Category Archives: G. The Epics, Bhagavad Gita and the Rise of Bhakti

Ramprasad Sen and Bengali Saktism

Ramprasad Sen (1718-1775) was a prominent poet during the 18th century. Though precise details regarding Ramprasad’s childhood and upbringing are often mixed with legend, he is said to have been born to Tantric Brahmins in Bengal, and is remembered for showing a skill and inclination toward poetry and music from a young age (McLean 42). Ramprasad’s upbringing is also characterized by his diligent religious study, especially that which focused on the Navya Tantric-scripture of Krishnananda Agamavagisha, the well-known 16th century Sreehattan Pandita and Tantra Jain Sadhaka (McLean 42). In adulthood, Ramprasad would achieve renown for his love songs, especially of a sort known as bhakti, still popular today.

The ecstatic loving fervor expressed in Ramprasad’s poems, directed toward the goddess Kali, has since come to encapsulate the devotional energies which the Bengali Saktas feel at the epitome of their faith. Appropriately, Ramprasad has since come to be recognized as one of the greatest poets in Indian history. The following work will evaluate Ramprasad Sen, the bhakti movement he originated from, and explore the intense devotion to the Goddess Kali which is present in many of Ramprasad Sen’s poetic works. Interestingly, the life of Ramprasad is very much intertwined with myth and legend which have arisen after his death, meaning that many of the pivotal experiences outlined by biographers are perhaps apocryphal. That said, the vast influence which Ramprasad has exerted over the Bengali Sakta canon and religious practice will form the core of this examination. Particular focus will be paid to the ways in which, despite his Tantric background, Ramprasad deviated from traditional devotional poetry, and even used his works as a platform for criticism of traditional Bengali Saktism.

Ramprasad Sen’s bhakti poetry can best be described as the product of its author’s unyielding devotion to the Hindu goddess Kali. This goddess is known as a destroyer of evil, and oversees, by such action, one of the four groups of tantric Saivism known as Kulamarga (Kinsley 116). Periodically throughout history, this goddess has been worshipped by her adherents directly, through devotional practice. In this role as religious icon, Kali is alternatively described as the Divine Mother, or the Mother of the Universe. Under Hindu Saktism and Tantrism, Kali was often thought to be the Brahman, both a powerful protector and the goddess who would provide moksa (Kinsley 116). Given the prominence that Kali has held in Tantric Brahmin worship, it is perhaps unsurprising that Ramprasad chose her as the object of his life’s poetic work.

Accounts of Ramprasad’s family life also reflect the powerful presence that the goddess Kali held in his life. One such account found Ramprasad building a fence and asking for his daughter’s help, a task he performed while reciting his poetry to Kali. When his daughter appeared, she chastised him for his singing to a goddess who would never appear. After helping him with the fence, Ramprasad and his daughter separated, but later he learned that his daughter had been in another town since morning, and realized he had been visited by the Divine Mother (McDaniel 2018: 45). Another perhaps apocryphal story about Ramprasad Sen’s early life concerns his work as an accountant in Kolkata. At this work, he is said to have busied himself writing poems to the Divine Mother in his workbooks. When exposed, he was not punished by his employer, but instead hired as a poet for the accounting firm (McDaniel 2018: 45).

One final account tells that Ramprasad would spend long hours lost in meditation, “often while standing deep in the Ganges river,” and the boat workers would listen to him as they passed (McDaniel 162). The account indicates that one day “the Maharaja Krishnachandra of Nadia” passed by and heard Ramprasad as he recited his devotional poetry, and was so impressed that “he asked [Ramprasad] to be his court poet” (McDaniel 162). Without strong evidence, there is no way to know whether either of these three accounts of Ramprasad’s early life are true, but the persistence of these legends of are themselves a testimony to the power of Ramprasad’s poetry and influence. In particular, it reflects the prominence that Ramprasad’s works would attain in Bengali Saktism, as considered in the section below.

The movement which would seize upon Ramprasad’s works as basis for a its literary and religious tradition is known as Bengali Saktism. This faith describes Kali as a goddess to be worshipped either as a “powerful force or life and death,” or as a “tantric and yogic goddess who [provides] supernatural knowledge,” but a third variant, one less prominent than the rest, would form the focus of Ramprasad’s work (McDaniel 2018: 44). Within Sakta devotion, and in Ramprasad’s poetry, the goddess is understood as a “loving mother who saves her devotees from painful rebirth,” as well as provides them with protection from harm and “entrance to her heaven” (McDaniel 2018: 44). In Ramprasad’s work, by contrast, his poetic vision of the Divine Mother manifest not as a loving mother, but with Kali taking the form of either “the universal mother or [an] innocent girl,” a figure which is “sometimes frightening on the outside, but inwardly loving and compassionate” (McDaniel 2018: 44). Ramprasad’s ecstatic works of devotional poetry to this dynamic figure would influence Bengali Saktism from then on, and has come to typify the effusive love which such adherents express for the goddess Kali.

Given the strong role which Ramprasad’s works play in epitomizing modern Bengali Sakti ecstatic devotion, there is certainly much evidence to indicate that Ramprasad’s choice of subject was directly compelled by his faith. In particular, biographers present evidence to show that Ramprasad’s poetry is derived from the Kularnava Tantra, that millennia-old work of epistemology and logic upon which much of Tantric practice is based (McDermott 71). Official accounts will also refer to Ramprasad’s long years spent practicing “kundalini yoga meditation,” a variant common to Bengali Sakti communities (McDermott 71). There is evidence of this faith derived from Ramprasad’s works themselves, some of which provide “descriptions of Kali derived from [the] Tantric dhyanas” (McDermott 71). There is also Bengali Sakta religious precedent for the great deal of ecstatic loving fervor which flows through Ramprasad’s works. McDaniel (2018: 44) indicates that Ramprasad’s works, and his life, are an embodiment of the ecstatic states outlined in the Kularnava Tantra, a major text of the Bengali Saktas. This work describes ullasa, or the “ecstatic joy…which occurs during ritual practice,” where the practitioner seeking the highest (divya) state described as the “ecstatic or blind madman” (McDaniel 2018: 46). Ecstasy at this level brings loss of control, described in by Bengali Saktas as feeling like “[the adherent’s] limbs are stretched, his hair stands on end, [and] he laughs and cries and stutters” (McDaniel 2018: 46). While in this state, known as divyonmada, or “ecstatic madness,” individuals are made “beyond control by the body and the senses,” and will paradoxically “[gaze] outward but [look] inward,” and thus are seem as the “equivalent to the God Shiva Bhairava” (McDaniel 2018: 46). During his life, Ramprasad was frequently described as a madman, a factor which does much to support the use of his works and ambition as a basis for Bengali Sakta ecstatic practice. Though such textual evidence is persuasive, there is also strong evidence to indicate that Ramprasad’s poetry diverged from the purely devotional and traditional Tantric poetry to which it is often compared.

As described by Schelling (2011: 14), Ramprasad’s bhakti poetry was often purely devotional, but this author ascribes its endurance in the Bengal popular imagination to the ways in which it diverted from tradition. Schelling (2011) cites the intimacy of Ramprasad’s works, or its often playful or scolding tone, as well as its deep esotericism and profusion with symbolism, as key areas where it diverges from traditional devotional work (Schelling 14). Moreover, in addition to these works lacking uniform devotional intent, they also contain a wealth of confessions of doubt “concerning the kindliness of [Kali]” which indicate a much more complicated relationship between author and subject (McDermott 71). Moreover, Ramprasad’s works included a range of heartfelt criticism against the “scriptures, images, pilgrimages, and surface acts” upon which the faith of so many people was often predicated (McDermott 71).

Accordingly, Ramprasad’s poetry is notable for the considerable depth and complexity he brings to its subject. His works focus upon “a single great goddess,” often called Kali but sometimes referred to as “Durga, Bhairavi, Sita, Uma, [or] Kalika” (McDaniel 2018: 45). These works emphasize not just the greatness and power of Kali, but tell of “passionate love which must be experienced, and cannot be found in books or philosophies” (McDaniel 2018: 45). Reflected in Ramprasad’s poetry, this intense and worldly love, as emphasized in devotion, was a way for Ramprasad (and Kali bhakti practitioners) to “[draw in] the goddess like a magnet attracts iron” (McDaniel 2018: 45). Of the poems not directed toward Kali herself, Ramprasad’s work also includes “songs of secret sadhana practices,” but each is unerring in its focus upon the act of devotion and the ecstasy to would result from such practice (McDaniel 2018: 45).

Moreover, Dalmiya (2000: 126) describes bhakti poetry as of “feminist significance,” as reflected not just in the “paradoxical” shifting attitude its author holds toward the subject, but due to each of these shifts in tone reflecting “a devotee’s worshipful attitude towards Kali” (Dalmiya 127). This author indicates that the “mother-child motif at the core” of Ramprasad’s work represented “not only a dramatic construction of femininity but of selfhood in general” (Dalmiya 125). As Ramprasad challenged the definition of devotional poetry through the “indigenous worshipful attitude of Kali-bhakti,” he transformed what had been an art form predicated on worship and devotion alone into a far more dynamic instrument (Dalmiya 125).

The transformative power of Ramprasad’s poetry is stressed in other works. In McDermott’s (2001: 71) analysis, this author explains that this poet’s biographers, no matter how stymied by anecdotal accounts, have also sought to offer a view of this eminent artist somewhat ‘divorced’ from “solely Tantric terms” (McDermott 71). This author indicates that some authors will describe Ramprasad not as a mere devotee, but as a bhakta, a “poet who transformed, rather than accepted wholeheartedly, the esoteric Goddess of Tantric heritage” (McDermott 71). The result of the poetry and legacy of Ramprasad, thus lies in his unwavering focus on expressing love for the goddess Kali, and the influence of that love, as expressed in his works, upon the Bengali Sakta tradition. Aside from the undeniable beauty of Ramprasad’s poetry, their legacy is thus felt as much by its deviation from classical poetic art forms as by its embodiment of them. A century after Ramprasad’s death, Yogendranath Gupta would argue that all of the “miracle stories” were comprised of “faith and devotion (visvasa and bhakti).” This is an indication that Ramprasad’s poetry, and his role as sadhaka (religious practitioner) who “softened the hard wood of kaula-sadhana”, the traditional Sakta practice, “through syrupy streams of bhakti and love” (McDermott 71). This description is notable for its acknowledgement that Ramprasad’s works were less an epitome of Bengali Sakta practice as a force for change in this faith.

To this end, while Ramprasad’s work has found a central place in Bengali Saktism, his poems are perhaps most notable for the ways in which they divert from this tradition. To indicate where Ramprasad’s work deviates from Sakta practice most strongly, it is important to consider the different kinds of bhakti practice. McDermott (2001: 71) indicates that there are three types of bhakti, namely (1) Vaisnava bhakti, described as a “dualistic devotion based on external image worship,” (2) Nirguna bhakti, which focuses on a “formless conception of the divine,” and (3) Saka bhakti, under which the goddess is “not understood as a real presence ‘out there’ but as a symbol of the world or of the self,” which can be “introjected into the spiritual physiognomy of the body” through kundalini yogic practice (McDermott 71). Under this formulation distinguishing between variants upon bhakti practice, the sort which is best-emphasized in the work of Ramprasad is the third type, Saka bhakti. While Ramprasad’s language may be interpreted by adherents of the first type (Vaisnava bhakti) as being purely devotional in nature, this “Vaisnavized perspective” often fails to account for Ramprasad’s symbolism, and for what is symbolized by the ecstasy which is strongly emphasized throughout his works (McDermott 71). Specifically, this author indicates that whenever Ramprasad mentions the act of loving Kali, or the idea of keeping Kali in his heart, he is in actuality “referring to [Kali’s] visualized presence in the heart,” and not “thinking of a particular [goddess whom] he worships within an external, dualistic framework” (McDermott 71). The result of Ramprasad’s intent is an art form co-opted by Bengali Shaktism which contains only superficial resemblance to the works which inspired it.

A promising alternative inspiration for Ramprasad’s works has been theorized as derived from the work of the “esoteric Bauls” (McDermott 71). Ramprasad’s songs addressed to the mind, as an example, “mirror the language and concerns of Baul maner manus songs,” themselves focused on a “man of the heart” (McDermott 71). Moreover, both Ramprasad’s works and those by the Bauls represent the mind as a bird, as well as “the body as a place of sadhana,” likened to a boat, as well as “reliance on a guru,” each of which are less emphasized or not present in traditional Bengali Saktism (McDermott 71). For this reason, McDermott (2001) argues that it is reductive and disingenuous to describe Ramprasad as a bhakti poet, despite centuries of subsequent literary works and religious tradition among the Bengali Saktas people suggesting otherwise (McDermott 71).

