Song of the Rain

Its raining and the drops patter on the window. I smile in contentment, a hot brew keeping me company. At such times, the soul sings – and what better time than to savour Gibran’s celebration of rain?

SONG OF THE RAIN – KAHLIL GIBRAN

I am dotted silver threads dropped from heaven

By the gods. Nature then takes me, to adorn

Her fields and valleys.

I am beautiful pearls, plucked from the

Crown of Ishtar by the daughter of Dawn

To embellish the gardens.

When I cry the hills laugh;

When I humble myself the flowers rejoice;

When I bow, all things are elated.

The field and the cloud are lovers

And between them I am a messenger of mercy.

I quench the thirst of one;

I cure the ailment of the other.

The voice of thunder declares my arrival;

The rainbow announces my departure.

I am like earthly life, which begins at

The feet of the mad elements and ends

Under the upraised wings of death.

I emerge from the heard of the sea

Soar with the breeze. When I see a field in

Need, I descend and embrace the flowers and

The trees in a million little ways.

I touch gently at the windows with my

Soft fingers, and my announcement is a

Welcome song. All can hear, but only

The sensitive can understand.

The heat in the air gives birth to me,

But in turn I kill it,

As woman overcomes man with

The strength she takes from him.

I am the sigh of the sea;

The laughter of the field;

The tears of heaven.

So with love—

Sighs from the deep sea of affection;

Laughter from the colorful field of the spirit;

Tears from the endless heaven of memories.

Happy Independence Day

The Independence Day is a day of celebration, a precious reminder to offer our gratitude to the generations gone by for teaching us the power of freedom and making this possible; and a day of hope – for what the future will bring.

The right time in short for being enchanted by Tagore’s magical, visionary and inspirational poetry (and a special thanks to my kolkata friends for introducing me to this genius’ works). Come, lets hear what he has to say:

Where The Mind Is Without Fear

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high

Where knowledge is free

Where the world has not been broken up into fragments

By narrow domestic walls

Where words come out from the depth of truth

Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection

Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way

Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit

Where the mind is led forward by thee

Into ever-widening thought and action

Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.

Navarathi – Celebration unlimited and some uncommon reasoning!

Today is dusshera, the 10th day of what is surely India’s longest festival and arguably the most fun of them all. As with all Indian festivals, there are many legends underpinning the “why” for the festival – the most popular being the slaying of Ravana, the 10 headed demon by Ram, India’s most gentlemanly god – ever.

But this is not a post about all of that. For its not the “whys” that make this festival so poplar, it’s the “hows” of celebration that make it so. Consider for instance:

In South India, women folk and children get together, evolve intricate doll houses and display them eagerly to their neighbours. They swap recipes (and some good local gossip we suspect!), extend their artistic skills to everything around the house – and generally have a darn-good-time. Child-like creativity abounds – and soap operas and pressing family concerns take a back seat for once. Its so good – the Harvard innovation gurus’ would do well to visit and take notes on innovation!

In Gujarat, the dandidya raas – a supreme dance takes over the entire state. For once teenage daughters can look their mom in the eye and let them know that they are going dancing with the neighbourhood hunks (all in aid of prayers and goodwill for the family of course!) and the mom nods her assent and smiles wistfully as remembers her childhood dandiya escapades. And if she’s sporting enough, she decides to joins the dance too – and with gusto the family teach their young ones a thing or too about being cool!

Kolkata – the home of Durga and kali – worships the goddesses fervently – and the whole state is transformed with colour, sweets (remember the famous Bengali sweets?) and a gumption that can only be experienced. Politics, Society’s strains and such go on holiday for this period as human goodness, joy and celebration taking centre-stage.

And so on it goes everywhere…….The Mysore palace is decked in finery as are other momnuments…. ….. India powders her face, adds a touch of makeup and lets her hair down and everyone who has the good fortune to see her stands awed –such majesty, such colour – and such fun.

And if you have been reading closely, you would have noticed stress on the feminine part through the writeup – for this festival is truly a celebration of the feminine. And for those who have placed even more closer inspection and say but isn’t it celebrated for a male God (Ram) – we answer “not entirely ” – there is an equally popular legend on the celebrations being in honour of the Godess killing a ferocious demon – and the celebrations honor the feminine in all its aspects (keep reading for some explanation from revered sages on this).

So truly, here’s a celebration for the goddesses, with women leading the celebrations and artistry, creativity and genius unleashed like never before. And when you consider that this is the longest celebration – one imagines the ancients had kind of got the society’s priorities right..

