The Pashupati Seal of Mohenjo-Daro

By Shivam Pathania

Illustration: Shivam Pathania

The Indus Valley civilization is an enigma. Since its discovery, many historians have been trying to study the life of the ancient cities’ dwellers through the historic monuments and the ancient relics. The Pashupati seal, found during the excavation of the ancient city of Mohenjo-Daro in Indus valley is one such relic, with many different and contradicting interpretations by different historians that shed a light on the religious practices of the civilization. The small relic is a big piece to solve the ancient puzzle, that is Indus Valley civilization.

The tiny seal measures 3.56 cm by 3.53 cm, with a thickness of 0.76 cm and is made out of soapstone or steatite. The seal was uncovered in 1928-1929 and is considered to be made during 2350-2000 BCE. The prominent figure in the seal is the man with the horned headdress, which is unusual as most Indus Valley seals show animals as the central figure in their seals instead of a human being. The man is seated on a raised platform in a yogic position and he is depicted to have three long faces with pointed noses. His arms are adorned with numerous bangles, from his wrist and all the way to his shoulder and his entire torso is covered in necklaces. He also has a belt decorated with tassels at his waistline. The seal depicts various wild animals around the seated figure, most of which are herbivores. A rhinoceros, an elephant, a buffalo and a tiger are shown in the seal, where the tiger seems to be pouncing on the seated man. Two goats also can be seen right in front of the seated figure, but it seems to be unclear whether the goats are actual animals or a design aspect of the raised platform. The seal is also inscribed with the Indus Valley civilization script, which has still not been deciphered. The exact functional purpose of the seal is still unknown, but according to some experts, such seals were used during the trade. But many seals also have a hole behind them suggesting that such seals were also worn as amulets. Therefore, the seal could have been an identification seal of a community in the settlement or was worn as a symbol of status.

Many interpretations have been made by historians to decode the intended narrative of the scene depicted in the small seal. According to the most common and most widely accepted interpretation, the seated human figure is Shiva or his Vedic alias Rudra. Archaeologist John Marshall, the Director-General of the Archaeological Survey of India, first came up with this interpretation due to four reasons. In some forms Shiva is depicted with four or five heads, which appear to be three, when seen from the front view, matching with the number of faces of the seated figure. Further, the horns on the headpiece can be associated with the bull, Nandi, Shiva’s vahana. Also, the yogic posture of the seated man, ties him closely to Shiva, as Shiva is known as Adiyogi or the first yogi and the originator of yoga. The seated man is surrounded with wild animals, which can be associated with another form of Shiva called as Pashupati, which translates as ‘the king of all animals’. Hence, the name, Pashupati was given to the seal.

The theory was widely accepted, but it was met with objections too, with some historians reinterpreting the seal differently. Doris Srinivasan, a professor of Indian studies, said that the human figure in the seal was rather a deity who was half-buffalo and half-man. According to her studies, the seated figure had cow-like ears instead of three faces. Since the Indus valley civilization was an agrarian society, cattle were crucial assets for them. Male cattle helped with ploughing and carrying a load, while their female counterparts provided with dairy and thus having a deity dedicated to cattle made sense.

There is another interpretation with the same buffalo-man hybrid, but instead of being a deity, the seated entity is identified as an asura. Some scholars believe the horned entity to be the earliest pictorial depictions of Mahishasura, the asura, who was half-buffalo and half-man and the evil asura was defeated by Goddess Durga. Her vahana, Dawon, a tiger, is depicted attacking the horned asura in the seal. Many historians have also associated the seated figure in the seal to Vedic deities like Agni, Indra and Varun.

Apart from the religious interpretation of the seal, the yogic posture of the seated man helps to trace back the history of yoga in the Indian subcontinent. The yogi in the seal is seated in an advanced yogic position called Mulabandhasana which requires flexibility in the hips, knees, legs, ankles and feet. This level of difficult yoga was prevalent in the Indus Valley which suggests that yoga has been practised by the people in the civilisation from a long time and therefore, there is a possibility that yoga was established before or with the Indus Valley civilisation.

Read more about the Harrapan civilisation in our title ‘The Indus Valley Adventure’. Now available on the ACK Comics app, Kindle, Flipkart, Amazon, and other major e-tailers. 

