Mahā Śivarātri

kamlesh

– Mrs. Kamlesh Kapur

Worship of Śiva as part of Holy Trinity

Śivarātri is celebrated by all Hindus. Many Hindus go to the temple and spend the evening singing devotional songs. Some celebrate it in home temple observing fast and doing prayers. The main places where this festival is celebrated with great pomp are at the twelve Jyotir Lingas—Śiva temples. These are at Kedarnath, Varanasi, Vaidynath, Ujjain (Avanti), Somnath, Dwaraka, Omkareshwar, Trimbakeshwar, Ghrishneshwar, Srisailam, Bhimashankar, and Rameshweram. For Hindus, these are the place for pilgrimage.

Many Hindus believe that Śiva as the life force is the creator of the universe. They believe in the ancient saying, “The creation is neither characterized by Lotus (the emblem of Brahma) nor by the Chakra (the emblem of Vishnu) nor by the Vajra (the emblem of Indra). Therefore, all creations are born of Maheshwara.” (Ganapati: Song of the Self by John A. Grimes)

Ten Praanas and atman are eleven Rudras mentioned by Yajanvalkya in Upanishad. The same are also mentioned in Yajurveda. As ten Rudras and the atman enters a living being, life begins. As these depart, life ends for that person. Rudras being good and mangalmai (auspicious) are known as Śiva or Śivam. Below is the picture of Lord Śiva as Nataraja. In Tamilnadu, India, there is a temple at Chidambaram. It is believed that at this place, Śiva performed the dance of creation. There are beautifully sculpted figures showing 108 postures and mudras (hand gestures) of Śiva’s dance.

Procedure and Ceremony on Śivarātri

Devas are invited. Śiva is invited. Yajna is performed by the community. Offerings are made with chants. Devotees sing devotional music. Ceremony ends with peace prayer. On Śivarātri, Hindus pray to the pillar of light for strength to keep peace within and in the world. Śiva manifested Himself as a pillar of light/ fire. Students may remember that the light in Hindu tradition refers to enlightenment, knowledge, vision, good speech, and wisdom. On the darkest night of the month in February, Śiva appears as the pillar of light to end ignorance. Ignorance gives birth to anger, violence, untruth, conflict, and darkness. All these are dark forces disturbing not only a person’s mental peace, but these forces also destroy peace in the society and in the nation.

Prayers are offered for the well-being of all the people in the world:

Asdo ma sad gamyo, tamso ma joyitir gamyo

Mrityor mam amritam gamyo

Sarve bhavantu sukhinah, sarve santu niramya

Sarve bhadarani pachyantu ma kaschit dukha bhagbhavet

Karpur Gouram karunavtaram, samsara saram bhujgendra haaram,

Sada vasantam, hrideya arvinde, bhavam Bhawani sahitam namami

On Śivarātri, during the prayer ceremony, usually, eleven kalashas (earthen round pots with water) are placed in a circle, symbolizing ten Praanas. The eleventh kalasha, the symbol of the Atman is placed in the middle.

In Kalahasti temple at Varanasi, the puja is performed showing the hand of time moving. In creation, transformation, and destruction, it is the hand of time that carries us forward. Thus, Śiva Linga is that pillar of two tattavas (elements) responsible for the formation of the earth and its atmosphere.

Śivalinga

The most popular form worshipped is the Śivalinga. Śivalinga is the bottomless pillar of light. In the beginning, there was only space; then a lighted pillar appeared—the echo sounded as the vibration of Aum, air (Vayuh) filled the atmosphere. The friction caused fire (Agni). In one of the Yajurvedic mantras, this pillar of light is referred to as Svastambhitam. It is believed that this happened on the day of Śivarātri. Śivarātri, that is, Śiva’s Night, is the famous festival in honor of Lord Śiva. The pillar has no base, for the space has no beginning or end. At best we can compare it with a shooting star. The light appeared and vanished having created the two tattavas (elements of air and fire), essential elements for sustaining life. There is a sculptured fresco of this stambha in the ASI archives. During the Indus-Sarasvati age (5000 BC to 1900 BC), people offered prayers to Śivalinga.

Below is the picture of Śivalinga

shivalinga

Linga means a pillar (stambha)- a pillar of light Linga means a “mark” in Sanskrit. It is a symbol that points to an inference. For he is the life force, the air we breathe. The pillar of light arising from Agni, the fire, and fanned by the pure air makes the shape of Śivalinga. In the evolution of elements, air fills the space followed by fire making the unfathomable base of the pillar, and thus, together they complete the basic sustenance for life on earth. Hindus worship this pillar as Śivalinga, knowing fully well that Śiva is unfathomable and formless. He has no form of his own, and yet all forms are his forms. Śiva is everywhere all the time. Stark and geometric, the linga is meant to represent, in an abstract fashion, a pillar. As a pillar, it stands for Śiva as the axis of existence, which Hindus believe extends from the Absolute to the everyday world. From this axis, the world is born, and it is to this axis that it will return to before complete annihilation at the end of time (end of the kalpa).

