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Author Archives: Pankaj Adhikari

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Will AI augur well for humanity?

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Science is supposed to be the pursuit of truth, but there might be decidedly something unscientific and possibly even dangerous about the commercialization of artificial intelligence (AI) over the past several months.

The era of ‘move fast and break things’, the longtime mantra of Silicon Valley giants, is now facing a severe challenge from the AI technology.

Last year’s launch of OpenAI’s ChatGPT, which became the fastest-growing app in history when it hit 100 million users in only two months, showcased the technology’s lucrative potential and spurred companies into action.

However, leading AI experts have urged companies to take a cautious approach and warned about the risks and dangers posed by this ground-breaking technology.

Tech firms, including Google and Microsoft, are pouring billions into the AI research with Alphabet adding $115 billion in value after unveiling new AI tools. Amazon has announced the launching of its own in-house AI model known as Titan.

But where is this race leading to?

The former CEO of Twitter and Tesla CEO, Elon Musk, who isn’t usually known for expressing regret a lot publicly, lamented that he had committed mistakes in forming the company that became OpenAI, the originator of the game-changing ChatGPT artificial intelligence company.

Musk thinks the world is woefully unprepared for the impact of AI. The technology will hit people “like an asteroid”, he said revealing that he had used his only one-on-one meeting with the then President Barack Obama to push for the AI regulation. He proposed a six-month ban on artificial intelligence to ensure better planning and management.

Bill Gates, however, has rejected Musk-backed plan to pause the AI research.

On May 16, OpenAI CEO Sam Altman during a Senate panel hearing had urged US lawmakers to regulate the AI, describing the technology’s current boom as a potential “printing press moment” but one that required safeguards. “We think that regulatory intervention by governments will be critical to mitigate the risks of increasingly powerful models,” he had said in his opening remarks before a Senate Judiciary subcommittee.

He said the potential for AI to be used to manipulate voters and target disinformation are his “areas of greatest concern,” especially because “we’re going to face an election next year and these models are getting better.”

Sen. Richard Blumenthal explained that it could just as easily have produced “an endorsement of Ukraine’s surrendering or Vladimir Putin’s leadership.” That, he said, “would’ve been really frightening.”

The new AI tools, which have been developed by several tech firms in recent months, met with backlash from their critics for their potential to disrupt millions of jobs, spread misinformation and perpetuate biases.

Former diplomat Henry Kissinger, 99, says he wants to call attention to the dangers of AI the same way he did for nuclear weapons and warns it’s a ‘totally new problem’.

Author Yuval Noah Harari argues society needs time to get artificial intelligence right.

Geoffrey Hinton, known as the “godfather of artificial intelligence”, has decided to blow the whistle on the technology, raising concerns over its use.  The 75-year-old is particularly concerned that these tools could be trained to sway elections and even to wage wars. He recently quit a high-profile job at Google specifically to share his concerns that unchecked AI development could pose danger to humanity.

Hinton has highlighted four possible dangers in the coming years: Military applications, misinformation and disinformation, jobs lost and the rise of dictators. His concerns are shared by the Center for AI Safety, an organization dedicated to reducing the societal-scale risks from artificial intelligence.

What causes alarm 

Our human brains can solve calculus equations, drive cars and keep track of the characters in succession, thanks to their native talent for organizing and storing information and reasoning out solutions to thorny problems. The roughly 86 billion neurons packed into our skulls — and, more important, the 100 trillion connections those neurons forge among themselves — make that possible.

By contrast, the technology underlying ChatGPT features between 500 billion and a trillion connections. GPT-4, the latest AI model from OpenAI, knows “hundreds of times more” than any single human. Hinton says maybe it has “much better learning algorithm” than we do, making it more efficient at cognitive tasks.

He suggests that a global agreement similar to the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention might be a good first step toward establishing international rules against weaponized AI.

In March, more than 1,000 researchers and technologists had signed a letter calling for a six month’s pause on AI development because, they said, it poses “profound risks to society and humanity.”

