Anti-Hindu Agenda of India Today!

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Indian National media houses these days are spewing so much hatred towards Hindus and Hindu mythology, that it is becoming a norm. The Leftist so-called intellectuals are feeling threatened by the rise of Hindu Rightist intellectuals, and they are ready to be paid to write crap about a subject whose depth they have hardly understood. This is what we Hindu Intellectuals call “presstitution” and we will fight with words that follow the rules of Vak Tapas (austerity of speech); namely satyam (truth), priyam (pleasantness) and hitam (usefulness). Because unlike the pseudo-intellectual leftists, we do not spew harsh words that provide nothing useful and do not stand the test of truth.

India Today published an article on 15 June 2017, titled “8 dads from Hindu mythology we are glad we don’t have”. The article starts with justifying that there are bad examples of fatherhood even in ancient Greek culture and Christianity. But the authors conveniently miss out the worst example of a father who invented the religion called “Islam”, Prophet Mohammad. After allocating just one small paragraph in acknowledging the lack of good fatherhood examples in other religions and cultures, the rest of the article is completely dedicated to dehumanising, degrading and distorting the Hindu “mythology”.

The authors’ understanding of the Puranas and Itihasas is rudimentary and juvenile. They could have just left a single bibliography at the end of the entire article, quoting just the Amar Chitra comics. Let us take the first dad quoted by the authors as an example. The authors mention that Dushyanth (actually it is Dushmantha as per the text, but the geniuses renamed our dad-hero) and Shakuntala fell in love and got married as per the Gandharva ritual. Would the authors care to explain what rituals are involved in a Gandharva marriage? The authors also mention that Shakuntala was cursed by Sage Durvasa. Hope they have a proper Sanskrit verse to quote this detail, but I doubt they would find Sanskrit verses of the Mahabharatha in Amar Chitra Kathas. There is no single reference to Shakuntala being cursed by Sage Durvasa in the Mahabharatha. Neither did the King Dushmantha forget who is Shakuntala. The King has a primary duty towards his subjects and he cannot let any unknown woman to claim that the child belongs to him. The Gandharva form of marriage is devoid of any proper rituals and is not the best recommended form of marriage, also it is not denied for Kshatriyas. The marriage between Dushmantha and Shakuntala happened in the form of mutual and consensual sex, in secret, without the knowledge of the public. Therefore, the King Dushmantha had to publicly challenge Shakuntala to prove herself, despite knowing and remembering her involvement in his life. Shakuntala also clearly owned up to the decision she made in consenting to marry and accept Dushmantha as her husband, and she was determined to go to any lengths to make true the promise Dushmantha made to her before they had consensual sex. The promise being that the son born to both of them, Bharatha as we know now, will be the heir-apparent. She also succeeded in her endeavour. I would say that Dushmantha was a great father and a great ruler! He acted according to Dharma and he also upheld the reputation of Shakuntala and Bharatha.

I can go on to refute every single narrative that the “geniuses” have presented in this article, but I would rather not waste time when there are bigger fishes to fry.

The Leftist “intellectuals” will go to any lengths to smear the meaning of Hinduism. Their knowledge of Hinduism is forever limited and will remain limited because they do not take efforts in studying about Hinduism from the correct Hindu Scholars. Instead they rely on the likes of Sheldon Pollock, Wendy Doniger, Devdutt Pattnaik and the likes of Amar Chitra Kathas for gaining knowledge in Hinduism, conveniently avoiding true Hindu Panditas and Shrotriyas like Swami Dayananda Saraswati (Arsha Vidya), Swami Sathyanarayana Dasa (Jiva Institute) and Dr David Frawley.  It is because of their lack in this discrimination of what constitutes true knowledge, they end up employing hermeneutics of derision. The end result is the perversion of what they refer to as Hindu mythology, which is not even a mythology in the first place!

 

Bharat Mata Ki Jai – A Reply to Sanjukta Basu

With immense amount of respect, I bow down to Bharatha, my punya bhumi and my janma bhumi, the land of Vedic civilization, which has been the only civilization that referred to the world as one huge family; “Vasudeiva Kutumbhakam”.

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Recently someone commented on my social media profile that “Hindutva” needs more women like me. My reply was simple: “If believing that #Bharat is punya bhumi, and if following #SanatanaDharma makes me a Hindutva, then yes I am. But I don’t like labels.”

Terms such as “Hindutva”, “right-wing”, and “nationalist”, are all new to me as I am also pretty new to the Twitter world. I never realized that what I have been thinking, being and practicing is being labelled as such. But as I said, I do not prefer to label myself as a “right-wing” or as a “nationalist”. I give importance to truth and only truth. I give importance to reason and knowledge. Trying to fit me under labels may give others a sense of comfort, but I simply do not care.

Despite having moved to my karma bhumi, Singapore, where I have lived since 1996, I have always felt that India is my janma bhumi and my punya bhumi. Despite the distance between me and my motherland, I find it hard to digest when someone is very unappreciative and ignorant about their own land. It boils my blood to see so-called intellectuals, Lutyen’s media, presstitutes such as Sanjukta Basu cry out loud on why they will not say “Bharat Mata Ki Jai”.

Sanjukta, I have been watching you tweet for some time now. I see the harsh words you spew in your twitter feed, and I see the way you try to pull cheap publicity stunts by calling out on the freedom of expression utilized by actors like Raveena Tandon. I am younger than you, but I can tell from reading your blog, that you have lived a life of seeking outwards for happiness, with no shine of positivity or goodness from within. Otherwise you would not be spewing such hatred and venom in your twitter feed.

Somewhere, somehow, it seems like you have lost your bearing, and that you have lost the rational part of your mind. You have such a skewed view of feminism as expressed in Hinduism. Your idea of a woman adorned in a saree is that she has been “domesticated”. Your idea of liberalism and feminism is that of a jeans and a t-shirt. Your idea of Hinduism and “Hindu Rashtra” is that in which women will be “controlled”, “subjugated” and “forced to breed” many children for the propagation of a Hindu nation. As I type out these words, I cannot believe that I am writing about a TED Fellow, a writer and a photographer. For someone as talented as you are, I simply cannot believe you can be this dumb!