The Armed Forces In Peacetime

By Vaneeta Vaid

The primary role of the Armed Forces is to defend the nation against external aggression. Success in war comes to those who are well equipped and trained. The Armed Forces, therefore, constantly train themselves so that they are better prepared than the adversary for any eventuality.

Illustration: Durgesh Velhal

India has very long borders which mostly do not follow geographic features. Most of our borders are active and conflict-prone due to difference in perception with our neighbours. In order to guard these active borders, especially in mountainous and inhospitable terrain, the Army remains deployed to thwart recurring encroachment attempts and to battle relentless ceasefire violations. The Air Force and the Navy remain in a state of readiness to respond to any impending air or sea threats to our country.

Armed Forces units and formations, stationed in peace locations, follow a rigorous training routine which include physical and weapon training, arms/equipment repair and maintenance tasks, in order to remain operationally ready. Regular two-sided exercises and war games in which various defensive and offensive scenarios are enacted, are undertaken to validate and update operational plans and bathe procedures. Logistic planning and preparation for operations and contingencies are also undertaken.

Illustration: Ghanshyam Bochegeri

The Armed Forces are called upon to assist in times of internal disorders and calamities both natural and man-made such as floods, earthquakes etc. On December 26, 2004, when a devastating tsunami swept across the Indian Ocean submerging islands, destroying coastlines and taking thousands of lives, the Air Force and the Navy swung into action carrying out rescue missions and transporting medical and food supplies to the Andaman & Nicobar Islands, Sri Lanka and the Maldives. The recent floods in Jammu & Kashmir saw men from the Armed Forces deployed in rescuing hundreds of people from the fury of the rising water.

The Armed Forces are also called upon to restore peace and order during internal strife and unrest. The Indian Navy by patrolling the waters, guards the international shipping corridors in the Indian Ocean against the threat of piracy and terrorism.

Illustration: Rakesh C.S.

Apart from securing the nation against external and internal threats, the Indian Army has been involved in nation-building initiatives too through multifaceted activities such as laying bridges, providing medical facilities, running educational and vocational training, etc., for common people especially in inaccessible areas of J&K and the north-eastern states.

When mandated, the Armed Forces also participate in conflict prevention in neighbouring countries as during Operation Pawan in Sri-Lanka (1987) and Operation Cactus in the Maldives (1988).

The Armed Forces also participate in peace-keeping missions of the United Nations under the UN Flag.

Swami Vivekananda (1863 – 1902)

World history has witnessed several legends who have gone beyond their limits and have achieved a name for themselves like no other. When it comes to Indians who have made such an impact on the world, Swami Vivekananda is one man who cannot be overlooked. Let us take a look at the life of the man who journeyed to a path of enlightenment.

Childhood and early years:

Illustration: T. Kesava Rao and Souren Roy

Born in a Bengali family, Narendranath Dutta was the name given to him. At a young age where kids would be busy playing outside with their friends, young Narendra kept himself occupied with meditation. He fascinated the lives of sanyasis. While many kids struggle to decide a future for themselves, young Narendra knew for sure that he was going to grow up to be a sanyasi.

Growing up, Narendra found the right balance between his body and mind. He kept himself academically well-read and at the same time was at the peak of his fitness. This personality and dedication made him stand out in school as well as in college! Soon, he found himself journeying towards the path of spiritual enlightenment as he began seeking for answers and searching for God.

The spiritual path:

After extensive searching, Narendra was not able to seek the answers he longed for. Until one day, he was asked to go see Shri Ramakrishna of Dakshineshwar. Before he knew it, Ramakrishna had already seen Narendra’s arrival and his destiny. He knew that Narendra is destined to help humanity. Narendra kept visiting him to search for answers. However, after the untimely death of his father, Vishwanath Datta, Narendra grew restless and desperate for a steady income for his mother.

He found himself at Ramakrishna’s feet, seeking aid. After a few encounters with him, Narendra finally had his first spiritual experience! It was as if his mind had exploded and expanded into the depths and secrets of the universe. Since then, Narendra decided to stay closer to Ramakrishna. He would spend days under deep meditation. He was an eager man, he wanted to learn more. But good things come to those who wait and rightly so, Ramakrishna asked him to be patient.

