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Thursday, July 18, 2013

Hinduism or Vedic Dharma - Part 6

Let's attempt to summarize what we learned about Samhitaas in the prior posts:
  • They are Sam-Hi-Taa or a Compilation of Knowledge or a Collection of Mantras or Hymns
  • They are the basic metrical (mantra) text of each of the Vedas (Rigveda, Yajurveda (Krishna/Shukla), Saamaveda and Atharvaveda).
  • The Samhitaas along with the Braahmanaas form the Karma-Kanda segment of the Vedas and deals with ceremonial rites and rituals.
  • The Samhitaas form the first part of each of the four Vedas.
  • As Samhitaa is the collection of the mantras, Samhitaas are often referred to as Mantras, most of which are concerned with nature and deities.
  • The Samhitaas are named after the Vedas (hear Part 1 & Part 2) they belong to, for example Rig-Samhitaas/Rig-Veda-Samhitaas will refer to Samhitaas of Rigveda:
    • Rig-Samhitaas (chant) consist of mantras known as Richas.
    • Sam-Samhitaas (Kauthuma Shaaka) consist of mantras in the form of songs or Saama Gaanam, which are meant for liturgy (The christian Psalms may have well originated from the root Saam).
    • Yajur-Samhitaas (Krishna & Ghaanam & Shukla Kanva Shaaka) consist of mantras composed in the form of poems and prose (as Sooktams and Vallis).
    • Atharva-Samhitaas (Saunaka Shaaka)consist of mantras meant for routine rites and rituals (as Tantraas & Aagamas).
There are also many post-vedic Samhitaas as well, that are just compendiums by sages and seers:
  • Ashtavakra Gita or the Song of Ashtavakra, is a Advaita Vedaanta scripture that originates as a dialogue between Sage Ashtavakra and King Janaka of Mithila (Lord Ram's father-in-law).
  • Bhrigu Samhitaa is an astrological masterpiece treatise by Maharishi Bhrigu, adopted father of Goddess Mahalakshmi and biological father of Bhaargav or Shukrachaarya. The Bhrigu Samhita is said to contain predictions on the current and future lives as well as information on the past life. These predictions will be accurate based on the actions (karma) of the questioner.
  • Brahma Samhitaa is a sanskrit paancharaatra text composed of verses of prayer spoken by Brahma glorifying the supreme Lord Krishna or Govinda at the beginning of creation.
  • Deva Samhitaa is a collection of Sanskrit hymns by Gorakh Sinha during the early medieval period. It propounded the theory of Origin of Jats from Shiva's Locks.
  • Garga Samhitaa or the Narrations of Sage Garga deals with the life of Lord Krishna with whom he was intimately associated as his preceptor. This is different from the astrological text of the same name and is a part of the Paancharaatra Aagama.
  • Kashyap Samhitaa also known as Braddha Jivakiya Tantra is a treatise on Ayurveda attributed to the sage Kashyap. The Kashyap samhita contains 200 chapters of:
    1. Sutra sthan, of 30 chapters
    2. Nidan sthan, of 8 chapters
    3. Vimana sthan, of 8 chapters
    4. Shareer sthan, of 8 chapters
    5. Indriya sthan, of 12 chapters
    6. Chikitsa sthan, of 30 chapters
    7. Siddhi sthan, of 12 chapters
    8. Kalpa sthan, of 12 chapters
    9. Khil Bhag, of 80 chapters
  • Sushruta Samhitaa is a sanskrit treatise on surgery attributed to Sushruta, a physician who possibly resided in Varanasi around 6th century BCE.
  • Charaka Samhitaa or Compendium of Charaka is an early text on Ayurveda (Indian traditional medicine) compiled by Sage Charaka. It is one of the two foundational texts of this field, both dating to the early centuries of the Common Era, alongside the Sushruta Samhitaa. The extant text has ashtaanga sthaana (eight sections), totalling 120 chapters. These 8 sections are:
    1. Sutra sthana (30 chapters), (deals with remedies,diet and duties of a physician.)
    2. Nidana sthana (8 chapters), (discusses eight chief diseases.)
    3. Vimana sthana (8 chapters), (contains pathology & medical studies.)
    4. Sarira sthana (8 chapters), (describes embryology & anatomy of a man.)
    5. Indriya sthana (12 chapters),(elaborates on diagnosis & prognosis.)
    6. Cikitsa sthana (30 chapters), (deals with special therapy.)
    7. Kalpa sthana (12 chapters), (describes general therapy.)
    8. Siddhi sthana (12 chapters).(also describes general therapy.)
    17 chapters of Cikitsa sthana and complete Kalpa sthana and Siddhi sthana were added later by D??habala (5th century). The text starts with Sutra sthana which deals with fundamentals and basic principles of Ayurveda practice.
  • Bheda Samhitaa
  • Harita Samhitaa
  • Shiva Samhitaa is a Sanskrit text on yoga, written by an unknown author in 17th or 18th century, but James Mallinson dates the text before 1500CE in a 2007 translation.
  • Yogayajnavalkya Samhitaa is a classical treatise on yoga traditionally attributed to sage Yajnavalkya. It takes the form of a dialogue between Yajnavalkya and his wife Gargi, a renowned female philosopher.
  • Hatha Yoga Pradipika and Gheranda Samhitaa meaning Gheranda's collection are two other classic texts of hatha yoga apart from Shiva Samhita. Gheranda Samhitaa is a late 17th century text and is considered to be the most encyclopedic of the three classic texts on hatha yoga. It is a manual of yoga taught by Gheranda to Chanda Kapali. Unlike other hatha yoga texts, it speaks of a sevenfold yoga:
    1. Shatkarma for purification
    2. Asana for strengthening
    3. Mudra for steadying
    4. Pratyahara for calming
    5. Pranayama for lightness
    6. Dhyana for perception
    7. Samadhi for isolation
  • Goraksha Samhitaa
  • Maitrayani Samhitaa
  • Paancharaatra and Ahirbudnya Samhitaa
Having discussed the Samhitaas at length, let us turn our attention to the Braahmanaas in the next post...

