Of Mind, Metaphors & Saint Thyagaraja’s Music

Understanding the human mind is the most challenging problem for the humanity. This is where metaphors come in handy.

How do psychologists describe the unpredictable nature of our mind? The modern psychologist Jonathan Haidt came up with an interesting metaphor of an elephant and a rider. Elephant represents the most incorrigible part of our brain which simply acts instinctively with a preprogrammed setup. That is why our responses are automatic to a variety of situations in life. Most of our emotions like love, compassion, worry, anger, jealousy are all preprogrammed.

Who is the Rider in the metaphor? Rider represents the intellect which is run by the conscious part of the brain.  Most of the emotions like anger are instinctive and unless the conscious part of the brain, the rider, is brought into play there is no way of improving our character.

The Psychologists like Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung (belonging to early 20th century)used the word Unconscious to describe the darker part of our mind which operates on an autopilot mode. Psychotherapy then involves bringing out this Unconscious through a few techniques involving the conscious part of the brain so that the corrections and improvements in one’s character can take place.

While psychologists were struggling to understand the mind, philosophers came up with interesting metaphors as a means to understand the complexity of the mind. For instance, the Greek philosopher Plato, describing the mind, came up with a metaphor of a chariot pulled by two winged-horses – one noble and the other wicked. One can easily imagine and sympathize with the plight of the charioteer. There is no way he can reach his destination.

Vedanta, known as Upanishads, has analyzed the problem of the mind in detail and came up with amazing metaphors. For instance, Kathopanishad came up with a very interesting metaphor to describe the mind (Bhagavadgita also uses a similar metaphor):

Atman or Self is the rider in the chariot,
and the body is the chariot,
Know that the Buddhi (intelligence, ability to reason) is the charioteer,
and Manas (mind) is the reins.The senses are the horses,
The rider, the Self or the Atman is a mere witness. His fate will depend upon how the budhi handles the mind & the senses, represented by horses.

The musical compositions of Tyagaraja, Annamacharya and Dikshitar abound in songs which address this problem of the Unconscious. How do they do it? They use two interesting techniques. In one set of compositions the saints address the Mind directly while in the second set of compostions the composers get into a dialogue with God Himself. In both cases budhi, the intellect, comes into play. The Unconscious, with its petty games, stands completely exposed. There are a number of songs falling into both the categories. In this post, I will present one such composition of Saint Tyagaraja:

In the composition Manasa mana samarthyamemi set to a rare raga Vardhini,  he addresses the Mind thus:

manasA mana sAmarthyamEmi O

vinu sAkEta rAju vishvamanE rathamu nekki tana sAmarthyamucE dAne naDipincenE

alanADu vashiSTAdulu paTTamu gaTTE palukula vini vEgamE bhUSaNamula nosagina kaikanu
palumAru jagambulu kallala nina ravijuni mAya vala vEsi tyAgarAja varaduDu dA canaga lEdA

This is a beautiful piece describing the true nature of the mind. The saint straight away hits the nail on its head. The vacillatory nature of the Mind is completely exposed.

It says: ‘’Oh, Mind, do not take any pride in your abilities. You are utterly powerless as the Lord seated on a chariot called the Universe is driving it with His prowess called Maya”. Maya is that power of the Lord which completely clouds the Mind of even the sanest person in inexplicable ways. The complexity of the Unconscious described by Sigmund Freud or Carl Jung may be likened to Maya and its effects on the mind.

The saint goes on to substantiate the effect of Maya by referring to the story of Ramayana where Kaikeyi becomes a victim of the Lord’s Maya. When the sage Vasishta announces the celebration of coronation of Rama as the King of Ayodhya, Kaikeyi, at first, was all jubiliant like everyone else. However, she made a volte face and rejected the whole proposal. Blinded by jealousy, she demanded that her son should be made the king in the place of Rama. This sort of irrational and bizarre conduct of people in the world can be explained only in the light of the effects of Maya of the Lord which acts as a veil hiding the truth from the minds of people. It prevents the mind from seeing issues in the right perspective and leads us astray. This is why the saint is asking a rhetorical question in the beginning of this composition: Oh, Mind, of what use is your assumed abilities when you are under the cloud of the powerful Maya of the Lord?  By implication, the saint is pointing out the bizarre nature of the mind and the need to surrender one’s mind to the Lord as a means to keep one’s mind under control.

Listen to this beautiful song sung by ML Vasanthakumari



My Grandson & His Antics

Here are a few action photos and videos of my grandson’s antics during his weekend trip to our place.

