The Illusion of Nostalgia

Through the ages, in the writings of great thinkers and social commentators, we find a certain weakness for nostalgia. We often find passages that bemoan the fall in moral values in the present generation (as it applied to them) and how the days of the past were so much better. In the good old days, there were people who upheld the highest principles of morality in private and public life but not anymore! Even in the past century and a half, we find this lament in the writings and speeches of Tilak, Vivekananda, Gandhi, Aurobindo, and Bose – all the way up to some of our modern minds. Often, all of us are guilty of this too. There is a tendency to assume that the past was beautiful while the present is troublesome and future will be worse, given the constant degeneration of morals.

Even as early as the Rigveda, we find the proposition of the-future-will-be-terrible. Yama, the god of Death, tells his twin sister Yami, “Those later days are yet to come when sisters will start behaving in an un-sisterly manner!” (Rigveda Samhita 10.10.10).

In the Vana Parva of the Mahabharata (Book 3, Section 186) there is a discussion between the immortal sage Markandeya and Yudhistira (as well as the other Pandavas, Draupadi, Krishna, Satyabhama, et al.) in the forest of Kamyaka. During the discourse, Markandeya paints a rather gloomy picture of the Kali yuga. He says that when the previous era (Dvapara yuga) ends and the new era dawns, these would be the repercussions:

People will start telling lies. Rituals and donations will be done by representatives instead of those who are supposed to do them. Brahmanas start doing the work of shudras while shudras start acquiring wealth; kshatriyas begin to engage in rituals and other religious acts. Brahmanas abandon the study of Vedas and become omnivores. On the other hand, shudras engage themselves in prayers and meditation. The world looks topsy-turvy and this is an omen of universal destruction. Numerous sinful kings rule the earth. They govern their people on the basis of false principles...

People don’t do what they are supposed to do... people die young, they are physically weak and lack energy, and they hardly speak the truth. Human population steadily decreases and beasts of prey increase in number. The workers call the learned ones by their first-names while the learned address the workers as ‘Respected Sir.’ The animal population increases steadily. Perfumes are no longer agreeable to the sense of smell and the tastes of dishes don’t carry any special charm anymore. Women have many children and they lose their good manners. Famine strikes the dwellings of people. The crossroads are filled with prostitutes. Women in general become immodest. Cows yield little milk and trees give few flowers and fruits. Those who kill the learned ones end up accepting gifts from kings who are liars. People from good families are filled with ignorance and greed – they outwardly appear to be religious and go around begging for alms. Householders, afraid of the tax burden, take to deception. Brahmanas wear the robes of ascetics and they earn wealth through business. Many people, driven by greed, become monks but their actions are totally contrary to their station – they are addicted to alcohol, they are willing to have sex with anyone, they are lost in worldly pleasures and in matters of flesh. Ashrams get filled with sinful wretches who glorify the life of dependence.

Indra does not shower rain at the appropriate season and the seeds sown in the ground do not sprout forth. Men become wicked in thought and deed, taking pleasure in malevolence. The earth is filled with sin. And those who are honest and virtuous don’t live long. The crafty merchants sell large quantities of things using false weights and measures. The good man does not prosper while the sinner thrives and lives long. Virtue loses its strength while sin reigns. People behave indecently even in public places. People seek to achieve their goals through means that are wrong. And even after earning a little bit, they become proud of their wealth. Men will embezzle public funds and when questioned, they shamelessly say, “There’s nothing in the deposit!” Beasts of prey, snakes, and birds can be seen in cities and towns as well as in temples.

Girls of seven and eight become pregnant while boys of ten and twelve become fathers. By the time they are sixteen, men are run down by decay and their lifespan reduces. More and more youths begin to act like old men. And the old men behave like youngsters. Women behave indecently and deceive even the best of husbands. They sleep with menials and servants. And even the wives of great heroes seek the companionship of other men, forgetting that their husbands are still alive.

While the theory of constant degeneration of morals seems to be more a cognitive bias than anything else, it is remarkable to go through these predictions of sage Markandeya. While some of the claims are in the realm of the hyperbole, many of them seem to ring true when we observe our modern era.

At that point of time, the sage felt that all these traits were immoral. Today, our notion of morality has changed. Of course, many of the fundamental principles like honesty, compassion, cleanliness, and fortitude are still regarded highly, many aspects of lifestyle are seen through different lenses – be it food habits, sexual freedom, or clothing. That said, it’s remarkable to see many of his predictions coming true even though there seems to be no sociological or other basis for these predictions.

More interestingly, when we reverse all these predictions, we learn what the people of that era held as the hallmark of good living.

References

Ganguli, Kisari Mohan. The Mahabharata of Krishna-Dwaipayana Vyasa (1883-1896) <http://sacred-texts.com/hin/m03/m03187.htm>
Kane, Pandurang Vaman. The History of Dharmashastras. Vol. 3. Poona: Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, 1946
The Mahabharata (Sanskrit original) <http://sacred-texts.com/hin/mbs/mbs03186.htm>

This article was first published in Daily O as part of my column Commonsense Karma.

Comments

Author(s)

About:

Hari is a writer, translator, violinist, and designer with a deep interest in Vedanta, Carnatic music, education pedagogy design, and literature. He has worked on books like The New Bhagavad-Gita, Your Dharma and Mine, Srishti, and Foggy Fool's Farrago.

