“THE ANCIENT PEARLS”
Pattenchery Yezhuvath Achutha Menon
About Sanatana Dharma, The Era of Two Incarnations, Vedic Chronology, The Huge Number of Gods, Denominations in Hinduism, The Five Debts, Purusharthas, The Four Ashramas, Varnashrama Dharma, Ayurveda, Yoga, Tantra, Astronomy, Astrology, Vaastu Shastra, The 64 Arts and Others, Textiles, Mathematics, The Concept of Atom, Law of Gravity, Energy Generation in Vedas, Plastic/Other Surgeries, Vedic Technology, Maritime History, Production Technology: Iron & Steel, Metallurgy, Vedas, Aranyakas, Upanishads, The Epics, The Bhagavad Gita, Shad Darshanas, The Six Shastras, Puranas, Ancient Indian Writers, Major Ancient Indian Universities, Three Messengers of Vedanta, The Torchbearers, Historical Review and, A briefing on ‘Gayatri Mantra’ and ‘OM’.
(Automatic translations into various languages need not be accurate)
Ancient Indian Civilization (“Sanatana Dharma”) is the oldest and time-tested one. This deals with the theme of Brahman, the eternal and universal principle. Called Hinduism, this is not is a founded Religion. The ancient seers/sages of Vedic Hinduism prayed for the welfare of the entire world: “Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavanthu”. They held the view that the whole world is one family (“Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam”). There was gender equality and the sages also included women. They negated the reality of visible things and all experiences as “Neti neti” (“Not this, not this”), and identified the Soul as Truth. They studied about natural laws, the origin and rhythm of the universe, on the connection of body-mind-intelligence-soul (all aspects of life here and hereafter), and also contributed to various branches of science and arts. Modern science has started carefully analysing ancient writings.
Said to be having several thousand books on a variety of topics, this reflects the wisdom and dedication of the seers of this ‘Way of Life’ (Hinduism is universal), having no Pope at the helm and is free of baptisms. It aims only at one’s ultimate freedom (Self-realisation).
It all starts with the Vedas, followed by Upanishads and numerous scriptures, etc. It is impossible to glance through all of them in a lifetime. Only a peripheral view (not an in-depth study) on certain points is reflected here for ready reference.
Veda means knowledge (wisdom). (Sanskrit root is ‘Vid’, means, to know.) The four Vedas are Rg, Yajur, Sama and Atharva – said to be totalling up to 100,000 couplets. (Each syllable of a Vedic word is significant.) These are said to be divine revelations and not written Texts which were passed on verbally to generations. (Sage Vyasa is believed to be the one who codified them into four Texts, thus, came to be called as Veda Vyasa.) Rg Veda consisted of hymns glorifying God (of supreme knowledge), Yajur Veda is of “Karma Kanda” (of rituals & sacrifices), Sama Veda is full of musical hymns (of devotion) and Atharva Veda narrates the laws of nature and daily life procedure. Many Vedic hymns are recited during the religious ceremonies.
Though historians maintain that codification of Vedas took place in about 1000 B.C. (a few centuries after their origin), the scriptures say a different story. For instance, according to historians, Lord Rama lived 7000 years ago whereas the scriptures state, Rama’s advent was in ‘Treta Yuga’ – ages ago. Anyhow, the Vedic era might have existed before Rama as we get to know about a number of sages from Ramayana. Sage Valmiki, the author of Valmiki Ramayana, was a contemporary of Lord Rama. And, it is assumed that this Text was written 2500 years ago. (However, it is believed to have been under oral tradition after being composed 7000 years ago by the sage.)
The compiler of the Vedas, Sage Veda Vyasa, is an ancient figure. One version is that he (Vyasa Krishna Dwaipayana) lived around 1500 B.C. The period is disputed. Lord Krishna lived 5000 years ago when the Mahabharata War (3139 B.C.) was fought. ‘Kali Yuga’ is now more than 5000 years, which started after Krishna’s departure. Sage Vyasa, the father of Dhritarashtra-Pandu-Vidura brothers, is believed to have deputed Sanjaya to witness the war and got details for authoring Srimad Bhagavad Gita.
(The origin of the Vedas is traced to a distant past. These Texts seem to have been derived from sound waves – perceived by the seers/sages in deep meditation. These “divine revelations” were orally passed down for generations [for which the credit goes to Brahmins]. In short, this is to say that Vedic chronology is quite complicated and it cannot fix a precise period.)
The Huge Number of Gods: It’s a misconception that Hinduism has 33 crores (330 million) Gods. Here, the Sanskrit word ‘Koti’ refers to ‘type’ (or, ‘supreme’) and not ‘crore’. The One God is “Brahman”. All deities are Its manifestations. Vedas describe “Nirakara Nirguna Brahman” – the formless, omnipresent, eternal consciousness. The ‘Purusha Suktam’ (in Rg Veda) describes the transcendent God with countless heads, eyes and feet, pointing to His omnipresence.
As per the Vedic description, the 33 Devas (Gods) are Twelve Adityas, Eleven Rudras, Eight Vasus and Two Ashwins.
(Adityas [deities of twelve Lunar months] are the offspring of Aditi, the mother of Devas; Rudras are manifestations of Lord Shiva, etc; the eight Vasus [“Ashta-Vasu”] are elements of creation and Ashwins are the twin solar deities. [Names of some deities are changed/replaced in different scriptures.])
(Further, it is assumed that a large number of Devas/demigods administer various universal affairs, while some deities take care of different body functions.)
The Four Denominations of Hinduism: (1) Vaishnavism (Lord Vishnu is the Supreme Brahman); (2) Shaivism (Lord Shiva is the Supreme Brahman); (3) Shaktism (Mother Shakti is the Supreme Brahman); and (4) Smartism (Smartas treat all deities equally).
The Five Debts: Hindu scriptures speak of five kinds of debts to be repaid by people: (1) To Devas (gods) for sustaining our lives with gifts of air, water, food, etc., (2) (Pitrus) (parents and ancestors) – our lineage, cause of our birth and growth, (3) To Rishis (Sages) who impart knowledge and guide us, (4) To Manushya – discharging obligations to society/humanity and (5) To Bhutas – plants/animals and nature.
There are four ‘Purusharthas’ (aims of human pursuit), i.e., Dharma (the path of righteous living), Artha (the pursuit of wealth), Kama (satisfying the desires) and Moksha (attaining liberation/spiritual salvation).
The Four Ashramas (Four Orders of life): They are Brahmacharya’ (student life), ‘Grhastha’ (householder), ‘Vanaprastha’ (retired life spent in seclusion) and ‘Sanyasa’ (renouncing the world and seeking ‘moksha’ [liberation]).
Varnashrama Dharma: The Fourfold Division of Society* – “Chaturvarna” (four social groups, namely Brahmin-Kshatriya-Vysya-Sudra): (1) The Priestly class, (2) Rulers & Warriors, (3) Traders & Agriculturists and (4) the Labour class.
