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Divine or Human


Shastras may be inspired by the Divine, but, they are always written by humans hands.  Hence, they offer different solutions to cater to different times.

Vedas are different to Vedangas which are different to early puranas which are totally different to later puranas.  These are totally different to works of saints, sages, and philosophers of later times.  Each scripture is written to reflect the society and its views of that period.

Curiously, each and every iteration of the “divine word” claims to hark back to the original and presumes they are speaking on behalf of GOD !!  Indeed, some shastras and their authors claim to be God themselves !  Even now, we have no dearth of Gods-on-Earth who believe their every word is divinely inspired !!

As such, shashtras speak about current issues, current problems and how best to address them.  At best, they give an idea of how to deal with the situations we face in our lives in the "here and now".  The way spiritual and secular issues are dealt with differ in different times.  Example – on the number of wives one should have has changed over the centuries.  In Vedic times, men and women used to choose their life partners themselves - eg Aditi chose Kashyap and informed her parents, Savitri chose her husband and despite dire warnings about his life span chose to marry him above all others.  Polyandry and Polygamy were both common - eg sharing of wife between Pitrus, and Pandavas as well as multiple wives of countless kings.  Having several wives was a common Hindu practice.  Rama was an ‘apavada’ - exception.  It is strange that we have made an exception the rule in our "common Hindu law" and enforced monogamy on all Hindus.

Widow re-marriage was also treated differently in different times.  Eg - Nala and Damayanti's story is a telling point in that the queen is perceived to have become a widow by the long absence of the king.  Her parents were prevailed upon to remarry her and she arranged another swayamvar !!  OK so Nala came back in a dynamic fashion and reclaimed his love, but the very fact that this 2nd swayamvar was arranged and participated in by others, shows that it had the sanction of shruti and smruti at the time.  It is a regrettable fact that we change shruti and smruti to suit our needs.

Society of Vedic times was very different to the society of today.  Everything from costume and customs to food and social order is different.  Gone are the dhotis and simple sarees of yester-years.  People ate meat without shame in those days.  Indeed, meat and marrow from the bones of the dead animals was an important offering in the yagnas.  Influenced by Jain ideology of ahinsa, Hindus no longer sacrifice animals to their gods and when they do, they feel they have to justify their actions !  

Even the way people see the divine is different in different times.  Hence Gods who were once only seen in the flames of Yagnas (in vedic times), later took on human attributes and features in Puranic times.  And in the modern times, those very Gods are seen as divine super heroes in modern context.  The way people interacted with Gods also shifted.  Hence the way we perceive God is very different to the way it was in Puranic times.

There are lots of "smruti" shastras besides Manu's famous one.  Most of these regulate the middle class and "majority" of the society.  Upper class (not caste) always find ways to navigate themselves around the strictures of society as the "samartha" have no "dosha" - the great can do no wrong.  The lower class (not caste) are so poor and so desperate to enjoy any modicum of pleasure in life, they don't care about the social strictures and do as they please.  Society looks down its nose at these wretches and lets them be.  Hence at any time, the strictures of 'scriptures and society' only snare the middle class.

Feminists will insist that scriptures are usually written for men, by men.  They see a lot of restrictions put on their freedoms in the name of ‘scriptures’.  Sadly, as men forbade women to study scriptures, it was difficult for them to fight for ‘rights’ given to them by scriptures.

When reading scriptures, we should always remember that scriptures only capture a part of the divine message.  No scripture can ever claim to catch everything God said or intended to say.  Any scripture from any culture only captures what the author ‘understood’ of the divine message.  Every scripture reflects its author’s views and bias.  So to understand it ‘ALL’ you would have to read ‘ALL’ the scriptures J  This is why studying scripture is a life long passion for some people.


© Bhagwat Shah
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