Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The forbidden prayer and a great writer

O.V Vijayan ends one of his stories in his short story collection called "After The Hanging and other stories" with the prayer.

Om Bhoorbhuvah Swah
Tatsavitur Vareniyam,
Bhargo Devasya Dhi Mahi
Dhiyo Yona Prachodyat .

"Almighty light
pervader of the earth and the sky
illumine my intellect.."

Invoking the presiding devatas of the three worlds,
reflecting on the divine, all pervading light of the sun, man prays ...
Oh Lord, Illumine my intellect" ..

Let us get to the key point of the timeless prayer. "Illumine my intellect". This story, one from the collection "After The Hanging and other stories" is symbolic and metaphoric. The story does not speak of any real persons or any incident that has happened anywhere or anytime. However the narration is symbolic of the state of his nation, India, when emergency was declared in the 70s.

The reasons given by the government for declaring emergency reflected good intentions. The society is dysfunctional, nation is in difficult times, government is not working, socialist ideals not achieved etc. We, as government, needed to do something and we needed emergency powers. That was what they said.

However the real reason was that "Power never concedes" as Obama would say several decades later. They were worried about losing their monopoly on power. The automatic reelection of Congress party , a phenomena that continued for a while after independence, was not guaranteed any more. By the way, this repeat victories at the hustings was not an election malpractice, it just took time for a viable opposition to develop and people chose to vote for the incumbent time and again. However over time the Indian society started showing signs of change which worried the ruling elite. So this fear of losing power was the real motive behind the declaration of emergency. The incumbents, a small elite that controlled the nation since independence, did not want to concede that to any one else.

The author does not speak of any of this in his allegorical work. But this, in my view, was what he meant by ending his story by invoking the prayer. "Illumine our intellect". So we see the truth behind all the smoke.

This prayer is Rigvedic text. It is the forbidden mantra of Gayatri. Written around 4000 years ago, presumably in the banks of the Indus River, this mantra was forbidden to the Bahujan(commoner), even to the warriors, and all women. Not just this mantra but most knowledge was forbidden. It was restricted to the men of priestly class.

Today, in the globalized world, the presiding philosophy is the right for fair use of information. There is wide acceptance that no knowledge is a completely new invention of any one person or author and there is "a superseding need to stimulate creativity for the enrichment of the general public". All intellectual work build on the existing body of knowledge. Therefore no person can take complete ownership of an idea or knowledge as it is derived from building on existing knowledge. Every one has a right for fair use, that is to read, appreciate and use any knowledge. That is why I have a right to quote O.V Vijayan, after giving citations, and you have the right to add a link to my article or even borrow my words, of course with citations. There may be exceptions to this, when copyright protections are needed for encouraging research, national security demand protecting certain information etc. Such information might become available to public as the sensitivity of the information fades over time and public interest gains more importance. My purpose is not to dwell on the exceptions but to appreciate the doctrine.

So the greatness of the mantra of the Rigvedic times, "Illumine my intellect", the meanness of subsequent times in denying that to the Bahujan and its ill effects on the society and finally the doctrine of current times that gives back the commoner his rights, all reflects in the glory of Vijayan's work. After all, all knowledge belongs to all people, to begin with.


  1. good sensible piece. love your no nonsense style.
    keep writing. am blogrolling u

  2. I have written 3 songs which I call Forbidden Prayers and but they are regarding witchcraft and spells and even one is quite normal, but with the idea of the power of a spell.