Monday, December 14, 2009

The marvels of Indus Valley

Kuldip Dhiman

Harappan Technology and its Legacy
By D. P. Agrawal.
Rupa & Co. in Association with Infinity Foundation.
Pages 332. Price not mentioned.

WHAT is now known as the Indus Valley Civilisation or Harappan Civilisation was discovered accidentally when a railway line was being laid down in the 1920s. Initially, archaeological sites were found in the twin towns of Mohenjodaro and Harappa, now in Pakistan, but with the passage of time, more and more sites have been found in the north of the Indian subcontinent. It was Sir John Hubert Marshall, the then director-general of the Archaeological Survey of India who carried out initial excavations of the sites. Western historians until then had thought that India's historical past was not more than 3,000 years old, but these excavations pushed the timeline by at least 2,000 years back, if not more.

In the present volume, Harappan Technology and its Legacy, D. P. Agrawal focuses on Harappan technological achievements, although he covers other aspects also. This is quite an exhaustive book that covers ecology, technology, architecture, arts, crafts, transportation, stone cutting art, ceramics, metallurgy, pyrotechnology, animal husbandry and agriculture. The author is an expert in the subject, and has worked with the Archaeological Survey of India, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, and Physical Research Laboratory. He writes in a direct matter-of-fact style, and packs his thesis with hard facts.

The first thing that strikes us is the amazing care in town planning that we see in these sites. Major towns could accommodate more than 50,000 people, and the engineers and architects had to be really competent in order do design such settlements. A standard grid was followed in the design of these towns. The engineers of the time made sure to construct reservoirs for drinking water, and also made sewage lines and storm water drains. The Harappan engineering prowess is most clearly revealed in the hydraulic structures. Then we have the Great Bath, which is an example a perfect leak-proof structure.

In the past 90 years, many other sites have been discovered, and with every find, archaeologists and historians have come across amazing all round achievements of the civilisation.

Agrawal shows that when it came to scientific instruments, the Harappans contributed the true saw, needles (with holes at the pointed end), hollow drills, and so on.

"The Harappan arts and crafts," writes Agrawal, "present a bewildering array of forms, techniques, and usage of raw materials. They had a highly developed lapidary industry that could work on hard stones like agate and chalcedony, and soft stones like steatite. They could produce intricate designs by alkali etching of carnelian beads, which were probably meant for export to Mesopotamia."

Another striking feature of the civilisation was standardisation of industrial norms. The Harappans had developed a binary metrological system for measuring weights, and used a unit of 17mm for linear measurements. The bricks used in construction of buildings were of standard size—in fact, all things were standardised.

The Harappans used locally available raw materials for manufacturing crafts such as woodworking, basket making, simple weaving, terracotta pottery, and so on, although they had to import raw materials for stone-shaping for domestic purposes, and chipped stone tool-making. There was a third category crafts using local materials, complex technologies, and intricate production processes such as in stoneware bangle manufacture, elaborately painted pottery, complex weaving and carpet making, ceramics, and metallurgy. They possessed the knowledge of smelting even sulphide ores and produced bronze in complicated shapes.

The Harappans were also good at the arts and this can be seen from the surviving sculptures such as the Red Torso, the Dancing Girl, and the famous Priest King. The sculptors not only were good at human figures, but also at sculpting animals. And then, of course, we have a large collection of ceramics, pots, bowls, pans, etc.

Obviously, a civilisation that had achieved such scientific, technological and artistic heights could not have done so without having a solid agricultural base. At Kalibangan, we can still see plough marks in a field, and a terracotta model of a plough from Banawali is very elegantly designed.

One thing that sets the Harappan civilisation apart is its concern with the ordinary masses. While all the great cities of the world built great palaces and monuments which were largely for the benefit of the rich, the Harappans built structures which were for the masses like the Great Bath and the Granary. They did not show much interest in conquering; they were more interested in creating.

The book has dozens of colour photographs, maps, diagrams and sketches that beautifully illustrate the text. There is an amazing array of new artefacts that makes this volume all the more interesting.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The first Moghul

Kuldip Dhiman

Reviewed for The Tribune, November1, 2009

Empire of the Moghul: Raiders from the North
By Alex Rutherford.
Headline Review.
Pages 436. Rs 495.

Empire of the Moghul: Raiders from the NorthWHEN Babur was barely 12, his father died in a freak accident. Hardly had Babur got over the shock, he had to prepare himself to take over the reigns of Ferghana or else he would be dethroned by his uncles or cousins. Just retaining Ferghana would not be enough, though. His father had told him on several occasions: "We owe Timur a debt. He was a great man, my son. His blood is your blood. Never forget it. Be like him, if you can. Live up to your destiny and let it be greater than mine."

And Babur would never forget the words of his father. So, at an age, when you play in the fields, Babur found himself burdened with the responsibilities of a ruler as his father had not left a very secure kingdom for him. The problems were not only external, for his uncles, cousins, and other hopefuls were only too keen to topple him and seize power.

In Alex Rutherford's Empire of the Moghul: Raiders from the North, we find Babur trying to consolidate his position and regain some of the lost lands. His first job was to attack Samarkand. It was a long campaign lasting seven months, and it proved to be expensive and he realised that while he was engaged in the seize, Fergana had been usurped by his detractors. And as he charged back to recover it, his troops deserted in Samarkand. The whole experience found Babur losing both Samarkand as well as Fergana. The young king was beginning to realise the harsh realities of life, and he would need all the talents of his great ancestors. For instance, to realise his ambition, he would have to make alliances with his cousin Mahmud, who would help him seize Samarkand in order to win a bride for himself. Their motives were different, but the ruthlessness the same.

In this action-packed historical novel, which is first of a series of five novels that he is writing on Moghul emperors, Rutherford, magnificently recreates the rise of Babur from the Mediterranean, through Afghanistan, and finally India, where he founded the Moghul dynasty. The novel is meticulously researched, and the author claims to have visited every location described in it. The result is a dramatic and picturesque presentation of history that keeps you turning page after page although you might be familiar with major historical facts. History books give facts, but it is historical fiction that puts life into the characters and events. Rutherford's lively prose and sharp psychological insights make us feel and care for the characters we meet in the book. Apart from the major players, Rutherford very passionately creates the others like Wazir Khan, Babur's mentor and protector; Kutlugh Nigar, his mother; Khanzada, his sister, and Roxanna, his father's concubine.

In the deft hands of Rutherford, Babur emerges as a strong and ambitious man who he is ruthless at times but also kind and gives in to weaker passions sometimes. And although he might have earned a name for himself in history books as winner of several battles, we see him not so victorious on the personal front because there the sword does not work. The mighty conqueror finds himself unable to elicit any love from his first wife, Ayisha. "He had never seen her smile—not once. A smile might have softened her and, in turn, softened his feelings towards her. Instead, lying with her seemed almost like sleeping with a warm corpse—no response, no passion, no engagement, just those unblinking dark eyes seemingly focused on the middle distance as he spent himself in her unresisting body."

This is one battle Babur might have loved to win the most.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Quantum Consciousness or God?

Kuldip Dhiman

God is not Dead: What Quantum Physics Tells us About our Origins and How We Should Live
By Amit Goswami.
Pages 310. Rs 295.

Aristotle showed us that whenever we ask the "why" question, four explanations or causes could be given. They are: material cause, formal cause, efficient cause, and final cause. If we take the example of a chair, wood is its material cause. Formal cause shows us what a thing is; in other words, it identifies it—we might think in terms of the shape of the chair. The efficient cause is the reason for the object to be. In case of the chair, the efficient cause is the carpenter. And the final cause explains why the chair was made, or what was the purpose (teleology) behind making it. Chairs are made so that people can sit on them.

With the rise of modern scientific thinking, the last two causes are no longer considered because they would suggest that the world was created by a supreme being. This is not acceptable to modern materialistic science. As scientific thinking began to hold the imagination of thinkers, Friedrich Nietzsche made his bold proclamation a century ago: "God is dead".

