Rationale behind Hindu Customs and Beliefs
4th May 1999 Sudheer Birodkar @yahoo.com
Dear Reader, Have you ever looked upon the present as a result of history? Sounds like a very banal and commonplace statement, does it? Yes but we are a result of our past, a result of the lives and ideas of our ancestors. Here we try to study of Indian History by 'standing on its head' the conventional approach to the study of history which begins with the dim past and comes to the present as a conclusion. Our approach starts with social institutions and practices of the present age and traces their origin and development to the historic past. With this approach you will not feel lost on the opening page of a history book. You are not confronted with a society in which lived your ancestors two or three thousand years ago. You begin with the society surrounding you, which is of your immediate concern. This method of interpreting the present and past should establish an intimate rapport between a citizen of today and the heritage bequeated to him by earlier generations. In our lifestyle, customs, traditions, beliefs; our history is reflected but it is normally beyond our perception. It would be a fascinating and enlightening experience to trace the origins of things we see and do today in the bygone ages. As a citizen of India can one answer questions like: 1) Why have Indians always attached more importance to Non-violence (Ahimsa) than any other people ? 2) How did vegetarianism become nearly an all pervading attitude in India from ancient times ? 3) How is it that the cow (Gomata) and bull (Nandi) have come to acquire an exalted place in our religious pantheon ? 4) How was the practice of charity (Dana) elevated to the status of a religious offering ? 5) Why do we propitiate the elementals, especially fire ( in Yagna ) to usher in prosperity ? 6) How did our insistence on performing events such as marriage, thread ceremony, opening ceremony, etc., at a certain auspicious time (Muhurta) come into being ? 7) How did the practice of observing fast (Upavasa) originate and what could be the motive behind fasting and other practices like walking over hot coals, puncturing parts of one's body or tonsuring one's head ? 8) What purpose did the ideas like Moksha and Nirvana (release from the cycle of re-birth) serve in Indian society and how did they come into being ? 9) What is the forgotten meaning behind our religious symbols like Swastika and Omkar ? 10) What does the vermilion mark that we traditionally apply on our forehead (Tilaka) and our method of greeting each other with folded hands (Namaskara) signify ? 11) How did we come to look upon the saffron colour as sacred ? 12) What do we know about the social origins of festivals like Navaratri, Diwali or Holi, that we celebrate with faith and fervour ? 13) Why had secularism, commonly understood as religious tolerance (Sarva dharma samabhava) normally been part of Indian polity in ancient times as in post-independence India ? 14) Why do we attach overwhelming importance to ideas like fate (Daiva) and re-birth (Punarjanma) ? 15) Why do we explain away disqualifications arising out of birth in a particular caste and other misfortunes with the doctrine of deeds in past life (Karma) ? 16) Why do we frown upon a person who marries outside his caste ? 17) How did this endogamy (Sajatiya Vivaha) originate ? 18) Why has occupational stratification crystallized with birth in a particular caste only in Indian Society ? 19) How did one section of Indian society acquire the hereditary status of noble born (Dvija) and another as low born (Shudra) ? 20) Why do some of us still consider the mere touch of members of some castes as polluting ? 21) How did our attitudes of untouchability and unapproachability originate ? 22) Why did we follow, till recently, practices like dowry (Daheja), Widow burning (Sati) and child marriage (Bal-Vivaha) ? 23) What reason lies behind our concept of Satyuga (age of righteousness) which we believe existed in some time past and will return at the end of the existing dark age (Kaliyuga) ? The list could be endless. The author has attempted to present facts and hypotheses about these various issues by beginning from the present period and tracing into the past, the evolution of these social attitudes which today continue to be a part of an average Indian's temperament. Awareness of the origins of our social attitudes also acquires added importance as compared to issues of the contemporary age like inflation, unemployment, corruption, the global arms race, etc. This is so because, contemporary issues are always in focus. The majority of us are quite familiar with them as these issues are products of our age and the media keeps us well informed about-developments taking place. Added to this, these issues are not bound up with religion, tradition or culture and hence are always open to public debate. On the contrary much is unknown to us about our attitudes that arise from socio-religious traditions inherited from the past. Their having originated in the hazy past alongwith the sanctity that is attached to most of them, results in our being ignorant of the real meaning behind attitudes that