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Posts tagged ‘Buddha’

Splashes – 58/72 – Darkened Horizons

Since nomadic age environment influenced the life of people, their customs and traditions. It is relevant today also. Environment is the cumulative effect of geographical, social, economic, and political conditions that prevail in any area. Whenever significant changes take place in the environment the beliefs and practices also undergo change, become out dated and need to be replaced.

Something that may be good for the Indian environment may not be congenial on other side of the globe. Similarly whatever could be suitable to people of other countries need not be acceptable in India. The Americans drive on the right side of road while in India we keep left. Both are right within their respective environment but if they cross their area, accidents and clashes will occur.

Cultural Clashes 

Need for food motivated men to hunt, cultivate, to augment the resources for living. Many often over-grown groups entered the territories of other groups, resulting in wars. Docile groups adapted the environments of the new area, while hostile groups forced the local environment to change.

By and large Hindus had continued to live more or less in the same environment. Himalayas had cut them off from rest of the globe in the North and sea from the other directions. Over the period they became oblivious to the changes that were taking place in the neighboring areas. Hindus had turned idealists, collectively introverts, and indulged more in spirituality or pleasures. They had shut their eyes to the political upheavals that were taking place in the neighboring areas.  They did not realize that death and destruction were knocking at their door.

Segmentation of Hinduism

Certain environmental changes had given rise to Buddhism and Jainism. Both religions laid stress on non-violence (Ahimsa) and simple living. Because of over commitment to Ahimsa, powerful kingdoms neglected preparations for war, that was otherwise necessary for defending the country and Dharma. They over looked the fundamental military doctrine, that much often-offensive action was the best form of defense. The governance became decentralized, weak, and vulnerable to attacks from ferocious tribes that were being marshaled in the neighborhood.

India had been a land of plenty. Hindus were contented people who believed in live and let live. They never conquered any other country and allowed the outsiders to merge and co-exist with them. Due to over spiritualism, people did not undertake journey across the sea and started neglecting business interests. That resulted in transfer of business to the Arabs. India was not having even good horses for domestic use and for cavalry in battlefield.

Rise of Islam

A little distance away, but in a different environment a storm was building up when Prophet Muhammad ‘inspired’ his wild, bloodthirsty and mutually warring followers to capture all the world and spread the ‘Word of Allah’ from North Pole to South Pole. The newly formed enthusiastic followers thrust their way forward in all directions where people were busy with their own lives in more civilized manner. They had no idea of the ruthlessness and savagery that had gone into the brainwashing and indoctrination that made a Mohammedan, till the barbarians had actually pounced upon their lands and families.

Muhammad proclaimed himself the only representative of God and sought absolute adherence from his followers to the dictates of his faith. They were not to question the rationale behind any of his verdicts. In return they were assured of ‘equal’ treatment within Muslim brotherhood and self-proclaimed right to wipe out those who did not subscribe to their faith in the name of Allah, the Supreme Power. The concept of live and let others also live was to their thinking. They believed in living and not allowing others to live.

Commandments for Terror

In the name of God (Allah) Muhammad strengthened his personal hold over the Arab supporters such through following dictates:-

  • You who believe! Believe in Allah and His Messenger (Muhammad) and the Book (the Qur’an) that He has sent down to His Messenger (Muhammad) and the Scripture (the Message) that He sent down to those before (him).  Any (person) who denies Allah, His angels, His Books, His messengers, and the day of the Judgment, then he has gone far astray. (4.136)
  • In order that you (O people!) may believe in Allah and His Messenger and that you may help and honor Him, and celebrate His Praises morning and evening. (48.9)
  • It is He who has sent His Messenger with the Guidance and the Religion of Truth, that he may proclaim it (Islam) over all religions: and all Sufficient is Allah as Witness. (48.28)

Muhammad commanded his supporters to take on the non believers in the name of god:

  • “(Remember when) your Lord revealed (the Message) to the angels;” Verily, I am with you: give strength to the believers: I will bring about terror in the heart of the disbeliever: so you strike above their necks and hit hard over all their finger tips and toes.” (8.12)
  • This is because the stood against Allah and His Messenger (Muhammad): and if any stand against Allah and His Messenger (Muhammad), Allah is strict in punishment. (8.13)
  • Prepare against them all of your strength, as much as you can, including the (strong) horses of war, to strike fear into His enemies and yours, and others besides them, whom you may not know but whom Allah knows. And whatever you spend in Allah’s cause shall be repaid to you, and you shall not be treated unjustly. (8.60)
  • Thereafter when you meet the unbelievers (in battle), strike hard at their necks until you have completely defeated them. Bind the captives firmly. When the war lays down its burdens (and ends), (then is the time for) either kindness or negotiation. Like this (you are commanded); if it had been Allah’s Will, He could have ordered their execution; however in order to test you, He lets some of you fight with others. But He will never let the deeds (of) those who are killed in Allah’s way be lost. (47.4)
  • Be not tired (and timid), and faint-hearted crying for peace, when you should be at the very top; Allah is with you, and (He) will never put you in loss for your (good) deeds. (47.35)

