It is the birthday of Bhagwan Lord Parasurama; the 6th incarnation of Vishnu; beginning of the ‘SatyaYug’; the day on which Vedavyas along with Ganesha started writing Mahabharata and also Ganga descended to earth on this day.
The word "Akshaya" means imperishable or eternal - that which never diminishes. Initiations made or valuables bought on this day are considered to bring success or good fortune. Buying gold is a popular activity on Akshaya Tritiya, as it is the ultimate symbol of wealth and prosperity. Bharatiyas celebrate weddings, begin new business ventures, and even plan long journeys on this day.
Jains observe longterm fast to commemorate their first Tirthankara Rshabhadeva and break their fast on Akshaya Tritiya with sugar cane juice.
In Orissa on Akshay Tritiya farmers start ploughing their land and construction of chariots for Rath Yatra begins at Puri.The day is generally observed by fasting and worship Lord Vasudeva with rice grains. A dip in the river Ganges on this day is considered to be very auspicious.In Bengal, on the day of the Akshay Tritiiya, "HalKhata" - a ceremony to start the new audit book is performed with the worship of Ganesha and goddess Lakshmi.
2. WELCOME SLOWDOWN: FOOT OFF THE POPULATION ACCELERATOR: For the first time since Independence, Bharat added fewer people to its population in the decade just ended than in the previous one. While decadal population growth rates have consistently been declining since the 1960s, the absolute addition in each decade was always higher than in the previous decade. That has now changed.
India added 181 million people to its population between 2001 and 2011 against 182 million in the preceding decade. However, even 181 million equals the total population of Brazil, the world's fifth most populous country.
A significant drop in the population growth of Bharat's most backward states is driving the sharpest ever decline in the country's population growth rates. For the last 30 years, Bharat's eight most backward states Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Orissa have grown at a constant rate, increasing their populations by a fourth every ten years. For the first time, growth rates have sharply dropped by over 4% in these states. In fact, population growth has dropped faster in these eight than in better off states.
3. RSS BACKS ANNA’S CIVIL MOVEMENT AGAINST GRAFT: With Hazare’s fast unto death giving sleepless nights to the Manmohan Singh regime, RSS sarkaryavah (general secretary) Suresh (Bhaiya) Joshi wrote a letter to the Gandhian praising his effort that “inspires countrymen”. Joshi informed Hazare that Sangh had recently passed a resolution against corruption that has brought a bad name to the country. “We appealed the people not only to support all anti-corruption initiatives; Sangh workers are taking part in these campaigns in different parts of the country,” Joshi wrote in the letter to Hazare.
Senior RSS leaders Ram Madhav and Madhubhai Kulkarni marched to Jantar Mantar and handed over Joshi’s letter to Hazare.
4. MENTIONED INDRESH’S NAME UNDER DURESS - ASEEMANAND: In a jolt to the investigating agencies, including the National Investigating Agency, Swami Aseemanand, branded as the mastermind behind the Mecca Masjid, Malegaon, Samhjhauta Express and Ajmer Dargah blasts, has claimed that he was forced to specifically mention the name of senior RSS leader Indresh Kumar as a conspirator in these blasts.
In a startling revelation in the court of the Chief Judicial Magistrate of Ajmer, Aseemanand said he had never met Kalim, a youth undergoing imprisonment for his involvement in Mecca Masjid blast case, in Hyderabad jail. Aseemanand said he does not even know who Kalim was and the story about his meeting him was concocted by an assistant superintendent of police, TR Balaji, and was made part of his confessional statement, which he said was extracted under duress.
In his second letter to the CJM RL Moond Aseemanand said sleuths of these agencies, including CBI, NIA and ATS of Rajasthan had not only threatened to implicate his family members but also his disciples at his Shabari Ashram in Gujarat, if he refused to give a confessional statement and agreed to become an approver.
5. CHINESE TROOPS ALONG LOC IN POK: Despite the strong Chinese denial, Bharatiya authorities have now acquired "independent" confirmation about the increasing presence of Chinese troops along the line of control (LoC) in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir from none other than US security agencies.
Highly placed sources in the government told that US intelligence agencies have confirmed to Bharatiya authorities about the increasing presence of Chinese troops all along the LoC.
