Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Krishna Key by Ashwin Sanghi

Note: One has to re-discover Krishna and his key. We need to join the dots and solve the many puzzles - ancient and modern, that dot 'The Krishna Key' - so as to figure out the elusive key and emerge slightly more knowledgeable and possibly a wee bit enlightened - in the process.

This one is a cerebral knowledge-hunt, a wondrous jigsaw puzzle and a crossword - that we have never attempted before.

To unlock it, we must invoke Krishna in our mind's eye; Krishna's advice should be our guidance. Remember, that the journey is more important than the destination ... just as our business is with the action only, never with its fruits.

A fairly taut and gripping tale, 'The Krishna Key' does manage to hold your interest until the very end, without much ado. Ashwin Sanghi has impressed yet again, and I am curious to know what his next offering will be about. However, my advice is that one should not read this book as an out-and-out thriller; it is clearly not meant to be that way, do look for the many symbolism and undercurrents though.

The book jacket cover is a clear winner; the shadow of the lock falls on "Krishna" while the light through the door panels gives the lock itself a cloak of suspense. It is intriguing and makes one want to play the guessing game. It conveys a message of its own. What do you think it is?

'The Krishna Key' is in gold-hued letters; Krishna as we all know is "Peetamber" - draped in the colour gold. It is also another name for Shri Vishnu - the preserving or the balancing force behind the cosmos, whose 'avatar' (manifestation) is Shri Krishna. "Peet" is golden-yellow and "amber" is sky. Hence, Peetamber also indicates the brilliant and glittering sky as well as enlightenment (i.e. an illumined mind).

Ashwin Sanghi appears in white, the colour of the serene full moon. Dark blue skies and a glowing moon exude peace and serenity. Shri Krishna is much admired for his radiance, calm and serene disposition even in the face of adversity. He is without ego (ahamkara). One needs to let go of ego, in order to attain illumined knowledge, as depicted by the story of Krishna stealing the clothes of the Gopis and hiding it. It is NOT literal, but allegorical.

The Krishna Key is not a slim volume; it contains 464 pages (excluding the references and acknowledgement bit.) Yet, it is a surprisingly breezy read, one that will greatly appeal to the fiction-loving epicurean, due to its eclectic mix. Come to think of it, this book will appeal to any connoisseur of the printed word. One gets to savour a healthy dose of thrills, history, chase, mind games, a glimpse into our ancient past, rituals, society and clans of yore; Vedic science, architecture, planetary positions, symbolism, sub-plots and a bit of romance, all of which culminates in making it quite a page-turner, while also ensuring that our knowledge travels northward. The romance bit though is a tad underdone and therefore appears somewhat abrupt. Which means, Ashwin is unlikely to pen a full-blown romantic novel anytime soon :-)

'The Krishna Key' begins with a map and a hymn (from the Rig Ved) and runs through 108 chapters in all; each of which is preceded by a paragraph from the Mahabharata, narrated in the first person by Krishna himself. This number, 108, is very significant; both Vishnu and Krishna have 108 names and so does Ma Durga (the manifestation of Shakti, the feminine force behind the cosmos.) However, the number 108 has many more layers, all of which the author explains in a manner that can be easily understood by even a layperson. Hence the overall narrative is not at a frenetic pace.

The Mahabharata as we all know, is a veritable treasure-trove. Apart from its poetic qualities, it is a comprehensive representation of ancient India. Because of its significance, while it is also known as the Fifth Veda, it is at once equivalent to all the Vedas. To my mind, it is also the comprehensive itihasa (history) of the Dvapar Yuga - the 3rd era. It is in fact human history in its entirety. What is not within it is to be found nowhere else. And all that is elsewhere is here. It is timeless. Hence preceding each chapter by a paragraph from the Mahabharata (and that too narrated in the first person by Krishna himself) - is very significant indeed, quite a masterstroke.

