Archive Page 15

An Indian Odyssey – Interview


Martin Buckley has re-traced, in a meandering fashion over 25 odd years, Rama’s journey south from Ayodhya to Sri Lanka on a Bullet, trains and buses.  He didn’t manage to fly back north in the Pushpaka Vimaana, but he did fly a Hanuman plane in Bangalore.  A British journalist and latterly travel writer, Martin recently published An Indian Odyssey, an exploration of the Ramayana based on his own extensive wanderings in India.  He talks to Venetia Ansell about Valmiki’s style – like Hemingway’s – and the echoes of Apocalypse Now in the Ramayana.

28th March 2009

Martin Buckley first came to the subcontinent in 1982.  “Like everyone else I came here to find myself” he quips, but adds more seriously that in fact he thinks he did.  His journey started in Sri Lanka, where he gradually became aware of the existence of the Ramayana through the latest Hindu-Buddhist conflict, the aftermath of which he had landed in, and the constant mention of a woman called Sita in the old British tea estates.  Arming himself with a battered copy of the Ramayana he travelled north and was surprised to see just how much conversation, and controversy, it provoked – like the Tamilian on a train who explained to him that the whole story was a Brahmin conspiracy, white invading Aryans against darker native Dravidians.  He followed the poem through its incarnation as the legendarily popular TV serial to its appropriation by the BJP and the notorious events of Ayodhya in 1992, an event Martin calls “the 9/11 of India”. 

Aware of the turmoil this epic has caused and of the reverence with which both the poem and many of its protagonists are held, he set out to capture something of the Ramayana in today’s India as well as to offer his own re-telling of the story.  “I tried to unpick the extraordinarily complicated web that is the Ramayana“.  The book delves into Ramayana traditions all across the sub-continent and South East Asia, and delivers some fascinating tidbits such as the belief (fed by a strain of Sinhalese nationalism which traces its roots to the Aryans) in Sri Lanka that Ravana, the dark and evil ‘Dravidian’ emperor whom the Aryan Rama battles, is not only a hero but an Aryan hero.

Martin wanted to go back to the Valmiki Ramayana, “I suppose because of my Western desire to get to the Ur Ramayana, as if there was such a thing”, despite acknowledging the one major problem with Valmiki’s version for modern India: it doesn’t really depict Rama as a god.  “Rama is not the perfect man”, he asserts, “he has doubts.”  The jungle tests Rama in ways he has never been tested before.   Martin’s Rama is uncompromising when he kills Vali and icy cold as he submits Sita to the fire test. Addressing a Bangalorean audience at a book reading recently, he tried to explain that it is possible for him for Rama to be a god and yet also be the very human character of the Sanskrit poem.  “I’m not a reductionist from the West who wants to come and lecture you on your own god; if he’s a god for you then he’s a god for me.  Simple.”  Not everyone seemed convinced, but the description in An Indian Odyssey of one or two of the author’s intimate religious experiences with Rama the god suggests that their scepticism is misplaced.

Martin’s version of the Ramayana is punchy and modern. “The history of the Ramayana is the history of trying to whitewash the text,” declares Martin, whereas he gives us Valmiki with all the “blatant sexuality” of episodes such as Shurpanakha meeting Rama, and the brutal reality of jungle warfare.   One woman at the book reading comments that the scene in which Rama and Lakshmana dispatch Khara’s 14,000-strong army reminded her of a well known video game, but in fact the grisly imagery is largely Valmiki’s.  The re-telling is though far too brief, delivered in sparse one page interludes in the main text of the travelogue.  Martin says that his publishers edited it incredibly heavily, perhaps concerned about the average attention span of the target audience. The unfortunate result of this is a narrative which although wonderfully fast-paced and vivid gives the reader no opportunity to really engage.  It’s rather like watching a film trailer – a series of dramatic flashes that give you a tantalising glimpse of the full story.

The travelogue itself is a wonderful romp through all sorts of Indias replete with a commentary whose barb is directed particularly at the ‘Kingfisher India’ as Martin calls it, epitomised in places like the air conditioned highway fast food joint, where a frog-faced family of seven silently stuff themselves – evidence of the developing world rich’s belief that “only systematic gluttony will keep poverty at bay”.   Often though, the keen-sighted Englishman makes way for a credulous traveller genuinely seeking to access India’s rich tradition of spirituality.  Martin’s journey is as much about using the Ramayana to discover Hinduism, which he wholly embraces, as to discover India.  All of which makes it odd that his Ramayana is almost totally rationalised.  Hanuman’s crossing to Lanka is exciting (and dramatic: you can’t help but picture a muscular Hrithik Roshan when Hanuman delivers lines like “I don’t believe in luck.”), but it involves a fishing boat and a low tide rather than a flying monkey, a talking mountain and a hungry sea monster.   Possibly this will endear it to Western readers, but the re-telling loses something in the process. 

 It is the human element of the “tortured central characters” that for Martin makes the Ramayana great literature.  And he is quite sure the West will think so too, when they realise the Ramayana exists.  He is perplexed at the complete ignorance in the West about the poem.  “Ask an educated, well read person in the UK about Indian literature, and they will most probably talk vaguely about the Mahabharata and the Bhagavad Gita but nothing else.”  He wrote this book in part to create more awareness about the Ramayana, but although designed for the West – to be sold as India’s answer to Homer’s Odyssey – he was keen that it be published in India too.

Martin hopes to publish a much fuller version of his re-telling soon.  In the meantime, he recommends a slim volume by Purushottama Lal, who has ‘transcreated’ the text, published by Writers Workshop.  Martin’s full length version though will be eagerly awaited.  With any luck this energetic journalist turned storyteller who celebrates the “rawness (and) raunch” of Valmiki’s text will help win the Ramayana a new audience not just in the West but also in metropolitan India.  Hanuman: Boy Warrior has just been launched as India’s first ever desi-developed video game; the time is ripe.

An Indian Odyssey – Martin Buckley, Random House 2008 is available on the publisher’s UK and India websites, as well as Amazon.



Interview: A Maltese Gita


Dr Michael Zammit, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Malta, has just translated the Bhagavad Gita into Maltese.  He speaks to Venetia Ansell about the power of sound, working across different languages and his own philosophical poem.

