All posts by Ribhu Vashishtha

About Ribhu Vashishtha

Indian. Vedantin. Indophile. Organ Donor. Animal Rights Activist. Human Rights Activist.

Vedas are eternal

Source : The Hindu

The Cosmic dance of Lord Siva is significant from the point of view of the Sanskrit language, said Krishna Ganapadigal in a discourse. The Lord holds in one of His hands a damaru. This is a small drum, shaped like an hour glass. When the Lord paused in the middle of His dance, He shook His damaru. It is said that He shook it fourteen times. Each time He shook the damaru, a sabda was produced. The Sanakadhi rishis, who watched His dance, absorbed the sabdas. The fourteen sabdas became fourteen sutras. Panini, the great grammarian, wrote his Ashtadyayi based on these sutras, which owed their origin to the sabdas emanating from Lord Siva’s damaru. Thus Lord Siva is the origin of Sanskrit grammar.

Every word has a meaningful root in Sanskrit. And the same word can have different meanings in different contexts. While we know ‘anna’ as referring to cooked rice, in fact it can be used to refer simply to food, and not necessarily only to rice.

Sanskrit is the language of the Vedas. The Vedas were taught orally, a student learning from a teacher, who in turn would have learned from an earlier one and so on. Can you trace this Vedic instruction right up to its origin? It cannot be done, because the Vedas are eternal, without a beginning or an end.

In this respect, they are very much like the Supreme One Himself. The Vedas lay down what constitutes righteous conduct. The Vedas also talk about what happens in the various yugas. Thus the Vedas are not just records of past knowledge, but they also talk of the future. They are the repositories of all kinds of knowledge. None can claim to have complete mastery over the Vedas. This is seen in the life of sage Bharadwaja, who could not master the Vedas, despite his life being extended up to three hundred years.

At ‘cow hospital’ in Punjab, signs of sword and acid attacks on bovines

Source : Indian Express

Farmers getting rid of stray cattle through cruel means, says caretaker, they say ‘protecting crops’

At a huge shed in Punjab’s only ‘gau hospital,’ a cow writhes in pain; fresh blood seeps through bandages that have been used to cover stab wounds in its stomach and legs. Just when the animal looks like it may lose consciousness, a group of workers haul it into a corner, where a mobile intravenous drip is rushed in and a needle is inserted into its foot.

Faced with increasing numbers of stray cattle and tighter regulation regarding the sale of their ageing livestock, farmers in Punjab are resorting to cruel methods to get rid of them, says Kulwinder Singh, (38), who runs the Baba Gau Hira Hospital, which treats injured cows, at Kaunke Kalan village in Ludhiana district. “Stray cows are being attacked with acid and swords and are being burnt with matchsticks. Some even have pepper applied in their eyes and udders. Each month we rescue at least 60-70 such cows,” he says.

Even those left on the roads and streets have it no better, says Kulwinder. “We find all sorts of human waste, iron objects, plastic and garbage in the stomachs of dead stray cows. It is what the abandoned animal has been feeding on for months,” he adds. As per the state-run Punjab Gau Sewa Commission, over one lakh stray cattle roam Punjab’s streets, most of which are the exotic cross-bred Holstein Friesian (HF) cows, generally abandoned by farmers after they turn infertile or stop providing milk.

Kulwinder’s facility, some 40 km from Ludhiana, houses some 115 wounded or diseased cattle, 90 per cent of which are HF cows. While the veterinary hospital at the Guru Angad Dev Veterinary and Animal Sciences University (GADVASU) treats all sorts of animals and there are privately-run cow shelters, the Baba Gau hospital is the only one that exclusively treats injured cows.

Kulwinder began work in 2011, initially rescuing stray cattle before opening the ‘cow hospital’ on half an acre of land handed over by a village resident. He runs the facility through donations and monetary help from his brother in the US. “Some farmers give us fodder and some veterinarians don’t take fees. We still spend at least Rs 3 lakh a month, which includes the salaries of around 14 employees and most importantly medicines and fuel for our ambulance,” he says.

