‘Great Tantra Challenge’ Hoax? Rationalist International, India TV & Sanal Edamaruku

‘Great Tantra Challenge’ Hoax? Rationalist International, India TV & Sanal Edamaruku
Was ‘The Great Tantra Challenge’ A Hoax & Publicity Stunt? This article was written to supply the general public with factual and verifiable information pertaining to an incident that was aired on India TV between the Indian Rationalist & Atheist Sanal Edamaruku (who is a vocal critic and skeptic of Sathya Sai Baba) and an unknown Tantrik & Black Magician named ‘Pandit Surinder Sharma’.

Pandit Surinder Sharma alleged he could kill anyone within three minutes by using tantra mantras and tantric rituals. Sanal Edamaruku challenged the Black Magician to kill him. The Tantric Priest chanted mantras and used various rituals but could not kill Sanal Edamaruku.

Rationalist International Article About The Death Challenge

The Great Tantra Challenge
On 3 March 2008, in a popular TV show, Sanal Edamaruku, the president of Rationalist International, challenged India’s most “powerful” tantrik (black magician) to demonstrate his powers on him. That was the beginning of an unprecedented experiment. After all his chanting of mantra (magic words) and ceremonies of tantra failed, the tantrik decided to kill Sanal Edamaruku with the “ultimate destruction ceremony” on live TV. Sanal Edamaruku agreed and sat in the altar of the black magic ritual. India TV observed skyrocketing viewership rates.

Everything started, when Uma Bharati (former chief minister of the state of Madhya Pradesh) accused her political opponents in a public statement of using tantrik powers to inflict damage upon her. In fact, within a few days, the unlucky lady had lost her favorite uncle, hit the door of her car against her head and found her legs covered with wounds and blisters.

India TV, one of India’s major Hindi channels with national outreach, invited Sanal Edamaruku for a discussion on “Tantrik power versus Science”. Pandit Surinder Sharma, who claims to be the tantrik of top politicians and is well known from his TV shows, represented the other side. During the discussion, the tantrik showed a small human shape of wheat flour dough, laid a thread around it like a noose and tightened it. He claimed that he was able to kill any person he wanted within three minutes by using black magic. Sanal challenged him to try and kill him.

The tantrik tried. He chanted his mantras (magic words): “Om lingalingalinalinga, kilikili…” But his efforts did not show any impact on Sanal – not after three minutes, and not after five. The time was extended and extended again. The original discussion program should have ended here, but the “breaking news” of the ongoing great tantra challenge was overrunning all program schedules.

Now the tantrik changed his technique. He started sprinkling water on Sanal and brandishing a knife in front of him. Sometimes he moved the blade all over his body. Sanal did not flinch. Then he touched Sanal’s head with his hand, rubbing and rumpling up his hair, pressing his forehead, laying his hand over his eyes, pressing his fingers against his temples. When he pressed harder and harder, Sanal reminded him that he was supposed to use black magic only, not forceful attacks to bring him down. The tantrik took a new run: water, knife, fingers, mantras. But Sanal kept looking very healthy and even amused.

After nearly two hours, the anchor declared the tantrik’s failure. The tantrik, unwilling to admit defeat, tried the excuse that a very strong god whom Sanal might be worshipping obviously protected him. “No, I am an atheist,” said Sanal Edamaruku. Finally, the disgraced tantrik tried to save his face by claiming that there was a never-failing special black magic for ultimate destruction, which could, however, only been done at night. Bad luck again, he did not get away with this, but was challenged to prove his claim this very night in another “breaking news” live program.

During the next three hours, India TV ran announcements for The Great Tantra Challenge that called several hundred million people to their TV sets.

The encounter took place under the open night sky. The tantrik and his two assistants were kindling a fire and staring into the flames. Sanal was in good humour. Once the ultimate magic was invoked, there wouldn’t be any way back, the tantrik warned. Within two minutes, Sanal would get crazy, and one minute later he would scream in pain and die. Didn’t he want to save his life before it was too late? Sanal laughed, and the countdown begun. The tantriks chanted their “Om lingalingalingalinga, kilikilikili….” followed by ever changing cascades of strange words and sounds. The speed increased hysterically. They threw all kinds of magic ingredients into the flames that produced changing colours, crackling and fizzling sounds and white smoke. While chanting, the tantrik came close to Sanal, moved his hands in front of him and touched him, but was called back by the anchor. After the earlier covert attempts of the tantrik to use force against Sanal, he was warned to keep distance and avoid touching Sanal. But the tantrik “forgot” this rule again and again.

