Bear-king Jāmbavān and animal symbolism

We can perhaps identify some similar themes of cultural centrality of the bear in Indian culture, especially in its earliest phases.  Similarly to Western mythic taxonomy, the seven stars of Ursa Major are called ‘the bears’ (ṛkṣa) in the Rig Veda (1.24.10), and in fact the Pleiades are their seven wives according to Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa (2.1.2).  These bears (ṛkṣa) later came to be known as sages (ṛṣi).

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Talking with the rivers

Rivers have been revered since time immemorial in cultures across the world.  For ancient peoples, the pure waters provided by rivers to drink and to water crops must have seemed to be a blessing from nature or from the gods.  In the Rig Veda, the sapta-sindhu or seven rivers stand pre-eminent.  Two among these, the Vipāśā (Beas) and Śutudrī (Satluj) rivers are the interlocutors of the sage Viśvamitra in a fascinating and unique conversation translated here.

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Christmas trees and Indian literature

Many Christmas traditions have taken on a rather secular character in the modern world and can be fully enjoyed by us all, whatever the case is about our religious beliefs or lack of them. Among such traditions, the practice of decorating a tree for Christmas appears to be a rather modern one, but with many ancient precursors, both within Christian history and in comparative Indo-European and world-historical perspective.

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Devī and the Buffalo Demon – Part Two

In the first part of the story, we saw how the buffalo-demon Mahiśāsura behaved in an extremely arrogant and conceited way due to the boon granted by Brahma that he could not be killed by any male god, demon or human, thinking himself invincible because of this. He made fun of the idea that any woman could be strong enough to challenge him and even taunted Indra about his supposed lack of manly courage.

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The Buffalo Demon – Part One

Another interesting story concerns the buffalo demon Mahiśāsura who was granted a boon that he would not be killed by man or by gods. This story is told in the Devī Māhātmya, from which I will draw below, as well as in the Devī Bhāgavatam, and in many other literary texts and folk stories too.

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Sexual Harassment in the Mahābhārata

Sexual harassment is an unfortunate reality in many societies, and this fact is also reflected in literature too. In the story of Śakuntalā, originally in the Mahābhārata, Śakuntalā becomes pregnant by Duryodhana who then initially refuses to acknowledge that he is the father. In the Rāmāyaṇa, too, Sītā chooses to accompany her husband Rāma into exile and her vulnerability leads to her being kidnapped by Rāvaṇa who attempts to seduce her.

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Emotions and Indian sculpture

The American-British sculptor Jacob Epstein was a good friend of Ananda Coomaraswamy, who had some significant influence on him. The sculptures depicted above on the façade of (what is now) Zimbabwe House in London were designed by Epstein to represent a form of modernism which took influence from Indian classical sculptural traditions.

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