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Mahabharata & Modern Science: Babies Start Learning While Still in the Womb

A recent study shows that babies start learning while still in the womb – just like Mahabharata says.

Page from an illustrated Mahabharata manuscript - probably 18th century.  |  Source wikipedia.

Page from an illustrated Mahabharata manuscript – probably 18th century. | Source wikipedia.

Many thousand years ago, the story of Abhimanyu was written – a moving story of a young prince, who went headlong into a complex battle formation, the chakravyuh. Tragically, without knowing how to extricate himself from the chakravyuh. It was said that Abhimanyu learnt warcraft while still in his mother’s womb. This was always taken to be a metaphor – but a recent study shows that children do start learning, while still in the womb.

Warcraft or otherwise.

From the Mahabharata, Ahimanyu’s remains a popular story, memorable in the death of Abhimanyu. Then there was also the Ashtavakra narrative – the foetus who knew the vedas and upanishads, while still in his mother’s womb. Ashtavakra was so mortified with his father’s ignorance, that each time his father enunciated the vedas and upanishads wrongly, the Ashtavakra foetus corkscrewed in his mother’s womb. Finally born with eight spinal contortions – hence known as Ashtavakra.

In modern India, too, learning in the womb has remained a popular belief. Can such a belief be verified empirically? In any such study, to make statistical observational correlations, will be fraught with the danger of observer bias.

Nevertheless …

Babies start to learn language before they are even born, scientists have discovered.

Previously, it was believed that newborns begin to discriminate between language sounds within their first months of life.

But a new study indicates that babies have the capacity to learn and remember elementary sounds of their language from their mother during the last 10 weeks of pregnancy.

Babies only hours old are able to differentiate between sounds from their native language and a foreign language, scientists have discovered. The study indicates that babies begin absorbing

‘We have known for over 30 years that we begin learning prenatally about voices by listening to the sound of our mother talking,’ said Christine Moon, a professor of psychology at Pacific Lutheran University, who led the research.

‘[But] this is the first study that shows we learn about the particular speech sounds of our mother’s language before we are born.’

Forty girls and boys, about 30-hours-old , were studied in Tacoma and Stockholm, Sweden.

The babies heard either Swedish or English vowels

Patricia Kuhl, co-author and co-director of the Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences at the University of Washington, added: ‘We thought infants were ‘born learning’ but now we know they learn even earlier. They are not phonetically naïve at birth.

‘We want to know what magic they put to work in early childhood that adults cannot.

‘We can’t waste that early curiosity. The mother has first dibs on influencing the child’s brain.

‘The vowel sounds in her speech are the loudest units and the fetus locks onto them.’

via Babies begin learning language from their mothers while they’re still in the womb | Mail Online.


Kargil War: The Forgotten Victory

December 17, 2012 2 comments

Kargil War Forgotten: Fought over 3 months; longer than the three previous India-Pakistan wars (1948, 1965, 1971). Combined.

A battery of Bofors guns in operation during the Kargil War.  |  These 155-mm guns proved to be highly useful.   Image source & courtesy - outlookindia.com

A battery of Bofors guns in operation during the Kargil War. | These 155-mm guns proved to be highly useful. Image source & courtesy – outlookindia.com

I

n the Kargil War (May 3-July 26, 1999), Pakistan made an extremely limited military probe, with around 1000 soldiers, to take Kargil heights. The Kargil War dragged on for nearly 3 months – longer than the three previous wars (1948, 1965, 1971) with Pakistan, combined.

It is a war that India has forgotten – but has many important lessons.

The scene of operations in the Drass-Kargil-Batalik sector

The scene of operations in the Drass-Kargil-Batalik sector

Vital Questions

These 1000-odd Pakistani soldiers were sent on a mission without infantry support, or air cover.

Adequately protected by snow-covered Himalayan heights, Pakistan’s probing attack on Kargil tested the importance of nuclear deterrence and the resolve of the BJP Government.

The Kargil War raised some important questions.

  1. Would India start a conventional war against a nuclear Pakistan?
  2. Is it that Pakistan could not get more than 1,000 soldiers to fight against India?
  3. Why did Pakistan not support its soldiers with air-cover?

Probably, Pakistan’s Kargil misadventure points towards Pakistan’s inability to fight any kind of war against India.

Sino-Pak JF-17 fighter  |  Image source & courtesy - military-today.com

Sino-Pak JF-17 fighter | Image source & courtesy – military-today.com

PAF’s Slow Degrade

Over the years, especially in the last 25 years, the ability of Pakistan’s Airforce (PAF) to mount any challenge to Indian Airforce (IAF) has been severely degraded.

A combination of global sanctions and Pakistan’s financial situation has stopped Pakistan from buying spares, or replacing obsolete aircraft.

Of the 400-odd aircraft that Pakistan has, more than a 100 are old Mirage aircraft. Many of these were discarded aircraft, bought from Australia and Libya – also from France and Lebanon.

Bofors in action during the Kargil war. Lakhs of artillery rounds were used and guns worked well.  |  AFP PHOTO/TAUSEEF MUSTAFA

Bofors in action during the Kargil war. Lakhs of artillery rounds were used and guns worked well. | AFP PHOTO/TAUSEEF MUSTAFA

PAF Grounded

America will not supply Pakistan with fighters or adequate spares for the F-16 aircraft already in PAF service.

Instead, Pakistan is buying China’s JF-17/FC-1 Thunder fighter-aircraft that needs Russian RD-93 engines to fly (variant of MiG-29’s RD-33 engine). China needs Russian permission to sell Russian engines in the JF-17/FC-1 Thunder. It is unlikely that Russia will pass up a peacetime business opportunity of selling jet-engines to Pakistan.

But in a war situation, Russia is unlikely to supply spares and engines to Pakistan.

When PAF Was In Better Shape

In the 1965 War situation, Pakistan was part of the CENTO and SEATO alliance, armed by the US with the US F-104 Starfighters, F-86 Sabres that were significantly superior to Indian Airforce (IAF).

Comprising of Vampires of WWII vintage, the French Mirage Mysteres, the Anglo-Hawker Hunters and Canberras or the Anglo-Gnats, the IAF went into the 1965 War at a disadvantage. By the 1971 War, the IAF had re-configured tactics, using numbers, altitude to overwhelm the Sabres with inferior Gnats – starting with the airfight at Boyra.

Compared to the nearly 10,000 Sabres that were manufactured world-wide, less than 450 Gnats were built; mostly bought by Indians. The Yugoslavs bought second-hand F-86s in preference to the Gnats. The RAF itself did not buy Gnat for any conflict role – but only for aerobatic, trainer usage.

Indian soldiers in Kashmir; operating the Bofors guns.

Indian soldiers in Kashmir; operating the Bofors guns.

Pulling Away

In the last 25 years, India has steadily drawn ahead of Pakistan, to point of no-comparison.

