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.

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.

sh

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.

shi

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

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….

आदि-शङ्कराचार्य

-Dr. Shyam Deo Mishra, Assistant Professor, Rashtriya Sanskrit Sansthan, New Delhi
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शङ्कराचार्य ने हिमालय से लेकर कन्याकुमारी तक, तथा अटक से लेकर कटक तक सम्पूर्ण भारत में धर्म-प्रचार की मन्दाकिनी को प्रवाहित किया, जिसमें तत्कालीन पतित, पथभ्रष्ट, एवं बौद्धादि दर्शनों के कुप्रभाववश नास्तिक, एवं आध्यात्मिक रूप से निष्प्राण, जन-मानस पुनः सनातन धर्म से अनुप्राणित एवं पवित्र होकर एक सूत्र में बँध गया। जिस समय आदि-शङ्कराचार्य का जन्म हुआ, भारत में नास्तिकों के प्रभाव से अनार्य-भावों एवं तज्जन्य दुष्कर्मों के प्रगाढ अन्धकार से आच्छादित होकर सनातन धर्म का प्रकाश लुप्तप्राय हो चला था। धर्म के नाम पर नाना प्रकार के अत्याचार किए जा रहे थे। उस समय किसी व्याकुल भारतभूमि पर, वैदिक-धर्म के रक्षार्थ एवं जनता के उद्धारार्थ आदि-शङ्कराचार्य ने अवतार लिया। उन्होंने लुप्त हुए वैदिक-धर्म की रक्षा की। शङ्कराचार्य अवश्य ही भगवान् की विशेष-विभूति थे जिन्होंने अत्यन्त अल्पायु में ही भारत वर्ष से नास्तिकता की दावाग्नि को आस्तिकता रूपी वृष्टि से निर्मूल कर दिया। 
 
आचार्य शङ्कर के प्रमुख शिष्य विद्यारण्य द्वारा विरचित ‘शाङ्करदिग्विजयम्’ के अनुसार, भारत में धर्म-विप्लव से व्यथित, एवं व्याकुल देवर्षि नारद व ब्रह्मा जी जब उपाय हेतु शिवजी के पास पहुँचे तो शिवजी ने इस संकट की समाप्ति हेतु स्वयं नरदेह धारण करने की बात कहते हुए उन्हें सान्त्वना दी। तत्पश्चात् भगवान् शङ्कर ने शङ्कराचार्य के रूप में, कार्तिकेय ने कुमारिलभट्ट के रूप में, सरस्वती ने भारती के रूप में तथा इन्द्र ने राजा सुधन्वा के रूप में भारतवर्ष में जन्म लेकर अधर्म की समाप्ति की।
 
आदि-शङ्कराचार्य (शङ्करस्वामी) का जन्म 845 वि.सं. (788 ई.) में केरल प्रान्त के मालाबार पर्वतीय प्रदेश में स्थित वेदपाठी व शास्त्रपारङ्गत ब्राह्मणों से परिपूर्ण कालटी (कालडी) नामक ग्राम में नम्बूरी (नम्बूदरी) ब्राह्मण-वंश में वैशाख शुक्ल-पञ्चमी को हुआ। इनके पितामह विद्याधर (विद्याधिराज) के पाण्डित्य से प्रसन्न होकर केरल के महाराज ने इन्हें आकाशलिङ्ग के महादेव-मन्दिर के प्रधानाध्यक्ष पद से विभूषित किया। विद्याधर के पुत्र शिवगुरु भी उद्भट विद्वान् हुए। सन्तान प्राप्ति हेतु शिवगुरु ने अपनी पत्नी कामाक्षीदेवी (सुभद्रा) के साथ घोर तपस्या करके कुलदेवता पिनाकपाणि शिव से वरदान स्वरूप शङ्करस्वामी को पुत्र रूप में प्राप्त किया।
 