In the first picture you can see him inspecting the broom before deciding whether it’s good enough for him to use:

He approves the quality and instantly gets into action:


PM Modi would be proud to see this this kid zealously following his drive for Swach Bharat Abhiyan..

But then his mother has other ideas. She whisks him away before he could complete his job.
Not to be outdone by his mom, he goes about finishing his unfinished job, this time picking up a mop:


Next, the little fellow wants to prove his credentials as an Iyengar boy. A staunch Iyengar that he is, he throws out onions and garlics with the contempt they deserve:

Can you see him point his finger triumphantly at the job well done.

He, then, quietly watches his sister play with cupcake moulds. His sister wouldn’t let him touch any of those.

Somehow, he outsmarts her and manages to steal a couple of them. However, he has no place to hide them. So here he goes with the cupcake moulds – one decorating his ear and the other tightly held between his teeth.


His next target is our closely guarded telephone. When no one was looking, he managed to grab it and dismantle the instrument:


Well, now it’s time for some play. How will he communicate to his mom that he needs an outing into the nearby park? No problems. He walks into the kitchen holding his shoes in both the hands to see his mom.

How can anyone miss such a powerful message? Whisking him away from the kitchen area before he does any further damage, myself and his mom get ready  to take him to the park. Here’s the video of his play:

His joy and excitement can be seen and heard too?
Before we realized, the weekend was over. It was indeed short and sweet. They packed up their things to get back to their town leaving us the grandparents high and dry!(yes, we were really on a high during their stay and felt completely dry afterwords).

Published in: on January 24, 2018 at 4:46 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Fun Stories For (From) My Grand-daughter

To say that my granddaughter loves to hear stories is to say the obvious. To say that she loves to tell stories (of her own wild imagination) is perhaps a little unusual for her age.
Here are a few sample stories she narrated in her own inimitable style:
Story of a monkey:This is a story which I narrated to her but she loves to retell the story to her amma on phone in her own words adding a little spice. My thata (grandpa) bought some bananas out of which two were left-over. He went for a walk while my grandma had gone for Jo-Jo(to take bath). A baby monkey somehow sensed it and managed to squeeze through a tiny opening in the window-grill. It then quietly walked into the dining area, peeled off the bananas, ate both the bananas and left the scene of crime as quietly as it entered (slow-va vandu slow-va vodi pochu). It did not leave behind any clue of its crime. My thata came back from his walk and wanted to eat the bananas. To his surprise, he didn’t find them. He assumed my Patti ate it which was unusual since she does not like bananas. Patti, however, thought, my grandpa finished it off. It was only when she saw the banana peel neatly kept near the dining table, did she get a whiff of doubt. They put two and two together and realized that the baby monkey was the culprit.

Story of baby chair & table for my little brother:
Amma & Appa (My parents) bought a compact set of a tiny table and a chair for my little brother to make him sit in one place while feeding. This was delivered at our Chennai home and we wanted to bring it to Tirupati. The dismantled pieces were packed nicely and kept in the Dicky of our car. On the way we heard a lot of noise and stopped the car to check what was happening. We found that the loose packing gave way and all the parts of the table & chair set were having a jolly good time making a lot of noise and playing among themselves ( jolly-ya valayandindiruthadu). My parents tied them down nicely and the poor parts had to travel the rest of the journey in complete silence! Then she said: kattipota pavam Thana (isn’t it pathetic to tie them down?).

Having completed the story, she abruptly started off with a story of Krishna Umachi (Umachi is God) . She said: Aana, Krishna Umachi sad-ave aagala, kattipota-kuda). But see, Krishna umachi wasn’t bothered when he was tied down by his mother to a wooden rod.. He kept dragging the heavy rod along and dashed off against two trees..anda Katha teriyuma Thata (don’t you know that story, thata). She, then, completed the story saying the the trees got transformed into two angels, thanked Krishna Umachi and vanished. I saw the connection between the two stories immediately. Isn’t she talking about freedom and happiness? (without actually saying so in so many words)? In one case the parts of the table & chair set were extremely happy enjoying the freedom when they were let loose but they turned sad the moment they were tied down. On the other hand, Krishna was happily enjoying himself even when he was handicapped having been tied to a wooden rod. Thus I got an unusual insight from her story that a happy person will keep up his happy mood in spite of adverse conditions!

