IN DEFENCE OF WORSHIP OF SACRED IMAGES

I have been often told by many Muslims that worship of sacred images or “idol” worship has not been sanctioned by Vedas and on the contrary it is to be positively eschewed as per Vedic dictum. This was the view of Swami Dayananda, the founder of Arya Samaj, and has been picked-up and argued by Dr. Zakir Naik and his followers. However, Vedas do not speak about such prohibition at all. It is true that Vedic mode of prayer and worship would have been offering sacrifices. I think worship of sacred images arrived with Buddhism. However, it is not the same as saying Vedas prohibit it or is contrary to Vedic dharma.

2. Hindu hermeneutics has never questioned the efficacy of worship of sacred images. On the contrary in Srivaishnava  theology, sacred images are regarded as archa avataras i.e. that god takes avatara for the sake of receiving worship and blessing his devotees. Long before Srivaishnava formalized its theology, there have been innumerable stories of devotees worshipping images. These have been based on tenets of Agamic shastras which prescribe the method, construction of temples, consecration of sacred images and ritual worship.

3. Purusha Sukta says that “The Purusha (the Supreme Being) has a thousand heads, a thousand eyes and a thousand feet. He has enveloped this world from all sides and has (even) transcended it by ten angulas or inches (sahasra shirsha purushah sahasrAksha sahasrapAt sa bhumim vishvato vritva atyatishthad dhashangulam)”. There are many such Upanishadic vakya talking about transcendence and immanence of Brahman. Brahman immanent in all objects while being transcendent too. Thus whether you worship a material object presuming it to be a Brahman, you are already in touch with Brahman. As the famed elephant simile has it, whether it is the trunk or tail feet or the stomach that you touch, it is still Brahman. It is impossible for an embodied jiva not to think in terms of images, be it material or immaterial images. When we say that God is formless but merciful, beneficent etc. we by anthropomorphizing the Formless Attributeless God create a mental image. How is adoring this {mental} image different from adoring material icons?

4. You may ask, is not Brahman immaterial, spiritual? How does then worshipping a material object lead to Brahman?  Images in Hinduism also involve a great amount of symbolism, which I shall not go into here.  Worship of sacred images is a upadhi, i.e., means to attaining an end. When we worship a sacred image, it is to concentrate on that image with single pointed devotion. This single point concentration of mind leads to dharana, dhyana and samadhi. And in samadhi there is that absolute oneness – with no second at all. As Ramakrishna Paramahamsa puts its we realize that this Creation is nothing but a play of One all pervading undivided pure conspicuousness. The division of jeeva, Brahman and this Universe are seen as manifestations of One. It is this realization of oneness that is important and not mere doctrinal assertions.

5. Muslims regard Qur’an as the Holy Word and would not tolerate desecration such as tearing, stomping or any such blasphemous acts. Christians regard bread and wine as having transformed into body and blood of Christ (Read about Transubstantiation and Consubstantiation of the Eucharist). During worship of sacred images in Hinduism, the divine is invoked and requested to take his presence within the image, to receive the worship and bless the devotees. Thereafter, the divine is requested to “go back” to his own “abode”. It is not a man-made image that Hindus bow down and worship but to all-pervading gracious God which invoked every time. It is by the grace of Almighty that he condescends to descend into images. A simile for this is like a father playing with his children – when the child wants he becomes a horse and carries him on his back. But then neither does father cease being a father nor the child a child. Both are aware of the status, yet both enjoy the roles that the play.

Thoughts on Swati Tirunal’s composition – Gopalaka Pahimam Anisham

Sri Swathi Thirunal Rama Varma (April 16, 1813 – December 27, 1846) was the Maharaja of the state of Travancore. He reigned under the regency of his mother Maharani Gowri Lakshmi Bayi from 1813 till 1815 and then under the regency of his aunt Maharani Gowri Parvati Bayi till 1829. In 1829 he turned major and assumed full powers and ruled  as Maharaja of Travancore until his death in 1846. He was a patron of music and was a great musician himself. He has written around  400 compositions in Carnatic and Hindustani music. Swathi Thirunal was fluent in a number of languages including Malayalam, Sanskrit, Marathi, Telugu, Kannada, Hindustani,  Tamil, and English.  His composition Gopala Pahimam Anisham is being discussed here.  A beautiful rendering of this song by Yesudas may be heard here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bBmtETUIJW4 

This particular song abounds not only in music & rhythm, but also in श्लेष – श्लेष  is one of the काव्य-अलङ्कार.  Apart from this the song also describes various kalyana guNas. 

