Wednesday 25 December 2013

Back to the roots and basking in glory

Joe D' Cruz is an eminent Tamil writer who established for ever his place in Tamil literary field with his first work: 'World surrounded by Ocean' (Aazhi Choozh Ulagu: a phrase from Kamba Ramayan). His second work 'Korkai' is about the ancient port town Tuticorin. The epic narrative of 'Korkai' traces through multiple layers an inner chord of spiritual struggle between an earth-bound goddess tradition and an imposed system alien to that tradition. A dwindling, community leadership almost becoming endangered and ultimately extinct was painfully aware of the loss. Joe d Cruz explains this from the retold memories about a community leader, a generation or two ago.

Thonmichael was not as much interested in positions of power and leadership titles as he was charged when it comes to his community's concerns. It is said that after he assumed position, in a very short period, he started giving life to abandoned traditions. He cried in inner agony how the Catholic religion that had demanded the lives of thousands and thousands of Parathava fishermen as sacrifice, was today presiding as a mute witness over the destruction of their very social fabric fiber by fiber. He would often lament, with a pained heart, what faith these foreigners had imported here which was not there already in our people. Reviving the old tradition, on the day of his coronation (as community head) he would go and get Darshan at the Goddess temples of Kanyakumari, Madurai, Thiru Uttarakosa Mangai and Korkai Santhanamari and do special pujas there.  ('Korkai', pp.21-22)

However the destruction of the Goddesses traditions was done by forces that knew what they were doing. There were precise political and power equations involved. However amidst the waves of ocean and away from the grips of temporal power structures, the conversations of simple fishermen portrayed in the novel, bring out the socio-political equations of theological imperialism:
“Hey, I am talking about the white man. Arabs and Greeks before him came here only for trade but not for planting his flag here and govern over us.”
“Now this… this is really a fair statement”
“OK… They trade and they even capture power… Let them do that. But why should they propagate their religion here?”
“Oh… that? That is because, even with all his military and trade, people here will see him as an enemy and outsider. This he knew. To change that perception completely, that is possible only through religion. This he knew. We sing hymns to our Virgin Mary as 'standing on the crescent moon and wearing sun for her robes, and twelve stars on her crown'. Now, if we are told to worship Santhana Mariamman instead of Virgin Mary will we then do it?”

“What kind of thing you are talking?”, Lonchin asked.
“That is exactly what the white man has achieved. Boy! Know one thing for sure … Our Santhana Mari Amman and Our Kanyakumari Amman are no ordinary goddesses. In this expanse of ocean, they alone are our protection. Remember that.” ('Korkai', p.79)
The novel presents individuals who resist the powers of establishments which are imposed on their community. And that results in a paradox. While the imposed power structures have alienated the Parathava fishermen community from the other communities of the land, the individuals within the community who resist the power structures stand alienated within the community itself. And is it this alienation within, that has made these individuals realize the eternal embrace of the Mother who is waiting for her children to return?
When fishermen leave the terra firma and find themselves amidst the roaring waves, at the mercy of the primal forces of nature, the Goddess returns to the memory of her children in all her glory, untouched by patriarchal theological covers. Joe de Cruz portrays the moment of the resurfacing of the Mother, through various conversations studded throughout the novel:

From the stern came Philians voice, “We have crossed Kolachael tower and now Kumari light is visible”
“Then break a coconut for Kumari Mother” said Lenchin. ('Korkai', p.87)
The next wave wrathfully entered the deck and retreated back with the ropes and other things from there.
“Aamu… we have left Her whom we worshipped for generations and are doing today many other things. Santhana Mari please save us and get us safely to the shore. When in the sea we cry to Santhana Mari and when we reach shore we go to Mary? We will come one day to your own temple Mother and we will light the lamp and we will celebrate your festival.” ('Korkai', p.145)

The whole novel can be seen as a cyclic narrative that starts with a previous generation of community leaders feeling the widening spiritual vacuum created by the imposed structures and ends with a descendent of this vibrant community feeling the complete alienation in the end of his life. And both hear the voice of the Eternal Mother calling forth her lost children. The fishermen community, whose more democratic traditional social structures have been usurped by power structures that are pyramidal with string pullers elsewhere, is today undergoing the awakening of a new consciousness which is actually as old as the dawn of human race itself.  
Swami Vivekananda once gave a moving picture of a global spirituality that is always alive and whose true inner fire no proselytizer can destroy:

Here is the selfsame Old Shiva seated as before, the bloody Mother Kâli worshipped with the selfsame paraphernalia, the pastoral Shepherd of Love, Shri Krishna, playing on His flute. Once this Old Shiva, riding on His bull and laboring on His Damaru travelled from India, on the one side, to Sumatra, Borneo,
Celebes, Australia, as far as the shores of America, and on the other side, this Old Shiva battened His bull in Tibet, China, Japan, and as far up as Siberia, and is still doing the same. The Mother Kali is still exacting Her worship even in China and Japan: it is She whom the Christians metamorphosed into the Virgin Mary, and worship as the mother of Jesus the Christ. Behold the Himalayas! There to the north is Kailâs, the main abode of the Old Shiva. That throne the ten-headed, twenty-armed, mighty Ravana could not shake — now for the missionaries to attempt the task? — Bless my soul! Here in India will ever be the Old Shiva laboring on his Damaru, the Mother Kali worshipped with animal sacrifice, and the lovable Shri Krishna playing on His flute. Firm as the Himalayas they are and no attempts of anyone, Christian or other missionaries, will ever be able to remove them 

What Joe D Cruz has captured in the local flavors of his literary masterpiece, is that sound of Siva's drum, that music of Kali's dance and the beauty of Krishna's flute - an emerging spiritual consciousness whose roots are deep and connect across entire humanity obliterating the barriers of space, time, nationalities and cultures. He has captured the spirit of a people so unique to his own community and yet so universal to all communities across the globe who have lost their original identity to imposed structures. It is the voice of the truly silenced souls that is crying out through his pen. And those who can hear are indeed blessed in their heart for theirs is a tomorrow of harmonious co-existence not only among communities and nations but also with the entire planet. 
Yuva Bharati joins the Tamil world in conveying its congratulations to Joe D Cruz on the occasion of his novel 'Korkai' winning the Sahitya Academy award. D' Cruz has come to Vivekananda Kendra camps to enlighten our young workers about the roots of history and the problem of identity. That he received this on the 150th year of Swami Vivekananda's birth centenary makes us feel happy and proud. 

Aravindan Neelakandan

Mars Mission and India’s Vision

India launched its Mars mission Mangalyaan – mission to planet Mars in November 2013.  As the PSLV- C25 with India's Mars Orbiter on board lifts off majestically at 2.38 p.m on November 5, 2013 from the first launch pad at the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota, a new saga opened up in Indian space odyssey. The real start for all these happened during the first anniversary of Pokhran-II.  It was a passing remark by Dr.K.Kasturirangan then chairman of Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), in Delhi on May 11, 1999 that actually triggered the chain of events which ultimately culminated in the two milestones in Indian space research in less than one decade. That simple sentence was “India has the capability to undertake a mission to the moon.” The statement made a deep impact on the then union minister for science and technology Dr. Murli Manohar Joshi.  After the lecture the physicist-minister inquired the space scientist if he could materialize what he had declared in the podium. When Kasturirangan nodded in affirmation, Joshi promised all help from his government.  The project was analyzed in all its details before it was decided to give a full go ahead. In 2003 August 15th speech the then Prime Minister announced the world that India would launch its moon programme – he called it Chandrayaan.  

Both Chandrayaan and Mangalyaan have something in common with another scheme that comes from the same era. Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) is a scheme conceived in 1999 a national mission to achieve universal primary education.  Chandrayaan, Mangalyaan and Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan – they all have one thing in common.  What can high flying space missions have in common with the ground level fight against illiteracy and school-drop out percentage?

It is a well ingrained Indian ethos.
Kopillil Radhakrishnan, the current chairman of ISRO, explained how ISRO made Mangalyaan the world's least-expensive Mars probe. Dismissing the phrase 'frugal engineering' which was increasingly used by the western media, he stated: “ISRO's general philosophy is cost effectiveness. The Russians look for robustness and the Americans go after optimization. Our aim at ISRO was how do we get to Mars on a budget.” Yes. It is cost-effectiveness that is the connecting string between Chandrayaan and Mangalyaan and Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan. In the words of Dr.Joshi who conceived the SSA, “The basic thrust will be to come up with innovative techniques. Low-cost teachers from the community can make a school. The buildings can come up later."  Cost-effectiveness permeates almost all aspects of Indian technological innovations. In India wireless technologies have been developed to connect rural uses with switch exchanges at low costs, thus opening up rural areas.