The ambulance, fitted with a hydraulic ramp, was bought last year at a cost of Rs 6.5 lakh. “We bought it in instalments and now it is convenient to rescue cows from nearby districts too,” says Kulwinder, dressed in a orange kurta and turban.

The hospital has a 24×7 helpline number (82733-82733), which receives calls regarding injured animals from Jalandhar, Barnala, Amritsar and, Pathankot. Once a call comes in, it sends an ambulance and its workers to pick up the injured animal. Cows that are successfully treated are shifted to the Faridkot gaushala with which the centre has a tie up.

 

The 38-year-old says his love for cows is not due to religious conviction. “I opened this cow hospital because I cannot see them in pain. It is inhumane to leave them dying on the roads after using them for milk and other benefits,” he says. He also says he has not received any help from either the state or central governments. “My file for free power supply for the hospital is pending with the administration for months. Not a single politician from the BJP or Congress or any other party has offered us any help. We don’t need it but then how are you a gau rakshak if you can’t help those actually working for cows?” asks Kulwinder.

While he highlights the cruelty being shown to stray cattle, Kulwinder believes it is the handiwork of some errant farmers. “We are not in favor of slaughtering any animal but genuine traders should not be harassed. Farmers need to be educated about the benefits of indigenous varieties and the correct ways to manage the HF breed,” he says. Daljit Singh Gill, president, Punjab Dairy Farmers Association (PDFA), the largest association of dairy farmers in the state, admits there is a problem but adds that it is only “bound to increase”. “Small farmers are going through hell as their crops are being damaged by stray animals. Now with Yogi Adiyanath becoming the CM of Uttar Pradesh, cattle trade has become more difficult. How can farmers be blamed for attacking animals destroying their crop?” Gill asks.

Dr A S Nanda, Vice-Chancellor, GADVASU, says,”We in India talk about cow welfare but abandon them on the roads. In England, for instance, cow slaughtering is not banned but their cattle welfare index is way higher than us.”

Punjab Gau Sewa commission chief Kimti Bhagat says the government is looking at ways to reduce stray cattle numbers. “We are working on viable methods like importing of semen from the US to produce only female cattle, which farmers don’t abandon,” he says.

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Let’s talk to the Book (Religious reform) – Ramesh Venkataraman

Source : Indian Express

Ramanuja and Martin Luther underline how religion evolves by debating with scriptures, not by being beholden to them.

This year marks the 1,000th birth anniversary of Ramanuja, the great Vaishnava theologian who reinvented and revitalised Hinduism, and the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s triggering of the Protestant Reformation which fundamentally reshaped Christianity. Both events are a salutary reminder in these troubled times of how religions can evolve and reform.

Ramanuja is most often hailed for his philosophic articulation of “qualified monism” or visishtadvaita. But it is as a visionary religious leader and organiser that Ramanuja truly made his mark. When he became head of the Srirangam Mutt, Ramanuja inherited a theological tradition that had championed the Pancaratra Agamas — a set of scriptures composed outside the dominant Vedic and Brahmanic mainstream — as equally the product of divine revelation as the Vedas themselves. The Agamas, unlike the sacrifice-oriented Vedas, sanctioned image worship and inclusive temple-based rituals that women and lower caste believers, and not just Brahmin males, could participate in.

It was Ramanuja’s brilliance that gave practical effect to this theological innovation. He organised the daily pujas and annual festival cycle at the Srirangam Ranganatha temple in line with Agamic norms, thereby broadening the temple’s constituency to include rising peasant castes and women. He also made room for the emotive Tamil hymns of the Alvars in the otherwise austere Sanskrit temple liturgy. Eventually, under his leadership, these reforms took hold at other Vaishnavite temple complexes such as Tirupati and Melkote that had sprung up across South India over the preceding centuries.

