The Pondy Lit Fest 2019 was organized from September 27 to 29, 2019 at Shenbaga Convention Centre, Pondicherry. Dr. Sampadananda Mishra was invited to chair and moderate two sessions and be a panelist on one session.
The topic of the 1st session chaired by Dr. Mishra was Traditions of Bharat: Just how modern is our ancient? The other panelists in this session were Malini Awasthi, Shubhrastha and Yogini Deshpande.
In his inaugural address, Dr. Mishra spoke about the ancient traditions of Bharat. He said that the people at large and the younger generation in particular, have various questions and doubts about the traditions that are being followed and the reasons for following them. The session was carried forward by Malini Awasthi, who is into folk arts and music. She spoke about the relationship of folk arts with education, humanity and life. She said that the traditions of India have not been written anywhere and passed on to generation; instead, they are derived by and from the people themselves. It’s like a small glacier growing in size to become a big river. It has taken centuries for the Indian traditions to be formed. The Indian tradition though very ancient yet it is so modern and so contemporary. In her speech she mentioned about few folk tradition and highlighted some incidences from Ramayana where one’s celebration was at the cost of someone else’s sorrow. She beautifully explained how our ancestors used folk lore, folk dances and martial arts to make us independent and the same were used to fight against a common enemy.
Shubhrastha, a journalist by profession, was asked to speak about the major festivals of India and the controversies revolving around them and the remedies for these controversies. She said that many festivals celebrated in India are common to many states of India, but the fact is that they are celebrated under different names. Yet, all these celebrations have the same underlying theme. She quoted the examples of Bhai duj and Makara Sankaranti. The science behind the celebrations of Holi and the impact the natural colours had on our body was neatly elaborated in her speech. She reiterated that going back to our culture and using the natural things are the only solutions that can solve all the controversies revolving around festivals. She also showed her concern about the people of west beginning to adopt our practices whereas we the owners of these traditions have abandoned them.
Yogini Deshpande, a leading civil engineer, spoke about the relevance of ancient traditions with that of the modern ones. She touched topics on civil engineering and traditions, how the Indian dressing style still follows the traditional ways and the benefit derived out of it. In her speech she mentioned how the ancient vaastu shastra and shilpa shastra are helpful in modern civil engineering and architecture. She gave a comparative study about geotechnical engineering with that of a book written on shilpa shastra by the Sage Narada. She mentioned that shilpa shastra has given a detailed description about 3-lane roads centuries ago, but these have come into existence only in the recent past in our modern days. She accepted the fact that present day technology is failing to fill in many gaps and hence the old traditions should be brought back into its place to fill in these gap.
The question of “What exactly is meant by going back to the tradition?” was asked to the panelists and each one of them answered this question in their own style, which was very interesting and informative. Stories from epics, some unknown facts, and the culture of many states were quoted as examples for how our age-old traditions are not in par, but are the best when compared with the modern thoughts.
Dr. Mishra concluded the session by reiterating some points that included how traditions have much relevance with today’s life and actions. He further added that certain traditions that have got diluted over ages needs to be recovered back and taken forward for the benefit of the humanity. He mentioned that the people have distanced themselves from the traditional roots and by going back to those will be the only remedy to solve the problems related to the traditional practices. As a concluding note, he quoted how Sri Aurobindo and Kalidasa were very modern in their thoughts. They both have said that there is no need to accept the old since it is old and there is no need to reject the new since it is new. Intelligent people investigate before accepting or rejecting anything and this is how everything should be done.
In the question and answer session, Dr. Mishra stressed the importance of the original, discriminative thought power and how it is lost in today’s world. Many participants felt that this session was certainly an eye opener for them. The panelists agreed that the old ideas with new interpretations should be passed on to younger generation for them to have a sound mind in a sound body.
To listen to the full discussion, please click on https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ajJGaS9UmUA&feature=youtu.be&fbclid=IwAR0P2bOuidkcqsJGRToBff89PkaaDgZDCmVoNRaDZq-VatYIW6cQbrl0pdQ
The topic of the second session chaired by Dr. Mishra was Jal, Jungle, Janwar. The other panelists were S Vishwanathan, Viva Kermani, Toine Van Megen, Aloke Kumar.
