Monday, October 12, 2015

Returnees and Relinquishers

Returnees and Relinquishers

Primary disclaimer: I am not at all interested in any politics or political theories or political parties of any country or time. I consider political leaders of all countries and their followers dim witted and keep a light year’s length from them.

Secondary disclaimer: I believe in rationality and disposes of all those who are interested primarily in irrational stuff.

Important disclaimer: I do not belong to the left or right or center – any political party or organization related to any political party of the world, leave alone India. I do not have any friends or relatives who are members of any political outfit.

Few leading ‘INTELLECTUAL’ WRITERS of India have been hogging limelight and grabbing news headlines for the past few days.

Apparently, this has left quite a few netas sleepless and fuming over their shrinking space and right to be in the news.

These WRITERS have been returning Sahitya Akademi Awards as a mark of protest against apathy of the present government of India towards writers and artists and the government’s inability to contain fundamental forces [some read that as complicit encouragement of fundamental forces] who are hell bent on stifling freedom of expression in India and some WRITERS as a mark of protest against the silence of Sahitya Akademi in these matters.

Do these people have right to protest? Yes. This is a democratic country and everyone has right to protest – even the newborn baby.

Wait. What is Sahitya Akademi, what Sahitya Akademi Award has to do with the government, for that matter any government and why are these WRITERS hell bent on returning these Awards?

Sahitya Akademi is an autonomous organization that receives funds the Government of India and the Akademi confers Awards, Fellowships, organizes literary events across India and publishes various genres of serious literature in more than 20 languages. So, the governments, the present one as well as many in the past [sorry I do not know about the future and do not have capacity to predict future] have not provided any exclusive monetary support to Awards alone. What Sahitya Akademi allots for these Awards out of the grant is very negligible compared to the overall grant and expenditure.

That is okay, the government of the day may not exclusively fund the Awards but do they give or play any role in these Awards – selection of the titles, jury etc?

Sahitya Akademi Awards are given to TITLES selected by jury every year in 24 languages. The ground list for the Awards are prepared by WRITERS in each language, reviewed by 10 independent reviewers and the award winning title is selected by the jury constituted by the President from the list of names received from all the languages. Hundreds of people are involved in this mammoth exercise every year. Importantly they are not government servants.

These ‘‘INTELLECTUAL’’ WRITERS, with all their originality and creativity, could have at least googled before setting out on this ‘protest.’

Maybe I missed something. Let me check out. Oh boy! The Sahitya Akademi Awards selection criteria are very much in public domain. Here is the link:

On the contrary to all the tall claims of the ‘‘INTELLECTUAL’’ WRITERS who are RETURNEES at large, government has no bloody business with these Awards.


I see this RETURNING OF AWARDS by the RETURNEE ‘‘INTELLECTUAL’’ WRITERS as simple insult to their fellow writers. They are not protesting against government, but acting just to gain cheap publicity. As Aam Admi, I have to arrive at this conclusion only. All those writers and critics who selected these RETURNEE ‘‘INTELLECTUAL’’ WRITERS should come forward and torn the façade of the ‘‘INTELLECTUAL’’ WRITERS.

Funniest part, at the point my writing this, two WRITERS have resigned from their posts also. Who are they in Sahitya Akademi, apart from being WRITERS? They are in language advisory board and General Council. They are supposed to guide the Akademi in matters pertaining to literature and related stuff.

All the RETURNEE ‘‘INTELLECTUAL’’ WRITERS and RELINQUISHER ‘‘INTELLECTUAL’’ WRITERS have every right to request the President of the Akademi to convene the meeting of executive board of the Akademi. Sometimes the members mobilize support within the board to convince the President of the Akademi of the urgency and importance of the issue at hand. If these RELINQUISHER ‘‘INTELLECTUAL’’ WRITERS themselves were convinced of the urgency and importance of the issue they are raising, they would have urged the members and President.  

The point is the President of Sahitya Akademi has to obtain approval of the Executive Board before putting out anything in public. Poor person this President! At the mercy of ‘‘INTELLECTUAL’’ WRITERS.

