Why study the past when there is so much to do for the future?

There are three types of responses by anyone to any topic – Acceptance, Rejection or Indifference. When we ask the question ‘Why study history?’ all of us would come under either one of these three categories. I’m listing down a few areas and a few thoughts as to why I believe that history has to be dealt more seriously than how it is done today.

Bharata’s Natya Shastra:
Written by Bharata Muni around 200 BCE deals with classical performing arts. In music, percussion instruments and dance, he deals in great detail with the topic of Combinatorics (Permutations and Combinations). He discusses about the rasas (unfortunately, there is no English word for rasa) that arise in a person while watching/listening to Classical art forms and how these rasas affect the mind of a person. In case of dance, he talks in detail about how the facial muscles have to be moved to generate a particular kind of rasa in the audience. It is the best guidebook for those who wish to pursue Classical art forms. Is there a detailed guide book in modern times that goes into the subtle nuances of art forms which will enable an artist to excel in his area?

Like any other shastra that originated in India, the goal of Ayurveda too is ‘Self-Realisation’. Ayuh+Veda=Ayurveda. Ayuh is defined as shareera indriya aatma samyogah – when all the three (body, senses and soul) come together, it is called Ayuh. Again, body, senses and soul don’t even come close to the exact definitions of shareera, indriya and aatma. The knowledge (Veda) that can lead one to Self-Realisation when all the three come together is Ayurveda. Ayurveda is not just a science of medicine. Major part of Ayurveda deals with the aspects of how to stay healthy. Follow the prescriptions in it and one will stay healthy. If someone doesn’t follow it well and falls ill, then how to cure their illness is discussed in the remaining part of Ayurveda. It is based on principles like – Kapha, Pitta and Vaata; Satva, Rajas and Tamas, which cannot be defined according to modern-day science. Based on these principles, the science of Ayurveda prescribes how a person can live a healthy life so that he can live a life of righteousness, become prosperous and fulfill his desires and get liberated from sorrows (Dharma, Artha, Kaama and Moksha). Before we put all this in the garage and label it as unscientific or primitive or based on some superstitions, let us look into the work of people like Prof. Thelma who are taking efforts to do experiments based on Ayurveda to see if we can find genes that cause disorders which the modern-day science have been trying to figure out and success seems to be a far away dream. A couple of links for a short read are:
It would be interesting to compare the definition of health given by WHO recently and Ayurveda millenniums ago.
1. World Health Organization: – “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”
2. Ayurveda – ‘Health is a state where in the Tridosha, Digestive fire, all the body tissues & components, all the physiological processes are in perfect unison and the soul, the sense organs and mind are in a state of total satisfaction (prasanna) & content”

Being a Mathematics teacher, I will talk about the issues with Mathematics education. Today, a topic like Combinatorics is dreaded by most students. If we teach them the topic using Music and Poetry as given in texts like Natya shastra, Sangitaratnakara, it will make a lot more sense and make the subject very beautiful (I have tried and tested this since past 4 years). Texts like Lilavati by Bhaskaracharya II give very good pedagogical aspects of how a topic can be taught to students. Learning ancient Indian texts not just give the knowledge but also subtler aspects like pedagogy, ethics, etc.

Logical and Rational Thinking:
One can afford to be illiterate but by being illogical one might have to pay a heavy price. How to use different ways of proving/disproving things? How to evaluate if the given information is correct or not? These are things that people of any profession has to do. Today, there is hardly any course that enables a person to enhance his logical thinking. The millennium old philosophies like Vaisheshika, Nyaya, Vedanta, etc. develop a rational thinking. How? Because all these philosophies have evolved over a period of time through discussions, debates and dialogues. They are not dogmas that were given by one single person for the whole of humanity. This way of learning also allows a person to be liberal in the true sense because he is open to new ideas and ready to change his stance if needed. The fact that there were very many different philosophies that co-existed in India in the past, that itself proves that it has to do something with the religious teachings which allowed them to accept/tolerate/respect people from other belief systems and not try to wipe them off.

When we talk about Sanskrit, what is generally missed in the Grammar structure of Sanskrit that Panini gave. Generally people think it is just about the language Sanskrit. But what is fascinating is the robust structure of Sanskrit grammar that Panini gave which can be applied to any language. Panini’s Ashtadhyayi gives the grammar rules that can make any language strong and not just Sanskrit. He uses iterations, recursions, formulae that can generate different words and much much more in a precise text which will not run into more than 50 pages. It for these reasons that it is been studied today by Computer Scientists and Linguists to see how Computer Science can benefit from Sanskrit in creating a better Machine Language.
Above all the other advantages of Sanskrit, what is most important is that the treasure box of knowledge that our ancestors possessed can be unlocked only with Sanskrit. We need to learn Sanskrit for the sake of unlocking the treasure box and taking out the pearls.

