Monthly Archives: May 2015

Set Mundu – A Kerala Woman’s Quiet Dignity

India is a land of varied geography. But geography in India is not just about physical features; it is sacred. The geography of a particular place is intimately intertwined with its culture and its people and people mould their lives according to the geography they are in. Living in a certain geography in India means to be in harmony with it, to enhance it, and to make it more beautiful. I dwell on the subject of aesthetics here with the example of dress and particularly female dress.

Let us take the two examples of Rajasthan (desert landscape) and Kerala (lush vegetation). The women of Rajasthan wear flowing lehengas with cholis and chunaris which are in bright shades of yellow, red, blue, green and so on. These bright colours do enhance the beauty of the stark, sandy, desert landscape and are a feast for the eyes. On the other hand, the state of Kerala, a tiny strip on the west coast of India is a riot of green, blue and brown because she is richly endowed with lush vegetation, is by the sea, and has a high hill range protecting her. When she is endowed with so much natural beauty, people don’t need to add more colour to add to her beauty; which is why the predominant colour of the dress that Keralites wear is white or off white, with some minor embellishments. It is so apt, for this simplicity just adds elegance and a look of purity/freshness to the greens, blues and browns of the richly endowed land.

So, my focus here is only on one of the off white garments that Keralites wear. I refer to the set mundu that is the most simple attire of a lady in Kerala but which has evolved into one of the most understated, lovely, fashion statements at least in sections of Malayali society today.

The set mundu is essentially a two piece clothing worn with a blouse which has evolved to be worn like a saree in the present day. However, the origins of the garment were certainly not in the present form.

The Evolution of the Set Mundu – A little bit of history

Kerala is a very hot and humid place and I contend that its society was not overly concerned with issues of clothing and fashion. Moreover, the Western Ghats bordering Kerala act as a natural barrier and cocoon the land from overland influences. Hence influences from outside reached Kerala only slowly except if those influences came via the sea route. The preferred dress was to wear a simple white/off white cotton cloth called mundu which was tied at the waist and fell to the ankles or below the knees. A light piece of cloth across the breast and over the shoulders was called the upper cloth or melmundu.

 

Malayali Nair Women wearing Mundu

Slowly, the present day blouse that most Indian women wear with a saree began to gain popularity in Kerala.

And the melmundu began to be worn over the blouse in the traditional way.

The Weaver Story

As I was researching for this subject I came across information about the creators of this garment. There are I think principally 3 regions where the weaver community who create this garment live. One is Balaramapuram near Thiruvananthapuram, another is Kuthampully in Thrissur district and the third is Chendamangalam near Ernakulam. The weavers In Kuthampully and Balaramapuram trace their origins to Karnataka and Tamil Nadu respectively. Kuthampully weavers say they are from the Devanga community in the erstwhile Mysore state who left their ancestral land during the period of Turkic rule which was hostile. They settled in Kuthampully, a village on the banks of the Bharatapuzha (Nila) and became the weavers for the Royal family of Kochi (Cochin). The Balaramapuram weavers trace their origins to the Shaliyar community of Tamil Nadu who were again brought to Thiruvananthapuram by the Travancore kings to be weavers for the Royal family.

How did the Set Mundu evolve to its present avatar?

With the coming of the weavers from Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, a part of their culture would have come to Kerala. Both in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, there is a culture of little girls wearing chattai pavadai /Langa (two piece garment with a long pleated ankle length skirt from waist down and a waist length blouse for the top).

This garment metamorphoses into dhavani-pavadai as the girls turn into their later teen years. A dhavani-pavadai is a three piece garment. Like in chattai pavadai, you have the ankle length long pleated skirt, the waist length blouse of the childhood years turns into a blouse that is used with a saree. Over this ensemble is worn the dhavani which is a long piece of cloth which is pleated and goes across the left shoulder with the other end tucked into the pavadai. Essentially it looks like the pallu of a regular saree. This culture was probably brought into cocooned Kerala by the weavers who were anyway familiar with these clothes.

pattupavadai

Now, once the girl got married, she graduated from the dhavani phase into the mundu blouse phase. That’s probably when the melmundu began to be redesigned like a dhavani with pleats going across the bosom and over the left shoulder with the other end end tucked into the mundu. This gave the whole ensemble a saree like look.