Please watch her TEDx talk here before reading further. Just for laughs!

My issue is not with how Sanjukta looks, nor the way she delivered her talk on TEDx. My issue is only with the content of her talk and her article on Huffington Post, pertaining to the issue of Nationalism and Feminism.

The image of the Bharatha Mata with a lion, a trident, and adorned in a saree with gold ornaments is a narrow representation of India, according to Sanjukta. Isn’t a mother (mata) someone who nurtures you, who provides you food, who provides you knowledge and provides you sustenance? Likewise, the punya bhumi has nurtured you, and provided you food, knowledge and sustenance. We therefore equate Bharatha to the status of mother. Isn’t that why we call it our “motherland”? So, representation and imagery is not the issue here. There is clearly an issue of wrong equivalency, to which Sanjukta has not given much thought.

Apparently, this particular Shankaracarya and that particular BJP MP have said something in the lines of how many children women should have in order to increase the number of Hindus in India! Propaganda media stories are the sole source of information for Sanjukta, which she uses to portray the idea that Hinduism is severely harsh on the women folk, treating them as objects of reproduction and nothing more. In today’s world, she has this notion that women can be controlled, as though they will willingly submit themselves to the cause of Hindu Nationalism. So she uses this narration to discourage women from chanting “Bharat Mata Ki Jai”. How much more ludicrous can this sound? There is no papacy and there is no force used in Hinduism. Who is this Shankaracarya and who is this MP to dictate how men and women should behave? Are their statements substantiated by the Vedas? Sanjukta’s argument is very silly, not properly substantiated, and I really thought she would be more matured for her age and background.

“Hyper-nationalized images of Bharatha Mata strip women of their individual identity and reduce them to objects of patriotic, communal and national gratification.” This is like saying that the imagery of Goddess Parvati, Goddess Lakshmi or Goddess Saraswati, strip women of their individual identity and reduce them to objects of gratification. This cannot get more absurd. In the imagery of Bharatha, the “motherhood” is emphasized. Motherhood is seen akin to Godliness, which is translated to patriotism. What can be communal about motherhood? Is it communal if I see India as my “motherland”?

Comparison of “cow worship”, “yoga, “surya namaskar” to saluting the Indian flag, standing up for the Indian National Anthem, saying “Bharat Mata Ki Jai”, and equating both categories to “rituals”, is beyond understanding. Sanjukta has transcended all of us and she is living in a planet called “La La Land”! She denigrates Nationalism to just a performance of saluting to the flag and singing National Anthem. Then isn’t this statement questioning the sovereignty of the Nation? Isn’t this against the Constitution of India?

Nationalism is born out of the notion that we should be a free and distinct nation, governed without any interference from external influences. Nationalism is geared by the recognition of a common identity, not by the recognition of ownership of the land. No land is ever truly owned by anyone. There is only common identity that binds us as One Nation, One India. We are bound together by our cultural heritage and spiritual richness of our Vedic civilization. Anybody who denies this does not truly share the common identity of Indians. It is as simple as that! You may be a Muslim or a Christian in India today, but your cultural roots are always from the Vedic civilization. Truth does not hurt, it liberates!

I am well aware that people like Sanjukta should not be dignified with a response. But if I did not put my opinion and my response out there, there will be many Sanjuktas today blindly following each other and refusing to say something as simple as “Victory and glory be to Mother India”! At the end of the day, a feminist narrative of pro-Nationalism should also be out there for people like Sanjukta, who would never be able grasp the notion of a “Vaidika Feminist” and “Hindutva”. But hey! I do not like labels! 🙂

Being childfree

(Update on 1 August 2018: Recently, my thoughts about children have changed. I’m not sure if it is the age I’m in right now (30) or what else, but I can’t get rid of the thought that if I had married when I was 25 or even 28, I would have a small child right now (or maybe not, given the mentality I had at that age). I seem to be yearning for a kid of my own. I don’t know if I will be a good mum, but I do want to be a mum, whether I give birth to a child or I adopt a child, regardless, I have motherly feelings bubbling inside me, occasionally. I cannot seem to explain why. Revisiting this post, I thought of removing it, but I am leaving it here, with this update. So remember, that the post below were my thoughts since I was 25 years old.)

Children are a bunch of fascinating tiny human beings. They are indeed fun to hang with, as long as they remain cute. I have my share of fun with my friends’ kids, relatives’ kids, and kids in public. I admire their adorable and innocent nature. Having said that, I have never ever felt ‘maternal’, not even once.

My sister came along in my life when I was 10 years old. I have sort of ‘raised’ her since young. I have seen how much my mum had to change her life, being the sole care-giver while my dad was busy at work, around my sister’s waking and sleeping habits.

Bringing up a baby is no small matter. I firmly believe that a child needs 100% attention of the primary care-giver, be it the mother or the father, for at least the first 7 years of his/her life. This means being a stay-at-home mum or dad. Well, who am I kidding, it is usually the mum right? When you bring a child into this world, you are not just a parent, you are a trustee. God has granted you the trust of taking care of His child. The child is, strictly speaking, not your property. So your responsibility is the proper upbringing of the child, and this demands your full attention.

The decision to have a child, is therefore, a conscious choice. It cannot be seen as an obligation. Usually society expects you to have a child as soon as you have tied the knot, let alone an Indian society, in which expectations are even higher. The idea that all women are ‘maternal’ and all women want to have children is taken so much for granted, that there is no room to reject this notion entirely. If you do, then you are labelled as being a ‘child-hater’, ‘arrogant’ and ‘feminist’.

In Indian societies, motherhood is glorified akin to divinity and romanticised heavily. There is nothing wrong with this. However, the notion that only motherhood ‘completes’ a woman is erroneous. The truth is that some women have really good ‘maternal’ feelings and wishes, while there are some who do not feel the same. Motherhood is an attitude; it is not a status to attain, neither does it have anything to do with a biological relation. There are many mothers in this world who do not necessarily have ‘maternal’ or motherly feelings, and yet they are good care-providers to their kids and their family.