Amit Goswami declares the opposite in God is not Dead, and he uses the presuppositions of quantum physics to justify his claim. To be sure, Goswami is not a saffron-clad swami dabbling in quantum mechanics to pass off his religious beliefs by using scientific terminology. He is a theoretical nuclear physicist and member of The University of Oregon Institute for Theoretical Physics for the last 40 years.

Goswami argues that scientific materialism cannot give us a complete explanation of the world as there are aspects of the phenomenal world that are impossible to address within the materialist framework of science. Where, then, lies the solution? The solution, says Goswami, could be found in quantum physics — the science of the subatomic realm.

Very briefly, in Newtonian physics, objects are determined things, but in quantum physics, objects are possibilities from which consciousness chooses. The stress in Newtonian physics is on objectivity, that is, the person conducting the experiment is just an impartial observer; he does not interfere in the experiment in any way. But when we enter the world of subatomic particles, subjectivity becomes important as it influences the physical processes.

For instance, light waves sometimes act like particles and particles sometimes act like waves depending upon how they are observed, this is called wave particle duality. Further, matter can go from one spot to another without moving through the intervening space—this is called quantum tunnelling. Instead of the certain world of macro level physics, in quantum mechanics, the entire universe is nothing but a series of probabilities that depend upon a sentient observer. And once subjectivity enters, consciousness cannot be treated as mere by-product of biological processes, because it actively shapes the outcome of the experiment.

In the micro realm, objects remain as waves of possibility until they are brought into manifestation through the act of observation. Quantum objects are waves of possibility of consciousness. "Consciousness, not matter," says Goswami, "is the ground of being, in which matter exists only as possibilities. Through the act of quantum measurement or observation, consciousness converts possibility into actuality, by collapsing waves into particles or things, at the same time splitting itself into a subject that sees and objects that are seen `85. In other words, quantum thinking allows us to treat mind and matter, internal and external experiences on equal footing, extending causal efficacy and importance of both."

But how does this prove the existence of God? When we observe the world, our consciousness chooses among the quantum possibilities to collapse an actuality of experience. This way, we create our own reality. It must, however, be remembered, that we do not create reality in our ordinary state of consciousness, but in a non-ordinary state of consciousness called unified consciousness or universal consciousness. And it is this unified consciousness that could be called God, but this God is not some patriarchal figure sitting up in the sky controlling the affairs of the world.

Goswami further argues that neither Darwinian random evolution nor Creationism can explain the origins of life, but the evolution guided by unified consciousness. There are the fossil gaps, for instance, which cannot be understood in any other way but by thinking of intelligent design through quantum evolution. Evolution is not a gradual process, rather it undergoes quantum leaps at times. The missing links prove that in the past, we have had epochs of evolution in which quantum leaps of creativity took place.

Using these basic assumptions of quantum theory, Goswami shows us that we can answer questions relating to soul, mind, creativity, reincarnation, paranormal phenomena, ESP, dreams and more importantly, mystic experience. In fact, he interacted with several mystics to understand the mysteries of reality.

This book is an interesting addition to scientific literature. Goswami writes clearly and argues intelligently, and is among a handful of Indians who can write on science. But without belittling the author's effort, it must be said that the concept of applying quantum theorising to understand the metaphysical and spiritual realm is not altogether new.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Spare the rod, but not the discipline

Corporal punishment is to be deplored, not regimentation.

By Kuldip Dhiman

Another child is beaten up, another teacher is penalised, and the debate is suddenly alive: whether we ought to spare the rod or not. And this debate, like most others, swings from one extreme to the other. While my parents often told my teachers, "If he misbehaves, don't tell us, just thrash him thoroughly"; most parents now would take the school authorities to court for 'touching' their little ones.

Those who propose to banish corporal punishment in schools, suggest as alternatives positive behaviour techniques like communication, reasoning, conferences with students for planning acceptable behaviour, parent-teacher conferences about student behaviour, use of staff such as school psychologists and counsellors and above all love and affection. Good suggestions, but hardly practicable in an over-populated country like ours where in many areas the schools are overcrowded, understaffed, teachers are poorly paid, and often there is no school building at all.

It is believed that corporal punishment leaves emotional scars on children's mind, and they grow up to be violent and unruly adults. Those who hold this line might be surprised to know that recent studies show that the percentage of people who had committed violent crimes has been almost identical among those who were spanked and those who were not. While I am not a supporter of corporal punishment, I argue that we must evaluate the problem rationally rather than jump to conclusions out of mere emotional responses. As is often the case, whenever we hear about a case of corporal punishment, we often blame the teacher without hearing her or his version of the story, just as in a case of a traffic accident involving a car and a cycle, the car driver is presumed guilty and beaten up even if the cyclist was at fault.

But what is corporal punishment in the first place? While it is recognisable in extreme forms like caning and whipping, what about milder forms? More and more forms of punishments are being defined as corporal punishment these days, so much so that one day even scolding a child for misbehaving might be classified as corporal punishment.

While love, communication and reasoning are to be preferred to the rod, we must not forget that in most cases, our classrooms are packed with about sixty to seventy children. The hapless teacher cannot be expected to reason with those who habitually not only misbehave, but also bully him and other children in the classroom. A patient teacher might try love and affection once, twice, or even thrice, but on the fourth occasion is likely to loose his cool. Don't parents themselves beat up their children after trying other milder methods? Why should it be any different with the teacher who does not have to deal with two or three, but over sixty children all day! Besides, it is often difficult and time-consuming to reason with a child of secondary school level. If the teacher tried to reason with every single errant child, he would have no time left to teach. And experience shows that children do like some degree of firmness on the part of the teacher, and they have scant regard for a teacher who is lenient.

In most cases of corporal punishment, it is often not clear who is to blame, the teacher or the child or the parents. Because adults and children influence each other, argues developmental psychopathologist Michael Rutter, it is not always clear whether an adult's hostility is the cause or the effect of a child's misbehaviour. Family disruption and conflict and ineffective parenting do contribute to and aggravate many childhood problems, but many of these problems are also rooted partially in genetic endowment and grow out of a complex transactional process in which children affect and are affected by their elders and their wider social environment. It is high time to move beyond the simple view that parents and teachers alone are to blame for children's behavioural problems.

While corporal punishment should certainly be deplored, regimentation and discipline must be enforced at all costs. After all why do we send children to school? So they could learn to work with others, learn social customs, learn to cooperate and compete with peer groups.

But discipline must not be confused with coercion, for discipline could be instilled in children without coercion. Experts like Robert E. Larzelere, suggest that disciplinary responses could begin with less severe tactics, such as reasoning, but proceed to firmer tactics when the initial methods achieve neither compliance nor an acceptable compromise. This is consistent with many studies showing that a combination of reasoning and punishment is more effective than either one alone and with new evidence that this sequence enhances the effectiveness of milder disciplinary tactics.

Every child is unique, some are naturally well-behaved by disposition, while others need to be disciplined, and there are those who only understand the language of the cane. It would be unwise to treat all of them with one method. In the case of children belonging to the third category, school authorities could have a long hard talk with the parents instead of beating the child black and blue themselves.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Ayurveda and healthy life

After getting a doctorate degree in reproduction biology in India, Dr Vinod Verma studied neurobiology in Paris University. She later started exploring the ayurvedic system, and is now working hard to make its usefulness known to people. Excerpts from an interview with Kuldip Dhiman

The pace of life has changed drastically, creating all sorts of health problems. What cure does ayurveda have for lifestyle ailments such as obesity?

Dr Vinod Verma feels that ayurveda is the mother of all other medical systems
Dr Vinod Verma feels that ayurveda is the mother of all other medical systems

Well, health problems are there because we have forgotten the age-old tradition of ayurveda, which is not merely a medical system but this enormous wisdom is for leading a healthy and happy life with total well-being of the body and the mind. Emphasis on achara-vyavahara (lifestyle) is the primary wisdom of ayurveda. One should live with desha and kala (space and time).

I have made a mantra in my book, Ayurvedic Food Culture and Recipes, for teaching the fundamentals of ayurvedic nutrition—eating what, when, how and how much. All these factors have to be learnt individually and should be co-related. The whole ayurvedic food culture or other aspects cannot be learnt in a day. Otherwise, there was no need for me to write so many books.

