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

 

Imparting Indian Culture: A Global Perspective – I

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

MS Srinivasan Profile PhotoThe main theme of his studies and research is to evolve an integral-spiritual approach to human development and its application to various fields of knowledge and activities of life with a dominant interest and focus on Management, Psychology, Social Sciences and Indian Culture. He is the editor of e-magazine in management published by SAFIM: Fourth Dimension Inc. Towards Integral Management.  His blog page: https://integralmusings.aurosociety.org & https://gnosticpsychology.aurosociety.org

Culture is the expression of the Mind and Soul of a Nation and the source of its true genius. A Nation can play its true role in the evolutionary progress of humanity only when it discovers its deeper Mind and Soul through an awakening of its cultural values and ideals. So, if India has to recover its greatness and fulfill its mission, there must be a widespread cultural awakening through education. However, culture should not become an instrument for promoting narrow-minded religious or cultural chauvinism. The culture of a Nation has to be understood in a global context of the evolutionary destiny of humanity as a whole.  This article examines some of the basic concepts and attitudes, which have to be inculcated in the mind of the learner to create such a deep and broad understanding and appreciation of Indian Culture in a global perspective.

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The Fundamentals of Indian Culture

What are the fundamental and unique features of Indian Culture?  Sri Aurobindo says, Indian Culture

“Has been a spiritual, an inward-looking, religio-philosophic culture.” (Sri Aurobindo (1972), Collected Works Vol. 14, Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Puducherry, CWSA.42, Pg. 335.)

 Here are the three essential characteristics of Indian Culture, the meaning of which has to be conveyed to the student.

The Spiritual Genius of India

India is well-known all over the world as a land of religion, philosophy and spirituality.  But not many has a clear perception of what is precisely the essence of Indian spirituality or the spiritual genius of India.  We will not enter into any detailed discussion on the rich and many-sided vistas of Indian spirituality.  But a student of Indian culture, must be awakened to the two most important and central aspects of Indian spirituality. The first one is the quest for a spiritual reality beyond Mind as the ultimate source of the Individual and the Universe and the highest goal of human life. Second is a scientific and experimental approach to the inner realization of this spiritual reality based on a deep understanding of psychology or a Science of Consciousness.  This predominantly scientific, psychological approach to spiritual growth is the essence of India yoga which is nothing but Applied Psychology.

Thus, the essence of Indian spirituality is the systematic application of a spiritual psychology for psychological and spiritual development of the individual, culminating in an inner union or identity with an eternal and infinite Reality beyond mind.

The driving spirit behind the secular enterprise of the modern West is the application of an externalized science, technology and organization for the progress and perfection of the outer life of man. The driving spirit of the Indian spiritual enterprise is the application of an inward-looking Science of Consciousness for the progress and perfection of the inner being of humanity. But these two endeavours of the East and West are not contradictory or mutually exclusive. They have to complement each other and ultimately fuse into a synthesis, which leads humanity towards its integral perfection. This is the future evolutionary enterprise in which India’s mission is to awaken and manifest the crucial and life-giving spiritual dimension in the individual a well as the collectivity. So in imparting Indian Culture, even while emphasizing the unique spiritual genius of India and its importance for the future evolution of humanity, it must be placed in a global perspective, so that admiration for the spiritual greatness of India does not lead to any disdain of or sense of superiority over other cultures.spirituality-word-cloud-concept-26405959

Spirituality, Religion and Philosophy : The Indian Equation

However, spirituality in ancient India, remained at the summit of the civilization, like a Sun in the sky, enveloping it like a luminous penumbra, infiltrating into the society in a more or less diluted form through religion and philosophy. But spirituality never took direct control of the society, sitting on thrones of power, life and action and ruling it, except perhaps for a brief period in the upanishadic age when most of the kings were yogis. So spirituality at the summits and religio-philosophic in the mass is the structure of Indian culture. But, in Indian Culture, Religion and Philosophy worked in tandem, mutually complementing each other, with religion illuminated by philosophy and the ideals of philosophy made dynamic and living by the disciplines and practice of religion. This brings us to some clarification regarding the terminology. Swami Vivekanada, makes no distinction between religion and spirituality and uses the term religion as the spiritual quest for the Divine. But Sri Aurobindo makes a distinction between religion and spirituality and regards religion as the external form of worship or expression like symbols or mythology. And spirituality, according to Sri Aurobindo, is the inner quest for an inner community with the divine Reality. This distinction has a practical validity because most people who belong to traditional religion do not go beyond external worship towards inner communion.  Moreover Religion in ancient India is not entirely outward and external. Most of the fundamental ideals and practices of Indian spirituality like for example indwelling divinity, unity of the divine, timeless transcendence of the Absolute, many paths to the divine, meditation, paths of yoga are incorporated into the religious system and communicated to the masses through epics, mythology, symbols, religious discourses and wandering teachers. As a result a pervasive and enduring religious, philosophical and spiritual temper was implanted in the consciousness of Indian masses.  Spirituality remained behind or at the top as a general inspiring influence.