This work has touched upon the reductive power of religious symbolism over time. So enamored were the 16th-century Bengali Saktas with the depth of Ramprasad’s stated devotion to the goddess Kali, they neglected the deeper criticisms and complexity of these symbolic and esoteric works. In the intervening centuries, Ramprasad’s works have come to be celebrated for their ecstatic devotion alone, but they have lost much of the intricacy of the author’s original voice. Though Bengali Sakta celebrations are renowned for their fervor, their ‘basis’ in Ramprasad’s works, considered the epitome of their practice, is perhaps less direct than it seems.

References

Dalmiya, Vrinda (2000) “Loving paradoxes: A feminist reclamation of the goddess Kali.” Hypatia 15, no. 1: 125-150.

Gross, Rita M. (1978) “Hindu Female Deities as a Resource for the Contemporary Rediscovery of the Goddess.” Journal of the American Academy of Religion, Vol. 46, No.1: 269–291.

Kinsley, David (1998) Hindu goddesses: Visions of the divine feminine in the Hindu religious tradition. Berkley: University of California Press, 1988.

McDaniel, June (2004) Offering Flowers, Feeding Skulls: Popular Goddess Worship in West Bengal. Oxford University Press.

McDaniel, June (2018). Lost Ecstasy: Its Decline and Transformation in Religion. Springer: Oxford University Press

McDermott, Rachel Fell (2001) Mother of My Heart, Daughter of My Dreams: Kālī and Umā in the Devotional Poetry of Bengal. Oxford University Press.

McLean, Malcolm (1998) Devoted to the Goddess: the life and work of Ramprasad. SUNY Press.

Schelling, Andrew, ed. (2011) The Oxford Anthology of Bhakti Literature. Oxford University Press.

Related Research Topics

“The Alvars”

“Bhaskararaya (1690-1785”

“Kali”

“Kali Puja”

“Nirguna bhakti

“Prakrti”

“Saktism”

“Siva”

“Tamil Literature”

“Tridevi” & “Navaratri”

“Understanding Sanskrit”

“Vaisnava bhakti

 

Related Websites

https://www.ancient.eu/Mahabharata/

https://www.everyculture.com/South-Asia/Bengali-Shakta.html

http://www.goddess.ws/kali.htmlg

http://www.mahavidya.ca

https://www.poemhunter.com/ramprasad-sen/

https://spiritualray.com/list-of-hindu-gods-goddesses-their-powers

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ramprasad_Sen

This article was written by Zach Myrtrunec (Fall 2018), who is entirely responsible for its content.

The Ramayana: A New Retelling of Valmiki’s Ancient Epic (Linda Egenes and Kumuda Reddy): Review

The Ramayana is an ancient story believed to have been transmitted orally, in Sanskrit, for thousands of years until the great sage Valmiki wrote the story down in the form of a poem (Egenes & Reddy 2). It is believed to be enjoyed by over one billion people around the world and widely considered to be a one of the “great classics of world literature” (Egenes & Reddy 2).

Egenes & Reddy’s version of The Ramayana is broken down into sections, with the first one being the Prologue – The Qualities of Rama, wherein the great sage Valmiki is told of a man named Rama who has all the heroic qualities to make him the perfect person. Later that day, Brahma, the Creator, comes to Valmiki and tells him that he must tell the story of Rama to the world.

The next section in Egenes & Reddy’s version of The Ramayana is called the Bala Kanda, translated as ‘Childhood Book’, which describes King Dasaratha, his wives, and his sons. King Dasaratha’s firstborn son is named Rama and is the protagonist of the story. Rama has celestial origins and his upbringing has allowed him to flourish as a Dharmic warrior, having been educated in the four Vedas under the direction of the family guru. Rama wins his wife Sita by lifting Siva’s bow, which he is able to do because of his Dharmic nature, proving that he is worthy to be Sita’s husband. Rama and Sita live happily married, in the city of Ayodhya, for 10 years.

The next section in Egenes & Reddy’s version of The Ramayana is the Ayodhya Kanda, translated as ‘City of Ayodhya Book’, which is the story of King Dasaratha beginning to make arrangements for Rama to become king of Ayodhya due to the king’s old age. King Dasaratha announces his plans to his ministers, spiritual advisors, rulers from nearby kingdoms, and all the people of Ayodhya, who are all thrilled at the idea of Rama ruling the kingdom. After being manipulated by her servant, Queen Kaikeyi, King Dasaratha’s third wife, redeems a boon that had been granted to her by the king. Queen Kaikeyi requests that her son, King Dasaratha’s second-born, Bharata, become king and that Rama be exiled to the Dandaka Forest for 14 years. After much grief, and with Rama’s persistence, King Dasaratha follows through with Kaikeyi’s requests. Rama, ever the righteous son, prepares to retreat into the forest, along with his most favoured brother Laksmana, and his beautiful wife Sita. Rama leaving Ayodhya prompts the death of King Dasaratha, and Bharata becomes very upset with his mother for her malicious actions. He goes to the forest to find Rama to beg him to come and reign as king, however Rama does not want to dishonour his father’s request, and therefore declines Bharata’s appeal. Rama, Sita, and Laksmana continue through the forests toward Dandaka, stopping to visit sages along the way.

The next section in Egenes & Reddy’s version of The Ramayana is the Aranya Kanda, translated as ‘The Forest Book’, which describes the many raksasas, or demons, that Rama, Sita, and Laksmana encounter, and the subsequent battles that ensue. Rama and Laksmana being the great warriors that they are, easily win each fight. The forest dwellers, Rama, Sita, and Laksmana, make several stops at different asramas to visit with, and receive guidance from, the various sages and rsis that they meet. Rama and Laksmana receive celestial weapons from some rsis in exchange for making their forest safe from raksasas. One day, a raksasi named Surpanakha, who is described as being the opposite of Rama in every way, happens upon Rama and takes a liking to him. Rama being disgusted by her, turns her down. Surpanakha, embarrassed and angry, goes to attack Sita and Laksmana cuts of the raksasi’s nose and ears. Surpanakha tells her brother Khara what has been done to her and begs him to kill Rama, Sita and Laksmana. Khara sends his 14 strongest warriors to attack the forest-dwellers, however Rama defeats them with ease. Khara then leads fourteen thousand warriors to battle, and after a fierce war, Rama defeats them all using his skill and celestial weapons granted to him from the rsis and the gods. Ravana, the king of the raksasas, and brother to Khara and Surpanakha, hears of Sita’s beauty and Rama’s strength and victory against the other raksasas. Ravana comes up with a plan to make Sita his bride and enlists Marica, a fellow raksasa, to help him. Having lured Rama and Laksmana away from Sita by having Marica disguise himself as a beautiful golden deer, Ravana tricks Sita into believing he is a holy man. He then reveals his true self and attempts to convince her to become his bride and return to Lanka with him. Sita vehemently denies his requests to be his bride and repeatedly professes her love for Rama, which angers Ravana, so he kidnaps her and takes her to his kingdom of Lanka. Upon discovering that Sita is gone, Rama is distraught but determined to find her and rescue her. Sita is adamant that she will remain true to Rama by not giving into Ravana, but she is heartbroken and misses her husband desperately. Finding clues along the way in their search for Sita, the two warriors, Rama and Laksmana make several friends with fellow Dharmic individuals who are able to help them in their quest for revenge against Ravana.

The next section in Egenes & Reddy’s version of The Ramayana is entitled Kiskindha Kanda, translated as ‘Kingdom of the Monkeys Book’. One friend that Rama and Laksmana are guided to meet is Sugriva, the king of the monkeys, who vows to help Rama get Sita back in exchange for Rama’s help in recovering his kingdom. Rama helps Sugriva get his kingdom back and then waits several months for Sugriva’s help. Finally, troops from the monkey army are sent to all corners of the earth in search of Sita. Hanuman, Sugriva’s most trusted advisor, is the one who finds out that Sita is in Lanka, and where to find this kingdom. He makes himself very large and jumps across the ocean to Lanka to find Sita.

The next section in Egenes & Reddy’s version of The Ramayana is the Sundara Kanda which translates to ‘The Beautiful City Book’. Hanuman arrives in Lanka where he finds and approaches Sita cautiously. After earning her trust, he tells her of his mission and assures her that Rama is on his way to rescue her. Her resolve is strengthened once again knowing that her beloved husband has not abandoned her. Before Hanuman leaves Lanka to let Rama know of Sita’s whereabouts, he decides that he must pay Ravana back for taking Sita against her will. First, he destroys the pleasure gardens inside the palace, then he draws out Ravana’s army. He destroys many ministers and generals before being captured and his tail set on fire. Hanuman escapes capture by shifting sizes and sets Lanka ablaze before leaving to return to Rama. Once he returns, Rama has many questions about Sita’s wellbeing and whereabouts, feeling much stronger knowing that she is okay. They begin to devise a plan to get her back.

The next section in Egenes & Reddy’s version of The Ramayana is called Yuddha Kanda which translates to ‘The War Book’. Rama has made his way to the ocean, which Hanuman leapt over, but is unsure how he will cross. The monkey army builds a bridge over the ocean so Rama and Laksmana can head to Lanka along with millions of monkeys and other great warriors. Finally, they arrive in Lanka and after some time the war begins. All of Ravana’s troops – his ministers, generals, warriors, raksasas, brothers, and sons – end up killed in the midst of war. Rama’s troops all die as well but they have gathered special herbs that instantly heal any injuries and revive their troops from death. After lasting for many days, the battle is finished when Rama destroys Ravana. When Sita is finally rescued, Rama greets her with harshness and indicates that he cannot believe that Sita has remained virtuous during the entire time that she was with Ravana. Heartbroken, Sita sets herself on fire to prove that she has been devoted to only Rama, and she asks that Agni, the God of Fire, protect her from the flames. Of course, Sita has remained pure and so she is not burned by the flames at all, and Rama discovers that he is actually Visnu incarnate and Sita is Laksmi. Having proven that Sita has been faithful to her husband, they are finally reunited and return to Ayodhya to rule over the kingdom. Everyone is thrilled to see Rama, Laksmana, and Sita, especially Bharata, who had been ruling the kingdom on Rama’s behalf. After being crowned king, Rama and Sita live in happiness in Ayodhya for many years.

In the final section of Egenes & Reddy’s version of The Ramayana, the Uttara Kanda, translated as the ‘Epilogue Book’, it is revealed to Rama that the people of Ayodhya question Sita’s purity and faithfulness. Rama must now make a decision between being a Dharmic king or a Dharmic husband. He chooses his kingdom over his wife, and knowing Sita is pregnant, sends her off to the forest to dwell with Valmiki, the great sage, and to never return. Several months later Sita gives birth to twin sons, Lava and Kusa, who are taught the poem of Rama by Valmiki, which he called The Journey of Rama or Ramayana. One day, when the twins are grown, they are in Ayodhya with Valmiki and have the opportunity to perform some of their beautiful poem for Rama. Recognizing the story as his own, he asks them to tell him the whole story, and after several days of them reciting, Rama realizes that these are his sons. Sita is brought back to Ayodhya to prove her purity once more. Sita asks for Mother Earth to swallow her up if she has been faithful to Rama, and with that, the earth opens up and Sita is gone forever. Rama is devastated but after many years he returns to Brahma Loka, or the heavens. His sons, Lava and Kusa remain in Ayodhya where they rule their kingdoms.

The Ramayana is made up of many relatable events and experiences, which appear to fall in line with many stories of old that aim to teach people the basic differences between right and wrong, as well as to teach people how to treat others. The Ramayana has been so popular over so many years because it is a fantastic story containing great battles, super-human powers, struggles, victories, love, and loss. Egenes & Reddy’s version of The Ramayana has been written using beautiful descriptions of the characters’ thoughts and emotions which can allow the reader to really feel involved in the story and feel like they are making decisions along with the character. It can also make the reader feel like they are experiencing the emotions first-hand, which allows the reader to feel more immersed in the story. Rama and Sita, being depicted as such virtuous characters, encourages the reader to want to emulate them and act with more virtue.