Bad food with chemical fertilisers, artificial colours and flavour, bad quality fats, too much salt and sugar are some of the causes of over-weight and obesity.

Each individual should learn about the fundamentals of ayurvedic lifestyle and make an effort to remain healthy
Each individual should learn about the fundamentals of ayurvedic lifestyle and make an effort to remain healthy

Weight can vary due to constitution and structure of the body. One should take care of the shape and form of the body. There should be no extra hanging flesh. Let me give some suggestions for the benefit of your readers for balancing weight. Do surya pranam 12 times (it takes 10 minutes) after drinking a glass of hot water in the morning, or go for a half-an-hour walk. One should eat strictly three times a day, and absolutely nothing in between. Fill the stomach two-thirds, as ayurveda suggests. One-third of the stomach should be left for digestive juices. Never sit down after main meals. It is advised to walk at least 100 steps after the meal, or get involved in other activities that need body movements.

Eat your dinner at least two hours before going to bed, and lastly, drink a glass of hot water after getting up in the morning and before going to bed at night. Following these nutrition principles of ayurveda, not only will you be able to control your weight, but you will also get rid of minor stomach problems.

Does ayurveda have cure for psychological ailments like depression, stress, anxiety?

Ayurveda has cure for psychological and mental ailments. But the way your question is formulated, you have a mindset of modern medicine, which has a capsule-and-injection culture. In ayurveda, the treatment means a lot of other things besides aushadhi (medicine) — nutrition, external application of heat and other ointments, yogasanas and pranayama, japa for spiritual therapy, etc. If we compare the modern methods of therapy and ayurvedic treatment with food, the former is fast food, which gives rise ultimately to bad health, and the latter is a gourmet meal prepared with great effort and love, and has a rejuvenating effect on your body.

We live in a highly competitive world. As a result, there is a tremendous pressure on children to do well academically. Have you got any tips for sharpening the brain cells?

The stress and pressure are not only managed by sharpening the brain cells. One equally needs a good training in sattvic (pure) thoughts, which today's parents are not providing. For promoting memory, one should powder the following products and take a tablespoon of these with hot milk everyday: cashew nuts—5 parts; pepper—1 part; pippali—1 part; coriander—1 part; mullethi—1 part; saunf—1 part. There are many other products also in ayurveda but this is a simple home remedy people can make themselves.

You are involved in research. Tell us about it, and how it will help people in general.

My research involves gathering practical wisdom of ayurveda from all sources in the country and making it available to the common people for the benefit of health, promoting strength and preventing ailments. There exist so many simple solutions to complicated problems. To give you a simple example, I have cured many people of their nagging stomach problems by making them follow the eight principles of ayurvedic food culture.

All this is only possible with the personal efforts of each individual. Vaidyas and doctors are meant for emergencies and to treat ailments, and not for your headaches, cough and cold.

Each individual should learn about the fundamentals of ayurvedic lifestyle, make a conscious effort to remain healthy, enhance strength by taking rasayanas, make all efforts to prevent ailments, eat organic, well-prepared wholesome food with variety of herbs and spices, detoxify the body from time to time with some special products, do the inner and outer cleansing of the body, and make sure that the mala is excreted properly.

Is ayurveda scientific?

Yes, absolutely. It is very specific about pharmacology of products, their effect on the body, balancing of a drug, dose and frequency. In fact, it is the mother system of all the other medical systems of the world. It is a pity that some sadhus and religious cults are trying to use it to their own advantage and present its distorted version to the world. They ask people to be vegetarian, not eat onions and garlic, and so many other things like that. Ayurveda describes thousands of properties of garlic. Charaka has described 64 kinds of wine, and has given description of every possible meat.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Belur: Sheer poetry in stone

A voluptuous apsara

by Kuldip Dhiman

HEAVENLY guardian angels welcome you as you enter the ornate doors of the temple; a bevy of voluptuous apsaras and dancing girls tempt you with their sensual curves; scenes illustrating the two epics are there to entertain and inform; the gaze of the principal deity overwhelms you as you enter the inner sanctum. These are the splendours of Belur and Halebid where the sculptors of the bygone age seem to have stretched the art of sculpture to its very limits.

They may not be as well known as the Khajuraho temples, but the temples built by the Hoysala Dynasty between AD 1050 and 1300 in Karnataka epitomise the artistic splendour of their time. The singular feature of these temples is the obvious shit of emphasis from architecture to sculpture. Granite appears to have become modelling clay in the hands of the sculptors of the magnificent statues that are on display. The first of the Hoysala temples, the Chennakesava temple of Belur and the Hoysalesvar temple of Halebid, are the very paradigms of Hoysala art. The construction of both these temples began in AD 1117.

The 38 splendidly carved bracket figures of the Chennakesava temple illustrate the concept of the ideal woman according to the social mores of the 12th century. These highly ornamented curvaceous and rather plump beauties, called Mandanikas, are clearly the pieces de resistance that the temple has to offer. This, however, does not mean that other figures that adorn the temple are in any way inferior. Apart from gods and goddesses and apsaras, there are rows and rows of highly decorated elephants. The guides at Belur and Halebid challenge you to find two elephants that are exactly the same. Then we have the exquisitely carved lathe-turned pillars of the main hall. Heavily bejewelled buxom dancing damsels adorn the four central pillars of the main hall. Surprisingly the temple does not have a superstructure (tower), thus making us wonder if it was left incomplete.A glorious achievement of the Hoysala sculptural art

The Madhavaraya temple and the Kappechennigaraya temples are the other attractions in Belur. Although not as well known as the Chennakesava temple, the Madhavaraya temple deser-ves a visit. The pillars of this temple are most intricately carved. The central ceiling, according to Gerard Foekema, "may in fact be the most elaborate one in the whole of India.

In the huge garbhagrha there stands a giant cult-image of Kesava, the form of Visnu .... In an inscription on its pedestal, and in two other inscriptions regarding the erection and consecration of the temple, the deity is called Vijayanara-yana".

Now we move to the Hoyasalesvar temple of Halebid, just 15 km to the north-east of Belur, and 30 km from Hassan. It was constructed 10 years after the Chennakesava temple and was left incomplete in spite of 80 years' hard work that went into it. In reality this temple complex is made of two identical temples joined together. Gerard Foekema observes: "The lavish series of large images, stretched out over the full length of the back of the temple, is the most glorious achievement of the Hoysala sculptural art. It is unequalled in wealth and richness, and unequalled in size and extension. From the architectural point of view the temple is also unequalled but, sad to say, less successful".

This temple is also studded with finely crafted figures of gods and goddesses and dancing beauties. Then we have the relief sculptures depicting elephants, lions, swans, and scenes illustrating the Ramayana and Mahabharata. Another scholar observes: "Likewise, the four doorways of the temple, the lintels and guardian angels (dwarpalas) — all subjected to heavy ornamentation — give the impression of being the work of a master goldsmith rather than a sculptor".

Belur and Halebid are very well connected by road.

There are regular tourist coaches, and conducted tours from Bangalore and Mysore. Those wishing to explore the area leisurely might stay at Hassan and make daily tours to the temples. Hassan has a number of good hotels and restaurants.

Take twice or thrice the number of film rolls you expect to shoot because the marvellously sculpted apsaras of Belur and Halebid can make the most stingy person to overshoot.

Drona’s very own temple

By Kuldip Dhiman

"THIS is the only temple in India which is dedicated to the great teacher Dronacharya," the priest of the Drona Shiva Temple, Shiv Baadi, declares emphatically. As you stroll through the woods, your mind begins to wander. Is this the home of the legendary Dronacharya?

Was this forest house his famous gurukula? Is this the spot where the great teacher trained Arjuna and the rest? Believers accept the priest's words without much ado; skeptics ask for evidence: Alas! there is none.

The legend says that Yayati, Guru Dronacharya's little daughter, was intrigued by the daily disappearance of her father. He would go into the forest and return after a few hours. When she could no longer hold her curiosity, she asked her father about his long absence. All of her questions were met with vague, evasive answers, but the little girl was adamant. She wanted to know the truth.

The Drona Shiva Temple"I want to go with you, today", she said one day, blocking his way.

"No, my child' you are a little girl. I will take you along when you are a bit older."

