Friday 31 October 2014


                               SOME REFLECTIONS AND EXPLORATIONS


These reflections are written by an ordinary Indian Hindu who has had neither any theological instruction, nor any spiritual training.  At the very outset, I would also like to say that I am conscious of the grave period through which our society is passing, when political challenges are being raised by Hindu nationalists against the religious and cultural traditions of Muslims, and the ‘backward’ and ‘scheduled castes.’ Such a challenge to accepted Hindu traditions of living side by side with other religious and cultural traditions is being voiced in the name of producing a modern powerful Nation-State.   The secular opposition to Hindu nationalism is also being raised in the name of producing a modern scientific society.  This conflict between two western-oriented elite groups, seems to me, a denial of the lived culture of the masses of Indian people.  We, all of us, are aware that Hindu culture is not a homogenous one; but that it encompasses very many cultural traditions rooted in history, and in the practices of people, who have developed special identities in different parts of the country.  Even broad-based caste or sub-caste identities cannot really capture all of the important traditions and distinctions that create the several social identities that go to form the peoples of India.  We are told the Anthropological Survey of India identifies around 2,800 distinct communities in India.

Certainly, Europeans also have such local identities; and even today these identities are not relinquished in the interests of a homogenous European Union. The growth of European Nation-States was part of the historical process, which gave rise to European imperial and colonizing powers. It is a path which brought immeasurable suffering to Europeans and the rest of the world.  There is now a clearly articulated desire among the Europeans people to rediscover their local communities and identities, to dismantle the fearful imperial nation-state edifice and to find pleasure once again, as Voltaire put it, in ‘digging in your own garden.’ 

The rise of Hindu nationalism as a latter-date copy of nineteenth century European imperialism, is both anachronistic and incapable of political achievement. It is a creation of some politicians in their struggle to capture power and money.  However, what is disturbing is that educated Indians, and in fact the elite of the country, seem only to speak from a historical cultural understanding that they have learnt from books written in the West.                                                                  
The debates of the Indian elite seem to be ignorant not only of the culture and feelings of the ordinary masses, but they also brush aside in an insulting manner the local identities of people.  These identities, the respect for their own culture and history, the belief in the principles of humanity and civic duty, are all enshrined in the knowledge the common people have gained from their religious myths, their religious beliefs, and the practices, the common sayings, and the social prescriptions, of their elders.   To set aside a whole belief-system as so much superstition (as the secular leaders do), or to think that the religion of the people can be manipulated for political ends (as the Hindu nationalists do) is an insulting elite attitude towards the people.  Another matter of great concern is that both the secular and the nationalist approaches seem to ignore the spiritual needs of people.  If religion continues to be a living web of knowledge, security and comfort for the mass of the people, it is because through ordinary cultural-religious practices, the common person can follow a spiritual path of self-discovery, and a quest for spiritual unity.  Unfortunately even the so-called traditionalist today does not seem to appreciate the personal need of people to retain spiritual belief or spiritual identity. 

Perhaps the colonial period has much to answer for.  Indians, more than any other third world people, perhaps, began to admire the West not only for its imperial conquest of the world, but also for its industrial prowess.  Such unqualified admiration among our leaders of two generations ago also discounted in equal measure the value of Indian traditions, and knowledge. A sharp reaction to such self-denigration came from a few diehards, who read into myths ‘puranic’ knowledge of modern technologies, even of atomic energy and space travel!

In the West itself philosophers earlier in the twentieth century began to express their fears about the incompatibility between the rationality of science and religious belief.  The Spanish philosopher, Miguel de Unamuno, felt that the two cardinal aspects of the modern mind, the need to believe, and the need for rationality, could never be reconciled, leaving a religious person who was also a scientist alienated from the one or the other part of his life.   In the early part of this century such a distinction could be made with confidence.  However, this rationalist society produced the great unreason of fascism, and Unamuno himself died in despair when the fascists took over his precious University of Salamanca in 1936.  Modern thinkers challenge such a dichotomy between faith and reason. The growth of powerful scientific elites, the secrecy that shrouds the development of atomic energy and bio-technology; the refusal of scientific communities to discuss important social, ethical issues in public; all has painted a picture of a power-ridden, secretive theocracy, which is as irrational as any other social group, and which is ready to indulge in half-truths and manipulations of public opinion through disinformation.

