Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Dharma - Mine, Yours, Ours & Theirs

Hinduism is a Dharmic religion. Dharma is the Sanskrit word for duty. Hinduism is known as a Dharmic religion mainly because it emphasizes on ones own duty. There are different types of Dharmas. We all have different duties in this world. Our duties are not always the same.

The Dharmas of Hinduism can be broken down into many types. Here are some of the Dharmas. I have included my own opinion about it. .

Sanatana Dharma (Eternal Law)
This is the laws of the universe as mentioned in our faith. This is the ultimate reality of existence and non-existence. The fact that energy exist, dissolution of cosmos, wind moves, gravity pulls, animal eats, humans worship, fire burns, Vedas as non-human origin etc. Every fact of the universe and beyond is part of Sanatana Dharma.

Samanya Dharma (general duty)
The general duty of all humans is known as Samanya Dharma. We eat, sleep, bathe, interact, move around, perform chores, love, respect, care. It is a general duty which we all do irregardless of who we are. Common for all.

Visesha Dharma (specific duty)
These are the specific duties we encounter in our life. It is the duty of the house owner not his neighbour to paint his own house. It is the duty of a man who drank juice to throw the cup into the dustbin. Others can't be throwing it for him. So we do what is specific to us at that point of time. If I am organizing a feast in my house, then it is my duty to prepare dinner for my guests.

Varnashrama Dharma (duties of social classes)
In Hinduism, societies are divided into classes known as Brahmana (intellectuals and priests), Kshatriya (rulers and enforcers), Vaisya (business class), Sudra (working class). We see these classification in today's society too. It is just that they may not have these Sanskrit name tags on them. Each class has its own duty.

It is the duty of the police officers to protect the citizens. It is the duty of the intellectual community to disseminate proper facts. It is the duty of the politicians to manage the country. It is the duty of the businessmen to fund the nation. It is the duty of the working class to support the nation through their work.

Yuga Dharma (duty of the era)
According to Hinduism, the human civilisation can be divided to several periods. It is mainly known as Satya, Treta, Dvapara and Kali Yuga. Hindu scriptures have its own definition of the things to do and avoided during each of these 4 yugas.

A yuga can also be interpreted as an era. The present era which we humans live in emphasizes on globalisation, democracy and many other values. The concept of Yuga Dharma is applied more on the broader scope of mankind itself rather than on individual humans.

Kula Dharma (duty of clan)
A Kula Dharma is our duty towards our family and extended family. The extended family is known as clan, kulam or jati. We have duties to do towards our own blood relatives. When someone is in trouble, it is our duty as family members to protect them. Whenever there is an event like wedding or even funeral, members of the clan have a duty to do. Their duties are determined through their relationship with each other. For example, when my niece gets married, it is my duty as her maternal uncle to perform certain pre-marital ritual. Kula Dharma also requires members of the clan to help the clan to prosper. Each jati needs to take care of itself and ensure that they have a quality life.

Manava Dharma (duty of mankind)
Manava Dharma is the common duty of humans. It is our duty as humans to ensure that our species continues. It is our duty as humans to manage this planet and protect it from destruction. We have to establish colonies and manage our civilizations. We need to be careful with how we use our resources. It is our duty to be humane in our doings and strive to preserve humanity among us.

Purusha Dharma (duty of husband) & Stri Dharma (duty of wife)
A husband has his duty towards the family. He is responsible as the bread winner for the family. As a father, he needs to protect not just his wife but also his children. The security of the family depends on him. He needs to provide the family with its basic needs. A house to live in, a vehicle to move around, power of purchase 

The duty of the wife, or Stri Dharma is a very special one. Today, most woman have their own career. This also means that we men must share some responsibilities with them.

However, this should not prevent them from carrying out their own duties. Not only that they should love their husbands, it is their duty to nurture the children. No love can replace a mother's love. They have very special place in the family.

It is said that if men are the fence of a family, the women are its pillars.

Raja Dharma (duty of king)
The ruler of a nation is highly responsible for the wellbeing of its people. While it is the duty of the government to manage the country, the ruler is responsible to ensure that the management itself functions well. Today, we live in a democratic society. Therefore, rulers need to also ensure that they do not break the trust of the people who voted them into power.

Praja Dharma (duty of subjects)
As citizens, we are obliged to contribute towards the nation we live in. We pay taxes, obey the law, respect each other and have the power to even select our rulers in today's era. We are also responsible to protect the image of our nation.

