Friday, June 5, 2015

Temples as Guardians of Environment

'' Seven billion dreams; One Planet; Consume with care'' is the slogan selected for World Environment Day, 2015. WED is celebrated annually across the world on 5th June. The celebrations at Milan Expo(Italy) will have the theme of' resource efficiency and sustainable consumption and production'.The theme, '"Feeding the planet,-Energy for life'" gives special focus on ideas,solutions and Technology to help ensure healthy safe and sufficient food for all while respecting the planet and its capacity.

New Delhi,Patna,Gwalior are some of the cities in India that are coming under the top ten polluted cities of the world. The alarming situation is due to vehicular and industrial emissions. Hence the air we breathe and the water we drink are posing health hazards.The sudden rise in temperature has caused more than 2000 deaths in Andhra Pradesh alone.

It is a pity that people talk about environment care only on June 5th. It has become more or less a ritual. Even industries do it to bring the activity into their records. Who is there for the sustainable activity that can happen throughout the year? Why can't they call it as environment year instead of Environment Day?

The Government initiates by calling for people's involvement. It wants to promote the activity by bringing famous personalities from different fields. For cleanliness drive it brought cine actors and for WED it brings sports persons. More than the people who assemble at the function (only) to see their favourites, Media are crazy to take videos and show them on the screen. The personalities thus become infamous as they seldom show their involvement on their own. They can adopt a village and plant saplings and maintain them. It appears that they do n't do it as the silent, unselfish activity will not be noticed and bring publicity for them.

We request the Government not to depend too much on the famous persons as the net result is zero on the next day. There will not be anybody to water the plants. Instead, the village panchayats may be asked to involve school children and the local people and plant the saplings at places where watering will be done without fail. Recently we read about a lady  who cleared a choked canal and made water to flow into the agricultural lands in Tamil Nadu.There are gems who gift saplings to their relatives and friends on their birth days. The Government can encourage such people and award them liberally which will inspire others.

Village Temples were engaged in sustaining the ground water table from ancient times. Tanks were dug close to the Temples which harvested rain water during monsoon. Many trees and flowering plants were grown inside the Temple premises. The Government can come forward to announce a rolling cup/ awards for the best maintained Temple tanks and Temple gardens. Will they hear the suggestion?  

Monday, June 1, 2015

Breathing for India ??

The Sunday supplement dated 31st May,2015 of The New York Times  carried a shocking report on the threat faced by children in New Delhi. The NYT reporter who has spent three years in Delhi, himself faced the agony caused by air pollution in the National Capital of India.  The guys who simply jump from earth to heaven on seeing BBC's presentation of poverty in India and doing nothing should read this first.

Mr Gardiner Harris ,the Washington correspondent of the newspaper has narrated his personal suffering during his stay in Delhi. He describes the traffic in Delhi as " the World's most chaotic" and the journey at night as " the most frightening " when road signs remain    " largely ornamental"  According to him, " nearly half of Delhi's children have permanent lung damage." Without knowing the danger ahead of them,people burn some toxic material and an astringent cloud  spreads in the neighbourhood. It affects not only children but adults as well. They suffer " near constant headaches, sore throats,coughs and fatigue. It results into full- blown asthma in many children.

Mr Harris says further: " In some places in Delhi, the levels of fine particles that cause the most lung damage ,called PM 2.5 , routinely exceed 1000 in winter in part because some trash and other small fires are so common , according to scientists. In Beijing, P.M.2.5 levels that exceed 500 make international headlines. Here, levels twice that high are largely ignored."  He adds: " For much of the year , the Yamuna water would have almost no flow though Delhi, if not for raw sewage. Add in the packs of stray dogs, monkeys and cattle even in urban areas, and fresh excretions are nearly ubiquitous. Insects alight on these excretions and then on people or their food,sickening them. Most piped water here is contaminated. Poor sanitation may be a crucial reason nearly half of India's children are stunted." There is no wonder why the author's 8 year old child was a victim of asthma.

