In the state of Andhra Pradesh, on the seven hills, lies the abode of lord Vishnu on earth, popularly known as Venkateshwara Balaji. Balaji’s story is that of a domestic dispute between Vishnu and his celestial wife – Lakshmi or Shridevi. Vishnu is said to have come here in search of Lakshmi. However, falls in love with the local princess – Padmavati and marries to her. Their marriage is celebrated every year as Srivari Brahmotsavam where the devotees gather to celebrate the wedding of this divine couple with utmost splendor. Grand celebrations take place. The colours, the fragrance, the feast and the festive fever of pleasure goes on. Very neatly choreographed rituals take place. The worldly god rejoice in the worldly pleasures along with his wife.
Just 40 kilometres away from Tirupati is located Srikalahasti, abode of lord Shiva located in deep forest where Shiva came to get peace, away from worldly matters. Story goes that a tribal boy – Kannappa used to carry meat and flowers in his 2 hands and water in his mouth to offer Shiva every day. The temple priest is horrified to see this boy’s offerings. To test both of their devotion, Shiva’s one eye starts bleeding. Stumbled priest remains helpless, but Kanappa tries to stop the flow of blood by putting his leg on Shiva’s eye. He even tries to pluck out his eye to offer Shiva. But Shiva appears and stops Kanappa from doing it. The devotees who visit Tirupati Venkateshwara are told to visit Srikalahasti else their pilgrimage is aid to be incomplete.
These both stories are almost in contrast of each other. In the former, the god is very worldly. He cares for rules, laws and code of conduct (Niti and Riti). In the latter, the god is indifferent to any of the laws, rules and code of conducts. Vishnu, who comes to search his wife, marries with the wealthy princess. Shiva who comes to find calmness away from his wife, remains in the state of Samadhi. Who should we worship? Whose path should we prefer? Who is true? Who speaks the ultimate truth? Should we reach divinity following niti and riti as the case of Tirupati Balaji? Or should the only pure heart is enough to reach the god as in Kannappa’s story?
The answer lies in the philosophical foundations of the ‘truth’ paradigm in the Indian philosophy. Indian philosophy deals with truth in ‘quantitative’ manner, unlike qualitative truth of the western worldview. The verse ‘Brahma Satyam Jagan Mithya’ is interpreted as ‘Satya’ or ‘the truth’ is infinite but ‘Jagat’ or ‘my truth’ is limited. Hence, the one’s aim is not to prove ‘how quality of his truth is good’, but the aim is ‘how can he find the infinite truth’. This creates a culture of ‘Upanishad or Samvaad’ or intellectual discussions where everybody’s truth has a place. Nobody’s truth goes disrespected. In fact, the ultimate truth is incomplete without considering everybody’s subjective truths.
This approach is fundamentally different from the western philosophical qualitative approach where one’s aim is to prove how quality of his truth is superior to everyone else’s truth. It creates the culture of ‘vivaad’ or debate where each truth tries to subjugate other truth. At the end only one truth wins, and it substitutes all other truths, rejects other’s subjective truths.
In the former paradigm, the quantity of the truth matters, in the latter, quality of the truth matters. In the former, ‘the truth’ is infinite, hence all accommodating. In the latter, ‘the truth’ is only one, hence, can’t accommodate other truths, and constantly rejects other truths. The former paradigm sees infinite truth as a big jigsaw puzzle consisting of ‘smaller subjective truths’. The latter sees ‘the truth’ as one constant reality that is sovereign.
One can see this quantitative approach in our day-to-day life in India. Take the example of rangoli of Maharashtra, alpana of Bengal or kolam of South India. The pattern usually is radially symmetric with a core and keeps expanding with newer and newer patterns getting added. There is no definite end to this pattern, neither there is any prescribed way of drawing this pattern. It keeps changing for each artist. Also, its size keeps expanding with newer and newer patterns getting added outside peripherally
One can also see this paradigm getting repeated in the way food is served in India. An average Indian thali is consists of various dishes served in a plate at a time. For a non-vegetarian another dish will be added. For a vegetarian one dish will be reduced. But overall, the thali remains intact with its multiple savoury dishes. Each with its own place in the Thali. Compare this with a typical European meal where food is served in sequential manner, with only one item at a time.
This is also evident in all households where Hindus worship multiple gods every day. Each God has his place in the pooja room. Each God has his own dedicated way of worshiping, his own festival, and his own ritual. One is free to add his own new god to this set-up. One is also free to take out one god from this set-up.
One can also see this in any Hindu temple across the world. Every Hindu temple always has at least 2 gods in its premises. It is a reminder to the devotee that he may want to visit only (say) Shiva (one truth), but Shakti (another truth) also exists. And, She will have her own dedicated space in temple premises. Like the pilgrimage of Tirupati is incomplete without visiting Srikalahasti, Darshan of Shiva is incomplete without Darshan of Shakti. Devotee may want to visit only Durga, but she will be accompanied by her children – Ganesha and Kartikeya. Devotee may want to visit only Vishnu, but he will be accompanied by Lakshmi. The massive gopurams of the temples decorated with uncountable colourful imagery of the Gods also grab the attention of the devotees. In some temples, the Hindu God or Goddess is accompanied by a Muslim god or goddess like in the Ranganatha temple of Srirangam where the devotee learns that the infinite truth also accommodates subjective truth of muslims.
At the heart of this, lies the strong philosophical belief of ‘Polytruism’ or acceptance of multiple truths at a time. Each truth adds up to the other truth and becomes bigger. The two added truths get added to third and get bigger. By connecting these dots of multiple truths I can draw a pattern according to my own capability. This pattern is ‘Maya’, my subjective world. My subjective world can be different from your subjective world. However, the difference between your pattern and my pattern is not conflicting, but complimenting. A clue to draw the infinitely bigger picture and see it all. The wisdom lies in recognising that each pattern is a piece of a jigsaw puzzle. And the Bhagwan is, thus, the one who has ability to integrate these smaller parts together to see the infinite picture.
References: Kulkarni A (2019). ‘Diversity Management at workplace in India : Issues, Challenges and the way forward’. Submitted as essay assignment to Uni of Manchester.