*(Much later, unfortunately, casteism and untouchability plagued the society – something against the tenets of Hinduism [currently getting erased]. [In ancient times, some prominent persons, including sages, were low castes.] [Slavery existed in some countries was part of untouchability.])
Ayurveda: Is made up of the words “Ayus” (life) and “Veda” (knowledge or science). Thus, this is ‘the science of life’. Regarded as the oldest form of healthcare in the world, this natural medical system was originated in India. Lord Dhanvanthari is the god of Ayurveda. This is devised on the five elements of creation: Earth, Water, Fire, Air and Ether, which are represented in humans by “Tridosha”, (three energies): Vata, Pitta and Kapha – the three principles of air (nervous system), fire (digestion, etc.) and water/moisture and lubrication. (‘Ayurveda’ is among the very few Texts regarded as ‘Panchama Veda’ or the Fifth Veda.)
Ayurveda, mentioned in the Atharva Veda, uses herbs and trees, ultimately to achieve the harmony of body, mind and soul. It is aimed at not mere healing, but complete well-being of the human body and its immune system. Though Ayurvedic healing is relatively slow, this disciplined treatment has a long-lasting effect and is free of any side effects.
Knowledge of this prehistoric medical system, as obtained by the sages, was passed on to physicians. There are descriptions of various Ayurvedic surgeries as well.
Yoga: Yoga is a set of external and internal exercises meant for one’s physical, mental and spiritual well-being. This pre-Vedic system is discussed in a number of scriptures like the Rg Veda, Upanishads, etc. The prominent one is ‘Yoga Sutra’ of Patanjali (compiled before 400 A.D.). The Sanskrit root for ‘Yoga’ is ‘Yuj’. It is beneficial for all age groups. Yoga is ideal for relaxation, reducing stress and improving some medical conditions. It leads to spiritual awakening. (The spiritual meaning of ‘ Yoga’ is communion with universal oneness.) It consists of dozens of poses out of which 84 ‘Asanas’ or postures are considered classical. The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) has declared June 21 as “International Yoga Day” (since 2015).
The eight systematic steps of Yoga: (1) Yama (Self-restraint/Morality), (2) Niyama (Self-observances), (3) Asana (Body Posture), (4) Pranayama (Control of Breath), (5) Pratyahara (Sense Control), (6) Dharana (Cultivating Internal Awareness), (7) Dhyana (Meditation) and (8) Samadhi (Union with the Divine).
Tantra: Vedic deities like Agni and Soma reflect the cosmic masculine energy and light identified with Lord Shiva. The Vedas also recognise ‘Shakti’ the power, the ‘Mother of the Vedas’. The Goddess pervades not as a particular deity but as the Vedic mantra itself. Many feminine deities also exist with each Vedic God. Though Tantric view focuses on ‘Shakti’, the Goddess, it also recognizes the light principle of Lord Shiva as pure illumination and aims at the realisation of the Atman. The Rg Veda contains enough mantras of ‘Kundalini Shakti’.
The practice of ‘Tantric meditation’ is by raising the ‘Kundalini’ (symbolising a snake) power from the base of the spine and activating the ‘third eye’ on the forehead, the seat of psychic power. However, practice without proper backing is dangerous. (This vast subject covers areas like ‘Tantra Yoga’.)
Astronomy dates back to the days of Indus Valley Civilization. Later, it was associated with the Vedas. Earlier, this was influenced by the Greek Astronomy. (Our ancestors viewed the Earth as spherical.) In the 5th-6th century, starting with Aryabhatta, it became prominent. Later Indian astronomy influenced a few of different astronomies abroad. Other astronomers are Lalgadha, Brahmagupta, Varahamihira, Bhaskara I & II, Lalla, etc.
The Vedic scriptures are based on astronomical concepts. They give mathematical and astronomical knowledge. Indian Astronomy has been placed at both the Macroscopic and Microscopic levels.
Astrology: The Sanskrit word ‘Jyotisha’ means, from ‘Jyotis’ or light, which is the basis of both traditional and Vedic astrology. ‘Vedanga Jyotisha’ is the earliest book about astrology in the Vedas. Vedic astrology has mainly three branches.
This ancient Indian method, described as “The Mother of All Sciences”, focusing on the movement of the planets, based on one’s zodiac signs, determines their influence over a person (also predicts earthly events).
There are different Western and Chinese astrological methods; altogether, more than a dozen regular branches of astrology deal in different areas.
Though many Indian universities have included Astrology in their syllabus, this is not approved by the scientific community.
Vaastu Shastra: Is a traditional Hindu system of architecture, incorporating both Hindu and Buddhist beliefs, integrating architecture with nature and ancient geometric patterns (yantra) and directional alignments. Vaastu Shastra designs houses, cities, gardens, roads, shops, etc.
Varieties of Indian Art Forms: The ancient 64 Arts are called ‘Chausath Kalas’ (Chausath = 64, Kalas = arts). These are related to areas of dance, drama, literature, fine arts, painting, designing, spinning, carpentry, engineering, metallurgy, healing with perfumes, combing hair, juggling, weaving, preparation of varieties of foods, concealment of clothes, gambling, enforcing discipline, and the like.
The early Indian arts were mainly Rock art, Indus Valley Civilization, Mauryan, Buddhist and Gupta arts. Indian art was excelled in Architecture, Sculpture, Wall painting, Miniature painting, Jewellery, etc., apart from Temple art, Folk and tribal art and different forms of dance and music. Dance and Music are closely linked to religious worship. The Indian masses are fond of Tribal art.
Dance forms are rooted in the Sanskrit text ‘Natya Shastra’. Some of the classical dances are Bharatanatyam, Kathakali, Kathak, Kuchipudi, Odissi, Sattriya, Manipuri and Mohiniyattam.
Musical branches are Hindustani Music, Carnatic Music, Light classical music, varieties of Folk music, popular forms of music, etc. (Indian music, evolved from the musical hymns of Sama Veda, is in harmony with nature. Its numerous ragas or melodies along with instrumental accompaniment are a treat to the ears. Certain ragas are well suited for certain occasions/seasons/pleasing certain deities, etc.)
Prehistoric Textiles: Claiming 6000 years of history of producing beautiful fabrics, Textile was an important industry in ancient India, with global trade links. Indian silk was popular in Rome in the early centuries of A.D. Fragments of cotton material from Gujarat have been found in the Egyptian tombs at Fostat (the first capital, near Cairo). People used homespun cotton for weaving their garments. The art of weaving and dying was practiced in ancient India. Embroidery, meant to strengthen the fabric and to decorate, was part of the household tradition of different communities.
The ancient writings like the Rg Veda, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, are said to describe the finesse of Indian textiles.
Mathematics: Aryabhatta of the 5th-6th century showed that zero was not only a numeral but also a concept. Discovery of zero enabled him to calculate the exact distance between the earth and the moon, besides opening up a new dimension. In the 7th century, Brahmagupta took mathematics to heights far beyond others. He introduced negative numbers and operations on zero into mathematics. Through his works, the Arabs came to know about this system.
