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The Purpose

I prefer calling Hinduism a philosophy rather than a religion. I’d do that for other religions too, because all religions accept their tenets on faith and faith is what forms the basis of a philosophy which is just a way of life. As a philosophy, Hinduism lays a lot of emphasis on cycles, on elements that are continually in motion rather than being still. You don’t live but once, nor is death the end. The soul is the eternal traveler and its journey continues. The Satya yuga gives way to the Treta yuga to be followed by the Dvapara yuga which culminates into the Kali yuga and a reset button is hit which restarts this cycle of 8 billion years all over again. The Devas, heady from their power and affluence, lose their wealth (Lakshmi) to the Asuras who take Lakshmi to Patal loka (under the ground) only to have it taken away from Vishnu who gives it back to the Devas in an ever continuing battle.

People often tend to get confused by this cyclical nature of things. Why is there a need for destruction and if everything is meant to be destroyed then why create them again? The battle between the Devas and Asuras, for example, depicts the cycle of seasons and harvest. We must do an act of destruction create civilization and we must pull out the wealth that lies beneath the ground to feed ourselves. In turn we must let this wealth regenerate from time to time. Something that I love saying when I’m talking about this philosophy is that “It’s all symbolic” and now that I deal with statistical models on a regular basis, I’d address it by likening it to a model.

According to our scriptures, the transition of the yugas marks deterioration in ethics and moral values. In each transition the dynamics of the society change to suit the needs of the time. Manu established a society that was built on selflessness- where every person was out to perform a function for the society, where one’s own needs were subservient to the needs of the society. The king had to ensure the protection of his subjects, the priests ensured the enhancement of knowledge, the vaishyas ensured trade and prosperity and the shudras formed the labor class. The code of honor had to be strictly adhered to and had to be valued above one’s own life. This ensured the development of civilization and its prosperity. Liken this to a communist country like China where everyone is out to perform his defined role for the society’s greater good and see how much they have prospered. But then there comes a time when a man needs to break away from these rules that bind him and do things for self fulfillment and not because others benefit from it. For rules create monotony and a man can only be subject to them for so long. This longing for self actualization gradually creates an unrest signaling that a change is needed.

In Hinduism, Vishnu is a synonym for change and dynamism. He came as Ram to expose the flaws in that come from strict adherence to the rules of society. Where a Sita had to go through an agni-pariksha for a crime she did not commit, now a Draupadi could ask for revenge for the humiliation she was met with. Vishnu came as Krishna to show us that the essence of the law was greater than the law itself. The framework of rules is very much like the models we build to describe the outcomes of events. And as time keeps passing, we need to do a reality check to see if the models describe the situation as accurately as they used to. Each time we notice discrepancies we interfere, very much like Vishnu, to make adjustments and to set the equation right. But with considerable passage of time, these models outlive their usefulness and must be discarded to be replaced with something entirely fresh. But what does this imply?  As the need for one’s own enrichment keeps growing, people start deviating from the outward, society-serving model. The body of society transitions from a rule enforcing tyrant to self serving hedonist. But if everyone starts to look out for themselves then who looks after the society? There was never a perfect society like there is never a perfect model. The dynamics can be adjusted from time to time but eventually the system has to be destroyed and Vishnu has to give way to Shiva – the destroyer of man’s ego.

But then how do we validate existence if perfection can never be achieved? What is the purpose of self enrichment and freedom if it leads to inevitable doom?  I quote from the Matrix Reloaded, where Agent Smith puts it elegantly -“We’re not here because we’re free; we’re here because we’re not free. There’s no escaping reason, no denying purpose, because as we both know, without purpose, we would not exist.” [Note: The creators of Matrix got most of it very right]

There is something that the Hindu philosophy lays greater emphasis on than the cycles and that is the soul. The soul is not human, the soul is not animal, but the soul has a purpose. The soul can be reborn as Indra, the king of Devas or Hiranyakashyap the Asura, for they too are not free from these cycles and must be reborn in every cycle and in all the parallel universes which exist. The purpose of the soul is to realize that what we live in is Maya, that we are a part of the game in which we must play our part, that we must follow the path of dharma- the essence of law and the not the law itself. We must not care about the fruits of our action- for in saving a deer from a lion we might have got the blessings (good karma) of the deer which we saved but we will also get the curses (bad karma) of the lion to who we denied its natural food, the sum of which we will carry to our next lives. We must play our part with detachment and with the understanding of the impermanence of everything around us. For the purpose of the soul is to break free from these cycles. And it can take as many births as it needs to learn its lesson and ascend to Vaikuntham.