When US sanctions were imposed in 1990, both the PAF and the Indian Air Force were second-generation air forces. No real-time surveillance capability, no air-to-air refuelling capability, no airborne early warning capability, no beyond-visual-range-capability, no stand-off weapon capability. However, after 13 years of sanctions, India had all the above and Pakistan had none until about three or four years ago. This is the gap (2006 – Chief of Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Kaleem Saadat – in an interview to Jane’s Defence Weekly).

The first proof of Pakistan’s crippled armed forces was on display in the Kargil War. Designed to provoke, the benefit to Pakistan from Kargil was to gauge Indian resolve. The Indian response during the Kargil War, in turn was also limited to evicting this military probe from the heights that overlooked the Srinagar highway.

BM-21 multi-barrel rocket launcher mortar firing at Tiger Hill in the Kargil War

BM-21 multi-barrel rocket launcher mortar firing at Tiger Hill in the Kargil War

War in Himalayas

The Kargil War between India and Pakistan, waged in the disputed and mountainous Kashmir region in mid-1999, rates as the highest-elevation conflict in air war history. The clash lasted 74 days and cost more than 1,000 killed and wounded on each side. Though a blank to most Westerners, the Indian Air Force (IAF) experience was a milestone, providing insights into uses of airpower in extremely demanding combat settings.

The Western profile of this war is low, receding to the vanishing point.

The seeds of war were planted in March 1999, when units of the Pakistani Army’s Northern Light Infantry (NLI) crossed the so-called line of control (LOC) into India’s portion of contested Kashmir in the Himalayas. From this new vantage point, Pakistani troops overlooked the Indian town of Kargil.

The LOC that separates the Indian- and Pakistani-held portions of Kashmir bisects some of the world’s highest and most forbidding terrain. Because of dangerous weather, the Indian Army, in harsh winter months, routinely vacated inhospitable forward outposts that it normally manned.

Too Much Jawboning

When the Indians withdrew in the late winter months of 1999, however, Pakistan mounted an infiltration that sought to make the most of this opportunity.

As many as 1,000 troops of the NLI, moving by foot and helicopter, crossed the line. It was a stealthy success; the NLI troops managed to unobtrusively establish a new forward line six miles deep into Indian-controlled territory. On May 3, they were finally spotted by local shepherds.

Then, in the first week of May 1999, the Indian Army units that had formerly manned the outposts began returning to their stations. It was at that point that they came face-to-face with the fact that NLI troops had moved in and were prepared to fight.

At first, embarrassed Indian Army leaders were bound and determined to turn back the Pakistan incursion all by themselves. Thus commenced several exchanges of fire. However, there was no change in the situation on the ground.

Checked for days by Pakistani forces, Indian Army leaders on May 11 finally approached the IAF for help. The Indian Army wanted the IAF to provide close air support with its armed helicopters. The IAF responded that the high terrain over which the requested support was to be provided lay well above the effective operating envelope of its attack helicopters and that the use of fixed wing fighters would be required if the Army really needed assistance.

The Army for days persisted in demanding use of attack helicopters alone. The IAF no less adamantly declined to accede to that demand.

Because of this back and forth jawboning, some later complained the IAF had refused to cooperate and, in the end, was forced into the campaign against its will.

In fact, the IAF at the early date of May 10 had begun conducting reconnaissance missions over the Kargil heights. It also at that time forward deployed IAF combat aircraft in numbers sufficient to support any likely tasking, established a rudimentary air defense control arrangement, and began practicing air-to-ground weapon deliveries at Himalayan elevations.

On May 12, as interservice deliberations to establish an agreed campaign plan continued, an IAF helicopter was fired upon near the most forward based of the NLI positions. That hostile act was enough to prompt the IAF to place Western Air Command on alert and establish quick-reaction aircraft launch facilities at the IAF’s most northern operating locations.

The next day, IAF Jaguar fighter aircraft launched on a tactical reconnaissance mission to gather target information. At the same time, the IAF established a direction center for the tactical control of combat aircraft; it was located at Leh, the IAF’s highest-elevation airfield.

Concurrently, Canberra PR57 and MiG-25R reconnaissance aircraft were pressed into service, and electronic intelligence missions started in the vicinity of the NLI intrusion.

The IAF sent a Canberra to conduct reconnaissance of the area overlooking Kargil. It descended to 22,000 feet and entered a racetrack pattern that put the aircraft as low as 4,000 feet above the ridgelines. The Canberra was hit in its right engine by a Chinese-made Anza infrared surface-to-air missile. The Indian pilot brought the airplane in for a safe emergency landing.

On May 14, the IAF activated its air operations center for Kashmir and mobilized its fighter units in that sector for an all-out air counteroffensive. Such activities attested to the IAF’s clear expectation that it would engage the intruders to the fullest once its final role was settled upon.

After much back and forth between the IAF and Indian Army over the character and extent of air support IAF would provide, the Army finally acceded to the IAF’s insistence on using fixed wing fighters. This cleared the way for the air force to enter the fight.

In a key May 25 meeting chaired by Indian Prime Minister Atal B. Vajpayee, the Indian Army Chief outlined the seriousness of the situation and the need for the IAF to step in without further delay. At that, the Prime Minister said: “OK, get started tomorrow at dawn.”

The Air Chief agreed that the IAF would attack only those Pakistani targets that were dug in on India’s side of the line of control. However, he requested permission for his aircraft, in the course of its operations, to fly across the LOC. Vajpayee said no; there would be no crossing of the LOC.

With that rule of engagement firmly stipulated by the civilian leadership, the die was finally cast for full-scale IAF involvement. The stage was set for Operation Vijay (Hindi for “victory”), as the joint campaign was code-named.

Kinetic air operations began at 6:30 a.m. on May 26, three weeks after the infiltration into Indian-controlled territory was detected. The opening salvo comprised six attacks by MiG-21s, MiG-23s, and MiG-27s against NLI targets. It was the first time IAF pilots had dropped bombs in anger since its Vampire fighters destroyed Pakistani bunkers in the same Kargil area 28 years earlier, in the 1971 Indo-Pakistani War.

Pakistan chose to keep its F-16s out of the fight.

Deadly Lessons Learned Quickly

Nearly all targets attacked were on or near Himalayan ridgelines at elevations ranging from 16,000 to 18,000 feet. The stark backdrop of rocks and snow complicated target acquisition, already made difficult by the small size of the NLI positions in a vast and undifferentiated snow background. That unique terrain feature, as seen from a cockpit, inspired the code name given to the IAF’s campaign—Operation Safed Sagar, or “White Sea.”

In the second day of air operations, the IAF lost two fighters. One, a MiG-27, suffered engine failure while coming off a target. After two unsuccessful attempts at an airstart, the pilot ejected, only to be captured. He was repatriated on June 3.