The Concept of Atom: Aulukya conceptualised atomic (“Kana”) theory and got the name Kanada (lived around 500 B.C.). He said that “Every object of creation is made of atoms which in turn connect with each other to form molecules”. ‘Calculation of Time from the Atom’ is described in Srimad Bhagavatam (in Canto 3).
Law of Gravity: It is said many centuries before Sir Isaac Newton, three Indian astronomer-scientists, viz., Varahamihira, Bhaskara I (both of 5th-6th century) and Bhaskara II (12th-century) had confirmed this. The fifth-century Text on Astronomy, “Surya Siddhanta”, (author unknown) is quoted as staying: “Objects fall on the earth due to a force of attraction by the earth. Therefore, the earth, planets, constellations, moon and sun are held in orbit due to this force.”
Energy Generation: The Vedas are said to be talking about generating energy – electricity, solar, wind, Hydropower, etc.
Plastic Surgery: Sushruta (lived 2600 years ago) is regarded as the Father of Indian Medicine and Plastic Surgery. He authored the medical text ‘Sushruta Samhita’. He is said to have been using live flesh from different parts of the body to make the new artificial parts, besides being skilled in cosmetic and dental surgeries.
(‘Charaka Samhita’ [400-200 B.C.] explains about various ancient medical surgeries, including the brain!)
Vedic Technology:* The Vedas and different scriptures state about scientific theories and unique weapons. However, it is surprising that such secrets were not passed down. Was it due to the fear of misusing them?
*Source: Google (for images & contents)
To cite an instance, the first aircraft is said to have been developed by an Indian Sanskrit scholar, Shivkar Bapuji Talpade from Bombay (Mumbai, India) in 1895, eight years before Wright Brothers started their first 852’ flight in 1903. A report says Talpade did it based on “Vaimanika Shastra” (Aeronautical Science) expounded by the Indian sage, Bharadwaja.
(Th Rg Veda is said to contain description of three-wheeled chariots used for space travel. The Ramayana speaks about ‘Pushpaka Vimana’ – a cylindrical aircraft with portholes and a dome.)
Talpade’s aircraft was named ‘Marutsakha’, a Sanskrit word, which would mean “Friend of the Wind’. This unmanned aircraft flew to a height of 1500 ft. before falling to earth. (Due to lack of financial support, he could not succeed. His wife, his partner in this project, is said to have died mysteriously and a depressed Talpade – sans his wife and finances – died in 1916 when the remains of ‘Marutsakha’ were sold by his family, to recover some money. [A model of ‘Marutsakha’ was exhibited at a Bombay exhibition. Hindustan Aeronautics Limited has preserved the documents relating to it]. [Though the Maharaja of Baroda was willing to finance Talpade, he is said to have been warned and got it stopped by the British government.])
(It is also stated that NASA [National Aeronautical and Space Administration] has developed modern aircraft technology based on the Vedic formulae…? And that Santos D’Monte, a Brazilian, was the first to invent the plane before Wright Brothers.)
It is believed that some Sanskrit Texts were taken away to Germany. (It is also said a few Sanskrit scholars well versed in this subject were missing.) Out of these translated texts, Hitler made SWASTIKA symbol, the sacred symbol of the Saraswati civilization which existed from 9500 BC to 4000 BC, till Saraswati river dried up.
The SWASTIKA: A divine/powerful symbol of many cultures in different countries.
(The concerned Text is said to contain the details of the making of a motionless plane, making it invisible, distant radar monitoring of other aircraft, listening to sounds inside other planes and hiding it under the water, constructing planes without being monitored, etc.)
Maritime History: Texts like the Rg Veda, Arthashastra (3rd century B.C.), Yukti-kalpataru (11th century A.D.), etc. are said to contain different aspects of shipbuilding. The word Navigation is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘Navgaith’. Indian Shipbuilding seems to have a history of 5000 years. It is even stated that each of those well-furnished ships carried hundreds of passengers! The world’s first tidal dock is believed to have been built in a Gujarat (Western India) coast around 2400 B.C. A magnetic compass called ‘Matsya yantra’ – an iron fish that floated in a vessel of oil and pointed to the North – and even a sextant were used for navigation.
Production Technology: Ancient India provided natural produce which was traded and even exported to different countries. Certain historians have stated this. Extraction of Iron is said to have started around 4th century B.C. During the Mughal era, this Industry was flourished. However, British policies have inactivated mining and metallurgy.
Iron ornaments were more expensive than gold. Artillery and warfare weapons were produced at high temperatures, hammered and shaped in the required forms. Huge pillars were made for monuments and temples. Many countries preferred Indian Iron and Steel products for building bridges, etc. ‘Wootz’ steel, found in some southern parts of India, was in use. At controlled temperatures, steel ingots were produced and processed to form swords, etc. This art was vanished by the middle of the 19th century with the imports of steel from England.
Metallurgy: Starting from the 3rd millennium B.C. continuing through the British Raj, various metals such as Brass, Copper, Zinc, Iron, Steel, Gold, Silver, etc. were used.
(Science has accepted ancient India’s knowledge in various fields. There existed a number of ‘scientists’ who were proficient in various branches of knowledge.)
RG VEDA: ‘Rg’ refers to “Praise”. This oldest Text is estimated to be composed around 1700 B.C. It has ten ‘Mandalas’ or volumes with 1028 hymns and 10,600 verses. This is considered to be the most important of the four Vedas. The Rg Veda starts by saluting Agni (Lord of Fire). It lavishly praises Lord Indra (chief of gods), besides Soma (the moon deity), Surya (the Sun-god) and Varuna (Lord of Oceans/Waters). The list includes Lord Vishnu and Lord Rudra as well. The hymns also praise a number of other deities.
It discusses cosmology and many metaphysical issues. The hymns deal with Atheism (disbelief in the existence of God), Monotheism (one God with numerous manifestations and deities), Monism (Brahman is all-pervading while God is inside) and Polytheism (the belief in more than one God). One hymn even suggests metalworking in the Vedic culture.
It throws light into the Concept of King, Village formation, Taxation, Military & Spy functions and so on.
The Aitareya Upanishad is an important one in the Rg Veda.
Thirty translations of Rg Veda are identified, including those of Max Muller and Sri Aurobindo.
YAJUR VEDA: ‘Yajus’ means “prose mantra”. Hence, it is the Veda of prose mantras. It describes the way in which religious rituals and sacred ceremonies should be performed. It is in two groups – the “black” (Krishna) Yajurveda and the “white” (Shukla) Yajurveda. This Text consists of two major sacrifices: Darsapurnamasa and Asvamedha. Shukla Yajur Veda consists of prayers and formulas of sacrifices to the gods, while Krishna Yajur Veda consists of the rites and rituals of various sacrifices.
