Can we improve Indian education by using technology and going back to tradition?

Rajeev Srinivasan

Prof. Rajeev Srinivasan, IIM Bangalore

Education everywhere is going through trying times. India’s education system has demonstrated particularly poor learning outcomes in primary (India ranked 43rd out of 45th in the last PISA test it took part in. PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) is a standard global test for 15 year olds. In 2013, India debuted, and ranked so close to the bottom of the rankings that it withdrew from the PISA study thereafter. In contrast, China, another debutant in 2013, zoomed right to the top position. In regards to university education, there has not been a single globally lauded invention or discovery from India since 1947.) and tertiary (Dr. Gangan Prathap, a former VC, in 2017: “India has a presence in fifteen of twenty-two subject areas in which there at least 50 institutes globally that have published more than 500 papers. It has no institution which can be counted at this level of size and excellence in seven areas: Arts & Humanities; Business, Management and Accounting; Health Professions; Neuroscience; Nursing; Psychology; and Social Sciences. India’s research base is completely skewed towards the Physical Sciences and Engineering with very little for Biological Sciences and Medicine and virtually none in Social Sciences and Arts and Humanities when excellence at the highest level is considered. Its performance is also bench marked against three nations, namely Australia, the Netherlands and Taiwan which are of similar size in terms of GDP and scientific output… It is seen that although India has the highest GDP among the four countries, its performance lags considerably behind due to the very low expenditure on R&D.”) education. In this context, His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s statement of April 23rd is noteworthy: “Serious discussions on how to include the ancient Indian traditions in educational system should begin. India has the capability to combine modern education with its ancient traditions to help solve problems in the world”, said the pontiff.

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(Source of image : https://edexec.co.uk/technology-vs-tradition-creating-the-perfect-learning-environment/)

It is remarkable that technological progress has made it possible to take in elements of traditional systems including gurukulas. What we have used over the last couple of centuries is a system imposed by British imperialists, driven by their needs at the time. That colonial education system was a product of the (First) Industrial Revolution. Their factories required masses of people who were literate, and able to follow instructions. That’s it: no creativity, please.

There is a contrast between this system and what is generally believed to have existed earlier: a broad, humanistic educational system with significant customization as well as practical problem-solving. The emphasis in India has traditionally been in the practical application of theoretical ideas: eg. in the creation of Vedic fire altars with precise mathematical properties.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution, and especially the proliferation of computing power and Artificial Intelligence, negates the requirements of the First. We no longer need armies of drone workers toiling away. We need creative individuals.

Furthermore, the nature of work is changing. Earlier, people used to change jobs, but now they change careers, often pursuing three or four in sequence. Besides, the very idea of the lifetime job is looking shaky: we may instead have a ‘gig economy’ where free agent workers come together for a specific task, complete it, and move on. A large number of people may become permanently unemployable, too. The trick for each individual is to avoid that fate through choosing education wisely.

Fortunately, we can now envision truly customized education. A curriculum, lesson plans, tests, and self-paced learning that are appropriate for a specific individual are now possible through the application of AI techniques.

In addition, there is learning material out there, available to all via MOOCs (Massively Online Open Courses) and others: Khan Academy, Coursera, Udacity, TED, Wikipedia, edX, YouTube and also Indian equivalents. Much of the content is free.

There is also the tyranny of English, that is to say that English is considered the sina qua non for a person to be deemed ‘educated’ in India. Even if you are a highly-trained and skilled pundit in traditional knowledge, you will be viewed with derision by English-speakers (Ananda K Coomaraswamy on 1908: “Speak to the ordinary graduate of an Indian University, or a student from Ceylon, of the ideals in the Mahabharata—he will hasten to display his knowledge of Shakespeare; talk to him of religious philosophy—you find that he is an atheist of the crude type common in Europe a generation ago, and that not only has he no religion, but is as lacking in philosophy as the average Englishman; talk of him of Indian music—he will produce a gramophone or a harmonium and inflict upon you one or both; talk to him of Indian dress or jewelry—he will tell you that they are uncivilized and barbaric; talk to him of Indian art—it is news to him that such a thing exists; ask him to translate for you a letter written in his mother-tongue—he does not know it. He is indeed a stranger in his own land.”). There was a time when it was believed that English was an advantage for Indians; now it is apparent that it is stunting the development of independent research, not to mention killing off Indian languages.