I have very briefly touched on this issue of being childfree back in 2007. I had strong feelings about this issue 10 years back, and I am glad to say that my thoughts have not changed at all. People might think that if not today, one day I will want to have children. My views have not changed for 10 years, and I am sure they will never change again. I would rather spend the time in my life focusing on things I want to achieve and things that I am passionate about. I would rather sponsor the education and upbringing of orphaned kids than have my own. I would rather travel around the world and write books. I would rather start-up a small business that I am passionate about. There are so many things in life that you strive for, and kids are a very small part of it.

The choice of being childfree after marriage also applies to men, because men too have societal expectations of becoming a father. However, it seems unfair that when men declare that they do not want to have kids, they are treated less harshly than women. The burden of the decision to be childfree seems to be falling entirely on women these days.

Ultimately, at the end of the day, we all want to live a happy life, doing what we want to do and what we feel passionate about. People who decide to be childfree by choice, or are childfree by nature or if they decide to have children a little later; all of them deserve to be happy in their life, regardless of the choices they make. It will do a lot of good if we all keep a mirror in our pockets to remind ourselves that we should look in our own mirror first before we point and judge other men and women for the choices they make.

 

New-age gurus and cults

Have you ever been in a cult? So much so that you have never realised that it is a cult? It gives you an amazing feeling to be in the presence of “like-minded” people and a charismatic “guru”. I have been through one, albeit for only a short period of a few weeks.

I attended the Youth Empowerment Skills program of the Art of Living while I was in NUS. This was organised in collaboration with the NUS Hindu Society, of which I was the Vice President at that time. So naturally, I was not averse to trying it out, as it was also provided at a discounted price. We did surya namaskars, pranayama exercises and various other games and activities. The program was a success and I came out of it thinking that I made some new friends with whom I really enjoyed spending time.

We decided to keep in touch even after the 5-day program was completed and so we met every Wednesday evenings to continue doing our pranayama sadhana. During my first Wednesday meeting, the leader of the group announced very enthusiastically that “His Holiness” Sri Sri Ravi Shankar will be coming to Singapore for an event he will be hosting. I witnessed at first hand how happy and excited everybody there was to hear this news and the energy in that room at that moment was unbelievable.

The leader then started talking about ticket prices to attend that event and to see Sri Sri. It was at that moment I realised what I had previously noticed before and had not even given a second thought about. Thank God for my skeptical mind, I came out of it as soon as I realised that the people I have befriended were more enamoured by the teacher rather than the teaching. Even today I wonder why it was initially very attractive to me. The moment they started talking about donations and more money towards attending an event just to get a glimpse of their “Swamiji”, it was enough to open my eyes.

I am a happy person. I am naturally in-built to see the positive side of things all the time. I have accepted this as the truth in my life. Oh vey! Even my blood group is B+! So I imagine if the cult had this much effect on me, then what would happen to people who are in a sad and depressed state and are finding for an avenue to search some answers? How much they will be easily manipulated by such cults?

I call these groups like the Art of Living, Nityananda Sangha, and Isha Foundation as cults, because that is what they are! Just take a look at the characteristics of a cult:

  • The group displays excessively zealous and unquestioning commitment to its leader and his/her beliefs and system are taken to be the Truth. (Every time they said something about Sri Sri’s method of pranayama, they used many reasons to justify it. Not only that. Each and every sentence was in praise of Sri Sri.) 
  • Questioning, doubt, and dissent are discouraged or even looked down upon. (The general tone in the room was of total contentment and agreement to whatever the youth leader was saying. None of them raised any questions against Sri Sri, although other questions were easily welcomed.)
  • Mind-altering practices (such as meditation, chanting, speaking in tongues, denunciation sessions, and debilitating work routines) are used in excess and serve to suppress doubts about the group and its leader(s). (This is very true and it is seen happening in many of the cult-like groups I mentioned above. The devotee believes that he/she is well-taken care of by the cult leader through practising these meditation/chanting techniques, while at the same time paying loads of money to the organisation.)
  • The leadership dictates, sometimes in great detail, how members should think, act, and feel (for example, members must get permission to date, change jobs, to marry or leaders prescribe what types of clothes to wear, where to live, whether or not to have children, how to discipline children, and so forth). (We see this happening too, in the Nithyananda Sangha amongst their permanent residents of their Adeenam. Their livelihood is dictated by the rules set in the ashram, but they fail to see that they are just part of a large corporate structure, which is money-hungry.)
  • The group is elitist, claiming a special, exalted status for itself, its leader(s) and members. (Nithyananda considers himself the Avatar of Super-Consciousness. What else is there to say?)
  • The group has a polarized us-versus-them mentality, which may cause conflict with the wider society. (The moment you join a cult disguised as a self-help group or a religious organisation, your family and friends may not like and may even discourage you from continuing in it. The cult instils this feeling of you versus your family/friends, and isolates you from your close circle. This way, it will be easier for them to manipulate you.
  • The group is preoccupied with bringing in new members and making more money. (This is self-explanatory.)
  • The most loyal members (the “true believers”) feel there can be no life outside the context of the group. They believe there is no other way to be, and often fear reprisals to themselves or others if they leave (or even consider leaving) the group. (The so-called “withdrawal symptom” I felt when I decided to get out of AOL and sever connections with AOL members was a sense of “emptiness”. The daunting feeling of “what’s next”. I am sure this feeling will be more intense the longer you stay within a cult.)

I have come to abhor these religious organisations that are centered on a “guru”, who seemingly has no solid and proven sampradaya (or unbroken line of student-teacher tradition) to back them up. Although the teacher may be well-meaning, what is then the need for widespread marketing campaigns, over-priced meditation programs, and solicitation of celebrities and other VIPs into the organisation?

There are many appeasers and apologetics among the so-called “devotees” of these new-age gurus. One has to scrutinise every single detail before concluding the truth. Instead, excuses are often made solely on the basis of a blind faith and trust held on the “guru” personality.

