MY VIPASSANA EXPERIENCE – V

Day 5 (20/04/2015)

Though I slept late when I woke up I did feel refreshed. No hangover of a sleep deprived person, though I always believed myself to be someone who needed the full quota of 8 hours of sleep. I remembered suddenly the teacher’s reluctance to permit me to sit on a chair. I readied for the morning session’s meditation, steeled and told myself I was going to sit on the floor. By the end of the two hour slot from 4.30 – 6.30 am, I realized that it is easier said than done. Aches, pains and groans pervaded my being. So, after breakfast when I went for the session, I gave in to the feelings controlled by pain. I sat on the chair for the one hour group meditation during which I should not stir and then the rest of it till 11.00 am. Tough! Sitting on the chair which was anything but ergonomic, it was much tougher.

So for the rest of the noon’s sessions I decided to give sitting on the floor cross-legged a good try. The session from 1.00 to 2.30 was trial time. I pushed myself really hard and was able to sit without moving for close to 45 minutes and thus changed posture just once. Inspired by this small success I was thrilled when I was able to sit completely motionless during the hour long group meditation session from 2.30 – 3.30 and later between 6.00 – 7.00 pm, though they seemed to be a classic tests of pain endurance. By the time the end was within sight, it was as if time stood still! The deep connection between physical sensations and the mental connections was quite evident. The mind was so obsessed with the physical pain that the physical one became a mental pain too. Now that I started observing the pain objectively and disassociating it with the mental one, it seemed to have halved!! Goenkaji’s words were like a soothing balm – pain, like pleasure, will arise and disappear. It is impermanent. Nothing is permanent. Anicca, anicca, anicca!

Quote - S N Goenka

Quote – S N Goenka

All through the day’s meditation sessions we had to move our awareness from head to toe part by part and observe sensations. This, Goenkaji explained was to heighten one’s sense of awareness. Not just the awareness of the reality of the surface level of the mind, but at a deeper level. It brought about one more realization – the so called unconscious mind is anything but unconscious. It is always conscious of the sensations in the body and keeps on reacting to it. That’s why we like pleasant sensations and crave for them; we dislike unpleasant and painful sensations and engage them with hatred and aversion.  This then snowballs into a habit pattern, making the mind a complete prisoner of likes and dislikes, craving and aversion. This generates negativity. Though at the intellectual level we are able to understand that we shouldn’t be generating negativity, the deepest level of the mind which is in constant touch with the body sensations, pays no heed to it. It is through the constant observation and awareness that the message reaches the deepest level.

One more young girl dropped out of the course after lunch was served at 11.00 am. By noon time the skies outside darkened ominously and brought in its wake welcome showers – clearly one of the most severe summer showers we have ever had in Kerala, for it ended only by about 3.30 am the next morning. Lightning streaked and lit up the dark skies and claps of thunder reverberated throughout. This also left us bereft of electric supply till about the morning of the next day.  Once again sleep eluded me, which left me completely surprised. I have always taken pride and been very grateful in having no difficulty in sleeping – all I usually remember is lying on the bed and lo, it’s already the next day! Since the previous day too I found it difficult to sleep, I had taken care not to take an afternoon nap. Even that seems not to have helped. Many a toss and turn later, as I stumbled into Slumberland, Nature’s music was still at play – streaks of lightning, rumbling thunder and of course the shrill chirps of a million crickets, all teeming with life thanks to the heavy downpour.

MY VIPASSANA EXPERIENCE – IV

Day 4 (19/04/2015)

Impermanence is one of the most important Buddhist teachings and one that must be fully understood and accepted in order to fully understand life. Nothing is permanent and the sooner you understand its meaning and accept this, you will be able to live a life filled with less expectation from anything and anyone. This is the greatest lesson learnt along with Vipassana on the 4th day. Besides we had learnt the prerequisites to Vipassana in the last three days and will continue to do so till 2.30 pm today.