[Note: What Hinduism takes on faith is the permanence of the soul. And it’s around this concept that it explains the notion of karma and why people suffer. Could be a clever ruse to keep human dissatisfaction in check, but who knows? That’s faith right? ]

The only king to be ever worshipped as a god- Maryada purushottam Ram, the upholder of dharma and the scion of the Suryavanshi clan. But does he really deserve our veneration.  A man who after defeating Ravana, doesn’t even go to receive Sita but sends Vibhishan in his stead and has her  go through the agni-pariksha to prove her chastity in front of an army of monkeys and rakshas. A man who expels his dutiful wife from Ayodhya, basing his decision on town gossip, giving her no explanation, no chance to defend herself and more so having his brother Lakshman do the dirty work.

Why must a man with such objectionable actions be worshipped?  Is Ram-worship a symbolic of a dominant patriarchal society that ignores the suffering of a woman?

I attempt to address this issue, not validate Ram’s action, but try and understand why Ram despite these actions was a model king. As with everything to do with Hndu philosophy, no epic can be seen in isolation and it must be viewed with the other Vedas, Puranas and epics to make sense of the dynamics of this world. This is because Hinduism is based on the belief that life is a cycle where our actions in the past will influence our situation in our present and our actions today will have a bearing on our life in the future.

  रघुपति राघव राजाराम 

The first line of the the devotional song that praises the man that was Ram, the great king of the Raghuvansha. Note: A king. Throughout the Ramayana emphasis is laid on the fact that Ram is always a king first before being a husband, a brother or a son.  All his actions starting from his decision to protect the yagya of Vishwamitra, his decision to accept the 14 years of van-vasa and his decision to fight for Sita are guided by a feeling to uphold the dharma of the Raghuvanshi kings: 

रघुकुल रीत सदा चली आई
प्राण जाए पर वचन न जाई 

His actions always had an outward motive. To show his subjects that no matter what the circumstances, a man must stoically stand by his dharma which meant honoring his word even if honoring them meant a great personal sacrifice. Stoicism, a trait valued so much in the treta-yuga that it makes Lakshmana admonish his brother when he expresses his grief over the kidnapping of Sita. The great battle fought with Ravana to rescue Sita was not as much inspired by his love as it was by his duty to wipe the stain on the honor of his illustrious household.

Ram as an individual himself cannot be seen in isolation. All throughout Ramayana he was clearly Ram- the King (his Varna-dharma) and Ram- the husband his (ashram-dharma) – two aspects of a personality that would never reconcile and would time and again bring him to the crossroads. And what would Ram do when at the crossroad?. He would without hesitation go with the path that was more impersonal and led to the greater good- The path of duty, the path of a king. When the denizens of Ayodhya start gossiping about Sita’s soiled reputation, expressing their dislike at having such a woman as their queen, Ram makes an instant decision to have Sita sent away to the forest though he himself was convinced of her chastity. The decision is impersonal because during the Ashwamedha sacrifice which required Ram to have a wife, he does not remarry but instead has a gold effigy of Sita constructed. The gold indicating that even though Ram the king has bowed to the wishes of the people, Ram-the husband still believed in his wife’s purity.

But does it justify the cruelty of the way in which Sita was shown the door in the middle of her pregnancy simply because social obligations required it. No, it does not! and that is what Ramayana seeks to explain. In the end, Ram, a warrior who defeated Lanka with an army of monkeys, suffers his most humiliating defeat at the hands of Luv and Kush. This when he had Lakshma, Bharata, Shatrughna , Hanuman and his whole army by his side. Why does this happen? Indian mythology needs to be appreciated for its symbolism and not at its face value. The defeat puts to shame the whole kingdom of Ayodhya because it shows them that the moral high ground rested with Sita and her children and not with the empire of Ayodhya. The defeat counters the humiliation that Sita has to go through because of the whims of a people and a husband who was honor bound to obey them. Was adhering to one’s dharma and social obligations at all times necessary to achieve morality? No it wasn’t, and this defeat answered this important question. Social obligations and rules are a man made construct and these need to evolve with changing times.