We travel along with the cast of characters to the submerged ruins of Dwarka, the sand-washed ruins of Kalibangan (the largest excavation site in Rajasthan), the once-magnificent Somnath, the now placid Kurukshetra, the storied Mathura; then to the even more storied Vrindavan and a beautifully carved temple destroyed by Aurangzeb ... among other places of course. The three-headed seal with motifs of a bull, unicorn and goat engraved in an anticlockwise direction (on the face of the seal) clearly piqued the interest of the history buff in me, especially in light of the Ekashringa (literally: the one-horned) mentioned in the Mahabharata. We get glimpses into some passages from the Harivamsa too; and they unequivocally inform us that land was reclaimed from the ocean in order to construct Dwarka (Dwaravati - the city of many doors.) In ancient texts, even science was conveyed in magical terms. A complex task of engineering - land reclamation - has been described as praying to the ocean to yield twelve yojanas of land !!

Verdict: Frankly, I am amazed at the amount of research that has gone into this book. Sanghi's take on Vishnu and Shiv is ingenious. But I'm very impressed by his explanation of what is now known as the 'Shiv-ling'. Here is a lesson for us all - to observe and not merely see.

As they say, the journey is important, not the destination. And this journey is clearly an enriching one, since as companions one gets to have: the Surya Siddhanta and (the ancient Greek historian and diplomat) Megasthenes' works that talk about Methora, Sourasenoi and Heracles (who, according to Megasthenes, was held in high esteem by the Sourasenoi); Krishna's beloved golden city of Dwarka, the sacred river Sarasvati (part of the saptasindhu and which was very much a living river during Shri Krishna's time), the evolved Sarasvati civilization, the ruins of Mohenjo-daro, the Devas, the Asuras, the Ahuras and Sumeria. The primeval sound AUM and 786, Durga and Ilah, as well as the curiosity-inducing gothic font. A black stone that lies further westward, Agreshwar, Tejo Mahalay and Arjumand Banu Begum alias Mumtaz-ul-Zamani's tomb. The intricately carved doors of Somnath were carried away by Ghazni to be later fixed on his own tomb, who would have guessed why?! The wondrous significance of the numbers 1, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 18, 894, 1008, 10008 and the sacred symbol "Swastika"; the pentagon and the six-pointed star, jyamiti and geometry; Pythagoras theorem, decimal system, the concept of zero and infinity, and even the binary system - so very common in modern computers now. Vedic mathematics is very fascinating indeed.

Most of us are unaware of the Baudhayana Sulbasutra - a manual of ancient Vedic geometry. And few may have heard of the stepped pyramid - the great flat-topped Mastaba of Djoser - a precursor to later pyramids. So the fact that the Baudhayana Sulbasutra describes in precise detail the building of a Smashaanachitha - a funeral altar; or that the Mastaba of Djoser, built around 2700 BCE, is an inverted Vedic funeral altar down to the very last detail, may come as a proverbial bolt from the blue. But then, one only needs to take a closer look at what is universally known as the Sphinx: a figure with the face of a man and the body of a lion. In short: a lion-man. Now, is the lion a creature of the desert? No. But are we strangers to the concept of the lion-man?  

If you were surprised to learn that the French philosopher Voltaire had vehemently declared, "Pythagoras went to the Ganges to learn geometry," do also remember that a certain Steve Jobs too had been a regular visitor to this great land and spent much time on the banks of this great river - seeking inspiration, by his own admission.

And just in case you are astounded by the remarkable similarity between what J. Robert Oppenheimer ("the father of the atomic bomb") said - after the first such bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, "I am become death, the destroyer of the worlds," and a line from the Srimad Bhagavad Gita that says, "I am become Time to end the world, set on my course to destroy the universe"; please do remember that the great Albert Einstein also paid his obeisance to this timeless treasury of knowledge. So, where do you think he got the idea for his seminal equation?

As we know, the soul (aatman) is energy. And this is what Shri Krishna said about the aatman

'Na jãyate mriyate vã kadãchinnãyam bhootvã bhavitã vã na bhooyaha, 
ajo nityaha shãshvato'yam purãno na hanyate hanyamãne shareere.' 

