Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The ordeal of attending wedding receptions

If attending wedding ceremonies is futile - attending wedding receptions is an ordeal - actually a series.

The first problem is finding a gift. I never realized that finding a gift is a problem , till some years back - when my friend confided that he normally re-packed and re-'presented' gifts that he received...."What do you do with 17 wall clocks, 8 pairs of watches , a dozen Milton Casserole hot packs and a half a dozen flower vases?" - he asked. Ever since he made this startling 'disclosure' - it has been my challenge to find a gift that does not get re-packed and re-presented. For a while thereafter, I thought I got over this problem by getting gift vouchers or gift cards...till another friend to whom I had gifted a gift-card for his wedding called me about a year later to say that the card's validity period had expired and wanted know how the validity period could be extended !!!. I then decided to ask the 'inviter' what they wanted . Some have been helpful...but not all. So....the problem still remains...

If after some mental wrestling and walking up and down several stores, you finally manage to find a gift that wont get re-'presented' (that is , if you are really concerned about it) and go to the wedding reception, you encounter the next problem. - actually a question and that is when to reach ?. If you reach early - you have a problem and if you go late - you have a problem.

It took more than a couple of instances for me to realize that punctuality is not a virtue when  it comes to attending receptions. Whenever I had gone to the reception hall on time - I would realize that I was usually the only soul there...people would start trickling in quite some time later. And whenever I checked, I was told that the bride and the groom had gone to the parlour !!?!  Men going to parlours sounded obnoxious and unmanly to me - for,  those were the days when there were no 'Naturals' or 'Green trends' and the term metrosexuality was not yet in vogue (people are now saying  that metrosexuality is giving way for 'spornosexuality'...whatever that means) ... After a while, the couple would walk in - both made-up in the parlour beyond recognition...with the girl usually more un-recognizable of the two. The groom would have his hair looking wet, with a coat of powder on his face and the girl would have her hair (I guess it is mostly wigs) done up with plastic pearls pinned up here and there, hair and wig , all swirled around. The greatest damage would be to the face - with all colours ( matching with her saree) applied above and below her eyes, a garish lip stick, several coats of paint ... oh ! ...terrible. !!. Further, ever since the days of Hum Aapke Hain Koun - or about that time, it is become a norm that grooms in Tamil Nadu should wear richly brocaded sherwanis for wedding receptions and the bride should wear a gaghra choli or a glass and stone embroided saree - even if the reception is in Omalur or Puthanampatti....(call it cultural penetration if you want to) ...I have always wondered if they ever got to wear the sherwani another time.... Anyway - the point is - if you go early - you will have to wait.

And if you go a bit late, apart from the trouble of having to find a parking slot for your car, you will still have to to wait . You will have stand in a queue and wait to pass on the gift. A long winding queue it is. Waiting for the queue to subside is no panacea ...the queue only gets longer. After so many years of attending wedding receptions, I must admit that I haven't yet found out the exact time to enter the reception hall.

In the meanwhile if in the hall, you see some folks you know, you soon realize that you have to be an expert in sign language to be able to communicate with them. Reception halls these days are usually awfully noisy. Forget classical cutcheries - even soft and pleasing music has become a rarity . These days, it is a deadly cacophony of heavy noise - voice and instrument that masquerades as music. People who arrange for the reception usually make it a point to get some super-singer drop outs and the like to come , belt out some recent and no so recent movie numbers - of all kinds - yes - of all kinds - and tear your ear drums. You just can't shout beyond their 'notes' - and so communication within the community in the hall is purely non-verbal....You keep hearing that dun dun dun dun ..and some off-notes ...and soon, all that you hear is a 'koooooiiiinnnnnnn' sound in your ear.

You realize it is time and join the queue. When you finally manage to reach the dais and wait for your turn , over all the din in the place, you slowly start hearing things (probably your system has got used to the noise) ...interesting conversations that are spoken in loud voices. And they are usually of the following kinds : A man in late forties would usually asks the girl ...'Hi , Do you recognize me ?' - and the girl would quickly do some thinking and says ' Yes of course - I do Mama', and the gentleman would quickly correct her ' I am not your Mama - I am your Chittappa'.....( as if it mattered to the girl :) !... . And a little later, a Mami in early sixties would come, squeeze the grooms chin - and much to his discomfiture,  tell the girl ...'this boy was very mischievous as a kid' and would go on recounting some terrible goof up by the poor fellow. After all these people move, you get your turn . You say a big congratulations to the groom - while  he takes a lot of effort and introduces you to the girl ( you can be dead sure that she wont remember a bit of it) ...and they insist that they will want a visible proof of attendance - in the form of a photograph. So, you hold your breath, pull in your now-starting-to-show belly , freeze as a statue for the photographer to do the honours and carefully get down ...(thanks to the videographer's glaring light- you cant see anything for a while) ...

And then comes the next problem ...dining. The dining hall is usually overflowing and you wonder if people had come straight to the dining hall before going up to see the couple. While you wait to see if there is some kind of a queue there too, to your horror you see some people standing behind people who are having their food - waiting for them to get up...OMG !. Now you have decide if you can shun shame, stand till somebody gets up , to hop into the seat or if you should drive to some restaurant nearby for your dinner...And if you decide on the former,  in a jiffy you see a large plantain leaf spread out with some 23 items served on it ( I counted it once)...the mere sight of which fills your stomach...But if you have the fortitude to taste all that stuff , and by chance if you really want a second helping it is really tough ..the Uncle and Aunt who sat next to you would have already left and the hungry ones would have already started to occupy their seats...So , you wind up - wondering if you had a proper meal or not , walk out, pick up a beeda and move out.

இப்படி ஒரு திருமணவரவேற்பு  நிகழ்ச்சிக்கு போகலேன்ன என்ன ?  ...மக்களே !, don't take invitations for wedding receptions too seriously. If you care for the couple, call them up a few days later and convey your wishes. And if they are really your real near and real dear - call them over for lunch or dinner at home - or if you are confident of the quality of cooking at home , you may call them to a good restaurant...You can be sure that you are seeing the couple, your eyes and ears remain undamaged and they will also be a normal and relaxed. 