Today we started the 4.30 am meditation with our focus on a smaller area, the small triangular one just below the nostrils and the upper lip. The smaller the focus, the sharper the mind becomes and thus it becomes ripe enough to absorb Vipassana. Focus was difficult and trying. The mind would ramble and behave like a child in tantrums, and had to be brought under control with utmost perseverance and in between all that one had to observe with equanimity the sensations that arise in the chosen area. Gradually there was some semblance of order. Now I know why we were forced to be completely cut off from the outside world. It did make things easier.

At lunch time I discovered that the foreigner in my room had left, unable to manage the strict code of conduct. Anyone leaving the course midway leaves makes the weak minded long to drop everything like a hot brick and move on. Thankfully I felt otherwise – happy to stay on course for it gave me an opportunity to tell my mind, hey there, I am the boss and not you. 🙂

By the time the 3.00 pm session started everyone were eager to go through the Vipassana session, waiting with bated breath. The instructions were from Acharya Goenka, vide a recorded CD. We were to move our attention from the top of our head and observe sensations. Then we were to focus on each and every part by part and observe objectively and with equanimity the sensations. The top of the head, the scalp, the shoulders and down to the right arm and then the left arm, neck, trunk, pelvic region, right leg up to the foot followed by the left foot was the order. After this the focus was directed to the nape, back, spine, back pelvic region, and the back side of the legs up to the toes. Irrespective of what the sensations are – pleasant or unpleasant – we were to accept the reality moment to moment.

When we started the practice, at first there were sensations in some parts of the body. In some places there were none whatsoever. It also became clear that we experienced easily the intense sensations and not the finer, subtle ones. That came with practice. The most challenging aspect for me was sitting in the same position for two hours continuously – for we were asked to try not to move during the Vipassana time – 3.00 – 5.00 pm. I must say that I was not able to comply with this, thanks to the nagging knee pain as I had been sitting cross-legged all the three days. After the Vipassana experience we had another session from 6 – 7 pm in the evening, a group Vipassana meditation. During such group sessions everyday (four sessions – 8-9 am, 2.30 – 3.30 pm, 6.00 – 7.00 pm and 8.15 – 9.00 pm) we were told to stay motionless. With a nagging knee pain I decided that during the question hour from 9.00 – 9.30 pm I would ask the teacher if I could sit in a chair. The teacher was quick to dissuade me but I told him that I do have a back / knee problem and as he unwillingly relented, there was a sigh of relief in me.

Before hitting the bed I gently applied an analgesic gel on the painful areas hoping and praying it would go away as I wake up in the dawn. But sleep eluded and that worried me. What if I don’t have enough sleep and droop while meditating? After considerable tossing and turning when I drifted into slumber it was way past midnight.

(To be continued)

Prayer of Oneness

Saw this wonderful prayer and wanted to share it with you. Hence re-blogging it.

superaalifragilistic

There are times, when even the most sincere seeker experiences ‘disconnection’. This disconnection can last hours, days or even weeks. Many seekers hence follow a daily ritual. Some follow a particular meditation style, some a breathing technique, because a daily ritual has a very simple purpose – it brings you back home.

This prayer was originally written by my brother GD to help a few friends who said they kept forgetting the core teaching; who kept getting disconnected… and needed a simple, short, crisp reminder of their true nature. So GD created this small reminder – in the form of an ‘advaita’ prayer – to help them stay connected to their essence.

Just one suggestion… please don’t rush through it.

Go slowly… and savor each line to experience the true power and energy of this unique prayer. It will reveal deeper meanings each time you connect with it.

PS: For those of you…

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MY VIPASSANA EXPERIENCE – III

Every evening during the short meditation from 8.30 – 9.00 pm, after the discourse by Acharya Goenka we were given instructions and practice of the next stage of Anapana meditation. This was a technically sound practice as we were able to practice for half an hour immediately and then the whole of the next day. This helped us to get a good grounding in the technique.

