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Splashes – 40/72 Literary Contributions by India

India is the home of literary fiction. Stories of Indian origin have long been told in distant lands of Asia and Europe in a variety of forms often without awareness of their source. Although Europeans had no knowledge of Sanskrit till seventeenth century, folk-lore of India had already inspired people over there. Many of the popular stories had been converted to the local mold and that could be a subject for research in the age of copy right.

The Art of Story Telling

Indians had perfected several styles of story-telling. Some of the most popular formats and folk tales in Sanskrit are mentioned here.

  • Ballad Singing – Ballad singing has been very popular in India. Singers would narrate stories through songs at community gatherings. Their themes were chosen from Ramayana, Mahabharata, Puranas, and also the heroic deeds of Alha-Udal, love stories of Nala-Damyanti and sufferings of Raja Bhartahari.Ballad singing later inspired Europeans also as Ballads have been very popular in English literature.
  • Panchatantra – No other book, except the Bible, has played so important part in the field of World literature as story-collection ofPanchatantra. The name of its author Vishnu Sharma had travelled to Europe and other countries of the world centuries before Kalidasa captured the fascination of Western intellectuals at the end of the eighteenth century.
  • Jataka TalesJataka Tales are another collection of tales intended to illustrate the precepts of righteous living. Hindus believed in rebirth. Jataka Tales narrate various rebirths of Buddha in the form of Bodhisatva. In Jataka tales Lord Buddha is incarnated in human as well as in animal forms like deer, elephant, or monkey to spread the message of justice and wisdom. Many of the tales of Panchtatra and Jatka Tales are identical. Whereas in Panchtantra lord Rama is the narrator, this role is assigned to Bodhisatva in Jatka Tales. It is significant that Rishabhdeva and Rama both are the incarnations of Vishnu. Jatka Tales were written in Pali script.
  • Hitopdesha – Hitopdesha contained interesting incidents from prevailing social life and bring out some moral lessons on varied subjects to stress some ethical aspect of Buddhism, such as choice of friends. The subject matter of stories concerned day-to-day events in the life of common folks. They generate some moral values in life reflecting the spirit of Yama and Niyama.
  • Betal Pachissi – Another collection of stories is Betal Pachchisi that contain twenty-five stories narrated by Betal to virtuous King Vikramadittyawith every tale revealing some subtle truth.
  • Singhasan Battisi – Similarly, another collection from the same period is Singhasan Batteesi. These stories are narrated one by one by thirty-two puppet supporting the throne of King The tales revolve around several facets of Vikramadittyaglorifying him as a just, benevolent, and chivalrous King.
  • Shuka Rambha – In this collection a parrot happens to witness love affairs, debauchery, infidelity, and jealousy between human relations concerning couples, friends and other persons, and exposes the same through narratives.
  • Katha Sarit Sagara – It is another compendium of assorted tales.

Conversion of Folk Literature

Through Arabs and Persian travelers, Indian folk tales were carried to Turkey, Rome, Greece, Spain and other European countries. From Constantinople, Indian stories were transmitted to Venice and Naples through trade contacts and they found their way into the works of Boccaccio, Chaucer, Cervantes, Shakespeare, Le Sage, La Fontaine, Voltaire, and other famous writers.

With each story-teller, the story assumed new looks, eventually reaching a stage that bore only a feeble resemblance with the original. It was much later when Western scholars discovered Sanskrit literature and the Indian contribution to the world’s fiction came to be appreciated. Those folk tales were translated in many languages. Shuka-Rambha is known as Tota-Maina in countries of Middle East.

Many of the immensely popular tales such as the ‘Magic Mirror’ ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ and the ‘Purse of Fortunate’ have been traced to Indian sources. So are the Arabian Nights, which have also been traced to Indian sources. The world-famous story of ‘Sindbad’ is a tale of Indian origin as the Arab historian Al Masudi expressly said that the Kitab el Sindbad was derived from India. Most of travels and voyages of Sindbad are narrated on the backdrop of Indian shores. Some of the tales were given local face lifts that it was impossible to trace their origin. Following is an example:-

Peter of Holland

In Holland, the sea presses in on the land so much that the people built big walls of earth and stone to hold back waters. These were to be watched at all times for breach, as even a small hole was considered to be dangerous. Many years ago, there lived a seven years old boy named Peter. One day his mother sent him to go across dikes to deliver some cakes to a blind man. She warned him to return before dark. On way back home, Peter noticed the sea water beat against the dike. Soon the water started trickling and there was a leak in the dike. He tried all possible means to block the leak but could not. It grew darker and colder at night. No one came to help. With bare hands he tried to stop water for whole night and in the morning countrymen found him exhausted. They plugged the breech and carried the hero Peter home. Since then whenever sea roars like a flood, the children are taught what a child could do. Parents take their children by the hand, and tell them of brave little Peter whose courage had saved the land.

This story is similar to that of child Upmannyu in Hindu scriptures who was the disciple of Rishi Apadyomya. Upmannyu looked after the cows at Gurukul. One day he was sent to collect firewood from forest late in the evening. He noticed a breach in field and when all   attempts made by him to plug the breech single-handedly failed, he lied himself down on the ground to keep that plugged with his bare body for whole night till the Guru and other disciples discovered him on next morning.

In both cases the story motivated sense of commitment to duty.  Events are similar but the background and locations have been changed. That was just one example. Even Shakespeare was inspired by a Mahabharata episode to depict death of Macduff in his play Macbeth.

Indian influence on Global Literature

  • Story Telling Technique – The format of telling one story every day has inspired several ancient writers directly or indirectly.  In 1350 Chaucer used the same technique for his classic Canterbury Tales, where every pilgrim narrated a story every night to fellow pilgrims to cover the journey. Arabian Nights have also followed the same style.
  • Concept of Sutra-dhar –In most of the ancient Indian plays, A Sutra-dhar would link the scene by narration to the viewers that were practically not possible for stage action. In Elizabethan plays including Shakespeare’s, similar technique has been used in the form of Prologue and Epilogue. Christopher Marlowe, a contemporary of Shakespeare, also modeled the Prologue of Dr Faustus inspired by Kalidasa.
  • Comic Character – Another concept from Kalidasa’s period to influence English drama was to add a comic Vidushaks in the play, such as a Fool to accompany the central character. His main role was to provide some comic relief to counter-balance tragedy and also to be a mouth piece of the play writer. Such Vidushaks appeared on the Elizabethan stage in the role of Falstaff in Shakespeare’s historical plays.
  • Opera Performance – Presenting a story through song and dance is old Indian art. Bharat Muni’s Natya Shastra is the oldest and comprehensive treatise on the art of dance and drama written in third century AD. It covered all aspects of stage craft, acting, make-up, stage management, dance and music. Opera presentation was fully mature in seventh century AD, while in Europe people were still living in forest dwellings. Kalidasa, Bhava Bhuti and Banabhatta were renowned names in play writing. Emperors Vikramadittya, Harash Vardhna and others personally patronized the art of dance drama. They wrote and acted in plays. With Kalidasa the foundation of Opera (musical Dance Drama) was laid in Gupta period that later flourished in Europe in sixteenth century.

Influence on Literary Style

All the formats and styles of literature had already been tried in India before the same were adopted abroad.