But funniest part is, these RELINQUISHER ‘‘INTELLECTUAL’’ WRITERS, have, instead of exercising their right and stand unitedly against the dastardly acts of suppression of freedom of writers and artists, have run away shirking their responsibilities. Not these RELINQUISHER ‘‘INTELLECTUAL’’ WRITERS, but all those writers and scholars who elected them should be pitied. I see plenty of eggs on their faces.

Beneath all the actions and commotion is the underlying belief of ‘‘INTELLECTUAL’’ WRITERS that the present regime is fundamentalist and is prone to suppress and oppress the freedom of writers and artists. Let us agree with that assumption. What happens next? With these ‘‘INTELLECTUAL’’ WRITERS running away, the government will be free to stifle remaining few writers and put their own men and women in the place of these RETURNEE ‘‘INTELLECTUAL’’ WRITERS.

Whoa! That is what these WRITERS have been outwardly protesting but helping the very regime to do the same thing that they are protesting against.

Is there more to the actions of these ‘‘INTELLECTUAL’’ WRITERS than what meets the eye?

I doubt because

I don’t remember any ‘‘INTELLECTUAL’’ WRITER returning Sahitya Akademi award or relinquishing any Akademi post when M.F. Hussain was haunted, hounded and ostracized.

I don’t remember any ‘‘INTELLECTUAL’’ WRITER returning Sahitya Akademi award or relinquishing any Akademi post when Perumal Murugan was haunted, hounded, ostracized and brutally silenced. Dear ‘‘INTELLECTUAL’’ WRITERS, Indian Literature, Sahitya Akademi’s journal was among the first to review Perumal Murugan’s ‘One Part Woman’ much before the title was even heard in the ‘‘INTELLECTUAL’’ WRITERS’ UNIVERSE.  

I don’t remember any ‘‘INTELLECTUAL’’ WRITER returning Sahitya Akademi award or relinquishing any Akademi post when T.J. Joseph’s hand was chopped off.

The list is long and I just typed those few which came to my mind when the ‘‘INTELLECTUAL’’ WRITERS chose to look the other away when these attacks took place on the writers, academicians and artists.

Please forgive me Schopenhauer, I see a brand new stratagem, a nouveau stratagem and let me call that as Tom and Jerry stratagem.

Please forgive me Aristotle, as per the new ‘‘INTELLECTUAL’’ WRITER SYLLOGISM, a favorable conclusion can be drawn from wrong premises.

Please forgive me Nietzsche, as per the societal rule of ‘‘INTELLECTUAL’’ WRITERS, I don’t see any Eternal Recurrence but only ETERNAL TOKENISM.

Please forgive me Gotama, in the new philsophy of ‘‘INTELLECTUAL’’ WRITERS, smoke does not lead to fire but only more smoke, a ghastly and nasty vapor.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Essentials of Hindu Religions - 3

Puya and Pāpa

I had written in the previous post about ideal qualities, which according to Hindu religions, every person should possess.

But, Hindu religions are very practical. They know very well that all the people, at all times cannot possess all these qualities. A well-laid scheme covering all will be discussed in detail when we talk about purusharthas later.

Again, Hindu religions do not consider those who do not possess these qualities as sinners. After all ideal of these religions is cessation of suffering and salvation for all.

Does that mean, there is no concept of ‘sin’ in Hindu religions? There are similarities and major differences on the treatment of ‘sin’ between Hindu religions and that of others. As I wrote in the first post, ‘man’ is at the core of these religions and hence these religions introduce twin concept of Papa [demerit] and Punya [merit] to streamline and guide people rather than as a deviation from the path of God or some philosophical principle.

To understand the twin, but opposing, principles of Puya and Pāpa of Hindu religion, one is better off with at least scanty knowledge of two other principles related to these – Karma and Rebirth. We will discuss karma and rebirth in detail in later post but here a brief outline is presented.

The word Karma denotes action. Every action produces some effects and the person who acts accrues the fruits of every action, whether good or bad, pleasant or unpleasant and favourable or unfavourable. The sum of these fruits is carried along by the soul of the individual from birth to birth and these fruits fructify at appropriate times.