Day 3 (18/04/2015)

Today during the meditation sessions we were required to be aware of the triangular area of the nostrils and the area just above the upper lip. The smaller the area, the sharper the mind will get. Normally the mind is so gross that one cannot feel subtle sensations. We need to learn to sharpen the mind. So we need to be aware of the touch of the breath anywhere on the inner wall of the nostrils, outer rings of the nostrils or the area below the nostrils or above the upper lip. The smaller the area the subtler the mind will become. This is also symbolic of the progress we make – movement from the gross reality to the subtle reality. However we had to remember that we cannot create subtle realities. We had to leave that to the laws of nature. Whatever manifests there, we had to be aware of it. There would be some biochemical reactions there which will make one feel sensations like tickling, tingling, itching, throbbing, prickling, warmth and so on. We cannot choose sensations. It happens naturally. Whatever comes up, just observe and accept. Just observe the sensation and acknowledge it to be the reality of the moment. This is called Samma Sati in Pali, the right awareness. Do not react – for example don’t scratch when it itches. Just observe. No itching is eternal. Even this will pass away. A new word came to enter our everyday vocabulary – Anicca (pronounced aniccha) – it meant that things rise in one moment and in the other moment pass away. Imagine a river. At no point in time will the water in the river remain the same. It flows and moves on. But the continuous flow of water in the river creates an illusion of permanence in our mind which makes us believe that the water is the same.

Simple, logical things. Why didn’t it occur to me till now? The answer was also readily available. In the fast paced world we don’t observe things. We do things. But we don’t observe. We do things mechanically and never with awareness. And even when we do with some awareness, we do ten things together, that we don’t even remember what we had done. Ah, multi-tasking! In the corporate world we take such pride in this skill.

Day 3 was truly insightful. The practice began at 4.30 am like always and till noon no luck with sensations. But by the end of the day I could feel subtle sensations in the inner wall of the nostrils. Ah, the exhilaration of the “eureka” moment! But wait, that’s precisely what we had to stay away from. Liking something results in craving and hating something results in aversion. Both lead to actions that fulfil the craving or aversion respectively and the next action and the next and so on. A vicious cycle of craving and aversion is born and the mind gets mired in the bog over and over again till the point of no return.

By night however I could feel the gnawing pain in my knees – the result of sitting cross-legged for hours together. There was no hard and fast rule that one has to sit cross-legged. I have been used to doing that and hence my preference for it.  So before going to sleep I liberally massaged my knees with a gel that I had carried with the fond hope that I would feel alright in the morning. I was also looking forward to Day 4 as it was the day when we would be initiated into what is actual Vipassana. Whatever we had been doing for the last 3 days and till 3.00 pm on the 4th day were only baby steps towards Vipassana.

(To be continued)

MY VIPASSANA EXPERIENCE – II

MY VIPASSANA EXPERIENCE – II

The short half hour meditation ended at 9.00 pm drawing a close to a very different day. By 9.15 pm looking forward to another day, I drifted towards sleep. Sometime in the night I woke up and realized that there was no power supply. It was 3.00 am. The tiled roof of the room was as quick to cool down as it was to get heated by noon time. Therefore, once again slumber enveloped me only to be startled by the loud gong of the bell. It’s 4.00 am. It’s still dark – and the power supply hadn’t been restored. That didn’t dampen my spirits and I marched into the washroom to have a bath, armed with my torch.

Day 2 (17/04/2015)

Another gong and I moved in the direction of the meditation hall. The volunteers had kept a few lamps on the path and slowly everybody trickled in. The session began sharp at 4.30. Watch the breath. And when I do that what happens? The mind is focussed on the act of breathing for a few seconds and there it goes on a wild horse ride. To the past, to the future and many a time I realized that there is no order to the kind of thoughts that overwhelm me. By noon with practice I gathered momentum in noticing the drift of the mind and then bring it back to focus on the respiration.

As the morning session ended at 6.30, we moved into the dining hall. We had separate halls for males and females. Breakfast over, I moved to the walking area under the canopy of tall trees – teak, mango, jackfruit, coconut and a huge silk cotton tree. The morning air was cool and fresh. The entire area was full of bird calls and the eastern sky was glowing as the sun rose. I strolled taking in the vibrancy of the place. As speaking was taboo, it was the right opportunity for me to commune with Nature.