25th March 2009

Why did you decide to translate the Bhagavad Gita into Maltese? 

Way back in my youth, when I was 16, I met a scholar who was reading English and Sanskrit at Harvard.  He was on holiday here in Malta.  He read some Gita verses to me in Sanskrit and the language had an effect, a strange effect, despite the fact I didn’t even know what it meant.  It was then that I discovered the power of sound, and the power of sound especially when controlled by grammar, language, poetry.  I grew interested not only in Sanskrit but in how poetry functions. 

I started to study the Gita and the philosophies it contains.  In time I made a game for myself where after reading the Sanskrit I would try to put it into the poetic language of Malta. 


So is this a poetic rendering of the Gita?

Indeed – it is a poetical re-writing of the Sanskrit, not a translation as such. I would spend time with each verse.  I would take each one and repeat over and over again until I had absorbed the sounds and recognised the meaning.  I would then translate each word and allow my mind to poetically transform it into a Maltese verse.  I couldn’t use the Sanskrit metre, Maltese just wouldn’t fit, so I allowed the Maltese to give me its own metre.  And in fact I began to truly appreciate the music of Maltese.  I am a firm believer in the idea and the practice of poetry as something to be experienced orally – to be read out loud and heard – rather than visually.  This is why I was so keen that the translated poem be recorded.  [Dr Zammit’s translation is being webcast on the University of Malta’s website:]


Is this the first translation of the Gita into Maltese?

Yes, this is the first ever translation.  There is a strong movement at the moment to translate the classics into Maltese, the Latin and Greek canons and so on.  Maltese was an oral language until 200 years ago.  When the British ruled Malta, the languages of culture were English and Italian – Maltese was a mother tongue used for everyday communication only.  So there is a need for such translations at the moment.

My publishers were very pleased when they saw that in creating the glossary for the Gita I had invented new words for several terms such as sattva, rajas, tamas, yoga and so on. English is able to assimilate foreign words very easily – I think you can even have ‘sattvic’ in English.  It is one of the many features that makes English so interesting.

I also came up with a neologism for ‘mantra’ in Maltese – a word that means something like ‘thoughts circling in your mind’ or ‘churning mills in your mind’. 


Is there much awareness of the Gita and other such texts in Malta?  I notice the podcast is named ‘The Indo-European epic’.

Yes the title was not my choosing – I wanted to call it the Bhagavad Gita, but this is a university website and they wanted a title that gave people an idea of what it was.  Sanskrit and its texts are not well known in Malta.  I am the one introducing this literature into the University of Malta. Two years ago I was given a free hand to create some new courses and I instituted a philosophy of Sanskrit grammar course, another one on the Gita and a third on Shankara.  I also started a class on Sanskrit grammar, reading, chanting and so on in which we also look at the concepts behind Sanskrit grammar – the Panini system – and how the language works in comparison to other languages. Maltese isn’t an Indo-European language but a Semitic language, like Hebrew or Aramaic – it functions in a totally different way to Sanskrit. 

The courses and class are becoming increasingly popular and are attended by students from several faculties, not just the philosophy department. 

You have written a philosophical poem yourself, do you think that philosophy is best presented through the medium of poetry?

It was while I was working on the Gita that I found my mind started to produce its own Maltese poetry and it led to the creation of another poem, a mantra-like poem in Maltese.  I realised that poetry is a way of coming to terms with the unknown, it is as if you are standing right on the edge of human understanding.  

Many say that Plato wanted to banish poets, but in fact I think that he had the same idea.  He didn’t want to banish them but rather send them to the edge of civilization in order to reach out to the unknown.  He wanted to send them to το περάς (‘end, extremity’), just as Socrates in The Republic goes to the edge of his known world. 

Poetry is a means of reaching out beyond what we know, not necessarily understanding it but at least coming to terms with the things that we don’t understand. 


To listen to podcasts of Dr Zammit’s translation, click here:

The book version is published by PIN Publications, Herbert Ganado Street, Pieta, PTA 1450, Malta

For his mantra poem in its Italian translation, click  here:

Interview with Anna L. Dallapiccola


Sita and Hanuman in Ravana’s garden, from the kalamkari 5457A  in the V&A’s collection

Kalamkari is probably best known in India for its use in kurtas, saris, pajamas and bedsheets.  In the 18th century, it was the British who favoured the use of the block-printed cotton cloth for clothes; now it’s trendy Indian lifestyle stores and social groups who promote it for its traditional techniques and natural dyes.  Less well known and certainly less readily available are the hand-painted kalamkari textiles depicting epic and mythical material which were made from the 13th century onwards and spread all along the Coromandel Coast and as far as Japan, where they proved very popular. 

Professor Anna L. Dallapiccola, former Professor of Indian Art at the South Asia Institute at Heidelberg, Germany, recently wrote the British Museum’s catalogue of South Indian Paintings and is currently working with the kalamkari collection at the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A).  Professor Dallapiccola talks to Venetia Ansell about several of these kalamkari canopies and the art that produced them.

19th March 2009

Professor Dallapiccola talks about kalamkari hangings with unreserved enthusiasm.  Late last year she came to India for Siyahi’s Mantles of Myth – The Narrative in Indian Textiles and discussed two hangings from the V&A which both depict an entire version of the Ramayana.  She wanted to explore “what was deemed to be interesting”: which bits of the story the artists highlighted and which parts they have skipped over.  The canopies, both of which date from about the 1880s and originate from coastal Andhra Pradesh, are large (about 2 by 3m) but even so space is limited when you are illustrating events from an epic the size of the Ramayana.  “Both devote a lot of space to the Bala [childhood] Kanda [book] with all of its pageant”, says the Professor, while the Kishkinda [the monkeys’ kingdom] Kanda is almost entirely omitted, and the Aranya [forest] Kanda makes only a guest appearance.  Neither includes the controversial ending in which Rama throws his wife out after their return to Ayodhya.  Professor Dallapiccola has seen that only once, in a Sri Lankan kalamkari, “but there it is complicated by regional myths.” 


