Unity and continuity of Indian Culture - Govindh K.Bharathan



Govindh K. Bharathan


          Civilisation represents the results of man’s capacity to conquer nature and to make it work for his comfort and welfare.  In reality civilization is only discovery of the bounties that nature already has and which is gradually discovered and utilized for man by himself.  A classic example is electricity.  Electricity is inherent in the water-fall.  Man discovered it and then utilized and exploited it for providing him with the comforts of life.  Thus the rise of civilisation can be measured by the growth of physical and mental faculties of man.  Its measure and impact are objective in nature. 


          Culture on the other hand is man’s relationship with nature, other human beings, other forms of life and basically with himself.  Culture represents the degree to which man has grown spiritually and can be measured by man’s control of himself rather than of his environment.  The emphasis in culture is not on what nature can be made to do for man. It is more on what man can do for nature including all forms of life.  Culture can thus be measured only by subjective standards. 


          The growth of civilization need not necessarily be accompanied by the growth of culture.  Very often a phenomenal growth in civilization is accompanied by an abysmal fall in cultural values.  Indeed, often in his ruthless exploitation of nature for gratification of every whim and desire, man loses sight of his responsibilities to his fellow man and to the world. 


          It is the greatness of our culture that our approach to life has been basically spiritual.  Whether it be art, music, poetry or architecture, the basis of all creative activity has been spiritually oriented.  Art is the crystalisation of the overflow of the human emotion.  Thus where the causative factor of emotion is spirituality, necessarily all form of art must emerge from and symbolize soaring heights of the spirit. 


          It is this basic foundation in the spirit that constitutes the unity and continuity of Indian culture.  It is this atmic relationship which transcends the physical and the mental aspects of man.  That is the basic strength of Indian culture and which explains its resilence and continuity and unity. 


          Time and again throughout the sweep of history, our land has been subject to successive waves of invasion from beyond its frontiers.  Conquering forces came, each armed with seemingly invincible powers.  The victors brought with them their culture and often tried to impose their culture on the vanquished.  But time and again they found that the best aspects of their culture were absorbed and the worst aspects rejected by the culture of Bharath.  Thus, through successive waves of invasion Indian culture enriched itself often rising phoenix like from the flames. 


          If the soul of culture is spiritual it can be but one.  It may manifest itself differently conditioned by geographical and historical factors. In India the travellor is faced with the phenomenon of encountering totally different ways of life, modes of living, customs and behaviour, every  time he traverses a distance of around 200 miles.  This is a peculiarity of our country.  It is the world in miniscule.  Golden sands and palm fringed beaches rub shoulders with cool pleasant plateaus, torrid desert wastes, lush tropical forests and perpetual snow clad mountains.  Our culture adapts itself to this multifaceted kaleidoscope.  But behind these external manifestations lies the indestructible, unchangeable foundation of the spiritual roots of our culture.  Any culture not based on spirituality and which traces its origin to power, conquest or the glory of wealth will ultimately peter out into oblivion.   The Greeco-Roman cultures have been reduced by time to heaps of marble and granite.  This was because basically thee cultures were not rooted in the spirit. 


          The unique strength of Indian culture lies in the perfect amalgam of the divine and the profane.  Even the most mundane aspects of everyday life are elevated to the realms of the spirit and are tinched with shades of the divine.  The Ganga may be just another polluted over exploited river.  But to the Indian mind it represents the grace of the divine brought down by the firmness of human faith, and preserved in the matted locks of the eternal yogi Shiva.  Surpassing the scenic beauty of the confluence of three oceans at Kanyakumari looms the legend of the resplendent virgin goddess eternally waiting for her Lord. 


          All religions were accepted and allowed to flourish side by side in our great country again because of this supreme spiritual background of our culture.  All religions being prescribed paths towards God-realisation, these paths were all recognized to be equally effective in attaining that realization and the spirit being more important than from, all these seemingly divergent paths were accepted as facets of the Same Integral Reality.   This Integral Reality being the core of Indian culture, the great religions of the world became glorious embellishments to the common search for the Supreme and hence became incorporated as brilliant facets of our culture. 


          Essentially the basic qualities of the divine are encompassable within the ambit of the five great principles of Sanathana Dharma ie., Sathya, Dharma, Shanthi, Prema and Ahimsa.  These principles are eternal, indestructible and perennial and any culture which is based on these principles must also have the same characteristics of unity and continuity. 


