Archive for the ‘General’ Category

2013 in review

December 31, 2013

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 15,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 6 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Water Divination

November 23, 2013

I joined a cousin in inspecting a land to be purchased. Well…not inspection but just to see that the land is physically present and not just on paper. A friend’s acquaintance owned the land. He knew the place and was taking us there in his jeep. We crossed the city limits and were on the highway for nearly 2 hrs when we took a diversion. The road was bumpy and so time slowed.  After an hour or so we were on a narrow road that went between fields and land that was not cultivated.  Our friend spotted a stone and a barren tract along side the road and identified that as the beginning of the land under consideration!

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One view of the tract of land we visited. The branch rotated near the trees seen in the far end of this photograph.

We got down and walked along. In the distance and much nearer on our left were hillocks. Some trees and wild grass interspersed the land. The land was arable but the soil had little pieces of rock mixed in it.  Suddenly, our friend pulled out a branch from a nearby tree. The branch was Y-shaped. He held one arm of the branch in his left hand and the other in his right.  He now walked back a little distance, turned, and started walking towards us with the branch loosely held in his hands and the tip pointing outward. As he walked the branch started rotating in his hand! I couldn’t believe my eyes. If one were to rotate it manually/physically one would have to twist the wrists. It would be a tedious task if at all it was possible! I tried it. As a matter of fact he had not even gripped the arms of the branch. Each arm was light held in the circle/tubular cavity formed by the curving of the fingers in the palm; like when you hold a bicycle arm.  My cousin thought he would give try. He took the same branch and walked the same path.  The branch did not rotate but he felt it trying to wriggle in his palm as if to rotate. He was holding a bit too tight. The friend showed it again. I was skeptical. I took another Y-shaped branch from the tree and walked the same path. Nothing. No rotation. No feeling at all from the branch!  Apparently, it happens only with certain people. I don’t have it in me.

The incident stayed in mind until one day when I chanced upon theDSC_0088 book ‘Brihat Samhita’ by Varahamihira in the Ramakrishna Math library. Brihat Samhita is an ancient(~500 AD) encyclopaedic work in Sanskrit which covers various topics of human interest including architecture, medicine, physiology, zoology and other subjects.  The 54th chapter is entitled Dakargalam which means ‘the exploration of water springs’ or ‘water divination’.  There are about 125 Slokas (verses) describing the signs on land of water being present under ground. The depth to which one has to dig for water is also mentioned.  For instance, Sloka 8 says: in a waterless tract if there is a Jambu tree then water will be obtained at a depth of 10 cubits at a distance of 3 cubits to its north. It further describes what one is to expect on digging up to 5 cubits.

Several types of trees, rocks, presence of ant-hills and other such data have been connected to the depths at which water can be found even in desert regions. Simply incredible!  But, there was no mention of a Y-shaped branch, when held in a particular manner, rotating if there was water underground.  I had seen with my own eyes that the branch rotated in our friend’s hands at a moderate speed if not rapidly. And that too only in a particular patch of land. I wish I had taken a video. I looked up YouTube for videos on water divination. there are several where a person with a coconut placed on his palm walked on a tract of land. The coconut stood up where-ever there is water underground. But no video showing what I had seen. The YouTube links are:

The videos show that the coconut stood up on its own, but it is not clear if they dug  there and found water. Did you come across water divination using a branch of a tree? Let me know if you did.

For those interested in Brihat Samhita, the book is available online here.

Merciless or Manly

November 14, 2013

Self_coverIn the Sunday talk on Subhashitamala (literally, garland of proverbs) Swamiji mentioned the book, Self-Help by Samuel Smiles. The next Sunday I was early to the Math and looked up the library for this book.  It is an old book; a 1859 publication.  I flipped open the book for cursory reading and the words India, uprising and Nicholson caught my eye.  It was the chapter entitled Energy and Courage.  I had just finished reading The Last Mughal by William Dalrymple, which was full of details on the 1857 uprising, alternately called the Sepoy mutiny, and my memory was fresh.