But Yayati would not listen and in the end Dronacharya had to give in.

"My dear, your curiosity is understandable. I bathe in the Swaan river every day and then I proceed to the Himalayas, the abode of Lord Shiva. One must have the Lord's blessing and spiritual powers to undertake such a pilgrimage."

"Then, please teach me. You are after all the greatest teacher in the world."

Dronacharya held the little girl in his arms and asked her to recite Om Namo Shivaya. Yayati took her father's words seriously and began to chant the mantra everyday. Soon Shiva appeared, and on seeing that a little girl was chanting his name, he transformed himself into a little boy, and began to play with her. Yayati was very happy for having found such a lovable playmate.

One day, Dronacharya asked his daughter what she did in his absence. She told him about the little boy. Dronacharya was happy that at last his lonely daughter had found a companion to play with. A few days later, on his way to the Himalayas, Dronacharya realised that he had left something behind by mistake. When he returned home he saw his daughter playing with a little boy. It did not take long for Dronacharya to realise who the boy was. The great teacher bowed in reverence, and Shiva had to reveal his identity. Yayati could hardly believe her eyes. Shiva was extremely pleased with her devotion. He blessed her and said that her little village would be one of his favourite places.

Later Dronacharya installed a Shiva-linga on that very spot, and renamed the place Shiv Baadi. Although the present priest believes that 'the Shiva-linga we see today in the sanctum of the main temple is the same that Guru Dronacharya installed about 5,000 years ago', he has no historical evidence to support the claim.

Whether Guru Dronacharya lived here or not, the Drona Shiva Temple does look like an ancient gurukula. Perched on the top of a small hillock, and surrounded by a clump of dense trees, the temple transports you to another age.

The samadhis in the courtyard of the templeBut apart from its association with Dronacharya, the temple has nothing much to offer — in terms of its architectural design or aesthetic beauty. However, two rows of samadhis (graves) on the far side of the temple's courtyard look interesting. They are dedicated to sages Ganga-giri, Ichcha-giri, Tamesh-wargiri, Somagiri, Harigiri and many others. The priests tells us that 'these saints meditated here for years, and later buried themselves in the ground below and left this world. These samadhis are dedicated to them'. We see no inscriptions or dates on these graves, but they certainly look quite old. Behind the graves, you can see many. Shivalingas and other idols that were installed by various saints and followers. Just a few places away, is the cremation ground — a Shiva temple always has a place for cremation next to it, we are informed by the priest.

In sharp contrast to the aesthetically laid out samadhis, the main temple is admittedly an eyesore. It has no artistic, aesthetic, or architectural value worth mentioning. It is one of those plain white temple structures that have mushroomed all over the North. The practice of inscribing the names of donors on marble slabs deserves to be condemned because it adds 'visual pollution' It is graffiti of the worst kind. Can you imagine such ugly slabs on the walls and pillars of the Mahabalipuram Temple, or the Konark Sun Temple. To the right of the main temple, is another unadorned temple, constructed by Saint Baldevgiri about 70 years ago.

However, devotees, who pay little attention to aesthetic features, flock to Shiv Baadi in hundreds. Shivaratri is celebrated with great fervour. Another important occasion is the grand fair that is held on the second Saturday after Baisakhi. Located in Ambota village in Himachal Pradesh, Shiva Baadi is about 4 km from Gagret, if you are approaching from Hoshiarpur, and about 2 km from Mubarikpur, if you take the Chandigarh-Ropar-Nangal-Una road. Shiva Baadi can boast of one hotel that offers fairly good accommodation. To get more out of your trip, you could make Chintpurni your main destination, and spend a couple of hours at Shiv Baadi on your way back.

The abode of Baba Vadbhag Singh

By Kuldip Dhiman

A SEQUESTERED spot in a deep ravine houses famous gurdwaras Dehra Sahib, Manji Sahib and Beiri Sahib. Millions of pilgrims gather here every year during Baisakhi and Holi. Life gets disrupted as the tiny hamlets of Nehri and Mairhi are flooded with devotees. All roads leading to Mairhi are blocked and vehicular traffic is held up for hours on end. As there are not enough sarais, dharamshalas and hotels, every inch of the hillside gets covered with tents.

The ancient gurdwaras Dehra Sahib, Manji Sahib and Beiri Sahib were founded by Baba Vadbhag Singh. The pilgrims also take a dip in the cool waters of the Darshani Khud, also called the Charanganga, which is supposed to ward off evil spirits. It is believed that when Baba Vadbhag Singh chose this beautiful, secluded spot to meditate, he learnt that the place was full of ghosts and evil spirits. The most powerful spirit was of Nahar Singh. A view of the gurdwara at Mairhi

The spirit tried to overpower Baba Vadbhag Singh with its evil force, but was in turn captured by Baba. Nahar Singh surrendered and pledged to protect the valley from other evil spirits. Thus Baba Vadbhag Singh made Mairhi his spiritual home.

Baba Vadbhag Singh was born to Baba Ram Sodhi and Mata Raj Kaur when the atrocities inflicted by the invading Mughals were at their peak. Vadbhag Singh, even at the tender age of five, would listen intently as his mother read Gurbani and other holy scriptures. Realising that his son was a child prodigy, Baba Ram Singh appointed some of the most learned scholars to coach his son in all branches of knowledge, including the martial arts.

Baba'a parents got him married to Radhaji. After her untimely death, he was persuaded to marry Sanghliji. Although Baba Vadbhag Singh was inclined towards spiritualism, he was forced to wield the sword as wave after wave of Mughal invasions, especially those led by Ahmed Shah and Nassar Ali, had created havoc in the region. When Nassar Ali attacked Kartarpur, Baba Vadbhag Singh fought valiantly but had to take shelter in the hills because he had only a handful of soldiers as compared to over 10,000 soldiers of Nassar Ali.

Not content with shedding blood, Nassar Ali burnt Gurdwara Thamm Sahib to ashes, razed many temples to the ground, raped and converted Hindu women to Islam, and slaughtered cows. To defend the honour of his country and religion, Baba Vadbhag Singh organised a band of soldiers and, with the help of Sardar Jassa Singh Ahluwalia, Kapoor Singh, Adina Baig and others, attacked the mighty army of Nassar Ali. In the ensuing battle, Nassar Ali was captured and later burnt alive.

The Charanganga After the war, Baba wanted to retire to the hills in order to pursue his spiritual goals. While he bathed in the cool waters of one of the valleys, he saw the images of the 10 Gurus. Thus he decided to name it the Darshani Khud and the waters of this khud came to be called Dhauli Dhar or Charanganga.

Later he pitched the Nishan Sahib under a berry tree and began to meditate. But life was not easy as the valley was full of ghosts and evil spirits. The Baba had to fight with all of them. Due to his spiritual powers, he was able to defeat them.

The Baba constructed a gurdwara on a hill nearby and called it Dehra Sahib. Right across it is Manji Sahib, the place where the Baba used to meditate and relax. The Baba soon began to attract a large following and the place came to be known as Mairhi Sahib.

Mairhi is now in Una district of Himachal Pradesh. It takes about four and a half hours by car to reach Mairhi from Chandigarh. Any bus going towards Jawalamukhi, Dehra or Sujanpur will take you to Mairhi.

Fairly good accommodation is available at Mairhi. But during Holi, one must make prior bookings to avoid disappointment as the place is not well equipped to handle large crowds.

Anandpur Sahib and the birth of the Khalsa

By Kuldip Dhiman

IT was the Baisakhi day, March 30,1699. A large gathering of peasants was waiting anxiously. A strange excitement permeated the air. Something was going to happen. Something that would have an everlasting impact on Indian history. And it would have its genesis in Makhowal, a small hamlet on the banks of the Sutlej.