Democratic discourse between communities is highlighting the fact that ‘truth’ can never be the preserve of an elite, but is produced through open dialogue amongst all sections of the people.  The great Chinese leader, Mao Ze Dong, once wrote in a simple essay that great ideas come from social practice. As he himself was to discover, when power isolates leadership, gross acts of inhumanity are likely to be committed. Positions of power by themselves create falsehood and dogmas.  The Church having lost much of its political significance is no longer the powerful monolith of the earlier centuries.  Following the tragedies of the two great world wars, the people of the West are disenchanted with scientific panaceas and are searching for truth in life through community inter-action; by spiritual reflection, and once again by admitting a return to Nature.

The incompatibility between religious belief and scientific rationality that haunted earlier European thinkers continues to tear us apart today in India, since our society is in transition towards a modern capitalist society.  It is wrong to believe that it is only the masses who somehow have to be cajoled into accepting the modern world.  All of us, within our own circles, are tormented by the incompatibility of trying to remain Indian, while accepting what seems to be the necessities of modernization. I am very conscious within myself of such a strain, of trying to be an Indian, and at the same time of living in the modern world.  I remember that the same strain was felt by my father, and even by my grandfather.  When to this historical strain on our individual psyches, and on our culture, is added the cruelties of political exploitation of religion, we are forced to ask ourselves what is important to us as individuals; what we wish to cherish and preserve, and what we must change or transform.  After several years of trying to grow into a scientific mentality; of trying to grow into a westernized modern mentality, and of trying to understand the present-day democratic, and secular meanings; I must confess that I realize that I personally remain a Hindu, and do not really wish to be anything else. 

From the Hinduism that I learnt, both from texts and from discourses with several of my elders; I saw in the ascetic Vedantic principles what was to me an acceptable complete picture of cosmic relationships.  Fundamental to Vedanta is the belief that Iswara, or God as Creator, or active force, is a manifestation of Brahman, the ever present, the all pervading, that which is and that which is not, and that which can never be qualified by words.  Perhaps, this is the Hindu's understanding of the concept of Holy Spirit, and the immanence of this spiritual force throughout Creation and beyond space and time.  While such a belief can be seen as too ‘mathematical,’ too impersonal, it has also given rise to a realization by human beings that God is not necessarily a distant force, but is present everywhere and can be reached if the inner desire is there.  The concept of Aham Brahmasmi, of God in Man, again central to Vedanta, gets spiritual meaning only when we begin to see God in other human beings, in their opinions, actions and culture. The great ascetic, Sri Sankara, developed the cardinal concepts of Vedanta in the Eighth Century AD, in my opinion, building on Buddhist knowledge, and in response to it, if you like, as counter-reformation. In Buddhism we find that the three refuges for a human being are the Buddha, or the Godhead; Dharma which is cosmic law, encompassing human justice within wider cosmic forces and processes, as the ‘Wheel of Dharma;’ and Sanghas, that is, the communities of humanity.  Such a concept of a spiritual community parallels the early Church. We are reminded that Jesus said: "When two or three of you are met in my name, there am I also."  The concept of the Dove of God descending on a spiritual assembly further sanctifies the belief that people in spiritual communion are more than a mundane assembly; they carry within their assembly divine promise. The Prophet Mohammed has said that His community could not be in error, and the Islamic concept of the Umma parallels the notion of the Sangha.  The very working of a community of people who are consciously aware of a spiritual dimension to their work also brings the individual closely in touch with himself or herself.  Every-day life then becomes a part of a spiritual pilgrimage through life.
In terms of Hindu society, I can only say that such philosophical concepts did not develop in a historical abstract; but through a process of historical struggle to come to terms with social, human realities of a people drawn from several tribes, with different histories and different cultures.  In my own belief, the origins of present-day caste society must be sought for in the terrible tribal conflicts of several thousand years ago; perhaps, between Dravidian peoples of the Indus valley civilization and the Aryan tribes, who most probably came much later to the Indus valley from the Farghana area 4000 years ago.  The mixing of these tribes, their conflicts and wars can all be seen reflected in the stories that go to form our Puranas, and the great epics of the Ramayana, and the Mahabharata.  Many modern historians do not give any historical weight to these myths.  However, as the French sociologist, Claude Levi-Strauss, has pointed out that there is logic in the way cultures remember myths; and the reason why these myths are enshrined in epics and remembered orally and faithfully over several generations. Indian philosophers, religious leaders, and even historians, have, by and large, taken an ahistorical view of the Puranas, neither caring to question the reasons for their existence, nor attempting reconstructions to throw light on the critical pre-Buddhist periods. I personally find it difficult to account for the extraordinary persistence of a highly stratified, inequitous, colour-prejudiced caste system over several thousand years, if I do not seek its origins in the bloody beginnings of Indian society itself. Europeans have come to terms with their own  myths. The German scholar, Schliemann, discovered Troy by re-reading the Iliad; and even conservative modern British historians like Churchill are able to give a historical presence to the stories of King Arthur.  If we try to look at the development of Indian philosophy as influenced by historical processes, by the struggles and conflicts of one tribe with another, and the development of an unjust and unequal caste society, we perhaps see that Vedanta was a way by which the individual could transcend the limitations of an unsatisfactory historical present.  Buddhism itself, with its emphasis on ethical action in the present, tried over a thousand years to change the nature of our unequal caste-ridden societies. While, perhaps, its great successes can be seen translated in the blending of physical racial distinctions between tribes over this period; the counter-reformation launched by elite Hindu castes retained many of the social injustices of early tribal conquests. Militaristic hegemony of the few over the many was secured, and continues to this day. In any case, Vedanta attempts transcendence not through ethical social action, but through inner transformation.

