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Wishu

World's oldest literature are the Veda, a collection of religious and philosophical poems and hymns composed over several generations beginning as early as 3000 BC. The Veda was composed in Sanskrit, the intellectual language of both ancient and classical Indian civilizations.

Some Vedic hymns and poems address philosophic themes, such as the henotheism that is key to much Hindu theology. Henotheism is the idea that one God takes many different forms, and that although individuals may worship several different gods and goddesses, they really revere but one Supreme Being.

Four collections were made and came to be viewed as sacred in Hinduism.  There are four Vedas:

The Rig-Veda
Its traditional date goes back to 3000 BC, something which the German scholar Max Mueller accepted. As a body of writing, the Rig-Veda (the wisdom of verses) is nothing short of remarkable. It contains 1028 hymns (10,589 verses which are divided into ten mandalas or book-sections) dedicated to thirty-three different gods. The most often addressed gods were nature gods like Indra (rain god; king of heavens), Agni (fire god), Rudra (storm god; the 'howler'), Soma (the draught of immortality, an alcoholic brew).

The Sama-Veda
The Sama-Veda or the wisdom of chants is basically a collection of samans or chants, derived from the eighth and ninth books of the Rig-Veda. These were meant for the priests who officiated at the rituals of the soma ceremonies. There are painstaking instructions in Sama-Veda about how particular hymns must be sung; to put great emphasis upon sounds of the words of the mantras and the effect they could have on the environment and the person who pronounced them.

The Yajur-Veda
The Yajur-Veda or the wisdom of sacrifices lays down various sacred invocations (yajurs) which were chanted by a particular sect of priests called adhvaryu. They performed the sacrificial rites. The Veda also outlines various chants which should be sung to pray and pay respects to the various instruments which are involved in the sacrifice.

The Atharva-Veda
The Atharva-Veda (the wisdom of the Atharvans) is called so because the families of the atharvan sect of the Brahmins have traditionally been credited with the composition of the Vedas. It is a compilation of hymns but lacks the awesome grandeur which makes the Rig-Veda such a breathtaking spiritual experience.

 

The term Upanishad ('upa' near; 'ni' down; 'sad' to sit) means sitting down near; this implies the students sitting down near their Guru to learn the big secret. In the splendid isolation of their forest abodes, the philosophers who composed the Upanishads contemplated upon the various mysteries of life and its creation – whether common, or metaphysical. The answers were however not open to all, but only for select students. The reason for this was simple: not everyone can handle knowledge.

The composition of the Upanishads marks a significant and stride forward in the direction of knowing the mystery of earth's creation and one comes tantalizingly close to the answers. Through episodes, commentaries, stories, traditions and dialogue, the Upanishads unfold the fascinating tale of creation, life, the essence of life and of that beyond to the seeker of truth. In the Upanishads, views about Brahman (the Absolute, or God) and atman (one's true self) were proposed.

It is said that the Upanishads were written to counter the growing influence of Buddhism in India. There is no exact date for the composition of the Upanishads. They continued to be composed over a long period, the core being over 7th -5th centuries BC. The Upanishads were originally called Vedanta, which literally means the conclusion to the Vedas.

There are 18 principal Upanishads viz.:

Brhad-aranyaka Upanishad
The Brhad-aranyaka Upanishad is widely accepted to be the most important of all Upanishads. It has three khandas or parts. The madhu khanda contemplates on the relationship between the individual and the Universal self. The muni khanda or yajnavalkya is a debate which goes on to give the philosophical backing to the earlier teaching. The khila khanda tackles various rituals of worship and meditation.

Chandogya Upanishad
This Upanishad is a part of the Sama-Veda. The name comes from the singer of the songs (samans) who is called Chandoga. The initial chapters of the Upanishad, discuss the ritual of sacrifice. The others debate the origin and profundity of the concept of Om, among other things.

Aitareya Upanishad
This one forms part of the Rig-Veda. The purpose is to make the reader understand the deeper meaning of sacrifice and to take him away from the outer trappings of the actual act.

