HINDU MASS WORSHIP IN TEMPLES AND THE NEED FOR SPIRITUAL FOCUS
(I-Discourse by N.R.Srinivasan, January 2012)
We Hindus owe our gratitude to the great visionaries, philanthropists and founding fathers that have raised the Institution of magnificent Hindu Temples. Building temples is a noble task. Planning worship to meet the spiritual needs of the hour is the task of the society, particularly so in Hindu Temples beyond the seas.
Temple worship by Hindus in India though looks polytheistic in outlook from the various traditional followings from Kashmir to Kanyakumari is influenced and controlled by the unnoticeable under-current of Sanatana Dharma like the mystic river Saraswati which is adored and celebrated in all worships.
"Hinduism is a more recent nomenclature given to a conglomeration of heterogeneous traditions and plurality of beliefs and worship with a long history of development from the Vedic sacrificial religion through the worship of Epic and Puranic heroes and personal deities, cults and sects, as well as philosophical systems rather than to a monolithic tradition or a structure based on a single system of beliefs and worship or a single text as a scripture" says Champakalakshmi in her book, The Hindu Temple. It is therefore very difficult to change the system of mass Hindu worship in India which to some extent looks commercially oriented, controlled by autocratic management and influenced by the politically ruled governments who often interfere with religious freedom of worship.
In a country like USA where Hindus have migrated and built several temples for worship things looks promising. Hindus are worshipping various deities under one roof with equal participation unlike in India, in Siva-Vishnu-Devi complexes keeping the interests of all Hindus drawn from varying traditions (Sampradayas) coming from India. They have much more responsibility for they have to strive for national integration in their country of migration by suitably blending with the vast majority of faith based religions, keep the Hindu culture within their fold for their born and brought up children here and the children married into Western culture who have a tendency to turn atheists due to conflicts with the religious views of partners as well as spread the message of Spirituality for humanity which task began with Vivekananda's visit to USA where he boldly proclaimed "Vedanta is the
Religion of the Future". By
Vedanta he meant spirituality. Here Hindus have an advantage over faith based religion sand the time is opportune, for many from Western culture are turning towards Yoga and Spiritual thinking and who are fed up with conventional rituals without understanding.
This discourse discusses briefly how all our worship should end with spiritual focus for enlightenment to make it meaningful and attractive to all including some from Western Culture who visit temples to quench their spiritual thirst influenced by Upanishadic thoughts available in the English language. They are also confused by the elaborate rituals and apparent polytheistic approach. It also deals with current practices of celebrating American National festivals in Hindu temples which could be dedicated to more to meaningful Vedic deities—Thanksgiving to Mother Earth, Universal Mother; Bill of Rights during Festival of Lights Season to Manu, First Law (Dharma) giver to the World; New Year's Day to Lord Kubera, God of Wealth and Prosperity; Valentine's day to Rati and Five Great Women (Pancha Kanyas) known for their Love, Chastity and Faithfulness; Mother's day and Father's Day to Parvati and Lord Siva (Jagatah Pitarah). Our sincere intentions can be made known to vast majority by such worships demonstrating that we Hindus have not lagged behind those who celebrate them in churches and unlike many who are indifferent to it show that we do celebrate. Hindus can thus express their gratitude to the land they have migrated. Even Independence Day could be celebrated as dedicated to Aindra Mata (adopted Bhoodevi like Bharat Mata of Bankim Chaterjee) since we already dedicate all our Sankalpas (religious resolves) to Aindra Kanda. Perhaps holidays like Labor Day, Easter Day and Independence Day as well as Halloween could be left to Western Culture with their original intent.
Hindu religious scriptures are too many and are quite often independent in their way of thinking; they also differ in the method of conveying the message of spirituality because of the freedom Hinduism enjoys which is not authoritative like faith oriented Religions. There are scriptures in Hinduism like Bhagavadgeetaa, universal in approach and Mahaa Naaraayana Upanishad (MNU) containing all Vedic Mantras, suitable for Siva, Vishnu and Devi worshipers, collected from all Vedas and Upanishads and for Hindus drawn from different Sampradayas who are mostly influenced by the later Smritis (Puranaa, Aagamas and Tantras). Thesetwo scriptures are easily adaptable by all Hindus drawn from different Sampradayas to read, understand and follow in worship and are suited for Aaagama worship. Mahaa Naaraayana Upanishad is a condensed version of Vedas and Bhagavadgeetaa a condensed version of Upanishads making more meaningful for the busy and well educated crowd of Hindu-Americans. Sanskrit, the divine language and master of all languages can be taught first. The above two scriptures can be taught in the spiritual classes conducted in Hindu Temples of America. It may be of interest to know that Jews are seriously considering reviving their scriptural language Yiddish as there only very few people left behind who have working knowledge of the same. Why not then we? It will not be difficult for the intelligent Hindu-American crowd to learn their divine language Sanskrit and gain working experience which is hard to
replace in worship to rise to spiritual heights. The rest of the scriptures can be left to philanthropists, scholars and researchers. These objectives could be kept in view in getting learned priests from India for guiding worship.
Hindu worship in India at home is bound by family traditions, while the worship in a temple in India is based on worship manuals called Aagamas, conducted by well defined, closed endogamous and distinct classes of temple priests of Saiva, Vaishnava or Sakta inclinations. These priests are traditionally bound. They have been responsible for the temple culture within the folds of Vedic culture. Worship is also conducted in Divine language of Sanskrit while its study has been given up mostly but for few scholars. Fortunately in India they are backed up by spiritual organizations and monasteries called Maths fulfilling the need of the society for spiritual evolution. This is not so in Hindu Temples situated beyond the seas amidst conflicting religions of the majority.
A true devotee knows the best form of worship is contemplation on the invisible God, the inner-self abiding in his own cavity of the heart, "Antaryaamin" according to the saying "muneenaam hridi daivatam"-- for the sages god is within their heart. Many learned but conservatives consider worship in temple is not suitable for a truly religious person because carrying on worship in public smacks exhibitionism. Worship in temples involves remuneration which is needed for the sustenance of the priest and the establishment as a public institution for day to day running or recompense which is in reality a business transaction and therefore in their opinion fails to bring about spiritual benefit. Manu denounces even a guru who teaches sacred texts and gets paid for it. Thus there is a prejudice among the orthodox against professional temple priests.