“Every form is the form or Linga of Lord Śiva. The Linga is only the outward symbol of the formless being, Lord Śiva—Lord Śiva incarnate, who is the indivisible, all-pervading, eternal, auspicious, ever-pure, immortal essence of this vast universe, who is the undying soul seated in the chambers of one’s heart, who is one’s Indweller, innermost Self or Atman and who is identical with the Supreme Brahman.”

There is also the literary evidence of puja of this stambha in Valmiki’s Ramayana. Ravana prayed to Śiva for a long time, and then he wanted to take him along with the Kailash Mountain. He shook it hard and was able to take an elongated piece of the rock, which he thought was the essence of Śiva’s being. Ravana started the puja of this stambha. Sri Rama also performed puja of this stambha before crossing the ocean. This story is sculpted in part at Kailash cave 16 at Ellora. Worked from top to bottom, the temple happens to be the largest monolithic temple made out of one rock. Ravana’s chariot is also carved. This archaeological evidence also reveals the idea of the Stambha. Long pillar, if constructed needs a base, and the base is in the diya; the combination of Vayu and Agni was thus completed. Artists down the ages created amazing pieces of art using diverse art media. Though early paintings did not survive the ravages of time and the invasions, cave temples, frescoes, rock temples and bronze statues have survived.

Here is another picture of Śiva created by the artists.

siva 1

Śiva is sitting in yogic posture. The river Ganges is falling from his hair. He has snakes around his neck, blue patch of poison on the throat, moon on his forehead; and his third eye is closed. A yogi is not afraid of the obstacles. In Hindu tradition, snakes usually symbolize worries, negative emotions, temptations, and obstacles. The blue patch on the throat is poison. A yogi digests the good and the bad equally well. Because of the blue patch on his throat, he is also called Nilakantha. The river Ganges is known as Sursari, which means its origin is Devaloka (associated with the cloud system or the atmosphere). The river may not descend with the full destructive force; so Śiva releases it slowly. The abode of Śiva is Mount Kailash in the Himalayas. Snow is the symbol of purity and austerity of mind. Thus, through this symbol, several concepts are connected—the origin of the Ganges from the Himalayas, the rainwater swelling the river and the rain originating from the cloud system. Śiva’s eyes are half closed, which indicates even though he is in meditation, he is aware of the material world. Śiva’s third eye signifies the eye of wisdom. Śiva is worshipped as Śiva and Parvati. He is also worshipped as Nataraja: King of Dance or Simply Dancing Śiva.

Below is another picture of Śiva as Nataraja which symbolizes Kaal and Mahakaal:

siva 2

Śiva as the king of dance shows the rhythmic cycle of birth, transformation, and death of life. It also signifies that the world as we see today may not be there at the end of the kalpa. Both the Creation and the annihilation are an integral part of all life. The upper right hand has tabor (dummaroo), which symbolizes the sound of creation. The lower right hand is raised in half-moon gesture, the upper left hand has flame of destruction in its palm, and the lower left hand is showering blessings. One leg is raised indicating remaining above the material world, and the other leg presses hard on all that is negative and evil.The late astrophysicist, Carl Sagan (1934-1996) in his book, Cosmos, asserts that the Dance of Nataraja (Tandava) signifies the cycle of evolution and destruction of the cosmic universe. Carl Sagan further says, “The most elegant and sublime of these is a representation of the creation of the universe at the beginning of each cosmic cycle, a motif known as the cosmic dance of Lord Śiva. The God called in this manifestation Nataraja, the Dance King. In the upper right hand is a drum whose sound is the sound of creation. In the upper left hand is a tongue of flame, a reminder that the universe, now newly created, will billions of years from now be utterly destroyed.”

No matter, how we worship, Śiva is the ultimate reality of the cosmic reality as well as the life circle of all life anywhere and everywhere.

