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Hinduism Archives - Page 2 of 5 - varnamvarnam | Page 2
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Tag Archives | Hinduism

Indian History Carnival – 41: Vasco da Gama, Universal Hinduism, Ravi Varma, Babylon

The boy who wanted to kill Vasco da Gama

Poster of Urumi or The Boy Who Wanted to Kill Vasco da Gama (from Wikipedia)

  1. Koenraad Elst has a review of David Frawley’s Universal Hinduism (Voice of India, Delhi 2010),
  2. In Universal Hinduism (Voice of India, Delhi 2010), American scholar and Hindu convert David Frawley sets out to clear up this confusion. He takes the reader through the basic data that set Hinduism apart from the others, and specific Hindu schools from one another and from Buddhism. He also discusses what it has in common with the world’s eliminated and surviving Pagan religions, and sometimes with forms of Islam and Christianity too. In his typical kindly style, he gives every practice and every belief its due, but keeps his focus on the potential of Sanatana Dharma to heal modern society as well as to lead man to enlightenment.

  3. Anuraag mentions an Indian woman who ran an inn in Babylon in the 5th century BCE.
  4. Kish was the site of another intriguing find. A bronze chariot rein ring, which probably seems related to the African giraffe or a species of deer from Iran. Called Sivathere of Kish, it has been object of many studies – an unknown hoofed mammal of the Middle East. Initially thought to be related to the Sivatherium – a large, short-necked giraffid, originally described for S. giganteus from the Siwalik Hills of India.

  5. A major motion picture which is running to packed houses in Kerala is Santosh Sivan’s Urumi, set in the period when Vasco da Gama made his third voyage to India. The movie, it turns out, is not historical, but belongs to a category called alternate history. Arun Mohan writes about the historical inaccuracies in the movie.
  6. Likewise, the scriptwriters weren’t much aware of that, Guns and cannons were part of Kerala even when Portuguese first came to Kozhikode in 1498. Guns and cannons were introduced to Kerala, through Arab traders and Chinese. However the difference was, we had gun technology of 13th or 14th century even in 16th century as most of rulers didn’t invest much in improving new gunpowder technology. Rather focus and attention was developing on Kalaripayittu. In the movie, we are made to believe, Chirakkal Princess doesn’t know what to say for Gun and calls it as Thee Thuppi! Whereas the word Pirangi and Thokku etc were much in Malayalam dictionary even in 14th century. So why to use the word Thuppakki? In 1502, Zamorins had fired more than 1200 cannons against Portuguese ships. However the Portuguese had better range, more firing power and manuveourability which our cannons didn’t have that time.

  7. The event which sets the movie Urumi in motion is the massacre of 300 Muslims who were returning back from the Hajj. Maddy writes about the less mentioned violent streak of Vasco da Gama
  8. The meeting of the Portuguese armada and the pilgrim ship resulted in an event that can perhaps be called one of the cruelest actions in history, though it has been glossed over by people of that time and many years thereafter. Upon seeing the Meri, The Portuguese ships fired warning shots, but the pilgrim ship did not retaliate even though it had artillery. The ship was loaded with very rich people and 10 of the richest Muslims of Calicut were on board, led by Jauhar Al Faquih. Gama proceeded to negotiate with this man, who first offered money & spices, which was refused by Gama. He then offered Gama one of his wives, his nephew as ransom and offered to load 4 Portuguese ships with spices. These discussions went on for 5 days. He also offered to arrange friendship between Gama and the new Zamorin. Gama refused and demanded all the wealth on the ship. The proud Al Faquih responded by asking Gama to ask for it himself as he had taken over command of the ship. Gama did that and obtained much money and jewels and in return first provided five boats of food items. He then disarmed the ship and boarded it, ordering his men to set fire to various parts of the ship and after it had caught fire, sailed away. The valiant pilgrims somehow put out the fire, but seeing this, the Gama came back to finish it off.

  9. Sriram writes about how Ravi Varma made a name in Madras, based on Rupika Chawla’s book Raja Ravi Varma, Painter of Colonial India
  10. Ravi Varma became known to the citizens of Madras in 1874 when he entered his Nair Woman at her Toilette for display at the Fine Art Exhibition in the city. He was awarded a gold medal for this work and four years later, he arrived in the city, this time to attend the next Fine Art Exhibition where his Shakuntala Patralekhan (Shakuntala writing a letter) won a gold medal. The painting was also acquired by the Duke of Buckingham and Chandos, who was then Governor of the Presidency. Buckingham was evidently very impressed with Ravi Varma’s work for two years later, he sat for a portrait of himself by the artist. He was now to be amazed by the speed with which Ravi Varma worked and noted “though he had given no less than 18 sittings to an eminent continental artist, he had not produced half so faithful a likeness as the Indian artist had done”.