Temples contain icons of God in the form of humans or Linga. It became a practice to build enclosures to deities in the form of temples in the medieval times by kings and chieftains. God is indeed the overlord even for the kings. He rules over the Universe. God in the temple therefore reminded the devotees of the king in his palace. The old terminology in Sanskrit for the palace, "praasaada" reminds us of the same. God was worshipped with all honors due to a king on a more magnificent scale and even temple buildings were looked upon from that angle. Kings looked upon Kubera, Lord of Wealth as their presiding deity and Kubera in turn attended on God as his attendant, as depicted in Badrinath. Kubera is a Vedic deity. Thus worship in temples tends to practices in a royal court or the respect shown to an honored guest in a royal court. In Christianity also Bible talks about "Kingdom of God" and "Heavenly Father" probably inspired by Hinduism.
It is very difficult to contemplate on the divinity without conceptualizing a form. It is but natural for a human mind to conjure up images far superior to his form. If the mind is not
permitted to do this it may lapse into drowsiness or get withered up. Temple traditions help to overcome this situation. Human form of God and its worship in community is intended to evoke religious atmosphere, however artificial it may look, to help meditate on the divine attributes, to offer prayers and to approach divinity with love and devotion. Thus even in Siva temples the processional deity is consecrated always in the human form.
The striking feature in temple worship is its collective approach. The temple is a public institution. The priests who officiate in temple perform worship not for their own sake but for the sake of the public, the state and for the welfare of all humanity as they express in their prayers (sarve janaah
sukhinoe bhavantu— Oh Lord, bless for the well being of all!). Temple worship is not intended to replace worship at home in seclusion. Worship at home is obligatory; worship in the temple is optional. Even the priests finish their household worship according to the saastras (religious mandate) which stipulate the same as Nitya karma, daily duty of a Dwija, the twice born before going to the temple. Worship, a priest conducts is in fact symbolic of the worship conducted by the community. Community needs this due to lack of knowledge of worship rituals, lack of time, difficulties of accommodation etc. In reality they are the worshipers and the priests only officiate on their behalf. This worship has to be conducted in full view and participation of the devotees. The temple architecture and regulations have made adequate provisions for the same. The viewers' hall before the sanctum known as the Mukha Mantapa or Ranga Mantapa or Nav Rang is meant for such a public participation. It is also customary that at the end of special Poojas (worship) or festivals a formal blessing is invariably invoked on the community in particular and the whole of humanity in general.
Hindu temple priests in India tend to form a class of their own. The privilege to conduct worship is not solely based on heredity or by inclination or even by proficiency in Aagamas. It has to confer to the needs and objectives of the management of the temple, the trustees or administrators who function on behalf of the entire community, by a contractual agreement. The worship he conducts is virtually symbolic of the worship conducted by the community. The public character of worship in the temple is emphasized by the numerous festivals, processions and Homa rituals involving the participation by the community who generously donate. Aagamas also prescribe a large number of festivals, like Rathoetsava, chariot festival which are conducted for the benefit of the people residing in the locality.
Besides temple priests, India has also other groups belonging to the priestly profession: Purohits who officiate in religious events like marriages, investiture, funeral rites, obsequies (shraddhas) etc; Pundits or learned Brahmins who teach spiritual texts or give public discourses on religious subjects; and Vaideekas who visit household, assist in the worship rituals daily or occasionally.
The temple priestly families get their training in Aagamas of particular sectarian persuasions in religious schools or Maths or even from their learned elders from the family. Other priestly classes do not undergo this special initiation to worship in temples nor acquire the knowledge of Aagamas.
The temples in South India differ from the temples of the North with regard to structures and ritual details. But these differences are more superficial than deep. There is a general feeling that Aagama influence is stronger in the South Indian temples than North Indian temples. But in the celebrated temples of the North like, Vaaraanasi, Dwaaraka, Puri Jagannath, Kaamaakhya, Badrinath and Kalighat Aagamas play a vital role in the worship procedures. Though the North Indian Aagamas are not as many and not so familiar to devotees as in South Indian temples they are very similar and symbolism in both cases is derived from the same source.
TEMPLES BUILT BY HINDU IMMIGRANTS FOR WORSHIP
Philanthropists from amongst the migrated Hindus have built several temples outside India in many countries to cater to the needs of the community. They have been able to get the services of Stapathis, temple architects and Aagama trained temple priests from India. Unlike in India these temple priests are also called upon to play the role of Purohits and Vaideekas at times. They also do not have the customary assistance from the category of groups called Paricharakas in India who assist priests a lot in preparation for the main temple rituals. The Pundits' role is taken by institutions like Arsha Vidya Gurukula, Chinmaya Mission, Ramakrishna Mission, Sivananda Ashram etc., who have established themselves overseas. Here again these institutions are trying to have their own temples and priests to cater to the needs of visiting participants but their main thrust has been on spiritual discourses. But they are few and far between in a vast country like USA where Hindus are spread out.
Many of the Hindu cultural centers abroad lack an all-round facility for the development of Vedic approach of spirituality which can be easily drawn from different sources at one place of residence in India which is needed for the harmonious development, needed badly by the immigrants for the future generation. Also immigrant lot is different kind compared to the majority participants in temple rituals in India. Faithful devotees abroad are well educated and are of very inquiring nature. Therefore mere ritualistic approach without proper explanation or conviction in a divine language does not appeal to the majority. At the same it is hard to replace the divine language which is so rich and invoking. The spiritual heights to which this divine language takes one can't be replaced by any other language. They are also influenced by the prejudices of the major society from other religions who are ignorant of Hindu culture and therefore critical of the ritualistic approach. Some temple organizations try to run programs like Vedic heritage classes to influence young minds and Vedanta classes for adults with limited resources and expertise but they are quite inadequate to keep the continuity of sound Vedic approach for the immigrant society in an alien atmosphere. Serious thoughts should therefore be given, to develop integrated spiritual and religious centers than merely focusing on ritualistic approach and building magnificent temples in numbers, which however form the base for gradual-build up of spirituality, and, also encourage the study of divine language. This will be the uniting force for the crowd drawn from different traditions.
Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam when he addressed students recently gave this prescription for a brighter future for the citizens of India, which is equally applicable to citizens in all parts of the world. "If you are looking for a fearless society, a world at peace, humanity enjoying a harmonious life, here is a prescription: education with values, religion
transformed to spirituality, coupled with courage to invent and discover, courage to share knowledge, and courage to combat problem". All need to take President's recent message with all sincerity, to not only adopt in one's own personal life, but also adopt for the sake of humanity to make the world a peaceful and beautiful place to live in.
Inspired by religious beliefs kings and chieftains built celebrated temples around the self manifested icons in places like Vaaraanasi, Thirupati, Ramesvaram, Kanchipuram, Puri Jagannath, Kedarnath, Badrinath etc. These temples have become holy shrines and the place around them great pilgrim centers. Philanthropists later built several temples modeled after these shrines, to mention only Venkateswara temples and Viswanatha temples found almost in every town apart from Ganesha temples wherever Hindus live and also in the migrant countries.
CHANGES IN THE PERSPECTIVE OF HINDU TEMPLES TO-DAY
Celebrated Hindu temples have become huge establishments. Puri Jagannath is served by more than 600 priests and over 10000 others who depend on it for their livelihood though it does not run charitable, educational and environmental friendly institutions like Tirupati. Hindu temple with the passing of times has become an art gallery, economic institution, political power, social organization, crafts guild, fortress and refectory. This tendency is also slowly creeping into other countries where temples are coming up in great numbers to cater to the religious cultural and social needs of immigrant Hindus.
The perspective of Hindu temple in India is changing and the temple more often tends to become a mere building of magnificence and worse an office or bureaucratic institution or a place for social meet. A true devotee knows that a crowded temple of modern times is the last place for a thoughtful prayer or meditation. Yet his staunch religious belief draws him periodically to the temple to feel the presence of the Lord and have Darsan (vision) of the Lord in the form of an icon, not necessarily for prayer or serious meditation. Further there is rarely anybody in these huge establishments to guide you spiritually nor have the will to do so. They just drive you away after a glance at the Lord for a minute and act like busy religious traders. The devotional spirit in the devotee needs to be taken to spiritual heights to maintain the original intent of temple traditions that was responsible for the celebrated shrines, magnificent temples and frequently visited pilgrim centers developed in India.
Hindu Temple is mainly a product of Puraanic tradition. The Hindu Pantheon of Gods has originated from Puranic Brahminical texts of Vaishnavas and Saivas which has absorbed also traditions of other minor religious groups. Hindu worship therefore is a synthesis of the major Brahminical Sanskritic tradition with the minor regional vernacular traditions. The tradition of worship of Vitobha and Kandobha in Maharashtra has been absorbed as form of Krishna worship. The tradition of Kaali Worship in Bengal, Bhagavati in Kerala, Maariamman in Tamil Nadu has been absorbed as Devi worship. So also the worship of Lord Ganesha, a deity venerated by the farmers for protection of their crops and Murugan a deity of hill tribes who have been absorbed as sons of Lord Rudra of Vedic days worshipped as Siva from Puraanic days. More deities have sprung up to add to the pantheon of Gods (33 Crores or so) like Sai Baba, Azhwars and Naayanmars, Aandal, Bharatmaata, Swami Narayan and others in India. Probably Tiruvvalluvar, Agastayar, Satya Saibaba and Ravidas are in the waiting list.
DILEMA OF HINDUS IN MIGRANT COUNTRIES
In migrant countries Hindus try to merge some part of their worship with local traditions. Thus there is a trend to introduce Hindu form of temple worship to celebrate American Holidays as seen in Mother's Day Celebration, Father's Day Celebration, Thanksgiving and New Year's Celebration etc. These holidays are all shown in American Hindu Temples' Hindu Religious Calendars as important days for celebration and worship. Probably some may think of Valentine's Day for the worship of Rati and Kaamadeva or five great ladies who were devoted to their husbands (Ahalyaa Draupadee Taaraa Seetaa Mandodaree Tathaa | Panchakanyaa smaren nityam mahaa paataka naasanam ||). As we all know Rati worked very hard and with the blessing of Lord Siva (though Kaama was reduced to ashes by him before) could keep her life-long tie with Kaama intact. He was ananga (bodiless) for others but for Rati, the usual affectionate husband. An icon symbolic of Statue of Liberty may be installed by an enthusiastic Hindu-American to join the pantheon of Devis drawing inspiration from Bankim Chaterjee's creation of Bharatmaata celebrated in Vande Maataram who is consecrated in an exclusive Hindu Temple in the Holy city of Haridwar. Liberty Statue may be considered as Aindramaata similar to Bhaaratmata who was created to rouse and preserve the national spirit by Bankim Chatrjee in India to fight for independence. Then American Independence Day can be celebrated in Hindu Temples here dedicated to Swatantramaataa (Liberty Devi) or Aindramaata and gratitude expressed! As we all know in Hindu-American concept America is Aindra-Kanda which we quote regularly in our Sankalpas! There are references in Hindu scriptures that sage Kapila had his hermitage there.
It is an irony that most of the Americans honor the fourth of July because they believe it is a day on which Americans secured their freedom. But the truth is that the Declaration of Independence really only secured freedom for White and Wealthy men. It took freedom of speech, press, religion, petition, and assembly--the five freedoms of the First Amendment —to lead to suffrage for women, the emancipation of slaves and equality for all. December 15 is the Birthday of Bill of Rights. In guaranteeing these fundamental rights in 1971, Americans set themselves apart from all other nations on the planet. It is one of the most important days in American History, and yet almost no one takes the time to reflect on the importance of December 15 and the Anniversary of Freedom. FDR wanted all Americans to observe this day with appropriate ceremonies and prayer. Somehow this holiday got away and has not been properly recognized caught in the busy shopping season. This day is very important to us as Hindu migrants. If ever we think of celebrating Independence Day in the temple this is the day that need to be celebrated with appropriate ceremonies and worship and not the one that restored freedom to White and wealthy people only. If we consider American Independence Day worthy of including under Religious calendar of Hindu Temples, it will be more appropriate to include December 15 Birthday of American Bill of Rights than July 4. May be we may include both. Celebrating December 15 with appropriate ceremonies and prayer as FDR wished will also remind American White majority what they have missed and how concerned we Hindu-American migrants are in Country's interest and national integration.
