ROOTS OF HINDUISM

· Hinduism
Authors


Fig. 1: Lord Brahma

*Krishna

*
Rama and Sita
*
Ganesh
*
Kali
*
Shiva
Source of above illustrations. [1] [2] [3]

ROOTS OF HINDUISM

It is surprising to note that early Hinduism is difficult to date and that it does not appear to matter to the Hindus.

Although Hindus like to think of Hinduism as a religion of great antiquity, no one has yet been able to establish a founder or a date for the origins of Hinduism. This is unique among religions. Although Hindus claim that the origins of ancient Hinduism date before 2000 BC that does not by any means make it any more ancient than when compared to origins of the antiquity of other religions like Taoism, or ancient Egyptian polytheism, or even early pre-Judaist pagan worship.

It is thus surprising that most Hindus have, by and large, accepted that their heritage and culture and religious beliefs has been the result of the Aryan invasion. This seemed the only plausible answer at the time for lack of other evidence such as archaeological, or anthropological finds. The lack of such finds could be for two reasons. (1) There was no interests in finding out the roots of Hinduism, as the people were too absorbed in it practice. Hence the interests in archaeology and anthropology was introduced when the British established the Raj in India, and not before. (2) It was the practice of Hinduism itself, of cremation and freeing of the soul, that left no burial grounds or artefacts of the dead for archaeologists to discover. Even the DNA of the dead was washed into the sediments of the Bumiputra River and into the oceans. (3) So the only archaeological finds was with lost cities or their remnants and some old ruins of Temples or pottery. (I shall pursue this lead as I have with other civilisations.)

Timeline of some Indian Evolution of their culture

Harappan period c.7000 BC-c.2000 BC

Before 2000 BC: The Indus Valley Civilisation

1500–500 BC:The Vedic Period500

BC–500 AD:The Epic, Puranic and Classical Age

500 AD–1500 AD:Medieval Period

1500–1757 AD:Pre-Modern Period

1757–1947 AD:British Period

1947 AD–the present:Independent India

(But these are very modern dates when examining the evolution of a civilisation.)

THE INDUS VALLEY CIVILISATION AND THE ARYAN INVASION

In 1921 archaeologists discovered evidence of an ancient civilisation, along the Indus River Vallery, that spread all the way from North West India into what is known as Pakistan today. The so-called Indus Valley civilization (also known as the “Harappan civilization” for one of its chief cities) is thought to have originated as early as 7000 BC and to have reached is height between 2300 to 2000 BC, at which point it encompassed over 750,000 square miles and traded with Mesopotamia. Knowledge of this great civilisation’s religion must therefore be based on physical evidence alone. Baths have been found that may indicate ritual bathing, a component of modern Hinduism. Some altar-like structures may be evidence of animal sacrifice, and terracotta figures may represent deities. An important seal features a horned figure surrounded by animals, which some conjecture is a prototype of Shiva, but it could be a bull parallel to that found on Mesopotamian seals.

The Indus Valley culture began to decline around 1800 BC, due possibly to flooding or drought. Until recently, it was held that the Aryans (an Indo-European culture whose name comes from the Sanskrit for “noble”) invaded India and Iran at this time. According to this hypothesis, both the Sanskrit language and the Vedic religion foundational to Hinduism is attributable to the Aryans and their descendants. The original inhabitants of the Indus Valley are thought to have had a Dravidian language and culture, which became subordinate to that of the invading peoples.

Proponents of this hypothesis point to similarities between Zoroastrianism (the ancient religion of Iran) and the Vedic religion of ancient India, as well as similar finds in ancient cemeteries in modern-day India and Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. In addition, no trace of horses or chariots have been found in the remains of the Indus Valley culture, but were central to Aryan military and ritual life.

Up to this point in time, this concept of the “Aryan Invasion” fulfilled the intellectual needs of most Hindus. But this has been challenged since 1980.

Since the 1980s, this “Aryan Invasion” hypothesis has been strongly challenged as a myth propagated by colonial scholars who sought to reinforce the idea that anything valuable in India must have come from elsewhere. Critics of the hypothesis note that there is lack of evidence of any conquest, among other historical and archaeological problems.

One alternative hypothesis is explained by Encyclopædia Britannica as follows:Between about 2000 and 1500 BCE not an invasion but a continuing spread of Indo-Aryan speakers occurred, carrying them much farther into India, to the east and south, and coinciding with a growing cultural interaction between the native population and the new arrivals. From these processes a new cultural synthesis emerged, giving rise by the end of the 2nd millennium to the conscious expressions of Aryan ethnicity found in the Rigveda, particularly in the later hymns.

MYTHS OF THE ARYAN INVASION

The 19th-century Aryan Invasion theory has generally been abandoned as inaccurate, but most scholars do not reject the notion of some outside influence on the Indus Valley civilization. For many, it is a political issue as well as a historical one, with the original theory is regarded as racist and offensive. BBC Religion & Ethics summarizes the matter this way:Many people argue that there is now evidence to show that Muller [original proponent of the hypothesis], and those who followed him, were wrong. Others, however, believe that the case against the Aryan invasion theory is far from conclusive. The matter remains very controversial and highly politicised. [4]

Until quite recently, the famous Harappan civilization of the Indus valley has been an enigma. Many questions still remain about the identity of the people who created this great ancient civilization. Stretching over a million and a half square kilometers, from the borders of Iran to east UP and with some sites as far south as the Godavari valley, it was larger than ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia combined.

What is perhaps most puzzling about it is the fact that all major sites spread over this immense belt went into sudden decline and disappeared more or less simultaneously. The renowned archeologist, S.R. Rao, probably the foremost authority on Harappan archeology recently wrote:

“In circa 1900 B.C., most of the mature Harappan sites were wiped out forcing the inhabitants to seek new lands for settlement. They seem to have left in a great hurry and in small groups, seeking shelter initially on the eastern flank of the Ghaggar and gradually moving towards the Yamuna. The refugees from Mohen-jo-daro and southern sites in Sind fled to Saurashtra and later occupied the interior of the peninsula.”

From this it is apparent that the Harappans, though inhabiting a vast area, fell victim to a sudden calamity which forced them to seek shelter in other parts of ancient India. The usual explanation found in history books is that the inhabitants of the Harappan cities were driven out by the invading Aryans. However it is now recognized by scholars that the Aryan invasion theory of India is a myth that owes more to European politics than anything in Indian records or archaeology.

The evidence against any such (Aryan) invasion is now far too strong to be taken seriously. To begin with, sites spread over such a vast stretch, measuring well over a thousand miles across would not have been all abandoned simultaneously due to the incursion of nomadic bands at one extremity. Further, there is profuse archaeological evidence including the presence of sacrificial altars that go to show that the Harappans were part of the Vedic aryan fold. As a result, it can safely be said that the Vedic age also ended with the Harappan civilization.

From all this it is clear that the loss of these sites must have been associated with some natural catastrophe. A few scholars have pointed to evidence of frequent floods to account for the abandonment. But, floods are invariably local in nature and do not cause the collapse of a civilization over a vast belt. People adapt.

Floods bring death but they also sustain life. Some of the most flood prone areas of the world – like the Nile valley, Bengal and the Yangtse valley, in China – area also among the most densely populated. It is the loss of water or dessication that causes massive disruptions on the scale witnessed at the end of the Harappan civilization. Thanks to the latest data from two major archaeological and satellite based studies, we now know that this is exactly what happened. It was ecological change that ended the great civilization not only in India but over a vast belt that included Mesopotamia, Egypt, and the Aegean.

On the basis of extensive explorations carried out in Northern Mesopotamia, a joint French-American team led by H. Weiss of Yale University has determined that most of the old world civilization were severely affected by a prolonged drought that began about 2200 B.C. and persisted for about 300 years. The most drastically hit region seems to have been the Akkadian civilization neighbouring India. The drought may have been triggered by massive volcanic eruptions.