It is perhaps for the future of India to create a truly and entirely spiritual civilization and culture.  In this higher spiritual culture, spirituality or spiritual consciousness will remain no longer behind as an inspiration and influence, acting through the higher mind, or religion or philosophy, but takes direct control of every activity of the society, giving a total spiritual direction to life, with spiritually illumined leaders appearing not only in religion or culture, but also in politics, business, economics, media and the masses.

to be continued…..

‘Sapta- Sindu’ the Homeland of the Rigvedic Culture – Literary Evidence

Prof. Shashi Tiwari, General Secretary, WAVES-India 

There are so many questions related to Vedic people under discussion as part of Indian history, religion, mythology and civilization. The hunt for their original land has been a particularly important topic of research among Indologists and historians since Sir William Jones’s pronouncement in 1786, in Calcutta, that ‘Sanskrit, Greek, Latin, Celtic and old Persian were related languages with common source.” The whole of nineteenth century was dedicated to the study of language and literature of Vedic and ancient Sanskrit texts, where the study of dates, editions and interpretations was done. The publication of two volume of Vedic Index by A.A. Macdonell and A.B. Keith in 1912 was almost the closing work in this field. Macdonell placed the Aryan entry into India at about 1500 BC. The establishment of the notion of a common Indo- European heritage, at the beginning of British rule in India, was a powerful instrument to rule Indians, so this view was highlighted in various ways. Ironically, in 1907 came archaeological evidence from Boghszkoi (east Turkey), which established the existence of the names of the Rgvedic  deities in fourteenth century BC.

In the 1920s, the ancient cities of Harappa and Mohenjodaro were discovered. Tentatively a time period of 2500 -1500 BC was assigned to these cities at that time. Since the estimated date for the end of these cities coincided with the estimated date for Aryan entry into India, it was emphasized that these cities were brought to an end by Aryan invaders. Aryan invasion was sometimes called as Aryan migration. In either case Harappans were declared as Non-Aryans. Now many historians and Sanskrit scholars are refuting these theories on the basis of various categories of evidence. They think that the Homeland of Aryans was Indian continent or Aryans themselves were Harappans.  It is understood generally that Harappan civilization began at about 3300 B.C. and takes its earliest roots at Mehrgarh. Excavation has shown that this civilization possessed a writing system, as well as a social and economic system.

In my understanding, the Vedic civilization is the earliest civilization in Indian history for which we have written records.  The vast Vedic literature provides important materials to understand every aspect of the Vedic people and their views. The mantras present an extraordinary picture of culture, religion, philosophy, economics, polity, ritualistic practices and scientific knowledge of the Vedic people. It looks like such an organized and developed society based on agriculture, arts and crafts, trade and industry, education; characterized by a deep interest in nature and environment, and moved by the spiritual urge. These facts have been proven in my earlier papers written on agriculture, economics, architecture, birds, animals, food, ornaments, weapons, society and education of the Vedic people.  In the entire Vedic literature, the authors of Vedas never say a single word about their migration or invasion. Rather they indicate their stable and calm establishment in numerous places in the literature.

Evidence from within the Vedas suggests that the Vedic people were acquainted with the seven rivers, especially with the mighty river Saraswati. The description of mighty Sarasvatī  and references related to the terms Sapta-sindhavah͎ and Sapta-Sindhuṣu in Rigveda show a rich historical tradition of Vedic people in that area. The country of seven rivers is very dear to them. Saraswati is described as sapta svara (having seven sisters- 6/61/10, 8/10/9). It is said to be the mother of seven rivers (saraswat̄i saptadhī sindhumātā. -7/36/6). There is much talk and exploration of the river. She is a great river rushing down from mountains towards the ocean (ekā acetat sarasvatī  nadīnām shuchir yāti giribhya ā samudrāt -7/95/2). She is far superior to her companions (uttarā sakhibhyah -7/95/4). She surpasses all other streams by her sheer majesty (prabābadhanā rathyeva yāti  -7/95/1) and glory (pra yā mahimna mahināsu cekite -6/61/13). She is the best of rivers, best of mothers and best of goddesses (ambitame, nadītame devitame sarasvati -2/41/16).

