“The Emperor’s Writings” by Professor Dirk Collier

Professor Dirk Collier the Belgian writer has written a fictional autobiography of Emperor Akbar, laced with facts. It is titled “The Emperor’s Writings”. Why it is fictional is that Akbar was illiterate. Written in the form of a letter to his Jahangir, it chronicles the life and times of the Mughal emperor. The author talks about being inspired by Akbar, the emperor’s 5,000 wives and more!

Here are some conclusions from the book.

Akbar was not a very romantic man like other Great Mughal emperors including Jahangir and Shah Jahan. While he did sleep with countless many women, particularly when he was still young, it seems he had no real “love of his life”. It is however well documented that his cousin Salima Sultana, whom he married after Bairam Khan‘s death, was clearly his favorite, in spite of the fact that she did not bear him any children. She was highly influential, probably much more than Akbar’s mother was, and Akbar greatly valued her opinion. She appears to have been intelligent, exceptionally well-read, and an accomplished poetess.

It is reported that no less than 5,000 women lived in Akbar’s palace, of whom, chroniclers hasten to reassure us only about 300 (still a highly impressive number) were his wives or concubines. It should be remembered, though, that these unions were, above all, politically inspired: many a local ruler was more than eager to send one of his daughters to the imperial palace and thus establish a family link between himself and the emperor.

It is also well documented, that the ladies in the imperial palace were quite influential and active in society. Many mosques, madrasas and other monuments of the Mughal era have in fact been commissioned by women! It is also reported that the princess of Amber (Akbar’s first Hindu wife and Jahangir’s mother) was a highly astute business woman, who ran an active international trade in spices, silk, etc., and thus amassed a private fortune which dwarfed the treasury of many a European king.

From the reviews in the different newspapers and magazines, it appears that it is very well written and full of facts culled from authentic sources. Collier has spent 7 years researching for the book.

The book is also available on online bookstores like Amazon India, Flipkart, Homeshop18 etc

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Clothes in Vedic Times

The garments worn in Vedic times onwards did not fundamentally differ from those worn by Hindus in later times. A single length cloth draped around the body, over the shoulders and fastened with a pin or a belt. This was a comfortable dress to be worn in a hot and humid climate which prevailed in India in comparison to the weather from where these people migrated.

Lower garment was called paridhana or vasana. It was usually such a cloth fastened around the waist with a belt or a string which is called mekhala or rasana. Upper garment was called Uttaiya and worn like a shawl over the shoulders. This upper garment was usually discarded at home or in hot weather especially by the people belonging to lower strata. Third garment called pravara was worn in cold season like cloak or a mantle.

This was general garb of both sexes and varied only in size and in the manner of wearing. Of poor people, sometimes the lower garment was a mere loincloth, but of rich was up to feet. In many sculptures, the lower cloth is pleated in front and held with a long girdle. Sometimes the girdle appears to the end of cloth itself. This might have been the precursor of the modern sari. Sometimes the end of the cloth was drawn between the legs and fastened at the back in the manner of dhoti.

Stitching was not unknown as is evident from the depiction of women in jackets and bodices. Invasion of Sakas and Kushanas from Central Asia led to the introduction of trousers at least in the upper classes in the Gupta times. In fact, Kushana kings have been shown in the coins and a headless statue of Kanishka wearing long quilted coats, trousers and boots of typically Central Asian style.

Clothes used for preparing these clothes varied from wool worn in North India in winters, diaphanous silks and muslins which were transparent and showed the limbs of the wearers. Clothes were often dyed or otherwise patterned with gay stripes and checks.

Foot wears were generally worn to protect the feet from scorching heat of earth in Indian summers.

Ganjifa: Playing Cards

Original Ganjifa was brought to India by Moghuls. There is a district called Sawantwadi in Maharashtra. This touches the Goa state. When you travel by train to Goa from Mumbai, it is the last station in Maharashtra. Whole area which is adjacent to Arabian Sea is dotted with unending rows of Coconut palms. Ganjifa was popularized here by the ruler Khem Sawant Bhosle, who heard of it from scholars of the Telengana region. The Chitari community in Sawantwadi, known for their skill in shellac ware and wood craft, learned  to make these cards

Ganjifa are circular playing cards made from paper that is covered with a mixture of tamarind seed powder and oil, painted and coated with shellac. Darbari cards have decorative borders and Bazaar cards are without borders. It used to be a popular pastime at the Indian courts. The classic Mughal Ganjifa with its 96 cards and 8 suits penetrated into the social milieu of India and the Deccan that later, with its themes and characters from Hindu mythology, gained widespread acceptance. The most popular was the Dasavatar with ten different circular pieces depicting the ten incarnations of Vishnu. These form a set along with painted cards of Vishnu`s weapons. They are no longer used to play games but used as gift items and educational aids.

