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Splashes – 45/72 – Melodiously mystifying Music

Right from celestial beings to humans, every Hindu is individually attached to music in some form. Hindu’s and life without music is considered hellish. The arts of vocal singing, instrumental performance and dance are wrapped within the definition and scope of Music.

Ancient Texts on Music

Indian system of music is the oldest in the world as a written science. Sama Veda deals with the subject of music in addition to religion and philosophy. Musical notes and intervals were analyzed and mathematically calculated in the Indian treatises on music. Instrumental music was a part of music from very early days and Hindus had a variety of percussion, wind and stringed instruments.

Musical instruments have been associated with Gods and goddesses. Shiva danced Tandava to the beats of his own Damroo while Saraswati, the goddess of learning is depicted playing a Veena. Krishana played flute that inspired gopies (milk-maids) to dance. Sage Narda, Ravana and Pandva prince Arjuna are also associated with Veena while Arjuna was well versed in tutering dance also. Apasaras and Gandharvas are considered to be exponents in music and are celestial performers.

Apart from Sama Veda, Bhart Muni’s Natya Shastra is comprehensive treatise on music and drama. It is a fore runner of opera and provides a detailed account of stagecraft and theory of music. There is also a very detailed discussion of the musical instruments. The second part of Narada Purana deals primarily about the art of music. The theory explained there in is the foundation of Indian music. The formation of seven note scales (swara- saptaks), Low, middle and higher octaves (Mandra, Madhya and Taar Sthanas), modes (moorchhanas), natural and complex movements (shuddha, and koota taanas) have been explained. It is noteworthy to contrast that till first century, western music had only five notes in vogue and there was no theory at all till Aristotle provided some format.

Development of Musical Art

Worship of sound (Nada-upasana) is thought to be an important means for attaining Moksha (total contentment).The highest musical experience is the divine bliss (ananda). This devotional approach to music is a significant feature of Indian culture. The art of Vedic chant was an essential element of Vedic rituals. The references in Vedic literature, the epics, and other scriptures, show that it was a highly developed secular art centuries before the Christian era.

The Vedic hymns, like all Hindu poetry, were sung. Those travelled from temples to royal courts and to common folk being integral part of festivals. The form of music also changed accordingly from mystic to classical and thereafter as folk music that is called popular music or pop music. Chandogya Upanishada helped the priests to sing the Samans properly for the pleasure of Gods. The Samans could either be sung or played on the Veena. That became the basis of later Bhakti movements, where all other rituals and sacrifices were given up to be replaced by simple Bhakti expressed through devotional music. Music developed as a means of pleasure in the courts later, during Muslim period.

Besides generation of concepts, later to be known as Binary figures and Pascal Triangle during third century BC; Pingala was the first to introduce an important concept in the field of music also. According to his view, Shruti was to be the shortest unit of the musical sound (Nada) that could be imitated or reproduced. Shruties are capable of generating vibrations in the air that are conducive to be used in music. Today, in the musical jargon shruties are placed between micro-tones and semi-tones, though the equation is not exact. Two or more shruties create Swara (Natural Musical Notes). Indians were the first to identify musical notes. In Indian Music all notes are not made of equal number of shruties, while in Western music all natural notes have two semitones except F and B notes.

The development of Western music also followed more or less similar pattern. It started with choral chants in Church, traveled to Royal Chambers and reached the masses through Operas and Public performances during its Classical age in seventeenth Century. The origin of Western music theory is attributed to Aristotle and Pythagoras in third century BC.

The first millennium provides us with several texts that show the evolution of Indian music. The Brihaddeshi written by Matanga Rishi (700 A.D.) is very important.  It is in this work that we first find the word ‘Raag’ mentioned.  Another important text is the ‘Sangeet Ratnakar’ by Sharangdeva.  This work, written around the thirteenth century, gives extensive commentaries about numerous musical styles that existed at that time.

Scales and Ragas 

Indian music is based upon a system of Ragas that are derived from scales (Thaata) and reflect a particular mood. The term Raga is derived from Sanskrit root – ranj or raj, literally meaning to color, but figuratively meaning to tinge with emotion and are assigned a specific time for performance. Musical notes of every Raaga, are selected with extreme care to maintain the mood and purity of the Swara-mala of Raaga. It is upon this basic structure that a musician or singer improvises according to his feeling within the strict rules of musical grammar, and the precision of timing given by the accompanying percussionist. Structural melody is the most fundamental characteristic of Indian music. As compared to India there is no time theory in Western music, and entire range of western scales can be compressed just in 5 scales of Indian music. Indian music has seventy two scales out of those 10 scales, Bilaval, Kalyana, Khamaj, Bhairava, Bhairavi, Kafi, Pooravi, Asavari, Marva and Todi are presently in vogue. Indian music is melody dominant while in Western music many often harmony and melody have equal share.

