Tuesday, 17 January 2017

The Rediscovery of Brahmi, Asoka, and Indian History

The Road Roller of Bihar
While building a road in Bihar, in the early nineteenth century, the supervisor of the construction project noticed that the road-roller seemed to be narrower at one end and broader at the other. On closer inspection, he found some inscriptions on its side, which that Brahmin pandit of the nearby village was unable to read. He could not even identify the script (which he called the pin-men script) or the language of the inscription. It seemed to be a pillar from some monument. The road workers told the supervisor that the pillar had a lion capital, which they cut off, so the pillar could be more useful as a road-roller. Such was the fate Samrat Asoka’s pillar!

The road supervisor was James Prinsep, who discovered that the language was Pali, the script Brahmi,the capital destined to become India’s national emblem, the the king and his dynasty forgotten, by a country with teeming not just with history, but with people who cared not a whit about it. Ironically, most of us schooled in independent India are now familiar with Asoka and his pillar and utterly ignorant of Prinsep.

When Prinsep stumbled upon the pillar, he was a member of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, which had been founded in 1784 by Sir William “Oriental” Jones, a polymath of tremendous accomplishment, to whose contribution to India was immense, and who is almost as spectacularly forgotten as Prinsep.

Sir William "Oriental" Jones

Jones & the Asiatic Society of Bengal

The East India company and later, the British government, were the funnels through which India was enriched by Western science and industrialization. The Asiatic Society was the funnel through which new fields in the humanities, like Geology, Numismatics, Archaeology, Anthropology, Economics, Art History, all recently evolving in Europe, enriched India. Jones, a child prodigy, master of 28 languages, and scholar of law, was appointed as a Puisne Judge of the Calcutta Supreme Court in 1783. He formulated an agenda to study the law, sciences, mathematics, history, geography, medicine, trade, manufacture, agriculture and religions of not just India, but all of Asia. He surmounted obstacles to quickly learn Sanskrit, and found such a similarity between it, Persian, Latin and Greek, that he proposed that they all had a common ancestry.

His oft quoted passage from his third lecture is : “The Sanskrit language, whatever its antiquity is of a perfect structure, more perfect than the Greek, more copious than Latin, more exquisitely refined than either, yet bearing to both a stronger affinity, in roots of verbs and forms of grammar, than can have possibly been produced by accident. So strong that they…must have some common source…reason to believe Celtic, Gothic, old Persian also had the same origin as Sanskrit.” This heralds the beginning of Modern Linguistics and the discovery of the Indo-European Language Family.

Jones went on to translate the Manu Smriti to English to better administer justice. He also translated Kalidasa’s plays like Abinjana Shakuntalam, which took Europe by storm. He discovered that Chess and Algebra had Indian origins, wrote a treatise on Music, and studying Greek and Indian history, proposed that Sandrocottus mentioned by Megasthenes was Chandragupta. On further study, he also established the river Erranaboas was the Sone (originally called Hiranyabahu) and that Chandragupta last capital Palibothra must have been Pataliputra, now Patna, in Bihar (overturning Prayag, Kannauj, Varanasi etc as candidates). Jones also told a thrilled Europe that India had an ancient God called Buddha, perhaps of African origin, who founded a religion called Buddhism in India,now forgotten. Europe soon discovered that Buddhism was alive and well in the rest of Asia, but Jones’ discoveries launched an earnest inquiry into India and Asia’s history, that primarily relied on literature for the next three decades.

James Prinsep

And then James Prinsep arrived in Calcutta in 1819. A prodigy very different from Jones, with far humbler origins and far less accomplished youth, Prinsep nevertheless made dramatic impacts on the Asiatic Society and scholarship. After working in mints and civil administration, he turned to history in 1832. He transformed the field from ‘scholastic archaeologists’ to ‘field archaeologists’ or ‘travelling antiquarians.’ His intellectual successor Alexander Cunningham said of Prinsep, that between 1833 and 1838, “more of India’s history was reconstructed than before or since.”
The Society faced bankruptcy and a shutdown by Macaulay and Mill, who called Oriental studies “waste paper and accumulation of timber.” But Governor General Auckland restored its funding.

James Prinsep

Coins and PinMen

An army of Orientalist coin collectors, including Horace Wilson, Col James Tod, Charles Masson, General Ventura, helped unravel several aspects of history. Masson collected thirty thousand coins, which brought to light a number of Indo-Greek kings from Theodotus (225 BC), Apollodorus, Menander, Eucradites, Antialkides, Agathocles and Kanerkos (who was later identified as Kanishka by Prinsep). Some of these like the coins of Agathocles had legends in both Greek and Sanskrit (Rajane Agathakulasya). The Sanskrit script was the same as the pin-men script, in Prinsep’s road roller.

Several other pillars including the famous Feroz Lat in Delhi, Lauriya Nandangarh in Bihar and in Allahabad had been discovered, with the same pin-men script. The Allahabad pillar, for example, also had two other inscriptions, one of Samudragupta in Sanskrit in Nagari script and Jehangir in Persian. Comparing transcripts Prinsep realized that all three pillars had the same text, not just the same script! The script had also been found at slabs in Bodh Gaya; a stupa at Sanchi; and at Dhauli and at Udayagiri-Khondagiri, both near Bhubaneshvar. The Samudragupta, son of Chandragupta of the Allahabad pillar was of the Solar race, whereas William Jones’ Sandrocottus was of the Lunar race. 