 Mrs. Kamlesh Kapur, Author and Educator, USA

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India: A Concept of Nationhood (Part-II)

Continued from Part-I

Dr. Raj Kumar

The Vedic phase is very significant and influential in the evolution of Indian society. It affects its cultural, socio-economic and social-political tradition. Although, there is a prolonged debate on the Aryan influence on Indian society, nothing conclusive could be presented. Some social activists view Aryans as a native of India, whereas several scholars and academic historians’ opinions are opposite. Whatever the view, Aryans evolved the tribal society to a well-developed civilization. Development of civilization provides the people a cohesive environment for discussion, and the people start looking for the answer of the fundamental questions. Every other civilization of the world meditated upon some fundamental questions for a long time; a) how to live life, b) what is the goal of life, and c) what is the way to find happiness. The idea of India provided a unique path to get the answer to these fundamental questions. As an Indian, our traditional goal of life is a virtue (Dharma), live with success and wealth (Artha), to live with pleasure (Kama), but in the end seek enlightenment (Moksha). Vedic philosophy also discussed several ideas; idea of consciousness, idea of humanity, idea of ethics in social life, idea of spirituality, and more importantly the idea of individuality (for example, Shrimad Bhagavad Gita tells your interpretation of life is different from others, but it doesn’t mean you are wrong or others are wrong. Similarly, Ayurveda treats a person based on their personal traits and habits, instead of using any generalization). These ideas influenced the thought process of the people of the region and shaped the idea of India.

The founding concept of India was not just an abstract idea of a plurality or an idea of a common interest. It is an idea of practical understanding of the compulsion and constraints, yet accommodative, between differing ideas and views. Now, let’s examine the characteristics of India as a nation.

Let’s define nation first. In my view, the best definition is provided by Ernest Renan’s. According to him, “A nation is not formed on the basis of dynasty, language, religion, geography or shared interests. Rather, a nation is a soul, a spiritual principle. A spiritual principle is a combination of two things, which in truth are one. One lies in the past i.e. the possession in common of a rich legacy of memories. Other lies in the present, which reflects the desire to live together, and perpetuate the value system and continue the heritage that one has received in an undivided form.” The idea of India exactly fits this definition. So many people of different value system, cultural system, belief system, and interests are coming together to develop an Idea of India. Probably only place in the world where we have preserved the traditions which were practiced thousands of years ago (rich legacy), yet all Indian together try to compete with the modern world (perpetuate the value system and desire to live together). Like any other nation, India also has gone through turbulent times. Even in those turbulent times, instead of hankering for purity, India gave some very powerful ideas to this world….. the idea of accommodation, the idea of incorporation, the idea of inclusion, the idea of embracing, and the idea of mixing without losing the basic character. She sees the moment of mixing as the most creative and imaginative one. She sees the moment of mixing as an opportunity to create the culture of give and take, and ultimately become one. So, the idea of India is not an abstract idea of just cultural pluralism and democracy, it is an idea of amalgamation of different ideas.

c

This amalgamation gave diversity to Indian system. Scientifically speaking this process increases the entropy/randomness, which all the thermodynamic systems aspire to. Energy is constant in an entropy-driven process. So, we need to know how to utilize this energy in a useful way. That is why increasing entropy can be advantageous and disadvantageous, too. Advantageous when you know how to utilize this excess entropy and balance the system, and disadvantageous when you don’t know how to control the randomness. I will use an example to simplify the above statement. Protein folding, a biological process, is a very important event when the linear sequence of amino acid organizes different interactions to devise a biologically functional shape. In this process, entropy is decreasing to create a useful structure. While acquiring a biological function from linear sequence, protein has two very important intermediate stages, molten globule and intrinsically disordered proteins (IDPs). These two states are very flexible (higher randomness) and when needed can acquire a biologically functional state (entropically low structure). In another way, randomness is a necessary requirement but to perform function system needs to be organized. Randomness provides flexibility and fluidity, which is a necessary trait of our existence, and the idea of India already have this naturally.

You must have heard this statement ….. India is a very diverse country and its diversity is an asset. But nobody explains what is the meaning of this statement. Diversity means randomness, which is natural tendencies of anything in this world. It brings freedom; freedom of thought, freedom of action, and freedom of expression. Freedom is not the one-way road, it is a two-way path; one way is freedom, and another concurrent way is responsibility/onus/liability. Diversity in scientific terms is a degree of freedom, more degree of freedom more available options. More options mean more ways of doing things. In other words, different things can be done in a coordinated way to achieve the same goal. Therefore, in this sense diversity of India is an asset, but we need to know how to utilize it, we need to know how and where to direct this diversity, and we need to know how to fulfill our responsibilities and contribute to advancing the idea of India. One successful example of focusing diversity is the United State of America (USA). The USA has accepted people from all over the world, which gave her an asset of diversity. She utilized this diversity very smartly and focused to build a strong nation. India needs to do the same.

Thus, the idea of India is not a hypothetical one, it is a geographically, socially, philosophically, and scientifically proven idea. India’s diversity needs to be crystalized, so that the nation can move forward together in a constructive way. We did this very successfully in the past on several occasions, we need to do it again now to solve our current problems.

We are all pieces of the same puzzle.