Indians were original and far ahead of Western musicians. They subdivided the octave in 22 Shruties, while the latter have only 12 Semitones in an octave. Further by taking the initial letter of the Notes Indians improvised Swaramalika that can be sung as – Sa, Re, Ga, Ma, Pa, Dha, and Ni. The Persians also borrowed these notes. During eleventh century Guido d’ Arezzo introduced them in Europe in the form of Do, Re, Mi, Fa, Sol, La, Ti. Subsequently different notation systems prevalent in European Countries were standardized and first seven Alphabets of English language were picked up to identify seven musical notes. These notes cannot be vocalized and have to be substituted with musical phonetics such as Yo yo, la la or something else convenient to the singer. There are several other disparities and handicaps but those are beyond the scope at present.

Indian concepts in the West

Of late western composers are experimenting Micro tonality to have 24 sub-divisions within an octave. However their newly designed keyboard having one black and one white keys is yet to gain acceptance. In contrast the Indian micro tonality of 22 shruties within octave is a well-known nuance of expert Indian vocalists.  This can also be demonstrated on Sarangi that is a fretless bowed instrument to accompany vocalists.

The Minimalism is another new trend wherein a simple melodic motif is repeated over and over with prolonged chords in harmony. It is like repetition of cosmic sound OM using three notes harmonized against the prolonged vibration of similar sound emanating from the revolution of other heavenly bodies.

Development of Opera took place during Gupta Period from 4th to the 6th century AD. This was the classic period of Sanskrit literature, culminating in the drama of Kalidasa and his other contemporaries. Same time is assigned to the amalgamation of music and drama to entertain aristocracy. During Bhakti movement Kirtan was a popular format of devotional music. The same format has now been adopted in Disco, wrap and Rock style for the purpose of entertainment often under the influence of drugs. 

The contribution of Film music directors deserves to be mentioned for blending classical music with folk music and carrying the same to masses in the form of popular (Pop) music. In this field of compositions, maestro Naushad has towered his contemporaries with several successful experimentations. Indian film music is more popular all over the world.

Indian Dance

India has a proud history of dance dating back to 5000 BC. The earliest available ‘evidence’ of dance in India is the figurine of the ‘dancing girl’ found at the Harappa excavation in IndusValley.

According to Natya Shastra, Nritta, Nrithya and Natya are the three aspects of dance.

  • Nritta means pure and simple dance. This involves movements of the body and limbs, for a decorative effect, without conveying any meaning.
  • Nrithya lays emphasis of expressions, to convey the meaning of the rendering. Nrithya involves facial expressions, gestures and symbolic poses.
  • Natya includes drama through the use of spoken word, apart from Nritta and Nrithya.

According to Natya Shastra dance originated when sage Bharata approached Lord Shiva with a request to give the world an art form through which the essence of the Vedas could be propagated to everybody. Hence Shiva took parts from the four Vedas to create Panchama Veda of Natya. He took Nada from Rig Veda, swara from Samaveda, acting from Atharvaveda and chanting from Yajurveda. On Shiva’s request Parvati performed the elegant Lasya style of dance. She taught this to the Asura princess Usha who eventually propagated it in the western parts of present India. Shiva (in the form of Nataraja) is the presiding deity of dance.

Vishnu in the form of Mohini is said to have danced with Bhasmasura. Krishna is also said to have danced over the head of the deadly snake Kaliya. He is well-known to have danced the Raas with the Gopies of Vrindavan.

The other form of Dance originated by Shiva is Tandava that is most energetic and known as dance of cosmic destruction.

There are several dance styles out of which Bharat Natyam, Kathaka, Katha-Kali, Kuchipudi, and Manipuri are the most popular classical forms. In addition there are several folk dances representing India’s diverse culture. Most of the folk dances fall under the basic category of Tandava or Lasya. Bhangra dance from Punjab and Garba dance from Gujarat are conspicuous examples.

A Living Paradise

Volumes can be written to explain the variety of Music and Dances of India for the inquisitive mind. Folk music and folk dances have been part and parcel of Hindu society in every shade of life. The colorful life style of Indians have remained a big attraction for other nations of the world.

Chand K Sharma

(Next: Splashes – 46/72 – Origin of Political Thought )


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 – 15/72 – Puranas are the Earliest Narratives

Purana’ means old. It implies that the narration referred to was a happening of the past. There are eighteen Puranas, said to have been compiled by Sage Ved Vyasa in Sanskrit. Six Puranas each are devoted to the glorify Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva, the Gods of Trimurty as the main deity. Apart from that, Puranas narrate incidents concerning other deities, kings, and commoners also. They present a panoramic view of the past geography, history, customs, ethics and events on the Indian sub-continent and other parts of the globe.  The subtle philosophy of Vedas has been illustrated through narratives and discourses written in simple format for laymen to understand and emulate.

