SOME RANDOM THOUGHTS ON AGE-OLD HINDU TRADITIONS
(DISCOURSE BY N.R. SRINIVASAN)
I often wonder why our Temple has not used the technique of Harikathaa Kaalaksepa, which technique is used only in Satyanarayana Vrata. The tradition continues even though same story is made compulsory to be read by the devotees as Kathaasravana, as per the guidance of our priests. Kalakshepas give more scope to make them interesting and varied. Satyanarayana Vrata keeps the tradition interesting because of the necessary Prasadam eating without which there will be no prosperity or even salvation as per the customary Phalasruti.
Srin Ganesha Temple in Nashville in the Book of Bhajans have diplomatically avoided usual translation of “Go” in “gobrahmnebhyah” as cow and Brahmana considered as a caste today coming from the Varnashrama Dharma of days of yore. They have translated the same as animal and men of wisdom. I wish all Brahmins could be wise unlike me! Anyhow they have solved the problem of some Western Bhaktas questioning us about Cow and Caste system. Of late many inter-racial marriages are taking place amongst migrant Hindus attracting males from Western origin races to Hindu families who are inclined to attend rituals in the temple to please their spouses as long as they are able to keep their marriages sacred and in-tact as per the solemnization in Temples. Gita Press of Haridwar also likewise did not want to translate “Mamsa” as meat when it was referring to Rama in Valmiki Ramayana. This was translated as Pulp of the Fruit. I don’t know why Rama did not like pulp of the fruit in the absence of Sita? He was a Kshatriya, who conducted Aswamedha Yagna and there was no danger in giving the true meaning of maamsa in Sanskrit. Manu would not have objected to it. Manu has said everybody is born as Sudra and has to earn Dwija status. However they translated it as maamsa when Bharata and his army were entertained with the help of the divine cow Subala later by sage Gautama. Anyhow we should keep the Temple Traditions on and please Bhaktas. I have touched upon prevalence of restrictive meat eating during Vedic period in my lecture on Hindu Diet Code with elaborate references to our scriptures.
Avoiding translation of Brahmana and referring them only as men of wisdom should have displeased our Brahmin priests with their traditional views. Some in the past have even run away as they were asked to conduct Pooja for all deities, both Saivite and Vaishnavite in Hindu American Temple complexes. They were trained strictly by their holy scripture, Aagma saastra—Saiva or Vaishnava or Sakta. It is hard to get spiritually inclined Aagama trained priests. Immigrant priests also take care to see that their children do not follow the family tradition of temple worship after them once they land in USA. One very well trained priest in USA has become a business expert and stock market expert, owns a new temple, owns and flies his own helicopter and travels to conduct pooja rituals for business magnets who want a quick fix to Moksha, as the profession is still remunerative for him. Our Temple authorities actively participate in Geeta classes and therefore able to convince our priests who stay behind that whatever they do with Shraddha, it all reaches Supreme Brahman though majority of those who attend the temple do not understand who this Supreme Brahman is, nor would they like to waste their time in understanding it by attending Vedanta class! They are happy with festival merriments, social exchanges and unblessed tasty prasadams. Somehow our deities are not pleased with onion and garlic even though vegetarian preparations are made and so they are not offered as prasadams. “Yo may bhaktya prayacchati” concept has not yet made its way here. Vedanta classes are too complicated, confusing and time consuming for many. Some priests are bold to stay though face criticism in India from priests trained in orthodoxy with poor understanding of Vedanta. I wonder why we cannot follow the temple worship procedures as in Ashramas like Arshavidya Gurukula, Chinmaya Mission, Ramakrishna Mission Temples located in U.S.A., with spiritual emphasis.
Our temple authorities have taken lot of care to bring in priests with good background of Vedic studies convincing Immigration and Naturalization Department to get them as Spiritual and Religious Specialists which talent is very little used for the spiritual uplift of the immigrant Hindus. They do not have time to participate in Vedanta and Gita discussions and also teach some times for they are either too busy or it is not in their job description though they can do so by rotation for mutual benefit. Even though they conduct legal marriage ceremonies they do not act as spiritual councilors, as we do not want to accept the new nomenclature of Hinduism as described above and as a religion, while Christian Priests act as religious councilors. They just conduct pooja on behalf of Bhaktas, since Bhaktas do not know the ritualistic procedures which fact is not often realized by Bhaktas. In due course they may also participate in personal pooja by video-camera and voice mail techniques to avoid long driving and waste of time! We are a busy nation as you know!
