Autumn Resilience

Those were the Autumn days, about two decades back,
Was out and about with family, had festivities to make.

Was on my way back home, when the warning was issued,
The Cyclone was approaching, we tried to rush all we could.

Efforts were not enough, and we got stuck in a bad traffic jam,
With huge trucks around us, ours was a tiny car in the open.

The hours passed, a veil of darkness descended upon us,
We heard big roars, as if the devil’s lung was about to burst.

The Cyclone went about its business for the whole night long,
Destroying vehicles, houses, as if licked with its thorny tongue.

Twisted trees and power poles alike with all its might,
Wiping out years of mankind and civility in just one night.

We stayed in that car for the whole time, huddled and scared,
The winds tried to toss us, and we thought we won’t be spared.

That was one scary Autumn night, like none I had seen before,
With everything else destroyed, as if we were left to tell the lore.

It was long before, when cyclones were without any names,
Less powerful, and may be a slightly less in fearsomeness.

Rising temperatures have made them more common than ever,
Autumn is synonymous with cyclones now, and will be in future.

When the world prepares for festivities at the arrival of Autumn.
My tribe is either preparing for a cyclone or is recovering from one.

As mankind “progresses” towards a better “future” elsewhere,
There will be people here who pay more than their fair share.

Not paying for the “progresses” they haven’t made, not a choice,
Autumn and its cyclones are now a story of my tribe’s resilience.

Having stood steadfast in the face of the cyclone of this year,
They pick up pieces, preparing for the next without any fear.

Autumn Resilience
An old man looks at the restless sea under black clouds as he prays using prayer beads, at Puri in Odisha, India.

My first encounter with a cyclone was way back in 1999, when me and my family were caught unawares while coming back from a roadtrip during Dussehra. We spent a night inside the car, stuck in a traffic jam on the then infamous Andhra-Odisha border. The storm raged on outside, and tried hard to toss and turn our car as the eye of the storm passed right over us. When the storm passed and dawn broke, almost everything around us was destroyed. The super cyclone of 1999 followed it, and became one of the worst natural disasters of the Indian subcontinent.

Over the years we moved to naming cyclones in the Indian ocean region, but the cyclones didn’t relent. On the east coast, Odisha became their primary target, and they came back every year during Autumn, the festive season in India. As global temperatures have risen, Odisha has been gearing up for cyclones, every year since, that is, after facing its annual bout of floods.

And for the people of coastal Odisha and the adjoining hills inland, they don’t understand what on Earth is worth the price they pay for every Autumn, year after year. The industrialisation that doesn’t exist in their backyard, the infrastructure that is just beginning to show up, the vehicles that don’t ply on their roads, or the over-consumption of resources that they are not party to? Or is it that they pay the price for someone else’s luxury?

VERY IMPORTANT TO NOTE: Yes, you can share this work with proper attribution. But, please seek permission before using this work (not including the photo), partially or fully. YOU CAN NOT USE THE PHOTO. Believe me, asking is better than ending up in court or facing public shaming on social media. Thanks for understanding.

© Amrit Panigrahy. All rights reserved.

धरोहर

कहानियां बीते सदियों की जब हालात कुछ और हुआ करते,
इनसानों के बीच फुट कम, और पुल बहुत सारे थे जुड़ते।

सदी, जब ना था किसीका कोई भगवान, और ना कोई धर्म,
गोरा या काला, इनसान का रंग ना पैदा करता था कोई भ्रम।

जब मानसिकता नहीं थी भ्रष्ट, और ना था सोच में कोई पक्षपात,
सृष्टि का भला होता था एकमात्र धर्म, बस एक ही थी इनसानियत।

वैसी एक धरोहर हमरा हक था,
विरासत में मिला केवल विवाद,
फुट इतनी गहरी, और घाव इतने,
के पूरा समाज होने चला है बर्बाद।

क्या ऐसी एक धरोहर पर हक है हमारे बाद कि पीढ़ियों का?
क्या ये हमारा फ़र्ज़ नहीं के हम उनके लिए छोड़ जाएं कुछ अच्छा?

The stories of a different time altogether, when bridges between men outnumbered the differences.

A time when there was no God and no religion, and color of the skin did not create any confusions.

A time when the mentality was not corrupt and thoughts were not prejudiced, and everyone’s well-being was the only religion, and was the only humanity.

We deserved such a heritage. Instead, we inherited only differences, the fault-lines so deep and wounds so many, that the society is headed for destruction.

Do generations yet to come deserve such a heritage, a legacy of differences? Isn’t it our duty to leave something better for them?


Assembly Hall
The Assembly Hall, as this cave in the Bhimbetka rock shelters is called. It is open on both sides and held a very important place among the inhabitants. This cave was used for community meetings, with the boulder at the center believed to be the seat of the Chief.

Rock shelters of Bhimbetka were continuously inhabited from at least a hundred thousand years ago to as recently as the medieval period. These rock shelters look over the alluvial plains of the Betwa river (a tributary of Yamuna to the north), the plains which extend right up to the foothills of the mighty Himalayas.

