All About Hinduism

Moving Site !!

 All About Hinduism ( is moving to a new address.


But not to worry it’s still the same blog. Email subscribers will continue to get notifications and WordPress followers will find new posts in their Reader.

The new site will allow me greater flexibility which hopefully will mean a better blog for you to enjoy.

See you there !





Vijaydashmi- Celebrating Many a Victory


Over nine days the festive fervour of Navratri builds up to heightened activity on the eight and ninth days and ends in a crescendo on Vijayadashmi,the tenth day of the tenth day of the month of Ashwin. It is one of the most auspicious days in the Hindu calendar and is steeped in layers of ancient traditions.

Vijayadashmi literally means victory on the tenth day. Legend has it that on this day King Rama killed the ten headed demon Ravana in Lanka. Hence the festival is also known as Dusherra, meaning das-harra or ten heads.

It is also the day when Durga is said to have slayed the demon Mahishasur ending a long raging battle. Thus Vijayadashmi celebrates the victory of good over evil. Not just in historical and mythical wars but on the battlefield of life. The Nine Nights of the Goddess symbolically end in the spiritual regeneration of every devotee and aspirant.

In another story, Hindus believe that during Navratri, Pravati the daughter of the mountains and the wife of Shiva comes to visit her parents. Before she departs on the ninth day to be re-united with Shiva in the Himalayas, she blesses her people with a bountiful harvest. This is critical. For the end of Navratri marks the beginning of the harvest before the long winter sets in. And so the blessings of the Divine mother who represents abundance in all forms, are sought and received.

In the cities away from the farmlands, it is the day to start all new ventures and strike new business deals. The day to buy gold and houses.

For artists and artisans whose wealth lies in their art, this is the day to worship their tools and instruments. In offices the ledgers and these days even computers are worshipped. Students lay out their books beautifully before Goddess Saraswati and worship them with kumkum and flowers. ( As a child this was my favourite part of the festival for it meant no studying for the day!)


And as such it is a national holiday with different parts of India celebrating it in their own special way.






In the north of India and in Maharashtra Ram Lila, the story of Rama is enacted in the streets by drama troupes and ends in the burning of large effigies of the ten-headed Ravana.


An artist paints Ravana’s head


In Maharashtra gold coin shaped leaves of the apta tree are given to the elders in the family seeking their blessings and to friends wishing them prosperity in the year to come.

In the south of India, Saraswati, the Goddess of Learning, is worshipped making this a preferred day to begin formal education.







In the east, especially Bengal, Vijayadashmi marks the end of Durga Puja and the Goddess is returned to her home by immersing her idol in a river or the sea.

This year however the navami and dashmi overlap as per the lunar calendar and both the ninth and tenth day will be celebrated today.

Navratri-Nine Nights of the Goddess

Image                                                                                                                                             Durga idol from West Bengal                                                                                                                                                

The festival of Navratri began last night. For nine nights to come the Goddess, Devi will be celebrated and worshipped in all her names and forms across India.

From the personal kul devi, goddess of the clan to gaon devi, guardian of the town and finally as her all encompassing avatars of Durga, Laxmi and Saraswati she will reign over our hearts and minds.

But essentially she is Shakti, the nameless, formless energy that manifests as the ever changing Cosmos. She is the creative feminine principle. She is the Divine Mother. Just as she holds up the cosmos, she sustains us too. Nurturing us and holding our hands as we navigate our lives. To her we turn for courage and comfort.

And to her we turn to find ourselves.

Although the festival of Navratri is a joyous celebration marked by elaborate pujas, feasts and dancing through the night, it has a deeply spiritual significance.

For the first three nights we worship the Goddess as Durga, the warrior goddess who armed with her many weapons destroys all evil. We pray to Durga that she many transform all that is petty and limiting within us, and dispel the ignorance and darkness that envelopes us. For it is only when we are freed of all negativity that we can open our hearts and lives to all things positive.

It is then that we are ready to worship Laxmi, the Goddess of Abundance. For the next three days we pray to Laxmi that she may fill our open hearts and lives with wealth, both material and spiritual.  For it is only when we have tasted abundance and experienced the expansive nature of the Universe that we become ready to receive knowledge and learning, the greatest wealth of all.

So the last three days of Navratri are devoted to Sarswati, the Goddess of Learning and Arts. She is also the goddess who holds the secret to the highest knowledge of all, the knowledge of the Self. We pray that she may grant us that knowledge. The nine nights are then a journey of the Self towards itself. And, even if we take but just a step, we have at least begun the journey.

Happy Navratri to you !!

Image                                                                     Men and women join in the Graba in Gujrat


Prithvi- The Earth Mother

The seasons are shifting. There is a distinct autumnal nip in the air and as the days get shorter it is the time for the Hindu calendar to come alive with some spectacular nighttime celebrations.

