Religious and Literature articles
1.India’s Cultural Heritage
2.Vyasa and the Puranas
3.Sage Veda Vyasa and Indian Culture
4.Message of Lord Sri Krishna
5.A few thoughts on Mahabharata
7.Bhakthi Yoga, Jnana Yoga and Prapatti Yoga
8.Sri Ramanuja and Visishtadvita
1. India’s Cultural Heritage
The encyclopaedic synthesis sponsored by the Ramakrishna Institute of Culture is a symbol of the renaissance of Hindu thought and ideals as well as a treasure house of ancient lore; and the whole range of Indian civilisation and the variegated products of Hindu culture have been dealt with in several volumes dealing with religious philosophies, literature and the arts and sciences from the twilight of time up to the present day.
The admitted achievements of India in the directions of assimilation, adaptation and synthesis of various points of view surmounting all diversity and conflict will be illustrated by the movements recorded in these volumes. The religious, artistic and philosophical developments in India demonstrate India’s consistent striving towards Samanvaya, that is, reconciliation and concord. Culture patterns have been modified from time to time. Different environments diversified racial contributions and innumerable local and historical traditions have not affected basically the continuity of Indian Culture during more than six thousand years.
Volume II of this literary tour-de-force comprises studies of the Ithihasas, Puranas and Sastras. This volume will be specially significant in the light of present day Indian conditions and could be invaluable for a proper solution of the problem of national integration which is now exercising the minds of Indian leaders. The conviction of the immanence of the Supreme Being in every animate being leading to a realisation of the dignity of each individual is the message taught by this volume and would be of critical importance for creating those bonds of love and service which are indispensable for to-day and tomorrow. From another point of view, the contributions contained in this volume would be of import as they would put in proper perspective the values emphasised in modern civilisation. India, while not decrying economic advancement of social utility, has always stressed the importance of human personality against all challenge to it. Neither stark individualism nor collectivisation can solve the problems confronting us and this lesson is specially conveyed by the Itihasas and the Puranas.
The Amara Kosa, describing the main characteristics of the Puranas specially points out that the commands of the Vedas are like those of a master (Prabhu Samhita), whereas the teachings of the Itihasas and the Puranas may be compared with the advice and counsel of friends (Suhrit Samhita).
The Epic Age during which the Ramayana and the Mahabharatha received their final shape, was a period of racial and ideological confilict; and, historically speaking, this period produced the two great Epics as well as the Manu Dharma Sastra, the Codes of Yajinavalkya, Narada and Parasara and the earlier Puranas. Great mental expansions and new political outlooks were the characteristics of this age. Gradually, the idea was evolved that India, in spite of its various kingdoms, races and creeds was essentially one. This fundamental unity is enforced in several passages of the Mahabharatha. The Kurma Purana, in describing “Bharatavarsha” emphasises such unity notwithstanding the diversities of race and culture; and the earlier Vayu Purana strikes the same note. The Hindu scheme of life expressed in the formula, Dharma- Artha-Kama-Moksa, which had originated earlier was, during this period, perfected and codified. Ideal types of character representing all stages of human life became epic heroes. Not only the ideal Sannyasi or the Rishi but ideal king, the loyal wife and brother, the disciplined and diligent student, the citizen active in his avocation and the peasant as the guardian of fundamental virtues and loyalties were each presented in the Itihasas and the Puranas as examples and symbols of the variegated Indian life. The influence cannot be exaggerated of such examples of human potentiality and achievement as Rama, Lakshmana, Kausalya, Sita, Hanuman, Bharata, Yudhishthira and Bhima. The formula afore-mentioned of Dharma-Artha-Kama-Moksa, became more than formal when it was illustrated by the innumerable lives of the characters described in the Puranas and the Itihasas. The stories, epilogues and parables contained in them were not put together for the purpose of furnishing a chronologically accurate history. Subsequent researches have demonstrated that the Itihasas and the Puranas are more accurate historically, geographically and chronologically than was at one time supposed; but it can never be forgotten that they were composed rather to furnish examples and models than to record specific historical incidents in dry detail. Moreover, while each Purana exalts a particular deity, it must be noted that the catholicity and the uniformity of the Hindu approach to the Supreme are affirmed at every turn. For instance, Rama is described as a devotee of Siva and Aditya and so was Arjuna. The Vayu Purana, in fact, asserts that he who affirms superiority or inferiority among divine manifestations is a sinner.
From the time of Macaulay, it has been a favourite pursuit of some critics to deride the geography and description of the Puranas and to accuse them of exaggeration or distortion. Some special virtues are, in their opinion, grossly over accentuated as in the case of Sibicakravarthi, Harischandra and Karna. In many ancient scriptures including the Egyptian “Book of the Dead” and the Old and the New Testament, there are to be found similar inherent improbabilities and historical contradictions. But it must not be ignored that these great products of the human mind were not intended to be substitutes for historical handbooks or for Directories like those of Baedaker or Murray.
A proper interpretation of the Itihasas and the Puranas would be to regard them as the works of gifted seers, who availed themselves of certain ancient or recent historical and religious traditions and wove those traditions into narratives, anecdotes, episodes and homilies, these works reflecting and reproducing certain attitudes towards life. In truth, there are a body of writings which are popular expositions of inherited truths and messages, their avowed purpose being to diffuse their purport amongst the people at large. Thus, the Ramayana furnishes pictures of kings who led a spiritual life and of ascetics who played a great part in the affairs of nations. Difficult situations are pictured, whose impact on several human souls is brilliantly analysed. Dharma, as the chief factor for the shaping of human life, is the underlying motive of the Ramayana and its many episodes. The Mahabharata is not only a picture of a great internecine struggle illustrating the conflict of human motives and human attributes but a repertoire of comprehensive secular and religious learning. It is not simply a great poem but also a manual of ethics, politics and morality. It can well be asserted that the Ramayana and the Mahabharata have throughout been the foundations of Hindu ethics and beliefs.
Whatever the respective dates of the several Puranas may be, they embody ancient legends as the very name Purana signifies. Whereas the Epics deal with the actions of heroes as mortal men and embody and illustrate both human virtues and frailties, the Puranas mainly celebrate the power and the work of various Super-human personages and deities. The Pancalaksanas described by Amara Simha as characterising the Puranas are not found in all of them. The contents of many Puranas are very old but many of the later ones have a definite sectarian bias. They are nevertheless valuable record of the several Hindu beliefs, which originated next in order to the Vedas and which incorporated hero-worship as well as divine worship and they may be rightly described as essentially pantheistic in character. Although a particular divinity may be essentially glorified, nevertheless, there is an underlying quest for unity of life and of Godhead.
Almost all the Puranas are in the form of dialogues between an exponent and an enquirer. Thus, the Vishnu Purana was a gift to Pulastya by Brahma. Pulastya communicated it to Parasara and Parasara to Maitreya. The Puranas are divided into three categories, viz. the Sattvic Puranas, the Tamasic Puranas and the Rajasic Puranas. The Vayu Purana is the oldest of them. But perhaps the Markandeya Purana and the Bhagavata Purana are the most celebrated and latter ranks in popular appreciation as almost equal in value to the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, expecially as it deals at length with the Krishna incarnation and with all the activities of that Supreme Avatar. From the literary point of view, perhaps, the most perfect is the Vishnu Purana.
These Purana and the several Upa Puranas, of which eighteen are generally named, when rightly construed are neither mutually contradictory nor even purely sectarian. Regarded as a whole, they furnish a compendious portrayal of human rights and obligations and as expressive descriptions of Hindu life, as it has been and ought to be lived. The Ramayana, for instance, is a mirror of the highest ideals of Hindu culture and civilisation. In his lectures on the Ramayana the Right Honourable Srinivasa Sastri declared that it furnishes impressive illustrations of cause being followed inevitably by effect, of Karma, re-birth and destiny and that it embodies generalisations of experience in private and public affairs enshrined in proverbs, maximum and rules of chivalry and state craft. The Mahabharata, as Dr. Radhakrishnan has indicated, contains an illuminating account of the Indian genius both in the nobility and greatness and its tragic weakness and insufficiency. The Mahabharata speaks of men and women who are animated by strong passions, both good and evil but the purpose of this Epic is to show the futility of the betrayal of ideals and the pursuit of evil. It stresses that an underlying purpose and guiding destiny are inseparable from human history. The appeal of the Bhagavata Purana is to the Bhakta. Devotion and detachment in several forms are embodied in attractive stories. The Sage Vyasa, having edited the Vedas and composed the Mahabharata, had nevertheless not attained serenity and the Bhagavata was, as it states, composed on the advice of Narada, who told Vyasa that he could attain peace of mind only by the contemplation as a true devotee of the deity and his incarnations. The Bhagavata, at the same time, recognises the principle of relativity, and its spiritual prescriptions are adjusted to the different stages of individual development. The psychology of bhakti has been closely studied and expounded in this most popular of the Puranas.
