Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Will Sister Lucy Kalapura get the justice she deserves?

The jubilant celebrations of Dussehra have come to an end. The celebration is an annual reminder of how an evil demon king was killed by the powerful Goddess Durga. An important subliminal message the Mahishasura story sends out is about how men often underestimate women only to have a rude awakening. Mahishasura had asked for a boon that his death (if at all) should only be at the hands of a woman. The sexist asura king couldn't imagine that any woman could be a match to his immeasurable strength and this arrogance made him believe such a boon would ensure him immortality! When his atrocities reached a pinnacle, Goddess Parvathi took the avatar of Maa Durga who hunted him down, tiring him over a period of ten days before eventually killing him. Peace was restored and people rejoice it to this day. 

What makes this story relevant to these times is that there are men who go mad with the power, influence and wealth they have amassed. They harass, intimidate and create trouble for people around until someone channelizes their inner shakti and stands up against this aggression. The #MeToo movement that took an international avatar is a great example of how the modern Mahishasuras have been called out. From Weinstein and Epstein to MJ Akbar, Nana Patekar, Sajid Khan in our backyard, several prominent names tumbled out. The ground shook and the mighty fell hard. 

However, the fight is far from over like how Sr. Lucy Kalapura’s continued resistance against the Church has shown. Sister Lucy Kalpura came into the spotlight when she publicly protested the rape accused Bishop Franco Mulakkal. It is another matter that Franco Mulakkal who was accused of raping a nun thirteen times between 2014 to 2016 managed to easily get bail over a year ago and subsequent bail extensions have been granted despite several nuns voicing their protest against him. One must remember the rape accused bishop received a hero’s welcome with garlands and rose petals. The brazen show of power only got more pronounced as within a few days a key witness in this case, Father Kuriakose Kattuthara was found dead under mysterious circumstances.

Recently a close aide of bishop Franco Mullakal was arrested by Punjab police after cash worth Rs 9.66 crore, allegedly hawala money, was recovered from him. Soon after, the Clarist congregation dismissed Sr. Lucy Kalapura on the flimsy grounds of living a life against the style and substance of the congregation. The serious lifestyle violations in the letter referred to the nun having obtained a legal driving license, acquiring a car for her travel on her personal earnings and wearing civilian clothes (churidhar) while joining a protest march. The letter claimed that the dismissal followed Sister Lucy’s failure to heed “canonical warnings”.  

Strangely apart from a few stray articles, the Indian mainstream media has not taken up the case of Sister Lucy at a national level nor has there been any outcry from the feminist organizations in the country for the systematic harassment meted out against the nun. From circulating vulgar, doctored videos, making defamatory commentary on the 55 year old nun, the church has made her life a living hell. And instead of calling out this institutionalized mistreatment of a woman, the church authorities, the state machinery and the media have been obnoxiously silent without a whimper of remonstration. It must be the divine mother Durga who has probably instilled this untold courage in Sister Lucy to put up continued resistance and an untiring fight for justice.

The case of Sister Lucy can hardly be termed an exception. Though there have been several high profile cases including the murder of Sister Abhaya or Sister Susan they have failed to make a dent against the patriarchal church and the stronghold of its male members on the institution. The government and state machinery turn a blind eye to the transgressions in a minority community, possibly afraid of being accused of religious persecution.  In this land of Shakti, Parvati and Durga, there are women like Sister Lucy who has been compelled to fight a lonely battle. It is a matter of deep remorse that in this digital age of accessible information and in a country that has pledged considerable space for freedom of expression, the self-censorship and reluctance of the media in taking up the case of selective victims, shows the crumbling levels of commitment to ethics and integrity.

Will this country that honors its women by acceding her the status of a Devi or a Goddess stand in solidarity with Sister Lucy Kulapura in her fight for justice?  Will the modern Mahishasuras get punished or go scot free?  

