Thursday December 14, 2017

Natural oneness: Why trees are revered in Hinduism

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Peepal-Tree

 

By Nithin Sridhar

Since time immemorial, trees have been worshiped all over the world. In Ancient Egypt, Sycamore and Date palm were considered sacred trees. In Ancient Greece, many trees were held sacred to various gods. For example, oak tree was held sacred to Zeus and myrtle tree was held sacred to Aphrodite. Also Nymphs like Alseids and Dryads were associated with grooves and trees respectively. The Celts worshiped the groves of trees. In Japanese Shinto Shrines, the trees such as cryptomeria are worshiped.

But, it is only among the Indians- the practitioners of Sanatana Dharma or Hinduism, that the worshipping of trees has become very deep rooted and an inseparable part of Hindu religion, culture and lifestyle.

Louise Fowler-Smith in her article “Hindu Tree Veneration as a Mode of Environmental Encounter”, writes that “The worship of trees occurred throughout Europe but declined with the rise of religions such as Christianity and Islam,which regarded such activity as pagan. In India, however, Hinduism accepted local cults, many of which worshiped nature. The Rsis, authors of the sacred Hindu texts, understood the importance of preserving the environment, and reference is made to the divine quality of the natural world throughout these Indian scriptures. The early Hindu sacred texts, the Vedas and Upanishads, make frequent reference to sacred trees, referring to them as the most important living forms on earth. This contributed to the gradual change of the cultural perception of the tree. Sacred trees may now be found throughout India”.  She further writes that “Trees are decorated in India for a wealth of reasons. Historically sacred trees have been connected with rites of renewal, sexuality, fertility, conception, birth, initiation, death and rebirth. Throughout India, Hindu communities have their own individual deities, or Gramadevata- which are regarded as synonymous with the locality and everything within it. (…..)The deity is not visible to the local community, so a specific place or object is chosen to direct the act of worship. The Devasthana,or shrine of a Grama Devata, is usually connected with an important feature of the natural world such as a hill, a rock, a stream or pond. These shrines are most commonly associated with a tree or grove of trees, with the tree embodying the local goddess”. Hence, as far as India and Hinduism is concerned, the worship of trees is not only a very ancient practice, but it is also a current living reality.

The Hindu scriptures lay a strong foundation for the worship of environment in general and trees in particular. Some of the important trees that are worshiped by the Hindus are Peepal, Banyan, Ashoka, Shami and Palasha.

Rig-Veda, one of the four divisions that Vyasa created in the Vedas, dedicates an entire Hymn (Book 10, Hymn 97) to the herbs.

The Manu Smriti (1.49) says that plants and trees have life and hence they also feel pain and pleasure.

Some of the Hindu festivals like Amala Ekadashi, Ashoka Pratipada, Bakula Amavasya, Vata-Savitrivrata, Kadalivrata and Sheetala Puja are especially dedicated to the worship of various plants and trees.

To properly understand the philosophy behind the worship of trees, one must first understand the philosophy of Hinduism.

Worship of Trees as Brahman

Hinduism considers that it is Brahman or God who manifests, sustains and absorbs back the entire Universe and all its objects. Hence, each entity, whether living or non-living, is sustained by Brahman itself.

In Bhagavad Gita (10.20), Lord Krishna declares- “I am the Self, O Gudakesa (Arjuna), seated in the hearts of all creatures. I am the beginning, the middle and the end of all beings.”

Similarly, Isha-Upanishad (Verse 1) declares that- “God inhabits all the objects in the Universe”. Hence, God or Brahman manifests all the objects and then becomes seated in their hearts as their very own innermost Self/Atman. Therefore, plants and trees are not lifeless entities, but instead, they are living beings that are inhabited by Brahman itself.  The same Brahman who inhabits the humans also inhabits the trees. Therefore, at the highest level, the worship of trees is nothing but the worship of Brahman who exists as the Innermost Self of both the trees and the humans. The Trees are then realized as being non-different from Brahman. But, such worship in a real sense can be practiced only by liberated sages (the Jivanmuktas) who alone can perceive their Innermost Atman in all objects and all objects as in their own Atman. However, others can worship Trees as a manifestation of Divine.

