What can a human gain? Reflections from Vishwamitra’s tale

Humans have no limit to their desires. Fulfill one, another is ready to knock your door. Sometimes, the desires inspire humans to do great things but most of the times, the crowds of desires take you to a deep dark ditch, from which it is impossible to come out.

Vishwamitra’s tales are all over Hindu scriptures. He appears not only in Ved and Puran (Shruti and Smriti) but also in Ramayan and Mahabharat (Kavya and Itihas). Born Vishwarath in the royalty of Kanyakubja, was initially mentored by Dattatreya, the avatar of Lord Shiva. As a king, he desires to become the Universal Monarch, the ruler of all the World. But a battle with Vashistha changes everything.

Vishwarath, happy and proud of his victories, one day appears at Vashistha’s ashram. The king and his soldiers are hungry and tired. However, the sage easily provides adequate food for the huge army. Vishwarath wants to know how. Vashistha shows him Nandini, the divine cow who can provide any wish.

Vishwarath wants the cow for himself despite Vashistha’s warning that Nandini has free will and will only go with Vishwarath if she wants to go. Enraged, he wants to capture the cow but with her powers, she created an army to destroy the king’s army.

Despite his loss, the king wishes to teach divine beings a lesson. He gains Daivi astras (divine weapons) through yagya and goes to attack Vashistha. The son of Brahma absorbs everything with a Brahmadanda (a stick).

Enraged, Vishwarath gives his kingdom to his sons and starts a tap. One day, while meditating, he discovers Gayatri Mantra, the beej (seed) mantra of creation. Vishwarath becomes Vishwamitra.

His discovery shakes Swarga. Indra sends Menaka, an apsara to disrupt his penance. Although, Vishwamitra falls for her beauty, when he realizes he had been tricked, he leaves her. Menaka goes back leaving their daughter Shakuntala to the ashram of another Rishi, Kanva.

Vishwamitra continues his Yogic practices, gains siddhi and reaches the level of Brahma when he creates a universe for Trishanku. Trishanku had been cursed by Vashistha’s son Shakra for wanting to go to heaven with his human body. Vishwamitra did what was forbidden but also gained the title of Maharishi from Brahma for the feat he accomplished.

But the desire of revenge against Vashistha does not die. He gets involved in a act that kills Shakra. Vashistha, while sad that his son died, is glad that Vishwamitra’s act has actually helped improve his clan morally. Vishwamitra, who had desired to kill Vashistha, comes to know that the Brahma Putra had actually guided him in his spiritual journey. He realizes that his journey was not to be the king of the world, but its friend, Vishwa Mitra.

The tale of Vishwamitra shows that humans can push their limits to any extent. They can even equal the Brahma. But the biggest achievement is to act on the benefit of the world. With great power, indeed comes great responsibilities.

(I was inspired to write this article after finishing Vineeth Aggarwal’s Vishwamitra.)

A Wedding (Part 2/4): The Groom’s House

(A Wedding is a single essay that I chose to break into 4 parts because of its length. This is the 2nd part. The feature photo was obtained from http://photos.merinews.com)

***

A pile of furniture items, plus a television arrive the groom’s house. The furniture set includes everything: a double-size bed, a sofa set, a glass table, a dining table, six chairs, the TV drawer, and a beautiful wardrobe. There is a problem. Where are they going to keep everything?

The groom’s house is not that small but renting two other flats have made it smaller. The porters do a good job of bringing the furniture set up to the terrace. They scatter the items all over, one after the other.

Dark clouds are hovering close to the hills. They have not hidden the sun but the cold wind is threatening to bring a downpour. I look at the groom’s house. I don’t see anyone. I find it a little strange. Where are all the people?

***

A couple of hours have passed. The clouds have darkened. My mom comes home from her work. She is curious. She opens the curtain and looks. “Who piled all those? And where are all the people?”

“Don’t know,” my sister and I say.
“It’s going to rain. If the furniture all get wet, they’ll damage soon.”

I look up again. It’s really strange. There is no hustle and bustle. What’s going on?

“Before my wedding, I’m going to sell everything and empty the house. A part of the expenses will also be covered,” I say, laugh and roll on my bed.

“What are you saying? Why would you do that?” Mom and sister are shocked and then they understand. “To avoid this situation?”

I reply with a nod. Mom starts laughing. I laugh more. Sister stops me.

“What would we do with the double furniture set?” I ask.

“One set for us, one for you and your wife. Don’t you understand?”

“No, I don’t. Why should the bride’s family should give everything to the groom? And why should a groom accept everything he is given? As if he does not have anything. As if they cannot buy anything on their own.”

“This strange new custom is making things difficult for the bride’s parents.”

“Exactly! They are not only sending off their daughter, they are also drowing themselves in debt in their old age. If they’re in their youth, we can expect them to earn again. How will they spend the rest of their life?”

