JAIPUR: Not many people know but Narhar Dargah, also known as Sharif Hazrat Hajib Shakarbar Dargah has been celebrating Janmashtami for the past 300-400 years.
“Its very hard to say the exact time and reason from when this festival is celebrated in the dargah but this marks an important event for national and communal unity. Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs stay together and organiZe the event.” says dargah secretary Usman Ali Pathan.
“Thousands of Hindus come here and offer coconuts and flowers to the shrine and stay together. The idea behind organiZing this festival is to increase the love and unity among different religions in the country,” added Pathan. Devotees visiting the Dargah are surprised by such an event and the way it is smoothly organised and run from almost 400 years.
JAUNPUR: A Muslim youth in Uttar Pradesh has now translated Hindu prayer Hanuman Chalisa into Urdu after noted Urdu poet Anwar Jalalpuri came out with his rendition of Shrimad Bhagwad Gita.
“I have translated Hanuman Chalisa in ‘musaddas’ style which comprises six lines. Like a ‘chuapai’ has four lines, ‘musaddas’ has three ‘shers’ and six lines,” Abid Alvi, who carried out the translation, said.
The youth, who hails from Jaunpur, said he was planning more such works, including translation of Shiv Chalisa prayer, as he felt that it will help people from the two communities to understand each other’s culture and beliefs.
ACCRA: Ghana’s population of 23 million includes 12,500 Hindus, of which 10,000, like their Swami Ghanananda Saraswati, are indigenous Africans. The African Hindu Monastery (AHM) is now Ghana’s largest centre of Hindu worship.
The AHM’s non-exclusionist attitude is apparent from the picture of Jesus alongside the Hindu gods on the main mantelpiece, as well as images of spiritual leaders from other religions. The monastery’s members also believe that the Supreme God is known by other names, such as Yahweh and Allah.
There is even one Muslim among the devotees. Jamer Baroudy says he was born into the Islamic faith but his mother introduced him to Hinduism when he was eight years old. Mr Baroudy says: “I am aware that Islam prohibits idol worshipping but then God doesn’t make any distinction. I visit this temple because I find solace here.”
The AHM is not just accommodating of multiple religious traditions but also open to people of all races, classes and communities. Indian worshippers are not only members of the dominant Sindhi community, but also recent immigrants: managers and contract labour alike. But most worshippers are Africans, again from different professions and backgrounds. When I asked a disciple about the group’s opinion of the caste system, he pointed out that there is no society in the world that does not break its people up into the privileged and the unprivileged, be it through profession, ancestry or race. Ghanaian Hindus like him, however, are clear that people have an equal right to education, the means to a good life and most importantly, religion.
MUMBAI: Unlike usual Ganpati processions, this Ganpati procession in Mumbai maintained silence until the Friday afternoon Namaaz concluded, while the Muslims reading Namaaz made way for the procession to pass conveniently.
MUMBAI: Maryam Asif Siddiqui might have been a regular 6th Grade student but she’s not. The 12 year old from Cosmopolitan High School, Mira Road, Mumbai, recently won the Gita Champions League hosted by the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON).
When asked what motivated her to participate in the competition she said, “I have always been inquisitive about religions and I often read up on them during my free time. So when my teacher told me about this contest I thought it would be a good chance to understand what the book is about. My parents too supported my idea of participating in the contest” Her curiosity was driven by the fact that she: “tried to understand what the Gita tries to tell us. The more I read about different religions, the more I have realized that humanity is the most important religion that we must follow”.
It’s no wonder that Maryam’s different thinking originates from her family and her father. “Our family believes that one needs to respect and accept all religions. No religion preaches hatred or wrong. However, there are some members who have misguided us. Before these have a bad influence on the children, we need to talk to them and make them understand what is right,” said her father, Asif Siddiqui.
Two scriptures are placed before me. Both scriptures are believed to be the words of God. Over two billion people, representing a third of the humanity, swear by one or the other. Says God, I am the originator of heaven and earth… I alone have the power to create and to destroy. I open the other scripture and find these words of God: I am the creator of the whole world, and I have the power to destroy it.