What are kalyana guNas or the excellent qualities of the Lord are:

 ज्ञान Gnana (true and perfect knowledge), 2) बल bala (ability to support the whole Universe), 3) ऐश्वर्य Aishwarya  (incomparable wealth and ruler ship of the Universe), 4) vIryam वीर्य (untiring virility), 5) शक्ति Sakthi  (power to act without extraneous help) and 6) तेजस् Tejas (unmatched radiance), [such six qualities].

The other qualities of the Lord are: सौशील्य  Sousheelya (good moral qualities), वात्सल्य Vatsalya  (tender & solicitous affection),  मार्दव mArdava  (softness of heart), Arjava आर्जव  (Honesty), सौहार्द  Souhardha   (compassion although literally it means good heart), साम्य Samya (equinamity), कारुण्य kArunya (Merciful), माधुर्य  mAdhurya (sweetness),  गाम्भीर्य gAmbhIrya (majesty and nobility), औदार्य audhArya  (giving out liberally), चातुर्य  cAthurya (skillfulness), स्तैर्य sthairya   (determined to stay on chosen course), धैर्य  dhairya (undaunted courage), शौर्य showrya ( ablility to fight alone), पराक्रम parakrama (winning the battles effortlessly), कृतज्त्वम् (gratitude even for smallest of offerings or “help” made by devotees).

Gopala Krishna

Gopala Krishna

पल्लवी or the first line: 

गोपालक पाहिमाम् अनिशं तव पदरतमयि 

O गोपाल=Gopala, Krishna माम् =me पाहि =protect अनिशं= always.  तव = your पद = word, feet,a line or stanza रतमयि = full of delight  go=cow,  knowledge, earth, senses, cow; पालक = protector, guardian, nourisher ruler

Gopalaka protect me always; you feet is delight.  (alternative meanings are) also that your verses are delight or your name itself is a delight.  This stanza addresses Krishna, as  Supreme God who protects knowledge (Hayagriva), earth (varaha/narayana), and is also the Lord of senses = as Hrishikesha (Lord of senses).  What is celebrated here is Gnana ज्ञान Vatsalya  वात्सल्य and  Madhurya माधुर्य guNas of the Lord.

अनुपल्लवी or the 2nd line

nata pada pallava

nata pada pallava

पाप विमोचन पविधरादि नत पद पल्लव

(गोपालक)

meaning:  पाप=sins विमोचन=delivering पवि=fire, speech, thunderbolt, rim of wheel, arrow पवि+धर+आदि = पविधरादि; ie. Agni, Indra, Brahma, Shiva, Arjuna, Abhimanyu, Sahadeva etc नत = bowed (to)/ bent/ curved ; पद= feet पल्लव=bud or like a tender leaf i.e., tender.

Your tender  feet, which delivers from sin, is bowed to by Agni, Indra, Brahma, Shiva, Kumara Arjuna, Abhimanyu, Sahadeva & others

चरणम् 1 (stanza 1 of concluding verses)

साधुकथित म्रदशन सरोषभीत मात्रु वीक्षित भूधर

 जलनिधिमुख बहुविध भुवन जाल ललित मुखाम्बुज

 (गोपालक)

साधु=good (people) कथित= said or reported (to your mother) मृद्+अशन=mud+eat स+रोष+भीत = She [with] anger & fear मात्रु = mother वीक्षित = saw भूधर earth or the number 7 जलनिधि=oceans; मुख = mouth, face  बहु=many विध=kinds भुवन=worlds जाल=net ललित=charming मुख=face अम्बुज=lotus (from अम्बु+ज अम्बु=water ज =born.

Some good people reported to your mother that you ate mud.  When she angrily asked you to open your mouth and Yashodha saw in  your mouth oceans and the seven worlds and many other Universes; When she was terrifed of this sight  she again saw your charming lotus face once again.  A question that will arise is why should Lord show his mother such a terrifying sight?  Amongst kalyana gunas is Arajavattvam (truthfulness, honesty, being straightforward).  In response to his mother’s question, the Lord revealed true nature – i.e., he carries within himself the Universes and that he transcends the Universe.  However seeing that his mother is terrified Bhagvan, exhibiting his true kArunya  and displayed that माधुर्य mAdhurya guNa of his and she could see his sweet face once again.

