Saturday, August 21, 2010

On Belief Systems

Anukul Chandra was a very religious person. He used to stay alone in the "baithak-khana" room and did not interact with other family members unless absolutely essential. Every morning he would get up early, finish his "Ganga-snan" (bathing in th river Ganges), come back from the river in his wet attire, perform the daily Narayan puja rituals and then kick start his day.

The story goes like this, that Krishnachandra (or whoever was the first person of our clan in Chandernagore) had carried Narayan (Shalgram Shila) with him to Chandernagore all the way from Krishnanagar. But although our main set of rituals focusseds on Lord Narayan, I would like to take this opportunity to mention that we also have a small Shiva Linga kept besides Narayan. Anliabala Devi, my dad's grandmother had taken "diksha" or an oath to serve Lord Shiva - however she served both Narayan and Shiva equally. By the way, the Shalgram Shila in our Puja room has a thread of gold around it (shonar poitey).

In fact, Shalgram Shila was common to many traditional Bengali Brahmin families of those days - Radhakishore Mukhopadhyay's family (our neighbors in Chandernagore), the Gangulys (another neighbor), the Mukherjees of Guptipara, and so on. And consequently a majority of these families leaned towards "nirakar" or formless Vaishnavism.

Both Vishnu and Shiva reside in our Puja room as an abstract stone representation and not in the traditional image or idol form. The worship of a formless or abstract God is difficult - even the Lord implies the same in the Bhagawad Gita by saying that he favors the Karma Yogi or Bhakti Yogi more than the Gnana Yogi - the inherent logic being that, to accept the Truth in a formless manner or as an abstract concept requires a very high level of mental and spiritual maturity and an extremely strict sense of discipline. That is the reason that Shalgram Shila was restricted to a certain section of Bengali Brahmins only.

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