Saturday, February 22, 2014

Ashy crowned Sparrow lark: The camouflage specialist

I was at Haveri, about 25Km is Bankapur fort, from here about 10km (there is a tempo that is quite infrequent) is Baada, you will have to walk about a km to reach Kanakadasa’s birth place. There seem to be elaborate plans to develop the place; you could see some construction activity.  While I was walking on this shrubby terrain strewn with rocks that a bird fluttered and bolted away few feet from me, he so very well camouflaged that I didn’t see. So I walked cautiously to witness Ashy crowned Sparrow lark male in its full glory, it has quite a peculiar way of descend. You could see from the picture above how beautifully he blends into the surroundings. 

Ashy crowned Sparrow lark (Eremopterix griseus) is a sparrow sized bird of lark family that can be seen throughout the peninsula in the shrubby habitat. They nest on the ground, in small depressions.   

Kanakadasa, a saint poet and reformer 

Kanakadasa was 16th century philosopher saint and poet, originally Thimappa Nayaka, he was a warrior (and did not belong to “warrior community” as many writings seem to point out. This is temple squatter’s deviant way of looking at things that has become dominant narration, since there is no ‘community’ that can claim to be warrior or non warrior, these are not decided by society but by individual choice and competence. The reason for Indian society’s incompetence could be traced to these frameworks of assigned occupation which even our Gandhi found some charm!! These ideas still thrive in mediocre India, quite ironically Kanakadasa was fighting against these very evils), he got injured in one of the battles, during this period he had some sort of enlightenment. He is in many ways comparable to Kabir, in using common people’s language and motif to express nuanced insightful thoughts. It is a statement on his talent and compassion for the plight of common people that even after 500 years he remains immensely popular in Karnataka region. He is so popular that many of his writings are part of well received Karnatic songs. Movie on him in Kannada (none other than Rajkumar played the role of Kanakadasa, has become a classic). Incidentally Kanakadasa’s birth anniversary, Nov 20, is a state holiday in Karnataka. Though i must point out here that the English translation of his work is very hard to find (I checked out each and every bookstall and library in Mysore).     

Kanakadasa belonged to the tradition of Haridasa literary movement, who wrote devotional compositions which could be set to music with simple instruments. This movement was part of Bhakti movement that held its sway from 14th to 19th century. His concerns were directed against casteism and the devilishness it spread. In one kirtana he tells how people neglect their duties but call themselves “pure”. He says that "bathing in the river without conquering internal pride, envy and wrath is meaningless" and "exhibiting hyperbolic devotion is like an actress exhibiting her illusory beauty." He was stridently against rituals. Commenting on the hypocrisy, he says that he would like to be a servant of a chandala than to be a vicious ‘Brahmin’. His songs were dedicated to the lord and sought to connect to common people, he even used the allegory of humble food of the poor, ragi, to bring out the truth. 

The story goes that he once visited the famous (infamous is better suited) Krishna temple in Udupi but the temple squatters did not allow him in.  His devotion was such that, it is said, the lord i.e. the statue bent and turned west and gave him darshan through the window. Even today devotees visiting the temple try to relive the joy by peeping through this window. It seems like a good story but I have strong objection to the morals here. The zombies (read devotees) who accept these nonsenses should question the temple squatters on their propriety. It is a deeply disgusting matter that progenies who denied Kanakadasa are most likely running the temple. The soul of Hinduism is so very dark. Instead of questioning discrimination met to Kanakadasa, it is being celebrated with miracle story. Quite clearly these miracle stories were little squatter’s daily trick, Kanakadasa being an enlightened man was sought to be included through miracle, anything less than miracle will not be in the scheme of things, further it added to the branding of the temple. I stayed in Malpe beach for three months many years back and never went to this temple, frankly I don’t go to temples, it makes me sick. I find presence of temple squatters deeply disturbing unless they are evicted Hinduism remains a cesspool of muck, the reason the edifice (i.e. the society) is so very deviant. People having temple squatter surname are similar to nazi symbol on the forehead, probably it is much worst. Since Indian elitizens will not allow breach and common people are religiously driven zombies (I don’t blame them they work under overwhelming odds), it is for the international community to take action. They must deal with these very strictly and take the Indians to task for this heinous system that has been so far sold as some kind of cultural diversity, the crass impunity is shocking. There is a severe human right violation happening here. It is much worse than racism. Indians with genocidal surname should be denied visa by the international community!! 

