Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Lord Ganapati : Part IV - About 21,4 and twin blades

Signifance of the number 21

The Philosophical Context
Ganapati = 'Gana' + 'pati' = group/retinue of followers + lord = Lord of the group.

Which group?

In the literal sense, the group of Shiva's attendents/followers/troops. Thus Ganapati is the lord of Shiva's troops. This meaning follows from various Puranic sources.

However the inner meaning of the term 'Gana' comes when we refer to the Veda. The Atharva Veda specifically associates the number 21 with Him. (as trishapta in verse 1,1,1 )

And this 21 = 5 gross elements/states + 5 subtle existential principles + 5 sense-organs + 5 sensory processes + Prana

Am not breaking up or explaning each of the above sub-groups further since that gets very technical. Suffice to say, that the inner meaning of Gana (group) is really that of all the elements of existence . And Sri Ganapati as lord of all existence is associated strongly with this number. Hence the 21 prostrations before the worshipped diety one for each element of existence.

Note that while the significance of 21 comes from this explanation, it does not restrict us in interpreting 'gana' only in terms of the existential elements as above. Specifically, in the Bhakti (devotional) context, saints have explained 'gana' to mean the group of all that we cherish in life that Lord Ganpati protects. These are not contradicatory explanations.

The ritual context
The significance of 21 comes in the ritual context as well. The ritual code-books ((eg. Yajnavalkya Smriti) tell us that the One VinAyaka has 21 forms (am not giving the names here to keep it short) which are propitiated. In the ritual presribed, two icons - one of VinAyaka and one of Ambika (the Mother Goddess) are consecrated. Then the 21 forms of VinAyaka are invoked as surrounding these icons.

What about the number 4?
Again two streams of explanations:
The ritual explanation comes from the fact that the 21 VinAyakas described above were intermediately spoken of as four before the final declaration that all forms were but forms of the One VinAyaka.

From a philosophical standpoint, the number four represents the four aims (purusharthas) in life - Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha which very loosely translated mean Righteousness/Duty, Wealth, Desire and Liberation. Thus worshipping Sri Ganapati as the One who fulfils all the aims in the devotee's life.

And finally the twin-blade worship
no...nothing to do with Gilette...

The question is why do we usually offer 21 pairs of durva grass at a time in worshiping Sri Ganapati (durva-yugma)? The 21 is hopefully clear from the above explanation. But why two at a time?

For this, remember we spoke earlier of the 21 forms of VinAyaka that were propitiated.
What is VinAyaka?
VinAyaka = Vighna + Nayaka

And from the previous post, we saw that Sri Ganpati is both the Obstacle and the Obstacle Remover. Thus offering two blades at a time is to worship both aspects of God.

I find this really fascinating because here you are actually worshipping Obstacles! It encourages a very brave attitude where one welcomes all aspects of life, including obstcales, with the understanding that God gives them to us to grow stronger. And not run away from them. Like what resistance-training is to body muscles, obstacles are to the course of life.

In fact, this is a recurring theme in Hinduism - for eg. on Ugadi, celebrated as the new year in some parts of India - a key feature of the celebration is to have a mixture of jaggery (sweet) and neem leaves (bitter) - the symbolism is obvious.

We just worship Lord Ganapati in the full trust that He gives us what is best for us.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Lord Ganapati : Part III - Obstacle remover

Creator or Remover of Obstacles?
Sri Ganapati is most often remembered as the 'Remover of Obstacles', Vighnaharta. But now, here's the curious thing: His name in said to be Vighneshwara, which means 'Lord of Obstacles'!. So we have a situation where He is both the 'Lord of Obstacles' as well as the 'Remover of Obstacles'!

Which is actually how it is meant to be. In Hindu religion, God is the agent responsible for distributing the fruits of our past actions to us. Some of our past actions, being negative in nature rebound on us in the form of unwanted events. Obstacles, for instance.

But as God, He also has the power to respond to the prayers of devotees in REMOVING these obstacles. Thus both Vighneshwara and Vighnaharta are applicable to God, as they should be.

Again, it is important to remember that He does not wilfully create these obstacles. It is we who have created it for oursleves and have to take responsibility for the same. And to correct for them our scriptures give numerous ways. For instance, Charity can counteract any miserliness that we may have exhibted in the past.

But the most powerful form of prayer is a simple and direct appeal to God. Coupled with a sincere attitude to change backed by the will to change. And Ganapati's attraction to the devotee is well known by his name as 'KshipraPrasada' - quick giver of blessings/relief. In fact, out of the 32 forms described in the earlier posts, a specific form called Kshipra Prasada Ganapati exists.

Incidentally, Sri S.K.Ramachandra Rao points out that the Ganesa Gita (1,21) tells us to regard Ganapati as not different from the other Gods - the proper approach is to regard all forms as those coming out of the One God.

Why is Sri Ganapati associated with Destroying Obstacles?
In the previous post, Ajith in his comment asked about the legend that gives Ganapati the status of obstacle remover.

The Brahmanda Purana legend

One legend appears here in the 'Lalitopakhayana' section . This section contains the famous Lalita Sahasranama, the powerful 1000 name litany of the Mother Goddess.
(A pdf version of the English version of the Lalitopakhyana can be downloaded here.)

The story containing the part on Ganapati (Verses 306 to 316 - page 27 of the above pdf) is remarkable. This is about a fight against the demonic forces of Bhanda by the forces of Goddess Lalita.