It is not clear what exactly these enormous canopies were used for, but there are “extensive Telugu captions” on the Andhra ones which suggest that they may have been displayed to an audience while a narrator went through each scene of the story.  (See image above of a Chirala Ramayana scene, Kamadhenu and the parijata tree, with particularly lengthy notes.)   They were commissioned by temples and were probably used to decorate temporary pandals for festivals, although the Professor admits that “it is very difficult to know for certain”.

The hangings consist of simple pieces of unlined cloth sewn together.  They are not designed to be durable especially in a climate like India’s.  Many of the kalamkari temple hangings from Tamil Nadu have seen such heavy use that they are in a terrible state.  One of the best preserved is a piece from Chirala, Andhra Pradesh, signed and dated by the artist, which was bought almost immediately by the then Director of the Indian Museum in 1883 and so never actually used.  If there are hangings still housed in temples, the Professor has not seen them and suspects that almost all the extant ones are now in private collections or museums. 

The art itself though has not died out, thanks to a post-Independence effort by art activists to set up a government kalamkari training centre in Sri Kalahasti, Andhra Pradesh.  One of the best living artists, Gurappa Shetty, made what Professor Dallapiccola calls an “absolutely extraordinary” kalamkari canopy depicting the life of Jesus.  The canopy was later bought by the V&A. 

The representation of Christ is presumably fairly new, but the pre-twentieth century kalamkari artists did not limit themselves to the Ramayana, they also worked on Mahabharata versions as well as regional Telugu literature.  The Professor describes some Tamil kalamkari hangings which focus on a particular temple, such as Srirangam, and illustrate the events from that temple’s mahatmya [devotional Sanskrit text glorifying the local deity] on the border.

It may not be possible to see these canopies in their original temple settings, but there are several museums in both India and abroad that house them.  In India, the Calico Textile Museum of Ahmedabad is probably the best bet. In London, the British Museum has a few and the V&A itself has about 20 in total.  Professor Dallapiccola, who is currently writing the V&A kalamkari catalogue, recommends the V&A.  You must make an appointment as the canopies are not on general display, but the museum is apparently extremely helpful and keen to organise special viewings for those who are interested. 


Subahu and Maricha pollute the rishis’ sacrifice

All images courtesy of the Victoria and Albert Museum

Shakuntala a la STAR One


Shakuntala…An Eternal Love Story

Starring Gautam Sharma and Neha Mehta

STAR One and Sagar Pictures

Reviewed by Venetia Ansell

Shakuntala…An Eternal Love Story is as its title suggests a loved up and wonderfully melodramatic television version of Kalidasa’s play.  Dushyanta, played by Gautam Sharma, is a dashing warrior king with body-moulded leather breastplate and long black hair.   Neha Mehta as the object of his affection, Shakuntala, is all meaningful looks, long sighs and sudden gasps.  An almost incessant soundtrack ensures that the viewer is left in no doubt as to the import of a particular moment, and there are tantalising suggestions that a spontaneous dance, Bollywood style, is just about to burst upon the forest glade. 

In fact, although Shakuntala…An Eternal Love Story does have several unmistakable Bollywood traits, it is essentially a Hindi tv serial in the mould of the hundreds of episodic melodramas which litter Indian television.  In this respect, it recalls the hugely popular Ramayana serialisation of the 1980s in which most of India famously stopped everything they were doing to religiously watch the programme every Sunday. Despite the interesting special effects (as demonstrated in this clip on YouTube of the exchange of divine weapons between Rama and Ravana: there was clearly something to this serialised epic which hooked over 100 million across the country and won itself a Limca world record (something which NDTV Imagine are hoping to recapture with a rejigged version). 

Shakuntala…An Eternal Love Story shows that Indian television production has come some way since the 80s, technically speaking, but the melodrama remains.  “Kaun thee voh? (Who was she?)”, asks Dushyanta in agony (as the heart-wrenching score suggests) after their first meeting, “Where can I find her?”  Nevertheless, although not for the purist, such stylised dramatics and disregard for realism are in fact very much in keeping with Sanskrit drama.  Kalidasa himself romanticised the original story, taken from the Mahabharata, and added a happily ever after ending in keeping with the conventions of drama; STAR One is merely following his example.


Shakuntala…An Eternal Love Story is broadcast on STAR One every Monday to Thursday at 9:30pm IST.  To watch the suitably dramatic promo on YouTube click here:

Kathasaritsagara – Ocean of the Rivers of Story

Ocean of the Rivers of Story, Volume 1 – Somadeva

Translated by Sir James Mallinson

The Clay Sanskrit Library

Reviewed by Puneet Mohan Sangal

This book is a tale of tales. One story embeds another, which in turn embeds another and so on…  In the beginning, it’s easy to get lost but the best way is to keep on reading the book and enjoying each tale. It will begin to make sense and you will slowly be able to connect the dots. What seems like a maze in the beginning becomes an enjoyable read, and you are soon glued to the book. The translations seem verbatim, but still relatively easy to understand. However, without a background on Hindu mythology and religion, it can seems daunting to relate to in the beginning. So it’s better to get familiar about Hindu culture a bit first. Overall, 3 stars out of 5.

Read more about the Ocean of the Rivers of Story on the Clay Sanskrit Library’s website, here:  The book is available from Amazon.

A discussion on ‘mind’ – Dr Varanasi Ramabrahmam

  The Structure and Function of Mind-An ancient Indian insight

Dr Varanasi Ramabrahmam         17th March 2009

Human consciousness creates a conscious relationship between body functions and mental functions and also can dissolve such a relationship. When such a relationship is dissolved the right identification of “I” happens. The real identification of ‘I” provides the natural or normal or ground state of mind.

     The natural or normal state of human mind is peace; bliss; silence. Mental functions form a veil over this natural state and superimpose themselves on this pure consciousness as awareness, and pure consciousness transforms into simultaneous existence of consciousness and awareness. The awareness also creates self-consciousness in the individual and then the individual relates oneself to the body, gender, social status, nationality, mental traits etc., and “falsely” identifies with all of them because of the self-focus of its mind.

     Human consciousness is the source, guide and energy-provider for the human mind and its activities. The human mind possesses three kinds of awareness simultaneously. They are: (i) unoccupied awareness or pure consciousness (ii) awareness of within the body and (iii) awareness of without the body (the last two together are known as occupied awareness).