Here too, technology can be the savior. For the first time, we can see a future where real-time translation enables people to learn in their mother tongue. If automatic translation becomes routine, then it becomes easy for our mother-tongue-speaking students to understand all the material out there in MOOCs: it will be delivered to them in their mother tongues, thanks to machine learning.

What might be useful in traditional education? The curricula documented by Dharampal as prevailing in pre-colonial India included vyakarana, tarka, ganita, rasa, darsana, arthashastra, and pramana. If you step away from the current STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) focus, these subjects would appear to help in the development of fully engaged and innovative  citizens.

Can we move to such a system overnight? Of course not. But the gradual introduction of such subjects into the curriculum will be useful for Indian students to have a competitive advantage in the future.

 

Prof. Rajeev Srinivasan, Adjunct Faculty, Strategy Area, IIM Bangalore

 

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Relevance of Gandhi in Today’s World

AS

Dr. Anju Seth

Looking at the present state of affairs in India, the birthplace of Gandhi, one would probably surmise that Gandhism, whatever the term may mean, cannot have any relevance in this twenty-first century. Gandhi is rightly called the Father of the Nation because he single handedly stood up against the mighty British Empire, without any arms, and brought her independence. However, today, Gandhi is mostly forgotten and his relevance questioned even by his ardent devotees. Today Gandhi is remembered in India mostly on his birthday which is celebrated as a national holiday rather as a ritual.

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(Source of Image : http://devang-home.blogspot.com/2011/08/sketches-of-mahatma-gandhi.html)

As a matter of fact, India is not following any of Gandhi’s teachings which are mostly confined to text books. In fact, since independence, the country has witnessed many violent communal riots in this multi communal country. Gandhi’s message of ‘swābalambī’, self-sufficiency with home spun ‘khādī’ cloth is not used now-a-days even as a social slogan. Statistics shows that the country is definitely not following ‘sarvodaya’, a broad Gandhian term meaning ‘universal upliftment’ or ‘progress of all’ reaching the masses. On the contrary, India today has the unique distinction of being the only country in the world which has the richest man in the world while at the same time more than 30 per cent of its population lives in dire poverty.

The above shows that today, Gandhism is a very confused ‘ism’ in India. Today many politicians in India use the term merely as a slogan and the common man make Gandhi almost out of reach of the younger groups by making Gandhi an unwilling ‘avatāra’. That may be one reason why the only photo we see of Gandhi in India is always that of an old man which brings the image of a very simple and pious man who was meek and mild like Jesus Christ. While Gandhi was not a simple man to say the least, the above does not gives the right image of Gandhi and does not bring any inspiration to the younger group, the group most relevant for Gandhi.

But Mahatma Gandhi, in this twentieth century, produced a very sophisticated approach because he implemented that very noble philosophy of ahimsā in modern politics, and he succeeded. That is a very great thing.”

And that is precisely the greatness of Gandhi and that is the message of Gandhi to the modern world. In the past century many places in the world have been drastically changed through the use of brute force, by the power of guns the Soviet Union, China, Tibet, Burma, many communist countries in Africa and South America. But eventually the power of guns will have to be changed by the will of the ordinary people. If we try to analyze the secrets of Gandhi’s success, we would probably find Faith and Action and Populism, the three most important aspects of his life. Gandhi’s extra ordinary communion with the masses of ordinary people was another of his secrets. In contrast to many of our present day leaders of this highly democratic world, Gandhi was a true leader and friend of the people. Disaku Ikeda, the Japanese Buddhist leader who takes great inspiration from Gandhi has this to say about him. “His activism is not mere action but contains many aspects of a spiritual practice that is inspired by the inner urging of the conscience”.

The phenomenal success Gandhi registered in far-away South Africa fighting for human rights and civil liberties has great significance when we find that later his teachings were adopted not only by Nelson Mandela, the South African freedom fighter, but it was also subsequently revealed that the former South African president De Klerk was greatly influenced by Gandhi’s principles. In fact, from Dalai Lama to Desmond Tutu and from Martin Luther King to Nelson Mandela, many world leaders were inspired by Mahatma Gandhi, all in their own different ways.

