By Nithin Sridhar
While browsing through the net, I came across this video about an exercise intended to stimulate neuron activities in the brain that in-turn leads to increased concentration, memory power, and significantly improve other functions of the brain. The anchor in the video calls it ‘Super Brain Yoga’.
But, even a cursory look will make it obvious to Indians, especially South Indians, that the so-called ‘Super Brain Yoga’ is nothing but a squatting ritual that many South Indians do in temples, especially in the temples of Lord Ganesha.
In Tamil, this Hindu ritual is called as ‘Thoppukaranam’, which means to hold ears. The ritual involves holding of the earlobes with hands crossed in front of the chest and using thumb and forefinger, and performing squats. The squats may be performed for 18, 32, 108, or 1008 times depending on the Sankalpa (vow) taken by the devotee.
It is important to note that this practice is mainly prevalent in temples dedicated to Lord Ganesha. Ganesha is presiding deity of this sensory universe and thus is the remover of obstacles and the granter of wishes. More importantly, Ganesha represents knowledge, intelligence, wisdom and Vivekam (discrimination) and his wives Siddhi and Buddhi are the representation of worldly accomplishments and transcendental knowledge respectively. Thus, Lord Ganesha is intimately connected with faculties of brain and mind.
The general belief among the Hindu devotees who practice ‘Thoppukaranam’ is that the practice is a kind of austerity, which would grant wisdom, intelligence, and success in all endeavors. The practice is also used as an austerity of repentance (prayashchita) so that people may develop better Vivekam (discrimination) to not commit the same mistakes again.
This general belief combined with the fact that Thoppukaranam is mostly prevalent in Ganesha temples, clearly establishes the fact that the connection between Thoppukaranam and the functions of the brain has been well ingrained in the minds of the devotees, who have been practicing it for a very long time now, though this fact may not always be explicitly acknowledged because the useful effects on the brain is just one aspect of the whole ritual. In any case, Thoppukaranam is clearly a Hindu practice rooted in Hindu philosophy and Yoga.
Therefore, it is very alarming to discover that even a simple practice as Thoppukaranam has become the target of secularizing forces, who uproot Dharmic practices from their roots, secularize them, and finally digest them. Thanks to these secularizing forces that Thoppukaranam has now been transformed into ‘Super Brain Yoga’, which is being taught to the people as a brain-stimulating ‘scientific’ exercise, and which is being touted an outcome of decades of recent scientific research, but without any significant reference to the Indian practice. More importantly, the practice that is being promoted as ‘Super Brain Yoga’ is only a diluted version of Thoppukaranam, which has been completely uprooted from its spiritual and Dharmic foundations. And this Super Brain Yoga has also been registered as a trademark and is being promoted as such.
Rajiv Malhotra in his Indra’s Net explains how in two stages Dharmic spiritual practices are uprooted, digested, and reformulated by secularization forces. In the first stage, the practice is reformulated as a health program. This will bring it on a neutral ground. This digested practice is then reformulated as the practice of Abrahamic religions. The first stage has already been accomplished in the case of Thoppukaranam and slowly the second stage may also materialize.
It is high time for Indians and advocates of Hinduism to awake from their slumber and reclaim their knowledge systems and practices. In this direction the Traditional Knowledge Digital Library (TKDL) is doing a very good job. The work must be expanded to include other branches of Indic knowledge. More importantly, it is necessary for Hindus to study, learn, and practice their own Dharmic practices. Such an adoption of Dharmic practices on a mass scale will not only help people in their lives, it will also help to transmit the Indic knowledge to future generations in an unadulterated form. Further, it will assist Indians to counter any cultural appropriation attempts in the future. (Photo: Youtube)