Asoka's Pillar and Buddhist stupa in Vaishali, Bihar



Rock with Asoka's Pali edict in Brahmi script
at Dhauli, Orissa
 

Brahmi inscription at Karla caves, Maharashtra
Lower line reads "daanam" ( दानं )
Studying the Sanchi inscriptions, Prinsep observed that several of them ended in the same set of three characters. He brilliantly guessed that they were records of donations, based on similar later inscriptions at other stupas in Buddhist nations. Perhaps they were the phrase “-ssa daanam.” (-’s donation). Now he was confident that the language was Pali, not Sanskrit. With intelligent guessing, and dedicated effort, he decoded the script in six weeks! The Brahmi script was now readable, nearly 1500 years after it had been replaced by its daughter script Nagari.

Most of the pin-men (Brahmi) inscriptions began with the phrase “Devaanaampiya PiyaDassi laaja hevam aaha” (“Thus spake King Beloved-of-the-Gods PiyaDassi”), but, who was this king? That continued to be a puzzle. There seemed to be no PiyaDassi in Indian literature. 

Concurrently, Turnour, an Orientalist in Kandy was given a copy of the Mahavamsa, the History of Sri Lanka, by the Thero of the Saffragam monastery. He came across this passage : “King Devenampiya Tissa, induced Dammasoka, Ruler of several kingdoms of Dambadiva (Jambudvipa) to depute his son Mahindu and daughter Sangamitta to Auradhapura to introduce religion of Buddha.”

The Thero also gave Turnour the Dipavamso, which threw a flood of light : “218 years after MahaParinnirvana of Buddha, Piyadassi, son of Bindusara and grandson of Chandragupta, Viceroy of Ujjaiyini was inaugurated king.”

Thus, Devanampiya Piyadassi was revealed to be Dammasoka or Dharma Asoka, grandson of Chandragupta Maurya. The wide spread of his pillars and edicts, from Afghanistan to Andhra Pradesh, showed how vast an empire he ruled; it gave details of the Kalinga war, and of Asoka’s change of heart; and of his sending emissaries to spread Buddhism across the world.

Consequences

Inscriptions of the period 300 BC to 300 AD turned out to be in the Brahmi script, in Prakrit or Sanskrit, and so, suddenly, six hundred years of history stood revealed, including the dynasties of the Kshatrapas, the Kushanas, the Shungas, the Satavahanas. The Hathigumpha inscriptions were of king Kharavela of the Mahameghavahana dynasty.

In the twentieth century, Tamil inscriptions in the Tamil Brahmi script were also discovered. The field of palaeography was enriched when it was realized that the Brahmi script is the parent script of both Nagari and Grantham scripts, the latter of which was the parent of scripts of the South East Asian languages like Thai, Burmese, Sumatran, Cambodian etc.

References
1. Buddha and the Sahibs by Charles Allen
2. The Asiatic Society of Bengal by O.P. Kejriwal
3. The Powerpoint presentations of S Swaminathan
4. Essays by James Prinsep, Journal of the Asiatic Society

Video of INTACT lecture Rediscovery of Asoka - lecture in 2013
Audio of 2016 DUJ Lecture on Rediscovery of Brahmi and Asoka - Part 1
Audio of 2016 DUJ Lecture on Rediscovery of Brahmi and Asoka - Part 2

My blogs on Western Orientalists
1. Ellenborough - Abolition of slavery in India
2. Robert Caldwell - discoverer of Munda language family
3. Francis Whyte Ellis - discoverer of Dravidian language family
4. An Englishman's Tamil inscription
5. A mathematician's Poem about Madras
6. Did Macaulay undermine Indian education?
7. Madras and its American connections

My History blogs
Three Perspectives on History - Caldwell, Mark Twain, PT Srinivasa Iyengar
Novel on Samrat Asoka - some speeches
Timelines of Gujarat and Tamilnadu
Timelines of Karnataka and Tamilnadu
Vaishali

Origins of Chemistry
Beginning of Electronics

Thursday, 12 January 2017

Art and the Brain - Vilayanur Ramachandran

Dr Vilayanur Ramachandran, a professor at University of California, San Diego has written a book titled "Phantoms in the Brain." This book talks about patients with unusual problems that he discovered to be neurological, rather than psychological. Such patients, and their maladies, also gave him insights into how the brain functions. He also developed a fascinating theory into the nature of beauty and art, about which he spoke a few years back at Tamil Heritage Trust. Recently, he lectured on this topic organized by Apparao Galleries, and held at the Leela Palace Hotel.

These are my notes of that lecture, in the Ramachandran's voice.

Vilayanur Ramachandran on Art and the Brain

When I visit India, I enjoy visiting the Kapali temple in Mylapore. I also try to go to several other temples. Sculptures in our temples, and bronzes, hold a strong attraction and have fascinated me for their beauty.

CP Snow wrote a famous essay titled "Two Cultures", about the Arts and the Sciences. His contention was that "Never the twain shall meet." I'm going to argue that Snow is wrong. Lord Reith said there are some people whom it's one duty to offend, and I'll exercise that duty.

Are there universal aesthetics? How does the brain respond to art? Noam Chomsky discovered a universal principle to language. I'll argue that there is a universal principle to art, not just across cultures, but across phylogenetic divisions. Flowers evolved to be beautiful to bees and butterflies four hundred million years ago, not to humans. We didn't evolve from bees, but we have arrived at a similar aesthetic to appreciate flowers.

