Highlights from this years festival commemorating the appearance of Lord Narasimha.
The Sindhu River is one of the great holy rivers of India, from which the name of India is derived. However, unlike other holy rivers in India such as the Ganga, Yamuna and Sarasvati, the Sindhu is masculine.
The Sindhu is virtually unknown to people in western countries, but for the people of India it has great significance. Indeed, the Sindhu gave birth to the earliest of India's civilizations known as the Indus Valley Civilization. For those readers who know their history, then the names of ancient cities and archaeological digs at places like Harappa and Mohenjo-daro will be familiar — the land of the 'Aryan Invasion' – a topic of much debate, even after more than 200 years of research and scholarly studies.
But one fact is for sure — human civilization along the banks of the Sindhu River has been present since hoary antiquity. Archaeological evidence shows human habitation along the Sindhu for at least the past 17,000 years. In truth, the name Sindhu is older than civilization itself and is mentioned in the classical histories of ancient India such as the Rig Veda (170 times), the Puranas and in the Iranic Zend Avesta. On modern world maps the Sindhu is marked as the Indus.
Beginning at Lake Manasarovara, at the base of Mount Kailash (the mountain sacred to Shiva) on the eastern side of the Himalayas in what is now western China (old Tibet), the Sindhu/Indus flows westward crossing into India into the Ladakh district of Jammu and Kashmir. The Sindhu then takes a southerly route, traverses the plains of Pakistan and merges into the Arabian Sea near the port of Karachi – a journey of 3,180 kilometers (1,980 miles).
According to the Mahabharata (Bhisma-parva, ch.6, Verse 48) the spiritual – sometimes considered mythical – origins of the Sindhu River is stated as being due to the austerities of King Bhagiratha in Satya-yuga. Bhagiratha was attempting to free his ancestors from bad karma and their suffering in the lower planetary systems of Patala-loka. After performing his penance Bhagiratha summoned the sacred River Ganges to Earth. The Ganges descended from the heavenly planets and thereafter formed six separate rivers – three flowing to the east (the Hladini, Pavani and Nalini), and three flowing to the west (the Suchakshus, Sita and Sindhu). The seventh branch, the Ganga, then flowed from the Himalayas to Ganga-sagara, entering the Bay of Bengal, and then down to Patala-loka.
If not mythical, then the story of King Bhagiratha and the Sindhu is certainly mystical and no doubt took place a long time ago when the world was quite different.
Indeed, the etymology of the name of 'India' takes us on a journey back in time and is also closely associated with famous personalities in western history such as King Darius of Persia, Alexander the Great, Megasthenes and others.
In bygone days, the people living east of the Sindhu commonly referred to themselves as Aryans – a term originating from the Sanskrit word arya, a self-designation meaning "honorable, respectable and noble". But for the Arabs, west of the Sindhu, they were the al-Hindus, and for the Persians they were the Hindus.
It only came to pass, after centuries of use, that the word Hindu came to designate a people with particular religious beliefs. In the beginning ‘Hindu’ was simply a general designation for anyone living east of, or along the banks of the Sindhu. It also came to pass that the word Hindu became Sanskritized and the land of the Hindus became known as Hindustan, meaning 'land of the Hindus' — a name that is still in use today in India.
Thousand of years ago the people living between the Sindhu and the Himalayas called their land Bharata-varsa, the land ruled by Maharaja Bharat (in Treta-yuga), a character of great repute who is mentioned repeatedly throughout the Puranas. Prior to the reign of Maharaja Bharata, the land of Bharata-varsa and for that matter the entire planet Earth was referred to by the Aryans as Ajanabha (thus indicating a One World Culture once upon a time).
West of the Sindhu was the empire of Persia – an empire so vast that it stretched from the Sindhu to the Mediterranean Sea. Though originally part of Bharata-varsa, Persia's ancestors had lost their connection to Aryan culture in Bharata-varsa, and well before the time of the Mahabharata War in 3138 BCE they had become known amongst the Aryans as Yavanas. Yavana is derived from the Pali word Yona, also used to identify the Greeks. These Yavanas were also sometimes referred to as Mlechhas.