To those who believe in the Quran or the Bhagavad Gita, or those (few) who believe in both, the striking similarity in the sayings of the two scriptures should cause no surprise. Both scriptures tell us that God’s message has come to the people from time to time all through the history of mankind (Quran, 40:79; Gita 4:1-3). A thread has been preordained to run through all the scriptures which came into being from time to time but no two scriptures are as close to each other in the letter and spirit as the Bhagvad Gita and the Quran.
On 9 December 2008 Hindus and Muslims shared Gita Jayanti and Id-ul-Azha. The two festivals appeared together to emphasise the fact that the ultimate goal of mankind is to get rid of all greed and affection.
The Quran says: Va Amelu-Ssalehate while and the Gita mentions: Karma-Nye-Vadhikaraste. Sacrifice is the only way to unification with god. Why these two festivals came together, perhaps, the Almighty is sending a message of mutual love and respect.
When Hazarat Ibrahim decided to sacrifice his beloved son for Allah, there was a great design behind it by the Almighty. Ibrahim was infatuated with his son and this infatuation was the only obstacle towards unification with god. When he decided to sacrifice his son and got rid of his ‘moh’, after long conflict with himself (Jehad) he found that the son had been replaced. The story conveys a simple meaning of getting rid of all your desires and affections so that you can carry on your duties towards God. This is the ultimate message.
The same message is conveyed by Gita, when Arjun refused to fight his own relatives due to affection, Lord gave him the ultimate tool of Karma-Nye-Vadhikaraste Ma Faleshu Kadachan. Thus, Arjun got rid of his inhibitions and ‘moh’ and went to war.
Both festivals convey the same message. It is high time that we understand the message and build the bridge of mutual prosperity and co-existence. Peace lies in mutual respect and happiness lies in sacrificing self-interest.
both women and men are manifestations of the Supreme Being – Atharva Veda Samhita 8:9:11
The Bhagavad Gita mentions that every living being has a soul (atman). A true seeker sees all souls with equal vision and without judgement. Gita 5:18 sums this up: “The enlightened and wise regard with equal mind a priest endowed with learning and humility, an outcast, a cow, an elephant, and even a dog.” For one to assume they’re better than someone else based on their physical encasing (the body) is contradictory to viewing all beings as atma, which clearly has no gender. The eternal soul carries on to the afterlife – not the physical body. This idea is again reinforced where it’s stated that any devotee regardless of gender or status in society can reach God’s abode so long as they have sincere devotion and obey Vedic laws (Gita 8:13, 8:22, 9:3, 10:10).
Today women all over the world are mistreated, abused, denied education, and forced into submission. Unfortunately there are misinformed people (both pro- and anti-women) who believe that organized religion supports misogyny. The reality is that religions such as Hinduism preach respect for women. In order to combat men who use religion to justify their superiority complex and backward attitudes, scriptural law needs to be looked at more closely.
Education and property rights
Hinduism encourages study and the pursuit of knowledge – the Gita refers to this as jnana yoga. In the Vedic Age women were encouraged to be well versed in scriptures and fully educated. Atharva Veda 11:5:18 proclaims that daughters should be scholars. Mahanirvana Tantra 8:47 commands parents to raise their daughters with affection and to ensure they receive an education.
Both scriptural and archaeological evidence exist that girls and women were educated in Vedic schools with the same learning privileges given to boys and men. Likewise women were granted property rights with Rig Veda 3:31:1 affirming that privileges are equal between son and daughter when inheriting land from their parents.
Marriage is considered more than a symbolic union between two people – it’s an enjoining of two souls. A common critique of gender relations in Hindu texts are verses where wives are told to treat their husbands like God. But this is only half of what’s written. If one reads the sastras in their entirety they’ll discover that the husband is also commanded to treat his wife as Goddess! Vishnu Purana states “Where Vishnu is knowledge, Lakshmi is intelligence.” In Hindu doctrine the most High cannot exist without both female and male aspects in equal balance. And in the human realm, for a man to destroy, diminish, or subjugate woman is considered blasphemous. Among Vaishnava sects chanting or singing the names of the Vishnu’s forms must be done with the woman’s name first: Sita-Ram, Radha-Krishna, etc.
