Archive for the ‘Analysis’ Category

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What is reality ?

Before writing this article, I was thinking of many other topics but somehow couldn’t write down the thoughts. Anyhow, we are back again to the ‘Five Most’ series. The last one was this article. At the end of each year, media channels produce these top 5 series such as top 5 films, top 5 books and so on. However, this article is different as these are universal and timeless top five most common characteristics that work both at the physical and psychological levels. They are:-

Any entity always revolves around another entity

We know that moon revolves around the earth which does the same with the sun. In fact, all celestial bodies do the same. Planets revolve around a sun, satellites do it with planets and even galaxies are continuously revolving. There is constant movement in the universe with all bodies playing the dual role of being the focal center and the revolving object. The attraction between these bodies is nothing but gravitation. Now, let’s look at sentient level, a mom’s life revolves around her kids and family, an enamored man’s life revolves around his lady love, a job dictates a person’s life and so on. In conclusion, we are revolving around things which dictate our livelihood. Now, it might seem that this characteristic is too obvious and there is nothing to gain from it. Since we are analyzing things at an abstract level, here is an interesting question. In our lives, we are revolving around multiple focal objects which are part of different circular paths. Will our life be made any easier if we can group some of these focal objects so that there is reduction in the number of circular paths?

Fractal Design

Interestingly, the above mentioned characteristic is an example of a universal fractal design. Wikipedia defines a fractal as a natural phenomenon or a mathematical set that exhibits a repeating pattern that displays at every scale.  Fractal design is mostly discussed in design and mathematics. But, it is a universal characteristic. The golden ratio is a popular case which has been proved with a lot of examples. Even, the universally perceived physical beauty of a face is dictated by golden ratio. There is famous quote “The whole universe is within you” which can be roughly interpreted as all elements of nature (fire, water, earth, air, ether) are within you and the activities of the universe are performed within our own bodies. Universality can be perceived in particularity. However, the sum of particulars doesn’t constitute the universal. That’s why the design is perceived as fractal. Can you think of some interesting fractal universal patterns?

 Conceptual Awareness of all Entities

This is a slightly complex characteristic to comprehend. Any object is not independent of a subjective counterpart. The perception of all objects is not complete without a subjective aspect in the mind. In order to establish a connection between subject and object, there needs to be a link. Additionally, this connective link has to have a constituent which relates to the both the subject and object. Therefore, there is a common constituent among these three aspects, which is nothing but the awareness of “itself”. I am aware, you are aware, any entity is aware. This is not to be confused with ‘self-awareness’ discussed in mainstream media and academic literature, which refers to the entity’s ability to reason and think. The “it” awareness can also be called as a base consciousness of all things. This characteristic is very interesting because if you are break an object into multiple smaller objects, the underlying awareness/consciousness remains the same. It is formless and timeless but omnipresent. Are you confused? Take some time to think!  We are in the realm of meta-abstraction 🙂

awareness

Digging deeper, it can be said that this identified awareness is the only awareness that is complete. Let’s look at an example, when we perceive an object such as a dog sleeping by the roadside, our individuality affects the way we think of the dog. One would admire the beauty of the dog, another would want to get out of the place due to fear of dogs, one would want to pelt a stone at the dog, another might think of abducting the dog. In this way, our perception of an object is incomplete since our mind is limited. There is no total awareness of anything through the mind as it is subject to space and time. The earlier identified base awareness is the only total awareness which is omnipresent yet independent of the object.

Does Randomness really exist?

Unlike the other characteristics which are stated to be true, this one is different as here is an attempt to refute a universally accepted phenomenon. People often talk about things like luck, random event, fortune, out-of-nowhere, butterfly effect and so on. All these terms are related to randomness. Randomness is even modelled in mathematics. The randomness in mathematics is really a strange kind of controlled randomness. In order to look at randomness, we need to get into two related themes Cause & Effect and Action & Reaction. Any event in time and space has a beginning i.e. a cause. Can we refute this claim? I am not able to find any convincing reason. Can you? The relationships between cause and effect can be perceived in two scenarios. Cause and effect are two related states where the entity changes from one state of another. Alternatively, effect is always embedded within the cause and it shows up when stimulated. Either way, there is an effect when an entity is subject to another entity or a set of entities. On the other hand, we talk of action when doing things. Actions are performed with some goals in mind. Therefore, a reaction is an end result of an action. Are there any actions which don’t cause any reactions? Complete inaction is almost impossible for us. Now, let’s get back to randomness. If seen from the dual perspectives of cause & effect and action & reaction, there is nothing random. Only our individual or combined perception and knowledge is limited while ascertaining the cause of a random event. That’s why we attribute words such as randomness to such events. We have to just accept our limited faculties of thinking and sensing here. From now on, if someone talks about the effect of randomness in their lives, poke them with more questions 😀

Three Fundamental Forces

“Calmness, Stability, Equilibrium”

“Action, Movement, Dynamism”

“Depression, Dullness, Inertia”