Bhimbetka gets its name from Bhim Baithak (sitting place of Bhim of Mahabharat). The rock shelters find themselves mouth of the Deccan traps, along the Dakshinapath, the ancient important trade route that connected the southern India, which lied beyond the Satpura-Vindhya range, with northern India. The location makes the then inhabitants of these rock shelters prime witnesses to India’s unfolding history – Lord Ram’s exile and subsequent southern campaigns, the exile of the Pandavs, civilizational shift from Indus plains to Gangetic plains, Emperor Ashoka’s ascend, rise of the Satavahans and Islamic invasion of southern India. It was as if destiny had reserved the best seats of an epic called “India”, for the “primitive” inhabitants of these rock shelters.

They first find mention in modern times in 1888, by British India officer W. Kincaid in his scholarly paper, the rock shelters were physically discovered only in 1957 by V. S. Wakankar. Though thought to have been lost, their proximity to Bhojpur, the ancient capital of Raja Bhoj, and to the Dakshinapath means there have been exchanges between the inhabitants of Bhimbetka and other human encampments/civilizations.

What make these rock shelters special and earn them the badge of a “World Heritage Site”, are the paintings on the rock faces, created by the inhabitants. The oldest painting here is believed to be at lease 30,000 years old (oldest existing painting in the world is at least 40,800 years old and is in El Castillo, northern Spain). And then there are the cup marks on few rocks, believed to be as old as the habitation itself in Bhimbetka, and would be earliest evidene of human creativity, and so make Bhimbetka one of the earliest cradles of cognitive human evolution in the entire world.

Rockshelters of Bhimbetka, is entire mankind’s heritage indeed!

Note: As I keep digging my storage device for photos from Bhimbetka, I will update this blog post.

VERY IMPORTANT TO NOTE: Yes, you can share this work with proper attribution. But, please seek permission before using this work (not including the photo), partially or fully. YOU CAN NOT USE THE PHOTO. Believe me, asking is better than ending up in court or facing public shaming on social media. Thanks for understanding.

© Amrit Panigrahy. All rights reserved.

Danda Jatra – The Festival of Punishment

ହେ ଋଷିପୁତ୍ରେ!
ଆଇଲେ ହର, ଦେଇଗଲେ ବର,
ଅନ୍ୟ ସେବା ଛାଡି ଏ ସେବା କର।

ଏ ସେବା କଲେ କି ଫଳ ପାଏ,
ଉଷୁନା ଧାନ ଗଜା ହୁଏ,
ଶୁଖିଲା କାଠ କଞ୍ଚା ହୁଏ,
ଭଜାମୁଗ ଗଜା ହୁଏ,
ଅପୁତ୍ରିକ ପୁତ୍ର ଦାନ ପାଏ,
ଅନ୍ଧ ଚକ୍ଷୁଦାନ ପାଏ,
ଜରାରୋଗ ଭଲ ହୁଏ।

“Dear Sons of the Sages! Lord Shiva has come and granted you boons. Give up everything else and do this service. If you do this service, you can make the impossible possible, parboiled rice and fried green gram will sprout, dried wood becomes a living tree, childless mothers bear children, blinds get vision and old people become young again.”


It was the Hindu month of Chaitra and I was driving by a village in southern Odisha. While passing, by I heard the sound of the drums and the grave tune was potent enough to teleport you into another dimension. It had to be, for it was meant to please the fiercest forms of Shakti and Shiva – Goddess Dandakaali and Lord Rudra, respectively. As I grew curious and stopped the car, my father told me it was Danda Jatra, pronounced as thuh (as in “the”)-wn-daw zaat-ra, literally meaning the festival of punishment.

Drummers
Drummers beating a very grave tone, announcing the arrival of Danduas to villages from far off.

Danda Jatra traces back its origins to more than a millennium ago, when it found importance in the Tantrik practices of a predominantly Shakta (worshippers of Shakti) Kalinga of 10th century AD, or thereabouts. Danda Jatra is by the farming community and for the farming community, cutting across all castes, and revolves around the daily life of a farmer. In simple words, the practice revolves around the age old tradition of “barter”, wherein in this case the Dandua (as the people who take part in this festival are called) asks for a few wishes to be fulfilled by Goddess Dandakaali and Lord Rudra and in return promises to spend 13, 18 or 21 days in penance and abstinence (the punishment), spreading the message of Shiva and Shakti.

Danda Jatra
Danduas walking past a village in a procession holding these flags, to the beat of drums, and spreading the message of Shiva and Shakti.

Every team comprises of 13 Danduas and there are more than 300 teams in existence today. From the start, for 21 days the Danduas abstain from any kind of indulgence like meat (of all kinds), liqour and physical intimacy with their partners. On the strike of midnight of the first day, they take bath in the village pond, wear saffron colored clothes and congregate near the village temple. After a few rituals Hara-Gouri (basically Shiva and Shakti) are consecrated as two holy sticks (also called Danda in Odia). Then they light the holy fire by (you guessed it right!) rubbing two bamboo sticks against each other, and this holy fire remains lit till the end of the festival. I saw them roaming around in villages with the holy fire and the consecrated sticks, and blessing households and shops as the walked along.

Danda Jatra
A Dandua carrying the holy fire around the village, to bless the households and shops. The holy fire is kept lit for whole 21 days.

They go around giving performances in villages upon invitation, and through the use of comedy and light-heartedness (sometimes vulgar), they spread serious messages from the scriptures, about ways of life and righeousness. When they perform on the dirt, it is called Dhuli Danda (Dhuli in Odia means dust), and when it is in the water, it is called Pani Danda (Pani in Odia means water). And then there is something known as Danda Suanga, which usually starts around midnight and continues well into the morning next day.