[Translated: 'the aatma is never born nor does it die. Similarly, it is not re-created to come into existence. Since, the aatma is not born, is eternal and imperishable, it has existed since time eternal and does not die even though the body dies.' - Srimad Bhagavad Gita: Chapter 2 Verse - 20]

As Arjuna stood in the battlefield of Kurukshetra, he was overcome with feelings of weakness and confusion - since he faced the prospect of killing his own kith and kin. Shri Krishna, who was his charioteer in the battlefield, sought to allay his fears by teaching him about the distinction between the physical body (which is impermanent) and the soul or aatman (which is permanent):

'vāsānsi jīrNāni yathā vihāya navāni grihNāti naro.aparāNi.
tathā śarīrāNi vihāya jīrNānyanyāni sanyāti navāni dehī.' 

[Translated: "Just as a human being puts on new garments, casting off old and worn-out ones, the soul similarly takes up residence within new material bodies, giving up the old and infirm ones." - Srimad Bhagavad Gita: Chapter 2 Verse - 22]

Now, look at what the "First Law of Thermodynamics" has to say: 'Energy can be changed from one form to another, but it cannot be created or destroyed. The total amount of energy and matter in the Universe remains constant, merely changing from one form to another.' The First Law of Thermodynamics (Conservation) states that energy is always conserved; it cannot be created or destroyed. In essence, energy can be converted from one form into another.

So? [Yet, there seem to be no respite from THE best fiction of all times - the Aryan Invasion Theory! :-)]

And despite the idol of Shiv in his Nataraj form having been duly installed within the premises of the research centre that recently witnessed much hoopla over the discovery of the elusive G particle, there has been no let up in the various narratives directed at 'idol worship' - which has swamped us for a few centuries now. :D

To my mind, humans, in the Dwapur Yuga and before, would have been very different from the ones in the current Kali Yuga, in all respects - in appearance, height, strength, longevity, calibre and in intellect too. We moderns - enslaved by our arrogance and a linear view of history - have failed to acknowledge all that.

I do not want to accumulate any more bad karma by playing spoilsport. I will not reveal and discuss any more than I have already done. Do get hold of the book and read all you can, but do not forget to simultaneously unlock the doors and windows of your heart, mind and soul. This is not a one-time read and will be amongst Sanghi's best works.

Rating: I am going with a 4/5. The production value of the book is good, editing errors are very few, and I'm sure they will be taken care of in the next print-run. The book jacket cover is very attractive and instantly catches the eye.

My humble two pence worth: It is best that we do not take our ancient texts including the Mahabharata at face value. They are immense repositories of knowledge no doubt, but just as the sacred river Ganga has become heavily polluted over time, can we say with certainty that our ancient texts - a veritable treasure-trove of knowledge (but which has, unfortunately, now come to be labeled as 'scriptures') have escaped a similar fate?

Here's why. I simply cannot believe that a woman like Kunti would 'abandon' her child, 'so as to avoid shame, since Karana was born out of wedlock'.

Kunti had four sons (including Karana) and none of them were sired by Pandu, her supposedly 'lawfully wedded husband'. (In fact, this 'lawfully wedded husband' bit somehow seems like a term that folks who came to this great land on glorified boats used and still do.)

Pandu, though a king, is a minor character. It is Kunti that wields a lot of influence; she is a strategist, negotiator and administrator of the highest order. We have completely overlooked the fact that Vedic marriages were of many types, and Swayamvara was just one of them. Any emotional and physical intimacy between a male and a female has been considered to be as good as a marital union - Gandharva Vivaha. In this form of vivaha, couples marry with mutual consent, even though they may not have the consent/blessings of their families; there are no rituals involved. However, the stress has always been on the consent of the female.

Therefore, undoubtedly, Kunti had four husbands. And so, when modern 'scholars' and their medieval counterparts talk about Pandu being her 'lawfully wedded husband' or address/depict her as a 'widow' (after Pandu's demise) - they cannot be more wrong! Being a 'widow' or virginity for that matter, has never been an issue. Even in the Treta Yuga - the 2nd era (the one preceding Dvapar Yuga) one finds Mandodari (Raavan's wife) marrying Vibhishana, Raavan's younger brother, after Raavan's demise. Therefore, Kunti clearly did not 'abandon' Karana 'for fear of being shamed'. I would like to believe that Karana was perhaps lost or kidnapped and subsequently found by the childless couple, Adhirath and Radha, who then brought him up as their own. [Adhirath was king Santanu's sarathi or charioteer. A "Suta" is one who is the offspring of mixed parentage, more precisely that of a Kshatriya-Brahmin parentage.]

