Sunday, December 04, 2005

Indian Martial Arts -- Will they survive?

Indian Martial Arts – Will they survive?


Much is known about Indian philosophical disciplines, Indian Arts, Mathematics, and Sciences – but not much is known about a very important aspect of our Society – Martial Arts. While quite a lot of us know about the accomplishments of Baudhayana and Varahamihira, how many can claim to have even the remotest knowledge about the pioneers of “scientific” fighting?

Admittedly, most of these pioneers are unnamed, unsung heroes; but they shaped a lot more than just fighting and warfare as it was in Ancient India (and to a certain extent even in the modern day).  The development of Traditional Indian Medical systems is possibly very closely tied with Indian Martial Arts.  For example, The knowledge of “Pressure points” (Vital Points if we were to literally translate it) – “Marma Vidya” (11) – was a direct result of grueling experimentation in the Art and Science of Fighting.  The knowledge thus acquired (of Marma Vidya) effectively led to the next level in Medicine – the more “enhanced aspects of Ayurveda” wherein the Masters of these systems could reputedly heal major ailments caused by energetic imbalances by merely manipulating the Marmas (distribution centers of the flow of “Prana” in the body). Remnants of this knowledge still exist in the Martial Arts of Kerala  (in the Fighting-system called Kalari Payat). This essay will try to trace the history and many faces of Indian Martial Arts through it’s illustrious past into the future.) – was a direct result of grueling experimentation in the Art and Science of Fighting.  The knowledge thus acquired (of Marma Vidya) effectively led to the next level in Medicine – the more “enhanced aspects of Ayurveda” wherein the Masters of these systems could reputedly heal major ailments caused by energetic imbalances by merely manipulating the Marmas (distribution centers of the flow of “Prana” in the body). Remnants of this knowledge still exist in the Martial Arts of Kerala  (in the Fighting-system called Kalari Payat). This essay will try to trace the history and many faces of Indian Martial Arts through it’s illustrious past into the future.

Initially Fighting was simply Survival

Before Fighting became a Science, it was simply survival.  
“Man is a social animal” – we’ve all come across this saying in the course of our lives. So if we took the “social” out of the mix, Man is an animal. And that’s what he was before he grew social. As we all know, most animals fight. For an animal fighting is as natural as the phenomena of Eating, sleeping, living. In the wild – if you were an animal, everything is automatically a fight. A fight to protect your home-turf, a fight to protect your food, a fight to acquire the right to mate (we call it family these days) and so on…if you get the hang of what I’m saying. Anyone who’s seen documentaries on wilderness and wildlife will know this for a fact – Fighting was/is an integral part of animal life. Even the harmless herbivorous animals will fight – for all the reasons listed above (and perhaps many others not listed). So, if you happen to buy into the Evolution theory, you will know that we (Human beings) also evolved from a state of existence such as that described above. So fighting is/was almost an automatic response to threats (predators, bigger humans, etc)…well almost…since our ancestors also learnt that “It is wiser to live to fight another day than die fighting today…” before they could articulate it (Hence the “Fight or Flight response” – depending on the circumstances). Well, to fight off large predators or to acquire food, they (early humans) began hunting with “weapons” of various degrees of primitiveness. To fight off each other (in the struggle of intra-group dominance), they probably started with primitive (bite, gouge eyes, punch, slap, kick) techniques of hand-to-hand combat (and most of us, even today, when pushed into a corner will react in exactly that way).

How Fighting became a Science

As time went by, our ancestors figured out which entities are threatening and which are benign. Predators had always been the greatest threats and so they invented “weapons” to deal with them. Also, as they started “socializing” (living in groups, moving from fulltime hunters to gatherers); each of these social groups started developing the need to assert dominance over the others, thus giving rise to the sciences of the battle --- bare-hands fighting, wrestling, weaponry, warfare-tactics. Bare-hands fighting and wrestling have had a very illustrious and long history in India. In fact, Ancient treatises such as the Dhanur Veda (8) and the Malla Purana supposedly deal with warfare and martial techniques in great detail. and the Malla Purana supposedly deal with warfare and martial techniques in great detail.

When the conditions of combat went beyond the rudimentary “bite, kick, slap, scratch” of animalistic reflexes, and the early man had to figure out ways to get the “edge”. For example:
In course of fighting (or watching some others fight), one of them might have realized that simply throwing a punch at the target doesn’t have as much an impact as throwing a punch at a target a few inches behind the opponent’s head. Also, a kick could have greater impact than a punch…or a stick would be a more effective tool for fighting than a hand or a leg…

Therefore, as countless such refinements happened, the animal reflex of fighting turned into a Science, where the experts (or those with a penchant for this kind of an affair) would spend hours, months, perhaps even years studying and understanding the mechanics of the human body. They figured out which would the best way to lock a joint (in a human limb); what would be the optimal pressure applied to a pressure point in the human body to bring the body under their control. In course of these efforts at studying the human body, the early Martial scientists started unearthing the mysteries of the physical body.  We could easily assume that the need to stay alive (both from natural ailments, as well as human-caused ones) was the driving force behind both the Science of fighting and the science of medicine.

Martial Sciences in the Indian Context

This transformation (changing from a basic instinct to a science) had happened in every culture since antiquity (and though we might not notice it, it IS happening even today all over the world – the scale might have changed, but the process still lives on).  Before we go into a little more detail about the various facets of Indian Martial systems, let us first look at the general distinct categories that exist in it.

The Martial Systems can be categorized into two general branches:

  1. Armed fighting

  2. Unarmed fighting

  1. Armed Fighting: Historically, this system was about using weapons to fight. The first weapons were probably crude club-like instruments made out of rocks and wood (yeah – “Hagar the Horrible” ring a bell anyone?). These eventually evolved into the famous Mace (or Gada of Bheema/Duryodhana fame). The other commonly used weapons were “Bows and Arrows”, swords, tridents, spears, sticks, staves, and the chakras (Sri Krishna fame).

  1. Unarmed Fighting: This is my topic of interest (primarily) and I shall elaborate a little more in depth on this…
  • Grappling

  • Striking

  • Kicking

  • Throwing and Joint-locking

  • Grappling: Grappling systems are perhaps the most basic and natural instinctive technique of fighting. For example: Kusti, Sumo

  • Striking: Using hand-strikes to hurt the opponent(s). For example: Boxing, Karate

  • Kicking: Using kicks (legs) to hurt the opponent(s). For example:  Kickboxing, Tae Kwon Do

  • Throwing: using throwing and joint-locking techniques to subdue the opponents. For example: Judo, Aikido, and Hapkido.

Even though I have differentiated between Striking and Kicking, these two normally go together – some systems focus more on the hand-strikes (Karate Do) as opposed to others that focus more on leg-strikes (Tae Kwon Do).  Henceforth, when I mention striking, I will be referring to both hand and leg striking.

So how do these all come together in the Indian context?
Just as the Greeks had what is known as Pankrase (or Pankration) (a combination of striking and grappling)in India developed Malla Yuddha (again a combination of striking and grappling) – also known as “Malla Krida” which later on (with the advent of the Persians),  also came to be known as “Kusti” (or Kushthi). Historically, Bheema (of Mahabharata fame), Hanuman (of Ramayana fame), Balarama (of Mahabharata fame) were all renowned wrestlers (or Malla Yodhas).  One of the distinct and most ancient forms of this is reputed to be “Vajra Mushti” (5, 6, 7) (or Thunderbolt Fist) – a combination style of striking, grappling and throwing techniques.  , 6, 7) (or Thunderbolt Fist) – a combination style of striking, grappling and throwing techniques.  , 7) (or Thunderbolt Fist) – a combination style of striking, grappling and throwing techniques.  ) (or Thunderbolt Fist) – a combination style of striking, grappling and throwing techniques.  

How the Science became an Art

As with any skill, the practice of the Martial techniques calls for immense focus of mind and body. To learn even the seemingly simplest of techniques (say a side kick) takes weeks (or month even) of practice and dedication. As a corollary, great discipline and focus of the mind follows naturally. The early practitioners of these techniques must have spent countless hours throughout their lives, practicing and honing the skills they saw/learnt/developed. In due course, possibly, the phenomena of learning, analyzing and executing these techniques took on a meditative and expressionistic aspect for them.  After a certain level of proficiency was attained, the practitioner would begin to express his/herself through the practice. This is how, the Martial Sciences became the Martial Arts.

So what are the implications of the Martial Arts?

The practice of Martial Arts is a very important facet of various Cultures.  I have already mentioned the disciplinarian, expressionistic and meditative aspects of the Martial Arts. There are also the philosophical and ethical underpinnings unique to each Culture that is carried forward with its Martial Arts. While Martial aspects seem to deal with idea of self-defense and self-preservation, there are also valuable social, moral and philosophical lessons one might learn from the practice of Martial Arts.  