I had heard about it as a kid and had seen it a couple of times when I went to the villages with my father. I had the opportunity of watching Dhuli Danda this time. The Danduas had made square shaped farmlands on the ground, by lying down on the dirt, and one of them acted as a farmer, who used two of them as oxen to cultivate the farmland and then planted seeds. And so the daily life of a farmer continued.

Dhuli Danda
The Danduas on the dirt are mimicking farmlands, and two running towards the camera are acting like oxen cultivating the farmlands. The Dandua behind them acting as the farmer.

Danda Jatra is one of the toughest festivals to take part in for the Danduas, high summer temperatures, lack of sleep, off-schedule and mainly midnight rituals, and just one full meal take a toll even on the most seasoned of them. The meal that is prepared is neither grinded nor boiled, and is offered to Goddess Dandakaali and Lord Rudra first. The Danduas have the food after that in the dead of the night, outside the village and amidst the deafening sound of the drums. They are not supposed to hear any sound while eating, not even that of a bird chirping. If they hear any such sound, or find any impurity in their food, they won’t take that food and stay hungry that night.

Exhausted
A Dandua sitting on the road exhausted. High summer temperatures, lack of sleep, off-schedule and mainly midnight rituals, and just one full meal take a toll even on the most seasoned of them.

On the day of Vishubh Sankrati (the day when Sun crosses the equator and moves into the northern hemisphere), also the last day of the Danda Jatra, the Pata (Paa-taw) Dandua, the leader of the team who wears only black, plays an important role. It is said that Goddess Dandakaali herself possesses him, and then he is tied upside down with holy fire lit right below his head. Sal tree resin (locally called Jhuna) is thrown into the fire repeatedly and it creates a lot of smoke. Amidst loud chantings, it is repeated till the Pata Dandua bleeds from the nose and exactly three drops of blood fall in the holy fire right below. This signifies Goddess Dandakaali having accepted the offerings, and the Danda Jatra culminates.

Pata Dandua
The Pata Dandua plays a very important role in the Danda Jatra, and acts as the medium of communication between Goddess Dandakaali, the Danduas and the villagers.

Danda Jatra is a religio-spiritual practice, and is held with reverence and much fanfare in rural southern Odisha, even after a millennium since it started. Modernity has influenced it in many ways. And, my quest for knowing the practices around Danda Jatra more intimately, and bringing them out to the larger audience, remains a medium-term project.

Jai Dandakaali!


VERY IMPORTANT TO NOTE: Yes, you can share this work with proper attribution. But, please seek permission before using this work (not including the photo), partially or fully. YOU CAN NOT USE THE PHOTO. Believe me, asking is better than ending up in court or facing public shaming on social media. Thanks for understanding.

© Amrit Panigrahy. All rights reserved.

Bhakta Salabega

“ଆହେ ନୀଳ ଶୈଳ ପ୍ରବଳ ମତ୍ତ ବାରଣ,
ମୋ ଆରତ ନଳିନୀ ବନକୁ କର ଦଳନ।”
– ଭକ୍ତ ସାଲବେଗ

Dear Lord of the blue mountain, trample and subjugate my restless mind, like a mighty elephant destroys a lotus pond. Thus save me!
– Bhakta Salabega


Salabega (pronounced Saa-law-be-gaw), one of the greatest devotee of Lord Jagannath was a Muslim by birth. He wrote very beautiful devotional songs dedicated to the Lord. Bhakta Salbeg’s era dates back to about half a century after Kalapahad (yes, I will tell his story too, but that’s for a different time!) had wreaked havoc on Odias, in the early 1600s. Odisha was reeling under Mughal rule. Lalbeg was the Mughal subedar of the Odisha province at that time.

While returning from a conquest, Lalbeg fell for the beauty of a bathing Brahmin widow near a place called Dandamukundapur (which is near present day Sakhigopal between Bhubaneshwar and Puri). Lalbeg forcefully took away the Brahmin widow to his harem and married her. Bhakta Salabega born in 1607/08 AD was their only child. After growing up, Salabega accompanied his father to many military conquests. In one such battles Salabega was grievously injured.

On his death bed, Salabega listened to his mother who was still a Jagannath devotee and started praying to the Lord. By the grace of the Lord and under his mother’s care Salabega had a miraculous recovery and became Lord’s devotee for life. After recovery from his injuries Salabega went to Puri for Lord’s darshan but was turned away from the temple for his religion of birth. Heartbroken Salabega left for Vrindavan hoping that he would have the Lord’s darshan around a year later during Rathyatra.

When Salabega was returning to Puri during Rathyatra a year later, he fell ill midway. He was very disappointed, as now he would have to wait for another year to be able to see Lord Jagannath. So he started praying, and Lord Jagannath being how He is, obliged and His chariot Nandighosh didn’t move even an inch from where it was, till Salabega didn’t reach Puri, and was able to see Him in his own eyes.

After his death, Salabega was cremated at the same spot on Puri Badadand (grand road) where Nandighosh had stopped. His samadhi still stands there, and it is customary for Nandighosh, Lord’s chariot to stop in front of Salabega’s samadhi during Rathayatra.