The Itihasas and the Puranas are specially remarkable for the number of episodes contained in them. The most remarkable, of course, are the various Gitas, the most renowned of them being the Bhagavadgita. It was the revelation granted to Arjuna by Sri Krishna at a critical period not only for the Kurus and the Pandavas but for India as a whole. It has been severally described as embodying pure monism or qualified monism with the introduction of Prakriti. It has been described as the Sankhya Yoga and many commentators have made the Gita the basis for their several and divergent interpretations. Rightly viewed, however, the Gita is not a weapon for dialectical warfare. As Sri Aurobindo would show, it is a gate opening on the whole world of spiritual truth and experience and the view it gives us embraces all provinces of the human mind and soul. It maps out, but does not cut up or build walls. The Gita came into existence after the period of the Vedas and the Upanishads. It starts with a freely conceived synthesis and constructs a harmony of knowledge, love and works (Jnana, Bakthi and Karma) through which the soul of man can directly approach the Eternal. It truly seizes on the very obstacles to spiritual life and compels them to become the means for richer spiritual conquest. The body and the mind are to be utilised for the coming up of the divine life. In fine, the Gita may be described as a gospel of the divine perfectibility of man.
It may be remembered that, in addition to the Bhagavadgita, there are interposed in our sacred literature other works entitled “Gitas”, notably the Astavakra Samhita being a dialogue between Janaka and Astavakra; the Avadhuta Gita being a conversation between Dattatreya and Skanda, the Anu Gita found in the Asvameda Parva of the Mahabharatha and the Uddahava Gita embedded in the Bhagavata and containing the last message and instructions of Sri Krishna to his devotee, Uddhava. The basic message of all the Gitas is thus enunciated in the Astavakra Samhita.
“You, namely, the immanent self, do not belong to the Brahmin or other castes nor to any Ashrama. You are beyond visual perception and are detached (i.e. beyond attachment) and beyond forms. Witnessing all phenomena, you are happy (i.e. you preserve your equilibrium”. It is in the Uddhava Gita that Sri Krishna says:
“In the beginning men had but one caste known as Hamsa” In the Bhagavadgita, the Lord proclaims; “The four castes were created by me to function according to individual qualities and inheritance”.
The conclusion is thus stated:
“He who does his duty in consonance with his innate potentiality incurs no sin”
The main requisites are again declared to be detachment and faith in the ultimate.
The Dharma Sastras and the Artha Sastras and the legal treatises implementing their practical application by means of a hierarchical judicial system comprise normative sciences devoted to the practical methods by which life should be regulated; persons should be educated and trained; trade, commerce and economic progress stimulated and the right ends of human life secured. The Manu Smrti is the leading Dharma Sastra and Kautilya’s Artha Sastra and Kamandaki’s Niti Sastra are celebrated manuals on polity. The Mitakshara, the Dayabhaga and other legal treatises purport to be based on the Dharma Sastras; and until recent legislation changed the law in some respects, these governed human and family relationships amongst Hindus. They expounded rules that outlined rights and obligations which were enforced by means of specific sanctions. The king or ruler for the time being was the final appellate authority, but he was bound by the dictates of Dharma and was obliged to recognise usage and custom founded on the practice of good men in the various parts of the country. Such customs were recognised as valid even though they may be local or regional. The King was described as the fashioner of the times.
This maxim meant in essence that the law was not static but could move with the times. The Manu Dharma Sastra contains the teachings expounded by his pupil, Bhrgu. It purports to set out the rules of all sects and communities. Many verses of the Manu Smriti occur in the Mahabharata. Other Dharma Sastras were also compiled by Narada, Yajnavalkya, Gautama, Apasthamba and others. It is not possible, here and now, fully to discuss the contents or purports of these Dharma Sastras but they belong to a period when, after the Epic age, India had settled down into social and economic strata. Efforts were made by sages and seers to formulate the rules of life to be followed at each stage of human existence and by the various social and economic groups. The Dharma Sastras present an analysis of man in society. The Manu Smrti and the succeeding Dharma Sastras treat social life from the point of view of religion and morality. On the other hand the Artha Sastras (of which Kautilya’s is the most well-knit and logical) take account or all previous literature on the subject. In the words of Kautilya himself, Artha is an object of men and this Sastra aids in the acquisition and protection of property and the governance of each country.
Kautilya himself refers to various schools of polity including those of Yamini, Badarayana and others. His Artha Sastra is undoubtedly based on the logic of the material interests of kings and monarchs and the means of securing them and it may be worthwhile to note that later literary tradition has often assailed Kautilya’s utilitarian point of view. Kautilya recognise the presence of small states and discusses their inter-relations. But basically his outlook is in favour of an expanded empire and he is remarkable in having envisaged the “Chakravarti Kshetra” as the whole country stretching from the Himalayas to the Southern Ocean. As is well known, Vishnu Gupta or Kautilya, otherwise known as Chanakya, was not only celebrated as a king-maker but is now regarded as the greatest exponent of realistic policies of governance and of methods of diplomacy as applicable to a period of foreign impact and internal disunity.
In general perspective, the Ramayana may be regarded as describing the penetration of Aryan culture into the whole of India. The Mahabharata not only reflects the culture of a particular age but symbolises various forms of struggle between the forces of good and evil. The Bhagavadgita is a great work of synthesis and the Bhagavata itself is marked by a great spirit of accommodation.
The Manu Dharma Sastra furnishes detailed instructions regarding social rules and practices. Manu’s system is based on deliberate emphasis on the need and importance of the conservation of social order. It summarised and insisted upon custom and convention at a time when they were assailed. Kautilya’s Artha Sastra and the other Sastras prove that both the practical and theoretical problems of economics and politics were closely studied by our ancients. The Dharma and Niti Sastras contain lessons invaluable to us relating to the nature and limits of sovereignty, the basis of local government and records of representative institutions, theories of punishment, the functions of the policy and the principles of taxation. A great deal of realism can be perceived in these works, side by side with the idealism underlying most Hindu literary and religious efforts.
In the Hindu view of life, ideals and activities were not divided up but considered to be inter-dependent. Society was viewed as individuals and on the reconciliation and equipoise of duties and obligations, whether of individual classess or functionaries, was held to depend the harmony, not only of a particular community, but of the whole creation. Life, to quote Professor K.V. Rangaswami Aiyengar, in his Raja Dharma, was a continuum not interrupted by death and so were deed and thought.
In dealing with the Dharma Sastras it must be remembered that a great deal of misunderstanding has arisen from the mis-translation of Manu’s term, Varna. It has always been translated as caste, whereas it should be, as rightly pointed out by Vincent Smith, rendered as class or order. The Manu Dharma Sastra realises the distinction between Varma and Jati (Class and birth), a distinction accentuated in the Bhagavadgita, which speaks of Varnas as dependent as much on mental equipment as on heritage. The fluidity of the institutions of caste has not been rightly appreciated in most studies of Indian institutions.
2. Vyasa and the Puranas
Tradition ascribes to Krishnadvaipayana Vyasa the authorship of the 18 major Puranas. This Vyasa is the son of Parasara through Satyavathi. Since he was born in an island, he was Dvaipayana and since he was of dark complexion, he was Krishna. It is still an unsettled issue as to which of the 18 Puranas were authored by him. South of the Vindhyas, a verse is in vogue listing the 18 thus. There are two beginning with M – Matsya and Markandeya, two with B - Bhagavata and Bhavishya , three with Bra - Brahama, Brahamanda and Brahama vaivarta , four with V - Varaha , Vishnu, Vamana and Vayu, One with A – Agni, one with N – Narada, one with P – Padma, one with L – Linga one with Ga - Garuda, one with Ku – Kurma and one with Ska - Skanda. The Sri Bhagavatha which indicates the number of slokas in each Purana, omits Vayu purana and includes Siva purana. But the irony is that the Vishnu purana which gives this sloka count is held by some as the production of a latter intellectual, probably Bhopadeva. They say that Devi Bhagavatam is, on the contrary, Vyasa’s work.
The orthodox view has no patience with what is described as a historical approach. The irony about Purana literature is that it has undergone additions, interpolations and mutilations of the text down the centuries. These ‘modifications’, if at all they can be so described are the out come of both scholastic and royal egos. The kings wanted their names to be included in the Puranic list of dynasties to perpetute their memory as patrons of religion, arts and what not. The scholars who were stumped for an explanation of some of their contemporary customs introduced into the texts names of ascetics of particular orders as well as the Athivarnasramis. The chronological code of the Puranas suffers from greater ambivalence than that of the Vedas – an ambivalence which is the outcome of a reluctance to shed the pleasing mythology that had grown round the code. For example, the Vedic mantra used for aseervachana – Samjnanam, Prajnanam, Vignanam etc. is a code about the half thithis, but it is amusing to note because of the ignorance of priests and yajamanas, the obeisance which the repetition of the code elicits, as if a shower of the choicest blessings of Providence is being brought down for the benefit of the yajamana and his family, not excluding the cousin of the fortieth remove living abroad who, the yajamana considers his potential refuge and support in his own lean years.
This is mentioned not for amusement but to press the point that the code of the Puranas itself, in its exposition in diverse forms, has led to host of avoidable misreading and to the specious argument, on the basis of that misreading, that the apparent inner contradictions were proof positive against the commonness of their authorship. The Puranas have five characteristics, Sarga, Pratisarga, Vamsa, Manvantra, Vamsanucharita. Of these five, the Sarga and Pratisarga are the roots from which spring what are known as the Trithaya of Vamsa, Manvantara and Vamsanucharita. If the first two are the basic characterstics, the remaining three are an extension, through interaction, of these basic characteristics.