Many Hindu complexes in USA have made lot of compromises. They had to consecrate the idols of Mahavira and Buddha, the deities of Jainism and Buddhism even though Buddha or Jina never liked Brahman. The Buddha was absorbed by Hindus later in the more orthodox and conventional pantheon as an incarnation (ninth) of Vishnu. We are now said to be living in the dispensation of this incarnation form of Vishnu, called Bauddhaavataara, and we will do so, until the appearance of the Kalki incarnation. But the Vaishnava description of this Buddha is at variance with the historical accounts. In Bhagavata Purana(1, 3), we read that this Buddha was born in Keekata country, as the son of Anjana, and that the purpose of his appearance was to delude and confound the enemies of gods(sammohaaya sura-dvishaam); he is said to have been born at the commencement of the Kali age (“Kalau sampravritte”). Later texts have shown him as nude Digambara who is said to have taught the philosophy of lust and satisfaction to lure Raakshsas into self-destruction to induce them to throw away Vedas which they stole and restore them back to Devas. (Source: Vishnu-Kosha, Kalpataru Research Academy, Sringeri Sarada Peetham). However Jayadeva in his Dasavatara Stotra refers to only the historic Buddha. Vednata Desika includes Balarama as Sankarshana Avatara in place of Buddha in his Dasaavatara Stotra. Historic Buddha is associated with Sankhya philosophy celebrated in Gita and therefore some Vaishnavites believe he is the ninth incarnation but Buddhists deny this vehemently.
Translating “Go” as animal may not be wrong. We have in our Phalsrutis “Pasuputra laabham” where pasu can mean animal. But Tamilians who call cow as ‘Pasumaadu’ and cow calf as “pasunkanru” as well as Hindutva biased people (with their Gomata concept) may not be happy. However for “sarvejanah sukham’” our Temple Bhajan translation seems to be the best. Also people who are Mythology oriented, where they meet the sacred names of Airaavata, Kamadhenu, Subala, Uchchaisravas, Garuda, Adisesha, Peacock, Cock, Sardula etc. may not be happy to discard cow, the holiest animal of Hindus as some think because of its selfless service to their masters.
We often face with one other problem in explaining the Holy Bull before Lord Shiva and Ganesha which is often considered as cow-worship. Fortunately the mouse is not as prominently visible as bull. Many are not familiar with Peacock of Murugan. This again can be easily explained like the translations, that the Bull is Brahma bull of the Sindh Region (Zebu type) symbolic of Brahma the creator who is a lesser dignitary deity than Shiva in Hindu Mythology; it also represents the background symbolically of Indo-Aryan culture and the earlier Saraswati valley culture. The excavations of Harappa revealed such bull types. Brahma is a popular breed of cow from Sindh.
Cow was part and parcel of Vedic culture and the community was greatly indebted to cow in many ways. Therefore followers of Sanatana Dharma regard the cow with devotion. Mythology speaks of celestial cow Kamadhenu which could grant any wish. Lord Krishna was a cowherd and spent most of his childhood and youth taking care of cows. Even though we do not take good care of cows we want to consider it the holiest. It helps politically. The Rigveda reads: “Cows are divine; they seem to me to be Indra, the God of Heaven (6:28)”. This verse has been taken advantage off by some to make cow-slaughter a big issue. Horses were slaughtered in Asvamedha Yaaga which is considered as a holy act. We do not worship horses though associated with Hayagrieva. Cow is always seen associated with Krishna just as lamb with Jesus Christ. Seen in a divine atmosphere it is considered sacred but not installed in temples in sanctum sanctorum by consecration for exclusive worship. As far as my knowledge goes there are no “Gomaataa” Temples in India and are venerated like Tulasi and Aswattha, which are just venerated in the Temple premises and at homes. Snakes are associated with Subrahmanya, as also with Vishnu as the soft bed for Padmanabha and Ranganatha, and have sneaked into sanctum sanctorum. Also Lakshmana, Balarama and Ramanuja are their incarnations as per mythology. There are temples for the sacred wild boar, and for tortoise in Andhra Pradesh. Muslims in India are not yet critical about the boar because wild-boar is not the same as popular pig of bacon or ham and cheese, the source for favorite breakfast for Americans which they hate. Also Varaha temples are not too many. Varaaha Temple in Tirupati is famous so also the Koorma near Visakhapatnam, revealing the second and third incarnations of Vishnu. Why then so much concentration on the poor cow? It is bread and butter of Westerners being the cheap source of meat and most favored food source and so they are very critical. Holy cow is an insulting or angry phrase.