The creation of the Khalsa (Painting by Mehar Singh)As the farmers waited with bated breath, Shri Guru Gobind Singh ji, the Tenth Guru, appeared holding a naked sword in his hand. He raised his sword and demanded a head from one of his followers. A hush fell over the gathering. No one demurred. The Guru repeated his words. On hearing his demand for the third time, one Daya Ram of Lahore stepped forward and said: "My head is at your service, my Lord", The Guru took the disciple into a nearby tent and soon returned. His sword was now dripping with blood. He raised his authoritative voice and demanded yet another head. Far from being daunted by the thought of death, another disciple, Dharam Das of Delhi, volunteered to sacrifice himself for his Guru. In the events that followed Guru Gobind Singh made three more such calls and consequently Mohkam Chand of Dwarka, Himmat of Jagannath, and Sahib Chand of Bidar came forward and offered their heads.

The Guru was obviously testing his disciples and was not really interested in human sacrifice. He was so pleased by the devotion of these five followers that he called them the Five Beloved ones or the Panj Piyaras. One of them was a Khatri and the rest Shudras. As the Guru did not believe in caste system, he baptised all of them and announced the birth of the Khalsa. He addressed the dumbstruck crowd thus: "In the time of Guru Nanak, there was just one devout Sikh, Guru Angad; now there are five — totally devoted to their Guru. These shall lay the foundation of Sikhism".

It was a very dark period in Indian history. Aurangzeb's persecution of non-Muslims was at its peak. In his essay Birth of Khalsa, Dr Hari Ram Gupta writes: "Aurangzeb had decided to use all the resources of a vast empire in suppressing Hinduism and converting the infidels to Islam.... In 1668 Hindu fairs and festivals were stopped. On April 9, 1669, a general order applicable to all parts of the Mughal Empire was issued to demolish all the schools and temples of the infidels and to put down their religious teachings". In January, 1670, the biggest temple of Keshav Rae at Mathura was destroyed and the city was named Islamabad... . Hindus employed in public service, including clerks and accountants, were dismissed in 1671. The post of qanungo could be retained by a Hindu embracing Islam. Others who became Muslims received stipends, rewards, government jobs, release from jails, right to ancestral property and other privileges... . Jazia was charged from all Hindus from April 2, 1679".

Guru Gobind Singh was extremely disturbed by all this. Voluntary conversion to another religion is one thing; forcible conversion quite another. The Guru and his family were themselves among the worst sufferers. His father, Guru Tegh Bahadur, had been beheaded on November 11, 1675, by Aurangzeb. Hinduism in those days had become too ritualistic and dogmatic and the Hindus were, according to Dr Gokal Chand Narang, "too mild by nature, too contented in their desires, too modest in their aspirations, too averse to physical exertion and terror-stricken and demoralised, even though strongly attached to their religion. They had religion but no national feeling. Guru Gobind Singh sought to make nationalism their religion". The Guru's aim was Chiriaan kolon baaz marawaan; Taan main Gobind naam kahaawaan (Call me by the name of Gobind only if I succeed in making sparrows kill hawks).

Kesgarh Sahib GurdwaraEarlier, it was a custom to drink the water with which the Gurus washed their feet, but as Guru Gobind Singh wanted to instil martial spirit in his followers, and thus change them from Sikhs to Singhs (lions), he proposed to baptise them by water stirred with a khanda (sword). To strike a blow against the class-ridden society, he urged all his followers to attach 'Singh' to their first names irrespective of their caste or creed. He also asked them to always have on their person Kesh, Kangha, Karha, Kaccha and Kirpan (long hair, a comb, a steel bracelet, a vest, and sword). His followers were to celebrate Holi by conducting martial arts, sport, military parades and mock battles. He later baptised about 20,000 disciples and named the place Shri Anandpur Sahib, the city of bliss.

J.D. Cunningham writes in History of the Sikhs: "A new faith had been declared, and henceforth the Khalsa, the saved or liberated, should alone prevail. God must be worshipped in truthfulness and sincerity, but no material resemblance must degrade the Omnipotent; the Lord could only be beheld by the eye of faith in the general body of the Khalsa".

But the Guru was not only a great warrior. He was a great saint, poet, scholar and philosopher too. He had mastered Sanskrit, Gurmukhi and Persian texts. Under his directions major Sanskrit and Persian works were translated into the vernacular language so that the common man could benefit from them. Towards this end he employed 52 poets and scholars. In A History of the Sikh People, Dr Gopal Singh observes: "In Riti Kavya, or traditional poetry, the Guru's poetry is unexcelled in the sweep of imagination, choice of word and phrase, and mastery over metre. There is no metre known to Indian prosody that has not been employed by this Great Master (he experimented with over 250 metres), nor a mood that he has not captured".

There are so many historical places associated with Guru Gobind Singh, but Shri Anandpur Sahib has a special significance. The city has had a very turbulent past, and because of its historical and spiritual status, it is one of the five most important places of worship of the Sikhs. The holy city was actually founded by Guru Tegh Bahadur in 1664. Its older name was Makhowal and Guru Tegh Bahadur had bought it from the then ruler of Bilaspur.

The city is dotted with historical gurdwaras and forts. Gurdwara Kesgarh Sahib, Gurdwara Sis Ganj Sahib, Gurdwara Lohgarh Sahib, Gurdwara Fatehgarh Sahib, Gurdwara Bhora Sahib and Fort Anandgarh are the prominent ones.

Gurdwara Kesgarh Sahib is clearly the most important gurdwara at Anandpur Sahib. It is one of the five important Takhts (seats) of the Sikh religion. The Khanda or the double-edged sword with which Guru Gobind Singh stirred the holy water in 1669 can be seen in this gurdwara. It also houses five other arms associated with the Tenth Guru — Katar, the dagger used by the Guru for hand-to-hand-fights and for hunting; the Karpa Barchha, spear; the Nagin Barchha, spear with a snake-shaped blade; and a musket.

Sis Ganj Sahib GurdwaraAfter the martyrdom of Guru Tegh Bahadur, Guru Gobind Singh began to plan his strategy at Gurdwara Fatehgarh Sahib. But before tackling the Mughal forces he had to reckon with Raja Bhim Chand of Bilaspur who had sent a force under Raja Kesari Chand to attack Anandpur Sahib. The Guru organised a battalion and ordered Bhai Uday Singh to get ready for battle. Bhai Uday Singh beheaded Kesari Chand and offered his head to the Guru. Guru Gobind Singh was very proud of his victorious army, so he built a fort at the spot and called it Fatehgarh Sahib.

Gurdwara Guru ka Mahal was the residence of Guru Tegh Bahadur, and it was here that the sons of Guru Gobind Singh were born. Gurdwara Sis Ganj Sahib is very close to the bus-stand and the head of Guru Tegh Bahadur was cremated here. Shri Guru Tegh Bahadur Museum displays paintings depicting the sacrifices made by the Sikh Gurus.

Anandpur Sahib is thronged by thousands of pilgrims during the month of Holi to celebrate the Hola Mohalla. The brave Khalsas display martial arts as well as horse-riding, sword-fighting and other military sport in front of an enthusiastic crowd. The entire city is then agog with feverish activity and it reminds us of the day 300 years ago when Guru Gobind Singh demanded the heads of his disciples, created the Khalsa, and picked up his sword to protect dharma: "For this purpose was I born,

Bear this in mind all ye saints;

To propagate dharma, to protect saints,

To annihilate all tyrants."

Srirangapatnam: A quaint little historic town

Although it is only a small town, Srirangapatnam has a wealth of historical monuments. The Sriranganatha Temple is believed to be several centuries old, says Kuldip Dhiman

THE sprawling banyan tree at the confluence of the Cauvery and its tributaries stands alone like a mute witness to the past; shepherds laze about while their cattle graze in the water meadows; priests perform the last rites for the departed souls; tourists focus their cameras to capture the spectacular views of the riverside. The Cauvery itself flows past humming sweet melodies to the sleepy little town of Srirangapatnam.

It only gets a passing reference or a paragraph or two in the glossy brochures; even the tour guides allot only an hour or so to it. Srirangapatnam, unfortunately, does not get the attention it rightly deserves because of the more famous and culturally rich Mysore that is only about 15 km away. You don't have five star hotels here to lure you, nor any glitzy shopping malls to tempt you. Srirangapatnam is not the usual tourist town with pushy tourists guides to bother you and overzealous salesmen trying to palm off their merchandise onto you. It is a quaint little historic town that has so far not attracted builders and property dealers. But perhaps that is precisely the reason why you might think of spending a couple of days here.