Bhanda's minister Vishukra inscribed a yantra (jaya vighna yantra) to thwart the forces of the Goddess. The result was that the Devi's forces were overcome with:
1) Fatigue (Alasya)
2) Meanness (krpanata)
3) Helplessness (dainya)
4) Slumber (nidra)
5) Impotence (klaibya)
6) Forgetfulness (vismrti)
7) Carelessness (pramAda)
8) Torpor (tandra)

What i found very interesting was the discussions that ensued in the Devi's army as a result of the yantra's effects. You can see the exact kind of dialogue going on around you, even today! The classic obstacles to our progress!

So these were the discussion points (language mine!):
1) This war is wrong! Why are we even doing this?
2) Tell me, why are we fighting for this Lalita Devi?
3) What the hell! Who is this Lalita devi, anyways? Who has made her our superior?
4) Let's just get together and decide not to fight. What will this Lalita do?
5) I'm tired. Let's just sleep.

Thus speaking amongst themselves they retreated allowing BhandAsura to advance. Noticing the problem in the rank-and-file, Ambika and Dandanatha (the Goddess's commanders(?) ) reported this to the Goddess. On hearing this, She looked at Lord Shiva and smiled.

From this smile flashed Ganapati, elephant faced, inebriated and embraced by Siddhi and Lakshmi. He burst into the camp, searched out the yantra and destroyed it by smashing it into pieces whereupon the Devi's army recovered and advanced. Simultaneously, Ganapati along with His forces attacked BhandAsura and destoyed the enemies forces.

Pleased with this, the Goddess gave Him the boon that he should be worshipped first among Gods. Thus the obstacles were cleared and success achieved by the grace of Ganapati and hence he is known as the 'remover of obstacles'.

The other legend associated with his being called the 'remover of obstacles' is in the VarAha Purana and involves Lord Shiva's boon to him as soon as Ganapati was created.

All in all, it is but appropriate to seek Sri Ganapati's blessings before commencement of any undertaking. If within one's means, it's great if a traditional ritual performed by qualified priests...else what we can always do : shoot a sincere prayer !

Lord Ganapati : Part II - More on the form

We continue from where we left off last time. Today we focus on the form which can be most beneficially utilized during worship, in the process of 'darshana' ('beholding') or meditation.

We use the form below as an aid to description. But as decribed in the previous post, there are many variations. Each form represents a specific aspect of Ganapati. The aspect is identified depending on:
1) How many arms
2) Colour of the form
3) No. of faces
4) Vehicle/Seat
5) How many Shaktis (consort) accompanied with (>=0)

For example, the number of arms of the form below is 10, is red (isn't apparent from the picture because of the fading) , one faced, seated on a rat and accompanied with One Shakti. We may thus identify this form with Vallabha Ganapati.

With consort? Isn't He supposed to be a celibate (brahmachari)?
Yes. In fact, of the 32 forms in the Mudgala Purana, 24 are described without a consort.
There are also regional variations here.
In the south, for most part He is worshipped as a celibate.
In the north, he is commonly worshipped with two consorts - Siddhi and Buddhi. You might have seen this representation in the famous SiddhiVinayak temple in Bombay. Siddhi and Buddhi of course, are Accomplishment and Intelligence which signify the fruits of worshipping Sri Ganapati.
Interestingy with regard to Sri Kartikeya(the elder brother of Sri Ganapati) the situation is reversed. In the north, is worshipped as a bachelor while in the south, He is worshipped with His consort, Valli.
Let's therefore take the above form, starting from the bottom, and focus on each part and see what the inner meaning is.
Note: In the picture above, the trunk is twisted to the right. This is not usual. Icons of Sri Ganapati are usually with the trunk to the left - this will be covered in a later post.

1) Vehicle as rat
I find this one of the most interesting aspect of the form. The rat symbolizes several things simultaneously.
a) The rat represents the mind. Restless, always flitting about here and there in search of something. Just like a small rat can cause havoc so do small thoughts disturb our peace of mind. And just like rats breed fast, these small thoughts often accumulate into one big wave of mental distrurbance.
The large form of Ganapati thus rests on it representing need for mind-control and capacity to bless the devotee with it.

b) Rats burrow into the earth. Impeled by what? Desire. Thus the rat represents kama ( desire). And we saw earlier that Sri Ganapati presides especially over the earth element. Thus deep rooted desires - which we hold as so precious - are eradicated by the grace of Sri Ganapati.

c) Rats thrive in dark environments. Before spiritual awakening, our lives are said to be dark. Spiritual awakening comes with the awakening of spiritual energy in the Muladhara Chakra (the basal chakra) described in the earier post. Thus Sri Ganapati residing on the rat signifies awakening of spiritual consciousness by overcoming the 'darkness'. Also note that darkness is associated with 'Tamas' in Indian philosophy - the negative qualities to be overcome.

2) Feet
No specific symbolism as far as i know but Sri Muthuswami Dikshitar - the saint-musician - describes the Lord's feet as 'As soft as tender shoots' in one of his Krithis (compositions) which is useful in contemplation.

3) Protruding belly
A large capacity to bear the devotees sufferings. In fact, Puranic stories on how Lord Ganapati has an insatiable apetite indicates this. That is, as long as we are sincere, we can be sure that Ganapati will help us out when approached.

3) Serpent as belt
The serpent is the classic symbol of Kundalini shakti (the much misinterpreted concept) which has to be aroused for spiritual awakening. This does not mean that some extraordinrary austerity/yogic practices have to be undertaken for this purpose. 'Simple' things like japa (repeating the name of the Lord), even doing one's duty with a keen awareness and to the possible perfection awakens this energy.

This awakening destroys tamas signified by the rat. In the natural world, of course, the rat is food for serpents i.e awakening detroying ignorance.