With The Ramayana being part of Hindu culture for thousands of years, it makes sense that it has provided women with an image of what they should aspire to in marriage. Sita, who served as an example of the ideal wife, followed her husband Rama into exile, gave up all her belongings for him, and waited in chaste for him to rescue her. This allows women to emulate Sita in their devotion to their husbands. Likewise, with Rama being so dharmic, men also have a role model to look up to when manoeuvring through difficult situations. Rama proves that one can be dharmic even when faced with tough decisions in which many people would struggle to make the dharmic choice, such as when Rama chooses his kingdom over his wife. In this way, Rama provides a roadmap for men to follow and for women to support.

Additionally, The Ramayana provides brothers and friends a character to emulate in Laksmana as he honors and follows Rama into exile, leaving behind his wife in order to do so. Laksmana fights and struggles alongside Rama to the very end, while ensuring that Rama’s needs are taken care of before his own. Laksmana has different dharmic responsibilities than Rama does, allowing a more diverse range of men the opportunity to look up to someone and to help act as a guide in their day-to-day lives.

In many ways, The Ramayana acts as a guidebook showing people how to act in a variety of situations. It illustrates that no matter whether you are a king, a wife, a monkey, or a brother, you should always act in the most dharmic ways possible. It demonstrates that sometimes acting in a dharmic fashion is harder than it may seem because you need to take into account the hierarchy of one’s own responsibilities – but it is always doable. It portrays the idea that true love and honoring your spouse is possible, even when faced with adversity.

REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING

Egenes, Linda and Reddy, Kumuda (2016) The Ramayana: A New Retelling of Valmiki’s Ancient Epic – Complete and Comprehensive. New York: TarcherPerigee.

Related Topics for Further Investigation

The Mahabharata

Ravana

Visnu

Laksmi

Surgiva

Hanuman

Raksasa

Raksasi

Rsi

Dandaka Forest

Lanka

Ayodhya

Kaikeyi

Dasaratha

Laksmana

Valmiki

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

http://www.bl.uk/onlinegallery/whatson/exhibitions/ramayana/guide.html

https://www.ancient.eu/The_Ramayana/

https://www.britannica.com/topic/Ramayana-Indian-epic

http://www.bl.uk/learning/cult/inside/ramayanastories/ramayana.html

 

Article written by: Jill Easton (Fall 2018) who is solely responsible for its content.

Kirtana

THE ECSTASY OF KIRTANA

Kirtana is a Sanskrit word that means “to praise” or “to glorify.” Kirtana is primarily used in a form of call and response chanting of sacred Sanskrit names of Hindu deities (LaTrobe 10). Through the centuries, kirtana metamorphosed into devotional hymns and mantras extensively glorifying the great deity Krsna (Kinsley 1979:176). It is also known as sankirtana which encompasses group acting performances, storytelling, singing and dancing, accompanied by drums and various exotic instruments (Delmonico in Bryant 549).

Kirtana has historical roots in the 6th century when a new form of devotional worship arose in the Tamil speaking part of southern India. The two main groups of Tamil poet-saints were the Alvars and the Nayanars who attributed special devotion to their gods Visnu and Siva respectively. These poets traveled from temple to temple or village to village singing ecstatic hymns and praises in adoration of their gods. They promoted the use of all the senses and the body to enhance a fuller experience of divine bliss (Dehejia 13). Tamil saints not only walked the path of love themselves but through their songs they promoted love and devotion toward God. They attracted many followers because their message was simple; all that was required was an intimate and constant abiding love of God. Followers did not require a deep knowledge of the scriptures or need to be learned in philosophy or religious tradition (Dehejia 13).

Tamil hymns composed by the saints were often set to the music of traditional ballads so that everyone could join in singing the responses (Dehejia 30). Hymns were expressly designed to move the hearts of the listeners to a passionate love and devotion to God. Followers of Tamil poet-saints were encouraged to engage in ecstatic and emotional singing, dancing and worshiping of the gods. This newly created culture became known as bhakti – a passionate and personal love relationship between the Beloved and the Devoted (Bhattacharya 47). Sensuous, erotic, and ecstatic personal experience with God were prominent characteristics of early Tamil bhakti saints and their followers.

Bhakti had its main source already in the first century from the Bhagavad-Gita, a dialogue between the god Krsna and his friend Arjuna. The Bhagavad-Gita, or simply the Gita, was handed down orally in the form of hymns, ballads, and folk-songs. The philosophy of the Gita was a religion of love that embraced God’s creatures as brothers of the same family; it did not recognize classes, castes, sexes, or races (Bhattacharya 49). The bhakti movement was a resistance to ritually oriented orthodoxy dominated by priests. It took mantras out of the temples and into the streets where all peoples could engage and connect with their deities through singing and dancing. Thus, promulgated by the Tamil poet-saints who sang songs of total devotion for their God that disregarded caste distinctions and other hierarchies of orthodox Hinduism (Peterson 9), the bhakti movement is about deep social reform and liberation for the masses (Hawley 8).

Kirtana was the outcome of the bhakti movement. In the bhakti tradition, communion with a deity was described as blissful, intoxicating and overwhelming and often culminated in weeping, singing, and impulsive dancing. An early proponent of kirtana was Sri Caitanya, a 16th century Bengali mystic who is said to have introduced kirtana as an exceptional way of attaining and expressing bhakti (Kinsley 1979:177). So great was his intoxicating love for Krsna that he often appeared to be a lunatic as much of his life was spent in continual fits of uncontrollable weeping and wailing, laughing, singing, and dancing in ecstatic love (Kinsley 1974:291).

Kirtana was used by Caitanya and his followers as an effective medium of communication and proliferation of emotional bhakti (Chakrabarty 18). When orthodox Brahmans attempted to ban kirtana, Caitanya organized a massive demonstration where thousands came out in the streets. Led by kirtana singing and dancing groups, the people soon began to sing, dance, cry and weep. “Men grew almost insane in ecstasy…the kirtana sounded like an earth-shaking roar, the impact of which was very much enhanced by the continuous sounds of drums, cymbals, and clapping” (Chakrabarty 19). The Caitanya tradition proposes that kirtana is the proper form of religious worship for the current age, the Age of Kali, the Age of Quarrel (Delmonico in Bryant 549). Kirtana leaders will occasionally remind participants that chanting the names of God prepares one for salvation during Kali Yuga which is a period of dishonesty and spiritual degradation (Cooke 24).

While there is no structured pattern followed in the performance of kirtana, chanting and singing praises to Krsna is often followed by ecstatic and frenzied dancing. It is common for the whole kirtana group, including the musicians, to get up and dance as they play their instruments or clap their hands. Some kirtana singers will smoke marijuana before they sing to enhance the intensity of the experience (Henry 36). When the devotees sing and glorify Krsna a celebratory excitement permeates the gathering, and many will fall into trances or become giddy like children. Even grave, old men with perfect manners will succumb to the powerful crescendo of sound and movement and engage in blissful devotion to Krsna (Kinsley 1979:181).

Kirtana is often held in the evenings along a riverbank or at the centre of a village. To the villagers, it is a religious and social event. The leader of the kirtana, known as the kirtankar, can capture the hearts of illiterate listeners and encourage them towards a deeper spiritual life (Naikar 96). Although most kirtanas are meant to glorify God, they also provide opportunities for the kirtankar to teach, expose social injustices, and even provide entertainment in the form of plays. Participants become active players in the poem being sung by the kirtankar and strive to communicate with the deity. For example, if the theme is Krsna playing with the gopis (milkmaids), devotees will get up and dance in circles, often culminating in an ecstatic frenzy of jumping, clapping of hands, beating of thighs, and rolling on the ground (Kinsley 1979:178). It is written in the Caitanya-bhagavata that a kirtana held at the home of a companion of Caitanya became so exuberant that some devotees could not keep their clothes on and others passed out in an ecstatic trance. (Kinsley 1979:177).

Musical instruments are an important characteristic of kirtana. Hindu scriptures such as the Vedas and the Upanisads consider music and musical instruments as sacred sounds closely identified with the Hindu Gods and Goddesses (Beck 20). For example, Lord Brahma, creator of the universe, is portrayed as playing the hand symbols. Lord Krsna plays the flute, prompting the gopis to dance ecstatically with him in the moonlight. Lord Visnu plays the conch shell and Lord Siva the damaru drum. Each of these instruments represents Om, which is Brahman, the Ultimate Reality. The notion of sacred sound expresses the connection between the human realm and the divine (Beck 20).

Kirtana events typically include flutes, drums, cymbals, harmonium, and various stringed instruments. One of the oldest and most popular musical instruments used in traditional kirtana is the bamboo flute, including a bamboo nose flute (LaTrobe 111). These flutes have since been replaced with the more vigorous clarinet. The clarinet provides musical reinforcement for the singers and can be heard above the clashing cymbals and robust drum rhythms.

The kohl drum is a double-sided drum made from a piece of jackfruit wood which has been hollowed out and covered with pieces of goatskin leather (Beck 23). A black paste made from a mixture of rice flour and stone dust is pressed layer upon layer on top of the skin. According to ancient literature, the black paste represents the crying eyes of Radha after her painful separation from her lover Krsna (LaTrobe 107). The kohl drum, and the kartal, small wooden clappers with six cymbals inside, are central to the kirtana performance as they provide the rhythmic foundation of the music. Exotic sounding stringed instruments include the sitar, ektara, and the ananda laharii, which means “waves of bliss” (LaTrobe 111).  Single stringed instruments such as the ektara and the ananda laharii are symbolic of single-mindedness towards spiritual goals (LaTrobe 110).

Music was viewed as a personal journey toward moksa (liberation). The bhakti movement emphasized that moksa also depended on one’s emotions and the deepness of one’s personal relationship with the deity (Beck 24). Singing and chanting, accompanied with musical instruments connected deep religious ecstasy with spiritual self-realization for participants of kirtana.

Chanting became popular in the western world when a charismatic Indian monk named A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada brought kirtana to North America in the mid-1960s (Ketola 312). Challenged by his guru to preach Lord Caitanya’s message of devotion to Krsna and bhakti yoga throughout the world, the penniless samnyasi travelled to New York on a cargo ship where he soon attracted a group of devotees, mostly hippies (Ketola 312). One day he took his followers to a local park for a public kirtana. The dancing, singing, and chanting attracted significant audiences and soon kirtana became very popular. Shortly after his arrival in America, Swami Prabhupada formed the International Society for Krsna Consciousness (ISKCON), commonly known as the Hare Krsna movement which pushed kirtana into the public limelight. Converts to the Hare Krsna movement became known for their public chanting of sacred Vedic deities specifically the mahamantra (the great mantra):

Hare Krsna Hare Krsna Krsna Krsna Hare Hare

Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare

As the sound vibrations of repeating the holy names of deities are sacred, singing and chanting kirtana benefits the listener, performer and the environment where the names are sung. Participants who sing kirtana and repeat the mahamantra claim to experience both a transcendental connection with the Divine and physical sensations of bliss that has even resulted in healing of physical and emotional ailments (Cooke 124, 125).

Kirtana serves to unite spirituality through bhakti yoga – the yoga of love and emotional attachment to God and can be found in many yoga studios today. Kirtana is sound vibration and chanting mantras invokes the presence of God himself. Participants who combine kirtana and bhakti yoga claim to experience peace and happiness (Brown 2012:77).

Kirtana has influenced modern-day styles of popular music such as reggae, hip-hop, and dubstep (Brown 2014:458). Hare Krsna festivals all around the world feature popular kirtana artists. Kirtana experienced through call and response chanting, singing, dancing, or yoga is likened to a divine love affair between the devotee and God. It is a religion of the heart, a process of pursuit, continuously changing, full of surprises and hidden delights, delicate and yet passionately ecstatic, all in the quest of a perfect union with God and self.

Bibliography

Beck, Guy L. (2007) “The Magic of Hindu Music.” Hinduism Today, 29 (4): 18-27. (October/November/December 2007)

Bhattacharya, B., and Shastri Indo-Canadian Institute (2003) Bhakti: The Religion of Love. New Delhi: UBS Publishers’ Distributors Ltd.

Brown, Sara (2012) “Every Word is a Song, Every Step is a Dance: Participation, Agency, and the Expression of Communal Bliss in Hare Krishna Festival Kirtan.” ProQuest Dissertations Publishing. Accessed on October 28, 2018.

Brown, Sara Black (2014) “Krishna, Christians, and Colors: The Socially Binding Influence of Kirtan Singing at a Utah Hare Krishna Festival.” Ethnomusicology 58 (3): 454.

