A reply to Dr Zakir Naik – Maria Wirth

Ishwara

Maria WirthIf you are sincere, Dr Naik, you will realise that the wisdom of your ancestors scores high over the worldview and the mind-set of Abrahamic religions. The attitude of “We alone are right and you go to hell if you don’t accept our religion” is doing great harm to humanity. It may be helpful for world dominion, but do you want to live in a world where everyone has to wear a straight-jacket? — Maria Wirth

Hindus generally don’t criticise other religions in spite of the fact that Christianity and Islam not only criticise, but demean Hinduism badly. Zakir Naik is only one example. Do Hindus know what is preached in the innumerable churches and mosques across India? I know for sure that Hindu gods are called devils by Christian missionaries. Yet Hindus neither defend their gods nor challenge the Abrahamic dogmas in spite of having a solid philosophical basis for their beliefs, which is lacking in Christianity and Islam.

Zakir NaikSome years ago, Zakir Naik had ridiculed Ganapati and thrown a challenge to prove that Ganapati is God. I assume he means by God the Supreme Being that Muslims call Allah.

Now what do we know about Allah?

Foremost, Allah is great and merciful, and the faithful as well as the unfaithful are loudly reminded of it five times a day. He also knows what all human beings are doing, but is separate from them. It is claimed that Allah has communicated his final words to Prophet Mohammed. Those words are in the Quran. Allah declared that Islam alone is true. So, all human beings must follow Islam because other paths are wrong. And they must hurry up, because every human being has only one life.

Those, who do not accept Islam during their lifetime, will be thrown into eternal hell-fire where “boiling water will be poured over their heads that not only melts their skin but also the inner parts of their bellies….” (Quran 22:19-22)

Clearly, here is where Allah’s mercy ends. He does not brook any dissent. And the azan, which started compassionately, ends with: “Oh Allah, guide us to the Right Way. The Way of those whom You have favoured, not of those who have earned Your wrath….” (Al-Fatiha 1)

This means, Allah is merciful only to his followers who are called Muslims and he is wrathful to those who are not Muslims.

Dr. Zakir Naik, I am confident that I got the concept of ‘God’ in Islam right because Christianity has a similar concept. And I dare to claim that it is not true. Can you prove (and this challenge goes also to Christian clerics) that Allah / God is indeed so unfair and divisive? Can you prove there will be this huge cauldron of fire where billions of people will burn for ever after Judgment Day? Do these claims of “eternal hell-fire for unbelievers” not rather have the purpose to keep the flock in check? To divide and rule?

There are about two billion Christians, who are told they have to remain Christians, otherwise they can’t go to heaven. And then there are about two billion Muslims who are told that they have to remain Muslims, otherwise they can’t go to paradise. Both religions had plenty of time to sort out which one is true, but they did not do it. Why? Because they cannot prove it. They can only make claims and counterclaims and fight among themselves, between Muslims and Christians and with heathens or infidels. They do this for the last 2000 years.

Under these circumstances, can anyone claim that Islam or Christianity is beneficial for humanity? Is it not time to have a thorough check of what REALLY is the truth?

In regard to the absolute Truth, Dr. Zakir Naik, your ancestors, the Indian Rishis, made valuable contributions and you can be proud of them. In ancient times, long, long before Christianity or Islam appeared on the scene, the Rishis had a very mature understanding of Brahman which would be ‘Truth’ or ‘Supreme Being’ or ‘God’ in English. Brahman is not personal, not a superhuman entity somewhere in heaven, not male or female, not jealous of other gods, not revengeful if ignored, but It is sat-chit-ananda, the conscious, one essence in all names and forms—like the one ocean is the essence of all the waves.

The Rishis realised that this universe is a wrong perception of Brahman. They called it maya, not really true, only apparently true.

For anything to qualify as absolute Truth, it has to be always—past, present and future—and it has to be self-evident.

The Rishis came to the conclusion that nothing fulfils these criteria except pure (=thought free) consciousness. This consciousness is here and now, always, everywhere. Yet we miss it because we focus only on things or thoughts, emotions, etc.—like, when we focus a torchlight in a room only on the furniture and miss the empty space. Infinite space, which throbs with life and love is actually a good metaphor for sat-chit-ananda—the highest truth that underlies names and forms (nama-rupa).

Science has meanwhile discovered the sat aspect of the truth. Oneness is there. To discover that this Oneness is also aware (chit) and blissful (ananda) scientists would need to turn to their own consciousness to research further instead of looking outside. Let us see whether the scientists will support also the claim of the Rishis that this whole manifestation is alive and full of bliss.

In one point, however, you are right, Dr. Zakir Naik: There is only one Truth, one God, which the wise call by different names. But the nature of it you got wrong. It does not send non-Muslims or non-Christians eternally into hell-fire. The Supreme Being is indeed merciful and great.

GaneshaBut you wanted to know whether Ganapati is a deity.

May I explain a bit of your ancestors’ tradition which struck me as most profound when I came to know of it?

Sanatana Dharma is not only about intellectually knowing sat-chit-ananda, but about realising it. Since Brahman is all-pervading, it must be also in us (ayam atma brahma). So we can tap and feel it. For this, however, we need to follow certain rules. We need to purify ourselves, lead a moral life, speak the truth, etc. To eat plenty of meat and have plenty of sex is not conducive for this purification. Yet one factor is very conducive: bhaktilove for God.

Here Hindu Dharma brings in Ishwara.

The concept of Ishwara is close to the Abrahamic notion of a personal God but more benevolent. There is of course no eternal hell for unbelievers. Everyone gets chance after chance in life after life till he realises that he is not a separate wave, but one with the ocean.

Ishwara is God with attributes and has innumerable aspects, as this universe has innumerable aspects or human nature has innumerable aspects. These aspects are personified in different deities and the devotee can choose the one who is dearest to him. It helps to develop love for the invisible Truth—for example through Ganapati.

Those Devas are mistakenly much maligned by Christianity and Islam. They are not separate entities but kind of access points to the one Brahman, which is otherwise unimaginable. It is possible to feel familiar with them, to love them, to talk with them. And the scriptures leave no doubt that Devas are ultimately Brahman.

And here, Dr. Naik, you may get an answer to your question whether Ganapati is ultimately the Supreme Being.

The Ganapati Atharvashirsa Upanishad, which is part of the Atharva Veda, states: “Tvameva kevalam karta si, tvameva kevalam dharta si, tvameva kevalam harta si. Tvameva sarvam khalvidam brahmasi, tvam saksadatma si nityam.”

It means: You alone are the creator, You alone are the sustainer, You alone are the annihilator. All this is Brahman and You are that Brahman. You are indeed the Atman eternally.

This declaration, however, is not unique for Ganapati. It is said for other deities, too.

Yet the fact that this is written in a sacred text, is not proof enough. There are plenty of sacred texts in this world and if everything in them is blindly accepted as true, we end up with all kind of proclaimed truths which are not true. We need to verify what is declared as truth on the touchstone of reason, intuition and experience. If it contradicts all of these, it is not worth believing it and certainly not dying for it.

The proof that all deities are Brahman is because only Brahman really exists. Brahman is like the ocean. The waves are not separate from it. The name with which one worships the Divine, does not matter. What matters is how much devotion one feels. The greater the devotion, the more miracles can happen. Ganapati is loved by millions of Hindus worldwide. He is the door through which they try to access sat-chit-ananda.

