Yay! It’s Dasara!

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Na yotsya Govinda! I will not fight, O Govinda.

It’s my favorite time of the year – the nine nights of Dasara. And once again, it’s time for my annual visit to the home of the Ravindranath family.

Year after year, this sweet Iyengar family in Basavanagudi, Bangalore, puts up their remarkable exhibition of Dasara dolls. There are well over four thousand dolls in this astonishing display.

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Chakravyuha. Note the attention to detail!

It is truly a labor of love – and faith. They spend a fortune and they make no money out of it – although there are unscrupulous dickheads who make money out of them.

Each year, there’s a special theme. And this year, the theme is the 18-day battle of Kurukshetra. Each day of the battle has been recreated in painstaking detail. They’ve done their research thoroughly. In fact, they’ve created the battle formations used by both sides, on each day of the battle. They’ve recreated the key events of the battle – like the Bhagavadgeetha, the fall of Bheeshma, Ghatotkacha’s death, Jayadratha’s decapitation by Arjuna, and several others.

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The end of Ghatotkacha, slain by Karna’s Shakti weapon.

Why do we celebrate Dasara? You can read about it in my blogpost, here.

Simply put, Dasara commemorates the epic battle between the goddess Durga and the demon Mahisha. The battle raged for nine nights. Each night, She took on a different form to do battle with Mahisha. On the morning of the tenth day, Durga slew Mahisha. This day therefore, is called Vijayadashami.

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Vijayadashami is an especially auspicious day. On this day, Rama killed Ravana in battle. Since Rama cut off Ravana’s ten heads, the festival came to be known as Dasa Hara or Dasara.

In modern times, we do not cut off heads! Instead, Vijayadashami is considered a very good day to start any new venture, like a business project, a new course of study, music lessons, and just about any good activity.

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And even at my age, I always make it a point to start something new on Vijayadashami. This year, I will start a new business venture on Vijayadashami.

Dasara is a celebration and an affirmation, of our culture and our traditions. Nowhere, and nowhere, in our traditional scriptures and our epics, does the word “Hindu” appear.

Dasara is not a “Hindu” celebration. It is Indian. That’s all.

No matter what religion you practise, enjoy Dasara. Visit a golu display. Have fun.

You can see the entire golu display of the Ravindranath family, in my Google photo album, here.

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The Ravindranath family.

And remember:

All golu displays are free and open to the public. Do not entertain self-styled “experts” and touts. Just call up the host, and go. If you want to take photographs, it’s generally ok. But as a courtesy, ask the host first. And do not forget to profusely thank the host and her family. Golu displays take a lot of effort and time.

I am an agnostic myself. But that doesn’t stop me from enjoying any of our traditional festivals – including Christmas and Id!

So. Screw the “rationalists”.

Enjoy Dasara. It is your festival.

Cheers … Srini.

 

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Faith … or mental illness?

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Is faith a psychiatric disorder?

In my country, there are more godmen than scientists, more ashrams than hospitals. In my country, stone idols drink milk, dead men are brought back to life, snakes take human form, cats bring bad luck.

All my customers are scientists. Almost all of them have religious icons on their desks, and have their own weird superstitions. Like the organic chemist who gave me a “scientific” explanation on why one should not trim his fingernails after sunset. Or the physicist who would never start any experiment in his lab during Rahu kalam (an inauspicious time of the day). Or the brilliant professor who told me that her husband would die if she took off her mangalsutra even for a minute.

I’m no stranger to world-famous godmen. I’ve seen them up close, watched them perform their ‘miracles’, produce gold watches, drive their devotees into a religious frenzy. I’ve seen people getting ‘possessed’. I’ve seen a godman’s photographs generate nectar and holy ash.

Why do people consistently fall for such obviously crooked godmen? They call it faith. I call it something else.

Faith is their raison d’être.

They will not give up their faith. In the face of overwhelming evidence against their godman, they will still cling on to him. Show them a video that clearly shows their godman producing holy ash from a tube hidden in his sleeve, they will denounce the video as a fake. Explain to them that the “nectar” pouring out of the godman’s photograph is merely the product of a simple chemical reaction and show them how it can be done, they will yell at you and call you an agent of Satan.

The phenomenon has been extensively studied by psychologists. There’s a scientific term for it. It’s called persistence of belief. Or confirmation bias.

People will interpret data based on their own individual beliefs. When they are given evidence contrary to their beliefs, they will either disregard it outright or twist their interpretation of that evidence to fit in with their beliefs. This is why godmen get away with all kinds of crap. They have a deep understanding of how confirmation bias works. And they know that confirmation bias is contagious. In particular, parents can and do, pass on their confirmation bias to their children.

I lost my only child solely because of confirmation bias. Haven’t seen her in fifteen years. She believes that I am the embodiment of evil, because I stood against her mother’s godman. And mind you, the godman she worships died in 1918 – in Shirdi. Such is the contagion of confirmation bias that more than a hundred years after his death, his cult still continues to grow. And has become frightfully powerful.

Harsh experience has taught me to keep my scientific arguments to myself. There is just no point in explaining to people that blind belief in a godman does not constitute religion, and that talking against an obviously fraudulent godman is not blasphemy.

I have tried to explain this to my ‘rationalist’ friends. You know, those hopelessly misguided souls who rant against godmen and religion. They firmly believe their ranting will bring forth a new generation of enlightened humans who believe only in science. No matter what, they will not let go of that belief.

In other words, these “rationalists” suffer from confirmation bias – just like their non-rational counterparts.

