Thursday, March 18, 2010
Salvation in Hinduism 1
Salvation in Hinduism
The word Avatar or Avatāra, is from Sanskrit, means "descent" (typically from heaven to earth), and refers to a deliberate descent of a deity from heaven to earth. Avatar is mostly translated into English as "incarnation", but more accurately as "appearance" or "manifestation". An early reference to avatar, and to the avatar doctrine, is in the Bhagavad Gita, which was written under the influence of early Indian Christianity - Jesus Christ coming into this world as a man. The Gospel of Christ entered northern India in the 1st century AD through the apostle Thomas and spread in the Pahlava Empire of Gondophares and the Sakas who were under their dominion; this is proved by the analysis of Sanskrit. The apostle’s ministry ended in the South where he died a martyr in Mylapore. South India also had excellent trade relations with the Roman Empire, and when there are trade relations, cultural and religions exchanges also take place. The Christian Gospel is seen in the Krishna concept which evolved in the north, while the Siva concept evolved in the south. Around the 5th century AD, through the southern incursions of the Gupta Empire, these two Christian developments came in contact with each other. The communications in the north were in Sanskrit while it was Tamil in the south. At this juncture, the Dravidians in the south developed Grantha a southern script, for communicating in Sanskrit.
From the 7th century AD onward, a movement with religious origins made itself heard in South Indian literature. The movement was that of bhakti, or intense personal devotion to the two principal gods of Hinduism, Siva and Vishnu. The earliest bhakti poets were the followers of Siva, the Nayanars (Siva Devotees), whose first representative was the poetess Karaikkal Ammaiyar, who called himself a Pey, or ghostly minion of Siva, and sang ecstatically of his dances. Tirumular was a mystic and reformer in the so-called Siddhanta (Perfected Man) school of Saivism, which rejected caste and asceticism, and believed that the body is the true temple of Siva. There were 12 early Nayanar saints. Similar poets, in the tradition of devotion to the god Vishnu, also belonged to this early period. Called Alvars (Immersed Ones), they had as their first representatives Poykai, Putan, and Peyar, who composed "centuries" (groups of 100) of linked verses (antati), in which the final line of a verse is the beginning line of the next and the final line of the last verse is the beginning of the first, so that a "garland" is formed. To these Alvars, God is the light of lights, lit in the heart.
The most important Nayanars were Appar and Campantar, in the 7th century, and Cuntarar, in the 8th. Appar, a self-mortifying Jain ascetic before he became a Saiva saint, sings of his conversion to a religion of love, surprised by the Lord stealing into his heart. After him, the term tevaram ("private worship") came to mean "hymn". Campantar, too, wrote these personal, "bonemelting" songs for the common man. Cuntarar, however, who sees a vision of 63 Tamil saints-rich, poor, male, female, of every caste and trade, unified even with bird and beast in the love of God-epitomizes bhakti. To him and other Bhaktas, every act is worship, every word God's name. Unlike the ascetics, they return man to the world of men, bringing hope, joy, and beauty into religion and making worship an act of music. Their songs have become part of temple ritual. Further, in bhakti, erotic love (as seen in akam) in all its phases became a metaphor for man's love for God, the lover.
In the 9th century, Manikkavacakar, in his great, moving collection of hymns in Tiruvacakam, sees Siva as lover, lord, master, and guru; the poet sings richly and intimately of all sensory joys merging in God. Minister and scholar, he had a child's love for God.
Antal (8th century), a Vaisnava poetess, is literally love-sick for Krsna. Periyalvar, her father, sings of Krsna in the aspect of a divine child, originating a new genre of celebrant poetry. Kulacekarar, a Cera prince, sings of both Rama and Krsna, identifying himself with several roles in the holy legends: a gopi in love with Krsna or his mother, Devaki, who misses nursing him, or the exiled Rama's father, Dasaratha. Tiruppanalvar, an untouchable poet (panan), sang 10 songs about the god in Srirangam, his eyes, mouth, chest, navel, his clothes, and feet. To these Bhaktas, God is not only love but beauty. His creation is his jewel; in separation he longs for union, as man longs for him. Tirumankaiyalvar, religious philosopher, probably guru (personal religious teacher and spiritual guide in Hinduism) to the Pallava kings, and poet of more than 1,000 verses, was apparently responsible for the building of many Vaisnava temples. The last of Alvars, Nammalvar (Our Alvar), writing in the 9th century, expresses poignantly both the pain and ecstasy of being in love with God, revivifying mythology into revelation.