Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Vivekananda and Skanda Purana on Rama Setu

Vivekananda and Skanda Purana on Rama Setu

“Learning everything about Sita from Hanuman, Rama collected an army, and with it marched towards the southernmost point of India. There Rama's monkeys built a huge bridge, called Setu-Bandha, connecting India with Ceylon. In very low water even now it is possible to cross from India to Ceylon over the sand-banks there.” Swami Vivekananda THE RAMAYANA (Delivered at the Shakespeare Club, Pasadena, California, January 31, 1900)
Skanda Purana says: Rama Setu is place of worship

April 17, 2008
Setu sacred, but not a place of worship? Wonders Supreme Court
April 15th, a day prior to the Rama Navami the birthday of Sri Rama, was when a bench of Supreme Court headed by Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan was hearing the arguments from the petitioners on the Sethusamudram project.

Justice R V Raveendran said that Ram Sethu, cannot be called a place of worship, though it may be a sacred structure. "Who says it (Ram Sethu) is a place of worship? Who goes to the middle of the sea to worship," a bench comprising Chief Justice K G Balakrishnan and Justice R V Raveendran asked.

"Don't say people go there and worship," he observed when Janata Party president and petitioner Dr. Subramanian Swamy submitted that Ram Sethu has to be protected as it was a place of worship for devout Hindus.

Finally the Chief Justice tried to make peace by saying, "We don't say that it [Ramar Sethu] is not a sacred place", and adjourned the next hearing to April 29.

So, the question arises, is Rama Sethu [just] a sacred place and not a place of worship? We can present various evidences to show that the textual evidence suggests that Setu is indeed a place of worship. Here we look at one source: skanda purANa.

skanda purANa’s third book, brahmakhaNDaM, opens with a section called setu-mahAtmya and the 48th and 49th verses from its first chapter known as setu-gamana-phalAdi-varNanam are:

setusaikatamadhyeyaH shete tatpAMsukunThitaH
yAvantaH pAMsavo lagnAstasyAnge viprasattamAH (48)
tAvatAM bramhahatyAnAM nASaH syAnnAtra saMSayaH
setumadhyastha vAten yasyAngaH spR^syate-akhilaM (49)

(48) One, who prostrates in the middle of the Setu's sandbank (setu-saikata-madhye), his sins becomes dulled. And ultimately his sins are subdued, O Best of the Dvija-s. (49) (So much so), that the grimmest sin that arises from killing a Bramhana, no doubt, even that is destroyed by performing rites there - (when) every part of the (sinner's) body touches the winds in the middle of the Setu ( setu-madhyastha-vAta).

Here the text is abundantly clear in specifically prescribing the actual rituals (puja) to be performed at the very Rama Setu (yes in the middle of the sea if His Highness pleases). So absolutely, the traditional textual evidence to the contention of Setu being a place of worship is undeniable.

May 9, 2007
Significance of Rama Setu in Skanda Purana
By Bodhinath Shandilya

Description of the significance of Rama Setu can be found in abundance throughout the literature of Dharma Shastras. In Puranas, the importance of Setu is explained in great details, especially in Skanda Purana, Vishnu Purana, Agni Purana, and Brahma Purana.

This article explores Sri Skanda Mahapurana, with objective of understanding the importance with which Rama Setu is held in the Hindu traditions, and how significant it really is for Hindus.

Sri Skanda Purana
The most voluminous of all the eighteen main Puranas, and the other eighteen subsidiary Upa-puranas, is Skanda Purana. Skanda Purana is dedicated to Sri Skanda, also famous as Kartikeya or Kumara, the illustrious son of Siva and Parvati, and chief commander of the army of Gods. Skanda Purana consists of 88,100 verses and is divided into seven different books:
1. Maheshwarakhandam
2. Vaishnavakhandam
3. Brahmakhandam
4. Kashikhandam
5. Avantyakhandam
6. Nagarakhandam
7. Prabhasakhandam

Setu Mahatmya in Skanda Purana
Skanda Purana’s third book, Brahmakhandam, opens with a section, which is famous as Setu-Mahatmya, and dedicates this section spanning over fifty-two chapters to describing in detail, the significance of Rama Setu, its various aspects and its history throughout the ages.

The main themes of these fifty-two chapters are mentioned below:

1. The Description of Merits of Visiting Setu
2. The Construction of Setu
3. Dharmatirtha Becomes Famous as Chakratirtha
4. Redemption of Durdama from a Curse
5. Redemption from Curse of Alambusa and Vidhuma
6. Battle between the Goddess and Mahisasura
7. Mahisasura Killed
8. Sudarsana Becomes a Vampire
9. Redemption of Sudarsana and Sukarna
10. The Sanctifying Power of Papavinasa
11. Glorification of Sita Lake: Indra Absolved of the Sin of Brahmana-Slaughter
12. Glorification of Mangala Tirtha
13. The Glory of Amrtavapi: Salvation of Agastya's Brother
14. Brahma's Redemption from Siva's Curse
15. The Glory of Hanumatkunda: Dharmasakha Blessed with a Hundred Sons
16. The Glory of Agasti Tirtha: The Story of Kaksivan
17. The Glory of Agastyakunda: The Marriage of Kaksivan
18. The Glory of Ramakunda: Dharamaputra's Atonement for False Speech
19. The Glory of Laksmanatritha: Balabhadra's Redemption from the Sin of Brahmana-Slaughter
20. The Glory of Jataritha: Dharmaputra Obtains Unlimited Wealth
21. The Glory of Laksmitirtha: Dharmaputra Obtains Unlimited Wealth
22. The Glory of Agnitirtha: Duspanya Relieved of His Ghosthood
23. The Glory of Cakratirtha: Aditya Gets Golden Hands
24. The Glory of Sivatirtha: Bhairava Absolved of the Sin of Brahmana-Slaughter
25. The Glory of Sankhatirtha: Vatsanabha Freed from the Sin of Ingratitude
26. The Greatness of Ganga, Yamuna and Gaya: Janasruti Attains Perfect Knowledge
27. The Glory of Kotitirtha: Krsna Atones for His Sin of Killing His Uncle
28. The Glory of Sadhyamrtatirtha: Pururavas Liberated from a Curse
29. The Glory of Sarvatirtha: Sucarita Attains Sayujya
30. The Glory of Dhanushkoti
31. The Glory of Kotitirtha: Asvatthama's Liberation from the Sin of Killing Sleeping Persons
32. The Glory of Dhanushkoti: Dharmagupta Gets Rid of His Madness
33. The Glory of Dhanushkoti: Paravasu Liberated from the Sin of Brahmana-Slaughter
34. The Glory of Dhanushkoti: Sumati's Liberation from Great Sins
35. The Glory of Dhanushkoti: The Jackal and the Monkey Liberated
36. The Glory of Dhanushkoti: Duracara Liberated from the Sin of Associating with Sinners
37. Ksirakunda
38. The Glory of Ksirakunda: Kadru's Expitation for her Deceitful Action
39. The Glory of Kapitirtha: Rambha and Ghrtaci Liberated from their Curse
40. The Glory of Gayatri and Sarasvati Tirthas
41. The Glory of Gayatri and Sarasvati Kundas: Destruction of Kasyapa's Sin
42. Rnamocana and Other Tirthas
43. The Glory of Ramanatha
44. The Installation of the Linga of Ramanatha
45. Rama's Discourse on Philosophy
46. The Reason for the Installation of Ramanatha
47. Rama's Sin of Brahma-hatya
48. Cessation of Great Sins Incurred by King Sankara
49. Eulogy of Ramanatha
50. The Story of Punyanidhi
51. Pilgrimage to Setu
52. The Glory of Setu

This article attempts to explore the first of these fifty-two chapters – known as Setu-gamana-phaladi-varnanam (Description of Merits of Visiting Setu), with objective of understanding the importance, with which Rama Setu is held in the Hindu traditions.

1. Setu’s particularly unique significance mentioned in Sri Skand Purana is that it is described as a place where prayashchitta (repentance) can be performed, for the gravest of the most heinous sins such as:

a) Guru-talpa-ga: someone who has illicit relationship with the spouse of one’s own teacher. This is classified as the most heinous sin. It is important to note that Setu is mentioned as that place where someone with this sin must repent.

b) Bramha-hatya: Slaughtering a Brahmana is considered a very grave sin in traditions. Setu is a unique teertha, in that this is designated as the only place on earth, which liberates someone of this sin. Setu-mahatmya chapter provides several details and mentions a few examples such as that of Sri Rama himself, and of a king Sankara, and a few more – where someone with that sin has performed ritual karma-s of repentance at Setu.

c) Bramha-ghata: Purana clearly defines 5 major classes of bramhaghatakas, and then a few minor. Again, this is a major heinous sin, and Purana mentions Setu to be the holy place where one can perform repentance karma kanda for liberation from this sin.

2. There is a very significant coverage given to Setu-Mahatmya in Skanda Purana, in terms of the number of chapters, verses and depth of details, as well as this section being the opening section of Bramhakhandam.

The format of the remainder of this article is, a strict translation from the original text, while sub-headings are added to mention the topic of discussion underneath it. The original text, directly scanned from the pages of the Purana is provided as well.

Before proceeding further, I wish to seek forgiveness for any errors: those are solely and completely mine, unintentional, and deeply regretted.

I pray to Sri Ganesh. I pray to Sri Veda Vyasa. I pray to Sri Vishnu, clad in white, the all-pervading, of the complexion as that of Moon, having four arms and a pleasant face; I pray to thee, please alleviate all the obstacles.

The Sages of Naimisharanya
(1) Shaunaka and the other Rishis were dwelling in the forests of Naimish. All of them were devotedly occupied in Eightfold-Yoga, and all of them were extremely intent upon Bramha-realization. (2) They were desirous of ultimate liberation, all of them were great souls, speakers of Bramha, and beyond attachments of the world. All were great knower of Dharma, were untouched by envy or anger, and were occupied in their mission of self-realization. (3) They had conquered their senses and anger, and were compassionate towards all beings. They were in absolute devotion to the all-pervading and eternal Vishnu.

(4) Engaged in tapasya-s, in the greatly punya Naimish forest, once those great souls were assembled for a great cause. (5) They were conversing upon extremely pious subjects, destroyer of all sins. They were discussing about the nature of worldly enjoyments and means of the liberation from the worldly-bonds, as well as mutually satisfying each other’s quests. (6) Twenty-six thousand Rishis were engaged like this, and the number of their Shishyas and further their Shishyas was beyond any count.