Illustration: T. Kesava Rao and Souren Roy

When Shri Ramakrishna was on his deathbed, he called for Narendra who was sorrowful as he could see the inevitable future his master awaited. Ramakrishna understood that it’s time for Narendra to carry on his master’s work and thus with a touch of a hand, Ramakrishna transferred his divine knowledge onto Narendra. Narendra could feel the divine spirit of his master enter him. After Ramakrishna’s death, Narendra donned a saffron garb that symbolised renunciation and shaved his head. He sought blessings from Ramakrishna’s wife and set out on a mission.

Fulfilling his destiny:

Just as he wished when he was a child, Narendra was now a sanyasi. He decided to see his beloved country from all corners. This decision made him embark on a journey where he traversed around the country. Wherever he went, the crowd would gather to hear him talk. He never discriminated on the basis of caste or religion. He treated all men alike.

One day, he was asked to represent India at the Parliament of Religions which was going to take place in Chicago, USA. At first, Narendra put a pin on the thought of going but after a vision from his master, Shri Ramakrishna, he decided to go. Soon then, the Maharaja of Khetri invited him to his darbar, provided him with his contribution for his trip and gave him the title of Swami Vivekananda which means one who rejoices in wisdom.

The Chicago event:

After a long journey, Swami Vivekananda had finally arrived in Chicago. Entering the Parliament of Religions wasn’t easy for him. After a lot of hustle and help from kind strangers, he finally made it. There, the Indian delegates resented his presence but once he spoke, everyone was in awe of him. In fact, they even scurried to meet him after his address. Soon after he was requested to deliver lectures all around America. Wherever he went, his pearls of wisdom moved people.

A grand welcome back home:

Illustration: Souren Roy

After journeying to America and England, it was time for Swami Vivekanand to return home. He arrived in India on January 15, 1897, and was welcomed by thousands of people waiting to touch his feet and seek his blessings. Now in his beloved motherland, he decided to help the needy, sick, and the poor. He established various institutions and travelled all around India spreading his knowledge. Even in his last days, Swami Vivekananda meditated and helped the poor. When his spirit had left his body, he had a divine expression on his face.

Swami Vivekananda firmly believed that the nation’s youth holds the key to solve various issues faced by India. This is why his birth anniversary, January 12th, is also celebrated as National Youth Day. He believed in the true spirit of Hinduism which abolished the lenses of untouchability and in helping the poor sections of India as they are the backbone of the country. Even a century later, he remains to be a prominent name in spiritualism and his institutions continue to spread his wisdom!

Read the complete story of this great monk in our title ‘Vivekananda’. Now available on the ACK Comics app, Kindle, Amazon, Flipkart, and other major e-tailers. 

Famous Quotes #11

This quote by a renowned Bengali saint, Anandamayi Ma, describes the true traits of a saint.

Illustration: Swathi Sambasivam

Celebrating Christmas

By Srinidhi Murthy

Illustration: ACK Design Team

Christmas is celebrated with great pomp and enthusiasm all over the world a few days prior to the beginning of a new year. The history of Christmas celebrations dates back to the emergence of Christianity in the country. India had been a British colony till 1947. Still, the tradition of celebrating Christmas stayed in India even after Independence due to colonialism. 

The story of Christmas
Illustration: Pratap Mullick

Christmas marks the birth of Jesus Christ, the one who spoke of goodness with wisdom and brought peace to all men through goodwill. According to the New Testament, when the couple, Joseph and Mary, had no room in Jerusalem, they sought shelter in a stable where Jesus was born at midnight. The angels proclaimed the birth of Jesus, who was destined to be the saviour. The shepherds spread this information to others. According to the Gregorian Calendar, this date was December 25th. Hence, Christians celebrate Christmas on this date every year.   

The link to colonialism 

India was a British colony for around two hundred years. The British had a prominent control over various places in India which led to the spread of Christianity in India. Goa, which has been one of the favourite destinations for Indians to celebrate Christmas, was famous for its Portuguese legacy and Catholic population. Like Goa, Kerala has its own history of Portuguese and British legacy. In 1498, Vasco Da Gama raised Portuguese settlements by establishing sea routes to Kerala. In fact, the British gained Kerala with the alliance of Travancore. Kerala’s Christmas festival is too grand and fascinating to miss, as the state has a large number of Christians who gloriously celebrate the festival. 