    The human mind tunes itself to without the body through the sense organs and acts, reacts or interacts through action organs for cognitions and perceptions created by external stimuli from the physical world outside the body. Eyes, ears, nose, tongue and skin, stimulated by light, sound, chemical, mechanical and thermal forms of energy respectively, are sense organs. Movements related to hands, legs, vocal chords, reproductive organ and bowels are action organs. Information from the external physical world is stored as an inner mental world consisting of cognitions, perceptions and cognition-created or -related experiences. The entire external physical world is a projection of individual’s mind, with associated limitations.  Individuals deal with these mental projections sometimes in a partisan way depending on that individual’s ability to know, perceive, reason, feel, intuit, understand and experience the reality.

    The human mind tunes itself to within the body – the senses aches, pains and inner mental world. It also carries out activities of the intellect. The inner mental world is made up of information known, sensed by the sense organs and perceptions and experiences created by such cognitions and knowledge in the form of external stimuli. These are retrieved by the mind to create moods, intuitions in the form of verb, meaning, sense, understanding, insight, experience and urges.  These in turn become thoughts, perceptions and feelings in the form of sentences. The information about an individual (self-consciousness with an egoistic mind); the languages learnt together with the meanings, senses of sounds (words) and utterances; the forms of each letter and the objects of the external physical world as words, sights, sounds, tastes, smells, touches and the perceptions and insight; and understanding gained by the contemplation of perceptions – all of these form the inner mental world. All this knowledge acquired through the sense organs working in tandem with mind can be called biophysical.

    Instincts, urges and similar impulses created and guided by hormones and gland secretions-which also constitute the knowledge possessed by the individual organism and can be termed biochemical – also inspire and stimulate the mind to act, react and interact. The human mind is also capable of being in a state where and when all mental functions and cognitions cease to be or the mind transcends ongoing mental functions and the effects of stimuli from the external physical world and will be a mere witness to them as an uninvolved and unaffected spectator or seer. This state is the original state of the human mind similar to zero in the number system and vacuum in the physical sciences. At that point the state of mind is pure consciousness or unoccupied awareness and exists as peace, bliss and silence. Thus the human mind is sourced from human consciousness both materially, energy-wise and functionally. Human consciousness is always present. The human mind rises and sets depending on the phase or conscious state. 

 Conscious states or phases of the mind in terms of virtual mental energy-reflection series and its transformation:

     Wakeful/Awakened, Dream (Swapna), Deep Sleep (Sushupti) and Wakeful Sleep (Jagrat Sushupti) – are different conscious states of mind creating different phases of mind. They are structure and phases of mental Time-Space and time created by the presence of mental energy source and transformations associated with virtual mental energy reflection. The mind functions or ceases to function in these states.

  • (i) Jagrat Sushupti (wakeful sleep):

 A series of ‘I -I’ pulses’ issue   out and virtual energy creation and transformation, when necessary, takes place. The mind is active if willed. The sense and action organs are alert and ready to function. Through meditation one reaches this state: the state of unoccupied awareness, purport silence, bliss, peace, pure consciousness divine consciousness and the real ‘I’ state. This is the  ormal, original, natural or ground state of mind. State of being of mind

  • (ii) Sushupti (deep sleep):

A series of ‘I-I’ pulses’ issue out and mind is in a state of absorprtion. No transformation of virtual metal energy reflection takes place. Sense and action organs are not in a functional state.  There is no awareness of within or without the bodycognitions or remembrances-cognitions related or created experiences or understanding or insight or intuition or urge. State of cessation of mental activities- State of Being of mind

  • (iii) Jagrat (wakeful):

The mind is active. Sense and action organs are active and working. All knowing and expressing takes place in this state. Meditation starts in this state (awareness of without the body). Becoming of mind   Excited state of mind.

  • (iv) Swapna (dream):

The mind is active. Sense organs are in a dormant state.  The action organs will be functioning if necessary. Meditation becomes one-pointed in this state (awareness of within of the body).Becoming of mind Excited state of mind

      Manas, Buddhi, Chittam and Ahamkaram are inner mental tools.  Experiences created by perceived or retrieved object-energy forms are remembrances and cognitions.  The stored and retrieved collection of perceived object-energy forms is the inner mental world.   Jagrat Sushupti (Wakeful Sleep) is unoccupied awareness.  Knowing/learning expressions/teaching, thought, perception, experience, understanding, volition, urges etc., are  occupied awarenesses, which happen in Jagrat (wakeful) and swapna (dream) conscious states.  Sushupti – State of cessation of mental activities.

    Humans know/learn and express/teach in these conscious states of mind. These conscious states or phases of mind are the result of a transformation of the psychic or mental energies in the unchanging and ever-present consciousness/awareness present during all these conscious states as energy-presence.  Upanishadic awareness calls such awareness Atman or Brahman or PrajnaanamAtman is normally referred to as Self. As explained above, Atman is present in us and is the result of the breathing process and is the source of mental-energy. In modern scientific terms it is also is termed as an infrasonic bio-mechanical oscillator which issues out psychic or mental energy pulses at a frequency of 10Hz. Thus Atman is the oscillating (with infrasonic frequency of 10 Hz) psychic energy-presence denoting and providing mental consciousness/awareness and time-space.

                As Prajnanam, or continuous conscious awareness, Atman witnesses all our mental activities, related body activities and happenings within and without the body and the body’s reactions as thoughts and organ-movements to these happenings. Present as a consciousness/awareness, Atman provides the energy required for guiding the mind to know/cognise/learn through the sense organs; to perceive, think, experience, understand, etc.; and to store and retrieve such information in the four conscious states described above.  It makes us conscious of within and without of ourselves and ourselves. Such continuous and simultaneous or alternate rising and setting of the conscious states or phases of mind is an aspect of psychological time and its flow.

                The Upanishads see awareness of self as a psychological time-space.  Awareness of the Self is the mental phase without cognitions or cognition-related experiences taking place or retrieved (the Wakeful Sleep Conscious State).  The three other conscious states – the Wakeful/Awakened, the Dream and Deep Sleep-Conscious states – are alternate super-impositions over this continuously present conscious state.  This state of mind transcends both physical and psychological times and time-flows.  This is the normal or original state of mind; all mental activities are excited states of mind.