The above three states are the clues to this characteristic. Can you see that your life is basically a continuous repetition of these states? Yes? then we are in agreement in terms of the three fundamental forces of life – Equilibrium, Dynamism and Inertia. By forces, one would imagine them to be physical but the subtle forces are the ones that impact us more. These forces are important as they dictate the mental health of the being. If the person is mentally healthy, it leads to sound physical health as well. As humans, we are in control of our minds and we can think and reason logically. If there is an instinct within us, it can be subdued unlike animals which are powerless in execution of some instincts. Therefore, the key is to combine equilibrium and dynamism in correct amounts to lead a decent life, devoid of self-inflicted problems. If we look at the predominance among these three forces, dynamism and inertia are more prevalent than equilibrium. Dynamism is the very nature of life. There is constant movement in the universe. It is said that things are vibrating at a rapid pace that some of these movements are so subtle that our sensory organs aren’t attuned to detect them. Motion pictures are an apt analogy here. Movies are actually a continuous display of images; the movement is so rapid that our eyes perceive a continuation of events in the film. Same way, the sensory restriction of our visual, tasting, smelling and hearing abilities is also to be mentioned here. Time, a human created construct is constantly moving and with its effect, space also changes. Time and Space are related and dependent on each other for sustenance in our minds. Inertia or resistance to action is easy to perform but it leads to negative consequences in life. On the other end of the spectrum, Equilibrium is difficult to attain as it is reliant on mental satisfaction and acceptance.  In conclusion, if you master these three forces, your life will be pleasant 🙂 Can you see the prevalence of these forces in other aspects of nature? My guess is that you will find them everywhere 🙂

threeforces

And here is the album that kept me going through this article. Megadeth for crazy inspiration!!!

 

 

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Batman aka The Dark Knight aka The Caped Crusader aka one-half of the Dynamic Duo aka Bruce Wayne’s alter-ego, is not just a comic-book character who is loved in the US of A but he is loved by people all over the world. Even before Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, Batman was in the public mind. He may not be as famous as Superman but the Batman symbol went main-stream from at least 1989.

Batman (1989)

So, why do people obsess over the Batman when we got god-like characters such as Superman or even a Thor? I guess most of us would say that he is a human-like hero i.e. he is no alien and he doesn’t have any super powers. This intuitive answer is good enough for starters as Batman has raised his level to amazing heights through sheer determination, discipline, hard work, training and commitment. But, is there any other deep connection between us and the batman?

I think I found some answers which is truthful at least to me. My first tryst with Batman was in the year 1989 when the first honest portrayal of the caped crusader was brought to the silver screen. It was the maverick director Tim Burton’s gothic themed movie that not just made the character world-famous but also a runaway box-office success. Be it Michael Keaton’s Batman or Jack Nicholson’s Joker, everything about the movie was a typical example for love-at-first-sight for me 😀  Ever since, I have hooked on to anything Batman. Just like a loyal fanboy, I would rave about anything related to the character. It was just plain obsession. When Batman wins, I win. Batman was me, I was Batman. The meaning of the term ‘Visceral Experience’ was a true case with me.

Batman vs The Joker – The never-ending battle

OK, let’s back to the analysis. There are quite a few reasons why we adore the Batman character.

Reason 1: Batman represents the blazing fire of idealism

It’s true that Bruce Wayne took to vigilantism only after witnessing the death of his parents. That particular event set Bruce thinking for quite a few years. His path to Batman was not an immediate one but a well thought-out one where he studied the problems in Gotham city and the possible ways by which they could be solved. Bruce realized that law and the police would not be enough to curb the incessant crime and violence in the city because the legal and political structures were already compromised. Bribery, corruption and mediocrity were entrenched in Gotham. Bruce envisioned a two-path method to solve problems. In the first path, he as the millionaire would help in building the city’s infrastructure, provide support to orphans, old and needy people, eventually trying to build a better civic society. In the second path, he would look to curb the city’s darker problems through a highly-powerful, fearless, smart and ruthless character called as the Batman. The Batman’s methods are never meant to be legal. He is supposed to be physically and intellectually superior to the cops. On the other hand, he needs to think like a thief or even a psychopath, to solve difficult cases. So, while Bruce Wayne worked on long-term fixes, the Batman was responsible for providing short-term fixes in Gotham.

So, where does the idealism come in? Batman stays true to his principles.

  • He never kills
  • He is always available for help either directly or through his multiple allies
  • He never quits or gives up on a problem
  • He seldom seeks help but is willing to help anyone for a rightful cause
  • He sees himself as Gotham’s protector and he will do whatever it takes to keep Gotham safe
  • He often sacrifices his personal life for playing the role of Batman

Even though, people like to call themselves as realist, socialist, empiricist or some ist. It is idealism which we internally earn for. Ideals are abstract constructs which are a potent combination of ethics and morality. If we live our life as an idealist, then we know that we are doing the right thing. Batman always stands by his principles and he definitely can be called as an idealist. We not only earn for idealism but we do get attracted to someone who stands by his principles. No wonder, we love Batman!

