Category Archives: O. Revitalization and Modernity

River Goddesses

Evidence of the importance of femininity in the Hindu religion dates back to the Indus Valley Civilization in 2500 BCE (Rodrigues 31), the source of thousands of terracotta female figurines (Hawley and Wulff 1). Further evidence lies in Vedic scripture that dates back to 1500 to 1000 BCE (Rodrigues 496). Vedic literature is still revealed today and has with numerous references to goddesses and women (Hawley and Wulff 2). Evidently, Hindu goddesses were and still are embedded in all aspects of life and land (Foulston and Abbott 1). This close association between India’s geography and the divine is an ongoing theme throughout the Hindu religion. This is evident when one listens to the traditional stories told and heard throughout India (Eck 11). Pilgrimages, rituals, and festivals related to India’s landscape still continue today and help illustrate how symbolic the geography of India really is.

Hindu goddesses are known to represent seemingly complex notions such as power and energy. These same goddesses can be found manifesting in simple forms such as water and rivers throughout India (Foulston and Abbott 2). The symbol of water signifies potentiality, fluidity, and a vehicle for creation (Baartmans 210). Water, according to the Vedas is all encompassing; it is foundational to the universe (Baartmans 214-215). Rivers, as sacred entities, are said to be known as “the great descenders” (Eck 18-19). In fact, the latter portions of the Rg Veda claims that anyone bathing where the Ganga and Yamuna meet will rise to heaven (Eck 145). Further evidence for this lies in the Padma Purana, as it states that bathing and drinking in the junction between the Ganga, Yamuna, and Sarasvati allows one to achieve freedom (Eck 147). The belief that these river goddesses can grant access to heaven or freedom, which are common goals in Hinduism, demonstrate the extent to which Hindus believe in the power of these goddesses.

India’s rivers and their goddesses are intricately entwined. They form trivenis, or “triple-braids,” as they meet in different forms throughout the land (Eck 7). These trivenis are often interpreted symbolically as “sacred crossings” or tirthas and represent “spiritual ladders to heaven” (Eck 10, 140). The rivers are pilgrimage sites for both humans and the goddesses (Eck 167). Humans visit these holy sites to gain freedom and a deeper devotion to their faith. The river goddesses visit other rivers seeking support when exhausted by their own pilgrims (Eck 167).

River goddesses are referenced by the Vedas as “mothers” (Eck 166). The seven “mother-rivers” are the oldest collection of rivers in India (Eck 167). In modern India, the focus of worship lies around the seven rivers known as the saptanadi: the Ganga, Yamuna, Sindu, Narmada, Godavari, Krsna, and the Kaveri (Eck 168). The water belonging to these river goddesses is said to be analogous with milk belonging to the mothers themselves, as well as soma (Eck 138), a sacred plant and intoxicating beverage (Rodrigues 67). It is the mantras, or sacred verses, (Rodrigues 168) of these rivers and goddesses that are recited while performing modern Hindu water rituals.

Ganga, the holiest of all Hindu rivers (Oestigaard 130), is also known as the goddess “Mother Ganga” (Eck 131). According to myth, the water of Ganga divides into many streams as it descends from the heavens (Kinsley 188). Therefore, Ganga and the rest of the Hindu sacred river goddesses are said to have a divine descent from heaven (Eck 138 – 140). Together, the Ganga and Sarasvati Rivers purify, nourish and fertilize the land of India (Kinsley 57). Today, Hindus worship Ganga by bathing along her river and offering flowers, oil lamps, and even ashes of loved ones while performing sraddha rites, or death rites (Eck 163), in her waters (Eck 131-132). Ganga Dusehra is a ten-day celebration of Mother Ganga on the tenth day of the third month, Jayeshta (Dwivedi 27). During this festival, Hindus bathe in Ganga’s waters, take her clay home with them, chant her name, and meditate along her banks (Dwivedi 28). Bathing in Ganga’s waters is also regarded as a purifying practice during other festivals, such as Makara Sankranti, a harvest festival (Dwivedi 32-33).

Bas-relief of the Hindu river goddess Ganga at the Ellora Caves (Ellora, India)
Bas-relief of the Hindu river goddess Ganga at the Ellora Caves (Ellora, India)

Now extinct, the river Sarasvati used to be associated with her cleansing properties (Eck 145). Today, the goddess Sarasvati is largely recognized as being associated with the theme of arts and learning (McDermott 3608), creativity and knowledge (Ludvik 1), oral artistry and culture in general (Kinsley 55). Sarasvati is also either the daughter or wife of Brahma, the source of creation (Kinsley 55). As a river, Sarasvati is commonly known as representing both purity and abundance. According to Vedic literature she is also known as a “healing medicine” (Kinsley 56). Currently, Sarasvati is celebrated on the fifth day of the twelfth month, Phalguna, during the spring festival called Vasant Panchami (Dwivedi 30). During the celebration, Hindus will often wear bright colors, especially yellow, to welcome the arrival of the spring season and honor Sarasvati (Dwivedi 30). Hindus tend to partake in ancestor worship, Pitri-Tarpan, and rooftop kite flying on Vasant Panchami (Dwivedi 31).

Myth claims that Krsna, a highly worshipped deity, was forced to grow up in and came to love the lands surrounding the Yamuna River (Eck 170). Many believe that Ganga’s love for Krsna stems from the mergence of Ganga and Yamuna at the site of Prayag (Eck 170). This union is also regarded as sacred to the Hindu religion as death in this location was once thought to be fruitful (Dwivedi 138). Also taking place in Prayag is Kumbh Mela, the world’s largest religious gathering (Gupta 1329). Every twelve years Prayag, Haridwar, Nasik, and Ujjain take turns hosting Kumbh Mela celebrations in which millions participate in the purifying practice of bathing at the union of the Yamuna and Ganga Rivers (Gupta 1329). It is regarded as highly sacred to do so when the planets align correctly and a full moon is present (Gupta 1329). Yamuna is recognized as the “daughter of the sun” and the “waters of love” (Eck 169-170). Many Hindus sing hymns and visit Divya Shila, the Divine Stone, and the Ma Yamuna temple at Yamunotri to worship the image of Yamuna (Eck 169-170).

Narmada runs through central India and is known to have the most sacred sites along its riverside (Eck 467). Although there are many myths on the subject of Narmada’s creation, it is widely accepted that both the river and goddess were formed by the very sweat of divine Siva’s face (Eck 172). Another common belief is that Narmada’s main role on earth is to relieve mortals of their sins (Eck 173). Parikrama or Pradakshina, meaning circumambulation, is the highly recommended pilgrimage of the Narmada (Eck 170). It is common for Hindus to divide this nearly nine hundred mile hike into sections. By doing so, what would be a three year journey, is instead, completed over one’s lifetime (Eck 171). Shri Narmada, within the Narmada Mandir temple, is a sacred shrine dedicated to Narmada. Offerings such as white candy Prasad, incense, and split coconuts are brought here to worship Narmada (Eck 173-174).

According to legend, the river and goddess, Godavari, descended to earth on a hill called Brahmagiri as a form of Ganga. Godavari is also known by the name, Gautami, due to a myth involving the sage, Gautama (Eck 175). In this myth, Gautama killed a cow, committing the worst sin possible according to the Hindu religion. Godavari is now commonly referred to as Gautami because of her heavenly descent that relieved Gautama’s sin (Eck 176). Pilgrims today commonly visit a well on top of Brahmagiri, a shrine dedicated to Siva, the ritual bathing site, the Chakra Tirtha, and the Gangadvara, a symbolic representation of the “Door of Ganga”, through which they worship Godavari (Eck 176). Another common pilgrimage to worship the deity Godavari, is to Nasik, famous for the settlement of Rama, Sita, and Lakshmana in the Ramayana (Eck 177), a prominent Hindu epic (Eck 470). This site hosts millions of Hindu pilgrims for mela, or bathing festivals (Eck 467) During mela, the waters are infused with numerous floating lights (Eck 178).

The river Kaveri is said to be the goddess, Vishnumaya, a deity worshipped by lower castes (Hoeppe 126), in liquid form. According to the Puranas, Kaveri was sent by Visnu to water the land as she descends from the heavens and becomes a symbol for blessing (Eck 179). The Kaveri River is the site of many famous Hindu pilgrimage temples such as, Shrirangapattanam, Shivasamudram, and the most well known temple of Visnu on the island of Shrirangam (Eck 180).

Pushkaram is a popular Hindu festival in which the twelve main rivers and their goddesses are celebrated at different astrologically determined times once every twelve years (Dalal no page). The seven “mother-rivers” (Eck 167), previously mentioned, are included in these twelve as well as the Bhima, Tapati, Tungabhadra, Indus, and Pranahita Rivers (Dalal no page). Other minor rivers may be worshipped such as the Tamraparni and the Sangutirtham, but these are less popular (Dalal no page). Ancestor worship, bathing, and making offerings is said to grant spiritual benefits because it is believed that the divine bathe in these rivers during this festival (Dalal no page).

Performance of sraddha or visarjana, the “committal of ashes to the river” is commonly done on the rivers of India (Eck 163). Prayaga, Kashi, and Gaya, the tristhali or “three places”, are popular sites for these death rituals (Eck 163). Many myths surround these acts, but one of the most widespread beliefs is that the rivers can grant liberation or moksa (Eck 147). In the past, one of the death rituals was to commit suicide at Prayaga in hopes to obtain moksa (Eck 165). A common tradition is to honor the loved one’s ashes, release and sink them in the river, and offer rice balls, pindas, to connect the deceased with their deceased ancestors in heaven (Eck 164). It is said that for ten days following a death, one rice-ball a day is to be sacrificed on an altar bordering a river (Oestigaard 158).

The importance of water is displayed in verses dedicated to various deities and also in its life-giving contribution to creation of the universe (Oestigaard 239). With ritual purity and pollution playing such a large role in Hinduism, water and rivers, as life-giving elements, are especially prone to pollution. Pilgrimages, daily bathing, relieving of sins, and countless offerings to the rivers and their goddesses are all efforts to achieve and maintain purity. The consequences of these acts can have negative, polluting effects on the rivers and goddesses themselves (Eck 183-184). In Hinduism, death is regarded as the greatest source of impurity (Oestigaard 241). With that said, India’s rivers and river goddesses face a dilemma both physically and spiritually, as clothes and charcoal from death rituals (Oestigaard 199) are constantly polluting the sacred rivers, with the Yamuna River being the most polluted of them all (Eck 184). Although impure objects should not be cast into the water, it is still a daily occurrence (Narayanan 184). Despite the ongoing restoration efforts, “the rivers that are said to have descended to earth as sources of salvation are now, in their earthly form, in need of salvation themselves” (Eck 188).

 

REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING

Hawley, John Stratton (1998) “The Goddess in India.” In Devi: Goddesses of India. John Hawley and Donna Wulff (ed.). Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Private Limited. pp. 1-28.

Baartmans, Frans (2000) The Holy Waters: A Primordial Symbol in Hindu Myths. Delhi: B.R. Publishing Corporation.

Dalal, Roshen (2010) Hinduism: An Alphabetical Guide. New Delhi: The Penguin Group.

Dwivedi, Anil Kumar (2007) Encyclopaedia of Indian Customs and Rituals. New Delhi: Anmol Publications Pvt. Ltd.

Eck, Diana L. (2012) India: A Sacred Geography. New York: Random House, Inc.

Foulston, Lynn and Stuart Abbott (2009) Hindu Goddesses: Beliefs and Practices. Eastbourne: Sussex Academic Press.

Gupta, Om (2006) Encyclopedia of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh (In 9 Volumes). Delhi: Isha Books.

Hoeppe, Gotz (2007) Conversations on the Beach: Fishermen’s Knowledge, Metaphor and Environmental Change in South India. New York: Berghahn Books.

Kinsley, David (1987) Hindu Goddesses. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.

Ludvik, Catherine (2007) Sarasvati, Riverine Goddess of Knowledge: From the Manuscript-carrying Vina-player to the Weapon-wielding Defender of the Dharma. Leiden: Koninklijke Brill NV.

McDermott, Rachel Fell (2005) “Goddess Worship: The Hindu Goddess.” In Lindsay Jones, ed. Encyclopedia of Religion. p. 3607-3611. Detroit: Gale, Cengage Learning.

Narayanan, Vasudha (2001) “Water, Wood, and Wisdom: Ecological Perspectives from the Hindu Traditions.” Daedalus, Vol. 130, No. 4: 179-206

Oestigaard, Terje (2005) Death and Life-Giving Waters: Cremation, caste, and cosmogony in karmic traditions. Oxford: Archaeopress.

Rodrigues, Hillary (2006) Hinduism: The Ebook. Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online Books, Ltd.

 

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Water rituals

Hindu goddesses

India’s geography

Pilgrimages in India

Water in India

Rivers in India

Trivenis

Mother rivers

Seven sindhus

Saptanadi

Ganga

Yamuna

Sindhu

Narmada

Godavari

Krsna

Kaveri

Mantra

Sraddha rites

Ganga Dusehra

Makara Sankranti

Vasant Panchoumi

Prayaga

Pradakshina

Ritual pollution

Ritual purity

 

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yamuna_in_Hinduism

http://www.exoticindiaart.com/article/ganga/

http://www.esamskriti.com/essay-chapters/Seven-Sacred-Rivers-1.aspx

http://hinduism.iskcon.org/practice/504.htm

http://history-of-hinduism.blogspot.ca/2010/06/water-and-hinduism.html

http://www.stephen-knapp.com/sarasvati_goddess_of_learning.htm

http://www.mapsofindia.com/events/india/ganga-dussehra.html

Article written by: Jaelee Kryzanowski (March 2015) who is solely responsible for its content.

