by Dr. Bhaswati Bhattacharya
MPH MD (Family Medicine)
PhD (Ayurveda ‑ BHU)
The ancient land of Bharata was once an island. Connected deep underground to the molten heat of the earth, the island travelled north through the Tethys Sea and crashed into the ancient land of Laurasia to form the sacred space of the Himalayas. The mythology of this former island is reflected in the slowly emerging knowledge from the modern sciences, which only validate the metaphors of wisdom behind the myths.
The term Bharata is rooted in several Sanskrt terms, bha, light, lustre, splendour; bhara, from the root bhri of bearing and carrying forward, supporting something of mass; bharataa, to maintain something of value; and bharata, meaning fire, known as agni with its myriad meanings, including the inner fire engaged in the search for knowledge.
Bharata is also the official Sanskrt name of the country Bharata Ganarajya, known today as India due to its most recent invaders who played off the Persian term of indus, those on the far side of the Indus river. But this is a mistranslation. Bharat will Always include that land east of Afghanistan down to the tip of the land known today as Indonesia which are inextricably interdependent through their connection with the winds and waters of the Bay of Bengal as part of the Indian Ocean. Known also as Akhanda Bharata, it is the ecosystem of indestructible (akhanda = indestructible) connection of Nature, which includes the water, air and soil of 11 modern countries.
Bharata describes the land where the inner light burns, that of wisdom, that of resolve, that of curiosity and searching for knowledge. It describes the fire that burns to keep us alive, in our gut, our mind, our heart. Some will search for the Right meaning with a linear demand, thinking that a term should have only one correct meaning.
Just as a solid tree has many roots, to understand Bharat the thinker must let go of linear ideas of mathematics and see time as a spiral. In the spiral, each concept has many meanings that layer into a richness over many layers.
We must stop translating Sanskrt terms into English and instead explain meanings with stories and demonstrations, just as we do when teaching children language. Ancient Bharatiya sciences, including Ayurveda, have faced almost 200 years of denigration and condescension, due to the strange worship by Indian “scholars” of Shakespeare, Mendeleev, and Microsoft, but do not know Vaharamihira, Jagadish Chandra Bose, Shailendra or Al-Biruni. They reminded us of the spiral of time.
To understand deeper meanings of difficult concepts that carry us toward true wisdom, notice that complex scientific terms are not translated in the west. No one translates coronavirus for us, though it is a technical term in virology. No one translates megabyte, or GDP, or hybridization. We are forced to understand the terms by going deeper into their source and their usage. To understand Bharat, we must stop translating Sanskrt.
If we look deeply, Bharata tries to teach us many lessons. The light of knowledge is abundant in the hypocrisy and stark opposites of the land, with saints and criminals co-existing. Poverty and extreme wealth co-exist. Private planes dash off past slums lining the fenced airport, to which only the elite have access; yet the slum children jump in joy watching those jets fly. The land erupts in jewels, which are stolen and exported off to foreign lands. The land even supports many religions, and those of its ignorant children who think of Hindooism as a religion. Hinduism is as much a religion as being Organic is. A way of life has been branded religion, and we the worshippers stay silent and tick off the Hindu box on the Census.
We know the many ways of seeing the divine laws of Nature and admiring them and choosing to live life according to them has been twisted into worship of a pantheon of Gods. Misinterpreted as religion, the sanatana dharma is a philosophy of embracing Nature and its laws of harmony, of understanding the mathematical laws of light and sound and time, and of knowing action is linked to fruits and consequences, of embracing the magic of the interplay of matter and energy. We allow the Truth to remain in the shadows, because the light of its Truth would blind the world, like the star Abhijit.
Over layers and layers of knowledge and wisdom, each of the children of Bharat searches for a different facet of the brilliant diamond, a different unfolding of the 1000-petaled lotus. Those who visit the land behold a different aspect that holds their attention. In ancient times, it was the black pepper and magical healing of the spices of the Malabar coast. It was the intelligent craftsmanship of the people, taking pieces of Nature and converting it to tools of function and beauty. Whether it was pearls from the ocean, or brushes made of strands of coconut or banana leaves, or stones carved into pillars, the people of ancient Bharat were masters over nature. They took plant fibers from hemp and cotton and wove strong ropes and softest cloth for adorning the body. They embraced leaves of Vetiver and made window blinds. They took metals and incinerated them to make medicines that cured sickening ailments. They took wood that floated and made canoes and ships to visit friends and trade wisdom.
Of course, the visitors were amazed and coveted these talents and the products made from harnessing Nature. They exploited, rather than learning and joining in respectful efforts. They conquered rather than collaborating with the masters. Their understanding of the Universe has been a zero-sum game, disconnected from the interdependence of the earth with its living creatures, invested in the illusion of material wealth and power as a function of ownership. Conquerors and leaders of the free world are trapped in their illusions of a one-dimensional soul, and a one-dimensional existence.
What unites all who have the DNA of Bharat is the yearning for greater understanding and knowledge beyond the loka of the physical world, using that fire that is inborn and programmed into us. Born of the soil and air, water and time of Bharat, we are children who search for greater connections with the different dimensions of Being in the world.
The physical part of our Being hunts for Health and satisfaction of the 5 senses that interface with the physical world. The mental and intellectual part of our Being seeks joy that arrives when we sense harmony of understanding. The emotional part of our Being yearns for love and acceptance, to live in a comPassionate world with a sense of connection with others who feel life. The spiritual part of our Being follows the whispers of ecstasy and bliss found in knowing the energy that is Infinite.
Through all our professions, talents and goals, we are actually all playing the game of fire of Bharat, lighting knowledge and feeding from the light as it slowly disintegrates our bodies back into soul-form. This most recent story of independence in 1947 was the Bharatiya fight for independent thought and will, the ability to move freely and self-reliantly, known as swatantra, freedom.
Unless we understand the value of what our grandfathers fought for in creating the modern structure of India, and unless we value having that independence, we do not know freedom. Freedom from misunderstanding and violence, from struggles for artificial power is true freedom. Freedom from ignorant narratives of religious strife planted into our head by feudalistic values is true freedom. Living with our hearts and minds aligned with our actions is true freedom. Engaging in work that is in harmony and respectful of the living earth is the path to freedom, as it engages us in the flows of Nature, the ultimate Harmonizer. Freedom and independence depend on understanding our inextricable relationship with Nature, and knowing we are a miniscule but indispensable member of its machinery.
Harmonious interdependence is Independence.
This column is dedicated in loving memory with deep pranams to my mother, who taught me the meanings of Bharat and who passed into Independence from the physical world last month, to join the cosmic consciousness on her most infinite of many journeys.
Dr. Bhaswati Bhattacharya
MPH MD (Family Medicine)
PhD (Ayurveda ‑ BHU)
The South Asian Times Columnist Dr. Bhaswati Bhattacharya is a Fulbright
Specialist 2018‐2022 in Public Health and Clinical Asst Professor of Medicine, Weill
Cornell Medical College, New York. Her bestselling book Everyday Ayurveda is
published by Penguin Random House.