Bhakta Salabega wrote many beautiful devotional songs dedicated to Lord Jagannath, each of those equally expressive of a devotee’s devotion and His greatness. “Ahe nila shaila”, pronounced “Aa-he nee-law shai-law” (the same one from where the opening lines of this post are taken) is the most well known. You can watch a much shorter and slightly modernised version of the original here.

For those of you interested in the original lyrics of “Ahe nila shaila”, below are the stanzas in Odia and their English translation.


Devotion
A Russian devotee of Lord Jagannath singing His praise right outside the Singhadwar (Lion gate) of the temple in Puri, Odisha.

“ଆହେ ନୀଳ ଶୈଳ”

ଆହେ ନୀଳ ଶୈଳ ପ୍ରବଳ ମତ୍ତ ବାରଣ,
ମୋ ଆରତ ନଳିନୀ ବନକୁ କର ଦଳନ।
“Dear Lord of the blue mountain, trample and subjugate my restless mind, like a mighty elephant destroys a lotus pond. Thus save me!”

ଗଜରାଜ ଡାକ ଦେଲା ଥାଇ ଘୋର ଜଳେଣ,
ଚକ୍ର ପେଶି ନକ୍ର ନାଶି କୃପା କଲ ଆପଣ।
“When the King of elephants cried out your name in pain when his foot was caught by a crocodile, you sent your disc to kill the crocodile and rescue the elephant. Thus save me!”

କୁରୁସଭା ସ୍ଥଳେ ଶୁଣି ଦ୍ରୌପଦୀର ଜଣାଣ,
କୋଟି ବସ୍ତ୍ର ଦେଇ ହେଳେ ଲଜ୍ଜା କଲ ବାରଣ।
“After hearing Draupadi’s cries for help from the Kuru court, you saved her from being ashamed in front of the court full of men by providing her with a million yards of clothes. Thus save me!”

ଘୋର ବନେ ମୃଗୁଣିକୁ ପଡିଥିଲା କଷଣ,
କେତେ ବଡ଼ ବିପତ୍ତିରୁ କରି ଅଛ ତାରଣ।
“When the deer was in excruciating pain in the dense forest, you saved her from a grave danger. Thus save me!”

ରାବଣର ଭାଇ ବିଭୀଷଣ ଗଲା ଶରଣ,
ଶରଣ ସମ୍ଭାଳି ତାଙ୍କୁ ଲଙ୍କେ କଲ ରାଜନ।
“When the Raavan’s younger brother Vibhishan came to take refuge under you, you gave him refuge and made him the King of Lanka. Thus save me!”

ଅଜାମିଳ ଡାକ ଦେଲା ଜୀବ ଯିବା ବେଳେଣ,
ତେଡ଼େ ବଡ଼ ପାପୀ ଗଲା ବଇକୁଣ୍ଠ ଭୁବନ।
“When a grave sinner like Brahmin Ajamik called out your name while dying, you liberated him. Thus save me!”

ପ୍ରହଲ୍ଲାଦ ପିତା ସେ ଯେ ବଡ଼ ଦୁଷ୍ଟ ଦାରୁଣ,
ସ୍ତମ୍ଭରୁ ବାହାରି ତାକୁ ବିଦାରିଲ ତକ୍ଷଣ।
“Prahalad’s father (a demon named Hiranyakashipu) was terrible and atrocious, and you came out of the pillar to tear him apart. Thus save me!”

ନୀଳାଚଳେ ବିଜେ କରି ବୌଦ୍ଧ ଅଵତାରେଣ,
ବେନି ଭୁଜ ଟେକି ପ୍ରଭୁ ଯାଚୁଅଛ ଶରଣ।
“You have chosen Neelachal (another name of Puri) as your abode, residing there as the Buddha incarnation of Lord Vishnu, and are offering shelter to everyone by lifting your hands.”

କହେ ସାଲବେଗ ହୀନ ଜାତିରେ ମୁଁ ଯବନ,
ଶ୍ରୀରଙ୍ଗା ଚରଣ ତଳେ କରୁଛି ମୁଁ ଜଣାଣ।
“Thus speaks the insignificant Salabega, who is a Muslim by birth, and I am appealing under your lotus feet, please save me!”


In frame: A Russian devotee of Lord Jagannath singing His praise right outside the Singhadwar (Lion gate) of the temple in Puri, Odisha. As was for Bhakta Salbeg, it is forbidden for this devotee also to enter the temple, because of his religion of birth and foreign origin.

VERY IMPORTANT TO NOTE: Yes, you can share this work with proper attribution. But, please seek permission before using this work (not including the photo), partially or fully. YOU CAN NOT USE THE PHOTO. Believe me, asking is better than ending up in court or facing public shaming on social media. Thanks for understanding.

© Amrit Panigrahy. All rights reserved.

Genesis of Jagannath

The mythical King Indradyumna saw in his dream a manifestation of Lord Vishnu as Nila Madhava (the Blue Vishnu), in the form of an Indranil gem. He sent out his courtiers in all directions to find out more about his dream. Among the courtiers was Vidyapati, the younger brother of the royal priest. He travelled east from King Indradyumna’s capital city of Avanti (present day Ujjain, in Madhya Pradesh). On his way he came to know about the legends of Kitung, a Sabara (tribal) God, being worshipped by the Sabara chief Vishwabasu. Kitung’s description sounded very much similar to that of what King Indradyumna had seen in his dreams.