According to the findings of this historic study concluded only recently:”At approximately 2,200 B.C., occupations of Tell Leilan and Tell Brak (in Northern Mesopotamia) were suddenly abandoned…a marked increase in aridity and wind circulation, subsequent to a volcanic eruption, induced considerable degradation in land use conditions…. this abrupt climatic change caused abandonement of Tell Leilan, regional desertion, and collapse of the Akkadian empire based in southern Mesopotamia. Synchronous collapse in adjacent regions suggests the impact of abrupt climatic change was excessive.”

An end uncannily like that of the Harappans. The authors of this momentous study note that the collapse of the Akkdians more or less coincided with similar climate change, land degradation and collapse noted in the Aegean, Palestine, Egypt, and India. The date of 1900 BC given by S.R. Rao for the collapse of the Harappans should be seen as approximate. More accurate methods are now available that show this date to have been sometime before 2000 BC, and they are well within the calibration error of radiocation and other scientific dating techniques.

The basic point is: as a result of several independent explorations conducted over a vast belt from southern Europe to India, it is now clear that civilizations over a large part of the ancient world were brought to a calamitous end by an abrupt climate change on a global scale. To attribute a global calamity of such colossal magnitude to nomadic ‘Aryan’ tribes is simplistic in the extreme.

These discoveries should help put an end to all speculation regarding the Aryan invasion as the cause of breakup of the Harappan civilization. On the other hand we now know that the Vedic civilization far from coming into existence after the Harappan, in fact ended with it; the mature Harappan civilization was the last glow of the Vedic age. This recognition has brought about a fundamental change in perpective in the history and chronology of not only ancient India, but also nearly all ancient civilizations. It helps answer several fundamental questions about the source of the Harappans – they should now be called the Vedic Harappans – and the age of the Rig Veda. Thanks to recent discoveries about the mathematics and geography of Vedic India, we are now in a position to answer both questions.

This shift in perspective, that the Harappan civilization came at the end of the Vedic age also helps explain a major puzzle; the technological basis for this great civilization. Even a superficial study of Harappan sites suggests that its builders were extremely capable town planners and engineers. And this requires a sophisticated knowledge of mathematics, especially geometry. Elaborate structures like the Great Bath of Mohen-jo-daro, the Lothal harbor or the citadel at Harappa are inconcievable without a detailed knowledge of geometry.

But once we recognise that Harappan archaeology belongs to the closing centuries of the Vedic age, the mystery vanishes. The late Vedic literature includes mathematical texts known as the Sulba-sutras which contain detailed instruction for the building of sacrificial altars. After a monumental study spanning more than 20 years, the distinguished American mathematician and historian of science, Abraham Seidenberg showed that the Sulba-sutras are the source of both Egyptian and old Babylonian mathematics. The Egyptian texts based on the Sulba-sutras go back to before 2,000 BCE. This provides independent confirmation that Indian mathematical knowledge existed long before that date (2000 BC), i.e., during the height of the Harappan era.

So the vedic civilisation ended well before 2,000 BC, with the ending to fht Harappans following the Great Drought. The next question is, when did it actually begin. Here we cannot be certain, although some experts on Vedic astronomy claim to be able to find statements in the Rig Veda that point to dates like 6,500 BC and beyond. I feel it safer at this time to be conservative and stick to reliable archaeological evidence. Although some sites dating to almost 7,000 BC have been found, I believe that a lot more supporting data must be found before such dates can be accepted. But thanks to new data made available by the French SPOT satellite and the Indo-French field study, we can definitely conclude that the Rig-Veda describes the geography of North India as it was long before 3,000 BCE. The clinching evidence is provided by the fate of the Saraswati river.

In summary, all this new evidence, when examined in the light of science, gives a totally different picture of the ancient world. The rise and fall of the Vedic civilization of which the Harappan was a part can be seen to have resulted from the vagaries of nature, inseparably bound to the boom and bust ecological cycle that followed the last ice age. The vedic age and more specifically the Rig Veda were the beneficiaries of nature’s bounties – a unique age in water abundance in the wake of the last ice age. Its end was also brought about by nature in the form of a killing drought. The Harappan civilization was its twilight. And this is the verdict of science – what nature giveth, nature also taketh away.[5]

MEHRGARH (NEOLITHIC: 7000-3200 BC) ARCHAEOLOGICAL FINDS

The Mehrgarh archaeological site discovered and opened up in 1974 at a site to the west of the Indus River Valley settlements, known as the Bolan Pass. It lies between today’s cities of Quetta, Kalat and Sibi.

The discovery of the remnants of a small settlement dating back to about 7000 BC to 5500 BC provides evidence of their early lifestyles in the neolithic period not available before now and give a glimpse of life that is pre-Indus Valley period. Archaeologists have been piecing together mud-brick ruins, tools, pottery as well as human and animal bones. No evidence of written language was present. Little is known abut the religious beliefs and practices of the Mehrgarh civilization, although extensive Burial plots have been unearthed.

Note: Burial plots were discovered, thus (Hindu) cremation was not yet practiced.

Mehrgarh Period I (7000 B.C.E.–5500 B.C.E.)

This early Neolithic Period was aceramic ( without pottery). The people were semi-nomadic but using plants such as wheat and barley and animals like goats, sheep and cattle and evidence of some early cultivation of crops. The settlements were simple mud huts.Numerous burial sites have been found, many with elaborate goods such as baskets, stone and bone tools, beads, bangles, pendants and occasionally animal sacrifices, with more goods left with burials of males. Ornaments of sea shell, limestone, turquoise, lapis lazuli, sandstone, and polished copper objects have been found, along with simple figurines of women and animals. A stone axe was found with a burial. Surprisingly, there was evidence of proto-dentistry with evidence of teeth that were drilled among the corpses.

Mehrgarh Period II & III (5500 B.C.E.–4800 B.C.E.) and Period (4800 B.C.E.–3500 B.C.E.)

By this Neolithic period the use of pottery had arrived, followed by the chalcolithic period (age of copper.) Glazed falience beads (Ceramics with a tin glaze) were produced and terracotta figurines became more detailed. Figurines of females were decorated with paint and had diverse hairstyles and ornaments. Two flexed burials were found in period (5500-4800BC) with a covering of red ochre on the body. The amount of burial goods decreased over time, becoming limited to ornaments and with more goods left with burials of females. The first button seals were produced from terracotta and bone and had geometric designs. Technologies included stone and copper drills, updraft kilns, large pit kilns and copper melting crucibles. There was also evidence of long distance trading because of the presence of the lapis lazuli beads that originate in Badakshan, N.E. Afghanistan.

Mehrgarh Period VII (ca. 2600 BC-ca.2000 BC)

By this period, the Indus Valley Civilisation was already well developed and prospering, and the Mehrgarh settlements became abandoned. It is surmised that the Mehrgarh populations migrated and were absorbed into the prospering Indus Valley Civilisation. [6]

Gandhara Grave (or Swat) Culture (ca. 1600 BC)

Although the estimated date given here is ca.1600 BC, it is clear from the Archaeological Mehrgarh Period I excavations that human burial grounds were discovered going back to 7000 BC. Hence this “culture of Burial” was evidenced in Gandhara, Pakistan and existed even up to 500 BC or earlier.

