Indian History

Tiruvalluvar – Confucius of India

We have all read Confucius, Sun Tzu, Plato, Socrates. Have you wondered if we had anyone in our rich history who’d be similar?

If so, who is that?

What’s his relevance to our lives today?

In this episode of Indian History and Culture, we’ll learn about a fascinating personality – Tiruvalluvar, who lived over a 1000 years ago – and what he wrote them is remarkably still relevant today. Check it out in this video.

Credit and Thanks!

  • Dhasarathy Jagannathan for Kural soundbites
  • Shuba Narayan for help in transcribing blog content

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History of Indian Temples (Part 1)

Indian temples are grand, and spectacular architectural delight.

In a land where temples are the most common place structures have you ever wondered, as to how the culture of building temples started?

Hinduism is considered to be primarily an idol worshiping religion, but was it always so?

Why don’t we have temples older than 5th century when we have Buddhist monasteries (stupas) from BC era? Were temples mentioned anywhere in our ancient scripts? Why did we start building temples and when did it start?

In this 2 part series, we will dig deep into the history and evolution of temples of India

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Indian History – blog post series

Indian culture is rich, and diverse. While we know that it goes beyond Indus valley civilization, a lot of our history is painted in very broad brush strokes. Vedic period, Indus valley, Ashoka, few kings in the Indus belt like Gupta, then it jumps to Mughal period of 250 years and 100 years of British East India company and finally another 100 years of British empire.

It is sad that our cultural and historical memory doesn’t match our rich past. It is not a small country, but has cultural and political history on the scale of a continent. In the 17th century, India accounted for 25% of the world’s GDP. And that’s why every country west of asia wanted to come here for trade. Chola kingdom was the longest running empire spanning 1500 years. But sadly it doesn’t get more than a paragraph mentioned in school books.

Chola empire

Chola empire


Chola Tanjavur

Chola – Tanjavur

Even now if you visit Hampi, you can see the grandeur of Vijayanagara empire. But we hardly know anyone beyond Krishna Deva Raya. And that empire, which lasted uninterrupted for 300 years and has influenced south India’s history in a major way gets another paragraph.

Hampi

Hampi

I have never been a fan of history when I was a student. I hated it and felt that it had no value – like math or science. But I was wrong. History informs us of our roots and identity. Who we are as a people and how we have arrived to the present day. It also makes us proud of the tough choices our ancestors made, and it also humbles us of shameful moments when we didn’t rise to the occasion. It is a shared memory of a civilization and it is relevant even today because it serves as a compass that guides our current decisions and gives us a glimpse of our future trajectory. History is never a boring set of dry facts. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know who was born when or where. But what matters is the life they have lived, sacrifices they have made and decisions that they have regretted – for those decisions have shaped us. It is who we are. The fundamental identity of us.

Hence, I am motivated to write a set of posts about Indian history. My primary reason to write is for myself – to learn our rich but ignored past. Second reason is to share it with friends like you and the third is to write in such a way that our children can find it easy to pick up stories of our identity and history.

This set of posts will focus on going beyond the popular versions and focus on interesting but ignored part of our history. The posts will not follow any chronology. I will be jumping between vedic, mughal or bahmani, to chola etc. It will also go between history and mythology. I think mythology also informs us of who we are. It will be more of few facts and some commentary but brief to the level that we learn something interesting that adds to our narrative. It will mix objective facts with some opinions – so please don’t judge it from scholarly standards of accuracy. There will be errors – please point it out and bear with me.

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Agastya Rishi

Agastya is one of the venerated and versatile Rishi of India. He is particularly the most prominent rishi of south India since he moved down to south India and spent most of his life there.

Agastya is the grandson of Brahma, who is the creator of the world. So, its futile to try and figure out a date of his existence. Brahma, Agastya’s grandfather, is not just the creator of the world, but he also created the Vedas – the ultimate foundation of Hindu scripture. In fact Agastya composed a part of Rig Veda too.

Brahma

Brahma

Agastya is also the paternal uncle of Ravana and lived during the Rayamayana in the Dandaka forest. Rama also met Agastya at his ashram (monastic hermitage).

Interestingly Agastya is probably the only rishi (sage) who is popular both in the Aryan as well as Dravidian history. The story goes that the mountain range Vindhya was growing very fast crushing the earth. Agastya was asked find a solution to it. As Agastya walked through Vindhya to go to south of India, the mountain bowed in respect for the great sage. Agastya asked if the mountain could stay bowed until his return – which he didn’t have any idea of returning. Not knowing this, Vindhya promised to stay bowed. And so the Vindhyas stopped growing every since.

The real reason for Agastya’s migration to the south is not clear but he did definitely moved to the south of India and spent the rest of his time there. He is very well know in the Dravidian and Tamil literature.

He was very versatile – he structured Tamil language’s grammar, created a new system of medicine knows as “Siddha”, which is practiced in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka even today. He also invented the astrological system called “Nadi Shastra”.

Agastya

Agastya

Unlike the typical image of a rishi, Agastya is typically portrayed as short and round. There are couple of interesting stories about him. His power of ingestion and digestion is unparalleled.

Once there was a fight between Devas (~angels) and Asuras (~demons). The Asuras went and hid inside the oceans. Devas sought Agastya’s help and he drank the entire ocean so that the Asuras had no place to hide.

Another popular story demonstrates his power of digestion. There were two Asuras (demons) called Ilvala and Vatapi who had a unique power. Vatapi could change his shape into a goat and back to human form. Using this, they ran a racket to kill rishis (Sages). They’d invite a passing rishi for lunch. Then Vatapi would change into a goat, and Ilvala would then slaughter the goat and cook a meal and feed it to the Rishis. Post lunch, Ilvala would called out Vatapi’s name and he’d turn back into a human form and tear himself out of the rishi’s stomach. Agastya wanted to end their menace. So he got himself invited to the lunch and ate the meal made of Vatapi. Given his enormous power of digestion, soon after he finished the meal, he rubbed his stomach and said “Vatapi jeernaayaswaha” (let Vatapi be digested) and immediately digested Vatapi. So, when Ilvala called out Vatapi to come out, Vatapi was truly dead.

The origin of the most important south Indian river Kaveri is credited to him. He wanted to bring a holy river to south India to help tide over the water crisis. So he prayed to Lord Shiva and brought a river with him in his kamandala (container).

Interestingly Agastya is one of the very few personalities who integrate the Vedic and Dravidian history. Due to his prominence in south India, he is known far and wide across Asia as Tamil kings colonized Indonesia, Sumatra, Java etc.

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