Saturday, October 19, 2013

Dr. S. Sankaranarayanan an epigraphist

This is from Hindu dated 18 Oct 2013

"His knowledge of Sanskrit and history bring to light new perspectives".


Dr. S. Sankaranarayanan was an epigraphist with the Archaeological Survey of India for 21 years, director of the Oriental Research Institute, Tirupati, for 10 years, former Honorary Director, Adyar Library, and a recipient of the Presidential award for Sanskrit (1994).

Now 88, he greets me with “Mangalaanibhavantu.” As he talks on various subjects, one wonders why he didn’t make it to the top in government service. “I did not know how to move with officialdom,” he says. He is frank, perhaps a further disqualification.

After traditional learning in a Veda Pata Sala, Sankaranarayanan studied tarkka in the Ponnambala Pillai Sanskrit school, Chidambaram. One of the papers in Sironmani was Comparative Philology, and Sankaranarayanan’s professor advised him to study English, of which Sankaranarayanan’s knowledge was nil. So he taught himself English, and was enchanted by the language.

After his Matriculation and Inter exams, in which he scored high marks in English, he applied to Annamalai University, and was allotted History. “I wanted English major. But Vice Chancellor, Sir C.P. Ramaswamy Iyer said that with my background in Sanskrit, if I did history, I could be a good researcher.”

After completion of the course, Sankaranarayanan joined ASI. Dr. D.C. Sircar, who interviewed him, was to say in later years, “I appointed a diamond.”

When Sankaranarayanan was posted in Mysore, he did his Ph.D in Karnatak University, Dharwad.

Just as Sir C.P. had predicted, Sankaranarayanan’s background in Sanskrit and his strong footing in history, enabled him to look at history from new angles. He says that his theories in some cases are only inferential, but, as he points out, a lot of history is inferential.

Sankaranarayanan says that all Indian scripts are the progeny of Brahmi. Although the Vedas and Vedanga texts were learnt orally, there must have been a script in existence. How could works such as Panini’s Astahdyayi and Yaska’s Nirukta have been possible without a tradition of writing long before their time? He points to a passage in the Aitareya Aranyaka, which says that students should not learn the Vedas by writing in ink, or scratching on clay tablets or leaves, or by engraving on stones. If there had been no script, why should there be an injunction against writing?

Amarasimha in his thesaurus refers to Panini’s bhasha as Bharati Bhasha - a language having a pan-Indian presence, and labels Brahmi as a synonym for this language - Brahmi tu Bharati Bhasha. Brahmi, according to Sankaranarayanan, must once have been the name of Sanskrit and the script later took on this name.

Sankaranarayanan edited the earliest Sanskrit inscription in South India. This is from a pillar in Guntupalli, in West Godavari District, Andhra Pradesh. It is significant, because it belongs to the time of Salankayana King Nandivarman II (the last quarter of the 4th century A.D.), when Sanskrit replaced Prakrit once and for all in epigraphs in South India in general.

Sankaranarayanan says that Sankara’s biggest achievement was was that he established Vedanta as a separate Sastra, independent of Mimamsa.

Sankaranarayanan believes that a careful study of Sankara’s works indicates that he must have lived before 500 A.D. He also cites a copper plate inscription from Sanjeli, Gujarat, dating to about 506 A.D., in defence of his theory, although other epigraphists have interpreted the inscription differently. The inscription says King Bhuta granted two villages to an institution called ‘Bhagavatpaadaayana’- that is, the temple of one Bhagavatpaada. The inscription says that the villages given as an agrahara, were reclassified and redesignated as ‘parivraajakabhojya’, and the use of this expression is important, for ‘parivraajakabhojya’ means land given to a Brahmin ascetic of the Paramahamsa order. Sankaranarayanan says the Brahmin ascetic referred to here must have been Adi Sankara.

Women and sacrifices

Another inscription with regard to which Sankaranarayanan differs from the editors, relates to a widowed Queen Nagamnika, who, according to a first century B.C. inscription, performed Vedic sacrifices. The editors felt something must have been missing in the epigraph, for it was unthinkable that a woman would have been allowed to perform sacrifices. But Sankaranarayanan says there were some Mimamsa schools that allowed women to perform sacrifices. The Vedic injunction is ‘svarga kaamo yajeta’- he who desires heaven should perform sacrifices. Now svarga kaamah is masculine gender, and so it was concluded that only men could perform sacrifices. But the school of Badarayana argued that this was not the right interpretation, for there is also an injunction – saranaagato rakshitavyah- he who has taken refuge must be protected. Does this mean a woman who seeks refuge must be turned away? Nagamnika might have followed the Badarayana school, says Sankaranarayanan.

