Pausha Shukla 11, Vik. Samvat 2071. Yugabda 5116: January 1, 2015



1. FESTIVALS: Hanukkah, the eight-day Jewish Festival of Lights: Nariman House lights up, dispels 26/11 darkness. “It's always been a place of hospitality," said preschool teacher Menuhah Peters as she took a bite of the sufganiyah. "But after the attacks six years ago, it's also become a place where we come to pay our respects and remember that light always dispels darkness. What better time than Hanukkah for that?"
It was a little after 9pm on December 16 at Colaba's Nariman House at Mumbai and the room was packed. Young and old members of the Jewish community, from Mumbai, Israel, US and Australia, milled around. Platters of potato latkes (pancakes), sufganiyah (jelly-filled doughnuts) and the flaky rugelach, bursting with chocolate, made their way out of the kitchen and waited on the long tables for guests to dig in. One of the targets in the November 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai, the building had been left bullet-ridden and bereft of its directors Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and wife Rivky who died in the siege.
"But today we send the message that goodness and light cannot be defeated by those committing such acts of terror," said Elena Winchester, who is visiting from the US on a volunteering programme. "Nariman House will continue to be a haven for Jews from across the world." Her sentiments were echoed by the others led by new rabbi Israel Kozlovsky and his wife Chaya, sang blessings, met old friends, and made new ones. - goTop

2.  BHARAT RATNA FOR VAJPAYEE, MALAVIYA: Former Pradhan Mantri Atal Bihari Vajpayee, a charismatic personality who crafted consensual politics that found acceptability across the political spectrum, has been chosen for the country’s highest civilian award Bharat Ratna along with educationist and freedom fighter Pt Madan Mohan Malviya ( posthumously ), a press communiqué from Rashtrapati Bhavan on 24th December said. .

Vajpayee, Prime Minister from 1998 to 2004, has been credited with taking bold initiatives, notable being the attempt to bridge Bharat-Pak differences.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the conferment of Bharat Ratna on Malviya and Vajpayee was a “fitting recognition” of the services of the “illustrious stalwarts” to the nation.
An educationist with a vision, Malviya’s main achievement was the establishment of the Banaras HinduUniversity. He was the President of Congress, in 1909 and 1918 and is remembered for his stellar role in theIndependence movement and his espousal of Hindu nationalism. - goTop

3.   BHARAT IS HINDU RASHTRA: MOHAN BHAGWAT: Describing Bharat as a Hindu rashtra and making a strong pitch for Hindu awakening, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh Sarasanghachalak Mohan Bhagwat on December 20 said, “There is no need to fear. A Hindu will not leave his land. What we have lost in the past, we will try to bring it back. No one should be afraid of Hindus rising.”

Speaking at a Hindu Sammelan as part of Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s golden jubilee celebrations at Kolkatta , Bhagwat said Hindus do not convert, so nobody should try to convert Hindus to other religions. “We are trying to create a strong Hindu society. Those who strayed, were lured away. They were looted from us. The world knows. Ab agar mera maal wapas aata hai, to kaunsi badi baat hai? (If now we are taking back our property, then what’s the big deal?),” Bhagwat told the 20,000-strong crowd. - goTop

4.  VANVASI RAKSHA PARIWAR KUMBHA 2014 was held in Delhi on December 21 in which 40,000 people including leading saints, NGO representatives, tribals and Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and RSS karyakartas participated. An exhibition held on the occasion showcased the unique heritage, ethnic diversity, rich natural resources, socio-cultural traditions of the tribals. Tribal Artists form West Bengal presented Mahishasur Mardani while the children of Bhatnagar International School captivated the audience with the group dance performance.

