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Punya Bhumi: The Homeland of Vedic Agamic Hinduism
9 July 2012
By definition, Hinduism is Vedic Agamic. The Vedic Rishis spoke of the river Sindhu, and it is best to retain the word 'Hindu' (the Persians having changed the word slightly) so that the historically grounded origins of Hinduism are preserved and do not get lost in a refined Vedantism. Two further questions need to be addressed: first is the link between Veda and Agama, and the second is the link between Vedic Agamic Hinduism and the idea of the Punya Bhumi (sacred land).
By Vedic is meant the entire corpus of the four Vedas, the Brahmanas, the Aranyakas, the Upanishads and the Bhashyas. By Agama is meant the ritual, the temples, the murtis and the philosophy that developed from the Vedic tradition and whose traditions are Sanskritic. Attempts to delink them have gone on since the 19th century by Hindu reform movements such as the Brahmo Samaj and the Arya Samaj. Both these movements sought to retain a refined Vedantism, by which they meant that originally there was no worship of murtis (images of gods) or Vedic rituals or temples, while a universal principle, Brahman, may be worshipped. They were largely influenced by their connections with the Christian Church and the missionaries. Both these movements now represent fringe movements within the Hindu fold, and sometimes Brahmoism is placed outside the Hindu tradition. Some consider India as having nine officially listed religions: Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Christianity, Islam, Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Brahmoism.
The World Council of Brahmos has its own website. The Law Commission of Bangladesh speaks about Hindus, Brahmos, Muslims etc. In India, The National Commission for Minorities lists Others (this could include Brahmoism).
Attempts to delink the Vedas from the Agamas got a significant boost when the anti-Hindu movement driven largely by Church-inspired and politically ambitious individuals in the Dravidian movement set up further confusions in the 1950s. Much of this has lost its momentum and the Vedic Agamic link remains firm simply as Hinduism. The reader is requested to read Kausalya Santhanam, 'The Cultural Connection: Dr. R. Nagaswamy's Mirror of Tamil and Sanskrit, The Hindu, July 5, 2012. Dr. Nagaswamy, a former Director of the Department of Archeology, Government of Tamil Nadu, enunciates that at no time did Tamil develop independently of Sanskrit (they worked together) and that this can be traced back to Vedic times.
In previous articles, the present writer has indicated that the Vedic Agamic tradition is the target of anti-Hindu forces, which include the proselytising faiths and as well the 'liberal' deracinated Hindus still in thrall of the Macaulay project as elucidated in the Minutes of 1835, viz., Indians in blood but English (read Western) in their convictions and thinking.
The second theme that needs to be addressed is the question of the Punya Bhumi, the sacred land of the Hindus. The two largest minority groups have their sacred land outside India, Christians in Jerusalem and Bethlehem, and Muslims in Saudi Arabia. Their attachment to India is due only to it being their Janma Bhumi, land of birth. Only for Hindus does the Punya Bhumi and Janma Bhumi coincide.
For the minorities, any meaningful history begins with the coming of their religion to India, although many are converts to these faiths. There is an attempt to undermine the Hindu history of India prior to the political domination of adherents of these faiths, to negate the Hindu glory in its homeland. Much stress and strain and confusion can be avoided if the minority communities accept their Indian citizenship, worship their gods in peace, and resist the desire to bring the nation under the dominion of their respective faiths.
What requires further elucidation for both Hindus and minorities is understanding the continuity of the Vedic Agamic tradition and why it cannot be dented and why India should continue to be the Punya Bhumi. Hindus believe that the Devas and Devatas worshipped by the Vedic Rishis continually inhabit the land. This is the key to understanding why all from the rural villager to the urban middle classes continue to worship the murtis housed in temples all over the subcontinent.
The Rig Veda's Devas and Devatas were seen in the visonary experiences of the Rishis and represent the structure of the universe as they saw it in their visions. Hindus believe that the Vedas had always existed and were apaurusheya (not of human origin). The Rishis were simply channels through which the divine world communicated with humans. Vedic rituals were therefore entrusted to groups of people (students in the ashrams of Vedic rishis) who would handle their duties with complete devotion and care. These were handed down from generation to generation and eventually became hereditary. Thanks to this, present day Hindus have their oral tradition intact in a way that has not been replicated in any other religious system of this ancient period.
The Vedic rituals (yagnas) were conducted in the open in altars built of wood and fire which was generated by the rubbing of sticks and the chanting of mantras or sacred utterances, believed to replicate the divine sounds of the universe, in the way Pythagoras, the Greek philosopher most influenced by India, spoke of the music of the universe, later repeated by William Shakespeare as the music of the spheres (Cymbeline). In the Upanishads, the celestial sounds of the mantras are described in terms of Sabda Brahman.
Perhaps the most famous and recent of the descriptions of the fire ceremony is the unforgettable one provided by the Kanchi Shankaracharya:
"… a yajna is making an oblation to a deity in the fire with the chanting of mantras. In a sense the mantras themselves constitute the form of the deities invoked. In another sense, the mantras, like the materials placed in the fire, are the sustenance of the celestials invoked". (Hindu Dharma: The Vedas).
The Vedic ceremony in its original pristine purity has been preserved by the Nambudiri Brahmins of Kerala, down to the minutest details of the bricks fired for the altar, the rubbing of sticks to produce fire, and so on, and of course, the meticulous recitation of the mantras. For Hindus in the diaspora and Hindus elsewhere in India, a good source of information is the monumental work done by Frits Stahl of the University of California who videographed the entire ceremony lasting some 12 days (The Vedic Ritual of the Fire Altar, 1983, Berkeley, vols. 1&2, put together in conjunction with the Nambudiris who conducted the ceremony).
The Vedic corpus referred to above (minus the Bhashyas) is referred to as Sruti because it was received by the Rishis from divine sources. The Agama corpus largely in Sanskrit, which continued this in ritual, temples, and deities consecrated and installed in temples, are also considered Sruti. This sacred link, the Vedic Agamic link, as believed by the Hindus, continues to this day and is the core of Hindu worship.
Some misguided and ill-informed Hindus try to compare the Indian situation with the blood-and-soil theme of some European countries like Germany, where the Romantic Movement of the 18th and 19th centuries focused on the close relationship between native-born Germans and the soil of Germany. While some linkage between Janma Bhumi and nationalism is understandable, the difference with the Hindu situation is significant.
The German Romantic Movement which spawned the idea of blood-and-soil was initiated by German musicians, litterateurs and thinkers in the 18th century (the leading figure being Herder, 1744-1843) and it was somewhat diffuse in its self-understanding. There was emphasis on the German language, as opposed to other European languages. There was an invocation to the nation as built on German soil and so on. But there was no authentic religious sanction because there could not be anything prior to Christianity that Germans could meaningfully look upon for inspiration. The Holy Roman Empire was established in 962 AD by Otto the First as a direct dispensation from the Catholic Church. Earlier in 800 AD the Church had crowned Charlemagne (of German descent) as a Holy Roman Emperor. These two rulers continued conquest and conversion. Thus continued the Church's era of conquest of various parts of the world, starting from the first millennium under Constantine.
There is no basis of comparison with the Vedic Agamic tradition and its link in the Hindu mind to the idea of Punya Bhumi. Only anti-Hindu forces continue to peddle this anaemic comparison. For Hindus themselves, cherishing the sacred notion of Punya Bhumi where the Devas and Devatas reside from the Himalayas to Kanyakumari and from east to west is what gives special relevance to the notion of Janma Bhumi.
The writer is a Political Philosopher who taught at a Canadian university
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