Chakrabarty, Ramakanta (1986) “Vaisnava Kirtana in Bengal” Journal of the Indian Musicological Society 17 (1): 12.

Cooke, Jubilee Q. (2009) Kirtan in Seattle: New Hootenanny for Spirit Junkies. ProQuest Dissertations Publishing. Accessed on October 28, 2018.

Dehejia, Vidya, and Shastri Indo-Canadian Institute (2002) Slaves of the Lord: The Path of the Tamil Saints. Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal.

Delmonico, Neal (2007) “Chaitanya Vaishnavism and the Holy Names” In Krishna: A Sourcebook, edited by Edwin F. Bryant and MyiLibrary, 549-575. New York: Oxford University Press.

Hawley, John Stratton (2015) A Storm of Songs: India and the Idea of the Bhakti Movement. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

Henry, Edward O. (2002) “The Rationalization of Intensity in Indian Music.” Ethnomusicology 46 (1): 33-55.

Ketola, Kimmo (2004) “The Hare Krishna and the Counterculture in the Light of the Theory of Divergent Modes of Religiosity.” Method & Theory in the Study of Religion 16 (3): 301-20.

Kinsley, David R., and Shastri Indo-Canadian Institute (1979) The Divine Player: A Study of Krsna Lĩlã. 1st – ed. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.

Kinsley, David R. (1974) “Through the Looking Glass: Divine Madness in the Hindu Religious Tradition.” History of Religions 13 (4): 270-305.

La Trobe, Jyoshna (2010) “Red Earth Song. Marāī Kīrtan of Rāṛh: Devotional Singing and the Performance of Ecstasy in the Purulia District of Bengal, India.” PDF. Accessed October 09, 2018.

Peterson, Indira Viswanathan (1989) Poems to Śiva: The Hymns of the Tamil Saints. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press.

Ramaswamy Sastri, K. S., and Shastri Indo-Canadian Institute (2003) The Tamils: The People, their History, and Culture. Vol. 1-5. New Delhi: Cosmo Publications.

 

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Alvars

Nayanars

Bhakti

Bhagavad-Gita

Sri Caitanya

Krsna

Brahma

Kali Yuga

Visnu

Siva

Om

Moksa

A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada

Hare Krsna

International Society for Krsna Consciousness (ISKCON)

Mahamantra

Bhakti Yoga

Hare Krsna Festivals

Popular Kirtan Artists

Dubstep

 

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

https://www.elephantjournal.com/2011/07/spiritual-ecstasy-through-the-ancient-art-of-kirtan-steven-j-rosen-satyaraya-das/

https://kripalu.org/resources/beginners-guide-kirtan-and-mantra

http://www.historydiscussion.net/history-of-india/bhakti-movement-causes-hindu-society-and-features/3166

http://www.krishna.com/phenomenon-sankirtana

http://www.iskcon.org/festivals/

http://newworldkirtan.com/kirtan-music/kirtan-artists/

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DZmv1YJnszw

 

Article written by: Joey Grace (Fall 2018) who is solely responsible for its content.

 

 

The Bhakti Movement

Though a well-known and large contributor to the culture and the layout of Indian society today, the bhakti movement cannot be viewed through a straight-forward, universally accepted perspective (Hawley 221). It has changed through regions and time periods and bhakti has become a broad term which has been perceived in different ways. Bhakti has been thought of as being a concept, an ideology, and a movement (Thakur 100). Bhakti, as a concept, refers to the loving devotion to a god. It is the unbending devotion to a particular god, which develops into a powerful love. This love is sometimes compared to the attachment between friends, the devotion of a servant to a master, or the love shared even more intimately as in a romantic relationship (Pande 1985: 231). As an ideology, bhakti has been described as a socially accepted, common interest for all members of society, regardless of class or caste, that shifts members focus to the group rather than one’s position as an individual (Thakur 100). Bhakti has also been regarded as a literary movement (which will be the focus of this article) rooted in religion which rose from a society calling for transformation (Pande 1987: 214), and continued developing and changing as it moved through regions (Pattanayak 117).

Ideas of bhakti were already being formed by the alvars in the fifth to eighth centuries. The alvars laid the foundation for the Vaisnava philosophy as well as the bhakti movement. They first wrote hymns, many of which referenced Krsna (Chari 279). Accounts of serious worship of the divine and total surrender of oneself have been found in alvar-literature (Varadachari 621). An early beginning to the concept of bhakti is also seen in the story of Andal, an alvar saint who combined the erotic with the spiritual in her relationship with Krsna (Thakur 103). These early ideas related to bhakti were not commonly integrated into people’s way of life until the bhakti movement began to gain momentum centuries later.

There was a variety of societal factors which contributed to the urge for change in India. The conditions of the time have been considered by some to be a social crisis, primarily due to the shifting modes of production occurring at the time (Thakur 101). Towns during the 14th century were experiencing steady growth and agriculture was decreasing in its prominence. Commercial industry was growing as goods were more quickly produced. Some of the technological developments involved in this growth included: the use of a vertical loom in carpet weaving, the use of a spinning wheel in the cotton industry, increase in the use of vaulted roofs architecturally, and more silver and gold coins being made for trade (Pande 1987: 215). Economically, these developments were worsening conditions for sudras because as the amount of industrial jobs and business increased, so did the amount of slave labour (Pande 1987: 215). As the conditions for the sudras declined, the merchants and artisans continued to elevate in their wealth and status. Though this was occurring, Brahmins continued to consider themselves in very high regard, not acknowledging the rising status of the artisans and merchants nor accepting these groups into the class system.

Brahmins became increasingly oppressive in order to maintain their own status and resist changes in the social structure (Pande 1987: 216). They required complex rituals to be done by people in order to prove their place within the varna system.  These rituals were done in Sanskrit, making them difficult to be performed by many of the lower classes who were not entirely familiar with this language. The result of the intense requirements was a large number of outcasts from the varna system, reinforcing the power of the Brahmins (Pande 1987: 216). Political factors also contributed to the need for reform. The larger, more powerful state was being regionally divided and the authority of the Sultanate was diminishing (Pande 1987: 215).  Overall, these conditions were bringing a challenge to the existing social hierarchy in India. The changing conditions of society primarily affected the sudras and Dalits in the hierarchy and they began to experience discontentment with society, becoming restless with a desire for reform.

Another aspect of society, which was a part of the foundation for reformation in India, was the conflicting perspectives between Muslims and Hindus. Bhakti was desirable as it could act as a resolution for this type of conflict: bhakti is accepting of any god to worship, as long is it is loving devotion (Pande 1987: 217). Therefore, the bhakti movement was attractive to those who sought a harmonious society as it would allow the ideas of Hindusim and Islam to find common ground, not interfering with one another (Pande 1985: 230).

The great appeal of bhakti was especially rooted in the discontentment of people in the lower levels of the varna system and outcasts. Bhakti, being the loving devotion to a god, was accessible to everyone, regardless of status. For the sudras, then, it was also a way of protesting the social order (Thakur 105). The bhakti ideology offered no way of socially dividing people and therefore was appealing to those of lower castes who had been oppressed and looked down upon within the hierarchical setup of the varna system. The ideology of bhakti also held appeal for those of high castes, though for different motives. The attraction to the rulers was in bhakti’s assurance of divine intervention in times when the effects of adharma were manifesting (Thakur 102). This offered some relaxation on the expectations of the ruler, as normally the karmic effects of a region were dependent on the alignment of the king/ruler with dharma. The appeal of bhakti is what drove the movement to gain momentum.

Saints who came primarily from the lower sections of society were momentous in bringing about the beginnings of the bhakti movement. It is clear through hymns written by the bhaktas that the saints aimed to create a culture of harmony between the Hindus and Muslims (Pande 1987: 216). The ideal of equality was a major aim of the bhakti saints. This ideal is verified by a study of Kabir which serves to unveil the beliefs, hopes and objectives of the saints who initiated the bhakti movement. Kabir was a weaver of low caste who was involved in the attempt to bring unanimity among castes and religions in India. Kabir made statements such as “in the beginning there were no such distinctions of race, caste and creed” and “one does not become a scholar by reading scriptures. It is only through the learning of love that one can become a real scholar” (Pande 1987: 217). The former statement makes evident the bhakti ideal that society was intended from the beginning to be casteless and people should be regarded as equal. The latter statement demonstrates the bhakti belief that love and relationships surpass intellect. Ideas of the bhakti movement reject the notion that ritualism is required by the gods to gain salvation. People began to reject meaningless ritualism, especially of the Brahmin class, in favour of an actual relationship between a human and a god (Pande 1987: 217).

Though early ideas of bhakti were introduced in the nineth century, the bhakti movement really began its course in the eleventh and twelfth centuries (Pandey and Tyagi 129). The movement began in areas in the south of India and has been commonly believed to have expanded across India towards the north. Recent inquiry into the directional movement of bhakti indicates a different possibility that the idea of bhakti may have moved from south to west India. The knowledge base for this recent inquiry on the movement of bhakti came from the Bhagavata Mahatmya, a text written in the sixteenth or seventeenth century (Saha 299). As the range of these ideas was expanded, the idea of bhakti was developed and changed primarily due to the influence of Buddhism, Nathism, and other religions (Pattanayak 117).

The impacts of the bhakti movement continue into modern Indian society. In north India, bhakti remains intact, continuing but no longer characterizing a protest (Thakur 104-105). Since the bhakti movement was a protest against meaningless ritualism, it resulted in the divergence of language from Sanskrit as people embraced more individuality and rejected the rituals of the Brahmins, which were done in Sanskrit (Pandey and Tyagi 129). The saint’s goals for the bhakti movement achieved some success in that there was greater harmony between Hinduism and Islam. Though bhakti did create a more egalitarian society, the movement did not result in total equality among people. People among different castes experienced much less inequality, but injustices involving women remained unacknowledged. Women continued to be seen as an obstacle in obtaining salvation and their only purpose was considered to be serving their husbands (Pande 1987: 219-220). Women were widely perceived as having a fallen nature. They were thought to be created by Maya, and were distractions to their husband’s pursuit of salvation. (Sangari 1470). The protest presented in the bhakti movement cannot be considered complete then, as women were entirely left out of all social reconstructions (Pande 1987: 221).

 

References and Further Recommended Reading

Chari, S. M. (1998) “Philosophy and Theistic Mysticism of the Alvars.” Annals of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute 79:279-280. Pune: Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute.

Hawley, John S. (2007) “Introduction.” International Journal of Hindu Studies 11:209-25. New York: Springer.

Pande, Rekha (1985) “The Social Context of the Bhakti Movement- A Study in Kabir.” Proceedings of the Indian History Congress 46:230-35. Indian History Congress.

Pande, Rekha (1987) “The Bhakti Movement- An Interpretation.” Proceedings of the Indian History Congress 48:214-21. Indian History Congress.

Pandey, Manager, and Alka Tyagi (2001) “Bhakti Poetry: Its Relevance and Significance.” Indian Literature 45:129-138. New Delhi: Sahitya Akademi.

Pattanayak, Debi P. (1992) “Sant Literature in India.” Indian Literature 35:115-120. New Delhi: Sahitya Akademi.

Saha, Shandip (2007) “The Movement of Bhakti along a North-West Axis: Tracing the History of the Pustimarg between the Sixteenth and Nineteenth Centuries.” International Journal of Hindu Studies 11:299-318. New York: Springer.

Sangari, Kumkum (1990) “Mirabai and the Spiritual Economy of Bhakti.” Economic and Political Weekly 25:1464-1475. Mumbai: Economic and Political Weekly.

Thakur, Vijay K. (1994) “Bhakti as an Ideology: Perspectives in Deconstructing the Early Medieval Indian Tradition.” Proceedings of the Indian History Congress 55:99-107. Indian History Congress.

Varadachari, K. C. (1942) “Some Contributions of Alvars to the Philosophy of Bhakti.” Annals of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute 23:621-632. Pune: Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute.