Generally, the set mundu is quite simple when it comes to embellishments. For the larger part, it is plain off white, cotton cloth both in the mundu and the neriyathu (melmundu) with just the borders of the cloth and the two ends being either woven with jari/gold thread (kasavu) bands or with bands that are of different colour thread. The garment is elegant, understated and extremely comfortable to wear. And most of all, it gives a pristine, fresh look when contrasted with the lush vegetation. It is everyday wear for older women and it is really a pleasure to see elder women start each day wearing a fresh, starched set mundu after a bath. The look of freshness is enough to wake one up and be thankful for the new day!

Kerala Mundu Saree. First ReporterSaree Drapes, Saree Collection, Onam Saree, Kerala Mundu, Kerala Saree, Saree Traditional, Indian Saree, Kerala Style, Mundu Saree

This garment while it was regularly used by the older generation, generally by women over 45-50 since it imparted an air of maturity and understated beauty, it has now been adopted by youngsters too as a style statement. In the Namboodiri community, this garment has become the rage in recent years with it being adopted as the standard dress code for occasions. For occasions such as a wedding, it has now become the norm to order set mundus in bulk. They are ordered like a uniform with the groom and bride’s side being distinguished by the respective uniform set mundus.

The set mundu is a definite requirement when doing the traditional folk dance of Kerala for women, called the Kaikottikkali or Thiruvathirakkali. It is also worn on festive occasions like Onam , Vishu and Thiruvathira.

Problems facing this sector

As everywhere else, this is purely the handloom sector and facing an existential crisis. As I did my research, I chanced upon news item after news item which spoke of the penury of these handloom weavers. All the three places Kuthampully, Balaramapuram and Chendamangalam have been given intellectual property rights through the Geographical Indication Act. But even this has not prevented the decline in their means of livelihood.

Their profession is not seen as being respectable and the younger generation is clearly not interested in taking up the trade in a 100% literate state. Many of the weavers themselves do not encourage their children to take up the profession. They push them towards professional courses so that they have better prospects in the ‘marriage market’[2]. This is in Kuthampully.

I happened to chance upon a blog by a young boy who is from Kuthampully but not into his ancestral trade anymore. From the tenor of the post, I felt the boy is quite apologetic about his ancestors’ profession and does not look upon it with pride. He of course seems to be employed in an IT firm in some other state. He seems to feel his village is a relic of some bygone era and one senses that he feels he has escaped the drudgery. Irony is that education has meant becoming disassociated from your past. Education has meant devaluation of a skill and its ability to become your livelihood. Weavers face many hardships too because earnings are low, peoples’ choices have evolved and hence their market has shrunk, and they are unable to repay debts as institutional funding is not easily available to them. However, the few who remain in the profession say that it “gives me immense pleasure to see the finished product[3]. I can only agree with her that that is the unalloyed joy one gets when one creates something.

The Road Ahead

While the market for set mundus will not die out for another generation maybe, its long term prospects are certainly in Intensive Care as the younger generation moves on to trendy western clothes and salwar kameez (which incidentally was a rarity in Kerala even in the 90s). I sincerely hope something is done to restore this extremely humble and simple yet elegant garment regain place of pride. For nothing brings more beauty to the lush landscape of “God’s Own Country” than a beautiful Malayali woman donning this fresh and simple dress with the simple accessories that go with it. Nothing rivals it to exude that quiet elegance which contrasts with the riotous colours of nature.

References:

  1. http://www.newindianexpress.com/states/kerala/A-Life-without-Zari-for-Kuthampullys-Weavers/2014/11/10/article2516445.ece
  2. http://www.newindianexpress.com/cities/kochi/A-story-of-the-struggle-for-survival/2013/10/22/article1848198.ece
  3. https://myshadowflowers.wordpress.com/2012/09/07/kuthampully-the-village-of-weavers/
  4. The Spirituality of Basic Ecclesial Communities in the Socio-religious context of Trivandrum/Kerala, pg. 109
  5. http://pazhayathu.blogspot.in/2012/02/kerala-dress-1500-till-now.html
  6. http://www.mkhandlooms.com/about_us
  7. http://www.ashahandlooms.com/history.php
  8. http://www.kaithary.com/about-us

 

Disclaimer: This article represents the opinions of the Author, and should not be considered a reflection of the views of the Andhra Cultural Portal. The Author is responsible for ensuring the factual veracity of the content, herein.

Mangalagiri Sarees

mangalagiri2Hullo, hullo, everybody 😉 , I am back this week to continue our series on Andhra Sarees. Last time we covered the Madhavaram. This week is another one starting with ‘M’. That is the Mangalagiri Saree.