Discourse of Sri Suta
(7) Arrived there with shishyas, a great luminary sage, very knowledgeable, himself a shishya of Sri Vyasa. Rishi Suta, the excellent, thus arrived in naimishAraNya. (8) Seeing him arriving, sages ignited the holy fires. Shaunaka and other Rishis welcomed and prayed to him by offering ardhya etc. (9) They seated Suta on a very auspicious and comfortable seat, (and requested him to) reveal the extreme mysteries, for the desire of the welfare of the people. (10) "O Suta, Bull Amongst the Sages, welcome are you, the knower of all the essence of Dharma. You have heard all the Purana-s from none other than Sri Veda Vyasa, the son of Satyavati, himself. (11) Therefore, O Great Sage, you know all the essense of all the Purana-s.

Which regions are punya-kshetras, and which are teerthas on earth? (12) How does a being attain liberation from the bonds of the worldly-ocean? How does one win the devotion to Siva and Vishnu? (13) Who does he achieve, which are the fruits that come from those acts? O Suta, please tell us these and all other (mysteries) too." (14) Please tell this to us, like a Guru kindly reveals even the most hidden mystries to his finest disciples.” thus inquired the people of Naimisharanya to Suta.

(15) First bowing to his Guru Sri Vyasa, Sri Suta spoke. "The wise men have rightly asked these questions, which are verily of welfare to the world. (16) I shall narrate that mystery, please listen respectfully. I have not discoursed upon this to anyone else before, O Chief Amongst the Sages. (17) With disciplined minds, and with devotion, please listen to this, O best of the sages.

Setu - the Foremost Amongst the Teerthas
There is a holy place called Rameshwaram Rama Setu. (18) That, the best of all the teerthas, Rama Setu, liberates one if someone merely glances towards it. (19) One who performs ritual karma-s there becomes worthy of devotion to Siva and Vishu, and increases the wealth of his Punya-s. There is no doubt, that if someone performs the tri-vidha rituals there, verily acheives siddhi. (20) That man, who in his lifetime, even looks at the Setu with devotion, I am going to tell you what are the fruits of his act, O Bulls Amongst the Sages, please listen.

Punya of Setu-Darshan
(21) His parents, along with two-crore members of his lineage, attain to liberation and enter the worlds of Siva. (22) Even the cattle on the earth and stars in the sky, might be possible to count, but the Punya born of the Setu-darshan - that indeed even Sesha himself would not be able to measure. (23) Man, who has had the darshan of the famous Setubandha which is like the appearance of all the Gods - who can count for his puNyas! (24) Why! Just by having the darshan of Setu, men achieve the fruits of performing all the Yagyas of tradition, of bathing in all the teerthas, and of practicing all the penances. (25) O Dvija-s, even a person who just says ‘Should go to Setu’, even he verily attains the same fruits, what more to say! (26) By bathing at Setu, one gets liberation and attains the worlds of Vishnu, along with seven-crore members of one's lineage who are dead. (27) That man, who meditates upon Setu, Rameshwar, gandhamadana parvata - he verily gets liberated from all sins. (28) His mother and father, along with lakh-crore members of his lineage, get liberated there itself entering the worlds of Vishnu. They get liberated and stay at the feet of Shambhu, for three kalpa-cycles of ages.

Escaping Naraka-s
(29) Being thrown with rodents, and in the wells of liquid-fat, and the river Vaitarani (the terrible river of naraka), dog-meat to eat, and urine to drink - someone who has performed ritual karma-s at Setu, does not suffer (those naraka-s). (30) He escapes the tortures from heated spears, heated rocks, and from being buried in excreta and thrown in bloody wells. (31) Also (from being forced to) climbing the silky-plant, eating blood and insects, eating own meat, and entering fires of dreadful sparks. (32) Stones being hailed at, and fire being pored upon, drinking heated salt potions – someone, who has had the darshan of Setu, does not suffer (such) deadly nets of naraka. (33) O vipra-s, men who perform rites at Setu, are liberated, even if being fallen by the five great offences. (Even their) parents and a hundred crore members of the lineage (34) are liberated to be at the feet of Vishnu for three kalpa-cycles of the yuga-s. Being tortured in Naraka upside-down, and fed salt potions, (35) being tortured with stone-instruments and by being thrown down from mountains, being besmeared with excreta and being amputated with the saws, (36) (being forced for) the excreta to eat and sand to drink, joints being burned, walking on a bed of burning coals, and being beaten by clubs. (37) All these Naraka-s, the performer of rituals at Setu does not endure. (Therefore,) one must perform the rites at Setu, this I say after much contemplating. (38) Even an extremely fallen sinner, if he willingly goes (to Setu, he escapes) the tortures of being stretched on various wooden-gallows, and those of being pierced by sharp weapons, (39) of being leaped up and thrown down, being tormented by clubs and staffs, being struck by elephant teeth, or being several times bitten by snakes, (40) of smoke-chocking or of being bound in shackles, of being tormented by various types of spears, or of having to drink salt-potions through the mouth and through the nose. (41) The naraka-s where one drinks salty waters, and eats sharp needles, all these and other naraka-s, the (repenting) sinner does not go to. (42) salt-water being forced through all the pores of the body, being fed the excreta, muscles being chopped off, or burned, and bones being broken, (43) drinking sticky potions, and bile, and extremely bitter drinks, very hot oil, and very salty waters (44) drinking foul-smelling water and eating sizzling-hot stones, bathing in very hot gravel or sand, and teeth being crushed, (45) hot bed to sleep on and hot waters to drink, needles being thrown into the eyes, and in mouth, (46) Heavy weights being tied to the genitals, being thrown from the trees, and being kept full of foul smell, (47) sleeping upon sharp edged swords and being fed on sand etc., all these and other extremely horrifying naraka-s, one who performs ritual karma-s at Setu, does not suffer.