What would smarter-than-human AI systems do? Malicious individuals, groups or nation-states might simply co-opt them to further their own ends. What’s not clear is how anyone would stop a power like Russia from using AI technology to dominate its neighbors or its own citizens. Hinton says AI chatbots, for instance, could be the future version of election misinformation spread via Facebook and other social media platforms.

And that might just be the beginning, Hinton had said. “Don’t think for a moment that Putin wouldn’t make hyper-intelligent robots with the goal of killing Ukrainians.”

“Humans are more important than money,” says Yoshua Bengio, one of the pioneers of AI technology.

Humanity now is at the mercy of a vast and uncaring universe. As I write this, I’m reminded of Byron’s terrible tale of apocalypse and despair in his poem “Darkness”.


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US and the ‘Cult of the Gun’

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A US federal judge in Virginia had ruled last week (May 11) that young adults (under the age 21) cannot be barred from having a handgun. Banning licenced firearms dealers from selling guns to those under the age of 21 is unconstitutional, the judge had said.

According to the  Gun Violence Archive, there have been more than 200 mass shootings across the US so far this year. (A mass shooting is defined as an incident in which four or more people are injured or killed. The archive figures include shootings that happen at homes and in public places.) There have been two in Texas early this month – five killed at a home in Cleveland, north of Houston, and eight dead at a shopping mall in Allen, near Dallas.

In each of the last three years, there have been more than 600 mass shootings, almost two a day on average.

Last week, Virginia’s District Judge Robert E Payne had argued in a 71-page filing that federal age regulations in the purchase of handguns violate the Second Amendment. Currently, adults between 18 and 20 can purchase guns through their parents or guardians but are not allowed to buy them from registered dealers themselves in Virginia.

My heart aches when I had read the report. Isn’t the judge a father? Even if he isn’t a father, doesn’t it cross his mind that such ruling will lead to further mindless shooting and loss of innocent lives!

Easy access to firearms has led to senseless shooting and loss of innocent lives over the past three decades. In Las Vegas in 2017, the deadliest attack killed more than 50 people and left 500 wounded.

As many as 48,830 people have died from gun-related injuries in the US during 2021, according to the latest data from  the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

That’s nearly an 8% increase from 2020, which was a record-breaking year for firearm deaths.

Every mass shooting in the country has been followed by a familiar political drama: Democrats call for new gun-control measures, such as a ban on assault-style weapons, and point out the US is the only advanced nation in the world where gun violence keeps repeated in such frequency.

Republicans counter that the right to possess firearms is enshrined in the US Constitution and that new gun-control legislation would be counterproductive. Because of the nature of US government, there’re little changes on a national level.

Following the mass shooting in April that had killed six at a school in Nashville, Tennessee, President Joe Biden had said: “We’ve to do more to stop gun violence. It’s ripping our communities apart.” But, ‘doing more’ faces a number of serious roadblocks in Congress.

After 20 children and six adults had been killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut on December 14, 2012, a majority of the US senators had supported passing legislation requiring expanded background checks for gun purchases. But because of the filibuster – a parliamentary procedure that requires at least 60 votes in the 100-seat Senate to pass most legislation – a simple majority was not enough.

Presidents came and went, but similar tragedies strike again and again, kids get orphaned and cries of heart-broken mothers fill the air.

President Barack Obama though had made sincere efforts to curb the gun violence. After the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy (December 14, 2012), he had broken down at a press conference on the issue of gun control measures. The President had tried to bypass Congress utilizing his executive powers to outline a series of measures to curb gun violence, through the expansion of background checks. Unfortunately, all his efforts went in vain, thanks to powerful gun lobby and the US constitution.

Although congressional efforts at sweeping gun control were stymied in 2015, gun-control activists made substantive progress in passing new laws at the state level.

In Connecticut, there was overwhelming support for reform from the communities still reeling from the brutality of the Sandy Hook attack. Other Democratic-controlled states – like New York, Maryland and California – have passed their own legislation, closing gun-show loopholes, limiting magazine sizes and prohibiting the sale of certain types of firearms.

A Washington Post data says everyday in the US more than 40 children lose a parent to shooting.

Where are we headed to? Imagine!

