July 31, 2006

An interesting book by Bankim babu

I recently came across a rare English book. Name of the original book in Bengali is 'Anusilan.'In English it is translated as' Essentials of Dharma' by Manomohan Ghosh.

It is written originally in Bengali and the author is none other than Bankim. Yes! It is the same Bankim Chandra Chatterji who wrote the novel‘Anandmath' which embrace the inspiring song Vandemataram.

You may ask what is special about it? I am a Kannadiga and my mother tongue is Kannada.Over 150 years Kannada has developed a cultural contact with Bengal.
Important novels of Bankim, Rabindranath Tagore and Sharashandra Chatterji are translated to Kannada, way back in 1930's-70's.Even now the serious readers of literature from Karnataka read Mahaswetadevi's 'Hajar chowrwsi ki maa', 'Prachin Sahitya' of Tagore.'

Senior Kannada professors like A.R.Krishnashastry, T.S.Venkanniah and K.V.Puttappa learnt Bengali out of interest. Indian renaissance, the influence of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, Vivekananda and Aurobindo made Bengali culture near and dear to Kannada culture.'Prachin Sahitya' of Tagore was translated by T.S.Venkanniah and K.V.Puttappa , visionary poet of Kannada wrote inspiring biographies namely, 'Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa', 'Swami Vivekananda'.

A.R.Krishnashastry's Kannada book 'Bankimachandra' is perhaps one of the best book written on Bankim in any of the Indian languages.It narrates the life mission, vision and contribution of Bankim to Indian culture.

Now let me tell you the importance of the book 'Anusilan'.If 'Hind Swaraj'of M.K.Gandhi influenced the swadeshi movement, 'Anusilan' inspired the revolutionaries
of Bengal and central India. They founded an organization based on 'Anusilan'of Bankim and called their organization, Anusilan Samithi.

But alas....the official Indian historians and text book writers and so called Hindu organization have no time to peep in to the neglected real sources and write the history of the people during the independence struggle.

'Essentials of Dharma' by Manmohan Ghosh(English translation).
Sribhumi Publishing Company,
79, Mahatma Gandhi Road, Calcutta-9

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July 28, 2006

Sanskrit, Kannada, and poet Nayasena

Jaina classical poets of Kannada followed the puranic framework of 'Purvapurana' of Acharya Jinasena, but not any of Vaishnava /Shaiva /Shakta mythology in Sanskrit. Kannada Jaina poets, who usually were the followers of digambara tradition, created a sound poetic logic and sensibly responded to the socio-political situations prevalent in medieval Karnataka. The best example for this is the encyclopedic Kannada work of Nayasena.

Nayasena who was a digambara monk was originally from the village Mulagunda of today's Dharwad district of Karnataka. As is usual with Indian poets in general and Kannada poets in particular except for a few like Pampa and Ranna, he never reveals anything about himself. Scholars have opined that when he wrote 'Dharmamritam' he was a Jaina monk and this encyclopedic work of cultural significance was completed in the year A.D.1112.

But since Nayasena's objective and conceptual focus are different from early Jaina poets to him like Pampa, Ranna and Janna, he entered in to an entirely new area of mock poetry. Jaina poets understood the situation and cultural tensions of Kannada, took initiation and they became the forerunners in the intellectual development of Kannada. It is to be noted that they set a trend that largely embraced the sacred and profane aspects of daily life. Continuing the legacy of 9th and 10th century Jaina writers, Nayasena, for the first time, set a new model of analyzing other faiths based on Jaina religion and philosophy. He juxtaposed the Jaina standpoints about life, karma and worship of the Jina against other faiths/worldviews like Vedism, Buddhism and different shaiva sects.

Nayasena is particular about using Kannada of his times in replacement with Sanskrit. He mocks at those poets in these words: can they be called poets, who declared that they would create a good work (satkruthi) in modern Kannada and still use Sanskrit (sakkada)? , It doesn't mean that he hates Sanskrit; but only shows the wisdom of Nayasena in rejecting the use of heavy vocabulary of Sanskrit scholarship while creating a Kannada work for Kannada speaking and listening world. His commitment for the propagation of Jainism through Kannada and through his own poetry is remarkable and it is a characteristic of Jaina poets itself. His position suggests that one can use simple day- to - day Sanskrit words in a Kannada text but not the archaic use of Sanskrit for the sake of just using it. Perhaps his wit suggested him to differentiate between Kannada from Sanskrit. In this context, he uses the simile of oil and ghee to make his point:
If anyone wants to write in
Sanskrit let them, but is it right
if they bring Sanskrit into Kannada?
Is it right to mix ghee with oil? (1.42)

Thus the genius (Prathibha) of Nayasena is not tired of stating again and again that no amount of great Sanskrit can replace the beauty of Kannada. The most noteworthy aspect is that his own work 'Dharmamritam' is a testimony to his poetic theory and practice.

