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Musings on Sita's "agni-pravEsam" #14

From: sudarshan (lucasfie_at_md2.vsnl.net.in)
Date: Tue Dec 15 1998 - 10:23:19 PST

Dear members & friends who are following this thread,

"anumAnam" in the Vedantic tradition is recognized as one of the principal
"alternate ways" in which the human mind pursues, perceives and apprehends
Truth.

What is "anumAna" ?

It is the bridge which our rationality throws across the distance between
"appearance" and "reality". When we cross that "bridge" we easily
accomplish the "leap of inference" which transports us from the slippery
slopes of Unknowing to the safe shores of Certainty.

"Inference" or "anumAna" is, in other words, the vehicle which carries us
from "known truths" to "unknown Truth" .... from "mere appearance" to
"essential Truth".

For instance, it is "anumAna" indeed which takes us from the "appearance"
of smoke to the "truth" of fire.... and so we have the common idiom: "where
there is smoke there is fire". 

It is the same inference of "anumAna" too, which if you have noticed, leads
one to make that common quip,"Tell me who your friends are and I will tell
you who you are." 

Again, it is "anumAna", indeed, though of a very high scientific and
sophisticated order, which made Newton "infer" the truth of Gravity from
the appearance of a falling apple.....

The examples no doubt can be cited endlessly.... but it would
just suffice here if we properly understood that most of the "truths" with
which we live and swear by in this world ---- in this vast, whirling world
of sensory phenomena ---- most of such "truths" are really and largely
apprehended by us only through the inferential process called "anumAna".

The question we may then be led to ask is: "Is it possible to attain the
Vedic Truth gloried by the "purusha-suktam" .... "vedAhamEtam purusham
mahAntam...."  ..... is it possible for us to attain that "para-brahm-ic"
Truth through the same inferential process by which mankind vaulted over 
falling apples to land at the grand realization of the universal Law of
Motion and Gravity?

No, say the Vedas..... "nAnyafpanthA".... there is no way...not by
"anumAna"
in any case.... 

Why?, we may persist in asking.

It is because just as the physical faculty of "pratyaksham", as we saw
earlier, possesses infirmities and limitations... so too is the human
faculty for rational inference naturally afflicted with several flaws and
imperfections. Consequently, flawed inference oftentimes leads us to
grievously flawed truth.
          
*******************    *************    *****************

Now, sometimes "anumAnam" leads one, in fact, to make downright absurd
conclusions too. A funny instance of how "anumAna" went astray was once 
recounted by my "manaseega-AchAryan", Sri.Mukkur Swamy II ... and it will
bear recalling here before we proceed to relate it all to the events of the
"agni-pravesam". 

"One early but bright "mArghazhi" morning, many years ago" he began....
"I was proceeding from home in Mambalam to Lord Parthasarathy's temple at
Tiruvellikeni. Unable to engage an auto-rickshaw immediately I strolled
over to the nearest bus-stand. Along with about half-a-dozen others
gathered there, I began the long and patient wait for the rare privilege of
Chennai's public transport."

"After about a quarter of an hour I witnessed a most unusual event..... it
was so unusual that a few of my fellow passengers-in-waiting too were drawn
to it."

"About a hundred yards from where we stood at the bus-stop, Usman Road
turned sharply into Doraisamy Road. Suddenly an auto-rickshaw pulled up at
this same street-corner. Eager to engage it, a few of us quickly proceeded
towards the rickshaw until what we saw abruptly halted us in our tracks."

"I saw an elderly brahmin gentlemen alighting from the auto-rickshaw. His
deportment and demeaneour indicated that he was an orthodox "vaidika
brahmin".... he wore his "dhoti" in the traditional "pancha-kaccha" style,
a rough-hewn shawl was draped around his shoulders, he wore the tuft on his
head and displayed proudly on his body and limbs were the 12 marks of the 
"Urdhva-pundram" that shone forth with dazzling "brahma-tejas" ( the lustre
of religious grooming) ! He looked extremely venerable, indeed... every
inch the man given to observing the puritanical discipline of impeccable
Vedic conduct."

"As I watched him alight from the rickshaw, I saw this "vaidika" gentleman
pull out some currency from under his shawl and give it to the
rickshaw-man..... the fare perhaps, I thought. A moment later I saw him
mutter a few words to the same rikshaw-man.... and then to my utter
surprise, and to all those gathered there at the bus-stop, I watched the
venerable "brahmin" suddenly stride across to the other side of the road
and enter "Radha Bhavan"..... the wayside restaurant!!".

"We were simply aghast. I was speechless, dumbstruck..... I could not
believe my eyes!

"Here was I, it flashed across my mind, here was I watching the living
proof of Vedic degeneration in the age of Kali !!"

