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(Found this text of a speech I gave at my Toastmasters club (named “Innovators”, sometime in 2011, when I was organizing folders on my PC. Posting as is)
I come from India. If you did not know already, India is a land where you’ll find people speak hundreds of language and there are at least 30 languages with more than a million speakers. It is not hard to find people who can speak more than one Indian language. Typical of many urban Indians, I can speak in several of Indian languages too.
But there is one language that I can’t claim to speak, but I can understand quite well. This language is Samskrta. It is the oldest known language of India, and possibly one of the oldest surviving languages of the world. This language has influenced every other language in India to a varying extents, and has a literature that spans over four millennia. Even though it is not claimed as a mother tongue by any, due to the antiquity, and the influence it has on the vocabulary on Indian languages, it is still one of the 22 official languages of the country. Till the time of the colonization of India by the British in the 18th century, it was in fact the pan-Indian language for communication among the educated class. A great number of texts about yoga, Ayurveda (or the science of medicine), Jyotisha (or astronomy) and Ganita (Mathematics) etc are written in this language.
When I was in my elementary school, my parents enrolled me to Samskrta classes. I don’t remember being asked if I wanted to go to those classes, and I don’t know if I had any other opinion, it would have mattered! It was not a language that was taught in my grade school. These classes were held throughout the year, without even a summer break! What this meant was that I had to wake up early, take a shower, go to the class, come back home and then head out for my school. Sometimes, there were additional classes in the evening too. Going to these classes were the routine for me from the time I was in my kindergarten to about my junior year in high school. Since I lived in a small town, I could walk or bike to the classes quickly, so that was not a big problem. But I had to be always aware of these extra two hours needed in my day, when it came to preparing for tests or other work at my school, because I could never use the last couple hours before school to finish up anything!
Over the years, I passed through several levels in these Samskrta language classes. The classes were grouped based on the level, and not on the age. Since I started out early, I was almost always the youngest student in my class! Since Samskrta is not really a widely spoken language, there wasn’t much thrust in learning to speak the language, but the emphasis was on understanding the structure of the language, grammar and and appreciating literary texts. Some texts, specifically poetry had to be memorized too. As we all know, things that are committed to memory at a young age generally remain with us till much later in my life. Although I stopped going to my Samskrta classes during mid-high school, I still remember those verses memorized years ago.
Luckily, my interest in this language did not wane even after I stopped going to those classes. About five or six years ago, I tried to translate some poetry from Samskrta, to Kannada, my mother tongue; generally I started out by those poems that I knew by heart, from my age old classes! I started a blog to post these translations, and the positive comments from readers encouraged me to try out more. Then I had to look for other poems that I did not know before. Now that I am not that young anymore, and and can not commit these verses to memory, it was indeed a good idea for me to try translating whenever I found a new verse that sounded good to me!
To make a long story short, sometime back I was asked if I would like to publish a collection of my selected translations, and a book was published this year! The book is titled “Hamsanaada” and it is in Kannada. It got some favorable reviews in the press too.
As the verse on the opening page of my book says, needless to say translated from an age old Sanskrtit saying – “Start your kids on good things, when they are really young. The pictures etched on a wet mud pot will stay even after you use it for cooking for a long time!”
Dear Innovators, start off your kids to some good things – be it sports,or arts like music and dance, or learning a new language, or whatever else that they can grow up with, and take into their adulthood. With the current life styles, it may be a hard choice to put kids into many activities, and the kids may even resent them now. But I am sure you can find one or two activities apart from the regular schooling, that they’ll like or at least lean to not hate! I’m sure they will be thankful for what you did for them, later in their adult life, because the pictures etched on a wet mud pot, indeed stay forever!
Most ancient civilizations flourished in river valleys and flood plains. So when the digging for construction of a railway line in Northwestern British India revealed remains of an ancient civilization, archaeologists were not very surprised! Since the first two sites found were Harappa, and Mohen-jo-Daro, in the vicinity of the river Indus (Sindhu) and it’s tributaries, the civilization came to be known as the Harappa civilization or the Indus valley civilization.