Friday, December 12, 2014

The futility of attending wedding ceremonies

Marriages are occasions when co-habitation is formalized....And because there are 'risks' associated in the process, divine and social sanction is sought by ceremonies - particularly in the prajapatya system of marriage ( Manusmriti lists 8 types of marriages - and these are brahmana, daiva, arsha, prajapatya, asura, gandharva, rakshasa and pisaka ).

In the 'good' old days, there was a higher emphasis on divine sanction....and probably because, mobility was not great, marriages would happen in houses or in temples. Marriage ceremonies would go on for about a week and in some cases even 10 days. Close relatives from far and near would come stay over and the entire place would be brimming with activity....and somewhere down the line - along with divinity and social sanction ( read 'community' sanction) , 'commerce', also got in. And as times changed (for better or worse - depending on how one wants to look at it), marriage ceremonies moved from houses to 'marriage halls' - chatirams , the number of days shrunk to two - and the usual post-wedding reception has in the last several years become pre-wedding reception. The size of the hall and its address have now become symbols of wealth...weddings are fixed after blocking the hall. Ceremonies have been cut to the bare minimum....and the emphasis has moved more to blatant displays of wealth, political connections and what not.... 

All this is still fine. You can call them socio-economic-religio changes..

In the recent times - well - not exactly recent...ever since the video camera  came in, there is a craze for recording the entire wedding rituals on the video. At one level I have always wondered if anybody would want to watch the video at all.....I mean , why will somebody want to see and re-live the memory of himself getting trapped ? Anyway, when you go to a wedding hall, you will see one or more video-graphers going around blinding your eyes with glaring light, freezing your picture in awkward positions and capturing all movements , from the time you enter to the time you have the feast. You don't even have the freedom of walking around - since there are so many cables running hither and tither that you will need to be really careful. 

And things have become worse of late. 

Well, one doesn't travel long distances just to eat the wedding feast...One goes to the wedding to shower some flowers and 'akshadai' on the boy and to pray that he gets divine help ( he needs a lot of it) for life thereafter. 

And, when you go to the hall, you see a stage on which one can easily count more than a few dozen people - mainly women - the heavier ones in traditional heavy Kanchivarams and bedecked with heavy jewelry, and the not yet heavy ones, with heavy make up ,'fashion' jewelry and flowing sarees, several children of varying ages , and few gray haired or dyed men - all clamoring for space, for a view and of course a lot of attention. Somewhere between all these people, the camera men, the priest and his assistant(s), lamps, pots and a havan, you see the poor groom sweating it out in a silk shirt (that is usually used just once in a lifetime) - with an already tired but beaming face (with no clue of what he is getting into). And the 'final' moment comes, when the boy is to tie the knot (and ironically get tied down)...,when the nadhaswaram reaches a crescendo...and lo and behold  you see nothing but posteriors of all camera men ( photo and video), everybody who thinks she/ he is a camera man and everybody else who has managed to fish out a smart or not so smart phone with a camera. ..Yes ..just all their posteriors ..nothing else... Senseless. You take some effort to go to the wedding - and get to see only people's posteriors. While somebody logs in to their fb account and sees the groom and the bride.  

And so Ladies and Gentlemen ! If the boy/ girl is not your immediate 'இஷ்ட மித்ர பந்து ' attending weddings is a futile exercise ...see the pair's pictures on fb , pray to the Almighty to bless them and be done with it. You would have saved yourself a lot of time , effort and the embarrassment of having to see  so many people's posteriors. 

Monday, December 1, 2014

Payment Banks - Will they make money ?

There has been a huge hype about payment banks. Some in the business media have said that these banks will be a boost to financial inclusion...look at telecom companies offering mobile wallets and white label ATMs they said.

I am very skeptical about this story of financial inclusion ...I don't think it will happen with Jan Dhan scheme ( I hear that 75% of the accounts opened have no balance and no operations ), or with payments banks or what ever... Financial inclusion can happen only with economic inclusion. But somehow, policy makers don't seem to be talking about it....

Lets us assume that these banks would help in financial inclusion, as policy makers would want us to be believe....the question that begs an answer is - will these entities make money and be sustainable as stand alone entities ? 

What these banks can do : 
i) Accept demand deposits ( current and savings bank deposits) upto Rs 1 lakh per customer 
ii) Payments and remittance services through various channels including branches, business correspondents and mobile banking
iii) Issuance of pre-paid instruments.
iv) Function as Business correspondents 
v) Apart from CRR,  all monies have to be held in SLR securities as investments. The capital adequacy ratio has to be 15% , which is not very difficult, considering that the risk weights in their exposure is negligible - but they the overall leverage ratio should not be below 5. The bank should also have a minimum capital of Rs 100 Crores at all times. 

But these banks cannot lend. And that means, they don't make any spread . The most important way that banks make money is hence gone. And that means, they will have to rely entirely on their ability to charge customers for using their payment systems to make money. While that is possible, will they be able to actually generate enough business volumes to remain profitable is a big question....particularly, since all banks currently offer all that the payments bank can offer. 

First , I don't think people are going to just queue up to open accounts in a payments bank ? Why would they ? As these banks cannot lend, their ability to pay interest on savings accounts is going to be limited...so why will somebody shift ? 

Second, the expectation that POS terminals in Kirana will start functioning as ATMs ( the payments bank can offer cash-out at POS terminals) is a wildly optimistic one - at least in the forseeable future. 

Third, I also don't know what additional benefits would be available for an existing telecom companies offering mobile wallets or the white label ATMs by becoming a payments bank. In-fact, RBI has prohibited telecom majors from using their existing channels for the payments business - and  so, even if there were players interested, they would now have a contend with the cost of setting up a new channel for this business....

Fourth, while the payment of subsidies and benefits may move to banks, it is unlikely that ALL cash transactions between individuals will move into banks. In-fact the recent move limit free transactions over the ATM and to charge for it, will only increase the use of cash....I am already hearing of people drawing out a big chunk of their salary as soon as it is credited !

