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Reading the Gita one finds that there are unlimited opportunities for evolution towards enlightenment. There is no permanent condemnation of any individual as being evil or incorrigible. Rebirth provides a progression of opportunities from life to life. Thus even a sinner or criminal can become a saint and those who have failed to achieve perfection or take corrective action are provided suitable opportunities in the next life. No one is condemned to ‘hell’ for all eternity, nor is one marked permanently as sinner or saint to appear on any ‘Day of Judgement’. In the eyes of God there are none who are held as hateful or dear – all being regarded evenly as being on the evolutionary path to enlightenment and liberation. Indeed enlightenment is possible for everyone eventually irrespective of present circumstances and actions, caste creed or gender.

Arjun, the disciple of Krishna the incarnated Godhead in the Gita, poses this question and receives a response from the ‘Blessed Lord’ ;

Arjun: ”What of the man possessed of faith but lacking self-control, whose mind deviates from Yoga, what end does he meet with, O Krishna, having failed to attain to perfection in Yoga?”

Krishna the Blessed Lord replied:

”O Partha (Arjun),

Neither in this world nor in the next is there destruction for him; for, the doer of good, O my son, Never comes to grief.”

”Having attained to the worlds of the righteous and having lived there countless years, he who falls from Yoga is reborn in the house of the pure and prosperous.”

”There he regains the knowledge acquired in his former body and he strives more than before for perfection, O joy of the Kurus.”

Even if a man of the most sinful conduct worships Me with undeviating devotion, he must be reckoned as righteous, for he has rightly resolved.”

”Soon he becomes a man of righteousness and obtains lasting peace, O son of Kunti, know for certain that My devotee never comes to harm.”

”I am the same to all beings; to Me there is none hateful, none dear. But those who worship Me with devotion, they are in Me and I also am in them.”

”For those who take refuge in Me, O Partha, though they be of inferior birth, women, merchants, farmers and slaves – even they attain the Supreme Goal.”



Hinduism’s long journey finally arrives at the philosophy and practices of Tantra, having moved from the pre – Aryan pessimistic Dualism of Jainism, Sankhya and Yoga to the affirmative Monism of the Vedas and Upanishads and finally the emphasis on non-Dualism (Advait) of Shankar’s stoic and ascetic Vedanta and onwards through the intense devotional theism of the Bhakti movement of the 16th century. Tantra on the one hand incorporated the devotional worship of Bhakti and on the other the esoteric Yogic practices, combining both to reveal the profound mystical secrets of the Kundalini and its arousal as a means of realizing Brahman, providing an elaborate discipline for the adherent to attain to Brahmanhood. Tantra thus became the final synthesis emerging from the stirring philosophical cauldron of India’s diverse disciplines. Today it is fully integrated into Hindu beliefs, rites, rituals and Yogic practices. 

While Tantra fully acknowledged the authority of the Vedas, the non-dual Vedantic ideal of a formless Brahman (Nirgun Brahman) was marginalized in favour of a personal God symbolized as Shakti, the goddess. The resultant Tantrik theism was essentially dualistic, drawing a clear distinction between the subject as the ardent worshiper and the adored object of his worship the goddess. Tantra reasserted the pre-Aryan cult of the goddess after millennia of domination by the masculine principle of Godhead. Now, all gods were depicted with their consorts as their energy counterparts symbolizing their dynamic energy. The last Veda, the Atharvaveda is considered to be a Tantrik scripture. The other Tantrik scriptures the Agamas appear to have been composed between the 5th and the 9th century A.D.



Unlike the Vedantin, the Tantrik aspirant was less interested in seeking to merge with the absolute through the liberation of Nirvana, than in savouring the bliss of the object of his devotion,the divine presence of Shakti in all her forms. Thus Ramakrishna, the great 19th century Tantrik sage and votary of goddess worship would often joke with his disciples that what the devotee really wants is to ”eat the sugar rather than become sugar”. The object of spiritual attention was neither the Vedantin’s Brahman, nor the Yogi’s Supersoul but the single-minded pursuit of the vision of a personal God ( Bhagawan, Isht Dev) in the form of primal energy or Shakti. Moreover, the Tantrik viewed the Goddess as the illusory creative power (Maya-Shakti) of Brahman and went so far as to withdraw the distinction between them by asserting that the two were in fact identical.

The ideal process of meditation  no longer sought to define Brahman through negatives, not this , not this (neti, neti) and engage in ascetic renunciation to realize Him, but on the other hand sought to affirm that the resplendent glory of divinity was present in everything and one should rejoice in beholding its ubiquitous presence and joyously immerse oneself in Her magnificent creative diversity. Thus Ramakrishna said on one occasion that he had fed the ritual offerings meant for the Goddess to the cat, not desiring to make any distinction. The essence of Tantra  was thus life affirmative unlike the austere abnegation of the Vedanta. the Tantric was overwhelmed by his love for his Goddess and equally with Her divine creative play (Lila) which manifested itself in every facet of life. One sees evidence of this joyous affirmation in Ramakrishna’s writings in his gospel:

” The very world is a mansion of mirth. Here I can eat, drink and make merry.”

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Tantra sculpture – Khajuraho temple

Tantra applauds the illusory creative force of Maya, refusing to reject phenomenal life as suffering and sin and urges that one fully enjoy and experience it to know his Goddess more intimately and to fully appreciate her creation. Thus the rites involved in certain Tantric rituals allow the five forbidden Ms, as all things are holy and pure being reflections of the Goddess: wine (Madya), meat ( Mansa), fish (Matsya), parched grain (Mudra) and sexual intercourse (Maithuna). This is not a sanction for revellery and debauchery. The rituals are undertaken under the stern and disciplined guidance of a Guru to invoke a realization of non-duality through practices that produce a state of egoless bliss and euphoria, transporting the practitioner to a realization of transcendence without guilt. The principle is that the individual must act through nature ( rather than reject nature) but without the ego, not as an individual satisfying his desires but as the Supreme Essence experiencing itself. Through these esoteric experiences he gains release from the illusion. Such rites were sanctioned for a practitioner in a special category called the Vira (hero), though he was warned that it could have disastrous consequences if the initiation was not professional or if the rites were not practiced properly. The sage Ramakrishna had frequently cautioned that the option was not desirable, was difficult,and could cause the practitioners downfall.

The second category of aspirant is defined as the herd (Pasu). This is the non controversial practice which is universally recommended for all. For them wine is interpreted as milk or coconut water; meat is substituted with beans, garlic and ginger; fish by radish, lentils and white egg plant; parched grain by rice and wheat and in place of sex, the aspirant must adopt the attitude of a child towards it mother rather than lover.

The third category is Divya, for the elite Sattvik godman. For him there are no external objects or sacrament. For him wine is interpreted as the intoxicating knowledge of Brahman; meat translates into consigning all his acts to God; fish is the compassion by which he feels the pain and pleasure of all beings; the parched grain becomes avoiding all evil which leads one to bondage; and sex translates as the union of the two Chakras, the lowest, symbolizing the female and the highest as the male – the union of Shakti and Shiva.

According to Tantra nature is composed of three facets of energy, the Gunas, which in the unmanifested form are at equilibrium but when disturbed, the manifest world appears ( this has been taken from Sankhya philosophy). The first Guna, Sattva is the Essence, the second, Rajas is activity, the third,Tamas is inertia. The three emotive states of man are called Pasu, Vira and Divya. Pasu the state of consciousness dominated by the inertia of Tamas; the Vir state is dominated by Rajas and Divya (godlike) is dominated by Sattva (clarity and purity). The aim of Tantra is to enhance the levels of Sattva over Rajas and Tamas. Rituals and exercises are prescribed to suit individual temperaments characterized by different combinations of the Gunas.

The individual is said to be composed of five elements – ether, air, fire, water and earth. The individual has four subtle organs – the mind, intellect, memory and egoity. Tantra then undertakes a psychological analysis of the brain. bipolarity and dichotomy of the brain produce the experience of duality. the lower brain is primitive and reptilian. The upper brain has two hemispheres – the right is feminine emotional and intuitive, the left is masculine, rational and analytical. Lack of coordination between the two produces dichotomy and imbalance.While the upper brain can be influenced to change the lower is more stubborn and resists change. The Tantra Yoga rituals and practices seek to control the lower brain and end duality and conflict between the upper and lower brains and the two hemispheres. The duality can only be overcome by perfecting the self and mastering the body and mind. Identification with the ego is the central problem to be overcome. Tantra seeks to correct this mis-identification through rituals to eliminate the ego and raise ones level to the highest state of consciousness, the Turiya. This is achieved when through Tantrik practices the energy (the Goddess as Shakti), resident in the Kundalini at the base of the spinal column, breaks through the Chakras reaching the final Chakra at the roof of the head.

The central purpose of Tantra is to purify the five elements of which the body is composed. In this context, at the heart of Tantra are the concepts of Kundalini and Chakras. The cleansing of the elements is achieved by rousing the dormant primal energy (Shakti) which lies coiled like a serpant at the base of his spine, in the Chakra known as the Muldhara (the root). The five elements are located in the five lower Chakras. Through Tantric practice the dormant energy awakens and rises up passing through each Chakra. When the energy enters the final Chakra at the roof of the head the aspirant attains the enlightened state of Turiya. With this stage the ego is finally overcome and the upper and lower brains and the two hemispheres then are in perfect synch.