Many people assume that their job is over when they talk length and breadth on different types of Pollution on Environment Day. While it is generally felt that the discipline should come from top, the long wait for such an initiative has proved to be a gimmick which does nothing for the people. On the other hand no concrete steps have been provided to stop/slow the migration of people to Urban areas . The move to keep the surroundings clean was launched by the Government with the Prime Minister himself leading from the front. The brand ambassadors from film industry stood in front of the cameras for publicity and vanished later.  Therefore it is better to  revise the path of discipline as the one that can flow from the bottom to top. To be more precise, it can be demonstrated from village level where the pollution is not much. Once we achieve pollution free air,water and good sanitation in villages, others will follow suit. Let there be no famous personalities or politicians and the entire movement must be left to the people. In such a situation, people will realise the importance of a pollution free life, discuss among themselves and then find a workable solution.

While writing about the attitude of abandoning villages and rural temples, we have expressed our desire to call the retired persons to go back to their native villages. When every facility is made available now,there can not be any hesitation in going back to villages and lead a peaceful life. By remaining in Metros, it gives more pain to the swelling population which already faces poor accommodation,transport,polluted air and water.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The Role of Museums as Guardians of Heritage & Culture

International Museum Day 2015 is celebrated today the 18th day of May.  The Museum Day was established by International Council of Museums ( ICOM) in 1977 with the purpose of enhancing interest among Public about the role of Museums in the development of society.  Over 35000 Museums of about 145 countries participated in this event in 2014. The theme of this year is              ” Museums for a sustainable society." The President of ICOM,Prof.Dr Hanz-Matin Hinz  says :           “ Museums must be able to guarantee their role in safeguarding the cultural heritage, given the increasing precariousness of ecosystems, situations of political instability, and the associated natural and man- made challenges  that may arise. “

A dictionary defines the meaning of the word museum as ‘ a  building or institution dedicated to the acquisition, conservation, study,  exhibition and educational interpretation of objects having scientific, historical, cultural or artistic value.’  The Geneva convention of ICOM held at Austria, Vienna in 2007 defines a museum as ‘ a non-profit permanent institution in the service of society and its development open to the public , which acquires, conserves, researches, communicates and exhibits the tangible and intangible heritage of humanity and its environment for the purpose of education , study and enjoyment.’

ICOM offers training in Museum management, disaster preparedness and response.  Its international training centre is at Palace Museum, Beijing, China.  It has got network with many museums of the world and organises a symposium every year. It is planned as Tasmania this year. It publishes red list of endangered objects of Heritage value and has helped to get back the stolen objects from many countries and restored to their original places.

Having said that, we have few points to ask at this juncture in connection with World Museum Day. While appreciating the efforts of the International Council in raising awareness among the public, it should also be admitted that many more preventive steps are to be taken to stop the illegal trade of cultural and religious goods.  It may require strengthening of International Law and   start addressing the issue at the root level. How safe and secured are our ancient places of worship is the first question. What action has been taken by the   respective Governments and the International body to stop the illicit trade by anti- social elements?  Have anybody advised the media to stop giving the international value of the stolen items? Did they tell them not to give details such as how the theft was made and the modes operandi  of the Police. 

The annual symposium may even call for the participation of representatives of the Ministry of Art & Culture from different countries and Police force   inclusive of   Interpol. Thirdly, the art lovers should stop circulating the pictures of antique items in social networks which may give clues to the wrong doers. The arrested culprits must face more severe punishment than now.

While the definition of a Museum reserves the right to acquire and exhibit, many stolen items take asylum in Museums in the name of donation.  Is it ethical to smuggle an antique item and sell it to a Museum which in turn describes it as a gift!! Therefore it is suggested that the Museum must immediately alert the Interpol on receiving an offer from the seller. This will stop the illicit trade to some extent.  Hence the use of the definition helps the Museum to continue showing its antique items without realising the affinity of people towards them. The objects stolen from places of worship should not come under this definition. It will be great if Museums, the custodians of Heritage take relevant steps to give back those stolen antiques to the respective countries.  

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Calling the NRIs

A House 15 km outside the Town
Happiness is derived from the comfort of life. Living standards determine the way of life besides the earning potential and other expectations. In a recent study, Switzerland is termed as the happiest nation in the world. Swiss have shown the world how to be the leader and keep its people happy. It is now left to other nations to learn the best practices from them and move ahead.

