Tag Archives: Sanskrit

Devi Saraswati

Course of Sarasvati river through Thar desert

Course of Sarasvati river through Thar desert (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

She is the wife of Brahma and considered as the patron of arts, music and letters. As often in Indian mythology, She is also associated with the river of the same name which once flowed through modern Haryana of North India and is mentioned repeatedly in Vedic literature. The river is now non-existent of thought of as flowing invisibly. It meets the two other great rivers Ganges and Yamuna at Prayag or Allahabad.

According to PTI news of May 9, 2006, ONGC the largest of Petroleum Exploration and Production Company of India decided to launch the digging of wells for producing water from the underground source of river Saraswati in Rajasthan and help solve the water scarcity problems and also to discover the route of the river.

Under the project, ONGC in collaboration with government agency Water and Power Consultancy Services (WAPCOS) would dig many wells in Jaisalmar, Barmer and Bikaner districts that will aid its search for water of the river, believed to have originated in the Thar desert and disappeared into present day Pakistan.

The Goddess is depicted as a beautiful fair young woman, often with a Veena or Indian lute and book in her hand and attended by a Swan.Traditionally considered as the inventor of Sanskrit language. She is much revered by students, musicians and writers.

Advertisements

Coconut Plant: Kalpavriksha

Coconut grow in the coastal areas. In India, whole of the coast is dotted with coconut trees. Kerala tops the list in coconut plantations. Known as Coconut in English, Narikela in Sanskrit & Nariyal in Hindi, coconuts can grow to between 15 and 30 m tall in plantations. Their trunks are ringed with scars where old leaves have fallen. The top of the trunk is crowned with a rosette of leaves.

Fruits are called coconuts. They are oval and covered with a smooth skin which can be bright green, brilliant orange or ivory coloured. Below the skin is a thick fibrous layer which is used for coir. The next layer is the shell of the seed with the three characteristic ‘eyes’.

English: Ivory Coastian coconut. Suomi: Norsun...

The coconut finds so many uses. The shell may be used to make charcoal which is used in the water filters for absorbing the coloring contaminants.  The inside of the shell is lined with a white, edible layer called the meat. This is used to make chemicals, and medicinal products. The fluid inside the seed cavity is known as coconut water. This fluid contains many minerals and is taken as such to rejuvenate the body. It is recommended in case of dehydration caused by diarrhea. It has a cooling effect and removes the body heat in summers. When seeds germinate, the new shoot sprouts from one of the eyes. Due to so many uses, in India it has been called the ‘tree of heaven‘ or ‘kalpavriksha’.

In India, it has great spiritual value. The three ‘eyes’ of the coconut represent the three eyes of the great god Shiva. An earthen pot or pitcher, called a purnakumbha is filled with water and mango leaves and a coconut is placed on top. This purnakumbha is used in the ritual of worship and adoration of the gods, called puja. It is placed as a substitute for the deity or by the side of the deity. The purnakumbha literally means a ‘full pot’ in Sanskrit. It represents Mother Earth, the water the giver of life, the leaves life itself, and the coconut divine consciousness.

In South Asia, coconuts are named Sriphala or fruit of the Gods and symbolise complete usefulness, selfless service, prosperity and generosity. The palms are believed to be the embodiment of the ancient Indian concept of kalpavriksha, or the tree which grants all wishes. It plays an essential role in many religious and social functions in South Asia.

Coconut is an integral ingredient of South Indian cuisine. It is used in one form or another in the food. It is used to make chutneys, thickened with milk and sugar to make delicious sweets. It is milk is used in many fish preparations. Its oil is used for cooking and hair dressing.

English: Idli with Coconut chutney

Exceptional Brains

Human beings are endowed with power of thinking. All this is possible due to highly evolved brain. But some of us humans are exceptional. Do they see visions? They can predict the events of future. Following are such incidences from the science field.

Sir P.A.M Dirac is considered as the greatest physicist in Britain after Newton. A stern father made him the man of few words. But this trait turned on an intense internal energy which manifested in the form of beautiful equations when he married Einstein’s relativity with quantum mechanism. On the basis of his research, he envisaged sub atomic particles which have equal and opposite electrical charge and equal mass to particles like electrons. His equations yielded two solutions like quadratic equations. Proof came soon when in a experiment in cloud chamber, a particle, hitherto, unknown was observed following mirror trajectory to the electrons emitted from a radioactive particle. It is clear that in a magnetic field, the particles follow a circular trajectory. So this particle was opposite of electron with equal mass. So his prediction was borne true. This particle is called anti-electron or positron. Soon, it became known that there is antimatter to every type of matter. In fact, now scientists believe that there exist space with antimatter and efforts are on to exploit their potential.

