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Beef Controversy: Hinduism and Cow

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Photo: http://karunasociety.org

By Nithin Sridhar

An Analysis of Hindu Symbols and Practices: Part 3

India has witnessed a continued controversy over ‘beef’ and ‘cow-slaughter’ in the last few months. The latest incident that added to the controversy was the Delhi Police inspection of the Kerala House in Delhi after receiving complaints about beef being served there. Many Kerala MPs and political workers protested against this inspection terming it as “an attack on the federal structure of Indian constitution.

Few days back, an Independent lawmaker of Jammu & Kashmir, Engineer Rashid was attacked with ink for hosting beef party in protest of the beef ban in the state. The ghastly Dadri lynching happened over rumors about killing and consumption of cow. Previously, there was a great uproar over meat ban in Maharashtra during the Jain festival of Paryushana.

In each of these incidents, there has been a massive outrage that not only spoke about the rights of people to have freedom to decide what to eat (which is absolutely right), but also in a sense celebrated the people’s right to kill animals in general, and cows in particular.

The discourse that has been created around the controversy of beef tries to uphold beef consumption as a virtue, and the concerns for cow protection as vice and communal; the celebration of violence as virtue, and adherence to ahimsa as vice.

Further, there have been attempts to justify beef consumption and hence the massive cow slaughter (much of it illegal) that is being carried out, by claiming how beef-consumption was extensively practiced by Hindu ancestors and hence current opposition to beef consumption amounts to hypocrisy.

Therefore, it becomes vital to not only counter the narrative of violence that is being promoted in the name of ‘rights’, but also to set the record straight regarding the status of the cow in Hindu religion and history.

Hence, let us first take up the issue of the position of cows in Hinduism.

It has been argued by various scholars that the cow was not considered ‘holy’ in the Vedic period and they were frequently sacrificed and consumed during those periods. They point towards various verses present in Veda Samhitas, Brahmanas, Manu Smriti and other Dharma-Shastras to paint the Hindu ancestors as beef and meat consumers who upheld and celebrated beef consumption.

At the same time, they tend to either ignore or brush aside those references in the Hindu scriptures that speak about Ahimsa and cow protection. They further try to portray cow-slaughter and beef consumption as a central philosophy and practice of Hinduism.

Before proceeding to examine some of the major arguments given in support of prevalence of massive beef consumption, let us first briefly deal with the Hindu view of cow.

Hindu view of Cow

To properly understand the Hindu perception of Cow, one should first understand how Hindus perceive the environment. The Isha Upanishad (verse 1) considers the entire universe with all its objects as being inhabited by God. Similarly, Lord Krishna in Bhagavad Gita (10.20) says, that he is seated in the hearts of all creatures. Thus, Hindus do not view environment as consisting lifeless objects and inferior life forms that exist so that humans can conquer and exploit them.

Instead, the Hindu view of environment is “deeply rooted in the understanding that the trees, the animals, the air, the water, the land and every other object in nature are permeated by divinity, and hence they are all worthy of our love, respect, and preservation.”

Thus, we call earth as ‘Mother earth’; we believe that Lord Vishnu manifested as fish, tortoise, or as a boar; and our Gods are always associated with animals which serve as their vahanas (vehicles). Among all the animals, cows hold a special place in the heart and psyche of Hindus.

A cow is not only perceived as an animal that is extremely useful from economic perspective, it is also considered as a mother who loves and nourishes the entire family with whom she lives.

This sentiment has been beautifully brought out in the words of Mahatma Gandhi who says: “Mother Cow is in many ways better than the mother who gave us birth. Our mother gives us milk for a couple of years and then expects us to serve her when we grow up. Mother cow expects from us nothing but grass and grain. Our mother often falls ill and expects service from us. Mother cow rarely falls ill.”

Though it is true that the Cow was central to agricultural society, and hence she was given high place, but this in itself does not capture the entire understanding of the Hindus.

