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Current Affairs 13 September 2023

CONTENTS

  1. Nataraja Sculpture
  2. Nipah virus
  3. Megalithic dolmen site
  4. Demand for Reservations: Maratha Community
  5. Vidya Samiksha Kendras
  6. Poila Baisakh: West Bengal Foundation Day
  7. Gene-drive technology

Nataraja Sculpture


Context:

Recently, The G20 Leaders’ Summit at Bharat Mandapam, New Delhi, featured a stunning 27-foot Nataraja sculpture, the world’s tallest representation of Lord Shiva in his dancing form.

Relevance

GS I: Indian Art Forms

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Key Highlights of the Nataraja Statue in Bharat Mandapam
  2. The Lost Wax Method
  3. History and Religious Symbolism of Lord Shiva’s Dancing Form (Nataraja)

Key Highlights of the Nataraja Statue in Bharat Mandapam:

  • Material and Weight: The Nataraja statue at Bharat Mandapam is a remarkable creation made from an ashtadhatu, which is an eight-metal alloy. It boasts a substantial weight of 18 tonnes.
  • Renowned Sculptor: The statue is the work of the renowned sculptor Radhakrishnan Sthapaty, hailing from Swami Malai in Tamil Nadu. His expertise and craftsmanship are evident in the statue’s intricate details.
  • Inspired Design: The design of this Nataraja statue draws inspiration from three revered Nataraja idols. These idols are located at the Thillai Nataraja Temple in Chidambaram, the Uma Maheswarar Temple in Konerirajapuram, and the Brihadeeswara (Big) Temple in Thanjavur, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This amalgamation of inspirations adds profound historical and religious symbolism to Lord Shiva’s dancing form.
  • Lost Wax Method: The Nataraja sculpture at Bharat Mandapam is created using the lost wax method, which is a traditional and intricate technique for crafting metal sculptures.

The Lost Wax Method:

The lost wax method, also known as investment casting or cire perdue (French for “lost wax”), is a traditional and ancient technique for creating intricate metal sculptures and castings. Here’s an overview of the process:

  • Wax Model Creation: Sculptors begin by creating a detailed and finely crafted wax model of the desired sculpture. This wax model is an exact replica of the final metal sculpture, capturing all the intricate details and nuances.
  • Mold Encasement: The wax model is then coated with layers of a special mixture, traditionally made of alluvial soil or clay. This outer mold encases the wax model entirely.
  • Wax Removal: The mold is heated, causing the wax within to melt and flow out of the mold. This step leaves behind a cavity or negative space that exactly matches the shape of the original wax model. Hence, the term “lost wax” refers to the wax being lost during this process.
  • Metal Casting: The mold, now with the hollow space, is ready for casting. Molten metal, often a bronze alloy in the case of sculptures like the Nataraja, is poured into the mold. The metal fills the void left by the melted wax.
  • Cooling and Solidification: The poured metal cools and solidifies within the mold, taking the shape of the original wax model. The metal may be further worked and polished once it has cooled.
  • Mold Breakage: The outer mold (usually made of clay or soil) is carefully broken away, revealing the metal sculpture inside. This step requires precision to avoid damaging the finished artwork.
  • Finishing and Detailing: The final sculpture is then meticulously finished, detailed, and polished by skilled artisans to achieve the desired appearance.

History and Religious Symbolism of Lord Shiva’s Dancing Form (Nataraja):