The Story of a Big Cat: The story that really stole the show, however, is a sensational story  of a Big Cat, a leopard which strayed into a colony close to where we live (in Mulund). This is the story of the day for everyone in Mulund today. A leopard created terror and havoc in a colony nearby. The news-hungry papers and the residents got excited naturally . All the newspapers carried the news with photographs and horror stories. The leopard attacked six people and even entered a flat. The Main door of a ground floor flat was open and when the man of the house came to close it, he found, to his horror, a leopard standing in front. As he rushed inside, the leopard entered the flat and hid itself behind a sofa in the living room. Seeing this, the man and his son ran out of the flat to escape from the leopard. Finally, the forest officials got into action. They tranquilized the leopard, put it inside a cage and transferred it back to its natural habitat. My granddaughter was fascinated by the story and wanted to know a lot more. She asked – why did the leopard come from the forest? Did she find her parents after getting back home. Amma leopard kochindala? (Did the mother leopard get angry). So I continued with the rest of the imaginary story:

The leopard got back home and its mother got angry with her. Mother leopard: Why did you go down to where humans live? Baby leopard: I was hungry and wanted to catch a doggy or a cat. Mother: I will give you doggy mammu(snack) for lunch –  don’t you venture alone in future.

My granddaughter has a lot more unanswered questions in her mind and she kept asking me for answers.

Here’s a picture of the leopard being trapped after being tranquilized:



Published in: on January 14, 2018 at 8:32 pm  Comments (2)  
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Chennai Music Festival 2017- My Experiences

Here are a few insights I gathered during the recent music season in Chennai: Old generation of musicians are slowly but surely yielding place to the new. Consider the following. Aruna Sairam of past fame is no more in demand. So is Sudha Raghunathan. Nyveli Santanam has lost his ability to sing at higher scales. His guru TN Seshgopalan is already on decline for the past couple of years. TV Sankaranarayanan, popularly known as TVS for his fans, seems to have taken a break for this season. Bombay Jayasree is no more a crowd puller that she used to be. The list goes on. Among the new generation of musicians, the guys in the limelight are: Abhishek Raghuram (who is today a strong contender for No.1 slot along with Sanjay), Bharat Sundar, Sikkil Gurusharan, Sandeep Narayan are all closing in on Sanjay Subramanyam for equal honours. Ranjani  & Gayatri are already at No1 slot among female musicians. All her concerts during this season were fully sold out. ShaShank on flute and Jayanthi Kumaresh on Veena are perhaps among the best in instrumental music. Yes, we are going through extremely interesting times in Carnatic music. The veterans, however, are given their due honors by Music Academy. They are provided a slot at 9am everyday. One will mostly see past award winners of Sangita Kalanidhi performing in this slot. All these are free concerts.

This year my music season started with a music academy concert on 16th December by Bharat Sundar. More than Bharat Sundar, it was Umayalpuram on mridangam who made it memorable. The evergreen Sivaraman was as passionate as ever even at the age of 82! I was indeed fortunate to see him again within 3 days on the same stage, this time, with Saketharaman. But for the magical presence of Sivaraman, I would have walked out in the middle of this concert. Saketharaman showed lack of maturity as he attempted to do Sruti bhedam for at least 3 different Ragas each time failing miserably. In fact it did not even get noticed by the audience. And to make matters worse, the violinist showed he could handle this more deftly and the knowledgeable audience duly appreciated with a big applause. Not just that. Saketharaman tried to make up in speed whatever he could not handle in slow pace. Many of his Raga alapanais including Todi were done in haste. It was as if someone was after him to go ahead finish off. I feel he doesn’t deserve a prime slot, that too in  the prestigious Music Academy.

My next concert in Music Academy was that of Jayanti Kumaresh on Veena. Her music was meditative on the divine instrument. A soulful bhairavi as the main Raga was followed by a brisk RTP in Kapi Raga and a Ragamalika.

My next concert was that of Sanjay in Naradagana Sabha. To say his performance is great is no more news. If it’s Sanjay, it has got to be scintillating music in every department of music – be it ragalapana, swara Kalpana or RTP. His speciality lies in coming up with surprises. New unexpected phrases dominate his presentation which make his concerts lively. The highlight of his concert was Kambhoji Raga. He presented the famous song Srisubramanya with an unforgettable Neraval and swara kapana which raised the mood of the audience to Brahmananda.

Sanjay’sperformance can be matched by one and the only Abhishek Raghuram. This brilliant lad can match Sanjay or even surpass him in each and every department of music. I attended his concert in Naradagana sabha. Kambhoji was again the highlight. My only disappointment was that he selected an obscure composition of Venaikuppayyer – ninne koniyada. The poor song selection was partly compensated by brilliant and original swara Kalpana with innovative phrases.