The second, a MiG-21, sustained an infrared SAM hit while its pilot was flying over the terrain at low level, assisting in the search for the downed MiG-27 pilot. Its pilot also ejected, but he was not as lucky as the first pilot. He was captured, then reportedly brutalized and executed.

On the third day of operations, an armed Mi-17 helicopter, introduced to the fight reluctantly by the IAF to placate India’s Army leaders, was downed by a shoulder-fired SAM while providing low-level fire support. The crash killed all four crew members.

In conducting these early attacks, IAF officers quickly relearned what the Israelis had learned at great cost during the October 1973 War, when Egyptian and Syrian SAMs and anti-aircraft artillery had downed nearly a third of the Israeli Air Force’s fighter inventory (102 aircraft in all) before Israel managed to pull out a victory in the war’s latter stages.

Badly bloodied, the Indian Air Force called a halt to further use of armed helicopters and directed that future fighter attacks would be conducted from above the lethal envelopes of enemy man-portable SAMs. Afterward, not a single Indian fixed wing aircraft was lost to enemy fire.

Whenever ground attack operations were under way, Western Air Command put MiG-29s on combat air patrol stations to keep the Pakistani Air Force (PAF) out of the fray. Pakistan’s F-16As typically maintained their CAP stations at a safe distance, 10 to 20 miles away from the line of control.

By the time air operations reached full swing, the IAF had forward deployed some 60 of its best fighters to support the campaign. As they awaited tasking, committed squadrons initiated special training aimed at better acclimating their pilots to night attacks under moonlit conditions. Such combat operations over high mountainous terrain at night had never before been attempted by the IAF.

Because of the rudimentary bomb sights on their MiG-21, MiG-23, and MiG-27 aircraft, IAF pilots typically achieved only limited effectiveness when attempting to provide close air support.

Accordingly, India’s Air Chief decided on May 30, just four days into the campaign, to enlist Mirage 2000H fighters capable of delivering laser guided bombs. By June 12, the Mirages were ready to commence precision strike operations.

On June 17, the clash reached a turning point. A strike package of Mirage 2000Hs destroyed the NLI’s main logistics camp with unguided 1,000-pound bombs delivered in high-angle dive attacks using the aircrafts’ computer-assisted weapon aiming capability.

The war reached a second milestone on June 24, when an element of Mirage 2000Hs, in the IAF’s first-ever combat use of LGBs, destroyed the NLI’s command bunkers on Tiger Hill with two 1,000-pound Paveway II LGBs. In these attacks, the target was acquired through the Litening pod’s electro-optical imaging sensor at about nine miles out, with weapons release occurring at a slant range of about five miles and the aircraft then turning away while continuing to mark the target with a laser spot.

On June 29, the Indian Army captured two vital posts on the high ridgelines. On July 2, it launched a massive attack. It finally recaptured the important NLI outpost on Tiger Hill on July 4, after an exhausting 11-hour battle in which the attackers climbed fixed ropes at night and in freezing rain to scale vertical mountain faces 1,000 feet high.

By July 26, Indian forces had reclaimed a majority of their seized outposts and driven NLI occupiers back to their own side of the LOC.

The IAF’s contribution to Operation Vijay lasted two months. IAF fighters had flown more than 1,700 sorties, including about 40 at night during the campaign’s last weeks. In the final tally, the Indian Army suffered 527 troops killed in action and 1,363 soldiers wounded. The NLI losses were not announced, but they were at least equal to India’s.

The Indian Army and IAF were both key players in a joint campaign; it would be hard to select one as the pivotal force. From a simple weight-of-effort perspective, artillery was the main source of fire support. The Army fired more than 250,000 rounds. One assessment said that this sustained laydown of fire was the most intense seen anywhere since World War II.

In contrast to this “profligacy in the use of artillery in a carpet-bombing mode,” as the campaign’s air component commander later called it, the IAF dropped only around 500 bombs. Most were effective against their assigned targets.

Close air support was a source of frustration for the IAF. The small and well-concealed NLI positions in the Himalayas were nothing like conventional targets that fighters typically engage in supporting friendly ground operations.

The IAF’s CAS efforts were hampered by numerous constraints on their freedom of action. New Delhi’s refusal to countenance crossings of the LOC was a limiting factor. Fighters were forced to use tactics featuring ingress and egress headings that were not optimal or, in many cases, even safe.

Man-portable SAMs used by Pakistan had a slant range sufficient to require the IAF’s pilots to remain 6,000 to 8,000 feet above the ridgelines to remain safely outside their threat envelopes. This degraded weapon delivery accuracies.

At such extreme elevations, the IAF’s munitions did not perform as they did at lower release altitudes. The reduced air temperature and density altered drag indices and other performance parameters that had never before been calculated for such conditions. Weapons did not guide as predicted. IAF pilots had to adapt through real-time improvisation.

The stark terrain folds tended to obscure the enemy from aerial observation and to mask the effects of bomb detonations, rendering even near misses all but ineffective. They further served to canalize aerial approaches to targets, dictating ingress and egress headings and, in the process, rendering IAF fighters more predictable and susceptible to ground fire.

NLI positions in deep ravines were often immune to effective attacks by pilots attempting dive deliveries when their LOC-driven roll-in points were not tactically ideal.

The IAF rode a steep learning curve as pilots adapted to unfamiliar conditions. MiG-21 pilots lacking sophisticated onboard avionics suites resorted to the use of stopwatches and Global Positioning System receivers to conduct night interdiction bombing.

Another example: The IAF took to choosing weapon impact points that would create avalanches over NLI supply lines.

The IAF pioneered what has since come to be called nontraditional intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance. It was the first to use electro-optical and infrared imaging targeting pods for high-resolution aerial reconnaissance.

The Kargil Experience

The IAF expended only two LGBs because it had so few in stock and because few targets merited use of such an important and costly munition. Still, even this limited use dramatically altered the campaign’s dynamics.

After the successful LGB attacks, targeting pod imagery showed enemy troops abandoning their positions at the very sound of approaching fighters. Troop diaries later recovered by Indian Army units attested to the demoralization caused by the IAF’s attacks, especially when precision munitions were introduced.

Much of the IAF’s improved combat effectiveness over time resulted from replacing classic manual dive bombing by MiG-23s and MiG-27s with more accurate GPS-aided level bombing from safer altitudes. Once the Mirage 2000H was introduced, the accuracy of unguided bomb deliveries increased even further, thanks to the aircraft’s much-improved onboard avionics suite.

A major joint-arena shortcoming highlighted by the Kargil experience was the total absence of candid communication between the Indian Army and IAF immediately following the initial detection of the NLI incursion. That failure was a remarkable foreshadowing of US Central Command’s similarly flawed Operation Anaconda in Afghanistan three years later, in which the land component likewise sought to go it alone at first, with the air component having been brought in just in time to help ensure a satisfactory outcome in the end.

Once the Indian Army and IAF resolved their disagreements, harmony prevailed.