Now the tantrik wrote Sanal’s name on a sheet of paper, tore it into small pieces, dipped them into a pot with boiling butter oil and threw them dramatically into the flames. Nothing happened. Singing and singing, he sprinkled water on Sanal, mopped a bunch of peacock feathers over his head, threw mustard seed into the fire and other outlandish things more. Sanal smiled, nothing happened, and time was running out. Only seven more minutes before midnight, the tantrik decided to use his ultimate weapon: the clod of wheat flour dough. He kneaded it and powdered it with mysterious ingredients, then asked Sanal to touch it. Sanal did so, and the grand magic finale begun. The tantrik pierced blunt nails on the dough, then cut it wildly with a knife and threw them into the fire. That moment, Sanal should have broken down. But he did not. He laughed. Forty more seconds, counted the anchor, twenty, ten, five… it’s over!

Millions of people must have uttered a sigh of relief in front their TVs. Sanal was very much alive. Tantra power had miserably failed. Tantriks are creating such a scaring atmosphere that even people, who know that black magic has no base, can just break down out of fear, commented a scientist during the program. It needs enormous courage and confidence to challenge them by actually putting one’s life at risk, he said. By doing so, Sanal Edamaruku has broken the spell, and has taken away much of the fear of those who witnessed his triumph.

In this night, one of the most dangerous and wide spread superstitions in India suffered a severe blow. (Ref)

Pandit Surinder Sharma Trying To Kill Sanal Edamaruku With Tantra And The Life-Preserving Mahamrityunjaya Mantra

Pandit Surinder Sharma Trying To Kill Sanal Edamaruku With Tantra And The Life-Preserving Mahamrityunjaya Mantra

Pandit Surinder Sharma Lost His Composure And Broke Down Laughing A Couple Of Times - Which Is Indicative Of Acting

Pandit Surinder Sharma Lost His Composure And Broke Down Laughing A Couple Of Times - Which Is Indicative Of Acting

Irrefutable Facts About The Alleged Black Magician ‘Pandit Surinder Sharma’ That Strongly Suggest A Hoax & Publicity Stunt By India TV And Sanal Edamaruku:

  • Besides stories duplicating the ‘Great Tantra Challenge’, there are no credible sources, reliable references or independent websites that confirm that ‘Pandit Surinder Sharma’ (not to be confused with the Hindi Poet, Surinder Sharma) is:
    1. A real person.
    2. A “tantrik of top politicians”.
    3. A person “well known from his TV shows”.
  • One would think that such a famous “tantrik” and “black magician” would have at least one webpage dedicated in his honor, at least one newspaper article covering his philosophy or at least one blogged article making reference to him. There are no independent articles, webpages, media or blogged posts about ‘Pandit Surinder Sharma’ on the internet whatsoever.
  • Sanal Edamaruku acknowledged that the claims of Uma Bharti accusing opponents of using tantrik powers against her were false (no reputable media ever made such a claim). Therefore, the entire premise for the encounter was based on a known untruth. Sanal Edamaruku said:
    • “Both of us were invited to comment on the claims of Uma Bharti, former chief minister of Indian state Madhya Pradesh, that her political opponents were using tantrik powers to damage her. It was a staged controversy. (Ref)
  • Sanal Edamaruku clearly stated numerous times that the alleged “Shaman”“Black Magic Priest”“Tantric” was an actual and genuine person who was widely regarded by politicians and television as a renown Priest of Tantra and explicitly stated that the encounter was not a stunt (Listen To Edamaruku’s Interview With NPR’s Rachel).
  • The alleged “Tantrik” broke down laughing a couple of times during his attempt to kill Sanal Edamaruku with mantras (See YouTube Video 02). One could easily discern how the “Tantrik” quickly tried to conceal his laughter and regain his composure. Even a viewer on YouTube (who believed the video) expressed surprise by this behavior. Why would ‘Pandit Surinder Sharma’ treat a matter of life & death (as well as his integrity and reputation) so casually?
  • Several Indians familiar with Sanskrit were thoroughly perplexed by the fact that ‘Pandit Surinder Sharma’ was chanting the Mahamrityunjaya Mantra (which is a well-known life-restoring mantra that is never used to induce death). Why would a Black Magician chant a mantra that is believed to protect one from death while trying to inflict death? The “Tantric” clearly chanted:
    • Om Tryambakam Yajamahe
      Sugandhim Pushtivardhanam
      Urvarukamiva Bandhanan
      Mrityor Mukshiya Maamritat
  • ‘Pandit Surinder Sharma’ chanted vedic slokas that are never used to induce death. Several Indians familiar with Sanskrit also pointed out that ‘Pandit Surinder Sharma’ incorrectly pronounced some of the mantras. He mostly repeated (ad nauseam) “Om Linga Linga Linga Linga”, which is unknown in Vedic or Tantric circles to cause or induce death.
  • India TV received a tremendous boost in ratings while the event was aired and Sanal Edamaruku alleged there were several hundred-million viewers. Strangely enough, after this unexpected and tremendous viewership, another night program was scheduled for the “ultimate destruction ceremony”.
  • Although it was alleged that ‘Pandit Surinder Sharma’ was unaware and unprepared to be challenged on national TV to kill Sanal Edamaruku, he apparently brought his own music cd that played eerie background music (with mantra sounds) while he chanted his death invocations.
  • Numerous viewers expressed utter astonishment that ‘Pandit Surinder Sharma’ would publicly engage in this type of behavior when he had everything to lose in front of hundreds of millions of viewers. This would not be astonishing if the event was a hoax or a set up. It would be very astonishing otherwise.
  • Contrary to Edamaruku’s claim that the Tantric Priest was “trapped” by his challenge to kill him using Tantra, the alleged Tantric Priest could have resorted to any numer of innumerable excuses to avoid being humiliated before hundreds of millions of viewers (amusingly, many excuses that could have been used to avoid the drama were raised by skeptics and critics on numerous webpages).
  • Indian Rationalists are notorious for their “Anti-Superstition Campaigns” in which Rationalists dress up as Holy Men, Gurus, Saints, Tantric Priests, Witch Doctors, Magicians, etc., to perform magic tricks and expose what they believe to be blind faith in religion and miracles by uneducated Indian villagers. Even Sanal Edamaruku’s son, Samkhya Edamaruku, pretended to be a devotee of a fake Guru (rationalist K.M. Sunny in guru attire) while working with his father at these “Anti-Superstition Campaigns”.
  • Indian Rationalists are well known for this type of theatrics. A similar incident occurred in the GuruBusters Documentary (View Actual Video) in which a dog was subjected to a bite from a venomous snake and an alleged ‘witch doctor’ was produced who said he could cure the dog using mantras. The ‘witch doctor’ failed, instantly became a rationalist, denounced his trade as a farce and told the crowd they should embrace rationalism and to not believe in religion, mantras or gurus. To the educated eye, the entire drama was an unconvincing set up. Nevertheless, to the uneducated Indian villagers, it was a convincing performance.

Tantriks / Tantrics – Tantra – Black Magic – Death Invocations: In Conclusion:
This ‘Great Tantra Challenge’ was published on numerous blogs (including Blogger, Yahoo, WordPress, Forbes, Technorati, StumbleUpon, etc.), numerous Indian newspapers, numerous news broadcasts, numerous rationalist websites, numerous atheist websites, numerous online forums, numerous online groups (including Yahoo and Google), numerous online video websites (including YouTube: 010202), Richard Dawkins Website, NPR, Wikipedia – The Great Tantra Challenge, etc.

Surprising how so many people and so many websites blindly jumped on this bandwagon. Those who are so critical of “blind belief” should think deeply and reflect about what prompts them to blindly accept stories that enforce their scientific and/or atheistic beliefs and mindsets.

