Canada is becoming a complex inter-culturalal and multi-faith nation with time. Dr Suresh Kurl believes that time the has come that this changing demography be introduced to the history, culture, religion, spirituality and traditions of India, especially Canada wishes to advance mutual relations with the people of India. In a five-part series he introduces Hinduism to our readers.
Before the discovery of the Indus Valley civilization, the Vedas were supposed to be the earliest records we possess of Indian culture. … They were the outpourings of the Aryans as they streamed into the rich land of India., writes Jawaharlal Nehru in his The Discovery of India; pg. 76-77.
These scriptures are not only a mine of information about India and her people, but they are the ultimate authority on our spiritual, religious and cultural properties and practices we have lived by, to date.
Hinduism would not have survived the Saks, the Tartars, the Beluchis, Huns, Arab, Persian and Afghans and the British. They all tried to impose their customs and ideals upon us.
Furthermore, as unlike Buddhism, Jainism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam and Sikhism, Hinduism did not have any one founder or one single scripture, it grew over a period of thousands of years absorbing and assimilating different movements. Nevertheless, despite the atrocities Hinduism suffered, it survived, gloriously. Why, because it retained its loyalty to its scriptures.
What are the Vedas: The root of the word Veda is ‘Vid,’ means to know. Veda means sacred knowledge. It denotes the religious and philosophical wisdom. The Hindus look upon these scriptures with the highest reverence.
The Rig-Veda, which had been compiled first, is the book of hymns. The Yajur-Veda, the second one, is the book of liturgical formulas. The Sama-Veda the third, is the book of music and peace and the Atharva-Veda, the last one, is the book of magical incantations. With the exception of the Yajur Veda, which is written in prose, the rest of the three are mostly in the form of metrical hymns and verses.
As the Vedas are believed to have been revealed by God, they are Shruti. A Shruti is something that is revealed, listened to and memorised. Because the Holy Scriptures of Judaism, Christianity and Islam are believed to have been revealed they could be called Shruti as well. The Upanishads, Ramayana, Mahabharata and the Bhagavad Gita etc. are Smriti, something that is remembered.
The Vedic period is considered somewhere between 4000 and 2500 B.C. As there was no script, they were perpetuated by oral tradition until, the advance of culture made their compilation possible. Until that happened, the gurus (acharyas) developed techniques to ensure the correctness of the version memorised was exactly what was revealed to them. This technique is called “jata-path”. The closest example I can offer the readers is the Sama Veda’s seven musical notes the students practice. They are in complex (jata) forms:
(i) sa – re – ga – ma – pa – dha – ni
(ii) sa- re- ga; re- ga- ma; ma- pa- dha; pa- dha- ni; dha- ni- sa;
(iii) sa- ni- dha; ni- dha-pa; dha- pa- ma; pa- ma- ga; ma- ga- re; ga- re- sa.
Almost the same method was used to memorise the Vedic hymns.
Vedas consist of prayers and praises to the deities for wisdom, health, long life, prosperity, offspring, cattle and victory in battles, and forgiveness for sins. That means the Vedas also believe in the value of one’s actions – Karma and abiding by one’s obligations Dharma to himself, his family, his community, to his nation, to the humanity in general and to the environment he lives in.
The Vedas are valued in two different ways. The first is the Karmakanda and second is Jyankanda. The Karmakanda deals with ritualistic performance and sacrifices, for example: agnihotra (fire-sacrifice), ashwamedha-yajna (horse – sacrifices) etc. The purpose of the Karmakanda is purely materialistic and ritualistic. “A ritual is a sacrifice, an attempt to fulfill the purpose of creation, to elevate the status of man to that of a god-head or a cosmic man,” says Shri Aurobindo, who was an Indian philosopher, yogi, guru and a poet. He lived from August 16, 1872 to Dec.5, 1950. Thus Karmakanda is to attain prosperity in the present life on earth and felicity in heaven after death, whereas the purpose of the Jyankanha is spiritual. It is to liberate oneself from ignorance and break the cycle of birth-and rebirth and to attain the ultimate good – the salvation.
The Vedas and the nature: The Vedas are associated with the elements of nature: the Rig Veda associates with fire (agni), the Yajur Veda with air (vayu) and the Sama Veda with energy of the sun (surya). There is no mention of any association of the Atharva Veda with any element of nature.
Language of the Vedas: The language of the Vedas is ancient Sanskrit, which is closer to Avesta; the language of the ancient Zoroastrian sacred scriptures. Sanskrit taught in schools in modern India is no where near the ancient Vedic Sanskrit. It has dramatically changed over thousands of years.
Vedic Philosophy: The Vedas define God to be infinite and supreme; that everything on this planet is created by Him, as He alone can create, sustain and dissolve his creation. Whatever God creates is finite. Therefore, this universe including this world is finite. God is the one, who established our moral and spiritual standards. The Vedas emphasise on three categories for a successful living — knowledge, action and worship.
Vedas mentions the concept of re-birth (punar-janm). A rebirth is like a necklace of beads. The one ahead is future; the one behind is past and the one in the middle is the present. And thus it keeps rotating until one achieves the moksha, the most coveted end of the cycle of birth and rebirth.
The Vedas and women: The Vedic period, as described in the Rig Veda, depicts a highly evolved society in which women played a stellar role. Women, who lived during the Vedic period, were truly blessed; they were respected and honoured. They were accorded equal status and privileges along with men and were second to none. They were encouraged to study the scriptures and were given Upanayana Samskara (initiation into learning). They were considered to be the custodians of purity and perseverance. They enjoyed independence and self-reliance. Furthermore, as a sign of social dignity, widows were not only allowed but encouraged to remarry as evidenced in the funeral hymn ; The Rig Veda; 10.18.8:
“The widow who lay on the pyre by the side of her dead husband was asked to come to the world of the living.”
However, despite the wealth of language and literature, religion, spirituality and traditions, the Vedas also left us behind with an elitist caste-system, which divided the society on the basis of cognitive achievements, physical performance and the colour of skin. ‘The Dravidians (darker skinned individuals), who had already settled in India before the Aryans arrived, did not have a caste or colour based society. The Buddhists and Jains helped the Dravidians to overcome the antagonism which the Dravidians felt towards the Aryans’, as Manly Palmer Hall writes in The Light of the Vedas; pg. 9.
It is true the constitution of India emphatically oppose caste based system, the majority of Indians continue to practice it, while, on the other hand, the modern-day nationalists hate everyone, including coloured people (both and women) and individuals, who belong to the LGBTQ class in society. The only individuals they do not hate are those, who are white and rich.
Dr. Suresh Kurl is a former University Professor retired Registrar of the BC Benefits Appeal Board (Govt. of B.C.) a former-Member of the National Parole Board (Govt. of Canada), a writer and public speaker and a Member of the Provincial Committee on Diversity and Policing.