Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Sharad Purnima traced to Krishna’s times in the worship of Ashvins

Earlier published in Ind Samachar

Sharad Purnima celebrated on the Full Moon day in the month of Ashvin is generally believed to be a harvest festival or autumn festival and better known for Krishna’s Rasaleela. Though Lakshmi is worshiped on this day, the celebration of this festival mainly in Gujarat and places closely associated with Krishna shows a connection with the life of Krishna. A closer look at the religious austerities and rituals done on this day reveals unexplored events connected with Krishna’s life but found hidden in a couple of verses in Rig Veda. This also shatters the popular belief of the Indologists that there is no reference to Krishna in the Rig Veda.

To understand this better let us start from how Sharad Purnima is celebrated. People observe fasting from the morning of the day of Full Moon till the next morning. A peculiar feature of the festival is the food offered at the time of this festival. It is simply a bowl of milk kept in the open under the moonlight such that that the rays of the Moon enter the milk. People stay awake throughout the night and break the fast at sunrise next morning (setting of moon) by partaking the milk kept under the moon. Nowadays milk with rice flakes and milk sweets are offered in the place of plain milk. But the rationale of the day suggests that only plain milk must be offered.

The rationale of the day is such that Moon joins the star Ashvini on this day. In other words, if you are looking at the moon in this day, you will be actually looking at the part of the sky where Ashvini-star is located. Ashvini signifies the Ashvini twins, the Vedic Gods. Moon is known as Soma and it signifies milk. Soma is an offering made in Vedic yajnas. With the earth coming in line with the Moon (Soma) and the Ashvin star on the day of Sharad Purnima, it looks as though Soma is offered to Ashvins, the Vedic Gods. 

This once-in- a- year event is the most opportune time to worship Ashvins through the medium of Moon. This is done by capturing the image of Moon in milk kept in a vessel as an offering to Ashvins.

When the image of the moon is reflected on the milk with Ashvini star in the backdrop, it is as though the worshiper is able to offer ‘soma’ – literally meaning ‘extract’ – here the essence of Soma, the moon in the milk.  This looks like the most basic way of offering Soma to Ashvins in the absence of Yajnas these days! This tradition found in vogue in regions connected with Krishna is indicative of an olden practice of offering soma to Ashvins by Krishna and those in the lineage of Krishna.

Two verses in Rig Veda (8 -74.3 &4) do make a mention of Krishna invoking and calling Ashvins to accept the soma juice offered by Krishna. Sceptics may say that this is not the Krishna of Dwaraka, but one must know that Krishna was known to have stopped the Indra festival and therefore could not have offered soma to Indra in the yajnas he performed. Then whom else he could have offered soma?

Generally Indra was the one receiving soma juice in the yajnas. Other deities also had taken their share in the Soma, but never were the Ashvins allowed to take soma. Scriptures say that Indra had always forbidden them from taking the soma in the yajnas. Sage Chyavana was the first one to have offered soma to Ashvins in a yajna and after him the Kanvas were associated with the offer of soma to Ashvins. The Ashvins are invoked in many verses in the Rig Veda but in two verses, Krishna is mentioned as calling them to accept the Soma juice.

Krishna was known to have stopped the worship of Indra and ushered in the worship of cows and the hills as they were giving wealth to him and his fellow beings, the Vrishnis. It seems that Indra was replaced by Ashvins in the yajnas of Krishna and his clan from then onwards. Even earlier, Yadu, the progenitor of Krishna’s race is mentioned as having offered soma to Ashvins. (Atharva Veda 20-141-4). This establishes the fact the Yadavas had patronised Ashvins and Krishna had revived the tradition after abandoning Indra in the Yajnas.

There is nothing mythical about Ashvins replacing Indra if we look at the celestial combinations on the days of relevance to these two deities. One is Indra festival and the other is Ashvin festival - to name Sharad Purnima as a comparison for our discussion here. Indra was not in good terms with Ashvins according to scriptures. Both of them were capable of giving wealth, Indra by means of rainfall and Ashvins by giving health in their capacity as physicians.