The path of spiritual development for the Hindu was a way by which an individual could try to transcend the narrowness and limitations of lived-in society with all its injustices.  In my youth I thought that the individualist goal of Moksha, or individual liberation, was too ‘selfish,’ and that it was an escape from trying to tackle social and political realities.  After several decades of work, I have realized that unless the individual Hindu wishes to seek his own liberation, he will not find either the knowledge or the strength in himself to seek dharma or justice in society. The knowledge that matters is more than instrumental knowledge, or paravidya as it is called, and comes, if it does, only after attempting a spiritual journey.

The ascetic tradition of Vedanta which has come down to us, and finds its expressions in the writings of modern great philosophers, such as J.Krishnamurthi, was felt insufficient to speak to ordinary people in their need during periods of social collapse.  Such a grievous period of social collapse produced the Bhakti movement, in itself, perhaps a synthesis of ascetic Vedantic traditions and the older Tantric traditions which have always existed at the village level, from before the days of the Aryans, and  have come down to us from  Paleolithic times, with figures of the ‘Devi,’ the great goddess of creation.   Archeological work throughout the world, by scientists such as Prof. Marija Gimbutas, has revealed the strength of these ancient matrifocal, peaceful cultures that created the first civilizations of the world, and produced also the agricultural revolution.  In any case,  the Vedantic and Tantric traditions of India were brought together in the spiritual renaissance of the Bhakti movement, which gave courage and identity to several ordinary people 400 to 500 years ago; and resulted in the composition of intimate religious music, by Thyagaraja, and Purandara Das; and influenced the writings and poetry perhaps of even the great Sufi masters, of Kabir and Amir Kushro. Here the highest knowledge is seen as mystical knowledge available to anyone; with scholasticism  being the greatest stumbling block.  It is the Bhakti movement that made the figure of Rama a personal God to be cherished in the heart of the devotee to help her or him overcome the erosion of social identity; and overcome the sufferings of people during a time of societal collapse.  Thyagaraja and Ramdas through music showed how the devotee can transcend the present, can ask this God, who is enshrined in the intimate recesses of the heart for complete understanding of all human weaknesses; and through a process of devotion to receive the comfort of forgiveness and the ability to forgive others for their cruelties.  Rama is the Ista devata the deeply personal god of the poor and the weak, because his is the story of God who suffers as man in life.  Such a personal image of divinity cannot be transformed into a political vehicle without impiety.  Humanity at other times has identified with God who suffers, who redeems through His suffering, who speaks to the poor as He does in the beatitudes.  This is the image of a very personal and loving God, not of a fearful authoritarian distant God.  The very worship of Rama that was central to the social-religious Bhakti movement enabled ordinary poor people to reach into their own hearts, see God there, and through dialogue with this personal god to transcend the difficulties of their own lives. To take this image, to take the name of Rama, and use it for a broad political purpose is a deeply irreligious act, and cannot speak to an ordinary Hindu who has come near to Rama, through the music of Thyagaraja and Ramadas, as I have done, among so many millions of other Hindus.