Bower bird, a tiny brown bird, builds massive bowers from moss and twigs and cigarette foils and trash and other material to create a large bower, that people would not believe were created by a bird.
I recently visited Mamallapuram.

Some of the Victorian Englishmen had who visited India had contemptuous views on Indian bronzes. A Parvati bronze, they claimed, was ugly and unrealistic, and therefore, primitive. Waist is too thin, breasts are too big, face is not realistic, Indian art is not proportional - these were some of the critical comments. The irony was that some Englishwomen had their ribs surgically removed from to narrow their waists, to appeal more to English men, at the same time that they were faulting the Chola bronzes for unrealistic waists! I have seen the skeletons of such women in London. And modern western art, distorts perspective, but is lauded for "liberation from the tyranny of form."

The point of art is not to caputre realism (which a photo can do, but may not be called art).
The word rasa is often seen in Sanskrit literature, hard to translate, but an emotion Art tries to provoke. I study vision - my eyeball captures an upside down image of what you see, via  a cable - the optic fibre. But who sees that image? There is no second person inside your brain seeing it, or there would have to an infinite series of such persons. What the Brain creates is a symbolic image of what you see, and captured by billions of neurons and synapses.

Look at these pictures, this first one could be a young lady looking away or an old lady's left profile, it is a dual image.

Old Lady / Young lady illusion
A similar dual image is this duck / rabbit (facing opposite directions) - the rabbit's ears double as the duck's beak.
Duck / Rabbit Dual image

Art works because you can take advantage of these brain mechanisms, to titillate a viewer. A Necker cube is another such illusion, where the same cube can be seen in two different perspectives.

From these studies, I have drawn up what I called Seven Laws of Art. These are not final, there may be more.


Screen shot of Seven laws

Cultural variation in Art has been studied to death, it's called Art History.  I'm interested in the biological explanation behind the commonality.

Grouping is to escape predators. A lion behind foliage is not interpreted by the Brain as several fragmented lion colored objects, but as a lion. This evolved as an evolutionary mechanism to help in survival. This principle is exploited by fashion designers and artists.

Look at this picture. It seems to be just a bunch of dots, but some of you can see a Dalmatian. How many see it, raise your hands. Not everyone can see it right away, but once you see it, the dalmatian never goes away.
Dalmation - an example of grouping

Peak shift  If you show a rat squares and rectangles, and reward it with cheese when it moves towards a rectangle, it soon learns a preference for rectangles. When you then show it a narrower rectangle, it prefers that to an earlier reactangle. The rat learns rectangularity not a particular rectangle. This, is the essence of Caricature.You amplify a person, say Obama or Nixon and exaggerate what differentiates him from the average person. Draw Nixon with a more bulbous nose and larger ears than normal, and it looks more like Nixon than Nixon himself. This is what a Chola bronze artist accomplishes. He captures peak shift.

A biologist Timbergen studied how seagull chicks recognize their mother. He observed that the seagulls he studied had with red spot on the edge of their beaks. A chick pecks the spot and the mother bird regurgitates the food. Timbergen used a beak from a dead bird, and the chick pecked that for food. Next he used a long stick with red spots. A stick with three stripes caused high obsessive pecking from the chick's than the actual beak! This is also peak shift. Which artists have tapped into, and captured the imagination of public.

Principles of Understatement and Isolation These play a major role in art, too. Doesn't this contradict peak shift? No, the brain uses multiple parallel mechanisms. An outline of a woman's form captures more than color or attitude. The outline itself excites a viewer, more than other aspects and an artist who depicts this grabs the attention of the viewer.

Artistic metaphor Nobody knows what that is. Why are metaphors beautiful? Why not just say what is original or descriptive? Artists poets and novelists indulge in metaphors, and a master like Shakespeare profusely uses them. But it's not just artists. An average person's language, not just those of poets, can have upto thirty percent metaphors.

Q&A

Q Is there such a thing as bad art? Isn't the beauty of art in the beholder's eye?
A Yes there is bad art, in the USA, we call it Kitsch. Once you have enjoyed fine art, Kitsch doesn't appeal anymore. I don't think one man's Kitsch is another's fine art.

Poetry and Art should be introduced early in the curriculum. Thanks to Macaulay, we teach grammar early in our system, which is not very useful. This will help us develop a taste of fine art and not indulge in kitsch.

Q You talked about humans, mammals and birds and their sense of beauty? Do another animals have such a sense of beauty too? Reptiles or fish, for example?
A Birds are diurnal, so are humans, and we see far better than we smell. So we have more in common with birds visually. Reptiles are olfactory, they sense the world primarily with smell. This is also why reptiles are not as colorful as birds. Humans have a very poor sense of smell, compared to their vision.

Q Does peak shift apply only to visual art or also to music or sounds?
A One third of the Brain deals with vision, and we have 150 years of research on visual perception. We are poorer in hearing, and less research about this area also.

But there is some universal element in appreciating art. Eight of ten times, in my experiments, Americans who have never heard Carnatic music can pick Durbari Kannada as evoking sadness and Mohanam as evoking Sringara. Can't explain this in left brain terms. Durbari Kannada, I suggest, uses peak shift to take parental separation anxiety and exaggerates it to evoke a separation anxiety from God.