Batman doesn’t RIP (Rest In Peace)

Reason 2: Batman represents the never-ending fight between the good and evil traits of our own personality

There is a common pattern in Batman’s escapades. Whenever he brings down a villain, the re-entry of the villain at a later point of time is inevitable. The main reason is that he doesn’t kill these baddies. The regular resurgence of villains and Batman’s responsibility to suppress them is a suitable analogy on how we handle the good and evil traits of our personality. Let’s take the case of evil or bad personality traits. They are lust, anger, greed, attachment, pride and jealousy. If we were to talk about good personality traits, they could be characteristics such as altruism, selflessness, honesty, discipline, austerity and so on. Gotham’s villains represent the bad passions of our mind that keep springing up to show our bestial nature. Batman is the discriminatory agent of our intellect in controlling the mind. Batman not only subdues the villains, but he shows them the path to recovery by admitting them in Arkham Asylum for curing their psychological illness. In our lives, we try our best to subdue our negative traits while propping up our positive side. We often fail but we pick ourselves up again to continue our journey. Batman symbolizes this effort.

Batman vs All!

Reason 3: Batman embodies the saying “Duty is Worship”

Many ancient scriptures claim that our duty is to perform duty dutifully. Nice use of different part-of-speech types in a single sentence right? 😀 This saying is correct in the following sense. If we do our work just for the sake of doing it without any big expectations on top of it, there is less chance that we will be dejected at the end of it. Even though we think that we are in control of things, there are so many uncontrollable factors which affect the outcome of any task. We succeed in our tasks sometimes, we fail sometimes or in some cases, our success is postponed. So, if we do the task to our absolute best and don’t think about the status of the outcome, we are in a safe place. Simply said, the process is more important than the outcome. Batman is a perfect example for this characteristic. He does his job every night, sacrificing his sleep and personal life. There are days when he patrols the city and finds nothing. There are days when he follows some person due to a hunch. Even if the hunch is wrong, he is unperturbed and goes to the next suspect. Batman does his duty with utmost determination and skill. Of course, he wants it to end as he wants but when it doesn’t, he shows no remorse. Yet another reason to admire him!

Reason 4: Batman keeps the individual and the society glued to each other

There has been lots of stuff written on topics such as the role of the individual in the society, the relationship between individual and the society, how individual and the society affect each other and so on. Western style of thinking claims that the individuals create the society explicitly while the easterners say that the society always exists no matter whether the individuals want it or not. A civic society is one where the individuals play their roles honestly so that trade, material and spiritual growth flourish. However, how many successful civic societies do we have? There is always a outcry from some section of the society. There is exploitation, poverty, perversion and disobedience in the current day societies. At a macro level, Gotham city is a similar society in the comics world. Batman plays the role of a mediator between the individuals and the society. Sometimes, a villain finds the loopholes in the society and uses it for his own benefit (Penguin and Ra’s Al Ghul are prime examples). Characters such as the Joker trouble the society as he wants it to fail. Batman often saves the society from the evil individuals and also saves the individuals when the society is made to turn against them. Batman can be seen like a glue between these two constructs. As regular individuals, we often think of doing something good to the society. Batman does it for us and we enjoy such heroic acts.

Batman is Gotham city’s guardian angel

Normally, the process of writing a blog article takes quite a few days as the intent is to collect relevant references in order to write a decent piece. So, for a change, I wanted to write an article in a single-go about a topic which is obvious but rarely discussed in the public discourse.

The subject area for this article is Human Behavior studies. I find this area to be both dull and interesting. The perception of dullness is due to the fact that humans are fickle-minded creatures unlike other entities of nature which can be studied in order to arrive at fairly accurate generalizations that stand the test of time. At the same time, these studies are interesting as setting the frame of reference for these studies is a challenging task as the context keeps getting bigger and bigger as you look for causative factors for a particular behavior. It’s amazing how different sub disciplines of social studies such as psychology, sociology and philosophy form a tight bond between each other. It’s fair to say that interdisciplinary research is the norm and the future of theorizing.

We become more rational and logical as we grow old. Increasing levels of education and broader view of the world are other contributing factors that make us more logical. We tend to put a proper ‘purpose’ before the activity that we work on. Yet, yet, yet, there are some things that rarely change 🙂 In this article, I write about the five human behaviors and tendencies that we are adamant of changing.

 Changing Religion

A controversial subject to start with, isn’t it? 😉 One would find the influence of religion in almost all walks of life. Be it, the history behind BC/AD terminologies [1], the origin of western universities [2], the significance of holidays [3], reasoning behind superstitious beliefs and heck, even most of our names are based on some gods or historical characters that are part of myth. For classifying religions, I use Rajiv Malhotra’s classification scheme [4]. There are the history-centric religions on one side and the Dharmic religions on the other side (refer my earlier article to know more about these categories). It’s entirely accurate to say history-centric religions are purely belief-based with very little logic and scientific reasoning! On the other hand, Dharmic religions are experience-based where a person can reach the state of Samadhi or Nirvana by following certain reproducible steps. Yet, yet, yet, most people don’t move away from belief-based religions. There are some articles that observe the rise of Atheism in western countries [5]. I guess Atheism may be a much better option. But, is this Atheism christian-flavored and based on the western knowledge system? Even Atheism values and principles are built of top of some religion! I sincerely hope, we as human beings learn more about history of religions to understand how they were created, how they spread and how religions dictate our behaviors.

