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Swami Dayananda Saraswati: The champion of Hindu rejuvenation

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(On the 192nd birth anniversary of Swami Dayananda Saraswati of Arya Samaj, NewsGram is reproducing a brief biography of him By Ratnakar Sadasyula)

1838, Tankara, Kathiawar (now currently in Morbi district of Gujarat)

A 14-year-old boy named Moolshankar was keeping awake, during the Shiv Ratri Jagaran, at the local temple. So named, because he was born in the Mul Nakshatra, Moolshankar was a devout Shaivite, like his family, and by the age of 14 had become well versed in Sanskrit Grammar, Vedas.

While most of the other devotees in the Jagaran had fallen asleep, Moolshankar was still keeping awake. And then he saw a rat climb on to the Shiva Linga and begin to eat the holy Prasad. He was shocked, how could someone called as Mahadev, allow a rat to jump on his idol and eat the holy Prasad. He asked his father the same question, who replied that the real Shiva lives somewhere in Kailash, and we need to worship with real devotion. Moolshankar was not convinced with the answer, and that was the time he felt idol worship was pointless.

Born to Karshanji Tiwari, a tax collector and Yashoda, Moolshankar grew up studying the scriptures, and he was prepared for a comfortable life ahead.

Two incidents, however, had a deep impact on him, one was the Shivratri Jagran one, another was the death of his younger sister and uncle from cholera. The latter especially had a profound impact on him, and as he began to ask questions of life and death, his parents began to worry about him. They decided to get him off married at a young age, as was the tradition those days. Moolshankar, however, had made up his mind that the married life was not for him, and in 1845, he ran away from home. From 1845 to 1869, Moolshankar spent time roaming all over India, living an ascetic life. He was initiated into the order by Poornanda Swamy and given the name of Swami Dayananda Saraswati.

With the bare minimum of clothes, a begging bowl, of Swami Dayananda, travelled to every pilgrimage site, crossing jungles, rivers, mountains, deserts for finding the answer to his question. He met many sages, swamis, but none could really give him what he was looking for. At this time, he met a monk Poornashrama Swamy, who told him “There is only one man on this earth who can fulfil your desire, and that man is Virajananda Dandeesha. He lives in Mathura.”

In 1860, he finally managed to meet the blind sage Virajananda, who was also known for his harsh temper, and strict attitude. He asked of Swami Dayananda to throw Kaumudi and Saraswatha, the 2 famous texts on Sanskrit Grammar in the Yamuna, and then asked him to start afresh. Swami Dayananda willingly surrendered himself to Virajananda, who was quite a hard task master, known for his strict discipline. He would fetch water for his Guru, even in biting cold and rain, clean the floor, and even bore his beatings.

Once after a very severe beating he had from his Guru, one of his fellow students asked him why he was bearing with this being a Swami himself. To which he replied  Do you think that our Gurudeva beat me out of hatred? Just as a potter shapes the lump of clay by pounding and beating it, the guru shapes the personality of his disciple by beating him and correcting him.” When the time came to leave the Ashram, his Guru, took a promise from Swami Dayananda, that he would spread the knowledge of Vedas, and revive Hinduism once more. Virajananda felt that Hinduism had strayed from it’s original Vedic roots, and was corrupted by too many meaningless rituals. And he asked Dayananda to revive Hinduism, take it back to its Vedic roots, that would be his true Gurudakshina.

The Debate at Kashi

As per the promise given to his Guru, Swami Dayananda, travelled all over the North to places like Ajmer, Haridwar, Jaipur, Meerut, Gwalior, spreading the knowledge of Vedas among ordinary people. He mentioned that Idol worship was never a part of the Vedas, and God has no shape nor form. He fearlessly attacked the weaknesses of every religion, and spread awareness among people of the greatness of Sanathana Dharma, asking them to unite as one.