Thus the extension of the universe out of the Brahman through his sankalpa is expatiated upon in the stories of kings, Manus and dynastic and sacerdotal expositions. I hasten to stress this point precisely for calling off satire - totally undeserved – which is heaped upon Puranas as constituting nothing more than the understandably fictional themes which are very good bedtime tales for putting children to sleep. The authors of this view go so far as to say that the dictum that the Puranas are an elaboration of Vedic truths is a polite compliment paid to them to keep them alive and is nothing more than that. These will have us believe that the mighty intellect that Vyasa was who could discern the imperceptible unity of the Vedic texts and could give them in very well arranged four samhitas of the Rig, Yajus, Sama and Atharva Vedas suddenly became so senile as to indulge in dishing put incredible mythological stories and well-spun out religious yarn of undecipherable count.
First let us take some of the alleged contradictions. Take Prahlada Charitra in Matsya, Vishnu and Bhagavata. In Matsya Purana, the story is that, after the long trial and tribulations that Prahalada underwent, he was able to convince his father of the supremacy of Narayana. Hiranyakasipu calls a truce declaring that after all there is no need for quarrel between one who rules and who will rule after him. After such reconciliation, the father and son live in peace for some years. One day a lion, – not man lion but a simple lion – appears at the court. The guards fail in trying to drive it out. It comes very near the throne. Hiranyakasipu asks Prahalada as to whether it was a real lion. The son stands up, folds his hands and worships the lion as reflecting the Viswa Roopa of Lord Narayana. Hiranyakasipu laughs and jestingly fists the lion, gets killed and is succeeded by Prahalada.
In Vishnu Purana, the sufferings imposed on Prahalada by the father are detailed. A truce ensues. And the Purana ends the episode saying: After this, one day Vishnu slew Hiranya. In both these versions, the killing is after Hiranyakasipu had called a truce and father and son were living amicably. In Sri Bhagavata, the punishments inflicted on Prahalada are given in a single verse. The avatara is described in magnificent detail. The cynics put the question as to how the same event got described in three entirely different ways.
Another example of the alleged contradiction is the Daksha Yagna episode. In most Puranas which described it Daksha perishes after his daughter’s immolation in her own yogagni in the sacrificial yard. In Vayu Purana, Sati teases Siva about his meekness in the face of the insult her father had cast on him by not inviting him for Yagna. Siva is calm. But Sati jeers at him still more. She does not go anywhere near the place of the yagna. But Siva unable to bear the hurt of her taunts appears out of the sacrificial fire as Veerabhadra, kills Daksha and destroys the sacrifice.
The traditional explanation of these contradictions is that Puranic events differed according to Kalpa. It is like Bali becoming Indra in one Manvantara and Anjaneya becoming Brahma in another. But those who read the text closely will discover some astonishing bits of truth that help unify the apparently diverse texts. The basic Veda mantra behind the Prahlada story, Kaya Adhava meant one who does not husband his body or does not care for his body. He is naturally in great ahlada or bliss Hiranyakasipu means one with a gold couch that is one who husbands body and goes after luxuries that pander to the body and carnal instincts. Those who are eager for the pleasures of this world will stop at nothing to get them. But they do not get them. The pleasures on the contrary chase the one that spurns them. The eminence that Prahlada got is an instance in point.
You may ask: What about the contradiction which consists in a mere lion, killing Hiranyakasipu in Matsya Purana and a Man-lion effecting that killing in other Puranas? I do not have to provide the answer because Vyasa himself does. The lion is known as Panchasya - broad faced. The human body is five faced in the sense of being motivated by the five senses. Hiranyakasiputvam led to domination by senses and destruction. Prahlada was sword to the senses and so transcended them. The lion-face is only an allegory. Hence full lion or a lion-face does not constitute any worthwhile difference in describing the overwhelming effect suffered from the senses. In the Daksha episode, Siva is said to have caused destruction easily because Siva is fire and through fire he burnt off everything. The subtle reference is here to the fire of avarice which consumed Daksha and left him dull headed.
Vyasa’s insistence on allegory is clear from the elaborate manner in which, in every Purana of his, he describes the origin of the universe and its inhabitants. Like the spider spitting out the web and withdrawing it, Brahman by his sankalpa projects and absorbs the worlds. The rudder which the beings of the world cannot afford to lose hold of is the divinity which has shaped them and their destinies. The sum and substance of this basic teaching of his is contained in the interesting verses from the Bhagavata Purana. Daksha reborn as Prachetasa creates 10,000 sons known as as Haryaswas and asks them to do penance for multiplying creation. They are met by Narada who says’ there is a nation which is in the sole control of a ruler. There is an opening in the that country from which there can be no getting out. There is a lady there who takes many forms and a male who runs after her. There is a river in that country which flows at the sametime from one and the same point towards opposite directions. Here are 25 shore huts. One hears sweet and attractively fictional and distinct music also there from the swans. There is a wheel ever spinning fast which has edges as sharp as a lancet. Without understanding this, what is the point in languishing for creation?
The puzzle when resolved is simply this: There is only one master for the world, namely, God. The hole in the world is death out of which none can be extricated. The lady referred to is the play of five senses to which man is a prey. The river flowing in opposite directions is the river of life which leads to mortality as well as immortality according to the conduct of the individual concerned. The shore huts are the 25 tattvas. The music of swan is the attractive Vedic texts of Karma marga promising this, that or the other for doing this or the other yajna. The wheel is Kala chakara. Knowing the limitations of the world in this manner, one should conduct oneself with its master namely God. All other effort will be futile.
No wonder, on hearing these words of wisdom, the Haryawas betook themselves to the quest of the Lord.
Vyasa is the author of Brahma Sutras, which are aphorisms proclaiming Vedantic truths. It is only natural that, in this Puranic works also, he took care to highlight the need for discriminating between material welfare and spiritual well-being. The thread of expansion of the Infinite through finite creations is displayed as the means to understanding the real roots of happiness that happiness. That does not consist in running away from the orgin but running towards it. Such running towards the origin calls for a constant remembrance of God. Says Vyasa through Suka.
“Untile you are able to discern God in all the infinite creations of his around you, you will have to do Sthoola Dharma of God as constituting and indwelling in all such creation”.
Thus the story part of the Puranas has a validity which is ingrained in the Paramarthika texts of Vedantic literature. Even while describing the details of the the Hindu pantheon, the principle of unity as consisting in the oneness of God is not sacrificed. Brahma comes out of the navel of Vishnu. Rudra comes out of the anger of Brahma. Everything comes out of the primordial waters indwelt by Narayana. Everything collapses in the wrath of Siva. The fundamental force operating underneath all creation is Sakti. Being feminine, It is made into a goddess to whom the other gods are vassals. But time and again Vyasa clarifies the symbolism behind all such description, whether it is the Krodhaakaraankusa of the Devi, the Kala charka of Vishnu or the Chandrahasa or thunderbolt of Siva. Having been composed for less evolved souls like ourselves, the Puranas present the essence of the formless infinite through a diversified spectrum of forms each of which has a bunch of qualities which will appeal to the select core of its special worshipers. These forms are relatively unreal but they help in leading the savant to the real. The fulfilment of the prayer “Lead me from the unreal to the real” becomes easier by cultivating such personal Gods.
As regards the political code of the Puranas, the emphasis is on democratic monarchy where, if the king transgresses the guidelines of councillors representing public opinion he loses the right to govern and can stay only as an ornamental head.
The Hindu concept is that he, who is devoid of Vishnu Amsa, cannot be born to rule. Since royalty is a birth right, the annihilation of the king is taboo. Most of the Puranas are one in reiterating the sentiment contained in the familiar verse of the Mahabharata. The state of the country is the direct outcome of the condition of its ruler. There can be no extenuating circumstance for the ruler for deviating from the dharmic path.
3. Sage Veda Vyasa and Indian Culture
The great Sage Vyasa is the architect and upholder of our national culture. Our Bharatiya culture is rooted in the extant Vedas and Upanishads, and our philosophies are different expositions of the Brahma Sutras, all of which we owe to this Vyasa. We may hold that this universal thinker still meets the needs of differing view-points and ideals; This may be the flowering of his reputed ‘VISAALA-BUDDHI’. His birth is very significant - the son of the redoubtable Brahmin Sage, Parasara and the maiden SATYAVATI – MATSYA GANDHI, brought up by a fisherman. As the child was dark in colour he was called Krishna. At one stroke, the inferiority complex pertaining to the dark-complexioned humans is annihilated, paving the way for an integrated culture. In the legends about the celestial antecedents of Satyavati, born inside a fish and her previous births, we may divine the integration of different cultures of all regions – north and south; celestial, human, and sub-human too; manifest to us as the universal VYASA: PARASARA ignored the fishy order of Satyavati and saw in her only a fit vessel for containing a while his immortal progeny – a first step in eradicating the prejudice of caste, colour, occupation and environment. Every human being can become ‘fragrant’ in life, through the grace of a great and noble person, by-passing an apparent dishonour’. As Vyasa was born in an island – Dweepa – he was called Dvaipayana. But he could not be held in an island, even for an instant i.e., he could not be ‘insular’ in any sense; he was to soar into the empyrean worlds – wasn’t he Vishnu himself? – ‘VYASAYA VISHNU - ROOPAYA VYASA ROOPAYA – VISHNAVE – NAMO - VAI - BRAHMANIDHAYE - VASISTHAYA - NAMO – NAMAH’.
He is credited with the authorship of all Puranas, the upa-puranas, and the epic MAHABHARATHA, which is an encyclopaedia of our national culture. Sage PARASARA himself exclaims: - ‘Who but Lord NARAYANA could have composed the MAHABHARATHA?’
Looked at simply as a story, there is no parallel to this epic in the world, in the multitude of sharply – defined characters and the vast range of incidents, tragic and comic, embracing all parts of the land and even beyond. It canvas is indeed the whole world!