religion

Becoming a Vegetarian

Vegetarianism is a very justifiable movement. Before we get into the cause, one needs to understand the essential things that our body requires to survive. They are Carbohydrates, Proteins, Nucleic acids and Lipids [6]. Plants provide all these nutrients for us. The source of all energy is the Sun. Plants convert sunlight to chemical energy through the process of photosynthesis. Herbivores eat plants while there are carnivores that in turn eat herbivores. Carnivores don’t have a developed mind to tell that they can eat plants directly for its food. Humans don’t really need to eat animal meat to survive. At the same, we don’t really kill plants for food. Plants grow back naturally. This is not the case with animals. Most of us can live with the fact that animals are killed for our survival! Majority of current day humans are meat eaters. Is this justifiable? This is a behavior which is prominent among us, in spite of coming across so many messages that advocate vegetarianism.  Are meat eaters really logical? It’s time to introspect if you are a meat eater. Also, read this article if you want to know everything about vegetarianism.

vegeterianism

Observing without Judging

When we observe reality, we not only perceive it the way it appears to be but also use our own understanding and knowledge of reality. Therefore, a particular situation can be interpreted from varied perspectives depending on factors such as age, maturity, knowledge, and gender, to name of a few, of the onlooker. There is a human tendency where we not only observe something but we also judge it instantly. The judgment can be race/color related, appearance related, nationality related. For example, when a non-smoker looks at a person who is smoking, he/she instantly might think of him as a bad person. A dark-skinned person is instantly considered inferior if he is standing in a crowd of caucasians. A guy wearing a tuxedo in a meeting is instantly thought of as an aristocrat. I can go on giving many such examples. But, the point is that most of the problems that we face in our lives are related to our judgment of things. I guess when we reach a point where we just observe and don’t judge, that’s when there will be inner peace and equality in the world 🙂

never-judge

Bias towards Blood Relations and Close Friends

Justice, Equality and Transparency are solid principles that public and private organizations are supposed to follow. Yet, we see a particular community being preferred for jobs and poor people getting the raw end of a deal in law courts. Nepotism rules the roost in most organizations. It’s not a regional phenomenon, it’s worldwide! Friendship is good for us as no one wishes to live in solitude. Yet, the adage ‘A friend in need is a friend indeed’ doesn’t mean justice for everyone concerned if something unfair is done to help a friend. Will you report a death if it was committed by your relative or will you stay silent? Will you prefer to appoint a cousin in your company instead of other bright candidates? Is it fair to cheat the system to help a friend for friendship’s sake? This bias towards blood relations and close friends is a behavior which is very, very difficult to avoid 😦

nepotism

Bias towards Native Language

This is bias which I noticed in social media. In social media websites, information is mostly shared in English which is a second language in Oriental countries. The advent of WWW and social media saw the rise of new problem called as Information Overload where there is too much information for one to handle. Also, since the cost of information generation is less, the veracity of information has rapidly reduced. It’s safe to say there is lot of misinformation in the web right now. Many unscientific and conspiracy sites post information in a convincing manner that many people don’t even care to check the genuineness of such information! This is an ongoing phenomenon in Facebook and Twitter. This behavior becomes intensified even more if the information is posted in the person’s native language. It may be because of the fact that the person’s native language is closer to him/her since it was acquired during the formative years of the person which makes it close to the heart. I am not sure whether studies have been conducted to prove this bias but this is something that can be tested out. For example, a true and factual information snippet in English and a fake information snippet written in Tamil in a apparently convincing manner, can be displayed to participants who hail from Tamil Nadu. The participants can be requested to select the snippet which they think is accurate and factual. My hypothesis is that most participants will select the snippets written in Tamil 🙂

you are biased

Preface: I am greatly indebted to Swami Sivananda and Sreenivas Raoji for most of the information in this article.  Thanks to WWW, we are able to uncover the vast literature of Sanatana Dharma, put forth by many of these imminent scholars. These enlightened souls are the real intellectuals.

Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple Singapore

Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple in Singapore

The reason why I am writing this article is to clear some basic doubts that people seem to have about temples and idol worship. The objective is to look at the underlying philosophy and symbolic meaning. From my childhood, I have been quite fascinated about temples as my family knew only one kind of trip – pilgrimage 😀 I have visited all kind of temples across the Indian states of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Delhi, Punjab and Uttarakand. In my childhood, I used to think that my destiny would turn out the way I wanted, just by praying and prostrating at temples! In fact, that is the common belief among most adults even to this date. Worshipping is seen like a deal between man and the god where the man makes an offering to the god who in turn grants the man’s wishes. Well folks, that’s pure baloney. Nobody is going to get things done for you. You have to do it all by yourself or you have to find someone who could do it for you and that someone is definitely not god.Book me for sacrilege if you want to 😀

This post is split into three sections. First, we will look into the concept of god in Sanatana Dharma (Hinduism). Secondly, the underlying philosophy and symbolism and in the final section, we very briefly explore the origins of temples and idol worship.