The intellectuals are sifting in their seats: “ok – we got it – everyone’s having a gala good time, but why are we celebrating it – don’t we need a good reason?”

So we sigh, and move on – it was too good to last anyway huh…..

First up are the legends – and there are many, here are a few that will help satiate one’s curiosity for a few hours.

But do festivals or rituals really need a reason? “Rituals by definition are irrational…and they exist in a context” argues Devdutt pattanaik, India’s leading mythologist. . “Rituals exist in a context. People outside the context will never understand it. Those who are in it, follow it, experience it and are thus recipients of subliminal communications. I often see foreigners wondering why Hindus worship trees. This is genuine curiosity as they are from another context and find this behavior strange. When Indians travel abroad and watch men and women kissing each other passionately in public, they will find it equally strange.”

The intellectuals are still not satisfied I see – and if I am not coming up with something soon, this post will be relegated to the “good tries” section too…. So I do some swift thinking and get a couple of links that do great justice to the “why”.

First up, no one can beat Wikipedia on listing the legends involved!

Here’s a very insightful post by Jaggi Vasudev, the Sadguru from Isha foundation – where he explains how one can gain either or physical strength, material abundance or knowledge from participating in this festival. Indeed he says, for the discriminating few – you could also transcend all of these and experience something even more beyond…..

And a couple from Sri Sri Ravishankar from the ArtOfLiving Blog, where he digs into the etymology and comes up with some more insights. Paramount among them is the association with the number 9 – and no we are not talking about the Brazilian striker Ronaldo’s jersey number here!

So that’s enough for the intellectuals, but the self help aficionados are still not happy. “We’ve got to learn something from the event, else its time wasted”, they protest. So a quick visit to Wikipedia reveals that dusshera means dasha (10) hara (kill) or killing ten negative qualities. And if you are wondering which qualities you need to kill, here is the list (again from the ever helpful Wikipedia):
1. Kama vasana (Lust)
2. Krodha (Anger)
3. Moha (Attachment)
4. Lobha (Greed)
5. Mada (Over Pride)
6. Matsara (Jealousy)
7. Swartha (Selfishness)
8. Anyaaya (Injustice)
9. Amanavta (Cruelty)
10. Ahankara (Ego).

Speaking of which – I know you are wondering if you eliminated these ten from your lives – what would you do with life – would it be worth it?!!!

Don’t ask me – ask quora.com – or better still why not try eliminating them this year and reporting the results in time for next year’s festivities?!!

Ten years of WordPress and interesting trivia from blogging history

Ten years and counting. Happy birthday WordPress.

Quite an achievement this in today’s technology-fuelled world where a calendar year is in itself a very long time.

The occasion merits a little investigation into the roots of WordPress. Here’s a gem of a blog which brings home the nostalgia in shovels – it’s an early blog postwhere founder Matt Mullenweg ruminates on an appropriate name for his project and cofounder Mike Littlecomments – and WordPress takes off. A moment in blogging history huh?

I’ve always found that an understanding of the folks behind momentous events is interesting – so who are these guys?

Check out http://ma.tt/which interestingly claims Matt’s “unlucky in cards” but he seems to have been lucky everywhere else. Mike little’s website proclaims “word press specialist” – and we really need say any more? So much for the WordPress guys and happy birthday again.

I guess its also time to celebrate some special moments in blogging history to wrap this post.

According to nymag.com. the first blog ever was created by a student (Justin hall) in 1994.This blog (http://links.net/) is still active and updated – and Justin is now with a mobile phone entertainment company. Go take a look at history today!

And then in 1997, John Barger shortened the phrase “logging the web” into “weblog” and is therefore a father of sorts to the blogging world. His weblog http://www.robotwisdom.com/ is still online – but please have a few hours handy before browsing it – it’s mammoth in scope.

A couple of years later, Peter Merholtz shortened “weblog” to “blog” (apparently he called it “we blog” on the sidebar of his wonderful http://www.peterme.com/). So here’s father number 2 – from a naming standpoint. And this is a wonderful blog to read too – and very well designed at that.

The year 1999 was also special for one other reason it turns out: a team of three friends ganged up to create the world’s first free blogging service (blogger.com). And to that we owe you many, many thanks – blogger team. Now they are a part of google and from their “about” page we understand they are a little big bigger but just as focused on helping people find their voice on the web.