Ashok Singhal, Patron, VHP talked of the Vanvasis of Bharat in terms of population statistics. A large part of the country’s population lives in the forests. Out of the grand 125 crores population, 18 crores are vanvasis who live in isolated, deep forests and villages. Swami Satyamitranand, founder Bharat Mata Mandir gave a heart wrenching talk on the historical importance of the Vanvasis, right from the Vedic Age.
Addressing the mammoth gathering, Dr. Mohan Rao Bhagwat emphasised on the ideal of providing protection to the tribals who are our own kith and kin. Their glorious lineage must not only be recognised and respected, but also spread throughout the country. Swami Anubhutanand Giri, Sadhvi Ritambhara, Swami Ramdev, Mahant Nritya Gopal Das, Dr. Pranav Pandya, Dr. Praveenbhai Togadia, Dr. Bajranglal Gupta, Smt. Sumitra Mahajan, Dr.Raman Singh, Nitin Gadkari, Amit Shah and Sushma Swaraj graced the ocasion. - goTop

5.  ‘OUR TIME HAS COME’: Towns and villages in Punjab along the border with Pakistan — from Bhikhiwind to Khemkaran to Pahuwind – have been waking up every morning to the sights and sounds of RSS shakhas in parks and grounds. College student Sunil Kumar, shakha in-charge at Bhikhiwind, ensures that 40 boys gather every morning at a school ground. “School and college students, mostly from the weaker sections, come here. Others have begun taking interest after we organised a big function on Dussehra,” he said.

Brigadier (retired) J K Gagneja, RSS sahprant sanghachalak, said there are 795 shakhas across Punjab, up from 200 a few years ago, and the focus now is on the border areas. The youth, he said, comprise 60 per cent of their workforce and are spearheading most activities. Ekal Foundation runs 1,050 single-teacher schools in the border districts. Brig Gagneja believes that as a result of these efforts, the RSS has managed to establish a presence in 50 per cent of the border districts and 25 per cent in other districts. - goTop

6.  CHANGE IN POWER HAS INCREASED EXPECTATIONS FROM BHARAT: BHAGWAT: "This is the right time for the country. The expectations of the world from the country are growing. We feel that the country has now started working towards making everyone capable of fulfilling these expectations," Bhagwat told a gathering in Panaji at the inauguration of 40th convention of social service organisation Giants International on December 19.This change in the country is happening "because there is a change in power," he said during his 50-minute speech."The ultimate change is possible only when people see examples and imitate them. People believe in what they see," he said. - goTop


7.    IDEAS GALORE: India Ideas Conclave was held in Goa from 19 to 21 of December the first-of-its-kind attempt to bring global leaders and visionaries from diverse fields to join hands to take forward the agenda of “Integral Human Development”. The brainchild of India Foundation, a Delhi-based think tank that undertakes analysis, advocacy and awareness of key national and international issues, the 3-day conclave saw a range of eclectic and thought provoking issues deliberated upon threadbare, in order to arrive at ways and means of putting into practice the ‘pro-people’ agenda of Integral Human Development as espoused by Deendayal Upadhyay half a century ago, the contemporary relevance and reverberations of which run through the fabric of nations - big and small.

The Conclave was inaugurated by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. Sri Sri urged Bharat to reclaim its lead role in areas of its core competence like spirituality and alternate forms of healing, among many others. The Inaugural session was followed by a special plenary session bringing face-to-face Union Minister Smt. Nirmala Sitaraman from Bharat and Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard from the US. The experience sharing of the two women was interesting and insightful. There were 6 more plenary sessions and 10 parallel sessions across a span of 2 days and 70 speakers, each a living legend and an expert in his or her own right, covering topics ranging from economics, culture, religion, gender, justice, democracy, energy, education and entrepreneurship. The valedictory session titled ‘Development Mantra for India’ saw Governor of Goa, Smt. Mridula Sinha, and Union Minister for External Affairs, Ms. Sushma Swaraj and Swami Dayananad Saraswati share the dias. - goTop

8. ISRO BLASTS BHARAT’S BIGGEST ROCKET INTO SPACE: Bharat successfully launched its biggest ever rocket on December 18 carrying an unmanned capsule that could one day send astronauts into space, as the country ramps up its ambitious space programme. The Bharat-made capsule is designed to carry up to three astronauts into space. The rocket, designed to carry heavier communication and other satellites into higher orbit, blasted off from Sriharikota in a test mission costing nearly $25m (£16m).