Gandhi left many valuable sayings for the modern man to fight for goodness in society in a non-violent way. “Good” Gandhi said “travels at a snails pace.” “Non-violence” Gandhi said “is a tree of slow growth. It grows imperceptibly but surely.” And then “Mere goodness is not of much use.” Gandhi stated. “Goodness must be joined with knowledge, courage and conviction. One must cultivate the fine discriminating quality which goes with spiritual courage and character.” The modern man can also take great wisdom from what Gandhi said the seven social sins: Politics without principles; Wealth without work; Commerce without morality; Education without character; Pleasure without conscience; Science without humanity; Worship without sacrifice.

It was the unique non-violent movement under his leadership that earned for India freedom from the colonial rule. In spearheading the campaign against the alien rule, Gandhiji adopted the innovative techniques of civil disobedience and social transformation, which had several exemplary features.

The Gandhian technique of mobilizing people has been successfully employed by many oppressed societies around the world under the leadership of people like Martin Luther King in the United States, Nelson Mandela in South Africa, and now Aung Saan Sun Kyi in Myanmar, which is an eloquent testimony to the continuing relevance of Mahatma Gandhi.

In India, economic development has been mostly confined to the urban conglomerates. In the process, the rural India that comprises 700 million people has been given short shrift. Gandhiji’s philosophy of inclusive growth is fundamental to the building of a resurgent rural India. He believed in “production by the masses” rather than in mass production, a distinctive feature of the industrial revolution. It is surprising, even paradoxical, that these days Gandhian philosophy should find increasing expression through the most modern technology! Now, it is possible to establish small-scale and medium-scale factories in smaller towns and remote corners of the country, thanks to the phenomenal innovations in communication and information technologies. New technologies have brought in widespread and low-cost electronic connectivity that enables instantaneous contact between industrial units and the sellers and consumers of their products. Location and logistics are no more a limitation or constraint for industrial development.

If we say that the twenty-first century is the century of the common man, then we see that Gandhism has even more relevance in this age, and Gandhi will inspire generations of individuals fighting for goodness of the society. If today we find that Gandhism is in severe test in countries like India, it is not because there is certain inherent weakness in Gandhism, but it is because we have not seen in India strong leaders with the required courage and conviction to fight the evils in society. We may borrow Gandhi’s own words on Ahimsā, and say that Gandhism is only for the courageous people.

-Dr. Anju Seth, Associate Professor, Department of Sanskrit, Satyawati College (Day), University of Delhi, Delhi, India

स्वतंत्रता की भारतीय शैली

-प्रोफ़ेसर बलराम सिंह

Independence का वास्तविक अर्थ आत्मनिर्भरता है। In का अर्थ है inside अर्थात् आत्मा के स्तर तक पहुँचना और फिर उसी पर निर्भर होना अथवा dependent हो जाना। जब व्यक्ति आत्मश: कार्यरत होता है तो उसका आत्मबल सदैव पुष्टित होता रहता है। उसके लिए सारा जग आत्मीय बन जाता है। वह ‘अयम निज: परोवेति’ की गणना लघुचेतीय समझता है। उसके अंत:करण में चिरक़ालीन उदारता झकोरे लेने लगती है, तथा ‘वसुधैव कुटुम्बकम’ के सम्मत भाव जागृत हो जाते हैं। यहाँ तक कि उनके यहाँ ‘संताने तनय व तनया’ तक न सीमित रहकर आत्मज और आत्मजा के रूप उत्पन्न होने लगती हैं अर्थात् आत्मबीज ही अंकुरित, पल्लवित, पुष्पित. व फलित होता है। ‘अहम् ब्रह्म अस्मि’ की अनुभूति सार्थक हो जाती है। ये है independence की वास्तविक महिमा! ये एक दिन में सीमित नहीं हो सकता, ये तो कल्पों का माजरा है जनाब!!

