Navaratri as the Celebration of the Female Shakti Culture of India

Dr. Bal Ram Singh, a Professor and Director of Botulinum Research Center, Executive Mentor of School of Indic Studies, Institute of Advanced Sciences, a former Professor of Biophysical Chemistry and Henry Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar, and Founding Director of the Center for Indic Studies at University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, writes on value of ancient Indian traditions for the modern times.

 “Feminine force is that inner strength, that power, that will to face down any negative circumstances in life and defeat them.” -Georgette Mosbacher

India as a culture faces most negative attention, especially from the Western media and intellectuals, including political leaders who unceremoniously lecture India on things they need to learn from this ancient civilization.

There is always a hue and cry over women in India for one reason or the other, be it political leaders like Indira Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi, Smriti Irani, Mayawati, Mamta Banerjee, Jaya Lalitha, etc., object of atrocities like Nirbhaya, Phoolan Devi, and many other rape victims throughout the country, activists like Vandana Shiva, Medha Patkar, Teesta Setalavad, etc., the spiritual leaders like Ma Amritanandamayi in Kerala, Anandamurti Guruma in Haryana, the Brahmakumaris in Rajasthan, Mother Teresa in Kolkata, Dr. Niruben Amin in Gujarat, and Didi Ma Ritambhara, who have millions of followers throughout the world.

As this is Navaratri and Dussehra time, we could use this festival to highlight some of the traditional ways in which India’s deep philosophies are practiced in regards to women. If we talk about the Navaratri goddess Durga, a word that comes from durg or fort. Durga is a symbol of fortitude, which comes to women naturally but men need to seek. Fortitude is a mental power, not necessarily the physical one.


In a recent study, scientists found women’s brain is more resilient – “Women are able to carry higher levels of genetic defects without getting brain development disorders such as autism, supporting the possibility of a ‘female protective effect’, according to the study as per a news in Australian Broadcasting News (February 28, 2014).The study published in The American Journal of Human Geneticsgives clues as to why fifty per cent more males typically have an intellectual disability than females, and why boys are four times more likely to have autism than girls.

Traditionally, women in India under ideal conditions have high place in the society – Durga, Saraswati, and Laxmi, the goddesses of strength, knowledge, and wealth, respectively. Even 30-40 years ago, at least in eastern Uttar Pradesh, the place where Nirbhaya’s parents come from, girls names had Devi added as a suffix. It reflects what society perceived and professed for women’s high place. Kanya puja is still common throughout the country. The points reflect that women in general reflect the sattvic thoughts and action. And, society prospers when that sanctity is maintained.

Manusmriti (3.56), an ancient book of memoir, states that –

yatra nāryastu pūjyante ramante tatra devtā 

यत्र नार्यस्तु पूज्यन्ते रमन्ते तत्र देवता:

This is wrongly translated as  – where women are worshipped that becomes god’s abode. The real translation would be that where women raise themselves to the level of being worshipped, gods make that place as their abode. The onus here is on the women to raise their level with their knowledge, practice, management, and caring of the society. Worshipping Monica Lewinskys of this world will not make this world abode of gods.

Women in Sanskrit are known as stree, which means they can possess satva, rajas, and tamasic gunas at the same time in their role of mother, sister/daughter, and marriage partners. They are capable of performing these functions concurrently, as in multi-tasking today. Multitasking is women’s second nature, and neuro-scientific studies will be enriched by such analysis.

According a recent report published in CBC News (March 03, 2016) quoting Dr. Apostolos Georgopoulos, the director of the Brain Science Centre at the Minneapolis VA Medical Center “What we have found is that women, in many different tasks, process information about five times faster than men, and use much less of their brain to do identical cognitive performance.”

Man, on the other hand, is known as purusha (someone who pursues), because what women can accomplish/understand innately with their intuitive and perceptive power, men need to toil through learning, experiencing, and serving.

How is this difference possible? Women are right brain dominating individuals, whereas men are generally left brain dominated persons. Right brain performs intuitive functions such as art, literature, music, etc. whereas left brain is more analytical and performs math, language, technology type of operations. Right brain believed to operatefaster due to its parallel processing, and provides women with intuitive power much better than men. In India queens always sat along with kings to provide management to the kingdom, and in fact ruled their kingdoms in the absence of kings, and did well, including in battlefields.

In today’s intellectual world India as the rest of the world with few exceptions are considered as patriarchical as opposed to matriarchical society. This is not correct historically or practically, although men may have been assigned to manage the society more due to the foreign attacks the society faced in the past thousand years or so. Over five years ago, Tulsῑ Rāmayan stated that mother’s place is higher than that of the father. In Ayodhyākand Kaushalyā says –

‘jaun keval pitu ayesu tata। tau jani jahu jani badi mata’ 

जौं केवल पितु आयसु ताता। तौ जनि जाहु जानि बड़ि माता ,

which means if only father had given orders to Rām, then he did not need to go to the forest, since as a mother she holds higher position.

In Indian tradition a child is considered the most fortunate whose father is dharmatmā (righteous) and whose mother is pativratā (devoted to the husband). So, it is not easy to be an ideal mother and father. One has to work hard to reach that level, and ideal traits come from the sanskārs (values) of the family and society.

India’s daughters make majority of female graduate students in most US engineering graduate schools. That shows the true treatment of the daughters by a society, Nearly half of the Indian banks are headed by women, and have not defaulted unlike western banks. India’s housewives contribute most to the Indian economy, and Indian space programs, including its mission to Mars, is full of Indian women engineers. These are the true cultural reflections of India’s daughters, something Western world could easily learn.

In summary, women are naturally empowered, and have been accepted in Indian society as such, but it requires hard work to maintain the empowered state. They need to realize both their empowered state and the cost to maintain it. It will not come from government or modern feminist movements, which are based on ego, control, and division of the society.