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Hinduism or Vedic Dharma - Part 5

In part 4 of the continuing series Hinduism or Vedic Dharma, we ended with a classification of the five bhaagas of Vedas. We will now go over each of them in further detail.

Even though I wrote that there is only a Karma Khanda and a Gnana Khanda division of the 5 bhaagas, some people hold a view that the Aranyakas ought to be treated separately as a Upasana Khanda, since it deals with methods of worship. So be it.

We learnt that Samhitas are collections of metric verses or mantras. One of the famous samhitas that is recited on a daily basis in South India is the Taittiriya Samhita (or Shaaka) from the Krishna Yajur Veda. The Taittiriya Shaaka (recension) of the Krishna Yajur Veda got its name from:
  • Per Vishnu Puranam, from a disciple Tittri of the grammarian Yaska who predated Panini
  • Per other tradition that when Sage Yagnavalkya was asked by his offended guru to return back the veda which the former had studied under his guru, Yagnavalkya spewed it out, and other rishis eagerly swallowed it taking the form of Tittris (patridges)
The Taittiriya shaaka consists of:
  • The Taittiriya Samhita (TS) which consists of 8 books or kaandas, subdivided in chapters or prapathakas, further subdivided into individual hymns. Some individual hymns in this Samhita have gained particular importance in Hinduism; e.g. TS 4.5 and TS 4.7 constitute the Shri Rudram Chamakam, while 1.8.6.i is the Shaivaite Tryambakam mantra.
  • The Taittiriya Brahmana (having three kaandas). Part of kathaka shakha brahmana is also included in this shakha.
    • the Taittiriya Aranyaka (having seven prashnas)
    • The Taittiriya Upanishad (having three prashnas or vallis - Sheeksha valli, Ananda valli and Bhrigu valli)
    • The Mahanarayana Upanishad
    • The Nakshatra Suktam comes from Kaanda 3, Prapaathakah 5, Anuvaaka 1 of the Taittiriya Samhita
  • The Apastamba Shrautasutra/The Bodhayana Shrautasutra/The Vaikhanasa Shrautasutra/The Hiranyakeshi Shrautasutra
The Taittiriya Upanishad and Mahanarayana Upanishad are considered to be the seventh, eighth, ninth and tenth prashnas of the Taittiriya Aaranyaka. The words prapaathaka and kaanda (meaning sections) are interchangeably used in the Vedic literature. Prashna and valli refer to sections of the Aaranyaka. Prashna is usually in the mode of asking questions, while valli as in Taittiriya Upanishad's Shikshavalli (on education), BrahmAnandavalli (on supreme joy), Bhriguvalli (on Sage Bhrigu's teachings) elaborate the philosophy behind those attributes and extol their virtues in the form of hymns. However, in his commentaries, Sayana styles them as Samhiti, Vaaruni and Yaagniki according to the subject matters dealt in the three "valli"s (remember, Samhitihi Devataahaa Upanishadaha Tharpayaami?).