The chief of the Northern Command, Lieutenant General K T Parnaik, had come out in the open with the disclosure about Chinese soldiers being based in PoK. The Chinese foreign ministry, however, denied this even describing these reports as baseless and ridiculous.
While Pakistan too has described these reports as baseless, it is now well documented that Chinese troops have been around in PoK since late 2009 when they arrived in the Gilgit-Baltistan area supposedly to rebuild the Karakoram highway. According to Bharatiya agencies though, these troops are no longer restricted to this area and that they are now also present in what Pakistan describes as "Azad Kashmir".
6. LITERACY RISES BY 9.2%, NOW 74.04%: Bharat's effective literacy rate has recorded a 9.2 percent rise to reach 74.04 percent, according to provisional data of the 2011 census.
Effective literacy rate in the 2001 census was 64.83, which improved to 74.04, said Registrar General of Bharat and census commissioner C Chandramauli.
Interestingly, literacy rate improved sharply among females as compared to males. While the effective literacy rate for males rose from 75.26 to 82.14 percent marking a rise of 6.9 percent, it increased by 11.8 percent for females to go from 53.67 to 65.46 percent.
Kerala has the highest literacy rate at 93.91 percent followed by Lakshadweep at 92.28 percent. Bihar is at the bottom of the ladder with literacy rate of 63.82 followed by Arunachal Pradesh at 66.95.
7. FIRST HINDUISM SUMMIT IN CANADA HIGHLIGHTS THE SCIENCE OF HINDUISM: Over 50 questions about Hinduism from a 200 strong audience, with 65 of them online, made for a lively Hinduism Summit held on April 11 by Forum for Hindu Awakening (FHA) at Vishnu Mandir in Toronto.
Mr. Dewang Gadoya, a Hinduism supporter, reminded the audience of Adi Shankaracharya’s words that Dharma is that which brings worldly progress of every being, causes progress in the spiritual dimension and keeps the social system in excellent condition.
Ms. Kristen Mandziuk from Spiritual Science Research Foundation (SSRF), Dr. Bhartendu Srivastava, Pandit Roopnauth Sharma also spoke at the occasion. Dr. Doobay, spiritual leader of the Vishnu Mandir, published an insightful souvenir in the tradition of Hinduism.
The Hinduism Summit concluded with passing of resolutions including one urging the Canadian government to investigate the ongoing human rights violations against the Hindu and minority communities in Bangladesh. .
8. BALOCHISTAN CELEBRATES BHARAT'S VICTORY OVER PAKISTAN IN WORLD CUP CRICKET: Baloch people in many towns and cities across Occupied Balochistan celebrated the victory of Bharat over Pakistan in the world cup semifinals in Mohali .A traditional dhol cha'ap or music and dance was spontaneously organized in Khuzdar, which is regarded as the political and cultural center of Balochistan.
A second cultural town, Sibi also presented the look of a festive city and firing in the air continued till late night. Such firing is common pratice to express public joy in many parts of southwest Asia. Jubiliant crowds also took to the streets in the coastal Baloch cities of Turbat and Panjgur.
9. BHARATIYAS GET THE THIRD LARGEST CHUNK OF A MILLION US GREEN CARDS: As the US’s “green card fever” continues to rage, Bharatiya nationals have received the third largest number out of the little over one million new cards issued during 2010, granting legal permanent residency status.
Mexico, the US’s southern neighbour that accounts for the highest number of both legal and illegal immigrantsIt is followed by China and Bharat, While Mexicans received 139,120 green cards, Chinese and Bharatiyas got 70,863 and 69,169 respectively, according to figures put out by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
People from five countries (Mexico, China, Bharat, the Philippines and the Dominican Republic) accounted for nearly 38 per cent of all new legal permanent residents in 2010.
10. EYE ON CHINA, NAVY BOOSTS EASTERN COMMAND: With an eye on China as well as in keeping with Bharat's "Look East" policy, the Navy is slowly but surely bolstering force levels on the eastern coast with new warships, aircraft and spy drones as well as forward-operating bases (FOBs).