contribute significantly to the shaping of our temperament. Pierced stonework. It is incredible to know that such pieces were sculpted from stone in the middle ages in India. ORIGIN OF THE CAT-ASTROPHE An anecdote would illustrate the birth of a belief from a practice that began in a simple utilitarian manner. This is the story of a pious God-fearing king from ancient India. To earn the praise of the lords of Heaven this king annually organised mass feeding of Sadhus, Sanyasis (hermits) and Brahmins (priests). Countless number of learned Brahmins, Sadhus and Sanyasis used to converge on his palace to partake in the gastronomical delights and bestow their blessings on the generous king. On one such occasion it so happened that when the holy assemblage was being served Kheer (the Indian porridge) one of the royal pet cats ran into the unfortunate steward who tripped and measured his length on the floor, spilling the bubbling stew on their holiness'. The helpless steward was at the receiving end of their curses, but the enlightened king pacified them and after performing ablutions on them to wash off the offending stains, he decreed that henceforth before the commencement of the great feast all cats in the palace ground should be herded together and tied to a Stake, to prevent any such untoward incident in future. The mass feeding continued undisturbed year after year and so did the practice of tying up to a stake, the feline members of the royal habitat who came to be looked upon as portending misfortune. With the passing of years the old king was no more, but his son was no less pious than him and so also was the grandson. Generation after generation scrupulously adhered to this practice of tying up the feline population followed by the grand feast. No feast could begin unless tying up 'ceremony' had been duly completed. The two practices came to be looked upon as essential for earning the praise of the lords of Heaven. Then one year came a severe famine. Rivers went dry, fields were barren and the kingdom's people started migrating to better places. Came the day for the annual event but there were hardly any Brahmins left to do justice to the meagre rations that remained in the royal larder. After consulting his Chaplain the reigning king decided to temporarily suspend the second practice of hosting the grand luncheon. But as advised by the learned chaplain, the king decided to solemnly honour the first practice of tying up a few feline 'beasts of doom' and earn whatever praise the lords of heaven could bestow. But there were no cats to be found in the famine-struck kingdom. So the King ordered that a few cats be obtained from the neighbouring kingdom for the tieing-up ceremony to be duly performed on the auspicious day! It was a bad time for the country and the famine continued for many consecutive years during which period, the Reigning king passed away and was succeded by his youthful son. The youthful King also scrupulously adhered to the practice of annually tying up all cats to earn the lord's praise, as he had seen his father perform it. The country finally recovered from the dry spell and happier days were back. With prosperity having returned, the old generation advisers recalled the practice of giving the annual feast and the king wanted to re-institute that practice after seeking the royal chaplain's blessings. But the royal chaplain had seen how his power over the king had increased in absence of other Brahmins who would otherwise hover around the king. Keeping this in mind, the wily chaplain advised the king against re-instituting the mass feeding because, he said, the terrible famine was a result of divine wrath on the practice of feeding idle members of society which had been observed since countless generations. The chaplain convinced the king by telling him that the country obtained deliverance from the divine wrath only because the Gods saw that this practice had been done away with for the last few years. The chaplain argued that it was enough to continue the annual event of tying up the inauspicious feline harbingers of catastrophes and earning the praise of the lords of heaven. Thus convinced, the king ordained that henceforth in his kingdom all feline creatures were to be herded together and tied up on the day the grand feast used to be observed. This was to be the sacred duty of every citizen, as the future of the kingdom depended on the lord's blessings which could not be obtained if the 'holy' practice of tying up all cats was not followed. Non-observance of the practice was made a punishable offence. From that year onwards, the grand feast was forgotten but the ceremony of tying cats took root. And ages later neither the king remained nor his kingdom, but this 'holy' ritual that defied rationale built up the belief of cats being the vehicles of ill omen. A belief which has withstood the test of time. A reading of the Panchantantra, Hitopadesha, Katha-Sarit-Sagara and the Jatakas, our national collections of similar anecdotes would bring out many instances of how most of our rituals and beliefs originated from simple worldly actions of our forebears. Indian history is replete with such beliefs end rituals which had