 

 

Annie Besant

Annie Besant was an English woman who would come to be an advocate for the Hindu religion and women’s educational rights in India. Born in 1847, Besant grew up in a home where her father valued science over religion and her mother was a devout Anglican. Her parents’ differing views on religion would come to impact Besant’s beliefs and work as she grew up. She came to associate England and India by gendered terms. England being male and paternal in its rationality and materialism, and India as female due to its spirituality and mysticism. Besant’s father died when she was only five years old, thus, she grew up mainly influenced by her mother’s Christian beliefs. She received a good education from a wealthy woman who agreed to privately tutor her because her mother could not afford public education. Besant married a clergyman, however, her marriage quickly became tumultuous as she began to denounce her Christian faith. Besant would refuse to take communion and unsurprisingly this angered her clergyman husband. This led to a fractious marriage and an eventual separation (Anderson 2002:28).

More and more Besant began to question the Christian faith. The illness of her young daughter Mabel was one such event which drew Besant towards an atheist mindset. She eventually joined the National Secular Society which was lead by Charles Bradlaugh. Besant and Bradlaugh formed a strong friendship and he helped foster her free-thinking ideas.  Besant also became acquainted with George Bernard Shaw at this time (Oppenheim 13). With her new secularist mindset, Besant did not deny the presence of God but rather attributed consequences to human action. Before, her Christian faith had led her to believe that the universe revolved around God as the one true deity. In contrast, secularism allowed humans to be accountable for evil and for the consequences, whether it be rewards or punishment (Oppenheim 14).

In the year 1874, Annie Besant went to London and there she became known as ‘Red Annie.’ She supported such issues as women’s suffrage, use of birth control, secularism and socialism. Besant made it very clear that she was against the imperialism of England. She became a rebel figure because she went against the Victorian ideals that existed at the time in England. A series of articles written by Besant in the 1870’s demonstrated her discontent over England’s control of India. At this time, Besant identified herself as an atheist socialist but in 1889 she turned to the religion of Theosophy (Anderson 1994: 565). This particular religion was new at the time Besant converted to it and was based on discovering the hidden meanings or mysteries behind divinity. It sought to explain the relationships or bonds between the universe, humans, and the divine. Her conversion to Theosophy was met with consternation from her fellow secularists and from Indian theosophists. She had been a woman who did not believe in God and wanted the separation of religion and the state, and now she was affiliating herself with a religion where “all major creeds are paths to God” (Anderson 2002:28). Oppenheim (1989) suggests that her conversion to Theosophy was not as surprising as many thought. She had been questioning the secularist and atheist thoughts for some time, and had found that they did not allow for brotherhoods to be formed, but rather pitted different groups against each other (15). Besant remained a follower of Theosophy for the rest of her life and based much of her work on its ideologies.

1907 was an important year for Besant as she became the president of the Theosophical Society.  By this time Besant had already become quite assimilated into Indian culture. The base for the Theosophical Society was in India and Besant tried to participate in Indian life as fully as possible. She moved to India permanently and wore a white sari, as widows do, because it demonstrated mourning over the wrongdoings Britain had committed in India (Anderson 2002:29). She explained her affinity for India by claiming that she felt she had been Indian in another lifetime [Ingalls (1965) mentions how Besant discovered that many of her incarnations took place in India]. Whilst in the Theosophical Society, Besant focussed much of her work on supporting the domesticity of Indian women. Besant believed that it was important that Indian customs be upheld and this included women carrying out their traditional roles in the home. She received some criticism for this viewpoint because she had been so against the Victorian idea of a private sphere for women in her native land of England. Indeed many ambiguities arose with Besant’s ideas. One such ambiguity or criticism Besant faced was her lack of political conviction. In the year 1885 the Indian National Congress, composed of British members, was attempting to include more Indians in the governance of India. Besant had long been known to be against the Imperial supremacy of Britain yet she did not seem to have any qualms with British involvement in India’s government. She was quoted once as saying that “an Indian does not resent being governed; for he thinks the duty of a ruler is to rule, but he does resent the insolence often shown by the very juvenile civilians” that Britain was sending to India (Anderson 2002:30). Rather, Besant chose to focus mainly on the spiritual nature of India as she believed that this was the most vital part of its essence. She was concerned that western ideologies were crippling to India’s traditional Hindu beliefs and practices.

Bust of Annie Besant in the Theosophical Society headquarters (Adyar, Tamil Nadu, India)
Bust of Annie Besant in the Theosophical Society headquarters (Adyar, Tamil Nadu, India)

In order to preserve India’s Hindu background, Besant turned her efforts towards education. She felt that it was important to educate the young males on the religion, and history of India in order that they may be proud citizens of India in the future. In this way, Besant was trying to ensure that the western ideals of the British did not permeate into India and eradicate its important history and spirituality. Besant tried to distance herself from social reforms, wanting to focus mainly on the preservation of India’s Hindu culture. However, in the early 1900s she did become involved in advocating against child marriages and the seclusion of women. It is important to note that her support of these issues in no way negated her belief that women should still be domestic. When she began a school for young girls, the goal was that their education would help them to be better wives, not to help them achieve independence (Anderson 2002: 31). Tradition held that the men dealt in public affairs outside of the home and that women were mothers and wives who concerned themselves with domestic affairs. It is clear that Besant did not believe Indian women to be suppressed because of this (Anderson 1994: 567). To her, they seemed quite content in their societal roles and thus no change needed to be made. In the Central Hindu School (Besant’s school for boys) and her school for girls, Besant ensured that Sanskrit was taught as vigorously as the English language. Just as in the schools run by the British, her schools also taught important morals. However, Besant had more success than the British run universities in India because she tailored her curriculums to Indian culture. Figures such as St. Paul would be replaced in a lesson with Sri Rama; King Alfred was replaced by Sivaji. Besant’s devotion to Hindu tradition and custom in the education of India’s youth won her over with her pupils and their parents (Ingalls 86).

The year 1913 was significant for Besant because it was then that she turned to political pursuits. Having been distant from involving herself in issues of a political nature, Besant was thrown into the realm of politics when she was taken to court by a man whose sons were under her guardianship.  Accusations about one of her colleagues were made and this cast a shadow on the Theosophical Society. As a result, Besant felt an increasing need, in her own words: “to enter more than I have hitherto done into the social life of Madras” (Stafford 62-63).  After her negative experience in court, she formed ‘The Brothers of India.’  This was a group committed to looking out for India’s best interests with a focus on Hinduism as the mode towards their means. The men in this group were from the Theosophical Society and they had seven guidelines, which they were to follow in order to serve India’s best interests. The first six guidelines reflected many of Besant’s early beliefs. For example, these men were to only have their daughters marry when they were seventeen years of age to promote the education of the masses and to not ostracize widows for remarrying. The seventh guideline was most significant which “committed all members to a combined programme of spiritual, educational, social and political reform, and the placing of the programme under the guidance and direction of the Indian National Congress” (Stafford 64). Before, there had been reforms for each of these areas individually, but Besant wanted to unite all of these areas and to place equal importance on all reforms together. The Indian National Congress was asked to take the programme under its direction but they felt that it was not their place to interfere in these reforms because they were focussed solely on political ventures. However, Annie Besant was not deterred. She sought to bring the different groups and movements into one strong voice.

Home Rule for India was brought forth by Besant. She believed that both India and Britain would be better off if India was permitted to be self-governing. Stafford (1983) suggests that Besant’s Irish background influenced her decision to have a Home Rule for India. Besant wrote many articles which stressed how India would be a much more valuable ally as a nation free from colonialism as opposed to being a colonial state. She discussed the many grievances that India had suffered under British rule. According to Besant, Britain continuously benefitted more from India than India did from itself. Britain prevented India’s capital from remaining within the nation. As well, in terms of education, missionaries wanted Indians to convert, and the British geared education towards their own means; the cultivation of more clerks and junior officials was often the British goal (Stafford 66-67).  With the approaching war (World War I), Besant asserted that it was important for India to recognize her own nationhood. In 1916 Besant was finally successful in achieving a Home Rule for India. A meeting between the Congress and the Moslem League occurred.  As Ingalls (1965) suggests, this was very significant because an agreement called the Lucknow Agreement determined that in the event of Indian self-government, “two-thirds majority of either religious community would hold a veto power” (87).  Unfortunately, the Congress did not honor this agreement. Being the strong-willed woman that she was, Besant continued to give speeches to gain support. She was then placed under house arrest by a governor of Madras [see Anderson (2002: 39) for more information on the Governor’s actions against Besant]. Much to the dismay of the Congress, Besant had many devout followers, and her house arrest only served to make her a martyr for her cause. Gandhi was amongst her supporters, as well as other male Indian nationalists. People were dismayed to hear of the treatment of Besant. She was called Mother Besant by many and had won over the hearts of the people with her passionate belief in Indian nationalism. Significantly, Besant’s internment brought forth many Indian women activists for women’s rights. Others who normally would not have supported an English woman as a nationalist leader also protested her internment. When she was released after three months, she became the President of the Indian National Congress in December of 1917 (Ingalls 87-88).

Now as president, Besant was able to induce change for women’s rights in India. As she had done in the past, Besant did not denounce the important role in the home of the women, but rather suggested that women had an ancient importance and that their emancipation was needed so that they could fulfill their ancient position. In this way, Besant appealed to the traditionalism of Indian women and men, while still implying that some changes needed to be made. In late 1917 Besant formed and presided over the first feminist organization in India. It was called the Women’s Indian Association (Anderson 2002:47). Many women looked up to Besant as someone who had defied the odds and demonstrated that women could have a voice and the power to affect change in a male-dominated world. After 1917, her influence began to decrease. Gandhi was at the forefront of India’s nationalism and many saw him as a more appropriate leader for the Indian cause because he was a swadeshi or home made nationalist. Besant disagreed with many of Gandhi’s ideas and she lost favor with many because of this. To many, it seemed that she had become pro-government despite her original Home Rule intentions for India, however, she had simply altered her views because the political climate of India had changed. Besant had once been deemed an incarnate goddess, but at this time she was being referred to as a demoness and some called her Putana [this is a demoness from the epic Ramayana. She is known to have put poison on her breasts and suckled the child Lord Krsna, thus killing him (Anderson 2002:50)]. Interestingly, Gandhi, though he had many qualms with Besant’s views, stood up for her against the harsh words she was receiving from those who once supported her.

The last years of Besant’s career were difficult times for her. She resigned from the Home Rule League she had founded and Gandhi took her place as president. Moreover, she also resigned from the Indian National Congress. Besant was embittered by the way in which she was disregarded, but she continued to persevere. She formed a new National Home Rule League and eventually rejoined the Indian National Congress, though not in a leading position. Besant died in the year 1933 at the age of eighty-six. Towards the end of her career she was marginalized, however, many still fondly remembered her as Mother Annie Besant. She was the English woman with the Indian soul who fought for a more free India (Anderson 2002:49-51).

 

 

 

REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING

 

Anderson, Nancy Fix (2002) “Mother Besant and Indian National Politics.” The Journal of        Imperial and Commonwealth History, Vol. 30, No. 3: p.27-54. London: Frank Cass

 

Anderson, Nancy Fix (1994) “Bridging Cross-cultural Feminisms: Annie Besant and women’s   rights in England and India, 1874-1933.” Women’s History Review, Vol. 3, No. 4: p.       563-580. New Orleans: Routledge Taylor and Francis Group.

 

Ingalls, Daniel H.H. (1965) “The Heritage of a Fallible Saint: Annie Besant’s Gifts to India.”         Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, Vol. 109, No. 2: p. 85-88.     Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society.

 

Mortimer, Joanne Stafford (1983) “Annie Besant and India 1913-1917.” Journal of      

            Contemporary History, Vol. 18, No. 1: p. 61-78. London: Sage Publications, Ltd.

 

Oppenheim, Janet (1989) “The Odyssey of Annie Besant.” History Today, Vol. 39, No. 9: p.        12-18. Bell & Howell Information and Learning Company.

 

 

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Atheism

Central Hindu School

Charles Bradlaugh

Commonweal (newspaper)

Home Rule League

Indian National Congress

Madame Blavatsky

Madras

nationalist movement (India)

National Reformer (newspaper)

New India (newspaper)

‘Red Annie’

Secularism

‘The Brothers of India’

Theosophical Society

 

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

 

http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/historic_figures/besant_annie.shtml

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Annie_Besant

 

http://www.ts-adyar.org/content/annie-besant-1847-1933

http://spartacus-educational.com/Wbesant.htm

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theosophical_Society

 

http://www.ts-adyar.org/

 

https://theosophical.org/the-society/history-of-the-society

 

http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/285841/Indian-National-Congress

 

Article written by: Haley Kleckner (March 2015) who is solely responsible for its content.

Hinduism and Animal Rights

 Within South Asia, where Hinduism is prevalent, animals are treated with a certain level of respect. Many Hindus, particularly the upper class Brahmins, opt for a vegetarian lifestyle, mainly so that no harm will be inflicted upon any animal. [For more information see Changing the Game: Why the Battle for Animal Liberation Is So Hard and How We Can Win It [Phelps (2013)]. Refraining from eating meat also serves the very important purpose of maintaining ritual purity. Priests and other high-ranking religious figures must absolutely adhere to a vegetarian lifestyle in order to achieve of a high level of purity, which will allow them to fulfill their priestly duties. [For more information see How to Become a Hindu: A Guide for Seekers and Born Hindus, Subramuniyaswami (2002)]. Many Hindus believe that performing priestly duties requires a significant level of spiritual consciousness that cannot be attained with a meat-based diet. This vegetarian lifestyle is not merely a modern movement, rather, Hindus have been following this practice since the Vedas first appeared, thousands of years before the birth of Christ. The Vedas promote vegetarianism primarily because all animals are said to have once been human, or have the potential to become a human again. This is because Hindus believe in reincarnation. Maiming or killing an animal is frowned upon because humans share the same life force as all the animals residing on earth (Puskar-Pasewicz 87). Evidently, it is clear that animals receive a very high status in the Hindu faith. However, it is important to note that there are occasions where violence is permitted. If one wishes to make an offering to the gods, sacrificing an animal is usually permitted, but only if there are significant benefits derived from doing so (Dombrowski 22).

