Dwitiya 2019

Dwitiya, the second day of the lunar fortnight:

The tales that have come down to us from the mists of time are not proof of the existence of gods and goddesses with halos striding about granting boons or recriminations. That was not the original essence of Hinduism.

Hinduism is more a way of life than a creed that must be adhered to for fear of descent into some terrible hell after one’s time on this earth is over. In fact the word Dharma which is the nearest approximation of religion in Sanskrit translates into that which holds and sustains, rather than an -ism. This is something that we need to remind ourselves about. Hinduism never expects people to be all good, it would not have incorporated the chance to improve oneself through reincarnation if that was the case. Hinduism is inclusive and this is evidenced by the granting of eternal life and other benefits to the demons or asuras, in the use of the waters of various rivers in its rituals and in the use of the earth from the entrance to a brothel in the making of the clay idols of Durga. Everyone is worthy. Everyone comes with an equilibrium of Rajas, Tamas and Sattwa or passion, darkness and goodness. It is up to us to take up the right path. A similar saying exists in Native American mythology about the battle between two wolves – good and evil, forgiveness and hatred that affects us within our minds. The wolf that we feed will be the wolf that wins. It is the same with Sattwa, Tamas and Rajas. Very few of us are able to be entirely sattwik. Most let Rajas and Tamas rule our lives quite knowingly.

Interestingly, the eight demonic clans that came to battle Durga each represent one of the eight Bonds or Ashta Pasa that bind a human being. These are:

Udayudhas or ghrna: contempt
Kambus or lajja: shame
Kotiviryas or bhaya: fear
Dhaumras or shanka: doubt
Kalakas or jugupsa: disgust
Daurhrdas or kula: pride in family, caste or group identity at the exclusion of others
Mauryas or shila: pride in one’s morality that makes one judge others
Kalakeyas or jati: pride in racial identity that leads to a false sense of superiority

In the hymn Devi Suktam there are more than twenty shlokas or verses beginning with ‘Ya devi sarva bhuteshu’, indicating that the divine is present in all creatures as consciousness, as power, as intellect, as memory, as sleep, as delusion, as desire, as activity, as prosperity, as forgiveness and so on.

But only we can choose which of those we wish to represent through our thoughts and actions towards others.

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Protipoder pronaam, 2019

800px-1500-1200_BCE,_Devi_sukta,_Rigveda_10.125.1-2,_Sanskrit,_Devanagari,_manuscript_page_1735_CE_(1792_VS)Devi Suktam, Rig Veda


On Protipod, the first day of the lunar fortnight:

‘Once upon a time a few thousand years ago a woman declared herself god. She announced I am all that there ever was or will be. Those who do not believe in me will be destroyed. I have the means to advance those who earn my love. I am both Knowledge and the Giver of wealth. I fight for people everywhere. I am both in this world and in the one that we know as space. I created these skies as well as these rushing torrents. I am the celestial wind that flows through all that I create.

No one questioned this woman’s right to say such things. No one ridiculed her. No one was astonished by her audacity. Instead, they recognised her words and included them in their most revered book with the works of others.

That book is the Rigveda. That woman was Ambhrini, also known as Bak or Speech.That part of the Rigveda is known as the Devi Sukta or the Bak Sukta.

Today, I bow to that ancestral woman.’

আজ থেকে কয়েক হাজার বছর আগে একটি মেয়ে নিজেকে ঈশ্বর বলে ঘোষণা করেছিল। সদর্পে বলেছিল, আমিই সব। আমাকে যে মানে না,সে ক্ষয় হয়ে যায় । আমি যাকে ভালবাসি, তাকে সর্বোত্তম করে তোলার ক্ষমতা রাখি। আমিই বিদ্যা আমিই ধনদা। আমিই জনসাধারণের জন্য জনসাধারণের হয়ে সংগ্রাম করি। আমিই দ্যুলোকে ভূলোকে ছড়িয়ে আছি। এই আকাশ আমার সৃষ্টি, এই জলকল্লোল আমার সৃষ্টি । আমিই সকল ভুবন তৈরি করতে করতে বাতাসের মত প্রবাহিত হতে থাকি।

এই মেয়েটির এই লেখা নিয়ে কেউ কোনো আপত্তি জানায় নি। কেউ ব্যঙ্গ করে নি। একটি মেয়ের এমন স্পর্ধায় কেউ আশ্চর্য হয় নি। বরং সসম্ভ্রমে লেখাটিকে ঠাঁই দিয়েছে আরোও অনেকের লেখার সঙ্গে, নিজেদের সবচেয়ে গুরুত্বপূর্ণ বইটিতে।

বইটির নাম ঋগ্বেদ । লেখিকার নাম আম্ভৃণী বা বাক্। সূক্তটির নাম দেবীসূক্ত বা বাক্-সূক্ত।

আজ দেবী পক্ষের সূচনায় আমাদের এই পূর্বনারীর কাছে সাষ্টাঙ্গে প্রণত হলাম।

From Rohini Dharmapal.
Translation, mine.