References

  1. The Vedic Core of Human History by M. K. Agarwal, 2013.
  2. Indian Foreign Policy: Challenges and Opportunities by Atish Sinha, Madhup Mohta and Foreign Service Institute, 2007.
  3. ArunKumar, G., Soria-Hernanz, D. F., Kavitha, V. J., Arun, V. S., Syama, A., Ashokan, K. S., … The Genographic Consortium. (2012). Population Differentiation of Southern Indian Male Lineages Correlates with Agricultural Expansions Predating the Caste System. PLoS ONE7(11), e50269. http://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0050269.
  4. https://www.ibm.com/solutions/genographic/us/en/geno_story.html

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

India: A Concept of Nationhood (Part-I)

– Dr. Raj Kumar

I would like to start this article with the preamble of the Constitution of India.

We, the people of India, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic, republic, and to secure to all its citizens:

Justice, social, economic and political;

Liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith, and worship;

Equality of status and of opportunity;

And to promote among them all

Fraternity assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the nation;

IN OUR CONSTITUENT ASSEMBLY, this twenty-sixth day of November, 1949, do HEREBY ADOPT, ENACT AND GIVE TO OURSELVES THIS CONSTITUTION.

The preamble of the constitution is the essence of the idea of INDIA. A country like India will only shape with cross-cultural communication. The formation of this communication can only be possible, where listening to each other is more desirable than a monologue or non-dialogue, where the discussion is preferred to talking, and where community interest is given priority to the individual interest. Modern India came together through our Constitution.

The idea of India is a socio-political model for the most unique and unusual nation in the world. The vast diversity of religions, caste, region, language, views, and most importantly people of this country living together as a country in such a way that no country in the world embodies. America is also a very diverse country, but it began as multiple colonies before becoming a nation. India began as a diverse country that has been preserved through the millennia.

British, who ruled India for more than 200 years, never consider India as one country. British propagated this theory through scholarly publication of renowned 19th-century historian, John R. Seeley, who mentioned, “India is not one country, and therefore it has no one civilization.” Sir John Strachey in his book, India: Its Administration and Progress, wrote, “There is no such country, and this is the first and most essential fact about India that can be learned” (Chapter 1, page 2, Sir John Strachey).

If this is true, then what about a text at least 2000 years old, Vishnu Purana, which defines INDIA.

‘उत्तरे यतसमुद्रस्य हिमाद्रेश्चैव दक्षिणम
वर्षम तद भारत नाम भारती यत्र संतति’ – विष्णु पुराण (2/3.1)

Meaning, the country that lies north of the ocean and south of the snowy mountains is called Bharatam; there dwell the descendants of Bharat.

Not only our ancient texts, famous western scholars from time to time mentioned India in the text as one region.

Megasthenes (300 BC) wrote in Indika:

“India the being four-sided in plan, the side which looks to the orient

 and that to the south is the great sea; that towards the arctic is divided

by the mountain chain of Hemodus from Scythia, inhibited by that

  the tribe of Scythians who are called Sakai, and on the fourth side, turned

  towards the west, the Indus marks the boundary, the biggest or nearly

  so of all rivers after the Nile.”

Arrian (140 CE) defines in Indoi, Indou:

The boundary of the land of India towards the north is Mount Taurus

(Caucasus). The western part of India is bounded by the river Indus right

down to the ocean. Towards the south this ocean bounds the land of India,

and eastward the sea itself is the boundary.”

Said- al Andalusi, a Muslim Qadi (Qazi in Urdu) described categories of people in his book Al-tarif bi-tabaqat al-umam (Exposition of the Generations of Nations). He defined nation as a region of land which cultivates learning. Although nations on the human plane are uniform, they differ in three ways, namely, morals, shape, and language. His approach for defining a nation was based on the scientific-philosophical concept. According to this concept, there are three requirements; a) compression of a level of discourse (theoretical reason), b) asceticism and control of the temper of the soul, and c) the essential place of philosophy and natural sciences in self-education and training. He also identified the most important people in the history. They were Persians and Chaldeans (Syrians, Babylonians, Jews, and Arabs), Copts (ancient Egyptians, Sudanese, Ethiopians and Nubians), Greeks (Romans, Franks, Russians, Bulgarians and others from the same region), Turks (Kimaki and Khazars), Indians and Chinese.

Babur who equally recognized this in his Babur Nama (Sinha and Monta, 2007), “The country of Hindustan is extensive, full of men, and full of produce. On the east, south and even on the west, it ends at the great enclosing ocean. In the north, it has mountains which connect with those of Hindu-Kush, Kafiristan, and Kashmir.”

Let’s go to start of formation of earth landmass. If you examine the formation of Earth’s landmass (Pangaea), you can notice that India is sitting on the Indian Plate, a major tectonic plate that was formed when it split from the ancient continent Gondwana land. This plate starts moving around 90 million years ago, during the late Cretaceous period and covers the distance of ~ 3000 km before hitting the mainland of Asia to create Tibetan Plateau and the Himalayas. The point I want to make here is that India has a unique place since the start.

