Hindu Religious Texts
The ' Vedas '
The Vedas are the primary scriptures of Sanatana dharma. They are the basis of ethics and morality and govern the principles of this universe. Those who follow the directives of the Vedas are governed by transcendental values and not social values; which is why the Vedas have stood the test of time. There are four vedas - the Rig Veda, the Yajur Veda, the Sama Veda, and the Atharva Veda. Each Veda is considered a separate branch of knowledge and together, the four present a 'comprehensive science'.the word Veda is a derivation of the word 'Vid' which means Knowledge. Both transcendental knowledge and material knowledge is found in the Vedas.
The vedas can be broadly classified into "Shruti" and "Smriti". "Shruti" is that class of vedas which is not written and has been passed on by way of mouth. "Smriti" is the other class, which consists of documented texts. Of the documented texts, the most important are the "Itihasas" or Epics, and the "Bhagavad Gita".
The two founding pillars of Hinduism are the two itihasas, "Mahabharata" and "Ramayana", which are also known as the "Mahakavyas" or "Great Poems". The Mahabharata contains the "Bhagavad Gita". Bhagavad Gita'
The' Bhagavad Gita' is the Holy Bible of the Hindus. 'Bhagavad Gita' means 'Divine Song'. The Gita addresses the problem of Karma right at the outset. Lord Krishna seeing Arjuna's dilemma and sorrow at the prospect of killing his kith and kin, tells him,``Arjuna, you grieve over those who should not be grieved for and yet speak like the learned; wise men do not grieve over the dead or the living.'' Krishna is clearly referring to the process of transmigration and implies that what comes into existence and vanishes is impermanent, whereas the soul is permanent and never ceases to exist. Wise men are free from the existential bane that all of us experience and are therefore free from any state of existence. Karma is the bane of our existence and getting rid of karma is the answer to the illusion of our existence.
Usually, some emotional crisis is essential to force man to come to grips with his life and drive him towards understanding the meaning of life. Such an emotional crisis is dramatised with telling effect in the first chapter of the Gita. The profound spritual knowledge which can liberate man eternally from samsarik bondage is imparted in the Gita.
The Gita vividly portrays the brave warrior prince Arjuna undergoing an intense emotional dilemma in the battlefield. Lord Krishna, his charioteer, becomes his Guru (Teacher), and thereby, the 'Jagadguru' (World Teacher).
The Puranas and Itihasas
The goal of the Vedas is to help man realise his spiritual nature and in order to make their comprehension easy to the masses, the sages of ancient India presented them in the form of 'Puranas' and 'Itihasas' (Epics). The 'Mahabharata' is an Itihasa that captures all the teachings of the Vedas in the brilliant form of a story. At the heart of Mahabharata lies India's greatest treasure - the Bhagavad Gita. The other great Itihasa of India is the "Ramayana', which serves the same purpose. The hero of the Mahabharata is Krishna, and that of the Ramayana is Rama (Most of you must be familiar with the popular Hindu incantation - Hare Rama Hare Krishna).
A Shastra is an authority on a subject. There are several shastras in the Hindu religion and each shastra when followed is expected to aid us in understanding the subject on which it has been written.
The Bhagavad Gita is the crux of the Vedas. It is a 'Moksha shastra', which means that it is an authority on 'Moksha'. Moksha is the state of eternal freedom from which there is no return to Samsara.
Sanatana dharma establishes certain values (dharmas), which are not only important for the well-being of the individual but also society as a whole. The religion establishes four 'Purusharthas' or goals of human life - Dharma (righteousness), Artha (wealth), Kama (sensual pleasures) and Moksha (liberation from Samsara). At the same time, it establishes the basis for the pursuit of all these Purusharthas as dharma.
Dharma is a universal principle, the goal of which is to enable everything in the universe to function according to the Law of Nature. Because Insentient things do not swerve from their nature but man has the unique opportunity to exercise his will against Nature, the Vedas established Dharma. It entails certain duties upon man and commands him to discharge them to the best of his ability. Which is why it allows the pursuit of Artha and Kama, but within the boundaries of Dharma. Basically, man is allowed the pursuit of wealth and sensual pleasures as long as they are morally right.
The Ramayana is a dharma shastra or authority on dharma for the welfare of mankind.
The Ramayana, through the characteristics possessed by its hero, Rama, depicts Him as the repository of all righteous values. He is a personification of the Divine law of nature and is a paragon of virtue, whom men can follow in order to follow Dharma. Sage Valmiki, who is the author of the Ramayana, describes Lord Rama as the only human who possessed the 16 great virtues of a Mahapurusha (An enlightened man). Just as the Bhagavad Gita is referred to as "Moksha Shastra", the Ramayana can be called "Dharma Shastra", a treatise on Dharmic way of living.