I found the description of Brigadier General John Nicholson in The Last Mughal and  at contrast.  John Nicholson played an important, possibly crucial role in subduing the Sepoy mutiny in Delhi.  Samuel Smiles is all praise for John Nicholson.  He is described as the finest, manliest and noblest of men.  He is among the modern heroes of India with no precedence and quotes Montalambert (a contemporary of Smiles) that they ‘do honour to the human race’.  As an illustration of his sustained energy and persistency, Smiles cites his pursuit of the mutineers: ‘when he was in the saddle for twenty consecutive hours, and travelled more than 70 miles.’TheLastMughal

On the other hand, Darlymple introduces Nicholson as one who had personally decapitated a local robber chieftain and then kept the man’s head on his desk.  He was something of a legend among the British during the uprising because among other ‘manly’ qualities he had a merciless capacity of extreme brutality.  There were few among the British troops ‘who remained immune to the hero-worship of this great imperial psychopath.’

 War times change the definition of qualities.  Do they? A soldier could be described as merciless or manly depending on the side one takes: the winners’ side or the losers’.

Rafi’s songs in the ‘Last Mughal’ by Darlymple

October 28, 2013

TheLastMughal  The Last Mughal by William Dalrymple is an empathetically written book about Bahadur Shah Zafar, Delhi and the 1857 mutiny.  In this wonderfully thorough book Dalrymple also mentions two popular poems attributed to Zafar. These were set to tune and used in the movie Lal Qila. (Darlymple mentions the movie  and also the singer Mohammad Rafi). I could not resist looking up tube for the songs and to my delight found them. Here are the youtube links:

1. Lagta Nahin Hai Dil Mera

2. Na Kisi Ki Ankh Ka Noor Hoon


Wonderful songs.  However, the spoiler comes from the experts! Apparently, there is not enough evidence to suggest that these were indeed written by Zafar.  The available book of poems by Zafar does not have these two.  One wonders why would it get into the public psyche that the poems were by Zafar if they were not by him.  After all he never did propaganda for his poems.  He died the death of a common man, unknown to anyone.

Synchronicity with music

January 28, 2013

I check e-mail (gmail) once or twice a day. After going through my mails I often check the tab on Google Reader to see if there are any updates. I have subscribed to the content of several academic journals, magazines, blogs and comic strips. Usually, I read through only one or two of these, so there will always be a huge backlog. But the other day I happened to read a friend’s blog where he mentioned an artist (vocal) of  the Hindustani Classical genre, Pandit Venkatesh Kumar, and linked this article that appreciates him. It caught my interest. I had not heard about this artist as the article rightly pointed out about him being not famous. But now I wanted to listen to his music. I live close by a Univ. campus where music concerts are not uncommon.  So I checked their website and was pleasantly surprised. His concert was due the very next day at a time that was suitable to me! Needless to say, I attended the concert and was impressed. He has an amazing voice and range. Unfortunately, the concert was arranged only for 2 hours.  I dare say that going by traditional concert times he would have just warmed up. There was no doubt in my mind that had it been an all night concert, like a traditional concert would have been, he would have dazzled us with his full potential.

Pt. Venkatesh Kumar (center) supported on Tabla by Ravindra Yavagal and on Harmonium by R. Katoti.Apologies for the blurry picture. I could afford only this picture with my mobile.

Pt. Venkatesh Kumar (center) with R. Yavagal (to his right) for Tabla &  R. Katoti (left) for Harmonium. Apologies for the blurry picture. I could afford only this picture with mobile camera from my seat.