July 27, 2006

My book reviews in prajavani

Book reviews on today's few Kannada poems

Book review on Mehejabeen's ELEYUDURU KALA

Book review on Lalitha Siddabasavaiaha's KEBBE NELA

Book review on S. Manjunath's KALLU PARIVALAGALA BETA

Book review on Mudnakudu Chinnaswamy's CHANDIRANA KANNU NUNGALARADA HUNNU

Alan Watts and Zen...zip...zap...zoom

Are you a westerner feeling empty? Or are you an Asian who thinks that we know every thing about Hinduism, Vedantha, Buddhism and Yoga? If you say yes, then with all the humility I will ask you a simple question –have you ever read Alan Watts?

Alan Watts was the think tank for many thinkers of the twentieth century. If you ask me to supply an example, the name of Osho Rajneesh will come to my mind.Osho has spoken a book (because he never sat and wrote a book, all of them were transcribed)-‘The Books I Loved.’ In that he speaks on great philosophers, mathematicians and poets and their works. In the end of the book he mentions the name of Alan Watts and remembers the Biblical saying-“They also are blessed, who stand and wait.”And says that he is obliged to Alan Watts for his original thoughts and has dedicated the whole book in the memory of Alan Watts!

Alan Watts, who died in 1974, held both a master’s degree in theology and a doctorate of divinity, and was best known as an interpreter of Zen Buddhism in particular, and of Indian and Chinese philosophy and psychology of religion, which include
The Way of Zen
The Supreme Identity
The Joyous Cosmology,
Beyond Theology
Cloud-Hidden Whereabouts Unknown
Tao –The Watercourse Way
The Spirit of Zen
The Legacy of Asia and Western Man
The Meaning of Happiness
The Theologica Mystica of St. Dionysius
Behold the Spirit
The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are
In My Own Way: An Autobiography

After reading few of his books, I found a new mantra to enjoy and understand life(the order is important!). Again, I am grateful to my friend N.Ramaswamy for introducing me to this great seer.
Now a slice from his profound book- Behold the Spirit.

Zen is largely a monastic religion, although the monks do not as a rule take life vows since their stay in the monastery is often only temporary-for purposes of instruction. These monasteries are run somewhat on Benedictine lines, the rule consisting of both meditation and manual work, and the spiritual life is directed by a roshi or “master” distinct from the abbot, who attends to administrative affairs. The following instances of the Zen way of teaching are dialogues between masters and their monks or lay inquirers:

“Ever since I came to you,” a monk complained, “I haven’t been instructed at all in the study of Reality.” “Ever since you came to me,” replied the master, “I have always been pointing out to you how to study Reality.”

“In what way, sir?” “When you brought me tea, did I not accept it? When you brought me food, did I not eat it? When you made bows to me, did I not return them? When did Iever neglect in giving you instruction?”

Seeing that the monk did not understand, he concluded, “If you want to see, see directly into it; but when you try to think about it, it is altogether missed.”

Sometimes these exchanges were very brief and to the point:

“What is the real meaning of religion?”
“A refreshing breeze is stirred in the blue sky.”
“What is Tao (i.e., God, Reality)?”
“Walk on!”
“What is Realization?”
“Your everyday thoughts.
“What is the one ultimate word of truth?”
“I asked, what is the one ultimate word of truth?”
“I’m not deaf!”
“I have just come to this monastery; please give me some instruction.”
“Have you had your breakfast?”
“Then wash your dishes.”

I invite you to get deepen by reading Alan Watts.

July 26, 2006

Jain centre of south India - Kankagiri-Maleyur

Kanakagiri hill is situated just 3 km. from present village, Maleyur in the recently created district of Chamarajanagar in the southern state of Karnataka, India. Jain monuments and population are found in numerous villages like Maleyur, Harave, Kelasur, Mugur, Ummattur, Kuderu, Tagadurur, Echiganahalli and Chamarajanagar, all situated within 50 kilometer radius from Kanakagiri hill. From the city of Mysore, Kanakagiri can be reached by car or bus in this way. SStart from Mysore to Nanjanagud to Maleyur, and then travel a kilometer southwest to Kanakagiri hill.From Tamilnadu, it can be reached through Ooty to Gundalpet and Nanjanagud to Maleyur.From the state of Kerala, it can be reached via Wynad district to Gundalpet and Nanjanagud.This geographical location of Kanakagiri, thus has played an important role in religio-cultural history of the region where three southern states –Karnata,Kerala and Tamilunadu meet.