Worship of Trees as a manifestation of the Divine

Various trees have been associated with various deities. Ashwatta or Peepal tree has been specially associated with Lord Krishna. In Gita (10.26), he declares that among the trees, he is the “Ashwatta”. Similarly, Rudraksha (meaning Rudra’s eyes) seeds are associated with Shiva, Banyan tree is associated with Brahma, Ashoka tree is associated with Kaama (God of Love) and Palasha tree is associated with Soma or Moon.

Almost all Hindu deities are associated with one plant or the other. This association must be understood properly. Trees like Peepal and Banyan are living representation of the Gods. Hence, those Gods can be worshiped directly through the trees without having to invoke Gods into an idol or fire. It is for this reason that Lord Krishna says he is the Peepal among the Trees, denoting that Peepal tree is home to Vishnu-tattva. Hence, a worship of Peepal is same as worshiping Vishnu in an idol.

Trees and plants can be worshiped as a direct manifestation of various deities, or as objects conducive to the worship of those deities. Another way of worshiping the trees is by showing reverence to their life-force.

Worship of Trees as Living Spirits

The trees are to be respected and revered as living entities. They are not to be ignored as non-living objects that must be used and exploited for self-interest, but instead they are to be recognized as living forces that sustain the entire Earth.

Rig-Veda (5.41.11) says “May Plants, the Waters, and the Sky preserve us, and Woods and Mountains with their trees for tresses”.

This prayer recognizes plants and trees as living forces of nature that nourish humans and the entire planet. The flowers, fruits and shade that a tree gives are seen as items of nourishment that a tree provides us out of love.

This sentiment that recognizes trees as living beings can also be seen in the ritual that is prescribed for felling of trees for the purpose of making wooden idols for worship.

The tree that was selected for felling was worshiped by offering various substances to it. Then at night the Devatas, Pitrs, Rakshasas, Nagas, Asuras, Ganas and Vinayakas were all worshiped.

The idea behind the ritual is three fold. First, to ask permission from the tree to cut it; second to ask forgiveness from the tree for the violence caused to it; third to request the Devatas to impart better life to the spirit of the tree for the sacrifice it is doing.

These three modes of worshiping of the trees denote three stages of spiritual evolution of an Individual. A person first learns to communicate with the trees with an understanding that they are living forces of nature.

Then, his understanding evolves and he perceives various manifestations of divine as inhabiting the trees. He will begin to worship different deities through the worship of different trees. Finally, he attains the self-knowledge that his innermost-self/Atman alone exists and he, the tree and all other objects are all in reality non-different from Atman. Hence, through the medium of tree worship, a person ultimately attains Moksha.

  • Ayushi Gaur

    Worshipping ethics in question

  • Antara

    Tree worship to attain salvation! This is amazing!

  • Ashwati Menon

    Considering trees sacred and tying holy threads around them also contributes to the conservation of them

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Dr. Kumar Mahabir intends to Sue Trinidad and Tobago’s Ministry of Culture for Discrimination against Hindus

Mahabir says Trinidad's Culture Ministry promotes Christianity and discriminates against Hindus

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Trinidad & Tobago
The Calendar launched by Ministry of Culture has no Indian oriented event.
  • The Ministry of Culture of Trinidad and Tobago has been taken to court for discriminating against the country’s Hindu and Muslim culture
  • The complaint comes after the Ministry omits 11 important Indo-Trinidadian cultural events from its 2016 cultural calendar
  • The complaint also alleges that not one Indian oriented event was included in the Ministry’s calendar

Trinidad and Tobago, August 06, 2017: The Ministry of Culture for Trinidad & Tobago has been blamed for discriminating against its Hindu and Muslim culture. A prominent Indian activist Dr Kumar Mahabir has threatened to slap a court case on the Ministry.

The complaint submitted to Equal Opportunity Commission (EOC) by the leagl team of Dr. Mahabir alleges that the Ministry did not include even a single event that is Indian oriented in its 2016 calendar. It says that the Ministry was clearly discriminating against Indian and Hindu organizations citing the names of Institute of Indian Knowledge, Tank Sound Company, The Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha, Trinidad & Tobago Yatra Committee Inc, Karma: The Band, Missy & R Promotions, The Hindu Prachaar Kendra, International Day of Yoga Committee, Caroni Hindu Mandir, Casanova Productions, and UWI’s Film Programme Department.