If you find interesting blog posts on India history, please send it to varnam.blog @gmail or as a tweet to @varnam_blog. The next carnival will be up on June 15th.

Thanks: kupamanduka

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Yoga's Hindu Roots

The article which was e-mailed more than the WikiLeaks article or Thomas Friedman’s column on the The New York Times website yesterday was titled Hindu Group Stirs a Debate Over Yoga’s Soul. Over 15 million Americans practice yoga and it is a 6 billion dollar industry. What is taught mostly is Hatha Yoga, but without the “baggage of Hinduism“. The Times article describes the activism of second generation of Hindu-Americans and what it has achieved.

The HAF website has more information on the Take Yoga Back campaign

A piece in the LA Times, Bending yoga to fit their worship needs, quoting yet another yoga instructor denying any and all religious roots lead not only to a Letter to the Editor, but also to the publication of The Theft of Yoga, the beginning of what eventually became know as The Great Yoga Debate: Shukla vs Chopra on the Newsweek/Washington Post On Faith site.  As HAF’s Dr. Aseem Shukla proudly brought to light yoga’s Hindu roots, Dr. Deepak Chopra penned his disagreement.  Shukla’s reply, Dr. Chopra – Honor Thy Heritage, was met with continued resistance from Chopra

Even months after the initial launch of this campaign, the issue remains very much alive.  On September 23, David Waters, the former editor of On Faith, quotes heavily from HAF’s stance paper in his piece “Should Christians practice yoga? Shouldn’t everyone?” And on October 3, Ms. Shukla once again voiced HAF’s stance in the “yoga debate” on air in a segment on Common Threads (click here to listen to Part 1 of the recorded segment and click here to listen to Part 2).

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Apsidal Shrines

Last year there was news of discovery of a 2000 year old Shiva temple complex in Uttar Pradesh, one of the oldest in India. Besides the age, what was interesting was the shape: the temple was apsidal. It was widely believed that the apisdal shape had Buddhist origins and was used by Hindus later. Historians like Romila Thapar have argued that if Hindu temples had such shape, they were converted Buddhist chaityas or shrines

This theory, in fact, cannot be credited to Marxist historians; they evolved out of a colonial myth. Colonial archaeologists, who found that the written record of India was imperfect, resorted to studying the history of art. This study, they hoped, would give a better historical record as well help understand the relation between various Indic traditions.

This Marxist/Colonial explanation — that Hindu traditions replaced Buddhist shrines — actually makes sense if you follow a linear chronology. There is no dispute over the fact that there was a resurgence of Hinduism  inspired by bhakti and hence it can be logically argued that this resurgent Hinduism or traditions usurped Buddhist chaityas. Also, Buddhist shrines have been around since the 4th century BCE while Hindu apsidal temples make their appearance few centuries later.

There are three reasons why the Colonials and Marxists are wrong.

First, archaeology has disproved many cases. For example, one site where an apsidal temple was found was Barsi in Maharshtra. According to the British, a Buddhist shrine was converted to a Trivikrama temple, but later archaeological excavations found an apsidal brick temple with a wooden mandapa. The mandapa was not a later addition, but an integral part of the temple. A similar theory was proposed by the British for the Kapotesvaraswamy temple in Guntur and the Durga temple at Aihole, but both were disproved.

Second, this theory ignores another possibility – co-existence. In Nagarjunakonda valley, which was settled from third millennium BCE to sixteenth century CE, there is evidence of both Buddhist establishments and Hindu temples, both using the same plans in different areas. Besides this, Naga traditions too  used the same style. Between second century BCE and seventh century CE, there is a rise in apsidal Buddhist shrines in peninsular India. Hindus also constructed new apsidal temples. For example in Kerala, after 800 CE, numerous sanctums with apsidal plans were constructed, especially the ones dedicated to Ayyappa. All these show that  various branches of Hindu traditions shared style and space with a number of domestic and regional traditions.

Finally, a point regarding the origin of this style. The earliest elliptical shrines are seen in Vidhisha (second century BCE), Nagari in Chittor (first century BCE) and Etah, Uttar Pradesh (200 – 100 BCE). An apsidal mud platform was also found in Ujjain (500 – 200 BCE). That’s not it. At Daimabad (1600 – 1400 BCE), a complex with a mud platform having fire altars and an apsidal temple with sacrificial activity were found. Similarly at Banawali, a Harappan site on the banks on the Sarasvati bed, there were fire altars on an apsidal structure. Thus the elliptical shape had religious significance from a much ancient time and there is only tradition which still builds fire altars the way people in Banawali did.