                Inner mental tools perform various mental activities to transform psychic energy (virtual mental energy-reflection) and to cognise and create or retrieve thoughts/perceptions/experiences/understandings/meanings etc., in us. Thought-flow within us, which is the psychic-energy change during conscious states, also constitutes psychological time and time-flow.  Thought process and thought-flow is the becoming of psychic energy which makes us conscious of time and time-flow. This insight is further explained in the following sections.

The mechanics of mind:

            The following is an interpretation and explanation of being and becoming of mind: formation, structure and function of human consciousness; formation and retrieval of the inner mental world and cognition-created experiences/senses/moods which participate in the cognitive processes; an explanation of  the mechanism of sensing/knowing/learning/expressing/teaching/thought process/perception/experience/understanding; and an experience of meaningful experience and experienced meaning as expressed  in the Upanishads.

    Human mind has four conscious states or phases, seven cognitive states and five kinds of functional states. They are:

Conscious states or Phases of mind:

Wakeful Sleep, deep sleep, wakeful or awakened and dream. These are discussed in detail above. Human consciousness is always on as conscious awareness and it is only the mind that rises or sets during these conscious states of mind causing cognition and cognition-related experiences, storing and retrieving them in respective phases. Human consciousness is the form, the structure and the consequence of the breathing process and generates psychic energy which then performss all human cognitions and cognition-related functions. Cognition and cognition-related functions are the result of the reversible becoming of this psychic energy.  Human consciousness bifurcates as consciousness, that is aware of the cognitions and related activities and the occurrence of the activities themselves. When these activities are taking place, a dual role is played by the human consciousness. There is also a phase when no cognitions or cognition-related activity is taking place and it is the original or normal or natural state of human mind, the non-dual or peaceful, blissful or silent phase of mind.

Cognitive States of mind:

Seven states of cognition are identified in relation to the ego-transcending or egoistic or self-conscious state of mind. These cognition states function around the, ‘I’-consciousness, ‘I’-sense, the ‘I’-thought or feeling and ‘I’-expression or utterance or in the absence of such identification. Then no individual- specific information will be in the mental awareness and the mind transcends to a state or phase when the mental awareness becomes one with the consciousness and non-duality in the form of peace, bliss, or silence is experienced. Cognitions cease to take place but will take place if willed or necessary.  The seven cognitive states of mind are: 

Pure consciousness:

Normal or original state of mind:

  • (I) “I” Consciousness – No “I” Awareness of and about individual
  • (II) Meditative state of mind. One pointed awareness.

Egoistic State of mind

  • (III) “I” Awareness/Sense/mood- Ego Sense – State of verb/meaning/understanding/experience/intuition/urge – Infinite form or present continuous form of verb without subject or object attached.
  • (IV) ‘I” Thought/Feeling (awareness of within the body) – state of sentence with subject-verb-object-perception
  • (V) ‘I” Thought/Feeling (awareness of without the body) in relation to outside physical world. The mind is tuned to the outside world through the sense organs
  • (VI) “I” Utterance/Expression and also the reception of stimuli from the outside world and expression through the action organs.
  • (VII) No “I” Awareness of or about individual- No Self consciousness or perpetuations of mental functions. State of cessation of all types of mental functions.


Kinds of functional states of mind:

(a). Getting tuned to and sensing stimuli from external physical world through sense organs and reception.

(b). Actions, reactions or interactions with external physical world activated by hormones or stored information.

(c). Perception/thinking/reasoning/feeling in accordance with the stimuli from external world or information retrieved from inner mental world.

(d). Conversion of above information into intelligible information as understanding or insight or experience

(e). Awareness of understanding/intuition/urge/mood/experience/meaning/experience.

All this happening in the consciousness of Self or Atman or Brahman – the infrasonic mechanical oscillator forming and functioning as human consciousness.

     While the mind is functioning, there will be a differentiated perception of knower-knowing-known or subject-verb-object, which will be missing and absent when non-dual (advaita) awareness or pure consciousness becomes unoccupied awareness. Experiencing or understanding a verb is a state of experience and at that time the knower-known or subject-object are not attached to the verb. The verb will be in a present continuous form or infinite form depending on its absorption of information or understanding cognition or experiencing cognition or urge or intuition or sense or meanings of utterances received or to be expressed.

     We knowingly or unknowingly alternate between non-dual (advaita) and dual (dvaita) awareness while functioning mentally.  Wakeful and dream conscious states of mind represent and account for the phase of mind when functioning and then we also are aware of and sense or perceive self-consciousness. Once the mind ceases to function, we experience peace, bliss and silence within. If these are experienced with our being aware them, then the phase of mind at that time is known as wakeful sleep. If we are unaware, but are conscious of these, the phase of mind then is known as deep sleep. The phase of the cessation of mental functions (also self-consciousness) is similar to zero in the number system and vacuum in the physical and biological sciences. Vacuum is inherent in matter and holds matter and is manifested when matter is missing or absent. Consciousness is awareness of mind when no mental functions are taking place.

            In the Advaita (non-dual) state, the human mind possesses consciousness only. As Prajnanam, Atman gives consciousness and awareness to observe, to be aware of and to be conscious of understanding, meanings and senses of cognitions and cognition created experiences.  During advaita phase, there is no transformation of the virtual mental energy reflection – no creation, transformation and functioning of inner mental tools but the current of awareness is connected to the sense organs and action organs which are ready to function but not in a functioning state.  In the dvaita (two or dual) state of mind, the human mind exists as consciousness and awareness. The Upanishads call consciousness Aham and term the awareness of experiences/meanings, perceptions and cognitions as inner mental world – idam. The awareness, the manifestation of the human mental functions, is transitory and exists or ceases to be depending on the phase of mind. Awareness is present in Jagrat (Wakeful) and Swapna (dream) conscious states or phases of mind. In Jagrat Sushupti (Wakeful Sleep) or Sushupti (Deep Sleep) consciousness states or phases of mind, the awareness of mind able to comprehend mental operations and perform  mental functions will be absorbed in pure consciousness. In the Wakeful Sleep conscious state there will be continuous awareness and the mind functions if willed.