Again, what a wealth of subsidiary stories is treasured in this epic! It is enough to remind ourselves of SAVITRI – SATYAVAN and NALA-DAMAYANTI, in this context, let alone the story of SITA-RAMA and SAKUNTALA – DUSHYANTA in it.
That SRIMAD BHAGAVAD GITA and VISHNU SAHASRANAMA are but incidental portions of this epic staggers the imagination! What about worldly and spiritual counsels expounded directly in the SHANTI and ANUSASANA PARVAS? Need one goes elsewhere, even in modern times, for relevant guidance, in sphere, including politics!
This epic also is a grand mosaic of all cultures and beliefs – worship of INDRA, VARUNA and other celestials evolving into the worship if UPENDRA – VISHNU! AGNI abiding in SIVA the progenitor of KUMARA; the LINGA form of ADMIRATION: SIVA – SAHASRANAMA expounded by SRI KRISHNA, SUN-WORSHIP; DURGA or KALI worship; GANESA POOJA; glorification of SRIMAT NARAYANA in the PANCHARATRA mode.
Like VISHVAMITHRA in TRETA-YUGA, VYASA of the DWAPARA YUGA was a universal friend. It is his ‘SNEHA’ for all being pouring out of his ‘ARAVINDA LOCHANA’ that is the oil that keeps the MAHABHARATA ever glowing – ‘TAILA – POORNA – PRAJVALITO – JNAANA – MAYA – PRADEEPAH’. His is not a light to be a hidden in a bushel – it is the blazon from the mountain tops!
But alas, VYASA ends the epic on a note of frustration that no one listens to the counsel of ‘DHARMA’ – bestower of all the ends of life! This is valid to-day, more than even before!
We have alas to recall here the greatest book of DEVOTION – SRIMAD BHAGAVATAM – attributed to VYASA, as composed by him to gain peace of mind! It is a significant pointer to us that this has become deservedly more popular than VISHNU PURANA.
VYASA is the author of BRAHMA SUTRAS, which are aphorisms of VEDANTIC truths. It is only natural that, in his puranic works also, he took care to highlight the need for discriminating between material and spiritual welfare. The thread of expansion of the infinite through finite creations is displayed as the means to understanding the real roots of happiness. That happiness does not consist in running away from the origin but running towards it. Such running towards the origin calls for a constant remembrance of God. Says VYASA through Suka:
Until you are able to discern GOD in all the infinite creations of his around you, you will have to do STHOOLA DHARANA of GOD as constituting and indwelling in all such creation.
Thus the story part of the Puranas has a validity which is ingrained in the PARAMARTHIKA texts of VEDANTIC literature. Even while describing the details of the HINDU PANTHEON, the principle of unity as consisting in the oneness of GOD is not sacrificed. BRAHMA comes out of the primordial waters indwelt by NARAYANA and everything collapses in the wrath of SIVA. The fundamental force operating underneath all creation is Sakthi. Being feminine gender, it is made into a goddess to whom the other gods are vassals. But time and again VYASA clarifies the symbolism behind all such description whether it is the KRODHAAKARAANKUSAA of DEVI, the KALACHAKRA of VISHNU or the MANDRAHASA or THUNDERBOLT of SIVA. Having been composed for less evolved souls like ourselves, the PURANAS present the essence of the formless infinite through a diversified spectrum of forms each of which has a bunch of qualities which will appeal to the select corps of its special worshippers.
As repositories of knowledge about arts and sciences, the PURANAS have no parallel. Astronomical information relating to planets and their movements and other Zodiacal details are provided in BHAGAVA in the SISUMARACHAKRA VARNAM. The mountains and rivers of BHARATA and other varshas are also there but it is difficult to identify them now because the names have changed. Speculation about anti-matter which is today’s scientific masterpiece is there in the BHAGAVATA which speaks about the AADARSA TALOPAMA region. The huge holes that swallow nebulae and other heavenly bodies are described also in interesting detail. When I read about them at college, I put it down for mere scientific fiction, but lo! Modern science vouches for its validity.
The VARAHA PURANA has a chapter on DHANUR MASA. In modern language, the PURANA says that the human body is kept in perfect health by a proper balance of infra red and violet ingestion from the sun’s rays. The ingestion is automatic for the body if you take a walk between 4 and 5.00 a.m. in DHANUR MASA. BHAJANS may have been a later invention to forget the chill besides soliciting GOD at the same time.
When any mention is made about GARUDA PURNA, people think that it speaks only about funeral obsequies and the journey of the unliberated soul after death. The Purana has 3 parts – BRAHMA KANDA providing the usual Puranic stories, PRETA KHANDA speaking of unliberated souls and ablutions to them and ACHARA KHANDA which describes the various facets of MANI, MANTRA and OUSHADA. The Chapter on VAJRA PAREEKSHA or test of diamond is so simple to grasp that when I compared notes on it with a diamond merchant, the latter was amazed at that accurate knowledge. The chapters on OUSHADHA supply information on common maladies and remedies. The discussion on alchemy – that is conversion of base metals into gold – mentions quantities of ingredients to be mixed. The quantities when added up become equal to the atomic weight of gold. There is mention about a method for measuring the noxious state of liquors which can be corrected by mixing certain fruit juices like those of wood apple and ginger.
The AGNI PURANA, like VARAHA PURANA, is a store house of information on secular and religious architecture. The lay-out of a city, a medium town and a village, road making, the selection of stones for idols, the planning and construction of Temples – even from one big rock as in ELLORA KAILASANATHA temple, the lay-out of rooms which will add to comfort and the lay-out which will breed white ants right in the heart of the drawing room are all presented in pithy passages. Special fumigants for mosquitoes and bugs are also indicated. The ingredients are not easy to identify. But it is worthwhile identifying them because their application is described as being capable of keeping at bay fell diseases like TB & Cancer.
The BRAHMA VAIVARTA PURANA stands in a class apart. It consists of four parts the BRAHMA KHANDA of usual PURANIC lore, the PRAKRUTHI KHANDA glorifying SAKTI in her various forms, the GANESA KHANDA which gives inkling into the origin of GANAPATHI cult both in its pristine and degenerate form as also the battle between GANESA and PARASURAMA. The fourth KHANDA is KRISHNA JANMA KHANDA. This KHANDA will raise many an eyebrow – it has more than raised those of the famous litterateur and critic Mr. NIRAD CHOUDHURY – because of the openly erotic narration of KRISHNA RADHA love episode. How much of it has been composed by Vyasa and how much by later authors, it is difficult to avert. But it can hardly be gainsaid that the VALLABHACHARYA SCHOOL of VAISHNAVISM which popularised the RADHA KRISHNA cult must have had a lot to do with the interpolation of the texts. Indeed the text is erotically more audacious than the most sexy pieces in JAYADEVA’S ASHTAPADI.
Of course the PURANA says that all this is intended only for those who have controlled their passions. The SRI BHAGAVATAM is more straight forward. In BHAGAVATA, the KING PARIKSHIT, after listening to the RASALEELA episode asks how it came about the KRISHNA, who came to the world for establishing DHARMA indulged in adharma?
If, as some of the pundits of today say, the RASALEELA is an allegory and represents the GOPIS or JEEVATMAS pining for union with KRISHNA the PARAMATMA, SUKA should have said so. But what SUKA says is this: Transgression of DHARMA by the great is not unknown, nor even their inexplicable doings. But is may not tarnish them. But ordinary men are forbidden from emulating them. Because RUDRA drank poison and survived, the ordinary man cannot expect so survive by emulating RUDRA. Indeed so far as the great are concerned, it is their precept and not their practice that should be followed.
4. Message of Lord Sri Krishna
Miracle and supernormal manifestations are associated sooner or later with the lives of all the world’s heroes. Buddha, Christ, Muhammad and Sankara and even later devotees like Nanda and Tyagaraja have this halo around them. It is no wonder therefore that so many miraculous happenings cluster round the careers of Rama and Krishna.
Dealing with the Gopi story, it cannot be forgotten that throughout the literatures of the world, the love of man to his Ishta Devata is likened to the love of a woman towards her lover and the bliss of divine communion is likened to the joy of physical union. The Biblical Song of Songs, the saying of Jesus Christ likening God to the bridegroom and the souls to virgins waiting for their spouses, the recorded experiences of medieval Christian saints like St.Theresa and St.Gertrude who recounted the caresses bestowed upon them by Christ, the assertion of St.Catherine that she was betrothed to Christ and was given a ring by him, fall into this class.
The Gopi episodes may best be regarded as symbolic of ideal devotion. Swami Vivekananda, dealing with this aspect of Sri Krishna’s life has dealt with it as the delineation of a love that is supreme that does not care for anything in this world or the world to come. The Lilas in Brindavana may be and have so been interpreted as an allegory of religious experience. Referring to the story of the hiding of the clothes of the milk-maids, Sadhu Vaswani remarks that the critics forget that the incident relates to a time when Sri Krishna was less than ten years old. Some have expounded this incident as the approach of the individual soul – naked before its maker – without the Vastra or the external accompaniment, under which burden our life is stifled.
Mr. Sampatkumaran in his brochure on Krishna cities in connection with this episode what is said of Jesus on one occasion, namely that in answer to a question of his disciples. “When wilt thou be manifest to us?” he replied “When you shall be stripped and not be ashamed”.
