When rationalists don’t get Hindu philosophy – David Frawley

Shiva wearing a yoga band

Pandit Vamadeva Shastri (Dr David Frawley)“It is time to move beyond … circumscribed views to recognising the deeper aspects of science, art and philosophy behind the yoga tradition and its extraordinary images and cosmic depictions. This affords us a greater appreciation of the yogis of India and their intricate teachings, not merely about the body and mind, but relative to the universal consciousness in which is infinite and everlasting bliss!” – Dr David Frawley

From Freudian academics to the modern media, the main examinations of Hindu deities, particularly of Lord Shiva and his family, usually give their primary attention to sexual implications. But in the process of focusing on this side—often to the exclusion of the rest of the teachings—the deeper meaning of these spiritual traditions easily gets lost.

We can forget yoga’s profound insights into the mind, consciousness and higher human evolution, as well as the subtle meditation practices taught to reveal these.

Tantric Yoga philosophy describes seven chakras from the base of the spine to the top of the head. The purpose of yoga is to raise our awareness from the root chakra below—where we are spiritually asleep in ego consciousness and physical reality—to the thousand-petal lotus at the top of the head where we can experience cosmic consciousness and self-realisation, the state of the Supreme Shiva.

The chakras indicate vibratory levels with the five lower chakras relating to the earth, water, fire, air and ether elements and the two higher chakras to mind and consciousness. The ascent through the chakras involves moving from denser to subtler vibrations, and developing a greater unity consciousness along the way.

We should not stop short at the first and second chakras, which rule over lower energies, but consider all seven chakras and their implications in examining yogic deities and practices, extending to higher realms far beyond physical reality.

We should not only consider the role of physical union but also the role of union with the divine, and with the unitary awareness behind the universe as a whole.

The symbolism of Hindu deities

It is true that Hindu deities provide a wealth of fascinating symbolisms that stretch the boundaries of our imaginations and are not easy to understand for the rational intellect. They are capable of diverse interpretations as they reflect the whole of life and all of nature in its mind-transcending magic and bewildering paradoxes.

But the primary implications of these yogic powers are relative to cosmological principles and higher states of awareness, which constitute the bulk of their traditional interpretations that are quite detailed and extensive. Modern scientists have noted these cosmic connections, with the entire universe as Lord Shiva’s dance of light.

Hindu deities, particularly Shiva and his wife Parvati, reflect the practice of yoga and the energies of all the chakras in their stories and teachings, starting with Shiva as Yogeshwara, the lord of yoga, ruling over asana, prana, mantra and meditation. Parvati is the ideal yogini and manifests the yoga shakti, the inner power of yoga that takes us from darkness to light, from death to immortality.

There is a great mystery of consciousness behind the visible world that is our real duty as human beings to discover and to realise. This mystery cannot be limited to biological patterns or to intellectual theories. We should not be content with mere outer views of life.

Recognising the primacy of ananda

It is time to move beyond such circumscribed views to recognising the deeper aspects of science, art and philosophy behind the yoga tradition and its extraordinary images and cosmic depictions. This affords us a greater appreciation of the yogis of India and their intricate teachings, not merely about the body and mind, but relative to the universal consciousness in which is infinite and everlasting bliss!

Bliss or ananda is the origin and goal of all as the ancient Upanishads so eloquently state. If we are sensitive to beauty, love or grace anywhere, it is only because of this divine ananda. May we all discover that ananda within and around us! It is much more than any media sensation and takes us far beyond the biases of the mind to a boundless vision and new creative insight at every moment. This is what higher yoga practices can lead us to. – Daily-O, 23 September 2015

» Dr David Frawley (Pandit Vamadeva Sastri) is an American Hindu teacher and author who has written more than thirty books on topics such as the Vedas, Hinduism, Yoga, Ayurveda and Vedic astrology, published both in India and in the United States. He is the founder and director of the American Institute of Vedic Studies in Santa Fe, New Mexico, which offers educational information on Yoga philosophy, Ayurveda, and Vedic astrology.

Brahman & Atman

Stormtroopers at Shani Shingnapur – Mayuresh Didolkar

Shaneshwar of Shingnapur

Mayuresh Didolkar“The Stormtroopers … will come, breach centuries old tradition and go on fighting other causes—an agitation against armpit shaving perhaps—while the priests who have cared for the temple for generations will be left to care for it once again, only this time with the knowledge that the temple they have devoted their entire life to has accorded them no privileges to practice religion as they see fit.” – Mayuresh Didolkar

Devendra Fadnavis & Trupti DesaiThe famous British mountaineer George Mallory is supposed to have replied the question “why did you want to climb Mt Everest?” with a cryptic “because it’s there”. Unfortunately the attitude that symbolized human spirit and never say die attitude in a mountaineer is quickly becoming bane of the civilised society in the 21st century. The group of women set to “storm”—helicopter on standby—the Shani Shingnapur Temple are the latest example of this excessive behaviour.

Before I being discussing the issue at hand, I am going to give a large concession to the feminists agitating against the temple administration—and public at large. The said concession being, there are really only parts of the temple that women are forbidden to enter, and men are. If my twitter feed is anything to go by, even that part is murky but since I feel it has no effect on the outcome of my arguments, I am going to get it out of the way. See, I am a reasonable guy.

Having given that concession, there is no disputing that the Stormtrooper—hehe … go on! sue me!—ladies are making this attempt today due to the following factors.