The original figure of the dark Rama still remains lost in the Vedic period of inter-tribal conflict, of Aryan bowmen attacking other, settled urban cultures.  Theological conservatism, and the lack of concerned anthropological or historical enquiry, continue to leave this period in darkness, fitfully lit by great passages from the epics, remembered orally for a thousand years. The Ramayana, recreated in the classical Sanskrit of two-thousand years ago, was a courtly document of ineffectual prescriptions for the kings of those times. The story was magically transformed by the Bhakti saints a thousand years later to create a social revolution among the artisans, the poor, and the others, disinherited, lost and bewildered, by the exhausting wars of the period. No attempt was made then to make Rama a figure of revanchist Hinduism; nor would it have made any sense then.

The medieval world with all its grim cruelties never asked a person to give up his or her soul into the keeping of the State. The inner integrity of the lowliest person was respected, though scant respect was paid to the physical existence of the poor. The perpetrators of cruelty knew they had been cruel. But with the modern world's refusal to acknowledge the spiritual needs of people  has come ordered modern society, which has sanctioned unspeakable bestialities in the name of civilization, from the holocaust of six million Jews to the bombing of Vietnam, and now the ethnic cleansing of Bosnia, a harbinger of massive, future racial attacks on minorities in cultured Europe. In our world, despite Nurnberg, there can be no individual responsibility, guilt, or remorse, or personal agony over what action to take; no examining of one's conscience. There is only State responsibility, or that of the system, which is supposed to be a rational expression of the good of the majority. The veils of disinformation, which in a less-educated age could never come between a person and his conscience, now spread the balm of oblivion over millions; and selfish cruelty is transmuted into scientific, national necessity.

The older Indian leaders have so far failed in their enterprise to create a modern Nation-State out of Indians. Our very diversity stands in the way of social regimentation, as well as the spiritual side to life in India, which is so commonplace that it passes unnoticed. The newer Hindu nationalists are undertaking this unfinished project, and mistakenly are trying to use the strength of religious tradition for this political purpose. The modern world with its messages of nationalism, and secularism does not speak the language of India, or of the culture of India.  It does not permit an ordinary person to seek a resolution to the dilemma of life.  These modern forces freeze us into a period of uncertainty, and add to our alienation and mental and spiritual torture.  Such forces want to make us to be something that we do not wish to be.  

What the Indian of today desires more than anything else is once again to feel a sense of integration with oneself as a human being, with one's society, and the rest of the communities that make up India.  The world of the Hindu was never merely a world of Hindus.  It was always a world of very many different cultures, some of whom called themselves Hindu, and some of whom called themselves by other religious denominations.  The ordinary Hindu learnt to find a personal identity within the refuge of the culture known from the family.  Here he or she learnt that life was also a pilgrimage. This pilgrimage was enriched by the insights received from friends of other communities.  Modern forces deny the Hindu the chance of undertaking a spiritual pilgrimage.  They hence attack the very nature of Hindu culture.  Perhaps, such attacks on the nature of Hinduism are being launched because it is by excluding several other people that the Hindu elite can make a powerful base for themselves.  It was to create such bases of political power that the country was partitioned without giving a chance to the common Hindus, Muslims, Christians, and Sikhs to voice their opinions.  Exclusion as a social principle would destroy the very culture of Hinduism, an inclusive field of several cultures and experiences, which could not deny the validity of any path without devaluing all of its paths. 
At the very end of these reflections, I remember that when Jesus was challenged as to what was the truth, he said "I am the Truth".  The desire to seek the truth is in every one of us.  The truth we seek can only come to light through a spiritual journey that is an intensely personal journey.  Making this personal journey into a political platform destroys the very essence of religion, since the sources of worldly power are antithetical to spiritual growth.  If Satanic forces, or avidya, the mantle of ignorance, can act upon this world, it is through the agency of this very confusion of choice, between inner spiritual development, and the external realities of power. 

Again one remembers the story of the temptations of Christ: When offered the whole world, He refused it; for His kingdom is not of this world.  Our spiritual progress should illumine paths through which this world of ours can come to reflect that City of God, which can be glimpsed, if we wish, mirrored in the inner conscience, and where He has many mansions for all His children.  

Thursday 30 October 2014

Why do you think you count?

