All posts filed under: Perspective

Shakta Mantras

Tasting Śākta  Tantra – an amateur’s experience

The East has always been a land shrouded in attractive mysticism. Religions, cultures, traditions, cuisines and most importantly, Knowledge of the Self have pulled millions from across the world over centuries, or millennia even, towards discovering the shortest path to the East and, in effect, discovering the Self. The tremendous diversity and depths of approaching the Divine that exist in the East cannot be understood by merely labeling all that is endemic to modern day nations with socio-political boundaries under the one single umbrella term of “religion”. Even the term religion is a subject of controversy, which the author wishes not to cover in this article. bhārata[i], the land of sanātanadharma, with temples of all (and no) sizes and shapes dedicated to countless deities, has a matching number of perspectives of understanding the Divine and the Self. All these perspectives, called darshana-s, showcase the freedom of choice that is an inherent quality of the Indic culture. These darshana-s cover the entire range of possible personal spiritual philosophies – theistic, atheistic, agnostic, and non-theistic. Of these, …

The Dharma Sadhana of the Mimamsaka

Kumarila Bhatta and the other great scholars of the Purva Mimamsa were in the frontline of the battle to save Vedic heritage and culture. They were eclipsed by the great Vedanta sages who followed them, but in a conversation with C.K. Shridhar, scholars from Chennai and Poona offer deep insights into their valuable contributions. It was the Vedic adherents known as the Mimamsakas who first revived and defended the Vedic religion in the latter half of the first millennium, not only from the strong Buddhist challenge, but from internal dissonances, paving the way for the great Vedantins to come, starting from Shankara Bhagavatpada. While Mimamsa refers to all Vedic enquiry, the term has become associated with the ‘Karma Kandins,’ those who extolled the virtues of the Karma Kanda (Mantra and Bramhana) portions of the Veda, thus known as the Purva Mimamsa. This is in contrast to the ‘Gnyana Kandins,” the Vedantins, who focused on the Upanishads (the Uttara Mimamsa). Even the great Sutras, the bed rock on which an entire edifice of “Bhashyas” or commentaries …

Historical Perspective of Sati

The custom of Sati is among the widely cited and the most reviled of Hindu practices, despite being more or less extinct for nearly 190 years. Long after its ban in 1829, Sati remains in public discourse by virtue of being a polemical weapon. Whenever there is a defense of any tradition, the common heard retort is – “Oh…what about Sati? Was that not also a tradition? Did we not get rid of that?” More often than not, this weapon is used rather liberally in contexts where it is out-of-place. Recently the journalist and political commentator Rajdeep Sardesai used Sati as a polemical weapon while arguing in favor of changing the rules of admission at the shrine of Shri Ayappa at Sabarimala. Sati remains alive not just in Indian public discourse, but also continues to fascinate the West, some 300 years after modern Europeans first encountered the practice. It is used as a polemical tool by some to denigrate the rituals and culture of Santana Dharma. For some outsiders of a feminist persuasion Sati is a convenient …

Ramanujan Yatra Diaries

Day 1 Our Ramanujan Yatra group of 24 Yatris headed straight for the Ramanujan Museum in Chennai after a sumptuous lunch at Ananda Bhavanam in Adayar. The participants from Mumbai and Pune were shocked to see the quantity of boiled rice and the absence of chapati for lunch but enjoyed their full course Tamilian lunch. Our two traveler buses entered the teeny weeny lanes inside which the museum was located and we got down in front of the museum. The place where the museum is located doesn’t look very amazing, but do bees ever find honey outside the flower? The Director of the Ramanujan Museum, Mrs. Meena Suresh, started off the first session with the inspiring story of P.K.Srinivasan (fondly known as PKS), a very inspiring Math teacher who dedicated a major part of his life towards popularising the life and works of the great Mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan. It was PKS’ dream to start a museum with the same name. So with the available resources that he had at his disposal, which included his own …

Dharmashastras

Dharmashastras and Customs As Valid Sources For Modern Law

The sacred temple of Swami Ayyappa at Sabarimala is under the danger of defilement due to the over-eagerness of a ‘secular’ State to impose its ‘Constitutional Morality’. The fundamental rights of millions of women devotees of the shrine have been ignored to facilitate the entry of a few non-believers. While the instruments of ‘Constitutional Morality’, ‘discrimination’ and ‘equality’ have been used in arguing against the practice of not allowing women aged 10-50 to enter the temple, the arguments about the traditional and ancient customs and rituals of the place have been completely ignored. This brings forth an important question. What should be the law on the issue of customs and tradition in religious practices? Increasingly, the judiciary is taking a stance that only those practices that are ‘essential’ to a religion shall be offered protection. And the definition of what is essential is left to the judiciary itself! The current interpretation is that, at the minimum, the practice in question must be defined (written/codified) in the key doctrinal texts of the religion. It takes very …