In Bharata-varsa lived two half-brothers, Vasistha Muni and Jarutha (circa 6000 BCE). The brothers quarreled over theistic issues and afterwards Jarutha traveled west of the Sindhu to present day Iran in search of converts, eventually converting a king named Vistaspa. Jarutha had a philosophy of his own liking, quite different from that found in the traditional Aryan (Vedic) literature, but in the kingdom of Vistaspa, Jarutha found acceptance. Thus began the religion of the Zoroastrians and its founder, Jarutha, became known as Zarathustra or Zoroaster.
Incidentally, for the people of China during the early period, the land between the Himalayas and the Sindhu was called ‘Yin Du’ and for the people of Japan, pre-modern India was known as ‘Tenjiku’ meaning 'the Heavenly Center of the World'.
In his book "Indica", while recounting the exploits of Alexander the Great, the Greek writer Megasthenes calls the mighty Sindhu the ‘Indus’ (the name still retained today). Thus Indus is a Hellenic derivative of the Persian and Arab word Hindu, from the Sanskrit Sindhu.
Greeks also called the land east of the Indus ‘Indike’ or ‘Indica’. And from the Greek we finally arrive at the English spelling 'India' first used by King Alfred (circa 9th Century) in his translation of the writings of Paulus Orosius, a Christian apologist (circa 375) who wrote in defense of the Pagan idea that the Roman Empire had declined due to its acceptance of Christianity.
Thus a modern nation attained her name "India" – beginning with the Sanskrit 'Sindhu', to the Persian 'Hindu', to the Hellenic 'Indu' and 'Indica', to the English, the name of India and a nationality of people was born.
In contemporary times the sentiment of many Indians is to change the Europeanized names of their cities back to their original names. Bombay has changed to Mumbai, Madras to Chennai, Bangalore to Bengaluru, Mangalore to Mangaluru and so on. One wonders then if India will eventually return to her original Sanskrit name of Bharata-varsa?
I recently took a trip to Ladakh primarily to have a darshan of the Sindhu River and to complete my having visited all the main holy rivers of India, namely the Ganga, Yamuna, Godavari, Sarasvati, Narmada, Kaveri and Sindhu. It was a rewarding experience in all respects, and as for the landscape in and around the Sindhu Valley, it was absolutely stunning – snow capped peaks, glaciers, rivers, an inland salt-water sea (Pangong Lake) and rugged mountain people of Tibetan Buddhist descent.
Travelers such as myself have been coming to Ladakh for a very long time. Legend has it that Jesus of Nazareth traveled to India/Ladakh in his youth to study the teachings of the great Buddha. In the 19th Century, Nicolas Notovitch, a Russian aristocrat traveling in Ladakh, reportedly happened upon a remote mountain valley and visited the monastery of Hemis, belonging to the Drukpa lineage of Buddhism. There, Notovich claims to have discovered an ancient manuscript/gospel that described Jesus (Issa) as having come to Ladakh and studied with Buddhist monks. Notovitch claimed that at the monastery of Hemis he discovered the ‘Gospel of the Life of Saint Issa, Best of the Sons of Men’. His story was published in French in 1894 and was later translated into German, English, Spanish and Italian — a popular book for the public, but one that created quite a stir in scholarly communities.
As far-fetched as Notovich's story may sound to many of us, it is plausible that Jesus may have come to India at one time or another. The Third Century Christian prophet Mani (founder of Manichaeism) is well documented as having come to India and studied Buddhism – something that he later introduced into Gnostic Christianity and which flourished between the Third and Seventh Centuries. At its height Manichaeism was one of the most widespread religions in the world. Manichaean churches and scriptures existed as far east as China and as far west as the Roman Empire. So if Mani did it, why not Jesus?
Christian Gnostic Gospels also account the story of Jesus sending his disciple Thomas to India to preach the word of God, so it may not be absurd at all to entertain the idea that Jesus may have come to India and even to Ladakh.