The timing of Indra festival is very much available - of all the places, in Tamil lands of yore. Reference to this is found in olden Tamil texts such as Silappadhikaram and Manimekalai. There were also references to failure of rainfall in the years when Indra festival was not conducted. So rainfall was always connected with Indra, not like how western Indologists look at Indra as an Indo-Aryan God comimg in aid of Aryans in their wars. In the Chola land of Pumpukar, in the southern most part of India, Indra festival was a 28-day celebration that started after the Kaama festival (Holi festival of today) and ended on Chaitra Purnima – the Full Moon of Chaitra month. Chaitra Purnima marks the crux of Indra festival.

This timing (Chaitra Purnima) has an amazing link with Sharad Purnima, the day Ashvins receive soma. This occurs exactly at the opposite side of Sharad Purnima! The following illustration shows both the occasions which are the reversal of each other.

On the day of Indra festival, i.e., Chaitra Purnima, Full moon forms a coupling with the star Chitra whose lord Tvashta was the celestial builder for Indra’s Vajrayudha (rainfall). Tvashta also happens to be the guardian of Soma. A festival for Indra on this day is like offering Soma to Indra. Propitiated well in this way, Indra ensures rainfall in the next six months that ends up once Ashvin month starts.

Indra’s benefaction is no longer required now. But the world must go on with other types of benefits. 

It is here Krishna’s utterances are self-revealing. According to Harivamsa Purana, Krishna says ‘let the Gods worship Indra and let us worship the hills.’ Krishna lived in a place of plenty of water from rivers (Yamuna) and therefore was not really dependant on rainfall (Indra’s favour). The green covered hills and cows were the real wealth for him and his people. So he preferred to offer Soma to Ashvins, the healers of every kind of illness, particularly blindness, on the day Soma clasps with Ashvini star. That was the day of Sharad Purnima. 

What he did by way of Vedic Yajna seems to have been transformed into mundane festival capable of performance by ordinary folks. Though variations have occurred with the passage of time, Krishna is still being remembered on this day for Union with Him through Liberation (Moksha) enacted by Rasaleela.

Before concluding, it would be appropriate to highlight two issues vitiating the understanding of our past. One is that it is wrong to say that Rig Veda does not mention about Krishna. Apart from the 2 verses in the context of soma to Ashvins, there are four more verses on Krishna and his offspring in Rig Veda that establish beyond doubt that Krishna was a reality and that he was praised by the Rig Veda (to be discussed in another context). Another issue is about who Indra is. Aryan Invasion / Migration thoerists interpret Indra as a friend of Aryas and enemy of Dasas. 

Interestingly there exists a Rig Vedic hymn in praise of Ashvins as those who accept the offerings of Dasas (8.5.31). Here lies the hint on why Indra and Ashvins were always hostile to each other. The hostility is because they lie on opposite ends. When Indra is in full form, the dasas suffer – the dasas being ordinary folks whose habitat gets flooded and destroyed by rains. It is for this reason Krishna had done away with the worship of Indra. In regions where rainfall causes havoc but can be replaced by other options for livelihood and wealth creation, Ashvins were favoured. The worship of Asvins by Dasas seems to have evolved into much simpler ways of worship in the name of Sharad Purnima as it happens now in the regions of Krishna’s connection. This year’s Sharad Purnima is on 23rd October 2018 with Full Moon occurring for most part of the night of 23rd

Friday, October 19, 2018

Peeping into Deep Galaxy in Pitru Paksha.

Published in Ind samachar on 8th October 2018.

It is everyone’s knowledge that the timing of the Hindu festivals and religious austerities (Vrat) are always guided by the location of the sun and the moon, which can be called as the time keepers. For example Diwali and Holi are celebrated at the time of conjunction and opposition of these two respectively on specific months. All the festivals and religious works are also similarly timed on the basis of these two time keepers. But once in year we look beyond these two and take a look at a distant galactic cluster known as ‘Virgo Super cluster’.  From the name of it one can know that it has something to do with Virgo constellation and the month of Virgo (Bhadrapada). That month is the time our departed ancestors are supposed to arrive at us to take the oblations from us. In common parlance this time is known as Pirtu paksha that ends on Mahalaya Amavasya.

The uniqueness of this constellation is that our galaxy along with other galaxies in our neighbourhood is moving around the Super cluster in the direction of Virgo constellation. Is there anything special about this? Yes, if one looks at the way our earth is moving in the sky.