शैशवावस्था में ही वर्ण परिचय के समय उन्होंने दिव्य भावों का परिचय दिया था। स्वरों, व्यञ्जनों, एवं मंत्र का एक बार उच्चारण सुनकर उन्होंने उच्चारण करना एवं लिखना सीख लिया था। बचपन में ही पिता के स्वर्गवास ने संसार की असारता एवं अनिश्चितता के प्रति शङ्कर को विमुख कर दिया था। पाप-परितप्त संसार के उद्धारार्थ अवतरित शिव-अवतार शङ्कर बाल्यावस्था में ही संसार के प्रति उदासीन, विरक्त होकर स्वयं को पिञ्जर-बद्ध पक्षी के समान मानने लगे। वे कहीं भी कभी भी किसी समाधिस्थ योगी की तरह बैठकर घण्टों तल्लीन हो जाते थे। आठ वर्ष की आयु में ही शङ्कर ने ध्यानावस्थित अवस्था में ‘आत्मबोध’ नामक ग्रन्थ की रचना कर डाली। संन्यास ग्रहण करने की उनकी उत्कट अभिलाषा की पूर्ति के सामने स्नेहमयी जननी का वात्सल्य भाव आड़े आ जाता था ,जो उन्हें प्रतिक्षण व्याकुल किये जा रहा था। अन्ततोगत्वा दैवयोग से एक नाटकीय घटना-क्रम का पटाक्षेप माता द्वारा उनको संन्यास ग्रहण करने की अनुमति से हुआ।
 
आठ वर्ष की अवस्था में शङ्कर ने गौड़पाद के शिष्य आचार्य गोविन्दपाद से गुरु-दीक्षा ले कर विधिवत् संन्यासी के रूप में अपना जीवन प्रारम्भ किया। उनकी अलौकिक तेजस्विता एवं प्रतिभा से उनके गुरु भी हतप्रभ रहते थे। उनको यह भान हो गया था कि शङ्कर कोई विशेष विभूति है, जो निश्चय ही सोद्देश्य अवतरित हुआ है। उनके गुरु गोविन्दपाद ने 17-18 वर्ष की उम्र में ही शङ्कर को स्नातक की उपाधि से विभूषित करके ‘शङ्कराचार्य’ इस नाम से सम्बोधित किया। वहाँ से अपने गुरुओं की इच्छानुसार, वैदिक धर्म के प्रचारार्थ शङ्कराचार्य ने देशाटन आरम्भ किया तथा जगह-जगह बौद्धों एवं कदाचार युक्त पाखण्डी वाममार्गियों का खण्डन करने लगे। गोविन्दपाद के आश्रम में रहते हुए एक दिन शङ्कर ने गुरु की निर्विघ्न समाधि हेतु आश्रम के समीप प्रवाहित नदी के उद्दाम वेग को अपने योग-बल से स्थिर एवं नीरव कर दिया। प्रतिदिन स्नानार्थ गमनागमन में अपनी वृद्धा माता को होने वाले असह्य शारीरिक कष्ट एवं दुर्बलता को देखकर शङ्कर ने अपने योग-बल से नदी की एक धारा घर के समीप से प्रवाहित कर दी। एक गरीब ब्राह्मण प्रभाकर के मूर्ख, रोगी एवं बर्बर पुत्र को जल के सिंचन मात्र से स्वस्थ एवं विद्वान् ‘हस्तामलक’ बना दिया।
 
शङ्कराचार्य के शिष्य सनन्दन पद्मपाद, चौलदेशीय ब्राह्मण थे। शङ्कराचार्य से दीक्षा ग्रहणार्थ वह काशी आए। उस समय गङ्गा प्रबल उत्ताल तरङ्गों से प्रवाहित होती थी। जिस दिन वह दीक्षा हेतु गङ्गा के एक छोर पर पहुंचे, प्रबल उत्ताल तरङ्गों से प्रवाहित प्रचण्ड वेगवती गङ्गा को पार करना उन्हें असम्भव प्रतीत हो रहा था। दूसरे छोर पर खड़े शंकराचार्य ने उन्हें हाथ से आने का इशारा किया। उनके संकेत पर दृढनिश्चयी सनन्दन ने जैसे ही नदी में पैर रखा उन्हें कमल-पत्र की अनुभूति हुई। इस प्रकार कमल पत्र पर पद-निक्षेप करते-करते उन्होंने अनायास ही उद्दामगतिक गङ्गा को पार कर लिया।
 