Prekshaa Publications

Prekṣaṇīyam is an anthology of essays on Indian classical dance and theatre authored by multifaceted scholar and creative genius, Śatāvadhāni Dr. R Ganesh. As a master of śāstra, a performing artiste (of the ancient art of Avadhānam), and a cultured rasika, he brings a unique, holistic perspective...

Yaugandharam

इदं किञ्चिद्यामलं काव्यं द्वयोः खण्डकाव्ययोः सङ्कलनरूपम्। रामानुरागानलं हि सीतापरित्यागाल्लक्ष्मणवियोगाच्च श्रीरामेणानुभूतं हृदयसङ्क्षोभं वर्णयति । वात्सल्यगोपालकं तु कदाचिद्भानूपरागसमये घटितं यशोदाश्रीकृष्णयोर्मेलनं वर्णयति । इदम्प्रथमतया संस्कृतसाहित्ये सम्पूर्णं काव्यं...

Vanitakavitotsavah

इदं खण्डकाव्यमान्तं मालिनीछन्दसोपनिबद्धं विलसति। मेनकाविश्वामित्रयोः समागमः, तत्फलतया शकुन्तलाया जननम्, मातापितृभ्यां त्यक्तस्य शिशोः कण्वमहर्षिणा परिपालनं चेति काव्यस्यास्येतिवृत्तसङ्क्षेपः।

Vaiphalyaphalam

इदं खण्डकाव्यमान्तं मालिनीछन्दसोपनिबद्धं विलसति। मेनकाविश्वामित्रयोः समागमः, तत्फलतया शकुन्तलाया जननम्, मातापितृभ्यां त्यक्तस्य शिशोः कण्वमहर्षिणा परिपालनं चेति काव्यस्यास्येतिवृत्तसङ्क्षेपः।

Nipunapraghunakam

इयं रचना दशसु रूपकेष्वन्यतमस्य भाणस्य निदर्शनतामुपैति। एकाङ्करूपकेऽस्मिन् शेखरकनामा चित्रोद्यमलेखकः केनापि हेतुना वियोगम् अनुभवतोश्चित्रलेखामिलिन्दकयोः समागमं सिसाधयिषुः कथामाकाशभाषणरूपेण निर्वहति।

Bharavatarastavah

अस्मिन् स्तोत्रकाव्ये भगवन्तं शिवं कविरभिष्टौति। वसन्ततिलकयोपनिबद्धस्य काव्यस्यास्य कविकृतम् उल्लाघनाभिधं व्याख्यानं च वर्तते।

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the third volume, some character sketches of great literary savants responsible for Kannada renaissance during the first half of the twentieth century. These remarkable...

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the second volume, episodes from the lives of remarkable exponents of classical music and dance, traditional storytellers, thespians, and connoisseurs; as well as his...

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the first volume, episodes from the lives of great writers, poets, literary aficionados, exemplars of public life, literary scholars, noble-hearted common folk, advocates...

Evolution of Mahabharata and Other Writings on the Epic is the English translation of S R Ramaswamy's 1972 Kannada classic 'Mahabharatada Belavanige' along with seven of his essays on the great epic. It tells the riveting...

Shiva-Rama-Krishna is an English adaptation of Śatāvadhāni Dr. R Ganesh's popular lecture series on the three great...

Bharatilochana

ಮಹಾಮಾಹೇಶ್ವರ ಅಭಿನವಗುಪ್ತ ಜಗತ್ತಿನ ವಿದ್ಯಾವಲಯದಲ್ಲಿ ಮರೆಯಲಾಗದ ಹೆಸರು. ಮುಖ್ಯವಾಗಿ ಶೈವದರ್ಶನ ಮತ್ತು ಸೌಂದರ್ಯಮೀಮಾಂಸೆಗಳ ಪರಮಾಚಾರ್ಯನಾಗಿ  ಸಾವಿರ ವರ್ಷಗಳಿಂದ ಇವನು ಜ್ಞಾನಪ್ರಪಂಚವನ್ನು ಪ್ರಭಾವಿಸುತ್ತಲೇ ಇದ್ದಾನೆ. ಭರತಮುನಿಯ ನಾಟ್ಯಶಾಸ್ತ್ರವನ್ನು ಅರ್ಥಮಾಡಿಕೊಳ್ಳಲು ಇವನೊಬ್ಬನೇ ನಮಗಿರುವ ಆಲಂಬನ. ಇದೇ ರೀತಿ ರಸಧ್ವನಿಸಿದ್ಧಾಂತವನ್ನು...

Vagarthavismayasvadah

“वागर्थविस्मयास्वादः” प्रमुखतया साहित्यशास्त्रतत्त्वानि विमृशति । अत्र सौन्दर्यर्यशास्त्रीयमूलतत्त्वानि यथा रस-ध्वनि-वक्रता-औचित्यादीनि सुनिपुणं परामृष्टानि प्रतिनवे चिकित्सकप्रज्ञाप्रकाशे। तदन्तर एव संस्कृतवाङ्मयस्य सामर्थ्यसमाविष्कारोऽपि विहितः। क्वचिदिव च्छन्दोमीमांसा च...

The Best of Hiriyanna

The Best of Hiriyanna is a collection of forty-eight essays by Prof. M. Hiriyanna that sheds new light on Sanskrit Literature, Indian...

Stories Behind Verses

Stories Behind Verses is a remarkable collection of over a hundred anecdotes, each of which captures a story behind the composition of a Sanskrit verse. Collected over several years from...