Gist of Puranas

Besides eighteen main Puranas, there are sixteen Up-Puranas also, but for the sake of brevity, the contents of major Puranas only are appended below:-

  1. Brahmapurana: This oldest Purana contains 246 chapters, and 14000 stanzas (Shalokas). In addition to describing the greatness of Brahma, the scripture narrates evolution of Universe from beginning to the period of Indus Valley Civilization. The stories of Rama, Krishna and decent of River Ganga are also included in it.
  2. Padmapurana: There are 55,000 stanzas divided in 5 chapters (Khandas) of this Purana. The Chapters are Srishti-Khanda, Swarga-Khanda, Uttar-Khanda, Bhumi-Khanda and Patal-Khanda. The narrative tells about the origin of earth, sky, stars, and life. Sages have scientifically classified four types of living beings in Universe, based on their source of origin. All major rivers of India have also been mentioned. Famous love story of Shakuntala and King Dushyanta is also narrated herein. Our country Jambudweepa came to be known as Bharat after a son Bharat born to the couple ruled the country. These contents of this Purana could have inspired Old Testament and later Muhammad also, to propagate the same about origin of Heaven, Earth and Hell with some variations.
  3. Vishnu Purana: There are 23000 stanzas complied in 6 chapters. Besides narratives of Vishnu and Krishna, this Purana narrates the history of Dhruva, the son of King Uttanapada and King Prithu, after whom Earth derived the name Prithavi. This Purana provides conclusive evidence of boundary demarcation of India:-

                    उत्तरं यत्समुद्रस्य हिमाद्रेश्चैव दक्षिणम्

                    वर्षं तद भारतं नाम भारती यत्र सन्ततिः

It means the country that has Himalayas on North, and surrounded by Sea on South is known as Bharat. All those who live in that area are called Bharatvasies (Residents of Bharat). What could be a better identity for Indians thereafter?

