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


ācāryāt pādamādatte | Subhashitam

Subhashitam – 3

आचार्यात् पादमादत्ते पादं शिष्य स्वमेधया |
पादं सब्रह्मचारिभ्य: पादं काल क्रमेण च ||

ācāryāt pādamādatte pādaṁ śiṣya svamedhayā
pādaṁ sabrahmacāribhyah pādaṁ kāla krameṇa ca

One gains ¼ of the knowledge from the Acharya (the teacher), ¼ from his own self-study and intellect, ¼ from his classmates and the remaining ¼ is gained as a person becomes matured as time passes.

Audio link: https://soundcloud.com/vinayrnair/acharyat-padamadatte

bhāṣāsu mukhyā madhurā | Subhashitam

Subhashitam – 2

भाषासु मुख्या मधुरा
दिव्या गीर्वाण भारती
तत्रापि काव्यं मधुरं
तत्रापि च सुभाषितम्

bhāṣāsu mukhyā madhurā
divyā gīrvāṇa bhāratī
tatrāpi kāvyaṁ madhuraṁ
tatrāpi ca subhāṣitam

This is a Subhashitam about subhashitam.

It says – Among the languages, the language of Bharati (i.e. Sanskrit) is the most important, sweetest, unique and Divine. Among the literature in Sanskrit, the sweetest is poetry. And among poetry, the sweetest is Subhashitam.

Link for audio clip: https://soundcloud.com/vinayrnair/bh-su-mukhy-madhur


Pre-read for Online Sanskrit Session 2 – 13th July 2014

Learning a language is an art. How the brain works in the process of learning a language structure is very interesting. An infant keeps hearing a language continuously and its brain keeps trying to frame grammatical rules for the language on its own. It does auto-correction and accepts correction from others. It has been proved by Psychologists and linguists that till a child is less than eight years old, he has the capacity to learn any language ‘naturally’. It can be noticed that till that age, a child makes grammatical errors in sentence constructions and rectifies it after it realizes. This is a process of natural learning. After the child has learnt to speak any language properly, it is difficult for the brain to learn any language in the natural process. Then it has to undergo formal training of learning a language by studying the grammatical structure of the language. But in the natural process, the child does not learn grammar formally – it happens naturally. So it is better to teach children as many languages as possible till they are eight years of age and they would be able to learn it naturally without any pressure.

How does the brain learn any new language (a secondary language) is also interesting. Usually, it is the mother-tongue or the language that is spoken more at home, that the child learns in the natural process. Later, when it has to learn a new language, the brain tries to fit the new language into the structure of the first language it has already learnt. For example, being a Malayalaee when I’m learning Sanskrit, my brain will filter Sanskrit as per Malayalam language. The grammatical construction that comes to my mind would be by default that of my mother tongue. This first language Malayalam is called the ‘filtering language’ and Sanskrit now is ‘filtered language’ for me. The grammatical construction and pronunciation of the words in the filtered language will be different from the filtering language. So the brain does a corrective process while learning where it compares and contrasts both the languages. This method of learning a language is called Contrastive method.

To learn a secondary language after the age of eight, one needs to know the grammatical structure of one particular language properly. Without knowing a first language, learning of a second language is not possible. The brain has the ability to learn any particular language i.e., a Russian baby has the ability to learn Hindi if it is brought up in India. However, mother-tongue plays a very important role in the learning ability of a child. I discussed my own son’s example with our faculty, Jha Sir. My wife is a Maharashtrian and speaks to my son in Marathi and my parents, my brother and I speak to him in Malayalam. Since he was an infant, he has been hearing more of Malayalam than Marathi. My wife being a working woman is able to speak to him during the evening hours after she has come back from work. So, the amount of time he listens to Marathi is very less as compared to Malayalam. He is now six and is equally fluent in both Marathi as well as Malayalam. But the way he constructs Malayalam sentences initially is through the grammatical structure of Marathi. Then he corrects it into the Malayalam structure. For example, to say I gave a pen to Shreeram, I would say ‘I gave a pen to Shreeram’ and Shreeram would say, ‘My father gave a pen to me’. In both the sentences, the action of giving is represented by the same word ‘give’. This is the case with Marathi too. But in Malayalam, it is different. Shreeram would say, ‘Achan (father) enikku (to me) pen thannu (gave)’ and I would say ‘Njan (I) Shreeram inu (to Shreeram) pen koduthu (gave)’. As you can see, for the word ‘give’ there are two words in Malayalam which is absent in English and Marathi. So, when he used to construct sentences like these, (I think) he thinks in Marathi and translates in Malayalam because of which he used to say ‘Achan ennikku pen koduthu’. He used a wrong word to say ‘give’. Of course the process that happens in the brain is too fast for us to realize that even a process is happening.

This I’ve observed when my wife was learning Malayalam. In Malayalam, there are two words for ‘no’ – alla and illa. Depending on the context one needs to fix the word appropriately. Since such a thing is absent in Marathi (which is her mother-tongue), she took relatively more time to understand the usage of alla and illa as compared to using the other words for constructing sentences.

Jha Sir explained all this and much more because while learning a language one must understand why and how and the complete process that happens inside our brain while learning it. Also what are the pitfalls one can make while learning a language. Never have I come across such a wonderful language teacher like V.N.Jha Sir who could unfold the language structure before us in a simple and elegant manner.

~ Learnings from ‘Learning Sanskrit Language and Structure: Theory and Application’ a two-week residential camp at Chinmaya International Foundation from 16th – 30th June 2014.

Subhashitam – Durjanah Sajjano Bhooyaat

सुभाषितम् – १

दुर्जन: सज्जनो भूयात्
सज्जन: शान्तिमाप्नुयात् |
शान्तो मुच्येत बन्धेभ्यो
मुक्तश्चान्यान् विमोचयेत् ||

durjanah sajjano bhūyāt
sajjanah śāntimāpnuyāt
śānto mucyeta bandhebhyo
muktaścānyān vimocayet

This is a Subhashitam written in Anushtubh metre. It means, let the wicked become good. Let the good attain peace. Let those who have attained peace become detached from all bondage. And those who have got detached help others get detached.

I fell in love with this prayer the moment I heard it. It shows the culture that existed in our country Bharat, where the great people had compassion even for the wicked.

The last line मुक्तश्चान्यान् विमोचयेत् is a wakeup call which means, man forgets that he is the Self that enlivens the entire universe and continues to live in the delusion that he is the body. So, Wake up and Awaken others!

Listen to audio: https://soundcloud.com/vinayrnair/subhashitam-durjanah-sajjano