How to Integrate the Ancient Educational System with the Modern Educational System

– Dr. Raj Kumar, Assistant Professor, Institute of Advanced Sciences, Dartmouth, MA.

The most important aspect of the ancient educational system was the “teacher” or “Guru”. The role and definition of Guru in ancient days was different from modern day spiritual Guru. The Guru was one who not only imparted his experimental and theoretical knowledge to his students; he was also responsible for spiritual and astral development of his students. Place of “Guru” is higher than God in ancient texts. According to Advyatarka Upaniśad (16th Verse) the definition of guru is as follows:

गुशब्दस्त्वन्धकारःस्यात्‌  रुशब्दस्तन्निरोधकः।

Guśabdastvandhakāraḥ syāt ruśabdastannirodhakaḥ

Andhakāranirodhitvāt gururityabhidhῑyate।।

 Meaning: ‘Guru’ word is a mixture of two syllables – “Gu” means ignorance (andhakar or dark) and “Ru” (nirodh, or to remove) means to dispel or to restrict or to obstruct. The guru is seen as the one who “dispels the darkness of ignorance”. One must have faith in his Guru. No one can get happiness or achievements without having faith in his Guru. Ramcharitmānas also put “Guru” as a person who holds high esteem.

Guru ke vacana pratῑti na jehῑ  Sapanehu sugama na sukha sidhi tehῑ

māta pitā guru prabhu ke vāṇῑ  vinahi vichār kariha subh jāṇῑ।।


Ancient Indian education is also to be understood as being ultimately the outcome of the Indian theory of knowledge as part of the corresponding scheme of life and values. Moral education was a perennial aim of Vedic education. The principles of Vedic education have been a source of inspiration to all the educational system of the world.

The modern education system in India is established by British, primarily introduced by Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay in 1830s, and later by Wood’s Magna Carta of Indian education in 1854. Teaching was confined to the class rooms and connection with the nature was broken, and also the close relationship between student and teacher was lost. Modern education is based on western system of text books and examination. There are primarily two motives of introducing textbooks culture in India; a) to stop producing new knowledge and make students think that they are mere consumers of the knowledge which the textbook writer wants to convey, b) reducing teacher’s authority on knowledge. Teachers lost the right of deciding what to teach and how to teach. They also follow the matter given in a text books. Examination was introduced to our education system so that students are limited to learn only those things which are supposed to be covered in the exam, not the complete things. This practice eventually narrows the area of knowledge. To pass exam students just memorize the content, without understanding, just to clear the exam.

National leaders, social reformers, and educated people alarmed by the erosion of educational system which also leads to the erosion of Indian culture. Organizations like Brahma Samaj (Raja Ram Mohan Roy), Prarthana Samaj (Atmaram Panduranga), Arya Samaj (Swami Dayanand), and Ram Krishna Mission (Swami Vivekanand), interpreted rationally and advised people to remain firmly rooted to the Indian culture and not get swayed away by the glamour and materialism of alien culture. Swami Vivekanand said, “Each nation like each individual has a theme in this life, which is its centre, the principle note, around which every other note comes to form the harmony. If any nation attempts to throw off its national vitality, the direction, which has become its own through the transmission of centuries, nation dies.

At present, we have lost the root of morality in modern education. There is no sense of discipline, behavior is irresponsible, less decision making ability and too much influence of materialistic mode of life among the students and teachers of our time. Alienation of modern generations from their roots and culture alarmed Gandhiji and he said, “My real education began after I had forgotten all that I had learned at school”. There is no doubt that modern education has given to India the key to the treasures of scientific and modern democratic thought. It is the west that has led the world in advancement in technology and science. It also opened the doors for liberal and rational thinking. It widened the mental horizons of the Indian intelligentsia during last two centuries. But somehow it got derailed and makes mind just a store-house of knowledge and discourage creative thinking. For building an ideal education system for today, we need an amalgamation of eastern culture and western methods which promotes liberal thinking and advancement in science and technology for the future.


Although there is wide gap of education between ancient Indian education and modern education system, there is enough room where both can be integrated in theory and practice. Some prime elements are as follows: a) more preference should be given to character, truth, non-violence, spiritualism rather than wealth and materialism. b) The sense of discipline and cordial relation between teacher and students. For this, the teacher should enforce fair practices, presenting themselves as a respectful, create a culture of integrity in their classrooms, and show genuine interests in their students. Students should impart discipline, preservance, honesty, and good social values. c) Manan (meditation) and Nididhyananna (realization) techinques should be imparted in education to helps student in self motivation and concentration. d) “Simple living and High Thinking” should be the motive of student life. e) Education should be given to make student self sufficient. Education should include project based natural learning, individual and group accountability, challenging environment, collaborative learning, critical thinking, communication and research skills. After education students should be able to lead a sustainable life and encourage their neighbourhood and friends to have the same. f) Education system should be such that it not only preserves but spreads the culture, which should be amalgamation of social practices, traditional beliefs, and daily activities (should not include karamkānda or superstitious beliefs and traditions). g) It should infuse a sense of responsibility and social values. And h) the teacher should encourage self motivation in their students to inculcate responsibility and focus towards getting true knowledge, not to just become literate.

The ultimate aim of education should not be to fulfill the desires of life in the world, but for complete realization of self to achieve complete liberation, and Vedic education trained students to be truthful. It is important to remember that those who pursue the path of truth are never defeated.

सत्यमेवजयतेनानृतं सत्येनपन्थाविततोदेवयानः।
येनाक्रमन्त्यृषयोह्याप्तकामा यत्रतत्सत्यस्यपरमंनिधानम्॥

Satyameva jayate nānṛtaṁ Satyena panthā vitato devayānaḥ

yenākramantyṛṣayo hyāptakāmā yatra tat satyasya paramaṁ nidhānam।।  

(Mundaka Upaniśad 3-1-6 )

Characteristics of Ancient Indian Educational System

– Dr. Raj Kumar, Assistant Professor, Institute of Advanced Sciences, Dartmouth, MA.