Muhammad promised them with morale raising allurements in Heaven:-

  • But (now) enjoy what you have as booty in the war (as far as it is) lawful and good; but fear Allah: Certainly Allah is often Forgiving, Most merciful. (8.69)
  • And (He will) admit them to the Paradise that He has declared (especially) for them. (47.6)
  • But those who disbelieve and (reject Allah) – for the awaits misery and destruction and (Allah) will make their deeds useless. (47.8)
  • Surely, Allah will admit those who believe and do righteous good deeds, to Paradise beneath which rivers flow: while the disbeliever will enjoy (this world) and eat as cattle eat: And Fire will be their home. (47.12)
  • Prophet! Prepare the believers to battle (against aggression). If twenty of you are steadfast, they will defeat two hundred. If one hundred of you are steadfast, they will defeat a thousand disbelievers, because these are the people without understanding. (8.65)
  • There was total prohibition on having any relationship with non believers:
  • And do not marry unbelieving women (idolaters), until they believe; and indeed, a slave woman who believes is better than an unbelieving woman, even though she (may) allure you. And do not marry (your girls) to non believers until they believe; A slave man who believes is better than an unbeliever, even though he (may) allure you. Non believers (only) call you to the Fire. But Allah calls (you) by his Grace to the Garden (of Joy) and Forgiveness, and makes His Sign clear to the mankind that they may celebrate His Praise. (2.221)

Muhammad left his last sermon a few months before he passed away, like this:

  • No prophet or messenger will come after me, and no new religion will be born…O people and understand the words that I convey to you. I am leaving with you the Book of God (the Quran) and my Sunnah (life style and behavior)…you follow them.

Legitimized killing of non-Muslims

Thus with that kind of spiritual dictate and mindset Islam conquered the world with sword. Jihad was enshrined as the highest duty for a Muslim that religiously legitimized killing of non-Muslims. As per Islamic theologies, if a Muslim went to Kaaba for pilgrimage, he was titled Haji, but much higher titles were available to him if he slit throats of non-Muslims. He could be a Ghazi and was ‘assured entry to the Muslim Heaven where seventy-two beautiful women would be attending on each Muslim Ghazi to satisfy their wildest fantasies’.

Destruction of Civilizations

One by one civilizations, nations and countries fell before the sword of Islam held by fanatics who initially happened to be simple illiterate shepherds and camel breeders. Initially no country could escape death and destruction hurled by such predators on an unprecedented scale. In all the Muslim occupied lands bloodshed ended only when the last inhabitant converted to Islam or agreed to live like a humble pie.

All over the globe, wherever Muslim conquerors went they massacred the non-Muslims, and destroyed their language, literature, culture, places of worship and above all, the signs of their identity. The left-over of vanquished population either fled to inaccessible areas, or were enslaved and forcibly converted to Islam.

Only Hindu India Stood Up

While in other parts of Asia and Europe, the vanquished nations quickly opted for conversion to Islam rather than death; scenario was different in India than elsewhere. India had been a great civilization centuries before Muhammad was born. In India, because of the staunch resistance from the Hindu faith, it turned out to be a determined struggle between life and death. Though entire cities were burnt down and their populations were massacred, yet Hinduism resisted and survived the Islamic onslaught.

Chand K Sharma

(Next: Splashes 59/72 – Advent of Islam in India)

Splashes – 57/72 – Sunset in East – Sun Rise from West

Unlike other invaders of medieval age, Alexander did not indulge in reckless destruction of knowledge and civilizations of the areas he conquered. He remained an inquisitive disciple, a soldier to the hilt, and a general par excellence. Indian fame had already impressed him and he was keen to see the country rather to destroy the same. Conquering India meant victory over the world.

When he reached India, the border King Ambhi extended cooperation to him. Thereafter he met next border King Puru (Porus) on the battle field. Although Puru was defeated on account of multiple reasons, the battle made Alexander realize that if he were to continue fighting he would be completely ruined. His army was grief-stricken and expressed strong desire to return.