Take “His Holiness Swami Paramahamsa” Nithyananda as an example. It is very important to note that the court proceedings against Nithyananda have not been quashed, as claimed by many of his followers. It has never been resolved yet because on 6 February 2017, the Supreme Court of India stayed the start of the trial proceedings noting that “a number of significant documents favouring Swami Nithyananda had been wantonly suppressed by the investigating authorities and that proceeding with the trial without these critical evidences would be unjust.” This most likely means that the evidence has been somehow mysteriously tampered with and most probably lost forever. Although Nithyananda’s followers are ecstatic about this news, we rational-minded Hindus should be well-aware that justice has only been delayed but not yet delivered. Truth will prevail at the end.

Are new age gurus causing more harm than good? Are we too satisfied that they are involved in philanthropic activities, that we are willing to close one eye even if a small detail about their largely hidden scandal is exposed to the world? Are we questioning the authority by which a guru can claim himself to be a living avatara (or incarnation) of God, other than his own experiences that he has written about on his website? Are we even taking efforts to check and authenticate the stories concocted by these so-called “gurus”, before we take greater efforts in getting enrolled into one of their 10,000-dollar programs?

Let me give you an exercise. Compare the following two religious organisations using the information provided in their websites. Using your God-given discriminating capabilities, are you able to authenticate which of the two is belonging to an established sampradaya? Are you able to tell which of the two has a genuine interest in the betterment of yourself? Are you able to see for yourself, which of the two is money-minded?  Are you able to identify which of the two is guru-centric instead of being knowledge-centric?

Website 1: http://www.dhyanapeetam.org

Website 2: http://www.arshavidya.org/home.html

Paris Trip – The Louvre Museum

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Paris is indeed a very beautiful city that I had the privilege of visiting with my family. There is simply so much history to soak from its well-maintained historical structures, buildings, tours, sculptures and art. No wonder it is a home to the world’s largest and most important museum; The Louvre.

Initially the Louvre was a fortress constructed in 1190 in order to secure Paris, the capital of the kingdom of France, under the initiative of Philip Augustus. In 1528, when King Francis I decided to take residence in the Louvre, it gained the grandness of a palace and housed many of King Francis I’s art collections. The fortress-turned-palace was added on more and more by the subsequent Kings who resided in the Louvre, till today we see a huge square ground in the centre of the renaissance structure. During the late 18th century, under the reign of Louis XVI (who was the last monarch of France), the palace was turned into a museum. All the great art collections in the palace were displayed for public viewing in 1793. Throughout the years, many paintings, sculptures and decorative art items were added in the museum for display. Today, the museum has over 380,000 collections, but only displays about 35,000 pieces (including replicas, retouched works and even some incomplete paintings).

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The arts displayed in the museum are separated according to several classifications such as Near Eastern Antiquities, Egyptian Antiquities, Greek, Etruscan and Roman Antiquities, Islamic Art, Sculptures, Decorative Arts, Paintings, and Prints and Drawings. It should take about 2 full days to see all the museum displays, if you are fast enough. I spent about 6 hours in the museum and so I missed an entire floor of French paintings. So here I am sharing with you the particular paintings and sculptures I found interesting and delighted to have seen at the Louvre.

We started from the Greek, Etruscan and Roman Antiquities, which was one of the first departments started by the Louvre Museum management. Some of the sculptures and antiquities were inspired from the time period ranging from 3000 BC to 480 BC and it was really amazing!

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Venus de Milo – This glorious Greek statue is believed to be from the period 130 – 100 BC, depicting Aphrodite, the Goddess of love and beauty, or Venus. Since the statue was discovered in a Greek island called Milos, it was thus named. The arms of the statue were lost and never recovered subsequently. This statue was so well-cherished that it was actually taken in hiding during the World War II, along with other statues and art works!

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Muse de la Tragedie – In Greek mythology, there are nine muses, who are inspirational goddesses of literature, science and the arts. The above statue depicts the Muse of Tragedy. She is always depicted holding a tragic mask in one of her hands. The Muse of Tragedy is the daughter of the Greek God Zeus, and is often invoked so that one might create beautiful lyrical phrases.

Here is another statue of Aphrodite or Venus from the 2nd century AD.

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Venus d’Arles

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Héraclès (Hercule) portant son fils Télèphe – Hercules carrying his son Telephus. This statue is a  Roman copy of the original statue that was sculpted back in 4th century BC. Telephus is the son of Heracles and Auge. Telephus, separated from his mother who was sold as a slave, was abandoned in the mountains and nourished by a doe (as seen). He was later found by Hercules.

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Arès – This statue preserves perhaps the memory of an original work in bronze, now lost, from the end of the 5th century BC. Ares is the Greek God of War (Roman God equivalent to Mars). He is the son of Zeus and Hera, and represents the physical or violent and untamed aspect of war. He is very well-known for his affair with Aphrodite, the Goddess of Love. So it is true that opposites attract! 🙂

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Sleeping Hermaphrodites – This work is a Roman copy that was probably inspired by a Greek original of the 2nd century BC. The sculpture was dug out in 1608 and the mattress was sculpted in the early 17th century by another artist. Hermaphroditos, son of Hermes and Aphrodite, had rejected the advances of the nymph Salmacis. Unable to resign herself to this rejection, Salmacis persuaded Zeus to merge their two bodies forever, hence the strange union producing one bi-sexed being with male sexual organs and the voluptuous curves of a woman.

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Ergastines Plate – This fragment of the ancient Greek sculpture was taken from the frieze of the Parthenon, built between 447 and 432 BC to glorify Athens and its divine protector, Athena. It depicts six Ergastines (“female workers” in Greek), responsible for weaving the golden tunic offered by the Athenians to their patron goddess, greeted by two priests during a harmonious procession.  The entire frieze depicts some 360 figures taking part in the festival known as the Great Panathenaea. 

