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Around the World

Leonardo da Vinci, was he an Arab?

So, the Italian great, Leonardo da Vinci may, after all, be of Arab heritage. So says Alessandro Vezzosi, the man in charge of the museum in da Vinci’s home town, Vinci.

He is basing himself on the evidence produced by researchers in the University of Chieti who went through 52 manuscripts and paintings for three exhausting years, The Telegraph reports. The give away was a fingerprint of the index finger of da Vinci’s left hand.

He had used it to smudge a daub of paint in order to hide the shadow of a necklace in a painting identified as the Portrait of a Lady with an Ermine. It was found that the whorls formed on the finger were similar to the whorls formed in the fingers of 60% of the Middle Eastern people.

These revelations give support to a popular view held by scholars that Leonardo’s mother, who worked as a slave in Tuscany, a centre of art and learning, was brought there from Istanbul.

According to Alessandro Verzzosi, an expert on da Vinci, “We have documents that she was oriental, at least from the Mediterranean area. She was not a peasant of Vinci. Furthermore her name was Caterina, which was a very common name among female slaves in Tuscany at that time.”

If the fact of Leonardo da Vinci’s Arab heritage is established beyond doubt, then Da Vinci won’t be the only gift that the Arabs have made to the West.

We have been left in the dark about the many gifts the Arabs brought to Europe from India and China. Here is Prince Charles, heir to the throne of England, on the Arab contribution to Europe:

“... we have underestimated the importance of 800 years of Islamic society and culture in Spain between the 8th and 15th centuries. The contribution of Muslim Spain to the preservation of classical learning during the Dark Ages, and to the first flowerings of the Renaissance, has long been recognised.

But Islamic Spain was much more than a mere larder where Hellenistic knowledge was kept for later consumption by the emerging modern Western world.

“Not only did Muslim Spain gather and preserve the intellectual content of ancient Greek and Roman civilisation, it also interpreted and expanded upon that civilisation, and made a vital contribution of its own in so many fields of human endeavour - in science, astronomy, mathematics, algebra (itself an Arabic word), law, history, medicine, pharmacology, optics, agriculture, architecture, theology, music...and contributed to the study and practice of medicine in ways from which Europe benefited for centuries afterwards.”


Sinhala software

Software launched for Indian masses ran a headline in the Times of India the other day. And it went on to say that only 10% of the Indian people are literate in English. This they have found is a deterrent to those who would like to be competent in handling a computer.

At present we have two forms of keyboards in use, one being the Wijesekara script and the other a phonetic script. But the software in our computers speak only English. As a result, commands given by the computer fall on deaf ears.

Those that are not competent in English are unable to understand the commands and the only terms they understand being OK, No, Yes they generally click the OK button in order to proceed with their work. But a computer that speaks in the national languages would be readily understood.

So what we have to do is to get in touch with India or Israel, because the vernacular software is a joint production of these two, and place an order or orders for this software. The major Indian languages like Bengali, Hindi, Gujarati, Marati, Kannada, Telugu, Tamil, Urdu, Punjabi and Malayalam have software in those languages.

I am sure we have the brains to produce this software ourselves. It is fairly urgent as instruction in the use of computers in our school happens only haphazardly because even our instructors, too, may be finding that the software now in English is an embarrassment.


A spiritual ‘embrace’

The British, says the BBC, ‘are notoriously averse to being tactile.’ In other words, as the dictionary says, they are averse to being ‘affected by the sense of touch.’ If that is so, the BBC is wondering why they are travelling in their hundreds to ‘a giant hall in London all for a hug.’

The one who is waiting to hug them is the ‘Hugging Saint’ as the press is describing her, but who is called by her devotees simply as Amma; a sacred name by Eastern standards and here in Lanka the Amma is referred to as the Gedera Budun or the ‘Buddha in the home.’

My wonder is why the non-tactile British have suddenly, for a moment or two perhaps, dropped their native habit.

Here in the East millions would go and meet a Saint ignoring all the discomforts and the tactility. In the case of Amma who is addressed really as Mata Amritananandamayi, she has been around for nearly thirty years hugging people and bringing them great relief and happiness.

This is the twentieth time she has visited Britain. Her Charity known as the Amritanananda Math enjoys a consultative status with the UN. Her Math claims to have built 36,000 houses and a number of hospitals for the poor of India.

The hugs she gives, however, are free and she does not promote any religion, regarding all religions as one, and none being supreme. What the press calls hugs are, she says, ‘darshans’ and up to now she has given 25 millions of them, the count being kept by what is called a clicker.

The embraces she makes are like what a mother gives to a child. Such love awakens, she says, selflessness in the embraced. When asked what she expects to get out of her embraces, she said,

‘I don’t expect anything from anyone. My life is to give not to take.’ The place she gives the darshans is the hall of the Alexandra Palace in London. It is perfumed by the smell of incense and the sounds of chanting.

Rows of neatly arranged chairs are for the devotees who patiently wait for their darshan or hugs.

Some have been waiting up to 2 a.m., 3 a.m., 4 a.m. or until later. Amma will retire when there is no one left and will rest for about one and a half hours before she resumes her work for the day.

And what do the devotees feel when they are hugged? A devotee by the name of Katerina Diss, 52, says after she had her first darshan when interviewed by the BBC: “It’s difficult to put into words.

You are touched by something very profound that ripples through you. It’s something that is going to unravel itself over time.” The next in line to experience the darshan was that of the BBC reporter who writes: “Now it is my turn to experience the darshan.

I kneel before Amma and shuffles forward. She flings her arms open with a delighted smile that reminds me of the infrequent occasions I go back to see my mother.

“Amma takes me in her arms and I naturally melt into her embrace. Everything goes black. There is noise out there but it seems to become an indecipherable hum. It’s just calm and comfortable in my head and heart.

Amma murmurs into my ear, repeating something like Lo Lo Lo. Whatever the words, they have a power. She kisses my forehead and cheek, and finally we part. She lifts up my hands and kisses them; and that for some reason makes my heart leap.”

And what have the psychologists to say about the darshan? Dr. Elvidina Adamson-Marecio says that hugging releases powerful natural chemicals in the body. For instance, beta endorphin are released in the body when you are relaxed, she says, and are a natural opium. A hug can also induce that in a person.

Also, “Opening your arms is the act of a mother who is ready to comfort her child. But it is not only the action, it’s everything that comes with it like the emotions and affections that’s translated into a non verbal action. And of course it has to be right. It would not work if it was just a performance.”

- The Roving Eye




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