Punya Bhumi The Homeland Of Vedic Agamic Hinduism
By definition Hinduism is Vedic Agamic. As well, the Vedic Rishis spoke of the river Sindhu, and it is best to retain the word, Hindu (the Persians having changed the word slightly) so that the historically grounded origins of Hinduism are preserved and do not get lost in a refined Vedantism. Two further questions need to be addressed, first is the link between Veda and Agama, and the second is the link between Vedic Agamic Hinduism and the idea of the Punya Bhumi (sacred land).
By Vedic is meant the entire corpus of the four Vedas, the Brahmanas, the Aranyakas, the Upanishads and the Bhashyas. By Agama is meant the ritual, the temples, the murtis and the philosophy that developed from the Vedic tradition and whose traditions are Sanskritic. Attempts to delink them have gone on since the 19th century by Hindu reform movements such as the Brahmo Samaj and the Arya Samaj. Both these movements sought to retain a refined Vedantism, by which they meant that there was no worship of murtis (idols) or Vedic rituals or temples while a universal principle Brahman may be worshipped. They were largely influenced by their connections with the Christian Church and the missionaries. Both these movements now represent fringe movements within the Hindu fold, and sometimes Brahmoism is often placed outside the Hindu tradition. Some consider India as having nine officially listed religions: Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Christianity, Islam, Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Brahmoism.
The World Council of Brahmos has its own website. The Law Commission of Bangladesh speaks about the Hindus, Brahmos, Muslims etc. In India, The National Commission for Minorities lists Others (this could include Brahmoism).
Attempts to delink the Vedas from the Agamas got another significant boost when the anti-Hindu movement driven largely by Church-inspired and politically-ambitious individuals in the Dravidian movement which set up further confusions in the 50s. Much of this has lost its momentum and the Vedic Agamic link remains firm simply as Hinduism. The reader is requested to read the latest article on the subject , Kausalya Santhanam, The Cultural Connection. Dr R Nagaswamy’s Mirror of Tamil and Sanskrit in The Hindu, July 5, 2012. Dr Nagaswamy was former Director of Department of Archaeology, Government of Tamil Nadu. His main thesis appears to be that at no time did Tamil develop independently of Sanskrit (they worked together) and that this can be traced back up to Vedic times.
The Vedic Agamic tradition is the target of anti Hindu forces, which include the proselytising faiths and as well as the liberal deracinated Hindus still under the thraldom of the Macaulay project which in the Minutes of 1835 sought to create a race of people who would be Hindu in blood but English (read Western) in their convictions and thinking (Macaulay’s words). The second theme that needs to be addressed is also the question of the Punya Bhumi, the sacred land of the Hindus. Both the minority groups have their Punya Bhumi (sacred land) outside of India, the Christians in the Holy Land and the Muslims in Saudi Arabia. Hence their attachment to India is based only on it being their Janma Bhumi the land of their birth. Only for Hindus does the Punya Bhumi and the Janma Bhumi coincide.
For the minorities their attachment to India comes out of their attachment to family and the fact that India is the place they were born and raised in. However, they have no attachment beyond that. There is much talk of their nationalism, at least of many of them, and this may well be there. But at the drop of a hat they raise objections to anything that smacks of Hindu. This disconcerting phenomenon can only be traced back to either a lack of historical imagination or to outright hostility.
This aspect of Punya Bhumi and Janma Bhumi being combined is unique to Hindus. In virtually all the other religions in the world the land of birth and the Holy Land are two separate entities, except for descendants of the early Christians who might still be living in the Holy Land or the Muslims who continue to live in Saudi Arabia. The majority of their populations are no longer in what they consider their Holy Land. Whereas, for almost a billion Hindus their Janma Bhumi is also their Punya Bhumi. And it is curious that no one has thought of asking why this concept should provoke so much hostility from the minority groups. It is, of course, possible that the pernicious idea is to compel Hindus to think of foreign places as their Punya Bhumi.