It is sad to see the status of the current educational system. Whether it is student-teacher relationship, related to fee, control of the state or central government, mental/ethical development of students, imparting social responsibilities or providing pure knowledge…..everywhere you will find flaws and need some serious introspection. These are the few reasons why we have fewer enrollments in higher studies (out of ~ 140 million High school students in India only 1.8 million students opt for postgraduate or MPhil or PhD). Other issues are: having less trained workforce and unemployment rates among higher educated personnel (among literates unemployment rate is higher among better qualified, unemployment rate is 7.23% among illiterate and 10.98% among literate (2011 census)). Although the primary objective of modern educational system is to satisfy modern societal needs, but it is not able to address this adequately. So I thought to look into what kind of education system was available in ancient times, and how that system operated.

The ancient education system can be best described by the following verse from Vishṇu Puraṇa.

तत्कर्मयन्नबन्धायसाविद्यायाविमुक्तये। आयासायापरंकर्मविद्यऽन्याशिल्पनैपुणम्॥

Tatkarmyannabandhāyasāvidyāyāvimuktaye।  Āyāsāyāparṁ karmavidya’nyāśilpanaipuṇm।।

 (Vishṇu Puraṇa 1-19-41)

That is action, which does not promote attachment; that is knowledge which liberates. All action is a mere effort/hardship; all other knowledge is merely another skill/craftsmanship.

The above quotation is the best portraiture of the Indian educational system in the past, and the Vedas form the basis of such a system. The word ‘Vidya’ is derived from the root vid, to know, which the same root as Veda is. Since the entire educational system is based on the Veda, Vidya garnered by Veda enables a person to know the truth regarding the universe and the individual relationship with the universe. The Rishis understood that student should have self motivation to succeed, and teaching should suit the natural inclination of a student. It’s the duty of a Guru to test the student and impart knowledge in the subject of his/her liking. That’s why in ancient times a teacher/guru provided only suggestions/advice to his students, and students needed to put their hearts and minds behind that to assimilate the knowledge.

This educational system teaches consciousness, self-control and purity of thought and action. A person who is not selfish and well-educated leads a pure life, conquers avarice by generosity or hatred by love. Such a person does not bother about caste, creed or color. All these distinctions come when education leads to the patch of commercial contracts, but when it inculcates purity, selflessness and self-realization, then it makes individual to realize the ideals of uplifting. It is clear that this system is based on the idea of attaining perfection without degrading self or humanity as a whole. This system is based on three fold system of Vidya; a) Parā-Vidyā, b) Aparā-Vidyā, and c) Kāla. Parā-Vidyā helps one to attain pure-consciousness, Aparā-Vidyā teaches the law of nature and the cause of other phenomenon, and Kāla deals with kauśala (applied science) (Ramdasi PhD thesis).


Vedic education starts with an intimate relationship between teacher and the student. The relationship between the teacher and his students starts with a religious ceremony called Upanayana. By Upanayana ritual teacher impregnates his student with his spirit, and start students new birth. After this student is known as Dvija (born afresh; Agarwal, 2011). In this education system, student finds his teacher, live with him as family member, and treated by teacher as his son in every way. The school was in natural surroundings, Hermitage, away from urban distractions, and function in solitude and silence. In the words of Rabindranath Tagore: “A most wonderful thing was notice in India is that here the forest, not the town, is the foundation head of all its civilization. Wherever in India its earliest and most wonderful manifestations are notices, we find the men have not come into such close contact as to be rolled or fused into a compact mass. There, tree and plants, river and lakes, had ample opportunity to live in close relationship with men. In these forests, though there was human society, there was enough of open space, of aloofness; there was no jostling. Still it render it all the brighter. It is the forest that nurtured the two great ancient ages of India, the Vedic and the Buddhist. As did the Vedic Rishis, Buddha also showered his teaching in the many woods of India. The current civilization that flowed from its forests inundated the whole India.

Every education system is always associated with the social life of the time. In ancient time, the society was divided into four categories or Varṇās; the Brahmaṇa, the Kṣatriya, the Vaiśya and the Śudras. Education was given in the beginning mainly to the first three Varṇā of the society.  Initially, everything was taught to all the three classes. During the Vedic ages, persons of the same family group followed different occupations according to their individual taste. As time passed on and Varṇās were required to do some imparted duties (mainly in post-Vedic era or Upaniśad era), subjects got divided according to Varṇās. Birth not occupation then came to be regarded as the basis of the caste system. The Brahmaṇas learnt the Vedic texts, the Kṣatriya learnt the Veda, science of warfare and Arthsastra, and Vaiśya were taught commerce, agriculture, etc. Śudras were not entitled to formal education, they are apprenticed under the skilled individual in their trade and craft. In fact, for a time being they were also allowed for formal education. In the Baudhāyana Grihya Sutra, ŚudraRathakār was allowed to have the Upanayana Sanskar (Bakshi et al., 2005). Budhayana says: “Let him initiate a Brahmaṇa in Spring, a Kṣatriya in Summer, A Vaiśya in Autumn, a Rathakār in the rainy season or all of them in Spring”.

वसन्तेब्राह्मणामुपनयीतग्रीष्मे राजन्यं शरदि वैश्यं वर्षासुरथकारमिति।  सर्वानेववा वसन्ते।

Vasante brāhmaṇāmupanayῑtagrῑṣme rājanyaṁ śaradi vaiśyaṁ varṣāsurathakāramiti। sarvānevavā vasante।।

(Baudhyana Grihya Sutra 2-5-6)

Notably, ŚudraRathakār is defined in this book as an offspring of a Vaiśya male and Śudra female.