The Japanese have two categories of their Martial phenomena – Bu-Jutsu and Budo. Each of these has overlapping techniques, but the underlying philosophies differ greatly.  Bu-jutsu deals with the effectiveness of Warrior techniques (which can be used in the battlefield as tools of war). Budo deals with the “Way” of Warriors (Budo translates as the “Way of the Warrior”) and deals with the socio-ethical and moral aspects of using Martial techniques. The techniques are identical, but their underlying significance is as disparate as the earth and the sky.

Similarly in Indian Martial techniques there were the “Jutsu” aspects and the “Do” aspects (albeit not so much in nomenclature as in spirit). While I believe is that the “Jutsu” aspects have been lost because of various external (outside influence) and internal (within India/Indians) reasons, the “Do” aspects are still alive (though they might be slowly dying out due to neglect). The great Indian treatise of “Natya Shastra” (techniques invented and taught by Lord Shiva) reveals the 108 Karanas (combined movement of hands and feet in dance) and 32 Angaharas (sequential arrangement of various Karanas to gain mastery over mind, body and Prana) that constitute ‘Tandav’ - Lord Shiva’s Dance-form. Of these, the 108 Karanas (according the Bharata Muni’s narration of Lord Shiva’s revelation) “might be employed in dance, fight, personal combats and other special movements like strolling” (9). What this signifies is that Martial Techniques were codified into Classical Dance forms and Dance treatises since the Vedic period. It is reputed that just like the systems such as Hatha Yoga, Pranayama, Tai Chi and Chi Kung, the practice of the 108 Karanas also were excellent methods of training and cultivating the internal energy (known as Prana or Chi). It will be interesting to find out whether there are any living teachers of this aspect of Indian Classical dance (most of the modern day Dance Gurus seem to be too engrossed with the external facets of dance as opposed to the more internal, energetic/yogic aspects of it).). What this signifies is that Martial Techniques were codified into Classical Dance forms and Dance treatises since the Vedic period. It is reputed that just like the systems such as Hatha Yoga, Pranayama, Tai Chi and Chi Kung, the practice of the 108 Karanas also were excellent methods of training and cultivating the internal energy (known as Prana or Chi). It will be interesting to find out whether there are any living teachers of this aspect of Indian Classical dance (most of the modern day Dance Gurus seem to be too engrossed with the external facets of dance as opposed to the more internal, energetic/yogic aspects of it).

A few relatively well-known Indian Martial Arts styles are Kalari Payattu (1), Thang Ta (10) and Gatka (4) (a relatively newer system – practiced by Sikhs).), Thang Ta (10) and Gatka (4) (a relatively newer system – practiced by Sikhs).) and Gatka (4) (a relatively newer system – practiced by Sikhs).) (a relatively newer system – practiced by Sikhs).

Now, before I continue, I must admit that a lot of what I have written thus far (and will write further) is based on my personal inference/research, rather than any direct practical knowledge (Although I have learnt/practiced Goju Ryu Karate and still practice Aikido and Tai Chi Chuan). In fact, what drove me to write this essay is my quasi-knowledge about something that should have been more prevalent knowledge in India but unfortunately is not.

This might sound a tad clichéd, but centuries of Colonial rule have rendered yet another family of treasure-worthy Indian knowledge system (or a group of such systems) almost completely dysfunctional, in fact almost extinct.

History has it that The British outlawed practice of Indian Fighting Systems (especially after the First War of Independence in 1857) and those who dared to practice and were caught, would be subjected to punishments such as amputation of various body parts. According to the “Kalari” schools (and teachers), British Raj cracked down hard on the teachers and practitioners of this system of Martial Arts (and Medicine). Only by grace of the then King of Kerala, did the Kalari schools manage to retain their knowledge and traditions, in secrecy.

Now, to add to the distinction between various types of Martial Arts, let me introduce you to two more. Based on the reliance on different aspects of the human body, Martial Arts are also categorized into:

  1. Hard/external Martial Arts, and

  2. Soft/internal Martial Arts

Various Martial Arts in the world today fall in various shades of the Gray Scale between these two categories. To be very succinct, Hard Martial Arts rely purely on strength, technique, joint manipulations, striking etc (External aspects), while Soft Martial Arts tend to focus more on the “Internal aspects” – specifically dealing with the life-force energy varyingly called “Prana” (12), “Chi” or “Ki”. The Soft Martial Arts deal with sensitizing the mind and body to the subtle nuances of firstly one’s own Prana-flow and then of the Prana-flowing in the environment (in an opponent). Preliminary training deals with learning how to feel and control the flow of Prana within oneself. The higher levels of training deals with how to “project” this energy externally to subdue an opponent in combat or to modify the flow of Prana in another person’s body, in order to cure a particular disorder/illness (according to Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine, all ailments in the human body (or for that matter in the larger macrocosm) arise from imbalances in the flow of this Energy). ), “Chi” or “Ki”. The Soft Martial Arts deal with sensitizing the mind and body to the subtle nuances of firstly one’s own Prana-flow and then of the Prana-flowing in the environment (in an opponent). Preliminary training deals with learning how to feel and control the flow of Prana within oneself. The higher levels of training deals with how to “project” this energy externally to subdue an opponent in combat or to modify the flow of Prana in another person’s body, in order to cure a particular disorder/illness (according to Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine, all ailments in the human body (or for that matter in the larger macrocosm) arise from imbalances in the flow of this Energy).
The flow of Prana in the body happens via meridians (or channels) that run throughout the body (like the nervous system).  This complex system of Prana-channels form certain vital plexuses called “Marma” (11). According to Ayurveda (and the Marma Shastra as practiced by Kalari Payat practitioners) there are 108 vital Marmas and almost any major ailment can be cured by manipulation of these Marmas. According to some traditions of Kalari Payat, the knowledge of only 64 of these 108 Marmas remain. Even the knowledge that is available today is shrouded in mystery and passed on in the Guru-Shishya system by the Kalari Payat experts in Kerala. I have heard from a friend of mine (who learnt Kalari Payat for a few years), that one has to dedicate 12-14 years of his/her life towards the Art, before the Guru (after considering the mental, ethical disposition of the student) even thinks about imparting this deadly knowledge to his student.). According to Ayurveda (and the Marma Shastra as practiced by Kalari Payat practitioners) there are 108 vital Marmas and almost any major ailment can be cured by manipulation of these Marmas. According to some traditions of Kalari Payat, the knowledge of only 64 of these 108 Marmas remain. Even the knowledge that is available today is shrouded in mystery and passed on in the Guru-Shishya system by the Kalari Payat experts in Kerala. I have heard from a friend of mine (who learnt Kalari Payat for a few years), that one has to dedicate 12-14 years of his/her life towards the Art, before the Guru (after considering the mental, ethical disposition of the student) even thinks about imparting this deadly knowledge to his student.

The ideal practitioners of the Martial Arts have been (since antiquity) ethically bound to learn to undo whatever damage they can inflict upon another.  These ethical obligations (and perhaps a great compassion generated by deep meditative states attained during practice of these Martial Arts) led the great men and women who practiced these arts (Kalari Payat is but one derivative of the Dhanur Veda) to learn how to undo any damage inflicted by striking a Marma point. As a natural extension of this, it also led to the science of Marma Chikitsa, in which the expert manipulates the Marma points to cure ailments.

Growing up in India, I had always encountered raving proponents of some Japanese or Korean Martial Arts. I even knew of a few Chinese Martial Arts schools, but very rarely had I heard of these traditional Indian schools. I heard of Kalari Payat at least a decade after I heard of Kung Fu. There has never traditionally been any attempt by the Indian Government (or any social body for that matter) to try and preserve or spread the knowledge of these arts. The traditional schools of Kusti (Akhadas) lie in dismal states. There was always an element of condescension while the topic of pehelwans (the practitioners and heirs of the Malla Purana) came up. The negative image (of "lack of sophistication" immediately springs to mind when considering men in loin-cloths (langotis) wrestling in the mud) has been (admittedly) a great shortcoming on our part rather than the pehelwans’. I remember how some boys in my college would be jeered at because they chose to go to a traditional “Akhada” instead of a modern “Gym” to “workout”. Soon, disgusted with the ridicule they faced, they gave up their Guru, Akhada and started flexing their biceps in the new “sophisticated” gym.

The biggest problem with us Indians (as a result of those centuries of Colonialism) is that we do not appreciate anything that isn’t first considered appropriate (or even worthwhile) in the West. Ayurveda wasn’t cool (and was flogged as being a Quackery) before the West started moving en-masse towards it. Ditto with Yoga – which is now slowly gaining re-acceptance in the Indian minds.

