shastras

 
 
Thus Spoke the Saints and Sages

The long history of Sanatana Dharma is filled with wondrous stories of great saints, sages and visionaries. These saints and sages of the our tradition have repeatedly shown through mind, word and deed that discrimination based on caste and gender is wrong in the eyes of God. The life stories and writings of these enlightened saints and sages are a great source of inspiration for all Navya Dharmins and reveal that the true essence of Sanatana Dharma completely supports egalitarianism.

Part of the mission of the Navya Shastra is to continue the reform begun by these great souls who demonstrated that true dharma does not advocate discrimination on the basis of birth, background, gender or race.

The below passages relay stories of a few such mahatmas of our religious tradition. AUM

India's tradition of social reform has always been through religion. Each of the great social reformers have been devout devout bhaktas of Bhagavan. The list includes Raamanujaacharya (probably the founder of the medieval social reform movement), Jnanadeva, Meera, Kanakadasa, Vallabhaacharya, Caintainya Mahaprabhu, Alzhwars, Nayanars, Eknath, Ramananda, Kabir and on and on, the list is anything but exhaustive.

- Sri Mukunda Raghavan (Apr 7 2003)

SRI NARAYANA GURU

Another movement that deserves study is the movement founded by Narayana Guru, the Ezhava (avarna) saint of Kerala. The Ezhavas are one of the "backward" success stories in South India, and Narayana Guru's appropriation and reformulation of Shankara's philosophy into a global egalitarianism gave the Ezhavas a firm belonging within the mainstream Hindu fold. He advocated education above all else; he built schools and ashrams. Since they were not allowed into temples in those days, he built temples. Interestingly, Narayana Guru had a Sanskrit education. In Kerala apparently, Sanskrit education was not impossible for avarnas.

His first temple inauguration is well known: Dramatically, he rose from the waters in the heart of the night and brought forth a Siva Lingam. After three hours in meditation, with tears cascading down his face, he installed the holy icon, while the entranced crowd chanted "Om Namah Shivaya". Some Orthodox Brahmins challenged his installation. After all, what right did an Ezhava have to install an icon? But he responded: "I've installed only an Ezhava Shiva!" Those words resonate with all well-meaning Hindus who wish to see spiritual inequality end. He also played a role in the Vaikkom satyagraha. His movement lives on in Kerala and Andhra Pradesh.

But the orthodoxy has so thoroughly transfigured that even HH the Kanchi Shankaracharya praises Narayana Guru, one of modern Hinduism's unsung heroes. Can more reforms be far behind?

- Sri Vikram Masson (May 1 2003)

SANT KANAKADASA

Sant Kanakadasa was a saint of the Haridasa lineage. His works are especially famous around Udupi, where he was barred from entering the Shri Krishna temple because of his birth. Kanakadasa was allowed only to look into the temple through a side window, from where he sang a bhajan. It is said Shri Krishna's image itself turned to give him darshan to Kanakadasa through the window. Sant Kanakadasa was a strong critic of the oppressive caste system.

Timeless Kanakadasa
Jaswant Kaur
http://www.tribuneindia.com/2002/20020317/spectrum/book6.htm

Kanakadasa: The Golden Servant of Lord Hari
by Basavaraj Naikar. National Book Trust, New Delhi. Pages 115. Rs 40.

This book takes the reader back to the time when caste system held sway and Brahmins held a monopoly over religious matters. The so-called "low caste" people were not even allowed to enter temples. The Brahmins, being literate and the only ones who were "authorised" to learn and discourse in the "languages of the gods," Sanskrit, manipulated religious practices for their selfish interests. Truth was eclipsed by false rituals, making religion - the epitome of love and harmony - the monopoly of the rich and the privileged. The advent of Islam added to the problem. Muslim invaders were forcing the local Hindus to convert to Islam, which lead to a lot of ill-will and more. Social disorder naturally followed. Then came people like Ramanuja, Kabir and Guru Nanak who gave the message of love, equality and universal brotherhood thereby, reducing the tension between the two communities. Kanakadasa was one such social reformer from Karnataka.

Kanakadasa: the Golden Servant of Lord Hari provides information on Kanakadasa's life and his musical compositions. Being a low-caste shepherd and having suffered a lot, particularly at the hands of Brahmins, Kanakadasa had an inborn urge to help the lower strata of society. Unlike other children of his age, he was well-educated, had a sharp eye and a mind that analysed social developments. His poems and kirtans deal with every aspect of life and expose the futility of external rituals. They stress the need for cultivation of moral values in life.

In one of his poems, Ramadhanya Charitra, he has allegorised the dichotomy between high and low castes while describing the quarrel between rice and millet. He says that even though rice is used by high caste people and for religious rituals, millet, the staple food of the poor, is much higher in status in the eyes of God. Though an ardent devotee of God, Kanakadasa was a rebel who protested against social evils like caste system, untouchability, etc. through his poems. Commenting on the Brahminical hypocrisy, he says that he would like to be a servant of a chandala than to be a vicious Brahmin.

Again, while questioning untouchability, he gives a long list of people whom he considers to be untouchable. He says that untouchable is one "who preaches virtue but does not practice it; who serves the king and yet wishes him ill; who lusts after a whore; who poisons the patient through medicine" and so on. In another kirtan he tells how people neglect their duties but call themselves pure. He says that "bathing in the river without conquering internal pride, envy and wrath is meaningless" and "exhibiting hyperbolic devotion is like an actress exhibiting her illusory beauty."

He suggests solutions to various dilemmas of life and points out that "it is better to quarrel with the wise than to be with the ignorant; it is better to beg in a populous city than to starve in a royal palace; it is better to live in a deserted temple than to live in the company of the jealous"...

Then he warns that "one should not worship a mere piece of stone; that one should not criticise others and commit the sin thereof....."

Today, when many people have lost their moral values and society is divided on communal lines, Kanakadasas' message is of vital importance. The need is to revive it and spread it. It all lies with our religious leaders who can guide us to the right path.

- Sri Gautham KR (Apr 18 2003)

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SANT RAVIDAS

Kashi secured, now for the Atlantic
Chandrabhan Prasad

"The cultural revolution was led by Saint Ravidas, greatest of all the saints. The revolution sprung up in Kashi, cradle of the Varnashram Order, headquarters of Hindu religiosity, and the seat of Brahman learning."