Dasavtar: Means ten incarnations of Vishnu. These are depicted in these cards

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Box for packing these cards

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The Mother Godess

Mother Goddesses have been worshiped at all the times of history by the Hindus. They were mostly worshiped as the spouses of the Gods. From Harappa period to Gupta Period, their worship was only little known. Only in the Middle ages they emerged from obscurity as the upper classes of society began worshiping them.

She was considered as the Sakti, the strength or potency of her male counterpart. While the God was inactive and transcendent, she was active and immanent. By Gupta period, many of these Goddesses acquired their own independent identity and began to be venerated at special temples. Even today their cult is most strong in Bengal and Assam.

Chief form of the mother Goddess is Parvati, the wife of God Siva. Parvati means the daughter of mountain. Other names are Mahadevi– the great goddess, Sati– the virtuous, Gauri- The fair one, Annapurna- giver of much food, or simply the mother (Mata) or Ammai as in Tamil.

The mother goddess has another form which is grim aspect. Here she is known as Durga- inaccessible, Kali– the black one and Chandi- the fierce. In Tamilnadu, another goddess called Koravai- the war goddess who like Kali danced among the slain on the battlefield and ate their flesh.

In her fierce aspect she is depicted as a horrible hag, frequently having many arms in which she holds many weapons, a red tongue lolling from her mouth and sometimes as a stern beautiful woman riding and lion and shown slaying a buffalo-headed demon.

She has gentle aspect in which she is a beautiful woman sitting along with her husband Siva. As Lord Siva is worshipped in the form of a phallic emblem, she is worshipped as a Yoni emblem.

There is a legend, Parvati in her early incarnation was born as Sati to sage Daksha who gave her hand very grudgingly to Lord Siva. But he never missed any opportunity to humiliate Siva. During one such occasion in which a puja was being conducted, only she was invited by her father. In a fit of rage, she flung herself into flames. Siva became so numb with pain on her death that he carried the dead body of Sati all the times. It was feared that if Siva began his cosmic dance of Tandava whole universe shall collapse. So Vishnu cut the body of Sati into many smaller parts and scattered them all over the earth. The places are called pithas or sacred shrines.

 

Second Birth!!

Upanayana or the second birth ceremony was a great rite performed whereby a Hindu boy in ancient times became a full member of his class and of the society. This was a very elaborate ceremony. This rite was performed by only three upper castes namely Brahmins, Ksatriyas and vaisyas. The ceremony was not strictly performed as the time passed because of the elaborate nature. Also, during this ceremony, Gayatri mantra was whispered in the ear of the initiate by the Brahman performing the ceremony.

It is verse from a hymn of Rg. Veda addressed to old solar God Savitr and is still looked on as the most holy passage of that most holy text. It is repeated in all religious ceremonies and rites and has a position in Hinduism rather like the Lord’s Prayer in Christianity except that it may be uttered by the higher three castes.
Tat Savitur vareniam,
bhargo devasya dhimahi,
dhiyo yo nah pracodayat.
Meaning

Let us think on the lovely splendor,
of the God Savitr,
that he may inspire our minds
All these rites also indicate that caste system was very strongly practised and people belonging to the lowest strata were sidelined and kept aside from the mainstream. They were supposed to do only menial jobs. Although the caste and creed has been done away with in the modern democratic set up of our country, but even the political parties keep these things alive to earn the votes.

Chemistry by Nature

Nature is a great chemist. It synthesizes millions of compounds every moment ranging from simple molecules like methane to very complex molecules like carbohydrates, cellulose and proteins. Most of these compounds are synthesized by plants. From the plants they are passed on to animals because the animals cannot synthesize their food by themselves. But there are many chemical reactions occurring inside the cells like breaking down the complex molecules and unlocking the energy which is stored in them.

Where does all the energy locked inside the different molecules come from? Most of it is derived from the Sun light. In many cultures like Hindus and Egyptians, Sun is worshiped as the harbinger of life. They may not be knowing the scientific facts behind it. Energy tries to dissipate and some storage is required to held it at one place and use it whenever required. Cells are the prime example.

How do the plants get hold of the energy. They carry out a reaction called photosynthesis in which they combine carbon dioxide and water in the presence of sunlight. All this work is done with the help of a big organic molecule called Chlorophyll. The products of this reaction are sugar and oxygen. When human beings consume the sugar, they break it down again to carbon dioxide and water and energy absorbed from the sun is unlocked and nourishes our bodies.

This reaction is a fuel burning reaction. But unlike the burning of fuels it happens at a very low temperature (body temperature) in our bodies although both reactions are exothermic in nature. How is this achieved? First of all, only those reactions are possible which results in products having lower energy than the reactants. But to initiate the reaction, the system has to cross a energy hill called energy of activation.

Catalysts are capable of making the reactions occur at low temperatures because they lower the energy of activation. In our bodies there are specialized proteins which are called enzymes which act as catalysts. These are very specific and one enzyme is specialized for only one task.