The Gravest Sinners
(48) One, who prostrates in the middle of the Setu's sandbank, his sins becomes dulled. And ultimately his sins are subdued, O Best of the Dvija-s. (49) So much so, that the grimmest sin that arises from killing a Bramhana, no doubt, even that is destroyed by performing rites there, if every part of his (sinner's) body touches the winds in the middle of the Setu. (50) Offenses of drinking liquors instantly disappear by shaving the hair in the middle of the Setu. (51) Even the gravest sinner, who violates the bed of his own teacher - his sins too are destroyed instantly, by sons and grandsons immersing his last remains in the middle of the Setu. Who has sinned by stealing gold, even his sins are destroyed instantly. (52) O Best of the Dvija-s, whoever performs rituals at Setu, according to the traditions, taints acquired by him in the company of an extremely fallen person, disappear.

(53) There are five (classes of) Bramha-ghata-s (Bramhan-injury): violating the established path or tradition (making it unusable for others), cooking/eating for oneself (without proper offering), defiling Bramhana-ascetics, being highly greedy, and selling out the Vedas. (54) He, who inviting other Brahmans, robs their money etc., and does not (revert and) repent, even he is also ordained as bramha-ghataka. (55) O Vipra-s, that who acts in malice towards someone he knows as Dharma-follower, that ignorant is also ordained as bramha-ghataka. (56) Cow-herds that came to a pond for drinking the water, someone who hinders them from drinking, even he is ordained as bramha-ghataka. (57) O Best Amongst the Dvija-s, from all these and other accumulations of heinous sins equivalent of killing a brahmana, only Setu liberates. (58) By visiting Setu, one is liberated from all these (papa-s), beyond doubt.

One, who rejects the sacred domestic yagya fires, consumes away the offerings that are due to devatas, (59) drinks toxins, keeps company of prostitutes, eats away the offerings that are due to the other deities, all these are fallen men. (60) These mentioned, are worthy of all banishment, even Gods have declare so. (However), performing sacred rites at Setu can even liberate these sin-fallen. (61) These, drinkers and others, are liberated by plunging into the waters at Setu, wearing yellow clothes, eating kanda-mula-s, (62) and drinking a potion of sandal wood, camphor, bettle nut, and honey. They should also donate copper, bronze and rudraksha. (63) Thieves who have on purpose stolen gold etc, even they are liberated at Setu, without doubt. (64) O sages, these and also other thieves, all are liberated from their sins, by performing ritual karma-s at Setu, where their deeds become immaterial.

(65) (With passion and sexual desire, One who goes to) Sister, Daughter-in-law, woman having menses, brother's wife or friend's wife, (66) drunken women or prostitutes, others' wives or widows, or his own teacher's wives - these are all known to be worthy of being banished from all the karmas. (67) These, and others such, are known to be equivalent of someone who violates his teacher's nupital bed. (However,) O Sages, even they are liberated by performing sacred rites at Setu. (68) Those and others who keep company of those, are all great sinners. (But,) with the magnanimity and significance of the Setu-snan, even they are liberated.

Desires for Heavens and Wealth
(69) O Vipra-s, those men also perform rituals at Setu, who are desirous of enjoying the Menakas etc., in heavens, whom even dazzling Sun and other devatas can not come close to, without performing proper yagya-s with sacrificial ladle. (70) And those men, who have pious desires, they should perform rituals at Setu with devotion. (71) O dvija-s, men desirous of lands, wealth, gold, grains, and heavens etc., they too should perform rites at Setu. (72) Men desirous of heavens, should perform vows of upavasa, and accomplish fine tapasyas, and conduct rituals at Setu the liberator. (73) Performing ritual karma-s at Setu gives Moksha, and cleanses one as (clean as) snow. (74) Performing rites at Setu, without any desires, causes all sins to be destryed. Performing rituals at Setu, as specifically read in Purana-s, is - (75) O Best amongst the Dvija-s, declared to be freeing from recurring birth, and truely liberating. Men, who perform rites at Setu, with objective of attaining wealth, they do gain joy. (76) O Bulls Amongst the Dvija-s, they attain enormous wealth. And those, who perform rituals at Setu with objective of purification, they obtain purification. (77) If rituals are performed for desires of enjoying with the divine Apsara-s, if so, then rites at Setu provide that too in the heaven. And if, the rituals are performed for Moksha, then Setu the liberator provides that, and ceases the recurrence of rebirths. (79) With rituals at Setu, one attains Dharma, and with rituals at setu one attains un-decaying (heavens too. Therefore,) O Best amongst the Dvija-s, rituals at Setu are fulfillers of all desires. (80) Setu-snan is declared as more punya than all the vrata-s, higher than all yagya-s of tradition, and better than all Yoga-s and teerthas.