To Hindus who promote vegetarianism, one may ignore the Vedic scriptures and continue to harm animals and eat meat, but this comes at a cost. As mentioned earlier, purity and spiritual consciousness will be greatly inhibited by opting for a meat-based diet. Without an adequate level of spiritual consciousness, one is unable to attain the ultimate Hindu goal of moksa, which is essentially freedom from the painful cyclical rebirth that an individual faces after death. Attaining moksa is achievable only by recognizing that we are all one with the divine; this recognition requires a high level of spiritual awareness (Bhattacharyya 181-182). By saying that we are all one with divine, we must realize that this definition includes all living beings, not just humans. While many other religions believe in immortal souls that are invested with the divine, Hinduism acknowledges the existence of a soul in all living things (Edwards, 136). If one does decide to harm animals, one will risk developing bad karma. Karma can essentially be seen as the collection of one’s actions, whether good or bad, which will influence the person’s subsequent lives. So if one gathers a lot of bad karma, they are basically harming themselves in the future. Likewise, if someone behaves in a proper manner, particularly towards other living beings, good karma will develop. One of the most significant points about karma to know is that it is something that cannot be erased; that is, if you have developed a lot of bad karma, the only way to ensure a better life is by performing acts that promote good karma (Thirumalai 117). Indeed, proper treatment of animals is seen as critical if one wishes to achieve the ultimate goal of moksa, or at the very least, to ensure a better subsequent life.

For centuries, many animals residing in Southeast Asia have benefitted from the Hindu belief system. The Hindu desire to achieve moksa had allowed many animals to roam freely and avoid harm. However, within the past several centuries, the rise of modernity and globalism has led to a change of values within many Hindu countries. Prior values of the upper classes, such as vegetarianism, are at risk of being erased (Phelps 201). The Hindu perspective of the treatment of animals is beginning to radically shift. Animals that were once treated with respect are now being treated as a commodity. Since karma and moksa are significantly impacted by how we treat other living beings, the transition from vegetarianism to eating meat can potentially be seen as the slow destruction of the Hindu faith itself. Seeing this clear threat, an organization has appeared within India called the “Hindu Renaissance Movement.” This movement has the primary goal of encouraging faithful Hindus from all castes to adopt a vegetarian lifestyle in order to conserve the Hindu identity (Phelps 201-202). This movement is very important because, traditionally, only the upper caste of Hindu society would refrain from meat, while the lower castes had frequently consumed meat (Muesse 81). The emphasis for all castes to refrain from meat is an indicator of the changing ideals that are occurring within South Asia today. Although there is a shifting attitude due to the west’s influence, it is important to note that some animals are still privy to a life free from slaughter due to their high status. One well-known example of a high-status animal is the cow, which Hindus believe symbolizes the whole animal kingdom. The cow is symbolic of all mothers, due to its ability to provide us with many forms of sustenance, such a milk, dried dung, and even urine, which is seen as a cleansing agent (Muesse 81).  Even if a Hindu has made the transition from vegetarian to meat-eater, the cow would still not be harmed because of the severe karmic consequences. In ancient Sanskrit texts, cows were seen as symbolic of the Brahmin; therefore, killing a cow is considered to be equally as bad as killing a member from the Brahmin class (Doniger 658). The significance of the cow is important to note when considering one of the most disastrous consequences of modernism: pollution.

Since the rise of modernism, pollution within our world had become rampant. Many modern products are composed of such things as plastic and metal, which do not decompose easily. With waste found in nearly every part of the globe, many animals are at a serious risk of consuming litter and subsequently suffering an excruciating death. One such animal that has been the victim of pollution is the cow. In South Asia, particularly India, it is forbidden for cows to be killed because of their high status, so many cows are instead allowed to roam the streets freely. It is assumed that cattle can freely graze on grass until they die of old age. Unfortunately, investigations have shown that many cattle have an abundance of plastic bags within their stomachs, which not only have no nutritional value, but also are also not digestible (Thumb 235). Although Hindus have a high level of respect for cows, their refusal to slaughter them has indirectly led many cows to suffer slow and painful deaths. Additionally, allowing animals to roam free in India has led to many car accidents, which as result has led to many human and cow deaths (Thumb 235-236).

Large bas-relief depicting a domestic scene with cows, who are revered in the Hindu tradition; Mahabalipuram, India
Large bas-relief depicting a domestic scene with cows, who are revered in the Hindu tradition; Mahabalipuram, India

In relation to animals, Hindus are quite peaceful; however, there are occasions when animals are sacrificed. Throughout the Vedas, sacrifice is seen as something that should occur, going so far as to suggest certain animals that would be ideal for sacrifice. [Animal Sacrifices, see Regan (1987)]. Even though the tradition of sacrificing animals has ancient roots, it has not disappeared. There are still many festivals and events within Hinduism that require animal sacrifice. It is important to note at this point that sacrifice does not necessarily pertain to the killing of an animal, although that still can occur at times. Animal sacrifices are usually symbolic acts. A major component of a sacrifice is the ritual, not the harming of an animal. In the rare instances when an animal is killed, Hindus explain that it is not an ordinary killing because there is no hate directed toward the animal (Regan 202). Essentially, even on occasions when an animal is killed, it is seen as a justifiable act. Perhaps by looking at the relationship that Hindu followers have with their pets, this concept can be solidified. Pets are very popular in Hindu culture. Families that own pets treat them as if they are members of their own family. Many pets are fed and taken care of quite well because it is seen as a religious duty to care for animals, especially if one is responsible for them. By faithfully taking care of one’s pet, Hindu followers will achieve good karma (Regan 201). This interaction between persons and their pets conveys the idea that Hindu followers have good intentions within their relationships with all animals.

In addition to an individual’s relationship with animals, there have also been many Hindu organizations and groups that have arisen to protect animals and vegetation. One well-known group, which has existed for nearly half a millennium, is the Bishnois group from western India. This group was founded on the idea that harming the environment will ultimately harm the individual. [For more information see Dharma and Ecology of Hindu Communities: Sustenance and Sustainability, Jain (2013)]. This notion was so deeply ingrained within this community that many have died in defense of this cause; it was better to sacrifice oneself than to develop bad karma. One well-known historical example of the Bishnois’ devotion to animal conservancy is found in the 1940s, before India’s independence from the British Empire. A group of British soldiers were traveling by train through a Bishnois village. One soldier decided to fire several shots at the nearby animals. As soon as the Bishnois people realized what was occurring, they attacked the train. Even with the arrival of modernity, the Bishnois are still very passionate about animals and the environment; in 1975 the Bishnois established one of the most well-known Hindu animal rights organizations, the Jeev Raksha (Jain 70). This organization is indicative of the idea that Hindus are in staunch opposition to any killing of animals, with the exception of sacrifice. Although this organization is localized, there are many other Hindu organizations that operate on an international level. The Hindu American Foundation (HAF) is unique in the sense that it has its focus on US and international policies. Issues such as the proper treatment of cattle are advocated for on a frequent basis (Flueckiger 223). With the mass consumption of meat in the western world, companies have turned a blind eye to the treatment of animals before and during their slaughter. Although HAF will not likely be able to influence millions of individuals to convert to veganism, they can influence the treatment of the animals.

Finally, although one may only speculate on the future of animal rights within Hinduism, the rise of animal conservancy organizations suggests that proper treatment of animals will likely exist far into the future. However, it is quite likely that maintaining animal rights will require more effort due to western influences and due to the ever-increasing amount of pollution, which continues to indirectly harm all life.

 

REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING

Bhattacharyya, Ashim K. (2006) Hindu Dharma: Introduction to Scriptures and Theology. Indiana: iUniverse, Inc.

Dombrowski, Daniel A. (1988) Hartshorne and the Metaphysics of Animal Rights. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Doniger, Wendy (2009) The Hindus: An Alternative History. Westminster: Penguin Books.

Edwards, Linda (2001) A Brief Guide to Beliefs: Ideas, Theologies, Mysteries, and Movements. Westminster: John Knox Press.

Flueckiger, Joyce (2015) Everyday Hinduism. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Jain, Pankaj (2013) Dharma and Ecology of Hindu Communities: Sustenance and Sustainability. Surrey, UK: Ashgate Publishing.

Muesse, Mark (2011) The Hindu Traditions: A Concise Introduction. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

Phelps, Norm (2013) Changing the Game: Why the Battle for Animal Liberation is So Hard and How We Can Win It. Brooklyn: Lantern Books.

Puskar-Pasewicz, Margaret (ed.)(2010) Cultural Encyclopedia of Vegetarianism. Westport: Greenwood Publishing Group.

Regan, Tom (1987) Animal Sacrifices. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

Subramuniyaswami, Sivaya (2002) How to Become a Hindu: A Guide for Seekers and Born Hindus. Hawaii: Himalayan Academy Pubns.

Thirumalai, Madasamy (2002) Sharing Your Faith With a Hindu. Michigan: Bethany House Publishers.

Thumb, Tom (2009) Hand to Mouth to India. Road Junky Publishing.

 

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Ahimsa

Bali

Bishnois

Blood sacrifice

Brahmin

Chambhar caste

Dharma

Gadhimai Mela

Jhatka

Karma

Mahabharata

Mansahara

Moksa

Samsara

Shakahara Vrata

Vahana

Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam

Yajna

 

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

http://www.hafsite.org/media/pr/ethicaltreatmentanimals

http://www.thebetterindia.com/5621/the-land-of-the-bishnois-where-conservation-of-wildlife-is-a-religion/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bishnois

http://www.humanesociety.org/about/departments/faith/facts/statements/hinduism.html

http://www.hinduismtoday.com/modules/smartsection/item.php?itemid=5262

http://www.nhsf.org.uk/2007/05/why-do-hindus-worship-the-cow/

http://www.karunasociety.org/projects/the-plastic-cow-project

http://nvdatabase.swarthmore.edu/content/bishnoi-villagers-sacrifice-lives-save-trees-1730

http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/266312/Hinduism/261616/Karma-samsara-and-moksha

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/patna/Animal-sacrifice-still-in-vogue/articleshow/16922845.cms

http://www.religionfacts.com/hinduism/things/cow.htm

Article written by: Kyle Klassen (March 2015) who is solely responsible for its content.

Hijra Religion

The Hijras are an institutionalized third gender in India. They live mainly in Northern India, with the major Hijra temple located in Gujarat, near Ahmedabad (Nanda 1990:xxii). Hijras are biological men who renounce sexuality and dress and act like women. Some Hijras are born hermaphrodites, or with ambiguous genitalia (Nanda 1990:5), but most Hijras are impotent or infertile men who undergo a sacrificial emasculation procedure called the nirvan operation, which involves the removal of male genitalia (Reddy 2005:56). This ritual emasculation is said to give them the power to bestow fertility to newlyweds and prosperity to newborn children (Reddy 2005:2). The traditional work of a Hijra is to perform at the birth of a child, at weddings, and at temple festivals; a group of Hijras will dance, sing, and bestow blessings in an exaggerated parody of female behavior, for which they receive payment (Nanda 1990:3, Reddy 2005:84).

Hijras practice a pluralistic form of religion: identity formation is related to Hinduism, but many Hijras also identify as Muslim (Reddy 2005:99). Hijras, being neither male nor female, are able to blur gender boundaries within Muslim traditions (Reddy 2005:102). They will sometimes embark on the Hajj, the holy pilgrimage to Karbala or Mecca or Medina, but unlike Muslim women, they do not need to be accompanied by a male relative (Reddy 2005:103). Muslim Hijras will wear a burqa when not performing (Reddy 2005:104), but are also permitted to wear male clothing upon returning from their pilgrimage (Reddy 2005:105). [see Reddy, 2005 for more information on Muslim Hijras]

Hindu Hijras trace their origins back to the time of the Ramayana (Reddy 2005:9). A common myth that Hijras tell regarding their history is that when Rama, the hero of the Ramayana, was exiled from Ayodhya, the entire city followed him to the edge of town to say goodbye. Everyone was in tears when they reached the banks of a river, and Rama asked all the men and women to stop crying for him and to go back to their homes. The Hijras, who are not men and not women, waited for fourteen years on the banks of the river. Upon his return, Rama was so moved by their extreme devotion that he gave them a blessing: he told them they would be kings in the kali yuga (Reddy 2003:189). [A yuga refers to a cosmic period in Hindu Cosmology (Reddy 2003:189)] . It is interesting to note that we are currently in the kali yuga, and that Hijras are entering the political sphere in India (Reddy 2003:164) as somewhat ideal candidates for leadership due to their celibacy and lack of kinship ties (Reddy 2003:182).

Within the Hindu pantheon, Hijras identify primarily with the god Siva (particularly in his ardhanarisvara state, when he is portrayed as half man, half woman), Arjuna, a hero from the Mahabharata epic and incarnation of Visnu, and the goddess Bahuchara Mata (Nanda 2003:195, Reddy 2005:81). In one Hindu creation myth, Siva was appointed to create the world but he took so long that the job was given to another god, Brahma (the Creator). When Siva was finally ready to begin creating the world, he saw that it was already done, and was so angry that he broke off his phallus and threw it into the earth (Nanda 2003:195). Hijras, like Siva, bury their severed penises in the ground, which they believe gives them the power of creation (Reddy 2005:97). By giving up individual fertility, they acquire universal creative power (Reddy 2005:97). Another clear identification for the Hijras is with Arjuna from the Mahabharata epic (Nanda 2003:195, Reddy 2005:81). During the epic Arjuna spends a year in the court of king Virata disguised as a eunuch named Brhannala, dressing like a woman and teaching dance to the women of the court (Nanda 2003:195, Reddy 2005:81). However, worship of Bahuchara Mata (a version of the mother goddess particularly associated with transgendierism and transvestism) is the most important for Hijras. Each Hijra household has a shrine to her and it is in her name that Hijras bestow their blessings of fertility and prosperity (Nanda 1990:24). [See Nanda, 1990, for myths attesting to Bahuchara’s special connection to Hijras]

Hijras engage in two kinds of occupations: badhai work, (singing and dancing at marriages and births) which is seen as a respectful occupation, and kandra work (sex work), a practice which is criticized by senior Hijras but is still the main source of income for roughly half the Hijra population (Reddy2005:15,80). Some Hijras will even take on regular clients as ‘husbands’ (Reddy 2003:165). Reddy suggests that due to their association with sex work and their ambiguous gender identification, Hijras are generally viewed as outside of the social order (Reddy 2003:166). They are seen as besarm (without shame), and people are often afraid to interact with them (Reddy 2003:166). Hijras have the power to bless but they also have the power to curse; if they are not adequately compensated for their services they will threaten to expose their mutilated genitals, a sight which is believed to cause impotence (Nanda 1990:7). For this reason Hijras are socially marginalized, but they are also feared (Nanda 1990:8). Badhai refers to the payments Hijras receive for their services, usually in the form of flour, cane sugar, sweets, cloth, saris or money (Nanda 1990:3). At the birth of male children Hijras will dance, entertain, and bless the child with fertility, prosperity, and long life. They will also examine the genitals of baby boys; if they are ambiguous they will sometimes try to claim the child as one of their own (Nanda 1990:2-5). Hijras will also perform at marriages; the social class of the bride and groom determines how elaborate the performance will be. They will bless the newlywed couple with fertility in the name of the mother goddess (Nanda 1990:5).

