Attacks against the Vedic Agama Connection
by Vijaya Rajiva on 24 Jul 2012 14 Comments
For Hindus the Vedic Agama connection is sacred because the Veda is the inspired vision of the Rishis, they are eternal and not of human origin (apaurusheya), and the Agamas represent the continuation of that vision in ritual, murtis, temples, sacred texts. This has been the historic practice of Hindus and is ongoing in the subcontinent. The Agama means that which is handed down. Attacks against this connection have been launched since the 19th century with the rise of the Brahmo Samaj and the Arya Samaj.

Both reject the Agama while upholding certain Vedic beliefs such as the worship of Brahman, although in a truncated form as a formless universal principle. The Vedic belief is in an Infinite which can be called Brahman, but this Infinite is characterised as Sat, Chit and Ananda (Satchidananda). And the Agama is a continuation and elaboration of the presence of Satchidananda in various manifestations and are so worshipped by Hindus (the multiplicity of samprayadas and their practices is simply mind-boggling). The Brahmo attack on the unity of Vedic Agamic Hinduism continues to this day in this particular form.


A second type of attack on the Vedic Agama connection, however, goes in the opposite direction and focuses on rejecting the Veda while extolling the Agama. That process began with the Dravidian movement of the 1950s and continues to this day in various shapes and forms.


Both are antagonistic, in two different ways, to the unity of Hinduism and must be firmly rejected by Hindus everywhere. They are also an insult to the rooted Hindu who is a firm believer in the Vedic Agamic tradition and whose practice of Hinduism is in that tradition.


Before examining these two types of attacks it might be useful to have a brief summary of the Vedic Agamic connection. The Vedic corpus begins with the four Vedas: the Rig Veda, the Sama Veda, the Yajur Veda and the Atharva Veda. It is continued in the prose commentaries (the Brahmanas and to a certain extent the Aranyakas). These are followed by the Upanishads and subsequently the Brahma Sutras and the various Bhashyas (commentaries) by Sankara, Ramanuja, Madhva, Nimbarkar and the other dvaitists.


The Agamic treatises come later, towards the end of the Vedic period, although some scholars put them at an earlier period. Both use Sanskrit, although the Agamic treatises in South India use transliteration into old Tamil script, the grantha. Both the Veda and the Agama are considered to be sruti (revealed).


Regarding the rituals : the Vedic homa, the worship of Agni, is replicated in many Agamic centres, and where they are not, the lighting of lamps and the various ceremonies before the deity is a testimony to the presence of the Vedic deity Agni, and often the mantras specifically refer to this. The Mantras used for worship have been retained from the Vedas. It is now known that there were some pratimas (images) and some temples in the late Vedic age, although the Rig Vedic yajnas were conducted in the open, using brick altars. The Atharva Veda mentions the temple. The Kerala Nambudiris follow this in their yajnas. Temples were built with the rise of Vastu Shastra, the science of building.


The connection between Vastu Shastra and the Veda is not only shown in the four devatas that preside over the four quarters of a temple, but also in the central portions (Brahmasthana) of secular buildings built according to Vastu Shastra. The deep and profound spiritual connection between Vastu Shastra and the Veda, starting with the astronomical lore and cosmology of the Veda, is a subject that requires several independent treatises!


Vedic deities such as Surya continue to be worshipped and the most famous Agamic temple to Surya is the one at Konarak. There are others in various parts of the country. Adi Sankara initiated the Shanmata tradition of worship of six deities: Surya, Vishnu, Siva (Rudra of the Vedas), Ganesha and Skanda (of which the first three are Vedic deities). The river Sarasvati mentioned some 78 times in the Rig Veda became the Goddess Sarasvati in the Agama. Several aspects of the prose poem Devi Mahatmyam (Agama) also go back to the Vedic heritage.


The smritis the two epics, the Mahabharata, the Ramayana, the Bhagavad Gita and the Puranas, are worshipped by contemporary Hindus.