Not many know that Srirangapatnam was the capital of Mysore from 1610 to 1799. If we clear the mist of history, we go as far back as the 15th century when it was a small hamlet dedicated to Lord Vishnu, who is also referred to as Sri Ranganatha. Thus the town got its present name — The Port of Lord of the World. In 1510 Hebbar Timmana built a fort whose ruins still form the major feature of the town. This fort stood firm against the French, the Nizam of Hyderabad, and the Marathas. It was finally conquered by Lord Wellesly of East India Company on April 28, 1799, by slaying Tippu Sultan. There is a small monument at the spot where the body of Tippu was found.Tippu's body was found at this point in Srirangapatnam

Although it is only a small town, Srirangapatnam has a wealth of historical monuments. The Sriranganatha Temple is believed to be several centuries old. It is said that after the old temple, built in 894 by one of the governors of the Ganga Kings, was destroyed, a Vishnu temple was built in the same place in 1200. This masterpiece of the South Indian architectural school has a five-storey gopuram, and it houses the reclining statue of Lord Vishnu. The 16th century Ganga-dhareswara Temple, and the 17th century Narasimha Temple built by Vijayanagara kings are the other two important temples.

Very close to the Sriranga-natha Temple used to be Lal Bagh, a structure built by Hyder Ali. It was a red building 'with an open balcony or durbar hall overlooking the parade ground'. It was razed to the ground by the British after the fall of Tippu.

Daria Daulat Bagh, or the summer palace of Tippu, is made of wood and it commands an excellent view of the green lawns outside. The construction of the palace was started by Hyder Ali in 1778, and it was completed by his son Tippu in 1789. It is now a museum that has personal affects of Tippu and his family murals depicting the military campaigns of Hyder and Tippu, paintings made by the artists of the East India Company, and a host of other historical memorabilia.

Not far is the Juma Masjid with its tall minarets built in 1784. When Tippu was a little child, a saint predicted that Tippu would be a great ruler one day. The saint asked Tippu to build a mosque if the prophesy was fulfilled. True to his word, Tippu built Masjid-e-ala in 1784. If you climb up one of its minarets you get a panoramic overview of the fort and the rest of the town.

Tippu also built the Gumbaz or the mausoleum which has the graves of Hyder Ali, Fatima begum, and Tippu himself. The walls of the cream coloured Gumbaz are lined with tiger skin. There are also frescoes painted by the soldiers of the East India Company. The grave of the other relatives of Tippu can be seen outside the Gumbaz. Nearby is Masjid-e-Aqsa.

The remains of the dreaded dungeon where Tippu used to imprison British soldiers, and the breach in the wall through which the British entered the fort can also be seen. There is an ongoing controversy re-garding the image of Tippu. His supporters claim that he was a very secular ruler and a true patriot; his detractors on the other hand say that they have enough proof of show that Tippu showed no religious tolerance, although some of his trusted ministers were Hindus.The mausoleum which has the graves of Hyder Ali, Fatima Begum and Tippu

Just 3 km away from Srirangapatnam is the Ranganthittoo Bird Sanctuary. The sanctuary is a home of herons, egrets, white ibises, open-billed stroks. Boats are available for those wishing to see and photograph the birds nesting and breeding. The bird watching season begins in May and lasts until November.

The Karanataka State Tourism Development Corporation's snug little riverside bungalows are recommended because they are so beautifully sited near a murmuring brook. At 123 km Bangalore is the nearest town with an airport. Having reached Srirangapatnam, it makes sense to combine it with a visit to Somanathapura, Bandipur, Nagarhole, and Mysore.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

"I love the landscape rather than photography"

ALL those who thought black and white photography was dull and uninteresting changed their mind after seeing the work of Mark Lockett at the Department of Fine Arts, Panjab University, sometime back. The breathtaking, monochrome landscapes of the west coast of Ireland were vivid. Mark Lockett, 42, belongs to Shropshire, UK. He is a professional agricultural economist who runs his own dairy farm. The rigours of farm life have not stifled the creative artist in him. In the beginning he tried his hand at painting, but around 1980 he found his m├ętier — landscape photography. In 1990, he had the first place in British Salon of Contemporary Photography. This was followed by Out of the Land, a joint exhibition with calligrapher and letter carver, John Neilson. Mark held his first solo exhibition at Chester City Arts Festival (1996). He was in India with Irene, a friend, at the invitation of the Department of Fine Arts, Panjab University. Mark's exhibition, On the Edge, attracted many viewers when it was held in the city last month. He also screened some of his slides in the seminar room of the Department of Fine Arts. Kuldip Dhiman met him for an exclusive interview, in which Mark talked of his work and life. Excerpts:

Why did you decide to capture the wild land and western shores of Britain, Wales and Ireland on film?

I was inspired by the western reaches of the British Isles, where the land itself is very old, and the weather often harsh and unpredictable. I moved on to photography because I started noticing the changes in the landscape around me. The rapid change in lighting conditions and weather began to interest me and I thought I would try and capture it on film. My photography really started from the love of the landscape rather than the love of the photographic medium. I was never an active member of a photographic society.

Did you attend a course in photography?

No, I have never attended a photographic course in my life. I am totally self taught. I learnt by looking at other work and reading books. I guess I picked information that I really needed, the rest I ignored.

Didn't you have any mentors?

No, nothing like that. I was totally isolated basically. I actually developed my own course. I bought the camera with no real intention of becoming very interested in it. I just thought I will see what comes out and when I saw it I said, oh! these are really good. I must do more. It just developed from there. After about twelve months I became satisfied with the quality of the prints I was getting back. Looking at some of the books I'd bought I noticed black and white work.I thought I would have a go at it myself. I bought a very basic darkroom kit. I was impressed by the results. I thought this was giving me far more scope, and range than what I'd got from the general processing labs. So it developed from there and I became more and more interested in the darkroom side of photography.

A landscape photographer would normally opt for colour, but you chose monochrome. Why is that so?

That's possibly because the way I am. I tend to be somebody who goes against the prevalent trend.At that time it was very unusual, but today black and white is becoming very popular in our country.

Were you influenced by any other photographer?

Yes, by the American photographers,Ansai Adams and Weston. The work of Adams obviously impressed me tremendously as did the quality of the reproduction in the books. I would look at the photographs in the books and wonder how on earth they could be so wonderful.When you look at what is the best, you actually try to reach that stage.

Do you meticulously plan your shoots?

I never plan a trip. If something catches my eye, I take it. If you read magazines or books they will tell you to find your location, study the light, and decide what you are going to take. I am totally unlike that. I will just go for a walk, I will chose a location along with Irene, my friend, who walks with me. And whatever turns up on that walk,I photograph. It is usually at weekends or on holidays, which are often spent in the west coast of Ireland. It is very much a random process I don't have a rigid plan. I know that there is landscape there: what I don't know is a whether the right picture will present itself or not. I know that there are places there that will capture the imagination if the light is right, and if it is not raining. This means driving some distance for a couple of hours. Maybe even a couple of days. When we get there, it could mean walking for one hour or even six hours.At times we have to camp there. My style has very much to do with the way the light affects the landscape.As I mentioned earlier, my reasons for taking landscape photographs is the love of landscape, rather than the love of photography.

You seem to avoid human figures altogether in your landscapes.

Yes, very much so. The only time I include humans is when they are in silhouettes to make shapes. I think it detracts from the beauty of the landscape when one has a recognisable human figure in it.

Unlike most landscape photographers who try to capture beauty it is texture and form that dominate your work.

Yes, I emphasise the shape, the texture, and the form rather than a pretty view. A lot of my work is based on the formation of clouds, the interplay between the sky and the land. I am constantly watching how clouds move, and how the light changes.With black and white this is very obvious. Colour can actually destroy what you are trying to say.

Do you manipulate your images?

It depends on what you mean by 'manipulate' just a little dodging and burning that's all, and of course, sometimes toning. I also sort of dabble with alternative processes. In the exhibition there are a few examples of Gum Bichromate process. This was one of the earliest photographic processes that was very popular in the 1890s.It lay almost forgotten for decades, until its potential received recognition in recent years.