We have already talked about Thanksgiving Day how falsified it is and that no such dinner took place. (Please refer to my discourse on Thanksgiving). If this day has to find its place in Hindu Religious Calendar of Hindu Temples in America it should be celebrated with proper ceremonies and prayer.
Hindu-Americans should be careful in adopting any worship to suit both cultures and all Sampradayas in their enthusiasm. It is possible to logically celebrate Father's Day, Mother's day and Valentine's Day and to fit them into Hindu concept of religious worship. We have to express our gratitude in some way to America for having welcomed us, accommodated us with all freedom and provided us an opportunity to progress with prosperity, sometimes even to the envy of White majority. Worshipping Mother Earth on the Black Friday in the week of Thanksgiving Holiday week-end will be apt and fitting for this purpose. We should not mix this with the Western Culture of cooking Turkey and celebrating with close relatives. This Friday could also be a day for Food Charity (Annadaana Day) as explained in the discourse on Thanksgiving. As we all know the Thanksgiving Day was nothing to do with the Natives nor Pilgrim Fathers had any dinner with them. Showing Christmas Day in the Hindu Religious calendar, does not seem to be appropriate like the Labor-day week-end. Similarly President's day and Independence Day should be left out of our consideration leaving them to their original intent.
If however we want to pay our gratitude to the Country and the Constitution it will be fitting and proper to join the Happy Holiday Season during Christmas Fortnight celebrating December 15 as Birthday of Bill of Rights, the most important Day in the American History which has been lost sight off by all. This could be dedicated to Manu who brought out Dharmasastra to the World, the first ever Code of Law. December 15 will be a Day in the series of Hanukah, Christmas and Kwaanza, all being Festivals of Lights. December 15 will be a day of Spiritual Light in the Series. As we all know Jesus fought for the religious freedom and expression during his life-time. He did not want to start any new religion for he believed in that One God whom Moses visualized as blazing Fire in the bushes of Mount Sinai and received the Ten Commandments which are in essence the Wisdom contained in the Vedas. His followers later started a new religion in the name of Jesus Christ. We also know that Jesus and his parents were immigrants in a foreign land Egypt. The Bill of Rights if we really think had the Divine inspiration from Jesus. It gives freedom to practice your own faith amongst many other faiths, to live in peace with majority and prosper, sometimes even excel the majority.
We cannot kill the enthusiasm of our children born and brought up here to put up light and the tree with decorations and also look forward to the customary gifts from friends and relatives during the Holiday Season of Festival of Lights which starts immediately after Thanksgiving and ends after the celebration of New Year's Day. We could have kept such a tradition on the Deepavali Day but it is usually celebrated with exchange of greetings and sweets and temple worship and participation in fire-works. What other Day would be better during the Holiday Season than December 15 which is so significant to all of us and which can be dedicated to Manu, the Law Giver to Humanity and which will suit all Hindus drawn from different traditions? In mythology Manu the Law Giver is known as Svayabhu Manu. Manu is a title and Svayambhu was the first Manu who made the Law for all Humanity not Hindus alone. They were not called Hindus then. They are no more Hindus now as Hindus have lost the River Sindhu. They are Bharateeyas.
Whether we like it or not Hindus rush to the Temple on January 1, New Year's Day to participate and to make New Year resolutions in the mass worship when special Poojas conducted all over USA. It takes good care of temple finances by public contribution. New Year's Day was introduced to us by the British and is a part of Western Culture. We have our own New Year Days based on different traditions and Panchangas, like Deepavali, Baisakhi, Yugadi, Chitra Vishu, Tamil New Year's Day etc. Some even travel as far as Pittsburgh from remote places like Atlanta on New Year's Day as they consider Pittsburgh to be Tirupati of America. It is fitting and proper to dedicate this day to the Vedic deity Kubera, the Lord of Wealth and Prosperity. He is invariably invoked in all Shodasa Upachaara Pooja (16 steps worship) in all Hindu Temples in India and throughout the world where Hindus are settled. People take their life-time pilgrimage to Badrinath to worship Kubera. Here the Lord sits with two treasures by his side to distribute to his devotees. He is also next to Lord Badri Narayana. He is the divine treasurer and even money lender to Lord Venkateswara, celebrated in Puranas. Kubera worship suits all Sampradayas who pray for prosperity, wealth and success in business ventures. He is celebrated in Vedas.
Lord Krishna says in Bhagvadgeetaa that among Yaksahas and Rakshas I am Kubera—Vittesah Yaksha-Raaksasaam (Lord of wealth among Yakshas and Rakshasas). One might be wondering why Rakshasas. Raksha originally meant those who protect (rakshati iti) not in the derogatory sense we understand. Many among them earned a bad reputation being power-mad and brought bad name to the whole community. Krishna also says daityaanam Prhlaadah, Prahlaada among demons (noble element even among bad elements). In Hindu traditional worship that aspect of God which is glorified is worshiped or that figure in Puranic concept recalling the incidence to concentrate on Supreme principle with a dramatic touch. In New Year worship the focus is on the epithets of Kubera as Saarvabhuma (Supreme Lord), Prosperity and Wealth of Saguna Brahman, which in turn are only the epithets (Vyahritis) ascribed to Supreme Principle, Nirguna Brahman which are ascribed to Lord Kubera.
We have yet another day in Hindu calendar called Geeta Jayanti Day whose appropriateness on Vaikuntha Ekadasi Day is questionable. Sivananda Aasram and Geetha Bhavan in India celebrate it on that day. Many Hindu Temples in USA don't. But Geetaa is a unique scripture like Ramayana, the Adi Kaavya and deserves a day to be ear-marked and worshipped like Ramayana. So also we need a day ear-marked for Teachers while we have already decided to celebrate Mother's Day and Father's Day. Teacher's day could be dedicated to Dattaatreya on his birthday, Guru of all Gurus and Geetaa Paaraayana Day dedicated to sage Vedavyaasa on Vyaasa Poornima Day. The above suggestion will fit into our regular pattern of worship but at the same will help in national integration and appreciation coming from the migrant Hindus which I am sure the White majority will appreciate. These will also be within the present practices of Hindu religious worship in India which follow either Aagama or Taantric traditions.