Pravritti Dharma (duty in worldly life)
The wordly life has many demands. We need to get married, have children and continue our lineage. Each stage of life has its own needs. Material need is one of it. A house is needed. A mode of transport is needed. Entertainment is also part of the wordly life. We cannot ignore everything and detach ourselves from these. 

Nivritti Dharma (duty in spiritual life)
The demands of spiritual life is different from that of wordly life. Firstly, there are two main stages. One is practicing spiritualism by being part of the wordly life, and the other is through Sanyasa. Sanyasa is practicing spiritualism by detaching ourselves from wordly matters. 

Apad Dharma (duty during distress)
Each duty is different. But duties can be ignored or altered during emergency. For example, a Brahmin priest may see it as his duty to be a vegetarian. But if he is stranded in a land during war and the only way to survive is by eating dog meat, he has to do it in the name of Apad Dharma for the sake of survival. 

It is basic humanity to spread love among mankind. But if violence is needed to protect our families from robbers, then we have no choice but to do it. These are the demands of emergency situation.

So those were some of the basic Dharmas.

When Arjuna rode into the battlefield, he became very depressed. Hundreds of thousands of warriors stood infront of him in the battlefield. They were not only his enemies but also his kins and friends. His own family patriach, Bhisma stood against him.

Arjuna laid down his weapons and decided not to be part of the war.

How can he kill the people who he loved so much?

Krishna then explained that Arjuna has entered the battlefield as a warrior. He has to do his duty as a warrior and participate in the war. 

Even if he is required to kill his loved ones to uphold justice and bring victory to the Pandavas, he has to do it. Because that is his duty at that point of time.

Such conflict of duties happens to us too. This is known as Dharma Sankata. We need to realise that Dharma needs to be applied according to the situation. We need to also find a balance between the various Dharma we do.

Many of the problems in the society today happens because people do not do their Dharma properly. 

It is not the duty of the politicians to become billionaires through fraudulent means. Their duty is to manage the country. Not steal its resources to enrich themselves. If they want to be rich, they should have quit politics and become businessmen.

Similarly, it is the duty of the police force to protect the citizens. It is not their duty to be involved in politics.

What happened in Tibet is a conflict of Dharma too.

The Buddhist leaders known as Dalai Lama are supposed to be focused in spiritualism. It is not their duty to administer a state. They can be an advisor to the ruler, but they should not become the ruler itself.

So this caused Tibet to have weak leadership. It fell into the hands of China. If Tibet had a ruler like the Chinese, China would have not dared to invade it.

So what is the best Dharma among all Dharmas?

As explained by Krishna himself, ones own Dharma is the best Dharma. This is known as Sva Dharma.

Yes we are all humans living in the same planet but each of us have our own Dharma to do in this life. We need to be mindful of our own Dharma and carry out our tasks with sincerity.

Peace will prevail if everyone understood their Dharma. When we disturb the balance of Dharma and prevent others from carrying out their Dharma, Adharma will prevail.

Shreyam SvaDharma!
Shreyam SvaDharma!
Shreyam SvaDharma!

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Paal Kudam or Panneer Kudam?

At first, I did not want to write this. I was afraid that some Hindu devotees including my own family members will be offended. However, I want my opinion to be heard, in a nice way.

We know that thousands of devotees offer Paal Kudam (Milk Pots) during each Thaipusam festival.

Firstly, keep in mind that I have nothing against paal abishegam (ritual milk bath) in Hindu temples. It is not wrong at all.

But when we do it together in a very large number, it actually matters a lot. There is a big difference between pouring just 10 litres and 100,000 litres.

Perhaps the temple management can be the only ones who offer Paal Kudam. Probably 10 litres for ritual sake. 

Devotees should be encouraged to bring Panneer Kudam (Rose Water Pots) instead of Paal Kudam as offerings during each Thaipusam especially in Batu Caves.

The smell of rose water is far better than the smell of stale milk. It is also much more hygienic for the environment.

Imagine walking into Batu Caves with a strong fragrance because of the tonnes of rose water poured.

Think about it :)

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Jallikattu, Maatu Ponggal & Beef

Today is the 2nd day of Ponggal, the Tamil harvest festival. It is known as Maatu Ponggal (Cattle Ponggal) and it is dedicated to the cattles.

Many would have thought that the Tamils do not eat beef because of Hindu influence. That is not true. It is actualy the culture of the Tamils to respect these animals. Therefore, most Tamils will not eat beef.

The cattles have a very special place in the Tamil society. It helps farmers to plough the land, pull carts and its milk is an important element in the daily lives of the Tamil people. 