It is ironic how those who ask the general public to embrace rationalism, logic, skepticism, the scientific process and free thinking do not subject stories that advance their beliefs to the same standards they apply to stories that advance spiritual people’s beliefs. As far as is known, this is the first article that takes a critical look at Sanal Edamaruku’s ‘The Great Tantra Challenge’. Not even one scientist, researcher, atheist, skeptic, rationalist or free-thinker has publicly expressed the slightest doubt about what appears to be nothing more than a hoax and publicity stunt to advance Sanal Edamaruku’s extremist and fanatic atheistic beliefs and to boost the fairly new India TV’s television ratings.

Samkhya Edamaruku CNN-IBN Contributor – Bias Exposed

Samkhya Edamaruku CNN-IBN Contributor – Bias Exposed
Ex-Devotees Of Sathya Sai Baba (particularly Barry Pittard) have been quick to reference an article written by Samkhya Edamaruku that was published on CNN-IBNLive on August 1st 2008 entitled “Self-Styled Godmen Under Increasing Scrutiny”. The article in question made a casual slur against Sathya Sai Baba that said:

The Sathya Sai Baba of Puthaparthi too has faced allegations of sexual abuse and exposes on the alleged gimmicks behind his miracle acts. (Ref)

An internet search for the name Samkhya Edamaruku reveals a carefully guarded secret. Samkhya Edamaruku has never been referenced or referred to by his full name on any rationalist or atheist website, including those of his father, Sanal Edamaruku.

Sanal Edamaruku is the founder-president and editor of Rationalist International and the president of the Indian Rationalist Association (which is so professional, it is hosted on blogger). Sanal Edamaruku has been active in the Rationalist Association from the age of 15. He has been the General Secretary of the Indian Rationalist Association since 1983, and has been the editor of its mouthpiece Modern Freethinker. His father was Joseph Edamaruku who was a well known militant rationalist from Kerala, India.

Samkhya Edamaruku is also a rationalist and atheist who uses CNN-IBN to disguise and peddle his rationalistic, atheistic and anti-guru views to the unsuspecting public. As a matter of fact, Samkhya Edamaruku has worked closely with his father and K.M. Sunny in rationalist exposures and campaigns throughout India.

In the Rationalist International bulletin #48, Ritu Sehgal said:

The sadhu and his disciple are Sunny and Samkhya, two of the many rationalist activists who have been trained to perform all famous “miracles” of gurus and godmen in order to debunk them. (Ref)

The following pictures (0102) show Samkhya Edamaruku in action at an anti-superstition campaign in Makkanpur (a village in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh):

Samkhya Edamaruku Fake Pranams

Samkhya Edamaruku Fake Pranams

Samkhya Edamaruku On Nail Bed

Samkhya Edamaruku On Nail Bed

Samkhya Edamaruku Picture Links

Samkhya Edamaruku Picture Links

Therefore, when Samkhya Edamaruku wrote, “the Sathya Sai Baba of Puthaparthi too has faced allegations of sexual abuse and exposes on the alleged gimmicks behind his miracle acts”, he was maliciously and knowingly pushing his bias and anti-guru agenda on CNN-IBN / IBNLIve (as well as soliciting publicity for his father, Sanal Edamaraku). This type of questionable journalism is indeed shameful.

To Date: Sathya Sai Baba has never (ever) been charged with any crime, sexual or otherwise and not even one alleged victim has attempted to file a basic police complaint or court case against the him in India (the only place where courts would have jurisdiction over Sai Baba as an individual defendant). Ironically, Barry Pittard and Robert Priddy (two of the main spokespersons for the Anti-Sai Movement) believe even after their defection that Sathya Sai Baba posseses genuine paranormal powers, can materialize apports and is psychic (Ref).

Also see:
‘Great Tantra Challenge’ Hoax? Rationalist International, India TV & Sanal Edamaruku

Important Related Links:

The Truth About The Alleged Sathya Sai Baba ‘Sex Scandal’
Alaya Rahm Self-Dismissed His Own Lawsuit Against The SSB Society
Alaya Rahm – A 6-Year-Long Daily User Of Illegal Street Drugs And Alcohol
A Scathing Response To Critics About Alaya Rahm’s Failed Lawsuit
The Truth About The ‘Secret Swami’ Program
The ‘Open Letter’ To The Prashanti Council – Defamations Addressed
Prof. Venkataraman Writes About The Sai Controversy

K. Raja Rao – Experiences With Bhagwan Sri Satya Sai Baba

Bhagwan Baba

Bhagwan Baba

K. Raja Rao – Experiences With Bhagwan Sri Satya Sai Baba
Mr. K.Raja Rao,
Orient Sai Tailors, Sai Krishna Complex,
Gopuram Road, Puttaparthi – 515134

Mr. K.Raja Rao (48), a Sai devotee for over a decade, narrates his experiences of the Divinity of Bhagavan in his own words.