One can say that the earth is the child of the sun as it was born of a system (supernova) that gave rise to the sun as the pivotal point of our existence. The earth along with other co-borns (planets) is moving around the Sun. The Sun along with the local clusters is moving around the centre of our galaxy (Milky Way). The Milky Way along with other galaxies is moving around the Virgo Super cluster. This can be interpreted to mean that Virgo Super cluster is the basis of our existence.

What becomes central to our existence also becomes the home for our return! It seems this idea had made our ancestors locate the Virgo region as ‘Pitruyāna’ where one departs after death. Or else why should they recommend oblations to them at a time when the sun crosses that part of the sky where Virgo is located? On the day of Mahalaya Amavasya a perfect alignment happens with the earth, the moon, the sun and the Virgo Super cluster in that order as if it is a high point of direct contact with the centre of our evolution that enabled our existence. This can be understood from the geocentric perspective in the diagram given below which is nothing but the way we see the universe around us.

In the month of Bhadrapada / Kanya / Virgo, the sun is traversing that part of the sky just in front of the Virgo cluster.  The departed ones are supposed to reside in southern realms. In a fine corollary the sun crosses Virgo during its southward movement. And the Virgo super cluster can be said to be in the south. There are directions in space too, with reference to the earth. Anything below the plane of the existence of the earth is said to be south and above the plane is north.

Similar alignment happens again exactly opposite to this in the month of Phalgun or Pisces (Meena). Sun’s transit across that part of the sky is reckoned as Devayāna, the path of Devas that is supposed to lead us to the realm of Devas or Eternity from where we never return. Thus we see two opposite ends with Virgo at one end where we are supposed to go if we are to be reborn into this earth and Pisces at the other end from where we will never return to earth to be re-born if we manage to catch up that route!

One may say that these are spiritual ideas and therefore not correct to equate them with the visible universe. But the views assigned to the other two ends reveal that the physical Universe has a parallel with spiritual ideas developed by the Vedic sages.

To explain this look at the two other ends in the diagram above. They are Gemini and Sagittarius. They form the two ends of the ecliptic, in which the sun is seen to move from a geocentric perception. Of them Sagittarius is in the centre our galaxy where the star Mula is located indicating the region to be the basis for our galaxy. Sagittarius is indeed the centre of our galaxy. Gemini lies on the outer edge of the galaxy. New stars are formed in this outer edge.

According to science new stars are formed mostly in pairs. Gemini is known as Mithuna, meaning pair. According to UC Berkeley reseachers “the only model that could reproduce the data was one in which all stars form initially as wide binaries. These systems then either shrink or break apart within a million years.” So what we now see as distant stars had a pair in the initial time of formation. With the region of Gemini found in star forming areas having many binaries, it is really surprising how our ancients correctly named it Mithuna, the pair. But today with our limited knowledge we think that they named it based on the two stars Castor and Pollux which are not close twins. With more revelations coming from science we realise that our sages have known the presence of many twins in that region of the galaxy.

Another surprise from the stable of sages is that they have identified twin deities Savita and Sāvitri as guarding the region of Gemini in Vastu Mandala. These two deities are supposed to generate growth. In a related application, Sāvitri Upanishad gives a final revelation that the twin forces of Balai – Ati Balai give abundance of food. Balai and Atibalai are the two mantras
that Vishvamitra taught Rama and Lakshmana when he took them to the forest to guard the yajnas. These two mantras enabled them to be free of hunger and free of sleepiness. The twins, Balai and Atibalai kept them nourished even without food. In other words, these twins have kept them growing – like the energy present in Gemini region giving birth to new stars.

Be it Gemini or Virgo, what our sages had said and devised are in sync with what modern science says. The amazing connection with the past - both people and the place at Virgo cluster in the current month is undeniably a unique invention.  So what to say about us in today’s world – have we excelled in science or nescience?

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Ayyappa constitutes a separate religious denomination

Published in Vjayavaani.com

In a 4:1 ruling of the Constitution Bench that struck down an age old tradition at Sabarimala temple of Lord Ayyappa, the judges held that Ayyappa devotees do not constitute a separate religious denomination. The only dissenting judge Justice Indu Malhotra held that Ayyappa devotees do form a separate denomination.

This contradictory stance on religious denomination and the interpretation of the same having become vital in deciding the fate of this case, one is at a loss to understand why no thought or debate had gone into knowing what constitutes a religious denomination in the Hindu religion. During the hearing stage the judges asked how Ayyappa devotees constituted a denomination when there is no specific Ayyappa sect. This question seemed to have been guided by the opinion that Hindu faith has only pre-established denominations with zero scope to have developed new denominations over a period of time.