I am fiercely proud of my country, the depth of her culture, the greatness of her philosophy, the vastness of her scriptures, her achievements in science, her ancient sagacity, her capacity to assimilate alien cultures and enrich them while doing so.

However, nowhere in her scriptures does She say that we should not use our common sense. Krishna in the Gita talks at length about ‘muda bhakti’, i.e. foolish, mindless devotion. You may read the Gita if you wish to. And whether you accept Krishna’s divinity is your choice. But the wisdom Krishna imparts in the Gita is practical and down-to-earth. If you take the trouble, you will discover that much of the knowledge in our ancient scriptures, like the Upanishads for example, is practical in nature. Contrary to what you may think, skepticism was encouraged in ancient India, debate was preferred over discourse, and evidence was a pre-requisite to belief.

Thanks once again to confirmation basis, we have been made to believe instead that our culture is based on ritualism and our scriptures are ‘mumbo-jumbo’ – this being the term favored by ‘rationalists’ and ‘free-thinkers’ (who are neither rational, nor free nor thinkers).

So. How do we deal with confirmation bias? We don’t. There is no real cure for confirmation bias.

Just as you cannot convince a devotee that he is wrong in his beliefs, you cannot convince a ‘rationalist’ that he is wrong as well. It may seem incongruous, but frequently ‘rationalists’ base their arguments on flawed evidence. And just like their superstitious counterparts, they will not accept that their evidence is flawed. Ironic, isn’t it?

Therefore, don’t bother. Just steer clear of both sides, smile and go about your life. You can use confirmation bias to your advantage, in your business and in your social life.

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There is a very good reason why first impressions always count. That reason is confirmation bias. If your customer (or potential lover) forms a favorable first impression of you, then confirmation bias will usually compel him to hold on to that image, even if you screw up later on. And vice versa. If someone forms a bad first impression of you, there is little you can do to correct it later.

Do your homework then, before that first meeting.

And don’t fall into the trap of confirmation bias yourself. Learn to look at both sides of the coin. Realise that even scientific evidence can be heavily biased. Understand that even renowned scientists have frequently been shown to be wrong – but rarely accept that fact.

If you do an internet search for the ill-effects of alcohol, for example, you will be presented with tons of research papers that conclusively prove that booze is bad for you. Do a search for the health benefits of alcohol, and behold, you will be presented with an equal amount of evidence that proves that booze is actually good for you.

You will have to use your own judgement.

As for me and my former daughter Sanjana, who believes I am the embodiment of evil, well, I consider her dead.

I have lost faith in her.

Srini.

The timeless funda of Yugadi.

Death of Krishna. Public domain image from Wikipedia.

 

The Indian calendar can be baffling to many people. The gist of it is quite simple though. There are twelve months in the year and 30 or 31 days in each month. Leap years are accurately accounted for, as are other astronomical events like equinoxes and eclipses. The significant difference between the Indian calendar and the Western calendar (or the Gregorian calendar) is that our calendar follows the phases of the moon. The Western calendar follows the revolution of the Earth around the Sun.

That is why Indian festivals seem to fall on different days each year, with reference to the Gregorian calendar.

In the Indian calendar, there are certain days that are especially important, since they mark epochal events in Indian history.copy_of_gudi-padwa_300

The death of Krishna marks the end of an era. Kaliyuga, the age of Evil, began from the moment of Krishna’s death, and according to the scriptures that day was during end-March in 3102 BC. Hence, this day is called Yugadhi, the first day of an Era.

Yugadhi also marks the beginning of a new year. Unlike the Gregorian calendar that calculates the passage of each year based on the Earth’s annual revolution around the Sun, the Indian calendar is based on the orbits of Jupiter and Saturn. As these two planets move through the heavens, they seem to transit across the twelve Zodiac constellations, starting with the constellation of Aries (Mesha rashi). Jupiter takes one year to move from one Zodiac constellation to the next and therefore takes twelve years to complete one round of the Zodiac. Saturn takes thirty years to complete one round. And once in sixty years, both planets wind up at the starting point, i.e. Mesha rashi, at the same time.

Hence, the Indian calendar follows a cycle of sixty years. Each year is called a Samavatsara and is assigned a specific name, like in the Chinese calendar. Last year was Durmukhi Samavatsara, and it began on April 8 2016.

The 31st year in the cycle begins today, i.e., March 28, 2017. The new year is named Hemalambi or Hevilambi. This is not predicted to be a good year!

Yugadhi falls on the first day of the first half of the first month in the Hindu calendar, i.e. the month of Chaitra. The official Indian calendar, that was adopted by India on March 22, 1957, and starts from that day, is based on the Shalivahana Saka.

Shalivahana, also known as Gautamiputra Satakarni, was a mighty king from the Shalivahana-8973-16Satavahana dynasty, that ruled much of South India for about four hundred years, from 230 BC to 220 AD. Shalivahana was the greatest of them, and the date of his coronation is the beginning of Shalivahana Saka. This was during the year 78 AD. The month of Chaitra is reckoned from that date.

Therefore, the Indian national calendar officially began on Chaitra 1, 1879 (Saka era) i.e. March 22, 1957 (Gregorian era).

And therefore today, March 28, 2017 is Yugadhi, Prathami (first day), Shukla Paskha (Bright half), Chaitra (first month of the year), Hevilambi Samvatsara, Shalivahana Saka 1939, Kaliyuga (age of Kali).

Yugadi is celebrated across India. In Maharashtra, it’s celebrated as Gudi Padva.

Happy Yugadhi everyone!

Cheers … Srini.