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Independence का दूसरा अर्थ है है स्वाधीनता, अर्थात् अपने को पूरी तरह से पहचान कर उसके आधीन हो जाना अथवा उसी की सत्ता के आधीन कार्यरत हो जाना। अपने को पहचानने का अभिप्राय है अपने धर्म को पहचानना, और उसी आधार पर गुण और कर्म निर्धारित करना। स्वधर्म की पहचान का तात्पर्य है अपनी प्रकृति को गहराई से समझना, बूझना, और परखना। जब व्यक्ति इस स्तर पर पहुँच जाता है तब अपनी प्रकृति को ही आधार बनाकर उसी में श्रद्धा एवं भक्ति से संलग्न होकर कर्म करता है। उसके अतिरिक्त कुछ नहीं करता। श्रीकृष्ण ने भगवद्गीता में इसका उद्धरण इस प्रकार किया है- ‘स्वधर्मे निधनम श्रेय: परधर्मों भयावह’, अर्थात् अपने धर्म के अनुसार आचरण में सबकुछ मिट जाना भी श्रेयस्कर है। यही नहीं किसी अन्य के धर्म अर्थात् प्रकृति का आचरण भयावह होता है इसलिए स्वाधीनता अत्यंत आवश्यक मानवीय दशा है जो मानव ही नहीं बल्कि पूरी समष्टि के लिए कल्याणकारी है।

Independence का तीसरा अर्थ है स्वतंत्रता अर्थात् अपना ही तंत्र होना चाहिए चाहे वो पारिवारिक हो, सामाजिक हो, आर्थिक हो, शैक्षिक हो, अथवा राजनीतिक हो। दूसरों की व्यवस्था यद्यपि उनके लिए कितनी भी उच्च एवं सराहनीय क्यों न हो किसी और के लिए तनावपूर्ण, बलाघाती, भयंकर कलह का कारण बन सकती है। अतः किसी भी देश को एक ऐसी व्यवस्था का सृजन करना चाहिए जिसके अंतर्गत हर एक व्यक्ति को सम्पूर्ण मुक्ति रहे कि वह व्यक्तिगत, पारिवारिक, तथा सामाजिक स्तरों पर अपने ही तंत्र के अनुकूल जीवन यापन कर सके। यह व्यवस्था बाह्य रूप से प्रारम्भ में अनेकता के सिद्धांत पर ही आधारित हो सकती है, अर्थात् कोई uniform civil code नहीं, कोई संविधान नहीं, कोई अधिवक्ता या न्यूनतवक़्ता नहीं, कोई AC में विराजित न्यायाधीश नहीं। मात्र धरातलीय प्रबुद्धजनो की आवश्यकता होती है जिनमे आचार विचार से आत्मबोध झलकता हो। वही सर्वभूतानाम की स्वतंत्रता सुनियोजित व  सुनिश्चित कर सकते है इसीलिए भारत ऋषियों का देश रहा है, स्वतंत्रता के लिए। आधुनिक स्वतंत्रता दिवस  को प्रेरणा का आधार मानकर स्वतंत्रता को शाश्वत बनाने के लिए संकल्पित हों, और इसी का पर्व मनायें आज and forever!! शुभम्

– Prof. Bal Ram Singh, School of Indic Studies, Institute of Advanced Sciences, Dartmouth, MA, USA

Indian Family Traditions, Laws, and Government

Prof. Bal Ram Singh

Traditions can also take ugly forms, such as dowry system, female feticide, outraging modesty of women, etc. which can make family lives of the women (and men) anguished and intolerable. Despite (and may be due to) the laws against dowry, the menace of discord continues to grow in Indian society. Government response to enact further laws to protect women has also taken an ugly turn, and is being used settle scores between families.

Clearly, enacting laws, particularly with selfish culture in mind, is not very effective approach to solve social and family problems. However, government of India has gone on with several intriguing laws to solve family problems. Interestingly, these laws are enacted only for Hindus, the majority community in India, leaving Muslims and Christians untouched presumably to exhibit government’s secular practice. An exception is a bill that was recently introduced againt triple talaq practice of Muslims.

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In addition to giving an impression of Hindu practices in need of reforms (thereby wrong), the secular principles borrowed from West where culture and practices are very different are being applied to Indian culture, many times confusing the population, and also at times at the behest of international organizations and groups.