4) Trunk holding the pot of jewels (or any other object depending on aspect)

The following statement by Ramana Maharishi will clarify this aspect:
" Through meditation on the forms of God and through repetition of mantras, the mind becomes one-pointed. The mind will always be wandering. Just as when a chain is given to an elephant to hold in its trunk it will go along grasping the chain and nothing else, so also when the mind is occupied with a name or form it will grasp that alone. "
And the trunk holding the pot of jewels means holding i.e cogitation on precious thoughts. Also signifies the reward for our mind-control practices.

5) Broken right tusk
To see the signficance of this, the Brahmavaivarta Purana tells us that once when Sri Parasurama came to see Lord Shiva, he was denied entry by Sri Ganapati, who said His father was not to be disturbed. Then ensued a big fight between the two. Ultimately, Parasurama flung his battle-axe on Sri Ganapati. Now the battle-axe was a gift from Lord Shiva Himself to Sri Parasurama. Out of respect for His father's gift, Sri Ganapati allowed the axe to strike his tusk losing it in the process.
The broken tusk thus upholding Righteousness as well as Sacrifice in the line of duty - after all, he was ready to sacrifice Himself in order to not allow His father to be disturbed!

Another story is about Him breaking the tusk to use it as a stylus to write the Mahabharata. That again signifies sacrifice for public good.

6) Holding the broken right tusk in one hand
The one broken tusk symbolizes experience of the one Reality in the Lord's hands, experience of which is bestowed to the spiritual aspirant.

7) The other tusk is about helping us rooting out our desires, however strong they are

8) Small mouth
Speak less!

8) Large ears
- Listen more!

- Bestows the devotee the capacity to absorb a lot of information.

- The large ears resemble winnowing baskets. A winnowing basket is used to separate dirt from grains. Similarly the large ears signifiy winnowing of information that we receive.
So, the Lord bestows upon the devotee not only capacity to absorb a lot of information, but also ability to sift right from wrong. Illusion from Reality. The transformation of information into true knowledge.

- The elephant's sense of sound is said to be very acute. Sri Ganapati, by the elephant ears signifies an acute thirst for knowledge.

9) Small eyes
He overlooks our genuine mistakes and is ready to always give us a chance to change. Sincerety is what he requires from us. But that does not mean we take Him for granted. But remember that the elephant as such is gentle but if provoked, you've had it man! Especially if His devotee is harmed. Thus a gentle warning to stick to righteousness.

10) The elephant head
This is interesting : One's body-parts/organs are Karmendriyas (organs of action) or Jnanendriyas (organs of knowledge) . For example, in the human being, the head is a Jnanendriya. But in the elephant, the head is both a Karmendriya (the trunk) and a Jnanendriya! The elephant-head thus symbolizes the harmonious coming together of action and knowledge! The large head, of course, also symbolizes intelligence.

11) What He holds in his hands
Depending on the aspect invoked, Sri Ganapati holds various things. I will not go into too much detail here but to give an example. The goad (pasha) held in his hand signifies drawing the devotee towards Him. The battle-axe/Chakra(discus) that he holds in some icons signfies helping us fight the battle of life as well as cutting off of desires.

Deep contemplation or seeing the form of Sri Ganapati concentrating on this symbolism will undoubtedly ensure great spiritual progress.

Hope all this wan't too boring.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Lord Ganapati : Part I - On the form

Salutations to Lord Ganapati! The favorite form of the Lord for millions of people.

Today - BhAdrapada Shukla Chaturthi i.e the fourth day of the bright half of the lunar month of BhAdrapada - is a day specially sacred and favorable to devotional/meditational practices to the form of the One reality called Ganapati.
Religious ceremonies in India commence today and go on for 10 days.

Starting today over the next few days, will cover lesser known facets/legends/incidents associated with Lord Ganapati. These posts are a combination of what my teachers taught me, some from what i've heard/read and my own thoughts.

The textual references for these posts are some great books for the serious reader :
1) 'Concept of Ganesha' by the Vedic scholar Sri K.N.Somayaji
2) Ganesa Kosha by the great Sri S.K. Ramachandra Rao.
3) There was also a nice book by Chinmaya Mission which i had read many years ago but do not recall the title.

Sri Ganapati's form
The Puranas give many versions on how the form of Ganapati came to be. But mythology apart (not that it is unimportant), the form of the Lord is a concrete visualization of Reality (parabrahman). And this makes sense since the seers had recognized that it is not possible for all to concentrate on a formless Reality.

The beauty of Ganapati's form is that it is what one may call 'multi-layered' - it reveals Itself depending on the spiritual outlook of the aspirant/onlooker.
I. For some religious historians, the form represents it's agrarian root for eg. the large ears are seen to be a representation of winnowing baskets, the rat as vehicle is seen to be representative of control over pests etc.

II. Form as the 5 element representation
For me, the more appealing way to approach the form is from an esoteric viewpoint. That may be due to my traditional leanings but i also feel that is the 'correct' way.

Very few know that the form is actually a representation of the composite of the five elements (Pancha-bhutatma-Ganapati). See drawing below, and note remarkable correspondence to the image of the icon above:
Thus a person medidating on Lord Ganapati sees Him as a manifestation of the entire Universe composed of the five elements. Of course, in time the aspirant goes even beyond the elements.

III. The Earth element and 'Muladhara Chakra'
The reason i've coloured the base of the above diagram red is that that is the traditional colour of the earth element,specially governed by Ganapati. Not only that, red is also the colour of the four petaled 'lotus' representing the basal Muladhara Chakra, one the seven spiritual 'plexuses'. And the presiding diety of the Muladhara Chakra is Lord Ganapati.

That is also one of the reasons Lord Ganapati is worshipped before any other worship/act is commenced. He represents the 'base', the starting point of it all. Every act, if viewed as a spiritual aspiration, must culminate in the realization of non-duality. The grace of Lord Ganapati is required to 'kick-start' this process and destroy obstacles along the way.