“This was a very significant day in the history of Bharatiya space programme,” Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) chairman KS Radhakrishnan said from mission control as fellow scientists clapped and cheered. The new rocket, weighing 630 tonnes and capable of carrying a payload of four tonnes, is a boost for Bharat’s attempts to grab a greater slice of the $300bn global space market. ISRO said that the crew capsule project would take at least another seven years to reach the point where an astronaut could be put into space. - goTop

9.   500 YEAR OLD WATER STRUCTURE IN RAMESHWARAM REDISCOVERED: The word ‘Theertham’ literally means ‘water’ but in Hindu tradition, it is usually the physical holy water body associated with a temple or deity. Rameshwaram has 64 such theerthams. 22 of these are believed to be sacred and are within the premises of the Sri Ramanathaswamy temple.

Bathing in these theerthams is considered equivalent to doing some form of penance. But all the theerthams were not so lucky; the ones outside the temple premises were abandoned over the years. Most of them were polluted and poorly maintained, with broken bottles and garbage frequently found at the sites.
Vivekananda Kendra, Kanyakumari, has been working on renovating the theerthams across Rameswaram. The ‘Green Rameswaram Pilgrimage’ project was inaugurated as part of the Natural Resource Development Programme or VK-NARDEP in January on the 150th birth anniversary of Swami Vivekananda. The project aims to work in the areas of Archeology, Biodiversity, Natural Resources and Eco-tourism.
A part of the Green Rameswaram project is the renovation of the abandoned Theerthams in and around Rameswaram. The aim is to fully restore these water bodies to their working condition in the hope that rainwater will help replenish them to their lost glory. Renovation work has begun in all of these theerthams but it is a long and tedious process involving weeks of clean up, excavation, construction and painting.
500 year old Dharmar Theertham rediscovered!
People at Vivekananda Kendra believe that aged people living in Rameswaram are familiar with various beliefs and urban legends from stories they might have heard in the early days. During the search for the Dharmar Theertham, along with the map provided by temple authorities, they heeded to the advice of aged people living near Ramar Padham (Bhagwan Rama’s feet), which is the highest altitude of the island of Rameswaram. They were led to an area of a large sand dune. These sand dunes have been built by strong winds over the years. They began excavation on September 1st 2014, when at some point they hit the walls of the ancient structure. This structure, found after more than 60 years, is believed to be at least 500 years old. - goTop

10. DRDO CHIEF INVOKES VEDAS TO EXPLAIN INTEL IMPORTANCE: The country’s scientist and Defence Research Development Organisation chief Avinash Chander on December 23 invoked mythology to explain the importance of intelligence network. Chander, the man behind the Agni series missiles, while addressing the Intelligence Bureau sleuths said “information gathering and intelligence have been emphasised even in Vedas and Puranas”, and invoked “Rig Veda and Atharva Veda” to send across his point that intelligence gathering had to be abreast with technology.NSA Ajit Doval, new IB chief Dineshwar Sharma and outgoing IB chief Syed Asif Ibrahim were present.

Delivering the 27th Intelligence Bureau Centenary Endowment Lecture, Chander, an IIT graduate who is also the scientific advisor to the Defence Minister, said, “Information gathering and intelligence have been emphasised even in Vedas and Puranas. We find the invocations in Rig Veda and Atharva Veda, where it talks how the spies of Agni came down from the sky with thousands of eyes. The son of Brahaspati, teacher of gods, Kaccha was sent as a spy to Sukracharya to know the Sanjeevani mantra as explained in Matsyapurana.” - goTop