In the going-in front-line fighter balance, India enjoyed a marked 750-to-350 advantage over Pakistan. Pakistan’s fleet of some 30 F-16s was greatly outclassed by the IAF’s 145 high-performance aircraft (MiG-29s, Mirage 2000Hs, and Su-30s). That asymmetry may well have been decisive in keeping the PAF out of the fight.

However, Pakistan maintained the initiative for most of the Kargil War. Both the nature of the challenge the IAF faced in the Himalayan heights and the targeting requirements that ensued from it dictated a suboptimal use of India’s air weapon.

The IAF’s combat experience showed that innovation and adaptability under the stress of confining rules of engagement is a hallmark of modern airmanship. It attested to the fact that professionalism in campaign planning, presentation of forces, and accommodating to new and unique tactical challenges is scarcely a monopoly of more familiar Western air arms.

The experience demonstrated yet again that effective use of air-delivered firepower can generate success in a conflict that might otherwise have persisted indefinitely with less conclusive results.

Ben Lambeth is a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. He is the author of The Transformation of American Air Power (2000), which won the Air Force Association’s Gil Robb Wilson Award for Arts and Letters in 2001. His most recent article for Air Force Magazine was “Behind Israel’s 2006 War with Hezbollah,” in September 2011.

Air War at the Top of the World.


Indian Elites: Stuck With Nostalgia; In Love With The Raj

December 15, 2012 2 comments

While learning English is important, must we develop bhakti and loyalty to English?

T

he Anglo-Saxon Bloc (Britain, America, Australia, Canada) have been the dominant power for the last 200 years. Behind the rise of the Anglo-Saxon Bloc was India’s traditional gunpowder production system – the world’s largest gunpowder manufactory system. The Anglo-Saxon position has been challenged by France, Germany, Soviet Union – and now China proposes to do the same.

In such a situation, learning English is important. This is something that India has done – but in some parts of the Indian Mind, there is bhakti, even loyalty to the English – and their empty ‘heritage’.

Wonder why Indi'a English-using elites so love the Raj?  |  Old cartoon by Mario Miranda on the Bombay to Mumbai makeover in Mumbai Mirror published on December 15, 2012 again.

Wonder why Indi’a English-using elites so love the Raj? | Old cartoon by Mario Miranda on the Bombay to Mumbai makeover in Mumbai Mirror published on December 15, 2012 again.

Back from Mumbai’s (which I always prefer to call Bombay) literary carnival, I have trouble with my hearing. There’s Axl Rose’s growling vocals in my left ear, Anita Desai’s gentle, precise whispers in my right.

In my admittedly warped book lover’s memory, Bombay had always been as much a city of books as of film. Friends who were writers themselves – Jerry Pinto, Naresh Fernandes – took me around the city’s bookstores on my first few visits to Bombay.

Bombay used to have a formidable set of bookstores — Strand, ruled by the intelligent taste of the late T N Shanbhag; Lotus Book House (above that petrol pump in Bandra), which had an unmatched selection of arthouse and aantel books; and Smoker’s Corner, a cross between bookstore and lending library.

The last few years were dark ones for Bombay’s bookstores. The 525 bookstores listed by TISS sounds like a healthy number, but it’s misleading — many of those “bookstores” are stationery shops, or textbook specialists who carry either no fiction or limited quantities of fiction. The chain bookstores are depressing places — you expect them to be commercial, but they are dully, boringly commercial, stocking only the most conservative of bestsellers. Lotus closed down in the mid-2000s; Strand and Smoker’s Corner remain, but Strand doesn’t have the range it once did.

The author Ann Patchett started her own large independent bookstore, Parnassus Books, in Nashville some years ago. She built it to recreate the stores that she missed, where “the people who worked there remembered who you were and what you read, even if you were 10”. In an essay for The Atlantic, she defined the kind of bookstore she wanted: “…One that valued books and readers above muffins and adorable plastic watering cans, a store that recognised it could not possibly stock every single book that every single person might be looking for, and so stocked the books the staff had read and liked and could recommend.”

Bombay has a bookstore like that — Kitabkhana in Fort runs according to the Patchett Principle. Like her store, it also functions as a community centre, a place where people will bring their children for book readings, and where authors can do their readings in the pleasant, cosy company of books. If you could combine the two and bring Kitabkhana to Mehboob Studios, where the literary carnival is held, you’d have the best of both worlds.

via Nilanjana S Roy: Cappuccino festivals.

How Dependent Are We On Individuals For Change?

November 29, 2012 1 comment

Historic changes and technical advances have a life of their own – and less dependent on individuals than we normally assume.

Obviously a leadership that follows, instead of leads will make no difference. | David Fitzsimmons / Arizona Daily Star on March 28, 2012; source & courtesy – caglecartoons.com

Kevin Kelly, the founding executive editor of Wired magazine, former editor/publisher of the Whole Earth Catalog, put up a long post on his blog The Technium, about 3 years ago. This is easily the most exhaustive compendium of ‘near-simultaneous’ discoveries, innovations, creations, ideas from the ‘modern’ world on the net.

The sheer ‘obviousness’ of this idea first came to me from Arthur Koestler’s trilogy of Ghost In The Machine, The Act Of Creation and The Sleepwalkers. Koestler spoke of ripeness of an idea.

Time I am, destroyer of the worlds, and I have come to engage all people. With the exception of you [the Pandavas], all the soldiers here on both sides will be slain. (Gita 11:32)


Therefore get up. Prepare to fight and win glory. Conquer your enemies and enjoy a flourishing kingdom. They are already put to death by My arrangement, and you, O Savyasaci, can be but an instrument in the fight. (Gita 11:33) Time I am, destroyer of the worlds, and I have come to engage all people. With the exception of you [the Pandavas], all the soldiers here on both sides will be slain. (Gita 11:32)
Therefore get up. Prepare to fight and win glory. Conquer your enemies and enjoy a flourishing kingdom. They are already put to death by My arrangement, and you, O Savyasaci, can be but an instrument in the fight. (Gita 11:33)

Before that in a different context Victor Hugo meant no one can stop an idea whose time has come (in French, the original sentence is On résiste à l’invasion des armées; on ne résiste pas à l’invasion des idées).

Or when the Bhagwad Gita talks of enemies whose time has come, whose death is but a formality and their killing but a nominal act (Bhagwad Gita 11:32; 11:33).

Would India have got independence without Gandhiji? Sooner or a little later. Maybe different in shape and size. The British story was over. The British knew they were going. Early evidence was the complete stoppage of investment in railways by 1920s.

So what was Gandhiji’s role and contribution? Probably in being able to engage with the West – using ideas and concepts that the West understood. Grace under pressure?

