Archive for January, 2009

January 29, 2009

When kR^iShNa was gifted Chinese stuff!

by Sarvesh K Tiwari

Interestingly, mahAbhArata mentions clothes ‘made-in-china’ as worthy of royal gifts!

Here we find dhR^itarAShTra ordering vidura, his half-brother and Prime Minister, about preparations to be made for keshava’s imminent visit to hastinApura. He mentions the presents he would like to be prepared for the offering to kR^iShNa when he arrives. The list concludes as follows:

ajinAnAn sahasrANi chIna deshodbhavAni cha
tAnyapyasmai pradAsyAmi yAvadarhati keshavaH

“I shall also present keshava deer-skins produced in the country of chIna, a thousand in number, and also other things worthy of him”

This chinese mention comes at the end of a longish list of other such novelties, therefore probably meant as the best of all.

At another place, in sabhA-parvan the second book of bhArata, we find his eldest son duryodhana describing the gifts that yudhiShThira had received from various royalties around the world, during the rAjasUya feat of the pANdava-s. Describing the presents brought by the vAhlIka-s i.e. natives of balkha region, he mentions among other things:

pramANa rAgasparshADhyaM bAhlI chIna samudbhavam
aurNa.n cha rA~NkavaM chaiva kITajaM paTTajaM tathA
kuTTI kR^ita.n tathaivAnyatkamalAbha.n sahasrashaH
sulakShNa.n vastramakArpAsamAvikaM mR^idu chAjinam

“And the vAhlIka-s also presented numerous types of exotic fabrics produced in chIna country: the woollens of finest texture; the fabric manufactured from metal wires (or deer skins); those of jute and others material; the fabric spun from fine silken threads produced by worms; they also gifted thousands of different fabrics, cotton and others, of brilliant colours like the bright lotus flowers, besides thousands of deer-skins, all of the velvety texture!”

Interesting, though not surprising. As we do know, until very recent times, Indians used to consider the skins of Deer (and also Tiger) as auspicious to be used as the bedsheets and cover sheets for religious occasions. Yogins and others even today use these texture as their seat-material and the cloth. Besides the himAlayan regions of India, the regions from chIna to Korea to Siberia is known to even today be a very rich habitation of diverse Deer species. Between China and India, almost all the species of Deer in the world can be found.

Similar is the case of silken and woolen fabrics. chIna is known to be a very old commercial source of the both. (silk route)

Not that the regions of bhArata did not produce these materials indigenously– the value of the gifts is in these being of foreign origin therefore exotic, and worthy of royal gifts. In both the cases, the import of these chinese goods into India is mentioned as done by foreigners. In the first case, dhR^itarAShTra mentions having received these as gifts himself from a certain hill-tribes, and in the second the gift is coming from Balkhans.

We must also add another caveat. “chIna” of the itihAsa-purANa-s is not the China of today. Most commonly chIna is used to refer to the North-west region neighboring the Balkh, around the modern turkmenistan and east, and border areas of modern chIna especially Tibet.

January 24, 2009

On the shores of sacred puShkara

by Sarvesh K Tiwari

It was on the day of amAvasyA during the fortnight which one spends in the sacred memory of one’s ancestors, coinciding too with somavAra, making the day even more auspicious, that we had the fortune to be on the shores of the sacred lake of puShkara, that famed tIrtha, where perpetually reside, as purANa-s describe, all the Adityans, all the vasu-s, all the rudra-s and all the mAruta-s!

It was on these very shores, says dwaipAyana, that janArdana had dwelt for many years, engaged in arduous tapa-s, that slayer of madhu the asura!

It was here, where the third of the pANDava heroes had sojourned during the last one of his twelve fugitive years of exile from khANDavaprastha.

It was here where sheSha had performed the feat of penances which had pleased prajApati to free him up from his sinful association with his nAga brethren of ill deeds, and where he acquired for himself the eternal anugraha of viShNu.

Indeed, one acquires not by the performance of the agniShToma and other yaj~nas, that much merit which one aquires by a sojourn to this tirtha, so describe our purANa-s, in particular the padma, garuDa, vArAha, skanda and vAmana.

It was here, so inform us our traditions, where one of the twin droplets of the divine tear befell on earth, from the lashes of that most benevolent deva of deva-s, the Supreme Ascetic, the cause of all the causes and the end to all the ends, that Lord of umA who had cried and danced in His divine anguish. It was that one drop of tear that became the reservoir of puShkara, whereas the other tear caused sacred kaTas, its sibling lake on the borders of sindhudesha and pA~nchanada, now in the terrorist country.

It was here, that the illustrious grandsire of all creation, who has lotus for his seat, had dwelt with great pleasure, and performed his grand yaj~na. And it was here that invited by prajApati, saraswatI had appeared, that foremost of all the rivers in the world, the mother most magnanimous and nourisher of sudhI-s, and she was called here as supravA by the sages, thereby blessing puShkara with first of her seven subsequent incarnations through which she nurtured the creation.

Indeed, as the slayer of madhu is regarded the foremost of all the celestials, so also this puShkara the foremost of all the tIrtha-s. And yet, wonders the great bhArata, why this tIrtha goes by the name of “puShkara”, with its three white hillocks and three springs, famed from the remotest times!

Therefore, as we beheld the marvel of this sacred lake, we wondered howmany generations of our forefathers too would have similarly beheld this lake, and would have offered tarpaNa to their forefathers, like we did to them!

And then, as a sudden pang, this old thirteenth century song surfaced in our memory, translation of which we had once read in the ‘Autobiography of An Unknown Indian’ by Nirad C Choudhury, and which was a sad lamentation of a Hindu poet, whose heart was crying over turuShka defilement around the sacred lake. The song went something like this:

puShkara, once the abode of bramhA,
Now home of the mlechcHa…

bramhA bathed there after concluding his yaj~na
Now mlechcHa removes in its waters the fatigue of demolishing our sacred temples…

Once this lake was the repository of the tears of joy of viShNu
Now a bin for the waste of mlechcHa’s meals…

Once warmed up by the fire of the eyes of The Eleven rudra-s
Now steaming with the hot tears of persecuted brAhmaNa-s…

apsaras were forbidden to enter its waters,
Even indrANI considered it not proper to bathe here,
Now becomes the wallowing pool for turuShkanI women in their menses…

Once deva-s quenched their thirst from it,
Now supplies to these barbarians who dont hesitate to slaughter their horses to quench their thirsts in the desert…

And even as we were taken to the famed shrine of prajApati, and also the place where sagacious dayAnanda of blessed memory, the founder of Arya samAja, had spent his early years in learning the veda-s — we hardly recovered from the torment.

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