As a matter of fact Alexander did not win any major war on the Indian soil but merely passed through the Indus Valley fighting skirmishes with the tribes of that area to safeguard the exit route of his bruised army that had got demoralized due to the might of Nanda Empire at Magdha. Alexander was the first European who carried the first-hand accounts of India’s glory to Europeans during 300 BC.

Renaissance in Europe

The period from Fourteenth Century to Seventeenth Century is known as the age of Renaissance in Europe. It bridges medieval age to modern age. Prior to Renaissance the theological shackles imposed by Roman Church had made any kind of scientific development impossible.

Although the European intellectuals had in their possession some texts of Greek and Arabs since first awakening, but they lacked courage and opportunity to put that knowledge to any practical use. As soon as the interference from Church declined, the knowledge gathered during ‘First Awakening’ and thereafter during ‘Renaissance’ electrified the spirit of exploration and inventions in every field. Geographically tiny countries also emerged as super powers on the globe to colonize others.

India after Alexander

During 563-483 BC, Buddhism and Jainism had emerged within Hinduism. Both sects had their founders as Khashatriya princes. Both preached Non Violence and stressed on living a simple life with nature. Several contemporary kings adapted to their fold. Prominent among them were Emperor Chandragupta Maurya who voluntarily gave up his newly found empire and converted himself to a Jain monk.

His grandson Emperor Ashoka turned a Buddhist and was instrumental in propagation of Buddhism to South Eastern Countries. Beside other things, several monasteries and statues of the founders were set up in all parts of India. House holders and youths started leaving simple life in monasteries according to tenants of new faiths with more stress on non-violence. Although they had certain reservations about castes and some rituals but after their founders, both the sects developed their own superficial rituals that could not withstand later events. After the retreat of Alexander, the tide of Buddhism was halted for some time in India, but it spread in the neighboring countries of South East Asia, Tibet and China.

Hinduism during Gupta Period

There was revival of Hinduism during the reign of Gupta KIngs. Hindu culture and literature witnessed progress in every field. Finest literature in Sanskrit was written during this period and the language came to be associated with the nobility. Most of the scriptures were written down during this period.

Hinduism witnessed the emergence of two prominent sub branches, such as Vaishnaites, and Shivaites. Brahmanas leading their respective branches authored mythological stories high lighting the prominence of their respective deities. Temples were constructed and rituals of stricture nature came to be observed.

ertain wrong practices also made their entry into Hindu society such as caste pride and rivalry among ruling classes. Brahmins and business community over indulged in pleasure. Gupta Empire declined in 500 AD and was followed by emergence of Kushana dynasty. After Emperor Kanishka there was again a vacuum of central authority in India and fragmentation of smaller kingdoms.

Excessive Indulgence 

There was a spurt in rituals of idol worship. Due to patronization of ruling classes the monasteries grew richer to attract more youths who discarded their worldly duties to pick up living on alms as monks. By over indulgence in pleasures or spiritual pursuits, Hindus went astray from political realities, environmental changes around them, and overlooked the need of political unity as a nation.

If birds and animals discarded their instinctive duties given by Nature, their existence would be useless in the chain of ecology. For example if snakes, lions, eagles and cats turn vegetarians overnight and adopted total non-violence, what would be the purpose of their living? Khashatriyas in India were confronted with similar situation.

They replaced their weapons with begging bowls, discarded their ruling functions particularly in the area of security of the state and neglected vigilance to indulge in sensuality. They forget that many often offensive action was the best form of defense. Their over indulgence to principle of non-violence proved disastrous.

Smaller fiefdoms started emerging all over India on the basis of caste or families. Military training was relegated to pleasures of dance and music. Even robbers settled on the out skirts of India turned bold to over-power frontier rulers. The environment was ripe to invite death and destruction as the riches of India were alluring motivating force.

The Last Hindu Emperor

Emperor Harsha Vardhana was the last Hindu Emperor who ruled the country at the age of sixteen and continued for 41 years from his capital at Kannauj. He tried his best to forge unity once again but achieved partial success. He was defeated by Pulkeshi II of Karnataka and had to compromise on accepting River Narmada as a border between the two states. Emperor Harsha Vardhana took interest to consolidate segmented Hindu faiths together.