The cost-effective designing of Indian technologists can change the way the space research is being conducted. One of the important programmes of ISRO is also the most innovative of ISRO's near future project: scramjet Reusable Launch Vehicle (RLV) which has been named Avatar. The Avatar is a hyperplane vehicle that can take off from conventional airfields, collect air in the atmosphere on the way up, liquefy it, separate oxygen and store it on board for subsequent flight beyond the atmosphere. The Avatar-RLV was first announced in May 1998 at the Aero India 98 exhibition held at Bangalore. Avatar can give India a great edge in global space research. Gregory Benford an astro-physicist at the University of California and an advisor to NASA and the Whilte House Council on Space Policy states that the Avatar RLV project will enable India to leap ahead of Chinese and once the low-cost to orbit comes alive it will drive cheaper methods of doing all our unmanned activities in space.

In the 1960s, Vikhram Sarabhai the architect of the Indian Space Program observed: 
There are some who question the relevance of space activities in a developing nation. To us, there is no ambiguity of purpose. We do not have the fantasy of competing with the economically advanced nations in the exploration of the moon or the planets or manned space-flight. But we are convinced that if we are to play a meaningful role nationally, and in the community of nations, we must be second to none in the application of advanced technologies to the real problems of man and society.

When in 2013 we look with pride at the way we have become a serious player in global space programmes, we should also remember that actually ISRO has contributed vastly and innovatively to the problems humanity faces down at the earth. In fact ISRO has the largest such human-development oriented contribution by any space agency –even those of highly developed nations with huge budgets. In this connection Swami Vivekanadna has been a great inspiration to the scientists of ISRO. Dr.T.G.K.Murthy a renowned scientist of ISRO had worked in ISRO for forty years. He had developed number of novel electro-optical systems, having application in diverse disciplines such as Agriculture, Geology and Defense. He attributed his success to Swami Vivekananda, who changed the course of his life through his remarkable ideas and values like truthfulness, purity, modesty and humility. Cost-effectiveness and humanity-oriented research are the hallmarks of Indian Space Research Organization. Hence its successes are the successes of a civilization that is after centuries of subjugation claiming its place among the world nations and is becoming a guiding inspiration to the developing previously colonized countries. In effect the efforts of ISRO are fulfilling the vision of Swami Vivekananda of declaring the great Mother India to the world in the voice of peace and benediction.   
 Aravindan Neelakandan

Thursday 12 December 2013

Of a Sacrifice and a Sacrilege

Lance Naik Mohammed Firoz Khan of the Indian Army's 38 Rashtriya Rifles counter-insurgency unit postponed proceeding on leave for Eid this week to remain on patrol on the Line of Control (LC) in Jammu & Kashmir. A day before the festival, he was killed in heavy shelling by the Pakistan Army in Poonch sector of the frontier. The Pakistani violation was part of a near continuous series of unprovoked violations of the ceasefire by Pakistan Army units deployed on the LC. On that day a heavy exchange of fire began this morning at 10.40AM in the Krishna Ghati area in Poonch and Bhimber Gali area in Rajouri. 31-year-old Lance Naik Khan, who lived in Hyderabad, leaves behind his wife and two young children. 
Let us salute this great son of Hindustan! It is for us the citizens living in the comfort of the safety that our soldiers provide us through such supreme sacrifices, to make our lives worthy of these sacrifices. It is for us ordinary citizens to remember that Jammu and Kashmir is with us because brave young men and women have chosen to battle under harsh terrain, far away from their loved ones, enduring extreme weather and fighting a barbaric enemy from across the border and often betrayed by a treacherous political class from within the border. Every inch of our border has been sanctified by countless sacrifices made by families like that of Mohammed Firoz Khan. So let us honour the memory of this great son of India by rededicating ourselves to a prosperous and strong India and hope that with such strength emanating from all sections of the nation–not only from the soldiers but also from the polity and media- the alien aggressors will cease such unprovoked violations in the border.   

Meanwhile comfortably safe within the corridors of power, in JNU campus, a bunch of crackpot theorists calling themselves academicians conducted a seminar in honour of 'Mahishasur' – calling the demon 'a martyr' of Dravidian people, who was killed by an Aryan prostitute called 'Durga'.  Originally peddled by a party-hopping politician from Bihar this crackpot perversion has been embraced by a powerful cartel of academic anti-Hindu forces. Prof.Kancha Ilaiah a political science professor from Osmania University has been for some time making such crackpot racial theories and propagating them. Though he himself is not a Dalit, he is promoted by a US based organization called 'Dalit Freedom Network' (DFN) which in turn is part of an umbrella of organizations connected to Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW). CSW is run by extreme right wing politicians from Europe and US. It is quite amusing to see that in attacking Hindu culture and spirituality the ultra-left in India does not hesitate to make itself a puppet in the hands of string pullers belonging to the Western rightwing. Usually Hindus in their characteristic way may think that such utter nonsensical perversions are not even worthy of condemning even. However such an attitude of silence will only lead to the strengthening of these forces of darkness. And given the fact that our educational system has been specially designed to uproot us from our culture, we have a whole generation of cultural illiterates who often mistake rhetorical slogans for insightful perspectives. Hence attempts like the ones done by JNU 'academic' crackpots should be countered and condemned energetically in every possible way allowed in the democracy. 

