Tag Archive: Adi Shankar


The book, The Vedas

pamban bridge to Rameshwaram IMG_7469

The view from the Pamban Bridge to Rameshwaram.

Like Adi Shankar himself, Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswathi spent many years walking the length and breadth of India. At the age of 84, he walked 3 kilometers across the railway bridge to the island of Rameshwaram, one of the great pilgrimage sites in the south. There was no walkway at the time, just the train tracks, and this walk was remarkable, not because it was three kilometers, but because he was stepping on the railway ties with the waters of the Bay of Bengal swirling below through the open spaces between his footsteps.

 

The Vedas is a book written by Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswathi who was the Shankaracharya of Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham; this is one of the leading spiritual centers in India, set up in the town of Kanchipuram in Tamil Nadu, around 1300 years ago by the Hindu saint, Adi Shankara. The Shankaracharya, a post handed down through the centuries, is the spiritual head of the center.

 

Known as the Sage of Kanchi, Sri ChandrasekharendraSaraswathi, one of the great saints of modern India, was chosen and anointed in 1907 at the age of thirteen as the 68th Shankaracharya of the spiritual center, or matham.

640px-Raja_Ravi_Varma_-_Sankaracharya

 

In addition to being a saint, he was, simply, a remarkable man. At the age of 100, shortly before his death, he was still actively teaching crowds who gathered around him.

He had a command of 17 languages, was a gifted musician, had a keen understanding of current world events, and, although not a political figure, he strongly supported the Indian independence movement. He greeted everyone, from heads of state to the poorest of Indians with caring and interest. Videos of him, which can be viewed on YouTube (see the link below) often show him with a charming, delightful smile. Kind and inclusive, he spoke of all religions as the various facets of Sanatana Dharma (Hinduism), saying “truth and non-violence are the cardinal principles of dharma for the entire human family.”

 

First published in 1988, the book The Vedas wasn’t written directly by Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswathi, but is a compilation of the words he spoke on numerous occasions, written down by his disciples.

At the end of the book is a chart that folds out. It lists hundreds of sacred books of India. The first and original four are the Vedas: the Rig Veda, the oldest book in the world, then the Yajurveda, the Samaveda, and the Artharvaveda. All are several thousand years old; they are the most sacred texts of Hinduism. Even today, they are memorized in the original Sanskrit by Brahmin priests, who chant the Vedas during rituals and temple celebrations.

The Vedas have attached to them Upanishads and also Aranyakas, which means “books of the forest.”

In the first chapter, Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswathi explains that the Vedas have no beginning.

In the fifth chapter, he asserts that they have no end. They are timeless. Only a very small portion of the true Vedas, which exist on another level, were given to the rishis, to record. The Vedas were composed by these ancient seers, or rishis. About half of them were women. Their names are still known today. Then, after being passed down through many generations as oral teachings, they were eventually written down in their current form.

1024px-Vishnu_Yagna_Kunda:Narasipur, Mysore, KarnatakaGunjanarasimhaswamy Temple

Explaining the Vedic view of the world’s creation, he says:

The breath of the Paramaatma, the Supreme Being, or Brahman, inspired Brahma, God the Creator, to create the universe. After every deluge, or ending of the universe, a new Brahma, appears who creates the new world. He creates the world from the vibrations or the sound of the breath of the Paramaatma. (This reminds one of the concept in Christianity which is expressed in the beginning of the Book of John, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God, and without Him was not anything made that was made.”)

The origin of the Vedas is the movement of vibration. With the chanting of this vibratory movement, creation came into being.

He says that we can see that when plants are exposed to certain sounds, they grow faster and are healthier. This is because sonic vibrations have the power of creation, preservation, and destruction.

The Sanskrit word tapas means austerity. It also means power of meditation. Brahma created the world with the power of his tapas. All the Vedas have their origin in the breath of Brahman, and Brahma has brought them forth with the help of resonances. They are beyond all limits and have no beginning and no end.

It is a profound but simple book, written with great clarity.