Hindus recognize the Cow as the most Sattvic (pure/innocent) of all animals. She is particularly loved and respected for her attitude of love, selflessness, innocence, and loyalty. For this reason, Atharva-Veda (3.30.1) says that people should love one another as cow loves its calf. The popular story of the Punyakoti further brings out all these characteristics of a cow in a beautiful manner.

Photo: srimadhvyasa.wordpress.com
Photo: srimadhvyasa.wordpress.com

Cow in Hindu scriptures

While describing the motherly aspect of the cows, Rig-Veda (6.28.1-8) calls them as ‘bringers of fortune’ whose milk can be fed to Gods in sacrifice and also to the guests. The mantras further say that the cows should be kept happy and should be protected from any injury or harassment or theft.

At another place, Rig-Veda says: “May the cow eats best of the grass, may she be blessed, and by her may we also be blessed with wealth. O inviolable cow, ever feed on grass, and come back and drink water.” (Verse 1.164.40)

These verses reveal that the cows are to be treated with love and respect and they must be provided with freedom and protection from harm. People should make attempts at giving happiness to the cows, in the same way in which cows provide happiness and wealth to us.

In the Itihasas and the Puranas, Kamadhenu– the divine cow is portrayed as an abode of various Gods and as a wish-fulfilling cow. The name ‘wish-fulfilling’ not only points towards how nourishing cows resulted in economic prosperity, but it also points towards how nourishing them was considered a Dharmic act leading to Dharmic wealth as well. Hence, the cows which are earthly manifestations of the Divine Kamadhenu are all considered as the abode of material and spiritual prosperity. Thus, the Atharva-Veda (11.1.34) calls cows as the home of all bounties.

Further, Lord Krishna in Bhagavad-Gita (10.28) says that, among the cows he is the Kamadhenu. Similarly, Rigveda (6.28-1-8) equates cows with Lord Bhaga and Lord Indra.

These clearly establishes the sacredness of the cow. Therefore, contrary to the claims of certain scholars, cows are indeed considered as holy and as manifestations of divine, which are worthy of love, reverence, and worship in Hinduism.

It is this sacredness of the cow and its ability to grant prosperity to the people that has made Vedas to refer to cow as ‘aghnya’– one which should not be killed. The Vedic lexicon Nighantu further gives two synonyms for cow- ‘ahi’ and ‘aditi’ that means ‘not to be killed’ and ‘not to be cut into pieces’ respectively.

Regarding, why cow is called ‘aghnya’ that which should not be slayed, Shukla Yajur-Veda (13.43) says: “harm not the cow which is pure and illustrious.” The same Veda further says (13.49): “harm not the cow which gives ghee.” Reiterating this, we find Mahabharata (Shanti Parva 262.47) as saying: “The very name of the cow is ‘aghnya’- that which must not be slaughtered. Hence, who can slay them? Those who kill a cow or a bull commit a most heinous crime.”

We find further references in the Vedas themselves, wherein it is explicitly stated that cows and bulls are not to be slayed (Rig-Veda -8.101.15) or that those who harm cows must be punished (Rig-Veda– 10.87.16). Manu Smriti (4.162) reiterates such instructions as well.

Thus, it is clear that in the Hindu world view, cows are sacred, pure, and manifestations of divine.

But, their Sattva has also made them defenseless. Therefore, to provide protection for such innocent defenseless animals, the Hindu scriptures have not only instructed people to not cause harm to them, but also to protect them. This can be understood as the ultimate expression of Ahimsa (non-injury).

With this background, let us try to understand how this fits with assertions of use of cow meat during Yajnas, Shraddhas and Madhuparkas that can be seen in some Hindu scriptures in the next part.