Sanatana Dharma is very ancient. And yet the Rishis had such deep insights, for example that the world is a wrong perception of what is really true, like seeing a snake at dusk when in fact there is only a rope. Max Planck Universe PhotoWesterners who ridiculed Hindus because they believe that the world is an illusion keep now quiet as science supports the Hindu view.

Meanwhile NASA scientists have detected the building blocks of DNA in meteorites. The Max Planck Institute in Germany published the first picture of the whole universe. It had an oval shape. Could it be possible that those who ridicule Hindus for worshipping a Shiva lingam might soon rethink their attitude, as well, lest they embarrass themselves?

Great men have come and gone in India’s ancient civilisation. Some have been made into gods. There is nothing wrong with it. The Divine is in all.

It should make you reflect, Dr. Naik that science keeps validating the insights of the Rishis, for example the mind-boggling age of the universe, or the ultimate Oneness of all.

Attempts to vilify Indian tradition by you and others are successful because the British weaned Indians away from their tradition and most people know little about it. Yet if you are sincere, you will realise that the wisdom of your ancestors scores high over the worldview and the mind-set of Abrahamic religions. The attitude of “We alone are right and you go to hell if you don’t accept our religion” is doing great harm to humanity. It may be helpful for world dominion, but do you want to live in a world where everyone has to wear a straight-jacket?

If I were you, Dr. Naik, I would be worried especially about one thing: what if you wake up after death and there is NO paradise waiting for you? What if all those jihadis, who were inspired by you, cursed you after realising there was no paradise for them? What if you are taking birth again in another form and reap the fruits of your actions of this life where you consciously or unconsciously distorted the truth? Rebirth is not only mentioned in the Indian texts. There is also plenty of evidence for it—over 2500 cases are documented in the archive of Virginia University.

Dr. Naik, I don’t know how deeply you believe what you preach. I know from personal experience how effective brainwashing in childhood can be. But I also know that it is possible to get out of it, and it seems the older one is, the easier.

For me, it was a great relief to come out of the Christian religious straight-jacket and I would encourage you to also genuinely enquire into the truth. Your concept of God is not Truth. You quote a book as support. Truth does not fit into a book. Truth is THAT WHAT TRULY IS.

Your ancestors, the Indian Rishis, spoke from experience, not from book knowledge.

» Maria Wirth is a German psychologist and author who has lived in Uttarakhand for decades.

 Atman Brahman

Does Hinduism really have thirty-three crore Gods? – P. Parihar

Rishi

The Vedas refer to 33 koti (types) of Devatas, not 33 crore of Devatas. They are explained in Shatapatha Brahman and many other scriptures very clearly.

“Yasya Trayastrinshad Devaa Ange Sarve Samaahitaa, Skamma Tam Bruhi Katamah Swideva Sah” (Atharva Veda 10/7/13).

Which means: With God’s influence, these thirty-three (supporting Devatas) sustain the world.

In Brihadaranyaka Upanishad while discussing Brahman, Yajnavalkya is asked how many Gods are there. He says that there are three hundred and three, [then he says there are] three thousand and three Gods. When the question is repeated, he says thirty-three. When the question is again repeated, he says six. Finally, after several repetitions, he says one (BU 1/9/1).

The number thirty-three comes from the number of Vedic Gods explained by Yajnavalkya in Brihadaranyaka Upanishad—the eight Vasus, the eleven Rudras, the twelve Adityas, Indra and Prajapati (BU 1/9/2).

  • Eight Vasus: Earth, Water, Fire, Air, Ether, Moon, Sun, and Star. They are called Vasus because they are abode of all that lives, moves or exists (also mentioned in Mahabharata 1/66/18).
  • Eleven Rudras: The ten Pranas (Prana, Apana, Vyana, Samana, Udana, Nag, Kurma, Krikal, Devadutta and Dhananjaya) i.e. nervauric forces which live in the human body. The eleventh is the human soul. These are called Rudras because when they desert the body, it becomes dead and the relations of the deceased, consequently, begin to weep. Rudra means one who makes a person to weep (also mentioned in Harivamsha 13/51-52).
  • Twelve Adityas: The twelve months of a year called Adityas, they cause the lapse of the term of existence of each object or being (also mentioned in Mahabharata 1/65/15-16).
  • One Indra, which is also known as the (all-pervading) electricity as it is productive of great force.
  • One Prajapati, also called the “Yajna” because it benefits mankind by the purification of air, water, rain and vegetables and because it aids the development of various arts, and in it the honor is accorded to the learned and the wise.

The master of these thirty-three Devatas is the Mahadeva or Ishwar who alone is to be worshipped as per the 14th Kanda of Shatapatha Brahman. — Hinduism and Sanatan Dharma, 17 April 2014

Lamps

God as the original terrorist – Valerie Tarico

Yahweh / Jehovah

Three (Un)Holy Books

Dr Valerie TaricoBy one count, the Quran has only 532 cruel or violent passages, while the Bible has 1,321. Christians respond that the Bible is longer, so the cruel, violent passages make up a smaller percent of the whole. – Valerie Tarico

Last fall, Dutch pranksters put a cover from a Quran over a Bible and then asked passersby to read aloud homophobic, violent or sexist passages that violate modern moral sensibilities. The texts shocked people who had never immersed themselves in the Iron Age world of the Bible writers, a world in which daughters can be sold as sexual slaves and most of us deserve the death penalty: you included.

By one count, the Quran has only 532 cruel or violent passages, while the Bible has 1,321. Christians respond that the Bible is longer, so the cruel, violent passages make up a smaller percent of the whole.

ISIS terrorists claim that their scripts for jihad, executions, sexual slavery and theocracy come straight from the Quran, and they cite chapter and verse to back up their claim. But Christians who find ISIS horrifying might be even more horrified to learn that similar scripts can be found in their own Good Book, including endorsements of terrorism that rival the most vile atrocities committed in the name of Allah.

Terrorism is notoriously difficult to define. Some limit terrorist acts to those committed illegally by groups seeking social power. Others argue that the state itself may systematically terrorize a civilian population. James Poland, author of Understanding Terrorism, defines terrorism as a means (intimidation) to an end (social control over someone other than the victim):

Terrorism is the premeditated, deliberate, systematic murder, mayhem, and threatening of the innocent to create fear and intimidation in order to gain a political or tactical advantage, usually to influence an audience.

Our Iron Age ancestors who wrote the Bible lacked explosive devices and the ability to spread gruesome images via mass media. They lacked jetliners and drones and napalm and nerve gas. But they definitely understood mass intimidation as a tool of social control, and they sanctified their own terrorist tendencies by projecting the same tendencies onto God himself.

Here are some acts of terrorism from the Bible.

1. In the Bible God controls humans by raining down death, destruction and terror on those who defy or anger him.

I kill … I wound … I will make mine arrows drunk with blood and my sword shall devour flesh. So says Yahweh in Deuteronomy 32:39-42, and this is no idle threat. You’ve heard the story of Noah’s flood, and about the fire God rains down on Sodom and Gomorrah, and about the 12 plagues of Egypt, but did you know that in the Bible God kills 158 times? The full list can be found in the Steve Wells book, Drunk With Blood.

Like ISIS, God sometimes acts as an executioner with a laser focus, as when he kills a baby to punish King David’s sexual infidelity (2 Samuel 12), or strikes dead a couple who falsely claim to have given their money to the church (Acts 5: 1-10). But also, like ISIS, he often wreaks death and destruction on those who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time or who were born into the wrong culture. For example, when the same King David conducts a forbidden census, God gives him a choice of punishments: Three years of famine, three months of attacks by neighboring tribes, or three days of plague. David chooses the plague, which kills 70,000 Israelites who had done nothing but let themselves be counted (1 Chronicles 21:1-17).