In India the minority groups feel no great resonance towards the history of the Hindu Punya Bhumi (there are exceptions to this, but they only prove the rule). At best the minority groups are indifferent and at worst there is a barely concealed hostility which often erupts into violence. Hence, you get supposedly impartial works on the Mughal period from such individuals. Babur suddenly is no longer an invader but the ancestor of the great Mughal dynasty, or the coming of Christianity to India takes precedence over the existing sacred traditions of Hinduism. It is not of great significance to Hindus who have seen their temples destroyed by that same Babur, that his, enlightened descendants such as Akbar initiated a policy of tolerance. The question naturally arises: why was this enlightened ruler there in the first place? And alas he was succeeded by intolerant rulers anyway who reduced the Hindu population to servitude. Or why did the Nestorian Christians destroy Hindu temples in the 7th and 8th centuries? Or why did the infamous Goa Inquisition take place?
Or why did destruction take place of the Hindu temple in the former Madras Presidency to build a Christian cathedral after destroying the existing Hindu temple under the bogus story of the death of an imaginary St. Thomas in that region at the behest of the Brahmins! (A good account of this is given in the book The Myth of St. Thomas and the Mylapore Shiva Temple by Ishwar Charan, third and revised edition, 2010).
Indeed the amnesia of Hindus towards such crassly offensive, cruel and repulsive occurrences is difficult to explain. The same Francis Xavier responsible for the Goa Inquisition lies embalmed in Goa! This must surely be classified as one of the great anomalies of contemporary India! Why aren’t Hindus protesting? There has not even been a formal apology from the Church for this infamous event! Ghastly murder and mayhem were unleashed on the Hindu population during this event.
Francis Xavier specifically wrote to the Pope asking for an Inquisition in Goa. It occurred after his passing, but prior to that he had been guilty of indescribable cruelties, such as condign punishment for those who refused to convert, the breaking of murtis and the abuse of Hindus as pagan devil worshippers and using the most extreme language. Neverthless, we find Catholic organisations saluting this man as a great Christian saint and model. This would be similar to the hailing of Catholic priests and bishops who have engaged in pedophilia as exemplary Christians! In the US there is a firm rejection of such individuals, but not so in India. And the Church has also apologised for its persecution of the natives of North America. Not so in India for the persecution of Hindus!
And in fact, Pope John Paul had the temerity to declare on his visit to India that the Catholic harvesting of souls would take place there. That such an event will not happen is not the issue. What is significant is that he unabashedly made that statement. And we have constant obiter dicta emanating from various organisations in the US (some of them official) about how India should practise tolerance!
For the minority communities any meaningful history begins only with the coming of their religion to India, although many of them are converts to these faiths, either through force or fraud, and very rarely through inner conviction. No one can seriously pretend that the barbarian invasions were pretty events! There is an ongoing attempt to push out the Hindu history of India prior to these events so the descendants of such intrusions can then ask the Hindu population to move over and be steam rollered into second class citizenship as obtained during Mughal rule. That this is not going to happen is not the issue. Much stress and strain and confusion could be avoided if the minority communities simply accepted their status as Indian citizens who have all the rights of citizenship and can continue the worship of their gods in peace and amity. All communities in the past have been welcomed by Hindu India and will continue to be so welcomed, provide we do not have attempts by the minority community at repeating the story of the Arab and the horse (the story of the Arab who was kicked out of his tent by the same horse that he kindly took in!). And also if the Macaulayites among Hindus stopped jumping up and down whenever the word Hindu is mentioned, as if the Hindu Agamic tradition was some sort of disease that the native population had contracted and which must be destroyed by any means whatsover!
The ever simmering hostility of the minority community towards anything Hindu can be seen even in simple matters such as their objection to lighting lamps at public functions (something which took place routinely even under the super secular Jawaharlal Nehru without any objections from any quarter) simply because it is a Hindu custom.
What requires further elucidation then for both Hindus and the minority communities is understanding the continuity of the Vedic Agamic tradition and why it cannot be dented (and will not!) and why India should continue to be the Punya Bhumi. This would save time and energy all round. Hindus believe that the Devas and Devatas worshipped by the Vedic rishis continue to inhabit the land. This is key to understanding why both the aam aadmi and the middle classes continue to worship the murtis housed in temples all over the subcontinent. Both villagers and urbanites are involved in this process. This is the bottomline, so to speak.
