Friday, February 26, 2010

Hinduism ...!!!


Developed systems of Hindu practices

Hindu practices generally involve seeking awareness of God and sometimes also seeking blessings from Devas. Therefore, Hinduism has developed numerous practices meant to help one think of divinity in the midst of everyday life. Hindus can engage in puja (worship or veneration), either at home or at a temple.

At home, Hindus often create a shrine with icons dedicated to their chosen form(s) of God. Temples are usually dedicated to a primary deity along with associated subordinate deities though some commemorate multiple deities. Visiting temples is not obligatory, and many visit temples only during religious festivals. Hindus perform their worship through icons (murtis). The icon serves as a tangible link between the worshiper and God.

The image is often considered a manifestation of God, simce God is imminent. The Padma Purana states that the murti is not to be thought of as mere stone or wood but as a manifest form of the Divinity. A few Hindu sects, such as the Arya Samaj, do not believe in worshiping God through icons.

Cultural traditions
Hinduism has a developed system of symbolism and iconography to represent the sacred in art, architecture, literature and worship. These symbols gain their meaning from the scriptures, mythology, or cultural traditions. The syllale Om (which represents the Parabrahman) and the Swastika sign (which symbolizes auspiciousness) have grown to represent Hinduism itself, while other markings such as tilaka identify a follower of the faith. Hinduism associates many symbols, which include the lotus, chakra and veena, with particular deities.

Chanting style
Mantras are invocations, praise and prayers that through their meaning, sound, and chanting style help a devotee focus the mind on holy thoughts or express devotion to God/the deities. Many devotees perform morning ablutions at the bank of a sacred river while chanting the Gayatri Mantra or Mahamrityunjaya mantras. The epic Mahabharata extols Japa (ritualistic chanting) as the greatest duty in the Kali Yuga (what Hindus believe to be the current age). Many adopt Japa as their primary spiritual practice.

The vast majority of Hindus engage in religious rituals on a daily basis. Most Hindus observe religious rituals at home, but observation of rituals greatly vary among regions, villages, and individuals. Devout Hindus perform daily chores such as worshiping at dawn after bathing (usually at a family shrine, and typically includes lighting a lamp and offering foodstuffs before the images of deities), recitation from religious scripts, singing devotional hymns, meditation, chanting mantras, reciting scriptures etc.

A notable feature in religious ritual is the division between purity and pollution. Religious acts presuppose some degree of impurity or defilement for the practitioner, which must be overcome or neutralised before or during ritual procedures. Purification, usually with water, is thus a typical feature of most religious action.

Concept of merit
Other characteristics include a belief in the efficacy of sacrifice and concept of merit, gained through the performance of charity or good works, that will accumulate over time and reduce sufferings in the next world. Vedic rites of fire-oblation (yajna) are now only occasional practices, although they are highly revered in theory.

In Hindu wedding and burial ceremonies, however, the yajna and chanting of Vedic mantras are still the norm.

Life-cycle rituals
The rituals, upacharas, change with time. For instance, in the past few hundred years some rituals, such as sacred dance and music offerings in the standard Sodasa Upacharas set prescribed by the Agama Shastra, were replaced by the offerings of rice and sweets. Occasions like birth, marriage, and death involve what are often elaborate sets of religious customs. In Hinduism, life-cycle rituals include Annaprashan (a baby’s first intake of solid food), Upanayanam (“sacred thread ceremony” undergone by upper-caste children at their initiation into formal education) and Sraddha (ritual of treating people of feasts in the name of the deceased).

For most people in India, the betrothal of the young couple and the exact date and time of the wedding are matters decided by the parents in consultation with astrologers.

On death. Cremation is considered obligatory for all except sanyasis, hijra, and children under five. Cremation is typically performed by wrapping the corpse in cloth and burning it on a pyre.

Source; Wikipedia


Folk deities and animal sacrifice
Thilaka V. Wijeratnam

Folk deities were actually men and women who had sacrificed their lives to save the lives of others - human beings or animals. In life they were looked upon as demigods and in death they were deities. Monuments and temples built in their names, and festivals held annually. Knowing their taste for food when alive, the simple village folk make and offer food to their taste. If they enjoyed eating meat, the village folk sacrifice a fowls or goat and offer it to the ‘man become god’.

That’s perhaps how animal sacrifice started in the interior villages of Thamil Nadu. Such temples are seldom found among Tamils in Sri Lanka.

Only in a few temples in Sri Lanka folk deities are offered animal flesh - this is village tradition not Hindu tradition. One such folk tale is of the dumb deity’s temple.