More under Beef Controversy:

Part 4: Yajna, Madhuparka, and the use of beef

Part 5: Origins of beef consumption in India

Part 6: Beef Controversy: Beef parties and the celebration of violence

More under Hindu Symbols and Practices:

Part 1: The practice of Idol Worship

Part 2- Fallacies in Criticism of Idol Worship

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Sins in Hinduism: Facts, Meaning,Philosophy,Types & Atonement

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The sins in Hinduism can be washed away with devotional means. Pixabay.
  • Sin is regarded as an impurity arising in one’s body as a consequence to his own evil deeds. It is an effect that can be neutralised through various practices to lead your life into Moksha or liberation.
  • A liberated being or Jivanmukta is purified of all his sins who does not have to go through any further sins and rebirth. In order to make your soul pure and sinless, practice every deed with God’s grace.
  • The Sins in Hinduism, sinful conduct and their remedies have been referred to in Hindu Scriptures such as in Upanishads, Bhagavadgita, Yoga Sutras, Manu Smriti and Garuda Purana. 

As stated about sins in Hinduism, sin may form up with disobedience to God’s divine laws of Dharma. It may however be difficult to follow, but is considered obligatory for humans. The sins in Hinduism can be forgiven if Dharma is upholded as a service to God through self-effort and pure devotion to God.

Sins in Hinduism
Meditation is considered as the easiest from of removing sins in Hinduism. Pixabay.

What is the meaning of Sins in Hinduism?

The word Pāpam (paap) is often used to describe sins in Hinduism as mentioned in the Vedas and Hindu scriptures. Punyam (punya) is the opposite (antonym) of sin. It does not acquire an equivalent word in English since the concept of sins in Hinduism is different in western culture and Christianity.

Separating the word, ‘Pa‘ means to drink, inhale or absorb. ‘Apa‘ means water, combinedly meaning consuming or drinking impure water or poison. Pāpam also denotes evil, wicked, mischievous, destructive, inferior, corrupt and guilt.

It is believed that the sins of Hinduism manifests in the body with the impurities of worldliness (vishaya-asakti). The human body becomes subject to various poisons (visham) such as egoism, greed, ignorance, selfishness, desires and so on, which emerge with our attachments with worldly things (vishayas). These poisons of sins make the humans to take rebirths and deaths until they are removed completely. In the Hindu culture, Lord Shiva is regarded as the destroyer and the healer who gets invoked by devotees prayers and can remove or destroy such poison or sins to grant them liberation.

Sins in Hinduism
The sins in hinduism have been depicted in the scriptures. Pixabay.

What is the Philosophy of Sins in Hinduism?

The sins appear from physical, mental or oral actions, due to the impurities or poisons pertaining to Dharma and Hinduism. The poison of sin is stimulated if one harms intentionally to others or oneself by way of pain and suffering continuing the cycle of rebirth and death.

The repurcussions of sinful acts or karma are fault or mistake (aparadha), worry or anxiety (cintha), impurities or imperfections (doshas), evil intentions (dudhi), evil qualities (dhurta lakshana), immorality (adharma), demonic nature (asura sampatti), chaos or disorderliness (anrta), mental afflictions (klesha), destruction (nirtti), karmic debt (rna), sorrow (shoka), darkness or grossness (tamas) and suffering (pida). Others include: inferior birth, birth through demonic wombs, downfall into hells, increased suffering to ancestors, adversity, loss of reputation.

Sins in Hinduism
Visit Pilgrimage shrines to erase your sins in Hindusim. Pixabay.

What are the types of Sins in Hinduism?

The Dharmashastras of the Hindu scriptures denote sin as Pātaka which represents the causes of one’s downfall or destruction (patanam).The following are the three types of sins in Hinduism: Mortal Sins (Mahapatakas), Secondary Sins (Upa Patakas) and Minor Sins (Prakirna or prasangika Patakas)

The Mahapatakas

These are the gravest and darkest sins in Hinduism leading to the worst downfall of the mortals into the darkest of hells. They can neither be neutralized or washed away without suffering. Some Puranas and Vedas indicate to devote oneself purely to God to remove such sins. The Dharmashastras have stated such five gravest sins termed as the Pancha Mahapatakas. In Hinduism,the company of sinners is also not advisable as associating with sinners will lead you to the same consequences.