Common principles cut across the senses, which come together in the parietal lobe.

Q We seem to like symmetry in art, but sometimes asymmetry appeals too. Do you think this is because of peak shift?
A Symmetry is universal. But a slight asymmetry can be very appealing. The purpose of art, for Biologists, is to detect biological objects. Symmetry appeals because it indicates a living thing.

Monday, 9 January 2017

Alfred Russel Wallace

January 8 is the birth anniversary of Alfred Russel Wallace. Last year, I was given an opportunity to write this essay for the online edition of New Indian Express by R Venkatasubramaniam. I share this now on my blog, partly named after him. 
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Charles Darwin and Theory of Evolution are famous. But how many know that Darwin was not the only person who discovered either evolution, or its primary mechanism, Natural Selection? How many know of Alfred Russel Wallace, one of the greatest biologists the world has known?

Most of us learn from textbooks in schools. But often, text books, especially on science, are dry collections of facts, which offer neither context nor history to great discoveries or adventures. It is the great failure of poets, novelists and filmmakers, that they rarely laud the accomplishments of great scientists or engineers, even though the world we live in has been dramatically modernized, modified and made a wonderful place because of their superhuman talents and efforts.

Wallace was as great a scientist as Newton and Darwin!
Wallace as a young man

Alfred Wallace was born in England, in a family that was poor but educated. His father died when he was seven. So he joined his elder brother William as an apprentice surveyor. While traversing the countryside surveying land, he was fascinated by plants and began collecting them. Darwin was already famous in England, because he had traveled around the world for five years in a British ship called HMS Beagle, studying biology, and had written a very popular book, “The Voyages of the Beagle.” Darwin himself had been inspired by the travels and adventures of Alexander von Humboldt, a German scientist. Humboldt’s book “Personal Narrative of a Journey to the Equinoctial Regions of the New Continent” caused a sensation in Europe.

In India, even in school, we read about the travels of Fa Hien and Hiuen Tsang, Buddhist pilgrims; ibn Batuta, a lawyer; and Marco Polo, a businessmen. Humboldt was the first modern scientist whose travelogues became famous. The New Continent was America; it was Humboldt’s accounts of the Amazon that awed and inspired Darwin and a whole generation of adventurous Naturalists. (The word science was coined only in the 19th century; before that scientists were called Naturalists or Natural Philosophers). Darwin himself traveled to South America, to the coral islands of the Pacific, to Australia and New Zealand. On the ship Darwin read Charles Lyell’s book on geology, and saw evidence of geological phenomena wherever he went, and understood how much geology influenced biology. He formed several ideas about evolution but did not yet publish them.

The young Wallace went to public libraries and read pamphlets written and printed by popularizers of Natural Philosophy. One book that inspired Wallace was Lindsey’s “Elements of Botany.”

In 1848, an economic recession gripped England; Wallace lost his job. He enrolled in Mechanical College, a low cost school set up by industrialists to educate poor youth. There he befriended Henry Bates, another keen naturalist. They read Humboldt and Darwin and dreamed of voyages to the Amazon and discovering new species. In those days, rich collectors in Europe were fascinated by collections of butterflies, beetles, fossils, exotic plants etc and would pay naturalists good money for rare collections. Wallace and Bates hoped to sell such collections to finance their travel and scientific pursuits. They got a chance to travel to South America. For four years they explored the Amazon and its tributaries, sometimes together, sometimes apart. They suffered from all kinds of diseases, barely escaping death a few times. Alfred’s brother who accompanied them was not so lucky; he died of a tropical disease, and Alfred only found out months later. Wallace meticulous collected thousands of species of insects birds reptiles; drew several thousands sketches, and shipped some to his agent in London, who sold a few. But he did not form any scientific theories or publish any papers.

In 1852, he set sail for England. (Bates continued in South America for seven more years.) Misfortune hounded Wallace. His ship caught fire mid-sea. He lost almost all his collections, painstakingly gathered over four years. Wallace escaped on a life boat with some others, but they almost died of thirst before they were rescued by another ship. Wallace returned to England almost as poor as he left it, but his agent had insured his collection, so he was able to salvage some money.

In 1854, Wallace set sail for Singapore, and explored the islands there for the next eight years. and wrote a book about their biology, The Malay Archipelago. He noticed something strange – the birds and animals of Bali were remarkably different from those of Lombok, though both islands were only fifteen kilometers apart. Species on one island, related to Australian species, were totally absent on the other with Asian species; and vice versa. He realized this was true of several islands. Wallace hypothesized that in the remote past one group of islands had been part of Asia, the other part of Australia, and their geological break up was reflected in their species differences. He drew a line on the map demarcating this geological break; this line was later named the Wallace Line by Thomas Huxley. The field of Bio-geography was born, created by Wallace!

He wrote letters to Darwin, who occasionally responded . His first scientific essay on speciation, excited Darwin’s geology guru Lyell, but neither Darwin nor other naturalists were impressed. 

Meanwhile, Lyell urged Darwin to publish his theory of Evolution, but Darwin delayed. Wallace mailed a second essay titled On the Tendency of Varieties to depart indefinitely from the Original Type, which hit Darwin like a bombshell. Darwin was astounded that someone far away with no scientific reputation had so brilliantly and concisely summarised Darwin’s theory.