Ancient Roots of Shiva:
  • Shiva, a principal deity in Hinduism, has ancient origins dating back to the Vedic period.
  • In early Vedic scriptures, Shiva’s precursor is Rudra, a deity associated with natural elements such as storms, thunder, and the wild forces of nature.
  • Rudra was initially portrayed as a fierce and formidable deity embodying the destructive aspects of the natural world.
Evolution of Shiva as Nataraja:
  • The concept of Shiva as a dancer, known as Nataraja, began to take shape around the 5th century AD.
  • Early depictions of Shiva’s dance laid the foundation for the multifaceted symbolism associated with the Nataraja form.
Chola Dynasty Influence:
  • During the reign of the Chola dynasty (9th-11th centuries AD), Shiva’s Nataraja form underwent significant development.
  • The Cholas, known for their patronage of art and culture, played a pivotal role in shaping the cultural significance of Nataraja.
  • They were devout Shaivites, emphasizing the worship of Lord Shiva, and constructed grand Shiva temples throughout their territories, with a particular focus on Shaiva figures in their sculptures.
Evolution of Nataraja Iconography:
  • Under the Cholas, Nataraja’s symbolism grew more complex. Lord Shiva, a complex deity embodying both destructive and ascetic qualities, became celebrated for his invention of 108 diverse dances, symbolizing both creation and destruction.
  • His dance was viewed as a cosmic dance on the world stage.
Iconic Elements of Nataraja:
  • In iconic representations, Nataraja is depicted within a flaming aureole or halo, symbolizing the circle of the world.
  • His long, flowing dreadlocks signify the energy and dynamism of his dance.
  • Nataraja is typically shown with four arms, each holding symbolic objects conveying deeper meanings.
Symbolism in Nataraja’s Attributes:
  • Nataraja’s attributes hold symbolic significance. His damru (hand drum) draws all creatures into his rhythmic motion, while Agni (fire) in his upper left arm symbolizes his power to destroy the universe.
  • Beneath his foot lies a crushed dwarf-like figure, representing illusion and worldly distractions.
  • The fusion of male and female, represented by one earring in each ear, is referred to as Ardhanarishwar.
  • A snake coiled around his arm symbolizes the dormant kundalini power in the human spine.
Nataraja as Protector and Reassurer:
  • Despite formidable symbolism, Nataraja serves as a protector. His “abhayamudra” (fear-allaying gesture) and inviting posture reassure devotees, offering protection from fear and doubt.
Nataraja’s Smile:
  • A distinctive feature of Nataraja’s iconography is his almost ever-present broad smile, representing both “death and life, both joy and pain.”
  • This smile embodies the dualities of existence.

-Source: Indian Express


Nipah Virus


Context:

Two people have died and four others are under treatment after contracting Nipah virus in Kerala’s Kozhikode district. While the Nipah virus does not spread as quickly as the Covid-19 virus, it is more deadly.

Relevance:

GS II: Health

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Nipah virus
  2. Signs, Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment of Nipah Virus Infection
  3. Nipah Virus Spread and Past Outbreaks

Nipah Virus

Nipah virus is classified as a zoonotic disease, indicating that it is transmitted to humans through contact with infected animals or via the consumption of contaminated food.

Origin and Early Outbreak
  • The virus was first identified during an outbreak in Malaysia and Singapore, with its primary impact observed in pigs and individuals closely associated with them.
  • The name “Nipah” is derived from the Malaysian village of Sungai Nipah, where this outbreak initially occurred. Since 1999, no new outbreaks have been reported in Malaysia.
Family and Natural Hosts
  • Nipah virus belongs to the Paramyxoviridae family and shares a close relationship with the Hendra virus.
  • The Paramyxoviridae family comprises a group of single-stranded RNA viruses responsible for causing infections in vertebrates.
  • Fruit bats are the natural hosts for the Nipah virus, interestingly, these bats do not exhibit apparent signs of the disease themselves.
Transmission to Humans
  • The primary mode of transmission to humans occurs through contact with infected animals, especially fruit bats, commonly known as flying foxes.
  • Fruit bats are recognized as the principal carriers of the virus and can transmit it to other animals like pigs, dogs, cats, goats, horses, and sheep.
  • The transmission from animals to humans is primarily facilitated through the consumption of contaminated food.
  • Importantly, human-to-human transmission is also possible, primarily through close contact with the bodily fluids of individuals who are already infected.