The tools for achieving this are Yogic meditation and practices, breathing exercises (Swara Yoga), recitation of Mantras (chants) and visualization exercises with the aid of Yantras ( geometrical diagrams and illustrations of divinities and Chakras)

basic-facts-about-kundalini-yoga_139358766200The Chakras represent the seat of the five elements that compose the body. The Muldhara at the base of the spine is the seat for ‘earth’. It is represented as a crimson lotus with four petals. the next is Svdhisthana (abode of Shakti) at the level of the genitals and is the seat of the element ‘water’. It is pictured as a vermillion lotus with six petals. The next is at the level of the naval known as the Manipura (the city of the lustrous gem) and is the seat of ‘fire’, represented as a blue-black lotus of ten petals. These three are the lower Chakras which normally control the life and inclinations of the individual. The Chakras above the three represent higher levels of spiritual experience. Thus the fourth is at the level of the heart. When the Kundalini force ascends to this level it provides the aspirant the first direct contact with divinity and he begins to hear the resounding primordial resonance of Brahman in the sound of Om, which is the Goddess in the form of sound. This centre is therefore called the Anahata Chakra ( primordial sound) and is depicted as a lotus with twelve petals and is the seat of the element ‘air’. The fifth Chakra, the seat of the last element ‘ether’ is pictured as a purple lotus of sixteen petals at the level of the throat. This is called the Visuddha Chakra (the purified centre). Next at the point between the eyebrows is located the Ajna Chakra, depicted as a white lotus with two petals. This is the seat of Godhead and when the force ascends to this level, the devotee has a vision of his personal God. Till this point the aspirant is still in a state of duality between himself and his Lord. The next and final stage takes him beyond duality – the multi-coloured lotus of a thousand petals located at the crown of his head called the Sahasrara is the final destination of the Kundalini force. Here the Shakti that arose from the base of the spine joins Shiv, Brahman, her male counterpart in climatic union, ending all duality of sound, form and contemplation. At this stage the worshiper becomes one with divinity.

For the ordinary practitioner the process of raising the Kundalini force to the apex is in the realms of imagination rather than actuality. It is only an adept yogi who performs the miracle of actually raising the force to the roof of the head. This process is achieved through meditation, recitation of  primal chants(beej mantra), postures of hand and body (Mudras) and placing the tips of his fingers on various parts of the body while invoking the gods to enter the Yantras. This practice has been likened to the Christian practice of touching the head as father, the heart as son, the left shoulder as holy and the right shoulder as ghost. The practitioner then imagines that all the elements of his body represented by the Chakras have been thoroughly cleansed and that he has attained to the level of divinity.The Gandharva Tantra states: ”A man should worship a divinity by becoming a divinity himself”.

The worshiper knows that he and his God are essentially one and that Brahman manifests itself thus in the world of duality and Maya full of opposites. Beginning in a dualistic state as worshiper and his God, through total surrender of his ego and self to his God he achieves finally a unity where both become one. This is the purpose of Bhakti and all the Tantrik rituals to conjoin his essence the Atma with Brahman. At the final stage the Yogi is said to have achieved the state of Nirvikalpa ( beyond all limitations) Samadhi (intense concentration) where there no longer exists the distinction between the subject and his object.

It is important to emphasize that Chakras are not material and cannot be defined from a purely materialistic stand point. They are psychic centres which have a subtle reality which work in coordination with nerves, cells, and fibres of the gross system. Kundalini is a vital force but cannot be attributed to any gross organ, though their approximate locations superimpose on the cranium, the forehead, thyroid, heart, naval, genitals and anus. Metaphysically, the Kundalini is an aspect of the eternal supreme consciousness –  without attributes (Nirguna) it is pure consciousness, with attributes(Saguna) it is the Goddess as pure energy, shakti.

According to Tantrik scriptures the Chakras are interconnected by a complex network of subtle channels called Nadis through which the life force, Prana flows and the Kundalini energy can ascend. The main Nadis are Sushumna, the Ida and the Pingala. The nadis being subtle cannot be physically defined though they correspond with sections of the nervous system. The main Nadis are connected with the so-called 10 gates or openings of the body. The primary Nadi is the Sushumna connecting the tail bone with the top of the head. Other subsidiary Nadis are connected to the left and right nostril, the left and right eyes, the left and right ears, the mouth, the genitals and the anus. The Nadis in Tantrik practice are used to generate different effects. While Chakras and Nadis cannot be defined on the basis of the gross body, some scholars have equated the meridians of Acupuncture as approximating to the Nadis through which the life force, Prana flows. This meridian has been defined as rising from the coccyx (tailbone), ascending the spine and arriving at the top of the head, then flowing down along the meridian lines to a point below the naval.

Tantra holds that worship and practice can produce any desired result. Worship done for liberation is different from worship for fulfillment of worldly desires.

Tantric thought and practices are today entrenched in modern Hindu belief systems and have become an integral part of the Hindu way of life from the humble villager to the erudite wealthy urban dweller, from pauper to prince. Tantra has spread from India to Tibet, Nepal, China, Japan, Cambodia, Vietnam and Indonesia. Tibetan buddhism shows the greatest influence of Tantra. The Chakra and Kundalini concepts have also crossed Indian shores to become hugely popular in New Age and  esoteric circles in the West as a ”cult of ecstasy” combining sexuality with spirituality and engendering the belief that sex should be regarded as a sacred act capable of elevating its participants to a higher spiritual plane.

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The Goddess being worshiped by the Tantrik sage Ramakrishna














Throughout its course, the central quest of Brahmanical thought has been to gauge the essence which binds the universe together, the unity that lies behind the diversity of the phenomenal world. The early Vedic religion had sought to deify the forces of nature as anthropomorphic gods whose power could be harnessed by propitiating them through magical rituals. Yet even in that early Vedic period the same obsession was discernible in their  simplistic efforts to examine the nature of a unifying principle, arriving at naive conclusions. Thus they pronounced that Food was the fundamental essence of the universe:

”I – the Food – am the cloud, thundering and raining.

They feed on Me – I feed on everything.

I am the real essence of the universe, immortal.

By my force all the suns in heaven are aglow”

This unrelenting search for a unifying force led to the devaluation of Vedic gods and ritualism. At the stage of the Upanishads the naive invocation of the gods through rituals gradually transformed into profound philosophical introspection and insight. The sages of the Upanishadic period, looking outward sought to find the unifying link in the phenomenal world and looking inwards to find the connecting source of ones own being. Thus arose the concept of Brahman, the all-embracing universal essence and the parallel emergence of the concept of Atman as the innermost essence, a reflection within of that external unifying force which was  at once both ubiquitous and immanent.

Numerous were the dialogues wherein the sages explained through analogy, the manner of comprehending that unifying reality that underlies all diversity: the analogy of salt dissolved in water which is no longer visible and can only be detected through taste, whichever part of the water one sipped; the analogy of the fig whose seed when split open revealed nothing, yet was responsible for creating a giant Fig tree; the analogy of the broken earthen pot which despite the destruction of the pot was still clay; the analogy of the chariot and the charioteer to explain the presence of the soul within the body; The analogy of the spider that spins a web and sits at its centre like Brahman creating the world and then entering into its every atom; the metaphor of the two birds on a fruit tree, one eating the fruit the other watching it eat, representing the Atman and Brahman; the metaphor of butter inherent in milk which  was like Brahman discernible through the churning of meditation; the analogy of  sparks that fly out of fire and return to it as souls emerging from Brahman and merging back into it.

images (18)The Atman was the innermost essence of every being. The Atman was also the reflection of the Universal Essence and eventually the concepts of Atman and Brahman became synonymous. The Atman in fact embraced all states of man’s consciousness as explained in the famous verses of the Mandukya Upanishad – the waking state, the dreaming state, the dreamless deep sleep state and the final state beyond all states of silent, peaceful bliss. In the waking state it looked outwards experiencing gross matter; in the dream state it looked inwards and experienced subtle objects accumulated in dream memories; in the deep sleep stage which is deesireless it experienced spiritual bliss. In the third sublime and thoughtless stage of deep sleep the Atman reflected the supreme Godhead, the source of all, the creative principle. But it was in the last stage of ‘Turiya’ that the true nature of the Atman was revealed – neither inward nor outward consciousness, nor both; neither knowing nor unknowing; it was without characteristics, undefinable and inconceivable, one without a second, quiescent, peaceful and blissful – Brahman. The Atman was in fact all four stages combined together. The Atman is described in the Bhagvad Gita thus:

” It is neither born nor does it die, coming into being and ceasing to be do not take place in it. Unborn, eternal, constant and ancient, it is not killed when the body is slain……Weapons do not cleave it, fire burns it not, wind dries it not… is eternal, all-pervading, stable, immovable and everlasting…..It is unmanifest, unthinkable and immutable…….Some look upon the Self as a marvel, as a marvel another speaks of it, and as a wonder another hears of it, but though all hear of it none know it.”

In contrast with Jain and Sankya theology which regarded matter and spirit as distinct, in Brahmanism the Atman was both matter and spirit at once, the source of all and the essence of all. This was the Monism of Brahmanical thought as contrasted with the mechanical Dualism of Jain and Sankhya theology.