  • Question-Answers Format: For explaining serious subject matter the format of question-answers has been widely used in Upanishads, Puranas and Gita.
  • Epic Writing: The grand style of embellishments, figures of speech had been used by the epic writers of Ramayana and Mahabharata that contain vivid use of simile, comparison, contrast, metaphor, alliteration and onomatopoeia. Since then no new format or new figure of speech has been added to literature of any language. By no stretch of imagination it can be concluded that Valmiki, Veda Vyas or Tulsidas had been inspired by Homer, Dante or Milton.
  • Heavenly Invoking: Invoking the blessings from Sarsawati, Ganeshaor from some other gods has been an Indian tradition. In Paradise Lost Milton is also seen invoking heavenly Muse to inspire him to write his epic.
  • Ode Format: In all the Vedas, the Rishies first address the subject and seek blessings, be it a god, goddess or an herbal plants before the attributes of the subject are narrated in the form of an address. This format is called ‘ode format’ that Keats and Shelley used later in English literature.

The above fact pertain to the period before which Sanskrit had already completed her golden period. Hindi had also come off her epic period with several epics like Prithvi Raj Raso, Veesal De Raso, Hameer Dev Raso, and Padmavat on book shelf. Hindi was being enriched by host of metaphysical and mystic poets like Khusro and Kabir when English Literature was just born in 1350 AD. It is a pity that we Indians realized the greatness of Kalidasa only after the British honored him with the title of Indian Shakespeare.

Chand K Sharma

(Next: Splashes – 41/72 –Prosperous Social Living)

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Splashes – 39/72 – Sanskrit- the Perfect Language

Sanskrit is the oldest language in the world, and mother of all Indo-European languages. Impressed with Sanskrit grammar and scientific structure, the linguists consider it the most suitable language for computers. It is link between present generation of population divided into Nationalities all over the world, and past of entire mankind on this planet.

Richness of Original Texts

The Sanskrit is written in Devanagari script. Rishis discovered Sanskrit and used it to create the mantras that were made up of a combination of sound vibrations to create specific effect on the mind and the psyche, when recited. It is the language of the Vedas, Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita, Mahabharata, Ramayana and the Puranas. Sanskrit literature is the richest literature in the history of mankind.

The popularity and richness of Sanskrit is indicated by the wealth of literature composed in the language covering every subject under the Sun. On every subject a masterpiece treatise can be found in the Sanskrit literature. The range expands from Philosophy, Religion, Science, Fine Arts, Sex, Music, Astrology, Palmistry, Astronomy, Chemistry, Mathematics, Martial Arts, and Diplomacy, just to list the few.

Panini’s Grammar Ashtadhyayi

Panini’s Sanskrit grammar, produced in about 300 BC is the shortest but complete grammar in the world for its precision of statement, for its thorough analysis of the roots of the language and of the formative principles of words. By employing an Algebraic terminology it attains a sharp succinct-ness unrivalled in brevity. It arranges, in logical harmony, the whole phenomena, which the Sanskrit language presents. It is one of the most splendid achievements of human invention in the science of Linguistics.

Panini’s masterpiece Ashtadhyayi (Eight Chapters) stands out as the first scientific analysis of any alphabet. The work is the more remarkable since the author did not write it down. He worked it all out of his head. Panini’s disciples committed the work to memory and in turn passed it on to their disciples. Though the Astadhayayi has long since been committed to writing, rote memorization of the work, with several of the more important commentaries, is still the approved method of studying grammar in India today.

Ashtadhyayi comprises of four thousand sutras or aphoristic rules. Prior grammatical analysis is clearly evidenced by the fact that Panini himself mentioned over sixty predecessors in the field. Subsequent grammarians, especially Katyayana and Patanjali, carried the work much further, and by the middle of the second century BC Sanskrit had attained a stereotyped form, which has remained unaltered for centuries.

Scientific Structure of Sanskrit

The Indian grammar set the pace for Europeans to analyze speech forms. Ancient Indian work on grammar was objective, systematic, and brilliant than that done in Greece and Rome. This refers to the period centuries before that of Geoffrey Chaucer; the Father of English poetry who came on the literary scene in 1350 AD. In most of the European countries people resorted to yodeling to draw attention of their neighbors working nearby.

Since English has been enjoying the status of global language, it will be appropriate to compare and contrast Sanskrit with international language in simple laymen style, to avoid complexity of jargon.

  • Alphabets – In every language, sounds are represented by signs. One distinct sign is allotted for identifying every smallest audible sound. Total number of signs when arranged in any uniform order worked out by users is called alphabet of language. Thus every developed language has its own alphabet, otherwise it has to borrow the same from some other language. English borrowed Roman script. English language has only 26 alphabets; implying only 26 basic natural sounds can be recorded in her script for use. Even out of that ‘Q’ ‘W’ ‘X’ are not natural sounds. Thus the efficacy of scripting natural sounds is only 23. Compared to this, Sanskrit has 46 Alphabets in her own Devanagri Obviously for this reason, her capability to record natural sounds is twice more than English.
  • Vowels and Consonants – Alphabets are subdivided into Vowels and Consonants. Consonants are natural sounds expressed in shortest durations. Vowels are added to consonants to prolong, mold and twist the natural sound towards desired expression. English has only five vowels in her kitty. Those are often used as consonants also. Thus most of the time every vowel has to perform double or even triple role by producing different sounds. In comparison, Sanskrit has thirteen vowels distinct from consonants. Therefore on this count also capability of Sanskrit to articulate natural sounds is much higher than English. In Sanskrit, no vowel is assigned dual role.
  • Simplicity There are several sounds which cannot be properly written or spoken in English, such as ‘Kha’, ‘Tha’ ‘Khsa’ to express proper nouns imported from other languages. The vowels in use are not sound specific so are the consonants too. For instance, the sound of alphabet ‘c’ is not uniform in the word ‘ceased’ and ‘cat’.  The alphabet ‘w’ and ‘v’ are used for similar expression on the basis of convention. West begins with ‘W’, while vest is to be worn with ‘v’. In contrast, whatever is scripted in Sanskrit, the same is spoken also. Every sound can be scripted the way it should be spoken. Nothing is left to guess-work or convention. Therefore Sanskrit is easier to learn and use.
  • Pronunciation – The Sanskrit alphabets have been arranged according to their body source, such as sounds made from throat, nasal and tongue or through the combination of body parts. The sounds represented by the letters of the alphabet have been scientifically arranged. Vowels and diphthongs are separated from mutes, semivowels, and sibilants. The sounds have been grouped into guttural, palatal, cerebral, dental and labial. This purely corresponds with human anatomy in practice.

The above is a brief but obvious comparison between ancient languages with the current International language, on few counts only. Sanskrit is no doubt a scientific and systematic language with perfect grammar. It has rightly attracted scholars worldwide.

But there is no justification for present generation of Indians to feel proud about it unless Sanskrit is respected by Indians at home also. Until 1100 AD Sanskrit was without interruption the official language of the whole of India, but now it is losing home turf to regional languages, English and Urdu. Younger generations are not being attracted towards it due to neglect of India’s selfishly secular politicians.

Linguistic Imperialism

Language is the identity of Individuals and nationalities. England though a tiny country in size to India, is regarded as a super power in the world. This equation of strength is mainly due to the English language that the British introduced throughout in their colonies. They initiated the most primitive and illiterate locals of their colonies to English and raised the strength of working classes to accept as their language. Today economy and technology of the developed countries is being commanded by the English-speaking people only. Libraries all over the world have been stocked with volumes of English literature and Technology scripted in English.