Sri Krishna is to us the greatest spiritual mentor and his teachings through the Bhagavadgita, the Anugita and the Uddhavagita embody the essence about the duties of life and the obligations of the human soul in response to the impact of the seen and unseen words.
Everyone has his several and allotted duties. Sin arises not from the nature of the work but from the disposition with which the work is performed. When such work is performed without attachment to results, it cannot tarnish the soul and cannot impede its quest. True Yoga consists in the laborious and necessary acquisition of experience and knowledge and the passage through life in harmony with the ultimate laws of equanimity of non-attachment to the fruits of action and of faith in the pervasiveness of the Supreme Spirit. Absorption with that spirit is possible of attainment along several paths and no path is exclusively to be preferred and none is to be disdained. Sri Krishna’s doctrines are also described in the handbook (by Mr. Sampatkumaran) as embodying a protestant movement laying stress on the personality of God and his accessibility to devotion. Whilst following the Hindu ideal of the Asramas, the Gita stresses the importance of knowledge, charity penance and worship and does not decry life as evil.
“Na hi deha bhrta Sakyam Tyaktum karmani asestah
Yas tu karma phala tyagi satyagity abhidhiyate.
(Bhagavat Gita – 18:11)
“Nor indeed can embodied beings completely relinquish action; verily he who relinquisheth the fruit of action, is said to be a true relinquisher”.
“Nityam sanga-rahitam Araga-dvesatah krtam
Aphala-prepsuna karma Yat tat sattvikam ucyate”
(Bhagavat Gita – 18:23)
That action which is prescribed by scriptures and which is done without the sense of doership and without passion or prejudice, by one who does not seek its fruit, is said to be Sattivic.
(Bhagavat Gita – 9:34)
“Man-mana bhava mad-bhakto mad-yaji mam namaskuru
mam evaisyasi yuktvaivam atmanam mat parayanah
(Bhagavat Gita –18:65)
Fix your mind on Me, be devoted to Me, adore Me and make obeisance to Me, thus uniting yourself to Me and entirely depending on Me; your shall come to Me - This I truly promise to you; for you are dear to Me.
These three verses may be said to be the quintessence of the teachings which are a logical sequence of our ancient scriptures and an indispensable process in that evolution of thought which began with the Vedas and was continued in the Upanishads. The knowledge of the self, the union of that self with the Supreme Self and the processes by which such union can be implemented are all essential components of the Hindu solution of the riddle of the world. Yajnavalkya desiring to bestow his properties on his wives is asked by one of them, Maitreyi, “If the whole world with all its wealth be mine, could I become immortal?” The answer was and cannot but be, “Dear one, the life of the wealthy, thy life might become; by wealth however, there is no hope of (obtaining) immortality”. Then came the great teaching of the Brhadaranayaka Upanishad which is summarised in the Second Chapter, Fourth Brahmana, Fifth verse, beginning with the worlds, “Sahovaca navaare patyuh kamaya patih priyobhavati” etc.
Freely translated –
He said – “Behold, not indeed for the husband’s sake the husband is dear, but for the sake of the self, is dear the husband, Behold, not indeed for the wife’s sake the wife is dear, but for the sake of self, is dear the wife. Behold, not for the Brahman’s sake the Brahman is dear, but for the sake of the self, is the Brahman dear”. The Upanishad goes on to declare:- “Behold, not for the god’s sake the gods are dear, but for the sake of the self are dear the gods. Behold, not for the Vedas’ sake the Vedas are dear, but for the sake of the self, are dear the Vedas. Behold, not for the sake of the universe the universe is dear, but for the sake of the self is dear the universe. Behold, the self (Atman) is verily to be seen, heard, minded (and) meditated upon. Behold, O Maitreyi, by seeing, hearing, minding, knowing the self all this (universe) is comprehended”.
The teachings of the Gita are seen to be a restatement and an amplification of the truths which have been the special heritage of our race.
The main characteristic of Hinduism may be said to consist in its continuity, its ordered evolution, its adaptability and its tolerance. Hinduism, in its varied aspects, recognises the inevitable varieties of human life and human experience, the needs of individuals in several stages of evolution and the natural reactions to life and destiny of persons in several stations. No religion makes so many allowances for environment and heredity and for the too frequent falling away from the ideal. While rigidly adhering to the fundamental postulates of an all-embracing Dharma and of an inflexible doctrine of Karma, it does not rely on any formal revelation as such for its validity. Miracles have been recorded in the sacred books but no miracle is an essential part of its tenets and belief in miracles is not a condition precedent to salvation. It preaches that good and evil actions leave their inevitable traces on human life.
The root theory of Karma has been felicitously adumbrated in a Buddhist scripture and Budda and Krishna are truly kindred spirits and are united in their emphasis on Karma and reincarnation and Dharma.
The books say well, my brothers! Each man’s life
The outcome of his former living is;
The bygone wrongs bring forth sorrows and woes,
The bygone right breeds bliss.
He cometh, reaper of the things he sowed,
Sesamum, corn, so much cast in past birth;
And so much weed and poison-stuff which mar
Him end the aching earth.
If he shall labour rightly, rooting these,
And planting wholesome seedling where they grew,
Fruitful and fair and clean the ground shall be,
and rich the harvest due.
Such a faith if rightly appreciated cannot but lead to tolerance and understanding of all points of view and tolerance has been, in the main, the key-note of Indian history. A better example of wide comprehension and toleration cannot be given than the prayer in the play of Hanuman nataka, which is set out below, wherein Saivites, Vedantins, Buddhists, Jainas and agnostics are regarded as following paths that must lead to the same goal.
“Yam Saivasamupasate, Siva iti, Brahmeti vedantine
Bauddha Buddha iti pramana patavah Karteti Naiyayikah
Arhanityatha Jaina Sesananatah Karmeti Nimemsakah
Soyam vo vidadhatu vancitaphalam. Trailokyanatho Harih”
May Hari, the remover of sin, the Lord of the universe, whom the Saivas worship as Siva, the Vedantins as Brahman, the Buddhists as Buddha, the Naiyayikas clever in logic as the Agent, the followers of the Jaina doctrine as Arhat, the Mimamsakas as Karma – grant you the boon of boons.
5. A few thoughts on Mahabharata
I. VYASA BHARATHA
Bhagavan Vyasa was an eye-witness to the great Bharatha war. After the close of that war, he retired to the Himalayas and thought in solitude about the events that had occurred since creation, which he cognised by Yogic powers. Then, with many incidental episodes and the life-stories of several great personages, he composed the Mahabharatha, dealing primarily with the Pandavas and the Kauravas.
It is said that there are one lakh of slokas in this work. There are 18 major divisions – Parvas. “There is no new topic which would be learnt from any other work, which is not contained in this. No other work also contains all that is dealt with in this”. This is a true statement testifying to its grandeur.
In the 64th chapter of the Adi-parva there is the story of Uparisravas. From this, the story proceeds step by step to its close with the ascent of the Pandavas to the Celestial Region. This part alone was comprised in the original Mahabharatha of Vyasa. Here there is not to be found the usual technique of one person asking for a narrative and another retelling it. It is in the ancient form of a story being told direct to children. Vyasa himself taught his work to his son Suka and to his disciple Sage Vaisampayana. In response to an invitation from the king Janamejaya, Vyasa with Vaisampayana attended the Serpent sacrifice performed by that king. When the king requested Vyasa to narrate the story of the Mahabharata, the later asked his disciple to recount the story as learnt by him. When this narration was progressing, the bard suta, listened to it, and then went to the Sages assembled at Naimisaranya. There requested by Sages like Saunaka, Suta began to narrate to them the story of Mahabharata as he had learnt at the court of Janamejaya. But he preferred the narrative by speaking about (1) Where and how Vyasa composed the Mahabharata (ii) Who transcribed it to Vyasa’s dictation (iii) how it was propagated in the world, (iv) the number of chapters and slokas, (v) detailed contents, (vi) the stopping of the Serpent sacrifice by Astika, thus rescuing the serpents and (vii) the narration there of the Mahabharata by Vaisampayana in the presence of Vyasa. This covers the first 51 chapters. Chapters 61-63 detail the events connected with the Serpent sacrifice. From chapter 64 onwards, the real story of the Pandavas begins and progresses till the victory of the Pandavas in the Great War. The whole pf the text, including the prefatory 63 chapters, has been printed and is known as the Mahabharata.
II. VAISAMPAYANA’S BHARATA.
When Vaisampayana is narrating the Mahabharata learnt from Vyasa, Janamejaya interrupts him and asks for elaboration of particular episodes and Vaisampayana complies. It is thus clear that Vaisampayana must have departed from the strict order of Vyasa’s composition, to meet Janamejaya’s requests. He must have also departed from the text of Vyasa and narrated some portions in his own way. If there are no interruptions to a narration, one can recount a story he has heard, with little or no variation in detail or extent. But if there are interruptions, it is common experience that the narration will vary in order, extent, etc. from the the original story. It should therefore be recognised that Vaisampayana’s story could not have corresponded exactly to Vyasa’s text in order, number of slokas etc.
The position is different in the case of Valmiki Ramayana. In the prologue to that work it is indicated that Lava and Kusa sang the 24,000 slokas, in the presence of the hero Rama himself to the accompaniment of tala. It is also said that Rama listened silently to the recitation to the end, without any interruption by himself, with questions etc. So, Valmiki’s text of 24,000 slokas has endured till now, with little or no variation, and is available in book-form. This is why special sanctity is attached to the Ramayana which is prescribed for Parayana, to receive various benefits.
