Beans, Bullets, and Bhagavad-gitas
Hinduism can easily be divided into two phases: the vedic phase and the puranic phase. The vedic phase focused on ritual, while the puranic phase is about narrative. The vedic phase therefore continues to be mysterious, even out of reach, while the puranic phase with its heroes and villains seems to make immediate sense.
Historically, the vedic phase begins 4,000 years ago and wanes after the arrival of Gautama Buddha, 500 BCE. The puranic phase follows the rising appeal of the Buddha and his teachings, something that continues today.
The vedic phase is associated with the hymn collections or samhitas -- Rig, Yajur, Sama, Atharva -- the ritual manuals or brahmanas, and the philosophical texts known as aranyakas and more prominently, the upanishads. The puranic phase is associated with the great epics, the Ramayana and Mahabharata, and with the chronicles known as puranas. There are many puranas: 18 major ones, hundreds of minor ones, including those restricted to a particular place (sthala-purana) or to a particular community (jati-purana). It is through the puranas, that vedic wisdom reaches the common man.
The story goes that a fisherwoman’s son called Krishna Dwaipayana, whose name means ‘the dark one who was born on a river island’, compiled and organised the vedic hymns, which is why he was given the title of Veda Vyasa. Veda Vyasa then wrote the Adi Purana full of stories that made vedic wisdom accessible. From the Adi Purana came the Ramayana, the Mahabharata and the many puranas. Thus, in traditional lore, puranas are fruits of the tree that is the vedas. These puranas inspired the agama texts that replaced the old vedic yajna-shala with grand new temple complexes.
The sages see puranas as an extension of the vedas: one cannot exist without the other. The Mahabharata says ‘Itihaas-puranabhyan vedon samupbrihayet’ which means, ‘Study of epics and puranas supplements the understanding of vedas.’ Yet modern scholars separate vedas from puranas.
Some see vedas and puranas as two distinct traditions that have nothing to do with each other, vedas being the creation of Aryans and puranas being the creation of non-Aryans, who mingled with the Aryans. They see puranas as a Hindu reaction to Buddhist monasticism, which is why the puranas and temple traditions celebrate the householder’s life over the hermit’s.
Others see vedas as superior and puranas as inferior, a hierarchy that was common amongst Greek aristocrats, and later colonial orientalists, who preferred philosophy over poetry and saw ‘logos’ as superior to ‘mythos’. This was adopted by many Hindu ‘reformers’ of the 19th century, who were ashamed of Hindu customs such as what they perceived as ‘idol’ worship.
At the heart of the vedas is brahmavidya or atmajnan -- a deep understanding of human nature, which does not change with time (sanatan dharma). The sages struggled to communicate this idea. First they used rituals, hence the vedas. Later, with increased confidence, they used stories, hence the puranas. The former created an elite club. The latter reached out to the general public.
In the 21st century, we are seeing a trend towards anti-elitism and anti-intellectualism. Perhaps we need to question why some people insist that vedas are seen as different than or superior to the puranas. Why do we reject the fruit and prefer the tree? Does it indulge the ego? Does that not go against the very point of vedic wisdom?
The history of Bharata-varsa is most complicated and there are many angles of analysis in this world. Will return for some discussion. There are the eternal histories, the histories of this universe, and the history of written literature and commentaries in this most recent age.
Rg, Atharva, Soma and Yajur Vedas, plus Mahabharata.
Vimanas /Aranyakas and Puranas. Then infinite corrolaries.
Mundane scholars have little useful to say, and if we start to listen to them, everything will be finished. The best source of knowledge about the Vedas is the Vedas themselves, and the lines of pure devotee scholars.
My thoughts exactly. Everyone understands the Truth through the perceptual screen of their mind.
I took a course in comparative religion as well as Indian religions at UBC one year, and found that everything was slanted by the vision of the Christians running the department. They had an active agenda to misinterpret the scriptures. At the time, most translations and interpretations of the Vedas were from Western philosophers who added their own ideas. I found that the course texts were similar. Ever since, I am quite skeptical about commentaries on the Vedas and the actual history of India.
For example, we were told that Bhagavatam etc were written about 1200 AD, then another said maybe a few hundred years BC, now they have been forced to accept that the Vedas are in fact thousands of years older than they would like the world to believe. One of the offenses is to give speculative interpretation of holy Names, and i suggest same is true of sastra. It is much better when a devotee such as Mahesh JC et al present the facts for perusual, becuase then there will be no blatant attempts at brainwashing. Someone who knows the conclusions of the Vedas actually knows Vedas.
Point noted with due respect.
The writer of the above article, which was published in the Speaking Tree of the Times of India recently,is a renowned mythologist and has written a few books on the subject.
The purpose of sharing the article was to get the feedback of the readers of this forum, what others perceived about the subject.
Yesterday, I read the response of one of the readers of the article in the same blog, which I would like to share here....