Detailed excavations at these sites revealed that these indeed were huge cities with remains of several layers of city living, with the latest layers dated from around 2000 years before Christ, and the oldest, to about 3500 years before Christ.
Detailed excavations at these sites revealed that these indeed were huge cities with remains of several layers of city living, with the latest layers dated from around 2000 years before Christ, and the oldest, to about 3500 years before Christ.
The cities of Mohenjo-daro and Harappa, as well as other smaller sites that were found later on, were very well planned with streets running at right angles, and laid with burnt bricks. The cities and had a sanitary system of well connected drains to carry the waste from every house. The sites from this civilization occupied a vast area spread across in an area that now corresponds to parts of Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. 19th century Indologists and archaeologists postulated that invading nomads from central Asia brought this civilization to an abrupt end, since most the sites showed a decline around about 1800-1500 BC, with no continued habitation in those locations.
As more sites were found by archaeologists, they observed something strange found more and more sites, they found a strange thing. A vast majority of them were in the area that now comprises of the Thar desert, far from the Sindhu (Indus) river system of Punjab, but along a dry river bed, what is now called as the Hakra or Ghaggar river. The Ghaggar is a seasonal stream which flows for a few months and which ultimately dries up in the desert without reaching the sea! This was a perplexing indeed.
For the solution of this problem, we have to go to ancient Indian texts called Vedas. Veda means Knowledge, derived from the verb, vid – to know, are the oldest poems in this world that are still extant. The Vedas, instead of talking about the five rivers of Punjab, spoke about “sapta sindhu” or the seven rivers, and the most important river among the seven was Saraswathi. The Rig Veda called Saraswati the “ Most beloved of mothers, the mightiest of all rivers, and the best among Goddesses.” It is also described as a river flowing from the Himalaya mountains to the ocean. But today, the Saraswathi river is a small tributary to the seasonal Ghaggar.
As early as during early 1800s, archaeologists who had found parts of a dry river beds in the desert had postulated a great river must have flown there. interestingly this river bed they had found is the continuation of the Ghaggar, into which the current day Saraswathi river flows as a tributary.
The width of the dry riverbed is generally more than a mile wide, and at places it is as wide as 7-8 miles. But what was the source of the water to fill this huge river? The current source of river Saraswathi could not have provided that vast amount of water!
Now science comes to the rescue: The satellite imagery from the late 20th century has ascertained these earlier observations. These have also confirmed the existence old river beds belonging to two other major rivers, Yamuna, and Satluj which are now part of the Indus and Ganges river systems, that once flowed into the old bed of now dry Ghaggar.
So what caused the drying up of Ghaggar or the historic Saraswathi? Sometime between the 6000 and 4000 years, due to tectonic movements the rivers Yamuna and Sutlej that were the main feeders for Saraswathi changed course.
The glacier fed Sutlej moved westwards, and started flowing into the Indus river. The other glacier fed tributary of Saraswati, the Yamuna started flowing eastward, into the Ganga river instead of Saraswathi. These events thus deprived Saraswathi a perennial water source.
Probably to support this movement of Yamuna is the common belief held in India even today that the river Saraswathi flows as an invisible river, and joins the Ganga and Yamuna at their confluence at Prayaga (Allahabad).
With this river migration understood, we can easily understand why there are far greater number of archaeological sites in the desert along the dry Saraswathi river compared to the Indus river valley. When the rivers migrated, the people living in the Saraswathi river area had to move to newer locations, and they did so. There is no need to bring in any fictitious “nomads from central Asia” to describe a bloody and sudden ending to the civilization. Indeed a study of later archaeological sites shows that several aspects of the these sites were adapted there as well.
Today, the river Sarswathi may flow from the Himalaya all the way to the ocean. It may have become just a small monsoon rivulet. Or if you go by the popular mindset, the river Saraswathi might have become invisible. But the culture of the people lived on it’s banks is still alive and well! For example, its very easy to find artwork from this civilization, that looks almost the same as some of the artworks created by current day craftsmen and artists! This is but one of the many aspects where such parallels can be drawn.