Now, moving on to the paintings…

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Parnassus – This is a painting by the Italian artist called Andrea Mantegna, executed in 1497. The painting is named as such because this scene is depicted to be set on Mount Parnassus. The two Gods shown standing over the arch are none other than Mars (Ares) and Venus (Aphrodite) and behind them we see a bed, which symbolises their illicit affair. There are so many hidden meanings in this painting. For example, the plant behind Mars and Venus has borne lots of fruits on the Mar’s side (indicating many sperms versus one egg), while only few fruits are borne on the Venus’s side.
Venus and Mars are accompanied by the heavenly love God, Anteros, who is aiming an arrow against Vulcan (center left), who is the husband of Venus. The Roman myth of the famous forbidden love affair between the God of War and the Goddess of Love is very well-known. In the myth, Vulcan humiliates them in front of all the Gods on Mount Olympus. On the bottom left of the painting, we see Apollo playing the lyre, a string musical instrument. The nine Muses are dancing to the music played by Apollo. On the right, we see the divine Pegasus, together with Mercury, a famous Roman God for financial gain, commerce and eloquence. 

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The Virgin and Child with St Anne – This is an oil painting by Leonardo da Vinci depicting St Anne, with her daughter the Virgin Mary and the infant Jesus. Christ is shown to to grappling with the lamb, while the mother Mary is trying to restrain him. Davinci depicts Mary as being seated on her mother’s lap, showing the close bond that the mother and daughter share. I love this painting of all the other Davinci’s works because it looks very pleasing and calm. I have a feeling that the painting wasn’t completed, because I cannot make sense of the background of this painting. Any thoughts? 🙂

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La Belle Ferronière (Daughter or wife of the Ironmonger) –  This is another work by Leonardo da Vinci. Until today, nobody has been able to correctly identify the female in this portrait. Many names have been named. But it could refer to the lady who was the wife of Le Ferron, mistress of Francis I and therefore, called La Belle Ferronière.
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The Mona Lisa –  The most famous painting of Leonardo da Vinci of Lisa Gherardini, wife of a Florentine cloth merchant named Francesco del Giocondo. But Davinci did not deliver the painting to the person who commissioned it. Instead he brought it to France and it remained as part of Francis I’s collections after Davinci’s death. The delicate dark veil that covers Mona Lisa’s hair is sometimes considered a mourning veil, and could have been worn as a result of her daughter’s recent demise. I read that nobody else before Davinci had done portrait paintings in this manner, covering only half the length of the figure, in a seated position. So this was a new of painting at that time that Davinci introduced. Mona Lisa’s smile and the background of this portrait are some of the reasons why this portrait is very famous.

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Madonna of the Rocks – The painting is done by Leonardo da Vinci, somewhere around 1483-86. The painting depicts the Virgin Mary together with the Child Jesus and the Infant John the Baptist, accompanied by an Angel, Gabriel or Uriel. This painting is about the adoration of the Child Jesus by the Infant John the Baptist. The subject of the Virgin Mary with the Christ Child being adored by John the Baptist was common in the art of Renaissance Florence, that many Italian painters he been known to have presented similar representations of Virgin Mary with Christ and John the Baptist.

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The Sleep of the Child Jesus – The Virgin Mary and the Infant Jesus are accompanied by the three musical angels. This painting is by Bernardino Luini, one of the painters who have worked with Leonardo da Vinci himself. He has attributed many of his works to Leonardo himself, and he was quite skillful in drawing gentle female figures. This painting invokes such calmness in anyone viewing it. It’s a beautiful painting, with soft brush tones and colours used. The veils draped around Baby Jesus is so softly drawn, there are no words to describe the talent of the artist.

Most of the Italian paintings we viewed were mostly about Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary.

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The Wedding Feast at Cana – Mother Mary and Jesus are seated at the center, surrounded by a swarm of 130 people. This painting by Paolo Veronese depicts the miraculous event of the transformation of water into wine at the Wedding at Cana. Jesus miraculously transforms water into wine when suddenly wine has ran out at the wedding feast. The artist has drawn himself in this painting as one of the four Venetian musicians in the front, clothed in white. There are simply too many details in this painting, it’s just amazing!

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Joséphine de Beauharnais – The first wife of Napoleon I (who is six years younger than her), and thus the first Empress of the French. Josephine was certainly a bold woman who had affairs with various political figures. She made a lasting impact on Napoleon Bonaparte and hence he proposed marriage to her just a few months after meeting her. She had two children from her previous marriage, so obviously Napoleon’s family was not happy with his choice for a bride. True enough, she went ahead to have many affairs of her own even after her marriage with Napoleon I, while he was at war. Having heard the news of his wife’s affairs, Napoleon I’s love for his wife diminished entirely, and soon enough he too started having affairs with women in the countries he travelled. What a love-torn marriage!  
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Coronation of Napoleon I in Notre-Dame – Jacques Louis David was appointed as the First Painter to the Emperor in 1804. So it became David’s responsibility to set the coronation of the great Napoleon Bonaparte to memory. But he did not paint the crowning of Napoleon I, but the crowning of the Empress Josephine. The painting canvas is 10 metres wide and 6 metres in length, and depicts 191 figures present during the coronation, including the artist himself. The artist has even drawn Napoleon’s mother , seated among the audience, although she had declined to attend the coronation due to disapproval of Josephine. The coronation is seen to be presided by the Pope Pius VII.

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Intervention of the Sabine Women – After the abduction of the Sabine women by the neighbouring Romans, the Sabines attempted to get them back – David Louis depicts this episode here. The Sabine women are intervening to stop the bloodshed. Hersilia is throwing herself between her husband, the king of Rome, and her father, the king of the Sabines. The artist is using the subject to advocate the reconciliation of the French people after the Revolution.

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The 28th of July 1830, Liberty guiding the people – This painting by Eugene Delacroix depicts the Three Glorious Days, revolutionary days of 1830 led by the people of Paris against Charles to put an end to the Restoration. In the midst of the crowd gathering of people from various social groups, a half-naked woman stands holding a blue-white-red banner (prohibited under the Restoration). She symbolises Liberty and embodies the dream of a victory over despotism. This painting was kept hidden for a long time before being displayed at the Louvre, as it was deemed subversive by the Monarch during the 1830’s. 

