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Hinduism and the Vedas: misconceptions


AN OPEN letter, published in a newspaper, even if ostensibly addressed to a particular individual is in effect addressed to all readers of the paper and is perhaps intended to be so. Thus an open letter addressed to Mr. Bangaru Laxman in two parts by Ms. Gail Omvedt published in this paper on October 10 & 11, could be construed as aimed at a wider readership than the individual to whom it is addressed.

For a practising Hindu, considering the Vedas, the Upanishads and the epics as the most sacred scriptures of Hindus in general and this writer in particular, any comments in poor taste on those would be a deep hurt of the religious sentiments. It is therefore necessary that certain points germane to the subject be discussed in detail. Judging from the comments made, it could be inferred that the author's knowledge of Vedas, acquired after a cursory reading of its translation, is sparse and inadequate to comment on a subject which has deep spiritual and cosmic importance. The tone and tenor are palpably unrestrained and hostile.

Palpable ignorance

In the practice of religion and its tenets Hindus never considered other religions as inferior nor held any as hostile. If anything, it is the Semitic religions which consider those outside their fold as infidels or unworthy of God's sympathy or even as sinners. The writer in the article had raised the question ``why is there so much fixation on the Vedas.'' The question betrays a palpable ignorance of the Hindu religion, its scriptures and its practice. Even a schoolboy would proclaim the Vedas as the sacred scripture of the Hindu religion in much the same way as the Bible is for Christians and the Quran for Muslims.

India is a country of continental size inhabited by a huge population of over 100 crores professing several faiths, chief ones being Hinduism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism and Zoroastrianism. The present culture of the country largely relates to the respective religions and the predominant one belonging to the Hindu religion has absorbed during the course of the past two millennia certain ideas from other religions. This is principally due to the close intermixing of members of other religions at social level. Then there are variations from region to region mainly due to local practices, thinking and interpretation of religious tenets by different thinkers. But just as a thread holds together several flowers in a garland, the core of the culture of Hinduism remains intact and is manifest in all regions with local variations.

There have recently been some questions posed as to the basis of calling Hinduism as a religion and whom all it encompassed in the social setup. Religion in the strict sense of the term would mean the practice of a definite system or form of faith and worship, distinctly different from other systems with codes of conduct, do's and don'ts for the followers and even procedures for settling civil and criminal issues arising from social interactions. Barring Hinduism, all the rest believe in one book, one prophet and one God. These have emerged in India as a result of spiritual evolution and certain conflicts in the prevailing system. Even before the advent of the Semitic religions, two distinct streams of thought different from the prevailing one had taken shape after being propounded by thinkers like Gouthama Buddha and Mahavira. Before the formation of these there were no specific religions in the strict sense of the term and the people followed what was called the `Vedic path' and called it `Vedic religion.'

Horizonal spread of the practice had given a certain pan-India character to the system. Only after the formation of new indigenous religions and introduction of the Semitic religions what remained of the population came to be called the Hindus and their religion, essentially the Vedic religion, got specifically identified as Hinduism. In fact, Hindu religious text do not refer the religion as Hinduism but as Sanatana Dharma - Universal path as distinct from others having names after the prophets who propounded them. While the Hindus consider their country - Bharath - as holy land in much the same way as Christians hold Jerusalem and Bethlehem and Muslims Mecca, and their religion identified as Indian, they do not consider others professing Hinduism elsewhere as not equals. At a certain point of history, Hinduism was very much in vogue even in distant countries such as Indonesia and Bali, and the inhabitants were considered as Hindus.

Irreconcilable differences

The conflict between Hindus and the followers of other Semitic religions occurs not because the latter profess foreign religions but because of irreconcilable differences in certain tenets of the two religions, repudiating important beliefs of Hinduism and even ridiculing some of what Hindu religion emphasises. For example, in Hinduism the country, Bharath, is considered as a form of the goddess which is vehemently rejected by another religion. Similarly Hinduism places emphasis on idol worship whereas other religions do not approve of it. The differences in religious beliefs are not extended to other spheres such as nativity and belonging as suggested by the author.

Americans consider Bethlehem and Jerusalem as their holy land and that does not make them less patriotic Americans. But the point is that while holding Bethlehem and Jerusalem as their holy land, Americans do have their own individual American culture which they hold dear to their heart. Even racial differences are passionately maintained. The apartheid i.e. considering American negroes as less American though they were in that country for centuries, professing the same religion is an example in point. So if the followers of the Semitic religions while considering Bethlehem, Jerusalem and Mecca as their holy land are asked to adopt Indian culture as in the case of Americans that should not be confused with patriotism.

The Indian culture does not mean Hindu culture or worshipping Hindu Gods. Identification of a religion with a particular section of the earth's geography is different from identification of the culture of the particular section of the earth's geography. Asking to respect the culture of their land does not by any stretch of imagination amount to suspecting one's patriotism to his or her country as stated in the article.

The Hindus believe Rama and Krishna as avatars (incarnations) of God on earth (God taking earthly life for specific purposes) and as such consider them as Gods and worshipped. No true Hindu will ever take objection to considering Rama and Krishna as divine. For example, disciples of Sri Sai Baba consider him as incarnation of God. If someone other than a Hindu should have objection in considering Rama and Krishna as divine it should be due to ignorance of Hindu religious texts and beliefs. None including the Hindus would consider Jesus Christ or Prophet Mohammed as mere social or historical personalities but only as supremely divine.

Composite philosophy

Hinduism as stated earlier is considered as a religion only in the context of indigenous and Semitic religions of identifiable groupings; otherwise it is what had existed from time immemorial and continues to exist to the present. The Vedic and the later Upanishadic teachings have only imparted distinct character and philosophic thought and prescribed specific result-oriented rituals for various purposes, temporal and spiritual. It's a composite philosophy of various schools of thought, which had taken shape at various times of history. To say that Shaivism or Vishnavism does not form part of this composite philosophical conglomerate would be to betray ignorance of the evolution of Hindu religiosity and spirituality through the years. It contains even such streams as narcissism, nihilism and agnosticism advocated by some savants. If one does not take to the study of Hindu philosophy and its spiritual content in all its different aspects and schools and their birth at various points of time no idea could be got about the depth and width of its magnitude and the way it held sway over various sections of its practitioners over thousands of years of history even after invasion by foreigners and introduction of their religions even up to the present time.

Mere study of the history or geography of this country or sociology or anthropology of the inhabitants over the past thousands of years would not yield knowledge to appreciate the greatness of Hinduism and its influence on the vast masses who had taken to the following of its various systems and their intricate nuances.

The birth of several indigenous religions and the respectful place offered to Semitic religions in the country on their arrival are themselves proof of the catholicity of the original religionists of this country and the value they attached to different religions, indigenous and foreign.

To understand the greatness of Hindu scriptures, one should understand the basic and fundamental point of what a mantra is. It is a garland of letters composed in such a way as to acquire for one chanting the same, power from the cosmic realm. Such power can be put to use for achieving mundane objectives or spiritual advancement. Basically, the Vedas and other scriptures are mantras for chanting for various applications. The Vedas are for the conduct of various yagnas (Vedic sacrifices) for propitiating the devatas. They also cause purification of the mind and rapid spiritual advancement. In the Hindu pantheon, everything is looked upon as a form of God (Supreme Power).

The Hindu scriptures are all mantras for propitiating devatas. For what purpose such propitiation is put to is for the person who uses them to decide. In the normal context, they are chanted to acquire higher states of spirituality by cleansing the person of all bad qualities. If one looks upon the Vedas with the above basic knowledge, the purpose of the Vedas and other scriptures becomes clear.

Mischievous insinuation

The writer again questions the ``need to claim that Aryans originated in India''. It is a mischievous insinuation that the claim that the Aryans originated in India itself started ``from 1930s after the Dalit movements throughout India claimed an identity as original inhabitants''. There is as yet no hard evidence to say that Aryans had indeed come to India from outside. The most recent view of historians and researchers is that the Aryans were original inhabitants of India. In a scholarly article ``Are the Vedic Aryans aliens to India?'' Dr. M. Gopalakrishna Sharma of Hyderabad has stated that the theory of alienism of Vedic Aryans is cooked up by some European savants. States he: ``by the concoction of this theory they achieved tremendous success, beyond their hope which served the double purpose as with two birds with one shot. The first one is to create suspicion in the Indian mind about their own nativity, and the second one is to inject a strong and permanent feeling of natural distrust and dispute caused by the various racial genesis.'' Dr. Sharma further says ``and another factor, to be accounted here is that if at all the theory of alienism of Vedic Aryans is taken for granted as correct, why did they not mention at least the name of their motherland anywhere in the Vedic literature or in other ancient scriptures?''

In the light of overwhelming opinion of experts the statement of Ms. Omvedt, the author of the article that ``however that they came from outside is hardly challenged by any objective scholars'' betrays total lack of even a rudimentary exposure to the findings of researchers as stated above. The author has spewed ridicule and contempt in describing the Vedas of which only a translation has been read by her according to her own statement. Considering the Vedas as holy is questioned on the ground that they contain verses about ``success in war,'' ``cattle stealing,'' ``lovemaking,'' etc. Since chapter and verse have not been quoted but a sweeping statement is made it is not possible to discuss the rationale or context of anything contained in the said verses or the Vedas as a whole. All that one could say is that the statements made about the Vedas are positively blasphemous and scurrilous to the extent of causing deep hurt to the religious sentiments of the Hindus who consider them as the holiest of scriptures.

A punishable offence

The author apparently does not know that hurting the religious sentiments of anyone is a punishable offence in this country. Take for example the statements ``some of the hymns are positively pornographic'', ``actually the Vedas can be fun (including the Atharva Veda with its fascinating spells for winning lovers, preventing child birth and so on)...'' etc. The Hindus do not go into the literal meaning of the scriptures of other religions but revere them as sacred in much the same way that their own scriptures are held sacred. The author might have read reports of a fatwa issued by a Muslim country for making certain references to the prophet considered as blasphemous in a novel by a writer. The Hindus do not go to such extents, nay, even invoking legal provisions for making disparaging statements about its scriptures but would feel sorry for a person for not adequately equipping himself/herself about the depth of the wisdom contained in the scriptures before making sweeping remarks.

It is felt that a conscious attempt is on to drive a wedge between the so-called upper castes and the lower castes and the Dalits and to establish that the latter is despised by the former - to wean them away from the mainstream Hindu religion. Some recent writings by some authors had even tried to establish the tribals as not belonging to Hindu religion and had justified their conversion to other religions. If one suspects that the attempts could be to make a ``harvest of faith'' by conversions of the Dalits one could not be faulted.

Caste hierarchy

Existence of caste hierarchy and social ostracism, based on caste in the Hindu religion, is a development which has taken place during several millennia due to the dynamics of social change, play of vested interests, deep economic disparity, illiteracy and superstition and a woeful absence of adequate leadership in spiritual, religious and social milieu.

Even in the Twentieth century, one of the most developed countries of the world, America, had practised racism in its worst form. As for India, serious attempts are on at governmental and social levels to obliterate caste differences and these will soon be a thing of the past. It can be asserted that neither the Vedas nor other Hindu scriptures lend any authority for creation or perpetuation of castes in the present hierarchical form. Any objective study of them would prove this.



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