Among various issues faced by India, the huge population and its impact on urban life is the matter of concern. People slowly start deserting their villages in search of green pastures. The sudden spurt in Urban population has caused many challenges including housing, sanitation and Transport. It is highly difficult to expand a city which has already reached the saturation point. Yet the Government is trying all possible ways to meet the challenges posed for the next decade. Smart Cities are planned adjourning major cities to accommodate more entrants to cities. Now it is time to think more about smart villages.
The thought of converting the villages into ‘”smart’” ones should have occurred and implemented long back to prevent the exodus of people. The existing people are like ‘” cat on the wall ‘” who seriously think of leaving the villages and migrate to metros where their children live. Since the agriculture is monsoon specific, more failures frustrate the agriculturists to look for lucrative ways. Agricultural sites are being converted into housing colonies. This dangerous trend has to be checked immediately and alternate solutions are to be implemented to create confidence in the minds of the villagers.

It is a known fact that most of the villages have improved in the last few decades due to the availability of infrastructure, technology and transport. The only missing thing is the absence of earning ways that match the standard of urban population. If the location is wholly dependent on agriculture, more agro based industries may provide employment to them. It is nice to see good educational institutions coming close to the villages and provide transport to pick the children right in front of their houses. If the gap between urban and rural lives is narrowed, people will love to live in their villages.

Good housing was the concern of the past. Gated communities are coming up some 15 km away from the towns and independent houses are built to meet the requirement of the customers. Good access to the nearby town is available to enable the occupants to spend their valuable time. Alternately, one may prefer going back to the native place and live a comfortable life. Lot of community services can be extended by owning a property there. A good backyard can be converted into a good garden with flowering plants and a part can also become a grove of many trees. To possess a cow adds value to the life as it is a step towards self-sufficiency. Going for a Gobar gas plant provides cooking gas round the clock. Thus the village life provides ample ways to think innovatively.

We come across friends who work abroad remembering the roots and bringing their families to their native places. It is a proud moment for them to show the family members the place where they lived and the school where they studied. They create a passion in the minds of their wards to visit the native place and stay for a week or ten days. Unfortunately, they do not have the ancestral home now as the same had been sold early when the previous generation migrated to Urban areas. It is therefore necessary for the NRIs to look for a house of their taste and buy them. By doing so, they provide a breather to the village which is on the verge of becoming a no man’s land.

The return of the NRIs can turn the events of the village magnificently. The village Temples will regain the glory of the past and the cultural festivals can be restarted. Sustainable growth of the village can be planned with the help of like minded people and these steps will bear fruits in the long run.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Praying for Rain

A Temple Tank remaining dry
Famine may happen at any country. History tells us the serious consequences of several draughts that happened in many parts of the world. Agriculture gets the first beating from a draught. Then it affects the citizens who are already down with negligible farm output.

The great Tamil work, "Periya Puranam " outlines the effects of a draught situation that prevailed in those days. Places  like Thiruveezhimizhalai, Arisil Karai Puthur and Thirupungur faced the gruesome famine. Eyarkon Kalikkama Nayanar prayed Sivalokanatha of Thirupungur for rain and offered agricultural land ( "aaru veli " ). God answered his prayers and to the jubilation of the entire village,abundant rain  followed. When it rained more than the requirement, floods started surrounding the village and posed problem to the crops and people as well. The Nayanar prayed The Lord again and offered the same amount of land to the Temple if the rain stopped.  Thus the Temple was gifted with 12 veli of land for saving the village.

God exists everywhere, be a desert or a delta. Sri Rudram, the central part of the Vedas stated thus: "Varshyaa ya cha avarshyaaya cha. " People think more of God when they are in trouble. Only great souls treat all situations alike. They come as a solace to help the common man and free him from distress. When the people of Thiruveezhimizhalai welcomed Thirugnanasanbandar and Thirunavukkarasar, the great Saiva acharyas to the village and reported them about the draught situation over there. The Saints prayed the Almighty for the sake of the devotees and received coins from The Lord to be used until the draught was over.

Los Angeles Times has reported the scarcity of water in California and described that the water storage might last for one year only. It is a result of monsoon failure over the last decade. In the absence of water supply to the fields, agriculturists have almost exhausted the underground water by using pump sets. A situation has thus arrived when people can be served with drinking water alone. It has finally left the people to pray for rain.

