Sunday, May 30, 2010

#35. Gotra System in Modern Context

Hindu Gotra System
Media been giving wide coverage to the Khap Panchayats and their unreasonably rigid and inflexible stand on the question of same gotra marriages.
What What is gotra and how did it come about? It was the Brahmins who first tried to classify themselves according to gotra. This later on got extended to other varnas (Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra)) as well. To understand the concept, let us confine to gotra system in Brahmins. Each gotra takes the name of a famous rishi or sage, who was the patrilineal forebear of the clan. The original rishis after whom the gotras were named were eight in number namely Angiras, Atri, Gautam, Kashyapa, Bhrigu, Vashishtha, Kutsa and Bharadvaj. Gotras were further subdivided into ganas and sub ganas. Another concept is that of Pravars or Pravar Rishis who were 3 or 5 most excellent sages belonging to that gotra. Each Brahmin was known by his gotra, pravar, sutra and shakha. Thus introducing himself one has to say “I am XYZ of Srivatsa gotra of Apstamba sutra, of Tathiriya shakha of Yajurved, of the five Pravars named Bhargava, Chyavan, Aapnavan, Aurva and Jamdagnya.” (Example taken from Wikipedia).
While the gotras were initially classified under eight rishis, pravars were classified under seven rishis named Agastya, Angiras, Atri, Bhrigu, Kashyapa, Vashishtha and Vishwamitra.
Marriage between close relations increases the chances of congenital birth defects through an increase in the frequency of homozygots. A case in point is the Habsburg lip which by intermarriages was aggravated to the point that Charles II of Spain could not even properly chew his food. Even during those olden days in India, our ancestors were aware of the deleterious effect on progeny of marriage between close relatives. With a small population those belonging to the same gotra generally were related either closely or remotely either from the paternal side or the maternal side. And therefore, sagotra marriage or marriage within the same gotra was prohibited. It was a simple way of keeping the younger members of your family healthy both physically and mentally, so that he is fit to work in the fields, or fight in a battle, or work as a priest (I am talking of all the varnas together).As the population increased so did the number of gotras. Jamdagni descended (and got separated ) from Bhrigu, and so did Gautam and Bharadwaj from Angiras. Some other sages formed their own gotra. But then the number count stopped. At the last count there were about 119 gotras. No separate gotra for Ramtirth, Dayanand, Ramkrishna, Vivekanand or Ambedkar.
Later some types of relaxation were made for marriage between relatives, mainly for property considerations. Like South Indian Hindu society allowed marriage to maternal uncle’s daughter, or paternal aunt’s daughter., But marriage to father’s brother’s daughter was not allowed, as they belonged to the same gotra in the patrilineal society. (cross cousins vs, parallel cousins). With the increase in population, a short cut was evolved which allowed sagotra marriage by the maternal uncle adopting the bride. In matrilineal society of Kerala, the type of marriages allowed in patrilineal society was not allowed, as the gotra descended from the mother’s side.
So are the Khap Panchayats justified in taking an aggressive and sometimes violent stand against same gotra marriages? They have now extended their demand to ban same village marriage as well on the argument that generally the villages were originally settled by one extended family only. I do not think that the Khap are justified in taking this reactionary stand. It is a throwback to the times not by a few centuries but a few millennia., distorting the meaning of a good system for reasons which are beyond understanding. When the population of the entire country (India+Pakistan) was less than a crore during the days of Mahabharat, banning marriages in the same gotra had some justification, but it is hardly justified for a burgeoning Hindu population of about 900 million and which is still growing.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

#34. Some Poisonous Plants of India_ A Sequel

Thevetia peruviana

callotropsis gigantea


Acacia concinna_shikakai

Euphorbia Tirucalli

Added on Tuesday 11 May ‘10
Some more information on poisonous plants around us.
It is said that Madar milk (calotropsis gigantea) mixed with mother’s milk was used for infanticide during olden days. (My impression upto now was that Madar or Aak is not poisonous.)
Thevetia peruviana was used the same way. These plants are toxic to most vertebrates as they contain cardiac glycosides. Many cases of intentional and accidental poisoning of humans are known. A few bird species are however known to feed on them without any ill effects. One man's food is another man's poison!

Acacia concinna (Shikakai) which is used all over the country for its cleaning quality, especially for hair where it also acts as a detangler, is used in Bengal as a fish poison. The plant parts used for the powder are the bark, leaves or pods. The bark contains high levels of saponins which act as foaming agent. The saponins, apart from potent marine toxin has also spermicidal effect against human semen.
Of the two more plants which have come to my notice, the first is Diffenbachia. It is a very common potted plant seen in homes and offices all over the country. It is also a dangerous plant if the leaves are taken internally. The tongue gets thickened combined awith intense pain and a child can can choke to death in a minute or so with an adult taking about 15 minutes. Its sap if it goes in the eye can cause blindness.
More than quarter century ago when my daughter was a toddler the local civil surgeon had come to my official residence, saw a potted plant and advised me to immediately have it uprooted and burnt. He said that its sap if it goes in the eye can cause blindness. Today I searched for it in Bose's book . It is EUPHORBIA TIRUCALLI. Bose has written in the description that "it is extremely poisonous."

