Below is a list of scholars who study Hinduism. The list is far from exhaustive, it provides the names of scholars who either have a website or a profile on Academia.edu with additional resources. Simply click on the name of the scholar to be redirected to their respective pages.
Brahmagupta was a significant Indian mathematician and astronomer who lived during the medieval era and made several indispensable contributions to various fields of mathematics and astronomy throughout his lifetime. Although many of the specific details of Brahmagupta’s birthplace are unknown, most scholars agree that he was born in 598 CE somewhere in northern India (Joseph 41-42; Waghmare et al. 1). One hypothesis is that he was born in Bhinmal (a city in the Rajasthan Sate of Northern India which was quite powerful during that time period) but no one knows for sure. One thing is certain however; the time Brahmagupta was born would play a larger role in defining his later works than the place he was born. [The 6th century BCE was characterised by a rise in philosophical movements that challenged Hindu Orthodoxy. These groups, which were labeled heterodox by orthodox Hindus, generally challenged the Vedas and the Varna (class) system. As time progressed the number of heterodox philosophies increased and by the 6th century CE they had 1200 years to spread and flourish throughout India. ] As an orthodox Hindu, Brahmagupta was influenced heavily by his religious beliefs and was opposed to those held by the various heterodox darsanas (viewpoints). In particular, he was intrigued by the Hindus’ Yuga system (which measures the ages of humanity) and opposed to the Jains’ cosmological views, allowing the former to greatly influence his own ideas and harshly condemning the latter (Waghmare et al. 1). The influence of orthodox Hinduism on his work did not end here.
Brahmagupta went even further in his critique of heterodox ideas when he attacked Aryabhata. Brahmagupta refuted Aryabhata’s heterodox idea that the earth is a spinning sphere (Waghmare et al. 1). The influence of religion on Brahmagupta and his works went even farther than this however. Brahmagupta’s main work Brahmasphutasiddhanta (The Correctly Established Doctrine of Brahma) which is a mathematical treatise of invaluable quality is a paradigmatic example of the extent of which religious views influenced Brahmagupta [This demonstrates Brahmagupta’s religious affiliations with Hindu orthodoxy because Brahma is believed to be the creator deity in the Hindu tradition] (Waghmare et al. 1-2). Although religious beliefs played a profound role in influencing Brahmagupta, they were by no means the only stimulus instigating his mathematical and astronomical works. As a young man, Brahmagupta was a disciple of Varahmihir, a great astronomer of the time, who had written extensively. It is said that Brahmagupta read all Varahmihir’s works, made commentaries on them, and later proved many unproved results (Waghmare et al. 1). This launched Brahmagupta’s career in mathematics and astronomy.
As mentioned earlier, Brahmagupta’s main work Brahmasphutasiddhanta was a very influential mathematical treatise influenced by orthodox Hinduism. Interestingly, this biased approach did not compromise the quality of the work entirely. In fact, R.V. Waghmare et al. describes his work as possessing mathematical ideas of “exceptional quality” and claims that it should be considered one of the greatest works of the early period “not only of India, but also of the World” (Waghmare et al. 2). The text’s incredible breadth and depth has made invaluable contributions to geometry, arithmetic, algebra, number theory, as well as astronomy. Since the text was later translated into Arabic around 771 CE it also played a profound role in the scientific awaking of the Arab Empire and had a considerable influence on Islamic mathematics and astronomy (Waghmare et al. 2). This work also had a profound impact within India. In chapters twelve and eighteen, Brahmagupta established two major fields of Indian mathematics: “mathematics of procedures” (algorithms) and “mathematics of seeds” (equations/algebra), which are still studied to this day (Waghmare et al. 2-3).
Interestingly, this is not the only text that Brahmagupta wrote. In fact, the Brahmasphutasiddhanta published in 628 CE was his second, albeit most important, work. His first work Cademekela was written in 624 CE. His third and fourth books Khandakhadyaka and Durkeamynarda were published in 665 CE and 672 CE respectively. Collectively, these texts are all extremely influential in many fields of mathematics. For instance, Brahmagupta’s work on arithmetic revolutionized the field. In fact, Brahmagupta is described as having a better understanding of number systems and place value than any of his contemporaries. In particular, Brahmagupta had a profound understanding of the number zero. While the number had been used to distinguish between numbers since ancient times (i.e. people used it to distinguish between numbers like 1, 10, and 100) it had never been considered an arithmetic entity in its own right. In other words, no one ever tried to do addition, multiplication, subtraction, or division with zero prior to Brahmagupta (Waghmare et al. 3-4). For this reason, Brahmagupta is credited with the discovery of the number zero (see Boyer 241-245). He did not stop here however. In fact, he went even further and extended arithmetic to the negative numbers and ended up formulating many of the rules that mathematicians still hold to be true today, with the exception that he allowed division by zero. Although phrased quite differently, Brahmagupta established these familiar rules of arithmetic: the product/quotient of similar signs is positive while the product/quotient of different signs is negative. He said that zero times anything is zero and that a number divided by zero is that number over zero, with the exception that zero divided by zero is zero (Waghmare et al. 3).
Next, the Brahmasphutasiddhanta moved onto algebra. Many algebraists believe that Brahmagupta’s most important contribution to the fields of algebra and number theory is his work done on Pell’s Equation (Waghmare et al. 6). Pell’s equation is the relation Nx2 – 1 = y2 where N is a constant and solutions take the form (x, y). Using what is today referred to as the Euclidean algorithm but known to contemporaries as the “pulveriser,” Brahmagupta broke Pell’s equation into several smaller equations (Waghmare et al. 6). His solution of the equation hinged on a generalization of the work of Diophantus, which is a long and complicated formula that is very important in the study number theory [Diophantine equations is a branch of number theory that concerns equations that only accept integer solutions] (Waghmare et al. 6-7). Unfortunately, this was not sufficient. With all the effort Brahmagupta put into studying Pell’s equation he could not generalize his results to an arbitrary constant N. Rather, he only proved a few specific cases and the general solution would not come until much later when Bhaskarall would prove it in 1150 CE. (Waghmare et al. 6-8).
In addition to these contributions, Brahmagupta also made contributions to the study of linear and quadratic equations. Giving an algorithm for what is equivalent to the quadratic formula which is used to solve equations of the form ax2 + bx + c = 0 and it is believed that Brahmagupta may have been the first to realize the quadratic has two solutions. However, he went much farther than this. He also gave solutions to multiple variable quadratics of the form ax2 + c = y2 (Waghmare et al. 7). Another interesting result is known as the Brahmagupta-Fibonacci Identity. This identity basically asserts that sum of two squares is closed under multiplication, that is when you multiply a sum of two squares with another sum of two squares you will always get a sum of two squares. This is an incredibly powerful result that has had a profound impact on number theory especially when coupled with other results (Boyer 241-243; Waghmare et al. 9).
Despite all Brahmagupta’s magnificent achievements in these areas of mathematics, they seem almost insignificant when compared to his work in geometry. Unfortunately, many of his achievements in this field are ignored as credit was often given to Europeans due to the dominant Eurocentric attitude of the time (Waghmare et al. 8-9). One example of this is what is widely known as Ptolemy’s Theorem. This theorem can be used to find the diagonals of cyclic quadrilaterals (four sided figures whose vertices lie on a circle). Interestingly, Brahmagupta discovered and proved this theorem independently unaware of Ptolemy’s work (Waghmare et al. 8). Another example is Brahmagupta’s work on right angle triangles. Many of the results he proved were later credited to the European mathematicians Fibonacci in the 13th century BC and Vieta in the 16th century BC (Waghmare et al. 8-9). This does not mean that he is completely unrecognized though. In fact, “Brahmagupta’s Formula” is the name given to the formula used in Euclidean geometry to find the area of any quadrilateral when the side lengths are given and some of the interior angles. There is also a major theorem which bears Brahmagupta’s name. Brahmagupta’s Theorem states that if a cyclic quadrilateral is also orthodiagonal (has perpendicular diagonals) then if a line is drawn perpendicular to point of intersection of the diagonals it will bisect the opposite side (Waghmare et al. 9-10). Finally, Brahmagupta’s contributions in geometry include a study of triangles. His work dealt primarily with the relationships between the base of a triangle, the triangle’s altitude, and the side lengths of the triangle. In this study he also estimated the value of pi to be approximately three. Even though his estimation was incorrect he was close (Waghmare et al. 9-10). His final work with triangles concerned Pythagorean triples. These are sets of three numbers that satisfy the Pythagorean Theorem.