But my favourite blogging story relates to this anecdote relating to a lady named Heather Armstrong. Hers’ was the first recorded case of a person being fired for blogging (yes!) about her workplace on her personal blog http://dooce.com/ (and yes dooce.com is still very much alive and current). As a result, we now have a new english word “dooced” which the urban dictionaryinforms us means “getting fired because of something you wrote in your blog”.

On that note, let’s look forward to many more years of blogging adventures (and hopefully we aren’t dooced in the process!).

Pongal – a day of celebration and reflection

Every ending gives birth to a new begining. Let’s welcome Pongal, the harvest thanksgiving festival.

Today we big adeau to winter and long nights.

We thank nature, man and god for the year past.

Our energies are renewed – as we welcome warmer, happier (hopefully!) times

Hold a second though, should we also not reflect for a minute on its relevance for us:

Our anscestors sowed grains and reaped a harvest. What did we sow, and what did we harvest?

Our anscestors lived in sync with a cyclical nature – and adapted to nature’s seasons. Winter went only to come the next year. Today, we live in a technology-fueled world with several “step” disruptions. Video tapes came and vanished, VCDs, DVDs, Blue ray….each comes and goes – but for ever – as its replacement takes center stage.

I typed my first blog on a PC at home, the next few on a laptop, then moved onto a tablet and this one on a phablet on the “go”. This is cool.

An impacted Ozone layer and El Nino, titanium wars, microwave hazards are uncool.

So technologies are cool, the way we use them may not quite be so. Time to turn back and ponder – what did we do last year, what did we harvest? And what do we look for this new year?

Christmas time

So we are alive and well! The Mayans’ it turns out were predicting quite something else ( loss of india’s cricketing dominance even on turning pitches home maybe?) and not the end of the world.

We get therefore to celebrate Christmas 2012 – and celebrations and sparkling conversations are holding center stage  around the world.

In this time of good will and peace (and good food), its kind of easy to think of our world as a delicious gift with a blue ribbon around it – and perhaps that’s the right way to do so.

For this festival seems to be inclusive and truly ancient – and has orgins tracing back to the sun god Mitra (by way of hailing  the return of the Sun post a dark winter) per my googling adventures. The misteltoe, christmas tree and other rituals too could possibly be traced back to the early roots of civilization (just do a search for “christmas day orgin” in google.com). So this christmas maybe we can say thanks to Jesus ( one of the most compassionate messiahs to land on earth) and also raise a toast to nature for giving us of her bountiful and heralding the rise of the sun after the long winter (also celebrated -albeit after a short winter – in southern India as pongal, the harvest festival).

Time to say Merry christmas now – and to wonder and celebrate the thoughtfulness and ingenuity of our elders in providing such festivals for us to partake in.

A hero returns

Imagine you are a soldier, returning home after a long and hard battle. As you near home, your heart swells with anticipation, your strides get longer and bells go off in your head. You instinctively touch the gifts you bear for your loved ones and your heart aches for the comforts of home. At this moment, your cup of fulfillment runneth over…

Now, put yourself in the garb of a lady, the returning soldier’s mother. You swoon with pride at the thought of your illustrious son’s bravery and look to make sure the grand welcome you have planned out for him befits a hero. The gods are in your good books today, they have safely returned your son from a treacherous war. You look around at his young wife and son – who is busy bursting crackers and enjoying the adulation of being a hero’s son. A miracle is about to ensue, and you are all for spreading sweet and light all over the world.

Your son appears on the horizon and the town erupts in joy – their hero has returned and the world seems more safer and meaningful. Gratitude is the chief emotion all around.

To me, this is what I love about Deepavali – arguably the most popular of festivals in India. It symbolizes the return of Rama, the prince of Ayodya from an unfair decade plus-long exile as a result of a devious maidservant’s advice to an emotionally charged stepmother. The festival has many more underpinning myths as well – but this is my favorite by far – a festival being celebrated to honor the long-awaited return of a son to his loving society and family.

An Indian festival cannot but not have a spiritual dimension, can it? Could this story also indicate the merging of the realized soul (the prince) with the ultimate (home) – of man becoming god as it were?

I’ll leave you with two wonderful links

1. Swami tejomayananda of the chinmayamission mission explains lucidly the genesis of the festival here

2. Jaggi vasudev brings in unique insight into why the festival is actually acelebration of clarity of enlightenment. We need no better endorsement now than this right?