11.  FIRST HINDU US CONGRESSWOMAN TULSI GABBARD INTERACTS WITH BENGALOREANS: Tulsi Gabbard, the first Hindu member of the United States Congress was in Bengaluru for an interaction with citizens a function jointly organised by City based intellectual forum ‘Manthana’ and Indic research organisation ‘Mythic Society’. She started her speech with Aloha and Jai Shri Krishna. The excited Bengaluru crowd joined her in Jai Shri Krishna loudly. She stressed gracefully on the Hawaiian welcome Aloha and its deep philosophical meaning quite similar to Hindu Namaste. Tulsi dwelled into the dilemma she faced in 2004 when she stared at an easy reelection to Hawaii legislature while 3,000 of her fellow home guard people were going to Iraq. She made a tough decision to quit her lucrative political position, and to go serve the war against Islamic terrorism. - goTop


12.  4,000-YEAR-OLD HOUSE AT BAGHPAT OFFERS RARE CLUE TO HARAPPAN HABITATION: The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), in excavations carried out at Chandyan village in Baghpat, has found remnants of a house that corresponds to the late Harappan period. The discovery is important since, according to archaeologists, this is the first time evidence of habitation pertaining to that period has been found in the Upper Doab region between Ganga and Yamuna. The late Harappan phase pertains to the period starting around 1900-1800 BC when the Indus Valley Civilization, popularly known as the Harappan Culture, began to decline. The civilization, which is known for its superior urban planning, is believed to have flourished in the period between 3,300 BC to 1,300 BC in what is today Pakistan, northwest and parts ofAfghanistan and Balochistan. - goTop


13.   DR. VIVEK MURTHY IS FIRST PIO SURGEON GENERAL OF USA: Dr. Vivek Hallegere Murthy (37) is an American physician who is the 19th Surgeon General of the United States, a position often called America’s Doctor. Murthy is co-founder of Doctors for America (formerly Doctor for Obama) and succeeded Surgeon General Boris D. Lushniak. He is the first and the yongest Bharatiya American or the person of Indian origin (PIO) to hold the position. He was confirmed by a 51-43 vote in the US Congress. In U.S. surgeon general does not set any government policy but is an advocate for the people’s health. - goTop


14. ISRO's RADHAKRISHNAN IN NATURE JOURNAL'S TOP TEN LIST: Dr. K. Radhakrishnan, Chairman of the ISRO is one of the 2014 top ten scientists chosen by the prestigious journal Nature. This is the first time in the recent past that the journal has chosen a Bharatiya working in Bharat. He is listed along with other people like Andrea Accomazzo, the Rosetta flight operations director, European Space Agency. - goTop


15.  BUDDHIST SCULPTURES, KUSHAN-ERA COINS FOUND AT PAKISTAN SITE: Archaeologists have discovered Buddhist sculptures and coins dating back to the 2nd to 5th centuries during ongoing excavation at the site of an ancient Buddhist Stupa in northwest Pakistan. Director of Archaeology and Museums, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Abdul Samad said that sculptures and heads dating from 2nd to 5th centuries have been discovered during excavation, initiated at the Bhamala Buddhist complex. During excavation, precious coins of Kushan period were also unearthed around the Stupa. Bhamala archaeological site has ruins of the Buddhist Stupa dating back to 4th century C.E. and is declared as a National and World Heritage Site.  - goTop


16. BHARATIYA-ORIGIN VASAN SRINIVASAN INDUCTED IN AUSTRALIA NATIONAL BODY: Vasan Srinivasan has been included in the six-member Australian Multicultural Council (AMC). Srinivasan, currently the Chair of Confederation of Indian Australian Associations, was former president of Federation of Indian Associations of Victoria and also the founding member of Federation of Indian Multi-Faith Organisations of Victoria (FIMO). Expressing his gratitude, Srinivasan said his new role was an opportunity to represent the Australian Bharatiya community. The council's role is to offer advice to the government on ways to sustain and support social cohesion within communities, to ensure all Australians have the opportunity to participate and contribute to Australian life. - goTop