Mom agrees. She understands the problems but can’t solve them. Neither can I, but point out another problem, “The bride’s parents send everything with their daughter so that the couple can easily separate from the family.”

“Yeah, she has everything already. She has every right to use her stuffs. She can also fight when others use her stuffs.”

“Couples also get lazy. They don’t have to work to earn anything. They don’t know the value of the stuffs.”
As I was preaching, I remembered that Mom too had got some furniture and stuffs from her parents. When I said that, Mom said, “But I left them in the home (in Terai). We had only a couple of utensils when we came Kathmandu. We earned everything one after the other. We didn’t expect anything from our parents.”

Will I expect anything from my parents once I get independent? Will bringing stuffs from my wife’s parents damage my self-esteem.

I can’t decide. The bride’s parents love their daughter, obviously. However, back in their mind they have other issues:

  1. showing off
  2. daughter’s security

“Showing off” is what Mom said “the strange new custom”. A part of our society is always better off. They can afford anything. Another part copies them. They don’t “cut their coat according to the cloth they have”. They borrow money and stuffs. They fall in debt. They show to the society that they are better than that uncle with the biggest house in the community.

I can’t describe the feelings parents go through when they send their daughters to someone else’s home. In rural areas, parents cannot meet their daughter for years. In some places, daughters-in-law have suffered for “not bringing enough dowry”. The groom’s family beat, burn and kill the bride. In urban areas, particularly in Kathmandu, such cases are rare. Daughters can visit their parents whenever they want. And the parents send away stuffs even if the groom opposes. Still, they are scared.

They are scared that their daughter may not get the love and affection she gets with them. They are scared that the mother-in-law and/or sister(s)-in-law may not stay in harmony for long. In their subconscious mind, they have implanted a thought that the bride and the groom may/will have to separate themselves from the family.

“Parents should teach daughters to be independent,” I say. “They should not show that their parents can do everything for them. They should also focus on their family’s integrity. They should not provide their daughters a backup for separation.”

Mom disagrees a little on my last statement. “They are not giving backup for separation. They do it thinking it is the best for their daughter. The bride should also take care of the husband’s parents as her own and she should not boast of what her parents gave. Her excessive pride can cause separation.”

We come to the same conclusion through different routes blaming the bride and her family completely and overlooking the problems that the groom and his parents might bring up. In almost every part of the world, a girl leaves her birth home at marriage. It is etched as one of the most important gender roles. Accommodation in the new home is always difficult. In absence of good facilitation, the bride may feel excluded and the rest of the family might ignore her. Both result in conflict.

Right now, however, we are looking at the dark clouds and the groom’s house again. The wind is howling. Mom decides to help them out. She flashes out amidst the clapping and sparkling clouds.

***

Wedding expenses have always bothered me. More often in the bride’s side. Groom and his family too have expenses but as my Mom says, “The only real expense is on feeding people. Actually, there is a net profit.”

The party begins the day (in some cases, a week) before the wedding. Usually, the day before the wedding, a Yagya is perfomed. Relatives of the groom, his neighbours and friends come to his home and take the Prasad.

The wedding reception is the occasion where the expenses are maximized. The same people who attend on the Pooja above, come to the reception as well but there is a substantial increase in the number of mouths, main course, desserts and beverages.

The net profit for groom comes with the “precioussss” yellow metal and papers that can be used instead of the metal. Both the bride and the groom receive a good amount of gold from both their parents. They again receive a hefty amount, in Kathmandu, during the reception.

***

The groom’s house is now covered by beautiful lights, almost as in Tihar. The family is exhilarated. A Laxmi is about to enter the home.

Holi, HH Henry, and Monarchy vs Republicanism

Not long ago, we used to sing the glory of King as our National Anthem. The words were difficult even for adults. As children we could not understand its meaning, so we could not sing it. A revolution changed everything. Even if it was led by a man who went antimonarchist at his old age, we got a National Anthem that truly reflects our feelings. Watch players singing the Anthem after they defeated India in the South Asian Games, you’ll understand what I mean.

Six days ago, Prince Henry of the UK, popular as Prince Harry landed in Kathmandu. Holiday, the Spring festival of colours had already begun. In the Kathmandu, Holi is a week long festival with the actual colourful celebration on the seventh day. He added colours on our faces this Holi. He actually participated in the celebration of the festival at Pokhara.

There was a time when the British Empire ruled the world. “The sun never set in the British Empire,” I had been taught. Most countries attained freedom from the Empire during the rule of George VI, the great grandfather of Prince Harry. The Prince got much attention in the media. After all, the British Royal Family is still one of the most influential institutions. A member of that institution had made his first official landing that day. The Prince got the attention he deserved. But he also grabbed a fair amount of respect during his official visit to Nepal

His plain clothing, indulgence in the acts of wood-carving and visits to the camps of the earthquake victims added glory to his charm. People (including me) have already started posting pics, memes and blogs praising the Prince. He is staying a week longer than his official visit and he has not demanded security or anything but has been willingly participated in healing the wounds of last year’s earthquake victims.