It was in the Bhagvad Gita that the ancient pre-Aryan Dualistic Sankhya theology and cosmology got merged and synthesized with Monist Brahmanical thought. Matter and Spirit as Purush and Prakriti were terms continuing to be used but now with a totally different inflection – they appeared distinct to the mind of the thinker on account of the workings of Maya illusion, while in fact being two sides of the same coin of Brahman, two conjoined aspects of the Universal Essence merely appearing as two.

dropFurthermore the Purush, Jiva or Atman did not ascend to any summit of the universe upon liberation to abide in total isolation (Sankhya and Jain theology) but merged with Brahman of which it was always an inseparable part, like a spray of water drops thrown up by the turbulent ocean through the force of its illusory power of Maya. the Atman did not experience any isolated bliss separated from matter as the Sankya Purush did at the roof of the universe in a state of Kaivalyam nor did it like the Jain Tirthankars remain detached and aloof. The Godhead in Brahmanical thought on the contrary at the macrocosmic level was the creator of the mirage of the world, a glorious dream of His, and at the microcosmic level incarnated into His dream world as an Avatar time and again when that world experienced atrophy and lack of cohesion on account of the erosion of righteousness (Dharma). The Godhead far from being in a state of isolation was thus perpetually concerned and active in ordering His universe and restoring equilibrium to it. As Krishna in the Gita asserts ”If I did not act relentlessly, these worlds would perish”

As compared with the isolation and disinterested detachment of Sakhya’s Purush and the Jain Tirthankars, the Supreme Being in Brahmanism thus engaged Himself fully in the joys and sorrows of the phenomenal world through His incarnations as Avatar.

The Sankhya idea of the three Gunas of Prakriti, attributes of Nature,was also wholly incorporated into the Gita’s parlance with a whole chapter dedicated to qualifying attributes of each Guna as affecting man. But the Gunas were as illusory as the world in which they played their role. They did not affect the  Godhead which transcended them. For Sankhya the Gunas were substantial.

The extreme asceticism of Jainism and Sankhya with corresponding total renunciation of action as pathways to salvation and liberation from matter do not find sanction in the philosophy of the Gita The central doctrine of the Gita on the contrary is concerned with the discharge of ones duty and the commission of righteous action (Karmayoga). Krishna calls those who refrain from action under the impression that this is a form of renunciation, as hypocrites and urges that nothing is more important than to do the duty to which one is born. He also condemns extreme asceticism as needlessly inflicting punishments on the body and the indweller within:

”Yoga is not possible for him who eats too much or for him who abstains too much from eating; it is not for him…. who sleeps too much or too little.”

”Those who practice grim mortification….torture their bodily organs and Me too, who dwells within the body…”

According to the Gita the path to salvation is not through renunciation and asceticism and withdrawal from active life, rather true renunciation consists in acting wholeheartedly, with dexterity in a dispassionate manner not seeking rewards and being neither euphoric in success nor dejected in failure. The true ascetic is one who has equanimity in all circumstances. This philosophy of commitment to action and total engagement in the world of the living, even for the Godhead as Avatar affirmed life and  Krishna asserts that no living being can remain without action. Even when inactive his bodily functions in fact continue with furious activity therefore denial of action was a false renunciation and was hypocritical.was in total contrast to the life-denying pre-Aryan philosophies of abstention and resignation:

”None can remain really actionless even for a moment, for everyone is driven to action by the Gunas of Prakriti. That deluded man is called a hypocrite who sits controlling the organs of action, but dwelling in his mind on the objects of the senses.”

Brahmanism was also by contrast fully theistic and deeply concerned with devotion and worship of the Supreme Being. A whole chapter on Bhakti (devotional worship) is dedicated to ardent and personal devotion to the godhead. Krishna says in the Gita:

”with the heart serene and fearless, firm in the vow of continence (celibacy), with mind controlled and ever thinking of Me, let him sit having Me as his supreme goal”.”

This alone leads to enlightenment. Krishna explains whom he finds most devout and dear among men;

”….steady minded and full of devout self-surrender – that man is dear to me.” 

All actions must be undertaken on behalf of Brahman and for Him alone.

No such call to devotional prayer towards a Godhead exists in the pristine philosophies of Jainism and Sankhya. Their spiritualism consists in emulating the example of the Tirthankars and individual release from the entanglements of matter.

The theism of Brahmanism was unequivocal and without qualification, a fundamental doctrine of faith to be pursued diligently as a primary goal to liberation. the very act of devotion won for the worshiper the path to liberation. This was different from the path to liberation in Sankhya and Yoga involving disciplines and practices leading to abnegation.

The theory of Karma and reincarnation existing in Sankhya and Jainism  which was not present in the Vedas or the early Upanishads, also became a central doctrine of the Bhagvad Gita as clearly brought  out in the analogy of casting off worn out garments to don new ones for a soul shedding the body and reincarnating into another. The concept of reincarnation even of the Godhead as Avatar, time and again, was however an innovation and refinement of Jain and Sankhya theology. No such reincarnation of the Godhead ( there being no Godhead) exists in the pre-Aryan philosophies of India.

With the passage of time however the pre-Aryan Indian disposition and obsession with resignation, renunciation and asceticism reasserted itself in the later epochs of Brahmanical thought, particularly in the non-dual Advait philosophy of Vedanta attributed to the sage-philosopher Shakaracharya in the ninth century A.D.  The euphoric world affirmation so evident in the Vedic and Upanishadic periods disappeared, to be replaced by a concept as ascetic and passive as existed in the earlier indigenous thought of India, though now garbed in the sophisticated language of the non-dualist Advait philosophy. The Atman now began to resemble more and more the Purush of Sankhya as a passive, unattached, unconcerned and non-acting nucleus residing within. The Gita had already proclaimed that the Atman was actionless and not the agent of action, Prakriti (Nature)and its attributes the Gunas alone were the cause of activity:

” He truly sees who sees that all actions are done by Prakriti alone and the Atma is action less…. he who in imperfect understanding looks upon the Self as the agent (of action) – he does not see at all”

The Sankhya concept that ignorance (Avidya) caused the entanglement of the Purush (Soul) was also applied to Shankar’s Vedantic thesis. The sheathes of gross body (waking state), subtle body ( dream state), and causal body ( deep sleep state) now in Vedanta were illusions created by Avidya, ignorance, which both hid the Self and created the mirage of phenomenality. again like Sankhya, Shankar asserted that the illusion was to be dispelled by knowledge and Yoga disciplines which would reveal the radiance of the Soul within.

In Shankar’s Advait philosophy there is also a subtle veering away from theism, matching the atheism of Sankhya. At the preparatory stage the initiate is permitted indulgence in all the normal virtuous activity of a householder – performance of good and charitable deeds, without attachment to rewards or fruit, austerities and self-denial ( celibacy etc), worshipping in the normal dualistic manner with prayers to deities and ancestors.  As he proceeds to advance in his meditations a stage comes when his efforts are rewarded by a vision of God. He is warned to exercise restraint for this vision is no more than a sublime manifestation of dualistic ignorance, Avidya, and must be transcended. The divine personality superimposed on Brahman is no less a mask than ones own personality is a sheath veiling ones innermost Self. The temptation to persist with such a sublime error at the penultimate stage of realization of truth must be strongly resisted and overcome as nothing more than a final delusion. The Adept would then pass beyond the illusory creator of an illusory creation to the ultimate reality of the supreme truth, consciousness and bliss (Sat-Chit-Anand) which alone is Brahman.

For Shankar’s Advait, a personalized God or creator was an illusion to be overcome. Brahman appearing as the Supreme Lord God was no more than enacting an illusory play (Leela) , and remained beyond all definitions and to be realized and experienced as such through thoughtless meditation. This rejection of the Godhead appears to go against the theistic premise and begins to resemble more and more the Sankhya pilgrim’s path seeking salvation devoid of any God like inspiration, with the difference that in Advait the soul is not isolated but is an integral part of a holy supreme unity, Brahman.

We thus appear to have come full circle from the atheistic and pessimistic pre-Aryan philosophies of abnegation, through the glorious life affirmation of the Vedas and Upanishads, to the synthesis and amalgamation of the Sankhya philosophy into the language of the Gita and finally to a revived stoic asceticism and denial of any reality to a personal Godhead in Shanker’s Vedanta philosophy. Yet the force of theism reasserted itself. First the sage Ramanuja in the eleventh century A.D. challenged the erudite Vedantic non-dualism with his dualistic approach to worshiping a personal God, believing that love and adoration of God (Bhakti) won liberation and not knowledge to end the Avidya of ignorance. He won an eager and significant following. More significantly in the Bhakti movement of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries A.D. poet-saints like Sur, Tulsi, Meera, Raidas, Kabir and Nanak, among others, enthralled the multitudes with their ardent devotional songs to a personal God in a theistic storm of revival. They took the cue for this from the invigorating devotional premise of the Bhagvad Gita. 

Elephanta cave Mumbai

The trinity of Sagun Brahman – Brahma-Vishnu-shiva


Temple deity – Lord Rama

In the ultimate analysis, Hinduism today is an amalgam of all these diverse streams of thought.The concept of a Universal Essence, ubiquitous as Brahman and immanent as Atman is entrenched in Hindu psyche and theology, both respected and revered. At the same time the personal Godhead appears to have displaced Brahman in popular imagination, in temples, hearth and home becoming the real objects of worship. The philosophically inclined veer towards Advait practices of meditation for the realization of the unequivocal truth of Brahman, while the vast majority of humbler folk gravitate towards a personal deity whether as the supreme godhead or its Avatar, for worship and spiritual sustenance. That Godhead’s threefold representation as creator, sustainer and annihilator, Brahma (distinct from Brahman), Vishnu and Shiva, and their feminine counterparts, Shakti, are the major deities to whom temples are dedicated together with their reincarnated Avatars, Rama and Krishna.They are the subject of colourful invigorating mythology, the grand epics and scriptures, art and culture, and the daily religious rituals, worship, prayer and deeply felt faith. The only depiction of Brahman is in the syllable Om which is pronounced before every prayer and adorns places of worship and homes symbolically inscribed within a glowing sun.