On 22nd Oct 1869, Swami Dayananda, had one of the greatest debates in Hinduism ever with 27 distinguished scholars of Varanasi, attended by the Maharaja of Kashi. Attended by 50-60,000 people, Swami Dayananda was ranged against some of Varanasi’s greatest scholars, as he debated with them on whether idol worship was sanctioned by the Vedas. So powerful were the arguments of Swami Dayananda, that the scholars had to admit their defeat. At this juncture, some of the unruly elements in the crowd began to hurl, slippers, stones and rocks at Swami Dayananda, who nevertheless did not flinch.

The chief Pandits of Varanasi, Taracharan Tarakaratna, Bala Shastri, felt remorse and confessed Really what Swamy Dayananda says is perfectly true. But we do not have the moral courage to go against the prevailing customs and traditions. So we have chosen to oppose him.”  The Maharaja of Kashi impressed by Swamy Dayananda’s courage, wisdom and integrity, invited him to his palace and treated him royally.

Though he was basically from Gujarat, Swamy Dayananda was convinced that there should be one national language, Hindi, and, in fact, wrote all his books in that language only.   He was also a true nationalist, who loved Bharat, and aimed for the welfare of its masses. Once an Englishman impressed by his speech asked Swamiji to go to England and teach them Dharma there. And this was his reply.

In the few years of life left to me, I shall try to spread the knowledge of the Vedas among my countrymen. Once the lamp of wisdom is lighted here, its light is bound to spread towards the west too.

He could have earned fame, going abroad, but for Swami Dayananda, his motherland, Bharat was far more important, and he missed no opportunity to spread the greatness of India. He advised Indians to awake, learn from their glorious history, tradition and use it to shape the present. He hated the present system of education that created contempt for India. In his own words.

Your ancestors were not uncivilized men living in forests. They were great men who enlightened this world. Your history is not a bundle of defeats. It is the eulogy of the conquerors of the world. Your Vedic Scriptures are not the songs of cowherds. They are the immortal truths which shaped mighty souls like Sri Rama and Sri Krishna. Awake! Arise! Be proud of your glorious history. Take inspiration from it to mould the present. Shame upon the modern education which fills you with contempt for your ancestors!.

A true nationalist, Swami Dayananda, felt that the only way India could achieve freedom was through armed revolution. The Arya Samaj, which was founded by him in Bombay on 10th of April 1875, was ostensibly meant to propagate his goal of social reform. It however also became a crucible for nationalist leaders and the freedom struggle.

Many branches of the Arya Samaj were founded in princely states like those of Udaipur, Jodhpur, and he aimed to bring together the princes to fight against British rule. The Arya Samajs all over North played a major role in shaping the nationalist, revolutionary ideas among masses. From Swami Shraddhananda to Lala Lajpat Rai to Bhai Parmanand, a whole new generation of freedom fighters emerged from the Arya Samaj. Revolutionaries like Ram Prasad Bismil, Roshanlal were proud of their association with the Arya Samaj.

Apart from his tremendous intelligence, Swamy Dayananda was also known for his exceptional physical strength too. He once stopped the carriage of a Maharaj, by holding its wheel, and in Kasaganj, he took two bulls fighting on the streets by their horns and managed to tame them.

Dayananda always cared for humanity, he was sensitive to the sufferings of the ordinary masses as he once said –“ To love the creation of God is to love God Himself’. He fought against casteism, and other social evils, and wherever he went, exhorted people to shake off their lethargy. He was against the caste system, untouchability, child marriages. He fought for women’s equality, was against the purdah system, and stressed the need for pure conduct in one’s life. He made much aware of the glory of Hinduism, through his teachings.   Many young Hindus, who were about to accept Christianity, changed their mind, after listening to him and became staunch followers. He also took back, people who had been converted by force into Muslims and Xtians, back to Hinduism, performing the Shuddhi rites for them. He was bitterly opposed to untouchability, calling it a curse on society, as he said.

Untouchability is a dreadful curse of our society. Every living being has a soul which deserves affection; in every human being, there is a soul worthy of respect. Anyone who does not know this basic principle cannot understand the true meaning of the Vedic religion.