Now its an ode to a very affable God…

Let’s start with an exercise, close your eyes and imagine (don’t ask me how you can read this sentence if your eyes are closed though!) a plumb largish figure seated on a small mouse (yes, you got that right!). Sweets of numerous kinds are placed at his feet (yes, it’s a he). You are surprised to see he has multiple hands – some holding weapons of destruction (a trident for instance) while one hand is raised in a blessing. You move your gaze upward – and you are astonished to see an elephant’s face looking back to you – with large flapping ears, trunk and tusks (albeit one is broken). There’s a serene smile on his face, a sense of prosperity all around him and his wisdom envelops you. Here’s an image that may help with the visualization.

I dare say it’s a touch tough to imagine this – but if you have done so, congratulations – you have just been introduced to one of our most beloved gods, Ganesha. Note that I don’t say feared – but loved – for this is a god that is comforting, generous and loving and today is the day he is worshipped all over the country (and indeed the world) – so what else can be right but to pen some perspectives (as usual reaching for perspectives as opposed to scripture – which are plentiful on the internet and more authoritative too.

A visual tale – breaking down the barriers

The most interesting thing to me is how his image immediately breaks down reservations about believing him. People may break into laughter, they may feel like cuddling the odd-shaped baby god or playfully pulling his ear. The image does not command undue courtesy or formalism, there’s really no “holier than thou” image at play here. No censure, no rules, no long faces, no qualifications – if a god can come and meet you in this format – he really should be accessible you feel. And before you know it, you like him and if you are lucky, you can move on to discover the amazing nuances of this affable god.

Prosperity – before spirituality

Man needs money, he needs hope. He needs his genuine desires to become realities. He needs these before he can set his sights on elevated spiritual truths.

This model is accepted by the vedas and they therefore describe us as each having seven chakras (or seven energy centers) which lead us from an earth-bound life to universal truths. The base chakra is called the root chakra (muladhara chakra) and when this flowers in an human being, he is able to realize fulfillment (and interestingly also aspire only the things that are essential!) and remove obstacles. And the lord for this particular chakra is none other than Ganesha.

In every Hindu temple, his is the first shrine people visit and he grants them the will and the skill to fulfill their key needs before moving further. So whether it’s a new bike, that condo, the private jet or the need to pass a tough paper – this is the guy you should go to.

Symbolism – for moving you to other planes

Most of us stop at the above level. We also prostrate to him in a unique way (holding our ears and squatting a few times) – something that the ancients say is a very beneficial physical activity. But some of us have a few unanswered “why’s”…
– Why does he have that mouse, and why does it look so obedient?
– Why does he have those sweets and gifts placed at his beck and call?
– Why does he have an elephant’s head and why is the trunk broken? And so many more…
This curiosity takes us into the very heart of the Hindu way of becoming a great man or woman. The mouse we are told represents the ego – its best to make it small and keep it at our control (unless you want to become an egomaniac – in which case we need another role model!). If your ego (and your desires) is under control, paradoxically all the riches of the world will be at your disposal too say the scriptures.

We are told the elephant uniquely possesses the strength to destroy as well as the finesse to pick a pin in its trunk – suddenly we are given clues on what makes a man successful – and fulfilled. We of course pick lots of very interesting trivia as well. And every aspect of the image thus enthralls us with grandmotherly, scientific and even scholarly truths.

And onto wisdom we move

That’s when they tell us about his wisdom. Infact he is considered the wisest among gods (another aspect we are celebrating this day) and has written the “mahabharatha” which was dictated byanother great sage( vyasa). We are told that the great sage and ganesha had an agreement that they would dictate and write – in one continuous cycle – and to slow down ganesha, the sage had said the god had to first internalize the truths expounded (and believe me the mahabharatha has multi-layered truths as well) and then write it down. This god is truly wisdom personified – but to only those who have moved beyond the need for desire fulfillment and have satisfied their intellectual questions (through an understanding of symbolism). To them there are several moving poems which illustrate the various aspects of this lord and move one to what seem to be calling “the present state of oneness” these days.

Turning the pages of history and mythology

For those who are interested in pedigree – ganesha is the son of shiva (one of the tallest, darkest, most-mystical gods who dwells among the lofty peaks of the Himalayas!) and parvathi (considered the fairest among her kin!). Shiva also epitomizes “the spirit principle”, while parvathy epitomizes “the matter principle” – and hence ganesha as their offspring also symbolically represents the earth and all of what we know.

So in this sense, he is all there is.

Like him for his looks, request him to fulfill your wishes (a year round santa claus if you will), spend time exercising your intellectual muscles and interpreting the symbolism or simply give in to the charm and internalize the wisdom – any which way it’s a win-win. Let’s raise a toast to this most popular of gods on this very auspicious day.