Buddhism and Jainism came to be accepted in the fold of Hinduism since the life styles of their followers and the philosophy of ‘Live and let live’ was perfectly in tune with Hinduism. Cultural integration among various communities of India had been taking place since the pre-Vedic periods. All those who entered India such as the Greeks, Parthians, Sakas, Huns, Gurjaras, Pratiharas, Kushans, and the Scythians had already been assimilated into the Hindu culture. The Buddha and Tirathankaras of Jainism came to be regarded as incarnations of Vishnu. Once again Emperor Harsha Vardhana put India to glory but that was short-lived and proved to be the beginning of anti-climax.

The Slide was set

Soon after the demise of Emperor Harsha Vardhana India fragmented into small states on the basis of clans and castes. There was disunity and strong jealousy among the neighboring states. Rituals eclipsed the substance and grew like cobwebs. Brahmins turned selfish and greedy, Khashatriyas turned sensual and debauch; and were less farsighted to discriminate between personal and state interests. Spiritual, economic and intellectual progress came to abrupt halt. Business men felt insecure, and people at the lower strata started looking for personal safety for life and living elsewhere.

Excess of everything is bad 

Orthodoxy and lethargy prevented Hindus from going abroad across the sea to see for themselves the dangers that were lurking all around. Although the Sun of progress moved towards West but it took over thousand years to disappear.

In comparison by this time Europe was in total darkness except couple of countries like Greece and Rome that were raising powers. The effect of Renaissance was not universal in all the countries of Europe. During Renaissance age India was under the rule of Khilji, Tughlak and Lodhi dynasties. It was under Mughal rule during French Revolution.

Wars for succession always followed the death of Islamic rulers coupled with uncertainty and insecurity in the country. Provincial rulers went out of control of central authority. Indian population was frequently getting looted and massacred by Nadir Shah and Ahmed Shah Abdali as well as the local claimants to the throne.

The Niyama of Contentment (Santosha) had been greatly influential on the mindset of Indians. It helped them to have fewer demands and necessities. In the absence of necessities, there were no inventions either. That was the reason that in spite of knowledge in their possession, Indians did not invent like the Europeans who were able to put several inventions of utility items in everyday life.

Thus when Sun went down in India, Europe was basking in glory.

Chand K Sharma

(Next: Splashes – 58/72 – Darkened Horizons)

Splashes – 54/72 – Spread of Knowledge Abroad

The destruction of Indian literature was so extensive that no record of pre-Islamic history remained in India. In fact, whatever history of ancient India exists now, was re-constructed by the Europeans with the help of writings that survived mainly, in Sri Lanka, China, Myanmar, Nepal and Tibet.  Another source of information was the biographies and official records of Islamic rulers. Hindus sources like Puranas and Vedas were dubbed as mythology by British historians and their clones like Nehru, in India. The gaps in history were therefore filled up by interpretation of British historians to suit their political and colonial aims.

Islamic Contributions

It cannot be categorically stated, that all Muslims were barbarians, while most of them were. Some refined Muslim intellectuals, particularly from Sufi cult in Islam, not only studied Hindu scripture,s but had them translated to Arabic and Persian language. Some Muslims poets and philosophers also enriched our intellectual heritage by their individual contributions. Prominent among them were Amir Khusro, Malik Muhammad Jayasi, Rahim, Raskhan, Maseet Khan, Raza Khan and Dara Shikoh. They contributed mainly towards literature, music, and other arts.

Although Islamic invaders had indulged in reckless destruction of educational institutions and massacre of intellectuals, but many texts in the field of mathematics, astrology, medicine and philosophy had already been translated into Arabic, before Indian universities were burned down and inmates killed. Some manuscripts that were scattered over the country, escaped destruction as they remained in safer hands.

Prominent Translations within India

Some notable translations into Arabic and Persian are:-

  • Al-Bairuni – He was a Muslim Saint and contemporary of notorious Muslim invader Mahmud of Ghazni. It is said that many often he preceded the campaigns and acted as Mahmud’s mentor. He translated Brihatsamhita to Arabic.
  • Aziz Shams Baha-i Nuri – Subsequent to Al-Bairuni’s translation, Aziz Shams Baha-i Nuri translated Brihatsamhita to Persian.
  • Nakhshabi– During his conquest of Nogarkot in 1362, Sultan Firuz Shah Tughlaq acquired 1300 books from Jwalamukhi temple. He commissioned Sanskrit scholars to translate some of them to Persian. On the basis of the translation of texts on Physics and Astronomy, ‘Izzu’d-Din Khalid Khani compiled the Dala ‘il-Firuz Shahi’ and ‘Abdu’l.
  • Sultan Sikandar Lodhi – Sikandar Lodi also ordered the translation of many Sanskrit works to Persian with a view to enrich the language.
  • Sultan Zaynu’l-‘Abidin – Sultan Zaynu’l-‘Abidin of Kashmir had some Sanskrit Texts translated to Persian in Kashmir.
  • Mughal Period – Mughal Emperor Akbar had established a translation bureau Maktab Khana for translation of Sanskrit texts to Persian and Arabic. Sanskrit books were translated during Jehangir’s period also. Prince Dara Shikoh translated Upanishads to Persian.
  • Retranslation of Translated Sanskrit Texts – Anquetil Duper Ron re-translated the Persian version of some Sanskrit texts to French and Latin, which influenced many intellectuals in Europe including German scholar Schopenhauer.

