Day of Rama-Janma : Chaitra Shukla Navami (29 November 12240 BCE)

Nilesh during debate in New Delhi

– Mr. Nilesh Nilkanth Oak

As we celebrate the birth day of Shri Rama, we will ponder on various aspects of Maryada-Purushottma Rama and of our Adi-kavya – Valmiki’s Ramayana. One of the significant and curious aspects, for many, is the history and chronology of Shri Rama and thus Ramayana.

Valmiki Ramayana presents us with more than 500 specific astronomy and chronology references. Some of the specific references from this list allow us to determine broad timeline for the chronology of the Ramayana while some other allow us to nail down timing for the specific instances of Ramayana, and the remaining references allow us to check if our assertions are correct.

Four references from four different kanda of Valmiki Ramayana (Ayodhya 3:34, Aryanya 16:12, Kishkindha 53:9 and Yuddha 4:48) place lower limit of 10,000 BCE as the boundary for the chronology of Ramayana, i.e., the incidents of Ramayana did not occur even a day later than 10,000 BCE. These four independent observations of seasons and astronomy phenomenon also create upper boundary of 17,000 BCE, for the chronology of Ramayana.

A solitary observation of a comet afflicting nakshatra Mula was key to determine 12209 BCE as the year of Rama-Ravana yuddha. This year (12209 BCE) as the year when Shri Rama went to Lanka, along with Laxman, Sugriva, Hanuman and other Vanara warriors and Vanara army, can be combined with chronological narrations of Valmiki Ramayana to determine timing for numerous instances of Ramayana, such as 12240 BCE being the year of Rama-Janma, 12223 BCE as the year when Rama left Ayodhya, along with Laxman and Sita, for 14 year-long Vanavas. These dates were further corroborated by hundreds of additional seasonal and astronomy observations of Valmiki Ramayana.

Ram-Navami-2015-Images-HD-1024x768

(Source of Image : http://yepindia.com)

A question may be raised that if Rama was born in the month of November as per Julian/Gregorian calendar computations, how come we celebrate it in the month of March/April (Gregorian calendar) in our times? The answer to this important question is the astronomy phenomenon known as ‘Precession of Equinoxes’. One of the key consequences of this phenomenon is that seasons shift by about one lunar month every 2000 years. Thus, while Valmiki Ramayana descriptions of lunar month of Chaitra are that of Sharad rutu (season); after about 14,000 years, lunar month of Chaitra falls during the second half of Vasanta rutu (season) and thus during end of March and beginning of April.

In fact, this fact was lost on dozen plus Ramayana researchers who were curious to determine the timing of Ramayana and this resulted in their proposing a timeline that cannot match with the descriptions of Valmiki Ramayana. For example, Late Shri Pushkar Bhatnagar proposed 10 January 5114 BCE as the day of Rama-Janma. This day falls during the peak of winter and thus the problem with this day is that it neither agrees with descriptions of Valmiki Ramayana nor it agrees with mistakenly assumed time of Vasanata rutu by Shri Pushkar Bhatnagar. And this wrong starting point resulted in erroneous chronology.

We can learn from Valmiki Ramayana that star Brahmarashi, also known as Abhijit or Vega, was the north pole star at the time of Ramayana as described by Laxman, or the lunar month of Ashwin occurred during the Vasanta rutu. Thus, if we compare the timing of seasons and Indian lunar months of our time, we realize that the seasons have shifted with respect to lunar month by about 6 months, i.e. exactly halfway through 26000 years long cycle of the precession of equinoxes.  This means we have documented records of Indian civilization going back to about 14000 years.

Further, we can combine narration of King Trishanku from Valmiki Ramayana and from Mahabharata and combine it with knowledge of astronomy to determine 13000 BCE as the timing of King Trishanku.  This means our Indian history has documented chronology of at least 15,000 years.