In contrast, India and China despite being world’s most populated countries, have no say in their own language. They are compelled to interact only through English. Unless they learn to converse in English they are regarded deaf and dumb on the global stage. Is it not a shameful situation for the youth of any self-respecting country?

Cultural Identity of India

For lack of determination, Indians have failed to establish their linguist identity anywhere in the world as well as at home. They prefer to continue being yoked under English for earning bread. Our ancestors had left most valuable legacies for the world to admire and educate us in return, but we have proved worthless to deserve and uphold their glory.

No doubt, India has an edge over China, because Chinese script is difficult and complicated. Our Devanagri script is more scientific, simple and natural. This script is used for Sanskrit and Hindi that happens to be the National Language of India. Still there are no takers for both the languages even in India, and the class rooms in Universities of India have been facing shortage of students. Those who do not get admission anywhere finally take up these languages to obtain a degree to be called qualified and learned.

The word Sanskrit literally means Perfected Language. This is quite an appropriate name to describe Sanskrit, but unfortunately our convent educated secularists did not reconcile to it. We run after certificates from others. Till NASA declared Sanskrit to be the only unambiguous language on the planet we did not care about her well-being. Little do we realize that Sanskrit is the only language that can function as an effective tool to link with the past history of India, and to enable us understand literature of Ancient time.

If we want to stand at our own in the world, we shall have to build indigenous technology; for which the road passes through the domain of Sanskrit.  If we continue to overlook the importance of Sanskrit in India, we shall be obliterating this last link also that has provided continuity with since the creation of Universe. If India wants to regain her past, they shall have to revert to Sanskrit, otherwise they would be drowned in English Channel

Chand K Sharma

(Next: Splashes – 40/72 – Literary Contributions by India)

Splashes – 35/72 – India’s Technological Contributions

Vishwakarma is the celestial engineer in Hindu Mythology, to whom all the knowledge of Technology is attributed. He is worshiped by devote engineers and crafts men in India. Vishwakarma is worshiped by devote engineers and crafts men in India before starting new projects.

He is believed to have designed the weapon systems of gods like Sudarshan Chakra, Shiva Dhanush, Indra’s Vajra, and Arjuna’s Gandiv, just to mention the few. He designed Ravana’s Pushpak Vimana and also the wonderful palaces of Indraprastha. Pushpak Vimana was seven storied aircraft, with five-star luxuries that could fly according to the wishes of its master.

It appeared fantasy some time ago but, we have touch screen technology, invisible fences like Lakshman Rekhas to restrict the pets. Chinese Researchers have created a ‘quad copter’ similar to Pushpak Vimana that can be controlled by thought alone and has the potential to give people with impaired motor abilities a new avenue for interaction. Now we can be assertive in explaining that our so-called “blind faiths” are taking concrete shape as well.

Invention of Wheel

Technological development started after the discovery of wheel. Westerners credit Mesopotamians for this discovery in 500 BC. This is due to simple reason that prior to Fourteenth century, Westerners had no knowledge about India and whatever they had learnt was sourced from Greeks. Even today, Americans and many other countries of the West have been holding concocted knowledge about Indian culture, beliefs and voluminous literature. This can be easily ascertained by opening literature available in their libraries today. Facts are either missing or have been misrepresented as for as India and Hinduism are concerned.

For the sake of argument only, without inventing the wheel Indians could not have had Sudarshan Chakra added to the icon of Vishnu and Durga. Without wheels Mahabharata war could not have been fought with Arjuna on a chariot driven by Krishna. Arjuna was definitely not on sledge, the kind of which is normally associated with Santa Claus. Bhishma Pitama had provoked Krishna to attack him with a chariot wheel during the battle!  Thus certainly the initial step towards technological development was taken only in India.

The Indian invention of wheel accelerated the pace of technological development in other countries also. Conclusive evidence has also been provided by the wheeled cart toy excavated from the site of Indus Valley civilization and at display in National Museum at New Delhi.

The Spinning Wheel

The discovery of wheel was made use for spinning through Charkha. This was as important discovery as its predecessor wheel. Today’s mechanical development owes a lot to invention of Charkha by Indians. With this technique motion could be continuously transferred to another wheel with the help of belt. Bhaskracharya had invented this technique and that reached Europe via Arabs.

Many other inventions have been mentioned in Samrangna Sutradhara a treatise dating 1100 AD, during the reign of Raja Bhoja of Central India. The descriptions include pullies, levers, cantilevers, and bridges.  Arabs acquired this technology from India and later passed the same to Europeans in Arabic and Persian language. Mechanical writings of D Vince were instrumental in its further spread.

Mineralogy and Metallurgy

Great progress was made by India in mineralogy and metallurgy also. The mining and extensive use of gold, silver and copper was undertaken in the Indus Valley in the third century BC. In the Vedic period extensive use was made of copper, bronze, and brass for household utensils, weapons, and images for worship. It is noteworthy that whereas gods and goddesses in other mythologies are depicted in head dresses made of animal skins and horns, Hindu gods are always dressed up in gold crowns.

Patanjali, authored Lohasastra in the second century BC. He has given elaborate directions for many metallurgic and chemical processes, especially the preparation of metallic salts, alloys, and amalgams, and the extraction, purification, and assaying of metals. The discovery of Aqua Regina, a mixture of nitric and hydrochloric acid to dissolve gold and platinum is also ascribed to him. Manusumriti also contains several passages on purification of various metals, such as:-

अपामग्नेश्च संयोगाद्धेमं रौप्यं च निर्वभो। तत्मात्तयोः स्वयोन्यैव निर्णेको गुणवत्तरः ।।

ताम्रायः कांस्यरैत्यानां त्रपुणः सीसकस्य च। शौचं यथार्हं कर्तव्यं क्षारोम्लोदकवारिभिः ।।

(Manusumriti 5- 113-114)

(The formation of Gold and silver is attributed to water and Fire, thus both the metals can be effectively refined through water and Fire. Copper, Iron, Bronze, Brass, Raga and mirror should be refined with using acids, detergents and water.)

Chemistry and Metallurgy

Chemistry developed in India from two sources – medicine and industry. There is mention about the construction of dams, bridges and even suspension bridge in Kautillya’s Arthashastra. Agriculture had its beginning in Indus valley during 4500 BC. Water storage system has been excavated from Girnar (3000 BC). There is bath connected with under-ground outlets lined with baked tiles. Similarly excavations at Harappa revealed use of utensils and swords made of copper, brass, and bronze.

India was looked as industrially developed and militarily strong country by Roman Empire since Gupta period. They regarded it as most skilled nation possessing chemical industries such as dyeing, tanning, soap-making, glass and cement.

In second century BC Nagarjuna devoted an entire volume to Mercury. By the sixth century Indians were far ahead of Europe in industrial chemistry; they were masters of calcification, distillation, sublimation, steaming, fixation, the production of light without heat, the mixing of anesthetic and soporific powders, and also the preparation of metallic salts, compounds and alloy. Ancient Indians were highly skilled in manufacturing and working with iron and tempering steel. The analysis of zinc alloys like brass, from archaeological excavations, testify that the zinc distillation process was known in India as early as 150 BC.

Southern India was a region that was renowned for metallurgy and metal work in the olden days. The Muslims carried Indian chemical science and industry to Europe.

