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Splashes – 28/72 – Festivals of Cultural Unity

Celebration of birthdays and wedding anniversaries is not an adoption from West, but Hindu Society has already been celebrating important events concerning their ancestors as common festivals. The role models inspired succeeding generations to emulate the ideals set by them. Out of several events remembered as festivals, only a few are mentioned here.

Maha Shivaratri: This festival is observed in honor of Lord Shiva. It falls on the dark half of month February-March (Phalgun). Shiva was married to Parvati on this day. People observe a strict fast on this day. Some devotees do not take even a drop of water and keep awake all night. The Shiva Linga is worshipped throughout the night by washing it with milk, curd, honey, and rose-water. Many pilgrims flock to Shiva temples. This ‘sadhna’ for strengthening will power and self-control.

Mahavira Jayanti: The birth anniversary of Lord Mahavira, founder of Jainism is celebrated throughout in India and particularly in Gujarat and Rajasthan. Lord Mahavira was born in a princely family and was contemporary of Lord Buddha. In his teachings, he laid stress on non-violence and simplicity. Subsequently Jainism bifurcated in two branches namely Digambar and Shwetamber. They are overtly recognized by the color of their attire. Digambers wear saffron while Shwetabers dress up in whites. Lord Mahavir is also believed to have incarnated in the form of twenty-four Teerthankars. Idols of Lord Mahavira are taken out in procession on Mahavira Jayanti. Strong commitment to Ahimsa for preserving ecology is the hallmark of Jainism.

Ramnavmi: Ramnavmi is the birthday of Lord Rama, the seventh incarnation of Vishnu; and falls on the 9th day of the bright fortnight of the month of March-April (Chaitra). Temples are decorated and the image of Lord Rama is richly adorned. The holy Ramayana is read in the temples. Those talented in the art of story-telling and acting narrate the thrilling episodes of the Ramayana. The wedding of Rama with Sita is re-enacted by street theaters. It is an extremely colorful ceremony, besides performing grand worship of Lord Rama in the gorgeously decorated temples. At Ayodhya, the birthplace of Rama, a big fair is held on this day. Lord Rama and Sita are ideal couples committed to discharging their obligations.

Baisakhi: Baisakhi is the first day of the month Vaishakh, and signifies ushering of the New Year according Vikrami Calendar. It is among the few Indian festivals that have a fixed date with Christian calendar. It is on this day that Sun enters Aries (Mesha), the first sign of Zodiac. Based on the Indian solar calendar, this festival falls on April 13 every year, and on April 14 once every 36 years. The devout celebrate the Baisakhi with a dip in the holy rivers just around the break of dawn. Besides commencement of harvesting season there are multiple reasons for the popularity of this festival. Some of the historical events associated with this day are:-

  • The Muslim rulers with barbaric cruelty put Guru Arjan Dev, the fifth Sikh Guru and some of his followers, in to a cauldron of boiling oil resulting in their martyrdom at Lahore.
  • By initiating ‘Khalsa’ into ‘Saint Soldier’ image of Hindu youth, Guru Gobind Singh combined the spirit of Karama-yoga and Bhakti-yoga in Hindu society to defend the Hindus in the face of Muslim atrocities.
  • Swami Dayanand Saraswati founded Arya Samaj, which is a reformed-religious sub-group of Hindus devoted to Vedas and formless God.

Buddha Purnima: Lord Buddha is included in the incarnations of Trinity God Vishnu. The full moon night during the months of April May (Vaishakh) is more significant, since three most important events in Lord Buddha’s life are connected. His birth, enlightenment and finally death occurred on same day, although in different years. The followers take out processions on this day to commemorate the events. 

Guru Purnima: The full moon day in the month of July-August (Ashad) is celebrated as Guru Purnima, to the memory of Maharishi Vedavyasa, who compiled Vedas, authored eighteen Puranas, and the Mahabharata. It is observed similar to ‘Teacher’s Day’ in the modern concept of celebrations. Reverence and offerings are made to living Gurus

Raksha Bandhan: Raksha Bandhan falls in the month of August-September (Shravana). It is something like a ‘Pledge Day’ between brothers and sisters. Brothers pledge to protect sisters against all misfortunes and offer gifts. In return, sisters tie an amulet known as a Raksha or Rakhi round the wrist of brothers as a protection from evil during the coming year.  Brahmins similarly tie amulets round the wrists of their patrons and receive assurance from them regarding protection of Dharma in the society. 

Janmashtami:  Janmashtami falls in the month of August-September (Bhadrapada).  This is celebrated to mark the birthday of Lord Krishna, the eighth Divine Incarnation. Temples are decorated for the occasion. At Mathura, the birthplace of Lord Krishna, special spiritual gatherings are organized. Pilgrims from all over India attend these festive gatherings. From the doorway to the inner meditation room of the house the floor is marked with a child’s footprints, using some flour mixed with water to create the feeling of Lord’s own Feet marks. Towards midnight, there is a grand worship of Lord Krishna.

Ganesh Chaturthi: Ganesh Chaturthi falls in August-September (Bhadrapada). Devoted Hindus in all parts of the world observe it as the birthday of Lord Ganesha, the god of wisdom. Large figures of the Deity are made and worshipped for ten days. Thereafter the same are carried in processions to be immersed in water. This festival is celebrated more zest in the state of Maharashtra and neighboring areas. Following an interesting mythological legend, devotees avoid looking at moon on this day to symbolize avoiding company of those who are evildoers.

Deepavali: The festival ‘row of lights’ falls on the last two days of the dark half of month October-November (Kartika). There are various origins attributed to this festival like the marriage of Lakshmi with Lord Vishnu, the worship of Kali, the triumphant return of Lord Rama to Ayodhya after defeating Ravana and on this day Sri Krishna killed the demon Narakasura.

On this day Hindu merchants open new account books and pray for success and prosperity during the coming year. The homes are cleaned, decorated, and are illuminated by night with earthen oil-lamps. Sweets are distributed and crackers are burst to set the mood of festivity. 

Guru Nanak Jayanti: The birthday of Guru Nanak Dev, the founder of Sikhism, is celebrated during November (Kartik) for three continuous days. The Holy Scripture Guru Granth Sahib is taken out in procession, as well as continuous recitation of the same is also done in Gurudwaras. Martial art displays are arranged. The finale of the ceremony is always followed by a free sumptuous community meal (langar).

Besides the above, there are several other saints whose birthdays are celebrated by their followers out of those Sant Ravi Das, King Ugrasen, Maharishi Valmiki, Maharana Pratap and Chhatrapati Shiva ji are more prominent.

Undesirable Infiltration

These days some multinational corporations have been trying to infiltrate certain festivals among youth population to sell their products. Some vested interests have also been active to popularize certain festivals like Valentine Day, and New Year’s Day to promote their business products and culture at the cost of our cultural unity. Some occasions have been created to usher foreign ideologies in the name of working classes like Labor Day, Teacher’s day, Red Cross day and so on.