While Brahmagupta is also known for being an astronomer, he did not write as extensively on astronomy as he did on mathematics. Whatever he discovered in astronomy was often a consequence of his mathematics (Boyer 243-245; Waghmare et al. 11-12). In other words, he used logical mathematical reasoning to prove astronomical ideas. For instance, Brahmagupta reasoned that the sun was farther away from earth than the moon. Scriptural teachings supported the idea that the sun was closer to the earth than the moon was so this was revolutionary. He reasoned, however, that the moon is closer because of the way the sun illuminates it in cycles of waning and waxing (Boyer 221-223; Joseph 24-27). Although it may seem minor, Brahmagupta’s work in astronomy played a major role in the scientific awakening of Baghdad and the Arabic empire. When Brahmagupta’s Brahmasphutasiddhanta was translated into Arabic it forever changed the empire and gifted them with wonderful new mathematical and astronomical ideas that led to a full scale scientific revolution (see Joseph 22-27; Boyer 221-223, 241-245).
Reference and Further Recommended Reading
Boyer, Carl B (1968) A History of Mathematics. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Joseph, George Gheverghese (2009) A Passage to Infinity: Medieval Indian Mathematics from Kerala and its Impact. New Delhi, India: SAGE Publications India Pvt Ltd.
Waghmare, R.V., Avhale P.S., and Kolhe S.B. (2012) “The Great Mathematician Brahmagupta” Golden Research Thoughts. Volume 2, Issue 1. (July 2012)
Related Topics for Further Investigation
Abu al-Rayhan al-Biruni
History of Indian and Islamic Mathematics
Scientific Awakening in Arab Empire
Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic
Article written by Dakota Duffy (March 2013) who is solely responsible for its content
Shirdi Sai Baba
Sri Sai baba, popularly known as Sri Shirdi Sai baba, was born on the 27th September 1838 in the forest near Patri village in Aurangabad District of the Maharastra state of India (Ruhela 1). It was claimed that Shirdi Sai Baba was a saint that was worshiped by both Hindus and Muslims. The first person that was in contact with baba addressed him impulsively as Sai. Sai is a term of Persia origin, usually attributed to Muslim ascetics, meaning “holy one” or “saint.” (Rigopoulos 3). Baba, on the other hand, is a Hindi term attributed to respected seniors and holy men, and literally means, “father” (Rigopoulos 3).
It was stated that Baba was born into to a high caste Brahmin family. His father’s name was Ganga Bhavadia and his mother was Devagiriamma (Ruhela 1). They had taken renunciation and detachment and therefore had left Baba under a banyan tree in the forest. Baba claimed not to remember his parents or where he came from (White 868). In the same village Baba was left in, there lived a man named Roshan Shah Miya, who was a Fakir (which is a Muslim or a Hindu mendicant that travels between village reciting scripture and performing various physical feats). Roshan Shah Miya had no children and one day when he saw Baba left under a tree, he adopted him and took him home. Roshan died when Baba was the age of four. At the age of five, he was known to have a hindu guru named Venukusa who lived a few doors down from where baba used to live (White 868). Venukusu looked after children who were orphans, poor boys, or children that have been abandoned. He took care of Baba for twelve years until it was time for him to take samadhi (Which is the highest state of concentration attained from meditation). It was claimed that Baba stayed in Shirdi for three years and then had disappeared for a year and came back permanently.
There were special features that differentiated Baba from others. First of all Baba was 5”8 (Satpathy, 21). He wore a Kafni, which is a robe, and tied a cloth around his head, which he twisted into a ponytail behind his ear (Satpathy, 21). Baba was a very thin and flexible man who was so energetic that he could walk non-stop (Satpathy, 21). An additional characteristic of Sai Baba’s personality was the love he had for dance and music (Satpathy, 21). Many of baba’s devotees believed he was an incarnation of Lord Dattatreya, which is the three-headed deity known as Brahma, Visnu, and Mahesh.
He was living as a humble villager in the place called Shirdi for the last sixty years of his life and he dressed as a Muslim Fakir (Satpathy, 2001). He lived in a Mosque, which was called the Dwarka Mai Masjid. There he performed a kind of Hindu ritual with lights and incense (White 869). Baba kept a fire burning perpetually in a Dhuni (and his followers to this day keep it burning) in the manner of a Nathpanthi pir (White 869). It was claimed that Baba’s ritual practices included both Hindu and Muslim prayers and offerings.
Sai Baba lived on alms that were collected from five specific families (Rahel 25). He was to always share his food generously with followers as well as mammals such as birds, cats, dogs, etc. He fed the thousands who were hungry. He would also collect daksinas (which were cash gifts and he would allocate it amongst the poor’s and the devotees). After Sai Baba’s death, his body was cremated in a temple.
It was claimed that Sai Baba was against any affiliation that was dedicated to religion or the caste. Even though baba himself lived his life as a Spartan, he would instruct his followers to live a normal ordinary family life. It was stated that Sai Baba inspired his followers to pray, recite god’s name and read the holy books. Baba advised the Muslims to recite the Qur’an and the Hindus to recite the Bhagavad Gita or Ramayana. It was claimed that Baba adapted both Islamic and Hindu religious texts. Baba’s ways of teaching were not confined to words or verbal sermons. He could act, represent, teach and impart lessons to his devotees through entire living and non-living beings or matters (Rahel 129). During his teaching he merged the two cultures (Hinduism and Islam) together to attain harmony between the two cultures. He talked about the three different spiritual paths in Hinduism, which are Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga and Jnana Yoga.
According to his legendary accounts Baba went on a 72 hours samadhi to get rid of his asthma attack 1886. One day when sitting along with his devotee Mahlsapathy in the Dwaraka Mai, Baba said that he was going to Allah and that consequently for three days his body was to be looked after because he might return to his body. Sai also said that if in case he did not return back to his body, it should be interred near the mosque, presently Baba’s body became a corpse (Rahel 77). As baba went into deep Samadhi he stopped breathing and his pulse rate stopped beating. All the villagers believed that Sai baba had left his prana (which means the vital life leaves the body). The villagers were prepared to bury his body, but as Bhagat had promised, he kept taking care of his body and stopped them. He had Sai Baba’s body on his lap and guarded it for three days. Sai baba came to life at three in the morning as they saw him breathing again, his body started to move and he opened his eyes and became conscious. After the villagers saw baba at the time of his Samadhi, they had started to support him from then on. (Rahel 77).
The Shirdi Sai Baba Temple is located in Shirdi, Maharashtra, India. This place attracts thousands of devotees of different religions, creeds and castes. The Temple is an attractive memorial that was constructed in remembrance of Shri Sai Baba. Another memorable part of this town includes Gurustha, Dwarkamai (mosque), Chanvadi, Lendi, Chawadi, Vaug, Maruti Mandir, and Samadhi of Abdulbaba. These places have a high significance on the pilgrims and are also highly honored. There are temples in his honor that has been distributed far from the center of his cult. For example there are temples in (Bhopal, Jharkhand, Pondicherry, Madhya Pardes, Etc ) The History of Shirdi is intently connected to the life of Sai Baba who was a saint that died in 1918.