The Almighty and the Divine Mother descended to this earth in human forms and underwent extreme human sufferings to illustrate to mankind the need to uphold Dharma in the face of all calamities. Since we are their children, the Almighty and the Divine Mother incarnated as Rama and Sita to save us from sin.
A very brief sysnopsis of the Ramayana can be presented beginning with the birth of Prince Rama and His three brothers, Lakshmana, Bharata, and Shatrughna to the three Queens of King Dasharatha in Ayodhya (in the modern day state of Uttar Pradesh in North India). Rama, the eldest of them, was born to Kausalya. Lakshmana and Shatrughna were born to Sumitra, while Bharata was born to Kaikeyi. Rama grew up to become the kingdom's beloved and charismatic Prince. His charm, grace, humility and affability made Him everyone's darling. He won the hand of Princess Sita, daughter of King Janaka, one of the most respected Kings in those times. Princess Janaki (Sita) was unmatched in beauty in the whole universe. Princes from every nook and corner of India vied with each other to win her hand. In a test of supreme strength conducted by King Janaka to choose the most suitable bridegroom for his daughter, Rama won while everybody else lost. After Rama and Sita got married came the turning point in their lives. Having grown old, Dasharatha decided it was time for Rama to succeed him as the new King of Ayodhya. Just when the people had voted to elect Rama as their future King and His coronation procedures were underway, came a big blow. One of King Dasharata's three wives, Kaikeyi, mother of Prince Bharata demanded that her son be made the King and that Rama be banished to the forest for 14 years of exile. Kaikeyi had once saved King Dasharatha on a battlefield shortly after their marriage. As a measure of his gratitude, Dasharatha had granted her the right to demand any two boons from him. (In ancient India, there was a practice of granting boons. A boon granted entitled the receiver of the boon to demand anything from the granter of the boon. Boons were granted by word of mouth. In ancient India, spoken words were as strong as written words. Unlike in these days, something uttered orally was never retracted. Such were the morals of those times.) When Dasharatha had granted her two boons, Kaikeyi had decided to seek them later in her life. Kaikeyi now decided to seek those two boons - One, that Bharata be made the new King and Two, that Rama be banished to the forest. Bharata, who was on an official tour away from the kingdom along with Shatrughna, was unaware of these developments. Bharata was noble and pure-hearted and would never have allowed his mother to carry out her evil schemes if he had been present at the time. Dasharatha was shocked by the demand, but realized that he was bound by the promise he had given to Kaikeyi. Rama, being the epitome of Dharma would not disobey the words of His father, even if they were extorted by someone else through evil ways. Promptly discarding all royal attachments, Rama left for the forest. Seeing Rama leave for the forest, Sita automatically left with Him. Lakshmana, being extremely attached to Rama, decided to leave with Him too. As a distraught and helpless father, Dasharatha watched his most beloved son leave for the forest and died, unable to bear the shock.
Rama, Janaki and Lakshmana spent 10 peaceful years of ascetic life in the forest. However, their peace was shortlived, for evil Rakshasas (demonaic people) ruined their peace. Witnessing Janaki's matchless beauty, they reported the news to their King, who ruled Lanka.
Ravana, the King of Lanka (present-day Sri Lanka), was a powerful but immoral emperor. When he learnt about Sita from his minions, his lust was kindled. He had abducted several married women in his life and so, the immoral Ravana decided to abduct Sita from Rama's hut in the forest. Entering the hut stealthily in Rama and Lakshmana's absence, Ravana forcefully abducted Sita. Although forcefully abducted, Sita's power of chastity deterred Ravana from causing her any harm. Carrying her away by force to Lanka, Ravana imprisoned Sita in the false hope that she would succumb to him one day. Throughout her confinement in Lanka, Sita hardly ate anything and merely meditated on her husband, beseeching him through prayers to rescue her from the evil Ravana. Ravana made several attempts with his wealth, power and threats to force Sita to marry him, but all in vain. Foolish and blinded as he was by lust, Ravana failed to realize that Sita was in fact the Divine Mother herself. To this day, pious Hindu women worship Sita as the symbol of chastity and follow her ideals of love and devotion to their husbands.