History

mangalagiri_location2000px-andhra_pradesh_district_location_map_guntursvg

Meaning ‘Auspicious Hill’, Mangalagiri is a famous town in the newly setup State Capital Region.   Located in the greater Amaravati area, it is known for its beautiful and tall gali gopuram in the Lakshmi Narasimha Swami Temple.

This was constructed by the Vijayanagara Emperors and finished by Vasireddy Venkatadri Naidu, Raja of Amaravati.  While they prospered under the Kakatiyas, weavers in the region later fled after having had to endure the oppressive taxes of the Qutb Shahis. They were liberated by Krishna Deva Raya. They later came under the rule of the Vasireddis, who are associated with the Narasimha Swami temple.

The presiding deity, this Avatara of Vishnu is worshiped with Jaggery water. Sweet like the language of Telugu, this Panakam dish gives the name Panakala to the first of the temples. With three temples dedicated to Narasimhaswami, Mangalagiri is more than just part of the administrative capital, it represents the lion and lioness spirit of the Andhras. Hence, like our legendary dynasty of queens and kings who were known by their mother’s name, Mangalagiri represents the strength and pride of place the women of Andhra have in their society, and now again, capital.

The ksheera vruksha (milk tree) there is particularly auspicious for women. There is also a main festival three in Phalguna masam (february-march month). The shape of the hill of Mangalagiri is in that of an elephant. Hence, like the famous charming hastini walk that ancient beauties were described as having, this saree too represents the allure of Andhra women.

A stone’s throw away from Amaravati, Mangalagiri is the saree of the AP’s administrative capital. Women of the region are both traditional and trendy. Like the rajdhani represents all the shades of Andhra, the Mangalagiri Saree showcases a variety of different colors from around the state. It is an evening wear saree with a fresh look, perfect for summer evenings at the temple or official events. Like Andhra, it is bright but classy. It catches the eye in a refined way rather than a gaudy one.

Characteristics

 mangalagiri-plain-silk-sarees-mrr-00077

Mangalagiri is recogizable by its border. These are emphasized more than the body of the saree itself. Most obvious is the double border, which is rarely found in other sarees. ‘Getti anchu’ means solid border, which like this saree, means the lady wearing it immediately becomes the center of attention. They frequently have parallel lines that adorn it like the famous gopuram of the town. While it is refined in its silk look, it has a handwoven cotton base. This gives it a widely-prized softness and durability.

mangalagirisaree_image1-56343

Because of the cotton mix, it keeps the body cool in the hot summer of Krishna District. This style also represents Krishnamma, who is the personification of the Krishnaveni River. She too is elegant while retaining the traditional look and feel of the region. Kanakadurga in nearby Vijayawada also has this auspicious beauty.

Mangalam antey Mangalagiri

Styles

A traditional saree that is increasingly getting a modern look, the Mangalagiri saree is found in different styles. You can get the traditional patterns. You can get sico-cotton look, which is more everyday, and the pattu look which is the rich silk feature we see at the very top. This second style makes it a very rich saree.

Thread count varies from 40 (coarse) to 120 (superfine). It frequently has a gossamer or translucent weave that is ideal for export.  Traditional motifs include “leaf, mango, parrot, gold coin, rekhu “. They come in:

  • Plain Color-For a bold look.
  • Striped-These range from bright to earthen hues
  • Checks-Identifiable & traditional with organic dyes & kalamkari block print
  • Mixed-Combination of different patterns and silk cotton

 

mangalagiri_peacock

Korni Solid, Striped Mangalagiri Polycotton Sari

 

Industry

mangalagiri-industry

Considered one of the finest examples of the handloom cotton industry, Mangalagiri, like the capital of the Andhras, has stood the test of time. This carefully woven weave is prized throughout India.

mangalagiri_aasu

It is has a very structured process of manufacture as well. The yarn is colored and dyed, and then starched and bleached. The warping makes sure the color doesn’t fade.   After that, it is spun by traditional Charkha. Now made into thread, it is woven in various forms on warp and weft using pit looms. This process usually takes a week. Here is a great walkthrough of the process.

mana_mangalagiri

This industry is driven by 5000 traditional weavers who inherited a traditional craft, representing the spirit of Andhra. While sarees today are increasingly showing the machine look, Mangalagiris are handcrafted to perfection, and it shows. Finely woven, they are a must have for all true Telugus.