Given all these facts, it truly befits to call this as the Saraswathi-Sindhu civilization rather than Indus Valley civilization or the Harappa civilization!
(All photo credits belong to their respective copyright holders)
(p.s: Enough material is available on the Internet about the Saraswathi-Sindhu civilization. Then question may arise why this post 🙂 This was a speech I gave at my Toastmasters Club as part of the “Speaking to Inform” advance speaking manual. The project was : The Speech to Inform)
If you are one of the millions of people who believe in their daily horoscope, or even if your are casually curious about it you’d have been hit with this news couple of weeks ago. For some true believers, this news has been heartbreaking to hear that the Sun was not even in the constellation that they thought their sign was when they were born. If you were wondering how this drastic change in the Sun signs came about, read on.
You need to get familiar with a few technical terms, in order to navigate. Now, first things first – Let’s see what a constellation is. Simplifying the definition given in the Wikipedia, I can say ” a constellation is a perceived pattern formed by prominent stars within apparent proximity to one another.” It must have been the bright sky without today’s light pollution coupled with the good imagination of the people from ancient civilizations that gave rise to these constellations. Many of the constellations were named after different animals or characters from mythological stories. I suspect some of them were defined by people who really had some extra time at hand as well , because only a few constellations resemble the figure they were meant to represent! Here is the constellation of Scorpius, where it is indeed easy to imagine a celestial scorpion is shown below.
The next important term that you need to understand is ecliptic. The ecliptic is the apparent path taken by the Sun on the celestial sphere. If this definition sounds like Greek or Latin, the diagram on the side should help! The celestial sphere is the imaginary sphere around us. If you project the earth’s equator on to the celestial sphere, you get the celestial equator. Since the Earth’s axis is not perpendicular to the plane it revolves around the Sun, the path of the Sun on the celestial sphere is also at an angle to the celestial equator. This path is called the ecliptic. But how to observe the path of the Sun among the stars since no stars are visible when the Sun is around? By observing the eastern sky just before sunrise, and the western sky just after sunset, it was possible for ancient civilizations to maps the path of the Sum among stars. The ancient civilizations who defined these constellations also observed that this path passed primarily through 12 constellations, which they called the Zodiac. Each of the constellation in the zodiac was assumed to occupy 30 degrees of longitude on the celestial sphere – the amount of distance covered by the Sun in the sky in one month’s time. Since the Moon, and other planets also revolve around the Sun in almost the same plane as the Earth, they are also always seen in the vicinity of the zodiac for Earth based observers.
There are two points in the sky where the ecliptic intersects the celestial equator. These are the days when equinoxes occur. One is the vernal equinox at the beginning of spring (so called vernal equinox), and the other beginning of the fall (autumnal equinox). About 1500 years ago, the spring equinox coincided with the beginning of the constellation of Aries, and the Sun was at this position around the 14th of April each year. Due to the phenomenon called precession, the vernal equinox is moving slowly on the ecliptic and now actually occurs around the 20th of March each year. However, western astrology still considers the vernal equinox as the ‘First point of Aries’ even though, the constellation of Aries may be far from it.
Until 20th century, constellation borders stayed sort of amorphous. In 1925, the International Astronomical Association defined constellation borders assigning specific boundaries between all the constellations in the sky, and dividing all the area of the sky into 88 constellations. When this new sky map was created, the ecliptic actually passed though 13 constellations instead of 12. The Sun actually moves through the constellation of Ophiuchus, between Scorpius and Sagittarius.
In the map here, you can see that the ecliptic passes through Ophiuchus before going to Sagittarius. But all this change happened about 85 years ago. But then why is it making big news now?
It is just that a fact that was known to astronomers and for others interested in the sky, was brought out as ‘news’ 🙂 ! On January 15th 2011, when millions of people heard for the first time that the Sun goes through a 13th constellation, and when the exact times of the year during which the Sun is actually in a constellation were listed out by Minnesota Planetarium Society, hell broke lose for a lot of believers!