The core region between Sarasvati and Drisadvati rivers was called vara aprithivya (the earth’s best place) and nabha prithivya (the navel of the earth).  It also has been known as ‘Kurukshetra’ (the land of the Kuru people). Manusmriti called it ‘Brahmavarta’ (the divine land). According to mantras, Vedic people feel affection for this area because their civilization began and flourished there in the Saraswati basin since 5000 to 4000 BC. This was the homeland of Vedic Aryan people. Broadly it was the sapta sindu region where Sarasvati was Main River. According to two mantras there were three sets of seven rivers (i.e. twenty one rivers)- trih͎ sapta sasrā nadyo mahir (10/64/9) and pra sapta sapta tredh̄a hi  (10/75/1). The Vajasaneyi-samhitā  (34.11) talks about of five rivers joining the Sarasvati. So we see that the descriptions vary slightly due to the symbolic poetry of Vedic Seers. The important point though, is their fascination regarding the sapta-sindhu area and the river Sarasvati.  The Aitareya and Shatapatha Brahamanas repeatedly mention that Sarasvati either got fanned out in deserts or dried up. Later on, the drying up of Sarasvati led to migrations of people towards the northwest or westward of the Sarasvati river system .This is the opinion of many scholars today.

Atharvaveda’s Bhumi sukta depicts the picture of Indian land. It has six seasons (12/1/36 ), colorful soil, sea, rivers,  mountains, and glorious description of ancestors. In the Rigveda we find names of only three seasons – vasant, grishma and sharad (RV 10/90/6) but they are indicative of winter and rain. These seasons are familiar to Northern India.

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The principal food of the Ṛgvedic Aryans consisted of barley-flour and its various preparations, rice and other cereals, fruits, honey, clarified butter (ghee), curd and other preparations of milk. The sowing, ripening, and ploughing of Yava is mentioned in the Ṛgvedic verses. Etymologically, barley was called Yava because its grain, though one, has two distinctly marked parts, which are still not separated. Specimens of barley, unearthed from the ruins of Mohenjodaron shows its use in that region even in the Ṛgvedic age. It is certain that barley and some other grains were cultivated in Ṛgvedic times. Barley was offered to gods. In their prayers, Vedic people are found asking gods for this grain. In the Atharvaveda it is called one of the two immortal sons of heaven, i.e. barley and rice (AV.8/7/20). These two were the staple crops that were cultivated by the Ṛgvedic Āryans, one in winter or spring and the other during the rainy season. It may be that, as the climate of Punjab was extremely cold in the Ṛgvedic times, the cultivation of barley was more convenient and yielded bumper crops rather than that of rice. Moreover ‘Vrīhi’ – meaning rice – is frequently referred to in the later Vedic works. Dhānya, Dhānā are other words denoting grains in general. It is but natural that for agriculture and cultivation a stable society and lifestyle is needed. Thus seasons, grains and agriculture prove the homeland of Aryans as the region of seven rivers near Punjab.

It is important to note that Salt (Lavan͎a) is not mentioned in the Rigveda, but is frequently mentioned later. Keith and Macdonell has observed that, “it is somewhat surprising, if the regions then occupied by the Indians were the Punjab and the Indus valley, where salt abounds, (that it is not mentioned) it is however, quite possible that a necessary commodity might happen to be passed over without literary mention in a region, where it is very common”. It is sure Āryans knew it because in a Ṛgvedic mantra they talk about thirst (Trishn͎ā) between waters of ocean ( RV 7/89/4).

We found description of ornaments and jewellery in Ṛgveda, almost similar to what we found in Harappan excavations. In both descriptions people used them to decorate head, ears, neck, finger, chest, hands, waist and legs, These decorative items were made of metal,  mud or stone; such as  man͎i grīva, nis͎ka, khādi,sraj, rukma, hiranyavartani etcGenerally it is said that Rigvedic people were living in mud houses in villages. We found that houses and building materials were not unknown to them. In one Mantra worshipper says to Varuna that ‘he does not want to live in a house made of clay’.- Mo shu varuna mrinmayam griham rajan naham gamam (7/89/10). Instead he askes to Parjanya Deva to give ‘tridhatu Sharnam (7/101/2 ) i.e. ‘three  storied dwelling’ according to H H Wilson and ‘Tribhumika house’ according to Sayana. Ayasi Puh (7/95/1) i.e. ‘Fort of iron’ is used for metaphor. Ishttikas meaning bricks are described variously in Brahamana texts. Dvara for door, and chardi for terrace are in common use in the Rigveda. Two ‘Shaala’ sukas  in Atharvaveda describe about bigger and systematic house. This shows that Vedic people liked clean and strong houses for living. Study of Ṛgvedic birds, animals and plants are also relevant in this context to decide about the place and period of Vedic culture. Undoubtedly these too indicate their Indian origin.

Vedic civilization, as reflected in the Ṛgveda, is seen developing gradually in all aspects in the later Vedic texts. Keeping in mind the scientific principles of development of any civilization, it would be appropriate to think of the early period of Vedic civilization as 5000 to 4000 BC. Its later period may be assigned during Harappan period.  Further, other categories of evidence, incorporated with literary evidences, may provide advanced chronological findings of our ancient times.