He regretted having ignored Lyell’s advice on publishing. He lamented that he had lost his precedence of discovery. His conscience would not allow him to betray Wallace’s confidence. But Lyell and Hooker, another naturalist, persuaded Darwin to let them present Darwin and Wallace’s theories jointly, which they did at the Linnaean Society in June 1858.

It was then that Wallace’s greatest act of decency came shining through. He applauded Lyell and Hooker, and thanked them for not taking away the rightful credit of Darwin’s two decades of work and the fame discovery from Darwin! He even published a book titled Darwinism, which explained evolution more clearly and eloquently than Darwin!

References
1.      Darwin’s Armada, Iain McCalman

2.      Contributions to the Theory of Natural Selection, Alfred Russel Wallace

My Blogs on Biology

1ஆல்பிரட் வாலஸ் கண்டு ரசித்த சொற்கத்தின் பறவைகள் 
2Smt Radhika Parthasarathy's Summary of my book review of Darwin's Armada


4. Plant fossils near Madras
5. SymbioGenesis - Lynn Margulis' Supplement to Theory of Evolution
6. கப்பலோடிய ஆங்கிலேயர்
7. Astounding Statistic - Domination of Land Plants

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Books I read in 2016

This book list of what I read in 2016 in inspired by a similar list by Kishore Mahadevan (after prompts in earlier years by Ramanan Jagannathan and Jeyannathann Karunanithi )
First I list English books, by category. The Tamil books are listed at the end - a very short list, sadly.
I have blogged, recently, or in the past, about things i have learnt or enjoyed from these books. The web links marked in this essay are for such essays in my blogs NOT the books themselves.

History

  • The Age of Tirugnanasambanda by Sundaram Pillai
  • Ten Tamil Idylls by Sundaram Pillai
  • History of the Tamils by PT Srinivasa Iyengar
  • Pre Aryan Tamil Culture by PT Srinivasa Iyengar
  • Augustan Age of Tamils by S Krishnaswamy Iyengar
  • Origin of the Tamil Vellalas by Tamby Pillai
  • 2000 Years of Mamallapuram by NS Ramaswami
  • Pallava Art by Michael Lockwood
  • Seven pagodas on the Coromandel Coast by Captain MW Carr
  • Pattadakkal by ASI
  • Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern world by Jack Weatherford
  • Kanchi - The City of temples by Narayanswami
  • Mamallapuram THT Site Seminar Source Book by S Swaminathan

History - (read parts)

  • Madras Literary Society by NS Ramaswami
  • South Indian Inscriptions Vol I
  • The Ancient Art of Writing (Selections from History of Chinese Calligraphy)
  • The Art and Aesthetics of Form (Selections from History of Chinese Painting)
  • The Penguin Book of Modern Indian speeches
  • The Story of the Stupa by AH Longhurst
  • Ancient history of the Deccan by Jouveau Dubreuil
  • The history of Tinnevelly by Robert Caldwell
  • Madras Journal of Literature and Science
  • A Short History of Russia by Mary Platt Parmele

Grammar (read parts)


Economics

Fiction

  • Around the Moon by Jules Verne
  • Five Weeks in a Balloon by Jules Verne
  • Five Little Pigs by Agatha Christie
  • Morality for Beautiful Girls by Alexander McCall Smith
  • The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde
  • Tales from Kathasarit sagara (Amar Chitra Katha)
  • Great Sanskrit plays (Amar Chitra Katha)
  • Jataka Tales (Amar Chitra Katha)
  • Calvin and Hobbes (several books)

  • Panchatantra by Arthur Ryder (partly)
  • The Four Million by O Henry (partly)

Biography

  • Benjamin Franklin by Edmund Morgan
  • My Life and Work by Henry Ford
  • Edison, His Life and Inventions by Frank Lewis Dyer & Thomas Commerford Martin
  • James Watt by Andrew Carnegie
  • The Facebook Effect by David Kirkpatrick
  • Tubes by Andrew Blum
  • The Cavendish Laboratory by Egon Larsen
  • Creating the Twentieth Century by Vaclav Smil

Biology

  • The Panda's Thumb by Stephen Jay Gould
  • The Demon under the Microscope by Thomas Hager
  • Oxygen by Nick Lane
  • The Fossil Hunter by Shelley Emling

Biology (read partly)

  • Contributions to the theory of Natural Selection by Alfred Russel Wallace
  • On the study of Zoology by Thomas Henry Huxley
  • The Naturalist on the River Amazons by Henry Bates
  • Life's Engines: How Microbes made earth habitable by Paul Falkowski

General

  • How to Fail at almost everything and still win Big by Scott Adams
  • What I saw at the Revolution - My years in the Reagan era by Peggy Noonan

General (read partly)

  • Lives of the Ancient Grecians and Romans by Plutarch
  • The Spirit of Japan by Rabindranath Tagore
  • Dreams to Automobiles by Len Larson
  • The Early History of the Airplane by Orville and Wilbur Wright

Chemistry (all read partly)

  • Vital Forces by Graeme Hunter
  • Familiar Letters on Chemistry by Frieherr von Justus Leibig
  • Experiments and Observations on Different kinds of Air by Joseph Priestley
  • Elements of chemistry by Antoine Lavoisier

Tamil (all read partly)

  • Purananooru commentary by UVe Swaminatha Iyer
  • Silappadikaram commentary by UVe Swaminatha Iyer
  • Madrasapatnam by KRA Narasiah
  • Paalarril oru Pagarkanavu - essays by Kalki
  • Magaraajanai Iru - essays by Kalki
  • Mamallapuram 2010 by R Nagaswamy
  • Thillaiyil oru Kolllaikkaaran by Anusha Venkatesh
  • Payana Katturai - Mamallapuram - by Kalki
  • Pullamangai by S Vasanthi

I read quite a number of things online (several in Wikipedia), including long essays. Scott Adams' blog was perhaps the most mind-altering.

