Art of Living Wisdom.

The idea to celebrate a day to uphold the values of democracy first came up at the meeting of United Nations General Assembly in the year 2007.

Etymology

The word democracy comes from the ancient Greek word democratia, demos meaning, “assembly of ordinary people” and kratos meaning “strength, rule”. Democracy is the rule of the land whereby the power rests solely in the hands of the people.

Janapada

In different parts of India, right from the Mahabharata period, there have been many Janapada, republics. The very word, ‘Janapada’ means “People’s Republic, democracy”. Jana meaning people and Pada is position, where people come together, to choose their leaders.Janapada, democratic republics of Ancient India

Janapada, democratic republics of Ancient India

Spirit of Democracy

Mahatma Gandhi in a quote expresses that, “The spirit of democracy cannot be imposed from without. It has to come from within.”

Mahatma Gandhi

India has survived as a democracy for many millennia, as it is the innate spirit of the land.

Panchayat System

Panchayats are democracies at the village level. Democracy has been a part of the people and the ethos of the land. The thinkers of ancient India had realized the ground reality that, kings may come and go, kingdoms may change in size and boundaries, but the prosperous land needs to be governed such that, the change of powers does not affect the basic social fabric, nor the sustainability of the land.

It is precisely to meet this challenge, that they had envisaged a local administration system called the Panchayat System, a unique system of local governance, keeping in mind the vagaries of time.

Panchayat

      A Panchayat in Progress – An artist’s impression

What is so singular about this system and its practice that helped tide over the vagaries of time and rule?

Panchayat – A Self Contained Model

The contribution of this Panchayat democracysystem to the prosperity of the land as a whole, has been summarized by Sir Charles T. Metcalfe in his Report of Select Committee to the House of Commons in 1832.

Slide4 Select Committee

 

Slide5

House of Commons

Slide6

Sir Charles T. Metcalfe’s observations on Panchayats

Slide7

While there were many kingdoms ruled by different rulers, the model of governance was framed, independent of the individual ruler and the kingdom. The Panchayat administration, followed in every village, was uniform across the land, across kingdoms.

This model of local self governance was uniformly practiced, undisturbed even during times when there was no king or kingdom.

Policies and priorities framed locally by the Panchayat were not disrupted, ensuring continued and sustained prosperity.

This Panchayat democracy model, could be singled out as one of prominent administrative reasons for the continuous prosperity of India for over 5000 years.

Local Self Governance

It is the local administration of the village, by the villagers, for themselves.

This village governance system has been followed in India from time immemorial wherein, people elect and empower a local village council to handle matters of

• Fund collection

• Fund allocation

• Need assessment

• Planning

• Deployment

• Community Development

It was a council of five members who would decide on matters. They were called Panch Parameshwar, the 5 leaders. Hence the name Panchayat, for this model of governance.

We can see a sample of this Panchayat System of administration of the villages, in the stone inscriptions at the Srinivasa temple, in Uttiramerur, in Tamil Nadu, listing the rules for the conduct of elections.

Slide8

 

DK Hari

D K Hari pointing at the Inscriptions in Uttiramerur

Uttaramerur inscriptions

The election system has been in vogue in the land from time immemorial. Voting rights were not suddenly introduced only after independence.

One of the early inscriptions specifically relating to elections in villages is available at the Srinivasa Temple in Uttaramerur village. Uttaramerur is a small prosperous town, 100 kilometres to the south of Chennai. These inscriptions are now popularly known as Uttaramerur inscriptions.

The inscriptions throw light on the mode of election to Village Assemblies, Panchayat of those days.

Slide10

Uttaramerur Inscriptions at Srinivasa Perumal Temple

 

Slide11

 English translation of the Uttaramerur inscriptions

Democracy idea not alien to India

Thus we see that even though India had kings and kingdoms, the Panchayat institutions, the main stay of the administrations system of the land is based on principles of democracy.

Democracy since Mahabharata times

This existed in India, since the times of Mahabharata, which means for over 5100 years.