Sai Baba established himself as a saint through the performance of miracles; and it is chiefly because of his renowned Siddhis, preternatural powers, that his reputation has continued to grow long after his death (White, 868). There are many volumes that people could read that provides information on the experiences of his followers who have believed that it was the direct intervention of Sai Baba contributing medicines, wealth or health in some pressing life state. It has stated that he used the ash from the Dhuni (purifying fire that symbolizes divine light) as a sacramental substance for the working of his miracles (White 869). This ash is called the Vibhuti and it can be rubbed into the forehead or throat, swallowed, cast into a wound, or used in various ways to effect changes. (White 869)
It is claimed that Satya Sai Baba is a reincarnation of Shirdi Sai Baba. Satya Sai Baba was born on November 23, 1926. Satya was born in the state of Andhra Pradesh in the village of Puttaparthi in 1926 (Babb 116). He was born into the Raju caste, his birth name Satyanarayana Raju (Bassuk 87). It was said that Satya Sai Baba was different from all the other children around him, and his behavior and actions were really strange. He was a vegetarian, unlike the rest of his family. He lived a completely different life compared to his parents in a way that was nothing close to the way his parents were living. In 1940, Sai Baba had an epileptic seizure and began acting in a bizarre manner (Urban 79). Exorcists were brought in to try to cure the boy, but failed (Urban 79). The community thought an evil spirit had possessed him. After this incident happened he told his family that he was an incarnation of Shirdi Sai Baba. It was claimed that Sathya Sai Baba’s name was recognized when the stories of his miracles were spread out. 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 174). There are many people that are influenced by Sathya Sai baba. He has thousands of supporters that have resided by his teachings and words of Sathya. His Devotees believed that Sathya Sai Baba has been living his life to the fullest and it is revealed within his teachings and words. Considering the fact that Sathya Sai Baba has many followers, it is recognized that his emotions and thoughts have manipulated millions of people throughout the world.
Throughout the life of Shirdi Sai baba, it has stated that he has done many good deeds, which makes him a saint to remember. Baba lived his spiritual mission due to his pure self in a human incarnation. His flawless purity, non-attachment, benevolence, and compassion evoked a higher level of respect in the villagers around him. Baba would advise against and protest the people who primarily worshipped him.
Babb, Lawrence A. (1986) Redemptive Encounters: Three Modern Styles in the Hindu Religion.
Bassuk, Daniel E. (1987), “Six Modern Indian Avatars and the Ways they Understand Their Divinity” Dialogue & Alliance.
Ganguly, H.S. (2002) Saibaba of Shirdi: New Delhi: Diamond Pocket Books
Rahel, Satya Pal (2000) Sri Shirdi Sai Baba:The Unique Prophet Of Integration. New Delhi:Diamond Pocket Books.
Satpathy,Chandra Bhanu (2001) Shirdi Sai Baba and other perfect masters: New Delhi: Sterling publishers.
Chaturvedi, B.K. (2006) Sai baba of Shirdi: New Delhi: Diamond Pocket Books
Rigopoulos, Antonio (1993) The Life and Teachings of Sai Baba of Shirdi. Albany : State of New York Press.
Ruhela, S.P. (1994) What Researchers Say on Sri Shirdi Sai Baba: New Delhi: M D Publication.
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
Urban, Hugh B. (2003) “Avatar for Our Age: Sathya Sai Baba and the Cultural Contradictions of Late Capitalism”. Religion
White, Charles S.J. (1972) The Sai Baba Movement: Approaches to the Study of India Saints. The Journal of Asian Studies
Satya Sai Baba
Article written by Krupa Parekh (Spring 2012), who is solely responsible for its content.
Swami Bhaktivedanta Prabhupada (Founder of the Hare Krsnas)
Srila Prabhupada was born Abhay Charan De to parents Gour Mohan De, a cloth merchant, and mother Rajani on September 1st, 1896 (Gowami 1983: 5-6) His childhood home was located at 115 Harrison Road, situated in the northern Indian section of Calcutta, India. His father belonged to the aristocratic suvarna-vanik merchant caste, was pure Vaisnava, and raised his son to be just as Krsna conscious as he was. Young Abhay accompanied his father, mother or servant daily to the temple near their home to worship, showed his strong faith which was evident even in his childhood. This devotion was helped of course by Gour Mohan’s wishes for his son to achieve Vaisnava goals and become a servant to Radha and Krsna. Employing a professional mrdana (a kind of drum) player to teach Abhay the rhythms for accompanying kirtana (a form of musical worship), Gour Mohan was determined to give his son all the teachings to enable him to reach the prescribed Vaisnava goals, even if this went against his wife’s wishes. Rajani was skeptical about the importance of her son learning to play the mrdana, and while she too was a devote follower of Krshna consciousness, she wanted Abhay to grow up and become a British lawyer. This however did not stop her from modeling her perfection of Vedic housewife duties, showcased through her attempts to keep her pet child, Abhay, safe from danger, disease and death. At age six it became clear which path Abhay favored, as he asked his father to bring home deities of his own to worship. Bringing home Radha-Krsna deities, Gour Mohan and Rajani watched their son from this day forward offering food first to these effigies, and putting them to rest at night in perfect imitation of his fathers own puja (Goswami 1983: 9-13).
While Abhay Charan De’s religious beliefs and talents continued to grow, so did his intellect in school. However, even Abhay was subject to the tradition of arranged marriage and was wed to Radharani Datta. Living apart, Srila Prabhupada was to finish his college degree before taking on full responsibility of supporting his family. But, in his fourth year of college, Abhay began to feel reluctant about finishing his degree. This was due to the influences of Subhas Chandra Bose, who was a spirited nationalist and eventual leader of the Indian National Army. Bose charged the student population to align with the Indian independence movement and forsake their studies. This proclamation was also echoed by another notable figure, Mohandas K. Gandhi. Gandhi, who was a spiritual entity instead of a just a political one like Bose, had a profound impact on Abhay, who began listening to Gandhi and abiding to his messages. When Gandhi said that the foreign run schools, like the one Abhay attended, did nothing more than instill a slave mentality, Abhay was left with a decision to make. Even though he finished his studies in 1920, after his fourth year, Abhay refused his diploma thus showing his devotion to Gandhi’s call to boycott the British rule of India (Goswami 1983: 14-15).
Inspired by Gandhi, Abhay continued to follow his lead and strengthen his own spirituality while working as a department manager at Bose Laboratory in his hometown of Calcutta, India. It was his religious quest however that led him to meet his spiritual master in 1922, Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura (Rochford 10). Initially unimpressed by the work of Thakura, it was only through a friend’s encouragement that he visited him. Upon their first meeting, it was Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura who asked why, as an educated young man, Abhay did not travel the world spreading the message of Lord Caitanya. From this bold question Abhay went on to make many more insightful inquiries which left him so impressed at the end of their first meeting that he accepted Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura as his spiritual master in his heart. Until Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura’s death in December 1936, Abhay was a devote follower and friend, visiting him whenever time would allow as his family had moved to Allahabad in 1932 for business purposes. Abhay truly embraced Thakura’s ideal of spreading Krsna consciousness around the world and began to preach from his home. He wrote an essay and poem which were published in The Harmonist, gaining him the title of kavi, “learned poet” (Goswami 1983: 18). However, being a humble man, his most glorious moment was when this poem reached his master and gave him joy. The last conversation between himself and Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura was one that had the most profound impact on his life and how he chose to get his message out. Thakura told him, “If you ever get money, print books” (Goswami 1983: 91) which is just what Abhay did (Goswami 1983: 15-20).
While still in India Abhay had to suffer through WWII. He not only had to attempt to get enough food to ensure his families survival, but also had to fight with the government for paper on which to print his journal, Back to Godhead. While his determination to spread the only real scarcity of Krsna consciousness intensified, his business and family affairs began to abate as his major focus shifted to preaching. A major breakthrough at this time in his life was being invited to lecture at the Gita Mandir, an invitation that he gladly accepted. It was in this place, of Jhansi, that Abhay formed his first center. Leaving behind his business affairs in Allahabad to his son, Abhay was now focused on creating a spiritual movement in Jhansi. He was 56 years old (Gotswami 1983: 20-24).