Sarabasvaamin, the author of the Mimamsa Bhasya, made caustic remarks about men, who intoxicated with love for their wives, allowed them to perform sacrifices. Why would he make such an observation, if women did not perform sacrifices? Interestingly, Sarabasvaamin and Nagamnika were not far apart in time. Nagamnika, according to the inscription, performed 15 Vedic sacrifices, including Asvamedha and Rajasuya.

Talking about the date of the Kurukshetra war, Sankaranarayanan says that if one tries to reconcile all possible evidence, one is inclined to conclude that there was not one war, but two! He rejects the suggestion that the war may have been totally fictional. He admits that what we have is a highly embroidered account, but the core of the story must be true. But if there had been two wars, why would all accounts talk of only one? “If you did not have a proper account of the two World wars, but the memory of the wars was kept alive through stories, then would you not get confused and think of the two wars as one? That’s what must have happened in the case of the Kurukshetra war.” He argues that one war took place in the 25th century B.C. and the other in 10th century B.C.

As for Sanskrit education, he says the new found dislike of Sanskrit is purely political. Is it not possible to have regard for both Sanskrit and Tamil, he asks. In this context, he says that the Vaishnava commentator, Periavachan Pillai, through his Manipravala commentary, did a great service.

Sankaranarayanan has an unusual interpretation of the Ahalya episode in the Ramayana. He says later literature did a grave injustice to the Vedic God Indra, by portraying him as a villain. Halya means cultivable land. When the rains fail, the land is Ahalya- uncultivated. Indra is the god of rain. Will not the land delight when it rains? So must we see Ahalya’s delight in Indra, for when it rains, she once again becomes cultivable, he explains. But what is Rama’s role then? “He restored agriculture to the land.”

Dr. Sankaranarayanan is currently working on a book titled ‘Sri Sankara and his bhashya in a historical perspective’. He has already typed 1,000 pages and has more to do.


- Paramacharya gave Sankaranarayanan the title ‘Vedasastra Ratnakara.’
- Sankaranarayanan has brought out critical editions of Bhojarajacaritra, Abhinavagupta’s Gitartha Sangraha, two commentaries on Tarkkasangraha and Deepikaaprakaasa, with his own tippanis, to name just a few of his published works.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

April Fools' Day

April Fools' Day, sometimes called All Fools' Day, is one of the most light-hearted days of the year. Its origins are uncertain. Some see it as a celebration related to the turn of the seasons, while others believe it stems from the adoption of a new calendar.

New Year's Day Moves
Ancient cultures, including those of the Romans and Hindus, celebrated New Year's Day on or around April 1. It closely follows the vernal equinox (March 20th or March 21st.) In medieval times, much of Europe celebrated March 25, the Feast of Annunciation, as the beginning of the new year.

In 1582, Pope Gregory XIII ordered a new calendar (the Gregorian Calendar) to replace the old Julian Calendar. The new calendar called for New Year's Day to be celebrated Jan. 1. That year, France adopted the reformed calendar and shifted New Year's day to Jan. 1. According to a popular explanation, many people either refused to accept the new date, or did not learn about it, and continued to celebrate New Year's Day on April 1. Other people began to make fun of these traditionalists, sending them on "fool's errands" or trying to trick them into believing something false. Eventually, the practice spread throughout Europe.

Problems With This Explanation
There are at least two difficulties with this explanation. The first is that it doesn't fully account for the spread of April Fools' Day to other European countries. The Gregorian calendar was not adopted by England until 1752, for example, but April Fools' Day was already well established there by that point. The second is that we have no direct historical evidence for this explanation, only conjecture, and that conjecture appears to have been made more recently.

Constantine and Kugel
Another explanation of the origins of April Fools' Day was provided by Joseph Boskin, a professor of history at Boston University. He explained that the practice began during the reign of Constantine, when a group of court jesters and fools told the Roman emperor that they could do a better job of running the empire. Constantine, amused, allowed a jester named Kugel to be king for one day. Kugel passed an edict calling for absurdity on that day, and the custom became an annual event.

"In a way," explained Prof. Boskin, "it was a very serious day. In those times fools were really wise men. It was the role of jesters to put things in perspective with humor."

This explanation was brought to the public's attention in an Associated Press article printed by many newspapers in 1983. There was only one catch: Boskin made the whole thing up. It took a couple of weeks for the AP to realize that they'd been victims of an April Fools' joke themselves.