Hindus believe soul is immortal and it migrates from old body to a new one. However, many people have a very popular but wrong idea of how these two theories work. Many believe, wrongly, that if I help a cow now, that cow will also take another birth along with me and help me back. Or if I hit a tiger on the face, the same tiger will take rebirth to just hit me back, if not for anything else. What has to be understood clearly is that it is the sum of the fruits that fructify at appropriate times and not the individual agents who were involved in the act of creating those fruits.

So, any action(s) that create negative karma violating the individual and public space and that which brings forth negative consequences is called Papa or sin in Hindu religions. Over the period of centuries, Hindu religions have identified such actions and classified them. As there are many regions and traditions in this vast land, a large number of such actions are available. What is presented here is just an introduction and not an exhaustive discussion on all the lists.

The word Puya means “Holy, Auspicious, Good and Virtuous.” The word denotes all good or meritorious thoughts, speech and actions. It also refers to merits accrued through good or meritorious thoughts, speech and actions. Sometimes, the word Puya also refers to all actions that are beneficiary, the ones that lead to positive results and those that elevate the person from mundane levels. So, the word Puya can refer to meritorious actions like charity, good thoughts about the wellbeing of other people, pleasant speech that soothes others, the merits accrued by all such actions, a prayer, pilgrimage or even a meditation. Puya can refer to all these or simply any one of them.

Hindu religion encourages everyone to think, speak and act in meritorious or virtuous ways. In addition to the obvious conducive atmosphere that these may create, there is a belief that all such actions help a person to accrue meritorious fruits or good fruits that the person may enjoy in this birth or in the next one. There is also a belief that all meritorious deeds and thoughts help a person to rise above the mundane level and pay attention to the individual salvation and also universal wellbeing of all creatures.

Unlike other faiths, in Hindu traditions, the reward for meritorious actions is not merely a heaven that a person is supposed to reach after death. Though there are references to swarga in Hindu śāstras and heaven is one of the benefits a person may attain, that is not the end of everything.

Though the religious tone is unmistakable, the overall moral development of a human being is the central point of the theory of Puya. By extension, the overall wellbeing of society is also aimed at.


In religious traditions across the world, the word sin is understood, somewhat loosely stated, as a wilful rebellion or disobedience against what has been laid out by God. For example, the Original Sin [of Christianity] is believed to be shared by the people of the world with Adam, the original sinner. Almost all the religions have their own versions of sin, sinners and redemption.

In Hinduism, Pāpa or Pātaka, words generally used for sin, refer to the doctrine which deals with the emancipation of the individual, the impediments in that and the process of overcoming those impediments. 

However, because of its extremely religious nature, the doctrine of pātaka also deals with the acts of going against the will of God, etc. Therefore, Hindu doctrine of Sin is, in the western parlance, religio-ethical in nature rather than merely either religious or moral since in Hinduism, religion and ethics are not separate and distinct entities.

But why an action is considered as sinful at all?  Or for that matter, even if some actions are considered as sinful, why do men or women commit sins? What are the actions that are considered as sinful and why? If someone commits a sin, what are the ways of redemption?

According to Hindu religions, every human being is composed of three gunas or qualities called Sattva, Rajas and Tamas. These three qualities combine in different ways in different people and in such combinations, dominance of the quality Rajas impel people to indulge in certain types of actions that are harmful. In Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna says that “lust, anger and greed” ruin men and they must shun them [Bhagavad Gita XVI. 21] and also “it is lust and anger springing from Rajas….are the enemies of man in this world” [Bhagavad Gita III.37].

Any thought, speech, action, association or even an event that degrades and disturbs a human being mentally and physically is considered as sinful. It is so because any such ruination is an impediment to his final emancipation. By extension, such ruinations can also potentially disturb the equilibrium of a society in which a person may live. In this sense anything that brings a person down, disturbs the society and wean away a person and a group of people away from the path of God are considered sinful.

The number and names of actions that are considered as pātakas have been dealt with from the very ancient Hindu scriptures. The numbers and names have varied over the period of time and among the classes of scriptures. However, five sins are considered to be heinous or grave sins and here also sages have differed on names.