Thursday, 29 December 2016

சிறுமுறுவல் வந்தெனது சிந்தை வௌவ

சமீபத்தில் சென்ற அக்டோபர் 2016 வலம் முதல் இதழில் இக்கட்டுரை அச்சுக்கு வந்தது. படங்களோடு இங்கே பதிவிடுகிறேன். வலம் தளத்து சுட்டி இங்கே.
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சிவன் முறுவல்

கோயில்களுக்கு நாம் ஏன் செல்கிறோம்? வழிபட தான். சிலருக்கு தொட்டில் பழக்கம். வளர்பிறை தேய்பிறையாய் பக்தி வரும் நம்மில் சிலர், திருவிழா, திருமணம், பிறந்தநாள், வேண்டுதல் என்று ஏதேதோ காரணத்திற்கு பழக்கரீதியாய் கோயில் செல்கிறோம். சக்கரை பொங்கல், புளியோதரை, தயிர்சாதம், வடைமாலை, கற்கண்டு, என்று பிரசாத வகையறாக்களே சிறுவயதில் நம்மை ஈர்க்கும். அங்குமிங்கும் மற்ற சிறுவருடன் ஓடி விளையாடுவது, கல் யானை மேல் சவாரி, படிகளில் சருக்குதல், குளத்தில் நீர் விளையாட்டு, கடைகளில் செப்போ,  சிறுபண்டமோ வாங்குவது… கச்சேரி, நாட்டியம் என்று கலைகளை ரசிக்கவும் கோயில் செல்வது வழக்கம். ஓரிருவர் சிற்பங்களை காண செல்வதுமுண்டு.
எந்த கோயிலுக்கு போகலாம்? முருக பக்தருக்கு அறுபடை வீடும், வைணவருக்கு ஆழ்வார்கள் பாடிய திவ்ய தேசங்களும், சைவருக்கு நாயன்மார்களின் பாடல் பெற்ற தலங்களும் தமிழகத்தில் புகழ்பெற்றவை. ஒரே நாளில் பஞ்ச பூத தலங்களையோ, நவகிரக தலங்களையோ காணும் வழக்கம் சமீபத்தில் புகழ் பெற்றுள்ளன. கல்கி எழுதிய பொன்னியின் “சிவகாமியின் சபதம்” கதையை படித்த ஆர்வத்தில், வந்திய தேவனும் ஆழ்வார்க்கடியானும் சென்ற கோயில்களையும் வரலாற்று தடங்களையும், பொன்னியின் செல்வன் வரலாற்று பேரவை குழுவினர் ஆண்டுக்கொருமுறை வலம் வருகின்றனர். நான் சேர்ந்துள்ள தமிழ் பாரம்பரிய அறக்கட்டளை குழுவினர் மகேந்திர வர்ம பல்லவன் பாதையில் அவன் எழுப்பிய வல்லம், சிங்காவரம், தளவானூர், மண்டகபட்டு குகை கோயில்களை சென்று களித்தோம். 

கும்பகோணம் கவின் கலை கல்லூரியில் படித்து பட்டம் பெற்ற நண்பர் விசுவநாதன், நாகசாமி எழுதிய ஓவியப்பாவை நூலை ஏந்தி ஓவியங்களும் சிற்பங்களும் புகழ்வாய்த்த குந்தவை ஜீனாலயம், கீழ் பழுவூர், குறிச்சி, திருப்புலிவனம், கோனேரிராஜபுரம், வேப்பத்தூர், திருவலஞ்சுழி, திருப்பருத்திக்குன்றம் என்று பயணிக்கிறார்.

கல்லூரி நாட்களில் நானும் ஸ்ரீவில்லிபுத்தூர் ஆண்டாள் கோயிலுக்கு கல்வெட்டு படிக்க ஆவலோடு சென்றேன். இருளில் கல்வெட்டு சரியாக தெரியவில்லை; தெரிந்தவற்றை படிக்க இயலவில்லை. 2000இல் “சிவகாமியின் சபதம்” படித்தபின் எனக்கு சிற்பத்தின் மேல் ஆர்வம் வந்தது. கேலண்டர் படங்களிலும், அமர் சித்திர கதா புத்தகங்களிலும், ஏபி நாகராஜன் திரைப்படங்களிலும் காணும்  தெய்வ வடிவங்களையே பார்த்து பழகியிருந்தேன். முனைவர் சித்ரா மாதவனின் வரலாற்று உரைகளையும் பல சிற்பங்களின் வடிவங்களை அவர் படம் காட்டி விளக்கிய பொருட்டே, பாரத சிற்ப கலையையும் அதன் நெடும் பாரம்பரியத்தையும் புரிந்துகொள்ளமுடிந்தது.