This year the world celebrated the 200th birthday of Charles Darwin to honor his theory’s impact upon our science and culture. Overlooked in the celebrations was Alfred Wallace, who also came up with the same theory of evolution, at approximately the same time. If poor Wallace, too, had succumbed to his Indonesian infection, and Darwin gone, it is clear from other naturalist’s notebooks that someone else, perhaps Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, would have arrived at the theory of evolution by natural selection,What seems to be an odd coincidence is repeated many times in technical invention as well as scientific discovery. Alexander Bell and Elisha Gray both applied to patent the telephone on the same day, Feb 14, 1876. This improbable simultaneity (Gray applied 3 hours before Bell) led to mutual accusations of espionage, plagiarism, bribery, and fraud. Gray was ill-advised by his patent attorney to drop his claim for priority because his attorney said the telephone “was not worth serious attention.”

while Bell got the master patent, at least three other tinkerers beside Gray had made working models of phones years before. In fact Antonio Meucci had patented his “teletrofono” more than a decade earlier in 1860, using the same principles as Bell and Gray, but because of his poor English, poverty, and lack of business acumen, he was unable to renew his patent in 1874. And not far behind them all was the inimitable Thomas Edison, who inexplicably didn’t win the telephone race, but invented the microphone for it the next year.

The procession of technological discoveries is inevitable. When the conditions are right — when the necessary web of supporting technology needed for every invention is established — then the next adjacent technological step will emerge as if on cue. If inventor X does not produce it, inventor Y will. The invention of the microphone, the laser, the transistor, the steam turbine, the waterwheel, and the discoveries of oxygen, DNA, and Boolean logic, were all inevitable in roughly the period they appeared. However the particular form of the microphone, its exact circuit, or the specific design of the laser, or the particular materials of the transistor, or the dimensions of the steam turbine, or the peculiar notation of the formula, or the specifics of any invention are not inevitable. Rather they will vary quite widely due to the personality of their finder, the resources at hand, the culture of society they are born into, the economics funding the discovery, and the influence of luck and chance. An incandescent light bulb based on a coil of carbonized bamboo filament heated within a vacuum bulb is not inevitable, but “the electric incandescent light bulb” is. The concept of “the electric incandescent light bulb” abstracted from all the details that can vary while still producing the result — luminance from electricity, for instance — is ordained by the technium’s trajectory. We know this because “the electric incandescent light bulb” was invented, re-invented, co-invented, or “first invented” dozens of times. In their book “Edison’s Electric Light: Biography of an Invention”, Robert Friedel and Paul Israel list 23 inventors of incandescent bulbs prior to Edison. It might be fairer to say that Edison was the very last “first” inventor of the electric light.

Dig deep enough in the history of any type of discovery in any field and you’ll find more than one claimant for the first priority.

In fact you are likely to find many parents for each novelty. Sunspots were first discovered by four separate observers, including Galileo, in the same year, 1611. We know of six different inventors of the thermometer, and three of the hypodermic needle. Edward Jenner was preceded by four other scientists who all independently discovered the efficiency of vaccinations. Adrenalin was “first” isolated four times. Three different geniuses discovered (or invented) decimal fractions. The electric telegraph was re-invented by Henry, Morse, Cooke, Wheatstone, and Steinheil.  The Frenchman Daguerre is famous for inventing photography, but three others (Niepce, Florence, and Talbot) also independently came upon the same process. The invention of logarithms is usually credit to two mathematicians, Napier and Brigs, but actually a third mathematician, Burgi, invented them three years earlier. Several inventors in both England and America simultaneously came up with the typewriter. The existence of the 8th planet, Neptune, was independently predicted by two scientists in the same year, 1846. The liquefaction of oxygen, the electrolysis of aluminum, and the stereochemistry of carbon, for just three examples in chemistry, were each independently discovered by more than one person, and in each case their simultaneous discovery occurred within a month or so.

Columbia University sociologists William Ogburn and Dorothy Thomas combed through scientist’s biographies, correspondence and notebooks to collect all the parallel discoveries and invention they could find between 1420 and 1901. They write, “The steamboat is claimed as the ‘exclusive’ discovery of Fulton, Jouffroy, Rumsey, Stevens and Symmington. At least six different men, Davidson, Jacobi, Lilly, Davenport, Page and Hall, claim to have made independently the application of electricity to the railroad. Given the railroad and electric motors, is not the electric railroad inevitable?”

The prevalence of ubiquitous simultaneous, independent, and equivalent discovery suggests so. If the direction of technological progress is inevitable, one new invention preparing the ground for the next, then individual human discoverers and inventors are replaceable conduits, and their individual success a matter of luck to some degree.

psychologist Dean Simonton took Ogburn and Thomas’ catalog of simultaneous invention before 1900 and aggregated it with several other similar lists to map out the pattern of parallel discovery for 1,546 cases. Simonton plotted the number of discoveries found by 2 individuals compared to the number of discoveries found by 3 people, or 4 people, or 5, or 6 co-finders. The number of 6-person discoveries were of course fewer, but the exact ratio between these multiples produced a pattern known in statistics as a Poisson distribution. This is the pattern of events you see in mutations on a DNA chromosome, and other rare chance events in a large pool of possible agents. The Poisson curve suggested that the system of “who found what” was essentially random.

Synchronicity is not just a phenomenon of the past, when communication was poor, but very much part of the present. Scientists at AT&T Bell Labs won a Nobel prize for inventing the transistor in 1948, but two German physicists independently invented a transistor two months later at a Westinghouse Laboratory in Paris.  Conventional wisdom credits John von Neumann with the invention of a programmable binary computer during the last years of World War II, but the idea and a working punched-tape prototype were developed quite separately in Germany a few years earlier in 1941 by Konrad Zuse. In a verifiable case of modern parallelism,  Zuse’s pioneering binary computer in wartime Germany went completely unnoticed by the US and UK until many decades later.

The strict wartime secrecy surrounding nuclear reactors during World War II created a model laboratory for retrospectively illuminating technological inevitability. Independent teams of nuclear scientists around the world raced against each other to harness atomic energy. Because of the obvious strategic military advantage of this power, the teams were isolated as enemies, or kept ignorant as wary allies, or separated by “need to know” secrecy within the same country. In other words, the history of discovery ran in parallel. Each discrete team’s highly collaborative work was well documented, and progressed through multiple stages of technological development. Looking back researchers can trace parallel paths as the same discoveries were made. In particular, physicist Spenser Weart examined how six of these teams each independently discovered an essential formula for making a nuclear bomb. This equation, called the four-factor formula, allows engineers to calculate the critical mass necessary for a chain reaction. Working in parallel, but in isolation, the formula was simultaneously discovered in France, Germany, the Soviet Union and three teams in the United States. Japan came close but never quite reached it. This high degree of simultaneity — six simultaneous inventions — strongly suggests the formula was inevitable at this time.