When one sings the songs on predecessors, without any alteration, we say that he is singing the ‘Kritis’ of old composers. But if he gives merely the substance of the old ‘kritis’, using his own words, we do not say that he is singing ‘kritis’. In many places, Vaisampayana, without indicating that he is following Vyasa, recounts many stories and puts words in the mouths of the characters. So, it is very much like that only Vyasa’s story has come down to us and not his actual slokas troughout.
III. SUTA BHARATHA
Similarly, we may conclude with reasonable certainty that Suta used his own words in recounting the Mahabharata stories to the sages at Naimisaranya; in fact, he does not say that he is simply repeating Vyasa’s slokas or those of Vaisampayana. But according to the present text, it appears that the Sages listened in patience to Suta’s narration, without interrupting him at any time with questions. So, Suta, might have closely followed in order and extent, the narration of Vaisampayana. There was no need for Suta to make any departures. This is the basic difference between (a) the narration of Vyasa’s story by Vaisampayana and (b) the narration by Suta of what he had heard from Vaisampayana.
IV. CURRENT VERSION
Some sage among those assembled at Naimisaranya must have written down the story commencing from Suta’s visit to the Sages at Naimisaranya and his subsequent narration, without alterations. This has come down to us as Mahabharata. We are currently treating the whole work including the prefatory 63 chapters as Vyasa’s composition. As already indicated, Vyasa must have told his disciple, only the part of the story coming from the 64th chapter and Vaisampayana amplified it in his narrative to Janamejaya; which was later recounted to the Sages at Naimisaranya by Suta. In the circumstances, it does not appear appropriate to hold the current text as Vyasa’s work alone. It would be truer to say that what we have now is many times removed from Vyasa’s original version. It is perhaps on this account that Mahabharata has not been accorded the sanctity attached to the Valmiki Ramayana as fit for ‘parayarna’.
V. SOME DRAW-BACKS
“Because Mahabharata contains many tragic events, conflicts of brothers, terrible war, etc., ordinary people do not come forward readily to expound it or listen to it”. Some put forward this plea and gave a story to support it. It is this - In the 15th Century A.D. there was Ruler named “Varapati Aatkondaan” in Kongu Nadu. “Villiputtorar” was his state poet and a great Vaishnavaite too. In response to the Ruler’s request, this poet composed about 2,000 verses in Tamil, recounting in brief the story of Vyasa’s Mahabharatha. This became famous later as “Villi Bharatham”. The poet was first expounding his work in the assembly of the Ruler and the people, when he duly came to the portion in which Duryodhana refuses to yield to the Pandavas “even a little space to thrust a needle in”. Just then, the poet’s younger brother, who had been defrauded of his birth right – a share in the ancestral property – in his early years by the poet himself, interrupted the narration and exclaimed that the poet had no right to descant on Duryodhana’s misdeed, when he himself was guilty in the same way. The poet at once got confused and lost his peace of mind. So he abruptly stopped his exposition. Further, he did not complete the epic. Even today, the incomplete work alone (upto the souttika parva) is available to us – I have heard this story from learned persons.
Mainly having regard to the fratricidal conflict people refrained from reading or expounding Mahabharata, in later times! – They were afraid to do so!
The general statement that Mahabharata contains one lakh of slokas may, if at all, apply to Vyasa’s original version. It does not, and need not, apply to the subsequent version. No extant version seems to have one lakh slokas; only a less number of slokas has been printed.
There have arisen innumerable works based on the Mahabharata stories. No one expects the number of verses in such works to have any relation to the number in the original epic.
VI. Bhagavad Gita
The famous Bhagavad Gita is only a part of of the Mahabharata. Even that has passed through many hands in narration – Sanjaya, Vyasa, Vaisampayana, Suta etc. So, could not it have been altered at such ways? If so, there arises the question – ‘Is it wrong for us to hold that the extant Bhagavat Gita contains the actual slokas spoken by Lord Krishna? We may consider this in detail:
(1). Sanjaya had got the gift from Vyasa of televising the incidents of the war and explaining to Dhritarashtra. Why could not he have got also the power of repeating the dialogue between Krishna and Arjuna exactly?
(2). As the text of the Gita is in verse from like the Ramayana, it seems proper to hold that all the persons – from Vyasa to the Suta at Naimisaranya – had reproduced the Gita slokas without alteration.
(3). Sanjaya was listening to the Gitopadosa of Krishna. He did not himself raise any doubt, during the dialogue.
(4). “What did the Pandavas and the Kauravas assembled at Kurukshetra do?” This question was put by Dhritarashtra to Sanjaya. Thereupon, Sanjaya expounded the Gita he had listened to, i.e. the dialogue between Krishna and Arjuna – 18 Chapters and about 700 slokas. Dhritarashtra did not interrupt the narration with any question of his own. So, there is no doubt that the Gita Slokas had passed unaltered at each stage of narration – (a) by Vyasa to Vaisampayana, (b) by Vaisampayana to Janamejaya and (c) by Suta to the Sages of Naimisaranya.
(5). When a story is being told inevitably, questions would be asked and to suit them, the sequence of the story would be changed and the narrator would be forced to use some words of his own. Even now, it is the practice to have a parayarna done without change of text and to listen to it the same way, to get the desired benefit.
(6). We may therefore believe from Sanjaya to Suta, all the 700 and odd slokas of the Gita have passed unchanged and come to us also, through traditional upadesa in the same manner.
It is nothing to be wondered at that persons of great diligence proficient in Yoga, had memorised 700 Slokas devotedly and passed them on to us. Even ordinary persons are able to memorise the text nowadays.
Though Mahabharata as such has not come to us in the very same slokas of Vyasa, the Gita portion alone has been preserved without the least change. This is why the Gita is esteemed so much and treated as sacred.
6. Kalidasa Ramayana
Devotion to Sri Rama is Valmiki’s gift to humanity. Sanskrit poets like Bhasa Bavabuthi, Kalidasa, Murari, Dinnaga Bhoja were all inspired by the ancient bard. Among their works the “Raghuvamsa” of Kalidasa is a unique composition.
Of the nineteen sargas those from the tenth to the fifteenth are matchless. The exploits of the ancestors of Rama from Dilipa to Dasaratha are the theme of the first nine sargas. This may be taken as a preface to Kalidasa’s “Ramayana”.
The verses from the sixteenth sarga to the end deal with the greatness of Kusa and twenty one others down to Agnivarman may be taken as the drawing of the great vamsavali to its logical end.
The death of the sage’s son caused by Dasaratha unwittingly (ninth Sarga) forms the “Upodgatha” and runs parallel to the singing of the epic in the presence of Sri Rama by Lava and Kusa in the original. The death of the Munikumara is mentioned in Valmiki’s too (vide Ayodhya Kanda). Valmiki states that Dasaratha met the blind parents of the deceased. But Kalidasa is not explicit about either the blind parents or the death of their son in their presence.
PARALLEL SARGAS 10 & 11
The tenth and eleventh sargas epitomise the matter in the “Balakanda” of the original. The twelfth repeats events contained in the “Ayodhya” to “Yuddha” Kandas in the original. Sri Rama, with Sita, takes an aerial flight from Lanka to Ayodhya in a Pushpaka Vimana. Along the course, he points out many spots where they had spent memorable moments. All this is mentioned in the thirteenth sarga. The first fifteen slokas of the fourteenth sarga deal with the description of the Lord’s coronation and the rest of the slokas repeats events from “Uththara” kanda.
The episode of the death of the Munikumara in the original (“Balakanda”) has been beautifully dealt with by Kalidasa. Having described the death of the boy and the consequent curse of the sage in the ninth sarga, Kalidasa states in the tenth that, after ten thousand years Dasaratha performed the “Puthrakameshti Yagna”. There is the scene of Devas describing their sufferings to Lord Narayana in the Milky Ocean, and the prayers are studded with Vedantic dogmas. These are innovations of Kalidasa. The Adikavya gives a different version. The afflicted Devas report their woes to Brahma whom they met at the yagna of Dasartha. In Kamban the story is different. The Devas report the matter to Lord Paramasiva, who, joining hands with them and Brahma, seek the help of Lord Narayana.
Kalidasa further elaborates the secrets of the birth of Ravana and says that Sri Narayana promised riddance through Ramavathara. The secrets of Ravana’s birth and his valour are reported by the Devas to Narayana according to the original and Kamban. The episode of Lord Vishnu’s assurance runs parallel in both Kamban and Kalidasa. As seen from the original and the work of Kamban, the Devas are ordained to be born as monkeys by Brahma and Vishnu, whereas Kalidas says that the decision was made by the “Suras” themselves.
The distribution of the divine payasa among his concerts by Dasaratha is another illustration. Valmiki states that the available quantity was divided into two of which one half went to Kausalya. Of the other half, fifty per cent was the share of Sumithra, and of the remaining fifty per cent, one-half went to the Kaikeyi and yet another was served to Sumithra second time. According to Kalidasa, the available quantity was equally distributed between Kausalya and Kaikeyi who, in their turn, shared half of theirs with Sumithra in accordance with the king’s wishes. The “Padma Purana”, “Adyathama Ramayana” and “Bhoja Champu” follow Kalidasa’s version. That the quantity spilt over in the vessel was given again to Sumithra by the king is Kamban’s version.
