True Hinduism das a power and beauty that no one acquainted with it can regard with anything but the deepest respect. You have to approach it as you approach poetry, with a willing suspension of disbelief. Above all the peripheral myths, customs, beliefs and rites, rises the great edifice of Hindu Philosophy, painting, architecture and poetry. This book is a search for true Hinduism which is beyond any kind of definition of religion. Here the secular and the sacred meet. Truth and untruth, spirituality and materialism, gods and demons, life here and life beyond are complementary to each other. Here one does not know when Philosophy. This is the core ethos of Himduism. There is a vast range of scriptures, a huge array of ritualistic procedures and traditions of coupled with multiple views. There is a variety of theological explications, ultimately leading to the celebration of life while searching for the divine and realising the self.
Professor Usha Chondhuri (PhD Delhi University M.A. Sanskrit, Gurukul Kangri University, Haridwar) is a distinguished scholar of Sanskrit , especially of the Vedas, religion, philosophy and Indian mythology. She has taught Sanskrit for 43 years in the universities of Delhi, Bucharest and Sofia.
Her publication include India and Varuna in Indian Mythology, Vedic Mythopoeia: an Approach to Religion, Myth and Poetry and research papers published in different journals. Participated in national and international conferences in India and different parts of the world, the most recent being the Millennium Trust Conference in Kent, UK on 'The Power of Metaphor' in 2011.
She was awarded the President's Certificate of Honour for her valuable contribution to Sanskrit and honoured by the Delhi Sanskrit Academy and Maharshi Sandipani Rashtriya Veda Vidya Pratishthan.
Professor Indra Nath Choudhuri has been in academics, administration and cultural diplomacy. He has taught in Delhi University, Uccha Siksha aur Sodh Sansthan, DBHP, Hyderabad Central University; CIEFL., Hyderabad; Jadavpur University, Kolkata; JNU, Delhi and the University of Bucharest, A distinguished cultural administrator of India, he was Secretary, Sahitya Akademi and was associated with the Ministry of Culture, the Indian High Commission, London and The Nehru Centre, London, was Member Secretary and Academic Director, Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, New Delhi. A fellow of Temenos Akademi, UK and Millennium Trust, Kent, UK, his publications include The Genesis of Imagination: Selected Essays on Literature; Theory, Religion and Culture and other books and research papers on literature, poetics, religion, aesthetics and translation studies.
Hisawards include the Kendriya Hindi Sansthan, Ministry of HRD Ganga Sharan Singh Award from the President of India in 2007 and the Delhi Hindi Academy Award 2009
We remember what Verrier Elwin Elwin in his book, now almost a classic, The Tribal World of Verrier Elwin has said about Hinduism.
True Hinduism has a power and beauty that no one acquainted with it can regard with anything but the deepest respect, you have to approach it as you approach poetry, with a willing suspension of disbelief. The Hindus, even highly educated Hindus, have the capacity of accepting the most extraordinary ideas. But this does not matter very much. Above all the fads and 'irrational notions' (the quotes are by us) rises the great edifice of Hindu Philosophy, painting, architecture and poetry.
This book is our search for true Hinduism which is beyond any kind of definition of religion. Here the secular and the sacred meet. Truth and untruth, spirituality and materialism, gods and demons, life here and life beyond are complementary to each other. Here one does not know when philosophy turns into devotion and devotion philosophy. Here if you say you known it then you are wrong. It is a life-long journey and at the end one may say, I understand but a little.
No book on Hinduism can be complete in every respect. One can catch its enormity only in parts. While working on it we realise that in Hinduism along with temporality, spirituality and godliness, the temporal, mundane and the human are also worthy of attention. It does not take passion out of love but only says life is a journey from mundane to spiritual, from time to timelessness, from human to divine, from attachment to detachment. A journey one has to make and pass through, stopping at its various halting places to reach one's destination, which is nothing but realisation of the self. He then become a free man, free from any kind of bondage, even to the gods – the bondage to be one with the supreme Self. And then gladness springs up within him, on his realising that, and joy arises in him. Thus gladdened, and so rejoicing, his entire frame reaches the stage of equableness and in that state of tranquillity he is filled with a sense of peace. And in that peace his heart resides. This is the core ethos of Hinduism.