Slow absorption of Knowledge

Initially the Europeans were slow to absorb knowledge, such as new type of numbers. Much of the work in universities and monasteries was limited to copying the manuscripts and translating them. They were not able to use decimals until a Dutch mathematician Simon Steven (1548-1620) explained the system in a book called La Thiende (The Tenth). After him, Magini and Christopher Claudius used them in their works. In 1621, Bachet published the Latin version of Arithmetica from Arabic.

Accounts of Foreign Travelers 

Since the period of Mauryan Dynasty foreign travelers and diplomats had been visiting India. They carried scriptures as well as accounts of India’s progress in various fields.  Some of their accounts influenced the spirit of Renaissance in Europe and explorers from those countries embarked upon reaching Indian shores. Kamasutra of Vatsayana had been one such text that interested most of the Europeans during the age of Renaissance and afterwards. Navigators from England, France, Portugal, Spain, and Holland competed against each to reach India during fifteenth century. Some of the foreign travelers are mentioned below:-

  • Megasthenes – Megasthenes (350 – 290 BC) was a Greek ambassador in the court of Chandragupta Maurya. He has given accounts of older Indians who knew about the pre-historic arrival of Dionysus and Hercules in India. He mentioned about devotees of Hercules (Shiva) and Dionysus (Krishna or Indra). His classic Indicaserved as an important source to many later writers
  • Buddhist Monks – Emperor Ashoka had sent many Buddhist monks to Tibet, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, China, Japan, Cambodia and several South East Asian countries to propagate the message of Buddhism. They carried with them several texts and art forms. Qandahar (then Gandhara) in Afghanistan, being located along the silk route was an important center for transfer of scriptures and practical interaction between countries in Central Asia and the Middle East. Tibetan alphabet bears influence of Gupta period.
  • Fa-Hien – A Chinese Buddhist monk traveled extensively in India, and Tibet through Kashmir, Kabul, Qandahar, and through Punjab to Central India. He remained in India for about 10 years, seeking complete copies of the Vinaya-pitaka and compiling information regarding Buddhism and the life of its founder. Thereafter he went to Ceylon where he copied many sacred texts. After his return he wrote an account of his travels. His narrative was translated to French by Rémusat (Paris, 1836) and to English by Beal. His accounts inspired Chinese historical novelist to write ‘Journey to the West’ in English.
  • Hiuen-Tsang– Hiuen-Tsang was a seventh century Chinese Buddhist pilgrim. He knew about Fa-Hien’s visit to India and like him was concerned about the incomplete and misinterpreted nature of the Buddhist scriptures that had reached China. Starting from China in AD 629, Hiuen-Tsang passed through Central Asia by the northern trade route via Kucha and reached Northern India, where, at the city of Kannauj, he was the guest of Emperor Harsha-vardhana. He visited the sacred Buddhist sites in Magadha and spent much time studying at the great Nalanda monastery, then an important center of Buddhist scholarship. The Pilgrim next travelled to parts of Bengal and then to South and West India. He studied Sanskrit and translated several scriptures to Chinese. He returned to China, again by way of Central Asia, and recorded the details of all the countries he visited. Hiuen-Tsang’s purpose was to obtain Buddhist books and to receive instruction on Buddhism while in India, but he ended up doing much more. He has preserved the records of political and social aspects of the lands he visited.
  • Ibn Battuta – He made many trips and travelled to several countries during the period 1304 – 1368 AD covering almost 75000 miles, including a voyage from Central Asia, to china and South East Asia. During the period of Muhammad Shah Tughlaq he entered India via Afghanistan. He stayed for some time at his court and then visited Khammbhat and Calicut. He described the city of Hansi under the Rajput and carried his accounts for subsequent European navigators.
  • Sir Thomas Roe – Sir Thomas Roe was an English diplomat and an accomplished scholar and a patron of learning. His reputation resulted mainly from the success of his embassy in 1615-18 to the court of Mughal Emperor Jahangir. He became a favorite of Jahangir. His journal was a valuable source of information for the reign of Jahangir. Roe himself collected several valuable manuscripts which he subsequently presented to the Bodleian Library. As a result of his contacts fame of Indian muslin spread in Europe and fabrics were exported to European Countries from India.
  • Marco Polo – Marco Polo wrote of his extensive travels throughout Asia. He wrote about customs, traditions, philosophy, astronomy, astrology, geometry and dresses of the countries he visited. His pioneering journey inspired Christopher Columbus to undertake an exploration mission in search of India, but eventually he landed on the Continent of America.