Feminists revile Ram because he did not hold good on their values of giving a woman the appropriate respect she deserves. But what are these values and how did they come to be? Your values today did not hold good in a different yuga. Your values today do not even hold true across different cultures. And this is what is to be appreciated about the Ramayana, because understand this epic and the epic that followed- Mahabharata is what led to these values we have today. Hindu religion believes that Vishnu comes to earth when the values of dharma need to be upheld and to faciliate the transition of the society between yugas of fast changing values. In treta-yuga he comes in the form of Rama and in the dwapar-yuga he comes as Krishna. Each incarnation is important to its specific time period. Ramayana is the story of Ram who does everything right as per his period. He upholds the code of dharma to the hilt, sacrificing his own wishes to ensure dharma is established. And by sticking to his righteous path he is met with defeat in the end and the loss of his wife. A defeat that was necessary to show the society that it needs to look beyond the word of law and look at see the spirit of law. A defeat that showed the world that personal desires and the respect of an individual’s dignity needed to be in tandem with social obligation. A defeat that marked that the time of the righteous Ram was over and the time of the game player Krishna was about to start. For if Ram was in Krishna’s place he would have let Dushyasana disrobe Draupadi in accordance with dharma and if Sita was Draupadi she would have simply resigned to her fate and lived in the forest and would have not sought revenge against the people who sought to violate her.  The time called for a Ram who would put his duty before his self and a Sita who would suffer for no fault of hers so that people could learn their lesson in much the same way as Jesus had to suffer for the people.

Ramayana is not a black and white epic about the victory of good over evil. Ram is not the perfect protagonist, spotless in his conduct. Ram is but a king who tried to stick to his beliefs and tried to the best he could. Ram is a man who is confused in the conflict between obligations and morality. For while Ram the king was defeated by his sons, Ram the husband rejoiced in the validation of Sita.  But in his eagerness to have her back he asks her to prove her chastity to the people once again, showing how he was still stuck steadfastly to the rules of the society, and loses her forever. Why must Sita suffer in this journey for the discovery of change? It is because a woman is a life giver and unfortunately it is through the sufferings of a woman that the conscience of man, that has stopped seeing reason, is provoked to guilt which spurs the necessary change. So it was in Ramayan, so it was in Mahabharata and so it will be today. That is why it is known as iti-hasa. As it was so it shall be.

 पतित पावन सीताराम

Ram cannot be seen in isolation. It takes a Sita as well to show the world that change is necessary, that man maketh the rules, the rules don’t make the man.  It takes both Sita and Ram to uplift the fallen and restore a balance between morality and obligations.

 Ram acted on the path of dharma all his life, establishing peace, law and order. And through his defeat he showed how a change was necessary. The values that we believe in today have evolved over thousands of years and for these values to evolve it takes a Ram to follow the rules of the society in its completeness, in a way that no man could have done before, then fail and expose their flaws. That is why Ram is the model king. That is why he is worthy of worship.

Having taken up reading for leisure after such a long gap, no other book could have offered a better ‘succor’ to a fantasy-fiction enthusiast than this one.  With so many writers having taken up this space, the Desert Spear by Peter Berett is rife with influences ranging from LoTR, Eragon, Artemis Fowl to Leonidus and his 300 and Ghenghis Khan’s Mongolian hordes.

Despite gaping similarities and predictable patterns, Desert Spear manages to enthrall through its 750 page journey where a world fighting with the demons from the core, must struggle to save its own humanity. While the world hides from the corelings behind the wards, they seek the deliverer to salvage a world under attack by darkness’ own children. But the identity of the deliverer continues to elude and confuse – Is it the painted man who rides atop the twilight dancer or the fearless Krasian Shar’Dama Ka Jardir for whom his honor means everything? A conflict between the two seems evident.

Beset with violence, rape and wanton sex, these elements do nothing to weight down the book which remains fast paced as it is narrated through several POVs.  Desert Spear is one of the best surprise finds and highly recommended to all geeks who find it difficult to sleep without having ridden a dragon; slayed an Orc on kidnapped a fairy.

