(Translation of Hindi discourse: "Bhartiya Sanskrati Ke Pratik Shikha Aur Sutra")
Let us begin with the collective chanting of the Gayatri
"Om Bhur Buva¡ Swa¡| Tatsaviturvarenyam Bhargo Devasya Dhimahi| Dhiyo Yona¡ Pracodayat ||"
Idol Worship and The Importance of Symbols:
Sisters and Brothers,
I often talk about the importance and necessity of the devotion and worship
of God. Worshiping the idols of deities is an integral part of the Hindu religious practices. Multiple representations of divine manifestations in the idol forms were visualized by our rishis of the Vedic times. The specific forms symbolize specific divine qualities and powers of the manifestations of God and also incorporate ethical teachings for us. The Arya Samajis do not believe in idol-worship, but they also respectfully place the idols and photographs of Swami Dayanand Saraswati in their yagyashalas, community halls and offices and pay due regards before these symbols of his memories. The followers of Islam are against idol-worship. But, paying reverence to the sacred black stone (sange avsad) at Kaba by kissing it is essential for making their holy pilgrimage to Makka-Sharif complete. So, the rectangular sacred black stone is for them what a round, smooth black idol of Shiva is for a Hindu a sacred symbol of God. Every religion has its holy symbols and rituals of worship.
The communists deny all religions and even deny the existence of God. Worshiping His idols is therefore a mark of blind faith and absurdity in their views. But, what if somebody burns their red flag, or tears off the manuscript of the manifesto of communism? They would certainly feel hurt and insulted and react furiously against any such attempt. But why should they? After all, the flag is only a piece of cloth and there must be several copies of their manifesto available in print. Well, it is not the physical entity, but the sentiments, the faith in the implications associated with it that count. So many of our freedom
fighters had dared to risk their lives for protecting our national flag; great revolutionaries had sacrificed their lives by placing this mark of our national prestige in place of the British flag those days!
The idols we enshrine in the temples, the Holy Scriptures like the Vedas, Bhagvad Gita, the Ramayana, and the Guru
Granth Sahib are symbols of deities for us. We worship
them. The symbols of our faith, our reverence for them are the source of light in our lives. Many times people also place the photographs of their ideal heroes, their guides, their gurus, in their houses and at their place of work. My disciples have also placed the photographs of Mataji and myself at the Gayatri
Tapobhumi Mathura and in our old house (now Akhand Jyoti Sansthan) in our memories since we left that place. This indicates their affection and respect for us.
Well! In fact, emblems carry within them a message, an effect and have great importance in our lives as sources of inspiration and moral support and guidance. They have intimate linkage with sentiments and create immense impact on human psychology. I do have great regards for them and have also enshrined them in the form of idols, pictures and other models. Look at the temples of Goddess Gayatri
and Brahmvarchas for example; or the model of the Himalayas
there. Some of you might wonder then why do I sometimes criticize symbolic worship
and even admonish you against it in some of my writings and speeches? Good, if you have noticed that, I will certainly admonish you if you remain stuck only to the symbol and learn nothing from it. If you regard an idol as omnipotent and believe that just bending your head and praying before it will solve all your problems, then you are living in a fantasy, in blind faith. Then, for some of you Lord Krishna sitting in the temple of Badrinath would be superior to that in the temples of Mathura or Vrindawan; while the latter would be mightier for some others…. Does it have any sense?
Prophet Hazarat Mohammed had opposed idol worship
because of the sinful customs that were propagated and practiced through it during his times. The place where he was born was dominated by the blind rule of “might is right” those days. Dacoits and hoodlums used to rob the villages and take away all the crops, cattle and young women for their pleasure; some of them used to possess ten to fifty women. Some of the children born by them were allowed to grow to serve as bonded labors or work in the dacoit gangs. As it was found a waste to raise the rest, those kids were killed in the name of sacrifices before the giant idols made in the lands occupied by the dacoits. The angelic soul of Hazarat Mohammed was born in human form to eliminate such heinous acts and insane customs. He destroyed the roots of such evils by opposing the mindless and cruel ’rituals of worship’. It was the necessity of that time and that place. This does not mean that all kinds of idol-worship are bad or irrational.