Additions to the ENC, which has around 50 warships at present, include the new indigenously-manufactured stealth frigate INS Shivalik packed with weapons and sensors and the 16,900-tonne INS Jalashwa, the huge strategic sea-lift amphibious warship second only to aircraft carrier INS Viraat in size.
Bharat is acquiring 12 P-8I aircraft, the first of which is slated for induction by early-2013, from the US for over $3 billion to plug the existing gaps in its surveillance of the entire Bharatiya Ocean Region (IOR).
While these aircraft will be based in Rajali, Navy is also going to deploy spy drones or UAVs at the Parundu air station in Tamil Nadu.
11. MR MODI'S MIRACLE: Gujarat's silent green revolution is boosting farm output:
Even as the Planning Commission says that India’s desire to hit double-digit economic growth is being constrained, among other things, by the inability of the farm sector to grow at an annual average rate of 4 per cent a year, largely semi-arid Gujarat, with poor agro-ecological endowments, has reported an average growth rate of close to 9 per cent per annum over the past decade. Gujarat’s agricultural performance this past decade has turned out to be as impressive as its performance on the industrial front. What are the secrets of Chief Minister Narendra Modi’s “Gujarat model of farm development”? The twin mantras that seem to have spurred agricultural growth in this drought-prone state are improved diffusion of technology and better utilisation of water, both achieved through extensive and concerted extension services and the pooling of individual, community and official initiatives. These seem to have been followed by essential support services that provide inputs, credit, power and marketing facilities.
Other states, like Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar and Assam, have also performed fairly well on the farm front, but they have a long way to go before they can match Gujarat. The original Green Revolution states in the north-west, on the other hand, have begun to lag behind on agricultural growth owing to laxity in developmental efforts and inadequate attention being paid to the over-exploitation of natural resources, including groundwater. West Bengal, which had a record of good performance in agricultural development, has slipped and is among the poorly performing states, with agricultural growth going down from over 5 per cent in the early 1990s to under 2 per cent in recent years.
The new and innovative approach that Gujarat adopted to rejuvenate its virtually defunct farm extension system involves bringing farm scientists and service providers on the same platform and taking them to the farmer’s doorstep, rather than the other way round. For this, Krishi Raths (mobile agricultural units), carrying experts and service providers, traverse the state during month-long Krishi Mahotsavas (farm fairs) organised every year to take care of all needs of the farmers. Soil health checks are carried out to counsel farmers on the right kind of crop to grow and the precise amount of inputs to use to optimise farm production with minimum cost. Given the scarcity of water in Gujarat, several unconventional initiatives have been taken to ensure its judicious and sustainable use. Stress on water conservation, through rainwater harvesting, and on expanding area under irrigation, to enhance crop productivity, has helped. Apart from digging ponds on individual farms, bori-bandhs (sandbag dams) and concrete check dams are being constructed at appropriate sites in watersheds to hold water in the natural depressions so that part of it percolates down to recharge the groundwater aquifer and the rest could be used for irrigation. And most importantly, dedicated feeder lines have been put up for assured power supply to the farm sector at fixed hours under the Jyotigram scheme. This has encouraged farmers to reduce wasteful use of pump sets and excessive use of groundwater. Consequently, Gujarat’s farmers seem to be making better use of scarce water. Clearly, there is much that farmers from the rest of India can learn to improve productivity, output and incomes. If India follows Gujarat, 10 per cent growth should be possible! (Business Standard New Delhi April 22, 2011)
12. FUKUSHIMA EFFECT: AUTOMATIC SHUTDOWN IN ALL N-PLANTS: Bharat has decided to arm all its nuclear reactors with automatic shutdown mechanisms that will be triggered at earthquakes much lower in intensity than what they currently work at. The dramatic new plan is a part of the recommendations of an internal review by the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited, which runs the country’s nuclear reactors, in the aftermath of the Fukushima crisis.
NPCIL executive director N Nagaich told on April 14, “Safety is our prime concern.”
At present, only four — at Narora and Kakrapar — of Bharat’s 20 operating nuclear reactors automatically shutdown at seismic activity beyond their safe shutdown earthquake (SSE) — the earth shaking limit for which the particular reactor is designed, Nagaich said. The rest have monitors that sense seismic activity and trigger alarms, but need to be shut down manually once the SSE is reached, he said.