 
 

Ravidas was born in 1378 AD in Kashi, to prosperous Untouchable parents, who traded in leather. Young Ravidas revolted against his parents' desire to make the trade his career, and left home. He erected a thatched house, and took on shoemaking for a living. He would bestow shoes on barefoot ascetics, and finance the needy. His messages of equality before God, and that God was accessible to all, captured the people's imagination. He built a small clay walled temple, and installed a leather idol of God. God thus, for the first time, stood liberated from a Brahmanical prison.

Kashi's Brahmans fumed in rage, and petitioned the Kashi king. "Who perceives God better, and knows the path to redemption?" was to be decided. The king organised a shastrartha between the saint and select Kashi pundits.Ravidas' genius found no match. The pundits turned colourless, bending before the saint. The saint rode the royal chariot through the lanes of Kashi, the king standing by his side. That was the Dalits' first war of independence, Kashi was secured. Cow-belt Brahmans never recovered from the shock, and were reconciled to the Dalits' cerebral deftness.

Chittor's Queen Jhally Bai was on a pilgrimage to Kashi, and hearing of the saint's glory, desired to visit him. The royal priests accompanying her resisted the move, but the indomitable queen went ahead. The spellbound queen was able to feel the difference between the barren minded pundits and the profound Ravidas. She was now a disciple of the saint. Back home in Chittor, her husband was furious. How could a Rajputana kingdom accept an Untouchable as its guru? But the maharani remained unfazed. She reasoned with her husband, and presented him a few the saint's hymns. But the King insisted on a test, and invited Ravidas over for dinner to his exalted palace.

The Brahman priests refused to dine with the saint, and sat separately. To the priests' disbelief, the people serving them food all turned into Ravidas. The bewildered priests repented and collapsed at Ravidas' feet, asking for forgiveness. The king declared Ravidas his guru. That must certainly have been the first occasion when an Untouchable raided the walls of untouchability, by dining with a royal family. Chittor, the cradle of Rajput dominance, had fallen. Ravidas stayed on longer, with princess Meera Bai becoming his disciple.

The wonderful religious system of the Sikhs would be incomplete without the saint's thoughts, as 41 of Ravidas' hymns form the main body of the Guru Granth Sahib. This is the only instance where a Dalit voice forms part of the spirituality of a religious system. Punjab, like most of north/central/western India has flourished by living the thoughts of Ravidas, the first ever Dalit revolutionary. While talking of revolution in 18th century Europe, Frederick Engels wrote: "Every struggle against feudalism, at the time had to take on a religious disguise." Saint Ravidas, while fighting caste, did exactly that in India.

- Sri Vikram Masson (Apr 7 2003)

 
  
 

MAHAKAVI SUBRAMANYA BHARATI

paRaiyarukkum inGu tIyar
pulaiyarukkum viDutalai
paravarODu kuRavarukkum
maRavarukkum viDutalai

To the pariahs and to the tIyars here,
And to the tribals (may there be) liberty!
To the forefathers of the parava caste
And to the loggers (may there be) liberty!

This is the opening stanza of a nationalist song entitled ViDutalai: Liberty! by the fiery 20th century Tamil poet Subramanya Bharati. All through the ages, a great many sages in the Indic tradition have spoken out loudly and passionately against the iniquities of the caste system. But here Bharati calls for the emancipation of the outcastes.

We notice that there were/are not just one class of the pancamas (fifth caste), but a whole lot of them, bearing various names. One group was known as tIyars: the evil ones. Bharati also refers to the so-called tribals. It is interesting that he asks for the liberation of the ancestors of the outcaste. This is to convey his anger at the treatment of avarNas by past generations of caste Hindus. The visionary poet who wrote songs demanding national independence from the British who had colonized the peoples of India, also called for the liberation of the lowest of the lowly of Hindu society.

This shows his enlightened humanism. It is only those saints and sages whose bhakti and meditation open their hearts to the human condition, to the injustice and iniquity that have always colored human society:

It is only they who speak out in no uncertain terms against caste and oppression.

- Prof. V. V. Raman (Mar 26 2003)

 
  
 

SANT MIRABAI

MIRA BAI (1498-1547)

Mira Bai was a Rajput princess who was deeply drawn to a pious devotion to Lord Krishna. Her extraordinary bhakti found magnificent expression in musical outpourings, which have been sung and celebrated during all these centuries because they have touched the hearts of millions. She has come to be regarded as a great saint in the Indic tradition. It is said that when Mira was young, a passing ascetic once handed to her an icon of Krishna. The little girl took an instant fascination for it, saw divinity in its compact form, and kept it close to her heart for many years. When, in her teens, she was wedded to a prince she would worship only her dear Krishna, and not the goddess Kali of the Rajput Ranas. Unfortunately, only five years after her marriage to the heir apparent, the young prince died in a battle. The widowed Mira grew even more attached to the divine, and spent long hours in song and devotion to Krishna. When her husband's brother became king, things got to be more difficult for the God-intoxicated Mira, for she was perceived as a downright embarrassment for the royal family. It has been said that there were also political motivations for the king's dislike of the other-worldly princess. Many moving stories have been told about how the king conspired to get rid of her. According to one, the scheming monarch once hid a venomous snake in a basket of flowers that Mira was to receive. Lo and behold, when musical Mira opened the present, the secret serpent had turned into another icon for her to worship. On another occasion, a poisonous potion was sent to her, camouflaged as a refreshing drink. Gentle Mira drank it calmly, but the poison did her no harm. She sang to the king:

That it was poison you sent me
I knew, though not told.
But I shine brighter by it
Like fire-treated gold.

But the persecutions continued, and Mira could not take it much longer. She moved to Brindavan and then on to Dwarka, places where, according to the Puranas, Krishna had lived and loved in his mortal frame. Legend also describes her mysterious disappearance in the Krishna (Ranchorji) temple in Dwarka. Apparently, she was summoned to come back to her kingdom by Rana Vikramajit. This was the same king who had once ordered her to be drowned. At that time the waters would not gobble her to their depths, though she herself made no effort to swim or sink. Now Mira refused the invitation to return. Upon the messenger's threatening insistence, she agreed, but only on condition she could spend the night in Krishna's temple. This was granted. However, when morning came she was not to be found in the sanctum sanctorum. Some thought that she probably left the place overnight in search of a peaceful retreat, away from the bullying envoys of the Rana. But most of the people, aware of Mira's mystic ways, were convinced that she had merged with the idol at the altar. Mira's saintliness was confirmed even more.