  • Karnataka – fine steel wires were being produced for use as strings in musical instruments, at a time when the western world was using animal gut for stringed musical instruments.
  • Kerala – besides its large iron smelting furnaces, Kerala possessed skill of special processes such as the metal mirror of Aranmula.
  • Tamil Nadu – High quality steel from Tamil Nadu was exported all over the world since Roman times.
  • Andhra Pradesh –Kona Samudram region in Andhra Pradesh was famous for producing the world-renowned Woozy steel – the raw material for King Salahuddin’s fabled Damascus Sword. The tempering of steel had been brought in ancient India to perfection.
  • Rajasthan – Zink mining was carried out at Jhavar during 400 BC.

King Porus is said to have made a special gift to Alexander in the form of thirty pounds of steel. The Muslims carried Indian chemical science and industry to Europe. The image of Nataraja was made of five metals (Pancha-Dhatu).  This technology of mixing two or more metals and deriving superior alloys had been observed and noted by the Greek Historian Peisistratus. The Spire (Makara) over Hindu temples were always adorned with brass or gold toppings (Kamandals). 

Units of Measurement

  • Yativrasabha prepared tables for distance measuring and time calculations in his treatise Tiloyyapannati way back in 6 century.
  • Yakaspati Mishra has explained in Niyaya-suchini-bandha (840 AD) that location of any point in space could be fixed by the intersection of three imaginary lines drawn and distance accurately measured. This principle was a forecast of Solid Quadrant Geometry later propounded by Descartes in 1644 AD.
  • Niyaya Visheshika mentioned 1,944,000 Kshana as the duration of Sun Day. One Kshana equals to .044 of our today’s second. Truti was the smallest unit of time.
  • Para-manu has also been mentioned in Niyaya Visheshika It was the smallest unit of measure for measuring length. It equals to 1/349525 th part of modern inch. This measure can be imagined to equal the smallest particle of dust visible in sun light entering a dark room.

Iron pillar at Delhi 

Traditional Indian iron and steel are known to have some very special properties such as resistance to corrosion. This is substantiated by the 1600-year-old, twenty-five feet high iron pillar next to the Qutub Minar in New Delhi, installed during the period of Chandragupta Maurya. The famous iron pillar in Delhi is a metallurgical wonder. This huge wrought iron pillar, 24 feet in height 16.4 inches in diameter at the bottom, and 6 1/2 tons in weight has stood exposed to tropical sun and rain for fifteen hundred years, but does not show the least sign of rusting or corrosion.

Evidence shows that the pillar was once a Garuda Stambha from a Vishnu temple and added as a trophy in the Quwwat al-Islam mosque in Delhi. Experts at the Indian Institute of Technology in Kanpur have now found that a thin layer of ‘miswrite’ – a compound of iron, oxygen and hydrogen – protected the cast iron pillar near the historic Qutub Minar from rust for centuries. The metallurgy could be used to develop a model for containers used to store nuclear materials. The protective film had formed due to the presence of high amounts of phosphorous in the iron – as much as one percent, against less than 0.05 percent in today’s iron. The high phosphorous content was a result of the unique iron-making process practiced by ancient Indians.

Galvanizing Feat

Zinc metallurgy traveled from India to China and then to Europe. As late as 1735, professional chemists in Europe believed that zinc could not be reduced to metal except in the presence of copper.

Chand K Sharma

(Next: Splashes – 36/72 – Astrology Palmistry and Gemology)

Splashes – 34/72 – Indian Contributions towards Physics

Philosophy and Science are deeply related. Ideas precede inventions. Philosophers generate ideas and scientists shape them. The two functions might be combined in one person or more. The founders of Western scientific thought were also philosophers. So were the Indians. Indian scientists were called Ashvins.

The Beginning of Physics

Today the text books on Physics tell that matter lays in three states, that are solid, liquid and gas. This statement tells the condition of matter at some particular time only. The forms and shapes can change. The properties of different kinds of matter are the subjects covered under the Science of Physics.

Vedas were the first text books on Physics. The compiled knowledge about matter and its properties came to humans originally through the text of Vedas that provided the first, foremost and subtle knowledge about basic elements (Panch Bhuta) of Nature – Earth, Water, Fire, Wind and Ether; out which rest of the things have come in to existence. The process of acquiring knowledge about the composition of different things, properties, and establishing cause to the effects has been a continuously ongoing process.

Vedanga and Vedanta carried forward the studies in Physics. Upanishdas, Darshana Shastras and Puranas are the sources that contain mantras explaining properties of various natural phenomena and link causes to the effects. All Mantras are not meant for spiritual development. Most of them contain vast knowledge in compressed form, like zipped files, and need further expansion.

Format of Texts

Those days even the scientific writing was also done in poetic Chhandas, economized within the given structure of the metric measure. That served as an aid for memorizing. Mostly the style of writings was either in ‘Ode’ format. The author ‘addressed’ the ‘Subject’ and narrated the properties and utilities before seeking the effect. Another style used in ancient texts was a dialogue between the Rishi and disciples. This style offered explanation with examples also. 

Example of the knowledge content

Atharva Veda is mostly devoted to Physics.  It stated that there are seven fundamental elements of matter. Those are (1) Dhara (Earth), (2) Jala (Water), (3) Teja (Fire), (4) Vayu (Wind), (5) Khitija (Horizon), (6) Tanmatra (Quantity) and (7) Ghamanda (Ego).

Further, every kind of matter is possessed by three Gunas (qualities) of (1) Satvik, (2) Rajasik and (3) Tamsik. That implied that all matters can cause beneficial, dormant and harmful effects.

By different permutations and combinations of seven fundamental matter and three Gunas, 21 more products could be formed.

Likewise, another Treatise Vaisheshika Darshana Shastra lists out Prithavi (Earth), Jala (Water), Agni  (Fire), Vayu (Wind), Akasha (Horizon), and adds Kala (Time), Disha (Direction), Atma (Soul) and Mana (mind).

The properties of those are briefly  explained below:-

Prithavi- Earth element has qualities of smell, shape, taste and touch, out of which smell is most significant.

Jala – Water qualities are Taste, Touch and shape. Taste is most significant. Presence of Water is identified through coolness in matter. The warmth in Water denotes the presence of Fire element.

Agni – Fire element has qualities of shape and touch, out of which shape is most significant. 

Vayu – Wind element has distinct quality of touch. 

Akasha – Ether element has qualities of sound. It is formless, but where ever sound can be heard, presence of this element is confirmed. Ear drums are the recipients of this property.

Kala – Time causes origin, state and destruction of everything. For practical interpretation, it has been conceptualized into hours, days, months, age, present, past and future.

Disha For practical application there are ten directions that have been conceptualized for the origin, existence and expiration of matter.

  • These are four cardinal points East, West, North and South.
  • Four corners North East, South East, South West, and North West.
  • Two sides, Surface and Bottom

Atma – Awareness is the sign of Atma. Awareness is not the identity or qualification of senses, because previous knowledge continues to stay even after destruction or mal- functioning of the sense that had acquired knowledge in the past. It implies that Atma experienced knowledge and is separate from senses. Desire, feelings, efforts, comfort and discomfort are separate from body and are the identity of Atma.

Mana – It is a tool to experience various sensory feelings.