Spring Fever
It is worth noting that many different cultures have had days of foolishness around the start of April, give or take a couple of weeks. The Romans had a festival named Hilaria on March 25, rejoicing in the resurrection of Attis. The Hindu calendar has Holi, and the Jewish calendar has Purim. Perhaps there's something about the time of year, with its turn from winter to spring, that lends itself to lighthearted celebrations.

Observances Around the World
April Fools' Day is observed throughout the Western world. Practices include sending someone on a "fool's errand," looking for things that don't exist; playing pranks; and trying to get people to believe ridiculous things.
The French call April 1 Poisson d'Avril, or "April Fish." French children sometimes tape a picture of a fish on the back of their schoolmates, crying "Poisson d'Avril" when the prank is discovered.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Samashti Upanayanam in New Delhi
by mahesh

Dear Sri Ganesan – Namaskarams….It is amazing to see that this has been going on for 40 years now! It is such a noble service – you all are true devotees of Mahaswami.

With the benign blessings of their Holinesses Sri Kanchi Kamakoti Peetam Jagadguru Sri Sankaracharya Swamigal `Samashti Upanayanam’ is arranged in Delhi every year since 1974, in connection with Sri Sankara Jayanthi on the auspicious day chosen by Sri kanchi Acharyal. This year Sri Sankara Jayanthi comes on Wednesday, the 15th May, 2013 and Sri Periaval has directed that this year Samashti Upanayanam be arranged on the auspicious Muhutham, on Sankara Jayanthi day, Wednesday, the 15th May, 2013.

Accordingly, the 40th year Samashti Upanayanam will be performed on Wednesday, the 15th May, 2013 at “Kanchi Kamakoti Bhavanam – Delhi” in Sri Devi Kamkashi Mandir, Opp. J.N.U. East Gate, A-11, Aruna Asaf Ali Marg, New Delhi 110 067.

Those desirous of performing the Upanayanam of their Wards may contact the at the given address or on phone number 25742607 / 9871765727 / 26867240 / 26890508/ 22720797 / 22771692 / 26865513 and register their name, Veda and Gothra at the earliest, in any case, before the 5th May, 2013.

All are requested to participate in the community cause and be recipient of blessings of Vedamatha and Sri Acharyals.

If any one further require any other assistant they can contact me at

An excellent annual activity on Sri Shankara jayanthi day at Delhi.

Thanks to Sri. Mahesh for posting this information at

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Sri Hanuman’s education and Marriage

Never knew that Lord Hanuman was married. Rare picture – at least for me! Jai Hanuman!

The boons granted by the gods made Hanuman invincible. The monkey child became uncontrollable. He became very mischievous. His pranks irritated many. He did not spare the sages even. He would pounce on them and tear their dress. He would throw fruit and leaves, perched atop trees. They bore with him patiently being aware of his future. One day a sage was very much disturbed by Hanumantha. The sage went into a rage and cursed Hanumantha: “ May you forget your strength with which you have caused us so much of pain”. The curse changed the life of Hanuman altogether. He became very calm and inert. The change pained the sages. They altered the curse on him. They blessed him thus: “If any one reminds you of your strength, you would recognize your strength and abilities and succeed”.

This boon chastened Hanumantha. He became a well-behaved child and an epitome of virtuousness. Hanuman was growing older. His mother told him: “Son! It is time to get educated. There is no better teacher than Surya, the Sun god, who dispels all darkness. Go to him and gain knowledge.”

Even though he was omnipotent, Hanuman obeyed his mother. He reached the Surya Mandala and humbly prayed the Sun god: “O! Surya Deva, I want to learn Vedas, Vedangas, and Upangas from you. Please teach me.” Surya replied: “O! Boy of Anjana, I am always on the move, as ordained by Almighty, how can I teach you? ”

Hanuman was angered. He blocked the path of Surya. Surya pacified Hanuman. He said: “I have no objection to teach you. But you have to find a way to learn”.
Hanuman stood facing the sun and started walking backwards. Surya was moving forward and was teaching Hanuman. Lord Siva is said to know all and Hanuman, who is Lord Siva’s incarnation, proved to be one who knows all as well. With in a week of his education, he astonished Surya. Surya praised Hanuman. Hanuman wanted to continue his education. Instead of walking backward, he put one foot on the rising hill and the other one on the setting hill to face the Sun god. Hanuman’s interest and devotion pleased the Sun god. Surya taught all that is to be taught to Hanuman.

