Monday, June 13, 2005



What is Sanatana Dharma? It means the oldest religious philosophy or way of life. It is the name by which realisation of truths and varied experiences of thousands of sages and seers immortalised in scriptures like the Vedas and incorporated in them, and practised for thousands of years in ancient Bharata Varsha, is known. These sages did not give any name for their religious philosophy and those who came later denoted it by this name.
But the alien invaders like Romans, Greeks and others who came to ancient Bharata Varsha called it as the land of Sindhu as they came across the river by that name now flowing in the western part of the sub-continent. They gave the name of Sindhu not only to the country but also to the people living on the banks of that river and beyond it and called them as Sindhus or Hindus and the religious philosophy practised by the people as Hinduism. The name of Sindhu later became India and this was how the vast landmass, lying between the Himalayas in the north and Kanyakumari in the south, came to be known by that name. Hence to call the religion practised in ancient Bharata Varsha as Hinduism, though widely accepted now, seems to be rather inappropriate.
This landmass was the place where one of the ancient civilisations flourished. The people who lived there in times of yore and who saw and experienced the bad and good effects of Sun, Moon, thunder, lightning, sea, rivers, mountains, rain, trees, fire and other elements of Nature, worshipped them in the form of stones or implements, which they carved out and sheltered them under trees. Later they erected structures around them with the help of stones or wood. They later built temples when the worship of Gods in the form of paintings, murals or idols carved from stones or wood came into vogue.

VEDAS: When they felt the need for conducting prayers to these Gods, Vedas and Vedangas were preached. They were not written down in manuscripts but were handed down orally. There is a Tamil term, “Ezhuthaakkilavi” or unwritten word in the ancient Tamil grammar work, “Tholkappiyam” to denote the Vedas, which confirms this view. The Supreme Lord handed them down to the four-headed God, Brahma, who was also known as “Chathurmugan” and he, in turn taught these Vedas to saints or “Rishis”, who handed down them to their disciples and through them they spread to every nook and corner of the country and also to other parts of the world. The four Vedas are Rig, Yajur, Sama and Atharva. The first two generally consist of prayers and hymns to be recited while conducting various rituals to propitiate Gods. These four Vedas are further divided into six parts known as Siksha, Vyakarana, Nirukta, Sandas, Jothisha and Kalpa. The four Upa-ankas or sub-parts of Vedas are Meemamsa, Nyaya, Purana and Smriti.
Vedas are also denoted by the Tamil term of “Marai” as they contain hidden truths and details about religion. As Vedas form the basis of the religion it is also known as the Vedic religion or “Vaideeka Matham”. It has six branches known as “Shannmatha” — Vaishnavam, Saivam, Saaktham, Kaumaram, Gaanapathyam and Sauram -- describing the ways of worshipping six Gods — Vishnu, Siva, Sakthi or Parvathi or Mother Goddess, Kumara or Skanda or Subrahmanya or Muruga, Ganapathi or Vinayaka and Surya or Sun-God.
The four Upa Vedas that arose from Vedas are Ayurveda (medical science), Dhanurveda (archery), Kandarva Veda and Artha Sastra. Sage Vyasa, considered as an incarnation of Lord Narayana, the Supreme Lord, collected the four Vedas from different sources and codified them as Rig, Yajur, Sama and Atharva and hence he is known as Veda Vyasa.
Upanishads, which are considered to be the essence of the Vedas, are also known as Vedanta, Veda Siras, Rahasya and by other names. They are 108 in number, according to one section of scholars and according to another group they are 120 in number. Twelve of these Upanishads — Isavasya, Kena, Kada, Prasna, Mundaka, Mandukya, Thaithiriya, Aithreya, Chandokya, Brahadaranya, Swedasvathara and Kaivalya — are considered to be important.
As it was felt that Vedas and Upanishads could not be easily understood by laymen, Puranas and Itihasas, which contained stories from the lives of saintly men and God’s incarnations, were written during the Vedic period to stress the need for leading virtuous life. The term “Purana” in Sanskrit means old. The Puranas and Itihasas help us understand the way of life of the people, who lived thousands of years ago. They give detailed information about the universe, its creation and destruction, holy places, trees and water sources, astrology, medicine, art forms, music, government and its administration, social life of the people, greatness of chaste women, justice, moral codes and other essential things to be understood and practised in life.
The five essential characteristics of these “Puranas” are “Sargam” or the creation of the universe, “Pratisargam” or the creation of the universe after the great deluge, “Vamsam” or the dynasties, “Manvantaram” or the ushering in of various periods named after “Manus” who were prominent in those periods (the present one is known as “Vaivaswata Manvantaram”, named after Vaivaswata Manu) and “Vamsanu Charita” or the details about kings who belonged to solar, lunar and other dynasties.