The trees are God’s great alphabet: With them He writes in shining green Across the world His thoughts serene. ~Leonora Speyer

The trees are God’s great alphabet:
With them He writes in shining green
Across the world His thoughts serene.
~Leonora Speyer

The schedule for each day is the same and so am not replicating it. Day 1’s long sessions have already started having an effect on me. There’s an ache in the knees for I have been sitting cross-legged. Nevertheless, I am game for Day 2. By noon time we heard some helpers speaking about two in the camp who dropped out in the morning. I wondered how many of us will be around on the last day.

On Day 2 the focus is again on respiration. But this time we were asked to sense the cool air of inhalation and the warm air of exhalation. Vipassana stresses on meditators focussing on normal breath – not hard or contrived breath. Hard breath may be taken only briefly if you just cannot experience breathing at all. Then you are asked to move into natural, flowing breath. Since natural breath is such an inconspicuous and involuntary affair, it is with a lot of struggle that I managed to start experiencing it. For the first few hours I just could not sense either the warmth or the coolness but as the day progressed, I could faintly distinguish both. And then when one feels excited at the success, you are gently reminded, do not be elated at success and do not be frustrated at failure. Be equanimous. Truly a tall order!

The day’s discourse was on the habit pattern of the mind. If one observes it, it is clear that it swings like a pendulum from the past to the present, generating either craving or aversion. One cannot perform an action that harms others without defiling one’s own mind first. The result is anger, ill will, hatred, animosity and the like. And with these negatives in the mind one is surely bound to be miserable. On the other hand when one performs an action that helps others, it naturally generates positive aspects like love, goodwill, forgiveness and compassion. By practicing right awareness one starts breaking that habit. Once you learn to fix your mind on the present reality you enter the realm of Panna, the development of wisdom, of insight, that totally purifies the mind. Thus Vipassana is actually a deep surgical operation of the mind, bringing out the negativity and purifying the mind.

I still cannot figure out how people like me, householders with duties and responsibilities, can live a life of balance, without liking and without hating. We are not monks or nuns to develop complete detachment. I will need more clarifications in this matter. These were my thoughts as I hit the bed at night.

(To be continued)

MY VIPASSANA EXPERIENCE – I

There is only one moment in time when it is necessary to awaken. That moment is now. — Buddha

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens. And so it was with Vipassana and me. I had wanted to join the Ten-day Vipassana Meditation Course way back in 2009. That did not happen as the seats were full. The time was ripe only in April 2015.  When I applied online for a place in the course, my understanding was that I would hear from the organizers only in a fortnight. So when I heard from the registrar of the course in about 6 hours flat, it caught me by surprise. And I was truly excited. Yayyy… am finally going to do a Vipassana Course!!

To those of you who are not familiar with it, Vipassana is a word in Pali language which can roughly be translated as “insight meditation”. The word “Vipassana” has two parts; “Passana” means seeing or perceiving, and the prefix “Vi” which has several meanings, one of which is “through.” Vipassana is thus insight which literally penetrates the curtain of delusion in the mind. “Vi” may also be considered as a substitute for the English prefix “dis,” suggesting discernment — a kind of seeing that perceives individual components separately. The idea of separation is relevant here, for insight works like a mental scalpel, differentiating conventional truth from ultimate reality. Lastly, “Vipassana” can also mean intense, deep or powerful seeing.

One of India’s most ancient meditations (over 2500 years old), it has its roots in Buddhism when Gautama Siddhartha, the Buddha, discovered it. He propounded that the actual cause of suffering can be eradicated by knowing ourselves and our true nature. The practice of Vipassana therefore exhorts us to be calm and peaceful; alert and attentive as well as balanced and equanimous. Though originated in India, Vipassana soon lost its purity in India and many other countries where it had spread to. However, a devoted line of teachers and disciples in Burma (present Myanmar) maintained it in its pristine purity. Vipassana was brought back to India by Sri S N Goenka, a highly respected teacher and an Indian who lived in Burma, and who studied the technique under the venerable Sayagyi U Ba Khin.