Terracotta figurines and pottery and other simple decorated items were buried with the dead. There were even evidence of horse remains in one grave. The Ghandara Grave culture people shared biological affinities with the population of Neolithic Mehrgarh, which suggests a “biological continuum” between the ancient populations of Timargarha and Mehrgarh or it could also well belong to remains similar to some from central Asians populations. But what is abundantly clear is that these early burial culture was practiced long ago from pre-neolithic times to about 500 BC was before the Cremation Culture of the Hindus. [4]

Cemetry H Culture (ca. 1900 BC – ca. 1300 BC)

The Cemetry H Culture is considered as the late Harappan phase. The significance of this Cemetry H Culture was the existence of painted pottery burial urns containing the cremated remains (bones) of the deceased.

This is completely different from those in the Indus Valley civilisation where the whole bodies were buried in wooden coffins.To be noted is that “the Buried cremated remains in pottery urns” were contemporaneous (coexistent) with the “wooden coffin Burials.”

Also, what was noted from these finds were:

1. Reddish pottery, painted in black with antelopes, peacocks, etc., the sun, or star motifs, with different surface treatments to the earlier period.

2. Expansion of settlements into the east.

3. Rice became a main crop.

4. Apparent breakdown of the widespread trade of the Indus civilization, with materials such as marine shells no longer used.

5. Continued use of mud brick for building.

6. What is significant is that the Cemetry H culture people showed clear “biological affinities to the earlier civilisations of Harappa.” i.e., they were the same stock.[8]

Whether those neolithic peoples appreciated the gracefulness of the deer and the beauty of the peacock, or they were part of their diet will be speculative, but it showed the interaction of those people with nature. The appreciation of the objects of the cosmos showed the awareness of the influence it had on their lives and could have had an influence in their concept of their gods.

The colour of their pottery showed that they neolithic peoples already had an understanding of tin or lead and iron oxides on their ceramics. And in order to obtain such colours must have mastered the art of “high temperature furnaces.”

The evidence of rice meant that their skills of farming and cultivation were already very sophisticated for their time and must have been a force for the extension and expansion of their civilisation. The use of mud bricks also provided these people with the incentive to improve their building skills. The fact that marine shells were no longer valued as fair exchange for goods or services, meant understanding the value of things and labour. All this shows that there was a fairly sophisticated community even in pre-historic times. These were all peoples of the Vedic peoples.

The Cemetry H Culture (ca.1900 BC to ca. 1300BC)

Evidence here clearly shows that the people of this culture practised “wooden coffin” burial as well as “cremation urn” burials. A mix of cultures of different beliefs and traditions is obvious, or were they the same culture with different traditions? As the Hindu cremation traditions are so important in the Hindu custom, I will submit a full description on this topic here:

“HINDU FUNERALS, CREMATION AND VARANASI

There are about 3.14 million deaths a year. Most people are cremated. For the part most cremations are still done the way they have been done for centuries, by following the final life ritual called antyesti, outlined in the Grihya Sutras. The average cost of a funeral is $12 to $71.

Cremation is an extremely important ritual for Hindus. They believe it releases an individual’s spiritual essence from its transitory physical body so it can be reborn. If it is not done or not done properly, it is thought, the soul will be disturbed and not find its way to its proper place in the afterlife and come back and haunt living relatives. Fire is the chosen method to dispose of the dead because of its association with purity and its power to scare away harmful ghosts, demons and spirits. The fire god Agni is asked to consume the physical body and create its essence in heaven in preparation for transmigration. Cremations are still associated with sacrifices. The god Pushan is asked to accept the sacrifice and guide the soul to its proper place in the afterlife.

Not everyone is cremated. Holy men, lepers and people with small pox have traditionally been buried, with holy men traditionally buried in a vertical position preserved with salt. Small children under two are not cremated because their soul does not need purifying. In many cases today they are not buried but are taken to the middle of the Ganges or another sacred river and dropped to the river bottom with a weighed stone. Families who can not afford the wood for cremation sometimes throw unburned corpses in the Ganges. In some cases an effigy is burned to symbolize cremation. Few people are buried. These are victims of suicide, murder, or some other kind of violence who, it is believed, have souls that will not rest, no matter what is done to the corpse.

Cremation has remained common, possibly because cemeteries are a waste of space. New electric crematoriums are becoming more popular. They are more efficient and cleaner, and save precious fuel and forests.

Hindus often have little interest in the afterlife.

Early Cremations in India

It is not clear how and why the custom of cremation evolved. By the time the earliest Hindu texts were written around 1,200 B.C. it was already an established custom. There is some archeological evidence that in the distant past burial was the norm and later cremation with a secondary burial became common place and this gave way to cremation, the dominant custom today.

From the time of the Rig Veda, which contains passages possibly written as far aback as 2000 B.C., Hindus have cremated the dead although small children and ascetic were sometimes buried and low caste members sometimes buried their own. One passage from the Rig Veda addressed to Jataedas!, the fire that burns that corpse, goes. O Jataedas! When you thoroughly burn this [departed person], Then may you hand him over to the pitris [i.e. heavenly fathers]! When he [the deceased] follows thus [path] that leads to a new life, May he become on that carries out the wishes of the gods

Sometimes animals were sacrificed at the funerals. Another passage from the Rig Veda reads: O Jatavedas! May you burn by your heat the goat that is youre share! May your flame, may your bright light burn that goat; Carry this [departed soul] to the world if this who do good deeds By means of youre beneficent bodies [flames]!

It is not known why the custom of cremation was adopted, Some have suggested 1) it is a method of purification, of releasing the soul from a polluted body; 2) it symbolizes the transitory nature of life, of destruction and rebirth; or 3) it eliminated the body as a health risk and doesn’t take up valuable land.

The Soul, Death and Afterlife in Hinduism

There is little mourning when a Hindu dies because they believe that once a person is born he or she never dies. Krishna said in the Bhagavad-Gita that “Worn-out garments are shed by the body: worn-out bodies are shed by the dweller within…New bodies are donned by the dweller, like garments.” Death is often viewed in a positive light: as an escape from one life on the road to a better an ultimate moksha (nirvana), shanti (peace) and paramapada (the ultimate place).

Atman (the self or spiritual soul) is seen as a kernel that lies at the center of a large onion and is only revealed after the layers around it—associated with the body, passions and mental powers—are removed in a step by step fashion. The Taittiriya Upanishad defines five layers or sheaths (from the outer to the kernel): 1) the body 2) bio-energy, the equivalent of Chinese qi; 3) mental energy; 4) intuition and wisdom; 5) pure bliss achieved mainly through meditation. These layers can be removed through self actualization and the kernel of eternal bliss can ultimately be realized.

On the subject of death one passage in the Rig Veda reads:

When he goes on the path that lead away the breath of life. Then he will be led by the will of the gods May your eye go to the sun, you life’s breath to the wind Go to the sky or the earth, as is your nature.

The Vedas refer to two paths taken after death: 1) the path of the ancestors, where the deceased travels to a heaven occupied by ancestors and is ultimately reborn; 2) the path of gods, where the deceased enters a realm at the sun and never returns. The latter is the equivalent of reaching nirvana and escaping reincarnation. There is also a reference to a hell-like “pit” where sinners are punished.

At death the sheaths break apart one by one, and go their separate ways revealing the atman, which departs the body and goes on a path defined by an individual’s karma. In most cases the individual goes to a niche in the cosmos occupied by his ancestors or to one of the 21 heavens and hells of Hindu cosmology and remains there for duration defined by their karma until he or she is ready to be reborn.

Hindu Beliefs About Reincarnation

Reincarnation is viewed as a never-ending set of cycles (yugas and kalpas ). One may be reincarnated millions of times. The doctrine that the soul repeatedly dies and is reborn is called samsara (Sanskrit for migration). Karma determines what a person is reincarnated as. Escape from the weary cycle of reincarnation can be achieved through escape into “an unchanging anonymous Absolute” and attaining moksha , the Hindu equivalent or nirvana .

