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By Gaurav Sharma
The swinging sixties was an era of cultural revolution. The decade challenged social norms, customs and orthodox beliefs in order to establish greater individual freedom.
Music was the prime instrument that ushered in the fundamental transformation in social and mental outlook of people.
Leading the throng of 60s musicians, Beatles was the embodiment of what the sixties stood for; questioning, experimenting and experiencing.
What started off as a group of school friends playing music in local Liverpool clubs, eventually snowballed into an iconic band that took the world by storm, a British invasion equivalent to, if not surpassing the success of the East India Company.
The fabulous four, as the Beatles was popularly defined by the media back then, had their own individual musical styles which culminated into a bright, original sound filled with “ringing guitars and eclectic melodies”.
The swooning rock and roll was transformed into blues and psychedelic rock. The long, flowing hair carried by members of the Beatles became the emblem of rebellion for the disillusioned youth splintered with the bourgeois society.
The scale of the innovative uniqueness flooded in by the Beatles was so powerful that even legendary musicians such as Elvis Presley had to face a tough time maintaining their chart success.
After attaining the zenith of their success, the music and philosophy of the Beatles underwent a surgical alteration.
Between 1965 and 1968, the group started experimenting with traditional Indian instruments. The coincidental contact began during the shooting of their second film, Help.
“The only way I could describe it was: my intellect didn’t know what was going on and yet this other part of me identified with it”, George Harrison, the lead guitarist of Beatles had famously remarked after delving his fingers through the sitar.
Pretty soon an instrumental called Another Hard Day’s Night; a medley of A Hard Day’s Night, Can’t Buy Me Love and I Should Have Known Better was performed on a sitar, tablas, flute and finger cymbals.
Following the instrumental, three songs influenced by the Indian classical style were recorded by George Harrison, namely Love You To, Within You Without You and The Inner Light.
In 1967, Beatles had came into contact with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi after they attended a lecture given by the Indian guru at the London Hilton.
At the end of the lecture, the group had a private meeting with the master of Transcendental Meditation, following which they agreed to visit his ashram in Rishikesh.
An year later, the fab four travelled to Rishikesh in search for spiritual upliftment. Spending meditation seminars in Maharishi’s vast property perched on a hill, overlooking the majestic Ganges, the Beatles revitalized their minds in the natural solitudinal setting.
Soon however, the group had a bitter split-off with the Yogi. Rumours of misconduct with one of the women students supplanted by one of Beatles’ tiffed friends, Alexis Mardas led to the bitter downfall of their association with Maharishi
The meditation practice taught by Maharishi, however, continued to drive the Beatles.
The Beatles’ stay in India was the most productive periods for the members as songwriters.
Songs from The White Album and Abbey Road were particularly inspired from their tranquil stay in India.
Free for the first time from the influence of drugs, John Lennon, the co-founder of the Beatles wrote a string of songs such as Cry Baby Cry, I’m so Tired among others, finding himself unable to sleep.
Paul McCartney also wrote several songs--Back in the USSR, Wild Honey Pie and Rocky Racoon–after his spiritual discovery, although they had little to do with the stay with Maharishi.
Trio Depart, Harrison’s Odyssey begins
After a fortnight, the Beatles led by Ringo Starr made their way back to London. But by then, the Indian cultural roots had enveloped the heart of the lead guitarist, George Harrison in its mystical entirety.
Harrison took a flight to Madras to meet Indian sitar legend Ravi Shankar. Later that year, he learnt Sitar lessons in the hills of Srinagar under the umbrage of saffron flowers.
In the idyllic setting of the foot of Himalayas, Harrison became absorbed in the ancient teachings of India. He would continuously immerse himself in books such as Swami Vivekananda’s Raja Yoga and Paramahansa Yogananda.
“Through Hinduism I feel a better person, I just get happier and happier”, a joyful Harrison remarked in his days of self-discovery.
Mellows of Krishna
Indian theology excited Harrison and the devotion in his heart eventually led him to embrace Hinduism. After meeting the Hare Krishna devotees in London, Harrison became a lifelong devotee of Krishna.
Soon, chanting the Hare Krishna mantra and reading the Bhagavad Gita became an essential part of his daily routine.
On the material front, his songs also became a reflection of his new found perception of life. My Sweet Lord, a gospel classic released in 1970 encompassed words such as Hare Krishna and Hallelujah, and became symbolic of Harrison’s spiritual discovery.