The course started from the evening of 15th April 2015 at the Dhamma Ketana Vipassana Centre, at Cheriyanad, 8 kilometres away from Chengannur, in Kerala. Though the registration time was from 3 – 5 pm, I could reach the centre only by 6 pm, thanks to the Parasuram Express which was running late by 2 hours. After a 20-minute ride by an auto rickshaw, I was at the Centre. What struck me as I entered the Centre was its rustic and sylvan locale. After registering for where I had to fill in forms and affirm my commitment to the course, I moved ahead to hand over my mobile phone and valuables for safe keeping. Yes, I had read the code of conduct rather elaborately. It clearly said:

  1. No conversation, verbal and non-verbal, is permitted during the entire course. And this included using mobile phones to communicate with the outside world to something as inconspicuous as making eye contacts with fellow meditators. Music, reading and writing is also taboo. This is called following the principle of Noble Silence. (I learned later that this is to shut out all kinds of stimuli that will create delusions in the mind and which will veer the meditator from the path of discovering oneself.)
  2. Discontinue all kinds of rites, rituals, prayer and worship during the entire course. (We were told that mixing this with Vipassana meditation can seriously impede the meditator’s progress and even regress as Vipassana is thoroughly non-sectarian. Besides one needed to give the technique a fair trial while maintaining in all its purity.)
  3. Physical contact of any kind is a strict no-no; with same sex or opposite. Outside contacts and going outside the centre’s premises are forbidden.
  4. Drugs, intoxicants, sedative etc. must be avoided strictly. Any medicines / special diet due to illness are however permitted albeit with the Teacher’s permission & know how.
  5. Clothing needs to be modest, comfortable and simple. After all you will spend close to 11 hours each day meditating. There’s no facility for laundry – however you are free to do it yourselves during break times. (This made me carry nearly a dozen pair of clothes!)

After tucking my bag underneath the cot and washing my face to ward off the weariness of a long journey, I reported at the meditation hall. The session began at 8.00 pm sharp flagging of the course as well as the code of conduct.

Day 1 (16/04/2015)

I woke up to the first sound of the gong. It’s 4.00 am. When I move into community living, I always loved to have a bath as early as possible (read it as before it gets used, misused and abused by cohabitants) and this time was no different. By the time the second series of gongs went at 4.25 am, I was ready to take on the day, refreshed and energized by a cold water bath. The schedule was quite daunting:

  • 4:00 a.m. Morning wake-up bell
  • 4:30 — 6:30 a.m. Meditate in the hall or in your room
  • 6:30 — 8:00 a.m Breakfast break
  • 8:00 — 9:00 a.m Group meditation in the hall
  • 9:00 — 11:00 Meditate in the hall or in your room according to the teacher’s nstructions
  • 11:00 —12 noon Lunch break
  • 12:00—1:00 p.m. Rest, and interviews with the teacher
  • 1:00 — 2:30 p.m. Meditate in the hall or in your room
  • 2:30 — 3:30 p.m. Group meditation in the hall
  • 3:30 — 5:00 Meditate in the hall or in your room according to the teacher’s instructions
  • 5:00 — 6:00 p.m. Tea break
  • 6:00 — 7:00 p.m. Group meditation in the hall
  • 7:00 — 8:15 p.m. Teacher’s discourse in the hall
  • 8:15 — 9:00 p.m. Group meditation in the hall
  • 9:00 — 9:30 p.m. Question time in the hall
  • 9:30 p.m. Retire to your room; lights out

We soon found out that all meditations, group or individual, were all in the hall as the centre did not have individual cells for each meditator. There were 2-3 of us in each room and under this circumstance it was quite challenging to meditate in our rooms. The hall was spacious to accommodate over 50 of us. It was simple and Spartan with no pictures, religious objects, talismans etc. true to what Vipassana professed – thoroughly non-sectarian and non-religious. Each one of us had a wide cushion to be used as the seat to sit. There were also plenty of cushions of different sizes to suit your comfort for you had to make yourself comfortable. Long hours of meditation do demand that. Each one of us had a seat and we had to stick to that throughout the course. This was most welcome from the hygiene point of view.

