Devi Upanishad – Rishi Atharvan

Saraswati Devi

Om! Devas! With ears let us hear what is good;
Adorable ones! With eyes let us see what is good.
With steady limbs, with bodies, praising,
Let us enjoy the life allotted by the Gods.
May Indra, of wide renown, grant us well-being;
May Pusan, and All-Gods, grant us well-being.
May Tarksya, of unhampered movement, grant us well-being.
May Brihaspati grant us well-being.
Om! Peace! Peace! Peace!

1.  All the Devas waited upon Devi (and asked): “Maha Devi, who art Thou?”

2.  She replied: I am essentially Brahman. From Me (has proceeded) the world comprising Prakriti and Purusha, the void and the plenum. I am (all forms of) bliss and non-bliss. Knowledge and ignorance are Myself. Brahman and non-Brahman are to be known—says the scripture of the Atharvans.

3.  I am the five elements as also what is different from them. I am the entire world. I am the Veda as well as what is different from it. I am the unborn; I am the born. Below and above and around am I.

4.  I move with Rudras and Vasus, with Adityas and Visvedevas. Mitra and Varuna, Indra and Agni, I support, and the two Asvins.

5.  I uphold Soma, Tvastir, Pusan and Bhaga, the wide-stepping Vishnu, Brahma, Prajapati.

6.  To the zealous sacrificer offering oblation and pressing the Soma juice do I grant wealth; I am the nation, the Bringer of Wealth; Above it all, place I its protector.

7.  Whoso knows My essence in the water of the inner sea, attains Devi’s abode.

8.  Those Devas said: Salutation to Devi, Maha Devi! To Siva, the auspicious, salutation, for ever more. To blessed Prakriti, salutation! Ever to Her we bow.

9.  Refuge I seek in Her who is the colour of fire, Burning with ascetic ardour, Goddess resplendent, delighting in actions’ fruits; O Thou, hard to reach, dispel Thy gloom.

10. The Devas engendered divine Speech; Her, beasts of all forms speak; The cow that yields sweet fruits and vigour—to us may lauded Speech appear.

11. To holy Siva, to Daksha’s daughter, To Aditi and Saraswati, To Skanda’s mother, Vishnu’s power, To Night of Death by Brahma lauded, We render obeisance.

12. Know we Great Lakshmi, Goddess of good fortune; On all fulfilment do we meditate. May the Goddess inspire us!

13. Through You, Dakshayani, was Aditi born; She is your daughter; after her were born the Gods auspicious, friends of deathlessness.

14. Love, womb, love’s part, the bearer of the thunderbolt, the cave, ha-sa, the wind, the cloud, Indra; again the cave, sa-ka-la with Maya. So runs the full primeval science begetting all.

15. This is the power of Self, enchanting all, armed with the noose, the hook, the bow and the arrow. This is the great and holy Science.

16. Who knows thus tides over grief.

17. Divine Mother! Salutation to You; protect us in all possible ways.

18. She, here, is the eight Vasus, the eleven Rudras, the twelve Adityas, She is the All-Gods, (those) who drink Soma and (those) who do not; She is the goblins, the demons, the evil beings, the ghosts; She also, beings super-human, the semi-divine. She is Sattva, Rajas and Tamas. She is Prajapati, Indra and Manu. She is the planets, stars and luminous spheres. She is the divisions of time, and the form of primeval Time. I salute Her ever:

19. Goddess who banishes distress, grants pleasure and deliverance alike, infinite, victorious, pure, Siva, refuge, the giver of good.

20. Seed all-powerful of Devi’s mantra, is sky, conjoined with ‘i’ and fire, with crescent moon adorned.

21. On the single-syllabled mantra meditate the pure-hearted sages, supremely blissful; of wisdom the veriest oceans.

22. Fashioned by speech; born of Brahman; the sixth with face equipped; the sun; the left ear where the point is; the eighth and the third conjoint.

23. The air, with Narayana united, and with the lip; vicce, the nine-lettered; the letter, shall delight the lofty ones.

24. Seated in the lotus-heart, resplendent as the morning sun, Devi, bearing noose and hook, with gesture granting boons, dissolving fears; tender, three-eyed, red-robed, granting devotees their hearts’ desires, Thee I adore.

25. I bow to Thee, Goddess, Thou dispeller of gravest fears, vanquisher of obstacles; Thou wearer of great mercy’s form.

26. Brahma and others know not Her essence; so is She called the Unknowable. She has no end; so is She called the Endless. She is not grasped and so is She called the Incomprehensible. Her birth is not known and so is She called the Unborn. She alone is present everywhere, and so is She called the One. She alone wears all forms, and so is She called the Many. For these reasons is She called the Unknowable, the Endless, the Incomprehensible, the Unknown, the One and the Many.