Is there money in such kind of work?

No, I earn my living from farming. Photography is a serious hobby for me. It would be difficult, you would never make a good living from it.

Have you managed to get some photographs here?

Yes, in Delhi I was taking pictures all the time. It is amazing how everywhere looked, there was something different from what I was used to, the colour, the movement, the people, the clothes, I just could not believe it. I would love to take landscape here because it is very different from our own. Certainly, when we get up into the hills of Lahaul Spiti, it's going to be a huge inspiration for me. I have brought plenty of film!

"Best photographers have a real heart for the land"

SHE has worked with legendary photographers and journalists like Henri Cartier Bresson, Robert Doisneau, Larry Burrows, and all those great names in modern journalism. Armed with a degree in English from the Berkeley University, she was all set for an academic career, but destiny had better things in store for Helen Veret. In 1964 she met up with the Editor-in-Chief of the Life magazine, Hugh Moffet. Impressed by Veret's impressive credentials and her vivacious personality, he offered her the job of editorial assistant. More than 30 years on, Veret is still with Life. "You can see, I have been hooked by Life," she says with a broad smile. Now she is Life's picture-editor, operating from a small office in Paris. Her files are full of famous photographs that Life is famous for. Work begins at noon in her Paris office. Her only other colleague is an American journalist. Vivacious, full of life and also an authority on fashion, Helen is a woman with a contagious love for life. Helen Veret was in Chandigarh along with her architect husband and she gave a lecture here at the Alliance Frances. Kuldip Dhiman met her for an exclusive interview. Excerpts:

What exactly do you look for in a photograph?

A good photograph is a good photograph. An original photograph is one that surprises you; makes you ask questions. It is different. A good picture is a picture that you will always remember, that sticks in your mind. For example when you talk about the Vietnam war, the best pictures that come to your mind are those taken by Larry Burrows. There is a really classic picture shot by him that has a wounded black soldier trying to help a white GI, who is nearly dying. This picture is predominantly green. The green colour strongly accentuates death and misery of war. This photograph highlights the sorry plight of two soldiers who in peace time would not even say hello to each other. And here they are in hell trying to help each other. Oh my God! I get goose pimples when I think about it. That is my idea of a great picture. Then we have another one from Larry Burrows where you see a soldier in a helicopter. He is sitting next to the dead body of his best friend. So, monsieur a good photograph is a good photograph- cest tout!

Do you also suggest stories from Paris?

You see, I work part time. I come to the office at noon and look at all the papers to know what is happening around the world. I try to find potential news stories that have some sort of a link with the USA. We cannot suggest a story from Europe that does not have any connection with the USA. For example, our last story was about some homeless people of New York — very poor people. One was a scientist with no job! You see, these people had jobs, but are desperate now. So, what do they do? They decide to build a raft to cross the Atlantic! When we heard about them, we decided to do a story on them. We organised a helicopter and sent a photographer and a journalist. I, of course, did all the legwork — the organising and the coordinating part. That involved making phone calls to New York to check when the photographer was arriving and did he need an assistant or not. It was a six-page story; completely conceptualised in France, of course, with the okay from New York. If we feel fashion is extraordinary this year and there is a new designer who is different, we suggest it to one of the editors in New York, who goes to our managing editor, Isolate Motley, and discusses it with her. If she likes it, we get the okay.

Photographers visit our office all the time. I look at their work, and if they are good, I hire them for some future story. Then, New York, sometimes, asks me to dig out some old pictures — maybe of World War and a wounded soldier, famous generals, stuff like that. You always have to say 'Okay, don't worry, you will have it by tomorrow. They don't like to take a 'no' for an answer. It is a kind of game, and I really love it.

You have worked with some of the great names in photo journalism, haven't you?

Yes. When the circulation was ten million per week, we had a whole list of photographers who were the very best in the world. Cartier Bresson worked for us; so did all the other great names in photography: Robert Doisneau, Larry Burrows, Edward Newton and Harry Benson — the guy who did those marvellous portraits of the Beatles.

Wasn't it the golden age of Life?

Golden age, bien sure, from our point of view. It is terrible to say, but great pictures were there to be taken. We had the Vietnam war, the Biafra, and the six-day war in Israel. We lost one of our very talented young photographers there on the very first day.

When one thinks of Life, it is usually the big black and white images that come to one's mind — those stark and bold images.

Yes, of course. When I think about those great days of Life, it is always black and white. They do publish black and white now, but I am sad to admit, colour has invaded all the magazines... all the magazines. But remember colour is fragile, it fades,whereas a black and white print of Cartier Bresson's shot in 1939 is still magnificent.

From being a premier weekly selling ten million copies, Life stopped publication in 1972. It resumed publication again in 1978. But the magazine that set high standards for journalism, is finding it hard to justify its existence. What ails Life?

In the olden days, Life was full of news. And Life was the best magazine in the world. Then television invaded our drawing rooms, and you know the rest. Nowadays, a reporter risks his life and goes to, let's say, Bosnia — bombs are falling everywhere, he comes back with great pictures to his agency. Unfortunately, it is usually too late. Very few magazines in the West now publish gloomy pictures. All of them are turning into society-magazines. They want to speak about the Princesses, film stars, celebrities, models. On the cover you might see Princess Caroline of Monaco, or you might have poor Lady Di. You know, to have good news pictures accepted, you have to be very lucky these days. That's why news photographers, most of whom are so dedicated to show what is happening in the world, are a disappointed lot now. We at Life try our best to promote good photo journalism. We have a section called the Big Picture.

After having worked with legends like Bresson and Avendon, how does it feel to work with young photographers?

The new photographers are very active. It is difficult to make a comparison. But definitely, Henri Cartier Bresson will remain a historical fact. Why? Because he is a very cultured man, he is such an exceptional character, a very sensitive man. In my opinion, his best years were between 1936 to the end of the great war. He is incomparable. It is not easy to measure up to a genius like him. The young ones are also good, but they are too young. Mind you, Bression celebrated his 90th birthday last August! I must tell you he looks as fresh as a cucumber. You would think he is 65. He doesn't have anything nice to say about contemporary photographers. He does a lot of sketching now. He used to drawings when he was young, and he has gone back to it. He always criticises photography, but I know — since he is a very good friend of mine — that he loves photography.

Has the information explosion affected news journalism?

"Yes. But I am very old-fashioned, I dare say. I am not for all these image transfers that are done over the computers from one country to another. But it is very convenient. I think the job of the picture researcher is going to disappear. Even the job of the picture editor might become redundant. We might have only one picture editor in New York and why not? It's convenient, it's cost-effective, it's quick. But I don't think all this is going to glorify the quality of pictures: not at all. But I dare say, when I see a very good retrospective of a good photographer... oh what a joy to see some really good prints! Or to see great pictures in a book. I always say that I prefer to see a set of pictures in a book. What a joy! I have a theory, I know photographers are going to be very mad at me for saying this, but I believe that photography is not meant to be exhibited. Painting — yes: photography no. There is always a glare on the photographs when they are exhibited. Of course, to be known, you have to exhibit. I always prefer to look at a photograph in a book.

Do you have a say in the layout?

Unfortunately not. We make a selection, send it to New York, where it is again short-listed by the picture editor there. They then discuss the layout with the art director and the editors. The final layout is, most of the time, a surprise for me. I usually say I would not have done it that way.

How does one become a Life photographer?

The simplest thing is to come to us with a story, not different pictures: we are not interested in different pictures. We see how the photographer has treated the story. When a photographer comes to us and say that he/she has pictures from, let's say, India. I ask her for how long she was in India. If she says 24 hours, then I am not interested. You cannot capture the essence of a country in such a short time ... when you just zoom past a country — no. The best photographers are those who know the people, the customs; they have a real heart for the land. If you don't have your heart beating for what you are doing, the work is no good. Everything comes from the heart. Otherwise, you give a modern instamatic camera to a four-year-old girl, and voila, she can take a picture. What really makes a great photograph is — imagination!