Those familiar with Julia Cameron’s book Artists Way know that she believes those who undertake the 3 week course experience synchronicity. At the end of every week, in the Tasks or in the Check-In’s we are asked to write down the synchronicity that we experienced. Synchronicity did happen to me on several occasions earlier (for e.g. see here) i.e. before I knew about the Artists Way. Then I use to think about it as a kind of Deja Vu. Music being closer to my heart, the urge to describe this particular synchronicity was greater

This got me thinking and I googled synchronicity to learn more. Interestingly, I came across another word that encapsulates this phenomenon. It is Pratityaya Samutpada (Sanskrit).  Pratityaya means interdependence. Samutpada means co-arising. So Pratityaya Samutpada means interdependent co-arising. It is a concept in Buddhism and in lay terms it means that things arise depending on more than one reason or condition. It makes fascinating reading. Wikipedia has more on this including excerpts from the Dalai Lama and Thich Nhat Hanh. But I leave you with this picture that I took at one of the monasteries in Ladakh.

Wheel Of Life or BhavaChakra. Probably, from the Thiksey Monastery.

Wheel Of Life or BhavaChakra.
Probably, from the Thiksey Monastery.

The Bhavachakra(Wheel of Life) depicts the twelve chain of causes that lead to other causes: dependent-arising.

Nagarjuna hill

August 29, 2012

A friend from the US was visiting Hyderabad. He had a day free and was open to spending it any which way. I had recently read the travelogue on the Chinese Buddhist monk Huen Tsang’s visit to India and was still in awe of his 19000 mile journey in search of Buddhist manuscripts and places all through from China to India. HuenTsang had visited Amaravati in Andhrapradesh. It is ~270 kms from Hyderabad but we would need more than a day to visit that place. A closer place, ~170 kms from Hyderabad would be NagarjunaKonda (Nagarajuna Hill). I knew that Nagarjuna was a great Buddist monk and teacher and that the Nagarjunasagar Dam, where the NagarjunaKonda is located, was named after him. We decided that we would start early to NagarjunaKonda and come back before it was late- i hate to drive at night because the hi-beam light used by almost every vehicle is blinding making it difficult to spot the road ahead.

Our meeting point was Kachiguda railway station.  I was there by 5:45 a.m.  His father dropped him  at around 6.00 a.m. We started right away and after a few minutes of driving i found that i had already lost the direction. Both of us were new to the city roads. We asked for direction a  couple of times and were soon on the Sagar road. This road lead to Nagarjunasagar dam hence the name Sagar road..  We halted on the way for  a cup of tea and then for breakfast. Three and a half hours later we were at the Nagarjunasagar dam. It has a large reservoir with plenty of water but not enough for the gates to release it. We wanted to drive over the dam but a policeman (or was he a soldier?) stopped us. It was restricted area.  Just then we saw two motorbikes coming out of the dam-driveway! We complained. Apparently, they were irrigation staff! Really?!

The signpost at the dam showed directions to Ethipothala and Anupu. No sign for Nagarjunakonda! Ethipothala has a waterfall and Anupu an Archaelogical museum.  We decided to go to Ethipothala that was 8 kms away. After a while we had to get off the main road into a narrow road to Ethipothala where we paid for the vehicle fee/tax. At Ethipothala there is a government park that encloses the view point for the waterfall. We bought tickets to the park and walked by the fencing along the edge of a hillock that gives a complete view of the water fall.  It is a cascade waterfall.  It was a magnificent view, though water was flowing only at one end of the width of the Chandravanka river. In its full glory it would be a sight to behold. The Chandravanka river is a tributary to the Krishna (on which the dam is built) but it is wider than one would imagine a tributary to be.  It is no wonder that the reservoir of the dam can hold an island of the size of Nagarjunakonda. While at the view point, we asked the park cleaner if there was a way we could actually go over the waterfall or some place near where we could wet or feet. Apparently there was none and he also warned us of the danger of Crocodiles.  We tried spotting the crocodiles for a while but in vain.

