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For the last few years, I have been translating individual verses from Amaru Shataka randomly. Amaruka Shataka is a Samskrta work from the 8th century.
Although there are some stories about Amaruka, we know pretty little historically about him except for that he must have lived before ~800 AD. However there is no doubt that his verses are considered top-class by the best exponents of Rasa theory.
For those of you interested, her is a recording of a talk I gave recently, about Amaruka’s poetry. Also, I have tried to classify the heroes and the heroines of these verses based on the categorization seen in Bharata’s nAtya ShAstra.
I have used the original verses, and my own Kannada translations in this talk – The talk is in a mish-mash of English and Kannada, and so even if you do not understand Kannada, you might find something interesting in the talk:
ನನ್ನಿ is an interesting short Kannada novel (179 pages), written by novelist Karanam Pavan Prasad, that I read recently.
The characters from the story come quite alive. The story spans about 3 decades (from around 1977-78 to around 2005), and mainly takes place in Kolkata and the outskirts of Bengaluru ( Or what was considered to be “outskirts” during the 80s).The novel runs in two parallel tracks: The life of a Catholic Nun in Kolkata, and the life of a few families belonging to different faiths in a small closely knit community in the outskirts of Bengaluru in the late 70s and early 80s. These two tracks merge into a single track later on in the novel and run together. The characters in the novel are full of life that they seem very real. Many of the incidents in the novel are based in real incidents but the time and space relations have been changed. I was in fact looking for some of the place names in the novel, only to realize the very authentic sounding names were fictitious, but located in a very familiar setting.
The story is told from the view of a Roman Catholic nun. The good, bad and the ugly that goes on in a charitable mission organization, the forced conversions, conversions for monetary benefits, money laundering, property fights that turn into communal riots, and people with different faiths, but with universal human values – all find a place in this story. To the credit of the author, none of this appears forced and the author does not preach an agenda. I don’t want to divulge much more about the story – but I can’t stop from saying one of the characters in the story is “Mother Elisa” who goes on to win a “Peace” award.
The narration switches between first person and third person, but at some places the transitions are not very clear. This may cause some confusion in reading for some readers. There are a large number of typos (which must have resulted because of a last minute change in fonts) that could have been avoided. Given that many of the characters would be speaking in English or Bengali (No, there aren’t any English lines in the book) , some parts appear a bit unnatural in the structure.
Previously, I’d read the earlier novel of Pavan Prasad (ಕರ್ಮ), and I felt the characters in this novel are more truer to life and multi-dimensional than in Karma. The title ‘ನನ್ನಿ’ (truth) is quite apt. The author does not appear judgemental anywhere about any of the characters but would want the readers to make a truthful impression for themselves.
I highly recommend all Kannada novel loving people to read ನನ್ನಿ. It’s very good to see a new generation of novelists coming in Kannada with the likes of Karanam Pavan Prasad and Dattathri M Ramanna (I had written about his ಮುಸುಕು ಬೆಟ್ಟದ ದಾರಿ a few months earlier).
When I saw the book Indus Civilization by Andrew Robinson reviewed and recommended by the good folks at www.harappa.com, I ordered the book immediately to add to few other books which I have on this topic in my bookshelf.
While the reviewers on harappa.com were truthful about this book being the most recent and most comprehensive in giving a good overview of the topic, I was quite disappointed in the end for several reasons that I will explain a bit later.Having read many other books about Indus, I must say that I was expecting a better product!
But I do agree that the book is quite readable for anyone who has no introduction to the subject, and does not drag into too many details for a first time reader (which first time readers on any subject hard to deal with).
Now coming to my major reasons for being dissatisfied with the book:
* Given so much new data is available compared to what was available for Mortimer Wheeler, the white and black pictures in the book are unpardonable in 2016!