Some of the recent laws or government positions are listed below:

  1. Government of India enacted a law that children are liable to take care of parents, and can be sued by parents if they default.
  2. Parents cannot sell inherited properties without children’s consent.
  3. Live in relationship is fine, citing Radha and Krishna as example of live in relationship.
  4. Girls and boys of less than 16 years of age can have sexual relationship even though marriage age is 18 years for girls and 21 years for boys.

Many may not know that in several states of USA there is no lower age limit on marriage, and many states have provision for marriage as young as 14 years of age!

These laws and assertions are obviously anti-family and anti-Indian culture, and unfortunately applied selectively to Hindu population. Even Supreme court judges took the government to task on the selective application of amendments to Hindus.

The Supreme court of India said  that government’s attempts to reform personal laws don’t go beyond Hindus who have been more tolerant of such initiatives (Times of India, February 11, 2011; http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/7456761.cms?prtpage=1)

“The Hindu community has been tolerant to these statutory interventions. But there appears a lack of secular commitment as it has not happened for other religions.” 

Justices Dalveer Bhandari and A K Ganguly made the observation while hearing petitions filed by the National Commission for Women and its Delhi chapter. The petitioners had sought formulation of a uniform marriageable age and complained that different stipulations in as many statutes had created confusion. 

In fact, the Hindu Marriage Act of 1955 itself is fairly arbitrarily done, and has almost nothing to do with Hindu philosophy or general practices. At least no references are made to any Hindu scriptures, consultation, or consensus. Government continues to make laws for Hindus without even a shred of consideration to either the community or its religious authorities. Many a times Hindu related laws are singled out to be enacted at the behest of a few elite class experiences, international pressure, domestic politics, or to create equivalence to other communities, viz., Christians and Muslims, both communities having extensive references to the social and legal aspects in their religious books, unlike Hindu texts.

It is certainly true that Hindu texts are more of guidance at spiritual, intellectual, and social levels, and allow flexibility for time and place. Nevertheless, a secular government, with a society less inclined to be intellectually engaged at mass level, and much less being sought to provide philosophical input to the provisions, is committing a grave long term mistake in imposing Western practices on its people. This acquires more significance and importance when one considers the diversity that the Hindu community exhibits traditionally, which has continued with the many of the practices of the only living ancient living civilization.

Obviously, there is a major disconnect between the society and the rulers. India is a very large society with many of the cultural intermixes to be ruled by a single set of laws and provisions. India and Hindu represent a diversity of thoughts and practices that is integral to its existence. There is no reference in ancient India to have a constitution, judges, advocates, as wide ranging as it is currently enforced. It has been a self policing society, governed by Kuldharma, Jatidharma, Varnadharma, Rashtradharma, and paramdharama. Currently, uch things are not even seriously considered while making policies and laws for the society.

There are many ills that are creeping in the Indian society, as a result of not considering the traditions, practices, and ancient wisdom in making policies and laws by the politicians and bureaucrats, and in the enforcement by the police and judiciary. It is, therefore, essential to bring the issue of the Indian family system to at least a certain level of intellectual and scholarly debate. It is hoped that such an exercise will spill over into the policy debates and eventually in the society for charting its course for future.

– Prof. Bal Ram Singh, School of Indic Studies, Institute of Advanced Sciences, Dartmouth, MA, USA

योग का तत्कालीन क्रियात्मक बोध

– प्रोफ़ेसर बलराम सिंह

योग: सत्तस्य पर्याय: तस्य सार्थकेव मानव जीवनस्य लक्ष्य:।

योग सत्य का पर्याय है, उसी को सार्थक बनाना जीवन का उद्देश्य है।

वैसे तो सत्य एक सरल सी धारणा है पर अधिकतर व्यक्तियों को इसका बोध नहीं हो पाता है। इसका मुख्य कारण है कि व्यक्ति कुछ विशेष वस्तुओं, स्थानों, लोगों, अथवा बातों से ही जुड़ता है और उसी को मानक बनाकर अपना दृष्टिकोण निर्धारित कर लेता है।