In the Hindu tradition chastity and renunciation of sexual activity gives one tapas (inner heat) which is associated with creation (Reddy 2005:96). For men in particular, abstinence or semen-retention is seen as a way to generate tapas (Reddy 2003:175). A Hijra is seen as a kind of sannyasin (renouncer) who has transformed their sexual impotence into procreative power (Nanda 2003: 195). Hijra men are said to receive a call from the Goddess Bahuchara Mata to serve her: those who deny her risk seven cycles of impotent rebirths (Nanda 2003:195). The nirvan operation is a form of rebirth in many ways; and the post-operation rituals mirror post-childbirth rituals (Nanda 2003:195). Only after the nirvan operation are Hijras truly believed to be able to channel the power of Bahuchara Mata (Nanda 2003:195). Although the operation is currently illegal in India, it is still practiced. The operation is a way of gaining respect within Hijra communities (Reddy 2005:93). Sex work is seen as contradictory to the ascetic ideal of sexual renunciation (Nanda 1990:12). The view among Hijras is that the ‘real’ Hijras are the ones who renounce sexuality completely and undergo the nirvan operation as proof of their legitimacy (Reddy 2003:175).

The gender neutrality of the Hijras has captured the imaginations of gender studies scholars worldwide (Reddy 2003:164). They are also beginning to enter the political sphere. They have become increasingly visible worldwide. Many Hijras see this as a fulfillment of Rama’s diving prophecy, and believe this to be the beginning of a new era. [I have included some links to current events articles regarding Hijras and politics, see below]

 

Bibliography

Nanda, Serena (1990) Neither Man Nor Woman: The Hijras of India. Belmont: Wadsworth Publishing Company

Nanda, Serena (1985) “The Hijras of India: Cultural and Individual Dimensions of an Institutionalized Third Gender Role” in Richard Parker and Peter Aggleton eds. Culture, Society, and Sexuality: A Reader, p 237-250. New York: Routledge

Nanda, Serena (2003) “Hijra and Sadhin: Neither Man nor Woman in India” in Constructing Sexualities: Readings in Sexuality, Gender and Culture. Suzanna LaFont (ed.). Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall. pp. 192-201

Reddy, Gayatri (2005) With Respect to sex: Negotiating Hijra Identity in South India. London: University of Chicago Press

Reddy Gayatri (2003)”Men Who Would Be Kings: Celibacy, Emasculation and the Re-Production of Hijras in Contemporary Indian Politics” in Social Research, vol 70 (1), p p163-200

Lal, Vinay (1999) “Not This, Not That: The Hijras of India and the Cultural Politics of Sexuality” in Social Text, No. 61, p119-140: Duke University Press.

 

Related Readings

Cohen, Lawrence (1995) “The Pleasures of Castration: The Postoperative Status of Hijras,
Jankhas, and Academics” in Paul R. Abrahamson and Steven D. Pinkerton eds. Sexual Nature/Sexual Culture. Chicago: University of Chicago Press

Reddy Gayatri (2006) “Bonds of Love: The Desire for Companionate Marriages Among Hijras of India” in Hirsch, J and H. Wardlow eds. Modern Love: Companionate Marriage and the Politics of Love, University of Michigan Press

 

 Related Research Topics

-Tapas

-Asceticism

-Siva

-Arjuna

-Bahuchara Mata

-Transgender

 

Suggested websites

General information

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hijra_(South_Asia)

http://www.everyculture.com/South-Asia/Hijra-Religion-and-Expressive-Culture.html

Current events

http://www.newstatesman.com/world-affairs/2008/05/hijras-indian-changing-rights\

http://www.ibtimes.com/third-sex-transgenders-eunuchs-run-political-office-pakistan-1104224

Photos of Hijras

http://www.pbase.com/maciekda/hijras

http://www.pbase.com/maciekda/hijra_bangladesh

 

 

Written by Molly Matheson (April 2013), who is solely responsible for its content.

Swami Abhishiktananda

Swami Abhishiktananda (Henri Le Saux)

Henri Le Saux, also known as Swami Abhishiktananda was a French Benedictine monk.  He was born on August 30, 1910 at St. Briac in northern Brittany, the eldest child of a large devoutly Catholic, Breton family.  It became evident early on in his life that Le Saux was drawn to priesthood and was sent to a seminary in 1921.  Despite vehement protests from his parents he decided to become a Benedictine monk and entered the monastery of Kergonan soon after his nineteenth birthday (Stuart 5).  Although his friends and family alienated him because of his choice, Le Saux continued on that course and was eventually ordained as a priest in 1935.  Even before he had taken his final vows Le Saux heard the call to India.  This occurred because Kergonan was unable to fulfil Le Saux’s deepest aspiration, which was to seek God (Stuart 11).  He found a way to seek God by reading Indian texts and discovering the perspective of Advaita.  As a result, he decided that he wanted to live a monastic life in an Indian church or one of contemplation in a hermitage (Stuart 11).  After several years of trying to figure out a way that he could achieve his goal, Le Saux finally found the answer in the priest Jules Monchanin.  In Monchanin he discovered a kindred spirit who had a similar desire to study in India.  Monchanin had been in India since 1939 and was in charge of the parish at Kulittalai (Stuart 14). After corresponding with each other over the course of several years, Le Saux was finally able to convince his Bishop to let him travel to India and join Monchanin in 1948 (Stuart 21).

Despite being born in France and remaining fiercely devoted to his nationality, Le Saux spent the last twenty-five years of his life in India, dying there in 1973.  Although he was master of ceremonies for his monastery and a well respected member of the church Le Saux was overtaken by his passion for India (Du Boulay xv).  After years of trying to figure out a way that he could fulfill this passion Le Saux became discouraged.  However, after coming into contact with Monchanin his passion was reunited and he fervently set out trying to make it a reality.  This passion was finally realized when he left his home in France in 1948, never to return, at the age of thirty-eight and traveled to India; where he spent the remainder of his life (Rodrigues 425).  Although he never returned to his home, the family ties that had been created were very strong.  This is evidenced by the fact that throughout his twenty-five years in India Le Saux corresponded regularly with his siblings, writing to them almost monthly (Stuart 9).   Upon arriving in India he joined Monchanin at Kulittalai and began his Indian initiation on the first day (Stuart 22).  The two Catholic men began to prepare for the ashram lifestyle that they hoped to lead while still continuing their Catholicism.  Le Saux was enchanted with the Indian lifestyle and as such took up their customs very quickly.  Within two months of being in Kulittalai he had adopted the local diet, clothing and various other customs and practices of the area (Stuart 24).  Le Saux also put great effort into studying not only the Christian works but Sanskrit and Hindu texts as well.

Swami Abhishiktananda had traveled to India because he had been drawn to the Hindu perspective of Advaita, which means to experience a state of union with God in a mystical union of non-duality (Vattakuzhy xiv).  This perspective was so fascinating to Le Saux that he co-founded a Christian ashram in 1950 called Shantivanam (Forest of Peace) and became Swami Abhishiktananda (Bliss of the Anointed One) (Rodrigues 425).  The religious experiences that Le Saux had while he was living in India caused him to become one of the great spiritual bridges between Christianity and Hinduism.  This is due to one of the most interesting facts about Swami Abhishiktananda.  Despite immersing himself in the Hindu culture he never stopped practicing Christianity.  In fact he remained devoutly Catholic his entire life and never stopped celebrating Mass (Du Boulay xv).  As a result, he was faced with many challenges in trying to harmoniously blend all the religious aspects of his life.

Due to the challenges that he faced while trying to stay true to his religions, Le Saux was in a state of spiritual agony for most of his time in India (Abhishiktananda 2006:150).  The main question that led to this was whether or not it was possible to be drawn towards advaita but still remain a Christian (Abhishiktananda 2006:150).  One of the ways that Le Saux was able to answer this question was first by gathering a definition of what it meant to be Christian along with several notable examples.  Once he had completed this he used it to compare it with the followings of advaita.  An answer was found to the question in the form of comparing the followers of the gospel to the sannyasi. Le Saux discovered that in order to be a true follower of the gospel one must complete several paradoxical tasks, many of which are eerily similar to those that the wandering Indian ascetics are required to do (Abhishiktananda 2006:156).  Although it was not a perfect answer and he still ran into many problems over the course of his life Le Saux was able to continue his quest of maintaining both his Christianity and advaita.

As part of their initiation into an ashram lifestyle, Monchanin took Le Saux to many of the surrounding ashrams near Kulittalai.  While visiting each of these ashrams Le Saux constantly discussed their plans of founding their own ashram to anyone who would listen – in an attempt to find recruits, focusing on the diocesan clergy (Stuart 34).  After several months of doing this they decided that it was finally time to begin construction.  However, things went very slowly in the beginning and Le Saux was worried about how the ashram would be financially sustained.  Fortunately construction was completed and the proprietor of the ashram had provided enough money so that there were no further issues (Stuart 35).  Once construction was completed and the ashram was fully functional it served as the home for Le Saux for many years; however, he was often travelling the countryside and he was not always there.

Ultimately Le Saux became a sannyasi, an Indian holy man, and traded the habit of his fellow Christian monks for the saffron robes worn by Hindu ascetics (Du Boulay xv).  One of Le Saux’s many features was that he wished to experience everything firsthand (Abhishiktananda 2005:23).  In order to personally accomplish this meant that Le Saux couldn’t stay at Shantivanam; he merely used it as his base.  While travelling the Indian countryside Le Saux, was able to experience several spiritual enlightenments.  One of these was his aspiration to become a true sannyasi and as a result he tried to renounce everything; however, he never totally renounced his roots.  In an effort to maintain the renunciation Le Saux refused to go home and visit France, despite his family asking him multiple times.  He didn’t want to return home because Le Saux believed that if he simply forgot his past his renunciation would not be complete (Stuart 9).  The added challenge of remaining in contact but never being able to see his family was a great burden on Le Saux.  It was a constant struggle for him to be so disconnected from them, but he viewed it as a way to strengthen his devotion.

When Le Saux first came to India he had a specific goal in mind.  He wanted to firmly establish Indian monasticism along the lines of a well-tested rule – in this case Benedictine monasticism.  Basically, he wanted to Christianize India following the Benedictine style that he knew (Abhishiktananda 23).  However, after spending only a short amount of time in India he realized that this was not going to happen.  It forced his point of view to change quite dramatically.  After coming to understand Hinduism from a Christian perspective Le Saux saw that intellectually Hinduism and Christianity were not compatible (Stuart 28).  Instead of letting this stop him, Le Saux viewed it as a challenge that he needed to overcome.  If he couldn’t unite the two religious traditions in some way the swami decided that his only remaining course of action was to try and discover the truth through the Hindu experience (Stuart 28).  At first he had wanted to Christianize the country, which would have reduced the Hindu influence, but several months after staying in India his viewpoint totally changed.  The paradigm shift that Le Saux underwent shows the profound effect that being immersed in the Hindu culture had had on him.

The work of swami Abhishiktananda did not stop with his death.  After he had died at an Indore nursing home the Abhishiktananda Society was formed.  The Society’s Mission is, “to make known the spiritual message of the late Swami Abhishiktananda and to coordinate the efforts of those interested in it and in its further implications” (Yesurathnam 127).  Henri Le Saux was simply a man who was searching for God and was willing to do anything he had to in order to complete that search.  However, his path led him down a road of many contradictions:

He was a man who longed for silence and yet loved to talk, a man who rejoiced in solitude yet had countless friends; a man who reveled in books and writing, yet preferred the direct teachings of lived experience.  Most of all was the contradiction between the irresistible attraction he felt toward advaita, the nondual experience of Hinduism, and his inborn love of his Catholic faith:” (Du Boulay xv).

Le Saux underwent many transformations over the course of his life.  His wide-ranging experiences in the spiritual field gave him unusually clear insights into both the Christian and Hindu religions, despite the lack of cohesion between the two traditions.  Through his experiences and teachings a bridge between Hindu and Christian spirituality was formed that exists to this day.

References and Further Recommended Reading

Abhishiktananda, Swami (1998) Ascent to the Depth of the Heart. Delhi: ISPCK.

Abhishiktananda, Swami (2006) Swami Abhishiktananda: Essential Writings Selected with an  introduction by Shirley Du Boulay. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books.

Du Boulay, Shirley (2005) The Cave of the Heart: the Life of Swami Abhishiktananda. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books.

Oldmeadow, Harry (2008) A Christian Pilgrim in India: the Spiritual Journey of Swami            Abhishiktananda (Henri Le Saux). Bloomington, Ind.: World Wisdom.

Rodrigues, Hillary (2006) Hinduism: The Ebook. Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online Books, Ltd.

Stuart, James (1989) Swami Abhishiktananda: His Life Told Through His Letters. Delhi: ISPCK.