We somehow tend to forget that Maharshi Vedavyas himself was the product of a Gandharva Vivaha - one between the revered Sage, Maharshi Parāśara and a fisherwoman (matsya-kanya) Satyavati. Satyavati later married the kshatriya king of Hastinapura, Maharaja Santanu - on the condition that their son would ascend the throne. Santanu, despite being a king, deferred to Satyavati's wish, while his son and Crown Prince (the Ganga-putra; the future Bheeshma) - Yuvaraja Devavrata - too stepped aside in order to make way for Satyavati and Santanu's sons, Chitrāngad and Vichitravirya.

Shri Krishna is also called 'Giridhari' (literally: he who lifted a hill) and large parts of the population believe that he lifted up a whole mountain on his little finger!! But it is clearly a metaphor - a testimony to his intelligence, perception and planning - even as a young boy, besides alluding to the accomplishment of Herculean tasks. [Here is a minor riddle for you; food for thought, if you may: Heracles and Hercules; Megathenes' Methora, Sourasenoi and Heracles, manu-smriti and manu-script. What do you make of them?]

I could go on and on and on. Moral of the story: It's in our best interest to cleanse our treasure-trove of ancient knowledge as well as our itihasa (history; especially our ancient history) of all the unwanted aspects (including humongous quantities of myth) that has seeped in and crept in over time. Illumined knowledge has been with us always, a gift from our ancients ... yet we refuse to drink from it.

Parting shot: Bhagavan Shri Krishna (who hailed from the kshatriya Chandravanshi or the moon-worshiping Yadava clan) is the celebrated Soldier-Statesman who strove to re-establish dharma - by fighting all forms of adharma (wicked and malicious people, as well as injustice and profanity in all its forms.) He restored order and balance in society, and is therefore regarded as the 8th avatar of Shri Vishnu - the preserving/balancing force behind the cosmos. Bhagavan Shri Ram (the celebrated kshatriya Warrior-Saint of the Suryavanshi or the sun-worshiping Ikshvaku clan) preceded him as the 7th avatar. The 9th avatar of Shri Vishnu, the one that after-ceded Bhagavan Shri Krishna, was none other than the great Sage-Prince Siddhartha, later Bhagavan Shri Gautam Buddh (of the kshatriya Suryavanshi Sakya clan.)

We know that Krishna ultimately freed his clans and indeed the country as a whole - of the spectre of the all-constricting Magadhan python. But this was not the end of the latter. The python re-appeared after a period of time - much like the Raktabeej that our ancients warned us about, in the 4th and current era - the Kali Yug. This time, an austere Brahmin, who I regard as the Shri Krishna of Kali Yug, rose to the challenge and vanquished it. Looks like, the Magadhan python keeps rearing its ugly head periodically. 

Later, the same austere Brahmin along with his protégé, also danced atop the white Macedonian python when it showed up at the gates of ancient India (Bharatvarsha).

The 10th avatar is popularly known as Kalki and he is yet to appear. Kalki - literally means 'the destroyer of evil'. However, there is no concept of 'evil' in the Vedas or in the philosophy of life rooted in the Vedic wisdom (Sanaatan Dharm). Sanaatan = timeless and Dharm = path or 'the way of life'. The soul after departing the mortal body does not 'rest in peace' as is popularly believed by some sections of society. There is this concept of Charaiveti - to keep going, in some other form, based on one's Karm (actions committed in that life) - as per the principles of 'Karm Yog'. A great soul will be reborn to carry on the good work, in whichever capacity; but every soul (irrespective of its accumulated Karm phal, the fruits of its Karm - in the previous birth) will be reborn accordingly, and get an opportunity to redeem itself. The soul has no gender, only the outer covering - the mortal body - takes the shape of a human (a man, a woman, a tritiya prakriti - the 3rd gender) or an animal, a plant, a bird, an insect, a reptile and so on and so forth.