Through her countless songs of devotion Mira Bai has brought spiritual joy and piety to millions of people of the Hindu faith. She was a supreme example of the bhakti path, intensely feeling the pangs and pleasures of love for a personal god. It was not like the attachment of a child to a parent, but rather like that of a beloved to her mate. Her songs sometimes implore for virtuous qualities. She asks that evil and vicious thoughts be put away from her mind. Sometimes she wonders at the absurdity of it all, reflecting over the fact that while men of wisdom wander penniless, the fools of the world hold all power and pelf. Most of all, Mira's songs convey her deep conviction of a real Krishna with whom she was in love. She feels she had known him in previous births. She fantasizes sporting with him in Brindavan, his teasing her, and her jealousies at Krishna's attentions to other women. In other words, she imagines herself as one of the gopis in whose company the Puranic Krishna indulged in love play. But, unlike Jayadeva's, her songs never move into erotic paths. Here, for example, are some lines from one of her songs:

Unto Thy care did my parents entrust me.
Thou knowest best what's for my good.
No other master will I dote on excepting Thee
Thou art the perfect Brahma, Oh Lord.
Oh let me share Thy seat!
Make Mira Thine own, Oh Lord!
She is bewildered in her separation from Thee.

Few other cultures have been so enriched, both aesthetically and spiritually, by sages and saints as the Indic. Many women in the Hindu tradition have attained significant spiritual heights by their devotion to God. Mira was one of those among them whose devotion found expression in music and poetry, and these have made her name and memory immortal in the Indic cultural landscape.

- Prof. V. V. Raman (March 29, 2003)

 
  
 

Mirabai once went to see the Goswami in charge of a Krishna temple. The Goswami had a curtain across his room and had his assistants tell Mirabai that "Goswami does not look at the face of any STRI (Female)." Mirabai then inquired if the honorable Goswami was MALE. To which his assistants replied, "Of course he is. What kind of a question is that?"

Mirabai then said that that is really strange because in the shastras it was enjoined by Krishna Himself that only Krishna is MALE (Purusha) and all the rest are female (Prakriti). Hearing, that, the Goswami was really ashamed that Mirabai knew the scriptures a lot better than himself, a learned brahmin, and the Lord's keeper; and he at once had the curtain removed.

- Sri Bharat Kapadia (Feb 10 2003)

 
  
 

BHAKTA NANDANAR

In the hagiography known as PeriyapurANam in Tamil Saiva SiddhAnta literature, there shines the name of NandanAr. He is said to have been a devout Siva bhakta, but because of his very low caste he was not allowed to enter the precincts of any temple. It is said that he was a tanner by trade, dealing in cow hides, which meant that he was a much marginalized paraiyan.

The leather was also used for making drum-heads. The word paraiyan literally means one who beats a certain type of drum called parai. There was a time, it is said, when a paraiyan had to beat a drum to warn the upper caste people of his polluting presence in the vicinity, so that the latter could protect themselves by moving away. It is unbelievable that such blatant racism once persisted, and this may well be an exaggeration, but who knows! The word pariah has found its way into the English dictionary to mean anyone who is contemptuously excluded from society.

NandaNar became an ardent worshiper of Siva. His love for Siva was intense and he longed to visit the temple in TiruppunkUr. But he was also a serf under a Brahmin lord on whose fields he toiled. His Vediar (Veda-reciting Brahmin) master would not give him permission to go. When the lowly serf kept begging for this again and again, the angry Vediar said that leave would be given if he tilled all the forty acres of land overnight: a humanly impossible task. Deeply depressed, NandanAr prayed to Lord Siva and retired to bed.

The next morning when he went to the fields he found to his utter amazement that all forty acres had been well plowed, as required of him to make a trip to the temple. When the pious Vediar saw what had happened, realizing at once that his laborer was no ordinary man, he fell at the feet of the lowly serf and gave him permission to go to the Siva temple in TiruppunkUr. When NandanAr stood at the gate of the temple, the imposing statue of Siva's bull (nandi) was there between him and the lord's mUrti. It is said that Siva in the temple was even more eager to see his devotee, and he ordered the nandi to move slightly.

The Nandi may be seen to this day in that displaced position in that temple. It is this episode that gained for him the name of NandanAr (The One of Nandi). We do not know what he actual name was. He returned to his village, and kept saying to everyone that next he would be making a pilgrimage to Chidambaram to see Siva in the NatarAja aspect. Every time he was asked when he would be doing this, he used to say "tomorrow," which earned him the teasing title of TiruNALaippOvar (Mr.Will-go-Tomorrow). Finally when he did reach Chidambaram, he knew he would be treading on sacred soil, for it was unbecoming for a paraiyan to go to that temple. He is said to have sought permission for entry into the street by loudly asking, "May I come here?" Whereupon the Brahmins scurried into their homes and locked the doors.

Siva appeared in their dreams that night and instructed them to light a bonfire to enable NandanAr to be purified before he could enter the temple. This they did the next morning. NandanAr walked through the blazing fire, came out unscathed and with a sacred thread on his body which was smeared with holy ash, and he entered into the temple. NandanAr never come out, for he merged into the divine icon himself.

This version of NandanAr's life is based on the 19th century Tamil writer GopalaKrishna Bharati's play which was an adaptation of SekkizhAr's PeriyapurANam. The play is poignant and was relevant to the 19th century when an awakening was occurring about the injustice and oppression of casteism. Many people who cannot accept that there is or ever was anything wrong in Hindu society felt very uncomfortable with this play. Rather than take Bharati's work as an allegory to reflect the evils of casteism, some Brahmins criticized him for having deviated from the original.