PURANAS: The total number of Puranas is18 and there are 18 more sub-epics, known as “Upa-Puranas”. Of them 10 are Siva Puranas as they speak about the glory of Lord Siva, the Destroyer. They are Saivam (also known as Vayu Puranam), Bavishyam, Lingam, Skaandam, Brahmandam, Mathsyam, Markandeyam, Koormam, Varaham and Vaamanam.
There are four Puranas describing the greatness of Lord Narayana, the Protector. They are Vishnu Puranam, Bhagavatam, Naratheeyam and Gaarudam.
Two Puranas — Brahmandam and Padmam -- are dedicated to Lord Brahma, the Creator. Brahma Vaivartham speaks about the glory of Sun God and Agneyam, the glory of Fire God.
There are 18 Upa-Puranas—Kapilam, Uchanam, Kaali, Sanathkumaram, Saambavam, Sivadharmam, Sowram, Durvasam, Naarasimham, Nandi, Naaradam, Parasariyam, Angeerasam, Barghavam, Manavam, Mareecham, Vaasishtam, Lingam and Vaarunam.
Each Purana consists of thousands of verses known as Slokas. For example, Skaandam, singing the glory of Skanda or Muruga, is said to consist of one-lakh Slokas. Many of the Puranas are in Sanskrit and they have not been translated into Tamil. Lord Siva handed down Siva Puranas to Nandikeswara, who gave them to Sanathkumara, who in turn handed them down to Sage Vyasa and from him they were passed on to Sudhas and other sages. Vishnu Puranas were given by Lord Narayana to Brahma, and from him they came to sages like Vyasa, Romaharshana and others.

ITIHASAS: The Ramayana and the Mahabharata are known as Itihasas and they speak about the glory of Lord Narayana’s incarnations as Rama and Krishna. The Lord came down to earth to save the sages, savants and others from the evil designs of demons and these incarnations are said to be countless. However, ten of them – Matsya (fish), Koorma (tortoise), Varaha (wild boar), Narasimha (half lion, half man), Vaamana (dwarf), Parasurama, Rama, Balarama, Krishna and Kalki – are considered to be most important. According to scholars these ten incarnations signify the evolution of life on the earth, first as fish, which lived only in water, then as tortoise, which lived both on land and in water, wild boar, which eats the root of a grass known as “Korai”, half animal and half human form, known as Narasimha, then as Vaamana or short-stature man, Parasurama, an angry young man, Rama, a virtuous man and Krishna, the universal teacher, who gave the Bhagavad Gita. The last incarnation, Kalki, is yet to take place.
AGAMAS: Many temples were built in which various forms of Narayana (Vishnu) and Siva as described in the Puranas and Itihasas were worshipped. Details about the lands to be chosen for building temples, forming streets around them, tanks to be dug up either inside or outside these temples, formation of gardens, installation of idols in temples and their consecration, various rituals to be conducted in temples every day, the food to be offered to deities after due preparation, the Poojas to be conducted and the festivals to be held in temples are explained in ancient texts known as Agamas.
They generally come under two categories – Vaishnava and Saiva. Vaishnava Agamas are said to number 108, but only two of them – Pancharatra and Vaikhanasa – are in vogue now. Lord Narayana Himself preached both the Agamas. The first one got that name as the Lord handed it down to sages during five nights or “Pancha Ratris”. It described the five kinds of worship of the Lord in temples – Adaagamam, Upadaanam, Eejyam, Swadhyayam and Dhyanam. Sage Vikhnasa, considered to be an incarnation of Lord Narayana, gave Vaikhanasa Agama to this world. It describes the worship of the Lord by showing the lamp, performing Homam and Archana before the “Archa Roopam” or the idol form of the Lord in temples.


Lord Narayana’s five forms are Vibu (Parathvam) or His appearance in the Paramapadam, where He is enjoying Sama Gana recited by sages and other eternal beings known as “Nithyasuris” (hence the preceptors call this as “Paatukketkum idam”), “Vyooham” or the Lord’s appearance in the Thirupparkadal or the Milky Ocean, reclining on Adisesha, where He lends His ears to the grievances and complaints of sages and celestial beings (hence the preceptors call this place as “Kooppaadu ketkum idam”), “Vibhavam” or the Lord’s incarnations as Rama and Krishna (preceptors call this as “Kudhitha idam”), “Antharyamithvam” or the in-dwelling capability of the Lord in all souls, and “Archai” or the idol form.
Saiva Agamas number 28 and they are Kaamikam, Yogajam, Chinthyam, Kaaranam, Ajitham, Deeptham, Sookshmam, Sahasram, Amsuman, Supravedam, Vijayam, Niswasam, Swayumbavam, Analam, Veeram, Rauravam, Makudam, Vimalam, Chandragnanam, Pimbam, Prodhgeetham, Lalitham, Sidham, Santhanam, Sarvothram, Paramechuram, Kiranam and Vaadhunam.
Of these only three – Kaamikam, Kaaranam and Makudam -- are being practised in most of the Siva temples.
Apart from the Agamas, which describe the way of worship of Gods in temples, there are other works pertaining to building of temples, carving of idols and containing other details.


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