Bharatavarsha's Cultural Conquest of South East Asia Through its Sacred Education

It was Bharatavarsha's tradition of spreading sacred knowledge that played a central role in the cultural conquest of South East Asia.
Bharatavarsha's Cultural Conquest of South East Asia Through its Sacred Education

ALTHOUGH THE TRADITION OF RECITING PURANAS and Itihasas has woefully dwindled, it continues to bind the Hindu society together to that feeble extent. In fact, the phenomenal success of dedicated, spiritual TV channels like Aastha owes to its telecast of Puranic discourses. The lament of the late great Vidvan Mahamahopadhyaya N. Ranganatha Sarma tugs at our heart:

The tradition of reciting and listening to Puranas has come down to us from ancient times in this sacred Bharatavarsha. In both villages and cities, it was common to witness Purana recitations in temple premises in the evenings. The thawing of this tradition in recent times is proving highly dangerous for the growth of our Sanatana culture. It is equally a matter of great regret that our children do not have even a basic acquaintance of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. A good section of contemporary Hindus have not even heard of great Bhaktas like Dhruva, Prahlada, Markandeya or Ambarisha; they are ignorant of extraordinarily courageous heroes like Nala, Harishchandra, or Yayati; they know nothing about virtuous women like Damayanti, Anasuya, or Chandramati. This is the direct consequence of the decline of the tradition of Purana recitation and listening. More alarming is the fact that even the educated class of Hindus show a wanton negligence towards Puranas. Some have even gone to the extent of hurling contempt against Puranas, “We don’t need your Purana!” However, the truth is exactly the opposite of this attitude. When our ancients declared that the Puranas are part of the fourteen branches of learning, they weren’t merely praising the Puranas. We must not forget the fact that the very purpose of the Puranas is to inform and educate the masses about the most essential topics related to both worldly knowledge and spiritual literacy. The stories narrated in the Puranas are extremely thrilling. The moral and ethical principles that one must learn from these are invaluable. The philosophical tenets expounded therein in simple terms sans tough theories are worth contemplating throughout life. Specialist topics such as Yoga, Jyautiṣa (astronomy), etc., that occur incidentally are essential knowledge for every person…The sections on ācārasaṃhita (related to right conduct) and dharmasaṃhita (expositions on Dharma) are useful in scultping cultured and ethical people.

The destruction of the age-old social harmony of the Hindu village life is concomitant with the erosion of this lived tradition of Puranic discourses and its replacement with TV, and now digital gadgets.

To fully quantify the magnitude of this loss, it is essential to briefly examine the awesome history of Bharatavarsha’s cultural conquest, most notably, of South East Asia. To invoke Dr. V. Raghavan again,

The evidence of numerous inscriptions establishes the continuity of this practice of [Puranic] exposition all through the course of Indian history; the wide provenance of these records shows that this machinery of popular religious education was active…in Greater India [Brihadbharata] too. If, without flame and sword, Hinduism spread over the whole of the Far East, it was possible because the Ramayana and Mahabharata, through the oral expounder, the sculptor, and the dancer went forth in advance, clearing the way and conquering the peoples’ imagination. As early as A.D. 600, Somasarman [presented] a temple in Cambodia the Mahabharata, the Ramayana and the Puranas, and provided for their daily exposition; a temple to Valmiki was raised in Camps by King Prakashdharman…

Likewise, the luminous painter Asit Haldar captivates our breath in a line that is so simple yet so profoundly ensconces the true spirit of Sanatana Dharma:

The cultural expansion of India into greater India was mainly due to the spiritual fact that India always tried sincerely to get into the spirit of the cosmic reality and that she was never content with the surface value of life. Our artist-philosophers have always preached the openness of life, though they never understood it in terms of material success.

As this tradition of imparting sacred education evolved over the course of our history, it acquired wings and feathers and soared heavenwards. With the eclipse of Hindu culture in North India under the dark orb of Islamic invasions, we have almost no records testifying to its original glory. However, South India has a considerable wealth of records showing the details of this profound educational system. Indeed, a vast hoard of inscriptions in the Tamil Desam is one of the best proofs disproving the Dravidian fiction that Tamil kings were not Hindus. In Dr. Raghavan’s words once again,

… the Pallavas, Cholas, and Pandyas knew the value of the Itihasa and Purana, and epigraphs found all over the peninsula show how these kings helped to…fulfil their mission of disseminating countrywide religious education… Thus, the practice of popular exposition of the epics and the Puranas has been handed down to the present day in an unbroken tradition. Today, such expositions, though to a lesser extent, constitute one of the leading forms of popular religious education all over South India, especially in the Tamil country… the epic that holds the people enthralled is the Ramayana…hardly a day passes without some sweet-voiced, gifted expounder sitting in a temple, matha, public hall or house-front and expounding to hundreds and thousands the story of the Dharma that Rama upheld and the Adharma by which Ravana fell.

The fall couldn’t have been more appalling. Even a century ago, nobody in Tamil Nadu could have anticipated that a day would come when a “Dravidian” ideologue would sinisterly name himself as Ravanan or that a sitting chief minister, Karunanidhi would jeer at Sri Ramachandra, asking the name of the Engineering college he attended.

To be continued

The Dharma Dispatch is now available on Telegram! For original and insightful narratives on Indian Culture and History, subscribe to us on Telegram.

The Dharma Dispatch