Another such great person was a Russian chemist. His name was Dmitri Ivanovich Mendeleev. At the time when he was on the scene, the concept of atomic number of elements was unknown. Only few elements were known to chemists. The physical parameter which was considered important for distinguishing the elements from each other was atomic weight. He was the first man to arrange the elements in groups based on their properties. His insight of the nature was so great that he left many blank places for elements which were not known then. He gave them names prefixed by eka, dvi and tri added to the element preceding the one with eka prefix. For example, ekaboron was the name of element which occupied next place to Boron. It was later discovered and is called Scandium. He had predicted all the properties of the element to be discovered and they matched almost exactly to the element when discovered. His periodic table is the forerunner of the modern periodic table which has evolved over time and is based on the atomic number concept. It is based on the premise that elements in a group have similar electronic configuration and all the elements fall in periods with elements in group having similar properties but increasing atomic numbers. Each element has an added shell of electrons to the previous one. Incidentally, prefixes eka, dvi and tri have been adapted from Sanskrit and mean one, two and three. This love for Sanskrit is said to be due to the influence from a friend who was a Sanskrit scholar.

Kekule, an organic chemist was another exception. He dreamed dreams about atoms and their arrangement. He did it another way around. To explain the unusual properties of a chemical compound and its strange molecular weight, he was so much involved in the thoughts that he was always lost in the reverie. Even while travelling in bus from his laboratory to his home he was so absorbed in the thoughts of figuring out the formula that will explain the observed properties that he had to be reminded by the conductor about the end of his journey. And one day, he saw a dream in which atoms were dancing. Then heavier of them turned into snakes which were joined to each other as each snake has the tail of other one in his mouth. He woke up and rest of night worked out the formula of the first of the aromatic compounds called Benzene.

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.

Those Days Shall Never Return

I happened to listen a Marathi song sung by Pandit Hridaynath Mangeshkar, the genius brother of Mangeshkar sisters. Its opening stanza is “Gele te Din Gele” which means “those days are gone now”. The song is written by Bhavanishankar Pandit and music composed by the great Marathi music director Shrinivas Khale. It is so soulful song that it hooked me to it and I have listened it a number of times.

The quality of the poetry and music shows how rich the Marathi music has been. The song combines two phenomenon in the world of humans-transience of the life and love between two humans which begins in the youth. This is in the end and hindsight always takes us to the old days and the things we did in the past. We always become nostalgic about them.

For example, in the present song, the poet’s lover laments that those days in which he and his beloved collected different kinds of flowers from the trees and vines and showered on each other. How in those days, we hoisted a swing on the branch of a tree and together sat in it and swayed and enjoyed the world around. Those days are now long gone.

Then there were were goblets of different colored crystals with beautiful intricate designs carved on them, filled with the cool sherbets and drinks and we drank endlessly from them. Those days are gone now.

The song is in Marathi which though is not my mother tongue. I can follow it because we have been in Mumbai for so many years. In my workplace there are some locals colleagues and I many a times listen to them talking. I many a times ask them the meaning of some words. The language is derived from Sanskrit and is very much evolved. There is simply no need to know the meaning, just close your eyes and listen to the soulful voice. There is a video on the you tube in which the person who has uploaded it has very beautifully written the lyrics and translated it into English language.

Another song harking back and longing for the carefree childhood is on the similar lines was sung by Kishor Kumar. It ran as “Koi Lauta de mere bite hue din” “Let someone return back my childhood”.

Notes on Assamese Literature

Assam is the north eastern most state in modern India. In the Mahabharta and Ramayana and other Puranas of  ancient times, it was known by the name PragJoytish. The modern name is associated with Ahom, the Shan tribe which invaded the Assam in 1229 AD and ruled it for many centuries. Earliest specimens of the use of language are traced to name and places inscriptions on copper plates in the reign of Kamarupa kings. Earliest form of  language is in the form of Baudha Gan O Doha, a work on Yogic practices in the 8th to 10th century can be considered as the formative phase.