Also Read: Stop Blaming Indians for the Black Crisis in Trinidad and Tobago

In the Ministry’s 2016 calendar, these 11 important Indo-Trinidadian events were omitted. Furthermore, the calendar also missed the inclusion of several Indian Arrival Day celebrations that were held in the country after the national holiday. The Ministry of Development, Culture, and Arts has failed to include these major events which exposes the larger problem; the failure to incorporate the Indian culture in its society.

This exposure has raised many other questions. One very crucial implication is that the Ministry will not be funding these organizations. Dr. Mahabir raises the question, “Is there ethnic equity in the top hierarchy of the Ministry’s staff?

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On the other hand, the Ministry of Culture is a big promoter of Christian Church organized events. It is interesting to note that at 35%, Indo-Trinidadians comprise the largest ethnic group in the society.

Dr. Kumar Mahabir had highlighted the exclusion of these several Indian events in a letter that was published regional as well as the international newspaper called ‘World Hindu News’. Dr. Mahabir, an Indo-Trinidadian himself, filed a complaint of discrimination against the Ministry.

The complaint has been launched under the discrimination category with respect to “provision of goods and services”

With ample evidence, Dr. Mahabir also claimed that Hindu and Muslim communities have suffered less favorable treatment as compared to other communities, based simply on culture and religion.

In his complaint letter, Dr. Mahabir demanded an apology by the Ministry to the communities. Further, he also demanded an explanation for the omission. However, the Ministry did not reply, the result of which has been the initiation of a legal inquiry.

– by a Staff Writer of NewsGram

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Ramayana : 6 Timeless Management Lessons From the Ancient Hindu Text that You Must Imbibe

Every Hindu child has grown up on a staple diet of lessons from Lord Ram's life and journey. However, the Ramayana has much more practical knowledge to impart.

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gods and goddesses of Hinduism
Ram Darbar. Wikimedia
  • The struggle of the divine prince Rama to rescue his wife Sita from the demon king Ravana- a story we have all heard but never thought we can implement in our life
  • The Valmiki Ramayana (the original text in Sanskrit) has nearly 50,000 verses with each verse enriched with wisdom to impart
  • With a heart fully illuminated, a pure conscience, anybody can incorporate a divinely Rama and the life lessons he imparted into their lives

New Delhi, August 7, 2017: Lord Rama is the epitome of compassion, love and positivity. His humble demeanor and his respect for elders and younger ones works like a teaching. His unwavering devotion and service to his parents motivates us to be a better version of ourselves.  His tale of brotherly love motivates us to forego greed and maintain relationships over money. Lord Rama has taught us a lot, and lessons from Ramayana have given us every reason to be like him.  And I do not ask for much but to only embed 10% of his persona in my life.

The Ramcharitmanas was written in Awadhi to reach the masses.
Verses from The Ramcharitmanas, a retelling of the Sanskrit Ramayana written by Tulsidas.

The Ramayana has nearly 50,000 verses, with each verse enriched with wisdom to impart. If you have grown up in a Hindu household, you must have watched several dramatic telecasts of the Ramayana on the television every Sunday morning, but have you ever wondered about all the practical philosophies the epic has to offer? Along with tales of compassion and perseverance, Ramayana also provides us with a practical guide to be better at our work- karma.

We present a list of management concepts that you might have missed from the epic:

  1. SWOT Analysis Solves Everything

Reference : As soon as Hanuman traced Sita to Lanka, the first thing he did was to survey and understand the area, and it’s people – their attitude, actions, strengths and weaknesses.

Interpretation : SWOT (Strength, weakness, opportunities,  threats) analysis forms a crucial part of the success of any business, regardless of what era it is undertaken in.

In order to be a smart businessman, a prerequisite is to be certain of your goals and targets, which should be followed by identifying the strengths and weaknesses of your competition and yourself.  Keeping all possible threats in mind, a plan should then be devised.

And you can be sure to hit the jackpot!

ALSO READ Ramlila: Eleven countries where Ramayana enactment tradition is thriving

2. Make A Plan. Stick To It.

Reference : When Lord Ram killed Maricha who came in the disguise of a deer, he shouted “Lakshman! Sita” in Ram’s voice. Assuming his brother is in danger, Sita ordered Lakshmana who was at guard, to go after the voice and save his brother. Rule 1 broken.

In spite of Lakshman strictly asking Sita to stay within the Lakshman-rekha (a secure boundary that he drew) she overstepped it to feed Ravana disguised as a sage, thus breaking rule 2. We all know what followed was an elaborate tale of abduction and fight.