Figure 1

Figure 1: Formation of Earth’s landmass. Note the formation of Indian landmass. This landmass formed and drifted separately than rest of the world.

In another way, the concept of India is not new. There is a direct evidence that human migration happens from Africa to India. Genetic evidence suggests that the first human from Africa migrated to Kerala about 70000 years ago (southern part of India). Gene M130 is the marker of the first human migrated from Africa, and Virumandi tribes of Kerala (southernmost state of India) have this gene. This is the most ancient migratory genes because the later migrations do not have this marker (Arun Kumar et al., 2012). There is already a growing view among geneticists that humans migrated to other parts of the world from India (Fig. 2). So, the first human evolved, then they migrated and at last they developed a language. Note that language is not the same as ethnicity. However, development of language provides a belief and thought system. The idea of the belief and thought system is so powerful that it provides a freedom to everyone a very robust system to believe in themselves, propagate their views, have every liberty to be proud of what they have. The idea of India allows this and it is the fundamental reason, I believe, why India is having a such a vastness of humanity with a diversity but still with the unity.

Figure22

Figure 2: Migration of human out of Africa (IBM Genographic project). Humans migrated from central Africa to eastern Africa, from there the migrated to India and distributed to the world.

Since the start of the language and writing, from time to time scholars defined India in their texts indicating British perspectives were not correct. However, British projected their view about India very strongly and most people still believe that. Honestly, I believed the same for a very long time. In fact, British did this to justify their reign and right to rule India.

I think I have given the right arguments to settle two things; a) why British were wrong in defining India, and b) from ancient to medieval period India was considered as one region.

                                                                                                                        to be Continued……..

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

 

Understanding The Tradition of Vedic Recitation (Part-II)

(Continued from Part-I)

-Dr. Soma Basu

1.4. The necessity of oral transmission –

We can see that the tradition of oral transmission from teacher to pupil, from early times to the present day is most important, since it is the only method recognized as authentic and authoritative as far as the preservation of the sacred texts is concerned. The breadth of outlook of the Vedic sages, our ancestors, was truly remarkable. Great care was taken to preserve the proper accentuation of the Vedic texts.

rg_eb_201011_ich_india

(Source of Image : https://indroyc.com/2014/11/08/the-tradition-of-vedic-chanting/)

The practice of different modes of recitation or the method of instruction is emphatically necessary for the proper understanding and transmission of any kind of Vedic texts and ritual practices. Some peculiar but very useful devices have been applied from time immemorial, which is now practised even today by following traditional system of education.  Fortunately, a growing interest has been felt in recent years in the study of the Vedic recitation in the traditional manner particularly in some parts of India.

1.5  The importance of the ancillary texts – 

The texts (or lakṣaṇa granthas) which define the characteristics and describe the special features of Vedic texts are generally termed Veda-lakṣaṇa. These ancillary texts, the highly interesting field of traditional Indian learning, are of multifaceted importance. They are of ancillary nature and generally classified under Vedāṅga, a few of them more precisely under the Śikṣā, i.e., the texts on Phonetics or Śikṣā. They relate to the method of instruction and the practice of different modes of recitation, which are most important for a proper understanding and the study of the tradition of Vedic recitation. Such texts are not only interesting from the point of view of the preservation of Vedic texts but are also very instructive for an understanding of the various devices or methods of learning that were exclusively developed for this purpose and also for knowledge of the various aspects of the history of their proper transmission.  A mere performance in the proper way is believed to produce a spiritual effect irrespective of understanding the meaning of the texts recited.

Attempting for preservation of the sacred texts in a strictly oral tradition, not only the words but also their correct articulation led to an inquiry into the production of the sounds of speech. To attain the goal of perfect preservation of the sacred texts, a sound knowledge of pronunciation techniques is required. Towards the end of the Vedic period there were three branches of linguistic study, – phonetics (Śikṣā), etymology (Nirukta) and grammar (Vyākaraṇa), but their oldest systematical works have not survived. Phonetics was the basis for the other two branches namely, Nirukta and Vyākaraṇa. Grammar was linked up with the ritual duties of the priests.

The earliest mention of the Sūtra texts of Phonetics or Śikṣā is found in the Taittirīya Upaniṣad (1.2). They are as old as the Kalpa Sūtras and connected closely with the Saṃhitās of the Vedas, the R̥gveda Prātiśākhya being the oldest textbook of Vedic phonetics. The six chapters of Śikṣā are enumerated there as lessons on letters and their intonation, syllabic measures, i.e., quantity of the syllables and volume, melody and word combination.