Shikshvalli, for example, deals with the duties of a student and topics like character building and importance of education. It begins with this declaration about phonetics: शीक्षाम व्याख्यास्यामः। वर्णः स्वरः। मात्रा बलं। साम संतानः। इत्युक्तः शीक्शाध्यायः  
A famous advice of Shikshavalli to a student is: मातृ देवो भव। पितृ देवो भव। आचार्य देवो भव। अथिति देवो भव which means 'Mother is your god. Father is your god. Preceptor is your god. Guest is your god'. This can also be translated to mean 'God is manifest as your mother, father, preceptor and even as the occasional guest that graces your home, so be careful in your behavior".

BrahmAnandavalli teaches the various attributes of the Supreme Being or Brahman and the joy of knowing and experiencing:  ॐ ब्रह्मविदप्नोति परं। तद्येषा अभ्युक्ता।सत्यं ज्ञानमनन्तं ब्रह्म

Bhriguvalli focuses on subtle topics like the Pancha Kosha (5 sheaths) of the Atman. It's first verse after the invocation:
भृगुवैं वारुणि:।वरुणं पितरमुपससार।अधीहि भगवो ब्रह्मेति।तस्मा एतत्प्रोवाच।अन्नं प्राणं चक्षु: स्रोत्रं मनो वाचमिति
which means "Bhrigu the son of Varuna approached his father to teach him about Brahman. And his father started with the upadesha that Annam (food), Praanam (breath), Chakshu (sight), Srotram (sound), Manam (mind) and Vaak (speech) are all borne out of, subsist and dissolve into that which is called as the Brahman.

Actually the first two vallis start with an invocatory verse each: हरि: ॐ। शं नो मित्र: शं वरुण:। शं नो भवत्वर्यमा।शं न इन्द्रो बृहस्पति:। शं नो विष्णुरुरुक्रम:॥ whereas Bhriguvalli starts with सहनाववतु। सहनौ भुनक्तु। सहवीर्यं करवावहै।तेजस्विनावधितमस्तु मा विद्विषावहै। ॐ शान्ति: शान्ति: शान्ति:॥ हरि: ॐ॥

Let's take a break here and continue with the Samhitas and Brahmanas (Karma Khandas) in greater detail in the next post.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Hinduism or Vedic Dharma? - Part 4

Next let's turn our attention to the very reason Hinduism is known as Veda Dharma - the VEDAS.

Vedas are often referred to as apauruṣeya ("not of human agency"), and are thus known as śruti ("what is heard") in the vedic tradition. According to the śrota ("listener") tradition, Vedas were instructed to Lord Brahma by Lord Vishnu during a Brahma Day (a Kalpa or 4.32 billion human years, wow). Overcome by tiredness as his night approached, Brahma let slip the 4 Vedas while yawning deeply, to two demons Madhu and Kaitabh who emanated from his nostrils. This brought creation to a screeching halt. Lord Brahma complained to Lord Vishnu, who promptly assumed the form of Hayagriva Avatar, destroyed the two offenders and retrieved the Vedas back to Brahma. Another legend has it that Lord Vishnu as Hayagriva fought the demon Hayagriva who stole the Vedas from Brahma. Yet another states that Lord Vishnu compiled the Vedas in the Hayagriva form. Be all that as it may, glory unto Lord Vishnu they have survived until today, waiting to be handed down to future generations.