Also note that much of the traditional worship of Lord Ganapati is with 'Red' - Red form, Red flowers, Rakta Chandana (red sandal paste). Again, the 'Muladhara' and 'Earth' angle coming through.

There are further esoteric explanations when this line of thought is pursued. But this is best learnt from one's Guru (definitely NOT from cheaply written books) and hence is not covered here in this post. For example, note the connection of Ganapati and the earth element with the Puranic story of Ganapati formed by Mother Parvati(Earth) out of her own body.

IV. Form as the sacred sound 'Aum' (pronounced as 'Om')
Lord Ganapati is Omkara in form. See representation below for a hint of this:
The Omkara form is important since 'Om' itself represents the entire range of sound. I have not found a better explanation of this than by Swami Vivekanada. This is the reason therefore why Lord Ganapati is the presiding diety for writers and poets. Indeed He is the patron diety for all learning.

V. That the spirit of the Form is more important is evident when we see that in the daily orthodox worship, Ganapati is worshipped in a red stone obtained from the Sonabhadra river - and not in any of the forms above.
Moreover, there are numerous forms of the Form. Some texts describe 32 forms , some 16, some 8, some 12 (all multiples of 4). Some also describe 21 forms - the significance of 21 will be described in a later post.

Here it is important to note the work called Sri Tattva Nidhi, commisioned by Sri Krishna-raja-Wodeyar III (1794 - 1869). This work contains 32 coloured illustrations of Lord Ganapati along with the Dhyana Slokas (medidation verses). The Dhyana Slokas adhere to the ones given in Mudgala Purana - a purana centered around Lord Ganapati. Of course, this was at a time when rulers cared about culture.

There is more on Lord Ganapati's form which will be covered in tomorrow's post.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Countering Naxalites : The Govt.'s deep secret

Before the deep secret is revealed, we note how the active work going on the nation's internal/external security, for instance here.

Note profuse use of words in future tense:'Actively considering', 'would also be improved', 'consider developing the road network', 'discussions are underway'.

Even the title of the article is 'Govt. mulls....'. 

But nothing can come close to this gem of a response given in Parliament in regard to the Naxal menace. This was quoted by Mr. Arun Shourie in his article here.
Shivraj Patil told the Rajya Sabha that, in fact, a comprehensive mechanism is already in place to tackle challenges to internal security.

‘‘This mechanism is already there’’, he said. ‘‘Probably, it is not known to the Hon. Members because it is an internal matter that we are doing.’’ He shared this State Secret, the information about this ‘‘mechanism’’:
‘‘We have a Special Security Secretary here. The responsibility given to the Special Security Secretary is to talk to the DIGs and other officers in the Naxalite-affected states every month or two months or whenever it is necessary, and decide as to what has to be done... Then there is a committee which is presided over by the Home Secretary, who talks to the Chief Secretaries of the states and DIGs of the states and they decide as to how the policy should be evolved to deal with the Naxalite activity or the terrorist activities in J&K or the North Eastern states. And, then, there are regional committees of the Home Minister and the Chief Ministers who meet periodically to decide about the policies. And, then, the Chief Ministers have been talking to the Prime Minister and the Home Minister every now and then, whenever they want. There is coordination. There is institution for coordination. You don’t think that we are not talking.’’
So there is a mechanism. There is committee upon committee. There are meetings after meetings. All concerned are talking. The result is before you — in the increasingly lethal depredations wreaked by Naxalites — by now in 14 states; they must have been visible in the trains in Mumbai.
In his statement on the Mumbai train blasts too, the Home Minister gave a long list of meetings that had been held in the wake of the blasts. The last time, there had been more.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The News - 8 for the day

After the last entertainment i had here, i revisited the great tragico-comedy thing called 'The News'. This time i chose the 'National News'.

Amazing time i had. Here is the result of my casual scanning.

Headline 1: Rajya Sabha adjourned due to foul smell of chemicals

" After 40 minutes of proceedings, an unexpected smell of chemical wafted through the Upper House, forcing members to draw the attention of Chairman... "
....who of course, adjourned the house. Of course, millions of Indians go through this everyday but they don't have the option of 'adjournment'.


"But, even at 1230 hours there appeared to be no change in the situation despite spraying of fresheners by the Rajya Sabha staff."
Headline 2: MPs to get salary hike
"...a parliamentary panel, ....,had pointed out that Indian lawmakers were the lowest paid and government was competent under the Constitution to increase salaries of MPs"
Three things in the above statement:

1) The parliamentary panel decides
How objective, isn't it?

2) "Indian lawmakers - the lowest paid"
Really? Are they sure?
Anyway, even taking this at face value, the real question to ask is "Do you deserve a raise?" Pray, what have we done in the last 6 decades?

Do you still want an increment? Actually wait... we will give you one if:
a) You are held accountable (and not by homilies like "we are accountable to the parliament")
b) You give citizens a list of CLEAR objectives that you will be held to
c) If you do not meet the objectives, you will be recalled


3) "government was competent under the Constitution to increase salaries of MPs"

Headline 3: Heavy rains cause rivers to rise in Orissa
Oh, that was a surprise. I didn't know that happened when it rained.

Headline 4: Cola comment: SRK posters torn

SRK is Shahrukh Khan, a popular actor in India. Why were his posters torn? Because he said something like:

"...Shah Rukh's statement that whether the agency that tested the soft drink for pesticides had analysed if mother's milk also contained harmful chemicals"
Headline 5: British high commissioner to visit Bihar
For what? "to explore investment opportunities in the state".Wonders never cease. But to be fair, without Laloo, chances of business are better.