Sometimes

Sometimes, you’re not what you’re made out to be;
You pretend because others depend,
Your strength mistaken as your self

Sometimes, you just can’t cry;
Your tears confused and misunderstood,
And deep within they must dry

Sometimes, you cannot show;
Waylaid by the gentle smile,
How it truly gnaws your mind

Sometimes, it remains contained;
No one can and no one will,
The pain, only you realize

Sometimes, you must brace yourself
Alone with no one at your side,
Face rough seas, pierce through the storm
Because sometimes the greatest battles lie inside…

End

A sapling they planted in the womb of the soil
To cherish a bond as precious as their lives;
In their togetherness it blossomed,
Bloomed with their love
Its beauty ethereal its fragrance enchanting;
Captivated onlookers mesmerized by its charm
Whispered praises of its exquisiteness divine;
But not all sounds praised, there was envy amidst
And as harsh sounds do they penetrate deep,
Corroding the roots with bitterness it sowed;
A shadow of doubt all encompassing,
By its mere presence smothering;
And in prime of its beauty it suffered decline
Withered leaved turned black losing fragrance sublime;
As glorious in its prime as decadent in its fall
And with the plant a friendship died…

Paradise Lost

As he fell through the dreary void,
The glistening stars- a mere memory remained;
He could not but think,
Flashes of memory that left him maimed.

He recalled his beauty,
The adulation, the love he held;
Once His most precious,
The morning star everyone beheld!

He always cherished as he still did,
His Father! His Twin! For them his love unbound;
But punished was he fairly so?
For questioning a decree unsound

He reasoned as a son would,
To fathom what he deemed not fair;
Commanded to prostate before him,
They who came from fire; Him who came from clay

Why must I kneel’? He pleaded,
When we serve his holy seat’;
A mortal, a trite, a trivial creation,
‘Why must we bow before his feet’?

By his words others were moved,
And they began to doubt; A murmur of dissent,
To their Lord they looked for an answer,
Taking a mutinous pretense!

But he remained unwilling,
Unmoved by his son’s plea;
He turned now to his other and proclaimed,
Michael let the doubters flee!’

Debarred from His kingdom, stripped from glory!
Thus from heaven Lucifer was cast;
A mistake so meager a sentence unjust,
By cruel fate- A Paradise Lost

Note:

->Based on the popular biblical saga

Tanabata

Somewhere high in the heavens above
An empire of vast expanse
Majestically on his throne the Sky King sat..

Adorned in flowing robes of splendor
Woven in great beauty by one as much
Vega his child, his precious of divinity untouched..

Hard she toiled and for long she labored
A melancholy soul loveless and alone
The king, a father’s heart, thence ordained for a lover of her own..

Altair he was, the star herder
Young, carefree and a delight
Their love blossomed and they married under the heavens so bright.

Once together they dwelled in bliss
In passion and love –  a world of their own
So engrossed in the lover’s embrace, all chores forgotten all duties ignored..

The Sky’s robes unwoven and the stars left astray
For companionship was all they desired
But the heavens they dismayed and cried out in anger, the skies fired..

Thunderous rage he brought down upon them
And forbade them from ever to meet
A white river of the sky so created, on whose banks the separated weep..

And then she cried in bitter tears
Finding no comfort in her plight
And so she begged and so she pleaded thirsting for her husband’s sight..

Touched by the tears she shed
Moved he was at her pitiful state
The seventh day of the seventh month, he granted a day of solace..

Glad she was when the day arrived
And eagerly she desired to be in his arms
But lo! Alas! Her dreams were shattered– no bridge there was on the river’s banks..

In despair she wailed and in agony she wept
The heavens grieved by her cries
And in answer to her prayers, magpies appeared in the skies..

The flock they spread their wings to form
A feathery passage across the river
And on it then Vega climbed to reach Altair her wait now over..

And each year the two must wait
For the magpies to bridge the gap
But if it rains their wait extends for in the rain their wings won’t flap…

Note:

->The poem is based on a Japanese star festival by the same name, it describes a myth behind the formation of the milky way