To conclude, these are just few areas where India stood in glory in the past. The list is very long and probably endless. It cannot be completed, but this writing has to conclude. Hence resting with only a few subjects where India contributed. There are lot of other areas like Yoga, Meditation, Mathematics, Pure Sciences, Philosophy, Music, Martial arts, Architecture, Engineering, Statecraft, Ethics, where India has contributed to the world.

The study of history is not (and should not) be just confined to taking the pride of a great ancestry but to see how it can be used today to make ourselves as better human beings resulting in a better world. Today the people who accept that Indic studies should be taken more seriously, they themselves should take efforts to study and learn more about Indian history before commenting about something so that they don’t fall prey to false claims. We should also not forget that by learning Indic traditions and culture one can make the future bright.
For those who don’t believe that Indic studies should not be glorified/studied, need to first take an effort to study before they comment. Man is an emotional being that has the capability to think rationally. But by nature, man is not a rational being. Even after we watch a movie that has enthralled us, we would be tempted to share and glorify about the movie. It is very natural. Some of us are not feeling the thrill in the scriptures probably because we have just went through it superficially and the arrogance of a modern-day educated man is not allowing us to accept the fact that we haven’t understood it well. It is not just one philosophy that we have to fit into, there are many which can appeal to our thoughts and we can find a place there.
For those who are indifferent, make an attempt to study Indian scriptures. Try.


~ Notes from Seminar and Tutorials on Science and Technology in Indic Studies at IISc Bangalore Feb 3-6, 2017

Why celebrate Festivals?

holi 1
​Why celebrate Festivals, is a question that I have asked as a teenager and young adult to my mother and to myself. Off late I got some answers and here are some thoughts on them.

Festivals are usually seen as a religious occasion to celebrate. However, the only aspect behind festivals is not just to please God or to follow a custom blindly. Festivals give an opportunity for people in a community to come together. They are the occasions for us to get out of our routine and take a break. It’s an instance for people to mingle with each other, forgive and forget any past grudges and celebrate. It’s a chance for people of all ages to socialise. Certain festivals like Ganesh Chaturthi, Navaratri, etc happen at a large scale in many areas. One might think that they create a lot of noise pollution and pollute the environment, which is true. But the same things can be taken care of and the festivals can still be celebrated in an eco-friendly way. Those who see only the negatives in festivals fail to see the positives behind them. We see so many youngsters taking leadership skills and organising big events during such festivals. Those are opportunities for them to grow. The people who might have wiled away their time otherwise would now be associated with a cause and would be working selflessly. When we fail to see that, it is then we see only negatives.

Festivals, as I see, are most important in today’s times more than how much it was in the past. The stress that everyone, right from a primary school kid to elderly people, will be busted when they engage in festivals and celebrations. The children who are glued these days to gadgets, TV and computers will come out and do something more productive. If we take away all these opportunities, we are snatching away a great deal of opportunities from our children to learn a lot of life skills.

But many celebrations lead to polluting the environment? Yes, they do. The fireworks of Diwali does pollute the air. Water is consumed more in Holi and plastic also is used. So is milk ‘wasted’ in Shiv ratri. And Ganesh Chaturthi causes water pollution. Let us think over the air, water, noise and land-pollution in detail.

When we go to buy some grocery, the shopkeeper immediately gives the things in a polythene cover which is extremely harmful for our planet and we all know that. What are we doing against it? How many of us can vow that we will not use polythene covers and will cut down plastic consumption by atleast 95%? How many voices do we hear against this? Hardly any. Why? Because it requires effort to do that. It’s not easy. Voicing against the celebrations is easy, it does not require any effort to do year-long.

How many people resort to walking instead of taking vehicles atleast for minimum distances? Why is it that they don’t think of air pollution which many of us are suddenly reminded of before Diwali? The answer is simple…it requires effort. But voicing against ban of crackers doesn’t require any effort.

There are so many posts that come on social media on why milk is wasted on God. Why not give it to the poor and needy? How many of those who question this, have went out and given a glass of milk to the needy? Again why not? Because it requires effort and voicing doesn’t require any effort.

The submerging of Ganesh idols causes a lot of water pollution. This is true. Then why don’t we ban Ganesh idols that are made out of plaster of paris? Why not decide to buy Ganesh idols made out of mud? Why not? Because idols made out of clay are costlier.

Just before Holi every year, there is a huge cry on saving water by not playing Holi or helping poor farmers by not playing Holi. This is echoed blindly by many people because they don’t pause to think. Or may be it gives a happiness to their ego when they say that they have not played Holi and are concerned about the environment. Where are these people when the farmers need help and not their sympathy? Where are these people when the private swimming pools and pools in housing societies are functioning throughout the year? How is it that a ban on Holi is all that they can think of for conserving water? If they are so much concerned why is their voice not coming up on all the above mentioned occasions? The answer is simple. It is not their fault. They are not realising that they are getting influenced by someone else’s thinking.


