Hinduism has a rich cultural heritage spanning the past four thousand years or more. In this long epoch starting from the Vedic times and its evolution through spiritual and Puranic periods in a multi-ethnic and multi -linguistic settings, the religion had absorbed many changes and modifications to blossom into modern Hinduism. In this book, an attempt is made to bring out the symbolisms apparent or hidden in the ideas of Hindu mythology, rituals and cultural practices touching some visible parallel thoughts in modern science.
Explaining the concept of God in India, the book discusses at length the Hindu mythology of earthly life, cultural advance, network of Hindu godheads, Vedic symbolism, rituals, iconography, marriage customs, temple culture, and music & dance.
M.K.V. Narayan (), a postgraduate in management from XLRI, Jamshedpur, is a retired executive of TATA STEEL (Tata Iron and Steel Company Ltd., Jamshedpur). He has held responsible positions in both public and private sector industries in the field of productivity and quality management for over 40 years. He has served as corporate member in leading professional bodies such as IIIE (Indian Institution of Industrial Engineering), ORSI (Operations Research Society of India), and Indian Standards Institution, and held presiding offices. He was awarded the best paper medal at the World Productivity Congress, Bombay in 1973 for his paper published in the IIE Journal. Narayan takes keen interest in studying and writing on Indic culture from the sociological angle. He has published many internet articles and a couple of books. He has deep appreciation for classical music.
The author of this book M.K.V. Narayan (75), a postgraduate in management from XLRI, Jamshedpur, is a retired executive of TATA STEEL (Tata Iron and Steel Company Ltd., Jamshedpur). He has held responsible positions in both public and private sector industries in the field of productivity and quality management for over 40 years. He has served as corporate member in leading professional bodies such as IIE (Indian Institution of Industrial Engineering), ORSI (Operations Research Society of India), and Indian Standards Institution, and held presiding offices. He was awarded the best paper medal at the World Productivity Congress, Bombay in 1973 for his paper published in the IIE Journal. Narayan takes keen interest in studying and writing on Indic culture from the sociological angle. He has published many internet articles and a couple of books. He has deep appreciation for classical music.
India’s culture is ancient beyond historical recognition. It is also rich and fascinating as few others with myriad expressions in art and music, poetry and philosophy Underneath all are some unifying threads that hold this complex and colourful quilt in unity. Not surprisingly, Hindu culture has attracted thinkers, traders, scholars and intruders since time immemorial. It has also prompted countless people, both laymen and learned, to reflect on this inexhaustible cultural treasure-chest, resulting in thousands of articles and countless books.
Some of these books are superficial and some profound, some are sympathetic and some unpleasant, some say the same thing in different words and some are original. The book you are about to read is of the last kind. It is original in conception, yet is based on considerable knowledge. Unlike many authors whose enthusiasm for their own culture colours their presentation with an apologetic style, or whose writings are more defensive than explanatory, Mr. Narayan explores the subject with scholarly grounding and keen insight. He has no qualms about writing on what he rightly calls past embarrassments, such as casteism, female foeticide, and gender inequality. In this context, he is enlightened enough to write, “Some of us like to brush aside the western views on India as colonial view and biased. This is not in line with the truth.
With his bi-cultural Hindu background Mr. Narayan writes about Tamil as well as Sanskritic heritage, and reminds us that some elements of Indic culture may be traced to pre-Vedic Deriods. So we read about Venkatesvara and Kartikeya as well as about Indra and Varuna, about Nagavalli as well as Durga. Whether he discusses music or myth, customs or rituals, he handles it all in the framework of symbolism which is by no means apparent to the superficial observer or practitioner. He adopts the American Heritage Medical Dictionary definition which says that a symbol is “the disguised representation in conscious thought of unconscious or repressed contents or events.”
The sheer breadth of the topics covered is amazingly impressive. This is a veritable concept-tour of the Hindu culture. Practically, every significant aspect of it is touched here, with some references to Muslim practices in India as well as to Christian churches.
The careful reader will recognize many headings, but as one reads through each section—whether on trees and snakes or mantras and yantras, on the monkey godhead or the avataras, the status of women or whatever, one will discover deeper meanings, which might never have occurred to the reader before. The interpretation of dasavatara is particularly original.
I have little doubt that besides being an interesting reading, this book will become a landmark in the literature on Indian culture.
