How Great Men of the Vedic Era Became Gods in Hindu Tradition

Dive into an enlightening exploration of Vedic wisdom, ancient stories, and their modern-day implications for leadership and devotion. This article takes you on a journey through the contrasting portrayals of iconic figures like Rama and Krishna, peeling back layers of interpretation to reveal their original Vedic essence. It critically examines the cults of devotion that have emerged around these figures and juxtaposes this against the humble virtues celebrated in Vedic texts. From historical kings who relinquished power to the political leaders of today who cling to it, the article offers a compelling lens through which to understand humility, criticism, and the true meaning of leadership exemplified by Vedic Rishis.

Introduction: The Gap in Understanding Vedic Texts

Before we begin, let us clarify a few things: neither Hindus nor adherents of Hindutva have any significant understanding of the Vedas or Vedic texts. Most Hindus actually follow 16th-century Bhakti-era interpretations of Vedic texts, where great men have been turned into “gods, demigods, or supreme personalities of the Godhead.”

The Evolution of Divine Interpretation

For example, the Rama of Valmiki’s Ramayana is “Purushottama,” the finest among men—but a man—whereas the Rama of Tulsidas’s Ramacharitmanas is a “Bhagawan” or God. Similarly, the Krishna of Vyasa’s Mahabharata is a “Yogeshwara” or “grand master of Yoga,” whereas the Krishna of the Bhagavata Purana is an avatar of Bhagavan Vishnu.

The Cult of Devotion Versus the Figures Themselves

We all can learn from the lives of great men but only pray to the gods. It’s worth noting that each of these books has founded a cult with a delusional sense of devotion and little logic, which neither Rama nor Krishna advised or started themselves during their lifetimes.

Vedic Leadership: From Bharata to Bhoja Raja

Of course, Vedic texts herald some of the finest kings, like Bharata. The entire subcontinent is called Bharata, named so after Bharata relinquished his powers of his own volition. The greatest works like Simhasana Dwatrimshika and Vetala Panchavimshati, celebrating the life and times of Vikramaditya, were written under the aegis of Bhoja Raja of Ujjain—a king who admired Vikramaditya, even though he wasn’t from his own family or bloodline.

Humility in Leadership: Examples from History

Even 16th-century kings like Krishnadevaraya of the celebrated Vijayanagara Empire asked the Tirupati Temple to remove his statue, which was placed in the temple as if he were a demigod, and to position it as that of a commoner without any adoration or worship. All reverence and respect given to Vedic kings, their kinsmen, ministers, and generals came after they had relinquished their positions of power—of their own volition. The age for retirement in Vedic times was 60; it was called Vanasprastha.

The Dilemma of Modern Leadership

Today’s politicians or leaders, on the other hand, have no desire to relinquish power even at 70. When they lose power, they act as if they have been wronged. Kautilya, also known as Chanakya, said, “There are only two ends to power: either you relinquish power or power relinquishes you. If you relinquish power, you find liberation; if power relinquishes you, you are desecrated.” This wisdom is barely heeded today.

The Vedic Approach to Criticism and Accountability

What is also important is the Vedic precept for leaders to handle criticism. In Vedic times, leaders were duty-bound to listen to the voice of their people and their Rajagurus, however critical. The arrogance of today’s leaders is baffling, to say the least.

Lessons from Ancient Stories: The Tale of Bhoja Raja

It is worth recounting a story from the remarkable work Simhasana Dwatrimshika. After Bhoja Raja found the legendary throne of King Vikramaditya, he had it transported to his capital, Ujjain, and installed it in his palace. On an auspicious date, he decided to ascend it. The majestic throne had 32 steps, with a carved statue of a celestial damsel, or Apsara, on each step. When Bhoja Raja had put his foot on the first step, the statue of the damsel came to life and asked, “O Bhoja Raja, this majestic throne belonged to the legendary Vikramaditya, who was, above all, a generous donor and a true philanthropist. Are you anywhere close to him in this regard?” Bhoja Raja listed all his accomplishments and charitable donations. To this the damsel replied, “O Bhoja Raja, those who are truly generous do not boast of their generosity. You’ve lost all your merits of your donations the moment you boasted. You are clearly unworthy of sitting on this throne. Now begone.”

Humility and Simplicity: The Pinnacle of Vedic Leadership

What is crucial to note here is that Simhasana Dwatrimshika was written during the time of Bhoja Raja. He was one of the greatest kings, yet the fact that he never took it as an offense speaks to his true greatness. According to Vedic texts, this true greatness, marked by humility and simplicity, is what a ruler or leader should pursue.

Conclusion: Avoiding Hero Worship and Embracing Humility

Clearly, neither hero-worship nor hagiography was endorsed by Vedic precepts. Let’s hope that Hindus and radical Hindutva proponents will learn to imbibe humility and stop taking offense at every inane comment or remark hurled at them by ignorant individuals—thereby ceasing to resemble the radical missionaries and Islamist jihadists they so despise.

Final Thoughts: A Quote from Rishi Vashishtha

To conclude, let me quote from Rishi Vashishtha‘s Talisman to young Rama: “We may or may not become the person we love, but we will always become the person we hate. Therefore, O Rama, shun hate.”

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