It was after this age that Abhay truly hit a turning point. Getting a note in Jhansi that his home had been burglarized, he returned to Calcutta as familial responsibilities outweighed his preaching desires. With bills to pay and unmarried children to look after, Abhay came back to his family but continued to talk of God and preach just as he had done before. This angered his family who could not understand his devotion. It was this misunderstanding that eventually led Abhay to break from his family and business all together, when he returned home one night and found that his wife has sold his copy of Srimad-Bhagavatam for money to buy tea biscuits. Angered and upset, this final straw led Abhay to finally leave and pursue his goal of preaching Krshna consciousness and printing books (Gotswami 1983: 24-25).
The 1950s saw Abhay facing hard time. Scraping together enough money to print Back to Godhead, he went without proper clothing for the winter to fulfill his mission. From showing such devotion, Abhay was pushed past his tipping point after he had a dream in which Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura appeared and urged him to become a sannyasa (Goswami 1983: 34). After careful deliberation, Abhay knew what he must do and became Abhay Caranaravinda Bhaktivedanta Swami after his formal sannyasa ceremony. After this ceremony, his desire to spread Krsna consciousness intensified, leading Abhay to finally begin printing books. Struggling once more to raise funds and sell his volumes, Abhay was forced to become resourceful, sending copies of his works to noted officials and utilizing their positive reviews to advertise. Transforming himself from humble beginnings to notoriety, Abhay was gaining fame in India, but desired to spread his message West. With this desire in his heart, it was on August 13th, 1965 at the age of 69 that Abhay boarded the cargo ship Jaladuta to begin his journey to America (Goswami 1983: 25-38).
Reaching New York City on September 19th, 1965 he walked with little more than the clothing on his back to the bus terminal to find transit to Butler to stay with friends, the Agarwal’s. Taking up residence in the YMCA, Abhay began writing to people of religious interest in New York City to grow his network (Goswami 1983: 42). It was through such letter writing that Abhay was able to become financed by Dr. Mishra, whose yoga studios became the first site of meetings for followers of Abhay’s message (Goswami 1991: 1-14).
Abhay’s next move was out of the yoga studio and downstairs into his own place. However, far from being a temple, this move was rife with poverty. With his name on the door, anyone could find him, and despite his meager surroundings in Room 307, the meetings were becoming a new source of life for Abhay and for his followers. However, this move too proved temporary. Abhay was subject to a great number of moves following this until he finally came to find a suitable apartment to call his own. This place would allow him to grab his footing for the International Society for Krsna Consciousness (Knott 29-30)
From this point forward, Bhaktivedanta Swami spread his message. Getting a feature in the local New York press, The Village Voice was of particular importance, as it allowed Abhay to grow the number of members in his lecture groups (Knott 32). From this growing population of followers, Abhay drafted the Seven Purposes of the International Society for Krsna Consciousness, and the ISKCON really gained a hold. Circulating leaflets and invitations, the chanting of the Hare Krshna was touted as the drug of choice as it allowed one to stay high forever, because of their expanded consciousness. Thus the popular name for the ISKCON was born, and the Hare Krsna continued to thrive (Goswami 1983: 28-75).
On January 16th, 1967 Abhay left behind his devoted followers in New York and flew to spread his message in San Francisco. Awaiting his arrival this day was a group of about fifty flower bearing chanters, most of which knew the Swami only by reputation. Settling into an apartment at 518 Fredrick Street, this dwelling was now known as the Sri Sri Radha Krishna Temple, attracting numerous followers from the first days of Abhays arrival. From this place, Abhay preached and held lectures for his many followers. He wrote in his office, getting his messages out and attending to the needs and problems of his devotees (Goswami 1983: 75-130).
However, Abhay longed to return to India and he fulfilled this desire in the summer of 1967. He stayed until the winter months, when he once again returned to the United States and travelled around, spreading his messages and publications across the globe, even coming into contact with John Lennon and Yoko Ono when the Hare Krshna recorded chantings for their record (Knott 34-37). From such public relations, Prabhupada’s message was widely received and the ISKCON grew, setting up head quarters all over the world. This was up until Abhay’s death on November 14th, 1977 at 81 years old (Rochford 10-11).
Goswami, Satsvarupa Dasa (1983) Srila Prabhupada-lilamrta. Los Angeles: Bhaktivedanta Book Trust.
Goswami, Satsvarupa Dasa (1983) Prabhupada: He Built a House in Which the Whole World Can Live. Los Angeles: Bhaktivedanta Book Trust.
Goswami, Tamal Krishna (1999) Servant of the Servant: A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, Founder-acharya of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness. Dialogue & Alliance, 13(1), 5-17.
Knott, Kim (1986) My Sweet Lord: The Hare Krishna Movement. San Bernando: Borgo Press.
Rochford, E. Burke (1985) Hare Krishna in America. New Jersey: Rutgers University Press.
Related Topics for Further Reading
The Hare Krshna
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Article written by Jaycene Mock (March 2012) who is solely responsible for its content.
Abhinavagupta was said to be one of the greatest philosopher of his kind in his life time (Dupuche 3). Abhinavagupta was born into a Brahmin family in Srinagar, in the Indian state of Kashmir. His family was renowned for their profound dedication towards God, religion and for their partiality to intellectual pursuits. In other words they were, as a family, devoted to learning and gaining knowledge. He lived from about 950 AD to 1020 AD and accomplished a great deal in his fields of study over those 70 years (Muller-Ortega 45).
Abhinavagupta believed his parents, Narasimhagupta his father and Vimala his mother, when they claimed that we was conceived through their union as Siva and Sakiti, which in turn produced a yogini-child meaning the “depository of knowledge” in whom this yogini-child had the form of Siva (Dupuche 4).
Abhinavagupta’s name is quite interesting when explained by its Hindu meaning and it is thought that Abhinavagupta was given his name by one of his masters. His name can be summarised as:
“That person is ‘Abhinavagupta’ who remains vigilant in the course of everyday activities; who is present everywhere (abhi), in the objective domain as much as in the subjective domain, and dwells there without limitation. He sings the praise (nu) without ceasing to concentrate on the energies of knowledge and activity. He is protected (gupta) by this praise even though he lives under the presser of temporal affairs.” (Dupuche 4)
In other words, Abhinavagupta was born with knowledge and had the means to share it as a philosopher, teacher, poet, musician, exegete, logician, dramatist and a theologian [to learn more about Abhinavagupta’s name, see Dupuche (2003)]. He also believed strongly in the power of language and speech, as a great asset, to spread his immense knowledge (Isayeva 164-165).
When looking into Abhinavagupta’s ancestry an important fact comes to light. An ancestor of his named Atrigupta, who was born in Madhyadesa (now most likely Kannauj) India, traveled to Kashmir on the request of a great king named Lalitaditya around the year 740 AD. The importance of this is that Atrigupya’s move from Madhyadesa to Kashmir brought Abhinavagupta’s family blood line to Kashmir (Dupuche 4).
As a young child Abhinavagupta was pained greatly by the death of his mother, and her death had a great effect on the rest of his life. His first teacher was his father Narasimhagupta. His father began by teaching him Sanskrit grammar so that he could then go on to read, write and teach himself. Abhinavagupta would often travel through Kashmir to visit teachers. Not only did he study under Hindu teachers but also with Buddhist and Jain teachers (Muller-Ortega 45). His love for learning brought him to study any and everything that he could learn under his different teachers, this included: literature, drama and aesthetic theory, traditional texts of dualistic and monistic Saivism, darsana, Krama, Trika, and the doctrines and practices of Kaula (Muller-Ortega 45).
Abhinavagupta himself was a great teacher and his students held him on high regards. They saw him as an incarnation of Siva. They would describe him in ways that made him seem more God like than human (Muller-Ortega 45). He also took great joy in discussing philosophical arguments with his fellow knowledge seekers (Gerow 188).