Both Newton and Leibnitz are credited with inventing (or discovering) calculus, but in fact their figuring methods differed, and the two approaches were only harmonized over time.  Priestly’s method of generating oxygen differed from Scheele’s; using different logic they uncovered the same inevitable next stage. The two astronomers who both correctly predicted the existence of Neptune (Adams and Leverrier) actually calculated different orbits for the planet. The two orbits just happen to coincide to the same point in 1846, so they found the same body by different means.

But aren’t these kinds of anecdotes mere statistical coincidences? Compared to the hundred thousand of thousands of inventions in the annals of discovery we should expect a few to happen at once, yes? The problem is most multiples are unreported. Sociologist Robert Merton says “all singleton discoveries are imminent multiples.” Many potential multiples are aborted.  In 1974 sociologist Warren Hagstrom surveyed 1,718 US academic research scientists, and asked them if their research had ever been anticipated by others. He found that 46% believed that their work had been anticipated “once or twice” and 16% claimed they were preempted three or more times. Jerry Gaston, another sociologist, surveyed 203 high energy physicists in the UK, and got similar results: 38% claimed to be anticipated once, and another 26% more than once.

Patent law scholar Mark Lemley states that in patent law “a large percent of priority disputes involve near-simultaneous invention.”  One study of these near-simultaneous priority disputes by Adam Jaffe, at Brandeis University, showed that in 45% of the cases both parties could prove they had a “working model” of the invention within 6 months of each other, and in 70% of the cases within a year of each other. Jaffe writes “These results provide some support for the idea that simultaneous or near-simultaneous invention is a regular feature of innovation.”

Quite a few scientists and inventors, and many outside of science, are repulsed by the idea that the progress of technology is inevitable. It rubs them the wrong way because it contradicts a deeply and widely held belief that human choice is central to our humanity, and essential to a sustainable civilization. Admitting to “inevitable” anything feels like a cop-out, a surrender to invisible non-human forces beyond our reach. Such a false notion may lull us into abdicating our responsibility for shaping our own destiny. On the other hand, if technologies really are inevitable then we have only the illusion of choice, and we should smash all technologies to be free of this spell.

Hollywood movies have an unnerving habit of arriving in pairs: two movies that arrive in theaters simultaneously featuring a apocalyptic hit by asteroids (Deep Impact and Armageddon), or starring the hero as an ant (A Bug’s Life and Antz), or a harden cop and his reluctant dog counterpart (K9 and Turner & Hooch), or profiling the Zodiac serial killer? Is this similarity due to simultaneous genius or to greedy theft? One of the few reliable laws in the studio and publishing businesses is that a successful movie or novel will be immediately sued by someone who claims the winner stole their idea. Sometimes it was stolen, but just as many times two authors, two singers, two directors came up with similar works at the same time. Mark Dunn, a library clerk, wrote a play, “Frank’s Life,” that was performed in 1992 in a small theater in New York City. “Frank’s Life” is about a guy who was unaware his life was a reality TV program. In his suit against the producers of the 1998 movie The Truman Show, Dunn lists 149 similarities between his story and theirs — which is a movie about a guy who is unaware his life is a reality TV program. However The Truman Show producers claim they have a copyrighted dated script of the movie from 1991, a year before “Frank’s Life” was staged. It is not too hard to believe that the idea of a movie about an unwitting reality TV hero was inevitable.

Writing in The New Yorker, Tad Friend tackled the issue of synchronistic cinematic expression by suggesting that “the giddiest aspect of copyright suits is how often the studios try to prove that their story was so derivative that they couldn’t have stolen it from only one source.”

Every now and then we believe a work of art must be truly original, not ordained. Its pattern, premise, and message originates with a distinctive human mind and shines as unique as they are. J.K. Rowling, author of the highly imaginative Harry Potter series launched in 1997 successfully rebuffed a law suit by an American author who published a series of children’s books in 1984 about Larry Potter, an orphaned boy wizard wearing glasses surrounded by Muggles. In 1990 Neil Gaiman wrote a comic book about a dark-haired English boy who finds out on his 12th birthday he is a wizard and is given an owl by a magical visitor. Or a 1991 story by Jane Yolen about Henry, a boy who attends a magical school for young wizards and must overthrow an evil wizard. Then there’s The Secret of Platform 13, published in 1994, which features a gateway on a railway platform to a magical underworld.  There many good reasons to believe J.K. Rowling when she claims she read none of these (for instance very few of the Muggle books were printed and almost none were sold; teenage boy comics don’t appeal to a single mom), and many more reasons to accept the fact that these ideas arose in simultaneous spontaneous creation. Multiple invention happens all the time in the arts as well as technology, but no one bothers to catalog similarities until a lot of money or fame is involved.

If stories of boy wizards in magical schools with pet owls entering otherworlds through  railway station platforms are inevitable, there must be true originals whose plots and details could not be anticipated. I thought of the delightfully fantastic novel The Life of Pi, about a boy who is lost at sea in a lifeboat that he shares with a tiger. I was sure that hadn’t been done before! But after doing some research, it had. Twenty years before “Life of Pi”, a Brazilian author had written a story (in Portuguese) about a Jewish zookeeper who crossed the Atlantic in a lifeboat with a panther. Even the most outlandish idea is never alone. Further digging revealed the author of Pi had once read a unenthusiastic review of the Brazilian book, so the far-fetched premise was not independently created. But was the Brazilian’s story copied, or emergent as well?

via The Technium: Progression of the Inevitable.


 

The Future Of War Is Bright

November 27, 2012 3 comments

Does war and mass destruction have a future? 500 years of war, genocide by the West will continue – unless the West is disarmed.

The scramble for Africa in the closing years of 19th century was a disaster for Africa  |  Cartoon by Edward Linley Sambourne (1844–1910) on The Rhodes Colossus: Caricature of Cecil John Rhodes, after he announced plans for a telegraph line and railroad from Cape Town to Cairo. on 10 December 1892 in Punch

The scramble for Africa in the closing years of 19th century was a disaster for Africa | Cartoon by Edward Linley Sambourne (1844–1910) on The Rhodes Colossus: Caricature of Cecil John Rhodes, after he announced plans for a telegraph line and railroad from Cape Town to Cairo. on 10 December 1892 in Punch

Propaganda

False ideas.

Academia floats. Media promotes.

Take this study by Norwegian University (@UniOslo) on the future of war.

It is now 25 years since Africa’s population surpassed that of China and India: it now stands at 2.8 billion.

This mix of futurology and fiction is one of the possible answers to what the world will look like in 2050. Part of the reason that future wars in now relatively peaceful countries such as Mozambique – whose civil war is now 30 years in the past – and Tanzania is the contention that war itself is going to become far less common.

Havard Hegre, a professor in the department of Political Science at the University of Oslo, is the latest academic to devise a statistical model capable of reaching into the future and telling us what is likely to happen next. His study, in collaboration with the Peace Research Institute Oslo, claims that in five years’ time India, Ethiopia, the Philippines, Uganda and Burma will be at the greatest risk of conflict, while in 40 years, it will be China, Malawi, Mozambique and Tanzania.