During the meditations, tapes of Acharya Goenka with instructions on meditation were played. Accordingly Day 1 focussed on awareness of the breath. A moment of awareness and then the mind would wander away. We were encouraged not to feel guilty about it and gently bring back the mind to awareness. By the end of Day one, I could find out in a couple of minutes whenever the mind wandered. Taming the mind is such an arduous affair! Besides, one is not used to sitting cross legged or in any other comfortable position for long hours. And not to forget – we cannot talk. No communication from your loved ones back home. We are in new environs. Only simple vegetarian food was served – though not difficult for me, it must have been for many others. Amidst all this and moving far away from our comfort zones, each one of us were trying hard to be aware of respiration; nothing but respiration. The 7.00 – 8.15 discourses were the recorded video tapes of Acharya Goenka. In his first day’s discourse he advised us on how to go about our work and encouraged us to make the best use of the time, the opportunity, and the technique so that we benefit wonderfully. It was very interesting and soon many of us looked forward each day to hear his discourse. His words exuded simplicity, genuineness and limitless compassion. Every now and then in the course of his instructions and the discourses he exhorted: be calm and patient; be alert and attentive; be balanced and equanimous.  Day 1 found me focussing yet, there were very many questions that remained unanswered. Nevertheless I was willing to give Vipassana an honest try.

(To be continued)

The Legend of Khasaak

When one is ready to grasp, the book appears! So was it with me and the famed Khasaakinte Ithihaasam. Hailing from Palakkad, the places mentioned in the narrative, the charm of life in rustic villages, and the typical Palakkad dialect – that of Ezhavas and the Tamil laced Malayalam of Rowthers in particular – all were a veritable treat for the book lover in me and something I could connect with, being brought up in a sleepy Palakkad village.

Ravi, the protagonist in the novel, comes to Khasak (Thasrak is the actual name of the village which is in Kodumbu Panchayath in Palakkad) with an anarchist past to atone for the profanities committed. Such is his guilt that he drops out of an undergraduate honours course in spite of being chosen for higher studies in Princeton University, in a quest for a spiritual life. He starts a new life setting up a single teacher school and lives with the village folk, a multi religious community. Despite the new life, the dichotomies still drive his life. He instills the love of learning in students but also learns that there is no escape from the relentless dictates of Karma.

Khasaakinte Ithihaasam

Khasaakinte Ithihaasam

The rustic life portrayed is charming and magical. The characters are all drawn with such finesse – be it the retarded Appukili, the village Maulavi Alla Pitcha, the orphan Nizam Ali who later dons the garb of Khaliyar, the village beauty Maimuna, the Hindu fundamentalist Sivaraman Nair, the toddy tapper, Kuppuvachan, the village tailor Madhavan Nair and many others including the students at school.

Khasak beautifully interweaves myth and reality, the sacred and the profane. It is a peek into the web of life in a simple village. Its word play is replete with its lyrical intensity as well as black humour. No wonder then that this is a masterpiece in and literally divided Malayalam Literature into pre-Khasak and post-Khasak eras.

TRIM, it is!

Usually I take the end of the year holidays to decide what I should focus on in the New Year. In the course of the year sometimes the focus remains. Sometimes it wavers. Many a time it fades in the hustle and bustle of life. 😦 So this time I decided not to plan anything and take things as they come.

January 1st dawned. A fleeting thought entered my mindscape. What if I go in for a digital detox? I am very active on Facebook and have even started feeling guilty about the time spent in the virtual world, liking, commenting, sharing, wishing and reading links and links within links! Without much ado I posted a note to this effect on my wall informing my friends that in 48 hours I am planning to deactivate my FB account. Keeping my word, I deactivated my account on 3rd January.

Frankly I never thought I would be able to manage more than three days off FB. Yet, I have survived. 🙂 It’s been almost a week now. In fact, it has been a pleasure with this detox of a different kind. Suddenly I find that I have a lot more time at hand. That my yen for reading books has perked up. In fact I don’t miss anything (sorry friends – it’s not meant to hurt you) and have gained quite a lot. I look forward to exciting times ahead indulging in things I love the most.