27. The Goddess is the source of all mantras: Of all the words the knowledge is Her form. Her conscious form transcends all cognitions; She is the witness of all emptiness.

28. Beyond Her is nothing; renowned is She as unapproachable; afeared of life, I bow to the inaccessible One, bulwark against all sins; the Pilot who steers me across the sea of worldly life.

29. He who studies this Atharva Upanishad gains the fruit of repeating five (other) Atharva Upanishads; he who, having mastered this Atharva Upanishad, persists in worship.

30. Of this vidya ten million chants are less than the worship’s fruit. Eight and hundred recitations thereof make but this rite’s inauguration.

31. Who reads it but ten times, is released at once from sins; Through the grace of Maha Devi, tides he over obstacles great.

32. Reading it in the morning one destroys the sins of the night; reading it in the evening one destroys the sins committed by day. Thus, reading both in the evening and morning, the sinner becomes sinless. Reading it midnight, too, the fourth “junction,” there results perfection of speech. Its recitation before a new image brings to it the presence of the deity. Its recitation at the time of consecration (of an image) makes it a centre of energy. Reciting it on Tuesday under the asterism Ashvini, in the presence of the Great Goddess, one overcomes fell death. One who knows this, this is the secret.

Om! Gods! With ears let us hear what is good;
Adorable ones! With eyes let us see what is good.
With steady limbs, with bodies, praising,
Let us enjoy the life allotted by the Gods.
May Indra, of wide renown, grant us well-being;
May Pusan, and All-Gods, grant us well-being.
May Tarksya, of unhampered movement, grant us well-being.
May Brihaspati grant us well-being.
Om! Peace! Peace! Peace!

Here ends the Devi Upanishad, included in the Atharva Veda

Ganga: The world’s dirtiest river gets even dirtier – Mail Today

Bhagirathi at Gangotri

Ganga at Har ki Pauri Haridwar

Uma BhartiThe BJP-led government recently launched the Namami Gange programme on the banks of the river in Uttarakhand when 250 projects worth Rs 1,500 crore were launched. … Officials said that from the Gangotri to Ganga Sagar, “Namami Gange” will ensure cleanliness of the river for which Rs 20,000 crore have been earmarked. – Mail Online India

Crores of rupees spent on cleaning the Ganga over the years have gone down the drain with the holy river becoming even filthier.

A recent report of the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) shows that water quality has worsened at places between Haridwar and Kanpur with heavy presence of fecal coliform bacteria and pollutants like heavy metals and pesticides.

The 1,569 mile-long river that runs from a glacier in the western Himalayas to the Bay of Bengal supports more than 400 million of India’s 1.25 billion population.

In the study “Restoration and rejuvenation of Ganga”, the findings claim: “The River Ganga is blocked and dammed at many places and water has been diverted for various uses. As a result, the water quality and ecological sanctity is threatened.”

The report has made many startling revelations about the water quality due to discharge of untreated sewage into the river.

It says that at present 823.1 million litres per day (MLD) of sewage is being discharged, without treatment, over a distance of 543 km between Haridwar and Kanpur.

Also, the stretch is affected by 1,072 polluting industries.

The latest data show that the water quality worsens as the river flows from Haridwar down to Kanpur.

While the quality criteria mentions that the fecal coliform content should be less than 2500 MPN/100 ml, in a part of Kanpur it reached 40,000 this year.

In 2015, the figure it was 20,889 at that location.

The CPCB has suggested that 30 storm-water drains carrying sewage, sullage and other wastes joining the Ganga at various locations, should have flow measuring systems at the terminal points for assessing the quantity of waste water being discharged.

Also, these drains should be hygienically maintained and properly dredged at regular intervals.

The dredged material should be disposed of properly without any adverse environmental impacts. The board has also recommended that all the factories discharging industrial effluents should transmit online data of their waste matter quality to pollution control boards both at the Centre and state.

“These industries should also submit fortnightly data of effluent-quality based on samples collected manually and getting it analysed through laboratory recognised under the Environment Protection Act,” it said.

The BJP-led government recently launched the Namami Gange programme on the banks of the river in Uttarakhand when 250 projects worth Rs 1,500 crore were launched.

These projects were also launched at 108 places situated on the banks of sub-tributaries.