In his inaugural address, Dr. Mishra gave a brief introduction about the panel members and said that each one of the panel members have contributed a lot for the protection of the environment through their works. He briefed that the environmental issues that the society faces today is because of the lack of understanding about the nature by the human beings. He said that the law of nature is the same for the man and the cosmos. Only when this law is violated, the crises take place. The importance of chandas or the harmonious rhythmic movements was lucidly explained by him. The psychological problems faced by the people also affect the nature. The idea that we the humans endeavoring to protect nature was contradicted by him. He said the nature is in abundance and it has all the powers to protect itself. He insisted to follow the advices of seers and sages of the past. If people follow this principle of giving then nature will also give us more and more that it has been hiding from the people. After his small introduction, he invited S Viswanathan to talk about the aesthetic aspect of the wells, water scarcity and solutions to put an end to this scarcity in the future.
S Vishwanathan, a faculty at the Azim Premji University, clearly explained the reasons behind scarcity of water through some vital facts and figures. He said that agriculture has been the major consumer of water; because it is through agriculture the food needs of the Indian population is catered to. He stressed that though engineering science says that flow of rivers in sea is a waste of water, it is not; only if the rivers flow into the sea it will help the biodiversity at large and he cited some examples to prove this. He stated that India is the major user of groundwater compared to USA and China both put together. He added that pumping of groundwater requires lot of energy, it makes the water saline and it reduces stream and river flow resulting in water crisis. To find a remedy for this crisis, he suggested that the major consumers of water, agriculture and energy, should find out alternative methods to safeguard the country from water scarcity. He pointed out that how ground wells indicate water abundance and scarcity and this will help the individuals to consume and preserve water wisely. He suggested a simple way to solve this problem of water scarcity and it is through digging wells all over India. By digging wells, the well diggers can earn their livelihood and also we can save the rain water and that water can pierce deep into the earth thereby raising the groundwater level. He concluded by insisting that wells should be constructed to easily come out of this water scarcity.
The topic of discussion for Toine Van Megen, from Auroville, was Water, Energy, Land, and Livelihood. He started his speech by saying that the water, energy, land, and livelihood are all well connected. He elaborated about the various projects that his team has undertaken for the nexus of water, energy, land, and livelihood. He said that a further reduction of 60% of water consumption and 30% increase in yield is happening in the farms where they have tried out their new methods. He also spoke about the current methods that they are following in some parts of Tamil Nadu through which the farmers get a subsidy for minimal usage of electricity. He made the discussion more interactive by asking the audience questions that had very good participation. He clearly said that currently we do not have energy problem but instead it is energy storage problem, He showed his concern over the consequences that the society and the future generation have to face if we fail to store water energy and solar energy.
Viva Kermani was asked to point out the major environmental crisis and the awareness that the people should have about the environment. She pointed out that majority of the rivers originate from the tiger reserve forests. She said that India is one among the countries that has strict acts and legislatives for environment protection and safety. She also mentioned that we fail to adhere to these rules and regulations and that is the cause for this crisis. She outlined about the various climatic conditions that India would have to face in the near future and how we have to be prepared for handling those.
Aloke Kumar, a young scientist, introduced his new invention on water purification in this discussion. He highlighted that though we have considerable amount of water, they are not in consumable form. He listed out the various factors that poison the water. He narrated incidences and proved that earth has all the capacities to heal itself from all the calamities done to it. He clearly explained his invention on how a certain bacteria in a given format can make sand into brick. He further elaborated that they are trying to find out how this technique can be used in water purification, which when achieved will have very good results. He was very enthusiastic in answering the questions raised by the audience about his invention.
The question hour further saw active participation from the audience and the panelist clearly answered all their questions to their fullest satisfaction. The take home for the participants was that “saving begins at home,” not just financial savings, but also energy saving and water saving, which was very well accepted by one and all.
Dr. Sampadananda Mishra concluded this discussion by pointing out that connecting to our roots, educating oneself and being disciplined is a solution for the entire crisis that is happening around us.