Notovich's story intrigued me, so I decided to visit Hemis Monastery to see if I could get verification. The monastery was very old, in a secluded valley, well maintained and the monks were friendly and accommodating. When asking the monks if they had any books, records or information about the Christian messiah (Issa/Jesus) ever having come to Hemis to study Buddhism, they looked curiously at each other and laughed. Then a senior monk respectfully and with folded hands replied that many western people have come to Hemis with the same question, but that there are no such books or records in their monastery that could verify the story of Notovich.
It seems Nicolas Notovitch was either a trickster, a man with a wild imagination or both. In any case, I wasn't able to find suitable proof for Notovitch's story.
Incidentally, I found out later that shortly after the publication of Notovich's book in 1894, the head lama of the Hemis Monastery signed a document stating that Notovich's story was a complete hoax.
But if you are looking for a place to visit, rich in culture and history, with fantastic landscapes and a photographers dream come true — then you definitely should visit Ladakh. And while you are there, have a darshan of the Sindhu River.
 The first Article of the Constitution of India (1949) states that, "India, that is Bharat, shall be a union of states." Thus, India and Bharat are equally official short names for the Republic of India. Indians commonly refer to their country as Bharat, India, or Hindustan, depending on the context and language of conversation. This is even printed on their money.
The principal personality amongst Sri Gaudiya Vaisnava acaryas, Sri Sri Damodara-svarupa Gosvami, has stated that Sri Caitanyadeva is the Supreme Godhead (svayam-bhagavata-vastu) full of six opulences. This Caitanyadeva's bodily effulgence is the impersonal Brahman and the indwelling Supersoul – who eternally remains manifest as the three-fold Purusavataras, Karanarnavasayi, Garbhadakasayi, Ksirodakasayi that create the temporary universe and manifest the eternal Vaikuntha – is a partial manifestation of the opulence of Sri Caitanyadeva.
Sri Svarupa Gosvami has also said that Sri Radhika is Krsna's hladini potency, the transformation of His love (pranaya-vikara). Previously, Krsna and Radhika were one and accepting two forms, they displayed Their eternal pastimes in this material world. Presently, in gaura-lila, the two separate forms of Radha and Krsna have united. With the inner mood of Sri Radhika and decorated with Her external bodily lustre, the transcendental original Godhead (svayam-rupa) Vrajendra-nanadana, with the mood of taking refuge of divine love (asraya-jatiya), has manifested His own eternal gaura-lila.
Sri Rupa Gosvami has said that Sri Krsna-candra has appeared in this material world accepting the name ‘Krsna Caitanya’ in order to display His eternal form of Sri Gaura and to display the pastime of distributing krsna-prema.
Pure devotees such as Srivasa have said that Sri Gauranga is the principal Narayana who is situated in Maha-Vaikuntha. Sri Vrndavana Dasa Thakura, Sri Locana Dasa Thakura etc. have described Him as visnu-tattva – Narayana Himself or as the Purusavataras etc.
Intimate associates such as Sri Gadadhara have said that Sri Gaurhari is the very life and wealth of the residents of Vraja. Again, those devotees belonging to the school of devotion mixed with fruitive actions and speculative knowldege (karma-jnana-misra), such as Nabadasa, consider Him as non-different from the plenary portion of Narayana. The non-devotee schools of thought have not hesitated to refer to Sri Gauranga as a powerful religious preacher who was a human being. Those groups who are opposed to devotion slight Him in various ways, considering Him to be an ordinary man.
Depending on one’s qualification in regards to taste and experience, one is able to perceive the characteritics of Sri Gauranga through that particular angle of vision, and in that way one defines Sri Gaura and serves Him in that mood. At present, the Mayavadis say that since Sri Gauranga is the Supreme Truth (para-tattva) then He can be seen wherever one wishes and one can say whatever one wishes about Him – there is no necessity of presenting any sectarian viewpoint, nor is there any necessity to create any kind of restrictions relating to Him. This means that a person taking liquor or ganja will consider Sri Gauranga as his intoxicant, a debauchee will consider Sri Gaura as the very ideal of debauchery, those householders attached to their homes will consider Gaura as a householder who was addicted to the pleasures of household life, a beggar will consider Gaura as as instrument for making money, politicians and social reformers will consider Gaura as a business opportunity, just as someone may use a saligrama for cracking peanuts! Whatever one follows in order to obtain a result, the Mayavadi and the pseudo-devotee have no objection to it.