These hymns are chanted to awaken the inner consciousness and draw the cosmic energies, essential for a contented life. ‘Sri Rudram’, the famous chant of Lord Shiva, establishing His identity with the Vedic sacrifices, is found in the Yajur Veda.
Krishna Yajur Veda has four different parts: Taittiriya Samhita, Maitrayani Samhita, Caraka Katha Samhita and Kapisthala Katha Samhita. Of these, Taittiriya Samhita is regarded to be the best of Yajur Veda. It is divided into seven books, which are then subdivided into several chapters. These chapters contain several sections. (As a whole, Yajur Veda has more than 7000 verses.)
The Yajur Veda contains six primary Upanishads, viz., Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (which earnestly prays to “Lead me from unreal to the real, from ignorance to light, and, from death to immortality” – Asato Maa Satgamaya…). It also declares, “Aham Brahasmi” (I am Brahman, or, Divine). Isha Upanishad (one of the shortest, which deals with the Soul) is in the White Yajur Veda), Taittiriya Upanishad (in the Black Yajur Veda, asserts one’s powerful divine nature), Katha Upanishad (also in the Black Yajur Veda, is a widely studied Upanishad dealing with the existence of the Soul and secret of death – this contains the conversation between Nachiketa and Yama [god of death]), Shvetashvatara Upanishad (in the Black Yajur Veda, speaks of the existence of universal Soul) and Maitrayaniya Upanishad (also in the Black Yajur Veda), describes the immortal Self.
SAMA VEDA: ‘Saaman’ means “song” (i.e., the Veda of melodies). Its 1,875 verses are derived from the Rg Veda. This comprises two parts. The first part includes four melody collections (Gana) and the second part (Arcika). The ‘Gramageya’ melodies are for open recitations and ‘Aranyageya’ melodies are for meditative use (in solitude).
Sama Veda is the shortest of all the four Vedas. Though having independent verses, it includes numerous verses from Rg Veda. This Text is said to have compiled exclusively for the ritual application (at important sacrifices using the juice of the Soma plant). This also starts by praising Lord Agni. This is said to be the foundation for all Indian musical systems and is seen as the best of Vedas.
This Text contains two primary Upanishads :
Chandogya Upanishad: Said to be a later addition, this combines a wide range of philosophical topics. This Upanishad proclaims the Mahavakya, “Tat Twam Asi” (That Thou Art).
Kena Upanishad: Says ethical life is the foundation of self-knowledge.
ATHARVA VEDA: Considered a storehouse of knowledge for daily life, this is a later addition to the set of Vedas. It consists of 730 hymns with about 6,000 mantras, divided into 20 books, with a number of verses adapted from the Rg Veda.
This is also called ‘Atharvana Veda’, named after the sage Atharvan, the ‘discoverer’ of fire, to whom the authorship of Atharva Veda is attributed.
The Atharva Veda has some special features, which deals with diseases and their cure, Rites for prolonging life, Rites for fulfilling one’s desires, Building construction, Trade and commerce, Black-magic, etc.
The prevailing social culture is indicated. For instance, the land is extended from Gandhara (in Afghanistan) to Magadha (Bihar) and Anga (Bengal). The ‘varṇa’ system was well established. People lived in harmony. Kings were powerful. Trade and commerce flourished through agriculture, the source of living. The cow was highly venerated and ‘godhana’ (gift of cows) was considered highly meritorious. The institute of marriage was similar to that of the Rgvedic times.
This “Veda of magical formulas” deals with the tradition of magico-religious rites to address superstitious anxiety, etc., which includes three primary Upanishads:
The Mundaka Upanishad: The Mundakams (parts) define the science of “Higher Knowledge” and “Lower Knowledge”, and speak of the futility of mere oblations, focusing on knowledge. This Upanishad describes the nature of Brahman and the path to know it. It states that knowing Brahman is attaining freedom.
The Mandukya Upanishad discusses the syllable “Om”, presents the theory of four states of consciousness and the existence and nature of the Soul.
The Prashna Upanishad: Gives insights into the education process in ancient India. The six Prashna (questions) and discussions are on metaphysical and on “Om” and “Moksha” (liberation of the soul).
Health care was influenced by Atharva Veda, which is said to be the root of “Ayurveda”.
ARANYAKAS: Constitute the ritual part of Vedas. Other sections are the Samhitas (benedictions), Brahmanas (commentary) and the Upanishads (spirituality and philosophy).
The Upanishads form the core of Indian philosophy. They are part of the Vedas and said to have been written around 500 B.C, briefly expounding the Vedic themes, which are referred to as ‘Vedanta’, or the end of the Vedas. (Upa [near] and shad [to sit] meaning, “sitting down near” [the teacher].) The Upanishads are the widely known Vedic literature.
There are over 200 surviving Upanishads [said to be totalling to 1180 – 21, 109, 1000 and 50 subdivisions to Rig, Yajur, Sama and Atharva Vedas respectively]. Names of the authors are not known, though names of a number of sages figure. The originals are said to have been altered and the existing texts are believed to be the work of many authors.
The Upanishads describe the universe and the human experience, as motivated by the eternal consciousness (Soul) and nature and the ever-changing material world (Illusion). The Upanishads say the knowledge of Atman is “true knowledge”.
They do not offer a single comprehensive system of thought. However, they project basic ideas, like, Samsara (cycle of life or reincarnation), Karma (actions and consequences which determines the next life), Dharma (right conduct) and Moksha (liberation from birth and death). They remind us that we are, in fact, not the body or the mind, but Atman or “Self”.
The Isha Upanishad insists to explore the Truth, which is concealed by a golden vessel.
A few pro-Buddhist Upanishads dispute the concept of Atma-Brahma.
A couple of Texts ask to replace ‘external offerings or rites’ by ‘internal ritual of introspection’.
They form the basis for the three Vedanta philosophies: Advaita (Monism), Vishishtadvaita (Qualified Monism) and Dvaita (Dualism), and also, the Bhagavad Gita and the Brahmasutra.
The Upanishads are translated into various languages.
LIST OF 108 UPANISHADS (Source: Google)
The list is seen in “Muktika Upanishad”. Following ones are considered the primary Upanishads:
|1. Isha Upanishad||7. Mundaka Upanishad|
|Another Eight, called minor Upanishads, are:|
The 108 names are identified with the respective Veda, with the very important ones marked in blue:
The Upaniṣhads speak of ultimate freedom. It does not require following a particular faith nor the services of priests and mediators; it does not differentiate between God and the worshipper. We are all one; there is only Consciousness.
A Shanti Mantra of Aitareya Upaniṣad, in Ṛg Veda, chants:
Oṃ saha nāvavatu; saha nau bhunaktu; saha vīryaṃ karavāvahai; tejasvi nāvadhītamastu mā vidviṣāvahai. Om śāntiḥ śāntiḥ śāntiḥ.
Meaning: May we both (the teacher and the student) be impelled together; may God nourish us both; may we utilise our energy together; may our learning be brilliant. Om Peace Peace Peace.