Vandana (1986) Swami Abhishiktananda: The Man and His Teaching by Some of His Friends and Disciples. Delhi: ISPCK

Vattakuzhy, Emmanuel (1981) Indian Christian Sannyasa and Swami Abhishiktananda. Bangalore: Theological Publications in India.

Yesurathnam, Regunta (2006) A Christian Dialogical Theology: the Contribution of Swami Abhishiktananda. Kolkata: Punthi Pustak.

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Advaita

Abhishiktananda Society

Benedictine Monasticism

ashram

Shantivanam

Arunachala

Upanisads

Cuttat circle

Raimon Panikkar

sannyasi

Ramana Maharshi

guru

Bede Griffiths

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abhishiktananda

http://www.monasticdialog.com/a.php?id=372

http://saieditor.com/stars/saux.html

http://arunachalagrace.blogspot.com/2009/06/swami-abhishiktananda.html

http://www.spiritualityandpractice.com/books/books.php?id=16771

http://www.worldwisdom.com/public/authors/Henri-Le-Saux.aspx

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BpQOho3kQAg (Seminar)

http://www.monasticdialog.com/a.php?id=832

http://www.monasticdialog.com/a.php?id=901

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catholic_Ashrams

http://www.upanishad.org/lesaux/abhisociety.htm

Article written by: Josh Campbell (March 2012) who is solely responsible for its content.

Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan

Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan (1888 – 1975)

Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan was a philosopher, politician and academic and was considered one of the greatest Indian thinkers of the twentieth century.  He was born on September 5, 1888 and lived to age 86.  Throughout his adult life he was a well known public figure in his native India, serving as both Vice-President and President. In addition to his political career, he was also a renowned writer on Hindu philosophy. Radhakrishnan is known to some as a “bridge builder” between the East and the West for his efforts to expand Western society’s knowledge about India and their understanding of Hindu thought and religion. He showed that the philosophical systems of each tradition are comprehensible within the terms of the other (Behur 1-4). One is hard pressed to find Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan’s own words about his life story since he steadfastly refused to write an autobiography (Braue 1-2).

Early Life

Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan was born during a time when Hinduism was in the midst of being renewed and restored in the hearts of millions of Indians (Harris 2-3). He was the second of five sons and one daughter born to Sarvepalli Veeraswamy and Sitamma, poor Brahmins living in the town of Tirutani in Tamil Nadu state.  Tirutani had a population of about 170 000 and was considered a pilgrimage destination due to its major Subrahmanya temple (Minor 4). Radhakrishnan’s family kept the name Sarvepalli as an indication of their place of origin. In the middle of the 18th century the family moved from Sarvepalli to another village located in the Nellore district of Andhra Pradesh. All were devout Vaisnavaties and worshipped the well-known god Krsna (Minor 3-4).  Radhakrishnan’s early life was spent in the religious centers of the small towns of Tirutani and Tirupati.  His father was employed as a subordinate revenue official in the service of the local Zamindar [landlord] and with limited income the family lived in relative poverty.

Education

Radhakrishnan grew up in a traditional Hindu atmosphere (Harris 3). His parents were very orthodox and his father did not want his son to learn English [his mother tongue was Telugu] and pressed his boy to become a priest. However, despite their orthodox views, his parents sent him away to several Christian Missionary Institutions – the Lutheran Mission School in Tirupati (1896 – 1900), Voorhee’s college, Vellore (1900 – 1904) and Madras Christian College in Madras (1904 – 1908) (Kohli 38-39). Sarvepalli was an excellent student and was awarded multiple scholarships which helped sustain him throughout his academic career.

In 1906, he received a B.A. with honours in philosophy, and in 1909 obtained an M.A. and was a most distinguished alumni. He main interest was in the Vedas and Upanishads and spent much of his time specializing in these subjects as well as studying Hindi and the Sanskrit language. He wrote his thesis for his M.A. on the ‘Ethics of the Vedanta and its Metaphysical Presuppositions”. At only age 20 his thesis was recognized and published. Radhakrishnan’s passion for philosophy developed more by chance than choice. A cousin, recently graduated from the same college, was kind enough to pass on his textbooks in philosophy.  This generosity decidedly influenced his academic path (Kohli 40-41).

Marriage and Family

In 1903, at age 16, it was arranged by his family that Radhakrishnan was to be married to Siva Kumaramma, his 10 year old first cousin (Minor 4). The couple had their first daughter together in 1908, the first of six children over the proceeding fifteen years. Their family included four daughters and two sons, one of which died shortly after birth (Kohli 39). Their youngest son, Sarvepalli Gopal, would go on to become a distinguished and notable historian and biographer (Braue 4). Radhakrishnan’s devoted wife, Sivakamu, died on November 26, 1956 and their marriage was “the end of a long chapter”, as he put it.

Teaching Career

Sarvepalli’s education had shaped a most disciplined mind and strong individual, acquiring many qualities of a potentially great leader. Spanning from 1909 to 1952, his career had three notable phases, teacher of philosophy, leader in higher education and finally politician and statesman.

In 1909 he accepted a teaching position at the Madras Presidency College in the Philosophy department where he spent seven years teaching and researching in the area of Indian Philosophy and Religion.  In 1916, he advanced to a full professorship (Braue 4).  He impressed the senior professor of philosophy so much that his mentor actually ended up asking him to lecture his classes. Radhakrishnan was endowed with a great intellect and gifted with an amazing memory enabling him to employ a vast vocabulary and eloquent communication style, to great advantage (Kohli 38-40).

The Vice-Chancellor of the University of Calcutta took notice of this extraordinary academic mind and offered Sarvepalli the King George V Chair of Mental and Moral Science, a prestigious position which he occupied twice – from 1921 to 1931 and again from 1937 to 1941.  He was clearly honoured by this appointment and described the position as “the most important philosophy chair in India”.  As chair, he represented the University of Calcutta at the Congress of the Universities of the British Empire and the International Congress of Philosophy at Harvard in 1926.  Radhakrishnan also presented many lectures at numerous universities: Chicago, London, Manchester and Oxford.  He then accepted a position at Manchester College in Oxford in addition to teaching comparative religion at the University of Oxford (Braue 4).

In 1931, he was knighted by England for his great services to education and subsequently stepped down as the King George V Chair in order to accept the Sir Sayaji Rao  Gaekwad Chair at Banaras Hindu University. Later in his academic career he also occupied the Spalding Chair in England until 1952, when he was appointed Professor Emeritus at Oxford. (Braue 4-6).

The second key phase of Radhakrishnan’s life, as a leader in higher education, spanned from 1931 to 1962.  He was made the Vice-Chancellor of Andhra University and served as a member of the International Committee on Intellectual Cooperation of the League of Nations. Throughout this time he delivered many presentations at universities all over his native India.

During World War II he also toured and lectured in China (Braue 6-7), and from 1953 to 1962 he held the post of chancellor of Delhi University.  In 1940, he achieved a milestone by being the first Indian to be elected as Fellow of the British Academy. As a professor, he was always very popular with his students and was loved and respected as a remarkable teacher. The genesis of his popularity was his genuine empathy and his great ability to engage people of all ages. This combination of attributes and skills continued to win him respect throughout his long and memorable public life (Behura 3).

Rise in Politics and Political Career

After the end of the Second World War, Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan began a shift from his academic career with a view to apply his philosophy and religious studies toward political and social development.  He served as head of the Indian delegation to the UNSECO conferences held in Paris from 1946 – 1952 (Braue 7) and was later elected to the position of Chairman of UNESCO in 1948.

When India received independence from Great Britain in 1947, Sarvepalli was still India’s key representative at UNSECO. He would later also be awarded the titles and responsibilities of Ambassador-Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary of India to the Soviet Union from 1949 to 1952 (Kohli 44).  Radhakrishnan was widely thought to be one of the most respected and successful of all diplomats in Moscow at the time. He had met Stalin twice, as the Ambassador of India, with Stalin commenting, “ You are the first person to treat me as a human being and not as a monster. You are leaving us and I am sad. I want you to live long.” (Kohli 45). Dr. Radhakrishnan, the diplomat, was considered a very sympathetic and humane person, open to other viewpoints, and never considered to be an elitist intellectual.

After his return to India in 1952, Sarvepalli was elected as India’s first Vice-President, an inaugural position that had been created under the new constitution. He would be re-elected in 1957, not long after the death of his wife. During his many tours around the world his main objective was to impress upon foreign leaders India’s viewpoint on major international issues and increase his country’s role on the global stage.

In many of his books and dissertations, Radhakrishnan takes great pains to interpret Indian thought in a way that Westerners could relate to. (Kohli 45) Through his public life he remained steadfastly committed to high principles, dignity and moral authority. This integrity of purpose made him a highly revered figure in India and internationally he became one of the best-liked and respected public figures of all time.

In May of 1962, this well regarded philosopher and statesman was elected President of the State of India, succeeding Dr. Rajendra Prasad, becoming the second Head of State of a newly independent India. During his presidency, India was faced with war on two separate occasions, first with China and subsequently with Pakistan. In 1967,  Sarvepalli made an emotional farewell broadcast to the nation and told his loving country that he would not seek another term as President and would retire from public life.

After the death of Nehru in 1964, he described the former leader as “an earnest of the age to come, the age of the world men with world compassion.” And went on to say, “The best way to honour his memory is to get on with the work which he left unfinished, his work of peace, justice and freedom at home and abroad” (Dehruy 8).  Radhakrishnan’s dedication and efforts made a great contribution towards the realization of Nehru’s objectives.

Philosophical Beliefs

Sarvepalli often described philosophy as “ the attempt to think out the presuppositions of experience, to grasp. By means of reason, life or reality as a whole”(Braue 42). He attained prominence due to his eloquence in describing Indian philosophy according to Western academic standards, enabling non-Indo cultures to understand and consider Eastern philosophies and, most particularly, from India. He once stated his greatest challenge was that western philosophers, despite claiming to be objective, were inevitably influenced by the theological teachings of their own cultures.

Radhakrishnan’s philosophical work took two distinct directions. His philosophy is Indian idealism (Braue 44). First, his Indian Philosophy was defined as Radhakrishnan interpreted it. Originally what he presented was no different than the “Vedanta” which he had defined earlier.  Later, he changed its designation to “Hinduism” or the “Hindu View”. The second direction was the construction of a philosophical system from experimental grounds without relying on Indian thought (Minor 43).

Radhakrishnan tried to clarify for his western audiences that Hinduism is a progressive unity and that the history of Hinduism is of evolutionary advancement. He saw the method of “Hinduism’s” historical development as characterized by a critical attitude toward the traditions of the past in a modern sense, not just accepting past thoughts (Minor 45). Radhakrishnan was also an advocate of the class system of Hinduism. He believed that it was the only democratic solution to racial problems. Caste was a way to organize society and suggested that it is entirely functional, not a “mystery of divine appointment” (Minor 45-46). Thus, the foundation of the caste system are the ideas of free will, equality and democracy (Minor 45-46).

Radhakrishnan wrote many books on his philosophical beliefs and he was well known for his ideas on the Prasthana Trayi, the Bhagavadgita, the Upanishads and the Brahma Sutra.

Death

Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan died on April 17,1975 after a prolonged illness. At that time, Prime Minister Mrs. Indira Gandhi said, “As a teacher, he was deeply involved with the welfare of youth. As a statesman, he had deep understanding of the practical problems of nation building. He contributed significantly to the consolidation of our political parliamentary traditions. Now death has claimed him, but the memory of his commanding presence, the resonance of his voice and the radiance of his thought cannot fade and will remain a part of our legacy.” (Kohli 48)

Every year on September 5th, on Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan’s birthday, “Teachers Day” is celebrated all across India and the government gives national awards to teachers. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan will remain one of the greatest Indian philosophers of the 20th century and of all time (Kohli 48-49).

REFERENCES AND FURTHER RCOMMENDED READING

Braue, Donald A. (1985) Maya in Radhakrishnan’s Thought. New Delhi: Narendra Prakash Jain.

Dehury, Dinabandhu (2010) Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan as Statesman. Orissa: Orissa Government.

Gopal, Sarvepalli (1989) Radhakrishnan, a Biography. Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Harris, Ishwar C. (1982) Radhakrishnan: the Profile of a Universalist. Columbia: South Asian Books

Hawley, Michael (2003) “The Making of a Mahatma: Radhakrishnan’s Critique of Gandhi. Studies in Religion 32(1-2), 135-148.

Kohli, A.B. (2001) Presidents of India. New Delhi: Reliance Publishing House.

Kumar Behura, Dillip (2010) The Great Indian Philosopher: Dr. Radhakrishnan. Orissa: Orissa Government.

Michael, Aloysius (1979) Radhakrishnan on Hindu Moral Life and Action. Delhi: Concept Publishing Company.

Minor, Robert N. (1987) Radhakrishnan A Religious Biography. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Minor, Robert N. (1997) Radhakrishnan as Advocate of the Class/Caste System as a Universal Religio-Social. International Journal of Hindu Studies 1(2), 386 – 400.

Murty, K. Satchidananda and Vohra, Ashok (1990) Radhakrishnan: His Life and Ideas. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Schilpp, Paul A. (1992) The Philosophy of Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers

Sharma, Arvind (2002) Modern Hindu Thought. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

 

Related Topics for Further Investigation

 

Indian political system

Rajendra Prasad

Sarvepalli Gopal

Comparative Religion

Maya

Vedanta

Jawaharlal Nehru

Rabindranath Tagore

 

 

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

 

Radhakrishnan, Sarvepalli

http://www.uramamurthy.com/srk_phil.html

http://www.preservearticles.com/201104306172/sarvepalli-radhakrishnan.html

http://pib.nic.in/feature/feyr98/fe0898/f2808981.html

Article written by Ryan Booth (Spring 2012), who is solely responsible for its content.

