Vijay Singhal’s 190-page book - Hinduism: From Maya to Moksha, offers too less a space to elaborate on the religion and too narrow a perspective to encompass all its tenets. Even though the book tries to decipher the notion of maya, but moksha for the reader isn’t really achieved till the end of the book, because you are left wanting to know so much more.
From a scholar’s point of view, Hinduism is so heavily spread through the last millennia that a brush with the subject leaves you feeling a certain sort of trepidation and fear of trying to understand too vast a subject in too short a time. In a fast moving life like ours, then, the common man can’t be expected to have understanding of the basic tenets of Hinduism. The subject, and the debate attached with it, are bound to create confusion even on day-to-day matters.
Hinduism is a fascinating philosophy to live by, especially in its simplest beliefs and the interesting fables it has to offer, but at first glance, the 190-page book by Singhal seems like a small drop in the ocean of the religion-cum-philosophy to elucidate on the concepts properly. But then, it is only an introduction.
Modern lifestyle and ambition do not afford us the time to follow religion closely. Religion is a matter of convenience for the fast-moving, pro-progress Indian mindset. It is personalised and customised to the capacity of observing it from one’s own comfort zone. This phenomenon is now concurrent to all mindsets, irrespective of religion.
It is a domain which exists between you and your god, which can be Allah, Ram, Christ or for that matter anyone who you consider as a god-like figure. It is the belief that counts, rather than a particular religious inclination. Each religion in its own way offers a way of life to be followed and emulated. One particular concept in Hinduism that is probed in this book is of the law of karma – as one sows, so shall he reap. But the modern contextualisation of this law in Hindi cinema and by the urban youngsters has been changed to dilute the essence of that pure concept. This law particularly intriguing, but then again the book like most other subjects just had a paragraph on it.
While in the chapter on scriptures, the book does try explain about Vedas, Upanishads, epics and Puranas, but it’s just a very hastily given account of each of these important sources of knowledge on the religion. One misnomer for a reader beyond the reach of Hinduism is about the concept of multiple gods. The chapter on ‘concept of God and Hindu deities’ explains clearly ‘there are at least 330 million gods and goddesses in Hinduism, yet the fact remains that Hindus are not polytheistic.’ The belief system also focuses on one God and the ‘ultimate reality’, according to various Hindu scriptures, rests in Brahman, the absolute.
In this chapter, what is interesting to note is the explanation given for idol worship. Towards the end of this chapter, the author says that ‘a devotee with unbounded love, undiminishing faith and unwavering determination can find god even in a stone.’ So, here too, the concept of belief crops you, if you see divinity in that image you are worshipping, then it could be, in a way, the manifestation of god. In short, whatever works for whoever in whichever way.
Of course, the highpoint is the chapter on ‘The Hindu Trinity’, which focuses on Brahma, the creator, Vishnu, the preserver and Shiva, the destroyer and regenerator. There are three paragraphs on each of them, which could have actually been made into three pages or more on each, because they are really the important and interesting aspects of the religion.
Yes, one thing that really fascinates us about Hinduism is the multiplicity of deities and goddesses. The chapter ‘Devi’ offers a brief account of this, but gives one an insight into crisply described versions of Durga, Saraswati, Lakshmi, Parvati and Kali. While talking about Parvati, the author re-invokes the story behind Sati. Uma, daughter of Daksha was married to Shiva, and for her ‘selfless dedication and unbounded devotion’ she came to be known as Sati – the perfect wife. There is an Othello reference here, when Daksha isn’t happy with the alliance. To insult Shiva, he organised a yagya (holy fire) and invited everyone except Shiva. Upset over the contempt shown to her husband, Sati jumped into the yagya-fire. This story brings to fore the now banned practice of Sati, during which the widowed women were forcibly burnt along with their husband’s pyre.
The most interesting chapter surfaces on ‘Avtara’ where Singhal explains the concept in a meticulous manner, about how god visits earth at the time of a crisis in human form to resolve the issue and bring about peace. Ten most famous incarnations are listed in which the story about Matsaya (fish) wherein Vishnu appears in the form of a fish to save mankind. King Satyavrata aka Manu on advice of the fish builds a big boat in which he accommodates seven men and women, along with varieties of seeds, herbs and animals. The fish helps them survive a flood and they emerge and re-populate. Now, this story has a strange semblance to Noah’s Ark.
After this follow chapters exemplifying the character traits of popular gods and stalwarts which include Krishna, Hanuman, Ganesha, Chanakya, Shankara, Shivaji and finally Swami Vivekananda. Intermixed with mentions of religious texts, the book offers a basic guide to Hinduism, but even after reading it, the thirst to know more remains unquenched.
The myth about maya might be dispelled but the moksha – to have revealed it all about the religion – isn’t quite achieved.