar and take it back to his celestial city. Thus Garuda tricked the nagas, just as their mother had tricked his mother. Impressed by Garudas strength, valor, and guile, Vishnuthe best of godsasked Garuda to be his mount. I will carry you around if you can place me on top of you too. Vishnu agreed, and Garuda became both his mount and his insignia (fluttering on his banner above him). On Garudas request Vishnu also made the nagas the natural food of eagles so that each time Garuda killed a naga he did not sin. Even today in Vishnu temples the image of Garuda holding a serpent in his talons can be seen before the sanctum sanctorum and on the sacred banner. The above narrative, which explains the origin of this practice, can also be interpreted as a historical event: The serpent-worshipping agriculturists had enslaved the eagle-totem tribe and stolen cows (indicated by amrita, since cows were crucial to the survival of the nomads) belonging to the nomads. The leader of the eagle tribe befriended the nomads, and together they liberated the cows as well as the slaves. South Indian folklore, especially from Kerala, retains the memory of the migration of the nagas from the north, where their forest homes were destroyed by migrating aryas. There are tales and ceremonies referring to the only survivor, the serpent-king Takshaka, who in exchange for shelter ensured the fertility of the land. It is likely that the nagas were serpent-worshipping agriculturists, who after being driven south by animal herding aryas, taught farming to southern forest dwellers who gave them refuge. In time the identity of the fertility-bestowing serpents and the people who first worshipped them mingled and merged. The teacher of farming who worshipped the naga became a naga himself. The Bhagavata Purana informs us that Kaliya, the naga, and his wives took shelter in a lake to hide from the eagle Garuda, who wanted to kill and eat them. This lake stood near

Gokul, the village of the cowherds. To keep away trespassers Kaliya poisoned the lake with his venom and attacked anyone who dared to enter the water. Krishna, the cowherd hero, challenged Kaliya to a fight. He ended up subduing the naga and dancing on his hood until his wives begged for his release. The story suggests that agriculturists (represented by Kaliya) harrassed by forest tribes (represented by Garuda) migrated to pastures where herdsmen (represented by Krishna) grazed their cows. After a period of hostility, the herdsmen overpowered and then befriended the agriculturists. Some historians believe that such narratives came into being when certain IndoEuropean nomads (yagna-performing, cow-herding aryas, mythologically identified as gods and humans, or devas and manavas) made their way into India from the northwest. They invaded settled communities (of serpent-worshipping, city-building dravidas, mythologically identified as asuras, yakshas, rakshasas, and nagas), which had driven out autochthonous tribal cultures (totemic and animistic communities, mythologically identified as vanaras, garudas, bhalukas, and nishadhas). These historians believe that the aryas brought horses to India and that in a ceremony known as Ashwameda they let loose their most magnificent horse and laid claim to all the lands the horse traversed unchallenged. Stories such as the one following from the Mahabharata seem to endorse this idea. When the Pandava Yudhistira became king, he performed a horse sacrifice and let loose his royal horse. Arjun a led the armies that followed this horse. The horse crossed many lands and the kings of those lands accepted the overlordship of the Pandavas. But then on the border of Manipura, the warrior Babruvahana stopped the stallion and challenged Arjuna to a duel. In the fight that followed Babruvahana successfully shot a poison-tipped arrow into Arjunas chest. When Babruvahanas mother, Chitrangada, saw the dying Arjuna she burst into tears, for Arjuna was her husbandBabruvahanas fatherwho as per the marriage contract had agreed to let her father, who had no male offspring, adopt the son born of their union. Babruvahana had never seen his father. He had learned archery from Uloopi, a naga woman who was also Arjunas wife, but one he had abandoned and forgotten soon after marriage. Thus scorned, she had used Babruvahana to avenge her humiliation. At the request of Babruvahana and Chitrangada, Uloopi brought Arjuna back to life with the help of the serpent gem that serves as an antidote against all poisons. Anthropologists suggest that Chitrangada probably belonged to a matrilineal clannot unlike the Nairs of Keralawhere the child belongs to the mothers, not the fathers, family. The arrival of Vedic culture is believed to have replaced an earlier matriarchal culture with a patriarchal one.

The Aryan invasion theory, based primarily on linguistic studies of the Vedic scriptures, is fraught with contradictions and controversies, for it suggests that the Vedic culture came into India from outside, an idea that is unacceptable to the traditional Hindu of modern India. While narratives suggest a constant dynamic of conflict and compromise between nomads, settled communities, and the forest tribes, they never suggest that the nomads (whether Rama or Yayati or the Pandavas) are outsiders. Also the scriptures insist that the three groups of people descended from a common fatherKashyapa, the ancient oneindicating a common ancestry. This is seen as proof of the alternative to the Aryaninvasion theory: that the Vedic culture once extended from India to the Caspian Sea (Caspian being a derivative or corruption of Kashyapa, which is the name of the rishi who fathered the gods) but survived and evolved only in the subcontinent. Indeed many of the characters in the epics Ramayana and Mahabharata (Kaikeyi, stepmother of Rama; Madri, wife of Pandu; Gandhari, wife of Dhritarashtra) belong to lands now identified as Pakistan and Afghanistan.


All of us are told that Hindu gods are the manifestations of the same divine principle. Shiva, Vishnu and Durga are different forms of God (spelt with upper case). And yet, the rituals adoring each of these manifestations of the divine are quite different. Especially intriguing is the fact that raw milk is offered to Shiva, butter is offered to Vishnu (and his most popular incarnation Krishna) while blood is offered to the Goddess. Blood sacrifice is an integral part of Goddess worship. Not many people like the idea today but the fact remains that across India for centuries animals have been slaughtered in Goddess shrines, usually around the festival of Dussera when the Goddess battles her most powerful adversary Mahisha- the buffalo demon. The story of Durga comes to us from the Devi Mahatmya, a 6th century text which is part of the Markandeya Purana. By the time this text was written, Goddess worship was clearly a significant component of popular religion in India. Neither the popularity of Buddhist monasticism nor the male bias of Vedic Brahmanism could overshadow the appeal of the Goddess and her fondness for blood. The Devi Mahatmya refers to the Goddess as a warrior who kills or helps kill trouble-making demons like Mahisha, Shumbha-Nishumbha, Chanda-Munda, Madhu-Kaitabha and Raktabija. In folk and classical songs, she is described as one who loves blood and bedecks herself with the heads and entrails of her victims. And yet in the Durga Pandal, what we see is a gentle, benign looking deity, dressed in finery, her face ethereal and enchanting, smiling benevolently. Her devotees worship her as mother. They sing songs to her glory. But few pay attention to the blood on the altar. A buffalo lies decapitated. In clay, if not in flesh. Those lips, those eyes, those jewels distract us from the violence around: the weapons of war, the ferocious lion, the man impaled by a trident, the blood pouring out of the buffalos severed neck. In many parts of India, buffaloes are actually sacrificed to the Goddess. The beast is decorated with garlands of neem leaves. It is smeared with turmeric and kumkum. The entire village participates in the ceremony. Drums are beaten. Women go into a frenzy. Men dance. And finally, one of the men, usually belonging to a lower caste, raises the axe and beheads the sacrificial beast. The blow is swift and hard. The animal must die in a single stroke. It must not struggle or gasp for life. It must be alive one moment and dead in the next. Everyone will cheer the Goddess. The blood and entrails of the beast will be mixed with grain and spread over the fields. The flesh will be cooked. A feast will follow.

During the Dussera festival, fasting is common. Some become vegetarian. Others deny themselves onions and garlic. All this for the Goddess who is Rakta-priya, fond of blood. In dissertations, scholars both Indian and Western describe Durga as the mother goddess. And yet what does this mother do she kills a buffalo after a fight that lasts for nine nights. Explanations are simplistic: It is the battle of good over evil. Fine. So she kills the bad guy but why does she drink his blood and wear his head as trophy. Shiva kills demons like Andhaka and Taraka but we dont pour blood over the Shiva-linga. Vishnu as Rama and Krishna kills Ravana and Kamsa. But the very idea of blood in Vishnu temples is shocking. Why then this special offering for the Goddess in a country where women are associated with timidity, weakness and gentleness. Feminists associate the buffalo with the male patriarch. Some believe female frustration at being repressed and suppressed manifests in myth as the tale of the Goddess who kills her oppressor. Through Durga, the Indian female unconsciousness projects their desire for liberation from patriarchy. This point of view is endorsed by the fact that the beasts sacrificed to the Goddess are invariably male, never female. Durga has been patronized as much by men as by women. She is the goddess of warrior tribes such as Rajputs and Marathas. For them, Mahisha embodies their enemies while Durga embodies their martial might. Durgas image is therefore placed on the doorway of fortresses. The word Durga means invincible. Durga is unconquered, hence a virgin. The man she kills is the man who seeks to marry, hence conquer her. But Durga does not shy away from marriage. In fact she is dressed less as a warrior and more as a bride. She wears a prominent nose ring, anklets, armlets, which are marital, hardly martial, symbols. Her children surround her. Her unbound hair is the only expression of her autonomy. That and the conspicuous absence of her husband, Shiva. Shiva is a hermit. He has no interest in worldliness. He sits atop an icy mountain lost in meditation in serene isolation. He is according to Tantra the embodiment of the spirit, the fountainhead of consciousness. The spirit enlivens us. But the spirit can neither feed the flesh nor clothe it. For food, clothing and shelter, for self-preservation and selfpropagation, one has to be worldly. One has to interact with the forces of nature. One has to be creative sometimes and destructive at others. To produce babies we must have sex. To get milk out of the cows we must ensure that they mate with bulls. To transform the flower into the fruit we must hope that the birds and bees pollinate and fertilize them adequately. To get food we have to uproot weeds and sow seeds of our choice. We have to kill rat and rodents, which try to steal what we grow. To make silk we have to boil silk worms. To make houses we have to cut down forests homes to many birds and beasts. To live we cannot shy away from sex and violence. And that is what Durga embodies. Her bridal form acknowledges the sexual, creative side of life. Her warrior aspect embraces the violent, destructive side of life. She is as worldly as her consort, Shiva, is other worldly. In folk lore, one hears of how the two quarrel. He

speaks of the importance of destroying desire while she celebrates the simple pleasures of life providing food for her children. He is content drinking poison and living in crematoriums while she works hard to take care of her young ones. When she begs for some jewels from her simpleton husband, he offers her Rudraksha beads. When she tells him to give her a roof over the head, he points out a cave for her. The Goddess clearly complements the male forms of the divine. She is the world the male deities react to. Her children Lakshmi, Saraswati, Ganesha and Kartikeya personify wealth, knowledge, brain and brawn, the best things material life has to offer. Shiva copes with the material world by staying away from it, while Vishnu through his many incarnation deals with material life by applying the principle of detached duty. Both Shiva and Vishnu are protecting the mind from being overpowered by the vagaries of material life. Durga, however, plunges into it, oscillating in her roles as warrior and mother. She kills and she feeds. She needs to drink blood. Only then will she have the energy to produce milk, the same milk which is poured on Shiva and the same milk which will churned to make butter for Vishnu and Krishna. Thus flows the cycle of life, of nature and of divinity.

Everybody sees the world through a frame of reference. No one, but the gods, have the full picture. At least that is what the following tale from Hindu mythology seeks to communicate: All the gods of the Hindu pantheon once went to Mount Kailas to pay their respects to Shiva, the destroyer. Brahma, the creator, came first on his goose, followed by Indra, the rain-god, on his elephant and Agni, the fire-god on his goat. Chandra, the moon-god, came riding his antelope. Vishnu, the guardian of the world, flew in on his eagle, the mighty Garuda. Yama, the god of death, was the last to arrive, delayed as usual by his mount, a buffalo. Garuda noticed that before entering Kailas, Yamas eyes fell on a tiny sparrow, that had perched itself on a ledge near the gate, chirping a welcome song for all the gods. Yama frowned and crinkled his brow before shrugging his shoulders and joining the gods. Garuda, who was king of all birds, concluded that the days of the sparrow were numbered. Why else would the god of death frown on seeing it? Perhaps the sparrow would die of starvation on the cold icy slopes of Kailas. Garuda looked at the little bird so young, innocent, eager to see the world. Overwhelmed with parental affection, Garuda took a decision: to keep the little sparrow out of Yamas heartless reach. Taking the bird in the palm of his hands he flew across seven hills and seven rivers until he reached the forest of Dandaka. There in the hermitage of a sage called Pippalada he found a mango tree. The sparrow will be safe here, he said to himself. He built a nest on the mango tree, left the sparrow there and returned to Kailas, pleased with himself. Soon the gathering of the gods drew to a close. The gods began to leave, Brahma on his goose, Indra on his elephant, Agni on his goat, Chandra on his antelope. Vishnu came out along with Yama. At the gate, Yama turned to look at the ledge where he had seen the singing sparrow. Finding it empty, he smiled. Vishnu asked Yama, Why are you smiling? Yama answered, When I was entering Kailas I saw this sparrow here that was destined to die today, eaten by a python that lives in the mango tree that grows in the hermitage of sage Pippalada in the forest of Dandaka, which as you know is far away. I wondered how the sparrow would travel the distance in a day. I was worried of all the repercussions that might follow if the bird does not die at the appointed hour in the appointed place. But somehow things have gone as planned and my account book is balanced. That is why I am smiling. Vishnu divined what had happened and turned to Garuda. Garuda who had overheard the conversation did not know what to feel. For the python, Garuda is the food-giver. For the sparrow, Garuda is the life-taker. But after Yama speaks, Garuda is nothing but an instrument of fate, part of a grand narrative not of his own making.

It is possible to narrate the story differently, without Yama and his account book. In such a story, Garudas spontaneous act of kindness goes horribly wrong because of the unfortunate coincidence of the pythons presence. In this story, the frame of reference is free will. It is also possible to add a twist to this story. Garuda prays to Shiva for help and Shiva rescues the sparrow from the jaws of death, restores it to the safety of Kailas, overriding the account books of Yama. In this story, the frame of reference is God, who is greater than the gods. Fate. Free will. God. Three frames of references that have sustained cultures for centuries. Three frames of references that can never be proved or disproved. Three frames of references that have to be believed. And when believed can help individuals and communities thrive. Greeks sought Truth using reason: an understanding of the world that when argued at any time at any place yielded the same result. This was logos. Logic. Rationality. It gave birth to science and mathematics. It revealed how people are actually born and how the sun actually rises. It took man to the moon. But it never gave the reason why man exists on earth in the first place. Science tell us how not why. Explanations can never ever be solutions. Individuals need solutions. Cultures need solutions. A solution to the conundrum called life. A solution that gives meaning and purpose, tools to cope with crisis, justify ambition and build communities. One has no choice but to withdraw into constructed realities, cling to a frame of reference, any frame of reference with all its inherent limitations. There is no escape from myth. Myths are however not tangible. To experience the idea of fate, free will or God one needs stories, symbols and rituals language that is heard, seen and performed. The story of Garuda, for example, depending on the version chosen, helps establish the myth of fate, free will or God in the Hindu mind space. The body of stories, symbols and rituals that communicates a myth to a people is called mythology. All cultures Hindu, Christian, Greek or American are guided by a myth communicated through a mythology. When myths and mythologies of cultures are compared with one another, there are bound to similarities and dissimilarities. Similarities reflect the humanity of a culture, dissimilarities its uniqueness. Hindus and Buddhists are similar in that they both believe in the wheel of rebirths but they are dissimilar in that only Hindus believe in the concept of eternal unchanging soul. Hindus and Muslims are similar in that they both accept God as being all-powerful, but they are dissimilar in that only Muslims believe in one life and one way of reaching God, by following the path revealed to the prophet Muhammad. It has been mankinds endeavor to find a common understanding for the world, a common frame of reference, a common myth a uniform civil code. This may not be

possible as it would mean getting all of humanity to look at life through the same window and no other. An irrational window at that. Any attempt to communicate myth rationally is doomed to failure. There are always questions that can challenge the discourse of fate, free will and God. In all cultures, therefore, mythology is far removed from reality and rationality: gods with three heads, demons with eight arms, virgin births, partings seas, promised lands, sacraments of fire and covenants of blood. This indifference to logic ensures myth is not reasoned with, but accepted unconditionally through a suspension of disbelief. For the believer, myth is real. It makes rational sense. It cannot be argued with. It is sacred. This allows the myth to be communicated across generation and geography without distortion. Myth, however, is not static. Just as it informs history and geography, it is informed by history and geography. This is why beliefs and customs change over time. There was a time when people believed only members of a particular caste can enter a shrine. This belief is no longer encouraged. Myth once said people are unequal. Myth now says all people are equal. Yesterday the inequality of people was real. Today the equality of people is real. We forget that human life is not governed by logic. Emotions that drive humanity love, hate, fear, greed, ambition cannot be rationalized. Human beings therefore cannot make sense of life through scientific evidence-based discourses. For the sake of survival and sanity, they need to believe in a frame of reference. They need myth. And myth needs mythology.

Long ago, a ship sailed east from Greece across the unknown waters of the Black Sea to the faraway land of Colchis, inhabited by barbarians and home of the rising sun (according to the Greeks at least). The ship was called the Argo. The sailors, the Argonauts. They were led by one Jason, who was looking for the legendary sheepskin known as the Golden Fleece that was nailed to a tree that in that eastern land, guarded by a fearsome dragon. The Fleece was the prized possession of the king of Colchis, who had no intention of parting with it. Jason had to get it back to Greece, by hook or by crook, if he hoped to inherit his ancestral kingdom of Iolcus ruled by his uncle Pelias, who had killed his father and usurped the throne. After many adventures, Jason and the Argonauts reached Colchis. There he met the princess of Medea who instantly fell in love with him. If you promise to marry me and be ever faithful to me, I will help you steal the Golden Fleece and become king, she said. Jason could not refuse such an offer. He agreed and secretly married her. Medea was no ordinary loverlorn barbarian princess. She was a witch. She concocted a magic potion and gave it to Jason so that he could put to sleep the dragon and steal the Golden Fleece. She then boarded his ship and like a dutiful wife agreed to leave her father and her family and make Greece a land where she knew no one her home. Betrayed by his own daughter, the heartbroken king of Colchis was determined to stop Jason. He boarded his royal barge and pursued the Argo. Foreseeing this, Medea had smuggled her young brother, her fathers favourite, on board the Argo. She had a deadly plan to stop her father. She slit her brothers throat and cast his body, piece by piece, into the sea. The king of Colchis recognized the drifting limbs of his son and wailed. Too aggrieved to continue the chase, he spent hours gathering each piece of his sons body and took them back home so that he could bury his son whole. When they reached Iolcus with the Golden Fleece, Jason realized his uncle had no desire to give up the throne or making him heir. An angry Jason decided to kill his uncle. But the oracles informed him Pelias could be killed only by his own daughters, who loved him very much. Jason did not know what to do. Medea came to his aid once again. She presented herself to Pelias as a barbarian witch who could make old people young. To demonstrate her powers she killed an old goat and resurrected him young. This excited

Pelias. He instructed his daughters to kill him. So that this witch can bring me back from the land of the dead young, he said. The daughters obeyed their father. They killed Pelias but Medea refused to bring him back from the land of the dead. She just laughed and danced, having succeeded in giving her beloved Jason what he desired. Unfortunately, for Jason, the citizens of Iolcus refused to accept him as king, especially since his wife was not of Greek blood, and a barbarian at that. Besides she was the witch, murderer of their king. Bound by promise, Jason could not abandon her. Together they migrated to Corinth. Corinth was the ancestral home of the king of Colchis who had migrated to the east long ago, leaving behind a regent. This made Medea the princess of Corinth, and Jason, a contender to the throne of Corinth. Medea managed to poison the regent of Corinth and Jason was able to stake his claim as the son-in-law of their old ruler. The Corinthians were only too happy to have the great leader of the Argonauts as their new king. Medea went on to bear Jason two sons. Seven sons and seven daughters, say some authors. But then, one day, he decided to divorce Medea and marry Glauce, the young daughter of Creon, king of Thebes. She was asked to go into exile, leaving her children behind, on the day of the marriage. Why, asked a distraught Medea. Because, said Jason, by marrying the princess of Thebes he would gain wealth and power for himself and his sons (according to some versions, Glauce was the princess of Corinth and the only way for Jason to become king of the city was by marrying her). How can you abandon me? asked Medea, I betrayed my own father so that you succeed in the quest for the Golden Fleece. I killed my own brother to save you from my fathers wrath, I who killed your uncle to satisfy your vengeance. I helped you become king of Corinth. I am the mother of your children. I left my people to be with you in this land which despises barbarians. And you swore long ago in Colchis to be forever faithful to me. Jason argued, A promise under duress is no promise. I brought you into the civilized world. Rescued you from a barbarian fate. By following me, you became famous. What is greater in life than fame? Besides I have not abandoned you. Take all the provisions you need. I will put you in touch with friends who will take care of you. Submitting to her husbands decision, the heartbroken Medea prepared to leave Corinth. Before leaving she gifted Glauce a beautiful gown, to express that she harboured no ill feelings for her husbands new wife. No sooner did Glauce wear the wedding gown, however, than it burst into flames, burning her and many people around her, including her father. Jason managed to escape. He ran into Medeas chambers and found there his two sons dead, their throats slit, a

bloody sickle in the hands of Medea who then mounted a chariot pulled by serpents and flew into the sky, laughing hysterically, revelling in her husbands horror and misery. Are these the actions of a loving woman who is driven to insanity by the loss of her husbands affections, or of a jealous, hateful woman who cannot tolerate someone elses happiness while she suffers from rejection? Since 431 BC, when the Greek tragedy, Medea was written by Euripedes, scholars have argued on the nature of the story. For some, Medea represents passionate emotion, both in its purest forms and in the wildest aberrations, that controls, troubles and destroys men. For others Medea is a woman struggling in a mans world. A feminist. They agrue that Medea never killed her children that this is a lie fabricated by the patriarchal establishment who bribed Euripedes to write this play, that in the original story the children are killed by Jason or sacrificed by the Corinthians themselves to ritually cleanse themselves from the crime of killing the king of Thebes and his daughter. There are those for whom Medea represents the madness of love irrational and wild who can reduce a powerful enchantress to a weak weeping woman. Medea is undoubtedly a killer. But when her killing benefits the hero, she is hailed by all. When her killing hurts the hero, she is despised by all. Medea is judged not for killing another human being, she is judged based on the context in which the killing took place. A study of Medea forces us to rethink the way we judge the world. Why is someones terrorist, someone elses freedom fighter? Why is one nations mutiny another nations uprising? Why is freedom of expression in one part of the world seen as disrespectful and outrageous speech in another part of the world? Why is love accepted as normal in one country considered unnatural in another? Why is a particular costume vulgar in one culture and beautiful in another? Why is one dress code divinely ordained according to some and a patriarchal imposition to others? Medea forces us to accept that all human beings are at once victims and victimisers. We get hurt but we also hurt. We are all heroes and villains depending on the context and the perspective and the standards being followed.


There are things in this world that we would rather not talk about, but they demand expression. In such cases myth become a safety valve of culture, expressing unacceptable ideas in an acceptable manner. Stories allow the imagination to flirt with what is forbidden in reality. Take the story of Kunti for example in the Mahabharata. The princess Kunti served the sage Durvasa well when he visited her fathers house. Durvasa was pleased and gave her a magic formula with which she could be call upon any deva and have a child by him. To test the formula Kunti called upon Surya, the sun god, and had a son by him. As she was unmarried and did not want to soil her reputation, she put the child in a basket and left it to the rivers whim. Kunti married Pandu, king of Hastinapur. Unfortunately, he was afflicted with a curse that prevented him from making love to his wife. So Kunti called upon Dharma, the god of righteousness, Vayu, the god of wind, and Indra, the rain god and king of the devas, and bore three sons who were addressed by all as Pandavas, the sons of Pandu. The story may be seen as a metaphorical retelling of premarital and extramarital childbearingthe former as a result of youthful indiscretion with a houseguest, the latter to resolve the issue of succession because of a husbands impotence. By making Kuntis lovers devas the narrator projects an unacceptable reality onto the realm of the gods. The audience comprehends the subtext and the social taboos against premarital and extramarital sex. Transformation of a repressed desire into myth is not necessarily a conscious process. Freud saw myth and ritual as an unconscious expression of repressed dreams of a community that explained universal taboos against incest and patricide. He was deeply influenced by the story of Oedipus. Oedipus was abandoned at birth by his father because he was destined to kill him. Oedipus grew up without any knowledge of who is father was or who is mother was. Years later he met his father on a bridge. Both were proud warriors. Each one refused to let the other pass. A fight followed. As foretold, Oedipus killed his father. He then

reached the land, which he did not know, was his fathers kingdom. There he saved the city from a monster called the Sphinx. In gratitude, the people of his fathers kingdom welcomed him and requested him to marry their queen who was now a widow. Oedipus accepted not knowing he was marrying his fathers wife, his mother. When this was revealed, years later, after his mother had borne him children, he blinded himself. Because, though he had eyes, he had not seen. Freud saw in this tale the universal unspoken need of the son to compete with and triumph over the father for maternal affection. To him this Oedipus complex formed the foundation of (Judaic) monotheisma guilty response to the killing of the founding patriarch (Moses) and enjoying what was rightfully his (the Promised Land). To Freud religion was nothing but neurosis, and the answer to myth lay in the unconscious. While Greek mythology is full of stories in which a son is responsible for the death of his father or a father figure (Chronos castrates Uranus; Zeus kills Chronus; Perseus kills his grandfather, Acrisius; Aegeus killed himself, believing his son Theseus to be dead; Jasons wife, Medea, kills his stepfather Pelias), such narratives are not found in Hindu scriptures. This indicates that the Oedipus complex suggested in myth is a cultural, not a universal, phenomenon. Tales in Hindu scriptures suggest a reverse-Oedipal, or Yayati, complex. In this case the father destroys the son in order to have his way. The story goes that when Devayani learned that her husband, Yayati, had secretly married her maid, Sarmishtha, and that the maid had borne him two sons, Devayani ran to her father the asura-priest, Shukra, who cursed Yayati to become old and impotent. When he realized the implications of the curse, Shukra modified it, stating that Yayati would regain his youth and potency if one of his sons willingly bore the burden of the curse. The youngest son, Puru, agreed to become old and impotent so that his father could enjoy life. Puru regained his youth and earned the gratitude of his father years later when, after indulging his senses in every way, Yayati realized the ephemeral nature of material things and decided it was time to let go and grow old. A descendent of Puru, Devarata also has to waylay his aspirations for the pleasure of his father. Shantanu wanted to marry the fisherwoman Satyavati, but she refused to accept the proposal until he promised that her sons, not Devavrata, Shantanus son by his first wife, Ganga, would inherit his throne. To make his father happy Devavrata gave up his claim to the throne. But this did not satisfy Satyavati. I want a guarantee that your descendents will not fight the descendents of my sons for the throne, she told Devavrata. He gave her the guarantee the only way possible: He took a vow of celibacy. This vow earned him the wrath of his ancestors, for he would not facilitate their rebirth. It also doomed him to an eternity in the land of the dead, as without descendents there would be no one in the world to facilitate his own rebirth. By condemning himself to such

misery for the sake his fathers happiness, Devavrata earned the admiration of the gods, who renamed him Bhisma, he who took a terrible vow. In the Greek narratives sons triumph over fathers, humans triumphs over gods, the individual triumphs over society. The one who goes against authority and tradition is celebrated. The rebel, whether it is Prometheus (who opposes Zeus), Heracles (who stands up to Hera), or Ulysses (who challenges Poseidon) is deified. In Hindu narratives the hero is one who submits to the will of the father, society, and tradition. Obedience is the highest virtue. He is the good son. He who obeys. Surrenders. Submits. Because the father knows best. Father must win in the Indian tradition. Father is tradition. Father is the great keeper of cultural values. His indiscretions must be forgiven. When everyone talks about the great sacrifice of Bhisma, nobody questions the father. An old man who was so obsessed with a fisherwoman that he was willing to sacrifice the conjugal life of his son. In Jain traditions, Bhisma is said to have castrated himself so that no one doubts his integrity. Imagine, a father allowing his son to castrate himself so that he can get a wife. In the Ramayana, Rama is maryada purushottama, the perfect upholder of social values, because he always does what is expected of him. In deference to the wishes of his father, he gives up the throne and goes into forest exile. In deference to the wishes of his people, he abandons his dutiful and faithful wife, Sita. His obedience, his submission to the past, to the family, to the people, is what makes him worthy of worhsip. This difference in Greek Oedipus Complex and Indian Yayati Complex has been seen by many to explain the cultural and intellectual differences between India and the West (Greek being the mother of Western intellectual traditions). Indians shy away from rebellion. Rebellion means rejecting tradition, the past, the father. Not everyone appreciates Freuds rereading of myths in terms of sexual anxiety. Some people do not agree with the view that all ritual and religion emerges from the desire to recall, remember, and repeat primal crimes that apparently marked the dawn of civilization in order to come to terms with them. Indeed Freuds mythography has been deemed reductive and phallocentric, focusing on penis envy with an almost misogynist zeal.

From the 6th to the 16th century AD, ritual manuals known as Tantras were being produced with detailed instructions on the use of mystical chants, magical charms, and sexual rites. The following passage comes from Brihad Nila Tantra: Have there a young and beautiful girl, adorned with various jewels. After combing her hair, give her tambula to chew and draw two Hrims on her breasts, Aim on or near her mouth, and draw two Klims on either side of her genitals. Drawing her towards you by her hair, caress her breasts and then unite. O pure smiling one. Recite the mantra 1,000 times, O sweet faced one. Dearest, one becomes accomplished by doing the rite for a week. Maheshani, recite the mantra not in the manner written of in books, but in her yoni. This brings mantra siddhi, there is no doubt of it. So, Devi, the secret thing giving all desires has been declared to you. One should not reveal it, one should never reveal it, Maheshani. O Naganandini, at the risk of your life, never reveal it. It is the giver of all siddhi. I cannot speak of the magnificence of this mantra. Had I ten thousand million mouths and ten thousand million tongues, I could still not speak of it, O Paramesvari. Translations of works such as these have led to two reactions. One, that ancient and medieval India was pagan, perverted and sick. Two, that in ancient and medieval India sex was sacred and a form of worship. The former is accompanied with feelings of puritanical chauvinism and righteous indignation, the latter with vicarious thrill and clandestine curiosity. The result: apologetic commentaries, defensive writings and a determined attempt by many a New Age guru to reclaim the lost heritage of Tantrik sex. When the word sex is used, one takes for granted either the pleasure that accompanies it or the procreation that can follow it. But in Tantra, the aim of the sexual act does not seem to be either sensory gratification or fertility. Sex is just one of the many components of the elaborate rituals aimed at transforming the sadhaka, or initiate, into a siddha, an accomplished master who understands the workings of the world and possesses power to change it. Like his contemporary counterparts, the Tantrik-babas who advertise their powers in railway stations and bus stands, the siddha of yore solved problems: through a series of rituals he could make you prosperous and powerful, get rid of your enemies, give you a male child, make someone fall in love with youIn other words, he could change the world so that it suited you. He was a sorcerer-sage.

Tantrik rites have their roots in mans primal needs to cope with the problem that is life. In India, seers and sages have prescribed many solutions. These include the intellectual approach or gyan based on meditation and contemplation, the emotional approach or bhakti based on passionate devotion and adoration, the social approach or karma based on detached performance and selfless service, and finally the mechanical approach or tantra based on the chanting of hymns, use of charms and the meticulous execution of rituals. These approaches evolved over 4000 years and more often than not compliment each other. Around the 6th century AD, when the first Tantras appeared, India was getting impatient with the monastic ideologies of Buddism and Jainism, which a thousand years earlier had emerged as a powerful alternative to hollow Vedic ritualism. But Buddhist detachment and Jain austerity demanded too discipline. More and more people turned to the solitary sorcerer-sages such as siddhas who for centuries had wandered the countryside displaying the power to channel cosmic forces at will. Opinions are divided over whether the first siddha was an offshoot of the pastoral Vedic communities or a member of non-Vedic agricultural and tribal communities. Their rituals can be traced back to Vedic manuscript dated 800 BC. Whatever be the case, realizing the popularity of the way of the siddha, attempts were made to align these rituals with Brahmincal, Buddhist and Jain ideology and bring them to the mainstream. This lead to the writing of the Tantras which promised immediate fulfilment of ones desires be it spiritual or material. The rituals rejected both the monastic way of thinking as well as the deeply ingrained caste system. They included blood sacrifice (mamsa), offerings of alcohol (madya) and sexual union (maithuna). A person of any caste could follow the rituals, provided he had been found suitable and initiated by guru. The sex clearly broke all rules of civilized conduct the sexual partner could not be ones wife, a member of the lower castes was preferred. Some scriptures even recommended incest. And there were a few that even suggested use of a dead body. Sex did not take place in the house. It took place either in a shrine or the crematorium, often under the supervision of the guru, after various rites of purification, consumption of hallucinogenic agents and invocation of fearsome deities visualized as violent and sexual beings. That Tantra identifies women as Shakti or the source of power, has led to the widespread belief that Tantra was a womans religion. Tantra is full of powerful and autonomous and fearsome goddesses such as the Mahvidyas and Yoginis who are quite unlike their docile counterparts in mainstream religions. However, the texts and rituals are always prescribed for men, not women. The sadhaka and the siddha are always men. The woman who is part of the ritual is merely an instrument, an extremely critical instrument, to achieve the goal. Like semen, menstrual blood, was believed to have magical powers. However, unlike semen, menstrual blood was not under voluntary control, making

women inferior beings. The sadhaka used copulation to use the power of the menstrual blood to help him reverse the flow of his semen. This was the state of urdhva-retas or the upward movement of semen which led to the blooming of charkas a series of psycho-physiological changes that led to the appearance of boon-bestowing deities and change in the levels of consciousness. In art, the state of urdhva-retas was depicted by the erect phallus of Shiva, the lord of Tantra. Stripped of all magical and mystical vocabulary, Tantra seems to force every individual to acknowledge the reality of Nature that culture tries to suppress, repress, deny and reject through legal, ethical and moral systems. It forces us to confront the dark secrets we shove into our subconscious: that life is impersonal, life feeds on life, that society bridles natural impulses of sex and violence for the sake of order. Beneath the values, standards, prejudices and judgements, there is the world of infinite possibilities, and probabilities, a magical world sexual or otherwise that is accessible to anyone provided one is willing to risk the security and the comfort of the given.


Long ago, Yagnavalkya, the greatest sage of the Upanishadic era, was asked, Is the world governed by fate or free will? He replied, Both. They are like the two wheels on either side of the chariot. If you depend on one too much you go around in circles. In mythology, fate and freewill take the form of two gods that are never worshipped: Yama and Kama. Yama is the god of death, who keeps an account of ones life and hence determines ones destiny. He is dispassionate in his dealings and inflexible in his judgments. Kama, on the other hand, is the god of desire, who makes you want things, do things, hence makes you challenge and change destiny. He fills you with ambition and expectations, and hence is cause of both exhilaration as well as frustration. Yama binds man with his noose and uses his hook to ensure everyone repays his karmic debt. Kama strikes man with his arrow and leaves behind the sweet festering wound of hope and desire. Before Yama, one is helpless. With Kama, one is hopeful. The most successful films of Bollywood this year, Rang De Basanti (RDB) and Lage Raho Munnabhai (LRM) brilliantly articulate these two timeless principles of life fate and freewill, helplessness and hopefulness, Yama and Kama. In RDB, we find a group of friends watching in horror as the corrupt politicians actually get away with murder. Their most grounded and patriotic of friends who joins the airforce dies in an MiG crash and the government holds him responsible, rather than the faulty spare parts purchased through nefarious deals. The friends protest and cry out for justice. No one hears them. No one wants to hear them. A peaceful demand for justice is ruthlessly crushed. What does the friends do? In rage, in helplessness, they turn to violence just like the extremist revolutionaries of the freedom struggle. This time, the enemy is not the Raj but corrupt politicians elected by the people. And like the freedom fighters, these friends know that their chosen path is not the best way. They embrace it as there is little choice, and with it they embrace death. Yama rules supreme in RDB. There is death and a system that is inflexible and insensitive. An overarching sense of helplessness with a little hope in the end. By contrast, LRM is a sweet film. It makes you laugh as the lovable goon with the help of his delightful sidekick Circuit tries to impress a pretty Radio Jockey by answering

questions on Gandhiji. Here, as in RDB, corruption is the demon that must be vanquished. But there is no sense of helplessness here. There is hope. Gandhiji lacks the intensity of the gun-totting revolutionaries. He is not a cool guy. He is an affectionate, indulgent and endearing granduncle who shows our hero that it is possible to defeat the enemy with love. It is possible to shame the opponent into submission by standing upright in truth. This film is anything but cynical. There is no rage. There is no angst. This is about Kama, lovable, adorable Kama. It tells us that the world out there is not so bad. There is love out there. There are nice people out there. Bad people are bad because they yearn for love, affection and validation. Give them that and they will transform. The film overflows with hope. And yet, as we leave the cinema hall with a lump on the throat and general feeling of well being, one feels the inevitable rush of cynicism. This can only happen in fantasy, we tell ourselves. Yet we recommend the film to others. Indians are generally said to be a fatalistic race. We submit very easily to the system. We are comfortable with what destiny has in store for us. Our mythology reminds us constantly that whatever will be will be. What goes around comes around. Serenity lies in stillness and acceptance and letting go. Unlike the West which is obsessed with making the world a better place, we Indians by and large tend to let things be. That is what makes us a tolerant race. We tolerate everything, even corrupt politicians, bad roads, garbage dumps, terrible infrastructure. This is the land of Yama, where Kama is destroyed by the third eye of Shiva. But that does not mean Kama is dead. He returns as Ananga, the invisible one, in ways so subtle that we often dont even recognize him. We refuse to accept the fate laid out before us by Yama. That is why we have jyotish-shastra or astrology which provides us gemstones that can influence the future. That is why we have vastu-shastra or geomancy that promises to change our life if we change our dwelling. That is why we have rituals known as vrata whereby fasting and keeping all-night vigils and walking barefoot to the temples can change destiny and give the assurance of a better life. Even the Veda says, to create things you must first want it; before the gods came Kama. The swing between Yama and Kama, destiny and free will, helplessness and hopefulness, is an eternal swing in India. RDB and LRM are its latest articulations. Both films reflect the soul of India. Its inherent contradictions. In both films, the problem is Indian. The solution is Indian too. Both films are highly emotional and talk to the heart. Both films have characters who sing songs and respect elders. Both films are brilliant in execution. Both stoke patriotism but neither is jingoistic. The characters seem believable. Both films do not insult the intelligence of the audience and generally provide a relief from shallow, mindless, entertainment that has plagued the silver screen in recent times. As we are overwhelmed with despair at what the media offers us day in and day out, these two films tell us there is hope even in Bollywood beyond marriage monstrosities, item numbers, sex comedies, remakes and sequels.


Gods in India love food. Rituals such as yagna and homa are all about providing spoonfuls of butter to a chosen deity. No puja is complete without bhoga and prasadam. Gods in India are also rather fickle about what they are served: Ganesha wants modakas, Krishna wants butter, Shiva is content with raw milk, Shantoshi-Maa seeks bengal gram and jaggery, village-goddesses like lemons and chillies, Bhagavati feeds on roosters, Durga accepts buffaloes, Kali prefers goats while Pitrs or the forefathers insist on mashed rice cakes as they are all toothless like yet-to-be-born babies. Fed well, gods can be generous with their blessings, one reason why an Udupi restaurant in Mumbai will serve its first cup of coffee not to the customer but to the gods of the elements and the directions and why an orthodox housewife will serve food first to the crows, and only then the gods and finally the family. Food is not only an offering to the gods. Food is God, or should we say Goddess? Food is Shakambari, born of Bhoo-devi, served by Annapurni. Food must not be touched with the feet. At one time, leftovers were never discarded in a garbage bin. They were either recooked or lovingly served to the cow or the dog. Nearly 3000 years ago, food was eulogized in the Taittriya Upanishad: Food, food Gorging, Disgorging From food all creatures come By food they live In food they live Into food they pass Food is Brahman Only they eat Those who know They eat their God Food, the chief of things From food all beings come to be The universe is made of eaters and eaten What eats is eaten What is eaten also eats An ancient Indian proverb states, You are what you eat, and what you dont eat. Amongst other things, you are Hindu because you dont eat beef, you are Muslim

because you dont eat pork, you are Jain because you dont eat garlic or honey, you are Brahmin because you stay away from meat, you are Bengali because you love fresh water fish, you are from South India because you always end your food with curd rice, you are Gujarati because you love the taste of dhokla, chat and chatni. What we eat or dont eat, in other words, our identity, is determined by the mother of the household. Otherwise known as housewife or homemaker, she is the ultimate Goddess of the Kitchen, nurturing heaven and earth, heroes and villains. In the Ramayana, she was Sita with her rasoi. In the Mahabharata, she was Draupadi with her thali. In the Puranas, she was Lakshmi and Gauri who made Vishnu and Shiva go hungry because they dared disrespect food, considering it inferior to the soul. Despite all the winds of change brought in by the 20th century, even today, the mother still controls the kitchen. It is the space she rules. Through her food she transmits emotion and affection to her world. With her food she manages the well being of her family. Once upon a time, the Goddess of the Kitchen was not allowed to step out of the house. All provisions came to her: from the fields, the orchards, the village pond, the kitchen garden, brought in by the servants or her husband who went to the weekly bazaar or the hawker who came her doorstep every few days. In the rare occasions when she was allowed to travel, such as a pilgrimage, she was expected to carry her pots and pans with her to cook for all during the journey. Then she moved to the city. There was no field or orchard or kitchen garden. No servants to help out. Children who had to be ready for school early in the morning. Her husband left early in the morning and often came home late, too tired to go to the bazaar. She had to go to the market herself. She had to buy the grain, the pulses, the fruits, the vegetable, the spices, fish and the meat herself with the monthly food money her husband gave her. It was there that she discovered the art of haggling, an art that enabled her to save, hence earn, many a rupee. As joint families gave way to nuclear families, as the mother also had to go out and start working and earning money for the family, the pressure of managing the kitchen became too much to bear, even when the man of the house was supportive. The market heard the cries of the Goddess, provided her with ways to cook her food faster pressure cookers were invented, pre-pounded spices were created, pre-mixed masalas were sold. The mother tried her best to provide home-cooked food to family, getting up at ridiculously early hours before school and office, but the going became too much. She reluctantly turned to instant food, allaying her guilt by buying packaged foods that claimed ot be full of nutrients and garnishing it a bit coriander to make the freeze-dried microwaved food look fresh and homemade. At the worst situation, she submitted to the temptation of outside food.

The Goddess once looked down upon outside food. In fact, even today, in many parts of India, eating outside is a colloquial metaphor for going to a prostitute it pollutes your body and your mind. But that has changed. The world became more tolerant. Home food became routine and boring. Outside food became exciting. An adventure. A chance to explore cultures and worlds outside the narrow confines of the home. Was it the result of globalization, migration, westernization? Nobody is quite sure. Housewives, who spent the week staying at home, demanded that they dine outside on weekends; husbands who ate outside all week long and looked forward to home-cooked simple fare on weekends had no choice but to submit to the Goddess. And the market responded to them too. High end hotels catering to high-flying executives now provide special roomservice menus called ghar ka khana after 8 pm. The world of the Kitchen Goddess is now poised to change once more. Markets will soon to be replaced by Malls with their supermarkets. There will be no more haggling. No more talking to different vendors, arguing over the price of lemons and coriander and potato. No more discussing the weather, health, politics, family. No more why did you not come last Tuesday to the market, madam, all well? conversations. Everything will be pre-haggled. She will soon be entering an air-conditioned world of discount coupons, festival bargains, monsoon sales. The personal touch of the fruit seller and the grocer will be gone. The vendor will be a faceless entity: a large powerful corporation. And the person assisting in the various shops will be nothing more than nameless uniformed helpers, following a Standard Operating Procedure, uninvolved in the purchase of the goods they are selling, a small cog in a huge process chain. That connection created by haggling which transcended the transactional level will be gone forever. The mandatory visit to the chat-wala before going home will be replaced by the visit to the lavish food court. And the Goddess of the Kitchen will have to learn the art of stocking food, something that was once restricted to beans, pickles and papads, for fruits and vegetables was always fresh in India and easily available next door. In a world where food in increasingly becoming a lucrative retail commodity for the likes of Wal-Mart and Reliance, it makes great sense to understand the cultural context of food. Who are the eaters and what is eaten? And why? More importantly, how do the eaters get to the eaten? At the heart of all retail research related to food will be the Kitchen Goddess everyones mother.


After palace intrigues forced Rama to leave Ayodhya and go into the forest, his father, Dasharatha, lay in bed a broken man, wailing, Rama is gone. I will die soon. O, what will happen to Ayodhya? Kaushalya replied, Dont worry. It will survive. We always believe the world will collapse after we are gone. It never does. These lines from the Ramayana resonant a very profound and bitter truth that most men and women in the job market find hard to swallow: without them, organizations can and do survive. Out there is an ocean of restless young professionals with low tolerance and high skills, ready to leave one organization and join another at the drop of a hat. They are angry with their bosses, frustrated at work, or simply annoyed with their pay packets. They feel that loyalty does not pay, that passion is no longer rewarded. These feelings are not new. They have always been there, in every organization since time immemorial. But now, thanks to the growing economy and the shift from socialism to market liberalization, there are many job options available. It is easier to jump ship now than ever before. And to cater to this jump ship generation, there are placement agencies like and who are advertising like never before. Everyone is now familiar with the tale of Hari Sadhus disgruntled employee who heroically gets back at his jerk of a boss (guess who has heard from us campaign) and with images of batsmen washing clothes or bharatnatyam dancers working at airports (stuck in the wrong job campaign). Human resource is the new product in the market and vast corporations both Indian and MNC, are the new consumers. Only this market is unique. Here both, the consumer and the product have the right to choose. Ayodhya here can always find another Dasharatha, if not a Rama. Fully aware that those they employ can leave shortly, and realizing that retarding attrition is a rather tedious and expensive proposition, many corporate houses are preferring commoditized human resources rather than branded ones. In other words, they are focusing not on highly talented people but on averagely talented people who they can align to a highly efficient and effective processes. This decreased dependence on people and more dependence of processes has created a vicious cycle. Processes are created to manage the high attrition rate of people. But they end up making the workplace so impersonal that they end up contributing to the attrition rate. When people go, creativity goes, initiative goes, vision goes. Processes cannot give direction, or motivate people. Realizing the dangers of depending on processes, realizing that soon the market will shift from processes to towards people, Microsoft, in its

foresight, has announced its People-Ready business vision. In their TV ad, we find a bunch of people trying to figure out what makes their company different. And scratching their heads for long they realize it is their people! Ironical, considering it was Microsoft that brought the Excel spreadsheet to every desktop, making it easier to measure everything, and everyone, reducing all things to tiny impersonal numbers on that allpowerful corporate dashboard. The conflict of people versus processes is an ancient one. Realizing the disruptive power of peoples desires and personal goals, ancient Indians came up with the concept of dharma. This essentially refers to social roles, rules and rituals that establish social order. Dharma was all about processes aimed at creating a stable society where, if people did their duty as they were told, the rains came on time and there were no accidents. The regularity of rain (read, sustainable profits) and absence of accidents (read, minimized upheavals) were the Key Performance Indicators of dharma (read, processes). The struggle to balance people and processes, duty with desire, and create a model society, led to the writing of two great epics: the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. Rama of the Ramayana struggles to uphold dharma at the cost of personal desires while Krishna of the Mahabharata struggles to change dharma to accommodate human values. Thus one could say, Rama is more process-oriented while Krishna is more peopleoriented. That only Rama is king while Krishna is only kingmaker, never king, makes one wonder if there is a message here. There is no denying that both people and processes are required for certain and sustained growth. People bring magic to the table: creativity, entrepreneurship, passion. But they also bring disorder: mood swings, power centers, knowledge stasis. Processes, on the other hand, bring logic to the table: predictability, measurability, manageability. But they take away from the organization its ability to cope with change or crisis. One needs both: people and processes, but organizations tend to veer one or the other. Take football for example. The Brazilians prefer the magic of players while the Germans prefer the logic of team work. In cricket, the Pakistan team is a bunch of passionate players while the Australian team tempers its teams passion with clinically precise processes. In the one, you find the great players. In the other, you create a great team out of good players. In the one, individuals shine. In the other, individuals perform roles. In the international market, Indians are seen as poor team players and terrible at following processes. Yet, it is precisely our creativity that make us valuable in the software industry that demands extreme creativity in debugging problems. Unfortunately, the very same software industry, as it grows in size and becomes centers for outsourcing business processes, is increasingly relying on systems and processes and shying away from individual talent. In the words of one techie who was in between surfing and, We are becoming obsolete as companies are becoming more Excel and less PowerPoint.

There is, as always, need for balance. PowerPoint and Excel. That is why in ancient India, the king was given a bow during his coronation. If the bow is too tight, it breaks. If it is too loose, it is useless. Likewise too much of people-power can lead to chaos and too much of process-power can lead to suffocation. The CEO, king of the new business order, has to create that right balance, that perfect organizational bow with passionate people aligned to key business processes, if he wants to shoot the arrow of constant, predictable and sustainable growth.

Most people know that Hindus do not worship the god known as Brahma even though he is created the world. The story goes (one of the less controversial ones though) that he lied about finding the tip of an endless fire pillar. The pillar represented the infinite power of Shiva. Enraged, Shiva cursed Brahma that there would be no place for him in any temple. Brahma begged for mercy and so was allowed to reside in one temple near lake Pushkar in Rajasthan. One might find small shrines of Brahma housed within the great southern temple complexes dedicated to Vishnu. But generally, Brahma is not a very popular god within the Hindu pantheon. So imagine my surprise when I found a very revered and popular temple of Brahma in Bangkok, Thailand. It was a resplendent roadside shrine in an area called Erawan not far from the World Trade Center within the compound of the Grand Hyatt hotel. The golden idol had four heads and four hands, holding a staff, spoons, a rosary, and a book, with a pot on his lap, like a priest ready to perform a yagna. The priest's thread could be clearly seen falling across the chest. The shrine was open so one could see the four heads from all sides. There were four piles of flowers, one before each head. Dozens of locals some looked Thai, some Chinese could be seen praying reverentially before each of the heads before moving on to the next. After four prayers for four heads, they washed their hands and heads with holy water kept in a large silver tub. Around the shrine burnt hundreds of lamps and incense sticks. Flowers and incense sticks were sold around the shrine. On one side, under a pavilion, sat beautiful dancers. When paid money, these girls would sing and dance to traditional music. The local guide said that dancing girls pleased the fourheaded Buddha (Thailand is predominantly Buddhist) as it did all Hindu gods (sic). In the mid-1950's Thailand had been selected to host a grand international conference. The government of the day were concerned that there was not a hotel of a standard to host the delegates. It therefore put out to tender the contract to build The Erawan Hotel, but there were no takers. The government was left with little choice than to build it for themselves. Unfortunately, every stage of the construction was delayed and it seemed as if everything was going wrong. The final straw was the loss of a shipload of Italian Marble that simply never arrived in the Port of Bangkok. The construction workers from up country had an uncanny knack for sensing when something was wron; they refused to work until something was done to appease the guardian spirits of the plot. The Board of

Directors of Thai United Hotel and Tour Co Ltd, the company attempting build the hotel gave Police Major General M.L. Jare Suthat the task of sorting the problem out. He sought of the adviser of an eminent astrologer Real Admiral Luang Suwicharnpat as to what could possibly to done to correct the situation. After detailed studying of his chart and making various calculation he discovered that the foundation stone for the hotel was not laid at an auspicious time. All was not lost, the Real Admiral had found a solution. It would be necessary to construct a shrine to the shrine to the land spirit. It was built in honor of the highest ranking Brahma God the four faced Than Tao Mahaprom (Great God) as it was the most auspicious and would counter the oversight with the foundation stone. The image was designed by Jitr Pimkowit, a handicraft technician at the Fine Arts Department. It was cast in plaster of Paris and gilded with finest quality gold. It was put in it's home on the corner of Rajdamri and Ploenchit Roads on 9th November 1956 the date that is regarded as the anniversary of the shrine and when thousands of faithful believers return to seek help and advice. With the shrine in place the rest of the construction of the hotel was completed without a hitch. The magic worked. Than Tao Mahaprom is believed to be a Brahma god full of kindness, mercy, sympathy and impartiality. Each virtue is represented in the four faces of the image, radiating serene grace. His name for most foreign visitors was to hard to remember let alone pronounce. So with time he became known as the Erawan Shrine, named after his personal vehicle, the three headed Erawan Elephant. This symbol of to be adopted as the logo for the hotel and today is the sub-symbol for Grand Hyatt Erawan Bangkok. People quickly became to realize the power of the Erawan Shrine and it soon became a custom to come to the shrine to ask from something in either your personal or business life that you desperately needed. There is not enough space to accommodate the flow of offering and every couple of hours attendants have to clear what has been given to make space for that which will be delivered. From time to time upcountry hospitals and hotel will seek permission to have one of the large wooden elephant to grace their lobby. This is willingly granted as it known that and elephant that has come from the Erawan Shrine will be treated with great respect and have a garland of golden marigolds placed daily around its neck. Once the wish had been granted believers would return and hire two, four, six or eight dancers who will sing in praise of the shrine a very appreciative thank you. Daily busload of tourists from Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong visit the shrine as part of their tour of the capital to ask for good luck in their business. Believers pray for something they need rather than want. They will ask the spirits to show them how to improve their business or to have a new idea to solve a nagging problem. Beware that the request is not motivated by greed, asking for something that you want rather than need. There is a tale of one lady that needed some help with an important aspect of her personal life. She promised if her wish was granted, she would return and dance naked in the moonlight. She got what she wanted and duly returned. A screen was put up around

the shrine and under the cover of darkness performed the dance, dressed as just as she had been born. Sooner after, tongues wagged. While understanding the lady's wish to repay her debt of honor, it was felt to be lacking in respect for the God to expose oneself to him The practice was immediately discouraged. What excited me as a mythologist about this shrine and the culture that has evolved around it is that this was a classical case of mythopoesis transformation of customs and beliefs over history and geography. Hinduism or rather Brahmanism (the religion of Brahma, according to Thais), like Buddhism, reached Thailand over a thousand years ago when Indian merchants and artisans frequented South East Asia under the patronage of kings who ruled the Coromandel Coast such as the Cholas and the Gangas. This was before an embargo was placed on sea travel in medieval times (travel across the sea led to loss of caste) and the sea trade was handed over to Arabs, and eventually Europeans. Hindu gods reached Thai shores as Indian merchants and artisans settled in the golden lands (Suvarna Bhumi) across the sea. Vishnu became, and still is, the god most favored by royal families while Brahma became the favorite of the priestly class. There was Shiva too; his phallic symbol was worshipped by women seeking children. Over the centuries Hinduism in Thailand evolved autonomously. Some ideas which lost favor in India as temple dancers continued in Thailand. Gods mingled and merged. As a result, Brahma of Bangkok looked to me more like Indra of the Puranas who loved dancing girls, rode elephants, brought rain and good fortune. The two gods who are no longer part of popular Hindu lore in India thrived in the personality of Than Tao Mahaprom. Brahma in Bangkok no longer rode swans (though I did see image s of Brahma on his swan in some shrines). He rode an multi-headed elephant called Erawan (from Airavat). Many scholars debate whether the Hinduism of Thailand is Hinduism at all, or merely a local corrupt version. This stems from the assumption that there is an 'original' Hinduism. What is this 'original' Hinduism? Vedism the religion of the Vedas? Brahmanism the religion that acknowledges caste? Puranism the religion which worships Puranic gods? Bhakti which appeals to the heart in the language of the common man? Is it the 'idolatrous' Hinduism practiced today in Tirupati and Vaishno-devi or is it the 'formless' Hinduism that led to the establishment of Brahmo Samaj, Arya Samaj and Prarthana Samaj in the 19th century? The fact is religions, like everything, change. They respond to history and geography. They also change for and with people. Whatever the belief and custom, it is valid for those who practice it, when they practice it and where they practice it. One has to ponder this in times when politicians equate Islam with bomb carrying terrorists, Hinduism with saffron clad renegades, and Christianity with bible smug missionaries.

She dreamt of an elephant entering her womb, and the next day the queen declared she was pregnant. The child grew up to become the Buddha. In his previous lifetime, so says the Jatakas, the Buddha was Vessantara, prince of Sivi, who had in his stables a magical elephant that drew rain clouds wherever it went. And so, when there was a drought in Kalinga, the king requested that Vessantaras elephant be sent there and draw in the rain. Stories such as these clearly indicate that in India, and in South East Asia, in general, elephants are associated with rain and fertility. In Puri, Orissa, at the height of summer, the presiding deity, Jagannath, is bedecked with a mask of an elephant in the hope that it will serve as a talisman and bring in monsoons sooner. Little wonder then that Indra, king of the gods and god of the sky, is visualized riding an elephant. No ordinary elephant. An elephant with white skin, six trunks and six pairs of tusks called Airavata. Indra rides atop Airavata into battle and hurls his thunderbolt at dark rain-bearing monsoon clouds, visualized as a herd of dark elephants, forcing them to release rain so that the red earth green. Amongst Airavatas many titles are names such as the wandering cloud and the brother of the sun leaving no doubt that Indras white elephant symbolized the white clouds that embellish the sky when the rain clouds have passed. According to the Kurma Purana, when the gods churned the ocean of milk, Airavata was one of the fourteen treasures that emerged. He was the first elephant and was claimed by Indra. Since then elephants have been the symbol of royal power. A medieval text known as Matangalila, the play of elephants, describes Airavatas birth differently. When Brahma broke open the egg of the cosmos, out came flying, Garuda, the sun-bird. From the right half of the shell came eight-bull elephants led by Airavata and from the left half came eight cow-elephants led by Abharamu. These elephants paired up and then one by one they went to the four cardinal and the four ordinal directions and became renowned as the Dig-gajas or the elephant guardians of the eight directions. Every time they trembled the earth shook. These eight elephants, all white, indicating their celestial nature, all came together when the gods churned the ocean of milk to welcome Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth. They raised their trunk and sprayed her with water. This was the Abhishekha ritual the

pouring of water which is indicative of the rain. With rain comes vegetation and with vegetation comes wealth and with wealth comes power. Thus elephant is associated with fertility, wealth and power. It is the favorite animal of Lakshmi. She rides on it and blesses the kings of the earth. In Mauryan times only kings were allowed to own elephants. It was proof of their wealth and power. In temples, one often finds images of lions subduing elephants. The lions are symbols of the king. The elephant represents the earth that the king rules over. She is rich, fertile and submissive. In erotic literature, elephants are symbols of unrestrained raw sexual power. According to the Kama-sutra, an elephant-woman or Hastini is the lustiest of women, crude and vulgar in her carriage. In the Mahabharata, queens such as Draupadi were addressed as Mada-gaja-gamini, women who walk like cow-elephants in rut. The translation does not paint a pretty picture but it basically means a large hipped voluptuous but very graceful woman. The walk of an elephant and the swing of her hips has inspired Indian poets such as Kalidasa for ages. An elephant walks without much sound and it places its feet on earth softly and with great care. In Vishnu Purana, Vishnu rescues, the king of elephants, Gajendra, from the jaws of a crocodile. The king of elephants surrounded by cow-elephants is a metaphor for the sensual delights of the world, the crocodile representing the bondage of materialism. Liberation comes when the elephant (sexual power) raises its trunk and offers a lotus (devotion) to the Lord. In heat or musht, the elephant is unstoppable and extremely dangerous. From here comes colloquial words such as masti or bawdy fun that the youth indulge in. When an elephant is in the peak of its sexual cycle it oozes fluids from its temples. This is called mada from where comes the word madira meaning wine. In Kerala temples, the most prized elephant was a bull elephant whose trunk, tusk and penis touched the ground. Such an elephant represented absolute virility. Such an elephant was reserved for the chief deity of a shrine. In Japan, the elephant-headed deity, Kangiten, is worshipped as a central object of devotion. Kangiten symbolizes conjugal affection, and is thus prayed to by couples hoping for children. Statues of this deity are relatively rare in Japan most are kept hidden from public view and used in secretive rituals. Kangiten statues in Japan clearly reflect the deity's Hindu origins, for in India the deity is known as the elephant-headed Ganesha. In Japan, Kankiten is typically depicted with an elephant's head and human body, or as a pair of two-armed, elephant-headed deities in embrace. Killing elephants is the ultimate feat of manhood. In the Bhagavat Purana, Kamsa dispatches the royal elephant, Kuvalayapida, to trample Krishna. Krishna not only kills the

elephant but wrenches out its tusks as trophies of victory. By killing the elephant, the cowherd declares open revolt against the king. In Tantrik literature, the goddesses often are described as riding elephants or carrying impaled elephants in their hands. This establishes the sexual and violent power of the deities. If elephants represent wealth and power and material grandeur, then they should not matter to ascetics. And they dont. Shiva, the supreme ascetic, is called Gajantaka, he who killed an elephant, flayed it alive and used its thick skin, the Gaja-charma, as a cloak. In many scriptures, the elephant is described as a demon, Gajasura, who terrorizes the world, a metaphor for the dangers of sensual pursuits undoubtedly. Elephants skin cannot be tanned easily. Thus it rots. Shiva by wearing it reinforces his role as one who holds all things material in disdain. The elephants skin is thick and strong. Arrows in a battlefield have little or no effect on it. That is why they were used as moving citadels in ancient warfare, protecting the cavalry and chariots from the rear. They terrified Alexanders army when he reached the borders of India until the Greeks realized that the elephant could be used against the enemy. Just terrorize it so that it runs amuck killing all those it is supposed to protect. In Tibetian Buddhist art one often comes across images of Mahakala standing upon an elephant-headed demon. Scholars believe this is Gajasura, the demon of materialism. Others say the elephant headed demon represents proto-Ganesha for long before Ganesha became the much loved god who removes obstacles he was a much feared god who created obstacles. This tradition still exists in remote Tibet where the elephantheaded deity is feared and needs to be trampled by the lord of time, Mahakala. But as Hinduism evolved in India, the elephant-headed demon destroyed by time became the elephant-headed son created by Shiva. Why did Shiva use an elephants head to resurrect the son autonomously created by his consort, the goddess Shakti? The instruction given to his attendants was: Go north and fetch the head of the first living thing you come across. North is the direction of growth in Vaastu and according to Brahmavaivarta Purana, the creature first seen by Shivas attendants the white Airavata, the mount o f Indra. Clearly, the killer of elephants is creating his son using the ultimate symbol of material splendor. In creating the elephant-headed Ganesha, Shiva stops being the world-renouncing hermit and transforms into Shankara, the world-affirming householder. Thus the elephant brings with it life and growth, wherever it goes. A befitting representative of Gods Own Country.


They were once called the Eskimos. No more. For the word is taken to mean eaters of raw meat and is considered pejorative. Today the Eskimos of Alaska, Canada and Greenland prefer to be called Inuit. The Inuit today follow Christianity. But it is a Christianity that is adapted to their own cultural worldview that has continued without interruption, unlike Greek or Egyptian mythologies, from the distant past up to and including the present time. What is significant about this worldview is that there is no God, no great divine mother and divine father figures. There are no powerful and mischievous nature gods who control the wind or the sun or the sea. gods and solar creators. There is no concept of Heaven or Hell, no retribution, redemption or hereafter. For centuries, Inuit believed that all things had a form of spirit or soul (in Inuktitut: anirniq breath; plural anirniit ), just like humans. These spirits were held to persist after death. However, the belief in the pervasiveness of spirits the root of Inuit myth structure has consequences. According to a customary Inuit saying "The great peril of our existence lies in the fact that our diet consists entirely of souls." Once the anirniq of the dead animal or human is liberated, it is free to take revenge. The spirit of the dead can only be placated by obedience to custom, avoiding taboos, and performing the right rituals. The principal role of the shaman in Inuit society was to advise and remind people of the rituals and taboos they needed to obey to placate the spirits, since he was held to be able to see and contact them. Since the arrival of Christianity among the Inuit, anirniq has become the accepted word for a soul in the Christian sense. This is the root word for a number of other Christian terms: anirnisiaq means angel and God is rendered as anirnialuk the great spirit. Some spirits were by nature unconnected to physical bodies. These figures were called tuurngait (singular tuurngaq) and were regarded as evil and monstrous, responsible for bad hunts and broken tools. They could also possess humans Shamans could fight or exorcise them, or they could be held at bay by rituals; but they could also be caught and enslaved by shamans, who could then turn them against free tuurngait. Tuurngaq has, with Christianisation, taken on the additional meaning of demon in the Christian belief system.

In this Inuit world, one name recurs time and again. That of Sedna. She lives in and rules over Adlivun, the Inuit underworld. Sedna is also known as Arnakuagsak or Arnarquagssaq (Greenland) and Nerrivik or Nuliajuk (Alaska). She was a beautiful young woman whose father, a widower, was constantly trying to marry her off, but she would have none of it. She kept rejecting her numerous suitors. One fateful day a sea bird promised to take her away to his comfortable, luxurious home. The impulsive young girl eloped with the bird but the comfortable, luxurious home turned out to be a filthy, smelly nest. And, to make matters worse, her new husband treated her like a slave. Sedna begged her father to come and take her back home, and he agreed. But as they were heading across the waters, a flock of sea birds surrounded the boat. The incessant flapping of their wings caused a tremendous storm to arise and their small vessel was being tossed from side to side. Fearing for his own safety, Sedna's father threw her into the ocean to appease the angry birds. When Sedna tried to climb back into the boat, he cut off her fingers. As she struggled to use her mutilated hands to try again, he cut off her hands and threw her and her appendages into the water. As she sank to the bottom of the ocean, her dismembered limbs grew into fish, seals, whales, and all of the other sea mammals. Not all legends consider her an innocent victim. Some say she deserved her fate as punishment for greed. She is said to have been so huge and hungry that she ate everything in her parents' home, and even gnawed off one of her father's arms as he slept. But all tales agree that she descended into the depths of the ocean and became the Goddess of Sea Creatures. As such she became a vital deity, eagerly worshipped by hunters who depended on her goodwill to supply food. To ensure that she continues to feed the people, shamans must descend through many horrifying places to reach Sedna and soothe her. The route is dangerous and terrifying. The shamans have to pass through countless dead souls, an abyss where an icy wheel turns slowly and perpetually, then past a cauldron full of boiling seals, and finally past the horrible dog that guards the knife-thin passageway into her home. When shaman visit her, they massage Sedna's aching limbs and comb her hair. Only when she is properly comforted will Sedna permit the shaman to return to the people and inform them that she will send the animals to be hunted so that they will not face starvation. Sedna is the Mistress of Life and Death to the Inuit people because it is she who provides for them. If she is not respected she begins to feel her hands sear with pain and, in her misery, sends sickness, storms, and starvation to punish the humans. Only when someone is willing to brave the voyage to her home and assuage her pain will she let the animals return to be hunted. But when people treat her with respect and concern, they receive her blessings.

Sedna now lives on in the sky. In 2003 astronomers discovered a heretofore unknown planet in the farthest reaches of our solar system. In a deviation from the custom of naming celestial bodies after characters from Greek and Roman mythology, the name chosen for this newcomer was Sedna, after the Inuit goddess of the Sea.


In Irish myths, the fictional history of Ireland can be divided into three periods. The Mythological Cycle or the Book of Invasions, comprised of successive settlements of early Celtic people on Ireland, particularly the Tuatha D Danann and the Milesians.The other two cycles were supposed to be set at a later time. The Ulaid Cycle deal with the reigns of Conchobor of Ulaid and Medb of Connacht, particularly the warriors of the Red Branch and its greatest hero, Cuchulainn. The Fenian Cycle, supposed to have set in a more peaceful time of the reign of Cormac the Airt, particularly the warriors of Fianna and its greatest hero, Finn Mac Cumhaill. According to the Book of Invasions, translated by the Catholic Monks in medieval times, Cesair, daughter of Bith and granddaughter of Noah, was the leader of the first invasion in Ireland. She was denied admission to the Ark, so she left 40 days before the Flood arrived with 50 other women, and three men. The three men were to divide the women among them and were expected to populate the land. Unfortunatley, two of the men died. When the fifty women all turned their attention to Fintan, he saw that they were placing too much responsibility to him, so he fled from Ireland, by turning himself into a salmon. Cesair died from a broken heart. Without a single man on the isle, the other women also perished. The Partholanians were the second group of Celtic people who settled in Ireland, the first to arrive after the biblical Flood. Their leader, one Partholan, had fled from Greece, after murdering his own father and mother. Accompanied with his wife Dealgnaid and a group of followers, they reached Ireland, after wandering for seven years.However, Partholon died 30 years after his arrival. The rest of the Partholonians died 120 years later from pestilence. The only survivor of the plague was Tuan, a nephew of Partholon. Tuan witnessed the arrival of Nemed and his followers, known as the Nemedians, thirty years after the last Partholonian, not counting Tuan. Tuan kept himself hidden from the Nemedians. When Nemedians were gone from Ireland, Tuan still lived, for many generations. Tuan survived because he was transformed into various animal shapes. First as a stag, then as a boar and later as an eagle. In each form, he witnessed successive early invaders of Ireland. When he was transformed into a salmon, he was caught one-

day, and eaten by the wife of Cairill, who immediately fell pregnant as the result of her meal. She gave birth to a son, who was named Tuan mac Cairill. It was this reborn Tuan, who was said to have the written a book about the early history of Ireland. The Fomorians were race of strange beings, probably nothing more than pirates or raiders, since they never settled in Ireland, and never considered to be Celtic people (Irish). They were ugly, misshapen giants, who were cruel, violent and oppressive. They came into conflict with many of the early Irish settlers. The next group to arrive in Ireland was the Firbolgs, who were actually descendants of the Nemedians, who fled Ireland from both the war against the Fomorians and the plague that ravaged their population. Semion, great-great-grandson of Nemed had brought his followers to Greece, where unfortunately they suffered from slavery and oppression at the hands of their Greek masters. The next people to arrive in Erin (Ireland), was the Tuatha D Danann or the Children of the goddess Danu, under the leadership of Nuad, son of the goddess. They would later become regarded as Celtic deities by the pagan Irish, and as fairies to the Christians. Like the Firbolgs, they were descedants of Nemedians. The Danann were learned in all sorts of arts and crafts, philosophy and medicine, music and warfare, science and magic. They were scholars, bards, druids, craftsmen, and warriors. They won the First Battle of Moytura against the Firbolgs, because of their technological superior weapons and magic. At first, the Fomorians were their allies, but later became their deadly enemy. Under the leadership of Lugh, the Dananns also defeated the Fomorians in the Second Battle of Moytura. Ireland enjoyed a long period of peace and prosperity. Lugh Lamfada seemed to rule the Tuatha D Danann, after the battle and Nuada's death. After the Milesians defeated the Dananns, the Dananns either retreated to the Land of Youth or they continued to lived on the land with the Milesians, but their homes (subterranean palaces) were hidden by magic from the eyes of mortals. Their homes were commonly called Sidhe or the Otherworld. In the Otherworld, the Danann remained young and seemingly immortal. Immortal in the sense, they can live a very long life and remain young, but they can be kill and destroy, just like any mortal. There were frequent visits of the Dananns with the mortals. Sometimes they aided mortals, while other times they seek their destruction. Sometimes they sought marriage with mortals. Most of the times, the Dananns would come to the surface and meet their lovers, other times the mortals were allowed to live with them. In the Ulster Cycle, the Tuatha D Danann was still seen as Celtic deities. However, in the Fenian Cycle, the Dananns had degenerated into nothing more then fey people; in another words, the Dananns became the "Fairy People".

Cuchulainn, the greatest of Celtic heroes the Ulster Cycle endowed with superhuman qualities, was the son of Lugh, the sun god, leader of the Danann. His name means 'The Hound of Culainn', but he was first called Setanta. At the age of five he left home to join the Red Branch Knights, the Ulster army of the king Conor Mac Nessa. With him he took his hurley, his silver ball, his javelin and his spear. He would hit the silver ball with the hurley, leap forward and hit it a second time before it touched the ground, toss the javelin ahead and then the spear, run after them all, catch the ball and javelin with one hand and the spear with the other. Cuchulainn achieved his name at the age of seven when he killed the watch dog of Ulster belonging to Culainn', the smith and in return undertook to protect the kingdom of Ulster and its people himself. Cuchulainn became the leader of the Red Branch Knights. In battle, he was transformed by a 'Battle Fury' which looked like this: From head to toe, his whole body trembled like a bullrush in a river torrent. His body turned right around inside his skin so that his heels, calves and hams appeared in front. One of his eyes drew right back in his head, the other stood out huge and red on his cheek. His mouth was distorted, twisted up to his ears so you could see his throat and a man's head would fit into it. His hair stood up on his head like hawthorn, and there was a drop of blood on every single hair. The light of the Champion stood out of his forehead as long and thick as a warrior's whetstone and from the top of his head rose a thick column of dark blood like the mast of a huge ship. When this happened the only way he could be calmed down was by being ducked three times in cold water. During his lifetime he made a number of enemies, and one of these Queen Maeve of Connaught brought about his downfall. The Queen learnt of a great Brown Bull in Cooley, County Louth. The chieftan of Louth refused to let Maeve have his bull, so she resolved to get it by force. Secretly she promised her beautiful daughter in marriage to every leader in her army and so secured the help of every warrior outside Ulster. The army marched to Kells, on the Ulster border and pitched camp. Maeve sought an interview with the Ulsterman and, amazed to find him a mere boy, offered him gold and great rewards if he would desist. Cuchulainn refused, but Maeve secured his agreement to fight one of her heroes each day at the ford that lay between, reckoning t hat this was better than losing one hundred every night to Cuchulainn's sling. Day after day Cuchulainn fought Maeve's warriors, overcoming Morrigu, the water goddess, during his fight with the hero Loich who he still managed to wound mortally. After more such combats and deceitful ploys by Maeve, Cuchulainn mounted his war chariot and hurled himself against the men of Erin. Maeve with her forces sorely depleted, resorted once again to single combat. She finally forced Cchulainn's foster brother Ferdia to face the Ulsterman, by threatening him with the spells of her Druids. After a great fight in which Ferdia almost proved almost a match for him, Cuchulainn

badly wounded, emerged as the tragic victor. While he recoverd from his wounds, the men of Ulster began to collect themselves, and the two armies faced each other on the plains of Meath. while this great battle was raging Maeve managed to capture the Brown Bull of Cooley, which she sent back to Connaught under escort. Eventually, through the intervention of Cuchulainn the Ulster army defeated Maeve's followers and they fled back to Cruachan, from whence they had originally set out. Cuchulainn lived on after his incredible feats of prowess, but not for long. Maeve, having bided her time, once again brought an army together to seek revenge. She had no trouble in assembling a a great number of warriors because there was scarcely one who had not a relative slain by the Ulster hero. But it was only by magic that Cuchulainn was eventually pierced by his own spear. With great difficlulty, holding in his entrails, Cuchulainn tied himself to a high stone by a lake, because as a Gaelic hero 'he did not wish to die either sitting or lying: it was standing that he wished to meet his death'. His faithful horse protected him as he died, and it was only when a raven alighted on his shoulder that his enemies knew he was dead. The image of Cchulainn is invoked by both Irish nationalists and Ulster unionists, in murals, poetry, literature and other art forms. Irish nationalists see him as the most important Celtic Irish hero, and thus he is important to their whole culture. A sculpture of the dying Cchulainn by Oliver Sheppard stands in the Dublin GPO in commemoration of the Easter Rising of 1916. By contrast, unionists see him as an Ulsterman defending the province from enemies to the south: for example, a mural on the Newtownards Road in East Belfast, ironically based on the Sheppard sculpture, depicts him as a "defender of Ulster from Irish attacks".


This school is sometimes called the Atlantis school. It rejects what traditional history has to say about prehistory; that after the Ice Age man moved from being a cave-dwelling hunter-gatherer to a settled agriculturist or nomadic herdsman, and then to a city dweller, an empire builder, and finally a scientist. It postulates that the Ice Age marks the end of a great civilization known to the Greeks as Atlantis. When scriptures talk of a Golden Age they refer not to an imagined utopia but a real period in human history whose memory remains only in myth. The people of this civilization were mathematicians, and hence scientists. They applied their knowledge to the stars, to buildings, and to technology to create a highly evolved culture. They knew how to harness the forces of nature using telepathy, crystals, and sound. The exact science is forgotten but remnants remain in astrology, numerology, and geomancy. In present times these subjects are deemed occult; most people do not realize that these subjects were once sciences. In Hindu scriptures, there is repeated mention of Rishis who knew the secrets of the Veda and who transmitted it orally to worthy students. The antediluvian school believes the Rishis were the keepers of Atlantian wisdom. Stories such as the following have caused many to speculate that ancient Hindu Rishis knew the art of in vitro fertilization. The sage Vyasa had blessed Gandhari that she would bear a hundred sons. Unfortunately, Gandhari gave birth to a ball of flesh, as hard and cold as metal, after two years of pregnancy. Distraught, she approached Vyasa, who asked Gandhari to cut the ball of flesh into a hundred pieces and place each piece in jar of clarified butter. Vyasa then chanted hymns and blessed the pots. Nine months later the pots were broken. In each pot there was a male child. Thus the hundred sons of Gandhari, the Kauravas, were born. The following story from the Mahabharata is taken as evidence that the ancients knew ballistic and probably even nuclear technology. The war was over. The Pandavas had won, having killed all the Kauravas. Only three warriors in the enemy army had survived. One of them was Ashwathama. Determined to avenge the Kaurava defeat he raised his bow, chanted a dreaded formula, transformed

his arrow into the Brahmastra missile, and let it go. Arjuna, the Pandava archer, saw the missile approach and let loose a similar missile to counter Ashwathamas attack. Stop, cried Vyasa, grandfather of the Pandavas and Kauravas. Reverse the formula, recall the missile; otherwise the collision will destroy all life. The world will crumble, forests will burn, seas will dry up, and nothing will remain. Arjuna did as he was advised. Ashwathama did not know how to recall his missile so he directed it toward the womb of Uttara to kill her unborn child. Krishna came to the rescue of the fetus: He entered Uttaras womb, countered the missile, saved the unborn child, came out, and cursed the dastardly Ashwathama that he would live forever, his body covered with sores and ulcers that would never heal. The science-fiction school is an offshoot of the antediluvian school. Here the wisdom of Atlantis is perceived as a gift of extraterrestrial beings who visited earth on spaceships. Followers of this school believe that only this extraordinary event can explain the existence of grand and mysterious structures like the pyramids of Egypt and South America, Earth images on the Nazca plateau in the Andes that can only be seen aerially, the Serpent Mound in North America, and Stonehenge in England. To these believers tales of cities in the sky are not fantasy but ancient records of spaceships. The following story from the Shiva Purana is thus viewed as a great war between missile-shooting Atlantians and spaceship-riding extraterrestrials. Three asuras secured the boon to build three aerial cities that could only be destroyed by a single arrow. When these cities of gold, silver, and iron were built the asuras roamed across every plane of existence, causing mayhem wherever they went. The devas went to Shiva, who said that the asuras were invulnerable until they respected the Veda. So Vishnu entered the city as the wily sage Mayamoha Buddha and deluded them with his logic until they abandoned the Veda. Then Shiva prepared himself, for the earth was his chariot, the sun and moon served as its wheels, the Veda were its horses, and Brahma was its charioteer. Mount Meru was his bow, Ananta Sesha was his bowstring, and Vishnu himself was his arrow. Shiva chased the cities for a thousand years, waiting for them to align themselves in a single line. This happened for just a moment, and Shiva fired a missile that ripped through the three cities and destroyed them in an instant. The cries of the asuras filled the three worlds as the aerial cities tumbled down. Shiva wept when he heard their cry, for the asuras were his devotees. Such was his wailing, more heart wrenching than his war cry, that he came to be known as Rudra, the howler. From his tears came the Rudraksha beads that are sacred to every devotee of Shiva. Shiva also smeared his forehead with three horizontal lines of ash to remind all of this terrible event. The Srimad Bhagavata which retells the story of Krishna also narrates the tell of how Shalva attacked the city of Dwarka with what appears to be a flying saucer.

On learning of Shishupalas death, his friend, Salva, invoked Shiva and secured from him a flying saucer, a vimana that could travel anywhere in the world, in air, on the ground, under the sea. Using this vimana, Salva launched an attack on Dwaraka determined to avenge his friends death. Both Krishna and Balarama were in Indraprastha attending Yudhishtiras coronation when this happened. So the defence of the city was left to the other Yadavas. Dwaraka was pounded by missiles from the skies. Krishnas sons and grandsons but up a brave fight but were no match for Salva. When news of the aerial attack on Dwaraka reached Krishna, he hurried home and entered the battlefield immediately. First he shot an arrow with the Sharanga bow and brought Salvas vimana down as if it was a bird. He then hurled the Kaumodaki mace and smashed the vimana to dust. Then raising the Nandaka sword, he beheaded Salva. The Yadavas were jubilant in victory. Even the Ramayana talks about a flying chariot called pushpaka-vimana. To many the account of this chariot is not poetic imagination but historical evidence that airplanes existed in Vedic times. The chariot belonged to the yaksha-king Kubera. Ravana took it by force after driving Kubera out of Lanka. Ravana used the chariot to abduct Sita. After killing Ravana and rescuing Sita, Rama returned to the city of Ayodhya on this flying chariot. There are those who believe that these great scientific abilities of the ancient world, which included knowledge of flight, are historical facts. Others who believe that these are purely flights of poetic fancy. One hopes that one day the truth will be out. Till then we have great tales to spice up that boring thing called life.

When Ramanand Sagar made his Ramayan, he had loud music to mask a particular dialogue between Sita and Laxman, perhaps because he did not want to court controversy. The episode is fairly well known yet few people like to talk about it. It happens in the forest in the final year of Rams 14-year exile. Sita is so smitten by golden deer it that she begs her husband, Ram, to get it for her. After a long chase, Ram manages to shoot it down only to discover that it is no deer but a shape shifting demon who before dying mimics Rams voice and shouts, Help Sita! Help Laxman! Hearing this cry, Sita begs Laxman to go to Rams rescue. Laxman refuses since his brother had ordered him to protect Sita and not leave her side under any circumstances. Annoyed by his reticence, Sita says, .You wish his death in order to secure me. It is clear to me that just for me you have refrained from going to your brother These are the exact words of Makhan Lal Sen who translated the Ramayana of Valmiki in 1927. Even as he translated these lines, Makhan Lal Sen was so embarrassed that he added the following footnote: Sita was no doubt mad with anxiety and there was every justification for her fears for Ram yet such a base insinuation against a brother like Laxman who had renounced his happiness and future and followed Ram like a devoted servant is at least unworthy of Sita, if not anything else. Dramatic necessity for this tragic fate was indeed imperative and the poet found it hard to make Laxman disobey Rams injunctions unless there were such cruel imputations which sets Sitas anxiety for Ram and Laxmans sense of honor in juxtaposition. Laxman responds to the accusation with horror and to prove Sita wrong goes in search of Ram, leaving Sita unguarded. Shortly thereafter Sita is abducted by Ravan, the demonking of Lanka. One cant help but wonder if this is the poets attempt to make her, rather than any oversight on the part of the brothers, responsible for her abduction. If only she had some faith in Laxman If only she had not let her anxiety churn out such vile accusations Later in the epic, as Ram searches for Sita a troop of monkeys show him jewels that they found on the forest floor. Ram recognizes these jewels as those belonging to Sita. Laxman looks at them but recognizes only the anklets. He says, I do not know her bracelets or earrings; every day I bowed to her feet and so I know her anklets. This is

clearly an exaggerated attempt by the poet to drive home Laxmans chaste relationship with his sister-in-law. He never even looked at her! Implicit in these two episodes is the acknowledgement that sexual desires often transgress the laws of matrimony. In an ideal society sexual desire should exist only between a lawfully wedded man and his lawfully wedded wife. But no society is ideal and so desires often transgress marital law. The man looks at other women beside his wife and the woman looks at other men beside her husband. Sometimes, the line is crossed. Different societies have responded to this transgression in different ways. In the Ramayan, to prove that Sita did not even think of another man beside Ram, she is asked to walk through fire. The flames do not touch her because she is pure. A pure woman, a chaste woman, a woman who desires no one else but her husband is known as a Sati in the Hindu mythological world. This Sati is supposed to have magical powers, which includes her ability to withstand the heat of fire. This mythic idea of Sati who is never affected by fire gave rise to the dreadful practice of Sati, where a woman was expected to jump into her husbands funeral pyre. If she was pure the fire would kill her without hurting her. And if she is impure, she would get the punishment she deserved. Thus was the practice justified. In the Ramayan of Valmiki, neither the widows of Rams father nor the widows of the demon-king Ravan, kill themselves on their husbands funeral pyre, suggesting it to be later practice. The Mahabharat, however, does refers to this practice several times. Pandus wife, Madri, and many of Krishnas wife do become Sati. A womans chastity was clearly an issue for Valmiki. Earlier in the epic, we are introduced to Ahilya, wife of sage Gautama, who is turned to stone for having sexual relations with Indra, king of the gods. Later versions are divided on Ahilyas innocence. Some versions claim she knew what she was doing while others claim she was innocent as Indra had taken the form of her husband. Either way, she is turned to stone until pure Ram touches her. Ram is the only hero in Hindu mythology who is given the title of ekam-patni-vrata, one who was faithful to one wife. He desired no one but her. Despite the many proof of Laxmans chastity, he is not given this title. And this makes one wonder. In the forest, before Sitas abduction, before the golden deer, Ravans sister, Surpanakha, approaches Ram and rather boldly declares that she desires him. He refuses on grounds that he is married but offers Laxman instead because he is alone in the forest. Scholars argue if this was done seriously or in jest. In jest, perhaps, because Laxman did have a wife called Urmila who he had left behind in the palace as he followed Ram. Curiously, Ravans wife, Mandodari, is considered a Sati, a holy woman, who remained chaste despite her demon-husbands many shortcomings. In one folk version of the epic, one of Ravans chaste wife (Mandodari?) does looks upon Hanuman and as a result

Ravan is no longer protected by the power of her chastity. This enables Ram to kill Ravan. Stories such as these are meant to inform society that a womans chastity is necessary to prevent her widowhood. This mythic idea was, and continues to be, a powerful tool to control womens desires. In the Mahabharat, there are many episodes where a woman co-habits with her husbands brothers, sometimes for progeny and sometimes out of lust. When Vichitravirya dies, his mother asks his step-brother, Bhism, to go to Vichitraviryas widows and give them children. When Bhism refuses, she sends for her eldest son, Vyas, born before marriage and asks him to do the needful. This practice of letting a brother go to the childless wife was known as niyog. Another episode relates to Brihaspati forcing himself on his sister-in-law, Mamata. She rejects him not on moral grounds but on grounds that she is already pregnant! Unable to contain his lust, Brihaspati sheds his semen outside her body and thus is born Vitatha, an unwanted child, who curses Mamata that the child in her womb because of whom she rejected him will be born blind. Then of course there is Draupadi who is shared between the five Pandav brothers and not wanting to making anyone jealous goes to each brother one year at a time, passing through fire to purify herself when the one year is over so she is a virgin for the next husband. In Punjab there is a folktale that the Pandav brothers were expected to leave their footwear outside Draupadis bedchamber to indicate their presence inside. Once a dog stole Yudhishtiras footwear and Arjun entered the bedroom embarrassing his wife and his brother. A furious Draupadi cursed the dog that henceforth he would copulate it public and be shamed before the world. A reading of the Mahabharat suggests that the institution of marriage and the value given to fidelity went through many changes. There is reference to a time before Svetaketu when men and women went to each other freely and marriage existed only to formalize fatherhood. Then came a time when a woman who entered the household was shared between brothers as suggested in the tales of Jatila and Draupadi. The story of Oghavati and Sudarshan suggests that there was even a time when a husband shared his wife with a guest. Then came a time when great value was given to the chastity of women perhaps to confirm paternity. At first she was allowed to have many lovers, then only four for the sake of children as in the tale of Kunti, and then finally one. Men were allowed to take many wives and many mistresses. But in an ideal society, personified by Ram, and elaborated in the Ramayan, even men were supposed to be as chaste as their wives. One man for one woman. Husband and wife. Perfect conjugal harmony. Ramayan is about how men and women should be. It is about ideal fathers, sons, wives and brothers. Ram and his brothers are contrasted with other characters in the epic such as the monkey-king, Vali, and the demon-king, Ravan. Vali forcibly claims his brother Sugrivas wife, Rama, and refuses to share the kingdom, against the express wish of their

father. Ravan forcibly lays claim to Kubers Lanka and then rapes Kubers daughter-inlaw, Rambha, wife of Nalkuber. Rams brothers, on the other hand, refuse to take his kingdom. They do not even look at his wife lest they be struck by desire. They are good boys. The way Valmiki felt Hindu men should be. Are they listening?

Visualize this. A slave in Egypt in 1500 BCE (Before Common Era, formerly known as BC or before the birth of Christ). He hears a man, once a prince, now an outlaw, declare that God has instructed him to take all the slaves to a Promised Land which where they can be free. He watches this man do powerful things draw swarms of locusts and predict deadly plagues. Everyone around him is impressed. They start believing in what is being said: the man is the chosen by God to be their deliverer. Slowly, the slave lets himself dream of a Promised Land. Finally, he decides to follow the chosen one, out of familiar slavery to an unfamiliar future that holds the promise of freedom. The man he followed is known to us as Moses. And out of his vision was born the nation of Israel that till today forms the cornerstone of Jewish belief. Now visualize this. A bonded labourer in India 1930 CE (Common Era, formerly known as AD or since the birth of Christ). He hears a man, an educated householder who looks like an ascetic, telling him to fight oppression not with violence but with the sheer belief in the truth. He watches this frail old man do powerful things shake the mighty British Raj by simply picking up salt, anger the white sahibs by simply wearing white cotton cloth spun by himself. Everyone around him is impressed. They start believing in what is being said: it is possible to change the world by having faith in the truth. Perhaps this man is what they say he is, a Mahatma, a great soul. Slowly, the bonded labourer lets himself dream of freedom. He decides to follow the ascetic. Walk with him, fast with him, follow him till the British are driven out and a new nation state is born, India, where there is hope of freedom for the smallest and simplest of men. Both these are stories of leaders. Moses and Gandhi. One comes from a religious tradition and the other from a political tradition. One draws strength from God, the other from truth. Both are able to communicate their vision to the people so effectively that soon they have hordes of followers. But is the vision real? In hindsight, it is. The followers of Moses did find the Promised Land and the followers of Gandhi did free India. But when it was being communicated, it was just a vision, a dream, a dream the leader first

believed in, and which, eventually, the followers believed in too. This belief made the vision real. In other words belief transformed the vision into a subjective truth: a truth that had no evidence but was very real for both the leader and the follower, defining and driving them in life. This subjective truth, this believed vision, is called a myth. Every culture, every organization, every community is bound together by a myth, which seems absurd, even false, to the outsiders. The myth emerges from the mouth of an individual. And when successfully transmitted (even though not realized) transforms the individual into a leader. If not transmitted, you remain a dreamer, possibly even a lunatic. If you believe you are a leader, what is your myth? What is your subjective truth that defines and drives you? What is it that defines and drives your organization? What is your Promised Land? Leaders have to create something out of nothing. They have to take people from the known to the unknown. But to do so they need something that will generate belief in themselves and their vision. It is not easy motivating a person out of his comfort zone. Slaves get so used to slavery that they do not want freedom, especially when there is no guarantee. People are usually cynical. Bonded labourers know that there is no freedom from bondage only the master changes, once he was brown then he became white. To shatter complacency and cynicism, to generate fire in the belly, leaders need a powerful force that makes people want to follow them. Leaders need myth. Myth unfortunately is not a positive word. Conventionally, it is taken to mean falsehood. But actually it means something that is not logical. If an idea was logical, everyone would have done it. Leaders exist because they can see things beyond logic. They change the prevalent paradigm and create new parameters of perfection and possibility. They shake things up. They make people sit up and take notice. Leaders need a myth just as magicians need a magic wand. Myth is the philosophers stone which can turn lead into gold. But myth is intangible. To make myth tangible one needs stories, symbols and rituals, which become the mythology of the myth, the vehicle of the idea. Moses, for example, established the practice of circumcision amongst his followers. This was meant to distinguish his followers from other people. It was done to establish the covenant with God. To make a man, above the ordinary one of the chosen tribe. It gave the slave in Egypt dignity, a belief that he mattered, that he had a direct connection with God. Gandhi used to the symbol of salt to establish his political ideology. He knew that salt had a close association with truth across India. The concept of namak-haram (betrayed by one who has eaten my salt) and namak-halal (loyalty of one who had eaten my salt) was popular amongst Hindus and Muslims. It is a matter of debate whether Moses or Gandhi used these rituals and symbols strategically or intuitively. But the fact is in either case, the ritual and the symbol drove home the leaders vision. What is the story, symbol and ritual that drives your myth? Do you have a mythology that embodies your vision?

Next time you look at a mission statement or a vision statement, observe how unrealistic and idealistic it all sounds. There is the constant use of superlatives. There is this deep desire to change the way people think and behave. It is almost like the construction of Arthurs Camelot. A place of perfection. Now imagine a world without such statements. And you will realize the power of myth.

Case studies appeal to the rational side of the mind. But the mind has another side, the intuitive side, which is informed by various emotive, metaphysical, cultural and personal truths. This side rapidly understands concepts presented through mythology. Mythology is a little exploited teaching tool. An inherited body of knowledge, transmitted over generations, it contains ideas that connects with individuals at a deep subliminal level. Take the mythic idea of Vishnu as leader, for example, which unravels the traditional notion of leadership. In Hindu mythology, God creates, sustains, and destroys the world as Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. Of these three only Vishnu is visualized as a king or raja, which is the traditional equivalent of a leader. Shiva is visualized as an ash-smeared ascetic while Brahma is a priest or teacher. Most books shy away from narrating the story of Brahma. Yet it is found, in some form or the other, in each and every sacred Hindu chronicle known as Puranas. Brahma is the first conscious being to emerge when the world awakens. He wonders who he is. And to answer this question, he concludes he must distinguish himself from what he is not. And so he creates the other, which takes the form of a woman, a goddess called Shatarupa or she-with-a-thousand-forms. Brahma is so enchanted by this woman, who is his creation, hence his daughter, that he forgets why he created her in the first place and proceeds to possess her. She gives him the slip, changing into a mare, a cow, a doe and other creatures as she runs. He follows her, changing accordingly, taking the complementary male form each time as horse, bull and stag. Disgusted by this unbridled display of passion, the goddess cries out and Shiva appears. With one sweep of the sword, he cuts Brahmas head. Shiva, the skull-bearer of Brahma, or Kapalika, is the other extreme. He shuts his eyes and refuses to see the goddess, let alone be enchanted by her. He knows who he is and so does not need the other. In his self-containment, he withdraws from the goddess and becomes still. Such is his withdrawal that even his semen moves in the reverse direction. This urdhva-retas or reverse flow of semen ignites the spiritual fire known as tapa which

generates heat. All this heat remains trapped within Shivas body and so the landscape around him turns icy cold and desolate, supporting no life. Brahmas curiosity makes him creator. Shivas indifference makes him destroyer. Neither is worthy of being visualized as king or leader. Because a leader needs to have balance, a bit of both. Brahma, though creator, is not even worshipped because he is so attached to the world he has created that he forgets why he created it. He ends up identifying himself with it, becoming horse, bull and stag when she is mare, cow and doe. There are many Brahmas in the corporate world, who have lost all sense of self, and derive their identities from their organization/job. They are unable to step back and view the organization/job dispassionately as their own creation, a source of wealth, knowledge and power, a tool that enables them to self-actualize and eventually self-realize. This dependence on the organization/job for their identity makes them insecure and fragile. They spend all their time reinforcing their stranglehold, keeping away potential contenders to the throne. Eventually, they stop caring about the organization/job. What matters only is their control over it. Then there are the Shivas of the corporate world totally disengaged and disinterested in their roles, organizations and jobs. Their self-worth and self-esteem is not tied to the organization. Extremely intelligent, extremely capable, they dont see the point of it all and often become cynical and withdraw from the rat race in the quest for something higher. They often become are angry with mediocrity, but see no point in doing something about it. They understand so much that it immobilizes them. They pity all those who are entrapped by the system and help everyone the saints as well as the crooks, much like Bholenath Shiva who in his transcendental wisdom knows that what goes around comes around and so allows himself to be hoodwinked by Asuras and Rakshasas, the demons of the trade. Between Brahma and Shiva is Vishnu, full of guile and smiles. Unlike Brahma, he is not attached to the organization. Unlike Shiva, he is not disengaged from it. Like Brahma, he creates. Like Shiva, he also destroys. Thus he creates balance, harmony. A true leader who is wise enough to distinguish god from demon, fighting for the gods but knowing their frailties and defeating the demons but knowing their value. In the Hindu pantheon, gods or Devas harvest the earths wealth and distribute it and enjoy it. But only the demons or Asuras, know to regenerate wealth, for they possess Sanjivani Vidya. Vishnu therefore uses Devas and Asuras, wealth distributors and wealth generators, to churn the ocean of possibility to create Amrita, sustainable wealth. And whenever there is a crisis in the world, Vishnu takes a different form, an avatar, either as Ram or Krishna, to set things right. All the while, as he re-establishes order, he knows that eventually the world/organization/job will reach its eventual climax and die. Either he will outgrow the organization/job and leave. Or the organization/job will cease to relevant. Till the parting,

without a shred of cynicism or frustration, he will remain an enthusiastic participant in worldly affairs. This clearly is the model of a leader the ancestors thought of a mixture of heart and head, engaged but not attached, constantly aware of the big picture. While the mythology of Vishnu as leader may open new windows of thoughts to many Indians, its appeal will be restricted to people who share or are at least are familiar with the Hindu cultural context. A Chinese or an American or a European will not be able to make as much sense of it. But what mythology as a learning tool lacks in width, it more than makes up in depth, appealing to the very soul of India Inc.


Hindu gods are distinguished from each other by the symbols they carry. Shiva, the ascetic, for example, is identified by his trident and rattle drum. Brahma, the priest-teacher, is identified by his books, rosary and pot. Vishnu, the leader-king, is identified with four symbols: conch-shell trumpet or shankh, discus whirring around his index finger or chakra, a mace or gada and a lotus or padma. Come to think of it a good leader also has only four tools to get his work done. His very own shankh, chakra, gada and padma. Only, one does not identify his tools using mythological vocabulary. Vishnus shankh or conch-shell trumpet is blown to announce his presence on a battlefield. In Vedic times, this instrument was used by commander to rally their troops. Warriors also used this to demonstrate their stamina before their enemies for blowing a conch-shell trumpet was a measure of lung-power and mind control. Every warrior in the Mahabharat from Krishna to Arjun had his very own conch-shell. One can view the conch-shell as an instrument of COMMUNICATION. The first rule of leadership is to be an effective communicator. Your team must know who you are, what your capabilities are, what your vision is and what you expect them to do, and why, and how this will help in achieving your final objective. Your competition also needs to know that you are powerful and they must avoid confrontation. Unless you communicate, nobody is aware of your presence. Blowing your own trumpet and getting your thoughts across is necessary if anything needs to get done. Vishnus chakra or discus which whirs round his index finger is both a weapon as well as a symbol of life that Vishnu sustains. As a weapon, it strikes a target, trims the unwanted and undesirable elements like an electric saw and returns to Vishnus finger like a boomerang. As a symbol of life, it indicates time (what goes around comes around in this life or the next) and space (the circular horizon of our worldview). One can view the chakra as a symbol of REVIEW. A good leaders job does not end with communicating what he desires and what he expects from his team. He reviews their progress regularly

by organizing daily meetings, weekly meetings, monthly meetings. In these meetings, he checks what has been done and what has not been done. He ensures that the team has not drifted from the goal. He discovers what has worked and what has not. He identifies new creative thoughts and anticipates possible hurdles. This he does again and again and again. Repetition is the key word. With each review, things get trimmed and the vision gets sharper and clearer so that a new horizon of possibilities emerge. To keep your team on track, the traditional method is to use the system of reward and punishment discretely. Vishnus carrot and stick approach of leadership is represented through his mace or gada and his lotus or padma. The mace is like a teachers ruler, to punish those who do not do what they are supposed to do. The lotus rich with nectar and pollen, that attracts bees and butterfly, is for those who do what they are supposed to do and more. The one he uses to strike down the rule/law/system breakers. The other he uses to reward the rule/law/system followers. Thus he keeps his team on the straight and narrow, ensuring they achieve what they set out to achieve together. The one ensures that errors are not repeated. The other ensures that best practices are always followed. In some organizations, the four tools generate fear and anxiety. When this happens, both the goal and the tools have to be relooked at. Is the goal driven by reality or falsehood? Is it motivated by greed? Is the conch-shell trumpeting or the rotation of the wheel excessive? Is the mace to harsh or the lotus too stingy? In some organizations, the tools serve no purpose. People continue to do what they are supposed to do, moving in different directions, with no alignment to each other. When this happens, the communication has to be relooked at. Has the message gone through correctly or is the message changing repeatedly confusing all or is there a message at all? The message often contains only the goal what must be achieved. The conch-shell, however, must also communicate how it must be achieved. The aim of the review is to focus on the how if the prescribed methods are working or failing, the reasons for the success and failure. Often review meetings are not used for review what has been planned they are used to generate new ideas and discard old ones. New whats and new hows to replace old whats and old hows. Review meetings can generate new insights but it must never be at the cost of the planned agenda. New ideas must be parked, reviewed later and then communicated accordingly. Otherwise, the review loses its purpose and the conch-shell only produces cacophony, with things going in every direction. If all is well, if the what and how are clear, and if short term results show that they are achievable, then the only way to reach the ultimate goal is to make things happen is by using reward and punishment to drive the team. Reward need not be monetary; it can be a kind word, recognition, acknowledgment. Punishment need not be a public humiliation or a cut in incentive; it can be a simple awareness of failure. Good leaders typically

reward the team in times of success but punish themselves in times of failure. By taking the ownership of failure, they generate a more powerful relationship with the organization. Mahabharat tells the story of Kuru who used his own flesh as seed and his blood as water when drought struck his kingdom. This suffering for the sake of his people earned him the admiration of the gods who declared that those who die in Kurus field (live as Kuru did?) would go to heaven. Proof of optimal tool usage comes when Vishnu, the leader, creates Vaikuntha, an organization which is stable and harmonious, where every individual thrives, where the team works in alignment, and where organizational goals are achieved to the satisfaction of all stakeholders.


The ultimate goal is profit. Call it anything you want: bottomline, topline, market share, capitalization, equity, dividends, incentive, growth. It is what ultimately counts. It is why leaders are sought by organizations. Leaders are the ones who are able to mobilize the organizational resources to generate wealth. They are Vishnus engaged to churn out Lakshmi, the mythological embodiment of profit, from the ocean of milk. Lakshmi, the bejewelled goddess of wealth and fortune who sits on a lotus, is the most popular goddess in India. Her image can be found gracing most households and business establishments. Everybody wants her. Her footprint is often painted on doorways pointing inwards because everyone wants her to walk towards them. Leaders exist to make this happen. Unfortunately, Lakshmi is Chanchala, the fickle one. Few can predict where she plans to go. Sometimes her movements are predictable. Often it isnt, confounding the most astute of analysts. Exasperated by her whimsical ways, some have concluded that Lakshmi is cockeyed she looks one way but often moves the other. But there is one thing scriptures are sure: Lakshmi will always move towards Vishnu. She is drawn to him. Vishnu is Shrinivas where Lakshmi resides. He is Lakshmikanta beloved of Lakshmi. What is it that he does that makes him attractive to fortune? If leaders can discover this, they too can become Vishnu; they too can become magnets of Lakshmi. In all of Vaishnava literature, Vishnu is never shown chasing Lakshmi. Two groups of minor deities chase Lakshmi. They are Devas and Asuras. Asuras live under the earth and Lakshmi is addressed as Patala Nivasini, a resident of the subterranean reasons because the ancients realized long ago that wealth in its most primal form minerals and plants comes from under the ground. Asuras are deemed demons because they cling to Lakshmi and will not let her go. She is Pulomi, their daughter and their sister. The Devas, who live above the ground, as fire and wind and sun and sky, have to fight to release Lakshmi. Observe how all primary wealth generating activities are violent the tilling of soil, the harvesting of crop, the threshing of grain, the smelting of metal. This value generating violence is described in mythology as the war of Asuras and Devas, the hoarders and distributors of wealth, the demons and the gods.

Devas transform Pulomi into Sachi, the consort of their king, Indra. But Indra, in his recklessness, knows to enjoy Sachi but not retain her the fickle one moves away rapidly, leaving Indras paradise shorn of all life and beauty. Indra begs his father, Brahma, to help, who in turn directs the gods to Vishnu, who advises them to take the help of the Asuras for only the Asuras possess the magical Sanjivani Vidya that can regenerate what has been lost. Thus Devas can draw, distribute and spend wealth but they cannot create wealth. Who are the Devas of the corporate world? Could it be the flashy marketing and sales guys who go around getting the business, generating demand for products and services? In that case who are the Asuras? Are they the product makers and the service providers? Can production/service exist without marketing/sales? Can the sky-gods exist without earth-demons? No, they cannot. Vishnu, the leader, knows this and therefore sides with no one in particular. He knows that the two make up the force and counterforce that will churn Lakshmi out from the ocean of milk. The trick is the ability to balance the two sides of the team. A tilt one way or the other will be disastrous. It will cause the churn to collapse. Devas are guided by Brihaspati, god of the planet Jupiter, who in astrology is associated with logic, rationality and mathematics. The guru of the Asuras is Shukra, god of the planet Venus, who in astrology is associated with emotion, creativity and intuition. Brihaspatis logical approach makes him balanced; he is therefore visualized as having two eyes while Shukra, whose intuitive approach makes him imbalanced and unpredictable, is visualized as having one eye. Like the Devas and Asuras, even Brihaspati and Shukra are pitted against each other. It is the battle of logic and intuition. The corporate world is full of Brihaspatis and Shukras, the logicians and the magicians. The former prefer excel sheets, the latter prefer power points. The former usually have a finance background, the latter are part of sales and marketing. People with a business school or science background are encouraged to become Brihaspatis but people with an arts background and in creative fields are encouraged to stay Shukras. Brihaspatis are often preferred in corporate organization because their language can be understood, controlled and predicted. Not so with Shukras. They are shunned until one realizes that survival depends on that wild and crazy out of the box idea. One can understand why Devas led by Brihaspati are deemed gods: they live above the ground, are bathed in light, are clear, transparent, logical hence understandable. Asuras led by Shukra, by contrast, lived under the ground, are unseen; their intuition and creativity is unpredictable, unfathomable, uncontrollable, making them mysterious and magical. Asuras threaten us, make us insecure. Therefore they are demons. Please note that in Hindu mythology, unlike in Biblical mythology, demons are not evil creatures Hindus have no Satan. They are children of Brahma just like Devas. The divide between them is not moral or ethical. They are complementary forces of nature.

A true leader is able to harness the various forces around him to create an effective and efficient wealth-generating churn. He makes them complementary, not antagonistic. He works with both Brihaspati and Shukra, logic and magic, objectivity and subjectivity, He is able to get the best out of Asuras and Devas, product-creators and value-givers. He is sattva guna the principle that balances the two other extreme principles: inertia/tamas of the Asuras and the agitation/rajas of the Devas. He is both rational on one hand and intuitive on the other. He respects flashy presentations but also knows the value of a robust excel sheet behind it. While doing all this, , Vishnu never bothers with Laskhmi. He is almost indifferent to her. And that is why, perhaps, she chases him. She becomes his crown, his throne, his parasol and footstool. She makes him the king by serving as his profitable kingdom. One must be careful though. Lakshmi is not a faithful wife. Leaders often forget that success is drawn not to them but to their action. The crown follows the position not the person. To keep Lakshmi walking towards them all the time, it is important that a leader always stay a Vishnu always balanced, always focussed, always impartial, always detached.

The number 18 keeps recurring in the Mahabharata. The epic has 18 sections and deals with a battle that is fought over 18 days and involves 18 armies. Krishnas city, Mathura, is destroyed by Jarasandh after 18 attacks. Yudhishtir gambled away all his wealth in 18 games. And there are 18 chapters in the Bhagavata Gita. And two times 18, that is 36, is the duration of the glorious reign of the Pandavs after the war. What is the significance of the number 18? Mathematically speaking, the sum of the numerals that make up 18, that is 1 and 8 is 9. And 9 is considered an indestructible number. Multiply 9 by any number and the sum of the digits that make up that number will stay 9. So 93=27 and 2+7=9. 97 =63 and 6+3=9. The number 9 stands between 8 and 0. Eight represents completeness or totality because it includes the 4 cardinal directions and the 4 ordinal directions. Geometrically, the number 8 is equal to a circle. Zero, by contrast, represents nothingness or emptiness. It is geometrically represented by a plain sheet with no marks on it. Thus 8 is everything and 0 is nothing. 9 is the threshold number between 8 and 0. The number 1 which follows 0 represents the beginning and represented by a dot, the root of all geometrical patterns, while 8 is the number represents fulfillment or end. So 18 indicates the beginning and the end. 108, which is also a sacred number for Hindus, is created by adding 0 or nothingness between the beginning 1 and the end 8. When digits of both numbers 18 and 108 are added we get the number 9, the eternal indestructible number. Mahabharata is thus the story of beginnings, endings and renewals, all indicated through the recurrent use of 18. In modern times, in many societies, 18 is the believed to be the age of adulthood. The Hebrew word for life has a numeric value of 18. Thus the tradition has arisen in Jewish circles to give monetary gifts in multiples of 18 as an expression of blessings for long life. In the Chinese tradition, the sound of the number 18 resembles the sound of the word meaning prosperity. Consequently, building floors numbered 18 tend to be very expensive as they come with the promise of fortune. Another number which has fascinated man is the number 40. Amongst Christians, there are forty days of Lent, the days of fasting before Easter Sunday. Forty is a recurring

number in the Bible. The flood that forced Noah to build an arc lasted for 40 days and 40 nights. Moses and his people wandered in the desert for 40 years looking for the Promised Land. Jesus spent 40 days fasting in the desert after which he was tempted by the Devil. At a very simplistic level, the word 40 means a lot in Middle Eastern languages. Thus this was a very common way used by ancient poets to quantify a long duration. Later it is believed this was taken literally. At a more profound level, it has been observed that forty years is the duration taken by Venus across the sky to return to its original location. Venus is an ancient fertility symbol and this makes 40 a very important number of fertility, renewal and change. Numbers have always fascinated man. They have been used to explain the universe. Take the number zero for example. Buddha in 500 BC introduced the concept of nirvana, which means the end of existence, the blowing out of flame. This was differentiated from the Hindu notion of moksha which means liberation of the soul. For Hindus, following liberation, the soul survives in its primal purity. But for Buddhists, nothing survives. This idea gave rise to the concept of Shunya or nothingness in Buddhist philosophy. The opposite of this Shunya was everything, infinity. Indian mathematicians converted these metaphysical concepts into mathematics. Shunya gave rise to zero and when any number was divided by 0 (nothingness) what emerged was infinity thus making nothingness and everything-ness, opposites of each other both metaphysically and mathematically. By 500 AD, these early concepts gave rise to the idea of decimal numbering. And was used extensively by Buddhist, Jain and Hindu scholars. This was taken by Persian scholars and Arab traders. They translated nothingness or shunya as sipher which eventually became ziphiro amongst Italian traders and finally the modern 0 which started appearing in Europe around 1100 AD. Visually, 0 was represented as a dot and later as a circle or sphere to represent the vast infinity of the horizon leading to the cosmos. All this information had led to the speculation that perhaps early mystics were actually mathematicians or vice versa. There was no divide between the scientist and the spiritualist in ancient times. Hindu metaphysics say that in the beginning there was nothing (0). Then came the first sentient or conscious being (1). But this being was afraid. It did not know who it was. The only way, it concluded, it would know itself would be by distinguishing itself from all that it was not. So it split itself into the self and the other. Thus came the great duality of 2: soul and substance, spirit and matter. Soul was not fettered by time and space. Matter was fettered to time and space. Time had three dimensions (3): past, present and future. As did space: length, breath and width. Matter had three states: solid, liquid and gas. Thus three represented dynamism, a quest for harmony between the various dimensions and states.

Four directions (4) gave rise to the confined space of the settlement, the home, the household. Four anchored life on earth like the four legs of a horse or a cow or a dog or a sheep. Four pillars were needed to create a dwelling. Four elements were needed for survival earth, water, fire and air. But the dwelling needed a fifth element (5), the magical mysterious element called ether. The element of nothingness, the element of the void. Five thus came to represent the heavens, the aspirations of man, visualized as a pyramid. Five was also important because it was seen that the planet Venus traced the pentagram or the five pointed star across the starry sky. Venus was associated with femininity, intuition and emotion. Five was important because there were five sense organs (eye, ear, tongue, nose and skin) and five response organs (hands, feet, face, anus, genitals) according to Tantra. Six (6) was created by two triangles. The upward pointing triangle represented male and the downward pointing triangle represented female. Thus the intersecting triangles represented creation and union (remember da Vinci codes scalpel and chalice that came to represent Jesus and Mary Magdalene) while the separated triangles represented separation and destruction. Since six was associated with fertility, creation and destruction, in monastic orders where sex was frowned upon, six became an unlucky number. In Christians mysticism, 6 became the number of the Devil since the bible refers to 666 as the mark of the beast. And since in Hebrew 6 is written as W, some people have concluded (quite wrongly) that WWW is the creation of the Devil! The same people have observed that if you take all the letters in Bill Gates III and then convert it in ASCII code (American standard code for information interchange) and then add up all the numbers, you will get 666, which is the number of the beast!!! These conspiracy theorists have also found 666 in every barcode and hence concluded that the barcode behind every item in the supermarket, which forms the core of any market, is the creation of the Devil! Seven was the holiest number. There were seven planets that were visible from the earth. Sacred constellations like the Sapta Rishi Mandala (Big Dipper) and the Kritika Mandala (Pleiades) had sev en stars. Music had seven octas or swaras (sa, re, ga, ma, pa, dha, ni). Seven colors were seen in the rainbow (violet, indigo, blue, green, yellow, orange, red). Seven was seen as the number of the heaven, the number of God. Thus in Chritianity, God created the world in six days and rested on the eeventh, there were seven virtues in the world (Chastity, Moderation, Liberality, Charity, Meekness, Zeal, and Humility) and seven deadly sins (lust, gluttony, greed, pride, wrath, envy and sloth). Almost all cultures in the world have tales of seven wise men, the seven virgins and the seven dwarves. One can go on and on, but at the heart of this is mans desire for meaning in this apparently random, meaningless, boundless world. Numbers have the magical ability to

organize and define and confine the universe. Through numbers the infinite can be made finite, measurable hence manageable. From Pythogoras to Fibonacci, scholars in Europe have noticed that everything in nature could be reduced to a number or a formula. Truth lay in numbers. Beauty lay in numbers. God, they concluded, must have been a mathematician.


Typically, Indians are considered a fatalistic people. We believe in karma, that life is predetermined. And yet, we find the following story in the vana parva of the Mahabharata, narrated by the sage Markandeya to the Pandavas. Once upon a time, there was a princess called Savitri, who was the only child of her father. She fell in love with Satyavan, a prince whose father had been driven out of his kingdom by his enemies, and so lived in abject poverty in the forest. Her father opposed this marriage not only because Satyavan was poor but also because he was destined to die within a year of marriage. Savitri followed her heart nevertheless. A year of happy married life followed. A year later, at the appointed hour, Yama, the god of death, hurled his noose and took Satyavans life out of his body. Savitri followed him. Go back and cremate his body, he advised her. She refused to do so and kept following Yama into the land of the dead. Exasperated, he offered her three boons so that she would go away, Anything except the life of your husband. Savitri first asked that her father-in-law regain his kingship. Then she asked her father get a son and heir. And finally she asked that she be the mother of Satyavans sons. So be it, said Yama and continued on his journey to the land of the dead. After some time he noticed that Savitri was still following him. You gave me your word that you would return to the land of the living, he said. You give me no choice. You said I would be the mother of Satyavans children. How can a dead body make me a mother? I must therefore follow Satyavans soul into the land of the dead. Yama realized he had been outwitted. As custodian of the laws of karma, his boons had to be realized. The only way for Savitri to bear Satyavans children was to make Satyavans alive again. And so it happened. Traditionally, women are told to read the story of Savitri during the ritual known as VataSavitri. At the same time, the women are told to go around the Banyan tree seven times. The Banyan tree is the tree under which Satyavan is supposed to have died. Conventionally, people believe that women are supposed to do this ritual for the long life

of the husband. The Banyan tree represents long life and permanence making the ritual a sympathetic ritual, where we act out our desire. By going around the symbol of permanence and reading the tale of the woman who brought her dead husband back to life, people believe women can protect themselves from widowhood, which is traditionally considered to be the worst fate for a woman in a patriarchal society. Now, in a fatalistic society, such a ritual should not exist. Whatever will happen will happen so why pray and perform rituals. Clearly, it means people believe it is possible to change fate by intense will and by the grace of God. This is even more evident in the story itself. Here is a woman who walks into what seems like a terrible fate and she single handedly changes her fate. She even does the impossible, brings her husband back to life. How does she do it? First, she has the desire, then the will power, then the effort and finally the intelligence. Thus, the scriptures say that it is possible to overturn what is written in destiny by the grit of our will. Long ago, Yagnavalkya, the greatest sage of the Upanishadic era, was asked, Is the world governed by fate or free will? He replied, Both. They are like the two wheels on either side of the chariot. If you depend on one too much you go around in circles. In mythology, fate and freewill take the form of two gods that are never worshipped: Yama and Kama. Yama is the god of death, who keeps an account of ones life and hence determines ones destiny. He is dispassionate in his dealings and inflexible in his judgments. Kama, on the other hand, is the god of desire, who makes you want things, do things, hence makes you challenge and change destiny. He fills you with ambition and expectations, and hence is cause of both exhilaration as well as frustration. Yama binds man with his noose and uses his hook to ensure everyone repays his karmic debt. Kama strikes man with his arrow and leaves behind the sweet festering wound of hope and desire. Before Yama, one is helpless. With Kama, one is hopeful. For centuries, Indians have refused to accept the fate laid out before us by Yama. That is why we have jyotish-shastra or astrology which provides us gemstones that can influence the future. That is why we have vastu-shastra or geomancy that promises to change our life if we change our dwelling. That is why we have rituals known as vrata whereby fasting and keeping all-night vigils and walking barefoot to the temples can change the fortune of the household. To drive the notion of fate and free will in a fun way, ancient seers of India came up with many board games. First was snakes and ladders. You throw the dice and move the coins accordingly on a checkered board. No one can control the throw of the dice, thus dice represents fate. If your fate is good, you will land on a box which has the base of a ladder. It will help you rise to a better place. This is fortune. If your fate is bad, you will land on a box which has the head of a snake. You will slip down. This is misfortune. This game teaches fatalism.

There is nothing you can do but accept the throw of the dice and pray the next throw will be in your favor. The second game is Pachisi which was something like the modern Ludo. Here there was a mixture of luck and skill. The throw of the dice depended on luck while the movement of the coins depended on the skill of the player. Another variant of this game was Ganjifa which evolved into the modern game of Playing Cards. The first throw of the cards depended on fate/luck while the way the cards were used in the course of the game depended on skill/free will. Pachisi evolved into Chaturanga (which had four different types of coins, namely the horse, the chariot, the elephant, the foot soldier) which then traveled to Arabia and then Europe and became known as Chess. During this evolution and migration, the dice was abandoned. Now, chess is purely a game of skill. Of mathematics. Of free will. In the Mahabharata, Yudhishtira had to accept the invitation to the game of dice because in Vedic Times the only way he or any other king could demonstrate that he has fate or the favor of the gods on his side was by winning a game of dice. The board game was a ritual game, a magical game, a game that showed the fine interaction of fate and freewill. A good king had to master it. Even today, during Diwali, people play cards and gamble. The roots of this practice lies in ancient board games that were integral part of temple ceremonies. The idea was to teach devotees that Lakshmi, the goddess of fortune, moves either towards the one who has fate on his side or towards the one skilled enough to attract her. Duryodhan in the Mahabharata had fate on his side that is why, though villain, he lived and died like a king. Yudhishtira had a bad fate. Only with the grace of God embodied in Krishna and by acquiring many skills and change in attitude during his exile in the forest and after a tough battle at Kurukshetra was he able to finally win. So, if you are like the Pandavas, not blessed with fate, do not despair. The scriptures say there is still hope. Work to acquire the right skill and the right attitude and seek a little bit of Gods grace and you can still win in this leela, the game called life.


Myths, they say, never die. They only sleep. American poet Stanley Kunitz put it aptly, when he said, "Myths lie sleeping, at the bottom of our mind, waiting for our call. We have a need for them, since they represent the wisdom of our race." In that context, the power of myths is immense. The root of the word 'myth' is supposed to be 'mithya', which means delusion. So, is being influenced by myths the same as living in delusion? "Not necessarily. Because, there are many types of truth. Myth is also truth that is subjective, intuitive, cultural and grounded in faith. It is a common understanding of the world, that binds individuals and communities together. Which is why, all myths make profound sense to one group of people, not to everyone. Myths cannot be rationalized beyond a point. In the final analysis, you either accept them or not," reasons Devdutt Pattanaik, author of the book, 'Myth = Mithya, A Handbook of Hindu Mythology'. It is society's constant search for heroes that creates myths, says ad guru Alyque Padamsee. "Human heroes can falter and they eventually die. Mythical heroes, however, are immortal. Which is why, there is a strong emotional attachment to them, that cannot be explained by cold reason," he says. Agrees Pattanaik, "There is no evidence of a perfect world anywhere on earth. Perfection, be it Ram Rajya or Camelot, exists only in mythology. Yet everyone craves for it. This craving inspires art, establishes empires, sparks revolutions and motivates leaders such is the power of myth." The power of myth also lies in its ability to inspire belief, says dancer Sonal Mansingh. "Every faith is built upon several myths that have resonance in personalities, events and manifestations. Without myths, the life of a common man would become mundane." What makes myths so appealing is mythology, adds Pattanaik. "If myth is an idea, mythology is the vehicle of that idea. Mythology constitutes stories, symbols and rituals that makes a myth tangible." All mythological stories, in fact, have plots that defy imagination. Is that why these stories attract? "Mythology tends to be hyperbolic and fantastic to drive home a myth. It is modern arrogance to assume that people in ancient times actually believed in the existence of virgin births, parting seas and talking serpents. The unrealistic content is meant to draw attention to the idea behind the communication," says Pattanaik. Agrees Padamsee, "All myths start with an assumption of truth, that gets encrusted with exaggeration along the way. What we end up with is an avalanche, that started as a pebble." So, how does one search for truth in the myth? Or, is it a futile search? Pattanaik sums it up eloquently, "Within infinite myths lies eternal truth. Who sees it all? Varuna has but a thousand eyes. Indra, a hundred and I, only two."


So it's your first day of work as the new leader of the team. Is it your appointment letter that makes you a leader? Or do actions make you a leader? What actions must you take to establish your leadership? Is there any step-by-step approach by which a leader can be made? While everyone agrees leaders are born, not made, scriptures do refer to a series of yagnas or rituals that can make a king of a man. The first of these is undoubtedly Vivah or marriage marriage between the king and his kingdom, the leader and the organisation. In epic times, a man could not be king without a queen by his side because the queen represented the kingdom. Just as a husband has to love, protect, nourish and delight his wife, the king was expected to love, protect, nourish and delight his kingdom. This connection between the leader and organisation is critical. He has to believe in the organisation , its goals and its values, or he cannot be a leader. In the absence of vivah , a man is not leader, just an employee doing a job that gives him salary and status. Dont expect him to be proactive , creative or enthusiastic. After Vivah, Rajasuya has to be performed. In the Mahabharata , when Yudhishtir expresses his desire to be a king, Krishna advises him to do something spectacular like killing the mighty Jarasandh before organising the Rajasuya or coronation ceremony. Only then will they respect your kingship and acknowledge your sovereignty. Before a man is promoted to a senior position, it is critical that he be accepted by his peer group the other kings. To justify this rise, he needs some tangible achievement, a proof of concept, without which he remains a wannabe, a dreamer . In many tribes, for example , the future king was encouraged to kill a lion or tiger or wolf. Only this would make men follow him into a battle. Part of the coronation ceremony involved Abhishek , when in the presence of all; water was poured over the king. This public bathing was a transformation ritual. It put a man on a pedestal, made him special, the first among equals, greater than the rest. Often, and this is typically seen in sales companies, a field manager is sent to his headquarters without any attempt by the management to ceremonially crown him king in front of those he is supposed to manage. He lands up in the city alone and has to spend weeks asserting his managership.

The transition is not always smooth or successful. A simple meeting or meal where the management introduces the manager formally to the executives who are supposed to follow him gives the manager a much needed validation. It tells the team that the manager has the blessings of a higher power. After the crown has been publicly placed, managers often face hostility from their team. He is a stranger, a new boss. Relationships have to be established. Hierarchies and processes have to be put in place. The worst thing to do is to add value or impose authority without connecting with the team. For this connection, an Upanishad is required a discussion, a debate, a hearing of everyones views before the leader declares his vision. This hearing must be genuine. There are clever leaders who hear but never listen. This is soon discovered and the leader ends up losing the connection with the team. After the Upanishad, the king had to define his Dharma his vision and how he expects this to be realised. Dharma had two components: varna or station in the organisation and ashrama or stage in the employee. Varna-dharma means defining the roles, the rights and the responsibilities of every employee. Often , this is never clarified. When roles overlap, there is chaos. The vision is forgotten and personal rivalries drive the organisational agenda. This can be seen as a measure of leadership failure. To lead, one must be clear what one wants and what each member of the team is supposed to do to make that happen. Ashrama-dharma means knowing which member of the organisation is in which stage of his job or his career learning stage, delivering stage, teaching stage or retiring stage. If a person has outgrown his job, it is time to give him a new job. If a person has outgrown his responsibility, it is time to give him a higher responsibility . Otherwise he will wither away and sap the organisation of its strength. The most spectacular of royal yagnas in ancient times was the Ashwamedha , during which the royal horse wandered freely followed by the kings army. All the lands the horse traversed unchallenged became part of the kings dominion . Those who stopped the horse had to answer to the kings soldiers. A kings Ashwamedha helped identify those who submitted to him and those who challenged him. Ashwamedha was a dangerous ritual: it could lead to a kings defeat and humiliation. In the corporate world, there are no horses. But every leader has an agenda, a vision he seeks to realise. This is his horse. The information, facts and arguments that he has to back his vision is his army. The power-point presentation, one could say, is the horse; the excel sheet with all the research data justifying the numbers presented is the army. Without a strong army, the horse will be challenged. To stay leader, the horse must traverse unchallenged or the army must be strong enough to overpower any challenge.

Once the conquest is complete , and the idea has been planted in the organisation, the king must do his Digvijay yatra. Digvijay means conquest of the sky or the directions . In ancient times, kings traversed the length and breath of their kingdoms in ceremonial processions. In the corporate world, the leader must travel through departments and ensure he is seen and that his vision is known to all. Often leaders let their team do the talking. This creates an impression that the king is a puppet or has no mind of its own. A true leader needs to do Digvijaya to assert his authority and to tell the world where he plans to lead them and how. Finally, there is the Vajapeya , a yagna of regeneration . This was done by kings from time to time to reinforce their authority. Make a head roll to tell the world who is the boss, for peoples memories are often short.

Of the 18 days of the Kurukshetra battle described in the Mahabharta, nine days were indecisive. The Kauravas , with 11 armies, outnumbered the seven armies of the Pandavas. For the Pandavas, it was critical that Bhisma, the old but very able commander of the Kaurava forces, be killed. So Krishna decided to make Shikhandi ride on his chariot alongside Arjun. Shikhandi was born with the body of a woman which later transformed into the body of a man. Bhisma believed that a creature such as this was a woman and so refused to raise his bow against her. The Kauravas protested her entry into the battlefield but the Pandavas saw Shikhandi as a man. Arjun had no qualms about using him/her a human shield, raising his bow at the invincible Bhisma and pinning him to the ground with hundreds of arrows. Bhisma can be seen as a man who is paralysed by his own interpretation of a situation . But any situation can be seen in many different ways. Through alternate interpretation , it is possible to challenge anyone. Defeat is inevitable if one is unable to accommodate an alternate point of view. Had Bhisma accepted that Shikhandi was a man there was no way he could have been defeated. Drona, the commander of the Kaurava army after Bhisma, was a ruthless killer, who broke Pandava morale by killing Arjun's son Abhimanyu and even making his soldiers fight at night, against the rule of war. To defeat him, Krishna spread the rumour that Ashwatthama was dead. Ashwatthama happened to be the name of Drona's son and Drona was extremely attached to him. Ashwattama was the reason for Drona's life. On hearing this rumour, his heart sank. Was his son dead? Yes, said all the Pandava warriors surrounding him. Yes, said Krishna. Drona turned to Yudhishtira, the most upright Pandava. Yudhishtira knew that the Ashwatthama being referred to was an elephant. Still he told Drona either a man or an elephant, Ashwatthama is surely dead. In the din of the battle, looking at the petrified face of Yudhistira, Drona was convinced that his son was dead and that Yudhishtira gave him the strange answer to break the terrible news gently. He lowered his weapons. Taking advantage of his this, the leader of the Pandava army raised his sword and beheaded Drona.

Drona can be seen as a man who is extremely attached to something personal . To break such a man down, that which he is attached to must be destroyed. Or at least he must be given the impression that it is destroyed. His obsession will cloud his judgement; he will not bother to delve deeper and check the facts. Many leaders have strong likes and dislikes and this can be used by corporate spin-doctors and gossip mongers to destroy relationships. Leaders have to be wary of this. They must check facts especially if the news relates to those who matter most to them. Otherwise, like Drona, they will end up beheaded. Shalya who became commander of the Kaurava army on the last day, had, according to the Indonesian Mahabharata , a demon that came out of his ears every time he was attacked. This demon became stronger if the attack against Shalya became more intense. To defeat Shalya, Krishna suggested that Yudhishtira fight him, not with rage but with love. So Yudhishtira walked towards Shalya with great affection. The demon in Shlaya became so weak that it could not even come out of Shalya's ears. When Yudhishtira came close to Shalya, with no malice in his heart, Yudhishtira raised his spear and impaled the last leader of the Kauravas. A powerful lesson here. There are people who become strong in confrontations. Such people must never be confronted. Their point must not be validated through arguments. The best way to invalidate them is to simply agree with them. This unnerves them. They come prepared to face all arguments and, in the absence of any, feel disempowered. Confused, they become vulnerable. People around him, seeing there is no one aruging their point will feel withdraw. Thus through agreement can a point of view be destroyed. Barbareek is a little known character whose tale is told in many folk Mahabharatas. He was the son of Bhima by a snake princess and was stronger than all five Pandavas put together. Not wanting him to join the Kauravas, Krishna asked him for a boon. Barbareek was too nice a man to say no. So Krishna said, Give me your head. Barbareek immediately severed his neck and offered his head to Krishna with one request that he be allowed to see this great battle from a vantage point. Krishna therefore placed his head on a hill that overlooked Kursukshetra. At the end of the war, the Pandavas asked him who was the greatest warrior in the battlefield. Barbareek replied, I saw no great warrior on the battlefield. All I saw was Krishnas discuss whirring around cutting the heads of warriors and their blood washing the hair of Draupadi, who had long ago been publicly disrobed by the very same warriors. It is a good idea, in the middle of corporate political wrangling, to step back and see who is provoking the fight and stoking the flames. Often the two parties involved fail to realize that out there is another man making them fight for his very own agenda. So ask yourself are you fighting your own battle in Kurukshetra or are you a pawn in someone elses much bigger game?

If vishnu is the CEO, then his office is Vaikuntha, the ultimate paradise, a place where his every word is law and every wish a command. What cannot be resolved elsewhere can only be resolved in Vaikuntha. Naturally everybody wants to go to Vaikuntha. Outsiders, from vendors to consumers, even kings of other kingdoms, who wish to explore opportunities, make alliances, settle disputes and manage threats. Insiders, from managers to executives to trainees, when they feel the kings courtiers are ill-equipped to resolve their problems or when they feel the ministers are not telling the king the truth. Vishnu welcomes all. At least he intends to. A sage called Bhrigu once made a trip of the heavens to find out who is the greatest of all the Gods. Brahma was so busy creating the world that he did not bother to welcome Bhrigu. Shiva, with his eyes shut, was totally withdrawn and indifferent to Bhrigus presence. Both were cursed by Bhrigu. Vishnu, busy managing the affairs of the world, at first did not notice Bhrigu but then apologized profusely, falling at his feet. For a visitor to Vaikuntha is God to God. Indra, king of the Devas, once made the mistake of ignoring a visitor whose name was Durvasa. As a result he was cursed Lakshmi was forced to leave his side. Indras paradise, was stripped of its splendour. The trees did not blossom or bear fruit. Cows did not give milk. Gandharvas were unable to make music. A reminder of the consequences of ignoring a visitor. For it is the people who seek the king be it outsiders or insiders who make the kingdom valuable. But even if he wishes otherwise, a leader just cannot make time for everybody. He, like the rest of us, has 24 hours in a day and that time has to be rationed well between his personal life and his public role. In Mughal times, the king had two courts: the Diwan-ekhas for his executive council through whom he managed the kingdom and a more general open Diwan-e-aam for the public, when everyone could meet him and where issues that his executive council could not resolve were addressed. It was in these times that great value was given to the position of the doorkeeper. Seated in the gatehouse, at the entrance of the kings citadel, it was his job to limit access of the king and filter out the undesirables. In time, these doorkeepers came to have a mythology of their own.

In a Shiva temple, for example, one is advised to acknowledge Nandi, the bull who sits before the deity, with a touch, or maybe an offering of flowers, and only then enter the main shrine. Be in Nandis good books, one is told, Since he is always with Shiva, Shiva listens to whatever Nandi has to say. Vishnus Vaikuntha has two doorkeepers: Jaya and Vijaya. In art, they are visualized as looking exactly like Vishnu, perhaps to remind us that our impression of the CEO often emerges from our impression of his doorkeepers. If one looks carefully though at the images of Jaya and Vijaya in a traditional Vaishnava temple such as the temple of Tirupati Balaji in Andhra Pradesh, one will notice that while they look like Vishnu, holding a conch-shell and a discus, and a mace, they usually do not hold a lotus. And they sport fangs like dogs or serpents. Thus the doorkeepers, while apparently like Vishnu, are not as welcoming they are stern, keeping the unworthy out. The story goes that once the four boysages known as the Sanat Kumars went to Vaikuntha to meet Vishnu. But they were stopped at the door by the Jaya and Vijaya on grounds that Vishnu was sleeping. The Sanat Kumars tried entering Vaikuntha three times and each time they were stopped on the same grounds. Since they looked like boys, the Sanat Kumars concluded that Jaya and Vijaya were not taking them seriously. In fact they were convinced that the two were humouring the four of them. Annoyed, they cursed the doorkeepers that they would lose their exalted position and be reborn on earth as much hated demons known as Hiranayaksha and Hiranakashipu. The demon-like fangs of Jaya and Vijaya, say artisans, are a reminder of how scary they appeared to the boysages. It is best that an aspiring leader keep in mind that he has many Jaya and Vijayas of his own from the gatekeeper who lets in the cars to the receptionist in the lobby who shows in the guests to the secretary in the outer office who checks the appointments to the executive assistant who churns out all the key documents just before the meeting to the admin-boy who serves tea to guests. Each one of them has the power to make an impression about the CEO depending on how they treat a visitor. An MNC may talk highly about respecting human values but a rude remark from the gatekeeper or a cold stare from the secretary and the impression about the CEO, however grand and generous he may be, crumbles instantly. These reactions can make or break the meeting that is to follow.

One CEO visiting another CEO was so annoyed because the gatekeeper insisted he get off his car and sign the muster book that he turned around and signed the deal with another company. Another visitor was forced to call the CEO himself when his driver got into an argument with the security at the gate. The CEO was unable to help because the security rules came from the US (it was an American MNC and incident took place shortly after 9/11) and he would be pulled up if he interfered in the matter. We live in times of tightened security. Nothing is worse than entering a meeting room after feeling one has been violated. But with a little training security personnel can be taught how to do their job without disrespecting incoming people, howsoever brusque they may seem. In some offices, one is made to sit in a waiting room and wait till you are fetched by the person who one has come to meet. That is all very fine. But the room often does not have enough chairs or a water fountain or a toilet close-by. No pleasant images to see or interesting reading material on the table. This can be quite disconcerting especially when the waiting is prolonged. Matters become worse when the secretary raises her head and rudely asks, Who are you? There was a time when secretaries were trained to treat visitors as guests. A smile helped. Followed by clarifications of identity and purpose. Then being led to a seat or a meeting room, followed by a glass of water, (very important in a hot country like India especially). Much better than being pointed to the water cooler. It helps if tea or coffee is served not in a disposable coffee cup but in crockery worthy of the leaders status. This may all seem very colonial. In Pax Americana, these things may not matter. There may be no secretary or doorkeeper. You can simply walk into a CEOs office who just might be wearing shorts throwing a ball through hoops while discussing a billion dollar deal. But they do matter in India where Atithi Devoh Bhavah a guest is like God. The way a visitor is treated tells one how a leader values his people. The Sanat-kumars perhaps did not come by prior appointment. But Vishnu with his arms spread out perhaps gave the impression that everyone was welcome to Vaikuntha anytime. This instruction was perhaps not given to Jaya and Vijaya. Or perhaps the timing was all wrong. Vishnu was asleep or on a cosmic assignment, unavailable, and the doorkeepers were perhaps only doing their job when they said, Come later,&r dquo; but viewed from the pointof-view of the boy-sages , they were being demonic. The next time you visit your office check out the Jaya and Vijayas who stand between you and your visitors and make sure they dont have fangs. On earth, in Kali-yuga, the curse of the boy-sages may fall not on the doorkeepers but directly on the leader within Vaikuntha.

Vishnu Purana begins with the story of Matsya avatar, the fish incarnation of Vishnu. A tiny fish approaches Manu, the first leader of mankind, on the riverbank and begs him to save him from the big fish. Manu, in his compassion, scoops the tiny fish out of the river in the palm of his hand and puts it in a pot. The tiny fish is immensely grateful. But the next day the tiny fish has grown in size and the pot is too small to accommodate it. Manu transfers the fish to a big pot. A day later, the fish has grown once again. Manu has to move it to giant pitcher. That too is not enough a day later. So the fish is moved from the pitcher to a pond, from the pond to a lake, from the lake to a river and finally the sea. Even the sea is not enough. So the rains start to fall and the ocean expands to make room for the fish. As the ocean expands, the waters creep over the earth and soon Manu realizes that the whole world will soon be submerged by the rising waters. The rain continues to fall, the sea continues to rise, making more and more room for the fish. Manu cries out in alarm and wonders what is happening. The fish smiles and transforms into Vishnu, and promises to save Manu from the flood. It asks Manu to take refuge in a boat for himself, his family, for various animals and plants and for the seven wise sages who in whose custody rests the wisdom of the world (the Hindu Noahs Ark some may say). The giant fish then guides this fish through the rain and storm to the peak of Mount Meru, the only piece of land that survives the great flood of doom. Why does Vishnu take the form of a fish for his first interaction with mankind? And what does this story have to do with the corporate world? To understand this one must first understand the Sanskrit phrase, matsya nyaya which means law of the fishes, whose equivalent in English is the phrase law of the jungle. In the story, the tiny fish asks Manu to save him from the big fish. But in nature, no one would come to the tiny fishs rescue because in the jungle everyone is on their own and only the fit survive. Manu, however, is human and not entirely part of nature. He has been given the faculty by which he can defy the law of the jungle. That is what makes a man a man. Manu acts, not from the need to survive, but out of compassion. The moment he scoops the fish out and saves it, civilization is born: a place where even the weakest can thrive. The laws instituted to make this happen is dharma, making matsya nyaya the very opposite adharma. A government is like Manu trying to create through its laws and regulations a system where the the weakest can thrive and the strong dont dominate the weak. They dont want large MNC and business houses ( the big fish) to establish a monopoly and seize control of the market. They want the smaller players to thrive too. Hence, they impose

regulations and licenses and laws and do every thing in their power to stamp out a market where anything goes. Such actions by the government destroying the free market and stifling liassez faire has been repeatedly denounced. But they are necessary, since man while capable of extreme generosity is also capable of extreme greed. Government laws and regulations and licenses are needed to protect the interests of the weaker sections of society, to ensure a fair distribution of wealth. The tiny fish, however, does not remain a tiny fish forever. It grows in size. Unable to provide for itself, totally dependent on Manu, it begs for more. A bigger pot, a bigger pond. And Manu, in his compassion, keeps giving and giving and giving, until finally even the sea is not big enough for the fish. Rains must come and the sea must expand so that the fish can be accommodated. In the process Manus world is destroyed. Thus the story shows the price of foolhardy compassion. Neither Manu nor the fish are willing to face a truth that fish is no longer helpless. Manu, because he is afraid of being seen as less compassionate. The fish, because it is afraid of fending for itself. This has happened in India where laws and regulations and licenses ended up stifling growth, and destroying the economy. The rules had to be changed. The markets had to open up to foreign investments. Manu had to let the fish help itself. But that has not been taken kindly. Everywhere we see protests, riots, marches against the opening up of the Indian economy. The fish is afraid and is lashing out of Manu, which perhaps never prepared the fish for this moment. A leader is like Manu. While creating more markets, he has to consciously sometimes invest disproportionately higher amounts in small developing market over large developed ones. In the absence of such concerted effort, the budget can be totally appropriated by the big sales team managing the developed markets with its grand promises, leaving the small sales team with little or no budget. A good leader never asks the smaller markets for immediate returns. The bigger markets may cry foul and taunt the leader with proof that if more investments were made it could perhaps cough up a bigger return. But the leaders vision is long term. The big market may not be big forever and the small market will eventually grow. For the moment, the tiny fish needs its pot and pond and the big fish can manage in the sea. But a shrewd leader must be wary of the plan become a habit. The developing market can choose to call itself a developing market forever. It is possible that nobody has noticed that it is becoming a developed market, that it does not need that extra care it was given initially, that it now has the power to play with the big boys. A wise leader should always keep an eye on the size of the fish and know when is it time to throw it back into the sea. Good leadership is about capacity building. A good leader is not someone who gives you the fish he is one who teaches you how to fish. That is the first lesson of the Vishnu Puran.

Yama, is the Hindu god of the dead. The story goes that he was the first man on earth. His twin sister Yami was the first woman. According to the Rig Veda, she approached him to make a child. He refused this incestuous union on moral grounds. So he died childless. This meant he was trapped forever in the land of the dead for only an offspring left behind in the land of the living can help the dead return to the land of the living by producing children of their own and rotating the wheel of rebirths. Yama became king of the dead. Whenever a person died, he arrived in Yamas kingdom where Yama determined the biology and circumstances of his next life based on the karmic balance sheet maintained by his accountant Chitragupta. Yama rides a buffalo, that is moving slowly but surely and single-mindedly towards us from the moment we are born. The distance between the Yamas buffalo and us is determined by the karmic balance sheet in Yamas hand. Ultimately, his noose will claim us. We will die. All of us. King or beggar. Yama carries out his duty so impersonally that he is renowned as Dharma, god of righteous conduct, too. Yama ensures the cycle of rebirths rotates in a determined rhythm in the Hindu world. Buddhists and Jains also believe in the cycle of rebirths though the details vary. All three believe it is possible to break free from the cycle of rebirths through devotion according to Hindus, meditation according to Buddhists and austerity according to Jains. This leads to the Hindu moksha, the Buddhist nirvana and the Jain kaivalya. Cultures did not see death in the same way. The Greeks also had a god called Hades who ruled the land of the dead. But he acted differently. When a Greek man died, he was cremated with a coin in his mouth and honey bread in his hand. The coin was payment for Charon who ferried his ghost across Styx to the land of the dead. The bread was to distract Cereberus, the three headed dog who guarded the gates of the netherworld. Inside, the dead man was tried by three judges. If he was good, he was sent to joyful Elysium; if he was bad, he was punished in terrible Tartarus; if he was neither good nor bad, he was sent to the unexciting Asphodel fields. And in these places the dead lived for all eternity. The Egyptians believed that death was followed by an eternal life in the land of Osiris provided ones body was intact (a belief that led to the practice of mummification), one

knew the way and the spells needed to overpower potential hurdles in the path (a belief that led to the production of the hymns in book of the dead) and ones heart was good (a belief that expressed itself in the story of the dead mans heart was weighed against Maats feather of goodness by Thoth, the divine scribe). The Israelities, who escaped from Egyptian slavery thanks to Moses, had a relatively tame site for the dead called Sheol, a dusty dry underworld in which good and evil souls commingled in a state of continual thirst, waiting for the messiah. But when they settled in the land of Palestine, around 1500 B.C. the seed of Hell was planted in their worldview after they witnessed the pagan child sacrifices carried out in the Valley of Gehinnom. So profound was the impact of events in this valley that the word Gehinnom also became the Arabic and later Islamic word for hell fire Jahannum. For the Muslims in Jahannum will burn all those who reject the holy word of the Koran, which is the word of God. The rest will rejoice with Allah in Heaven or Jannat surrounded by angels. The idea of Heaven and Hell in the Judaic mindset truly evolved after the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem and the exile to Babylon around the 5th century BC where the Israelites came in touch with the followers of the Persian prophet Zoroaster. The Zoroastrians saw life on earth as a reflection of battles between the forces of good and evil. All good things came from Ahura Mazda and all bad things came from his archenemy Angra Manyu. When a man died, he was asked to cross a bridge, which separated the land of the living from the land of the dead. The bridge widened or narrowed depending on the choices made by the man during life. These thoughts eventually made their way through Judaic worldview into Christian and Islamic theology. Along the way, ideas were also taken from the Greeks and the Egyptians. The Vikings also contributed: the word Hell has its origin in the name of the Nordic goddess Helas, ruler of the forbidding, dark, cold, windswept nether region Niflheimer. Incidentally, the Christian world Paradise comes from the Persian word meaning royal garden. Hindus also believe in Heaven and Hell. But when goes into the details, the Hindu Heaven and the Christian/Islamic Heaven is quite different. In a Bollywood film, Hindu heaven is where Indra rules, gods drink and nymphs entertain while in Hollywood films, the Christian heaven is seen as a place where angels play harps. The serenity of the latter contrasts the excitement of the former. Besides, according to Puranas entry into Hindu heavens is the result of good deeds and not by following a Book or a prophet. Hindus have many heavens, one greater than the other. There is the heaven of Indra and greater heavens like the heavens of Vishnu or Shiva. For a follower of Shiva, Shivas heaven is the highest heaven while to devotees of Vishnu, Vishnus heaven is higher. The idea of multiple heaven, from where one can be cast out, is totally different from the single Paradise of Chirstians and Jannat of the Muslims.

Clearly, different cultures have seen death differently and so have approached life differently. Now, imagine this: one group of people believe that this life is just one of the many lives we have to live. Then there are those who believe that this is the only life we have. How can one expect the two groups to see eye-to-eye on ones approach to life? The missionary believes that this is the only life one has to save the soul and this explains the missionary zeal to convert, an idea that is uniquely Christian and Islamic. Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, however, believe life and death are alternating events in a karmic merry-go-round and so they are in no hurry to be saved. Herein lies the root of conflict between ideologies of Hindus on the one hand and of Christian/Muslims on the other, one that leads sometimes to violent confrontations. Respecting anothers understanding of death, hence life, is not easy no matter what reformists may believe for such a step is seen as the first in many steps that ultimately leads to invalidating ones own belief system, making it just a truth, not the truth.

One day, Drona summoned two of his students, Yudhishtira and Duryodhana. Spend a day in Hastinapur and find me a really bad man, he told the always-nice Yudhishtira. Then turning to the ever-angry Duryodhan, he said, Spend a day in Hastinapur and find me a really good man. The day passed. Drona waited for his students to complete the search. Finally, at sunset, the two returned, but with no one accompanying either of them. Well, where are the men I asked you to find? asked Drona. Yudhishtira replied, I scoured the city and went to every house. I met every man, woman and child. I really looked for a bad man but at the end of my search, I am convinced that everyone is the city is actually very nice. There is not a single bad person in Hastinapur. Duryodhan replied, I dont agree. I too scoured the city and went to every house. But everyone I met was a scoundrel. Even the children. There is no good man in Hastinapur. Drona heard both and said, This is all maya. All of us have heard this phrase sometime or the other. It is one of those wonderful quips that always evokes laughter, perhaps because deep down we agree with the truth of the statement : ultimately all things that we crave for and cling to are maya, delusions resulting from ignorance and prejudice. But contrary to popular belief, maya does not mean delusion. The word has its roots in the ma which means to measure . Maya actually means that which is measured . When someone says yeh sab maya hai, they actually mean our understanding of the world depends on the measuring scale we subscribe to. Yudhishtiras measuring scale failed to identify a bad man in Hastinapur . Duryodhans measuring scale failed to identify a good man in Hastinapur. Their opinions about Hastinapur said nothing about Hastinapur but about the measuring scales they subscribed to. There is no universal measuring scale since measuring scales do not exist in nature. Measurement is an artificial concept, created by man, for man, in order to organise and structure the world around. It is we who have created notions such as second and minute and week thus dividing time into manageable components. It is we who have created kilograms and pounds and metres and yards to gauge the size and weight of matter. None of these concepts are natural. Why should seven days make up a week? Why not eight days? Someone decided seven days should be the unit of time. All measurements are cultural. Someone decided that length must be measured by kilometres all over the world. Americans disagreed. They still prefer miles.

Measurement scales are necessary because they helps us compare things this is longer than that, this is heavier than that, this is hotter than that. With comparison comes evaluation and judgement. Some things become more desired. Others become more valuable. And when things start becoming more desired and more valuable, then marketing comes into being. Marketing is typically defined as the business process by which value is created, transmitted and exchanged. Since value is dependent on a measuring scale, marketing is ultimately all about spinning the web of maya. Once upon a time, when there were no mobile phones, just possessing a telephone instrument was good enough. Then came mobile technology. A new measuring scale emerged: go to the phone or make the phone come with you. With the new measuring scale emerged a demand which Nokia fulfilled by connecting people . Everybody was connected. Well, not every body, only the rich. Then Reliance came and democratised the mobile. Everyone could own a mobile from the paper vendor to the taxi driver . The need for a new measuring scale was felt, one that would distinguish the rich from the poor. Motorola swung into action and spun the maya of slimness: a mobile was better if it was slimmer and best if it was razor sharp. Sony Ericcsons spun the maya of another measuring scale: that a true mobile phone is one that clicks photos and makes music. Where from came these values? What makes you happy or unhappy about your handset? Is it natural phenomena or artificial construction? You will then realise the power of maya. The concept of maya can be quite empowering if used well. Imagine yourself going to a job interview. It is a great company. And you are eager to get the job. You are under stress. Are you good enough for them? You spend hours on your resume and spend hours on your possible answers. And you are most relieved , even obliged, when you get the job. But why are you obliged? Wear the maya cap and you will find a different view of the world entirely, one which is perhaps more empowering. Ask: why were you called for the interview? Could it be because the organisation found itself lacking in something and was seeking a value that you helped fill? If that is the case, why are you feeling as if the organisation has done you a favour by hiring you? Is your being hired not a case of a symbiotic exchange of value between an organisation and an individual? What is an interview ultimately? Nothing but a process by which one finds out if an organisation meets the requirements of an individuals measuring scale (salary, perks, designation, role and responsibility , career prospect, job satisfaction) and if an individual meets the requirements of an organisations measuring scale (knowledge , skills, attitude, experience). It is the great maya exchange.

The notion of maya plays an important role in negotiations. No matter what is offered, you begin by devaluing it. I dont think it is worth that much. Thus the seller is put on the defensive and is forced to justify the value he is offering. You accept or reject his defence depending on how much you are willing to pay. A smart buyer always devalues an offering to bring down the price. A smart seller always begins by questioning the measuring scale currently followed by the potential customer. You must be satisfied with your current mobile handset, I am sure. But. After a few rounds of arm wrestling, the value exchange that satisfies both is signed and sealed. That is good business. Come to think of it, is there any real value out there? Value is a perception and so it all depends on who you are. For a Shiva, nothing has any intrinsic value. So he shuts his eyes to everything in this world except that which sustains him. For a Brahma, everything has value and he keeps chasing all things. In religion, Shiva may be a great ascetic while Brahma may be a god unworthy of worship. But in the material capitalistic world, the self-contained Shiva is a threat, whose existence is best denied, while the eternally unhappy Brahma is the most valued of customers. In between is Vishnu who knows that ultimately, it is he and none other but he who gives value to the world. That mobile phone, that job, that concept, that product, that service is as valuable as he makes it. He knows that different people experience the same world differently because their construction of the world is based on the measuring scale they follow. Hence, he goes around creating value, sometimes by using the prevalent measuring scale and at other times, by creating a new measuring scale altogether. He is Mayin, he who spins the web of maya, the ultimate marketer


According to the Puranas, when Brahma creates the world, the Goddess appears as Saraswati, embodiment of knowledge, serene and aloof, dressed in white, holding a lute and a book, riding a heron. When Vishnu sustains the world, the Goddess appears as Lakshmi, stunning and alluring, dressed in red, bedecked in jewels, holding a pot that pours out gold and grain, riding an elephant that rises from a lotus lake. When Shiva destroys the world by shutting his eyes to it, the Goddess becomes Shakti alternating as the naked and bloodthirsty Kali, who danced on his still body, and as the demure and maternal Gauri, who made him open his eyes with her affection. Saraswati, Lakshmi and Shakti are the three forms of the Goddess. They embody knowledge, wealth and power. Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva are the three forms of God who create, sustain and destroy. Now observe carefully. The Goddesses are associated with nouns: knowledge, wealth and power. The Gods are associated with verbs: creating, sustaining, destroying. Knowledge/ wealth/ power can be created/ sustained/ destroyed. Knowledge/ wealth/ power provides the capability to create/ sustain/ destroy. Action is with the Gods the result of the action is the Goddess who in turn provokes more action. God is the subject; Goddess the object. Before we jump to outraged gender-based conclusions (the scriptures are patriarchal and that is why they portray God, hence men, as active and Goddess, hence women, as passive), note that Gods and Goddesses are embodiments of nongender based concepts that seek to enlighten, enrich and empower. A leader, whether it is a man or a woman, is God the organisation is the Goddess. The reason why the world/organisation is visualised in female form is because just as a woman creates life inside her body, a world/organisation creates knowledge/wealth/power inside itself. Man creates life outside his body; therefore man is the best representation for the one who creates, sustains, and destroys the life-giving organisation. God and Goddess, leader and organisation , cannot exist without the other. Without either there is neither. He or she can only create, sustain or destroy. What is created, sustained or destroyed is knowledge , wealth and power, which in turn offers more opportunities to create, sustain and destroy.

Typically, in the corporate world we assume that a leader exists to create wealth he is Brahma creating Lakshmi. But a Brahma creating Lakshmi will fail, in the long run, because he is too busy creating to bother with sustenance. We often find fly-by-night operators in the business world who find validation in making that quick buck. These are the Brahmas of the world, desperate to get rich quick, without thinking about sustainability. A good leader is a Brahma who creates Saraswati knowledge. Knowledge manifests as innovation and ideas and inspiration. That is why Saraswati holds not just books and memory beads but also the lute with which she makes music. Knowledge appearing as insight provokes a systemic transformation in people. A good leader is constantly seeking wisdom, within himself and others. Once Chandragupta was very hungry. The moment rice was served, he put his hand right in the centre of the pile. His fingers got singed and he withdrew instantly. Never from the centre, child, said his guru, Chanakya. Always from the sides where it is cooler. Chandragupta realised his master was not telling him about rice alone. He was warning him against his planned attack on Pataliputra , the capital of the Nanda Empire. It was a well guarded fortress. Better to go from the sides, conquer the surrounding, less formidable territories and gradually move in on the centre of power. This insight made Chandragupta a great general. He was able to overthrow the Nandas and become ruler of the Magadhan Empire. It was knowledge that made him king of a prosperous king. His hunger for wisdom made knowledge appear before him. By becoming Brahma, he discovered Saraswati and so was able to become Vishnu with Lakshmi manifesting as his crown and kingdom. It is said that Vishnu keeps Saraswati on his tongue. This makes Lakshmi jealous. She rushes towards him and plants herself in his heart. Vishnu knows that the fickle Lakshmi will leave as soon as Saraswati leaves his tongue. Thus to sustain Lakshmi, he needs Saraswati. Good leaders know that to sustain their business they constantly need to inspire, motivate people and at the same time innovate new products and services that will delight the customer. Lakshmi will come into the company where Saraswati thrives. Knowledge management systems, databases, research documents, patents are all tangible forms of Saraswati. A good leader focuses on them, rather than on account books. He ensures the Saraswati that is generated within the organisation stays within the organisation. In other words, by being Brahma who creates Saraswati he remains Vishnu who sustains Lakshmi. With knowledge and wealth, comes power and arrogance. The belief that one is invincible and capable of doing anything. When this happens, the organisation becomes naked and bloodthirsty provoking the leader to act rashly and indiscriminately, indifferent to all rules of conduct, making him believe that he is above the law. In other

words, the organisation becomes Kali. A good leader recognises this rapidly and becomes Shiva. He has to destroy the rising ego and arrogance that blinds good judgement. He shuts his eyes and lies still, allowing the Goddess to dance on him but refusing to respond to her. Only then the Goddess becomes Gauri dressed in green, she becomes maternal and affectionate , and with gentleness she requests Shiva to open his eyes and become Shankar, the benevolent, boon-bestowing , wise ascetic. Thus a good leader has to be fully sensitive to the corrupting influence of power and try hard not to succumb to it. Ultimately to establish a knowledge, wealth and power generating organisation, a leader has to be a teacher, a king and an ascetic all rolled into one. When the three Gods thrive inside, the three Goddesses will thrive outside.


Diwali is without doubt Indias answer to Americas Christmas, where the religious aspect takes a backseat and secular shopping comes to the fore. It all began as a post-monsoon harvest festival. But what distinguishes it from other harvest festivals like Pongal (Tamil Nadu) or Bihu (Assam) is that it is also an important festival of traders and money-lenders. A time to balance the books and open new books of accounts. If the harvest was good, debts were repaid and both farmer and money-lender celebrated their fortune. If harvests were bad, this was a time of intense prayer and rituals in hope of a better future. Diwali is a five-day festival which begins two days before the new moon and ends two days after the waning and waxing of the moon representing the end of one era and the birth of another. The 13th day of the waning moon is the first day of Diwali. Dhanteras, the day of dhan, or wealth. Most women in Gujarat, Rajasthan, and the Hindispeaking areas of India buy metal in the form of utensils and gold. Today, even electronic goods also figure on the shopping list. It was a time to remind oneself that all wealth, be it agricultural or mineral, came from under the earth. That is where Lakshmi resided. She was Patala-nivasini, the subterranean goddess of wealth. Those who kept her below were the Asuras, or demons. Those who pulled her out were the Devas, or gods. The next day, the 14th day of the waning moon is Narak Chaturdashi. In Tamil Nadu, it is the day when crackers are burst to celebrate the killing of the demon Narak, son of the earth-goddess. Vishnu is both his father and his killer. As Varaha, the boar-incarnation, Vishnu fathered Narak while as Krishna, Vishnu killed Narak. In Andhra folklore, Narak is killed not by Krishna but by his wife, Satyabhama. Men are bathed by wives just as Satyabhama bathed Krishna as he prepared for battle. The bursting crackers celebrate the triumph of Krishna. The 15th day, or rather the night, is the time to worship Lakshmi, as she is churned out of the ocean of milk by the Devas and Asuras. This is the time to light lamps to drive away darkness, burst crackers to drive away silence and eat sweets to drive away bitter and sour tastes. Silence, darkness and bitterness and sourness are physical manifestations of poverty and inauspiciousness, which incidentally is also embodied as a goddess, Alakshmi, the twin sister of Lakshmi, who must be respectfully driven away. It is a day when food is exchanged for exchange is the cornerstone of the market place. By

giving and receiving gifts one is encouraging Lakshmis arrival. This is also the day when everybody gambles dice was played in ancient times, today it is cards. Both games are a mix of luck and skill. Gambling is a ritual way of reminding that winners are those who take advantage of what they have. The next day, when the moon starts to wax, it is Bali Pratipada, the day when Vishnu as Vaman tricked the Asura Bali, ruler of the three worlds, to give him three paces of land and then turned into a giant and took the earth and the sky with two paces and with the third step shoved Bali under the ground. Observe how Vishnu did not claim the nether regions. He merely put the Asura king under the earth where he belongs. Thus, it was a day when social and cosmic hierarchy is established. The money-lender and the farmer are no more equals as they were the night before when they gambled together. On the final day, it is Yama Dwitiya. Yama, god of death, rises. Although a god, he is more terrifying than any demon. He is the god of accountants who keep a meticulous record of all karmic events. This is the day when the calculation of new debts resumes. It is also Bhai Guj, or brothers day the day when Yama visits his sister, Yaminis house. When sisters get married they transform themselves into diminutive doubles of Lakshmi, homemakers for their husbands. It is the duty of the accountant brother to check that she is truly happy in the land of Devas. Its a reminder that fortune (Yamini/Lakshmi) is a function of fate (Yama) and hence we must be happy with the harvest, whatever it may be. For only when we are happy with the Lakshmi in our lives, will we be truly content.

In the great epics of India, Ramayan and Mahabharata, war ends not with celebration of victory but with transmission of knowledge. In the Ramayan, Ravan lies mortally wounded on the battlefield and the monkeys are celebrating their victory, when Ram turns to his brother, Lakshman, and says, While Ravan was a brute, he was also a great scholar. Go to him quickly and request him to share whatever knowledge he can. The obedient Lakshman rushes to Ravans side and whispers in his ears, Demonking , all your life you have taken not given. Now the noble Ram gives you an opportunity to mend your ways. Share your vast wisdom. Do not let it die with you. For that you will be surely be blessed. Ravan responds by simply turning away. An angry Lakshman goes back to Ram and says: He is as arrogant as he always was, too proud to share anything. Ram looks at his brother and asks him softly, Where did you stand while asking him for knowledge? Next to his head so that I hear what he had to say clearly. Ram smiles, places his bow on the ground and walks to where Ravan lies. Lakshman watches in astonishment as his brother kneels at Ravans feet. With palms joined, with extreme humility, Ram says, Lord of Lanka, you abducted my wife, a terrible crime for which I have been forced to punish you. Now, you are no more my enemy. I see you now as you are known across the world, as the wise son of Rishi Vishrava. I bow to you and request you to share your wisdom with me. Please do that for if you die without doing so, all your wisdom will be lost forever to the world. To Lakshmans surprise, Ravan opens his eyes and raises his arms to salute Ram, If only I had more time as your teacher than as your enemy. Standing at my feet as a student should, unlike your rude younger brother, you are a worthy recipient of my knowledge. I have very little time so I cannot share much but let me tell you one important lesson I have learnt in my life. Things that are bad for you seduce you easily; you run towards them impatiently. But things are actually good for you fail to attract you; you shun them creatively, finding powerful excuses to justify your procrastination. That is why I was impatient to abduct Sita but avoided meeting you. This is the wisdom of my life, Ram. My last words. I give it to you. With these words, Ravan dies.

Theres similar knowledge transmission after the Mahabharat war is over and the Kauravas are all dead. As the victorious Pandavas are about to assume control of Hastinapur, Krishna advises them to talk to Bhisma, their grand uncle, who lies mortally wounded on the battlefield. As a result of a blessing, death would elude him for some time. Make him talk until his last breath. Ask him questions. He has a lot to tell, says Krishna. Sure enough, when prompted , the dying Bhisma spends hours discussing various topics: history, geography, politics, economics , management, war, ethics, morality, sex, astronomy , metaphysics and spirituality . Bhismas discourse is captured in the Shanti Parva (discussions of peace) and Anushasan Parva (discussions on discipline) that makes up a quarter of the Mahabharata. After listening to their grandsire, the Pandavas have a better understanding of the world, and this makes them better kings. Both these stories draw attention to the value of knowledge. In triumph, it is easy to claim the material possessions of the defeated his cows, his gold, his slaves, his kingdom, his palace. But it is not easy to claim his knowledge. When he dies, his knowledge and all his experience goes with him. Knowledge does not outlive death. Every day, an organization churns out vast amounts of knowledge. Every day, people leave organizations, taking their knowledge with them, knowledge which they probably acquired because they are part of the organization. They take with them knowledge of clients, markets, business processes, tricks of the trade. These may not be confidential information or patented information, but information that does give an organization that competitive edge. Long has this knowledge drain been recognised. Over the past decade, a whole new business process known as knowledge management has evolved that seeks to harness, store, transmit this knowledge . Every CEO agrees that it is a valuable business process, that investment in it is critical. Policies have been made, people have been hired and systems have been deployed. Unfortunately, for all the initial enthusiasm, implementation has been lacking. Unlike retrieving cash, retrieving knowledge from employees, both current and future, is not easy. Often because they are like Sahadeva. Sahadeva was the youngest Pandava and, in the South Indian Mahabharata, he is described as an expert in many predictive sciences such as astrology , palmistry and face reading. But he is cursed: if he ever gave any information voluntarily , his head will split into a thousand pieces. That is why he is silent throughout the epic. He knows every fortune and misfortune that his family will go through, but he can never use his knowledge to forewarn anyone. When Yudhishtira finally learns of his brothers prowess he is furious. Why did you not tell me all that you knew? All he gets in response is Sahadevas silence. Most employees in an organisation are Sahadevas.

Sahadevas are of two types: either they are unwilling to share their knowledge or they dont have the means to do so. The former category knows that knowledge is power and will not give it away under any circumstances. The latter category is willing to share knowledge but either no one asks them for it or there is no system where they can make it available for others. Knowledge Management is leadership driven. Only a Ram, not a Laskhman can do it. He must first believe in it. He must respect the fact that everyone in his organisation, even those who he does not particularly like, are repositories of great wisdom not only knowledge of things that work but also knowledge of things that do not work. He must make conscious efforts to capture as much of it as possible. The simplest method is talking to people, while they are on the job and especially when they are leaving the organisation . An exit interviews must never be a ritual. Neither must it be an exercise to just get the venom out nor an exercise to expose the underbelly that has prompted the resignation. It must be a concerted effort to gather what was the knowledge acquired between joining and leaving the organisation. Interviews work if the organisation is mall. As the organisation grows in size one needs a more formal system, at the very least a simple archival system managed by a clerk or secretary but on a larger scale, a sophisticated knowledge repository , a kind of electronic cupboard where at least the final version of presentations, documents and spreadsheets of key business events can be stored. This sounds very logical but most organisations do not do this. The effort involved is huge and the rewards are neither immediate nor tangible. A brand manager joining a reputed FMCG company, for example, once discovered that they did not have the brand deck (plans, tools, research, messages) of the past five years of a key product . What the organisation did have is the financial numbers but not a clear history of marketing messages it had put out before the consumer. Previous brand managers had handed over all documents to someone and it was kept somewhere. But no one knew who that someone was and what that somewhere was. In the absence of a simple archiving system, the new brand manager had to collate all brand related background information from scratch so that he could define the future brand positioning. A fully avoidable waste of energy and resources. Every organisation has a very powerful Finance Department that works round the clock to keep an eye on money flowing in and out of the organisation . Internal and external auditors, controllers and accountants keep a hawks eye on every bill and purchase order. But not even a fraction of that energy is used by companies to manage their knowledge. This indicates that most organisations do not believe that Lakshmi follows Saraswati: they do not believe that existence of knowledge systems improve efficiency and effectiveness and can provide raw materials to provoke new ideas or prevent old

mistakes. Unless a leader believes that Saraswati is critical , he will end up with an organisation of Sahadevas. Take a step back. Check if you are creatively shunning this rather tedious matter of knowledge management. If you are, then remember the wise words of Ravan: it must be actually good for you.


When he wants to know the profits of the organisation, the CEO turns to his Chief Finance Officer (CFO). But when it comes to understanding opportunities in the market, the leader turns to the Head of Marketing and Sales (HMS). The CFO knows where investments have been made and where the returns have come from. But knowledge of the customers, their needs, the impact of products and services, the competitive scenario and the opportunities out there rests with the HSM. The CFO has an inward vision of what is happening to the flow of money within the organisation while the HSM has an outward vision of the market. A CFO typically looks at the past while the HSM has a futuristic outlook. Ask a leader who matters more and he will not be able to answer. Both matter. Success without either is not possible. Before success comes an organisation. Before organisation come finances. Before finances comes a dream. And before that a need, a desire. When the ancients asked what came first in the universe, the Veda says desire. In later texts known as Puranas, the idea of desire came to be embodied in a god called Kama. He is visualised as riding a parrot. The red beak of the parrot represents unfulfilled desire (the red earth before the rain) while the green feathers represent fulfilled desires (the green earth after the rain). He is associated with spring, flowers, nymphs and musicians . Wherever he goes ,seeds germinate and life blooms. He is the primal god who makes things possible and provides the force that shifts things out of inertia. Kama is the great visionary of an organisation. Organisations exist because of that someone who wants to change things, who is unhappy with the ways things are, the one who sees a different future . In an organisation, either the leader or the HSM is supposed to be Kama, inspiring and motivating people , making them see possibilities, provoking them to realise the

potential within themselves and in the market. He agitates the mind with dazzling dreams and aspirations. That is why scriptures identify Kama as Manmatha , he who churns the mind. Like individuals, organisations can also be driven by the Kama principle. Typically, they are places that inspire passion in their employees: a place where people are in a hurry to come to work in the morning and who are willing to stay back late. A place where work is fun and the spirit is creative and innovative. Though delightful, Kama is also a troublemaker. In his hand is a sugarcane bow whose bowstring is made of bees and butterflies. With flowers as his arrows, he strikes the heart and the five senses. The resulting wound fills one with constant dissatisfaction and discontentment. While this fills one with dreams, and propels one into action , it also generates frustration, anger, depression and exasperation. For all dreams cannot be fulfilled. All actions are not successful. All adventures do not have a happy ending. The plans of an HSM, that may have excited the entire organisation, do not always yield the desired result. The late hours and passion of the Kama organisation may turn out to the disappointment of all not-so-profitable and hence not viable. But whether successful or unsuccessful, all actions have reactions. And he who performs the action is obliged to experience the reaction. So says the law of karma, which is the second force of the cosmos according to the Veda. In later scriptures, Yama, the god of death was identified as the god responsible for karma. If Kama provoked birth then Yama ensured the consequence death. Yama is always accompanied by his dispassionate accountant, Chitragupta , who maintains a meticulous record of karmic events. Looking at the records, Yama ensures that all actions inspired by Kamas arrows are paid for. He is the cosmic debt-collector , with an impassive face, who binds all creatures with a noose until all recoveries are made. Riding a buffalo, he slowly but relentlessly catches up with all, eventually. The CFO has the unfortunate role of Yama. Unfortunate because nobody likes the god of death, the one who never smiles, who constantly measures everything and reminds all of their debts. An organisation can also be dominated by the Yama principle: a place where everything has to be accounted for, where all actions are tracked and evaluated and nothing is left to the imagination. It is an organisation where everybody comes on time and leaves on time, where systems and processes govern all things, where the smallest expense is accounted for. While the arrow of Kama which can fly in any direction and travel rather irresponsibly, Yamas noose has a very clear and defined orientation. It is highly predictable because the intensity of any reaction is limited by the intensity of the action. Yama makes an

organisation stable. While Kama changes the world, Yama makes the change controllable . Yama takes away uncertainty. In a Yama organisation, everyone knows their role. There is little stress. In a Kama organisation by contrast, one never knows what is going to happen. Late hours, high passion creates spurts of brilliance but there is no guarantee that the brilliance can be reproduced at a predefined rate, making a Kama organisation high on dreams and dazzle but low on guarantees. Typically, start-ups are Kama organisations. But as an organisation grows, Yama takes over. Things have to be accounted for. Resources have been carefully invested and one has to keep ones eye on the returns. While Kama organisations make a lot of room for innovation, they run the high risk of failure and collapse. Yama organisations are great at harvesting wealth but they do not inspire new thoughts. In fact, new ideas are actively discouraged as they bring with them change. One could say that Kama is the heart, Yama the head. Kama is all about emotion and passion. Yama is all about efficiency. Kama is about the Power Point presentation that excites the venture capitalist and the stock market . Yama is all about the Excel sheet that puts all expenses and investments and revenues in perspective. A good leader needs both Kama and Yama to succeed. Sometimes, a leader has one or the other quality. He is either highly passionate visionary with poor organisational skills or he is a meticulous record keeper, good in operations but terrible when it comes to inspiring and selling. In this case, he needs to ensure that his team makes up for what he lacks. A good organisation cannot run without one of the two wheels. Realising the value of both Kama and Yama, organisations have task forces that function on the Kama principle, full of desire, passion and the instinct to hunt for new business. Once the new business stabilises, it is handed over to Yama who establishes systems and processes to milk the wealth efficiently. With Kama, birth happens. Yama, used badly, can only cause death. But used smartly, Yama ensures rebirth, rotating the wheel that keeps the counters ringing constantly for a very long time.

Nobody knew of Beowolf until Hollywood turned his tale into a film. Composed previous to the Norman invasion of England around the fifth century, the tale comes from lands now known as Denmark and Sweden, once the land of the dreaded and barbaric Vikings. The story begins in the grand hall newly constructed by one Hrothgar (the modern Roger), King of Denmark, where he hoped to feast his retainers and listen to the bards during the long winter evenings. The inauguration of this hall was celebrated by a sumptuous entertainment. The next day, to everyones horror, the floor and walls were all stained with blood, the only trace of the knights who had slept there in full armor. Gigantic, blood-stained footsteps, led from the festive hall to the sluggish waters of a deep mountain lake, or fiord. This carnage was clearly the work of Grendel, a descendant of the giants. Hrothgar was now too old to wield a sword, so he offered princely reward to any man brave enough to free the country of this terrible scourge. Many tried but failed. News of this finally reached the kingdom of the Geates (Goths). The kings nephew Beowulf (the Bee Hunter) was so roused by the tale of the monster that he impetuously declared his intention to show his valor by slaying Grendel. Although very young, Beowulf was quite distinguished, and had already won great honors in a battle against the Swedes. He had also proved his endurance by entering into a swimming match with Breka, one of the lords at his uncle's court. The two champions had started out, sword in hand and fully armed, and, after swimming in concert for five whole days, they were parted by a great tempest. Breka was driven ashore, but the current bore Beowulf toward some jagged cliffs, where he desperately clung, trying to resist the fury of the waves, and using his sword to ward off the attacks of hostile mermaids, nicors (nixies), and other sea monsters. The gashed bodies of these slain foes soon drifted ashore. As Breka had returned first, he received the prize for swimming; but the king gave Beowulf on his return his treasured sword and praised him publicly for his valor. Beowulf had successfully encountered these monsters of the deep in the roaring tide, so he now expressed a hope that he might prevail against Grendel also; and embarking with fourteen chosen men, he sailed to Denmark. On the evening of his arrival, after a great feast, Beowolf waited in Hrothgar grand hall with his companions for the monster. Sure enough, in the early morning, when all was very still, the giant

appeared, tearing asunder the iron bolts and bars which secured the door. He tore one of Beowolfs companions limb from limb, greedily drank his blood, and devoured his flesh. He then eagerly stretched out his hands in the darkness to seize another victim, but found his hand caught in so powerful a grasp that all his efforts could not wrench it free! Grendel and Beowulf struggled in the darkness, overturning tables and couches, shaking the great hall to its very foundations, and causing the walls to creak and groan under the violence of their furious blows. But in spite of Grendel's gigantic stature, Beowulf clung so fast to the hand and arm he had grasped that Grendel, making a desperate effort to free himself by a jerk, tore the whole limb out of its socket! Bleeding and mortally wounded, he then beat a hasty retreat to his marshy den, leaving a long, bloody trail behind him. At dawn, the king heard with wonder a graphic account of the night's adventures, and gazed their fill upon the monster's limb, which hung like a trophy from the ceiling of the great hall. After the king had warmly congratulated Beowulf, and bestowed upon him many rich gifts, he gave orders to cleanse the hall, to hang it with tapestry, and to prepare a banquet in honor of the conquering hero. After the banquet everyone went to sleep fearing no monster. But in the dead of night the mother of the giant Grendel, as gruesome and uncanny a monster as he, glided into the hall, secured the bloody trophy still hanging from the ceiling, and carried it away, together with Aeschere (Askher), the king's bosom friend. Beowolf immediately volunteered to finish his work and avenge Aeschere by seeking and attacking Grendel's mother in her own retreat. A great fight ensued between Beowolf and Grendel's mother in her slimy retreat. She clutched him fast, wrestled with him, deprived him of his sword, flung him down, and finally tried to pierce his armor with her trenchant knife. Fortunately, however, the hero's armor was weapon-proof, and his muscles were so strong that before she could do him any harm he had freed himself from her grasp. Seizing a large sword hanging upon a projection of rock near by, he dealt her a mighty blow, severing her head from the trunk at a single stroke. On his return, Beowolf was almost overwhelmed with gifts by the grateful Danes. A few days later Beowulf and his companions returned home, where the story of their adventures, and an exhibition of all the treasures they had won, formed the principal topics of conversation. Several years of comparative peace ensued. In one of the many Viking raids, Beowolfs uncle was killed. Fearing for the young prince, the queen bade the people set her own child's claims aside in favor of Beowulf. This proposal was hailed with enthusiasm; but Beowulf refused to usurp his kinsman's throne, and raising his infant cousin upon his shield, he declared that he would protect and uphold him as long as he lived. The people, following his example, swore fealty to the new king, and faithfully kept this oath until he died. Years later, in the prime of his youth, the young king was assassinated forcing Beowolf to accept the nowvacant throne. As there were none to dispute his claims, the hero no longer refused to rule, and he bravely defended his kingdom against many attacks. After a reign of forty years of comparative peace, when Beowolf had naturally lost much of his former vigor, a terrible, fire-breathing dragon took up its abode in the mountains near by, where it watched over a hoard of

glittering gold. A fugitive slave, having made his way unseen into the monster's den during one of its temporary absences, bore away a small portion of this gold. Infuriated, the dragon flew all over the land, vomiting venom and flames, setting houses and crops afire, and causing so much damage that the people were almost beside themselves with terror. The people implored Beowulf to deliver them as he had delivered the Danes, and to slay this oppressor, which was even worse than the terrible Grendel. Such an appeal could not be disregarded, and in spite of his advanced years Beowulf donned his armor once more. Accompanied by eleven of his bravest men, he then went out to seek the monster in its lair. A desperate struggle followed, in the course of which Beowulf's sword and strength both failed him. The dragon coiled its long, scaly folds about the aged hero, and was about to crush him to death when Wiglaf, Beowolfs oldest and most faithful companion, perceiving his master's imminent danger, sprang forward and distracted the monster from harming Beowolf. Beowulf, recovering, then drew his dagger and soon put an end to the dragon's life. But even as the dragon breathed its last the hero sank fainting to the ground. Feeling that his end was near, he warmly thanked Wiglaf for his timely aid, rejoiced in the death of the monster, and bade his faithful follower bring out the concealed treasure and lay it at his feet, that he might feast his eyes upon the glittering gold he had won for his people's use. This is a simple tale of a hero who kills monsters, defends the weak, brings his people fortune, and demonstrates honor and integrity. This reflects the worldview of the Vikings of what they considered perfection. The gods here are conspicuous by their absence. Man here is expected to solve his own problems. No explanations are given for the existence of monsters just as life offers no explanations for the existence of problems. One has to solve them with brain or brawn or with a little help from a hero.

Marriage is the most important rite of passage in a family, second only to the funerary rituals because it brings with it the hope of children, the next generation, of continuity and renewal. Organisations are no different from families people are constantly leaving either at the end of their term, or in between, for better prospects. The only way to ensure the organisation survives is to get new people in. The process of integrating new people into the organisation is uncannily similar to the process of integrating a new bride into the household. Here, the groom is the organisation , the new recruit is the bride. Just as in Vedic times, without a bride by their side, no man was given access to worldly wealth, today without good people within, no organisation can hope for growth or success. The Shastras refer to eight different ways of getting a bride. In the way of Prajapati, the ideal form of marriage, the grooms father requests a man to grant his daughters hand in marriage to his son. In the way of Brahma, the brides father had to pay a dowry. In the way of the Devas, the bride was a fee for services rendered . In the way of the Rishis, she was offered as a ritual gift. These four ways gave rise to what we call arranged marriage today. In the way of the Gandharvas, the bride chose the groom, what is today called love marriage . In the way of the Asuras, the bride was purchased. In the way of the Rakshasas, she was abducted. In the way of Pisachas, she was forced into marriage by rape. Today the process of recruitment is as varied . Some grooms , like the government, who offer the promise of stability and lifetime employment , are so attractive that brides prove their worthiness by sitting for exams, and some are even willing to pay a bribe (the dowry) to get in. But in the new world order, as new organisations are formed, the number of grooms are rising and good brides are in short supply. Companies have to brand and position themselves to attract talent. The ancients were well aware that marriage was a sensitive samskara. It marked the shift of power in the household. Would the new bride be like Sita and blend into the household ? Or would she be like Draupadi and divide the household? When a new bride enters, the old brides of the household have to make room. The elder sisters-in-law , mother-in-law and grandmother-in-law wonder if she will be able to adjust to the family way or will the family have to adjust to her way. To an astute observer, organisational politics are no different from household politics. This tussle for power, which can sometimes turn distasteful, is natural as the old and new forces interact with

each other to generate a new equilibrium. It is not just about power it is also about culture. Every organisation, domestic or corporate, has a culture. This manifests in the way the organisation functions. Some organisations are hierarchical with cabins for seniors only. Others have flat structures, with no cabins, only workstations, for all. Some companies are idea driven. Others are number driven. Some companies celebrate your strengths. Others keep a close eye on your weaknesses. Every time a person shifts from one job to another, he is essentially a new bride. He knows he has to adapt to a new culture. In the vivah samksara, there was an implicit acceptance that the young bride is moving from familiar to an unfamiliar zone, hence elaborate rituals were established to make her comfortable . Wedding games were devised so that through play she became familiar with her husband and his family. There were also elaborate rituals to present her to the women of the household. They had to look at her, praise her and give her gifts so that she felt adored and less nervous. Unfortunately, in the corporate world, despite the best of intentions of the human resource department (the matchmaker and the priest), not much is done to consciously integrate the new recruit into the organisation. The integration process is often reduced to a mere formality . One hears of a young executive , fresh out of college, who joined a pharma company did not have a workstation for a week, a computer for a fortnight, a boss for a month and a clear role for three months. If a bride feels like an outsider, she will resist integration into the household. But once she feels like a daughter not a daughter-in-law , she will contribute maximally, which is in everyones best interests. How to make this happen depends on the attitude of the matriarch, the leader, towards the new bride. Her attitude has a profound impact on the rest of the family. She has to include the new bride without threatening the older brides. She has to retain the old, while encouraging the new. Smart organisations know that it is not only about teaching the bride the old ways organisation ; it is also about learning new things from her. If every new recruit adapts to the organisational way, there will never be any new ideas, hence there never will new solutions or new insights and hence there will be no growth. In the vivah samskara, the bride was encouraged to bring with her many things from her fathers house grains, vegetables, spices, livestock. At a very practical level, this was meant to improve diversity in the kitchen, the field and in the livestock of her husbands house. At a symbolic level, it represented the values and knowledge she brought with her. Ultimately, as the vivah samksara says, marriage is about give and take. The couple has to walk the path together, enriching and empowering each other. Hence the ritual of

saptapadi, taking seven steps together holding hands, the steps representing: time, strength, pleasure, wealth, children, happiness and friendship.