Officials said that from the Gangotri to Ganga Sagar, “Namami Gange” will ensure cleanliness of the river for which Rs 20,000 crore have been earmarked. – Mail Online India, 21 September 2016

Ganga Barrage at Kanpur

Ganga at Varanasi

Ganga at Patna

See also

  • All Ganga articles here

A reply to Dr Zakir Naik – Maria Wirth


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


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


Yoga is the basis for a true idea of India – David Frawley

Surya Namaskar

Dr David FrawleyYoga with its integral and unitary view of life is in many ways more progressive, global and universal than any other philosophy or ideology today. – Dr David Frawley

Today two different ideas of India are struggling with each other in a cultural war that is likely to continue for some time.

The first can be called the “Nehruvian idea” of a modern post-independence India as a multicultural, secular, socialist state striving to be culturally neutral and socially progressive. The predominant thinkers behind it are from the Left, including a number of Marxists.

The second or what could be called the “Bharatiya idea” is that of India as a great ancient civilisation and perhaps the most important spiritual culture on the planet. We could also call this “yogic India”. The predominant thinkers behind it follow traditional spiritual and cultural practices and include many gurus and swamis.

There has been some overlap between these two ideas of India; particularly during the independence movement in which India’s ancient heritage was evoked to awaken national pride. Mahatma Gandhi’s idea of India was much more traditional than that of Nehru.

The Nehruvian idea is that of the Congress. It is unusual in two ways. The first comprises the embracing of socialism—a term Indira Gandhi added in the Preamble to the Constitution in 1976—at a constitutional level. Today socialist states have all but disappeared and appear to be an anachronism from the 20th century.

The second is its idea of secularism, which includes special restrictions and taking of revenue from the Hindu majority but not minorities. This kind of anti-majority secularism is not found in other countries.

The yogic or “Bharatiya” idea is the main inspiration of the ruling BJP. The current Narendra Modi government at the Centre has proposed a number of initiatives for honouring India’s older culture. Its effort to replace Marxist interpretations of India’s history with views that better acknowledge the region’s spiritual and dharmic ethos is often criticised.

Other such initiatives include promoting pilgrimage to sacred sites in India that are predominantly Hindu and Buddhist. Votaries of the Nehruvian idea regard these changes as a dangerous imposition of Hindu values upon the secular state.

Narendra Modi 2015Yoga Day and promoting yoga

A major part of the BJP’s traditional cultural agenda comprises promoting yoga, dramatically portrayed in the International Yoga Day last year and the worldwide celebrations the accompanied it. The promotion of yoga this year includes new government proposals for yoga training in the schools, and to develop yoga teachers at various levels from exercise teachers to masters of the yogic philosophy and meditation. Such an initiative is unique in the world today.

The fact is that if one travels outside of India, he would realise that it is the yogic idea of India that people are most aware of, along with India’s great gurus. Few people know much about Nehru and generally look at him in the shadow of Mahatma Gandhi. There is a fear about India’s spiritual traditions and their growing global influence.

India’s yogic culture has spread worldwide since Swami Vivekananda opened it to the world in Chicago in 1893. It now embraces all aspects of yoga, including bhakti or devotion, with the popularity of kirtan as a musical form in the West.

It promotes mantra and meditation, yogic philosophy and the study of the Yoga Sutras. Yet it also includes Ayurvedic medicine, Sanskrit, and Indian music and dance. Many individuals outside India have devoted their lives and resources to following these teachings.

Yoga Day is the Modi government’s most visible initiative supporting and reclaiming India’s traditional culture and presenting it to the world. It shows that the older spiritual idea of India is still strong and is undergoing a resurgence. Yoga Day is likely to continue as a major event for India and the global yoga community for years to come.

We should note that yoga with its integral and unitary view of life is in many ways more progressive, global and universal than any other philosophy or ideology today.

Yoga is the basis for the true idea of India. It is not a political concept, but the exploration of consciousness as the main cultural value of the country, and goes back thousands of years. – Daily-O, 20 June 2016

» Dr David Frawley (Pandit Vamadeva Shastri) is a Vedacharya and includes in his unusual wide scope of studies Ayurveda, Yoga, Vedanta and Vedic astrology, as well as the ancient teachings of the oldest Rigveda. Tweet him at @davidfrawleyved.