‘My ancestors were Telugu people who migrated to Culcutta from Barampuram. I was brought up in spiritual environment. Though I was hearing about Sri Sathya Sai Baba, many of the things I heard were not of complimentary nature. So I used to ignore them.

After my marriage, I shifted to Visakhapatnam. There were thefts in my shop twice. So I had to move to other places such as Jadupally, Kasibugga and finally to Palasa. When we were at Jadupally, our gold jewellery was stolen. Though it was recovered, it did not come to our hand as the case was pending in a court.

When I was residing at Visakhapatnam, I took bath one morning and was kindling agarbatti in my Pooja room, according to my usual practice. Then our son Sudhir Babu who was three years old brought a Photograph of Sri Sathya Sai Baba. It was pasted on a cardboard. There was a Ganesh idol by the side of which Swami was standing in Abhayahasta posture. Around Him were Navagrahas. Our son brought it and showed it to his mother who told him to give it to me so that I can place it in Pooja. We do not know how he got it. We placed it in Pooja. That is how Swami entered our house for the first time in the form of a Photograph in 1988.

One day I had to go to Patapatnam from Palasa to attend the court for recovery of our gold. As I was going round the Court for over three years, I was vexed.

‘Swami!’ I prayed before leaving for Patapatnam, before the Photograph of Swami, which my son gave me, ‘I will believe in you and worship you all my life if my Court affair is settled today’.

When I reached the Court I found it locked. I was told that, that day being a second Saturday, was a holiday. I was very much disappointed and tired. I tried to rest on a bench I found there when an Attender came and said, ‘please make way. The Magistrate is coming!’ I was soon called in. He asked me, why I was there. I explained. He was sorry that I was going round the Court for over three years.

‘Is the box of valuables with us or have they sent it to the Treasury?’ he asked the Attender. When he was told that it was still with the Court, he arranged to deliver the gold to me against my receipt. My work in the Court was over and I returned home happily. Why did the Magistrate come to the Court on a holiday? How did his office keep the box of valuables without sending it to the Treasury knowing about the advent of two holidays? How did the Magistrate return my jewellery without hearing arguments and completing formalities? All these are unusual. Only Swami could make them possible.

When we were at Palasa, I came under the influence of another person who was also a tailor, and a Sai devotee. On his advice, I used to attend Bhajans and was even organizing them in my house occasionally. While I was at Palasa, I came to Puttaparthi for seva in connection with the 70th Birthday Celebrations of Swami. I wrote a letter then to Swami in which I said, ‘Swami! I want to be at Puttaparthi, breathe my last here and merge in you. Kindly grant this prayer’. I sat in Darshan line for five days but Swami did not take the letter. I decided ‘if Swami does not take the letter from me the next day, I shall see that I and members of my family end our lives here at Puttaparthi itself’.

Next day I sat in Darshan line. The crowd was very heavy even though the Birthday of Swami was still two days away. We were far away from Mandir. Then Sai Kulwant Hall was not there. I sat there and started to intensely do Sai Gayatri closing my eyes. The music started signifying that Swami entered Darshan lines and began giving Darshan. I did not open my eyes. Suddenly my son tapped me on my shoulder and said, ‘Swami took your letter’. Swami came into the lines, came up to the lion’s idol, took a turn and came nearer the place where we were sitting. He signalled for the letter looking at us. My son took the letter from my hand, ran to Swami across the crowd and gave it to Swami.

In 1996, my son was ill. On examination, it was found that he had three holes in his heart. Medication prescribed was very expensive costing Rs.400 to 500 a day to be taken for six months. Even then, it was doubtful. After six months, cardiac surgery might be necessary. We came to Puttaparthi. I waited in Darshan lines for five days with letter. On the sixth day, Swami took the letter from me. We then went to the Hospital; they gave medicines free for two months. After two months they examined my son again. There were no holes and the boy was miraculously cured.