These show that democracy existed in practice in India, atleast 3000 BCE ago, which takes the antiquity of democracy back 2500 years, before the ancient Greece practiced it.

Rahul Kaimal

Bharath Gyan 

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Art of Living Wisdom.

Onam Festival, Shravan Month and Shravana Star

 

This word “Onam” is the shortened form of Thiruvonam or Shravanam, since this event occurs in the Shravan month under the Shravana star in the Indian calendar.

Shravan is the month in the Indian calendar that typically falls between July-August in North and between August-September in the South. This period is characterized by heavy rains and many other festivals such as Narial Purnima, Raksha Bandhan, Ganesh Chathuthi, Krishna Janmashtami to name a few.

This month is called Shravan since the full moon during this month occurs against the Shravana star.

But why did this particular star get the name Shravana?

Which is this star in the sky?

The 3 footprints in the sky

 

Before we go to skies, let us recollect the story behind the Onam festival and why it came to be celebrated. How this festival marks the day when Maha Bali, the great Asura king was humbled by Vamana with His 3 giant strides.

The star Shravana is the set of stars known in western astronomy as Altair the bright star in Aquila constellation along with Beta and Gamma Aquilae that flank it on either side.

 

Shravana Constellation

 

These three stars are pictured as the 3 footprints of Vamana in His gigantic Trivikrama form.

One may wonder what does the legend of Maha Bali and Vamana, have to do with the name Shravana for this star?

The word “Shravana” means to listen, to pay heed to. The legend of Maha Bali from time immemorial has been a moral story on how one should pay heed to one’s mentor, teacher, failing which one could fall into trouble. Hence these 3 stars which depict the outcome of Maha Bali’s disobedience stand as a constant reminder in the sky to caution people to listen and pay heed to good counsel.

Another way in which the name of this star is spelt is, Shrona, which means “lame” or “to limp”, in SamskrtShrona is one who limped. Trivikrama after measuring the 2 steps, stood limping, with one leg raised in the air, asking Maha Bali where He could place his foot for the third step?

Trivikarma with one leg up

 

Hence these 3 stars, as Shrona, also depict the footsteps of Trivikrama as He covered the earth and the skies with His foot.

Another Angle to the Triangle

There is yet another tale associated with how these 3 stars came to be called Shravana.

Much later, closer to the times of Rama, Shravan was a young lad who lived in the time of Dasaratha, father of Rama. He used to dote on his parents and take care of them with love and affection. Since they were old and blind, he would carry them in two baskets hanging on either side from a rod on his shoulders, like a weighing scale, balance.

One day, he was filling a pitcher of water from a pond for his parents. King Dasaratha, out on a hunting trip, mistook the gurgling sound of the pitcher for an animal and shot an arrow in its direction. He rushed to catch his prey but instead found young Shravan Kumar mortally wounded. Even in that state, Shravan requested the king to carry water to his thirsty parents. Dasaratha, approached them with trepidation in his heart and from the sound of his footsteps the old couple realized it was not their son. On being asked, he narrated what had happened. The bereaved father cursed Dasaratha that one day he would also have to bear the sorrow of his son leaving him. Strangely, the king expressed happiness on being cursed because he did not have children at the time and was pining for a child. For the curse to come true, he would have to have children. Just this thought made him so happy, that he took mud and grass from the ground and showered it on his head. As fate would have it through, Dasaratha was later blessed with 4 sons out of whom he loved Rama, the eldest dearly. But when Dasaratha grew old and had pinned his hopes on Rama to take over his kingdom, he was separated from Rama – a separation that took away his life.

Shravan Kumar, even today, is remembered for his dedication towards his parents. Altair in the Aquila constellation, in the sky has been named after Shravan.

 

Why is Altair equated with Shravana?

Altair, flanked by the two dimmer stars, Beta and Gamma Aquilae gives an impression of a balance, just like how Shravan Kumar carried his aged parents.

Shravana and shravana constellation

 

What lies in a name?

