By Dr. Devakinanda Pasupuleti
Performing austerities and penances (tapas) are unique only to our mother land and the followers of Sanatana Dharma. Nowhere else and in no other religion, there is practice of tapas like what our ancient seers and rishis did thousands of years ago.
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7) OṀ ṪAPOBHŨMYAI NAMAH:
ॐ तपोभूम्यै नमः
OṀ (AUM) –ṪA-PO’-BHOO-MYAI– NA-MA-HA
(Tapas: “Penance or austerities”)
The word tapas come from the root-verb “tap” (santāpe, in the sense of suffering). Hence it means any discipline that causes suffering to the body-mind-sense complex. We find the word in the ṚigVeda, where it is interpreted as penances like kṛi-cchra and meditation on the Hiraṇya-garbha (cosmic golden egg). It is also used in the Upanishads like the Chāndogya and the Muṇḍaka in the sense of performance of one’s duties and austerities. Tapas could also be interpreted as austerity and penance. Tapas means deep meditation, reasoned self discipline and effort to achieve self-realization and liberation, sometimes involving solitude, hermitism or asceticism;
It also means following dharma (righteousness) without losing discipline. The Himālayas are the lands of tapas. For thousands of years, our ṛishis performed strict austerities and obtained knowledge of the Self for the welfare of humanity. Ṛishis lived in places like Ṛishikesh and Haridwār to fulfill their pursuits of liberation.
The Bhagavad Gīta deals with tapas from three angles: śarīra (physical), vāṇmaya (pertaining to speech) and mānasa (mental). Honoring and serving the gods and holy-persons, cleanliness, celibacy and non-violence belong to the first category. Sweet but truthful speech falls under the second category. Control of mind and purity of emotions are essential.
While rishis have favored forests and mountains, they are now moving deeper and deeper into inaccessible places to perform their austerities due to unchecked pollution and the growth of tourism. Thinking that there are no such lands or ṛishis still existing, only shows ignorance on our part. It is because of their power of austerity that our śhastrās and vāṇmayās are being protected. The knowledge obtained by these ṛishis is divine knowledge, which they then pass on to us. It is our responsibility to protect this knowledge and educate the future generations to come.
Our land, where ṛishis performed intense austerities, deserved to be called “Tapo-Bhūmi”.