Pic: Devi Sukta, Rigveda

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Harshavardhana: bringer of joy

What’s in a name?

It is 605 AD. Rajyavardhana (conqueror of lands) is the elder son who is destined to expand the kingdom while Harshavardhana (bringer of joy) is meant to bring happiness to its king and its people. Yet Rajyavardhana dies within the year, murdered in an ambush by a treacherous ally and Harsha begins to rule at sixteen.

By the time he is ready to pass the throne on, the kingdom is much greater than the first king of their line Naravardhana could ever have imagined. Harsha is truly worthy of the Maharajadhiraja title that his father Prabhakarvardhana had taken.

But then Harsha’s father laid the foundations of his son’s empire by defeating the Huns under warlords such as Toramana. The Huns were bloodthirsty of course, but most of their other flaws such as pin holes for eyes and a grunting that passed for speech were inventions of the sophisticated Greeks and Romans who fell before their attacks. At the height of Harsha’s rule the Guptas are long gone, Buddhism is no longer the force it was during Ashok’s rule in Northern India, but learning and the arts are restored once again and the Huns have turned their eyes towards Europe. This is a realm at peace where even the emperor has time to write plays in Sanskrit and preside over Buddhist assemblies.



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Today’s Google Doodle: Sarah Durack and her swimsuit

Living in Australia today, with swimming pools and lessons a fact of life for both girls and boys from the age of three to four months till well into their nineties, it seems hard to believe that the idea of women swimming or participating in swim events with men was something that some men and many feminists fought strongly against in the early 1900s.
The subject of today’s Google doodle in Australia is Sarah Durack who with her friend Wilhelmina Wylie invented the Australian crawl. But that is not why she is splashed across our computer screens today.
She was the first woman ever to win Olympic gold in 1912. But she was not the first woman at the Olympics. Despite the efforts to keep the Games exclusively male, American women had already taken part in archery in 1904 and British women in gymnastics, figure skating and tennis in 1908. These women were of course demurely clothed at all times, even though it might have hindered their movements. But it was chiefly women and the Church who had stopped Sarah from being at the 1908 London Games.
Feminists such as Rose Scott who was president of the New South Wales Ladies Amateur Swimming Association were completely opposed to women swimming in front of male spectators. This came from an established view of the time that men were essentially predators who would yield to the depravity within themselves if they saw women in the pool.
‘A girl who is in the habit of exposing herself at public swimming carnivals is likely to have her modesty hopelessly blighted,’ she told a meeting of the Association.
The Archbishop of Sydney added his twopence to the uproar, claiming that the ‘fabric of society’ was in danger of unravelling just because a couple of silly girls wanted to prove something to the world.
Thankfully, public opinion in Australia and the decision of the IOC to allow female swimmers both worked in Sarah’s favour. When the Australian Olympic Committee and Rose Scott’s NSWLSA excluded her from the team in 1912, there were protests across the country. Donations poured in, preventing the authorities from using lack of funds as a reason for Sarah’s exclusion. Rose Scott resigned in protest but obviously not many others cared for her opinion that it was ‘disgusting that men should be allowed to attend. We cannot have too much modesty, refinement or delicacy in the relations between men and women…this new decision will have a very vulgar effect on the girls, and the community generally.’
Sarah Durack to Leisel Jones,Libby Trickett and Steph Rice and all the way to Jasmine Greenwood who at 13 was the youngest para athlete at the recent Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast – no signs of the fabric of society fraying as an outcome of women’s swimming yet!
Stockholm Olympics Poster

(pics of Sarah Durack and a Stockholm Olympic poster: internet. I can’t resist pointing out the tasteful wrapping around the athlete’s ahem, manhood, as they probably called it at the time)
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Telegraph Office, Calcutta (Kolkata) - 1878

If one reads Purnendu Pattrea’s Purono Kolkatar Kathachitra (Tales of Old Calcutta), there is a fascinating list of Calcutta’s wonders listed at the start of the book in an old song by Rupchand Pokkhi. Rupchand lived between 1815 and 1890. The song compares Calcutta rather grandly to the celestial court of Indra.

