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….

Ritualistic Significance of ‘Magha-Masa’ in Hindu Calendar

– Prof. C. L. Prabhakar, President, WAVES, Bangalore Chapter

clprabhakar

Prof. Prabhakar obtained Ph.D. in Vedic  Studies (thesis on’ Sukla Yajurveda’) from  Poona University, Poona in 1968. He is former Professor of Sanskrit and has published many books and articles. Honored with the award ‘Veda Vaaridhi’, currently he is director of the Nada Veda Adhyayana Kendra, Bangalore. He is active to spread Vedic heritage and culture.

Magha-Masa is important among the months in Hindu calendar. This month is an opportunity to get reduced of our sins. ‘Maaghamsyaatitimaaghah’ meaning no sins more could be acquired further. Doctors know the reducing tablet to reduce pain. So like this month to reduce our sins.

Hindu calendar is invested with twelve months. Each month is covered by 30 days. Every day has the five (pancanga) elements viz. Tithi, Vara, Nakshatra, Yoga and Karanas. Everyday is important for spiritual Practices. But there is choice and special importance. We have twelve months beginning form Caitra-Masa and going upto the Phalguna-Masa. Every month has a connections of some significance and mythology to speak the importance of the month and marking auspicious days in it. Sun would be transiting every month in to one sign (rasi) to another sign. It occurs usually on the 14th day of each month called Sankramana technically. There are twelve zodiac signs to complete one year’s time.When Sun is in Makara-Rasi, from then, for six months it is called Uttarayanam and the remaining six months are known as Dakshinayanam. These indicate the direction of the Sun astronomically moving towards north and southern directions. As a result there would be effects upon the people and nature: good, bad and different due to the movement of Sun. Manasollasa of Somadeva is a source Book for us to know about the importance of days and months, festivals and more.

Magha-Masa is the eleventh Month of each Year. This year is called by name Manmatha and the next would be Durmukha year by name. Out of the cycle of sixty years, this is the 29th/30thYear of the cycle. Each month is characterized with the Nakshatra-name. For example, if Sravana-Nakshatra is there on the full moon day then it is called Sravana-Masa. Likewise the Magha-Masa is the name derived from the Magha-Nakshatra on the Purnima. Similarly the other months go by the name of a Nakshatra. Although we have many numbers of years, we have only seven days of life. One day to take birth and another some day to exit from the body and the world. However seven are the days of life beginning from Sunday to Saturday. These days too go by the names of the planets Ravi, Candra and so on. Rahus and Ketu are the two nodes who entered the count among the planets as Chayagrahas. They follow the main planets. Moreover they do not have any orbit .They are simply ascending and descending nods of ecliptic and moon orbit