17.   BHARATIYA-ORIGIN RESEARCHERS: NEW ‘THINKING’ ROBOTIC SEA TURTLE DEVELOPED: Bharatiya-origin researchers have developed a next-generation ‘thinking’ robotic sea turtle capable of performing complicated tasks such as surveillance and energy harvesting. In the underwater robotic world, turtle robots are among the most manoeuvrable, researchers said. The National University of Singapore (NUS) team’s turtle robot can also go about determinedly performing what it is set out to do, while being able to react to exigencies and obstacles. The team led by Associate Professor S K Panda is putting the final touches to a robotic sea turtle which could move about underwater, including diving to deeper depths vertically, like a real turtle, by just using its front and hind limb gait movements. - goTop


18.   BHARAT GIFTS BANGLA PREZ AIR RECORDS OF LIBERATION SAGA: Bangladesh President Abdul Hamid, in the country for a six-day visit, was gifted a piece of shared history by Bharat. On the request of President Pranab Mukherjee, All India Radio (AIR) culled out rare speeches given by former PM Indira Gandhi andBangladesh PM Sheikh Mujibur Rahman during the country's liberation movement. This includes the public address given by Sheikh Rahman in January 1972, interviews and speeches on the surrender of the Pakistani forces on December 16, 1971 and other programmes. - goTop


19.  KAILAS MANSAROVAR: A PILGRIM’S ODYSSEY: Chinese edition of "An Odyssey in Tibet—A Pilgrimage to Kailas Mansarovar" authored by BJP MP Tarun Vijay and published by the South Asian Study Centre of Sichuan University was presented at Rashtrapati Bhawan. The President noted that the book will be the first in a series called "Understanding India". Dignitries present were Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar and RSS Sah Sarkarwah, Dattatrey Hosbale and Chinese Ambassador, Le Yucheng, and a delegation from the university. - goTop


20. AMIT PRIPYAVADAN MEHTA CONFIRMED AS A FEDERAL JUDGE: Bharatiya-American Amit Priyavadan Mehta has been confirmed by the US Senate as a Federal judge in the District of Columbia, becoming the first Asian Pacific American to occupy this vital position. Nominated by the US President, Barack Obama in July this year, Mehta has been a partner at Zuckerman Spaeder since 2010, where he represents clients in civil and criminal matters before the State and Federal courts. - goTop


21.  15 MUSLIM PRISONERS OF SABARMATI JAIL LEARN SANSKRIT: At least 15 Muslim prisoners and a few Christian inmates at Sabarmati Central Jail have voluntarily opted for a short-term course to learn Sanskrit as a language. Besides top cops D G Vanzara and P P Pandey who are lodged in the jail, 250 prisoners — including Muslim and Christian inmates — attended a 10-day crash course in Sanskrit organized by Sanskrit Bharati, a city-based NGO.

"We did not teach shlokas to the prisoners. Sanskrit was taught as a language to enable all to learn it without any barrier of religion," said Sukumar Trivedi, coordinator of the NGO. - goTop

22. SANSKRITI SANGAM – V: 5th conference of people of ancient traditions and cultures will be held at Ganapati Sacchidananda Math, Mysuru – Karnataka during January 31st to February 5th. People from about 50 traditions across the globe are expected to participate in the conference. For more info please see   - goTop


23. SHRI VISHWA NIKETAN: Pravas: Dr. Yashwnt Pathak, ICCS reached Bharat for ICCS conference in Feb.Visitors: Dr. Bheeshma Agnihoti, Balkrishna Shastry – USA, Bhagwan Athwani – Poland, Vipin Mishra - Germany, Abhijit Bhide and family – Australia  - goTop

FOOD FOR THOUGHT: “There is but one God. True is His Name, creative His personality and immortal His form. He is without fear sans enmity, unborn and self-illumined. By the Guru's grace He is obtained.” – Guru Nanak   - goTop