But then what exactly is TODAY in vedic timeline? We are in the 5112th year from start of Kali Yuga ("dark age") in the 28th Mahayuga (Mahayuga=1 Chaturyuga=4 Yugas) within 7th of 14 Manvantaras ("life of a Manu") of the 4th of 30 Kalpas, the "Sveta Varaha" or White Boar. In terms of elapsed time from big bang, it is 12.96 billion years PLUS 50% of a day of Brahma or 2.16 billion years until now, a whopping 15.12 billion years. We have 2.16 billion more years to go before the end of this Kalpa. Before I "boar" you to death, I promise to elaborate on the vedic metrics in a special post on Vedic Timeline.

We may liken the 4 Vedas to the 4 heads of Lord Brahma, the 4 Sanath Kumaras, the 4 Vibhava expansions of Lord Vishnu (Sankarshana, Pradhyumna, Aniruddha and Vasudeva) or even the 4 realms of creation, namely, Suva (Heavens), Bhuva (Interstitial), Bhoo(Earth) and Paathala(Netherworld). However, please be aware that traditional scholars do not indulge in such imageries, unless mentioned in the Vedas or espoused by saints and intellectual giants.

The Vedas (Sanskrit वेद véda, "knowledge") are the SINGULAR scriptural source of ancient India, nay the cradle of civilization itself. They are written in (Vedic) Sanskrit also known as Deva-Nagari, originating from the Realms of Devas or Demigods. The four vedas are divided as follows:
1. The Rk Veda - Metric verses that describe the attributes and dominion of the pantheon of vedic deities prominently Agni, Indra, Vishnu, Rudra, Pusan and Mithra/Varuna. They contain hymns to be recited by the hotṛ;
2. The Yajur Veda - comprises of the Shukla (bright) and Krishna (dark) versions and contains formulas to be recited by the adhvaryu or officiating priest;
3. The Sama Veda - hymns or udgita containing formulas to be sung by the udgātṛ, and
4. The Atharva Veda - a collection of spells and incantations, apotropaic charms and speculative hymns, from where Ayurveda, Magic and various other Vaamabhaga (left-handed) practices are claimed to have originated.

Though Veda does mean Knowledge, it can be attributed to other forms of study of nature as well, like, agada-veda "medical science", sasya-veda "science of agriculture", or even ayur-veda "science of longevity". In this context, it is safe to refer to liturgical and ritual content of the four vedas as saṃhitās ("collection of mantras, or chants").

Each of the above veda comprises of the following divisions or bhaagas:
1. The Saṃhitās ("collection") are collections of metric texts ("mantras"). The above four vedas themselves can be called samhitas and are available in several recensions ("śākhās"). One popular Samhita is the Taittriya Samhita of Krishna Yajur Veda.
2. The Brahmanas, are prose texts that discuss, in technical fashion, the solemn sacrificial rituals as well as comment on their meaning and many connected themes. Each of the Brahmanas is associated with one of the Samhitas or its Shakas. Sometimes they may also contain the Aranyakas and Upanishads.
3. The Aranyakas, "wilderness texts" or "forest treatises", were composed by people who meditated in the woods as recluses and are the third part of the Vedas.
4. The Upanishads which form the corpus of knowledge that interpret the polytheistic and ritualistic Samhitas in philosophical and metaphorical ways to explore abstract concepts such as the Absolute (Brahman), and the soul or the self (Atman), introducing the popular Vedanta philosophy.
5. The Sūtras (Sanskrit: सूत्र , Devanagari: सूत्र, Pāli: sutta), literally mean thread or line that holds things together, but metaphorically refers to an aphorism (or line, rule, formula), or a collection of such aphorisms in the form of a manual. It is primarily divided into Shrautasutras ("heard sutras") and the Grhyasutras ("held sutras").

The first three of the above five usually constitute the Poorva Bhaaga or Karma Khaanda, while the last two (sometimes including Vedanta) constitute the Uttara Bhaaga or Gnyana Khaanda.