The symbol Aum representing Brahman

There are no temples dedicated to Brahman ( Nirgun brahman – Brahman without attributes) The supreme Godhead now represents him wearing a mask of personality and form as the favoured option (Sagun Brahman – Brhaman with form and attributes). Shanker’s Advait monastries (Muths) are the secluded substitute to temples where Brahman is to be realized by adept monks and followers through esoteric practices stern disciplines and meditation.

To complete the picture of amalgamation, the cosmology of the pre-Aryan religious disciplines have bequeathed the concepts of Karma, the soul, its transmigration in rebirth and its eventual liberation aided by Yogic disciplines of the Yoga Sutras to Hinduism becoming embedded in Indian culture and civilization as the pillars of the faith.

The further evolution of this grand synthesis of diverse spiritual inspiration and philosophical disciplines have further spawned the philosophy of the Tantra, Kundilini, Yoga and an accompanying range of meditative practices into the daily spiritual lives of the Hindu. 

The absence of a  centralized Church, leaves the worshiper free to move from one to the other at will, selecting the spiritual experience of his choice without fear of excommunication or digression from inviolable dogma. He can practice Advait meditation in the morning, worship at a Rama temple in the afternoon and seek to arouse his Kundilini in the evening with total freedom., or worship not at all as a soul suffused by the darker shades of matter with many reincarnations awaiting him before liberation which is eventually guaranteed in any case.



The Godhead in Hinduism is comprised of a trinity of divine forces – those of creation, sustenance and annihilation. Brahman  the Universal Essence embarks on creation through Brahma,  sustains it through Vishnu and dissolves it through Shiva. The created universe is called Brahmanda, the egg of Brahma the creator, or the cosmic egg. The Puranas have numerous legendary stories in respect of each of the major deities of the Hindu pantheon – colourful mythical tales that seek to project ethical norms and symbolic interpolations of metaphysical verities and philosophical insight to enable the common man to grasp the essence of Hindu thought and beliefs.

While Brahma has become more or less marginalized with only a single temple in India dedicated to him at Pushkar, an important pilgrimage spot in Rajasthan in North East India, Vishnu and Shiva over the ages became the major deities with large followings. sheshnag_vishnu_wb23smThe marginalization of Brahma became complete with his depiction as sitting on a lotus arisen from the naval of Vishnu. He thus became a subsidiary deity, reliant on Vishnu for his creation, leaving only two poles, that of Vishnu and Shiva as contenders. Creation then proceeds from the naval of Vishnu, much like an umbilical chord and the fetus is Brahma. Thereafter as a mother nurtures its offspring in the womb, Vishnu devotes himself to nurturing his creation, symbolized as Brahma. Brahma then proceeds to create primal beings (like the Biblical Adam) representative of the sense organs and the organs of action. but that is another story. Creation proceeds from the stem of the lotus from Vishnu’s naval, extending like an umblical chord with Brahma as the fetus in the lotus. Thereafter as the mother nurtures the fetus in the womb, Vishnu too devotes himself to nurturing and sustaining creation.

Vishnu and Shiva after the marginalization of Brahma, over the ages have become the major deities with large following. Those regarding Vishnu as the primal force are called Vaishnavites while those that regard Shiva as the primal creator are termed Shaivites. In modern times the distinction between the two sects have become eroded and generally Hindus worship both with equal ardour, though each individual may have an emotional preference to the form that appeals to him more. Ascetics and Tantriks are generally devotees of the informal and rustic deity Shiva. The Shakti sect of the goddess also finds common cause with Shiva since that cult arises from Shiva’s consort.

Despite his lonely slumber on the coils of the celestial serpent Shesh, deep in the cosmic ocean ( Sur Sagar ), contemplating the destiny of the created physical universe and material existence, he is not quite as remote as one may imagine. His incarnations on earth, the most popular being Rama and Krishna, bring him into intimate contact with living beings on the physical plane and help him experience every facet of their triumphs and woes, their trials and tribulations from which his Avatars are not exempt. Vishnu thus succeeds despite his remote transcendence to become an intimate god through his earthly incarnations. 






Shiva the great mystic god is in a category of his own. He remains otherworldly, secluded, unconcerned and virtually inaccessible in the remote reaches of the Himalayas at Mount Kailash, contemplating not the created world but the essence of reality and truth. He is the ultimate ascetic, muscular, white as the snows, unadorned and rustic, smeared with the ashes of abnegation, rather than the sweet smelling sandalwood paste of Vishnu’s romantic creativity. His eyes are closed in inward meditation and only to be disturbed or distracted from his depths at your peril.

197944_159650527425094_100526190004195_370094_3595663_n_thumbLegend has it that the god of love Kama Dev, defiantly sought to awaken him from his meditative trance with his seductive flower-arrows of love. The gods had deputed him on this risky and delicate mission to awaken Shiva to enable him to wed Nature incarnated as the goddess Parvati, daughter of the mountains. His blissful peace thus shattered he opened his third eye located between his brows in fury. Kama Dev perished, burnt to ashes by the destructive rays unleashed from the third eye, though he was later revived by the pleadings of the gods so that the world woulod not become bereft of love and romance necessary for procreation.



Mohenjodaro seal

The evolution of Shiva may also be seen in pre-Vedic India in the seals of the Indus Valley civilization where he is depicted as Pashupati, Lord of animals, around 2500 B.C. He is portrayed as an ascetic seated in Yogic posture with an erect phallus. He is surrounded by the figures of a tiger, a rhinoserous and a buffalo. Other seals depict a deity holding a trident accompanied by a bull.



The Greeks who came to India with Alexander in 300 B.C. noted similarities between Shiva and their god Dionysus. Both are associated with fertility, and protection of animals. Both are shown wearing animal skins and residing in the mountains and the forests. The bull, the snake and the phallus are common features in their portrayal. Both are priapic gods while the vine leaf is a favourite of Dionysus the Beil leaf is sacred for Shiva. Temperamentally also both are depicted as being alike – strident, abrupt and irritable.


Mahadev Rudra-002


Lord Shiva’s renunciation is absolute, his disinterest and disengagement, total. He is the monolith and epitome of primal energy, a one without the need of a second. In this state he is forever in bliss. His only adornments are the crescent moon on his hair knot,  the river Ganges bound in his locks flowing out into the Himalayas, and the cobra with open hood coiled around his neck, while other lesser cobras form anklets and bracelets. The beads of the sacred Himalayan berry the Rudraksh adorn his wrists and ankles. The Rudraksh when worn as a garland repels negative energies and takes its name from Rudra, his pristine Vedic manifestation as the fearsome howler and lord of the thunderbolt adorned by a garland of skulls – one who frequents cremation grounds as the extinguisher of life.


if-nataraja2He is also portrayed as the dynamic primal force of divinity Adideva engaged in the cosmic dance of cyclical creation and devolution, the Nataraj, lord of the cosmic dance (Tandav). The image of Nataraj is immensely symbolic. One hand holds a resonating rattle drum emphasizing the noisy and repetitive rhythms of material existence, complimented by the raised and revolving left leg again a symbol of the flux of nature ever on the move, forever changing, unstable and precarious. The left hand also moving to the right aligned with the left leg, points to it to indicate how ephemeral material existence is. The right hand rises just above it in the gesture (Mudra) of a blessing urging one not to fear the material instability and evolution of transient nature but to rise beyond it in introspection and meditation to attain enlightenment and bliss. That state is described in scriptures as Satyam Shivam Sundaram, Truth, Consciousness, Beauty or Sat-Chit-Anand, Truth-Consciousness-Bliss. The left side is the physical while the right is metaphysical. The movement of the left hand and foot towards the right signifies the importance of moving away from the physical towards the spiritual  Another hand holds the fire of introspection which can lead to enlightenment. It burns like a sun through its own force without need of any fuel. The right leg signifies the stability and solidity of the spiritual, planted firmly and unmoving, crushing the demon of the ego and illusion (Maya) , seeking to extinguish it. The fires of creation and dissolution blaze in a circle around Nataraj’s dynamic form. The intense activity of this force is highlighted by Shiva’s swirling locks and the rhythmic and graceful assertive movements of limbs at contradictory angles of the body.

At the cosmic level Shiva is engaged in the devolution of creation; at the personal level he symbolizes the destruction of the ego and the illusion of transitory existence (Maya) for the realization of the core, the soul or Atma, the transcendence from Prakriti (Nature) to Purush (Primal Essence of reality) which is reflected in the Self within. The imagery urges the devotee to press his spiritual leg firmly on that dwarfing illusion or ego to unveil the essence which is the Soul, the only truth. The devotee then seeks to look upon the complex symbolic representation in a trance aided by Sanskrit hymns that configure and hail the image. He glimpses the cardinal truth, poetically and metamorphically projected through the imagery and seeks to assimilate its meaning through introspection while worshiping this adorable dynamic form that reveals its secrets.