Following are generally accepted pañca mahāpātakas or five heinous sins though there may be differences in certain regions and times:
1.   theft,
2.   drinking of liquor,
3.   murder,
4.   violation of the preceptor’s bed and
5.   anyone who associates himself/herself with the perpetrators of the four sins before mentioned [Chandogya Upanishad V. 10. 9].

Many people replace the fourth one with abortion or bhrūahati and some replace the last one with govadha or killing of a cow.

Numerous classifications exist in the Hindu sacred literature on the types of sins and expiations required to redeem one self. Generally two are well known: Mahāpātakas [mortal sins] and Upapātakas [minor sins]. A few important mahāpātakas, upapātakas and prāyascittas are given below. It is not possible to deal with all of them as the list is exhaustive and those who are interested in knowing more or for particular sins or expiations can refer to numerous books that deal with pātakas and prāyascittas.

Mortal Sins

Hatyā or Vadha

Hatyā or Vadha denotes killing a human being.  This is considered the most heinous of all the mahāpātakas or grave or mortal sins mentioned in the Hindu śāstras. According to Hindu traditions, no human being has got any right to take away another life, leave alone human being. Whether a person kills another directly or induces somebody to kill or abets in killing or offers the protection to persons or a person who kill(s) a human being or turns away when the actual killing takes place, he/she is guilty of committing the sin of killing another. In the Hindu scriptures several prominent types of killing are discussed and few prominent ones are:
Bhrūna Hatyā
Killing of foetus or abortion is also considered sinful. Though not born, the embryo under development is also considered as a life and hence no one is considered to have any right to terminate the coming of a jive or individual self to life. The couple who request for abortion, the persons who conduct or even assist in such an action are treated as sinners. If anyone resorts to abortion without any plausible reason except to continue the enjoyment of pleasures are considered as lowly and fallen.
Śiśu Hatyā
According to Hindu culture and religion, children below the age of twelve are exempted from punishment for all wrong doings, whether done wilfully or ignorantly. Killing of such innocent children deliberately or otherwise is looked down upon in Hindu society.
Go Hatyā
In Hindu traditions, cows are worshipped as they are believed to be repositories of all gods. Since almost all the Hindu traditions hold that cows embody and carry within their bodies all the gods and goddesses, killing a cow is also treated as one of the gravest sins in all the traditions.
Drinking of intoxicating liquor and other such stuff are prohibited in Hindu religion. Whether prepared from molasses or flour or from flowers, all intoxicating liquid are prohibited as they are perceived to damage the mind and the body of the individual. They cause loss of mental balance in a person and in turn lead him/her to more vices and all of them destroy a person and also cause great disturbance to society at large. Liquor is seen as damaging finer sensitivities of an individual and act as a great impediment to one’s spiritual progress. Hence the śāstras highly recommend that one should stay away from all alcohol.
Depriving someone of his/her property and wealth, whether in small quantity or large, either directly or clandestinely or indirectly is considered as one of the grave sins in Hindu scriptures. Robbing poor people occur in all the scriptures as one of the grave sins.
Sexual Deviations

Following sexual actions / intentions are considered as sins:

Guruvaganāgama or having sexual intercourse with the wife of one’s Guru or preceptor is considered as a sinful activity.

Incest or having sex with one’s own family, that is, with the father or mother or brother or sister is considered as a sin. Some of the scriptures also include sex with sisters or brothers of mother or father and their children as one of the pātakas though there are numerous variations on this, differing from region to region.

Sex with animals, other than human beings, is considered sinful.

Sagha or Association

Māhāpātakisasarga or association with one who is committing mortal sins in itself is considered as a heinous crime and mortal sin. Such associations are perceived to corrupt one’s mind and are thought of to be highly degrading in the long run as long associations are bound to draw the negative qualities from either side.
Upapātakas and Prāyascitta
Some scriptures include gambling, telling lies, reviling scriptures, destroying what belongs to another or public as sins and the list is long. Those who are interested can go through books like Prāyascitta Viveka, Yājñavalkya Smrti and Manu Smrti.