Will the (already very bleak) future of Indian Martial Arts have to suffer the same neglect and lack of consideration that Yoga and Ayurveda faced in the past? Aren’t we as a nation and an unbroken Culture and heritage obligated to keep this wonderful tradition alive? Only time will tell – but we might start giving greater thought to these martial arts because they are becoming “cool” in the West these days…

So let me ask you this, dear reader…Can we help Indian Martial Arts survive?









  8. (The Dhanur Veda)





Sunday, October 16, 2005

The Mechanism of Maya

According to the English dictionary (I refer to the online dictionary, Maya translates something like this:

    1) The power of a god or demon to transform a concept into an element of the sensible world.
    2) The transitory, manifold appearance of the sensible world, which obscures the undifferentiated spiritual reality from which it originates, the illusory appearance of the sensible world.


This is a story many of us have heard or read in our childhood. It is a story about the Celestial Sage Narada and the Lord Vishnu (in the Avataar of Sri Krishna)

    Once Narada and the Lord were walking, when Narada asked, “Lord, would you please explain to me the secret of this magic called Maya?" Sri Krishna hesitated, and suggested that Narada wait, lest the concept of Maya be too overpowering for him.

    But Narada would not listen. So the Lord replied, "Of course. Let us sit down under this tree, while I tell you everything. But it's terribly hot and I am thirsty; would you please get me some water?” “Yes my Lord,” Narada replied, and he scampered across the fields to find water. The sun beat down with all its might and the tired Narada walked on and on. Finally he reached a village and approached the nearest house. The door opened -- and there stood a woman. He asked her for water. She brought a pitcher of water and poured it out for him, while he drank. Drinking the water, he looked up and realized that she was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. Narada was enamored with her beauty. Narada approached her father and asked him for her hand in marriage. The girl's father accepted and they were married.

    The couple settled down to a happily married life. They had children and watched them grow up. All the while, Narada's glory and fame spread far and wide, as did the land he possessed. Narada was ecstatic with life and its pleasures.

    One day, a terrible flood arrived out of nowhere. Narada managed to hold on to his wife and children in the foaming currents of the flood. But the force of the water was so strong, that his wife and children were washed away. As Narada held on to an uprooted tree for dear life, tears streaming down his cheeks he called out to the Lord.

    “Lord! Why did you let me get to this state? My loved ones are all dead and I am struggling to survive...” Then suddenly he saw Lord Krishna sitting under the tree, as he had left him in what seemed several years before. The Lord asked him kindly, “Narada, where is my water?” Narada realized then that what he had experienced was 'Maya', that his loving wife and wonderful life as a family man no longer existed.

I think Maya is a greatly misunderstood concept. We often hear people saying, “Oh! Maya is Illusion; the World we live in is Maya, therefore nothing is real”...and so on. Surely, on the surface, Maya means 'Illusion'. But Maya is not merely syntax. There is a greater meaning to the word. Therefore a simplistic translation to 'illusion' is not sufficient to explain it.

In some of my previous articles, I have described the nature of Consciousness and the world-view held by the Yogis, Mystics and Shamans of various ancient traditions of Spirituality. Let me try to summarize these concepts for the reader's benefit.

In the Mystic's world-view, the primary constituent and life force of this Universe is Conscious Energy – or Consciousness. It is present throughout the Universe, everywhere. It is to the Universe as the atmosphere is to the Earth. It is the core and being of everything.

Consciousness is Intelligent, beyond any quantification or qualification. The material realm that we can see and sense is merely a manifestation of this Consciousness. Or in other words, the Material Universe is a subset of Consciousness. Now, since Consciousness is present everywhere, we as living beings have the inherent ability to tap into it (as we do the physical manifestation of this consciousness – our Material Universe), provided we learn how to manipulate our sensory mechanism appropriately.

Maya is the manifestation of Consciousness, those we observe (and also those we do not observe). Our physical bodies are manifestations of Consciousness as is our physical world – and this is what Maya is. It is reality and not illusory in that sense. But, it is not the only reality (or the Ultimate reality, so to speak). It is merely a fraction of the consciousness.

The human mind is capable of tapping into this Consciousness and when this has been accomplished directly, the state of Kaivalyam or Enlightenment is achieved.

The Auric Egg

As I have referred to earlier (Inner Dialog), a great influence in my metaphysical leaning has been Mesoamerican Shamanism. It is through the teachings of this tradition that I begun to understand Hinduism and Yogic philosophy. Now, I don't claim to be an expert – I am just a layperson trying to walk the ancient trail of spirituality.

Reading books written by Carlos Castaneda on his apprenticeship with Don Juan Matus (the Native American Sorcerer), I came to understand several concepts of our traditions, obfuscated as they are in mythology and metaphors. It is my belief that a more straightforward system of knowledge (such as Nagualism provides) is very essential in carrying on the Mystical traditions in the modern world.

Don Juan had this way (or perhaps it was Castaneda) of putting things so simplistically that a common man like myself would understand a lot of what he had to say. After I learnt about Don Juan's worldview, I turned back to Indian (Hindu) traditions. I was looking for reassurance that what I had learnt was indeed correct.

And I found that indeed what I had learnt from both my Hindu upbringing (not overly religious) and my reading of Castaneda were identical.

What struck me as most fascinating was the idea of “Seeing Consciousness as it flows in the Universe”. According to the Shamans of Mesoamerica, it is possible for a practitioner of Shamanism to see in that way. Later I corroborated this with the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. It is my opinion that the 'Samadhi' state that is referred to in the Yoga Sutras (both Nirbija and Sabija Samadhi) are different levels of “seeing consciousness as it really flows in the Universe”.

A general understanding of 'Samadhi' is of a state of awareness in which the Yogi is oblivious to his surroundings, “immersed in Cosmic Consciousness” or something to that order. I think this 'immersion' of the Yogi in cosmic consciousness is indeed being in that state where one can perceive and understand the 'flow of energy' all around. When the 'true' nature of the Consciousness can be observed.

This state of being is beyond reason or logic. It simply is.

Well, the Shamans believe that every human being (and for that matter, every conscious being) has a sheath/body of Energy which they can see and call it 'the Luminous Egg' -- perhaps for the lack of something better to call it. The Indian Yogis called it the PiNdANda (or the Auric Egg).

According to the Shamans, this luminous body (egg) has numerous filaments of energy all over it. The energy body has a focal point (of sorts) about the size of a tennis ball, positioned two feet behind the left shoulder blade, within the egg.

The rays of Consciousness that are always in flux, throughout space pass through this focal point (which is called the 'assemblage point'), thus giving rise to our awareness of this Consciousness in the sensory world. That is the material world as we see it. The assemblage point can be shifted within and outside the auric egg and with each movement of this assemblage point, our perception changes, as does the Material Universe as we see it.

Of those who have read Castaneda, some have perhaps taken his writings seriously. Others might have found them offensive. For he writes about the 'Peyote' ceremonies, of ingesting 'hallucinogenic Mushrooms' and a few other psychotropic drugs that he consumed under Don Juan's tutelage. (A lot of drug addicts read his books and assumed that he endorsed drug abuse and partied till they dropped). But in all his efforts with Castaneda, Don Juan's intention was merely to make his assemblage point shift, to show him a separate reality. Don Juan later warned Carlos not to continue with these drugs since they can be dangerous to the person.

Anyhow, my purpose for going into these details was to provide an alternate point of view regarding Maya and how it works. Don Juan's attempts to shift Castaneda's assemblage point was to demonstrate the mechanism of Maya – about how the shift of the assemblage point would change the way Carlos viewed his 'ultimate reality'. The Yogis have been doing that since time immemorial, polishing and enhancing the PraNa in the body, meditating to bring about movements of their assemblage points. Moving through Maya to achieve Samadhi.

The ideas I projected here might seem fantastical to you, dear reader. But they answered a lot of my questions. Perhaps, they will do the same for you...or at the very least, they might provide an alternate way of looking at things – a different Maya.

Indic Culture in a Metaphysical Framework


Rajiv Malhotra's essay on Sulekha (Geopolitics and Sanskrit Phobia) got me thinking about it along the lines of the “Metaphysics of Quality” (Since Metaphysics of Quality is quite a mouthful, I'll refer to it as MoQ henceforth). I had written another article earlier with a brief introduction to MoQ (and a reading – albeit, a non-scholarly one, of Indian Secularism using the MoQ Framework) – Deconstructing Indian Secularism.

Rajiv's article delves deep into the phenomenon of Sanskrit phobia and declining Sanskriti (Culture) of Bharatiya Sabhyata (Indian Civilization). He writes about the apathy of the Indian intelligentsia towards Sanskrit and Sanskriti, and how that is detrimental to building a strong and secure India of the future. In course of the following discussions, he calls for the discussion of “Culture as a shared asset of a nation.”

This essay is my humble effort at answering that call – an attempt at studying Indian culture through MoQ-tinted lenses.