The Rig Veda’s Devas and Devatas were seen in the visonary experiences of the rishis and represent also the structure of the universe as they saw it in their visions. Indeed, Hindus believe that the Vedas had always existed and were apaurusheya (not of human origin). The rishis were simply channels through which the divine world communicated to humans. The Vedic rituals, therefore, were entrusted to groups of people (the Vedic priests, at this time not hereditary) who would handle their duties with complete devotion and care. These were handed down from generation to generation and became hereditary. Thanks to this, present-day Hindus have the oral tradition intact in a way that has not been replicated in any other religious system of this ancient period.
The Vedic rituals (yajnas) were conducted in the open in altars built of wood and fire which was generated by the rubbing of sticks and the chanting of mantras or sacred utterances, believed to replicate the divine sounds of the universe, in the way Pythagoras the Greek philosopher was most influenced by India, had spoken of the music of the universe, later repeated by William Shakespeare as the music of the spheres (in the play Cymbeline, classified among his last plays). In the Upanishads the celestial sounds of the mantras are described in terms of Sabda Brahman.
Perhaps the most famous and recent of the descriptions of the fire ceremony is the unforgettable one provided by the Kanchi Shankaracharya: “…a yajna is making an oblation to a deity in the fire with the chanting of mantras. In a sense the mantras themselves constitute the form of the deities invoked. In another sense, the mantras, like the materials placed in the fire, are the sustenance of the celestials invoked” (Hindu Dharma: The Vedas).
The Vedic ceremony in its original pristine purity has been preserved by the Nambudiri Brahmins of Kerala, even down to the minute details of the bricks fired for the altar, the rubbing of sticks to produce fire and so on, and of course the meticulous recitation of the mantras. For Hindus in the diaspora and Hindus elsewhere in India a good source of information is the monumental work done by Frits Stahl of the University of California who videographed the entire ceremony lasting some 12 days (The Vedic Ritual of the Fire Altar, 1983, Berkely, vols. 1 & 2, put together in conjunction with the main Nambudiris who conducted the ceremony).
The Vedic corpus referred to above (minus the Bhashyas) is referred to as sruti because they were received by the rishis from divine sources. The Agama corpus largely in Sanskrit, which continued this in ritual, temples, and deities consecrated and installed in temples, are also considered sruti. This sacred link, the Vedic Agamic link, as believed by the Hindus, continues to this day and is the core of Hindu worship.
Apart from jumping up and down at the words Punya Bhumi and Hinduism, there are some misguided and ill-informed Hindus who try to compare the Indian situation with that of the blood and soil theme of some European countries such as Germany where the romantic movement of the 18th and 19th centuries focussed on the close relationship between native born Germans and the soil of Germany. While a certain amount of linkage between Janma Bhumi (land of birth) and nationalism is understandable the difference with the Hindu situation is significant.
The German Romantic Movement, which spawned the idea of blood and soil, was initiated by German musicians, literatteurs and thinkers in the 18th century (the leading figure being Herder, 1744-1843) and it was somewhat diffuse in its self-understanding. There was emphasis on the German language, as opposed to other European languages. There was an invocation to the nation as built on German soil and so on. But there was no authentic religious sanction because there could not be anything prior to Christianity that Germans could meaningfully look upon for inspiration. The Holy Roman Empire was established in 962 AD by Otto the First as a direct dispensation from the Catholic Church. Earlier in 800 AD the Church had crowned Charlemagne (also of German descent) as a holy Roman emperor. These two rulers continued conquest and conversion. Thus continued the Church’s era of conquest of various parts of the world starting from the first millenium under Constantine.
There is then no basis of comparison with the role of the Vedic Agamic tradition and its link in the minds of Hindus to the idea of Punya Bhumi. Only the anti-Hindu forces will continue to peddle this comparison. For Hindus themselves, the cherishing of the sacred notion of the Punya Bhumi where the Devas and Devatas reside, from the Himalaya to Kanyakumari and from east to west, is what gives special relevance to the notion of Janma Bhumi. Fortunate it is to be born in such a land!
By Dr Vijaya Rajiva
(The writer is a Political Philosopher who taught at a Canadian university.)