India is a land deeply devoted to symbolism. Numerous arms and heads with which Hindu deities are depicted, are not intended to create monstrous and fearsome entities but merely to emphasize additional attributes with a kind of poetic license. The many armed and headed images convey to the worshiper an entity with multiple capabilities and attributes symbolized by the objects held in the hands and the diverse expressions of each head. It is similar to allowing timing in a camera shot to get a skyfull of moons as the moon transits the heavens or to capture the movements of ones arms in a dance as multiple arms as they traverse a circle.


Sati_shiva_bishnu (1)Nature symbolized by the goddess however cannot leave this impersonal god of Yoga alone and must engage him, combining the male and female principles in divine union. The goddess also symbolizing the primal energy of creation then incarnated as Sati the daughter of Daksha the arrogant Lord of the Temporal realms. Her desire to marry the lonely God of the mountains was forcefully rejected by her father who considered Shiva as no more than a naked barbarian with a retinue of equally despicable tribals, gnomes and goblins, unfit for any alliance with his royal lineage. Sati defying him persisted and pursued  Shiva till he finally succumbed to her entreaties. Daksha however spurned and insulted the rustic God time and again till finally Sati unable to bear her husband’s humiliation at the hands of her father, immolated herself. Shiva’s anguish and fury knew no bounds and after decimating Daksha he carried her corpse inconsolable from place to place, unleashing havoc on the physical plane with his sorrow. When the very annhilation of the world was threatened, Vishnu intervened to save the world from his wrath. With his discus he dismembered the corpse casting its limbs far and wide, spots which today are revered as centres of energy (Shakti Sthals) for pilgrimage by worshipers. Shiva then stabilized and resumed his lonely meditations cutting himself off completely from the physical world as was his wont.

lord_shivas_familyBut the spirit of the goddess refused to give up her paramour and reincarnated as the daughter of the Himalayas, Parvati. We have already seen what happened to the god of love when he sought to awaken Shiva from his meditations to wed Parvati at the behest of the gods. Parvati was wary of repeating such a mistake and instead sought to woo him by herself undertaking severe penances and austerities finally impressing him with her single minded resolve and dedication. Their union produced two sons, Kartik and ganesh. Kartik became renowned as a slayer of demonic forces that had been plaguing the demi-gods and he became their commander-in-chief whiloe Ganesh, the elephant headed god became the most popular deity of the Hindu pantheon, the remover of all obstacles and the one to be worshiped before all in any ritual prayer. The shaivite family are worhipped in temples across the land. ardhnareshwar2Shiv and Parvati were then conjoined as a single principle of metaphysical reality in the form of Ardhnareshwar, half male and half female running down the middle. the remote primal essence no longer separated from its natural physical counterpart.

shiva poison







Shiva also has a phosphorescent blue throat and is therefore called Neelkanth. This derives from the pot of poison he consumed to save the world from its toxic effect when the poison emerged from the churning of the cosmic ocean by the gods and the Titans in a celestial tug of war. The churning produced many exquisite objects including the elixir of immortality, the goddess Laxmi, the white elephant Airavat and many jewels. Vishnu claimed Laxmi as his consort, Indra the premier demi-god took Airavat as his steed, the nectar of immortality was shared by all the gods after denying the Titans an equal share. Shivathe mediator of the churning exercise wanted nothing for himself but when no one claimed the deadlypot of poison he volunteered to consume it lest it percolted into the cosmos destroying creation. The poison was confined in his throat and he thereby heroically saved the world from apocalypse but acquired a blue throat.


Also emerging from the cosmic ocean was Chandra, the Moon, who had been banished there, his radiance diminishing every moment till all that was left of him was a crescent. Daksha the overlord of the temporal realms had once again proved himself to be an infamous father-in-law. We have already seen how his humiliation of Shiva had led to his daughter Sati’s suicide through self-immolation ( the word Sati later came to be synonymous with the heinous Hindu upper caste practice of immolation on the pyre of a widow’s husband). Chandra had wed all Daksha’s remaining 27 daughters represented by asterisms, called Nakshatras, around the Zodiac. His preference for only one, Rohini, to the neglect of all the others had incensed Daksha who in characteristic manner cursed his son-in-law Chandra to lose all his radiance.. On emerging from the churning of the cosmic ocean Chandra besieged Shiva to absolve him of the curse. Shiva well known as Ashotosh or one easily moved, took pity on Chandra and placed him on his head. Thus all portrayals of Shiva show him adorned with a crescent Moon. Chandra thus honoured by the primal lord succeeded in having the curse modified. Henceforth he would wax and wane over the month. Having learnt his lesson , now Chandra spends a night with each of his wives, waxing as he approaches his favourite Rohini and waning as he moves away from her. On no-Moon night he is with no wife but on the night before that he is a crescent and in dedication to Lord Shiva for having saved him, that night is celebrated as Shiv Ratri or the night of Shiva when prayers are addressed to him.



Lord Ayyappa

When the elixir of immortality emerged the Titans grasped it as theirs. Lord Vishnu then assumed the form of a divine damsel of unequalled beauty to charm and outwit them. She succeeded in stealing the pot from them giving it to the gods. The beauteous form of Mohini aroused great passion in Shiva who unable to resist her charm embraced her and from his spilt semen arose Lord Ayyappa, worshiped in Kerala in the South. Ayyappa is regarded as the unlikely issue of Shiva and Vishnu ( as Mohini). At Sabarmalai a temple built in his honour has become one of the great pilgrimage spots of South India where the sects devoted to Shiva and Vishnu have a common product of the two streams of Hinduism to worship.






Amarnath Kashmir

Generally Shiv temples do not focus on portraying the ascetic god in anthropomorphic terms. Rather, the Sanctum Sanctorum at the heart of the temple has an abstract portrayal of him as a primordial phallus (Linga) arising from a Vagina (Yoni). The phallus and Vagina represent the creative force of the universe. The temple phallus is generally a monolithic rock discovered in a river bed or elsewhere, a crystal or as in the famed temple of Amarnath in Kashmir as an icicle which grows with the waxing of the Moon into a gigantic icy phallic shape, fluctuating with the seasons. Hundreds of thousands flock each year for pilgrimage to the shrine when the form has reached its apex. This phallic worship appears contradictory to the depiction of Shiva as an ascetic god who is devoid of desire or any inclination whatsoever for physical and therefore sexual contact. For the uninitiated it becomes a popular misconception that he is an erotic deity. Nothing could be further from the truth as we have already seen how he reacted to Kama Dev’s provocations to arouse his lust. Paradoxically therefore, the erect phallus in worship does not signify lust – rather quite the contrary  The auto erotic phallus in ascetic and Tantrik tradition, arises from no external stimuli, rather it is evidence of deep states of meditative euphoria involving a contrary flow of semen in the reverse direction ( inwards as against outwards) when one glimpses metaphysical truth, consciousness and bliss ( Sat-Chit-Anand). The phallus in worship represents such a form, the product of the arousal of metaphysical truth, consciousness and bliss which is the opposite of physical desire, lust and pleasure. The worship  of the phallus is a metaphysical exercise for bliss rather than any physical indulgence for pleasure. One may well call it a sublimation of sex. Shiva in the ultimate analysis is the antithesis of carnal desire, the obverse of lust, the very transcendence of love.

In the 19th century European theologists and intellectuals were appalled and shocked by what appeared to them to be the barbaric practice of phallic worship. Hindu intellectuals and sages like Vivekanand when confronted by criticism and condemnation at the Paris conference of world religions of such practices, sought to present a defence. Christian puritanical mores of the 19th century did not allow for any acceptance or theological justification and explanation for the practice. Thinkers like Vivekananda and Shivananda then resorted to denial that the Lingam represented the phallus and explained that in Vedic times it was the practice to erect sacrificial pillars (Sthambas) representing the Divine Essence, Brahman and it was only later that these pillars came to to be represented as an abstract symbol for Lord Shiva.

According to some thinkers the Linga and Yoni symbolize the eternal union between the static and dynamic aspects of absolute reality, the communion between the masculine and feminine principles from which all physical diversity originates. Shiva is the static changeless essence while Shakti is the dynamic ever changing power that produces the phenomenal world. The symbolism of Linga and Yoni in fact help the devotee to rid himself/herself of all sexual thought in a sublimation of sex. Devotees as far as I know never contemplate the sexual when they worship the Linga.


Shiva is also portrayed as naked, totally uninhibited, simple, asocial,unconcerned with cultural sophistication, etiquette and ritual , with no awareness of shame, egoless  and not the least self conscious.He therefore appears naked, except for a tiger skin around his girdle. These qualities and apparel make his followers call him the simple lord, the divine simpleton (Bholenath). Devotees sing and dance with unrestrained ecstasy and passion to the beating of rhythmic rattle drums and symbols with wafting clouds of incense smoke, to invoke such a primal god, in the process themselves losing all vestiges of culture, social inhibitions, taboos and self consciousness, like the Lord they adore, admire and love, step by step allowing the ego to slip away in a frenzy of detachment. In several Shiva festivals, marijuana is freely consumed to allow a metaphysical ‘high’, as devotees pour urns of water and milk on the Lingum bedecked with toxic Arka flowers (milkweed) and Bail leaves of the wood apple tree and the poisonous Dhatura nut, all sacred offerings to Lord Shiva, wild and toxic matching his unorthodox nature, the nature of the universal essence. Through the glow of ritual and worship, song and dance, arises resplendent the Linga to paradoxically banish their lust and inhibitions alike and raise them to a more enlightened state, devoid of ego.


painting by Swaroop Roy









Rama is India’s epic hero, divine avatar and the archetype of the most honourable and righteous man. While this mythical hero of the epic Ramayana has no historicity, for Indians by that very token he is greater than any historical figure. For them he is God incarnate and like God he transcends historicity. The story of the epic has so enthralled the Hindu mind that it has assumed a reality far beyond the actual, becoming embedded in the Indian psyche, art, culture and ideals as no other single factor. People adopt names after characters in the epic. Streets, quarters, towns, rivers, natural features, projects and institutions are all named after the Avatar and other protagonists of the Ramayana. In virtually every quarter of every town temples are dedicated to Rama and his idols adorn every home. Major festivals are linked  to this amazing personage. He is more like a phenomenon than a person. Myths and legends are replete with engaging stories of his sojourn on the temporal plane. Temples resound with hymns and songs sung in his praise by worshipers and devotees across the land. The epic poem is recited from canto to canto in temples and at vast congregations reminding devotees of the events portrayed of his life. A morning greeting consists of not good morning but ‘Ram Ram’.  At death, a cortege of mourners recites, ‘the name of Rama is truth’.