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Madame Vigee Lebrun with Daughter Julie – This is a self-portrait of the artist, Elisabeth-Louise Vigee Le Brun, and her daughter, Jeanne-Lucie-Louise. She was one of the great 18th Century artists, and women artists in particular. She is well-known amongst the elite women and also well-paid for painting portraits of famous women during the 18th Century. The doomed Marie Antoinette was an early patron who used her influence to get Madame Vigee Le Brun into the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture in 1783. Mind you, this was the age during which women were not normally allowed admission into art schools. In this painting, Julie clings onto her mother, the artist herself, in a very charming and loving manner. It invokes a lot of pleasant feelings in you, while standing in front of the portrait and admiring it. While the picture taken above appears blurry, the words on the canvas are crystal clear. This gives you an idea of how soft are her painting strokes.

So here we come to an end. There are many more exhibits and these are just a drop in the ocean. I would say, it is not even a drop! I spent a lot of time at the Greek sculptures exhibit and the Italian paintings exhibits. I then rushed through the Islamic Art and Egyptian Antiquities exhibits very quickly, hardly getting any time to observe and appreciate the unique art pieces displayed. Like I said, you need at least 2 full days to truly and thoroughly enjoy the Louvre Museum. Next time, I vow to get the audio guide, and I bet that would be a tremendous learning experience. At the Louvre, I saw many artists and students have come to look at the displays and learn Art and History through the sculptures and paintings.

It was an amazing trip to the Louvre and I am sure I will visit it again if I ever get to travel to Paris again. 🙂

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From Hinduism to Sanatana Dharma

There comes a time in life when each and everyone of us will start to search for answers for questions like what is the purpose of life, who is God and so on. Often you can turn to your own religion for guidance, and if you are lucky, you will find the answers. But what happens when you are lost? What happens if you are finding it hard to source out for information? What happens if you have the notion that all religions are the same, so one can find answers to these questions in any religion, and that should be sufficient.

Back in 2006, questions like these started popping up in my head. Despite being born in a Hindu family (which I realise now how lucky I have been), I had no idea why we go to temple, why we pray to ‘idols’ and statues, or why we make offerings. Parents were clueless as well, so I had nowhere to turn to when it came to my religion, Hinduism (or so I thought). Therefore, being a scientific-minded person, I turned to books to help me with that.

I remember specifically that I had been watching an amazing documentary about evolution and the big bang theory. I was obsessed with the information surrounding the beginning of this universe, the cosmos, the planets, evolution, natural selection and Darwin. I realised that while the Abrahamic religions claimed that the universe was created only 6000 years ago, science says that the universe is about 13.7 billion years old. For me, belief alone was not enough. I needed concrete proof because I was and still am stubbornly logical. That pushed me towards reading two authors, who have greatly influenced my thinking, my philosophy and my life; Richard Dawkins and Ayn Rand.

The first book of Richard Dawkins that I read was The Selfish Gene, in which he explores the biology of selfishness and altruism. It was an illuminating read as it showed that there is no need to infuse divine involvement in replicating genes. Due to my rudimentary understanding of the concept of God, derived from the teleological argument, I came to a conclusion that an intelligent designer is not needed when it comes to explaining the existence of the world. Evolution as an answer was sufficient for me.

I then turned to Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, two of her classical hits! These are both amazing books, in my opinion, although she does go over the edge at times in order to bring life to her philosophy. Ayn Rand’s philosophy was called objectivism and it can be summarised as “the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.” Her ideas had a profound impact on me as it made a lot of sense, and again pushed me towards believing that God does not exist. At this point in time of life, I had given up on the idea of God or religion.

It was the same time period when I was studying in Anglo-Chinese Junior College, which was a Methodist school and it had chapel service every Monday. I would sit there every Monday during assembly and listen to different pastors and students quoting the Bible and talking about life in general, seeing the Muslim students walk out of the auditorium. I remember sitting there and wondering whether I can walk out as well, because not only did they have chapel service, but they also had a band playing Jesus songs and we had to sing along as well! It felt totally ridiculous to me. I was in the middle of reading Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion around that time, and I felt that religion and community gathering were only for self-appeasement and self-assurance. Without religion and moral codes, man will be lost. So I accepted that religion was not for the rational-minded, but it was more for people to keep them in check. These were my thoughts back then.

At this juncture I had become a complete atheist, but I kept this mostly to myself. I blogged about my thoughts and some of my friends had things to say to me to counter my arguments. But I did not bring it on strongly. My views are my views, and I need not impose it upon anyone else. I had other conflicting thoughts about atheism as well, and I kept them to myself. It was a moment when I felt like a nihilist, no hope for the future and nothing to hope for in the present as well. That was a depressing thought and I didn’t understand why I was feeling like that. Maybe it was because the thought of God not existing was a disturbing one and it hit me hard. I felt that I should not give up on my search for meaning and purpose of my life.

When I joined NUS for my Bachelors, I saw a poster advertising an upcoming drama production, organised by a few Indian society/clubs, including the Hindu Society of NUS. I contacted the number in the poster to purchase the tickets as my friends were keen to watch the drama production. The person I contacted, Mr S, hooked me up with the tickets and through him I found out that he had been successfully running an online forum on Hinduism. Little did I know that Mr S would have such a profound impact in my life, because he became the reason why I turned back to Hinduism Sanatana Dharma. It was through Mr S that I got to know about the Misconceptions in Hinduism talk organised by NUS Hindu Society and that is how I met Mr K.

My learning journey had started in 2007 after I met Mr S and Mr K. I joined the Hindu Society and got myself involved in a lot of events that helped me in learning more and more about Sanatana Dharma. End of 2008, the Hindu Centre announced that it was to have a Diploma in Teacher’s Training course, to be conducted under the tutelage of Mr K and one Mr R. It was to be a 2 years course, to be held every Saturday from 2pm to 5pm. I signed up for it, attended an interview with Mr R and got into the program. The program was free of charge, provided that we volunteer to take up classes in Hindu Centre after graduation. I did not expect myself to become a teacher but I knew I was going to learn more about Hinduism Sanatana Dharma.