A society which is immersed only in corporate-driven consumerism, where only materialism matters and where affluence and luxury are the sine qua non of people’s every day existence, the Virginia judge ruling will surely be greeted with more kudos than disparagement. When will the Americans be able to realize that accruing more and more wealth and enjoying endless other commodities won’t bring happiness in their lives? Well, ‘happiness’ is difficult to pin down, let alone measure.

David G. Myers in his book “The American Paradox: Spiritual Hunger in an Age of Plenty” says: “Our becoming much better off over the last four decades has not been accompanied by one iota of increased subjective well-being.”

The US will continue to sacrifice its babies to the altar of guns and this ‘cult of the gun’ will continue unless right-thinking citizens rise to the occasion and take to the streets to bring about changes in the constitution.

Wake up guys! Your ‘single step will make a giant leap’ for your fellow citizens!



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Sunak takes chopper ride for short trip as UK economy gasps for breath

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UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s helicopter ride from London to Southampton, especially at a time when the country’s economy has been gasping for breath, came in for severe criticism from residents as well as netizens across the country. Sunak took the chopper for a trip to Southampton and back to London that would have taken just over an hour on train.

The incident has once again brought into sharp focus a serious issue whether our leaders are really in touch with everyday concerns, and whether they really bother about common people’s woes.

The UK economy had avoided recession by high inflation and worries about a weak growth outlook, the GDP increased by 0.1% between October and December after a preliminary estimate of no growth, according to official data which showed a boost to households’ finances from state energy bill subsidies but falling investment by businesses.

British economic output remained 0.6% below its level of late 2019, the only G7 economy not to have recovered from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) had forecast in January that Britain would be the only Group of Seven major advanced economy to shrink in 2023, in large part because of an inflation rate that remains above 10%.

There are currently more than one million vacancies in the country, about three millions more than before the pandemic, and 21% of the working population is “economically inactive,”  an increase of half a million since 2019, according to the Office for National Statistics.

Amid this gloomy economic scenario, Prime Minister Sunak’s chopper ride to a pharmacy in Southampton to promote healthcare policy has drawn sharp flak from the UK residents.

One of the residents justifiably slammed him as an “unelected billionaire” who used taxpayers’ money for the trip which could have been taken by train. One netizen lambasted the Prime Minister calling him ‘climate criminal’.

Price for a train journey from London to Southampton round trip is 30 pound (Rs3105) while the cost of a VIP chopper ride is 6,000 pound (Rs 6.21 lakh).

Sadly enough, the son-in-law of Infosys co-founder N.R. Narayana Murthy and Sudha Murthy, who is well-known for her charity and philanthropy, is using taxpayers’ money while the UK economy is in the doldrums. From a lavish mansion to a spacious sea-facing penthouse, Sunak and his wife Akshata Murthy own a couple of luxurious properties in the UK and the US.

The helicopter flight to the port city where he was raised is likely to add to the public perception that Sunak, whose net worth is 730 million pound, is hardly concerned with the problems of the masses.

Let’s take a look at Sweden. In Sweden, former PMs push shopping trolleys and mayors queue for public buses. The country doesn’t offer luxury or privileges to its politicians. Without official cars or private drivers, Swedish ministers and MPs travel in crowded buses and trains, just like ordinary citizens. They don’t have any right to parliamentary immunity; they can be tried like any other person. With no private secretaries at the door, their bare-bones parliamentary offices are as small as eight square metres.

No one in public life earns an obscene multiple-digit salary: the take-home pay of a member of the Riksdag (Swedish parliament) is approximately two times more than what an elementary school teacher earns on average.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte uses cycle to reach his office. He makes the journey by bike as often as possible for sustainable development impact. “I didn’t cycle a lot for 10 years. But for the past two years, I’ve had my own bike again and, when the weather allows, I travel into the office that way,” he had told the World Economic Forum in 2019.

Netherlands lives up to its cyclist-friendly reputation and has the most bicycles per capita of any country in the world.

Well, if we look at the life style of today’s political leaders we notice most of them use expensive cars, wear costly suit or specs and are guarded by a wall of security at the expense of public money.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s monogrammed suit has entered the Guinness World Records after his two-piece suit with his full name vertically embroidered on the fabric multiple times to resemble golden pinstripes, was sold at an auction for Rs 4.31 crore in Surat in 2015, making it the most expensive suit ever auctioned. Reports say the suit was worth Rs 10 lakh.