  1. Attacking Hindu religion is a sure-fire ticket to fame considering the largely Leftist media’s hostile attitude towards the Hindus, especially since Mr Modi took office in 2014.
  2. They are sure of the support of law and order since the state in question is ruled by BJP, a law and order party.
  3. None of them have to fear for blow-backs of this misadventure since they are offending people from the most peaceful religion

This stunt has that “heads I win, tails you lose” feel to it, since if the women are successful in storming the temple, they—and their backers, make no mistake about it, they have backers whose only interest is humiliating Hindus—would have the satisfaction of having humiliated Hindus once more. If they are not successful, and indeed stopped by police from entering the temple, they can go on perpetuating the right-wing thugs/patriarchy/police state narrative that their other NGO/Left wing buddies can use when it suits them. Like Gary Sinise tells Nick Cage towards the end of Snake Eyes: “Its snake eyes kiddo, the house wins.”

Now let’s discuss why this stunt has neither religious nor moral standing.

The first argument extended by these Stormtroopers is “equality before law” which sounds very pragmatic and obvious—and hence supported by a few centre of rightists—but has a fundamental flaw when you examine it up close. The “equality before law” argument implies, that religion is subjugated to law, at all times. Let me repeat the last three words. At all times. Now when a tenet of religion results in harm to an individual or a group, or if it keeps an opportunity of advancement away from the aforementioned group or individual then by all means law should step in. We are not after all a theocratic state that throws gay people from towers or allow pregnant women to die rather than give them an abortion. We are liberated and we must feel proud of it.

However, even the biggest supporter of this protest will struggle to explain to me what danger this temple entry restriction places women into. Or what opportunities—other than the one to offer prayers, an opportunity that has no socio-economic value in its strictest sense—it denies them. All it does is to place a restriction on them, in a place outside their own homes. To deny religion this freedom to place restrictions on individuals or groups in such limited manners is effectively subjugating entire religion to law. This kind of legal authoritarianism is a hallmark of regimes like China—where they forbade Muslims from fasting and men from growing beards. I am not sure I want to live in a police state like this.

The second argument is of course the slippery slope argument, that says if you allow this then what is to stop religions from forbidding entries to women from all temples or placing restrictions based on caste/religion etc. Unfortunately this is only an academic argument. It is sort of like saying if you allow gay people to marry each other, it may lead to a man marrying his dog next. While taking a decision based on a future risk, one must make a realistic assessment about how clear and present the risk is. In a Mahad Satyagrahacountry of literally millions of temples if there are fewer than a hundred—I am being generous here, I only know two such temples—places with such restrictions and no new place with similar restriction has come up in say last two hundred years or so, then the slippery slope argument is purely hypothetical and hence does not merit consideration.

It is also important to separate these nihilistic Stormtroopers from the leaders of past who agitated against unfair restrictions placed by traditions. Like—most famous case from my state—the Chavdar Tale Satyagraha (also known as Mahad Satyagraha) by Dr. B. R. Ambedkar. Two important distinctions needed to be made here.

  1. In Chavdar Tale, the commodity being denied, viz water, is a life necessity. Keeping a class of people away from it based on their birth was not just by any means.
  2. This restriction placed on the Dalits was not acceptable to all Dalits. Hence thousands of people gathered on 20th March 1927 with Dr Ambedkar at Mahad.

Contrast this with the case in hand. The commodity being denied—if it is indeed being denied—is entry in a temple. Come on folks, some sense of perspective please. Not entering the temple is not going to kill you. All that is at risk is your own ego.

Equally importantly, the restriction put on women is not only acceptable but actively endorsed by a majority of women. These women are natives of the place as well as  highly educated, abroad living urban women whose egos are not so fragile that any restriction placed by religion is immediately seen as a sign of good ol’ patriarchy at work. Again my faith in religion’s absoluteness forbids me from making this suggestion but if indeed a referendum is held on this issue, I am confident that more women will vote against it.

Also not to put too fine a point to it, folks who drank water from the Mahad tank kept drawing from it for the rest of their lives, since it was an essential commodity for them. The Stormtroopers in this case will come, breach centuries old tradition and go on fighting other causes—an agitation against armpit shaving perhaps—while the priests who have cared for the temple for generations will be left to care for it once again, only this time with the knowledge that the temple they have devoted their entire life to has accorded them no privileges to practice religion as they see fit. If there is anything more sickening and more disgusting than abusing a person of his faith and then make him go on living like nothing has happened, I don’t know what it is. We have all heard of tales of Hindu women force-fed beef during partition riots. This is the less violent version of it.

The last—and most laughable—argument extended by these Stormtroopers—when cornered with the question about atrocities against women in other religion—is, “I am going to care for my religion, why should I worry about other religion?”

Well ladies, when Flavia Agnes quoted in an interview with Avni Choksi, “But after independence, the same women realised that it is important to bring changes for Hindu women as they lagged behind their Muslim and Christian counterparts,” she has also put forth the argument why it is perfectly OK for Christian or Muslim women’s right advocates to agitate on behalf of Hindu women.

And since none of you protested against Flavia’s stance then (this interview was published in last August) I am just going to assume that this argument was acceptable to you. Now why you have reversed this argument is what is tripping me.