More about these in Part 5 of the Series.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Hinduism or Vedic Dharma? - Part 3

My brother was awarded 3 books as prize for winning an essay competition conducted by Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan. One of them was a thin small book of about 30 odd pages that discusses the basics of Hinduism. It has Himalayas on the cover (bluish white background). This book served as my introduction to Hindu way of life and thought. This is where I read about the 5 Yamas and 5 Niyamas constituting a total of 10 hindu commandments which I have listed below:
Yamas or Abstain From or Don't do stuff:
1. Ahimsa - Non-violence. The saying goes "Ahimsa Paramo Dharmaha" which translates to "Non-violence is the greatest good". Mahatma Gandhi is considered as the embodiment of this virtue.
2. Satya - Truth in thought, word and deed. Veda claims "Satyam Vada, Dharmam Chara" which means "Speak Truth, Walk the righteous path". Again, let's recap that Gandhiji invented the unique concept of "Satyagraha or Satya Aagraha or live by the truth".
3. Asteya - Non-stealing. Remember Old Testament commandment "Thou shalt not steal"?
4. Brahmacharya - Abstinence from Sexual Excesses. Quite often people misquote this as "abstain from sex" itself. If this were the commandment from God, then He wouldn't have blessed matrimony or Grihasta Ashrama. Simply put, restrain from any excesses, specially sex.
5. Aparigraha - Non-covetousness or absence of greed. Again remember one of the 10 commandments "Thou shalt not covet"?

Niyamas or Daily Routine or Do stuff:
1. Shaucha - External Purification. The saying goes "Cleanliness is next only to Godliness". The Ashtaanga Yoga clearly delineates the benefits of Shaucha (remember Dauthi and Neti Karmas?)
2. Santhosha - Contentment, Joy, Happiness, Fulfillment. It is the shaucha of the mind. Singaporeans even named an island Sentosa.
3. Tapas - Penance or Austerity. Something most people wish to shun, but is in fact the holistic panacea for all our samsaaric ills. Pilgrimages belong to this category. Ramayana glorified this quality and the subsequent one through it's very first verse "Tapas Swadhyaaya Niratham, Tapasvi Vaagvidhaam Varam" or "A sagely person imbued with austerity and self-study (sva atma bodha) obtains the boon of wise verbosity", indirectly referring to Sage Vaalmiki its author.
4. Svaadhyaaya - Self-study or Contemplation in Privacy. Usually accomplished with the help of dispassionate study of scriptures to understand their esoteric essence. Svaadhyaaya must be accompanied by sharing its fruits with others who merit it, but are engulfed in avidya or ignorance.
5. Ishvara Pranidhaana - Surrender of self to God. This niyama is further validation of the trifold concept in Vedic Dharma of Chit, Achit and Ishvara. This leads the self to modesty, humility and sense of awe at the wonders of creation and the Creator.

Though Yamas and Niyamas have an obvious overlap with the 10 Commandments from God handed down to Moses, they differ in the aspect of the five Niyamas. But anyone who claims himself to be a Hindu and more specifically, say a vaishnavaite, cannot afford to ignore these dictates. Vaishnavism enjoins these 10 cardinal principles and elaborates further aacharams and anushtaanams required to be a true vaishnavaite. For your listening/learning pleasure, is an exquisite rendition of the famous "Vaishnava Janato" of Sri. Narsinh Mehta by a Krishna devotee chinnywilly. This is the gujarathi hymn cherished by Mahatma Gandhiji:

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Hinduism or Vedic Dharma? - Part 2

The etymological origins for the term Hindu in Wikipedia has this to say: "It was only towards the end of the 18th century that the European merchants and colonists referred collectively to the followers of Indian religions as Hindus. Eventually, it came to define a precisely religious identity that includes any person of Indian origin who neither practiced Abrahamic religions nor non-Vedic Indian religions, such as Jainism, Sikhism or Buddhism, thereby encompassing a wide range of religious beliefs and practices related to Sanātana Dharma."