चरणम् 2  (stanza 2 of concluding verses)

सारसभव मदहर सतीर्थ्य दीन भूसुरार्पित पारारहित 

धनचय निरूपम पतगराजरथ कमलावर

(गोपालक)

सारसभव=Brahma मद=pride हर=destroy सतीर्थ्य= co-student refers to sudAma भूसुरार्पित = भु + सुर + अर्पित earth+god = Brahmin अर्पित = offered धन+चय = heaps of wealth निरूपम= incomparable पतगराजरथ=पतग + राज+ रथ= bird+king+chariot = patagaraja = Garuda ratha =chariot; कमला+ वर=lakshmi’s +groom

You destroyed the pride of  Brahma.  Even though you ride up high in the heavens upon Garuda, but  to a (poor) co-student who offered pounded rice you offered him untold wealth, Husband of Lakshmi. The reference is here to Sudama offering Lord some rice flakes.   Here the lord not only demonstrated his audharya औदार्य (giving out liberally) but also displayed the कृतज्त्वम् (gratitude) even for the smallest and the insignificant acts of offering that he received.

चरणम् 3 (stanza 3 of concluding verses)

सारसरस सुवचन सरोजनाभ लोकानयक भूरि करुण

तनुजित मनसिज भुजगराजशयन मुरशासन

(गोपालक)

सारस रस  = you are the essence of essence; सुवचन= good word सरोजनाभ=one who has lotus growing out of navel ; लोकानयक = leader of this world भूरि=full  करुण=compassion तनुजित= winning bodies (a philosophical concept which I will explain later) मनसिज= born of heat i.e., kamadeva भुजगराजशयन = भुजग राज शयन= snake+king+sleep i.e., he who sleep on king of snakes i.e., vishnu मुरशासन = He who punishes (kills) mura (mura = dullness hence there is a adversarial relationship with Gopala – i.e., He who nourishes wisdom)

Meaning:  You are essence of essence.  The Lord as antaryami is being described here.  You are the good word and leader of this world.  You win bodies and minds with compassion.  You sleep upon sesha and lotus grows out of your navel; You punished Mura the general of Narakasura.  Mura also means dullness. Shashana = punisher Hence this use of this word in conjunction with Gopalaka indicates an adversarial relationship with the dullness of intellect.

Shiva Linga

Shiva

Shiva manifesting as pillar of light without beginning and without and end with Brahma & Vishnu acknowledging the infinity of Shiva 

Last Shiva ratri a few secular Illuminati commented on Shiva linga which were quite lewd, derogatory and far removed from understanding of Shiva and Shiva linga. This erroneous understanding that Shiva linga = penis propagated by cow-caste-curry Westerners is being mindlessly repeated by English-educated Indians who have not taken the trouble of knowing this matter.

 Let us first understand what linga means? Monier-Williams dictionary defines thus http://www.sanskrit-lexicon.uni-koeln.de/scans/MWScan/index.php?sfx=pdf. A linga is a mark, a symbol, an indication. Qualifiers such as pum or stri modify the word to indicate whether male or female.

 What does Shiva in the form of linga signify? It is certainly not organ of generation as some ignorant say. Shiva is called स्मर हर = destroyer of kama; He is also called in ऊर्ध्व रेतस् = who whose svadhistana chakra is opened but has sublimated all desires.

 Lingastakam stotram says this:

 

देवमुनि प्रवरार्चित लिङ्गं
कामदहन करुणाकर लिङ्गम् ।
रावण दर्प विनाशन लिङ्गं
तत्-प्रणमामि सदाशिव लिङ्गम् ॥ 2

 

(meaning:

Lingam worshipped by the best amongst devas and munis

Lingam that destroys lust and is embodiment of compassion

Lingam that destroyed the pride of Ravana

The ever auspicious lingam of sadashiva, that I worship)

 

i.e., Linga is kama dahana – that which burns up desires include desire for sex. A Shiva Linga consists of three parts, the lowest of which is called the ‘Brahma-Pitha,’ the middle one, the ‘Vishnu-Pitha’ and the uppermost one, the ‘Shiva-Pitha.’Thus is is very