The above illustrations depict that spirituality has been neatly blended with the subject of pure science Physics. It is not necessary to use only European terminology to look authentic. Explaining subtle scientific facts through artistically woven mythological stories has been the hall mark of Hindu religion.

Scope of Hindu Scriptures

Scientific gems are lying scattered throughout in Hindu Scriptures like Vedas, Vedangas, Vedants Purans and Epics. Modern physics confirmed that the Sun’s rays travel in a curved way, but not in a straight line. The same fact our ancestors had artistically explained through mythology that seven horses tied by snakes drew Sun’s chariot. As the movements of the snakes are crooked and curved, so also are the sun’s rays. This phenomenon has been poetically described in scriptures:

भुजंगनः मितः सप्तः तुर्गः

Similarly the Atharva Veda explained another scientific truth about Sunlight that there are seven colors in the white ray of the Sun. Sun rays contain blend of seven colors:

सप्तः सूर्य्स रसम्यः। 

Contribution of Indian Scientists

In the realm of physics, Indian scientists have made remarkable contributions.

  • Rishi Kanada, the founder of the Vaisesika system of philosophy, expounded that the entire matter in this world consisted of atoms, as many in kind as there were various elements. About light he explained that light and heat are variations of the same reality. He is the fore-father of Atomic Science. Jain thinkers went a step further. They thought that all atoms are the same kind and variety emerged because they entered into different combinations.
  • Sushrut explained that we are able to see the objects around us due to the light falling on them. Aryabatta also supported his views later. In contrast, Greek scientists held the view that objects are seen because of light in the eyes.
  • Varahmihir in sixth century explained how shadows were cast.
  • Chakrapani was the first to explain that light and sound traveled through waves, but the speed of light was many times faster than the sound waves.
  • Pratispda further elaborated that sound waves travelled in the shape of concentric circles and every sound wave has a corresponding echo.
  • Vachaspati interpreted light as composed of minute particles emitted by substances striking the eyes. This is a clear anticipation of the corpuscular theory of light, which was proposed by Newton, but was rejected till the discovery of the proton.

Gravitation and Astro-Physics

The theory of gravity found its existence in Yajur Veda that explains that the Earth is kept in space owing to the superior attraction of the Sun. Scholars of the Gupta period were already acquainted with the movement of the heavenly bodies, the reasons for eclipses of the Sun and the Moon.

  • Aryabhatta put forward a brilliant thesis regarding the Earth’s rotation on its axis. As regards the stars being stationary, Aryabhatta stated that starry vault was fixed, but the earth moving round its axis, again and again caused the rising and setting of planets and stars. He also described the Polar days and nights of six months duration. Aryabhatta affirmed the diurnal revolutions of the earth on its axis. He wrote that when the sun rose in Sri Lanka, it was midday in Yavakoti (Java) and midnight in the Roman land. Yavadvipa, a Sanskrit name mentioned in the Ramayana, to which Sugriva sent search parties looking for Sita, was the ancient name of Java. As regards to the size of the earth, he calculated the circumference of the earth as 4,967 Yojanas and its diameter as 1,581 1/24 Yojanas.  A Yojana is equal to five English miles, and the calculation tallies with modern calculations. The circumference of the Earth works out to be 24, 835 miles, with its diameter as 7, 905 5/24 miles. He also wrote a textbook Aryabhatta Siddhantafor working out astronomical calculations.  Even today, this data is used in preparing Hindu calendars (Panchangs) giving most accurate results.
  • Brahmagupta, (598 AD – 665 AD) is known for introduction of negative numbers and operations on Zero in Arithmetic. His main work was Brahmasphuta Siddhanta, which was a corrected version of an old astronomical treatise Brahma Siddhanta. From his time the Hindus were aware of the length of diameter and circumference of the earth.
  • Varahamihira in 6th century produced valuable material relating to Astronomy, Geography and Mineralogy in his work Brihat-Samhita. It is stated that one half of the moon, whose orbit lies between the sun and the earth, is always bright by the Sun’s rays;  while the other half is always dark by its own shadows, like the two sides of a pot standing in the sunshine. Explaining eclipse of the Moon and Sun, he wrote that Moon enters into the Earth’s shadow; and in Solar eclipse the same thing happens to the Sun. He further explained the commencement of a lunar eclipse does not take place from the Western side. The solar eclipse does not take place from the Eastern side. He gave the calculation of eclipses; independent of any reference to the mythological ‘Rahu Ketu’ episode.
  • Bhaskaracharya knew the law of gravitation. In a verse in Sidhanta Shiromani, he held that the Earth is endowed with the power of attraction. It drags with own power heavy objects on the sky.  It appears that objects are falling but actually they are not, they are only being dragged by the power of attraction of the Earth. When everything on the sky drags each other equally there is no question of objects on Earth to fall. It is explained that Earth, planets, stars, Moon, and Sun – each of them is being dragged by the other with its respective power of attraction and as a result of this attraction none of them is removed from their axis. This theory was deliberated in the Siddhanta Shiromani centuries before Newton was born. According to Brahmagupta and Bhaskaracharya the diameter was calculated to be 7182 miles, some calculated that to be 7905 miles, while modern scientists take it to be 7918 miles. Bhaskara is renowned for his concept of Tatkalik-agati (instantaneous motion).

Last but not the least, none of the Hindu scientists suffered the fate of poor Galileo for making new discoveries. 

Chand K Sharma

Next: Splashes – 35/72 -India’s Technological Contributions

 

Splashes – 32/72 – Cosmic Time in Hindu Scriptures

Hindu scriptures tell us that Universe is without a beginning (Anadi) or an end (Ananta). Cosmos undergoes infinite number of deaths and rebirths. Every moment old stars are dying and new being formed. This truth stands ratified by the modern scientists also. Santana Dharma and modern science are not in conflict. Search for truth was the pursuit of Hindu Sages, and modern scientists have also kept up the same tradition.

Calculation of Time

The time scales worked out by Hindu sages also correspond to those of modern scientific cosmology. One cosmic day and night of Brahma equals 8.64 billion years on our planet Earth. It is therefore longer than the age of Earth as well as the Sun at the center of our solar system.

The Rig Veda lists a number of stars and mentions twelve divisions of the sun’s yearly path (rashis) and 360 divisions of the circle. Thus, the year of 360 days is divided into twelve months. Using mythology as a training aid, the Sun’s annual course was artistically explained as a wheel with twelve spokes that correspond to the twelve signs of the zodiac. Time taken in twinkling of eye is called Nimish. This unit of measure is more or less like a micro second.

The time calculation table for day and night on Earth in Manusamruti is given as under:-

  • 18 Nimish = 1 Kastha
  • 30 Kastha = 1 Kala
  • 30 Kala = 1 Mahurata
  • 30 Mahurata = 1 Ahoratra
  • 30 Ahoratras = 1 Masa (Month)

Due to rotation of Earth one Ahoratra is divided in two parts called day and night (Divas and Ratri). Day is meant for work and night is for rest.

Every month has two fortnights (Paksha) of fifteen days each. Moonlit nights are called Shukal Paksha, while dark nights are called Krishna Paksha.

The above division is perfectly natural, tangible, and scientific. The day starts with Sun rise. At the day break all living beings wake up. There is freshness in breeze and streams. Flowers bloom. Nature signals every living being to start activity.

Similarly at Sun set, all living beings start returning to their resting place, flowers close, streams also indicate feeling of slowing down, and Nature ushers everyone to sleep and rest except those species that are assigned and designed by the Creator to work at night.