2. The Bible both opens and closes with graphic descriptions of torment and fear inflicted by God and designed to keep the faithful in line. 

In the Torah, God’s reign of terror is described in a series of graphic histories. In the book of Revelation, it is described in a series of graphic prophecies. In the books between, threats of torture and death hang over every interaction between God and humankind. God himself leans into his role as terrorist-in-chief.

I will send my fear before thee, God promises the marauding Israelites (Exodus 23:27). This day will I begin to put the dread of thee and the fear of thee upon the nations that are under the whole heaven, who shall hear report of thee, and shall tremble, and be in anguish because of thee (Deuteronomy 2:25). The terror of God was upon the cities that were round about them, reports a narrator in Genesis (35:5).

The book of Proverbs advised Hebrew readers that the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 9:10 KJV). Centuries later, in New Testament times, the “fear of the LORD” is alive and well—and still useful. Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men, says the writer of 2 Corinthians (5:11).

3. In addition to inflicting terror directly, God does so via human and nonhuman agents. 

He sends a bear to tear apart 40 boys who are teasing a prophet, presumably as a warning to others. In the story of Job, God gives Satan permission to destroy a house in which Job’s sons and daughters have come together for a celebration, killing them all—this time as part of a divine wager that will become a morality tale. He later gives superhuman strength to Samson (the Bible’s version of Hercules) so that Samson can complete an Iron Age suicide mission. He pulls down the pillars of a pagan temple so that it collapses, killing 3,000 civilians. Samson himself dies in a blaze of glory (Judges 16:27-30).

When Moses as leader of the Israelites catches some of them worshiping a golden calf, he orders those who have remained loyal to Yahweh to take up swords and slaughter their family members and neighbors (Exodus 32:21-24). They do so by the thousands. In the Exodus story, an angel of death passes from house to house, killing the firstborn son in each Egyptian family whether the parents are poor slaves or royalty and whether their child is an infant or youth (Exodus 7-12).

Of all the Bible writers who sought to terrify pagans and other sinners, none exceeds the writer of Revelation, who fantasized supernatural monsters, each with some special capacity for inflicting torture or death. In one passage, a cloud of giant insects with human faces and the teeth of lions descends on those who lack a special mark from God.

“And out of the smoke locusts came down on the earth and were given power like that of scorpions of the earth. They were told not to harm the grass of the earth or any plant or tree, but only those people who did not have the seal of God on their foreheads. They were not allowed to kill them but only to torture them for five months. And the agony they suffered was like that of the sting of a scorpion when it strikes. During those days people will seek death but will not find it; they will long to die, but death will elude them” (Revelation 9:4-6).

4. During armed conflict, God and his messengers command the Israelites to slaughter civilians and destroy their homes and means of food production including livestock and orchards.

During World War II, the American military engaged in “terror bombing” of civilian centers including Hamburg, Dresden, and Tokyo, as the Nazis terror-bombed London. If the Old Testament stories are to be believed, the ancient Israelites similarly targeted and terrorized ordinary villagers during their military campaigns, only they did so at God’s command and with his blessing.

Bible believers sometimes defend the slaughters depicted in the Old Testament by arguing that they serve a practical purpose. Ethnic cleansing is the only way to rid the Promised Land of evil idolaters, which is why God frequently orders the death of even children and slaves in conquered towns. But the stories themselves include graphic tortures and humiliations that would be of little value if the only goal were ethnic cleansing. A close reading suggests that many of the killings are simply God-sponsored terrorism: mass murder as a display of power and means of social control.

In one account, God commands human assassins to wreak havoc on civilians literally hundreds of years after an offense. Just when you think He has forgiven or forgotten…. Thus saith the LORD of hosts, I remember that which Amalek did to Israel, how he laid wait for him in the way, when he came up from Egypt. Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass (1 Samuel 15:2-3).

5. As in ISIS, sexual enslavement of conquered women is one means of humiliating enemy combatants.

In the book of Numbers, God’s messenger commands the Chosen People to kill every Midianite man, woman or child, except for virgin girls who are to be turned into sex slaves according to very explicit instructions. Many Americans were horrified at the story of an ISIS fighter who bound and gagged a captive girl, praying and quoting the Quran to her before commencing rape. The Bible’s instructions for claiming a captive virgin suggest shaving her head rather than applying duct tape to her wrists and mouth (Numbers 31).

Why might this be considered terrorism? In the Bible, as in the Quran, women and children are literally possessions of men, which is why a man can sell his daughter into slavery or a rapist can be forced to buy his victim. In the Iron Age honor cultures of the Ancient Near East, female consent mattered little, but a man’s honor could be destroyed by the sexual violation of a female. Enslaving and impregnating the women of a conquered tribe or religion sends a graphic message to other men about who is on top.

6. In the New Testament gospels, even Jesus threatens violence and torment against those who don’t fall in line.

In one parable, he likens God to the Master of a great estate who says, “These enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slay them in my presence (Luke 19:26-27). In a sermon, he says that those who fail to repent in time will be cast into outer darkness where there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Luke 13:22-30).

Jesus even uses words that invoke the slaughter commanded by Moses at Mt. Sinai, “Do not think that I have come to send peace on earth. I did not come to send peace, but a sword. I am sent to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law” (Matthew 10:34-35).

From Genesis to Revelation, God terrorizes those who fail to fall at his feet and worship in the way he demands. His followers inflict divinely sanctioned torture and death, knowing that if they don’t they may end up on the receiving end—or at least with less real estate and booty.

The Chosen People see the horrors God rains down on evildoers, meaning anyone who worships another god, and despite having dedicated themselves to the cult of Yahweh, they walk on eggshells, following an intricate set of rules and rituals and offering up burnt offerings in order to avoid his wrath. In the New Testament narrative, even these burnt offerings and rituals fall short, and the only way God can be appeased is with the sacrifice of Jesus, “the lamb without blemish.”

The Bible is filled with histories of God-blessed slaughter and threats of supernatural torture for a reason: To create fear and intimidation. To gain political or tactical advantage. To influence an audience. Specifically, to keep the faithful and to justify their recurrent bouts of conquest and mass murder.  And that is exactly what Bible texts have done for as far back as we can trace the history of Abrahamic religion.

Fortunately, most modern believers are both wiser and kinder than the writers of their sacred texts, who could not even imagine the varied, intricate world of landscapes and cultures. Many Christians claim what is spiritually nourishing from Bible (like passages opposing terrorism) and discard the rest.

But the rot remains. Christian fundamentalists who see themselves on a crusade against godless infidels, and right-wing politicians who pander to those fundamentalists, find biblical sanction for bigotry and atrocity when they seek it. This fact is not lost on Islamists, who assert that they are fighting defensive jihad while simultaneously inflicting their own Quranic version of bigotry and atrocity on anyone within reach.