Now lets assess what is the impact of this on your life. There are two options for you. If you believe in western astrology, you can take the following stand to stop lot of heart ache – “According to western astrology, zodiac was divided the ecliptic into 12 equal parts. The first point of Aries has long since been disassociated with the constellation of Aries. So although I understand that the Sun was not even in the constellation of Leo when I was born, I am ready to believe I’ll have qualities of a Leo, because, well – astrology says so”. This is technically a correct argument. In summary, your sign did not change, based on the principles of astrology.
If you are a non-believer of astrology like I am, and don’t believe that the Sun or the Moon or any stars can predict your fortunes, then well and good! You don’t have to care a bit about any definition or redefinition of constellation boundaries. After reading this post, you can be happy about knowing one new fact about the sky, though 😉
Picture source : Normally I make it a point to give proper credit to pictures that I use in the blog posts. Unfortunately this time, I regret not saving that information, and not providing it in the post
p.s: This is a slightly modified version of the speech I gave today at my Toastmasters club. This was a project from the Advanced TM Manual – Speaking to Inform.
We all have some treasures that we cherish and wish to keep them ourselves. But there are some treasures that multiply when we share them with others!
न चोरहार्यम् न च राजहार्यम् न भ्रातृभाज्यम् न च भारकारि ।
व्यये कृते वर्धत एव नित्यम् विद्या धनम् सर्वधनप्रदानम् ॥
na chOra hAryam na cha rAja hAryam na bhAatr bhAjyam nacha bhArakAri
vyayE krtE vardhata Eva nityam vidyA dhanam sarva dhana pradhAnam
Yes; there is one treasure that grows as you spend it. This treasure can not be robbed by thieves, nor could this treasure be taxed by the government. It can’t be divided among siblings nor is it a heavy load to carry. Unlike other treasures, this one grows when you spend it! This treasure called the ‘knowledge’ (Vidya) is the most important treasure that you could ever possess.
The best way to share your knowledge is by choosing a teaching profession. But do not despair if you are not in a position to do that. If it were a couple of decades ago, it would almost be impossible for you to share with others what you know in a meaningful way, unless you happened to be an author, or a teacher of some sort. Not the same case anymore. The Internet age has made it possible for anyone to spread the knowledge they have much more meaningfully, and also made it easier to target that knowledge very specifically to those for whom it is useful.
Sure, it may be possible for you to market your skills outside your current profession to make some money. But everyone does not have the time and resources such a second vocation demands. So what should you do?
Share. As in freely sharing what you know. The possibilities are limit-less, and confined only by how much time you can spare, and your imagination.
Consider becoming a blogger and start writing about things you care or you know well. You will definitely make new friends who share your interests. You can share information useful to your blog visitors, and you will also end up learning quite a bit in the process. Although blogs were initially supposed to be some kind of web diaries, these days you can see lot’s of ‘how to’ blogs that can teach you anything from planting tomato seeds to installing hardwood floors!
Another good way to share your knowledge is becoming a member of a community blog or a specialty forum. I have been participating in different music related forums for quite sometime. This has enabled me to enjoy it better than what I would have done otherwise. I also have the satisfaction of answering question others with similar interests might have.
A bit more involved way which takes a bit of extra effort from you is going the Wikipedia way. Wikipedia is an online encyclopedia, available in more than 200 languages. You can a contribute articles to Wikipedia on any subject you good at. If you are proficient in more than one language and you don’t want to be involved in the reference-citing that Wikipedia requires when you write articles, you can translate existing articles in one language into another, thus opening up a knowledge base to new readers.
So, what are you waiting for? Follow my suggestions, and share your treasures the e-way. I promise you won’t be disappointed, and find it very fulfilling.
But if you aren’t faint-at-heart like I am, and want to go the extra mile, you should set someone like my fellow blogger Vidya as an example. Dr P P Narayana Swamy and Vidya, after publishing the English translation of Subburama Dikshitar’s Sangeetha Sampradaya Pradarshini (SSP) on the web a few years ago, now have published the first volume of SSP in print!