Headline 6: Hygiene levels in Delhi Zoo to be enhanced
This typifies the way govt. machinery works. After the Damage.

"After the death of six endangered Asiatic lions in the Delhi zoo, Centre is taking steps to enhance hygiene levels in the premises to avoid recurrence of such incidents"
Headline 7: No mercy for teacher who rapes student: SC
Mercy? The guy should be tortured. Alternatively handing him to the Taliban without a beard will do. They'll do the rest.
Best is the abominable offender:
"Finding that all loopholes in the case have been sealed, the teacher pleaded for leniency saying he has a family to support and that the victim has since got married."
In my kingdom, that kind of a statement would come with extra brutal torture - much, much worse than listening to Bappi Lahiri.

And guess what - it took 19 years to come up with this judgement. Also, i've often wondered what kind of goon lawyers stand up for such people.

Headline 8: Family drowns as crowd looks on
5 people drowning. Not that everything happenned in a jiffy. They were trapped for eight hours. Not that they were trapped in an isolated place. They were trapped in full view of a large crowd AND GOVERNMENT MACHINERY. Whatever 'machinery' this is - it's ready to be given as scrap. And no thanks - don't want anything for it. Just take the rotten fellows away.
" The passengers climbed atop the car and began screaming for help.....the tragedy was complete in eight hours when the members were swept away, one after the other."
Can you believe how dead we've become? We just stand staring FOR 8 HOURS at a family of 5 dying? Like someone said, we have a billion people in that country - a few here and there don't make a difference. Just stand and stare.

And oh, what about this: don't just stand and stare. Take pictures of the dying family as well. Fun, isn't it? See here

BUT, in all this, as always, members of one organization stood up for the values they represent:
"Two soldiers jumped into the river to try and help the of the soldiers also got swept away".
I've had enough now.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Sorry but this is VERY BAD data representation

Now, i am not exactly the rude person but i must admit to being irritated when i saw the chart below. What's the data and what's the chart saying?
Now, are you irritated as well when you saw this chart? Full article here.

This type of chart is called a doughnut chart (abbr. as D-chart henceforth) and is one of the numerous chart types available in MS Office applications.

Irritation reason 1: MAJOR reason, data vs chart-type
- The data is '% growth'. How in heaven's name can that be represented as a D-chart!
- The D-chart is nothing but a type of a pie chart.
- These are charts that you can only think of using when you have constituent segments of a category that add up to the whole category. Mostly used with Percentages/Proportions that add up to 100%/1.

Irritation reason 2: Why a D-chart
Why not a pie chart, if at all - thought that's not considered a nice option too.

Irritation reason 3: Why a chart at all?
These are three numbers! How about just writing the following:
"India has registered a 7.8% growth rate in it's online population as compared to China's 5.22%. India's growth seems impressive considering that the overall worldwide online population grew at 2.7%, but it should be noted that this is coming from a much lower base"
Irritation reason 4: What's with the growth rate?
This continues from the highlighted phrase of the previous point : Is growth really a good metric in this case? Let's say the country of Baddatitis had only 10 people who used the internet in last year in the month of July. Now this july this figure went up to 20. Whoa! a 100% growth rate. Baddatitis' rules!
The base is important. What are the base penetration figures? The fact that the 'World' grew at 2.7% means nothing. It includes a country like New Zealand with a penetration of more than 75%, India currently is about 5%! More space to grow => More growth rate

For more interesting stats see:

Irritation reason 5: Laziness
You are justified in thinking i'm picking holes here, but trust me, if you were showing this chart to someone who has worked with data using MS office before, the first mental reaction would be "Damn, these are the default colours in Excel - these guys didn't even bother changing the colours while preparing the chart"

Irritation reason 6: Definitions used
Two points:
1) What is 'World'?
All countries except India and China? Should be the case, and most likely is, but after seeing that chart one has to even ask this question, since it's not made explicit in the article.
2) Online population

The article defines this as "people aged over 15 accessing internet". Apart from asking why the age filter (since kids are now taking to the net in a big way), my first question is
"How do you define 'accessing internet'? ". Accessed at least once in the last month? At least thrice in the last quarter? What?

I realize that this is an article aimed at general readers but my humble opinion is that journalism (of whatever kind - even technical journalism) should set standards in thinking. I honestly don't think that has happenned here. Sorry.

Update: August 26th, 2006
Arunn, through SS Katte, helpfully dropped a comment here on his post. His post is way more detailed than this tiny piece. It'll give you a nice walk-through of the numbers involved. As well as the interpretations.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Detroit - GM HQ

GM. General Motors. 3,20,000+ employees.
Revenue in 2005 : 192 billion$. To put that into perspective, this is 2.5 times the value of India's exports (2005 f.o.b). Their headquarters, Renaissance Center, Detroit, refects this:
- 2.2 million square feet
- 73 stories
- Bought by GM in 1996 for....a piddly 72 million$. That's about 324 crore Rs....not bad...that might be piddly for the Ambanis as well!And yes, GM is also loss making as of now. Net income = -10 billion$

Interestingly, while GMs CEO had to justify his position in the face the losses, Ford's CEO, Bill Ford, has it much better. Reason: The Ford family's voting power is about 40% all investors put together. Read more here.

Overheard - 5 (Polite Conversation with PhD. candidate)

Polite Conversationalist : are you feeling just before your thesis defense?
PhD. candidate : Well, slightly nervous i guess.
Polite Conversationalist : Oh, don't worry. You always feel nervous in your first thesis defense.