As long as Christians continue to bind together the words of our Iron Age ancestors and call them Good and Holy and “God breathed,” they will have little argument against terrorists who cite other sacred texts to justify destruction and death in the name of God. – Salon, 13 January 2016

Bible & Koran

About the ungodlike Abrahamic god – Michel Danino

Moses & Yahweh

Prof Michel Danino“I find it highly symbolic that Judaism should have been born in blood and fear, not out of love for its founding deity. As Sri Aurobindo put it, “The Jew invented the God-fearing man; India the God-knower and God-lover.” It probably took centuries for the old cults to disappear altogether, and a stream of prophets who sought to strike terror into the hearts of the Israelites. It was a radical, unprecedented departure from the ancient world cultures. Naturally, it did not stop there and went unto find more fertile soils in Christianity and Islam.” – Michael Danino

Torah / Tanakh: The original Jewish holy book that generated both the Christian Bible and the Muslim Koran.Our first task … is to examine the Abrahamic concept of God at the root of the three monotheistic religions: Yahweh (later Jehovah) or Allah. I do not refer here to more ancient Greek, Norse or Celtic gods since, as we know, they lost the war against God with a capital “G”. (Some of them are now striving to revive, but even if they partly succeed, they will be little more than pale replicas of their original selves.)

The first thing that strikes the discerning Indian reader of the Old Testament, especially the Exodus, in which Jehovah first introduces himself to Moses under that name, is his ungodlike character. Jehovah is admittedly jealous: the second of the Ten Commandments reads, “You shall have no other gods before me,” while the third explicitly forbids the making and worship of any idols, “for I am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers”. Jehovah does speak as often of punishment as he does of sin, and periodically goes into a state of “fierce anger”, promising the most complete devastation of the Hebrews who reject him. Not content with cursing his reluctant followers, he also curses nation after nation, and finally the earth itself, which, as I pointed out earlier, he holds responsible for man’s sins: “The day of the Lord is coming—a cruel day, with wrath and fierce anger—to make the land desolate and destroy the sinners within it”. (Isaiah, 13:9). In fact, he is so obsessed with sin that one looks in vain in his oppressive berating and legislating for any hint of a higher spirituality, such as we find in the Upanishads or the Gita. Contrast his jealousy with Krshna’s insistence on spiritual freedom: “Whatever form of me any devotee with faith desires to worship, I make that faith of his firm and undeviating’ (Gita, 7.21), or again: “Others … worship me in my oneness and in every separate being and in all my million universal faces” (9:15). But the god of the Bible and the Koran will have none of this catholicity.

If Jehovah had stopped there we might have found him to be simply a foul-tempered and libidinous god; after all, some Puranic gods too have such defects, although they usually retain a sense of their limits and compassion of which Jehovah is spotlessly guiltless. But he has a plan, he means business and knows that coercion alone can establish his rule: when the Hebrews over whom he is so keen to hold sway go back to their former worship of a “golden calf”, he orders through Moses that each of the faithful should “kill his brother and friend and neighbor” (Exodus 32:37). Instructions which were promptly complied with, for we are informed that 3,000 were killed on that fateful day; to crown his punishment, Jehovah “struck the people with a plague.”

Sri AurobindoI find it highly symbolic that Judaism should have been born in blood and fear, not out of love for its founding deity. As Sri Aurobindo put it, “The Jew invented the God-fearing man; India the God-knower and God-lover.” It probably took centuries for the old cults to disappear altogether, and a stream of prophets who sought to strike terror into the hearts of the Israelites. It was a radical, unprecedented departure from the ancient world cultures. Naturally, it did not stop there and went unto find more fertile soils in Christianity and Islam: earlier, Jehovah was content with being the god of the Hebrews alone; now, reborn in the new creeds, his ambition extended to the whole earth.

Increasingly aware of this cruel, irritable, egocentric and exclusivist character of Jehovah, many Western thinkers, specially from the eighteenth century onwards, rejected his claim to be the supreme and only god. Voltaire, one of the first to expose the countless inconsistencies in the Bible, could hardly disguise how it filled him with “horror and indignation at every page”. In particular, he found the plethora of laws dictated by Jehovah “barbaric and ridiculous”. The U.S. revolutionary leader and thinker Thomas Paine wrote of the Old Testament in his Age of Reason:

Whenever we read the obscene stories, the voluptuous debaucheries, the cruel and torturous executions, the unrelenting vindictiveness with which more than half the Bible is filled, it would be more consistent that we called it the word of a demon that the word of God. It is a history of wickedness, that has served  to corrupt and brutalize mankind; and, for my own part, I sincerely detest it, as I detest everything that is cruel.

Because a few intellectuals had the courage to state the obvious, the power of Christianity was greatly reduced in the West. Yet I have always marveled that Indians should learn about Christianity neither from those bold Western thinkers nor from their own inquiry, but from bigots who continue to pretend that the Age of Enlightenment never happened.With the growth of materialistic science, in particular Darwinian evolution, such views which were revolutionary at the time of Voltaire, became widespread. Bernard Shaw, for example, described the Bible god as “a thundering, earthquaking, famine striking, pestilence launching, blinding, deafening, killing, destructively omnipotent Bogey Man.” Elizabeth Cady Stanton, the courageous U.S. pioneer of woman rights movement, wrote in 1898, “Surely the writers [of the Old Testament] had a very low idea of the nature of their God. They make Him not only anthropomorphic , but of the very lowest type, jealous and revengeful, loving violence rather than mercy. I know of no other books which so fully teach the subjection and degradation of woman.”  Mark Twain put it in his own way: “Our Bible reveals to us the character of our god with minute and remorseless exactness. The portrait is substantially that of a man—if one can imagine a man charged and overcharged with evil impulses far beyond the human limit…. It is perhaps the most damnatory biography that exists in print anywhere. It makes Nero an angel of light and leading by contrast.”  On another occasion he added, “It ain’t the parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.” Freud, seeing in Jehovah an all too human creation, subjected him to psychoanalysis—a dream of a subject for a psychoanalyst. Aldous Huxley called the Old Testament “a treasure trove of barbarous stupidity [full of] justifications for every crime and folly.” In fact,  Huxley traced the “wholesale massacres” perpetrated by Christianity to Jehovah’s “wrathful, jealous, vindictive character, just as he attributed “the wholesale slaughter” of Buddhists and Hindus by invading Muslims to their devotion for a “despotic person”. Albert Einstein said, “I cannot imagine a God who rewards and punishes the objects of his creation, whose purposes are modeled after our own—a God, in short, who is but a reflection of human frailty.”

Hiranyakashipu with his son PrahladaBut is that all there is to the Abrahamic god? Are we simply faced with a man-made demon or the product of some fevered brain?  If you look at Jehovah in the light of Indian experience, it is striking that he has all the characteristic of an asura. Recall for a moment a being such as Hiranyakashipu: did he not, too, forbid all other cults? Did he not order that he alone should be worshiped as the supreme god? Did he not use fear and violence to try and coerce Prahlada? That he was stopped by a Divine manifestation, like many other asuras eager to possess this world, is another story; the point is that we find here the same seed of pride and cruelty as in Jehovah.

Now, to pinpoint Jehovah’s identity we must remember that he himself explains how “Yahweh” is a new name to the Hebrews: “By that name I did not make myself known to them” (Exodus 3:14 – 15, 6:3). But in the Old Testament Jehovah does not reveal his earlier name; it is only the early Christian Gnostic tradition, which was brutally suppressed by the growing orthodox school, that provides us with an answer—or rather two. In the Gnostic Gospels which survived centuries of persecution Jehovah is named either Samael, which means (appropriately) “the god of the blind”, or Ialdabaoth, “the son of chaos”. Thus one of the texts contain this revealing passage:

Ialdabaoth became arrogant in spirit, boasted himself over all those who were below him, and explained, “I am father, and God, and above me there is no one.”  His mother, hearing him speak thus, cried out against him, “Do not lie, Ialdabaoth; for the father of all, the primal Anthropos, is above you.

So not only was Jehovah not the Supreme God, but he also had a mother! For the Gnostics, like the Indians, refused to portray God as male only; God has to be equally female—and ultimately everything.

