Distortion of history

Jaldhar H. Vyas jaldhar at BRAINCELLS.COM
Wed Oct 16 09:35:25 CDT 2002

On Wed, 16 Oct 2002, Sanjay Verma wrote:

> Namastubhyam,
> Does anyone have a citation for Dayananda's
> comments on the Puranas being bogus and the
> product of evil minds?

I don't have an exact cite but I remember Satyartha Prakasha was full of
such things.

> Without having examined the comments directly, I
> am reticent to either agree with or disagree with
> them. However, for the purpose of framing a
> discussion on such issues, I have a few
> suggestions and/or comments.
> 1) Are not the Puranas, along with the epics and
> the dharmashastras, etc.,  considered smriti
> (i.e., passed down through the memory of man) and
> hence fallible? So, while using the word "evil"
> may be too much of an extreme, haven't Hindu
> philosophers throughout our heritage placed more
> emphasis on shruti (ie, revealed works such as
> the Vedas and Upanishads)

Incidently, Dayananda puts the Upanishads in the same boat as the Puranas.
For him Veda = only the Samhitas, a view which was totally unheard of in
India prior to the arrival of Western historians.

> as more valid sources
> of knowledge and edification? My point is simply
> that if we get beyond the academic politics of
> authenticity and dating of texts, that even in
> the Hindu tradition Puranic compositions are
> deemed less authentic than the shruti
> compositions.
> Case in point: there are various
> recensions of the epics and Puranas, whereas the
> shruti compositions do not present with such
> variety. My Sanskrit professor (who is currently
> working on the Ramayana translation project at UC
> Berkeley) shared with me that when the European
> scholars came to India and began the daunting
> task of translation of Sanskrit compositions they
> encountered the following: For the Vedas and the
> Bhagavad Gita, no matter where they went in India
> (ie, to various pandits in various regions of
> India), there was 100% agreement on the verses
> that comprise that work. This is to say that in
> all parts of India, the 700 (or 701) verses of
> the Bhagavad Gita are the same. However, there
> are hundreds of recensions of the epics (ie, not
> an agreement on the authentic verses that
> comprise the work).

Perhaps insofar as what is human is possibly "inauthentic" but it is the
fundamentalist conceit that books are possibly "authentic"  Because books,
especially the Vedas which too this day are passed down through oral
tradition, depend on people to propogate them.

Dayananda like many of the 19th century reformers didn't actually like
Hinduism.  But in keeping with the Romantic movement of those times he
wanted his radical ideas to be rooted in the past even if he had to invent

The Hindu (actually Mimamsaka) view on the sources of Dharma are as
follows.  Shruti (i.e. the Vedas) is not of Human origin.  Some darshanas
say God is the author but the Mimamsakas are not even prepared to concede
that much.  The Rshis through some process we do not understand "saw" the
Vedic mantras.  (Rshi means mantra drashta)  They began pondering the
meaning of those mantras and those musings, arguments, and analysis became
the smrtis.  We need them to actually  understand Shruti.  For instance,
sandhyavandana is the most commonly practiced Vedic rite today.  But the
Vedas have exactly this much to say about it: "Day to day he should
observe the sandhya."  That's it.  No further explanation about what
that entails.  We have to go to the grhyasutras and other smrtis to find

In every age there are new demands and situations and they are resolved
with the guidance of those who are learned in Shruti and Smrti.  This is
called shishtachara and is the third pillar of Dharma.  A classic example
is Holi.  This is not mentioned in the Vedas or any Smrti for that matter.
So the Mimamsakas ask is it a valid practice.  The answer is yes because
it is a custom since time immemorial and Vedic scholars are also seen
observing it.

Only in the case of a conflict does the prior trump the latter but
otherwise Shruti, Smrti, and Shistachara are of equal authority in knowing
Dharma.  For instance Navaratri which we recently observed is based on the
Markandeya Purana and Katyayani Tantra but this makes it no less "Vedic."

> 2) I believe Dayananda believed only in Nirguna Brahman, and not in
> Saguna Brahman. The point is not what Dayananda believed, but that there
> are two such traditions in India, and the two have been at odds with
> each other long before the arrival of the Muslims.

It depends on what you mean by "at odds." Shankaracharya definitely
considers nirguna to be a more accurate description of Brahman but Saguna
Brahman is nevertheless still Brahman.  In Advaita Vedanta, the two
traditions are two parts of one whole and which one needs to be followed
depends on the calibre of the seeker.

> So, if one prescribes
> only to a Nirguna Brahman, the Puranas do not make much sense, do they?
> If one prescribes to a Saguna Brahman, then the Puranas are the stimulus
> for bhakti (the ultimate goal of many traditions believing in Saguna
> Brahman), right?

The idea that those who believe in a Nirguna Brahman such as Advaitins are
atheists and bhakti has no place in their philosophy is propoganda spread
by rivals and not based on fact.  Shankaracharya and later Advaitins such
as Swami Madhusudan Saraswati, and Appaya Dikshita have been ardent
bhaktas.  They see knowledge of the Self as the highest goal of Bhakti.

Also bear in mind that even "philosophical" works like Yogavasishta or
Bhagavadgita (part of the Mahabharata) are itihasa-purana and hence smrti.

> My point with the above two comments is simply
> that  much of what we deem valid or invalid,
> authentic or inauthentic, revealed or distorted,
> etc. often depends on our own philosophical
> orientation within Hinduism.

Yes this is true.  But just because there are some valid differences of
opinion doesn't mean any old opinion is valid.  Some are too silly to be
taken seriously and Dayanandas view fall into that category in my opinion.

>  Since this discussion group is intended to be discussion on Advaita
> Vedanta as taught by Adi Shankaracarya, then perhaps we would be better
> served to exchange ideas on what Sri Shankara had to say about the
> Puranas.

The Brahmasutras themselves mentions smrti in a number of places and
Shankaracharya provides references.  He also mentions them in various

1.2.25 Shankaracharya quotes the Bhagavad Gita

1.3.25 Shankaracharya says when doubt arises on the meaning of a Shruti
text, smrti should be consulted.

1.3.30 Mentions the Puranic idea of pralaya.

2.1.1-2 explains what is a valid Smrti and its relation to Shruti.
Shankaracharyas commentary follows the Bhatta Mimamsaka aproach.

3.1.14-16 quotes Manusmrti and mentions the Puranic story of Chitra and
Chitragupta being the servants of Yama.

3.1.19 Shankaracharya quotes the Mahabharata

3.3.32 Shankaracharya mentions several Puranic stories about the birth of
various sages.

4.1.10 Shankaracharya quotes the Bhagavad Gita,

4.2.14 Shnakaracharya quotes the Mahabharata,

These are ones I could dig up at short notice, there may be others.
Shankaracharya has also quoted from the Vishnu Purana in his Gitabhashya.

I think this demonstrates his attitude towards Itihasa-Puranas and other

Jaldhar H. Vyas <jaldhar at braincells.com>
It's a girl! See the pictures - http://www.braincells.com/shailaja/

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