Today it may seem that the world is like a ship that has no anchor, buffeted by the waves in a storm. We need only watch the news to observe this, as violence and impending disasters take over our television screens.

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And yet, in the wisdom of the East, there lies a deeper perspective. Ages have come and ages have gone. There may be times of light and awareness, and there may be times of gloom and obscurity. There is an ultimate peace beyond the worlds and the ages to which all returns in the end. The Vedas, the sacred books that arise from the breath of Brahman, remind us of this peace – especially when they are seen through the eyes of this holy man with steady, clear vision.

Top photo: Sharon St Joan / View from the Pamban Bridge, the bridge to Rameshwaram

 

Second photo: Public Domain / Photo of a painting by Raja Ravi Varma / Adi Shankar

 

Third photo: Nvvchar / Wikimedia Commons / “This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license”. / Gunjanarasimhaswamy Temple, Narasipur, Mysore, Karnataka

 

Fourth photo: Sanjay_Kumar / Wikimedia Commons / “This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.” / River Ganga meandering through the Shivalik ranges, Rishikesh.

To find The Vedas on Amazon, click here

 

To find videos of Sri ChandrasekharendraSaraswathi’s life, click here

These are real-life views of his life, except for a few scenes of his childhood which are reenacted.

© 2014

 

The Kamakshi Temple tank

Kanchipuram, which is one of the oldest cities in India, is over 2,000 years old, has been called the city of 1,000 temples. In the third century BCE, Ashoka built a stupa here. It was visited by Chinese travelers in search of Sanskrit texts on Buddhism and was the home of Bodhidharma who took Buddhism to China. The city lies 83 kilometers (52 miles) southwest of Chennai (Madras).

Normally Indian temples face east, but at Kanchipuram, all the temples face towards the temple of Kamakshi, who was the original Village Goddess of Kanchipuram. Kanchi was named after the kanchi tree.

In fact, there are two temples of Kamakshi.  There is the current temple, the main temple where people worship today, and there is another temple called Adi Kamakshi (or the first Kamakshi), where the original deity, the first Kamakshi, stands. She was originally called Adi-peetha-vasini or the “original inhabitant of the seat” (or, the place).

This is because Kamakshi has undergone a couple of complete transformations in her over-two-thousand-year-old history.

In the very beginning, like every village Goddess in India, she was a representation of the universal Mother Goddess, the source of all life in the universe, and, on a local level, the one who protected all those who lived in the village – the kind mother figure, who could solve all problems and to whom one could pray, expecting a response of kindness and love.  This was the Goddess in early Neolithic times.

Then something changed. Along came farming, and at some point the concept of owning individual land.  Life was no longer quite so simple as it had been before. If a person owned land, then he must protect it, and this set the stage for conflicts and eventually wars. Land could also be inherited, meaning that the husband must be able to identify clearly who his true heirs were.

A subtle change began to take place, and the way Kamakshi came to be viewed reflected that change.

The female over time slipped into a subservient role. With the male now at the top of the social structure, it was no longer really convenient to have the Goddess figure revered and worshipped as an entirely good, divine being.  Surely the female must be shown to have a less than divine, or even a frightening side, musn’t she?

With the female taking a secondary role, the local female Goddess also took on a different role – no longer seen as entirely benevolent, but often shown with a ferocious streak.

While the village Goddesses took a turn towards ferocity, the same thing did not happen to the primary Hindu Goddesses, who remained as powerful and beneficent as ever.

After all, Hinduism is the only major world religion which retains the worship of the Goddess as a central element; she is still worshipped, loved, and revered as the giver of all life.

However, the local village Goddesses, in general, did not fare quite so well – they underwent a change in perception – and even now, there are some local Goddesses who are perceived as fierce.

The Kamakshi Temple gopuram or temple gate

The transition can be seen in the stone statue of the original Adi Kamakshi, who is no longer the focus of worship, but who is instead standing in her own temple, apart from the main temple – set aside, out of the way.  This original Adi Kamakshi stands, a stone figure in a niche.  Dr. Nanditha Krishna, a leading authority on Indian iconography, says that she is most likely at least 2,000 years old.