Signs, Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment of Nipah Virus Infection

Signs and Symptoms:
  • Human infections caused by the Nipah virus can manifest across a wide spectrum, ranging from asymptomatic cases to more severe conditions, including acute respiratory infections and fatal encephalitis.
  • Initial symptoms typically include fever, headaches, myalgia (muscle pain), vomiting, and a sore throat.
  • The incubation period, which is the time from infection to the onset of symptoms, is estimated to span 4 to 14 days.
Diagnosis:
  • Early signs and symptoms of Nipah virus infection are often nonspecific, and healthcare professionals may not initially suspect this disease.
  • The diagnosis of Nipah virus infection can be established by considering clinical history during both the acute and convalescent phases of the illness.
  • Diagnostic tests employed include the use of real-time polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) on bodily fluids and the detection of antibodies through enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA).
Treatment:
  • As of now, there are no specific drugs or vaccines designed to target Nipah virus infection, although it has been recognized as a priority disease by the WHO Research and Development Blueprint.
  • Management of Nipah virus infection primarily relies on intensive supportive care, particularly for individuals experiencing severe respiratory and neurologic complications.

Nipah Virus Spread and Past Outbreaks

Spread Rate:
  • The Nipah virus is known for spreading at a slower pace compared to highly contagious viruses like SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19). However, its potential to cause fatalities is a major concern.
  • The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that the global case fatality rate of Nipah virus infection ranges from 40% to 75%.
  • It’s worth noting that, to date, all outbreaks of the Nipah virus have been localized and contained relatively quickly.
  • One key reason for the relatively swift containment of Nipah virus outbreaks is that it is not highly infectious, and human-to-human transmission is not easily facilitated.
  • Furthermore, the virus’s high mortality rates contribute to lower transmission because it often leads to severe illness and death before extensive transmission can occur.
Past Outbreaks:

Nipah virus outbreaks have been documented in various locations over the years. Notable instances include:

  • Malaysia and Singapore: The virus was first identified during an outbreak in Malaysia and Singapore. The outbreak was primarily associated with pigs and individuals working closely with them.
  • Bangladesh (2001): Nipah virus was recognized in Bangladesh in 2001, and it has led to nearly annual outbreaks in the country since then.
  • Eastern India: Periodic cases of the disease have also been identified in eastern India.
  • Other Countries: Evidence of the virus has been found in the known natural reservoir, fruit bats, as well as several other bat species in multiple countries, including Cambodia, Ghana, Indonesia, Madagascar, the Philippines, and Thailand.

-Source: Indian Express


Megalithic Dolmen Site


Context:

Unique terracotta figurines in different states of preservation have been found in recent archaeological explorations conducted in the megalithic dolmen site at Mudu Konaje, near Moodbidri, in Dakshina Kannada.

Relevance:

GS I: History

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Megalithic Dolmen Site
  2. Key Findings at the Mudu Konaje Megalithic Dolmen Site
  3. Significance of Findings

Megalithic Dolmen Site:

  • The Megalithic culture in India is known for its distinctive burial practices and the use of iron.
  • Dolmen is one of the significant burial structures associated with the Megalithic culture. It exhibits certain key features:
    • Orthostats: Massive stone slabs were erected in a clockwise order to create the walls of a square room or chamber.
    • Capstone: This square chamber was enclosed or covered by another large stone slab known as the capstone, forming a roof or ceiling for the structure.
    • Entrance: Typically, an entrance was incorporated into the structure, often on the eastern slab, in the form of a round or U-shaped opening known as a port hole.
  • In South India, dolmens are known by various names, including Kalmane, Pandavara Mane, Moriyara Mane, and Moriyara Betta, reflecting their popularity among the local communities.

Key Findings at the Mudu Konaje Megalithic Dolmen Site:

  • The figurines discovered at the Mudu Konaje site are datable to around 800-700 BC, shedding light on the ancient period to which this site belongs.
  • The Mudu Konaje site is notable for being the largest megalithic dolmen site in the region, featuring nine dolmens situated on the slope of a stone hill.
  • Among the eight figurines unearthed at the site, there are various representations, including two cow bovines, one mother goddess, two peacocks, a horse, the hand of a mother goddess, and an unknown object.
  • The first cow bovine figurine is a solid handmade representation, standing at about 9 cm in height and 5 cm in width. It features a bull’s head, and its femininity is evident through the depiction of two breasts attached using the applique method. There is also a groove running from below the right arm to the left side of the neck. The figurine displays two arms, with the hands being broken. It has a flattened, wide belly and a round section below the belly. Indications of two legs are clear, and there is an elongated round bun at the back of the head, possibly serving as headgear.
  • The second cow bovine figurine is another solid handmade piece, measuring approximately 7.5 cm in height and 4 cm in width. It features a bovine snout and a distinctive headgear. Applique ornamentation is present around the neck and below the belly. Instead of legs, there is a prop at the bottom to support the image.
  • One of the two peacock figurines is a solid representation, standing at about 11 cm in height and 7 cm in width. It is colored with red ochre, and its feathers are depicted as facing downward.
  • The second peacock figurine consists of an elongated head created separately, which can be inserted into a shallow body. Unfortunately, the body is missing, and the feathers are designed to point upwards.
  • The torso of a mother goddess was found but is lacking a head, hands, and legs.

Significance of Findings:

  • The cow bovine figurines discovered at the site are of particular significance as they aid in determining the chronology of the dolmens and provide insights into the cultural context of the region.
  • The terracottas found in the megalithic burial site offer valuable information for the study of the Bhoota cult or Daiva Aradhane (worship of spirits) in coastal Karnataka.
  • The presence of cow bovine or cow goddess figurines in the dolmens is noteworthy, and these findings exhibit parallels with megalithic terracotta figurines found in Malampuzha, Kerala, and Egypt.

-Source: The Hindu


Demand for Reservations: Maratha Community


Context:

Recently, in Maharashtra, the demand for reservations in educational institutions and government jobs by the Maratha community has once again taken center stage.

Relevance:

GS II: Polity and Governance

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. History and Status of the Maratha Reservation Demand
  2. Chronology of Maratha Reservation Demand
  3. 102nd Amendment Act of 2018

History and Status of the Maratha Reservation Demand:

The demand for reservation by the Maratha community in the Indian state of Maharashtra has a history dating back several years. Here’s an overview of the history and status of the Maratha reservation demand:

  • Background of the Maratha Community: The Marathas are a socially and politically influential group in Maharashtra, constituting approximately 33% of the state’s population. Historically, they were known as a warrior caste with significant land holdings and political influence.
  • Social and Economic Backwardness: Over time, various factors such as land fragmentation, agrarian distress, unemployment, and limited access to education and employment opportunities have led to the social and economic backwardness of many Marathas. While they continue to play a crucial role in the rural economy, a significant section of the community has faced challenges in various aspects of life.
  • Demand for Reservation: In response to these challenges, the Maratha community has been demanding reservation in government jobs and educational institutions. They seek inclusion in the category of Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (SEBC) to avail the benefits of affirmative action policies.
  • Political Mobilization: The demand for Maratha reservation gained momentum through large-scale protests and demonstrations organized by various Maratha organizations and associations. These protests highlighted issues related to unemployment, underrepresentation, and socio-economic disparities within the community.

Chronology of Maratha Reservation Demand:

  • 2017: A commission chaired by Retired Justice N G Gaikwad recommended Maratha reservation under SEBC.
  • 2018: Maharashtra Assembly passed a bill proposing 16% reservation for Marathas.
  • 2018: Bombay High Court upheld the reservation but suggested reducing it to 12% in education and 13% in jobs.
  • 2020: Supreme Court stayed its implementation and referred the case to the Chief Justice of India for a larger bench.
2021:
  • Supreme Court struck down Maratha reservation in 2021, citing the 50% cap on total reservations set in 1992.
  • The Maratha reservation, at 12% and 13% (education and jobs), increased the overall reservation ceiling to 64% and 65%, respectively.
  • SC emphasized that the 50% rule could be relaxed only in exceptional and extraordinary situations.
  • The court found no such circumstances in Maharashtra to breach the limit.
  • The state had no authority to grant socially and economically backward status to a community; only the president can adjust the central list of backward classes.
  • The Supreme Court upheld the constitutional validity of the 102nd Constitution Amendment but differed on its impact on state power to identify SEBCs.
2022:
  • In November 2022, after the SC upheld the 10% quota for Economically Weaker Sections, the state government allowed economically weaker Maratha members to benefit from the EWS quota pending the resolution of the Maratha reservation issue.