Women in IndiaAgain—I am being generous here, I already told you—even if you decide to accept this argument for some reason, let me ask you this: Is this the biggest problem Hindu women are facing today? A 17-year-old girl in Jharkhand committed suicide yesterday because she did not have a toilet inside her house. An estimated 65% women folks do not have access to feminine hygiene products, one out of four girls from rural India drops out of high school after attaining puberty because she does not have adequate protection during her menses. An estimated million women have gone to jail or have faced harassment at the hands of police due to the rampant misuse of the 498a section of the IPC and you went with entry into a temple? Good call ladies.

Stripped of all its civil rights and gender equality cloak, this movement can only have two implications. One will show these Stormtroopers in an unfavourable light. Other will show them as actively evil. I am leaving the choice to readers.

  1. Attacking Hindu religion is a sure-fire ticket to fame considering the largely Leftist media’s hostile attitude towards the Hindus, especially since Mr Modi took office in 2014.
  2. They are sure of the support of law and order since the state in question is ruled by BJP, a law and order party.
  3. None of them have to fear for blow-backs of this misadventure since they are offending people from the most peaceful religion

So why fight them?

Because it matters, not only to peace-loving Hindus, but to women of all religions. Today’s public discourse has short memory and even shorter bandwidth. Each cause gets its limited bandwidth, and if women’s rights bandwidth gets used by Stormtroopers planning to jump on top of temples, then girls committing suicide due to lack of sanitation tend to get neglected. And we can’t allow that to happen.

And also it matters because we are proud to be member of a peace-loving religion and when peace-loving, law-abiding citizens like you and me and the townsfolk of Shani Shingnapur get bullied out of the social discourse by these pantywaist fascists who will not listen to reason, the fanatics amongst us tell us, “OK guys you had your turn at the bat and you failed to protect us. Now step aside and let our clubs and swords do the talking,”—again don’t take it literally, you miserable, no good bunch of liberal word Nazis.

When America allowed the Left bullies to stifle all those sane rational folks who wanted to recognize the threat of Islamic extremism, the solution to come out of conservative woodwork was “let’s ban all Muslims”.  One thing regressive Lefties do not own up to is that they are the main reason why an almost dead extreme wing Right has risen again.

Oh and ladies, that helicopter you have on standby today? The women stranded in Chennai floods less than two months back could have really used that—you know what I am saying? – India Facts, 28 January 2016

» Mayuresh Didolkar runs a financial advisory business in Pune and is an avid marathon runner and reader.

Trupti Desai, Chief of the Bhumati Brigade invading Shingnapur

Shani Shingnapur

Shingnapur Shani Temple

Sabarimala: The debate between modernity and age-old practices – George Augustine

George Augustine“The two recent issues, Sabarimala and Jallikattu, … calls for a background check, because we need to exercise discrimination when we approach a matter of faith, whereas reason is enough to resolve all other matters. Especially so, because Hindu reforms invariably seem to attract Constitutional activists from every nook and corner to demand equal rights for all and sundry, including those who have nothing to do with the event or tradition, purely motivated by political considerations. … We should exercise caution and restraint while dealing with faith, at least for now.” – George Augustine

Shah Bano BegumWhen religious reforms become the responsibility of the legislature and the judiciary in India it always ends up maintaining the status quo, without any redressal of the aggrieved party, whoever may that party be. Constitutional rights rarely carry force in India, particularly when they come to face religious injunctions and customs. The Shah Bano case and the subsequent enactment of a new law by the Rajiv Gandhi government had clearly demonstrated nearly three decades ago that the Constitutional rights of Muslim women to enjoy equality in marriage are ultimately subservient to Muslim personal law, no matter what the judiciary thinks. The same applies to the Christian inheritance law which discriminates against Christian women despite the Mary Roy case. In this regard, their Indian compatriots, the Hindu women are better off in terms of personal law.

Supreme Court of IndiaLegality of reform

However, all too often, Hindu religious customs and traditions are often raked up to point out all sorts of injustices done to women as well as animals. Let us say, the general Indian media is more concerned and preoccupied with Hindu religious and social practices than with Muslim or Christian practices. Muslim women are generally not allowed into mosques and Christian women can never aspire to become Catholic priests. But these things rarely come to court or are discussed. Thus, there is a long journey ahead for all of us in India to arrive at full justice, whether we are Hindus or Muslims or Christians.

India has come a long way from independence and our women are slowly getting footholds in the social and political landscape and they are getting assertive to demand equal opportunities and consideration in the religious sphere as well. It is a just demand and it is the obligation of all people in charge to do whatever there is to do to realise their aspirations as soon as possible. There is nothing in the way, but the political will and determination on the part of the current government to level the ground between men and women regardless of their religions, for which the Uniform Civil Code is a prerequisite. Under the current political dispensation there is no indication of any positive light, but we can still go on hoping towards a just and fair India sooner than later.

Constitution of IndiaFaith versus democracy

The two recent issues, Sabarimala and Jallikattu,  taken up by our Supreme Court calls for a background check, because we need to exercise discrimination when we approach a matter of faith, whereas reason is enough to resolve all other matters. Especially so, because Hindu reforms invariably seem to attract Constitutional activists from every nook and corner to demand equal rights for all and sundry, including those who have nothing to do with the event or tradition, purely motivated by political considerations. It is a good trend that we have so many people cheerleading our good Constitution whatever may be their motive, but we should exercise caution and restraint while dealing with faith, at least for now.