May their tribe increase!
p.s: Parts of this post came from a speech I did at my Toastmasters club a while ago.
Al Gore was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for the year 2007, for supporting the cause of the environment. His film “An Inconvenient Truth” has won an Academy award as well. I got to watch this movie a few months ago. This is a real eye-opener. If you get an opportunity to watch this, do not miss!
What is this ‘Inconvenient Truth’? It is something that most of us know, but not willing to acknowledge. Our tendency is to push the mess under the carpet, unseen until it gets so big, and can not be concealed anymore. Well, the unpleasant, inconvenient truth is that the global warming caused by human activity has harmed the earth’s environment in the last 4 decades, probably more than what had happened in the previous forty centuries. And worse, we are turning a blind eye to that even after knowing the consequences of global warming.
The harm done to the environment is nowhere more visible than in the melting ice sheets and the receding glaciers. Over the years, glaciers are receding, and ice sheets in the Arctic and the Antarctic are melting away. In the last 25 years almost 20-30% of the arctic ice sheet has melted. Between 1850 and 1980 the glaciers in Europe have lost about a third of their landmass. Parts of the Arctic Ocean and the Antarctic Ocean are actually warming up at a rate twice or thrice that of the other regions in the world. The ice cover in Greenland has about 10% of the world’s supply of fresh water, and if all that melts, the sea level will increase by about 20 feet. In The frozen continent of Antarctica has about 99% of the land covered in thick ice sheets. If this would melt, the sea level would increase by about 200 feet. Overall, the sea level has increased by about 6 inches in the 20th century. This may further increase by about a foot in the 21st century. Considering a large population of the mankind lives on or near the coastal regions, any impairment would be of great consequence.
Glaciers on all the 6 continents have been receding and melting away. The glaciers on the Kilimanjaro in equatorial Africa have receded to less than 60% of what was there in 1975. In Glacier National part in Montana, more than 40 of the 137 glaciers have disappeared in the 20th century. In Greenland, new islands are breaking away from the mainland due to melting ice. Several pacific and Indian ocean islanders are always living is fear of being overtaken by the sea.
I know many people who visited the town of Gangothri in Uttaranchal, expecting the headwaters of the river Ganga to be there and being surprised to find a free-flowing river instead. The headwaters are actually at Gomukh, several kilometers up the river at the terminus of the Gangothri glacier. The Gangothri glacier, source of river Ganga, is receding averaging to an alarming 83 feet every year. Gomukh is getting farther off from Gangothri every year, and it is 3 kilometers farther away from Gangothri than it was a century ago.
In general, the glaciers in the Himalayas are found to be drying up faster than those in the rest of the world. In case of Gangothri glacier, the rate of receding has been shown to be much higher in the last 3 decades. NASA pictures have shown that Gangothri glacier has receded about 850 meters in the last 25 years. If the same rate of depletion continues, it is feared that the glacier may totally disappear by the end of the 21st century.
If Gangothri glacier melts away, it will affect more than 1.5 billion people in India and Bangladesh directly. How does that affect others? The financial meltdown of 2008 has shown that in the current world economic scenario, no country is shielded from the events happening elsewhere. Billions of more people around the world will be affected by a slow catastrophic event of this nature. When the glaciers recede, the oceans will swell and cities and mangroves near the coast will face the threat of getting submerged.
So, should we care about climate change? Yes, we should! Every one of us can, and has to do something to slow the negative impact on the environment. In Kannada there is a saying “ಹನಿ ಹನಿಗೂಡಿದರೆ ಹಳ್ಳ” – “Water drops gather together to form a stream”. Even if individually small, collectively we can achieve large goals. Here are some things that we can do as individuals to reduce our impact on the environment.
Mother Earth has been so kind to us. Isn’t time for us to be kind to her?
(Posting a modified version of an earlier post I made in 2008 – For the Blog Action Day -2009)