President Pranab Mukherjee inaugurates Yoga Day at Rashtrapati Bhavan, New Delhi, 21 June 2016

Narendra Modi

Yoga exponent Ramdev, Union Minister Venkaiah Naidu, BJP MPs Meenakshi Lekhi, Manoj Tiwari and others practice Yoga during a yoga camp ahead of the International Yoga Day on June 21, at Rajpath in New Delhi on Sunday, June 21, 2016

Richard Rahul Verma

Yoga teacher training in Rishikesh

Hindu Temples: Demand for ritual change misplaced – Unnikrishna Panicker

Hindu Temple

Unnikrishna Panicker“The demand for change in some practices, like the ban on women’s entry in Sabarimala, is politically motivated. Can practices rooted in Sanatana Dharma be altered? At a time when a few demand a ‘timely change’ in rituals and the very philosophy of Hinduism, this question is of prime importance.” – Parappanangadi Unnikrishna Panicker

Most of the Hindu practices have changed with time. We have corrected many wrong practices of the past century. Those, who were not allowed to enter temples once, enter and worship now. Bloody and gory rituals once widely practised have ceased in the last century. It must be this history that inspires a few to demand more changes, which is not a bad idea in itself. Some current practices indeed go against tradition and rituals. For example, using elephants for processions is not what the rituals demand.

But the demand for change in some practices, like the ban on women’s entry in Sabarimala, is politically motivated. Can practices rooted in Sanatana Dharma be altered? At a time when a few demand a “timely change” in rituals and the very philosophy of Hinduism, this question is of prime importance. The temple culture practised in Kerala today is not very old. Historians say they are not older than 10th century CE. In other words, Sanatana Dharma and a proper Hindu form of temple worship started gaining popularity in Kerala after Judaism and Christianity reached here. This, however, does not mean that the rituals themselves originated in that period. The scriptures that Kerala temples follow when it comes to rituals Kodungallur Bhagavathy Deviand rules originated in Kerala and quote some of the ancient Hindu texts. They have taken into consideration regional beliefs and practices and tried to accommodate them while prescribing rituals. The rituals are not as inflexible as they are made out to be.

It was the great Kalidasa who wrote that all that is old need not be good, and all that is new need not be bad. Only a moodah (fool) will follow what others say without thinking about it. Unfortunately, when it comes to rituals, we follow what others say without putting any thought into it. In the case of Hindu rituals, what makes a practice customary is not its age but whether it is in line with the method of worship and rituals mentioned in authoritative texts.

Many customs in Kerala temples have no scriptural authority. For example, there is no textual basis for the ban on women’s entry into Sabarimala. Though texts like Tantrasamuchaya discuss what makes a temple impure in detail, the fact is there is no clear rule that bans women’s entry. But it will not be wise to conclude that such practices should be stopped because there is no textual rule. Another example is the use of elephants in temples. There is no textual rule that supports this cruel practice. One of the most authoritative texts on elephants, Matangaleela, says elephants won’t be comfortable if they are taken away from their natural habitat. Yet, we keep using elephants.

Not all rituals have a textual basis. In fact, some rituals go against the text too. To make rituals and customs similar across the temples would be to go against the very essence of Hinduism, as such an attempt would undermine the multicultural practices that exist in the Hindu compendium. Some historians argue that the Shiva and Vishnu temples of Kerala were once abodes of Devi. Legendary stories about the origin of most Devi temples in Kerala have many similarities.

Something common for most of these temples existed, even before Sanatana Dharma and Hindu practices became common in Kerala. Something that is as old as the language connects these temples. Even though temple culture did not exist in those times, there would have been a similarity in religious practices and beliefs. Most rituals and customs can be directly or indirectly linked to this ancient belief system that existed here, before Shaiva/Vaishnava/Devi belief systems and a structured kshethraachaara became prevalent in South India. It is not possible to find a basis to these practices in texts and scriptures, or to bring uniformity in existing practices.

If the practices that exist today cannot be made uniform, and if scriptural authority is not the criteria to decide whether a practice is ritualistic or not, on what basis should we try to redesign them? We need to redesign the practices. This, however, does not mean we can be judgmental. Most of the rituals, even Kerala Temple Elephantsthose that are seemingly outdated, started at a different time, under a different value system. We cannot judge them using today’s value system.

A research on Kerala temples, published seven decades ago, writes about the “indecent practices” of animal sacrifice and bawdy language. Both these practices do exist today. The difference is that we have become more mature and know the historical reasons behind these practices. There was a time when elephants were ritually killed, as a sacrifice, in Kerala. We have stopped such practices. If stopping such practices is not seen as a compromise on rituals, we can surely stop using elephants in temples altogether; that will not be a compromise on rituals either.

The case of ban on women’s entry in certain temples is different. We saw that the Hindu temple culture accommodated regional beliefs while structuring temple worship. The practice of ban on women’s entry, I believe, is a remnant of those regional beliefs. So, the argument that a ban on women’s entry goes against the broadness and openness of Hinduism is misplaced. We need to think about the criteria by which the rituals are redesigned. It is difficult to answer what these criteria should be. But answering a few related questions would help us get there.