जैसे कि वस्तुतः व्यक्ति परिवार से या माँ से जुड़ता है और उसे प्रेम करता है। यदि उस माँ के प्रेम को सीमित न करके उसे प्रेम के अभ्यास की प्रक्रिया मान ले तो उसी प्रेम भाव को औरों के साथ जोड़ सकता है। तभी माँ के प्रेम की सार्थकता हो सकती है ठीक उसी तरह जैसे कि स्कूल में गणित सीख कर हम उसका जीवन के अन्य पहलुओं में उपयोग करते हैं।

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इस अवधारणा को प्रथम स्तर पर हम योग अभ्यास से समझ सकते हैं। स्थूल रूप से आसन एवं मुद्राएँ हमारे मन को शरीर के उन भागों पर केंद्रित करते हैं जहाँ आसन के कारण ज़ोर पड़ता है। इसका अभ्यास करते-करते हम अपने मन को इस तरह अपने वश में कर पाने में ऐसे सफल हो जाते हैं कि आसन के बिना भी अँगो और प्रत्यंगो पर ध्यान दे लेते हैं। यही प्रक्रिया हमें जुड़ने की वास्तविक विद्या प्रदान करती है। इस विद्या को ही सूक्ष्म रूप में प्राणायाम के द्वारा शरीर के उन कोशिकाओं और अणुओं परमाणुओं तक जोड़ा जा सकता है जो की हमारी ज्ञानेंद्रियों से परे होते हैं। यही शारीरिक आसन और प्राणायाम के अभ्यास हमें हर किसी से जुड़ने की योग विधि बताते हैं।

उपर्युक्त अभ्यास से जो ज्ञान प्राप्त होता है उसके उपयोग से जब हम संसार में बिना किसी भेद भाव (प्रत्याहार अभ्यास के अंतर्गत) समस्त प्राणियों से जुड़ते हैं तभी उनके जीवन सत्यार्थ से परिचित हो पाते हैं।

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(Source of Image : Prof. Singh with his younger daughter)

अथ योग: सत्यार्थ परिचायक:। ॐ!!

Honoring the Father

– Prof. Bal Ram Singh

In a country where मातृ देवो भव, पितृ देवो भव, एवं आचार्य देवो भव have been the norms, designating Mother’s Day and Father’s Day may sound like a demotion of mothers and fathers. Instead, it is considered as a much needed appreciation of them in the western world.

There are several peculiarities surrounding the origin and establishment of Father’s Day here in the United States, where it is an official holiday. Interestingly, efforts to establish both Mother’s and Father’s Days were led by daughters, not sons, and both were in fact initiated by the Church (Mother May or Mothering Church for Mother’s Day and St. Joseph’s Day for Father’s Day).  While Father’s Day was established over 50 years after the Mother’s Day was already an official holiday, (in fact, after many more failed attempts at establishment than Mother’s Day) both holidays were in fact initially rejected by the US Congress: they jokingly extrapolated a future need of a “Mother-in-Law’s Day”.  Eventually, both holidays were proclaimed by presidential orders. However, the more sincere criticism from congress was that establishing appreciation for parents as holidays would lead to commercialization of these occasions, reducing a heart-to-heart moment to a hand-to-hand exchange of gifts.

During debates over the establishment of Father’s Day, it was common to argue that one parent (mother) cannot be recognized while the other (father) is not. The division of parents into distinct categories like “matriarchal” and “patriarchal” can be seen more as a lens perpetuated in my opinion by some modern social scientists than actual truth. Even in the animal kingdom, where the complexities of human society, tradition, culture, and philosophy do not exist, a child is often cared by both mother and father.  The social interpretation of the culture (sanskriti), traditions (parampara), and philosophy (darshan) needs narrational perspective and an integrative approach. Matri sattatmak (matriarchal) and Pitre sattatmak (patriarchal) societies inherently mean the motherhood and fatherhood, not simply woman and man as is generally implicated by social activists. Therein lies the narrative problem.