(81) O Best amongst the Dvija-s, those who entertain the desires of (enjoying) the regions of Indra-s etc., they should at once perform the rituals at Setu built by Rama. (82) Regions of Baikuntha, Bramhaloka, or Kailasha the abode of Siva, abide gladly with the wills of those who reverently perform karma-s at Setu. (83) He attains long life, health, wealth, intellect, beauty and other qualities, attains the wisdom of all the four Vedas and their Vedanga-s, (84) of all shastras, gains knowledge of all the Mantra-s, who performs karma-s at Setu, the giver of all the Siddhi. (85) Siddhi is verily attained, by those karmas, beyond doubt. Also from poverty and naraka-s, that person becomes separated. (86) Faithfully, all mortals should bathe at Rama Setu, which is the giver of liberation to even those without faith. (87) Setu-devotee does not suffer miseries in this world and also in the other. By performing karma-s at Setu, all accumulated sins are destroyed. (88) And, O Dvija-s, by karma-s at Setu, the treasure of Dharma multiplies, like moon grows in the bright fortnight, or like the various jewels grow in the ocean. (89) Like that O Dvija-s, grow the Punya-s by bathing at the Setu. Like Kamadhenu fulfills all the desires in this world, (90) or like Chintaamani gives wish fulfillment to men, or like the tree of Amarabela fulfills all that is desired. (91) Likewise, Setu-snan provides all fulfillments to men.

Those Unable to Visit Setu
If someone is unable to visit Setu, (92) then he should donate a little money he has saved for Setu-pilgrimage, to poor. Donor attains the similar punya-s as the one attained by the actual Setu-snan. (93) And the receiver (of this money) also attains the entire fruits of the Setu-snan. Towards the Setu pilgrimage, this money donated to a Bramhana is acceptable. (94) Kshatriyas can also accept such money, from other than Bramhanas. Vaishyas can receive the money, from other than Kshatriyas. (95, 96) Sudras should refrain from receiving such money from whichever man. To the person who is going to Setu, people should provide with money or grains or also clothes. This attains the fruits of the best yagya-s like Ashwamedha etc. (97) (By doing so,) one gains the fruits as that of studying all the four Vedas. Vaishyas gain through such donation, the foremost fruits. (98) What more to rave, all wishes are fulfilled, all sins (as grave) as killing a Brahmana etc., are washed away there beyond doubt. (99) And, one who receives such donations, he too attains the similar fruits. One attains no harm even in begging or soliciting money (from others) for the sake of pilgrimage to Setu.

(100) In greed, one who robs (such money) that someone has kept for making Setu-pilgrimage, and does not (revert and) repent, he is declared as an extreme bramha-ghataka. (101) If someone poor or even wealthy solicits help for the sake of making pilgrimage to Setu, wise men do help. (102) Those who accept money for the sake of visiting Setu, but under the influence of greed, do not (actually) visit Setu, they are (declared as) bramha-ghataka-s. (103) By something or the other, somehow, those who (successfully) accomplish the pilgrimage to Setu, they attain joy. O Best amongst the Dvija-s, those who are unable to (visit Setu), they should provide dakshina to those who are going. (104) As there is no harm in begging for the sake of performing the yagya-karma-s, likewise there is no harm in begging for the sake of performing the Setu pilgrimage. (105) By giving alms to the seeker for spending in the Setu-snan, the donor attains the same fruits as that attained by the pilgrim himself. (106) Like liberation was attained through Gyan in Satayuga, and through yagya-sacrifices in Tretayuga, excellent likewise in other yugas is donating to people who are going on Setu pilgrimage.

Thus completes the first chapter named setu-gamana-phalAdi-varNanam of Bramhakhanda, the third book of Sri Skanda Maha Purana.
{End of translation}

The above showcases how unique and tremendous importance Hindu shastras place in Setu, throughout the traditions.

Author can be reached at shandilyabodhi at yahoo dot com

Rama Setu: from a discourse by Vivekananda
Vivekananda’s discourse on Ramayana
(Delivered at the Shakespeare Club, Pasadena, California, January 31, 1900)

Excerpts show why Rama Setu is inalienable from Bharata Rashtram, the very metaphor and reality of fight against adharma and of indomitable will which can overcome even the mighty ocean:

Learning everything about Sita from Hanuman, Rama collected an army, and with it marched towards the southernmost point of India. There Rama’s monkeys built a huge bridge, called Setu-Bandha, connecting India with Ceylon. In very low water even now it is possible to cross from India to Ceylon over the sand-banks there.
Now Rama was God incarnate, otherwise, how could he have done all these things? He was an Incarnation of God, according to the Hindus. They in India believe him to be the seventh Incarnation of God.
The monkeys removed whole hills, placed them in the sea and covered them with stones and trees, thus making a huge embankment. A little squirrel, so it is said, was there rolling himself in the sand and running backwards and forwards on to the bridge and shaking himself. Thus in his small way he was working for the bridge of Rama by putting in sand. The monkeys laughed, for they were bringing whole mountains, whole forests, huge loads of sand for the bridge — so they laughed at the little squirrel rolling in the sand and then shaking himself. But Rama saw it and remarked: “Blessed be the little squirrel; he is doing his work to the best of his ability, and he is therefore quite as great as the greatest of you.” Then he gently stroked the squirrel on the back, and the marks of Rama’s fingers, running lengthways, are seen on the squirrel’s back to this day.
Now, when the bridge was finished, the whole army of monkeys, led by Rama and his brother entered Ceylon. For several months afterwards tremendous war and bloodshed followed. At last, this demon king, Ravana, was conquered and killed; and his capital, with all the palaces and everything, which were entirely of solid gold, was taken. In far-away villages in the interior of India, when I tell them that I have been in Ceylon, the simple folk say, “There, as our books tell, the houses are built of gold.” So, all these golden cities fell into the hands of Rama, who gave them over to Vibhishana, the younger brother of Ravana, and seated him on the throne in the place of his brother, as a return for the valuable services rendered by him to Rama during the war...