Another text , in the Secret Book of John, asks pertinently:

By announcing [that he is a jealous God] he indicated that another God does exist; for if there were no other one, of whom he be jealous?

In fact Jehovah is viewed in the Gnostic Gospels as no more than a demiurge or a subordinate deity—exactly and asuras are in Indian tradition. The French novelist Anatole France made use of apocryphal Gospels (rather the new fragments known in his time, for he wrote a few decades before the Nag Hammadi finds). In his perceptive novel The Revolt of the Angels, one of the rebellious angels depicts Jehovah thus:

I no longer think he is the one and only God; for a long time he himself did not believe so: he was a polytheist at first. Later on; his pride and flattery of his followers turned him into a monotheist…. And in fact, rather than a god he is a vain and ignorant demiurge. Those who, like me, know his true nature, call him “Ialdabaoth”…. Having seized a miniscule fragment of the universe, he has sown it with pain and death.

Now contrast this notion of God as tyrannical ruler wholly separate from his creation with the Indian notion of an all-encompassing, all-pervasive, all-loving Divine essence. In the language of the Upanishads:

He is the secret Self in all existence…. Eternal, pervading in all things and impalpable, that which is Imperishable … the Truth of things…. All this is Brahman alone, all this magnificent Universe.

If Jehovah depicts a radical departure from the ancient worships, it is in that he is “wholly other”, as Huxley puts it. Because of the unbridgeable gulf between him and his creation, no Jew or Christian would dare to declare, “I am Jehovah”, no  Muslim would dream of saying, “I am Allah.” But to the Hindu, so’ham asmi, “He am I”, or tat twam asi, “You are That”, is the most natural thing in the world—it is, in truth, the very first fact of the world. Again, can Christian parents christen their son “Jehovah” or Muslim parents name theirs “Allah” in the way a Hindu child can be called “Maheshwari”, “Purushottama” or “Parameshwara”?

YahwehClearly, thus, if we use a single word—“God”—for such widely dissimilar concepts, we will land ourselves in total confusion. “God is one”, is perhaps, in the Vedantic sense that all is ultimately one, because all is ultimately Divine, and yet Hindu inquiry always discerned a whole hierarchy of beings, not all equally true or luminous:  a rakshasa, for instance, cannot be equated with a Krishna. Some may object to calling the Biblical or Koranic god an asura, but I use the word in the original sense of a mighty god who comes to his fall owing to ambition or pride. Moreover, the Indian approach has always claimed absolute freedom to inquire into every aspect of Divinity, from the most personal to the most transcendental: if the Abrahamic god happens to have the attributes of an asura rather than those of a supreme Reality, why should be look away from that essential difference? — Excerpt from Michel Danino’s book Indian Culture and India’s Future, via IndiaFacts, 17 December 2015

Maheshwara as the Mountain – B. R. Haran

Arunachaleshwar + Apeethakuchambal

Arunachala Hill & Arunachaleshwar Temple, Tiruvannamalai, TamilNadu

B.R. Haran“Where there is no Maheshwara Seva and Mahajnana Seva, need will increase; when need increases, vision will change; when vision changes, approach will vary; when approach varies, aliens will get into the mind; when aliens get into mind, the mind will get confused and that confusion will lead to change. Thus to fulfil real necessities and avoid artificial needs, seva must increase. When seva increases, Dharma will be established. The established Dharma will save the nation, its people, its religion and civilization.” – B. R. Haran

Priest-King of Indus CivilisationDharma, Seva and the Vedic Civilisation

The Vedic civilization evolved on the banks of Sindhu and Saraswati with Dharma as the basis of evolution. Though it got the name “Hinduism” in later times, it is still denoted as Sanatana Dharma. The Itihasas and Puranas have vividly described the crushing of Adharma by different avatars of almighty Bhagwan, whenever it raises its head and attempts to rule over this world. In the Kaliyuga, though Bhagwan doesn’t descend as an avatar, he establishes the reign of Adi ShankaraDharma through His Blessed Avatara Purushas such as Adi Sankara, Ramanuja, Ramana Maharishi and Ragavendra, et al. Such mahatmas bless and guide people through their immortal dharmopadesas.

In the Kaliyuga, as Adharma raises its head quite often, we would be able to protect our land and safeguard ourselves only when we adhere to the dharmopadesas of our Dharmacharyas and act accordingly. It becomes Sri Ramana Maharshiimperative for us to follow the path of Dharma to establish the truth of the age-old maxim, “Adharma will engulf Dharma; ultimately Dharma will prevail”. “If we protect Dharma, Dharma will protect us” is the code of this land.

A huge threat is looming large over this bhumi known for punya and Dharma, surrounded by Adharmic alien forces. It is essential for us to stick to Dharma to destroy the alien forces and safeguard our motherland. Though many Dharmic concepts have been described in our Vedic religion, for us, the two most important are Maheshwara Seva and Mahajana Seva.

Maheshwara Seva caters to (i) protection of temples and continuation of worship rituals flawlessly, (ii) construction of temples in places where there are none and daily rituals of worship, (iii) renovation of dilapidated temples and resumption of worship, and (iv) organising temple related festivals involving the local populace across castes and communities. Mahajana Seva caters to donating food, clothing, houses, education and medicines for the poor, downtrodden and incapacitated people, apart from social and community services.

The Vedic faith has identified specific auspicious days for specific worship for specific Devas and Devis. It is only during these special days, festivals and utsavams, that the entire place, village or town, comes together to worship and celebrate. So, if at all the people are to remain united and if at all the alien forces causing division among the people are to be defeated, frequent celebrations of festivals and utsavams is essential.

During these common celebrations, the “haves” must take care of the “have-nots”. The well off and capable must help the poor, downtrodden and incapacitated by establishing a system whereby the poor can be helped permanently. This will act as an impediment to the evil designs of alien forces and stop religious conversions as well.

The sacred town of Tiruvannamalai stands testimony to the fact that mahatmas reside permanently in places where Maheshwaram Seva and Mahajana Seva are carried out perennially without hindrance. The thought that my recent experience in Tiruvannamalai would be meaningless and become useless if it is not shared with others, has resulted in this column.

Kartigai Deepam on Arunachala Hill at Tiruvannamalai

Arunachaleshwar as Lingabhavad Maheshwara as the Mountain

Tiruvannamalai, the Theyu Sthal or Agni Sthal, is one of the Pancha Bhuta Sthals where Shiva shows his Jyoti Swarup as Lingabhava to Brahma and Vishnu, who made futile attempts to find his head and feet respectively. As the bhumi could not withstand the power of His Jyoti Swarup going beyond the universe (prapancha), Maheshwara compressed himself and became a mountain, Annamalai. This puranic incident is Shiva & Parvati as Ardhanarishwara observed as Kartigai festival, and people observe the Jyoti Swarup by lighting the huge deepa on the peak of Annamalai in the month of Kartigai on Kartigai nakshatram day (December 5, 2014).

Tiruvannamalai has another significance in the Puranas: Bhagwan Shiva gave his left part to Shakti (Devi Parvati) and appeared as Ardhanarishwara. During the Kartigai festival, at the exact time of lighting the Deepam on the mountain peak, the utsavamurthi blesses devotees as Ardhanarishwara inside the temple premises. Apart from being a Pancha Bhuta Sthal, the five peaks of Annamalai denote the pancha bhuta concept, as Shiva himself is a personification of a mountain comprising the pancha bhutas of  earth, water, fire, air and ether.

