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Dharma Shastras: Ancient texts that define a practical and intelligent way of living

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Krishna-Confronts-Bhishma-in-Battle

By Gaurav Sharma

Smriti or “that which is remembered”, is a vast corpus of diverse Vedic literature which is authored by an individual and is not considered divine per se.

The Smritis comprise of a genre of Sanskrit texts referred to as Dharma-Shastra. These texts form an integral part of the Indic branch of learning and pertain to right conduct (Dharma), religion, and legal duty.

In the modern age, a lot of criticism is levied on the Dharma-Shastras, mainly due to the flawed way in which they are interpreted.

Most of the scholarly analysis of the Dharma-Shastras undertaken by the western researchers focuses on the literal interpretation of words, rather than their stated intent. It is no surprise, then, that under such a narrow purview, the Dharma-Shastras are castigated as ‘backward, illiberal and oppressive’.

For understanding any system propounded by an ancient text, it is essential that one focuses on the spirit rather than the letter of the law.

The Shastras are not a set of rigid blanket injunctions meant to be applied and followed at all times and in all places. They talk about Sat or truth while defining rules that are applicable for a particular time period and a defined region.

In contrast, the Constitution which is an amalgamation of Euro-centric views, espouses the idea that the state or religious authority should define rules for all times to come. One can argue for the flexibility of the Constitution by pointing towards the provision for amendments. However, such provisions carry with them a written down presumption that changing or for that matter, tweaking the legal sections will be anything but a walk in the park.

Dharma or right conduct, as laid by the Shastras implicitly entails the application of one’s own mind, according to the situation at a particular point of time. For example, the activities of Ram which were considered as right action in Tretayuga, might be viewed as anything but sacrosanct in the post-modern world.

The doctrine that the application of laws should be based on the character (right conduct) of an individual, as put forth by the Shastras, is a very liberal concept.

Fast forward to the present age and the world is still struggling hard to define the notions of liberalism and pluralism. In fact, the ideas of freedom have become so abstract so as to say that one man’s meat is another man’s poison. In other words, what may be morally right  for one person may be wrong for someone else.

Such a concept of liberty inherently advocates moral relativism as the only practical way to live. Values are denounced and their existential basis becomes philosophically questionable.

The Dharma-Shastras, on the other hand, are clear in the declaration that no liberalism can amount to unfettered behavior. Even while being bound to the law, there is freedom to formulate a new legislation.

Another factor that makes the ancient ideology of life as superior to the present society is the emphasis on non-consumerism and non-individualism.

The classical vision, as expounded by the epic of Mahabharata is: Tasyeta Ekam Kulasyarthe, which means giving up self-interest for a higher interest.

This maxim forms a ladder with a series of progressive rungs; Giving up interest of the self for the interest of the family, ceding the interest of the family for the welfare of the village, rejecting the interest of the village for the betterment of the nation and ultimately sacrificing the attachment to the nation for the benefit of the Atma or soul.

Such a hierarchical system of working ensured that every unit of society, from the microcosm of the individual soul to the macrocosm of the nation was happy and peaceful.

In the here and now, such a method of functioning will be completely against the fundamental right to freedom. Most of the educated people in India have been ingrained with such a heavy dosage of romantic individualism by the Western education system, that such a practical way of living is visualized as untenable and highly illogical.

A deeper scrutiny of the Westernized-individualism will reveal to us that such an indoctrination is a shrewd strategy to run the wheels of the global capitalist economy.

In the consumerist model, a mechanism called ‘branding’ is put to efficient use to enslave people. The brands are utilized as tools to create a virtual relationship with consumers that is pure fiction.

This relation engenders a trust relationship between the consumers and the brand that necessarily bypasses the company.

Such a master-plan is premised upon inventing and selling the myth that the consumer makes his economic decisions purely out of his own self-interest, that everyone engages in such a behavior and that society is better off as a result.

A direct consequence of the popularization of such a world-view is the crass consumerism under whose lashing waves we are deluging not just ourselves, but also the environment which sustains us.

The sacrifice of self-interest for the sake of something higher is an ideal that much more practical sense, than the warped logic of individual freedom as extolled by the west.

Another reason why the Shastras are looked down upon and derided as relics of a bygone era is because of the fundamental proposition of the Varna-Ashram Dharma.

Such criticism again arises out of fuzzy and faulty understanding of the both  orders of social organization.

While the Varna system segregates the social population into four castes: Brahmana, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra, the Ashram apparatus divides life into four stages: Brahmacharya, Grihastha, Vanaprastha, and Sannyasa.

The Ashrama Dharma is a very practical way of defining living. The initial years are spent in accumulating knowledge and education. After reaching adulthood, marriage and generation of wealth assume importance. Then, after a certain time, one hands over all his wealth and retreats into the forest in search of spiritual knowledge. Finally, one embraces the renounced order of life fin order to establish his/her relationship with higher self.

In the modern age, the youth is only subjected to knowledge which is beneficial in churning out wealth. Consequently, there is hardly an impetus on discovering the spiritual aspect of life.

Retirement life, as it is viewed by the Vedic civilization, has also undergone a sea change. As one progresses towards retirement age, he becomes more consumerist than ever before, courtesy the accumulation of retirement benefits, fund stockings etc.

This is primarily a Euro-centric idea, which India has happily adopted even as it isolates itself from the values enshrined in its own spiritual books. Life, whose goal previously was self-realization, has morphed into an incessant money-generating machine.