Most of the plants that I have mentioned in my blog are common household plants found in many home gardens. Poison is not difficult to find! Human life is so precious, but with nature strewn poisonous herbs all around it is so easy to poison somebody or to get poisoned himself.
Note: Some material is based on Wikipedia free encyclopedia.

Monday, May 10, 2010

#33. Acacia

Prsosopis juliflora......Vilaiti keekar

Acacia melanoxylon
Acacia mangium

Acacia tortilis

Acacia auriculiformis

Acacia Sengal

. Acacia catechu......... .Kattha,Khair

Acacia nilotica flower

Acacia nilotica in flower
(Picture credit Wikipedia, Blackwood image from the google search engine)

The Story of Babool

One hears about and sees babool all around in our country, but never know anything beyond the basic facts about the plant. I started my search on the net and some of the interesting facts I came to know for the first time. Acacia is a genus of trees and shrubs which has about 1300 species, about 960 native to Australia and the rest to the tropical and warm-temperate regions of Africa, South Asia and the Americas. In such a large group, obviously some would be good and useful to the human kind, and some of their cousins not so . A reputed quasi-religious organization of India has given a list of 3 no-no plants which are: Acacia, mangium and nilgiri. Mangium is Acacia mangium, an invasive but useful plant. Nilgiri is Eucalyptus, and it is admitted now openly or otherwise that its transpiration rate is high, and lowers the water level. But to condemn Acacia as a genus would not be fair. Some varieties are useful, and have been so for millenniums. Let us think about at least the prominent among them.
Acacia nilotica is our native babool. I am fond of it because it is the favourite of birds, as they find it safe for perching, roosting and nesting because of its large thorns. You can sometimes see a colony of baya nests hanging on it , and many a tree of this variety reverberate with the chirping of various birds like house sparrows, prinia, bulbul and other smaller birds. Its wood is used in villages for agricultural implements, and other minor furniture, and interior villages also use it for protecting trees from kettle during the first few years.
After delivery, the mother is given heavy protein in the form of sweets made of nuts, and dry fruits. Also included is laddoo made of gum and sugar which they say thickens the milk. Well, gum in the earlier days was collected from so many trees, but the best gum was obtained from Gum Arabic (Acacia Senegal). From the name it is clear that it is a native of Africa. It is found in West Africa from Senegal to Nigeria. Acacia arabica (a synonym of Acacia nilotica) tree is the gum Arabic of India, and gives gum of inferior quality. To add to the paradox, A.nilotica has become a species of serious concern in Australia as it is currently invasive in nature there.

What is Indian food without paan (betel leaf). Paan is laced with kattha and slaked lime. Betel nut, scented matter, and scented tobacco (for those who like it) are added to it to make it more tasty. Kattha is made from boiling the stem of Acacia catechu which generally grows wild in Indian forests and is jealously guarded by the forest officials. The tree is allowed to be cut only after it attains maturity.
Acacia melanoxylon (Blackwood) is a highly valued temperate acacia species. It is a native to Tasmania, South Africa and Chile. It can go upto 45 metres in height, and is used in construction and furniture making.
Acacia mearnsii (Black Wattle) is also an important temperate acacia.

Acacia modesta (Phulai) is a native of West Pakistan, Afghanistan and India (Punjab and U.P.). Wood is hard and durable, and is used in the villages for cane crushers, Persian wheels and other agricultural implements.

Acacia tortilis (Israeli babool) is the dominant tree of many Savannah communities. It grows wild in Sinai desert. Flowers are highly aromatic, and it can tolerate extreme arid condition. It is also known as Umbrella Thorn and is a staple browse for camels and goats. One tree gives 14 to 18 kgs of pods and leaves in the year. It is a Biblical tree, and it is believed that its wood was used for the Ark of the Tabernacle. This tree has been recommended for the reclamation of Rajasthan deserts, and I think it is an excellent idea.
Sweet acacia (A. farnesiana, Needle bush) is a weedy plant. Its roasted pods are used in sweet and sour dishes. Flowers are processed through distillation to produce a perfume called cassia. It is considered a serious weed in Fiji and parts of Australia.
Acacia planifrons (Umbrella thorn) is a native of southern part of India and Srilanka. Apart from its wood, there is not much to say about this specie.