Faith is an untouchable in our country. No one can question it, no matter what kind of faith. However, in the past, many Hindu ‘traditions’ like sati, child marriage, devadasi systems have been put to sleep through legislation. Some of them caused harmful side effects and adverse consequences for many involved, but at least some of them were carried out in good faith and the communities have benefitted too to a certain extent. So, by precedent, Hindu traditions are open, dynamic and flexible to change unlike the Abrahamic traditions of Islam and Christianity, which are more ideologies than religions and have remained rigid and ossified in their fundamentals since their inception in the stone-age period of civilisation.

Swami AyyappanSabarimala

Sabarimala is one of the oldest shrines in Kerala with a unique tradition. There are many such singular temples in Kerala (Chakkulathu Kavu and Attukal Bhagavathi Temple) and each of them keeps its uniqueness by adhering to the peculiar customs and traditions followed for at least more than a millennium. Sabarimala temple is one of the five Sastha temples in Kerala, each of the five housing the deity in a certain stage of human life: Kulaththupuzha Temple housing an infant Sastha, Aryankavu housing an adolescent, and at Achankovil as the householder (grihasthashrami) with his wives Poorna and Pushkala and at Erumeli as Dharma Sastha.

Sastha is consecrated at Sabarimala as “naishtika brahmachari” (persistent ascetic) in a state of samadhi, and is believed to have been established by the legendary Parasurama. To agnostics, this might appear to be obsolete and irrelevant, but remember, this is the realm of belief and faith. A murthi inside the sreekovil in a particular temple is consecrated according to Tantric principles, which is believed to endow certain powers to the murthi. This particular power is distinct in each consecration according to the Tantric principle used and remains with the murthi, provided that certain conditions are met by the devotees and those responsible for the temple. One of those conditions at Sabarimala is the absence of fertile women in the sannidhanam, whose presence can (in simple terms) affect the tantric energy of the murthi, making it powerless.

From time immemorial, women of child-bearing age never ventured into the thick Sabari forest to disturb the meditation of Sastha due to the prevailing belief and as a mark of respect for what Sastha was purportedly doing. It was not an easy journey then, and not very easy now even with two well-lit concrete paths. However devotees were accompanied by girls before they attained puberty and elderly women in the family on their annual pilgrimage to the shrine. Following the same tradition, all pilgrims had to undergo ascetic renunciation for 41 days before they ventured up the mountain, so that they were on an energy level conducive to Lord Sastha. This is the belief that became the basis for the control of entry of fertile women by the temple administration body, Travancore Devaswom in 1969 and later upheld by the Kerala High Court in 1991. The entry control by the administration became stringent after a dance scene was shot in the sannidhanam for a Tamil movie (Nambinar Keduvathillai) in 1986, when several actresses of fertile age were present. As a consequence, the actresses, director K. Sankar and the temple officials who granted permission were taken to court and penalised.

By the entry of fertile women into the sannidhaanam, the consecrated murthi loses its validity, according to Tantrics and believers who have been following the tradition. This kind of esoteric information is absent in the public sphere for obvious reasons, and one cannot really blame the shrill, irate women who appear on telly calling for everybody’s blood, sometimes asking foolishly for evidence of Ayyappa’s dislike for ‘menstruating’ women. People concerned (temple administration body) should pacify these women and educate them in matters of faith, if that is really what they want. If a fertile woman is a believer, she certainly ought to believe in the consecration philosophy and abide by it and make it a point to go there after menopause. If she is not a believer, why go there in the first place? There are many hilly resorts for tourists in Kerala.

Another aspect many young and ignorant women bring up is the ban on women in temples during their menstruation period. Actually there is no official ban, but only an etiquette that is as old as temple worship. Nobody is there to check whether anybody is menstruating. If it is found out later by evidence, some ritual has to be performed to recreate the pure energy. None of the temple-going women I know would ever dream of visiting a temple during their menstruation period, because they know that it is not the appropriate thing to do for reasons other than sexism. But ignorance continues to make the most noise.

ThookamNon-tantric ritual arts and sport that come under ban

Other than the issues of modernity and age-old temples, there are folk rituals that have been affected by bans. By folk rituals, I mean non-Brahmanical ritualistic arts and sport, particularly those that have some sort of violence and pain involved, and that have been banished by modern sensibilities for better or for worse, but mostly for the worst.

An instance is a ritual called ‘Elavoor thookam performed at the Elavoor Puthenkavu Bhagavathy Temple, about 40 kilometres north of Cochin, which came under ban for the first time in 1987, revived on and off and later banned again in 2004. The ritual involves the suspension of a devotee on a 32-foot cantilever arm mounted on a carriage that circumambulates the temple thrice. The suspension is implemented by two iron hooks pierced through the back skin of the devotee and is performed after several days of renunciation by the protagonist and pre-treatment of the skin with specially prepared oil for 21 days. You may see it here.

The concerned devotees who have undertaken the thookam proclaim there is no pain involved and reportedly there are persons who have done this multiple times and still living and evidently without any ill effect. However the opponents of the thookam who wanted the ban and secured it say there have been accidents in the past, but none mention any accidental death. In the run up to the second ban in 2004, when the then temple advisory committee wanted to revive the ritual, the Tantrics responsible for the temple were consulted and they proclaimed the ritual was not tantric, hence not scriptural and not indispensable for the functions of the temple. Many Hindu organisations opposed the ritual and prominent among the personalities who led the movement for the ban were Swami Bhoomananda Tirtha of Narayanashrama Tapovanam in Kerala and Kummanam Rajasekharan, the present President of the BJP in Kerala.

