AYODHYA AS SEEN BY AN AVADHI

WHY WE WANT RAM MANDIR AT AVADH

by an Avadhi

This moving comment came to me from an Avadh native. I am giving it in full so people understand what the temple means to the long suffering people of Avadh (Ayodhya). It also contains many little-known facts of history that have been long suppressed.

Navaratna Rajaram (editor)

 

I am a native of Awadh (Ayodhya ) and I believe I am in a position to answer this question better than other non-Awadhi Indians.

Whatever information I have written here have been heard by me from my elders who have spent their childhood in Ayodhya or Faizabad.

Long history

So, let us first know what the origin of issue actually is, because everyone seems to know only the Mandir-Masjid dispute and nobody seems knowledgeable of the long history behind the row!

It all actually started when Jaychand, king of Kannauj came to Awadh and declared it to be part of his kingdom and removed all the signs of Samrat Vikramaditya including his portrait. In a fight with Mughals he died. With his death and after few years this area came under Babur when he invaded India.

Since Babur made Delhi as his capital, Awadh was quite far from his mental preoccupations.

A saint named Baba Shyamanand was appointed as their spiritual leader by Awadhis to take care of Ram Janma Bhoomi.

Baba Shyamanand was a highly respected saint with high spiritual knowledge and understanding. Soon, by virtue of his power of spiritual knowledge, he became quite famous amidst nearby kingdoms. By hearing his fame a mughal saint Khwaja Kajal Abbas Musa Ashika reached Awadh to learn something from him and became his disciple.

After hearing this news, a ‘fakir named Jalal Shah also reached Awadh to do the same.

Deceit and conspiracy!

Jalal Shah and Khwaja were Mughal extremists and they wanted to convert the whole of Awadh into Khurd Makka-e-Hind, because by that century Awadh had become the spiritual centre of the whole North India; Awadh became so famous that its popularity spread to many countries like Indonesia (even today, we see the effect of Ramayana in their culture).

Thus, by destroying this region, it was quite possible to disturb the deep religious roots of Hinduism.

With the help of Mir Baki, Jalal Shah and Khwaja presented the facts about the upsurge of Hinduism from Awadh at the court of Babur in Delhi and convinced Babur about the need to destroy Ram Mandhir, which was the centre of action in Awadh. Subsequently we all know how Babur ultimately destroyed the Ram Mandir!

When all this information about the conspiracy to destroy Ram Mandir reached Baba Shyamanand, he took the idol of Shri Ram from the temple and submerged it in the river Sarayu (which flows in Awadh). After this, he left Awadh and started his new journey to Himalayas in sorrow; he was feeling very remorseful since it is because of him that Jalashah and Khwaja were able to know all the secrets of Janma Bhumi and Awadh.

Even today it is believed that the idol of Raja Ram reached Nashik with the flow of water and locals there who picked up idol made a temple which is presently known as ‘Kale Ram Mandir’.

The four priests of the Ram temple removed all other important things from the temple and buried them inside it. (Some of them were found by The Archaeological Survey Of India in their investigation of disputed place and the artefacts unearthed are now in a museum).

The process of destroying Awadh started first by burying the dead bodies of Mughals in Awadh and its nearby areas. (So Hindus would not reclaim it.)

In the second step, Mir Baki killed all the four main priests of the temple and with the help of Canon demolished Ram Mandir (Ram Temple).

Even Baba Tulsidas has written something about this incidence:

(A Masjid was made by demolishing the temple at the place where Ram was born and by killing lots of Hindus)This was also presented by Mandir Supporters in High Court as a proof which was naturally opposed by Masjid Supporters!

(This is an interesting fact, a riposte to those who say Tulsidas never mentioned it.

The leftovers of Mandir and blood of our dead forefathers ( who fought first war for Janm bhumi as maintained above ) were used in place of water to make Masjid.

After that many wars were fought between Hindu kings and Shahi Sena (Mughals).

I can’t explain every war because it will make this note much too large!

Name of some Kings and Queens are as follows:

  1. Raja Mehtab Singh Badri Narayan of Kingdom Bheet who fought with around 1 lakh 74,000 soldiers and locals against Babur. Ultimately lost the war.
  2. Pandit Devideen Pandey ( senior purohit of local thakurs ) fought with huge support of 90,00 locals and villagers living nearby areas. Pandit Devideen Pandey killed by MirBaki and ultimately locals lost this war.No one survived in this war.
  3. Raja RanVijay Singh of Kingdom Hansvar fought with 24,000 against Shahi Sena and ultimately lost this war.
  4. Queen Of Hansvar or wife of Raja RanVijay Singh named Rani JayRaj Kumari fought with 3000 ladies against Shahi Sena. Got immense support from locals and other kingdoms. Janm Bhoomi came under control of Hindus but due to small wars nothing special happened in Awadh region. This continued till the rise of Humayun and ultimately after Humayun, janm bhumi again came under the control of mughals.
  5. Many small wars by saints ( also known as Chimta-Dhari saints) were faught which resulted in the loss of lives of thousands of priests and saints!

 

Akbar (below) provides some relief, Aurangazeb destroys

 

  1. When Akbar came to power, just to spread peace in his kingdom, he made a small temple inside that Masjid and allowed both hindus to sing bhajan and Muslims to offer Namaz. This continued till the time of ShahJahan. We Awadhis were satisfied.
  2. When Aurangzeb came in power, due to his extremists agenda he stopped all this peaceful praying. He attacked Awadh 10 times and destroyed most of the other temples including Bharat Kund, Dashrath Kund etc…( currently under Hindu control). Under his time many wars were faught between Locals and Shahi Sena. Even today many Thakurs of Awadh region don’t tie Pagdi on head and wear Shoes in their foot just to give tribute to their forefathers who have fought to protect THEIR land from outside invaders! A small war even includes Guru Gobind Singh ji who helped locals in the war.

 

Massive loss of life

Till today as per estimate approx 12 lakh Hindus died just to regain control on THEIR piece of land! There has never been any peace in Avadh since Babur’s destruction.

Do you still think we Awadhis just forget the sacrifice of our forefathers and give this land. How can we accept a structure which is literally made by the blood of our forefathers?

We are not fighting for Ram, we are fighting for OUR land. We are fighting for our Emotional Freedom.

We are not fighting just for Ram, we are fighting against the attack which was done by some outsiders on our culture, for which we sacrificed so much.

Those VHP and all others who shout Jai Shri Ram even they don’t know all this. They just want to impose their ideology and some outsiders want to impose their Mughal Religion on us! In this fight of Hindu-Muslim, the one suffering most are those whose forefathers sacrificed their lives.

Actually I myself (an Avadhi) don’t want outsiders of Awadh even to talk about this matter! The memories are too painful.

This place is not just about our religious sentiments but about our Emotional sentiments and our sufferings and sacrifices!

AYODHYA DISPUTE, FACTS AND FICTION

Ayodhya Dispute, facts and fiction

Until politicized by motivated pseudo-scholars no one disputed the basic fact that a temple had been destroyed to build a mosque at the site. Here is a summary of findings to date.

Navaratna Rajaram

 

The disputed structure

For all the sound and fury in the media about Ayodhya, the historical question is surprisingly simple: was there or was there not a Hindu temple at the spot known as Ram Janmabhumi that was destroyed to build a mosque? The answer is also equally simple — ‘yes’. There are two parts to the question: (1) was there a Hindu temple, and (2) was it destroyed and a mosque known as Babri Masjid built in its place. Again the answer is — ‘yes’ to both questions. It is as simple as that.

We should not allow ourselves to be diverted by the dispute whether Lord Ram was born at Ayodhya. It can neither be proved not disproved on the basis of existing evidence, just as we can neither prove nor disprove that Jesus was born in Bethlehem or Mohammed was born in Mecca. The point of this essay is the destruction of Ram Temple to build a mosque in Babar’s time.

There are basically two sources for studying the history: literary sources and the archaeological record. Following the demolition on December 6, 1992, a great deal of archeological and historical information has come to light. Thus, much of the published material, as well as the controversy about previous temples at the site have been rendered moot by new discoveries following the demolition. What is presented here is a summary of the latest evidence — literary as well as archaeological.

Literary evidence

The latest (fifteenth) edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, in its article on Ayodhya tells us: Rama’s birthplace is marked by a mosque, erected by the Moghul emperor Babur in 1528 on the site of an earlier temple.” This is only one of hundreds of references to the destruction several languages. One recent author (Harsh Narain, below) cites more than a hundred and thirty references in English, French, Hindi, Sanskrit, Urdu, Persian and Arabic. And I have identified several not found in his work.

The most comprehensive discussion of the primary material available is probably the book The Ayodhya Temple Mosque Dispute: Focus on the Muslim Sources by Harsh Narain. We next go on to examine several of these sources provided by Harsh Narain. When we survey this vast literature, we see that until recently, until the Secularists created the so-called ‘controversy’, no author — Hindu, Muslim, European or British official — had questioned that a temple existed on the spot which had been destroyed to erect the mosque. We may begin with a couple of references from European writers provided by Harsh Narain. These are from published sources that are widely available.

  1. Fuhrer (name) in his The Monumental Antiquities and Inscriptions in the North-Western Provinces and Oudh, Archaeological Survey of India Report, 1891, pp 296-297 records: Mir Khan built a masjid in A.H. 930 during the reign of Babar, which still bears his name. This old temple must have been a fine one, for many of its columns have been utilized by the Musalmans in the construction of Babar’s Masjid [This is supported by archaeology, as we shall soon see.]
  2. H.R. Neville in the Barabanki District Gazetteer, Lucknow, 1905, pp 168-169, writes that the Janmasthan temple ‘was destroyed by Babar and replaced by a mosque.’ Neville, in his Fyzabad District Gazetteer, Lucknow, 1905, pp 172-177 further tells us; ‘The Janmasthan was in Ramkot and marked the birthplace of Rama. In 1528 A.D. Babar came to Ayodhya and halted here for a week. He destroyed the ancient temple and on its site built a mosque, still known as Babar’s mosque. The materials of the old structure [i.e., the temple] were largely employed, and many of the columns were in good preservation. [Again supported by archaeological finds.]
    In 1855, Amir Ali Amethawi led a Jihad (Islamic religious war) for the recapture of Hanuman Garhi, situated a few hundred yards from the Babri Masjid which at that time was in the possession of Hindus. This Jihad took place during the reign of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah. It ended in failure. A Muslim writer, one Mirza Jan, was a participant in that failed Jihad. His book Hadiqah-i-Shuhada was published in 1856, i.e. the year following the attempted Jihad. Miza Jan tells us:

wherever they found magnificent temples of the Hindus ever since the establishment of Sayyid Salar Masaud Ghazi’s rule, the Muslim rulers in India built mosques, monasteries, and inns, appointed muazzins, teachers and store-stewards, spread Islam vigorously, and vanquished the Kafirs. Likewise they cleared up Faizabad and Avadh, too from the filth of reprobation (infidelity), because it was a great centre of worship and capital of Rama’s father. Where there stood a great temple (of Ramajanmasthan), there they built a big mosque, … Hence what a lofty mosque was built there by king Babar in 923 A.H. (1528 A.D.), under the patronage of Musa Ashiqqan! (Harsh Narain: p 105)

In fact, as late as 1923, the book Asrar-i-Haqiqat written by the Hindu scholar Lachmi Narain Qunango assisted by Maulvi Hashmi confirms all of the above details. The book leaves one with the impression that many sources were still available to them, especially to the Maulvi who served as Pandit Lachmi Narain’s munshi. This brings us to a Persian text known as Sahifah-i-Chihal Nasa’ih Bahadurshahi written in 1707 by a granddaughter of the Moghul emperor Aurangazeb, and noted by Mirza Jan in his Urdu work Hadiqah-i Shuhada previously cited.

Aurangazeb’s ideology

Mirza Jan quotes several lines from it which tell us:

keeping the triumph of Islam in view, devout Muslim rulers should keep all idolaters in subjection to Islam, brook no laxity in realization of Jizyah, grant no exceptions to Hindu Rajahs from dancing attendance on Id days and waiting on foot outside mosques till end of prayer and keep in constant use for Friday and congregational prayer the mosques built up after demolishing the temples of the idolatrous Hindus situated at Mathura, Banaras and Avadh (Harsh Narain: pp 23-24; emphasis added.)

Then there is the evidence of the three inscriptions at the site of the mosque itself, at least two of which mention its construction by Mir Baqi (or Mir Khan) on the orders of Babar. Babar’s Memoir mentions Mir Baqi as his governor of Ayodhya. Some parts of the inscription were damaged during a riot in 1934, but later pieced together with minor loss. In any event, it was well known long before that, recorded for instance in Mrs. Beveridge’s translation of Babur-Nama published in 1926.

Overwhelming as all this evidence is, the archaeological evidence is still stronger.

Discoveries at the site I: The Temple City of Ayodhya

Let us next look at what archaeology has to say about the Ayodhya site. The first point to note is that Ayodhya lies in a region that is generously watered, and has therefore been densely populated since time immemorial. As a result, archaeological work at Ayodhya is more difficult, and has not been on the same scale as at Harappan sites lying a thousand miles to the west. Here is what a leading archaeologist, Dr. S.P. Gupta (former director of the Allahabad Museum), has to say about recent excavations at Ayodhya.

From 1975 through 1980, the Archaeological Survey of India under the Directorship of Professor B.B. Lal, a former Director General of the Survey, undertook an extensive programme of excavation at Ayodhya, including the very mound of the Ramajanmabhumi on which the so-called “Janmasthan Masjid” or Babri Mosque once stood and was later demolished on 6th December 1992.

At Ayodhya, Professor Lal took as many as 14 trenches at different places to ascertain the antiquity of the site. It was then found that the history of the township was at least three thousand years old, if not more… When seen in the light of 20 black stone pillars, 16 of which were found re-used and standing in position as corner stones of piers for the disputed domed structure of the ‘mosque’, Prof. Lal felt that the pillar bases may have belonged to a Hindu temple built on archaeological levels formed prior to 13th century AD…

On further stratigraphic and other evidence, Lal concluded that the pillar bases must have belonged to a Hindu temple that stood between 12th and the 16th centuries. “He also found a door-jamb carved with Hindu icons and decorative motifs of yakshas, yakshis, kirtimukhas, purnaghattas, double lotus flowers etc.”

What this means is that Lal had found evidence for possibly two temples, one that existed before the 13th century, and another between the 13th and the 16th centuries. This corresponds very well indeed with history and tradition. We know that this area was ravaged by Muslim invaders following Muhammad of Ghor’s defeat of Prithviraj Chauhan in the second battle of Tarain in 1192 AD. This was apparently rebuilt and remained in use until destroyed again in the 16th century by Babar.

Temple Ruins found at the demolished site of Babri Structure.

Excavation was resumed on July 2, 1992 by S.P. Gupta, Y.D. Sharma, K.M. Srivastava and other senior archaeologists. This was less than six months before the demolition (which of course no one then knew was going to take place). Their particular interest lay in the forty-odd Hindu artifacts that had been discovered in an adjacent pit that had been missed by Lal. These finds had been widely reported in the newspapers. Gupta, a former Director of the Allahabad Museum and an expert on medieval artifacts had a special interest in examining the finds. He tells us:

The team found that the objects were datable to the period ranging from the 10th through the 12th century AD, i.e., the period of the late Pratiharas and early Gahadvals. The kings of these two dynasties hailing from Kannauj had ruled over Avadh and eastern Uttar Pradesh successively during that period.

These objects included a number of amakalas, i.e., the cogged-wheel type architectural element which crown the bhumi shikharas or spires of subsidiary shrines, as well as the top of the spire or the main shikhara … This is a characteristic feature of all north Indian temples of the early medieval period and no one can miss it — it is there in the Orissa temples such as Konarak, in the temples of Madhya Pradesh such as Khajuraho and in the temples of Rajasthan such as Osian.

There was other evidence — of cornices, pillar capitals, mouldings, door jambs with floral patterns and others — leaving little doubt regarding the existence of a 10th – 12th century temple complex at the site of Ayodhya. So B.B. Lal had been right in believing there was an earlier temple — prior to the one destroyed by Babar. More discoveries were made following the demolition of December 6. All these discoveries leave no doubt at all about the true picture.

So archaeology also leaves little doubt about the existence of the prior temple. Then came the explosion of December 6, 1992, which demolished not only the Babri Masjid but also the whole case of the Secularists and their allies. It revealed a major inscription that settled the question once and for all.

Discoveries at the site II: the Hari-Vishnu inscription

The demolition on December 6, 1992 changed the picture dramatically, providing further support to the traditional accounts — both Hindu and Muslim. Some of the kar-sevaks, no doubt influenced by all the publicity about history and archaeology, went on to pick up more than two hundred pieces of stone slabs with writing upon them. A few of these proved to belong to extremely important inscriptions, more than a thousand years old. In effect, the kar-sevaks had done what archaeologists should have done years ago; they had unearthed important inscriptions — in howsoever a crude form — something that should have been done years ago by professional historians and archaeologists. The inscriptions, even the few that have been read so far, shed a great deal of light on the history of not only Ayodhya and its environs, but all of North India in the early Medieval, and even the late ancient period. Here is what S.P. Gupta found upon examining the two-hundred and fifty or so stone pieces with writing upon them. The most important of these deciphered so far is the Hari-Vishnu inscription that clinches the whole issue of the temple. It is written in 12th century AD Devanagari script and belongs therefore to the period before the onslaught of the Ghorids (1192 AD and later). Gupta tells us:

This inscription, running in as many as 20 lines, is found engraved on a 5 ft. long, 2 ft. broad and 2.5 inches thick slab of buff sandstone, apparently a very heavy tablet … Three-fourths of the tablet is found obliterated anciently. The last line is also not complete since it was anciently subjected to chipping off. A portion of the central part is found battered, maybe someone tried to deface it anciently. The patination [tarnishing including wearout] is, however, uniform all over the surface, even in areas where once there were inscriptions. (In The Ayodhya Reference: pp 117-18)

Gupta is an archaeologist and not an epigraphist trained to read ancient inscriptions. It was later examined by Ajay Mitra Shastri, Chairman of the Epigraphical Society of India who gave the following summary. What the inscription tells us is of monumental significance to the history of Medieval India.

The inscription is composed in high-flown Sanskrit verse, except for a very small portion in prose, and is engraved in chaste and classical Nagari script of the eleventh-twelfth century AD. It has yet to be fully deciphered, but the portions which have been fully deciphered and read are of great historical significance and value … [It has since been fully deciphered.] It was evidently put up on the wall of the temple, the construction of which is recorded in the text inscribed on it. Line 15 of this inscription, for example, clearly tells us that a beautiful temple of Vishnu-Hari, built with heaps of stones … , and beautified with a golden spire … unparalleled by any other temple built by earlier kings … This wonderful temple … was built in the temple-city of Ayodhya situated in Saketamandala. … Line 19 describes god Vishnu as destroying king Bali … and the ten headed personage (Dashanana, i.e., Ravana). (op. cit. 119; emphasis mine. Original Sanskrit quotes given by Shastri have been left out.)

Need we say more — a temple for Hari-Vishnu who killed the ten-headed Ravana, in the temple city of Ayodhya? So Ayodhya was known as a temple city even then; Saketa was the ancient name of the district. The inscription confirms what archaeologists Lal and Gupta had earlier found about the existence of a temple complex. And yet the Secularists and their allies have been telling the world that there was no temple!

Summary of findings

We may now sum up the findings based on both literary and archaeological/epigraphic evidence:

   1. All the literary sources without exception, until the Secularists began their negationist masquerade, are unanimous that a Rama temple existed at the site known since time immemorial as Rama Janmabhumi.
   2. Archaeology confirms the existence of temples going back to Kushan times, or about 2000 years. This date may well be extended by future excavations assuming that such excavations will be permitted by politicians.
   3. Archaeology records at least two temple destructions: the first in the 12th-13th century; the second, later, in all probability in the 16th. This agrees well with history and tradition that were temple destructions following the Ghorid invasions (after 1192 AD) and restored, and was destroyed again in 1528 by Babar who replaced it with a mosque. This is the famous — or infamous — Babri Masjid that was demolished by kar-sevaks on
ecember 6, 1992.
   4. A large inscription discovered at the site dating to 11th-12th century records the existence of numerous temples including a magnificent one in which Hari-Vishnu was honored as destroyer of the ten-headed Ravana. Ayodhya was always known as a temple city.

These facts drawing upon several literary and archaeological sources leave no doubt at all that a temple located at a site sacred to the Hindus was destroyed to build a mosque under Babar’s express orders.

Bibliography

The Ayodhya Reference: Supreme Court Judgement and Commentaries. 1995. New

Delhi:Voice of India. Ayodhya and the Future of India. 1993. Edited by Jitendra

Bajaj. Madras: Centre for Policy Studies.

Baburnama: Memoirs of Babur, Prince and Emperor. 1996. Edited, translated and

annotated by Wheeler M. Thacktson. New York and London: Oxford University Press.

Elst, Koenraad. 1990. Ram Janmabhoomi vs. Babri Masjid. New Delhi: Voice of India.

Goel, Sita Ram. 1991. Hindu Temples: What Happened to Them. Volume I (A

Preliminary Survey). New Delhi: Voice of India.

Goel, Sita Ram. 1991. Hindu Temples: What Happened to Them. Volume II (The

Islamic Evidence). New Delhi: Voice of India.

Harsh Narain. 1993. The Ayodhya Temple Mosque Dispute: Focus on Muslim Sources.

Delhi: Penman Publishers.

Rajaram, N.S. (1998). A Hindu View of the World: Essays in the Intellectual Kshatriya

Tradition. New Delhi: Voice of India.

Rajaram, N.S. (2000). Profiles in Deception: Ayodhya and the Dead Sea Scrolls. New

WERE VEDIC PEOPLE A MARITIME PEOPLE?

WERE VEDIC PEOPLE A MARITIME PEOPLE?

The Rigveda is replete with oceanic symbolism suggesting its creators were familiar with the ocean and maritime activity.

 Navaratna Rajaram

 

Background

            For well over a century Indologists have insisted that the Vedas and its language were brought by a race of nomadic invaders (the notorious Aryans) from some land locked regions of Central Asia or Eurasia and the Indian Civilization was largely land base. Some have gone so far as to claim that the Vedic people had no knowledge of the sea.

Of late, some scholars (notably Sanjeev Sanyal) have questioned this formulation, highlighting the role of maritime activity in Indian history and its close ties with East Asian lands.

 

What is interesting is that the Vedas themselves show great familiarity with the ocean and maritime activity. This is not surprising since our African ancestors had to negotiate the oceans in order to reach India, This is what is presented here.

 Rigveda and the image of the ocean

The verdict of archaeology is therefore clear: Vedic literature must be placed before the drying up of the Sarasvati region.

Secondarily, the Indus civilization, which in reality was an extension of the Sarasvati civilization, should be seen as Vedic.

All evidence from literature to natural history strongly supports this finding. Unless some incontrovertible

evidence can be found to support it, the idea of the Dravidian-

Aryan conflict must be seen as no more than an academic fantasy

that still awaits evidence. Since this theory is the creation of linguists,

the same linguistic arguments cannot be accepted as its proof.

To avoid circularity, the evidence for the proof must be independent

of the theory. This could take the form of the decipherment of the

Indus script showing the language to be proto-Dravidian totally

independent of Sanskrit. Until that time, the Aryan-Dravidian

divide must be regarded as an unproved linguistic theory or

conjecture. No theory can ever be accepted as its own proof.

It is not only linguistic evidence that has gone towards the

creation of the historical model of the Aryan invasion of India,

but also literary interpretations of the Vedic literature, notably the

hymns of the Rigveda. Scholars who subscribe to this theory,

just as they are not linguists, for the most part, they are also not

Vedic scholars. As a result, they are forced to build their models

by drawing upon the translations of the Vedic literature available

to them. The best known translations in English are the ones by

Max Muller and Griffith, the former in prose and the latter in

verse. But for this difference, there is little to choose between the

two from an interpretive point of view: They are both more than

a hundred years old and also they both lean heavily upon the

medieval Indian scholiast and commentator Sayana. (Max

Muller’s translation was only of some fragments of the Rigveda but it

was highly influential and went on to set the tone for all

subsequent interpretations and translations in the West.)

Here lies the first difficulty: Sayana belonged to the

Yajurvedic school of Brahmins, a fact that heavily colors his

Rigvedic interpretations and commentary. The Yajurveda is

primarily a book of ritual, and this fact resulted in Sayana

imposing a ritualistic interpretation on the Rigveda. But he

faithfully notes that other (non-ritualistic) interpretations are also

possible and exist. But modern scholars lack this humility and insist on the correctness of their interpretations.

European scholars, however, have adopted Sayana’s point of

view in their translations, and historians following their lead have

implicitly assumed that they really have the true sense of the

Rigveda. To take just one example, historians accept Griffith’s

(and Max Muller’s) reading that the Rigveda describes

northwestern India and Afghanistan, and that it does not know the

ocean. This, as we shall soon see, is an extraordinary assumption

that is contradicted by the Rigveda itself. (Sayana on the other

hand makes no such assumptions.)

From our present vantage position, we can see that these

translators were unable to gain mastery of the Veda in all its

fullness, and struggled to render only the textual portion, leaning

heavily upon Sayana for help. Lacking the traditional Vedic

schooling they probably had little choice. Thus gross errors of

interpretation are only to be expected. But they compounded the

problem with an artifice of their own making: They assumed that

the authors of the Rigveda, the Vedic Aryans, were nomadic

barbarians from the steppes of Central Asia. A result of this

preconception is the assertion that they were therefore unfamiliar

with the ocean. It is claimed by scholars of this school, including

historians, that the ocean is unknown to the Rigveda. Since this

interpretation holds the key to the Aryan invasion theory, it is

worth a serious look.

A commonly used word for ocean in all Indian languages is

samudra, a word that occurs very frequently in the Rigveda.

Scholars have tried to explain this away by claiming that this is to

be taken generically in the sense of any body of water, just as the

word sindhu can mean any river. The word sindhu can mean

either river or ocean, but we have not found a single passage

where the meaning ocean for samudra does not make sense. In

fact, in an overwhelming majority of cases, samudra can only

mean ocean or sea. We reproduce below a few examples taken

from several books of the Rigveda. For a more comprehensive

discussion of the same topic, the interested reader is directed to

Frawley (1991).

We begin with the following remarkable verse by Sunahsepa,

a characteristic example of the Rigvedic style in which empirical

natural laws are couched in poetic imagery. In this case it ties the

path of migratory birds to seasonal marine winds. (Translations

by Rajaram)

He who knows the path of the birds flying in the sky, he knows the

course of the ocean-going ships.

RV, I.25.7

North India is a land of great rivers. It was therefore natural

for the Vedic Aryans to use images of rivers and oceans. Since

historians and linguists claim that the Aryans were unfamiliar

with the ocean, and that the word samudra should be read as river

or any body of water, we cite below examples in which the

images of oceans as well as rivers are used to telling effect. Using

both samudra and sindhu in the same context to mean the same

thing does not seem plausible.

The flow of our devotions hasten to him, like rivers to a vast ocean.

RV, I.52.4

All ecstasies merge into Agni, like seven forceful streams into the

ocean.

RV, I.71.7

As rainwaters, rivers follow their course into the oceans, like chariots in pursuit of their goal.

RV, III.36.6

O Maruts! You uplift waters from the ocean, the heavens filled with

moisture, shower down the rains.

RV, V.55.5

This last hymn by Atri not only shows familiarity with the

ocean, but also an understanding of the source of the monsoon

rains. Our next example uses the phrase maha samudram or

egreat ocean, inexplicable in a people unfamiliar with the sea.

The hymn is to Varuƒa, the God of the seas. (Frawley’s

translation)

The ships of truth have delivered the righteous. Varuƒa takes us

across the great ocean.

RV, IX.73.1.3

What can samudra mean, if not sea or ocean? The people of

the Rigveda were not only familiar with the ocean, but in fact

their daily life was inseparably bound to it. Intimate knowledge

of ships, wind patterns and rain causing monsoon winds was part

of their daily knowledge. It is in fact so detailed that it is not hard

to see that the Vedic civilization must have included a very

substantial maritime component.

 

This is not the full story, however. Some of the most

celebrated verses in the Rigveda describe the creation of the

universe using striking poetic imagery. What is interesting is that

the image of the ocean is the dominant metaphor used by the

Vedic poets in their description of the creation. Here are a few

examples (Translations by Frawley):

In the beginning, there was darkness hidden in darkness,

all this universe was an unillumined sea.

RV, X.129.3

When the Gods stood together in the sea. Then as dancers they

generated a swirl of dust.

When, like ascetics, the Gods overflowed the world,

then from hidden in the ocean they brought forth the Sun.

RV, X.72.6-7

The creative Sun upheld the Earth with lines of force.

He strengthened the Heaven where there was no support.

As a powerful horse he drew out the atmosphere.

150 / VEDIC ARYANS AND THE ORIGINS OF CIVILIZATION

He bound fast the ocean in the boundless realm.

Thence came the world and the upper region,

thence Heaven and Earth were extended.

RV, X.149.1-2

Law and truth from the power of meditation were enkindled.

Thence the night was born and then the flooding ocean.

From the flooding ocean the year was born. The Lord of all that

moves ordained the days and nights.

The Creator formed the Sun and Moon according to previous

worlds; Heaven and Earth, the atmosphere and the realm of light.

RV, X.190

The whole of this is permeated by the image of the ocean. A

society totally ignorant of the sea does not visualize the creation

myth itself in terms of the ocean. The Vedic society therefore

must have had a very large maritime component. These examples

are a sobering reminder of the very great deficiency of nineteenth

century Vedic scholarship. How could any Vedic scholar miss

such strong oceanic symbolism and claim that the Vedic people

did not know the ocean?

It is said of the Eskimos, that because of their great

familiarity with snow, they have many words for it in their

language. Similarly, the Vedic Sanskrit also has many words for

the sea often indicating finer nuances. Among the commonly

used words are: samudra, salila, sagara and sindhu. The word

sindhu can mean either the sea or a large river, and sometimes

even the river Indus. This is worth a look.

The etymology of the word sindhu is particularly interesting

and sheds light on the Vedic society as a maritime one. It is

derived from the root sidh which means to go or to move. This is

quite distinct from the root sri meaning to flow. From the root sri

we get river names like Sarayu and Sarasvati which were swift

flowing rivers, at least in their upper reaches. Sindhu on the other

hand was applied mainly to more navigable flows and the sea. It

is interesting that one of the words for a mariner is sindhuka

deriving also from the root sidh. And sindhuka, Sanskrit for

ilor, became Sindbad the Sailor when stories from India found

their way into the famous Arabian Nights.

Thus the whole idea of the Aryans as a people unfamiliar with

the sea is a modern fallacy totally unsupported by anything in the

Rigveda itself. Of the many puzzling statements made about the

Rigveda, none is so baffling as the claim that it does not know the

ocean. What trust are we to place in a scholarship that for over a

century claimed that the Rigveda does not know the ocean?

Also, these theories require the Aryans to have come from

Iran and Central Asia through the mountain passes of

Afghanistan. Again, this is purely a preconception used in

interpreting the Rigveda; the idea itself is nowhere to be found in

  1. Nor is it so according to the Indians themselves who have

never looked to Afghanistan or any other place in the northwest

as their ancestral home. From time immemorial they have looked

to places in the northeast, to Mount Kailas and ›aryaƒavant o

Manas Sarovar (Lake Manas) as their spiritual home. This eastern

origin is made quite explicit in a little known passage in the

Mahabharata. We give below Ganguliis excellent English

rendering of the passage.

Looking East

This quarter is called purva [east, also ancient] O! Brahmana,

for the reason that in far older times, it was first overspread by the

Devas. Here first chanted the Vedas, the glorious God who

promotes the welfare of the worlds. Here was recited to the chanters

of the Vedas, the Savitri by Savitar the Sun God.

Here in the old days of yore, O best among twice born, took place

the birth, the acquisition of renown and the death o of the ancient

rishi Vasistha. Mahabharata, Udyoga Parva (108).

It is noteworthy that the Eastern direction is assigned to Agni, one of the principal deities of the Rigveda. The northeast is called Agneya.

WHAT IS HINDUISM, AS SEEN BY A RELIGIOUS SKEPTIC

Angkor Wat, Cambodia

WHAT IS HINDUISM? – N.S. RAJARAM

Acknowledgement: From https://bharatabharati.wordpress.com/2017/01/17/what-is-hinduism-n-s-rajaram/. And some personal notes at the end.

It is a serious error to say that all religions say the same thing. They emphatically do not. When Krishna says, “Those who worship other gods with devotion worship me,” and Jesus says, “He that is not with me is against me,” they are not saying the same thing. – Dr N. S. Rajaram

Many Hindus, including some who see themselves as leaders and thinkers are stumped when asked to describe what they see as the essential features of Hinduism. This being the case, it is not surprising that young people should be confused—mistaking ritual and traditional practices for the essence. What is given here is a rational description that does not rest on the beliefs and practices of any sect.

In case some readers, Hindus in particular feel offended by what I have to say, I want to make it clear that I see religion as the creation of man and nothing divine, no matter what any believers, especially priests and religious scholars might say.

The first thing to note is Hinduism cannot be viewed as religion deriving its authority from a book or the teachings of a founder: these are just sects. The appropriate term for what we now call Hinduism is “Sanatana Dharma”. It is not a creed like Christianity or Islam, but a philosophic system that has spiritual freedom as its core. Any path that accepts the spiritual freedom of everyone may be considered part of Sanatana Dharma. It has no national or geographical boundaries. Unlike Mecca for Islam and Jerusalem for Christianity, any land in any country can be the Holy Land for Hindus.

HINDUISM IS ANADI (BEGINNING-LESS), AND APAURUSHEYA (WITHOUT HUMAN FOUNDER)

The basis of Hinduism or Sanatana Dharma is the quest for cosmic (spiritual) truth, just as the quest for physical truth is the domain of science. The earliest record of this quest is the Rigveda. Its scripture is the record of ancient sages who by whatever means tried to learn the truth about the universe, in relation to Man’s place in the cosmos. They saw nature—including all living and non-living things—as part of the same cosmic equation.

This search has no historical beginning. This is not to say that the Rigveda always existed as a literary work. It means that we cannot point to a particular time or person in history and say: “Before this man spoke, the Rigveda did not exist.” On the other hand, we can say this about Christianity and Islam, because they are historical religions with human founders.

This brings up another important facet of Sanatana Dharma or Hinduism: it is a-paurusheya, which means it is not originate in any man (purusha). That is to say it has no historical founder like Christianity has Jesus Christ and Islam has Prophet Muhammad. We can say that Jesus is the purusha of Christianity while Muhammad is the purusha of Islam. These religions cannot exist without their founders. Christianity and Islam are therefore paurusheya. Hinduism has no such purusha on whose authority it exists. Great figures like Krishna and Rama are only teachers and exemplars that we may accept or reject. Hence they are referred to as purushottama (best of men)

 

Further, all human have divinity within them which may be cultivated and by which humans can attain divinity. Similarly humans have also elements of evil like greed and misuse of force which turns them into what Krishna calls asura. This gives rise to the concept of daivic (divine) and asuric (demonic) by the dominance of traits (divine and demonic) present in every one of us.

Avatar

This is the background to Avatar also. Krishna says he comes down to earth as avatar whenever forces of evil become dominant. He sees his role as destruction of evil and protection of the good.

 

Hence there is no absolute separation of man (or woman) from God (or Goddess) that we find in Abrahamaic religions. And the feminine divine is an integral part of Hinduism. The same freedom gives rise to pluralism of sects and gods which critics deride as polytheism. I regard monotheism as an unmitigated evil that leads to priestly monopoly and intolerance, but that is a different matter, not germane here.

Metaphysics, little theology

As a consequence theology plays a negligible role in Hindu philosophy. It is founded on metaphysics, on concepts like reality, actions and the like. Even devotional Hinduism (Bhakti Yoga) attempts a rational explanation and justification. This has not prevented the growth of devotional movements and cults in practice, but is not seen as essential part of philosophy by scholars.

Some are bound to take issue with this reading as coming from a person with a science bias. But this is my reading.

Hinduism has no clergy

Hinduism is a-paurusheya in a deeper sense also, which brings it close to science, and brings its spiritual quest close to the scientific method. In paurusheya religions, the word of the purusha (founder)—be it Jesus or Muhammad—must be accepted without question. This gives rise to an enforcing authority known as the clergy to ensure that no one deviates from the ‘true path’ as shown by the founder, but in reality as dictated by the human representative who claims to be the true spokesman of the purusha. He is the enforcing authority of the true faith.

This naturally leads to men exercising political power in the name of God. This is what we call theocracy. The authority is the scripture, which is said to represent the word of God as conveyed through his medium (thePurusha). In this scheme, the medium eventually becomes more important than God. For example, it is Jesus not his God that defines Christianity. Also, the sacred book becomes also the law book in the hands of its enforcers.

Likeness of a Vedic sage c. 6000 years ago) ?

Hinduism on the other hand leaves the individual free from any religious authority. If any work is considered great, it has to be because of its merit and not because of the authority of the author. Similarly, a teacher is considered great because of the greatness of the teaching. For example, Vishwamitra is considered a great sage because of the greatness of the Gayatri Mantra, which he enunciated. If someone else than Vishwamitra had given us the Gayatri Mantra, it would still be considered great because of its message.

It is the same with Krishna and the Gita. It is the message of the Gita and his actions as leader, that has led to people revering Krishna as a great teacher. Also, a Hindu is free to question or reject any part or all of a religious work. Krishna himself says he has nothing new to offer but is only summarizing knowledge that already existed.

Hinduism has no authority figure or text

It is different with revealed religions like Christianity and Islam: Jesus and Muhammad are invoked as authority to justify teachings that sometimes cannot be justified on their own merit. No such authority exists in Hinduism: the teaching must stand or fall on its own merit. This is what makes it apaurusheyaCosmic truths existed before the arrival of Vishwamitra and Krishna. These sages, who first expressed them, were historical persons but the truth of their message is eternal and always existed.

This feature—of focusing on the message and its truth rather than the authority of the source brings Sanatana Dharma close to science and the scientific method.

In science also, a principle or a theory must stand or fall on its own merit and not on the authority of anyone. If Newton and Einstein are considered great scientists, it is because of the validity of their scientific theories.

In that sense, science is also a-paurusheya. Gravitation and Relativity are eternal laws of nature that existed long before Newton and Einstein. These are cosmic laws that happened to be discovered by scientific sages Newton and Einstein. But no  scientist invokes Newton or Einstein as authority figures to ‘prove’ the truth of laws of nature. They stand on their own merit. They may be disproved and rejected in the light of new knowledge. The same is true of the Gita and the Gayatri Mantra.

Hindu thinkers and philosophers can be quite emphatic on this point.

Shankara (788-820 CE, above) said, “Scripture is not any word of God but compiled (by humans) based on knowledge and experience.”

His successor and critic Madhva (1238-1317, above left) went further.  With steely logic he dismissed the notion of prophetic medium altogether. “Accept nothing on the authority of a purusha (human) for humans are subject to error and deception. One deludes oneself in believing one free of error and deception existed, and he alone was the author of the work.”

The Buddha was gentler, and also cautioned, “Accept nothing on my authority, Think and be a lamp unto yourself.”

Hinduism gives freedom to choose

Hinduism recognizes the freedom of the individual. It recognizes no prophet’s claim as the possessor of the “only” truth or the “only” way.

This is probably the greatest difference between Sanatana Dharma and revealed religions like Christianity and Islam. One can see this in a recent proclamation by the Vatican. In a document titled “Declaration of Lord Jesus” [Dominus Iesusthe Vatican proclaims non-Christians to be in a “gravely deficient situation” and that even non-Catholic churches have “defects” because they do not acknowledge the primacy of the Pope.

This of course means that the Vatican refuses to acknowledge the spiritual right of others (including Hindus) to their beliefs and practices. It consigns non-Christians to hell; the only way they can save themselves is by becoming Catholics and submit to the Pope. It also makes the Pope more important than both God and Jesus.

It is worth noting that this statement has nothing to do with God, or noble conduct. A non-Catholic who lives a life of virtue is still consigned to hell because he refuses to acknowledge Jesus as the only saviour and the Pope as his representative on earth. The same is true of Islam: one must submit to Prophet Muhammad as the last, in effect the only prophet, to be saved. Belief in God means nothing without belief in Christ as the saviour or Muhammad as the Last Prophet.

One who believes in God but does not accept Jesus or Muhammad as intermediary is still considered a non-believer and therefore a sinner. They simply do not tolerate pluralism. This is what makes both Christianity and Islam exclusive. The rejection of this formulation is also what makes Hinduism pluralistic and tolerant. There are intolerant Hindus also but they cannot invoke the Vedas or any teachings, but themselves.

Freedom leads to pluralism

From this it is clear that what governs a revealed religion is not God but the founder who claims to be God’s intermediary. (The clergy acting in the founder’s name becomes the enforcing authority or the thought police.) A believer is one who accepts the intermediary as the savior. God is irrelevant. He is even dispensable but not the intermediary who is all-important.

Hinduism recognizes no intermediary as the exclusive messenger of God. In fact the Rigveda itself says: “ekam sat, vipra bahuda vadanti,” meaning “cosmic truth is one, but the wise express it in many ways.” The contrast between exclusivism and pluralism becomes clear when we compare the following statements by Krishna and Jesus Christ.

Krishna of the Bhagavadgita says: “All creatures great and small—I am equal to all. I hate none nor have I any favorites…. He that worships other gods with devotion worships me.” Jesus of the Bible says: “He that is not with me is against me.”

This means that Krishna has no favorites and accepts all forms of worship—even worship of other deities. But revealed religions like Christianity and Islam could not exist without favorites or intermediaries like the Prophet or the Son of God. The Bible says that God is jealous. Reflecting the “jealous God” of the (Old Testament), the chosen intermediary is also jealous. In fact it is the jealous nature of the intermediary that created the jealous God.

Hinduism is the exact opposite of this. Anyone can know God and there is no jealous intermediary to block the way. And the Hindu tradition has methods like yoga and meditation to facilitate one to know God. Further, this spiritual freedom extends even to atheism. One can be an agnostic or even an atheist and still claim to be a Hindu.

In addition, there is nothing to stop a Hindu from revering Jesus as the Son of God* or Muhammad as a Prophet. In contrast, a Christian or a Muslim revering Rama or Krishna as an avatar would be rejected as a heretic. This is also what makes Christianity and Islam exclusive, and Hinduism pluralistic and inclusive.

From this it is also clear why revealed religions always claim to be monotheistic: One God allows only One Intermediary. So every monotheistic religion also tends to be monopolistic. It also requires a thought police to enforce this belief system, just as every earthly dictator does. So they invariably become theocratic political systems. In contrast, in Hinduism, God is internal to the seeker. As a result each seeker has his or his own version of God. Different traditions like Dvaita, Advaita and others represent different pathways. They exercise no authority and there is no clergy to enforce.

HINDUISM AND SPIRITUAL FREEDOM

So the single most important theme of Hinduism is the freedom of the spirit. Just as science insists on freedom in exploring the physical world, Sanatana Dharma embodies freedom in the exploration of the spiritual realm. There are no dogmas or prophets—or their agents—to block the way. This allows Hinduism, like science, to grow and evolve with time. Dogmatic religions on the other hand are frozen in time. (In fact, a good deal of the effort by the priesthood in Islam and Christianity is to ensure that the original teachings do not become corrupted due to change.)

This freedom of spirit is most concisely expressed in the famous Vedic prayer, the Gayatri Mantra, which prays: “dhiyo yo nah pracodayat”— which means, “Inspire our wisdom.” So the greatest prayer in Hinduism is for clarity of thinking. It does not ask anyone to accept anything on faith in a prophet, book or any other representative of God. Teachers in Hinduism are only guides who suggest pathways. They have no authority. The seeker has to find his or her own way, with the help of guides as needed.

In the light of this,“ conversion” to Hinduism entails accepting a way of looking at the world and not simply changing faith and adopting a new mode of worship. Above all it means acknowledging spiritual freedom and rejecting exclusivism. It is like accepting the scientific method, which also is a way of looking at the world. It cannot be done by force or with promises of profit.

Swami Vivekananda on a-paurusheya: “Our philosophy does not depend upon any personality for its truth. Thus Krishna did not teach anything new or original to the world, nor does Ramayana profess anything which is not contained in the Scriptures. It is to be noted that Christianity cannot stand without Christ, Mohammedanism without Mohammed, and Buddhism without Buddha but Hinduism stands independent of any man, and for the purpose of estimating the philosophical truth contained in any Purana, we need not consider the question whether the personages treated of therein were really material men or were fictitious characters. The object of the Puranas was the education of mankind, and the sages who constructed them contrived to find some historical personages and to superimpose upon them all the best or worst qualities just as they wanted to, and laid down the rules of morals for the conduct of mankind. ” – Vijayvaani, 8-9 January 2016

» Dr Navaratna Srinivasa Rajaram is an Indian-American mathematical scientist, notable for his contributions on history and philosophy of science.

SOME PERSONAL NOTES, by a learned critic

Despite knowing that this article may raise the hackles of some of the readers, especially of the abrahamic religions, I chose to copy and translate it because it states truths one after another, whether many like it or not. Because truth must be told. For the sake of Dharma and for the benefit of so many of the readers that can wake up from their slumber of love and peace and of “all religions are the same” and realise the truth.

Still, and with due respect, I would like to go further in some of the statements made by the learned author. Especially out of my own experience in a Christian/atheist atmosphere, my own study and search, and with the help of being as I am a follower of Mr. Rajiv Malhotra, I can dare to be even a bit more radical than the author in my statements:

  • “there is nothing to stop a Hindu from revering Jesus as the Son of God”, Sri N.S. Rajaram says: this statement talks about the greatness of our philosophy. You may find images of Jesus in many Hindu temples, but I am yet to see one single church or mosque with some Hindu deity. The inclusive Hindu view allows Hindus to do that. But in my view it is more than high time that we STOP this practice. Why? For several reasons:
    • a) there is no positive feature of Jesus or Mohammed that we could not find in any of our deities
    • b) because of the need for Hindus to demand MUTUAL RESPECT, in words of Sri Malhotra and Sw. Dayananda Saraswati. If our deities are not given the same reverence and respect, I would say it is even foolish for us to do so. Because instead of taking it in the good spirit, Christians use it in their own benefit against us [see c)]
    • c) because of the reverence given to Jesus by Hindus, and the false and dangerous statement embedded in the Hindu ethos out of ignorance and for vested interests (the motto “all religions are the same”, ), this inclusiveness is used, under the guise of a shift a little more towards Jesus and end up CONVERTED into Christian. (Please see post.n. 22 on this topic, to understandThen, yes: because I chose spiritual freedom. Because I chose that I wanted experience and not blind faith in other´ s words. Because I made of my spiritual quest the meaning of my life. Because I found  in Dharma all the responses to the deepest questions I had. Because trying to be attuned whith Dharma gives me a contentment impossible to find by trying to fulfill all the (endless) desires . For all of this and for many more reasons, I can say that I am a PROUD HINDU. And the more I learn, the more proud I become. So please, world, either respect us, or simply get aside. Do not demean in your ignorance the richest and most scientific philosophy that it is still alive: that one that simply reflects the truth as IT IS, with or without the approval of the West, its abrahamic religions and its imperialistic interests. Do not disrespect Sanatana Dharma.

 Dr. Rajaram responds:

            I appreciate and welcome his criticisms, but I see them, especially conversion as more a question of political practice than spiritual substance, which is the main focus of my article. It is also the principal source of conflict

Columbus and other conquistadators exercized imperialism and committed genocides in the name of God and Jesus but were hardly spiritual figures. This was pointed out by church figures themselves like Bartolome de Las Casas. No one has a monopoly on good or evil. An abridged summary of his work (see above) is available as The Devastation of the Indies, published by Johns Hopkins University Press. It makes for painful reading and decidedly not for the squeamish

GENES OF TIME

 

GENES OF TIME: ORIGIN AND SPREAD OF MODERN HUMANS
What science, especially natural history and genetics tell us is the near opposite of what historians and linguists have been saying for over a century. In particular, they have vastly underestimated the time scales involved by an order of magnitude.
Navaratna Rajaram

Introduction: natural history-genetics
There is now a revolution in our understanding of our past. Science has finally answered the 200 year-old question of why people from India to Iceland speak languages clearly related to one another.

By modern humans scholars often mean bipedal humans, which supposedly left their hands free for tool-making. This is misleading since the only humans now populating the planet are speaking humans with language. All others including Neanderthals are extinct. Hence speech and language were of paramount importance in the survival of the human species. Only then can we talk about the spread of related languages from India to Iceland.
Studies of population genetics indicate that all non-African humans and their languages can be traced to about a thousand individuals in South Asia some 60,000 years ago.

FOX P2 , the language gene, which made us speaking species

Two major events during the Pleistocene (or the last Ice Age)—a gene mutation about 80,000 or more years ago and a massive volcanic eruption 73,000 years ago—played a crucial role in triggering the evolution and spread of Indo-Europeans and their languages.
It is natural history, not linguistics that has cut the Gordian Knot of Indo-European origins. Natural history and archaeology both show there were at least two waves of migration out of India into Eurasia and Europe during the prehistoric (c. 40,000 YBP or Years Before Present) and the proto historic (c. 10,000 YBP) periods. Further, it is Sanskrit, not any Proto-Indo-European that has left its mark on Indo-European languages. It may further be said that Sanskrit is to linguistics what mathematics has been to the natural sciences.
With slightly less confidence it may be said that Vedas and the later Sanskrit (of the Upanishads, epics and the classical) were all products of a period of intense cultivation of language culture lasting thousands of years. They were painstakingly constructed by drawing upon Gauda (northern) and Dravida (southern) sources prevailing in the Indian subcontinent around 10,000 years ago if not earlier. This accounts for the so-called ‘Dravidian’ features in the Rig Veda as well as the extraordinary perfection of Sanskrit grammar. They are the product of a culture that took the science of language—etymology and grammar—to heights that were never again to be attained. Example: Panini and Yaska and the Mahabhashya of Patanjali.

Fallacious language model based on non-existent PIE.

This goes against modern theories (or rather beliefs) that seek to derive languages from a common source often called Proto-Indo-European (PIE). In this essay we take the view that anatomically modern humans with language capability came from East Africa migrated to India and spread across the subcontinent and moved to other parts of the world. This is supported by the haplogrups of world populations. From South Asia they spread to other parts of the world, including Europe. There were other human species in India earlier, but their descendants have not survived. We, descendants of the speaking humanoids of African origin are the only remaining survivors of the humanoid species.

Rigveda knowledge and content
This helps address another puzzle. How Vedic Sanskrit, the oldest surviving language is also the most sophisticated, even more so than literary Sanskrit with its highly sophisticated grammar and etymology. The Vedic people may have been primitive in material terms but there was nothing primitive about their language or poetry. The Rigvedic language and its content are the product of a long period of evolution and development when humans had speech capability but no fixed language.
We know that children are born with speech and language capability but acquire language from their surroundings. But how about the first humans, who came with a language capability but had to create languages where none existed before. So they had to struggle for thousands of years to create language(s). Geneticists tell us that humans who migrated to India from East Africa lived in a state of drift for something like 15,000 years after the Toba explosion wiped out most of the human population.
It is reasonable to suppose that this long period of drift was when early languages came into being, which were then used to create the Rigvedic language. This may help explain why such great care was taken by generations of Vedic seers to preserve the Vedic language and the Vedas with pristine purity. They recognized this to be their greatest heritage and achievement.
The same natural history suggests there may be a similar story of East and Southeast Asian peoples and languages— almost like a mirror reflection of the birth and spread of Indo-Europeans. It is a story that remains to be told. Thus, the picture given by science is the exact opposite of the Aryan invasion-migration theories favored by linguists for over a century. Above all it may said with confidence that historians and linguists in particular have very greatly underestimated the time spans by compressing time scales by an order of magnitude driven by the compulsion to fit history within the 6000 years mandated by the Biblical Belief in Creation.

 

It is reasonable to suppose that this long period of drift was when early languages came into being, which were then used to create the Rigvedic language. This may help explain why such great care was taken by generations of Vedic seers to preserve the Vedic language and the Vedas with pristine purity. They recognized this to be their greatest heritage and achievement.

 

The same natural history suggests there may be a similar story of East and Southeast Asian peoples and languages— almost like a mirror reflection of the birth and spread of Indo-Europeans. (See map above.) It is a story that remains to be told. Thus, the picture given by science is the exact opposite of the Aryan invasion-migration theories favored by linguists for over a century. Above all it may said with confidence that historians and linguists in particular have very greatly underestimated the time spans by compressing time scales by an order of magnitude driven by the compulsion to fit history within the 6000 years mandated by the Biblical Belief in Creation.

Prehistoric archaeology and Vedic astronomy

People have long sought to locate the archaeological remains of the Vedic people, but the issue has been clouded by the gratuitous introduction of the undefined term Aryan, making it a search for Aryan archaeology. Crackpot theories claiming no horse and no wheel in India before the Aryan invasion made some place the original Aryans (undefined) in South Russia and Kurgan steppes (Ukraine), north of the Black Sea. All this has been totally demolished by science.

Prehistoric archaeology explored by workers like J. Petraglia, Ravi Korisettar and their colleagues suggest that Indians have lived where they are today for 60,000 years or more following their advent from Africa. This means that early astronomical dates like the Fall of Abhijit (Vega) which gives us 12,000 years before present may be plausible and cannot be dismissed. All this calls for a complete overhaul of what is called Indology, which we next survey.

 Western Indology: ‘Discovery’ of Sanskrit

            Unlike most academic disciplines, Indology (i.e. Western study of India) and its offshoot of Indo-European studies can be dated almost to the day. In a lecture in Kolkotta delivered on 2 February 1786 (and published in 1788) Sir William Jones, a forty year-old British jurist in the service of the East India Company observed:

“The Sanskrit language, whatever be its antiquity, is of a wonderful structure; more perfect than the Greek, more copious than the Latin, and more exquisitely refined than either, yet bearing to both of them a stronger affinity, both in the roots of verbs and the forms of grammar, than could possibly have been produced by accident; so strong indeed, that no philologer could examine them all three, without believing them to have sprung from some common source, which, perhaps, no longer exists…”

This influential statement is well known but not the errors Jones committed like his dating of Indian tradition based on the Biblical superstition that the world was created on Sunday, 23rd of October 4004 BCE at 9:00 AM— time zone not specified. The date was first derived by the Irish bishop James Ussher (1581 – 1656) based on a literal reading of the Bible combined with the belief that world would end 2000 years after Christ, meaning it should have ended some twelve years ago.

While it sounds comical today, it was taught as history through most of the nineteenth century even though both Darwin’s theory of evolution and geology had determined the earth had to be millions of years old to support fossils and the enormous diversity of life forms. Even this very greatly underestimated its age. (The current estimate for the age of the earth is about 4.5 billion years.)

Bible as history

Jones was a capable linguist and knew some Sanskrit. His task was to study Indian texts and understand Hindu law to help administer British justice in a manner acceptable to them. In his study of Hindu texts like the Puranas he came across dates that went much further back than the Biblical date for Creation. He dismissed them as superstitions (for failing to agree with the Biblical superstition) and imposed a chronology on Indian history and tradition to fit within the Biblical framework.

This was to have fateful consequences for the study of India over the succeeding two centuries down to the present. To cite an example, Indian tradition going back at least to the mathematician Aryabhata (476 – 540 CE) has held that the Kali Age began with the Mahabharata War in 3102 BCE. This marks the end of an era known as the Vedic Age. Accepting it takes the beginning of the Vedic period as well as several dynasties like the Ikshwakus to 6000 BCE and earlier. This is millennia before the Biblical date for Creation which men like Jones could not accept.

Dates based on the Biblical chronology were accepted as historically valid by most Western scholars like F. Max Müller, the most influential of them. He explicitly stated that he took the Biblical account including the dates to be historical. Most of them were classical scholars or students of religion and had no inkling of science. The widely quoted dates of 1500 BCE for the Aryan invasion and the 1200 BCE date for the Rig Veda were imposed to make them conform to the Biblical Creation date of 4004 BCE.

The situation has not changed much in the succeeding two centuries. Indologists like Wendy Doniger, Diana Eck, Michael Witzel and their Indian counterparts like Romila Thapar have little comprehension of the revolution in our understanding of the past brought about by science in the past two decades. They continue to quote 1200 BCE for the Rig Veda without mentioning that it rests on the authority of a 400 year-old Biblical superstition! (Some ‘scholars’ like Doniger and Thapar don’t know any Sanskrit either, but that is a different matter.) The main point is they know no more science than their predecessors of a century and more ago.

Popular but faulty map of languages

Language puzzle, linguistic perversion

To return to Jones and his successors, in their ignorance of science it was natural they should have come up with some speculative theories to account for similarities between Sanskrit and European languages, especially Greek and Latin. Being linguists, they created a field called philology of comparing languages and cultures but it soon got mixed up with crackpot theories on race and language— like the ‘Aryan’ race speaking ‘Aryan’ languages somehow ending up in Nazi Germany! There was even an ‘Aryan’ science movement that demonized Einstein and his ‘Jewish’ physics! It was denounced by scientists, especially in the twentieth century, but politics and prejudice kept it alive for over a century. In addition to the Nazi ideology, British colonial policy used race as a way of classifying its British Indian subjects.

Setting aside such aberrations, Jones did raise a legitimate question: why do people from India and Sri Lanka to Ireland and Iceland speak languages clearly related to one another, and have done so for more than two thousand years? This fact has been widely noted and a few examples help illustrate the point. What is deva in Sanskrit becomes dio in Latin, theo in Greek and dieu in French. Similarly, agni for fire in Sanskrit becomes ignis in Latin from which we get the English words ignite and ignition. Amusingly, the famous Russian drink vodka has its Sanskrit cognate in udaka both meaning water. And there are many more, far too many to be seen as coincidence. Prejudice and politics aside this basic question remains.

Over the past two hundred years many theories have been created to account for these similarities. These are based mostly on superficial phonetic similarities but none has proved satisfactory. Even without the confusion due to race theories, these explanations give glaring inconsistencies. To take one example, using the same data and the same methods some scholars have argued that a branch of Indo-Europeans called ‘Aryans’ invaded India, while some others claim the reverse— that Aryans (or Indo-Europeans) originated in India and migrated to Eurasia and Europe taking their language(s) with them. The AIT of course holds the opposite view—that the invading Aryans were the eastern branch of Indo-Europeans whose original homeland was in Eurasia or Europe.

March of science

With the benefit of hindsight one can see that the science needed to unlock the language mystery did not become fully available until about fifty years ago. It was only in the last few decades, with the emergence of molecular biology after World War II and especially gene sequencing and genome research in the past decade and more that we are able to trace the origin and spread of Indo-Europeans and their languages. Two areas of natural history— the distribution of mitochondrial DNA and Y-chromosomes (and haplogroups) in the world’s population groups and the fate of humans in the face of natural events have resulted in the spread of Indo-Europeans and their languages from a group of perhaps as few as a thousand 60,000 years ago well over two billion speakers today.

L.L. Cavalli-Sforza, leading population geneticist

What has allowed us to unlock the mysteries of IE origins is science, especially natural history and population genetics. Population genetics was founded by Sir Ronald Fisher, Sewall Wright and J.B.S. Haldane. Fisher, a geneticist as well as statistician had two outstanding successors, C. Radhakrishna Rao (C.R. Rao) and Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza. Rao became known as the world’s greatest mathematical statistician while Cavalli-Sforza carried forward Fisher’s work in population genetics, combining microbiology with mathematical genetics. If we are able to unlock the secrets of our origins it is thanks to these pioneers. The material presented here, especially in the second part, draws heavily on the work of Cavalli-Sforza and his colleagues. (This author had the good fortune of working with C.R. Rao while a student in the U.S.)

What is extraordinary in all this is the depth and power of scientific analysis needed to unlock the puzzle. Linguistics, the principal tool used for over two hundreds has proven unequal to the task of unraveling the mystery of our origins. The creation of Vedic and Sanskrit languages in India going back perhaps 10,000 years or more was crucial in the evolution of the final phase of Indo-European languages.

Also remarkable is the immense time scales involved— not thousands but tens of thousands of years. Even this is miniscule by evolutionary standards. We Indo-Europeans (and their ancestors Gauda-Dravidas and Afro-Indians) have been on the planet for barely 65 thousand years, while dinosaurs ruled the earth for as many million years. What follows next is a brief account of our origin and spread. This is on the basis of our current knowledge and might change due to new discoveries.

It is worth noting that the three great philosophers, Shankara, Madhva and Ramanuja, all from the South,  wrote in Sanskrit.

The Aryan myth and the idea of the invasion (AIT) were taught as history for nearly a century until archaeologists discovered the Harappan or the Indus Valley civilization. It continues to be taught in one form or another in spite of the many contradictions highlighted by archaeologists like Jim Shaeffer and B.B. Lal as well as natural scientists like Sir Julian Huxley L. Cavalli-Sforza and others. Politics and entrenched academic interests have succeeded in keeping alive this two hundred year old ad-hoc hypothesis but science has put an end to its survival while at the same time opening a vast new window on the origin and spread of Indo-Europeans.

Recent discoveries in natural history and population genetics, especially in the past two decades have changed our understanding of Indo-European origins in ways that were totally unexpected. The picture, still a bit hazy, highlights the fact that theories like the AIT are naïve and simplistic. To begin with, they very greatly underestimate the time scales involved and also ignored the revolutionary impact of natural history on humans in the past hundred thousand years. It is science, not linguistic theories that help us unlock the mystery of Indo-Europeans.

A volcano and a gene mutation

             Our story takes us to Africa some hundred thousand years ago. Our ancestors, called ‘anatomically modern humans’ have been located in fossils in East Africa dating to about that time or a bit earlier. We were not the only humans then existing: there were several other ‘humanoid’ species in Asia and Africa among which the now extinct Neanderthals are the best known. What separates us from them is we have survived and they have not. In addition we are a speaking species with language without which civilization as we know it is inconceivable. So it is the origin of spoken language that we must speak and not just phonetic similarities; with some effort we can find phonetic similarities between any two languages.

This also explains the genetic bottleneck following the Toba super-volcanic explosion. This was followed by 6000 to 10,000 year drift during which only a small number of humans, perhaps 5000 or fewer in India. survived. This also helps account for the great genetic similarity of the humans living today.

The language (and human) picture may be stated simply as follows.

Speaking Africans –> Afro-Indians (Gauda-Dravida) –>Indo-Europeans

 

This means there were two major waves of Indo-Europeans, both out of India into the north and west. We know of the first (c. 45,000 BCE) only from genetic studies of modern populations around the world. We have no idea what their languages were like. The second, and much more recent, occurred at the turn of the Pleistocene-Holocene transition some 10,000 years ago. It has left many traces in archaeology, genetics, culture, and above all in the Sanskritic imprint on the languages of Europe and Eurasia. This is supplemented by genetic and other scientific data relating to animals that accompanied them including of rats and mice!

Finale: why India and Sanskrit so pivotal?

The role of Sanskrit or what led up to it played therefore a crucial role. Sanskrit grew along two parallel tracks—Vedic and what became classical. As Sri Aurobindo pointed out a century ago, the Rig Veda, the world’s oldest literature, was the culmination of a long effort that must have occupied thousands of years and not the beginning. Everything that followed is a simplification and in some ways a degeneracy— even the later Vedas like the Yajur. Its creators must have recognized that they had created something extraordinarily precious because they put in enormous effort into preserving it through hundreds of generations of teachers and pupils as well as devising methods like ghana-patha, pada-patha and the like to facilitate the preservation.

While less sophisticated than the Vedic, the later classical Sanskrit also was carefully constructed language as the word ‘Samskrita’ indicates. This explains the extraordinary perfection of its grammar: the grammar used by Kalidasa 2000 years ago is the same as what we use today. This is not true of any other language, and it is no accident. Since the idea that it was brought by invading Aryans has been demolished by science, we must look to indigenous sources. Sanskrit is and will always remain the lynchpin of linguistics, not any PIE or anything else. Sanskrit can do without PIE and has for thousands of years but Indo-European Studies will collapse without Sanskrit.

India was (and is) pivotal because of its strategic location and climate. Both land and sea routes—east-west as well as north-south—are accessible from India. Also, India enjoys a subtropical climate that allows both tropical and temperate flora and fauna to flourish.

The picture given here is by no means definitive but decidedly more in agreement with scientific data and the fossil record than linguistic theories like the AIT which must now be relegated to the dustbin of history. Many details remain to be filled, but any new theory must account for scientific data, especially from natural history and genetics, and take also into account the vast time scales involved. Such momentous developments as the evolution and spread of languages over half the world cannot be squeezed into a few thousand years like the Biblical account of Creation in 4004 BC on which AIT was based.

Toba destroys humans & vegetation in South Asia giving rise to a 6 year ‘volcanic winter’ and a 6000 year to 10,000 year freeze. 73 K BP Toba explosion eliminates all humans without speech; only Neanderthals and our speaking African ancestors survive.
Groups of Africans settle in South Asia (India) and along the Arabian coast taking a coastal route. World population down from about 60 million to a few thousand. 65 K BP Our African ancestors arrive in India bringing their language. It is the ancestor of our languages– the Primordial Afro-Indo-European.
Hunting-gathering: small population in a state of genetic drift. Cold period. Dramatic warming c. 52 K BP allows population and habitation expand. Migration East (East Asia, Australia). 65 K – 52 K BP Cold phase: population and area

small enough for a single or a few

languages to suffice. More languages evolve over the next 10,000 years and more.

Temporary warming leads to increase in population, area, flora and fauna. Overhunting causes depletion of fauna. 52 K – 40 K BP Expansion results in the birth of several regional languages and dialects- Gauda (northern) and Dravida (southern).
Depletion of fauna due to over-hunting sends people in search of better hunting grounds to Eurasia and Europe. First Indo-Europeans. 50 K – 35 K BP Indo-Europeans, first wave with languages from India moves to Eurasia and Europe. No trace of their languages survives.
Late Pleistocene, transition to Holocene. Beginning of agriculture and domestication of animals— pigs, sheep, cattle, and horse. 35 K – 11K BP Spread of agriculture and movement north. Beginning of Sarasvati settlements.
Transition to the Holocene. Expansion of agriculture and domesticated stock into West Asia, Eurasia, Europe. Second wave of Indo-Europeans. 11 K BP… Creation of Sanskrit and the Vedic from Gauda and Dravida sources. The second wave takes Sanskritic terms into Eurasia & European languages.

Timeline of Indo-European transitions (K = 1000, BP = Before Present) (Courtesy, Dr. Rosalee Wolfe)

Note:  The title and the approach were suggested by the author’s late father Col (Dr.) N.S. Rao, an eminent medical scientist with interest in history. (Picture, above left.)

The author gratefully acknowledges valuable suggestions and help from Dr. Stephen Oppenheimer, Dr. David Frawley, Dr. Premendra Priyadarshi and Dr. Rosalie Wolfe. The material presented here is a summary only, keeping in mind the fact not all the readers will be familiar with the highly technical details relating to population genetics of humans as well as of the flora and fauna on which it rests. It should be seen only as a framework for future presentations and research. The author has just completed a book on the book Genes of Time and the Birth of History in which fuller details will be provided. The author would also like to remark that the research and the methodology followed here owe nothing to the so-called Out of India Theory or the OIT, which the author sees as little better than the now discredited AIT.

 

 

 

KARNA’S DILEMMA, DHARMA AND MISFORTUNE

KARNA’S DILEMMA, DHARMA AND MISFORTUNE

Karna was often visited by misfortune but others too had to suffer misfortune. Karna’s loyalty and generosity were often misplaced. That was the root of his tragedy

Navaratna Rajaram

Karna the tragic hero

Karna the son of Surya, born as the pre-marital son of the Yadava princess Kunti is a tragic figure in the great historic epic filled with tragedies, The Mahabharata. An important point to note is that Karna was the greatest warrior on the Kuru side, but as fate would have he was also the first of the Pandavas born to Kunti.

While much is made of the venerable old warriors Bhishma and Drona, they were no match for Karna and Duryodhana knew it. Bhishma’s heart was not in the war and Drona was in it only for the money. As Bhima once teased him, he himself was a warrior who incurred no sin by fighting, because as a Kshatriya, it was his duty to fight for the protection of others. Drona, Bhima said was a degraded Brahmin who was killing innocents for the sake of a good life for himself and his family.

Karna was the only Kaurava warrior feared by Yudhishtira as the possible peer of Arjuna. It was Karna who made his friend and benefactor Durydhana feel he was strong enough to take on his rival Pandava cousins. Shakuni was cunning and Dhritarashtra devious and indulgent, but none of that would count on the battlefield.

It is possible that Karna was the only warrior who could have prevented the Mahabharata War. Had he switched sides or at least refused to support Duryodhana, there would have been no war. Duryodhana would not have dared take on the Pandavas and their allies without Karna. Krishna who wanted to prevent war, tried to get Karna to switch, appealing to his pride and sense of justice (Dharma) I am indebted to an article by Pramod Pathak (in the Pioneer) for some of the ideas here. It was Karna’s continued support for Duryodhana that made the war inevitable, and this was the reason for Bhishma’s aversion to Karna.

Karna’s misfortunes

A very interesting conversation between Krishna and Karna before the Mahabharata gives valuable insights into Karna’s mind and motives. When Krishna tries to find out how a person as noble as Karna is taking the side of Duryodhana with his record of Adharma, Karna gives a long reply citing reasons for his disenchantment with Dharma.

He says that his mother abandoned him the moment he was born and he could only survive by a quirk of fate. Even though he was not responsible for what had transpired, he was stamped illegitimate. Dronacharya refused to teach him because he was not considered a Kshatriya — even though he actually was. By concealing his identity, he could persuade Parashurama to teach him but there also, he ultimately got a curse rather than a blessing once it was discovered that he actually was a Kshatriya.

At Draupadi’s Swayamvara he was disgraced. Not quite. Draupadi chose Arjuna who performed the feat that Karna could not, but that was her right as the princess whose hand they sought.

Later, only to save her sons’ life did Kunti, his mother, accept him as her son. So, whatever he had got was owing to Duryodhana’s generosity. How could he possibly be wrong for taking the side of Duryodhana? That was Karna’s rationale for supporting Duryodhana, in spite of his evil and unjust conduct.

 

Krishna too suffered misfortunes

Lord Krishna’s reply to this is worth understanding. He says that he was born in a jail and death was lurking all around him, even before he was born. His brothers and sisters were killed just because they were his siblings. The night he was born he was separated from his parents. He was brought up with poor children and cowherds all around. There were several attempts to kill him even before he could learn to walk. In fact, people would curse him for being the reason for bringing Kamsa’s wrath on them. He could only receive education when he was 16. (He was a prodigy and self-taught.) He had to move his entire community far off to save them from Jarasandha. He was branded a coward for running away from fighting. He was discredited many times.

And he stood to gain nothing from the war. He would be known as Partha’s charioteer. Whether Yudhisthira won or Duryodhana won, Krishna would only remain a bystander. Everyone faces misfortunes and challenges in his life — be it Duryodhana or Yudhisthira. Yet to discriminate between right and wrong is one’s Dharma. No matter how bad the circumstances are, your reaction to them is what matters. Life’s unfairness is no reason to side with Adharma. You have the free will to choose between Dharma and Adharma and your own conscience is your guide.

It was Karna’s tragedy he chose Adharma to return Duryodhana’s generosity. Curiously, where Duryodhana was greedy like his father, Karna was generous to a fault, and that was partly his undoing. It was his choice, but he had to face the consequences, no excuses.

Pandavas suffered even more

How about Kunti and the Pandavas, did they not suffer? Widowed when her children were still young, she had to live on the charity of the covetous Dhritarashtra, and Bhishma’s sense of justice, while her children suffered because of Duryodhana’s envy. Though qualified by birth and qualities to be ruler, Yudhishtira was repeatedly thwarted. Dhritarashtra, while superficially extolling Yudhishtira’s virtues as Dharma Raja (King Dharma), he colluded with his son’s nefarious schemes to eliminate them including the ploy to burn them in the house of lacquer built for the purpose. It was only the sagacity of Vidura, the resourcefulness of Yudhishtira and the strength of Bhima that saved them. It was probably because of the sense of insecurity from all this that made Kunti ask them to marry Draupadi as their common wife.

Even after they returned, Yudhishtira was denied his due as the crown prince. Instead Dhritarashtra sent him and his brothers to the wilderness of Khandava to build a new capital. When they succeeded in turning this wilderness into the prosperous Indraprastha which Yudhishtira ruled with wisdom and fame, Duryodhana’s envy still knew no bounds. With the help of his cunning uncle Shakuni, he tricked Yudhishtira into a dice game and sent him and his brothers into a second exile. And they humiliated Draupadi to add insult to the considerable injury. Neither Karna nor any of the elders did anything to stop this gross injustice.

Only the young Vikarna had the decency to protest, but not strong enough to stop the outrage. For this too Vikarna was derided by Karna. And all the five sons of the Pandavas died unfairly. Abhimanyu was killed in an unfair manner when he was unarmed. Their five sons survived the war but were killed in a dastardly night attack by Asvatthama after the death of Duryodhana. In Yudhishtira’s picturesque phrase, they were like a ship that braved the oceans only to sink in a puddle.

Karna too lost his sons in the war, but in fair fight, unlike Abhimanyu and the Pandava sons.

In their individual combats, Karna was generally bested by Arjuna. During the cattle raid in Virata’s kingdom, with the young Uttara as his charioteer, Arjuna defeated all the Kauravas including Karna. Earlier in their forest dwelling when Duryodhana came to show his splendour and was captured by the Gandharva chief Chitrasena, it was Arjuna an and not Karna who got him released, Thanks to Dharma Raja’s generous persuasion.

Krishna’s dharma lesson to Karna

With this background, let us get to the climactic Karna Parva.

The narrative, as with all the war parvas is confusing, but Karna was momentarily immobilized because his chariot wheel was stuck in the blood-soaked mud due to all the blood on the ground. According to some accounts, Karna was forced to get down and free his chariot wheel that was stuck in the mud.

He appealed to Arjuna for time, saying Dharma demanded Karna be allowed to extricate his chariot wheel. Somewhat sentimental Arjuna who had a weakness for Karna and his sons, seemed moved but Krishna would have no part of what he saw as Karna’s self-serving appeal to Dharma.

Then Krishna,, stationed on the car, addressed Karna, saying,

“By good luck it is, O son of Radha, that you remember Dharma!

It is generally seen that they who are mean, when they sink into distress, rail at Providence but never at their own misdeeds. Yourself and Suyodhana and Duhshasana and Shakuni, the son of Subala, had caused Draupadi, clad in a single piece of raiment, to be dragged into the midst of the assembly. On that occasion, O Karna, this Dharma of yours did not show itself. When at the assembly Shakuni, an adept in dice, vanquished Kunti’s son Yudhishthira who was unacquainted with it, where had your Dharma gone?

When the Kuru king (Duryodhana), acting under your advice, treated Bhimasena in that way with the aid of snakes and poisoned food, where was your Dharma gone? When the period of exile into the woods was over as also the thirteenth year, thou didst not make over to the Pandavas their kingdom. Whither had this Dharma of yours then gone?

You people set fire to the house of lac at Varanavata for burning to death the sleeping Pandavas. Where then, O son of Radha, had this Dharma of yours gone? You laughed at Krishnaa (Draupadi) while she stood in the midst of the assembly, scantily dressed because in her season and obedient to Duhshasana’s will, where, then, O Karna, had this Dharma of yours gone?

When from the apartment reserved for the ladies, innocent Krishnaa was dragged, you did not interfere. Where, O son of Radha, had this Dharma of yours  gone? Yourself addressing the princess Draupadi, that lady whose tread is as dignified as that of the elephant, in these words, viz., ‘The Pandavas, O Krishnaa, are lost. They have sunk into eternal hell. Do you choose another husband!’

You looked on the scene with delight. Where then, O Karna, had this Dharma of yours gone? Covetous of kingdom and relying on the ruler of the Gandharas (Shakuni), you summoned the Pandavas (to a match of dice). Where had your Dharma gone?

When many mighty car-warriors, encircling the boy Abhimanyu in battle, slew him, where had your Dharma then then gone? If this Dharma that thou now invoket was nowhere on those occasions, what is the use then of parching thy palate now, by uttering that word? You are now for the practice of Dharma, O Suta, but you shall not escape with life.

The Pandavas, who are free from cupidity, will recover their kingdom by the prowess of their arms, aided with all their friends. Having slain in battle their powerful foes, they, with, will recover their kingdom. The Dhartarashtras (Kauravas) will meet with destruction at the hands of those lions among men (viz., the sons of Pandu), that are always protected by Dharma!

In the Gita, Krishna had no use for Arjuna invoking his misguided idea of Dharma for not fighting his adversaries. He had even less sympathy for Karna’s appeal to Dharma in his moment of distress and impending defeat.

There is an ancient Sanskrit saying: “Dharmo rakshati, rakshitah.” Dharma protectcs those who protect it, but Karna in his cynicism had given up on Dharma. He could not now appeal for mercy in the name of Dharma.

Dharma is both duty and justice. It is not something to select and discard at one’s convenience. And that was Karna’s end.

In his play Julius Caesar, Shakespeare wrote “Brutus is an honorable man,” with more than a hint of sarcasm. So too was Karna and noble as well, but his nobility was not accompanied by judgment. That was his tragedy.

VEDANTA IN TODAY’S WORLD 2: ON HUMAN BEHAVIOR

VEDANTA IN TODAY’S WORLD 2: ON                                    HUMAN BEHAVIOR

Vedanta analyses good and evil on the basis of three gunas, it calls Sattva, Rajas and Tamas. This clearly explained chapters 14-17 of the Gita. Many of its insights might be useful in understanding the turmoil in the world today and how to deal with it.

Navaratna Rajaram

Background: Method of Vedanta

As noted in my previous article on the topic, Indian thought does not draw a clear line separating natural sciences and the human sciences.       Vedanta includes an immense body of literature. Of these the numerous Upanishads are the primary philosophic works. Among these there are several minor and major Upanishads. The famous Bhagavad Gita (or the Gita for short) is an accessible summary of the Upanishads in relatively simple language and accessible to most people. It is the pre-eminent philosophic poem in the world. There is none even remotely comparable. All this has made it highly popular and widely translated and studied. The Gita is essentially a profound but brief metaphysical study of the world and its phenomena.

Hence Vedanta which is a method of analyzing the world and its phenomena is applicable also to the study of human behavior. This is exemplified by Krishna in his analysis of Daiva (enlightened) and Asuric (materialist, power hungry) individuals driven by three gunas (or traits) that are classified as sattva (purity or enlightened), rajas (forceful) and tamas (dark, that is ignorance and inertia).

All three traits are present in humans. The dominance of one or other dictates the conduct of leaders and their followers. Any combination can influence a leader or even a nation. Especially dangerous is the combination of tamas and rajas (forceful ignorance). This is what lies behind fanaticism.

It is important to note that fanaticism cannot be defeated by sattva alone. Judicious use of force is needed to root out fanaticism. One can cure the ignorance of a child by education but not the fanaticism of a hardened fanatic. There are no soft solutions. This is the reason why Rama had to invade Lanka and end Ravana’s asuric rule and replace him with his more enlightened brother Vibhishana.

Devas and Asura in Angkor Thom, Cambodia

Devas and Asuras

Devas are enlightened persons, Asuras are guided by material gains, wealth and power by use of force. The Lankan King Ravana was a typical example of that. Some scholars following the late Swami Chnmayananda use divine for daiva and demonic for asuras. I  have avoided it since it may suggest something supernatural. In addition in the Rigveda at least, some deities like Varuna and Indra are called asura, meaning mighty. Krishna describes them as follows. They follow deities and practices in keeping with their natural tendencies.

Sattvikas are devoted to worshipping virtuous and gentle deities. Rajasic are devoted to practices that value wealth and power and worship such spirits.  Tamasic  persons are devoted to evil and fanatical traits.

The same traits are notable in their food habits. Sattvikas favour foods that are healthy and nutritious. Rajasic persons favour spicy, energetic but often unhealthy foods. The tamasic favour attractive but addictive and damaging foods.

The same is true of their rituals and yagnas. According to Krishna, Sacrifices done for the benefit of society without any ambition for personal gains is Sattvic. One that is done to gain power and wealth for oneself, see it as Rajasic. Tamasic is done with violent goals, without proper method or vision, meaningless and fierce in content.

Daivic and Asuric traits

 

Mahishasura (Chamundi Hills, Mysore)

Avoidance of violence, truthfulness, control of temper, peacefulness, mildness of manner and speech, kindness towards all; brilliance of thought, cleanliness, forgiveness, fortitude, lack of excessive pride, these are traits of the daivic.

Excessive pride, love of display, arrogance, fierce temper, use of force, ignorance of right and wrong, these are among the asuric traits.

Daivic leads to freedom while asuric leads to bondage. Grieve not O Arjuna, you are of daivic disposition. Now let me tell you about asuric traits.

They (asuras) know not to distinguish between acts that should be done and those one should refrain from. They have no sense of inner or outer purity. Nor do they have any sense of truthfulness.

They view the world entirely in material terms, hold there is nothing spiritual, and only need and greed are the basis of existence.

Guided by narrow vision, driven by insatiable desires, being slaves to endless desires, they are the cause of destruction without end.

Holding themselves superior to all, even their acts of ritual are driven by desire to display of their wealth and power.

“I have gained this much, I have this much more to gain. I defeated so many, I have so many more to overcome, and no one can stop me. I am the master of all I hold, and will soon hold everything not in my possession.”

One who gives up all notion of dharma, but acts solely for himself will find no happiness in this world or the next.

So Arjuna, do your duty guided by good books and their teachings. This is my teaching to duty bound warriors like you.

Birth not a factor

It is worth emphasizing, deva and asura traits are acquired and something one is born us. All of us have daivic and asuric traits, we become one or the other depending on the traits (sattva, rajas and tamas) all of us possess and choose to follow. So, birth has nothing to do with it. Prahlada and Vibhishana were born into an asura dynasty, but chose to become daivic. Duryodhana on the other hand was born into a noble family, but chose to follow an asuric path. The result was the holocaust of the Mahabharata War.

VEDANTA IN TODAY’S WORLD 1:PHYSICAL REALITY

VEDANTA IN TODAY’S WORLD 1:PHYSICAL REALITY

The central problem of quantum physics is not wave-particle duality but the nature of reality.

N.S. Rajaram

 

The central problem of quantum physics is not wave-particle duality but the nature of reality.

N.S. Rajaram

Veda and Vedanta: primary and derived knowledge

            The Indic (Hindu) knowledge system does not draw a clear line separating the natural sciences and the humanities. It does, however, make a clear distinction between knowledge that is paurusheya (human created) and apaurusheya (of primary, non-human source). Apaurusheya knowledge is called shruti or sensed while the paurusheya knowledge is often referred to as smriti or recalled. Smriti is derivative while shruti is primary.

            Veda is apaurusheya, which means that only primary knowledge (or shruti) has the right to be called Veda. Vedanta refers to the body of knowledge derived by human thinkers and other workers based on the Veda. In the present article and in much of my work relating to science and Vedanta I find it convenient to use this as the working definition. I feel there are advantages to taking such a clear cut position in today’s world. (It is best not to engage in endless hairsplitting over the etymology of Veda and Vedanta both of which can be derived from the root vid.)

Patanjali in his Yogasutra observes: pratyaksha (direct), anumana (inferred or derived), agama (compiled) and others not germane here. His commentator Badarayana Vyasa makes the pregnant observation that anyone accepting derived knowledge implicitly assumes that someone has direct knowledge (pratyaksha) from which it has been derived.

It is important to note here that Vedanta, which is what our work involves, makes no demand on our religious belief or even belief in any god; this is not to say you have to be an atheist, only that much of Vedanta and Vedanga are non-theistic— they don’t make any religious demands. Like science and mathematics Vedanta is a philosophical cum metaphysical system (or systems) that address the great questions of the world. It leaves religious belief to the individual. This is one of the main reasons why Hinduism has never clashed with science.

Metaphysics, not theology

It is important to emphasize this point: Vedanta is a philosophic system and not a collection of religious texts. Confounding Vedanta and ‘religious’ Hinduism has done disservice to both. Indian philosophy is metaphysical and not theological. It is concerned with issues of existence (ontology), perception and reality (epistemology) more than justifying the existence of God and devotion to him (or her). In particular, the question of reality occupies a central place in Vedanta as it does in quantum physics.

As I hope will become clear from the rest of the article, Vedanta is a powerful metaphysical system that can and has shed light on some of the fundamental problems of modern science. (Erwin Schrödinger claimed he derived his fundamental idea of the ‘wave function’ in quantum physics from Vedanta.)  No problem in physics today is more important than the problem of reality. The rest of the article is devoted to the problem of reality and what physics and Vedanta have to say about it. What follows is a summary.

Reality in modern physics

            Until about a century ago scientists didn’t worry much about the reality of the physical world they were trying to understand. They implicitly assumed that things they were observing and measuring were real. When doubts arose about the reality of some ideas used in their theories, like light waves in the eighteenth century, they assumed that the question would be resolved by some clever experiment. This did happen in 1801 when Thomas Young in a famous experiment demonstrated the wave nature of light.

But the situation began to change when scientists started introducing into their theories things like atoms that could not directly be observed. Even in the twentieth century there were scientists who refused to believe that atoms were real. What convinced scientists was not any experiment but Einstein’s explanation of the irregular movement of particles suspended in a liquid, a phenomenon known as Brownian motion. Jean Perrin’s 1909 experiment verified one of Einstein’s predictions based on the atomic theory of Brownian motion without actually observing atoms. This was the beginning of atomic physics that soon became entangled with quantum theory and all that came with it. (This is an oversimplification, but will do here.)

No one today doubts the reality of the quantum any more than the reality of the atom, but Max Planck in 1900 had introduced it as a purely mathematical device in a desperate attempt to resolve some anomalies observed in heat radiation; he never believed that the quantum had a physical existence. Five years later, Einstein extended the quantum idea to light to explain the photoelectric effect which the wave theory could not. As he saw it, light flowed not in a continuous stream like water but in discrete lumps like ice cubes out of a vending machine.

Unlike Planck, Einstein had no doubt that his light quanta, now called photons were real. He also realized that he had brought about a fundamental change in physics. Writing to a friend in 1905, the ‘miracle year’ in which he created the special theory of relativity, explained Brownian motion and introduced the light quantum, he described only the last as being ‘truly revolutionary’. At a conference in Salzburg in 1909 Einstein proclaimed: “The next phase of the development of theoretical physics will bring us a theory of light that can be interpreted as a kind of fusion of the wave and particle theories.”

Neither Einstein nor anyone else in 1909 could know where this wave-particle duality of light would take physics. At first, things seemed natural enough with the Bohr-Sommerfeld model of the atom explaining light emission and spectral lines, though Niels Bohr, soon to be recognized as the second seminal figure of twentieth century physics (after Einstein) professed that he didn’t care for Einstein’s light quantum idea.

In his relativity theory Einstein had already shown that matter and energy are one and the same; now he was saying that light, which is a form of energy, is both waves and particles. Louis de Broglie connected the two and proposed that matter also had waves. This too received experimental support. Next, if matter can be a wave, there must be a wave equation describing it. This was supplied by Erwin Schrödinger (a self-confessed student of Vedanta) top, though no one at first seemed to understand what it was wave of.

Then Max Born offered the explanation that it was not really a wave like a water wave or a sound wave, but an abstract mathematical function that allowed one to calculate the probability of where a particle like electron would be found. This is coming a full circle since Plank had introduced the quantum as a mathematical entity in the first place.

Limit on knowledge

            The reality question arises because in the quantum world, the observer cannot be removed from the phenomenon. Whether light is a wave or a particle depends on the experiment being performed. Unlike Newton’s Laws of Motion which are independent of the observer, as is the velocity of light, quantum phenomena depend on the observer. They have no independent existence. Even this is limited in the following way.

Bohr, Heisenberg and Pauli

Werner Heisenberg threw a bombshell into this conundrum with what is now called the uncertainty principle. He claimed that it is impossible to know both the position and the momentum (or velocity) of a particle exactly. Just as Einstein’s relativity theory placed a limit on velocity, Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle placed a limit on knowledge. All one can calculate is the probability of a particle like the electron going from one place to another, say from the earth to the moon, and not the path by which it gets there. Worse, the electron doesn’t even exist until we observe it on the moon. So it is the observer that defines its existence.

So here was the new reality: a wave equation without a wave that is needed to find a particle that becomes real only when we observe it. As Heisenberg saw it, “Reality has evaporated into mathematics.” His colleague Pascual Jordan, who might have won a Nobel Prize but for his unsavory politics (he became a Nazi storm trooper) said, “There is no reality; we ourselves create things with our experiments.” Bohr, the high priest of this new physics proclaimed: “Physics is not about reality but about our knowledge of reality.”

This gives new meanings to the concept of reality: reality of the physical world and reality of the world described by our physical theories. Acharya Madhva had anticipated it over five centuries ago, as we shall see in due course. This gives an altogether different meaning to the term duality, not only physical but also of existence (or ontological).

Einstein was unhappy with the turn of events in the revolution that he had done so much to launch. To him the physical world was reality, not something that evaporated into its mathematical dual created by physicists. “Do you really believe that the moon exists only when I am looking at it?” He once asked.

The curious thing is that this metaphysical muddle grew out of experiments, not just philosophical speculation. Theologians like Saint Augustine and Saint Bonaventure were always interested in reality, even if only as a preliminary to their theology. But they took its existence for granted, as the work of God. Even Newton believed God’s intervention might be necessary to maintain the stability of the solar system. His successor Pierre Simon de Laplace, the founder of both celestial mechanics and probability theory saw no such need. When Napoleon berated him for not mentioning the Creator in his masterwork on celestial mechanics, Laplace retorted: “Sire, I have no need of that hypothesis.”

Vedanta sheds light on the reality question

To make sense of this mass of contradictions, some of the pioneers like Schrödinger, Heisenberg, Robert Oppenheimer and David Bohm turned to eastern philosophy. There they found that problems lying at the center of new physics like reality, and existence had received the attention of Hindu philosophers of the school known as Vedanta (of which Yoga is probably the best known).

Madhva’s orders of reality

The medieval philosopher Madhva (1238 – 1317, left) had explicitly observed: “There are two orders of Reality─ independent and the dependent.” And in what may be seen as an anticipation of physicist Hugh Everett’s many worlds interpretation of quantum physics, Madhva asserted: “The knowledge of the many through knowledge of the One, is to be understood in terms of the preeminence of the One.”

His predecessor Shankara (788 – 821) saw the world as conceived in latent form in pure consciousness like the tree in a seed. “The relation between the world of multiplicity and the Absolute is an inconceivable one,” he wrote. Shankara, some of whose ideas are close to those of Immanuel Kant. Shankara, unlike Laplace didn’t have to contend with Napoleon, but he did have to deal with Hindu and Buddhist critics who held up scripture as authority. Anticipating Laplace by a thousand years Shankara retorted:

“Scripture is not any word of God, but consists entirely of perceived truths. This perception can be from karma (actions or empirical observations) and jnana (gnosis or thought) through reflection or deduction.” And most significantly for our purposes, he claimed: “Any attempt to connect the Absolute with its manifestations in the shape of the world must end in failure, for no relation can be imagined beyond the sphere of duality.”

How did they see the problem of reality, centuries before it arose in physics? Where does all this leave us? Reality and our conception of it, can the twain never meet?

Vedanta and Reality

I see the question of Reality as the meeting ground between Vedanata and modern physics, especially quantum mechanics. Reality is the Holy Grail of quantum physics; it is an area in which Vedanta can make a contribution and thereby come to occupy the center stage in modern metaphysics.

At the same time, we should refrain from making excessive claims. Vedanta is not a mathematical or quantitative system. Any comparison can only be at the metaphysical level, without mathematics. Quantum physics is mathematics, too much so according to some critics like Lee Smolin (Trouble with physics), with the tail of mathematical physics often wagging the dog. Some mathematical models like String Theory have no physical counterpart.

As just noted, the same question was asked, and partly answered by Vedantic thinkers like Shankara and Madhva centuries ago, and is being asked again beginning with Albert Einstein nearly a hundred years ago and now by many others, notably John Stuart Bell of Bell’s theorem fame. A point I would like to emphasize is: raising questions about Reality in the Vedantic context should not be seen as advocating other-worldliness. (In any event otherworldliness is less a Hindu idea than Buddhist and Jain notion.)

As I observed earlier, the Reality question lies at the heart of quantum physics and we should welcome any efforts to bring Vedanta into the picture.  It is a tribute to our ancestors that they had addressed the same question centuries ago. The real question is the relationship between their thought and that of modern physics. Here are a few examples from some of the greatest scientific thinkers of the 20th century.

No objective reality?

The concept of objective Reality… evaporated into mathematics that no longer represents the behavior of elementary particles but rather our knowledge of it.

Werner Heisenberg

Through the creation of quantum mechanics, the concept of consciousness came to the fore again; it was not possible to formulate the laws of quantum mechanics in a fully consistent way without reference to the consciousness.

…it is this entering of an impression into our consciousness which alters the wave function.

Eugene Wigner

… there is no [reality]. We ourselves produce the results of the measurement.

Pascual Jordan

Quantum mechanics says that nature is unintelligible except as a calculus, that all you can do is to compute with the equations and operate your apparatus and compare the result.[with the predicted values].

David Bohm

Do you really believe that the moon only exists when I am looking at it?

Albert Einstein

This means that the notion of reality is an illusion (or maya). It is interesting to compare these with what Indian Vedantic thinkers had to say. Madhva, an early Indian philosopher schooled in Vedantic metaphysics wrote: “There are two orders of Reality─ independent and the dependent.” (I would rephrase the original Sanskrit svatantra and paratantra as ‘coherent’ and ‘incoherent’— with the coherent referring to the observable world and the incoherent to the unobservable quantum world.

In this the goal of Madhva’s metaphysics was “not merely to realize the distinction between appearance and Reality, but to understand and appreciate the still more fundamental difference between Independent Reality and dependent realities.” This according to Einstein should be the goal of quantum physics also.

This sense of duality lies at the heart of Madhva’s philosophy as it does in quantum mechanics also for which reason it is known as the dvaita (dual) school. Madhva then goes deeper into the subject; invoking ancient Vedantic texts known as the Upanishads he goes on to observe: “The knowledge of the many through knowledge of the One, taught so prominently in the Upanishads, is to be understood in terms of the preeminence of the One; or by virtue of some similarity (of natures) between them; or on account of the One being the cause of the many…”

Nor is this an isolated case, but the culmination of a centuries-long quest for the nature of Reality. Madhva’s predecessor Shankara took the radical view that scripture is not any word of God, but consists entirely of perceived truths. This perception can be from karma (actions or empirical) and jnana (gnosis or thought) i.e., through reflection or deduction. Shankara’s eminent modern commentator S. Radhakrishnan explains the situation as follows:

“The relation between the world of multiplicity and the Absolute is an inconceivable one and this inconceivability is denoted by the word Maya.” Thus Maya is not illusion as often mistranslated, but inconceivable. He further comments: “Any attempt to connect the Absolute with its manifestations in the shape of the world must end in failure, for no relation can be imagined beyond the sphere of duality.”

From this we may see that some of the central problems of modern physics like Duality, Reality, Consciousness and observables had engaged the great philosophical minds of Classical India. I feel that this metaphysical convergence of science and Vedanta is of fundamental importance to both. This does not rule out other approaches, but has the potential to attract talented youngsters as I found during my lectures in the U.S., U.K. as well as in India. It is important for aspiring young minds to see Vedanta as a powerful metaphysical tool that can shed light on fundamental problems. It is no more a mere antiquarian tool than the zero and the place value system, thousands of years old.

Based in part on lectures given at the University of Manchester, U.K and MIT, Cambridge, MA. I am grateful to the late Professor K.T. Pandurangi for enlightening me on certain aspects of Vedanta, especially relating to the much neglected Dvaita (dual) school of Madhvacharya.

 

 

FIFTH VEDA AS THE INDIAN CANON

 

FIFTH VEDA AS THE INDIAN CANON

India has a single masterwork that can serve as the Canon. It is a library and Encyclopedia all by itself

Navaratna Rajaram

Background

Thinkers and educators in Europe and America have long labored to compile a body of literature produced by writers of the Western civilization that constitutes their most important works and have called it the Western Canon. such canonization may be described as:

The process of listmaking—defining the boundaries of the canon—is endless. The philosopher John Searle has said: “In my experience there never was, in fact, a fixed ‘canon’; there was rather a certain set of tentative judgments about what had importance and quality. Such judgments are always subject to revision, and in fact they were constantly being revised.

One of the notable attempts at compiling an authoritative canon in the English-speaking world was the Great Books of the Western World program. This program, developed in the middle third of the 20th century, grew out of the curriculum at the University of Chicago. University president Robert Maynard Hutchins and his collaborator Mortimer Adler developed a program that offered reading lists, books, and organizational strategies for reading clubs to the general public.

An earlier attempt, the Harvard Classics (1909), was promulgated by Harvard University president Charles W. Eliot, whose thesis was the same as Carlyle’s: The greatest university of all is a collection of books.

So from Thomas Carlyle to the present educators in the West have agreed on the importance of recognizing the need for defining such a canon, even if they differed on its boundaries and content. It is a sad commentary on modern Indian thinkers that no such thinking has been displayed by modern Indian thinkers. Two possible exceptions to this charge are K.M. Munshi’s Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan with its Books University Program and the Gita Press (in Hindi) with its publication program of Sanskrit works with translations. But no such Indian canon is available in modern Indian languages.

Fortunately, India has produced a single work that constitutes a canon all by itself—The Mahabharata. This is the spirit—of the Mahabharata as the canon of Indian civilization—in which the present work has been undertaken. It seeks to fill a void in Indian education by presenting the Mahabharata as more than a great epic or even a historical epic.

At the same time, every canon must be recreated in each era or even generation for the simple reason, new works need to be included and those once thought to be important may have lost their relevance. This holds even for a timeless work like the Mahabharata or the Bible for the reason that in every generation the tastes and capacities of readers change. The canon must also change to remain relevant. In the case of the Mahabharata, which is rarely read in the original one needs to take into account changes in language and taste. Many young Indians today read mostly in English which was not the case even fifty years ago. Even in English, it is rarely read completely as given for example in Kesri Mohan Ganguli’s work (sometimes wrongly called Roy’s translation).

Above: Ugrasrava Sauti reciting the narrative at Shaunaka’s assembly in the Naimisha forest

Formidable work

Few can tackle this formidable work even when available in translation. Let there be no doubt on this count—the Mahabharata is a formidable work, not accessible to everyone, no matter what the language. Here is a description that gives an idea of the task.

A distinguished Western devotee of the Mahabharata (Haven O’More of the University of Chicago, which conceived the idea of the idea of the Western Canon) touched on this aspect of this supreme work by describing it in the following words:

Greater than any mountain, the Mahabharata sits supreme, its top veiled in clouds, with powerful winds and biting cold. Truly, it is said, the Mahabharata gives birth, and also gives death. For it contains an account of the life and acts of the Supreme Ruler Himself, Creator and Destroyer of the universe, who binds human beings and all manifestations “on a chain, of which one end is life, the other is death.” A great intellectual and spiritual mountain, it unveils itself only to the most passionate, intense, sincere, full of truth to themselves and others, athletic, death-defying climbers. Civilizations rise up and decay; the great mountain penetrates into the whole/holy possibility of Universal Manifestation — even, paradoxically, resting simultaneously in the Unmanifest Itself.

And Veda Vyasa himself, the poet of the Mahabharata, tells us:

yatha samudre bhagavan, yatha merurmahagirih;

ubhau khyatau ratnanidhi, tatha bharatamucyate.

 

Veda Vyasa dictating the epic to his scribe Ganesha

As is the ocean O Lord, and Mount Meru the mighty mountain peak,

Both renowned for the treasures they hold, so indeed is the Mahabharata.

            What then is the scope of this literary monument that towers over every other creation of man? On the surface it is the story of the dynasty of the Bharatas, known also as the Kurus. Bharatanam mahajjanma mahabharatamucyate — “The great life story of the Bharatas, that is called Mahabharata.” Its narrative portion is taken up by the story of the struggle for supremacy between the rival cousins of the Bharata dynasty known as the Kauravas and the Pandavas, the latter emerging victorious thanks to the guidance of Krishna. But this is only on a superficial reading. For the poet Vyasa uses this great historical epic as the vehicle for expounding the verities of life, for persons from all walks of life. With this in mind, the great 15th century South Indian poet Kumara-Vyasa (Son of Vyasa) introduced his masterwork as follows (translated from Kannada):

With tales of valor to inspire every prince,

For scholars to find in it the Vedas’ essence,

For thinkers the fount of philosophy, for statesmen, wisdom nonpareil;

For separated lovers full storied romance,

For critics — blessed with taste and grace,

Kumara-Vyasa wrote his Bharata— to be hailed the master of all.

In more direct if less ornate fashion, Veda Vyasa himself, the original master of the Mahabharata describes it as containing:

            dharmashastramidam puņyam, arthashastramimam param;

            mokshashastramidam proktam, vyasenamitabuddhina.

            dharme carthe ca kame ca, mokshe ca bharatasrhabha;

            yadihasti tadanyatra, yannehasti na tat kvacit.

 

Laws for righteous living, the best for acquiring wealth without sin;

Teachings to attain salvation, all proclaimed by Vyasa of boundless intellect.

Be it Law or profitable venture, objects to wish or transcendent wisdom;

O Bharata Prince! What’s here may be found elsewhere, but what’s not here is nowhere.

This brings us back to the beginning, of the Mahabharata as the eternal encyclopedia of perennial philosophy of life and death as taught and practiced by Lord Krishna, and preserved for eternity by another Krishna the Island-born, rightly known as Veda Vyasa who organized also the Vedas.       

What is not here is nowhere  

The Mahabharata, the national epic or the canon of Bharat — or the Land of the Bharatas — is the embodiment of the two eternal verities that have sustained the Indian civilization through its many vicissitudes. It is the practical wisdom distilled from the historical experience spanning untold millennia, and the application of the Vedic principle of ā no bharda kratavo yantu vishwataḥ —  “Let felicitous thoughts come to us from every source.” The result is an encyclopedia that combines history, philosophy and dharma — or code of conduct — in a manner unmatched in human experience. And this essence of life and afterlife is conveyed by Lord Krishna himself in both theory and practice, through the example of his own life.

The word ‘epic’, though commonly used, is a serious contraction when applied to the mighty Mahabharata. It is like calling Mount Everest a hill. The statement by Haven O’More previously quoted comes nearer to describing its true scope

And Veda Vyasa himself, the poet of the Mahabharata, tells us:

yatha samudre bhagavan, yatha merurmahagirih;

ubhau khyatau ratnanidhi, tatha bharatamucyate.

As is the ocean O Lord, and Mount Meru the mighty peak,

Renowned both for the treasures they hold, so indeed is the Mahabharata.

             What then is the scan and scope of this literary monument that towers over every other creation of man? On the surface it is the story of the dynasty of the Bharatas, known also as the Kurus. Bharatanam mahajjanma mahabharatamucyate — “The great life story of the Bharatas, that is called Mahabharata.” Its major portion is taken up by the story of the struggle for supremacy between the cousins of the Bharata dynasty known as the Kauravas and the Pandavas, the latter emerging victorious thanks to the help of Krishna. But this is only on a superficial reading. For the poet Vyasa uses this great historical epic as the vehicle for expounding the verities of life, for persons from all walks of life. With this in mind, the great 15th century South Indian poet Kumara-Vyasa introduced his Kannada version of the epic as previously described and worth recalling:

 

In direct if less ornate fashion, the Mahabharata describes its own scope as containing:

 

            dharmashastramidam punyam, arthashastramimam param;

            mokshashastramidam proktam, vyasenamitabuddhina.

 

            dharme carthe ca kame ca, mokshe ca bharatasrhabha;

            yadihasti tadanyatra, yannehasti na tat kvacit.

 

Laws for righteous living, the best for acquiring wealth without sin;

Teachings to attain salvation, all proclaimed by Vyasa of limitless intellect.

Be it Law or profitable venture, objects to wish or transcendent wisdom;

O Bharata Prince! What’s here may be found elsewhere, but what’s not here is nowhere.

 

It brings us back to the beginning, of the Mahabharata as the eternal encyclopedia of perennial philosophy of life and death as taught and practiced by Lord Krishna, and recorded by another Krisnha — Krishna-dvaipayana, or Krishna the Island-born known as Veda Vyasa. This brings me to the text of the Mahabharata as it exists today.

 

Versions of the Mahabharata

            Every Indian child knows — or should know — that the author of the Mahabharata is Veda Vyasa who wrote an eyewitness account of the events in epic form. Those who see themselves as traditionalists hold that the Mahabharata we have today has come down to us exactly as Vyasa wrote it more than five thousand years ago. The problem with this view is that we have today not one but several versions of the epic. There is the Southern edition, the Kashmir version, the Bengal version and a few more. All these have variant readings though they are substantially the same. The Gita Press edition is probably the most popular, but it is a combination of the Southern and the Northern editions. So which of these editions is Vyasa’s original? Does it really matter as long we have its message—in spirit and content.

Editions of the Mahabharata

The classic edition is the multi-volume (19  volumes) Critical edition by the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute in Pune sometimes known as the Poona edition. It is exhaustive but hardly for the average reader. The one I use is the so-called Kumbhakonam (Southern edition) compiled by Vyasacharya and Krishnacharya. It is entirely in Sanskrit, including the footnotes which are excellent and highly informative. The Gita Press edition is inexpensive and comes with translation (mine in Hindi).

In English, the most popular is the Mahabharata by C. Rajagopalachari, published by the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan (Bhavan). It is readable but brief, too brief for serious readers. Bhavan has also published a more comprehensive English version by Kamal Subramanyam (daughter of the famous Kannada playwright T.P. Kailasam). It is highly recommended. The English version by William Buck is easily available and highly readable but again very brief. There is at least one in every Indian language.

JANMASHTAMI SPECIAL

KRISHNA THE PURUSHOTTAMA

As we approach another Janmashtami, it is wort looking at what makes Krishna a Purushottama, in the Vedantic sense.

N.S. Rajaram

The mystery

What is the mystery of Krishna? What is it that makes him keep his hold on the people of India and now the world thousands of years after he departed from this world? To make things more interesting, his followers include not only the bhaktas who see him as a divinity but also people who consider themselves rationalists and even atheists that do not accept the divine. To follow this, we need to recognize that Krishna was both an avatar (incarnation) and Purushottama— the Supreme Man. Krishna the man was as inspiring as Krishna the avatar of Vishnu. This holds the key to his universal appeal.
But first, we must answer the question: was Krishna a historical figure or was he a creation of the imagination of his devotees? Thanks to research over the past century and more, beginning with Bankima Chandra Chatterji, it is possible to say that Krishna was indeed a historical figure who lived some five thousand years ago and whose life can be reconstructed in essentials. He is mentioned in many ancient works, many of which have nothing to do with religion or historical tradition.

Krishna was a key figure in the Mahabharata War though he remained a non-combatant. Panini, in his ancient work on Sanskrit grammar Ashtadhyayi, mentions Vasudeva (Krishna) and Arjuna as well as several other Mahabharata figures like Kunti, Yudhishtira and Nakula. He mentions also the Mahabharata War. Ashwalayana, another ancient writer, mentions the Mahabharata along with Vaishampayana, who first recited it in the presence of Janamejaya. The Chandogya Upanishad also mentions Krishna-Devakiputra (Krishna, Son of Devaki). There are many other references in the Vedic and Buddhist literature. Unlike the Mahabharata, the Bhagavata and the other Puranas, these are not part of the Itihasa-Purana literature concerned with the worship of Krishna. The only reason they mention him at all is because of familiarity, which shows that Krishna must already have been a famous figure.

Krishna’s date

As far as the date of Krishna is concerned, tradition has always held that he lived at the end of the Dwapara Yuga and that Kali Yuga began with his death. This date is taken to be 3102 BC. Until recently, this date was thought to be impossible because scholars held that the invading Vedic Aryans came to India only after 1500 BC. Before the discovery of the Harappan (or the Indus Valley) Civilization, it was held that there was no civilization in India prior to that date. But now many scholars are beginning to recognize that the Harappan Civilization was itself Vedic and there was no Aryan invasion. Thus, tradition places Krishna and the Mahabharata War in what we now call the Early Harappan period.

This date can be supported both by science and literature. We have astronomical statements in Ashwalayana’s work that allow us to place the Mahabharata War, and therefore Krishna, in the centuries around 3000 BC. Greek records of the time of Alexander also tell us that the Indian Heracles (Hari-Krishna), who was greatly honored by the Shurasenas of Methora (Mathura) lived 138 generations before Alexander’s contemporary Sandracottos (Chandragupta). Taking 20 years per generation places Krishna 2760 years before Alexander or about 3080 BC. This is in remarkably close agreement with the traditional date of 3102 BC for the Mahabharata War.
Next, to understand the appeal that Krishna had from his times to our own, we must recognize that in his time, Vedanta offered a rational way of looking at the world just as science does today. The greatness of Krishna lay in the fact that he was not only a great teacher, but also supremely great as a human being, who always strove to protect dharma. This made him Purushottama.

Vedantic view

His contemporaries like Bhisma and Veda Vyasa explained it in Vedantic terms. According to Vedanta every living being is endowed with both divine (daivic) and demonic (asuric) traits. The Bhagavadgita has a chapter on this. They saw that a Purushottama like Krishna must be dominated by daivic traits.
Later followers of Krishna lacked this Vedantic view, but saw him as a supernatural figure and therefore a God. They translated his daivic traits into supernatural powers. So Krishna the Supreme Man became Krishna the God who could work miracles. No matter how we view him, God or Purushottama, Krishna remains an inspiration for all.

Why study the Historical Krishna?
The personality of Krishna is so rich that it leads to different perceptions in different minds. Although I am convinced that the elevation of Krishna to divinity is not the handiwork the original poet (Veda Vyasa or Krishna-Dvaipayana), it really does not matter. The complexity of the Krishna phenomenon — and the fact that his life and personality defy all attempts to reduce him to simple terms — has existed for centuries and millennia. It is a living reality today. None of us can change it or take away the mystery that surrounds him. What we need to understand therefore is the process by which this elevation to divinity came about, and how to deal with this reality today, when we are faced with a vast Hindu population that believes in his divinity and also thousands of ‘educated’ Hindus like me that consider themselves ‘rationalist’.
My own view, based on the Gita, Sri Aurobindo and the Mahabharata is that two fundamental concepts have had a role in the process: the aupureshya quality of a great truth and the Vedantic concept of divinity in everyone. But this has changed with the times, for we no longer live in the Vedantic milieu—an age in which Vedanta offered a rational way of looking at the world. To Krishna’s contemporaries like Vyasa and Bhisma, Vedanta was a reality, part of their everyday thinking, much as science is to us today. Their world-view was shaped by Vedanta, just as ours is shaped by science. This allowed them to combine history and spiritual vision into a true synthesis. Let me try and expand on this a little bit.

Sri Aurobindo on Krishna’s divinity

My first point is that we cannot ignore the history behind the Gita and treat it as a purely abstract philosophic work. On page 12 of Essays on the Gita, Sri Aurobindo acknowledges as much: “The teaching of the Gita must therefore be regarded not merely in the light of a general spiritual philosophy or ethical doctrine, but as bearing upon a practical crisis in the application of ethics and spirituality to human life.” And again on page 13, “There are indeed three things in the Gita which are spiritually significant,…; they are the divine personality of the Teacher, his characteristic relations with his disciple and the occasion of his teaching.” (My emphasis.) The Gita cannot therefore be divested of its Mahabharata setting. So the history is there, never to be ignored.
Let me take up the issue of the divinity of the Teacher. What makes the Teacher divine? I have at different times emphasized the aupurusheya concept in Hinduism: it is the message and not the messenger that counts. This is an idea that lies at the heart of the spiritual basis of Vedic civilization. It is the greatness of his teaching that makes Krishna a divine teacher.

Sri Aurobindo expresses the same idea more concretely, by drawing on Jesus Christ (p 15): “Such controversies as the one that has raged in Europe over the historicity of Christ, would seem to a spiritually-minded Indian largely a waste of time; … So too the Krishna who matters to us is the eternal incarnation of the Divine and not the historical teacher and leader of men.”
There is a seeming contradiction in these two stands: the history does matter, but the historicity of the teacher (Krishna) is immaterial, more of which later.* This is because of the divinity of Krishna as seen by his devotees, has two sources: his teaching, of which most of his followers have only the vaguest notion, and the personality of Krishna, the Purushottama or the Best of Men. I think this is a point of cardinal importance: Krishna was not only a great teacher, but was also Purushottama. Vishwamitra of the Gayatri Mantra was also a great teacher, but no one worships him as divine, for he was no Purushottama. On the other hand Sri Rama is worshipped, though he has no claims to a scripture like the Gita. But he too was a Purushottama.
I feel it would leave a vacuum in our understanding of Krishna if we looked at him strictly as a great teacher, while leaving out his exemplary life of sacrifice and as sarva-guna-sampanna, as Bhisma called him. If we look strictly at his teaching, to be truly great, it has to be apaurusheya, so the personality behind the teaching should not matter. But here the personality does matter, for Krishna is no mere teacher: he did not just teach karmayoga— his own life exemplified it. This is what made him Purushottama— or human par excellence.
This is where Krishna towers the over the other great teachers in history. Moses, Jesus and Muhammad are held up as great teachers, but none of them was a Purushottama. Their teaching is also not apaurusheya, for without the authority of the claim (unsupported), as being the ‘Medium of God’, their teaching has no validity. It is the very paurusheya claim as the Only Son of God or the Final Prophet that legitimizes their teaching, but that is a different story.
Let us look more closely at the basis for Krishna’s divinity. This too has multiple sources. The first person to raise the possibility of the divine in Krishna was Bhisma on the occasion of the Rajasuya (Sabha Parva). This I believe to be part of the original Mahabharata of Vyasa. To understand this we must grasp the Vedantic concept of divinity present in everyone and everything: ishavasyam idam sarvam. The Gita itself talks about the Daivic and the Asuric traits in man. In Krishna, the Daivic had attained full dimension. So, to men like Bhisma steeped in the Vedantic, Krishna was a divine figure by virtue of the Daivic dominance. Within the framework of Vedanta this is a perfectly rational position. You can call it avatar or whatever you like, but I see it as the domination of the Daivic that is present in all of us. In Krishna it manifested itself in spirituality. In Tyagaraja, it was in music; in Ramanujam in mathematics, in Einstein, in science and so on. This does not invoke the supernatural, nor is it superstition. The phenomenon is there, only the explanation is wanting. This explanation is provided by Vedanta as a manifestation of the divine.
Let us now move to later times, especially the present. We no longer live in a Vedantic milieu. We don’t look at the world with Vedantic eyes as Bhisma and Vyasa did. Most of us calling ourselves ‘rational’ do not see the world in Daivic and Asuric terms. With that we have lost the rational basis for spirituality or ‘avatar’. This has given us also a division between ‘faith’ and ‘reason’. Krishna’s devotees still see him as divine. Among intellectuals this may be because of his teaching. But I suggest that with the overwhelming majority people it is Krishna the Purushottama that is the real object of adoration and worship. I also feel this is closer to the Vedantic view because it doesn’t give rise to the split between faith and reason. Only, in the case of modern devotees, faith has taken the place of the Vedantic view.

Vedantic view and the supernatural

And how do these worshippers see divinity? They obviously don’t see it in Vedantic terms like Bhisma or as the teacher of the divine Gita. They see the divine by endowing him with supernatural powers. This is what the later poets made of Krishna. This has no historical or even Vedantic validity, but it made his divinity accessible to the simplest soul. In their eyes Krishna the Purushottama becomes Krishna the miracle-worker. This explains how predominantly erotic works like Jayadeva’s Gitagovinda are seen as divine prayers.

Alexander, an asuric divinity

Incidentally, the elevation of a human figure to godhood is common in other pagan traditions also. The Greeks even elevated Alexander to be a god, but he was an Asuric God. No one would call him Purushottama.
Biblical religions on the other hand draw a clear line between man and God. This essentially reverses the process by which a teacher is equated with God as a pseudo-god calling himself Prophet. The Prophet becomes the instrument of God and allows no one else to encroach on his territory. In reality God becomes the monopoly tool of the Prophet— many in Judaism, but single in Christianity and Islam.

Best of men and divine teacher

In summary, Krishna the Purushottama is no less important than Krishna the Divine Teacher. Take away his divinity, he is none the worse for the loss. The Purushottama remains Acyuta, imperishable and indestructible. (This is not true of other great religious teachers. H.G. Wells called Muhammad a man of “altogether common clay.”) Thousands of Hindus who have difficulty in grasping the notion of divinity can still admire and adore him as Purushottama. Highlighting this I believe will broaden rather than weaken his appeal. I for one would have difficulty accepting the Krishna of Puranic myths, but never fail to be inspired by Purushottama.
At a different level this has practical consequences also. Note that anti-Hindu demagogues like Christian missionaries and communists  attack the personality of Krishna, rarely his message. On the other hand they try to appropriate his Gita, with some even claiming to see the Biblical influence on it! (This is palpably absurd even on basic chronological grounds.) My hope is that our educated young people also, when they see Krishna the Purushottama, might stop being defensive about him.  They will see Krishna the Purushottama whose life as a man was as a great a lesson as anything he or anyone ever taught. He was also the grand synthesis of the human and the divine with no conflict between faith and reason.