In addition to this four Varṇās, there are four Āśramas which an individual is expected to experience in his/her lifetime; the Brahmacharya, the Grhastha, the Vanaprastha, and  the Sanyasa. These Varṇās and stages of life give us an idea of the aims and ideals of the ancient Indian education system.

Education was free and it was the teacher’s responsibility to take care of the primary needs of the students. Debate, discussion and seminar are essential parts of learning involving listening, contemplation, comprehension, self study and recall (Ramkumar, 2014). Rote learning was the technique used for elementary education. At the secondary level Vedic studies and writing was introduced, and higher education consisted of advanced study of the metaphysical subjects. Several schools were operated those days such as Pariśad, Tola, Forest colleges, Court schools, Temple colleges, Mathas, Ghatikas, and Agraharas ( Teachers had designation according to their methods of teaching: Acharya (teach Vedas without charging fees), Upadhyaya (taught a portion of Veda or Vedangas as his profession), Charakas (wondering teachers), Guru (imparting education to his disciples), Yaujanasatika (teachers with their profound scholarship), and Sikshaka (teaching arts like dancing) ( schools specializing in subjects like philosophy, law, the sacrificial ritual, astronomy, grammar and logic appear to come into existence since 500 B. C. Under the Brahamic auspices, universities like Takhsila were established. University curriculum included physical sciences, arts, literature, philosophy, logic, mathematics, astronomy, medicine and theology. In the course of time distinction between Arts and Science were drawn and practical pursuits were included in the arts. In later Vedic era, they evolved and expanded the curricula in all the fields of knowledge. With the expansion of education system, enrollment increases, which necessitated in development of various branches of specialization. This also amalgamated various school systems to create universities like Takshila and Nalanda (Sakunthalamma, 1994). These universities had various departments with specialties. In those days the departments were –

  1. Agnisthana: This was the place where fire worship and other prayers took place. Probably here the performance of religious rites and rituals were taught.
  2. Brahmasthana: This was the department of the Veda.
  3. Vishnusthana: In this department Rajnti, Arthanti and Vārtā were taught.
  4. Mahendrasthana: This was the department where military sciences were taught.
  5. Vaivasvatasthana: This department is for Astronomy.
  6. Somasthana: Department of Botany.
  7. Garudasthana: This was the department which dealt with the transport and conveyance.
  8. Kartikeyasthana: In this department the science of organization of military, patrolling and battalions, and the army was taught.

The examination was an oral one. The student was required to give oral answers in a congregation of scholars. If he satisfied them, he was given a degree or title, somewhat similar to the PhD dissertation defense today. The consensus of the scholar’s opinion was essential for obtaining such a title.

There are evidences that girls were admitted in the Vedic schools or Charanas (Agarwal, 2011). A Kathi is a female student of Katha school. There were hostels for female students and they were known as Chhatrisala. Though the state did not include education as one of the subjects under its administration, the head of the state and other wealthy merchants, etc., encouraged these activities with their endowments. After the student completed his course (in general, 12 years of learning), the school organized Samavartna Sanskar, which is similar to convocation today. Taittirῑya Upaniśad’s verse 1.11.1 describes address of Guru to his students, in which he exhorts to speak truth, practice social ethics and not to neglect the pursuit of knowledge. They were also advised not to forget the debt to the Gods and ancestors. According to Taittrῑya Upaniśad’s verse 1.11.2, students were specially asked to see God in their mother, father, teacher and guest. Students were also advised to give gifts to their teachers sincerely and according to their means. Finally the teacher ended his address with the words that what all he said was the import of the Vedas, the divine scripture, which was to be meditated upon.


Sankuthalamma V. (1994). The trends of education in ancient India. PhD thesis, Shri Venkateshwara University, Tirupati, Andhra Pradesh, India.

Agarwal, V. (2011). Principles of Education. Chapter 1. Lakshay Publication, India.

Ramkumar, A. M. (2014). “Gurukul to University”: Ancient education system and the present day. Golden Research Thoughts, 3, 1-5.

Ramdasi, N.R. Visualising Indian heritage digital library metaphor. Research paper of PhD thesis. C- Dac, Pune.

Bakshi S.R., Gajrani S., and Singh, Hari (2005). Early Aryans to Swaraj. Volume-3, 25 – 26.


The Idea of God (Part-II)

– Dr. Koenraad Elst

Continued from Part-I

Mono- versus polytheism

The Sumerian ideogram Dingir was read as ElIn neighbouring Akkadian, a Mesopotamian dialect of Semitic. We know this word very well through Hebrew, a northwestern (Levantine) dialect of Semitic. Thus the names Uriel, “my light is God”; Gabriel, “my strength is God”; Michael, “who is like God?” But as we shall presently see, these names now carry a meaning of “God” that has resulted from a revolution, viz. from poly- to monotheism.

A derivative of El is Eloha, “a deity”, “a god”. We know it mainly through the plural form Elohim, “gods”, “pantheon”. Strangely, this form has survived the theological revolution described in the Bible book Exodus under the leadership of Moses, ca. 1250 BCE. Here, the many gods were replaced with a single jealous god, yet the plural form Elohim remained but with a singular meaning: God. Thus, the Bible, which received its definitive form only under the Persian empire ca. 500 BCE, when this usage was well-established, starts with the sentence: “Berešit bara Elohim et ha-šamaim ve-etha-aretz”, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” The connection with the stars was severed, at least for the Israelites, not all the other nations: “Pay attention lest ye lift your eyes up to the sky for seeing sun, moon and stars, that ye be led astray and adore and serve them, those whom the Lord your God hath assigned to all the nations under heaven.” (Deut. 4:19)

A synonym of Elohim, referring to the same jealous God, is Yahweh. Moses himself introduced this god-name into Biblical tradition. Though new to the Israelites after centuries in Egypt, it must have existed earlier among the Arab (South-Semitic) Beduins as well as among the Northwest-Semitic people of Mari. Moses, when a fugitive from Egyptian law after he was found out to have committed murder, stayed with a Beduin tribe. They had a storm-god Yahweh, best translated as a causative participle of a verb meaning “to move in the sky”, whether “to blow” or “to stoop like a bird of prey”, from an Arab root HWY later attested in the Quran (22:32), but not in the Bible. This meaning is confirmed by the fixed expression Yahweh Sabaoth, “he who causes the motion of the heavenly hosts”, i.e. of the majestic procession of the stars across heaven. Here again we find a stellar meaning associated with a god-name.