It seemed in a small village several kilometres away from Chennai, the people were all of the farming community. The village is “Sinna Koi Pan Kulam”. Almost all houses had cows and calves. The cow herd who tended them has died. At the same time one elderly resident saw a middle aged man sleeping in the travellers rest in the village. When he put him up and asked who he was, the newcomer couldn’t talk. Realising he was dumb, the elder, by signs asked him, if he would tend the cattle. The dumb man agreed.

Daily he would go from house to house, untie the cattle and herd them to the wood to graze. He had a flute. At noon he would play a note and all the cattle would gather under a tamarind tree close to him and lying down keep chewing the cud till it is cool. Then they would step into a small pond close by drink the water and bathe - again they stroll away to graze. At sun set the cowherd would play another note. The cattle will collect under the tree. He would bring them back to the village.

Life went on smoothly for the cowherd, the cattle and the villagers.

One day while the cattle rested under the tree, the dumb man dozed. As it by intimation, he woke up with a start. He was horrified to see a cobra about to strikes one of the cows. He at once rushed there and held the snake by its neck. Angered, the snake wriggled struck him. But still keeping his hold on its neck, he lost consciousness and finally embraced death. The cows stood around him with tears in their eyes.

Long after sun set, finding the cattle were not brought back, the village folk came with lanterns to see him dead and the cows standing round him with tears in the eyes. He still held the snake which had also died. “Here’s a man who sacrificed his life to save our cattle” exclaimed the people.

They buried him then and there. They thought there should be something divine in him to give up his life for the cattle. Soon he was deified as the “oomar samy” - dumb deity-they built a temple for him as the guardian angel of the cattle.

Source: Kalani Ooran / Courtesy: Kalki Pongal Issue


Thiruketheeswaram Temple in Mannar:

The lord, myths, legends and traditions
Shanmugam Arumugam

Continued from February 19

Poets, priests, kings and emperors for a long time afterwards established and retained the sanctity of this holy sthalam by erecting temples and noble edifices for worship - for, was it not here that the Lord long to appear in person and thus take abode? The event is narrated in the Vishnu Puranas:

“Indra, the Chief of the Devas who were fast depleting due to casualties in their war against the Avunar, approached Brahma and besought Vishnu’s aid for obtaining Amirtha” the elixir of long-life and the beverage of immortality. The elixir which was obtained after some preliminary unsuccessful attempts at churning the depths of the milky ocean, was shared among the Devas.

An Avunan too had however managed to obtain a share by imposition and his head was promptly cut off at the neck by Vishnu, but it was too late. The elixir had been swallowed by the Avunan, and he therefore cannot die.

Reached Lanka
The miserable pittance of the head without the body and the body without the head was relieved, by these being made into Rahu and Kethu and given a place in the planetary system. Kethu, however, in order to propitiate his sin wandered from place to place and ultimately reached the shores of Lanka where he performed very austere and severe penances and thapas in the name of the Lord. Ultimately He was blessed with the Lord’s Grace and Dharshan and in commemoration of that event, the place became to be known forever as Thiru Ketheeswaram.

Charles Pridham, the celebrated historian, describes the event in his book on Ceylon, under the title “celebrated churning of the ocean by the Gods and Asuras in order to produce Amirta, the Liquor of Immortality.” “One Asura sat among the Gods and thus obtained a share of the precious drink. The Sun and the Moon observed this and pointed him out to... who promptly cut his head; but the magic liquor had already conferred immortality on him.

Traditional custom
“Brahma transformed him into two heavenly bodies. The tail or body became a comet and the head a planet sign called Rahu.”. Another legend is found in the Skanda Purana, an ancient work in Sanskrit, the antiquity of which is unknown. It consists of 2500 verses grouped into 27 Chapters and had been handed down in accordance with the traditional custom as oral discourses by the Guru to his disciples in this case by Sootha Munivar to the Naimisaraniya Munivars.

Of particular interest to us are three Chapters of the Skanda Purana which have been given the title of “Dhakshana Kailasa Manmiam” and deals with historical events in ancient Ceylon.

The first chapter narrates about Puranas in general and the splendour that was of ancient Ceylon; the second chapter relates about the celebrated places of religious importance in Ceylon and the story of Thiruketheeswaram. In this chapter is narrated the incident of how, at one time long ago, the God of Wind (Vayu Bhagavan), uprooted the three towers of the great mountain (Maha Meru) in order to keep off Athichedan who fought against him and who was obstructing the great mountain by thousands of adorned summits resembling serpents’ heads and deposited one of these towers at Thiruketheeswaram. The Lord established Himself there, at Thiruketheeswaram.

According to the Manmiam, Thiruketheeswaram along with Koneswaram are two of the nine most sacred sthalams of the Hindus. The other seven are in India.