References

  1. Himanshu Prabha Ray, The apsidal shrine in early Hinduism: origins, cultic affiliation, patronage, World Archaeology 36, no. 3 (2004): 343. (Thanks Ranjith)
  2. Michel Danino, Lost River: On The Trail of the Sarasvati (Penguin Books India, 2010).
  3. Upinder Singh, A History of Ancient and Early Medieval India: From the Stone Age to the 12th Century, 1st ed. (Prentice Hall, 2009).
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2000 Year Old Shiva Temple

Last year at a place called Sanchakot in Uttar Pradesh, archaeologists found evidence of a temple complex consisting of five temples. Four temples were dated between 1st – 3rd century CE, but one temple built for worshipping Lord Shiva dated to an older period: either late Maurya or early Sunga period. Till now it was believed that temples were constructed in India during the Gupta period, but this evidence changed that.

Now just five kilometers away we have discovery of another temple from the same period.

Interestingly, the site is called ‘twin temple’ because an octagonal temple structure was found to be superimposing an older apsidal temple. “It may be assumed that there was an older temple which was renovated by the rulers who succeeded the Sunga rulers,” said Prof Tewari. 

What makes the discovery of this temple more interesting is the fact that it housed a mysterious deity. “We are sure that the site was a Hindu temple… there is a proper entrance, portico, ardha mandap, mandap, transepts and a garbha griha…but we cannot claim which deity the temple housed,” said Sandeep, a team member. In fact the team prefers to stay silent on the issue till they get a concrete evidence.[Temples are older than you think (via IndiaArchaeology)]

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Converting Tiger Woods

When it was discovered that Tiger Woods had a distributed harem, one of the issues that came up was his faith: Woods is Buddhist. Fox News anchor Brit Hume suggested that Tiger convert to Christianity and obtain “forgiveness and redemption.” The reason this conversion was needed is because Christianity offers a way for redemption from sin while Buddhism does not.

This can be quickly dismissed by blaming Hume’s ignorance of Buddhist philosophy, but that suppresses a larger issue hidden in that statement. To the question on if  Buddhism offers a way of forgiveness and redemption, the answer will always be no. According to Buddhist philosophy, there is no one to forgive you; you attain nirvana through spiritual practice without belief in constructs like Father, Son and the Holy Spirit.

The issue here is not of theological difference, but of theological superiority and this argument has been made before regarding another Indic religion; it was a common theme among missionaries operating in India in the 18th and 19th centuries.

To see an example we need to go to go to Serampore (in Bengal) of 1799 where the Baptist missionary William Ward preached. He was an evangelical who believed that even unbelievers had to hear the Gospel to be saved from damnation. According to his colleague and mentor William Carey, Hindus definitely had knowledge of God, but it was not the same as attaining salvation by accepting Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.

Ward, who had gone beyond the rituals of Hinduism, agreed with this. He was not one of those missionaries, who during Alexander Duff’s time, preached in street corners. He had learned Sanskrit from the Head Pundit at Fort William –  one Mrityunjay Vidyalankar. He had read Vedanta and even translated Vedanta Sara.

According to him Non-Christians — Africans, Indians, Greeks, Romans — all knew about God. That was not sufficient; only through divine revelation, you would know how to worship God. Hence the idolaters would never reach the Kingdom of Heaven and any religion which did not have this concept was irrational and absurd.

Three decades after Ward, Peter Percival who spent fifteen years in Tamil Nadu, did a similar comparison. He found that the goal of a Hindu was to merge with the sole, self-existing essential spirit. He then held this concept of an impersonal Brahman against Hinduism; the God mentioned in the Bible had personality, free will, and absolute power and hence that theism was more attractive.

You just can’t win.

In his staged apology for the media, Tiger Woods talked about his religion

Part of following this path for me is Buddhism, which my mother taught me at a young age. People probably don’t realize it, but I was raised a Buddhist, and I actively practiced my faith from childhood until I drifted away from it in recent years. Buddhism teaches that a craving for things outside ourselves causes an unhappy and pointless search for security. It teaches me to stop following every impulse and to learn restraint. Obviously, I lost track of what I was taught.[Tiger Woods’ apology: Full transcript]

Tiger Woods also ignored the televangelist’s suggestion.

References:

  1. Dr G A Oddie, Imagined Hinduism: British Protestant Missionary Constructions of Hinduism, 1793-1900 (Sage Publications, 2006). 
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