The next concert I attended was that of Amruta Murali, an upcoming artist. This was at Parthsaradhi swami Sabha in Mylapore. The poor accoustics, very uncomfortable seats and some traffic noise are not conducive for a good musical concert. Nevertheless, she performed reasonably well. She sang one unusual Raga, Ganga Tarangini( I knew it only because she announced it; It’s Melakarta No 33). She presented a very blissful piece – Varadaraja….at a very slow pace. The slow pace was almost like a lullaby and I slept half-way through the song. My only complaint against this Raga is its name. One would expect Ganga Tarangini to be a fast paced Raga, not a meditative one :-).

Sikkil Gurusharan’s concert was yet another simple  but very impressive one. Here’s one artist who will never disappoint the audience. His consistency, sincerity and commitment are exemplary.

Back to back with the above concert was  Jugalbandi by U Rajesh on mandolin  and Rajesh Vaidya on Veena. This was a mere demonstration of power and speed and I attended this more for fun than for any serious classical music. Well, a purist that I am cannot put up with this for long and expectedly, I walked out of the concert hall midway.

My last outing for the season was on 29th December at Mylapore Fine arts to listen to the great flutist ShaShank. This was indeed a grand finale of my music season. If Bilahari was presented at a slow pace, Rag Lalita was even slower. Bilahari ragalapana was followed by the famous song of tyagaraja – paridhana minchite. In Rag Lalita, he presented Dikshitar Kriti Hiranmayim lakshmim. Bhaskar on the Violin matched his style with equal ease. And Patri Satishkumar was excellent on Mridangam. This Mridangist is sometimes accused of banging away to glory even to the extent of overshadowing the main artist. This time, however, I saw a very subdued performance from him closely following the main artist’s mood and rhythm.

I will not be doing justice to my post, if I do not mention the grand concert of Ranjani & Gayatri which I attended at Naradagana sabha. The sisters combine very well and complement each other in all that they do on the stage. Their song selection is perhaps an important factor adding up to their success.

Overall, I had a thoroughly enjoyable music season this year.

Among the Sabha canteens, I would give full marks to the one at Music Academy. I generally relished the usual fare offered by the canteen, although one of the innovative dishes attempted by the Chef called Usuli Upma, was a great flop. They served one unusual dish – morkkali – on one particular day and it was delicious.

Published in: on January 7, 2018 at 7:17 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Prague – A Historic City

My office business took me to this beautiful city about 10 days back. This is a city built from stone and lime (the old town). As you walk around, you can experience the old-world charm.

Many would not know that Prague was the capital of the Holy Roman empire during the 14th century when Charles 4 the Czech prince was crowned as the Roman emperor. It was during this period that Prague was transformed into a beautiful city. The old 10th century castle was rebuilt and the famous cathedral St Vitus and other cathedrals were built in grand Gothic designs. You ask anyone in the city about the places of tourist attraction and pat comes the reply: “If you have time do visit Charles bridge and the Castle”. So, it was easy for me to decide what to do in the limited spare time.

The iconic Charles Bridge was built in late 14th century at the behest of the Roman emperor Charles 4 who literally laid the foundation stone. Yes, this is a stone bridge and the first stone was laid by the emperor himself! It’s a lovely walking bridge built across the river Vitava. The walking path is all built of stones & lime. As you can see in the picture below, at the entrance of the bridge, there’s a grand tower.



Charles bridge is a bow bridge supported by several arches which you can see in the photo below:



The picture below is another view of the bridge as seen in the night with the castle as the backdrop:



From the bridge, one can have an exquisite view of the famous castle which is even more ancient than the bridge (it dates back to 10th century). The river Vitava separates the castle from the old town of Prague. The bridge was built precisely to provide a land route to the castle from the old town.


Here are a few pictures of different portions of the Castle taken from the outside. I did not have time to visit inside the castle.


The castle saw several battles in the ancient past. There is an interesting story that Germany invaded Czechoslovakia and captured Prague during the second world war. Apparently, Adolf Hitler came and stayed in the castle overnight to experience and enjoy his prized possession.

There is a bell tower built inside a cathedral in the castle. I believe the bell in the tower is the biggest in all of Europe. There are several myths surrounding the bell. Apparently, it predicted the catastrophic flood disaster which occurred in Prague in 2002.  According to the myth, if any part of the bell gets cracked and falls, it signals an oncoming disaster. Yet another legend has it that when the emperor Charles 4 died, all the bells in the tower started ringing led by a funeral toll by the biggest bell. Well, true or false, myths are myths and one should not probe too much into them!

The old town square is famous for its astronomical clock. It has a huge astronomical dial showing the sun, the moon and various other astronomical details according to the primitive understanding of those times. The clock also has a Calender dial indicating months and a dial showing hours. The highlight of the clock is the “Procession of the Apostles”. At the beginning of each hour, the windows above the dial would open and one could see a procession of the apostles. A skeleton representing DEATH would strike every hour. This is interesting. As in many theologies the world over, Time is identified as the god of Death here too.