The Sacred Cow

The sacrality of the cow is an ancient, but common custom to most Hindus. The concept of zebu cattle (go) as an important part of society in India has been dated back to the times of the Harappan civilization. During post-Harappan times, the Aryans, who were pastoral cattle herders would also have known of the importance of the cow in a functioning agricultural society. This may be part of the reason why there are frequent references to cows associated with various deities in the Vedas (O’Toole 61). Despite the natural predator-prey relationship that would be expected to form between them, the Hindu people and cattle share a different type of bond. Archaeological evidence suggests that cattle, especially the bull, were elevated to a more prominent status than that of a mere food source. Through numerous representations of seals and figurines depicting domestic zebu cattle, collected over time, one can come to understand the level of significance the cow has played in the history and development of the Hindu religion.

Cow sitting amid the debris of temple flower offerings (Varanasi)

The principle of noninjury to living beings (ahisma), which began to develop near the end of the Vedic period, is heavily applied to cows and bulls in the Hindu religion. Sometimes, this attitude can be taken exceedingly seriously (Korom 188). For instance, an anti-cow-slaughter legislation has been proposed and protected by the constitution of India. The sentiment for cow protection was at a climax during the “Anti-Cow Killing” riot of 1893, where riots between Hindus and Muslims broke out over the public demonization of those who consumed beef (Yang 580). Many Hindus practice vegetarianism, which is encouraged in verses from The Laws of Manu (Buhler 100). Although consumption of beef is considered taboo in orthodox Hinduism, numerous other cow by-products are found useful in everyday life (Rodrigues 117). It is obvious that the issue of cattle treatment is very sensitive to the Hindu people, and if agitated it has the potential to become reason for violence.

Devotion to the cow is displayed in a great deal of the religious, domestic, and social customs of the Hindu people; the use of cow ghee is popular in religious and household practices and for Hindus, it is not unheard of to have a cow inside one’s house (Crooke 277). Vedic literature suggests that the economic aspects of the cow were portrayed as having vital roles in sacrifices (yajna), which were held to maintain the cosmic order (rta). Along with being victims of the sacrifice, the goods produced from cattle were used for oblation (havis) (Korom 187). Cow products, including ghee, milk, urine, and dung are commonly used in many Hindu practices and household rites (grhya). Often, a Hindu may apply a mark to their forehead (tilak) made from a mixture composed of several natural ingredients, including cow dung. Usually, this mark is indicative of sectarian affiliation, but can have different symbolisms as well (Hawley 252). It is clear that for many Hindus, cows can easily be an inherent part of everyday life.

Large bas-relief depicting a domestic scene with cows, who are revered in the Hindu tradition; Mahabalipuram, India
Large bas-relief depicting a domestic scene with cows, who are revered in the Hindu tradition; Mahabalipuram, India

Hindu scriptures have been interpreted to describe cow worship and reinforce the concept that cows are a sacred part of the Hindu tradition. Collectively, cattle are depicted more often than any other animals in Vedic literature (Korom 187). The Vedas have equated the cow with the mother of gods, Aditi, the earth (prthivi), cosmic waters, maternity, poetry, and speech (vac) (Jha 38). Vedic myths may also portray cows as the cosmic waters from which the cosmic order (rta) is established. A Rg Veda myth also equates the calf with the sun, as a pregnant cow may be responsible for such aspects of creation as water, heat, and light (Korom 190).  In the Atharva Veda X:10 the cow is praised and its body parts are depicted as giving rise to all aspects of life itself (Embree 40-41). The Rg Veda describes numerous hymns dedicated to the worship of cows, where they often appear as symbols of wealth and rivers (Srinivasan 161). Although expressive of the important role of the cow in Hindu society, Vedic literature possesses little evidence to suggest the concept of non-violence (ahisma) towards cattle was applicable at that time (Korom 187). In more recent literature, ahisma appears to have become more prominent. The term is mentioned several times in the Bhagavad Gita, and presents itself in the closely related religions of Jainism and Buddhism (Korom 188). Also, being a highly influential text, although not divinely perceived (smrti), The Laws of Manu have influenced the customs of many Hindu people by discouraging eating meat, drinking liquor, and carnal intercourse (Buhler 100). The cow has also appeared as a goddess (devi) in Hindu mythology. For example, Kamadhenu, a wish-granting bovine-goddess was believed to have emerged from the churning of the Milk Ocean (Rodrigues 308). Thought to have originated from a similar fashion as Kamadhenu, the Vedic goddess of glory, Sri, was thought to be linked with the fertility of the land and to have had an abode composed of cow dung (Rodrigues 317). The Hindu epics (itihasa), particularly the Mahabharata, and the puranas also serve to provide justification of the orthodoxy of cattle (Korom 189).

Evidently, the sacred cow practice is a vital element of Hindu culture. Since they give seemingly limitless useful products, but take nothing but grass and water, cattle as symbols of benevolence and generosity are frequently recognized and supported by many Hindu texts. The ideal of preserving life has resulted in a widely environmentally friendly approach by much of the Hindu population. The belief in reincarnation after death, and following of the Dharmic ideal has undoubtedly influenced the vegetarian diet practiced by many Hindus. Of course, not all Hindus take part in vegetarianism or cow-worship, but it is safe to assume that the higher status of the cow is accepted as a norm for much of the Hindu culture.

Bibliography

O’Toole, Therese (2003) Secularizing the sacred cow: the relationship between religious reform and Hindu nationalism. New Delhi : Oxford University Press

Korom, Frank J. (2000) Holy Cow! The apotheosis of Zebu, or why the cow is sacred in Hinduism. Asian Folklore Studies 59 (2): 181-203.

W. Crooke (1912) The Veneration of the Cow in India. Folklore 23 (3): 275-306.

Embree, Ainslie T. (1996) The Hindu Tradition: Reading in Oriental Thought. New York: Random House Inc.

Rodrigues (2006) Hinduism – The Ebook. Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online Books, Ltd.

Yang, Anand (1980) Sacred Symbol and Sacred Space in Rural India: Community Mobilization in the “Anti-Cow Killing” Riot of 1893. Comparative Studies in Society and History 22 (4): 576-596.

Hawley, John (2006) The Life of Hinduism. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Srinivasan, Doris (1979) Concept of the Cow in the Rigveda. Dehli: Motilal Banarsidass.

Jha, D.N. (2002) The Myth of the Holy Cow. New Dehli: CB Publishers.

Buhler, George (2008) The Laws of Manu. Charleston, South Carolina: Forgotten Books.

Related Research Topics

Ahisma

Aryans

Dharma

Grhya

Kamadhenu

Laws of Manu

Prthivi

Tilak

Rig Veda

Related Websites

http://www.religionfacts.com/hinduism/things/cow.htm

http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/manu.htm

http://hinduism.about.com/od/vegetarianism/a/holycows.htm

http://history-of-hinduism.blogspot.com/2008/09/holy-cow.html

Holy Cow: The Holiness of Hindu Herds (reprise)

Article written by Janine Andreas (Spring 2012), who is solely responsible for its content.

Rabindranath Tagore

In 1912, Tagore’s own English translation of his Bengali work, Gitanjali was published in Great Britain (Bose 140). It immediately attracted the attention of poets like Yeats and Pound and within a year the Swedish Academy awarded Tagore the Nobel Prize for Literature, the first non-European to claim this honour (Atkinson 25). Almost immediately he gained world-wide fame, which ironically drew attention to him across the Indian sub-continent. Prior to his winning of the Nobel Prize he had been a distinguished figure in his native Bengal, but nowhere else, since none of his writings had been translated into either English or any Indian languages (Narvane 8).

Now, at the age of 52 he became an international figure and for the next twenty years he travelled extensively reading his poems and lecturing on a wide variety of topics which reflected his polymath nature. By the mid-1930s however, his star power had faded in the West, much like that of the Theosophical Society whose promotion of Hinduism had helped, albeit indirectly, to fuel Tagore’s rise to celebrity status (Roy-Chowdhury 22). This loss of prominence, however, never happened in India or Bangladesh where to this day he is held in high regard and viewed as a progressive mind whose insights are still relevant with regard to many contemporary issues (Sen 90).

The sheer magnitude of Tagore’s contribution to humanity is staggering. He wrote voluminously penning thousands of poems, over twelve hundred songs, most of which featured

music that he composed, thirty-eight plays, a dozen novels and nearly two hundred short stories. He also wrote many essays and commentaries on social, cultural and political issues.

In the last twelve years of his life he took up painting and produced more than twenty-seven hundred pictures (Narvane 6). He also created a school, Santiniketan, which he oversaw and taught at for decades. Nearby he also created an experimental farm and agricultural college, Sriniketan, where he carried out his ideas concerning rural education and reconstruction (Jana 3). If nothing else he was prolific, a characteristic which seemed to tie in with his joy of life.

To understand his energy and creative genius it is necessary to examine his family roots and his childhood milieu. The Tagores were a Bengali Brahmin family that capitalized on the arrival of the British on the Hughli River in the eighteenth century.  Rabindranath’s grandfather, Dwarkanath Tagore (1794-1846) invested in the manufacturing of sugar, tea, and indigo. He also owned a coal mine, a shipping company and he founded a bank (Tinker 33). Dwarkanath grew fabulously wealthy and was known for the extravagant parties that he threw. He had a philanthropic side which included funding the activities of his best friend, Ram Mohan Roy, the catalyst of the Bengali renaissance. When Dwarkanath died suddenly on his second trip to Britain, the family fortune was left to his oldest son Devendrath (1818-1905) who in temperament, was the exact opposite of his father (Tinker 34).  Devendrath gradually disentangled himself from the family businesses in order to live less in Calcutta and more on the large estates the family owned in Bengal. Here he could follow his major passion which was pursuit of the spiritual life. He revived Ram Mohan Roy’s Brahmo Samaj and generally became

known for his saintliness and the fifteen children he fathered (Tinker 34). The youngest of these children, was Rabindranath, born in 1861. All of the children were gifted, none more so than Rabindranath, who quickly became a favourite of his father and his older siblings. Rabi’s earliest memories of his father were of him chanting the Upanishads every morning. Many evenings the young boy would sing devotional hymns for his father’s enjoyment and to aid his meditations (Roy-Chowdhury 32). During the day, his education consisted of tutored home studies in Bengali, Sanskrit, and English, as well as various sciences (Roy-Chowdhury 32). Rabindranath was the only child to travel with his father in the summer of 1873 on a trip that took several months and covered much of north India. Father and son ended their travels with a prolonged stay in Dalhousie, a hill town in the western Himalayas (Narvane 14).  This trip seemed to open young Rabi’s eyes to the wider world and its possibilities, a feeling that would remain with him for the rest of his life.  He began composing poems at the age of eight and by thirteen he had translated MacBeth into Bengali. After spending eighteen months in England, ostensibly to prepare for a career in law, Tagore returned home in 1880, with no degree but, with a respect and admiration for English literature (Narvane 17).

At the age of twenty-two Tagore experienced a mystical vision which proved to be a pivotal point in his life. His vision-like experience revolved around the beauty of nature and lasted for four intense days. It left him with a feeling of joy and freedom that was expressed in much of his subsequent writings, which also seemed to increase in frequency after this seminal event (Bose 116 and Narvane 18).  In his early fifties Tagore described this event as one of the most important in his life and in a conversation with his friend, the Indiaphile Charlie Andrews,

the latter observed that this experience marked the emergence of Tagore as a real poet (Bose 118).

Another development that greatly impacted Tagore was his father’s request, in 1891, that he manage the family estates in North Bengal and Orissa (Bose 125). This tenure served many purposes not the least of which was providing many uninterrupted hours to write. In this rural setting he explored the Padma River and its environs, which drew him even closer to nature. This increasing respect and love of nature was subsequently reflected in his poetry. He also spent much time in peasant villages learning about lower caste social and economic issues and in devising methods to improve the lives of farmers (Narvane 20).  He would later build on these community development initiatives at Sriniketan.

Though primarily known for his mystical literature Tagore created a multi-faceted life, each aspect of which displayed his spiritual nature (Dutta and Robinson 1).  This spiritual outlook on life is however hard to define because it has several strands. It is in fact as complex as the man himself. Tagore is hard to categorize, and according to Sen the fact that his literature would not fit neatly into the boxes that poets like Yeats and others wanted to place him, was the cause of some of the negative reaction that befell him in Europe in the 1930’s (Sen 95.)

Growing up, Tagore heard passages from the Upanishads recited in his home on almost a daily basis reflecting the importance that his father attached to them (Narvane 30). Early on Tagore identified with the Upanisads and many scholars of his literature view his entire spiritual outlook as being guided by them (Bose 110). In particular, his mystic philosophy echoes the

transcendentalism of the Upanisads (Bose 139).  Others see Tagore’s emphasis on joy in his poems as an expression of the significance of Vaisnava thought in the theistic tradition of Bengal.  Some scholars have contended that in Tagore’s poetry the opposing pulls of Upanisadic and Vaisnava theology are displayed, but this belief seems to have declined over the years (Narvane 31).

Rather than opposing forces within Hinduism, what seems to characterize Tagore’s philosophy and spiritual outlook was his tendency to pick what he liked best in each religious tradition and to unify those beliefs into his own world view (Atkinson 33). Always looking for harmony in humanity, Tagore combined Buddhist ethics with Upanisadic universalism (Bose 112). In fact, Tagore is given credit for reviving interest in Buddhism in India, through many of his early essays and poems (Narvane 32).  From his father, Tagore acquired the monotheism of Ram Mohan Roy (Atkinson 125). In his studies of Christianity Tagore came to admire the self worth and dignity of the individual that was championed by Jesus. He also liked the idea of “social progress in time” that characterizes Christianity, as opposed to the indifference to history and time which he saw in Indian religions (Narvane 33). Clearly Tagore was non-sectarian (Sen 90) and he in fact describes his family as being impacted by three cultures, those of Hinduism, Islam and that of the British (Tagore 168).

What emerges from all of this mixing of religious values and concepts is a unified philosophy that Tagore expounded upon in the Hibbert Lectures which he delivered at Oxford in May of 1930.  These addresses were published in a book entitled The Religion of Man, which more than

any other work, explains the world view he had developed as he was about to enter the eighth decade of his life.  In essence, he uses the non-poetical language of a lecture to reflect the

philosophical and spiritual views that he had developed over a lifetime and deployed in his poems and literature.