 Andhra Rajdhani Saree

  http://n1.sdlcdn.com/imgs/a/j/r/Priyankas-Red-Printed-Polycotton-Saree-SDL913091298-1-44fa9.jpg

Andhra’s Capital Saree

References:

  1. http://www.mangalagiri.net/temple/temple.html
  2. http://www.templenet.com/Andhra/mangalagiri.html
  3. http://www.utsavpedia.com/textiles/mangalgiri-sari-from-the-fine-edges-of-andhra-pradesh/
  4. http://www.dsource.in/resource/cotton-sari-mangalagiri/warping/index.html
  5. http://mangalgiri.com/index.php/mangalgiri-weavers-world
  6. http://mangalagiricotton.com/sarees/
  7. http://swadesh.unnatisilks.com/finely-crafted-cotton-weaves-mangalagiri/

Personalities: Annamacharya

annamayya

Popularly known all over undivided Andhra as “Annamayya”, Annamacharya is undoubtedly one of our leading lights not only in the realm of music, for which he is best known, but in the realm of Dharma. Considered the Andhra Pada Kavita Pitamaha (the Grandsire of Telugu poem-songs), his classics such as Adivo Sri Hari Vaasamu and Kondalalo Nelakonna, strike a chord throughout South India today. For that he is called the Sankeerthanacharya (Acharya of devotional songs). Around 32,000 compositions are attributed to him–a testament to his incredible musical output.

Background

Born to Lakkamba and Narayana Suri of Tallapaka, in Kadapa district, Annama grew up in the shade of the majestic 7 hills of Tirumala. Thus, from the beginning, the life of this saint-composer was synonymous with Lord Venkateshwara. Indeed, according to popular legend, his parents had a vision of him as the incarnation of Nandaka, the sword of  Vishnu himself. Irrespective of one’s belief in the story, both the man and the musician (he also played the Tanpura) revitalized Bhakti for Balaji in the medieval period.

The general view is that Annamayya lived from 1408 to 1503. Fittingly, this surprisingly lengthy lifespan for the era was highly productive, not only in compositional output, but in societal activities. While considered an exceedingly bright boy who took easily to his studies, his early years were marked by devotional caprice. He is reputed to have run away to Tirumala to sing the praises of Venkateshwara.

Later he studied at the Ahobilam matha and became an authority on Dharma in his own right. As a young man, his years were said to have been spent in the full immersion of Sringara (romance), which incidentally shaped his compositional use of Madura Bhakti (romance of Venkateshwara and his consort to symbolize union of the jivatma with the paramatma). Married to Akkalamma and Tirumalamma (popularly known as Timmakka), he was reputed to have been distracted by their beauty and only after what was considered divine intervention did he resume his duties and stated mission on Earth. Interestingly, Timmakka was herself an accomplished poetess, and is credited with being the first major female writer in Telugu, having written the Subhadra Kalyanamu. In fact, Annamayya’s descendants are replete with a number of poets, most famously his grandson via Timmakka, Narasimhacharya. One of them, Tallapaka, Chinna Tiruvengalanathudu wrote his ancestor’s life history, Annamacharya Jeevitha Charitra.

In a famous interaction between Annamacharya and Saluva, Narasimha, who later became Emperor of the Vijayanagara empire, he was asked by the latter to compose a song in praise of him. Annamayya declined saying his songs were only for God and not for a mere man. As a result, he was imprisoned. He was later released when the Saluva dynast realized his folly, and they became friends.

The jewel of the illustrious line of Tallapaka composers traveled the length of the southern Indian peninsula. He even went on pilgrimage to Puri in Odisha. He revived the spirit of Bhakti in the masses and focused on the true message of religion:

Brahmaṃ Okkatē Paraḥbrahmamokkatē

God is One. We are one with God.

Ey kulajudainanemi evvaḍainanemi

 What does it matter what caste or background [All are equal in the eyes of God].

Achievements

Coinciding with the energetic rule of future Vijayanagara Emperor Narasimha of the Saluva Dynasty (aka Saluva, Narasimha), Annamayya’s life complemented this political revival with a cultural and religious one.  The name Annamayya is synonymous with Telugu language devotionals.

  • Wrote 32, 000 compositions, 14,000 Sankeerthanas of which 2,178 were devotional and 11,526 romantic.
  • Composed 12 Satakas (100 stanza poems), though only 1 has been traced.
  • Produced a version of the Ramayana in Dwipada metre and a treatise on Musicology called Sankeerthana Lakshana. This Sanskrit work advises on how to compose Padas, Keerthanas, and Kritis. Another called, Sringara Manjari, is a poem on romance.
  • At one point in his life, he was composing a song a day.
  • In sankeerthanas accessible to the common man, he conveyed the timeless wisdom of the Vedas, Upanishads, and the Puranas in the common tongue of Telugu and folk metres.
  • Actively campaigned for Temple entry to lower castes and education for women

Legacy

annamayyastatue

While he is best remembered today as the great carnatic composer Annamayya, his impact as Annamacharya, exponent of Dharma, is most relevant in our era.