The festivals of the Faiths having their origin and history outside India have no relevance and are cultural aggression on our soil. A country rich in her own cultural traditions does not require importing festivals that have no relevance to our environment, culture and history.

Festivals reflect the cultural unity of India. Unfortunately some of the festivals have got distorted over a period. The distortion has eclipsed the spirit and enthusiasm.  Hindu groups need to re-establish proper norms to be observed for restoring their grandeur.  

Chand K Sharma

(Next: Splashes – 29/72 – Practices for Self Control)

Splashes -27/72 – Environment Related Festivals

Man gets tired on account of hard work and monotonous actions. Some change to relax and something to cheer up is necessary. Festivals (Parva) add color, spice and meaning to life. Unlike other religions, there is no festival for public breast beatings at all. Hindu society is a cheerful and open society having large list of festivals. There is no regimentation. Individuals may opt to celebrate festivals with family members or with the community at large, or not at all.  Even non-Hindus can also join the festivity.

All Hindu festivals signify unity of the Indian nation. Every Hindu festival is a community gathering. They are directly related to local environment, places, events, and personalities within the geographical and cultural domain of India.

Importance of Cleanliness

Hindu festivals reflect a combination of spirituality and hygiene with social life. They begin with cleanliness and decoration of living as well as work place. Bathing in the morning by all members of the family, followed by some recitation and meditation are integral part of every festival.

Cultural Unity in Diversity

Multitudes of festivals reflect the cultural diversity and serves as unifying force on the vast population of Hindus in India and abroad. Some common features of festivals are:

  • Most of Hindu festivals are connected to the cycle of seasons. These are observed to promote healthy environment and preservation of ecology.
  • Some festivals commemorate events connected with the development of Society as several legends are associated to these festivals.
  • There are festivals to celebrate the birth of Hindu role model ancestors.
  • Some festivals are regional, and reflect the life style of people living in different parts of the country.
  • Certain sects within the Hindus celebrate some festivals exclusively connected to the history or founders of the sect.

At on average four to five festivals are celebrated every month. Only the few most celebrated festivals have been mentioned here.

Seasonal Festivals 

The salient feature of these festivals is that seasonal changes are visible in nature to inspire the feelings of festivity. The reasons for festivity are not far-fetched, but spring out from local environment.

Lohri: Lohri is celebrated in the month of January (Posha) during the peak of winter season, particularly in Punjab and its neighboring areas. Few days prior to Lohri children go door to door and rattle funny humorous folk songs to demand a treat, which could be groundnuts, Rewaries, or a coin to light community fire. The celebrations would close with burning wooden logs at night and all young and old singing and dancing around the bonfire. Puffed maize corn, roasted groundnuts, sesame and Rewaries would be thrown in the fire as offerings, before being distributed to participants in the celebration.  Besides community gathering and enjoyment, the occasion provides an opportunity to burn old and discarded household belongings as a cleaning drive before the New Year dawns on the following day.

Makara Sankranti: The morning after Lohri, is the beginning of Hindu New Year. On this day Sun enters Northern hemisphere. Indians knew this fact much earlier than the battle of Mahabharata. Bhishma Pitamah, while lying on the support of piercing arrows, had revealed that he would die when Sun entered ‘Utrayana’ (Northern Hemisphere). In South India this festival is called ‘Pongal’. It is closely connected with agriculture, and can be rightly identified as the ‘Farmer’s Day’, who bring home the fruit of their toil. Symbolically, the first harvest is offered to the Almighty. Newly harvested corn is cooked for the first time on that day. Joyous festivities mark the celebration in every home. Mass kite flying is enjoyed. The landlord distributes food, clothes and money among the laborers. Special prayers are offered in temples and houses. Homes and roads are cleaned and swept and lovely designs are drawn with rice-flour. There is family re-union in all homes. Brothers renew their contacts with their married sisters by giving presents. It is a great day not only for humans but also for cattle. The herds of cows are adorned beautifully, fed and worshipped. Birds and other animals are also fed. In some villages the youth demonstrate their valor by taking the bull by the horn, and often win their brides thereby. On the same day, young girls prepare various special dishes—sweet rice, sour rice, rice with coconut—and take them to the bank of nearby river or tank. They lay some leaves on the ground and place on them balls of the various preparations for the fish, birds, and other creatures. It strengthens the bond of ‘live and let live’ by sharing whatever we have. One is given the message that real wealth lies in the goodwill and friendship of all.

Vasant Panchmi: Vasant Panchami marks the end of winter and is the first day of spring season, when flowers bloom all over the countryside. People worship the Goddess Saraswati on this day. Pupils offer their reverence to teachers. Festivity continues for entire Vasant season. Men, women and girls wear lemon yellow clothes, which is the sign of auspiciousness and spirituality. Even some items in the food are also colored yellow by using saffron. All the folks get together and sing songs connected with spring. It is an occasion similar to ‘Valentine Day’ for young man, not only for a day, but to last for the entire season to propose their desired partners. It is a youthful season devoted to aesthetic senses.

Holi: Holi is a festival of merry-making spread over for ten days, and marks the beginning of summer season. It is also known as Kamadahana in South India, the day on which Lord Siva subdued Kamadeva (Cupid). There is another legend connecting Bhakta Prahlad’s escape from death at the hands of Holika. People clean their homes, segregate non-usable articles in the house and burn them, thereby destroying disease-breeding bacteria also. Voluntarily people assemble at community places and smear each other’s with scented colors, offer sweets and drinks, and reconcile if at all there had been any misunderstandings with anyone. People compose and sing humorous Holi songs. It is like the ‘April Fool’s Day’ of the Europeans or Tomato throwing of Spain.

Mahalaya Amavasya: The dark fortnight in the months of September-October (Ashwin) is known as the Mahalaya Paksha. This period is especially earmarked for offering oblations to the departed ancestors. During these fourteen days, offerings are made for the departed souls, whether they are related to individuals or not. The incident underlines the supreme value of food over material wealth and also affection and gratitude towards ancestors. Human body is the most important vehicle for realizing God and it is sustained on food. Thus the gift of food is considered as the greatest gift.

Naga Panchmi: In Hinduism snakes are not evils but an important ecological link. The medicinal properties of snake poison had been realized long ago, and therefore this festival is exclusively dedicated to snakes. The festival falls on the fifth dark night in the month of August (Shravin).  Snake figures are painted on house entrances, people observe fast and make offerings. Their likely habitats are not disturbed.

Navaratri:  This festival is observed twice a year, once as ‘Rama-Navaratri’ in the month of April-May (Chaitra) to mark the beginning of summer: and then as ‘Durga Navaratri’ in September-October (Ashawin) to mark the beginning of winter. Shri Rama is worshipped during Ramnavmi, and Mother Durga is worshipped during Navaratri. The beginning of summer, and beginning of winter are two important junctions of climatic and solar influence, and bodies and minds of people undergo considerable change on account of the changes in weather. For health point of view, diet routines are changed for a period of ten days by observing fasts, to prepare digestive system to acclamations with the changes in weather. Durga Puja is the greatest Hindu festival in which God is adored as Mother and is celebrated in various parts of India in different styles. This truly reflects the unity in diversity of Hinduism. Particularly in Gujarat males and females dance for nine nights in gorgeous festive attires to the rhythm of devotional songs in praise of Goddess Durga.