THE TWO EPICS AND THE CELESTIAL SONG BHAGAVAD GITA:
Ramayana and Mahabharata* are the two major epics of India. The Gita is a scientific and rational document on Soul and Nature, convincingly explained by Lord Krishna to Arjuna, over 5000 years ago (minutes before the Mahabharata war started). It speaks about the soul’s connection with the creator and creation (Nature), its evolutionary process through rebirths in various forms, etc. It also deals with, among other things, the paths of ‘Karma’ (action), ‘Bhakti’ (devotion) and ‘Jnana’ (wisdom).
*(The first book, ‘Valmiki Ramayana’ has 24000 verses. [The first letter of every thousandth verse, when put together, results in the Gayatri Mantra, which has 24 letters – this Vedic mantra was created by sage Vishwamitra. This is to invoke Goddess Gayatri to transform the consciousness.] Ramayana has 7 ‘KANDAs’ [sections]. The Mahabharata by sage Vyasa [said to contain later additions] has approximately 1 Lakh verses with 18 ‘Parvas’ [sections]. The Gita, which forms part of it, has 700  verses and 18 chapters.)
THE SIX SCHOOLS OF HINDU PHILOSOPHY (“SHAD DARSHANAS”):
‘Samkhya’ (the oldest system) (Evolution happens with the union of Purusha’ and ‘Prakriti’. Also, speaks about the five elements of creation.) (By Kapila)
‘Nyaya’ (Tarka Shastra) (Obtaining valid knowledge is the only way to gain release from suffering.) (By Gautama)
‘Vaisheshika’ (God created the world and souls are born as per merits.) (By Kanada)
‘Yoga’ (The practical method of the Yoda philosophy is called the Astanga Yoga (set of eight limbs [‘asta anga’], also called the Raja Yoga, which includes eight methods for one’s liberation. ) (By Patanjali)
‘Purva Mimamsa’ (Is based on the ‘Karma Kanda’ of the Vedas – liberation is attained by rightly performing actions.) (By Jaimini)
‘Uttara Mimamsa’ (Vedanta Darshana) (Propagates liberation theory.) (By Badarayana)
THE SIX SHASTRAS or the six disciplines of Vedanga (limbs of the Vedas) are Shiksha (phonetics and phonology – study of speech sound, etc.), Kalpa (ritual instructions), Vyakarana (grammar), Nirukta (etymology – on the origins of words, etc.), Chandas (Vedic poetic meter) and Jyotisha (astrological finding of auspicious time for rituals, etc.)
(Over 400,000 verses.)
18 Maha (Major) Puranas: Three groups of six each: Satwic (devoted to Lord Vishnu), Rajasic (Lord Shiva) and Tamasic (Lord Brahma). (The authorship is attributed to Sage Veda Vyasa.)
Brahma Vaivartha Purana
18 Upa (Minor) Puranas: Ganesha, Vashishtha, Narasimha, Nandi, Durvasa, Devi Bhagavatam, Kapila, Vamana, Hamsa, Sanatkumara, Varuna, Kalika, Maheshvara, Samba, Surya, Parashara, Brihannardiya and Bhargava.
(Besides, there are ‘Sthala Puranas’ [dealing with temples] and ‘Kula Puranas’ [background of different families] and some more.)
Purana means “ancient”. Puranas (simple, poetic explanations of Vedic philosophy, also termed mythical) influenced people and intensified their Bhakti (devotion). They deal with a variety of topics of social relevance, such as politics, education, taxation, army, diplomacy, medicine, Vaastu, water distribution, grammar, martial arts, Lord Vishnu’s incarnations, trade, cosmology, “heaven and hell”, minerals and stones, astronomy, origin of the universe, and so on.
LIST OF ANCIENT INDIAN WRITERS* (Source: Google)
|Patañjali||Mahabhasya, Yoga Sūtras|
|Shaunaka||Ṛg Veda-Prātiśākhya, Bṛhaddevatā, Caraṇa-vyūha, six Anukramaṇīs (indices) to the Rg Veda|
|Parashara||Bṛhat Parāśara Horāśāstra|
|Vagbhata||Ashtanga Sangraha, Ashtanga Hridaya Samhita|
|Baudhayana||Shulba Sutras, Shrauta Sutra, Dharmasūtra|
|Bhāskara I||Āryabhaṭīyabhāṣya, Mahābhāskarīya, Laghubhāskarīya|
|Bhāskara II||Siddhānta Shiromani (four volumes: Lilāvati, Bijaganita, Grahaganita and Golādhyāya)|
|Mahāvīra (mathematician)||Ganit Saar Sangraha|
|Parameshvara||Bhatadipika, Karmadipika, Paramesvari, Sidhantadipika, Vivarana, Drgganita, Goladipika, Grahanamandana, Grahanavyakhyadipika, Vakyakarana|
|Varāhamihira||Pancha-Siddhantika, Brihat-Samhita, Brihat Jataka, Daivaigya Vallabha, Laghu Jataka, Yoga Yatra, Vivaha Patal|
|Baudhayana Rishi||Baudhayana Sutras ,
Baudhāyana Sulbasūtra, Baudhāyana Dharmasūtra
*There are more works.
MAJOR ANCIENT UNIVERSITIES IN INDIA:
- Takshashila (Taxila/Takshila):
Now a tourist spot in North-Western Pakistan, this (Buddhist) centre of learning is said to have been founded around 10th century B.C. [Traditionally the history of the city of Taxila is connected to Ramayana and that of the varsity to the epic Mahabharata, which states a few things about it. Also,the Buddhist literature states that this city was the capital of a Buddhist Kingdom, known as Gandhara.]
Two Chinese Buddhist pilgrims, Faxian and Xuanzang (Hiuen Tsiang) did mention about this institution. Centuries before Christ this centre was attracting students from different countries, including China, Babylon, Syria and Greece, until the destruction of the city in the 5th century A.D. Over 10,000 students, including Indians, studied there. The alumni include Kautilya/Chanakya (the author of ’Arthashastra’), grammarian Panini, the Father of Medicine Charaka, the scholar/author Vishnu Sharma, the physician Jivaka, etc. (Taxila is in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.)
- Sharada Peeth Temple University:
This temple university of Vedic works was in Kashmir. The ruins of it and also Sharada Temple, dedicated to Goddess of learning, Saraswati, are under Pakistan’s jurisdiction. (Both are located in neelam valley, which is close to the line of control.) Many scholars, including Adi Shankaracharya, were hosted here. Although historians maintain that it was built in 8th century A.D., going by the details of scholars like Adi Shankara it is felt that this university was in existence 2500 years ago. However, the temple further dates back to several centuries. (Sharada Peeth is among the 18 Maha Shaktipeethas.)