                                                PRESENTING THE VEDAS


          The Vedas are the direct revelations of the Supreme Truth which were revealed to the great Rishis.  This knowledge was passed down from generation to generation of masters and disciples by word of mouth.  The Vedas were initially held almost entirely in memory.  In the cool unhurried way of life prevalent in ancient India, the sacred Vedas remained intact in the minds of the teacher and the taught, the Guru and the disciple.


          But little by little with the increase in population and the consequent pressures of living in a highly competitive society, the ancient Aryans were faced with a situation where it became impossible to retain the bulk of Vedic literature in human memory and of reproducing it faithfully.  Things deteriorated to a state where it appeared that the Vedas would soon dwindle away and became extinct if it  relied solely on retention in human memory for its perpetuation. 


          At this juncture was born the great Vyasa.  His father was a rahmin, Parasara and his mother Satyavathi was a fisher-women.  With the unique genius of the Hindus of interpreting truth through the idiom of stories, the parentage of Vyasa could well have been the graphic representation of ideals.  The knowledge of the Brahmin and the spirit of adventure of the fisher folk could indeed from the classic combination for the mission of rescuing the Vedas from the ocean of confusion that prevailed during that age.  Vyasa is said to be Vishnu himself incarnated for the perpetuation of the Vedas and its systematic codification.  Vyasa codified the Vedas into four great texts; the Rig-Veda, the Yajur-Veda, Sama Veda and the Atharvana-Veda. Each of these great texts constitute an almost total exposition on all aspects of the Ultimate Reality, which were initially revealed to the Great Rishis.


          The word Veda means knowledge or specifically spiritual knowledge.  It is the integral knowledge of the universe, and to express the same “Vani” or the word is used.  The Great Adi Shankaa stated that God gave the Vedas.  There is no difference between word and God.  The word is God.  One recollects the Biblical statement: “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God”.  The world originated from sound, and that which originates from sound must ultimately merge back into sound.  The Rig Veds states that the word endures as long as Brahman itself.  The concept of Brahman as Nirguna Brahman or the formless Brahman or the created manifested Brahman or the Viswa Rupa is represented by the word.  The most perfect expression of this concept is contained  in the Manthra of manthras “OM”, the Pranava, which when chanted merges into the silence called Turiya from which emerges the next manthra. 


          Indeed, the Pranava manthra “AUM” is the source and origin of the Vedas. “AUM” is the divine vibration which activates the actionless Nirguna Brahman and which results in all creation.  Creation itself according to the Hindus is infinite and eternal.  Vedic knowledge comes even before creation. 


 â€œYo Vedabhia Akhilam Jagath Nirmani”.

“God created the whole universe out of

the knowledge of the Vedas”.



          Thus any attempt to discover the date of the origin of the Vedas is like trying to discover the origin of knowledge of God Himself or is like trying to date God.  This concept has to be examined in the light of the theory of evolution as conceived by the Indian seers.  This concept involves involution also.  In other words the Hindu concept of evolution includes the concept that the universe is only one of a series of universes and that in reality creation is without beginning and end. 


          Thus when the Hindu’s say that the Vedas are eternal, what they imply is not the age of the actual book containing the scriptures, but the knowledge of a cycle of creation, from the unmanifest state this knowledge becomes manifest, to return when the cycle ends to the unmanifest state. 


          The Vedas were revealed to the Rishis during deep meditation in their super sensuous vision and since they were so comprehended, origination in Vani, they are called Shruthis – that which is heard and remembered. 


          The Vedas are considered Nithya and Apowrusheya everlasting or eternal and not crated by man.  It is stated that the Vedas originated from 300 seers among whom 32 are women.  The Sruthis or the heard, recollected and remembered knowledge was handed down from generation to generation of the Guru-Shishya Parambara by  word of mouth and were preserved in memory till entangled with pre- occupation of living and the pressures of a materially advancing society made such retention increasingly difficult.  At one point they faced the imminent danger of totally fading away.  At this crisis in the cultural and spiritual History of ancient India was born the great Vyasa- the son of the Brahmin Parashra and the fisher women Sathyavathy.  Perhaps the parentage of Vyasa is purely symbolical of the combination of the knowledge of the Brahmin and the enterprise of the fisherfolk. 


          Swami Chinmayanandaji has stated the four portions of the Vedas can be symbolically represented by the growth of a flower and its culmination in the fruit.  The fresh buds containing the potential bloom of the flowers nascent and potent are like the manthra portion.  Later when these buds bloom into the glory colour and fragrance of blossoms constantly courted by the bees, eternally material and bountiful they represent the Brahamanas.  In their maturity petals fade shrink and fall away giving birth to the unripe fruit which can be compared to the Aranyakas and in the ripening of the fruit and the bursting into thousands of seeds, each capable of producing a bush yielding thousands of such flowers, creative dynamic and prolific they can be compared to the Upanishads. 