a sound reason for coming into being but later they were continued to be observed despite the fact that the reason did not hold true any more. Our daily life also abounds with innumerable rituals the meaning of which is lost in history. We follow them out of reverence. But can reverence help us in understanding the roots of our culture, or for that do we need an attitude of inquiry ? An inquisitive and fertile mind can pose incisive questions and strive for convincing answers. In this book; HINDU HISTORY - A Search for Our Present in History, a modest attempt has been made to accomplish this. The language used in this book is a simple one, as the author hopes to reach to a wide readership. No specialised knowledge is called for to understand what is being told. And as the social attitudes and customs which are being discussed form part of our present-day lives, no lengthy introduction is necessary . All that is hoped from the reader is a dispassionate approach in understanding the process of evolution of attitudes, traditions and beliefs which have been handed down to us by our forebears. For this it would do well to bear in mind our sagacious adage: Asatoma Sad Gamaya Tamasoma Jyotir Gamaya ( Lead me from falsehoods to truth and from ignorance to enlightenment ) Structured and richly illustrated info on this subject is presented at: http://india.coolatlanta.com/GreatPages/sudheer/book2/ Mirror sites: http://www.hindunet.org/hindu_history/sudheer_history/ http://members.tripod.com/~sudheerb/ - Sudheer Birodkar
7th May 1999 P.K.Saha @poboxes.com
Sudheer Birodkar wrote >1) Why have Indians always attached more importance to Non-violence >(Ahimsa) than any other people ? Wrong. We Hindus have been the most violent race. We have the only religion whose sacred books, one is cent per cent war and other is more than one seventh war. Before the British came, we had several hundred states fighting with each other. The concept of non violence was given by M.K. Gandhi, the first and last leader to preach and practice the same. >2) How did vegetarianism become nearly an all pervading attitude in India >from ancient times ? Wrong again. Go to Bengal and animal sacrifice is ritual in Kali temples. Go to Nepal, the only Hindu nation and see mass scale "Mahisasur Vadh/ bali" on Dussehra day. >15) Why do we explain away disqualifications arising out of birth in a >particular caste and other misfortunes with the doctrine of deeds in past >life (Karma) ? >16) Why do we frown upon a person who marries outside his caste ? >17) How did this endogamy (Sajatiya Vivaha) originate ? >18) Why has occupational stratification crystallized with birth in a >particular caste only in Indian Society ? >19) How did one section of Indian society acquire the hereditary status of >noble born (Dvija) and another as low born (Shudra) ? >20) Why do some of us still consider the mere touch of members of some >castes as polluting ? >21) How did our attitudes of untouchability and unapproachability originate? According to Max Mueller, the famous German Indologist, who first translated the Veda in to any other language, the only common feature of Hinduism throughout the length and breadth of the sub-continent is casteism.In fact, all other religion have borrowed it in various forms from us only. With best wishes, P.K.Saha
7th May 1999 D.Haldar @pobox.com
I am afraid some historical corrections will be in order. At 12:41 AM 5/7/99 +0530, P.K.Saha wrote: > >Sudheer Birodkar wrote > >>1) Why have Indians always attached more importance to Non-violence >>(Ahimsa) than any other people ? > >Wrong. We Hindus have been the most violent race. We have the only >religion whose sacred books, one is cent per cent war and other is more >than one seventh war. Before the British came, we had several hundred >states fighting with each other. The concept of non violence was given by >M.K. Gandhi, the first and last leader to preach and practice the same. Conception of non violence did not originate from Gandhiji but more ancient Mahatma whose name was Buddha. King Ashoka was the ardent propagator of this and he did this in his empire (which was then almost entire present day India plus Pakistan plus Afghanistan etc) through inscription on his famous Asoka Pillars strewn all over the country. Hinduism does not teach Non-Violence. Gandhiji was shrewd enough to realise that he could not take on the mighty brits in an armed struggle (he had before him the sporadic attempts by revolutionaries in all parts of India which was not effective to dislodge the Brits) so he reorted to Non-Violence, an idea whuch got immediate response from the people. Hartals and Bandhs came of age at this time. > >>2) How did vegetarianism become nearly an all pervading attitude in >>India from ancient times ? > >Wrong again. Go to Bengal and animal sacrifice is ritual in Kali temples. >Go to Nepal, the only Hindu nation and see mass scale "Mahisasur Vadh/ >bali" on Dussehra day. How did vegetarianism became all pervading in India. This was the question. Here again we will have to go back to Buddha and King Ashok. After the massacre of Kalinga he laid down his arms and became the greater propagator of Buddhism (Mahendra, his