There is also an incorrect belief that a Hindu man has full power to pick and choose his wife while a Hindu woman has no say. Simply reading Hindu texts disproves this. In the Ramayana, princes from all over South Asia had to travel to a small kingdom to compete for the hand of princess Sita. In the Mahabharata a similar competition among men took place to win the heart of Draupadi. Rather than the man having full authority in deciding his marriage, he had to prove his worthiness to his potential spouse. The Mahabharata also contains multiple stories of women choosing their husband, even sometimes upsetting their fathers and other male relatives.
Marriages where women are forced to marry against their will are referred to as asuric (asuras are demons in hell). Hinduism has no law on dowry and women who are married off in exchange for wealth are also categorized as asuric marriages. Marriages formed through kidnapping or use of force is classified as rakshasha (rakshashas are those who oppose Vedic culture). Scriptures state in plain language that a dharmic marriage is one based on mutual respect sanctioned by the heavens (gandharva). A union based on subjugation, greed, or force is endorsed by beings with demonic qualities.
A controversial episode takes place in the Ramayana where King Rama banishes his pregnant wife Sita after his subjects accuse Sita of cheating on Rama. Both misogynists and women’s rights activists regularly cite this story to link Hinduism with sexism. But during Sita’s exile Rama refused to remarry saying “I have abandoned the woman you do not want as your queen, but I will forever remain faithful to the woman who is my wife.” Tragically, the story closes with Sita ending her life and Rama being filled with intense grief. The lesson taught here is not that husbands are allowed to mistreat their wives but rather they should give them the utmost respect regardless of opinions of others. Had Rama supported spousal abuse or the idea of women being inferior he wouldn’t have felt any guilt, loneliness, or anguish upon Sita’s death. In fact, Rama is described as crying uncontrollably after her passing and grieving into old age.
Another controversial subject is that of widowhood and the act of sati (forcing a wife to walk into the cremation fire of her deceased husband). Like other religions Hinduism considers suicide a sin. Sati is not described or supported in any text and is a relatively new and unethical practice. Just the opposite, Rig Veda 10:18:8-9 tells women to rise up if their husband is deceased and to charge on with their lives.
Those who attempt to link sati to Hinduism usually reference two stories. One account is of a woman named Sati who killed herself because her father didn’t support her marriage to Shiva. Sati was not a widow as Shiva was alive when she took her life. Thinking that this is about a woman being forced to burn because of a dead spouse is inaccurate. The second story mentioned earlier was where Sita asks the Earth to swallow her up because Rama rejected her. Rama was not deceased and Sita had two children – how this is connected to a widow dying for her departed husband doesn’t make quite make sense. In addition the Ramayana tells of Rama’s father who died yet his mother carried on. Later in the Ramayana, a king by name of Vali is killed and his grieving wife Tara declares that she prefers death over widowhood. Rama and Hanuman convince Tara not to commit suicide. Likewise in the Mahabharata, Krishna intervenes to prevent Uttara, the grieving wife of deceased soldier Abhimanyu, not take her own life. In addition Kunti the widowed mother of the Pandavas, stayed alive after her husband’s death and played an active matriarchal role in advising her sons. Rig Veda 10:40:8 asks for widows and worshipers to be protected daily which contradicts the belief that Hinduism calls for widows to be shunned and mistreated.
Lastly, another narrative from the Mahabharata is the story of Savitri, a woman who chose her own husband only to have him die shortly after because of a curse placed on him. Because of Savitri’s wisdom and deep philosophical knowledge she was able to debate and convince Yama, the lord of Death to bring her husband back to life. The legend of Savitri is complete reversal of the traditional knight in shining armor rescuing the damsel in distress. Rather it’s about a woman well versed in dharma saving her husband’s soul from the clutches of death and outsmarting the power of a curse.
Violence against women
The highest ideal and duty preached in Hinduism is ahimsa or non-violence towards all beings. This doesn’t mean blind pacifism in the face of danger. It simply means that violence should only be used as a last resort (ie. in self defense against another violent attacker). This concept is repeated in the Bhagavad Gita, the Yoga Sutras, the Upanisads, and numerous other texts. Anyone claiming that Hindu sastras support violence towards women is challenging the divine laws on ahimsa.