Pallavi Aiyar
On a Saturday afternoon in late September, gaggles of hijab-clad women, many with young children in tow, swarmed outside the closed gates of an auditorium in Taman Mini, a popular recreational park in eastJakarta. A brawny, black-maned figure wielding a bow and arrow pouted suggestively from a phalanx of promotional banners that lined the street, with the title Panah Asmara Arjuna — Arjuna’s Arrow of Love — printed above. Inside, a stage featuring two giant gilt thrones was being readied. Strobe lights criss-crossed the auditorium, and an overwrought score thundered from the sound system. This was the set for the live broadcast of Panah Asmara Arjuna’s second weekly elimination round.
Advertised as a “maha reality show”, the Indonesian series follows a familiar trope: 15 young women start out sharing a house, and compete in daily challenges as they vie for the attention of a desirable hero. But in this case the hero happens to be someone who speaks no Indonesian, and had only been in the country for about a month when the show started: the Indian actor Shaheer Sheikh, who played Arjuna in the 2013 television series Mahabharat, an extravagant adaptation of the mythological epic by Star Plus. Every Saturday, the women line up on a stage, dubbed the “bharata yudha” zone, and Sheikh sends one of them home. The winner, who will be announced at the end of December, will travel with Sheikh to India. The Indonesian channel ANTV bought the rights to Mahabharat from Star Plus, and started airing a dubbed version of the show this March.
I first came across this Bahasa Indonesia Mahabharat in June, when I began to tune into ANTV every evening for its exclusive regional broadcasts of the FIFA World Cup. Mahabharat was aired just prior to each day’s opening matches. As I waited for well- built men to take to the football field, I ended up watching well-built men in faux-gold jewellery fighting with magical weapons instead. ANTV soon discovered that the ratings for the mythological series were higher than those for the football. At its peak, the show reached 7.6 per cent ofIndonesia’s television viewership; the World Cup final reached only 6.2 per cent.
I met with Kelly da Cunha, ANTV’s general manager of production, in a boxy backstage room a few hours before filming for the Panah elimination round was to begin. Middle-aged and portly, da Cunha chuckled compulsively while recounting the numbers. “With these kinds of ratings, we decided to go further,” he explained. Early this October, ANTV brought seven Mahabharat cast members over from India to perform in a live, three-hour stage show in Jakarta. The programme consisted of interviews and assorted histrionics — such as the five Pandavas and their arch-enemies, Duryodhana and Karna, gyrating to music that, though loud, could not drown out the ululations of the hundreds-strong, largely female audience.
 The popularity of a show based on the Mahabharata in Muslim-majority Indonesia might seem surprising, but da Cunha explained that Hindu epics are part of the country’s culture. For centuries, many parts of the Indonesian archipelago were majority-Hindu. By the 7th century CE, Hindu-Buddhist kingdoms dominated both Java and Sumatra — Indonesia’s two most populous islands. Ever since, Hindu cultural norms have infused indigenous mores, even after large-scale conversion to Islam in the 16th century. References to the epics are everywhere in Java — the language, the street signs, the political commentary. In Jakarta, many buses are painted with lurid advertisements for an energy drink called Kuku Bima, which promises Bhima-like endurance. An enormous statue of Krishna leading Arjun into battle dominates the roundabout in front of the Monas, the country’s main nationalist monument. There is a nationwide charitable foundation for twins named the Nakula and Sadewa Society. And one of the country’s bestselling novels, Amba, uses the story of Bhishma and Shikhandi (a later incarnation of Amba) to talk about Indonesia’s purges of communists in the mid 1960s. Wayang kulit, a form of shadow-puppet theatre that features tales from the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, can draw tens of thousands to performances in rural Java.
Indonesians feel a real sense of ownership over the epics. In the mid-19th century, Ronggowarsito, a poet from a royal court in central Java, wrote an apocryphal history that traced the lineage of the Javanese kings back to the Pandavas. Eventually, many Indonesians came to believe that the Mahabharata was set in Java rather than India. But India still has special appeal. Da Cunha said that after ANTV aired the Star Plus Mahabharat, a rival channel began to broadcast an all-Indonesian version of the epic, Ksatria Pandawa Lima, whose title translates to “Five Pandava Knights.” The show flopped. The reason, da Cunha claimed, was that a local “copy” could not compare to the “Indian original”.