First published in 

Thursday, October 03, 2019

Remembering ‘Gaana Visharade’ Papa Choodamani, A Voice That Was Lost Too Soon


  • Papa Choodamani was called the ‘M S of Karnataka’.
  • Such was the impact of her performance that Maharajah Jaya Chamaraja Wadiyar invited her to sing on all the nine days of the Navaratri celebrations. It was an honour that had never before been bestowed on any other female artist.

The year was 1965 and it was the start of the famed Mysuru Dasara annual celebrations. The Maharajah of Mysore, His Highness Dr Jaya Chamaraja Wadiyar, philanthropist and well-known Carnatic music aficionado along with his darbar were listening enthralled to a young Carnatic vocalist who was effortlessly taming complex ragas, the intricate patterns of her Swara Prastharam (permutations of notes) was reaching scales and variations previously thought unimaginable.

The lushness in her voice and the immaculate rendition of the songs made this performance an unforgettable experience. The aftermath of her kacheri (concert) was akin to the silence after a rainstorm.

Such was the impact of her performance that the Maharajah invited her to sing on all the nine days of the Navaratri celebrations. It was an honour that had never before been bestowed on any other artist.

The singer was none other than Papa Choodamani, a disciple of Shri Ambi Bhagavathar. Legend has it that she not only surpassed the expectations of each day’s performance but set new standards for the classical music establishment.

On the ninth day of the Dasara celebrations, the Maharajah of Mysore H H Dr Jaya Chamaraja Wadiyar produced a song, “Shri Lalitham Tripura Sundareem” that he had penned in praise of Shri Chamundeshwari, the reigning Goddess of Mysuru.

Within a matter of minutes the song was composed, set to the tune of Nagadhwani raga and Papa Choodamani sang it with aplomb. The royalty was thrilled and honoured her with the title of “Gaana Visharadhe” and awarded her the Ganda Berunda padhakam --- the iconic state symbol Ganda Berunda locket set in rubies and diamonds.

A musical icon had been born and there was no looking back.

Born in Nurani village of Palakkad in 1934 as Seethalakshmi to Choodamani Shastrigal and Subbalakshmi, she was affectionately called Papa. The fourth child to her parents, Papa was drawn to Carnatic music right from the start.

Her innate talent in trapezing effortlessly through the world of ragas and the timbre in her voice caught the attention of Guru Ambi Bhagavatar. He took her under his tutelage and this child prodigy made her kacheri debut at the tender age of nine in Bengaluru’s Puttana Chetty Town Hall.

The kacheri was a runaway success and the Guru had found an able shishya in Papa Choodamani. Her meteoric rise was dotted with several prominent concerts and performances all over the south of India.

Sri Ambi Bhagavatar, a Carnatic stalwart in his own right, was a direct disciple of Sri Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar. He had the unique privilege of learning Carnatic music by living with his Guru, in the traditional gurukulam style and attain his title of a Bhagavatar.

He was a guru to several celebrities in Karnataka including yesteryear Kannada actress Pandaribai, Mynavathi, former AIR Director D R Saroja, among many others. He refused to accept offers to perform on the stage when he discovered the prodigy Papa Choodamani and dedicated his life to honing her talent.

Papa Choodamani
Papa Choodamani
Papa Chudamani followed in the same guru-shishya parampara tradition and mastered her art through rigorous hours of practice. Among her well-known signature songs were the Thyagaraja keerthanam ‘Saroja Dala Netri’ a composition by Shyama Sastrigal set to raga Shankarabharanam and Enthara Neethana in Hari Kamboji raga.

The heady combination of her powerful voice singing the Upacharamu in raga Bhairavi is a masterpiece that remains a favourite of many rasikas.

Her rendition of devaranamas and Thyagaraja kritis are still played by the All India Radio (AIR), Bangalore. The lanes of 10th cross Seshadripuram in Bengaluru, where she used to live, have reverberated with her deep voice practicing swaram and aalapanai’s all night.