She seems, to me anyway, to have a very sweet face – not sweet in a light, fluffy sense, she seems much too connected to the earth for lightness and fluffiness, but in a real sense, she does seem sweet—genuinely kind and compassionate.  Or perhaps I am only imagining this benevolent aspect.  Looking more closely, one can see that she holds a stone severed head, and there seem to be stone sacrificial victims under her feet.  So maybe the sweetness and kindness are just an illusion or wishful thinking?

Yet, all the same, her face does portray a feeling of sweetness and kindness.  She doesn’t smile, but there is kindness there, nonetheless—and no sense of malevolence.

Could this be the stone image of the Goddess caught right at the moment when the original kind, beneficent mother figure is giving way to the ferocious one, who must be propitiated?  This ferocious form still lives in India today, for example, in the figure of Kali, who is shown wearing a necklace of skulls, who is feared, and regarded as blood-thirsty.

Kamakshi, who was at that time known by another name, did indeed develop a reputation for ferocity.  Who knows how long this phase lasted – maybe 500 years, maybe a thousand, maybe longer.

This is not the end of the story for Kamakshi, however, but only the midpoint.

Thanks to one of the most remarkable figures in all of Indian history, Adi Shankara, who lived (probably) in the seventh century AD, Kamakshi was transformed once again into a beautiful, kind Goddess.  Her name, Kamakshi, means “eyes of love,” and this is the name that Adi Shankara gave her.

Painting of Adi Shankara by Raja Ravi Varma

Traveling on foot all over India, with his loyal followers, Adi Shankara was a healer, a teacher, and a saint, who revived Sanatana Dharma (the Eternal Truth, which is the more correct name for Hinduism). At the young age of 32, he died, having traversed hundreds of miles, having written over one hundred books, and having set up structures called maths, which still exist, which are centers that faithfully continue to carry out his mission of maintaining the unity, harmony, coherence, and the spiritual integrity of the faith of India.

In the main Kamakshi temple, there is a large section devoted to honoring Adi Shankara, and all the succeeding Shankaracharyas; appropriately, since it was he who brought back into view Kamakshi’s true gentle nature.

While in Kanchipuram, Adi Shankar taught the people that the Goddess Kamakshi was in no way ferocious or to be feared. Seeing her as fierce, he stated, had been a mistake.  On the contrary, he affirmed that she was the Goddess with “eyes of love.” She is considered a form of the Goddess Parvati, the consort of Shiva. Also, she may be seen as a form of Durga, who fights and conquers evil. As he traveled throughout India, Adi Shankara restored, in the towns and cities he passed through, the ancient view of the Goddess as kind and compassionate.

He unified a multiplicity of divergent belief systems and philosophies that had cropped up over the centuries. By the mere strength of his presence, he turned people away from the path of divisiveness and corruption.  Almost single-handedly, along with his followers, turning back the trend society had taken towards the alternate paths of Buddhism and Jainism, Adi Shankara led India back to Sanatana Dharma, restoring faith in the age-old Vedic and Upanishadic traditions, and even incorporating some tenets of Buddhism when they helped with this process.  He brought unity, stability, and continuity to that which had become fragmented. Not a political or a military leader, he nonetheless united India in a very real, enduring way.

Today, Kamakshi’s stone statue stands in the main, newer temple (“new” meaning built mostly in the fourteenth century, though some sections are older), her gentle face enveloped in garlands of flowers, surrounded by the bright glow of fires and the fragrance of incense, where, having come full circle, she is worshipped by throngs of those devoted to her, as the Goddess of kindness and love.

Thanks to Dr. Nanditha Krishna, who provided the knowledge and information for much of this article, but who is not responsible for any inaccuracies that may have crept in.

Top photo: Sharon St Joan / the Kamakshi Temple tank  (2010)

Second photo / Sharon St Joan / the Kamakshi Temple gopuram (2010)

Third photo / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain / painting of Adi Shankara by Raja Ravi Varma