Translation of Rig Veda

The knowledge contained in Upanishads had already been put to use in Europe. In 1845 Max Muller from Germany translated Hitopdesha. Max Muller was wary of Darwin’s work on human evolution, and attacked his view of the development of human faculties. Muller shared many of the ideas and associated communion with natural forces. Muller’s Sanskrit studies came at a time when scholars had started to see language development in relation to cultural development. Muller therefore devoted himself to the study of this language, becoming one of the major Sanskrit scholars of his day. Muller believed that the earliest documents of Vedic culture should be studied in order to provide the key to the development. At that time the Vedic scriptures were little-known in the West, though there was increasing interest in the philosophy of Upanishads.  He saw the gods of the Rig-Veda as active forces of nature, only partly personified as imagined persons.

Providential Escape

Perhaps it was also a blessing in disguise that some of the documents and manuscript had escaped destruction that was to follow in India and reached Europe to be used for the benefit of mankind. The worst of blood-bath and destruction were yet to take place in India because Hindus had over indulged in spiritualism and idealism.

It is ironical that to some of our present generation, India is a nation without nationalism, pride, or history. Cultural self-hatred abounds in secular minded academicians who are Indian only in blood and color, but English in taste, opinion, and intellect. Unfortunately still those lots continue to dominate our educational institutions.

Chand K Sharma

(Next: Splashes – 55/72 –Indian Illumination in Renaissance)

Splashes – 9/72 -The Gallery of Incarnations

Hindus believe that whenever systems of universe go out of order God Vishnu, the preserve mode of the Almighty, appears to re-establish the order (Dharma). All appearances are in some worldly form called Avatar. So far Lord Vishnu, has manifested Himself nine times in different forms as under mentioned narratives unfold: –

1. Matsya (fish) – According to the legend, the King Satyavrat was washing his hands in Kritmala river when a little fish swam into his hands and begged for own safety. King Satyavrat put fish in a jar, in which soon she outgrew. Thereafter the king had the fish successively moved in to a tank, a river, and finally in the ocean. The fish then warned the king that a ‘Great Flood’ would occur in a week resulting in destruction of all life. Thereafter King Satyavrat built a boat to take with him some ‘seeds of all kinds of life’ to preserve and re-create the species on earth.  The fish towed the boat to a mountain top for saving seeds of life. The legend has been narrated in detail in Matasya Purana and can be compared with Nohah’s Ark episode. This is suggestive of freezing and preserving DNA of species.

2. Kurma (Tortoise) – Vishnu took the form of a tortoise and sat in the bottom of the ocean to facilitate churning of ocean after the ‘Great Flood’. The top of Sumeru Mountain was placed on the back of Kurma by the other gods to churn the ocean of knowledge to re-discover the ancient treasures of the Vedic knowledge. This is an allegorical depiction of scientific concept as everything emerged on planet earth from ocean after the ice age that followed the Great Flood during Matasya Avatar. Scientific explanation is that after every deluge the planet gets submerged in water. Water gets frozen and followed by ice age and is followed by re-emergence of life on planet Earth. These scientific treasures of knowledge have come to us through Kurma Purana.

3. Varaha (Boar) – Vishnu manifested in the form of Varaha to defeat a horrible demon Hiranyakshya, the brother of great King Hiranyakashipu. Varaha is often depicted in art either in purely animal form or as having a boar’s head on a human body. In the latter form it has four arms, two of which hold Vishnu’s disc and conch-shell and the other two hold a mace, and lotus. The earth is held between the boar’s tusks. The avatar symbolizes the resurrection of the earth from a Praleya (deluge), cycle of destruction and recreation. When ocean recedes, land reappears. It is noteworthy that even in ancient mythological paintings of Varaha Avatar; Earth is always shown as a round earth in comparison to flat earth conceived by other faiths. It underlines scientific Hindu concept in geographical field that West learned much later. Detailed narrative of Varaha Avtar is contained in Varaha Purana.