English Translation of Nee Mayeyolago
Are you a creature of illusion? or illusion your creation?
Are you a part of the body? Or is the body a part of you?

Is space within the house? Or the house within space?
Or are both space and the house within the seeing eye?
Is the eye within the mind? Or the mind within the eye?
Or are both the eye and the mind within you?

Does sweetness lie in sugar, or sugar in sweetness?
Or do both sweetness and sugar lie in the tongue?

Is the tongue within the mind? Or the mind within the tongue?
Or are both the tongue and the mind within you?

Does fragrance lie in the flower? Or the flower in fragrance?
Or do both the flower and fragrance lie in the nostrils?
I cannot say, O Lord Adikeshava of Kaginele,
O! peerless one, are all things within you alone?

From my scribble pad…

Thoughts to be pulped

Gandhi, I read
was a mahatma
apostle of peace and bearer of non-violence.
He stands like a statue on busy street
clutching his lathi in a rigor mortis thought.
Alright let’s give him a break
Here he comes down from his high pedestal
And swing his lathi at the sleeping policeman
Take the cheating politician by his throat
and chase the goon down the street
Gives the children lesson on morals
and teachers some guidance.
Feed the poor from his pocket.
Meets the business leaders and extol them to contribute for society
Calls on the scientific community to be inspiration
Speaks on climate change and dangers of nuclear bombs.
Is there anything else left to do, he ponders,
and climb back to his pedestal.

Bit trite, I say.
No he isn’t concerned about any vigilantism
Or superhero stuff.
Aha so he takes up the stone
Swings it at the baffled street cow where it hurts the most
Plucks the wings out of butterfly
Dismembers the insect
Smokes marijuana
And piss down the bridge over the passing train
Pukes at the sleeping dog
Utters profanity concerning sacred
Swears at the kind stranger
He chuckle, relieved
climb up his pedestal

That I think will complete
a blasphemy that every statue
in every street corner will find hard to replicate
and live to tell.    


Saturday, February 15, 2014

The Indian Spot billed Duck

 A rather common bird in the water bodies across the country, the male has a red spot on the base of the bill hence the name. 

Akka Mahadevi, an enigmatic woman

I have seen Akka Mahadevi’s pictures in small shops around Karnataka, a saintly naked woman covered in her own braids. I was quite intrigued but somehow didn’t pursue the matter. The other day I was at Haveri, a non-descript town, and was going through the sites and came across Akka Mahadevi. Her birth place happens to be about 70kms from Haveri which falls in Shimoga district (unlike what is mentioned in websites, you take a bus to Shiralkoppa and then to Udugani -it is mentioned as Uduthadi in websites, but you ask locals they haven’t heard!!). The roads are narrow so it will take about three hours and above in bus. So here I was at the birthplace of Akka Mahadevi and staring at her golden painted statue on a hillock.

Akka Mahadevi was a 12th century bhakti movement saint and poet (essentially she wrote vachanas); you could see a comparison to Meera and Andal. Unfortunately though as is the case in India, the mediocre society has classified her into some narrow sects and has since appropriated her into a divine figure, intact with a temple. Veershaiva started with egalitarian intent is reduced to caste like sect called lingayats (hindu sect that bury their dead) and are a potent political force with superior intent in pecking order, just another instance of reducing everything to its mediocre base. 

Though I find these repulsive, the temple dedicated to her has uniqueness of being an all-woman affair. The deity, priest and managing committee are all woman!! Quite a respite from patriarchal expressions of religion, and the ensuing cringe. The story goes that the king of the region wanted to forcefully marry her, she in turn strips herself and walks off, never to wear cloths again!! If you can understand how primitive our society is, even now, in terms of traditions crushing individual freedom, then you will realise the significance of Akka Mahadevi. And that makes, arrogating her into divine fold, furthermore tragic. Shockingly the temple of Akka Mahadevi also doubles up as centre for blessing childless couple, with strategically placed cradle all decked up with baby toy. What can be more repulsive? A revolutionary woman like Akka Mahadevi reduced to conservative utilitarian conceptions of society that very carefully places itself in patriarchal norms. Final stroke of insult was that the deified Akka Mahadevi was in marble stone, as is the trend these days –gods as “pure white”, and decked in red saree.

