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Prithvi- The Earth Mother

The seasons are shifting. There is a distinct autumnal nip in the air and as the days get shorter it is the time for the Hindu calendar to come alive with some spectacular nighttime celebrations.

In the run up to Navaratri, when we worship the Goddess or the divine mother, and rejoice in her blessings, my mind is on a particular manifestation of the Goddess- the Earth. She is Prithvi, the Mother Earth, and represents the feminine, creative and transformative energy of the Universe. She makes our life possible and sustains it. And in worshipping her we worship Shakti the Cosmic energy that pervades the Universe.

Last week IPCC, the International Panel for Climate Change announced that global warming is definitely happening and that Imagethey are now 95% certain man has been its major cause. As if we needed figures to confirm what we are already witnessing all around us. But, it’s good to to have scientific backing. Might help get the naysayers on board and move some political will in the right direction. Great, I thought, now we can all get serious and do something about this.

However, days later, solutions are not what we are talking about. Far from it.

A debate rages on ….What about the other five percent? Why are the scientists not a hundred percent sure? Was the hype about global warming just scare mongering to get us to recycle? Were we being taken a for a ride all this while? Do we really need all those wind turbines ruining the countryside?

I don’t get it. Isn’t a 95 % probability worrying enough? Shouldn’t we recycle anyway….good housekeeping has great merits. And, isn’t it nice that we have a countryside to dot with wind turbines? It’s a ridiculous debate.

We are refusing to accept the mess we have created lest we may be asked to clean it up. And so we remain belligerent, arguing endlessly but missing the point- we cannot afford to take a chance. It could end up costing us the Earth. Literally.

We don’t need science or religion to tell us this. As infants our instincts told us we couldn’t survive without our mother and as little children we thought she was our entire world.

What we need is a return to that innocence. When we ‘feel’ not ‘think’ that we need to hang on to Earth for dear life.

We need to bring back that sense of awe and wonder the early civilisations felt when they looked upon the natural world. That sense of watching something divine and mystical unfold before us, everyday.

And we need to let our children in on the magic too. If they are not lucky enough to enjoy the countryside then let them nurture a potted plant on a window sill in a crowded city block. Catch a sunset or two. Perhaps watch a full moon on some night. Because if we don’t, they will care even less than we do and then even the debates will stop.

So I am hoping that when we celebrate Navratri this year, we will be touched by more than just the festivities. That we may feel the divine Mother manifesting within and without.

The Atharva Veda has a beautiful hymn called Prithvi Sukta, In Praise of the Earth. Here is a small excerpt. I am not sure who translated it but it is beautiful and a reminder of the wonder that we once felt.

 Earth in which lie the sea, the river and other waters,
in which food and cornfields have come to be,
in which lives all that breathes and that moves,
May she confer on us the finest of her yield.
Earth, in which the waters, common to all,
moving on all sides, flow unfailingly, day and night,
may she pour on us milk in many streams,
and endow us with lustre.
May those born of thee, O Earth,
be for our welfare, free from sickness and waste.
Wakeful through a long life, we shall become
bearers of tribute to thee.
Earth, my mother, set me securely with bliss
in full accord with heaven,
O wise one,
uphold me in grace and splendour.

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The Vedas

Although Hinduism famously has no founder and is believed to have grown organically from a collective consciousness and a way of life, all Hindu beliefs and practices find their source in the Vedas. Even today Vedas are widely accepted as the final authority on Hinduism and have greatly influenced Jainism, Sikhism and Buddhism. Image

The word ‘Veda’ comes from the root ‘vid’,to know. Veda means knowledge.

There are two kinds of knowledge. Shruti, that which is heard or revealed and Smriti, that which is remembered.

The Vedas are Shruti and other scriptures like the Puranas and the epics Mahabharata and Ramayana are Smriti.

Hindus believe the Vedas are eternal truths revealed to great rishis of ancient times.The word ‘rishi’ means a ‘seer’ and comes from the root, dris which means to see. A rishi is a seer of mantra or thought. The thought already exists as eternal Truth. A rishi only discovers it spiritually.

In that sense the Vedas are eternal. The books may be destroyed but the knowledge cannot be destroyed.

ImageAs for the actual written texts, scholars believe that they were written down some 2,500 years ago, though the tradition often dates them to the beginning of Kali-yuga (circa 3000 BCE). The following is an overview of the four Vedas.

The Rig-Veda

The most important and oldest of the Vedas. It is divided into ten books (called mandalas) and has 1028 hymns in praise of various deities. These include Indra, Agni, Vishnu, Rudra, Varuna, and other early or “Vedic gods.” It also contains the famous Gayatri mantra and the prayer called the Purusha Shukta (the story of Primal Man).

The Yajur-Veda

A priestly handbook for use in the performance of yajnas (sacrifices) It is divided into two sections, the earlier “black” and the more recent “white.”

Sama-Veda

This veda is purely a collection of melodies,‘saman’ to be sung during worship. The hymns in the Sama Veda, used as musical notes, were almost completely drawn from the Rig Veda and have no distinctive lesson of their own. Hence it is considered as a reduced version of the Rig Veda.

Atharva-Veda

Contains hymns, mantras and incantations.

Within each of the four books there are four types of composition, or divisions, as shown below.

The Samhitas – literally “collections,” in this case of hymns and mantras. They form the Veda proper.

The Brahmanas – prose manuals of ritual and prayer for the guiding priests. They tend to explain the Samhitas. They also contain early versions of some stories.

The Aranyakas – literally “forest books” for hermits and saints. They are philosophical treatises.

The Upanishads – books of philosophy, also called “Vedanta,” the end or conclusion of the Vedas.

There are also two important bodies of supplementary literature, related closely to the Vedas, Vedangas and Upvedas.

The Vedangas (limbs of the Vedas), expound the sciences required to understand and apply the Vedas.

The Upavedas (usually considered smriti) deal with the four traditional arts and sciences.

The Six Vedangas are:

Kalpa (ritual detail)

Siksha (pronunciation)

Vyakarana (grammar)

Nirukti (etymology)

Chandas (metre)

Jyotisha (astronomy/astrology)

The Four Upavedas explain arts and sciences,

Ayur-veda (medicine)

Gandharva-veda (music and dance)

Dhanur-veda (warfare)

Shilpa-veda (architecture)

(Based on Swami Sivananda’s  book Bliss Divine and the ISKON Heart of Hinduism website.)

In the next post we’ll look at the Upanishads, the sublime essence of the Vedas.

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