Even in the US 35 denominations were found to be present among the followers of Christianity when a survey was taken as recently as in 2001 by The Graduate Center of City University of New York. This was a great surprise to many but this shows the internally evolving denominations within a religion even in a modern society. Mr Sai Deepak appearing for one of the respondents rightly pointed out that the denomination must come from within the community, implying that courts cannot decide a denomination.

Evolving Hindu denominations.

A popular classification of the denominations within the Hindu community was last established by Adi Sankara which he collectively called as ‘Shanmatha’ – based on six deities namely Shiva, Vishnu, Shakti, Ganesha, Surya and Skanda. If this basis is any indication, Ayyappa followers rightfully form a denomination of their own, for, their worship methods are uniquely centred on the deity, Ayyappa.  

If we further analyse the Shanmatha concept, we find that two among the six were the children of another two of the six deities. As per Hindu tradition Ganesha and Skanda were the children of Shiva and Shakti! Though all the four can be clubbed together as a single family and are found installed together in most temples belonging to any of one of them as the main deity, Sankara had treated them as different denominations for the reason that worship methods and  religious austerities are different from each other and distinct for each of them. On the same basis one can say that Ayyappa constitutes a separate denomination

Before Shanmatha denomination came into being there were eleven denominations in the very country of Kerala, then known as Chera land where Adi Sankara was born. These eleven denominations are explained in a full chapter in an old Tamil text called “Manimekalai”, that was about a real life story centred around a young girl Manimekalai who went on to become a Buddhist monk after listening to the preceptors of the other ten sects. These eleven sects were,
1.     Parinaama
2.     Shaiva
3.     Vaishnava
4.     Brahma
5.     Veda
6.     Ajeevika
7.     Nikanta
8.     Sankhya
9.     Vaisheshika
10.  Bhuta (Charvaka)
11.  Bauddha

After going through the precepts of these sects, Manimekalai embraced Buddhism finding it more suitable for her. (Article 25 -1 was present at that time, it seems!) Of the eleven, only two (Shaiva and Vaishnava) have continued to exist till today and are part of Shanmatha. Two (Ajivika and Buddhism) were rejected by Hinduism later when they started distancing their doctrines from Vedic Thought. Parinaama, Brahma and Veda were absorbed by Shanmatha in various degrees. Sankhya and Vaisheshika are no longer in existence as separate paths. Charvakas always existed. This shows that denominations owe their existence to the followers. Some of them become redundant with time or are absorbed into others. There is also scope for newer denominations being born! What brings all these denominations under the Hindu Faith is their adherence to Vedas as the basis of their precepts and worship methods.

One must take note that four deities of the Shanmatha (Shakti, Surya, Ganesha and Skanda) were not treated as separate sects or denominations 2000 years ago in the Tamil lands. When they came to be followed by more people with exclusive worship methods, Sankara found it reasonable to accord a separate identity.

Further back in time, six Darshanas were the only denominations in existence. 
Sankhya, Yoga, Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Mimamsa and Vedanta were popular then of which Sankhya and Vaisheshika continued in Manimekalai period.  They are no longer in vogue today.  The concept of religious denomination is thus a continuously evolving feature testifying the vibrancy of a religion.

Is Ayyappa worship of recent origin?

This question is heard on the basis of recent origin of Pandalam dynasty in which was born Ayyappa, now worshiped at Sabarimala.  It is true that Ayyappa of Sabarimala was very much a real person who walked on this earth, like Rama or Krishna or Skanda who were also real entities. Hinduism recognises the elevation of real persons as Gods under one condition. There is a written record of this condition in the biography of Alexander by the Greek historian Plutarch.

To a question by Alexander, “How may a man become God?”, the Hindu sage Kalanos (Kalyan) replied, “By doing that which is almost impossible for a man to do.” When a person does things that no other man can do or which are beyond normal human limits, then such a person comes to be regarded as a God. Such persons have been celebrated as Gods by sages with mythical events woven around them. In course of time they come to be recognised as incarnations of the Ultimate God Himself.