ArunagirinatharA Siddha Bhumi known for Sevas

Tiruvannamalai is considered a Siddha Bhumi, that is, a land of Siddhas. Siddhas are considered representatives of God with complete mastery over the powers of nature. They are believed to have conquered death and live anywhere and everywhere without being seen, recognized or identified by ordinary humans, and other living beings. Certain places in general and mountain ranges Sri Sheshadriin particular are considered permanent seats of Siddhas; Tiruvannamalai is one such sacred place.

Gautama Rishi, Arunagiri Yogi, Namachivayar, Namachivayam (author of Annamalai Venba), Viroobatcha Devar, Arunagiri Nathar (author of Thiruppugazh), Kondappa Desikar, Jadini Shanmuga Yogini Ammal, Ammani Ammal, Seshadri Swamigal, Ramana Maharishi, Yogi Yogi RamsuratkumarRamsuratkumar are some of the great mahaans of later times, who lived and attained siddhi in Tiruvannamalai, apart from the countless Siddhas who are believed to be permanently seated in Annamalai.

Ramana Maharshi Ashram, Seshadri Swamigal Ashram, Yogi Ramsuratkumar Ashram, the mathams established by the disciples of Namachivayar, are some of the organisations which have been rendering great service to the people. In the recent times, in order to arrest the illegal and immoral evangelical and conversion activities by the Church and Christian missionaries and also to take care of the needs of the Hindu masses, many Hindu organizations have opened branches in Tiruvannamalai. Kanchi Matham opened a branch recently.

Arunachala Temple

Bhikshatana Shiva at TiruvannamalaiShort History of Tiruvannamalai Temple

Stone temples came into being only during the Pallava Dynasty. Tiruvannamalai Temple is one of the earliest stone temples built by the Pallava kings. Later, the Cholas, Vijayanagar Kings, Thanjavur Nayaks and others built many sanctums, mandapams and towers. The kings of the Tulu dynasty also made some edifices.

The Chola period inscriptions found in this temple start from Vijayalaya Chola’s time (849 CE – 9th century inscriptions) and go for about 400 years of Chola Samrajya up to 13th century CE, giving us a lot of historical information.

Then, from 13th century CE to 16th century CE, kings like Kadavarkon Kopperu Singan, Posala king Veera Vallaalan, Vijayanagara kings (Krishnadevaraya &  others), Thanjavur Nayaks (Sevappa Nayak & others) marked their inscriptions with vivid details of their times. The inscriptions found in this temple are in Tamil, Sanskrit and Kannada.

Sage Meikkandaar, who blessed us with the divine treatise Sivagnana Botham donated a lot to this temple on 22 May 1232 CE. Even kings from far off places (Ganges and nearby kingdoms) donated wealth for this temple.

Arunachaleshwara & ApeethakuchambalAnnamalai in Literature

Annamalai has found place in all kinds of literatures such as Puranas, Anthathis, Venbas, Prabandhams, Pathikams, Vannam, Sathakam, Kovai, Maalai, Viruththam, Keertanas, Sthothras, Kummi and plays.

As far as Sangam literatures is concerned, Tiruvannamalai is mentioned in Akanaanuru and Natrinai. Thirugnana Sambandar (Thevaram), Thirunavukkarasar (Thevaram), Sekkizhar (Periyapuranam) and Ramalinga Swamigal (Thiruvarutpa) sung hymns on Tiruvannamalai. More than 60 Sthal Purans are available in Tamil, and in Sanskrit we have Arunachala Stotras and Arunachala Ashtakam. Tiruvannamalai is mentioned even in Keno Upanishad.

Full moon over Arunachala HillSanctity of Pournami

Although many festivals are celebrated in Tiruvannamalai every month, Karthikai Deepam and Chithirai Thiruvizha are quite famous and both culminate on or close to Pournami (full moon day). Pournami is a very important day for Hindus, and apart from Karthikai Deepam and Chithra Pournami, we have festivals like Thai Pusam, Vaikasi Visakam, Avani Avittam, Masi Magam (Ganga Snan in Prayag) and Panguni Uthram (Holi in northern and western India) being grandly celebrated on Pournami.

Satyanarayana Puja is commonly performed on Pournami Day by people across the country. Pournami vrat has been observed by Hindus since ancient times. People observe fast right from morning and end their fast only after sighting the moon and performing puja in the evening.

Sadhu feeding

Yogi Ramsuratkumar Ashram Medical CampDana – The Prime Dharma

Dana and Dharma go together and we normally say “Dana Dharma” whenever we talk about seva. Dana refers only to annadana as denoted by the term dharmashala. Hindu Dharma says one should even sacrifice one’s life to save another life. While helping a person, we should not look into his/her caste or religion and we should not bother whether he/she is good or bad. Talking about annadana, Thirumoolar’s Thirumanthiram says, “Yaarkum idumin; avar ivar ennanmin”, or, “Give to anyone; don’t look into antecedents”. The most significant aspect of annadana is that it is the only service in which the acceptor will say “enough” and “I don’t want anymore”. Such words would not come from the acceptor if any other thing is given.

Arunachala Animal Sanctuary“Poortha Dharma” – Community Service

In our Vedic civilisation, the essence of Dharma lies in the concept Pancha Maha Yagna comprising, “Brahma Yagna” (reciting & teaching Vedas), “Pitru Yagna” (sradda and tarpana, etc.), “Deva Yagna” (puja & arati for Ishwara), “Bhuta Yagna” (feeding animals and birds) and “Nru Yagna” (serving atithis, guests). This concept of Pancha Maha Yagna caring and protecting all of creation is postulated only in the Vedic Religion.

Apart from this, social services have also been defined under Poortha Dharma in the Dharma Sastras. Various social services undertaken by a community as a whole belong to this category of Dharma – temple cleaning, temple renovation, road laying, constructing wells and tanks, annadana for locals and outsiders during temple festivals.

Pradakshina of Arunachala Hill ~ Click image for route mapPradhakshana Namaskaram

The uniting of Maheshwara Seva and Mahajana Seva is Dharma. The most important aspect of Maheshwara Seva is Pradhakshana Namaskaram, doing namaskaram after performing circumambulation. Circumambulation can be performed for a particular sannithi, or, for the whole temple, or, for the whole hillock or mountain if the temple is located on top. Circumambulation of a mountain is called “Giri Valam” or “Giri Pradhakshanam”.

Our whole body is engaged in the ritual of Pradhakshana Namaskaram. The mouth recites slokas, namavalis or sings bhajans. Hands play musical instruments; do archanas, ring bells or merely claps to the tune of bhajans. Legs perform the main task of Deepamcircumambulation; head bows down in reverence and bhakti. When we do namaskaram, the entire body from head to toe worships Bhagwan. Anga pradhakshanam is unique in the sense that it is a combination of both pradhakshanam and namaskaram.

Tiruvannamalai is a place where Bhagwan Shiva himself stands as Annamalai (mountain). That is why it attracts millions of devotees from world over for every Paurnami Day!

» B.R. Haran is a senior journalist in Chennai. This article has been extracted from the original called “Tiruvannamalai: Moon, Mountain & Mysticism”  published in 2012.