Of course, one may wonder if it is reasonable to make such claims, based on one stream of evidence, i.e., chronology of Ramayana. Fortunately, this is not the case.  We can combine evidence from various branches of scientific disciplines – geology, hydrology, anthropology, genetics, genealogies of Kings and genealogies of Rishis that are responsible for various ‘suktas’ and ‘mandalas’ of Rigveda to present additional clues to this deep antiquity of Indian civilization.

For example, descriptions of river Sarasvati from Rigveda, Valmiki Ramayana and Mahabharata allow us to trace the changes in the condition of river Sarasvati that matches very well from what we know today via geology, hydrology and climatology. Geology evidence tells us that river Yamuna separated from river Sarasvati as early as 50,000 BCE and before 9000 BCE, and this evidence is consistent with descriptions of rivers not only for Yamuna, but also for river Sarasvati and river Sutlej (Shatudri).  Modern discoveries in genetics also tell us that the Indian gene pool is very old and practically unchanged for last 20,000 plus years. Indian civilization and its narrative tradition has cleverly amalgamated science, history, art, adhyatma, medicine and peaceful living in a single tradition without any strains among its various pursuits.

Indian civilization combined these multifaceted aspects of civilization around numerous festivals it celebrates. We glean from even stray references of Valmiki Ramayana and Mahabharata of a tradition of Indra-dhwaja festival that was celebrated during the Vasanta rutu (season) and during the lunar month of Ashwin in Ramayana times (13th millennium BCE) and that was continued to be celebrated through Mahabharata times and it is also celebrated in our times with both its old and new names. Whether it is Tamil Sangam literature or the living ‘natha’ tradition of Nepal, both refer to it as Indra-dhwaja (Indra Viza) festival. And, while tradition of Nepal continues to celebrate it during the lunar month of Ashwin, as was done in Ramayana times, state of Maharashtra celebrates it on the first day of lunar month of Chaitra with ‘Gudhi (Dhwaja) Padava’. The times and style may change with changing times; however, the age-old tradition is preserved and celebrated throughout this land of Bharata-varsha.

It is in this very spirit, let’s celebrate 5 April 2017 CE, as the birth day of our dear Shri Rama.  Jai Sri Rama!

– Mr. Nilesh Nilkanth Oak, Adjunct Assistant Professor, Institute of Advanced Sciences, Dartmouth, USA.

 

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.

durga-maa2

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.

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.

Širk

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.

 Conclusion

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.

star1

Deva

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….

Rediscovering Indian Culture : The Imperatives of Progress

-Mr. M.S. Srinivasan, Senior Research Associate, Sri Aurobindo Institute of Research in Social Sciences, Sri Aurobindo Society, Puducherry, India.

Another key factor which has to be kept in mind is that culture, like any other human organism, is also capable of evolution and progress. The cultural vision of a nation can undergo expansion and enlargement, constantly enriched by new insights from the succeeding generations of seers, prophets and thinkers from within itself or from a cross-cultural fertilization. This fact applies not only to art, science, philosophy and literature but also to religion and spirituality.

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Spiritual experience and spiritual thought are also capable of progressive evolution in the form of new discoveries and revelations in the realm of the Spirit and new forms of creative self-expression and synthesis in spiritual thought. So the spiritual intuitions, revelations and discoveries of our modern seers like Sri Aurobindo, the Mother and Swami Vivekananda are also as much a part of our priceless cultural heritage as the revelations of our past seers. This is something which the orthodox exponent of Indian culture still refuses to acknowledge. He is ready to accept a new spiritual teaching if it does not cross the boundaries of the ancient teaching. He is also ready to accept innovations within these boundaries. But when the new revelations go beyond the ancient revelations and enter into unexplored vistas of the Spirit, he becomes suspicious and protests and complains. But is it wise to set such limits to the possibilities of the spiritual quest which is a quest for the Infinite? As Sri Aurobindo points out in one of his letters:

“Truly, this shocked reverence for the past is a wonderful and fearful thing! After all the Divine is infinite and the unrolling of the Truth may be an infinite process . . . not a thing in a nutshell cracked and its contents exhausted once for all by the first seer or sage, while the others must religiously crack the nutshell all over again, each tremblingly fearful not to give the lie to the ‘past’ seers and sages (Sri Aurobindo, Sri Aurobindo Birth Centenary Library (SABCL), Vol. 26, On Himself, Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Puducherry, p.135).