The Paramacharya of Kanchi Kamakoti Mutt used to advice people to perform "Athi Rudram " and pray Lord Shankara for rain. In a place like California, where Indian community lives in good numbers, organising the event should not be a problem. What is more important is the participation combined with devotion. Since it is a result oriented event, sincerity counts more than anything. There may be many Vedic Pundits in this region,serving in Temples. As eleven days of chanting  will have to be made, married men in traditional attire can participate and chant the Mahamantra. Others who are not well versed with "Sri Rudram "can take a book/i pod and follow others. Only few professionals may be invited from India  when it is absolutely essential. By doing so, it will not give room for the professionals in India from crossing the barrier as prescribed by Dharma Sastras. Simultaneously, it gives an opportunity for Hindus living in U.S. to learn Sri Rudram and chant them regularly. They may even think of sending their children to Veda class. Of course, it is a matter to be decided by Californians. The gravity of the situation is to be considered as the top priority as Athi Rudra Maha Yagyam is normally aimed to wipe off the agony faced and please Lord Rudra.      

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Temple Rebuilding

Dilapidated Sanctum
Restoration of Historic Temples generally  involve  renovating the damaged part without affecting the original structure. The damage is largely due to the wild growth of trees over the ancient structure , left unattended for decades.In this process, the original stones are to be numbered before dismantling. After removing the trees fully, the stones are restored in their original places. By doing so, gaps are created between the stones. The gaps thus formed are normally filled by pointing work  At the same time, the inscriptions,if any,are to be preserved with great care. Painting should be avoided over the granite stones.Removal of original stones and replacement with tiles should also be avoided.  But it is a challenging job to rebuild the entire structure on the same lines of the ruined Temple.

Remains of Nandi Mandapam
It is not uncommon to see the sites suffering from extensive damage. One such Temple was located 7 km south east of Aduthurai . Sri Garbapureeswara Swami Temple at Karupur was left only with Swami Sannadhi and that too in a very bad shape. The highly dilapidated shrine had a tall tree rooted deep into the vimanam of the sanctum. The whole structure was made of bricks. The shrines of Ganapathi and Subramanya were beyond repair. Ambal Shrine had already disappeared. All other Murthis were missing. The compound wall was absent which might have invited anti socials taking advantage of the situation.

All attempts were sincerely made to save the old structure but in vain. The bricks were too old and unable to withstand the load . As the roots had penetrated deep into the sanctum, almost the entire structure had to be disturbed to remove the trees fully. Even if other methods were applied, the structure,made of bricks would not have last long. The brick foundation , about 3 1/2 feet deep was also in a bad shape. The stones started crumbling  and it was realised that any attempt to build the new shine over the old foundation was unsafe.

It has thus become necessary to go for a new structure altogether by not skipping the guidelines given in Agama and Silpa Sastras. Photographs were taken and the measurement of the original shrine was strictly followed when the new structure was raised. Granite stones were procured from Pudukottai and the foundation work was started. Bhoomi Puja was performed with lot of enthusiasm from the local villagers.

South facing Garbaprathambika Sannadhi was also raised on a new foundation by following the original measurements.

Shrines of Ganapathi and Subramanya were reconstructed in their original places. The next job was to place orders for new idols for the respective shrines. After screening many sculptors, it was given to a Sthapathi whose workmanship was better than others.

Stone selection was made at Sthapathi's premises on an auspicious day. It was a good sign to see showers on a sunny day unexpectedly. The stone on which rain water had stagnated in a cavity was brought to the workshop and the Sthapathi offered Pujas to mark the beginning of the work. The progress was monitored at regular intervals and suggestions were given to craft the idol even better. The other idols were also made in this way and sent to the Temple within three months.

After completing the foundation work of both Swami and Ambal shrines, the Vimanams were raised with the support of Philanthropists. Arrangements were made to conduct the consecration on Sunday,1st Feb,2015. It was God's Grace that the star of the day  happened to be " Ardhra " the auspicious one for Lord Shiva. We, at Ardhra Foundation considered it as His blessing which inspired us to serve the Lord more.

As the cost was very high to build a compound wall around the  complex, a wired fence that may last for 5- 10 years was laid as a temporary measure. Another pending job was laying a pathway around the Temple. We hope that these two unfinished jobs will get completed through some blessed souls in the near future.