It is in this way Manikantha born in the Pandalam family was recognised as “Shasta”, the child of Shiva and Vishnu (in Mohini form). This is like how Skanda born to Meenakshi of the Pandyan dynasty was deified by the sages with a celestial birth and nursing by 6 star mothers of Krittika thereby getting him the name Kartikeya. Similar deification found in the legend of Ayyappa born as Manikantha is proof enough that his deification at Sabarimala was a well formed cult devised by some sages of the past for the benefit of people. With worship methods unique for Himself, He does constitute a separate denomination and can be regarded as the 7th matha of the Hindu religion.

In the light of the fact that Manikantha alias Ayyappa was a real figure having given instructions for worship, the Supreme Court’s ruling is certainly a violation of the promise given to him and his oath of celibacy. The tradition set with regard to the entry by women of the post-partum period for the first feeding of their children in five days every month is proof of non-discrimination against them, and at the same time without violating the oath. Without appreciating the finer aspects of maintaining the oath, Justice Nariman commented “What happens to the celibate nature of Lord Ayyappa in those 5 days? Is it that the idol vanishes on those days?”

Shasta is an old concept.

Ayyappa is known as “Dharma Shasta” – one who delivers Justice or who is an embodiment of Justice. A deity by this name in Tamilised form (Arap peyar Saatthan) is mentioned in verse 395 of Purananuru, an old Tamil text. The name Shasta (Saatthan) was common among the masses in Sangam texts. Worship of Shasta in many places was in existence from Sangam times.

A special feature of Shasta is found in two inscriptions and written by the Historian K.A.Nilakanta Sastri. Shasta is identified as a God of the Cheris (rural region) mentioned along with Surya and Seven Mother Goddesses (inscription no 335 of 1917 and 131 of 1892). The association with seven mothers was not indigenous to Tamil lands but had spread from Indus civilization (there is an Indus seal of seven women) with its later prevalence found in Chalukyan and Hoysala regions 1000 years ago. Shasta of Sangam texts was not accompanied with the seven mothers or any associate. This establishes the olden Shasta concept as a single - with additions coming later.  

The location in rural region is repeated in “Mayamatam” a Vaastu text containing the Vaastu principles purportedly given by Maya. After explaining the iconography of Shasta, the text describes the features of Shasta, the offspring of Mohini (female form of Vishnu) as a celibate and as a married man with two wives. Then it goes on to say that those who seek what is good, must install Shasta in villages. It also says that “Shasta, beloved of the gods, is to be installed in the haunts of lower castes, in the house of courtesans and in forts”.

The association with the downtrodden is a feature found in the astrological text “Prasna Marga” written in 1649 by a Kerala Nambhoothri. It says that those afflicted by Saturn must propitiate Shasta. Saturn also represents undeveloped and dirty regions. As such Saturn identifies Shasta as a village deity. It is a deity of all villagers. Those who have no idea of the village deity worshiped by their ancestors and those who were not initiated into any path of worship in Hinduism are also advised to worship Shasta – particularly of Sabarimala.

Even today scores of devotees going to Sabarimala are disadvantaged classes with no regular practice of religious austerities. The Vrata period is a kind of boon for them to commit themselves to religious austerities which otherwise they may not follow. The devotee is not expected to be well versed in scriptures. What is expected of him is to follow the rules of behaviour. There are other hill-deities too such as Venkateswara, Narasimha and Skanda. The first two come under one denomination and Skanda is another denomination due to varying practices in worship methods. But Sabarimala pilgrimage is different from them.

The Chief Justice refused to accept separate denomination for Ayyappa worshippers on the pretext that people of other faith also worship him. It is true that Ayyappa is worshiped by people from across all the other sects. The worshiper could come from any background, from other Hindu sects such as Shaivism or Vaishnavism or from any other religion. But every one of them must follow the rules of Vrata as applicable to Sabarimala! And that Vrata follows certain tradition of do’s and dont’s. That makes Ayyappa worship unique by itself. This in effect is a valid reason to treat Ayyappa worship a unique religious denomination. We don’t need an Adi Sankara to be born again to tell us this!

Some salient features written by me in response to comments to my article in Vijayavaani .

Issue 1: The restriction on women is as though women are by nature seducers. It is also as an insult to the deity as though he cannot withstand temptation.