I don't think stand alone payment banks will be sustainable. I will be surprised if commercial entities will evince interest in this - with the current guidelines. If at all there is any entity that may be interested, it can be India Post. But, although there will be a large HR policy rework that will be required, I think India Post should work on a becoming a full fledged bank - not just a payments bank. 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The myth of being a Brahmin by birth : III

After negating the soul, the physical body, birth ( caste), karma and dharma as being causes of Brahmin-hood, the Upanishads explains who is a Brahmin.

तर्हि को वा ब्रह्मणो नाम । 

Who indeed then bears the name ( designation) of Brahmin ? 

यः कश्चिदात्मानमद्वितीयं जातिगुणक्रियाहीनं षडूर्मिषड्भावेत्यादिसर्वदोषरहितं सत्यज्ञानानन्दानन्तस्वरूपं
स्वयं निर्विकल्पमशेषकल्पाधारमशेषभूतान्तर्यामित्वेन 

अनुभवैकवेद्यमपरोक्षतया भासमानं करतळामलकवत्साक्षादपरोक्षीकृत्य
कृतार्थतया कामरागादिदोषरहितः शमदमादिसंपन्नो भाव मात्सर्य
तृष्णा आशा मोहादिरहितो दम्भाहङ्कारदिभिरसंस्पृष्टचेता वर्तत
एवमुक्तलक्षणो यः स एव ब्राह्मणेति शृतिस्मृतीतिहासपुराणाभ्यामभिप्रायः 

अन्यथा हि ब्राह्मणत्वसिद्धिर्नास्त्येव ।
सच्चिदानान्दमात्मानमद्वितीयं ब्रह्म भावयेदित्युपनिषत् ॥

॥ इति वज्रसूच्युपनिषत्समाप्ता ॥
He who succeeds in perceiving directly the self without a second like an amalaka (gooseberry) fruit in the palm of his hand, who is devoid of (the distinction) of caste, gunas ( or trait) and action,
(who is devoid of ) all the faults such as the six imperfections (old age, death, sorrow, delusion, hunger and thirst) and the six states of being ( birth, existence, growth, transformation, waning  and perishing), (who is) of the nature of satya-gnana-anandha-anantha (truth, knowledge, bliss and infinity), who is independent (or self existent) , without determinations ( nir-vikalpa), but the base for infinite determination, (who) exists in all as the indwelling spirit, (who) is within and without of all like the akash (ether),  (who is ) of the nature of indivisible bliss, immeasurable, known only through ones direct experience, (who ) manifests himself directly as truth, (who) has successfully overcome such imperfections as desire and passion, (who is ) filled with the riches of tranquility, (who ) has eliminated from his being such states as envy, greed and infatuation, (who)  lives unaffected by such things as ostentation and egoism - these aforesaid qualities make up a Brahmin.

This is the opinion expressed by all the srutis (Vedas), smritis (religious books), Puranas (ancient lore) and the Ithihasas (historical works). There is no other way to attain Brahmin-hood. Meditate upon Brahman, the inmost Self, who is of the nature of truth, consciousness and bliss and who is without a second. Meditate upon Brahman, the very Self, who is without a second. 

This is the Upanishad.

There are two main inferences of this Upanishad.

i) The first one is this - that it is not birth or circumstance which decides 'Brahmin-hood'. It is true that here are socio-economic differences between people that arise because of one's birth. Birth and context may hinder somebody from achieving a exalted social or economic status. But the Vedas clearly explain that the attainment of the exalted status of Brahmin-hood from a spiritual perspective is not dependent on any of this. Nobody is a Brahmin by birth ( and by extension , no one is born into a Varna). One becomes a Brahmin and anybody can. To claim 'spiritual' superiority based on birth is the most 'anti -vedic' thing a person can do. It is akin to calling the world (உலகம் / ஜகம் ) false or an illusion and in the same breath ,calling oneself the guru of the world (லோககுரு / ஜகத்குரு) - completely contradictory. 

That there is no difference based on birth was so clearly stated by Poet Tiruvalluvar , who said 

பிறப்பொக்கும்  எல்லா  உயிர்க்கும்  சிறப்பொவ்வா
செய்தொழில்  வேற்றுமை  யான் ( 972) 

All beings are born equal ( as one), diversities of work gives each his special worth. 

ii) The second one is that it is difficult to see how one can easily claim to be a Brahmin. One cannot claim or be certified as a 'Brahmin' in the true sense either by one's parents or by the State's Registration Department. Such a certificate is a mere caste or community certificate - not a certificate of one's Varna. From a strictly spiritual perspective, such a claim or certificate is at best spurious. The only true 'certificate' of brahmin-hood, can obviously be 'issued' by a fully realized soul / or by the Almighty ! So, how does one get to know this ? Whether one is a realized one of not , or one's inner experience of bliss, truth and tranquility can be known only to oneself and the Almighty !. But, a realized  soul experiencing God's grace or a true Brahmin can give only what he has - and will hence naturally be gracious to all beings. So, anybody who discriminates against another person, looks down on others, has greed, ego or hatred can never be a Brahmin that the Vedas extol. And this is so easy to observe. As Saint Poet Tiruvalluvar said 

அந்தணர்  என்போர்  அறவோர் மற் றெவ்வுயிர்க்கும்
செந்தண்மை  பூண்டொழு க லான். (30)

The Anthanar(s) are they who are truly virtuous ; because in their conduct towards all creatures they are clothed in graciousness. 

It is not that I am the first person to pull this Upanishad and present. A great many have possibly read it.  Several great people have time and again quoted / quoted from this Upanishad. And yet the myth of being a Brahmin by birth continues to be perpetuated and believed. 

It can  only be so either because these people who claim or believe to be Brahmins by birth 
i) Are ignorant or in some kind of delusion , in which case we can only pity them or let them continue to live in that state ....அம்மட்டில்  அவர்  மகிழ்க  !
and / or 
ii) Are desirous of using other's ignorance , in which case, we can only arm ourselves with knowledge and handle them.

We will also need to understand the true meaning of becoming a Dvija ( or a twice-born) , the Brahmopadesa , the wearing of the sacred thread or yagnobaveetham etc, about the authority to conduct worship in temples etc...and all these directly from the scriptures...