Vijaya Dasami: The tenth day after Durga Puja is called Vijaya Dasami or Dussera. During ancient and medieval period this marked the beginning of campaigning season in India, when flooding rivers used to be on receding course after the rainy season. Weapons are cleaned and decorated. Kings undertook adventurous expeditions on the day of the Vijaya Dasami after performing Shastra Puja. In India, hunting is not undertaken during breeding season of animals. As after rains, animals have enough to graze and their new-born turn self-sufficient, the kings who did not go to the battlefields would go for hunting in the deep forests to annually test their weapons and skills.  In Rajasthan even these days’ people arrange mock attacks on some nearby fort on Vijaya Dasami. Dussera signifies the victory of Lord Rama over Ravana, the demon King. The effigies of Ravana, his brother Kumbhakarna, and son Meghnada stuffed with crackers are burned to symbolize the victory of good over the evil. 

Like Naga Panchmi, some other festivals have been dedicated exclusively to the well-being of other animals also. On the occasion of Hanuman’s birthday, fruit offerings are made to monkeys. Such actions affirm Satan Dharma’s commitment to the principal of Live and let live in practice.

Apart from living beings, awareness towards non aware living beings also reflects through festivals. There is a long list of prominent rivers and mountains regarded as sacred. As for as possible, festivals are celebrated around local rivers, streams, ponds and hillocks. That way in Hinduism humans remain closest to Nature in every shade.

Chand K Sharma

(Next: Splashes – 28/72 – Festivals of Cultural Unity)

Splashes – 20/72 Stages in Human Life

Hinduism suggests a balanced life style to be lived. It requires every individual to pass through four stages called ‘Ashrams’. Each stage consists of twenty five years. The division of stages is natural and visible.

During first stage, body and mind develop with inquisitiveness, strength and enthusiasm. It is followed by second stage, when awareness of gender consciousness and development of reproductive organs is conspicuous to signal time for marriage partnership. Thereafter, during third stage, the individual desires to share his experiences with younger generation. The maturity in age shows up through grey hair, and patience in behavior. Finally the last stage is reached with wrinkles, gradual loss of senses, stamina and enthusiasm and signal proximity to death in waiting. It is then time for voluntary renunciation.

This division of four stages is universal all the world over. Humans fear death if they did not enjoy life, but those who discharged their obligations remain composed till last. The state of Moksha is always experienced before death and not afterwards.

The four Ashramas in life

Sages of Hinduism have thus divided life span in four Ashramas (phases) as Brahmacharya, Grahastha, Vanaprastha and Sanyasa Ashramas.

Learning Stage (Brahmacharya Ashram)

The first 25 years are earmarked for celibacy during student hood. This stage begins with awareness and observation of environment around, and responding to stories from parents. Formally this stage begins with entry to school at an early age and continues till education is completed. The goal is to acquire knowledge, build character and learn to shoulder responsibilities. This is the stage of learning skills, forming right habits, and developing sound mind in healthy body. As success of future life depends upon the foundation laid during first phase of life, strict discipline is desired through self-control. Character building and adoption of value based rational personality are the essential features of this stage in which individuals are expected to:-

  • Live a simple life close to nature, in respect of diet, clothes and luxuries.
  • Develop an inquisitive attitude; gain knowledge and perfection in as many fields as possible.
  • Mold personality by adopting strong value based habits in dealings.
  • Adopt healthy physical habits to have sound mind in healthy body.
  • Abstain from indulging in intoxicants and all kinds of sensual pleasures.
  • Abstaining form negative, vulgar and unethical thoughts and activities.
  • Develop respectful attitude towards teachers, elders, and compassion for fellow beings.
  • Attain proficiency in the knowledge and skill for adopting profession for livelihood.

House Holder Stage (Grahastha Ashram)

Next 25 years mark the second stage of Grahastha Ashram. Individuals are suggested to get married and live the life of house holders. Hinduism does not regard the birth of a person as a result of any ‘sin’ or ‘disobedience to the command of God’, but birth in human form is regarded as a reward for having done good deeds in the previous life. Hindus are not obsessed with the feeling of guilt, or sin having been committed by their parents. On the contrary, an issue less person is considered as having lived an incomplete and unnatural life.

It is only the house holders like Rama and Krishna, who are remembered and worshiped. Individuals are expected to make to the system of reproduction continuing by having as many children they are capable to produce, feed, educate and bring up. Further, it is the duty of every individual to strive for acquisition, and multiplication of material wealth to cater the just needs of self, family and society; within the framework of Dharma.

The foundation of Hindu society has been laid on Grahastha Ashram and all other Ashrams remain supported by it. Hinduism calls upon house holders to share the fruits of their activities with society, and environment, rather living a self-centered secluded life. While rest of the world has recently started dedicating one day in a year to symbolically discharge these obligations, Hindu house-holders are required to perform five Yagnas daily, towards the well-being of environment and society. The five yagnas are as follows:-

  • For Environment (Deva-Yagnas) – This obligation implies protection and preservation of environment for the benefit of all living beings. In contrast to watering plants once a year on International Environment day, house holders are expected to replace and restore whatever is used from the environment on day to day basis, such as planting more trees, if any were cut for some purpose.
  • For Ancestors (Pitri -Yagnas) – This obligation is towards elder generation. Whatever exists today is due to the efforts of previous generations. It is a sort of daily ‘thanks giving’ to the elders. Respecting age has been a fundamental part of Hindu culture.
  • For Institutes of Learning (Brahma-Yagnas) – Offering respect to teachers is also the foundation of Hindu culture. In ancient India, expertise and experience were not sold by the teachers, but deserving students were provided training free of cost. In return students used to offer expertise gratitude gift (Guru Dakshina) voluntarily to the teacher and their institute of learning. Thus it is the duty of every house holder to contribute resources towards propagation of knowledge and skills for the generations to come. This was not regarded as charity but an obligation. Unfortunately when practice of Guru Dakshina waned out, deformed version came up in the form of ‘under hand donation fee’ to educational institutions at the time of admission.
  •  For Society (Nri-Yagnas) – It implies obligation towards fellow beings, society, community, the country, and entire humanity. It is like observing ‘Social Service Day’ on daily basis. It inspires the feelings of patriotism in every householder to remain concerned about the country, community, family and lastly for self. Contrary to this spirit now a days people have left the fate of society and country in the hands of few corrupt politicians and the adverse consequences of indifference are visible everywhere.
  • For Birds and Animals (Bhuta-Yagna) – It implied protection and preservation of ecology by feeding animals, and non-interference with their natural habitat. It included taking care of sick birds and animals also.  It is similar to Wild life Day. While people in India still can be seen feeding ants and birds, in most of the developed countries, wild life is being destroyed recklessly.

Retirement Stage (Vanaprastha Ashram)

The next 25 years of life is the third stage. It is generally called a retired life. One entered this ashram after discharging responsibilities of Grahastha ashram. This is known as Vanaprastha stage of life. One begins devoting more time to study of scriptures, contemplation and meditation. This is the occasion when elder generation delegates authority to younger generation at home as well as in the society. The older thereafter indulged in introspection and meditation. This institution is the most important link between past, present and future generation of mankind, during which Individuals are expected to:-

  • Share the experiences of life with younger generation by giving counseling and help when asked.
  • Help to bring up grand children through infusing right thoughts (sanskars), and healthy habits.
  • Control personal ego and tempers against provocations.
  • Gradual reduction of personal needs, physical comforts and luxuries.
  • Aim for total control over passions of sex, anger, greed, attachment, and ego.
  • Supplementing house holders in the performance of their daily five Yagnas by volunteering physical service and guidance.

Renunciation Stage (Sanyas Ashram)

This last stage used to be the acme of life. This is the final stage in which an individual mentally renounced all worldly ties, spent time in meditation to ponder over the mysteries of life. In ancient times one would part company with family and lived as hermit. They obliterated past identities, ego, achievements, and social attachments by adopting a new name. They were to shed their titles, degrees and all worldly possessions. To deflate their ego, they were advised to abstain from gazing their own image through the mirror. However today the least individuals are expected to:

  • Attain freedom from social obligations towards others as well as any expectations in return.
  • Live at least mentally away from relations to overcome attachments.
  • Possess no personal property or at least desires for more.
  • Live a kind of natural life with least of man-made gadgetry.

It does not however prescribe that everyone need to acquire a settlement in forests, hill resorts, or on pavements. One can attain a mental state of Sanyas while living with the family also. Detachment is a state of mind and not a physical condition.

Flexibility in the System

Every rule has an exception. The ascent from Brahmacharya to Sannyas need not always be gradual. The scriptures allowed double or even triple skipping to qualified aspirants. One could embrace Grahastha, Vanaprashtha or Sanyas from any stage. At the same time these stages can overlap due to the peculiar circumstances of individuals, geographical conditions, or when the situation is beyond control. But to live a balanced life one must pass all stages. Under exceptional circumstances individuals may slide back from their stages.

Hinduism has not made any water-tight compartments in social life of the individual and sufficient flexibility is provided in the system. The catchword is that while passing through one stage of life, individual should aim at preparing and moving to the next higher stage and not reverting to previous stage.

This kind of division in life is suitable for every society all over the world to bridge gap in transfer of value system, authority and responsibilities. Social problems and individual anxieties are multiplying in today because of non-adherence to  Ashrama System.

Chand K Sharma 

Next: Splashes – 21/ 72- Making of Universal Personality)

Splashes – 14 – Mahabharata is Grand Panorama

This epic was earlier known as Bharat Samhita. Because it vividly depicted philosophy and life style, it was counted as Pancham Veda also. The title Mahabharata was subsequently assigned to it.

Cultural Importance

Mahabharata is the most voluminous epic that portrays all aspects of Indian life on a grand scale. The epic contained one million verses (shalokas), composed in Sanskrit by sage Ved Vyasa. It has been translated in almost all the languages of the world and has inspired many authors not only of India, but of different languages in the world. The theme of Mahabharata has been used in all the literary formats ranging from poetry, narration, comics, drama, operas and cinematic productions. The episodes of the epic have been used as themes in all the dance forms of India. The grandeur of the epic is most befitting subject for films using latest technology and has the potential to surpass the classics like Ben Hur, Lord of the Rings, and Harry Potter.

While Ramayana depicts Treta Yuga, Mahabharata is cast in Dwapar Yuga and culminates in the beginning of Kaliyuga of our present times. Some characters of both the epics are common, like Deva Rishi Narada, Parshurama, and Hanuman. They provide a bridge to connect us with Treta and Dwapar yuga. It is primarily the story of Kauravas and Pandavas clans to which other contemporary dynasties of Dwapar Yuga have been skilfully woven, culminating in war on a grand scale for eighteen days. Every character makes an entry with his past and can be visualized in flesh and blood with all the possible human strengths and weaknesses. While Ramayana portraits the main character Rama discharging his obligations in the roles of an obedient son, a caring husband, an affectionate brother, a sincere friend, an ideal king, and a loving father; Mahabharata depicts various situations of human society wrapped in all the shades of passion.

It is pertinent to mention that Hindu epic writers exercised self censor ship. The accounts giving details about the birth of Dhritrashtra, Pandu and Vidur and later their sons, have been allegorically camouflaged to avoid vulgarity. The descriptions of wars and other incidents are metaphorical and are not to be taken in literal sense to denounce or disbelieve the epic. However whatsoever had been narrated is medically and scientifically getting possible in our day to day happenings now.

The Environment

The environment is that of a well-developed grand civilization. Mahabharata covers the entire length and breadth of not only India but its characters travel up to heavens and the under-world also. They are depicted larger than life but are every inch humans like us today. There is less appearance of Rakhshasas in Mahabharata than in Ramayana. That indicates transformation of society and passage of time.

The battle of Mahabharta was fought on the battle field of Kurukshetra, and the same was narrated to King Dhritrashtra through live running commentary of his charioteer Sanjay. Combined strength of the rival armies of Kuruvas and Pandavas was 18 Akhshoni. Each Akhshoni consisted of 21870 chariots, 21870 elephants, 109350 infantry soldiers and 65610 horsemen, thus it works out to be more than the size of today’s corps formation in the army. There is rank structure of commanders, like Senapati, Commander in Chief and Maharathi equivalent of army commanders and so on. Both rivals had set their War Headquarters at Kurukshetra, but battles are depicted being fought at different locations under respective army commanders. The kind of operations, fortifications, tactics, and use of weaponry has a semblance of ancient world war.

Both armies had agreed to observe strict code of conduct, the kind of Geneva Conventions we have today. Injured, unarmed and unequal were not to be attacked. The war was restricted only to the battle field and no civil population was to be harmed. The war commenced each day at daybreak with blowing of warning through conch shells and ended at sunset. Thereafter even the rival commanders could freely move and socially interact with their counterparts.

The war culminated in the total destruction of Kuruvas and only few survived in the Pandava clan. The net outcome for both was waste of men and materials; a lesson human society still needs to remember.

Historical Relevance 

There is no clear cut historical account available about the History of India after Mahabharata period till we restore our links with ancient India during the time of Chandragupta Maurya. We need further to re-establish missing link through Puranas and epics.  Ramayana, Mahabharata and Puranas are rich sources lying untapped by historians as epics and folk literature to re-structure and verify our historical records.

It is undisputed that Divine Right Theory of kingship was followed all over the world since the dawn of civilization, and is continuing today also under the guise of constitutional monarchy, in some countries. It was earlier customary to affiliate the origin of  ruling family to some god to impress the legitimacy of their rule. The solar (Suryavanshi) and lunar (Chandravanshi) dynasties are the oldest all over the world amongst ruling dynasties. The Solar dynasties got spread out in India and countries in South East Asia while the lunar dynasties were scattered in China, Syria, Middle East and Egypt. Even today, Sun and Moon are regarded as prominent deities in some form in those areas.  Ramayana was the epic of Suryavanshi clans, while Mahabharata is mainly concerned with Chandravanshi clan. Both had their origin in India.

Ethical Importance

About twenty thousand verses of the epic refer to statesmanship, diplomacy, protocols, ethics and observance of Dharma. As a matter of fact the entire conflict is about victory of Dharma over Adharma. There is galaxy of exponants on the subject in the person of Krishna, Bheeshama, Dronacharya, Shakuni, Shalya and Vidura. Their statements continue to inspire subsequent generations also .

Even the feminine element of Hindu society is aptly reflected in strength in Mahabharta epic. Unlike Ramayan’s Sita  is seen suffering in lonliness, women play greater role in Mahabharta throughout right from providing the cause to the war and the consequences thereafter.

Srimad Bhagvad Gita 

Shrimad Bhagvad Gita is the philosophical part of epic Mahabharata. It is the longest philosophical poem in the world literature. It is in the form of a dialogue between Lord Krishna and prince Arjuna at the outset of Mahabharata war. It contains the gist of Upanishads and every thing of Hindu philosophy in nut shell.

The philosophy of Gita is most subtle, universal, and scientific and can be the guiding principle for every one under all situations. In brief the message is:

  • God appears to restore every thing in order whenever displacement to the natural order is caused.
  • God is the source of everything. He is omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscience.
  • Death is only to the body. Soul never dies.
  • Life and death have been continuing in cyclic order and shall continue.
  • Ultimately good always wins over evil.
  • All pray to the same God. In whatever form we worship, God fixes our faith to that very form.
  • One should do the work that suits him best and dedicate all actions to God.
  • One should discharge the assigned duty with out claiming credit for good and without fear, hesitation, or blame for the bad result as long as the intentions of the doer are pure and selfless.
  • Non violence is the greatest Dharma, so too is righteous violence for the protection of Dharma.
  • One has control only on his actions but not on the result.
  • One should do his duty without expecting any thing in return.
  • Excessive indulgence in every thing is bad.

In Shrimad Bhagvad Gita the sadhnas (practices) for self development have been classified under four broad categories called Yogas:

  1. Karma Yoga is the path of ‘Activism’ suited to the active type. It implies discharging duties to the best of ability and conscience, without getting attached, either to the fruits thereof.
  1. Bhakti Yoga is more suitable to overcome frustrations in life. It suggests loving God with heart and soul and surrendering completely to His will. It is passively doing the duties as they come without taking credit of being a ‘doer’.
  1. Raja Yoga is the path of activism with calculated risks. Raja Yoga prescribes an eight-fold discipline leading to sound mind in healthy body. The eight stages of Yoga are identical to Yogasutras.
  1. Gyana Yoga is ideal for those endowed with a sharp intellect and a keen power of discrimination. It is the approach of a perfectionist leaving nothing to chance and calls for practicing and exercising greatest controls in every aspect of life. Obviously this approach is the hardest, and to be followed by the few.

The Middle Path is a balanced combination of all the Yogas, with more of one and less of others depending upon one’s temperament. The emphasis is on doing one’s duty and leaving the rewards to the Superior being is common to all.

The philosophy underlined in Gita is the ancient most known to the mankind, and has universal appeal. It is practically relevant under all circumstances to everyone, and everywhere. Gita being the crux of Hindu philosophy can be termed as a simple and abridged substitute for all other religious texts for the laymen as well as for scholars on Hinduism.

Chand K Sharma

(Next: Splashes – 15/72- Puranas are Earliest Narratives)

Splashes – 7/72 – Fascinating Hindu Imagery

The learned sages of Hinduism explored the nature, identified properties of natural elements and passed down the knowledge to their disciples. Learning was then orally disseminated. Therefore for the sake of easy understanding and memorization, they humanized various phenomena and often interlinked their cause and effects by creating interesting stories. Later images were also added to the personifications and the narratives. Thereafter idols and sculptors also followed.

With passage to time, the humanized form of natural phenomena came to be worshipped or feared also. Super human power of gods and goddesses were suggested through four arms, multiple heads, and other such embellishments. Following traditions set by Santana Dharma, subsequent religions all over the worlds have also used icons or symbols to represent abstract and intangible objects. Since transmission of exploratory knowledge was oral due to which narratives sometimes got distorted, and the missing links were made up by local imagination all over the world. However, Hindu mythology has much more to offer to the world in the field of art and literature. It has combined and maintained scientific rationale in depiction of mythological art. In contrast most of the imagery created by Non Hindu faiths has no rationale of scientific backing.

Hindu Imagery is Universal

Hindu mythology is not confined to any particular geographical area and time. Hindu mythological characters have imprints left over the entire universe. There are several descriptions related to inter-planetary movements not only of gods and goddesses, but also of sages and mortal beings. The gods, goddesses and many of the sages like Narada, Ved Vyas, Durvasa, Jamavant, Hanuman, and Ashwathama are timeless and immortal.

Gods and godesses are capable to appear and disappear at any time and place. They remain clad in glittering costumes. They are powerful and resourceful to grant boons and can inflict destruction through curse as well. Every God possesses weapons to destroy the evil, as well as flowers to shower blessings.  No god is helpless that ordinary people could crucify him. By common sense, If a god is depicted in poor and helpless state certainly such god cannot help the mortal beings who repose their faith in his effectiveness. At the same time apart from being powerful and learned, Hindu gods possess human feelings also.

Representation of Environment

Hindus have laid greater importance on the preservation of environment. Animals and useful plants such as Peepal, Beil, Tulsi, and Banyan are associated with various gods and goddesses; to be loved, nurtured, and even worshiped. Sources of water, mountains and other elements of nature are also identified as abode of gods and goddesses. Recognizing their right to co-exist with others, animals are also included in Hindu mythology. No one is under rated. Even Pig and snakes, hated in other faiths have found a respectable place in mythology. Many animals are associated with Gods as their carriers. Animals like Varah, (pig) Kurma (tortoise) and Jatayu (vulture) were given the status of Gods and goddesses to impress the Omnipresence of the Almighty.

Carrying forward the importance of environment, Hindus have given utmost importance to the upkeep of ecology in daily life. The normal daily routines of individuals include purification of air through Yagnas and Havans, feeding of birds and animals, and watering of plants. Some of the trees that help in pollution free environment are planted in residential, near temples, and public places. All water sources, tanks, rivers, and lakes are regarded sacred.

Idea of Heaven and Hell

Every religion has drawn its own concept of heaven and hell. These concepts are identical to the conditions prevailing where the religion was originated.  Islam originated in heated desserts where nothing grew, so Islamic Heaven is cool, shady and has plenty of water sources. Fruit grow in plenty and nymphs are always on duty to serve the believers of Islamic faith. Their Hell is burning hot with lot-many apparatus of torture installed to punish the non-believers and worshipers of idols.

Christianity took its roots in chilly snow winds, therefore Biblical Heaven has perpatual Sun shine, but their hell is fully covered with ice. Hindus have conceptualized a rationalzed scenario. Death is caused when soul leaves the body. Once dead body of a Hindu is burnt, the departed soul does not feel any pleasure or pain. Therefore Hindus need not be afraid of the torture machines at work in hell nor should be over enthusiastic about the heaven.

In Hinduism Swarga and Narka are synonyms for happy and unhappy homes in their world of living. Pious people reside in heaven called Swarga and sinners are assigned to hell identified as Narka irrespective of their being believers or non-believers. The only difference is that Narka residents have chances of relocating themselves in Swarga with good deeds done when they are reborn. Because non-Hindu faiths do not believe in re-birth, obviously they do not get another chance to improve their fate. They continue waiting for the Day of Judgment in their respective graves.

Trinity of Supreme Power

Hindus believe in one God, but view the same God in three different modes of action that is known as the Trinity or Trimurti of Supreme God. The pictorial representation of Omnipresent, Omniscience and Omnipotent God performing creation, preservation and destruction of Universe is viewed separately as Brahma, Vishnu and Maheshwara personalities of the Almighty.

  • Brahma is the Creator God. He is traditionally depicted with four heads and four arms. Each head recites one of the four Vedas. One of the four hands hold a water-pot used for creating life, another a string of rosary beads to keep track of the Universal time, the third holds text of the Vedas, and the fourth hand holds a lotus flower. His spouse is goddess Saraswati to depict that without knowledge no creation can be made. Their mount is Hamsa (Swan). Brahma only occasionally interferes in the affairs of the gods and even more rarely that of mortal beings. He is known to do one time planning for the Universe and lets occurrences to happen as scheduled. He is generally depicted old to signify that creativity, wisdom, and experience without resources and power are like an old and helpless person. Since learned persons do not appreciate psycho-fancy, Brahma’s worshipers are few. There is only one temple of Brahma located at Pushkar in Rajasthan state.
  • Vishnu is the manifestation of almighty in the role of preserver of Universe. He is usually depicted as a four-armed humanoid with blue skin, either sitting or resting on a lotus flower or relaxing on coiled Sheshnag bed with His consort Lakshami (goddess of wealth) in attendance.  Being Omnipresent, his abode in Khsheer Sagar to signifies the scientific truth that all resources and life-giving substances and wealth originated from ocean. In his four arms, He carries a Conch shell to warn ill doers, a Celestial disc to chop their heads if necessary, a Mace being another weapon, and lotus flower to bless righteous persons. The posture of Vishnu thus indicates a person possessing resources and living in ultimate luxury. His mount is Garuda, the eagle. Being preserver of order in Universe, Vishnu is identified with his Avataras (Incarnations) to re-establish orderliness in the World on as required basis. He lets his viceroy Indra, the Chief of Devas, to manage the normal routines of Celestial Government and intervenes only when matters go out of Indra’s control. Resourceful persons usually have more people flocking around, so Vishnu mode of Almighty has large number of followers.
  • Maheshwara is the destroyer form of Almighty. He is represented as immersed in deep meditation, on Mount Kailasa. Though he represents destruction, but He is viewed as a positive force, the Destroyer of Evil. His vahana (mount) is ‘Nandi’, the Bull. He is usually represented by the symbol of Shivalinga. His consort is Parvati, a goddess of power (Shakti) who comes in many different forms, one of whom is Kaali, the goddess of death.  Maheshwara is Lord of all art forms. His image of Nataraja Shiva symbolizes the dance of the Universe, with all its delicately balanced heavenly bodies and natural laws which complement and balance each other. His great dance of destruction, called Taandava signifies Praleya – the doom’s day, resulting in total dissolution of the universe preceding recreation.  Powerful persons are feared, respected and flocked, thus Shiva also has large following.

Trinity inspired Division of Power Concept

All the three reflections are in fact one God performing three different functions of creation, preservation and finally destruction same way as a human can be son to the parents, husband to the wife, and father to his children. All the three separate functions are performed by the same person but the person is viewed differently by the parents, wife and children. The concept of Trinity wraps in itself the theory of ‘Division of power’ that was propounded much later by Montesquieu, political thinker of France for the modern Constitution writers.

Montesquieu however failed to visualize the necessity of providing mechanism for coordination between the water tight divisions of power. The Indian module of Trimurti has the remedy. Normally Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva function within their respective areas of creativity, preservation, and destruction respectively and do not trespass or interfere in to the field of each other’s. But whenever there is any crisis in the universe, they consult each other and are One Supreme Being. Thus ‘Government of the Universe’ reflects ‘division of power’ as well as ‘interdependence’ between the department chiefs that Montesquieu was to overlook.

Hindu supreme Gods are not confined to any geographical place and period. They neither have any beginning or any ending. They are universal. They do not have any ‘chosen seed’ or ‘own people’ to nourish and treat others with punishments. All said and done, there is no compulsion on any Hindu to accept the trilogy of Gods. Every Hindu is free to interpret the existence of one or more gods as per individual choice. This is the absolute secularity of Hinduism.

Chand K Sharma

(Next: Splashes – 8/72 – The management of Universe)

Splashes – 5/72 – Freedom in Hinduism

Santana Dharma alias Hinduism is a timeless faith, not restricted to any particular geographical area or period. It sees ‘unity’ in entire universe, and encourages everyone to obtain total contentment – as perceived by every individual, according to the attributes of his personality. It is the faith that practices ‘live and let live’ in letter and spirit while remaining committed to the norms of the local environment, where one lives in. It offers philosophy that is universally applicable to the entire mankind cutting across national barriers of race, color and creed to identify individual roots within its fold.

Freedom of Thought and Worship

From its evolution, Sanatna Dharma has taken in its fold all that has been created by The Master Creator. One may worship rivers, lakes, trees, and stones. One may opt to worship living or non-living things or none at all. One may believe in one God or multiples, formless God or symbols, idols, or human manifestations or none. Even atheists are accepted within its fold. Hinduism visualized everything as manifestation of God, and there are no evil creatures. Snakes and pigs are also close to Him. Hinduism neither bound itself to monotheism, nor with multiplicity of Gods and goddesses. The Supreme Being is not remembered by any particular name, but more than thousands names have been attributed to identify Him, and even many more may be acceptable.

Furthermore, Hinduism has never denounced the symbols of worship of non-Hindu faiths. One can pick up any names out of thousands of names attributed to God to addresses Him, but no one may force others to accept any particular name. Almighty may be invoked directly and individually as there is no restriction to about approach the Supreme Being through His son, Prophet, relation or an agent.

Vast catalog of scriptures

There is a vast catalog of scriptures to choose from in Sanskrit, the mother language of the universe as well as any other languages known to mankind. Genuine translations in other languages are also regarded as valid as the Sanskrit texts. The wisdom of learned sages compiled in scriptures and ancient scientific literature has been a source of inspiration for the entire humanity and has more to offer, once it is deciphered and made use of. But even those who have not read any of the scriptures, are also as much Hindus as those, who compiled them.

Religion of Total Freedom

Without any compulsion one may perform Hindu rituals at any place, facing any direction, at any time, and in any manner, with or without the help of any priest acting as intermediates. A Hindu is free to eat, wear and adopt any form of life style according to individual traits. There are no fatwas or dictates from the clergy. Hinduism never indulged in conversion of others to its fold. It has been the religion that preferred religious identity of a person on the basis birth, but its doors are open to all those who volunteer to assimilate. It is a faith that propagated Vasudeva Kutambkum and treated entire universe as a large family, much before various nations actually knew the existence of each other.

The dogmas of Hinduism have always been open to introspection, adoption and tolerance towards dissent. From time to time, sages have questioned the old dogmas, interpreted thoughts and have made additions, but all of them originated on Indian soil within the framework of Hinduism. This is the foundation of our mixed culture. It is a dynamic faith constantly in pursuit of Truth.

Inter Faith Hindu Unity

With all the diversities allowed to its followers Hindu Santana Dharma qualifies to be a unified faith representing the true culture of India. In brief anyone who subscribes to the philosophy of Live and Let live within the constraints of local conditions is regarded as Hindu and is expected to preserve and replenish the natural resources for the use of coming generations. The Hindu culture has been founded on this most secular and universal concepts.

The following salient features are common to all the off-shoots of Hindu religion in India:-

On faith

  • God is one but omnipresent. His presence is visualized in every particle and every living being.
  • Though God is formless but God can be identified in many ways including icons. God appears on Earth in some form or the other. All forms bear His reflections.
  • Shiva, Ram, Krishna, Gautama Buddha, Mahavir, and Guru Nanak are regarded as life models to be adopted. Additional models can also be adopted by individuals.
  • Saffron color is associated with wisdom, sagacity and spirituality. However no color is discarded.
  • Hinduism believes in re-birth after death.
  • All off shoots of Hinduism have identifies some holy places in pre-partitioned India, Nepal and Tibet.

Social Traditions

  • Hindus treat whole world to be one family.
  • Hindus do not indulge in the destruction of symbols of any other faith.
  • Hindus do not declare any holy war against non-believers.
  • They revere noble persons as saints.
  • They refrain from eating beef.
  • By and large practice monogamy and do not divorce their spouse.
  • All of them are subjected to same civil code.
  • All the versions of Santana Dharma harmoniously co-exist. There is a free movement of individuals and no one persuades other to convert. Conversions are not sought.
  • Sanskrit is the mother of all Indian languages.

Obligations towards Environment

  • River Ganga in particular is regarded as a sacred river but all rivers and water sources are respected.
  • They regard Tulsi (basil) plant to be sacred besides several others.
  • Their festivals are related to climatic changes, events and personalities within India. There are no festivals for crying or breast beating in public.
  • People all over India cremate their dead bodies and immerse the remains.

Validity to Time and Place

Hinduism has always kept itself updated with the changes in the environment. Reformers emerged within Hinduism and we never imported any saints from abroad. Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism are the reforms on Hinduism. It was thus natural that interpretations sometimes differed, but these sects stand as extensions of Hinduism. The idols of reformers have also been installed in Hindu temples. This is the unity in diversity of Hindu culture and secularism.

Exceptions of Insoluble Faiths

It is history that Christianity and Islam intruded to India and clashed with the main stream of Indian culture. They did not believe in the concept of secularism, tolerance, and co existence. It is the faith in Prophet Muhammad and his book Quran that made a Muslim. Similarly faith in Christ and his Bible made a person Christian. Dissent is not allowed. Non believers to their faith have no rights to live.

If one accepted the beliefs of Christianity and Islam, it can be surmised that even God was also biased against non Hindus and is merciful and beneficial to Hindus. He sends back Hindus to be re-born immediately after death to enjoy another spell of life, and do atonement for the faults of previous birth. Even to the defaulter Hindus He blesses them another chance to be reborn as Muslims, Christians, or even birds and animals to do some good work and get converted to Hinduism in their next life. Hindus get a rebirth, but for non Hindus, there is no second chance! They remain confined to graves after death till dooms day. And there is no life after dooms day as some of non-Hindu scriptures say.

Even today they are busy fighting like cats and dogs. As they were never a part of mainstream, they have remained aliens to Hindu culture. On the contrary Hindus have the tradition of recitation of their scriptures with a prayer of peace ‘Shanti paath” 

सह नाववतु सह नौ भुनक्तु सह वीर्यं करवावहै तेजस्विनावधीतमस्तु मा विद्विषाव है

ॐ शान्तिः शान्तिः शान्तिः”

meaning that we are here to respect each other & not hate each other.

Thus Hinduism preaches all sects a natural way of life in harmony with nature. One may opt for any form for personal worship and customs. It is here that onlookers get blinded by the diversity in Hinduism and fail to see the unity of parts in the body of Elephant.

Chand K Sharma

Splashes – 4/72 – Universal Human Ethics of Hinduism

Everyone wants to LIVE. Even a worm turns when interfered with or threatened. A docile cow also defends with her horns. Animals eat other animals for food, but once their hunger is satisfied and there is no threat of life, animals do not kill others unnecessarily. They let others co-exist. The stronger would kill the weaker, only when there is need for food or threat to life.

Live and Let Live

Earlier humans also behaved like animals, but with more knowledge, awareness and development of empathy for others they started reliance more on agricultural products for their needs. With the advent of civilization, more humans turned to vegetarian food. They preferred cotton or woolen clothing than wearing animal skins. Today civilized humans observe restraint before killing others for food. When threatened they may exploit other options than killing the attacker. The difference between animals and humans is distinct. While animals co-exist, humans let others also live.

Diversification of Religions

The concept of ‘let live’ is marginally different from ‘co-existing’. Whereas animals instinctively co-exist, humans evolved ethical codes to practice ‘LIVE’ and ‘LET LIVE’. Live is survival for all living beings, but letting others live is Dharma for the mankind.

The wise men in India formulated ethics of certain ‘Do’s and Don’ts’ to follow the concept of ‘let others also live’.  That implied no one should take the share of the other, another’s life, and resources. Non-Violance, Truth, Contentment, Control over greed and avoidance of misappropriation were considered human virtues. Those principles came to be regarded as fundamental ethics (Yamas) in Sanatan Dharma. More activities aimed to preserve the environment came under ‘Dos’ while activities resulting in destruction of environment were classified as Don’ts in Dharma. Living in harmony with local environment, letting all creatures live a natural life have been the essence of Sanatan Dharma.  Any one following this in substance is surely a Hindu by faith and deed irrespective of his place of living in the world. ‘Vasudeva Kutambum’ has been the philosophy of Sanatan Dharma since times immemorial, implying whole world to be one large family.

Subsequently, local variations crept in the codes of ‘let-live’ all over the world keeping due to the environment, geographical, political, and economic conditions, as well as the state of emotional, psychological and general awareness of the groups. Following the pattern of Hinduism, those ethical standards emerged as separate religions. All religions primarily stress adherence to its ethical standards that lay down rules for regulating human relationships within the group. Thus, observance of charters to regulate relationships between humans, animals, and environment came to be known as divine command of the Creator. Family is considered to be the smallest group; persons of same religious community form larger group.

Observance of Dharma is Human

The animal world, plants and other celestial bodies perform their functions without any discrimination. Sun, Air, Water, Clouds, and Moon share their properties universally without any fear or favor. Birds and animals also perform their instinctive functions without any bias. It is only humans who perform their functions by choice and exercise selectivity. As all living things are ecologically dependent and co-exist, observance of the religious codes has been primarily the responsibility of human beings only. Person without Dharma is inhuman.

Competition and animosity between religions led to conflicts, bloodshed and wars whenever one religion tried to trespass the area of another religion. People living under different environments grouped themselves into different ethnic societies, countries, and religious communities. They were identified by some name given to them by the founder leader of their ‘Religion’. As long as people continued to observe their codes within the boundaries of their environment, their relations remained harmonious but once they crossed boundaries and came in clash with different environments that always led to disharmony and conflicts.

To cite an example, it is the ‘dharma’ of all drivers to keep left of the road in India and other Asian countries. Their environmental infrastructure is also designed accordingly. Similarly those living in USA drive keeping right and have their own environment. As long as both confine their ‘dharma of driving’ within their own territories both systems are fine, but if any of them intrudes into rival’s territory the result would be accidents, clashes and bloodshed.

First religion of mankind

The ethical code that emerged in India was popularly called Sanatan Dharma. It was thus the first religion for the entire mankind. Other religions originated later and shared many similarities with Sanatan Dharma. Commonly they were referred as paganism by Europeans when they started to civilize themselves. Today Sanatan Dharma is commonly identified as Hinduism. Hindus practiced live and let live, according to the conditions and constraints of Indian environment so that its resources could continuously be replenished for the use of future generations. Hindus regarded all living creatures to be the manifestations of God, entire universe as a large family. They condensed the concept in the doctrine of Vasudeva Kutumbakam.

Hindus laid importance on the preservation of environment. Various elements of nature such as mountains, sources of water like Rivers, lakes and oceans, also came to be respected as gods and goddesses. Yagnas were performed for purification of air. Animals and useful plants such as Peepal, Beil, Tulsi, and Banyan were preserved loved, nurtured, and even worshiped for their beneficial properties. Recognizing animals’ right to co-exist with men, Hindus inducted many animal forms into mythology also. No one was under-rated. Even pigs and snakes hated in other faiths found a respectable place in Hindu mythology. Many animals got associated with Gods as their carriers. Some animals were given the status of Gods and goddesses to impress the Omnipresence of the Almighty Creator. The animals were given prime position in art and architecture also. The emperors, kings and queens adopted different animals as their emblems as well as logos on flags. Birds and animals were embossed on royal emblems and coins were also minted depicting their images.

Rational and Humanist Approach

Hinduism considered man to be potentially divine and not a sinner off spring of Adam and Eve. Even the worst of ‘sinners’ may also find a place in Hinduism. By declaring that the whole universe is the projection of the Cosmic Mind, and same thread of unity passes through the diverse manifestations of all living beings, Hinduism carries conviction to the modern scientist in every concept of religion.

Hinduism is very liberal. As per its tenants God is not pleased with any particular form, race, nationality, clothing, food or rituals. If someone did not read any scripture, performed no rituals, and did not worship God in any form – he still remains a Hindu as long as he is performing duty according to his Dharma – the ethical code of local environment. A person may be a father, a husband, a son, a warrior, teacher or a servant. As long as he performs his duties on the basis of “live and let live” he pleases the God as a Hindu.

Unity in Diversity

Hinduism has always kept itself updated with the changes. Hindus never imported any saints from abroad. Reformers emerged within Hinduism. Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, and Arya Samaj have been the reformist off shoots of Hinduism. It was thus natural that interpretations sometimes differed, but subsequent sects stayed as extensions of Hinduism. The idols of founders and reformers have also been installed in Hindu temples. Hindus have always reconciled to the fact that religious diversities originated from one environment shall have similarities and have been tolerant towards other faiths. This is the unity in diversity of Hindu culture.

Hinduism tolerated dissent in thought as well as in action. Since Muslims and Christians had their religious origins in environments different from India, they did not join the main stream and clashed with Hinduism due to their own ideologies of intolerance and Jihad. They did not recognize the right of others to live differently but followed only the “Live” part of Hindu code and converted others to their faith, or killed them.

Hinduism did not restrict its followers from questioning religious dogmas. For instance, Islam is unthinkable without Prophet Mohammad, his sharia and Quran; Christianity is unthinkable without Christ, his gospel and the Bible. It is a faith in a particular prophet and book, which made a man Muslim or Christian. In contrast a Hindu is free to accept God in any form; so much so that the person is encouraged to identify himself with the God without any intermediary.

Importance of Religion

Religion thus established man-made relationships. God is not concerned who believed or disbelieved His existence. Non-believers also have to live in His domain. One may go on arguing the existence of God supported by tools of rationality provided by science for any length of time, but when rationality ends, faith automatically starts. When actions and efforts do not bring desired results, instead of getting frustrated, Hindus have left that to be the will of God. When no one is in sight, Hindu would recoup confidence by leaning on God. Whatever is unknown and undiscovered by mankind is considered to be in the knowledge of God. When no one is around, God is supposed to be there to give company to everyone and encouragement. What more we want? The buck stops there. Without Him there will be nothing but loneliness, insecurity, hopelessness and frustration. God is always loving, everlasting, omnipresent and omniscience. Every creation is manifestation of God. This is the strength of Hinduism.

Religion establishes and regulates the relationship of persons living dead and those to follow. A person inherits package of personal identity at birth such as a Hindu, Muslim, Christian or anything else. The identity package includes his parentage, name, country and Religion at the time of his birth. This package consists of fond memories of ancestors, their beliefs, customs and traditions all compressed in to the religion. Though circumstances may force any one to adopt a new nationality but the link with ancestors is continued through the religion even after death.

This magnificent heritage of realizations, thoughts and beliefs has been passed to mankind in the form of Hindu literature. It needs to be preserved, continued updated and passed to future generations. We are free to accept or reject the ‘research work’ already done by our ancestors, add-on to it, or start fresh with some new approach. In whatever way we may look at, Hindu literature is the record of development of human race and its thinking process. Hindus in India are proud of it that we are the authors, preservers, and custodians of human history. This is where the importance of religion lies to us in the scientific age of reality.

Hinduism has unified humanity by taking everyone into its fold and has accepted the right of everyone to live by the ethics of the code suited to the local environment. Every human who practices – ‘live and let live within the constraints of prevailing environment’ is regarded a Hindu on the globe.

Chand K Sharma

(To follow: Splashes- 5/72 – Unity in Diversity of Hinduism)

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