We have seen billionaire politicians like Donald Trump, former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, Chilean President Sebastian Pinera and former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, to name a few.

It’s not easy to achieve, but simplicity should be a vital goal while serving the public. Remember former Indian Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri (1964-1966) and his simplicity, humility and tolerance? A man of the masses, Shastri-ji was driven by principles only while today’s politicians are driven by lust for power and pelf.

When former interim Prime Minister Gulzarilal Nanda had died in Ahmedabad on January 15, 1998, his family needed just one bag to pack his belongings.

Only time will tell when we’ll be able to get rid of the power-hungry, corrupt and dishonest politicians, who are fleecing common people with false promises, hypocrisy and double-speak.


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Media and ‘celebrity’

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The word ‘celebrity’ is becoming overused these days and its misuse has emptied it of its real meaning. It’s time we found out who’s a ‘celebrity’ in true sense of the term. Media has been indiscriminately using the term for a long time, beating the trumpets of public figures who’re far from real ‘celebrities’. A real ‘celebrity’ will always stand by his or her values and beliefs rather than his or her celebrity status.

Let’s take a look at what today’s ‘celebrities’ are advising.

While endorsing a drink, Amitabh Bachchan urges people ‘to try it’ knowing well it has hardly any health benefits. Everyone knows it contains sugar which is deadly and contributes to obesity, a serious health issue across the world especially in the developed country.

Similarly, Shah Rukh Khan has been endorsing a popular soft drink on TV. The company had roped in Ranveer Singh, Chiranjeevi and Mahesh Babu as its brand ambassador until 2021. The question also remains: Does SRK himself take the same drink often? Or, will he ask his kids to take it regularly? I’m sure the actor maintains strict physical and eating regimens.

Another US-based beverage maker has recently appointed Ranveer Singh as its brand ambassador and also unveiled a new campaign targeting younger consumers.

Hrithik Roshan, the brand ambassador of another soft drink, urges consumers to take a particular drink. Kiara Advani has been currently endorsing another soft drink which had been earlier endorsed by Katrina Kaif for more than 16 years. All the soft drinks available in the market are detrimental to health. Drinking such sugar-sweetened beverages will have various impacts on health. These range from increased chances of tooth decay to a higher risk of heart disease and metabolic disorders like type 2 diabetes.

In contrast, Cristiano Ronaldo at a press conference at the European Championship (2020) had snubbed Coca-Cola. He had pushed aside two bottles of the popular soft drink placed in front of him. His message was: “No Coca-Cola”. The gesture had a dramatic impact. The company’s market value had slumped $4 billion.

Obesity, a major reason of which is unrestrained consumption of soft drink, has become a serious health hazard in the US. Over the past three decades, childhood obesity rates have tripled in the US. Today, the country has some of the highest obesity rates in the world: one out of six children is obese, and one out of three children is overweight or obese.

According to the National Family Health Survey (NFHS) conducted between 2019 and 2021, about 6.4 per cent of India’s women and 4.0 per cent of men aged 15-49 are obese.

On February 14, 2021, less than a month after former India cricket captain Sourav Ganguly had been discharged from hospital following his second angioplasty, an edible oil firm was back with a new ad featuring Ganguly.

Real celebrities are those who’re good human beings, those who work tirelessly for the welfare of mankind, who never ever resort to unethical ways and whose hallmarks are honesty and integrity.

I recall Sachin Tendulkar’s “Playing it my way—My autobiography” where Sachin’s father Ramesh Tendulkar, an acclaimed Marathi poet, critic and professor, made a profound remark. “As a parent, I would be happier hearing people say “Sachin is a good human being” than Sachin is a great cricketer” any day.”

Can we think of any ‘celebrity’ now who’s ready to imperil his stardom to advance a social cause just the way American singer Harry Bela Fonte did in 1956? He had joined Dr Martin Luther King Jr. in pursuit of loftier goal, leaving his career ambitions.