The above account is only indicative and is intended to highlight the intimate and internal connection between Veda and Agama. Trying to sever this connection is clearly anti-Hindu and has been attempted in some cases unwittingly and in some quite deliberately, with malice aforethought, to cause confusion and consternation amongst Hindus. That this pernicious project will not succeed is not the point. What Hindus must notice is that there is a concerted dual attempt to strike at the heart of Hinduism.


Hence the early colonialists raised the bogy of Brahmanism. Monier Williams, author of Sanskrit English Dictionary, 1899, spoke of defeating the mighty fortress of Brahmanism:

“When the walls of the mighty fortress of Brahmanism are encircled, undermined and finally stormed by the soldiers of the cross, the victory of Christianity must be signal and complete” (Modern India and Indians, 1879).


Monier Williams believed that because he wrote a dictionary, he had become an expert on Hinduism! That he and his contemporary acolytes are mistaken in describing Hinduism as Brahmanism shows how little they understood the Vedic Agamic connection. Had he said ‘the mighty fortress of Vedic Agamic Hinduism’, he would have been accurate.


Brahmo Samaj: mindless emptying of the baby with the bath


Much of the literature on the Brahmo Samaj is by camp followers and their docile ‘secular’ followers. Hence, we do not get an accurate picture of the conditions of the time in Bengal, and there is simultaneously a glorification of everything done by the Brahmos. This has effectively preempted any serious attempt to assess the Brahmos of the 19th century.


Their work with social reform is to be commended, but their mindless attack on the unity of the Vedic Agamic connection was misplaced and showed a lack of understanding of both the Veda and the Agama, by implicitly and in their philosophy and activities quite openly attributing social evils to Agamic Hinduism. They rejected the connection and hailed only the Veda, in the way some misguided Hindus do, by their distorted Vedantism. From Ram Mohun Roy (1772-1833) through Devendranath Tagore (1817-1905) to Keshab Chunder Sen (1838-1884), they accepted only the principle of the formless (Nirguna) Brahman and rejected the Saguna Brahman of the Vedas and the worship of murtis in temples that is central to Agama. It is doubtful whether any of them had read anything beyond a few of the Upanishads, doubtful if they had read the Rig Veda and its worship of the Devas and Devatas or understood the significance of Vedic rituals. Nor did they relate to the murtis and temple worship of Agamic Hinduism, and dismissed them as the source of all evil. They were the bhadralok who could not sully themselves with actual worship at temples and observations of the aam admi of Hindu Bengal. They considered themselves Bengali Renaissance men! They were the bhadralok of the time, thoroughly brainwashed by missionary propaganda.


Hence, instead of combining their program of social reform with advocacy of their ancient faith, Vedic Agamic Hinduism, they struck a blow at it, which continues in the work of their present day followers. The reader is requested to look at the Brahmo Samaj website. The strident references are crystal clear, and somehow strike one as ludicrous and out of sync with Hindu reality.


Two factors were responsible for these curious developments in what is called the Bengali Renaissance. The first was widespread ignorance of Hindu scripture and Hindu religious practice. The second was the baleful influence of Christian missionaries, mainly Baptist and Unitarians. Roy established the Brahmo Sabha in 1828 and the Brahmo Samaj was established in 1861, after breaking ties with Hinduism.


The nefarious role played by William Carey, a Baptist missionary (1761-1834) in hitting at Hinduism is only one example. They were also busy attempting to spread English education, the continuation of the Macaulay project, by which a once civilised and highly advanced country could be brought to its knees, not by the superior force of learning and ideas or even ‘scientific’ practice (as some recent acolytes have claimed) but by sheer force of arms, treachery and trickery.


Hindus had to be forced into an historical amnesia concerning their achievements in science, mathematics and the arts, and this could only be achieved by the artificial imposition of an alien language and an alien system of education. (In answer to a question from someone in the audience at a recent talk, as to why Hindus were eventually defeated in battle despite their bravery, Dr. Subramanian Swamy correctly replied: because we were civilised. He cited the well known instance of Prithvi Raj’s final defeat by Ghori).