Section One – Concept of God

There are quite a few religions in the world with a lot of similarities between them. However, the concept of god is a differentiating aspect. In one side, we have the Abrahamic religions with Christianity, Islam and Judaism being the prominent ones while on the other side; we have the Dharmic religions with Hinduism and Buddhism as the prominent ones. Abrahamic religions are history-centric [1] with their main individual gods being the all-powerful, untouchable and separate beings. Man cannot become one with god and salvation is possible only on god’s wish. Dharmic religions, on the contrary, have both gods and godlessness i.e. if you want to pray to a god, you can have one but the ultimate reality is godlessness. The central theme in Dharmic religions is allegiance to Dharma. Dharma is a very difficult concept to explain briefly. In simple words, it is about following laws of nature for a happy and fulfilling life where man and all the other entities of nature are equals. These laws or rules operate at the society (ethics) and individual (morality) levels. Dharmic religions believe man can become god if he lets go of everything and becomes one with the ‘self’. In Sanatana Dharma (Hinduism), the concept of god operates at two levels. The first level concept is called as Saguna Brahman and the second level concept is called as Nirguna Brahman [2]. Saguna Brahman is the tangible ‘god with attributes’, similar to Jesus Christ. The god has many names, many forms and many avatars (births). Each god has a purpose of his/her own and different qualities associated. For example, Ganesha is considered auspicious whenever one starts a new work [3] while Hanuman is a champion for youngsters because of his strength and courage. The second level, Nirguna Brahman is consciousness itself i.e. ‘god without any attributes’. In Mahayana Buddhism, Nirguna Brahman is referred to as Sunya or the Void [4]. Nirguna Brahman is considered everything in this world. We can merge with it when we become aware of it through intense and deep meditation. However, attaining it in one day is just not possible. Different schools of thoughts have put forth different paths for the seekers to attain this state. In my personal opinion, these paths are pretty similar with differences mainly in vocabulary. Check this presentation [5] for knowing more about Nirguna Brahman as per the Vedantic tradition.

Saguna and Nirguna Brahman

Saguna and Nirguna Brahman

You might ask ‘What is the need for two levels?’ The answer is pretty simple. One needs to move from the basic level to the advanced level. It’s common knowledge that we humans function through our five senses, mind and intellect. Along with the mind and intellect, we have the individual egos. Nirguna Brahman (Supreme Consciousness) is a state beyond the senses, mind and intellect. For a normal person to reach that state is not an easy task. Only through concentration and deep meditation, one can go beyond the mind and intellect. Therefore, a beginner level is required to get us started in the right path. This is where the concept of Saguna Brahman comes in. The principle theme here is to inculcate the practise of concentration by focusing on a tangible object. The object can be a 3-dimensional idol or a 2-dimensional symbol [6] (below figure). Examples for idols are the different idols of Shiva, Vishnu and other gods while the symbols are Om, Swastika and Sri Chakra. We the seekers are supposed to put all our concentration on these ‘sacred’ objects. This is similar to Jyoti Meditation (meditating on candle flame) or meditating by concentrating on a single object. The purpose is to train your mind so that it controls the senses instead of the other way around. Realistically, you could do this practise anywhere by having an idol or symbol in front of you. But, in our homes, offices and other public places, we have distractions all around us which creates the need for a specific place just for this purpose. This is where, temples come in!

Symbol and Idol

Symbol and Idol

Section Two – Philosophy and Symbolism

As mentioned earlier, temples provide a canvas for humans to concentrate and contemplate on a single glorified object with associated divine qualities. Temples are considered to be the bridge between objective reality (material plane that we exist in) and transcendental reality (supreme consciousness). This theory is related to a geometrical figure called as the Sri Yantra. You might have seen the Sri Yantra symbol (below figure) in Indian households. This symbol is the pictorial representation of the aforementioned reality levels. The centre spot in this yantra is considered the final destination for any aspirant who wants to merge with consciousness itself. The triangles in this symbol have different meanings attached to them. Figuratively, the aspirant starts from the outside and passes each level until he reaches the centre point. I don’t intend to describe the inner components in this symbol as it is quite detailed in itself. You might wish to check out these sites [7, 8] if you wish to know more about Sri Yantra. In my experience, many Indians have this Sri Yantra metallic plate in their houses but many don’t know why they have it 😀

Sri Yantra

Sri Yantra

Sri Yantra Metal Plate

Sri Yantra Metal Plate

Sri Yantra and Three Realities

Sri Yantra and Three Realities

Another symbol or geometrical figure associated with temples is the Vasthu Purusha Mandala (VPM) [9] which is basically a fractal square (below figure). Here is an excerpt from the book The Hindu Temple, Vol. I about VPM – “The vastu-purusha-mandala represents the manifest form of the Cosmic Being; upon which the temple is built and in whom the temple rests. The temple is situated in Him, comes from Him, and is a manifestation of Him. The vastu-purusha-mandala is both the body of the Cosmic Being and a bodily device by which those who have the requisite knowledge attain the best results in temple building”. VPM is the key constituent in an ancient Indian system called as Vastu Shastra which is India’s version of Feng Shui. Vastu Shastra provides guidelines for building houses in harmony with nature. The system is basically based on the five elements (air, water, earth, fire, ether) and astronomical objects. VPM is the key entity in Vashtu Shastra where each side of the square represents the four directions with east being most auspicious since that’s where the sun rises. Each corner and each internal square has its own significance while the centre most inner square allotted to god. This mandala is used both in house and temple construction. In yesteryears, this concept has even used to plan towns around a temple. Madurai and Tirupathi are excellent examples for towns planned and designed using this mandala concept [10].