The NPCIL will provide additional back up power facilities — like batteries — that do not require a power line for all reactors, and will retrofit them to allow portable cooling water supplies to be hooked on.
The NPCIL will also introduce additional sea shore protection measures at the Tarapur and Kalpakkam plants to protect them from tsunamis.
13. RALLY AGAINST CORRUPTION BY GRAHAK PANCHAYAT AT JANTAR MANTAR: Akhil Bharatiya Grahak Panchayat organised a procession from Ramlila Grounds to Jantar Mantar in New Delhi on April 7 to protest against growing corruption and price rise. After the procession, over 3,000 activists staged a demonstration at Jantar Mantar led by national president Shri Rajabhau Pophali. Addressing the demonstrators he said it is due to the wrong economic policies that the people are suffering in the country.
Later, a delegation including National general secretary Shri Somnath Khedkar, Secretary Shri Arun Deshpande and others presented a memorandum to President of Bharat.
14. TAP THEM YOUNG, GUIDE THEM TO BE GOOD CITIZENS -KARIYA MUNDA: "AT the time when our young generation is fast turning to the western way of life, the value-based activities of Balagokulam are necessity of time. The teaching of ancient Hindu cultural values will bring up the children as responsible, patriotic and cultured citizens for the future," said Deputy Speaker of Lok Sabha Shri Kariya Munda at Krishna Darsanam 2011, the 10th anniversary celebration of Balagokulam Delhi in New Delhi on April 10.
RSS National Executive Member Shri Ram Madhav was the chief speaker and said, “All the activities of Balgokulam have been designed to ensure total personality development of the children" . Eminent Malayalam poet and famous Malayalam film lyricist Shri S Ramesan Nair and many other senior leaders associated with the Balagokulam including it’s Delhi unit president Shri MP Balakrishnan, Shri N Venugopalan, Rakshadhikari of Delhi unit, Kerala unit president of Balagokulam Shri Hareedaran Master , were also present at the function.
During the conference, Prof Omchery NN Pillai, Principal of Sardar Patel Institute of Communications run by Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan and an academician of high repute was offered guruvandanam by the Balagokulam children through padapooja by flowers. Later, 300 Balagokulam children presented Dashavataram dance drama in a very marvelous form.
15. BHARAT QUIETLY BEGINS COMBAT DRONE PROJECT: Bharat is quietly going ahead with an ambitious programme to develop its own stealth UCAVs (unmanned combat aerial vehicles) or 'smart' drones capable of firing missiles and bombs at enemy targets with precision.
Talking about the secretive AURA (autonomous unmanned research aircraft) programme for the first time, Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO) told that the aim is to develop the UCAVs for IAF in seven to eight years.
DRDO's chief controller R&D (aeronautics) Dr Prahlada said, "Capable of flying at altitudes of 30,000 feet and weighing less than 15 tonnes, the UCAVs will have rail-launching for the missiles, bombs and PGMs (precision-guided munitions) they will carry" .
16. . HC SWITCHES FROM 'MY LORD' TO 'YOUR HONOUR': The Punjab & Haryana High Court Bar Association on April 7 passed a resolution asking its members not to address judges as 'my lord' or 'your lordship.' With this, it has become the 2nd high court in the country after Kerala which passed such a resolution in 2007.
President of the 4500 strong bar association Kulbir Singh Dhaliwal said: "We passed the resolution to endorse the already existing rules framed by the Bar Council of India (BCI) in 2006 that had resolved that the form of address in the Supreme Court and high courts should be 'your honour' or 'honourable court”.
The Bar Council had held that words such as 'My Lord' and 'Your Lordship' were "relics of the colonial past.
17. EGYPT ENVOY SEEKS CEC HELP IN CONDUCTING POLLS: Egypt's ambassador to Bharat Khaled el Bakly met chief election commissioner (CEC) S Y Quraishi recently, seeking assistance in conducting elections after Hosni Mubarak's ouster.
Parliamentary elections will be held in Egypt in September, followed by presidential polls in November. During the meeting with Quraishi, Bakly wanted to know about various aspects of election management and electronic voting machines (EVMs). "He asked how fast we can provide EVMs in case they decide to use them," said a senior election commission (EC) official.