Rama was distraught on learning about Sita's abduction. With His brother's support He managed to regain his composure and went in search of Sita. In the process, Rama and Lakshmana met a forest tribe and made friends with them. Gathering a few hundreds of the tribals, Rama entered Lanka for war with Ravana. Rama led his small and primitive tribal army against Ravana's mighty Lankan army. A terrible war ensued and in spite of the superiority of Ravana's military, Rama single-handedly vanquished the enemy, killed Ravana and brought Sita out of confinement. Both the Almighty and His consort were reunited in their human incarnations to the joy of all His devoteed. Returning to Ayodhya with His wife and brother, Rama went on to rule the kingdom for the rest of His life.
Key to the reunion of God and the Divine Mother in the Ramayana was a humble and yet highly intelligent person called "Hanuman". Hanuman was one of the leaders of the forest tribe that Rama and Lakshmana befriended. It was Hanuman's valiant efforts that helped Rama win the war against Ravana. To this day, Hanuman is worshipped by pious Hindus as a paragon of devotion to the Almighty.
King Rama and Queen Sita were both divine incarnations. Lord Rama was an incarnation of the Compassionate Narayana and Mother Sita was the Divine Mother Herself in human form. Both the Lord and the Mother came to this earth and endured human sufferings for the sake of their children - us. Such is the boundless compassion of the Almighty for mankind that He decided to descend to this earth in human form. When questioned on His true identity, Rama merely replied, "Who Am I? As far as I know, I am the son of King Dasharatha and that is all I know about my existence". The Lord and the Mother underwent all the miseries of human life, its sorrows and angsts merely to demonstrate to us lesser beings the need to uphold Dharma in the face of calamities. Where can one find such compassion and love for mankind? There is no parallel to Lord Rama and Mother Janaki, who are my guiding light. Both are my eternal parents who have been constantly leading me through the dark chambers of life. I cannot imagine spending a day without thinking of both of them, just as they are thinking of me all the time. For, don't parents worry about their children constantly? This child longs to see them both with my eyes one day, feed them with my hands, wash their feet, and rest my head on their laps. When will that day come? Or will it ever come for this sinner who thinks about money and worldly matters more than my eternal parents? I pray to them to give me the wisdom and courage to attain them in this very birth through my own efforts.
The Mahabharata is about a catastrophic war fought by brother against brother, student against teacher, friend against friend, and grandhildren against grandparents. At the center of the epic is the Absolute Truth, Lord Krishna. The war took place between the Kauravas and the Pandavas. The seeds of the war were sown long before the war itself, due to the inherent hatred in the Kauravas, who were the sons of King Dhritirashtra, for the Pandavas, who were their cousins. Krishna, the King of Dwaraka, shared a special relationship with the Pandavas as their mentor and best friend. Among the Pandavas, dearest to Krishna was his own brother-in-law, Arjuna. Duryodhana and his evil brothers, with the covert support of their blind father Dhritirashtra, deluded the Pandavas into playing a game of dice with them. Winning the game by crook, the Kauravas then claimed as their wager, the entire wealth and kingdom of the Pandavas, and drove them into the forest for 14 years of exile.
When the Pandavas returned after their exile to rightfully claim their kingdom, the Kauravas refuse to part with an inch of land. Enraged, the Pandavas decided to fight for their kingdom. Meanwhile, Krishna approached the Kauravas as a peacemaker and tried to mediate, but in vain. Finally, when war seemed inevitable, the Kauravas and the Pandavas decided to settle scores on the battlefield of Kurukshetra. The most interesting part of the war is that Lord Krishna lent his impressive military to the Kauravas but He guided the Pandavas on the battlefield. The Lord gave the two enemy camps two choices - they could have His army or they could merely have His guidance. The Kauravas opted for His army, believing in the strength of human forces. The Pandavas, being aware of Krishna's true identity, opted for His guidance, believing in the strength of the Almighty. Consequently, the Lord acted as Arjuna's charioteer during the war.
On the first day of the battle, Arjuna seeing his own brothers, forefathers, nephews and teachers on the other side of the battlefield, became despondent. He lost heart at the prospect of killing his own kith and kin and throwing away all his weaponry, refused to fight. Krishna, seeing his devotee's despondency gave him and all mankind the everlasting sermon of all ages - the Bhagavad Gita. Admonishing Arjuna for his delusion and condemning his dilemma as impotency, Krishna instructed Arjuna to pick up his weaponry and fight the war.
The bloody war ended in victory for the Pandavas, and left thousands of people dead on the battlefield. The effect that the 18-day war has on the minds of the reader of the epic cannot be described in words. Such a dramatic work has no parallel in the history of human literature. Sage Vyasa, who authored the Mahabharatha, the Bhagavad Gita and the Bhagavadam, is indeed Bhagawan Shri Krishna, the Absolute Truth.