With lot of difficulties, Vidyapati reached the Sabara village near Brahmadri hills on the banks of a big river (present day Mahanadi, in Odisha), the place where Vishwabasu lived along with his daughter Lalita and his other subjects. Vishwabasu was very secretive about the location of his God, Kitung, because he was bound by a pre-condition by Him that the day any outsider came to know about His secret location, He would vanish. After living there for many months, Vidyapati was able to win Lalita’s heart and gain Vishwabasu’s confidence, after being one of them.

After Vishabasu agreed for the marriage, on Vidyapati’s request he also agreed to take him to Kitung, but put up a condition that Vidyapati must be blindfolded for the entire route. Vidyapati agreed to this condition, however, secretly kept a handful of mustard seeds under his waist belt. While walking behind Vishwabasu, blindfolded and holding his hand, Vidyapati kept sprinkling the mustard seeds all through the way. After reaching the cave of Kitung, he could confirm that Kitung was what his King was looking for. He was indeed Nila Madhava.

On pretext of calling his parents and other family members for his marriage, Vidyapati went to Avanti, and reported to King Indradyumna about the location of Lord Nila Madhava. The King having found his Lord, gathered everyone and marched east, towards Vishwabasu’s village. Upon reaching the village, Vidyapati easily identified the route because the mustard seeds he had sprinkled had grown into small trees, and their bloom marked the path with their yellow flowers. When King Indradyumna reached the cave, with Vidyapati, Vishwabasu, Lalita and everyone else in toe, it was empty. Vishwabasu’s Kitung had vanished, as per the condition with him.

Having not found Nila Madhava, King Indradyumna repented. That’s when the voice from the heavens directed him and others to go further east, to the sea, where the Lord would then manifest Himself in the form of a very large, fragrant, reddish log, and the signs of conch, disc, mace, and lotus can be found everywhere on it. They were instructed to take out log from the sea, and make four deities out of it and worship them.

The location they found the log at would be present day Puri, on the east coast. The four deities would be the siblings – Lord Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra, Goddess Subhadra, and Sudarshan. The descendants of Vidyapati and Lalita, and the people from Vishwabasu’s tribe still serve Lord Jagannath and His siblings in Puri. Vishwabasu’s village on the banks of Mahanadi is today known as Kantilo, in Nayagarh district in Odisha. A temple was built in later centuries and Lord Nila Madhava was consecreted at the same spot where Vishwabasu once worshipped Kitung.

What happened of King Indradyumna? Well, that’s a story for some other time!

I grew up listening to these as bed time stories, and at other times reading them from story books. The more I listened and read, I got fascinated by things of the past, legend or truth. I wonder if the later generations could ever relate to these.

Nila Madhava
A priest comes running down the stairs of the west gate of the Nila Madhava temple, in Kantilo, Nayagarh district, in Odisha.

In frame: A priest comes running down the stairs of the west gate of the Nila Madhava temple, in Kantilo, Nayagarh district, in Odisha. Kantilo is believed to be the place where Lord Jagannath was being worshipped in his earlier manifestation of Lord Nila Madhava or Kitung, by the Sabara chief Vishwabasu.

VERY IMPORTANT TO NOTE: Yes, you can share this work with proper attribution. But, please seek permission before using this work (not including the photo), partially or fully. YOU CAN NOT USE THE PHOTO. Believe me, asking is better than ending up in court or facing public shaming on social media. Thanks for understanding.

© Amrit Panigrahy. All rights reserved.

The Day I Died

The roar of the river, and so close,
Drowned everything including sound,
Couldn’t even hear my mind’s prose,
Beneath, the slippery shaky ground.

The whirlpool right in front of me,
Couldn’t fathom how deep it could go,
To be locked in it, and lose the key,
Forever, with no more despair to grow.

My mind’s whirlpool was getting bigger,
Consuming everything, from inside out,
Event that led to this, and the rigour,
Everything that I thought I knew about.

Stood there thinking, on the bank of the river,
Cold wind touched my skin and I began to shiver.

Lot of rejections, a failed life I thought,
People who once “adored” had started to hate,
This agony and pain, on myself I had brought,
There won’t be any if they left at this rate.

The image of a life I had in my mind,
Things that I had started to believe,
In last few days all of it came unwind,
It started to question my love to live.

It was the river I had followed,
All the way up, and on way back,
And saw everything it had mowed,
The mountains it made to crack.

I walked a few steps on the bank, and now closer,
Thought it was okay if the world called me a loser.

Everything started to become hazy,
Was getting ready to make the jump,
Thoughts in my head were going crazy,
Clearly heard my heart’s frantic pump.

Everything fell silent all around, including the river’s roar.
I clearly heard but turned to find no one, and it shook my core.

I had clearly heard my Mom’s calling,
But I couldn’t see her anywhere near,
Didn’t know what kept me from falling,
And the whole event too much to bear.

More than a year later, when I think of it,
Perilously close I actually was to commit.

Cannot thank enough the divine intervention,
A blunder it would have been, for any reason.

All these days, this past in me had dormantly lied,
Nothing remained same, that was the day “I” died.

The “I” that was meek, and fragile..
The “I” that was weak and easily broke….