1.6. Conclusion

The sources of Indian phonetics, the Śikṣā and Prātiśākhya

The history of the study of Indian grammatical traditions begins with the Śikṣā and Prātiśākhya. They are two main categories that constitute the sources of Indian phonetics. Śikṣā dealing with the science of phonetics of the Vedas occupies a very important position in the Lakṣaṇa for facilitating easy learning and memorization. They contain instructions on pronunciation, intonation, euphonic changes of sounds in word combinations, elongation of vowels etc. The holistic manner of recitation of the Saṃhitās is not itself actual works of grammar still they deal with subjects which belong to grammar. They bear the testimony to the fact that the texts of the Saṃhitās have been preserved without any change throughout all these centuries since the time of the Prātiśākhyas, the oldest being the R̥gveda Prātiśākhya, the most important text book of Vedic phonetics. The Vedic Saṃhitās are the work of phoneticians or grammarians as we get the stanzas in a complete grammatically analytic form.

– Dr. Soma Basu, Associate Professor, School of Vedic Studies, Rabindra Bharati University, Kolkata

Understanding The Tradition of Vedic Recitation [Part-I]

SB Photo

-Dr. Soma Basu

1.1. The relevance of ancient Indian texts on Phonetics –

The purport or relevance of the ancient scriptures (Śāstras) on Phonetics is most modern considering their invaluable importance in the methodical phonetic procedure developed by them, which helped preserve the Vedas without the slightest variants in the most faithful way possible. The Vedas are the most ancient bulk of literature humanity has ever produced. They are not only scriptures, but also the fountainhead of Indian culture and human civilization. Actually, they are the treasure house of knowledge par excellence. They are the source of integral wisdom, science, tradition and culture of a remarkable civilization. They are oral compilations of distilled wisdom of cosmic knowledge survived from the time immemorial. We all know that the Veda has to be studied along with its six ancillary texts, i.e., the Vedāṅgas. They are the last treatises of Vedic literature. The Vedāṅga likely developed towards the end of the Vedic period, around of after the middle of the 1st millennium BCE, These auxiliary fields of Vedic studies emerged because the language of the Vedic texts composed centuries earlier grew too archaic to the people of that time.

ṣaḍaṅgo vedo’dhyeyo jñeyaś ca.

1.2. The function of the auxiliary disciplines of the Vedas (Vedāṅgas) –

The necessity of the Vedas and precisely the limbs or auxiliary disciplines of the Vedas (Vedāṅgas) will never die out, in as much as these are the most dependable source to look up to for answers to many a query that invoke intricate exploration. Understanding Vedāṅgas is a pre-requisite to understanding the Veda. The function of the Śikṣā (i.e., the foremost of the six limbs – [The other five being Kalpa or ritual, Vyākaraa or grammar, Nirukta or etymology, Chandas or meter and Jyotia or astronomy.]) is to fix the parameters of Vedic words. Phonetics is most important in the case of the Vedic language; because we see that a mere change in sound leads to change in results and effect. The ancient Indian science of phonetics, which is taught so meticulously in the Śikṣā texts, is the ultimate knowledge discussed in such an ancient time regarding construction of sound and language for synthesis of ideas, in contrast to grammarians who developed rules for language deconstruction and understanding of ideas. We are astonished to know the content of the major treatises of this particular branch which are most relevant in today’s perspective since they analyze sound, vowels and consonants, rules of combination and pronunciation to assist clear understanding, to avoid mistakes and for resonance pleasing to the listener. The methodology found in the Śikṣā texts has been not just highly technical, it has strong aesthetic “sensuous, emotive” dimension, which foster thinking and intellectual skills in a participatory fashion. The reciter’s mind and body are engaged, making language and sound as an emotional performance. In theNāradīya Śikṣā, it has been expressed beautifully, –

Just as a tigress takes her cubs tightly in her teeth without hurting them, whilst fearing that she might drop them and injure them, so one should approach the individual syllables (2.8.31). (transl. by Annette Wilke and Oliver Moebus, (2011). Sound and Communication: An Aesthetic Cultural History of Sanskrit Hinduism. Walter de Gruyter. ISBN 978-3-11-018159-3. [Source :Internet]

1.3. Some information –

1.3.1 From the ancient texts –

In the Atharvaveda (12.1.45), there is the unique realization janaṃ bibhratī bahudhā vivācasaṃ nānādharmānaṃ pr̥thithaukasam |

which means, “Let the earth, bearing in many places people of different speech, of diverse customs (-dharman) according to their homes…” [Trans. W. D. Whitney.  Atharvaveda Saṃhitā. Cambridge , Mass.1905 (1st Edition), MLBD : Delhi 1962, 1971, 1984 ( rpt.) Vol.8, p. 668.]