The West says, “We minimise evil by conquering it.” India says, “We destroy evil by suffering, until evil is nothing to us, it becomes positive enjoyment.” Well, both are great ideals. Who knows which will survive in the long run? Who knows which attitude will really most benefit humanity? Who knows which will disarm and conquer animality? Will it be suffering, or doing?
In the meantime, let us not try to destroy each other’s ideals. We are both intent upon the same work, which is the annihilation of evil. You take up your method; let us take up our method. Let us not destroy the ideal. I do not say to the West, “Take up our method.” Certainly not. The goal is the same, but the methods can never be the same. And so, after hearing about the ideals of India, I hope that you will say in the same breath to India, “We know, the goal, the ideal, is all right for us both. You follow your own ideal. You follow your method in your own way, and Godspeed to you!” My message in life is to ask the East and West not to quarrel over different ideals, but to show them that the goal is the same in both cases, however opposite it may appear. As we wend our way through this mazy vale of life, let us bid each other Godspeed.
Source: The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda Volume 4, Lectures and Discourses by Swami Vivekananda (Discourse on Ramayana)

Sethupathi: The dynasty of Ramnad, Guardians of Rama Sethu for Centuries
Dhananjaya Bhat in Deccan Herald goes back into history to take a look at 'Sethupatis', the royal family who guarded the Rama Sethu.

Today when the description of Rama and creation of the Rama Sethu as a myth is creating a furore, it is interesting to note that for thousands of years, there was a royal family in South India with its headquarters at Ramanathapuram near Rameshwaram, known as the Sethupati Rajas or the guardians of the Sethu. Like the Maharajas of Kashi in North India, the specific task of these kings was to guard the sanctity of Rameshwaram temple and protect the Sethu – now so much under the limelight.

In fact even today, though the famous Rameshwaram temple (which technically belonged to the Sethupatis) is administered by the Government of Tamil Nadu, the head of the Sethupati dynasty, at present Rajeshwari Nachiar, is the hereditary head of the temple’s board of trustees.
Detailed information about the Sethupathis is available in the ‘Ramnad Manual’ maintained by Tamil Nadu archives. It states that, “The Sethupatis built several chattrams (dharmsalas) along the main roads of the pilgrimage to Rameshwaram. Roads were opened through the forests. Immense sums were spent on the restoration of the Rameshwaram temples, which were falling into ruins, and the splendid Chockattan Mantapam or the cloistered precincts of the temple at Rameshwaram being finally completed by the Sethupati representatives..” Although the dynasty claims that they are mentioned in the 2000-year-old sagas of Tamil literature, as the brave Marava community guarding the Sethu since the times of Rama, the first historical reference comes only in the 11th century AD, when Chola king Rajaraja made the head of Marava community as Sethupati to protect the pilgrims to Rameshwaram temple and the Rama Sethu.

The temple complex itself was built by Sethupati rulers in the 12th century, with Sethupathy Maravar beginning the construction of the grand Ramanathaswamy temple. Then again reference is made in A D1434 to the repair of the temple walls by the head of the Sethupati clan, known as Udayan Sethupati. Geologists state that till AD1480, when a tsunami damaged the present Rama Sethu, one could walk from India to Sri Lanka on the Sethu!

But only from AD 1605, we find detailed history of these chiefs, who are described as masters of Sethu and their kingdom described as Sethu Nadu (Land of Sethu). After the destruction of the Vijayanagar empire in 1565, their viceroy in South India, the the Nayak ruler of Madurai, re-appointed head of the same Marava community as the Sethupatis.

The most important of these monarchs was the Raghunatha Sethupati II alias Kilavan Sethupati (1671 AD to 1710 AD), who ensured that Sethupatis with their fiefdom over the area known as Ramnad, remained all powerful. It was during his time, that the magnificent still existing palace of Ramlingavilasam was created as the residence of the Sethupatis. No other palace in Tamil Nadu has such extensive mural paintings. As soon as you enter the Mahamandapam, you are surrounded by murals that glint like gem-encrusted jewels on the walls. Some are dull and faded, while others flash forth their brilliance, even 300 years after they were executed. In 1978, the Sethupati family, unable to maintain the palace handed it over to the Government of Tamil Nadu.

But in the18th century, the British entered the politics of South India and as a measure to reduce the importance of the Sethupatis, they were demoted as mere zamindars under the British in1803. Of all the services, this royal family has done to India, the most important was that of financing the visit of Swami Vivekananda in 1893 to Chicago, to address the World Religions Conference. Swami Vivekananda reached Ramnathapuram in 1892 and met the then scion, Bhaskara Sethupati at his palace, and stayed there as the official guest for eight days.