He had served as one of the lead organisers of the USA for Africa “We Are The World” single, raising $100 million for famine relief in Ethiopia. Belafonte had worked ceaselessly for breaking Hollywood’s racial lines, and used his stardom to change how Black characters were portrayed.

Media’s ‘celebrity’ worship has been doing irreparable damage to society. Newspapers pages, especially entertainment/sport pages, are awash with photos of ‘celebrities’ who are far from real ‘celebrities’. Growing up with such a notion of ‘celebrity’ and ‘celebrity worship syndrome’ will be disastrous for our kids and society.

It’s time media focused on real heroes who make a tangible difference to the greater good of our lives.

Do you know?

There are 39gm of sugar in a Coca-Cola can.

35gm of sugar amounts to about seven teaspoons of sugar?

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Mizoram India’s ‘happiest state’

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Teachers are students’ best friends in Mizoram. Parents in the north-eastern state do not put pressure on their kids. Every child in the state goes for work early and is independent and self-supported. Despite having ‘broken families’, students are determined to reach their goals and upbeat about their success in life. A study by Rajesh K Pillania of the Management Development Institute (MDI) at Gurugram, has revealed.

According to Prof Pillania’s report, Mizoram is the happiest state of India. Pillania, popularly known as India’s Happiness Professor, has made seminal contribution to the study of happiness in India.

“Mizoram’s happiness index is based on six parameters including family relationships, work-related issues, social issues and philanthropy, religion, COVID-19‘s effect on happiness, and physical and mental health,” the report said.

According to the report, Mizoram, the second Indian state to achieve 100 per cent literacy, offers students opportunities for growth even in the most difficult of circumstances.

“A student of the Government Mizo High School (GMHS) in Aizawl, Mizoram, has had to face several difficulties since his father abandoned his family when he was young. Despite this, he remains hopeful and excels in his studies. He hopes to become a chartered accountant or appear for civil services exams if his first choice does not work out,” the report said.

Similarly, a student in Class 10 at GMHS aspires to join the National Defence Academy (NDA). His father works in a milk factory and his mother is a homemaker. Both are hopeful about their prospects because of their school.

“Our teachers are our best friends, we are not scared or shy of sharing with them anything,” one student said. Teachers in Mizoram regularly meet students and their parents to address any problems they may be facing.

One of the factors contributing to the happiness of the youth is Mizoram’s social structure. “It is the upbringing that adds to youth being happy or not, we are a casteless society. Also, parental pressure for studies is less here,” said a teacher of Eben-ezer Boarding School based in Aizawl.

Every child regardless of gender in the Mizo community, goes for work early, the report further stated.

“No task is considered too small and youths typically find employment around the age of 16 or 17. This is encouraged, and there is no discrimination between girls and boys,” it said.

Mizoram has a high number of broken families, but having many peers in similar situations, working mothers, and financial independence from an early age means children are not left bereft. “When both genders are taught to earn their living, and neither is dependent on the other, why should a couple continue to live together in an unhealthy setting?” asked the teacher of Eben-ezer Boarding School.

Pillania, who taught thousands of students and executives about happiness strategy, has written 11 books and reports on Happiness such as Happiness Strategy, Happiness Diary: My Experiments with Happiness, India Happiness Report 2020, India Cities Happiness Report 2020, World Happiness 2021, India Happiness 2022 and World Happiness 2022.

Pillania’s pioneering work has earned kudos from HH Dalai Lama, and management legend Philip Kotler.


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Bullet train or upgrading basic rail infrastructure?

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At a time when the Central government is leaving no stone unturned and working overtime to introduce Bullet train (Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Japanese counterpart late Shinzo Abe laid the foundation stone of the bullet train project in September 2017, connecting Mumbai and Ahmedabad), as a rail enthusiast I’d like to raise a few points to the rail ministry to put things in perspective.

I grew up in a suburb near Kolkata, India where our house was very close to the railway tracks. As a child, I was fascinated as trains passed by our house hooting and puffing in the dead of night. I could hear the sounds of trains piercing the silence of the night and it took me to a world which words can’t express!

Every Indian, I’m sure, has an incredible romantic railway memory. Remember the scene in Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali (Song of the Little Road, 1955), where we see the boundless joy on the faces of Apu and Durga as they are sprinting through kash fields to see the oncoming train?