You must remember that all the idols of Divine manifestations are simply the source of reminding us of God. We may, for example, go to the temples of Lord Krishna and also bend our head and offer prayers. But we should know that this “pranam” and prayers are not for the stone that is enshrined in the temple. Rather, these are for Lord Krishna, whose divine incarnation in human form had taken place about five thousands years ago to bestow the light of divinity, to establish the law of righteousness, to give new direction of enlightened progress to the world. The idols simply help awakening our devotional sentiments. These may activate the linkage of our inner mind with Him during meditation or emotionally engrossed prayers, if we have really purified our mind and have adopted the true meaning of devotional faith in our lives.
Our worshiping the idols is no better than kids’ toy game if we do not have any living aspiration to imbibe divine attributes and values and make no efforts to materialize our worship
by following the disciplines and teachings of the divine incarnations in real life. What is the point in saluting the book of Bhagavad Gita or lighting a lamp near it, if we don’t read it and learn from what Lord Krishna had taught to Arjuna?
The blind attachment to the gross symbol with a desire of gaining favor from this inert ’God’ in return for the offerings of worship
make a mockery of the deep philosophy and psychological intensity underlying idol-worship. It is this superficial devotion and emotional excitement of ’affinity’ with the symbols of deities that correspond to blind faith and superstition, which are criticized by the savants. These misconceptions and associated insane customs were at their peak in the medieval times. The real meaning and importance of the emblems of Indian Culture, founded by the rishis (the seer-sages of the Vedic Age), were also lost in the mists of this dark phase of ignorance and religious anarchy.
Origin of Religion and Culture:
If we are to revive the glory of religion, we will have to look into its origin. The varieties of communes and sects mushroomed in the field of religion since the post Vedic Age need to be converged towards their fundamental unity. Recalling the emblems (and the associated knowledge) of this origin could be one effective way of achieving this goal. I have always believed in that. Our national flag is the symbol of our national unity, strength and prestige; we all, irrespective of whether we are Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians or someone else by faith, respect it. See how a symbol unites us!
What is the origin of the Vedic Religion and the Indian Culture? It is the ultimate knowledge, the preeminent force of spirituality, the divine light, and the eternal values, embedded in Gayatri
Mantra. I have therefore motivated you all towards the sadhana
Mantra. This mantra
is the root of the Vedas. You may be follower of any incarnation of God. That is fine. For example, you may chant “Shri Krisnaya Namo Nama¡”; very good, continue with that. But that won’t lead to unity. The incarnation of Lord Krishna is said to have occurred about five thousand years ago; was there no religion before that? Then, what was the mode of devotion at that time? In fact Lord Krishna himself was a devotee of Gayatri
Mantra. Look at the Valimiki Ramayana; it mentions of Lord Ram also having given the diksha
Mantra. Further back, this mantra
has been described in the vedic scriptures as also being the root of inspiration and activation of the powers of the eternal Trinity: Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. It is said to be the source of all creation and existence in the gross and the subliminal realms of manifestation.
You all should also adopt the spiritual devotional practice of the Gayatri Mantra
together with whatever other mode of worship
you are used to. You may keep the written script of the mantra
at your place of worship
or enshrine an idol or picture of the deity Mother Gayatri
as symbolized by the rishis to represent the divine power of this mantra. Collective efforts from all of us will lead to convergence and unity of all cults / sects and revive the glory of the divine culture
which emanated from the universal (vedic) religion.
Shikha and Sutra:
What are the emblems of this divine culture
(the Rishi Culture
or the original Indian Culture) that remind us of its principles and disciplines to be followed in human life? These are Shikha
and Sutra, the idols of Gayatri
that are enshrined in the temple of the human body. [Shikha is a knot of hair, tied at the crown-point (right above the suture) on the central top of the head; this point is given distinctive importance in the science of yoga
as the point of contact with the brain-centre of intellectual and emotional sensitivity. Sutra is the sacred thread, also called yagyopavit, which is worn on the shoulders and the chest after the sacrament of upnayana or thread-ceremony].