Moses saw an apparition of this god in the burning bush. When Moses asks the god who he is, the god expresses his total sovereignty: “I am who I am”, ehyeh ašer ehyeh. Theologians and translators have contemplated this sentence profusely, until in ca. 1900, the German Orientalist Julius Wellhausen hit upon its probable original meaning: it elaborates a pun on the name Yahweh, which the Hebrews misinterpreted folk-etymologically as a causative participle of the verb HYY, “to be”, hence “the being one”, “he who is”, or more philosophically, “he whose essence is existence” “he who necessarily exists”, “he who causes existence to exist”. This edifice of profundities is entirely built on a folk-etymological pun, nothing more. Or to put it more positively: a new conception of the divine was grafted onto an old god.

The Arab form of the originally polytheistic term ha-eloha, “the deity”, is al-Ilāha, also “the deity”. A contracted form is Allāh, “thé deity”, “the god par excellence”, hence “God”. Originally it could refer to any earlier-mentioned god. Thus, Mohammed’s Pagan father was called Abdallāh, “servant of the deity”. Mohammed, in a bid to establish monotheism among the Arabs, reinterpreted Allāhas a synonym of Yahweh. He saw himself as the latest (and even last) one of the line of the prophets of Yahweh, renamed Allāh in Arabia. This way, the star-god El, the Semitic form of Sumerian Dingir, ended up shedding his connection with the stars and becoming the disembodied extra-cosmic Creator-god Yahweh/Allāh. The Quran (6:78, 22:18, 41:37) simply and strictly prohibits star worship.

In the footsteps of the reform movements Brahmo Samaj and Aryan Samaj, many anglicized Hindus claim that “Hinduism too is monotheistic”. This is a very defensive stand, and it is simply not correct. If the Hindu wealth of gods and of ways of worship were not polytheistic, what other religion would be? It seems to us that they are using a word they don’t understand. Monos does not mean “one”, it means “alone”, “one and no other”. Monotheism accepts only Yahweh or Allah, and considers all others as false gods, only good to be destroyed and discarded: Marduk, Ba’al, Osiris, Ahura Mazda, Śiva, Buddha. By contrast, Hinduism is inclusive. The Vedic verse: “The wise call the one essence by many names”, means that the different gods are not false but are essentially the same as your chosen god. There are no “false gods” in Hinduism. Reality is both one and manifold, and Hinduism is not bothered with the question whether the divine is single or many.

This also counts for other Pagan civilizations. When Protestant missionaries set up shop in China, they discovered that a native term roughly meaning “God” was Shangdi, so they appropriated this term as name of the Christian God. (Catholics preferred Tianzhu, the “Heavenly Boss”.) What they did not know, is that the Chinese language mostly does without the separate category of a plural, so the same word can be both plural and singular. Shangdi does not so much mean “the Sovereign on High”, as rather “the Powers on High”. In Chinese, even the grammar militates against the contrast between one and many. To monotheists this numerical matter is all-important, worthy of the iconoclastic destruction of all the “false gods”; but to regular people such as Hindus or Confucians and Daoists, it is just not an issue.


Heaven-worship is truly the universal religion, rivalled only by ancestor-worship. And even then, these two are intertwined. Deceased ancestors are deemed to be in heaven, often actually associated with a specific star. When your father has died, you take your child on an evening walk, and when the stars appear, you point out one of them and say: “There is grandpa, watching over us.” In a Vedic ritual, a zone in the sky, in the Scorpio-Sagittarius area, is designated as the destination of the dead.

For famous people, who had become part of the collective consciousness, the procedure could be to “elevate them to godhood” (Greek: Apotheōsis) by associating them with a specific star or constellation.A case in point from antiquity is Antinoös, the lover-boy of the Roman emperor Hadrian, who drowned himself and was given a star in Aquarius, still named after him. When in the 17th century the southern sky was mapped, one constellation was named after the protection given to Vienna by Jan Sobieski against the Ottoman siege: Scutum Sobieskii, “Sobieski’s shield”, now simply Scutum.

This practice was first attested in writing in Ugarit, Syria, where in ca. 2000 BC famous people upon their deaths were identified or “associated” with a star. In the native Semitic, this practice was named Širk, “association”. The term ought to be well-known today, but with an evolved meaning. When Islam imposed monotheism, it denounced polytheism and idolatry as Širk, i.e. the “association” of a mortal, a creature, with the Supreme Being, the Creator.

India too has known this practice. The stars of the Great Bear are named after the Seven Sages who composed most of the Ŗg-Veda. There are different variations of this list of seven, but one of the Sages who returns in all of them is Vasiṣṭha. He and his wife Arundhātī are associated with the twin stars Mizar and Alcor. In a moderate way, they did graduate to godhood, with a few temples in Himachal and Uttarakhand dedicated to them. Another sage who made it to heaven is Agastya, the Sage who went to the South, and therefore has the southern star Canopus named after him.


At the dawn of history, and practically since the birth of mankind, star worship, partly overlapping with ancestor worship, was the main religion worldwide. With the development of civilization, conceptions of the divine grew away from their referents in nature. India generated a spirituality implying renunciation, and the gods followed suit. The Upanishads signalled a break with the Vedic focus on the gods and reoriented mankind’s attention to the spiritual path. A kind of relation with a kind of gods was restored, but adopting the new focus on Liberation.