But Sri Gauranga has shown the significance of His name as the most magnanimous ocean of mercy (maha-vadanaya daya-nidhi) in order to frustrate Mayavada. The Mayavadi and the devotee of Gaura are, by nature, completely different subjects. The Mayavadi is egotistical, selfish, devoid of any mood of spiritual surrender and is a beggar pleading for his own prestige. A devotee is not like that. Since the Mayavadi’s attributes are pride and prestige, a Mayavadi thinks that a devotee must have those characteristics also. The Mayavadi is an impersonalist, hence he does not accept the eternal individual existence of either the devotee or the Supreme Lord. He believes that whether it be Gaura or Krsna, the Lord’s personal existence is simply a creation by Maya, therefore when Maya is annihilated, then with the absence of Maya He eternally exists only as the impersonal Brahman. It is only through the Maya of Brahman that Bhagavan and the jivas etc. attain the materially conditioned state or the liberated state in the material realm. The spiritual Vaikuntha does not exist.
Basically, the Mayavadi, under the influence of his own defects such as bhrama, pramada, vipralipsa and karanapatava, does not believe in the eternal name, qualities, form and pastimes of the Supreme Lord and His devotees. Those that consider pure devotion and devotional characteristics to be momentary and perishable, those who deem them to be temporary, and who regard the eternal devotees and Supreme Lord to be equal, illusory, mortal elements are known as Mayavadis. Those that come under the influence of Mayavada are the Bauls, Nedas, Sains, Darveshas, Cudadharis, Gauranga-nagaris, as well as those devotees of Gaura who believe in Theosophy, and the attached householders who consider by their cunning intelligence that service to ‘Grhi-Gauranga’ is a convenient opportunity to attain domestic bliss and fulfillment. Furthermore, they begin to quarrel with the devotees as to why such activities cannot be considered to be gaura-bhajana.
But if someone amongst them, by good fortune, attains a little pure devotion arising from within, then they can easily leave aside the materialistic conceptions of the Mayavadis. The fundamental principle of Sri Gaura is eternal and His pastimes can only be understood by His own associates who have the necessary qualifications. Due to their defects of bhrama, pramada etc, it is the Mayavadi’s dharma to pervert those pastimes and to try and make them the subject for those who are overly attached to mundane family life.
That jiva who, after taking shelter of Mayavada, calls himself a gaura-bhakta like the Bauls and Sain, and neglecting hari-bhajana, eats eggs, fish and meat and starts analysing caitanya-tattva from the platform of his deluded intelligence, is eventually considered to be abominable from the spiritual standpoint and turns into an entangled householder and is known by the title of Baul etc. Similarly, if sections such as the Neda, Baul, Sain etc. leave aside their individual mental speculation and subtle misconceptions, and take to the chanting of the holy name without offences, then their offences to the Vaisnavas can be nullified and they become eligible to enter into understanding gaura-tattva. Otherwise, in an efforts to carve an idol of Gauranga, they will mistake Him to be something else. Considering oneself independent and leaving the shelter of the lotus feet of Sri Guru and the Vaisnavas is certainly a path in the wrong direction. At the time when Krsna entered the arena of Kamsa, different onlookers observed the same Krsna in different moods, but the original form of Krsna (svayam-rupa) is only visible to the eternal devotees who are under the shelter of Gopi-jana-vallabha (the lover of the Gopis of Vrndavana), who is their only object of worship. The salvationists, non-devotees and Mayavadi's endeavours for self-improvement are on the temporary platform, but the eternal endeavours of the devotee are exclusively executed as devotional service. Maya resides only where there is no krsna-bhakti. The very place where there is Maya, there will be pride. They think, “I understand so much”, “I am very expert in understanding things” etc. The false sattvika-bhava of the Mayavadi sampradaya is saturated by evil. With tears in their