Two Incidents. One Lesson on Dharma

Two incidents happened in close succession in India recently. Both received extreme levels of coverage. One was even turned into a national debate. Both incidents have a great lesson on Dharma to tell us. Are we ready to learn the lesson, all over again? All over again only because we at some point in history we forgot that Dharma is the arterial root of a life worth living.

First incident

A Bangalore based young software engineer went missing in Bannerghatta National park. He was later found dead, after almost 40 hours of extensive search with the help of the locals. The death was most probably because of elephant attack. The software engineer with a couple of his friends went on trekking to the place. Initially, both his friends who reached nearby village told that the victim went to relieve himself and after that they couldn’t track him despite searching for him. One day later both of them changed the story that they heard rustle made by moving elephants when the victim went missing. A day later, the victim’s father rued to a national newspaper that had his friends revealed the complete story before hand, they could have probably saved the victim. Note this very carefully, in all probability, both the friends of the victim fled on the sight of danger. Very probable.

Second Incident

The second incident happened in the North East a couple of day before the first one. To most of the Indians today, North East comes to mind only if anything sensational happens. Pitiable as it is, the situation doesn’t seem to change one bit. The incident was quickly turned into a national debate. The incident continues to be debated strongly in various 24×7 TV news channels and social media alike. The whole debate is more or less in the direction of whether or not women have respect in this country and how alarmingly male chauvinistic Indian society is. But details of the story demand far deeper questioning and understanding.

So what really happened? Apparently, a young girl went to a bar with a couple of her friends – three boys – to celebrate a birthday party. The birthday girl forgot her credit card and the manager of the bar asked them to leave. Outside the bar, there was a physical fight among the “friends”. Some people near the auto-rikshaw stand intervened and after some crowd gathered, the birthday girl and three boys left the place leaving the girl alone. This was the point after which the girl was molested. In all probability, the girl was drunk too. Obviously, the outrage on the incident was huge.

What is common in these two incidents? Friends. The victims in both incidents were left with no one but themselves. The so called “har ek friend zaroori hota hai” anthem seems to have turned itself upside down! What really went wrong in these two incidents? This is a question that ought to asked, understood and answered.

As boring as they may be, Hindu philosophy and spiritual concepts continue to be give great wisdom. Its as if somebody sat and visualized all possible scenarios while framing some of the fundamental concepts of a good life.

Applying Dharma to Friendship

Anyone who has always, and unquestioningly so, seen and understood Dharma as only a concept related to Hindu worship would laugh at the very phrase “applying Dharma to life”. It is another thing that such a social education is not a reality in India, but such a social education doesn’t happen in a common Hindu house too! Dharma describes friendship in a very subtle way. In fact, the sanskrit root of the word “Sneham” or “Snehitam” used for friendship often is “Snigdha”. Snigdha literally means being sticky.

In Itihasas, stories of snigdha among people are many. Each of them, be it the story of Rama and Sugriva or the story of Krishna and Sudhama, plant a deep impact on how to choose friends. When Rama met Sugriva, they formally entered a bond of “Snehitam” by doing a “Sankalpam”. Never did Rama leave Sugriva when Sugriva fought Vali to get back Ruma. The consequences of such a sankalpam were far reaching. Vali was by no means a ordinary warrior. Vali was one of the greatest warriors of his time. Rama asked Sugriva to call Vali for a fight and strategizes to shoot Vali with his arrows. On first attempt, Rama doesnt even attempt to shoot Vali. Sugriva unable to face Vali, flees battle. Sugriva asks Rama “why didn’t you shoot arrows at Vali, as you promised?”. Rama replies “my arrow will never miss the target. Because you both look alike, I am unable to figure out who Vali is. How could I eliminate whom I vowed to protect?”. Such is the care with which one has to deal with a “Snehitah”. Such are the stories that used to be taught to every child in this country. “Snehitam” unfortunately today is reduced to giving and receiving gifts on friendship day and birthdays. The real meaning of Snehitam is lost in moth infested books on Itihasas and Dharma.

At some point in our past, we deliberately ignored these important stories on how to lead a life. Dharma teaches us to choose friends carefully. After all, when a “Snehitah” is not in a position to “stick” with you during difficulties and suggest you at all times so you don’t fall into danger, then what is the use of calling it “Snehitam”. Actually it is fitting that the word used to describe those who flee at the first sight of danger is “Friend” and not “Snehitah” or “Mitrah”. That way at least one can differentiate very aptly formed Sanskrit words from the vague English words where definitions are for namesake!

This lesson of Dharma is not to say that one should always protect “Snehitah” even though adharma is happening right in front of ones own eyes. Stories abound in Itihasas on this too. It is to understand these subtlities in Dharma and pass on the knowledge to posterity that Hindu civilization time and again encourages us to read and digest Itihasas. Had the victim at Bangalore and the victim at Assam learned their lessons of Dharma during their childhood, may be, just may be, they would have chosen “Snehitah”, who would have never allowed them to tread a wrong path and would have even pulled them out of a wrong path  instead of “friends” who first led them on wrong path and then at the first sight of danger, fled!

To conclude, read these Shlokas from Ramayana and learn their meanings here:

दत्त अभय वधो नाम पातकं महत अद्भुतं | अहं च लक्ष्मणः च एव सीता च वरवरणीनि ||

त्वत् अधीनम् वयं सर्वे वने अस्मिन शरणं भवान | तस्मात् युध्यस्व भोयस्त्वं मा शङ्की च वानर ||
PS: Probably this story has to be repeated as a part of every kid’s bednight story instead of a “princess in distress” story.
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5 comments

  1. I am sorry for those helpless victims.
    This is a great article. Keep writing more for us.

    Thank you.

  2. Sugriva’s wife’s name was Ruma.

    1. Right Noted. And corrected.

  3. panchtantra also has story of two friends encountering bear in forest. one runs & climbs tree. other play acts dead.

  4. Good post Sharma! Didnt know the backdrop for molestation in Guwahati

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