Sunday, July 25, 2010

The SECA Kids

A colleague and I led an interesting heritage walk yesterday. We took 35 children from an economically disadvantaged background to Bangalore Fort and Tipu's Palace. The children, aged 6-16, are all part of an English class run by Swagath Education and Community Action, who, of course, do a whole lot more than just teach the children English.

We had taken the same children to Devanahalli last year - 48 of them last time! This time round, the numbers had reduced but their enthusiasm certainly hadn't! At Devanahalli, I had had a constant stream of questions - on guns, cannons, moats, the fort, Tipu, his sons....I was thrilled to see that they remembered so much of all that this time. They drew comparisons between the two forts, they had more questions, and they were bursting with answers and comments too!

At the end of the day, they gave us a card that they had made. The drawing shows Devanahalli Fort. Check out the three cannons on the fort walls, the two guards at the arched gateway, the little lines of soldiers in the foreground....I love it!

Monday, July 19, 2010

The one and only Ashoka

I happened to go to Koppal (in north Karnataka) a couple of months ago to see some Ashokan inscriptions maintained by ASI. As one who hated, nay abhorred, history in school, precious little of what I had 'by-hearted' about Ashoka remained in my memory - fought a war in Kalinga, was filled with remorse, converted to Buddhism, planted trees on roads.

There are two inscriptions at Koppal, one at Palkigundu and the other at Gavimath. You can barely make out the writing from the rock. And it doesn't help that at Palkigundu, some idiot has scribbled his name right on the inscription. But despite all that, the two 2300-year-old messages incised into the rocks stirred something in me. Not the usual All-hail-to-the-all-conquering-king. Nothing about the enemy submitting at the lotus feet of the ruler. Instead, a humble admission that he, Ashoka, had been a worshipper for a couple of years but had only applied himself for about a year, with dramatic results. And then an exhortation to all, whether exalted or not, to do the same so that "gods and men might mingle." In inscriptions elsewhere in the country, Ashoka talks of how he had given up military conquests and wanted only dhamma conquests! And all this because of a war.

Think about it. Have you heard of any other ruler in world history humane enough to recognise the costs of war and repent after one? I know of none. Not one. Even today, you still hear more of the "you're either with us or against us" kind of talk from world leaders, and only lip service, if at all, about the devastation brought about by war...

And talk about being progressive - Ashoka even had ministers for women's welfare!

So yes, as you can see, I came back from Koppal with an addition to my list of favourite people in Indian history!

Palkigundu is beautiful, by the way: hills, goats, goatherds, one dog, birds, quiet all along the way; and history waiting at the end of a lovely trek. What more could one ask for?

Today's Deccan Herald has my article on the Ashokan edicts at Koppal and Maski.