Indian Culture and Traditions - 5

Indian Culture and Traditions

The Spiritual Heritage Of India
By Dr. Sudipta Dutta Roy

Vivekananda’s Perspective

According to Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902), a great spiritual leader, thinker and reformer of India, spirituality is the very backbone of India. He observes that every nation has a particular ideal running through its whole existence, forming its very background. With some it is politics, while with others it is social culture, intellectual culture, and so on. Vivekananda says, …. Our motherland has religion and religion alone for its backbone, for the bedrock upon which the whole building of its life has been based.’ Since spirituality is the essence of religion, we should mark that Vivekananda has used the term religion in the same sense as spirituality
If we study the history of Indian culture we find even in the Rig Veda, the oldest of scriptures, the Indian mind experiencing the intimation of something divine and immortal within itself. The inward search of man gathers volume and power in the Upanishads. The Upanishads seek to realize the transcendental dimension of man-the dimension of Divinity transcending humanity. In this spiritual direction human awareness goes beyond the body, the sense and the surrounding world: man realizes himself as the immortal Self. Coming in the wake of the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita works out a complete philosophy of life, reconciling the sacred and the secular, work and worship. The spirituality that proceeds from the Vedas and the Upanishads, and reinforced by Sri Krishna, Buddha, Shankara and others, is liberated into universality by Swami Vivekananda. He invests religion with the power to illumine and guide human life as a whole. The present paper is an exposition and analysis of Vivekananda’s interpretation of Vedanta, which is also known as the Hindu religion. We shall strive to focus on the points where his interpretation regenerates the spiritual, heritage, making it fit for the modern world.
The Nature and Goal of Religion in Vivekananda’s View
The spiritual thoughts of Vivekananda have their moorings in the Vedanta philosophy, which is a systematic exposition of the Upanishads. However, he gives a modern interpretation of the ancient ideas to make them practical. He says, The Vedanta, therefore, as a religion must be intensely practical. We must be able to carry it out in every part of our lives.’ (2.291)
The fundamental and most universal principle of the Vedanta is that the individual soul is identical with the supreme Soul. Vivekananda expresses it thus: Each soul is potentially divine. The goal is to manifest this Divinity within… (1.257). In his view, purity and goodness are inherent characteristics of the soul, and religion is nothing but the manifestation of this true nature. In order to make religion practical, Swamiji begins with emphasis on the importance of morality and moral behavior. Religion for him means living in a way that helps us manifest our higher nature, truth, goodness and beauty through our thoughts, words and deeds. All impulses, thoughts and actions that lead one towards this goal are naturally ennobling and harmonizing, and are moral in the truest sense. Hence morality, which is indispensable to being truly religious, is simply a matter of being what one really is, simply radiating the true light of one’s own soul all around, under all circumstances, at all times.’ Thus by spirituality Swamiji does not mean anything occult or mysterious. It is the spontaneous response of man’s true nature or divine nature
Method of Realization
As already mentioned, in Vivekananda’s view religion is the realization of man’s real nature. As he puts it, ‘Religion is realization; not talk, nor doctrine, nor theories, however beautiful they may be. It is being and becoming, not hearing or acknowledge; it is the whole soul becoming changed into what it believes. That is religion. Such an interpretation makes it evident that spiritual realization is not something that happens by itself. The seeker has to strive and work for this consummation. In Vivekananda’s view this struggle towards realization is what is dynamic spirituality, which stands for the steady spiritual growth of man.
He emphasizes that such spiritual growth can be achieved only through a comprehensive spiritual technique called yoga. The word yoga (‘union’), he clarifies, primarily signifies the process by which an aspirant is unified to his highest ideal In order to suit the different natures and temperaments of men, there are different forms of yoga. For the spiritual development of four main types of personality - the intellectual, the active, the emotional and the psychic or introspective - the respective forms of yoga are jnana yoga, karma yoga, bhakti yoga and raja yoga. Through hard practice of these yogas, the ancient sages of India realized spiritual truths and prescribed them as ways of verification of these truths. As Swamiji observes, ‘The teachers of the science of Yoga, therefore, declare that religion is not only based upon the experience of ancient times, but that no man can be religious until he has the same perceptions himself. Yoga is the science which teaches us how to get these perceptions.’ (1.127)
In jnana yoga, on the basis of the teachings of Advaita Vedanta, Swamiji elucidates the divinity of the individual soul, the non-duality of the infinite Soul, the unity of all existence and the harmony of all religions. Jnana yoga shows the way to realize the oneness of the individual soul with the supreme Soul through the discipline of discrimination between the real and the unreal. Karma yoga shows the way to perfection for the active man of the world. In it, Swamiji reshapes the cardinal teachings of the Gita, keeping in view the necessity of its application to the ethical needs of contemporary India. Here he guides us to learn the secret of doing work with non-attachment. Bhakti yoga teaches man how to train his emotions in order to attain his spiritual end. While the first part of it deals with details of concrete worship, the second concerns the practice of higher discipline-love for love’s sake, devoid of fear of punishment or expectation of reward. Through such love, the devotee realizes the oneness of the lover and the Beloved. Raja yoga is the exposition of the contemplative technique of Patanjali. However, Swamiji supplements it with other texts and crowns it with a Vedantic orientation. Apart from the various practices of concentration and meditation for mind control, Swamiji shows that the mind possesses unlimited power, which through proper execution enables man to realize the spirit as separate from the body. Swamiji holds that each of these yogas, if followed to its logical conclusion, will lead to the highest spiritual realization. It is up to the individual to discover the path that suits him most and follow it. In his words, ‘Do this either by work, or worship, or psychic control, or philosophy-by one or more or all of these…’ (1.257). A harmonious blending of the teachings of the yogas, in Swamiji’s view, helps to develop a well-balanced spiritual character. Through these different methods of spiritual realization, Swamiji underlines the scientific nature of religion.