Classes started on 10 Jan 2009. That was the day my journey actually began. Before this, my knowledge about Hinduism was really half-baked. We covered a number of topics about the God, scriptures, caste system, karma, dharma, moksha, bhagavad gita and vedanta. As teachers, we are supposed to have 10 times the knowledge of what will actually be taught in classes. For example, if we are to teach about karma, then we have to be equipped with 10 times the knowledge about karma, than what we actually teach in class. Learning, researching, and discovering new information is my forte, so naturally, I loved attending the classes and I did so without fail. We also learned some Sanskrit chanting and it was the best part of the day for me because I was realising for the first time in my life that I loved to chant.

Once my understanding of the definition of God became clearer through studying Sanatana Dharma, I realised how my atheistic thoughts were wrong. But only with reference to Sanatana Dharma. This is because we do not agree to the teleological argument that there is a separate entity that intelligently designed this universe. This argument goes straight against logical reasoning and invalidates the notion of God being omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent. In the words of Richard Dawkins:

“The whole argument turns on the familiar question ‘Who made God?’… A designer God cannot be used to explain organized complexity because any God capable of designing anything would have to be complex enough to demand the same kind of explanation in his own right. God presents an infinite regress from which he cannot help us to escape. This argument… demonstrates that God, though not technically disprovable, is very very improbable indeed.” – The God Delusion

In Sanatana Dharma, God does not create but manifests as this universe. This universe is God and the Self is God. There is nothing separate from God (like how the wave is not separate from the ocean). Whereas a Creator God is separate from its created universe. This is the fundamental difference between Abrahamic religions and Sanatana Dharma. Once this became clear to me, I felt all the shackles in my life had been lifted.

The more I came to know about Sanatana Dharma, the more I realised how wrong my initial impressions were. Some of them (and not even a drop in the ocean) are as follows:

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Working with youths in NUS during my days in the Hindu Society, I realised that many Hindu youths are growing up with such wrong impressions about Hinduism. It is the duty of the parents to inculcate these values in their children from young. However, parents themselves are not much aware about Hinduism Sanatana Dharma. It is sad really, because the Hindu way of living is very much part of our life. From the moment we wake up and pray to Bhoomi Devi (Mother Earth) before setting foot on Her, till the night when we pray for sweet dreams and thank Ishvara for blessing us with a healthy life. There is not one moment in life where I am separate from God.

Sanatana Dharma teaches us how to be happy, how to live a happy life and how to share this happiness with others as well. We are not children born out of sins, like the other religions claim. We are children born out of happiness, to live a happy life, and share happiness with others. This is the resounding message of Sanatana Dharma.

Draupadi’s Dilemma

Draupadi plays a crucial role in the Mahabharatha. This is not just because she was the wife of the Pandavas, but it is also because she was a fiery feminist. There are many instances in the Mahabharatha where she proves this character of hers. One such instance is the gambling episode in which she talks courageously defending her rights despite the presence of many elders and wise men in the gambling hall.

The root cause of the entire gambling deceit was Duryodhana’s greed and jealousy. After having visited the residing palace of the Pandavas in Indraprastha, Duryodhana was depressed out of jealousy at his brothers’ wealth and status. The Pandavas have just organised a great sacrifice called the Rājasūya Yajna, in which Yudhishthira was crowned as an Emperor. To appease Duryodhana’s depression and to acquire wealth equal to the Pandavas’, Duryodhana’s uncle Shakuni, his dear friend Karna and his brother Duhshasana conceived a plot of deceit. Shakuni was well-versed in dice play and therefore, the plan was to invite the Pandavas for a gambling match in dice game, and win over their wealth.

When Duryodhana brought this appeal to his father and King of Hastinapur, Dhrdhirashthira, there were disagreements, but out of love for his son, the King became convinced. Thus, an invite was sent to Yudhishthira through Vidura. Emperor Yudhishthira accepted the invite because as per dharma a king is duty bound to accept invitations of such nature, especially when it comes from the King of Hastinapur. When the game began, the Pandavas were unaware of the deceit planned by Shakuni. Yudhishthira lost all his wealth, his brothers and finally himself. At that moment, Shakuni urged Yudhishthira to redeem all his wealth by staking the one possession he has left; the wife of the Pandavas, Draupadi. Yudhishthira accepted and lost the game, in which case, Draupadi became a slave to the Kauravas. When Draupadi was summoned into the gambling hall, she refused to come as she was adorned in a single piece of cloth, with her period and not having taken her ritual bath.

Being alarmed by the summons and realising the danger of the situation, she instead posed a question to Yudhishthira through the messenger who came to fetch her. After having refused twice, Draupadi was forcefully dragged by her hair into the hall by Duhshasana. In the hall, she persistently posed the same question to Yudhisthira:

“Whose lord wert thou (Yudhishthira) at the time thou lost me in play? Didst thou (Yudhishthira) lose thyself first or me?” – (Dyuta Parva, Chapter 67, Verse 7)

Draupadi pleads to Duhshasana not to drag her in this plight into the hall and yet she is forcibly done so. She is a devoted wife even in such a situation as she does not resort to cursing her husbands. She says instead,

“In speech even I am unwilling to admit an atom of fault in my lord (Yudhishthira) forgetting his virtues.” – (Dyuta Parva, Chapter 67, Verse 38)

The question she poses is thus not in the spirit of pointing out the fault in Yudhishthira’s action. It was in the spirit of ascertaining what is righteousness in such a situation of dharma sankata (dilemma). In essence, her question posits whether a wife is still subject to her husband even after the husband has lost himself and become a slave to another person. On one hand, dharma demands that the women be protected. Draupadi was accepted as a daughter-in-law with the promise that she will be well taken care of and protected. However, she was made a slave through deceitful means, and therefore, dharma fails. On the other hand, there is the dharma that a wife is always under the order and disposal of her husband. However, would this dharma apply even after Yudhishthira lost himself to Duryodhana?