Lot of things were unfolding in my life during that time, and the mountains had turned my life upside down. People had changed, definitions had changed, and outlook had changed, or so I thought. I was finding it really hard to cope with all of it at once. And it is that moment of weakness I have portrayed in my poem above. Depression is a killer. You might not be as lucky as I am to have a divine intervention. So, please talk it out.

Remember, suicide is a crime against your loved ones!

Ganga
River Ganga flowing through a valley, under an overcast sky, downhill from Devprayag, in Uttarakhand, India.

In frame: River Ganga flowing through a valley, under an overcast sky, downhill from Devprayag, in Uttarakhand, India. It was here we had stopped for lunch on our last day in the mountains more than a year ago.

VERY IMPORTANT TO NOTE: Yes, you can share this work with proper attribution. But, please seek permission before using this work (not including the photo), partially or fully. YOU CAN NOT USE THE PHOTO. Believe me, asking is better than ending up in court or facing public shaming on social media. Thanks for understanding.

© Amrit Panigrahy. All rights reserved.

Women in India

“यत्र नार्यस्तु पूज्यन्ते रमन्ते तत्र देवताः ।
यत्रैतास्तु न पूज्यन्ते सर्वास्तत्राफलाः क्रियाः ॥”
– मनुस्मृति

“The divine are extremely happy where women are respected; where they are not, all actions are fruitless.” – Manusmriti


All the women who are reading this, I beg for your forgiveness. I hope this International Women’s Day brings about a change, not just in words, but in actions too.

It was on the morning of 17th December 2012, I trembled as I read the gory details of what was done to Nirbhaya the previous night. How could men do those things to a woman? Were they men, after all? And weren’t they born to women? And Aruna Shanbaug, ever heard of her? Before dying, she spent forty three years in a vegetative state in Bombay hospital. Her only fault was she was alone in the basement of the hospital where she used to work as a junior nurse.

In India, five women get raped every hour, seven get assaulted every ten minutes. From worshiping the feminine form as the source of creation to committing unfathomable crimes against her, we as a society have deteriorated a long way. From revered Goddesses to not even as equals and objects of pleasure, how did this fall happen? This calls for some soul-searching as a civilization.

In 9,000BC, some eleven thousand years ago, emerge the first evidences of humans doing agriculture for the first time in the Indian subcontinent. Till then, humans had been hunter-gatherers, leading a primarily nomadic lifestyle. They would seasonally move up and down the subcontinent in search of food. Agriculture was a serious affair, the fields needed to be tended to, and the crops needed to be watered. And in this transitory phase, just when they were starting to hone their skills in agriculture, the humans of the subcontinent faced a new challenge. How to be hunter-gatherers and farmers at the same time?

Because the women were not as strongly built as their male counterparts, given their existence by nature was for a different purpose, the answer was obvious. The women stayed back and started to tend to the agricultural fields, while the men ventured out, at first to hunt/gather, and later in history to explore and conquer. There was the foundation of our civilization as a matriarchal one. And it functioned with women at the center, everything else revolving around them. Given the large role women played at that time in procreation and keeping the household sorted, they began to be revered as Goddesses. Progressively, women took over all the intellectual jobs/vocations, those which weren’t physically as demanding and did not include much travelling, and allowed them to act as the foundation of a household.

The early invaders of this civilization did not have much success, not because of the lack of their military prowess, but because the foundation of this civilization, its smallest unit, the household remained intact, thanks to the above design. Over the period, they changed their tactics and went after the very foundation itself. When the women were attacked, the men didn’t have a choice but to protect them, and hence they kept them inside the houses. After a few generations, the act of protection became “traditions”, and then followed the ill-practices of purdah and sati. As time passed women lost their rightful place in our societies, a seat above rest of us all, earned by them for being creators themselves.

We as a civilization  failed them, and continue to do so even today!

First of all, women don’t need equal rights as men. Because, equal right would be equal in true sense if men too are capable doing things that women do, including managing a household, taking care of everyone’s needs and child birth. As a man myself, I am incapable. So, when feminists shout for equal rights, I cringe and rightly so!

Secondly, women were created better than men, and any objectification or anything considered demeaning in the household and outside needs to be dealt with sternly. The mindset that women as someone inferior needs to be shunned.

And lastly, just let her be. Stop ogling!

Remember, we can’t be the Vishwaguru if we keep ill-treating the source of creation itself.

Innocence
A small girl smiling for the camera on the hanging bridge across the Bhagirathi river, in Nautela, Uttarakhand.

In frame: A small girl smiling for the camera. Her smile could qualify for borderline grinning. I was busy taking photographs on the hanging bridge across the Bhagirathi river, in Nautela, Uttarakhand when I saw her and her tiny tot friends crossing. They were really fascinated by the camera in my hand.

VERY IMPORTANT TO NOTE: Yes, you can share this work with proper attribution. But, please seek permission before using this work (not including the photo), partially or fully. YOU CAN NOT USE THE PHOTO. Believe me, asking is better than ending up in court or facing public shaming on social media. Thanks for understanding.

© Amrit Panigrahy. All rights reserved.

 

One toe!

“इति श्रीरावण-कृतम्
शिव-ताण्डव-स्तोत्रम्
सम्पूर्णम्”

“Thus ends the Shiva Tandava Stotram, written by Sri Raavan.”