My reply: 

Certainly no Hindu book of Dharma says that women are seducers, but modern science says.  Dr. Louann Brizendine of the University of California and author of "The Female Brain” has said “About 10 days after the onset of menstruation, right before ovulation, women often feel sassier. Unconsciously, they dress sexier as surges in estrogen and testosterone prompt them to look for sexual opportunities during this particularly fertile period.” You can read the rest of the story in Live Science here: https://www.livescience.com/14421-human-brain-gender-differences.html

None of the Hindu Dharma Sastras that deal with menstruation speaks as above but only from the point of view of how the Smarta karmas can be carried out without any depletion in different situations like the woman in menses and persons whose close relatives have died. Yes, restrictions are there for death also.

With only Tamilnadu and Kerala still continuing to be the retainers of the original tradition of the Vedic society, please be informed, that even a road side temple of recent origin in a city like Chennai would close its doors if someone living in the close proximity of the temple dies. The temple would not be opened until the dead is taken out and the purifying rituals are done. Not only that, any person whose close relative had died cannot and would not enter a temple for a stipulated time period.

This is not an ‘insult’ on the deity and does not mean that the deity is not powerful enough to withstand the ‘impurity’. After all, the dead person is believed to reach His lotus feet. But what the person has left behind in this physical world in the destruction of his body of many sheaths is what causes these ‘impurities’. None of them can touch the deity, but we the ordinary mortals cannot draw the benefits from the deity if we allow these ‘impurities’ vitiate the consecrated energy in the temple. It is all because of this kind of strict adherence, the olden temples of South India are still able to retain their sanctity. 

Same with women’s menses period. If the wife has the period, the husband cannot participate or officiate a Vedic Yajna. This is still being strictly followed in South India. The reasons are quite scientific but what science has not found out. 

Issue 2: Custom and tradition can and in some cases, should be changed. They are Shastra, not the Veda, which is immutable and cannot be changed

My reply:

No one here has the right and the capacity to do the change. To quote Taittriya Upanishad "When in doubt on dharma please consult Brahmanas well versed in the Vedas, impartial and having a Dharmic bent of mind, and take their word as the word of the Vedas" In Sabarimala issue, the word of the temple priests and the acharyas is final. Just point out any one acharya who supports the change proposed by the SC. 

Issue 3: The tantri may object, but that is because that has become the established tradition over some time. 

My reply:

The ‘established tradition’ is known from Mahabharata times to say the latest. Drupadi was in her periods when she was brought to the royal court after the Pandavas lost the dice game. From what she spoke in the court, it is known that she was supposed to be secluded and not to be seen by the king and others who were her close relatives. The seclusion at that time was part of the Vedic life style, whose remnants are lost in all spheres today except in traditional temples. Let us not be party to the decadence setting in temples. 

Issue 4: There is nothing dharmic about excluding menstruating women from worship. The Veda does not call for that.. The criteria of purity, since when does menstruation qualify as 'impurity' ? It is the all important signal of creativity, the question of birth.

My reply:

Menstruation is not a signal of creativity. If it is signal of creativity, a new life would be growing inside the woman. I can pull out quotes from Tamil Sangam text to show that pregnant women till her time of delivery used to spend lot of time in temples in those days. But menstruation is the time of shedding of the dead ova along with dead material that would have gone into creating a new life otherwise. It is almost akin to the dead being removed. As I already wrote, no temple opens its doors until the dead is completely removed in its vicinity. So it is better to keep off from temple during that time.

Veda does not call for these. Quoting an authority (as what Taittriya Upanishad says), Paramacharya of Kanchi (Chandrasekaraendra Saraswati Swami), Rig Veda are mantras whose practical application are the Yajur Veda. They are about how to worship the deities praised by the Rig Veda. In the course of practical application done as Yajnas, there are Grihya sutras stipulating what to do and what not to do for the householder and his dharma patni. 

When the dharma patni has her periods, the husband cannot sit as the kartha in any vedic yajna. The beginning of the so-called ban starts here. With the yajna being a worship of the deity in energy form, the dead energy at the time of menses upsets the very purpose of yajna. The temples close their doors whenever a dead and decaying energy is emanating in its surroundings. The temples can be spared of that if the women keep themselves away to a distance of three- arrow shoots in olden times – so that their physical condition would not cause any hindrance to any Vedic rituals. 

Issue 4: People of other faiths also worship Ayyappa. More importantly, the Ayappa worshippers also worship other deities.

My reply:

So what? We must ask what determines a denomination and who worships. I have explained the criteria in the article and also the need to recognise it as a religious denomination with increase in importance for this deity with increase in devotees. Sankara had done that under similar circumstances.