Devachandra(C.E.1770-1841), who may be considered as the first Indian said to have undertaken about writing the history of the Nation in his Kannada work Rajavalikathasara, has also written Pujyapadacharite, in Kannada(Life-story of Pujyapada) which associates him with the sacredness of Kanakagiri kshetra.

The legend of Kanakagiri, as a Jain tirtha/ksherta, appears to go back to a remote past as referred to in later literary works, but no historic records are available in support of the claim. Nevertheless, history of Kanakagiri as a spiritual and religious center of Jainism, based on literary sources and later records, confirm that Kanakagiri regained its tirtha/kshetra fame in early medieval times having associated with Achrya Pujyapada and his nephew and disciple Nagarjuna(c.464-524 C.E.). According to Jyothi Prasad Jain, professor of History, Pujyapada was “a prominent religious head, a great yogi, a sublime mystique and a brilliant poet, a reputed scholar, an eminent author and a master of branches of learning.” The rasayoga, an ancient science of alchemy, exploits at the hill by Pujyapuda and Nagarjuna have been referred to in a later stone inscription assigned to eleventh C.E.It refers to the hill as Kanakachala, meaning hill of gold-kanaka(gold), achala(hill).
Visit Kanakagiri and explore the culture of south India and south Indian Jainism.

July 24, 2006

known book by an unknown author

After 3 months of legroom,DeshaKaala is available in the market. By the way Desha kaala means the literary little magazine edited by Vivek Shanbhag.It is in Kannada, the official language of Karnatka,India. Vivek is in Bangalore and he is a short story writer with good literary sensibility. To appreciate his taste and my statement, you have to read the short story of ‘Jogi’ in DeshaKala July –September 2006.

The story, if it can be summarized runs like this.
Raghavendra raya, the librarian of central college on the last day of his retirement finds a book. It doesn’t have the cover page; name of the author is not there. Blurb has a list of other books written by the same ‘author’! But who is the author?

Raghavendra is now retired and that book haunts him day and night and at last he asks his friend Desai , who is a lecturer in a college to read that book. But only to know that Desai has not only ignored the book but has lost it.
Raghavenda becomes mad about the book and the the ‘author’. He was finally driven by some force to rewrite it, till he feels liberated. The dawn of next day knocks the door of literary world with the death of an unknown reader who tried to retain the story of an unknown author.That means Raghavendra is dead. What does the story suggests?It may suggest different things to different readers but I have listed down my observations:
-Literary world is insensitive.

-Lecturers who are supposed to be the torch bearers of knowledge are irresponsible.

-People who are ‘ordinary’ are much eager on culture, language than the elite class.

-Librarians like Raghavendra who are sensible to books are very rare to find at least in Indian libraries.

Last punch- By the way who is 'Jogi’?

Nietche- my favourite flower

I won't call him a philosopher nor as mad.

For me he is a flower forgot to be named by the botanists.

His strength is poetry, which can laugh at anything.

Belive me this all time great mind named one of his books as
The Gay Science
With a Prelude in Rhymes
an Appendix of Songs

For some he is the master mind behind the German racism of Hitler,
for others like Ananda Coomaraswamy, the author of The Dance of Shiva,greatest mystique of the west. (The other two, according to him are
Blake and Witman).Whatever it is I won't forget this flower which continues to blossom.

Now letus enjoy the fragrance of the two petals of him.

Rather on your toes, up high,
Than crawling on all fours!
Rather through a keyhole spy
Than through open doors!
(Priciples of the Overly Refined)

Do not stay in the field!
Nor climb out of sight.
The best view of the world
Is from a medium height.
(Worldly Wisdom)

second hand books and me

Me and my second hand books
When did I buy the first book on footpath?
It was donkey years ago. When I was in Hassan, I used to come to Bangalore on dasara and summer holidays.
Then the buses from majestic were passing through KG.Road. Walking through areas akin to Mysore bank, Balepet, Upparpet police station, and avenue road was a feast both for the eyes and to the intellect.
Vision of India was the first book that I purchased in front of Upparpet police station. It was way back in1992.That was a pocket book, was published by Jaico, Mumbai. The not so bright yellow colored cover and smiling Buddha attracted me. I found my Buddha in the middle of the traffic, the crowd and the other foot path sales like chappals, clothes and banana. After much bargain I became the owner reader of the book by paying 2 Rs.

Since then lot of water has flodded through the gutters of Bangalore. I have purchased not less than 500 books from these foot paths on various subjects like cricket, poems, novels and yoga. But how can I not remember my first book authored by Sisirkumar mitra which showed me the strength and down fall of my motherland over 5000 years? Thyerefore the first book enjoyed all my care and love. Till recently it was with me and somewhere in March 2006 I disposed more than 600 books from my collection.

July 13, 2006

Bombay blast

Let's pray for the victims family and let's make the co citizens of our cities & towns alert on Bombay blast.

July 12, 2006

Raja Rao - father of desi English novels

Hassan Raja Rao is no more. He was veteran with philosophical depth in his novels and other writings. Raja Rao is considered as the father of desi English novels. Kantapura, Serpent and the rope, The Chess master and His Moves, Cat and Shakespeare are some of his best novels. In one word, he is the father of Indian novels in English.
Born in a Brahmin family at Hassan (one of the most beautiful districts of Karnataka) on November 8, 1908.His mother tongue was Kannada.
Little information is available about his early days. His ancestors were court pundits and enjoyed the royal honors from the Mysore kings and from other princely states.
Rajarao’s father, Sri H.V.Krishnaswamy was a great Sanskrit scholar and led a respectful life. Raja’s mother was Gowramma and since there was scarcity for space at home she gave birth to Raja in a dharmashala. Why he is named as Raja is an interesting question. On the day of his birth king (raja) of then Mysore kingdom, Krishna raja Wodeyar IV visited Hassan town. Therefore this child was named as Raja.Later in his life he really became raja of novels.
For Krishnaswamy has to move to Hyderabad on job Raja too moved there, and he became the student of Madrasa-e-alia. It is interesting to note that a boy from a Brahmin family studied in a school meant only for rich class Muslims!
After his primary education, he moved out of Karnataka and successfully completed degree from University of Madras. Then he moved to France and studied philosophy and Christian theology.
Though he wrote many novels, except Kantapura, no other work has been translated in to his mother tongue. However his four articles written in Kannada were published in Jaya Karnataka (1931-32). It was a famous news paper edited by Alooru Venkatarao.His life –time dream was to write an independent book in Kannada. Though not completely, his will was completed since the unnamed novel, of him, first written in Kannada, has been translated in to English. When I was reading his website I came to know that it is published in English with the title Song of Women.
Raja believed in the completeness of Indian culture. But his novels never praise India just like that. Raja takes his characters to the depths and heights of human conditions. The inference the readers get is that, all human beings are one under certain conditions and therefore the narration goes beyond the artificial boundaries of race, sex and religion.
Though Raja is a voracious writer only few of his novels and essays are published and lot more are yet to come out of the cold print. His works on French poetry, play, yatra to India, notes which he made while teaching at Texas University in 1968-80, interviews, video tapes would come to light through the Himalayan efforts of his wife and his students.
Now, let me take a take a dip in the ocean of his novels.Kantapura narrates the life and struggle in the malenadu region (male-nadu= a hilly area).Since I was born and travel in the same area narrated in this novel, I guess Kantapura is solid piece of hilly regions of Hassan district especially Sakaleshapura and Alooru. Gandhi movement, village life, idealism of the India’s freedom struggle makes the background of this novel. The song that is sung in front of Devi Kenchmma at Hosahalli is translated in his own style of English by the author.
Just think about the days when Raja started building the novels. Then novel writing was the monopoly of Europeans and Americans. Names like Dickens, Thackeray were in the air. In India Bankim, Tagore were the only major novelists.Raja wrote novels English, with Indian fragrance in it. India - its soil, idioms and most importantly its soul got proper place in his world of creativity.
Personally as a student of Kannada and Sanskrit I consider place Raja Rao in the band of Kannada novel masers like Shivarama Karanth, Kuvempu and S.L.Bhayrappa.No matter for he may have written in English, but his sensibility is neither British nor American.Infact the sanctum sanctorum of the altar of his novel has adhyatma (quest for self).His head may be there in the west but his atman is firmly rooted in the land between three seas and the devatatma (soul of the gods) Himalaya.
Whenever I have read him I felt there is a triangle in it! Baffled? Let me describe. Raja has three worlds in his novels and they are:
a. Kannada universe- it means the land, the culture of Kannada speaking people.
b. Indian culture- means the history, the people, gods, sages, literature, fine arts, kings and kingdoms of Bharath that is India.
c. Rest of the world –means the cultural diversity, past and cultural roots of the other world.
I am not ready to compare him with Thomas Hardy, Charles Dickens and E.M. Foster. If I have to do so then, I will compare his novels with that of Dostoevsky, Tolstoy and James Joyce.
When first time I picked up his book I asked my self- what is his source? This question was there in my mind for many years. And when I read his major novels then I found the answer. Dharma (which is different from the European way of structured religion and similar to the Chinese Tao), art, mathematics and linguistics form the four elements of his source and he himself is the fifth source. If one has experienced India and look beyond the official academic divisions like ancient-medieval and modern India, then they will understand what Raja Rao meant in his novels. His India is an undivided India from the point of both time and space.
If you look at his life, at the first instance it seems to be an odd mixture of experiences difficult to comprehend. Traditional family, education in a non-Hindu environment, association with The European and American culture, teaching philosophy in the universities-these forms one face of him. There is another component which is much deeper than the former. As I understand from his writings he always wanted to transform words in to mantra. He took the challenge of purifying English by dipping it in the Ganga and Kaveri rivers! There is a word in spiritual practice called initiation (deeksha).In my opinion, he bestowed initiation to the very language itself. This is the deeper side and most exceptional thing about him. Added To English, I have read on Raja Rao from the writings of Kannada writers like H.M.Nayak,G.S.Amur, L.S.Sheshagiri Rao , Nanjunda Shastry(he translated Kantapura in to Kannada).But though his sensibility is no t far away from Karnataka, there is not a single book on him in Kannada.
When I was doing B.A. in Hassan , I was introduced to Kantapura by my friend N.Ramaswamy(One gloomy thing about my friend is that he read and digested so much, but never writes anything).Afterward when I was working on my research on Jainism for Ph.D., in Mysore, spent much time reading on topics not related to the research topic. Of that Raja’s writings took lion share.
Now it is the time to summarize my thinking on Raja Rao, but before that I want to debate on the lines by Khushwant Singh on my favorite writer. First let me quote from K.Singhs autobiography: “But, to be honest, what inspired me to write were not great authors but second-rates, mainly Indians, who had the been published in England and the United States. I read Mulk Raj Anand, Raja Rao and R.K.Narayan. I felt I could write as well as they, and if they could be published abroad, so would I.I was not far wrong in my self-estimate.”(Truth, Love and a little malice) So much malice isn’t it? In my opinion Delhi and Train to Pakistan are the best of Khushwant. If you are not reading rest of the gist including this autobiography, you are not going to loose anything.Writers like K.Singh are born in every century in plenty in most of the literary languages, but it is very rare to find one more Raja Rao. In the ocean of novels tides will come and go but Raja’s writing has permanent mark on third world English and therefore it is going to stand like the huge statue of Gommata of Sravanabelagola.