After the ban by the district collector, the pro-thookam agitators were disappointed but equally adamant in reviving their ritual, which they say is several centuries old. One of the most important reasons the opposing Hindu group cited was that the ritual was a “vestige of human sacrifice” and that the present ritual was “barbaric”. To be honest, the ritual is a version of the “full body suspension” currently practised by “body artists” in Europe and the USA. I personally know a German artist who told me the suspension is entirely painless, and the element of risk is carried by the person who pierces the hook, which makes all the difference. Fatalities can be entirely ruled out due to the medical assistance at hand. There are more dangerous sporting events like motor racing or the extreme sports, where mistakes are too expensive.

BullsThe strongest argument I’ve heard in favour of the jallikattu is the variety of native cattle breeds nurtured and conserved by this one single annual event. No doubt it was also a major sporting event in ancient India and also significant in terms of social anthropology, and it is not anything to be scorned or insulted, but respected. The worst feature of jallikattu is the toll of deaths (reportedly 200 in the last two decades) and injuries sustained by people as well as by the animals. We can forget the death toll of humans, because they decide for themselves unlike the poor bulls, which are fed and nurtured by their rich owners but treated cruelly to make them agitated and ferocious for the festival. Jallikattu is likely to vanish just like Elavoor thookam unless a congenial solution is found among the organisers. In a combative atmosphere, where Hindus are divided, politics will creep in and vested interests will make sure that priceless cultural assets are destroyed.

The best way out of such precarious situations is the reformation of the sport or ritual, putting in place new rules that address the safety of the animals first. People who protest against other people, who expose themselves to risk in whatever name, should mind their own business. Because, they presume to be superior and know more about what other people want. This kind of condescension has been made into an art form by present-day pseudo-liberals and academics that have had their brains washed and ironed by obsolete ideologies and given free access to TV talk time. A lot more progress would be achieved if these debates were made meaningful by integrating humane values and by excluding politically biased people who see the world only in terms of ideology, bereft of common sense and culture. – MyIndMakers, 22 January 2016

» George Augustine has a master’s degree in English language and literature and is an independent writing and editing professional who works in Kerala and Germany. He has written numerous articles on faith and religion on internet forums and blogs. 

Bleeding Campaign

See also

Practices of Hindu religion are polylithic in character – Unnikrishna Panicker

Srikovil at Sabarimala

Unnikrishna Panicker“It would be unfair to claim that what is practised in Sabarimala is misogynistic. The practice that exists in Sabarimala is not a practice that is followed by all temples. Neither is it a practice to be followed by women of all ages. The practices that exist are age-old. There is a certain continuity in these practices which should be respected, even if you don’t believe them. This continuity is acknowledged by all historians who discuss Indian history and is the cornerstone of Indian culture.” – Parappanangadi Unnikrishna Panicker

Swami AyyappanIs the demand for women’s entry into Sabarimala Temple motivated by bhakti? Or is it motivated by the political beliefs of a few? Those who demand entry do so because they think that denying women entry is unfair and discriminatory. A majority of women Ayyappa devotees would accept the rituals and traditions of the temple as they are and thus, would not want to visit the temple. Thus, those women who seek entry do not need it, and the majority of those for whom it is sought do not want it. Besides, it is patronising to suggest how someone should practise their belief, which traditions one should follow and which temple to enter.

The beliefs and practices of Hindu religion are polylithic in nature. On the one side, menstruating women are banned from entering a temple like Sabarimala. On the other side, there are temples like Chengannur Mahadeva Temple where Goddess Parvathy’s menstruation is revered and worshipped. Menstruation is mentioned with reverence in Adi Sankaracharya’s Tripura Sundari Stotram:

Smaretpratamapushpineerudhirabinduneelaambaraam!,

says the sage. Similar passages can be seen in Soundarya Lahari too.

Temples in Kerala follow the practice called Tantra when it comes to rituals. Kerala has produced the most ancient works in Tantra like Prayogamañjari and Kriyaasaaram that prescribe the ritualistic practices to be followed in a temple. Tantra Samuchayam, one of the most authoritative scriptures among these, says:

Kshetremritirjjananamankanamandapaadou,
mootraasrugaadipathanampathithaadivesha […]
Ethaanitantrakathithaaninimithakaani,
Jneyaani guru laghavabhedavanthi.

Death or birth (of humans or animals), faeces, entry of animals and entry of someone who is unclean are some of the occasions that would make a temple impure. Each temple has its own set of rules and rituals.

Some of them control entry, some of them open up entry. For example, at daytime, women cannot enter the Rajarajeswara Temple of Taliparamba, one of the ancient temples in North Kerala. Similarly, once in a year, the Kodungallur Bhagavathy Temple opens up for everyone and the Goddess is believed to appear as a commoner in a ritual called Kaavutheendal.

It would be unfair to claim that what is practised in Sabarimala is misogynistic. The practice that exists in Sabarimala is not a practice that is followed by all temples. Neither is it a practice to be followed by women of all ages. The practices that exist are age-old. There is a certain continuity in these practices Chithira Thirunal Balarama Varmawhich should be respected, even if you don’t believe them. This continuity is acknowledged by all historians who discuss Indian history and is the cornerstone of Indian culture.