There is vast array of scriptures unlike other religions having just one scripture, a huge paraphernalia of ritualistic procedures, multiple sanskritic traditions of brahmanical orthodoxy, varied interpretations of scriptures, a variety of theological explications both sastric and folk and all these ultimatrly lead you to the celebration of life while searching for the divine and realising the self. We thank whole heartedly Shri Bikash and Shrimati Tultul Niyogi for their constant support in the publication of the book. I am sure they have forgotten the inordinate delay caused by us in preparation of the text while moving from Delhi to London, then proceeding to Kolkata and again back to Delhi.
The Apastambha Dharma Sutra (1. 206), an oft-quoted ancient book on ritual and law,
observes that it is not possible for even the gods, the semi-divine beings or the manes
to point out precisely what is dharma (religion) and what is adharma (irreligion)-"no
devagandharva na pitara ityachaksate 'yam dharmo' yamadharma iti." The Gita also declares
that even the seeric poets are perplexed as to what is a proper or an improper action.
Does it imply that the nature of religion is not fixed and 'dharma' which is supposed
to guide the other two activities of human life-artha (the acquisition of wealth and
prosperity) and kama (the fulfilment of human desires) and leading to the attainment
of moksa (emancipation)-has not been clearly defined? Manu, the writer of Manusmrti
(XlI.I06), the book on social and moral law, also comments: Yastarkenanusandhatte sa
dharmam veda netarah (Only that is dharma which one knows through logic).
All this leaves man absolutely puzzled, though free to decide for himself through
his analytical mind the course of his action that would be considered righteous in a
certain situation at a certain point of time. This only reflects on the freedom of choice
and action that Hindu religion or Hinduism provides and the immense faith that it has
in the integrity of man about whom Vedavyasa says in the Mahabharata; Guhyam brahma
tadidam bravimi nahi manusat srestataram hi kinchit (I reveal unto you this hidden truth
that there is nothing higher than man). But the basic concept of religion can be traced
in the very word that has been employed to designate it. The word is 'dharma' that
reveals its all-encompassing archetypal meaning when we trace it to its root. Dharma is
that which sustains (Dharanat dharmah, from the root _/ dhr). The knowledge of dharma
would thus mean the knowledge of the true nature of existence, which implies the basic
principles of the cosmic functioning and its cause. The vision of dharma applies to all
the spheres of life at different levels. In the Purusa sukta of the Rgveda,
the earliest literary text and scripture of the Hindus, the word dharma
is used in plural which denotes the processes of sustenance of the
cosmic creation by the forces of nature that have set an exam pie to
work selflessly in co-ordination. What is true at the cosmic level
must be true at the microcosmic, as well as the social levels.
So on the analogy of the sustaining principles of nature, the
sustaining laws of society must also be formed. No individual
is alone, the idea is that of entirety. The whole must be
maintained through the full participation of each individual,
who would be conscious of his contribution to the ritual of
construction and development of the society of which he is
a part. Thus the concept of dharma can also be explained
as the concept of integrity; after all, only the integrated forces lead to construction and
the disintegrated forces to destruction. This basic design can also be transferred to the
microcosm, referring dharma to the inner self of man. That indeed is dharma which
helps a person to keep one's mind, speech and action in a state of synchronisation
and makes him a man of integrity. The Mahabharata says, 'All human beings are held
together by dharma; that by which the holding together takes place is called dharma'
(Karna Parva, LXIX. 58). At another place (Satapatha Brahmana, XIV. 4, 2, 26) it is said,
'Dharma' is satya (truth), so when one speaks satya, he speaks 'dharma'. It sustains
and holds everything, by it everything is supported. So the cosmic laws, righteousness,
social law, duties, benevolence, morality, virtues, etc., are all included in the concept of
dharma. The law books use the word as a synonym of duty; terms such as rajadharma,
ksatriyadharma, sachivadharma refer to the duties of a king, warrior or a minister,
and so on. The fundamental concept of dharma is free from all dogma and rigidity
and is a working hypothesis of human conduct adopted to different conditions and
requirements of life with the basic aim of integrating, constructing, creating, sustaining
and re-creating. Therefore, it needs to be interpreted afresh by the discerning minds
with regard to its practical form with the changing time.