Ram Mohun Roy was fully aware of the huge economic exploitation of the country and its looting by the British. Nevertheless, he continued to focus wholly on social problems caused by the very presence of an Occupation and was browbeaten by his own internalisation of what he perceived as the British contempt for all things Indian. William Carey, the American Baptist, worked assiduously on him to increase that feeling of helplessness and insecurity about Hinduism. The Brahmos internalised their feelings of helplessness and transferred them erroneously to the Agama component of Hinduism.


Hence, to a man, the Brahmos, even while active in working for the eradication of social evils, were unable to separate the wheat from the chaff. Some openly sided with the British during what the colonial historians called the Sepoy Mutiny and Indic historians call the first war of Independence. Keshab Chunder Sen even converted to Christianity. They took refuge in their version of the Veda as distinguished from their imaginary version of a corrupt and venal Agama, idol worship and rituals. They rejected idol worship as the Christian missionaries called it as if murti worship was the cause of India’s economic misery or degeneration of social customs. Women in purdah had nothing to do with Agama; in fact it may be argued that it was a custom that arose after the barbarian invasions. The linking of all social evils with Vedic Agamic Hinduism is simply a false trail.


Classical Brahmoism then is a non-starter for the Hindu Samaj and should be firmly rejected. While one can empathise with the existential situation that the three stalwarts Ram Mohun Roy, D. Tagore and Keshab Chunder Sen (and their followers) found themselves in as colonised and enslaved Hindus, their abject surrender of their heritage cannot be so easily excused. A detailed study from the Hindu perspective of the period is long overdue and is yet to come, although some beginnings have been made.


Contemporary attempts to reject Veda and exalt Agama: Attempted hit at Hinduism from the opposite direction


The attempt to delink the Agama from the Veda ranges from ludicrous arguments that Sanskrit is derived from Tamil (supposedly the older language connected to late Sumerian) to the well-worn-out argument that idols and Agama style ritual and gods are different from the Vedic period. These arguments come from hostile witnesses, so to speak, and can be easily dismissed, but are an indication of the historic linking of the Dravidian movement and the Church, which having worked on one area, decided that in South India, especially in the Tamil speaking population, the strategy was to exalt Agama as the source of true religion and spirituality because of the worship of a chosen deity, the ista devata.


Agama itself broadly speaking has four main groups: Saivism, Vaishnavism, Saktism and Srautism. These are all deeply devotional in their worship of their chosen deity and are connected internally with the Veda. Their texts, except for one exception, the Tirumantiram of the Saivite mystic Tirumular, are in Sanskrit. Rig Vedic polytheism (worship of many Devas and Devatas) can also be described as Panentheism, a word coined by Sita Ram Goel. Here, while there are many gods and goddesses that are honoured and worshipped, there is one Ista Devata who is special to the devotee.


Hence, as early as the Svetasvatara Upanishad, it is Rudra (Siva) who is singled out among the Devas and Devatas. In the Rig Veda itself, while the Viswa Devas (all the deities) are worshipped, at various times various deities are honoured and worshipped. Agni and Indra were the most called upon in the Rig Vedic hymns.


Even contemporary Saivite groups, some inspired by foreign converts such as those derived from the Nandita Sampradaya, endorse the Veda. There is the example of the Himalayan/ Kauai tradition inaugurated by the American convert Sivaya Subramuniyaswami (1927-2001) who was also founder-editor of Hinduism Today, which clearly states that while they are Saivites, their agenda is also to promote the link with the Vedas:


In their programmatic statement the editors of Hinduism Today clearly state the following: “To protect, preserve and promote the sacred Vedas and the Hindu religion.”


The four Agamic lineages then are in no contradiction to the Veda. The artificial problem has been created by contemporary individuals who either through ignorance or malice aforethought have tried to break the indissoluble bond between Veda and Agama. This Dravidian/ Church inspired project engages in a variety of attempts:


1.   Tamil, they argue with a straight face, is descended from ancient Sumerian and Sanskrit therefore is a variant of this. This theme has been handled by scholars and the literature is small but relevant. A Dr. K. Loganathan who claims to be a Saivite is a prominent figure in this project.