eyes, by sobbing, by the novel rhymes of the Sakhi-bhekis, and by loudly shouting, they perform malicious bhajana. The worship of the form of Gaura created by their imagination is certainly not the same object that is worshipped by the devotees. The Mayavadi, with his mundane vision, installs Gauranga and considers Him to be made from mundane elements, and by declaring, “My Gauranga” etc. he preaches his own concocted philosophy in the name of Gauranga. The devotee community never accepts these various sections of Mayavadis within any ishtagoshti in any way, nor do the devotees give them their association in order to try and convince them. The unfortunate Mayavadi, being deprived of the association of devotees, fails to understand the words spoken by the devotees and considers the devotee to be a babbler like himself. But who is ultimately cheated by this? The devotee, by rejecting the bad association of the Mayavadi and by dint of serving Hari, has reached the highest position. The Mayavadi, along with a few more backwards materialists, thinks that he has preached gaura-bhakti (albeit mixed with Mayavada). In reality, it is like stealing iron from a blacksmith and they are simply creating an unsubstantial, materialistic, greedy sampradaya. Comparitively, if one follows the path shown by the Rupanugas and mentally leaves the association of uselessly argumentative, atheistic Mayavadis, then hari-bhajana becomes easy.
Krsna is one thing, Sri Gauranga is one thing. When one establishes Them through his imagination as something else other than they really are, one gets derailed and becomes a false devotee and a materialist. The supreme truth of Gaura has been established and written about by the Gosvamis for those devotees who are their followers. Those Mayavadis that neglect their writings, spend their time creating their own imaginative philosophies and claim that it is the siddhanta of the Gosvami sastras. They further create other abominable illusory concoctions such as ‘Grhi-Gauranga’ (Gauranga as a householder), ‘Nyasi Gauranga’ (Gauranga as a sannyasi) etc. and thus they attain no good result except for becoming afflicted by enviousness.
The Mayavadis should certainly know that the supreme truth of Gaura is eternal, He is not an object belonging to the manifested world formed by Maya. Innumerable crores of Mayavadis with the weapons of their transient imaginations can try to attack Sri Gauranga, but they can never change His eternal form to gratify and please their own senses. That object which can be transformed never becomes the object of worship for the Rupanugas and it is never the Supreme Object that is Gaura. The consciousness of a jiva, drowned by the filth of Mayavada, cannot pervert Gaura's name, quality or activities in any way; but the Mayavadi who prides himself as being a follower of Gaura becomes a member of the Gauranga-nagari camp and his efforts are similar to those of Ravana capturing Maya-Sita. The transcendental subject matter of Gaura is something that can never be accepted by Mayavadis. But it also an eternal truth that Mayavadis will never be able to conceal Gaura and pure devotion. For the last four hundred years, Mayavadis have tried in various ways to force Gaura to enter their own illusory domains, and at the same time Sri Gaura Bhagavan is also sending His own pure devotees to the material world in order to frustrate the endeavours of the Mayavadis. There is an eternal struggle between the non-eternal Mayavadis and Gaura. The result of this war is the rise of pure krsna-prema in the uncontaminated land that is the heart of the jiva, or the swelling of Mayavada poison in the impure soil of the jiva’s cosnciousness. Instead we suggest that one should give up the mentality of a termite and with a sincere heart read the Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu and the Sri Caitanya-caritamrta. In that way, one will realise the eternal purpose of life and one will understand who is Sri Gaura and who are His intimate associates. And if one rejects this, and declares that opportunistic grha-vrata-dharma is actually trancendental gaura-bhakti, then the end result will be that the eternal pure devotees will renounce your association, considering you to be a Mayavadi who is merely deceiving his own self.
