Take a look at the greatest marvels of human ingenuity and creativity and one will often find a seer’s unconditional love as the dynamic force behind man’s incredible feats. From the sacred temples of India to the great Sufi poetry of Mawlānā Jalāl-ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī and to Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity, connections and relationships with self realized masters spurred these achievements and many of those in found in-between.
Places of samadhi of self-realized masters have become the epicentres for glorious temples, mosques, and churches. Unconditional love has inspired mausoleums like the Taj Mahal. The grief of parting with his spiritual mentor and guru, spurned the most popular poetry of the modern times of Rumi. A correspondence with an Indian guru helped Albert Einstein articulate concepts already declared in revelations by great rishis about the nature of the universe. Like these, countless examples emerge of the silent and invisible grace of self realized masters making the ordinary human’s life become richer by pushing him/her towards the only goal of self-realization.
The illustrious seers from around the world from time immemorial explored and mastered all subjects. By connecting with the Supreme Intelligence and with complete detachment from narrow identities of the small self, these seers objectively, in the absolute sense, investigated many “ologies”. Developing systems of exercise, music, medicine, mathematics, art, dance, cuisine, and even sex, the seers made sure that every avenue ultimately pointed to the Self within. Everything was meant to show that is the goal of human existence to seek that which is eternal and unchanging, the common denominator of the Universe, the Self. The seers hoped that by doing so, all of humankind can enjoy creation.
With many faiths and religions, it may be very difficult to find these contributions of seers as those who came after them veiled the true nature of the very religion or faith they now practice. However with Sanatana Dharma, it is so evident the absolute and unconditional love the seers had for humankind. Every rung of the spiritual ladder, from the very bottom to the unbounded top, is catered with so much encouragement and affirmation to meet the goal of self- realization. Bhagawan Vyasa, the saint that all Hindus should be giving first benedictions to, created the rich philosophical mythologies of the Mahabharatha and the Bhagavad Gita. Meant to make deep philosophical truths more accessible for the ordinary human, these mythologies were taken in the literal sense and has manifested as the blind ritualism of today’s Hinduism. Regardless of the current reality, Bhagawan Vyasa showered his grace in actually being the first to record the revelations from time immemorial of all the great seers and rishis into the meticulously organized systems of Vedas as discussed earlier. Many traditions continued to be passed down orally i.e. Ayurveda, Hatha yoga, laughing yoga, tantric yoga, Bharatha Natyam, and much more. In eastern Asia, self-realized masters created martial arts that were meant to tame the body and mind and help unleash the spirit.
Mythologies of Sanatana Dharma
The Puranas generally deal with primary creation or cosmology, secondary creation or dissolution and renovation of worlds, including chronology, the genealogy of the Gods, patriarchs, reign of the different Manus (called manwantaras) and the history of the solar and human dynasties and their descendents.
There are innumerable characters in the Puranas and none can be taken specifically as a hero or a heroine.
There are eighteen Mahapuranas divided into three categories of six each:
Brahma Puranas: Brahma, Brahmanda, Brahma vaivarta, Markandeya, Bharishmya and Vamana
Vaishnava Puranas: Vishnu, Naradiya, Bhagavata, Garuda, Padma, and Varaha
Saiva Puranas: Matsya, Kurma, Linga, Vayu, Skanda, and Agni
In addition to these 18 puranas, there are 46 upapuranas (so in all 64) out of which 18 are considered important. They are under, known after their authors:
These are historical anecdotes centering around a hero and a heroine whose lives and deeds serves as inspiration for humanity, for realizing the four Purusharthas namely Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha. “Iti-has-asa” literally means “It so happens” and “It so will continue to happen”. So these can be taken as permanent histories of human life and endeavour.
The Ramayana and the Mahabharata are the two Itihasas in that chronological order.
Ramayana, which means “the goings of Rama” is the smaller of the two great epics of India and is anterior to the other more voluminous one, the Mahabharatha.
Through the generations, this book has exercised tremendous influence on the life of the Hindu and his culture. Herein describes Rama, the ideal hero, brother, king, son, husband, warrior, an embodiment of Dharma. In Laksmana and Bharata, we have the ideal brothers and in Sita, the noblest flower of Indian womanhood, devoted to her Lord in thought, word and deed. There can be no better text book of morals to be placed in the hands of youth to inspire them to higher and nobler planes of character and conduct.
Perhaps it will be news even to the vast majority of Hindus that the 24, 000 stanzas of Ramayana are amplifications of the 24 letters of the “Gayatri” and that after every thousand stanzas, the next stanza in Ramayana starts with the next letter of Gayatri in that order.
The names of the characters conceal in themselves meaning of metaphysical import which would us stand aghast in wonder and amazement. It would require a separate volume to deal with that.
This is the greater of the two great epics of India and in volume is more than eight times the size of Homer’s Iliad and the Odyssey put together. In philosophical content, this is unparalleled in any other language or literature of the world.