I am without pride of caste
Without pride of resolute will am I.
I have cast away the arrogance of riches,
Of the pride of learning also I have none.
No manners of pride dare come near me,
For Thou hast blest me with Thy Grace

 I bought a book from the counter Akka Mahadevi Life And Vachana’s by Leela Devi Prasad, a badly translated thin book that shouldn’t cost 60R, and came across these lines “…but in her appearance, she was like any other woman. The society at large could not see her as any different for any woman of good character and high dignity, the identification was linked to her family. For her righteousness, her character and her husband’s identification was considered important….but Akka Mahadevi explains her relationship in totally way. A woman’s spiritual attainment need to be linked with anything else excepting her own spiritual power…thus Akka was born a woman in some respects but she matched man in many ways”. I doubt whether Akka Mahadevi was trying to match men, as is being interpreted, because that will be accepting patriarchy as reference point. The pointers of packaging Akka to the modern world seems to be hinged on these lines, as I understand from my observations. I feel quite sorry for this misuse and lodge my strong protest. I also want to know during these period women of lower sections who may not be wearing proper cloths were “woman of good character and high dignity”? It seems the purity brigade has taken over the legacy of Akka Mahadevi. I am reminded of Bharatnatyam, essentially a devadasi dance form that is now completely appropriated by temple squatters and stultified as their divine niche.       

 Akka Mahadevi used her spiritual strength to revolt against social system, her presence steadfastly challenged the patriarchy and ordained place of woman in society. She rose above these; it is no coincidence that she sought blessings of saint Basava, a social reformer and not some temple squatter. She declared herself to be married to the god (in this case Mallikarjuna, a form of Shiva) thus challenging the whole conception of ritual religion. Her actions questioned woman as essential family embellishment and regressive values so derived. She walked naked to demolish the myth of woman as centre of societal pride and her body as arbitration of cultural references. 

To the shameless girl
Wearing the white Jasmine Lord’s
Light of morning,
You fool,
Where’s the need for cover and jewel?
She strode her own path and my hunch is that she put up the façade of ‘married to the god’ as a fence against the overwhelmingly conservative society; she used bhakti movement to assert herself. It is a denial rather than superior assertion. It also not a coincidence that among common people –though Akka is sanskritised and sought to be purified, is essentially a representation of female power.  

Oh hunger stay, stay
Oh hunger stay, stay
Oh desire stay, stay
Oh sleep stay, stay
Oh anger stay, stay
Oh attachment stay, stay
Oh greed stay, stay
Oh pride stay, stay
Oh jealous stay, stay
I am carrying a letter to the god.
Akka Mahadevi remains a definitive reference for female rebellion but also an important figure in the anti-Brahminical and anti-caste movement that thrived for just society about 800years back. She chose to wander naked, unmarried and unescorted by male. She remained independent from male domination. She did not rely on guidance from any male figures. Traditionally, it was believed that only ‘high caste’ men were able to become renouncers and Hindu society identified women with family and sexual pleasures, and thus were not seen to possess the ability to become ascetics. She rejected these traditional roles of men and women and strove to present the independent strength of the female saint.

As long as woman is woman, then
A man defiles her;
As long as man is man,
A woman defiles him.
When the mind’s taint is gone, is there room for the body’s taint?...

Sunlight made visible
(English version by A. K. Ramanujan)

Sunlight made visible
the whole length of sky,
movement of wind,
leaf, flower, all six colours
on tree, bush and creeper:
                        all this
is the day’s worship.
The light of moon, star and fire,
lightnings and all things
that go by the name of light
are the night’s worship.
                  Night and day
                  in your worship
                  I forget myself
O lord white as jasmine.

Monkey on monkeyman's stick

     Monkey on monkeyman's stick
     puppet at the end of a string

I've played as you've played
I've spoken as you've told me
I've been as you let me be

     O engineer of the world
     lord white as jasmine

     I've run
     till you cried halt.

People, male and female,

male and female,
blush when a cloth covering their shame
comes loose
               When the lord of lives
lives drowned without a face
in the world, how can you be modest?

When all the world is the eye of the lord,
onlooking everywhere, what can you
cover and conceal?

The lure of miniature elephants: I am quite besotted to elephants wherever I travel I keep an eye open for miniature elephants. Over the years I have a fair collection, the picture herein is only a part. From Kashmiri paper mache to Pakistani onyx to Jabalpur marbles to Karnataka sandalwood to Bidari to Rajasthani….