 

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Alvars

Bhagavata Mahatmya

Bhaj

Bhaktas

Bhakti

Gender roles

Islam

Krisna

Movements

Vaisnavaism

Varna system

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

http://knowindia.gov.in/culture-and-heritage/medieval-history/bhakti-movement.php

http://www.sikh-history.com/sikhhist/events/bhakti.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bhakti_movement

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bhakti

http://pluralism.org/religions/hinduism/introduction-to-hinduism/bhakti-the-way-of-devotion/

Article written by: Ashley Machacek (October 2018) who is solely responsible for its content

Duryodhana

The rivalry between cousins, the Pandavas and the Kauravas, is depicted in one of the longest documented Hindu epics, the Mahabharata. The author, “the sage Vyasa intended it to be a treatise on life itself, including religion and ethics (dharma sastra), polity and government (artha sastra), philosophy and the pursuit of salvation (moksa sastra)” (Narasimhan XIX). Duryodhana, being the eldest son of king Dhrtarastra and wife Gandhari and thus the eldest of the Kauravas, was regarded with great importance and plays a key role in the events that occurred in the Mahabharata. It is said that during Duryodhana’s time of birth bad ominous noises were heard from crows and beasts of prey. Seeing this Dhrtarastra’s brother Vidura and the present Brahmanas warned the king of his first born to be the exterminator of his race, hence needing to be abandoned. The strong emotions and love for his son forced the king not to adhere to the given advice (Narasimhan 19).

Caught of in the act of jealousy and hatred, Duryodhana hatched a plan of assassinating the Pandavas. Hastinapura’s king Dhrtarastra had convinced the Pandavas to visit the city of Varanavata for the festival of Pasupati (a festival for Siva). That’s when Duryodhana, along with close friend, Karna, and uncle, Sakuni, plotted to create a flammable palace in which the Pandavas would reside. All the arrangements were made and the Pandavas had reached the palace (Narasimhan 28). However, Pandavas brothers Yudhisthira and Bhima had been suspicious from the very beginning, thus not taking them long to figure out the true outcome of their trip. The Pandavas contacted their uncle, Vidura, who sent a close friend that would dig an underground tunnel for the Pandavas and their mother Kunti to use as an escape route during the fire. Duryodhana and his companions believed the Pandavas to be dead (Narasimhan 29). After some time, the Pandavas reencounter Duryodhana at Draupadi’s svayamvara where Arjuna won her as his wife.

Following a series of events in which the Pandavas were given half of the Kingdom, Duryodhana is invited to go to Indraprastha to attend Yudhisthira’s Rajasuya Yajna (an inauguration sacrifice performed by the king to become the emperor of the world). Duryodhana became mesmerized by the palace and had a hard time recognizing the Maya present. A representation of this is when Duryodhana lifted up his clothes to prevent them from getting wet while mistaking land for water and falling in puddles while believing that he was walking on land (Narasimhan 47). Draupadi, laughing and ridiculing him after the series of embarrassing moments, deeply hurt his ego (Mohan 167). “Symbolically when intellect begins to laugh at the failures of a wicked mid, the negative forces get angry. The evil forces never like to be openly observed and ridiculed. So they launch an all out offensive to get the intellect demanded” (Mohan 167).

Duryodhana’s self pride and ego did not let him live these incidents down. The embarrassment made him want to seize everything that Yudhisthira owned, including his property, kingdom, wealth, and pride. Duryodhana let his cunning uncle, Sakuni, create a master plan that would help him fulfill his wishes and take revenge on the Pandavas. Duryodhana and his companions, which included his younger brother Duhsasana, Sakuni, and Karna, planned to invite Yudhisthira to Hastinapura for a “friendly” game of dice, while being well aware of his natural inclination for gambling. “By cleverly suggesting that it is only a harmless pastime of the royalty, a game for the brave and finally prodding his vanity, Sakuni was able to make Yudhisthira agree to play the game. Consequently Yudhisthira loses everything, including his freedom to him self, his siblings, and worst of all, Draupadi also” (Mohan 172).

Soon after Duryodhana orders Duhsasana to bring Draupadi to the great hall. Duhsanana’s efforts of disrobing Draupadi in the middle of the hall were to vain because she prayed to Lord Krsna by repeatedly chanting the word/name Govinda. Individuals other than Duryodhana, Sakuni, Karna and the Kauravas in the great hall felt extreme remorse and pitied Draupadi (Narasimhan 53). Duryodhana invited Draupadi to sit on his lap by removing the cloth of his thigh. Responding to that Draupadi gave the whole Kuru clan a terrible oath, which terrified the kings present to such an extent that they had to offer the Pandavas their kingdom back. Sakuni’s sharp mind intrigued Yudhisthira into playing another game of dice that would direct the Pandavas to a 13-year exile into the forest. During this time period Duryodhana would be in charge of the kingdom and handling the responsibility of hunting the Pandavas in the 13th year (Mohan 172).

After the vain efforts of finding the Pandavas in their 13th year of exile Duryodhana refused to give them their half kingdom according to their deal. This ultimately destroyed any last chances of settlement and amendment. At this stage, war was inevitable (Duckworth 90). The following task for both groups was to retrieve as many allies as possible, for this both Duryodhana and Arjuna rushed to meet Krsna. Duryodhana reached before Arjuna and sat behind Krsna as he was sleeping. Arjuna, walking in later sat at Krsna’s feet. Waking up Krsna laid eyes on Arjuna first thus giving him the first choice on whether he would like to attain “his army of ten million gopas, each of whom is capable of slaying [him]” (Narasimhan 91). The other alternative was to choose Krsna himself, unarmed. “Arjuna unhesitatingly chose Krsna, who was not to fight the battle. And Duryodhana for his part choose the whole of that army” (Narasimhan 92).

During the war great warriors fell on either side. A time came when the Pandavas had to kill Duryodhana in order to win the war. Duryodhana seeing the empty battlefield filled decided to flee to a near by lake and use his power of wizardry to hide him self from the Pandavas. The Pandavas not being able to locate Duryodhana them selves sent out spies and quickly learned of his where about. Yudhisthira ultimately gave him an option to which he could still win the battle. All he would have to do is defeat one of the Pandavas brothers in a one on one battle with a weapon of his choice. Duryodhana chose to use the mace as his weapon and Bhima as his opponent (Narasimhan 171-172). “The duel then began. Duryodhana and Bhima fought like two bulls attacking each other with their horns. The clash of their maces produces loud peals like those of thunderbolts” (Narasimhan 172). The close battle worried Arjuna, he discussed the probability of Bhima winning with Krsna who stated that Bhima would not be able to win by battling fairly as Duryodhana is much more skilled than he is. Arjuna than striking his left signaled Bhima to hit Duryodhana below the belt (Narasimhan 172-173). “The mace, hurled by Bhima, broke the thighs of Duryodhana, and he fell down, so that the earth resounded” (Narasimhan 173). Balarama, Krsna’s elder brother, seeing the unfair attack approached the warriors and acknowledged Bhima as an unfair fighter and stated that the righteous Duryodhana will receive eternal blessedness (Narasimhan 173).

Later that night when the Pandavas were at peace and slept in their camps expecting no attacks form the opposition Asvatthaman promised Duryodhana to take revenge from the Pandavas by killing all of their remaining children. Duryodhana appointed Asvatthaman as the general for the remaining Kauravas army. Asvatthaman along with his companion slaughtered them that very night. Only one charioteer managed to escape and was able to report the incident to the Pandavas (Mehendale 3). Duryodhana was able to die with contentment; while the Pandavas felt like they had lost the war even thought they had won it (Mehendale 3).

This article was written by: Raina Sharma (Spring 2017), who is entirely responsible for its content.

References and related articles:

Mohan, S.Ram (2005) “Delineation of Evil in the “Mahabharata” and ‘the Gang of

Four'” Indian Literature 49, no. 1 (225): 162-72. 

MEHENDALE, M.A. (2000) “MESSAGE OF THE MAHĀBHĀRATA.” Bulletin of the Deccan College Research Institute 60/61: 3-13. Accessed March 28th, 2017

Narasimhan, C.V., and de Bary William Theodore. (1998) The Mahabharata: an English version based on selected verses. New York: Columbia University Press.

Duckworth, George E. (1961) “Turnus and Duryodhana.” Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association 92 : 81-127. doi:10.2307/283804. Accessed Mrch 28th, 2017.

Mohanty, Prafulla Kumar. (2005) “The “Mahabharata”: A Reading in Political Structuring.” Indian Literature 49, no. 1 (225): 146-51

This article was written by Raina Sharma (Spring 2017), who is entirely responsible for its content.

Veda Vyasa, The Great Indian Sage

Vyasa was a central and admired figure of the Hindu Tradition. He was a famous Rsi in the longest epic (Rodrigues 177), The Mahabharata, and was also credited for the Epic (Rodrigues, 145).

Vyasa’s Birth and Family

According to the mythic sources, Vyasa was the son of Satyavati, the Daughter of a fisherman and Parashara who was a wandering sage. Satyavati used to row boats for passengers from one end of the shore to another. That was where Parashara and Satyavati met. Since Satyavati was the daughter of a fisherman, she smelled of fish hence Parashara gave her a boon that she would never smell like she had been around fishes ever again, she then gave birth to Krishna Dvaipayana on the shore of River Yamuna. At birth, he was given the name Krishna Dvaipayana (Ramesh 1-2). The name Krishna Dvaipayana came from his dark complexion meaning Krishna and Dvaipayana-came from the place he was born. He was born on the shore of Yamuna (which is a river in India) Dvipa (meaning island). He was married to the daughter of Rsi Jabali, named Vaachika. After marriage, he entered the stage of Grahasthashram and then fathered a son named Shuka.

Vyasa’s Achievements

According to legends, Veda Vyasa was the type of character that always had full loyalty and faith for the Vedas meaning he had Veda Niṣṭha. We know that he had full faith on the Vedas since at a very young age he had mastered Vedas as well as the Sastras, literature, mythology, history and other branches of knowledge. Another meaning of Nistha is steadiness, we see that he had steadiness in his life, he was always successful in what he wanted to do, we don’t see many obstacles coming in the way of his success in his lifetime. Later, then went on to Badarikashrama to perform ‘tapas’ meaning meditation. According to Vyasa, the Veda was not stabilized, since there was only one Veda, they weren’t separate at the time, it was hard for people to understand it due to which not many people would be able to read them. This caused the essence of the Veda to go down in society therefore the Veda was not stable. Vyasa wanted to restore Vedic Saahitya (literature) by doing the punar uddhar (revival) of the Vedas. To stabilize the Vedas, he decided to divide the Vedas into four sections. The Vedas were divided in such a way that all the hymns were grouped based on their requirements in the sacrificial rites. Each of the four Vedas were given to four different Rsis. Vyasa taught these four Vedas to his four disciples. Rg Veda was given to Paila Rsi, Atharva Veda was given to Sumanthu Rsi, Sama Veda was given to Jaimini Rsi and lastly Yajur Veda was given to Vaishampayana Rsi. As the Vedas were divided, the respective Rsis taught their part of the Vedas to their disciples who then passed down the knowledge to the society, and restoring the values and information of the Vedas among the society. It was easier to pass on the knowledge of the Vedas now since they were all divided (Sullivan 11-15). Two events took place after Vyasa had divided the Vedas. First was when he got the name Veda Vyasa; until then he was known as Krishna Dvaipayana. Second even was when Vyasa decided to write the Puranas. The Puranas were a way to spread the thoughts of the Vedas in the form of stories to the general people. Puranas contain stories about the Vedas for easier understanding, since the Vedas are too complex to understand by general people. There is a total of 18 Puranas, Vyasa did Sansodhana (research) and Adhyayana (study) in detail to achieve his goal. It takes such immense knowledge for a person to achieve so many achievements in life, like writing such great Epics that are still known till date. After writing the Puranas, he started writing the Brahma Sutra. The Brahma Sutra consists of four chapters, 16 Padas, and 555 Sutras. The Brahma Sutras are part of the Vedantas, which include Sankara’s Radical Non-dualism, Ramanujan’s Qualified Non-Dualism and Madhava’s dualism (Rodrigues 155-159).

It is said that Vyasa first composed the entire story of The Mahabharata in his head for years, after which he was encouraged by Lord Brahma that Vyasa should now write the story (Rodrigues 2016, 177). Vyasa asks Ganesha to aid him in writing the text, but Ganesha imposed a condition that he would do so only if Vyasa narrated the story without pause. Vyasa replied with a counter-condition, that Ganesha must understand the verse before he wrote it. Thus, Vyasa narrated the entire Mahabharata and all the Upanishads and the 18 Puranas, while Lord Ganesha wrote. At one point while writing, Ganesa ran out of ink, therefore he broke one of his tusk and continued writing The Mahabharata (Rodrigues 224). He had also composed the Great Bharata, which tells the story of Janamejaya’s, Pariksit’s son and Arjuna’s grandson. The book talked about Janamejaya’s ancestors, the descendants of King Bharata (Rodrigues 182).