Shiva Linga with Brahma, Vishnu sthana

Shiva Linga with Brahma, Vishnu sthana

clear that Shiva linga doesn’t represent any form of symbol of sex.  Sankaracharya in ShivAparadha kshamapaNa stotram describes Shiva as:

चन्द्रोभासित शेखरे स्मरहरे गंगाधरे शंकरे
सर्पै भुषण कण्ठकर्ण युगले नेत्रोथ वैशानरे
दन्तित्वक्कृत सुन्दराम्बरधरे त्रिलोक्यसारे हरे
मोक्षार्थं कुरु चित्त वृत्तिम् अचलम् अन्यस्तु किं कर्मभिः

 

Meaning:

who whose head is adorned with moon, destroyer of Kama, bearer of Ganga

one who was snakes for ear ornaments and fire for (third) eye

one who wears elephant skin, beautifully attired, one who is the essence of 3 worlds

for the sake of Moksa (liberation), please make my consciousness firm

What other effort is of any use (to man)

 

Sankaracharya prays to Smarahara (destroyer of kama) with these words मोक्षार्थं कुरु चित्त वृत्तिम् अचलम् i.e., make my consciousness firm without any mental modifications for the sake of moksha. As Paramayogi (Supreme Yogi) it is fitting that Shiva is prayed to thus. Patanjali defines Yoga योग चित्तावृत्ति निरोधः i.e., yoga is stopping of mental modifications.

 Shiva is also called vyomakesha व्योमकेशः i.e., one whose hair alone form the outspace. This hair is illumined with moon – चन्द्रोभासित शेखरे and with (आकश) गंगाधरे - & with akasha Ganga or the milky way.

 Shiva signifies the formless Brahman – rooted in this world – but also beyond it as is said in Purusha Suktam अत्यतिष्टद् दशांगुलम् = extending 10 fingers beyond the entire universe. It is this immanence that is the subject of Sri Rudram in Yajur Veda where Shiva is identified with everything in this known world. Hence the most apt symbol for Sthanu i.e., pillar (i.e., support of this Universe). The pillar itself indicating that He alone is the basis for all creation and that He is formless. Linga is a very apt symbol for this.

 

 

 

Agni Pariksha of Sita

Agni Pariksha of Sita

Agni Pariksha of Sita

The Agni Pariksha episode or testing of Sita in fire occurs in Valmiki Ramayana in Yuddha Kanda sarga (chapters) 115 to 118 In Chapter 118 verse Rama says to Agni (after the Pariksha)

 अनन्यहृदयां भक्तां मचत्तपरिवर्तिनीम् |

अहमप्यवगच्छामि मैथिलीं जनकात्मजाम् || -११८-१५

“I also know that Seetha, the daughter of Janaka, who ever revolves in my mind, is undivided in her affection to me.”

 The words used by Rama is Maithili, the daughter of Janaka. How does Sita describe herself while scolding Rama in front of assembled Vanara and Asura warriors? She says that she is born of earth and proclaims that Janaka indicating a high birth.

अपदेशेन जनकान्नोत्पत्तिर्वसुधातलात्

मम वृत्तं च वृत्तज्ञ बहु ते न पुरस्कृतम् || -११६-१५

“O knower of virtuous conduct! My birth was from Janaka in disguise; but was actually from the earth. My sacred birth of such a high degree, was not honoured by you.”

Didn’t Rama know of her high birth? Janaka was a Jnani par-excellence. She, Sita, coming from such a and illustrious family would not be devoid of good qualities.

The punishment prescribed for even adultery (not rape) by Manu krichchra vrtam (that decreasing the quantity of food taken in accordance with the phases of moon) and not Agni Pariksha. Sita even says to Rama if you had doubted me, you could have sent the word though Hanuman and I would have given up my life. Why this waste of effort in mounting an invasion? Why did Rama then behave in the fashion of as Sita said “प्राकृतः प्राकृताम् इव” – like a common man speaking to a common woman, indirectly saying that she being of a noble birth should be treated as such.

किं मामसदृशं वाक्यमीदृशं श्रोत्रदारुणम् |

रूक्षं श्रावयसे वीर प्राकृतः प्राकृताम् इव || -११६-

“O valiant Rama! Why are you speaking such harsh words, which are violent to hear for me, like a common man speaking to a common woman?”