There is this interesting incident of the famous violinist Kunnakudi Vaidyanathan refusing to play in accompaniment for Papa Choodmani since she was just a young performer.

After much persuasion and coaxing, he agreed to play for a short time. Young Papa’s raga delineation for the Thodi raga went on for about two hours with improvisations hitting a zenith and yet she showed no signs of slowing down.

The master violinist Kunnakudi Vaidyanathan, realising he had met his match, is said to have placed his violin down and profusely apologised for underestimating her talent.

Her kacheri’s became an instant sell-out with legendary artists vying to play the accompaniments for her. Musical greats such as L Bhimachar, who was famous for his morsing, T V Gopalakrishnan along with U Krishnamani Iyer are some of them who have played for Papa Choodamani.

While several memorable incidents surround the legend of Papa Chudamani, the one that puts a spotlight on her musical prowess took place at Badaganadu Sangha in Bangalore.

During a kacheri, as she sang the Punnagavarali raga, a snake is said to have appeared on the stage out of nowhere and seemed to listen in rapt attention. Without any show of fear or a break in her voice, the legend that she was, Papa Choodamani continued to sing and go on to complete the song after which the snake was driven away.

An unparalleled musical talent, her unique voice was an intoxicating combination of the fluidity of M S Subbalakshmi along with the deep richness of M L Vasantha Kumari.

Destiny played a cruel hand in snatching this ‘M S of Karnataka’ (as she was popularly called) at the young age of 44. The world of Carnatic music lost one of its gems and her memories got relegated to the corners of a few yesteryear rasika’s hearts.

A tyranny of those times, there is little or no video recording of this brilliant musical talent and only the memories of aesthetes stand witness to this musical giant who walked this very earth.

This was first published in Swarajyamag

Friday, August 23, 2019

Janmashtami Special – The Curious Case of a Fake Lord Krishna

It is the joyous occasion of Janmashtami, where Hindus world over celebrate the birth of Lord Krishna in their own inimitable ways.  People in the North of India conduct Dahi Handi contests, kite flying and observe night long jagrans (night vigils). The south of India calls it Gokulashtami and celebrates it with colourful rangolis, bhajans and classical dance performances. The common thread that binds them all is the love, reverence and happiness in celebrating the birth of one of the most iconic and charismatic avatars. However not everyone always loved Lord Krishna. This is one of the lesser known stories from Bhagvad Purana of a fake Krishna who tried to commit an identity theft.

The King of Pundra

Lord Krishna was known by several names including Mukunda, Govinda, Madhusudana etc. He was also famously called Vasudeva. There was another king called Poundraka Vasudeva who was the king of the Pundra kingdom.  News reached King Paundraka about the charm, intelligence and popularity of Sri Krishna who was also known as Vasudeva. This news intrigued him, and he sent his soldiers to collect all information about Sri Krishna.  The more he learnt about him the more he got enamored by the personality of Sri Krishna. He got so besotted that he started to dress like Sri Krishna in yellow dhoti, along with the peacock feather on his crown and even got an imitation of the Kausthubham jewel. All this notwithstanding he acquired other embellishments of Sri Krishna like the white conch, the mace, Srichakra and also a bow that resembled much like the one Sri Krishna carried.

His courtiers and generals were all praises for him. While this pleased him initially, he soon grew dissatisfied that he was still being compared to Lord Krishna. He wanted to get all the adoration, adulation and love of the people for himself alone. He decided that the only way to get all that was by eliminating the Sri Krishna of Dwaraka. The false praise and constant fawning by his ministers made him heady with pride and gave him the courage to a notice to Sri Krishna to no longer impersonate him. He added that if Sri Krishna would refuse this order, he would be challenged for a battle!