Back in the olden days, many women died of child birth. Furthermore, due to poor health condition, many new mothers do not lactate during the first few days after delivery.

In such cases, cow milk is used as a replacement for mother's milk to feed the newborn. So naturally, most Tamils will not eat them.

However, the taboo is not applied to everyone. Tamil clans who are involved with leather works or the make of percussion instruments actually eat beef. The cows are not holy for them as their skin is a source of income.

We also have our own bull taming sport. It is commonly known as Jallikattu. It usually starts on Maatu Ponggal and can last for several weeks.

Unlike the Spanish bullfight, the Tamil Jallikattu does not require the beast to be killed. The ultimate aim is to either subdue the bull or grab the price money which will be tied to its neck. There are several type of Jallikattu sport.

1. The bull will be tied to a pole with a very long rope. Participant (one at a time) have to wrestle and grab the price money.

2. Bulls will be released in a fenced arena or an open arena. Participants will try to wrestle with it in a group and subdue the bull or grab the price money.

Jallikattu is a violent sport. Many participants have been killed by the bulls with its own horns. Some also receive injuries because of being trampled.

Yet, the Tamils do not aim to kill the bull. In fact, the bulls will be venerated. But of course, there will be some rotten apples who abuse the bulls.

Jallikattu was originally practiced by the martial classes. Nowadays, it sees participation from various clans. Jallikattu event was also used as a good avenue to select potential bridegrooms.

Before each event, bulls are brought to the local Muniandy temples for blessings. Such bulls are also nicknamed as Muniandy Kaalai or Kovil Kaalai. Kaalai is the Tamil word for bulls.

The bulls are usually of the Kangeyam breed or the Pulikulam breed. The Pulikulam breed got its name from a village called Pulikulam in my ancestral district, Sivagangai. 

Long ago, there used to be a kulam (pond) in the Pulikulam forest. The local puli (tigers) come there to drink. These tigers were ferocious but the bulls were never afraid of them. Some will fight the tigers till death. So the courageous breed got its name from this place.

Jallikattu bulls are bred specially for the bull fight. They undergo vigorous training under their owners. Bulls will be brought to local water tanks for swimming. Bulls are also trained to ram their horns on thick piles of sands. These are all done to build the stamina and strength of the bulls.

Today's Jallikattu is different from its original form as practiced more than 2000 years ago. There are strict regulations enforced to ensure that both the participants and bulls are protected.

Monday, 13 January 2014

Did Karna Really Pay His Debt?

I wrote this in my Facebook page on 31 December 2013. It is regarding Karna and the Red Rice Debt...

(read further after the words in Yellow Italic)


Most of you would know the song "Ullathil Nalla Ullam" from the movie Karnan. Nobody can ever replace the late Sivaji for that role.

This is part of the lyric:

Senchottru Kadan Theerkka

Saeraatha Idam Sernthu
Vanjathil Veezhnthaayada Karnaa
Vanjagan Kannanadaa
Karnaa, Vanjagan Kannanadaa

Do you know what is meant by "Senchottru Kadan Theerkka"?

Well this is referring to Red Rice Debt. 

Back during ancient times, cooked rice will be spread in front of the king.

The king will then roll it into small rice balls and give it to the warriors with his own hand. Warriors who eat the rice ball from the hand of the king will swear that they will protect the king with their own life. 

If the king dies or get slain in the battle, they will all commit suicide. It was one of the many ritual suicide or harakiri of ancient Tamil warriors.

Why is it known as Senchoru (Red Rice)? Probably because it will be mixed with the blood of a sacrificed animal.

The Thirumurugatruppadai, an ancient Tamil poem also mentioned that rice balls mixed with the blood of ram is given as offering to Murugan.

So in this song, Senchottru is used as a metaphor for loyalty. That is the beauty of Kannadasan's lyrics.

Karna was very loyal towards his friend Duryodhana. Despite knowing that the Pandavas were his brothers, despite knowing that Duryodhana was wrong, he stood by his side.

In the end, he died as a tragic hero due to his loyalty but he paid the red rice debt

In this post, I mentioned that Karna paid his debt but a telephone call which I received later made me to rethink about it.

So who called me? Who else if it is not the grand master himself, Dr.S.Jayabarathi.

As usual, our conversation did its 'travels'. We spoke about many things. There were reference to Cholas, their Solar lineage and many other things which I will write on another day.

Back to Karna.....

Dr pointed out a few other things which could possibly mean that Karna did not pay his debt.