Launch to NagarjunaKonda

We drove back towards the dam and asked a passer-by for directions to Nagarjunakonda.  A few more kilometers on a winding road down hill and then up hill and we were at the place where we could buy tickets for a boat ride (referred to as launch) to Nagarjunakonda. Along the way different people gave us different timings for the launch. Some said the last launch was at 2 p.m. However, on reaching we found that there are no launch timings per se.  The launch will run as long as there are enough tourists to fill up the seats. NagarjunaKonda is 14 kms from the launch site and it takes 45 minutes to reach.  The ticket for the launch is Rs. 90 and for the museum on NagarjunaKonda is Rs. 20. NagarjunaKonda is well maintained-it looks clean with lawns everywhere and a proper road map. However, as is typical of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) they put up boards claiming that the property (monument) belonged to them but no board giving details of the history of the monument. So, without a guide this place serves just as a place to walk around and imagine what the monuments were or what their purpose/role in the society of those days or as most tourists used it : just a playground for kids.

The catchment area of the Nagarjunasagar Dam consisted of several archaeological sites including the ancient city/town Vijaypuri. The town has been in existence  since at least the 2-3rd Century A.D.   Before the dam water submerged the place the ASI carried out excavations and collected sculptures, structures and stored them in museums at Nagarjuna Konda and Anupu. Some of the structures were rebuilt on NagarjunaKonda. NagarjunaKonda was a hill as the name Konda indicates. However, after the dam was built the river water submerged nearly half the hill and now it stands as an island.

The museum atop the hill is full off sculptures predominantly in limestone depicting events in the Buddha’s life and more.  If only there was a guide who could take us on a tour of the museum explaining things. I did find to my great satisfaction a book by the ASI on NagarjunaKonda available for sale at Rs. 20. The book is not voluminous and satisfies the curiosity of a casual reader as well as someone who wants dates and details.

Front cover of the book on NagarjunaKonda. The Buddha in the picture can be see in Nagarjunakonda along with several other sculptures.

I found it shockingly interesting that the archaeologists did not find any literature or artefact to explain the association of Nagarjuna with the hill/valley. So why did any one bother to name the hill after him. No one knows who did name the hill. It is an open question!  We also get to know from the book that both Buddhist and Brahmanical traditions co-existed in the hill/valley. Interestingly, many of the Kings professed Brahmanical tradition while the Queens were either Buddhists or were inclined to Buddhism. I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to carry some meaning into his tour of NagarjunaKonda. Without a tour guide its practically not possible to appreciate the importance of NagarjunaKonda.

We spent about 2 hours on NagarjunaKonda and were exhausted mostly because of the blazing sun. Fortunately, there is a canteen on NagarjunaKonda just behind the museum that offers tiffins and cold drinks. Vegetable pulav made from the Priya- ‘ready to cook’ packets was also available.  The launch was ready by the time we reached the river. It took about half an hour to fill up all the seats and we were in my Car in about an hour. On the way back we stopped, not far from the dam, at the Hotel Siddharth and good NorthIndian food. We just had one more stop for tea at Ibrahim Patnam before reaching Hyderabad. I had started the trip early with the thought that I would avoid driving at night but i ended up driving among hi-beam lights of cars, buses and trucks on a divider-less road! I reached home at 10 p.m. My friend took an autorikshaw back home.

Hsuen Tsang’s route to India

August 6, 2012

Most of us are taught in school about the seventh century Chinese Buddhist monk who came to India. Many of us even recollect the name but i wonder if we ever gave thought to the route he took to India. Until i read this fascinating travelogue i always assumed that he would have come across the Himalaya. After all didn’t the Dalai lama cross the Himalaya to come to India?! Well, it turns out that Hsuen Tsang took the much longer route:

China (from Xian)-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan-Tajikistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India.

In India he went up to Kanchipuram in the south and Assam in the north east! On his way back he went from Afghanistan directly to China skirting Tajikistan and skipping Kyrgystan and Uzbekistan. The map below clearly shows the short cut he took on his way back.

I initially thought i would look up the places that Hsuen Tsang visited and make a route map in google however i found that it has been already done in great detail and is available here.