There is a popular term in the IT profession that abbreviates to SOD - Segregation of Duties. Hinduism is a honorific term for SOPG - Segregation of a People by Geography. The real segregation in Sanatana (Vedic) Dharma was based on a different system - the Varna Ashrama. Varna literally means color, so it could have had racial origins in the past. It would have been better if the system was called Varga Ashrama instead, because Varga does mean classification. Anyway, The Srimad Bhagavad Gita composed 5000 years back mentions Lord Krishna as personally attesting to "Chaatur Varnya Mayaa Srutham" which translates to "I created the 4 Varnas". So by definition, a modern day Hindu is one who is:
1. Pantheistic
2. Adherent of Veda Dharma, so essentially a believer or Aastika
3. Lived or lives by the side of the river Sindhu but not a muslim
4. Is not a direct follower of Buddhism, Jainism or Sikhism
5. Be an Indian or be spread across the world but belongs to Hinduism
6. Yavanas or Mlecchas who have formally converted to Hinduism by freewill
7. Are militantly disposed to radical muslims and covert conversion to christianity (just kidding - this is the Nehruvian-Stalinist propaganda against RSS, VHP and political parties like BJP).

Just to clarify once again, ATHEISTS or NAASTIKAS are not covered under the Hindu umbrella. You are welcome to drench in the Anti-North, Anti-Sanskrit, Anti-Brahmin Dravidian Movement to your heart's content and enjoy performing your key yagna, the Ravan-Lila ceremony. Incidentally, according to the Hindu scripture or Ithihaasa Ramayana, Ravana is the Brahmin/Raakshasa and Rama is the kshatriya who incurs brahma-hatthi dosha or the sin of slaying a brahmin. The idiots from the Dravidian Movement fail to understand this fundamental fact before taking a anti-brahmin stance and worshipping Ravana.

We will continue to explore the following from Part 3 of the series onwards:
1. Basic Tenets of Hinduism - the 10 Hindu Commandments
2. The Vedas (Sruthis or the "heard") and their origins
3. The Socio-Ethical scriptures (Smrithis or the "remembered")
4. The Itihaasas or Historical Narratives in the form of Verses
5. The Shastras or Treatises
6. The Sutras or Aphorisms
7. The structure, goals, accomplishments and eventual decline of the vedic society
8. The rediscovery of ancient civilizations, continents and technology
9. The consciousness evolution of the present into the future aided by Vedic Dharma
9. Witherto and Conclusions from the engendering past and our endangered present

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Hinduism or Vedic Dharma? - Part 1

At the very outset, Hinduism is a misnomer. There was never one by that name till some atheistic europeans influenced by Karl Marx and Bertrand Russell decided to include all religions as fanciful ideas, just like the other "isms". Does Communism, Capitalism, Totalitarianism, Humanism, Rationalism, Organism, Jism and a whole lot of other Confusianisms ring a bell?

The world's oldest and perennial of all human thought about God, Creation, Earth, Worldy Life and After Life stem from a single source, the Sanatana or Vedic Dharma. Sanatana because it is perennial and Vedic because it lays it authority on the Vedas. Even reformist offshoots of Vedic Dharma such as Buddhism and Jainism acknowledge Vedas as the source of all human knowledge and metaphysical/spiritual exploration.

Also, it may be helpful to mention here that this Vedic Dharma received an embellishment at the hands of the revered Jagadguru Sri Adi Shankara Bhagavad Paadhaal. He codified it into six branches by belief and practice:

1. Sauryam or Souryam, based on worship of Sun
2. Skaandam or Kaumaram, based on worship of God Skanda, Kumara or Muruga
3. Gaanapatyam, based on worship of God Ganapathi or Ganesha
4. Shaaktam, based on worship of Goddess Shakti, consort of God Shiva
5. Shaivam, based on worship of God Shiva himself
6. Vaishnavam, based on worship of God Vishnu and Goddess Lakshmi as the divine pair

It is with regret I have to record that my eager search on google for Sauryam, Souryam, or the word religion attached to either, just produced results of a TELUGU MOVIE by that name. That sun worshippers have become near extinct on this planet can be evidenced by the lack of even a single website credited to Sauryam or Souryam. In this regard, Kaumaram and Shaivam fare better because of their immense following all over the world.

Then why invent the term "Hinduism"? We will delve into it further in Part 2 of the series.