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Dharma Shastras: Ancient texts that surpass modern notions of liberty and social harmony

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By Gaurav Sharma

Smritis–“that which is remembered”– are a vast corpus of diverse Vedic literature authored by an individual and having no conception of divine origination per se.

The Smritis include a genre of Sanskrit texts referred to as Dharma-Sahastras. These texts form an integral part of the Indic branch of learning and pertain to right conductreligion 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 today, 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’ texts.

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.

On the other hand, 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(the second of the four ages of mankind), 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 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 basically means giving up narrow 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 ensures that every unit of society, from the microcosm of the individual soul to the macrocosm of the nation, is 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.

But 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 for enslaving people. The brands are utilized as tools to create a virtual relationship with consumers, a purely fictional association.

This ides 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, a fallacy that engagement in such a selfish behavior would lead to the betterment of the society.

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 Shastric sacrifice of self-interest for the sake of something higher is an ideal that makes 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 due to 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,Kshtariya, Vaishya and Shudra, the Ashram apparatus divides life into four stages:Brahmacharya, Grhastha, 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. After some 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 in 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 any 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, one 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 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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Are We Hindus If We Live in India? The Answer to Contentious Question is Here

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Hinduism. Pixabay

Oct 06, 2017: Have you ever wondered what being a Hindu means? Or who is actually fit to be called a Hindu? Over centuries, Hindus and Indians alike have asked this question to themselves or their elders at least once in their lifetime.

In the 1995 ruling of the case, “Bramchari Sidheswar Shai and others Versus State of West Bengal” the court identified seven defining characteristics of Hinduism but people are still confused to what exactly defines being a Hindu in the 21st century. It’s staggering how uninformed individuals can be about their own religion; according to a speech by Sri Dharma Pravartaka Acharya there are various common notions we carry about who a Hindu is:

  • Anyone born in India is automatically a Hindu
  • If your parents are Hindu, you’re are also inevitably a Hindu
  • If you believe in reincarnation, you’re a Hindu
  • If you follow any religion practiced in India, you’re a Hindu
  • And lastly, if you are born in a certain caste, you’re a Hindu

After answering these statements some fail to remove their doubts on who a Hindu is. The question arises when someone is unsure on how to portray themselves in the society, many people follow a set of notions which might/might not be the essence of Hinduism and upon asked why they perform a particular ritual they are clueless. The problem is that the teachings are passed on for generations and the source has been long forgotten, for the source is exactly where the answer lies.

Religion corresponds to scriptural texts

The world is home to many religions and each religion has its own uniqueness portrayed out of the scriptures and teachings which are universally accepted. So to simplify the dilemma one can say that determining whether someone belongs to a particular religion is directly related to whether he/she follows the religious scriptures of the particular religion, and also whether they abide to live by the authority of the scriptural texts.

Christianity emerges from the guidance of the Gospels and Islam from the Quran where Christians believe Jesus died for their sins and Muslims believe there is no God but Allah and Mohammad is his prophet. Similarly, Hinduism emerges from a set of scriptures known as the Vedas and a Hindu is one who lives according to Dharma which is implicated in the divine laws in the Vedic scriptures.By default, the person who follows these set of religious texts is a Hindu.

Also Read: Christianity and Islam don’t have room for a discourse. Hindus must Stop Pleasing their former Christian or Muslim masters, says Maria Wirth 

Vedas distinguishes Hindu from a Non-Hindu

Keeping this definition in mind, all the Hindu thinkers of the traditional schools of Hindu philosophy accept and also insist on accepting the Vedas as a scriptural authority for distinguishing Hindus from Non-Hindus. Further implying the acceptance of the following of Bhagwat Gita, Ramayana, Puranas etc as a determining factor by extension principle as well.

Bottom Line

So, concluding the debate on who is a Hindu we can say that a person who believes in the authority of the Vedas and lives by the Dharmic principles of the Vedas is a Hindu. Also implying that anyone regardless of their nationality i.e. American, French or even Indian can be called a Hindu if they accept the Vedas.

– Prepared by Tanya Kathuria of Newsgram                                                                

(the article was originally written by Shubhamoy Das and published by thoughtco)

One response to “Are We Hindus If We Live in India? The Answer to Contentious Question is Here”

  1. Hindu is a historical name for people living “behind the river Indus”. So, everyone living in India is a Hindu, eventhough he might have a different faith.