“Exploring the Hindu Mind” is a new version of Sri Narayan’s excellent creation ‘Flipside of Hindu Symbolism.’ In rewriting it, he has considerably overhauled it, adding value to it in the process. In the ‘Plipside,’ scientific and sociological significance was examined specifically for the wide and colourful spectrum of symbolisms that the Hindu way of life, its culture and ‘religion’ have been enjoying over the years. He was looking at all these symbolisms from a flipside viewpoint departing from the usual spiritual or religious ones that normally appear in most publications on Hindu ideas. He had stated that not all practices and rituals of Hindus had a Vedic origin. He had still to indicate the Vedic, the pre-Vedic and the non-Vedic associations clearly. He had also to point out that Hinduism, as we find it now, is not Aryan or Dravidian, but a mixture of both, with other lesser mixes in its mosaic. This required serious as well as cosmetic changes here and there in the original ten-chapter book, resulting also in its expansion in size to twelve chapters. He claims in his preface to have been inspired by a better definition of symbolism, which he found in the American Heritage Medical Dictionary that calls it “the disguised representation in conscious thought of unconscious or repressed contents or events.” When conscious thought attempts to crystallize happenings or constructs into symbols, these symbols become powerful and often convey more than the happenings and the constructs, by overcoming the power of time over them.
After retiring as a TISCO executive in Bihar in the north of India, Sri Narayan retreated to the South, and for 15 years he divided his time between intensive literature search and the study of classical music, while absorbing all aspects of the play of Hindu culture around him. This urged him to undertake this soulful exploratory journey through Hinduism. Sri Narayan, begins by tracing the movements of ancient man as he crisscrossed this subcontinent and eventually settled here. In the absence of formal ancient historic records and the paucity of archaeological finds, due to several historic causes, Sri Narayan relies rather heavily on conjectures made by older historians and anthropologists of western schools and finds it hard to appreciate some of the more recent findings, which seem to favour nearly all of the Indian culture before the Christian era to have been totally indigenous in origin. But he is an honest reporter and has to make choices according to what appeals to his beliefs and his intelligence. He and I happen to agree that Dravidian culture preceded Aryan culture in some significant parts of India and that they have functioned together almost throughout the country ever since the advent of the Christian era, take or leave two or three centuries. While I hold that the prakrtic culture was flourishing in the banks of the river Ganges when the proto Dravidian culture flourished in the Sindhu area and that the birth of Sanskrit and modern Dravidian languages took place within the geo-cultural limits of Bharatavara, Sri Narayan would like to give credence to external origins for precursors of both the language groups. This does not, for me, take anything away from the signal contribution of this book, in interpreting the cultural practices that have endured in this country through carefully sifting and focusing on signals from the past.
The chapter on ‘Hindu Marriage Customs’ is an idyll. Readers will get mesmerized by the splash of colour, and aging Indians among them can be excused if they start reminiscing right in the middle of the chapter, getting caught in the eloquent description of just one favourite practice or ritual. The author has been able to confirm his pet thesis in this chapter. He finds a number of marriage customs to have originated from non-vedic practices, and a number of others to have been present in a purer form in a given region before the mixing of customs took place there.
Similarly we find that Sri Narayan has carefully separated his ideas on Hindu worship norms into different subjects, namely temple rituals, icons of deities worshipped, orthodox Brahmanic customs, tribal rites of worship, blending of rituals and the sociological factors etc. The common Indian proclivity to devotional fervour seems to have been preserved from every contributory social and historical factor through the ages. These evidences of differences and integrative compromises are evident in every aspect of community life where benediction is sought from super human forces. But the human creators of cultural traditions and practices and the factors that could have been back of the creation fascinate Narayan more than the divinities that they are interested in. Like the rest of Hindu Indians, Narayan too get sentimental and emotional with some inputs from his roots, but unlike several Indians of his age he continues asking questions without bias and is willing to benefit from the results of fresh enquiries and new developments. This thirst for getting to the most likely rather than the most available truth of whatever he is studying can be perceived throughout Narayan’s book. One has just to look at the lengths he goes to present the history of evolution of mankind in Hindu thought in line with the much later thoughts of Darwin and further insights since. We must note that he is too happy to report updated findings and his honest opinion about them without asking for any judgement from the reader one way or the other. He appropriately concludes his appendix on the Multiple Histories of India with his index finger pointing to the fluid state of what he calls 21st century conjectures.
Sri Narayan’s travelogue through the intricate multiple and colourful alleyways in the Hindu mind-terrain makes very absorbing reading. It is bound to stimulate more thinking and greater objectivity in thinking among future scholars of the ‘Indic’ culture and way of life. It is a great honour for me to have been involved in a few discussions as the work was in progress especially during its present avatara. It is a greater honour to have been invited to write a foreword for this book. I have enjoyed writing this humble piece as much as I have enjoyed accompanying Sri Narayan on his mighty exploration. It is your turn now.