For a start, he did not kill Arjuna in the battle. Arjuna was his brother but also the enemy of the Kauravas. Since Karna fought on the Kaurava's side, he has the moral duty to vanquish the enemy.

You see what happened was he made several promises to his mother, Kunti. He promised not to harm any of the Pandavas except Arjuna. He also promised not to release the arrow more than once at him and that too only by aiming the head and not the chest.

So when Karna took to battle and released the arrow, he aimed it towards Arjuna's head. Krishna, the master of Maya, then easily protected Arjuna. 

Karna will then refuse to release another arrow which could have killed Arjuna and ensured Kaurava a victory. The charioteer will also ask Karna to release the arrow but all those will fall on his deaf ears. 

Why? Because he could not break the promises made.

In the end, Karna will be slain. The Kauravas will loose the battle. A battle which could have been won only if Karna did not make any promise to Kunti.

Was it wrong to make such promises to his mother Kunti? It was actually an injustice to Duryodhana.

You see, Karna was wrapped in a cloth, put inside a trunk and dumped into the river by Kunti when he was a newborn. Karna was raised by charioteers.

So during an archery competition, Karna will be denied the right to participate. Because he does not know his parents and being a person who is unsure of his own ancestry, he was disqualified to compete with the princes who were Kshatriyas.

Varna could be changed. It is not hereditary.

At that point of time, Duryodhana steps in. Takes Karna as his own, gives a potion of his land and qualifies him into the Kshatriya varna. 

He saved Karna's honor and that made Karna indebted to him.

So was it right for Karna to make such promises to Kunti when it is a treachery against Duryodhana? Perhaps the Mahabaratha enthusiast who is reading this can discuss.

Did Karna really pay his debt? 

Friday, 10 January 2014

Tamil Surnames and Hypocrisy

Many Tamils will go berserk when we speak about surnames. This is because the surnames reflects the caste or clan. Most of the surnames we have are occupational surnames.

Each occupational surnames of the Tamil people has its own history and it is clan specific. This is mainly because those clans had their own hereditary occupation in the past. 

Take for example the surname Servai used in the Mukkulathor community. It refers to a person who's ancestors were Servaikarars (men who serve). These Servaikarars defended forts and worked inside the palaces. Some also served as royal bodyguards.

The Latin word for service is Servus. It is also used as a surname by Europeans who had the same function in the society as our own Servaikarars. Perhaps the Latin word Servus is a corruption of the Tamil word Servai or vice versa.

Are we Tamils the only ones who have occupational surnames?

Let's take a look at our very own modern Asian role models, the Japanese society and their surnames.

The Kaji were metal workers, the Inukai were dog breeders, the Akazome were dyers and the Hattori were weavers. The Wataribe or Watanabe were ferry service providers.

Japanese actor, Ken Watanabe
What about the European surnames?

The Bergers were shepherds, the Kellogg were animal slaughterers, Smith were metal workers, Schneider were tailors, Walkers shrunk woolen cloth, the Proctor collected tax and the Tyler made tiles.

Originally known as Walker's Kilmarnock Whisky, the Johnnie Walker brand is a legacy left by John "Johnnie" Walker after he started to sell whisky in his grocer's shop in Ayrshire, Scotland.

Not only does these European or Japanese surnames have occupational origins, the clans which used it also practiced endogamy in the past. Endogamy means they do not marry outside their clan and they keep their profession within the family. 

Isn't this similar to us Tamils and the rest of India? Our surnames too have occupational origins and our clans too practiced endogamy. Our ancestors too kept their profession within the family just like what the Europeans did in the past

India's billionaire, Shiv Nadar.
How different are these surnames from Tamil surnames like Asari (metal workers), Stapathi (stone masons and temple builders), Pattar (goldsmiths), Chettiar (merchants), Udayar (landlord), Padayachi (army man), Konar (shepherds), Kudumbar (Pallar village headman), Mudaliar (first ranked)?

I see no difference at all. Only the language used is different.

The Japanese and the European people do not live in denial of their heritage. But we are doing the exact opposite and we are still stuck in it.

We condemn our own race whenever we see Tamil people with these surnames. We also put the blame on Hinduism by claiming that it is a religion that promotes discrimination. 

Castes and occupational surnames are not a Hindu invention. Every society has its own clan divisions and its own list of surnames. Yet, we failed to realise that it is the same everywhere. 

We need to learn about other cultures and see the similarities with our own culture. Let's not live like a frog under the coconut shell.

(Picture taken from another blog)