Is one of the first great universities in recorded history, located in a Buddhist monastery in Magadha (Bihar, India), which attracted students even from China, Greece and Persia. This well known centre of education was active from 5th till 12th century A.D., when Buddhism started declining. At its peak ‘Nalanda’ held over 10,000 students from several countries and 2,000 teachers. A Delhi Sultanate is believed to have destroyed it. (It was established by Shakraditya of Gupta dynasty. Now it is a (Buddhist) tourist destination.) Lord Mahavira is said to have stayed here which was also a centre of activity of the Jains. In 2010, it was established by an Act of Parliament to emulate the ancient university. Countries like China, Japan and Singapore were willing to help. (This is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.)
This was a largest Buddhist learning centre. Established (in Bihar) by the Buddhist King Dharmapala in 8th century A.D. to maintain the quality of scholarship at ‘Nalanda’, it flourished for 400 years till was destroyed in 12th century by Muslim invaders. The campus had a sprawling 100 acres area. It gave direct competition to ‘Nalanda’. (This centre was well known for training in ‘Tantrism’.)
Established in Saurashtra of Gujarat this centre flourished for 600 years, till 12th century A.D. A couple of Buddhist scholars are said to have graduated from this university. For some time, it was considered to be a rival to ‘Nalanda’ in Bihar. The Kings used to employ its graduates to assist the government. There were more than 6,000 monks studying here.
Somapura Mahavihara was established in 8th century A.D in Bengal, by Pala dynasty and flourished for 400 years (till 12th century). This was a major centre of learning for Buddhism, Jainism and Hinduism. Much later, it was left abandoned by the Muslim rulers. (This centre is declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.) This is an an important tourist spot of Bangladesh.
Now this site is also in Bangladesh. This centre of learning was established by Pala dynasty during the latter half of 11th century. Little is known about Jagaddala Mahavihara. Excavations by UNESCO have established that the site was a Buddhist monastery.
Odantapuri Buddhist Mahavihara was established in Bihar in the 8th century A.D. Like some others, it also flourished for 400 years and lasted till 12th century. (This great Buddhist learning centre was destroyed by Muslim invaders.) According to Tibetan books, some 12,000 students were studying here.
The ruins of Pushpagiri University, flourished till 11th century, are found in the eastern Indian State of Odisha. The campus of this prominent university, spread across three hilltops, contained several monasteries, temples, stupas, etc. of Gupta period.
The above mentioned are only a few out of a number of ancient Indian universities. The recently discovered Munshiganj Vihara in Bengal is said to have been established in 9th century and was home to 8000 students who also represented China, Tibet, Nepal and Thailand. The oldest universities in ancient India – also the earliest in the world – are seen as Takshashila (Taxila) and Nalanda.
(Although there is no archaeological record, it is believed that Mithila University [supposed to be in today’s Bihar] was a prominent seat of Brahmanical system of education, existed since the time of King Janaka of Ramayana, who was holding here religious conferences in which the Rishis [Sages] and the learned were participating. Subjects like Arts and literature, Vedas, Nyaya Shastra [Jurisprudence], Tarka Shastra [Logic] etc. are said to have been taught here.)
THREE MESSENGERS OF VEDANTA:
He is considered to be an 8th/9th-century master, though different earlier periods are attributed to his existence. He founded ‘Advaita Vedanta’ (Non-dualism or Monism) which says, “Brahman alone is real, this world is illusory; the Jiva is identical with Brahman”. Briefly, he affirms that the entire universe is pervaded by the One Atman. He disapproved Dualism.
He revived Hinduism by travelling all over India to help restore the study of the Vedas and monastic life when it was in the grip of ritualism and was facing threats from the growing influence of Buddhism. He is also credited with unifying various Hindu sects under ‘Sanatana Dharma’.
His efforts included the celebration of “Kumbha Mela” with a Vedic touch by ensuring more social recognition. Every three years this riverside festival is held at four places by rotation. At any given place, it is held once in 12 years. The ascetics/pilgrims bathe in a sacred river to wash away their sins. (Two places host an “Ardha” [Half] Kumbha Mela every six years. Every 12 years, it is a “Purna” [Full] Kumbha Mela. A “Maha” [Great] Kumbha Mela occurs every 144 years, held in one place.)
It’s mythological. ‘Kumbh’ means pot. Some drops of the precious nectar spilled at these spots as the gods were fleeing with the pot (obtained while churning the ocean of Milk) when the demons chased them for 12 days – one day of the gods equals our one year. (The story signifies the churning of our minds by keeping away from all attractions and getting deeper to attain immortality.) (This is the world’s largest congregation. UNESCO’s Cultural Heritage List contains this.)
He established four “Mathas” (Monasteries) in different Vedic traditions: ‘Govardhana Matha’ (Rg Veda), Puri, Odisha, (EAST), ‘Sharada Peetham’ (Yajur Veda), Sringeri, Karnataka, (SOUTH), ‘Dwaraka Peeth’ (Sama Veda), Gujarat, (WEST) and ‘Jyotir Math’ (Atharva Veda), Badrinath, Uttarakhand, (NORTH). (Though the ‘Kanchi Math’ in South India maintains that it was also established by him, the other monasteries dispute this theory.)
(As per a historical record he was born on 9th April, 509 B.C. It specifies the years of his establishing the monasteries. [His biography [‘Brihat Shankara Vijaya’] is said to confirm his birth in this year in Kaladi, Kerala in South India.] It is pointed out that his life history [8th/9th-century A.D.] does not mention anything about Christianity and its growth in India and that the western historians were distorting facts to give supremacy to their religion.)
“Seat of Wisdom”: Sharada Peetha in PoK
He ascended ‘Sarvajna Peetha’ -“Seat of Omniscience” – in Kashmir (PoK) after defeating the scholars in a philosophical debate.
Shankaracharya disappeared into the Himalayas and passed away at 32. (His ‘Samadhi’ [grave] [destroyed by the flash floods of 2013] is located behind Kedarnath shrine, dedicated to Lord Shiva, which was renovated by him.)
(It is assumed that Shankaracharya must have developed a Fistula type disease after suffering from the black magic performance of an opponent who was defeated in a debate, though this was retaliated by his disciple Padmapada (earlier name: Sanandana) and after the recovery, he went to Kailash.)
Born in a Namboothiri Brahmin family in Kerala, the little boy obtained his mother’s permission to embrace Sanyas (sainthood) (she is said to have consented in a desperate situation when he was caught by a crocodile while bathing in the river), and became a disciple of Govinda Bhagavatpada.
(Years later, he reached beside his bedridden mother, thus, fulfilling his promise of seeing her before her death. He countered serious difficulties in performing her funeral rites, as he was alone. His community members were against this ascetic’s family ties.)
Going by an anecdote, an ascetic (Kapalika) begged for his head as a gift (to ensure the former’s spiritual triumph). Shankara consented. Knowing this, Padmapada, his disciple, killed the Kapalika.
His ‘Vishishtadvaita’ (Qualified Monism) theory (of 11th/12th-century) accepts that the Vedas are a reliable source of knowledge. He has questioned both Advaita (Monism) and Dvaita (Dualism) philosophies.