As i went through the book i found that even the author wondered why Hsuen Tsang took this rather long route.  We get to know the possible reason from the author’s companion in Uzbekistan, a Ukrainian Archaeologist Leonid Sverchov.  Famous translators of Buddhist texts were from  Samarkand (Uzbekistan) and so Hsuen Tsang must have thought the region to be rich in Buddhism. He came to look at Buddhism in all these regions in Central Asia.

Gym Ball

August 6, 2012

I first bought the gym ball to use it as a replacement for my chair at the desk! The gym ball was from ‘GAIAM’ and it came with a cd – full of exercise videos that i could use to shape up. I did try some of them for a couple of weeks but then discipline is not my forte and i was happy using it as a chair. But soon i missed reclining back and got back to the chair chair.  The gym ball i would use for occasionally sitting on it and bouncing. Some of my visitor friends too found it entertaining to sit and bounce till the door resonated with it. Meanwhile i had to leave back to India. I posted the gym ball along with several books that i had collected in 3 years. Back home i received the cargo but most of the boxes were torn up-that’s what happens when the customs guys search through your goods, and unfortunately the gym ball was punctured.

I bought my second gym ball from PRO-FORM. This ball was unique in that it would not roll away. This ball came with a one year warranty and was anti-burst! However, in exactly 1 year and 3 months it punctured. It did not burst but slowly gave away!  Bought my 3rd gym ball recently from I.CARE. This is the cheapest of the three. The pump to fill air that came with the ball broke before the ball could take the spherical shape. So i used the PRO-FORM pump and blew the ball to shape. This one does roll away but i am okay with it.

By the way, i like to use the gym ball as a support for inverted back exercise (kind off urdhva dhanurasana). This asana gives my back and lower back especially a great and instant relief. In fact right now it is about the only use i do of the gym ball.  I do it only when i feel some discomfort in the back.  I am not an expert in asana so i would not recommend it to anyone.

Cunningham Road

August 3, 2012

I came across the name Alexander Cunnigham in the travelogue ‘Chasing the Monk’s Shadow’ by Mishi Saran. In this book the author, Mishi Saran writes about her travels to the places visited by the famous 7th century Chinese Buddhist monk Hsuan Tsang on his journey to India.  Mishi Saran referred to Cunningham’s report ‘ The Ancient Geography of India. Volume 1, Buddhist Period’ to know about the exact locations of Buddhist sites in India.

The name Cunningham raised my curiosity. There is a ‘Cunningham Road’ in Bangalore that i normally take to go towards Shivajinagar. Could he be the person after whom the road has been named? and why? So i google’d and came across fascinating information from Wikipedia. Alexander Cunningham is known as the father of  Archaelogical Survey of India! Francis Cunnigham, his brother, was a deputy to Sir Mark Cubbon who was the then chief commissioner at Bangalore. Apparently, Francis Cunningham lobbyed on behalf of the deposed Maharaja of Mysore arguing that he should be allowed to adopt and the kingdom be restored to him. It is possibly due to these efforts of his that the Cunningham road is named after him.

Its strange. I just thought about it yesterday!

June 6, 2012

dejavuThe other day i visited a temple and saw a swamiji (monk) distributing prasad. After distributing prasad for a while he walked to the shrine when i noticed him limp. His right leg had swollen abnormally; he had encephalitis.  Today i was reading up news and came across the news item that talked about the number of occurrences of encephalitis in Bihar.  This happens to me very often. I did not find exact word that can describe it but its something like Deja Vous. I was wondering if there is something special about it until i read this article on the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon. This article demystifies it by explaining clearly the reason behind it.  Brain is a pattern recognition engine and promotes the information that is repeated because that begins a sequence. For more read the article; it is an interesting read.

Here is another article about it. Apparently, a linguistic Prof. at Stanford, Arnold Zwicky, first termed this phenomenon as ‘frequency illusion’. Baader-Meinhof  was a west-German left wing militant group and has got nothing to the phenomenon per se. It’s strange of the wrong names catch on.


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