Taittriya Upanishad
A part of the Yajur-Veda, this Upanishad is divided into three sections or vallis. The siksa valli deals with the phonetics of the chants, while the others, brahmananda valli and bhrgu valli deal with self-realization.

Isa Upanishad
Also called the Isavasya Upanishad, this book deals with the union of God, the world, being and becoming. The stress is on the Absolute in relation with the world (paramesvara). The gist of the teachings is that a person's worldly and otherworldly goals need not necessarily be opposed to each other.

Kena Upanishad
The name of this Upanishad comes from the first word kena, or by whom. It has two sections of prose and two of poetry. The verses deal with the supreme spirit or the absolute principle (brahmaana) and the prose talks of ishvara (god). The moral of the story is that the knowledge of ishvara reveals the way to self-realization.

Katha Upanishad
Also called the Kathakopanishad, this Upanishad uses a story (katha) involving a young Brahmin boy called Nachiketa to reveal the truths of this world and the other beyond the veil.

Prashna Upanishad
Prashna literally means question, and this book is part of the Athrava-Veda. It addresses questions pertaining to the ultimate cause, the power of Om, relation of the supreme to the constituents of the world.

Mundaka Upanishad
This book also belongs to the Atharva-Veda. The name is derived from 'mund' or to shave, meaning that anyone who understands the Upanishads is s(h)aved from ignorance. This book inscribes the importance of knowing the supreme brahmaana, only by which knowledge can one attain self-realization.

Mandukya Upanishad
The Mandukya is an exquisite treatise which expounds on the principle of Om and its metaphysical significance in various states of being, waking, dream and the dreamless sleep. The subtlest and most profound of the Upanishads, it is said that this alone will lead one to the path of enlightenment.

Svetasvatara Upanishad
The name of this Upanishad is after its teacher. It comments on the unity of the souls and the world in one all-encompassing reality. The concept of there being one god is also talked about here. It is dedicated to Rudra, the storm god.

Kausitaki Brahmana Upanishad
The Upanishad has come down to us in bits here and pieces there. The core of the text is dedicated to illustrating the fact that the path to release is through knowledge.

Maitri Upanishad
This is a comparatively later Upanishad as it has references to the Trinity of Hindu Gods (Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma) which is a later development, and plus references to the world being illusory in character reflects Buddhist influence.

Subala Upanishad
Belonging to the Yajur-Veda, this Upanishad puts down a dialogue between the sage Subala and Brahma, the creator of the Hindu Trinity of Gods. It discusses the universe and the absolute.

Jabala Upanishad
Belonging to the Athrava-Veda, this Upanishad addresses some questions pertaining to renunciation.

Paingala Upanishad
The Paingala is again a dialogue, this between Yajnavalkya, the sage mentioned the Brhad-aranyaka's muni khanda and Paingala, a student of his. It discusses meditation and its effects.

Kaivalya Upanishad
This Upanishad delves into the state of kaivalya or being alone.

Vajrasucika Upanishad
Belonging to the Sama-Veda the Vajrasucika reflects on the nature of the supreme being.

 

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Pravesh

Kumbha Mela has gained international fame as "the world's most massive act of faith." Pilgrims come to this holy event with such tremendous faith and in such overwhelming numbers that it boggles the mind. Faith is the most important thing for the pilgrims at Kumbha Mela, they have an "unflinching trust in something sublime".

To understand the significance of the Kumbha Mela and the important role that it plays in the spirituality of India, it is helpful to know something about the background of the sacred Ganges River. The devout believe that simply by bathing in the Ganges one is freed from their past sins (karma), and thus one becomes eligible for liberation from the cycle of birth and death. Of course it is said that a pure lifestyle is also required after taking bath, otherwise one will again be burdened by karmic reactions .The pilgrims come from all walks of life, traveling long distances and tolerating many physical discomforts, such as sleeping in the open air in near freezing weather. They undergo these difficulties just to receive the benefit of taking a bath in the sacred river at Kumbha Mela.

