In aaryavarta, which came to be known later as Bharat, the ethos of the land, the inhabitants’ way of life, their scriptures, spirituality are all intertwined drawing strength and reinforcing one another. The implicit dharma derived from the Vedas is handed down from generation to generation, packed and preserved in the more readily accessible scriptures. Universal family, vasudhaika kutumbakam, universal welfare, vishwa shreya and lok kalyan, all-round well being, prosperity and happiness, are cherished ideals in aarsha dharma, the earliest known full blown culture.
Sanatana Dharma is the holy law, in accordance with which people in aaryavarta fashioned and led life. This is also loosely called Hinduism, the religion of the Hindus. Some say that Hinduism is not a religion as such but a way of life. It is also called aarsha dhrama, the law as laid down by the seers and sages drawn from the Vedas, which are supposed to be not man-made. The Vedas and the Upanishads speak of rituals where meditation, sacrificial fires called yajnas, prayers and mantras played a dominant role in the earthly life. There are varnshrama dharmas, gurus, families, teachers, society, caste, and creed. And there is belief in reincarnation and recurrent births in accordance with one’s karma or actions. A firm moral law is drawn from faith in God, which made man live in harmony with Nature and the five elements. This is spirituality at its most sublime. One spiritual thinker goes to the extent of saying that Hindu Spirituality is a misnomer: What spirituality preaches is that everything is illusion as Adi Sankara explained centuries ago. Spirituality is Sanatana Dharma, the eternal (and the ancient) order of things.
Sri Aurobindo in his Essays on the Gita takes us to the core of spirituality. “That which the Gita teaches is not a human, but a divine action, not the performance of social duties, but the abandonment of all other standards of duty or conduct for a selfless performance of the divine will working through our nature, not social service, but the action of the Best, the God-possessed, the Master-men done impersonally for the sake of the world and as a sacrifice to Him who stands behind man and Nature.”
And there is the rousing devotional threnody:
nirmohatwe nischala tatwam
nischala tatwe jeevan muktih
‘Nischala tatwam, the unmoving unvascillating quality is the mental state on spiritual attainment. This is not automatic. One has to strive for it or intuit it by divine grace. Company of the Worthy and Wise, Satsangtwa – Unattachment, nissangtwa – Desireless State, nirmohatwa are levels for human beings to attain one after the other. Human life is a foothold, a launching pad to go up, to scale the heights. At the operational level of everyday life a human being cannot attain to the spiritual state without awareness, knowledge, a preceptor and - to begin with - a model way of life like varanashrama dharma, in this case. This dharma for the lay as well as the learned is a sure way to give an awareness of the levels ultimately to endeavour to make it to nischala tatwa, which culminates in jeeven mukti - liberation for life and the cycle of birth and death.
Sanatana Dharma is this spirituality – to realize that life in itself is ‘illusion’. Adi Sankara intuited it, so did the great seers of the recent past, Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and Sri Aurobindo. The operational level is given importance for it is the beginning to go forward, to scale the heights. The three principal scriptures, derived largely from veddharma, the Ramayana, the Bhagavatha and the Mahabharata show human aspirations and the human actuality with glimpses of the ultimate glory man can attain through a number of parables, fables, allegories and several narrative devices.
The moral law or dharma is inviolable. There is a power that operates to maintain justice. A deviation or lapse calls for retribution. The retribution is in the form of a saapa, a curse. The reward / punishment operated through anugrah / nigrah. Divine Power has the capacity for either nigrah or anugrah. Sages, seers, mahatmas and the like have this power obtained from their own austerities, meditation, prayers, devotion and tapsya.
The principal classical epics, Srimadramayana, Srimadbhagavatha and Mahabharata, have in them umpteen episodes of curses with expiation prescribed therefor or, with a divine design behind each. Right from deities to great devotees, male and female come under curses from the pious and potent for lapses as defined, explained or subtly hinted at in the inexorable, Holy Law, dharma, which it is every human being’s duty to obey.
The epics have the intent of preaching spirituality, the moral and metaphysical ordering of life being the objective. The significant way this is done is by employing devices like the fable, parable, allegory and subtle narrative. There is an easily permeating immediate effect that leads the listener/reader to ponder and make judgements. A closer, in depth reading or pondering leads one to the core of the teaching. These grand narratives are literal gold mines: the deeper one digs the richer he emerges.
Materialistic pursuits and preoccupation with mere worldliness devoid of a sense of the goal cannot lead man to fulfillment, the realization of God. This is brought out again and again tirelessly in a myriad ways. Lapses in the adherence to dharma lead to curses as divine dispensation at different times to different individuals with different objectives – all with an edifying purpose. The objective of the study is to unveil the basic spirituality in the devout ethos of the aaryavarta.