Surya was married to Sanjana, a daughter of Viswakarma. Sanjana was devoted wife but was unable to bear the heat emanating from the Sun’s rays. She was suffering with anguish. Her mother noticed the daughter’s plight and sought to know as to what the problem was. Sanjana explained her problem to her mother. Her mother in turn told Viswakarma of Sanjana’s problem. Viswakarma told Surya that he would polish off some of the luminescence of Surya. Surya agreed. Viswakarma was able to polish off some luminescence of his son-in-law. The luminescence thus separated took the form of young woman. Her beauty and grace astonished even gods. Indra wanted to know as to who would marry that shinning brilliant young women. Brahma thought for a while and replied: “Hanuman who is essence of Lord Siva’s fiery power will marry the young woman. Since Hanuman tried to grab the ever glowing Sun god, he alone can bear this glowing young woman”.

Surya remembered Brahma’s utterance. By than Hanuman’s education was complete. He was ready to graduate. He bowed to Lord Surya and said: “O! My divine teacher! Thanks to you I am educated now. I would like to take your leave now. I would like to offer you an appropriate fee as Guru Dakshina. Kindly order me”.
Surya immediately replied: “O Hanuman, you are the incarnation of Lord Siva who bore the poisonous HAALAAHALA to save the universe when the ocean was churned. You are also son of Agni, the fire god. Viswakarma separated a part of my luminescence and the world is unable to bear it. You are the only one who can bear it. So I want to offer you my daughter Suvarchala formed from my ‘VARCHAS’ (luminescence), in marriage. Marry my daughter. Since husband is the one who is to bear, you also bear my ‘Suvarchas’ by marrying Suvarchala. Your marrying her shall be my Guru Dakshina”.

Hanuman listened to his teacher and replied politely: “O Lord! I have decided to follow Brahmacharya throughout my life. How can I marry?” Surya replied: “O Hanuman, this Suvarchala is a divine one, Ayonija. She would be a devoted wife. I am giving you the boon that you would still be a Brahmachari even after marriage. You would continue to be a Prajapatya Brahmachari. Your marriage is only for the welfare of the Universe and it would not affect your chosen course of celibacy. You were a born Brahmachari with a Yajnopavita (Sacred thread). Brahmacharya will be your eternal pursuit. Since you are going to be a Brahma in future, Suvarchala will then occupy the place of Vani”.

Hanuman obeyed his preceptor’s advice. Surya presented Suvarchala to Hanuman. It is stated in PARASARA SAMHITA, that Surya offered his daughter Suvarchala in marriage on JYESTHA SUDDHA DASAMI. It was a Wednesday under the star UTTARA. Those who respect tradition, even to this day, observe “HANUMAT KALYANAM” (Hanuman’s Marriage) on JYESTHA SUDDHA DASAMI day.

Attukal Pongala Festival at Attukal Temple, Thiruvananthapuram


Attukal Pongal Festival (Attukal Ponkala) is a world famous annual festival celebrated at Attukal Bhagavathy Temple in Trivandrum, Kerala. Attukal Pongala is a 10 day festival which starts from the Bharani day on the Karthika nakshatra of the Malayalam month of Makaram - Kumbham (February - March) and ends with the sacrificial offering known as Kuruthitharpanam at night. Attukala Pongala Mahotsavam, is an exclusive women’s only festival, which has entered the Guinness Book of World Records for being the World’s largest religious gathering of women. Attukal Bhagavathy Temple is called as the ‘Sabarimala of Women’.

Attukal Pongala Celebrations

The 9th day of the ten day festival is the Pongala day. 'Pongala' literally means “to boil over” and is an offering of boiled rice in earthern pot to Attukal Amma, an incarnation of Goddess Parvathi Devi, the presiding deity of Attukal Bhagawathy Temple. Women prepare Pongala Payasam, a sweet offering of boiled rice with jaggery, coconut  gratings, nuts and raisins in earthen pots. Some people also prepare other sweet dishes like therali appam, elayappam, panchamrutam, and mandaputtu (prepared with rice powder and jaggery).

Every year more than a million women from different parts of India and world gather at the temple premises and in the temple vicinity to offer Pongala to Attukal Amma. Devotees who gather to offer Pongala to Attukal devi increases in numbers every year. The rush is so intense that the entire Trivandrum City, about 5 km radius around the Attukal temple, becomes the holy grounds for women to offer Pongala nivedyam to Goddess. From temple grounds to courtyards of houses, to bus station and railway station to public roads one can see only devotees offering Pongala to Attukal Devi.

The Pongala cooking rituals starts around 10.30 in the morning and by noon the ponkala would be ready. The ceremony concludes at around 2.30 PM when the temple priests starts sprinkling of holy water (theertham) on the Pongala payasam offered by devotees. The Flying Club of Thiruvananthapuram sends a helicopter around the area to shower flowers to the honour of the Goddess.
Let us all pray for the blessings of Attukal Amma

"Sarva Mangala Mangalie Sive Sarvardha Sadhike
Saraneye Thryambake Devi Narayani Namo Sthuthe"

Attukal Pongala ritual held at the Attukal Bhagavathy Temple inTrivandrum, Kerala, is noted for the largest gathering of women in a single place on a single day in the world. Attukal Pongala 2013 date is February 26.  Attukal Bhagavathy is an incarnation of Goddess Shakti and the Attukal Temple is known as the Sabarimala of women.