According to Hindu theology an

atman (an internal self or soul) dwells in each person as a kind of cosmic energy that exists beyond worldly reality and karma and doesn’t require good deeds or prayers to improve on itself. The problem is that few creatures can tune into their atman and thus require deeds and prayer to help them establish their place in the world Reincarnation helps them do this and evolve to reach closer to their atman.

The cycles of birth and death are perceived a continuations of the disintegrating force of Creation while transmigration of the soul from one life to another is viewed a perpetuation of the separation of the individual from the unifying force of existence. The aim of the individual is to “get off the wheel,” to escape the cycle and merge finally with the Oneness that was there before Creation began. into the original One. Methods used on the path of escaping reincarnation include yoga, meditation, and charity. Since the chances of escaping it are quite low people are encouraged to work to achieve a better position in their next life by doing good deeds, living simply and praying a lot.

Behavior at the end of one’s life and last thought before dying are believed to be very important in determining how an individual will be reincarnated. Thus a great deal of care goes into making sure a person is well cared before they die and after. This is achieved by creating a calm atmosphere and reading Vedic scriptures and reciting mantras so the soon-to-be-dead can earn as much merit as possible.

Hindu Funeral Customs

In keeping with the Hindu custom of swift cremation, bodies are cremated within 24 hours after death, if at all possible, even if close relatives can not attend the funeral. Ideally cremation is done within 12 hours after death, or at the very latest before sundown on the next day if death occurs late in the afternoon. The first person families of the dead usually call is the “ice wallah” in the nearby market.

Normally the eldest son carries out the funerary rites. He lights the funeral pyre after first placing a burning stick in the mouth of the deceased. One of the primary reasons that Hindus wish for a son is that only sons can carry out funeral rites. It is possible to substitute another relative for a son but this is generally regarded as much less effective.

There is little mourning when a Hindu dies because they believe that once a person is born he or she never dies. Often there is little crying. Some Indians have said this is because the point of a funeral is to show respect not sadness. Other say it is because Hindu believe the dead are off to a world far better than the one they left behind.

Traditionally women have not been allowed at cremations because they might cry. Their tears like all bodily fluids are regard as pollutants. Women are not supposed to enter the cremation area or even watch what goes on inside it. This includes close relatives and family members. They may help lay out the body at home but carrying the body, gathering the wood and lighting the fire are all considered man’s work.

Hindu Preparations for Dying

When death is imminent the dying person is taken from his bed and laid on the ground, facing south, on a layer of sacred grass. Then a series rites is carried out, presided over by the oldest son or another male relative. These include: 1) the vratodyapana (“completion of the vows”), in which all the vows that the dying has not yet complected are magically completed and ten gifts are made in the name of the dying in one last effort to earn merit ; 2) savraprayascitta (“atonement for everything”), in which is a cow is donated to Brahma to absolve the dying of all his sins and guarantee he or she is carried over the river into heaven; and 3) a ritual bath in holy water from the Ganges.

When death occurs verses from the Vedas should be recited in the ear of the dying. Behavior at the end of one’s life and last thought before dying are believed to be very important in determining how an individual will be reincarnated. Thus a great deal of care goes into making sure a person is well cared before they die and after. This is achieved by creating a calm atmosphere and reading Vedic scriptures and reciting mantras so the soon-to-be-dead can earn as much merit as possible. It is believed that if a person’s final thoughts are angry or disturbed he may end up in hell.

Preparations Before a Cremation

Family members have traditionally prepared the body of the deceased. Before cremation, the body is wrapped and washed, with jewelry and sacred objects intact, in a plain sheet. A red cloth is used for holy people. Married women are buried in their wedding dress and an orange shroud. Men and widows have a white shroud.

Later the body is dressed in fine clothes and the nail are trimmed and thumbs are tied together while scriptures are read. Often some leaves of the Tulasi tree and few drops of sacred water are placed in the mouth of the deceased. In ancient times the funeral bed was made from rare wood and antelope skin. These days it is made from bamboo or common kinds of wood and no animal skins are used.

While the corpse is in the house no family member or neighbor can eat, drink ir work. Hindus don’t like it when non-Hindus touch the corpse so an effort is made make sure that any non-Hindus who touch a copse at a hospital are wearing rubber gloves. In the old days the body was disemboweled, fecal matter was removed and the abdominal cavity was filled with ghee or some other pure substance. But this is no longer done. Autopsies are regarded as extremely offensive. Some customs vary according to caste, cultural background and region from which the funeral participants are from.

After the body has been prepared it is carried by male relatives on a flower-draped bamboo bier to the cremation ghats. There is no coffin. Sometimes if the deceased died on an inauspicious day the body is taken out of the house through a hole in a wall rather than the doorway. Male relatives that carry the shrouded body chant “Rama nama satya hai,” the name of the God of Truth. The eldest son is in the lead. He has been purified in a special ritual and carries a fire kindled in the home of the deceased. The fire is carried in a black earthen pot. If the procession is near the Ganges the body is immersed in the river before being placed on the funeral pyre.

Hindu Cremation

Cremations take place at special cremation grounds. The body is anointed with ghee (clarified butter). Men are sometimes cremated face up while women are cremated face down. The funeral pyre is often made of corkwood and offerings of camphor, sandalwood and mango leaves. A typical pyre is made of 300 kilograms or so of wood. Rich families sometimes pay for the entire pyre to be made up of sandalwood. In Kerala mango wood is often used. because wood is scarce and expensive. Some poor families use cow dung instead of wood. In any case, wood is usually piled on the pyre until only the head is visible. Mantras are recited to purify the cremation grounds and scare away ghosts. Offerings are made to Agni, the fire god, at an altar.

Possessions of the deceased are often placed on the pyre. Death is believed to be contagious and it is thought that contact with these possessions could cause death. Sometimes a wife climbs on the pyre and climbs off before the fire is lit, an acknowledgment of suttee (wife-burning) custom without actually carrying it out. Sometimes goats is circled around the pyre three times and given to Brahmins. This symbolizes an ancient cow sacrifice.

The eldest son or youngest son— often with his head shaved and wearing a white robe out of respect— usually lights the fire. Before this is done the shroud of the deceased is cut and the body smeared with ghee and a brief disposal ceremony is led by a priest. The son lights a torch with the fire from the black earthen pot and takes the torch and a matka (clay pot with water) and walks around the pyre seven times. Afterwards the matka is smashed, symbolizing the break with earth. The torch is used to light the funeral pyre: at the foot of a deceased woman or at the head of a deceased man. The Brahmin priest reads sacred verses from the Garuda Purana, speeding the dead person’ soul to the next life.

Burning of the Body During Hindu Cremation

As the pyre burns the mourners jog around the fire without looking at it, chanting “ram nam sit hair: (“God’s name is truth”) in the inauspicious clockwise direction. The priest intones; “Fire, you were lighted by him, so may he be lighted from you that he may in the regions of celestial bliss.” It takes about three or four hours for a body to burn.

The fire is left to burn itself out. In that time the body is transformed to ashes, and it is hoped the skull explodes to release the soul to heaven. When the fire has cooled, if the skull has not cracked open spontaneously, the oldest son splits it in two. If the cremation is done near the Ganges the bones and ashes are thrown into the Ganges.

Few tears are shed. The cremation of Indira Gandhi was broadcast around the world. After witnessing her cremation presided over by her son Rajiv, one visiting dignitary asked him , “Could you really do that to your mother?” On the third day after the funeral the cremation bones are thrown into a river, preferably the Ganges, and for ten days rice balls and vessels of milk and libations of water are offered to the deceased.