Now we come to the more controversial species. The first is Acacia mangium. It can go up to 30 meters. It is a native of Australia (Queensland), Molluccan islands, Papua New Guinea and Indonesia. Large scale plantations have been developed in Indonesia and Malaysia. However, it is invasive in the sense that it replaces the local trees. In Tamilnadu the Forest department is cutting these trees. A. mangium is a fast growing species with numerous seeds and therefore it outperforms other trees. Each tree produces a kilogram of seed per year which is about 80,000 to 110,000 seeds. The result is that it stifles the growth of the native trees and disturbs the ecological balance. The tree has been found invasive in Sabah, Africa and Melville Island in Australia. The plus point of the specie is that it has rapid growth, and is tolerant of very poor soils. It can go upto 30 meters, 15m and 40 cm girth in 3 years and 23 metres in 9 years. Wood chips are used as paper pulp, and timber is used for building and furniture. A hybrid of A. mangium and A. auriculiformis has been found to be more vigorous and has better timber.
Leucaena leucocephala (Acacia palida), a native of Australia, was brought to India with much fanfare. It is an excellent proteinous fodder, and Indira Gandhi was so impressed with the plant that she said that it should not be called kuabaool' but subabool and the name stuck. It is a spindly tree and is easily spread by seeds grown in abundance. It spreads quickly in clumps in surrounding areas and it is difficult to get rid of.
Acacia auriculiformis (Earpod Wattle) is another variety which has recently been introduced in India. It is non-browsable and fast growing, and therefore liked by the Forest department. It is leguminous. It was used as an ornamental plant in Florida , but was found to have invaded pinelands, scrub and hammocks in South Florida, and thereby, displacing native vegetation and threatening to shade out rare plants. Its use as an ornamental plant has also been restricted because of the litter it produces. Overall, in spite of some good points, I do not think it is worth encouraging by the Forest as well as Horticulture departments.
A species which is often mistaken for acacia is Prosopis juliflora. This is a thorny shrub or small tree, native of Mexico, South America and the Caribbean. There was a time when for the reclamation of Chambal ravines near Gwalior in Madhya Pradesh its seed was sprayed by helicopter. The programme succeeded in the sense that it got established in the ravines but it also spread to the nearby areas. Soon it was found to be highly invasive in nature. It spreads on its own. Birds do not like the tree because it is so dense that it is unsuitable for roosting and nesting. In a study conducted in Kenya where it was imported, it was found to be not beneficial to the herders as it stifles the favoured grasses in spite of its being a source of livestock fodder in pods. It was found to be invasive into cropfields, grazing areas and wetlands which are useful for dry season grazing. Apart from the fuelwood use and fencing in a basic way, it was not found to have much use. On the whole, another useless plant.

The perception of the people about the invasive species is influenced by how they weigh their benefits against the harmful effects. The invasive plants have some good points but it is better to be cautious before introducing them to a new area. The invasive plants mentioned above have more minus points. The native varieties are always better. We have several instances of exotic plants brought to India with much hope and hype, or for their beauty, and have been found to have more harmful effects. Water hyacinth, lantana, ipomoea, parthenium, eucalyptus are all exotic, and they have had negative influence on our ecological balance. On the other hand, potato, tomato, cauliflower, green chillies, tobacco and sorghum are all exotic plants. So are apple and grapes (from the olden times).

#32. Some Home Truths


Some Home Truths!

Man is nearest to pigs.. No Sir, not to simians. Here is the proof: (a) it is human insulin which most of the diabetics take now. But some time back it was beyond the reach of many patients, and they used pig insulin. (b) The experiment which is going on in transplanting pancreatic cells of other animals is primarily concentrating on pig cells. (c) When our own Dr. Barooah tried to transplant animal heart into human body, he used pig heart. Need any more convincing? When a young lady whom you have teased gets exasperated she screams, “Mr. Smith, you are a p-e-e-e g”!
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Man is by specie a vegetarian. Good old days in the school one of our teachers had told us a story. Once there was a jungle fire, and a deer was burnt. A man saw it and out of curiosity he put his finger inside the flesh. It was hot, and the instinctive reaction was to put the finger in the mouth. And he liked the taste. Then started mutton eating and especially cooked meat. But whether prior to this he ate raw meat, or only fruits and roots? That is a moot point. But those who follow Jainism firmly believe that man is structurally made to be a vegetarian: (a) Our teeth are like herbivores and not like carnivores to hold the kill, puncture its neck and tear it. (b) We suck water like a deer and not lap it like a tiger (c) monkeys and apes are vegetarian (so is pig!). In any case if homo sapiens first came into existence (or evolved) in Africa, this might be true. Later climatic compulsions of colder regions made them carnivores. (Sorry, I don’t carry a brief for veggies).
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Will a day come when we will understand the language of the animals and birds? My own impression is that enough attention has not been given to this problem otherwise it was nothing very difficult to break. But yes, they have very limited vocabulary. The cry of the birds, the gibber of the monkeys and the frightened call of the deer when they get to know that a tiger is on the prowl are known to everybody. Some birds are cleverer than others. Crows. They may have a larger vocabulary. Have you seen the gregariousness of the crow when even for a small amount of eatables they would call all their brethren nearby to share it. On the other hand even if there is a dead elephant and a lone dog he would snarl if another one comes.. But no, wild dogs do hunt in a group. But probably for the selfish reason that for a lone dog it may not be possible to kill. Coming back to language of animals, in a dairy farm in Chhattisgarh I have seen cows being called by the number allotted to them, and they do respond. Even tribals and primitive societies have a limited vocabulary. Uncomplicated life and the absence of complex emotions and thoughts. Indo-European group of languages have probably the richest vocabulary than any other languages spoken in the world.