The trip was not without its surprises. On one occasion, during our lunch break, I was looking to grab a quick-lunch to get back to our meeting venue in time. I was ready to settle for a simple Italian restaurant to have some pasta. As I was looking around, in one corner of the road I seemed to see a display board  with Govinda written over it. For a while I thought I was hallucinating. Govinda in Prague? No way! I was very sure I read it wrong but had a good second look. It was indeed Govinda and when I approached the place to find out, it turned out to be a vegetarian eating place run by Hare Krishna devotees. Men & women dressed in traditional dhoti & saree respectively and  wearing their characteristic “tilak”(mark) on the foreheads were running the show. I found out they were indeed part of the Hare Krishna temple in Prague. Feeling at home, I bought myself a simple meal for 120 Czech kroner equal to six euros. The meal was very fairly priced, simple and tasty. That was a big pleasant surprise for me.


Published in: on December 3, 2017 at 12:17 am  Comments (1)  
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17Artists and 21 hours Of Non-Stop Music

How many hours of music can one listen to without feeling mentally fatigued? Well, the answer depends on the person. If you are a learner, there is perhaps no saturation. You may like to keep listening for any length of time. On the other hand, if you are merely a music lover, you may have some limits to your ability to listen and absorb music after several hours. I used to be a crazy enthusiast in my younger days and used to attend concerts all day. Chennai offers such opportunities during December music festivals. The concerts are distributed over several sabhas (halls) and one often does sabha-hopping.

This post is about the way it’s organized in Bombay. In Bombay there is an organization called PANCHAM NISHAD which is known to organize marathon concerts in one location. This year it was organized yesterday (on 11th November) at Shanmukhananda Hall. It’s called Eight Prahar concerts. Each Prahar corresponds to a particular time interval of the day – approximately a 3-hour interval. The programme started at 6.30 am and ended at 3 am on the following day practically covering almost all Prahars.
I wanted to test myself and see how many hours of non-stop music I can endure before saying – enough is enough! (I tried this out about 4 years back and managed to stay beyond 12 midnight. At 12 midnight the famous musician Kishori Amonkar started singing and I could not resist the temptation of sitting through her concert. But then she was a complete disappointment as her Sruti kept slipping consistently. Obviously old age was catching up with her voice and she was no longer in control of her voice. So I just left the hall).

The experience this time was somewhat different. I reached the hall around 11am as Ronu Mazumdar’s flute concert was in progress. He was playing the beautiful morning Raga Bhupali Todi which is pretty much similar to Carnatik raga Subha Pantuvarali. There is no doubt he is a great artist. However, after a slow alap, he picked up unbelievable speed exhibiting his mastery of the instrument. But speed cannot be equated to melody. In my opinion, there is no place for super-speed when you render a very sober raga like Subha Pantu Varali. I also had a problem when he went to very high pitch. Somehow, my ears cannot take kindly to such high frequencies. It was comforting to know that I was not alone in feeling the discomfiture. At least a couple of others exited from the hall closing their ears when the artist was elaborating sangatis at very high pitch. Well, this is not a criticism of the artist. Several others seemed to enjoy the proceedings.

As if to compensate for this, at noon, the stage was set for the great musician Pandit Jasraj. This was an unbelievably ecstatic experience. There are no words to express the quality of his music. He presented the Raga Shudh Saranga. I think the equivalent Raga in Carnatik is Brindavan saranga. (At least that was how it sounded to me). Before his concert Jasraj made one very profound comment. He said: “Early in my career, before every concert, I used to get tense thinking about the ragas I was going to sing. Nowadays, I’m completely free from that thought. I feel completely free because I know that I know nothing. When I sing, I realize I ‘m not singing – it just happens. Neither I’m singing nor are you all listening. I see only Eswara everywhere”. He is echoing what is said in Bhagavadgita: I’m neither a karta nor a bhokta(I’m neither a subject nor an experiencer). If one is in such a spiritual state and sings, it’s bound to be a divine experience!

This was followed by Sabir khan on sarangi playing the same afternoon raga Sarang. What a contrast to the earlier performance. Poor artist felt very small playing the same raga after a maestro. He stopped in between and said: “After listening to the great singing of Jasraj ji, I wanted to change my raga. But the organizers insisted I should play the same raga on sarangi”. The audience could not help sympathizing with his plight.

The early-evening session started with Sanjeev Abhayankar (a disciple of Jasraj) followed by Devaki Pandit. Both gave commendable performances. They are both considered to be upcoming artists.