गुरुओं की आज्ञानुसार शंकर सम्पूर्ण भारत वर्ष में सनातन धर्म की प्रतिष्ठा हेतु उद्यत हुए। उन्होंने महार्जुन में स्थित वाममार्गियों के प्रधान मठ में अपनी योग-माया से सबको नतमस्तक करा दिया। तथा अपने प्रधान शिष्य सुरेश्वराचार्य को वैदिक धर्म के पुनः प्रतिष्ठापनार्थ स्थापित कर दिया। उसके बाद द्रविड़ पाण्ड्य, चोल, रामेश्वरम् में जगह-जगह शास्त्रार्थ करके सनातन धर्म के सही स्वरूप को समझाते हुए अद्वैतमत की स्थापना की। उत्तर की ओर बढ़ते हुए उन्होंने काशी, कुरुक्षेत्र एवं बदरिकाश्रम तक की यात्रा की। उन्होंने सम्पूर्ण भारतवर्ष में सनातन धर्म की स्थायी प्रतिष्ठा व प्रचार हेतु चार स्थलों पर मठ स्थापित किए। अथर्ववेद के प्रचारार्थ बदरिकाश्रम में ‘जोशीमठ’ स्थापित कर अपने शिष्य सनन्दन को यहाँ अभिषिक्त किया। यजुर्वेद के प्रचारार्थ उन्होंने मध्यार्जुन प्रान्त में तुङ्गभद्रा नदी के तट पर ‘विद्या-मठ’ (वर्तमान में शृङ्गेरी मठ) की स्थापना करके अपने सुयोग्य शिष्य सुरेश्वराचार्य को वहाँ नियुक्त किया। तत्पश्चात् भगवान् के उक्त वचन ‘वेदानां सामवेदोऽस्मि’ को चरितार्थ करने हुए शङ्कराचार्य ने श्रीकृष्ण-धाम द्वारकानगरी में ‘शारदा-मठ’ की स्थापना करके वहाँ अपने शिष्य ‘विश्वरूप’ को अध्यक्ष व संचालक नियुक्त किया। ऋग्वेद के प्रचारार्थ जगन्नाथ धाम में ‘ज्योतिर्मठ’ की स्थापना की। वहाँ से चलकर मार्ग में हिरण्यगर्भ, आदित्य, गाणपत्य प्रभृति सम्प्रदायों के आचायों को परास्त करते हुए शङ्कराचार्य बौद्ध धर्म के अनुयायी राजा हिमशीतल की नगरी काञ्ची पहुँचे तथा वहाँ बौद्धाचार्यों को शास्त्रार्थ में परास्त करके सनातन धर्म की पुनः प्रतिष्ठा की। यहाँ भी उन्होंने दो वैदिक-धर्म-प्रचार केन्द्रों ‘विष्णुकाञ्ची’ व ‘शिवकाञ्ची’ की स्थापना की।
 
आत्मदर्शन द्वारा क्षुद्र आत्मा महान् आत्मा में परिणत होता है। क्षुद्र मानव ब्रह्मज्ञ होकर स्वयं ब्रह्म हो जाता है ‘ब्रह्मविद् ब्रह्म भवति’। शङ्कराचार्य ने ब्रह्मत्व लाभ का यही पथ प्रकट रूप में जगत् के सामने उपस्थित किया। सुनीति एवं सद्धर्म ही उन्नति का सर्वोत्तम मार्ग है अतः, जो अधर्म एवं कुरीतियों को हटाकर इनकी प्रतिष्ठा करते हैं, वो महापुरुष कहलाते हैं। शङ्कराचार्य ने तत्कालीन वाममार्गियों एवं बौद्ध धर्म के विकृत रूप को विस्थापित करके सनातन धर्म पुनः प्रतिष्ठित किया। इनके इतिवृत्त एवं जीवन-चरित्र का अनुशीलन हमें अपने देश के गौरवशाली इतिहास का दिग्दर्शन कराता है एवं अपनी संस्कृति व सभ्यता के रक्षार्थ सतत प्रेरणा भी देता है।