Vasthu Purusha Mandala

Vasthu Purusha Mandala

Madurai town in TN, India

Madurai town in TN, India

Temple construction procedures are not the same across Hindu sects. There are different set of scriptures maintained for each group. These scriptures are called as Agamas which are theological treatises and practical manuals of divine worship [11]. Shiva temples are based on Saiva Agamas. Vishnu temples are based on Vaishnava Agamas and Sakti temples are based on Sakta Agamas. If you are interested to know about the meaning behind the different sections inside a temple, please read these articles [10, 9, 12, 13 ]. These scriptures are the reason behind the different looks of temples. Temple design is not a superficial thing that can be done with general house designers. It’s an art and science in itself and it is taught in many ashrams across India.

For the next set of information, I think it would be better to follow the Q&A style.

Why do people apply tilak (mark) on their forehead during this visit to the temples?

Tilak is mark that devotees make in their foreheads (below Figure). It signifies many things. Firstly, the space between the two eyebrows where many people apply the tilak, is considered to the center of the Ajna chakra which is one of the six major chakras in our body (To know more about chakras, refer this article [14]). This space is considered to the place where the spiritual eye opens [15]. It is a symbolic representation of the devotee’s intent to control his mind. Therefore, it is considered auspicious. Some people claim that hypnosis cannot be performed when you have the tilak mark on this forehead space. Tilak is also referred to Vibhuti. There are different types of tilak. They are made of sandal, kumkum flower and sacred ash (from burnt dried wood). Worshippers of Shiva apply sacred ash on their forehead; worshippers of Vishnu apply sandal paste while worshippers of Devi or Shakti apply kumkum on their foreheads. Married Indian women are traditionally expected to have kumkum tilak on their forehead to signify their marital status. I have a nice time applying sandal paste in my forehead because it has a cooling effect 🙂  So next time, when you come across a person who has this colourful mark on his forehead, don’t freak out 😛

Tilak

Tilak

Why are offerings made to the temple deities?

Now, this is the part where people have gone overboard due to misunderstanding of the actual meaning behind offering things to gods. The underlying philosophy is the intent of the worshipper in giving away material things whilst surrendering at the feet of the god. In Hinduism, the major theme is letting go of things to reach higher levels in life. There’s an excellent saying – “Don’t get and forget, instead give and forgive”. So, worshippers make offerings which are figuratively blessed by the gods and then, they are distributed to all the worshippers. If the worshipper offers money, they are supposed to be used for the maintenance of the temples and for offering support to poor and needy people.

Temple offerings

Temple offerings

Why is the bell rung often inside temples?

You might have noticed some big bells inside temples. These bells are rung for the simple reason of shutting down the external sounds from outside. It helps in directing the mind towards concentration. The bell-ringing is done while lights are waved before the temple deity.

Ringing of Temple Bell

Ringing of Temple Bell

Why are camphors burned by temples priests?

The other common sight in a temple is the periodical waving of lights by the temple priests who stand right before the temple deity. Camphors are often burnt in order to produce light. The significance in this practise is to illumine the minds of the worshippers by getting rid of the darkness within their minds. Also, it is a symbolic gesture to wake the worshippers so that they could see the reality behind all things.

Camphor Lighting

Camphor Lighting

Why do temple priests and worshippers recite mantra during worship?

Mantras are sacred words recited in praise of gods. There are different mantras for different gods. Traditionally, all the mantras were written in Sanskrit language as part of the Vedas. Now, there are mantras in most Indian languages. Reciting mantras is also considered as a type of meditation as the person tends to concentrates on the particular god while reciting. Mantras are another misunderstood aspect of Hinduism. Many current generation Indians denigrate mantra reciting as a usual chore of the yore. But, in reality, mantras are highly beneficial not only to the worshipper but also to the surroundings. Swami Sivananda gives the following explanation for the exact science behind mantras “A Mantra, in the Hindu religion, has the following six parts. It has got a Rishi (a man of Self-realization) to whom it was revealed for the first time and who gave this Mantra to the world… Secondly, the Mantra has a metre (Chhandas), which governs the inflection of the voice. Thirdly, the Mantra has a particular deity or supernatural being, higher or lower, as its informing power. Fourthly, the Mantra has got a Bija or seed. The seed is a significant word, or series of words, which gives a special power to the Mantra. The Bija is the essence of the Mantra. Fifthly, every Mantra has got a Sakti. The Sakti is the energy of the form of the Mantra, i.e., of the vibration-forms set up by its sound. These carry the man to the Devata that is worshipped. Lastly, the Mantra has a Kilaka – pillar or pin. This plugs the Mantra-Power that is hidden in the Mantra. As soon as the plug is removed by constant and prolonged repetition of the Name, the Power that is hidden is revealed” [16]. The key thing with reciting mantras is to understand the meaning of the mantra words. Without proper understanding, mantra chanting becomes a kind of chore. You might feel a powerful kind of positive vibration inside temples. These vibrations are due to the constant chanting of mantras by the temple priests. Personally, if I don’t feel the vibration inside a temple, I don’t regard it as a proper place of worship.