From his efforts to restore education rights to women to his campaign to re-open temples to dalits, he understood that the essence and spirit of Dharma mattered more than the letter (which varies in time and place). Though from an orthodox Brahmin family himself, he fought prideful casteists and chauvinists tooth and nail and attempted to propound the true message of Dharma which had been lost in this Kali Yuga.

Ironically, this first of the great Telugu vaggeyakaras (composers), and one of the three greatest (along with Bhadrachalam Ramadas and Thyagaraja) had his compositions burnt, reputedly due to opposition from his rivals for his progressive views. Nevertheless, his devoted son etched them again in tamra patras (copper plates). While these were lost for 400 years, Annamayya’s popularity was restored with their discovery. The Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam has worked hard at reviving his legacy and commissioned none other than Balamurali Krishna to oversee it. Other great carnatic singers such as Shobha Raju and the late Nedunuri, Krishnamurthy have worked tirelessly to renew his work in the popular consciousness.

More recently, the 1997 classic film Annamayya, starring Nagarjuna, Suman, and Ramya Krishnan, revitalized his legacy for the present generation. His biopic is proof that moksha is possible for those who lead a full and fulfilling life even in this worldly and material era. Rather than obstacles for their beauty, women are partners on the path to liberation as the celebrated saint’s own life and words proved.

Perhaps nothing better represents Annamayya’s influence on the Telugu people in particular than popular jholas (lullabies) that are attributed to him. Jo Achutananda below shows how his life and legacy  has touched grownup and child alike.

Sri Annamacharya remains one of our most beloved and honoured saint-singers whether for Sangeeta or Dharma.

References:

  1. http://www.annamayya.org/annamayya/sankeerthanas/
  2. http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/tp-andhrapradesh/annamayya-paved-the-way-for-egalitarian-society/article6992227.ece
  3.  http://www.thehindu.com/thehindu/2003/05/22/stories/2003052201960900.htm
  4. http://www.annamacharya.net/annamayya
  5. http://www.svasa.org/
  6. http://www.thehindu.com/thehindu/mp/2002/12/30/stories/2002123001110200.htm
  7. http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-features/tp-fridayreview/the-annamayya-appeal/article7206974.ece
  8. http://www.thehindu.com/thehindu/2000/07/14/stories/10140906.htm

Saamethalu (Telugu Proverbs) 4

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Hello everyone! After long gap, here is the fourth part in our long running series on Saamethalu. Saametha is the Telugu poem proverb. Each verse contains knowledge and understanding that is not only pleasant to hear but useful to use. Enjoy!

Saamethalu:

Meka vanne puli.

Looks like a goat, tiger on the inside (wolf in sheep’s skin)

Mondi vaadu raaju kanna balavanthudu…

A stubborn fellow runs roughshod even over kings

Moonnaalla mucchata.

The affection of three months

Nidhaanamey pradhaanam.

Going steadily and methodically is important [Slow and steady wins the race]

Nijam nippu laantidi.

Truth burns like fire

Nippu lendey poga raadanta.

There’s no smoke without fire

Nippu muttanidhey chaeyi kaaladhu.

Hand doesn’t burn without touching fire

Noru manchidaithey….ooru manchidi.

If you don’t badmouth, town won’t be bad either

References:

  1. http://www.saamethalu.com/

Sanskrit & Sanskruti Part II – Is it needed to be taught or not?

To continue my series on Sanskrit, is the second installment. It will start on the misinformation campaign on it.

The Misinformation Campaign on Sanskrit

The very basis of arguments of the opponents of teaching Sanskrit from primary level of education either in India or in any other sovereign nation interested in teaching it to their posterity, is based on a wrong premise. The main argument centers around the wrong notion that all the scriptures or other literature written in Sanskrit were intended only for one Varna, the Brahmin and others were prevented from learning It. But the scriptures and Itihasas tell a different story.

In fact, Kshatriyas and Vaishyas also learned. Rama and Krishna both studied in traditional gurukulas. The great Dharma raja of the Mahabharata who was learned in sanskrit and righteousness was the Kshatriya Pandava Yudhisthira. King Bhartruhari and even the Saka Rudradaman wrote poetry in chaste Sanskrit.