Da Cunha added that stories from the Hindu epics are not really associated with religion by Indonesian audiences. Instead, they are understood as morality tales that happen to be embedded in the local culture. “Even Shaheer is a Muslim,” he pointed out, “so there is nothing religious here.” I heard much the same thing when, last year, I met Ki Purbo Asmoro, one of Indonesia’s most celebrated wayang kulit masters, or dalang. Like most dalang, and most wayang kulit audiences, Purbo Asmoro is Muslim. “These stories are allegorical,” he told me. “None of us take them as the literal truth.” He also said the Hindu epics promote values — for instance, the loyalty, courage and integrity of characters such as Ghatotkach and Bhima — that are affirmed by Islam. But those parallels aren’t essential; for many Indonesians, the Mahabharat is pure entertainment, akin to shows such as the hit HBO fantasy series Game of Thrones except with greater cultural resonance.
Backstage on the Panah set, I also met Mahabharat actors Vin Rana and Lavanya Bharadwaj, who played, respectively, the twins Nakula and Sahadeva. Following the Jakarta stage show in October, in which they both took part, ANTV took the cast to Bali, the only island in Indonesia that remains predominantly Hindu today. They were met in person, the actors told me, by the Raja of Ubud, a Balinese town. Bharadwaj, a youngster from Meerut, recalled a Balinese fan ferreting away in her handbag, as though it were a treasure, an apple that he had half eaten. Rana, formerly a heavy-machinery parts importer from Pitampura in Delhi, spoke of a woman fainting when she saw him in the flesh. “They respect us so much over here,” Rana said solemnly. “Respect or desire?” I asked. He giggled nervously. Acquiring sex-symbol status by playing demigods has put the television Pandavas on awkward terrain.
A picture of the reality show where Arjuna selects the winner from 14 beautiful women Meanwhile, “Arjuna” was gearing up for the stage. Sheikh listened intently, through an interpreter, to a headscarved young woman running him through the evening. Dressed casually, in sports clothes stretched tight across his muscular torso, he swatted with impressive accuracy at mosquitos buzzing around the room. With his shoulder-length hair and well-defined six-pack, it was easy to see why the Jammu-born actor is the most popular member of the Mahabharat cast in Indonesia. Sheikh boasts 262,000 Twitter followers, the vast majority of whom, he said, are Indonesian. On the first day the dubbed Mahabharat was broadcast in the Twitter-mad country, he said, his following jumped by 30,000.
Sheikh explained that when he was first approached to play the role of Arjuna, he had been reluctant, in part because his Hindi was poor. Once he accepted, he spent months in preparation, taking lessons in Hindi diction, learning to ride horses and handle weapons. He feels the role has changed him. Studying the Bhagwad Gita, he said, has been crucial in helping him make difficult choices. But it was unlikely to help with the toughest choice he faced that evening: which young woman to eliminate from the show.
In the broadcast, Sheikh was confronted by 14 contestants, or dewis, resplendent in anarkali-style kurtas. Over almost two and a half hours of high drama occasionally punctuated by dancing, he whittled the group down to five candidates for elimination. The girl he eventually sent away managed a wan smile when Sheikh pressed a locket he was wearing upon her as a keepsake. The episode concluded with “Arjuna” and the dewis dancing to the Bollywood hit “London thumakda”.
ANTV hopes to cash in even further on the Mahabharat craze. It intends to broadcast another live stage show from Jakarta this month, with an expanded cast including the Mahabharat characters of Bhishma, Draupadi, Shakuni and Kunti in addition to the five Pandavas. In a bit of cross-epic fertilisation, the channel also plans to invite the actors who played Rama, Sita and Hanuman in Zee TV’s 2012 Ramayana (which ANTV dubbed and aired earlier this year as well). Da Cuhna told me he believes the “soft power” of Indian pop culture has great potential in Indonesia. A year ago the craze was for Korean pop and culture, he said, but “at ANTV we want to replace that with Indian pop”. The channel plans to market Indian fashion accessories, clothes and music in addition to airing imported television serials. Da Cunha, who has made a career of spotting cultural trends, was bullish: “India is going to be the new Korea of culture.”(Business Standard, December 20, 2014)  - goTop