To listen to the full discussion, click on the link below:
The topic of the third session in which Dr. Mishra was one of the panelists was Mahabharata: Ancient, Modern or Post Modern? Gautam Chikermane chaired this session and the other panelists were Arvindan Neelakandan, Sandhya Jain, Sai Swaroopa Aiyar and Jataayu.
In his inaugural address, Gautam Chikermane spoke about how Mahabarata was taken away from India and also mentioned about the innumerable versions of the Mahabarata that is existing today. He mentioned about various translations of Mahabharata and said that “The Mahabarata is the Universe and the Universe is the Mahabarata.” He requested the panelists to explore more on the relevance of Mahabarata in today’s world.
The first panelist, Aravindan Neelakanthan, started his discussion about the various versions of Mahabarata beginning from the first one that he learnt from his parents orally and till the Tamil version Villiputhurar Bharatam. He said that, knowingly or unknowingly, all the actions that we perform have some connections with the Mahabarata. When Dushasana humiliated Draupadi, Bheema took an oath to kill Dushasana and not to humiliate the women of the Kauravas, thereby proving that Bheema is a staunch follower of Dharma. He connected this situation to a similar current day event and mentioned how the people of today reacted by talking ill about the women of his family.
Sai Swaroopa, an author of two books, discussed about the role of women in Mahabarata. She elaborated that Mahabarata has given due recognition and respect to the female characters in it. To prove this statement, she quoted the sabha scene and said that Draupadi was not a mere character of that scene; instead she is the heroine of that scene. She quoted Draupadi as a role model and asked the modern women to learn from her how to keep calm and cool even during adverse situations. She cited that how the Telegu Mahabarata has personified Draupadi as iccha shakti, Krishna as the jnana shakti and Pandavas to be the kriya shakti. She mentioned it is worth having Draupadi as a role model for womanhood.
Sampadananda Mishra started his speech about how good it will be if everyone knows to read and understand the Mahabharata in Sanskrit. He answered to a question on the difference between itihaasa and history, which has remained unanswered for a very long time. He said that more concentration or importance is given to the stories and but not teaching imparted through those stories. He further added that in Mahabarata all the aspects of Dharma has been clearly explained making it relevant for the ages to come. He further said the 700 verses of the Bhagavad Gita lay down what Dharma is. He also mentioned what Sri Aurobindo and the Mother have said about the Gita.
Sandhya Jain was asked to talk about “Is Mahabarata an itihaas or history?” She did a comparative study of Ramayana and Mahabarata and outlined the adharmic methods that were followed by Kaikeyi in Ramayana, which were compensated by Bharata through his good deeds later. She also mentioned about the adharmic methods followed by Dritarashtra in Mahabarata and how Bheeshma knowing about them supported them, which is also against dharma. She elegantly explained how Mahabarata lays down about the relationship between a teacher and a student through Arjuna and King Virat’s daughter and insisted that the teacher of today should follow the same with their students.
Is dharma the weakness of the Indians? This question was answered by Jataayu in his speech. He mentioned that in the whole of Mahabarata it is said that there is victory only where there is dharma. He further said that the victory of Pandavas was possible only because of their dharmic acts even though they were far below the Kauravas in all aspects. He stated that the existence of the Hindus is a testimony of dharma.
There was a very interesting and interactive question and answer session. The artha, kama and moksha aspect of any incident was one topic among the question and answer discussion. Dr. Mishra answering a question said that dharma or adharma has to be considered keeping the sthaana, kaala and paatra in mind. He concluded by saying that universal values that hold good for all ages should be given more importance than the temporal values. He insisted that the itihaasas like Ramayana and Mahabaratha should be read in the original language to understand their pure value and if one is unable to read in the original language one must at least read the translations in their regional language so that the essence can be clearly understood.
To find out the answers of many questions and to get to know the complete discussion, please click the below link:
In addition to Dr. Mishra’s participation as a chairperson and panelist in the three sessions mentioned above, SAFIC also had set up a bookstall for display and sell of its publications. A gift bag was offered to each invited speaker with complement from SAFIC.