( smiley from: )

Dr. Rohit Kulkarni, this was for you. You just had to go through one today:)

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

World's Top Universities

University of Michigan placed 11th worldwide.
(sorry, couldn't resist posting this :)


Dr. Kalam and Sexing up science

This has nothing to do with his hair. Promise.
He's the lead intro for an article in Newsweek on 'Sexing up science'.
Though his job in this parliamentary nation is largely ceremonial, Kalam, a newspaper boy turned aeronautical engineer who stewarded India's guided-missile program, has made it his mission to raise his country to glory through scientific scholarship. He travels from school to school, exhorting students to hit the books and excel at science.

Article talks about the 'developing world's' hunger for science - 3,00,000 engineers a year from India alone and twice that number from China - while western standards in the same are dropping. Having read the article, i'd say it tends to potray a bleak picture for the west though as it notes:
A recent study by Duke University showed that while developing countries often inflate the numbers of science scholars, the United States still employs nearly a third of the world's science and engineering researchers, publishes 35 percent of science and engineering articles and generates 40 percent of research and development spending.
In middle and high schools, where the spark of scientific curiosity begins, the majority of students can't be bothered to take advanced math or physics.
Well, i don't think that's the case in India as well. It's just that we are compartmentalized into taking either Arts, Commerce or Science immediately after junior high school. And due to being a 'safe and respectable' option the top rung take up 'Science'. It's not some great interest in understanding how things work that someone takes up science. Run of the mill. But that's changing now. A lot more top students, especially since the 90s are starting to at least take up 'Commerce'. 'Arts' still remains the rich-man's-son or civil-services-aspirant arena.

I am still waiting for the day students in India can combine streams and be better rounded individuals. Given a chance i would have taken a combination of courses in Sanskrit, History, Statistics, Philosophy, Math and Physics. But all i did was do ONLY Physics with some math in my undergraduation.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Ya right

This is an amazing piece of poetry:
Cool, na? Oh,'s in the wrong script. Here it is:
यायायायायायायायायायायायायायायाया ।
यायायायायायायायायायायायायायायाया ।।

Maybe it's still not clear. So an explanation is in order.
What needs to be done is break up the sentence properly - a process called anvaya in Sanskrit:
यायाया, आय, यायाया, आय, आयाय , अयाय, अयाय ,अयाय, अयाय
अयाया, यायाय, आयायाय, आयाय, या, या, या, या, या, या, या, या
Or the equivalent in English ('A' below stands for the 'aa' sound like in cAr) :
yAyAyA, Ay, yAyAyA, Ay, AyAy,ayAya, ayAy, ayAy,ayAy, ayAy,
ayAy, ayAyA, yAyAy, AyAyA, AyAy, yA, yA , yA, yA, yA, yA, yA, yA
And when you break it up properly the verse then reveals the meaning:
The sandals that adorn the Lord, which help in the attainment of all that is good, which gives knowledge, which causes the desire to attain the Lord, which removes all that is hostile, which attain the lord and are used to travel aound by which all the places can be reached - these sandals are for Lord Vishnu
Poetic Recreation
It was and still is a great pastime in traditional circles in India to come up with such challenging creations. There are even poetry competitions held where the poet is given a theme and a constraint to base his creation on. For example:
'Create a 32 syllable verse with 16 syllables in each line using only the consonants 'da' ( द) , 'va' (व) and 'na' (न) with the theme being one of Lord Vishnu's incarnations'

And here is the creation:
देवानां नंन्दनो देवो नोदनो वेदनिन्दिनाम्।
दिवं दुदाव नोदेन दाने दानवनन्दिनः।।

The Lord who gives pleasure to the gods and drives away the opponents of the Veda, filled the heavens with a loud sound when he killed the demon Hiranyakashipu.
In the great intellectual activity called avadhAnAm - many of these kind of challenges are given and the person being tested has to come with up these creations instantly. It calls for great knowledge of poetic metres, mythology, grammar etc.
In fact, will do a post on avAdhAnam soon. i rememeber i had read the biography some years back of a Jain avadhAni who lived in the 19th century - i searched for it some days back on the net but could not get it. Will try again - his story just demonstrated the amamzing powers of the mind and took you back to the great intellectual traditions of India.

Source for the verses:
The wonderful book called 'Wonder that is Sanskrit' by Sri Aurobindo Society, Pondicherry.
1) The first verse is by Sri Vedanta Desika (1269 - 1370) in his work PAdukAsahasram
2) The second one is by Bhoja a great Indian king and scholar (1010 - 1060). This verse is from his work Saraswati KanthAbharanam. The Indian city Bhopal is named after him. In fact, if you will, Raja Bhoja was the first to realize the spectre of the Islamic threat and was thus also the first to organize Indian kings under one umbrella.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Imagine Bombay University doing this?

The University of Texas System will spend $2.56 billion to expand teaching and research in technology and science, a Texas-size bid to make the state a hub for scientific and medical research.

I can never. This is what universities should be doing though. Spend time and money on research and teaching. All Indian universities are worried about is how to effect 'social justice' that some vote-bank policy dictates. Or internal politics.

Original research? New teaching methods? Are students learning something worthwhile? Will they contribute to nation-building? Providing an atmosphere conducive to them to learn, explore?


Meanwhile the bright kids wait for the day they can leave India for the US/UK, where their talents are recognized and allowed to develop further.

Now i am not saying that Bombay/Bangalore or any university should spend close to 3 billion dollars. Obviously we don't have that kind of cash. I am just trying to point out is the effort and policy direction.