My one-word-poster

Today I decided to go in for a one word action plan for the year. One word that I will focus on and will change my life this year. TRIM. What am I going to trim? Time spent on things that don’t matter – like living 24*7 in a virtual world of Whatsapp, Facebook  and the like. Trim wireless connectivity 24*7 to may be a limited time once or twice a day. Mindless eating. Trimming is essential here, for my own health and well being. Trim stress and anxiety. Trim the need to get approval from all and sundry. In short live an authentic and enriching life in 2015.

The new year renews all the happiness and good tidings and may your joyful spirit keep glowing in the your heart forever! Happy New Year!!!

Import of Naranath Branthan’s acts

Import of Naranath Branthan’s acts

Like every other geographical location, myths and folklore abound in Kerala. Parayi petta panthirukulam is one of the most popular amongst them. The story dates back to the famous Brahmin scholar of Vedas and Astrology, Vararuchi, who was one of the nine gems (Navaratnas) in the court of King Vikramaditya.

The legend goes on to say that Vararuchi, on his travel to Kerala, married a girl Panchami, as he was impressed by her intelligence and believed her to be of Brahmin origin. However, he did not know the truth that she was nurtured by a Brahmin but was actually born of low caste – that of a Parayi (Pariah – socially ostracized and therefore Pariah or outcast). This wedlock begot twelve children, eleven of whom were asked to be discarded by Vararuchi himself, the strange logic being that if God has provided a mouth, the child would live. This weird behaviour made Panchami sad and when the twelfth baby was born, she said he was born without a mouth. Unfortunately what she said came true and the boy had no mouth! Vararuchi is said to have taken the boy to a nearby hillock, where he turned into an idol. The deity on the hillock thus came to be known as Vayillakunnilappan, literally meaning the ‘Mouthless God on the hill’.  The other 11 members of the clan are Agnihothri, Pakkanar, Rajakan, Uliyannoor Perum thachan, Vallon, Vaduthala Nair, Karakkal Matha, Uppukootan, Pananar, Naranth Branthan and Akavoor Chathan. Parayi petta panthirukulam, literally therefore means the “twelve castes borne from Pariah woman”, is an important legend which probably highlights the evolution of the social fabric of ancient Kerala.

While all the twelve are unique in their own way, Naranth Branthan occupies a prime place as he is known as the lunatic prophet. Thiruvegappura and the nearby Rayiranelloor Mountain in Palakkad District, which is known as ‘Branthachalam’, became his usual abode. Due to his eccentric behaviour and unusual actions, people perceived him as ‘mad’. At Rayiranellor Mountain on the 1st day of the month of Thulam he is said to have had the vision of the Devi (Goddess), and later for the benevolence of the people he enshrined Devi in the Mountain and started his worship there. No clear descriptions have yet been received of Naranath’s last days. The Rayiranelloor Mountain is 500 feet tall and has a width of 300 acres. It was believed that Naranath Branthan would roll big rocks up the mountain painstakingly and once it’s reached atop he would roll them down. The sight of the rolling stones tickled him to no end and he would break into rapturous laughter.

Naranath Branthan’s with his acts of rolling stones uphill and then rolling them down reminds me of Sisyphus, in Greek mythology. But Sisyphus is condemned to roll a rock up to the top of a mountain, only to have the rock roll back down to the bottom every time he reaches the top. While one acted out of sheer volition, the other did it to atone for his sins. In any case, Albert Camus in his book “The myth of Sisyphus” identifies Sisyphus as the archetypal absurd hero, both for his behaviour on earth and for his punishment in the underworld. To him life must have been a constant struggle, without hope. Naranath Branthan’s actions however assume great significance. It simply conveys a universal truth. It’s so difficult to achieve things (rolling rocks uphill) whereas it is a no-brainer to fail. Another philosophical import of his strange act could be to illustrate the vain effort of humans to achieve something “great”. In today’s world of selfies, likes and shares, when people go to any lengths to achieve perceived fame, real as well as virtual, this is so topical. Pleasure of such achievements is so very ephemeral.  It perhaps lends insight into the immediate emptiness one feels after success. Rolling stone uphill over and over again signifies our struggle behind something else, and once the target is achieved, we go on the same trip again. It seems like an act of constantly refuelling the emptiness with more empty, meaningless wants and needs. Here again he asserts the absurdity of human actions.