Ramanuja, thus, profoundly reinvented Hinduism in response to societal conditions of the 11th century (albeit his inclusiveness did not extend to the “untouchable” community). Over time, the transformation he initiated was carried across India by the so-called “bhakti movements”. Ultimately, Ramanuja’s Agamic revolution, placing popular and dramatic temple rituals and emotional image adoration at the centre of worship and widening participation beyond Brahmin males, became mainstream to Hinduism displacing older practices rooted in the Vedic tradition.

In 1517, 500 years after Ramanuja, Martin Luther, a German monk and theologian, sparked the Reformation by posting “95 Theses” on a church door in Wittenberg, questioning portions of the Christian Church’s doctrine and specific corrupt practices — notably papal indulgences, a sort of whitewash of sins that were hawked by the Vatican for a hefty fee. Luther’s challenge set in train a seismic reshaping of Christianity and ultimately laid the foundation for the modern West. At the heart of the Lutheran revolution was the idea that Christians should themselves read the Bible, vernacular translations of which were beginning to roll off Gutenberg’s newly-invented printing presses, rather than have it presented to them by their priests.

But as soon as more and more people started to read the Bible, it became obvious that much of what is in the New and Old Testaments is ambiguous, impractical, and often contradictory — the Bible, like most scripture, does not speak with a single voice. To take one example cited by the philosopher Anthony Appiah, the same St. Paul who says women should cover their heads in church and men shouldn’t, also told the Galatians: “There is neither male nor female: For ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” Protestant communities springing up across northern Europe chose to grapple with these scriptural conundrums themselves in self-study sessions rather than take their cues from the Church in Rome. They decided, in Appiah’s words, “which passages to read into and which to read past,” to shape their faith for their day and age.

Eventually, in the wake of the Reformation, good Christians could see that other sincere, committed Christians around them — be they traditional Catholics or members of one of the new Protestant sects from Calvinists and Anabaptists to Puritans and Presbyterians — came to believe in very different things. This ultimately infused (more than a century of brutal conflict later!) a more tolerant and sceptical spirit across Europe that gave birth to the liberal, secular, and humanist values of the 18th century Enlightenment.

It is worth reminding ourselves of this history when we are faced with shrill arguments that Muslims are immutable to change — whether on how they treat women or other religions. The argument goes as follows: Committed Muslims must take their beliefs directly from the Quran. For example, the Quran clearly says women are inferior to men in passages such as Surah (4:34): “Men are in charge of women, because Allah hath made the one of them to excel the other.” Therefore, Muslim societies are bound to continue to treat men as superior to women. Indeed, this sort of scriptural determinism is mobilised by both sides — outsiders looking to indict Islam and insiders defending practices they favour.

But scriptures in other faiths also put down women — be it the Dharmashastras, the Torah, or the Bible — often in harsher terms than in the Quran. “Women have one eternal duty in this world,” says Bhishma in the Anusasana Parva of the Mahabharata, “dependence upon and obedient service to their husbands.” Thankfully, however, religious beliefs do not repose in sacred texts. Much of scripture is written in language that is poetical, metaphorical, or simply obscure. Much of it consists of narratives or fictional parables. Scripture, therefore, requires interpretation.

While fundamentalists of all stripes persist in trying to turn the clock back to what they regard as original, divinely-ordained doctrine, Jewish, Christian, and Hindu communities have been able to evolve their creeds by interpreting their scriptural dictums for the world they live in. No one would have predicted if they simply read the Manusmriti that we would have sudra archakas (shudra priests) in Hindu temples or inferred from the Torah or the King James Bible that there would be women and gay rabbis and Anglican bishops.

Islam is no different. There are very few verses in the Quran which actually lay down law. Quranic verses — like most scripture — are vague and quite general. They have to be read along with other sources such as the sayings and doings of the Prophet to determine the rules for specific situations. Islam has a hoary tradition of schools of jurisprudence that have devised sophisticated theoretical frameworks to come up with the law governing the behaviour of Muslims. But these schools diverge in their views which is why there is a great range of social practice — whether on polygamy, women being veiled, serving liquor in public places, or tolerance of other faiths — between Turkey and Morocco and Saudi Arabia, all avowedly Muslim countries.