Initially, it was Bhaskara Setupati as the Raja of Ramnad, who had earlier decided to go to US to attend the Parliament of Religions as the representative of Hinduism. But after conversing with Swami Vivekananda, he decided that Swamiji was the right person to attend the conference.

Vivekananda decided to accept the Raja’s offer. When Vivekananda returned from USA after his grand success, as he was about to land at Rameshwaram, the overjoyed Raja was waiting with his entourage to give him a royal welcome. Because of the achievement of Swamiji and as well as the regard, the Raja had for him, he bowed his head and offered it as step for Vivekananda to get down from the boat. But, Swamiji tactfully avoided this offer, by jumping from the boat to the land. Then the Raja unyoked the bullocks from Vivekananda’s ceremonial chariot and pulled the conveyance manually with his entourage, till it reached his palace. Later he erected a victory pillar of 25 feet height with the Upanishad expression Satyameva Jayate to commemorate the success of Swami Vivekananda at Chicago.

After Indian Independence, the Sethupatis still retained their importance in the politics of Tamil Nadu. In fact Shanmuga Raja Sethupati won the elections to the Tamil Nadu Assembly and held the seat thrice from 1951 to 1967, besides being a minister in the Rajagopalachari Ministry of 1952. He was well-known in horse racing circles and had a stable of over 50 horses in Calcutta and a huge garage of cars in Madras, including Rolls Royces and a Bentley. But the abolition of zamindaries by the Government of India, removed all sources of their wealth and today, the former Sethupatis are just well-known prominent magnates of Tamil Nadu.

Swami Vivekananda at Rameshwaram

Of all the services, that the royal family of Sethupathi-s, the dynasty of Ramnad, has done to India, the most important was that of financing the visit of Swami Vivekananda in 1893 to Chicago, to address the World Religions Conference.

Initially, it was Bhaskara Setupati as the Raja of Ramnad, who had earlier decided to go to US to attend the Parliament of Religions as the representative of Hinduism. But after conversing with Swami Vivekananda, he decided that Swamiji was the right person to attend the conference. Swami decided to accept the Raja’s offer.

When Swami Vivekananda returned from USA after his grand success, as he was about to land at Rameshwaram, the overjoyed Raja was waiting with his entourage to give him a royal welcome. For the welcome of Swami Vivekananda at Pamban, preparations had been made at the landing wharf for a formal reception, and here, a pandal had been decorated with great taste.

Because of the achievement of Swamiji and as well as the regard, the Raja had for him, he bowed his head and offered it as step for Vivekananda to get down from the boat.

But, Swamiji tactfully avoided this offer, by jumping from the boat to the land.

A visit was subsequently paid to the Rameswaram Temple, where the Swami addressed the people who had assembled there.

Then the Raja unyoked the bullocks from Vivekananda’s ceremonial chariot and pulled the conveyance manually with his entourage, till it reached his palace.

On 25th January, 1897 Swami Vivekananda reached Ramnad where the Sethupathi Raja formally welcomed him into his domains. The king began his welcome note as follows:

His Most Holiness, Sri Paramahamsa, Yati-Râja, Digvijaya-Kolâhala, Sarvamata-Sampratipanna, Parama-Yogeeswara, Srimat Bhagavân Sree Ramakrishna Paramahamsa Karakamala Sanjâta, Râjâdhirâja-Sevita, SREE VIVEKANANDA SWAMI, MAY IT PLEASE YOUR HOLINESS:

We, the inhabitants of this ancient and historic Samsthânam of Sethu Bandha Rameswaram, otherwise known as Râmanâthapuram or Ramnad, beg, most cordially, to welcome you to this, our motherland. We deem it a very rare privilege to be the first to pay your Holiness our heartfelt homage on your landing in India, and that, on the shores sanctified by the footsteps of that great Hero and our revered Lord — Sree Bhagavân Râmachandra. [...]

Later on the king erected a victory pillar of 25 feet height with the Upanishadic expression 'Satyameva Jayate' to commemorate the success of Swami Vivekananda at Chicago.

Subsequently Swami proceeded to Madras, where he addressed the assembly at the Victoria Hall, Madras, delivering a lecture which has come to be knows as 'MY PLAN OF CAMPAIGN'.

Some excerpts from this lion-roar address:

It has become a trite saying that idolatry is wrong, and every man swallows it at the present time without questioning. I once thought so, and to pay the penalty of that I had to learn my lesson sitting at the feet of a man who realised everything through idols; I allude to Ramakrishna Paramahamsa.

If such Ramakrishna Paramahamsas are produced by idol-worship, what will you have — the reformer's creed or any number of idols? I want an answer. Take a thousand idols more if you can produce Ramakrishna Paramahamsas through idol worship, and may God speed you! Produce such noble natures by any means you can.

Yet idolatry is condemned! Why? Nobody knows. Because some hundreds of years ago some man of Jewish blood happened to condemn it? That is, he happened to condemn everybody else's idols except his own. If God is represented in any beautiful form or any symbolic form, said the Jew, it is awfully bad; it is sin. But if He is represented in the form of a chest, with two angels sitting on each side, and a cloud hanging over it, it is the holy of holies.