Eventually, his studies took him out of Kashmir to Jalandhara where he found Sambhunatha who was a tantric master in the Kaula traditions (Muller-Ortega 45). The Kuala tradition is a reformed version of Kula which refers to families or groupings of the yoginis and of the mothers; however the mothers are also considered a group of goddesses. Holistically, Kuala refers to the corporeal body, body of power, the cosmic body and the totality of things. The Kuala tradition incorporates the idea of overcoming dualism of impure and pure/divine and human or good/evil and the understanding that ordinary life is the expression of Siva in union with his Sakti (Dupuche 16). Abhinavagupta’s knowledge and texts contributed greatly to the traditions of this practice (Muller-Ortega 48).
There are many books with writings by Abhinavagupta that have been translated to English but there are still many of his works that are very complicated and make it difficult to translate; in order to properly translate the rest of his works it would take persons with knowledge in not only all of the six systems of Indian philosophy but also knowledge in Buddhism, Tantra and more (Marjanovic 13).
Abhinavaguta wrought two important texts on the topic of aesthetics, these being the Dhvanyaloka-locana and the Abhinava-bharati ((Muller-Ortega 47).
Among the most popular of Abhinavagupta’s works is the Gitarthasamgraha; this additionally goes by the name Bhagavadagitartha-samgraha. The English translation of this Gita text outlines the non-dualistic philosophy of Kashmir Saivism as described by Abhinavagupta; it also explains the nature of the highest reality in Kashmir Saivism.
It details the process of creation, and explains the theory of causation (karyakaranabhava), insights into Jnana-karma-sammuccayavada and descriptions on what is occurring in the last moments as a soul is leaving the body and in addition it has some descriptions of the practice of yoga (Marjanovic 14-22).
Abhinavagupta wrote Tantraloka (Light on the Tantras) which falls in with tradition of tantric Saivism. It differs from the orthodox Vedic tradition which Abhinavagupta demotes to the lowest position in Siva’s hierarchy of revelations to mankind. He suggests that Vaisnavas do not come to know the supreme category due to pollution of impure knowledge (Dupuche ii). The Tantraloka is the most voluminous of all the literature written by Abhinavagupta; it comprises of twelve volumes, and includes a commentary by Jayaratha called Viveka (Muller-Ortega 47).
Abhinavagupta lived about 70 years and in his lifetime he never married. This is said to be due to his great dedication to his religious practices (Muller-Ortega 45). In order to posses the findings and knowledge of Saivism, Abhinavagupta had to reach the highest state of consciousness. This is characterized by jnanasakti (power of knowledge). Once this is reached the knowledge will flow through the individual so they can then share it, teach it, write it etc. (Singh 14). This dedication to finding the knowledge within would have taken an extensive amount of time. Over his life Abhinavagupta wrote many works, thus far twenty-one are available for reading but there are as many as twenty-three other writings that have been lost. His major period of writing occurred mainly between 990 AD and 1014 AD. It seems that he split his works into separate time periods based on the three topics of texts. The first was the Alankarika period, with all of the texts dealing with aesthetics. The second was the Tantrika period with all of the texts on Tantra, and lastly, was the Philosophical period with all of the texts dealing with philosophy. With this being said it has still been very difficult to date most of his writings, due to them not containing historical information that can be used to date the piece (Muller-Ortega 45). Abhinavagupta was a highly influential thinker in his time and his literature is still significant to this day.
REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING
Dupuche, John R. (2003) Abhinavagupta: The Kula Ritual. Delhi: Shri Jainendra Press.
Gerow, Edwin (1994) Abhinavagupta’s Aesthetics as a Speculative Paradigm: Journal of the American Oriental Society, 114: 186 – 208
Isayeva, Natalia (1995) From Early Vedanta to Kashmir Shaivism. Albany: State University of New York Press.
Marjanovic, Boris (2003) Gitartha-samgraha: Abhinavagupta’s Commentary on the Bhagavad Gita. Varanasi: Indica Books
Muller-Ortega, Paul E (1989) The Triadic Heart of Siva. Delhi: Sri Satguru Publications
Singh, Jaideva (1988) Abhinavagupta: A Tradition of Wisdom. Albany: State University of New York Press.
Singh, Jaideva (1988) Abhinavagupta: Para-trisika-Vivarana The Secret of Tantric Mysticism. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers.
Rodrigues, Hillary (2006) Hinduism The eBook An Online Introduction. Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online Books.
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Article written by: Sarah Nielsen (March 2010) who is solely responsible for its content.
A doctor, a pharmacist, a healer of body and soul. Swami Sivananda Saraswati had always been destined for greatness, ever since a young age where he excelled and others marveled at his intelligence. Though he has moved on to another life, his legacy of kindness and spiritual guidance still remains fresh in the minds and hearts of many across the globe.
Though there are many very similar biographies of different qualities published as David Miller notes, the material from them stems from two main sources, the auto-biography of Swami Sivananda as well as Swami Venkatsenanda’s biography of Sivananda. (Miller 2003:343) The material in this article which pertains to Swami Venkatesenanda’s biography of Swami Sivananda is solely the commentary of David Miller’s.
Sri Swami Sivananda Saraswati was born in the village of Pattamadai in Southern India, to a pair of devotees of the god Siva. They named their son Kuppuswamy. His father P.S. Vengu Iyer was a revenue officer and his mother Srimati Parvati Ammal was a stay at home mother/wife who birthed three boys, Kuppuswamy being the youngest. According to biographers, he was a mischievous young boy who showed some signs of a renouncer at a young age. Kuppuswamy loved helping those less fortunate and dedicated much of his own rewards or delights to others rather than simply enjoying them himself. He later went on to the Rajah’s High School in Ettayapuram, where he excelled, receiving many commendations for his good grades and hard work. Once he completed his Matriculation examination he moved on to the S.P.G. College in Tiruchirapalli. At the college in Tiruchirapalli he dabbled in debate and theatre even taking part in a staging of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. It is here that his medical career began, commencing with his education at a medical school in Tanjore. There Kuppuswamy enjoyed a thorough education, being at the top of his class in all subjects. He spent much of his vacation time at the hospital observing and studying as much as possible.
After completing his medical education he began a medical journal named The Ambrosia while practicing medicine in Tiruchi. This medical journal lasted approximately three or four years until Kuppuswamy tired of his simple work as a journal writer. Craving a broader window for his journal and also his life, he managed to set himself down in Malaysia at an Estate Hospital in or near Seremban. The hospital to which he would be the new manager and head physician was in a state of disarray Kuppuswamy arrived. His employer Mr. A. G. Robins was a very headstrong man and refused to let Kuppuswamy resign when he was bestruck with misfortune or when he felt that he could not manage any longer: Robins was fully aware of Kuppuswamy’s importance at the hospital as well as in the community. Kuppuswamy had established himself as a caring individual as well as a capable doctor, and his aid extended beyond simple medical help. At times Kuppuswamy would give entire paychecks or pawn his own property to help those in need around him. However, it seems that as Kuppuswamy became more comfortable in his career, he began to realize that spirituality and his hunger for cosmic understanding were burgeoning. This caused Kuppuswamy great unease at his job in Malaysia and eventually he returned to India, where he began a new life as a renouncer. David Miller suggests that in his last years as a doctor in Malaysia that Kuppuswamy had begun to read the Upanisads and the Bhagavad Gita prompting him to question much of the world; which in his experience as a doctor, he believed that life for many ended in pain, suffering and sorrow (Miller:355). It is likely that in witnessing some of the most fragile states endured by people in the hospital which he managed led him to seek deeper meanings to the world which science and medicine failed to answer.
Leaving all his worldly possessions in Malaysia 1923, Kuppuswamy renounced the life of ease and became a sramana. Wandering around India Kuppuswamy visited various sites of religious worship. At the end of his search for a guru he rested in Rishikesh. Here he received his initiation into an ascetic life by Paramahamsa Visvananda Saraswati on. Swami Vishnudevanandaji Maharaj performed the Viraj Homa ceremonies and later named Kuppuswamy, Swami Sivananda Saraswati. For a while he opened and operated a free dispensary, helping travelers on their pilgrimages or attending wholeheartedly to those who were ill or injured. Although his service to the sick and the poor continued during his Sadhana, Sivananda knew that his own truths lay in the attainment of self-realization.