Unity of Religions  
The Rig Veda proclaims, ‘Ekam sat vipra bahudha vadanti, Truth is one but sages call it by different names.’ This universal Vedantic truth lived and taught by his illustrious guru Sri Ramakrishna, and his own realization form the basis for Vivekananda’s message of the unity of all religions. In his view, though the different religions of the world differ from one another, their underlying purpose is the same-God-realization. He illustrates this point in the following way. Just as the same water can be collected in vessels of different sizes and shapes, Truth can be seen through different religions. In each vessel (of religion), the vision of God comes in the form of the vessel.
Swamiji draws our attention to the fact of unity in diversity, which is the very plan of the universe. The same thing can be viewed from different standpoint and yet be the same thing. A human being is different from an animal, but as living beings man, woman, animals and plants are all one, and as pure existence man is one with the whole universe. Through such illustrations, Swamiji attempts to establish that ‘all the religions, from the lowest fetishism to the highest absolutism, mean so many attempts of the human soul to grasp and realize the infinite [God], each determined by the conditions of its birth and association, and each of them marking a stages of progress’ (1.332). The existence of differences in races, cultures and temperaments explains the existence of different religions. Recognizing difference as the very sign of life, Swamiji preaches the universality of religion. However, he reminds us that by universal religion, he does not mean an amalgam of the best elements of the different religious systems like Christianity, Buddhism, Islam and Hinduism. Never does he want a Hindu to be converted into a Christian or a Muslim into a Buddhist. The import of his universal religion is that one must stick to one'’ religion and yet feel the underlying bond of unity among all religions As an assurance of the possibility of universal religion, he holds, ‘If it be true that God is the centre of all religions, and that each of us is moving towards Him along one of these radii, then it is certain that all of us must reach that center. And at the center, where all radii meet, all our differences will cease.’ (2.384-5). Friends if only the Muslims and Christians shared Swamiji’s views the world would be a much better place to live in.
According to Swamiji, two essential corollaries of the unity of all religions are tolerance and universal acceptance. In the history of India, we find concretization of these two ideas all throughout. Through centuries, India has sheltered the persecuted and the refugees of all religions and all nations of the earth. At the Chicago Parliament of Religions Swamiji referred to this glorious chapter of our cultural history: ‘I am proud to belong to a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance. We believe not only in universal toleration, but we accept all religions as true’ (1.3). through his words Swamiji intends to make us aware of our spiritual heritage so that we live up to that standard.
Hence a universal religion, which for Swamiji is the ideal for mankind, must be one, which will have a place for every human being - from the lowest savage to the highest man. It will ‘recognize diversity in every man and woman, and whose whole scope, whose whole force, will be created in aiding humanity to realize its own true, divine nature’ (1.19). The recognition of a universal religion, Swamiji hopes, will put an end to worldwide disputes and bloodshed in the name of religion, and generate feelings of loved and sympathy in the hearts of men.
The above study brings to light how Vivekananda rejuvenates the spiritual heritage of India by his humanistic, practical, rational and scientific interpretation of it. Stripping Hindu religion of all its narrowness and rigidity, he lifts it to the status of a universal religion meant for all mankind.
Swamiji’s interpretation of religion manifests the features of humanism all through. It is in his fervent desire to elevate man that he identifies man with God. By holding that man in his true nature is the immortal spirit identical with the Absolute, Swamiji instills in man a sense of dignity. Defining religion as the manifestation of the inherent divinity of man, he makes man strive for the ideals of truth, goodness and beauty. By his emphasis on spiritual realization through detached action, knowledge, devotion and control of mind, Swamiji wants a harmonious development of man. It is to kindle man’s sense of responsibility for his own destiny that he stresses the practice of yoga.
As he looks upon man as the embodiment of Divinity, the meaning and significance of service become clear. We are inspired to serve man as God. Vivekananda’s interpretation clearly points towards his practical outlook. He is aware that religion must be in tune with the times. The modern age is one of science and reason; hence he attempts to make his exposition rational and scientific, and alive to its needs.
For Swamiji, spirituality or religion is not a matter of belief or assent. He affirms time and again that religion is essentially realization or an experiential certainty. His concern is not with metaphysical speculations about the nature of God and afterlife. He gives us a message of courage and hope that God is latent in every one of us and can be realized if we have the passion for it, irrespective of the path we choose. That every man is potentially divine gives man a hope of infinite progress.
In Swamiji’s view the four yogas constitute the practical means for attaining the end of religion. He clarifies that the practice of the yogas does not require you to deliver your reason into the hands of the priests, or to give your allegiance to any superhuman messenger. Yoga tells you to cling to your reason and to take the work in your own hands. Swamiji asserts that religion, like science, can experimented upon, its practices can be deduced from verified truths, and its truths can be demonstrated in personal life. He also shows that just as every physical science is a pursuit for exploring the unity of all phenomena, even so the search of religion is aimed at reaching the unity of all existence.
Finally, through the unity of all religions, he shows a practical way leading to peace and harmony in the world. In short, all through his efforts, Swamiji brings a new awareness of our spiritual inheritance.

