Wednesday, November 10, 2004

The Sacred Ash

I am reading Freedom at Midnight by Dominique LaPierre and Larry Collins. There are often references in the book to crazy customs in "God-obsessed" India like smearing ash. Frankly, it sort of annoys me to the point that I feel compelled to write about it! The wearing of the "Vibhuti" or sacred Ash has deep philosophical meaning in Hinduism:

When any object is consumed by fire, it becomes charred. If that black residue is burnt again, it becomes white ash. White ash continues to remain white even when burnt again. This shows that white is the ultimate and black is proximate to it. Science tells us that diamond and coal are basically one. White and black are not colours. The primary colours get separated from the objects to which they are attached when subjected to the test of fire and ultimately white. Similarly, in the mental and spiritual place, the Ultimate Reality is Siva, who is white and proximate to Him is Parvati, who is dark. When we test everything in the fire of Jnana, or true knowledge, the residue is Siva. Ash in the material plane corresponds to Siva in the spiritual plane. We smear our bodies with the sacred ash to remind ourselves of Siva and the fact that the ultimate goal of life is Siva.

Hinduism is perhaps as complicated to fathom in a single glance as the land that nourishes it. It is sad that the populace of Hindus themselves are vastly unaware of the reasons behind their customs. If the Hindu population itself is ignorant, is it any wonder that the world chooses to ridicule their ideas??


Venky said...

Frankly I didnt know this before...

Beta Persona said...

Subhashini....This afternoon at work I got sidetracked by your blog when I was looking up something on Google. I don't remember how many minutes may have passed before I got back to I enjoyed reading this post on holy ash as well as your other posts. I just wanted to let you know that these have had a very postive impact on me!

Btw....your writing is very good! :)

Subha said...

Hi Karthik,
glad you enjoyed my posts! I read your first one, btw. haven't commented on it yet.