Shikha symbolizes the presence of discerning intellect, farsightedness and the deity of knowledge upon our head. It is a flag of human culture. It reminds us of the religious principles of morality, righteousness, responsibility and dutiful awareness. The moral and social duties of human life are worn on our shoulders and kept attached to our hearts in symbolic form as the sacred thread of yagyopavita (Sutra). It also hangs on our back. It has tied us from all sides, as a reminder of the moral disciplines and ethical duties as human beings. With the advent of different religious doctrines and diversities in the religious practices shikha
and sutra might have gotten confined only to the Hindus, but the principles and teachings associated with them are eternal and universal. I have written several articles and booklets to elucidate these facts with historical evidences.
This body is the fort of the individual self upon which the flag of shikha
is hoisted as the mark of the dignified values and virtues of humanity. The foreign invaders, the crusaders against the Vedic (Indian) Culture
had attempted to eliminate the roots of this divine culture
by first cutting the shikha
and removing the sutra from the bodies of the followers of Hindu religion. Thousands of innocent heads were cut off just for protesting against this attack. It was for protecting the glory of these universal emblems of human religion that Maharana Pratap, Vir Shivaji, Guru
Govind Sigh, and other great martyrs of India had dedicated their noble lives. Today, we have forgotten their sacrifices and done what even the foreign invaders of the medieval times could not do. We have let ourselves been swept away from our roots by the storm of cultural pollution coming from the West. We have lost faith in our own values. We feel ashamed in wearing the sutra and keeping the shikha.
If we go to some college and ask the students whether they wear the sutra, they would look at us blankly. They would not have even heard about it. It is not their fault. We have never bothered to tell them about these things. How will we explain the meaning and purpose behind these symbols when we ourselves don’t know it? We have just shunned such things as signs of superstitions, blind faith and backwardness. The braided or tied hairs of women have at least preserved the custom of shikha. But look at the boys; they may have long hair as per the fashion but maintaining the shikha! Just don’t talk about it!! On one hand we are running blindly after ’modernity’ and on the other, we have let ourselves entrapped in blind customs in the name of religion for example, in many parts of the Indian society, girls / women are deprived of chanting or even knowing the Gayatri
Mantra; they can’t wear or even touch the yagyopavit (sutra).
The military officers wear different kinds of stars/stripes/badges as signs of their rank; the police uniform also has different kinds of badges stitched on it, which reflect the identity of the rank/post/ state, etc of the wearer. If any police or army personal is found guilty of deviating from his duties, the first punishment is that his medals and badges are taken away. This is like wiping out his identity. No penalty would be more painful to him than losing his uniform. The Christians wear a cross; few people would know that even the custom of wearing necktie had begun as a mark of wearing the thread-symbol of the holy cross. The Sikhs keep kirpan (tiny sword), comb and maintain their hair uncut; they also wear a turban. Then what do the Hindus have as a sign of their identity of being the followers of the Vedic religion? If a Hindu has left shikha
and sutra, should not he/she be regarded as someone who has disowned his religion?
Friends! I am not telling you to become fundamentalists. But I am trying to make you aware of the importance of the symbols of our cultural dignity, which our forefathers the great seers and sages, the scientists of yoga
had invented. These are not only the symbols of the eternal values and disciplines suitable for men and women of all ages, in all eras, but also have scientific and spiritual relevance. I have mentioned about these in some of my articles. I have also requested the parijans
of the Gayatri
Pariwar to propagate these teachings in scientific light with logical justifications during the yagyas and other religious ceremonies. If we explain the meaning, purpose and importance of these sacred symbols of our faith, there is no reason why our children, our acquaintances would not respect and adopt these basic symbols of the vedic culture.
(To be continued in the next issue)