Also see a previous post here on the University of Michigan's annual research budget. The university is the largest university research spender in the world. The sheer scale. Yes, the fees are HIGH. But the faculty and facilities are the world's best. And a student who's enrolling knows it's a life long investment. I'd have this rather than MSc's from Bombay University who've done nothing but just cram. Why blame them? That's what the system demands.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Ann Arbor Summer - More on Marigolds

This is a follow-up to the comments on the previous post. I thought it would be better to put the reply in here as a separate post and add some more details along with some other snaps i had taken.

And if you are a botanist reading this and find something even slightly technically incorrect, please let me know!

Types of Marigolds
If you are from India you would associate marigold with the orange flower that is used on festive occassions (and used in large quantities, may i add - among all the loose flower cultivations in India, Marigold occupies the largest cultivation area. Reference here.)

But there are many types of marigolds. What we commonly call the marigold belongs to the botanical family 'Compositae' and can belong to either of two genus:

1) Calendula
What is commonly called the 'pot marigold' : 'Calendula Officianalis'. The flower in this genus has medicinal properties. This type of marigold looks like this - very different from the following genus:

2) Tagetes
Within this genus there are two major species : Tagetes Patula (French Marigold) and Tagetes Erecta(African Marigold or Tall Marigold).

French marigolds are the smaller of the species in terms of length of the plant and are available in more shades (more orangish shades). The cultivar ('cultivated variety', see here for more info) Safari Tangerine is what we see commonly in Indian markets like here.

The African marigolds are also sometimes called American marigolds since they have been grown in the Americas for 1000s of years. In fact, one particular type of Tagetes Erecta is called the Inca series. Below is a snap of a Tagetes Erecta called Florist's magic:

In fact, there is even an African marigold variety that is white - the vanilla cultivar. See here for picture.

Significance of the name
- The genus name for marigold (Tagetes) gets its name from the Etruscan god 'Tages' - the god of wisdom.

- The common name 'marigold' comes from "Mary's gold" after Mother Mary.

- The common name used for it in many parts of India is Genda. The word Genda possibly comes from the 'Gonda', the tribe in Chhatisgarh where the flower is cultivated - my guess though, i am not sure. In fact, the Gondas even have a legend behind the origin of the flower. Read about that in this excellent site:

Use as a 'Torana' in Indian homes
'Torana' means gateway in Sanskrit. A garland made of Mango and Marigold is used a torana in Hindu homes. In other words, the garland is tied to the frame of the main door of the house. This garland is changed on every festive occasion - and given the number of Hindu festivals :) , you can be sure that the garland keeps changing frequently.

One strong reason for the use of the flower as a torana is that it has protective properties - has an unpleasant odour that keeps insects and other pests at bay (these properites have now been well documented by researchers) . So it is particularly useful in the Indian tropical climate.

But then, if it has an offensive odour, why is it used for worship? One reason straight comes from the above, in that when marigold is offered along with other pleasant smelling flowers, it performs the function of keeping insects from coming near the image that is being worshipped.

But there is more to it...

Spiritual Significance
(French marigold)

In both Christianity and Hinduism, the marigold has a lot of spiritual significance.

The flower is offered to Mother Mary on the Feast of the Annunciation (March 25th of every year). This is the day when the angel Gabriel came to Mother Mary to tell her of Jesus Christ's coming. On this day, in some traditions, marigold seeds are sown in pots as a symbol for auspiciousness and patience to await the divine.

In Hinduism too, the flower symbolizes auspiciousness. The saffron/orange colour signifies renunciation and hence is offered to God as a symbol of surrender. While offering the flower one should also remember that marigold is a very hardy flower and has a stout, erect stalk (hence the scientific name of 'erecta') - in fact, the Sanskrit name for marigold is Sthulapushpa which signifies this. It symbolizes a trust in the divine and a will to overcome obstacles. This is also why the flower assumes such improtance on Vijayadashami - the day Lord Rama prevalied over Ravana - a victory of good over evil.

One of the great Indian mytics of the last century, 'Mother' (Mirra Richards) of The Aurobindo Society said that the marigold signified 'Plasticity':
The spiritual significance given by the Mother to the Marigold flower is 'Plasticity'. About Plasticity the Mother says:

"When you come to the Divine, you must abandon all mental conceptions; but, instead of doing that, you throw your conceptions upon the Divine and want the Divine to obey them. The only true attitude for a Yogi is to be plastic and ready to obey the Divine command whatever it may be...

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Ann Arbor Summer - Marigold

The flower traditionally associated with auspiciousness in India. Many Indian doors are adorned with garlands made of marigold and mango leaves alternating each other. The flower is also used in ceremonial Hindu worship.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

9. Others

A list of posts that are are general enough to be placed here OR are not categorized as yet

6. Till 28th September
5. Imagine Bombay University doing this?
4. Rains in Bombay...strange things happen
3. Disruptive designations
2. Browsing Books
1. Research Spending (Univ. of Michigan)

8. Category: Who's this person?

This list contains a list of posts in this blog in the 'Who's this person' series. The series profiles of lesser-known people who deserve to be known more. It also may highlight lesser known traits of already well-known people.

3. Terrence Tao and Grigori Perelman
2. Dr. Venugopal
1. Dr. George Sudarshan

7. Category : Politics, Media and Current Affairs

This page contains all posts concerning Politics, Media and Current Affairs. Also some interesting news titbits.