The ancient astronomers of India had a practice of giving scientific names to stars, names that denote their function, characteristic. Sometimes legends from Puranahave been mapped to these objects to symbolically explain scientific principles or facts.

The story of how the Shravana star got its name is just one among many.

Does naming Altair and these 2 dimmer stars as Shravana indicate that the two stars flanking Altair are dying stars while Altair in comparison, a star in the prime phase of its life? This could be a lead for further analysis.

Incidentally Beta Aquila, also known as Tarzed though not very old, has burnt up all its fuel and has entered its dying phase. It has swelled into a giant and is expected to blast and later become a white dwarf.

Delving into understanding the detailed description of Puranic legends in connection with the stars they point to in the skies, could perhaps help provide more clues to understand these stars better.

We will understand why our ancients chose to name the stars what they did?

We will understand our ancients and our heritage better!

Thus concludes the story of Onam from Kerala, to Pathala Loka, to the skies.

Also in the same series

 

Onam Festival Part 1- The Story of Onam

Onam Festival Part 2 – PATHALA LOKA

Onam Festival Part 3 – Significance of Onam

 

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Art of Living Wisdom.

Onam-Bali Pada is an occasion for us to relate to the story of Vamana where Vamana grew from a short young boy to a giant form and with His 3 strides covered earth, skies and finally placed His leg on the head of Maha Bali, a good but arrogant king and pushed him into Pathala Loka.

This legend where Vamana measured the whole universe does sound like some childish mythology. Even from a cosmological perspective, it appears to be unscientific and self-contradictory. If with His first step, Vamana had measured the whole of the earth then it should have included Bali’s head too as he was also on this earth.

Next, with the second step of His foot, if Vamana had measured the whole sky, then “this earth which is also a part of that sky”, was also included in the second step.

EarthinSolarsystem

Then where does Bali stand separately, to offer his head for the third measure?

Is this not self-contradictory?

Is there anything rational about this legend?

We must bear in mind that the legend of Vamana avatar is Puranic, i.e. it is an expression of a deeper truth, a moral lesson from historical or scientific incidents, clothed in a story, such that the commoner can easily grasp the essence of the incident and model his conduct accordingly, right through the ages.

What is the moral that lies behind this story of King Maha Bali?

Maha Bali was a great Asura king and ruled over all the lands he saw. While he was basically a good person and his intention to honour the knowledgeable was great, there was also arrogance in him because he owned the entire expanse that he could see on land and was considered invincible. That ahankara, arrogance, ego, blinded him and so, despite his goodness and the keen intention to respect knowledge, his ahankara, ego, did him in.

While he had his preceptor, Guru Sukracharya, next to him, who had warned him to pause, think, take sagely advice and act with caution, King Maha Bali had brushed aside the warning in order to keep up his image, of one who was willing to give away everything. This ego and arrogance got him banished to Pathala Loka.

Knowledge and humility help one transcend ego which can grow as huge as this earth and sky. This ego can be conquered in three simple steps like Vamana’s.

Step 1 – Measure the earth – Look around and be humbled by the sheer number of other living beings like you on this earth.

Step 2 – Measure the skies – Look up into the sky and be humbled by the sheer vastness and multitude of other worlds in the cosmos and how insignificantly small we are in this cosmos.

Step 3 – Place your hand on your head – Realize that in the cycle of births and deaths not only of living beings but the cosmos itself, the time span of each of our lives is very small and the role we play in the larger picture of the order of the cosmos, is even smaller.

This story by example has had a timeless relevance in conquering ego, ahamkara which has also been timeless. A little ahamkara is essential but when ahamkara takes over, it just suppresses the person, however mighty he may be.

These 3 steps of Vamana will keep our ego, ahamkara limited to the necessary.

But why remember this story on Onam Day? Why choose this particular day?

Also in the series :

Also in the same series

 

Onam Festival Part 1- The Story of Onam

Onam Festival Part 2 – PATHALA LOKA

 

More to Come …

-Bharath Gyan