102nd Amendment Act of 2018:

Introduction of New Articles:

  • The 102nd Amendment Act of 2018 introduced two new articles into the Constitution of India: Article 338B and Article 342A.

Article 338B:

  • Article 338B deals with the establishment of the National Commission for Backward Classes. This commission is responsible for addressing the concerns and rights of socially and educationally backward classes in the country.

Article 342A:

  • Article 342A empowers the President of India to specify the socially and educationally backward communities within a State.
  • It underscores that the inclusion of a community in the Central List for socially and backward classes and the subsequent grant of reservation benefits are matters within the purview of the Parliament.

-Source: The Hindu


Vidya Samiksha Kendras


Context:

Under the National Digital Education Architecture (NDEAR), the Ministry of Education is pushing the establishment of Vidya Samiksha Kendras (VSKs) across states.

Relevance:

GS II: Education, Human Resource

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Vidya Samiksha Kendras (VSKs): Leveraging Data and Technology for Education Enhancement
  2. National Digital Education Architecture (NDEAR): Empowering Education Through Digital Innovation

Vidya Samiksha Kendras (VSKs): Leveraging Data and Technology for Education Enhancement

  • Aim: VSKs are designed to harness data and technology to significantly improve learning outcomes in the education system.
  • Scope: These centers will encompass data from over 15 lakh schools, 96 lakh teachers, and 26 crore students. They will employ big data analysis, Artificial Intelligence (AI), and machine learning to meaningfully analyze this vast dataset to enhance education monitoring and ultimately elevate learning outcomes.
Objectives:
  • Real-time Monitoring: VSKs will monitor the real-time status of various projects and activities under the Samagra Shiksha initiative.
  • Student Tracking: They will keep tabs on enrolled students, including tracking learning outcomes and addressing issues such as dropouts and support required by teachers and schools.
  • Field-Level Monitoring: VSKs will track academic and non-academic activities at the state level, empowering administrators and teachers to make data-driven decisions.
  • Grievance Redressal: These centers will establish centralized help desks for addressing grievances from stakeholders within the school ecosystem.
  • Identifying Improvement Areas: VSKs will identify and analyze areas requiring improvement, facilitating data-based decision-making and urgent implementation.
Significance:
  • Effective data collection, monitoring, correlation, and analysis through VSKs will enable timely actions and the successful execution of education schemes.
  • By integrating various datasets and breaking down silos, these centers will harness the collective efforts of different entities towards a common educational goal.

National Digital Education Architecture (NDEAR): Empowering Education Through Digital Innovation

  • Objective: NDEAR is a comprehensive initiative that is federated, unbundled, interoperable, inclusive, accessible, and evolving. Its primary aim is to create and deliver a wide range of diverse, relevant, contextual, and innovative solutions to benefit students, teachers, parents, communities, and administrators. It seeks to ensure the timely implementation of educational policy goals.
  • Ministry Collaboration: NDEAR operates under the guidance of the Ministry of Education in collaboration with the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY).
  • Vision: The overarching vision of NDEAR is to establish a globally pioneering effort in education by creating a unifying national digital infrastructure that will invigorate and catalyze the field of education.
Key Outcomes:
  • Enhanced Student Learning: Students gain access to on-demand learning materials, including videos, graphics, animations, virtual labs, and various assessment tools. They also benefit from personalized adaptive learning (PAL), and the system tracks their transition to higher education and skill development.
  • Empowered Teachers: Teachers gain access to online support for lesson planning, the use of teaching-learning materials (TLM), pedagogical transactions, online reference materials, and competency-based evaluation tools. Additionally, they have access to online modules designed to enhance their professional standards.

-Source: The Hindu


Poila Baisakh: West Bengal Foundation Day


Context:

The West Bengal Legislative Assembly recently made a significant decision by declaring ‘Poila Baisakh,’ the first day of the Bengali calendar, as ‘Bangla Dibas’ or West Bengal Foundation Day.