Deepam Namaskar at Tiruvannamalai

PM Modi’s visit to Sabarimala will hopefully end the woes of the shrine – Rajeev Srinivasan

Ayyappan Temple at Sabarimala

Rajeev Srinivasan“The PM’s visit to Sabarimala should create an awareness of the problems faced, and perhaps it will lead to the dissolution of the Devaswom Board, just as that other white elephant, the Planning Commission was disbanded. That would be not a day too soon. Kerala’s temples deserve the right to manage themselves without busybodies from government interfering in them.” – Rajeev Srinivasan

Swami AyyappanThe hill abode of Sri Ayyappan in the Western Ghats has become one of the most-visited temples in India, and it is in the list of places where the most places converge in the world (Source: The Economist, 2013). Unfortunately, it is also a testament to the incompetence and uncaring attitude of the Indian state, because pilgrims suffer greatly if they wish to visit.

Therefore I am delighted that Prime Minister Narendra Modi may visit the shrine this year, according to G. Ananthakrishnan (“Sabarimala on PM radar”) in The Telegraph, as it may force the authorities to improve the critically deficient infrastructure that they could easily upgrade, but won’t. It is also a metaphor for what appears to be active official hostility to Hindu pilgrims.

Pilgrims wait to climb the 18 steps at SabarimalaI know because I just went to Sabarimala for Deepavali. I have done the pilgrimage five or six times over many years, and can testify first-hand as to how it has deteriorated over time. My very first pilgrimage was when I was 17, and at that time there were no permanent settlements on the summit of the hill, where the shrine is. People only went there during the season (November to January) and for a few days at the beginning of every Malayalam month.

The main difference is the number of pilgrims visiting, which has grown exponentially, as it is an attractive, albeit difficult, trip, and the worship of Ayyappa has grown dramatically in the southern states. Then, I walked alone up the hill through rough paths, and I encountered only a handful of people who were going down the hill. When I went to the summit, I could pray for as long as I wanted in front of the deity’s tiny abode.

A few days ago, there were thousands of pilgrims at the summit, and I encountered hundreds returning down the arduous climb. During the season the numbers swell to hundreds of thousands of black-clad visitors, as the total number over the truncated period comes to over 30 million (which is the entire population of Kerala, to give some perspective).

Unfortunately, this tsunami of pilgrims has overwhelmed the carrying capacity of the area, and it makes the strenuous climb far more difficult than it needs to be. For, from the Pamba River staging area where vehicles park, it is a vertiginous climb up a few thousand feet through dense tropical forest to the small plateau where the shrine is. It is hard on the feet (we climbed barefoot up the granite and concrete path), on the heart (every year a few people have cardiac arrest), and on your system in general (there are only a dozen or so toilets on this path).

Once you get up to the plateau, things don’t get any better. Often, in peak-season, you have to wait for up to 10-12 hours in line in concrete sheds with corrugated-iron sheeting as roofs, which gets stiflingly hot on sunny days. Accommodation availability is utterly minimal: many sleep in these very sheds. Toilets, bathrooms, a clean place to sleep, decent food to eat, medical care—all are scarce.

The amount of plastic trash around the place is startling: bottles, bags. There are feral pigs – yes, wild pigs with mean-looking fangs – rooting in the food waste and human waste, and they add their droppings to the mess of mud and paper and flowers and plastic.

And there have been several stampedes in the past, which obviously is a problem of poor organisation and crowd management. (Tirupati, with an equally large number of pilgrims, has figured out crowd control; there is no reason why this cannot be attempted in Sabarimala too.)

This is no way to run a holy place. Nor any way to treat poor pilgrims who come from far away. I once met a barefoot pilgrim who was a Sri Lankan-origin investment banker in London, but many are ordinary folks from villages in interior Karnataka or Andhra Pradesh. They come, black-clad and bearded after 41 days of penance, carrying on their heads the twin coconuts filled with ghee that they will use for ablutions. These are the believers, that vast and invisible substratum of India that Dharampal once mentioned: they follow ancient practices of pilgrimage to holy spots, ignoring the cities and other distractions. This is eternal India, sanatana dharma.

Hiuen Tsang / XuanzangYou get a glimpse of this true India when you finally reach the sanctum with your aching and weary body, your only thoughts those about Ayyappa. Strangely, when you try to get your micro-second glimpse of the presiding deity before you are shoved forward by the press of those behind you, you tend to forget all the hassles. Because it is a point of singular power, and it has been so for millennia: historian Lokesh Chandra notes that it was once a temple to both Shiva and the Avalokiteswara Padmapani (the Bodhisattva of Compassion) simultaneously, as described by the Buddhist monk Hiuen Tsang (Xuanzang) who visited some 1,400 years ago and considered it already an ancient temple. (See my old article on its history here.)

The criminal neglect of the temple is mostly due to state hostility and partly to sheer incompetence. Kerala alternatively has Communist-led and Congress-led governments, which for practical purposes means a Communist/Muslim coalition or a Christian/Muslim coalition. The Hindu vote is fragmented and divided, to the extent that the BJP is yet to have a single MP from the state, although O. Rajagopal almost unseated Shashi Tharoor in Trivandrum last May. Modi appeals to the OBC Ezhavas (the mainstay of the Communists) and to the SC Pulayas; and this may lead to some electoral realignments, and that is surely part of his calculations.

There is a monstrous entity called the ‘Devaswom Board’ that controls all Hindu temples (and note please: only Hindu temples, as Christian and Muslim places of worship are entirely free of control or even audit or tax. I read a ruling by an Income Tax appellate court that Hinduism is a way of life, not a religion, and therefore Hindu temples are not tax-exempt!)

In fact, in an allegedly secular state, there should be separation of ‘church’ and ‘state’, that is, the government should not interfere in religion. That is true for Christians and Muslims: the State leaves them alone to do whatever they want with their churches and mosques. But in the case of Hindus, the government expropriates whatever Hindu temples have. The Devaswom Board is a violation of the constitutional principles of equality before the law and freedom of religion.

This is the principal reason Hindu temples are in trouble in Kerala, as the Devaswom Board, with atheists and Communists often as board members, acts as a mechanism to commingle the revenues of temples with government revenue. In other words, the Devaswom Board, and thus the Kerala government, steal the money that pilgrims donate to Sabarimala (and other large temples like Guruvayur). No more than 5 percent of this is spent on upkeep and maintenance and infrastructure development in the big temples; the rest is swallowed by the state treasury.

Many of the smaller temples under Devaswom control are closing because there is no money spent on them at all (I read a report quoting the Travancore Manual that were some 10,000 temples in Travancore a hundred years ago; while today there are fewer than 1,500). This verges on extinction.

Temples are torn down for ‘development’. For instance, the 1,800 year-old Parthasarathy Temple in Aranmula is slated for severe downgrading for an unnecessary airport project there which is basically a land-grab. Dozens of temples were torn down to create Cochin’s airport. In the 1950s, a planter tried to burn down the Sabarimala shrine to grab the forest land around it. All this is simply abominable.

Narendra Modi greets Ganga DeviA visit by the Prime Minister should shine the spotlight on this unsavory aspect of what is quite simply apartheid against Hindus. In addition, he will see first-hand how his idea of a Swachh Bharat has a long way to go: unlike most temples in Kerala, where the abundance of water, and related habits, ensure cleanliness, poor Sabarimala is the epitome of unsanitary conditions.

The PM’s visit should create an awareness of the problems faced, and perhaps it will lead to the dissolution of the Devaswom Board, just as that other white elephant, the Planning Commission was disbanded. That would be not a day too soon. Kerala’s temples deserve the right to manage themselves without busybodies from government interfering in them.

