Friday, May 24, 2024

Searching within, the eternal way


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By Hammarsing L Kharhmar

No Beginning No End
The “Indus Valley Civilisation” is the oldest civilisation known to have existed in our subcontinent. Infact, it is one of the oldest in the world. Its antiquity is confirmed based on scientific studies of the ruins and various artefacts discovered. Archaeologists date it to C 3000BC – 1700BC. This civilisation mysteriously disappeared and there is ongoing research to ascertain the cause, but despite several theories nothing is conclusive as yet. A great flood or climatic event is widey believed to be the cause of its obliteration. After a period of around 200 years a new age began slightly north of the ruins of Harappa, which can be referred to as the “Vedic Age” dated to 1500BC – 600BC. This was a period in which a people, incorrectly called the “Aryans” are said to have brought the Sanskrit language and sacred beliefs with them from the land below the Caspian Sea. This theory was mostly propounded by western scholars in the last century and continues to be used conveniently by sinister minds looking to cripple the Soul of India, despite the universal acceptance by scholars today that there was never really a distinct people or a pure ethnic group that could be called “Aryan”. In fact, there is no mention of the word ‘Aryan’ in the 10,000 plus verses of the sacred hymns known as the Vedas, which were preserved by oral tradition for over a thousand years. The word used is: ‘Arya’. There is also not a single mention or suggestion in the scriptures that the people came from somewhere else.
Over the last hundred years there have been several theories propounded by scholars from across the world and the country on the beginnings of India’s ancient past, particularly on the origin of the people who composed the Vedas. There are Four Vedas and they are universally acknowledged as being the sacred source of several aspects of what is today called “Hinduism”. The early theories, put forth by European scholars, such as Max Müller claimed the hymns and religious texts were written by people who inhabited the south of the Caspian, who migrated both westward and eastward, building their case based on the similarities found between Sanskrit and European languages such as Greek and Latin. There is no denying that there perhaps is a common source, but where did that source originate from?
*‘It is doubtful whether the term arya was ever used in an ethnic sense’ writes Romila Thapar, doyenne of ancient India’s historians. What she calls the ‘Aryan problem’, or myth, is now to be regarded as ‘perhaps the biggest red herring that was dragged across the path of India’s historians’.
It is clear now that the Arya referred to in the Vedas are a linguistic identity and not an ethnic one. There were several theories that claimed that there was an “Aryan Invasion”, however these too have been proven to be wrong and misleading. The ‘Dasa’ or ‘Dasyu’ referred to in the texts could have been other tribes inhabiting the area or offshoots of people from the Harappan – Mohenjodaro Civilisation. One thing has become certain: there was no pure race dominating over everyone; the society being formed was most definitely made up of different ethnicities. Archaeological studies show no traces of conquest and there is growing doubt as to whether there is no link at all, between the Indus Civilisation and what followed.
**The linga and the trishula (trident) are both present, though rare so far, in Harappan culture. Fire altars and the worship of a mother-goddess have also been documented at some sites. The pipal tree (Ficus religiosa), one of the most sacred Indian trees, was revered by Harappans. As early as in 1931, John Marshall, who directed excavations at Mohenjo-daro, could not help remark: “Taken as a whole, [the Harappan] religion is so characteristically Indian as hardly to be distinguished from still living Hinduism.”
The Vedas are extremely detailed and vast, yet strangely, there is no mention of an epic journey from an open grassland area, through harsh mountain desert, down into lush green valleys and finally into the river plains fed by powerful monsoons. This fact was observed by Mountstuart Elphinstone who was a highly respected British scholar administrator in the 19th century. Some scholars refer to this as proof that there was no migration inward. It could be, or plerhaps a significant period of time had lapsed since the time the Arya emerged and the period in which they began to compose the sacred texts; their journey no longer in their consciousness, or perhaps there was no journey at all. We can debate this till eternity. Our stances will be determined by the result we wish to choose.
However, what is undeniable and can no longer be contested is the fact that the sacred hymns were largely composed in the land known today as India amidst an infinite sea of diverse belief systems and forms of worship inseparable from the land, the rivers, the mountains and the people who live in this country. One of the most famous lines from the Vedas is: “Ekam Sat Vipra Bahudha Vadanti ” which translates as, “Truth is One, The sages call it by various names”. This encapsulates the essence of the beliefs that have blossomed from this land and it is precisely this foundation which will keep the diversity of India alive forever. The plurality of the land, we today call India, exists and thrives because of the resilience and dynamism of the various indigenous ‘Ways of Life’ and ‘Systems of Belief’.
Defining and Redefining Hinduism
Before moving further, let’s first understand the origins and meaning of the word “Hindu”. The word Hindu was first used by the Greeks and Persians in the 6 century BCE to refer to the people who lived east of the river Indus. It did not refer to a specific set of beliefs or any specific tribes. It simply meant all the people who lived beyond the river Indus. However, today when we say “Hindu” it implies someone who adheres to Hinduism or the Hindu religion. Hinduism is the third largest religion in the world. There are approximately 1.2 billion Hindus in the world, out of which 94% live in India.
But what exactly is the Hindu Religion? Can it be defined in a single sentence? Is it one set of beliefs described in a single book or set of books or hymns? Is it the caste system? Is it owned by a single community? The answer is plain and simple: none of the above. It can be more accurately described as several Ways of Life and Systems of Belief and Thought, co-existing and contradicting each other, but none meant to supplant the other. Many today are beginning to prefer the term “Sanatan Dharma”, which translates as the “Eternal Way”. As we look deeper and deeper into history and into ourselves we realise more and more that the country has survived endless onslaughts from external forces and also from within, primarily by those who do not understand that the Soul of India is One, but it is made up of Billions. Identities are often lost or removed when their roots have been destroyed by the people themselves. I believe that India should not be defined by Hinduism as it is commonly understood today. India should redefine what Hinduism is. It should return to its pluralistic roots. The plurality that has shone through exchange and understanding.
Every community in our country has their own unique way to the Eternal and their own songs to the Universe. Each is a flower in the garden of Mother India: “Bharat Mata”. Our duty is to nurture and grow from our foundations, to strengthen each other; not to supplant or discard the priceless intangible inheritance preserved by ancestors. More and more discoveries are being made as we speak. In 1983, a 10,000 BC Shakti shrine built by a group of Paleolithic hunter gatherers was discovered by a team of researchers in Baghor, Madhya Pradesh that further deepens and widens the world that we are trying to understand. Each piece is an integral part of the whole. The wisdom of each and every community is the wisdom of India. The wisdom of the Khasis is the wisdom of India. It is a timeless wisdom, centered around understanding of the Self, fellow Man and Divinity that forms the great spiritual ocean of our country. The sacred story of ‘U Hynñiewtrep’ and ‘Sohpetbneng’ is a prime example. It is not just a story, it is a window or a portal into a unique worldview that if you look deeply enough you will find it brings the greatest intangible ever: Peace within, in Truth.
* John Keay ‘INDIA: From the earliest civilisations to the boom of the Twenty First Century’
** ‘The Harappan Legacy’, Micahel Danino, BBC Knowledge, April 2012.
*** J.M. Kenoyer, J.D Clark, J.N Pal & G.R Sharma: An Upper Paleolithic Shrine in India? 1983


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