The temple authorities in Kerala have historically been progressive and reformists in their approach. The revolutionary temple entry proclamation was announced by the King of Travancore 90 years ago, at a time when caste system was thought to be deep-rooted and unalterable.

However, this stand cannot be taken in all rituals and practices. There are also rituals and traditions where the continuity cannot be broken. That might seem illogical to some. But religion and spirituality are sometimes above logic and ordinary human understanding. – The New Indian Express, 22 January 2016

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

Chengannur Mahadeva Temple

Why women are barred from Sabarimala – M. A. Deviah

M. A. Deviah“The irony is that the people who have taken this issue [about women being barred from Sabarimala] to the Supreme Court probably do not believe in the backstory. If they did, they wouldn’t challenge it. Even if the court lifted restrictions, women who believe in the Deity will not be queuing up to go. This is, ultimately, all about faith. How a learned judge will pass judgment will be interesting.” – M. A. Deviah

Swami Ayyappan: The son of Shiva and Vishnu!The petition by the Young Lawyers’ Association asking the Supreme Court to lift restrictions on women from entering the Sabarimala temple in Kerala could open a can of worms. Sabarimala isn’t the only place of worship that has restrictions on women entering. Mosques, temples, and other places of worship fully or partially ban women, non-adherents, foreigners, the improperly dressed, the list goes on. The court can be expected to do its duty by the Constitution, but will this open a door to a flood of similar litigation?

I have been going to the temple at Sabarimala for over 25 years and one question that people ask me often is “Who placed the restrictions on women entering the temple?” And the short answer is, Ayyappa himself! According to legend, Ayyappa is celibate so that he can focus on answering the prayers of his devotees. And he will remain celibate till the day kanni swamis (first-time devotees) stop coming to Sabarimala.

Sabarimala is one of the few temples in India that welcomes men and women of every caste. Devotees dress uniformly in black. The colour signifies a renunciation of all worldly pleasures, but it also means that everyone is equal before Ayyappa, irrespective of caste. In fact, the hierarchy among devotees is based on how many times they have made the pilgrimage and not on caste. Pilgrims live an ascetic life for 40 days before undertaking the journey to Sabarimala. During that time, they pray in groups. A Dalit can lead the prayers and a Brahmin in the group must still touch his feet. You won’t see this anywhere else.

Ayyappan is a historical figure. He was the prince of Panthalam, a small kingdom located in the Pathanamthitta district in Kerala. The palace that he grew up in still exists and you can visit it. One of Ayyappa’s most loyal subjects was Vavar (Malayalam for Babar), an Arab commander, whom he defeated in battle. Vavar is today installed, not as an idol but in spirit, at a mosque in Erumely. He protects pilgrims who make the difficult 40-km trek through the jungles to the main temple at the top of the hill. Muslims too make the journey to the mosque at Erumely and the Vavar shrine, which faces the temple on the hill-top.

Apart from the historical Ayyappa, there is a puranic legend associated with him, which says he is the son of Vishnu and Shiva. This is believed to be a union of forces, not the result of an actual physical Harihararelationship. It means he has traits of both gods and that’s what makes him a particularly potent deity in the eyes of his devotees. Any way you look at it, Sabarimala is the epitome of inclusiveness. It’s one of the few, if not only temple, that openly welcomes people of all faiths and castes. So, why restrict women?

For the answer, we need to go back to the legend. According to the puranas, Ayyappa was born to destroy a female demon who, thanks to a boon, could only be vanquished by a child born of both Shiva and Vishnu. When Ayyappa fulfils his destiny by killing her, a beautiful woman emerges from the body. She had been cursed to live as a demon, but her killing reversed the curse. Now free, she asks Ayyappa to marry her. He refuses, explaining to her that his mission is to go to Sabarimala where he would answer the prayers of his devotees. However, he assures her, he will marry her when kanni swamis stop coming to Sabarimala. She now sits and waits for him at a neighbouring shrine near the main temple and is worshipped as Malikapurathamma. With hundreds of thousands of new devotees pouring in every year, hers will be a long wait.

And that is why women do not go to Sabarimala. It is partly out of empathy for Malikapurathamma and her eternal wait and it’s also out of respect for Ayyappa’s commitment to answer the prayers of his devotees. Since he is celibate, he should not be distracted. For hundreds of years, devotees had bought into this story. It has nothing to do with menstruation or being unclean. Anyone who goes to Sabarimala knows that.

The irony is that the people who have taken this issue to the Supreme Court probably do not believe in the backstory. If they did, they wouldn’t challenge it. Even if the court lifted restrictions, women who believe in the Deity will not be queuing up to go. This is, ultimately, all about faith. How a learned judge will pass judgment will be interesting. And what impact it will have on other places of worship, of any religion, will be even more interesting. – Firstpost, 15 January 2016

» M. A. Deviah is a Bangalore-based consultant to a multi-lateral development bank and professional social media practitioner.

Pilgrims wait to climb the 18 steps at Sabarimala

Essential facts of Hindu Dharma – David Frawley

 Acharya David Frawley (Pandit Vamadeva Shastri)“Hinduism rejects ideas of sin and salvation, heaven and hell. It states that our main problem is spiritual ignorance that is overcome by knowledge born of meditation. It teaches that each soul is originally pure and one with the universal Being, with the ultimate origin and goal of all as Supreme Bliss or Ananda.” – Dr David Frawley

Sometimes people ask what Hinduism is, and how it compares with the other religious/spiritual traditions of the world. Most of the time Hindus find it difficult to provide simple and cogent answers to such questions, which can make other people doubt the validity of Hindu Dharma.