Surya, The 'Destroyer Of Darkness'
By Vimla Patil

For  centuries, many civilizations in the world have worshipped the sun, an  effulgent star that lights up the whole world every day. Many religious  cultures hold the sun as the life-giver of the earth and the illuminator of  human intellect. Prominent among these nations is India, which  hosts the best sun temples of the world….
Japa Kusuma Sankasham, Kashyapeyam  Mahadyutim
Tamorim Sarva Papaghnam  Pranotosmi Divakaram…
This is the famous  hymn to the sun that is sung in millions of Indian homes every day. In  translation, it means: ‘Oh Sun, red-blooming and glorious like the Hibiscus  flower, son of the Sage Kashyap, lord of magnificent lustre, destroyer of  darkness and sin, I salute you, the lord who brings us a new dawn every day!’  The powerful Gayatri Mantra too is a prayer to the sun’s power and luminescence  which guides us to seek knowledge and illuminate our inner selves. Learned  sages of the Vedic age regarded the sun as the deity with inexhaustible power  and radiance. Surya or Aditya was the celestial power that sustained all life  on earth. The origin of Sun worship in India  – and other countries like Iran  – thus goes back to several millennia.
Today, according to  archeologists, there are seven major temples of the sun spread across the  various regions of India.  Of these, three are famous and visited by millions: Konark in Orissa, Modhera  in Gujarat and Martand in Kashmir. These three  are vibrantly resurrected and give visitors a fabulous glimpse of India’s  architectural and spiritual glory. Of these, Martand alone has daily rituals of  worship. The names of the other five lesser-known ones are: Dakshinaarka temple  in Gaya, Bihar; Suryanaar Koyil in Tamil Nadu; Suryanarayana  in Arasavilli, Andhra Pradesh; Surya Pahar in Assam  and Bhramanya Dev  Temple in Unao in Central   India.   Apart from these, innumerable smaller shrines  dedicated to the sun god stand all over India and are also featured in  temples dedicated to other deities.
Clearly, from early  ages, Indians worshipped the sun to seek spiritual enlightenment and knowledge.  Over the centuries, sun worship became a dynamic cult that led to the creation  of some of world’s most beautiful temples and shrines with such architectural  excellence that they are now counted among the world’s greatest heritage sites.  Among the famous sun temples of the world, the majority – and probably the best  conserved – are in India  where sun worship has continued over the millenniums. Not only do India’s  sun temples and sculptures attract millions of tourists and pilgrims, great  artists like S H Raza are inspired by the sun’s power to create the most  beautiful paintings. Artists like Shrikant Kashelkar have dedicated their  entire shows to portray their vision of the sun god and his famous temples to  bring back the age of their glory.
Among all sun temples  in India, Konark in Orissa,  Modhera in Gujarat and Martand in Kashmir are  considered the acme of architecture and proportions of beauty. Standing near  the blue expanse of the Bay of Bengal, the  Konark sun temple was built in the 13th century in the shape of a  giant chariot with carved wheels drawing the sun’s spired ratha or car. Each  wall and the spire have some of the most admired sculptures, proving the mastery  of the architects and artists who worked to create this masterpiece. History  says that this gigantic temple was built by the Ganga Dynasty King  Narasimhadeva of Kalinga (1234-1268 AD) in 1250 AD to commemorate his triumphs  against invaders. Legend says that the temple was built to be a centre of power  with two gigantic magnets built into the spire of the temple. These magnets  helped European sailors to navigate their ships but also caused disasters,  giving the spire the name of ‘black pagoda’.
Like many other  temples, Konark was sacked by Islamic invaders in the 15th century.  Legend further says that the main statue of the sun was taken away secretly to  nearby Jagannathpuri, while the temple itself was desecrated. With no daily  worship, the temple fell into disuse and the sea and changing climate continued  its destruction until a project to resurrect the temple was made by British  archeologists. They cleared the mound of sand that covered the monument and  cleaned the temple to bring back much of its lost glory. The only mistake they  made was that they placed the four sculptures of the sun (sunrise, mid-day,  evening and night) in wrong places because of their ignorance of the concept.  Some of the major sculptures of the sun god were moved to museums in Delhi, Kolkata and London.