"As if echoing my own mortification, another gentleman who was standing
beside me in the bus-stop, who too had just witnessed what I had, began to
mutter under his breath to himself but within earshot:

"Oh, dear, dear....", he said, "What a sorry sight! Oh 'tempora'! Oh
"mores"! What a fall indeed for the Vedic ideal ! Why should it surprise us
that it doesn't rain enough in the land; why should it surprise us that
there is hunger, poverty and disease in this land? Why should it surprise
us that the gods themselves curse this land of ours .... this accursed land
where a "vaidika-brahmin", in full "brahma-vEsham" and regalia, including
his 12 "nAmam-s", his face radiating "vedic-tEjas".... a "brahmin" like
that thinks nothing of striding boldly, without the least compunction, into
a filthy, wayside restaurant for commoners.... that too in the broad
daylight of an auspicious "mArghazhi" morning ! Oh dear, dear, dear me....
what have we come to in this hallowed land of the Vedas.... I wonder what
the 'vaidika' gentleman is up to now! Feasting on what the restaurant
serves him perhaps! Yesterday's rancid "medu-vadai" turned into today's
steaming-special "vadai-curry" perhaps ..... !!".

Mukkur Swamy continued, "When I overhead my companion's anguished but
derisive remarks, a great sadness enveloped me too. The sight of a
"vaidikan" caught 'in flagrante delicto' transgressing the Vedic code,
caught entering a wayside restaurant .... just like that ....!! It pained
my heart to see one of our faithful brethren... one of our own.... commit
the unspeakable!!"

"Unable to tolerate this blatant act of Vedic tresspass," Mukkur Swamy
continued,"I decided then and there to confront the "vaidika" gentleman".

"As he came out of the wretched "Radha Bhavan" I strode up to him and
accosted him in a very belligerent manner."What a shame you are, Sir, to
the Vedic community! You who look so venerable, so full of "brahma-tejas",
how could you stoop to such low behaviour?".

"The poor elderly brhamin turned to me," said Mukkur Swamy,"and looked at
me with obvious perplexity.

"Pray tell me, SIr, what have I done now, at this auspicious hour, in the
month of "marghazhi", at this spot here at the intersection of Usman Road
and Doraiswamy Road, in the good neighbourhood of Mambalam, in this big
city of Chennai..... pray tell me what have I done that has brought shame
on the Vedic community and which has moved you to such indignation that it
has brought you here godspeed to pick a fight with me first thing in the
morning!", said the the old man equally belligerently.         
 
"I then confronted him with the evidence", said Mukkur Swamy,"with the fact
of his visiting "Radha Bhavan" --- a commoner's wayside restaurant ....
unclean and un-vEdic ....

"How do you explain your conduct, SIr? Is it becoming of you to do this?
You who have obviously had "pancha-samskara" ....
"samAshrayanam" too!

************           ******************    *************************

At this point in the narration Sri.Mukkur Swamy paused and looking askance
at us with a mischievous twinkle in his eyes, asked, 

"Do you know what the old vaidika brahmin did next?".
"He drew his shawl over the shoulders and drawing himself up to his full
height, hands on hips, he shouted at me :

"Oy, hold it right there! Hold it! Your "anumAna" has gone all awry!"

             ***************************************************

Later it was explained what the old "vaidikan" meant by saying that Mukkur
Swamy's "anumAnam" had gone awry:

It seems the poor old brahmin on alighting from the autorickshaw had handed
out the fare with fresh currency notes.

The rickshaw-man however had expressed difficulty in returning change for
he did not have the necessary denominations of coins.

The old man had then pleaded with the rickshaw-man to go over to "Radha
Bhavan" and convert the currency notes into change at the restaurant's cash
counter.

The rickshaw-man however had had better ideas. 

"Swamy, these restaurateurs are very rude fellows," he had said.
"If I go at this early hour in the morning and ask the Radha Bhavan cashier
for small denomination change... believe me, he will scream and throw me
out!
On the other hand, you O venerable Swamy, you who look so holy, so full of 
Vedic piety, if you went up to Radha Bhavan and asked for change.... I am
sure
they will not turn you away... they dare not shoo away a good brahmin as
they surely
will an auto-rickshaw man like me.

"So I beseech you, Sir, kindly proceed yourself to Radha Bhavan to procure
the change and settle my fare!"
 
****************       *********************      *******************

And that was how the poor old 'vaidika-brahmin' had paid a visit to Radha
Bhavan !!

And that was how, too, Mukkur Swamy's "anumAn-ic" inference.... that the
old brahmin
had travestied and disgraced the whole Vedic community .....that was how,
in the end,  the "anumANa" of Mukkur Swamy was rendered absurdly
erroneous  !!

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So, now, what has all this got to do with "anumAna" and with the
"agni-pravesam" in the Ramayana? 

We''ll find out in the next post. But meanwhile may I request you to please
go back to Musing#7 and re-visit the Ramayana scenes described there?

adiyEn dAsAnu-dAsan,
sudarshan