The queens, who conceive as a consequence, feel in a dream the grace of a divine dwarf with wheel and discus and enjoy the sojourn of the seven sages and Goddess Lakshmi. This is entirely Kalidasa’s innovation. The “Padmapurana” and Kamban’s “Ramayana” speak of Lakshmana, Bharatha and Sathrugna as incarnations of Adisesha, Sankhu and Chakra, and it appears as if Kalidasa indirectly brings home the point by reporting the “dream of the divine touch”.
The curse on Ahalya, according to the original, is that she should become invisible to the naked eye. Kalidasa, on the other hand, seems to follow the “Padmapurana” and states that Ahalya was turned into a stone image.
Sri Vedantha Desika also seems to agree with Kalidasa in this, whereas the narration in “Bhojachampu” is in conformity with the original.
According to Valmiki, the arrival of sage Viswamithra coincides with the deliberations of Dasaratha over the marriage of his sons. Kalidasa slightly amends it when he states that the deliberations took place together with the arrival of the Brahmin from the court of Janaka carrying the news of the valour of Rama in breaking the Siva bow. The inauspicious signs such as the howling of foxes, the flight of vultures, and the halo round the sun on their return journey after marriage are all Kalidasa’s innovations.
KAKASURA SARGA 12
Barring the coronation, the twelth sarga is a fine epitome of the original from the Ayodya to Yuddha Kanda. Many interesting innovations occur however. According to Valmiki, Kaikeyi asks Dasaratha for two boons, one, the enthronement of Bharatha and the other the banishment of Rama for 14 years. But Kalidasa emphasises the banishment and makes the coronation of Bharatha subsidiary. From the work of Kamban the duration of the exile, 14 years, is conspicuously absent.
The Kakasura episode actually belongs to an earlier period. The incident did happen at Chitrakuta. Valmiki actually makes reference to it in the “Sundarakanda”, when Sita sends a message to Rama through Hanuman. Kamban closely follows Valmiki. Kalidasa perhaps felt a deviation necessary and appropriate and he narrates it in a different context. He lists it with the experience of Rama and Sita at Chittrakuta. He has drawn inspiration from “Padmapurana”.
In the thirteenth sarga, Kalidasa, with his vivid imagination and poetic skill, reiterates all the interesting experiences that Rama and Sita had, experiences which one finds in the original of Valmiki. Rama draws the attention of Sita to three specific events. He rests on Sita’s lap after a hunt on the banks of the Godavari at Panchavati. He attempts to decorate Sita’s cheeks with the “tamala” shoot near Chitrakuta. He renounces the jewelled head gear in exchange for matted locks at the abode of Guha, when Sumanthara bursts into tears cursing Kaikeyi. All these events are narrated by Kalidasa in his intimitable style, but they do not occur in Valmiki.
The reference to the banyan tree, Shyama, which Valmiki describes in the Ayodya Kanda is not made by Kalidasa, but Sita’s attention is drawn to it on their way back to Ayodhya. In accordance with the wishes of Sita, Rama is said to break the journey at Kishkinda, and then resume it accompanied by a few vanara women. This event is described in Valmiki. Kalidasa makes no mention of any such event,
The fourteenth sarga opens with a description of the Lord’s coronation. It is celebrated in the suburbs of Ayodhya according to Kalidasa, but in Ayodhya itself according to Valmiki. The news that Sita is deserted in the forest by Lakshmana in compliance with the orders of Rama is brought to Valmiki by his disciples who have gone in search of Kusa grass etc. This is in Valmiki. A slight deviation occurs in Kalidasa who states that when he was collecting darba, Valmiki himself accidentally met Sita etc.
The fifteenth Sarga is notable for its deviations from Valmiki. The kernel of Utharakanda, the Lava-Kusa episode, has been woven in a different texture by Kalidasa.
The story according to the original, is that Sathrunga, on his mission to overcome Lavanasura stays at Valmiki’s hermitage enroute, Sita gives birth to Lava and Kusa the same night. Since Sathrunga completed his mission, twelve years passed. He rests at Valmiki’s hermitage on his return journey to Ayodhya. He listens to the matchless recitation of Rama’s story by the twins. He is immensely happy. Reaching Ayodhya he tells Rama of his victory over Lavanasura, but not of his experiences at Valmiki’s hermitage. The author does not seem to hint that this was deliberate.
Kalidasa, on the other hand, does not speak of Sathrunga’s return to Valmiki’s hermitage after destroying Lavanasura. Sathrunga returns straight to Ayodhya, and he deliberately keeps his experiences at the hermitage a secret at the command of the sage. This is in tune with the main trend of the story. Perhaps Kalidasa felt the moment inopportune for posting Rama with the information. Had Sri Rama known of the birth of the twins, he might have asked Sita to return with her children to Ayodhya. If that had taken place Valmiki would have had no opportunity of training the children in recitation and the two purposes of the sage that Sita should be asked about important incidents in her life and that the twins should recite the great epic would have been defeated by the violation of the time factor. Valmiki appears to have been waiting for an opportune moment to present the children. The screening of information from Rama is, therefore, in perfect accordance with the original text. It reveals Kalidasa’s deep insight into the mind of Valmiki.
The sage, accordingly, takes the children to the court of Rama, who performs the asvamedha. Summoned by the Emperor, the children recite all the exploits from “Narada Valmiki Samvadha” down to the departure of Rama and his followers to Vaikunta, including their own life story in twenty four thousand beautiful slokas. The recitation reminds Rama of his consort. Under the influence of the melodious recitation, he recognises the identity of the children and sends for his consort. This is the story in the original. But Kalidasa’s version is slightly different. Moved by the recitation, Rama makes enquiry of Valmiki and the latter informs him that they are his own children.
The Kalidasa innovation of the disclosure of the identity by the sage is significant. It lends support to the view of a certain section of scholars that the “Uthara Kanda” is not Valmiki’s, for the Lava Kusa episode is a means to an end, the end being the voluntary realisation of identity by Rama.
Sita, after making the vow, enters the bosom of mother earth. Rama is filled with remorse. He is in no mood to listen to the twins when Brahma induces him to listen to the completion of the story. Valmiki says that the recitation was undertaken in two instances, one as a preface towards the end of the first four sargas and the other later, at the performance of the aswamedha after deserting Sita in the “Utharakanda”. It raises a reasonable doubt which of the versions has been handed down to posterity, whether all the verses are genuine and whether they are exact numerically. These questions could be answered only after careful research by competent scholars.
7. Bhakthi Yoga, Jnana Yoga and Prapatti Yoga
Following the logic of religious intuition, it is concluded that the BRAHMAN of the UPANISHADS and BRAHMASUTRAS, the VASUDEVA of the GITA and the BHAGAVAN of the AGAMAS connote the same Supreme SELF-SRIMAN NARAYAN, to be known by BHAKTI-YOGA which is the direct means. This meets the demands of metaphysics and satisfies the supreme call of love-Jnana turned to BHAKTI. The practice of Bhakti presupposes some elaborate disciplines for the sublimation of feeling as well as the training of the intellect and will. The opening sentence of Ramanuja’s SRI-BHASHYA is significant :- “May my Jnana blossom into devotion to BRAHMAN or SRINIVASA whose nature is revealed in the UPANISHAD as the self that, out of the sport of love, creates sustains and reabsorbs the universe with a view to saving the souls that seek His Love’. Brahman as indweller of the soul is both the means and the end.
Worship is the practice of the presence of the inner self, through the stages of firm meditation, repetition and the orison of union. When the vision is turned inward, it will be realised that VASUDEVA is in all beings – the life of all lives, nearer to the self than it is to itself. Thus spiritual intimacy and the unitive consciousness are promoted.
As the righteous Rules of the universe, the Lord dispenses justice according to the ‘KARMA’ of the individual without caprice or cruelty. When the moral self becomes desirous of liberation in moksha, the redemptive will of the Supreme is recognised; the egoism is effaced in service. The worshipper prays to the GIVER of all good, who confers the sweets of life and removes the bitters. Then comes the higher stage when the Atman is intuited. Here there is no bargaining; there is only consecrated service. The Lord readily accepts the eight petalled flower of devotion – non–injury, kindness, patience, truth, self-control, austerity, inwardness and jnana. Divine grace is to be relied upon as the only means to liberation, “Whom the LORD chooses, unto him He reveals Himself”. When the devotee seeks God, God also seeks Him-the lover and the beloved are finally united- this is the realm of liberation – ‘mukti’.
The doctrine of love of God as inclusive of all nature and all living beings does not stop with the negative ethics of mere non-hatred; it is really positive friendship and compassion (‘Maitra’ and ‘Karuna’) for all. How satisfying!
The LORD is the supreme personality transcending all and holding all within the infinite range of his glory. He is neither impersonal nor identical with all, nor a-cosmic. Devotional self surrender is the sure way to redemption.
The philosophy of devotion is a ladder of love from earth to heaven and the philosophy of divine grace is a ladder from heaven to earth. The subtimity of the whole design is only matched by its symmetry. But this is too sublime for the ordinary human being to follow. Hence the “PRAPATTI-YOGA” has been devised as a universal panacea.
JNANA – YOGA
What shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world, but loses his own soul? The realisation of the inner self is the goal of Jnana yoga. This starts with the idea that the body is not the soul, though physical well-being is essential to spirituality. Even self-culture and the formation of pure habits are only means to self-knowledge. Spiritual endeavour begins by self-renunciation to get rid of the spirit of ego. But this self discipline is not to be self – mutilation or self extinction. Then by entering into the inner sanctuary, consciousness does not act in the plane of the senses but returns to the centre of being. By repeated practice, the soul is enriched and not annulled.