What is The Mahabharata about?

The reason that The Mahabharata is a great epic is that it enlightens the 5 main aspects of human life, namely: psychology, sociology, economics, politics and philosophy. It also offers a vision on the four goals of life: Righteousness (Dharma), Wealth (Artha), Enjoyment (Kama) and Salvation (Moksa) (Ramesh 1). Vyasas way of representing these qualities to the society was through the characters of the Epic. The Mahabharata has characters such as Bhiṣma, Krṣṇa, Draupadi, The Paṇḍava and The Kaurava. Rsi Vyasa’s characters are said to be Padachyuta and Dhyeyachyuta. This means that none of them lost their focus from their goals. If we look at The Paṇḍava’s, their goal was to keep the kingdom of Hastinapura with the help of Dharma in place, whereas The Kaurava’s goal was to keep the kingdom of Hastinapura using Adharma. Even if all these characters were on opposite sides, they all stuck to their goals, no matter the situation and stayed focused on that goal. These characters teach us that we should stay focused to achieve our goal. They are the types of characters that even if death was headed their way, they stay focused and loyal to their beliefs. An example can be Abhimanyu (son of Arjuna). During the big Kuruketra war, there was a point that the Kauravas were planning an evil game to hurt the Paṇḍava’s, but despite no proper knowledge of how to escape the trap known as the ‘Chakra-Vyooha’ (Chaturvedi 5-6) which the Kauravas had set, he went into that trap and fought against all the evil until his last breath. He knew he was not coming out alive, before going in, but he still went in and fought for Dharma. All these characters make us feel like we can achieve something in life if we stay focused. They also show us the true meaning of Tyaga (sacrifice). The characters that were on the side of Dharma made many sacrifices to do the establishment of Dharma, no matter what the situation. These are the types of character that Vyasa gave us and through them we can learn many lessons in life. There is something to learn from every character despite them being evil or good and Dharmic (Righteous) or Adharmic (Non-Righteous), all characters were able to keep their goals through the Epic, this shows us their loyalty towards their goals and that they can go to any level to stay focused on their goals.

Vyasa’s involvement in Politics

In Ancient Indian Culture Legislation was in the hands of Rsi, and the execution was with the king. There are some examples from Vyasa’s life where we can see how he was related to politics.

One example was about the almost extinct Hastinapura kingdom. Satyavati (Vyasa’s mother) had two other sons Chitrangada and Vichitravirya. Vichitravirya was married to Ambika (had a maid named Parishrama) and Ambalika. Vichitravirya dies leaving the kingdom of Hastinapura without a heir. This was when Vyasa was called by Satyavati because at that time, if anyone other than the Rsi wife had a child with a Rsi, it was considered big. Vyasa decided to surrogately father the heirs of Hastinapura (Rodrigues 177). Vyasa visits the three queens of Vichitravirya. Since he was a Rsi, he had a beard, long hair with a bun on top. He was there to grant the three queens a boon so they can have children, and the boon was dependent on how the queens react when they see Vyasa. When the first queen Ambika saw Vyasa, she closed her eyes, which meant that her son was going to be born blind who came to be known as Dhritarastra, father of the Kauravas. Then, when the second queen Ambalika saw Vyasa, she got sick meaning her son would stay unfit for life; her son was Pandu, father of the Pandavas (Rodrigues 177). Since the two queens were not able to give birth to kids that will be very suitable for the throne, due to their disabilities, he decided to give a boon to Ambika’s maid as well. When Parishrama (the maid of Ambika) saw Vyasa, she didn’t react in a bad way, she was herself and gave birth to a son, Vidura, who was normal and was brilliant. However, he would never be considered to rule the throne since he was the son of a maid. This was the political step taken by Vyasa to save a dynasty from becoming extinct (Ramesh 3). With no descendant, there will be no king therefore Satyavati called Vyasa, even though he was a Rsi. Vidura, despite being a maid’s son, was honest and was against injustice. Therefore, according to Vyasa’s ‘political move’, Vidura was one of the ministers in the kingdom so he can give honest advice to the king. This shows his involvement in politics and since the legislation was in the hand of Vyasa he was authorized to punish the king, if king made any mistakes.

Another story about his involvement in politics was that when the Paṇḍava’s had grown up, he sent them to Drupada’s kingdom, where the swayamwara of Draupadi was going on (Rodrigues 179). His intention was that the Pandavas should have a wife like Draupadi who would be a great strength for the Paṇḍavas. He always wanted a powerful woman like Draupadi behind the Paṇḍavas, because she was the type of person who could stand up against injustice, as well as she was the daughter of the Agni. Draupadi was said to be the daughter of Lord Agni, since she came out of the fire pit. After Arjuna had won Draupadi in the swayamwara, Vyasa’s wanted Draupadi to be the wife of all five Paṇḍava’s, not just Arjuna’s wife. At a time when The Mahabharata took place, people thought what a female could not have more than one husband. But once Vyasa made the decision that Draupadi will have five husbands, no one had the audacity to say anything against Vyasa. He also wanted to keep all the brothers together, and so his strategy to make Draupadi the wife of the Pandavas was so that there will be no rift between them in the future. This incident shows us that Vyasa was given great respect from the people of the villages that they did not say anything about what he had done. Their culture did not allow such a practice, but their trust in Vyasa was so deep that they did not utter a word against him. This incident also shows Vyasa’s vision in favor of Dharma and the Pandavas, because if Draupadi was married to Pandavas her father kingdom will support Pandavas in the final battle for Dharma. Thus, by sending the Pandavas to the swayamwara, he had already played his ‘political move’ for the betterment of the Hastinapura kingdom, and the fact that he made Draupadi the wife of all the Pandavas would bring positive changes to the society where women will be given respect, not just considered lower than men, which is the M-1B state (Rodrigues 90).

The third example can be seen when the Pandavas were in exile for thirteen years, and in disguise for one year (Rodrigues 180). This was when Vyasa goes to give them a visit in the forest. When Vyasa paid the Pandavas a visit, he was furious at them for just sitting around, and not preparing for the future war of The Mahabharata in advance. Vyasa already knew there was going to be a war and to prepare the Pandavas he sent Arjuna to do Tapa (tenacity). This was his ‘political move’, by sending Arjuna to sit in meditation for Lord Siva, and by doing the meditation Arjuna would be able to impress Lord Siva, so when Arjuna impressed Siva, Siva gave Arjuna some Celestial weapons that would be useful for the war (Rodrigues 180).

What is the importance Guru Purnima and why is it celebrated?

This day dedicated to the great Sage Vyasa. A Guru is someone who removes our ignorance. The meaning of Guru comes from ‘Gu’ meaning ignorance and ‘Ru’ meaning remover of ignorance. Guru (teacher) Purṇima (full moon day) is also known as Vyasa Purnima because on that day Vyasa was born as well as he started writing the Brahma Sutras. Vyasa is considered as the original Guru of the Hindus. This festival is a symbol of the Guru and Sisya (student) relationship. Gurus are considered a link between the individual and the immortal. This festival falls in the Hindu month of Ashad (July-August). This is the day for the disciples to pay respect to their Gurus, since Gurus are given great importance in Hinduism. On this day, the disciples or devotees provide seva (service) to their Gurus which grants the disciples their Guru’s grace for their spiritual progress. If the Guru has passed away, then their portrait is worshipped instead. We pick our Guru based on their Gyan (knowledge) and Shraddha (faith) not the age. The word Upanishad also means sitting down with a Guru to gain knowledge. A famous philosopher Adi Sankaracharya has said that “If a person, despite possessing a disease-free body, fame, wealth, and studied the Vedas and Scriptures, and even if he wrote many scriptures, but has not surrendered himself to a Guru, then he would have achieved nothing” (Tumuluru 17-20). A Guru is someone who guides his disciple on the path of self-realization and strengthens their faith. On this day, Bhajans (songs for festivals and special occasions) and performances are organized by ashrams (hermitage). Kabir (Indian poet) said that “If we put God and Guru side by side, we have to pray the Guru first because he is the one through who you can realize God” (Tumuluru 17-20).

The study of the text the Guru Gita (Tumuluru 17-20) is recommended on this day as well as meditation at the Guru’s feet by waking up at 4am to obtain God’s grace. After waking up to do the meditation the devotees place flowers by the Guru’s picture and light a lamp, some may even keep moun (silence).

This day is observed by Monks when they give offerings to the Guru, they also start a four-month seclusion period (a four-month rainy season period) known as the Chatur Masa where they stay at a selected spot and have discourses. This is also an important day for Farmers because it marks the start of rainy season. This festival is also celebrated by Buddhists because it is the day that the Buddha gave his first sermon.

The best way to worship a Guru is to follow their teachings and do their seva by helping the Guru achieving their mission, by spreading the message of their teachings.

Bibliography:

Chaturvedi, B.K. (2002) Abhimanyu. New Delhi: Diamond Pocket Books (P) Ltd.

Ramesh, Sri B.G. (2012) Vyasa: Volume 3. Karnataka: Sapna Book House (P) Ltd.

Rodrigues, Hillary (2016) Hinduism—The Ebook. Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online Books, Ltd.

Sullivan, Bruce (1990) Krsna Dvaipayana Vyasa and the Mahabharata: A New Interpretation. Leiden: E.J.Brill.

Tumuluru, Kamal Kumar (2015) Hindu Prayers, Gods and Festivals. Haryana:Partridge Publishing India.

Related Research Topics for Veda Vyasa:

History and Family

Involvement in the Mahabharata

The types of characters he wrote about compared to Shakespeare

Guru Purnima

What kind of politics did Vyasa play throughout Mahabharata

His Achievements- Vedas, Puranas, and Brahma Sutras

Related Websites for the Topic:

http://hinduism.about.com/od/gurussaintsofthepast/fl/Maharshi-Veda-Vyasa.htm

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/nagpur/Guru-Purnima-A-day-to-express-respect-gratitude/articleshow/14626193.cms

This article is written by: Aastha Patel (Spring 2017), and I am entirely responsible for the content.

The Savitri and Satyavat Myth

The myth of Savitri and Satyavat is the fictional love story of a Hindu wife following her husband through death and saving him with her great dharmic wisdom. The origin of the story dates back to the Mahabharata. The sage Vyasa had written the Mahabharata with the help of the god Ganesa to give to the world as a gift. Within Vyasa’s telling of the Mahabharata the ideology of dharmic character is clarified and expanded on through side stories such at Savitri and Satyavat. The Mahabharata tells the epic story of the Pandavas and the Kauravas were battling each other, and at one point, the Pandavas were exiled to live in the forest for 13 years. During this time, the brothers meet with the rishi Markandeya. The most dharmic brother, Yudhisthira, was lamenting the kidnapping of Draupadi, the Pandava’s wife, as she had been taken by Jaydratha (Anand 2). He asked the rishi if he had ever met a more dharmic woman than Draupadi. The rishi responded with the myth of Savitri and Satyavat, answering his question by telling of the most dharmic woman possible.

The king Asvapati of the land Mudra had no heirs. Worried that he would die before his bloodline would be carried on, he devoted himself to prayers and sacrifices, asking the gods for many sons. After eighteen years, the sun Goddess Savitri answered Asvapati’s hundred thousand hymns to her (Narayan 182). The goddess explained that although she knew he requested for many sons, she would instead bless him with a single daughter, for whom he should be grateful (Anand 3). Soon after, Asvapati’s eldest wife gave birth to a baby girl, whom he named Savitri after the goddess. When Savitri had grown up, her beauty was so astounding that suitors would not ask for her hand in marriage. When the king requested a reason, they responded she must be an incarnation of a goddess and could not be married. The princess Savitri then began a penance, as she waited for a proposal. However, none appeared. The king decided Savitri must be married, and came up with a plan for her to find a husband. Savitri was told to search for her own husband that was well suited and that was as good to her as she was to her father (Narayan 183). Savitri was unsure how to do so, but agreed to do his bidding. The king sent an assembly of his men to accompany his daughter who were under the order not to interfere with her decision.

A year later, she returned to her father who was with the heavenly sage Narada. Narada did not understand why she did not have a husband yet, but the king was ready to receive her answer. Savitri reported that she named Satyavat her husband [often called Satyavan]. Narada strongly advised against her decision. He explained that although Satyavat was perfectly suitable, he was cursed to die in exactly one year from that day. Asvapati tried to persuade his daughter to find another husband, but Savitri refused. Satyavat was her first and only choice for husband, and she would not choose again.