If we compare Natural division of Day – Night with the division followed vide Roman calendar, the date is upgraded at midnight when everyone is sleeping in bed. There is no perceivable change around and everything is artificial, stale and unscientific!

Cosmic Time and Yugas

As per Hindu scriptures, process of creation and destruction of Universe continues in cyclic order. The creation goes on for 4.32 billion years (Srishti Kalpa – Brahma’s day) followed by an equal period of destruction (Praleya Kalpa – Brahma’s night). Srishti and Praleyas Kalpas follow each other like our day and night. Together they sum up to, 8.64 billion years to make one Brahma day – called a Brahma Ahoratra. Such 360 Braahma Ahoratras, or 3110.4 billion years make one year of Brahma.

Chaturyuga is the time taken by our solar system to circle bigger solar system in the Universe. It is also called Mahayuga or great year. The Indian concept of the great year (Mahayuga) was developed from the idea of a lunisolar period of five years, combined with four ages of the world (Yugas) which were thought to be of unequal perfection and duration, succeeding one another and lasting in the ratio of 4:3:2:1.

This figure was calculated not only from rough estimates of planetary and stellar cycles, but also from the 10,800 stanzas of the Rig Veda, consisting of 432,000 syllables. The enlightened Hindu Sages calculated the great period as one of 4,320,000 years, the basic element of which was a number of sidereal solar years, 1,080,000 a multiple of 10,800.

Hindu texts have further divided a Kalpa in to 14 Manvantaras. Every Manvantra has 308448000 years or 308.448 million years.

Manvantras are divided in to Chaturyugas.  One Chaturyuga consists of 43 lakhs & 20 thousand years.  Chaturyuga is further subdivided as under:-

  • Satyug = 17 lakhs 28 thousand years
  • Treta = 12 lakhs 96 thousand years
  • Dwapar = 8 lakhs 64 thousand years
  • Kaliyug = 4 lakhs 32 thousand years

71 Chaturyugi make for one Manvanter. (30 crore, 67 lakhs, & 20 thousand years). This is the time bigger solar system takes to circle around further solar system and there is no end to more solar systems.

According to the Hindu scriptures the present phase of creation began with the beginning of the current Shwetavaraha Kalpa about 1.972 billion years ago. Since then, 6 Manvanters have passed and the 7th Vaibasvat Manwantara is in currency. There names of previous six Manvanters are Swayambhar, Swarochish, Ottmi, Tamas, Ryivat and Chakshash.

Out of currently running seventh Manvantra 28 Chaturyugas have also passed. Of the running 29 th Chaturyuga, we are passing through present Kaliyuga. That has also passed its time of 5002 years. According to Bhagavat Purana, King Uttanapaada, the father of Dhruva, ruled during the period of first Swayambhuva Manu. That was nearly 1.97 billion years ago.

Slavery to Western mindset 

Western scientists as usual, continued to reject these mind-boggling calculations, till Michael A. Cremo, an American researcher, propounded that human beings existed 2 billion years ago on Earth. Mr Cremo’s findings substantiated the narration of the Bhagavat Purana. The neat question is that do we need to overlook own achievements till certified by others?

Indian Calendar

Unfortunately, our present generations are totally ignorant about the names of the months in Indian Calendar and its base. India’s Vikrami calendar is based on the movement of planets and is more scientific whereas Gregorian (Roman) calendar is conventional and unscientific.

Our ancestors had named the days of week after the planets of our solar system.  Starting the week with Sun (Ravivar) the following days have been named according to the proximity of planets in relation to Earth. They are moon (Somvar), Mars (Mangalvar), Mercury (Budhvar), Jupiter (Brahaspativar), Venus (Shukravar) and Saturn (Shanivar).

The word calendar is pronounced kalandar in Portuguese and resounds with Sanskrit word kal-antra meaning time differentials. Other time units in Sanskrit are Yug-antra, Manv-antra, and Kalp-antra. The months of September, October, November and December also have their source in Sanskrit words Sapt-ambar, Ashta-ambar, Nov-ambar, and Dash-ambar implying seventh, eighth, ninth and tenth in order.

Gregorian (Roman) Calendar

Gregorian calendar was introduced in Rome by Julius Caesar after his victory. Although Christians claim to believe in one God, but for no reason they named the days and months of their calendar after pagan gods, whom they denounce otherwise.

It will be interesting to trace the induction of Gregorian calendar in India through East India Company. The British did not have any of their own calendar, and like other European Countries they also had been using Julian calendar. Their year started with the month of March, and counting further September was seventh month followed by October, November and December as eighth, ninth and tenth months respectively. Months of July and August was added much later and like December and January both have 31 days one after another.

The Gregorian calendar was adopted in England as official calendar in 1750 and till 1772 England also begun her new year on 1st of March every year. Later by an act of British Parliament New Year was made to start on 1 st January, the month following Christmas.

Basis of Rashi Chakras

Our sages knew that Earth took 365-1/3 days to circle the Sun. Rig-Veda has described several constellations in the sky. Our sages identified the route of Earth around the Sun and prepared a chart. The spread of constellations in the sky were imagined to resemble out lines of animal figures and given names that came to be known as Zodiac signs (Rashi chitras). Those were used as reference points in the sky along the route of Earth while circling the Sun.

The sages arrived at the conclusion through repeated observations of the sky that Earth took 30 days’ time to pass through one constellation (Rashi). Thus they worked out 30 X 12 = 360 days of the year and twelve month. But little extra time was also to be adjusted.

For the sake of simple calculations, sages standardized every month to have thirty days each. The left-over period was allowed to accumulate for twelve years after which an extra month was added to the year. That year was supposed to have 13 months that was called ‘Malmas’. It is relevant that the rotational festival of Kumbha is held after 12 years at the same place.

The Sun entered new constellation on the first of every Indian month and made exit after thirty days accordingly. Indian system is not a matter of blind faith, but purely based on calculations that are perceivable. The same 12 zodiac signs have been adopted all over the world with slight local variations but each Zodiac sign begins somewhere on 20 th or 21 st of Calendar month for ‘unknown’ reasons and relevance.

Compared to that Roman calendar months had 30 or 31 days, but the last month of the year February held ‘left-over days’ in its kitty. Sometimes it contained 29 days and sometimes 28 days. Thus extra days are adjusted by having a leap year after every four years and varied numbers of days during months. It is all conventional and arbitrary.

Reminiscent of Slavery

East India Company officials had no clue to the scientific making of Indian calendar. Along with other British colonies, British calendar was heaped upon us in India, and we as slaves had no choice or resources to resist. Indian standard time is five and half hours ahead of British time. When there is Sunrise in India to start fresh date, there is mid night in England. But as they happened to be the masters, they ordered Indians and other colonial slaves to change date at midnight to suit British. Other colonies readily obliged as they did not have any calendars of their own.

We do appreciate that cosmic time schedule cannot be taken into use to establish our historic events. The weighing bridge used for heavy-duty trucks are not used for weighing ornaments. The age of a person can neither be expressed in Light years nor in micro seconds.

But why India has been still following Roman calendar for the sake of standardization? What is the necessity for us to match our dates with Roman calendar? Even today our Government and its functionaries have made no use of ‘Saka Calendar’ that was adopted in the Constitution as Official Calendar. If we want to trace our history we shall have to rely upon our own Calendar.