Why all this narration about cow and caste here. These are the two things that are most talked about and criticized by Westerners, Western culture oriented Hindus and the Neo-Hindus. May be our children too, born and brought up here who can always argue with elders unlike in India. My main object today however was to explain to you another important Hindu Tradition where cow significantly comes to play. You might have all gone through the article “Why do we do it?” explaining some of our religious practices and customs. Your attention is drawn to gotra associated with Abhivadanam, where gotra is popularly interpreted as lineage from Rishis. This “Gotra” word is intimately connected with cow. There are in all around 20 lineages of Rishis to which every Hindu belongs. Hindus who undergo Upanayana ceremony know their gotras as explained in our previous article, “Why do we do it?” Our priests cleverly manage the situation if someone does not know his gotra or does not have one as in the case of Neo-Hindus. Vishnu in the incarnation of Krishna is a Gotrapati as he was a cowherd. Krishna avatar is a Full avatar and he was also a scholar as the author of Bhagavadgita, as Vedavyasa the actual author kept his name away in modesty and reverence to the Lord and made it Bhagavanuvacha. So he leads all Gotrapatis of Sanatana Dharma. So, our priests assign Vishnu gotra when somebody has no Gotra identity.
As you all know from History we have learnt Aryans were nomadic people. Their wealth depended on raising cattle, their food habits depended on cows, their Yajnas too for butter, ghee and fuel and cow-dung for kindling sacrificial fire, Panchakavya, vibhuti etc. They constantly herded their cows from one grazing ground to another. Gotra in Sanskrit means a shelter for cattle or cow-shed. These shelters were relatively small in number and Aryan families often were obliged to put their cattle in the same shelter or Gotra. They often got mixed up. As a result cattle of one family got mixed up with the cattle of other families. Often disputes arose over their ownership. To resolve such disputes supervisors were appointed as judges. These judges were men of great moral and spiritual values. They were called “Gotrapatis” meaning Masters of Gotra. Some of them were later recognized as illumined souls and spiritual leaders. Few of the venerated Gotrapatis are: Shaandilya, Bhaaradvaaja, Kashyapa and others. It was customary for Aryans to introduce oneself by the name of Gotrapati when one clan member met another clan member. The descendents of these Aryans, now called Hindus by Westerners which we have gracefully accepted, carry on the same tradition and use the Gotrapati’s name followed by two or three more great Rishis in that clan to introduce themselves. Every Hindu, therefore, is expected to remember the name of his ancestral Gotra. This has nothing to do with caste. To avoid inbreeding, marriage was forbidden between members of the same Gotra. But, now that many centuries have passed, that custom is not strictly followed in many parts of India. They usually avoid marriages within the family names. But still, Brahmins in the South do not look upon with favor sa-gotra (same Gotra) marriages. So, Krishna as a Gotrapati to represent Vishnugotra is perfectly justified which Gotra is used for those who do not have a Gotra or know it. “Sarvam Krishnarpanamastu” is our time savior. (Source: Swami Bhaskaranda, The Essentials of Hinduism, Ramakrishna Math, Mylapore, Chennai, India)
We do not know when this Sankalpa tradition started. Some may say 9000 years and others may 5000 years. But it is an amazing tradition that is keeping track of the clan and time from the time at least Kaliyuga started linking it to creation as for as our knowledge goes! It will continue as long as Sanatana Dharma lasts! I do not think any other belief or religion has such a wonderful system to recollect the past.
One of my Tamilian friends was called Madurai Joetirlingam Pazhaniyaandi Mudaliyar which could trace back his family background. When he moved to North he made it short to Pazhniyandi Jeotirlingam Mudaliyar. When he went to England he changed his name to Pazhani Aandi Joetirlingam satisfying authorities about his first, middle and last names. He did not also want retain his jaati or sub-caste name (not Varnashrama Dharma based; in fact nobody uses Brahmin or Sudra as last name though some use Dravid the race name) Mudaliyar which would have put him into embarassment as caste system Chauvinist. He moved to USA and American’s found his name still too long and Pazhani too difficult to pronounce. So he became Aandi Joe, which got spelt often Andy Joe and that lost all identity with the family he hailed from. This name is typically American! Aandi in Tamil means a pauper. Of course, he could not prosper too much being jobless on and off in this Country of Great Opportunities! His son was called Ravi Joe, still keeping some indication of Hinduism. But many miss spelt his name as Raabi Joe. He could not however become a Rabbi.
I had a colleague of mine in India, while working for the Defense Department. His name was K.P.S.V.A.N.Ramakrishna Rao Pantulu Garu. With great difficulty I could get his full name. This was: Kannuri Pedda Sanyaasi Varaaha Apala Narasimha Ramakrishna Rao Pantulu garu. This name carried his full history and so he would not compromise to shorten it and also cared for the family tradition. He was the only child of his parents. Whenever he was sick his mother took him to a temple and took a resolve to add the name of the deity if he got cured. Miraculously merciful god heard to her prayers every time. He was a Brahmin and did not want to identify with his jaati name Rao which could also mean he could be a Kamma Reddy. Adding Pantulu he would be confirmed as a Brahmin which again needed respect. So he added “gaaru” to receive the respect as a Brahmin, as is customary with Andhras.