This question is indeed difficult to answer. If the answer is “no”, then it would mean that Yudhishthira uttered a lie by mistakenly putting Draupadi as a stake. If the answer is “yes”, then it would mean that Yudhishthira put Draupadi into harm, instead of protecting her in the role of a husband.

This dilemma is only answered by two persons: Vidura and Vikarna. Vidura is a great personality and an embodiment of Dharma. Therefore, he never fails to warn and advice whenever necessary, despite many objections to him speaking out. Vidura firstly warns Dhritarashtra about Duryodhana’s intentions and advises the King to abandon Duryodhana. He further advises the King to embrace Pandavas, as inviting their anger will only cause war in the end. Vidura censures Duryodhana and is quick to pass his judgement. He says,

“In my judgement, slavery does not attach to Krishna, in as much as she was staked by the King after he had lost himself and ceased to be his own master.” – (Dyuta Parva, Chapter 66, Verse 4)

He says this even before Draupadi is forcefully dragging into the gambling hall. He is well aware that his words would be futile. If all the members in the hall were to raise their voices and show their disagreement with Duryodhana, then adharma (unrighteousness) could be won over. This is why Vidura urges the members of the hall to answer Draupadi’s question:

“Knowing the rules of morality, and having attended an assembly, he that doth not answer a query that is put, incurreth half the demerit that attacheth to a lie.” – (Dyuta Parva, Chapter 68, Verse 63)

However, the assembly was still silent out of fear of Duryodhana and the Kauravas.

When the arguments in the assembly had reached dangerously new heights, and when Bhima had announced his vow to break Duryodhana’s thigh, Vidura could not take it any longer. As a minister, his duty was to protect the kingdom. Being a righteous person, he quickly rose to pronounce the judgement on Draupadi’s question once again:

“If Yudhishthira had staked her before he was himself won, he would certainly have been regarded as her master. If, however a person staketh anything at a time when he himself is incapable of holding any wealth, to win it is very like obtaining wealth in a dream.” – (Dyuta Parva, Chapter 71, Verse 12)

Vidura, devoid of any emotion, is speaking only truths that seem disagreeable to the Kauravas. Yet, Vidura does not give up. He continues speaking those disagreeable words because it is Dharma. Vidura is a fine example of how Dharma should be protected. Even if what one is doing in a righteous manner is not bearing fruit, having known that what one doing is Dharma, one should be satisfied.

Vikarna, the youngest brother of Duryodhana, has to be applauded for his boldness in the hall because he knows that this will bring upon the wrath of his brothers. While all the other elders like Drona, Kripa and the rest in the hall were quiet in fear of Duryodhana and in fear of losing their respect, a young man like Vikarna was brave enough to stand up and make a resolution.

Vikarna gives three reasons for qualifying Draupadi as not being won by the Kauravas. Firstly, Yudhishthira was engrossed in the gambling match and thus, Dharma has been forsaken. He says that,

“Ye foremost of men, it hath been said that hunting, drinking, gambling, and too much enjoyment of women, are the four vices of kings. The man, that is addicted to these, liveth forsaking virtue.” – (Dyuta Parva, Chapter 68, Verse 20)

Secondly, Draupadi is the common wife of all five brothers and does not just belong to Yudhishthira alone. Lastly, according to Vikarna, Yudhishthira first lost himself before he put Draupadi as a stake, and that too only when prompted by Shakuni. In essence, Vikarna is saying that Yudhishthira was not in the right frame of mind to think about Dharma while gambling and therefore, it is not right to say that Draupadi has been won.

As we have seen earlier, Draupadi is a courageous woman. Imagine if she had not stood up for herself in the assembly. She and the Pandava brothers would have remained as slaves forever, if not for her courage and her ability to discern the situation of Dharma sankata even in that state. Any other woman in her place would have simply accepted her fate and moved on. But it was Draupadi’s wit that saved the day. Women like her who stand up against adharma need not be ashamed of the harassment they were subjected to, instead they should be praised and epitomized.

We can speculate that Draupadi herself knew the answer to the question that she was asking the assembly. With her words we can decipher that she believes that Yudhishthira was not his own lord while he put Draupadi at stake, therefore, she is not a slave. Vidura and Vikarna confirmed this openly. Draupadi herself confirmed this indirectly, when she said what she wanted for the two boons offered to her by Dhrdhirashthira. For the first boon she asked for the release of Yudhishthira from his slavery and for the second one she asked for the release of the rest of the Pandava brothers. While Dhrdhirashthira offered her a third boon, she did not want anything else. If she had believed herself to have been won over successfully, she would also have asked to release her from the bond of slavery. Since she did not ask for it, we can speculate that Draupadi did not consider herself as a slave for the Kauravas.

Krishna had not been in Dwaraka when Yudhishthira was invited for the gambling match as he had gone to fight a war. When the Pandavas accepted exile for failing in the gambling match, Krishna visited them in the forest where they were taking residence. It was during that time that Krishna assures them of the justice that will prevail. He tells Draupadi that all the women in Hastinapura would have to answer her tears through their own tears, when the men in their family perish during the war. He also tells the Pandavas that had he been in Dwaraka while the invite was issued, he would not have let Yudhishthira go. However, Krishna was absent in that crucial moment. As a result, the whole incident paved the way to the great war, which is the subject matter of the whole of Mahabharatha.

The modern woman’s plight is somewhat similar to Draupadi’s plight at the gambling match. While women (or men) don’t really belong to anyone else, we are often objectified as someone’s property. This happens both consciously and subconsciously. As a result, danger will follow no matter where we go, what we do and how we look like. It is no use to expect a knight in shining armour to come for our rescue. There will be some noble knights (like Vidura and Vikarna) who will come to our rescue, and there will also be silent spectators (like Drona and Bhishma). No matter what, we have to take matters in our own hands and it is always better not to rely on others. This is what we can learn from Draupadi.