The Phenomenon called Culture

In order to understand the import of Sanskriti in the Indian context, we first have to understand what Culture is all about. Now, I'm not claiming to be an authority on Culture, but here's what I think of, when I hear the term Culture (I have touched upon this topic in a previous article called The Peculiar Case of the NRI Hindu)

i) Culture is the expression of the intellect of a social group (poetry, literature, science, technology, etc).
ii) Culture is the collection of lifestyles that a social group offers to its members – could be several, could be one.
iii) Culture is the philosophy (philosophies) that has originated as a result of that social group.
iv) Culture is the arts and aesthetics of that social group.
v) Culture is the ethical and moral values subscribed to by the social group.
vi) Culture is the spiritual and religious heritage and legacy of the social group.

Culture can also be likened to the “Operating System” of a Social machine – the framework and rule sets which govern the operation of the machine (Of course, the Culture OS is a lot more complicated and has a lot more “fuzzy” levels than a computer OS has). If we were to look at such a model, we could say that the spiritual, philosophical and ethical/moral aspects of the culture form the kernel of the OS. The artistic, intellectual and lifestyle aspects of Culture form its shell and various applications.

Who then (one might be given to wonder) is this all for? Who is the User? This model would say that the user is a “part” of the social machine. In fact, the user of this machine called Society, which runs an OS (and due to an OS) called Culture is also an integral component of the machine. You see (I'll stop my flights of matrixian fancy in a bit), the OS and the Social Machine was built to make the process of living life, and getting better at it easier for the individual being.

What does MoQ have to say about this?

According to MoQ, the primary component/element of this Universe is “Quality” and this “Quality” is differentiated into two main categories - “Static Patterns” and “Dynamic Patterns.” Static patterns are static and unchanging, whereas dynamic patterns are ever changing and mercurial.

Evolution happens in “ratchet-like” steps – each stop in the ratcheting action is a particular checkpoint in evolution (inexact quote from Lila – An Inquiry into Morals by Robert Pirsig)

Evolution is the process of dynamic patterns of Quality, coming together to form static patterns (getting recorded onto some media) and then (these static patterns) getting acted upon by a drive towards dynamic patterns again. Perhaps we could say that Quality patterns tend to be unstable (dynamic), and in order to sustain itself, Quality would therefore require to change itself from an unstable state to a state of stability. But then, there will always remain a dynamic aspect of Quality driving these “stable” (static) patterns towards instability. If Quality were to be a living being, one could say that its life-cycle is an oscillation from Dynamic to Static to Dynamic, over and over again.

So Pirsig's MoQ says that the first collection of Quality (in the process of stabilizing) was recorded into forming “Inorganic” patterns of Quality (static – matter, if you may). These inorganic patterns were then acted upon by “Dynamic” Quality (or the natural tendency of Quality towards instability) to form the next level of evolution – the “Organic” patterns of Quality (microbial organisms, plants, animals, man at various stages of interaction/integration). These Organic patterns then in turn got influenced by Dynamic Quality to form “Social” patterns of Quality and “Intellectual” patterns of Quality. The social patterns are what we call Culture, Civilization (in the human context) and the Intellectual patterns are what we call Intellect (the two interact all the time – sometimes complementing each other, sometimes at loggerheads).

Pirsig's analysis of the American and European Societies (he also touches upon India in the Vedic period) in his book Lila – An Inquiry into Morals is insightful, to say the least. I will attempt to provide a brief narrative of Indian Culture and Society (through its evolving lifetime), while trying to extrapolate his standards.

Indian Society and Indian Culture

Let us look at a brief history and some possible timelines of the evolving Indian Civilization (I know this might be unacceptable to our “scientological friends out there”).

Mehrgarh through Sarasvati/Sindhu Civilization -

Dated around 7000 BCE, this is considered to be among the earliest neolithic settlements in South Asia. Archaeologists divide the evolution of Indic Culture and Civilization into the following phases:

  • Early Food Producing Era (Neolithic – Mehrgarh Period 1 (7000 – 5500 BCE))
  • Regionalization Era (Mehrgarh Periods 2, 3, 4, 5 and Early Harappa to Harappa Period 2 (approx. 5500 BCE to 2600 BCE altogether))
  • Localization Era (2600 BCE – 1300 BCE)
  • Integration Era (2200 – 1900 BCE)

What the archaeologists seem to be saying is that the phenomena of the neolithic settlements and the “Indus Valley” (Sarasvati/Sindhu) Civilizations are not mutually exclusive, but natural progressions of the Indic civilization. Also some indologists/archaeologists have suggested that the Vedic civilization was the same as the “Indus Valley”/Sarasvati-Sindhu civilizations.

Several folks have written extensively about this topic on Sulekha and therefore I will not dwell too much on it. What I did want to impress upon (with this information) is that there is no real “evidence” (save Max Mueller's word) that there was any Aryan Invasion (or Aryan Migration on a large scale). So for the purpose of this essay, I will consider the early Indic Culture to be the same as the Vedic Culture.

As the human population in the Indic region started to evolve, they naturally started grouping into social structures. According to MoQ, this is an integral part of evolution and has to happen to prevent order from disintegrating into a lower Quality of order (or disorder for that matter).

In course of this phase of evolution, the Vedic social structures formed. The various social orders came into existence. Subjective inquiry became the primary method of “scientific methodology” (as opposed to objective inquiry used today) and gave birth to the Vedic material and the early schools of Indian philosophy (actually, more importantly the visionary nature of the early Vedic material). The early Vedic literature reflected this – the emphasis on “Subjective” analysis of Nature, the environment (leading to holistic observations of patterns and an emphasis on such, allegorical and metaphorical descriptions/encoding of these observations and “revealed” truths) and an emphasis on Order and rituals (Strangely enough, ancient Chinese society seemed to mirror this (as did the early Greek world) – with the development of Taoist philosophy and works like the I Ching). The concept of Rta was the embodiment of emphasis on order. Rta means “the course of things” and signified a state of Order – of Moral and Righteous quality. Rta called for observance of ritual ceremony, of yagna, of the right way of living.

The ancient Vedic seers, relying on their five sensory organs, observational skills and deep introspection (and meditation) explained the world in terms of principles such as Rta. This phase of Indic evolution was what MoQ would call “Social order”-centric static patterns of Quality. Although there was intellect involved, the emphasis was on orderly conduct (of social, physical and mental faculties). Sciences such as astronomy (with precision that is mind-boggling even by today's standards) developed as well.

As time went by, natural (environmental) conditions changed the natural habitat of the Indic ancients (possibly with the drying up of the Sarasvati River) and with a mass exodus towards the Gangetic plains (and possibly further south), the nature of the Vedic social structures and cultural nuances changed. The culture and civilization that had developed and flourished on the banks of river Sarasvati was on the verge of extinction, and the survivors of this calamity had to begin the process of rebuilding (probably from scratch). The oral tradition of learning and narration from the early Vedic periods (and the learning tools such as meters, Sanskrit language, inflections) enabled the earlier material to survive. But perhaps the ability to really understand this material was not completely transmitted. As a result, we have the later materials such as the Upanishads establishing a middle ground.

Phenomena such as the extinction (or near extinction) of a culture or civilization are plentiful in recorded history. Some happen due to natural reasons (droughts, floods, etc) while others due to man-made reasons (war, plague, diseases, etc). That evolution is not infallible is evident through such phenomena (sometimes the locked position of a ratchet slips and slides back to a previous state or an intermediary state – to start over again). This time around, the Intellectual patterns of Quality seemed to gain an upper hand. Schools of thought such as sAnkhya, vaisheshika, uttara mimAmsa and nyAya developed. Now, simple acceptance of Rta was not enough – there had to be logic involved – to prove or disprove any specific statement that an ancient seer might have made. In light of this more “Objective” method of Inquiry, Vedic culture (especially the knowledge culture) transformed into Vedantic culture – and “Dharma.”

Jainism, Buddhism and Vedantism

As the primary method of inquiry shifted from “subjective” (meditative, direct experiential) to “objective” (albeit Vedanta still considered shabda pramANa to be superior to inferential or perceptional knowledge – that is anumAna or pratyaksha), the ability to acquire “shabda pramANa” reduced leading to an over reliance on either the ritualistic traditions of the older Vedic or an over-emphasis on logic (nyAya) (either social patterns of Quality superseding Intellectual patterns or vice versa). From that rubble arose Jainism and Buddhism. According to sources, Jain teachings are said to have existed for a few thousand years before their formalization into the Jain Dharma by Mahavira. The core philosophy of Jainism is tied into socially (although tinged in moral idealism) accepted practices that need to be followed in order to attain Siddhatva (permanent release from the worldly cycles). This is identical to the Vedic concepts of Rta (at least from the surface) though the method of adherence is different (rta relied on observance of ritual ceremonies etc whereas Jainism prescribed extreme ascetism and non-reliance on divine intervention, rather a self-reliant dependence on the prescribed method).