son was sent to Ceylon to make the country Buddhist and he eminently succeeded in this) and one of the things he urged (not ordered) his countrymen is to turn Vegetarian. Please note in Vedic Brahmanism (then name of Hinduism) an ordinary householder used to sacrifice cattle etc to propitiate Gods and after that used to cook the meat and eat it. You would notice that in some parts of India vegetarianism is very strong. This is because Mahavir also influenced his adherents, the Jains, to shun meat. > > >>15) Why do we explain away disqualifications arising out of birth in a >>particular caste and other misfortunes with the doctrine of deeds in >>past life (Karma) ? > This is a philosophy propounded principally I think to keep the people under control so that are easily governable. >>16) Why do we frown upon a person who marries outside his caste ? Again after Asoka and the Gupta period India was subjected to constant raids from Mlechhas who would not agree to become a part of the Hindu Society. This is one of the main reasons I think you can still see Hindus around even after 600 years of relentless onslaught from the Mlechhas. > >>17) How did this endogamy (Sajatiya Vivaha) originate ? Same reason as above if you mean why Hindus should marry only Hindus. > >>18) Why has occupational stratification crystallized with birth in a >>particular caste only in Indian Society ? > This answer you can easily get from any reliable book on Society in Ancient India and the Varna system. >>19) How did one section of Indian society acquire the hereditary status >>of noble born (Dvija) and another as low born (Shudra) ? Same answer as above > >>20) Why do some of us still consider the mere touch of members of some >>castes as polluting ? This is a latter day phenomenon not originating with the religious philosophy but superstitions accumulated over the years to isolate the Mlechhas and then it was extended to lower castes as well. > >>21) How did our attitudes of untouchability and unapproachability >originate? > > >According to Max Mueller, the famous German Indologist, who first translated >the Veda in to any other language, the only common feature of Hinduism >throughout the length and breadth of the sub-continent is casteism.In fact, >all other religion have borrowed it in various forms from us only. > I am sorry Max Muller we find was much prejudiced and his interpretations were not quite correct. But the answer of this question you will find in my previous reply. If you are indeed very agitated about these things I can give you more information and references on the web if you would e-mail me. >With best wishes, >P.K.Saha > Sorry mr. saha. I have disagreed with you. dhaldar
7th May 1999 Chirag Mehta @chime.hypermart.net
--- In Reply To --- Subject: Rationale behind Hindu Customs and Beliefs From: "sudheer birodkar"
Dear Reader, Have you ever looked upon the present as a result of history? Sounds like a very banal and commonplace statement, does it? Yes but we are a result of our past, a result of the lives and ideas of our ancestors. Here we try to study of Indian History by 'standing on its head'....... --- Reply --- That was very informative. :-) I am very interested to hear you answer some of those Indian Reeti-Rivaj questions. Thanks Chirag Mehta
9th May 1999 neeraj chaturvedi @hotmail.com
hi all, plssss dont misunderstand HINDU DHARMA ...Its not religion ...its DHARMA.... Vegetrianism is one sect, non vegeterianism is anothther....A thiest and and athiest both are different believes in hinduism (remember both are hinduism)...same is true for violence and non violence....and same is true materialism and spiritualism.... Its DHARMA bcos there is no one book... no one prophet ... If u have any new experiments...any innovative ways of better life... add to it.... and it will become part of hinduism.... If you can give one rule...which defines hinduism....I can produce millions of people who are HINDUs but they dont follow that particular rule.... ciu neeraj
9th May 1999 Raj Kumar @hotmail.com
Superstitions (blindly followed traditions) exist in all ethnic groups and around the world. Most Western nations, with scientific development, and with progress made in social sciences, have done away with them (to a large extent). The level of illiteracy in India makes it worse (not just the ability to read and write, but to think with reason). That is why cats are considered an ill-omen, but panthers or tigers or cheetahs are not. As far as the caste system - in my opinion, it's a primal, tribal instinct that moves people to protect their own, guard against 'others', and in many cases the more powerful trying to dominate the weaker. I have seen essentially the same phenomenon happening in France with immigrants from Algiers and Morocco. And in Germany with immigrant workers from Turkey. In the U.S. it has happened to the black people originally from Africa. And lets not forget the Aborigines in Australia. Books explaining the origins of many of our widely held beliefs may cause us to laugh at ourselves (a very healthy sign, I must add). And perhaps our attitudes will become less rigid, more humane, more tolerant and in the best of cases, even spiritual.