Interpretation : The progress of an organization is the reason planning is important-devising a plan helps establish a set route to achieve target. It eliminates unnecessary effort and provides us with a definite set of steps to fulfill our goal. A plan also brings the entire team together by clearly attributing tasks, thus promoting better coordination.

What is equally important is to stick to the devised plan.

 

3. Keep A Check On The Stakeholders 

Reference : King Dashratha had three wives- Kaushalya, Sumitra and Kaikeyi and four sons. Kaikeyi gave birth to the eldest son, Bharat. Ram was the son of Kaushalya. And Sumitra gave birth to Lakshmana and Shatrughan. This means three individual minds that had their own opinions and thus, influenced the king in their own ways.

Lessons from Ramayana are enriched with wisdom.
Kind Dashratha and his three wives. Wikimedia

Interpretation : When there are too many stakeholders,  power is bound to get diluted, opinions get confusing, decision-making in turn becomes difficult and one can possible lose control of the task.

 

4. Importance of Communication 

Reference : The fight between Bali and the demon Mayavee extended for an elongated period inside a cave, while younger brother Sugreev was ordered to keep a watch and wait at the cave’s entrance. When nobody emerged from inside for an entire year,  Sugreev returned to kingdom Kishkindha assuming that they both were dead, proclaimed himself as Kind and made Bali’s wife his queen.

Interpretation : Miscommunication is a deadly killer- it not only creates confusion and fosters animosity, but also ends all possible scope of development. Effective communication steers away any confusion, keeping everybody aware of their roles and the growth of the business.

 

5. Value Your Subordinates 

Reference : When in his court his younger brother Vibhishana pointed out that abducting Sita was a wrong decision, Ravana immediately shut him off. Ravana’s arrogance thus resulted in him losing one of his finest and smartest ministers. When his wife expressed similar views, it didn’t take long for him to lash out at her too. Look what fate Ravana brought upon himself by ignoring the suggestions of his subordinates- he not only lost his kingdom but also his life.

Lessons from Ramayana can also be implemented in real life.
The demon king Ravana is understood to have lost more than just a battle because of his arrogance. Wikimedia

Interpretation : A good manager is one who knows the secret to get work done. If you believe you alone run a business, that is your arrogance. A good businessman includes everybody in the working, even the subordinate staff and makes them feel part of a team which together achieves success.

 

6. Mergers and Alliances 

Reference : When king Janak announced the wedding of his daughter Sita, the event saw participation by some of the strongest men.  However, it was Rama who won the competition, and in turn Sita. The two had been raised with the same values, and an absence of hedonistic beliefs.

In a similar way, the friendship of Sugreev and Rama serve as an example that mutual support and coordination between two parties can help achieve targets and growth.

Interpretation : A merger based on the congruence of basic values of both the parties involved is sure to lead you to a successful venture. A synergy in the respective core strengths and objectives of both parties involved helps tap their joint business potential better.

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The Hindu culture not just celebrates but worships the teachings of Ramayana. Rama’s journey is enriched with religious teachings, lessons, and reminders that allow the readers to tread upon the righteous path of Dharma and Karma.

When the heart is fully illuminated, and with a pure conscience, anybody can experience a divinely Rama within themselves and create their own Ram-Rajya.

– by a staff writer of NewsGram


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Reliving Christ Through Yakshagana : Is Evangelist Christianity Sneaking into Hindu Culture?

The book by Mulia Keshavaiah has caused a stir in the religious Indian diaspora. Is it a mere literary piece or there is more to the story?

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Yakshagana is mainly found in parts of Karnataka, and Kerala
Yakshagana is a traditional theatre form combining dance, music and drama. Wikimedia
  • Yakshagana is an ancient form of theatre, predominantly performed in the Kannada regions
  • The art form has come under scrutiny following a book by writer Mulia Keshavaiah
  • Questions about the dominance and operation of Christian Missionaries have come up in the Indian landscape. 

Mangaluru, August 2, 2017: Yakshagana – a scholastic name used for the last 200 years meaning the song (gana) of the yaksha (nature spirits).

Originating in Karnataka around 500 years ago, Yakshagana acquired a theatrical form in the coastal belt by combining dance, music, and dialogue with a unique style and form. The themes for the show usually took inspiration from the Hindu Mythology, until noted writer Mulia Keshavaiah changed the course of the gana forever.