This grand book of knowledge contains more than one hundred thousand stanzas in original- hence it is called “Satasahas-Ri”– in eighteen chapters, called Parvas, and is the monument work of the great sage Krishna Dwaipayana Badarayana Vyasa, commonly known as Veda Vyasa. He was the person who first collected and codified the Vedas. The central theme of the book is “Yato Dharma-Stato Jaya”- “where there is Dharma, there is victory”- unfolding ‘through’ the story of an intertwine war fought towards end of Dwapara Yoga, between two sets of first cousins of the same royal family.
The ultimate triumph of good over evil is the underlying theme of the Epic and again the story is only a vehicle to convey eternal philosophical truths of the highest order.
The book is full of lofty instructions on all aspects of human life and endeavour and is an inspiring saga of all that is great and noble in human trait, in striking contrast to the despicable depth to which man can go in greed and Adhramam and the glory that was India of the past.
The guiding spirit throughout the epic is the divine figure of Lord Krishna who brings home unto Him the pure and virtuous and exterminates evil and the evil doers. The Great Bhagavad Gita or the Lord’s celestial song occurs in this great book.
It will be interesting to know that the two great epics of India centre round two great women the world has produced namely Sita of Ramayana and Gandhari of the Mahabharata. These two characters are the crystallization of thousands of years of Indian culture and tradition and eloquently reveal what glorious status women occupied in the India of the past.
The origin of the word temple can be traced to word the “templum” which were used by Roman soothsayers indicating a section of the sky and also a piece of the ground to gaze and mark divine signs for foretelling the future. Eventually, temple referred to a building constructed at the site. A Hindu temple refers to in Sanskrit language to Devaalaya consisting of two words namely Deva (God) andAlaya (House).
In Vedic Hindu view, an individual’s body is referred as a temple with the indweller as God. The Vedic seers (Rishis) having realized God within themselves gave designs and functions of temples in scriptures (agama shastras) of Vedic Hinduism (Sanatana Dharma). Its purpose is to enable a devotee to use a physical temple and the ritualistic worship as a reminder to the spiritual journey to be carried out within oneself. In addition, it also serves as a place for celebrations of Hindu religious festivals.
A Vedic Hindu temple’s architecture is a divine and yogic representation of a human being as shown in the figure (ref: Agama kosha by S.K. Ramachndra Rao). The feet represent the spire (rajagopura). The hands represent the walkway (prakaara) encompassing all around the temple. The main hall (mandapa) represents the abdomen. The entrance porch (antaraala) represents the heart. The sanctum sanctorum (garbha griha) represents the head. The deity is consecrated with religious rites in the sanctum sanctorum. There is proportionality between the size of the deity in the sanctum sanctorum and the sizes of the temple construction details.
The ritualistic worship (pooja) of consecrated deities (vigrahas) is carried out by priests on behalf of devotees to remind them of the inward yogic process of approaching the indwelling God. The various steps in a pooja offered to the deity with prayers and mantras (in Sanskrit) include steps such as washing feet and giving sacred bath using milk and water. Then with screen closed the deity is decoratively dressed with special cloths, flowers and ornaments. After the decoration the screen is opened to devotees to signify removal of veil of illusions so that devotees can see the beautifully decorated God. Then fruits and food are offered and incense sticks and lamps are waved to the deity. During the waving of lamp by a priest, devotees need to see with eyes open the radiating face of the fully decorated deity so that its memory will provide the spiritual joy. Then the priests distribute the sacred water (teertha) and sacred food (prasada) that devotees drink and eat for spiritual blessings. Thus the entire ritualistic worship can also be seen as expressing love, devotion and respect to one’s guest of honor. The joyful resonance between the external and internal worship provides the bliss.
The elaborate worship of consecrated deity along with sacred rituals with Vedic mantras and the materials used in rituals such as water, milk, flower, incense, sandal paste, bells, conch-shell etc is to help devotees to focus their mind on the Supreme Being. The Vedic seers have recommended the temple and rituals so that devotees through sensory experiences can spiritually experience the bliss of God. It is inspiring to remember the words of my Sadguru Sriranga, a seer-yogi, “The worship of deities and rituals in a temple should be carried out with child-like loving mind by the devotees as little children play with joy using their toys as medium.
Vedic Hinduism or Santana Dharma is based on the Vedas and Vedic literature. Solutions and approaches to all levels of inquiry into the nature of soul, universe and God are provided in Vedic Hinduism. Rituals, Music, Dance, Yoga, Meditation, Vedanta etc express its many facets. The celebrations of Vedic Hindu festivals bring out the various aspects namely religious, cultural, educational and social. A devotee focusing on the meaning of the Vedic mantras and ritualistic procedures will gain the spiritual knowledge. One focusing on the prayers and feelings in rituals will experience joy of devotion.One focusing on service in a temple will experience the joy of selfless service.
A temple plays an important role in providing a sacred place and means for spiritual development of a seeker.
A Hindu temple (Devaalaya) has not only religious purpose but also spiritual, cultural, educational and social objectives. It provides a place for devotees to focus and develop their spiritual insight. A Hindu temple in essence can be recognized in three forms. The first is oneself with God within. The second one is a dedicated room (with altar and deities) in a home. The third one is the Hindu temple in which devotees participate collectively that reflects the pluralistic nature of Vedic Hinduism or Santana Dharma. Thus a devotee needs to integrate all the three forms of temples to develop the spiritual insight and enjoy the peace and bliss.