Sanmugam Arumugam (1905) hails from an orthodox Hindu family in Nallur, Jaffna.


Mystic poets and Hinduism
K S Sivakumaran

Poetry gives inspiration. Most Hindu thoughts are embedded in verses. The mystics among the Hindus expressed their super consciousness in short poems which came to them spontaneously. Some of them are difficult to understand. One common factor in all these men was that they break themselves, free from organized religions and rituals. They sought communion with nature and acquired a keen sense of perception. They traced God in everything and reported their findings in unmistakable terms. They had a direct vision. They did not depend upon reason. We know so little.

Think of the immensity of space and the myriads of sun and the number of planets circling around the sun - the variety of beings living in them, the Gods, religions and philosophies they might have. Science has widened our vision but not to that extent the mystics see. Think of the charms of solitude, mountain caves and deep forest glades when craving for wealth or fame.

The mystics saw God in everything and everywhere and felt that they have no separate existence except Him. They saw only ONE when we see many. Our presumptions are ridiculous. We are only worms. Yet we think of our pride. With only five senses and an ounce of intellect we presume that we have read God’s plans. We don’t realize that God is immeasurable.

Of course we are definitely superior to lower beings which are endowed with only one or two or three or four senses. By the same logic the mystics might have developed intuition reaping into inspiration. In the search of evolution we are only a link.

This ideal will not be acceptable to the practical people of the world. Why? Because it destroys our bloated Ego. We have our own plans conceived in selfishness.

Instead of seeing God in everything we see the Devil. That is why we are destroying our own kind. Reason is tottering on our throne and world is turning into a lunatic asylum.

On the other hand if this ideal is accepted this very world becomes a paradise. We can live in peace and also allow others to the right to live in God’s kingdom.

This had been preached in the past and will be preached in the future. But only those who are free from desire will understand it. The rest will continue to pursue this mad pursuit.

God is the greatest of poets. This universe is his poem coming in verses and rhymes and rhythms. Remember Alexander Pope’s poem on man?

The lines echoes and reaches the sentiments of the Hindu Mystics... For instance, Pope felt: “All men parts of One stupendous Whole whose body nature is; and God the Soul.” That is Hinduism summarized in two lines.


Scriptures in Hinduism
Hinduism is based on “the accumulated treasury of spiritual laws discovered by different persons in different times”. The scriptures were transmitted orally in verse form to aid memorization, for many centuries before they were written down.

God Vishnu

Radha and Krikshna

Over many centuries, sages refined the teachings and expanded the canon. In post-Vedic and current Hindu belief, most Hindu scriptures are not typically interpreted literally. More importance is attached to the ethics and metaphorical meanings derived from them. Most sacred texts are in Sanskrit. The texts are classified into two classes: Shruti and Smriti.

Shruti primarily refers to the Vedas, which form the earliest record of the Hindu scriptures. While many Hindus revere the Vedas as eternal truths revealed to ancient sages , some devotees do not associate the creation of the Vedas with a god or person. They are thought of as the laws of the spiritual world, which would still exist even if they were not revealed to the sages.

Hindus believe that because the spiritual truths of the Vedas are eternal, they continue to be expressed in new ways. There are four Vedas. The Rigveda is the first and most important Veda. Each Veda is divided into four parts: the primary one, the Veda proper, being the Sanhita, which contains sacred mantras.

The other three parts form a three-tier ensemble of commentaries, usually in prose and are believed to be slightly later in age than the Sanhita. These are: the Brahmanas, Aranyakas, and the Upanishads.

The first two parts were subsequently called the Karmakana (ritualistic portion), while the last two form the Jnanakanna (knowledge portion). While the Vedas focus on rituals, the Upanishads focus on spiritual insight and philosophical teachings, and discuss Brahman and reincarnation.

Hindu texts other than the Shrutis are collectively called the Smritis (memory). The most notable of the Smritis are the epics, which consist of the Mahabharata and the Ramayana.

The Bhagavad Gita is an integral part of the Mahabharata and one of the most popular sacred texts of Hinduism.

It contains philosophical teachings from Krishna, an incarnation of Vishnu, told to the prince Arjuna on the eve of a great war. The Bhagavad Gita, spoken by Krishna, is described as the essence of the Vedas. However Gita, sometimes called Gitopanishad, is more often placed in the Shruti, category, being Upanishadic in content.

The Smritis also include the Puranas, which illustrate Hindu ideas through vivid narratives. There are texts with a sectarian nature such as Devi Mahatmya, the Tantras, the Yoga Sutras, Tirumantiram, Shiva Sutras and the Hindu Agamas. A more controversial text, the Manusmriti, is a prescriptive lawbook which emptomizes the societal codes of the caste system.

Source: Wikipedia

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