All Things Must Pass, Harrison solo venture, reached the status of a critically acclaimed triple album and is till now rated as the best of all former Beatles’ solo album.
In 1996, Harrison flew back to Madras to record “Chants of India”, an album which he recorded with Ravi Shankar and considered to be his seminal work.
The Spiritual Beatle, as he is fondly remembered, George Harrison’s tryst with Hinduism, specifically with Krishnaism marked the defining moment of his life.
“I want to be self-realised. I want to find God. I’m not interested in material things, this world, fame–I’m going for the real goal”, a young Harrison had told his mother at the young age of 24.
Blessed with spiritual clairvoyance, Harrison’s death in 2001 fulfilled the prophecy of his past words, with his ashes spread across the Ganges in accordance with Hindu sacraments.
Tenali Ramakrishna, or Tenali Raman as he is more popularly known is Birbal's equivalent in South India. A court jester and a scholar exuding great wisdom, Tenali Raman was known as one of the greatest courtiers in King Krishnadevaraya's court.
The Vijayanagar Empire ruled a large part of South India between 1336 and 1646. In the 16th century, the kingdom rose to prominence under the eminent leadership of King Krishnadevaraya. His continuous victories against his enemies ensured a successful and peaceful reign for his subjects. As a patron of art and literature, many crafts and cultural assets thrived in the empire.
Krishnadevaraya's beloved courtier, Tenali Raman is the finest example of the splendour of the Vijayanagar empire. He was born in Tenali, a town in Andhra Pradesh. He lived here until he lost his father, after which his mother brought him to Vijayanagar. He was discovered for his excellent wit and wisdom, and appointed in the court. He was one of the king's ashtadiggajas (collective name for the eight poets and scholars).
A statue of Tenali Ramakrishna near a Municipal Office in Andhra Pradesh Image source: wikimedia commons
Tenali Raman as a scholar, published great texts of wisdom, which have now become artefacts of the Kingdom of Vijayanagara. But his fame does not lie in these achievements. He is known for the mischievous jester that mythical folklore portrays him to be. Through stories, many writers have used jokes to impart wisdom and morals to many generations of people. The stories of Tenali Raman are almost legendary in the Southern peninsula.
Textbooks have been written with his moral stories in mind, and these days, many self-help book are also incorporating his wisdom. His most popular stories are, 'Mother Tongue', 'Cursed Face', 'Saluting the Donkeys' and many more. Through these stories, Tenali Raman, in some way, brought about social justice. Perhaps this is why he is most beloved by many people even today.
Keywords: Tenali Raman, Vijayanagar empire, Krishnadevaraya, Jester, Wisdom
It must be noted that different religions and societies in Southeast Asia have alternative narratives of Ramayana, one of the greatest epic.
Here are some of the versions of Ramayana!
Dasaratha Jakarta: The Buddhist Version
Interestingly, this version of Ramayana does not mention Ravana at all and in fact, there’s no mention of Sita’s abduction, too. In this version, Dasaratha is the king of Benaras and not Ayodhya. Also, Rama and Sita leaves kingdom and go to the Himalayas and not forests. Then, after twelve years, Rama and Sita return back to Benaras and get married.
Paumachariya: The Jaina Version
In this version, Lakshamana is the killer of Ravana and not Rama. Here, Rama is an ardent follower of Jainism, and so he cannot be the killer of Ravana. Also, this version states an army of warrior and not monkeys, as stated in Valmiki’s Ramayana. Another interesting feature of this version is that Ramayana is not shown as a villain, rather a magnanimous king and follower of Jainism.
Gond Ramayani: The Gond Version
Gond is an adivasi clan belonging from Madhya Pradesh in India. Interestingly, in this version, the story begins from where Valmiki’s Ramayana ended; when Sita is rescued from captivity. Also, Bhima, one of the Pandavas from the epic of Mahabharata, is mentioned in this version. Unlike Valmiki’s Ramayana, Rama is not the protagonist in this version.
Ramakien: The Thai Version
This is considered as Thailand's national epic, and is still taught in some schools in the country. In this version, Ravana is shown as a learned scholar and a noble king in this version. Also, Ravana’s pursuit for Sita is depicted as true love. There are a lot of similarities between this version of Ramayana and Valmiki’s version, but this version lays a lot of emphasis on Hanuman.