2. Another figure is Pathmarajah Nagalingam who also claims to be a Saivite and has written The Religion of the Agama (2008), a hodge podge of citations from various sources and worth a first read only so Hindus learn the spurious arguments advanced therein.


In Chapter One he tells us that the word Hinduism should be discarded:

“We might as well call the Hindu religion as the ‘Agama religion’ rather than Hinduism which word is of Iranian origin and now an English word, or even ‘Sanatana Dharma’ which is a self patronising description and not a name, and besides it contains the word ‘dharma’, which can quite easily be extrapolated to include varnashrama.”


Needless to say, this is not the first time nor will it be the last time when anti-Hindu elements have tried to pull the word ‘Hindu’ from under the religion’s feet. The present writer has previously remarked that the word Hindu is historically grounded and should never be abandoned since it comes from the sacred Sindhu of the Vedas. The Persians varied it slightly but that does not matter. Indeed, scholars are now increasingly realising that the Indus Valley Civilisation is really the Sindhu Sarasvati Civilisation. And the words ‘Sanatana Dharma’ (Eternal Dharma) correctly capture the tradition’s sense of its own essence as timeless, eternal.


Clearly we have in Nagalingam a man set against the sacred Vedas and using the Agama as a stick to beat them with. In Chapter 2 he claims that the Agamas have their own philosophy that overrides the Vedas and the Upanishads. Here, (and it is not always clear whether he is quoting from some other source or editorialising on his own) he cites H.W. Schomerus (1879-1945), author of ‘Saiva Siddhanta: an Indian School of Mystical Thought’. In 1902, Schomerus came to South India as a missionary of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, and claims to have learnt Tamil and studied the religious beliefs of the area. Returning to Germany in 1912, he published his book. In 1926, after further pastoral work and some academic work (so we are told) he was appointed Professor of Religions and Mission Studies at Halle University, Germany.


A glance at the contents of The Religion of the Agama show concern with what the author believes is the Saiva Siddhanta criticism of Advaita Vedanta. This is characteristic of Nagalingam’s own editorialising, in that he does not seem to have considered the four Vedas and instead refers to the Upanishads and Bhashyas, and hence only to Vedanta. The theism that he advocates has been part and parcel of the bhakti movement since the time of Ramanuja (1017-1137). This is nothing new and nowhere does Ramanuja himself reject the Veda.


This approach is characteristic of the other ‘source’ that Nagalingam cites, Dr. K. Loganathan, whose exposition of Saiva Siddhanta as being opposed to the Veda is of dubious quality. Both authors make astonishing claims that the Upanishads and Vedanta are only interested in the microcosm by which they mean the soul (Atman) and not the larger macrocosm by which they mean Brahman! This totally ignores the Atman-Brahman equation of both the Upanishads and the Vedanta.


At various times, both men contradict themselves by saying that both Veda and Agama texts overlap, not merely in language (Sanskrit) but in content. Indeed, outside of this text Pathmarajah Nagalingam was associated with a reform movement in the US called Navya Shastra. They jointly called upon the Kanchi Sankaracharya to initiate Dalits into the Brahmopadesam, but this is clearly a Vedic rite.


What should be noted also is that Nagalingam quotes from a Sri Lankan scholar who says that Calvinist doctrine prepared the way for Agama: “To bring harmony between these two contesting movements, the calvinistic doctrine, the doctrine of grace and the Chosen man appears in the Hindu scene and we come to the age of Agama… ”

(M. Gnanapiragasam, former principal, Parameswara College, Jaffna).


So it is not clear what such people are up to. Are they merely ignorant of both the Veda and the Agama, or are they pawns in someone else’s game, or are they acting with malice aforethought? Time will tell. Their eagerness to detach the Veda from Hindu tradition and to downgrade the Veda leads them to endless imbecilities and one can ignore their work after a first reading.


Whatever the motivations of both the classical Brahmoist rejection of the Agama and the latter-day attempts to detach Agama from the Veda, Vedic Agamic Hinduism has existed for several millennia and will continue to do so.


The writer is a political philosopher who taught at a Canadian university

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