As I see it, the moving story of NandanAr reveals several aspects of traditional Hindu culture. It shows the low regard that the upper castes had for pariahs at one time. It reveals the devotion that even the lowliest of the lowly could have for God. It tells us that in the Hindu framework God comes to the aid of even of the lowest strata, and reminds the so-called upper castes that there is really no difference among people, no matter what their proclaimed caste is, for we are all God's children. It also informs us that there have been saintly souls in the Hindu tradition from every caste, including the avarNas. Vediar's prostration to NandanAr is a symbolic gesture to affirm that when the oppressors realize the truth and recognize their errors, there will be enlightenment, apology, and reconciliation.

- Prof. V. V. Raman (Mar 23 2003)

 
  
 

SWAMI VIVEKANANDA

"Thus, although these are to be combined and linked together to make a perfect whole, do not put the cart before the horse. There is a cry nowadays about this and that food and about Varnashrama, and the Bengalis are the most vociferous in these cries. I would ask every one of you, what do you know about this Varnashrama? Where are the four castes today in this country? Answer me; I do not see the four castes. Just as our Bengali proverb has it, "A headache without a head", so you want to make this Varnashrama here. There are not four castes here. I see only the Brahmin and the Shudra. If there are the Kshatriyas and the Vaishyas, where are they and why do not you Brahmins order them to take the Yajnopavita and study the Vedas, as every Hindu ought to do? And if the Vaishyas and the Kshatriyas do not exist, but only the Brahmins and the Shudras,

the Shastras say that the Brahmin must not live in a country where there are only Shudras; so depart bag and baggage! Do you know what the Shastras say about people how have been eating Mlechchha food and living under a government of the Mlechchhas, as you have for the past thousand years? Do you know the penance for that? The penance would be burning oneself with one's own hands. Do you want to pass as teachers and walk like hypocrites? If you believe in your Shastras, burn yourselves first like the one great Brahmin did who went with Alexander the Great and burnt himself because he thought he had eaten the food of a Mlechchha. Do like that, and you will see that the whole nation will be at your feet. You do not believe in your own Shastras and yet want to make others believe in them. If you think you are not able to do that in this age, admit your weakness and excuse the weakness of others, take the other castes up, give them a helping hand, let them study the Vedas and become just as good Aryans as any other Aryans in the world, and be you likewise Aryans, you Brahmins of Bengal. "

- Sri Vikram Masson (Mar 4 2003)

 
  
 

". it is no use fighting among the castes. What good will it do? It will divide us all the more, weaken us all the more, degrade us all the more. The days of exclusive -privileges and exclusive claims are gone, gone for ever from the soil of India, and it is one of the great blessings of the British Rule in India. Even to the Mohammedan Rule we owe that great blessing, the destruction of exclusive privilege...That Rule was, after all, not all bad; nothing is all bad, and nothing is all good. The Mohammedan conquest of India came as salvation to the down-trodden, to the poor. That is why one-fifth of our people have become Mohammedans. It was not the sword that did it all. It would be the height of madness to think it was all the work of sword and fire. And one-fifth--one half-of your Madras people will become Christians if you do not take care. Was there ever a sillier thing before in the world than what I saw in Malabar country? The poor Pariah is not allowed to pass through the same street as the high-caste man, but if he changes his name to a hodge-podge English name, it is all right. Or to a Mohammedan name, it is all right. What inference would you draw except that those Malabaris are all lunatics, their homes so many lunatic asylums, and that
they are to be treated with derision by every India until they mend their manners and know better. Shame upon them that such wicked and diabolical customs are allowed; their own children are allowed to die of starvation, but as soon as they take up some other religion they are well fed. There ought to be no more fight between the castes."

These words were uttered by Swami Vivekananda almost a hundred years ago in a fiery speech which begins with great eloquence about India's past and spiritual heritage. By the way, in this speech Swami Vivekananda challenged the Aryan invasion theory decades before this became a matter of controversy. But in this paragraph and others he spoke out strongly against Brahmin superiority and untouchability, as do a good number of awakened Hindus today. But he also gave credit to Muslims and Christians for awakening in the slumbering Hindu mind the absurdity and suicidal danger in a system that treated its own people as inferiors and excluded them from spiritual participation. The enlightened Hindu thinkers of the first phase of Hindu Renaissance were more forthright and aware of the historical roots of conversion than some in the second phase who feel redeemed by accusing the aliens rather than looking within ourselves. What is sad is that a hundred years after Vivekananda's words, we are still engaged in the same old debates and accusations, arguing it was all the fault of intruders. If it be so, that is all the more the reason why we should cleanse the system of the rot that had thrown a great and rich civilization into a state of stupor.
What is ominous is that all through Hindu history, bold thinkers have minced no words in decrying casteism, but to little tangible avail. One may hope and pray that the new initiatives that are afoot in this forum as well as all over India will rid Hindu society of this moral shame and resolve the problem once and for all times.

- Prof. V. V. Raman (May 5 2003)

 
  
 

SRI ADI SHANKARACHARYA

I would like to cite an episode from the life/teachings of Sri Adi Shankara - the spiritual progenitor of most of our acharyas. I believe he himself had documented this episode as a landmark in his spiritual awakening.

We must try and convince them [orthodoxy] through the teachings of the orthodoxy. Failing which we must carry on our work, regardless, with malice to none. It is this context that I'm citing this episode. I, for one, find it inspiring.

Sri Adi Shankara was on his way to the river for his ablutions. He found his way blocked by a candala, his wife and four dogs. The acharya's disciples shouted to him to move aside for the saint. The candala responded, "O teacher of the scriptures. You have said that the human body regardless of caste is merely an outward sheath made of the food we eat. You have said furthermore that the same Parabrahman dwells in everyone. Is there a difference between sunlight reflected in a river and that reflected in a well? Should one body made of food give precedence to the other or one Parabrahman give precedence to the other?"
At this point the spiritual enlightenment of Sri Adi Shankara is said to have reached full fructition. Some believe that Lord Shiva Himself took this form to open his eyes.

The Bhaja Govindam also teaches that the distinction of man and woman is nothing more than a modification of the flesh. The word used is mamsa (meat). Even taking all our teachings as read there are no grounds whatever for spiritual discrimination. If I am meat and thou art meat how may we discriminate against one another? If I am soul and thou art of the self same soul is it meet that we look down on one another? This argument applies to race, religion or nationality as well.