We are what I believe in a nostalgia the Prince created this week. Most people of my father’s age might have remembered King Birendra, when he was a Prince and his sons Dipendra and Nirajan. The course of history changed after their assassination and Gyanendra Shah became the King. I bet that we were insecure because the throne would eventually go to his son Paras, who has a bad reputation among the public as a drug abuser. There was one way the civic right activists and politicians knew that would certainly abolish the fear- remove the Monarch. We could not let our fates be decided by an incompetent heir to the throne. Our fates had to be decided by ourselves. No system could do that better than the Republican system.

Once the civic right activists and the politicians convinced people to throw off Monarchy, people came down to the streets. They threatened to capture the Royal Palace, albeit peacefully. Each and every part of the nation saw the surge of people who had finally decided that they needed someone among themselves to rule and not someone who would automatically handover his powers to his son- no matter how incompetent or disliked he is. For the first time, we wanted to be our own masters.

Some days prior to the British Prince’s visit, I saw this article on Facebook. The article proves that Monarchy still exists among us as its ghost. The ghost will not move out unless we seek better ways of ruling ourselves. We have the keys but we keep losing them, sometimes because we listen to our neighbours and sometimes because we can not choose among ourselves the brightest and the ablest. I still believe that democracy is the only way to go forward. No dictator or monarch is going to save us- that’s the path we had chosen when we had become a part of the antimonarchist movement. That’s the way we sing the National Anthem in its true sense.

[Note to the politicians: Just look at the way the British Prince acted this week. Most of you came from poor families, you struggled for a penny in your childhood, you spent the most productive years of your lives fighting the Monarchs including the King I mentioned above. Now that you have become lavish-rich, you have forgotten your grounds. If a Prince can be down-to-earth, why can’t you?

Note to the Common Nepalese: By choosing Republican system over Monarchy, we have given ourselves the upper hand. If that means something, its time we wake up. We are our own masters. Those bureaucrats, parliamentarians and ministers are those who we selected or are responsible for our well being. We can bring the individual crooks down. Bringing down the system will be a disaster.]

Great Power, Greater Responsibilities

“I am not so sure. I had proven, as a very young man, that power was my weakness and my temptation. It is a curious thing, Harry, but perhaps those who are best suited to power are those who have never sought it. Those who, like you, have leadership thrust upon them, and take up the mantle because they must, and find to their own surprise that they wear it well.”                                                                                      (Albus Dumbledore in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows  by JK Rowling)

I had never thought of Harry Potter series as the one which consists of a sense of revolution at the core. When I had read it two years ago, I had forgotten to notice this and the last chapters of the last book had been lame to me. Now when I read it two years later, I see that Lord Voldemort was neither as powerful nor as clever as that mentioned in the earlier books of the series.

The series contains in its core the struggle for power. Where on this world there is no struggle for power? There are people, who to invoke fear among others, destroy the lives of thousands. They are feared all over and they overpower those who live. Such tyrants never get any respect. And among those who hate them, comes out a leader, who encourages the others to fight.

Harry Potter is one such leader, whose destiny had been changed by the murder of his parents. Voldemort- a tyrant and a fool, who had always seen people begging to him for their lives and kills everyone on his way for the fun of it, was affected by the willingness of Harry’s parents to die instead of their child. The boy unknowingly gets pulled into the struggle since.

The above quote is an important to understand the core of the series. It also carries the question of morality. How many humans have understood that having power might make them corrupt – that they are not worth it? Very few people had understood that. Mahatma Gandhi, for instance and in our case, Ganesh Maan Singh were able to understand the corrupting nature of the power they had to hold. We always think that they could have done better as the heads of each of their countries, but they understood somehow that they were not worth the power they would have. They believed that good leaders are those to whom leadership is thrusted, not those who go and seek for it.

Albus Dumbledore, once he realized that he would not do well with power, confined himself, helping the revolution against the power-seekers – Grindelwald and Voldemort. The above quote also reminds me of another character in the series, who evolves on his own into a leader- Neville Longbottom. He could have suffered the same fate as Harry, and could have been the hero in the story or would not have existed at all. By the end of the series, he gets the recognition as a leader of revolution against Voldemort. Not only that, he becomes worth of the Gryffindor’s sword- previously used by Harry and Ron Weasley – and destroys Nagini- the last horcrux.

The search for an able, worthy leader goes on in the real world, though. And one in a million, we can find such a leader. One who has the power over all, with a lot of respect and also with sense of responsibility towards all is the leader we want for the world. Even more for our Nepal. We need the one who understands these words quoted by Ben Parker to his nephew, Peter (Spiderman):

With great powers, come great responsibilities.