America at the antipodes may be considered as Netherworld (Paataala). Kapilaaranya, the forest of Kapila was the place where his hermitage was situated. It is likely Kapilaaranya changed to California. Surprisingly there is a Horse Island and also an Ash Island. Here we may recall our Puraanic story of Saagaraas who found the horse near the hermitage of Kapila Maharshi; the sage reduced them to ashes who laid violent hands on him. Some of you may think it is too much stretched and exaggerated. Even in India Madurai is sometimes known as Marudai (Marudamalai Murugappa). There is a festival widely celebrated in Thailand called "Triyempavai Trippaavai" celebrated during December-January coinciding with the Tamil month of Maargazhi. This festival should have started to glorify and sing two famous Tamil poetic scriptures. Tiruppavai and Tiruvembaavai are sung during the holy month of Maargazhi in India. Thais have forgotten Paavai and the Tamil origin but still they conduct the festival on a grand scale.
INTEGRATION OF VARIOUS TRADITIONS UNDER ONE ROOF
In countries where Hindus are settled as migrants, temples serve as an integrative institutions and cultural centers to bring all Sampradayas (traditions) of different parts of India together on a common platform for a common worship to preserve Hindu culture and also popularize it blending it with the local culture. They are by and large Siva-Vishnu-Sakta-Non-traditional deities Temple Complexes though called by the name of presiding deities, like Ganesha Temple or Balaji Temple, to please the majority group of settlers or major contributors from among the founding fathers. Integrating all Sampradayas (Traditions) at one place and to participate in each other's tradition during worship is a good attempt as a unifying force of all traditions as long as it does not contradict the wisdom of Vedas. After all our Saastras say "Vedokhilam dharmamoolam"—Vedas are the ultimate authority. Here the co-operation of the Aaagama trained priests from India is necessary. This would also suit all inter-caste and inter racial married couples also.
To cite an example let us examine the worship of Siva on Sivaraatri night. We all know Siva is worshipped as Panchaanana with the names Sadyojaata, Vaamadeva, Aghora, Tatpurusha and Mahadeva. Upanishads contain Panchabrahma Mantras* which glorify these names. These Mantras have been interpreted by Saivites as related to Rudra, the Vedic God. But it is proper to explain them as related to the Supreme Brahman. The last mantra in Upanishads begins with the description "Easaanah sarva- vidyaanaaam"—Lord of all branches of knowledge. Lord Narasimha is praised as "Easaanah
Sarvavidyaanaam" in Narasimha Tapaneeya Upanishad. Sadyojaata (instant born) is very appropriate to describe Lord Narasimha as he is also instant born like Siva who is worshipped on Sivaratri Night. In Nirvaana Khanda of Skanda Puraana Sri Rama is described as follows: "Sadyojaata pravrittistvam easishe kshetra-rakshaka | Vaamadevah pratishthaayaa vaasanam tanumaasritah |" Here Rama is referred as
Sadyojata and Vaamadeva the epithets used for Panchaaanana or Siva. Also
Narasimha is born in twilight zone which is neither day nor night which time is also ideal for Siva worship. Thus these mantras are applicable for both Vishnu as well as Siva. While following the traditional worship as per Aaagama sastras on Sivaratri Night our priests should focus on concluding the worship on this night focusing on Brahmopaasana with the Vedic Mantras of Panchabrahma creating interest in all to participate on this holy night drawn from different Sampradayas of India, with proper explanation. This will not only not violate the established procedures but will also be more in tune with Aagama worship and will also integrate the worship to suit all. Here the co-operation and understanding of Temple Management and Temple Priests are needed. This will certainly appeal to Vedic educated priests. Such approach and understanding is necessary to make the worship more universal catering to the devotional aspirations of all particularly in migrant countries and in temple-complexes of all deities under one roof.
Religion in true sense has the purpose of seeking the higher knowledge. It means discovering the Divine Reality within us. We should not therefore focus only on outward thought of what God outside of ourselves is, by over emphasizing on ceremonial rituals and celebrations only. We should embrace religion in the inner-sense as meditational practices and yogic practices. Even amongst Christians there is a recent trend to lean more towards spirituality than follow routine sermons and ritualistic form of worship, practicing religion over 2000 years. Hindu culture is not a religious culture. That is why migrant Hindus are able to integrate many traditions and are able to have a common form of worship and that too in a language not known to them. To a Hindu no other language raises spirituality in him to great heights like the divine language Sanskrit though they have moved away from learning it caught over regionalism and prejudices. It may be of interest to know Jews in America are very much concerned about the vanishing divine language of theirs, Yiddish and serious efforts are being taken to revive and promote it.
Hindus over time have also moved away from the original spiritual and yogic practices being influenced by later developed Smritis than Srutis influenced by Pauraanics (protagonists of Puraanas) which has given scope for criticism and hate from Western religious followers specifically from prophets' oriented religions like Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Neither Jesus nor Mohammad wanted to start a new religion moving away from the One God as visualized by Prophet Moses; they only wanted to set right certain wrong trends, but their followers created new religions. Therefore they indulge in severe criticism and conversion often exploiting the poverty of the people or by force to bring them to their way of thinking. This indulgence and interference with Sanatana Dharma was too much during the medieval period but yet Hinduism survived the on-slaughter.
Migrant Hindus can play better role if they can return to their earlier deeper approach to spirituality taking what is useful from Western culture. Religion came later as an easy tool to help spirituality. Then they can not only blend well with the locals that being a necessity as we have decided to move away from the main land and settle here, but also influence them towards spirituality which has taken some turn already through Yoga and meditation rather than being lost in the crowd and lose our identity. Loss of identity and culture happened to almost all European migrants and many even have turned atheists. Sanaatana Dharma of Srutis has universal appeal than the latter Hindu Temple worship and rituals of Smritis which came later as a support to strengthen spirituality.
There is one other danger. When inter-racial marriages become a regular feature and dominate the field moving away from traditional Hindu marriages we will turn more and more materialistic with no thought focused on spiritual evolution. Jesus also once said: "What is the use of gaining the whole world when you have lost your own soul". Migrant Hindus should not stop at building temples following the same religious practices as in India but go further to make Spirituality as common goal for all while following their traditional practices. Our religious practices should be followed by spiritual explanation and spiritual education for spiritual evolution which would be universal and appealing to all persons of reason and common sense. We should move away with the apparent looking Polytheism practices to the real Monotheism.