The long history of Hinduism is marked by numberless spiritual and philosophical
reactions. Along with the concept of sanatana dharma (eternal religion) there are
yugadharma (periodic dharma) and apaddharma (dharma of adversity), which provides
one with the historical concept of religion and lends the quality of flexibility to its
texture. An attitude of tolerance is the most distinctive characteristic of the Hindu faith
that seeks unity in diversity.
On the social level, the varnasramavyavastha (four stages of life) is an integral part
of Hindu religion, which provides with the archetypal design of Hindu social system
aiming at the all-round development and fulfilment of an individual's contribution
towards the welfare of the society. It strikes a balance between the individual and social
needs as well as the mundane and spiritual aspects of life which have to be experienced
in its fullness to attain the realisation of the Ultimate Truth. No objective knowledge is
real knowledge. Hence, every individual must have a chance to know himself by finding
and utilising the opportunities completely for the development of his physical, mental
and intellectual faculties by leading the life of a brahmachari (the life of a student); by
knowing his social self by contributing his utmost to the development of the society as
well as having his wish fulfilled as a grhasthi (a house holder) and then retiring and
knowing his spiritual self as vanaprasthi and sanyasi (forest dweller and ascetic). Thus
the life span (ideally one hundred years) is divided into four stages, each consisting of
There are three main negative categories of want, injustice and ignorance (abhava,
anyaya and ajnana) against which the human society has to persistently fight. Material
prosperity, justice and knowledge are the three categorical values that the human
civilisation have been striving for. For this members of the society were chosen and trained
and this marked the beginning of the history of class or caste system (varnavyavastha).
Different individuals have different aptitudes, potentialities and talents. Literary
documents provide ample evidence to testify that the so-called caste system was actually
a functional division of society based on the particular qualities and tastes of its different
members. Intellectually strong people took to learning and their life-long profession
was to study and lecture (svadhyaya and pravachana). They were called the Brahmanas
because they devoted themselves to 'Brhma' denoting knowledge. They were supposed
to preserve and enrich the tradition of learning which was like a treasure kept with them
and which they were supposed to pass on to the deserving student. The Nirukta (11. 3)
thus mentions, ' ... knowledge approached a Brahmana and said protect me, I am thy
treasure. Do not expound me to the scornful nor to the crooked, not to the one who has
no self-control; thus shall I grow powerful.'
There were others with valorous physique capable of protecting others from harm
and were called Ksatriyas (Ksatat trayate iti Ksatriyah). Those who looked after the
nourishment of the whole community (visah) were called Vaisyas whose main profession
was agriculture, cattle breeding and business. Those who did not qualify for any of
these professions and performed all kinds of other work were classified as Sudras. The
caste of a person did not depend originally on one's birth in a particular family but
the profession for which he qualified. The Gita (IV. 13) says, Chaturvarnyam maya srstam
gunakarmavibhagasah. (The institution of the four varnas was created on the basis of the
difference in merit and function).
According to the Mahabharata there is no difference of castes. This world having
been created by Brahma is entirely Brahmanic; it became afterwards separated into castes
as a consequence of the work performed by different groups of people as mentioned
in Santiparva (CVIIIVIII. 10): Na viseso'ti varnanam sarvam brahmamidam jagat, Brahmna
puruasrstam hi karmabhirvarnatam gatam. A Sudra has been described here as one who
is habitually addicted to all kinds of food, performs all kinds of work, is unclean, has
abandoned the Vedas and does not practise pure observances. A Brahmana will not remain
a Brahrnana if he develops these vices. In the Purusa sukta of the Rgveda, Brahmana,
Ksatriya, Vaisya and Sudra are symbolically described as the functional organs of the
society-the head, arms, thighs and feet of a human form in order and all the four
are equally important. The work of the Sudra is also of great significance as it provides
stability and movement. Moreover, the word varna used to refer to class mean 'what is
chosen' (being derived from the root _/ Vr meaning to choose). A student is called a
varni because he has chosen a profession for which he is preparing himself.
