Monday, July 9, 2007

#055, Discussion on evolution of monasteries in India


A Mat`ha in Sanskrit means a monastery or a home for monks. In ancient Hinduism ascetics and sages were householders living in cottages. They married, and lived in their homes with sons and daughters. In ancient Hinduism, there is no evidence of monastery life. The life in monasteries seems to have developed in response to the competition from Buddhism. According to historians, the epics Raamaayan`a, Mahaa Bhaarata and Mahaa Bhaagavata took their form during the period of Guptas. In Ramayan`a, the Canto of Forest, there is a reference of Ravan`a taking the guise of a monk wearing ochre robes, when he came to Rama's cottage to abduct Sita. Except that there is no mention of monasteries in pre-Buddha Hinduism.

The tradition of monasteries seems to have developed from the days of Sankaraacaarya, Raamanujaacaarya and Madhvaacaarya i.e. from the 8th Century A.D. The appointment of Heads to the Sringeeri, Puuri, Dvaaraka, Badari monasteries finds a mention in the book Shri Sankara Vijayam authored by Shri Vidyaaran`ya, a 14th Century Head of the Sringeri Monastery. The book describes the victories of Aadi Sankaracharya over Buddhists and Purva Miimaamsa Karma vaadis like Mandana Misra (Mand`ana Misra), among many other things.

After the invasion of a large part of India by Muslims and robbing of villages in their path, there was an alround insecurity. This continued from 1000 A.D. to 1857 nearly. The Europeans were also robbing Indian villages from 1605 to 1857. According to one historical analysis, large number of people started leaving their villages wearing ochre robes during 1605 to 1857, unable to bear the miseries of living. The Hindu monks realised that they cannot survive on the society as lazy persons. Apart from singing the praise of the Lord, they were giving herbs to sick persons and suggesting remedies for numerous problems of the villagers. Thus monks have a sort of symbiosis with the society in harmonious coexistence.

At pilgrim centres like Rishikesh (Rushikeesh), Haridvar (Haridvaar), Varanasi (Vaaran`aasi), Gaya, large number of monasteries developed. In Mat`has, monks were not expected to permanent residents, as they are expected to be continuously on move except during extreme rainy season. Monks were providing herbs and remedies even to kings and wealthy persons, besides preaching them on spirituality. The Kings and the Wealthy Merchants were gifting lands, gold and everything for the support of the monasteries. The concept of a Mat`hadhipati (Head of the monastery) developed to manage the affairs of the monastery. The Heads used to discharge dual functions i.e. managing the affairs + guiding the spiritual seekers. The dividing line between a monk (Sannyaasi) and a Parivrajaka is very thin and is subject to varied interpretations. There seems to be some an impression that a Parivrajaka was inferior or that he could remarry and go back. Though a parivraajaka is taken as a wandering monk, it does not mean that mat`h dwelling monks should be permanent settlers.

During the evolution, some monasteries became very rich. Some Heads started calling themselves Jagadgurus (Teahers for the whole world) and started even wearing gold crowns and other royal insignia, coronation ceremonies, elephant rides etc. They even developed a conviction that they were the administrators of Hinduism, prescribing the "do's and don'ts" for all the Hindus. (This type of belief of administrative jurisidction is more pronounced in Christianity and Islam). But we have to keep in mind that even today Hinduism continues to be unorganised with no formal Head for the entire India, World or for specific regions.


There is an impression that Pit`haadhipatis hold authority over Hindus. It is not correct by any standard. The word "Pitha (Pron: Piit`ha)" literally means the wooden plank or flat wooden stool on which the idol of the God(ddess) is placed. Some Mat'hs have specific God(desses) for worshipping and the whole idol set up is called a Piit`ha. The Piit`haadhipati worships (called Upaasana) and his control may extend to his place of worship. This role cannot be extended to assuming some administrative authority over some group of Hindus. Unfortunately, some Pithadhipatis started wearing gold crowns.


For the first time in Indian History, Vivekananda introduced the concept of mobilising funds from foreign lands particularly USA and UK, using his extra-ordinary oratorial skills as tools. During his first visit he succeeded, because he used the services of Marketeers (Agencies/middlemen who organised the Lecture sessions by hiring halls, providing extensive newspaper publicity, spreading good opinion in the neighborhood, selling tickets etc.). He motivated Mrs. Ole Bull and Ms. Henrietta Mueller (daughter of Mr. Max Mueller) to donate substantial amounts for purchase of the land for the Belur Math. Ms. Henrietta Mueller later shifted to Theosophy, disappointed with the Math.


After going through the Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, I am constrained to have a feeling of sympathy towards Swami Akhandananda (Gangadhar), Swami Brahmananda (Rakhal), Swami Ramakrishnanda (Shashi), Swami Abhedananda (Kaal`i), Swami Saradananda, Swami Turiyananda and other brother-disciples, Alasinga Mudaliar because they were at the receiving end of Swami Vivekananda's harsh language. All the prodding and goading they seemed to have borne because Swamiji was seen as sheet-anchor mobilising funds from abroad for the development of the monastery. Yet, when we the Complete Works of Vivekananda most searchingly, there are very few indications of his remitting amounts, though he made promises. Saradananda and Abhedananda who worked at Vedanta Society, New York, survived on their own efforts. Ramakrishnananda survived on his own efforts at Madras (Chennai). Even Brahmananda seems to have made hiw own efforts for running the Math (exception: foreign funds from Ms. Mueller and Mrs. Ole Bull and for purchase of Belur Math lands). Akhandananda and Miss Noble (Nivedita) did splendid work in the field. Thus, much of the work done was voluntary individual and team work which would have anyway been done even without prodding. They might have done even greater work without being goaded.

Thus the true work done by the brother-disciples has by and large been ignored and Vivekananda is being glorified and made into a God. There are at least 5000 pages on Net, mostly by Indian bloggers, presenting Vivekananda as supremely divine Indian and sole representative of Hinduism who woke up India from its deep slumber. No Indian was sleeping before or after him.

COMMENT THAT I am trying to prove that Vivekananda is a criminal.

Ans: This view is not correct. Who said that Vivekananda is a Criminal? He is not a criminal. He is a great orator. He has great managerial capabilities and qualities. A good fund-riser. Most of his ideas on education were very modern. At the same time, he is a human, with human strengths and weaknesses. We cannot see people great men or ordinary persons in perfect white or perfect black. There is bound to be a blend of grey.


Anonymous said...

As I wrote in my comments on another blog, SV was like a modern-day model in an advertisement; a person who could be projected on to the world stage whereas Ramakrishna was illiterate, and a villager.A reading of the complete works of SV gives the feeling that he took to the role wih great expectations of a cushy future in a foreign land but his life did not shape up to his expectations. This is so in the vast majority of humans.

One can find a somewhat similar state of affairs in the case of Ramana Maharshi; an unwilling and reserved person being projected to the world through an organisation.

Multisubj Yb TruthSeeker said...

Thank U. U R right. I agree with you.