Education was what Dayananda espoused, however, he was against the existing Western system, which he felt only created people with contempt for native traditions. He favoured the Gurukul system, where students would stay with their teachers, and there would be no class, caste differences. The son of a King and the son of a farmer would be the equals in a Gurukul, which would be located away from the city. Along with studies on Indian culture, Vedas, the Gurukul would also teach modern sciences like astronomy, mathematics, geology, so that the student receives a complete education.

One of Swami Dayanand’s most famous works, was Satyartha Prakash( The Light of Truth), a 14 chapter book, containing his teachings based on the Vedas. His book explained the importance of the Vedas, and it was critical not just of the bad practices in Hinduism, but even of other religions like Christianity, Islam, Sikhism. He declared that knowledge was not just about showing how to get salvation after death, it must also show a man how to live usefully in the world. He stressed on the need to follow the Vedic path of Dharma( righteousness), Artha( Wealth), Kama(Pleasure) and Moksha( Salvation). Back to the Vedas was what Swami Dayananda emphasized, and said, that while the main aim is salvation unless we have a worthy life, we can never attain salvation.

Satyartha Prakash

Dayananda was fearless in his pursuit of truth and knowledge, even in the face of great dangers and threats. Once a Christian preacher threatened that he would send him to prison, if he continued to show the faults in religion, to which Dayananda replied “My friend, was not Jesus Christ crucified for speaking the truth? But I fear no one to speak the truth.” While he was fearless enough to point out the faults that had crept into Hinduism, he did not spare Islam or Christianity either. And this frank, honest attitude of his earned him many enemies, from all religions. As he once said to a person who threatened to cut him with his sword.

I shall point out defects wherever I find them. I am not a rabbit to be frightened by the cries of jackals like you

However the end came well and nigh at Jodhpur, the Maharaja there was a follower of Swami Dayananda.   The ruler, however, spent a lot of time with a dancing girl Nanhi Jaan and was rebuked by Dayananda, who said his action was not proper conduct for a Kshatriya. The offended Nanhi Jaan, conspired with the cook to poison Swamiji and asked him to mix powdered glass pieces in his milk. Dayananda drank the milk and realized he had been poisoned, tried vomiting it out, but was too late.

Sores broke out all over his body, and Swamiji had to suffer torture, due to the pain. When the cook confessed that he had poisoned Swamiji, he gave him some money and asked him to run away, because if he were found out, he would be hanged to death. Though the Maharaja shifted Dayananda to Mt.Abu for better treatment, it was of no avail. And on Oct 30, 1883, the great soul passed away on Diwali day, uttering the word Om, in the presence of his disciples.

Thus ended the life of one of modern India’s greatest thinkers, a social reformer, a nationalist, a writer, a man who taught Indians to speak and think fearlessly. Swami Dayananda Saraswati, a truly great son of Bharat. (image:quotesgram)

(The article was first published at the author’s personal blog)

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Hinduism is Not an Official or Preferred Religion in Any Country of The World, Says a New Report

Though Hinduism is the third largest religion of the world, it is not the official state religion of any country according to a Pew Research Center Report

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Hinduism is not an official religion of any country in the world. Instagram.
  • No country has declared Hinduism as its official state religion – despite India being an influential Hindu political party
  • Hinduism is not an official or preferred religion in any country of the world, according to a Pew Research Center report.
  • 53% of 199 nations considered in the study don’t have an official religion
  • 80 countries are assigned either an “official religion” or “preferred religion”

Nevada, USA, October 16: Hinduism is the primeval and third largest religion of the world with about 1.1 billion followers of moksh (liberation) being its utmost desire of life. India is among the category of nations where the government do not have an official or preferred religion.

Pew Research Center is a nonpartisan fact tank headquartered in Washington DC that aims to inform the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world.

The report states that a country’s official religion is regarded as a legacy of its past and present privileges granted by the state. And a few other countries fall on the other side of the gamut, and propagate their religion as the ‘official religion’, making it a compulsion for all citizens.

It adds up on the context of allocation that more than eight-in-ten countries (86%) provide financial support or resources for religious education programs and religious schools that tend to benefit the official religion.