Lord Krishna was surprised and amused to receive this message from this new lookalike who wanted to usurp his identity. Sri Krishna decided to end this game of deceit and accepted the challenge to combat. The battlelines were set and Paundraka Vasudeva arrived with his army. He was aided in this battle by the king of Kashi. Paundraka came riding a chariot that was a replica Krishna's with similar looking and colored horses. Sri Krishna addressed Paundraka and tried to tell him how futile this effort was. He gave Paundraka a chance to give up this false hope of replacing him and redeem himself. However, nothing could deter Paundraka Vasudeva. He had made up his mind that he was indeed the real God incarnate and he was right in his stance. The battle was neither fierce nor a prolonged one. Lord Krishna killed Paundraka with little effort. Balarama routed Paundraka’s army and captured them. And thus came to an end a foolish adventure of an unwise king.

The three important takeaways from this tale are –
  1. The Vedas say, “Yadh Bhavam Tadh Bhavati”. Your inner thoughts and emotions will shape your character and your outlook of life. 
  2. Pride goes before a fall. Do not always believe those who praise you all the while. 
  3. It’s better to be original even if it means to be ordinary. 

With that wishing everyone a very happy Krishna Janamshtami 2019

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Raising Modern Hindu Children Overseas – A perspective

 Nothing is more scrutinized, criticized, debated or written about as parenting today. The world appears to obsess around raising the perfect generation and that has given rise to an entire ecosystem of child welfare ministries to specialists, pediatric nutritionists, therapists, pedodontics, and psychiatrists. And yet 10-20% of children and adolescents worldwide are afflicted with mental disorders. The challenges and complexities of modern societies has only compounded the anxiety levels of parenting. At times of intense stress and confusion it is only prudent to fall back on the wisdom of our ancestors.

Followers of major world religions have clear guidelines with prescribed do’s and don’ts which at times also include the diet and attire. Hinduism, diverse as it is, is seen as a ‘way of life’ with no specific instructions nor any stringent process to follow. However, there are common parameters that cuts across caste, creed and even geography. Hindus despite worshipping several Gods understand they are but a manifestation of a single Brahman. Preference to a single deity (Ishta Devta) does not require a Hindu to disbelieve the rest. Along with a strong belief in the principles of Karma and reincarnation Hindus are set in the path of seeking self-liberation or moksha.

With people moving out of smaller towns into cities in India and those from cities moving to global destinations the traditional Indian family system is undergoing rapid changes. Toddlers and kids are being raised either in daycare or by maids. Growing children are spending more time online in social media and video games. While none of these generational changes can be reversed or wished away, Hindu parents can create a safety net for their children to remain connected to their civilizational roots while traversing the modern times with more confidence and ease.

So, where does one start?

Several learned Gurus and Swamiji’s of Hinduism, in their infinite wisdom, have suggested few basic tenets for Hindus to anchor their lives on. The three foundational tenets are Sloka, Sanskara and Seva. The good news is most Hindu families would be following one or more of these in their own unique way. The culture heritage and societal structure in India is designed in a way that children inevitably pick up these attributes either from school, peers or the community at large. These can be strengthened by consciously incorporating them within the family lifestyle. Celebrating festivals like Ganesha Chathurthi, Deepavali, Holi and nurturing traditional art forms like Bharatnatyam, classical music are innovative ways to impart Indic knowledge to the next generation.

Sloka: Sloka is the Sanskrit word for poetic verse, proverb, hymn uses a specific meter. Most of the famous Indian epics including the Ramayana, Bhagavad Gita are written in sloka format. Most Hindu families irrespective of caste and creed recite slokas as prayers. Many schools have slokas as a part of their morning prayer. The western world has recently woken up to the benefits of chanting, which apart from a number of other benefits reduces anxiety and depression.

Hinduism has a near infinite repository of Slokas and mantras. It is replete with slokas that range from philosophical, esoteric, motivational, to ecology related or that even gives practical advice and direction to young questioning minds. Parents of young children can start the practice of reciting a few easy slokas and mantras every day. Over 60 percent of vocabulary of Indian languages are said to originate from Sanskrit so with time the meanings of the slokas will become clearer and Sanskrit words would become easier to recite. Many slokas are set to melodious tunes and can be sung making it easier for kids to learn.

