Different parts of India contributed to its Religious Life

I was reading volume 4 of The Cultural Heritage of India published by The Ramakrishna Mission - Institute of Culture. Introduction to this volume has an interesting sub-set titled ‘Contribution of Different Parts of India to its Religious Life’ so decided to share with you. Find below excerpts from the said sub-set verbatim.

“We have already mentioned that no particular part of the country can claim monopoly in spiritual speculation. Thus to Kashmir we owe the Trika philosophy in association with Saivism. The Punjab (including the outermost north-western areas, of which Afghanistan once formed a part), gave us the hymns of the Vedas, as also the magnificent Gandhari school of sculpture in Buddhism. The heart of Aryavarta gave us the ritualistic literature, the earlier Upanishads, the epics and some of the older Puranas. Mithila is famous for the spiritual fellowship of Janaka and Yajnavalkya. To Magadha, we owe the inspiring messages of Mahavira and Buddha. Bengal has given us the Caitanya movement as also the later Tantras. Assam has similarly given us the pure Vaishnavism of Sankara Deva and, in earlier times, the magico-religious cults of the Tantrikas. The mediaeval of Siddhas, whose cult-descendants are the Kanphata Yogis or the followers of Matsyendra Natha and Goraksa Natha, probably came from the eastern regions.

To Nepal, we owe the synthesis of the Brahmanical and Buddhist religions, and the schools of painters and braziers, who, with the Tibetans, have given form and shape to the multitudinous gods and goddesses of the Mahayana pantheon. Orissa is justly celebrated for its magnificent Buddha, Sakta, Vaisnava and Saura monuments, as also for its philosophical works supporting the theism of the Caitanya school, and for the continuance of the Buddhist tradition in a veiled manner in religious and social practices. Orissa may also probably claim the distinction of having provided the Samba Purana in the honour of Surya.

When we reach the Dravidian area, we enter a region that has given India not only the foremost commentaries on the Brahma-Sutras, which provide a philosophical basis of religious belief, but also the most lyrical of singers, both Vaisnava and Saiva, whose devotional outpourings have been justly praised. The Vaisnava Alwars and Savia Nayanars meant the numerous writers of Samhitas and Agamas brought religion to the heart of all, and, ultimately, orthodoxy itself was forced to recognize the vernacular hyms also as acceptable offerings to the deity.

Mostly fee from the dear iconoclasm and far away from the seat of alien political authority, the religious South turned the whole country into a vast cathedral-city with gorgeous temples and spectacular rites, the and the year into a round festivals and pilgrimages. The Smartas toned down the sectarian bitterness which Pancaratra and Agamic conflict tended to produce. In the Karnataka country was evolved the Lingayat cult which, in alliance with Jainism in the South, attacked many items of the orthodox Brahmanic creed and custom. The Saints of Karnataka vie with the Tamil Saiva and Vaisnava lyricists in the rapturous devotion to God.

Maharashtra has given a galaxy of saints, Tukarama, Namadeva, and others whose abangas (devotional verses) have illuminated innumerable souls with their mystic light. Like the mediaeval mystics of North India – Kabir, Dadu, Ravidasa, Nanak, Mirabai, Tulasidasa and others – and the Tamil saints of Vaisnavism and Saivism, they have proved that when the barrier of the sacred Sanskrit language is removed, religion overflows all boundaries of caste and convention, and established a new hierarchy in the spiritual field enriched by the waters of living faith. Gujarat and Kathiawad may claim the distinction of having given us the early Bhagavatism, the reaction of the Svetambara Jaina canon, and the consolidation of the solar cult, while to the south, in the Karnataka and other areas, the Digambara Jaina literature was consolidated and extended.

Who can forget the kindly patronage that was so lavishly bestowed by different dynasties and individual rulers to further the case of this or that religion, all through the centuries, in different parts of the country, esp beyond the Vindhyas? Nor must we forget that Dayananda Saraswati, the founder of the Arya Samaj, hailed form Gujarat, though his greatest following was in Punjab, where, like the Sikhs, the Arya Samajists so liberalized Hinduism that the challenge of Islam was effectively met in that area. Sind has given us the great Sufi thinkers of India.

It is only in recent years that we coming to realize the value, from the cultural standpoint, of regions like Rajasthan, Vindhya Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Hyderabad, the tribal areas of Assam, and the southern parts of Bihar. Here we have remnants not only or archaic religious beliefs among the Kolarians, who predated the Dravidians, but also of the pre-historic peoples of the different Stone ages, whose religious life we are painfully reconstructing with fragments of cult-objects. The Austric culture, that extends up to Nasik in the west, and covers a wide area, including Nepal and the hills of Assam, is of a piece with the Pacific culture; but it is now changing beyond recognition with elements drawn Aryan and Dravidian civilizations. In Rajasthan we are now discovering sites belonging to the Mohenjo-daro and Harappa civilization. Thus, even these dark areas were at once illuminated by religious traditions with hoary antiquities of their own.

We can therefore justifiably repeat the assertion that ‘India is religion’. We do not exclude from this description Ceylon which has given us the Pali Triptika and other Buddhist religious literature and also imperishable Buddhist religious monuments.”

An argument i.e. usually thrown at the Indian people to justify British rule was that India was a collection of independent states when the British came. It was the British who brought unity to India and gave it the form of a Nation that it is today.

What people tend to forget is that the concept of a nation is of recent origin, at best five hundred years only. Two and importantly India was one cultural unit. It was culture that defined its borders as the above excerpt clearly indicates. Thus modern day Afghanistan, Ceylon, Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan and India formed part of what was the Bharatiya Cultural Unit.

The concept of cultural unit can be extended to include Burma, Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia although it is not known how they contributed to religious life in India.

Problems arise because we evaluate our country on parameters laid down by the West. Instead of perpetually trying to defend our culture and way of thinking, can we not say – this is our culture, do not get us sermons about it, period.

Temples of Aihole and Pattadakal in Karnataka are considered to be the cradles of Indian temple architecture. Mount Kailash in Tibet is worshipped by Hindus, Buddhists of Nepal and Tibet and Jains. Also see pictures of symbols of Indian Culture in Cambodia and Thailand. Photo links can be found below.

Note that matter referred to above is courtesy and copyright The Ramakrishna Mission - Institute of Culture, Kolkatta.

Also see
1. Temples of Aihole
2. Durg Temple Aihole
3. Pattadakal Temples
4. Mount Kailash Yatra
5. Bodh Gaya Mandir in Bihar
6. Pawapuri in Bihar
7. Sun Temple Konarak Orissa
8. Hindu symbols in Thailand
9. Vir Saivism in Karnataka
10. History of Arya Samaj
11. Kamakshya Mandir Assam
12. Angkor Watt Cambodia
13. Devotees from S. E. Asia and Far East in Bodh Gaya Mandir

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