  1. Shivapurana: There are 24,000 stanzas divided in seven chapters (samhitas) to narrate the life of Lord Shiva. It is also known as ‘Vayu Purana’ and contains description of Mount Kailas, Shivalinga, identification and properties of Rudraksha beads, as well as exercising control over passion of lust. The rationale of naming days of the week has also been explained therein.
  2. Bhagvata Purana: There are 18000 shlokas explaining about Vishnu and Krishna. Theological and spiritual topics such as devotion (Bhakti), awareness (Gyana), and renunciation (Vairagya) are also explained in it. It also contains several historical accounts of dynasties prior to the battle of Mahabharata, as well as it narrates post Mahabharata events like submerge of Krishna’s capital Dwarka in to sea and destruction of Yadava clan.
  3.         Narada Purana: There are 25000 shlokas in it. It has two parts. The first part sums up the gist of all the eighteen Puranas.  The main thrust is to explain and illustrate the greatness of Krishna, and spiritual explanations of life after death. The second parts deals primarily about the art of music. The theory explained therein is the foundation of Indian music. The formation of seven note scales (swara- saptaks), octaves (Mandra, Madhya and Taar Sthanas), modes (moorchhanas), natural and complex movements (shuddha, and koot taanas) have been explained. It is noteworthy to contrast that till first century western music had only five notes in vogue and there was no theory at all till Aristotle provided some format.
  4. Markandeya Purana: This Purana is the shortest as compared to others. There are 9000 shlokas in 137 chapters. There is discussion on social justice and Yoga between Sage Markandeya and Sage Jaimini.  Also it contains the early stories of Krishna and Devi Bhagwati.
  5.         Agni Purana: has 15000 shlokas divided into 383 chapters. This scripture is an encyclopedia of Hindu philosophy, history and science. The synopsis of Matasya Avatar, Ramayana and Mahabharata are given in it. There is interesting discussion on three Up-veda Dhanurveda, Gandharveda and Ayurveda that deal with science of weapons, music, and longevity respectively.
  6.         Bhavishya Purana: There are 28000 shlokas divided into 129 chapters. It contains large collection of assorted subjects ranging from the properties of Sun, process of evolution and names of calendar months, diversity of snakes, characteristics and antidotes of snake poisons, just to mention the few. It is more surprising to find several pages in this ancient scripture containing narrative identical to Bible. Not only there are descriptions of past Hindu dynasties but as the title of the document suggests, Nanda dynasty, Chandragupta Maurya, Qutabuddin Aibak, Mughals, Shivaji and Queen Victoria have also been forecast.  There is mention of legendry King Vikram and Betal also in this scripture. Bhavishya Purana surely provides stimulus for intellectuals to undertake research studies.
  7.       Brahmavivarta Purana: There are 18,000 shlokas and 218 chapters of this Purana it. Details about Brahma, Ganesh, Krishna, Tulsi, Lakshami, Sarsavati have been included. There are some discussions on Ayurveda also.
  8.       Linga Purana: This Purana contains 11000 shlokas and 163 chapters. It deals about Aghora-mantra of Tantra cult. Besides that, evolution of universe, astronomy, and cosmic time calculations has also been explained in Linga Purana. The narrative of King Ambrish also finds place in this scripture.
  9. Varaha Purana: This Purana contains 217 chapters (skandhs) and 10000 shlokas. It contains the story of Varaha incarnation of Vishnu. Importance of Bhagavad Gita has been explained in detail. There are descriptions of evolution of universe, underworld (Patal Loka), movement of Sun in Northern and Southern hemispheres, and causes of full moon and dark nights have also been explained. These facts remained unknown to West till 15 th century.
  10.       Skandha Purana: This Purana is the longest of the Puranas. There are six parts (Khand) and 81,000 shlokas. It contains geographical descriptions on ancient Bharat, Mountain Sahyadri and the temple at Kanyakumari. It identifies 27 astronomical constellations (nakshatras), 18 major rivers of India, story of Ganga’s descent, twelve Jyotirlingas, and beauty of Arunachal Pradesh. There is an interesting account of Somdeva (moon), his wife Tara and their son Buddh (mercury) offering allegorical positioning of these heavenly bodies.
  11.       Vamana Puran: There are 95 chapters and 10000 shlokas and two parts in this Purana, but only one part is available. Stories connected with Vamana Avataar in Bharuch Kuchh Gujarat are given in detail.  Apart from that this Purana also narrates evolution of universe, geographical position of earth, seven continents, Jambudweep (India) and location of several rivers and mountains.
  12.       Kurma Purana: There are four chapters and 18000 shlokas in this Purana that narrates the story of Kurma Avatara of Vishnu. It narrates the churning of ocean story leading to emergence of Vedas, Ayurveda, wealth and four Yugas. It also explains four stages of human life and history of lunar (Chandravanshi) Kings.
  13. Matsya Purana: There are 14,000 shlokas in 290 chapters in this Purana. The main theme is to explain the story of Matsya Avatar, evolution of planets in our solar system, and the dynasties of Chandravanshi kings. The romantic episodes of Kacha, Devyani, Sharmishtha and King Yayati are also narrated in this scripture.  This Purana is also likely to be source of inspiration for Old Testament and subsequently to Muhammad.
  14.       Garuda Purana: There are 279 chapters and 18000 shlokas in this Purana. Details regarding Pretaloka, Yamaloka, and Naraka (hell), and 84 million kinds of lives are given in it. The scripture was in two parts but now only one is available. People hesitate to keep this Purana in their houses because of its fearful subject matter. At the same time, portions of this Purana are recited in many Hindu homes during rituals fallowing death. This Purana allegorically explains the conditions inside the womb that a soul has to pass through before rebirth. In English literature, John Banyan’s ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress’ has more or less similar theme where an Evangelist guides Christian soul to surmount troubles on way to heavenly bliss.
  15. Brahmanda Purana: This Purana can be said to be the first treatise on Cosmology. It is in three parts having 12,000 shlokas. It is believed that Adhyatma Ramayana, which is now an independent volume, was originally a part of this Purana. It explains evolution of our solar system and planets, cosmic time calculation stating that seven Manovantars have passed since creation of universe. Many solar and lunar dynasties have also been mentioned including the narrative of Parshuram Avatar. Some Indian sages took the knowledge of this Purana to Indonesia also.

Relevance of Puranic Literature

Historical accounts were not preserved in ancient period like we do today. Events and persons were remembered through oral descriptions, fables, customs and drawings. Mythologies of other religions are full of stories, and images of supernatural persons divided into gods, demons and humans, but most of them cannot be related to time and place. In comparison, accounts given in Puranas can be connected to geography and time line with greater rationality and accuracy, and further corroborated with versions and established facts. Many priests and kings did claim to be descendants of supernatural beings, but their earthly identity has today been ascertained. Similarly historical event and scientific phenomena mentioned in Puranas can also be x-rayed out from the cover of mythological shells. If nothing else, Puranas are still the earliest narratives available to mankind to infuse values for bringing up children.

Chand K Sharma

(Next: Splashes – 16 – Manusamriti is first Social Regulatory System)

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)

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