Hinduism
Islam is the most practiced official religion of the world. Instagram.

Commenting on Hinduism, the report states:

In 2015, Nepal came close to enshrining Hinduism, but got rejected of a constitutional amendment due to a conflict between pro-Hindu protesters and state police.

Although India has no official or preferred religion as mentioned in the Constitution,it was found by PEW that in India the intensity of government constraints and social antagonism involving religion was at a peak. “Nigeria, India, Russia, Pakistan and Egypt had the highest levels of social hostilities involving religion among the 25 most populous countries in 2015. All fell into the “very high” hostilities category,” the report added.

As per the 2011 census, it was found that 79.8% of the Indian population idealizes Hinduism and 14.2% practices to Islam, while the rest 6% pursuit other religions.

While Hinduism stands up with the majority, Article 25 of the Constitution of India contributes secularism allowing for religious freedom and allows every Indian to practice his/her religion, without any intervention by the community or the government.

Distinguished Hindu statesman Rajan Zed, President of Universal Society of Hinduism, applauded the Hindu community for their benefaction to the society and advised Hindus to concentrate on inner purity, attract spirituality towards youth and children, stay far from the greed, and always keep God in the life.

According to Pew, these are “places where government officials seek to control worship practices, public expressions of religion and political activity by religious groups”.

-by Bhavana Rathi of NewsGram.  She can be reached @tweet_bhavana

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Paintings Which Beautifully Depict Scenes From Ramayana

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Ramayana
Ram lifting the bow during Sita Swayambar. Wikimedia Commons.

Ramayana, the ancient Indian epic which describes the narrative of Ayodhya Prince lord Rama’s struggles. The struggles include- exile of 14 years, abduction of his wife Sita, reaching Lanka, destruction of the evil. It is strongly ingrained in the Indian culture, especially, the Hindu culture since a long time. Hindus celebrate Diwali based on the narratives of Ramayana.

The story of Ramayana gives out the beautiful message that humanity and service to the mankind is way more important than kingdom and wealth. Below are five paintings describing the scenes from Ramayana:

1. Agni Pariksha in Ramayana

Ramayana
Agni Pariksha. Wikimedia.

When Lord Rama questions Sita’s chastity, she undergoes Agni Pariksha, wherein, she enters a burning pyre, declaring that if she has been faithful to her husband then the fire would harm her. She gets through the test without any injuries or pain. The fire God, Agni, was the proof of her purity. Lord Rama accepts Sita and they return to Ayodhya. 

2. Scene From The Panchavati Forest

Ramayana
scene from the panchavati forest. wikimedia.

The picture describes a scene from the Panchavati forest. It is believed that Lord Rama built his forest by residing in the woods of Panchavati, near the sources of the river Godavari, a few miles from the modern city of Mumbai. He lived in peace with his wife and brother in the forest.

3. Hanuman Visits Sita

Ramayana
Hanuman meets Sita. Wikimedia.

Hanuman reaches Lanka in search of Sita. At first, he was unable to find Sita. He later saw a woman sitting in Ashok Vatika, drowned in her sorrows, looked extremely pale. He recognized her. After seeing the evil king, Ravana making her regular visit to Sita, he hid somewhere in the Vatika. After Ravana left, Hanuman proved Sita that he is Rama’s messenger by showing her his ring. He assured her that Rama would soon come to rescue her. Before leaving Lanka, he heckled Ravana. Agitated by Hanuman’s actions, Ravana ordered to set Hanuman’s tail on fire. With the burning tail, Hanuman set the entire city on fire.

 

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Exploring the Faces of Faith and Devotion: 7 Principal Gods and Goddesses of Hinduism

Foremost among the several gods and goddesses of Hinduism are the Trimurti; Brahma, Vishnu, Mahesh, the holy triad that signify supreme divinity in Hinduism – the creater, sustainer and destroyer of the world

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Are you familiar with the various gods and goddesses of Hinduism? Pixabay

New Delhi, October 9, 2017 : Devout Hindus have a god for every occasion and every day – over 33 million, according to popular beliefs. While people of other religions often interpret them as fictional characters, the multiple gods and goddesses of Hinduism are held with utmost devotion and sincerity by the believers.