The Upa Patakas

These secondary sins may emerge out of minor offenses that include incompetency to perform sacrifices regularly, displeasing the Guru, selling harmful and intoxicating drinks, disbelief in God, giving false witness, making false acclaims, and performing a sacrifice for an unworthy person or unworthy cause and engaging in illicit sex.

The Prakirna Patakas

These type of sins in Hinduism form the minor offenses committed intentionally or unintentionally out of ignorance or carelessness which can be removed or washed away by performing sacrifices (prayaschitta) or by punishments and requesting forgiveness. The law books regard more than fifty minor sins in Hinduism such as selling the wife, making salt, studying forbidden Shastras, killing a woman, marrying the younger son before marrying the elder one, killing insects and other creatures, ignorance to parents, accepting gifts without performing sacrifices,adultery etc.

What are the solutions to overcome Sins?

Fines and punishments

The Dharmashastras render both corporeal and monetary punishments for various offenses or sins in Hinduism, apart from the sufferings in hell or rebirth. According to Hindu scriptures, the ancient era saw immense difference in the application of punishments from caste to caste.

Confession

The best path to deal with sins of Hinduism is to surrender yourself infront of God and seek forgiveness with your own confession of the sin committed. The king was regarded as a similar figure to God who demanded a public confession (abhishasta) from the sinner.

Austerities and Atonement

By performing Vedic traditional rituals, the sins in Hinduism are removed by fasting, virtuous conduct, self-control, practice of nonviolence, truthfulness, austere living, practice of silence, concentration and meditation.

Sins in Hinduism
Your sins in Hinduism can be removed by Devoting yourself to the grace of God. Pixabay.

Rituals and sacrifices

The Vedas have recommended various rituals or sacrifices to wash away the the impurities (dhosas) arising from one’s birth, karma, relationships, place or direction related issues, vastu defects, dangerous diseases and evil conduct.

Prayers and Mantras

Vishnu Purana of the Hindu scriptures pronounce the effective importance of the continuous chanting of names of God (japam) in the Kaliyug. Some mantras and hymns are considered more significant than meditation and sacrifices to clean the impurities of the body.

Recitation of the Vedas and other Sacred Books

Knowledge (jnana) has the eternal power to remove the sins in Hinduism. It can be derived with regular reading up and learning from the scriptures of sacred importance.

Visiting pilgrimages

To grant your devotion and gratitude, Hinduism seeks to commit to Dharma by visiting holy pilgrimage place. It is a divine form of self-cleansing and experiencing peace and happiness.

Bathing in the sacred rivers

The sacred pilgrimages are mostly located near the banks of the rivers that are also treated as purifiers. Hence, bathing in those rivers lead your life into devotional worship as a purification rituals to overcome sins in Hinduism.

Yoga and Meditation

Pranayama and meditation are the suggested methods to practise peace and overcome past sins. They also form a major part of the austerities to cleanse the internal mind and body.

The blessings of saints and gurus

Saints, sadhus and mahatmas have been given a special status in Hinduism because of their respectful purity and virtue. They acquire divine knowledge and supreme powers, with which they cleanse those who approach them for blessings.

Sins in Hinduism
Worshipping the saints remove the sins in hinduism. Pixabay.

Virtuous conduct

Sinful karma can be countered with huge efforts into virtuous karma. The sins in Hinduism are washed away with kind and healthy conduct to everyone equally.

Charity

Dana (gift giving) or charity is very significant in Hindu Dharma. By conducting sacrifices and spiritual practices one must conduct charity as well. As a part of Vedas, the higher castes are under obligation to perform five daily sacrifices including offer food to gods, ancestors, sages, humans and creatures.

-Prepared by Bhavana Rathi of NewsGram. Twitter @tweet_bhavana

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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.