The literature seems to have begun in the reign of Durlabhnarayana who was the king of Kamatapur in 13th century beginning. First Assamese book called “Prahlad Charitra” was composed by Hema Saraswati. It was in the rhyme and borrowed the inspiration from Sanskrit literature. After the Durlabhnarayana, in the reign of his son Indranarayana, two poets Harihar Vipra and Kaviratna Saraswati composed verse narratives also. Harihara’s notable work was Babrubahanar Yuddha  and Kaviratna wrote Jaidaratha Badha Kavya. The influence of Aryan literature in North West India is very clear.

Madhav Kandali, in the reign of Kachari king Mahamankiya in the 13th century, undertook the stupendous task of translating Ramayana into Assamese. Due to this effort, he was given the title of Kaviraj and called as Kaviraj Kandali. While being honest to the original text,his work is very lucid and less Sanskrit laden. He freed the literature from the Sanskrit and added the local flavor.

Serendipity

The word has become very popular in usage after it was coined by Walpole. Serendipity means accidental discovery of something. A scientist is working on the synthesis of a particular compound he has in his mind but discovers an entirely new product. This is called serendipity.

Discovery of penicillin by Dr.Alexander Fleming is the example of serendipity. He forgot to disinfect cultures of bacteria when going for long vacations, only to find them contaminated with molds of Penicillium which had killed the bacteria.

There are ample number of other examples of serendipity which can be found in different spheres of life. For example, superglue.It is cyanoacrylate and it was accidentally discovered by Dr. Harry Coover, first when he was developing a clear plastic for gunsights  and when he was trying to develop a heat-resistant polymer for jet canopies.

The word was coined by Horace Walpole. The word is derived from a fable called “Three Princes of Serendip” which is a story based on the adventures of three princes of Serendip when their father sends them into exile (to learn the first hand experience of their kingdom) and they happen to discover unexpected things by chance or by their sagacity.

Sri Lanka was called “Serendip” in ancient times. According to one theory the name is based on the Sanskrit word derives from Swarnadip, the Sanskrit language name of Sri Lanka.

There was a king named Giaffer who had three very intelligent children. They are sent to very learned persons in different fields to learn and show precocity and return after completing the education. Their father asks eldest son to take over the reins of kingdom as he intended to go to some monastery.  One by one, sons refuse on the grounds that their father was the wisest king and should rule till the end of his life. The king then feigning anger send them on exile.

On their journeys, they meet a man coming from opposite direction and who has lost his camel. He asks the princes and they tell him very accurate description of the camel though they have not seen it. They tell that camel in question was blind in right eye, it was lame , it was carrying honey and butter on its left and right sides and a pregnant women was riding it. The description was so accurate that the man complains to the authorities of that kingdom that these boys have committed the theft of his camel. They are put in jail but released when the camel is found out. Impressed, the king of that country asks them how they had known so much about the camel. They answered thus:

“As the grass had been eaten on one side of the road where it was less verdant, the princes deduced that the camel was blind to the other side. Because there were lumps of chewed grass on the road the size of a camel’s tooth, presumably they had fallen through the gap left by a missing tooth. The tracks showed the prints of only three feet, the fourth being dragged, indicating that the animal was lame. That butter was carried on one side of the camel and honey on the other was clear because ants had been attracted to melted butter on one side of the road and flies to spilled honey on the other.

The deduction regarding the pregnant rider is more complicated than the rest and is somewhat lewd, so I shall let the princes tell it themselves: “I guessed that the camel must have carried a woman,” said the second brother, “because I had noticed that near the tracks where the animal had knelt down the imprint of a foot was visible. Because some urine was near by, I wet my fingers (in it) and as a reaction to its odour I felt a sort of carnal concupiscence, which convinced me that the imprint was of a woman’s foot.”

“I guessed that the same woman must have been pregnant,” said the third, “because I had noticed nearby handprints which were indicative that the woman, being pregnant, had helped herself up with her hands while urinating.”

It is clear from the princes’ reply that they had brilliantly interpreted the scant evidence observed along the road.

There are so many stories which had been added over time to the original. But the meaning of the English word must be clear by now.

If you are interested in the complete story you click here “Three princes of Serendip”