தியானத்தில் அமர்ந்த சிவன் சடையில் நடுவே குற்றால அருவி போல் விழும் கங்கையை கேலண்டர் படங்களில் காண்கிறோம். ஆனால் பல்லவர் சோழர் கால சிற்பங்களில் அப்படியில்லை. ஈசன் தலையில் நிற்க விரும்பும் கங்கையின் அகங்தையை அடக்க, தன் சடையின் ஒருமுடியை மட்டும் விரலால் நீட்டுகிறான் பரமசிவன். அது மட்டுமா? நானிருக்க யாரிவள் என்று கங்கையை காணவும் கணவனை கடியவும் வருகிறாள் பார்வதி. உமையவள் பாவத்தில் சினமா ஊடலா? ஈசனுக்கு தேவியின் பாராமுகமா? இல்லை இது மலைமகளின் ஊடல்! உமையின் உடல் ஒருபுரமிருக்க, அவள் முகமோ கங்காதரனை காதலோடு நோக்குகிறது.

பார்க்கும் பார்வதியின் முக பாவம் ஒருபால். தாங்கும் தாணுவின் கோலமென்ன? பெரும் பாரம் தலையில் வந்து விழுந்து பூதேவிக்கு தாங்கமுடியாமல் விழுவதை தடுக்கவேண்டும் என்ற கவனமும் பொறுப்பும் கவலையும் அக்கரையும் வாட்டுகிறதா அவனை? ஒன்றுமில்லை. மிக அலட்சியமாக, இடுப்பில் ஒரு கைவைத்து, இதழில் புன்சிறிப்பு மலர திருவிளையாட்டு குறும்பு கோலத்தில் காட்சி தருகிறான். பல்லவ காலத்து சிற்பிக்கும் சமகாலத்து ஓவியனுக்கும் உள்ள பெரும் இடைவெளியை இதில் காணலாம். ஆகாயகங்கையின் அதிவேகம் சிவனின் மகிமைக்கு ஒரு சுமையல்ல என்பதை எவ்வளவு ஆழமாக அழுத்தமாக உணர்ந்து அந்த சிற்பி இதை வடித்திருக்கவேண்டும்.

கங்காதரர் - ஆடுதுறை

ஸ்தபதிகள் கோயில் கட்டுமுன், வேத மந்திரத்தை தியானம் செய்து, அந்த தியானத்தின் பலனாய் மனக்கண்ணில் கோவிலின் வடிவத்தை கண்டபின்னரே, அதை கட்டத் தொடங்குவராம். சிற்ப சாத்திரங்களின் விதிகளுக்கிணங்கவே ஸ்தபதிகள் கோயில்களை அமைத்தாலும், அவரவர் திறமையும் கற்பனையும் கலைபாங்கும் சிற்பத்திலும் கோவிலின் கட்டுமானத்திலும் மிளிர்ந்து தெரிகிறது.

ஒரு கோயிலில் ஒரு கோஷ்டத்திலுள்ள ஒரு சிற்பத்துக்கே இத்தனை பின்கதையிருப்பின், தஞ்சை தாராசுரம் போன்ற பெருங்கோயில்களில் என்னவெல்லாம் இருக்கும்? பயணத்தால் மட்டும் சிலவற்றை அறியமுடியாது. பல கோயில்களில் பல சிற்பங்கள் புரியாத புதிராகவே உள்ளன. நம்முன் பற்பல கோயில்களுக்கு சென்று, தங்கள் கலைக்கண்களால் கண்டு களித்து, நமக்கு தெரியாத விவரங்களை ஆர்வலர்கள் நூலில் எழுதியதை படித்தால் கல்லாதது கல்லளவு என்று புரியும்.

மாமல்லபுரத்து பஞ்ச பாண்டவ ரதங்களில் பெரியது தர்மராஜ ரதம். முதலில் சென்றபோது கீழ்தளத்திலுள்ள எட்டு சிற்பங்களை மட்டும் பார்த்துவிட்டு வந்தேன். கல்வெட்டுகள் தெரிந்தன. தமிழ் எழுத்து போலிருந்தாலும் சில எழுத்துக்களுக்கு அங்குமிங்கும் வாலும் கொம்பும் முளைத்தது போல் தெரிந்தது. பல்லவருக்கு ஒருவேளை ஆர்வக்கோளாரா என்ற சந்தேகமே எழுந்தது. அது தமிழே இல்லையாம். பல்லவ கிரந்தலிபியில்  எழுதிய சமஸ்கிருதமாம். “நாமும் ஏக்கிசான் ரகுதாத்தா ஹிந்தி படித்தோமே? ஹிந்தி எழுதும் தேவநாகரி லிபியில் அல்லவா சமஸ்கிருதம் எழுதுவார்கள்?” என்று குழம்பும்பொழுது, ஏறத்தாழ ஆறாம் நூற்றாண்டு முதல் இருபதாம் நூற்றாண்டுவரை வடக்கிந்தியாவில் மட்டுமே தேவநாகிரியில் எழுதுவார்களென்றும், தென்னிந்தியாவில் கிரந்த லிபியிலோ தெலுங்கு-கன்னட லிபியிலோ சமஸ்கிருதம் எழுதுவது வழக்கமென்றும் தெரியவந்தது. இது போன்ற அடிப்படை தகவல்களை பள்ளிக்கூட பாடங்களில் சொல்லவேண்டாமா? கல்வெட்டு ஆய்வோர்க்கு மட்டும் தெரியும் ரகசியமாக ஏன் இருக்கவேண்டும்?