Also, the 'Dasavatara' - the 10-incarnations/manifestations of Shri Vishnu could not have been predicted. 'Coz the first 4 avatars most certainly preceded the appearance of humans on earth. The Dasavatara is as follows: 1. Matsya avatar (fish) 2. Kurma avatar (tortoise) 3. Varaha avatar (wild boar) 4. Narasimha avatar (lion-man) 5. Vamana avatar (dwarf or small-sized humans) 6. Parasurama 7. Rama 8. Balarama 9. Krishna and 10. Buddh. And that takes the count to 10. If Kalki were to be added, the count goes up to 11, and then it can no longer be called the 'Dasavatara', right? Umm, I did read somewhere that before the 12th century AD, there is no mention of Kalki. So, is Kalki a later-day addition? And if yes, then by whom and why?

That is the question. Was it to indicate the signs of the times; that the world, rather creation per se, will be threatened by the activities of a group of humans? What do you think? And what in your opinion was the 'Dasavatara' essentially meant to symbolize?

Also, we tend to think of Kali Yug as 'the dark age of the demon Kali'. But there is no such thing as a demon - in our culture; this word has made its appearance in our collective vocabulary thanks to the translations of our ancient texts - by aliens. Therefore, we can safely conclude that things have been lost and/or distorted in translation. You see, Kali also means a "bud," and a bud is beautiful to behold. It slowly opens and then gradually metamorphoses into a lovely flower, right? And after a certain lapse of time, this beautiful flower starts to wither away. That's the law of nature. But the key as to when the current Kali Yug should begin to wither away is in our hands - based on our actions, our Karm Yog, remember? 

Bhagavan Shri Krishna's immortal words from the Srimad Bhagavad-Gita (Chapter 2 Verse - 47):

"karmaNi eva adhikaaraste maa phaleshu kadaachana,
maa karma phala hetuH bhuH maa sanghaH astu akarmaNi"

Meaning: "Thy business is with the action only, never with its fruits; so let not the fruits of action be thy motive, nor be thou to inaction attached."

Therefore, in any given situation, we must make a conscious decision and do our best to uphold it; remaining inactive or being a fence-sitter is NOT an option ... if we want to prevent the kali from withering away, that is.

II Jai Shri Krishn II

Details of the Book: The Krishna Key/ Author: Ashwin Sanghi/ Publisher: Westland/ Binding: Paperback/ Publishing Date: 2012/ Genre: Thriller/ ISBN-10: 978-93-81626-68-9/ ISBN-13: 9789381626689/ Pages: 475/ Price: Rs.250 (Rs. 175 @ Flipkart.)

The book trailer is brilliantly done: Link. Ameya Naik and Kushal Gopalka have impressed once again. Their earlier effort in Chankaya's Chant was mind-blowing: Link.

Picture: The book jacket cover of 'The Krishna Key'. Courtesy: link.

This review is a part of the Book Reviews Program at Participate now to get free books!

1 comment:

  1. As usual very well researched analysis. Our Upanishads, Vedas , and Shastras are not only a treasure of moral values but also have plethora of scientific knowledge. One such proof by Davison films ,

    As usual we are bad at getting the things patented; otherwise not Marconi but Dr JC Bose would be inventor of Radio. It is sad that west has to tell us about benefits of ‘neem’ and turmeric. Our age old traditions of YOG come back to us as YOGA and Pandit Vishmohan Bhatt gains reorganization for his ‘Veena’ only after when he gets a Grammy . Actually 200 years of slavery has gone deep into our mentality and colonial mindset has encroached deep into psyche. We look to them for acceptance and they tell us about what is good with our culture. In America they have centers for music therapies where they play Hindustani Ragas. Notice the science behind Ragas …morning Ragas like ‘Lalit’ have mild notes….intensity increases with day and again in the evening mildness returns …they had it all worked out which we have systematically destroyed in a frenzy to ape west.
    Education has not broadened minds of many of us. In most cases it has narrowed our vision to a good and cushy job and comfortable life. Nonchalant about nature forests, rivers and environment we live as if there is not tomorrow . Anyway, Here is a link to video about Dwarka which you may like….

    As usual it was educating reading your post…