If the PM were to visit during the season, the difficulty in ensuring security will mean disruption for pilgrims, especially if he were to make the full trek up and down the hill, which, he, as a physically fit individual, should be able to do, unlike all other PMs so far. Still, that would be a small price to pay for the possible improvements it might bring. – FirstPost, 24 October 2014

Cross crossed-out!Socio-political history of Sabarimala – Ashok Chowgule

There is a socio-political history that needs to be mentioned about Sabrimala, which would indicate the civilisational importance of the temple. From Wikipedia, we can read: “In 1950, a fire broke out which destroyed the entire temple and it had to be reconstructed. According to the official enquiry report submitted by the Deputy Inspector General of Police, K. Kesava Menon, some Christian fundamentalists committed the arson.”

This was preceded by attempts of the Christian churches to grab properties on the way to the hill, erect crosses and shrines. The objective was to block the path to the temple and so prevent worship at the site. The local RSS units (at the time this was the only mass based Hindu organisation working at the grassroot level—VHP, of which I am a senior office bearer, was formed in 1964 by the RSS) had to mount a protest against this effort, some of which had to be done in a violent way. This was successful, and yet another pilgrimage shrine was kept free for the Hindus to be able to worship in the future.

What Wikipedia does not mention is that the vandals were instigated by the Christian churches, and DIG Kesava Menon has given names of various people involved. None of them were prosecuted.

Rajeev Srinivasan, the author of the above article, does mention the vandalism when he says: “In the 1950s, a planter tried to burn down the Sabarimala shrine to grab the forest land around it.” I recognise he did not dwell on it, so that the attention to the main point, relating to the present, is not diluted.

» Rajeev Srinivasan is a popular columnist from Tiruvananthapuram. His daytime job is that of a consultant in the software industry. He blogs at Shadow Warrior here.

Pilgrims at Sabarimala

See also

The forgotten history behind China’s Hindu temples – Ananth Krishnan

Hindu Goddess in Quanzhou, China

Ananth Krishnan“In and around Quanzhou, a bustling Chinese industrial city, there are shrines that historians believe may have been part of a network of more than a dozen Hindu temples and shrines.” – Ananth Krishnan

For the residents of Chedian, a few thousand-year-old village of muddy by-lanes and old stone courtyard houses, she is just another form of Guanyin, the female Bodhisattva who is venerated in many parts of China.

Quanzhou,  Fujian, ChinaBut the goddess that the residents of this village pray to every morning, as they light incense sticks and chant prayers, is quite unlike any deity one might find elsewhere in China. Sitting cross-legged, the four-armed goddess smiles benignly, flanked by two attendants, with an apparently vanquished demon lying at her feet.

Local scholars are still unsure about her identity, but what they do know is that this shrine’s unique roots lie not in China, but in far away south India. The deity, they say, was either brought to Quanzhou — a thriving port city that was at the centre of the region’s maritime commerce a few centuries ago — by Tamil traders who worked here some 800 years ago, or perhaps more likely, crafted by local sculptors at their behest.

“This is possibly the only temple in China where we are still praying to a Hindu God,” says Li San Long, a Chedian resident, with a smile.

“Even though most of the villagers still think she is Guanyin!” Mr. Li said the village temple collapsed some 500 years ago, but villagers dug through the rubble, saved the deity and rebuilt the temple, believing that the goddess brought them good fortune — a belief that some, at least, still adhere to.

The Chedian shrine is just one of what historians believe may have been a network of more than a dozen Hindu temples or shrines, including two grand big temples, built in Quanzhou and surrounding villages by a community of Tamil traders who lived here during the Song (960-1279) and Yuan (1279-1368) dynasties.

At the time, this port city was among the busiest in the world and was a thriving centre of regional maritime commerce.

Hindu temple in Quanzhou, China, with Narasimha depicted on the stone frieze.The history of Quanzhou’s temples and Tamil links was largely forgotten until the 1930s, when dozens of stones showing perfectly rendered images of the God Narasimha — the man-lion avatar of Vishnu — were unearthed by a Quanzhou archaeologist called Wu Wenliang. Elephant statues and images narrating mythological stories related to Vishnu and Shiva were also found, bearing a style and pattern that was almost identical to what was evident in the temples of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh from a similar period.

Wu’s discoveries received little attention at the time as his country was slowly emerging from the turmoil of the Japanese occupation, the Second World War and the civil war. It took more than a decade after the Communists came to power in 1949 for the stones and statues to even be placed in a museum, known today as the Quanzhou Maritime Museum.

“It is difficult to say how many temples there were, and how many were destroyed or fell to ruin,” the museum’s vice curator Wang Liming told The Hindu. “But we have found them spread across so many different sites that we are very possibly talking about many temples that were built across Quanzhou.”

Elephant worshipping Shiva Lingam,  Quanzhou, ChinaToday, most of the sculptures and statues are on display in the museum, which also showcases a map that leaves little doubt about the remarkable spread of the discoveries. The sites stretch across more than a dozen locations located all over the city and in the surrounding county. The most recent discoveries were made in the 1980s, and it is possible, says Ms. Wang, that there are old sites yet to be discovered.

The Maritime Museum has now opened a special exhibit showcasing Quanzhou’s south Indian links. Ms. Wang says there is a renewed interest — and financial backing — from the local government to do more to showcase what she describes as the city’s “1000-year-old history with south India,” which has been largely forgotten, not only in China but also in India.

“There is still a lot we don’t know about this period,” she says, “so if we can get any help from Indian scholars, we would really welcome it as this is something we need to study together. Most of the stones come from the 13th century Yuan Dynasty, which developed close trade links with the kingdoms of southern India. We believe that the designs were brought by the traders, but the work was probably done by Chinese workers.”

Ms. Wang says the earliest record of an Indian residing in Quanzhou dates back to the 6th century. An inscription found on the Yanfu temple from the Song Dynasty describes how the monk Gunaratna, known in China as Liang Putong, translated sutras from Sanskrit. Trade particularly flourished in the 13th century Yuan Dynasty. In 1271, a visiting Italian merchant recorded that the Indian traders “were recognised easily.”

Narasimha in the Kaiyuan Temple, Quanzhou, China“These rich Indian men and women mainly live on vegetables, milk and rice,” he wrote, unlike the Chinese “who eat meat and fish.” The most striking legacy of this period of history is still on public display in a hidden corner of the 7th century Kaiyuan Buddhist Temple, which is today Quanzhou’s biggest temple and is located in the centre of the old town. A popular attraction for Chinese Buddhists, the temple receives a few thousand visitors every day. In a corner behind the temple, there are at least half a dozen pillars displaying an extraordinary variety of inscriptions from Hindu mythology. A panel of inscriptions depicting the God Narasimha also adorns the steps leading up to the main shrine, which houses a Buddha statue. Huang Yishan, a temple caretaker whose family has, for generations, owned the land on which the temple was built, says the inscriptions are perhaps the most unique part of the temple, although he laments that most of his compatriots are unaware of this chapter of history. On a recent afternoon, as a stream of visitors walked up the steps to offer incense sticks as they prayed to Buddha, none spared a glance at the panel of inscriptions. Other indicators from Quanzhou’s rich but forgotten past lie scattered through what is now a modern and bustling industrial city, albeit a town that today lies in the shadow of the provincial capital Xiamen and the more prosperous port city of Guangzhou to the far south.

A few kilometres from the Kaiyuan temple stands a striking several metre-high Shiva lingam in the centre of the popular Bamboo Stone Park. To the city’s residents, however, the lingam is merely known as a rather unusually shaped “bamboo stone,” another symbol of history that still stays hidden in plain sight. – The Hindu, 19 July 2013

» Ananth Krishnan is The Hindu’s China correspondent.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,443 other followers

%d bloggers like this: