Not so colourful, yet enlightening – Holi!

Holi is popular in India for its bonfires and colourful festivities. Whilst the story behind it is rather dark, it still brings some valuable lessons with it. Here’s what happened:

A demon called Hiranyakashyap, in his bid to establish himself as the supreme self, sought immortality. He knew a penance for Brahma, the creator of the universe, would lead to a boon. The effort paid off as Brahma appeared. Though impressed, Brahma denied immortality stating that no boon could stand against the cycle of life and death. Hiranyakashyap, shrewd that he was, requested an alternative boon. He set five conditions for his death: 1. that death doesn’t strike him during the day or the night, 2. that no weapon should be able kill him, 3. that no god, human or animal be able to kill him, 4. that he dies neither inside the house nor outside and 5. that he dies neither on the ground nor in the sky. Hiranyakashyap smiled as the boon was granted. Convinced that he’s almost immortal, Hiranyakashyap went berserk expecting people to worship him as almighty! Those who didn’t, met fatal punishments. Hiranyakashyap’s sister Holika too attained a boon from Brahma making her immune to fire. The brother-sister duo thought they had got it all!

While the world shivered, Hiranyakashyap’s nemesis was nowhere but in his own house. His son Prahalad was a devotee of Vishnu, the preserver of the universe and didn’t accept his father as almighty. When all attempts to get Vishnu out of Prahalad’s mind failed, Hiranyakashyap decided to get Prahalad killed. Divine intervention from Vishnu invariably saved Prahalad’s life. Hiranyakashyap was left miffed when Holika reminded him about her boon. She asked him to arrange for a pyre, on which she would step in along with Prahalad. This time, things didn’t work as planned. Holika got charred to death. Like always, Vishnu’s magic saved Prahalad. In a debate that ensued, a frustrated Hiranyakashyap quizzed Prahalad on Vishnu’s whereabouts. Highlighting Vishnu’s omnipresence, Prahalad pointed to a pillar in the room, stating that Vishnu dwells in that pillar too. Hiranyakashyap knocks the pillar down with his mace. The room illuminates as a unique creature appears from the pillar. A human body with a lion’s head. The creature drags Hiranyakashyap to the main door of the house, puts him on his thighs and tears open his stomach with its claws. It was twilight. The creature was Narsimha, the fourth incarnation of Vishnu.

And here are some key lessons from the story:

1. Absolute power does corrupt absolutely: Hiranyakashyap’s five conditions worked well to start with and made him almost immortal. With no imminent danger in sight, he ruthlessly went about enforcing himself the supreme godhead of the world.

2. You’re smart only till someone outsmarts you: Vishnu circumvented each of the clauses smartly put by Hiranyakashyap and killed him without nullifying Brahma’s boon. Boons, if not handled well, become banes.

3. Miss the fine print and feel the heat: Holika, in her attempt to eliminate Prahalad, forgot the one condition that came with the boon. She was immune to fire if she and she alone encountered it. Here, she had Prahalad with her. Boons do backfire!

While you have a colourful Holi year on year, ensure you don’t wash off the lessons it offers.

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Let’s Churn the Ocean – Part 2

Let’s Churn the Ocean – Part 2

A Managerial Lesson from Mythology…contd.

In the first part (Let’s Churn the Ocean – Part 1), you read how the Devtas set their objective, identified a target zone, got their SWOT right, consulted an expert, formed a team and mobilized resources to begin with ‘Samudra Manthan’. Here’s what happened next:   

The ‘ground’ zero was ready to witness action, with everything now in place. The team of Devtas & Asuras got to work. The Devtas pulled the tail end of the rope, the Asuras pulled the head end and the rod got rolling. Thus began the quest for immortality. The ocean released various objects – mystic creatures, herbs and precious stones amongst other things whilst the sides kept pulling away, waiting for ‘Amrit’.

Get your hands dirty & keep pulling: After questions like what, where, who and how got answered, the team didn’t waste time and got to the ‘do’. The resources were put to use and the efforts were made. The churning bore fruit and the successes were shared and celebrated. The coveted ‘Amrit’ wasn’t one of the firsts to come out. The team exhibited high levels of patience and persistence as they kept pulling.

Before ‘Amrit’ came ‘Halahal’ – the most venomous of poisons. Such were the fumes emitted from the poison that both sides could not bear and started collapsing. The menace of deadly fumes were proving to be fatal for the whole universe. Realizing the gravity of the situation, Devtas and Asuras asked Lord Shiva for help. Shiva drank the poison which turned his throat blue. Thus Shiva came to be known as ‘Neelkanth’ – the one with the blue throat.

Expect the unexpected: Mess makes its own way and this was not different a case. The churning released something the team did not want. They were in a spot and couldn’t move ahead till this was fixed. Having realized they couldn’t do anything about it on their own, the team was quick to reach out to someone who could (and would) manage it for them. Resilience and pragmatism are qualities the team demonstrated.

The churning finally resulted in Dhanwantari – the celestial Physician appearing from the ocean holding a pot containing ‘Amrit’. This is where the churning stopped and both sides fought for their right to claim the pot. The Asuras were swifter and ran away with the pot. A brawl amongst the Asuras kept them away from sipping ‘Amrit’. The Devtas in the meanwhile sought help from Vishnu. Vishnu, in order to distract the Asuras, took the form of ‘Mohini’ – a beautiful woman. The Asuras, mesmerized, let Mohini distribute the ‘Amrit’. Vishnu’s plan worked and he started distributing the nectar among Devtas. The Devtas smiled as each one of them sipped immortality.

Get your way: As soon as the objective was achieved, the relationship of convenience ended. By all means, each wanted the other side to be deprived of the final reward which was a result of a joint effort. The Asuras could have controlled the universe had good sense prevailed. And when push came to shove the Devtas, with the help of Vishnu, didn’t shy away from deploying deceit. Immortality was too good to share.

Sensing something fishy, an Asura called Rahu disguised himself as a Devta, queued up and ended up gulping a sip of the nectar. Two Devtas, Surya, the Sun & Chandra, the Moon identified Rahu and informed Mohini. That’s when Vishnu reverts to his original form and chops off Rahu’s head using his powerful discus. Rahu, now immortal, stayed alive and cursed the Devtas for playing foul. To pacify him, Vishnu granted him a place in the solar system. Rahu vowed to ensure Surya & Chandra lose their luminous nature from time to time. An eclipse is what we know this occurrence as.

Bear collateral damage: The Devtas did not come out of the churn scot-free. Though all of them sipped the nectar, became immortal and achieved the overarching objective of controlling the universe, they did end up having an Asura join their league. That’s not all. Though only occasionally, the two Devtas who blew the whistle then, are paying the price for the same till date.

–X–

I am sure you agree that ‘Samudra Manthan’ not just gave Devtas immortality but also left us some lessons to learn from in-terms of navigating towards our own objectives. I hope this piece inspires you to churn your ocean!

Let’s Churn the Ocean – Part 1

Let’s Churn the Ocean – Part 1

A Managerial Lesson from Mythology

‘Samudra Manthan’ is a popular chapter in the Hindu Mythology. The story sets up when the Devtas (Gods) and the Asuras (Demons) team up to churn the ocean with the objective of unearthing the treasures held underneath. The sequence of events is interesting and is a management case study of sorts to learn from. This is my attempt to share the story (courtesy: information available in the public domain) along with the management lessons derived therefrom (brought to you by: yours truly). Here is part one:

The Devtas were in a constant tussle for control over the universe, particularly their abode heaven, with their foes the Asuras. Under the leadership of Indra, the Devtas realized that ‘Amrit’ – the nectar of immortality was the solution. A sip of ‘Amrit’ would give them an edge and make them invincible against their dreaded foes.   

Set clear objectives: The Devtas had a well-articulated and specific objective as their starting point. The objective also had strong reasoning and a great incentive attached to it to make it worth the effort and exciting at the same time

Like the landmass on the face of the earth, the Devtas knew that the ocean too held, under its vast depths, a range of unique and valuable objects. They knew that ‘Amrit’ would be one of these and it had to be churned out.

Know your target zone: Though it’s not very clear so as to how they knew it, it’s almost certain that the Devtas had a thorough recce or research or access to some reliable information which lead them to the ocean as the area to focus on

The Devtas realized that churning the mighty ocean would be too enormous a task for them to plan and execute on their own. They needed someone equally capable to pull this one through.

Assess capabilities: With the ‘what’ & the ‘where’ answered, the Devtas would have then put their heads together to ascertain the key skills needed to churn the ocean. They would have done their SWOT and identified gaps that were to be filled before they ventured into the task. Identifying ‘who’ was the logical next step

The Devtas then sought help from Lord Vishnu. Assessing the situation, Vishnu suggested the Devtas to form an alliance with the Asuras to churn the ocean. Vishnu also assured the Devtas that he would ensure only they get to consume the ‘Amrit’. In his role as the preserver of the universe, Vishnu wanted the Devtas to be stronger.

Consult the right people: Comes into picture, a consultant. With an objective to achieve and the ‘what’ and ‘where’ in place, the Devtas seek expert advice so at to address the ‘who’ question. The expert here comes up with a difficult but sure shot solution. The Devtas, though perplexed, are convinced that it’s the right one. A clearly expressed intent and assurance from the expert that the situation could be steered to their advantage later was also helpful

Taking advice and assurance from Vishnu, Indra made a proposal to Bali, the king of Asuras. The proposal obviously was to jointly churn the ocean and share the spoils that result from the effort. The proposal was agreed to by the Asuras and thus an unprecedented alliance between the foes took shape.

Team-up: Egos were left behind and the Devtas prepared a proposal. Bitter-sour experiences of the relationship were a thing of the past as the need of the hour was upheld. Achieving the objective was the only priority as the Devtas approached the Asuras. The Asuras, though wary, saw it as a win-win. The foes agreed to share the effort and the fruit. Team norms were in place. A historic deal was inked.

Ready to work as a team, the foes turned friends needed a churning rope and a rod capable of tacking the might of the vast ocean. Mount Mandara was used as the rod and Vasuki, the serpent was used as a rope. To keep the mountain stable, Vishnu took the form of a tortoise, on the back of which the mountain was placed. This came to be known as the ‘Kurma Avatar’ – the second of the ten incarnations of Vishnu.

Mobilize resources: Now that the team was in place and on the same page, the ‘how to’ question had to be answered. To tackle the might of the problem, the team mobilized the best of the resources available. Requests were made, help was sought. The consultant too joined to play a larger role. The churn was about to begin!

— x —

That’s all for now in part one. Read the second and final part Let’s Churn the Ocean – Part 2 to know if the ‘team’ performs together, how they manage emergencies and what happens when ‘Amrit’ finally comes of out the ocean. More importantly, stay tuned to see what the story has in it for you.