Mantra Chanting

Mantra Chanting

Section Three – Origins of temples and idol worship

[Note: I will not write much in this section as it is mainly meant for readers with interests in history]

Many might think temple worship in Hinduism is an age-old practice going on for centuries. On the contrary, temples are recent and they have come up in the last 1500 years. In fact, the Vedic period when the four Vedas were written, had no concept of idol worship. It’s amazing to learn that prehistoric Indian civilizations had advanced societies but no temples [17]. There are opinions that temples were first constructed by Buddha’s followers [18] while among the Hindu gods, Shiva was the main god for whom there were temples [19], followed by the temples for the other gods.Temples were mainly constructed under the leadership of various kings across India. India’s most eminent philosopher-saint Adi Shankara established the five maths (temples) all across India in the 8th century. Pandiya and Chola dynasties are known for constructing big temples in south India at later periods. Between the 10th and 18th century, hindu temples were constructed all across Asia, most notably in Indonesia and Cambodia [20].

The major impetus for the rise of temples in India can be attributed to the Bhakti (Devotion) movement [21]. This movement brought about idols and rituals based on the theme of Saguna Brahman. The movement was required because of the inherent difficulty faced by the masses in understanding the esoteric knowledge system of Vedas and Upanishads which are based on Nirguna Brahman. Historians believe that bhakti movement was a response to the onset of Islam in India when many Indians were slaughtered and proselytized by the invaders. Worship of relatively new deities such as Rama and Krishna started in this period.

Angkor Wat Temple

Angkor Wat Temple

I hope you had a nice time reading this article. Please do provide your valuable suggestions and comments. If you have a specific doubt temples or idol worship, please do comment 🙂

References (for further reading)

[1] Malhotra, Rajiv. Being different: an Indian challenge to Western universalism. HarperCollins Publishers India a joint venture with The India Today Group, 2011.

[2] Sivananda, Swami, ed. The Bhagavad Gita: Text, Word-to-word Meaning, Translation, and Commentary. Divine Life Society, 2010.

[3] http://media.radiosai.org/journals/vol_09/01SEPT11/05_ganesh_chaturthi_1.htm

[4] Easwaran, E. “The Dhammapada: Introduced & translated by Eknath Easwaran . Tomales.” (2007).

[5] http://www.slideshare.net/NPHIL/the-what-of-vedanta

[6] http://www.dlshq.org/download/idolworship.htm

[7] http://www.sriyantraresearch.com/

[8 http://www.bhagavadgitausa.com/MAHAVIDYAS.htm

[9] http://sreenivasaraos.com/2012/09/08/temple-architecture-devalaya-vastu-part-three-3-of-7/

[10] http://sreenivasaraos.com/2012/09/08/temple-architecture-devalaya-vastu-part-two-2-of-7/

[11] http://www.dlshq.org/religions/agamas.htm

[12] http://sreenivasaraos.com/2012/09/08/temple-architecture-devalaya-vastu-part-four-4-of-7/

[13] http://sreenivasaraos.com/2012/09/09/temple-architecture-devalaya-vastu-part-five-5-of-7/

[14] http://www.dlshq.org/download/kundalini.htm#_VPID_31

[15]http://www.saibabaofindia.com/tilak.htm

[16] http://www.dlshq.org/teachings/japayoga.htm

[17] http://devdutt.com/articles/indian-mythology/the-rise-of-the-temple.html

[18] http://sreenivasaraos.com/2012/09/07/temple-architecture-devalaya-vastu-part-one-1-of-7/

[19] http://www.ishafoundation.org/blog/yoga-meditation/science-of-temples/why-were-temples-built/

[20] http://www.hinduwisdom.info/Sacred_Angkor.htm

[21] http://knowindia.gov.in/knowindia/culture_heritage.php?id=10

If you are a movie fan who likes all types of genres, you would probably have a special liking for comedy movies where humor is the main aspect. By the way, Comedy and Sci-Fi are my personal favorites. Apart from having a laugh, it is actually a fun task to analyse what causes the humor. I have been thinking about the key characteristic behind humor for a long time now. Finally, I have identified it as ABNORMALITY. Now, since you know the secret word, you would find it easy to analyze comedy.