Sara’s Numbers

It happened long, long ago, long before time could be counted. In that countless world, just north of the hard-edged snow mountains, innumerable cattle foraged knee-deep in the lush grass of the steppes, while horses ran wild among them. On the margins of these vast herds lived small communities of the Jana, the people, who tamed some horses and bred and milked the cattle. They lived in leather yurts, as they had always done, with an open smoke hole in the middle, and palings held together with woven horse-hair ropes to strengthen the sides. All the members of one family put their yurts within one thorny enclosure, for they were of one blood, and kept their cattle and horses within that cow-pen, when the herds were not out grazing with the boys. When the boys grew to be men, they had to look for women in some other cow-pen, and thus these wise herds-people kept their own blood-lines strong. They ate mostly beef, which was cured in long strips during the brief summer to last them through the harsh winters to follow. During the hot days, they feasted on wild-sown barley meal and cider, and on thick mare-milk curds; and during the very long cold days, they hunkered down in some narrow protecting valley, south of the snow mountains, which was reached through a high pass. There they ate their own male cattle, and sometimes even their horses, if the blizzards lasted till they were too weak to move.

When the Sun, their main God, strengthened, they knew he had subjugated all the other gods once again, the God of Wind, the God of Thunder, the God of the Dark-Blue Sky. The Goddess of waters at his command broke through the head of the God of Snow and  rushed out to the steppes, and cattle, and barley and horses were born again. What horses they were! Short, sturdy, hairy, but horses that would tirelessly carry them forever, horses that helped them round up their herds and take them to new pastures. The wisest woman among the Jana chose the King of horses, who would be let loose to wander where he liked. The pasture he chose would be their camping area for the summer till the God of Wind blew cold from the darkening north, and they had to turn back towards their winter shelter valley somewhere beyond the snow ridge, through a high pass.

That late autumn, when days and years were not yet counted, the Jana were happy, for it had been a glorious summer, and they had fed well and long. It had been so hot that men, and women had dressed in nothing but simple flaxen shirts like children. The women had time to make thick woolen coats and leggings for winter, and the boys had foraged as far north as possible with their herds. Most had returned with their fat cattle, ready for the trek south, though a few, who had adventured to the outermost northern limits, up to the brown hills, in search of fresh pasture, had not yet returned. But there was no cause for alarm. In that hot weather wolves had plenty of deer, rabbits, and marmosets to prey on, and would leave the big herds well alone. What was more, the northernmost herd was under the care of two of the toughest brothers, Arjuna and Bheema, both not yet grown to manhood, but already fearless and tireless, and well-practiced with bow, arrow and lance, to protect their animals.

The girls lazed by the lake, much to the annoyance of the older women who would call them back from their games to sew, cook, darn, or fetch wood. But Sara was spared, for she was a dreamer, and in her dreams many messages came from the Sun God, which led them, when properly interpreted by Gaya, the Clan Mother, to new pastures, to apple groves, to fresh lakes, and away from the haunt of wolves. Sara was not yet a woman, and her light clear voice spread balm on tired hearts, and even old men smiled into their cups of cider when she sang. What she had done that summer was already legend among the Jana, and messengers from other tribes came to listen, wonder, and try and learn.

She and her sisters played often by the lakeshore, when they were not swimming. They would pick up smooth round coloured pebbles and make necklaces out of them. Or they would toss them up into the air and catch them all before they fell to the ground. Few boys could match the dexterity of the girls, and none among the girls was as agile or swift as Sara. A favourite game was for each girl to collect pebbles all of the same colour, toss them up, and try and catch not only all her own pebbles, but the coloured pebbles of other girls. She who captured the most won, and generally it was Sara who won. Boys tried to play a similar game  snatching cattle from each other’s herds, but when they played rough and hurt each other, the wise women warned that violence was a sin that the Sun God would punish with death on all.

One sunny warm afternoon, Sara chose a large egg-shaped white pebble, held it up glistening in the sun, and gave it a name.

“This is Eka, my pebble,” she said with complete conviction. “ She will bring forth many, many children. And every new child will be cleverer than the rest.”

Lachi held up a round spotted pebble like a plover’s egg. “ This is my pebble, what shall I call it?” she asked a little uncertainly.

“ She can also be an Eka, when she is all alone,” said Sara slowly. “ But bring her close, and let us hold them together. Now she becomes Dva, for Eka her mother is close and warm, and she gains from the strength of her mother, and of course she has her own.”