This feature was published on January 31, 1998

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Untiring Healer of the Mind

Interview by
Kuldip Dhiman

Dr N. L. Dosajh
Dr N. L. Dosajh. — Photo by the writer

While it is normal for most living beings to suffer from some kind of physical ailment, human beings are unique for they suffer from a number of disorders that do not appear to have a physical cause, these are mental disorders. And there are doctors who specialise in treating such disorders. Dr N. L. Dosajh has spent his entire life in the service of those who are tormented by the demons of the mind.

"Mental health is a very serious matter", cautions Dr Dosajh, a highly experienced psychoanalyst, "unfortunately, in our country we do not take it seriously. There is a stigma attached to seeing a psychiatrist. If mental health is neglected, it could lead to serious problems. After a stage, the patient could become a problem to not only to society but also to himself. Professional help should be sought at the earliest"

Although, nudging ninety, Dosajh refuses to call it a day. The main cause of mental ill health, the doctor says, is a drop in the level of consciousness. "When consciousness is at higher levels, an individual is in perfect mental health, but when it drops to lower levels, neurosis is the result, and the lower you go, the more neurotic you become. The major reason for the weakening of consciousness are repression, conflicts, complexes, frustrations and setbacks in life."

To get to the root of the mental disorder, Dosajh interviews the patient as well as the family, and even friends. Often, the repression is so severe that there is a great resistance from the patient to reveal the inner conflicts as most of them are sex-related. Usually the patient is totally unaware of them, and is unable to tell the doctor anything much about the problem. In such cases, various other methods are used to delve into the unconscious of the patient. "I use free association, Rorschach inkblot test, hypnosis and so on. If none of them work, I try to get clues from the patient's dreams. Or I might ask the patient to make up a story, and from the patient's imagination I get hints about the cause of neurosis. It is only after a thorough analysis, I decide on the right technique to be used for a cure which varies from patient to patient, upon the seriousness of the disorder and so on. There are no short-cuts or readymade formulas here."

Using his wide experience, Dosajh devised his own test called the D-Test. "When you undergo a D-Test," explains the doctor, "three sheets of paper with 12 rectangles, are presented to you. Each rectangle has on it a few lines. You are asked to make further additions to the lines and draw any figure that occurs to you. You have about an hour and a half to finish your drawing, and it is not necessary to be an artist to complete this test." Based on the figures the patient makes, Dosajh gets clues to the unconscious cause of their neurosis, and only then he decides on the nature of cure, be it stress-relieving exercises like yoga and meditation, autosuggestion, hypnosis, or in some cases even medication. "But I try to avoid the use of medicines as much as possible. I prefer rejuvenating the life force and the mental energy of the patient." With these improvised techniques, the doctor has cured dozens of patients suffering from schizophrenia, personality disorders, and so on.

The major influence on Dosajh's life is Carl Jung on whose theories he based his own work. Others who inspired him are Sigmund Freud, G. Murphy and the behaviorist, B. F. Skinner. Dosajh realised that Indian tradition offered many effective techniques, and it was worthwhile including them in his therapy. Interaction with Shri Akhand Swami of Gangotri in the late 1930s, and Swami Sivanand in the 1950s further honed his skills. He was also greatly influenced by the teachings of Swami Akhilanand, Geraldine Coster, Shri Aurobindo, Mahesh Yogi, Bloomfield Harold and Kory Robert B. Using the foundations of western psychology and Indian systems, he fused yoga and meditation with psychoanalysis to create his own theory which he calls New Personality Theory.

In his long career, Dosajh was recognised by the professional community in many ways. In 1956, he was sent as a UNESCO Fellow to work at the International Institute of Child Study at Bangkok and was a Guest Professor at the PGI for over 20 years. Despite an illustrious career and a huge volume of published work (15 books and over 50 articles in journals), there are no takers for his new book Science of Mental Healing. "One publisher agreed to print it but said I would have to first shell down two lakh rupees."

All these setbacks are compensated when his former patients call on him and spend some time at his home. Just a few days ago, Sarita whom he cured of severe schizophrenia when she was about 25 bought him a lovely gift. When the doctor refused to take it, she said, "This is a small gesture to thank you for the gift of life you gave me."

Monday, February 23, 2009

God under the microscope

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon
by Daniel C. Dennett.
Penguin Books.
Pages 447. £3.25.


Review by Kuldip Dhiman

WHEN science started making earthshaking discoveries by challenging ancient dogma, many felt that religion would not survive the rational onslaught for too long. Religion, however, is flourishing even in this modern age of space exploration, genetic engineering, and nanotechnology. It seems that there is something about religious belief which modern education and science are unable to shake off.

Religion is supposed to spread love and peace, yet if we turn the pages of history, we find that religion is the cause of many of the wars and atrocities committed on humans by humans. In this age of international religious terrorism, most of us have begun to wonder what religion is, why is it so important for so many believers, why is one religion so intolerant of others, and do we need it after all?

When such questions are tackled by Daniel C. Dennett, who is one of the most influential philosophers of our time, we ought to listen to his analysis carefully. He has written highly acclaimed books like Darwin's Dangerous Idea, Brainstorms, Consciousness Explained and Freedom Evolves. In the present volume, he tries to make an objective analysis of religious phenomena with philosophical and scientific rigour. Making use of the multi-disciplinarian Darwinian approach, he tries to explain the origins of religion, folk religion, group cooperation, ethics, social control and host of others concepts such as consciousness, intentionality, artificial self-replicators, memes. The issues that he deals with are too complex, technical, and varied to be discussed here. The reader ought to have some familiarity with philosophy and science to grasp the depth of the argument.

However, we can briefly say that Dennett's project is to study the all- pervasive phenomenon of religion scientifically. This might sound quite an impossible project because religion and science are seen as contradictory concepts. How can one study religion scientifically? To catch the stick from the other end, how would scientists react if someone tried to study science through religion?

Dennett is too thorough a philosopher to not foresee this objection. What does he mean when he says that religion is a natural phenomenon? Does he mean religion is a natural phenomenon like rain, wind, and lightning? By 'natural' he means that religion is not a supernatural phenomenon, and there are no miracles or magic involved in it. And even if miracles are involved, then the best way to show that to doubters would be to demonstrate it scientifically. Refusing to play by these rules, he points out, only creates the suspicion that one doesn't really believe that religion is supernatural after all.

"Notice that it could be true that God exists," argues Dennett, "that God is indeed the intelligent, conscious, loving creator of us all, and yet still religion itself, as a complex set of phenomena, is a perfectly natural phenomenon."

What is religion, after all? Dennett defines religions as "social systems whose participants avow belief in a supernatural agent or agents whose approval is sought". The definition is not exhaustive; his concept of religion is quite constricted, and he himself admits that his idea of religion is largely based on Judeo-Christian tradition. But being an internationally influential philosopher, he should have studied other religious traditions in depth. Modern scientific method requires that no evidence be ignored or glossed over. Dennett does not appear know that there are religions which do not see God as someone sitting up there and controlling the affairs of the world, that there are religions that believe everything that we see is not separate from God, that there are religions that do not talk about God or soul at all, and that there are religions that might appear to be materialistic to us.

Coming back to Dennet's thesis, we might ask if it is possible to understand through a materialist standpoint something that purports to be totally non-materialistic and subjective? Dennett thinks that it is possible, and he feels it is important that religious beliefs that have been taken for granted for thousands of years be questioned thoroughly. Why? Because he believes that it is very important to break the spell of religion to show that we could live a good life even without religion. He is right here. There is a widespread fallacy that religion makes us good human beings, that it gives meaning to life. In fact, most atheists are good people and they do not feel that life is without meaning. All the misery wrought upon the world is not by atheists, but by people who kill, loot, and torture in the name of God.

Dennett has done an excellent and thorough job from a materialist viewpoint, but we must remember this viewpoint has its own limitations. The kind of proof the scientist or materialist philosopher needs cannot be given. But we might ask, if scientific proof is the only kind of proof admissible in a rational inquiry.

Bertrand Russell, an atheist to the core, was once asked what he would say if after his death he found himself confronted with God. He replied that he would say, "God, why did you make the evidence for your existence so insufficient?" Believers on the other hand say that whatever we see around us makes it eminently clear that God exists. Logic is used by both parties to prove the existence and non-existence of God.

The fight continues.