Against Shankara’s version that the material world has no existence, he stated that it is the energy of Godhead. He asserted the existence of plurality and distinction between Atman (soul) and Brahman (ultimate reality), and a soul’s potential to realise identity with the Brahman.
His efforts made Bhakti (devotion) a major force within different traditions of Hinduism. He formulated Bhakti Yoga, giving importance to devotion than meditation.
He was born in a Brahmin family in Tamil Nadu. He was married. Ramanujacharya passed away at 120 years of age.
(His centuries-old mummified body is said to be preserved in a shrine dedicated to him in Srirangam – something unique!)
(Twice there were attempts on his life. In both the occasions, the culprits realised their mistake and surrendered.)
This 12th/13th-century founder of ‘Dvaita’ (Dualism) philosophy hailed from Karnataka in South India. He became a saint at a younger age.
He was a critic of both Adi Shankara’s ‘Advaita’ and Ramanuja’s ‘Vishishtadvaita’ theories. He toured and visited different centres of learning in the country, engaged in philosophical debates and conquered many scholars. Dualism says the soul (Jiva) and matter (Prakriti or Nature) are separate entities and that the individual souls only reflect the divinity.
He established the famous Krishna Temple at Udupi (Karnataka), by installing the idol brought from Dwaraka. He also established eight Mathas. His version of ‘Vaishnava Philosophy’ is practised by the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKON) worldwide.
His biography says he possessed superhuman powers and used to perform miracles. He lived for 79 years and is believed to have disappeared after a miraculous rain of flowers covering him while teaching his disciples!
(He was born in a Tulu speaking Vaishnavite Brahmin family, as Vasudeva. He was not convinced of the scriptural description of the oneness of the human soul and god. It is said that he has proclaimed himself to be the third incarnation of Vayu, the wind god and that he believed himself to be an intermediary between Lord Vishnu and Dvaita devotees.)
(Needless to say, all these three ‘JNANIS’ excelled in oratory and authorship and focussed their philosophies on the Atma [Soul]. Various saints/spiritual masters have been propagating these theories.)
Narendranath Datta was the disciple of the 19th-century mystic Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa of Calcutta (Kolkata) – an ardent devotee of Kali, the Divine Mother. He was given the name “Vivekananda” (meaning “the bliss of discerning wisdom” while ‘Swami’ is a Hindu monk – in Sanskrit, “he who is one with his Self [Swa]”) by King Ajit Singh of Khetri (Rajasthan). After the passing away of his Guru, he toured the country extensively. He identified a rock-hill (in December 1892) located in the Indian Ocean in the southernmost tip of India (Cape Comorin, now called Kanyakumari) for his prolonged meditation.* (The penniless Swami swam through the turbulent waters to reach this ideal spot). (‘Swami Vivekananda Rock Memorial’ [about 500 metres away from the mainland] was built here in 1970.)
*(Incidentally, the ‘Triveni Sangam/Sangamam’ at Kanyakumari is the only point in the world where three seas confluence: The Indian Ocean, Arabian Sea and Bay of Bengal. Besides other attractions, at this pilgrim centre one can enjoy a spectacular Sunrise and Sunset.)
His clarion call: ‘Arise, Awake, And Stop Not Till The Goal is Reached.’
(“Uttishthata Jagrata Prapya Varan Nibodhata” – Katha Upanishad)
During those moments of deep silence (believed to be a three-day-long meditation leading to enlightenment), he is said to have heard his Guru’s voice asking him to attend the forthcoming “World Parliament of Religions” to be held in Chicago (from 11 to 27 September 1893) which he had earlier wished. (This was being held to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus). After receiving the blessings of ‘Sri Sri Maa’ [Holy Mother Sarada Devi, Sri Ramakrishna’s widow], he managed to go; registered as a delegate.
It is said on the stage, a nervous Swami in prayers had the vision of his Guru and was energised by a divine spirit! He began his speech:
“Sisters and brothers of America,
(The applause lasted at least two minutes)
“It fills my heart with joy unspeakable to rise in response to the warm and cordial welcome which you have given us. I thank you in the name of the most ancient order of monks in the world; I thank you in the name of the mother of religions and I thank you in the name of millions and millions of Hindu people of all classes and sects…
“I am proud to belong to a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance. We believe not only in universal toleration, but we accept all religions as true. I am proud to belong to a nation which has sheltered the persecuted and the refugees of all religions and all nations of the earth…”
He spoke (on the final day): “…Upon the banner of every religion will soon be written, in spite of resistance: Help and not Fight; Assimilation and not Destruction; Harmony and Peace and not Dissension.”
(The venue of this historical event is today’s Art Institute of Chicago. SV was among the seven speakers from India [one was a woman]. He (an ‘uninvited guest’) was initially allotted only two minutes to speak which was extended. He delivered six speeches, including reading a Paper on Hinduism. The book, “A Chorus of Faith: As Heard in the Parliament of Religions…” lists 127 speakers, consisting of women. He mesmerised a gathering of some 7000 people, including 5000 delegates.)
Then there was no looking back. (This ‘Apostle of Hinduism’ travelled twice to different countries.) A major force in the revival of Hinduism, he established Vedanta and Yoga in the West and is credited with raising interfaith awareness and bringing Hinduism to the status of a major world religion. This reformer endeavoured to free religion from superstition. He said, “I will go into a thousand hells cheerfully if I can rouse my countrymen, immersed in Tamas (darkness/ignorance), to stand on their own feet.” He strived for the uplift of women and downtrodden. He preferred vegetarianism to avoid Rajasic (passionate) qualities due to meat consumption. Vivekananda literature is vast.
He founded Ramakrishna Mission in 1897. (Earlier, Ramakrishna Math for the monks was established.) (The [identical] emblem of these Missions was designed by him).
He breathed his last at 39 years, during his meditation in the night of 4th July 1902. (He had predicted that he would not turn forty. [A view is that it was a self-willed ‘Mahasamadhi’, the date of which was foretold.])
(It is brought to light that he had many chronicle ailments like asthma, diabetes, Heart-liver-Kidney problems, besides a number of other complications. It seems he neglected his body.)
According to Sister Nivedita, his close disciple (born Margaret Elizabeth Noble in North Ireland), as a great devotee of Lord Buddha, his first act after taking Sanyas was to “hurry to Bodh Gaya, and sit under the great tree…”
(A narration says while in Kashmir in 1898, he became serious with vomiting blood as he earned the wrath of a Fakir who used his occult powers for accepting his follower as a disciple (on the request of that student, who was forced to return). Mother Sarada Devi consoled him by objecting to occult practices and disapproving such gurus who were not spiritual enough. She said that a genuine master would not bother about such issues. He was, however, advised to ensuring prior permission before accepting another’s disciple.)