For the purpose of the model, war is defined as being between governments and political organisations that use violence and in which at least 25 people die.

“The number of conflicts is falling,” the professor observes. “We expect this fall to continue. We predict a steady fall in the number of conflicts in the next 40 years. Conflicts that involve a high degree of violence, such as Syria, are becoming increasingly rare.”

In other words, the number of wars will halve. In 2009, some 15 per cent of the world’s countries were suffering from armed conflicts. That proportion will fall to 7 per cent midway through this century, according to the Norwegian researchers’ predictions. At its core, the study has taken a history of global conflicts over the last 40 years and added United Nations predictions for key indicators such as infant mortality rates and population structures up to 2050 to data on probable education rates.

His conflict model shows the combination of higher education, lower infant mortality, smaller youth cohorts, and lower population growth are a few of the reasons why the world can expect a more peaceful future. The population is expected to grow, but at a slower pace than today, and the proportion of young people will decrease in most countries, with the exception of African ones.

Unfortunately, the model has already had to be tweaked to take account of the Arab Spring and renewed Israeli-Palestinian tensions. The authors admitted that since the first findings of the model were published in 2009, conflicts in the Middle East had weakened the clear correlation between socio-economic development and the absence of civil war, while the fighting in Syria and Libya had shown that “we also have to include democratisation processes in the model”.

via The future of war is looking bleak – World Politics – World – The Independent.

Wrong

2050 projections based on blinkered studies. Factually wrong.

Africa’s population after the end of WWII, in 1950 was estimated at 22 crores (220 million) – and is now at about 110 crores (1100 million). Can it be 2.8 billion ?(280 cr.; 2800 million). Even by 2050? Unless external meddling is stopped?

For the 200 years of the British Raj in India, population in India grew at its slowest pace, as per historical estimates.

Africa suffered more.

On January 25, 1957, Kashmir was merged with India, ignoring a UN ruling. Harold Macmillan, Selwyn Lloyd, Richard Austen Butler hectoring Nehru on Kashmir. Dag is Dag Hammersjold, the UN Secretary General. | Cartoonist: Michael Cummings in Daily Express, 28 Jan 1957; source & courtesy – cartoons.ac.uk

On January 25, 1957, Kashmir was merged with India, ignoring a UN ruling. Harold Macmillan, Selwyn Lloyd, Richard Austen Butler hectoring Nehru on Kashmir. Dag is Dag Hammersjold, the UN Secretary General. | Cartoonist: Michael Cummings in Daily Express, 28 Jan 1957; source & courtesy – cartoons.ac.uk

Wronger

Population decline of Africa was a direct result of slavery and colonialism.

Colonialism in Africa was dismantled over thirty years (1947-1977) after India – a process in which India’s foreign policy played no small role. Seeing colonialism anywhere as a threat to India, India’s foreign policy in the first 25 years concentrated more on global issues than on India’s own interests. Without economic or military might, India spoke on world stages – and colonial powers listened.

With great resentment.

Under Nehru's Foreign Policy, India's voice was heard by super-powers, on the global stage. Even though India was militarily and economically weak. This cartoon from a British magazine shows Nehru's position on Suez rankled in Britain. Kashmir was a part of India - and Suez was NOT a part of Britain, but a part of Egypt. (Nehru - on Kashmir - On Suez; artist: Ronald Searle. Published in Punch Magazine 23 January 1957. Cartoon source and courtesy - punchcartoons.com).

Under Nehru’s Foreign Policy, India’s voice was heard by super-powers, on the global stage. Even though India was militarily and economically weak. This cartoon from a British magazine shows Nehru’s position on Suez rankled in Britain. Kashmir was a part of India – and Suez was NOT a part of Britain, but a part of Egypt. (Nehru – on Kashmir – On Suez; artist: Ronald Searle. Published in Punch Magazine 23 January 1957. Cartoon source and courtesy – punchcartoons.com).

Wrongest

War is probably decreasing because war mongers in the West no longer have the capacity, due ageing population and economic decline at home.

No less significant is the fact that resistant societies have found new ways to wage war. Libya is the most recent example.

In Africa.

The extract above interestingly does not mention colonialism, missionary objectives or Pax Americana as a cause but blames people for being born – through concepts like population control.

Dubious studies by people with doubtful intentions.


Gandhiji: Indians Must Be Thankful to Nobel Committee for Not Giving Him the Award

November 11, 2012 1 comment

As Euro-power declines and Nobel propaganda becomes less effective, to gain fresh legitimacy, the Nobel Committee may try and foist a posthumous Nobel on Gandhiji.

A portrait of Gandhiji by Illustrator: Alexey Kurbatov Location: Moscow, Russia

A portrait of Gandhiji by Illustrator: Alexey Kurbatov Location: Moscow, Russia

Is this true?

British administrators, it is believed, ‘influenced’ the Nobel Committee against a Nobel Prize for Gandhiji. Was the Nobel Committee even close to giving Gandhiji the Peace Prize?

So grateful …

What ever the truth, I am grateful to the British Raj, all the British administrators and bureaucrats, politicians who managed the Nobel award process – to deny Gandhiji the Nobel prize.

Nobel prize, the committee says cannot be awarded posthumously – though some 13 years later, the UN Secretary General, Dag Hammarskjold was given the Nobel 6 months after his death.

Before that, the Nobel prize for Literature was awarded posthumously to Erik Axel Karlfeldt in 1931. Nobel Foundation Statutes were revised in 1974, to create a justification why the award cannot be awarded posthumously – unless death happened after the announcement.

According to the statutes of the Nobel Foundation in force at that time, the Nobel Prize could, under certain circumstances, be awarded posthumously. Thus it was possible to give Gandhi the prize. However, Gandhi did not belong to an organisation.

So silly

It would have been so silly to know Gandhiji as a Nobel prize winner.

Along with terrorist-freedom fighter like Yasser Arafat (1994), terrorist-politician Menachem Begin (1978). Where would Gandhiji be, if he was clubbed with a clown-politician like Jimmy Carter (2002). Imagine Gandhiji rubbing shoulders with Barack Obama (2009), a non-entity when he won the prize. Or a crowning gag like EU (2012), as a peace prize winner. Gandhiji, staunchly against religious-conversions in the company of a do-gooder like Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu (1979) – promoted by the Vatican, as Mother Teresa.

Or a war-monger like Henry Kissinger (1973).

Earlier, in 1945, Cordell Hull, who in 1939, was instrumental in refusing entry to some 950 German-Jewish refugees, was given the Nobel prize in 1945. Hull even co-authored a pamphlet, calling for bar on entry of European-Jews to America.