Swami Vivekananda also said something similar in one of his lectures:

“Is God’s book closed? Or is it still a continuous revelation going on? The Bible, the Vedas, the Quran and all other sacred books are but so many pages, and an infinite number of pages remain yet to be unfolded.  I would leave it open for all of them. We stand in the present but open ourselves to the infinite future. We take in all that has been in the past; enjoy the light of the present and open every window of the heart for all that will come in the future. Salutations to all the prophets of the past, great ones of the present and to all that are to come in the future (Swami Vivekananda, The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Vol. 2, Adwaita, Ashrama, Mayavathi, p. 374).

The above inspiring words of Sri Aurobindo and Swami Vivekananda reveal the right attitude in dealing with the past and future of Indian Culture. Spirituality is the essence of our national genius: it is the “distinctive compe­tence” of our nation and the source of our national vitality. If the vitality of Western culture lies in its creative and progressive endeavour in secular sciences and the application of science to social progress, the vitality of Indian culture and civilization lies in its creative and progressive endeavour in spiritual science, thought and practice. The future of Indian civilization and culture depends on maintaining this creative and progressive attitude to our unique national genius and harnessing its potential for the progress and development of our own nation and humanity as a whole.

Concept of New Year (or Calendar) in Vedic System (Part- I)

-Dr. Shyam Deo Mishra, Assistant Professor, Rashtriya Sanskrit Sansthan, New Delhi

mishraDr. Mishra is National Coordinator of Jyotish at Mukta-Swadhyaya-Peetham (Institute of Distance Education),  Rashtriya Sanskrit Sansthan, New Delhi

“Time never marks its beginning with a thunderstorm”, this quotation of Thomas Mann does indicate the lack of concepts of the beginning of time in western world which often termed as Epoch, Era in historical parlance. While in Bharatvarsha, numerous eras have been in practice since Vedic period. The most ancient eras like; Brahma-Samvat, Srishti-Samvat, Kartikeya Samvat etc are purely the concept of prodigious Indian mind and no such era is being mentioned in any other civilization. Such concepts not only emphatically establish the antiquity of Aryan or Indian civilization but also indicate its height of advancement in academic, social and political perspective. As mentioned before, several Samvatsaras or eras described in Vedic and Pauranic scriptures were being practiced in India and being followed by other cultures with subtle changes according to their suitability. Before defining several Samvatsaras its concept must be understood first.

Samvatsar:

In Vedas, the word Samvatsara (short form is Samvat) is used for year. The definition of Samvatsara is ‘Samvasanti ritavah yasmin’ means ‘in which Ritu or season does reside’. Hence Samvatsara is the collection or cycle of seasons. Now the question is that why the word ‘ritavah’ used to define the meaning of Samvatsara or how Ritu does related to Samvatsar? Actually the answer is in the word itself which is derived from the root verb ‘tsara(Bhwaadi-gana, 554) that means ‘to move in hiding (Chhadma or Vakra) or curve’. We know that the Earth’s curved motion in its elliptical orbit constantly changes its direction that causes seasons or Ritus. One must understand that the primary cause of life on earth lies on her constantly changing seasons. Therefore ‘Samvatsar’, the originator of seasons, also called as ‘Prajapati’.  In the space of solar system there are 6 zones of varying energy which are called as ‘Vashatkara’. Parallel to 6 Vashatkara in space, there are 6 seasons on earth, each extending to motion of sun in 2 signs (60 degrees). The word Varsha or Sharad clearly manifests its relation with Ritu (such as ‘Varsha’ & ‘Sharad’) or season. Aitreya Brahmana (7/17)  defines the Samvatsar- It means, there are 360 Ahaani (24 hours) or 720 Ahoraatraas (days & nights) in a year (Samvatsar).

