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Covid-19 – the second churning

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We, the Government

By Hugh & Colleen Gantzer

Covid-10 has virtually destroyed the world’s greatest social industry: Travel, Tourism, and Transportation. This modern commercial activity was based on the human urge of people to meet other people, to form friendships, communities, villages, cities, towns, and cooperatives of nations like the European Union and the Confederation of Helvetia, generally known as Switzerland.

This compulsion to reach out to our neighbours and team up with them, for our mutual benefit, was superbly described in the story of The Churning of the Ocean.

That great cooperative endeavour brought together the warring Devas and Asuras in their mutual quest for the Nectar of Immortality. Like the Samudra Manthan, as the Churning is formally called, the need to contain the scourge of Covid-19 has brought together all races, all religions, even sworn enemies. That, however, is the Churning’s most obvious relevance. In fact, the more we analysed the account of the Churning, the more 21st century reflections we discovered in that timeless story.

The devas and asuras fell out with each other because of a misunderstanding over an auspicious garland. Indra, who had received the garland, had not been told of its sanctity and so he had draped it around his elephant’s neck. The flowers in the garland attracted bees and other insects which annoyed the elephant who threw it off and stamped on it. This offended Durvasa, the powerful and irascible Rishi, who had gifted the garland. He cursed all devas. This is an exemplary case of vilifying a community because of an unintended offence committed by one of its members.

A further consequence of this misunderstanding was that Goddess Lakshmi, the bringer of good fortune and wealth, withdrew her favours from the devas for what she perceived was their arrogance in the handling of the auspicious garland. In a huff, she left, depriving the devas of good fortune. This was another reason for the devas to initiate the Churning: they knew that she would emerge as one of the gifts floating to the surface.

It is important to remember that at least three of the fourteen gifts created by the Churning were divine women. These included Madura or Varuni, goddess and creator of Wine; the entire community of Apsaras; and Lakshmi.

Clearly, therefore, in ancient Indic society, women were held in particularly high esteem. In fact the consorts of male deities exercised the dynamic power of the duo. They were their shaktis. When the all-powerful Lord Siva drank the creation-destroying Halahal poison, which had emerged out of the Churning, it was his consort, Parvati, who saved him. She plunged into Siva, in her aspect as Mahavidya, the Great Doctor, and confined the spread of the venom, or virus, to his throat. This gave him one of his names: Neelakantha.

In spite of the powerful role that women have played in this foundational belief of Indic faiths, we see a clear contradiction in the assertively machismo structure of today’s Indic society. Why have so many of our righteous netas kept women out of the limelight? In fact the growing trend towards a hyper-macho, chest-thumping, paternalism seems to be a vicious anachronism, completely unsupported by traditional beliefs.

It also surprised us to discover that one of the treasures that came out of the Churning was Madura or Varuni, the Goddess of Wine. We recall that the imposition of Prohibition was often justified by netas who claimed that alcohol was against our Ancient Cultural Heritage. Clearly those politicians were either ignorant or bluffing. We don’t say that there cannot be logical reasons for banning the consumption of alcohol by We, the Government who elect the netas, but it is absolutely unethical to lie about non-existent traditions to justify your whim!

And because fighting Covid-19 has deterred physical contact, we foresee a growing backlash against the enforcement of social distancing when the virus is finally defeated. It will manifest itself as a renewed acceptance of public displays of affection. If an Indian PM and a US President can, so openly, hold hands to affirm their friendship, then why can’t any other couple? When this Churning ends, so will many social shibboleths.

We wish our readers, their families, friends and associates, a Very Creative Easter Season.