The myth of being a Brahmin by birth - II

The Vajra Suchika Upanishad : There are minor variations in the texts, but there is no significant difference in the meaning. I have used that the text that has been published the Ramakrishna Mutt. This appears as the 38th in the list of 108 Upanishads.

We will look at the Upanishad. After the customary salutations  to the Preceptor, and wishing peace all around, it begins thus : 

ॐ वज्रसूचीं प्रवक्ष्यामि शास्त्रमज्ञानभेदनम् ।
दूषणं ज्ञानहीनानां भूषणं ज्ञानचक्षुषाम् ॥ १ ॥

Meaning : Om ! I shall expound the Vajra Suchi — the 'diamond needle' doctrine which destroys ignorance, condemns those who are devoid of the knowledge (of Brahman) and exalts those endowed with enlightenment. 

ब्राह्मक्षत्रियवैष्यशूद्रा इति चत्वारो वर्णास्तेषां वर्णानां ब्राह्मण एव प्रधान इति वेदवचनानुरूपं स्मृतिभिरप्युक्तम् ।

Meaning : Brahmin (Brahmana) , Kshatriya , Vaishya and Shudras  — these are the four varnas. That the Brahmin is the chief among these classes is in accord with the Vedic texts and is affirmed by the Smrtis.

तत्र चोद्यमस्ति को वा ब्राह्मणो नाम किं जीवः किं देहः किं जातिः किं ज्ञानं किं कर्म किं धार्मिक इति ॥

Meaning : In this regard, an inquiry is made . Who is this whom we refer by the name Brahmana? Is he the Jiva (soul) ? Is he (so because of ) the physical body? Is he (so based on) his jati ( or caste - i.e., based on one's birth) ? Is he (so because of the possession of) the wisdom? Is he (so because of) the actions he undertakes? Is he (so because of the performance of) the dharma (religious/meritorius rites) ?

Negating that Brahmin-hood is based on the Jiva or the Soul

तत्र प्रथमो जीवो ब्राह्मण इति चेत् तन्न । अतीतानागतानेकदेहानां  जीवस्यैकरूपत्वात्  एकस्यापि कर्मवशादनेकदेहसंभवात् सर्वशरीराणां जीवस्यैकरूपत्वाच्च ।
तस्मात् न जीवो ब्राह्मण इति ॥
अतीतानागतानेकदेहानां जीवस्यैकरूपत्वात् एकस्यापि कर्मवशादनेकदेहसंभवात् सर्वशरीराणां
जीवस्यैकरूपत्वाच्च । तस्मात् न जीवो ब्राह्मण इति ॥

Of these, the first premise that Brahmana is jiva is  not tenable because the  jiva remains the same in the bodies that it entered in previous lives and future lives.Although it is one, based on the impact (fruit) of its actions, the Jiva attains numerous bodies ( in different births). Therefore, a Brahmana is not on account of the Jiva. 

Notes : This argument is based on the following principles / dogmas : 
  • That the soul is immortal, immutable and changeless
  • That souls obtain/ enter the bodies based on the fruits of their karma - or deeds, and hence there life and rebirth after death. 
These are the key principles of accepted by all religions / schools of thought that accept the Vedas.

Negating that Brahmin-hood is based on the physical body

तर्हि देहो ब्राह्मण इति चेत् तन्न ।
आचाण्डालादिपर्यन्तानां मनुष्याणां पञ्चभौतिकत्वेन देहस्यैकरूपत्वात्

जरामरणधर्माधर्मादिसाम्यदर्शनत् ब्राह्मणः श्वेतवर्णः क्षत्रियो
रक्तवर्णो वैश्यः पीतवर्णः शूद्रः कृष्णवर्णः इति नियमाभावात् ।
पित्रादिशरीरदहने पुत्रादीनां ब्रह्महत्यादिदोषसंभवाच्च ।
तस्मात् न देहो ब्राह्मण इति ॥

Then (coming to the statement) that the body is Brahmana, this also is not acceptable. Right down to the Chandalas -  (the lowest of the human class) , the bodies of all human beings is composed of the self same five elements (the earth, the water, the fire, the air and the ether / space), are in the same form and are subject to the same processes of old age and death, good and evil. One cannot also generalize that the Brahmanas have white (fair) complexion, the Kshatriyas red complexion, the Vaishyas brown complexion and the Sudras dark complexion, (because these colors are not uniform among these classes and there is no such stipulation of colours ). Further when a son cremates the body of his dead 'brahmin' father, he is not afflicted by the Brahma-haththi dosha (the sin of killing a Brahmin). Therefore a Brahmana is not so because of the body.

Notes : 
This clarifies that the word Varna - does not mean Colour. 
The Brahma-haththi dosha ( or Brahmana-hatya dosha) is one of the most dreaded sins listed in the scriptures - listed as one of the pancha- ma- papas ( or five grave sins). 

Negating that Brahmin-hood is based on caste

तर्हि जाति ब्राह्मण इति चेत् तन्न ।
तत्र जात्यन्तरजन्तुष्वनेकजातिसंभवात्  महर्षयो  बहवः  सन्ति ।
ऋष्यशृङ्गो मृग्याः,कौशिकः कुशात्,जाम्बूको जाम्बूकात्,वाल्मीको वाल्मीकात्,व्यासः कैवर्तकन्यकायाम्,शशपृष्ठात् गौतमः, वसिष्ठ उर्वश्याम्,अगस्त्यः कलशे जात इति शृतत्वात् ।
एतेषां जात्या विनाप्यग्रे ज्ञानप्रतिपादिता ऋषयो बहवः सन्ति ।
तस्मात्  न जाति ब्राह्मण इति ॥

Then it is said that a Brahmana is so because of his  Jati (Caste). This is not acceptable because several Maharishis have come from different communities and even from non-humans. 