I have compiled the following information highlighting key points that can be used to show to the uninformed person what Hindu Dharma truly is, and all the factors that it relates to, which go far beyond what other religions normally address.

The vastness, abundance and diversity within Hindu Dharma is a strength rather than a weakness, and places it far above more circumscribed beliefs. But this diversity needs to be explained properly and in detail for people today to understand, particularly for those coming from the background of western education or western religions who may have many misconceptions already.

Each of these paragraphs can be used as a basis for discussion.

Symbols of ReligionsPlace of Hinduism among the Religious and Spiritual Traditions of the World

Hinduism is the oldest continuous religious and spiritual tradition in the world, going back over five thousand years, with no specific point of origin historically. It is connected more with cosmic time cycles and eternal truth than it is with any historical person, revelation or community.

Hinduism is the third largest religion in the world with over a billion followers worldwide, comprising about one in every seven people on Earth. It has been one of the largest followed religions since its inception long before the other major world religions came into existence.

Hinduism is the largest of the non-Biblical and non-Abrahamic traditions, with only Christianity and Islam having more followers today. As such, it represents the non-Abrahamic religious movements of humanity, of which Biblical monotheism is only one.

Hinduism is the largest and oldest of the Dharmic traditions, comprising Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism and related spiritual traditions of India and Asia, which emphasize the pursuit of truth over any creed or dogma. More religions have originated in India than in any other country in the world.

Hinduism is the largest of the so-called Pagan traditions, such as existed before Christianity and Islam arose, like the older European and Middle Eastern traditions, including the Greek, Roman, Celtic, Germanic, Slavic, Persian, Babylonian, Egyptian and many more.

A number of these Pagan traditions have survived and several are being revived today. Hinduism can help in this renewal process as its continuity has remained unbroken.

Hinduism is the largest of the native and indigenous traditions of America, Africa, Polynesia and other parts of Asia, including many oral traditions, which are rooted in nature and the Earth rather than any human revelation. Hinduism encourages the preservation of native traditions and can help us understand the deeper spiritual meaning of their rituals and view of the sacred.

Hinduism, though primarily found in India and Nepal, historically has spread throughout Central Asia, Indochina and Indonesia, and aspects of Hinduism came with Buddhism wherever it went as far as Japan, which still has many temples to Hindu deities today.

Angkor Wat in CambodiaHindu and Vedic related traditions from the Zoroastrian to the Greek, Roman and Celtic spread west through the Middle East to Europe in early ancient times. The largest traditional Hindu temple complex is Ankor Wat in Cambodia, showing that Hinduism is not just an India based but a universal and global tradition.

Hinduism is the largest of the world’s pluralistic spiritual traditions, honoring many paths to God or truth, and many names and forms of the Divine. Hinduism therefore easily blends in with pluralistic social traditions, such as found in democratic traditions today.

Hinduism is a dharma or way of truth that places individual spiritual practices through ritual, Yoga, mantra and meditation over any particular belief, faith or institution. In Hinduism truth is even more important than God, whose best definition is the eternal truth.

Hinduism is not a local formation or limited to one community of believers or practitioners. It calls itself as Sanatana Dharma, the eternal and universal truth that is relevant to all beings and arises from the cosmic mind itself.

Hinduism is beyond all views of monotheism or polytheism, teaches us to see the Divine in everything as the power of universal consciousness. Hinduism cannot be put into the straight-jackets of western theological thought.

Hinduism formulates itself as Manava Dharma or a teaching for all human beings. It has never divided humanity into believers or non-believers, or one religious community as against another. It has never rejected any portion of humanity as condemned by God or the Divine, but teaches that all living beings must eventually return to the highest state of bliss.

Hinduism has the greatest number of followers regularly engaged in pilgrimage of any religion in the world. The Kumbha Mela is world’s largest religious gathering and has been for many centuries, with as many as thirty million participants on a single day. Local Hindu festivals throughout India commonly see hundreds of thousands of participants on a single day.

Hinduism has the largest number of temples and shrines of any religion, with numerous temple complexes and temple cities built over thousands of years, as well as many local and home-based shrines. It also has the greatest diversity of temples and shrines in terms of different types of construction, formation, forms and images.

Hinduism has the largest number of monks and priests of any religion, with extensive religious orders of swamis, yogis and sadhus, more than two million in India today. It also has the oldest set of religious orders, priests and gurus, with lines and lineages going back to before the time of Lord Buddha.

Hinduism has the largest number of teachers, gurus and holy men and women of any religion. It emphasizes living teachers over teachers and prophets of old. Hinduism says that God-realization is the right of every human being.

Hinduism has a greater variety of religious and spiritual teachings than any other religion in the world. There are perhaps more religions inside of Hinduism than outside of it. These include even atheism and agnosticism.

Hinduism has more names and forms for the sacred and Divine than any tradition, including extensive traditions of iconic worship and formless approaches that use no murtis. Hindu deities routinely have chants to them of a thousand names. Yet Hindu Dharma also honors the nameless and formless, the infinite and unbounded.

Hinduism has the most festivals and holy days of any religion, with some lasting as long as ten days. Hinduism has its own sacred calendar that directs us to spiritual practices on a daily basis and tells us the unique spiritual qualities of each day of the year.

