Do cultural practices change as per age as does the yuga-dharma?
Transcription by– Keshav Gopal Das & Ambuj Gupta
Question: Are the principles of religion and culture variable according to the yuga? Like we said the Pandavas could have many wives or five Pandavas could have one wife but we say that it’s not possible now for us in kaliyuga?
Answer: Yes, dharma has certain aspects which are definitely variable.
That variation can be according to time, it can be according to place and it can be according to circumstances. We say according to time, when Arjuna goes to heaven and he says that I am seeing Urvashi as a mother because she was the wife of Pururava, my ancester. Urvashi says this morality does not apply to us. She says I have consorted with other ancestors in kuru dynasty without any sin. So you can do this. When we say that the morality is different in swarga, what does it mean? Basically it means that according to our punya that we have done, we are given certain facility for enjoyment. So because those who have gone to swarga have done greater punya, so they have greater facility for enjoyment. In that sense the moral circle will be wider, what is acceptable morality. But still there are restrictions there also. This is an example of morality being variable according to place.
Similarly some people say that after Vali is killed, Sugriva accepts not only his wife Ruma but he also accepts Tara, who is Vali’s wife. How can he do that? But the Ramayana itself again contextualizes that in the vanara tradition generally the female does not go sati. According to that tradition it is completely acceptable for a woman to take shelter of her husband’s brother if the husband is passed away. What was immoral was when Sugriva was living at that time Vali drove away Sugriva and took possession of Ruma. That was wrong because the husband was living then it becomes immoral. But if the husband is dead and the women needs protection then it’s acceptable . This would normally seem little odd from our perspective but the Ramayana sanctions it and that the moral code in the tradition of the vanaras. The verse from Brahma Vaivarta purana says that
asvamedham gavalambham sannyasam palapaitrikam devarena sutotpatti kalau panca vivarjayet
There are ashvamedha and gomedha yagyas, these are done in the Vedic times and these are considered sacred activities. But we know that they are forbidden in kaliyuga because the Brahmans don’t have the potency to do those activities. Yes, definitely certain principles of dharma are variable. The word dharma has many meanings. At the core level is our relationship with Krishna. Our dharma is to love and serve Krishna. This is invariable. Apart from our intrinsic relationship with Krishna there are two further meanings of word dharma, among many. Second are the activities which directly help us to develop a relationship with Krishna. That is primarily the activities of bhakti. These vary according to age. This was called a yuga dharma. krite yad dhyayoto vishnum, kalau tad dhari kirtanat, so they vary according to the age. That is the spiritual, our inner dharma is same always but the activities that help us to develop that relationship with Krishna that will also vary according to age. That is yuga dharma. That is you could call this as spiritual dharma or para dharma. Then there is apara dharma. While we are reviving our spiritual relationship with Krishna we live in the material world and we have to function harmoniously in the material world and for the harmonious function in the material world there is social dharma and that social dharma also varies according to time, place, circumstances.
Yuga dharma variation is more focused on same goal to develop a relationship with Krishna but depending on the kind of conditioning people have, depending on the social environment that is there, that is the best way to develop relationship with Krishna. Depending on the social environment that is there, the way one will live harmoniously will also vary. So social dharma will also change. Yes, the essence of dharma, our relationship with Krishna and reviving that relationship that essential purpose doesn’t change. But the specific ways in which one develops that relationship and the specific ways in which one lives while developing that relationship that can definitely vary and that does vary from age to age. Thank you.