Trysts by night in art and poetry

The painting above, by one of the great Indian artists of the late eighteenth century, Nainsukh, depicts such a scene.  Our paramour sneaks away from her home by night to a spot in the forest where she has arranged to meet her lover during the night, and she must be back before anyone awakes and misses her in the morning.

Read More Trysts by night in art and poetry

Love, death and Sanskrit literature

In romantic literature across the world, we frequently read about lovers who would die rather than be apart.  In the story of Pyramus and Thisbe, Pyramus kills himself, believing Thisbe to be dead.  When Thisbe finds the dead body of Pyramus, she also kills herself.  Romeo and Juliet, based on this story, and many other tales of world literature, follow a similar pattern.

Read More Love, death and Sanskrit literature

T.S. Eliot, the Vedas and the Concept of Time

The concept of time seems to have been a preoccupation for many leading figures of this generation across a variety of fields, stimulated perhaps in part by the linking of hitherto distant regions through railway and telegraphy during the nineteenth century, and likely also by the impact of Einstein’s work.  Such figures might include Henri Bergson, Martin Heidegger, Marcel Proust, Salvador Dali and many others.

Read More T.S. Eliot, the Vedas and the Concept of Time

Conflicting norms of behaviour: in Greek drama and Indian epic

Polyneices a proper burial.  Polyneices has been killed in a battle against his brother and fellow citizens, and, as he is considered a traitor to the kingdom, the king decrees that no-one is to bury him or mourn him.  As his sister, however, Antigone feels that she is under an obligation to give him some minimal burial rites, and in fact does so, leading to her being condemned, as illustrated above.

Read More Conflicting norms of behaviour: in Greek drama and Indian epic

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).

Read More Bear-king Jāmbavān and animal symbolism

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.

Read More Talking with the rivers

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.

Read More Christmas trees and Indian literature

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.

Read More Devī and the Buffalo Demon – Part Two

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.

Read More The Buffalo Demon – Part One