Who needs a change in rituals? Whose demand is it? If it is the demand of practising Hindus and priests, there is a further question. Why do we need a change? It should not be politically motivated. One of the fundamental characteristics of Hinduism is its openness. We should not downgrade that by bringing rituals, traditions and practices into a common framework. – The New Indian Express, 19 May 2016

» Unnikrishna Panicker of Parappanangadi in Kerala is said to be Jayalalithaa’s most trusted astrologer.

Pilgrims at Sabarimala

Indic thought inspiring great minds holds many lessons – Anirban Ganguly

Robert Oppenheimer

Dr Anirban Ganguly“Fritjof Capra and the epochal minds who preceded him never shied away from exploring the links between philosophy, mysticism, languages, scriptures, sciences and mathematics. They sustained themselves on the continuous energy that they derived from sources of Indic thought. Wouldn’t they laugh at the facile and false controversy raging in India, on Sanskrit, IITs, science and mathematics?” – Dr Anirban Ganguly

Seven-odd decades ago when the first atomic bomb was exploded in Los Alamos, Robert Oppenheimer, the die-hard physicist who led the project, was struck by what he saw. What dominated Oppenheimer’s mind that point of time when one of the most decisive moments of human history unfolded by was not a mathematical formula but the verse from the Bhagavad Gita, which said, “Divi soorya-sahasrasya bhaved yugapad utthitaa yadi bhaah sadrshi saa syaad, bhaasas tasya mah’aatmanaah! Kaalo’smi loka-kshaya-krt pravrddho lokaan samaahartum iha pravrttah” (What brilliance there would have been if a thousand suns were to blaze forth all of a sudden in the sky. To that was comparable the splendour of that great Being).”

Sri KrishnaOppenheimer recalled later, with great emotion, how the verse from the “Hindu scripture” flashed before him, “We knew the world would not be the same. A few people laughed, a few people cried. Most people were silent. I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad Gita; Vishnu is trying to persuade the Prince that he should do his duty, and to impress him, takes on his multi-armed form and says, “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.” I suppose we all thought that, one way or another. An entire battery of physicists whose researches altered the course of history, Robert Oppenheimer, Niels Bohr—who had famously observed that “I go into the Upanishads to ask questions”—Werner Heisenberg—who had observed how “quantum theory will not look ridiculous to people who have read Vedanta”—along with Erwin Schrödinger formed part of that group, which regularly and seriously delved into the depths of Indic thought and philosophy to derive direction or to be further convinced of the line of their scientific quest.

Heisenberg revealed in an interview to that other profound scholar of Eastern mysticism and modern physics, Fritjof Capra, that “while he was working on quantum theory, he went India to lecture and was a guest of Rabindranath Tagore.” Capra talked a lot with Tagore about Indian philosophy. “Heisenberg told me,” he recalled, “that these talks had helped him a lot with his work in physics, because they showed him that all these new ideas in quantum physics were in fact not all that crazy.”

Capra, in the introduction to his opus The Tao of Physics, for example, discusses a deeply personal spiritual experience, which revealed to him—a physicist by training and predilection—the cosmic Dance of Shiva, “I knew also that the earth’s atmosphere was continually bombarded by showers of ‘cosmic rays’, Natarajaparticles of high energy undergoing multiple collisions as they penetrated the air. All this was familiar to me from my research in high-energy physics, but until that moment I had only experience through graphs, diagrams and mathematical theories. As I sat on that bench, my former experiences came to life; I ‘saw’ cascades of energy coming down from outer space, in which particles were created and destroyed in rhythmic pulses; I ‘saw’ that atoms of the elements and those of my body participating in this cosmic dance of energy; I felt its rhythm and I ‘heard’ its sound, and at that moment I knew that this was the Dance of Shiva, the Lord of Dance worshipped by the Hindus.”

Capra and the epochal minds who preceded him never shied away from exploring the links between philosophy, mysticism, languages, scriptures, sciences and mathematics. They sustained themselves on the continuous energy that they derived from sources of Indic thought. Wouldn’t they laugh at the facile and false controversy raging in India, on Sanskrit, IITs, science and mathematics?

Too often we forget how civilisational India inspired great minds across the globe. – The New Indian Express, 7 May 2016

» Dr Ganguly is Director, Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee Research Foundation, New Delhi. Follow him on Twitter @anirbanganguly.