July 10, 2006

Untouchables in ancient India

This review was published in The Hindu , Friday review on June 03 , 05

The Book reviewed is Shudra's in ancient India( Prachina Bharatadalli Shudraru ) by R.S. Sharma

This book is based on a rare study by Prof. Ramachandra Sharma about the working class (castes) of ancient India between 1000 BC and 600 AD, identified as shudras by the upper caste.
Translated into Kannada by four Kannada scholars, the book records the life and times of the shudras based on the literary evidences drawn from Buddhist, Jain and Vedic sources.
According to the author, the shudras formed a major chunk of the national populace and performed the duties of water suppliers, dancers, barbers, and beauticians.
The presentation has clarity and is chronologically ordered. The central argument is very difficult to trace, but a close reading reveals that the book tries to construct the increasing oppression and the growth of slavery system in India. It makes a fine distinction between dharma and jaati and the author opines that all efforts made by Jain, Buddhist and Tantric religions for the betterment of shudras, never progressed beyond the religious domain.
What's heartening is that while the work gives a vivid picture of oppression, it also lucidly records the protest and improvement in living conditions after the Mauryan era. The central argument of the book has to be inferred by the reader, having read through the mass of authentic material quoted in the text.
Since the author has a preoccupation with Kautilya's thinking, he finds it difficult to reconcile Kautilya's Arthashastra with other literary sources of the Mauryan period.
This book is valuable mainly for drawing attention to many sources, but the author does not seem to connect the sources to build up a thesis. One of the shortcomings of the book is that it completely neglects the condition of the shudras in South India. Since the issues of the shudras has contemporary relevance and since the book gives a vivid picture of them under various regimes up to the Gupta period in the north, it becomes a major book that helps in an understanding of the socio-cultural history of India.