To Tagore the development of human consciousness has, over time, increased the reality of humankind’s immortal being.  This has in turn inspired humanity to create aspects of themselves which illuminate the “divinity within” (Tagore 14).  This would help to explain Tagore’s comment that his personal religion, was a “poet’s religion” (Tagore 91).

He was an ardent admirer of Zarathustra and devoted one of his Hibbert Lectures to “The Prophet.” What he saw in the sage was the first attempt by humanity to free up religion from the constraints of tribal gods by offering spirituality to “the universal Man” (Tagore 78). This universalism seems to permeate all of Tagore’s thoughts and actions. More than that, the

ultimate Being, “who is the infinite in Man” is only “realized through serving all mankind” (Tagore 70). This philosophy of service to humanity appears in many aspects of Tagore’s life and actions.  What Tagore hoped for was that Western humanity, as represented in Christ’s teachings could be combined with the Eastern concept of the “universal soul” (Tagore 175).

He explained his concept of the “religion of Man” as that situation where “the infinite becomes defined in humanity” (Tagore 95).

Another key spiritual concept for Tagore was mukti, which can be defined as freedom or the liberation of the soul. Tagore found this freedom for himself in nature and in spiritual love (Tagore 177).  This concept of freedom which he experienced in his vision was a recurring

theme in his literature and in the school that he founded. In an illuminating conversation that Tagore had with Albert Einstein, which is tucked away in the appendix of his book, Tagore

summed up The Religion of Man, his religion, as “the reconciliation of the Human Spirit in my own individual being” (Tagore 225).

Tagore was not a politician in any way, but because of his public profile and his penchant for speaking out on contemporary issues that impacted him, his intermittent forays into the political sphere are worth exploring, if only because they mirror his spiritual and philosophical views. His first notable sortie occurred in 1905 when the British Government partitioned Bengal into a largely Hindu western zone and a largely Muslim eastern territory. Tagore gave anti-partition speeches at several public meetings, as well as penning many

patriotic Bengali songs (Narvane 21). He followed this up by opening a swadeshi store, featuring products from around India (Atkinson 42).  The same freedom and spiritual unity that he sought for mankind, he called for in his native Bengal (Atkinson 42).

In 1913, the now internationally prominent Tagore, reached out to an unknown Indian in South Africa with an encouraging letter of introduction that wished him well in his non-violent struggle against racism (Narvane 23). Thus began his friendship with the man he popularized as the Mahatma or “Great Soul,” Mohandas Gandhi.

The First World War caused Tagore to become greatly disillusioned. He wrote poignantly against the evils of nationalism, which he saw as the root cause of the conflict (Atkinson 43). He also saw the potential dangers of nationalism for India being reflected in the politics of the

independence movement and he was greatly disturbed by the growing tensions between Hindus and Muslims over the future of the sub-continent (Atkinson 44).

Tagore and Gandhi developed a close and respectful relationship and although they were to meet often and agree on much, they also had profound philosophical differences that included nationalism, the role of rationality and science, and how to develop rural India. Tagore, was much less bound by tradition than Gandhi, which was shown in his championing of science and his interest in ideas emanating from the rest of the world (Sen 92). Tagore was particularly opposed to Gandhi’s promotion of the carka and the concept of spinning cotton at home.  He saw this tie with the past as totally unrealistic for the needs of the emerging country

and for him it also lacked any relevant symbolic value (Sen 100).

Tagore felt this way about Gandhi’s traditionalism and lack of interest in science because of his lengthy involvement in the education of children and his efforts to lift the lot of the peasants of Bengal.  In 1901, Tagore began a school on one of the family estates at Santinektan, about 100 miles north of Calcutta (Jana 51). He wanted this school to reflect the Upanisadic tradition that he had learned from his father and he wanted it to be expansive enough to contain “all the elements of an East-West cultural synthesis” (Sarkar 147).

His inspiration for the school was the Montessori-like education that he received at home, under the guidance of his father who also utilized the scholarly traditions of India. These included the tapovana or “forest schools” as found in the Ramayana, as well as the Buddhist centres of learning such as Nalanda (O’Connell 983). Central to the philosophy of the school

would be a spiritual relationship between the teacher and the student (Sarkar 147) and the concept of mutki or freedom as applied to learning (O’Connell 987 ).

Tagore not only founded the school but he taught there as well and it was during this phase of his life that his students and friends began to call him Gurudeva, the “revered teacher”

(Narvane 159). Within his school, Tagore wanted to create a specific culture, the sadhana of self discovery (Sarkar 159). Like many private schools it had issues around funding, (Sen 114), but by 1921 it had grown to the point where the farsighted Tagore wanted Santiniketan to expand.  A part of the campus was cordoned off to became a university which attracted teachers and scholars from around the world (Jana 61). This university was later taken over by the Indian government with the Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, becoming the first chancellor (Jana 62).

As much as he was known for his poetry and literature, Tagore saw Santinektan as “the boat which carries the best cargo of my life” (Narvane 151). He once called Santinektan, “my tangible poem” (Narvane 151). Clearly he was proud of his school and its success led him to extend the school in another direction to encompass another life-long concern. In 1922, on an adjacent property to Santinektan, he established Sriniketan, a centre for rural development that would sometime after Tagore’s death, in 1941, become an agricultural college (Jana 65). The goal of this initiative was to improve rural life by making villagers self-reliant. Cooperative principles were employed and scientific agriculture was stressed. In addition, crafts and trades were taught so that villagers could make extra money when the volume of work was low on their farms. Starting with three villages the scheme eventually encompassed seventy-six villages

(Jana 65). The concept of Sriniketan was decades ahead of its time as was much of Tagore’s thought concerning education. An early environmentalist, Tagore deplored deforestation and in 1928 he inaugurated an annual festival of tree planting in and around Santinektan and Srineketan (Sen 118).

It is challenging to adequately measure Tagore’s legacy given his voluminous writings and plethora of interests.  Tagore was a visionary whose belief and writings about spiritual joy, the infinite and universalism sets him apart as not just a singular figure of his time, but as one whose message will endure for centuries. He was however, much more than a mystic and Nobel Prize winning poet. The citizens of India and Bangladesh have Tagore to thank for both the lyrics and the melodies of their respective national anthems (Narvane 21 and Sen 90).  Many would see him as a great philosopher of education and mentor of students. As the Gurudeva of Santinektan,  he shaped students the likes of filmmaker Satyajit Ray, economist Amartya Sen and Prime Minister Indira Gandhi (Sen 115 and 117). It is ironic that the Bengal of Tagore’s birth has produced two other Nobel Prize winners in recent years, both who claim to have been inspired by Tagore. The life work of these recipients is not poetry or education; in fact they are closer to Tagore, the rural reconstructionist. Amartya Sen won for economics, in 1998, in the main for his scholarship on the causes of rural poverty around the world. In 2006, micro-credit founder Muhammad Yunus earned the Nobel Peace Prize for his groundbreaking work in empowering the women of rural Bangladesh and subsequently poor women throughout the developing world [For Sen’s views on Tagore see his chapter entitled “Tagore and His India” in The

Argumentative Indian (see reference section for publishing details). For the views of Yunus on Sen see the article “High Five With Muhammed Yunus” from Forbes Magazine, Oct. 28, 2008.]

Tagore classified himself in the broadest sense of the word as a “singer” (Tagore 86). He certainly sang, he sang often and he sang for all of his life.  His “songs” still resonate throughout India, Bangladesh and wherever people are attracted to the idea of “the Religion of Man” (Tagore 7).

References

Alberts, Hana R. (2008) “High Five With Muhammed Yunus,” Forbes, Oct. 28.

Atkinson, David W. (1989) Ghandi and Tagore: Visionaries of Modern India. Hong Kong: Asia             Research Service.

Bose, Abinash (1970) Three Mystic Poets: A Study of W.B. Yeats, A.E. and Rabindranath Tagore. Folcroft, PA: The Folcroft Press.

Dutta, Krishna and Robinson, Andrew (1997) Rabindranath Tagore: An Anthology. New York:             St.Martin’s Griffin.

Jana, Mahindranath (1984) Education For Life: Tagore And Modern Thinkers. Calcutta: Firma             KLM.

Narvane, Vishwanath S. (1977) An Introduction to Rabindranath Tagore. Madras: The             MacMillan Company of India.

O’Connell, Kathleen M. (2008) “Freedom, Creativity, and Leisure in Education: Tagore in             Canada, 1929.” University of Toronto Quarterly 77, no. 4: 980-991.

Roy, Nityananda (2008) Tagore’s Thought On Rural Reconstruction And Role Of Village             Development Societies. Delhi: Abhijeet Publications.

Roy-Chowdhury, Sumitra (1982) The Gurudev and The Mahatma. Pune: Shubhada-Saraswat             Publications.

Sarkar, Sunil (1961) Tagore’s Educational Philosophy and Experiment. Santiniketan, West             Bengal: Santiniketan Press.

Sen, Amartya (2005) The Argumentative Indian: Writings on Indian History, Culture and Identity. London: Penguin Books.

Tagore, Rabindranath (1931) The Religion of Man. New York: The MacMillan Company.

Tinker, Hugh (1982) “Tagore And The Indian Renaissance.”  History Today 32, no. 4: 32-38.

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Andrews, Charlie

Brahmo Samaj

Gandi, Mohandas

Gurudeva

Hibbert Lectures

Mukti

Nalanda

Ramayana

Roy, Ram Mohan

Roy, Satyajit

Sadhana

Sen, Amartya

Sintiniketan

Sriniketan

Tagore, Devendrath

Tagore, Dwarkanath

Tapovana

Theosophical Society

The Religion of Man

Upanishads

Vaishnava poetry

Yeats, W. B.

Yunus, Muhammad

Zarathustra

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

http://calitreview.com/8

http://www.calcuttaweb.com/tagore/manuscript.shtml

http://www.parabas.com/rabindranath

http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/tagore/

http://www.schoolofwisdom.com/tagore-bio/html

Article written by: Ron MacTavish (April 2010) who is solely responsible for its content

Sathya Sai Baba

..

Sathya Sai Baba It is said that “the only person in India who can draw larger crowds than Sai Baba is the prime minister” (Swallow 125). Also known as Satya Sai Baba, Sai Baba has risen in the last century as an important figure in modern day India. It is difficult to know the amount of followers that Sai Baba has, but it is estimated that there are at least twenty million adherents worldwide (Rodrigues 487). His name, when broken down, gives meaning, Satya means truth, Sai is the divine mother, and Baba mean father. His name stands for the union of the male and female aspects in the world (Bassuk 87). Sai Baba’s most powerful technique to draw people to his cause is the use of miracles, especially materialization (Babb 1986: 181). Over the course of his life, Sai Baba has attracted many followers, but he has also received his fair share of negative attention. Scepticism and doubt have been cast on the legitimacy of his miracles, and controversy has risen in his inner circle with accusations of murder and pedophilia. Examining his life, his miracles, his cult, his divine “connection”, as well as the criticism of others, are all important for understanding who Sathya Sai Baba is, and his importance to the modern Hindu society.

Sathya was born in the state of Andhra Pradesh in the village of Puttaparthi in 1926 (Babb 1983: 116). He was born into the Raju caste, his birth name Satyanarayana Raju (Bassuk 87). At his birth special signs occurred to mark his coming, one of which was a cobra mysteriously appearing under Sai Baba’s bed, and another was a Tambura magically had its strings plucked (Urban 78). Sai Baba attended school like a normal child where he focused on drama and bhajan, which are devotional songs (Babb 1986: 163). In 1940, Sai Baba had an epileptic seizure and began acting in a bizarre manner. Exorcists were brought in to try to cure the boy, but failed (Urban 79). This was explained to be the possession of his body by Shirdi Sai Baba (Bassuk 88). Shirdi Sai Baba was an Indian healer and miracle work who had died in 1918 (Babb 1983: 117). Through claiming to be the reincarnation of Shirdi Sai Baba, Satya had proclaimed his avatarhood (Bassuk 87) and gave his miraculous powers legitimacy (Urban 79). It was at this time that Satya left his family and began attracting devotees to his cause. Ten years later, he constructed his ashram in Puttaparthi and his influence began to be felt across the country (Urban 79). In 1963, Sai Baba had another forceful seizure, was diagnosed with tubercular meningitis, and went into a coma. He was brought before a crowd for a festival and he miraculously cured himself and began proclaiming himself as the Lord Siva and his consort Sakti in embodied form (Babb 1986: 165). He claimed that the illness was caused by Sakti, as she had caused the mage Bharadvaja to become ill, and Siva had cured him by sprinkling water. Sai Baba claimed that by sprinkling the water on himself he had cured his disease (Babb 1986: 165). After his proclamation, Sai Baba began travelling around the Indian sub-continent spreading his message through lectures, speeches, festivals and special pujas (Urban 79). He also founded a number of “Sathya Sai Colleges” and has been active in charitable and philanthropic activities (Babb 1986: 168). Sai Baba has stated that his goal in his current incarnation is to combat social evils and spiritual degeneration present in the modern day (Urban 87). Sai Baba has also prophesied his own death, at the age of 96 in the year 2022 (Babb 1986: 166).

An important aspect of Sai Baba legitimacy is his claim that he is an avatara, a god in human form. The idea of avatara arose through the complex polytheism occurring in the Vedic period, the idea that a god has descended into a human form (White 865). The Buddha is a common example of one considered to be an avatara. Sai Baba uses the idea of the avatara to draw legitimacy to his powers. He claims that in his current form, he is Siva and Sakti together in human form. Sai Baba suggests that there are three Sai incarnations, Shirdi Sai Baba who was Sakti alone, Satya Sai Baba who is both Siva and Sakti, and the future Sai incarnation Prema Sai who will be Siva incarnate alone (Babb 1986: 166). Many of the miracles that Sai Baba performs also play an important role in connecting him with Shiva. One of the most common objects that Sai Baba materializes is vibhuti, sacred ash that has a connection with Siva (Babb 1983: 119). Another materialization miracle of producing a lingam out of his mouth draws strong symbolic connections with Siva who is primarily associated with the lingam (Swallow 138 and 146).