In the run up to Navaratri, when we worship the Goddess or the divine mother, and rejoice in her blessings, my mind is on a particular manifestation of the Goddess- the Earth. She is Prithvi, the Mother Earth, and represents the feminine, creative and transformative energy of the Universe. She makes our life possible and sustains it. And in worshipping her we worship Shakti the Cosmic energy that pervades the Universe.

Last week IPCC, the International Panel for Climate Change announced that global warming is definitely happening and that Imagethey are now 95% certain man has been its major cause. As if we needed figures to confirm what we are already witnessing all around us. But, it’s good to to have scientific backing. Might help get the naysayers on board and move some political will in the right direction. Great, I thought, now we can all get serious and do something about this.

However, days later, solutions are not what we are talking about. Far from it.

A debate rages on ….What about the other five percent? Why are the scientists not a hundred percent sure? Was the hype about global warming just scare mongering to get us to recycle? Were we being taken a for a ride all this while? Do we really need all those wind turbines ruining the countryside?

I don’t get it. Isn’t a 95 % probability worrying enough? Shouldn’t we recycle anyway….good housekeeping has great merits. And, isn’t it nice that we have a countryside to dot with wind turbines? It’s a ridiculous debate.

We are refusing to accept the mess we have created lest we may be asked to clean it up. And so we remain belligerent, arguing endlessly but missing the point- we cannot afford to take a chance. It could end up costing us the Earth. Literally.

We don’t need science or religion to tell us this. As infants our instincts told us we couldn’t survive without our mother and as little children we thought she was our entire world.

What we need is a return to that innocence. When we ‘feel’ not ‘think’ that we need to hang on to Earth for dear life.

We need to bring back that sense of awe and wonder the early civilisations felt when they looked upon the natural world. That sense of watching something divine and mystical unfold before us, everyday.

And we need to let our children in on the magic too. If they are not lucky enough to enjoy the countryside then let them nurture a potted plant on a window sill in a crowded city block. Catch a sunset or two. Perhaps watch a full moon on some night. Because if we don’t, they will care even less than we do and then even the debates will stop.

So I am hoping that when we celebrate Navratri this year, we will be touched by more than just the festivities. That we may feel the divine Mother manifesting within and without.

The Atharva Veda has a beautiful hymn called Prithvi Sukta, In Praise of the Earth. Here is a small excerpt. I am not sure who translated it but it is beautiful and a reminder of the wonder that we once felt.

 Earth in which lie the sea, the river and other waters,
in which food and cornfields have come to be,
in which lives all that breathes and that moves,
May she confer on us the finest of her yield.
Earth, in which the waters, common to all,
moving on all sides, flow unfailingly, day and night,
may she pour on us milk in many streams,
and endow us with lustre.
May those born of thee, O Earth,
be for our welfare, free from sickness and waste.
Wakeful through a long life, we shall become
bearers of tribute to thee.
Earth, my mother, set me securely with bliss
in full accord with heaven,
O wise one,
uphold me in grace and splendour.

Celebrating Ganesh Chaturthi


Vinayaka Chaturthi or Ganesha Chaturthi marks a big occasion on the Hindu calendar-the birthday of the adorable elephant headed god Ganesha.

The festival is observed in the month of Bhaadrapada, starting on the shukla chaturthi (fourth day of the waxing moon). The date usually falls between 19 August and 20 September. The festival lasts for 10 or 12 days, ending on Ananta Chaturdashi.

All across India and indeed around the world Hindus celebrate this occasion with great pomp and piety. However the biggest and the grandest party takes place in Maharashtra where the preparations for the day begin months in advance.


Thousands of skilled artisans spend months sculpting elaborate and beautiful clay idols of the god which people then buy to bring home or place them is specially erected tents (pandas) in the streets and squares.

These idols which could be anything from a few inches to nearly 100 feet tall and are a joy to behold. Often interpreted in the artist’s own vision, Ganesha takes on various avatars from the traditional to the contemporary and each one is unique.  


Image taking a taxi home or a van!


Once home, Ganesha is placed on a beautifully decorated altar and worshipped    with love and devotion. Every morning and evening a pooja is performed with incence and flowers and he is offered his favourite foods like the sweet modak. Friends and neighbours come calling to see him and pay their respects.


On the streets, people go around town with their families from pandal to pandal checking out the colourful lights and decorations and of course the various Ganeshas.

It is a time of coming together and rejoicing in the company of this Lord of the People. The god of wisdom and compassion, the remover of obstacles.

During the independence struggle Lokmanya Tilak started the practice of communal celebrations of Ganesh Chaturthi to bring the masses together. To this day the legacy lives on. Although the celebrations seem commercialised like everything else in our times, it is still an occasion for festivities and joy.