You subjugate all nine planets (navaghrah), all three worlds – heaven, earth and underworld, and all living beings. You are master of such knowledge that even your worst enemies would seek your presence to consecrate yagyas and offer prayers on their behalf. Things like all the wealth of the world is yours for the taking (albeit by force from your half-blood brother). When you are the strongest, the most knowledgeable and the most intelligent being alive, you would have some pride, wouldn’t you? Raavan did.

Was anything impossible for Raavan? Virtually no! Apparently, Naarad once told him that if could impress Lord Shiva somehow, He would grant Raavan boons that would make him invincible. As nothing was impossible for Raavan, he marched to Mount Kailash the adobe of Lord Shiva. Upon reaching, he did penance for many years but Lord Shiva was unimpressed. Angry with ignorance, Raavan sat down on one knee and picked up Mount Kailash on his shoulders, Mount Kailash with Lord Shiva and His family on it.

When He felt the tremors, Lord Shiva understood what was happening. To teach Raavan a lesson, while sitting on top of Mount Kailash He pushed it down with one toe. Raavan, the strongest, the most knowledgeable and the most intelligent being alive, was pinned down, and cried out loud in pain (and hence Lord Shiva gave him the name Raavan, from its Sanskrit root word “Ru”, which means to cry, bewail, roar, scream).

Lord Shiva was unmoved by Raavan’s cries. Raavan’s pain was compounded by the agony of not being able to impress Him, so he decided to do the unthinkable. Still pinned down under Mount Kailash, he ripped apart one of his heads (he had ten!) and one of his hands, took out his intestines and used them as strings to make a makeshift Veena, and started singing praises of Lord Shiva, which would go on to become known as Shiva Tandava Stotram (click here), which is still sung by devotees of Lord Shiva.

Raavan, the strongest, the most knowledgeable and the most intelligent being to have ever lived – fixed with one toe!


In the mortal world, nothing comes closer to depiction of Mount Kailash and the many stories associated with, than Kailash Temple in Ellora, Maharashtra, India. A World Heritage Site and commissioned by the Rashtrakutas, built in 8th century AD, Kailash (also known as cave no. 16) measuring 82m X 46m, is a megalith, i.e. built from one single rock. Unbelievable, isn’t it?

Kailash Temple
Kailash Temple is a World Heritage Site and was dedicated to Lord Shiva.

Kailash Temple was built top down (unlike other temples which are built bottom up) from a single rock mountain. It is estimated that in the process of building this temple, 400,000 tonnes of rock must have been scooped out, yet there is no large deposit of excavated rock to be seen nearby.

The temple is filled with depictions of many stories from the mythologies, and also includes full depiction of Ramayana and Mahabharata. The elephants carved at the base of the main temple give an impression as if they are holding the temple aloft. The ground floor of the main temple is solid rock, and takes the weight of the huge Shivling in the sanctum on the first floor. If looked closely, one can also see a painting on the ceiling in the first floor, and the painting has stayed intact more than a millenium.

The courtyard is surrounded by an arcade three stories high and depicting stories related mainly to Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu through lively sculptures, complete with even facial expressions.

All of it, from one freakin’ rock, which was freakin’ ‘uge!


In frame: Front view of the Kailash Temple, in Ellora, Maharashtra, India. A World Heritage Site, Kailash Temple was dedicated to Lord Shiva and built in 8th century AD. It is a megalith i.e. built top down from a single rock mountain.

VERY IMPORTANT TO NOTE: Yes, you can share this work with proper attribution. But, please seek permission before using this work (not including the photo), partially or fully. YOU CAN NOT USE THE PHOTO. Believe me, asking is better than ending up in court or facing public shaming on social media. Thanks for understanding.

© Amrit Panigrahy. All rights reserved.

 

In search of “Nothingness”

Bira (pronounced as Bee-raw, meaning brave in Odia) was born into a Brahmin family, in a Brahman Sasan. In Odisha, a Brahman Sasan is a village where every family is Brahmin. He grew up witnessing the monster called Brahmin supremacy and the twisted, distorted Hindu Sanatan religion. Tired of it, he and few of his friends went to Joranda and embraced Mahima Dharma. That was seven decades ago.

The allegation that was levelled against Bira was that he had converted and was no more a Hindu, so he and his family need to pay a fine to continue to stay in the village, to which Bira sternly refused. As a result, his family was banished from their ancestral village. One of main reasons was, even after being a Brahmin himself, Bira had challenged their supremacy. All other families of the village were asked to not keep any kind transaction with his family.

In the meantime, a letter was written to the high seat of Hindus in Jagannath temple, in Puri, asking them to advise a future course of action in Bira’s case. To which, they replied that it was settled long back and Mahima Dharma was very much a part of the Sanatan Hindu fold. After the ban on Bira’s family was lifted, having his point proven he chose to stay back in his ancestral village fighting further religious atrocities and intolerance, till he left for a city close by for his children’s education few decades later.

Bira Panigrahy was my grandfather. Of the group of people who embraced Mahima Dharma on that day, more than seven decades ago, only my grandfather continued to be a follower till his death. Any history of my association with Mahima Dharma would be incomplete without mentioning the brave man who was much ahead of his time. As I sat down to write this post, devotional songs written by the blind poet Bhim Bhoi and sang by Mahima devotees rang in the background. The devotees, even though having full time professions, accompany the monks  wherever they go. They were at our home as we were conducting something known as a “Balyaleela”, a yagna of sorts. The occasion this time was my grandfather’s death anniversary.