Part 2: Hindu women as priests, yoginis, saints, and warriors
WASHINGTON DC: Men and women from the Muslim and Vaishnava faiths met in Washtington D.C. for the state’s first Vaishnava-Muslim interfaith dialogue. The topic chosen for the dialogue was ‘The Name of God.’ “Reverence for God’s name is an important aspect of both traditions, and we thought it was something around which we could share commonalities, understand differences, and learn from each other,” one attendee said.
One Muslim spoke about how Muslims emphasize remembrance of God, and chant what they call the 99 Beautiful Names of God. These are divided into two broad categories: one comprises God’s majestic aspects and includes names meaning The Creator, The Provider, The Source of All, and The King. The other addresses God’s beauty, and includes names meaning The Generous One, The Loving One, and The Patient One. Some of the Vaishnavas in the group commented on how the two categories of God’s names in the Islamic tradition corresponded to their tradition’s glorification of both God’s Aishvarya nature, or opulence, and his Madhurya nature, or beauty and sweetness.
A Hindu speaker also presented The Name of God from the Vaishnava perspective. He related that while Vaishnavas have many different names for God—the Bhagavad-gita contains more than forty, and the Vishnu Sahashranama lists no less than one thousand—they hold the name “Krishna” especially dear. Still, they have great respect for all names of God.
Both Hinduism and Islam command (not suggest) its followers to help the less fortunate and regularly donate a percentage of their income. Poverty would be non-existent or significantly lessened if everyone followed this commandment.
Verses from holy scriptures of both traditions describe the importance of dana (sanskrit for giving) and zakat (arabic for alms giving).
Relieving the ravaging hunger of the poor is the most secure use of one’s wealth
– Tirukural 226
They ask you about giving then say, “The charity you give shall go to the parents, the relatives, the orphans, the poor, and the traveling alien.” Any good you do, God is fully aware thereof
– Quran 2:215
Charity given out of duty, without expectation of return, at the proper time and place, and to a worthy person is considered to be in the mode of goodness
– Bhagavad Gita 17:20
Who gives to charity during the good times, as well as the bad times are suppressors of anger, and pardoners of the people. God loves the charitable
– Quran 3:134
Often a point of contention in religious debates, the idea of God manifesting in various forms is greatly misunderstood. There are some who believe that Hindus worship “330 million different gods” with Hindu verses taken out of context and misconstrued. It needs to be emphasized that the main point of this piece is not whether religions are polytheistic (belief in more than one god) or monotheistic (belief in one god). This is irrelevant – the objective is to show that multiple forms of the Creator are written about in the sacred texts of ALL major religions, not just in Hinduism. The essence is the same. The conflict is merely an issue of language/semantics. Before detailing what exactly Hinduism says on this subject it’s important to first examine the three religions which are usually labeled monotheistic.
What Abrahamic faiths say
Genesis 1:26 of the Torah narrates “”Let us make man in our image, in our likeness.” The words “us” and “our” imply that more than one creator constructed humanity. In Genesis, one Supreme Force assigns the task of creating Adam to
a team of divine servants. The Old Testament calls this team “angels”; Hindu scriptures use the Sanskrit term devas (demigods) instead to describe those who serve Brahman. The Hebrew word El-ohim which is used numerous times in the Torah can be translated to mean one single God or multiple entities. At the end of every angel’s name is “el” (Gabri-el, Rapha-el, Immanu-el, etc.), each representing a different aspect or characteristic of the larger Creator El.
Catholicism references not one but three divinities – God the Father, Jesus his son, and the Holy Spirit. Catholics are also known to pray to various saints who handle specific issues. Protestant faiths revolve around the worship of two distinct beings, God the Father and his son Jesus. The New Testament 23:33 even contains a conversation where Jesus says “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” In monotheism would this be considered a monologue or a dialogue?
Islam continues in the lineage of the Hebrew prophet Abraham. Just as in the Torah, the Quran also uses the plural “we”: “And We did certainly create the heavens and earth ” (50:38) and “O people, we created you from the same male and female.” (49:13)
What Hinduism says
It’s clear that there’s an inconsistency when defining religions as polytheistic or monotheistic. When a person worships Ganesh the son and his Father Shiva they’re said to believe in more than one God. The same thing isn’t said about someone who worships Jesus the son and his Father Jehovah. The Catholic Trinity is considered monotheist, but the Hindu Trimurti of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva is not. When the Vedas say that Brahman manifested as various entities then the conclusion is that Hindus believe in many gods. But when the book of Genesis and Surat Qaf describe a legion of creators that designed Man this is somehow not the same thing.