The reason for Rama’s conduct, is explained by Rama himself in

अवश्यं चापि लोकेषु सीता पावनमर्हति |

दीर्घकालोषिता हीयं रावणान्तःपुरे शुभा || -११८-१३

“Seetha certainly deserves this pure factory ordeal in the eyes of the people in as much as this blessed woman had resided for a long time indeed in the harem of Ravana”.

Rama like a good leader anticipates his people’s objections and tried to avoid a scandal which may destroy his dynasty. Rama says:

बालिशो बत कामात्म रामो दशरथात्मजः |

इति वक्ष्यति मां लोको जानकीमविशोध्य हि || -११८-१४

“The world would chatter against me, saying that Rama, the son of Dasaratha, was really foolish and that his mind was dominated by lust, if I accept Seetha without examining her with regard to her chastity.”

 प्रत्ययार्थं तु लोकानां त्रयाणाम् सत्यसंश्रयः

उपेक्षे चापि वैदेहीं प्रविशन्तीं हुताशनम् || -११८-१७

“In order to convince the three worlds, I, whose refugee is truth, ignored Seetha while she was entering the fire.”

Playboys & Playgirls of the world don’t command respect of this world – no matter how rich and how powerful they may seem. They are treated as frivolous people unable to govern themselves and their passions. Those who cannot govern themselves will not be followed without coercion if they assume leadership positions. Rama’s leadership trait was persuasion. Rama believed that his subjects would accept this Agni Pariksha of Sita and that all rumors will cease therewith. Civil wars have taken place in kingdoms where there a suspicion of legitimacy of heirs of royal persona. Until very recently (till about early 60-70s) the Home Secretary (equivalent to our Home Minister) was required to attend all royal births in England. Luxembourg has a rule that only virgins can become queens and a doctor’s certificate.

Ramakrishna once said that Sannyasis are accountable for higher standards than the rest of people. Theirs lives and houses must be an open book – subject to scrutiny by all and sundry. Hence Sannyasis are forbidden from locking their doors or windows. They are forbidden from meeting their wives or daughters nor they may beg from their own homes. Raja Rama upholds the same standards for himself and his wife. Caesar’s wife must be above suspicion they say. The ruler sets the standards. The tragedy is that despite this, some sections of his subjects in Ayodhya didn’t see things Rama’s way.

There is a personal element in this yet to be discussed. That of wife and husband relations. Sita exclaims, perhaps one of the most touching & beautiful verses in Ramayana – (मम) अप्रीतेन गुणैर्भर्त्रा त्यक्ता - (my) traits (he) does not like …… जनसंसदि (in midst where men have assembled). Sita and Rama both belong to illustrious lineage that for them death is preferable to dishonor. Sita says;

 अप्रीतेन गुणैर्भर्त्रा त्यक्ता या जनसंसदि |

या क्षमा मे गतिर्गन्तुं प्रवेक्ष्ये हव्यवाहनम् || -११६-१९

“I will enter a fire, to obtain the only course appropriate for me, who has been abandoned amidst an assembly of men, by my husband who was not satisfied with my traits.”

Sita expects that a husband must also know his wife and understand her qualities, her nature having lived with her for sometime. A marriage is not just physical relationship between a wife and husband. It is an emotional living bond. She also expects that a husband respect his wife in midst of an assembly (जनसंसदि). This is the larger message to people.

However, Sita also says that one should not live without honor in midst of people – be it her husband or be it society at large. Death is better than a life without honour. This is precisely what Krishna says to Arjuna during war when Yudhisthira asks Arjuna to give up his bow. Arjuna then goes to kill Yudhisthira as Arjuna had sworn that he will kill anyone who asks him to give up his bow. Krishna then says don’t kill him (physically), but humiliate him and that is a living death to people of honor. This is precisely what prompted Sita to order Lakshmana to prepare a funeral pyre. Ancient Indian Kings in ancient past when defeated have known to die rather than face humiliation. Many civilizations have regarded that death with honor is worth living rather living without honor.

What is the larger message from Agni Pariksha episode:?

(1) Kings and Queens who are the trend setters have a higher dharma. Their lives must be above suspicion at all times. Transparency and accountability to public is must when you are in public life.

(2) A wife expects that she be loved for her traits not just her body. A marital relationship is not mere physical relationship, but emotional and spiritual bond. Spouses must be respected.

(3) It is better to die with dignity than live with dishonor.

Sanskrit quotations of Ramayana & English translation has been taken from http://valmikiramayan.net/