Star worship remained alive, as “nothing ever dies in India” (in the words of the late Girilal jain), but that old layer was overlaid with new levels of abstraction. The highest of these was the abstract concept of the Absolute (Brahmaṇ) that appeared in the Upaniṣads and remained, in various guises, in the mai sects of Hinduism. But the lower levels, including the naturalistic, star-related levels did not disappear; it was an organic evolution.

A roughly similar evolution took place in the Greek world and then in the Roman empire. The elites outgrew the colourful pantheon and, mainly through Stoicism, accepted a more abstract and more unitary concept of the divine. In Neoplatonism, which may have been influenced by Indian developments, everything was thought to emanate from “the One”. In China too, “the One” was the name of a unifying abstract concept transcending the many natural gods of everyday religion.

Unfortunately, in the Roman empire, this natural evolution was interrupted and forcibly driven in a particular direction by the imposition of Christianity. However, at the same time, to better insinuate itself in the Greco-Roman culture, Christianity also took over much from Stoicism and Neoplatonism, which appear mainly in Christian morals c.q. theology.The breakthrough of monotheism followed the same pattern as the conceptual development in Hinduism to a some extent, but was unnecessarily brutal and destructive regarding the earlier religion. The same scenario repeated itself even more abruptly with the advent of Islam.

The resulting concept of divine unity (in Islam: tawḥīd) was also much cruder than a what gradual development would have made possible. While superseding the colourful old gods, Yahweh or Allah were much like them in their negative aspects: all too human, too personal, not nirguṇa, “beyond qualities”. As India has shown, it was perfectly possible to move from a naturalistic to a more abstract conception of the divine without destroying the earlier conception.


The Idea of God (Part-I)

– Dr. Koenraad Elst

koenraadMarxDr. Elst, born in 1959 in Leuven, Belgium, studied Sinology, Indology and Philosophy and did his Ph.D. on the ideological development of Hindu Revivalism. He worked as a political journalist and as a foreign-policy assistent in the Belgian Senate, but mainly as a independent writer. He became fairly well-known in India with his argumentation in favour of the Ayodhya temple, now vindicated, and with his work on the Aryan homeland question, still controversial.

All known civilizations have a thing called “god”, plural or singular. They are a category of beings deemed endowed with far more power and a vastly larger longevity than us human beings. For the rest, their characters and functions may vary.

In writing, the idea of “a god” is first attested in the Sumerian ideogram Dingir, which has the physical form of a radiant star. It certainly has the meaning “god”, for it is used as the common determinative for a whole class of names signifying gods. That, indeed, was anciently how a divine being was conceived: as a radiant heaven-dweller. In Babylon and in Harran, each planet was worshipped in a temple of its own.

The pre-Islamic religion was also largely star worship (next to ancestor worship and the worship of special stones like the Black Stone in Mecca’s Ka’ba). Thus, the three Meccan goddesses of Satanic Verses fame, al-Lāt, al-Uzza and al-Manāt, are roughly the Sun, Venus and the Moon. The Ka’ba was dedicated to the moon-god Hubal, and housed a stone fallen from heaven.

Stars were explicitly recognized as gods by prominent philosophers like Socrates and Plato. Some dissident freethinkers however, like the philosopher Anaxagoras and the playwright Aristophanes, thought stars were only burning rocks. After Christianization, when all divinity was invested in an extra-cosmic Supreme Being, the planets were desacralized and reduced to cogwheels in a cosmic machinery set in motion by the Creator and operated by his angels. Though numerically, a large part of humanity now espouses this desacralizing view, it is rather exceptional in the history of religions. The association of gods with stars was pretty universal.

Other properties of a god

Because a star is radiant and stands in heaven, near-permanently visible to all, it is a part of our collective consciousness, our shared frame of reference. This, then, is the operative meaning of “a god” in human life: the personification of an important collective factor difficult to negotiate, and which you have to take into account in the things you plan to do. Thus, Dyaus = heaven, Agni = fire, Indra (“the rainer”) = storm; Vayu = wind, Pṛthivī (“the broad one”) = earth. This principle is then generalized, and gods can be personifications of any category of beings. Thus, Śiva is the personification of the renunciants, unkempt and living in the mountains.

A god is powerful in that he can impact your life. But he is not all-powerful, because he has to share his power with other gods. Rarely if ever is he seen as “the Creator” who stood outside the universe and fashioned it from nothing. Rather, he himself is a part of the universe. Creation is normally seen as only a transformation from formless matter to the present world of form, and in that process, gods may play their part. In that limited sense, the Vedas and Puranas have plenty of “creation” stories. Yet they also assume that the universe as a whole has always been there, though it cyclically becomes unmanifest, only to reappear again. It is an exclusively Biblical-Quranic belief, further propagated by thinkers who elaborate the Biblical or Quranic assumptions, that a single Supreme Being, in a single moment never to be repeated, created the whole universe from nothing.

Gods are imagined to be endowed with personalities befitting the element of which they are the personification. As such, they are also sensitive to gifts and flattery, and may thus be influenced into exercising their power in a partisan, friendly way. That is why people who would never think of appeasing the stormy sea, do devise rituals to appease the sea god, hoping that he will guarantee smooth sailing.

Finally, a star or god is also, as far as a mortal can tell, eternal: it existed before we were born and goes on existing after we have died. As suggested by the extreme longevity of the physical stars, gods are proverbially deemed immortal. Hence the binary: us mortal earthlings versus the immortal heaven-dwellers.