Hindu Cremations in Varanasi

Varanasi (Banaras, or Benares) is the place every Hindu hopes to be when he or she dies so they can escape the cycle of rebirth and death. If a person dies in the Ganges or has Ganges water sprinkled on them as they breath their last breath it is believed they achieve absolute salvation, escaping the toil of reincarnation to be transported to Shiva’s Himalayan version of heaven.

Cremations have been taking place in the Ganges for thousands of years. Perhaps a 100,000 cremated bodies are thrown in the Ganges every year. In Varanasi, funeral parties wait for their turns on the steps of the ghats (cremation grounds). Bundles carried through the streets are often corpses. On the roads leading to Varanasi you will often see shrouded corpses placed on the roofs of vehicles like surfboards or kayaks. There is even a caste that specializes in sifting through the ashes and mud at the bottom of Ganges for rings and jewelry.

The processions with the corpse to the ghat are often accompanied by singing, dancing and drumming. They often have a festive atmosphere. Relatives chant “Rama nama satya hai.” The body is immersed once in the Ganges and then anointed with ghee (clarified butter), lashed to a platform and wrapped in bright yellow fabric. The pyre is lit with a flame from a temple. Periodically the embers of the fire pyre are poked by boys with six foot poles to keep the fire burning.

Description of Cremation in Varanasi

Describing the burning ghats at Varanasi in 1933, Patrick Balfour wrote: “Through stagnant water, thick with scum and rotting flowers, we drifted towards the burning ghats, where a coil of smoke rose into the air from a mass of ashes no longer recognizable as a body. One pyre, neatly stacked in a rectangular pile, had just been lit, and the corpse swathed in white, protruded from the middle.” [Source: Eyewitness to History, edited by John Carey, Avon, 1987]

“An old man surrounded with marigolds, sat cross-legged on the step above. Men were supporting him and rubbing him with oil and sand, he submitted limply to their ministrations, staring, wide-eyed, towards the sun…’Why are they massaging him like that?’ I asked the guide…’Because he is dead.'”

“And then I saw them unfold him from his limp position and carry him towards the stack of wood. Yet he looked no more dead than many of the living around him. They put him face downwards on the pyre, turned his shaved head towards the river, piled wood on top of him and set it alight with brands of straw, pouring on him butter and flour and rice and sandalwood.”

“The ceremony was performed with detatchment and a good deal of chat, while uninterested onlookers talked among themselves. When I drifted back, some ten minutes later, the head was a charred bone and a cow was placidly munching the marigold wreathes…The body takes about three hours to burn. Sometime less if more wood is added. The richer a family is the more wood they can afford. While its burning Dom teenager poke at the logs as if it were a campfire. Sometimes cows stand around the fire to get warm.”

“When the wood is burned to ashes, the breastbone f the deceased is often still intact. It is given to the eldest son who tosses it in the Ganges. After the family of the deceased leaves Dom children descend on the on the ashes looking for coins, nose studs or gold teeth.”

Doms and Hindu Cremation

The cremations in Varanasi and other places are preformed by the Doms, a subcaste that makes their living burning bodies for cremations for a fee that ranges considerably depending on the wealth of the family. The Doms are a caste of Untouchables. Touching a corpse after death is viewed as polluting and thus only Untouchables are designated to do this kind of work. So terrible is this work supposed to be the Doms are expected to weep when their children are born and party when death releases them from macabre responsibilities.

In addition to charging money for performing the cremations the Doms also take a cut from the exorbitantly-priced wood sold near the ghats. The Doms in Varanasi have become very wealthy from their trade and some Indians have accused them of “extortion” over the high prices they charge and the fact they often take money from poor families that struggle to come up with the money for the cremations. Because they are the only ones allowed to perform the cremations, the Doms have established a monopoly and are allowed to charge exorbitant prices because they have no competition. When customers can’t pay the full price the Doms are hold back the supply of wood and bodies end up half-burned.

In the 1980s the Dom Raja controled the ghats and the supply of wood used to burn the 35,000 or so bodies brought to Ganges in Varanasi for cremations. The Raja did not perform a cremation unless he paid in advance the $45 or so for the wood, and often he demanded an extra payment to guarantee the soul would be liberated. These payments, some claimed, made him the richest man in Varanasi. [Source:Geoffrey Ward, Smithsonian magazine, September 1985]

Describing an encounter with the Dom Raja, Geoffrey Ward wrote in Smithsonian magazine: “The Dom Raja himself sat cross-legged on a string bed inside his darkened room. Eight hangers on sat at his feet around a little table on which rests a brass tumbler and half-empty bottle of clear homemade liquor. The Dom Raja was immensely fat, nearly naked and totally bald. His thick fingers were covered with big gold rings. When he spoke she slurred his words. I had not brought him a handsome gift, he finally mumbled, so he saw no reason to speak further with me.” [Source: Geoffrey Ward, Smithsonian magazine, September 1985]

Remains in the Ganges

After the cremation the bones and ashes of the deceased are thrown into the Ganges. Even those who are not cremated near the Ganges have their ashes placed there. Rock guitarists Jerry Garcia and George Harrison are among those who had their ashes scattered in the Ganges. In the old days thousands of uncremated bodies were thrown into the Ganges during cholera epidemics, spreading the disease and producing more corpses.

Today only bones and ashes are supposed to be scattered in the river. Even so the cremation process, especially among those who can not afford the large amount of wood needed to incinerate the entire body, leaves behind a lot of half burned body parts. To get rid of the body parts special snapping turtles are bred and released in the river that are taught to consume dead human flesh but not bother swimmers and bathers. These turtles consume about a pound of flesh a day and can reach a size of 70 pounds.

In the early 1990s, the government built an electric crematorium on the side of the Ganges, in part to reduce the amount of half-burned bodies floating down the river. Even after the system was introduced most people still preferred the traditional method of cremation.

After the Hindu Cremation

After the cremation fire is extinguished the focus of the funeral ritual changes to purifying the relatives of the deceased who are looked upon as ritually impure from their exposure to the corpse. If he hasn’t done so already the eldest son or presiding male relative shaves his head and wears a white robe after the cremation. On the day after pyre was lit he often pours milk over pyre.

After the cremation family members wash themselves in water in trenches north of the pyre and pass under a cow yoke propped up by branches, and offer a prayer to the sun. They then walk off led by youngest son and don’t look back. In the first stream they encounter they bath while shouting out the name of the deceased. Afterwards they place rice and peas on the ground to confuse ghosts and then walk to a pleasant place and relate stories about the deceased. When they arrive at home they touch several objects— a stone, fire, dung, grain, a seed, oil and water—in proper order to purify themselves before they enter their houses.

Hindu Mourning Period and Departure of the Soul

Hindus believe that the soul exists in a ghost-like state for 10 to 30 days until it is ready to move on to the next stage. For ten to 30 days after a funeral, depending on the caste, the mourners are secluded from society while daily ceremonies. with special ones on 4th, 10th and 14th days, are performed to provide the souls of the deceased with a new spiritual body needed to pass on to the next life. These rites involve offering rice balls and vessels of milk to the deceased. Mourners are expected to refrain from cutting their fingernails, combing their hair, wearing jewelry or shoes, reading sacred texts, having sex and cooking their own food. If not properly performed the soul may become a ghost that haunts its relatives.

After the tenth day, the soul move on and the mourners are regarded as purified. The 12th day after a death has special meaning for Hindus. It is when the soul passes on to the next life. The day is marked by special prayers. A caste dinner is given on the 12th or 13th day after special “ritual of peace” is performed to mark the ending of the mourning period . The ritual involves the chanting of mantras while making a fire and placing four offerings in the fire and touching a red bull.

The full mourning period lasts two weeks to a year depending on the age of the deceased and the closeness of the relationship to him or her. At the end of a mourning period for his mother a son shaves his head. Sometimes this is done in a river and the hair carried away is a “sign of renewal.” When the morning period is complete the eldest son become the head of the family and the wife of a deceased man becomes a widow.

There are restrictions on eating salt, lentils, oil and a number of other foods during the mourning period. Restrictions on the eldest son are even stricter. He often can eat only one meal a day consisting of rice, ghee and sugar and must shave all the hair from his body and conduct hours of rituals and take periodic ritual cold baths for a period of mourning that lasts up to one year.

Rites with offerings known as shaddha are periodically held after a person has died to nourish the soul in the afterlife. The rites are often performed once a year and feature a feast with a plate of food of food offered to the dead. Hindu believe the living must feed the dead living in the World of the Fathers. If the ancestors are properly taken care of they will reward the living with prosperity and sons. The shaddha is thought to day back to the Aryans. It is viewed as a meeting between the living and the dead. The souls of the dead who are nor properly buried are thought live outside the World of Fathers as ghosts that torment their relatives until they are there. custom [“World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder, Facts on File Publications, New York]

Hindu Inheritance

Inheritance was given to this who were obligated to perform shraddha. Since only males can perform the shraddha only they could receive an inheritance. Men without sons could adopt a boy or appoint a daughter, if he had one, to give birth to a boy. Since one male can only serve one the grandson or adopted son gave up the right to perform shraddha to his immediate family. [“World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder, Facts on File Publications, New York]

The concept of shraddha was an Aryan idea supplanted by the idea of reincarnation but many of its beliefs remain.

Village women are given their inheritance at birth because they are not a son.” [10]

MAJOR HINDU GODS

Vishnu

“Vishnu, whose name means “All-Pervading,” is the protector of the world and the restorer of moral order (dharma). He is peaceful, merciful, and compassionate. To Vaisnavites, Vishnu is the Supreme Lord.

Vishnu is often pictured with his consort, Lakshmi (also called Sri), and usually has four arms. Each hand holds an emblem of his divinity: the conch, discus, club, and lotus. A curl of hair on his chest signifies his immortality, and he wears the jewel Kaustubha around his neck. He is usually depicted with a dark complexion, as are his incarnations. Vishnu is often shown reclining or asleep as he awaits the next annihilation and renewal of the world. {2}

Vishnu is best known through his ten avatars (incarnations), which appear on earth when there is disorder in the world. Rama and Krishna, whose stories are told in the Epics and the Puranas, are the most popular incarnations of Vishnu by far. {3} The ten incarnations of Vishnu are:

Matsya(fish)—saves Sage Manu from floods and recovers the Vedas from demons.Kurma(tortoise)—sustains the earth on his back.Varaha(boar)—brings the earth back from the bottom of the ocean where it was dragged down by a demon, known as Hiranyaksha; Varaha kills the demon.Narasimha(man-lion)—kills the demon King Hiranyakashipu, who was planning to kill his own son, a devotee of Lord Vishnu.Vamana(dwarf)—the first human incarnation of the Lord, kills the demon King Mahabhali, who had deprived the gods of their possessions.Parasurama(the warrior with an axe)—saves Brahmins from the tyranny of the arrogant Kshatriyas.Rama—kills Ravana, the demon king of Lanka.Sri Krishna—the most popular incarnation; Krishna’s contributions throughout his life include the teachings of the Bhagavad Gita to Arjuna.Buddha—Hindus consider Buddha as an incarnation of Lord Vishnu and accept his teachings, but do not directly worship him.Kalkin(a man on a white horse)—this incarnation is yet to come and will mark the end of all evil in the world. [12]

Vishnu – A Symbolic Appreciation

This section was written by Nitin Kumar of Exotic India Arts. Used by permission.

Curiously, the interpretative saga of Lord Vishnu begins with Lord Shiva. Once when man’s wickedness overran all restraining boundaries, an infuriated Shiva transformed himself into a wrathful form known as Bhairava. Thus converted, Shiva began his rampage of destruction, killing, maiming, and ripping out hearts of humans and drinking blood, his menacing laughter thundering all around.

On behalf of humanity, Vishnu approached Bhairava and requested him to stop the slaughter. Bhairava said: “I will go on killing until my bowl is filled with enough blood to quench my thirst.” It was common knowledge that Bhairava’s bowl could never be filled and his thirst never quenched.

His heart filled with compassion, Vishnu addressed Shiva thus: “Let me give you all the blood you need. You don’t have to bleed mankind.” So saying, Vishnu struck his forehead with his sword and let his blood spurt into Bhairava’s bowl. Ages passed, Vishnu kept pouring his blood into the bowl, while Bhairava kept drinking it.

Bhairava finally realized that Vishnu was sacrificing himself for the sake of the world. Moved by Vishnu’s generosity, he declared, “So long as you preserve the world, I will not seek to quench my thirst. But when the world becomes so corrupt that even you cannot sustain it, I will raise my trident and squeeze every drop of blood from the heart of man.”

In Hindu esoteric imagination, the supreme and ultimate reality is believed to reside in the Universal Soul, which is said to pervade the entire manifested cosmos. The cosmos itself is thought to have evolved from this abstract entity, which is formless and devoid of any qualitative attributes (Skt. Nirguna Brahman). It is neither male nor female, and is infinite, without beginning or end. It is both around us and inside us. The goal indeed of all spiritual practice is to unite with this Supreme Soul.

To the eternal credit of Indian creativity, abstract concepts such as the one above are made intelligible to ordinary mortals like you and me through the invention of various forms which make comprehensible the ultimate, formless reality. Thus the Nirguna Brahmana (Nirguna – without quality) becomes Saguna Brahmana (Saguna – having qualities). This transformed entity is known in Sanskrit as Ishvara.

The entire universe, along with the dynamic processes underlying it, is said to stem from Ishvara. For example, when Ishvara creates the universe, he is called Brahma, when he protects, he is called Vishnu, and when he destroys, he is Shiva. The three together constitute the trinity, which controls the universe and all its functions.

Thus, as exemplified in the above legend, Vishnu is the Preserver, the protector of all humanity. A deity who saves mankind from calamities which result from its own foibles.

Vishnu finds his earliest mention in the

Rig Veda, the most ancient book in the world. Here he appears as a solar deity. The Vishnu of the Rig Veda is a manifestation of light, whose head was, by a trick of the gods, severed from his body. This severed head is believed to have become the sun. Further in the Veda, Vishnu is a friend and associate of Indra, god of rain, thunder, and storm. Together, Vishnu the sun and Indra the rain, take on the demon Vritra, who personifies drought. Indra and Vishnu both are described as Vritrahan or the killer of Vritra. This potent combination forms an awesome ensemble of fertilizing powers.

The Vedic connotations of Vishnu are discernable also in the etymology of his name which is derived form the root

‘vish’ , which means to spread, or in other words all-pervading. Indeed in the Vedas he is the all-pervading sun, whose rays envelop the earth, as does Vishnu himself, in his role as protector of the world.

It is not surprising thus, observing Vishnu’s popularity, that he has been a constant source of inspiration for artists down the ages. His visual presentations tend to depict in clearly perceptible terms, all the composite elements which make up this comprehensive deity.

Vishnu is usually depicted with four arms, though sometimes he may even have more than this number. The many arms of Hindu deities are symbolic of the god’s manifold powers. Whereas we have limited abilities, a god’s power is unlimited, signified by the many hands that hold a variety of attributes and perform myriad activities, often simultaneously. According to noted Indologist Alain Danielou “the image of a deity is merely a group of symbols.”

The significance of the Vishnu icon is explained in the Puranas and several minor Upanishads. The two most common representations show him sleeping above the causal ocean on the coils of a serpent, while the other shows him standing with four arms, each exhibiting a different attribute.”

LORD SHIVA

Lord Shiva is the Lord of mercy and compassion. He protects devotees from evil forces such as lust, greed, and anger. He grants boons, bestows grace and awakens wisdom in His devotees. The symbolism discussed below includes major symbols that are common to all pictures and images of Shiva venerated by Hindus. Since the tasks of Lord Shiva are numerous, He cannot be symbolized in one form. For this reason the images of Shiva vary significantly in their symbolism.

The unclad body covered with ashes:the unclad body symbolizes the transcendental aspect of the Lord. Since most things reduce to ashes when burned, ashes symbolize the physical universe. The ashes on the unclad body of the Lord signify that Shiva is the source of the entire universe which emanates from Him, but He transcends the physical phenomena and is not affected by it.

Matted locks:Lord Shiva is the Master of yoga. The three matted locks on the head of the Lord convey the idea that integration of the physical, mental and spiritual energies is the ideal of yoga.

Ganga:Ganga (river Ganges) is associated with Hindu mythology and is the most sacred river of Hindus. According to tradition, one who bathes in Ganga (revered as Mother Ganga) in accordance with traditional rites and ceremonies on religious occasions in combination with certain astrological events, is freed from sin and attains knowledge, purity and peace. Ganga, symbolically represented on the head of the Lord by a female (Mother Ganga) with a jet of water emanating from her mouth and falling on the ground, signifies that the Lord destroys sin, removes ignorance, and bestows knowledge, purity and peace on the devotees.

The crescent moon:is shown on the side of the Lord’s head as an ornament, and not as an integral part of His countenance. The waxing and waning phenomenon of the moon symbolizes the time cycle through which creation evolves from the beginning to the end. Since the Lord is the Eternal Reality, He is beyond time. Thus, the crescent moon is only one of His ornaments, and not an integral part of Him.Three eyes:Lord Shiva, also called Tryambaka Deva (literally, “three-eyed Lord”), is depicted as having three eyes: the sun is His right eye, the moon the left eye and fire the third eye. The two eyes on the right and left indicate His activity in the physical world. The third eye in the center of the forehead symbolizes spiritual knowledge and power, and is thus called the eye of wisdom or knowledge. Like fire, the powerful gaze of Shiva’s third eye annihilates evil, and thus the evil-doers fear His third eye.

Half-open eyes:when the Lord opens His eyes, a new cycle of creation emerges and when He closes them, the universe dissolves for creation of the next cycle. The half-open eyes convey the idea that creation is going through cyclic process, with no beginning and no end. Lord Shiva is the Master of Yoga, as He uses His yogic power to project the universe from Himself. The half-open eyes also symbolize His yogic posture.

Kundalas (two ear rings):two Kundalas, Alakshya (meaning “which cannot be shown by any sign”) and Niranjan (meaning “which cannot be seen by mortal eyes”) in the ears of the Lord signify that He is beyond ordinary perception. Since the kundala in the left ear of the Lord is of the type used by women and the one in His right ear is of the type used by men, these Kundalas also symbolize the Shiva and Shakti (male and female) principle of creation.

Snake around the neck:sages have used snakes to symbolize the yogic power of Lord Shiva with which He dissolves and recreates the universe. Like a yogi, a snake hoards nothing, carries nothing, builds nothing, lives on air alone for a long time, and lives in mountains and forests. The venom of a snake, therefore, symbolizes the yogic power.

A snake (Vasuki Naga):is shown curled three times around the neck of the Lord and is looking towards His right side. The three coils of the snake symbolize the past, present and future – time in cycles. The Lord wearing the curled snake like an ornament signifies that creation proceeds in cycles and is time dependent, but the Lord Himself transcends time. The right side of the body symbolizes the human activities based upon knowledge, reason and logic. The snake looking towards the right side of the Lord signifies that the Lord’s eternal laws of reason and justice preserve natural order in the universe.

Rudraksha necklace:Rudra is another name of Shiva. Rudra also means “strict or uncompromising” and aksha means “eye.” Rudraksha necklace worn by the Lord illustrates that He uses His cosmic laws firmly – without compromise – to maintain law and order in the universe. The necklace has 108 beads which symbolize the elements used in the creation of the world.

Varda Mudra:the Lord’s right hand is shown in a boon- bestowing and blessing pose. As stated earlier, Lord Shiva annihilates evil, grants boons, bestows grace, destroys ignorance, and awakens wisdom in His devotees.

Trident (Trisula):a three-pronged trident shown adjacent to the Lord symbolizes His three fundamental powers (shakti) of will (iccha), action (kriya) and knowledge (jnana). The trident also symbolizes the Lord’s power to destroy evil and ignorance.

Damaru (drum):a small drum with two sides separated from each other by a thin neck-like structure symbolizes the two utterly dissimilar states of existence, unmanifest and manifest. When a damaru is vibrated, it produces dissimilar sounds which are fused together by resonance to create one sound. The sound thus produced symbolizes Nada, the cosmic sound of AUM, which can be heard during deep meditation. According to Hindu scriptures, Nada is the source of creation.

Kamandalu:a water pot (Kamandalu) made from a dry pumpkin contains nectar and is shown on the ground next to Shiva. The process of making Kamandalu has deep spiritual significance. A ripe pumpkin is plucked from a plant, its fruit is removed and the shell is cleaned for containing the nectar. In the same way, an individual must break away from attachment to the physical world and clean his inner self of egoistic desires in order to experience the bliss of the Self, symbolized by the nectar in the Kamandalu.
Nandi:
the bull is associated with Shiva and is said to be His vehicle. The bull symbolizes both power and ignorance. Lord Shiva’s use of the bull as a vehicle conveys the idea that He removes ignorance and bestows power of wisdom on His devotees. The bull is called Vrisha in Sanskrit. Vrisha also means dharma (righteousness). Thus a bull shown next to Shiva also indicates that He is the etemal companion of righteousness.

Tiger skin:
a tiger skin symbolizes potential energy. Lord Shiva, sitting on or wearing a tiger skin, illustrates the idea that He is the source of the creative energy that remains in potential form during the dissolution state of the universe. Of His own Divine Will, the Lord activates the potential form of the creative energy to project the universe in endless cycles.
Cremation ground:
Shiva sitting in the cremation ground signifies that He is the controller of death in the physical world. Since birth and death are cyclic, controlling one implies controlling the other. Thus, Lord Shiva is revered as the ultimate controller of birth and death in the phenomenal world.[13]

LORD BRAHMA

Lord Brahma symbolizes the aspect of the Supreme Reality that brings forth the creation. For this very reason, Hindus call Lord Brahma the Creator of the universe. He is the first member of the Hindu Trinity that also includes Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva. His divine consort is Saraswati, the Goddess of learning and knowledge. Goddess Saraswati provides Lord Brahma with knowledge that is necessary for the process of creation.

Brahma is usually conceived of by Hindus as a bearded, four-faced, four-armed deity. In popular images, He carries a rosary in the upper right hand, a book in the upper left hand, a kamandalu (water pot) in the lower left hand, and bestows grace with His lower right hand. The four faces represent the sacred knowledge of the four Vedas (Rig, Yajur, Sama, and Atharva), and this is the most prominent feature of any image of Brahma. The four faces, therefore, symbolize that Brahma is the source of all knowledge necessary for the creation of the universe. The four arms represent the four directions and thus represent the omnipresence and omnipotence of Lord Brahma.

The four hands represent the four aspects of human personality: mind (back right hand), intellect (back left hand), ego (front right hand), and the empirical self or conditioned consciousness (front left hand). The rosary symbolizes the time cycle through which the world moves from creation to sustenance, from sustenance to dissolution, and from dissolution to new creation. The rosary also symbolizes the materials used in the process of creation. Its position in the back right hand suggests the intelligent use of these materials in the process of creation.
A book in the back hand (symbolizing the intellect) illustrates that right knowledge is important for any kind of creative work. A water pot (kamandalu) in the front left hand symbolizes the cosmic energy by which Brahma brings the universe into existence. The hand symbolizing ego (the front right hand) is shown in the pose of bestowing grace. This conveys the idea that the Lord bestows grace and protects all sincere devotees.

The color gold symbolizes activity and thus the golden face of Brahma indicates that the Lord is active when involved in the process of creation. The white beard denotes wisdom and the long beard conveys the idea that creation is an eternal process. The crown on the head of the Lord implies that the Lord has supreme power and authority over the process of creation.
The lotus symbolizes the Supreme Reality, the essence of all things and beings in the universe. Brahma sitting or standing on a lotus indicates that He represents the creative power of the Supreme Reality. The color white symbolizes purity. Thus Brahma wearing clothes that are off-white, represents the dual nature of creation, that is purity and impurity, happiness and unhappiness, vice and virtue, knowledge and ignorance, and so on.

In Hindu mythology, a swan is said to possess a unique discriminating faculty, which enables it to distinguish pure milk from a mixture of milk and water. The swan is therefore used to symbolize the power of discrimination. Brahma uses the swan as a vehicle. This is intended to convey the idea that although creation is pluralistic in nature, there is only one Supreme Reality that the entire universe emanates from. This knowledge can be acquired by an individual by training his mind and Intellect to acquire the power of right discrimination.

As creation is the work of the mind and the intellect, Lord Brahma symbolizes the Universal Mind. From the standpoint of an individual, Brahma symbolizes one’s own mind and intellect. Since an individual is naturally gifted with the mind and intellect, he or she may be said to have already realized Brahma. For this reason the worship of Brahma is not very popular among all Hindus. He is, however, worshipped by seekers of knowledge, such as students, teachers, scholars and scientists. [14]

HYPOTHESIS OF HINDU BEGINNINGS

The lack of archaeological and anthropological findings of Hindu past is puzzling, compared with that of other ancient peoples. But there is sufficient evidence today, especially with the archaeological findings at the Mehrgarh, and Indus Valley Civilisation and Hindu religious activities to join some of the dots together. It is likely that due to geophysical nature in that part of the world as well as with the common practice of cremation to dispose of the dead, there is not much hard evidence available from burial sites. There is little doubt that the legends of the Ayran Invasion were myths.The Hindu culture was not introduced by the Ayrans around 2000BC-1500BC but archaeological evidence (Mehrgarh) has proven that the practice of cremation and coffin burial was already widely practised even in the neolithic periods of the Indus Valley Civilisation, i.e., the Cemetary H Period (ca.1900 BC to ca. 1300BC.) This clearly indicates that the concept of re-incarnation was already believed by a large majority of people even then, hence the ritual of cremation, to free the spirit.

If we begin to examine the culture of the neolithic peoples of that region, there is without a doubt that they would have created gods to protect them and to guide them with their way of life. These gods emanated even in pre-neolithic times created by the people and their Sudhus and Yogis (Holy men.) Hinduism beliefs incorporates many esoteric and colourful imaginations and physical transformations that are quite unique to these people. It could only evolve from a very isolated mentality that has little understanding of basic sciences or biology but needed to create an explanation to meet the needs of their curiosity of the natural world around them.So if we study the pictorial image of Lord Brahma, it is full of symbolic meaning shown pictorially rather than in text (as this was pre-Historical times,) that ispresentable and understandable for Hindu followers, i.e., Lord Brahma is shown as a bearded, four-faced, four-armed deity.

In popular images, He carries a rosary in the upper right hand, a book in the upper left hand, a kamandalu (water pot) in the lower left hand, and bestows grace with His lower right hand. The four faces represent the sacred knowledge of the four Vedas (Rig, Yajur, Sama, and Atharva), and this is the most prominent feature of any image of Brahma. The four faces, therefore, symbolize that Brahma is the source of all knowledge necessary for the creation of the universe. The four arms represent the four directions and thus represent the omnipresence and omnipotence of Lord Brahma.

The four hands represent the four aspects of human personality: mind (back right hand), intellect (back left hand), ego (front right hand), and the empirical self or conditioned consciousness (front left hand). The rosary symbolizes the time cycle through which the world moves from creation to sustenance, from sustenance to dissolution, and from dissolution to new creation. The rosary also symbolizes the materials used in the process of creation. Its position in the back right hand suggests the intelligent use of these materials in the process of creation.

A book in the back hand (symbolizing the intellect) illustrates that right knowledge is important for any kind of creative work. A water pot (kamandalu) in the front left hand symbolizes the cosmic energy by which Brahma brings the universe into existence. The hand symbolizing ego (the front right hand) is shown in the pose of bestowing grace. This conveys the idea that the Lord bestows grace and protects all sincere devotees.

So although the portrayal may appear over the top to the outsider, its symbolism is meaningful to the majority of the illiterate followers especially when explained to them by a priest or someone knowledgeable.

But to someone studying Hinduism, it does show that the pictorial concept of Hindu gods must have had a great significance to their beliefs and their devotions. It also indicates the antiquity of the concept of people who accepted creation, and the physiology of birth and death with esoteric imaginations without even an understanding of how life is created. This shows clearly that Hinduism was born long before the Mesolithic period for them to have been able to adopt such concepts of human life. [The evolution of Hinduism is quite different from the evolution of the Taoist religion, for example.]
Hinduism evolved not from the Aryan Invasion but from the indigenous peoples of the Harappan civilisation and their predecessors even from Mesolithic roots.

END

Nine Beliefs of Hinduism

Our beliefs determine our thoughts and attitudes about life, which in turn direct our actions. By our actions, we create our destiny. Beliefs about sacred matters–God, soul and cosmos–are essential to one’s approach to life. Hindus believe many diverse things, but there are a few bedrock concepts on which most Hindus concur. The following nine beliefs, though not exhaustive, offer a simple summary of Hindu spirituality.

  1. Hindus believe in a one, all-pervasive Supreme Being who is both immanent and transcendent, both Creator and Unmanifest Reality.
  2. Hindus believe in the divinity of the four Vedas, the world’s most ancient scripture, and venerate the Agamas as equally revealed. These primordial hymns are God’s word and the bedrock of Sanatana Dharma, the eternal religion.
  3. Hindus believe that the universe undergoes endless cycles of creation, preservation and dissolution.
  4. Hindus believe in karma, the law of cause and effect by which each individual creates his own destiny by his thoughts, words and deeds.
  5. Hindus believe that the soul reincarnates, evolving through many births until all karmas have been resolved, and moksha, liberation from the cycle of rebirth, is attained. Not a single soul will be deprived of this destiny.
  6. Hindus believe that divine beings exist in unseen worlds and that temple worship, rituals, sacraments and personal devotionals create a communion with these devas and Gods.
  7. Hindus believe that an enlightened master, or satguru, is essential to know the Transcendent Absolute, as are personal discipline, good conduct, purification, pilgrimage, self-inquiry, meditation and surrender in God.
  8. Hindus believe that all life is sacred, to be loved and revered, and therefore practice ahimsa, noninjury, in thought, word and deed.
  9. Hindus believe that no religion teaches the only way to salvation above all others, but that all genuine paths are facets of God’s Light, deserving tolerance and understanding.

Hinduism, the world’s oldest religion, has no beginning–it precedes recorded history. It has no human founder. It is a mystical religion, leading the devotee to personally experience the Truth within, finally reaching the pinnacle of consciousness where man and God are one. Hinduism has four main denominations–Saivism, Shaktism, Vaishnavism and Smartism.

https://www.himalayanacademy.com/readlearn/basics/nine-beliefs

6 Comments

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