We humans learn, know, communicate, teach, perceive, think, experience, understand etc., when an interplay of wakeful , dream conscious states happen simultaneously making use of dual (dvaita) and non-dual (advaita) conscious states during which time virtual mental energy reflection, maya, the reflected chit energy transforms reversibly to enable us to perform mental tasks. This two-way-forward and reverse transformation of virtual mental reflection– is technically known as vivartanam (reversible becoming) in advaita thought. In dual (dvaita) state of mind, sense organs and action organs are active and function forming mental operations and thus enable us to perform all mental functions with the help of inner mental tools (antahkaranas–manas, buddhi, chittam and ahamkaram) which are two-way transformations of virtual mental energy reflection – maya. The alternating and simultaneous rise and  aset of dual mental state and the ever present non-dual consciousness give us cognising, communicative and other mental abilities.

                Human mental process is generally a combination and quick successive transformations of four modes i.e.,

 I Speaker/Teacher: (a) Purport/Awareness  (Meaningful Experience or Experienced Meaning (b) Understanding/Experience (c) Perception/Thinking (d) Utterance /Expression 

II Knower/Listener/Learner: (a) Knowing (through sense organs) (b) Perception/Thinking (c) Understanding/Experience (d) Purport (Meaningful Experience/Experienced Meaning)/Awareness.

Sources for this article:

 1. Ramabrahmam, V., The physical structure and function of mind: A modern scientific translation of Advaita philosophy with implications and application to cognitive sciences and natural language comprehension, Paper presented at national seminar on Sanskrit in the Modern Context conducted by Department of Sanskrit Studies and the School of humanities, University of Hyderabad between11-13, February (2008).

2. Ramabrahmam, V., Concept of mind in yoga sutras and vedanta panchadasi: A comparison, Paper presented at Patanjaluiyam, tetradic national seminar on Bharatiya Scientific Heritage Patanjaliyam-Kautilyiyam-Parasshariyam-Bharadvajiyam  (Exploration into the interface of Spiritual, Social, Agricultural and Engineering Sciences) held at SDM College, Ujjire-Dharmasthala, Mangalore, 13th-16th May, (2008).

 3. Ramabrahmam, V., The infrasonics of human cognition and communication, Paper presented at Bharadvajiyam tetradic national seminar on Bharatiya Scientific Heritage Patanjaliyam-Kautilyiyam-Parasshariyam-Bharadvajiyam  (Exploration into the interface of Spiritual, Social, Agricultural and Engineering Sciences) held at SDM College, Ujjire-Dharmasthala, Mangalore, 13th-16th May, (2008).

Cognitive Sciences and the Gayatri Mantra


By Dr Varanasi Ramabrahmam

Cognitive sciences often rediscover philosophical analyses after great effort has been expended.  A better policy would be first to learn what philosophy can teach us and then move on to experimentation and model-building within the scope of positive science.  In this article an attempt is made to combine the ideas of the mind existing and revealed in ancient Indian wisdom contained in the Gayatri Mantra, Upanishads, Advaita philosophy and Sabdabrahma siddhata, as well as to explore the possible application of such a combination in the fields of cognitive.

     Chanting and meditating on the Gayatri Mantra is part of the spiritual ritual of many traditionalists.  This is an important phase of Sandhya Vandanam. The profound meaning of Gayatri Mantra and the meditative insight contained in the performance of Sandhya Vandanam is very interesting, revealing and beneficiary.

 Gayatri Mantra

 Aum bhoor bhuvah ssuvah Aum tat savitur vareanyam bhargo devasya dhimahi dhiyo yo nah prachodayat


     May the Divine Luminescence which causes the conscious states/phases of mind- bhooh (jagrat/ wakeful/ awakened), bhuvah (swapna/dream) and suvah (sushupti/deep sleep)- illuminate and inspire our intellect.

We also have:

i.   Aum bhooh Aum bhuvah  Aum suvah Aum mahah Aum janah Aum tapah Ogum satyam

ii.  Aum tat savitur varenyam bhargo devasya dhimahi dhiyo yo nah prachodayat

iii. Aum aapo jothi rasomrutam brahma bhoorbhuvassuvah Aum 

Purport/ Tatparya 

     Pranavam is Aumkaaram. Pranavam is contained in everything as pranava sakti.  Everything is  a manifestation of pranavam. Sapta lokas (lokyate iti lokah– what is seen is loka) —  Laukika Jnanadayakaroopa Bhooloka (jagrat/ awakened/wakeful conscious/mental state) and Bhuvarloka (swapna/dream conscious/mental state), the swararoopa suvarloka (sushupti/deep sleep conscious/mental unawareness state), buddhiroopa maharloka (phase of intellectual operations), pranayuta ahamkaararoopa janoloka (origin, form, structure, cessation and re-creation of egoistic mind state), tapoloka (one-pointed meditative mental state) and Sat-Chit-Ananda roopa (eternal awareness) –  producing Satyaloka (egoless/ego-transcending conscious state, which exists in all the conscious/mental states and at all times-physical or psychological) – are manifestations of  and contained in and by Brahman/Atman .

ii. May such Brahman/Atman, responsible (upanadana karana) for our mind and associated functions illuminate our intellect to enable it to acquire real knowledge (jnana).  We pray to that Divine Luminescence and meditate on it.

iii. Ap (rajo guna), jothi (sattva guna) and the rasaswaroopam (tamo guna), amritam (essence of meaningful experience or experienced meaning, beyond or transcending jeeva sthiti), and the conscious/mental states bhoor-bhuvah-suvah lokas are all manifestations of the same pranavam-the Brahmaswaroopam.  This is also called savita -the cause and creator of all these.

     Chanting these mantras and meditation on their meaning is the chief phase in the performance of Sandhya Vandanam. . Sandhya means antarmukha dristi samayam/awareness within the mental phase. Sandhya Vandnam means  atmaanusandhana prayatnavidhi. Divam means bahirmukha dristi samayam/ aatmaanubhava vismarana samayam/ awareness without the mental phase. Rathri or Nisa means visranta dristi samayam/aatmanbhava samayam, the state of peace, silence and bliss-the state of cessation of all mental cognitions (maanasika kaaryakalaapaanaaam viraama samayam / raama samayam).