We should not forget that the divine form we worship is an embodiment of the attributes of the Supreme Being. Siva is just not just a god of destruction, dwelling in the cremation grounds or in Kailasa in the Himalayas. As Skanda Purana says he is divine consciousness and the Brahman without a second, the All. Vishnu is not a Lord Preservation and Protection. He is the divine Principle that permeates the entire universe as Antaryamin (inner-self) in which we see the drama of creation, preservation and destruction. He assumes all forms form fish to the Virat Purasha, the Super-man as we have seen in Bhagavadgeetaa in his Universal Form (Viswaroopa). We worship Mother Divine as the Goddess of Prosperity and at the same time we propitiate her out of fear for Her deadly dance of destruction as Kaali. In these we have to visualize her as the Supreme Power, the same as active aspect of Brahman.
With all our logical explanation, it will not be easy to avoid criticisms from many of our educated elite in the Western traditions of comparative religions if we do not have proper and convincing explanation and follow up practices. They are bound to visualize only polytheism or fetishism or henotheism as Max Muller has dubbed.
But this will not hold any ground if we look at Sanatana Dharma of Vedic Aaryans and understand it. We have to take a look at the development of the concept of Gods and Goddesses in the Vedic culture. Vedic Pantheon of Gods is the presiding group of deities over forces of Nature. All these gods of natural forces were unified into one Supreme Principle who controls the nature and to whom Nature is a pointer. That is why Vedas declare "Ekam sat viprah
bahudaa vadanti" – The one the learned call by many names.
If we look at Judaism the development was from the tribal gods called Molochos. Fight followed between tribes which resulted in breaking of the images of the god of one tribe and imposition of the god of the other victorious tribe. Jehovah was the final victorious god who they say is ONE God. If you look at the Islamic history from the two hundred and odd gods in Kaaba, Prophet Mohammad declared that Allah, one of them alone was the ONE God. His followers broke down images of all others and declared "There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is His Prophet". Thus the change from polytheism to Monotheism in all these religions, who decry Hinduism, came through physical might rather than spiritual insight. They made One God out of several Gods. We worship one God in several forms depending on particular aspect of God we desire to glorify. We have to remember this in all our worship and follow it up. Christianity grew out of Judaism hating many of its wrong practices. After trying out the religion named after their leader Jesus Christ by his followers as Christianity, some are moving away to atheism and many want to turn to spirituality. This is the main group with which migrant Hindus are interacting mostly here.
FINAL PRAYERS AND CONCLUSION
Even amongst us, most of us say that the highest, the pure truth cannot be realized all at once, that men have to be led to it gradually through Moorti Upaasana (iconic worship), prayer and other kinds of practices either at home or in temples. Of course there is some good in dualistic method and group worship; it helps many who are weak. But how long can we go with that plea? If we have to achieve our goals in the next few births, if not in this life we should be serious about it. One of the Upanishadic Mahaavakyas says: "Tat Tvam Aci--That Thou Art, implying God is within you. From Saguna Upaasaka (Moorti or iconic form of worship) one should move quickly to Nirguna Upaasaka or practice Brahmopaasana or meditation on Supreme Principle. Most of the Hindus in America are from the top 10% of educated elite from India. "Worship everything as God—every form is His temple. All else is delusion. Always look within, never without. Such is the God that Vedanta preaches and such is His worship. Naturally there is no sect, no creed, no caste, no sex, no age and no race in Vedanta. All the various practices and trainings, worship of Gods in temples, rituals, Bhajans and Keertans (choir singing) are but the rudiments of religion, the kindergartens of religion" says Vivekananda. He further says: "Spirituality called Vedanta formulates not universal brotherhood but universal oneness. I am the same as any other person, as body, one mind and one soul throughout. Spirit never dies. There is no death anywhere, not even the body; not even the mind dies. Worship everything as God—every form is His temple". Vivekananda mesmerized Western crowd with his speeches on Vedanta stressing that Vedanta (spirituality) is the religion of the future.
It is therefore necessary that we as migrants living side by side with this religious majority should concentrate on spiritual insight in all our forms of worship. While following the traditional form of worship our children should be exposed to more spiritual explanation and education as well as spiritual practices. Sanatana Dharama is the pioneer and had been the guiding spirituality before civilization started in other lands and therefore more suited to lead the people of the world in spirituality than other religions which have just started experimenting with spirituality and yogic practices. This should be our major
contribution to other religions that are leaning progressively towards atheism with their material prosperity and outlook, as migrants and to guide them properly in spirituality.
AWAKEN SPIRITUAL CONSCIOUSNESS
Whatever may be our worship to any deity it would be appropriate to end the worship with the following meditation on Brahman:
Om Tad Brahma | Om tad vaayu | Om tadaatmaa | Om tat satyam | Om tat sarvam | Om tat puror namah || [Om that is Brahman; Om that is Vaayu (air); Om that is Aaatman (Self); Om that is Truth; Om is all that primeval cause that existed before creation. So we pay our obeisance unto that Pranava.
Om antas-charati bhooteshu guhaayaam visvamoortishu | Tvam yajnastvam vishnustvam vashatkaarastva(ga)m rudrastvam brahmaa tvam prajaapatih || [Thou who art called by the name Om move within the cave of heart of all living beings as their inner controller. Thou art the Yajna (sacrifice), Vishnu, Vashatkaara, Rudra, Brahma and Prajaapati--All entities other than that Supreme Principle have Him alone as their inner Self and so any worship to other deity signify Paramaatman(Supreme Principle) alone in the ultimate analysis.]
Someone cleverly devised to chant "Om Jaya Jagaddeesa Hare" at the conclusion of all prayers in Hindu Temples in USA though not popular in Aaagama saastra worships. In India Aagama Saastra worship based temples conclude the worship with Mantra Pushpa and Thiruppallandu glorifying Supreme Spirit routinely without any explanation. If you closely watch, "Om Jagadeesha Hare" prayer is addressed to the Supreme Principle who is referred to as Antaryamin (Inner-Self) based on the above Vedic Mantras suggested. But this fact has to be impressed upon and focused upon particularly on our children born and grown up in foreign soils. Our knowledgeable priests are very wise. If you closely follow them somewhere during the worship they chant the above two Vedic mantras for any commission or omission on their part in their conducting worship or whatever they do against their free-will. It is therefore advisable to meditate upon these two Vedic Mantras at the conclusion of all worship and rituals to focus our thoughts on monotheism and spirituality constantly understanding their meaning and significance.