How do then do opponents of Sanskrit oppose teaching Sanskrit, dubbing it as “Brahminical”? The main scripture they quote is from Rigveda. This portion is called the Purusha Suktam. Purusha sukta (puruṣasūkta, पुरुष सूक्त) is hymn 10.90 of the Rigveda, dedicated to the Purusha, the “Cosmic Being”. [1]

File:Rigveda MS2097.jpg

The first controversy surrounding the hymn was that it was interpolated at a latter period to perpetuate the caste division in Hindu society, amongst other arguments in this direction. But this argument was debunked by many Hindu scholars, the main being Tiru B.V.Kameswar Aiyar, who stated thus:

The language of this hymn is particularly sweet, rhythmical and polished and this has led to its being regarded as the product of a later age when the capabilities of the language had been developed. But the polish may be due to the artistic skill of the particular author, to the nature of the subject and to several other causes than mere posteriority in time. We might as well say that Chaucer must have lived centuries after Gower, because the language of the former is so refined and that of the latter, so rugged. We must at the same time confess that we are unable to discover any distinct linguistic peculiarity in the hymn which will stamp it as of a later origin.”

The Purusha Sukta, in the seventh verse, hints at the organic connectedness of the various classes of society.
What does the hymn state that is so controversial? It is this part:

यत्पुरुषं व्यदधुः कतिधा व्यकल्पयन् ।
मुखं किमस्य कौ बाहू का ऊरू पादा उच्येते ॥११॥
Yat-Purussam Vya[i-A]dadhuh Katidhaa Vya[i-A]kalpayan |
Mukham Kimasya Kau Baahuu Kaa Uuruu Paadaa Ucyete ||11||

Meaning:
11.1: What did the Purusha (i.e. Virat) hold within Him? How many parts were assigned in His Huge Form?
11.2: What was His Mouth? What was His Arms? What was His Thighs? And what was His Feet?

ब्राह्मणोऽस्य मुखमासीद् बाहू राजन्यः कृतः ।
ऊरू तदस्य यद्वैश्यः पद्भ्यां शूद्रो अजायत ॥१२॥
Braahmanno-Asya Mukham-Aasiid Baahuu Raajanyah Krtah |
Uuruu Tad-Asya Yad-Vaishyah Padbhyaam Shuudro Ajaayata ||12||

Meaning:
12.1: The Brahmanas were His Mouth, the Kshatriyas became His Arms,
12.2: The Vaishyas were His Thighs, and from His pair of Feet were born the Shudras.

Now, what else it states in later verses?

चन्द्रमा मनसो जातश्चक्षोः सूर्यो अजायत ।
मुखादिन्द्रश्चाग्निश्च प्राणाद्वायुरजायत ॥१३॥
Candramaa Manaso Jaatash-Cakssoh Suuryo Ajaayata |
Mukhaad-Indrash-Ca-Agnish-Ca Praannaad-Vaayur-Ajaayata ||13||

Meaning:
13.1: The Moon was born from His Mind and the Sun was born from His Eyes,
13.2: Indra and Agni (Fire) were born from His Mouth, and Vayu (Wind) was born from His Breath.

नाभ्या आसीदन्तरिक्षं शीर्ष्णो द्यौः समवर्तत ।
पद्भ्यां भूमिर्दिशः श्रोत्रात्तथा लोकाँ अकल्पयन् ॥१४॥
Naabhyaa Aasiid-Antarikssam Shiirssnno Dyauh Samavartata |
Padbhyaam Bhuumir-Dishah Shrotraat-Tathaa Lokaa Akalpayan ||14||

Meaning:
14.1: His Navel became the Antariksha (the intermediate Space between Heaven and Earth), His Head sustained the Heaven,
14.2: From His Feet the Earth (was sustained), and from His Ears the Directions (were sustained); in this manner all the Worlds were regulated by Him. [1]

The main objection and the argument that this Suktam was interpolated by the upper caste Brahmins was this. From my face Brahmin was born, from shoulders the Kshatriya, from thighs the Vysya and from feet the Sudra.

If you go further, the Lord states:

“The moon takes birth from the Purusha’s mind and the sun from his eyes. Indra and Agni descend from his mouth and from his vital breath, air is born. The firmament comes from his navel, the heavens from his head, the earth from his feet and quarters of space from his ears. Through this creation, underlying unity of human, cosmic and divine realities is espoused, for all are seen arising out of same original reality, the Purusha.” [1]

Shudras are born from the feet of The Lord and so too the Earth. What sustains us with all the requirements for a happy living? Is it the unknown Heaven or the known Earth that bears the burden of humanity? That said, the other elements like Agni, Vayu etc., too are needed but without Earth, why do we need all these?