* The author completely assumes that the Aryan Invasion or migration (or whatever theory they call it these days) theory as a fact
* The author completely downplays the number of Indus sites, unearthed on the Sarawathi river bed in the 20th century and casually mentions that the shifting of Saraswati river could have had some effect in the downfall of the civilization
* While sticking firmly to the dating of Rig Veda to be post 1500 BC as proposed by Max Muller and Co, the author offers no explanation why the river Saraswati which had already disappeared by 1500BC is mentioned and glorified in Rg Veda, and does not even think twice about the occurence so many “Saraswati” sites
* Other casual errors such as name of Shiva not occurring in the Vedas have crept up in the book
- Well, one may argue the name Shiva is not found Rig Veda, but the word Shiva does show up in Yajurveda as anyone who knows the Rudraprashna can attest
* The author totally dismisses S R Rao’s theory of alphabetical Indus script, without batting an eyelid – Actually he gives it as an example of four deciphering hypothesis totally gone astray
- While I’m with the author if he said the final word about the Indus script is not out, I find it strange that he jumps in with the min-meen equation, and identifying the fish sign as a star
- S R Rao’s hypothesis was that the Indus script was alphabetic and it did assign the phonetic values similar to those for the Semetic script. Let’s for the moment leave aside whether Indus script influenced Semetic script or vice versa. Andrew Robinson says that one can’t apply the phonetic values of an unrelated script/language to a totally different language (such as whatever would have been spoken in the Indus valley), and debunks S R Rao’s hypothesis
- However, we have evidence of the very same thing happening in India! The Brahmi script, (which was used for prAkrtas) was used with the same phonetic (or very similar) values for writing early Tamizh, Kannada etc around 2000 years ago
While this is not a comprehensive review, but hope this is good enough for anyone interested in the topic to read more on this very interesting civilization from India. Sorry folks, it is not South Asia by any means 🙂
If you have come this far, you may be interested to read this old posts of mine:
Today is January 6th – The day Tyagaraja passed away in 1847 AD.
Here is a recording of a Tyagaraja composition that I had translated into Kannada, a while ago. The recording is from a thematic concert held in the bay area to celebrate Kannada Rajyotsava in 2010, here in San Francisco bay area.
Vocal: Ragavan Manian
Violin: Lakshmi Balasubramanya
Mrdanga: Kartik Gopalaratnam
It’s been a common occurrence in Indian poetry, to compare exemplary humans Mount Meru. Even in current news reports, you may see the usage of this word to mean “great”, “of a tall order” etc.
Going back a few centuries,in a well known composition in Raga Mayamalavagoula, Tyagaraja calls Rama as Meru samana dheera, meaning Rama’s valor and majesty to that of Meru mountain. You can listen to an equally majestic rendition of the composition here by none other than Sri BMK. In his composition in raga Lalita, Syama Shastri calls out to the divine mother Parvati as “Sumeru madhya nilaye” , one who dwells in the great mountain of Meru. Given that Parvati is the daughter of Himavan, and wife of Shiva, who dwells in Kailasa, I think it was common practice to associate Mount Meru to be somewhere in the Himalayas. By the way, you can listen to an epic rendition of nannu brovu lalita here, by LGJ.
But where is Meru, exactly? If you believe the Wikipedia, it could be anywhere from the Himalayas to Tibet to Central Asia to Tanzania! But is it that difficult to identify it if it were so intertwined with our history?
The Mahabharata (in Bheeshma Parva) describes Mount Meru as a globular mountain made of Gold. Surely a poetic description, but not something that would help in identifying a geographic location. The Bhagavata too has several references to Mount Meru ( 5th Skandha), but that too leaves us with poetic descriptions that tell us it is “somewhere to the north of Bharatavarha”, “surrounded by the ocean”, “golden mountain” etc.
However, no need to despair. In addition to poets such as Vyasa or Kalidasa may have had colorful descriptions, but we are lucky have had people like Aryabhata and Varahamihira, who in spite of being a little fanciful, gave descriptions that would help us identify Mount Meru,
In the Golapada section of Aryabhateeyam, Aryabhata (5th century AD) says the following:
मेरुर्योजनमात्रः प्रभाकरो हिमवता परिक्षिप्तः
नन्दनवनस्य मध्ये रत्नमयस्सर्वर्तोवृतः ||११ ||
“In the center of the Nandana forest is the bright Mount Meru that’s a yojana in size, that is full of precious stones, and surrounded by the Himalaya Mountains” – Sure, this is as poetic as the description in the Bhagavata or Mahabharata. Not much use here.