Today marks the 1st day of the month of Thulam, the third month (mid-October – mid November) in the traditional Kerala Malayalam Calendar. And today many people climb up the Rayiranelloor Mountains to relive the mythical legend of Naranath Branthan, who is said to have had the darshan of Devi on the 1st of Thulam. More than just climbing up the hill for old times’ sake, it would be even more meaningful to reflect on the acts that we engage ourselves in. For, Naranath Branthan’s as well as our own acts are mirrors that much help us keep perspective and refine our own lives – and well, give meaning to ours!

F.L.Y (First Love Yourself)

(This post is meant for many young girls whom I know hate themselves and their bodies.)

Way back in February 1990 when Photoshop 1.0 was shipped to its first customer, the Knoll brothers, Steve Guttman and Russel Brown along with Adobe’s creative team looked at it as the programme to help process digital images, the gray scales levels of which Macs could not display. After 6 versions (2.0 – 7.0) the 8th version, Photoshop CS, was released in 2003 and has had 5 more in the series – till C6. The latest version, CC, was released in June 2013.

I delved into the history of Photoshop when I came across two links which laid threadbare how the advertising industry is exploiting human bodies to earn billions in profit for themselves and their clients. They make us buy the products and try new ones over and over again. And the byproduct of it all is the mindless objectification and commodification of women which has led to a lot of other disastrous effects including the abject loss of self-esteem in many young and even old people. It would be wrong to say only women are affected by it – men are too because they expect women to be like in those chic ads. Needless to say it has engineered a vicious circle.

Many young people implicitly believe what they see in ads and posters, films and videos – curvaceous models, fair and lovely skin, lustrous long hair, all the other beautifully seductive parts of the human body. For the old, it is a desperate attempt to regain their lost youth. No one realizes that there is a great deal of difference between what they see in those visuals, digital and in print and what is real – and that there is a great deal of manipulation taking place. Did you know that almost 100% of the pictures of models that you see are altered???

Ah, and it is Photoshop that enhances the quality of these images with its sharpening tools, softening skin tools and also those that create high contrast portraits. Take a look at this image to see how changes are effected. And the result, beautifully sculpted bodies, fairest of ‘fair’ and flawless skins – dreams of many a person, young and old!


The saddest thing is that many young people hate their bodies and have very low self-esteem. They think their bodies are far from what is touted to be beautiful and desirable. This eats into them and each day they lose their confidence. Without self-esteem and confidence they become fragile individuals, ready to hurt themselves and others; and even kill themselves. They hate their bodies and are constantly comparing their body with that of these models. They diet and starve to get ‘zero’ size figures – the result: eating disorders like Bulimia and Anorexia. Thus the effects are two-fold – physiological and psychological.

Today beauty parlours are big time business. Endless hours are spent before the mirror. Thousands of rupees are spent on beautifying activities and cosmetics. Much more money is spent by the rich on Botox, nose jobs and silicone implants various other surgical procedures. Beautifying the body and preserving it is a multi-billion dollar industry.

Feeling good about oneself is one thing – but being obsessed by that alone is sure to drag one’s life into a quagmire of ‘pining for what is naught’. The stereotypes generated through these ads of how a woman or a man ought to be for that matter has only degraded human beings, bringing out the worst in them. It is high time that we see through the profit-making ploys of burgeoning global beauty business.

It pays to watch this Youtube video:

Girls, love your body, just the way it is. Make peace with it. This is what your parents bequeathed you and embrace it lovingly. When you do that, you will find a metamorphosis within and outside you. You look at life in new light and say – Life is Beautiful! We owe this to ourselves!!

I love this Mark Sterling quote: “If you want to Soar in Life, you must learn to F.L.Y. First Love Yourself.”

F.L.Y