A crowded local train compartment

Early this month, while coming back from Santiniketan, I had to take Ganadevata Express from Prantik station (Birbhum district, West Bengal). The station has no ramp putting elderly persons in serious trouble in carrying their luggage. The long and spacious platform was poorly lit making things hard to see in the dark. Insufficient light also made it difficult for me to locate my coach as the train pulled into the platform. Moreover, the PA system at the platform was appalling. There was just one loud speaker at the platform which was hardly audible from the spot where I was waiting for the train.

I believe the rail authorities would look into these issues before introducing high-speed trains which cater only to the affluent section of the society.

Now, let’s take a look at the deplorable state of local trains. They perennially run late. Most of the train coaches are old and decrepit. Rundown and shabby interior stare at you as you step into the compartment. Windows are mostly non-functional. About the cleanliness, hygiene and floor of the compartment, the less said the better.

On assuming power, Prime Minister Modi had promised to modernise India’s railways and build high-speed trains befitting Asia’s third-largest economy. Modi’s dogged determination to turn this slow, uncomfortable and unsafe railway network into a faster, high-tech driven and reliable transport system deserves accolades.

But, there is an urgent need to strengthen and upgrade the basic infrastructure of the Indian railways keeping in mind the safety of the millions of daily commuters. Running trains on time, keeping coaches clean and ensuring rail travel safe and comfortable should be the priority.

A typical evening scene at Sealdah station

It is estimated that the fares of the bullet train may range between Rs 4,000 and Rs 5,000 to make the running of trains economically viable. How many of us can afford this?

According to Amit K. Kamila, IRSSE (retd) and a rail tech expert, the Indian railways has been making untiring efforts to beef up basic infrastructure. “The Dedicated Freight Corridor Corporation of India Limited (DFCCIL) has been working for Line Capacity enhancement. The Eastern dedicated Freight corridor (1,856km) consists of two segments: an electrified double-track segment of 1,409 km between Dankuni in West Bengal and Khurja in UP and an electrified single-track segment of 447 km between Ludhiana (Dhandarikalan) – Khurja – Dadri in the states of Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. Of which the work on the freight corridor from Ludhiana to Chiraila Pauthu has already been completed.”

More and more freight trains are taken out of existing lines to make them occupied by passenger trains, Kamila added. However, the work on the last leg (Gaya to Dankuni) is being hindered due to land acquisition problem in West Bengal, he rued.

Kamila was all praise for Sudhanshu Mani, who led the team of engineers that designed the Vande Bharat Express. “We are grateful to Mr Mani for building purely indigenous semi-high-speed Vande Bharat at a remarkably cheaper cost.”

Kamila emphasized the need for multi-modal transport system to ensure comfortable journey for the millions of commuters who travel from the suburban areas to the mega city every day. “In Bengal, we don’t have as yet any six-lane expressway to travel from, for example, Kolkata to Krishnanagar or Gobardaga,” he said.

Kamila added: “Does the Bengal government have financial power (as per central government rules) to fund the Metro rail?”

Well, there’s no silver bullet to turn India’s deplorable rail network into a top-class performer. But, if we have the will, we can turn the impossible into a reality with someone like Ashwini Vaishnaw at the helm.

Photo: Tapas Sen

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Gangasagar: My tryst with spirituality and faith

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Continued from the story, ‘Gangasagar: Waves of faith and in search of moksha’

Evening descended on the Sagar Island as the mela ground was swept by the sea of humanity. I could see from the two-storey building’s (where we had put up) balcony busloads of devotees arriving at the mela ground. Although weighed down by exhaustion, I saw sparkle in their eyes as they alighted from the vehicles. The sight of an old woman clutching tightly the hand of her son and tottering her way to the mela ground symbolised the pilgrims’ unshakeable faith and spiritual aspiration.

John Bunyan’s spiritual classic The Pilgrims’ Progress came to my mind. Well, the journey there was from the City of Destruction (representing Earth) to the Celestial City (representing Heaven).