The Pancavimsa Brahmana (second part of the Veda to guide the Brahamanas in
their rituals) prescribes rites known as vratyas by which the vratas-a group of people
who are normally poor and who by not engaging themselves with any profession either
related to agriculture or trade go about plundering and destroying other' grains and
harming the innocent-can be accepted in the fold of social order if they take a vow to
live as responsible members of the society. Manu (Manusmrti, X. 65) ordains:
If a man born to a Sudra possesses the merits, actions and temperament of a
Brahmana, Ksatriya or a Vaisya, he becomes a Brahmana, a Ksatriya or a Vaisya as
the case may be. Similarly, a man born to a Brahmana, Ksatriya or Vaisya should
become a Sudra if his merits and temperaments are Sudra-like.
The Siidras were entitled to perform the religious rites according to the Apastambha
Srauta Sutra (I. 19. 9) (one of the Vedangas dealing with ceremonial occasions) and
Aitareya Brahmana (VIII. l. 4). Mahidasa Aitareya was the son of a maid-servant named
Itara and he is supposed to have composed the Aitareya Brahmana. With the passage of
time, due to internal and external reasons, the caste system became rigid but Hinduism
had some modern revivalists who though born in staunch traditionalist families,
resuscitated the original spirit and the Hindu society is now on its way to fight the ills of
the caste system and to eradicate them.
There are five yamas (restraining principles) which are supposed to be obligatory
for all the four varnas. These are ahimsa (non-violence), satya (truth), asteya (non-
stealing) brahmacarya (practice of chastity) and aparigraha (non-hoarding). There are
five niyamas (rules for self-development)-sauca (cleanliness), santosa (contentment)
tapah. (austerity), svadhyaya (self-
study) and Isvara-pranidhana (faith
in God). Interestingly the practice
of yamas and not the niyamas are
considered obligatory because
the former relate to the whole
social system and its preservation.
To clarify it further, Yaman sevet
satatam no nityam 'Y1iyamiin budhah,
Yaman patatyakurvano niyaman
Kevalan bhajan meaning that if a
person follows the niyamas without
following the yamas, he becomes a
patita (fallen individual), so a wise person always practises the yamas and not always the
niyamas. All the ancient law-books repeat the same view. In Jainism these five principles
have been enumerated as the Panca-Mahavratas (the Five Great Vows) and in Buddhism
these have been incorporated under Right Conduct, one of the eight aspects of the
Madhyama Pratipat (Eight-fold Middle Path).
Parigraha or hoarding has been considered the greatest evil and the most despised
human weakness. It was declared by the Vedic seer (Rgveda X. 117, 6) that he who
eats alone eats sin and the Gita repeats it by saying that they eat sin who cook just for
themselves. The desire to acquire more and more is described as a Sudra trait. The
Atharvaveda (Ill. 25. 5) advises a man to collect with a hundred hands and distribute
with a thousand hands. The Hindu social system accepts the right to personal property
but checks its accumulation by the obligatory law of aparigraha, relation of trusteeship
towards wealth and strict laws about taxation. The Yajurveda (IX. 24) mentions, Samrat
aditsantam dapayati (the king would make a person give if he is not willing to give).
Moreover one is not inclined to collect wealth because he is supposed to leave everything
at the age of fifty as this marks the beginning of another stage - vanaprastha - when
one is free from all the social obligations to seek the highest truth.
The social, psychological and economic implications of varnasramavyavastha
have deep significance. According to this system, a person is supposed to live a life
of great simplicity for three-fourth parts of his life, which means that three-fourths of
the population is not given to needless consumption of material wealth. The fourth
part, constituting of the house holders (grhasthi) is entitled to luxuries of life but
is too over-burdened by obligations and duties towards the other sections of society
to over-indulge and create economic imbalances. Partial disinvolvement (complete
disinvolvement comes with the beginning of sanyasa) in the major familistic, social and
political activity by the people over fifty (it could be after retirement in the present
age) provides opportunity to the young to contribute effectively. It avoids any clash of
interests between the two generations. This planning of individual life is based on a
philosophical vision of human life and leads a human being to attain the moment of
tranquility by gradual disentanglement from society and prepares him to placidly face
death, the ultimate challenge of life.