As per the teachings of Mahima Swamy (as the Master of Mahima Dharma is called), a human doesn’t need any intermediaries to reach the Supreme. All humans are born equals despite caste, creed, color, race, gender and religion. That there is only one God, the Supreme, who is shapeless and colorless, the nothingness in other words. The Supreme resides in every living and non-living being and everything resides in the Supreme. Mahima Dharma is a form of Vishisht Advaita, where every living being is respected equally. Followers of Mahima Dharma worship the nature and the universe, the nothingness within and without, and pray for well being of every living being of the universe.

The Offering
A Mahima monk accepting a coconut being offered by a follower of Mahima Dharma at “Dhuni Mandir”, the temple of fire in Mahimagadi, at Joranda, Dhenkanal, Odisha. The offered coconut will be burned in the holy fire.

The monks of Mahima Dharma as directed by Mahima Swamy himself follow an extremely ascetic lifestyle. For example, when they visit the houses of devotees, they not allowed to stay for more than a night, and are not supposed to go inside the house. They eat under the open skies, and are not allowed to sleep on beds for the rest of their lives. Giving up basically everything that would even remotely qualify as modern comfort. They have only one task at hand, spread the message of the Master, and in the process move ahead in their spiritual journey.

When I was on a road trip with parents in Odisha few months back, something strange had happened. After having spent few minutes in the Indralath temple, in Ranipur-Jharial, we came out and were getting ready to get inside the car. A drunk shepherd approached my father from nowhere, and told him “A Mahima monk had come here many many years ago when I was a kid. And he hosted a “Balyaleela” (a ritual done on special occasions), and there were lakhs of people.” There were no identifications either on my father or on our car which suggested that any of us were a follower of Mahima Dharma. The followers of Mahima Dharma are a very very small fraction of the total population.

Before that, when I had gone to see Puri during Rathyatra last year, I received a call from an unknown number. On the other side was a Mahima monk who visits our family very often. “Have you become a Jagannath devotee?”, he asked me, when on being asked I told him that I was in Puri. Worshiping deities, shapes or  forms is forbidden in Mahima Dharma.That the monk had called me for the first time ever, when I had come to see Lord Jagannath had to mean something; also, what the drunk shepherd was mumbling in front of the Indralath temple.

The celestial message was clear to me. I had to go visit the Mahimagadi, the seat of Mahima Dharma at Joranda, in Dhenkanal, Odisha. And what better time than the annual Maghmela, on the full moon day in the Hindu month of Magh.

On 31 January, 2018, Joranda was a mission accomplished!


VERY IMPORTANT TO NOTE: Yes, you can share this work with proper attribution. But, please seek permission before using this work (not including the photo), partially or fully. YOU CAN NOT USE THE PHOTO. Believe me, asking is better than ending up in court or facing public shaming on social media. Thanks for understanding.

© Amrit Panigrahy. All rights reserved.

The year song

 

Riding the waves
A young man running back to the shore from the sea

A song for the year, I had promised to write,
Taking time out in the middle of the night,
Thoughts rusty, and not organised so well,
But an year it was and many tales to tell.

So, here it is!

Before the year started, in hindsight it was like…

Retreating waves pulled me back to the sea,
Like vices in whose vice like grip I was in,
Vices I left behind on my way to the coast,
And to those no one would raise a toast.

With questions and no answers I started my year,
A start with much less joy and surely a lot of fear,
As if I stepped into the unknown blindfolded,
Fear of an uncertain future, and what lay ahead.

It was the best one ever. To sum it up…

I travelled ten thousand kilomeres on road,
To new places about which I had never heard,
Met people I would never see in my life again,
But memories of a lifetime, of joy and of pain.

I let go of the hands that I never thought I would,
Stopped missing people I never imagined I could,
Worked on myself and learned to be with me,
Had I felt bored with myself, I was in bad company.

Started to see every living being for what they were,
My lack of compassion, and it was totally unfair,
Biggest lesson was on empathy and to be able to relate,
Thank my stars I learned in time, and it wasn’t too late.

The universe has been very kind to me in return,
A lot of gifts and people with best intentions,
Gifts that will stay with me for my entire life,
People who will stay and will help me thrive.

When the waves pulled me, I came back riding them,
Stronger, wiser, calmer, compassionate and brave.

Now with 2017 behind me, here is my 2018 wish for you….

May you have my 2017, if not better than that,
I wish this for you from the bottom of my heart.

Call it a rhyme or a poem, this is my year song,
A song, I won’t mind humming whole life long.


2017 was a life changing year for me, with a lot a of changes for good. This is how good a year it was, in my own words, as a poem.

In frame: A young man running back to the shore from the sea, near Baruva, in Andhra Pradesh, India.

VERY IMPORTANT TO NOTE: Yes, you can share this work with proper attribution. But, please seek permission before using this work (not including the photo), partially or fully. YOU CAN NOT USE THE PHOTO. Believe me, asking is better than ending up in court or facing public shaming on social media. Thanks for understanding.

© Amrit Panigrahy. All rights reserved.