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Hafeez Jalandhari: The Man behind Pakistan’s National Anthem also Wrote Urdu Poem-Krishn Kanhaiya to Praise the Hindu God Krishna

Decoding Hafeez Jalandhari's 'Krishn Kanhaiya'

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Hafeez Jalandhari wrote Krishn Kanhaiya, praising Hindu God Krishna
Hafeez Jalandhari wrote Krishn Kanhaiya, praising Hindu God Krishna. Pixabay
  • Hafeez Jalandhari weaved a poem that has a political and devotional angle to it
  • Hinduism uses sight as a way to connect with the almighty
  • The poet doesn’t refer to Krishna as a God but he says that Krishna represents glory and majesty of God

New Delhi, August 31, 2017: This year, Pakistan’s 70th Independence Day coincided with Hindu Festival Janmashtami (a festival to celebrate Krishna’s birth). Both were on 14th August. The famous Urdu poet Hafeez Jalandhari wrote the Qaumi Taranah, Pakistan’s national anthem. But not many people know that the same poet penned Krishn Kanhaiya, a unique Urdu poem beautifully describes the greatness of the Hindu Deity.

The idea of a Muslim poet in today’s time writing on a Hindu God raises all sorts of reactions (some of which are negative) coming from different ethnic groups in South Asia: suspicion, anger, surprise, joy or mere curiosity.

There is much more nuance to the poem Krishn Kanhaiya than what the reader thinks on its first reading. This is not just a devotional poem. Jalandhari had a political bend of mind be it him as a thinker or a writer. So, even this poem of his is not an ordinary one, it talks about Krishna’s grand persona, Hindu idol worship, what makes him different, his righteousness, describing the role he played in a Hindu epic Mahabharata.

He weaved a poem that has a political and devotional angle to it. The hidden meaning of it, when compared with Qaumi Taranah, is that it tells about the cultural politics of South Asia- in the 20th Century and has relevance today.

Decoding the poem:

Idol Worship

In the first line of the poem, the poet says “O, onlooker”- he might be saying this as he’s talking about a Hindu God and Hinduism gives importance to seeing a God, they believe in Idol worshipping, Hindu Gods have a form, a face. Thus, Hinduism uses sight as a way to connect with the almighty. The poet wants the readers to have mental darshan of Lord Krishna by saying, onlookers. Jalandhari wants the readers to have a mental image of Krishna in their minds.

Krishna is a form of light

The opening lines of the poem are a bit abstract and don’t talk of Krishna; in further lines, the poet asks whether Krishna is a reality or a representation. He refers to him as a “form of light” and then asks is he fire or light. Referring to Krishna as light might indicate to Islamic scholars who said that “Krishna was a righteous prophet sent to the people of the subcontinent.”

Jalandhari finally gives a description of Krishna that we are more familiar with- him being a “flute player” and a “cowherd of Gokul.” The poet doesn’t refer to Krishna as a God but he says that Krishna represents glory and majesty of God.

In the tenth stanza, the poet says that – “Inside the temple / the sculptor of beauty himself / entered and became the idol”. He is talking about Idol Worship done by Hindus who pray to their God in a temple, having a belief that the deity resides in the temple in the idol itself.

ALSO READ: Hindu Temple in Aldenham (UK) Hosts Global Visitors for Largest ‘Hare-Krishna’ celebrations in the world

Krishna Leela

Then we get a glimpse of ‘Krishna Leela’ as the poet talks of Krishna’s playing and dancing around with gopis (cowherd girls), on Yamuna river bank that he describes as a “rare happenings”. He is youthful and charming, to set the tone of the scene, phrases like “intoxicated winds” and “waves of love” are used that there was something heavenly in the atmosphere.

The sound of Krishna’s flute is described as “neither intoxication nor wine / it’s something beyond.”  Such phrases transport the readers into Braj (Krishna spent his childhood and adolescence years here) and they get blissfully lost in the divine sound of Krishna’s flute.

Cheer-Haran of Draupadi and Krishna being her savior

The poem from here takes a serious transition into a serious mood. Here the poet talks of a famous Cheer-Haran (disrobing) scene from Mahabharata as the five Pandavas have lost their kingdom and Draupadi in the dice game. Draupadi is dragged into the court by Duryodhana, the eldest Kaurava, she prays to Krishna to help her.