"We get a lot of requests from various countries to train their poll officials," said Quraishi.
18. REVERSE BRAIN DRAIN TO RULE GLOBAL TRENDS IN COMING YEARS: STUDY: One of the top mega trends that will influence and shape the world in the coming years would be reverse brain drain, with a steady flow of foreign nationals and migrants returning home to fill vacancies for the senior level positions, says a study. According to a new report by Frost and Sullivan one of the top global mega trends the world will witness reverse brain drain, wherein the vast vacancies for CXOs in countries like Bharatl be filled not only by returning Bharatiyas , but also by Americans and Europeans seeking better prospects. There will be as many as two million BPO- KPO jobs for foreign nationals from China, Poland, Philippines, besides, salary given by the BRIC nations would be at par with developed countries (in terms of purchasing power) and even more benefits.
19. BHARATIYA -AMERICAN GEETA PASI NAMED AS US ENVOY TO DJIBOUTI: US President Barack Obama has nominated Bharatiya -American Geeta Pasi, a career foreign service officer, as his envoy to Djibouti. Geeta Pasi is a career member of the Senior Foreign Service and currently serves as the Director of East African Affairs in the Africa Bureau at the Department of State. Prior to this assignment, Pasi has served as the Deputy Chief of Mission at Embassy Dhaka from 2006-2009.
20. ‘BHARAT TO BE AMONG TOP 3 LIFE INSURANCE MARKETS BY 2020’: The insurance industry will continue to outpace the rapid economic growth to reach $350-400 billion in premium income by 2020, making Bharat amongst the top three life insurance markets and top 15 non-life insurance markets by the year, according to a report by Boston Consulting Group (BCG) titled ‘India Insurance — Turning 10, Going on 20’.
It stated that the total penetration of insurance (premium as percentage of GDP) has increased from 2.3 per cent in 2001 to 5.2 per cent in 2011. In addition, there has been a vast increase in the coverage of insurance.
Said Rajiv Kumar, director general, FICCI, “The report estimates the total insurance premium at approximately Rs 17 lakh crore to Rs 22 lakh crore in 2020 (with life being Rs 15 lakh crore to Rs 20 lakh crore). This massive growth will have a significant impact on Bharat’s ranking in the global insurance industry and is based on strong fundamentals.”
21. HUMAN CHAIN BY ABVP IN DELHI AGAINST CORRUPTION: Extending support to the anti-corruption campaign launched by Shri Anna Hazare the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad formed a human chain at Jantar Mantar on April 9. Hundreds of ABVP activists participated in the human chain. Similarly, the Kolkata unit of ABVP formed a human chain from Presidency College to Calcutta University on April 8.
22. WORLD'S SUPER-RICH SEE MUMBAI AS FUTURE HUB: The globally wealthy see New York and London remaining the world's leading hubs over the next decade but emerging centres like Mumbai, Shanghai and Sao Paulo are fast catching up as future cities. Mumbai's importance increased by 118% from 2010, the highest among 20 world cities, according to the 2011 edition of The Wealth Report, launched by Knight Frank and Citi Private Bank on April 6.
The survey covered 5,000 ultra-high net worth individuals (UHNWI) who are clients of Citi Private Bank and based in 36 countries. Each is worth on an average $100 million (approx Rs 450 crore).
23. SHRI VISHWA NIKETAN: Pravas: Shri Shyam Parande, Secretary, Sewa International will conclude his tour of Caribbean countries Guyana, Trinidad&Tobago and Suriname and move to USA and Canada.Visitors: Dr.Manohar Shinde, USA
FOOD FOR THOUGHT: When we rise in contemplation, when there is the vision of the Supreme which is entirely beyond the power of the soul to prepare for or bring about, we feel it is wholly the operation of God working on the soul by extraordinary grace. In a sense all life is from God, all prayer is made by the help of God’s grace, but the heights of contemplation which are scaled by few are attributed in a special degree to divine grace. - Dr S Radhakrishnan
JAI SHREE RAM
OUR RIGHT TO REFORM
Minhaz MerchantAnna Hazare's most telling comment on the second day of his fast - when the government was still dismissing his movement as undemocratic and the Jan Lokpal Bill as utopian - was lost in the general tumult. Hazare told the government: "We are the maliks, you are the sevaks."
