Wednesday 16 December 2020

Some Glimpses of Ancient Indian Thought and Practices


Some Glimpses of Ancient Indian Thought and Practices


[Since times immemorial India has always occupied a place of honour and glory in the comity of nations. The rich culture of this great country has been illumined by the great Vedas and the Puranas, the Gita, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata and rich thoughts that these and thousands of other Indian books of yore are studded with. Some selected snippets, episodes and gems of thought representing the ethos and philosophy of this great land are being given here as food for thought.]



In a fight between the demons and the gods once, the demons were having an upper hand. In desperation and anxiety, the gods went to Lord Vishnu to find out as to how they could vanquish the demons. The Lord advised them to get a mighty sword (a thunderbolt, Vajarpatt) prepared from the bones of some great sage. Accordingly, the gods approached the sage Dadhichi, a great saint. Dadhichi took no time in laying down his life so that his bones could be made into an invincible weapon (amoghastra). This victory of the good over evil is the rarest of the rare examples of great renunciation and sacrifice that this culture teaches. Who can forget the supreme sacrifice of the young sons of Sri Guru Gobind Singh? They chose to be bricked alive for the sake of their faith and the canons of justice and true liberty. Our philosophy and thought teach us to renounce, to sacrifice, to give away in charity in the real spirit of detachment. ‘Idam Naa mam’ (This does not belong to me) is the real spirit behind the yajnas we are called upon to perform frequently in our homes. Should corruption, greed and lust for easy money have any place in a country rich with such noble and lofty traditions?



The elder ones of this country, as per tradition coming down from thousands of years to this day, consider it a divine and blessed duty to feed the birds flying in the sky, the animals moving about on this earth and the insects living in small holes inside the earth. This noble tradition is an ocular proof of the fact that the people of this country believe in the unity of life, anywhere and everywhere. ‘Vasudhev Kutumbukam’, the entire Universe is one family, is the basic thought that works here and in the various such ceremonies like the tradition of ‘langar’ in the holy temples and Gurudwaras and the message of the holy Gurus contained in the directive : ‘Eat only after you have shared your meal with others. (Wand chhako).’ This idea of distribution applies not to food only; it extends well up to the entire resources and funds that are available to man. Do we still need to be taught to love the entire mankind as our kith and kin and respect the sanctity of life through total non-violence?



Once, the story goes, king Janaka of Maithil (present Bihar) called a meeting of the scholars to discuss some ticklish issue based on high philosophic thought. A well-known sage named Ashtavakara (so called because of his deformed body) was also invited to this meeting. As Ashtavakara entered the portals of the palace hall and walked up the passage, some scholars already present there burst into a derisive laughter. How could such a deformed and misshapen person discuss high philosophy, they felt. Ashtavakara thundered back to the King.” O King! I feel ashamed of being invited to this assembly of skinners (a person who deals in animal skins; charamkar). It is only a skinner who measures intelligence or status of a person from his skin or physical looks or the colour and shape of his skin or body.” This put the entire assembly to shame and brought them to their knees to beg pardon of this great saint. Colour of the skin or shape of the body has never been a measure of intelligence or status in this country. Lord Rama’s eating of the tasted berries from a Bheel woman (a Shudrá woman who used to sprinkle water on the earth with the help of a leather bag) is a sufficient proof of the fact that there was never any discrimination on the basis of caste, creed or profession of a person in ancient India.

One is here also reminded of what the enlightened sage, Swami Vivekananda said to a lady in America who laughed at his ‘simple’ dress : “Madam, in your country, it is the tailor who makes a man; in my country it is the intrinsic worth and character of a person that make him or her great.” Isn’t it unwise to support, tacitly or otherwise, any talk of such discrimination on such frivolous bases today?



The history of this great land is full of examples where no auspicious function was considered to be held properly without the participation of women. So much so, that if no woman could somehow make it to the function, a statue of the woman was created to mark her auspicious presence*. This only proves that a woman in this great land was never looked upon as an object of lust or sex ; she was always considered a devi (goddess) , a Kanjak (a young, unmarried girl child fit to be worshipped), the mother of mankind, the ardhangini, the inseparable but equal wheel of the rathá (chariot) of life. *At the occasion of the Setubandh (Rameshwaram bridge) Puja, a statue of Lord Rama’s ardhangini, Sita, was specially made for the auspicious occasion.