We have heard that  Rishyasringa was born of a deer, Kaushika of the Kusa grass, Jambuka from a Jackal, Valkimi from an ant hill, Vyasa from a fisher girl, Gautama from the back of a hare, Vashista from the celestial nymph Urvasi, Agastya from an vessel. (Among these) many have attained enlightenment of the highest rank, despite of their lower birth (or even without being born and given proof of their wisdom. Therefore a Brahmana is not so because of his community.

This verse nails the issue - clearly differentiating Varna from Jati. Jati - which has 'Ja' as its root syllable is used to indicate birth/ emergence. For instance, Ambuja - is that which is born from water ( Appu), and refers to the Lotus. The word Jati hence refers to the clan / linage from which one is born - and has little to do with his Varna. 

Negating that Brahmin-hood is by spiritual knowledge

तर्हि ज्ञानं ब्राह्मण इति चेत् तन्न ।
क्षत्रियादयोऽपि परमार्थदर्शिनोऽभिज्ञा बहवः सन्ति ।
तस्मात् न ज्ञानं ब्राह्मण इति ॥

The argument that knowledge makes a Brahmana is also not acceptable. Because, amongst Kshatriyas and others, there have been many who have  have seen ( realized) the Supreme Reality and attained wisdom. Therefore knowledge does not determine Brahmin-hood.

The implication is that spiritual knowledge is not a preserve of  any one group of people. People who were (originally) from different varnas , have attained realization. King Janaka , Viswamitra ( who is credited to have revealed the famous Gayatri mantra)  were realized sages who were originally Kshatriyas. Rigveda Rishi Bhalandana was a Vaishya. Rishi Matanga was born of Vaishya father and a Sudhra mother. This argument is, in a way, an extension of the previous verse. 

Negating that Brahmin-hood is by his deeds

तर्हि कर्म ब्राह्मण इति चेत् तन्न ।
सर्वेषां प्राणिनां प्रारब्धसञ्चितागामिकर्मसाधर्म्यदर्शनात्कर्माभिप्रेरिताः सन्तो जनाः क्रियाः कुर्वन्तीति ।

तस्मात् न कर्म ब्राह्मण इति ॥

That karma (actions) make a Brahmana is not acceptable because we see the existence of prarabdha sanchita and agamiya karma in all beings. Impelled by their past karma (effects of previous karma) only all the saintly people perform their deeds. Therefore a Brahmana is not so because of (present) karma.

Note : 
The performance of karma ( or rituals) does not form basis of Brahmin-hood. There are three types of karma , Sanchita ( that part of the fruits of action that remains to be experienced by the soul), Prarabdha ( that part of the fruits of action that a soul experiences in the current birth) and Aagamiya ( that part of fruits of action that a soul gain, as it lives its current life). The mere fact that a soul comes with a body evidences that it has both Sanchita and Prarabdha - for a soul needs a body to experience its karma. 

Negating that Brahmin-hood is based (his) dharma

तर्हि धार्मिको ब्राह्मण इति चेत् तन्न ।
क्षत्रियादयो हिरण्यदातारो बहवः सन्ति ।
तस्मात् न धार्मिको ब्राह्मण इति ॥

Then it is also not true that on performance of dharma (religious or meritorious duty / activity) also does not make one a Brahmin. There are many Kshatriyas  and others ( Vaishyas , Shudras ) who have given away gold as charity ( to Brahmins ) . Therefore Brahmin-hood is not on account of dharma.

To sum up hence, Brahmin-hood is not because of the soul or the physical body or the jati (by birth or caste), or wisdom, or karma or dharma. If these do not make one a Brahmin, the logical question that the Upanishad has to answer is ' Who is a Brahmin ?'. In my next post, we will see how the Upanishad defines one. 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The myth of being a Brahmin by birth : I

One of the myths that has been perpetuated for centuries in this country is that some people are born 'spiritually' special - and are hence superior to the others - who were born to serve them in various ways. These people claim (probably believe) and other people have tended to believe that this claim to superiority by birth is enshrined in the Vedas - the most revered scriptures of a large number of people in India. They claim to be the Brahmins (not to be confused with Brahman, a word used commonly to denote the 'Supreme') that Vedas speak about and that they are endowed with this 'Brahmin'-hood by birth. 

For ages, although they revered it, not many people in the country have read the Vedas and even among them, a larger number are more conversant with the Samhita (or recitations in praise) and the portions dealing with the rituals than with the Upanishads. There are three reasons for this -
i)  access to learning the Vedas is restricted strictly. Probably to preserve this myth of 'superiority' at birth, the learning of the Vedas has over time been made an exclusive preserve of a few - who called themselves Brahmins. It was said that ' if a 'Sudhra' hears the Vedas intentionally then (molten) lead has to be poured into his ears !!!
ii) a large focus is on memorizing and recitation than on understanding and
iii) the language is esoteric and interpretations hence difficult

It is only in the relatively recent past when the texts were translated and published (they were earlier passed on from one generation to another by recitation of what was committed to memory), that the texts have became accessible to all. The spread of education, awareness and socio-economic changes in the county post independence, have dented to an extent the superiority that this group of people enjoyed - but they nevertheless, the 'superior' status in the 'spiritual' arena remains significant.

Given the benefits that the claim to Brahmin-hood by birth entailed - in the spiritual space, we need to consider two issues. And they are
i)  Do the Vedas accord such a superior status of 'Brahmin'-hood on a person, by birth and
ii) Who is a Brahmin ?

In resolving a question, three kinds or proofs or pramanas (அளவை ) are brought in. They are pratyaksha pramana - those that are obvious to the senses (காட்சி  அளவை ), anumana pramana - those that can be logically deduced (கருதல் அளவை ), and agama pramana - those that are drawn from scriptures / sacred texts and from words of the enlightened ones (நூல் அளவை). The general principle of any argument is that one uses the same method of pramana or proof that the opponent uses to counter the argument. In this case, as people who claim the superior status of Brahmin-hood by birth , use the agama pramana - arguing that their claim to superiority by birth is enshrined in the Vedas, we will use the same pramana or proof to examine their position. 