Then we had a great display of Dhrupad singing by Uday Bhavalkar. He took Rag Puriya for elaboration. Dhrupad style is perhaps the most ancient tradition in Hindustani classical music characterized by very slow pace of presentation. The musician literally spends a long time on each and every note and produces subtle variations to bring out beauty.  It was amazing to see Bhavalkar cover the lowest to the highest octaves with equal facility and stay in those uncomfortably  low and high pitches for a long interval of time. The style is aimed not to entertain but create a feeling of peace and meditation. One just has to sit back, relax and enjoy Dhrupad style of singing. At the end of this concert, Pandit Jasraj himself came on stage to shower encomiums on this great Dhrupad artist.

This was followed by yet another great treat from Rahul Sharma on Santoor. Playing the Raga Jhijhoti, he proved himself to be the chip of the old block ( He is the son of the great Pandit Shivkumar sharma).

The last concert I listened to was that of Rakesh Chaurasia on flute. He played the Raga Behag which is one of my favourite ragas. Most would know he is the nephview of the veteran flutist Hariprasad Chaurasia. He is a true successor to Hariprasadji to carry forward the great tradition.

At this point I came out of the world of music to attend to my mundane existential problems of hunger and sleep. I managed to get some decent south Indian snacks in Matunga which is known as mini-Madras and boarded a train back to my Mulund residence.

Published in: on November 12, 2017 at 4:24 pm  Comments (1)  
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Interesting Story of Yaksha in Kenopanishad

Did you know that the very first Avatara much before the famous Dasavataras was that of a Yaksha? I did not know this until I studied Kenopanishad. Here’s the story of this avatara from the Upanishad itself:
There was once a fierce fight between the devas and the asuras in which the asuras were thrashed. Having won decisively, the Devas had a great celebration. Devas congratulated and praised their leaders Indra, Vayu and Agni who stood out as the main architects and heroes of the victory.This victory had gone into their head as they seemed to believe that it was all their glory.They forgot that there was an invisible hand of Eswara behind and  the victory in fact belonged to Him. So, Eswara decided to show them their place. He took the form of a Yaksha(a celestial being)and appeared before them. Indra, Agni and Vayu saw the Yaksha and were captivated by the beautiful form. They could not take their eyes off the beautiful Yaksha. Before they could approach him to find out who he was, the Yaksha vanished.

Indra, intrigued by what happened, became curious to know who the Yaksha was. He asked Agni to go and find out. Agni went in the direction in which the Yaksha went, found him and asked: Who are you? The Yaksha just smiled and without bothering to answer asked Agni:”Who are you?”. This was the first slap on Agni’s face since he is famous all over the world. He replied: I’m Agni. Yaksha asked: What do you do? This was the second slap on his face. He replied: I’m capable of burning the whole world. Then as if to supplement this information, Agni added: I’m also known as Jataveda – I’m responsible for blessing people with wealth and knowledge.( As Jataveda, Agni is privileged to  receive oblations from devotees and pass it on to the respective Devatas. The devotees, in turn, are blessed with the benefits of the rituals). Clearly, this was an attempt, on the part of Agni to display his pride and salvage his ego.

Unimpressed, the Yaksha placed a kucha (a dried piece of grass) in front of Agni and said casually: Oh, you can burn anything and everything! Great. Then, Please burn this kucha (a dried piece of grass).

This is like adding insult to injury. It’s like asking Mohammad Ali, the great boxer to fight with a street urchin. Unperturbed by insults, Agni tried to burn the grass. However, he could not burn it even when he sat on it.  Humiliated thus, Agni retreated and reported to Indra that he could not figure out who it was.

Indra then sent Vayu on the same mission. He was also asked similar questions by Yaksha. Vayu also tried to impress him with his impressive biodata consisting of his alternative names, his capabilities and achievements.  As it turned out, Vayu also faced the same ‘Kucha’ challenge. That is, he was asked by the Yaksha to blow away a dried piece of grass. Expectedly, Vayu also failed the test and it was now the turn of Indra himself to find out who this stranger was.

As Indra went near the Yaksha, he simply vanished. Agni and Vayu could at least see him and even had a chat with him, although they could not make out who it was. Indra was intrigued by the turn of events. Undeterred and not accepting defeat, he just sat there meditating and praying. His prayers were answered soon as Uma appeared before him at the same place where the Yaksha stood before. She explained to Indra that the Yaksha was none other than Brahman itself. Enlightened thus, Indra went back and taught this knowledge to Agni, Vayu and all the other Devatas.