Catalysts also determine the kind of product that is synthesized. For example, the hydrogenation of unsaturated oils can be carried out by reaction with hydrogen. In the case of using a catalyst, only cis addition to the double bond is allowed whereas without catalyst in addition to elevated temperature and pressure conditions, the product formed is a mixture of both cis and trans products.

Since in the nature most of the reactions are carried out at ambient conditions, enzymes are generally utilized by the nature. In the case of molecules having asymmetric carbon centres a mixture of 50:50 ratio is produced without enzymes. These are called stereo-isomers and rotate the light in left and right direction. But in nature only one of these forms is synthesized. After all animals consume only one form of stereoisomers.

So nature is a great chemist.

Sitting under a Banyan Tree

More than 70% population lives in villages. In the olden days, when there were no facilities like television, radio etc, then people in the villages devised ways to entertain them. The menfolk sat under the cool shade of the trees, smoke the hookah and converse with each other. They would talk about all the things under the Sun like their family matters which in any case were not private matters, about the condition of crops and irrigation water, untimely rains which visited to damage their crops. It was a culture in which individuality was a second priority and collective or commonality was the norm.

Women on the other hand slogged all day and night in the homes tending to hearth, rearing multitudes of children, milking the animals, and so many other things. Only time they were together was when they gathered at the village well for fetching the water in the pitchers. There they will banter about their travails and amorous things and other scandalous things like who had run away with whom and illicit liaisons. They spent long time there. Another activity which brought them together was washing the clothes on the stones or steps of the shores of rivers,  tanks and wells.

Most important of the trees where the menfolk whiled away their time was Banyan tree which almost every village had near a temple or any other religious place. Mostly elderly people sat there. The name Banyan is derived from the “Bania” which is trading community and they used to take rest under these trees while going from village to village.

Banyan is a very large tree, spreading by aerial roots which as they age eventually become additional trunks and help in sucking the nutrients and thus expanding the girth of the tree. In fact the secondary  roots act like its feet and the tree can over the years walk from its original location. They have a very long life span. Older trees can reach more than 200m in diameter, covering an area of some hectares with a height of 30 meters.

In contrast to its huge size, the fruits – called figs are only about 1.8cm in diameter orange-red turning scarlet when ripe. They have hardly any stalks so grow very close to the branches. The ripe fruits are very popular with birds and monkeys and are eaten by humans in times of famine.

The tree is commonly found in south east Asia and venerated particularly by Hindus and Buddhists. It is known by many names like Banyan in  English, Bahupada, vata in Sanskrit, Bar, bargad, bor in  Hindi, Bar, bot in  Bengali, Vad, vadlo, vor in Gujurati, Vada, wad, war in Marathi, Marri, peddamarri, vati in Telugu, Al, Alam in Tamil, Ala, alada mara, vata in Kannada, Alo, vatan in Malayalam.

Its botanical name is Ficus benghalensis and it belongs to the fig family Moraceae.Generally, it cohabits with another sacred tree called Pipul.

The tree features in many myths. The tree represents eternal life because it supports its expanding canopy by growing special roots from its branches. These roots hang down and act as props over an ever widening circle, reflecting the Sanskrit name bahupada, meaning ‘one with many feet’.

In Hinduism, tree represents immortality and there are many stories about it in ancient literature. In a song called the ‘Bhagavad Gita’ or ‘Song of the Lord‘, Krishna uses the banyan tree as a symbol to describe the true meaning of life to the warrior hero Arjuna. Banyan is viewed by Hindus as the male plant to the closely related peepul or bodhi tree (Ficus religiosa). It is regarded as a sin to destroy either of these trees. It is commendable for a person to plant a young banyan close to a peepul, and this is done with a ceremony similar to that of marriage. It is customary to place a piece of silver money under the roots of the young banyan.

Banyan is mentioned in the Buddhist Jataka tales. In the tale of Satyavan and Savitri, Satyavan lost his life beneath the branches of a banyan. Savitri courageously entered into a debate with Yama, the God of Death, and won his life back. In memory of this couple, in the month of Jyestha during May and June, the tree is celebrated. Married women visit a banyan and pray for the long life of their husbands.

The tree is associated with the life of the 15th century saint Kabir. A giant tree is said to have sprung from a twig he had chewed. People of all religions use its great leafy canopy to meditate or rest. It is said that the wise Markandeya found shelter under it during a torrential downpour.

Minor deities such as yakshas (tree spirits), Kinnaras (half-human, half-animal) and gandharvas (celestial musicians) are believed to dwell in the branches on banyan trees. Ghosts and demons are also associated with its branches. Because it is believed that many spirits are harboured in the banyan, people do not sleep under it at night.

The tree parts like stem and leaves are used to make many medicine in India.