The festival of Mahasivaratri becomes an important annual activity for Sai Baba’s cult. This festival is known as the great night of Siva and Sai Baba is worshipped as a living lingam (Swallow 146). The main reason for the success of Sai Baba is his ability to perform miracles. The miracles that Sai Baba performs are crucial for recruitment and maintenance of the cult. Sai Baba himself has even called his miracles nidarshan (“evidence”) of his divine character and important for influencing the spiritual being of his devotees (Babb 1983: 117). Some of the miracles that have been attributed to Sai Baba include the curing of illnesses, being able to leave his body and be in more than one place at once, raising the dead, knowing intimate details of those he helps without being told, being able to fly, and multiplication of loaves of bread and fish (Spurr 119 and Babb 1986: 174). However, the most important type of miracle that is performed is materialization. It is believed that he can materialize practically anything (Babb 1986: 179). The most common object materialized is vibhuti, and it is said that he produces a pound a day (Babb 1983: 117). These miraculous powers are known in Hinduism as siddhis which are supernormal powers that can be obtained through yoga (Rodrigues 204). It is important to note that the absence of Sai Baba does not mean that a “miraculous” event could not be attributed to him, but rather increases his authority by creating an essence of the miraculous (Babb 1986: 180). An example of this would be the mysterious and sudden presence of vibhuti within the devotee’s household (Babb 1986: 179). This miraculous element is at the foundation of Sai Baba’s movement.

An understanding of Sai Baba can also be obtained by examining the practices of his cult. Participation can be as simple as placing a picture of Sai Baba in the family shrine, to the more devout practices, in which devotees will fill their homes with images of the Baba. Committed members will also take part in the education and social service systems that the cult takes part in (Babb 1986: 170). Education and social service are important goals of the cult, with members partaking in sponsored charitable and philanthropic activities. These activities are funded by donations of wealthy devotees. Sai Baba himself does not receive the donations, but rather a trust called the Central Shri Sathya Sai Trust receives all donations. This has made the donation process very simple, as devotees can make donations at any branch of the Canara bank (Urban 81). The cult and Sai Baba have established four “Sathya Sai Colleges”, as well as putting major efforts into Bal vikas, which are child development programs (Babb 1986: 168). In general, the individuals most drawn to Sai Baba’s cause are the well educated middle class (Urban 81). Sai Baba has gained western attention by becoming the guru to the owner of the “Hard Rock Cafe”, Isaac Tigrett (Urban 74).

Like most religious figures Sai Baba, has not escaped the criticisms and skepticisms that come with the role. Two types of skeptics have arisen. Some completely dismiss Sai Baba and view his miracles as sleight-of-hand tricks. Others do not dismiss his abilities, but rather dismiss the idea of him being divine, and attribute his abilities to the siddhis of a yogic adept. In an eye witness account of “materialization”, Michael Spurr carefully watched the process by which Sai Baba materialized goods for his devotees. Spurr suggests a simple sleight-of-hand trick, in which the “materialized” object was held in the left hand, concealed by a stack of paper. When the time is right, he transfers the object to his right hand, holding it between his fingers. He then spins his hand palm down and “materializes” the object for the devotee. Spurr also saw objects in between the cracks of Sai Baba’s left hand and saw him drop a pellet that could be the vibhuti that is materialized (201). Spurr also had an eye witness account where Sai Baba recalled incorrect details about two of the devotees whom he was talking with. This was rationalized by other devotees as Sai Baba joking around (205). Other areas of controversy have arisen around Sai Baba. In 1993, six members of Sai Baba inner circle were killed in Sai Baba’s room, two of which were murdered, and four, who were bearing knives, gunned down by police. The motive of the murders was suggested to be an internal conflict, and Sai Baba was never interrogated about the murders (Gogineni 58). Accusations of pedophilia have also surfaced surrounding Sai Baba. A book called “Avatar in the Night”, released by a former devotee of Sai Baba, accuses Sai Baba of having homosexual interest in young boys (Gogineni 58).

All copies of the book were burned. Sathya Sai Baba is a complex figure and although he has come under intense criticism, he has had an important role in the shaping of modern day Hinduism.

Bibliography

Babb, Lawrence A.(1983) “Sathya Sai Baba’s Magic”. Anthropological Quarterly 56. 3:116-124

Babb, Lawrence A. (1986) Redemptive Encounters: Three Modern Styles in the Hindu Tradition. Berkeley: University of California Press

Bassuk, Daniel E. (1987), “Six Modern Indian Avatars and the Ways they Understand Their Divinity” Dialogue & Alliance 1. 2:73-92

Gogineni, Babu (1999) “The God Man of India Sex, Lies and Video Tape in the Satya Sai Baba Story” Skeptic 7. 4:56-59

Rodrigues, Hillary (2006) Hinduism: The eBook – an Online Introduction. Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online Books, Ltd

Spurr, Michael J. (2003)“Visiting-card revisited: an account of some recent first-hand observations of the “miracles” of Sathya Sai Baba, and an investigation into the role of the miraculous in his theology”. Journal of Religion and Psychical Research 26 2:198-216

Swallow, D. A. (1982) “Ashes and Power: Myth, Rite and Miracle in an Indian God-Man’s Cult”. Modern Asian Studies 16. 1:123-158

White, Charles S. J. (1972) “The Sai Baba Movement: Approaches to the Study of India Saints”. The Journal of Asian Studies 31. 4:863-878

Urban, Hugh B. (2003) “Avatar for Our Age: Sathya Sai Baba and the Cultural Contradictions of Late Capitalism”. Religion 33:73-93

Related Topics for further investigation

Avatara

Bharadvaja

Bhakti yoga

Linga (lingam)

Mahasivaratri

Prem Sai

Pujas

Puttaparthi

Sakti

Siddhis

Siva

Shirdi Sai Baba

Vibhuti

Notable Websites

http://www.exbaba.com/ http://www.sathyasai.org/ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sathya_Sai_Baba http://www.saibaba.ws/ http://sathyasaibaba.wordpress.com/sai-baba-miracles/ http://www.srisathyasai.org.in/ http://www.saibabaofindia.com/

Written by Michael Racz (Spring 2009), who is solely responsible for its content.

Jiddu Krishnamurti

Jiddu Krishnamurti was an influential Indian spiritual leader with worldwide devotion to his unique combination of Indian religious philosophy and mysticism (Shringy 353; Holroyd 10). Krishnamurti’s path as a spiritual leader began after he was brought under the care of the Theosophical Society, which was a group intent on preparing him to be a great world teacher and the physical vehicle for Maitreya Buddha, which is the Buddha’s next incarnation (Martin 8). In 1929, after approximately 20 years with the organization, Krishnamurti left Theosophy, and dissolved the Order of the Star, which was an organization formed to carry out his work (Shringy 31-32). When dissolving the order, Krishnamurti asserted that “Truth is a pathless land, and you cannot approach it by any path whatsoever, by any religion, by any sect.” For “Truth, being limitless, unconditioned, unapproachable by any path whatsoever, cannot be organized; nor should any organization be formed to lead or coerce people along a particular path.” (Shiringy 31-31) Any belief that becomes organized “becomes dead.” Krishnamurti instead desired “those, who seek to understand me, to be free, not to follow me, not to make out of me a cage which will become a religion, a sect” (Lutyens 272).

A successful summary of Krishnamurti’s ideas should start by saying he would likely find any attempt to provide an accurate account of his philosophy uninteresting (Martin 3). In fact, he would probably be averse to the label of philosopher, for he was not well versed in philosophy and was opposed to philosophical theories (Holroyd 9; Martin 3). Instead of being labeled a philosopher, he might be called a teacher; however, that label would also be inadequate, for he was only a teacher insofar as he led people to discover that nothing of importance can be taught (Holroyd 10). Krishnamurti thought truth must be discovered for oneself. However, despite rejecting philosophizing, he inevitably did talk and write about issues pertinent to philosophy (Martin 3). It is these contributions that will be considered here.

Krishnamurti encouraged people to push past the limitations of language, dogma, religious ritual, and even knowledge because these are claimed to prevent the mind from understanding the workings of itself (Jayakar 197; Rodrigues 71). His teachings consistently encourage audiences to become engaged in a journey inside their own minds. Krishnamurti’s view of the mind is central to understanding this journey; in Krishnamurti’s opinion, there is no dichotomy between unconscious and conscious states. He maintained that human consciousness includes what is normally considered to be the unconscious, and that the deeper levels of the mind are largely free of the conditioning by which the surface levels are bound. Krishnamurti claimed that because they lack conditioning, the deeper levels of consciousness can be explored and become a source of new things (Holroyd 50).

Krishnamurti thought that the mind was conditioned by reason and the expectations of our society, culture, and personal needs (Holroyd 50). He held that having a conditioned mind is an obstacle that needs to be overcome through insight in order for an individual to move to a higher state of consciousness (Rodrigues 67). Krishnamurti talked in multiple ways about the conditioned mind. One of these ways is through the analogy of the pendulum. He used this analogy to show that normal consciousness swings from past to future, and then reverses. Humans are always in one of the two states, either the past which consists of memories, or the future which consists of expectations. Krishnamurti claimed that at the center of the pendulum swing, the present exists, and it is at this infinitesimal moment when a preconscious state of mind can be cultivated (Holroyd 52). By training the mind to “live” in the present, it can be emptied of all content in order to facilitate a true awareness of what is (Holroyd 53). Awareness of what is comes through insight and signifies the development of the religious mind (Rodrigues 123).

Knowledge was thought by Krishnamurti to be an impediment to perception of what is. His explanation of why this is forms his epistemology, or theory of knowledge. Krishnamurti’s goal was not for individuals to erase all of their knowledge, for some knowledge is clearly necessary for survival (Rodrigues 122). He rather placed his emphasis on knowledge that relates to values. This is the knowledge that informs people’s expectations or inhibitions, and is suspect because it acts as a barrier to the way people experience the world. If this knowledge informs someone’s expectations, then it prevents them from experiencing anything new (Holroyd 58-59). Having insight depends on shedding knowledge that biases experience of the world because it causes a distorted picture to be seen instead of reality. Religious dogma comes under this category of knowledge because it shapes an individual’s values, and thus their experience of the world (Holroyd 61).

Another impediment to true awareness of what is, according to Krishnamurti, is the self (Shringy 221-222). Like knowledge, the view of the self is also made up of the past; it is a collection of perceptions and memories to which people give substance. This collection of perceptions and memories is seen as the entity, or the “I,” that has agency in actions; it is through this misconception that people become more tied to the past, and further from the present where true awareness of what is exists (Holroyd 54). Krishnamurti claims to have eliminated the “I” from his experience, though the path to this elimination comes about not by any specific or concentrated effort, but by indirect means (Shringy 223). The elimination of the “I” is thought to accompany insight and is a hallmark of the religious mind. Through an acute awareness it becomes possible to dissolve the barrier between the self and its experiences (Rodrigues 109). This acute awareness is also the path to what Krishnamurti thought to be true intelligence. He said that a “sensitive awareness of the totality of life” is intelligence (Krishnamurti 122), without being caught up in the particulars, such as life’s “problems, contradictions, miseries, [and] joys” (Krishnamurti 121). It is necessary to have a choice-less awareness, or freedom from interpreting and evaluating each aspect of life, in order to see what is as it is (Shringy 223).

The mind that is free of thought that is capable of perception, and this is insight (Rodrigues 108). True insight into what is frees the conditioned mind. However, the movement from the conditioned to the religious mind cannot be experienced in any way because through insight the self is dissolved, and is no longer the separate agent necessary for experience to occur (Rodrigues 115). True insight into what is- is the movement to the religious mind, and according to Krishnamurti, religion becomes the activity of the free mind. The religious mind sees its connections with the whole of reality. Krishnamurti emphasizes that to understand the whole of reality is to understand oneself because they are one and the same (Rodrigues 124).

Revelation of what is- is a permanent and instant occurrence that ends conditioned thinking and induces Mind, which is a transformed state of consciousness (Shringy 147). The Mind in meditation is the religious mind, and this state is Truth. Truth is holistic in Krishnamurti’s view, for the heightened reality is both induced by Truth, and a manifestation of Truth; Truth to the religious mind is reality (Rodrigues 198; Shringy 74).

Bibliography and Related Readings

Holroyd, Stuart (2002) The Quest of the Quiet Mind: The Philosophy of Krishnamurti. Wellinborough: Aquarian Press

Jayakar, Pupul (1986) J. Krishnamurti: A Biography. Penguin Books

Krishnamurti, Jiddu (2003) Krishnamurti’s Notebook. California: Krishnamurti Publications of America

Lutyens, Mary (1975) Krishnamurti:The Years of Awakening. Boston: Shanmbala Productions Inc.

Martin, Raymond (2003) On Krishnamurti Belmont: Thompson/Wadsworth

Rodrigues, Hillary Peter (1990) Insight and Religious Mind: An Analysis of Krishnamurti’s Thought New York: Peter Lang Publishing

Shringy, Ravindra Kumar (1976) Philosophy of J. Krishnamurti: A Systematic Study New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers

Related Research Topics

Theosophical Society

The Order of the Star

Matraiya

Mysticism

Meditation

Ultimate Reality

Philosophy of Mind

Philosophy of Self

Philosophy of Truth

Samnyasin

Moksa

Nirvana

Buddhism

Nityananada

Related Websites

www.beyondthemind.net/index.html

www.kfa.org

www.kfionline.org

www.kfoundation.org

www.jkrishnamurti.org

www.jiddu-krishnamurti.net

www.krishnamurti-canada.ca

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jiddu_Krishnamurti

Written by Cam Koerselman (Spring 2009), who is solely responsible for its content.