 ABNORMALITY IS THE SECRET BEHIND COMEDY

But the analysis just doesn’t end there, we need to dig deep and I need to tell you how it works. There are various dimensions where abnormality can be applied to induce humor. Well, what are those dimensions? They are Language, Body Language, Culture, Society, and Stereotypes. Let’s look in to each of these dimensions with the help of examples from  films, TV programs and stand-up shows etc

Comedy Dimensions

Comedy Dimensions

Language

This is the case where most of the humor works at the particular language on top of which it has been devised. There are many different variations. The first variation is to make use of homonyms which are words with different meanings. This is a very difficult skill since the person has to be aware of different meanings of words and also the language needs to have many homonyms. English is a perfectly bad language since it has many of these homonyms! Here is an example which works for all languages.

Astrologer: Is your husband 30 years old?

Lady: No, add 2 to that age

Astrologer: Oh, it is 302

Lady: Oh god, it is 32!

The second variation is using similar sounding words. This variation is accidental in many cases where the listener makes up a word without fully listening or when the speaker mixes up words during tense situations. Comedy scenes from Kamal Hassan’s movies make use of this variation many times. There is a scene in the movie Panchathantiram where one of the characters makes use of the words “Brother Kobharathan” and the other character mistakenly replies back saying “Co-brother Bharathan”. One more instance from the same movie is the use of words “Bardharji Sawdy” instead of “Sardharji Body” :D. My personal favorite is from the movie Vasool Raja where Kamal says “Please give one gottle blucose to the patient”. The greatest comedian of Tamil cinema, Goundamani is an expert of this variation. Here’s a dialogue from one of his best movies Ullathai Alitha

 Father-in-law: Mapla (son-in-law in tamil), Your father says you are an expert in Carnatic music

Goundamani: What  Karnataka ah? 😀

 Here’s another from the movie We are Not Tata Birla.

 Person 1: I am auditor

Goundamani: I am generator

One of the best comedians to  make use of language variations to incite humor is Madurai Muthu. Tamil readers would probably know him. For those who don’t know him, watch this clip . He is a stand-up with amazing humor.  

 

Body Language and Facial Expressions

Body language is something that we humans make note of in a very subconscious manner. Slight changes in body language can make a big difference. In my college days, I have seen many girls who made slight changes to their body language, to keep guys interested 😉 Humor can also be invoked with variations in facial expressions. The best examples for facial expressions are Jim Carrey, Rowan Atkinson,  Steve Carrel, Johhny Lever,  Vadivelu, Goundamani and finally the best, Brahmanandam. Personally, I think it takes guts to use weird faces to make people laugh as you might get stereotyped. One wouldn’t want to be in situation where friends and acquaintances start making fun of you with those same weird expressions 🙂

Steve Carrell

Body language is rather difficult as you need to have an idea about the variations that would look abnormal. The best example of use of body language is Kamal Hassan from his movie Sathi Leelavathi. Watch this clip http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YQe0_NDsXTc and you will know why I think he is the best with body language style humor. The key here is to look overly shy or aggressive or act as though you are surprised by the happenings around you. This style of humor is rare in real life.

 Culture and Society

Cultural and societal norms are two things that we adhere to in our daily lives. For example, in order to look decent and socially acceptable, we wear similar kinds of dress. If someone dresses up like a parrot, we do tend to laugh instantly. In fact, decency is the threshold. If you go beyond what is considered decent, it tends to be funny. How about a man jumping like a monkey? Vadivelu seems to be the clear favorite for this category. Watch this clip http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UG7HsuVEQiM and you will know all about monkeying around 😀

Vadivelu dressed up as a Parrot

Vadivelu dressed up as a Parrot

Satire is a type of humor which is almost entirely based on culture and society. Russell Peters is the best example; he is a stand-up who thrives at mocking racial stereotypes. The logic in satire is to take a basic stance which you could consider as perfect. The next step is to look at other people and try to identify how they differ from your level. The last step is to just mock them with the identified differences.  The whole thing is basically an ethnographic exercise or to put in simple terms, people watching. You need to spend considerable time and have broad knowledge of history, to do effective satire.

 

Stereotypes

Even though, stereotypes have been mentioned in the last section, I thought it would be best to look at it separately. Stereotyping is not pure humor as it is meant to offend some people. It works best in a diverse environment where there are different kinds of people who speak different languages and look different basically. The best example for this type of humor is from a movie which I watched recently. Tamil comic actor Santhanam used two sidekicks in the movie Raja Rani – One guy who looks like a Black African and the other guy who looks like a Chinese. These two characters represent two extreme ends in India.  If you are from India, you would know that some south Indians are as black as Africans while many people in the eastern states of India look like Chinese people. In the movie, Santhanam repeatedly mocks them by referring to their race. Even though, it invokes laughter, I personally feel it’s a cheap type of comedy.

The two stereotypes from the movie Raja Rani

The two stereotypes from the movie Raja Rani

And we have reached the end of this article. As a part of this humor series, I will be dissecting some of the best comedy scenes I have seen from movies and also individual performances. Please do comment and share your thoughts. Being a doctoral student, I consider this article as a theoretical contribution to Humor Studies/Humor Science 😀 Now, that’s some humor!!!

Next in series:

1) Dissecting Goundamani and Senthil’s Rib-tickling Comedy from the movie Karakattakaran

2) Comedy Legends – Goundamani

3) Comedy Legends – Kamal Hassan

4) Comedy Legends – Madurai Muthu