Right interpretation of the text of the hymn clearly enunciates one undeniable fact: That like the Earth, the Lord intended the Shudras as the main sustaining force of humanity.

Let us explain it in the mundane language. A Brahmin attains jnana and teaches, Kshatriya fights, Vaishya sells the needed goods. But what is the use of jnana, if you are not secure? What is the use of security if you can not buy the needed essentials? What is the ultimate use of all the three if someone who works hard to produce the needed goods is not there?

If a man is without feet, what can he do by having all the three other qualities? So, who occupies the prime place in the God’s creation, the Shudra or the sustainer of all the other three. But, again the Shudra (and other varnas) requires guidance from the jnana of Brahmin, security through bravery of the Kshatriya and someone to market his products in the form of a Vaishya. But he forms the crux of sustenance like the Earth that sustains us with the help of other elements.

This argument may look mundane from a philosophical point of view, but I feel no God who is the Parent of humanity would like to see one section of his own creation as inferior to  other section and the other section, a higher section and so on. In the Higher Order of the Universe a moth living for 30 minutes, post seeing the light of the day to the longest living animal have the same value in God’s view. Or else he would not have created a moth without a purpose to serve the Earth.

The barriers are created by us and were used by so called upper caste zealots (i.e. casteists) then and the so called Human Rights activist zealots now, who make a living by keeping the society ignorant of our rich cultural heritage and our richest language.

The Ignorant Law Makers


Even as I was closing the first part and going into the origin, importance and value of Sanskrit in present day life, a funny anecdote took place in the House of “Elders” in India. A self-professed Gandhivadi, who was ignorant that Gandhi relied only on Alternate Medicine, brought one bottle of an Ayurvedic formulation named “PUTRA JEEVAK” and started a commotion in the house that Yoga Guru Ramdev was a male chauvinist, who produced medicine for birth of male child. Ramdev Ashram never propagated it, nor was it mentioned on the bottle anywhere, that it was so. Member after member, from pseudo secular parties expressed surprise, shock, anguish and what not that Ramdev was discouraging female birth.

Later, Ramdev clarified it was the original botanical name of the medicinal plant from which it was prepared and that in Sanskrit “Putra Jeevan” represents birth of child, both male and female. This strengthens the argument that Sanskrit must be taught from primary stage, as it crops up daily in our life and not knowing meaning of simple words will be fodder to the Media and NGOs funded by Missionaries. At least 20-25 years from now, this kind of Gandhi vadis will not have ability to make mountains out of mole hills.

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I had to dwell upon a subject deviating from the main topic only to show that Sanskrit was never a purely “Brahminical” language as is being wrongfully projected by vested interests. Nor is it now, all the more so with the whole concept of Varnashrama Dharma changing with 99% of us being Shudras or workers and it is essential to teach Sanskrit from early ages so that our culture is known to the world. It is a rich culture, not less to any other.

Origin & Aspects of Sanskrit

The Sanskrit verbal adjective sáṃskṛta- may be translated as “highly elaborated”, “cultured”, or literally, “refined”. [2] It is not just a language of rituals and agraharas, but a language of poetry, romance, and royalty. Though western scholars posit it as evolving from a Proto-Indo-European, no doubt to link the language to them, our traditional scholars hold it as the Devabhasha, language of the Gods. Indeed, it is one of the 22 official languages of India and is the second official language of the state of Uttarakhand.

Sanskrit literature maintains an outstanding tradition in fields running from poety and drama to dharma and politics. The sciences were taught in Sanskrit, and numerous texts such as the bija ganita of Bhaskara herald a storied tradition in mathematics. While Sanskrit is the ceremonial language in Hindu rituals and Buddhist practice [3], it is also a spoken one in a number of villages to this day. [4]

Prior to Panini, we had Vedic Sanskrit. Western scholars date  the language of the Rigveda dating back to as early as the early second millennium BCE, but our Traditional scholars hold it to be far more ancient. Sanskrit, the classical form was used from the Ashtadhyayi onward, and the elaborated language was used in religious practices by Brahma Jnanis. The natural, ordinary language ‘Prakryta’ was used by common folk.

Classical Sanskrit versus the Common Language

It is known across globe that languages undergo imminent change as the society evolves into modern ages, each as per the changes brought about. Thus, English too underwent change with advent of internet with words “google” finding their way into lexicons and short messaging changing the very format of language. So too, Sanskrit and many Indian languages changed in form and format.