Hindu CosmologyKey Points of Hindu Philosophy and Cosmology

Hinduism is the most tolerant and syncretic of the worlds major religions. It does not aim at outer conversion but at inner spiritual practices, and regards the same One truth as capable of innumerable manifestations relative to different times, places and persons. Hinduism has both a universal orientation and a local adaptation.

Hinduism does not promote any single religious belief but rather encourages us to pursue the exploration of consciousness as our real spiritual quest. It places individual spiritual practices over any en masse belief.

Hinduism has the most detailed philosophy and psychology of any spiritual tradition in the world, with numerous systems of Yoga, Vedanta and Tantra, covering every angle of the spiritual life and quest for higher consciousness.

Hinduism recognizes that each individual soul can realize Divinity as one’s true Self and inmost consciousness, and does not regard as any teacher, messenger, prophet or savior as final. It teaches that your true Self and the universe are one.

Hinduism rests upon honoring each individual as Divine and all nature as sacred. It does not demand conversion, but directs us to understand and respect ourselves as we are according to our own inner being.

Hinduism is the most prominent spiritual tradition in the world emphasizing Self-knowledge gained through Self-inquiry over any person, form, name, book or deity. It regards religious or spiritual practice as various approaches to Self-realization, not as ends in themselves. It understands our true Self as beyond both body and mind, as well as time, space and karma. This takes it far beyond the limitations of western psychology.

Hinduism is the primary tradition in the world that teaches karma and reincarnation, with each soul having many lives in its quest for the Divine. Such ideas of karma and reincarnation can be found in many spiritual and religious traditions throughout the world, reflecting an extensive Hindu influence.

Hinduism rejects ideas of sin and salvation, heaven and hell. It states that our main problem is spiritual ignorance that is overcome by knowledge born of meditation. It teaches that each soul is originally pure and one with the universal Being, with the ultimate origin and goal of all as Supreme Bliss or Ananda.

Hinduism is rooted in the Sanskrit language, arguably humanity’s greatest language based upon a science of cosmic sound. Hinduism has numerous mantras, chants and prayers, more so than any other religion.

Hinduism has the largest literature of any religion, with numerous texts in Sanskrit and the regional languages of South Asia going back many thousands of years. Its ancient Vedic literature is the largest Vishnu Vishvarupaliterature that has been preserved from the ancient world, going back long before the time of Buddha. Only a small portion of Hindu literature has been translated into western languages.

Hinduism has the main literature and tradition of Yoga, including all aspects of Yoga as knowledge, devotion, service, and methods of both Hatha and Raja Yoga.  Hinduism contains many Yoga lineages from the greatest Yoga gurus like Patanjali, Vasishta and Yajnavalkya and the great Natha and Siddha Yogis.

Hinduism has the largest philosophical literature of any religion or country, comprising every shade of dualism and non-dualism, theism and non-theism, worship of the Divine as One or Many. Hindu philosophy examines the whole of life and the nature of knowledge on all levels, inner and outer. It includes many schools of Vedanta, Samkhya, Yoga, Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Mimamsa, Purana and Tantra, including modern teachers and their new insights.

Hinduism has the largest and broadest set of teachings of any religion extending into philosophy, mysticism, yoga, psychology, medicine, science, astronomy and astrology, art, literature, dance, music. It embraces all of human life and culture and excludes no aspect of learning as unsacred. Hinduism teaches us how to make any vocation, way of knowledge or culture into a spiritual path or way of Self-realization.

Hinduism has the largest literature of any spiritual tradition exploring and mapping higher states of consciousness beyond the physical, extending to the entire manifest universe of body, life, mind and intelligence. Hinduism describes in detail the many levels of the universe beyond the physical, extending to the Absolute beyond all time and space.

Hinduism has an understanding of time extending to vast cosmic cycles of billions of years, such as recognized by modern physics, and is not bound to any limited historical perspective. It teaches us that life on Earth is influenced by such longer cosmic time cycles.

Hinduism recognizes vast realms of spaces and numerous worlds, both physical and in the astral and causal realms, extending far beyond what science has yet imagined. It says that our current humanity is only one of many over time. It holds that intelligent life inhabits the universe as a whole and is interrelated in many ways that we can access within our own consciousness.

Hinduism finds holy sites everywhere in nature. It honors all nature as sacred. Hindu sacred sites can be found in mountains, rivers, forests, deserts, rocks and sea. It has mapped the sacred sites throughout the Indian subcontinent since ancient times. Such are the sacred Ganga River or Mount Kailash in Tibet. Yet Hindus can find sacred sites in the nature everywhere that they live.

Hinduism sees the human body itself as a temple of Divinity reflecting the structure of the universe through the chakra system. It has a deeper understanding of the subtle energy and thought patterns behind our physical form, such as science is only beginning to note.

Hinduism as Sanatana Dharma, a universal and eternal tradition of Self knowledge and cosmic knowledge, is the least divisive of any religion. It does not divide us by community but directs us to discover our inner unity. – India Facts, 12 January 2016

» Dr. David Frawley (Pandit Vamadeva Shastri) D. Litt., is a guru in the Vedic tradition. He is recognized as a Vedacharya (Vedic teacher) because of his unusual wide scope of studies in Ayurveda, Yoga, Vedanta and Vedic astrology, as well as the ancient Vedic teachings going back to the oldest Rigveda.

Arunachala Hill & Arunachaleswar Temple, Tiruvannamalai, Tamil Nadu

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

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