Chand K Sharma

Next: Splashes – 33/ 72 – Indian Contributions to Mathematics

Splashes – 30/72 – Exploration for Knowledge

Hindu religion has always encouraged individuals to pursue knowledge. Inquisitiveness has always been appreciated as opposed to blind faith. It is for this mindset that India has enriched every art and science known to man from the earliest times.

System of Learning

The initial stage of learning started at home with Yama and Niyamas to inculcate values and inquisitiveness for absorbing knowledge. The methodology at Gurukul was aimed not to convert the student to a data bank, but to develop an intelligent and action oriented personality. The three-fold process of teaching included attentively listening (Shravan) the discourse, followed by assimilation (Manana), and lastly practical application (Nidyasana). Practicing for perfection (Sadhna) thereafter was to be a continuous and life-long process till the salient aspects of learning reflected through reflex actions.

Classification of Grades

Besides the literature of Vedas, Upanishdas, Darshan Shastras, Puranas and the epics; India had established a formal system of education from the earliest times. The syllabus for the next stage included study of Mathematics, Algebra, Physics, Astronomy, and Fine Arts. Graduate Students (Sanatkas) were expected to excel in Vedic knowledge. Those who could not cope for want of aptitude or hard-work were advised to switch over to professional training in the field of commerce or skills.

Entry to further higher training was open only to those who qualified prescribed levels of second stage and earned the status of Ribhu.  The tradesmen (Ribhus) were skilled persons who could be assisting scientists and engineers (Ashvins) in the designing and manufacturing of chariots, vehicles, ships and similar projects.

The next higher category was of specialists (Daksha) in specific fields such as Astronomy, Philosophy and so on. The faculties were known as Acharyas.

Recognition of Intellectuals

Those days Educational Institutes did not award degrees and diplomas, but classification was there. First class Graduates were required to pursue studies up to the age of 24 years and stay unmarried till completion. They were given the title of Brahmcharya. Those who studied further up to the age of 36 years were entitled Rudrai, and those who attained further distinctions up to the age between 44 to 48 years were recognized as Adityas.

Roughly we can co-relate the same to Graduation, post-Graduation and Doctorate classifications of today. Subsequently, those who specialized in the knowledge of Vedas came to be identified and progressively graded as Vedi, Duvedi, Triedi and Chaturvedi.  Later with passage of time such qualifications got stuck as hereditary sur-names irrespective of the real potential of the bearer.

Authenticity of Knowledge

While nomadic civilizations in other part of the world were emerging out of forest dwellings, ancient Indians had measured the land, divided the year, mapped out the heavens, traced the course of Sun and other planets through the zodiacal belt, analyzed the constitution of matter, and studied the nature of birds, beasts, plants and seeds. India’s contribution to the sciences of Mathematics and Medicine has been unique. In linguistics, Metallurgy, and Chemistry, Indians have made trail-blazing discoveries. Greek philosophers such as Aristotle, Socrates, Pluto and others who are claimed to be the ‘founding-fathers’ of Western education were not born by then.

Just three centuries ago, there was no science like Allopathic, but Ayurveda had system of curing chronic diseases. Europeans did not know the existence of Pacific Ocean on globe till 1510 AD, but ancient Indians had already established the following astronomical facts:

  • The Sun never rises, nor sets; it is due to rotation of Earth that days and nights are formed – Sam Veda 121
  • The Earth remains stabilized due to mutual gravitation of planets of our solar system. – Rig-Veda 1-103-2,1-115-4, 5-81-2)
  • The axle of Earth never gets rusted around which Earth continues to revolve. – Rig-Veda 1-164 – 29)

Institutes of Higher Learning

Educational institutions, known as Gurukuls, Ashramas, Viharas, and Parishads existed all over the country. Students were given free tuition and boarding. For higher learning universities were located at Takshashila, Kashi, Vidarbha, Ajanta, Nalanda,Ujjain and Magdha. Sanskrit was the medium of instruction. Many learned personalities were associated with universities who contributed in their respective fields earlier than European classical exponents arrived on the scene. Brief account of the prominent universities in ancient India is as follows:-

  • Takshashila: World’s first international university was established at Takshashila seven hundred years ago before Christ was born. Takshashila was known to the world as the leading seat of Hindu scholarship. It was renowned above all for its medical school, even before the time of Alexander’s invasion. The campus at Takshashila accommodated 10,500 students and offered over sixty different courses in various fields, such as Religion, Philosophy, Science Medicine, Mathematics, Astronomy, Astrology, Warfare, Politics and Music. Students, as far as Babylonia, Greece, Syria, Arabia, Persia, Mesopotamia and China came to study.
  • Vikramasila: The University of Vikramasila accommodated 8,000 students. It was situated on a hill in Magdha on the banks of the River Ganga, and flourished for four centuries. Kalidasa has mentioned multiple disciplines of knowledge taught and learnt under the guidance of Rishi Kanva, who was once Kulapati (Vice-Chancellor) there.
  • Ajanta: The Ajanta institute was known for studies in the field of Fine Arts and Architecture (Vastu Kala). The existing remains of Ajanta are still there to testify the glory of the institute.
  • Nalanda: The University of Nalanda built-in the 4th century BC was another landmark of ancient India in the field of education. It was the first University on globe. Buddha visited Nalanda several times during his lifetime. The Chinese scholar and traveler Hiuen Tsang stayed there in the 7th century, and has left an elaborate description of the excellence, and purity of monastic life practiced there. About 2,000 teachers and 10,000 students from all over the Buddhist world lived and studied in that international university. The University counted on its staff great thinkers like Nagarjuna, Aryadeva, Vasubhandu, Asanga, Sthiramati, Dharmapala, Silaphadra, Santideva and
  • Odantapuri: The University at Odantapuri was established by King Gopal near Nalanda. About 12000 students resided there.  The complex was surrounded by a high wall that Muslim invaders mistook as fort. They ransacked the institution and killed all the teachers and students.
  • Jagddala: The University at Jagddala was founded by King Devapala during the period 810-850 AD. This institute was dedicated to Tantrik studies and Buddhism. In 1027 AD Muslim invaders destroyed this institution of learning.
  • Vallabhi: This Buddhist institute at Vallabhi was known for the study of Hiyansung school of thought in Buddhism. It was founded and funded by rulers of Maitrika Besides that the subjects offered for study included Rajaniti, Krishi, Arthashastra, and Niyaya Shastra, meaning Political Science, Agriculture, Economics, and Jurisprudence respectively.

Contribution to Global Knowledge

Today we are over awed by the repute of Oxford and Cambridge Universities and cannot reconcile to the fact that India also had greater Universities to impart higher education. Emperor Ashoka and emperors of Gupta dynasty and Emperor Harshavardhana patronized many monasteries and institutes to promote knowledge.

Ancient intellectuals from India have enriched every branch of learning with original creative works that contain authentic and scientific knowledge that is still being used abroad. More stimuli contained therein is lying untapped. In the field of fine arts and literature, the contribution of writers and artists in the form of treatises is of pioneering nature. 

Unfortunately, many institutions of knowledge along with the intellectual treasures stored there in were burnt down by barbarous Islamic invaders. Nalanda Univerty was destroyed by Bakhtiyar Khilji during 1193 and all the intellectuals were massacred. Other Universities also met similar fate.