In the ancient texts like the Taittirīya Saṃhitā (2.4.12.1) and the Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa (1.6.3.8) there is a well-known story narrated where it has been described how Tvaṣṭr̥ repeating the words ‘indraśatrur vardhasva’ in wrong accents caused the fire to be extinguished instead of inflaming it against Indra as he intended. The legend is all about how Tvaṣṭr̥ wanted to pronounce the word ‘indraśatruḥ’ (meaning ‘destroyer of Indra’) as a Tatpuruṣa compound (in which the last syllable of the compound has the udātta accent), while he actually pronounced the word as a Bahuvrīhi (meaning ‘whose killer would be Indra’), in which case the first word of the compound has the udātta accent (as in ‘indraśatrurḥ’) [P. V. Kane. History of Dharmaśāstra.  Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, Poona, 1941. vol. II, pt. I, p. 347.]. Pāṇini says, ‘samāsasya’ (6.1.223) – samāsa-niṣpaṇṇa-śabdasya anta-svaraḥ udātto bhavati and ‘bahuvrīhau prakr̥tyā pūrvvapadam’ (6.2.1) – bahuvrīhi-samāse, udātta-svarita-yuktaṃ pūrvvapadaṃ prakr̥tyā bhavati… etc.

1.3.2  From the Bible –

The story of the Tower of Babel in the Book of Genesis (11:1-9) offers an explanation for the many different languages spoken on earth, though on the surface, otherwise it carries deeper meaning too. According to the story, all the descendants of Noah spoke a single language. They began to spread eastward as they increased in number. After finding a fertile area called Shinar they settled there and instead of setting up a society that fits God’s will, they decided to challenge His authority and build a city with a tower that could reach Heaven. They wanted the tower to be a proud monument to themselves and a symbol that would keep them united as a powerful people. However, God thought it otherwise. Unhappy he came down and looked at the city and watching the tower said, if as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other. (Genesis 11:6-7) God, recognizing their arrogance, regained control over them through a linguistic stratagem. Therefore, God made the people speak many different languages so as not to understand each other and work together on building the city and tower. He scattered the people around the world and the city was abandoned. After that incident, the number of languages increased through diversification, and people started to look for ways to communicate.

(to be continued…..)

Dr. Soma Basu, Associate Professor, School of Vedic Studies, Rabindra Bharati University, Kolkata

Festival of Holi

-Mrs. Sushma SharmaIMG-20170305-WA0014-1

The colorful festivals of Hindus are an integral part of every Indian. They speak of India’s rich cultural and traditional background. The commonness in all the celebrations is that they rejoice humanity and promote basic human values. Indian festivals have many aspects in their significance, namely spiritual, philosophical, religious and cultural. The cultural aspects of festivals deal with the joyous expressions of music and dance, with people wearing beautiful traditional dresses. The celebration of such festivals is one of the key strengths of continuity of cultural values. Culture in India is related with agriculture on one hand, and religious ideals on the other. Holi festival’s cultural significance can be evaluated in both contexts. 

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Holi, the festival of colour is celebrated every year throughout India with a feeling of strong community bonding and excitement on the last day of Phalguna and the first day of Chaitra month of Hindu calendar. On the eve of Holi, people burn firewood namely ‘Holi’ and enjoy with dance and music making circle around it. On the next morning, they play ‘Holi’ with colors. People put colors on each other without any discrimination, and eat especial sweet preparations, especially Gujjiya.

It is a seasonal celebration of spring time after a long winter. In spring season new harvest gets ready and it is time of happiness for farmers and others. The waste material of crops is to be destroyed. The natural process of destroying the waste through fire is celebrated as Holika-Dahan.

In Puranas, the story of wicked and powerful king named Hiranyakashyap and his virtuous and divine young son, Prahlad, is associated with Holika-Dahan. Holika was the sister of Hiranyakashyap who got a boon from God that she will never be damaged or burnt by fire when alone. Later being in her arrogance she forgot the condition of boon. Hiranyakashyap decided to kill his son Prahlad, a devotee of Lord Vishnu who had single-minded love for God, because he felt jealous. The king failed in his attempt to do so. Then finally he took the help of his sister who had the boon of not being burnt by the fire. Hiranyakashyap put Prahlad on the lap of Holika and blazed fire. Due to the grace of God, Prahlad was not burnt in the fire and Holika was destroyed. She was killed having evil intentions in mind, while Prahlad survived having full faith in Almighty. The moral of the story is clear that always virtue wins over vice.

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The same story is told in a different way too, that Holika had been given a special shawl as a boon from God. When she wore that shawl she could not be burned by fire. Prahlad’s father and Holika planned to kill Prahlad by placing him in her lap while sitting in the fire using her shawl to protect her. But divine plan always works. When both entered in the fire, a strong gust of wind came and blew her shawl off of her. Hence, Holika was burnt in the fire of her own evil plan, and pure divine Prahlad remained safe with the devotion to God. Inner purity and inner piety are what truly save us.