Having a past of over three hundred years, the Immaculate Conception Cathedral, also known as Samba Kovil, in Pondicherry, is one of the oldest churches which makes it to the list of must-visit during Christmas. The Jesuit fathers came to the French colony of Pondicherry and built three churches that were, eventually, destroyed due to the subsequent wars between the French and Dutch and, further again, during the British rule. 

Christmas Celebrations
Illustration: Ritoparna Hazra

Christmas is celebrated across the nation, especially in the metropolitan cities, with great pomp and vigour. Special festive markets are set up. Streets are decorated with lights and lanterns, men dressed as Santa Claus roam the streets singing “Ho.. Ho.. Ho..” and spreading joy and cheer. Some also distribute sweets and chocolates to kids. Christmas trees are decorated in malls, local shops, and houses. Baking cakes, sharing gifts, and hanging up stockings on Christmas Eve, and attending special mass prayers in a church are some prominent traditions of this festival. Traditional Christmas plum cakes are made with dry fruits soaked in wine for forty days. Interestingly, the first Christmas cake was baked in India by Mambally Bapu from Thalassery, Kerala. Since then a variety of cakes have been baked as a part of the celebrations but plum cakes remain to be a favourite of the majority.

Read the life story of Christ in our title ‘Jesus Christ’ on the ACK Comics app and Kindle. Also available on Amazon, Flipkart, and other major e-tailers.

Shah Jahan’s Dining Habits

By Srinidhi Murthy

Shah Jahan was the fifth Mughal emperor, under whose reign the Mughal Empire reached the peak of its cultural glory. Shah Jahan was famous for his competency on the battlefield, his knowledge in political affairs, and his interest in architecture. However, an interesting and lesser known facet of Shah Jahan was his unique culinary tastes. Here are a few facts from the Nuskha-e-ShahJahani that reveals the diet and dining patterns of the erstwhile Mughal ruler. 

Illustration: Souren Roy
  1. Quantity and Quality 

Like any standard royal court, most of the dishes were prepared in bulk. Food was prepared for many guests on a daily basis and hence, huge quantities of ingredients were used. The emperors dined with their queens, except on festive occasions when they dined with nobles and courtiers. Since an exceptionally large number of dishes were served at each meal, a production line of staff undertook the chopping and cleaning and washing and grinding. Food was cooked in rainwater mixed with water brought in from the Ganges. An elaborate chain of commands was given to servers who ensured the right food was served in the right order at the right time on the right occasion.

  1. Adapting Foreign Tastes 

Thanks to their numerous trade routes, the Portuguese had established a relationship with the Mughals a long time ago. This led to the royal kitchens encountering an additional ingredient, chilli, brought by the Portuguese. The chilli, due to its similarity with the long pepper, effortlessly blended with Indian recipes and ingredients, making it easier for the royal chefs of the Mughal era to use it liberally. 

  1. Long hours at the Dastarkhwan

Shah Jahan was a slow eater. He loved to enjoy every morsel he ate. During his reign, banquets ran for hours and Shah Jahan ended up spending long hours at the Dastarkhwan or the royal dining hall.

Illustration: Souren Roy
  1. His Love for Mangoes

Shah Jahan’s love for mangoes was a known fact and every time, the emperor received mangoes as gifts, he personally got the weight and quality checked. He once got angry with his son, Aurangzeb, who had eaten mangoes from his favourite tree in the Deccan Plateau instead of sending the mangoes to him.

  1. The Royal Dietician 

An interesting fact about the Mughal royal kitchen is that it was a royal physician who planned the menu each day. This was to ensure that medicinally beneficial ingredients were included in each dish. This way, the people in the royal court could be assured that the food they ate was not only good for their taste buds but also their body. 

  1. Culinary Paradise

Based on the Nuskha-e-Shahjahani, it can be inferred that it was not only the royal kitchen, but even the bazaars that were filled with different flavours from all over the known world. The city was known as a paradise of food then, with records from the time speaking to Shah Jahan’s reputation as a gastronome. 