It is said that Lord Krishna came to her rescue and due to God’s grace, her sari turned into a never ending piece of cloth as when the Kauravas tried pulling it off, more fabric draped her body and saved her dignity.

With this scene, Jalandhari begins to bring a political angle to the poem as Draupadi says, “These beloved princes (her husbands), have all become cowards!” It seems that Jalandhari is accusing India’s rulers, monarchs who behaved like cowards at the time of British Rule.

Some even argue that the poet is referring to all Indians who worked under British Rule as cowards. The poet uses the phrase “the light of India” for Krishna, this seems more of a political symbolism.

Preparations for the Mahabharata war

In the next scene, the poet takes us to the preparations for the great Mahabharata war, where he writes worryingly, “Duryodhana seems victorious.” Duryodhana (eldest kaurava) symbolizes British Rule over India which continued for a pretty long time, like the Mahabharata war.

The irony is that Kaurava army was much larger in number than Pandavas whereas Britishers were very less in number than Indians. But with Krishna’s arrival on the battlefield (from Pandavas side) and how he preached Bhagavad Gita to Arjuna, changes the anxiety and sorrow to much-needed enthusiasm: “the divine decree has been pronounced, the sword has been swung!”

This Krishna is very different from the young playful one which the poet has described earlier. Here, he symbolizes great strength and power: on his “face shines a bright gaze” also his “virtues burn enemies.”  He is so powerful that when he is angry, he can shower lightning. Thus, this Krishna can easily be an icon used for anti-colonial nationalism.

ALSO READ: If you are a Devotee of Lord Krishna, these 10 Lesser Known Facts Will Surprise You!

Relating Mahabharata with British Rule

After this, Jalandhari paints a picture of India suffering under colonial rule, using Vrindavan as a symbol for India. He says that once the joyful Yamuna is now silent, the waves are weak now. The gardens which were earlier beautiful are now ruined and the gopis symbolizing people of India are feeling helpless without their Krishna, their savior.

So, Jalandhari makes a personal plea to Krishna: “Oh king of India, come just once more.” He begs Krishna to return to Mathura (Mathura symbolizes India) and become the King again: “If you come, glory will come, if you come, life will come” With his plea to Krishna asking him to liberate India from British rule, Jalandhari ends his nazm.

If we compare Krishn Kanhaiya to Jalandhari’s more famous work (Pakistan’s National Anthem), we can learn a lot about the cultural politics which has influenced South Asia over the 20th century and continues to do so even today.


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If you are a Devotee of Lord Krishna, these 10 Lesser Known Facts Will Surprise You!

Here are 10 interesting facts about Lord Krishna that many people don't know

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Lord Krishna
Radha Krishna Painting. Pixabay

New Delhi, August 15, 2017: Lord Krishna is unquestionably the most honorary character in the Hindu mythology. He was one of the most charming Gods who was also the 8th avatar of Vishnu. Krishna was not only a mischievous butter thief but was also the charioteer guide of Arjun in Mahabharat who played a remarkable role by helping the warrior to find the right path in the battle.

10 interesting facts about Lord Krishna that people are unaware of-

1. Krishna had 108 names

2. He had 16,108 wives. Startling, isn’t it?

3. The most misconceived notion we have concerning the color of Krishna. The color of Krishna’s skin was dark but not blue as we see on screen

4. He resurrected his Guru Sandipani Muni’s dead son back to life

5. He acted as the war cry for the Pandavas in Kurukshetra during Mahabharata

ALSO READ: Krishna Janmashtami 2017- Hindus in India and Abroad Gear Up to Celebrate the birth of Lord Krishna 

6. He was linked to the Pandavas in Mahabharata

7. The matter is subject of discussion that whether Radha, Krishna’s companion, was cited at all in ancient scriptures

8. The relationship of Radha-Krishna was used to condone premarital sex in modernized India

9. Wonder what led to Krishna’s death? Queen Gandhari cursed Krishna after witnessing the massive toll in Mahabharata which eventually led to his death and the destruction of his dynasty

10. The death of Krishna was the result of numerous curses and his own act of adharma against Sugreev’s brother, Bali in Ramayana


NewsGram is a Chicago-based non-profit media organization. We depend upon support from our readers to maintain our objective reporting. Show your support by Donating to NewsGram. Donations to NewsGram are tax-exempt.