Sanskara: This is a broad term with no exact definition of what all entails as Sanskara or culture for a Hindu. Lighting a lamp every evening to a deity is Sanskaram, so it is to touch the feet of elders and seek ashirvadam or blessings. Sanskara is when you teach your child to see the divine manifested in everything from the innate to the most respected. Sanskara cannot be taught but is only emulated and it needs to be inculcated before it is passed on. As with everything in Hinduism there are several meanings, explanations, and stories. It is prudent to always explain the reasoning behind each action, so the lesson becomes memorable. When my father explained the significance of applying the vibhuti or sacred ash on the forehead, I no longer resented sporting it. He gave a simple explanation of how the vibhuti is a constant reminder of the temporariness of life and how we need to make the best use of our time on earth. It instills a sense of purpose in our life and serves as a visual cue to not take anything for granted. If actions can be reasoned with logic, philosophy or rationale it would become easier to address the doubts of inquisitive children.

Seva – Seva or service is an important facet in Hinduism but now finds more prominence in Sikhism and Buddhism. Its time Hindu children are taught the art of selfless service. In this age of instant gratification coupled with a sense of entitlement children do not understand what it is to give without getting something in return. Along with birthday celebrations parents can revive the tradition of offering Annadanam in temples and orphanages. Children should be encouraged to take up community and temple administration services.

Grooming children into responsible individuals is an important parental responsibility towards the society and towards the country. Individuals with strong Indic values will create a harmonious society with an appreciation for creation, an inherent quest for higher life purpose, willingness to contribute to the greater good, and making a positive impact on the world around. The basic step towards this begins at home.

First published in Honkong-Desi

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

India, Choose Your Leader Wisely

It was that time of the year when the animals of a jungle had to choose their new king. After several rounds of discussions it came down to choosing between a wise old owl and a burly lion.

The hyenas, foxes, coyotes and the vultures were highly in favor of a tawny lion being crowned the new king. This particular lion came from a dynasty of rulers, and lived in a pride with his mother and sister.

Just look at him cooed the peacock, “He already has the looks of a king!” The wolf grinned and said encouragingly, “Yes. And he will look after us all very well.” The bear agreed saying he can't think of any other animal with a more casual, uninterested attitude towards power so he must be the right one to take the coveted king's role.

The deer, elephants, rhinos, rabbits and other animals were a worried lot. They
felt the wise old owl with his wit and wisdom was a better choice. The jackals laughed at them, “The owl is a bad choice. He is perched high up on a tree far away from rest of us. He is neither the strongest nor does he come from an illustrious family like our lion.” The fox agitatedly exclaimed, “He is no intellectual and we consider him a dolt”

The gentle giraffe was thoughtful for a while and said, “The wise old owl stays up all night, he isn’t impulsive, and can inform us against untimely attacks. Maybe you aren’t able to relate to him but he can strike the perfect balance between the powerful and the meek”

The senior jackal solemnly said, “Man, himself, certifies the lion as the king of the jungle. And so it shall be.” The fawns cried indignantly, “But the man is not even a stakeholder of the jungle!” Their cries went unheard as the coterie of the jackals had started hailing the half-grown lion as their hero.

Disclaimer: This post is unrelated to the ongoing Indian elections #Elections2019
अप्रमत्तश्च यो राजा सर्वज्ञो विजितेन्द्रियः |
कृतज्ञो धर्मशीलश्च स राजा तिष्ठते चिरं ||

A successful leader or a ruler will imbibe the qualities of being considerate, ever-vigilant, all-knowing, can exercise control over his sensory organs and reign over his passion, gratitude towards his subjects, pious and religious and only such a person can successfully rule. 

Reposting from MyIndMakers