Happy Chaitra Vikram Samvat 2071 and Happy Navratri 2014 by Vikrmn CA Verma 10 Alone

Synonyms of Samvatsar are Samvat, Vatsara, Varsha, Haayan, Shaka, Sharad, San etc. Each synonym ensconces different meaning, form and usage of Samvatsara in it. Another meaning of Samvatsara is Sam+vat+sarati (Sameekrirooopena saranti yasmaat kaalaat sa Samvatsara) that means the period from which everything start from the balanced state. In other words, it is a particular point of time from which all move accordingly and simultaneously. In fact, when a king wanted to start a particular Samvatsara or Samvat he tended to release his subject from all kinds of debts. Thus new financial year, and later on, the academic sessions etc did start from the commencement of Samvatsara. Hence, all our activities, financial year, academic sessions, festivals etc tends to move along with Samvatsara. It also means ‘a series of sequential years’ that started from a phenomenon like Yudhishthir Samvat, Kali Samvat, Vikram Samvat etc.

The Cause of the beginning of Samvatsara:

There must be a social, sacral, gracious or political cause behind the commencement of any Samvatsara. Several sacrifices (Shraut & Smaart Yaag) like ‘Aagraayaneshti’, ‘Navaanneshti’ ‘Chaaturmaasya’ etc tended to start at the beginning of Samvatsar.  Whenever a king wanted to introduce a new Samvat or era he had to amortize all the debts of his subject. This uniqueness of introducing a new Samvat makes Indian civilization more sublime than rest of the world.

The time of the start of Samvatsara (or Era):

In Vedic tradition, the start of any era (Samvat or Shaka) generally coincides with particular celestial phenomena. Why? It is because our ancestors had a strong belief that there is a direct relation among time, planetary motion and mundane world. Some of those copiously mentioned phenomena which used as the commencement points of any Samvatsar are:

  1. Vernal equinox (Vasanta Sampaat) – When sun comes at equator on 23rd March (Visuva-din).
  2. Summer solstice (Dakshinayana) – When sun reaches at the farthest point in his northward motion and starts southward journey on 23rd June.
  3. Autumnal equinox (Sharat Sampaat) – When sun crosses equator on 23rd September.
  4. Winter solstice (Uttarayana) – When sun reaches at the farthest point in south and starts northward journey on 22nd December.

Based on these phenomena, there are several systems (or ways) used to manifest a year or Samvatsar. For an instance, one of the calendars starts from the Uttarayana or winter solstice. It is the beginning of divyadin (day of devas). Bhishma Pitamaha waited for 58 days after falling on the bed of arrows on 10th day of Mahabharat war in 3139 BC. As it is start of ‘divya-dina’, it is commonly called as ‘Bada-dina’. As solar year starts with this month so Krishna in Gita (10/35) said that he is Margashirsha among months. It is called ‘Agrahayana’ because it is starting month (agra) of ‘Hayana’ or year. Year or hayana has two halves or ayans: Uttarayan and dakshinayan. Since equinoctial point is moving backward in about 26,000 years (300 in about 2000 years) therefore in Bhaarateeya chronological history, almost at intervals of 2 or 3 thousand years one can find the commencement of new system of calendar.

to be continued….

Imparting Indian Culture : A Global Perspective – II

Continued from Part-I

The Inwardness of Indian Mind

How to convey this idea of Indian spirituality to the student of Indian Culture or to an audience? Perhaps through the second characteristics “inward looking” or inwardness. Inwardness means to live from within outwards both individually and collectively. Individually it means not to live in the surface physical, vital or intellectual being but in inner subliminal or spiritual mind or soul, which can intuitively see or feel or perceive the inner invisible realities behind the outer visible forms. Collectively it means to create a society based on psychologic and spiritual principles, which felicitates the inner psychological and spiritual development of the individual towards his spiritual destiny.