Vedic Sanskrit is distinct from Classical Sanskrit. Indeed, we see a marked change between the language of the Chatur Veda and the great Epics of the Ramayana and Mahabharata. This transformation is attributed to the influence of the Prakrits (or common speech). Pandits refer to such developments as “rsis”. Incidentally, this is the traditional title of our ancient authorities and great scholars. [4]

According to the  2001 census of India, 14,135 people reported Sanskrit as their native language.  In fact, there are several villages, where Sanskrit is the spoken language. We can see the all  India nature of this as well, whether North, South, East, or West [5]:

Mattur, Shimoga district, Karnataka| Jhiri, Rajgarh district, Madhya Pradesh| Ganoda, Banswara district, Rajasthan| Shyamsundarpur, Kendujhar district, Odisha

Please note these are all backward areas as per Indian standards. As I said earlier, if there is flair and we feel it fair, nothing comes in the way of learning a language and communicating in it, Indian or alien. More than 3000 Sanskrit works were published since independence, the language being no less authoritative than the Vedic Language but with needed changes as per changing ages.

What’s more, it is highly relevant in the world of music as well. Sanskrit, as the language of the Natya Sastra, is the origin and treasury of words in the Carnatic and Hindustani branches of classical music.  More interestingly, China has recorded the first musician to record a pop song in Sanskrit (Sa Ding Ding). While our misguided mediawallahs call Sanskrit “boring”, the modern obsessed Chinese have given a pop song in the language. [6]

Over 90 news publications are published in Sanskrit. Sudharma, a daily newspaper in Sanskrit, has been published out of Mysore, India, since the year 1970. [7] Doordarshan has revamped its Sanskrit News programming. [8]

When the very national mottos of India and Nepal are in this most perfect of langauges…

Republic of India: Satyameva Jayate meaning: Truth alone triumphs.
Nepal: Janani Janmabhoomischa Swargadapi Gariyasi meaning: Mother and motherland are superior to heaven.

…how then is this matter even up for debate? But leave aside the Indian Subcontinent, what of the legions of yoga practitioners in the west who study it to learn the asanas and mantras?

Foreigners want what our Foreign Obsessed Fools Reject

sanskritstjames

Many of you may have heard about how Sanskrit was taught in Europe in many Universities. In fact, Sanskrit is being taught today not just in the UK, but in Germany as well (ironic given the recent controversy).

While our silly people rant about how German and other European languages might get them jobs so they can migrate (how does this benefit the country?), Europeans are teaching their students our Devabhasha.

Sanskrit fever grips Germany: 14 universities teaching India’s ancient language struggle to meet demand as students clamour for courses.

According to a Daily Mail article, German students are clamoring for studying Sanskrit. Inter alia the report states:

Will Germans be the eventual custodians of Sanskrit, its rich heritage and culture? If the demand for Sanskrit and Indology courses in Germany is any indication, that’s what the future looks like.

Unable to cope with the flood of applications from around the world, the South Asia Institute, University of Heidelberg, had to start a summer school in spoken Sanskrit in Switzerland, Italy and – believe it or not – India too.

Do we as Indians not have any shame? Are we so lost and adrift and culture-less as a people that we need, indeed, look to others to learn, preserve, and even teach us our own heritage? The fools among us will say “yessir, this is great, we will be progressive, not regressive“. Rather than encouraged, they should be laughed at. Such shameless fellows would happily sell their mothers as well, so what then is Mother Sanskrit to them?

Sanskrit Primer

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To Be Continued

Next Part: I will discuss the importance of sanskrit not only to our ancient culture, but how it influenced and helps preserve our regional languages also, like Andhra bhasha: Telugu

References:

  1. http://www.greenmesg.org/mantras_slokas/vedas-purusha_suktam.php
  2. Williams, Monier (2004). A Sanskrit-English dictionary : etymologically and philologically arranged with special reference to cognate Indo-European languages. New Delhi: Bharatiya Granth Niketan. p. 1120. 
  3. Oberlies, Thomas (2003). A grammar of epic Sanskrit. Berlin New York:
    Edgerton, Franklin (2004). Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit grammar and dictionary. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.http://www.theindiapost.com/features/featured/orissa%E2%80%99s-sasana-village-%E2%80%93home-to-sanskrit-pundits/
  4. http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=80241&fileId=S001041750100353X
  5. http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/This-village-speaks-gods-language/articleshow/1199965.cms
  6. BBC. “BBC – Awards for World Music 2
  7. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sanskrit#cite_note-Mint2012-33
  8. “News on Air”. News On Air. 15 August 2012. etc.