When we came to Puttaparthi for my son’s treatment with family, initially we were in the sheds. Later, I rented private accommodation outside and shifted. We put a bowl of milk (not boiled) before the Photograph of Swami.

When we enter a new house, it is customary to boil milk till it runs over the container in which it is boiled. But we did not put the milk bowl on a stove. Still, the milk ran over the container on its own as if it were being boiled on a stove.

Later, on June 8, 2000, sandal paste and vibhuti came from Swami’s Photograph in our house. Cold milk boiling and running over the brim of the bowl happened in my house again twice. When I took a new shop for my tailoring work, that is, the shop in which I run my business now, cold milk ran over the brim of the bowl again on March 25, 2004.

When my son was playing on a ground with others, the ball fell in thorny bushes. When he went to retrieve it, he found some thing shining under a mango tree. He dug a little and found a silver locket. On one side, there is Swami’s picture and on the other side Swami’s lotus feet. There are also letters in Telugu ‘Pratishtha (installation)’. Was that installed there? By whom? Why? When? No knowing! It is still in our Pooja.’

— Mr. K.Raja Rao

Religions beyond ‘isms’



Religions beyond ‘isms’
By Upinder Singh

In the realms of religious doctrines and practices, the period c. 200 BCE to 300 CE reflects several continuities with the earlier centuries, but also some striking new developments.

One of the most important of these was the beginning of new devotional practices within Buddhism and Jainism and the emergence of early Hinduism. New forms of worship were accompanied by new liturgies and mythologies. Religious teachers, saints, gods, and goddesses were worshipped or venerated in the form of images within the context of religious shrines.

The history of religions is usually constructed on the basis of frameworks provided by religious texts, which are not always accurately reflective of popular practice. Apart from their elite authorship and normative nature, some of them are difficult to date.

The beliefs and practices they mention often have earlier beginnings. Further, dominant religious traditions usually try to marginalize or ignore other traditions and therefore often give a distorted idea of their significance. An example is the case of the Ajivika sect, which, notwithstanding all the criticism of its ideas and leaders in Buddhist and Jaina texts, was clearly influential in many parts of the subcontinent across many centuries.

Further, religious texts do not always clearly reflect regional or local variations in practices, and there are some widely prevalent practices that they do not mention at all.

For all these reasons, although texts are extremely valuable sources for the history of religions, they have to be looked at along with evidence from archaeology, inscriptions, and coins.

When studying the history of different religions or sects separately, little attention is often paid to their contemporaneity and interaction. Studies of pilgrimage sites in India contain innumerable examples of places that are considered sacred for different reasons by different religious communities.

The interconnections and interactions between and among different religious traditions at the ground level also emerge clearly when we look at the archaeological evidence from specific sites, areas, and regions.

The sculptural motifs associated with ancient religious establishments reveal the existence of a shared pool of auspicious symbols. Their shrines reflect shared architectural styles that cut across sectarian differences. All this is not surprising, as these traditions and their adherents shared a common cultural space.

We will also see that there are several religious practices that were not specifically associated with a specific religious tradition but were an enduring feature of popular religion over many centuries. At the same time, the relationship between different religions or cults could also take the form of competition and conflict.

Yakshas, nagas, and goddesses
The evidence of literature and sculpture graphically illustrates the metamorphosis of the yaksha from a benevolent, powerful deity who was the focus of exclusive worship to a terrifying, demonic creature, reduced to the position of a subsidiary attendant figure associated more with fertility than with wealth. Yakshis or yakshinis were originally benign deities connected with fertility. Their worship was eventually absorbed into and marginalized by the dominant religious traditions, but the frequent references to them shows just how popular and widespread this worship once was.

The worship of serpents—nagas and nagis (or naginis)—was another important aspect of religious worship that cut across religious boundaries. The nagas and nagis were associated with water and fertility. Like the yakshas and yakshis, they too were originally the focus of exclusive worship, but were in course of time absorbed into the dominant religions. Colossal naga figures belonging to the early centuries CE have been found in many places. Their imposing nature and the technical finesse of their carving make it amply clear that they do not represent a simple folk or village cult.

