Monday, August 19, 2013

A cosmic dance gave birth to Sanskrit. But, we have no sense, anymore!

One day, perhaps I should ask my father point-blank on whether he has ever paused to think about how much I am able to engage him in conversations about Hindu philosophy and mythology, even though I am a confirmed atheist.

Maybe he has, and he is practicing the old Hindu (Asian?) virtue of not praising the child (yes, I am a child!)

In my recent conversation with him, father noted that a traditional brahminical ritual would be observed on Tuesday.  (Be warned that this post might be too much of an inside-baseball for those not interested in such matters!)

He agreed with my comments that most people--even back then, and I bet more so now--simply go through the motions of the rituals without understanding what they mean.

"I always recall the sastrigal emphasizing that the day was to begin learning the sacred vedas .... "वेदाराम्बम  करिष्ये" " I told him.  (am hoping I haven't forgotten the Sanskrit script!)

"Yes, you are right" father replied.  "One is supposed to begin to learn the vedas, or re-read them all over again.  But, people simply rush through the ritual and go home to eat payasam"

There was nothing to disagree with there.

Even as a kid, I was usually pissed off at those putting on a show and behaving in ways that were contradictory to what they mouth off.  Actions, to me, have always spoken way, way louder than words.  And, unfortunately, whether it is in such rituals, or in professional lives, or every day living, it is awfully annoying, to the point of puking, when there is that Grand Canyon-like divide between the talk and the deed.

"And I remember that it was also the initiation to Sanskrit and its grammar ... the sounds 'a i un rlk e on ai auc  ..." I said.

"Yes, the sounds from the cosmic dance, which formed the basis for the sounds for the language of Sanskrit" father added.

Meanwhile, I was thinking to myself, "gimme some credit, man."  Hey, I am a mere mortal, who loves to hear compliments from teachers and parents :)

Image from Wikipedia

Sanskrit, which is a mother to so many languages, even has a story of how it was born.  How many languages can claim to have a birth story, right?  The Lord of all Dance, Nataraja, the mythology goes, danced holding a small drum in his hand, which produced those sounds 'a i un rlk e on ai auc  ...'  Those sounds became the basis for the vowels and consonants and, much later, the grammarian, Panini (not to be confused with the Italian sandwich!) worked out the complex syntax for the language. So goes the story.

Thus, the language was born. And with it, came thinking.  After all, can one think without a language?  Think about it! ;)

"I suppose all those were written for a time period when brahmins lived as brahmins.  Not as engineers and doctors" father--a retired engineer--said, while noting that even his father-in-law (my grandfather) was an engineer son of a a very traditional and orthodox vedas-reciting brahmin.

"But, people do not care to know about those things."   After a momentary pause, he added "maybe ignorance keeps people happy, when they don't have to think about things."

"Yes, ignorance is bliss" I chimed in.

Most of my stress in life comes from my thinking.  If I didn't think for myself, by now I would be a much richer man. A lot more professionally accomplished man.  I think, therefore I screw up!

After the phone call, I returned to my reading and ... thinking!

What a coincidence that a favorite site that I check in with every day had a link to an essay on the Indian-American poet/intellectual AK Ramanujan (not the math Ramanujan) which includes this poem, ‘Prayers to Lord Murugan’, which was, apparently, read out at his funeral:
Lord of the headlines,
help us read
the small print.
Lord of the sixth sense,
give us back
our five senses. 
Yes, please, give back us humans--brahmins and the rest alike--our five senses.
Or else!


Ramesh said...

Interesting. I didn't know that's how Sanskrit was "born".

And your comment that without language, can you think, set me off thinking as well. One of those nice things about your writing - even a casual throwaway line can set me thinking.

And yes, many follow rituals blindly. Its easier to do so than to rigorously enquire and understand the religion. Middlemen ( sastrigal and the like) have perpetuated this , by coming in between man and his God. These rituals are more social mores than religious and have simply evolved and become more and more complicated over time.

Sriram Khé said...

While reading "Middlemen" I first read it as "madmen" and I couldn't understand why you refer to the like sof the sastrigals as madmen, though I would find that appropriate enough.
I then re-read your comment ...

Yes, it is all pretty much a social activity anymore ... if people paused to think about them, either they will ditch them all, or a few might become uber-orthodox. The challenge is to get people thinking and questioning ...

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