The girls played this game with other pebbles of different shapes and colours, till Sara tired of it. She held up a red squarish stone.

“ Now the soul of Eka is in this, for the red stone is all alone, but look when I bring it close to another, it changes to Dva, for the soul of Dva enters it when it is no longer all alone!” All the girls clapped at discovering this new game. “ But wait, when the old Dva comes – Latchi bring the old Dva next to this red stone – it cannot any longer be Dva, for the soul of Dva goes back to Lachi’s pebble, and this red one becomes Tri!”

All this was getting tiring for the some of the girls, and a few went away to play an old game. But a few stayed with Sara, eyes sparkling, and asked if the souls of Eka, Dva, Tri could enter other things?

“ Eka, Dva, Tri, are the new young children of the Sun God,” said Sara seriously, “ and they can enter anything, animal, or even person!” The girls were a little scared at this thought, but Sara was calm. “ Look, I ask the soul of Eka to enter me, and now I am Eka! Lachi, come close and all will see Dva has entered you!” Lachi bravely stood by Sara.
“ And I will be Tri!” shouted little Maya and ran up to hug Sara. All the girls clapped. Then they all went around pointing to cattle, or horses, or even yurts, and naming them Eka, Dva, and Tri. It was a very happy time. Soon, running about they came to the cow-pen of Gaya, the Clan Mother. It was large and strong, with a large wooden post in the direction of the rising Sun, and another opposite where the Sun set, and a post to the north, and a post to the south. The post towards the rising Sun was Eka the girls shouted in unison, that to the north was Dva, and that to the south was Tri. What of the post to the west?

“ The spirit of Chatura is there,” said Sara, as they returned to their homes.

The next day, Sara thought of a new game. She and Lachi would hide as Eka and Dva, while Maya and her friend, Lali, would come along thinking they were Eka and Dva; but when Sara and Lachi sprang out at them, they would turn into Tri and Chatura. There was much laughter and squealing, till their mothers came out and told them to be quiet.

Sara led them far away not to disturb the elders. All the girls wanted to join in the fun. So, Sara named them all, Pancha, Shasta, Sapta, Ashta, Nava, Dasha.

“ What about me, me, me,!” cried little Gyana. “ You are Dasha and Eka,” said Sara mysteriously, and would not change her opinion.

The girls seemed to go wild with their new game. They counted everything. They made Dasha batches of the herd, and said with great accuracy which cow-pen had more, and by how many more. They used their slim forearms as a measure for Eka, and could tell the height of people, horses, yurts. They even counted the Great God Sun. Sara said he was the Eka soul of all Ekas till he reached the top of Gaya’s yurt. By the time He was directly overhead, he had turned into the soul of all Panchas, and he went to sleep as a Dasha soul. Sara could predict how many times the Sun God would rise from his sleep before a distant herd returned, and how many marches it would cover. When the women scolded the girls to do something useful, Sara looked up at the tallest and said gravely:  “This knowledge is the greatest gift of the Great God Sun, for now we see things not only as they appear, but as their souls really are. Under His Light, all is revealed, and there are no more secrets. Now we know how much yarn we need for a dress, how much grain to store for how many days; and how far a wolf pack is and how fast a young girl should run to reach safety.”

Many women were unhappy with all the confusion that the new measures brought into their lives, so they met in high conclave with Gaya, the Clan Mother. After carefully sending Sara out of earshot, Gaya said, “ When she was born all the moving stars lined up over her bed. When she was seven months old she sang her first song, and I heard the music of the Spring Sun in her voice, and yet I did not understand. She is the betrothed of Brahm, the creator, who made the earth under the ever watchful eyes of the Sun, for then He was so anxious He never slept at all. She does not know it yet, but she is the foretold Goddess of Learning, brought to life by the Sun Himself, who is pleased with us. From her loins will spring one day a race that will go south of the snow mountains to a new land. She will be the mother of a great new clan of the Sun, and a great God Rama will be born in it. In that land, I will be remembered everyday. I know now, for Sara helped me know, I am the Pancha Gaya to repeat the magical mantra in praise of the Sun, with all its Dva and Tri-Dasha sounds!”

The women wondered but said nothing, and went their ways, but kept respectful watch over young Sara. The old men wondered, was the earth and everything in it to be so measured and counted? But if it was the Will of the Sun it must be good.