Mayavadis continuously state that they cannot understand the words of pure devotees. They go against tradition and, mixing everything up, they establish that perceiving sweet and bitter, dishonesty and honesty, idleness and enthusiasm, getting beaten and getting sweets are all the same thing and this is the gaura-bhakti found in this sinful world. Only the mouth of a Mayavadi can make such ‘beautiful’ statements about gaura-bhakti!
The Mayavadi wants to understand everything through his meagre material intelligence. He thinks that he will understand Gaura and gaura-bhakti through his enjoyment-seeking material intelligence and then he will become a preacher of a materialistic religion. If one's behaviour is not permeated with a serving temperament, one cannot preach. Your conduct shows a strong tendency towards exploiting maya and this tendency remains firmly within your heart, yet it is proclaimed that the great ship of devotion has already reached the port of your mouth!
“Initially I will not perform any bhajana. I’m not willing to leave the five places that Pariksit Maharaja told Kali to exert his influence over. The world considers me as a real Griha-Baul. They call me a devotee, they call me a philosopher and I am puffed up with the ego of a fame-seeking Mayavadi. In this world I am well-versed in the ritual of the grhamedhi-yajna (sacrifce to achieve home comforts)” – this is an unhealthy desire for one who wishes to be known as a devotee of Gaura.
If one analyses this subject, then the investigator should not be prejudiced by Mayavadi ideas – rather, one must certainly have a service-inclination towards it. Just as a Kazi, because he belongs to a different religion, is incapable of deciding the dates of Hindu festivals due to his lack of knowledge in shastra, just as a barren woman is incapable of giving birth to a son, just as one cannot eat sweets with his eyes, similarly being under the influence of mundane faith and unknowingly accepting the essence of Mayavada, it is futile to try to understand spiritual subject matters concerning Gaura. Try to understand that your very existence is to be totally subservient to the Rupanugas, who are pure devotees of Gaura – then you will see that all the darkness and fog of illusion has vanished like a momentary storm and the eyes of divine love have blossomed. Rejecting this advice, one may go to heaven or to hell, but you will only learn enmity towards the Vaisnavas and will be cast far away from Sri Gauranga. Once one is fixed in understanding the nature of Gaura, then his heart will be touched by all these things and he will be inspired to know where the transcendental abode is and one can determine whose abode it is; one will believe the words of the pure devotees and understand what the atheistic Mayavadis say about Gaura.
If one continues performing frivilous activities like the professional Grhi-Baul Sahajiyas, whimsically wandering here and there in this material world, then the pride and stone-heartedness that arises out of the material bodies of common men will shut the already closed eyes of the Mayavadi for a second time!
Bauls – An apasampradaya that claim to be followers of Sri Caitanya. They are minstrels that sing concocted songs about Krsna and mix Vaisnavism with Islam. There are two types of Baul – the Bairagi-Baul (renunciant) and the Grhi-Baul (householder).
Bhrama, pramada, vipralipsa and karanapatava – The four human defects of making mistakes, being in illusion, cheating and having flawed senses.
Cudadharis – A groups of so-called devotees who dress as Krsna and try to imitate His pastimes with the gopis.
Darveshas – A cult that mixes Vaisnavism with Sufi mysticism.
Gauranga-nagaris – A Bengali cult that reject the position of Lord Caitanya as the universal teacher, accepting Him as one the enjoyer of the company of women in Nadiya.
Grhi-Baul – a Baul who is a householder.
Grhi-Gauranga – The worship of Mahaprabhu as a grhastha by attached householders.
Grhavrata-dharma – The selfish activities of attached householders.
Nedas – A cult that mixes Vaisnavism with Buddhism and is ultimately impersonal.
Sains – A so-called renunciant that follows no rules.
Theosophy – A impersonal doctrine concocted by Madame Blavatsky in 1875.
Sakhi-bhekis – An unauthorised cult whose male members dress up as gopis, hoping to attract the transcendental senses of Krsna.
Sahajiya – A so-called follower of Lord Caitanya who is imitates the high feelings of divine love felt by real devotees.
Photos of the Janmastami celebrations from our sanga in Mexico.
Highlights from this year's Janmastami celebrations at Govindaji Gardens.