The locals are now proud and happy to see the ancient Temple of their village restored. It is after all they, who have to visit the Temple daily, conduct worship, monitor the daily Pujas and maintain it  in a good condition. As everyone now realise the very high cost of the neglect , care must be taken to avoid recurrence of the past.  Agamas prescribe the conduct of consecration ceremony once in twelve years.  Apart from maintaining the sanctity of the shrine, it helps to maintain the structure well at a low cost. Rebuilding will never happen if the above guidelines of the Agamas are followed.  

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Cheap Publicity - Thy name is Controversy ?

As Hinduism is regarded as the way of life, it allows people to choose any path as long as it serves to reach the ultimate goal of getting liberation from rebirth. In the long journey of finding Truth and attain salvation, it never compels anyone to do or not to do certain things as it strongly believes that all paths will finally reach The Almighty. It simply pronounces what is good for the Humanity and allows freedom to individuals , though the Sastras prescribed for Brahmins may be slightly rigid as the community is meant to pray for Peace and Prosperity of the entire World.

When it comes to worship , most of us pray for self rather than for anybody else. The next level of thinking is to pray for family members and then only for others. It takes time for ordinary citizens to raise to the highest level of  praying for the entire world by crossing all boundaries. The water tight compartments will automatically vanish once that level is achieved. Such a person will always pray for communal harmony by  sacrificing the materialistic way of life.

Sacrifices may be big or small. It simply means  whatever you are prepared to give up. It may be because of a prayer or the net result of thanking God for answering the prayer. Whether God asks for it or not is immaterial as long as the belief remains unshakable. Such acts can not be called as ignorance as it trespasses into the religious freedom enjoyed by the individuals or groups. To worship or not may be left to the individual. But it should not be misunderstood as an opportunity to criticise the belief of others.  

Atheism is not new to the World. But the Modern world should try to behave better than ever. Hurting others through libel and slander may give momentary happiness for atheists but the fact remains that the believers continue to grow in numbers regardless of such verbal attacks.
Social Media is supposed to unite people and guide people with the noble purpose of shaping their lives. Unfortunately they entertain avoidable debates that are defamatory and cause social evils. Such controversies may blow up to any proportion and divide people. The recent allegation appeared in the Social Media is about making poor remarks on Lord Shiva and the reaction of the public shown above is understandable.

The actor in the movie is said to have criticised the Hindu ritual of offering milk to the deity as waste. Thinking as if they serve for the poor, crocodile tears are shed for them. If the allegation is true, let them answer few questions. Why do they celebrate their birthdays and New Year with pomp and fare in star hotels and expensive resorts ? Can't they spare the money for the cause of poor children? How many of them have served for this cause off the screen? They are too happy when their fans pour milk on their cutouts when their films are released. Is there a single actor who described this as waste and advised the fans to divert the milk to poor children? Let them tell that the film world is doing charity work throughout the year. While they mint crores of rupees from both affordable and non affordable section of the public, how many of them have thought about sparing  even a small portion of their income towards charity? How many of them visit the slums regularly and offer help to the poor? They merely appear at  social functions ,that too to  get publicity.  Some of them appear before TV cameras at the time of launching a social programme and never bother to continue and carry it forward. If this be the case, why at all the advertising media be after the celebrities and offer them in crores?

We rarely react to controversial issues as it is a worthless attempt to change the attitude of critics whose mindless act  hurts the sentiments of millions of believers. However, we think it is necessary to answer the pointer raised here-- whether the milk offered to a deity is a waste . Let the critics remember that we live under the mercy of Nature that gifts us many things of which rain is the most important one. Failure of monsoon immediately affects the animals and birds and they try to migrate in search of water. They perish if they fail to identify the water resource in time. Man ignores even his pet animals at that stage in order to protect himself. Where from he get milk if the entire race of cows face the drought? He can not think of feeding his own baby, forget about feeding the poor children for a moment. When the God is so merciful to us and the cattle , what is wrong in thanking Him as a mark of our gratitude?

If the film makers are really interested in feeding milk to the poor, let them stop all lorry loads of cattle going towards the butcher's shops. Can't they live without eating mutton and beef when the poor struggle for a square meal a day? It is time for them to think and act before they preach through their films. The society has already been stabbed by viewing the immoral acts shown on the screen. Let them realise that the cinema is a strong media that can build lives of people. Such cheap acts can only ruin their image and at the end of the day their own fans may call it a day by boycotting such movies.