A yaga in thankful praise was offered to the Sun, several fat cattle were slaughtered and all the Jana gathered to eat the sacrificial feast. After the prayers, and offerings had been distributed, people broke into joyous laughter, and told stories to each other. “ What if there is no Eka, no Dva, no Pancha, or no Dasha, what then, Sara? “ asked the ever inquisitive Maya. “ Hush!” warned her mother, afraid some impiety might have been committed. “There is always something, the Sun provides for all, always.”

“ Not always, dear mother,” said Sara slowly. “ Sometimes there is no thing, like the gap between stars. That is when the Sun takes all into Himself. And then when we see a hole where something should be, we see Sunya, who with the first-born Eka gives birth to the all-powerful Dasha.” And thus the numbers of the first people, the Jana, came into the light of the Sun Himself.

The news spread fast, and many wise women came to learn from faraway tribes, and all went away even wiser. That had been a special year, and the Jana gloried in their happiness and their wisdom as it drew into a fecund autumn. All their herds but one were in, and time now could be reckoned with ease when to turn south to the narrow sheltering valley beyond the high passes of the snow mountain to the south.

“ If Arjun and Beema do not appear within three more days, I shall have to berate them for their laziness, “said the chief herdsman with self-conscious importance at his new knowledge. “ The Sun help these youngsters! In my day, I would have had my herd in its cow-pen all fat and accounted for by now.”

“ In your day, Granddad,” laughed a cheeky boy, “ no one accounted for anything!” All laughed, the old herdsman the heartiest.

A cloud of dust rose to the north, out of the dry earth, and soon two boys could be seen spurring hard to reach the community of cow-pens. The people gasped a few minutes later, when they could see Arjun and Beema, without their other companions, without their herds, their clothes red with dried blood. The boys flung themselves down from their saddles, and lay on the ground gasping in exhaustion, their eyes rolling with fear.

Gaya, the Clan Mother, came up gravely. “ Shame to my magic, and shame to my art, that my children show fear. You are now safe, and no wolf would dare attack you here!”

Stung to the quick, Arjun got up with a shout. “ I have no fear for myself. But, yes, I fear for the Jana. And no, no wolf attacked us, but the others, the cruel Rahu. They came quietly up to our camp, and even as we were preparing to make them welcome, they killed my brothers, and took our cattle. I dared not hit at them for you, great Clan Mother, have taught us that the Great God Sun hates all violence. Yet, life was sweet, and not wishing to be killed, Beema and I escaped and rode home as fast as we could to warn you all!”

At the satanic tidings all cried out and stopped their ears. The Clan Mother dipped a leaf in blessed water and sprinkled it in all the cardinal directions to stave off the wrath of the Sun. Then the Clan Mother swept the women away to strike the yurts for a rapid march south. The elder herdsmen, those who had stayed home, and the other boys, gathered round Arjun to gather more news.  Soon it was clear from the rapidly told story that the un-people had come over the brown hills at the dead of night as the boys were sleeping, and done their terrible deed before any could cry out. Sleeping far to the south on the edge of the camp, ever watchful for wolves, Arjun and Bheema had made good their escape. None could fight the Rahu, even if fighting were not sinful. But could the Jana escape south? It was all too late, said the elders. It was the time of death, not of a sickly babe or of an old crone, but of all, all the Jana. It was time they prepared in solemn dignity to be gathered to the Sun.

Sara being a young girl was allowed nowhere near the conclave of elders, and stood far off, all alone, on the windswept steppe, but the excited voices carried to her in the still air. She heard the grim news with a beating heart, and then closing her eyes thought back in time to the Jana’s last visit to the brown hills. She had been a toddler then, but in her mind’s eye she saw the Sun rise and fall several times, as her tribe marched back leisurely to where they were now. She carefully counted the days. Then she thought of fast horses traversing that same distance, and again carefully counted that time. Lastly, she counted the time the Jana would take to reach the snow mountains, and pass through them to the safety of the hidden valleys.

Sara marched slowly up to the elders. “ Reverent elders, I have asked the Sun through the new knowledge He has given us, and He has told me there is time for us to escape. But we must abandon our yurts, and take to the fastest horses without delay. We must scatter our herds before we leave, and the Rahu will waste time trying to catch a few animals. The wisest amongst the herds may find their way to our valley if we call to them in our dreams.”