This is the true essence of Hindu Dharma.

- Dr. Mira Govindarajan (Apr 5 2003)

 
  
 

SRI CHAITANYA MAHAPRABHU

Sri Chaitanya MahAprabhu (1485-1534)

Sri Chaitanya was an illustrious God-intoxicated personage whose impact on the spiritual sensitivities of Bengal and Orissa may be felt to this day. His message of pure love for God in the Krishna aspect has spread beyond the region of his birth and travels. The spiritual sect that emerged from his teachings is a major element in the religious life of Bengal, and it has spread far and wide in the world. The icons of Radha and Krishna in intense embrace and the fervent music that glorify that union are direct consequences of this extraordinary saint of the 16th century.

Jagannatha Misra and his wife Sachi Debi of Nadiya had ten children. The eldest was a son named Bisvarupa; the youngest one was called Bisambbar. All the intervening daughters died when they were still young. Bisvarupa later came to be known as Nityananda; Bisambhar as Sri Krishna Chaitanya. Chaitanya lost his father when he was a little boy. He was married when in his teens, wandered around in spiritual quest (during which time his young bride died), he married once again, and later renounced it all, feeling an intense call from divinity. Blessed with extraordinary intelligence and capacity for intense emotional
experiences, he saw little meaning in religious rites, and less justification for castes. All that one needed was pure love for God: a love that transcends hair-splitting logic and routine rituals. Chaitanya preached this simple message of the bhakti movement very effectively. The unadulterated love for God is to be nurtured, not by discourses and debates, not by offerings and pilgrimages, but by impassioned singing of and dancing to the Lord's name. Music is not only soothing but instigating as well. When godly songs and devotional dances are gradually brought to a crescendo to the accompaniment of drums and cymbals, the participants can lose touch with their surroundings and go into a trance of joyous experience that is as close to contact with the Divine as one can achieve in the physical frame. To Chaitanya is largely due the enormous popularity of kirtans in Bengal.

In the course of his singing, Chaitanya would often swoon in his ecstatic state. Such emotional outbursts, especially when it ignored the ritualistic injunctions of the priestly pundits, was not looked upon with favor initially. It has been said that "the doings of these devotees met with scorn and ridicule, especially at the hands of the worshippers of Kali." But Chaitanya and his followers took to the streets and carried on their rhythms in enticing processions which stirred the onlookers also. All this came from the conviction that total abandonment to Krishna and Radha is the sure way to be freed from the world of illusion and realize Vishnu who was seen as the only God. The Radha-Krishna union symbolized the merger of the jivatma with the paramatma: the individual with the supreme soul.

Historians say that religious practice and beliefs were in a dismal state in Bengal when Chaitanya arrived. It was Chaitanya who injected a spirit of joy in the religious experience, and moved the masses away from
obscurantist cults and sanguinary orgies. Chaitanya traveled to many parts of India. In Varanasi he us said to haveargued vehemently with scholars against Sankaracharya's interpretations of the VedAntasUtra. Finally he went on to Puri, took active part in the processions of the JagannAtha mUrti, and spent the rest of his life there. It is said that once while he was bathing in the sea he was overcome by one of his heightened spiritual states, and drowned in the waves. His disciples retrieved the corpse and buried it near the famous temple in the city.

- Prof. V. V. Raman (Mar 9 2003)

 
  
 

This incident is from Lord Chaitanya Maharprabhu's (who was the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Shri Krishna Himself) life story:

"Nityananda Prabhu served in so many ways at the Ratha-yatra Festival, and then Mahaprabhu ordered him to return back to Bengal and preach His mission there. He preached without care for caste or creed, and he especially preached to those who were inferior in caste and very poor. "

Please note the emphasis on he ESPECIALLY preached to those who were inferior in caste and very poor.

Please don't misunderstand that Lord Nityananda (who is Lord Balaram Himself) considered these people of low caste. The low caste had been foisted on to them by the people of those times. Lord Nityananda was the most merciful of incarnations of Lord Balaram, even more merciful than Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, who Himself was the most merciful.

So my point is that if God Himself is telling us that this "high caste-low caste" business is all bogus and not to be indulged in, who are we as mere humans to argue?

- Sri Bharat Kapadia (May 2 2003)

 
  
 

SANT KABIRDAS

jAti pati pUchai na koi
hari ko bhajhe so hari ka koi
AisI vANI boliye - man kA ApA khoye
apnA tan SItal kare - auran ko sukh hoye

Caste-connections, let no one ask;
Who invoke the Lord, become part of Him.
Speak such words, let go of pride
Keep your mind cool, may (your) listener be happy.

These are two dohas (couplets) of the 15th century mystic poet Bhakta Kabir. Though born of a lowly class and rejected as such, he was later accepted as a disciple by the saintly Ramananda. The poet is reminding us in the first doha that for spiritual enlightenment what ultimately matters is not one's caste
affiliation, but devotion to God. In the second, he is suggesting that when we talk to others we should nor be boastful and excited about ourselves. Rather we should keep our minds calm, and speak in such a manner that those we bring joy to those who listen to us. In classical Indian literature many poets and sages conveyed wisdom and insights on life and religion through pithy couplets such as the above.

- Prof. V. V. Raman (Dec 20 2002)

 
  
 

Interestingly, like saint Thiruvalluvar, [Kabir] was also a weaver by profession. Another interesting couplet by him relevant to the NS mission is:

Jaathi na pucho saadhu kee puch lee jiye gyan
Mol karo talwar kaa pade rahan do myan

Ask not of the sage his caste ask of him his wisdom (gnana)
It is the sword one needs to use; leave its sheath alone.

- Dr. Mira Govindarajan (May 9 2003)

 
  
 

SANT TUKARAM

GItA jeyney upadey shili, tey hey vittavari maavulee.
Vittala amuchey jivana, aagama nigama sthaana.
Tho haa nandaacha baalamukunda, thaanha mhanavee paramananda.
Vishvo key janithaa kahey yashodaa maathaa.
Paanduranga dhyaanee, panduranga manee.
Jaagrathee svapnee paanduranga..