This book, “Exploring the Hindu Mind” is an expanded version of the theme that I had covered in my earlier book published in 2007 with the title “Flipside of Hindu Symbolism.”In the earlier book, I had dealt with Hindu religious thoughts on Cod concepts, mythology, rituals, pujas and festivals, marriage customs, iconography, temple culture, music and summarising remarks from a non-spiritual and non-religious standpoint. Though I had specified therein that many symbolisms of Hindu thoughts were from non-Vedic and pre-Vedic collective consciousness, I had not explained the reasons for it and the historical and pre-historical antecedents that led to the mix up of ideas between Vedic and pre-Vedic sources. Most prevailing books and articles in circulation on Hinduism tend to show that Hinduism as practised today has its moorings only in Vedas and other Sanskrit scriptures. Though this may apply as far as the orthodox Brahmin culture is concerned, the Hinduism of the masses is based on pre-Vedic and non-Vedic ideas with or without a form in Sanskrit language. Hinduism of the vast majority of Indians is based on tradition of Aryan Dravidian-tribal cultures. In this new book, I have made specific changes in orientation to explain the background for this pluralistic nature of Indic culture.
In my preface to the first book I had said, “Symbolism is the association of a complicated idea with a simpler idea or an image.” This gives a general definition for symbolism particularly with respect to language, cipher, code, symbols and stories. Though this definition was good enough to explain mythology, I felt the limitation of this definition in delineating my complete theme, which deals with much wider space of human thoughts pertaining to history and science, rather than just symbols. I found a better definition for symbolism in the American Heritage Medical Dictionary that reads, “The disguised representation in conscious thought of unconscious or repressed contents or events.” In this new book, this changed orientation gave me a wider scope to include much background material and extend my arguments Further from speculation to reasoned projections.
Hinduism has a rich cultural heritage spanning the past four thousand years or more. In this long epoch starting from the Vedic times and its evolution through spiritual and Puranic periods in a multi ethnic and multi linguistic setting, the religion had absorbed many changes and modifications to blossom into modern Hinduism. In the course of this cultural saga it has assembled many scriptures, some highly conceptual like Upaniads and some more corporeal literature of mythological stories and episodes. Many scholars have given Vedan tic and spiritual meanings to the allegorical mythology and rituals. Popular belief in rebirth and its ramifications have given credibility to these spiritual explanations. If we come out of the bonds of spiritual stance for a moment and approach these texts with some unemotional rationality we may get a glimpse of the social evolution of the thought process that have gone into the stories and practices. We may also perceive some brilliant correspondence of some of the themes to modern philosophy of science. I have treated these subjects in this book. In this book, I intend to bring out the symbolisms apparent or hidden in the ideas of Hindu mythology, rituals and cultural practices touching upon some visible parallel thoughts in modern science. Though I have concentrated mainly on Hindu thoughts, it does not mean that I claim superiority of the Hindu culture in relation to any other culture or religion of the world. My pride in Hinduism comes from its resilience and plurality.
My wife Rukmani had inspired me on this line of thinking by her discussions on mythology and support before she passed away in 1989. My late parents had narrated to me many mythological stories and episodes, which I have used here.
Therefore, I would like to dedicate this book to their memory. Dr. Parthasarathy Desikan, a very knowledgeable writer on ancient Tamil literature as well as on Sanskrit scriptures, extended immense help in drafting (or rather crafting) this book in a balanced manner. I accord my high regard and thanks to him. His own worldview on religion differs from mine but still our minds understand each other. I am grateful for his help and for writing a ‘foreword’ for my book.
I acknowledge with gratitude the help extended by Prof. V.V. Raman for reading my manuscript and writing a ‘foreword’ and a short note on this book. Dr. Varadaraja V. Raman, Professor Emeritus at the Rochester Institute of Technology, Rochester, NY is an eminent scientist and scholar in Physics and Humanities. Prof. Raman is highly knowledgeable in Hindu culture and was associated with UNESCO as an educational expert. He has authored many books and articles on Religion and Science, as an elected senior scholar of the Metanexus Institute (Philadelphia), and as an elected member of the International Society for Science and Religion (Cambridge, UK). He is also a regular contributor to Metanexus Institute publications in USA. The Rochester Hindu community has recently awarded Dr. V.V. Raman the title “Acharya Vidyasagar.”
My children were of great moral support to me on this venture. Most of the reference books in my personal library are the gifts from my children. Numbered references are given at the bottom of relevant pages. 1 am grateful to the author of these references for their indirect contribution.