During the years 1925-1930 Swami Sivananda ventured out on a pilgrimage to Kedarnath and Badrinath, in the mountains north of Rishikesh. Sivananda writes very little about this experience in his auto-biography and even his dedicated sevak (servant) Swami Venkatesananda wrote very little about what transpired in those years. Venkatesananda’s only accounts were that Sivananda ate only bread and drank Ganges water, observed intense meditation daily with little time for rest and relaxation. Sivananda’s realization, the goal of his Sadhana, occurred sometime between 1929 – 1930, the exact date Sivananda kept to himself. It is common for many Hindu ascetics to do just that, as well as keeping their realization and its details private. After his Sadhana Sivananda became social once again. He attended many religious conferences, performed rituals and still attended to people’s medical needs. Unlike before his pilgrimage, Sivananda now had deeper understanding of what his purpose was and he did not question himself at the foot of the masses. Instead he basked in the love they gave him and attempted to repay them with whatever service he could.
Many people followed Swami Sivananda’s life and work. Sivananda published many works, ranging anywhere from commentary on the Vendantas to a ten part publication on the Science of Yoga. His commentary on the Vedantas is truly one of the most important works Swami Sivananda has published. These works have gone on to inspire people all over the world to more profoundly analyze the sources of their knowledge. His nearly 300 publications, which vary in subject, are only the begging of the influence to which Sivananda exerts on modern Hindus today. Much of his following started when he began the Divine Life Society in a small cow shed on the bank of the Ganges in Rishikesh 1936. The society grew exponentially, and is currently operating in dozens of countries across the world. Through the practice of yoga as well as monastic asceticism he captured the attention of much of India as well as the western world.
References and Further Resources
Miller, David (2003)“The spiritual descent of the Divine: The Life Story of Swami Sivananda” :In Hindu Spirituality:Postclassical and Modern edited by R.Sundararajan and B. Mukerji. (2003) Delhi: Crossroad Publishing Company.
No author. His holiness Sri Swami Sivananda Sarawatswi Maharaj. (Updated Oct. 2004) www.dlshq.org/saints/siva.htm: The Divine Life Society.
Sivananda, Sri Swami.Science of Yoga; Volume Eight. (undated) Tehri-Gharwal: The Divine Life Trust Society.
Sivananda, Swami. Autobiography of Swami Sivananda(World Wide Web edition 2000). http://www.dlshq.org/download/autobio.htm : The Divine Life Society.
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Article written by: Daniel Meller (April 2010) who is solely responsible for its content.
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).
Alberts, Hana R. (2008) “High Five With Muhammed Yunus,” Forbes, Oct. 28.
Atkinson, David W. (1989) Gandhi 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
Roy, Ram Mohan
The Religion of Man
Yeats, W. B.
Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic
Article written by: Ron MacTavish (April 2010) who is solely responsible for its content
Narendranath Datta was born on July 12, 1863 in Calcutta, India. His father was Vishwanath Datta, who was an attorney in the Calcutta High Court, while his mother Bhuwaneshwari Devi, was an intelligent and pious woman. His biographers tend to portray him in superlatives; according to these accounts, his early education began from home and had him learning Bengali, English and Sanskrit before he joined the Metropolitan Institution at the age of 7 (Arora 2). There he began to develop into a genius while still finding time to pursue other hobbies such as rowing, swimming and classical Indian music (Sil 29). As he grew so did his exceptional thirst for knowledge and it propelled him to the post-secondary institutions of Presidency College and the General Assembly’s Institution, where he originally had his sights set on becoming a barrister (Gokhale 36). But in 1881 Naren’s life would change forever as he joined the Brahmo Samaj Society and met Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa.
The Brahmo Samaj was a movement of universalism that supported the religion of humanity and attempted to synthesize ideas from the East and West. It also protested against aspects within Hinduism, such as the caste system, polytheism and idol worship (Arora 4). Once a part of this group Naren met Ramakrishna for the first time where they began a close relationship. Naren became Ramakrishna’s favourite disciple which drew him into a world of religion as opposed to a world of law. This movement into religious thought had Naren by Ramakrishna’s side until his death in 1886, where he then took it upon himself to act in the name of the late Ramakrishna and spread his philosophies to a wider audience (Schneiderman 64). This was a challenging task considering just two years prior Naren’s father died suddenly of heart disease and left the family in extreme debt (Arora 6). But Naren progressed.
He continued to devote himself to the order of monks that were assembled by Ramakrishna before his death. Datta, their leader, encouraged an inner spiritual life but an external program of humanitarian and cultural activities (Arora 9). It would later be the basis for the Ramakrishna order. But before the Order was assembled Naren and his supporters moved to Baranagore to live in an alleged “haunted house” where they could practice their ascetic way of life (Sil 47). The dilapidated building was one of the few places that they could afford after the death of their famous teacher. But Narendra was only there for a brief period of time, as he would soon take up renunciation and roam through all of India, and eventually most of the world. He began a now renowned two-year journey throughout India in February of 1891, spanning from Varanasi and Mumbai to the Himalayas. Along his journies Narendra changed his name on several occasions before settling on his final monastic name of Swami Vivekananda in the city of Khetri (Arora 12). Although he went by a new alias, Vivekananda continued to promote acceptance of the Vedanta, the spread of patriotism, and the acceptance of a harmony among different religious affiliations (Sil 52). He planned to carry on these teachings after his two-year trip by attending the Parliament of Religions meeting in Chicago in the fall of 1893.
While travelling to the United States, Vivekananda chose to pursue new experiences in countries like Japan, China, and Canada. Once he arrived he ran into the obstacle of not being registered as a delegate to take part in the Parliament, but with his charismatic personality and overt intelligence he befriended professors on the committee who chose the delegates (Arora13). In a short time he was recommended to be a speaker. When Vivekananda spoke he was not representing any specific religion or sect, he was representing India (Arora 14). In the words of some bibliographers he was able to take all of the scholars and religious men to a place they had never been, where his words connected all religions and articulated the “oneness” of God and creed.
“if there is ever to be a universal religion, it must be one which will have no location in place or time, which will be infinite like the God it will preach . . . which will not be Brahmanic, the Buddhistic, Christian or Mohammedan, but the sum total of all these and still have infinite space for development.” (Teelucksingh 412).
Vivekananda’s words of wisdom evidently captivated many people, and he was asked, and agreed, to speak all across the United States and England. After three years of touring he finally returned to India in 1897, where he received a grand reception. Upon his arrival he called together his many disciples to complete the creation of a philanthropic association called the Ramakrishna Order, named after his main mentor (Gokhale 37). It is the combination of twin groups called the Ramakrishna Math and Mission which were initially established to combat the major issues in India, such as illiteracy, inequality among classes, female education, the economy, and cultural synthesis (Arora 19). The Math began in Barangore when the disciples of the dead Ramakrishna started their own monastic group before Narendranath Datta became the well-renowned Swami Vivekananda. But in 1897 the Mission was formed and eventually merged to create one great organization. Presently extensions of the group can be found all across the world; their main objectives continue to exist and are now present in more than the just Indian culture.
In 1899 Vivekananda left for the West again but was only gone for approximately a year, and upon his return he was stricken with illness that lasted for almost two years. Then suddenly in July of 1902 he passed away at the very young age of 39 (Miller 121). His life was short but focused, so he managed to express his and Ramakrishna’s views of the world. He continues to be recognized for his love of knowledge and religion. This enabled him to immerse himself in the sruti [divinely heard or revealed] literature of the Vedas and Upanisads, while still mastering other things such as Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras and the Bhagavad Gita. The lectures he gave in India and around the world about Vedanta and Yoga stressed concepts that were absent in the modern world and helped to change preconceived notions of India that were held in the West (Teelucksingh 415). Vivekananda’s philosophies were used by future figureheads in India such as Gandhi and allowed them to act as ambassadors of India. Therefore, it can be assumed that his teachings played a significant role in India’s struggle for independence, and that it received an improved appraisal from the rest of the globe (Teelucksingh 417).