Minister, of course, is Latin for servant. Rahul Gandhi may not share his views with us on most issues but he understands the popular mood. Sensing that the nation was increasingly outraged over corruption and nepotism, Rahul told an election rally: "I am your naukar; you are my malik." It could have been Anna Hazare speaking.
UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi herself established the validity of civil society engaging with the government on equal terms by instituting - and heading - the National Advisory Council (NAC), packed with just the sort of citizen-activists who wrote the draft of the Jan Lokpal Bill. As the 10-member panel, headed by finance minister Pranab Mukherjee and former law minister Shanti Bhushan, meets for the first time on April 16 to begin redrafting the Lokpal Bill by the June 30 deadline, four improvements could make it a strong and practical legislation.
First, power. Some cynics fear that a tough, independent Lokpal body will be a law unto itself - a super-cop or extra-constitutional prime minister's office. This fear can be allayed by building into the Lokpal Bill a clause for appellate judicial review by the Supreme Court of contested decisions. Removal - again by the Supreme Court - of any Lokpal member, including the Lokpal himself, on specific charges of wrongdoing, is already part of the draft Jan Lokpal Bill.
Second, size. The proposed Lokpal has 11 members. That would make it unwieldy. It is wise to restrict the number of members to seven, including the chairperson. The draft Bill already includes a provision for a large administrative Lokpal office and staff.
Third, selection. The Jan Lokpal draft Bill suggests "advertisements" to invite recommendations from the public of candidates of "unimpeachable integrity", followed by public feedback, vetting, videotaped interviews and so on. The process of selection must be as transparent and broad-based as possible, but it cannot resemble a tender. The process must be comprehensive but concise.
Fourth, deemed police status. The draft Bill gives the Lokpal the power to issue search warrants. A better way forward would be to depute officers of the anti-corruption investigation department of the CBI to work under the Lokpal's direct control.
But a strong Lokpal is only part of the larger architecture of political reforms to improve governance. Concurrently, we need to make the CBI autonomous of the executive. The Supreme Court ordered wide-ranging police reforms through a 2006 directive, which governments at the Centre and in the states have cynically not yet implemented.
The Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill will also come up for enactment into legislation in the monsoon session of Parliament. For citizens, once the Bill is passed, justice will be swifter and fairer. Electoral reforms would then be the next milestone. Nearly 25% of MPs in the 15th Lok Sabha have criminal charges against them. Over half of these are serious charges: murder, kidnap and rape. A candidate facing criminal prosecution in a trial court should be barred from standing for election. In order to protect candidates facing politically motivated charges, prosecutions pending for over one year without a hearing or adjournment would not count as a valid ground to debar candidates. This will filter out a majority of rogue candidates but also provide protection against frivolous political charges.
We need to clean up our Parliament, our assemblies and other elected chambers. The modified Jan Lokpal Bill is one instrument to do that. An autonomous CBI is another. A strong, transparent judiciary is a third. A vigilant media and engaged civil society is a fourth. The country has fought long and hard for the Right to Information (RTI) Act, the Right to Education (RTE) Act and now the Right to Food (RTF) Act, currently under review. There is one more legislation a mature democracy of, by and for the people - rather than of, by and for the privileged - needs to enact: the Right to Recall.
In several states in the United States (notably California, since 1903, and most recently Minnesota, since 1996), the right to recall an elected politician before his term ends is a fundamental democratic right. If a petition against an elected lawmaker crosses a specified threshold number of signatures from citizens in his constituency - on legally verifiable charges of malfeasance, to prevent misuse of the statute - a poll becomes mandatory. If the elected representative secures less than a specified percentage (usually 50%) of votes in the ensuing poll, he is removed from office before the end of his term and a fresh election to the constitutiency called. In 2003, California governor Gray Davis was recalled over mismanagement of the state's budget; 55.4% of the electorate voted to recall him.