Even the gods in legend crave witnessing his earthly incarnation and its journey through the physical plane. This reminds one of the angels who are forever shown hovering about the infant Jesus. The Supreme Universal Essence itself becomes ecstatic in relating his story to his feminine energy aspect, Lord Shiva to his energy form Shakti and together they assume human form to sneak up and catch a glimpse of the adorable infant Avatar, much as in the Christian theme of the Adoration of the Magi.


Ram and Sita in Indonesian national ballet

The myth of Rama has even crossed Indian shores and over millenia interwoven itself into the art and culture of Indo-China. Even in Indonesia which is essentially an Islamic country the saga of Rama enjoys a revered place in theatre and art and in Java and Bali becomes an article of faith. I have personally met Indonesian acquaintences with the unlikely fusion of Hindu and Muslim names such as Sita Rehman and Angad Ahmed. Sanskrit names are of course common  – three Indonesian presidents carried them: Sukarno,  Suharto and Sukarnoputri. The Indonesian national theatre frequently presents excerpts from the Ramayana story as ballet and through shadow puppetry. The ballet performed in central Java was acclaimed by Guinness World Records as the most continuously staged performance in the world with the largest cast.

On the other hand the Kings of Thailand style themselves as Rama, though the religion of Thailand is Buddhist. The present king Bhumibol Adulyadej is referred to as Rama IX. The queen carries a Sanskrit name, Srikirti meaning the fame of Laxmi, consort of Vishnu and the one who incarnated as Rama’s wife Sita. In the fourteenth century the Siamese capital was called Ayuthyia after Ayodhya, capital of Rama’s kingdom. A town by that name exists to this day in the state of Uttar Pradesh in India with a raging controversy about Rama’s birthplace there, which in a communal frenzy led tragically to the desecration of a Mosque built by the Mogul emperor Baber in the sixteenth century allegedly over the presumed birthplace of Rama. The desecration had far reaching consequences in pitting Hindus and Muslims against one another and stirring a cauldron of rioting and communal disharmony in the state of Gujerat and elsewhere.

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Ram and Sita in Cambodian national ballet


Ram and Sita – Laos temple sculpture

In Cambodia and Laos the epic is well known and  its themes adorns the bas – reliefs of numerous temples like the famed Ankor Vat temple known as the largest religious monument in the world. It is also enacted in the Cambodian dnace theatres. We see that the Ramayana left its imprint on the countries of South East Asia, also  including Burma  Malaysia and Vietnam and through Buddhist influences right into China and Japan.

Deeply moved by this universal adoration, through a kind of mystical inspiration, I composed a poem in tribute to Rama which emerged quite spontaneously and surprisingly requiring no editing. During  an official visit by the Indian Prime Minisiter Vajpayee to Oman where I was serving as Ambassador, I felt emboldened to share the poem with him. Quite unorthodox for an envoy to commence his interaction with his Prime minister with recitation of a poem rather than a diplomatic presentation! However, he did not mind my incongruent and childlike enthusiasm in reciting the poem to him, being a poet himself. When I had finished he was quite moved and  remarked : ”Wow, what can one say” ( Vah, kya kehene).                                                                                                poem to Vajpayee

Before I share the poem on this post, I wish to recount briefly the story of the epic for the benefit of those friends and readers not familiar with the Ramayana.

Lord-Vishnu1 (1)-001

Lord Vishnu reclining on the Cosmic serpent Shesh, with Laxmi at his feet


King Dushrath of Ayodhya had no children. A sage finally gave him a potion which cured his wives inability to conceive and they were blessed with four sons. In fact Lord Vishnu, the sustainer of the universe, resting in the cosmic ocean had heard the prayer and feeling the time right to redress the growing disharmony and burgeoning evil in the world decided to despatch an aspect of himself as an exemplary Avatar to the phenomenal world. While Rama, the eldest son was to be the Avatar, his persona bifurcated into all the other three brothers as well,  to become the protagonists in the enfolding drama. Laxman, Rama’s inseparable brother who accompanied him into exile, is also yet another incarnation of  Vishnu’s inalienable hydra headed serpent Sesh who provides protective cover as a kind of umbrella to the cosmic lord as he lies recumbent on his coils. Their close affinity and intimacy are reflected in the relationship between Rama and Laxman on the temporal plane. It is interesting that the divine pair are seen again to incarnate together in a later epic as Krishna and his brother Balrama. Vishnu’s consort Laxmi, representing his feminine dynamic alter-ego, also joined as an important protagonist as Sita the princess of  Mithila who would eventually wed Rama and drive the saga to its climax. The antagonist of the saga was Ravana, the evil demonic king of Srilanka. In fact he was the door keeper of Vishnu’s celestial abode and was cursed by sages to eternal mortality, for disallowing them to meet the resting Vishnu.. The curse was modified by Vishnu according to which Ravana would be born as his enemy and return to his portals after being slain by him as Rama. Thus all protagonists and antagonist descend from the spiritual realms and fall into place in the saga to be played out for the benefit of man.


Dushrath grieves as Rama, Sita and Luxman prepare to go into exile

Returning to our temporal world, Dushrath’s eldest son Rama was the apple of his eye and the beloved of all the queens. the day finally dawned when the adult Rama was to be crowned heir apparent. the night before, Dushrath’s youngest and favourite wife Kaikeye, who had been joyous about the forthcoming coronation was confronted by her evil maid Manthara. She rebuked her for being foolishly sentimental about her step-son’s anointment as an heir to the throne, urging that she demand from her doting husband that her own son Bharat be anointed as heir instead and that the only way to be rid of the influence of Rama was to demand that he be exiled for fourteen years. Kaikeye’s shocked resistance was finally overcome by Manthara and the Queen had a change of heart, retreating sulking to the Chamber of Sorrow. Kaikeye’s transformation was in fact engineered through divine intervention. The goddess of learning and speech was ordained to confound her intellect and create egotistical passions alien to her true nature,  to create the circumstances for Rama to go into exile and set the saga of the Ramayana into motion. Dushrath then sought to assuage her inexplicable grief. Kaikeye reminded him of two boons he had granted her when she had saved his life in an earlier battle and demanded that Bharat be declared the heir and Rama be sent into exile for fourteen years. The king was distraught and overwhelmed with grief but had no option but to honour his promise.

rama-and-the-people-of-ayodyaRama dutifully embraced his exile and discarding his royal garb, donned the attire of a mendicant. his wife Sita insisted on following suit and his inseparable brother Laxman also joined him. Bharat, the bone of contention was out of town. The royal house and the populace mourned the departure of their favourite and heroic prince. Bharat on return was horrified at his mother’s conduct, telling her that he wished he had never been born. Bharat becomes the archetype of the ideal brother and is a common name in India. His efforts to locate Rama and bring him back failed as Rama insisted on honouring his fathers word and Bharat returns with his sandals which he places on the throne. Dushrath meanwhile had died pining for Rama and holding himself responsible for the terrible exile on which he was forced to send his faultless son. The tragedy had reached its climax. Keikeye repented her folly but it was too late as the queens were widowed and Bharat himself donned the garb of a mendicant as penance.


Khewat the boatman takes them ashore

Rama’s sojourn took him through the hamlets and villages of India, resting at the hermitages of sages and defending them from the atrocities of demonic forces. The tribal folk he encountered on the way  greeted him with love as their king wherever he went but he did not tarry and kept moving on. A tribal boatman Khewat who was to take them across a river refused to accept Sita’s ring as payment for his services but wished for another favour. Rama explained that he had no other valuables to give to which Khewat replied that as two people engaged in the same trade he coulod not accept any fee. Mystified, Rama enquired what trade did they have in common. Khewat repled, ”I am a boatman and so are you. I take people across the river and you too take people across the river of life to the other shore. when I come to your bank, Sir be kind and guide me to the other shore.”

shabariAnother episode relates to the story of an out-caste woman devoted to Rama who had been waiting all her life for his passage through her forest glade. Daily she would place a bed of flowers on the path leading to her hut in the hope that one day her beloved Rama would grace her cottage. She gathered berries for his repast. When at last the day miraculously arrived and her dream became a reality with the soft footfalls of the Avatar approaching her hut, she was overwhelmed with ecstatic devotion and led Rama joyously to her hut and sat at his feet with the basket of berries. In her mystical love she took each berry and tasted it first for its sweetness, casting away those that were not sweet before handing him the choicest berries. Thus the lord of the universe savoured the half eaten berries of love of a mortal and never had He tasted anything sweeter.