(During their last meeting on July 2, 1902, he told Sister Nivedita that he was preparing for death. He insisted her to have meals with him, after which he poured water over her hands. He justified this act saying Jesus had washed the feet of his disciples. He also wrote to a follower: “…I shall inspire men everywhere until the whole world shall know that it is one with God.”)
(“Naren” became a saint after weathering storms. [His mother was supportive.] His father’s sudden demise [he was an attorney at the Calcutta High Court] plunged the family into financial crisis and hunger. [Earlier, he had lost two siblings, including the suicide of one of his elder sisters – later on, he rejected the marriage proposals.] Although an Arts Graduate, he could not secure a job. Shortly, the family’s ancestral home was lost [which he recovered about a week before his death by amicable settlement, ending years of legal battle]. [Now it is Ramakrishna Mission Swami Vivekananda’s Ancestral House and Cultural Centre, Kolkata.] His life reminds one, of William Shakespeare’s words: “There is a divinity that shapes our ends; Rough-hew them how we will.”)
(He left Bombay [Mumbai] for Chicago by ship on May 31, 1893. [During the voyage he met Jamsetji [Jamshedji] Nusserwanji Tata, the founder of the Tata Group. It appears that the Swami urged this ‘Father of Indian Industry’ to start manufacturing activities and create jobs for Indians, help to educate the masses and promote science and technology. Different projects of the Group reflect the impact of his advice.]
Swami Vivekananda received money for his trip from the kings of Khetri and Ramnad [Tamil Nadu], his Madras [Chennai] disciples, etc. Also, the Khetri king started regularly financing his mother. [It seems that he did not entertain the topic of the financial offer made by the Maharaja of Mysore. However, he accepted the railway ticket for his travel to Kerala. The phonographic record of his conversation with the king is said to be preserved in Mysore Palace.])
He said about ‘Personality Development’: “If you really want to judge the character of a man, look not at his great performances. Any fool may become a hero at one time or another. Watch a man do his most common actions; those are indeed the things that will tell you the real character of a great man. Great occasions rouse even the lowest of human beings to some kind of greatness, but he alone is the really great man, whose character is great always, the same wherever he is.”
Others engaged in global activities were: Swami Paramahansa Yogananda (the proponent of ‘KRIYA YOGA’ – honoured as second Vivekananda), Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (Founder, Transcendental Meditation Movement), Swami Chinmayananda Saraswati (Founder, Chinmaya Mission and Founding President, Vishwa Hindu Parishad), etc.
“Indian culture and spirituality” is a vast subject, the aforesaid being only the tip of the iceberg. The followers of the all-inclusive Hinduism had undergone centuries of bitter experiences under the invaders. The erstwhile Hindu kings, with their secular vision, accommodated different religions like Christianity, Islam, Zoroastrianism and Judaism. Centuries ago, the Maharaja of Cochin (Kerala) gave asylum to Jews, notwithstanding some raised eyebrows. He is said to have concluded that they, too, worshipped his Divine Mother only, though in a different style!
Besides Hinduism, the India-born religions are Jainism, Buddhism and Sikhism. The Census Data of 2011 says the religious minorities together form a little over 20% of the Indian population.
In Hampi, the capital of the Vijayanagara Empire.
Vijayanagara Empire was the last Hindu dynasty, based in south India. (Its capital ‘Vijayanagara’ (meaning, “City of Victory”) was in Hampi, Karnataka, near the Ramayana sites of Pampa Lake and Kishkindha. (Considered to be the world’s second-largest medieval-era city [after Beijing in China] and the richest Indian city, it was trading with Persia and Portugal and attracting people from different countries.) (The ruined Hampi-Vijayanagara is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.) A seat of prosperity and human excellence, this empire reached its peak during the 16th-century, when it was attacked and totally ruined by a certain ‘Sultanate’, after beheading the king.
Starting with ‘Alexander the Great’ of Greece in the 4th-century B.C., for over two millennia India was invaded by about one dozen different foreign powers. Many of them have left behind their imprints.
The three largest empires which ruled India (in descending order of the territory size): The Maurya, The British and The Mughal.
(The fourth one, Gupta Dynasty, existed during 3rd-6th centuries A.D. [approximately 300 years]. This golden era witnessed cultural/scientific progress under notable rulers/scholars, etc.)
The native Mauryas in early centuries of B.C. (like Emperor Ashoka) stretched over to maximum regions in India, and outside the country as well.
Mughal dynasty ruled for well over 300 years from the 16th-century. (The Empire consisted of a number of regions of India-Pakistan-Afghanistan, etc. It started declining in the 18th-century.)
The Mughals ensured stability. They introduced Artillery and started the Irrigation system. Mughal art, music, literature, food, etc. are noteworthy. Their architecture is wonderful. They strengthened the Indo-Persian culture. Initially, religious integrity was aimed at. Subsequently, the Hindus were persecuted by forceful conversions, demolition of temples, etc. (Several million Hindus were massacred throughout the centuries of invaders, described as “unparalleled in history”.) (One Mughal King reintroduced a tax on Hindus [non-Muslims] as per Islamic law, though it is also viewed that during his regime conversion of Hindus and demolition of temples were limited.)
The British era that followed witnessed systematically westernising India’s socio-cultural base by replacing her ancient education system, a stagnant economy, and the like. (It may be noted that though they wished to westernise the Indian society completely, they were unable to fulfil their desire.) However, they initiated modernisation processes like surveying the country and creating maps (a commendable job indeed, especially in those days of poor technology), the formation of railways (the world’s fourth largest network), establishing the Indian Army, eradicating certain social evils, India’s political unification, etc.
To conclude, in spite of undergoing various hardships, the Indian culture has stood the test of time, whereas other ancient civilizations have disappeared. The Hindus have witnessed many social reforms at different times. Even in this technological era when consumerism is colouring, if not blinding, they are rooted in the Vedic vision of “Ishavasyam Idam Sarvam” (Divinity pervades the whole universe).
GAYATRI Mantra and OM (in brief):
‘Gayatri Mantra’, “the jewel of all Mantras”, is a prayer to illumine our intellect. Chanting this Vedic metre purifies one’s emotions, mind and body. (Certain countries are said to be broadcasting this daily morning.) Scientific findings have confirmed its producing large quantities of sound waves of a particular frequency. This is claimed to be the world’s powerful hymn with higher spiritual potentialities.
The ‘Gayatri’ effect
Goddess Gayatri is the mother of the Vedas. The word ‘Savitur’ in the Mantra refers to the Sun deity. (Solar energy activates the earth). In fact, this is invoking the universal energy, or, the formless God.
‘OM’ represents “Sabda Brahma” or the Cosmic Sound, which connotes three syllables – ‘A’, ‘U’ and ‘M’. All words contain these syllables either fully or partly. This is the first word, ‘Amen’. (As the Bible puts it, “In the beginning was the Word,…”) In fact, ‘OM’ is the vibration of the universe. While chanting “Aaaaa”, followed by “Ooooh” and ending with “Mmmmm”, ‘OM’ does not associate with saliva; It is always pure.