 This fitly explains Chhatrapati Shivaji’s bowing his head before a woman and respectfully restoring her dignity as a mother when some misguided soldiers of his victorious army presented her to Shivaji as a gift. This too explains that the great wars in both the sacred epics, the Ramayana & the Mahabharata, were fought for defending and upholding the honour of this matrishakti, the powerful motherhood. Does this not put those to shame who think of resorting to female foeticide or denying the female sex their rightful place in the affairs of the world?

[The author, Dr. D.V. Jindal is senior lecturer, PES (I), retired from SCD Govt. College Ludhiana. Having been a member of various academic bodies at various levels, he is presently a member of the External Faculty, Central Institute of English and Foreign Languages, Hyderabad. A Ph.D. in Phonetics from Panjab University, Chandigarh, he is an author of several books on Language and Literature.]



desperation (noun) : a state of having no hope In desperation, she called her father and asked for his help.


anxiety (noun) : a state of feeling nervous Lack of sleep can cause anxiety.


vanquish (verb) : to defeat completely The demons were vanquished by the gods.


invincible (adj) : too strong to be defeated The cricket team of Australia seemed invincible.


renunciation (noun) : the act of giving up Gandhiji appealed to the people for the renunciation of violence. Dadhichi’s sacrifice was a noble example of renunciation.


canons (noun) : principles The canons of great men are unshaken. He stuck to the canons of justice and morality till his last breath.


lofty (adj) : very high and impressive She was always praised for her lofty principles.

ocular (adj) : connected with the eyes The accident injured his ocular muscles. He was satisfied only after he had an ocular proof.


sanctity (noun) : the state of being holy The sage lived a life of sanctity. Sanctity of religious places should be maintained at all costs.


ticklish (adj) : difficult to deal with, a touchy subject My throat is irritated by a dry ticklish cough. I found it difficult to solve that ticklish problem.



derisive (adj) : unkind and showing that something is ridiculous She gave a short, derisive laugh at his dress sense.


intrinsic (adj) : a part of the real nature of something Some small shops are intrinsic to the town’s character.


Intrinsic worth is more important than professed qualifications.


tacitly (adv) : suggested indirectly The plan received a tacit disapproval. The boss tacitly supported the move to get his man elected.


frivolous (adj) : silly or absurd Do not waste your time in frivolous pastimes.





A. Comprehension Questions

(i) Answer the following questions:


1. What caused desperation to the gods?

Ans. The god and demons were at war. In this war the demons had the upper hand. The gods realized that they were losing the battle. This caused desperation to them.


2. Who did the gods go to in desperation?

Ans. The god went to Lord Vishnu to seek his advice and help when they were in a desperation.


3. What did the Lord advise them?

Ans. Lord Vishnu advised the gods to make a mighty sword from the bones of holy saint. This would be their invulnerable weapon and they would be able to defeat the demons.


4.. What was the sacrifice of saint Dadhichi?

Ans. Saint Dadhichi offered the bones of his body to the gods so that they might make a powerful weapon with them. This was his great sacrifice.


1.     What is the real spirit behind the yajnas performed in our homes?

Ans.  We perform the yajans in our homes in the spirit of charity, renunciation, sacrifice and detachment. We want to rise above attraction of the world. 


2.     What does the tradition of feeding birds and animals prove?

Ans. The tradition of feeding birds and animals proves that the people of India believe in the unity of life and regard the entire universe as one family.


3.     Why did some scholars laugh at Ashtavakara?

Ans. Ashtavakara was handicapped person. He had a deformed body and looked very ugly. So some scholar laughed at him.


4.     How did Ashtavakara react?

Ans. Ashtavakara became very angry. He said that they were skinners because they measured the value of everything by its skin or colour and not by intrinsic to be present at a meeting of such people.


5.     What did Vivekananda say to the lady who laughed at his simple dress?

Ans. Vivekananda said that in the country of the lady, man was made by tailor. But in India, a man’s greatness was judged by his intrinsic worth and character.