“ধন্য ধন্য কলিকাতা শহর স্বর্গের জ্যেষ্ঠ সহোদর
পশ্চিমে জানহবী দেবী দক্ষিণে গঙ্গাসাগর
(পূবে বাদা চিংড়ীহাটা পদ্মা নদী তদুত্তর)
হেস্টিংস ব্রীজ বাগবাজার, এই আয়তন তার
সারকিউলার রোড পোরমিট ধার, চতুঃসীমা সার”

Calcutta, you are elder brother (superior) to the very heavens
To your west flows the Janhabi and to your south is Gangasagar
To your east lies Chingrihata and the river Padma to the north
Hastings Bridge to Bagbazar, this far stretch your limits
Circular Road and the Permit zone, make up your four sides.

“অতুল্য মর্ত ভুবনে, বৈকুণ্ঠ যায় হার মেনে, হেরে টেলিগ্রাফ
বলে বাপ, লাজে লুকায় পুরন্দর
(তারেতে তার, বর্ণ বিস্তার, ধন্য শিল্পী কারিকর)
তার হেরে তাঁর লাগল দিশে, তারে তারে খপর এসে
ছয় মাসের পথ এক দিবসে, মেলে তত্ব অনাসে
ধন্য ডাক্তার ওসগনেসী, সকলকে করেছেন খুশী
ব্রিটন দেশী গুণরাশী, সুখে বসি হউন অমর
(রোগশোক তাপ নাশি হউক সরল অন্তর)”

Rupchand seems to have been especially awed by the telegraph as he devotes the next eight lines to that miracle of modern communication. He describes the telegraph as incomparable to anything on earth. The gods admit defeat and hide as wires carry news that once took six months in a matter of days. He then goes on to praise a doctor Oshognessy (Rupchand’s pronunciation) who has made everyone happy.

It took me a while to figure out that the doctor who is showered with blessings and ardent wishes for his continued good health was actually Doctor William O’Shaughnessy and a fascinating character. As a doctor in England he discovered that the blood of cholera victims was generally deficient in water and salts and became the first person to suggest intravenous saline and oral re-hydration therapy.
O’Shaughnessy went to India in 1833 like a lot of his contemporaries. This brain drain saw nearly 30% of Trinity graduates emigrate to India by 1860.
Two years later he was a professor at the newly created Calcutta Medical College. He worked across a range of disciplines and developed methods to detect specific poisons such as arsenic, first used zinc to prevent rusting and experimented with the use of colour in photography. He observed the use of cannabis in various folk remedies among his patients. This led to a study of its effects and his use of its extract as a painkiller and muscle relaxant in diseases such as arthritis, rabies and tetanus.


Outside his duties as a doctor, he conducted experiments in telegraphy at the Botanic Garden in Shibpore. The first telegraph line was laid between Calcutta and Diamond Harbour. He returned to England to present his various discoveries and inventions to the scientists of the time. Upon his return to India in 1844, Lord Dalhousie set O’Shaughnessy to work on telegraphy. 4000 miles of telegraph wires were laid in India between 1853 to 1856.

Rupchand Pokkhi and contemporary Indians were not the only people to thank O’Shaughnessy for his work on the telegraphs. He was knighted in 1856. As the British had realised, whoever controlled the telegraph wires, controlled the news; whoever controlled the news could also control the country.

Info: The web

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Aubergine affaire d’amour

Skin that shines, as though the finest oils of Morocco have been anointing each luscious inch since it was first revealed to this world.
Voluptuous curves that could make the beauties of Hindostan sigh in surrender.
Flesh, sweet and unmarked – made for worship – by all the senses.
A shawl of fine wool feels drab next to its glowing form.

Will the nawab of Hyderabad win with a Bagara baingan or will the Greeks prevail with a Moussaka? Will the Mandarin conquer all with Salt and Pepper eggplant or will a simple peasant leave them all behind with smokey bharta?

I really need to get a handle on this craving, this one is going to be bartered for figs. Figs, silky and soft to the touch…….begun

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The Writer’s Buildings of Calcutta

Young man, go East …………..but at your own peril!

Considering that a large number of the East India Company clerks or writers were younger sons who had little or no claim to the family fortunes and the rest had hardly any fortunes to speak of, it was only natural for a young writer to turn reckless once they were aboard the ship taking them to India and the untold riches they hoped to find on the subcontinent.

writers 4
The writer was fitted out in a manner suitable for a representative of one of the richest companies of England at the time

George Annesley, Viscount Valentia described the young clerks or writers brought out to Calcutta by the East India Company to keep records and accounts thus:

“There are few of these young men who do not keep their horses, commonly their curricles, and, in many instances, their race-horses, which, together with the extravagant parties and entertainments frequent among them, generally involve them in difficulties and embarrassments at an early period of their lives.”

writers 3
A young writer smoking his hookah while his servant waits with a refill.
writers 1
Writer’s Building in the 1800s
Today the Writer’s Building still houses a few government ministers, clerks and their files.

writers 2

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