Now coming to our main problem how can we communicate or translate our Hindu tradition to our future generation! Americans of Western Culture do not have any idea about their own migrant fathers other than Pilgrim Fathers often times. They sometimes even do not know their European background. Sometimes their last name gives the clue like Schwartznieger, indicating German origin. But Hindus can trace back their origin easily with Sankalpa, Abhivaadana and other time tested traditions.
Everyone has a family tradition and background. Also we have the tradition to prepare a horoscope based on star constellations at the time of birth. Just as Sankalpa the horoscope fixes an individual to a Hindu calendar and in turn connects his birth with the particular Tithi, Nakshatra, Hindu month and Hindu year in the 60-years cycle which would predict how far he is away from Creation at the time of birth. Even if you are not able to make a horoscope for your child at the time of birth being in USA, there are people specialized in India who with the help of computer prepare one at any time. You need to provide place of birth, precise time of birth, day, month and year of birth, and latitude and longitude of the place if possible. With the help of computerized astrology they can prepare a horoscope correctly. They can also find out with the help of computer latitude, longitude and equivalent time IST once they know other particulars. So, try to prepare a horoscope even if you do not believe in astrological predictions. Know your Gotra from your parents or close relatives. Know your family background.
Many of us make a ridicule of Hindu Astrology. Hindu astrology as revealed by Vedas gave scope to Astronomy which got perfected at the hands of great Rishis like Aryabhatta which forms the basis for present day planetary and space science. Our Panchanga’s predictions at the beginning of the year comes true as seen by the occurrences of Solar and Lunar eclipses relevant to the place as well as other predictions. They have helped in developing planetary software through the help of which the date of Mahabharata war, etc have been cross checked by specialists who are scientists and also knowledgeable about Hindu astrology. Yet all this is about our Solar system only as revealed by our ancient sages in the small portion of Vedas which we now have. We all know major content of the Vedas have been lost. Who knows what was contained in the Vedas that were lost? Our solar system which appeared to be center of all things seems to be a mere sideshow based on present day research. “The Universe is a vast expanse of exploding novas, colliding galaxies, and newly born stars” as is said in the book “The Heavens Proclaim His Glory” referring to the Supreme Spirit. Spinning through space like a bullet, the Milky Way galaxy is 100,000 light years across. Each light year is six trillion miles in length. Even this is not easy to comprehend. There are more than 350 billion such galaxies some scientists say which may not be too much of exaggeration! Earth is but a tiny speck in the vast Universe which seems so large to us. Supreme Spirit not only made the Universe but also governs it. Yet we complain and blame him for our misfortunes! How can Jyotisha revealed in Vedas go wrong? The problem lies in proper understanding of it with limited available resources and identifying right people. Also there are too many quacks claiming to be Pundits of Jyotisha Sastra.
On my own part, I have taken the trouble of preparing my memoirs at the request of my son. My name as recorded in the horoscope was Nadipuram Kadambi Srinivsagopalachar which got reduced to N. R. Srinivasan. My name gives all the necessary information needed to know about our families’ historic background which information I collected from religious records and history. I have now put all this information in my memoirs which probably even my late father would not have known. My name suggests that I belong to the lineage of Saint Ramanuja, the founder of Vishishtadvaita philosophy, my Sampradaya is that of Vadakalai Srivaishnava Iyengar along with Mannar sampradaya. I also know what is expected of an Iyengar and who is an Iyengar? This is not caste related but linked to the philosophicl approach to life and to elevate oneself spiritually; that I am a migrant from Tamilnadu to Karnataka where my forefathers settled and served the Royalty of Mysore as spiritual guides. It was amazing how I got so much information by the correct recording of my name and the horoscope. I also remember my lineage from my Upanayana Samskara where I have learnt the Pravara (lineage) by heart needed to bow to my elders. You now can understand the wisdom behind our ancestors who established such Hindu Traditions!
For fixing the positions of Grahas in Hindu Temples which we regularly cir-cum-ambulate whenever we visit temple, the ideas of the strongest position of each graha as well as the good or bad influences of the graha are taken into consideration. These ideas come from the horoscope as drawn commonly in India. The horoscope is a large square cut into four small squares on top and bottom and as well as on the sides making twelve small squares encircling the center square. The word Rasi is written in the center square. The small squares are designated for Aries (Mesha), Taurus (Vrishbha), Gemini (Mithuna), Cancer (Karkataka), Leo (Simha), Virgo (Kanya), Libra (Tula), Scorpio (Vrischika), Sagittarius (Dhanush), Capricorn (Makara), Aquarius (Kumbha), and Pisces (Meenam). Horoscope connects you to the beginning of Kaliyuga.