     These purports can further be interpreted by making use of Upanishadic wisdom, Advaita philosophy and Sabdabrahma Siddhata as follows.

Upanishadic Wisdom

     Ancient Indian wisdom as revealed in the Upanishads has a lot to say about human consciousness1-11. Ramabrahmam provided a scientific awareness of mind, its form, structure, function, thoughts, understanding and other mental  processes and their cessation from the psychological point of view, thinking of Upanishadic wisdom as manastattva sastra2-11. The Upanishads are source-books of Atmajnana, the Knowledge of the Self. The Upanishads construe the state of Atman as the real ‘I’ state. They understood the Self i.e., human consciousness, to be unoccupied (mental) awareness and the natural, original and ground state of human mind. 

      Atman is the result of the breathing process 14,15.  Srestaprana, (most possibly O2) is given as the body (tanu) of AtmanAtman is in motion always (yasya gamanam satatam tat atma – that which moves incessantly is Atman) and in modern scientific terms can be termed as a bio-oscillator issuing out pulses of psychic (chit) energy in a time period of 10-1  second, the time required to pronounce a short syllable  like ‘a‘(laghu akshara) .

      Atman provides us with the mental energy whose presence and transformations of its virtual form (maya also known as chidabhasa or pranavam), give us mental time-space and states of consciousness   respectively (Concept Diagram I), to be aware of the body, within the body, without the body and also a state that transcends both body and mind consciousnesses2-11. Maya is the virtual mental energy flowing throughout the body which provides us with sensations.  Maya, the virtual psychic energy and its transformations provide the current of awareness and hence consciousness to us. Conscious states are the phases of mind in the awareness of Atman.  Conscious state of cessation of mental activities, similar to zero in the number system and the concept of a vacuum in physical sciences, is the unique proposition of Upanishadic wisdom which has a profound role in human cognition processes.

Advaita Philosophy and Sabdabrahma Siddhanta

     Advaita Philosophy is an offshoot of Upanishadic awareness. Advaita Philosophy is more popular as Vedanta.  And it is known to Sanskrit grammarians that Advaita philosophy is best suited for understanding language learning and communication skills.   Patanjali, Bhartruhari, etal., proposed and nurtured Sabdabrahma Siddhanta while attempting to understand language learning, comprehension and communication processes and the formulation of the grammar  rules for Sanskrit, making use of Brahmajnana or Atmajnana and Advaita philosophy.

      As stated above the presence of Atman and transformations of maya give rise to four conscious states in us.  The wakeful-sleep ( Jagrat Sushupti) and deep sleep (Sushupti) conscious states are the advaita  (literally ‘no duality’, only Aham – Aham series – here Aham relates to unoccupied awareness or pure consciousness without any mental cognitions taking place) conscious states.  Wakeful ( Jagrat)  and dream (Swapna) conscious states are dvaita (literally ‘duality’ – aham – idam serieshere idam relates to mental cognitions and  functions in the awareness aham/atman ) conscious states7.  These conscious states alternately and simultaneously   rise and set in us helping us to cognise/know/learn, perceive, reason, think, experience/understand, speak/teach, read and write and thus be aware of various disciplines and skills, master and use them through the medium of language or otherwise by the simultaneous use of antahkaranas (inner mental tools– manas, buddhi, chittam and ahamkaram), sense organs and action organs.

    According to the Upanishads knowledge is of two kinds- (i) that acquired through the combined operation of  sense organs, action organs and inner mental tools in the awareness of Atman ( Maitra Jnana ) and (ii) that is inherent / genetic  (Varuna Jnana)5-7,14. All our acquisitions of knowledge come under Maitra Jnana and the in-built urges, volitions, body and mental abilities, capabilities, nature etc., come under Varuna Jnana.

     To put it simply, according to the Upanishads, our mental functions are the forward and backward transformations of chidabhasa or maya – transformed by energies sensed through sense organs or the stored information as potential energies retrieved (as vasanas first and then prapancham as feelings/thoughts/perceptions) and transformed in the reverse direction to give us knowledge, experiences etc. The transformation of maya, reverse transformation of maya and cessation of transformation of maya – the dvaita and advaita conscious states respectively- taking place simultaneously, consecutively and alternately is the structure, form, function, state and essence of human consciousness, mental functions and cognitive  processes. 

     The above discussion and propositions about mind and its functions in terms of Atman and maya can be extended and used to understand language learning and communication processes.  It is mentioned above that maya is also known as pranavam, the primordial sound.

     Bhakti (defined as swa swaroopa anusandhanam  bhaktirityabhidhiyate- tuning the mind to its natural state of mind i.e., the state of Self-  or cheto vrittirupetya tisthati sadaa saa bhaitirityuchyate– the state when cheto vritti- antahkarana parinama-ceases to take place) is another name for the state of Atman or Brahman- the advaita state.  In this state the pranavam or virtual chit -energy (termed as maya by Vedantins)- does not transform into antahkaranas – no vivartanam  (two-way transformation of maya and antahkaranas) , meaning no antahkarana parinama or vritti ( transformation of inner mental tools causing cognitions) takes place

     The transformation of pranavam (maya) as antahkaranas and pancha pranas (prana,apaana,vyana,udana and samana) and thence activating sense and action organs respectively and simultaneously (wakeful and dream phases of mind) is the vibhakti or dvaita state or the state of ego- jivatma -the state of I-, my- feelings, thoughts and perceptions.  All kinds of knowing/learning/expression/teaching take place in this vibhakti state making use of every mental tool in the awareness of Atman. Sabdabrahma Siddhatanta, taking this advaita/dvaita concept and a theory of language learning/teaching, speaking/understanding in the four modes of mind (para, pasyanti, madhyama and vaikhari) is developed using sphota vada, a consequence of Sabdabrahma Siddhanta.