Buddhism is said to have been an improvement on Jainism (with the Buddha's middle-path way) in response to the latter's hard and difficult demands. With the focus on the 8-fold path (Right Understanding, Right Thought, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, Right Concentration) – the Buddhist philosophy tried to reconcile the Social Patterns (ethical/moral values, etc) with the Intellectual patterns (logic) and went on to gain immense popularity (and continues to do so to this day).

Although (like every other aspect of Indic history - where ascribing a date to any particular historical figure or event is rife with controversy) ascribing a date to Adi Shankaracharya is controversial, he brought about a revival of Hinduism (call it Vedantism) by appealing to the logical aspect of Indic society (Intellectual patterns of Quality superseding Social patterns). Although he prescribed the supremacy of the Vedas, Adi Shankara changed the philosophical and metaphysical aspect of Hinduism by focusing primacy on reason and logic. He probably had to do so in order to counter the eminence of Buddhism (and its concept of Shunyata). He was a great proponent and representative of the Advaita school of thought and he was perhaps single-handedly responsible for the revival of Hinduism in India.

The transmission of Indic Culture and the interaction with others

Throughout this time, Indic philosophies and culture went through several developments and even spread to other parts of the world through trade links, missionary activities (to Greece, Rome, West, South, Central and East Asia) and migration (to South East Asia). This was evolution in effect -- the spread of philosophical (that is Intellectual) and social values. There might have been cross-pollination as well – perhaps with Greek and Chinese influences creeping into Indic schools of thought and Indic culture.

As India's culture started impacting other cultures, a legend called India was born (from before the times of Alexander of Macedonia, the Greeks knew of India; and this knowledge is what led Alexander to want to invade/conquer her). Greek invasions into India created openings for trade with India and transmission of Indic culture to the Greek territories in Western Asia and Europe.

Until the first millennium of the current era (CE) (and perhaps a few centuries into the second millennium) some aspects of Indic culture grew and certain aspects waned. Mathematics and astronomy (tied with one another) developed and saw several stalwarts come forth -- geniuses like Aryabhatta, Bhaskara, Varahamihira, Baudhayana, Apastamba and Panini. Great medical treatises were written by Charaka and Sushruta.

The grand intellectual and cultural framework left by the Vedic and Upanishadic Rishis helped grow and sustain Indic culture (art forms flourished, mathematics flourished, philosophical schools grew, sciences developed), all the while, also enriching the neighboring cultures and societies. But any commentary on Indic culture is not complete without referring to the infamous “Caste System” and other social degenerations. These phenomena can be attributed to over emphasis and “unreasonable” dependence on scriptural sources that were already so antiquated that most people interpreting them would miss their metaphorical/allegorical values. This is by no means an attempt to justify them, but I consider them to be out of scope of this essay (beyond what I already expressed) and shall refrain from further comment on these topics.

With the rise of Christianity and Islam in West Asia, during the late first millennium and early to mid second millennium CE, the world saw an increase of enforcement of social patterns of Quality – both Christianity and Islam were (and probably still are) highly static and overly social in nature (meaning, the Intellectual Quality of both these entities are secondary in comparison to their social aspects). In comparison with Rta these ideologies were more inflexible and intolerant (they did not have an inclusive philosophy like Rta or Dharma). Unlike Rta, these social systems lacked the synergy between Intellect and Social values. Islamic invasions in India might have started with intentions of loot and pillage, but eventually ended up in occupation. This interaction with Islam saw forcible imposition of Islamic social patterns (for the natural tendency of this static system of Quality is to “bring” everything around it to equilibrium with itself). But not all interactions with India resulted in tyrannical impositions; Sufism, an eclectic blend of Indic mystical traditions and Islam (with an emphasis on direct experience, or interaction with Dynamic Quality) was born.

Interactions with Christianity were no less disastrous for India. The Portuguese unleashed a reign of terror in Goa, all in the name of expanding the good church. (NOTE: Native Americans experienced similar genocides (albeit on a much larger scale) during the Spanish Inquisitions during the Middle Ages of the second millennium.) The subsequent interactions with Christianity (with the arrival of the British) had a more covert and indirect effect on India. In fact, the final crushing blow to Dharmic traditions was delivered by the British, in the guise of spreading the “white man's burden”. The imposition of British education in India, at the expense of traditional schools of knowledge brought this millennia old traditional way of life to a grinding halt. But not all of this was bad – with reforms in degenerate social practices brought about via the interaction between the West and Indic minds. Perhaps this is the nature of evolution – when a particular system or static position does not work any more on the ratchet of evolution, Dynamic Quality affects in unpredictable ways forcing changes. Perhaps it was to be in India's evolutionary destiny – and that's why traditional Indic culture took a relative backseat.

Values arising from Intellectual Patterns of Quality seem to have a natural tendency towards deteriorating into rancid social dogma. We can see that happen with religions – we see that happening with some other ideologies, such as communism and its child socialism (although, capitalism and democracy have their share of dogma too). Indian history went through (and is still struggling against) a struggle against the forces of these dogmatic ideologies. These ideologies might have started off from intellectual quality, but soon solidified into dogmatic rules – astounding in their incredible propensity towards mayhem, tyranny and plain apathy (talk about irony, that's probably the greatest example of it in the modern world – the ideology of the people turning against the people when it was threatened – China, the former Soviet Union and all the other communist nations are good examples). Modern India too was greatly afflicted by this ideology – and in fact we still have two states in India that are ruled by the communists. India's natural ascendancy back to the top of the world's food chain (as a leader in Intellectual, material and spiritual wealth – being a Dharmic nation) was greatly deterred by this ideology (and its offspring – socialism). Instead of allowing a natural resumption of the flow of the national destiny towards Dynamic Quality and higher evolution, it was set back by forcibly retarding (and at times reversing this direction) by the socialist leadership in India. It was only recently, when the natural tendency of humans (as intellectual entities on a journey of evolution) and society (as a social entity on a journey of evolution) was allowed to re-emerge did India start prospering again. A key observation to make (in light of this ascendancy by India) is the rise in the sense of re-acquiring the traditional Indic knowledge systems and philosophical frameworks by several Indians. With this revival of a national (collective) sense of worth, and a renewed sense of pride in one's own traditions (not in all Indians, but many –and fast increasing), a fresh look at the way of the ancients has started. Maybe, this time around, we will be able to revive Vedic wisdom and Vedantic intelligence on our paths to Dynamic Quality.


The Artist and the Muse


How can one define Art? A quick search on my online dictionary yielded sixteen results. The one that caught my eye the most was this:

Skill arising from the exercise of intuitive faculties...

How many times have we been awe-struck, seeing a beautiful painting – perhaps a beautiful portrait or a serene landscape or a tumultuous seascape? Or perhaps a piece of music floating in from somewhere, struck our ear and then our hearts and minds? Art has the ability to induce overwhelming emotions – peace, love, sorrow, anger, fear…the options are unlimited. However, perhaps “really good” art is needed to generate such feelings…or maybe not. Who can say for sure?

If you, dear reader, have had the good fortune of seeing such a work of art, then you would know what I am referring to. I don't quite understand why, but listening to a lilting mountain folk melody on an Indian flute moves me immensely, and leaves me with a hollow, empty feeling, yearning for more. But that moment, which creeps up unbeknownst, never quite is replicated again. I tried it too…too many times I'm afraid – ran out to buy a tape or a CD, trying to re-capture, re-play that moment. But it was gone! The heady mix of enchanting melody, throbbing emotions, never quite repeated. These are unique moments – you come upon them, or perhaps they come upon you…and then they are gone. Art can have an effect similar to that of love – leaving one breathless, and pining for more.

The Ethereal Quality

Anyhow, the purpose of this article is not to go on and on about art and its obvious effect on people. I want to write about the “One thing” that's been stuck in my head for a long time – the source of Art. Every artist has (and needs) a Muse – that has always been the way. Usually one thinks of the Muse as a “personified” entity – say an artist's love interest or perhaps his personal deity (or God) or maybe his nation.

It took me a while and lot of puzzlement to get to the “root” of this matter. This personified/personalized muse is but merely a symbol, a motif…the real deal is more ethereal…

Call it what you like – God, Universal Consciousness, Psychic Network – there seems to be something beyond the mere material world in play when it comes to Art. The artist usually works on spontaneous bursts of “inspiration”, sometimes during “non-waking” hours. The most moving (in my humble opinion) works of Art are necessarily those, which are most “inspiration-driven” and spontaneous. For instance, a poet (poetry can be considered a form of art) would sometimes not even know what hit him (to use a gentile phrase) and end up with a poem that moves him no end.