The story is symbolic. It encapsulates the teachings of Keenopanishad beautifully. The story starts with a statement that Brahman won the war for the Devas in their fight against the Asuras. However, in the moment of victory,  Indra, Agni and Vayu felt the victory was theirs. This is typical of all human beings. When we succeed, we forget the invisible hand behind. On the other hand when we lose, we blame Him(Eswara). The Devas are no different. Therefore, a lesson had to be taught to them. Brahman manifested in the form of a Yaksha. The fact that Agni and Vayu could see him but could not recognize who he was is also symbolic. Agni is the Devata (presiding deity) for speech whereas Vayu is the Devata for  the sense of touch. There is no way anyone can recognize Him(Brahman) through one’s speech or sense of touch. Taitriya Upanishad declares unequivocally that speech (words) cannot comprehend Him.

Then how come Indra could not even see Him. Indra is the presiding deity for the Mind and it’s impossible for one’s mind to enclose Him in thoughts. Taitriya Upanishad says: Even Mind retreats having attempted to enclose him in thoughts. How can anyone enclose infinity in one’s mind?

What, then, is the significance of the Yaksha appearing one moment and vanishing the very next moment when Indra tried to approach Him? Adi Shankara likens this act of Yaksha to lightning. The analogy is very apt. One cannot miss a lightning and at the same time one cannot see it too. Likewise, we might, at times, feel his presence under certain circumstances, albeit, fleetingly, only to lose the experience instantly. Intuitively, one might realize there is some force over and beyond what is visible to our senses. But that intuition will instantly yield place to our sense of ego.

Finally, Uma, in the story, represents Brahma Vidya or Sruti. Study of Sruti alone is capable of removing our ignorance. Uma appeared before Indra only when the latter sat there in meditation with a passion to know. Thus knowledge is given only to passionate seekers.

Thus the Avatara of Yaksha conveys the main theme of Kenopanishad which declares that there is an invariable presence of Brahman in every experience and cognition. Nothing ever is accomplished without His presence.


Published in: on November 5, 2017 at 4:40 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Vienna – An interesting City

Vienna means different things to different people.

To lovers of western  of music, it’s the place to spend an evening listening to  classical music, orchestra or operas.To those interested in paintings, it’s the city where you’re sure to find museums with brilliant and unusual collections of Picasso, Monet and Braque. To those interested in architecture, this is the place where old Gothic style architecture mingles freely with daring modern innovations in architecture. To men of science, this city offers plenty of opportunities for learning. Historians and chroniclers of the city have a lot of stories to share of the past empires, monarchs and the palace intrigues while businessmen meet here to clinch deals.

What does it offer to me who is a mere casual tourist with just half a day to spare after a couple of days of mundane technical meetings? This is my second visit to this nice city and so had some idea of how to go about in the city. Like many European cities, this one too is tourist friendly. Moving around from place to place is easy, fast and more importantly cheap. One could buy a ticket for a dirt cheap price of 7 euros for traveling anywhere through the entire metro network for 24 hours. So, I first bought a one-day ticket after deciding on the places of interest. I took a metro to Stephenz Platz and as I stepped out of the station, I saw a magnificent cathedral ( Saint Stephenz Church) built during the 12th century. The Gothic style architecture presents eye-catching pointed arches and ribbed vaults. The grand architecture of this style can be seen clearly in the pictures below:


Published in: on October 29, 2017 at 12:17 am  Leave a Comment  
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A Birthday Celebration in Chennai

We celebrated our grandson’s first birthday last week in Chennai. The religious function is called AYUSH HOMAM meaning a Homam (fire ritual)performed for longevity, health and prosperity of the child. Among several religious functions celebrated in South India, this one can, perhaps, be rated as the shortest & the sweetest!  It’s sweet for more than one reason. For one thing, it takes hardly an hour and a half to complete the ritual. Secondly, the atmosphere is completely informal and light. Also, there is no time pressure for anyone – neither for the direct participants nor for the guests. Once started, everyone knows that events will move smoothly on autopilot mode which means all of us can completely relax.

Physicists theorize about several parallel universes. Here, under one roof, one can actually experience many worlds.

The world of priests chanting away enchanting Samaveda is complete by itself. A rare breed of six priests, well versed in Samaveda, went about their task of singing the musical Vedic mantras gloriously, unconcerned about the audience. The mantras are derived from Rik Veda and one can actually describe Samaveda as Rigveda set to a certain musical tune. Samaveda, according to one interpretation, was sung by our Rishis, when they were in a trance experiencing Brahman (Brahm-ananda). Sama, by the way, is considered the foremost among the four Vedas. That’s why Lord Krishna declares in Gita – “Among Vedas, I’m Samaveda”.