  1. His Last Suppers

Deposed by his son Aurangzeb, Shah Jahan was imprisoned in Agra Fort and remained there for eight years until his death in 1666. Legends narrate how Aurangzeb ordered that his father be allowed just one ingredient of his preference and Shah Jahan chose chickpeas because that could be cooked in multiple ways.

Read the complete story of the fifth Mughal emperor in our title ‘Shah Jahan’, available on the ACK Comics app, Kindle, Amazon, Flipkart, and other major e-tailers. 

Astad Deboo (1947 – 2020)

Illustration: Amal C. Vijay

A true pioneer of the Indian contemporary dance form, Astad Deboo has left behind a legacy that will inspire millions. A master of Kathak and Kathakali, he would effortlessly fuse modern dance forms with classical styles, mesmerising his audience across the globe.

Throughout his career, he collaborated with legendary personalities and bands such as Pierre Cardin, Pink Floyd, and the Gundecha Brothers, among others. He only occasionally choreographed for movies as well, including M.F. Hussain’s Meenaxi: A Tale of Three Cities and Mani Ratnam’s Raavan. His shows were often booked out with  fans present in almost every country across the globe.

For his phenomenal contribution in the field of performing arts, he was awarded the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 1996 and the Padma Shri in 2007.

The Many Benefits of Sandalwood

Sandalwood is one of the most expensive kinds of lumber in the world. It has a distinct aroma and fascinating medicinal properties. Here are some of the many ways in which this heavy yellow wood is used in India.

Illustration: Samhita Sonti

Sufi Saints of India

By Swarn Khandpur

Illustration: S.K. Parab

The Sufis were saints or mystics of Persia who formed themselves into several orders and spread out to distant lands. Some of them lived as householders.

Khwaja Muinnudin
Illustration: S.K. Parab

Khwaja Muinnudin of the Chisti order came to India in the 12th century and settled down at Ajmer. His piety and humility endeared him to Hindus and Muslims alike. They affectionately called him Gari Nawaz, one who cherishes the humble. His tomb has become a place of pilgrimage for his following all over the world.

Baba Farid
Illustration: S.K. Parab

After his raid on Delhi in 1398, Taimur was returning home to Samarkand, laden with gold and riches. Suddenly, at a place in Punjab, the caravan stopped. The horse refused to move. Taimur became furious. When told that the place was sanctified, Taimur demanded to know by whom. A voice answered:

“Baba Farid, the king of kings.”

Taimur, the story goes, bowed to the memory of the saint and spent the night at the Durgah (or tomb) of Baba Farid.

Baba Farid was popularly known as Ganj-Shakar or the treasurer of sweetness. It is said that, as a child, he would get some sugar from his mother after every prayer. One day, she forgot to put it under the prayer mat. But, by some divine power, sugar did appear when Farid turned to take his reward! His hymns are included in the Granth Sahib, the Holy book of the Sikhs. He would say,

“Do not give me scissors. Give me a needle. I sew, I do not cut.”

Nizamuddin Auliya
Illustration: S.K. Parab

Another great Sufi was Nizamuddin Auliya who settled in Delhi and spent his life in the service of God and his creatures. Around his tomb has grown a settlement popularly referred to as “Sufi Basti”.

Sheikh Salim 
Illustration: S.K. Parab

Sheikh Salim Chishti, a Sufi saint of emperor Akbar’s time, had settled down at Sikri near Agra. It was with his blessings that a son was at last born to Akbar. The child, named Salim after the saint, later became known as the emperor Jahangir. Akbar built a marble tomb for the saint at Fatehpur Sikri.

The Gangaur Festival

Illustration: P.B. Kavadi

The festival of Gangaur is dedicated to Parvati, the goddess of marriage and fertility, and is celebrated for 18 days by the womenfolk of Rajasthan. The name comes from the words ‘gana’ referring to Shiva and ‘gaur’ which refers to Gauri, another name for Parvati.

As per local legend, the festival marks the first time Parvati visited her mother’s house, after her marriage to Shiva. Small, clay idols of Shiva and Parvati are carried around town during this festival, while worshippers pray for the welfare of their families. On the last day of Gangaur, the clay idols of Shiva and Parvati are immersed in water to signify Parvati’s return to Kailash.