Many other episodes later, arriving at the sylvan forest glade  of Chitrakoot, the royal exiles were entranced by its beauty and decided to stay a while there. Rama and Laxman set about building a thatched hut of straw so that Sita could find a place to rest. Flying overhead, a demoness, Surpankha, became totally besotted of the handsome youth Rama and Laxman and changing into a beauteous damsel arrived in their midst. at first she tried to seduce Rama but he jocularly  turned her away saying that he already had a spouse and asked her to try her luck with Laxman. Back and forth she went, each pointing her to the other. download (1)Finally laxman, short-tempered and belligerent by nature, was less polite and rebuffed her advances. When she persisted he slashed her nose. The demoness then assumed her terrible form, holding her bleeding nose and vowed revenge. She hastened to her brother the great demon overlord Ravana of Srilanka and recounted the indignity she had suffered at the hands of the exiled princes of Ayodhya.


CREDIT : Sita wants the golden deer

Ravana, the overlord of all demons was also a devotee of Lord Shiva and through penances and prayer had acquired great powers and the boon of infallibility  He was the very antithesis of Rama, arrogant, cruel, licentious  immoral and unscrupulous. angered by his sisters humiliation he vowed to avenge her honour and teach the princes of Ayodhya a lesson. He had also heard of the fabled beauty of Sita and coveted her. One of his demon commanders was then asked to assume the form of a golden deer to entice Sita. Seeing the fabulous deer Sita was enchanted by its beauty and wanted it captured for herself. She pleaded that Rama pursue it and he left asking Laxman not to leave her alone under any circumstances. the demon then let out a wail as if Ramawounded was calling out to Laxman for help. Sita forced a reluctant Laxman to go after his brother. Laxman as a last resort drew three magical lines around the hut and cautioned Sita never to cross them.


Ravana slays the vulture king flying in to protect the abducted Sita

The wily Ravana then assumed the form of a holy mendicant and appeared before her cottage begging for alms. She brought him a basket of fruit and nuts and placed it on the floor without crossing the red lines. but he refused the offering coaxing her to approach him and be truly and respectfully charitable. She then crossed the lines and immediately he assumed his terrible form and abducted her, taking her away in his flying chariot across the sea to his kingdom in Srilanka where he confined her in a garden resort asking her to be his queen. Her purity and divinity made it impossible for him to touch her without her consent.

To cut a long story short, Rama then gathered an army of several tribals and finally overcame and killed the terrible demon Ravana and secured the release of Sita, returning with her to Ayodhya as fourteen years in exile had been completed, to be coronated King. The saga continues with Sita’s estrangement on account of a citizen, a wicked washerman, doubting her chastity after her abduction by Ravana and Rama’s inability to fully come to her defense  Sita thus humiliated leaves for the forest forsaking her husband and the kingdom and finds shelter in the hermitage of a sage. There she gives birth to twins who unknowingly challenge their father’s soldiers. a battle ensues in which the adolescent boys defeat their father. When he realizes that they are none other than Sita’s sons and his own, he seeks her out and tries to bring her back to the Kingdom. But she declines aware that some people  in Ayodhya continue to doubt her chastity and with the knowledge that Rama and his sons are now united she asks mother earth to reclaim her. The goddess earth then appears and reclaims her daughter and both descend into the earth.

Thus the full saga plays itself out. The god of death Yama disguised as a Brahmani meets Rama and tells him that the purpose of his Avtar has been achieved. Rama then proceeds to the river Sarayu and disappears into it. The surviving members of the royal house also follow and merge into the river. Finally the citizens, who are really spirits from the divine realms incarnated to assist in the enfolding of the saga, also join their master and enter the river, thus returning to their spiritual abode, their purpose on earth having been completed. Ayodhya is left with Luv and Kush the sons of Rama and the sons of the other brothers with their retinues to become the progenitors of righteous kingdoms on earth. The saga of the Ramayana thus concludes with the Avatar and his protagonists and antagonists returning to their origins and with the lessons for mankind delivered. While the story of Ramayana is engaging it is only a subtle vehicle for conveying profound Hindu philosophical precepts and moral and ethical norms through aphorisms which are interspersed liberally throughout in conversations between sages and the Avatar and other protagonists and thereby get embedded in the minds of the humblest villager who has no recourse to scriptures being illiterate or to common folk high and low who have no time and patience to engage in philosophical and metaphysical insights. The imagery and symbols thus have a transformative effect on the noblest and meanest alike.


I now reverentially present my poem:


R  A  M  A


Everywhere your footprints

In this land,

Everywhere great bow in your hand,

Blue of the darkest thundercloud

You stand,

Gentle warrior.


Your name in every feature

Of this land,

Your fame enraptures every man,

As you hold the humble berries

In your hand,

Of deep compassion.


Your father’s sorrow

 On every morrow,

Your mother’s heart

Breaks in every part,

As you depart

With a humble bow,

To keep the vow,

Into your exile

 We follow.


In every forest

 Your journey rests,

Every village has witnessed,

Your righteous pilgrimage.

Your footfalls echo

In mountains and in meadows,

Every boatman dreams

That you would help him cross

The river to the other shore,

Every tribal has danced with you before.


Every deer that springs

A shadow brings

Of her abduction,

Eclipsing the land,

The fiend’s hand

Upon her hand.

Every man shares

Your deep despair.


For nine days

The power welled,

From every trickle

To a flooding swell,

The air was thick

 With prayer,

As for battle you prepared.


The darkness of despair was dispelled

And lamps were lit

Across the land,

As the fiend

Striken by your hand

Was felled

Upon the tenth.


But like a gentle branch you bent,

Upon your knees with compassion knelt,

Gathering his fearsome form

In the cradle of your arm,

As if a wounded swan you held,

Your caring lotus eyes

Upon his eyes,



Then the land broke into dance

And song and merriment,

And earth and sky were rent

With conches to your coming,

As shedding your garb of saffron

You were anointed as our king.


Every day in this land

We see you go,

Every day you return victorious

O lord of indigo,

In our hearts and in our minds you reign

Standing with your bow,

Relieving us of our pain,

Shining bright with light and halo;

And temple bells across the land

For you are ringing,

O gentle saffron king of kings.








If one asleep desires no desire whatsoever, sees no dream whatsoever, that is deep sleep ( sushupta ).   (This) .. deep sleep state (is) unified,  just a cognitive mass, consisting of bliss, enjoying bliss, ….. is awareness.

This is the lord of all. This is the all knowing. This is the inner controller ( antaryamin). This is the source of all, for this is the origin and the end of beings.

( But that which is even beyond this deep sleep state, is ) not inwardly cognitive, not outwardly cognitive, …. not a cognitive mass, not cognitive, not non-cognitive, unseen, with which there can be no dealing, ungraspable, having no distinctive mark, non-thinkable, that cannot be designated, the essence of the assurance of which is the state of being one with ones own self, the cessation of development, tranquil, benign, without a second ( advait ) – such they think is the fourth ( final superconscious state even beyond deep sleep – Turiya), That is the Self ( Atman ). That should be discerned.

…….. He who knows this, with his self enters the Self – yea, he who knows this!






Credit :

Now, that light which shines higher than this heaven, on the backs of all, on the backs of everything, in the highest worlds, than which there is no higher – verily, that is the same as the light which is here within a person.

There is this seeing of it – when one perceives by touch this heat here in the body. there is this hearing of it – when one closes his ears and hears as it were a sound, as it were a noise, as of fire blazing,  one should reverence that light as something that has been seen and heard. He becomes one beautiful to see, one heard of in renown, who knows this – yea, who knows this.

Chandogya Upanishad 3.13.7


He who consists of mind, whose body is life, whose form is light, whose conception is truth, whose soul is space, containing all works, containing all desires, containing all odours, containing all tastes, encompassing this whole world, the unspeaking, the unconcerned – this Soul of mine within the heart is smaller than a grain of millet, or the kernel of a grain of millet; This Soul of mine within the heart is greater than the earth, greater than the atmosphere, greater than the sky, greater than these worlds.

Containing all works, containing all desires, containing all odours, containing all tastes, encompassing this whole world, this unspeaking, this unconcerned – this is the Soul of mine within the heart, this is Brahman. Into him I shall enter on departing hence. If one would believe this, he would have no more doubt. Thus used Shandilya to say – yea, Shandilya.

Chandogya Upanishad 3.14.2-4


( Chandogya Upanishad –  the earliest Upanishad  before the  8th Century B.C. – Shandilya was an important sage of the period )


Credit :


Taking as a bow the great weapon of the Upanishad.

One should put upon it an arrow, sharpened by meditation,

Stretching it with a thought directed to the essence of That,

Penetrate the Imperishable as the mark, my friend,

The mystic syllable OM is the bow, The arrow is the soul,

Brahman is said to be the mark,

By the undistracted man is IT to be penetrated.

One should come to be in IT, as the arrow ( in the mark).

                                                               MUNDAKA   UPANISHAD



The one who, himself without colour, by the manifold application of his power

Distributes many colours in his hidden purpose,

And to whom, its end and its beginning, the whole world

dissolves – He is God!

May He endow us with clear intellect.

                                                   SVETASHVATARA  UPANISHAD



From the unreal lead me to the real,

From darkness lead me to light,

From death lead me to immortality.