On Reservations
6. Update on evil Arjun and Reservations
5. The reservation madness in Kerala continues
4. The reservation madness continues
3. Seeing the humour in reservations
2. Vile VP's quote on reservations/Mandal II
1. State of the Indian police

Current Affairs + Other news
18. Pirating Flims? You Goonda!
17. Countering Naxalites : The Govt.'s deep secret
16. The News : 8 for the day
15. Imagine Bombay University doing this?
14. YSR
13. Bombay blasts : Leave the grieving alone!
12. Bombay blasts
11. Quick Quiz -1 (ramadoss joke)
10. Bombay's rain woes - F*** the citizens
9. The local news
8. Powerful Pakistani Islamic clerics form a club
7. Laloo chockolate
6. McEnroe drops pants in anger
5. And i died laughing - 4 Post that partially contains news on Vijaykanth
4. Bappi and Rahman team up!
3. State of the Indian police
2. Goa officials study Cannes festival
1. TN election special

11. The Prez's website. And the PM's?
10. YSR (for the wikipedia reporting part)
9. Bombay blasts - leave the grieving alone!
8. The local news
7. Football fever inreases world's population
6. More tummy journalism
5. Glorious Journalism (a whole article on some actresses' tummy upset!)
4. Today's blooper
3. Data Misrepresentation - Population definition
2. Creative headlines dept. (headline on hututu is my fav. sport)
1. The shameless fourth estate (2 reputed newspapers claiming the same exclusive interview!)

5. Category : Philosophy, Life and Indian Culture

- This is a listing of all the Philosophy as well as Indian Culure posts on this blog.

- Over the years i've developed some dislike for dry philosophical discourse or speculative philosophy. I'm more interested in philosophy that can make our lives more enjoyable.

4. Saved by Voltaire again
3. Which is the real one? The answer
2. Which is the real one?
1. Facing Life (Nietzsche)

Indian Culture
4. Happy Deepavali
3. Vande Mataram : salutations to theMotherland
2. Ya right (some amazing Sanskrit poetic creations)
1. Happy Nagapanchami

Series on Lord Ganapati

1. Part I : On the form
2. Part II : More on the form
3. Part III : Obstacle maker or Destroyer of Obstacles?
4. Part IV : On 4, 21 and twin-blade worship

2. The auditory equivalent of the solitary tulip
1. A single tulip can be my garden

Making Someone Happy

4. Category : Statistics

- This post is a listing of all the Statistics (and related) posts on this blog.

- All posts are strongly applied in nature. You are unlikely to find any posts related to the field known as 'Mathematical statistics'.

- Posts try and simplify concepts. More emphasis is laid on BASIC statistical thinking rather than tackle advanced topics on issues on, say, modeling or estimation.

- I hope these posts are useful. Any feedback welcome!

- Do let me know by e-mail or by leaving a comment on one of these posts if you want me to add a post on any topic/concept.

8. Two Great TED-Talk videos
7. Precision and Accuracy: Different Words, Same Thing?
6. Decimal points and accuracy
5. Football fever increases world's population
4. Data Misrepresentation - Population definition
3. Average of two numbers
2. Stat PJ
1. What do you call a statistics blog?

Data Visualization
2. Bar chart gone bad
1. Sorry but this is VERY BAD data representation

3. Category: Humour

This page is a listing of all desperately-wanting-to-be-funny posts. Please click on the post-title to take you to that post. Enjoy! (or dismiss with a limp ha..ha)

Containing videos
8. Chicken Run: The Sillywood Version
7. Practice on trains, specilize in chairs
6. Laugh and be laughed at
5. ...and i died laughing - 4 (Move over Keanu)
4. ...and i died laughing - 3 (Chiranjeev and tractor)
3. ...and i died laughing - 2 (Q&A)
2. ...and i died laughing - 2 (video with Chiranjeev and horse)
1. ...and i died laughing (the three videos - one of them the Balayya train stunt)

12. Pirating Films? You Goonda!
11. RTFM
10. Why you should be careful when kids are around
9. Thalaivar Strikes-2
8. Happy Nagapanchami (partially humourous)
7. Effect of smoke breaks
6. Thalaivar Strikes - 1
5. A car i will refuse a rid in...
4. McEnroe drops pants in anger
3. TN election special
2. Stat PJ
1. Princeton

The 'Overheard' series
5. Polite Conversationalist and PhD. candidate
4. Amblin
3. Arnold
2. Redemption
1. Value of meetings

2. Category : Video features

This page is a listing of all the posts that contain videos. Please click on the post-title to take you to that post. Enjoy!

9. Two great TED-talk videos (Stats related)
8. Chicken Run : The Sillywood Version
7. Happy Nagapanchami
6. Practice on trains...specialize in chairs
5. Manorican Express
4. ...and i died laughing - 4 : Move over Keanu
3. ...and i died laughing - 3
2. ...and i died laughing - 2
1. ...and i died laughing

1. Category : Photography

This page is a listing of all the posts that contain photographs i've taken. Please click on the post-title to take you to that post.

Ann Arbor Spring and Summer 2006
18. Hibiscus or Dish-Antenna?
17. Playing with the Sun
16. More on Marigolds
15. Marigold
14. Ann Arbor Summer - Playing hide and seek
13. White, form over colour, 2
12. White, form over colour
11. Trees on Fire
10.The hydrant too...
9. Ahhh
8. Tulip Time
7. A single tulip can be my garden
6. Ann Arbor Spring (contd.)
5. An Apple a Day
4. Michigan Mallige
3. Can you get the fragrance?
2. More Early Spring
1. Early Spring!

Ann Arbor General
5. Wish it would rain
4. A car i will refuse a ride in
3. More on the oft-ignored hydrants
2. Tree Roots - Um diag
1. Arbor-aranya

White, form over colour
2. Ann Arbor Spring: White, form over colour
1. Ann Arbor Spring : White, form over colour, 2

9. The Perfect Day
8. Home Snap
7. Detroit - GM HQ
6. Bombay blasts
5. Which is the real one?...the answer (this is the answer to the below post)
4. Which is the real one?
3. A car i will refuse a ride in
2. The auditory equivalent of the solitary tulip
1. Juhu-Bombay