Sunday, August 9, 2009

Dikshitar krithis and Learning History

Sri Muthuswamy Dikshitar's compositions include many historical or mythological anecdotes that make an excellent poetic or literary effect, and a good learning for the rest of us. The song "Pannaka Sayanaa Padmanabha..." in raga Madhyamavathi is a classic example. I had a feeling it was dedicated to Sri Padmanabha Swamy temple in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, and Dikshitar confirms it in "...Pandya Kerala Nivasa...", an historic reference to the part of Kerala ruled by Pandya kings. On closer observation, Dikshitar also mentions "...Parashurama Kshethra Prabhakara..." in the lyrics. Legend has it that Sage Parashurama and his followers settled in parts of Kerala, and Dikshitar has wonderfully used this history to his advantage, and subtly indicate Kerala.

In the same composition, there is another historical or mythological reference in "
...Parama Bhaktha Prahladhaadhi Vinutha...", which alludes to the story of Prince Prahladha, the child worshiper of Lord Vishnu (or Padhmanabha) that brought the impending doom of his evil father and king.

It's a great way to learn history taking a closer look at Dikishitar's compositions, and doing a little bit of research. Dikshitar's krithis are a feast to the intellect.

Dikshitar Krithis and learning Sanskrit

Sri Muthuswamy Dikshitar's krithis are a good way to pick up new Sanskrit words. I was listening to the following composition:

Pura Hara Nandana Ripu kula Panchana
Sikindra Vahana Mahendra Paalana

This song is set in Mohan Kalyani raga, and I used to wonder to which deity Dikshitar has devoted this song. I felt "vahana" meaning vehicle should provide a clue, since each Hindu god is associated with a particular animal as vehicle. But, "Sikindra" was not an obvious animal name. Looking up, I found "Siki" is another word for Peacock (the more common word we know is "Mayur"), and that essesntially meant the deity that Dikshitar is referring to is Lord Muruga. Every time I listen to a Dikshitar krithi, I am amazed by his knowledge and rigor in applying them to his compositions.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Indian Law - Bigamy immoral, Gay sex moral

India's Law Commission wants to make bigamy a cognizable offence (news). It considers it "unhealthy and immoral practice to convert to Islam in order to contract a second marriage". It also says bigamy among Muslim men is "not common and few and far between", even though Muslim law allows it. I find this mind boggling for many reasons:

  1. If only a few men are indulging in bigamy, even when the law allows it, why bother to criminalize? If it ain't broken, why fix it?
  2. It goes against the laws of nature to ban such behavior - nature allows men and women to mate and reproduce in many ways, and does not mandate one man one woman rule - it is just human belief that it is good for our well being. Some monkeys are known to have multiple mates, and it appears their human cousins haven't diverged as much in this aspect.
  3. Traditional Hindu law (Vedic Smriti) accepts polygyny and polyandry. There are numerous examples of Gods (Lord Muruga has two wives), Kings (Dasaratha has four wives) and queens (Draupadi had five husbands), so changing the Hindu law will make it inconsistent with what the religion allows. Vedic Smriti allows change to suit the times, but the moral case being made is very weak - a scientific basis such as population mix of men & women might make more sense.
  4. In recent times Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Mr. Karunanidhi is known to have three wives. This law will only relegate other Wives into a Mistress status, which actually hurts the women. Many mistresses or second wives are typically cheated into the situation since the man would have made it appear he was single. Similar to curtailing prostitution, we can go on naively writing and enforcing laws, but the problem of a few men seeking more than one woman is simply not going to go away. As well, would the Law Commission declare Mr. Karunanidhi's behavior immoral?
  5. The country has just decriminalized gay sex. The Delhi High court ruled so, and the cabinet determined it will not appeal against the sound judgment. So, it finds it morally OK for man to have sex with another man, but it is not morally OK for a man to have sex with multiple women? Or, is bigamy more unhealthy than gay sex?
  6. The commission cites various countries where bigamy is controlled or outlawed. It cannot take a piecemeal view of the bigamy law. For example, the US or western countries are also serially monogamous, meaning they allow only one wife at a time, but then many of them have no-fault divorce laws which makes it quick and easy to change wives. Indian divorce laws are not so liberal, and courts years to dissolve contested divorce. So, it will either breed "mistresses" or clog courts with more divorce cases or even crime, since some desperate men may try to do away with the contesting wife.

The Law Commission will do well to separate the problems, and be innovative to discourage the bigamous behavior. For example, it can mandate civil damages through payments in higher proportion to the first wife, allow courts to issue wage assignments, which ensure little money is left for the man to fool around, and discovers it was a financial blunder.

The news article doesn't state whether the Law commission thinks the immoral activity harms men, women or both, but I remember the book "The Economic Naturalist" described that men are the most impacted by polygamous behavior! If a few men take on multiple wives, it shortchanges other men who need to work harder to find a mate, assuming a roughly equal men-women population. With female infanticide also in vogue, this will be a bigger issue for Indian men!

Dikishitar and English tunes

Many of us are aware that Sri Muthuswamy Dikshitar was a distinguished composer in Carnatic Music. I had read before that he was also trained in Hindustani Music, and he brought many Hindustani ragas and style to Carnatic Music through his compositions. I was surprised to read in this news article in The Hindu, that his compositions were also influenced by English tunes, thanks to Mr. Kanniks Kannikeswaran who has done a splendid job providing such insight.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Book Review - How to Win Friends and Influence People

How to Win Friends & Influence People - Dale Carnegie: I got this book as a gift way back when I was in school in seventh grade or so. At the time, I was too young for it, and gave up reading after a few pages. Now, after several years, I picked it up again - it was easier to read, and made so much sense. The book can help influence our personality in many positive ways. It starts with how notorious criminals like Al Capone never agreed they are wrong, and wouldn't have done differently, making a point how environment causes people to behave the way they do, and punishments don't necessarily change perspective. It explains with innumerable examples how criticizing doesn't help and instead makes people defensive. It talks about how to make people feel important, how to admit mistakes and start with praise before pointing out others' mistakes, all of which influence positively. Examples include anecdotes or quotes from Presidents, CEOs, IRS agents, famous and infamous personalities. It also has good advice for marriages to work - some obvious such as to stop nagging (uses Napoleon's love marriage turned sour as an example), saying goodbye to husband leaving for work everyday, flowers for wife etc. It cites expert opinions from counselors and judges on top reasons why marriages fail; from number one being sex maladjustment, agreeing on how to spend leisure, financial difficulties, and lastly mental/physical or emotional abnormalities. I liked the quote from Leland Foster Wood's "Growing Together in the Family" - Success in marriage is much more than a matter of finding the right person; it is also a matter of being the right person. In order to get the maximum out of the book, I think the reader should first prepare a flexible attitude and mindset to listen and act upon advice. If that happens, this book is indeed capable of completely changing one's personality for the better.