Spring season is full of colorful flowers. Originally, playing Holi with colors symbolized association of prosperity and happiness with a good season and atmosphere. Holi is connected with Shri Krishna also who used to play Holi with his friends with great joy in his childhood at Mathura and Vrindavan. Even today Holi is regarded as the most popular festival of Vrindavan and Mathura regions. 

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One meaning of Holi is ‘sacrifice.’ We must remember to sacrifice that within us which is devilish and impure. Only then we will be protected, happy and pious to celebrate all colors of life.

Mrs. Sushma Sharma, Principal, New Vision Intermediate College, Kanpur, UP, India

 

Understanding Shiva and Maha Shivaratri

Maha Shivaratri is celebrated in honor of Shiva, one of the trinities of Hindus. Shiva occupies the highest level in importance in most of the Hindu texts, and is also acknowledged in many cultures beyond India and Hindus. Although there are more than one legend associated with Maha Shivaratri, such as the marriage of Shiva to Parvati on this occasion, worshipping of Shiva on this night to get rid of sins, or get enlightenment, the most common legend connects this night to the cosmic dance or tandav of Shiva that initiates creation, preservation, and destruction of the cosmos.

Attributes of Shiva in his representation (damaru, trishul, moon on his head, serpent around neck, etc.), sitting bare body in yogic posture, tandav dance, opening of third eye, and focus of worship by all, including devas and other members of trinities, particularly prominent incarnations of Vishnu, all indicate to the symbolism in gross, thoughts, and action (GTA).

GTA are all the features of the physical world, which gets created, remains sustained for a fixed period, and then ends. This phenomenon is entirely attributed to Shiva to initiate through the sound of damaru and movements of the dance. Shiva is fully part of the physical world, thus has a place of abode (Himalaya), marries to the daughter (Parbati) of Himalaya or Parbatraj (meaning mountain), and has children, just like any other mortal being on the Earth.

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Among the trinities, Shiva is thus the lord or swami of the physical world. Brahma is the lord of the subtle world where his thoughts are all that are needed to create the cosmos. Brahma does not have any physical possessions, although he has manasputra (created through thoughts of mind) like Indra, Narada, etc. Vishnu on the other hand does not have even mental creation, as He is the lord of the causal world, where cause of everything exists.  As per the common practice each of these trinities respect and differ to the lord of the world they enter. For example, Vishnu incarnation Ram and Krishna both worship Shiva when on Earth to signify the supremacy of the Shiva element in the physical world.

With the above understanding, one should approach the Shiva and Maha Shivaratri to rationally and practically understand their importance and practice. Many times Shiva is considered the destroyer, even though the literal meaning of Shiva is auspicious. Shiva is a yogi par excellence sitting bare body in the coldest place on Earth to indicate that He has mastered the physical world, thus proving his lordship beyond any doubt.

On a related note, Om symbol is used with many chants and rituals of worship, but is most commonly associated with Shiva, like in Om Namah Shivay! Linguistically, Om or more appropriately Aum is expressive meaning of Shiva. It starts with the ‘a’ sound as the open vowel with only aspiration of air, passes through the closed vowel ‘u’, still using the air but changing the shape of mouth in the middle, and finally the last letter ‘m’ of the last of the five classes (guttural, palatal, cerebral, dental, and labial) of the consonants of the Devanagari-aksharmala (alphabets) arranged in two dimensions. The Aum thus represents the sutra or formula with capacity to express the entire visible world (i.e., the expressed physical world). Therefore, this linguistic expression is also consistent with Shiva being the lord of the physically expressed world.

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Why is then Shiva considered as the destroyer of the world? He is not the destroyer of the world, he presides over the physical world that is by nature destroyed. Anything that is created is destroyed by nature. However, people mistakenly attribute Shiva to be the destroyer. Similarly, people attribute Shiva with intoxication, such as cannabis and bhang, even though Shiva is yogi, totally away from all these vices. People considered him to be the epitome of purity who can live without even food, and thus started giving up their vices by surrendering those items at his alter, which others thought was an offering to Shiva. And, this was taken to justify their vices citing Shiva associated with those habits.

On the occasion of the Maha Shivaratri, traditions have provision for fasting, chanting, night vigil to give up even sleep, to indicate sacrifice rather than indulgence. Maha Shivaratri is to remind us of the nature of our existence and its ultimate disappearance. It is a celebration of this understanding which makes us free from the fear of even death.

Om!

Prof. Bal Ram Singh, School of Indic Studies, Institute of Advanced Sciences, Dartmouth, MA, USA