The same meaning of “star”, “radiant heaven-dweller”, is present in Vedic Sanskrit Deva, “the shining one”, hence “a god”. It is also etymologically present in cognate words like Latin Deus, “a god”. One of the Sanskrit terms for “astrologer”, at least since its mention in a 4th-century dictionary, is Daiva-jña, “knower of the gods”, or in practice, “knower of destiny”. Another is Daiva-lekhaka, “gods-writer”, “destiny-writer”, i.e. horoscope-maker. Obviously, the stars here were seen as gods regulating man’s destiny.

A parallel development, but omitting (or only implying) the original link with the stars, is found in Slavic Bog, “the share-giver”, “the apportioner”, “the destiny-decider”, related to Sanskrit Bhaga, and hence to the derivative Bhagavān. Other god-names are more derived from the practice of worshipping, such as the Germanic counterpart God, “the worshipped one”, Sanskrit Huta; or the Greek counterpart Theos, “god”, related to Latin festus, “festive”; feriae, “holiday”, i.e, “religious feast”; and to Sanskrit dhiṣā, “daring, enthusiastic”, dhiṣaṇā, “goddess”, dhiṣṇya, “devout”. But even here, a stellar connection reappears, for the latter word is also a name of Śukra / ”Venus”.

More examples of the personification of heavenly phenomena as gods are found throughout the Vedas. The deities Mitra and Varuṇa represent the day sky (hence the sun, here remarkably called “the friend”) c.q. the night sky, with its stable sphere of the fixed stars, with its regular cycles representative of the world order. The Nāsatyas or Aśvins (“horse-riders”) are thought to represent the two morning- and evening stars, Mercury and Venus, who “ride” the sun, often likened to a horse. Uśa (related elsewhere to Eōs, Aurora, Ostara, and hence to “east” and “Easter”) represents the sunrise.

The Vedic gods were personifications of natural forces, with whom you could do business: do ut des, “I give to you” through sacrifice, “so that you give to me” the desire-fulfilment I want. That type of relation between man and god is pretty universal. That was the ancient worldwide conception of gods. But in auspicious circumstances, religion was to graduate from this stage, and the gods would go beyond the stars.

Transcending the stars

Hindus often react to the above-mentioned view as insufficiently respectful to Hinduism. They insist that it is a Western “Orientalist” fabrication to see the gods as mere personifications of natural forces. In foreign countries, perhaps, but not in India. They think it treats religion as essentially childish, for in children’s talk, or in that by mothers towards children, there is a lot of personification. Yet, we insist that in the Vedic stage of civilization, this conception of gods still prevailed; perhaps already as a rhetorical device built on top of an earlier more primitive stage, but still sufficiently present to leave numerous traces. It shows a deficient sense of history to project the newest insights of Hinduism back onto its past, and to deny the amount of change that has taken place in the conceptual history of Hinduism.

But then two things happened. The first is that from the Upanishads onwards, in a distinctively Indian development, the notion of Self-Realization or Liberation arose. The way to this goal, the Sādhana or what is nowadays called “the spiritual path”, is not about the fulfilment of desires; instead, the point is to decrease your desires, to renounce, to abandon. This was initially conceived as a process in which no god or other being played any role (whether they were deemed to exist or not), making way for a focus on the Self (ātman), equal to the Absolute of pure consciousness (brahman). This Absolute was conceived as being above the pairs of opposites, as devoid of characteristics (nirguṇa). Gods were relegated to the background, to the world of desire-fulfilment through rituals. Self-Realization implied renunciation from desire-fulfilment, and hence a distance from the gods and their favours.

The second development is that the gods persisted or were revived, but in a transformed role. Stellar references are explicit in the case of Sūrya, the sun, and of Soma Candra, the moon; but less so in the case of Viṣṇu, “the all-pervader” (like the sun’s rays), though he has a solar quality; and Śiva (“the auspicious one”, an apotropaeic flattery of the terrible Vedic god Rudra, “the screamer”), the Candradhāra or “moon-bearer”, the Somanātha or “lord of the moon”, has a lunar, nightly quality. The classical Hindu gods Viṣṇu and Śiva represent a revolution vis-à-vis the Vedic worldview. You don’t bring sacrifices “for Liberation” to the Vedic gods, a notion presupposing renunciation from those desires. By contrast, the later “Puranic” gods of classical Hinduism take some distance from the naturalist meaning in which they originate, and do integrate Liberation. Very soon, devotional-theistic movements adapted this new notion to their cult of Viṣṇu, Śiva or Śakti (or elsewhere, Amitābha Buddha or Avalokiteśvara), gods with a distinct personality (saguṇa) but more spiritual. In Kashmiri Shaivism, Śiva gets abstracted as pure consciousness, Śakti as pure energy. With these gods, you could “unite” so as to terminate your susceptibility to worldly suffering, to delusion, to the karmic cycle. They would grant you Liberation, just like the Vedic gods would grant you wish-fulfilment.

But that doesn’t mean Hindus have given up on wish-fulfilment. They still perform rituals to help them get what they want, and often this involves explicitly stellar gods, but conceived as lower gods or “demi-gods”. Astrologers instruct their clients to say prayers before the planet that disturbs their horoscope. The client will get advice on what ritual to practise, when and how and for which god, to ward off the negative influences of the stellar configurations indicated in his horoscope. This will remove the obstacles to his well-being and the fulfilment of his desires. The navagraha or “nine planets” (sun, moon, their two eclipse nodes, and the five visible planets) as a whole are a normal object of worship.

To be continued….

‘Why Rama killed Vali?’ Valmiki Ramayana Answers…

Prof. Shashi Tiwari, General Secretary, WAVES-India 

Vālmīki-Rāmāyaṇa is a regarded as a Dharmaś́āstra which exemplifies the Vedic Values. Vālmīki lays great emphasis on Dharma or righteousness, the principle that upholds society and country. To serve mankind is the greatest virtue for a king or administrator, according to Rāmāyaṇa. Rāma is called Puruṣaṛṣ̣abha (best human being) whose inspiration was truthful moral life.Sarva-bhūta-hite rataḥ’ (always busy in the welfare of all) was his social ideal. The Rāmāyaṇa consists of 24,000 verses in seven books (kāṇḍas). The fourth book, Kiṣkindhā Kāṇḍa, describes the meeting of Hanum̄an with Rāma, the destruction of the vānara king Vālī and the coronation of his younger brother Sugrīva to the throne of the kingdom of Kiṣkindhā.