6.     What was the status of women in the ancient India?

Ans. Women were held in high esteem in ancient India. They were worshipped like goddesses. No function or ceremony was considered auspicious without participation of a woman. Woman was enjoyed a high status in ancient India.


7.     Why did Shivaji bow his head before the woman who was brought to him as a gift?

Ans. Shivaji knew that this woman was being humiliated by his soldiers. He had great respect for every woman. He hated the idea of accepting a woman as a gift. So to restore her honour and dignity, he bowed to her.


8.     Why, according to you, were the wars fought in the Mahabharata and Ramayana sacred?

Ans. The wars, mentioned in the Ramayana and Mahabaharata, were fought because Sita and Draupadi were insulted and humiliated. The wars were fought to restore their honour and dignity and to give all women a status of respect and equality with men. So those were scarted wars.


13. What does Lord Rama’s meeting with a Bheel woman and eating the tasted berries show?

Ans. Lord Rama, who was the son of a king, met a Bheel woman. He ate the tasted berries offered to him by that woman. This shows that in those days, people of all castes or creeds mixed freely with each other. There was no discrimination on the basis of caste or creed or profession.


(i)                Answer the following in about 50 words each:


1.     Why, according to the author, should those people be ashamed of themselves who believe in female foeticide?

Ans. Those people who believe in female foeticide are enemies of the human race. They are sinners, Killers and murderers of the mother of mankind. There is no rhyme or reason in their wicked thoughts. So they should be ashamed of female foeticide. 


2.     How does the author support the idea of the victory of the good over the evil?

Ans. The demons were doers of evil. They harmed others with their wicked deeds. The author describes the story of the war between demons and gods and the sacrifice made by a great sage called Dadhichi for the sake of good on the earth. The gods were victorious and the demons were defeated. Thus, through this story, the author supports the idea of the victory of the good over the evil.

3.     What is the basic difference between the position of women in society in the ancient times and now?

Ans. In ancient times, women were given great respect in society. There was no auspicious function to which they were not invited. Woman was regarded as the mother of mankind and worshipped like a goddess. In modern Indian society, some women hold high positions while others work as salves in their homes. The incidents of dowry-killings and female foeticides show that women are not getting their due regard in the modern society.


4.     What does the practice of ‘langar’ stand for? Explain.

Ans. At a langar, meals are shared among hundreds of men and women. They dine together in the simplest possible way. They eat and drink the same articles of food. This gives them the great idea of equality, love, brotherhood and fellow-feeling. This also teaches them that they should eat only have shared their meals with others.


5.     Give an example to prove that in ancient India, there was no discrimination on the basis of caste.

Ans. Lord Rama, who was the son of a king, took tasted berries from a Bheel woman and ate them. This woman belonged to a low caste. He had no hesitation to bring himself down to the level of this woman. This incident proves that in ancient India, there was no discrimination on the basis of caste.


B. Vocabulary Exercises

(i) Pick out the odd word which is not a synonym of the word given in italics in each set and put a circle around it.


demon:            devil, angel, fiend, imp

sage :               intellectual, mystic, spirit, guru

victory :           defeat, conquest, triumph, win

faith :              confidence, trust, belief, perception

auspicious :     holy, important, promising, impure

sacred :        blessed, secular, holy, revered




(ii) Add prefixes to the given words to form their antonyms:

easy                                 available                                  respect                           justice

wise                                 auspicious                               proper                           separable

equal                              guide                                      honour                          sufficient


Ans. uneasy                   unavailable                              disrespect                      injustice

         unwise                     inauspicious                               proper                            separable

         equal                    guide                                         honour                        sufficient



(iii) Look at the following sentences:

1.     This idea of distribution applies not to food only; it extends well up to the entire resources and funds that are available to man.


2.     “Madam, in your country, it is the tailor who makes a man; in my country it is the intrinsic worth and character of a person that make him or her great.”


3.     This only proves that a woman in this great land was never looked upon as an object of lust or sex; she was always considered a devi.


