The Origins of Satyagraha

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Satyagraha, loosely translated as noncooperation, was a non-violent “alternative to conventional rebellion,” that Mahatma Gandhi constructed in response to discrimination against Indian expatriate communities in South Africa. In Gandhi’s own words, “it is a movement intended to replace methods of violence and a movement based entirely upon truth” (Gandhi & Non-Violence, 19). The term was developed in South Africa in 1907. Gandhi, founder and editor of the local Indian publication Indian Opinion, announced a small prize for an alternative to the English phrase noncooperation, which described his unique methodology and distinguished it from similar methods of Passive Resistance organized elsewhere. His nephew, Maganlal “won with his suggestion of ‘sadagraha’ or ‘firmness for the good.’ Gandhi altered the prize-winning entry to ‘Satyagraha,’ or ‘firmness for the truth’” (Gandhi, 124).

Haji Habib was, in all likelihood, the world’s first Satyagrahi (practitioner of Satyagraha). On another September 11th in 1906, the Jewish-owned Empire Theatre in Johannesburg, South Africa, was overflowing with South Asians. The crowd had gathered to plan resistance to new regulations, mandatory registration, finger printing, and papers that were to be produced on demand for all Asiatics eight years and older. Habib, a long-time elderly resident, stood up to a crowd of eager activists to make a passionate plea for faith: “We must pass this resolution with God as witness…. In the name of God, [we] will never submit to that law.

Ekalavya Retold

2011_79_Strm1The story of Ekalavya is one of the many stories in the epic Mahabharata about the Bharata dynasty, and Vyasa is regarded as its author. Vyasa told Ganesha that he had to take the time to understand everything before he wrote it. It is the longest Sanskrit epic and was completed around 4th century CE.

Ekalavya is the son of a tribal chief. He wants to be an archer and wishes to become a disciple of the guru (or teacher) Dronacharya (Drona). Drona is the royal teacher to the Pandava and Kaurava princes. He is a Brahman and Ekalavya is a shudra. Drona refuses to teach Ekalavya, because Ekalavya wasn’t a kshtriya (warrior). Ekalavya returns dejected to the forest. He makes a clay figure of Drona and practices alone in front of it. In time, with practice, he becomes an excellent archer.

One day, when he’s practicing in the forest, the incessant barking of a dog disturbs him. He shoots arrows into the mouth of the dog without injuring it. When Drona sees the dog with its mouth full of arrows, he is amazed at the skill of the archer. Along with his disciples, the Pandava and Kaurava princes, Drona looks around the forest for the archer. When they come across Ekalavya, Drona praises him and asks him how he learned the art of archery. Ekalavya tells Drona that he learned it from him. He explains that he practices in front of a clay figure of Drona and he considers him his teacher. Continue reading Ekalavya Retold

Sanskrit 2012

sanskrit_03232012This January, roughly 2,300 years after the composition of Pāṇini’s definitive Sanskrit grammar, scholars congregated in New Delhi to present papers on the massive and enduring cultural system represented by the language. The World Sanskrit Conference, a triennial event that brings together two worlds: one in which Sanskrit serves as the language of imagining truth, beauty and power, and one in which Sanskrit is an object of study and fascination. It confirms that these two worlds are less discontinuous, historically and geographically, than they might seem. Continue reading Sanskrit 2012

Elections and Empowerment: India’s Legislative Assembly Elections and What We Can Learn From Them

kids_congress_flag_20090409The first round of the 2012 elections has taken place in India. Of the seven legislative assemblies whose tenures expire in 2012, five states (Goa, Manipur, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, and Uttarakhand) held elections from late January to early March. The results of these elections are important for several reasons: they are indicators of the general election results due in 2014. Moreover, the results provide a snapshot of the changing trends among voters in the world’s largest democracy.

The results have been disappointing for India’s two major parties. The Indian National Congress (the ruling party at the centre) fared rather poorly in this cycle. Among the five state contests the Congress has only won a single state outright: Manipur, a state in the nation’s poor northeast region. While it managed to remain ahead of its national rival, the Bharatiya Janata Party (B.J.P.) in Uttarakhand, it did so with only a one seat lead in the assembly. A loss for its incumbent government in Goa and a poor performance in Punjab has placed the Congress in a tough race in the 2014 elections. Continue reading Elections and Empowerment: India’s Legislative Assembly Elections and What We Can Learn From Them