When a baby is born in an Indian household-they invite hijra to shower the newborn with their blessings for their blessings confer fertility, prosperity, and long life on the child. But when that child grows up we teach them to avert their eyes when a group of hijras passes by, we pass on the behaviour of treating hijras as lesser humans to our children. Whenever a child raises a question related to gender identity or sexuality they are shushed down. We're taught to believe that anything "deviant" and outside of traditional cis-heteronormativity is something to be ashamed of. This mentality raises anxious, scared queer adults who're ashamed of their own identity, and adults who bully people for "queer behaviour".
Hijras are a community of people who include eunuchs, intersex, and transgender people. They worship the Hindu goddess of chastity and fertility, Bahuchara Mata. Most hijras, but not all, choose to undergo a castration ceremony known as "nirvana" in which they remove their male genitalia as an offering to their goddess. The whole community is vibrant with hundreds of people with hundreds of ways of expression, the true identity of a hijra is complex and unique to each individual. In India, hijras prefer to refer to themselves as Kinner/Kinnar as it means the mythological beings who excel at singing and dancing.
Hijras worship the Hindu goddess of chastity and fertility, Bahuchara Mata.homegrown.co.in
The hijra community works systematically, the community separates itself from the outside world and teaches lessons to the young ones in secret. Each community has a guru and the other hijras are their disciples or chela. The "hijra ways of life" are taught to the disciples in a secluded environment where they leave their families and live with other hijras in the community. More often than not hijras are thought of as nothing different from transgender and often referred to as transgender; however, scientifically these two terms denote a different class of people. Hijras are a part of the whole community of people with various identities and of spiritual and cultural values meanwhile, transgender merely refers to those people whose gender identity differs from the sex assigned to them at birth, they are a part of the community and do not represent the whole community.
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Historically and culturally the community has existed in the Indian subcontinent as long as the civilization has existed. There are mentions of hijra in The Mahabharata, a holy book of Hindus. Shikhandi who was neither male nor female is a mythological legend. In another version of Mahabharata Arjuna, one of the Pandavas was cursed to be the third gender by Urvashi, when he refused to be sexually involved with her. In a story by Padma Purana, it is seen that Arjuna transforms into a woman to take part in Krishna's mystical dance which only women can take part in. The Hijra figures are prominent in Indian Mughal History as well, referred to as Khwaja Siras and known for their loyalty to the ruler, they worked as the sexless watchdogs of the Mughal harems. They held important positions in court and various facets of administration during Mughal-era India, from the 16th to 19th century. The Hijra community is a testament to the sexual diversity that is integral yet often forgotten in Indian culture.
If the whole hijra community was looked upon with enamour and respect in our history, what happened that when we come across the community we look at them with contempt and are filled with a mixture of negative, fear, laughter, and odd emotions. It's owing to the fact that under British Raj, the Criminal tribes Act 1871 hijras were criminalized and the law was made to eradicate the whole community. However, these acts were abolished by the Indian government after independence, and by 2014, India, Nepal, and Bangladesh all had officially recognized third gender people as citizens deserving of equal rights where the third gender means individuals categorizing themselves as neither male nor female. Even though the progress is slow but in 2015 Madhu Kinnar became the first hijra mayor in India was elected in the city of Raigarh.
ALSO READ: India's first Residential Transgender
Although the hijra community was revered by society and is invited to births and weddings for religious and spiritual ceremonies, they still become victims of abuse and discrimination. Violence and hate crimes against the community have become common. They are deprived of education, job opportunities, seating in restaurants, etc. leading them to live in poor conditions barely surviving. They often have to resort to begging and prostitution to earn a daily living. The government has tried to address this issue by introducing bills for the protection of the hijra community, with prison terms and other punishments for those offending them, but there is little to no less effect on the social stigma against the community.
In India, the hijra community comes under the umbrella term LGBTQ+ and we notice that they lack voice and representation when it comes to LGBTQ+ rights. We need to understand that when we fight for LGBTQ+ rights we fight for the whole community, we fight for hijras who have been victims of violence, hate crimes, and disrespect from none other than the people of our society. And although hijras are a part of the LGBTQ+ community as a whole, they have an independent subculture of their own. It is worth every effort to know about them, to study about them, to befriend them, and to smile at them for they are every bit of human as we are and they have nothing but blessings in their heart.