This is why the Supreme Court case on triple talaq, on which the Quran typically offers no clear-cut direction, is so important for India’s Muslims. Whatever be the court’s final judgement, and despite the political calculus that lies behind the Sangh Parivar and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s support for abolishing triple talaq, the hearings have provided an unprecedented forum for the Indian Muslim community — ranging from petitioner Shayara Bano to the All India Muslim Personal Law Board — to have a vibrant public debate on whether this practice should prevail in this day and age.

What Ramanuja and Luther underline for us is that it is precisely this sort of reasoned debate amongst fellow believers, in dialogue with but not beholden to their scriptures, that has allowed religious communities throughout history to reform themselves — for the better.

Commitment to dharma

Source : The Hindu

The subtleties and practical features inhering in the dharma codified in the sastras is best revealed with clarity when the Lord upholds it during His incarnations, said Sri Kesava Dikshitar in a discourse.

Rama is hailed as the very embodiment of Satya and Dharma, deemed to be the highest worth in this world. Rama is proud to state He always speaks the truth and only the truth. There is no room for any second word in His life; and no way for slackness in upholding dharma. He tells Kausalya that there is nothing higher than dharma in this world and that truth is rooted in dharma. It is important that He should honour Dasaratha’s word to Kaikeyi as it is consonant with dharma.

Valmiki emphasises Rama’s commitment to truth and dharma when Lakshmana faces a stiff battle with Indrajit. Lakshmana finally succeeds in killing him only after he sends an arrow with the prayer that if it is unquestionable and absolutely certain that Rama stands for Truth and Dharma, this arrow should kill Indrajit.

Krishna avatar is replete with unique instances that showcase His Visesha dharma as the impartial distributor of the fruits of individual karma. Krishna tells Arjuna that the war he faces is a fight for the cause of dharma, and an opportunity for him to uphold his Kshatriya dharma. Arjuna need not hesitate to kill his preceptors Bhishma, Drona and others. They may be virtuous and upright, but they have swerved from dharma by siding with Duryodhana who is steeped in adharma and will have to face the consequences. The same Lord is the very essence of compassion when He goes in person to offer solace to Bhishma at the time of his death. He graces Bhishma with the knowledge to explain dharma to posterity and He, along with the Pandavas, listens to the exposition. He finally grants Bhishma salvation.

Spirit of service

Source : The Hindu

The esoteric teaching about the true nature of the jivatma and its eternal relationship with the Lord as that of servant and master is skilfully interwoven in the Ramayana. The jivatma who realises the significance of this bond is inspired with the yearning to serve the Lord who is the embodiment of all auspicious qualities that the human mind can recognise — perfection, compassion, prowess, goodness, etc, and even much more beyond all these. Lakshmana, Vibhishana and Bharata, for instance, seek Rama’s feet knowing that their true worth is fully realised only when involved in selfless service to the Lord, pointed out Sri V. Karunakarachariar in a discourse.

Each of them desires this cherished reward of acceptance by the Lord to serve Him in their respective subservient roles. The spirit of service inherent in Lakshmana is revealed when he literally clasps Rama’s feet and seeks permission to serve Him and Sita during their stay in the forest. He promises that by doing so there will be no taint to the dharma He upholds. His desire to serve Rama will be fulfilled and He will also benefit by his service. The way shown by Vibhishana is also somewhat similar.

He is frank about his position. “Ravana treated me as a vile slave and put me to shame before all. His sharp words pierced my heart through and through. So, I have cast behind me wife and child, wealth and luxury, and sought refuge with Rama.”

Vibhishana teaches the way by which the hurdles that prevent one’s efforts from seeking refuge with the Lord have to be overcome. Bharata, in his state of total renunciation, is the very embodiment of nobility and is steadfast in his service to the Lord in thought, word and deed. The privilege to serve the Lord has to be diligently earned by each one through selfless love, devotion and admiration for Him.