Visitors to Vivekananda Rock Temple on the shores of Indian Ocean in Kanyakumari and Tirupati might have noticed the last act of worship before leaving the holy spot by some spiritual seekers. People sit down for sometime in silent meditation for few minutes in a hall specially provided where serenity and silence prevails, meditate and leave the place. They do so also, in the Bahai Lotus temple, in New Delhi. Where did they get this idea? It is not difficult to find the answer if you closely watch the spiritually oriented orthodox people visiting temples like Balaji Temple. Spiritual devotees take the final circum-ambulation along the outside path (Praakaara), gaze at the Vimaana over the sanctum –sanctorum at the Northern side of the circum-ambulation path and then sit for a while closing the eyes, say "Narayana" and leave the temple. Northern direction is called Devayaana leading to Sri Vaikuntha. This is just to think of Brahman looking at the unlimited space over the Kalasa (capola) and meditate upon Brahman for a while and leave the place chanting "Om Namo Narayana". Here he pays his respect also to vast space which is Element Aaakaasa or Space. In Srivaishnava thinking Naaraayana means Brahman. (Please refer my discourse on Mahanarayana Upanihad). I was doing this mechanically whenever I visited the temple in my younger days not knowing its meaning but just following my grand–father. If you closely observe the spiritually inclined religious devotee he takes care to worship all the five elements, the Vyahritis (compliments) of Brahman. As he enters the temple near the flag-post he touches the ground and the head. This is paying respect to the Mother Earth, one of the Pancha Bhootas (five great elements). When the little flame is waved before the deity he receives the flame with reverence and touches his eyes. This is his veneration of Fire (Agni) element. When he receives the sacred water he first sprinkles a bit on his head and then drinks it (aaposanam). This is the worship of Aaapah (water element). He then circumambulates the deity for the last time and goes round himself three times. This is his recognition and veneration of Self within. As he circumambulates he feels the presence of Vayu with veneration. This is his veneration to Air Element (Vaayu ).
It will be a good idea to keep a separate prayer room, keep dark and silent in Hindu-American temples, but for an illuminated syllable "OM". People before leaving the temple could sit here and meditate with the two popular Vedic mantras on Brahmopaasana mentioned above, fully understanding their meaning before leaving the temple. (Please see my discourse on "Some Important Temple Traditions" for details.) If there is no exclusive space, such an act can be initiated by the priests as they do during Aaarati by switching of light so that devotees in the hall can meditate in silence for few minutes on Brahman. This will bring awareness as to our need for monotheistic approach in all forms of worship.
Sri Ganesha Temple at Nashville has wisely explained the meaning of "Om Jagadeesha
Hare" in English to all in its Book of Bhajans, since all the people do not understand the meaning of this prayer in Sanskritized Hindi as well as Mantra Pushpa in Sanskrit Vedic Language. They have also wisely added concluding set of prayers in glorification of all the deities installed in their temple–Sankara, Ganesha, Subhramanya, Gurudeva (Sankaracharya?), Paarvati, Durga, Lakshmi, Jagannath, Venkatesha, Seetaa-Rama, and Radhe-Krishna, in essence all the deities installed in its Siva-Vishnu-Devi Complex. It concludes these two sets of prayers with the Vedic Mantra "Asato maa sadgamaya". Though wrongly titled as Sankaraaya Mangalam, instead of "Saguna Brahma Mangalam", the second set of prayers could pre-pone "Om Jagadeesha Hare", to initiate the prayer first on Saguna Brahman and then taking it to spiritual heights of Nirguna Brahman or Brahmoepaasana.
But what is important is to draw the attention of the devotees and explain them that the elaborate Sixteen-step Pooja Vidhanam performed on the Ishta-devata, Ganesha-deity is only aimed at Paramaatman or Supreme Spirit. The initial detailed worship of Ganesha though appears as part of polytheism could be concluded with a prayer to all the deities as Saguna Brahman with the first set of prayers on deities installed. It could then be concluded with the prayer to Nirguna Brahman in the form of prayer "Om jaya Jagadeesha Hare" who is prayed as "Antaryamin" (Inner Self of all Beings)—Eaasanah Sarvabhootaanam".
It may not be possible to explain all these things to devotees in the weekly long rush hour routine worship on a crowded day. But priests do draw the attention of devotees to Abhishekam, Archana to the Lord in the beginning for active involvement in the language known to all (English). They also conclude the worship by drawing the attention of devotees in the divine language "Athah Praarthanam Samarpayami" for individuals to declare, "I then offer my individual prayer". Devotees somehow understand its meaning, may be due to force of habit over long years, and start chanting "Om Jaya jagadeesha Hare" after this announcement by the priest. Here either the priest or someone on their behalf can draw the attention of the devotees thus; "We have concluded our worship on Ishta-devata as Saguna Brahman. We will now offer our prayers on all deities also as Saguna Brahman. We will conclude our prayers to Nirguna (formless) Brahman who is Omnipotent, Omnipresent and Omniscient" with "Om jaya
Jagadeesha Hare". This will make the crowd aware of their real intent of worship.
It is also be essential to explain the deep meaning of the 16-steps Pooja, Abhisheka and Archana in a CD, make it available at the temple for a price and draw attention of the people during worship that such a CD is available for the benefit of all devotees who are keen to know the meaning of Pooja conducted in Vedic language, Sanskrit. It is not peculiar to Hindus alone to conduct worship in divine language; Roman Catholics conduct worship in Latin; Jews conduct worship in Yiddish. In fact there is a serious attempt to revive the teaching of Yddish as there only around 50,000 people left over who can work with this divine language.
As I was watching Ganesha Abhishekam at our temple here in Nashville my thoughts were drawn to the fact why this Abhishekam should not be done chanting sometimes Purushsooktam instead of Namakam and Chamakam and vice versa, why not Rudram periodically while doing Abhishekam to Venkateshwara? After all they both are addressed to Brahman only and we are in America and in a temple complex of all deities. An intelligent American born son of my doctor friend was standing by my side. Suddenly he busted out: "Dad, why do they waste so much of milk, yogurt and honey on the stone idol, it makes no sense, why don't they give it away in charity to some poor kids?" His father silenced him and quickly whisked him away from the spot. I wonder whether he had a proper explanation for the inquisitive and intelligent kid!