The Mughals ignored learning and devoted time and resources in building harems and mausoleums throughout in the length and breadth of India. With their biased mindset they opposed knowledge on the excuse of ‘Kufer’. Their major interests were in developing gardens, dishes, dance and music. Schools (Maktab and Madrassas) imparting elementary education of Islam was considered enough.

Chand K Sharma

(Next: Splashes – 31/72 – Blend of Science and Faith)

Splashes – 26/72 – Temples and Rituals in Hinduism

Hinduism considered religion and spirituality to be a personal affair of the individual to connect his soul to God. Human body itself is a temple and abode of God, since it is formed out of five basic elements; Earth, Water, Fire, Wind and Ether. It draws warmth from Sun and coolness from Moon. The human body is a tool for creation, preservation and also destruction. Thus basic elements of Nature and gods symbolizing Trinity reside and act in human body.  Hinduism asserts oneness with the Universe by saying:

“जो ब्रह्माण्डे सो ही पिण्डे” – meaning whatever is in universe is also in our body.

The temple viewed is an external symbol of body. Various parts of human body have therefore been incorporated in temple’s architecture. Hindu is obliged neither to build a temple nor pay any visit to it on any particular day. It is optional to choose the time, form and place of worship for the individual.

Significance of Temples

Temples are classrooms of spirituality for the community. Even those who believe in formless god, also have temples. They have played a significant part in helping to preserve and enrich our religion, culture, arts, and crafts. Temples scattered all over the country have served as meeting places to foster national unity.  People living at far off places, have been voluntarily converging at one place on festivals like Kumbha and Jagannath Rath Yatra for several centuries. Thus temples, have served as information and coordination centers of all activities of Hindu Society.

Importance of Rituals

In Hinduism the meaning of dharma is related to the service of all living beings in the environment. But it is difficult for everyone to perceive abstract principles. Philosophy without perceivable actions is hard to be understood, and turns meaningless. ‘Some tangible activity’ is therefore necessary to translate thought into action. Rituals do this job. Religions without rituals become insipid.

The rituals are like spice to the food. They standardize a way to perform certain functions for the sake of uniformity and formalize the beginning and ending of procedures.  It is only when the rituals are separated from the faith and assume an independent existence, they become mechanical, lifeless and burden.

Nowhere in the world, human societies devoted themselves purely to abstract principles and dispensed with all sorts of symbols and rituals. A flag hoisting, an oath taking, or dress codes during university convocation, is as much a ritual as worship or sacrifice. Sage Manu recommended the performance of several rituals, not only to give concrete shape to the abstract spiritual ideals, but also to add color and zest to life. A solemnly conducted ritual creates conducive atmosphere, suggests the mood so that the spiritual aspirant may easily detach himself from the world and feel the mysterious presence of the Supreme Power.

Rituals are like customs and traditions, and may continue changing according to the environment in the society. For instance meditation at sunrise, noon and sunset with recitation of some Mantra, worship of God through symbols and idols, offering oblations to sacrificial fires, were some of the rituals more common in the past. But many exist today in modified form, or with lesser intensity.

Rituals of Worship

Since rituals standardize the system and consolidate the society, changes should not be frequent, and arbitrary. They can be varied according to circumstances, availability of time and resources. A broader conscientious must be arrived before any diversion is made to existing customs and traditions. Deviations should not be made for the sake of flimsy difficulties experienced by few individuals.

Hindu rituals are not as rigid as thought to be. More or less, all religions and civilized communities have been observing similar rituals with slight modifications. Hinduism suggests two types of rituals:

  • Daily Rituals are for the personal satisfaction of the individuals.
  • Contingent rituals are performed to formalize activities in the society on as required basis.

Daily Rituals

Sandhya, Homa and Puja are daily optional rituals. Individuals may choose any one, or all the three, or a combination depending upon time, facilities and resources available. It may be performed individually, or in the company of family members as well as in large gatherings. The venue could be home, community place, a temple, or anywhere. It is to be remembered that these are not for the benefit of God but for the individual to feel contented, humbled, calm and composed after having been relieved of his daily tensions. These are:

  1. Meditation Prayer (Sandhya) – It is focusing the mind on the Supreme Power in any form through meditation. One may meditate at any place and face any direction, since Almighty is everywhere. However climatically, the ideal suggested time is at dawn and dusk before commencing and after concluding daily routines. One may thank the Almighty by inner voice, whispers or chanting loudly one or several mantras, or by using simple words in any language. All forms appear appropriate to God.  The louder would certainly draw more attention and often ridicule from the by-standers. Any convenient clothing could be worn. It is desirable that the place should be clean and quiet as far as possible.
  2. Sacrificial Fire (Homa) – It is Vedic form of worship offered to formless Deity invoked through the sacrificial fire. Precisely it helps to remove pollution from the environment as incense and other materials with beneficial properties are burned along chanting of Mantras. It may be performed individually or collectively for better environment.
  3. Formal Worship (Puja) – This is comparatively formal and elaborate than Meditation prayer. But some or all the formalities can be skipped according to perceptions of the worshipers. The mode of Puja or worship is a replica of the courtesies and protocols normally extended to a beloved guest or a person of higher status. The procedure involved is similar to worldly form of respect that we offer to many mortals to solicit some favors. Only, the King of kings is the recipient here. Puja may be arranged at home or in a temple, and can be performed by the individual himself or more elaborately through a professional priest acting as chief of protocol. Stepwise, the following is the order:-
  • Avahana – invoking the presence of the Deity,
  • Asana – seat is offered to the Deity invoked,
  • Padya – the feet of the deity are washed,
  • Arghya – an offering of sandalwood paste and rice is made to deity,
  • Chandana – sandalwood paste is smeared,
  • Pushpa –  flowers are offered,
  • Dhupa –  incense is burned,
  • Dipa – lighted lamp is waved in front of deity,
  • Naivedya – food offering is made along with drinking water to deity.
  • Visarjana – Finally the Deity is given a farewell.

Contingent Rituals 

The rituals of this category are contingency dependent, and need to be performed when the situation arises. These were mentioned in Manusamruti since the evolution of the society, and continue to be observed in every society with local modifications. These are intended to formally announce the occurrence of major event in the life of an individual for the information of other members of the society. Though some of the embellishments prescribed by Sage Manu might have been out dated due to changes in environment, but in substance and the purpose, these rituals are essentially relevant in every society while some of the westernized Hindus mock at them. Their mocking is nothing but display of their utter ignorance and ingratitude to their own ancestors.

One significant aspect of Hindu ritual is that all activities are performed after invoking the ‘presence’ of Vedic gods, particularly Agni (Fire), Ganesha, and the heavenly bodies of our solar system as witnesses. Celestial witnesses are invoked for testifying the occurrence, as Human beings are liable to be inconsistent and unreliable for multiple reasons. Celestial witnesses are omnipresent and omniscience.

It is also to be remembered that according to Hinduism, God is not concerned with any form of clothing, food, or rituals. Whatever people practice based on their own perceptions, is only to please them-selves. If a person liked sweets and pampering, he would conclude sweets to be the best gifts towards God, and would derive satisfaction by offering the same to Him. He would suggest others also to follow the same. Likewise, rituals are pleasing as long as one can afford them. They become burden when forced upon.

Chand K Sharma

(Next: Splashes 27/72 – Environment Related Colorful Festivals)

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