In the Hindu religion, religion and philosophy as well as ritual and pragmatic
intellectualism are intimately related. This is a fact that astonished many nineteenth
century Western scholars. Both philosophy and religion agree on the basic point that
the experience of reality cannot be realised by any other means but intuitive experience
that transcends all logic. The philosophical systems of India though based on reasoning
accept the role of intuition in the final realisation of the Eternal Truth. On the other
hand, religion also regards intellectualism as the basis for reaching the final stage of
pure consciousness where the categories of religion and irreligion are lost.
Karma sidhanta (doctrine of action) of Hindu religion is a unique concept that
reasserts that man is his own master with regard to his achievement, bondage and
freedom. Fate is only the result of his accumulated actions. Nothing can be achieved
without effort and an effort is never lost. These are the two great principles to guide
human endeavour-nasti akrtabhyudayah; nasti krtapranasah (nothing results from
inaction; the result of action is inevitable). So an individual or a society has to work hard
to achieve the desired goal. Another aspect of this theory is that since all actions must
yield result and bind a person to the constant drudgery of worldly life, what should a
mumuksu (person desirous of salvation) do? He attains freedom through niskama karma
(desireless action). The cu: (V. 12) says,
The yukta (who has controlled the mind) attains to tranquility,
By abandoning the fruits of action:
But the ayukta (who has not restrained the mind)
is impelled by desire,
And by being attached to fruits is bound.
According to Sankaracarya (a great reformer of Hinduism and scholar of Advaita
Vedanta) only a self-realised person can perform desireless action because the knowledge
of the Self alone can abolish all his wants and desires. The theory of niskama action has
also been understood as the performance of one's duty for duty's sake.
From its inception, Hindu religion has sought unity in diversity. The Truth is
inherently One though it may be manifest in divergent forms and different people
may approach it in various ways. This unifying vision has enriched Hinduism with the
spirit of accommodation, adoption and adjustment. Hinduism accepts the principle
of adhikarabheda according to which different individuals have different levels of
comprehension and different dispositions and may therefore follow different paths to
reach the reality. This has imparted a spirit of tolerance towards different modes of
worship; in fact as the Kenopanisad (11. 3) says Pratibodhaviditam matam (That is. to be
known in every cognition). The Gita (XIII. 24) also says,
Some see the Self in their own self through self by means of contemplation; others
through the path of knowledge and some through the path of desireless action.
The Hindu religion has developed in an atmosphere of tolerance and has been
constantly seeking to single out the central point of nanarupatmakam jagat (the cosmic
flux of varied names and forms). The Rgveda (I. 164, 46) emphasises on ekam sad
viprah bahudha vadanti-that the Reality is one; seers speak of it in various ways-and
mahaddevanamasuratvamekam (III. 55) -that the great power of all the gods, the cosmic
force, is one. The Puranas (Visnu Purana, I. 2, 26; Matsya Purana, 3, 16) also declare
repeatedly that the same divinity assumes the names of Brahma, Visnu and Siva for
cosmic creation, preservation and destruction, respectively and that they represent three
aspects of one process. This doctrine of Hindu religion has been expressed variedly.
The two great epics, Vaisnavite Samhitas, Saivite Agamas, Tantras, the Saivite hymns of
Nayanar, the Tamil Veda of Alvars, the poems of Vemana, the metaphysical and religious
songs of Kabir, the Ramacaritamanasa of Tulasidasa, the songs of Meera and Kashmiri,
Lalla, songs of Namadeva, Tukaram, Dadu and Nanak, the sankirtanas of Chaitanya
and in the modern era, the writings and songs of Rabindranath Tagore, thoughts of
Vivekananda, the practical religious experiences of Sri Ramakrishna Paramhansa, the
experiment with Truth in the religious and social domains by Dayananda and in the
political field by Gandhi, the unfolding of the mythical and poetic religious symbols
by Sri Aurobindo-all relate to the long and endless religious endeavour to realise the
same Truth. The barriers of time, place and language melt away with the luminosity of
only One Truth where all human beings must also meet. Reflecting on this vision the
Upanisadu: seer comments, the Inner soul of all beings, the One Controller,
Who makes his One form manifold -
The wise who perceive Him as living in their own self,
They, and no others have happiness eternal (Kathopanisad, II. 2, 12).
And then again,
Who sees all the beings in his own self
And in all the beings his self,
Then what delusion what sorrow is there for him
who sees the unity (Isopanisad, 7).
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