Ramayana and Mahabharata

Post R&MA few years back, I was facilitating a workshop on understanding and appreciating cultural differences with participants from the US, Canada, and India. One of the modules within the workshop required each participant to decorate a table with some personal items that would give the audience a peek into his / her life beyond what they see at work. So we had participants putting up their family pictures, books that had inspired them, baseball bats,. ice hockey helmets, football jerseys, their father’s footwear, images of deities that they worship and so on. It was great to see the enthusiasm of people who had carried this stuff all the way from North America to Bangalore and the eagerness of people in India to showcase their background and heritage.

As the facilitator, even I had set up a table with some of my belongings. Some items that described who I am, what has inspired me, what I’m interested in and what I care about. One of the items on the table was a copy of the Mahabharata. I’ve been deeply interested in the Mahabharata and in my opinion it is the greatest story that has ever been told. I’m not going to go into the intricacies of the epic here, however,. if you are interested, you could read some of my thoughts here. Continue reading

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A Hero’s Hero – Alexander and Achilles

Alexander

Alexander conquered most of the known world of his time. His empire stretched from Macedonia to Persia to Egypt to the North-Western border of India. He was a legend even during his time. There was speculation about whether he was god or demon, because of the kind of superhuman feats he performed. He himself believed that he was the son of Zeus-Ammon, a thought that was probably reinforced and kindled by his courtiers. It probably started as a mere whim in the oasis of Siwah, however, it later took roots in the depths of his being, and his self-aggrandizement  blinded him to the reality that after all he was merely human. And it is this fact, that he was after all a mere human being that makes him stand out; that makes you take notice of his unbelievable achievements. Here was a man, who walked in flesh and blood, a man who went on to conquer the whole world before he was thirty-two.

Such has been the impact of Alexander’s influence on the world that his legend lives on. Even today, 2300 years after his death. He appears as a character in epics and fables across various cultures in Asia and North Africa, sometimes as a god, sometimes as a two-horned demon, and sometimes as a beast. In India, he is popularly referred to by the name ‘Sikandar’, and his name is synonymous with being the best, the ace, the invincible. There is a proverb in Hindi, which loosely translates to ‘The one who wins is called Alexander’. Whether you view him as a hero or a bloodthirsty villain, who brought death and destruction to wherever he went, you will find it difficult to argue against his magnetism. His magnetism is probably a result of his skills as a warrior, his leadership, his unbending will and determination, his unbridled curiosity, his passion to be the best, his passion to emulate his hero, Achilles! Continue reading

A Lesson in History

Let me start by drawing the boundaries once again. I’m not a Historian. I don’t even claim to have an extensive knowledge of History. However, I can safely call myself a History enthusiast. Reading about the past gives me a lot of pleasure and an understanding of who we are and how we got into the circumstances that we find ourselves in today.  While I like History in general, what I particularly enjoy reading are ancient and medieval Indian history, the Indian epics such as Mahabharata and Ramayana, ancient Hellenistic history, and various views on religion and spirituality. I also love discussing the above mentioned topics with friends and family.

Buddhist Monks

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to discuss Indian history with a historian. Among other things, we talked about Buddhism and its influence on Asia in general and India in particular. I have always been curious about the decline and almost complete disappearance of Buddhism from the land of its birth. I find it difficult to fathom that this inclusive and inherently democratic faith fell out of favor with the Indian populance. So, I asked my historian friend, if Buddhism was ‘stamped out’ of India. Continue reading

The Greatest Legend of All was Real

I am not a historian. I don’t even claim to have an extensive knowledge of history. However, I can safely call myself a history enthusiast. I love reading about the past.

I guess it all started when I was in Class IV. My parents bought me a book  which dealt with the lives and times of some great names in history – Chandragupta Maurya, Ashoka, Julius Caesar, Akbar, Napoleon, Garibaldi, Mahatma Gandhi. I was fascinated by the book and the personalities that it described. However, the character that captured my imagination was Alexanderos Philippou Makedonon, known more popularly, as Alexander the Great.

AlexanderWhat appealed about Alexander to my young mind, at that time, was that he had managed to conquer most of the known world of his time. I marvelled at how this man, who was crowned king when he was barely 20, muster the courage to invade Persia, one of the most poweful countries of his time. I was amazed at how he won every battle that he ever fought. Most of all, what blew me over completely was that Alexander achieved all this by the age of 32. He had quite an impact on my young mind. Now, that’s a hero, I said to myself. Continue reading