          The Manthras represent the inspired proclamations evolving from revelations experienced by the Rishis.  These are highly poetic experienced by the Rishis.  These are highly poetic descriptions, the first whispers of truth revealed by God himself and are highly evocative and addressed to nature in all its glories.  They are the inspired babblings addressed in adoration of Brahman and a collection of these hymns is called the Samhitha.  The language of the Manthra portion may often sound incoherent to these unfamiliar with the inscruitable face of Hindu mysticism.  In the Mantras can be perceived the eternal struggle to translate living experience into the highly imperfect medium of language. 


          The Brahmanas is the prose rendering of the highly intellectual hair splitting technical interpretation of these revelations describing the sacrifical rights precepts and religious duties.  Interpreted through the predominantly intellectual approach of a highly technical and hair splitting erudite priestly class.  The poetrically explosive Mantras evolved into the “Brahmana” portion of the Vedas.  The Brahmana portion is thus is essence the same truth postulated in the Manthra portion, however subject to a totally different interpretation.  The “Brahmanas” contain the ritualistic aspect of the truth, the priestly interpretation of the one reality in terms of highly complex technical and precise ritualistic exercise.  The Brahmana portion is predominated with invocations to the vedic Gods for securing material ends through the performance of elaborate and complicated rituals. 


          The aranyakas are the forest treatises which supplant external rituals by internal meditation.  The Aranyakas or the forest treatises are essentially the inword turning of the mind in meditation.  It is a retreat from the external to the internal a symbolized by a withdrawal into the forest renouncing the world and worldiness.  The mood is introspection the theme is meditation the contend is contemplation and the object is realization without resort to the externalism of rituals.  The Aranyaka portion of the Vedas is often considered as a prelude, a sub dued movement in the vedic symphony leading to the crashing crescendo of the upanishadic portion. 


          But the brilliance of the Hindu mind, its inventiveness and wisdom and search for perfection, sought beyond the realms of Brahmanas. Philosophy, shaking itself clear of the shackles of intellectualism and ritualism searched for new heights of interpretation of the same Eternal ultimate Reality and Truth and this gave birth to the last and most glorious portion of the Vedas, the “Upanishads”. 


          The Upanishads or Venantha are the ultimate flowering of the essence of the Vedas.  It represents the Jnanakanda portion of the Vedas and are the philosophical meditations of the Rishis on some of the profound problems which have engaged manking insearch of its relationship with the Divine.  Perhaps the essence of the Upanishads is contained in the first Manthras of the Isavasysa Upanishad which starts. 


          “Isavasyam Idam Sarvam Yat Kinchith Jagthyam Jagath”


          The First three manthras of this famous Upanishad states that the entire world is enveloped by God.  It is only through sacrifice that true happiness can be secured and that work should be resorted to in a spirit of total renunciation. 


The Upanishads


          The Upanishads constitute the last portion of the Vedas.  They are declarations of Truth by realized Seers –who have authoritatively declared what they have actually experienced.  Being the culmination of Vedic development, and being literally appended to the last portion of each of the Vedas the Upanishads are also known as “Vedantha” the end of the Vedas. 


          Originally there were 1180 Upnaishads.  Time took its toll of all but 108 of these.  Out of the surviving 108 Upanishads, ten stand out as unique and truly important.  They are Isa, Kena, Katha, Prasna, Mundaka, Mandukya, Thaithiriya, Altharaya, Chandogya and Brahadaranyaka.  Adi Shankara was written superb commentaries on each of them. 


          Language is all best a highly imperfect conveyor of ideas ever if they are mundane and worldly.  Consider then the enormity of the task of the Rishis who sought to explain the Infinite Absolute Reality in the medium of words.  They have tackled this seemingly impossible task by using terse, suggestive, aphorisms and taut terminology.  In the Upanishads, Ideas are not explained they are suggested under proper guidelines – leaving intuition to interpret their full content and scope.


          It is thus imperative that the Upanishads should be taught by a Guru, by a mater who has himself realized their meaning.  Knowledge about the Upanishads is to be received while seated at the feet of a Guru, who should himself be perfection incarnate who not only explains the meaning but also transmits the experience of Reality to the seekers. 


          The Upanishads teach the path of attainment of the Ultimate Reality.  They do not merely defined Reality and leave the matter there.  They constitute a practical and concise guide to the sadhak as to how to attain realization.     

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