Magha _3

Let us know the prominent festivities in this month. At first, on 5th day of Shukla-Paksha it is called Sri Pancami or Vasanta Pancami. This is the first festival when Goddess Sarasvati is worshipped. She is known also as Sarada Devi, Syamala Devi and Vag Devi. She is called Jnanasarasvati. On this day Sarada-puja is done. She is a Goddess who blesses good knowledge and good education (sadbuddhi and vidyanaipunya). On this day many people observe the important samskara namely Aksharabhyasam to their children with a belief that the child would be good in education, learning and prosperity.The child is introduced to writing the alphabets and salutation to Lord Siva well known as Dakshinamuty, a guru to all. On this day Goddess Sarasvati is offered Payasa as food. And the child is made to write ‘Om namahsivayasiddhamnamah’. In Devi Bhagavata details of Sarasvati Aradhanaare given. We have prayer to Sarasvatiin a length of a Veda-Sukta by name Sarasvati-Sukta that could be recited on that occasion specially.The sixth day of the month namely Shashthi is festival of Lord Subrahmanya. He is born on this day and so his puja is done. Abrahmacari (unmarried Boy) is fed and worshipped symbolically on this day to get the grace of the Murugan. The next day is Rathasaptami, when Sun turns to the northern direction fully and gallops to pick up more and more heat. On this day Suryaradhana is done with offering of payasa (naivedya). Arunaprasnapurvaka Surya-namaskaras could be done to get the grace of this deity. Arunaprasna is the first section of Taittiriya Aranyaka. It contains thirty two passages reciting which 32 namaskaras are offered to Suryadeva. Surya loves prostrations (namaskarapriyobhanuh). On the Eleventh day we get Bhishma Ekadasi when Bhishamacarya gave up his body (bhautikasarira) in the presence of Sri Krishna. He is the avatar of one of the eight Vasus. This ekadasi is virtuous and people get their desires fulfilled. This day is called ‘Bhishmaikadasi’. Bhishma had the boon from his father Santanu Maharaja to leave the body whenever he desired (svacchandamarana scope). Then we get the Purnima, the full Moon day. Every month we get Full moon days (Purnimas.) But this is one of the three special Purnimas of each year. Actually Asvija Purnima, Kartika Purnima and Magha Purnima are best. Especially on this Purnima day, there would Magha Nakshatra. On this day when bath to Siva is done, it is highly fetching and beneficial. Siva Purana extols more details on this aspect. Texts like Padmapurana, Nirnayasindhu, Krityatattva elaborate on the importance of bath at early hours of the day before sunrise. Very auspicious would it be if the bath and dip is taken in the sacred river Ganges at Kasi or elsewhere where the Ganga flows. Even other sacred rivers too remain helpful for the ritual of Maghasnana with sankalpa. In Bhagavata too the merit of taking dip in Ganga is described, It is said there that no other river but ganga waters has exclusive power to undo the sins at that time. In this month not only the Devataradhana even Pitrutarpana is also recommended to be significant as it pleases the Manes (the Pitrus). Magha-Nakshatra is the constellation of Pitri-devataa (deity of ancestors).

After Purnima, New Moon days begin. On eighth day it is called ‘Anaghashtami’. Lord Dattatreya is worshipped. Anagha Devi is revered as the goddess Lakshmi herself. She is called Anagha Lakshmi. We can get the blessings of Guru as well as Goddess with this worship. He is known as Dattaguru. We recite amantram ‘Dattagurumbhaje’ simply to get his grace. Dattatreys is the avatar of three Murtis Brahma, Siva and Vishnu who are three forces and Powers creation, annihilation and maintenance of the Universe. Therefore, Dattatreya is the preceptor who blesses all the three abilities in the upasakas. Also Natya Ganapati is worshipped on this day. He provides expertise further in the performing arts and excellences in the professional career. Ganapati is known in 32 forms and therein Natya Ganapati is special.

Actually every thirteenth day (trayodasi) of each month we get Pradosha Puja when Siva is worshipped. That day is called as Masasivaratri. The next day on the caturdasi at midnight Sivaratri actually dawns. But this month alone that day is called Mahasivaratri when Siva is worshipped strongly all the time. It has three durations (yamas) of night. People worship Lord Shiva with Mahanyasapurvaka Rudrabhishekas and other pujas. They also recite many Siva stotras. All this activity provides benefit and hope for liberation and mundane prosperity. After all one of the most important is to a get masa-punya as far as possible in the given calendar of Life to everybody including gods and others. Everybody is born but never the Brahma who is Lord Purusha Narayana who is described as ‘ajayamanobahudhavijayate’ in Purushasukta of RV. It is said here that the Lord does not take birth but causes births to take place.

Besides all these festivals and vows (vratas) etc. in this month, the Sundays are auspicious and important. They are best days for Surya Anushthanas. The forms of rites and devotion like Arunaprasnaparayanam, Arunahomam and recitation of Surya Sahasranama, Adityahrudayamand more are observed these days depending on the convenience and time-scope. This is technically called as Maghabhanuvara.

All the days of this month bath before sunrise is precious. This is called as Maghasnanavratam. That itself brings merit, unknown cleansing, peace and prosperity (punya).

Thus this Magha-Masa is a month well liked by gods and more so the Goddess Saradadevi, Subrahmanyaswamy, Bhismacarya who is Vishnu Rupa only. On Purnima, Siva Parvatis, Goddess Anagha Devi, Anjaneya, Lord Narasimha, Lord Kumaraswamy etc. can be worshipped.

We have Magha Purana where we come across the super importance of this month. So let us get the special grace of the deities to smoothen our life free from hurdles and unwanted things.

Om namahsivayasivataraya ca.’