After ten days of festivities it is time to bid farewell. Ganesha is carried through the streets in a procession accompanied by dancing and singing, to be immersed in a river or the sea. A symbolic ritual see-off of the Lord as he sets back on his journey towards his abode on Mt Kailash while taking away with him all the misfortunes of man.

ImageAll join in this final procession shouting “Ganapathi Bappa Morya, Purchya Varshi Laukariya” (O Ganesha, come back soon next year). After the final offering of coconuts, flowers and camphor the idol is immersed in the water

It is a sombre event and people return to their homes quietly looking forward to next year when Ganesha will be back again.


The Birth of Krishna

It was a dark and stormy night.  Deep in the prison cells of Mathura, Vasudev and Devaki waited anxiously for the birth of their eight child. Outside, the winds wailed and the rain fell in torrents.  Inside the prison walls a terrible foreboding filled the hearts of the expectant parents.

The moment of truth was upon them. Although Devaki had no reason to doubt the divine prophecy, her heart trembled with fear. King Kamsa, her brother, had already killed her seven children with his bare hands. What was to say he would not do the same again? A great sadness enveloped her.

Soon the auspicious hour drew close. The storm quitened and the night stilled.The star Rohini shone brightly. And as was foretold, at the stroke of mid-night, Devaki bound in chains, gave birth to her eight child, a baby boy.Image

Instantly a soft light filled the dark cell. In the glow Devaki and Vasudev saw Vishnu in his divine form with lotus eyes and four arms bearing the conch, disc, mace and lotus.

They recognised at once the Supreme Lord and bowed before him. But soon the moment passed; the veil of Maya descended upon them once more and Vishnu appeared to them as their newborn baby. Vasudeva and Devaki were overcome with joy. They called him Krishna for he was dark as the night and shone with the tejas of a thousand full moons.

Presently they heard a voice, “Vasudeva take the young child and leave him in the house of Nanda the chief of the cowherds of Gokul and bring back with you the girl–child who has been born there.”

How could he, who was bound in chains and behind bars, take his boy to Gokul?  Vasudev’s heart sank. But willed by a power beyond him Vasudev stood up and took the boy from Devaki. And lo and behold the chains slipped away and the prisons doors opened. The guards were fast asleep. Vasudeva hurried out.

Outside the rain continued to fall and the river Yamuna was flooded. Vasudeva lifted Krishna over his head and stepped into the river. The waters were steadily rising but Vasudeva pushed on. He had to reach the other bank. Soon the swollen river threatened to drown both father and son. But as soon as the river had touched the baby’s foot, the waters began to recede. Yamuna having touched the Lord’s feet now made way for Vasudeva.

At last Vasudeva came to the village of cowherds. A burning lamp guided him to a house where a mother slept with her newborn babe. Quietly Vasudeva swapped the babies and rushed back to the prison with the little girl before the guards woke up.

In the morning when Kamsa learnt that his sister had given birth to her eight child, his nemesis, he rushed to the prison to see it for himself. Sure enough there she was, a helpless little girl. A great thunderous laugh escaped Kamsa. Was this the child who was to be his end? Without a second thought he rushed forth, grabbed the child and flung it against the wall.

But the girl rose above their heads and assumed the form of the goddess. “The child you wish to slay lives,” She laughed as she disappeared.

For the next twelve years Kamsa tried his best to harm Krishna but was eventually killed by him in a battle.

And so Krishna, the eight incarnation of Vishnu, was born to restore the balance between good and evil and to reveal the true nature of the Supreme Being to men.

Krishna is believed to be the highest incarnation of Vishnu. He was the Purna Avatar. And whether he is worshipped as the adorable baby Krishna who had all of Gokul enthralled, or the cosmic love of Radha or as the Lord who revealed himself to Arjuna on the battlefield and gave him the Gita, his enchanting form with flute in hand, holds the heart of India captive even today. Image

Today across India Janmasthami, Krishna’s birthday will be celebrated with great devotion and awe. Many will observe a fast through the day and break it at mid-night after the Lord is born. Mathura his place of birth and Vrindavan where he grew up will see the biggest festivities


Raksha Bandhan


Last week I sent a small coloured thread, a rakhi, in the post to my brother in India which I hope he will receive today and wear it on his wrist as most Indian men will; a token of the quiet but sacred bond between a brother and sister.


Raksha bandhan is celebrated widely across India in the bright fortnight of the month of Shraavan. Sisters tie a rakhi on their brother’s wrist and pray for his wellbeing. In turn the brother pledges to protect her and look after her till the end of his days. It’s a simple act based on love and trust and celebrates a very special relationship. It is this simplicity that makes this festival  so special. And it’s a joy to see women flock to the markets to select the best rakhis  for their brothers and then the men sporting these colourful bands of various sizes and designs for days afterwards.