Rāma was an exiled prince but was still behaving as a king because Bharata had not accepted kingship officially and moreover he was not sitting on the royal throne (Raja-siṁhāsana) of Ayodhyā.  Rāma was performing all political duties related to the welfare and protection of his subjects while he was in kingdom or in forest during exile. At the time, when Sri Rāma was preparing himself for Vanavāsa, he left all decorative ornaments and dresses to be dressed in Munivastra Valkala. Without fail he kept his Dhanuṣa, and tarakasa for the protection of state and its people, living in the city or  forest.  After accepting the appeal of Lakṣmaṇa to accompany him in the exile, Rāma ordered him immediately to bring his divine weapons, preserved by  Guru Vasiṣṭha.

One question is often raised – why did Rāma choose the weaker of the two brothers as his ally? Kabandha advised Rāma to seek the friendship of Sugrīva, who knew the geography and the topography of the world and who was in trouble like Rāma. Sugrīva will be a proper ally because he needed Rāma’s help and Rāma needed his help. Between the two placed in similar situations there will be a subtle bond of friendship. Further, Shri Rāma offered friendship to Sugrīva, and not to king Vālī, because he found him careless as a king who could not notice the evil act of Rāvaṇa taking away Sītā all the way through sky, while Sugrīva and Hanumān observed that carefully.

Later Rāma killed Vālī from behind a tree, and that too when Vālī was engaged in battle with other man. Vālī called this action of Rāma as immoral deed which is not supported by dharma (Ram. IV.17.52). Śri Rāma replied and consoled Vālī with words that contain the essence of righteousness ‘dharma’. He scolded him, ‘you don’t know the true meaning of Dharma. You know no law, no restraint’. It is important to see how Rāma tried to refute the allegations brought against him by Vālī.


The first argument against Vālī’s accusation is: ‘this earth, with its mountains, woods, and forests are under the sway of Ikṣavākus. They take it upon themselves to protect or punish the beasts, birds and men within their empire.  Truthful and righteous Bharata sits on their throne at present. He is the soul of truth and honor. He himself has assumed the charge of protecting this land. He puts forth his strength and valour against his foes even as the shatras would have it.  He always acts in the right time and place. We and some other kings rule under him according to kingly tradition and roam the earth to bring law and order among his subjects. Who would dare to defy dharma when that noble king rules the earth? We shall consider how we shall punish them who go astray’ (Ram.IV.18.6).

It means in exile also Rāma was with delegation of royal powers. On the basis of Tilaka’s commentary we may say that though Bharata did not give such authority to Rāma at Citrakūṭa, implication may be drawn here about such authority. When Bharata was king his power spread to his relations and naturally Rāma had a share of it. After the debate it was arranged that Rāma should in law be king and that Bharata should be his regent.  The person who delegated the authority certainly could act for him or resume back the authority. Vālī may be an independent king of Kiṣkindhā, but what Rāma enunciated, was the law in Āryāvarta.

Ram’s second justification to Vālī was on moral grounds. Vālī has ravished the spouse of his younger brother called Rumā, and it is Kṣatriya dharma to punish all those who violate moral rules and commit sins. Rāma said, ‘You blinded with lust has done this crime which could not be ignored. I know of no other punishment than this for you.’

The third argument was that he has made a promise to friend Sugrīva to protect him. Rama explained, ‘Sugrīva is dear friend to me even as Lakṣmaṇa, and in consequence, he should be restored to his crown and wife. He even seeks my welfare. Further, you are the foe of Sugrīva that has won my friendship, then according to the rules of kingly polity, you are my enemy too. To help a friend in distress is also considered dharma. So view it from any point; I have given you this punishment according to dharma. We, kings, have to act according to Shāstra. Moreover, if a person, after doing sinful act, accepts and enjoys punishment given by a king, then he becomes pure and goes to Swarga’ (Ram.18.29-32).

Further, on the objection ‘why he was killed from behind’ Rāma pointed out, ‘Kings used to do hunting of animals with all tactics. They don’t view it as a fault. Similarly, it is no crime to kill you whether you attack me or not.’ Hearing these words of R̄ama, V̄alī proclaimed with deep repentance, ‘Noble Sir! You speak about dharma and beyond the shadow of a doubt. I confess that I went back upon dharma and allied myself with vice and injustice. Please extend your forgiveness and protection unto me.’

Here we may see that Rāma explained that his action is not a crime at all.  In this reference, another good reason of Rama’s action is well-known. Sītā was abducted by Rāvaṇa, a powerful king of South. This abduction was an insult which had to be avenged.  To accomplish this purpose, Rāma needed powerful allies who could help him in this great task and therefore, he was constrained to enter into negotiations with those chiefs who were desirous of kingdom but were driven away, or who wished to join Rāma in the hope of securing a kingdom in return.  Killing of Vālī was thus a means to get huge support of vānara army to fulfill objective of the welfare of the subjects.

Thus, Śri Rāma did the service of nation following the morals of Rājadharma for being a designated forthcoming king and a Kṣatriya during his exile.  We know that he was not fighting for the expansion of his kingdom; and hence he crowned noble Sugrīva on the throne of Kiṣkindhā after killing Vālī. Till today Rama is regarded as the embodiment of Dharma and a famous quote says, Rāmadivat pravartitavyam na rāvaṇādivat’ i.e., ‘one should act like Rāma and not like Rāvaṇa.