The One who gave us the GItA, He is the mother of who stands on the brick.
Vittala (Krishna) is our life, let Agamas and Nigamas remain (wherever)!
He who is Nandagopa's little mukunda, is indeed the Supreme Bliss.
The Creator of the Universe can be brought to us through devotion.
In his (Tukaram's) meditation and mind there is (always) Panduranga,
Whether awake or asleep, (it is always) Panduranga.

This verse is from Saint Tukaram, the great 16th century poet-saint of Maharashtra. He was one of the God-intoxicated mystics who longed to see the divine in all its glory, and eventually had visions of God. In one of his abhangas he exclaimed, "I see God's face, and the vision gives me infinite bliss." Though devoted to Panduranga (the Maharashtrian appellation for Vishnu-Krishna). He also invoked the name of Allah. Tukaram contributed to the rich Bhakti literature of the Hindu tradition where odes to God are not just poetic compositions, but heart-heart to hear conversations with the Supreme, often as represented in the PurANic framework. We see in this verse the power of bhakti: the deeply experienced love of God which needs no sacred works or rules or temples. The essence of Tukarama's message here is that by intense and incessant concentration of the divine, the devotee can experience a bliss that no intellectual or social mode can bring about.

[Vitalvari means one who stands on a brick. Vittal-Rakhumai stand on a brick. So it is the mother who stands on a brick. There is an allusion here to an event in Lord Krishna's life.]

- Prof. V. V. Raman (Jan 31 2003)

 
  
 

SWAMI RAMANANDA

jAti poMti pUcce na koI
hariko bhaje so harika hoI

Ask not of anyone caste or commensality
Who chants Hari's name, of Hari becomes.

This is a famous couplet from Ramananda, the fifteenth (?) century saint who is regarded by some as a spiritual descendant of Sri Ramanuja. He was among the sages of the bhakti mode in which one experiences unadulterated and intense love for the divine, often in a personalized aspect. Like other enlightened souls, he reminds us of how absurd and irrelevant it is to harp on castes and eating rules in the spiritual context. One of the caste prescriptions was commensality: rules determining with whom (of what caste) one is permitted to eat, as per the shastras. Such rules make sense in maintaining the dietary purity of vegetarians. However they should be of little significance in the spiritual context, says the saint, where chanting the glories of the divine is all that should count. Furthermore, he says that all who are engaged in bhajan (deep-felt singing of the attributes of the divine) become part of the divine, and will begin to realize the commonalty of all human beings.

- Prof. V. V. Raman (Feb 15 2003)

 
  
 

GOSWAMI TULSIDAS

hari vyApaka sarvatra samAnA
prem te prakaTa hohiM maim jAnA
deSa kAla diSi vidiSahu mAhIM
kahahu so kahAM jahAM prabhu nAhIM

The Divine is always present everywhere
Through love is he manifest, this I know.
Which place and at what time, in which cardinal direction or in between,
Oh say, where the Lord is not.

The epics of the Hindu tradition have multiple aspects. They embody history, philosophy, culture, ethics, theology, mythology, and more. That is why they contribute richly to Indic civilization. In Tulsidas's SrI RamacaritramAnas we read these lines (Book I-185).

In very simple terms, in language intelligible to the common folk, these lines affirm the eternity and omnipresence of God. Here, in an assembly of deities, the question is posed rhetorically if one can find any spot in the world, at any time at all, where and when God is not present. We are told not only about the universality of God, but also that we can see God in no matter what direction. This is a rather interesting concept, which is not expressed in other theologies. The idea of directionality may be interpreted to imply this: No matter how we look at the world, no matter what aspect of it we consider, the Divine can always been recognized. However, for that we need to understand that God pervades the world as love. his is a very important statement. In much of Hindu religious writings the emphasis is on the spiritual dimension of life, on self-realization, on Brahma as the undergirding principle, etc. It is not often that love is proclaimed as a manifestation of the Divine. In this respect, this is a very significant verse. It reminds us that no matter how we think about God, we can experience the divine in every act of caring and compassion, in every expression of love in the world. Indeed one may say that a life that does not include love of others will always be blind to what is truly divine

- Prof. V. V. Raman (Mar 28 2003)

 
   
 

ANONYMOUS TAMIL POET

OduvAnellAm uzhuvAndRalaikkaDaiyil

The reciter of scriptures stands at the backdoor of the plowman.

This saying is from an ancient (anonymous) Tamil poet. In classical Tamil, the word OduvAn refers to a Vedic scholar: it literally means one who recites scared works. By extension, it refers to any teacher, and also to a Brahmin. The word uzhuvAn means one who plows, in other words, a farmer or any worker in the field, hence also to a Sudra. The poet succinctly says that the scholar is ultimately dependent on the labors of the farmer, and not vice versa. After all, it is possible for the farmer to live quite well by the fruits of his labor, and without the benefit of the knowledge and recitations of the Vedic scholar. However, the latter cannot even survive if the worker does not plow the field. It is an important truth that those who labor with their hands, who construct homes, make roads, and mend shoes are more essential for the survival of society than priests and pundits. And of all these, the cultivator in the field is perhaps the most important since there can be no existence without food. It must be noted that this saying does not denigrate the scholar, but merely points out the relative importance of each in society, thus reminding us of the absurdity, not to say injustice, in a hierarchical system that assigns to the scholar and the worker in the field positions which are exactly the opposite of their relative worth.

- Prof. V. V. Raman (Apr 15 2003)

 
  
 

BASAVANNA

Compiled from:
http://www.lingayat.com/alingayat/basavanna.asp
http://www.shaivam.org/vacsl004.htm

Basavanna (1131-1167 CE)

Basavanna was a profound thinker, a great social reformer, a great saint and a religious teacher. Basavanna is regarded as the originator of Lingayatism, however according to some scholars he revived this already existing creed. Shree Basaveshwara was born in a brahmin family, to Madarasa and Madalambe in 1131 AD in Bagewadi, Bijapur district, Karnataka, India. From his childhood, Basavanna was a brilliant child & was always showing his objections to many customs, rituals, discriminations in day to day affairs.

He was much pained by many drawbacks in Hindu Vedic Systems and brought reformation. For example:

*Due to untouchability system prevailing the lower caste people were treated as animals.
*Female were not given equal rights.
*The widows had to follow many rigid rituals & customs.
*The animal sacrifices in the name of satisfaction of gods.
*The rigid caste system treating the person by birth as superior or inferior.
*Following blind rituals which were meaningless.
*The Statue worship and exploitation of innocent people by worship class like pujaris, maThapatis etc.