The most important pramana that is adduced by the proponents of the 'brahmin-hood by mere birth' is the Purusha-sukta - verse 11, 12 ( 12, 13 in some versions)

यत्पुरुषं व्यदधुः कतिधा व्यकल्पयन् ।
मुखं किमस्य कौ बाहू का ऊरू पादा उच्येते ॥११॥
Yat-Purussam Vya[i-A]dadhuh Katidhaa Vya[i-A]kalpayan |
Mukham Kimasya Kau Baahuu Kaa Uuruu Paadaa Ucyete ||11||
11.1: What did the Purusha (i.e. Virat) hold within Him? How many parts were assigned in His Huge Form?
11.2: What was His MouthWhat was His ArmsWhat was His Thighs? And what was His Feet?

ब्राह्मणोऽस्य मुखमासीद् बाहू राजन्यः कृतः ।
ऊरू तदस्य यद्वैश्यः पद्भ्यां शूद्रो अजायत ॥१२॥
Braahmanno-Asya Mukham-Aasiid Baahuu Raajanyah Krtah |
Uuruu Tad-Asya Yad-Vaishyah Padbhyaam Shuudro Ajaayata ||12||
Meaning:12.1: The Brahmanas were His Mouth, the Kshatriyas became His Arms,12.2: The Vaishyas were His Thighs, and from His pair of Feet were born the Shudras.

The premise hence is that as Brahmanas ( Brahmins) came from the head, they are superior to the others - the Kshatriyas, the Vaishyas and the Shudras who came from the 'lower' part of the body.  That this is not a valid pramana, comes from the subsequent verses of the Purusha-sukta itself.

चन्द्रमा मनसो जातश्चक्षोः सूर्यो अजायत ।
मुखादिन्द्रश्चाग्निश्च प्राणाद्वायुरजायत ॥१३॥

Candramaa Manaso Jaatash-Cakssoh Suuryo Ajaayata |
Mukhaad-Indrash-Ca-Agnish-Ca Praannaad-Vaayur-Ajaayata ||13|| 

13.1: The Moon was born from His Mind and the Sun was born from His Eyes,
13.2: Indra and Agni (Fire) were born from His Mouth, and Vayu (Wind) was born from His Breath.

नाभ्या आसीदन्तरिक्षं शीर्ष्णो द्यौः समवर्तत ।
पद्भ्यां भूमिर्दिशः श्रोत्रात्तथा लोकाँ अकल्पयन् ॥१४॥

Naabhyaa Aasiid-Antarikssam Shiirssnno Dyauh Samavartata |
Padbhyaam Bhuumir-Dishah Shrotraat-Tathaa Lokaa Akalpayan ||14||
14.1: His Navel became the Antariksha (the intermediate Space between Heaven and Earth), His 
Head sustained the Heaven,
14.2: From His Feet the Earth , and from His Ears the Directions; in this manner all theWorlds were regulated by Him.

Obviously hence, the verses refer to the cosmic being and the position of the body from which they 'emanate' does not in any way make them inferior or superior. Attributing such inferiority or superiority to parts of the Cosmic being is stupid. Such an interpretation can be made only by people who cannot discern truth (உண்மை ) from attributed praise or flattery (உபச்சாரம் / ஏற்றுரை). If the position from which they emanate be in-fact true - then verse 14 says that  Earth that came from the feet the verse 12 says the Sudhras also came from the feet , does it then mean that all inhabitants of the Earth are Sudras ?  But more importantly, there is no mention here that the Brahmin-hood is by birth. 

The other proof that is adduced in support of the argument is the Smritis. We however do not accept or agree with the Smritis for this reason : The Smritis can never be superior proof to the Sruthis or the Vedas. When the question is handled by the Vedas themselves, there is no need to bring in Smritis as proof. There are other reasons for not accepting Smriti - particularly the Manu Smriti, but that is not relevant in this context. 

The four Vedas run through several chapters and some verses may appear contradictory to the others, particularly if they are conveniently torn out of context .So while the Vedas are held as Swapramana (being its own proof), these apparent contradictions are resolved by evaluating how strong the proof or pramana is and a relatively stronger proof is considered more acceptable.Philosophers have a simple guidelines for using the Vedas as a 'pramana' or proof . The guideline are : 

a) Of the four parts of the Vedas ( some call it two parts), the Samhita, the Brahmana, the Aranyaka and the Upanishads - the last part or the end part ( anth - part) is the part which deals with 'wisdom', and the this anth part, called the Vedantha is held as a stronger pramana than the other parts. 

b) There are several Upanishads, at the end part of each of the four Vedas. There are 108 Upanishads listed on Muktika Upanishad. Some are considered major Upanishads and some minor. Each Upanishad deals with the one or two philosophical questions. For example, the Svetasvatara Upanishad ponders over the questions like  ' Is Brahman the cause (of the world) ? Whence are we born? By what do we live? Where do we dwell at the end? Please tell us, O ye who know Brahman, under whose guidance we abide etc.  The Katha Upanishad ponders over the question of what happens after death....etc. The guideline is that, the Upanishad that deals about a particular question specifically is a stronger pramana than other Upanishads where the question is touched in passing. 

Both these guidelines will appear to be unbiased and fair to anybody seeking such a view. 

The question of who is a Brahmin is dealt in the Vajra Suchika Upanishad. This is the only known Upanishad that deals with this question specifically and in great detail and is logically the strongest pramana or proof in handling this question. The Upanishad is a part of the Sama Veda. It is also one of the 108 Upanishads that is listed in the Muktika Upanishad. Although not among the ten Mukhya Upanishads translated by scholars of yore, it is one of the 18 Principal Upanishads that has been translated and commented on by Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan. Vajra - means diamond/ thunderbolt and Suchi - means needle, indicating that the Upanishad is akin to thunderbolt or a needle in piercing (and removing) ignorance. And it starts handling the question :
Who is this whom we refer by the name Brahmana? 
Is he (the subtle body known as) Jiva ? 
Is he the physical body? 
Is he (the descendent of) the community to which he belongs? 
Is he (the possessor of) the knowledge? 
Is he (the doer of) the actions he undertakes? 
Is he the practioner of Dharma ?