Relevance:

Facts for Prelims

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Controversy Over West Bengal’s Foundation Day
  2. Poila Baisakh: Celebrating Bengali New Year
  3. Significance of June 20th in Bengal: Partition Decision

Controversy Over West Bengal’s Foundation Day

Background: In 2023, a significant dispute arose surrounding West Bengal’s Foundation Day. The controversy centered on the official declaration by Raj Bhavan (the Governor’s residence) that June 20 would be recognized as the State Foundation Day. However, this decision faced strong opposition and criticism from the

Chief Minister of West Bengal.
  • The Chief Minister argued vehemently that June 20th, which carries historical associations with the partition, lacks relevance to the state’s actual establishment.
  • This stance reflects the sentiment that the state’s foundation should be commemorated on a different date, one that aligns more closely with its unique history and identity.
Rabindranath Tagore’s ‘Banglar Mati Banglar Jol’ as the Official Song: Assembly’s Approval
  • In addition to the Foundation Day dispute, another significant decision was made by the West Bengal Assembly.
  • It approved the proposal to designate Rabindranath Tagore’s composition ‘Banglar Mati Banglar Jol’ as the official song of West Bengal.
  • This choice reflects the profound cultural and literary heritage of the state, with Tagore’s work being a symbol of Bengal’s rich artistic tradition.

Poila Baisakh: Celebrating Bengali New Year

  • Poila Baisakh is a significant festival observed by Bengali communities in regions like West Bengal, Tripura, Jharkhand, Assam, and Bangladesh.
  • This festival marks the commencement of the Bengali New Year and typically falls in mid-April.
  • In 2023, Poila Baisakh was celebrated on April 15th, symbolizing new beginnings and cultural richness.

Significance of June 20th in Bengal: Partition Decision

  • On June 20th, 1947, the Bengal Legislative Assembly convened to make a momentous decision regarding the future of Bengal.
  • They faced three choices: maintaining Bengal’s unity within India, dividing it into East Bengal and West Bengal based on religion (for Bengali Muslims and Hindus respectively), or splitting it between India and Pakistan.
  • Following multiple rounds of voting, the decision emerged to bifurcate Bengal into West Bengal and East Pakistan (later becoming Bangladesh).
  • The Radcliffe Line was later drawn to demarcate the boundary between these newly formed regions.
  • June 20th is historically significant in Bengal, representing a pivotal moment that shaped the political and geographical landscape during India’s independence and partition era.

-Source: The Hindu


Gene-Drive Technology


Context:

Gene-drive technology has been used in outdoor but controlled conditions in India, Brazil, and Panama to genetically manipulate mosquitoes.

Relevance:

GS III: Science and Technology

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. About Gene-Drive Technology
  2. Recent Developments

About Gene-Drive Technology:

  • Gene-drive technology is a form of genetic engineering that is designed to modify genes within populations.
  • This technology was conceived by Austin Burt, a professor at Imperial College London, and has since been explored for various applications.
  • One potential application of gene-drive technology is as an effective means to combat nuisance species, such as malaria-causing mosquitoes.
  • In gene-drive technology, selective inheritance of genes is achieved, departing from the traditional rules of Mendelian genetics.
  • The process involves a protein that cleaves the mosquito’s DNA at a specific location that doesn’t encode a particular sequence in the genome. This action initiates a natural repair mechanism within the cell containing the DNA, which results in the incorporation of a drive sequence into the damaged portion of the DNA.

Recent Developments:

  • Researchers at Imperial College London have made advancements in gene-drive technology by genetically enhancing a gene expressed in the midgut of mosquitoes. This gene is engineered to secrete two antimicrobial substances known as magainin 2 and melittin.
  • These antimicrobial substances are detrimental to the Plasmodium parasite’s development within the mosquito’s midgut and reduce the lifespan of female mosquitoes.
  • Computational modeling studies have suggested that this approach could significantly disrupt malaria transmission, offering a promising strategy in the fight against this disease.

-Source: The Hindu


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