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True grit: tales of old Kuru-Panchala

india Updated: Apr 17, 2011 01:56 IST
Renuka Narayanan
Renuka Narayanan
Hindustan Times
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The next time things heat up on the highways of Haryana, Delhi or western UP, we might dust up the old cry: “Soham bhagavah sochami” (Behold this sorrowful one) and beseech the policeman, “Tam ma, bhagavan, sokasya param tarayatv-iti (I have no resort but you, great master. Take me across this sea of sorrow).

That’s how Sage Narada asks Rishi Sanat Kumara to explain why he’s so miserable although he knows every book first to last. The rishi’s answer goes something like “sense without sensibility” as he clinically takes apart our levels of consciousness and tells us how to tune into life. But it’s tough to walk the talk, as even Narada rues.

Narada’s humility amazes, because he’s the ultimate P3P with the most frequent flier miles in the three worlds, a walking library and veena maestro, networked like nobody else and up there on every single A-list. But Sanat Kumara tells him, “Actually, you don’t know your A from your E.” And Narada says, “That’s right, I don’t, please teach me.”

It’s all in the Chandogya Upanishad, a grand old book if we do an updated read. It comes from the Western Kuru Panchala region, which means, well, Haryana, Delhi and western UP. Rishi Uddalaka Aruni composed it back in BCE in eight khanda (chapters) and its core idea is the ‘one-ness of the One.’ Its most famous line is ‘Tat tvam asi’ (‘Thou art That’), a philosophical punch in the gut that says, hey, who do you think you are if not part of the Big Idea?

And just hear what Jabala, a random person, says when her son Satyakama asks, “So who was my father? They’re asking at school before they’ll admit me.”

She says, “Naham etad veda tata yad-gotras tvam asi/ bahv aham charanti paricharini yauvane tvam alabhe/ saham etan na veda yad-gotras tvam asi/ jabala tu nam-aham asmi/ satyakamo nama tvam asi/ sa satyakama eva jabalo braviha iti.”

“I don’t know your ancestry. When I was a girl I worked as a maid in many places. I had to do all the housework and look after the guests. I slept with many men and I had you. I have no clue about your father. I’m Jabala. So tell them you’re Satyakama Jaabaali, the son of Jabala.” And you know what, they buy it.

Gutsy old Chandogya, some straight-talkers in there, I do think.