By this I don’t mean that we should harm the environment. The point is ‘why all these points come up only before festivals of a certain community?’ This is a genuine question we need to think. We also need to think how we get influenced by such slogans raised by certain people against celebrating certain festivals. Do we see messages like ‘save animals’ before Bakri-Eid? Aren’t they part of the planet? Why is our concern about the planet prejudiced against only certain things? Why don’t we protest against smoking with the same aggression as against Diwali crackers? Why don’t we try to reduce our own consumption of fuel? Why don’t we try to save water everyday and reduce on plastic everyday? Rather than expecting not to do things on certain days and making a small difference, why not do small things daily and make a big difference?

Classical Music & Dance

Today modern music and dance-forms are taking popularity leaving behind the traditional art forms. The days when music meant classical raagas, rhythmic taalas and meaningful lyrics have gone and anything that makes instrumental noise with witty words are called songs. Same goes for dance. The graceful mudras are replaced by vulgar body-movements. Why is this happening?

They say, the world outside is a projection of the world within. Life was calm and peaceful then, and it’s full of chaos and stress today. And music is no exception to it. All the rock and pop gives our mind a high like a stimulant, which only adds to our nervous tension of the present times. In fact, life has become so stressful that most of us just want to escape living, forget about enjoying life.

In European countries, they have started using music as a therapy. They have discovered that if a new-born listens to classical music regularly, it is good for the entire nervous system and brain-development of the baby. The effect of music has even been experimented on plants. Plants that were exposed to melodious music started giving more blossoms.

When one starts learning classical music or dance, he cannot perform until he has learnt the art for many years and practised it well. No doubt, dedicating many years of effort is indeed a tapas that one has to undergo to master the art. It only teaches him a lesson that nothing can be accomplished easily and that he has to strive hard for success. Anything that is achieved without difficulty vanishes in the same speed. And today, the tendency is the same towards life – easy money, short-cut to success, etc. When a song is released today, it goes hit on the charts for a few weeks and then it’s totally forgotten. No one remembers it later. May be if it has some funny or meaningless words, people might even carry it as a hit song for some more time. But is that what music is all about? Is that what music made for?

It’s really sad, especially for a country like ours where spirituality has emerged through science, music, mathematics, dance, yoga, and what not. In India, education & arts were not just means of employment or entertainment, but a way to get nearer to God. The ancient seers captured the rhythm of the universe into taalas, the moods of the nature into raagas and emotions into bhaavas. With these raagas, taalas & bhaavas, the senses don’t go wild but are directed towards one’s own Self. Classical arts go into the soul and bring inner peace. After enjoying them, one does not feel tired but gets their spirits rejuvenated. When we see a classical dancer dancing on a song based on an epic, we are automatically transported into a realm where we imagine ourselves staged in the epic. The dancer is merged with the dance. Classical art forms not only satisfies the eyes and ears but is styled to create imagination. We are taken to a meditative mood.

ramaa bharadwaj

The power of classical music is beyond our imaginations. bhimsen_joshiTansen brought down rains by singing Malhaar. The west saw the power of music manifesting through Beethoven who was speech & hearing-impaired. The classical music has come through people defying religions and castes. The corporate world has started organizing workshops on classical music for relieving stress, improving concentration and employee performance. If the power of music is so great, why are we not able to tap it?

Nowadays the media produces music and dance that provide pleasure to the sense organs. How are they to be blamed because they supply only as per the demand. The theme of the music is sometimes wild, violent or vulgar and it manages to capture our mind. When the mind gets its source for entertainment, it does not want to listen to its intellect. We tune into televisions or go for a movie for the sake of entertainment. We just want to kill time or forget the tensions of the past week. Most of us turn into entertainment as a means of escapism from our present lives. Elders do it for this sake but unknowingly, the young children at home are also open to this media. From childhood itself, they see beautiful women dancing in skimpy clothes to item-numbers. Even in a school annual function, when young girls dance to the latest bollywood item-numbers, all the audience (including their teachers) clap, and peers cheer and whistle. A young performer, who receives such a kind of appreciation, might end up thinking that if she behaves in such ways she’ll get noticed and appreciated. How can we blame them when they grow up and start following this trend? Psychologists say that whatever is fed into a child’s brain till he is five years old, will define his character, likes and dislikes for his entire life. What we feed into these young brains…are they good in character? Is it going to help them improve their quality of life? This is a question we need to ask ourselves.

It is upto us as to what we can supply the coming generation with. If we expose a child into classical arts since childhood, it will go a long way with them. We need to catch them young. It will not only create an interest for classical music or dance in them, but also improve their nervous system, listening skills, concentration, memory, learning skills, etc. This is not only essential to revive our ancient culture but also to build a better future for them as well as for the nation.

Note: Image used with permission from Ramaa Bharadvaj for illustrative purpose only and does not necessarily reflect the view of the artist