The Right to Recall is a critical electoral reform that will complete a quartet of empowering legislations along with the RTI, RTE and RTF to strengthen Indian democracy. The Lokpal is the beginning of real change. The writer is an author and chairman of a media group. ( Times of India, New Delhi 15 April 2011 )
WHEN LORD INDRA ANSWERED THE CALL OF VEDASThe primal Vedic chants that ring across the rolling greens of village Panjal in Thrissur district are a ceremonial invitation to Lord Indra, the god of rain, to join the ancient fire ritual of Athirathram. Towards the evening, thunder rumbles in the distance, almost as if Lord Indra is responding to the call of the 18 Vedic priests. And it rains. The priests have been chanting round-the-clock for the last three days to build up the energy level.Panjal, 30 km from Thrissur town, was teeming with humanity on the 11th day of the ritual i.e. April 14 evening. For most tourists, it was a cultural and spiritual pilgrimage covering the Kerala Kala Mandalam, near the venue of the ritual, and the Guruvayoor temple in Thrissur district.
The village of 32,000 people has drawn nearly 300,000 visitors in the first 10 days. The footfall is likely to touch 500,000 on the last when the sprawling 380-square metre venue is set afire to mark the end of the 12-day fire ritual for peace, purification, fertility, health and rain.
It has been organised by a local non-profit group Varthathe Trust to revive dying Vedic traditions in the country.
Panjal is one of the key bastions of the 'Samavedis' and 'Rigvedis' - practitioners of the ancient Hindu scriptures Sama Veda and the Rig Veda - who have kept the two living traditions of Vedic chants and 'yagnya' (worship of elements) alive for nearly 4,000 years.
Five families each of Rig Veda practitioners and Sama Veda practitioners preserve the tradition.
The village has played host to four major Athirathrams in 1901, 1918, 1956 and 1975.
In 1975, noted Dutch Indologist Frits Staal documented the ritual in a two-volume Vedic treatise -- "Agni: The Vedic Ritual of the Fire Altar".Staal, 81, who has returned this time, watched the proceedings from behind a barricaded enclosure. "Not much has changed. The ritual is alive and well. But it is a real pleasure to be back to Thrissur," he said.
A team from Harvard University led by professor Micheal Witzel is also studying the Sama Vedic chants. "It is one of the oldest living Vedic traditions and has not changed much," Witzel told.
The ancient fire rite is an elaborate avatar of 'agnihotram' and 'somayaga' - fire worship and offering of the 'soma' rasa to the ritual fire - prescribed in the Vedas.It's said to symbolise the creation of the world with a ball of fire from the big bang, scientists studying the phenomenon say.
Athirathram is the most complex of the Vedic fire 'yagnas', first documented in 1100 BC and continued till 600 BC across the northern Indian river plains after which it disappeared from the northern part of the country.
A Vedic community of Namboodiris Brahmins in south India, however, clung to it."It combines chants and rites from the Rig Veda, Sama Veda and Yajur Veda," said Nellikaatilmamanul Vasudevan Namboodiri, one of the oldest Sama Veda practitioners of Panjal.
Yajamana Ramanujan Akkhithiripad, a priest from Chembra in Mallapuram district, presided over the rituals assisted by a team of 17 Vedic priests. Ramanujan's wife - known as the 'yajman pathni', has been camping at the 'yagshala' - the venue of the rite - for the 12 days with her husband as part of the rituals.The yajamana (presiding priest) and his wife carry the scared fire home in pots and keep it burning for the rest of their lives, Vasudevan Namboodiri said.
At the heart of the ritual is the sacrificial fire that burns in a blaze of fragrant wood and herbal smoke. The ritual hearth resembles the white-crested red eagle found in the area.
"Sighting an eagle is a good omen," says priest Sivakaran Namboodiri.
However, the ritual that generated maximum curiosity was the pressing of Soma stalks or 'somaabhishavam' on the 10th day to be offered as oblation to the fire god Agni. The 'soma' - an intoxicating creeper that grows in the Western Ghats - is ferried to the venue in special donkey-drawn 'soma' carts in a recreation of the Vedic era.
Over 300 women, decked as brides, partook of the special offering, 'soumyam, (prasadam)', a dish of clarified butter and rice -- for healthy childbirth and conjugal happiness. And an 'annaydanam (food offering)' kitchen fed 40,000 people everyday with traditional Kerala platters of ponni rice, poreal, avial, sambhar, pickles and payasam. (Times of India 16 April 2011)