This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Mrittunjoy Guha Majumdar. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

The Dharmic Significance Of A Sacrifice

More from Mrittunjoy Guha Majumdar

Recently, I was reading some of the hymns of Mandala I of the Rig Veda, and the two words that kept arising in the hymns, which are absolute masterpieces in poetry, were ‘libation‘ and ‘sacrifice‘. Ved Vyasa, the Rishi (sage) who is credited with codifying the Vedas and writing a major section of them down, was said to have been born in the Treta Yuga and lived up to the beginning of the Kali Yuga. For those who are not familiar with the idea of YugasYuga in the Vedic tradition is an epoch or era within a four-age cycle. A complete Yuga starts with the Satya Yuga, via Treta Yuga and Dvapara Yuga into a Kali Yuga. The Satya Yuga is supposed to be the golden age, and as the epochs go by, the world degrades spiritually till it reaches what we are in currently: the Kali Yuga, the age of darkness.

The reason for mentioning the fact that Ved Vyasa was born in the second of these epochs, is to highlight that the idea of sacrifice was not something that was practised since the very beginning. Even though you may or may not agree with the idea of Yugas and its associated theology, what I will describe in this article using simple, succinct points, will go on to show why the Yajnas (a particular sacrificial rite done in front of a sacred fire) and other forms of sacrifices were added to the tradition which symbolises and safeguards certain core ideas.

A Primordial Sacrifice Of Unity

The universe is, more or less, known to have begun with a bang. A Big Bang. A point in space burst forth into a multitude of forms, much like a seed that germinates and eventually becomes a grown plant or tree. In that infinitesimal point, there was a certain potential – the potential for the creation of the cosmos. Physics is still dealing with what happened in the first few moments thereafter, and Nobel Laureate Prof. Steven Weinberg gives an interesting take on this in his book ‘The First Three Minutes‘. However, the movement away from the point of unity to one of diversity in forms and entities is apparent.

I will not go so far as to claim that everything that burst forth was one field, either as the unified field of Physics that is still the elusive Holy Grail for the community of physicists or as the unified field of consciousness that Vedic tradition describes, simply because I do not want to exclude any section of my readership here. Not to forget, recent statements by certain self-proclaimed god-men are beyond ridiculous (such as that no man has yet stepped on the moon) and I do realise the sense of suspicion and ridicule that moving from the side of consciousness or religion/spirituality has associated with it. All I will say is that there was a certain ‘sacrifice of unity‘.

Why I Call This A ‘Sacrifice’?

The definition of ‘sacrifice’ is ‘something that is given up or lost‘. There can be no debate about the loss of the aforementioned unity. The fact that we all came from that singularity, that point of unity, highlights a certain underlying oneness among all the forms and entities that burst forth. Just like the various sections of a tree that have different biological composition, activities and properties, they still are connected in a certain intrinsic way, the ‘tree of the cosmos’ kept on branching out and yet had an underlying unity. It is the realisation of this unity, albeit at an associated spiritual level that the Vedic tradition espouses. The realisation of Brahman, the eternal, attributeless supreme ‘being’ and the dissolution of the self.

Brahman connotes the highest Universal Principle, the ultimate reality in the universe, and is derived from a root term bṛh “to swell, expand, grow, enlarge”. If one looks closely at the points till now, you would realise that the super-set of all things and forms would be outside the constructs associated with these things. It would be outside the constraints of space and time and all physical properties. Outside the bounds of physicality, so to say. And this is why Brahman is said to be beyond the reaches of empiricism but within the grasp of the practice of self-realisation since we are constituents of the larger whole.

An important point to note here is that we cannot know the entirety of this reality if we were to look at it in a purely physical or intellectual way, because, say, we were a leaf in the ‘tree of the cosmos’ and we ended up thinking that the entire tree is like us then that would be somewhat ridiculous. Thus, much like the blind men touching the various parts of the elephant and believing the elephant to be such in its entirety, an exercise of this nature is futile. Instead, we need to realise the innate unity by looking deep inside us to see how the innate relation to the seed or unity in the tree is built into the leaf too. This is only possible upon deep self-reflection and introspection and is simply not possible to be seen, heard, touched, felt or even described.

The Deeper Meaning Of A Yajna

They say, in the Dharmic tradition, that each Yuga has a progressive stage of degradation associated with it. The symbol of a bull is used, and while the bull is said to be standing on all four legs in the Satya Yuga, it is said to be standing only on one leg by the time we get to the Kali Yuga! Where on the one hand, people only needed to meditate to realise this inherent unity in the cosmos, by the time we came to subsequent epochs, this was increasingly less possible with each passing epoch. In this light, the creation of rituals and representation of forms of Brahman in various gods in the pantheon of the Vedic tradition is understandable. The particular rituals that are related to Yajnas and sacrifices are also understandable in this light.

Our lives are transient if one were to look at the bigger scheme of things. If one were to take the most widely accepted age of the universe today: 13.799 ± 0.021 billion years, then our lives (average of 65 years) are but about 0.00000047% of that. Our lives and its associated assortments and things are as temporary as things can be. Significant symbols of this transience are the wealth, social constructs and various elements of our lives. We have them today and may very well not have them soon, given major personal or civilisational upheavals.

In the Vedic tradition, by sacrificing a token amount of these, what we are doing at the end of the day is basically ‘ridding’ ourselves of this physicality at a metaphorical level, and in the process also realising our ‘true selves’, which are beyond these transient symbols. It is a moment of unity. A moment of God-consciousness, as the Vedic traditions would put it. When one realises this simple but potent import of this act, it takes a whole new dimension. This symbolism is also seen in western traditions, be it the (almost-to-be) sacrifice of Abraham’s son or Jesus sacrificing himself for the sake of humanity. These are all moments that illustrate the manner in which God or the unity in the universe (for my atheistic friends) was sacrificed for us all to emerge from it.

Another place where you would see this is in most major epics, where exiles hold major importance. Be it the Mahabharata or Ramayana or Odyssey or Aeneid or the Epic of Gilgamesh; exiles play a major role. Exiles are associated with a complete loss of most, if not all, worldly things. This is to ‘purify’ the protagonists and make them more aligned to the oneness in all of creation and thereby to God or the unity in the cosmos.

A Message For The Contemporary World

Even as we understand the import and the significance of the Yajna and other forms of sacrifice, the former becomes more important than the act itself. In the basic idea of these rituals, we have an understanding that is as relevant as it has been in the times of yore: that of simplicity in existence and the principle of charity. Excesses and indulgences to the extent were it becomes almost obscene is what we see in our world in many places. This is what makes us more distant from the understanding of the oneness in the cosmos and our true selves. It makes us more entrapped in Maya or the illusory nature of the physical world.

Though one need not go down the line of abject austerity, being charitable is something that naturally comes out of the understanding of the unity in the cosmos. If we refuse to identify with our ego and start looking at everything around us as extensions of ourselves, we will develop certain compassion, a certain sense of concern for everything beyond us, irrespective of form or creed or religion or gender or race or class or any other physical aspects. I am not saying that one must give away everything in charity, for that would be an excess too. It is all about balance. One must balance one’s genuine needs and tempered desires with a sense of charity. That is what I get from this session of reflection and meditation on the import and significance of the idea of a sacrifice.

 

You must be to comment.

More from Mrittunjoy Guha Majumdar

Similar Posts

By shakeel ahmad

By shakeel ahmad

By Abhishek Chaudhary

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below