Indian cultures exhort raising of woman to the motherhood in perspective (not necessarily giving birth, although that reinforces it automatically). In India the nation is called motherland whereas in the West it is fatherland. Ancestors are referred to as पूर्वज in India whereas forefathers in America in a social context. Wikipedia lists 60 countries which call their native country as fatherland. Ancient Greek, Patris, fatherland, led to Latin Patrios, and finally into Patriotism. Thus father figure is a dominant cultural ethos of the western world.

In India it is, of course, Mother India or भारत माता, that is the war cry for the land. I had heard from a Swami ji (but could not find myself in any literature) that in Indian culture a child is most fortunate whose father is a dharmatma and whose mother is a pativrata. This is far cry from the competing dominance portrayed by the reference such a society as matriarchal vs. patriarchal, which Indian intellectual class apes it.

The combined differences between how Eastern and Western cultures view and treat motherhood and fatherhood indicate clearly that there is no simple mapping of words or cultural concepts from one onto the other. When comparing the two, one needs to understand the context in which terms, language, and celebrations are framed. Learning from other cultures is good, but doing so without an understanding of the differing perspectives, and without an appreciation for our own way of seeing the world, is counter-productive.

There is a book written with the title of ‘Dharti Mata aur Pita Akash’ by Pushpa Sinha, and of course the favorite Hindi song, Dharti meri mata pita Akash from Geet Gata Chal Hindi movie (1975) shows the complementarity of parents for appropriate care and growth of a child. Nevertheless, Indian culture is matriarchal right from the pauranic concept of Adya as the origin of tridevas and tridevis.  Even in modern times at least 500 years ago in Tulsi Ramayana, there is a clear mention that mother holds higher position than the father – जौ केवल पितु आयसु ताता, तौ जिन जाउ जानि बड़ि माता -as stated by Ram’s mother, Kaushalya. So, while Kerala tradition may be matriarchal (or maybe ladyarchal to be more appropriate). The matriarchal tradition of India as per Ramayana standards is widespread in the culture.

Once that narrative is accepted, it is then possible to integrate with the famous Manusmriti idea of ‘यत्र नार्यस्तु पूज्यन्ते रमन्ते तत्र देवता…’, which needs to be interpreted as, where women reach the status or level  of being worshiped (implying only motherhood) even gods frequent that place for pleasure.

There is much to learn from Indian philosophy as to what a mother is to be – life giver, guru, teacher, god, etc., which is what elevates her to the level of worship, not those who hire maids to take care of their children or those who do not have education, training, knowledge, and resources.

A father is a gyan guru, and is expected to give diksha to the son, and perhaps daughter by the time of the upanayana sanskar (there are instances where daughters undergo upanayana sanskar). In this ritual, the father utters some secret mantra (usually Gayatri mantra) in the ears of the child at the ceremony. This indicates the conclusion of education from father and commencement of the education from Guru. In the story of the Ganesha his father Shiva cuts off Ganesha’s head, eventually replacing it with the head of an elephant at the behest of Ganesha’s mourning mother Parvati.  Instead of taking only the story’s literal meaning, we can instead see symbolically Shiva playing his true role as a father: removing Ganesha’s ignorance, as symbolized by the head he was born with, and replacing it with a much larger head of an elephant, symbolizing his newly gained wisdom.

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(Image : Prof. Singh and his son)

In my own personal life, living in America, I try to emphasize on Father’s Day what a father is supposed to do on a regular basis: I normally cook breakfast for the family showing my cooking ability and skills (all three children learned formal cooking from me rather than their mother who is obviously more skillful at cooking than I am); I then make sure to mow the lawn, which I do despite my wife’s advice of hiring landscaper (quite common in United States); we spend time relishing some father-child memories; finally, I give some fatherly advice (lecture!!) to my children. I do not like to be pampered by any special treatment or gifts from children, as that encourages commercialization (the original concern of US lawmakers in opposing declaring Father’s Day an official holiday), and reduces the idea to materialism, which is quite different from what I consider my children as संतानाः, as in सम्यक तान्यते ते संतानाः those who reflect not only my material body but also my subtle body (ethereal, astral, mental, and spiritual) and spiritualism. May all of us have a Father’s Day by becoming and having संतानाः!

Prof. Bal Ram Singh, Director, Institute of Advanced Sciences, Dartmouth, MA, USA