Every outer activity, even something mundane like economics, is the outer expression of some inner psychological needs or forces, and these psychological forces are in turn the expression of some cosmic and spiritual truth or forces. The Vedic social ideal is to make the whole collective life of man a conscious expression of these deeper and higher psychological, cosmic and spiritual forces. We may convey the idea of the spirit as the source and goal of this inwardness and spirituality as the quest for this deepest and innermost truth of the spirit in every activity of human life.

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In ancient India, philosophy for the sage and seer is the intellectual expression of his spiritual experience.  For others or for the collectivity, philosophy is a means for the intellectual being of the individual and the collectivity to receive, hold or assimilate the truth of the spirit as much as they can, with whatever limitations or imperfections. Religion in ancient India is the attempt to communicate the truth of the Spirit to the instinctive and emotional being of the masses through concrete symbols, images and legends.  Through philosophy and religion, the spiritual truths discovered by sages through spiritual experience were made accessible to the intellectual and emotional being of the community or in other words, we may say light of the spirit descends into the intellect and emotions. This may lead to much dilution of the spiritual truth, but at the same there is a greater diffusion of the truth of the spirit into the masses.

Towards a Balanced Approach

However the student of Indian Culture should not be given the impression that ancient Indian Culture is a total success or something perfect or complete. It was a great attempt to create a civilization based on a spiritual vision.  But the attempt was only a partial success with some glaring failures. It was a great success in religion, philosophy and culture. But in society and politics, the attempt broke-down and went astray somewhere in the middle. In society, Indian attempt achieved only what Sri Aurobindo describes as “half-aristocratic, half-theocratic feudalism” (Sri Aurobindo, Collected Works, Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Puducherry, SABCL, Vol.14, Foundations of Indian Culture Pg.335) with the caste system as its last result. In politics and government the attempt to govern politics by dharma couldn’t be sustained after the epical age. As Sri Aurobindo describes this attempt to govern outer life by Dharma –

“But the difficulty of making the social life an expression of man’s true self and some highest realization of the spirit within him is immensely greater than that which attends a spiritual self-expression through the things of the mind, religion, thought, art, literature, and while in these India reached extraordinary heights and largenesses, she could not in the outward life go beyond certain very partial realisations and very imperfect tentatives,—a general spiritualising symbolism, an infiltration of the greater aspiration, a certain cast given to the communal life, the creation of institutions favourable to the spiritual idea. Politics, society, economics are the natural field of the two first and grosser parts of human aim and conduct recognised in the Indian system, interest and hedonistic desire: Dharma, the higher law, has nowhere been brought more than partially into this outer side of life, and in politics to a very minimum extent; for the effort at governing political action by ethics is usually little more than a pretence” (Sri Aurobindo, Collected Works, Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Puducherry, SABCL, Vol.2 Karmayogin, Pg.210).

 The main aim of the political thought of Ramayana and Mahabharatha is to uplift politics to a higher level by harnessing it to the yoke of Dharma or in other words, dharmic elevation of the political life of the community. But in later ages Dharmic aims were subordinated to the practical and economic interests, Artha. This Indian term Dharma is a pregnant concept with a multidimensional significance. But in general we may define Dharma as the values, ideals or ways of living derived from the higher laws of life or Nature, which leads to the higher evolution of humanity in the mental, moral, aesthetic and spiritual domains of consciousness.

So while it is necessary to highlight our past achievements, the student should also be given a very unbiased and objective assessment of our past failures. In fact our emphasis should be neither on our past achievements nor our failures but on the future work to be done by India. The factors or causes behind our achievements and failures have to be brought out in such a way that it gives a clear direction to the future work to be done.

So our aim in the education of Indian culture should be not to create a narrow-minded and sentimental patriot, but someone who is imbued with the essential spirit and genius of India but at the same time with a broad global outlook which can understand and appreciate the greatness in other cultures.

-Mr. M.S. Srinivasan, Senior Research Associate, Sri Aurobindo Institute of Research in Social Sciences, Sri Aurobindo Society, Puducherry, India.