To a question:  What does the sentence that all the extant Hindu sects follow the basic Vedic principles mean?

My reply:

It means that only those sects that swear by Vedas and adhere to the Vedic version of Brahman are considered Vedic / Hindu sects. In the reference to 11 sects I quoted from Manimekalai, Buddhism and Jainism were initially Vedic at that time. When they delinked from Vedic Thought they were rejected by the Vedic society.

For example Mamimekalai’s father Kovalan was married to Kannagi in Vedic marriage. But his father took to asceticism of AjIvika because it was an off-shoot of Vedic Thought at that time. But later Jainism was rejected by the Vedic society as known from Sambandar’s role in banishing it from the kingdom of Koon Pandya. Similarly Buddhism which was originally an off shoot of Vedic Thought was rejected when started deviating from that.  I suggest a reading of the 2nd section of the  2nd chapter of Brahma surtas with the commentary by Adi Sankara or Ramanuja. The entire section is about how a Path that does not stand by Vedic concept of Brahman as the First Cause must be rejected. The Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Buddha, Jaina and Pashipata sects are rejected in this section for the precise reason that they did not adhere to Vedic Thought. 

Finally on the restriction to women in Sabarimala: I believe the above explanation gives the rationale – that woman cannot undertake 41 day vrata in their menstruating age. I have seen women in the houses of men in the vrata period, not even staying at home when the men are doing puja at home. I have seen them staying away from their house at that time. Such was the care taken by women that vrata should not impaired. Today Sabarimala is the ONLY temple exacting such commitment from the people. Would anyone in the know of these things accept the support for violations? 

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Hindu value system – the victim of the two judgements.

Published in PGurus on 3rd October 2018.

The two recently passed judgements by the Supreme Court of India, one on adultery and the other on the entry of women of menstruating age into the Sabarimala temple are supposed to have set right the wrongs done to women. The first one has decriminalised adultery for the sake of ‘gender neutrality’,  for, now the woman committing adultery is released from the clutches of her husband as her paramour no longer requires the permission of her husband to commit adultery! So the judgement has relieved the woman from being treated as the property of the man. The second judgement is said to have ensured ‘gender equality’ by eliminating a discrimination against women imposed by patriarchal religious practice.

The media is agog with stories for and against these two judgements but what is missed out is that both the judgements have trampled upon the value system of majority of people of this country. Experts would come out with jargons and judicial terms to support the judgements, but as a lay person I would say that any judgement should be representative of the value system of the country. It is to protect these value systems we have the judiciary and not to derail them.

The value system at the receiving end in the adultery verdict is the age old and still continuing concept of the marriage oath in the Hindu society which is centred on “Saptapadi”, the seven steps. The man and the woman enter into lifelong commitment to each other by taking seven vows in seven steps in which the 3rd vow is on fidelity to each other. The completion of the seven steps with seven vows makes the marriage legal in the Hindu society. One of the vows being fidelity, adultery committed by any one of the two must be considered as a crime. Only when the element of criminality is included, any temptation to commit the crime can be nipped in the bud. Law is not just meant for giving justice but also to play deterrence. However the judges turned into social scientists when they announced their discovery unsupported by data that adultery is not the cause of unhappy marriage but the result of unhappy marriage!

Section 497 by itself is a violation of the Saptapadi vow and by scrapping it the violation has been remedied but the crime is not checked. None of the judges except the lone female judge Justice Indu Malhotra seemed to have realised the aberration caused by scrapping the section when she questioned whether adultery can be brought under criminal offence, but restricted it to situations “where there is a public element in the wrong, such as offences against the State security and the like.”

One is at a loss to understand why this is not applicable to the entire society. The Hindu majority is still steeped into the value system of mutual fidelity and the law givers are expected to reflect that system and not create ways to encourage violation of the marriage oath. The first victim of this verdict is reported from Chennai. The husband had no qualms in telling his wife that she could not stop him from having an affair, by quoting the SC verdict on adultery. The CJI claimed in his ruling that adultery could be a ground for divorce. But the poor woman could not understand how sympathetically the court had devised ways for her benefit! She committed suicide instead. Ethically who is the first abettor for this suicide?

Source: Times of India, Chennai edition, dated 1st Oct 2018.