                                            BRIHAD-ARANYAKA  UPANISHAD









The earliest Upanishads (knowledge of the self) arose in the explanations (Brahmanas) of ritualistic sacrifices and the hymns or Mantras attending them addressed to the Vedic gods of thunder, fire, sun and moon etc.The question arose as to where the chants emanated from and where they went in serving to fulfill man’s desires.

In this manner, the earliest somewhat naive speculations sought to explain the origins of the world and its substance, quite incidentally so to speak in the course of performing rituals of worship. The famous Creation Hymn of the Rig-Veda ( see previous post ) had already blazed a path by encouraging speculation in that direction. The earliest speculation was ( as also with the Greeks and Semetics) that the original substance was indeed Water. Thus the Chandokya Upanishad states:

” Atmosphere, sky, gods and man, animals and birds, grass and trees, beasts and worms, insects – all are just water solidified”

The concept of the soul (Atman) had also appeared equivocally, earlier conceived as emerging from water but later as having created the water itself and from its substance created the Cosmic Man and from its limbs created the different parts of the world.

Another postulate which gained currency was that the world arose from Space. Yet another supposition was that it arose from a Cosmic egg. In the beggining it was Non-Being and later turned into an egg. On splitting one part became the earth, the other the sky, its veins became rivers, its fluid the ocean.

Beyond the cosmogenic space and egg theories arose a more abstract and philosophical interpretation. Space arose from the Imperishable – From Non-Being arose Being.

Yagnyavalka the great sage replies his curious and persistant spouse thus:

”Verily O Gargi at the command of the Imperishable the sun and the moon arose…at (his) command the earth and the sky…the moments, the hours, the days, the nights, the fortnites, the months, the seasons and the years…at the command…some rivers flow…to the east, others to the west.”  – Brihadaranyaka Upanishad

Thus speculative theories moving from Water to Space and Golden Egg (Hiranyagarbh) finally arrived at the Imperishable and the speculations began to establish a single origin and connectivity which were the first stirrings of ‘Intelligent Monism’.

Towards the close of the Vedic period (Vedant) these diverse conjectuers were superceded by the emergence of the concept of Brahma or Brahman, a hint of which concept not yet named is already available in the Rig-Veda hymn of Creation:

”There was then neither being nor non-being…without breath breathed by its own power ‘That One’.

Thus we find that the evolving speculation arising from ritualism moved to philosophical and mystical interpretations which appeared to be heading towards  Monistic conclusion. While the ritualism and its theology was concerned with the extrovert physical world, propitiating the gods through sacrifice for earthly empowerment and mastery over the forces of nature, the transcendental philosophers had turned inwards, seeking and discovering the real source of that power rather than its superficial external evidence. Rather than channelizing this force externally for human use through magical rituals and incantations, they preferred to seek to discover its secret nature and in the process began a process of devaluing the ritualism and the gods which focussed on the external physical world, its goals and ambitions in favour of their quest for the innermost and fundamental truths.

The cosmological theories of Water, Space and Egg when compared with the emerging idea of Brahman as the source had a fundamental difference. Brahman unlike them had consciousness. Yet the concept of Brahman largely remained inconprehensible and unexplained. ( Brahman in Sanskrit loosely translated means Holy Power). While the old cosmologiies of Water, Space, Egg and even an Imperishiable entity were merely a source or origin from which  creation emerged, the new concept of Brahman became much more. The earlier theory of Brahman as the holy power had merely supplanted Water, Space and Egg. Then Brahman too while procreating the world ( procreating because Brahman felt lonely and willed that he had a consort and thus his female aspect appeared with whom he procreated the world) remained quite distict and apart from it.

But now suddenly according to the Taittriya upanishad ” having created it, into it he entered” and again we see in the Chandogya Upanishad ” That divinity thought to itself – ‘come let me enter these divinities( heat, water and food)” – thus from being the ‘One’ he progressed to being the ‘All’ No longer was Brhaman merely the creator but now he entered his own creation and became inseperable from it. We see this immanence of Brahman in the Chandogya Upanishad: ”Verily the whole world is Brahman.” This finally established the pantheism of the Upanishads which earlier had been only a latent concept. Later this was made more explicit in the Mundaka Upanishad:

” Brahma, indeed is this immortal, Brahma before,

Brahma behind, to the right and to the left,

Streched forth below and above,

Brahma, indeed, is this whole world, this widest extent.”

Again in the Manddukya upanishad:

”For truely, everything here is Brahma.”

Now, from the goals of extrovert ritualism to gain physical advatages and empowerment, the Upanishads moved to the Monist and Pantheistic conceptions of merging all objective phenomena into one unity.

The concept of Brahman had yet to take another leap in its transformation into a comprehensive concept, that of a Soul, on the one hand embracing all physical and spiritual realms as one immanent, ubiquitous supersoul and on the other as the individual soul within man. Of that, more in the next post.



KALI YANTRA - geometrical portrayal of Goddess Kali Credit:

KALI YANTRA – geometrical portrayal of Goddess Kali

The primal energy of the creative force in Hindu theology is conceived as a feminine entity. This is quite remarkable for a country which is essentially patriarchical. Worship of the Goddess as mother is fairly universal with major festivals being dedicated to honouring her with chanting, prayer, song and dance. Millions also trek to pilgrimage sites with fervour, devotion and resolve to receive her maternal blessings and empowerment.

The Universal Essence is symbolized as partly masculine, the epitome of truth, consciousness, calm and bliss and partly feminine, creative, volatile, energetic and emotional. The masculine element, Shiva, contemplates creation through his eternal meditation and is regarded as the eternal yogi, while his counterpart Shakti ( energy in Sanskrit) is cosmic energy that enacts that creation. Shiva is the seed, Shakti is the womb.



Shakti is depicted as having three manifestations or aspects. Lakshmi is its benign form generating prosperity, growth, health, well-being and good fortune. One finds her portrait on an altar in most shops and commercial establishments, in addition to homes to ensure the success of the enterprise and well-being of the family.


SARASVATI ( painting by Raja Ravi Varma)

Sarasvati is the intellectual aspect generating scholarship, the fine arts, music dance and  knowledge. Her images with Sitar in hand adorn the stage where dance and music concerts are to be held or at inaugurations of cultural events. Students before joining an educational institution or proceeding to take an exam will seek her blessings.

Kali is Shakti’s darker aspect, symbolizing inexorable time (Kal), mortality and the ephemeral nature of physical existence – energy in a constant state of flux. Together the three aspects of Shakti create, facilitate growth, enhance the quality of life through prosperity and the creativity of the arts and finally terminate it to recycle the process again and again.



The three Goddesses when combined as one force are pictured as Durga displaying beauty and strength as a many armed maiden astride a lion ( or tiger) furiously battling the forces of inertia, atrophy, darkness and evil represented as the buffalo-demon which she slays even as it seeks to change form to deceive her.

Kali  ( the dark one and time in Sanskrit) is the most striking and fearsome aspect of Shakti. She is shown as standing with one foot irreverently placed on the chest of her recumbent lord Shiva, the blissful representation of the Universal Essence whose inner force she actually is! According to myth she was conceived to destroy demonic entities who had overpowered the  demigods and subverted nature imperilling creation. Even after their destruction her furious destructive energy could not be contained thus threatening the very creation she had been produced to save ( much like nuclear energy gone awry). Shiva then as a last resort threw himself at her feet to contain her fury but she carrying forward with uncontrolled momentum inadvertently placed her foot on his breast Thus the epitome of truth, consciousness and bliss, lord of the universe, lay under the foot of his own power time, which strode over him as if to declare that she alone ruled the material world of opposites ( good and evil, light and dark, pain and pleasure, love and hate, life and death). As she places her energetic foot on the chest of the universal lord she suddenly realizes what she has done and in embarrassment sticks out her tongue, realizing that the physical world is only a mirage created by the Universal Lord. The allegory is stark. The uncontrolled physical momentum of the physical world can only be restrained and tamed when it over steps its spiritual base and in so doing is shocked back into equilibrium.

The stirring, striking and paradoxical imagery of Kali with Shiva underfoot took the Hindu psyche by storm and is abundantly on display at meditation centres and places of worship where people hope to overcome persistent obstacles in their path. In Kolkata this representation of our combined spiritualism and materialism is worshipped at the famous temples of Kaligahat and Dakshineshwar where goats are sacrificed to appease her fury. Unlike most branches of Hindu worship  vegetarianism is not observed here and in place of honey water and milk cakes being offered to worshippers as sacred blessing the practice in many Kali temples is to offer wine and preparations of meat.

It is Kali who helps brides consummate their marriage, it is she who protects us from physical traumas. I composed a poem as a tribute to the goddess who though fearsome as life itself is yet full of hope and maternal concern.




                      M O  T  H  E  R


Red stamens

Stick out

Like her tongue

In hibiscus garlands,

Prescribed adornments

In Kolkata.


The great Shiva

Lies prostrate


Holocaust inevitable


In Kolkata.


Life blood is stark red

Against the darkness

Of death,

But together,fundamental

Cosmic flux,

In Kolkata.


Her spirit is everywhere;

In the parting

Of bridal hair,

anointed vermillion,

Lissom bodies bare

In Kolkata.


Dear mother,


In fearsome aspect

Is abroad;

As we are secure

In Kolkata.


Dakishneshwar Temple

Dakishneshwar Temple



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