"The Puranas are the unwanted parasites and weeds of the magnificent tree that are the Vedas. To call them the fruits is to denigrate the vedas. Why? In the same issue of Times of India where this piece appeared carried a piece by Pavan Kumar wherein an incident is recounted. A lady diplomat who was observing Kadva Chauth wanted to get a better view of the moon before she broke her fast for the well-being of her husband. She climbed to the terrace which is out of bounds for guests and set off an alarm which brought in the Parisian Gendarmerie. She was bailed out by the Embassy who explained that it was the custom of married women in India to view the moon through a sieve before breaking her fast. That left the French police befuddled but they let her go.
Why do I quote this? Firstly, look at the patriarchy of the custom or ritual; a wife must pray for the longevity of her husband but the husband does not have to reciprocate. Why? Because the wife prays to die before her husband. Why? Because he is her protector. If he dies then she becomes a burden to the family and must cut her hair and subsist off the strictest of vegetarian diets, eat on separate vessels which she alone must wash, wear the plainest of sarees, observe as many fasts as required. With such restrictions, she might find the sati a better way to end her miseries. Many did. All this is imposed by the Brahmins as God-given edicts found where else but in the Puranas. True, a modern widow like the diplomat may not observe these rituals but millions of uneducated women who are held in thrall by the Puranas do. Let me not go into the sieve and moon part which befuddled the French Police because the moon she was 'seeing' had already risen over India where her husband was! Who makes up these fantastic rituals?
Now let me look at the Puranas themselves. These were intended to simplify the 'lofty' philosophies of the Vedas and Upanishads for the 'common' person. Why? Can we not credit these persons with a modicum of intelligence? Do they not keep the wheels of India turning? Are we not giving them the right to choose the person to elect to represent them in the government? Do they not kick out the non-performers and cheats? In the guise of simplification, these persons are fed with the myths called the Puranas by whom? The Brahmins of course, who become the sole arbiters of God. If you follow the Vedas and Puranas as I do you have no need for such intercessors. Realising this the Brahmins created this pap called Puranas which the commoner could read and also restricted the study of the Vedas to only themselves, making the reading of these texts a sin for others. It is not a simple case of theology vs mythology as quoted in the Greek example. It is a well-planned means of establishing and consolidating the hegemony of the priestly class over others like Kshatriyas, Vaishyas etc. This class divide which was not hereditary thus became so.
What the Hindu reformers of the 19th century who are being dismissed as 'Hindu haters', did was to break out of these Brahminical barriers. Raja Ram Mohan Roy translated the Upanishads into Bengali and earned the ire of the priestly class. He never said he was not a Hindu but he was appalled by the meaningless rituals then extant in the name of Hindu Dharma. In particular, he was very much affected by the sati of his elder brother's wife whom he loved and respected.
It is sad that in this day and age we are celebrating the mythology of the Puranas as the word of God and ignoring the essential truth of the Vedas and Upanishads. No wonder, therefore, that strife is increasing with beef bans, clothing bans, mobile bans, compulsory rituals in the name of yoga, denigration of other religions and so on. None of these are based on any Vedic thought but meaningless rituals imposed by priests in the name of the Puranas. Yoga is not a religious activity but by chanting shlokas it is being turned into one. Deliberately, I may add to discomfit those who are not Hindus.
I admire Irrfan for his recent comment on meaningless sacrifices. Don't we have these in Hinduism too? Donating gold and diamonds to expiate for the many wrongdoings committed to gain this wealth in the first place! Where does this act of atonement come from but the Puranas?
Instead of extolling the Purana you might do better by understanding what the reformers wanted to do; bring India into the modern age by removing the claptrap of rituals and concentrating on the essence of being. One expects that the Indian public is now intelligent enough to understand the Vedas and Upanishads and realise that the Puranas are nothing but myths."
I just wanted to share that no two people perceive the truth as it is, as everyone sees the truth through the perceptual screen of their mind though they may be reading or hearing from the same source.
Even the representatives of the Rakshasas, Asuras and Devatas took home a different message from the Lord when He spoke one syllable 'Da' in answer to their question on how they could improve themselves so that they could serve them better.
The Rakshasas understood the message as 'Daya', to be Merciful to others as they had the propensity to be violent and angry.
The Asuras understood the message as 'Daana', to be Giving as they had the propensity of controlling and possessing.
The Devatas understood the message as 'Dama' to be 'Austere' as they had the propensity of being attached to the idea of happiness and knowledge.
Frankly, the quoted author's head is filled with so many odd ideas due to every Tom, Dick, and Hari giving their speculative interpretation of things. This is why we reject Hinduism and accept pure Krsna consciousness as handed down to us by self-realized teachers. Westerners are fortunate in that we can bypass all this nonsense no problem, no preconceived disabling notions and political viewpoints, and directly go to the essential sastras. One is better off not bothering oneself with reading anything but Srila Prabhupada's books, and those from the self-realized Vaisnava devotees.
Indeed, you are blessed with the pure knowledge of Krishna through the association of a pure devotee, Srila Prabhupada.
I love the "no intercessor".... We all of us have a direct line to Krishna. We do not need an intercessor, we need Guru to awaken that direct line. We can deal with God one on one, that is how it is supposed to be!!!