While the life of Jesus Christ has been told innumerable times previously through songs, films, poems, and stories, the tale had never been told in the form of a Yakshagana.

Keshavaiah combined the two, much to the amusement of the people. The shows then began to narrate stories of Jesus, Satan, Joseph and Mary among others.

The troupe did not falter the tradition and successfully staged shows across the North and South Kannada districts, attracting an audience of both the faiths during the 1970s.

The art of Yakshagana essentially involves conveying stories through extempore dialogues. However, Keshavaiah soon noticed that characters from Ramayana, Mahabharata and other Hindu epics were beginning to creep into the Bible narratives. This was because most of the actors were Hindus who were unacquainted with the traditional tales of the Bible, he had told The Hindu.

In order to educate the artists and uphold the sanctity of the stories, Keshavaiah took to writing a book of prasangas (poetry) based on Christian stories from the Bible.

‘Yesu Christha Mahathne’, a major exodus from a tradition largely dominated by the Hindus, was completed in 1976 and accepted without any criticism. In fact, it became so popular that the book was also translated into English and German.

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After almost four decades, Keshavaiah revised his book and launched Mahachethana Yesu Christha Mahathne’ again on May 25 this year at Mangaluru by adding dialogues and commentaries. “The commentaries have been written to keep the storyline intact and guide the artists”, said Raghu Mulia, Kashavaiah’s son, in a statement to The Hindu.

Calling it a “purely literary work”, Mr. Raghu believes the book is intended to attract the Christian community of the coastal region to the art form. Following the release of the book, their troupe also performed a Bible Yakshagana performance.

ALSO READ: Padma Bhushan David Frawley points out Christian Missionaries’ assault on Hindu Dharma

However, with the change in time, a change in the mentality of the people has also been observed, who are no longer as welcoming to Yakshagana’s Christian stories as they were in the 1970s.

A question that immediately comes to mind here is whether to see this as an attempt by Christian Missionaries to try and sneak into Hindu culture through camouflage?

Abrahamic religions, that include Christianity and Islam, are popularly believed to uphold their religions as the absolute truth and spread the ‘word of God’, which often takes the shape of Missionaries. However, the honesty and purity of this act remain debatable.

Why do Christian missionaries do ‘evangelisation’ in India?

Although missionaries cannot be stereotyped, they each have a calling.

The faith holds that God has sent a missionary to promote the religious or social beliefs of the organization they represent, which often takes the form of evangelism, discipleship, and church planting.

Previously, missionaries have had a lot of success in Africa, the South Sea Islands, and Latin America. And India remains an easy target because of its inherent flexibility. In such a situation, polarization continues to prove a threat to the innate Hindu design.

In the Indian landscape where religious opinions exercise an active presence, situations don’t take long to take a turn.

Social media and public discussion platforms have remained abuzz ever since the release of the book, as it received flak and disapproval from people affiliated with Hindutva groups over the traditional form of Yakshagana being used to ‘propagate’ Christian faith.

Public forums have at length discussed the purpose and effect the act can possibly have on the Hindu design, as questions on proselytization (convert or attempt to convert from one religion, belief, or opinion to another) are raised.

Keshavaiah is also believed to have been threatened by right-wing Hindutva groups for promoting religious conversions in Karnataka, who allege that he is beguiling Hindu believers to embrace Christianity using Yakshagana as a tool.

Yakshagana traditionally depicts stories from kavya (epic poems) and the Puranas (ancient Hindu texts).  Believed to have been strongly influenced by the Vaishnava Bhakti movement in its present form, its roots and ties to various aspects of Hinduism remain evident. In such a scenario, according to popular opinions, it was never appropriate in the first place to use the art for a ‘foreign’ religion.  Mixing the art form further holds a potential to result in religious confusions.

Yakshagana is usually based on tales from Hindu Puranas and kavyas
Yakshagana dancers performing a prasang on Jatayu, a bird-character from the Hindu mythology. Wikimedia

Kashavaiah and his family, who now carry the legacy of his troupe, however, maintain that the Yakshagana is a traditional art form of Karnataka that has never belonged to any one religion exclusively.

Calling it literature, Raghu Mulia told The Hindu, “No bias should be attributed to it. Those raising objections have not read the book and are not familiar with Yakshagana”.

-prepared by Soha Kala of NewsGram. Twitter @SohaKala


 
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.
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