References and Recommended Readings
Arora, V.K. (1968) The Social and Political Philosophy of Swami Vivekananda. Calcutta: ……….. …………Punthi Pustak.
Gokhale, B.G. (1964) “Swami Vivekananda and Indian Nationalism.” Journal of Bible and …………Religion, 32(1), 35-42.
Miller, David (1999) “Modernity in Hindu Monasticism: Swami Vivekananda and the …………Ramakrishna Movement.” Journal of Asian & African Studies, 34(1), 111-126.
Nikhilananda, Swami (1953) Vivekananda: The Yogas and Other Works. New York: …………Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center.
Schneiderman, Leo (1969) “Ramakrishna: Personality and Social Factors in the Growth of …………Religious Movement.” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 8(1), 60-71.
Sil, Narasingha Prosad (1997) Swami Vivekananda: A Reassessment. London, ON: Associated …………University Presses.
Teelucksingh, Jerome (2006) “The Legacy of Swami Vivekananda.” Peace Profile, 18(3), 411-…………417.
Vivekananda, Swami (1956) The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda 6th ed. Calcutta: Advaita ………….Ashrama.
Related Research Topics
- Ramakrishna Order
- Brahmo Samaj
- Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa
- Parliament of World Religions
- Yoga Sutras
- Bhagavad Gita
Article written by: Terra Kaskiw (April 2010) who is solely responsible for its content.
Kalidasa was a brilliant Indian poet and playwright known for his sharp wit, rich humor and brilliant writing style. While little is known about where he was from, scholars believe that the exquisite detail he uses in describing the region of Ujjayini suggests that he was either born there or had spent much of his life there (Anderson, 10). Once again the details of when he lived are not known for sure either, which adds to the mystery surrounding this great figure, but his work is consonant with the geographic, historical and linguistic factors that support the Indian tradition that puts Kalidasa’s life sometime before, after or during the reign of Candragupta the 2nd, who ruled North India from about 375 C.E. to 415 C.E. (Smith, 15). [For more on the Candragupta the 2nd and the Gupta dynasty, see Majumdar (1971)]. His name, which translated means “Kali’s Slave” shows that he was a devout follower of Kali, who is a consort of Siva. His devotion to Siva is quite evident in his plays and poetry as he often brings in the natural world as an integral part and Siva is known through the 8 elements. Although little is known for certain about his life, a popular legend about how he came to possess his talents is still popular to this day. Briefly, the legend goes as follows: Kalidasa was a very good looking man and as such caught the eye of a princess who married him. After marrying him she realized he was ignorant and uneducated and was ashamed by that. Kalidasa was distraught by this and while contemplating committing suicide called upon his patron goddess Kali, who gave him the gift of extraordinary wit (Miller, 4).
Today 6 major works are attributed to Kalidasa because “The coherent language, poetic technique, style and sentiment the works express seem to suggest they are from a single mind” (Miller, 5) but many more short prose works exist that are likely to have been written by him. The 6 attributed to him are 3 plays; Malavikagnimitra (Mlavikā and Agnimitra), Abhijnanasakuntalam (The Recognition of Shakuntala) and Vikramorvasiya (Pertaining to Vikrama and Urvashi), 2 epic poems Raghuvamsa (The Lineage of Raghu) and Kumarasambhava (Birth of Kumara), as well as one shorter poem Meghaduta (The Cloud Messenger), which is not an epic but a description of the seasons through narration of the experience of two lovers (Smith, 15). Ornge
While some have suggested that Kalidasa’s works, like most Sanskrit drama, find their origins in the Vedas, it is also probable that the epics, Ramayana and Mahabharata had their influences on the style and content of his works (Anderson, 12). In all of his dramas, and for that matter all Indian drama from the period, plot is not the central focus of the play but emphasis is put on flavor and emotion [for more on drama in India as a form of religious realization, see Wulff (1984)]. He conveys senitment not only through clever dialogue, of which there is an abundance, but also through stylized enactment involving dancing, body, hand and facial gestures, make-up and the introduction of natural props such as flowers (Anderson, 13). Throughout Kalidasa’s work, love and sensuality play a central role, and following suit all three of his plays involve a love story as its central theme. This being said, he also brings to the forefront other traits and ideas, espoused through his characters, such as honor, dharma and the virtuous ruler.
Out of all of Kalidasa’s works his most popular and arguably greatest play was Abhijnanasakuntalam (The Recognition of Shakuntala) (Smith, 17), one that continues to be performed across India and the world to this day. The story centers on the young woman Shakuntala who is the daughter of a sage but is abandoned at birth and raised in the fashion of a humble life in a secluded hermitage. While the virtuous king, Dushyanta, who shows himself to be so many times throughout the play, is on a hunting trip he comes across the hermitage after following a deer injured by his arrow. There he sees Shakuntala attending to the injured deer, is amazed by her beauty and poise and falls in love. He then courts her in a way that is becoming of a virtuous king and they are married. Soon after the king is called away to the capital and gives her his signet ring as a sign of his love. He tells her that when it is shown in the court she will be able to take her place as queen. Shakuntala was also in love with Dushyanta and spent much of her time day dreaming about her new husband. Just as she was in one of these daydreams a powerful sage Durvasa came to the hermitage, and because she did not notice him and greet him properly he was enraged. He then cursed her so that whoever she was dreaming about would never recognize her, but at the begging of Shakuntala’s friends he lessened the curse so that when she showed a present given to her by the person they would remember.
After a while Shakuntala began to wonder why Dushyanta had not come for her and so she and a couple others headed out for the capital city. Along the way Shakuntala’s signet ring, given to her by the king, fell off while running her hands through the water. When she arrived at the court she was saddened and hurt that the king did not recognize her and went out into the forest with her son Bharat, who was also Dushyanta’s son. She spent many years there as Bharat grew very strong and bold.
Sometime later a fisherman found a ring inside the belly of a fish and realizing the royal seal took it to king Dushyanta. Immediately the king’s memories of his lovely wife Shakuntala came flooding back and he went out searching for her. During his search he came across a young boy who had forced open the mouth of a lion and was amazed by the child’s strength. Feeling somehow drawn to him Dushyanta asked the boy his name. He replied “Bharata, son of king Dushyanta”. The boy then took him to his mother and immediately Dushyanta recognized Shakuntala and the family was reunited (Miller, 85-176).
Although this is only a brief overview of Abhijnanasakuntalam, it should give the reader an idea of how Kalidasa’s works tend to play out. As important as the plot is to the story, just as important is the sentiment and underlying themes that are ever present. Throughout Kalidasa’s plays these themes tend to be parting and reconciliation, young love and maternal love, the king as a patron, the heroine and the king and the duties and pleasures of the warrior, among other things. In Abhijnanasakuntalam specifically, the tone of the play is set by the virtue and piety of Dushyanta while the underlying message is seen through Shakuntala, a woman who is purified by patience and fidelity and is ultimately rewarded with virtue and love (Anderson, 17).
Kalidasa’s works echo the sentiments of Indian society during his life, which were in all aspects religious. Never divorced from his plays are Hindu values, and they are readily apparent in everything he writes (Anderson, 9). Through his wit and humor as well as his genius he has been able to captivate the minds of readers and viewers for the past 1500 years, and his works, being some of the first to be translated from Sanskrit, have played an important part in western understanding of ancient Indian literature.
References and Further Recommended Reading
Anderson, G. L. (1966) The Genius of the Oriental Theater: The Complete Texts of Ten Great Plays from the Traditional Indian and Japanese Drama. New York: The New American Library.
Majumdar, R. C., Raychaudhuri H. C. and Datta Kaukinkar (1946) An Advanced History of India. London: Macmillan.
Miller, Barbara S. (1984) Theater of Memory: The Plays of Kalidasa. New York: Columbia University Press.
Smith, David (2005) The Birth of Kumara by Kalidasa. New York: New York University Press.
Wulff, Donna M. (1984) Drama as a Mode of Religious Realization: The Vidagdhamadhava of Rupa Gosvami. Chico, California: Scholars Press.