If God comes in the form of a dove, it is holy. But if He comes in the form of a cow, it is heathen superstition; condemn it! That is how the world goes. That is why the poet says, "What fools we mortals be!" How difficult it is to look through each other's eyes, and that is the bane of humanity. That is the basis of hatred and jealousy, of quarrel and of fight.

Boys, moustached babies, who never went out of Madras, standing up and wanting to dictate laws to three hundred millions of people with thousands of traditions at their back! Are you not ashamed? Stand back from such blasphemy and learn first your lessons! Irreverent boys, simply because you can scrawl a few lines upon paper and get some fool to publish them for you, you think you are the educators of the world, you think you are the public opinion of India! Is it so? This I have to tell to the social reformers of Madras that I have the greatest respect and love for them. I love them for their great hearts and their love for their country, for the poor, for the oppressed. But what I would tell them with a brother's love is that their method is not right; It has been tried a hundred years and failed. Let us try some new method.

Did India ever stand in want of reformers? Do you read the history of India? Who was Ramanuja? Who was Shankara? Who was Nânak? Who was Chaitanya? Who was Kabir? Who was Dâdu? Who were all these great preachers, one following the other, a galaxy of stars of the first magnitude? Did not Ramanuja feel for the lower classes? Did he not try all his life to admit even the Pariah to his community? [...]

We must grow according to our nature. Vain is it to attempt the lines of action that foreign societies have engrafted upon us; it is impossible. Glory unto God, that it is impossible, that we cannot be twisted and tortured into the shape of other nations. I do not condemn the institutions of other races; they are good for them, but not for us. What is meat for them may be poison for us. This is the first lesson to learn. With other sciences, other institutions, and other traditions behind them, they have got their present system. We, with our traditions, with thousands of years of Karma behind us, naturally can only follow our own bent, run in our own grooves; and that we shall have to do.

What is my plan then? My plan is to follow the ideas of the great ancient Masters. I have studied their work, and it has been given unto me to discover the line of action they took. They were the great originators of society. They were the great givers of strength, and of purity, and of life. They did most marvellous work.


In another address there, Swami Vivekananda also spoke about the great Sages India has produced. He said:

In speaking of the sages of India, my mind goes back to those periods of which history has no record, and tradition tries in vain to bring the secrets out of the gloom of the past. The sages of India have been almost innumerable, for what has the Hindu nation been doing for thousands of years except producing sages? I will take, therefore, the lives of a few of the most brilliant ones, the epoch-makers, and present them before you, that is to say, my study of them.

This is a peculiarity which we have to understand — that our religion preaches an Impersonal Personal God. It preaches any amount of impersonal laws plus any amount of personality, but the very fountain-head of our religion is in the Shrutis, the Vedas, which are perfectly impersonal; the persons all come in the Smritis and Puranas — the great Avatâras, Incarnations of God, Prophets, and so forth. And this ought also to be observed that except our religion every other religion in the world depends upon the life or lives of some personal founder or founders. Christianity is built upon the life of Jesus Christ, Mohammedanism upon Mohammed, Buddhism upon Buddha, Jainism upon the Jinas, and so on. It naturally follows that there must be in all these religions a good deal of fight about what they call the historical evidences of these great personalities. If at any time the historical evidences about the existence of these personages in ancient times become weak, the whole building of the religion tumbles down and is broken to pieces. We escaped this fate because our religion is not based upon persons but on principles. That you obey your religion is not because it came through the authority of a sage, no, not even of an Incarnation. Krishna is not the authority of the Vedas, but the Vedas are the authority of Krishna himself. His glory is that he is the greatest preacher of the Vedas that ever existed. So with the other Incarnations; so with all our sages.

[...] Coming down to later times, there have been great world-moving sages, great Incarnations of whom there have been many; and according to the Bhâgavata, they also are infinite in number, and those that are worshipped most in India are Râma and Krishna.

Rama, the ancient idol of the heroic ages, the embodiment of truth, of morality, the ideal son, the ideal husband, the ideal father, and above all, the ideal king, this Rama has been presented before us by the great sage Vâlmiki. No language can be purer, none chaster, none more beautiful and at the same time simpler than the language in which the great poet has depicted the life of Rama.

And what to speak of Sitâ? You may exhaust the literature of the world that is past, and I may assure you that you will have to exhaust the literature of the world of the future, before finding another Sita. Sita is unique; that character was depicted once and for all. There may have been several Ramas, perhaps, but never more than one Sita! She is the very type of the true Indian woman, for all the Indian ideals of a perfected woman have grown out of that one life of Sita; and here she stands these thousands of years, commanding the worship of every man, woman, and child throughout the length and breadth of the land of Âryâvarta. There she will always be, this glorious Sita, purer than purity itself, all patience, and all suffering. She who suffered that life of suffering without a murmur, she the ever-chaste and ever-pure wife, she the ideal of the people, the ideal of the gods, the great Sita, our national God she must always remain. And every one of us knows her too well to require much delineation.

All our mythology may vanish, even our Vedas may depart, and our Sanskrit language may vanish for ever, but so long as there will be five Hindus living here, even if only speaking the most vulgar patois, there will be the story of Sita present. Mark my words: Sita has gone into the very vitals of our race. She is there in the blood of every Hindu man and woman; we are all children of Sita. Any attempt to modernise our women, if it tries to take our women away from that ideal of Sita, is immediately a failure, as we see every day.

1 comment:

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