Satyavat was son of the exiled, blind king Dyumatsena, and he took care of him and his mother in their forest hermitage. Before the wedding, Asvapati asked the exiled king for his blessing on the marriage (Nadkarni 2012:np). Dyumatsena was hesitant but agreed. Once the blessing was given, Savitri married Satyavat and joined him in his forest home. Savitri was the ideal wife and daughter in-law, and brought joy to the household (Narayan 185). However, she always remembered the curse and silently counted down the days. When four days were left before the cursed day, Savitri began a triratra vow, a severe penance of fasting, praying, and standing, for three days and nights. Her parents in-law were worried for her and insisted she end this penance, but Savitri refused. On the fourth day, when Satyavat was to begin his daily journey into the forest, Savitri begged him to allow her to join him. Satyavat was hesitant but agreed only if Savitri gained approval from her in-laws. Asking her parents in-law, they granted her wish as Dyumatsena knew she had never asked for anything before (Narayan 186). Travelling deep into the forest, Satyavat was unaware of his fate, but Savitri could not focus on anything else (Narayan 186). As Satyavat was swinging the axe to cut trees, he suddenly felt fatigued. Savitri went to his aid and brought him to rest his head in her lap. She realized this must be the hour that Narada had foretold. Satyavat soon fell into a deep sleep. Savitri continued to hold him when a figure came to hover over them. As Savitri focused on this figure, she saw that it was the God of Death, Yama, coming to take Satyavat’s soul. Savitri rested Satyavat’s head on the ground, and rose to address the God of Death. Savitri asked the God why he himself had come (Dutt 423). Yama answered that because Satyavat was such a distinguished person, he wanted to honour Satyavat in his death by bringing him to death’s halls himself. Yama recognized Savitri as an auspicious wife with a rare gift of being extraordinarily sensitive. But unwavering, Yama continued to take Satyavat’s soul to his kingdom against Savitri’s requests.

However, Savitri had begun to follow him to the land of death, a place where she could not go. Yama tried to persuade her to turn back, but Savitri was refused, knowing that where her husband went, she went, as it was her dharmic duty as a wife to accompany her husband through life and death. Impressed by her knowledge of dharma, Yama told her to ask for any boon other than the life of her husband and he shall grant it (Nadkarni 2012:np). Savitri asked for the return of her father in-law’s sight. They continued their conversation and Yama is repeatedly impressed, granting 3 more boons. Savitri asked for Dyumatsena’s kingdom to be restored, her father to have a hundred noble sons and for a hundred sons for herself and Satyavat. Yama granted these, but then realized too late that for the final boon to be granted Satyavat must be returned to earth. Yama kept his word and gave his blessing and Satyavat’s soul back to Savitri to return to his body (Nadkarni 2012:np).

Restoring his soul to his body, Savitri and Satyavat hurried home to his parents’ hermitage as they were late to return. Dyumatsena, with his sight recently restored, and his wife were worried when Satyavat and Savitri had not returned at their normal time. Neighbours had come to comfort them. When Savitri and Satyavat finally arrived, a celebration was thrown in their honour. Questioned on their reason for such a late arrival, Savitri began her story of all the transpired events, beginning with Narada’s prophecy up until their return home. She explained in detail her interactions with Yama, the God of Death, and the boons he had granted her (Dutt 429). The next day, Dyumatsena was informed his enemy, who had seized the throne, had been killed by the hands of one of his own ministers. Dyumatsena was once again declared king of the Shalwa kingdom. Savitri and Satyavat had their 100 sons who were brave, noble, and never fled from war (Dutt 430). Asvapati was also blessed with 100 sons who kept his bloodline and lineage strong for generations.

Savitri is used as the example of the ideal Hindu wife; a woman who is willing to follow her husband through death and back. Savitri symbolizes the dharmic wisdom that overcomes death (Anand 2). The perfect wife is to maintain her position beside her husband for all of time. In each dharmic marriage the man has the responsibility to take care of his family in all the physical aspects of life, while the wife “embodies the power to sustain their existence” (Rodrigues 125). She must maintain this power by being as auspicious as possible, and by being loyal by following orders from her husband. This enhances her personal spiritual power, or sakti. Her whole family depends on this spiritual power for their survival. By having this power, she is responsible to take part in sati, the ritual where the wife is required to lie on her deceased husband’s pyre, showing that she is willing to die with him and to use her sakti to cleanse his soul in a spiritual sense (Pitchman 26). Savitri is the ideal wife because when she completed sati she brought Satyavat back to life with her, proving she was purely dharmic. Her higher understanding of the dharmic teaching and her commitment to Satyavat is what brought her husband back to life (Verma 67). As they are two parts of a whole, both the husband and wife rely on each other to live a dharmic life. Their devotion to each other, especially Savitri’s, deems her the ideal wife in Hindu culture.

REFERENCES AND RECOMMENDED READING

Anand, Subhash (1988) Savitri and Satyavat: A Contemporary Reading. Pune: Annals of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute

Dutt, Manmatha Nath (1895) A Prose English Translation of the Mahabharata: (translated Literally from the Original Sanskrit Text). H.C. Dass.

Nadkarni, Mangesh V. (2012) Savitri-The Golden Bridge, The Wonderful Fire: An introduction to Sri Aurobindo’s epic. Auroville: Savitri Bhavan

Narayan, R. K. (1964) Gods, Demons, and Others. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press

Pintchman, Tracy (2011) Woman and Goddess in Hinduism: Reinterpretations and Re-envisionings. New York: Palgrave Macmillan

Rodrigues, Hillary (2016) Hinduism–The e-Book. Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online Books, Ltd.

Verma, K.D. (1977) Myth and Symbol in Aurobindo’s “Savitri”: A Revaluation. Michigan: Asian Studies Center, Michigan State University

Related Topics for Further Investigation

dharma

Draupadi

Ganesa

Kauravas

Mahabharata

Markandeya

Narada

Pandavas

sakti

sati

Sati

Vyasa

Yama

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Savitri_and_Satyavan

http://www.hindupedia.com/en/Aśvapati

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Narada

http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/m03/index.htm

https://books.google.ca/books?id=wFtXBGNn0aUC&redir_esc=y

http://www.rsvidyapeetha.ac.in/mahabharatha/summary/eng/3.pdf

http://www.freeindia.org/biographies/vyasa/page10.htm

Article written by: Abby Neudorf (Spring 2017) who is solely responsible for its content.

Savitri and Satyavan

The Hindu myth of Savitri and Satyavan, found in the Mahabharata, is a tale of the love and devotion a Hindu wife was expected to have for her husband. In the Hindu tradition women are expected to show this devotion to their husbands above all else, and the tale of Savitri’s devotion is one of the most poignant and significant examples of this.

The story begins with Aswapati, a king, who was virtuous and lived what could be considered a perfect dharmic lifestyle. Despite this, Aswapati could not conceive a male heir; as he grew older this became more and more of a concern. After 18 years of a perfect dharmic lifestyle, including performing ten thousand oblations daily and reciting Mantras in honour of Savitri, Aswapati was visited by the goddess Savitri herself, who is also called Gayatri. Savitri could not grant him a son, but instead granted him a daughter, who the king named Savitri after the goddess. In some versions Savitri did not grant him the child herself, but informed Aswapati that Brahma was granting him a child (Sarma 329). Savitri grew up to become a beautiful woman, compared by the people to a goddess, and because of her intimidating beauty none would marry her. Aswapati sent her off in search of a husband, as none in his land would marry her. (Ganguli 570-571)

When she returned, she tells her father of another king, Dyumatsena. Dyumatsena was a wise, virtuous kshatriya king. Dyumatsena grew blind, and thus his kingdom was overthrown by an old enemy, ousting Dyumatsena and his family and forcing them into a hermitage. Dyumatsena’s only son, Satyavan, grew up in this state of hermitage. Savitri met the adult Satyavan, and chose him as the one she would marry. She praised his virtues to her father, listing his energy, wisdom, bravery, and forgiveness. She compared his noble attributes to those of various gods, to further emphasize just how perfect a match Satyavan was. Her father’s counselors, who accompanied Savitri on this journey supported her statements. The king asked his trusted advisor if this seemingly perfect youth had any defects, and it is revealed that Satyavan was to die exactly one year from this meeting. Aswapati urged Savitri to choose another, but she had already made up her mind and refused to change it, stating that she had already selected Satyavan and will not select again. The king relented on seeing the full extent of her devotion, and the two were wed. (Ganguli 572-574)

As the day of Satyavan’s death approached, Savitri offered prayers and ascetic observances for the three days prior to Satyavan’s preordained demise. Savitri and Satyavan went out in the woods on the day in question to pick fruits and cut down tree branches. Satyavan began to feel weak, and Savitri laid him on the ground with his head in her lap. The next moment, Yama, the god of death, appeared to Savitri. He had come to personally take Satyavan’s soul. He did so and departed, but Savitri proceeded to follow him out of her devotion to her husband. She spoke to Yama of Satyavan’s virtues, and he was impressed by her words and her devotion and granted her a boon, anything she wanted except Satyavan’s life. She requested that her father-in-law, Dyumatsena, regain his eyesight and his strength. Yama granted this, and continued on his way. Savitri followed him still, telling Yama more of Satyavan. Yama granted her a second boon, and she asked for Dyumatsena to regain his kingdom. She continued to follow him, this time speaking of mercy, and Yama granted her a third boon. She asked to beget children to continue her father’s line, and Yama granted her that she may have a hundred sons. She proceeded to speak about justice. Yama had heretofore been very impressed with Savitri’s devotion and extensive wisdom, and he granted her a fourth boon. She asked for a century of sons, begat by her and Satyavan, and Yama granted this before realizing the implication. He realized Savitri had tricked him and, impressed with her cunning, granted Satyavan’s life back, as she could not father sons with him if he was dead. This differs, as in some versions it is not by Savitri’s cunning, but by her continued devotion that she convinced Yama to give Satyavan back (Sarma 334). When Savitri and Satyavan returned, they found Dyumatsena’s eyesight and strength had returned, and he ascended once again to his rightful place at the head of his kingdom. Savitri and Satyavan had many children, and all was well (Ganguli 576-585).

Savitri’s devotion to her husband is the key theme of this myth. Even before they are married, she is unshakeable in her conviction to stand by Satyavan despite his impending death, and this devotion is what impresses her father so much that he allows the two to be wed. This is especially significant due to the inauspicious status of widows in the Hindu tradition, and the prohibition of remarriage (Rodrigues 127-128). She also shows devotion towards her husband’s family, who in the Hindu tradition essentially becomes her new primary family. Her requests of Yama to return her father-in-law’s sight, strength, and kingdom exemplify this ideal. Lastly, her devotion to Satyavan even in death is impressive. She follows Yama, death himself, and he grants her multiple divine boons, eventually even giving her Satyavan back. It is interesting to note however, that Savitri is not a helpless damsel following Yama because she is incapable of anything without her husband. If anything, after Satyavan’s death she shows her many other impressive characteristics in convincing Yama to bring Satyavan back.

The ideal of pativrata is described by Rodrigues as “ascetic dedication to [the woman’s] husband” (Rodrigues 124). It is the highest vrata, or ascetic observance, that Hindu women follow. The pativrata is closely related to sakti, spiritual power, and the husband was dependent on this spiritual power for his survival and strength. The story of Savitri exemplifies this, as Savitri’s devotion is very closely tied to her husband’s strength and survival, literally bringing him back from death. Savitri initially tries to prevent his death, performing vrata for three days just prior to the promised time. When this fails, she follows Yama, an extraordinary display of ascetic devotion, and her spirituality is a key factor in convincing Yama to bring Satyavan back.

Some scholars explore the similarities and differences between Savitri and Draupadi. Indeed, the entire reason this myth was told in the Mahabharata was in response to Yudhisthira asking if there had ever been a woman whose devotion matched Draupadi’s (Ganguli 570). Weiss looks at Savitri’s marriage as a sort of inversion of Draupadi’s. Savitri is an ascetic wife, while Draupadi is married to five men, both deviations from the Hindu norm. As Weiss states: “Savitri lowers her social status by an act that creates social discontinuity (ascetic practices terminate social lineage), and Draupadi limits the natural capacities of her husbands by marrying all of them.” (Weiss 268-269).  The feminist scholar Lohia gently criticizes Savitri in comparison to Draupadi, stating that loyalty was important, but only as a single aspect of a woman’s personality (Yadav 110). Ultimately, both women represent distinct aspects of the Hindu ideal.