And what do religions say about how their sacred texts were delivered to prophets? Exodus 3:3 states “The angel of the Lord appeared to him as flames in the fire from a bush.” Here, commentators refer to this fire as “the presence of God.” But when this story is presented to the public, Moses is instead talking directly with God, not an angel as the scriptures specify. Muslims also believe that the angel Gabriel revealed the Quran to the Prophet Muhammad. Yet the Quran is referred to as “the word of God.” Even though God did not directly transmit the Quran to Muhammad, it’s accepted that Gabriel is a representation of God delivering the word.
Yet critics of Hinduism will not allow this same logic to be applied to its scriptures. The Mahabharata was penned by sage Vyasa and dictated by Ganesh, yet it’s not considered a divine text because it wasn’t revealed by directly by Bhagavan. The BhagavadGita was sung by Krishna, but since he’s an avatar (manifestation) of Vishnu in the form of an Earthly being, it’s not considered the word of God. And even though it was not heavenly beings but men who penned the New Testament the same way the Vedas where were revealed to rishis, the Vedas cannot be considered divinely inspired.
The common argument is Biblical and Quranic verses do not promote polytheism, but that God merely materialized as separate representations at the same time. This is exactly what Hindu scriptures having been saying all along – that the Creator can manifest, act, and reveal on this plane in an infinite number of ways.
First let’s address the misconception that Hindus worship “330 million gods” (or some similar outlandish number) by looking directly into their scriptures. Rig Veda 1:164:46 says “the One Being is called by many names.” This point is elaborated in the Upanisads, a sub-text which is presented as conversations between a teacher and his pupils. Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 1:9:1 contains one such dialogue:
Student: How many gods are there?
Guru: Three hundred and three and three thousand and three.
Student: How many gods are there?
Guru: Thirty three.
Student: How many gods are there?
This dialogue goes on until finally the Guru reaches the answer One. He continues by saying that there is one Being who pervades the entire universe and manifests in infinite forms. There is no Hindu text that lists a million names, let alone thirty three million. In a daily Vedic ceremony priests/brahmins are required to chant the many titles of God. If priests had to speak such high a number in one ritual they’d probably be chanting their whole lives without a break. And imagine the overwhelming task if each Hindu had to individually worship 330 million gods every time they prayed or visited a temple!
The Katha Upanishad expands on the idea of infinite manifestations: There is one Ruler, the Spirit that is in all things, who transforms his own form into many.
Indian saint Namdev of the Sikh tradition also wrote in agreement with Hinduism: He is the One in many, countless are His shapes and forms. He pervades all that exists; wherever I look, He is there.
The Bhagavad Gita also details the idea of devas and One Supreme Deity. Avatar narrator Krishna explains that devotees
have permission to devote their heart to the form of God they desire: I am in everyone’s heart. As soon as one desires to worship a deva, I make their faith steady so that he/she can devote himself to that particular deity. Endowed with such a faith, they execute worship of a particular deity and obtains their desires. But in reality these benefits are given by Me. (7:21-23)
This verse also gives a glimpse as to why there are no Hindu missionaries around the world working to convert people. The Gita states that whichever form of the Creator a person is attracted to whether it be Brahman, Allah, Raba, Yahweh, or anything else, they are encouraged to worship that form so long as the devotion is sincere and they obey God’s basic tenets. The viewpoint that the Supreme has created the Earth to be a battleground for religious fighting or competition is rejected.
Gita 17:23 says that the chanting of priests in Vedic ceremonies performed specifically for God’s agents are directly pleasing to Brahman: From the beginning of creation, the three words OM TAT SAT were used to symbolize God. These three representations were used by brahmins chanting Vedic hymns for the satisfaction of the Supreme.
In Chapter 11 of the Gita, Krishna reveals his infinite forms to Arjun, showing that the Divine is able to manifest in an infinite number of ways, both beautiful and terrible. Arjun is so terrified of the sight that he asks Krishna to revert back to the comforting single, personal form understood by him. This is something mirrored by religious devotees, as most people attach themselves to the religion that makes them feel comfortable in their form of worship.
