UNITY IN DIVERSITY
Unity in Diversity - this concept of unity is as old as India itself. Wise men devised many ways of re-emphasizing it, in epics and teachings and by the pilgrimages they enjoined upon us. India is a sub continent with immense variation in geography, climate, manner of life, language and taste. There is no pure unalloyed India. India is also home to scores of cults and religions, including all the major religions of the world. For India has always accepted races, tribes, ways of thoughts and life, without demanding from them conformity which would negate individuality, yet stamping on them the unmistakable mark of Indianness. Yet the ideals in life, the goal to be reached, the spiritual yearnings and ethical principles bring together these apparently diverse people into one integrated nation that makes up 'Bharat'.
That all religions could not only coexist but also flourish in India has a lot to do with the eclectic nature of Hinduism. Although as a religion, Hinduism is considered among the oldest, its oldest source, the Rigveda (one of the four Vedas), can be traced only up to the 2nd millennium BC. The religion, unlike many of the modern religions, has no identifiable beginning. Hinduism is not an 'ism'. It is considered more a way of life than a religion. There is no founder, no prophet, no book and no dogma. It has no central authority, organizational hierarchy or organization. It includes a variety of elements. It is a complex religion with many spiritual, social, literary and artistic aspects. It is an amalgamation of diverse doctrines, cults, and ways of life. Almost 80% of India's population are Hindu.
India is widely believed to be the land of spirituality, whose
native philosophy detects the presence of the supreme divinity
in the flower as well as in the thorn, in stone and in rust, in everything
animate and inanimate. Just as Indians see spirituality in diverse forms,
they also practice diverse forms of spirituality. It has many
gods This polytheism also lends Hinduism enormous flexibility in terms of
modes of worship, rituals and so on. A characteristic feature of
Hinduism is the division of society into a hierarchy of castes.
Like India herself, Hinduism is incapable of confinement or description in words. It is a philosophy, all embracing, all accepting, tolerant of other thoughts, giving vast freedom of choice in worship. Dharma or the ethical mode of life has dominated Indian thought. Philosophy has deepened and widened the people's outlook and helped an affectionate approach towards not only fellow beings but towards all nature, especially animals, birds, trees and rivers.
The Caste System:
Early societies all had their hierarchies. Caste of one kind or another has been known in all old lands. In India caste became a set feature of life. People were divided into four groups:
Brahmins (priests and scholars),
Kshatriyas, (kings and warriors),
Vaishyas (traders and landowners) and
Shudras (the workers and lowly people). In the early beginnings there was caste flexibility. Inter marriage between the Aryans and the indigenous people appear to have been common. The children of these marriages gave rise to mixed castes.
The Four Stages Of Life
Indian ethics laid down four main ends to man's life -
Dharma is a difficult word to translate. It means that which sustains or upholds, a way of life resting on right action, respect for others and being true to one's self-nature.
Artha was the earning of wealth by a right and honest vocation.
was the fulfillment of lawful desire or pleasure and Moksha was liberation from rebirth by the perception of the ultimate reality.
In answer to man's need to learn, to enjoy, to understand and finally to become detached, Hinduism offers four stages or
ashrams in man's existence that allow him to accomplish his life in harmony with
Dharma (the law of universal harmony) at all levels. These four stages are essential for a full and meaningful life.
Brahmacharya covers the beginning of adolescence and includes the practice of celibacy, the study and knowledge of the sacred teachings transmitted by a Guru.
Grihastha, when man married, had children and undertook the responsibilities inherent in the life of a householder.
Vanasprastha, the first step towards moving away from the life of the householder and preparing the mind and body for withdrawal from all worldly pursuits and for the involvement in social and religious action.
Sanyasa, the final stage when man put on the saffron robe, abandoning home, family, wealth and society, and entered the forest to meditate and seek liberation, before his ultimate departure from the earth.
Religious Life The Sacred Texts
From the earliest times the Indian has envisaged a continuum between God and Nature and Man. The gods were human, but godhead was inherent not only in man but also in all animals and in all creations animate and inanimate. In words of the
Bhagvad Gita, a section of the epic
Mahabharata, 'All gods lead to God as all rivers lead to the Sea'. And again it was said 'Truth is one, the wise perceive it in many ways'.
Of the two epics, the
Ramayana is the much more popular, presumably because it is easier to understand. The epic centres around the hero Rama but there are many subsidiary stories each with its own moral and significance. The
Mahabharata is the treatise on the science of society. It is a monumental work, a compilation of not only tradition and legend but also of the political and social institutions of that time. The
Mahabharata makes a very definite attempt to stress the fundamental unity of India. What is important about it is not the story that concerns a feud between the Kaurava and Pandava princes for the sovereignty of the country but the sheer abounding wealth of knowledge and the fullness of life, no less than the moral and ethical percepts. In the
Mahabharata is a gem of a poem, the 'Bhagvad Gita' or the Song of God. The wisdom of the doctrine of the Vedas,
Brahmanas and the
Upanishads come together in this teaching. It is the most important and the best known of all Hindu scriptures. It comprises a dialogue between Krishna the Lord and Arjuna, one of the five Pandava brothers, of whom he is the friend and charioteer. The
Bhagvad Gita expounds the nature and attributes of God. Its teaching is universal and deep. It is a general spiritual philosophy as applied to a specific crisis and relating to the application of ethics and spirituality to the problems of man. In simple language Krishna explains the imponderable truths that are the basis of Indian religious thought.
No beliefs or forms of worship are rejected by Hinduism. All are regarded
as a manifestation of Brahman, the One and ultimate reality, Brahman is often described as having three facets, the trimurti: Brahma (The Creator), Vishnu (The Preserver) and Shiva (The Destroyer, also known as Mahesh). Within the Shaivite (followers of Shiva) cult, Shakti, the goddess as mother and creator is worshipped as a force in her own right and has many of her own manifestations.
Polytheistic eclecticism lends Hinduism a capacity to co-exist with other religions that goes beyond tolerance. Religious tolerance is an Indian concept, coined by cultures that accept the idea of a single, true god.
In India there are as many temples as gods who conceived the world. The temple is the centre of the cosmos as well as of man. Believers come to render homage to one of the major figures of the Indian pantheon or to seek protection of the god of their choice. The two main rites are individual worship (puja) and ritual sacrifices (yagna). The rites are a most complex and painstaking art. There are a number of symbolic gestures in all the rites. The idea of worshipping images is to venerate the invisible through what is visible.
There is a saying that if the measurement of the temple is perfect, then there will be perfection in the universe. For Hindus, the square is the perfect shape and complex rules govern the location, design and building of each temple, based on numerology, astrology, astronomy and religious law. These are so complicated and important that it is customary for each temple to harbour its own particular set of calculations as though they were religious texts.
Essentially a temple is a map of the universe. At the centre there is an unadorned space, the
garbha griha (inner shrine or sanctum sanctorum), which is symbolic of the 'womb-cave' from which the universe emerged. This provides a residence for the deity to which the temple is dedicated. Above the shrine rises a superstructure known as shikara in North India and vimana in South India, which is representative of Mount Meru, the cosmic mountain that supports the heavens. Caves and mountain are linked by an axis that rises vertically from the shrine's icon to the finial atop the towering spire. As a temple provides a shelter for the deity, it is sacred. Devotees acknowledge this by performing a
(clockwise circumambulating) of it, a ritual that finds architectural expression in the passageways that track around the main shrine. Some temples also have mandapams or halls connected to the sanctum by vestibules.