IT is customary among Hindus to hold religious ceremonies at home. Going to a temple is a matter of personal, not familial, choice. As far as the family is concerned all pujas are held at home and a priest is invited to perform them. Time was when it was not unusual for a household to observe Ganesh Chaturthi, Gokulashtami, Ram Navami or Vijaya Dashmi right in one’s own residence to the accompaniment of the blowing of a conch and the clash of manjira (tala) or cymbals.
With increasing urbanisation and the break up of the joint family, praying to the family deity or ishta devata has become passé. As a result young India is increasingly becoming un-aware of the puja ceremony and the puja requirements, like a coconut (sriphal), paan, supari, haldi (turmeric), akshata, kapur, tulsi, kumkum, chandan, vibhuti (holy ash), not to speak of a small tinkling bell.
Every object – upachar – has a meaning and a relevance that is seldom understood, but whose use is taken for granted. Do they have any significance? There are occasions when even a small mirror becomes part of puja accessories. Why? The characteristic offerings at the time of puja – flowers, fruits, leaves, water, were unknown in the homa or havan rite.
Throughout the early period of Vedic literature, as Meera Sashital notes, there is no mention of the puja ritual with flowers offered to an image or symbol of divinity. But then we have Lord Krishna saying in the Gita: patram pushpam phalam toyam yo me bhaktya prayachchhati, tad-aham bhakthi-upahritam asnami prayatatmanahi (whoever offers me with devotion a leaf, a flower, a fruit and water, I receive that offered in devotion by the persons whose soul is disciplined).
One has to be thankful to Meera Sashital for explaining to us the significance of aarthi. Aarthi is done to ward off the evil eye of spirits. The belief is that there is tremendous cosmic power and divine primal energy infused in the aarthi. This and many other accessories like akshata, ayna, japmala, kajal, kalash, kamal, kumkum, rudraksh, salegram can become part of a ritual and their significance is exquisitely explained to the uninitiated in simple language by Sashital. Meera Sashital discusses the word om devoting an entire chapter to it, which is a pleasure to read.
* * *
Who is the ‘father’ of the Indian Constitution? The first and immediate answer would be: Babasaheb Ambedkar. Who else could it be? Has anybody heard of Benegal Narsing Rau? Hardly. And this was the man – incidentally belonging to the then heavenly Indian Civil Service (ICS) – who did all the preliminary work. The man’s vast contribution to the administrative and judicial structure is plainly phenomenal but never adequately recognised, though, in 1988, his birth centenary year, the Government of India released a first day cover displaying a stamp bearing his picture. He had much to do for flushing out the Government of India Act 1935 and in formulating the Hindu Civil Code Bill.
Nobody remembers it and even fewer people know that in 1947 he was named Adviser to the Constituent Assembly. The British had knighted him in 1937, a decade earlier. Among his other achievements were his so journ in Srinagar as ‘Prime Minister’ of Jammu & Kashmir and later India’s Permanent Representative at the United Nations, and still later as Judge of the International Court of Justice.
He was second among four children of a middle class Chitrapur Saraswat family and it is amazing what all four of them achieved. The eldest, Benegal Sanjiv Rau became a distinguished educationist having joined the Indian Education Service (IES) in 1909. The third son Benegal Rama Rau also qualified for the ICS, in due course was appointed Secretary to the First Round Table Conference held in London in 1930 and held several important posts like India’s High Commissioner to South Africa, chairman of the Bombay Port Trust and Governor of the Reserve Bank of India.
Of his two daughters, Santha Rama Rau was to become practically an Indian icon in the United States and had the distinction of introducing Ravi Shankar to a New York audience come to hear him. Besides, she was the author of over half a dozen books. Distinguished as the three elder brothers were, the career of the youngest, Benegal Shiva Rau is much more thrilling. Even as he was growing, the national movement in India had come to occupy front stage and Shiva Rau decided that the ICS was not his cup of tea. He had been introduced to Mrs Annie Besant and from then on his life changed. He taught Jiddu Krishnamurthy, a spiritual leader, Sanskrit and Mathematics. He joined the labour movement which was then in its nascent stage, became in due course a member of the Constituent Assembly and subsequently of the Lok Sabha. There was no single political leader in India he was not familiar with and who, in turn held him in high regard. He led a tremendously fulfilled life.
This book is the story of the four brothers and how they rose in eminence against the background of a rapidly changing India. That one single family could make such a massive contribution to the political and social growth of India in itself is a wonder. Their story recounted in one brief volume does not do full justice to them, but at least their services are now on record. Kanchan Karopady Bannerjee, the author of this slim volume, deserves our thanks. She has at least brought the history of an India in the first half of the 20th century alive through the lives of four brothers. And what a devoted quartet of siblings they turned out to be!
(Leadstart Publishing Pvt Ltd, Trade Centre, Level 1, Bandra Kurla Complex, Bandra (East), Mumbai-400 051)
(Ameya Prakashan, 207, Business Guild, Law College Road, Pune 411 004)