Female terracotta images have been found at various from prehistoric times onwards. Whether or not these had a cultic or religious significance involves subjective judgement.

The worship of goddesses during c. 200 BCE–300 CE is evident from archaeological evidence from many sites. Female figurines are sometimes associated with terracotta artefacts that are referred to in archaeological literature as votive tanks and shrines. These occur many sites in the subcontinent, from 3rd century BCE levels right up to medieval levels, showing that such objects were part of the paraphernalia of domestic rituals for over 1,000 years.

Puranic Hinduism
The English word ‘Hinduism’ is a fairly recent one and was first used by Raja Ram Mohun Roy in 1816–17. The word ‘Hindu’ is older and is derived from the Sindhu (Indus) river. It was originally a geographical term, used in ancient Persian inscriptions to refer to the lands beyond the Sindhu river. In the course of the medieval period, the term came to acquire a religious–cultural meaning. Modern-day Hinduism differs from other major world religions in many important respects, in that it has no founder, no fixed canon which embodies its major beliefs and practices, and no organized priesthood. It is also marked by a great variety in beliefs, practices, sects, and traditions. Some scholars argue that Hinduism is not so much a religion as a set of socio-cultural practices; others argue that it is inextricably linked to the existence of caste, and still others hold that we should talk of Hindu religions in the plural rather than the singular. The relative newness of the word, the problems of definition, and the existence of much internal diversity, are not sufficient reasons to avoid the use of the term Hinduism.

During the period c. 200 BCE–300 CE, there is evidence from a variety of sources of certain devotional practices that can be associated with Hinduism. This was the formative phase in the evolution of early Hindu pantheons. Some of the deities who became the foci of worship in this period are known from Vedic literature. However, during these centuries, they emerged as powerful supreme deities, whose images were installed and worshipped in temples and homes. The most influential of the newly emerging cults were associated with the worship of the gods Shiva and Vishnu and the goddess Durga.

The beginning of the theistic trends that came to the fore in this period can be traced to the later Upanishads. However, the process is more clearly visible in the Mahabharata and Ramayana. The new religiosity of devotion is also reflected in the Bhagavad Gita and the Puranas. Apart from textual sources, archaeological sites, sculptures, coins, and inscriptions give important data, which in some cases indicates earlier beginnings than suggested by texts.

The earliest inscriptional references to and archaeological remains of Hindu temples belong to c. 200 BCE–300 CE. Reference was made earlier to the Besnagar pillar inscription of Heliodorus, which records the installation of a pillar associated with a Vishnu templeand the remains of the foundations of a temple nearby. A 2nd century Nagari inscription mentions a temple of Samkarshana and Vasudeva. The remains of a temple dedicated to the Matrikas (the Seven Mothers) at Sonkh, a Lakshmi temple at Atranjikhera, a Shaiva temple at Gudimallam, and temples dedicated to Vishnu and Shiva at Nagarjunakonda can be considered to be among the earliest vestiges of Hindu temples in the subcontinent.

Although the period c. 200 BCE–300 CE witnessed the development of sectarian cults that considered a particular god or goddess as a supreme deity, there was also a parallel process which visualized the Hindu gods as closely related and performing complementary functions. This is evident, for instance, in the idea of the triad of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva, present in the Mahabharata and more clearly developed in the Puranas. In this triad, Brahma is associated with the creation of the world, Vishnu with its preservation, and Shiva its destruction. The three gods are also associated with different principles, from which arises their division of labour—Brahma is associated with rajas (the creative, active principle), Vishnu with sattva (the unattached, passive principle), and Shiva with tamas (the dark, fierce principle). In some places in the Puranas, the gods operate in their respective spheres according to this division of labour, in others they are described as manifestations of the same divine being.

The acknowledgement of other gods and their being considered worthy of respect is also evident from the fact that shrines dedicated to one deity often have sculptural representations of other deities as well. Polytheism simply refers to a belief in many gods, but monolatory means the belief in a supreme god without denying the existence of other gods. It is the latter term that best describes emergent Hinduism.

Extracted with permission from A History of Ancient and Early Medieval India: from the Stone Age to the 12th century by Upinder Singh. Pearson Longman. Pages 704.

Religion Symbols

Religion Symbols