4. Narasimha (Man-lion) – Vishnu in the form of Narasimha emerged from the pillar which King Hiranyakashipu, had smashed to challenge the omnipresence of Vishnu. The geographical location of this avatar is said to be in present Iraq. Besides other things the narrative highlights the omnipotent and omnipresent aspect of God. The presentation of Narasimha is human body having lion’s head and power implied that God  can appear from anywhere and in any form beyond the comprehension of ‘enlightened humans scientists’ to restore order in the Universe. Nothing is impossible for Him. God’s attributes are thus beyond the rationality of human beings of all times.

5. Vamana (The Dwarf)Vishnu disguised as Vamana asked demon King Bali to donate a piece of land equal to three paces of His Dwarf form. King Bali known for his virtues agreed, against the fore-warning from his guru Sukracharya. As soon as Bali committed the donation, Vamana grew in size. He took the earth in one step, the heavens in the second and offered to forego the third step leaving the underworld for Bali to keep, but virtuous Bali did not wish to leave his promise unfulfilled and offered his head to support the third step of Vishnu. Vamana was pleased and pushed King Bali to the underworld as eternal Master. In reward Bali was made immortal, and is said to be in the underworld to this day.  Vamana Puran contains the narrative.

6. Parashurama (Rama with axe) – Parashurama appears in Ramayana and also in Mahabharatha epic. He had received an axe after doing penance for Lord Shiva. He was the son of Rishi Jamadagni, whom King Kritveerya-Arjuna once visite with his army. In his Ashrama located in the forest, Rishi Jamadagni, fed the royal guest and his army with the blessings of his divine cow Kamadhenu. The king was surprised and got tempted to take Kamadhenu which the Rishi did not oblige. The king thereafter sent his soldiers to take the cow by force. Consequently, Parashurama killed the entire army and the autocrat king with his axe. The King’s sons revenged and beheaded Rishi Jamadagni. Thereafter, in counter revenge, Parasurama killed the entire clan of Kritveerya-Arjuna, conquered entire territory and donated the same to Rishi Kashyapa who lived on the coast of Kashyap Sagar. The Sea named after him was called Kashyapian Sea. Today the same is habitually mis-spelt by the British as Caspian Sea.  Parashurama Avatar thus signifies the earliest crusade in the world against the corrupt and characterless administrators (Khashatriyas), a remedy much-needed today also. Parshurama punished corrupt kings twenty-one times for their oppressive and tyrannical attitude. He is thus the predecessor of human rights movement for the protection of civil liberties of oppressed mankind.

7. Rama While Parshurama represented public outcry against oppressive rules, in contrast Rama is seen as an ideal ruling personality dedicated to Dharma and noble virtues.  He is regarded as a role model as a King, son, husband, brother, friend and disciple. The powerful and multifarious character of Rama not only continues to be acted on stage, but is regarded as a mode of perfection to be emulated. Astronomical data in the epic Ramayana, narrating the life and exploits of Rama has been interpreted to suggest that his reign would have been at approximately 2015 BC. However the calculators over looked the fact that celestial phenomena reoccur periodically in every Yugas – a time frame of several million years, to be discussed subsequently. Celestial measurements of time cannot be used to establish time frames of human life. Weighing tools for elephants and ornaments made of gold cannot be the same. The rule of Rama is called Ram Rajya and it suggests an ideal state where everyone is happy and satisfied. Though Thomas More, a British author conceived an ideal state ‘Utopia’ in 15 th century, but in India Rama Rajya was aspired to be established by every noble king.

8. Krishna – The story of Krishna’s life on Earth is approximately 5100 years ago or 3102 BC, However, while Krishna played key role in the Mahabharata, wherein thousands of lines are dedicated solely to extolling His life and his philosophical Gita. His place in Hinduism is complex. He appears under many names, in a multiplicity of stories, among different cultures, and in different traditions. Sometimes those seem to contradict each other. Krishna has played various roles during His stay in the world. He was Arjuna’s charioteer, an excellent statesman. He was a master musician to have given lessons even to Rishi Narada in the art of playing Veena – an ancient string instrument even being played today. He revealed supreme Truth of Yoga, Bhakti and Vedanta. He had mastered every one of the sixty-four fine arts. For all these reasons He is regarded as a full and complete manifestation of God.

9. Buddha (the Enlightened)Vishnu took form as Siddhartha Gautama to guide people of India away from ritual recommending animal sacrifice, that was being over-indulged at the time. To this end he advocated Ahimsa or non-violence. Some politic conscious Buddhists today do not consider Buddha to be an avatar of any god, and view such a notion as an attempt to ‘absorb’ Buddhism within the fold of Hinduism. The general decline of Buddhism in India has been attributed to this absorption. Buddha is a subject frequently represented in statues. Generally Buddhists do not consider Siddhartha Gautama to have been the first or last Buddha.  According to Buddhists, Buddha himself has been taking avatars like Supreme God Vishnu in the name of Boddhisatvas.

10. Kalki is the name of the tenth and final Maha Avatara who will appear towards the end of current Kaliyuga, the age of darkness and destruction. The name Kalki is often a metaphor for ‘Eternity’ or ‘Time’. There are several origins of the Kalki Prophecy. One of the earliest mentions of Kalki is to be found in the Vishnu Purana. There are many modern mutations of the Kalki Prophecy. So much so that it has been jokingly asserted that there are hundreds of people in India claiming to be the Kalki Avatar of ultimate might and righteousness, however some of them even from jail cells.

The doctrine of Incarnations

The subtle point is that Hinduism did not confine the God into one person or one name. Hinduism permitted her believers to even equate themselves with God. No intermediaries and touts are required for any individual to approach the Almighty. One need not be referred to Him through some God’s relative or agent sent on earth to gather individual complaints. On the other hand any individual, if he so desired can proclaim himself to be a God and start his own registration cell to enroll followers. There lies the freedom from blasphemy or fundamentalism in Hindu religion. It is a scientific truth that whenever systems of the universe go out of gear, Nature representing Almighty restores the balance and order.

Various interpretations of Avtar Doctrine

 Hindu traditions permit numerous interpretations of what Avatars are. According to one thought, the concept of ten Avatars of Lord Vishnu in a way represents the organic evolution theory. In order to indicate the aquatic origin of the animals, the Lord incarnates in the form of a Matasya, a fish. An amphibious animal Kurma, a turtle, follows this. Third incarnation is Varaha, a boar that is completely a terrestrial animal. Narasimha represents a beast’s attempt to obtain a human form. In Vamana avatar, a pigmy human being is represented. In Parashurama tremendous physical strength could be recognized. In Rama, one can identify perfect human qualities. Krishna is a savior of our environment. Buddha is old age before reaching Moksha – freedom from worldly desires and wants. Kalki represents our own destruction by neglecting attention to our fauna and environment.

Some interpret the ten avtars to be various stages of human life. Matsya is the sperm, Kurma is the embryo in the womb, Varaha is the baby in filth inside the womb, while Narasimha is half human and half animal shape of the new-born at birth. Vamana is the child stage, Rama is youthful house holder, Krishna is Vanprastha yogi, Buddha is the old age living in contentment and having no desires. The last Death is yet to come in the form of Kalki.

An ancient Javanese myth tells that once upon a time only spirits lived on Java Island. Then so many people came to live there and the spirits were crowded out and forced to live in the volcanic craters or in the sea. Thus the Javanese believed that their world began with migration. The story illustrates how blurred the line in between ancient legends or myths and facts. (The story of Varaha Avatar supports the myth when Hiranyaksh, ‘stole the Earth under the sea and it was rescued and recovered by Vishnu in the form of Varaha’. There are other incidents when demons drove away Devas from their Swarga abode. Similarity and contradiction between legend and history may be ascertained from the fact that from Java to Australia, several rocky islands sometimes lie submerged in sea and some other time get revealed. The name of the continent also seems to have derived from its predecessor Astralaya alias Andhralaya. Oldest human skeletons were also found on Java Island.

The incidents surrounding the Avataras are part of mythology contained in Bhagwat Purana, and it is open to the individual belief of a person to agree with it or not. The incidents may be indirectly referring to some geographical development, some event in human history, or some merely to underline some abstract values. Hinduism does not insist anyone to accept a particular belief, as there are many Hindus who believe in formless concept of God and do not subscribe to Avatar theory. They regard the same attempts to glorify the lives of ordinary human beings to divinity, when political theory of Divine right of the kings was in vogue. Whatever be the case, at least, these Puranic incidents are magnificent literary works of fertile human imagination to feel proud of our ancestral heritage.

Hinduism has thus unified abstract scientific knowledge and humanized illustrations for the development of individuals in the form of spiritual literature and mythology. There is freedom from blasphemy or fundamentalism in Hinduism.

Chand K Sharma

(Next: Splashes – 10- Library of Hindu Scriptures)

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