I have given discourses on these in the Vedanta class to active participants which I am trying to post on the BLOG. These are; 1) Some customary Rituals in Lord's worship 2) Hindu Traditional Practices and Temple Visit 3) Sixteen Steps Worship of the deity at Vishnu Temples and at Home 4) Yagna, Vedic Fire Sacrifice. Temples in USA could also do so to help and earn appreciation from American born and grown Hindu children and from the spouses of Hindu children married into Western culture to understand the monotheistic approach of Hindu worship which is criticized for its apparent polytheistic acts without understanding it. Such ignorance has to be removed by proper explanation. Otherwise they will mechanically participate and also chant these prayers also mechanically. They will also think "Om Jaya Jagadeesha Hare" is the last step of the Pooja ceremony which they anyhow do not understand and think only it is the time for "Teertham" (holy waters) and "Prasadam" (blessed food). They will also think that it is time to rush to the free lunch more often provided free or sometimes at a subsidized price in Hindu Temples of USA, with very little thought on spirituality which is so essential. It becomes more a social gathering than participation in divine worship which the priests conduct so elaborately on our behalf. For Hindus in India it is a different matter. There is guidance available from elders at home as well as religious and spiritual institutions like Ramakrishna Math, Sankar Math, Ahobila Math, Vedanta Sabhas etc., though temples often tend to be commercial or autocratic.
The views expressed above are equally important to Hindus in India who are progressively getting educated and form the majority of the middle core of the educated society. But unfortunately Hindu temples are controlled by authoritative vested interested groups, strongly dictated by Aagama and Tantric trained professionalisms as well as Pauraanik influences who to a large extent are exploiting innocent and ignorant populace. Temples are more often run as commercially managed institutions rather than spiritually guided institutions. Though Temples are seen as essentials to kindle religious instincts no progress is made towards spiritualism. I was amused when in Tirupati temple they were checking the length of my side burns (a sign of imitation of Western culture) when I wanted to accompany the Jeer, our religious head for worship though dressed properly as per the temple regulations. In Puri Jagannath one could have a Darsan (Viewing of the Lord) for few more minutes by sufficiently greasing the palms of the priest who stands with his palm stretched while innocent worshippers are pushed like flock of sheep.
Spiritually enthused by one of my religious friends, a local Western cultured American who attended Hindu temple regularly in USA went to India on a pilgrimage with my friend. On visiting some holy places with him he lost all charm for Hinduism and became an atheist on return back hackled by Pandas. I took a friend of mine to India brought up in Western culture and wanted to show him around some of the architectural magnificence in Madras. Some of the churches in India date back to early Christian period. When Christians were haunted down in the name of religion in the West, churches were coming up in India with freedom to worship. I could show him round San Thom Church and St. Thomas Mount Church from inside. When I took him just to show him around Kapali Temple from outside along the outer circumambulation-path I was haunted and shouted down to take away the foreigner from the premises as instructed by a priest. Poor security guard did not know I was also a foreigner. I carefully avoided not taking him inside near to the sanctum sanctorum having grown with local conservatism and wrong interpretation of scriptures. Still I could not avoid embarrassment. I was sorry for the lack of knowledge of Sanatana Dharma of the priest influenced too much by later smritis and illogical temple rules. We do not have such problems while visiting spiritually enlightened temples within Geeta Bhavan in Haridwar or Ramakrishna Math in Kolkata.
WHAT CAN WE DO FOR THE FUTURE GENERATION?
Hinduism is not run by a central spiritual authority like founded religions which are faith based which could enforce what they want. They could do even house cleaning of the Bible (their holy scripture) several times as they want. We cannot go to that extent but we should advance towards spiritualism gradually. We don't need changes. We need communication, explanation and adjustments within our Saastric injunctions. If we can't spiritually advance in this life when will that be done which Saastra emphasizes ultimately? I often feel influence of Smritis exploiting human sentiments and feelings has made them too strong to reach even the bottom line of Sruti, even amongst so called enlightened and devoted in Hindu Community. Lord Krishna has clearly conveyed his message to us in Bhagavadgeetaa where he says: "tasmaat saastram pramaanam tay"—Consider Saastram as the authority or final arbeiter.
Saastram is One Saastra and not host of saastras. That should be Veda only as even Bhagavadgeetaa was in its formulation then. Krishna is drawing our attention to the Maxim: "Vedokhilam dharmamoolam"—Veda is the final authority. We are fortunately in a country enjoying freedom under Bill of Rights and it is easy for us to seriously think and implement most of the points raised in this discourse towards spiritual focus and progress in our life-time like the progress we have made materially with our free will and struggle.
*[For Panchabrahma Mantras and their meanings from Mahaanaaraayana Upanishad visit Blog <nrsrini.blogspot.com> These are
Vedic Mantras from Mahaa Naaraayana Upanishd].
This lecture has been prepared by N.R. Srinivasan for the Vedanta class at Sri Ganesha Temple, Nashville, TN by extracting, abridging and editing texts from:
- Prof S. K. Ramachandra Rao, Indian Temple Traditions, Kalpatharu Research Academy, Sringeri Sharada Peetham, Bangalore 560019.
- Swami Harshananda, Hindu Pilgrim Centers, Ramakrishna Mission, Bangalore 560019
- Champaka Lakshmi and Usha Kris, The Hindu Temple, Roli Books, New Delhi, India.
- David Frawley, Hinduism, Voice of India, New Delhi, India.
- Swami Bhaskarananda, The Essentials of Hinduism, Ramakrishna Math, Mylapore, Chennai, India.
- Chandrasekarananda Sarasvati (Sankaracharya), Dharma, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Mumbai, India.
- Swami Vivekananda, Vedanta--the Future Religion, Advaita Ashrama, Kolkata, India.
- Ken Paulson, Birthday of American Rights has never received its due, Tennesseeean, December 15, 2011.
Book of Bhajans, Sri Ganesha Temple, Nashville, USA.