Thursday July 19, 2018

Cambodia’s Hindu heritage continues to Expand: Read here about world’s largest existing Hindu structure in a small South-Asian country!

A small country in southern Asia and a perfect mixture of the influences of Hindu heritage and Buddhist customs, Cambodia has become a huge attraction for new-age travellers

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Temple in Cambodia (representational Image), Pixabay
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Cambodia, April 14, 2017: It is unknown to a large number of people that the country that is the home to world’s largest existing Hindu structure is the small South-Asian country, Cambodia. It is high time we pay attention to the jewel of a destination that is this country.

Starting from Siem Reap, once the seat of the Khmer Empire, the Hindu iconography in the Buddhist kingdom can definitely satisfy art-lovers and all kind of travelers. Khmer versions of Ganesha and Hanuman are present all around the city, and both the Ramayana (known as the Reamker in Cambodia) and Mahabharata can be spotted largely in popular imagery.

In Angkor Wat, the 12th century Hindu temple structure that draws millions of enthusiasts every year, Hindu deities loomed larger than life, including a statue of Vishnu at the entrance now worshiped as a Buddhist shrine.

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The Hindu temples (some of which had become Buddhist structures during the reign of Jayavarman VII in the latter 12th century CE), one is instantly drawn to the level of devotion and dedication with which the structures were built, inscribed and carved. The similarities between the ancient Khmer script (which has roots in Southern India) and Tamil can easily be spotted as well.

There are certain things that make Cambodia so interesting. It is a country that has held strongly to its Buddhist roots for nearly 700 years, transitioning from Mahayana Buddhism to Theravada Buddhism following Jayavarman VII’s reign.

In fact, many of Cambodia’s historical institutions mark “the beginning” of Khmer history with its involvement in patronizing Buddhism. Yet, so much of Cambodia’s cultural traditions – and a lot of its tourism dollars – are committed to an era in which Hinduism was either the dominant religious tradition, co-worshipped with Buddhism, or patronized by Khmer rulers.

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Even at the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh, there is a myth surrounding a sword believed to have been donated to the ancestors of the royal family by Indra, the Hindu deity.

At the national museum, the exhibit galleries are filled with various forms of Hindu divinity, while visitors are unable to differentiate between the multi-armed form of Buddha (Lokeshvara) and Vishnu. There can be many reasons for this. Probably the statues were worshiped as both at different periods of Khmer history.

Additionally, Cambodia has recently enjoyed the return of artifacts from the Ramayana that were stolen from the country during the French colonial period.

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Today, one of the challenges Cambodia is facing is sustaining that rich history amidst pressure to modernize (and cater to a growing number of expatriate visitors) and investment from countries such as China, which has invested millions to embellish Cambodia’s Chinese Buddhist history.

As such, Cambodia’s intention to preserve its Hindu heritage depends largely upon support from the global Hindu community. The sad part is, a big portion of the Hindu community is not even aware of the rich Hindu heritage in this small South-Asian nation. It is noteworthy that names such as Devi, Vidya, Rama, and Krishna are popular among Cambodians, reflecting a perfect absorption of Hinduism into Buddhist culture.

Cambodia and its culture make one value the global outreach of Hinduism more than ever. Even if Hinduism no longer is Cambodia’s prevalent religion, its influence on life and culture – and lasting legacy – cannot be denied.

– prepared by Durba Mandal of NewsGram. Twitter: @dubumerang

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Copyright 2017 NewsGram

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Shankaracharya: A remarkable genius that Hinduism produced (Book Review)

The irony is that most leading scientists, particularly outside India but also within, have little knowledge of the structure of Shankara's philosophy and the transparent interface it has with scientific discoveries today.

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He was greatly influenced by three basic texts of Hindu philosophy: Upanishads, the Brahma Sutra and the Bhagavad Gita
He was greatly influenced by three basic texts of Hindu philosophy: Upanishads, the Brahma Sutra and the Bhagavad Gita.

Title: Adi Shankaracharya: Hinduism’s Greatest Thinker; Author: Pavan K. Varma; Publisher: Tranquebar Press; Pages: 364; Price: Rs 699

This must be one of the greatest tributes ever paid to Shankaracharya, the quintessential “paramarthachintakh”, who wished to search for the ultimate truths behind the mysteries of the universe. His genius lay in building a complete and original philosophical edifice upon the foundational wisdom of the Upanishads.

A gifted writer, Pavan Varma, diplomat-turned-politician and author of several books including one on Lord Krishna, takes us through Shankara’s short but eventful span of life during which, from having been born in what is present-day Kerala, he made unparalleled contributions to Hindu religion that encompassed the entire country. Hinduism has not seen a thinker of his calibre and one with such indefatigable energy, before or since.

Shankara’s real contribution was to cull out a rigorous system of philosophy that was based on the essential thrust of Upanishadic thought but without being constrained by its unstructured presentation and contradictory meanderings.

He was greatly influenced by three basic texts of Hindu philosophy: Upanishads, the Brahma Sutra and the Bhagavad Gita. He wrote extensive and definitive commentaries on each of them. Of course, the importance he gave to the Mother Goddess, in the form of Shakti or Devi, can be traced to his own attachment to his mother whom he left when he set off, at a young age, in search of a guru and higher learning.

The irony is that most leading scientists, particularly outside India but also within, have little knowledge of the structure of Shankara's philosophy and the transparent interface it has with scientific discoveries today.
Shankara wrote hymns in praise of many deities but his personal preference was the worship of the Mother Goddess.

Against all odds, Shankara created institutions for the preservation and propagation of Vedantic philosophy. He established “mathas” with the specific aim of creating institutions that would develop and project the Advaita doctrine. He spoke against both caste discriminations and social inequality, at a time when large sections of conservative Hindu opinion thought otherwise.

Shankara was both the absolutist Vedantin, uncompromising in his belief in the non-dual Brahman, and a great synthesiser, willing to assimilate within his theoretical canvas several key elements of other schools of philosophy. He revived and restored Hinduism both as a philosophy and a religion that appealed to its followers.

Also Read: Hinduism: The Nine Basic Beliefs that you need to know

Varma rightly says that it must have required great courage of conviction as well as deep spiritual and philosophical insight for Shankaracharya to build on the insights of the Upanishads a structure of thought, over a millennium ago, that saw the universe and our own lives within it with a clairvoyance that is being so amazingly endorsed by science today. The irony is that most leading scientists, particularly outside India but also within, have little knowledge of the structure of Shankara’s philosophy and the transparent interface it has with scientific discoveries today.

Shankara wrote hymns in praise of many deities but his personal preference was the worship of the Mother Goddess. The added value of the book is that it has, in English, a great deal of Shankara’s writings. Unfortunately, most Hindus today are often largely uninformed about the remarkable philosophical foundations of their religion. They are, the author points out, deliberately choosing the shell for the great treasure that lies within. This is indeed a rich book. (IANS)