Brilliantly illuminated Kapil Muni temple

Meanwhile, the public address system kept announcing the names of the missing persons, asking the concerned families to contact the organiser. The mela ground was brilliantly lit up. I went downstairs trying to mingle with the crowd to feel the pulse of the pilgrims. “I’ve come from Allahabad with my septuagenarian mother to take a holy dip,” said Bipin Varma, a banker. “I’ve no complaints about the arrangements made by the district administration. They’ve done an incredible job.”

I woke up at 5.30am the next day (January 15) and got ready for the holy dip. By the time I reached there, lakhs of devotees and seers had already taken their bath at the confluence of the Ganga and the Bay of Bengal, braving the cold. “I just had my holy dip for which I had been waiting for years,” said a young woman from Ujjain, MP. “My parents also took their bath to wash away all sins and set them free from the cycle of birth and death.”

“I’ve been coming here for the past 10 years and will come next year also,” said an old Naga sadhu from Jammu.

Idol of Kapil Muni

Crowds gather in front of the temple

I finally took my holy dip at that brahma moment and proceeded to Kapil Muni’s temple to offer puja. Construction of the present-day Kapil Muni Temple was completed in 1973 with the state government’s aid after a number of temples had been destroyed by natural calamities.

More than 50 million pilgrims reportedly visited the mela this year.

There is a saying “Shob teertha baar aar, Gangasagar ekbar” (You can visit another pilgrimages several times, but you can come to Gangasagar only once). As I left the mela ground, I thought I was fortunate to take the holy dip during that auspicious moment.

Mela over, but my memories of Gangasagar and the pilgrims’ journey will remain forever—a journey symbolising spiritual aspiration, profound faith and deep devotion.

 A peek into history

 The myth of Gangasagar is all about the tryst between the circle of life and death and the allure of Moksha. And the heart of this devotional destiny is the iconic Kapil Muni temple.

‘Sagar Raja’, the ancestor of Lord Ram and ruler of the Ikshvaku dynasty, decided to perform the Ashwamedha Yagya as directed by Sage Aurva. It was believed that performing 100 Ashwamedha Yagyas would help one gain dominion over the entire earth. Lord Indra (the King of God according to Hindu mythology), the only one to complete the 100 Ashwamedha Yagya, feared that he would lose his ascendancy to a mortal, and hid the sacrificial horse near Kapil Muni’s hermitage.

Irate Sagar Raja sent his 60,000 sons (Sagar Putras) to find out the missing horse. The Sagar Putras decimated everything on their path and reached the Sage’s ashram. Upon discovering the horse, the Sagar Putras mistook the Sage for the thief and started hurling abuse at the meditating sage. The commotion hindered the Sage’s meditation. Enraged, Kapi Muni opened his eyes and turned the 60,000 Sagar Putras into ashes, condemning their souls to hell.

Years later, Angshuman, Sagar Raja’s descendant, discovered the horse still standing at Kapil Muni’s ashram. He performed austerities to please the Sage. Content with Angshuman’s effort, the sage gave his permission to retrieve the horse and learned that the souls of his ancestors could only be freed after performing Shraddhas with the holy water of the Ganges. Raja Angshuman and his son Dilip couldn’t complete the Shraddhas because Agastya Muni had drunk all the water from the ocean due to a severe drought.

A generation later, King Bhagirath undertook the task of freeing the condemned souls and prayed to Lord Brahma, the creator, to free his ancestors’ souls. He asked him to pray to Lord Vishnu to allow the holy Ganga to ascend on earth. Upon agreeing, he cautioned that the sheer force of the Ganges would wipe out the entire creation if it went unchecked and asked him to pray to Lord Shiva. Shiva agreed to bear the entire force of Ganga on his matted hair. In the meandering labyrinth of Shiva’s hair, Ganga lost her brute force and descended on the earth, gently caressing all existence. Bhagirath was finally able to perform the last rites of his ancestors, liberating the souls from the fires of Patal Lok.

With passing years, the myths turned into legends, legends into stories, and stories into beliefs. The river Ganga was also given the name Bhagirathi, after Raja Bhagirath, and the sea got its name ‘Sagar’ after Sagar Raja and the island, Sagardwip.


Thanks for stopping by.