It goes about negating all of the above and finally establishing who a Brahmin is. The entire Upanishad merits consideration - and I will do it in my next post.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Usury in the city that never sleeps

Thoonganagaram (தூங்க நகரம்) ....Madurai. The city that never sleeps...and it is the city that never lets some sleep. The city that is famous for the Meenakshi temple, for its malligai poo (jasmine), for its jigarthanda, for its Murugan idli, for its 'passakkara pasanga' (beloved pals)...and once upon a time for its Tamil Sangam, is now infamous for Usury.

Some years back, I had watched usury in all it's glory at close quarters. Meter Vatti, Kandhu Vatti, Speed Vatti , Hourly Vatti were strange and scary sounding words, when one of my client had got into this trap.

As a banker usury was not an uncommon concept for me. Lending ₹ 90 to small traders - particularly vegetable vendors in the morning and collecting back ₹ 100 in the evening is not uncommon in many places....go ahead and calculate the rate of interest for this ...This is an 'acceptable and accepted' business model for lending. People in the know vouch that this lending model does work for small amounts, particularly when the money is lent for productive purposes. It is supposed to 'help' small traders, who borrow on an unsecured basis and can return cash back in the evening.

When the ticket size increases, it doesn't help....particularly since such borrowings are for consumption. The meter and speed interest charged by these modern day Shylocks is so exorbitant that borrowers can never repay fully in a lifetime. Money that is repaid keeps going to service interest and the principal remains unpaid for most of these borrowers. The lenders live off the lives of the borrowers. A blank pro note or a cheque is usually the only document taken - but defaults seldom happen, for debt collection is merciless. Detailed records of repayment for such loans are seldom maintained and borrowers meekly submit to the terms of the lenders.

It is not just so in the unorganised sector. Sometime back micro finance institutions had charged usurious interest rates...and credit card companies conveniently charge as high as 3.26 % per month...that is some 40% p.a. When the organized sector can get away with such rates, one can easily guess what the unorganised sector can charge.

Although there exists a Tamil Nadu Prohibition of charging exorbitant interest rates Act 2003 and the Tamil Nadu Money Lenders Act 1957 prohibits usury and fixes a maximum rate of 12 % pa for unsecured loans , a vast majority of the people are unaware of this Act and its provisions and its implementation is virtually absent.

Helpless borrowers who are in dire need of money fall into this trap. Yet another category of borrowers is that segment which does not postpone gratification and borrows for consumption. Either way, very rarely does a gullible borrower who resorts to this borrowing escape this trap.

Madurai is a hub for usury and it is not surprising when Justice N.Kirubakaran called it the 'capital' of usury. Many people commit suicides, women get abused and children abducted...the number of cases filed is low and the conviction rate is even lower...it is obvious that the implementation authorities of the laws in this city that never sleeps have gone to sleep....making it a நரகம் (hell) for borrowers.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Was it Manu Cholan or Manu Needhi Cholan ?

The Cholas were one of the longest ruling dynasties from Tamilnadu. The earliest references to the Cholas are in the Sangam literature, although the Cholas claimed to be from the Solar Race ( the Ravi Kula / the Surya Kula / the Parithi Kula). They were the biggest 'Hindu' kingdom after the Guptas (the concept of Hinduism as an 'ism', came in much later). Historians classify the Chola dynasty into three eras - the Early Cholas from the pre and post Sangam era - upto 200 CE ,which included kings like Karikalan, Ilamchetcenni , Killivalavan, Kochengannan and others,  the Medieval Cholas from Vijayalaya Chola till Adhirajendra Chola ( 848 CE to 1070 CE), and the later Cholas from Kulothunga Chola till Rajendra Chola III ( 1070 CE till 1279 CE )...

The Cholas prided themselves in belonging to the lineage of two legendary selfless kings - Sibi and Manu.  King Sibi is said to have offered his flesh to a hungry hawk to rescue a dove and King Manu , who killed his son to atone for his son accidentally killing a calf that ran into his chariot wheels. The legends are still popular , with Sibi being referred as Sibi Chakaravarthy and Manu being commonly referred to as Manuneedhi Cholan. Herein lies a confusion. Was it Manu Cholan or Manuneedhi Cholan - for Manuneedhi is often interpreted as Manusmirti and the logic is stretched to say that Cholas are supposed to have adopted the Manusmriti and more dangerously to say that Saivism accepts Manu smriti. 

A detailed story of Manu was first presented by St Sekkizhar in the first sarukkam or chapter , when discussing the glory of Tiruvarur in his Periyapuraman (திருமலைச் சருக்கம் ,  திருநகரச் சிறப்பு). A more elaborate version was written by Vallalar St Ramalingam. 

Sekkizhar never uses the name Manuneedhi Cholan. He always refers to the king as Manu cholan or Manu Vendhan ( மனு வேந்தன் ). He sings in detail how Manu's only son and prince, rode with his retinue on the main street , how a calf runs into the chariot and dies. The Cow, seeing its calf die wails, goes to Manu's palace and with its horns tolls the bell hung for citizens to call the king and seek justice. The bell which was remaining unused was used for the first time, bringing Manu and his ministers to the door. On seeing the strange happening, Manu looked at his minister who informs him of the entire event.  Manu is pained to see the grieving cow and decides to seek atonement. Manu's ministers tell him to seek atonement as per the rules prescribed by the Vedic Pandits . Here again Sekkizhar uses the word Vedhiyar ( வேதியர் ) , and not Andhanar (அந்தணர் ) - clearly indicating the difference between the two. Manu declines to adopt it.  Sekkizkar says, when his ministers talk to him of laws of justice, Manu dismisses them saying
“Let your exposition of law be, what it is; 
You speak, not knowing the truth of the great nature ..."
And says only the loss of His own and only son will make him fully feel the true pain of the cow. So saying, he proceeds to run a chariot over his son and kills him.
A sculpture in Tiruvarur depicting the scene 
The story concludes with the Lord of Tiruvarur appearing to bless Manu and restoring the life of the calf, and the prince. 