I've read that it is similar with Scientists as well – interspersed within long periods of hard work are moments of inspiration – and the major breakthroughs usually follow these moments of inspiration (the scientists and/or the artists in our midst – please feel free to share your opinions).

So anyway, before I meander onto a completely different plane – here's my take on this Ethereal quality. It is my inference that we (human beings) always have the potential to touch this thing – this Inspiration, but seldom do, because we are caught up in our own make-believe world (inside our heads), constantly trying to uphold and reinforce the Ego. In an earlier article, I had written about Internal Dialogue and what role it has to play in upholding Ego and thus obfuscating our true nature from ourselves. Artists (generally notorious for being extremely temperamental) are in closer touch with this intangible quality than most common people are. They experience Inspiration usually when they are caught unawares (same as the rest of us), but have the ability to translate that into meaningful (or in some cases less meaningful) works of art (music, painting, sculpture, anything).

An artist can be so “into” his art that it can become a painful experience. Why, haven't we all heard of artists, who were such tortured souls, that their only respite was in their art? The paradox of being caught between two worlds is especially true for the great masters of the Arts. They have managed to come to a point where they are more in tune with the Ethereal quality than with everyday reality, but a part of them will not let go. Unfortunate for them, but the creations of such tortured beings are perhaps the most sought after works of Art in the world…

Let's look at this a little more carefully, shall we?

If we were to split human beings into four categories, the first category would be normal people like most of us, with limited access to Inspiration, going on with our even-tempered little lives, constantly chattering inside our minds; rather clueless (in a non-offensive way), might I add?

The next category would be those who are artistically inclined – more in touch with Inspiration, usually more temperamental, creating maybe the occasional, rare work of Art that would move everyone else. The folks who belong in this category are primarily into Arts purely as forms of self-expression.

The third category is that of the Artistic masters, the Raja Ravi Vermas, Rabindranath Tagores, the Pandit Ravi Shankars of humanity – those luminaries of the Arts, who continue to move us even today. These masters are more in touch with the Inspiration, and their work reflects a more bountiful flow of this inspiration – the felicity of expression. But not all the masters are alike – there are those confused beings who are racked by torment (torn between the free-flowing world of direct experience and the material world of everyday life) and their work reflects that. Vincent Van Gogh would be one great example. His work has definitely moved millions of people all over the world, over the years – but there is no tranquility, no unfettered flow of the Ethereal quality there – his work reflects his inner torment (in my humble opinion).

The fourth category is of those limited few, who have transcended Art and are in direct contact with the Ethereal quality. I will only suggest that the great Spiritual masters of this world would belong in this category…

Art and Mysticism

Not as a veritable rule of thumb, but very frequently we come across artists who belong to this aforementioned “third” category – the Artist sages of this world. Rabindranath Tagore was one such being – an author, poet, composer, artist – this sage person was perhaps not the proverbial “Rishi” (in the truest sense), but was someone who definitely experienced the “Ethereal quality” and many of his works demonstrated that. His poetry has an ageless, yet ancient feel to it…

Then we have our ancient sculptures, cave paintings in places like Ajanta, Ellora, Khajuraho, Belur, etc. If there was ever an element of the mystic in any creation of work – these places would be its living testimony. These nameless artists were obviously (again, in my humble opinion) immersed in the Ethereal quality, to be able to reflect beauty and devotion onto sheer rock walls and surfaces.

Finally, our great Rishis, who epitomize Ethereal quality – their poems, compositions, reflect a direct inference, a direct experience of it (Inspiration) and are perhaps the greatest works of art ever known by humanity. Adi Sankara's poem – Atma Shatakam – captures non-dualist philosophy in a few simple verses – but has so much power in it that people are left dumbstruck in awe…

Note: What I've mentioned here must definitely not be mistaken for a list – I'm just referring to things that have had a profound effect on me…

So is it the Artist or the Muse?

The more I think about this – a question that arises in mind is – “Is art then the creation of the Artist or the Muse?” That's a tough one to answer.

After all, it IS the artist who creates the art – if we were to ignore the role that Inspiration (the Ethereal quality) plays in the process, then all the credit definitely goes to the artist's skills. But if we were to consider the fact that the Artist is merely a skillful receptacle of this Inspiration, then how much of the Art actually belongs to the Artist?

And then, we also have the Artist -> Art -> Viewer angle – what I might consider a monumental work of art might seem to someone else to be a monumental waste of time. Would that take away any of that direct experience from the artist or any of the edge from the work of art? Probably not…

Going by the definition of art as we have at the beginning of this article – Art then is a three-way relation – between the Artist, the Muse and the Viewer. The credibility of the Artist lies in “how much of Inspiration” is he capable of experiencing – and how well he can render it onto his medium of expression. Given an average level of sensitivity to Inspiration by us mere mortals – a good work of art would then be the result of the ability of the artist to “move” us into sharing what he could reflect (of his experience of the Ethereal quality; in other words, Inspiration) onto his work of Art.

Saturday, April 02, 2005



Anahata -- that soft, melodic, soothing music.
I can't hear it play; yet I hear it playing somewhere (perhaps from within?), encompassing my totality...

It all started a few years after my encounter with Pagla Baba in that desolate stretch by the highway.
I went back a changed man after that meeting... Baba's touch had changed my life forever... and everything was wonderful for the next few months.
I started to exercise, developed healthy habits and gradually my capacity to cope with all kinds of stress increased manifold.
Until one day, I felt an irresistible urge to learn Yoga.
I'd tried Yoga before (in my school, they'd flock us all together into a huge gym and make us do these incredibly boring moves called Sun Salutation or something), I hated it!
So, that Saturday morning, lying in bed, when I got these vivid flashes of Yoga postures and an uncontrollable urge to perform them, I was surprised.
I knew I was going to hate it (or so I thought... ), but decided to give it a shot anyway.
There's a famous Yoga school a few kilometers from my house. I decided to pay them a visit. I got on my cycle and pedaled away to the Yoga school.

The School

The school was a little place, on the corner of a busy street.
The teacher was a middle-aged lady called Mrs. Janaki Iyer. She was the fittest person I'd seen in a long time, about 5'4” tall, trim, slim and calm.
I asked her whether she could accommodate me in one of her classes and she said yes.
In fact there was a class in another 20 minutes and she told me I could attend it and see for myself (she must've realized that I was a bit apprehensive about joining up).
Well, since I had my exercise clothes on, I decided to try it out.
Mrs. Iyer greeted us all and gave a short discourse on Yoga (it was the first class for the entire batch) and its different branches. I was surprised to learn that what is commonly called Yoga is only a portion of a vast field and it's actually termed Hatha Yoga.
She then started off by teaching a few very simple poses. Trikona Asana, Lolasana (which was not so easy) and all the relatively easier beginner's asanas.
I wasn't really impressed that much, I guess it takes time for it to grow on to become a liking...
Anyhow, I returned home and diligently practiced Yoga, attending the Yoga school and repeating the exercises at home.
Within a month I realized that my body had grown more flexible and I seemed to be growing younger (with the muscles firming up without getting too bulky) and everyone told me that there was something very pleasant about me.
I started to feel light and happy, seldom getting affected by stress and a sense of calm and gentle coolness permeated my being. It was almost as if I had taken a long vacation in some remote mountains (the Himalayas). A sense of awe towards my environment was growing, and I could look at things and appreciate their beauty.
A simple thing like looking at the bark of a tree gave me a sense of immense joy.
As the months went by, I was totally hooked on to Hatha Yoga. I advanced in the practice and I could perform the Sirshasana (head stand) for almost an hour at a stretch! “This is paradise,” I used to think.