Prāyascitta or ways to remove sin
The word Prāyascitta means purification of sin. That is, it clears the impressions made by the act of sin on the mind of the sinner. It is an action undertaken to correct the error made in the past. There are divergent views on prayascitta as a tool to remove the sins committed. There are some that say that for the sins that are committed intentionally, there is no escape route and one has to suffer the consequences of one’s actions. Those actions that resulted in sin, due to ignorance or negligence or committed unintentionally, can be atoned by resorting to various practices prescribed. There is also a contrary view that in Hindu dharm's scope, hope is given to all whether they are sinners or not. Even the persons who committed mortal sins should be provided with opportunity to repent and correct themselves. For Hindu religion, per se, does not accept eternally damned souls [in a technical sense, some Bhakti schools do accept the concept, but it is not widely prevalent]. Accordingly, there are huge numbers of prāyascittas or acts to remove sins in the Hindu scriptures. There are also several ways or means suggested to reduce the consequences of sinful actions. Following are few of them:

It is generally believed [wrongly] that there is no practice of confession in Hindu religious customs. If confession is taken as an act of praying to God for freeing oneself of the mistakes committed in the past, we have number of passages that indicate such prayers. Rg Veda contains numerous verses that contain prayers asking for forgiveness. In the Dharma Shastra literature, various instances the place, time and the manner of confessions are given. However, the major difference between confession in Hinduism and other religions is that confession is not to remove guilt from one’s mind; it rather initiates series of actions that are meant to reduce or remove the consequences of the sin.

Repentance or anutāpa is one of the major steps towards redemption. A sinner should feel for the mistake committed and the victims. It is not series of actions, but this repentance that makes a sinner fit to initiate prayascitta.

This restraint of prana in oneself and in the atmosphere around oneself is an age old practice of calming the mind and senses. This is one of the first few steps in all Hindu religious customs and therefore prayascitta is no different. The numbers of prāāyāma and ways of doing them are many. People who are interested in knowing more about techniques of prāāyāma can refer to books dealing with Yoga.


Tapas or austerity is the centre of all expiations in Hindu religion. There are divergent opinions on what constitutes austerity. Sage Gautama says that celibacy, truthfulness, fasting, sleeping on the ground, reciting the sacred syllables every day without fail and bathing thrice a day comprise austerity [Gau. Dh. Su. 19.15]. Number of days one should observe austerity differs on the sin committed and so is the extent of fasting. There are some injunctions where fasting gains central place and follows the lunar cycle and in certain cases, the period goes up to one year.


Japa is a practice of repeating a sacred syllable. It could be a mantra given by one’s preceptor or the God’s name or the sacred syllables prescribed for particular expiation. The number of repetition also varies from situation to situation. In fact, Japa is a constituent of a person’s daily routine. There are verses from various Purāas that say that taking God’s name expiates one from even the heinous of crimes.

Dāna or charity is a popular practice that is being practiced even today. On auspicious days, on certain occasions, as part of one’s expiations, or simply as part of routine affairs in life, Hindus give charity to poor and needy. Dāna is not a separate form of practice especially when it comes to sins and prayascitta. It is a part of the series of actions that have to be performed for redemption.

Upavāsa or fasting is an integral part of Hindu’s life. Many fast on certain days [like Monday or the eleventh day of a lunar cycle, ekādaśi] that are considered auspicious to gain merits or as part of a ritual or as a part of preparation for penitence.

Tirtha Yātra

Pilgrimage or tirtha yātra is eulogized as having power to destroy all kinds of sins. However, a person should prepare and execute the pilgrimage as per the procedure given, like going on foot, fasting, offering oblations to at holy places, etc.


As one can see from the above, the principles of Puya and Pāpa, though religious in nature, have been devised and used by Hindus to purify and prepare a person in his/her spiritual quest. All impediments to that are considered as harmful and one should avoid actions that lead to one’s own downfall.
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Those who want to know more about papa and punya can go through the following works:

P.V. Kane. History of Dharma Shastras, 5 vols, 1962-1975, Pune: Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute.

Chitralekha Singh and Premnath. Hinduism, 2002, New Delhi: Crest Publishing House

A. Sharma. The Purusharthas: A Study in Hindu Axiology, 1982, East Lansing: Asian Studies Centre, Michigan State University.