Dharma, the oldest herdsman, came up to Sara, and lifting her chin in a knurled hand, looked full into her eyes. Something he saw there made up his mind. “ We will do as the child says. Saddle the fastest horses and scatter the herds. Tell the women to mount immediately, leaving all behind, except the sacred pots in which we make offerings to the Great God. We shall cross that stream to the East within – within one hour,” he said, with a little smile in Sara’s direction. “ Then the fastest will sweep clear all our hoof-marks on the farther bank and rejoin us as we double back towards the snow mountains. May the Great Sun God protect us!”

But that night it looked as if the God was angry with the Jana for some transgression, for it got very cold, and a blizzard started as they huddled miserably together for a brief rest, the people and the horses all in a great circle. The wind strengthened into a great gale and blew straight into their faces from the south, but there was no time to be lost, and they struggled on, the people and the horses with bent heads, towards the snow mountains. They were exhausted when a pale dawn broke, with no sign of the blizzard letting up, and all the Jana gave up hope till the Clan Mother shouted across the wind: “ The God has saved us, for this wind will keep the Rahu in their tents till we reach safety!”

As they made their way through the high passes, the steep mountain sides protected them, and warmth returned to their bones. In a narrow secret valley, with the Great God peeping down benignly at them from between storm clouds, they made their new home. Cutting down some spruce trees, they built themselves rough shelters, hidden from view by a dense blue copse. They ate the dried strips of beef they had packed in their saddlebags, and lived on the meager small game of the woods. Three full moons had risen and set, before they heard the lowing of a small herd coming from the twisting entrance to the valley, and the women ran out to greet Gauri, the wisest and best among their cows. They made a garland of grasses for her, and happily led the animals to the safety of their camp.

But fear of the wicked Rahu dwelt in their hearts, and the boys were sent to high ridges every day and night to look out over the steppes and see if any of the un-people had found a path to their retreat. One clear wintery afternoon, when Arjun and Bheema were on watch, they spied far away in the distance a scouting troop of the Rahu, who were patiently following the faint trail left by Gauri’s herd. The blizzard had swept away most of the markings, but the Rahu were great hunters, and prided themselves on never losing their quarry, whether human or animal. Arjun’s heart tightened into a fast-beating knot. The Rahu would find the trail and the opening to the valley, and slaughter them like cattle, at leisure, since the people had no other way to escape. Why was it forbidden to kill killers? He remembered that terrible night at the camp by the brown hills. He saw once again in his mind’s eye that baby-faced Rahu leader, with the glaring eyes of a tiger, that other enemy chief who blinked like an owl, and grinned as he killed, and the third one, who looked like he was in a dream, but was the worst of all. Why was it a sin to kill men like them? The people killed animals that did them no harm – he remembered that far-off childhood day when he had wept inconsolably at the slaughter of his pet calf, and not all the talk of the Way of the Great God had stemmed his tears. Surely, the Great God who protected the people would want these un-people to be killed. He could kill these scouts easily with his arrows. He could send up the dark souls of the Rahu to be destroyed forever by the Sun God. Most probably other people had already killed a few, for did the people not see occasionally a darkness come and go near the face of the Sun? If other people could kill the Rahu it could not be a sin for him to kill them also. He tried his strong bow in readiness.

“Yes, my brother,” said Bheema, as if reading his thoughts. “ Let them come, I shall break their stupid heads with my stick, all, all of them. I will raid their camp, and end this evil forever. It will be the Fight to End All Fights!”

Feeling strangely tired, Sara had lain down in her new hut to sleep away that afternoon. She dreamt of wolves, a long white horde of them, whose leader came over to her, and licked her face. She was strangely unafraid, and patted his great head, and pulled his ears as if he were a lamb.

That evening Sara smiled softly when Arjun and Bheema related their exciting story: “There the Rahu scouts were, spread in a wide arc, and looking intently for spoors, when a large white wolf pack broke ground, and pulled down at least two, or maybe more immediately. The others ran for their horses, and galloped off to regroup, but the wolves were hungry and in hot pursuit. I don’t think we will see the Rahu again this winter, or ever again,” said Arjun excitedly. And then he added, rather slowly in a lower key, as an after-thought:“ We were saved from some very bad thoughts, Clan Mother, I am ashamed to admit.”

The Clan Mother looked at the boys intently. “ It is the Great God the Sun’s Will,” she said simply, at last.