The Lost Goddess – Devi Sharada

The mythology of Daksha Yagya remains central to the origin and the substanance of the Shakta form of worship and particularly to the establishment of the Shakti Peethas across the sub-continent. It is believed that when a distraught Mahadeva performed the Rudra Tandava with the corpse of his wife Sati on his shoulders, her body disintegrated and fell across the Indian subcontinent. Each area in which a part of her body fell, became a Shakti Peetha where the Devi was consecrated in some form. The number of Shakti Peethas in India are often a topic of contention, but there is no ambiguity about the 18 Maha Shakti Peethas where the divine mother is worshipped in her various forms. Adi Shankaracharya in his Ashta Dasa Shakti Peetha Strotam laid down the names of the 18 Maha Shakti Peethas spread across multiple states of India and Sri Lanka. Each of these deities including the Ma Biraja in Odisha, Ma Kamarupa in Gauhati, Ma Jwalamukhi in Himachal Pradesh and Ma Shankari Devi in Sri Lanka are still worshipped …

Indology: The Origins of Racism in the Humanities – Part 1

Review of Pascale Rabault-Feuerhahn, Archives of Origins: Sanskrit, Philology, Anthropology in 19th Century Germany. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2013. Introduction Archives of Origins traces the establishment and expansion of Sanskrit studies in Wilhelmine-era Germany. Rich in archival materials, it is a valuable reference work for scholars of nineteenth-century German Indology. In the first part, titled “Sanskrit and Philological Tradition in Germany,” Rabault-Feuerhahn (hereafter R-F) traces the beginnings of Sanskrit studies in Germany, focusing on Friedrich Schlegel, Franz Bopp, A. W. Schlegel, and Schlegel’s student Christian Lassen. In the second, “The Hegemony of Comparativism,” she focuses on Vedic studies in Germany, especially as they engendered a search for characteristically “Indo-European” forms of religiosity, myth, and historical development. Here her primary interlocutors are August Schleicher, Adalbert Kuhn, Friedrich Max Müller, and Rudolf von Roth. In the third, “The Challenges of Anthropology,” R-F addresses the emergence of a science of race from Indology. Tying the interest in the “Aryan” concept to wider developments in German politics and society (the Franco-Prussian War, Bismarck’s anti-Catholic policies, and the rise of German nationalism), …

Female Deities In Vajrayana Buddhism

The primordial cosmic energy that pervades the universe is symbolised in feminine form as Shakti in Hinduism. Worshipping Shakti is integral to Hinduism. Shakti manifests herself in myriad forms. Though Buddhism emerged as breaking away from the tenets of Hinduism as practised then, one can see the influence of Hindu traditions in the forms that evolved later. This essay attempts to review all the female deities worshipped in Vajrayana Buddhism. In the earliest form of Buddhism, the Hinayana, Buddha’s teachings explained the path to liberation of the individual self. In the later form, the Mahayana, Buddha’s teachings explained how to attain complete enlightenment, or the Buddhahood for the sake of others. The Mahayana incorporated novel and complex systems and practices under the influence of Hinduism. Both these traditions flourished in India and later spread to other countries in Asia, including Tibet. Vajrayana evolved from Mahayana Buddhism and was prevalent in India. Popularised by the 84 Mahasiddhas who travelled around India Vajrayana flourished between the 9th and 12th centuries. Belonging neither to any specific monastic traditions …

Indology: The Origins of Racism in the Humanities – Part 2

Review of Pascale Rabault-Feuerhahn, Archives of Origins: Sanskrit, Philology, Anthropology in 19th Century Germany. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2013. Read part 1 here The Attempted Rehabilitation of Indology In The Aryan Myth (1971), Léon Poliakov famously claimed that “the division of the European population into Aryans and Semites was originally based on a confusion about the nature of men (races) and their culture (languages)” (Poliakov 1996 [1971]: 2). He argued that, mediated via comparative philology and Indology, German strivings for nationhood and the Enlightenment’s anthropological discourse had led to the Holocaust. With Archives, R-F has provided the anti-Poliakov, apologetic response. Although she does not cite Poliakov, her book clearly has him in view: “The core of the questioning is the link from Indological philology to anthropology. In the discriminating [sic], lethal uses that have been made of the terms ‘Aryan’ and ‘Indo-Germanic’, what is at stake is indeed the collusion of linguistic and racial typologies” (23). Not only does R-F argue, against Poliakov, that “the link between Indological philology and anthropology does not necessarily take on the …

A Fulfilling Journey To Kailash Manasarovar

दानतीर्थतपोयज्ञपूर्वाः सर्वेऽपि सर्वदा | अङ्गानिहरिसेवायां भक्तिस्त्वेका विमुक्तये || Daana, teerthayatra, tapas and yajna are all instruments to perform constant service of sri hari; (They lead to bhakti) Bhakti is the chief instrument for mukti” – Sri Madhwacharya, Mahabharata Tatparya Nirnaya, Adhyaya 1, Shloka 98 It was a typical March morning. Bangalore’s fine weather and comparatively mild traffic meant I was early in office. The phone started ringing. It was, unusually at this time of the day, my chikappa (paternal uncle) Girish calling. “Hari I’ll speak to you about other stuff later. I called to check one important thing. Abhijeet and I are planning a trip to Kailash and Manasarovar in May. He says he can take one more person. We want you to join. Can you?” It was a complete surprise. Completely unexpected. Although I was jumping to say “Of course!” I played it safe and told him I’d call back in a short while to confirm. A call home to ensure there was nothing else planned in May and a quick check on my …