Such motivated denigration of Goddess worship has been the bane of the collective psyche of the West. When James Lovelock an eminent independent scientist and Lynn Margulis the famed micro-biologist put forth the Gaia theory of life, which postulated that the planetary environment has actually co-evolved with life on earth, there was a marked hostility from the science establishment.  Michael Bond writes: 

Biologists in particular took umbrage. John Maynard Smith called Gaia hypothesis 'an evil religion'. Stephen Jay Gould dismissed it as "a metaphor, not a mechanism". Richard Dawkins argued it contradicted Darwinian evolution. Paul Ehrlich described Lovelock himself as 'radical and dangerous', while Robert May called him a 'holy fool'. (Michael Bond, The Living heart of things, New Scientist, Aug 24-30, 2013)   

Lovelock and Lynn bringing in the name 'Gaia' – the ancient Greek Goddess of the planet.  James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis stood their ground despite such an onslaught and the rest is now history in the annals of science. Decades later in 2009 James Lovelock explained his choice of the name 'Gaia' and its significance: 
Before 2004 the debate about Gaia concerned only me and a relatively small number of scientists, but now a proper understanding of the Earth as a living planet is a matter of life or death for billions of people, and extinction for a whole range of species. Unless we accept the Earth as alive, with us as a part of it, we may not know what to do or where to go as the ocean rises on a hot dry world. For this purpose the name Gaia is far more suitable for a vast live entity than some dull acronym based on rational scientific terms. In ancient Greece, Gaia was the goddess of the Earth. To many Greeks she was the most revered goddess of all... (James Lovelock, The Vanishing Face of Gaia: A Final Warning, Penguin UK, 2009)  

The very name of the Goddess even if used as a metaphor for a scientific view of the planetary life, is actually a revival for the West which has lost its pagan roots. This fact is now coming increasingly to the surface of the collective conscious of the West. Michael Ruse in the preface to the recent book on Gaia hypothesis brings this fact more explicitly:

I speak in my subtitle of Earth as a “pagan planet.” In one sense, such usage hardly demands comment. The great Greek philosophers, where we start our history of the idea of a living planet, obviously had little interest in the religious beliefs of illiterate tribesmen to the south of them, and did not know of Jesus Christ and His redeeming mission here on Earth, or of Muhammad and his life and meaning. Understood in this context, as something that stands outside the Abrahamic religions, by definition the birth of Gaia was the birth of a pagan idea. Today, as we shall learn, among the most enthusiastic of Gaia supporters are those who call themselves Pagans or neo-Pagans—I capitalize to distinguish them from the past—and often they look back to the Greeks as their inspiration. But I intend a little more by the term, namely, that we are talking of something—our home, the planet Earth—that has life, that has value, in its own right. It is significant that although, as we shall see, there have been and still are Christians who accept the Gaia hypothesis, there has often been tension (especially for Protestants) between Christian commitment and acceptance of Gaia. For Christians, most notably for those who take the sacred scriptures as the only basis for the true religion, only God has value and all else derives from Him.  Gaia is very much the opposing idea, the extended sense of Earth as something with intrinsic value, that interests me. One might easily say that atomism is as much a pagan idea as Gaia, and yet because in itself atomism does not contain the same value commitments as Gaia, the belief does not raise quite the same issues and passions. Understand therefore that I speak of Earth as a "pagan planet" precisely to highlight its vibrancy, its life, and its value that stems from this. (Michael Ruse, The Gaia Hypothesis Science on a Pagan Planet, The University of Chicago Press, 2013) 

Fortunately for us in India, we do not suffer like the Western civilization in reconnecting to our roots. Despite the best efforts of the dysfunctional education system and the foreign funded to denationalise us,  the Goddess veneration is still vibrant and alive. This land has for long preserved and well cherished the spiritual tradition of Divine Feminine. That explains why for the last four consecutive years Indians top the world in being environment friendly earth friendly consumers, as revealed by the annual global Green-index survey taken by National Geographic. Sacrifices of youths like Lance Naik Mohammed Firoz Khan is to preserve this India that is the gift to all life on planet Earth and the attempts of JNU crackpot perverts is also to destroy this India that is the incubator of all things eternally true, auspicious and beautiful for the entire planet.               

 Aravindan Neelakandan