Many children grow up without being aware of the core concepts that define Hindu dharma. Till recently, growing up in Bharat guaranteed imbibing these concepts naturally from extended families, friends, and surroundings. These days children are more tuned into world culture. Parents need to make a dedicated effort to teach children the foundational philosophy and unique worldview of Bharatiya culture.
One of the easiest ways to teach children about Hindu dharma is through dance and music. The arts can smoothly and joyfully be woven into one’s daily life. Music yields valuable insights. It abounds with teaching tools, especially when we get children to pay attention to the lyrics.
Playing divine music like M.S. Subbulakshmi’s devotional songs is a great way to start the day. Many homes resound with the strains of the famous Bhajagovindam stotram composed by Adi Shankaracharya. A child who has heard it often enough will be able to sing his or her version of every line of the song. As parents, we can seize this opportunity to look up the correct words even if we don’t know them. Let’s take a couple of lines from Verse 21 of Bhajagovindam as an example:
पुनरपि जननं पुनरपि मरणं, पुनरपि जननी जठरे शयनम् ।
इह संसारे बहुदुस्तारे, कृपया पारे पाहि मुरारे ॥२१॥
“punarapi jananaṁ punarapi maraṇaṁ punarapi jananī jaṭhare śayanam
iha saṁsāre bahu dustāre kṛpayā’pāre pāhi murāre“
A wealth of meaning lies behind the first four words alone, “punarapi jananam punarapi maranam.” It’s an excellent introduction to the cyclical concept of time in Bharatiya culture, as opposed to the western model, which thinks of time as purely linear. This concept of cyclical yugas and recurring manvantaras will fascinate children.
Parents can talk about the yuga names corresponding to the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. Children who are taught a different way of looking at time will better understand the spirit behind Sruti (Vedas), Puranas, and itihasas.
An understanding of the cyclical concepts of life and death has its practical applications too. ‘Punarapi jananam punarapi maranam’ can be used to explain to kids why the commonly used phrase ‘Rest In Peace’ makes no sense as per the Hindu worldview.
Semitic religions like Christianity and Islam believe that human souls lie in restless wait upon death until the final day of judgment when God decides whether to place them in heaven or hell. This concept is behind the origin of the popular phrase ‘Rest in Peace.’ It is a wish for a peaceful, non-restless wait till Judgement Day.
In the Sanatana tradition, the jivatma is in a state of gati (movement), so the prayer for a person who passes away is to move towards a higher consciousness(sadgati). “Sadgati praptirastu” is the Vedic way of making a wish for a dead person. It means “May there be good movement ahead,” either to
• moksha or
• svarga and then onwards to a better life in the next janma (birth)
Since the jivatma is in a state of gati (movement), where is the concept of a restless wait? These discussions will give children clarity, and they will know what to say instead of RIP. As the next step, introduce them to one of the most beautiful and comforting lines of imagery from the Bhagavad-Gita, where Shri Krishna says
वासांसि जीर्णानि यथा विहाय नवानि गृह्णाति नरोऽपराणि।
तथा शरीराणि विहाय जीर्णा न्यन्यानि संयाति नवानि देही।।
“vāsāṁsi jīrṇāni yathā vihāya navāni gṛhṇāti naro’parāṇi,
tathā śarīrāṇi vihāya jīrṇāni anyāni saṁyāti navāni dehī”
“Just as an individual changes his clothes to suit the occasion, so too the ego-centre discards one physical form and takes on another which will be most suited for it to gain the next required type of experiences.” – from the Bhagavad-Gita 2.22, commentary by Swami Chinmayanada.
If a mere four words can lead to such a wealth of knowledge, imagine how much we could teach our kids just by using the familiar lyrics of dance and music. It is the easiest way to explain Hindu philosophy to children if we can look beneath the surface and think about it.
Knowing the underlying worldview and philosophy that they have inherited from the ancestors will make children confident in their identity and enable them to take on any challenge in life.