The narration of the course of events in the narrative Srimadbhagavata stems from the curse King Parikshit draws from Sringi, the son of the mahamuni Shameeka. The king’s deed is caused by his hurt pride that he does not get the usual hospitality at the hermitage where he comes thirsty, his throat parched after a day’s hard but satisfying sport of hunting. It is thirst that makes him lose his temper in hideous rashness to teach a lesson to the hermit. In much the same way the Ramayana centres on Sita who is Vedavati of Brahmavivartapurana. She lays a curse on the rakshas Ravana for making unholy advances to her against her will even after being warned. She immolates herself in fire imprecating the offender that she would destroy him as well as his progeny reincarnating herself in his own kingdom.
Parikshit is no ordinary king. While yet a foetus in his mother’s womb he is saved by Lord Krishna himself in accordance with the prayer and wish of his mother Uttara, after Aswaththama lays a curse on the Pandava offspring. The muni himself in his equanimity assures the angered son that he is not going to be punished by the might king for his hasty act. Parikshit is noble and pious by nature: he yields to what he considers the fruit of his wicked action, abdicates the throne and launches on a fast unto death. But his initial reaction to what he thinks is the hermit’s neglect is unbecoming a king. Pride and anger undo his worth. He wants expiation and he prays the holy hermits who come to him in large numbers to show him a way of redemption. Suka Maharshi appears on the scene and narrates him the tale of Srimannarayana, the pious recitation or listening of which would be an expiation. This curse episode forms the base for the whole grand narrative, which inheres in it the essence of Sanatana Dharma.
A detailed study of the sequence of events leading to the imprecation and its aftermath, the personae involved, their predilections and personalities, accomplishments and failings (the consequence of vasanas, encrusted qualities, carried forward from the earlier births) help us to link the event with dharma, its workings as divine dispensation.
Sringi, the son of the much revered Shameeka pronounces the curse on King Parikshit (the name is symbolic, he is the one protected while still in his mother’s womb by Lord Krishna himself). The deed that causes the curse is the king’s throwing a dead snake on the sage’s shoulder while the latter is in his meditation, tapasya. The passion that ignited the action is the king’s feeling of his being neglected at the hermitage. For the proud king the seer lost in his tapsya instantly becomes just an object for contempt and derision.
Sringi (the name has associations with Lord Shiva’s mount) the young man is particularly conscious of his sire’s unique traits of austerity, piety and otherworldliness. The youth of the hermitage come to tell him of the king’s misdemeanour. Sringi is stung into righteous indignation. He goes to the river Kausiki, touches the holy water and pronounces his curse that no matter who intervenes, the king would meet his death by a snakebite before seven days elapse. Sringi does not know that the king is the ruler of the kingdom he lives in. His headlong haste is a later rued by his father who is aware of the greatness of the monarch.
Shameeka the muni is an incarnation of sattwa. He mildly reprimands his son for his haste. Then he goes on to explain how a kingdom goes to ruin in the absence of a good and able king. As for the young man’s act, the muni in his piety and equanimity says that the king would not view it with severity. He also knows that Sringi is only an instrument in the working of dharma. The young man’s lapse has extenuating circumstances, which the act of the king does not have.
Parikshit, having been told about the curse, quietly yields to divine dispensation and with humility hurries to make the best of the seven days left to him to attain the lotus feet of the Lord. He abdicates the throne and goes into praayopavesa, fast unto death.
The whole episode is linked to the operation of dharma, divine law and divine dispensation. The king, being a Kshatriya is not supposed to fall prey to incontinence, hideous rashness and an obnoxious act of irreverence. It is significant that the King doesn’t protest. There is another intent and design. This curse and its offshoot is the foundation for Suka, the yogi’s recounting of the tale of Mahabhagavatha, the mere listening of which would provide expiation not just to Parikshit but for one and all and pave the way for the welfare of all the world around, for lok kalyan. Lok kalyan lies in drawing people to the significance of human life and the essence of spirituality. We are told time and again that listening to the scriptures per se has edifying influence.
In the Bhagavadgita, the Lord tells His disciple in Sradhdhaatrayavibhagayoga of three types of congenital predilection ‘sraddha’ acquired and carried forward from earlier births,: Sattwic, Rajasic and Tamasic. Swami Chinmayananda calls them three types of ‘covering’: ‘peaceful’, ‘restless’ and ‘low.’ The guna - quality one is born with can be transformed by adherence to knowledge and the holy law, dharma, under the guidance of a guru using right judgement. The sattwic and the tamasic are ever in opposition. The sattwic is the hallmark of the basic ethos of aaryavarta. It is the constant aspiration of the knowing and learned ones in the land to move high and higher and be devotees of and adherents to Sanatana Dharma.