The Yogic Sadhana consists of the eight well known stages – (i) moral practice of truthfulness, non-injury, contentment, continence, poverty and the will to receive no favours or benefits. (ii) discipline of the mind – body, (iii) the practice of specified postures – Asanas (iv) control of the vital breath in order to attain psychic control, (v) the arresting of the outgoing senses and attuning them to the inner sense (vi) the focussing of the mind on an object, by withdrawing it from the distractions of sense and the tumult of dispositions (vii) state of ceaseless introversion and (viii) contemplation of the soul by direct intuition – Samadhi.
The end as self – realisation is also a social good in the sense that the progress of humanity has no meaning apart from the spiritual growth of the individuals that contribute to society. This view is opposed to that of mere utilitarianism and humanism. Humanity is not the arithmetical total of individuals; “likewise, the striving for a better world as a substitute for ‘other – worldliness’ is a species of secular morality, not founded on spiritual values of life and will have no stability. Humanism may be a corrective to the materialistic and super naturalistic ideal of life, but it may have its nemesis in exclusive individualism. The Vedantic ideal (according to Ramanuja) is that of a spiritual community of souls, providing an opportunity for the gradual realisation of each self as an atman and not as an object. The earlier progressive stages are (a) acquisition of wealth for the welfare of all, (b) the disciplined satisfaction of desires and (c) the moral life of righteousness as distinct from the asserti
on of rights. Though the nature of a man’s duty may be determined psychologically by his station in life and ‘Svadharma”, his ethical motive is derived from the universal ideal of righteousness.
Ramanuja’s ethics demands not only self – knowledge by the removal of error but also self – denial by the destruction of egotism. It therefore gives the deepest explanation of the philosophy of the spiritual and social self. The true meaning of brotherhood can be explained by the immanence of the supreme reality in all souls and their essential similarity.
According to Ramanuja, the Bhagavat Gita starts with the morals of disinterested action and the philosophy of the cognition of the soul and ends with the religious exposition of the yoga of devotion. The last stage BHAKTI YOGA is itself a disciplinary process involving different stages; but in all stages, it is dominated by the single aim of seeking the LORD and seeking Him face to face.
PRAPATTI - YOGA
The path of shastraic devotion is strewn with infinite pitfalls and set-backs for the ordinary person. It is likened to a bridge of hair over a river of fire, and the individual soul with its load of ignorance and proneness to evil, has in this dark age of confusion very little chance of reaching the goal of liberation. The way of ‘prapatti’ –NYASA – VIDYA or full surrender is the ultimate path open for the weak and the infirm.
This preserves the essentials of devotion, dispenses with its pre-disposing conditions and omits the non-essentials like the need for ceaseless practice. It is in fact a direct and independent means to liberation. The only requisite is the change of heart or volition on the part of the aspirant and his absolute confidence in the saving grace of the protector. “Repent and believe and ye shall be free!” The awareness of one’s unworthiness and sin provokes the compassion of the LORD. Redemption is a justification by faith and not by works – not won by merit either. This path is universal in its effect – to all castes and classes – and guarantees salvation to all. It is natural and easy, securing immediate effect as well. This path – Saranagati - is enshrined in the final teaching of Sri Krishna in the BHAGAVAD GITA – “Renounce all dharmas and take refuge in Me; I will release you from all sins; grieve not”. But we have to recognise that even the will to serve the LORD by self – effacement is only the gift of His
grace: As already stated the LORD is ultimately both the endeavour and the end. Here is no call to abandon - duty, it is a call to renounce the egoistic motive.
This scheme of ‘prapatti’ is elaborated by the later Acharyas in its six parts – (i) proper motive to follow the will of the Master (ii) renunciation of what will be repugnant to Him (iii) Absolute and firm faith in the universal protector (iv) feeling of incapacity to follow the prescribed path of action knowledge and devotion (v) seeking the LORD’S compassion as the only hope for liberation and (vi) self – oblation to the Master with the conviction that this itself is a gift of His grace.
This is also considered under the aspects of the renunciation of the hedonistic, the moralistic and the egoistic views of life. All these forms of sacrifice or service are deduced from the first principles of religious experience consisting in the love of
God and the love of man. It marks a radical or revolutionary change from the ego – centric view to the Theo–centric view – Everything belongs to the LORD and is offered to Him.
Though as a moral fact sin is, in the religious realm, it ought not to be. Every soul is ultimately redeemable and can attain liberation. If the Lord cannot prevent evil and sin, He is not Almighty; if He can prevent it but will not, He is cruel. But it is the basic faith of redemptive religion that the LORD can and will prevent evil and sin.
While in Christianity, judgement follows redemption, in SRI VAISHNAVISM of Sri Ramanuja, justice is overpowered by redemptive love.
No gospel is more inspiring than the GITA call of compassion and its assurance of deliverance to all souls that seek it.
8. Sri Ramanuja and Vishistadvita
The great Vaishnava Acharya - Sri. RAMANUJA – is the supreme exponent of the philosophy of “VISISHTA –ADVAITA”- described as ‘Qualified MONISM’ or ‘ORGANISMAL MONISM’ as distinguished from the ADVAITA (Ideal Monism) of Adi-SANKARA.
According to Adi Sankara, the ultimate affirmation of the Upanishads concerns the identity of the individual soul with the attributeless Brahman, which can comprehended only by Jnana, Ramanuja dose not admit that there are any texts expounding an attributeless Brahman. Attributes are not limitations; for infinitude itself implies infinitude of qualitative perfections. He does not subscribe to Sankara’s theory of ‘avidya’ or ignorance leading to the BRAHMAN with attributes (SAGUNA) and VIDYA or true knowledge leading to the attributeless Brahman (NIRGUNA). According to him the all – inclusive theme of the UPANISHADS is BRAHMAN alone – discernment of Brahman as real, conscious, infinite and blissful (SATYAM- JNANAM-ANATAM-ANANDAM) – with exalted attributes and altogether free from any imperfection. He himself set out the characteristics of the philosophical attitude as “devotion to truth, width of vision, depth of insight into what is essential, and openness of mind”. He could hold no one as being outside the pale of redemption. Utter humility matched the splendour of his learning. His spirit of devotion commingled with that of knowledge (Jnaana), elevating both. VEDANTA is at once philosophy and religion, based on the tripod of the UPANISHADS, BRAHMASUTRAS and the BHAGAVADGITA. Ramanuja reconciled and harmonised apparently contradictory texts, by his unique suggestion of the ‘Body Soul’ (SARIRA-SARIRI) relationship between matter and individual soul on the one hand and the supreme Reality on the other – a revelation of far-reaching consequence, in the realms of mysticism and metaphysics.
Ramanuja’s Commentary – SRI BHASHYA – on the BRAHMA SUTRAS of BADARAYANA has received appreciation from modern scholars like THIBAUT. In regard to his commentary on the Bhagavad-Gita also, the general tendency is now to concede his thesis of an activistic ethics, a theistic conception of the Supreme Reality
BRAHMAN-re-in-forced by the ‘last message’ of the pathway of BHAKTI (Devotion) and PRAPATTI (Surrender to the DIVINE). In regard to the UPANISHADS, his interpretation is incorporated in his SRIBHASHYA and the other work-VEDARTHA SANGRAHA, instead of in formal and separate glosses.
It shall be my endeavour to deal briefly as follows with the teachings of RAMANUJA in regard to the three fundamental texts aforesaid. Ramanuja lists the varied types of texts and expounds their coherent significance. Brahman is the ultimate Reality, the ultimate good. Matter and finite selves are real only as adjectival to the Supreme-they are parts of the splendour of Brahman. This philosophy is a ‘Monism’ that does not do away with the concept of the Supreme Spirit the Highest Self. This enlarges the conception of Divine attributes, for the individual spirit (Jiva) is itself an attribute of ‘ISVARA’. The ultimate spirit holds all things within It self and abides in all things.
All that brings about the perfection of the finite self forms a fundamental characteristic of the Supreme reality. What constitutes the final perfection for that self is the realisation, by way of experimental apprehension, of the Infinite Divine.
The central idea is that the LORD is the ‘Inner Soul’ of all the Jivas (Souls) and PRAKRITI (Matter) constituting His ‘Body’. This analogy indicates:
1. The essential distinction between God and the Universe,
2. Their inseparable relationship,
3. The eternal dependence of the Universe on the will of God,
4. The casual efficacy of God,
5. The immutable perfection of God’s essential Being
6. The inclusive and consummate nature of God’s relation to the Universe,
7. The character of God as a Supreme Person,
8. The Universe being instrumental to the will of God,
9. Divine purpose,
10. Reality of the Universe,
11. Intimate accessibility of God to the ‘Jivas’ and
12. God’s supernatural transcendent body (APRAKRITA).
The point to be noted is that all sentient and non-sentient beings together comprise the body of the Supreme Person, for they are completely controlled and supported by Him for His own ends, and they are essentially and wholly subordinate to Him.
The Supreme Self is in no way subject to the limiting counter action of bodies outside His own body. He alone possesses a body with perfect immunity. His body is not determined by Karmic law; the Karma itself is under His control. The Lord does not will something to get some benefit for Himself. His creative action is not compelled by any reserve outside His own blissful will.
Just as the devotee seeks to serve the LORD Himself, he should seek to serve his Lord’s self-manifestation in the form of His universal body. This aspect has also to be stressed.
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