The story of Savitri and Satyavan exemplifies Hindu ideals of a wife’s devotion to her husband. Savitri marries the man she chooses regardless of his impending death, and refuses to let him go. When he does die, it is her devotion and strength of character that brings him back to life. In my opinion, she epitomizes the ideal of pativrata, and is an example of how the Hindu epics teach how one should live through tales with simple moral principles.

Bibliography

Ganguli, Kisari Mohan (1990) The Mahabharata of Krishna-Dwaipayana Vyasa Vol.III (5th Edition). New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers.

Rodrigues, Hillary (2016) Hinduism – The eBook. Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online Books, Ltd.

Sarma, Bharadvaja (2008) Vyasa’s Mahabaratam. Academic Publishers.

Weiss, Brad (1985) “Mediations in the Myth of Savitri.” Journal of the American Academy of Religion Vol. 53, No. 2: 259-270. www.jstor.org/stable/1464922

Yadav, Kumkum (2010) “Draupadi or Savitri: Lohia’s Feminist Reading Of Mythology.” Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 45, No. 48: 107–112. www.jstor.org/stable/25764190

Related Research Topics

pativrata

sakti

sati

Aswapati

Dyumatsena

Yama

Gayatri (goddess)

Brahma

Yudhisthira

Draupadi

Mahabharata

kshatriya

Related Websites

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Savitri_and_Satyavan

http://www.apamnapat.com/entities/Savitri.html

http://www.aaronshep.com/stories/006.html

http://www.kidsgen.com/fables_and_fairytales/indian_mythology_stories/satyavan_and_savitri.htm

This article was written by Thomas Hill (Spring 2017), who is entirely responsible for its content.


Rangoli/Kolam

The origin of Rangoli dates back to many centuries ago and is an important part of Indian festivals. Rangoli is a design that is drawn on the ground with colored powder sometimes even with colored rice. Since Rangoli is mentioned in the Epics, it probably originated from before they were composed. The tradition is said to have come from the story of Chitralakshana. [The son of the highest priestly son dies and is said to be drawn and as the painting is completed the priestly son comes to life] (Dhawan 1). During the beginning of this tradition, it is said in the epic Ramayana after the return of Lord Rama from his exile he was showered with love by the art of Rangoli (Rao 1)

In Hinduism anything that has a deep meaning to it, is taken very seriously among the older generations, such as art of Rangoli. It is not only just used for making the courtyard look pretty but also to avoid the evil spirits from entering the house. This is the reason why most Rangoli designs are made very intricate and detailed. Spirits and negative vibes that are surrounding the house to get intertwined in the intricacy of the design (Ashu 1). The designs are the first thing people see when they enter the house. It allows them to bring more positivity into the house after seeing the Rangoli. The traditional Rangoli were more symmetrical because it was pleasing to look at. Different types of shapes are included when making Rangoli, such as certain religious flowers, drawings of gods, and many other things that have some sort of significance. Mostly white was used in the traditional Rangoli as it was a sense of peacefulness and calmness. Rangoli is made during Diwali (festival of lights) to welcome the Goddess Laksmi (Goddess of wealth). During every festival or any special occasion, the women of the house make the Rangoli. They wake up early as it takes hours for them to complete. The designs are only made once the front yard is fully cleaned with water, as it is a way for the women to cleanse their mind and have a sense of calmness.

In traditional Rangoli making powdered color was not used but colors that were available naturally were used such as haldi, vermillion, and rice flour. Natural powders were used so that birds and other insects would have food. The principle of ‘Vasudaiva kutumbaka’ in Sanatana Dharma (Hindusim) meaning ‘the whole world is one big family’ (Sankar 1) is a reason why rice flower and such natural powders were used, so that the insects could feed off of them. Each color has a significant meaning behind it and is different in different parts in India. Now color that has dye in it is mainly used to attract more people and make it look more vibrant and realistic. Modern Rangoli is more focused towards the creativity of it rather then the spiritual aspect of it.

In southern India, there is myth about Lord Thirumal getting married in the Margazhi month, a time of the month that is said to be very auspicious. During this month, the girls get up before sunrise to start drawing Kolams [Rangoli is called kolam in southern India] to welcome the God of Thirumal (Dhawan 1). Going around a dot pattern makes Kolams.

During the month of January the Pongal kolam is made, in which the drawing is left undone until the next day so that they can join them with the neighboring houses.

More then just a design, Kolams is also used for mathematical ideas. They are very particular in using symmetry while making the designs and some even have a pattern that repeats several times. Some kolam are drawn using repetition of patterns in various angles Ascher (57-63). Symbols such as letters or numbers are used to explain the step-by-step way they are made.

Where Kolams are made up of more lines and have a geometrical pattern to them, Rangoli is made with vibrant colors and have many different designs. Each have there own significance and are used in different parts of India. Rangoli requires more intricate work than Kolams. Kolam is used more so in the southern part of India and Rangoli in northern part.

There are many different types of kolam designs; the most popular ones are the line and pulli Kolams. Line Kolams are free handed and are just geometrical lines. Pulli Kolams are designs where the dots are made in a certain sequence and lines are drawn to connect the dots. The pulli kolam has two different ways of making the design, one of which is connecting the dots and the other are twisted chains that are made around the dots Ascher (57-63). One other kind of kolam, called the snake kolam, different from any other Kolam, since it is drawn continuously and ends off where it began.

Rangoli is used in all of India whether it is for making drawing or used for special occasions. It has been passed down from centuries ago and is now being used in different ways and has even moved its way to a different side of it, the mathematical aspect. In the most recent years is when computer scientists have seen the usage of mathematical concepts being incorporated into the designs. As this tradition is passed down to future generations, the meaning and importance will slowly change as well. Slowly the designs will be improved by adding innovative aspects which differ from the past generations.. Rangoli’s is used upon arrivals of guests, family gatherings, and even when there are no special occasions. This allows women to get together and calm their minds down from the household work and provide them with a sense of relaxation from the tedious lifestyle. It is a way to express your happiness and allow others to enjoy the beautiful colors and designs made.

REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING

Sankar, Gayatri (2011) “Significance of Rangoli.” http://zeenews.india.com/entertainment/diwali-2011/significance-of-rangoli_98667.html

Dhawan, Ashu (2015) “Why do we draw Rangoli? Significance & Importance!” Retrieved from http://hindutva.info/why-do-we-draw-rangoli-significance-importance/

Subramanian, Ram (2014) “Kolam: A Tradition Combining Art and Geometry to Form Colorful Patterns.” Retrieved from http://tamilnadu.com/arts/kolam.html

Ascher, Marcia (2002) “The Kolam Tradition: A Tradition of Figure-drawing in Southern India Expresses Mathematical Ideas and Has Attracted the Attention of Computer Science.” American Scientist 90, no.1: 56-63.

http://www.jstor.org.ezproxy.uleth.ca/stable/27857597?Search=yes&resultItemClick=true&searchText=kolam&searchUri=%2Faction%2FdoBasicSearch%3Fwc%3Doff%26Query%3Dkolam%2B%26acc%3Don%26so%3Drel%26hp%3D25%26prq%3Dkolam%2Btradition%26amp%3D%26amp%3D%26amp%3D%26amp%3D%26amp%3D%26amp%3D%26fc%3Doff&seq=3#page_scan_tab_contents

Rao, Venkata V (2006) “What is the origin of Rangoli?” Retrieved from http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/What-is-the-origin-of-rangoli/articleshow/411395.cms

Hopkins, Dwight N (2001) Religions/Globalizations: Theories and Cases. Durham and London Duke University Press

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Rangoli

Pulli kolam

Line kolam

Margazhi

Ramayana

Lord Thirumal

Pongal kolam

Diwali

Snake kolam

Haldi

Vermillion

Goddess Lakshmi

Symmetry

This article was written by: Preet Parmar (Spring 2017), who is entirely responsible for this content. ab

Bharata

Bharata was the second son of king Dasaratha of Ayodhya and his third wife kaikeyi. His mother was the daughter of Kekaya kingdom. During the naming ceremony, the spiritual guru Vasistha said, “the second son will sustain and support the universe and his name shall be Bharata” (Bhalla 38). Bharata is also considered to be one quarter of manifest Visnu. He was the husband of Mandavi, daughter of king Janaka’s brother kusadhvaja. They had two sons, Taksa and puskala(Poddar 2001).

When king Dasaratha decides to crown his elder son Rama, Kaikeyi asks for the two boons he owed her, fourteen-year exile for Rama and throne for Bharata. Bharata was away from Ayodhya when Rama went into exile. Bharata was at Kekaya, the kingdom of his maternal uncle and was unaware of the incident. Rama fulfills the promise and leaves Ayodhya accompanied by his wife Sita and brother Laksmana. The helpless king Dasaratha could not bear the separation from Rama and passes away. Bharata is called back to Ayodhya, but the cause is not revealed to him. He hurries to Ayodhya, ignorant of all that had taken place and enters the town. While coming back he felt the city very lifeless. “The brilliant gardens, where we heard the wild note of each rapturous bird, where men and women loved to meet, in pleasant shades, for past times sweets­­- These to my eyes this day appear joyless, and desolate and drear”(Griffith 179).

As soon as he reaches Ayodhya, he goes to the king’s palace to meet his father, but the king is not seen anywhere. He meets his mother Kaikeyi and asks about the whereabouts of his father. Kaikeyi, without realizing the misfortune that had fallen on her, explains to him in detail about what happened in his absence that led to the death of the king. With shock, Bharata gazes at her but does not utter a word. Kaikeyi tries to console him but it only adds fuel to fire and he burst out in anger. He even forgets that she is his mother and abuses her as a sinner, destroyer of the clan, one who waters the leaves after it has fell from the tree. ‘Flee, cruel, wicked, sinner, let not this kingdom harbor thee, thou who hast thrown all right aside, weep thou for me when I have died”(Griffith 182). He cried with anguish at the thought of his brother Rama, having to suffer so much on his account. Bharata, after performing his father’s funeral, declares his intention of bringing Rama back from the forest. Bharata reaches Chitrakuta and gives the unpleasant news of their father’s demise to Rama and Laksmana, and pleads with Rama to return to Ayodhya as emperor (Bhalla 104). However Rama declines on the grounds that such a deal would be unrighteous. Rama says, “here shall I live in all delight, make my ancestral fame brighter, tread in their path who walk a right, and to my oath adhere” (Griffith 203). Though heavily disappointed, Bharata comes back to Ayodhya and agreed to govern Ayodhya, not as its ruler but as Rama’s representative. The folks supports Bharata, as he became the king of Kosala and Ayodhya, but he himself placed Rama’s sandals at the foot of the royal throne. He neither sat upon the throne or crowned himself. Bharata’s reign was righteous and the kingdom was safe and prosperous, but he continuously longed for Rama’s return. During this period, he failed to forgive his mother Kaikeyi and faithfully served Kaushalya, Rama’s mother and Sumitra, laksmana’s mother.

After 14 years of exile when Rama returns to Ayodhya, he intended to crown Laksmana the yuvraja (crown prince), but laksmana remarked that Bharata’s excellent virtues and years of expertise, qualified him as the yuvraja. Therefore he was right away made Yuvaraja by Rama (Bhalla 2008) and Rama establish Ramrajya. When Rama decided to retire, both Bharata and Shatughana joined him. When Rama walked into the river Saryu, he transformed into his eternal and original Visnu form, Bharata and Shatrughana walked into the river also and united with him ( Griffith 522). Bharata total devotion to Rama and his unquestioned adoration are held as role models and shine like a beacon of ideal character, illuminating the path for those who follow.

 

Bibliography

Bhalla, Prem P (2009) The story of Shri Rama. Delhi: Peacock books.

Griffith, Ralph Thomas H (2008) Ramayana, translated in English. Canada: Project Gluenberg.

Poddar, H (2001) Balkand in Ramayana. Gorakhpur: Geeta press.

 

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Rama

Sita

Kekaya

Yuvaraja

Ayodhya

Lakshmana

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

http://www.newindianexpress.com/cities/chennai/2016/aug/02/The-untold-story-of-Bharatha-in-Ramayana-1500786.html

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

 

Article written by : Shambhavi kala(March 2017) who is solely responsible for its content.