The beauty of the teachings of Sanatana Dharma is its variety. It is the most broad-minded, multi-hued of philosophies.
Divinity has been regarded from ancient times to be indivisible, omnipotent, omnipresent and intangible. We human beings, by definition, are bound by the mundane world we inhabit. To the ancients, the search for the inner self came only after there was success in satiating less sublime desires. It is only after our worldly desires are largely fulfilled that we turn naturally to other things. Such a truth is similar to the averment of army generals that it is impossible to march on an empty stomach. In other words, it is hard to seek Divinity within, when the stomach is empty.
The ancient wisdom of our land was clear: the ultimate aim of all of Creation was to merge with that which created it. Much like Paulo Coelho’s novel “The Alchemist”, one ends up back at the very starting point. Such a return to the origin denotes the cyclical character of time, which is a concept that was held by the ancients of this land. The purest time, when human beings were mostly good or sattvik, was the Satya Yuga, which marks the beginning of the Four Yugas. Those that followed, the Thretha, Dwaapara and Kali Yuga saw a steady depletion of Dharma or righteousness.Finally, after the Kali Yuga, Creation swings right back to Satya Yuga, and the entire cycle gets repeated endlessly.
Yagas are performed in the Satya Yuga, Vedas and rituals follow. The Kali Yuga that we are in prescribes the chanting of the names of the Divinities as the litany to be carried out. As has been taught, Lord Krishna, before He left His body, assured an agonisedUdhhava that it was indeed in the approaching dharma-depleted period of Kaliyuga that Salvation was easiest. When Adharma was the rule of the day, the few who were different got easy admission into that state of Salvation. It was the way even mediocre students found it easier to get into a course for higher studies when the average score of all students was poor.
There is a saying that has been taught from ancient times, which is “Kaalau Chandi Vinaayaka”. This means that the most popular Divinities of Kali Yuga are Kali and Ganapathi. Not to forget there are as many definitions of Mother Kali as there are Her names. Kali is known as Kaala Sangharshini or the Controller of Time. She is also supposed to be that infinitesimal unit between two moments.
In a particular recital, Kali is considered the wife of Shiva. She is sent by Mahadeva to end the woes on Earth that have been caused due to the actions of the Asuras. There is another version that, headed by Shri Maha Vishnu, the Divinities and the sages and the good people on Earth who were suffering at the hands of the Daanavas, came to Shiva and told Him of those atrocities, Shiva grew angry. The Third Eye in His forehead opened out and spewed Fire. Out of this effulgence came the wondrous Shri Maha Kali.Here She was “Bhadra Kali, the Rudra Sutha”, or the daughter of Shiva, as She came forth from Him.
Shri Maha Vishnu is the God in charge of preserving Brahma’s Creation. It may be noted that none of the Asuras seeking special powers do Thapas to Vishnu. This is because the grant of any such boon would have been antithetical to Shri Maha Vishnu’s duty to this Earth. Instead, it is Brahma and Shiva who are very generous with boons, which they hand out abundantly.Ancient wisdom avers that there are three Gunas or qualities in Creation. They are the Sat, Rajo and ThamoGunas. All these Gunas are present in different proportions in every human being. A person who believes that he is wholly Satwic, automatically becomes guilty of Ego and thus loses his coveted status.
Bhagavan means that which has the ability to be, as well as go to the core of absolutely everything. Bhagavathi is the female version of this. Obviously, it is only Divinity who has the capability of being both concentrated and universal. Supreme Energy or Shakti is always completely inclusive. The teaching says that it is only to teach limited human beings the importance of expanding their narrow vision that we are told legends of Gods fighting evildoers. We are taught never to forget that It remembered that it is one and the same Divinity who created everything, including those claimed to be His opponents.
Hiranyakashipu, the father of Prahalada, one of the greatest devotees of Shri Maha Vishnu, was the reincarnation of the gatekeepers of Vaikundha, the abode of Shri Maha Vishnu.Hiranyakashipu had sought a boon that he would not be killed by humans or animals, not on Earth or in the sky, not inside the building or outdoors, not by hands or weapons, not during the day or night. To protect Prahlada, Shri Maha Vishnu took on the avataara or incarnation of Narasimha, the man-lion.
Hiranyakashipu was killed at dusk, with the nails of Narasimha at the threshold of his palace, while placed on the very lap of Narasimha. It was Hiranyakashipu’s wish to die on his Master’s lap that led to this elaborately carried out boon. Jaya and Vijaya, the doormen of Shri Maha Vishnu, opted for births as demons who would be killed by Shri Maha Vishnu and returned to their original posts, rather than go through more births as good men and therefore stay away from their beloved Vaikundham for a longer time. This was an instance where those closest to Shri Maha Vishnu deliberately opted for a Tamasic birth.
The beauty of the teachings of Sanatana Dharma is its variety. To seek to tie it down to what one person or a section of people alone consider “moral” or “right” is to try and make the most broad-minded, multi-hued of philosophies into hidebound edicts, efforts that reveal absence of all knowledge of our past. There are depictions in the Shri Devi Maahaatmyam (known as theShri Durga Sapthashathi in North India), where the Goddess declares unabashedly “Garjagarja Mahaa Moodhaa, Madhu yaavalpibaamyaham”.
The Devi urges the demon to yell until She finishes the Madhu or liquor in the Madhu Pathra. This, the vessel of Madhu, is an accoutrement seen in Her left hand. The Vaamaachaara or Shaktheya method of worship includes a lot of things which would make the vegetarian Maadhwaachaaryas shudder. They would never be able to reconcile such actions with what they consider to be worship. And yet, each is a pathway towards understanding and obeying the Divine. The solution to this seeming conflict is to return to the wisdom of our ancestors, who let every Sampradaya or methodology of worship flourish among their respective followers. Sanatana Dharma has never been scornful of plurality. On the other hand, it has revelled in it. It is this holistic, inclusive and mature approach to Life that has been taught to us from our truly wondrous past.
Thiruvathira Tirunal Lakshmi Bayi is XII Princess of the erstwhile state of Travancore.