Ours is a polytheistic religion – in other words, a myriad of gods and goddesses of Hinduism. Foremost among the several gods and goddesses of Hinduism are the Trimurti; Brahma, Vishnu, Mahesh, the holy triad that signify supreme divinity in Hinduism – the creator, sustainer and destroyer of the world. These divine forces are known to appear in different avatars, embodied by different gods and goddesses.

In Hinduism, Lord Brahma is the creator of the Universe and the first member of the holy trinity (Brahma, Vishnu, and Mahesh). However, he is not worshiped as Vishnu or Shiva with only one temple dedicated to him, the Pushkar temple of Rajasthan.

Here are some of the many gods and goddesses of Hinduism.

1. Vishnu

Vishnu is the second member of the holy Hindu triad, who sustains the entire world – Vishnu is believed to return to the earth during distressed times to restore the balance between good and evil.

gods and goddesses of Hinduism
Lord Vishnu. Wikimedia

Believed to have incarnated nine times, Vishnu symbolizes the principles of order, righteousness, and truth. His associate is Lakshmi, the goddess of family life and prosperity.

Vishnu is always depicted with a blue-colored human body with four hands, each of which carries four different objects – a conch, chakra, lotus flower and mace. The god is shown to ride the Garuda, an eagle.

So far, Vishnu has appeared on earth in various incarnations. These include fish, turtle, boar, Narsimha (half lion, half man), Vamana (dwarf sage with the ability to grow), Parsuram, Ram, Krishna and Buddha. Devotees believe he will re-incarnate in a last avatar, popularly known as ‘Kalki’, close to the end of this world.

Hindus who worship Vishnu are primarily known as Vaishnava and regard him as the greatest god.

2. Shiva

One of the members of the holy Hindu trinity, Lord Shiva is as the god of destruction, so that the world may be recreated by Brahma. Thus, his destructive powers are perceived as regenerative: necessary to make renewal possible.

Known by different names like Mahadeva, Nataraja , Pashupati, Vishwanath and Bhole Nath, Shiva is known to have untamed enthusiasm, which drives him to extremes in conduct. It is his relationship with wife Parvati which established the balance. While other gods and goddesses are represented in glorious avatars, Shiva is dressed in plan animal skin and usually sits in a yogic aasana.

gods and goddesses of hinduism
God Shiva, Wikimedia

Shiva is often addressed as the Lord of Dance, with the rhythm of the dance believed to be symbolic of the balance in the universe, masterfully held by Shiva. His most significant dance form is the Tandav.

Hindus who worship Shiva as their primary god are known as Shaivites.


3. Lakshmi

One of the most popular goddesses of Hindu mythology, Lakshmi gets hers name from the Sanskrit word ‘lakshya’, meaning ambition or purpose. Lakshmi is the goddess of wealth, prosperity and purity and is the associate of Vishnu.

Lakshmi is believed to reside in places of hard work, and sincerity, However, the goddess leaves whenever an individual is overcome with greed or malice or when these qualities are not evident anymore. Hindus believe Sita is an incarnation of Lakshmi. Hence, they worship the goddess of prosperity primarily during Diwali, which commemorated the Hindu epic Ramayana.

Gods and goddesses of hinduism
Goddess Lakshmi. Wikimedia

Lakshmi is widely represented as an enchanting woman with four arms, settled or standing on a lotus flower.

Devout Hindus worship Lakshmi at temples and inside homes alike, and believe worshipping her with utmost sincerity blesses an individual with success and fortune.


4. Ganesha

The pot bellied, elephant-headed god Ganesha, also known as Ganpati, Vinayak and Binayak, is the son of Shiva and Parvati. one of the most popular gods and goddesses of Hinduism, Ganesha is revered as the remover of all obstacles, which is why his presence is first acknowledged before beginning any new work.