9th May 1999 P.K.Saha @poboxes.com
wrote >Sorry mr. saha. I have disagreed with you. > >dhaldar No need to be apologetic, my dear Mr. Haldar. The list is meant for honest opinions and long live the sincere differences. What I basically meant was that although Hinduism does not teach violence, we have been a violent race as any. In fact, not many religions preach violence but then the other races have been having religious books which do not have "Mahabharat" like World Wars as their background. Similarly, all religions emanating from Indian subcontinent have had a caste system. Even Christian and Anglo Indian now demand lower caste reservations. Sikhism is fast becoming a caste based religion with Sikhs adopting caste indicative surnames and others seeking caste based reserved seats everywhere. Max Mueller may have been prejudiced but was certainly more clear than many of the leaders of today. With best wishes, P.K.Saha
10th May 1999 Ryan Cardoz @pcsbom.patni.com
Christians are moving into caste because the govt gives benefits and they also being indians would definitely want a piece of the cake too .The moment the govt stops these benefits the cast system will vanish . Regards, Ryan
10th May 1999 Aditya Mishra @bc.seflin.org
I agree both with M/s saha and cardoz. Hindus claim that their religion is more nonviolent than others because many of them are vegetarians but this kind ahimsa is a also later development coming from Jainism and Budhism. Casteism is practiced by middle class Indians ( not just the Hindus ) primarily at two occasions i.e. marriage and elections. It is true that it is the politicians who keep the casteism and linguism alive because they do not know any other way to get elected. Since the electorate cannot distinguish them on anything else regardless of which political party they may belong to at the moment, we find that Sonia Gandhi a natural attraction because she comes from a different country and culture and therefore ostensibly above the caste and state language Mafiosi. Have a peaceful and joyous day. ©1998 Aditya Mishra homepage: http://www.smart1.net/aditya ICQ Pager: 1131674 Random thought of the day: People often find it easier to be a result of the past than a cause of the future.
11th May 1999 P.K.Saha @poboxes.com
>Ryan Cardoz wrote: > > Christians are moving into caste because the govt gives benefits and > they also being indians would definitely want a piece of the cake too .The > moment the govt stops these benefits the cast system will vanish . Christianity is a non caste based religion but it has been indianised in India to include caste system. Even when the govt. Stops these benefits ( if it does?), the system will still find some pretext to survive. As they say, wherever there are two Indians, there are three castes (or political parties). Otherwise, how come even in Africa, Indians follow the caste system. With best wishes, P.K.Saha
12th May 1999 Aseem Asthana @bom4.vsnl.net.in
Hello friends, I have been reading the posts on this topic and I capture what I feel below. The first thing is that most of these practices are Hindu and not Indian. When we say Indian we mean Hindus, and Mulsims, Sikhs, Christians, Jains, Parsees and many more religions. Together we people have decided to form together a nation with the name. But it is not right that since Hindus are the majority their customs become national customs. Please dont read into this any attempt to make Hindus loose their identity. Secondly, most of the beliefs and practices are not good. So it is a good thing that somebody is trying to reach to their origin. Because only when we know what gave birth to something then only we can hope to cut it out from the soceity. I am referring to in-human practice of castesism and the like. Fianally, with due respect, Mr. Haldar, do you have any reason to suspect that Max Muller was prejudiced against India and that his observations are not sound. I say this because it is most likely that somebody will cite his observations and hope that the effect that he/she has created is one of respect because the authority is a European. This happens all the time in debates. And yet, now we are discredeting him, just because his observations are not condusive to our line to reasoning? Bye, Aseem.