They came by the millions! Some arrived on overcrowded trains carrying five times their normal capacity. Some came by bus, by car, some by ox drawn carts, and others rode on horses, camels, and even elephants. The rich and famous chartered private planes and helicopters, while the less affluent came on foot carrying their bed rolls and camping equipment in heavy bundles on their heads. Wave after wave, they formed a veritable river of humanity that flowed onto the banks of the Ganges at Allahabad to celebrate the greatest spiritual festival ever held in the history of the world, the Kumbha Mela.

 

The ancient origin of the Kumbha Mela is described in the time honored Vedic literatures of India as having evolved from bygone days of the universe when the demigods and the demons produced the nectar of immortality. The sages of old have related this story thus: once upon a time, the demigods and demons assembled together on the shore of the milk ocean which lies in a certain region of the cosmos. The demigods and demons desired to churn the ocean to produce the nectar of immortality, and agreed to share it afterwards. The Mandara Mountain was used as a churning rod, and Vasuki, the king of serpents, became the rope for churning. With the demigods at Vasuki's tail and the demons at his head, they churned the ocean for a 1,000 years. A pot of nectar was eventually produced, and both the demigods and demons became anxious. The demigods, being fearful of what would happen if the demons drank their share of the nectar of immortality, stole away the pot and hid it in four places on the Earth: Prayag (Allahabad) Hardwar, Ujjain, and Nasik. At each of the hiding places a drop of immortal nectar spilled from the pot and landed on the earth. These four places are believed to have acquired mystical power, and festivals are regularly held at each, Allahabad being the largest and most important.

Besides the Ganges, there are also two other sacred rivers located at Allahabad, the Yamuna and the Saraswati . The Yamuna, like the Ganges has its earthly origin in the Himalayas. The Saraswati, however, is a mystical river which has no physical form. Its is believed that the Saraswati exists only on the ethereal or spiritual plane and is not visible to the human eye. This holy river is mentioned many times in India's sacred texts such as the Mahabharata and is said to be present at Allahabad where it joins the Yamuna and the Ganges.

This confluence of India's three most sacred rivers at Allahabad is called the sangam. The combined sanctity of the three holy rivers, coupled with the spiritual powers obtained from the pot of nectar of immortality, has earned Allahabad the rank of tirtharaja, the king of holy places.

The main highlight for most pilgrims during a Kumbha Mela is the observance of a sacred bath at the sangam. It is said that a bath in either of the sacred rivers has purifying effects, but where the three rivers meet, the bather's purification is increased one hundred times. Furthermore, it is said that when one takes a bath at the sangam during the Kumbha Mela, the influence is one thousand times increased.

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Jiya

 In a crime that is prevalent only in India, greedy husbands and his relatives harass the newly wed bride for getting more dowry, and often kill her in the process. And, very often, she is burnt alive. This horror is therefore called bride-burning or in official terms, dowry death. 

In 2010, there were 8391 reported cases of dowry death in the country. That works out to a shocking one death every hour approximately. Bride-burning is on the increase — just a decade ago, in 2000, there were 6995 cases. 

Dowry is an ancient tradition among the upper castes but its spread among all sections of society probably in the late nineteenth century. With increasing commercialization this acquired a new meaning — it became an opportunity for men and their families to get their hands on cash, jewellery, durables, and various other commodities. Although the government prohibited dowry through legislation in 1961, it was never implemented properly. Prohibition officers were supposed to have been appointed in each district, taking the battle to the grassroots but nothing happened. And, the tide of greed driven murder of young brides continued unabated. 

In 1986, under huge pressure from the women's movement, the Indian penal Code was amended to include section 304B, specifically against murder following harassment for dowry. Section 498A was added to define harassment and cruelty by husbands and his relatives. Strangely this too has not had much effect. Laxity of the government machinery can be one reason for the failure of legal measures. After all, conviction rates in bride burning cases have dipped from an already weak 37% in 2000 to 34% in 2010. In section 498A cases, the conviction rates are even lower: just 19%, although reported cases were 94,000 in 2010. 

But perhaps the primary reason for spread of this cancer has been the almost complete absence of any public campaign or mobilization against it for the past 25 years. As a result, girls are considered a burden on the parents, families go bankrupt trying to get their daughters married off, choice in forming relations is frowned upon and thousands — maybe lakhs — of youngwomen suffer violence silently behind closed doors. 

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