A Nobel committee member’s expression of regret for repeatedly overlooking Mahatma Gandhi for the Peace Prize has left his grandson Gopalkrishna Gandhi and historians distinctly underwhelmed. “It really does not behove us to be lamenting the absence of a Nobel for Gandhi, when the committee itself has apologised for this so many times and when Mandela, the Dalai Lama and Aung San Suu Kyi have accepted the Peace Prize in his name.”

Nobel committee member and Conservative Norwegian politician Kaci Kullmann was quoted by a TV news channel on Thursday as saying ignoring Gandhi was “one of the greatest mistakes” of the Nobel.

Gandhi was nominated in 1937, 1938, 1939, 1947 and, finally, a few days before his assassination in January 1948 for the Peace Prize.

“What people forget is that at the time, the idea that the Nobel peace prize would go to a non-European was utterly absurd,” said Mihir Bose, author of Raj, Secrets and Revolution, a biography of Subhash Chandra Bose.

“After all, when Tagore was awarded the Nobel, Rudyard Kipling was furious…”

via Nobel apology leaves Bapu’s grandson unimpressed – Hindustan Times.


Saraswati Ignored: Cause or Effect of Indian Decline

October 21, 2012 4 comments

Why are there so few temples to Brahma and Saraswati? Why is the worship of Brahma and Saraswati, divinities of creation and creativity, so rare and hesitant?.

Saraswati sits on the bank of a river, holds a book and beads, and plays music on Veena, as a peacock looks on, in a painting by Raja Ravi Varma  |  Painting of the Goddess Saraswati by Raja Ravi Varma (1848–1906); currently housed at the English: Maharaja Fateh Singh Museum, Lakshmi Vilas Palace, Vadodara, Gujarat.

Saraswati sits on the bank of a river, holds a book and beads, and plays music on Veena, as a peacock looks on, in a painting by Raja Ravi Varma | Painting of the Goddess Saraswati by Raja Ravi Varma (1848–1906); currently housed at the English: Maharaja Fateh Singh Museum, Lakshmi Vilas Palace, Vadodara, Gujarat.

Among all the Indian festivals, celebration of Brahma and Saraswati have clearly taken a back seat. On and off, this question has piqued me for twenty years now.

Was the focus on Lakshmi and Durga, goddesses of war and wealth, a response to historical necessity or a cause of the decline?

From a country that Genghis Khan did not dare to attack, to a country that finally succumbed even to barbarian hordes from the West, is steep fall.

Was India rising to the challenge – or oblivious of its decline?

India’s ignorance today may make us believe that India’s moral decline may be the answer. But, a 1000-year cyclical perspective may yield the opposite answer – war and wealth became a more important in response to Asuric challenge.

Saraswati was concentrated in temples, which were hugely funded – and the rest of the population started focusing on war and wealth.

The Goddess of learning, Saraswati, is one of the ancient deities in the Hindu pantheon. Yet, today, apart from the one obligatory puja every year, she’s largely forgotten,” remarks noted Bharatanatyam exponent Sandhya Purecha, when we catch her on the sidelines of a rehearsal for a Navratri special ballet invoking the Goddess Mahalakshmi at her Central Mumbai dance school.

When we point out that her ballet too invokes Lakshmi, and not Saraswati, she laughs, “In an era when everyone is in a mad rush chasing money, people feel that the blessing of the Goddess of Wealth is all that matters. Perhaps they feel that once you have money, all else will follow.”

She says that there are many beautiful compositions in the Puranas praising Saraswati. “But if not as the wealth-showering Devi, even audiences want to see a goddess as a slayer of demons armed to the teeth, like Durga.” According to Purecha, this is merely a projection of the way society sees women. “If she brings dowry or other material gifts, she gets respect. But if she wants her due otherwise, she has to fight. A mellow woman is often disregarded. Perhaps that’s why, Saraswati, in her white raiments, lost in the notes of her veena, does not have the same resonance as other fiery Goddesses.”

Radheshyam Tiwari, a doctorate in Hindu mythology from Benares, also laments this change. “Knowledge, wisdom and scholarly pursuit were always treated with utmost regard. They were not seen as a means to an end, but as something that people pursued with devotion for the love of it,” he points out.

He also feels that people are uncomfortable talking about Saraswati’s life because of the Matsya Purana. “According to the text, once Brahma created Satarupa (another name of Saraswati) from his own body, he became enamoured by her. To avoid his amorous gaze, she kept shifting, and Brahma created five heads to see her all the time. Finally, she gave in and became his consort. The questions this will raise about incest may be a reason why Saraswati is kept on the margins.”

Tiwari also talks about how Saraswati worship endured the rise and spread of both Buddhism and Jainism. “As Buddhism moved from its earlier Theravada school to Mahayana, many elements from Hinduism were also adopted. In fact, if you see some of the early Buddhist mandalas, you come upon Goddess Saraswati in the south-west of the innermost circle, between Brahma and Vishnu, along with various divinities of Mahayana Buddhism,” he explains. “As the Mahayana Buddhist texts went to Nepal, Tibet, Java, China and eventually Japan, the Goddess finds mention in Buddhist imagery there too. For example in Tibet, she is called Vajra-Sarasvati and wields a thunderbolt. In Japan, she becomes the Goddess Dai-Ben-Zai-Ten or The Great Divinity of Reasoning Faculty.”

While admitting that scriptures, too, talk far more about other Goddesses compared to Saraswati, Hindu religion expert and the father of the iconic Hindu almanac Kalnirnay, Jayraj Salgaonkar, points out how the Goddess almost stops mattering after the first stage of life, brahmacharya. “Later on, from grihastha (family), vanprastha (retired) and sanyas (renunciation), all that people think of is Lakshmi.”

Scoffing at the priorities of today’s materialist world, he underlines how even Adi Shankaracharya, who revived Hinduism around 800 AD, installed the Goddess Saraswati (or Sharada) at the first mutt he established in Sringeri, Karnataka.

Octagenarian Salgaonkar blames patriarchy for the way even Lakshmi is depicted. “It sounds very nice to hear when men talk of their wives as Lakshmi. But even in early Raja Ravi Varma paintings you can see how Lakshmi’s feet are kept well-hidden. Even now people believe that if her feet are free, Lakshmi will move, taking all the prosperity along. This idea came from the desire of men to control women.”

Both Tiwari and Purecha too insist that the “spousification” of Goddesses was “a clever, latter-day masculine ploy” to link the greatness of the Goddesses to their spouses. “In the process, many of our ancient Goddesses of Fertility and Strength were pushed aside to make way for the mainstreaming of the spouses of the triumvirate — Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh,” says Tiwari.

In parting, Purecha nails it: “Women don’t want to be treated like Goddesses and kept on a pedestal, or be treated like objects of lust. When that (the change) happens, our Goddesses will also be unshackled from this masculine paradigm and we will perhaps begin giving Saraswati her place again.”

via Why saraswati is ignored – Lifestyle – DNA.


 

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