Related Topics for Further Investigation
The Gupta Dynasty
Written by Mike Kopperud (Spring 2009), who is solely responsible for its content.
Kabir, also known as Kabir the Great, is one of the most famous saints in the Indian tradition (Partin 191). He is a unique saint because both Hindus and Muslims are attracted to his teachings as well as in his sayings (Vaudeville 5052). Some may say he was kind of a mystic poet due to his teachings. His teachings mainly consisted of poems and songs, which were in a language that most Hindus understood. He belongs in the category of the first generation Hindi poets, which contained a Hindi dialect. This dialect is not “amenable” to the classifications of linguists (Partin 191). His works are in the form of mystical poetry of various strengths, which allow the literary aspects to come across with philosophical and religious significance (Stahl 141). Kabir is an individual who was able to give expression to personal experiences of inner divine or absolute reality (Heehs 1).
There is little on the history of Kabir, such as what his personality was like, as well as a detailed biography on him. What is known is that Kabir was born as a low-caste Muslim, also known as a Julaha, around the city of Banaras during the fifteenth century (Vaudeville 5052). He was born in 1440, and passed away in 1518 (Stahl 141). It has been claimed that Kabir was born into a family with a Muslim father who greatly influenced his life (Stahl 141). We know that Kabir was born into a caste of weavers, who had recently become Muslim converts, and was raised in a Muslim lifestyle. It is also believed that Kabir was married, with children, and made his living as a weaver, as the rest of his caste did (Bly ix). However, it is unknown how many children Kabir fathered or who his wife was. Kabir’s family belonged to a caste of married “Jogis” or “Jugis”, which are devotees or performers of jog. By practicing this sect of yoga, they believed they may attain a union with the Supreme Being (Bailey 1). Kabir was also involved in the bhakti movement, which was a reaction against Buddhism, as well as parts of the Vedanta philosophy (Stahl 142). Bhakti was related to Vishnuite devotion, where God is seen as the main object of devotion (Partin 194).
Kabir viewed the world as a moment fading between two deaths in a world of transmigration. He discusses self interest, the woman as ‘a pit of hell’, and man turning to his innermost self in order to find what is true (Vaudeville 5053). He did not see the significance in bonds between family members, because he believed those relations rested on self-interest (Vaudeville 2052). Another main belief of Kabir was that death encompasses all, and there would be no escape for one except to its own heart. For example, the only way to rid one’s self of negatives in life, such as egoism, would be to search one’s own soul to find the answers (Vaudeville 2052). Only those who find the answers or the “diamond” within oneself, has a chance at achieving eternity. This is relatable to the idea of jivatma in Hinduism, which is representative of the individual soul. It was believed by Kabir that if man turned away from the outside world, and focused only on the interior world, then one could be drawn to his innermost conscience. One’s innermost consciousness is related to the status of God, according to Kabir (Partin 196).
The words of Kabir appear to be very tragic, but also show his uniqueness as a poet. The tragedy is present when he discusses the insignificance of family, and how many things remains a mystery in life (Vaudeville 5053). His words are full of metaphors and various rhymes. The works of Kabir are regarded for both their literary qualities, as well as their spiritual qualities (Heehs 26). As a person, as well with his words, he is compared to the Buddha, due to his great voice in India (Vaudeville 2053). Rather than having a positive outlook on the world like many do, Kabir was very pessimistic and focused on intrinsic actions. Some may call him ungodly, but he seems to be one of the masters of “interior religion” (Partin 192). There are many words of Kabir, also known as Kabirvanis. However, there is not a book or authoritative version of them (Vaudeville 2052). The poems, verses and songs recited orally by Kabir were collected by his disciples, as well as various followers (Hess 3). It is believed that Kabir had been illiterate and was unable to ever write anything down. Many followers and critics of his work say, “I don’t touch ink or paper, this hand has never grasped a pen. The greatness of four ages Kabir tells with his mouth alone,” in order to describe what Kabir may have been like, and why his works were orally passed on through generations (Hess 3). There is no way to prove that Kabir was illiterate. However, it is known that Kabir preferred his words to be passed on orally, rather than by paper. His message was so popular that they were widely imitated before they could be written down. Kabir’s works were largely an oral tradition in the beginning, and in most instances, still are. The main topic of Kabir’s songs seems to be that God is the ultimate truth (Dass preface). The oldest dated words of Kabir are found in the Guru Granth of the Sikhs, compiled by Guru Arjun in the Punjab around 1604 (Vaudeville 5052). The poetry was also a union of both the Islamic and Hindu traditions (Stahl 143).
There are many stories about Kabir, but the most famous one involves his death and cremation. It happened in the city of Magahar. As Kabir was about to die, two different groups gathered in order to fight over what would happen to Kabir’s body. The two groups were the Muslims and the Hindus. It is said that after Kabir went into his tent to die, his body vanished, and all that was left was a heap of flowers (Vaudeville 2052). The flowers were divided between the two parties as a way of symbolizing both groups’ possession over the body. The Muslims buried their half of the flowers, whereas the Hindus cremated theirs, and arisen a memorial tomb, also known as samadhi, over it. Since the time of his death, a story has circulated claiming that Kabir was born to a Brahman virgin widow, who committed him to the Gangas, and he was later saved and raised by Julahas. This story attempted to “Hinduize” the saint (Vaudeville 2052).
Some Muslims in the past viewed Kabir as being a Sufi because many of his “words” are similar to those of a traditional Sufi (Vaudeville 2052). Even though Kabir was opposed to some practices of the Islamic religion, he still associated himself with Sufi groups (Partin 195). Modern Muslims and Hindus, however, accept the “words” of Kabir. He is also seen as the unifying force between the two religions, even though he himself expressed rejection of “two religions”. Kabir was also against idol worship and caste distinctions, this was because he used several Vaisnava names to speak of God. He, in turn, saw the idols as lifeless stones (Partin 192). Kabir also discusses the importance of purity, fasting, pilgrimages and other ritual practices throughout his various works. A verse Kabir’s pertaining to the ritual washing, discusses the importance of physical and spirtual cleansing. Kabir states, “What is the good of scrubbing the body on the outside, If the inside is full of filth? Without the name Ram, one will not escape hell, even with a hundred washings!” (Kabir 192). His notion of God also seemed to be more than that of worshipping a personal god, as he alludes to a reality that is beyond words, rather than a god (Vaudeville 2052).
Another interesting fact about Kabir, and his poems, is that he sometimes speaks as a man, and other time speaks as a woman. An example is, “This woman weaves threads that are subtle, and the intensity of her praise makes them fine. Kabir says: I am that woman” (Bly xv). This is interesting because it gives Kabir various identities through his literature.
Kabir, who does not have much of a bibliography is seen as being very popular in various religions. He is one who, through his own intimate experience, believed that God is “the One,” “the True,” and “the Pure” (Partin 201). According to Kabir, God is the only one who is able to meet the challenge of death, because he is the perfect guru (Partin 201). Kabir believed the only way one can interact with God, was to delve into the very depths of one’s own soul, and only then, would God be able to speak with one. Even though Kabir may have rejected the teachings of other religions, he was still followed by many, and created his own group.
Bailey, Jan (2006) Jogis http://www.shivashakti.com/jogi.htm.
Bly, Robert (2007) Kabir: Ecstatic Poems. Boston: Beacon Press.
Heehs, Peter (2002) Indian Religions: A Historical Reader of Spiritual Expression and Experience. New York: New York University Press.
Hess, Linda Beth (2001) The Bijak of Kabir. New York: Oxford University Press.
Partin, Harry and Charlotte Vaudeville (1964) “Kabīr and Interior Religion.” History of Religions 3: pp. 191-201.
Stahl, Roland (1954) “The Philosophy of Kabīr” Philosophy East and West 4: pp.141-155.
Vaudeville, Charlotte (2005) Kabīr Encyclopedia of Religion. Ed. Lindsay Jones. Vol. 8. 2nd ed. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2005. p5051-5053
Article written by: Megan Heck (March 2009) who is solely responsible for its content.