One day suddenly, my life turned topsy-turvy...
I had made a routine of practicing Yoga twice a day, once in the early morning (around 5 a.m.) and once in the evening (around 7 p.m.) when I got back from work.
Some strange sensations had been lurking around in my body, something that I couldn't explain.
I'd get a sense of vertigo in my belly (near the navel), an unusual gentle vibration would affect me there. I asked my doctor about it and he suggested that it might be anything from flatulence to appendicitis. He gave me a complete medical and sent me packing home with a clean chit.
He said, “Vyas, you've never been in better health, and I've been your doctor for over 10 years now... go home and don't let this bother you.”
So I decided to ignore the sensations.
The day it happened, I had stood in Sirshasana for about an hour in the morning and as usual, feeling great, I went through the motions of the day. Until about 3 p.m. that afternoon. I started getting these vibrations in my navel, rising up to my chest; there was no pain, but I felt as though I was having a heart attack.
I got out of office early and drove back home. By the time I got home, the discomfort had stopped.
I sat down brooding (I knew something was not normal) in introspection.
When I analyzed the discomfort, I realized that there was no pain as such... it was more like some type of electricity was pulsating at the afflicted region.
I decided to skip Yoga and went to bed after a light supper.
I woke up hearing a loud knocking sound on the wall of my bedroom!
It was the most violent knocking sound I have heard in a long time -- it was almost as though someone was trying to pound his/her way into the room.
I looked at the watch; it was 3:00 a.m. The knocking stopped and again I lay down to sleep, when the knocking/pounding started again.
This time I got out of bed and decided to check outside the house. There weren't too many houses around in those days, and I quickly realized that there was no one outside (no one to play a wicked trick on me).
As I stepped back into my bedroom, the pulsations in my belly started again.
It moved from my navel to my chest (near the center, next to the heart) and the entire region was throbbing, pulsating (as if some out-of-breath animal was hiding in my body).
My hands and feet were turning hot and I was sweating profusely.
And then I heard the sounds -- they seemed to float into my ears from a distance -- the sweet melody of a flute playing some soulful tune, the howling of winds (it was perfectly calm and still outside), the sound of someone singing some familiar raaga.
My body was pulsating and the music playing in rhythm (or was it the other way... can't say for sure).
I don't know how long I sat in that position, on the edge of the bed, shivering (even though I was sweating and feeling extremely hot)... maybe an hour or two.
Eventually the shaking stopped and I fell into a dreamless stupor.

The Next Day

I woke up at about 7 a.m. the next morning thinking about the nightmare I had.
Then I realized it was not a nightmare, it was real -- I called in at work and told them I wouldn't be going to work that day. I went to the doctor.
The doctor checked me again and said, “Vyas, I've ordered ECG, EEG and blood tests for you, go down to the lab and get them done...” “Oh! And come back here once you're done there, I want to talk to you...” he added.
I went downstairs to the lab, got the tests and trudged back into Dr. Singh's office.
He was waiting for me. He said, “Come, let's go get some coffee...” Now, I've know Dr. Singh for over 10 years, and he's never tried to be very friendly with me... I was kind of taken aback.
Over a cup of coffee, he asked me, “So what was it you took last night?” I was describing my supper when he interrupted me with, “What kind of drugs are you on Vyas?” Before I could say anything, he said, “Don't get me wrong, but the symptoms you mentioned, as far as the physical sensations and music are concerned, are typical of certain hallucinogenic drugs and psychotropic plants...”
I cut in hurriedly, “Doctor I haven't even had a drop of alcohol in the past few years, let alone drugs!”
He replied, “I'm sorry, but that's what it seemed to me... let's wait for the reports before we decide what to do.... okay?”
I nodded and told him I was tired and wanted to go home and rest. I drove off towards home.
One the way, I felt like dropping in and talking with Mrs. Iyer (my Yoga teacher).
It was about 10:30 a.m. and she was relatively free (with only a few of her foreign students around). She saw me and greeted me with a smile and twinkle in her eyes.
I felt extremely calm talking with her -- I told her about whatever had happened.
Mrs. Iyer looked at me with sympathy.
She sat pondering and then said “Vyas, I don't know whether this might be of any help or not, but there have been cases, such as the one you've described, due to Hatha Yoga practice... ”
She continued noticing my interest (I had to be interested, I felt like I was going nuts or something). “There is a certain power that lies dormant in our bodies that can be awakened by psychic exercises like Hatha Yoga and Pranayama... ”
“Superficially, these are excellent forms of exercise and oxygenation methods... but when the practitioner reaches a certain level of mastery or sometimes if he/she has a knack for it, the dormant energy in the body is awakened,” she said.
“What made you want to come and learn Yoga here, Vyas?” Mrs Iyer asked.
“I don't know, I just had the strongest urge to learn Hatha Yoga the day I first came to meet you... I actually saw someone performing some asanas in my head... or let me see... I visualized that someone was performing asanas and I simply had to learn Yoga,” I replied.
“What's that got to do with my being sick anyway?” I asked.
She replied, “I was getting there... when this energy gets awakened, it is said to rise upward from the base of your spine to the crown of your head, crossing seven gates or plexuses on its way. Have you heard of chakras?”
I said, “Yes... something to do with the phantom body and its energy centers or something, right?”
“Close enough.... chakras are like distributors of energy in our body, some equate it to the endocrine system, some say it's not in our physical body, but in our astral body. But anyway, when this energy (called Kundalini Shakti) rises, it causes all sorts of problems, some similar to what you're experiencing,” she said.
“I'm just surprised that someone who's had only about a year's practice of Hatha can actually feel it... I've been doing Yoga for more than 50 years and nothing's affected me that way,” she added.
She asked me to let her know what the doctor says about the medical reports.
I went home and fell asleep almost immediately.

Those Eyes

I dreamt aimlessly, and then, all of a sudden I saw those eyes... they almost woke me up... those wild and yet calm eyes... the paradox of reality (wild yet calm... imagine that!)
The face that wore those eyes came to focus, it was Pagla Baba.
Baba said almost tauntingly, “So, Vyas has had a snake crawling up his spine, huh?”
I was confused and wondering whether I was awake or asleep, when Baba said to me, “You are awake now, you go back to sleep once you wake up...” and started laughing loudly.
“That's beside the point, Vyas,” he said, “there is a reason for which you are experiencing all this.”
“That silent sound, that's heard without ears... that is Anahata... the dhwani from another realm... it rises from your own heart. Do not be afraid of it... ” Baba said.
“The snake that's crawling up your body, its bite is fatal though, the poison is called truth the death is called knowledge... be very careful of it. But don't be afraid, embrace it and it will treat you well... reject it and your fears will drive you insane,” he added.
“Yeah right! How much more insane can I get, talking to a loony hermit in my dreams...” I thought, when I got a knuckle on my head, “Ouch! That really hurt...” I looked at Baba's grinning face and said.
“I'll be back when you need me, meanwhile, continue with the Sirshasana, that'll help speed things up,” Baba said, and I woke up.

Not the end...

Dr. Singh called and asked me to meet him at his office in the hospital.
I rushed over to his office and he looked at me and said, “Vyas, the reports have come in.... you are perfectly normal... in peak health, like I'd said earlier. Are you sure you didn't take anything that day?”
I smiled and said, “Yes Doctor, I'm perfectly sure of that...”
I thanked him, paid the front office and left for my office.
That day went by rather uneventfully... I managed to get some work done.
That night, the throbbing was back, and this time it felt like I had a stepper motor whirring in my chest, I can swear that I heard a clicking sound from inside. And then the music started.
My head was spinning with confusion and I felt nauseous with fear.
But, somehow, my body was reacting to the music in a strange way, it was feeling relaxed like I had just finished an hour or two of Yoga.
I was breathing like a 100-meter sprinter one moment and not breathing at all another.
The music started getting a little louder and the throbbing rose to my throat (just above the Adam's apple), and then to my forehead and the entire region vibrating as though it were a string of a musical instrument.
My eyes closed automatically and I didn't know what was happening to me; all of a sudden, a bolt of electricity shot up from the navel to my head and everything stopped.
Time stood still, it seemed.... not a thing moved, not another sound, there was only silence.
I don't remember how long I sat like that. I could hear the birds chirping in the morning and I got up and went on with the morning routine: Yoga, change clothes, start the car, office.
The day went by as though in a few seconds, everything seemed to move so fast; yet I was going in slow-motion, everything was slow, I could observe everything in great detail.
I got back home and had a frugal meal. I went to bed early, and as I slept I heard this voice describing something in great detail.
It was a form of breathing, with the tongue sticking back into the mouth such that its tip touched the end of the nasal cavity. The voice seemed familiar, I realized it was Pagla Baba.
He described the technique and said it was called the Kechari Mudra.
I tried it the next morning; it was very difficult, the tongue moving backward into the mouth tended to gag me and I'd throw up or gasp for breath.
It took me a few months to master this technique, but once I managed to do it, I found instant bliss, energy and peace.

An Afterthought

I researched into the history of Kundalini, and found that for thousands of years, ascetics have strived to awaken her (according to Tantra traditions, this energy is feminine in nature -- being Shakti, and she is called MahaKundalini, the coiled serpent).
Those who have succeeded have described experiences similar to mine.
It is said that one should embark on such a journey with the blessings and teachings of an adept, a Guru. There is a lot of work that needs to go into the awakening of Kundalini, without which the person undergoing the awakening might lose his/her mind out of fear!
Something that almost happened to me...
I also found that a lot of people all over the world experience sudden awakening (without even actively wanting to, or even knowing about it, like myself). Some of these people lose their mind, especially the ones who are not brought up with the safety of Indian philosophy.
Some of these people in the West believe that it is the Devil's work and miss out on this glorious experience, or ruin it for themselves with fear.
For me, the silent sound is bliss, the melody beyond melody itself.