Manu's idea of justice was hence very different from what 'Manu', the law giver had prescribed. To Manu the law giver, slaying a cow was a 'minor' offence that can be atoned. Manusmriti in Chapter XI says 
109. He who has committed a minor offence by slaying a cow (or bull) shall drink during (the first) month (a decoction of) barley-grains; having shaved all his hair, and covering himself with the hide (of the slain cow), he must live in a cow-house.
110. During the two (following) months he shall eat a small (quantity of food) without any factitious salt at every fourth meal-time, and shall bathe in the urine of cows, keeping his organs under control.
111. During the day he shall follow the cows and, standing upright, inhale the dust (raised by their hoofs); at night, after serving and worshipping them, he shall remain in the (posture, called) virasana.
112. Controlling himself and free from anger, he must stand when they stand, follow them when they walk, and seat himself when they lie down.

King Manu obviously hence did not follow Manu smriti. His idea of justice was egalitarian. While rebuking his ministers for asking him to follow the texts of law, Manu in Sekkizhar's words remarks 

“Is not the ruler of a realm that guards its lives
Duty-bound to rid his subjects
Of hindrance-breeding fear fivefold
Stemming from himself, his men in power,
Harmful hostility of foes, thieves and wild animals,
And thus protect Dharma? 

A close reading of the Manu smriti will clearly indicate that what the Periya puranam talks about was King Manu's justice and not Manu the law giver's justice. It was hence Manu Cholan and not Manu Needhi Cholan. 

To refer to the Chola king Manu as Manu Needhi Cholan is either a result of ignorance or is a result of a mischievous attempt to gain sanctity for the Manusmriti , which atleast in its present form is one which fosters inequality and injustice. Manu smriti not only contradicts the Bhagavad Gita and the Unpanishads (by fixing one's varna at birth), it also is against the spirit of Saivism and even if one were to suggest its adoption selectively, leaves too much scope for confusion. There is nothing universal or 'Hindu' about the text. The book needs to be read only to understand the extent of damage such a text can cause to generations of humanity and should otherwise be discarded. 

Monday, September 22, 2014

The odd, old house on Vysial Street, Coimbatore

On Coimbatore's busy Vysial street is this odd, old house ...where time remain frozen. It is probably the only house on that busy street that has trees in front. And one of them was planted by the freedom fighter V.O.Chidambaram Pillai.

The wooden door opens into a small flight of stone steps....on both sides of which are long 'thinnai's. You don't get to see such platforms in the newly built houses these days. In the 'good' old days, folks would sit, work and chat on these platforms. It was also available for travellers to sit and relax....As I entered the house, I wondered if anybody sat on these platforms these days. As I knocked I was warmly welcomed in. The house had an amazing old world charm.
The house is called 'Sekkizhar nilayam' and it was in this house that Siva-k-kavimani C.K.Subramania Mudaliar lived. CKS was a lawyer by profession, a five time Councillor and was for sometime the Vice Chairman of the Coimbatore Municipality. CKS and his wife Meenakshi were ardent supporters of the freedom movement. CKS used to correspond regularly with Lala Rajpat Rai and Aurobindo Ghosh and for sometime harboured and supported the famous Neelakanta Brahmachari. CKS was interrogated and his house was searched for hours in connection with the sensational shooting down of Ash by Vanji. The police could find no material evidence, for while they waited for CKS to return from court, Meenakshi had destroyed all evidence and letters.

CKS argued for V.O.Chidambaram Pillai when he was imprisoned in Coimbatore. In gratitude, V.O.C named his third son as Subramanian and his daugher as Meenakshi. 

Sivak-k-kavimani C.K.Subramania Mudaliar
Meenakshi, CKS's wife, who was the daughter of the Zamindar of Gangavalli 
But CKS is more known for his massive commentary on the Periyapuranam ( பெரியபுராணம் ). This the 12th of the canonical works of Saivism - called the Tirumurais. The Tirumurais (திருமுறைகள் ), are divine poetry sung by 29 Saivaite Saints and collectively have a little over 18000 poems. It is said CKS had read these over 40 times in his lifetime. The last of this work is the Periyapuranam or Thiru-th-thondarpuranam (திருத்தொண்டர்புராணம் ), which was composed by Sekkizhar , who was the prime minister of the Chola Kingdom, during the reign of Kulothunga Chola II ( or III). 

CKS spent over 19 years to complete his well researched , massive and nonpareil  commentary on the Periyapuranam. His huge effort was supported by the Madras University, the Tiruvavaduthurai Adheenam, the Dharmapuram Adheenam and the Tirupanandhal Kasi Mutt - which gave a princely sum of Rs 1000 (a huge amount in those days) for the work. The work which he commenced in 1934 ended in 1953 , during which time, he had to suffer numerous travails and tribulations - including non-availability of  paper to write (during the days of the world war).  This 7 volume commentary is a treasure of Saivite philosophy and living. Apart from this work, CKS has written several books - including one of Sekkizhar and several poems. He was also an active member of the Kovai Tamil Sangam and his contribution to Tamil literature and Saivism is immense.  

An ardent devotee of the Perur Pateeswaram temple, which was renovated by his father Vidwan Kandaswamy Mudaliar, CKS instituted trusts for regular conduct of several festivals in the temple. CKS in his later days took sanyas and was called Sambandasaranayala Thambiran. When he passed away in 1961, he was interred near the temple , as per his wishes. 

These days, in this old, odd house, which is maintained as such, with all its old glory, lives his disciple and relative Thiru.C.S.Kannayiram, himself an ardent devotee of the Lord at Perur , an author and Tamil poet who has authored 37 works, including a 7 volume commentary on the Tiruvasagam , the 8th of the canonical works of the Saivaites.  Going strong at 90, Kannayiram is a voracious reader and has a massive collection of books. He continues to teach and write and six of his works are in various stages of completion. He and his children continue to publish and print, CKS's works. I was pleasantly surprised to hear that there is renewed interest in C.K.S's works. 

As I took his blessings, collected some books and took leave, I could not help thinking that like C.K.S, his disciple's scholarship and contribution deserves more recognition than he actually enjoys...and there are probably many stories that remain to be told of such old odd houses in various streets.... and the people who live in them.