The renovation of the  temple brought back its glory so well that the British called it an ‘a temple  of overwhelming grandeur even in its decay!” Today, it is a world heritage  shrine and attracts millions of visitors to see its unique construction  concept. The temple is built in the form of a huge chariot for the sun god – with  twelve stone-carved wheels – which is pulled by seven horses. Only one of these  survives the ravages of time. The temple itself symbolizes the unrelenting  passing of time of which the sun is the master.
The seven horses  represent the seven days of the week and the twelve pairs of wheels are the  months of the year. Each has eight spokes to show the qualities one needs to  attain salvation. The temple faces the east and has a dance hall, a hall for  devotees and pillars and walls which carry magnificent sculptures of the  dancing Nataraj and other deities. The roof, which collapsed centuries ago,  lies in a pile of nostalgic rubble in the courtyard, still giving a clear idea  of the grandeur and size of the temple.
One of the sanctums  holds a statue of the sun god carved out of beautiful green chlorite stone and  is considered a priceless masterpiece. However, the main sanctum is empty with  the idol of the sun either destroyed or taken away. The walls, niches, porches  and door frames are embellished with sculptures based on the Kamasutra.  Diametrically opposite to these are the war scenes and celebrations of  conquests which are carved on the gigantic wheels.
To see pictures of Sun  Temple Konarak
The second beautiful  sun temple that is a proud heritage of India  stands in Modhera in Gujarat. Built in 1026 AD  on the banks of the River Pushpavati by King Bhimdev of the Solanki dynasty  (1022-1063 AD), the temple is so built that the sun’s ray’s fall exactly on the  deity’s face on every equinox day. History says that the Solankis were  Suryavanshis – originating from the lineage of the sun god – and therefore  raised many shrines to him all over Gujarat. It  is said that the famous temple   of Somnath, which was  rebuilt by King Bhimdev after its desecration by Allauddin Khilji, had twelve  sun temples in its environs. But these too, fell to the ravages of invaders.
However, the Solankis  rose to great power and built the sun temple as their homage to their family  deity. Modhera is partially in ruins today due to the invasion of Allauddin Khilji  but still stands in grandeur as a great monument of unique architecture. The temple has three prominent features.  The Surya Kund is a  magnificent carved, stepped tank named after sun god and has 108 auspicious  shrines built into it. The Sabha Mandap is a hall for religious events and the Guda  Mandap is the sanctum where the idol of the sun once stood. Both these spaces  have niches where the twelve different aspects of the sun are consecrated. The  intricate carvings – including outstanding toranas – show what an architectural  marvel this temple once was!
To see pictures of Sun Temple Modhera  
The last of the three great sun temples of India stands – surprisingly – in Martand, Kashmir. This temple, unique in architecture and standing  against Himalayan snow-clad peaks, is considered the most beautiful temple  built by King Lalitaditya of Kashmir, (724-760  AD) belonging to the solar Karakota  dynasty. Experts say this temple is unique in world architecture and a tribute  to the Kashmiri genius of the king who built many cities which now are in  ruins.  Martand – or Matan as it is colloquially called – is celebrated as one  of the world's great architectural marvels of Kashmiri architectural art as  well as for its magnificent location. Built of limestone and with Greek-pattern  pillars, the temple reminds one of the powerful reign of King Lalitaditya, who  was not only the builder of a vast empire – reaching Afghanistan  and even Turkey  – but also a patron of art and architecture of Kashmiris which he influenced  for six centuries.
The sun temples of India,  though partly in ruins, are unique and magnificent. The nostalgia they generate  is so deep that standing in front of each of them, one is taken back in time to  an age when temple building was an unmatched skill of Indian builders and  architects. The grandeur of the edifices proves that even today, Indians have  the ability to live in several ages – from the Vedic era to today tech-savvy  age – with an inborn ease. They also prove that India has the world’s most valuable  and unmatched treasure of heritage sites!

Om Tat Sat

(My humble salutations to  Dr.Sudipta Datta Roy, Vimla Patil ji and hindu samskrit dot com  for the collection)


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