The lord of success and wealth, Ganesha is also the patron of knowledge and learning; devotees believe he wrote down parts of the Hindu epic Mahabharata with his broken tusk.

gods and goddesses of hinduism
Ganesh Puja. Wikimedia

Ganesha is typically depicted as a pot-bellied, elephant-headed red colored god, with four arms and a broken tusk. This head is believed to characterize the atma or the soul and the body represents the maya or mankind’s earthly existence. The rats, which can gnaw their way through every hardship, are believed to symbolize Ganesha’s ability to destroy all obstacles.

Lord Ganesha is shown riding mouse, which can gnaw their way through every hardship, are believed to symbolize Ganesha’s ability to destroy all obstacles.


5. Krishna

Believed to be the most popular and the most powerful avatar of Vishnu, Krishna is revered as the Supreme Being or the Purana Purushottam out of a list of several hundred gods and goddesses of Hinduism, by several devout Hindus. One of the most loved and mischievous gods, Krishna means ‘black’ and can be believed to denote mysteriousness.

In Hinduism, Krishna takes several different roles- that of a hero, leader, protector, philosopher, teacher and a friend and is believed to have lived on earth between 3200 – 3100 BC. His birth is widely celebrated on the midnight of Ashtami during the month of Shravan, and is called Janmashthami.

gods and goddesses of Hinduism
Picture of idols of Lord Krishna and Radha, decorated for Janmashtami. Wikimedia

Stories of Krishna’s birth, childhood and youth and widely read and circulated, with every mother wanting to have a child like him. His raas with Radha is also remembered widely.

Krishna is held with utmost reverence for his role as the charioteer of Arjuna, as explained in the Mahabharata. It was in the middle of this war that Krishna delivered his famous advice about ‘Nishkam Karma’ which propagated action without attachment, which formed the basis of the Bhagwat Gita.

Krishna is extremely fond of white butter and there are several stories about how he stole butter from gopis throughout his childhood. He is depicted as a dark and extremely handsome, usually depicted with a flute which he used for its seductive powers.


6. Ram

Maryada Purushottam Ram is the ideal avatar of Vishnu. An epitome of chivalry, virtues and ethical demeanor, Ram is the seventh incarnation of Vishnu who is believed to have taken birth to eradicate all evils from the world.

gods and goddesses of Hinduism
Ram Darbar. Wikimedia

Unlike all other gods and goddesses of Hinduism, Ram is believed to be a historical character, instead of an imaginary figure. The Hindu epic Ramayana is a retelling and celebration of Ram’s life – a tale of his fourteen years in exile with his wife and brother.

Ram’s birthday is celebrated as Ramnavmi, wherein devotees invoke him with religious chants to attain his blessings shield. The festival of lights, Diwali, which is one of the major festivals in Hinduism, is also observed to celebrate the return of Ram, Laksham and Sita back to Ayodhya after an exile of fourteen years.

Ram bears a dark complexion to show his resemblance to Vishnu and his other avatar Krishna, and is almost always depicted with a bow and arrow in his hands and a quiver on his back. Ram also wears a tilak on his forehead. Accompanying the statues of Ram are idols of his wife Sita, brother Lakshman and the celebrated monkey-god Hanuman, who together combine the Ram Darbar.

7. Saraswati

Daughter of Shiva and Durga, and the consort of Brahma, Saraswati is revered as the goddess of wisdom, learning, speech and music. She is the goddess of knowledge and arts. Devotees often worship the deity before commencing any educational work- books and stationary items are often revered as Saraswati is believed to reside in them.

Saraswati Vandana, religious chants dedicated to the goddess of music often begin and end all Vedic lessons. The goddess also plays songs of wisdom, affection and life on the veena, a string instrument.

gods and goddesses of hinduism
Sarswati, Wikimedia Commons

Saraswati is visually represented in pure white attire and rides a peacock, with a lotus in one hand and sacred scriptures in the other. She also has four hands that signify the four aspects of learning- mind, intellect, alertness, and ego.

Out of all the 33 million gods and goddesses of Hinduism, devout Hindus believe only Saraswati can grant them moksha- the ultimate emancipation of the soul.