The Brahmin class was opposing the learning of Vedas by people of other castes and all temples, maThs were in their stronghold. Exploitation of innocent lower caste people in the name of god & religious ceremonies rituals pained Basavanna very much & in his boyhood he opposed "Upanayana Samskara" which was not permitted to females. At the age of 16 years Basava broke away from the brahmanical religious traditions. He then proceeded to Kudala Sangama, which is now a village in Hunagund Taluk of Bijapur District and situated at the meeting place (Sangama or Junction) of two rivers, the Krishna and its tributary the Malaprabha. Basava found his guru at Sangama and with his guidance, he put himself into study and devotion to Sangameshwara the presiding deity of Sangama. He spent 12 years which was the most significant period of his life at Sangama.

He also started preaching that God is only one & he is "Shiva", who has no shape but dwells in every one. The symbol of "Linga" a semi round object was made compulsory to be worn in the neck after "Shiva Diksha" and this was equally applicable to both Males & Females. All such persons who believed that God is only one and he is Shiva were given "Diksha" and wore that Symbol Linga. They were called as Veerasaivas or Lingayat. Basavanna become Prime Minister to King Bijjala who was a follower of Jainism, but Basavanna married the sister of King Bijjala and since the king was not opposing Basavanna for his activities, all caste people under took Shiva diksha & became Veerasaivas by putting on Vibuthi on their forehead, & other parts of body & wearing Linga in the neck. The Veerasaivism not only brought all class of people under are stray fold irrespective of Caste & its popularity prejudiced the minds of Brahmins & their followers who believed in day old customs & procedures. "Anubava Mantapa" established under the chairmanship of Allama Prabha included females & it became so popular all the participants were given to voice their opinions it was guiding Veerasaivism to right paths always by performing as a governing council.It included leaders & stalwarts like Channabasavana, Akka Mahadevi & other Sharanas. The Veerasaiva are known as sharanas & Vachanas are the form simple Kannada poems were written by all sharanas. Basavannas Vachana became so popular, and study and recitations made people adhere to right path.

Here's is one of Basavanna's Vachanas:

ivanArava ivanArava ivanAravaneMdu enisadirayya.
iva nammava iva nammava, iva nammavaneMdu enisayya.
kUDala saMgamadEvA nimma maneya maganeMdu enisayya.

Don't make (me) think, "Whose is this man? Whose is this man? Whose is this man?"
Make (me) think, "This is our man. This is our man. This is our man."
Oh the Deity of kUDala saMgama, make (me) think that "I am a son of Your house."

Purport: Our Lord stands as the Supreme Flame that transcends all boundaries. To that God without a second, who is related and who is not? People of which color, race, caste, gender, language, region are His liked-ones and which ones are not? The One God for this entire universe does not push away any section of society. There is only One and He is the source of Bliss for everybody. Whoever is the devotee of our beloved God, they are our own. There should be no discrimination of the devotees in anyway. We are all the sons of that Great House!

- Sri Gautham KR (May 2 2003)

 
  
 

SANT JNANADEVA

Saint Jñanadeva (13th century)

Jñanadeva was an illustrious Marathi saint who was imbued in the thoughts and Slokas of the Bhagavad Gita. He preached the message and meaning of this immortal work. His teachings have been collected in a book called Jnanesvari which he is said to have completed at the age of fourteen. Jñanadeva emphasized the importance of austerities and celibacy for the spiritual path, but he also declared in his commentaries that the path of action was no less fundamental and that all action must have self-realization as the goal.

Jñanadeva understood the fulfillment that comes from bhakti. He defined bhakti as "that in which one thinks of nothing except of God; refuses to hear anything except His name; serves none save God and contemplates on nothing but God." Even the inferiority resulting from non-humanhood, caste or sex could be overcome by bhakti. He said, "Just as the impress of the king's order makes a piece of paper go as silver, so also a beast, a woman or a Sudra.... whosoever performs Bhakti, gets emancipated and reaches God."

Another major work, known as Amritanubhava (Experience of the Elixir) is attributed to this precocious saint. The goal of this work has been described as "the extension and diffusion of the Knowledge of God, which he had himself gained through the unlimited magnanimity of his spiritual teacher, to all the people in the world." Some of the basic thoughts of the Upanishads are found here. Here again Jñanadeva expresses his mystic delights on singing the Lord's name. He discusses the nature of gross ignorance of Brahman and of spiritual knowledge. There are elements of autobiographical anecdotes in the work, although it may be hard to believe some of the incidents and persons mentioned in it. For example, there is reference to a 700 year-old man who wrote devotional songs about Jñanadeva's family. There is a genre of literature in the Marathi language known as the Abhanga. This is pure religious lyric where love for God gushes from the heart through magnificent words and expressions. Spiritual joy is most effectively conveyed here, but equally the medium is used for philosophical reflection and critical commentaries on questionable social mores. Jñanadeva is generally regarded as the first great writer in this mode. Jñanadeva is said to have performed many miracles. For example, when he was but ten years old he is said to have declared to the village people that the soul in his body was as divine as any other creature's, as even of the buffalo that was standing nearby. The local pundits mocked him for his presumed wisdom, and taunted him by asking if the beast could enunciate any mantra. "And why not?," replied the lad and whispered "OM" in the ear of the
animal. Upon hearing this, the buffalo recited verses from the Vedas in impeccable Sanskrit! The Brahmins were dumbstruck, and they prostrated before the young saint.

Understandably, such episodes had great impact on the minds of the common folk who were already much moved by the songs and sermons of the saintly man. So, as years rolled by, his name and fame spread all through the Maratha country and beyond. In the sixteenth century, a temple was erected for him in Alankapur where, to this day, he is worshipped, for he was certainly as one of the enlightened souls who have lighted up the realm of spiritual wisdom in Hindu history.

- Prof. V. V. Raman (Mar 2 2003)

 
   
 

MRS. ANNIE BESANT

[Annie Besant] was an English woman, one of India's countless foreign friends. Upon landing on Indian soil in 1893 at the age of 46, she felt she had been a Hindu in a previous birth. ? Once married to a clergyman, later she became a theosophist and one of the founders of the Central Hindu College in Varanasi.