स्वर्मॅरू स्थलमध्ये नरको वडवामुखश्च जलमध्यॅ
अमरामरा मन्यन्ते परस्परमधस्स्थितान्नियतम् || १२||
“At Meru Mountain, at the center of the landmass, live the devas; At Vadavamukha, at the center of water live the asuras. Now each of them think that the others are situated below them”
Again, not much help here – How does it matter where the devas and asuras live to identify Mount Meru? You are bound to ask me.
Thankfully, in the 16th verse in the same chapter, Aryabhata spills the beans!
देवाः पश्यन्ति भगोलार्धमुद्न्मेरु संस्थितास्सव्यं
अपसव्यगं तयार्धं दक्षिणावडवामुखे प्रेताः || १६||
“The devas situated on Mount Meru see half of the starry sphere, and the departed souls on the south end, see the other half of the starry sphere”.
Now this is a very good description of how the sky is seen from the Earth’s two poles. At each pole, only half of the starry sphere can be seen, and the halves are mutually exclusive. This implies that the Mount Meru should be located at Earth’s North pole, and Vadavamukha, at the South pole. However, it must be pointed out that that the shloka does not plainly say that Mount Meru is at the North Pole. For that, we must visit the work of Varahamihira (6th century AD).
In verse 34 of the 12th chapter ( titled भूगोलाधिकारः ), of Surya Siddhanta, a work of Varahamihira, we find the following description:
अनेकरत्न निचयो जाम्बूनदमयो गिरिः
भूगोल मध्यगो मेरुरुभयत्र विनिर्गतः
“Filled with different types of precious stones, the golden Meru mountain goes through the center of the globe onto either side”
This is as close as it gets to saying that the Mount Meru is on Earth’s axis. Note that the reference here is not to Jambu Dweepa (or India) but to “jAmbUnadamaya”. As per the dictionary, this term means “of Jamboonada gold, or of golden etc. Narayana Pandita’s Gudharthaprakashika commentary to Surya Siddhanta also adds a shloka to show how “Jambunadamaya” implies gold. It probably refers to gold panning in river waters.
The next verse (35) goes on to say the Gods live in the top of the Meru and the demons at the bottom of the Meru. Now compare it with the description by Aryabhata that I cited earlier in this post, and you will find that they are exactly talking about the same thing! What does go through the “center of” Earth’s globe and project to both ends? It’s nothing but the earth’s axis. Underneath all the glittering gold, and being the abode of devas and asuras being spoken about in the shlokas, we see the truth plainly told – that Meru refers to nothing but the earth’s axis. The top of Meru is the North pole, and the bottom of the Meru at is the South pole.
Then in the next few verses, Varahamihira talks about 4 (fictitious, although the text doesn’t explicitly say so) cities which are separated by 90 degrees on the earth’s equator. Incidentally one of these is called “Lanka” and is in Bharatavarsha – at a distance of one fourth the circumference of the Earth, due south of Meru’s top end. This implies the Surya SiddhantaKara knew that Bharatavarsha was close to the equator. However, the “city” which he calls Lanka can’t be in India because it is due south of Ujjain and on the equator, and falls in the Indian ocean and not on land. We can only assume that he made up these “cities” to be able to describe the globe, and the movement of the globe.
And later verses tell how at the top of the Meru there is a 6 month day, which there is a six month long night at the bottom of the Meru( verse 68). In verse 72, he says as you travel towards the Meru, in either direction, the altitude of the Pole star keeps increasing – This is a very direct way of saying that Meru (or the northern end of it) is nothing but Earth’s North pole.
So where is Meru? All these references confirm that Meru meaning nothing but the Earth’s axis. Leaving aside the stuff about the imaginary cities ( even there, the astronomy of these points, are accurately described) and Gods and demons living at either end of the Meru mountain, other astronomical descriptions are quite accurate.
Why didn’t I write down all the verses here? Because, there is nothing as gratifying as finding it in the source. If you are interested to read the verses I cited, click on the the PDF file in the link below:
http://www.wilbourhall.org/pdfs/suryasiddhanth035839mbp.pdf Check page 286 for the shlokas and the commentary.
Now it should leave you with no doubt about the identity of Mount Meru!