Complexity of human mind can be perceived by the diversity of cultures of the world. Among the many cultures of the world, the Indian culture, particularly the Hindu religion, is the most complex of all. In order to explore the Hindu mind, it is necessary to have a dose look at the complexity and the diversity of Hinduism, its scriptures, its mythology its variety of rituals and festivals, its iconography and its depth and shades of music and dance. Many books and passages have been written on these from the spiritual point of view that are of no avail to us to see through the thought process of the Hindu mind. We have to see the sociological and historical symbolism latent in the Hindu practices. We have to visualise some scientific linkages to the thought processes. We have to keep in mind the pre-history and antecedents of Indian people and their social evolution revealed by the recent archaeological findings, recent genetic studies and study of languages. We may also have some ideas about the mindset of Indians as different from other ethnic groups. This book is such an attempt.
Hinduism is an enigma. Some think it is a religion. Some think it is just a way of life, which includes many religions and cults. Some think it is a conglomeration of many cultures knitted together like a mesh, Some profess that it is all Vedic religion with Sanskrit as its language of expression. On the other hand, there are many Indians who call themselves Hindus, follow cultural practices far removed from the Vedic tenets and Vedic Gods. The vast majority of Hindus do not even know Sanskrit language, nor do they have any special fascination for it. Only a small fraction of (0.01% of) Indians can speak Sanskrit (1991 census showed that hardly 7000 people knew how to speak Sanskrit out of over a billion people of India. Even if we consider those who understand some passages from the Sanskrit texts, it will be less than 2%, with a liberal assumption that half the Brahmin population can understand some Sanskrit passages.) Nevertheless, Sanskrit has influenced almost every language of India even as the religious expression of the majority is confined to their mother tongue, one of about 400 dialects, many different from Sanskrit (officially, recognised major languages are eighteen). The most popular Hindu festival Deepavali is celebrated for very different reasons in different parts of India, some connected to Rama some to Krsna, some to Bali and some to Kali and some to Laksmi or Gang, none of them connected to the Vedic ritual sacrifice. Deepavali is celebrated on different days, some on Caturdasi, some on Amavasya and some on kartik Purnima. Such diversity can be found in other major festivals too.
The dominant groups in India claim identity of the modern language Hindi with Sanskrit whereas popular Hindi and Urdu (both are largely similar except for the script used) both have evolved jointly from Sanskrit and Persian/Arabic tongues. Pakistani elite identify Urdu with Persian/Arabic. Some Hindi speakers try to use Sanskrit vocabulary in elite circles that sounds uncommon. Common folk, however, use local words instead of Sanskrit or Urdu words. There are both believers and non-believers of god in Hinduism. Though some claim that Bhagavat GEM is the most sacred religious text of Hindus, like Bible for Christians, Koran for Muslims and Guru Granth Sahib for Sikhs, many Hindus place their faith on other local ancient texts like Tirukkural or Shaiva Agamas, Va4izava Agamas or sakta Agamas or poetry in different vernaculars or Devi Bhagavatam Many tribal clans have no sacred texts at all. Many Indian languages have no script even. They believe in folklore on their god or goddess. Puranic mythologies contradict each other claiming superiority of different gods to suit their line of preferences.
Their mythological stories have been styled on these differences, claims and counter-claims. Orthodox pundits have favourably classified the eighteen maha-puranas as Satvic (noble), Rajasic (royal) and Tamasic (Ignoble) puranas. Hinduism remains an enigma even as the official identity of Hinduism is leaning towards the Vedic line as propagated by the elites.
The first historians who fried to cobble up a history for India were the colonial British who collected information from the elite priestly class based on Sanskrit texts. Even Indian historians of repute confine their descriptions centred on elite literature and the edicts and scrolls of kings and lords who were influenced by the pride attached with the knowledge of Sanskrit way of thinking of those times. As in the past, Sanskrit was the court language of the royals, the language gained importance. With the abolition of princely states after independence, support for Sanskrit has diminished. However, the bias has stayed on only in the elite circles and political utterings. If we take an opinion poll as to how many people prefer to listen to the Sanskrit News of All India Radio, we are sure to get a shock of its non-existence. With the coming of the Internet, propagation of Sanskrit-based urban Hinduism has gained wide publicity and the religions of rural people have been obscured. The ancient traditions of the villages dispersed all over India have been mostly overshadowed. The elite and the rich who presently come mostly from the erstwhile higher castes who could easily switch from Sanskrit education to English as opportunities opened up, dominate internet access. A recent estimate shows that 70% of Indians earn less than twenty rupees per day, while India claims to have a high share of billionaires and millionaires in the world. This majority of Indians can hardly afford English education. Since the beliefs of the Indian masses have not been documented for want of education they remain as ‘oral traditions passed on from generation to generation and escape articu1ar attention. We will see shortly how this diversity in Hinduism has come about.
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