Through her writings and speeches, she brought India's cultural glory to the awareness of many English-educated slumbering Hindus. She extolled the antiquity of Hinduism, spoke of the resilience of Hindu culture and stressed its indispensability to India in modern times. She was sensitive to Hindu traditions, but she condemned, as any right-thinking person should, the iniquity of casteism, and questioned no less fiercely the arrogance of the White race to dominate and rule Non-White peoples. She was thrown into British jail for pleading for Indian sovereignty.

- Prof. V. V. Raman (May 24 2003)

 
   
 

MAHATMA GANDHI

"If the inhuman treatment of the Panchamas were a part of Hinduism, its rejection would be a paramount duty both for them and for those who, like me, would not like to make a fetish even of a religion, or condone every evil in its sacred name. But I believe that untouchability is no part of Hinduism. It is rather its excrescence to be removed from every effort... If it was proved to me that it (untouchability) is an essential part of Hinduism, I for one would declare myself an open rebel against Hinduism itself"

These are the words of Mahatma Gandhi, written and spoken more than eighty years go. We respect Gandhiji for these sentiments, but sadly they are not really original thoughts. All through the ages, the true lovers of the tradition, countless Hindu sages and saints, have spoken out with even greater vehemence and harshness against a system that considers one group inferior, indeed too lowly to be touched. Whether it is the inertia of centuries, the spiritual blindness of dvijas, the perversion of pundits, the attitudes of the AcAryas, or the curse of some sinister spirit, we do not know. But the fact is that for generations the scourge of casteism and untouchability has disfigured the fair face of Mother India. One may wonder if the religion will ever be cured of this age-old ailment that has been maiming the fabric of Hindu society for a good many centuries.

- Prof. V. V. Raman (May 17 2003)

 
   
 

BHARTRHARI

BhartRhari is an illustrious Sanskrit writer who probably lived in the seventh century. Scholars have argued about his identity, some suggesting that the name probably refers to two different persons. Some have said that he was a king, and ruled in Ujjaini. Be that as it may, we do have pleasing poetry and insightful ideas bearing the name of BhartRhari. At least three works are credited to him: Vairagya Satakam (Hundred Principles on renunciation). Niti-Satakam (Hundred Principles on Ethical Codes) and Sringara-Catakam (Hundred Principles of Physical Love).

Whether he was Buddhist or Hindu we may never know. But he wrote on love and renunciation, on morals and wisdom. Certain works on Sanskrit grammar are also attributed to him. Sometimes he is pragmatic, as when he notes that in life, more important than caste and venerable virtue, are material riches: "Let high birth go the nether world, and all merits sink even lower. Let virtue be flung from a precipice, and pedigree consumed by fire. Let lightning strike our valor. But let us not lose our riches!"

- Prof. V. V. Raman (May 18 2003)

 
  
 

SRI RAMAKRISHNA PARAMAHAMSA
"Sri Ramakrishna said: 'The caste-system can be removed by one means only, and this is the love of God. Lovers of God do not belong to any caste. The mind, the body, and soul of a man become purified through divine love. Chaitanya and Nityananda scattered the name of Hari to everyone, including the pariah, and embraced them all. A brahmin without this love is no longer a brahmin. And a pariah with the love of God is no longer a pariah.'"

Source: Swami Nikhilananda (trans). The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna. Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center, New York, NY (2000) pp 155.

- Sri Gautham KR (May 28 2003)

 
   
 

PANDIT RAM SHARMA ACHARYA

Pandit Sri Ram Sharma Acharya was the founder of Gayatri Parivar - Yug Nirman Yojna ... Pt. Acharya (and his organization) worked all his life to impart vedic knowledge and the Gayatri to all people regardless of caste and gender. In my mind, he was another prominent Navya Dharmin of the twentieth century.

"There is a prevalent belief that the right to worship Gayatri [is] exclusively restricted to the 'Brahmans' or so called 'Dwij' ... This is a gross misinterpretation. Since Gayatri is the manifestation of [the] creative power of God; like the sun, water, air, earth, etc. everyone is entitled to derive benefit from it. The concept of propriety is to only man-made products. ... Endless benefits can be enjoyed by Gayatri worship by
all humans irrespective of caste or creed."

"The concept of caste is grossly misunderstood in the modern society. In ancient times castes were not regarded by birth or by action. The word brahman or dwij implies one who seeks truth and leads righteous life. ..."

"According to ancient scriptures every person on his birth is regarded as inferior (one of low caste). But when he grows up, attains knowledge ... and seeks truth he becomes a brahmaparayan and is called a brahman or dwij (twice born)."

"For countering the often repeated arguments against women's right to Gayatri worship, let us try to understand the basic principles of ancient Indian culture. It propounds a religion for the universe - for the entire humanity. Nowhere does it support the illogical inequality based on differentiation of caste or sex. The code of conduct in Hindu religion has equality of humans in all respects with unity and compassion as basic tenets. The misconceptions of restrictions on natural human, civil and religious rights of women is, therefore, not in conformity with scriptural doctrines. ..."

Source: Pandit Sri Ram Sharma Acharya. "Solving Problems of Life Through the Great Science of Gayatri." Translated by P. Pandya et al. Vedmata Gayatri Publishers, Chatsworth, CA (1993) pp 207-209.

- Sri Gautham KR (May 28 2003)

 
 

 

 
 

SRI RAMANUJACHARYA

I would like to bring to your attention the following about Srimat Ramanuja Achariyar:
- Who accepted a non-Brahmin as his teacher
- Who brought to the temple the outcasted people by renaming them as Thirukulathar
- Who preached Vedas to all the people with out any caste discrimination
- Who took Urangavillidhasar- a non-Brahmin into the Srirangam Sannidhi (sanctum area)
- Who left his wife as he could not change her discriminatory treatment to non-Brahmins.

A great Acharyar (Saint) indeed!

- Hon. Sri Rajarathina Bhattar, Priest Emeritus (May 19 2003)

 
  
 
-------- * Compiled and edited by Gautham Rao.
 
  
  

shastras