While, such a system does create a kind of material evolution, it inevitably transmutes into a spiritual devolution.

Another means of social organization, the Varna or caste system has also been abolished now. The reason cited for quashing such a successful model of social harmony is the oppression of Shudras or men engaged in menial jobs by the higher class or the Brahmanas.

Again, such arguments against the Vedic mode of functioning are based on a narrow understanding of the system.

First of all, the caste system was never entirely based on birth.  Factors such qualities and the profession of a person assumed paramount importance in defining ones caste. Birth was never the final judgment in defining the life of an individual.

Secondly, such a hierarchical social order was not a special feature of only the Indic civilization. Greek philosopher Plato, for example, prescribes a system which is completely oppressive in its nature. In Europe, the entire population was divided into masters and slaves. In China and in Japan, the situation was no better.

It was only in India, that a flourishing and prosperous middle class existed. Prima-facie, this was due to the strength and the flexibility of the Varna system.

Thirdly, the perception that all Shudras were untouchables and were lived outside the town is wrong. Most of them were involved in the daily economic activities. Some of them even became kings when they acquired power. For example, the Shudras enjoyed their own kingdom, a fact mentioned in the Mahabharata.

In hindsight, the guilt that is endowed upon the Varna-ashram system is a needless and thoughtless guilt. It was a system which worked(and works) much better than other models of social organization, both in the pre-technological as well as the post-modern age.

It would be pertinent and at same time, ironical to know that the sophistication and practicality of the Shastras was a quality much appreciated by the European scholars themselves.

Freidrich Neitzsche, a philosopher who stood against organized religion of any kind, while reading Louis Jaclliot’s translation of Laws of Manu is known to have said: “Close the Bible and open the Manu Smriti. It has an affirmation of life, a triumphing agreeable sensation in life and that to draw up a lawbook such as Manu means to permit oneself to get the upper hand, to become perfection, to be ambitious of the highest art of living.”

Perhaps it is time that our misdirected civilization takes note and acts on the prescription of their philosophical idol.

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Catalonia Independence : Spanish PM plans to remove Catalonia’s leaders to take control

Many Catalans who want to remain in Spain will approve of this strident action. But those who want independence for their region are likely to see this as a provocation rather than a solution

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The Spanish Prime Minister said one of his aims is to restore peaceful co-existence to Catalonia by removing its leaders. VOA

Madrid, October 22, 2017 : Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has outlined plans to remove Catalonia’s leaders and take control of the separatist region.

Speaking after an emergency cabinet meeting on Saturday, Rajoy stopped short of dissolving the region’s parliament but put forward plans for elections, BBC reported.

The measures must now be approved by Spain’s Senate in the next few days.

Large crowds have gathered in Barcelona to protest against direct rule from Madrid. It comes almost three weeks after Catalonia held a disputed independence referendum.

Spain’s Supreme Court had declared the vote illegal and said it violated the constitution, which describes the country as indivisible.

Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont has ignored pleas from the national government to abandon moves towards independence.

Rajoy said the the Catalan government’s actions were “contrary to the law and seeking confrontation”. He said it was “not our wish, it was not our intention” to impose direct rule.

This will be via Article 155 of Spain’s constitution, which allows it to impose direct rule in a crisis on any of the country’s semi-autonomous regions.

Spanish law dictates that elections must be held within six months of Article 155 being triggered, but Rajoy said it was imperative that the vote be held much sooner.

Reports say that Spain’s interior ministry is preparing take control of Catalonia’s Mossos police force and remove its commander Josep Lluís Trapero, who is already facing sedition charges.

The government is also considering taking control of Catalonia’s public broadcaster TV3, El País newspaper reported.

Catalan Vice-President Oriol Junqueras said Rajoy and his allies had “not just suspended autonomy. They have suspended democracy”.

Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau said it was a “serious attack on the rights and freedoms of all, both here and elsewhere” and called for demonstrations.

The president of Barcelona football club, Josep Maria Bartomeu, said the club gave its “absolute support for the democratic institutions of Catalonia chosen by its people”.

But he called for any reaction to be “civil and peaceful” and said dialogue was the only way to a solution.

Eduard Rivas Mateo, spokesman for the Catalan Socialist party — which supports the Spanish government’s stance but also wants constitutional reform — said he could not accept a “harsh application” of Article 155.

ALSO READ Catalonia Protesters Demand Release of Separatist Leaders

But Ines Arrimadas, head of the centrist Ciudadanos party in Catalonia, which is against independence, said holding fresh elections would “restore goodwill and democracy” in the region.

Rajoy’s use of Article 155 had been widely anticipated, but his announcement when it came still had a huge impact. The article has never been invoked before, so there was a certain amount of mystery surrounding its potential reach and meaning.

Although Rajoy insisted that Catalonia’s self-government is not being suspended, many will disagree. The removal from office of Carles Puigdemont and all the members of his cabinet, to allow ministers in Madrid to take on their duties, amounts to a major reining in of Catalonia’s devolved powers.

The Spanish Prime Minister said one of his aims is to restore peaceful co-existence to Catalonia with these measures.

Many Catalans who want to remain in Spain will approve of this strident action. But those who want independence for their region are likely to see this as a provocation rather than a solution. (IANS)

 

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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.

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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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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.