21st May 1999 K.Varatharajan @igcar.ernet.in
> I have been reading the posts on this topic and I capture what I feel below. > > The first thing is that most of these practices are Hindu and not Indian. But it is not right that since Hindus are the majority their customs become national customs. Please dont read into this any attempt to make Hindus loose their identity. > My response to the above observation is that Hinduism is not a religion > but just philosophy of life. Only unfortunate events that are happening > today is that there is not even a strong person to interpret the > philosophies told in all four vedas and the fifth veda, namely "RAMAYANA > AND MAHABHARATHA". In fact, the fifth veda is easy to learn, understand > and practise equality based life. Partialities, biased moves and > defending actions to protect the partialities and biased moves were > plentily available in Ramayana and Mahabharatha to indicate to the most > down-trodden human being in society belonging to any age. For this, I am > citing two examples below: > 1. Lord Rama (so called great hero) is an opportunist. Here, kindly bear with me for taking some time. Rama has won the competition by bending Sivadhanush and Sita was to be bonded to him. All the success in getting Devi Sita has its almost complete contributions from the sage, Viswamitra was eagerly bringing holy water to do the wedding rituals, but was opposed by the family sage Vasishta on the grounds that Viswamitra is not a Brahmarishi. Dasaratha, father of Rama could not over-rule Vasishta. Desparate Viswamitra looked at Rama. Rama quoted Viswamitra, his teacher himself:"WORDS OF FATHER ARE THE VEDAS FOR EVERY ONE." Quoting this statement, he did not honour Viswamitra's (his guru) aspiration of conducting his marriage with Sita (Rama a great personality exhibiting (un)gratefulness). See the pitiable condition of the great scholar, Viswamitra who has really put in all efforts to make Rama a great scholar, academician, valourous personality and moulder of his future life in holding the hands of Devi Sita. Where has gone the rational thinking by the great Lord Rama, who simply defended himself under the philosophy: "WORDS OF FATHER ARE THE VEDAS FOR EVERY ONE" which he used once again to get away with the responsibility of running the government of Ayodhya by fleeing into forests for 14 years and thus making government of Ayodhya as care-taker government being shifted from Ayodhya to Nandigramam, care-taking authority being his chappals, honoured by non-idealists Bharatha and Sathrugna? > 2. This is a scene from Mahabharatha. Generally Lord Krishna is used to be projected as a liar, scoundral, cheater, womaniser and so on. But he has in many cases fought for women freedom (Coming to rescue for Panchali - Dhraupathi in many occasion). He also was mixing with the common men at very gross root levels of society - rural persons in Ayarpadi - bringing to the notice of all about the socialism and equality - projecting himself as a shephard but not as a brahmin - an example for fighting casteism. Coming to the argument on economic equality, his regards to his classmate - Sudhama alias Kusela and his treatments even after becoming the king of Mathura can be well studied by any one at any level. Even in Mahabharatha War, he was simply holding the position of cart-driver but not those positions like Chief Marshal etc. - practically demonstrating his non-lust for powerful positions. > Secondly, most of the beliefs and practices are not good. So it is a good > thing that somebody is trying to reach to their origin. Because only when > we know what gave birth to something then only we can hope to cut it out > from the soceity. I am referring to in-human practice of castesism and the > like. > My response to this is explained in example No.2, projecting Lord Krishna a philosopher preaching socialism, equality and non-desire for the one that one can not achieve, thereby fighting against casteism and the like. > And yet, now we are discredeting him (Max Muller), just because his observations are not condusive to our line to reasoning? > My response to this is that a real rational human being practising the philosophy of Hinduism (kindly remember the philosophy but not religion) will never discredit Max Muller who has really put in more efforts by coming to India and contributed more to Sanskrit and also contributed more to make know all the people of the world to know much more about Hinduism. > So, dear Mr. Aseem, Kindly forget about the so-practised customs but work more forward to understand the philosophy of creating a tranquilised society with eternal happiness and peacefulness. Enjoy the help I have rendered to you and I shall definitely enjoy the help you have rendered to me. Regards. K.Varatharajan