NOTE: This was an article published at where I write with the ghostname Rudra

The Night I Died

The night I died of a heart attack…

Well not exactly… I dreamt that I died of a heart attack.
Perhaps it'd been sitting in the back of my head for some time now.
My girlfriend says I eat much too oily and fattening food, and smoke way too much!
I've also developed a promising belly (that's out of sync with the rest of my body though…).
I make up my mind to exercise (every week without fail) and I do it for a few days, until I get bored of the routine and schedule.
The sheer dreariness of exercising at a fixed time makes me want to puke!
Anyhow, that's not what I'm writing this stuff up for… I actually don't know why I'm writing this up.
Sometimes I feel as though the blood isn't flowing very well through my heart.
I get the feeling that an artery is blocked… or perhaps two.
Can't say for sure.
I tell my friends about this sometimes, and they tell me, “Why don't you just go and get an ECG done? That'll make everything clear…”
I smile and say, “That's a good idea.”
But little do they know, I'm afraid of death (I mean, who isn't?)
But, what I'm even more afraid of is finding out that I'm going to die…
There! I've gone and said it finally… I'm going to die!
Nothing unusual about it… we're all going to die someday, aren't we?
When I think of death, so many thoughts race in my mind --
“What'll happen to me when I die?”
“Will I even know that I died? Or will it be like the scientists say, I simply cease to exist?”
“Or perhaps I'll become a ghost that haunts the world, caught in between the spirit world and the physical world, by virtue of some unfulfilled desire…”
I guess I'll never know till I get there.

The dream

The dream was disturbing…
I know I was dying -- I think I know how a dying person feels and senses the world around him.
I was talking to my mother; all of a sudden, I developed a piercing pain in the chest (left side).
I kept trying to control the pain and managed to keep talking with mother.
Suddenly I could take it anymore; I fell to the floor.
Next thing I know is that my mother's trying to massage my chest (trying out a cardiac massage) and I sense this darkness engulfing me, slowly… very slowly.
My senses are active but I cannot act.
I can see hectic activity all around me, but I'm unable to even speak a word.
Suddenly it all stops and there's a pleasant silence, a familiar darkness that is so comfortable.
I wake up the next morning with a pain in my chest and mother asks me to go to the doctor for a medical checkup.
I go to the doctor and he is annoying busy with other patients.
I wait at the clinic and the pain starts again.
An old lady runs out (all of a sudden it's started raining outside) to buy me a sorbitol (I think that's what she called it) from the pharmacy outside.
She asks me to put one tablet under my tongue.
I do it and the pain reduces -- I feel light and happy (as if I've had a healthy dose of bhang).
Someone's telling me, you were dead, but you've been given a second chance -- you're alive now… you were dead, but now you're alive!

Reality check

I woke up this time for real, feeling confused and fuzzy… kind of like I'd cotton inside my head or something.
Definitely not a pleasant feeling to have first thing in the morning, believe me.
Hello! Time to go to work!
I trudged on to my car, got in, started the ignition and waited, by now, pleasantly oblivious to the dream.
I started off from home. Driving to work I saw an old man sitting on the pavement, under the shade of a tree.
Eyes closed in meditation, there was a sense of tremendous peace about him.
I thought wistfully for a moment, “If only I was like him for a day…”
I drove by him, the scene, the place, the person, all forgotten.
Reality finally caught up, the wooziness of the head forgotten; an exciting day was ahead -- a Friday.
“Got to attend a party at my friend's place… he's buying scotch… we're gonna drink ourselves silly…” -- that's all that seemed to play in my mind.
I went through the process of living the day out and went home to change and drive over to my friend's place.
I had a bottle to scotch to attack and demolish… Grr!

A meeting with fate

As I was driving down the highway, I passed an empty patch of land to my left.
Desolate and barren, the field seemed alarmingly familiar -- like from one of my nightmares…
I pinched myself hard on the left forearm -- it hurt real bad!
I wasn't dreaming then.
I stopped the car a little distance below the highway and walked down to the edge of the field.
I felt a shiver go down my spine!
The highway was rather desolate for that time of the day (evening rather).
There were no lights on the highway and the sky was cloudy, with a threat of rain in the air.
Something about the field seemed to call me toward it.
I stepped into the field after crossing over the elevation that separated it from the road.
It started to drizzle, and I walked deeper into the field.
I could hear an occasional car whiz by behind my back.
I don't know how far I went, but I couldn't hear a thing (no sounds from the highway)… suddenly there was this tree in front of me!
As I walked toward it, an apparition suddenly stepped out in front of me!
The hair on my head was standing in total attention then!
As I looked carefully, I noticed this older man staring at my face, standing a few feet from me.
He gestured me to sit down near the tree. I couldn't resist.
I sat down meekly and he sat down facing me.
He spoke to me first.
“Why did you call me?” he asked.
I asked, “When did I ever call you? I don't even know you!”
He said, “You did call me, that's why I'm here.”
“I know what you want…” he said.
“What?” I asked.
“You're very unhappy… you want some peace,” he said.
“I guess…” I answered, suddenly growing irritated.
Here I was, sitting in the middle of nowhere, with an old beggar, while I should have been sitting in Anand's place, drinking whiskey, smoking cigarettes and having fun!
“What if this guy is some nut who wants to kill me and take away my money?” I thought.
“No! I'm not some nut who'd kill you for your car and money,” the old man said.
“I was just thinking of it as a possibility…” I said. “Hey! Wait a minute… how'd you know what I was thinking of?” I asked him.
“I can read you like an open book, Vyas,” the old man replied.
“Nonsense! Tell me what I'm thinking now?” I asked him.
“You're thinking that whatever I'm saying I can read from your mind, is something everyone thinks, and so you thinking I'm playing some psychological trick on you…”
“That's easy, you are playing a trick on my mind!” I retorted incredulously.
“No I'm not… see, I even know the dream you had last night…” he said, cutting me short. “Yes! The one in which you died from a heart attack…”
I was staring at him in the darkness, totally drenched by now by the rain (which thankfully had stopped).
That wooziness in my head had returned all of a sudden… I realized that he'd actually addressed me by name.
I asked, “Who are you?”
“Some people call me Pagla Baba…” there was a hint of amusement in his voice. “But I'm not really mad, I'm simply what people call a mystic nowadays.”
“Oh! An ascetic?” I sounded relieved (to myself)!
“Yes, you could say something like that…” Pagla Baba replied.
“So what do you want from me here?” I asked him.
“I want to give you something…” Pagla Baba replied.
“Close your eyes and sit still,” he told me.
I closed my eyes and he touched me on the forehead with his thumb.
Suddenly I felt as if a light had exploded before my eyes, and I was hurtling through space!
A billion lights exploded in my vision and I saw this egg-shaped object flying towards me amidst the chaos.
The egg had a brilliant blue hue about it (as if it were crackling with electricity).
It came closer to me and stopped a few meters away.
It started spinning faster and faster, emitting this blue light all around and suddenly within the egg I saw the shape of Lord Krishna playing the flute.
The egg kept spinning and I saw Buddha bathed in a golden glow in place of Krishna.
It spun even faster, and finally burst into billions of flashes of light.

The aftermath

I could hear a voice calling me, as if from a distance, “Vyas! Vyas! Are you alright?”
I forced my eyes open; the sky was clear, and I was sitting in my car and Anand was standing outside and calling me.
I looked out of the window and the field was there, but all of a sudden it didn't seem so ominous anymore.
I tried to recollect what had happened to me, but my memory wasn't clear.
I asked Anand, “How did you find me?”
Anand replied, “I was worried when you didn't come home on time, and I knew you'd be on this highway… I was afraid you'd had an accident or something.”
“What had happened to you, by the way?” Anand asked.
“I don't know what Anand, I really don't remember…” I said, even though I did remember.
I just couldn't tell anybody about it, that's all.
No one would believe me anyway.
I only said to him, “Let's not go drinking tonight, man. Let's sit and talk.”
So I drove to his place, shakily, following his car.
As I got down, I reached for a cigarette.
I pulled one out and lit it up and retched.
I couldn't stand the smell or the smoke anymore.
The habit that I'd always wanted to quit but couldn't -- smoking, my old nemesis.
I couldn't stand it anymore.
“It's due to the shock!” I said to myself. “Let's wait and see…” I thought.
Anand and I talked that night like we'd never ever done before.
We talked about life -- the bittersweet experiences.
I went home late, very late.
I hit my bed and was out cold!
I slept like I'd never slept before… and the bad dreams, they'd gone away.
I dreamt of pleasant things that night.
I dreamt of peace, of love, of beauty in nature.
I woke up early the next morning and put on my running shoes and track pants.
I jogged like I was a new man… feeling younger and energetic.
People call me a tranquil person today.
I talk to Pagla Baba sometimes… he speaks to me in my dreams

NOTE: This article was published at where I write with the ghostname Rudra