While almost none from the audience was following or listening to the musical mantras being chanted, there was one knowledgeable octogenarian who was listening intently. He pointed out later that one important section of the Veda was not chanted by the priests!

Men & women belonging to generation X formed their own groups and were seen chatting away in clusters.

The middle-aged and somewhat older adults got together in separate groups.They were also completely relaxed pulling each other’s leg and  engaged in hot political debates. Yes, if you’re debating GST or DeMo, it has got to be hot.

The chef and his team formed yet another world who were busy serving hot beverages, special delicacies and lunch. This group is perhaps next only to the priests in importance in the successful celebration of the function.

Amidst all this, children were having fun all by themselves running around.

And last but not the least, it’s the  world of the infant all by himself in whose name everyone gathered. He was the cynosure of all eyes.The little one seemed to be completely confused and was perhaps wondering what the fuss was all about. With so many strangers trying to hold him or cajole or coax him, making all kinds of noisy gestures, humour him, feed him, kiss him, he was looking completely nonplussed. When he smiled by default, everyone laughed in chorus. He was, however, unusually calm and well-behaved in spite of  the fact that his privacy was being invaded right, left and centre. Here are a few pics of the little hero:


And finally, what does the little fellow say about the celebration? Here’s a beautiful video shot which captures his reaction. Isn’t he saying: Please…Please….. leave me alone….Enough is enough?

Published in: on October 1, 2017 at 9:21 pm  Comments (1)  
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Riddles in Vedanta(Upanishads)

Zen masters are well-known to use riddles (or Koans) as a preferred method of teaching. However, the origin of riddles dates back to Vedanta or Upanishads much before Zen koans came into existence. In this post I will try to present one such riddle straight from Keenopanishad. Here the riddles are presented in the form of seemingly contradictory statements. The resolution of the contradictions leads to understanding.

The Upanishad starts with a question from a student: Willed by whom or prompted by whose presence, do the sense organs perform their functions such as seeing, hearing, speaking, thinking or breathing?

The teacher says: “It’s the self (Atman or Brahman) which is indeed the ear of the ear, eye of the eye, speech of the speech” etc. The implication is that the ear, eyes, mind, organs of speech etc perform their functions merely by virtue of the invariable presence of the self, the Atman. He elaborates further saying that eyes, ears, organs of speech or the mind cannot objectify the Self or Atman. The student is confused. He wants to know if nothing can objectify the self, how does one arrive at this knowledge? The teacher says in exasperation: We do not know how to impart this knowledge except to say that Brahman is different from anything known or unknown! The teacher elaborates further: Brahman(Atman) is that which is not revealed by speech, eyes, ears or the mind but it’s that because of which all these organs function.

Just as some clarity seemed to be emerging, the teacher bowls yet another googly: “If you think you know Brahman very well, then you know very little of Brahman’s nature”. The implication of this statement is that Brahman is not an object to be known.

Now it’s the turn of one smart student to respond. He says: “I consider It known to me”. The teacher was taken aback by this bold statement. Therefore, the student explains himself: “I do not consider that I know Brahman well – Nor do I not know.  I know and also do not know”. Then the student makes a final remark: Whoever understands my statement above also understands Brahman.

As the dialogue between the student and the teacher ends, the Upanishad, picking  up the thread, sums up thus: Brahman is known to him who does not consider it an object of knowledge. He who considers it as yet another object of knowledge will never ever come to know Brahman. For those who really know, it’s not known (as an object of knowledge) and for those who do not know really, it’s known (as an object of knowledge).

This entire dialogue and even the summary of the last paragraph will surely drive anyone mad if it’s not taught by a competent teacher. The student surely needs a teacher who has himself studied under a tradition-bound teacher. It’s the way in which the words of the Sruti are handled by a teacher that makes these mantras meaningful.

Finally, the  Upanishad gives clarity in the mantra 4 of chapter 2. In this famous mantra, the mystery is finally unravelled. It declares: PRATI BODHA VIDITAM MATAM.

The Upanishad says in this mantra:Brahman manifests in every cognition and every experience. One does not have to go after a special experience to experience Brahman. He is present in and through every experience! Indeed it’s the invariable presence of Brahman which makes the Jagat what it is.

This mantra, if properly understood, will dismiss all schools of philosophies which say that Brahman is beyond all thoughts and hence one has to dive deep within and wait for that special experience. On the contrary, this Upanishad highlights that with proper understanding, one can experience Him in every thought and cognitive experience. If one probes this statement further, it will lead to Advaita philosophy(non-dualism)

Towards the end of the Upanishad, an interesting story is presented to drive home the message.




Published in: on September 16, 2017 at 7:34 pm  Leave a Comment  
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