     According to this theory human language communication process is a combination and quick successive reversible transformations of four modes i.e., I Speaker/Teacher: (a) Purport/Awareness (Meaningful Experience or Experienced Meaning- para) (b) Understanding/ Experience/ Sense/ Mood/Volition/ Intuition (pasyanti) (c) Perception/Thinking/Feeling (madhyama) (d) Utterance /Expression (vaikhari)   II  Knower/ Listener/ Learner: (a) Knowing (through sense organs)- vaikhari (b) Perception/Thinking – madhyama (c) Understanding/ Experience –pasyanti (d) Purport (Meaningful Experience/ Experienced Meaning)/Awareness- para.

     When the physical structure of the mind and its function as revealed in the Gayatri Mantra as sapta lokas is compared and combined with the knowledge of conscious states/phases of mind and mental functions provided by Upanishadic wisdom and language learning, comprehending and communication modes as worked out by Sanskrit grammarians together with Advaita Philosophy and Sabdabrahma Siddhanta a working model of the human mind can be built.

      The insights of Upanishadic wisdom on human cognitive processes and the physical structure of the mind as revealed in the Gayatri Mantra  as lokas can be used to propose a human cognitive process model; the ultimate aim being the development of a software which would perform the tasks of the mind. These understandings in modern scientific terms about the mind, its phases in the form of conscious states/lokas can be further used to develop the software to model human mental processes and language learning/communication processes going on within us and compare and club them with the mind-machine model-building attempts and working of the bio-chemicals and the energy transitions and transformations associated with them.



Manas. Buddhi, Chittam and Ahamkaram( egoistic mind) are antahkaranas.  They are manifestations (vibhutis) of jnanasakti. They activate sense organs.

Prana, Apana, Vyana, Udana and Samana are panchapranas.  They are manifestations (vibhutis) of pranasakti.  They activate action organs.

The mind is a combined operation of Atman, Maya, Antahkaranas, sense and action organs.

The mind and its activities are cognitive elements to consciousness and mind becomes Atman in Jagrat Sushupti consciousness state when all mental cognitions cease to be.



Sapta Lokas : (Seven Conscious states of mind)

1. Seer Atman/Brahman           ADVAITA STATE                 BEING

   Satya loka   :  Aham -Aham      Jagrat  Sushupti       Wake ful Sleep      Peace Silence Bliss  

                           Egoless /ego-transcending conscious state.    Visranta Dristi

                          Awareness   +   Chidakasa      Maya not transformed       Srasta   Rasa

                          Awareness   +    Icha-jnana-kriya sakti pravaham / Nirvishaya/nirvishayaanubhava pravaham                                         

                          Atmanubhava Samayam    Bhakti,      Para    Tatparya,    Sat-Chit-Ananda                Sat/Chit

2. Seer: Antahkaranas – manas, buddhi, chittam and ahamkaram       DVAITA STATES     BECOMING        

  (a)  Tapo loka   :  Aham+Chidabhasa   Chittakasa       Swapna     Maya     transformed     Samvit

                           Meditative state if Mind    Single object in awareness           Antakmukha Dristi

  (b)  Jano loka   :    Aham+Vasana         Rajomayakasa   Jagrat and/ or Swapna  Wakeful/Awakened and/or Dream                             

                          Antarmukha Dristi     State of  egoistic   mind.      First  transformation of maya   

                          Awareness   +   Mood   Pasyanti    Artha      Experience   Intuition    Sense    Understanding   Urge                             

    ©  Maharloka    :   Aham+ Divya, Swara  Saktis   Jagrat and/or   Swapna   Mental state of Intellectual operations    

                          Antarmukha Dristi

                          Awareness  +     Akasa and Vayu    Bifurcation of maya into jnasakti  and  prana sakti                             

  (d) Survarloka  :   Aham+ Nirvishaya/Nirvishayaaanubhavam        Sushupti      Deep  Sleep   

                          Awareness+ Tamas       Maya not bifurcated and not transformed      suddhavasana   pravaham 

 (e)  Bhuvarloka :    Aham+Idam   Bhutakasa           Swapna     Dream    State of awareness of within

                           Awareness   +   Second transformation of maya    Srusti        Vibhakti         Madh yama    

                           Antahkarana parimanatakes place   Only action organs are active       Sense organs are  dormant

  (f)  Bhooloka    :   Aham+Idam      Jagrat   Wakeful/awakened    State of mental cognition  knowing/Expressing       

                           Bahirmukha Dristi

                           Awareness +   Bhutakasa         Second Transformation of maya /Transformation of maya  into sound,  gesture,  expression etc.,            Vibhakti   Vaikhari   Both  sense  and action  organs are active



APPENDIX III:                

Measurement of   Time based on Surya Siddhanta.

1 Day= 60 Nadigas;

1 Nadiga=60 Vinadigas;

1 Vinadiga=6 Pranas;

1 Prana=10 Deergha Aksharas (Long Syllable);

1 Deergha Akshara=4 Laghu Aksharas (Short Syllable).

1 PRANA= Time taken to pronounce 40 Laghu Aksharas (Short Syllables).

The length of the day is divided into 864,000 parts. This corresponds to 1/10th of the Western second.  The   length of the day is equal to the time taken to pronounce   864,000 Laghu Aksharas ( SHORT  SYLLABLES).


1. Ramabrahmam, V., The physical structure and function of mind: A modern scientific translation of Advaita philosophy with implications and application to cognitive sciences and natural language comprehension, Paper presented at national seminar on Sanskrit in the Modern Context conducted by Department of Sanskrit Studies and the School of humanities, University of Hyderabad between11-13,

42 Ramabrahmam, V., Presentation at the Third Vedic Science Conference on Chemical Sciences and Technology in Ancient India held at Bangalore on 23rd, 24th & 25th, January, 2009 by National Institute of Vedic Sciences, Bangalore.  Title: THE PHYSICOCHEMICAL NATURE OF THOUGHTS AND IDEAS: AN ANCIENT INDIAN INSIGHT

3. Ramabrahmam, V Proceedings of Presentations  at International Conference on Photonics, Nano-technology and Computer Applications (ICOPNAC- 2009), 25-28 February 2009 held at Center for Research and Development, PRIST UNIVERSITY, West Campus, Trichy Main Road, Vallam, Tanjavur- 613 403, Tamilnadu, INDIA. Title: THE INFRASONICS AND ELECTRONICS OF BIONICS, Volume IIpp: 20-39.

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