The Pongala festival will commence when the idol of the Devi will be embellished with ‘kappu.’ 
The world famous Attukal Pongala is on February 26, 2013. Pongala ritual commences at 10:30 AM on  February 25. Pongala will be offered to Goddess at 14:30 hrs. 
A unique Hindu festival, Attukal Pongala is an annual congregation of more than a million women to offer Pongala to Attukal Devi, an incarnation of Shakti, the Mother Goddess in Hinduism. Pongala, or Ponkala, is an offering of boiled rice in earthern pot. Attukala Pongala has entered the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest gathering of women in the world.Attukal Temple is located in Trivandrum, Kerala, and the deity is popularly referred as Attukal Amma.

Attukal Pongala takes place during the Malayam month of Kumbham (February-March). Millions of women gather on the day to cook Pongala. They arrive from different parts of India and from around the world. Each woman makes a hearth and cooks Pongala. Women also cook sweet dishes made out of jaggery and rice powder like – mandaputtu, appam and therali. The cooking ritual begins around 10.30 in morning and is completed with the sprinkling of theertham (sacred water from the temple) around 1530 hrs.

Every Hindu festival has the backing of a myth and Attuka Devi’s is associated with the Shakti cult particularly the story of Kannaki.

Significance of Attukal Pongala

Without any persuasion or advertisement, more than a million women assemble in the Indian southern city of Trivandrum in Kerala on the day when Pooram Nakshatram and Poornima coincides in the Malayalam month of Kumbham (February - March). In 2013, Attukal Pongala is on February 26. Their sole aim is to cook rice with jaggery and coconut for Attukal Amma and seek the blessings of the Goddess who is the incarnation of Kannagi.
Attukal Pongala is held on the ninth day of the 10-day festival at theAttukal Bhagavathy Temple. The goddess worshipped at Attukal temple is Kannagi who is an incarnation of Goddess Parvati, the consort of Lord Shiva.
Kannagi is the heroine of famous Tamil poem Silappathikaram - the Epic of the Anklet. The story has it that Kannagi’s husband Kovalan was unjustly put to death by the ruler of Madurai for stealing the anklet of the queen. Kannagi proves the innocence of her husband at the court and in anger sets the entire Madurai city on fire. She then leaves the city and on her way to Kodungalloor shrine stops at Attukal.

It is said that the Goddess appeared as a child before an elderly man who was performing his evening oblations at the Killi River. The child wanted to cross the river but the old man was surprised to see a small girl at that odd time. So, he helped her in crossing the river and decided to take her home. Couple of minutes after reaching home, the young girl was not to be seen. During that night, Goddess appeared in the dream of the old man and told him that she had drawn three lines in a sacred grove nearby and she would like to reside there. Next morning, the old man went to the place and to his surprise found three marks at the suggested place. He built a small temple there and as time passed the Goddess brought prosperity to the region and the local people renovated the shrine to the present status.

People believe that the Goddess showers her blessings on women and children. She suffered injustice and her suffering symbolizes the suffering of women in all
ages. The goddess providesstrength to overcome the numerous impediments.
Children like her because she appeared in the form of a child and the Goddess has a special place for children in her mind. 

Record books have been rewritten by this unique gathering of women. Some people call it the Kumbh Mela of South India and for some the temple is the Sabarimala of women. Words often fail to catch true spirit of the thousands of women who sit on the roads of Trivandrum city making porridge for the Goddess.
Why do women gather in such large numbers? Most of the women make pongala to receive the blessings of Amma. Some do it for the welfare of her family. Some do it for favors received. Some do it for material gains. Some do it routinely. Each woman has a reason of her own. It is said that Attukal Amma never disappoints her devotees.

From a temple ritual, Attukal Pongala has now transformed into a celebration of womanhood. It is the celebration of Shakti – the one Mother, creator of all things or the primeval energy of the Universe that derives all divine and cosmic evolution. From her everything that exists was born to her all things will return. All animate and inanimate are her creations and she sustains them. She has a myriad forms - loving mother, girl, lover, sister, wife and the terrible that can annihilate. It is this Shakti, the great Mother goddess known by countless names, that is worshipped by millions of her representatives on the Earth on Attukal Pongala.