In all religions various attributes and qualities are assigned to the Creator. But the reality is most people choose to worship a form of the Creator they feel mirrors their personal viewpoints. Some view God as vengeful and angry, while others see a loving and merciful God. Some see God as encompassing of all these qualities, while others say God is incapable of having attributes since attributes are human-like. We see these differences in the various sects of religions, some causing rifts within communities that supposedly worship the same Supreme Being. Likewise in Hinduism, Hindus are attracted to the form of deity which is pleasing to their outlook on religion. Which form of God or deva appeals to a Hindu devotee’s heart and mind is the one they will choose to worship. Instead of being hung up on terms like “polytheism” or “monotheism” Hindus instead must focus on steadying their devotion, purifying their heart, and focusing their intellect on loving worship of the Infinite.
Brahman exists everywhere. Prophets and Incarnations are born to show benighted humanity their way. They give different instructions to suit different temperaments. There are many ways to realize truth. So all these instructions have their relative value. For instance, many birds are perched on the branches of a tree. They are of different colors: white, black, red, yellow, and so on. Their sounds, too, are different. But when they sing we say that the sounds are made by the birds. We do not designate one particular sound only as the sound of the birds, and refuse to acknowledge the other sounds as such. – Mother Sarada Devi
Towards the end of the year marks Gita Jayanti, the day that the Bhagavad Gita (the Divine Song) was recited from avatar Krishna to His adored devotee Arjun.
A subtext of one of the longest written epics in the world the Mahabharata, the Gita is held in high esteem by most Hindus. Around 700 poetic verses in 18 chapters it describes the purpose of life and outlines the goals one should strive for to attain the Absolute. To many Hindu practitioners it holds the highest philosophy that can be executed in everyday living.
On the battlefield of Kurukshetra, the great warrior Arjun is faced with the dilemma of having to kill his relatives, elders, and gurus in the opposing army who have sided with his adharmic, unrighteous cousin. Facing intense depression he tells his charioteer Krishna that he’s unable to bear the sin of killing his own flesh and blood. In frustration he throws down his weapons and refuses to fight. Krishna expresses his concern for Arjun’s grief not by speaking, but by singing the science of Self realization. In the end Arjun understands his purpose in life and his relationship with the Infinite, overcoming his grief and attaining transcendental knowledge.
The Gita touches on many important theological subjects. It gives a blueprint of what a spiritual aspirant must do to break the stranglehold of material existence and attain Divine consciousness.
It explores mystical subjects such as:
cultivating devotion so Divine presence is within one’s heart (bhakti yoga)
carrying out one’s duties with no expectation of rewards (karma yoga)
acquiring knowledge to understand one’s purpose (jnana yoga)
mental concentration on the Supreme through meditation (raja yoga)
the concept of the avatar (Divine manifestation on Earth when evil overpowers good)
the eternal and indestructible nature of the soul (atman)
the afterlife: transmigration, heavens, hells, and ultimate liberation of the soul (moksha)
methods of worship and how various paths eventually lead to the same Ultimate Truth
The Gita also discusses several areas of correct everyday living:
establishing equal vision of all living entities
freedom from suffering through detachment
the importance of reducing and destroying one’s ego
In a demonstration of communal harmony, Muslims recited the Quran while the minority Hindus chanted hymns from the Bhagvad Gita. They gathered on the banks of river Indus near Shahdad Kot town of Pakistan’s Sindh province amid the misery of the country’s worst disastrous floods.
Sindh Food Minister Nadir Magsi visited the area and also joined the prayers. He said that such gatherings were necessary to give strength to the common people.
The entertainment industry exploits the human mind and lures people to imitate it’s excessive material way of life. They teach us to compromise our basic values and to follow frivolous pursuits.
Emulating holy people isn’t easy. The Bhagavad Gita asks us to make that step by understanding the true purpose of human life. The Quran says that the condition of a people cannot change until they change themselves.
One Muslim suggests that we honor the prophets to build up our character while a Hindu advises we surround ourselves with virtuous company to keep our minds on track.