Do you notice the semicolon (;) in these sentences? When two independent clauses are linked without any conjunction between them; a semicolon is inserted. We use a comma after the first independent clause when we link two independent clauses with one of the following coordinating conjunctions : and, but, for, or, nor, so, yet. For example:

I am going home, and I intend to stay there. (comma) I am going home; I intend to stay there. (semi coloum)


Each of the following sentences needs either a comma or a semicolon. Choose the correct punctuation mark:


1. Satish has given up smoking about five times, but he cannot break the habit.


2. Our dog seems to have a built-in alarm clock; he wakes us up at exactly the same time every morning.


3. The passengers on the plane were alarmed, but the pilot and the crew kept their calm.


4. I realized at once that something was wrong; I was not, however, the only person who was concerned.


5. I had to complete the assignment by Sunday, otherwise, I would have failed the course.


6. Ram decided to be a doctor, but he changed his mind after he heard of the fees of the medical college.


7. I finished reading Freedom At Midnight, and then I went to bed.


8. The air was beautifully clear; it was a lovely day.


C. Grammar Exercises

(i) Fill in the blanks using the modals might, should or must:


1.     Your friend said you didn’t need to buy her anything for her birthday, but (insistence) you must at least get her some flowers.


2. Anju said she was really busy this week, but I think she might show up at the party if she doesn’t have to work overtime.


3. My husband said he would come over right after work, so he might be here by 6:00.


4. Don’t move her. She might be having some internal injuries because of the accident.


5. You must be joking!


6. Your trip to Europe must have been absolutely fascinating!


7. You should, not worry so much. Your father will be all right.


8. The doctor says that you should, use gloves to avoid skin irritations.


9. Your shopping at The Mall might, cost you a fortune.


(ii) Choose the correct preposition:


1. He swore by, God that he was innocent. (by/in)


2. It was a fight between, the gods and the demons. (in/between)


3. They live under, the same roof. (below/under)


4. They will do it with, pleasure. (with/in)


5. Divide the food between, the two boys. (between/among)


6. There is no truth in, what she just said. (in/about)


7. She stood leaning against, the wall. (on/against)


8. She pushed the letter under, the door. (under/below)


9. The boys ran across, the road. (across/through)


10. Climb up, the tree to get the mangoes. (on/up)




(iii) Fill in the blanks with the suitable articles:



Once upon a time there was an old woman who lived in a little house. She had in her

garden a bed of beautiful striped tulips. One night she was awakened by the sounds of sweet singing of birds and the sound of some babies laughing. She looked out of the window. The sounds seemed to come from the tulip bed, but she could see nothing. The next morning she walked among her flowers, but there were no signs of any one having been there the night before. On the Following night she was again awakened by the same sounds. She rose and stole softly through her garden. The moon was shining brightly on the tulip bed, and the flowers were swaying to and fro. The old woman looked closely and saw, standing by each tulip, a little Fairy mother who was crooning and rocking the flower like A cradle, while in each tulip cup lay a Little Fairy baby laughing and playing. The good old woman stole quietly back to her house, and from that time on she never picked the tulip, nor did she allow her neighbours to touch the flowers.


D. Pronunciation Practice

Check up the pronunciation of the following words in the dictionary and say them aloud:

Sauce                clerk                   debris

Yak                   swan                   chew

butcher             ballet                   demon

monk                yacht                  example

canal                 balcony              thoroughly

Don’t you think you should learn some phonetic symbols to be able to read the correct pronunciation of words from the dictionary?


E. Creative Writing and Extended Reading

1. Consult your teacher and read the original books that contain the incidents referred to in the lesson.


2. Write a paragraph on any one of the following:

i. Importance of Charity in Life.

ii. Status of Women in Ancient India.

iii. The Idea of the World Being a Big Family.


3. India is said to be a country of rich values and noble thoughts. How? Discuss.


4. Ask the Humanities Forum of your school to organize a Declamation Contest on the following subjects:

i. Status of Women in India – Past and Present

ii. The More You Give, the More You Get

iii. Virtue is its Own Reward

iv. The Pleasure of Sharing Food and Resources with Others

v. A Man is Great not by Caste or Birth, but by his Intrinsic Worth

vi. Woman – The Mother of Mankind


5. Relate, in your own words, any 2 stories from your study of the ancient Indian scriptures that convey the ideas of sacrifice, renunciation and charity.


Just a little fun:

There was a young lady of Crete,

Who was so exceedingly neat,

When she got out of bed

She stood on her head,

To make sure of not soiling her feet