மல்லை தர்மராஜ ரதம்
கிரந்த லிபியில் வடமொழி கல்வெட்டு
அது மட்டுமா! மலையா, கம்போடியா, பர்மா, சுமத்திரா, சாவகம், சியாமதேசம் என்னும் தாய்லாண்டு – ஏறக்குறைய தொண்ணூறு தென்கிழக்கு ஆசிய மொழிகளின் எழுத்துகள் கிரந்தத்திலிருந்து பிறந்தவை என்பது மொழிவல்லுனர் கருத்து. ஐரோப்பிய கும்பெனியார் ஆட்சி வந்தபின் அம்மொழிகள் பலவும் லத்தீன லிபியின் வடிவை தழுவிக்கொண்டன. தமிழ் பாரம்பரிய அறக்கட்டளையின் மல்லை கலை உலாவின் அறிமுக உரையில் பேராசிரியர் சுவாமிநாதன் இதை சொன்னபொழுது, எனக்கு மெய்சிலிர்த்து. சீவக சிந்தாமணியை முதலில் படிக்கும்போது உ.வே.சாமிநாத ஐயருக்கு இப்படி அல்லவா சிலிர்த்திருக்கும்?

மாமல்லபுரத்தை பற்றி முதலில் 1788இல் எழுதிய வில்லியம் சேம்பர்ஸ், இது சியாமதேச லிபி, ஒரு காலத்தில் தமிழகத்தை சியாம மன்னர்கள் ஆண்டிருக்கவேண்டும் என்றே கருதினார். அக்காலத்தில் அங்கே வாழ்ந்த பிராமணர்களுக்கும் பல்லவர் காலத்து கிரந்த லிபி தெரிந்திருக்கவில்லை. பல்லவர் என்ற மன்னர் குலத்தையே மக்கள் மறந்திருந்தினர். அந்த வரலாறை மீட்டெடுத்தது ஒரு பெரும் கதை. இந்த பின்புலத்தை அறிந்தபின் சென்று பார்த்தால், நம் சிற்பக்கலையின் மகிமையே தனி. இலக்கியத்திலும் இசையிலும் அரசியலிலும் நமக்குள்ள ஆர்வமோ ஆழமோ, சிற்ப ஓவிய கலைகளில் இல்லை. இணையம் முகநூல் டிஜிட்டல் கேமராக்களால் இது மாறிவருகிறது.

மல்லை தர்மராஜ ரதத்தை கொஞ்சம் நிமிர்ந்து பார்த்தால் மேலே இரண்டு தளங்கள் இருப்பது தெரியும். அற்புதமான பல சிற்பங்கள் அங்கே உள்ளன. வீணாதர சிவன் அதில் ஒருவர். அவர் கையிலுள்ள வீணையில் குடமோ தந்திகளோ இல்லை. நமக்கு பழகிய வீணை பதினேழாம் நூற்றாண்டில் தஞ்சை மன்னர் ரகுநாத நாயகர் உருவாக்கியதாம். சோழர் காலத்து தமிழகத்தில் மட்டுமல்ல, ஒரிசா தலைநகர் புவநேஷ்வரில் முக்தேஷ்வர் கோவிலில் வீணை வாசிக்கும் ஒரு பெண்ணின் சிற்பத்தை கண்டேன். அவள் கையிலும் அதே மெல்லிய வீணை. 

மாமல்லபுரம் தர்மராஜ ரதம்
வீணாதர சிவன்


புவனேசுவரம் - முக்தேசுவரர் கோயில்
வீணை வாதினி
ஆனால் வீணாதர கோலத்தில் என் மனதை கொள்ளை கொண்டது கும்பகோணத்தில் நாகேஷ்வரன் கோவில் வீணாதர தட்சிணாமூர்த்திதான்.

நாகசாமியின் ஓவியப்பாவை நூலில் வலம்புரம் என்னும் ஊரை அப்பர் பாடிய தேவாரத்தை எடுத்துக்காட்டுவார்.

“கறுத்ததொரு கண்டத்தர் காலன் வீழக் 
காலினாற் காய்ந்துகந்த காபா லியார்
முறித்ததொரு தோலுடுத்து முண்டஞ் சாத்தி
முனிகணங்கள் புடைசூழ முற்றந் தோறுந்
தெறித்ததொரு வீணையராய்ச் செல்வார் தம்வாய்ச்
 
சிறுமுறுவல் வந்தெனது சிந்தை வௌவ
மறித்தொருகால் நோக்காதே மாயம் பேசி
வலம்புரமே புக்கங்கே மன்னினாரே”

என்பது அப்பரின் தேவாரம். “கொவ்வை செவ்வாயில் குமிண்சிறிப்பு” என்ற வர்ணனை பலருக்கும் தெரியும். “சிறுமுறுவல் வந்தெனது சிந்தை வௌவ” என்ற இந்த வர்ணனை அதையே செய்தது. கும்பகோணம் நாகேஷரன் கோவிலுள்ள வீணாதர தட்சிணாமூர்த்தி இதழ்களிலுள்ள் சிறுமுறுவல் என் சிந்தை  வௌவியது.

தட்சிணாமூர்த்தி - குடந்தை கீழ்க்கோட்டம்
சிவன் முறுவல்

சிவன் முறுவல் - வலம் அக்டோபர் 2016 இதழ் 
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