The second judgement pertaining to Sabarimala pilgrimage was justified by CJI Misra on the basis of ‘gender equality’ and aimed at demolishing patriarchy in religion. Referring to the restriction on menstruating women he said, “Any rule based on biological characteristics cannot pass muster of constitutional test.” If the issue is about the biological characteristics of the woman, did he or anyone in the Bench care to assess the impact of those biological characteristics on women due to the pilgrimage?  Without doing that they have just passed a verdict that is once again a travesty of the value system of the Hindu society.

This value system takes utmost care of the woman’s health and had done the needful to reduce menstruation related health issues which modern science has not even thought of. Women were kept away from all chores on those days not because they are unclean but they needed rest. The impact of physical work was only recently acknowledged by sports committees on seeing that nearly 25% of the elite athletes suffer from menstrual dysfunction. A Consensus Statement on treatment and return to play was made in the US only in the recent years. In contrast the age old Ayurvedic system of India has remedies in the name of Rajaswala paricharya which is common household knowledge in India even today though it is on the wane in modern households.

The effect of going away from the traditional system of rest is felt in the reproductive disorder commonly understood as ovarian cyst. Recently a study by AIIMS claimed that one out of four women in the reproductive age is suffering from ovarian cyst (PCOS). Though no study exists to relate it to the changing lifestyle in disregarding the Rajaswala Paricharya, a comparison can be shown with the women of the past generations, our own grandmothers. They had produced not less than five children each, many a times more than that number. But today a quarter of the women population of India are not able to reproduce due to PCOS. What could be the reason for this sudden deterioration within a span of two generations? The only difference exists in the way the present generation treats their menstruation period.

Today in the name of equality women are brainwashed to do everything that men do which is in addition to what they do as women only. There is a gender inequality by Nature in women that nearly 80% of women are undergoing heath related premenstrual symptoms according to a publication which no man undergoes. Can the judiciary find a remedy to this inequality?

Recently in an article to Live Science, the researcher , Dr. Hilary Critchley with more than 40 years of standing in the study of menstruation lamented that the implications of menstruation on women’s health is not at all being studied. Such being the status of the academic understanding of this biological issue of the woman, out honourable judges are able to pass judgement on the biological issues of woman in an issue which would primarily impact her health – if she takes up the arduous austerities and a long journey by foot to Sabarimala. Opponents would easily come up with a solution to cut short the austerities and the journey. But that is a blatant interference in the right to religious practices.

The value system under discussion is not just the care for menstrual health of the woman in the Hindu society but also the respect for temple culture that is in vogue for a known period of more than 1500 years in South India. The temple culture is the Heritage of our country and age old rules are still being in vogue, one of them being non-entry of women during menstruation period. If this is termed as pollution, yes it is.

Biologically dead material including the dead ova is being expelled from the body during menstruation. Anything dead-related is not allowed near the temple. For example, if a person dies in the close proximity of a temple, the temple would be closed till the dead is taken away. Even if someone dies at home, the occupants of the house would not go to the temple for stipulated number of days. From this we can even reason out why temples are closed at the time of eclipses which are supposed to be the best time for offering oblations to the departed ones. From the rationale of abstinence of women from entering the temple during menstruation we can assume that similar effect on the temple-chemistry is anticipated during the supposed-arrival of departed ones.

This kind of abstinence is more about retaining the temple’s sanctity than about a stigma on the women or others. Even rivers are said to have menstruation period according to traditional Hindu wisdom, which is nothing but the early period of fresh arrival of waters in the rivers (in the month of June). The first waters would be bringing in lot of dirt spread on the until-then dry river bed. So it is better not to use that water. Only after the water starts flowing well in the next few days, the river is said to have finished her menstruation. The practices are no doubt well-thought out but lack of knowledge of the inner purport makes us think that they are absurd dogmas.

All Hindu theistic women respect this culture and voluntarily refrain from going to temples during their menstruation period. The austerities of Sabarimala pilgrimage is such that woman in reproductive age cannot follow them and make a trip without harming her health. Such deep thoughts had gone into devising the rules of this pilgrimage by our ancestors. It is regretful that the judiciary is not standing up as a custodian of these values. With Justice Indu Malhotra being the only voice reflecting the values dear to the Hindu women in the both the judgements, one is tempted to ask if it is time we must demand all-women bench to hear the cases that affect all women.

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