This tradition of tying a thread as a talisman to protect the wearer, dates back to ancient times and goes beyond the brother-sister relationship.

The Puranas refer to a battle between devas and asuras. The King of devas, Indra was losing. So his wife Sachi took a thread, charged it with sacred verses for protection and tied it on Indra’s wrist. Through the strength of this thread Indra conquered his enemies.

In Rajasthan when the men went to battle, the women tied a thread around their wrist after applying a tilak or vermilion powder on their foreheads. They believed this would protect their men and bring them victory.

Over time raksha bandhan turned into a scared festival for brothers and sisters.

In one famous instance, the queen of Mewar Mharani Krmavati was under threat from the Muslim governor, Bahadur Shah who had laid siege to her kingdom. Desperate for help she sent a rakhi to the Mughal king Humayun. Touched by the trust placed in him Humayun came to her rescue and freed her from Bahadur Shah and his men.

In Maharashtra, this is also the day when the fisher folk celebrate Narali Purnima. With the sea raging and the rivers swollen from the Monsoon rains, the fishermen go out to sea with offerings of coconuts to propitiate the sea god Varuna, to seek his protection and blessing for the year to come. It is believed that this brings the Monsoons to the their end making it safe for the fishermen to resume work again.

On a personal note as I have only daughters, we have our own tradition at home. They tie each other rakhis and I tell them this means they vow to be stand by each other all their lives. They think it’s cool. They call them Indian friendship bands. That will do just fine I think.


Upanishads Part 4

  The Nature of Self.    


(In this concluding part of the series on the teachings of the Upanishads we look at the Self that is Reality.  Exracted from The Upanishads by Eknath Easwaran.)

Astrophysicists, when speaking of creation, tell us that in the beginning all matter in the universe would have been present in that  ‘primeval atom,’ super condensed to an unbelievable degree. In such a state, matter would no longer be possible as matter. It would be stripped down to pure undifferentiated raw energy. Variations like gravity and light would not emerged and Time and Space would not yet be real.

The sages would find this a prefect metaphor for the unitive state. In samadhi, reality is condensed into pure potential, without dimensions or differentiation. Physicists do not say there was nothing before the Big Bang; they say everything came from that, and nothing more can be said. Similarly, samadhi is not emptiness but complete fullness.

That fullness the Upanishads call sat: absolute reality, in which all creation is implicit as on organism is implicit in its DNA or a tree in its seed.

The joy of being in this state cannot be described. It is infinite. This is the second message of the Upanishads. The infinite, unbounded, full of joy – is our native state. This is Sat-Chit- Ananda. Pure unconditioned awareness which is Absolute Bliss.

How can one attempt to explain such a state, the true nature of one’s Self? “Words turn back frightened,” the Upanishads say. Yet, the sages must have longed so ardently to communicate that they had to try even if the picture was doomed to be incomplete.

Here are glimpses of what they realised…

Whatever we are, whatever we may have done, there is in each of us an inalienable Self that is divine;

As the sun, who is the eye of the world,
Cannot be tainted by the defects in our eyes
Nor by the objects it looks on,
So the one Self, dwelling in all, cannot
Be tainted by the evils of the world.
For this Self transcends all !

                                                (Katha II .2.II)

They remind us that the same Self dwells in all:

As the same fire assumes different shapes
When it consumes objects of differing in shape,
So does the one Self take the shape,
Of every creature in whom he is present.

                                                  ( Katha II.2.9)

They call us to discover that Self “which knows no aging when the body ages: this knows no dying when the body dies.” (Chan.VIII.I.I,5)

They place us in a compassionate universe where nothing is “other” that ourselves- and they urge us to treat the universe with reverence, for there is nothing in the world but That

The Self is the sun shining in the sky,
The wind blowing in space: he is the fire
At the altar and in the home the guest;
He dwells in human beings, in gods, in truth,
And in the vast firmament;he is the fish
Born in water, the plants growing on the earth,
The river flowing down from the mountain.
For this Self is supreme!

(Katha II.2.2)

Most significantly the Upanishads tell us that our. native state is a realm where death cannot reach. They knew first-hand that when the Self withdraws consciousness from the body, the continuity of personality is not broken. Death would not be different.

As a caterpillar, having come to the end of one blade of grass,
draws itself together and reaches out for the next,
so does the Self, having come to end of one life and shed all ignorance,
gathers in its faculties and reaches out from the old body to new.

( Brihad.III.4.3)

Finally, if both body and mind are made of prana which dissolves on death and if personality returns life after life than surely heaven too must be a state of consciousness, part of the created world. It might be more blissful than the physical world but it too had to be transitory.

The goal then is Self- realisation of one’s true nature: not matter embodied or disembodied, but the uncreated Self.

Thus Self -realisation is immortality in an entirely new sense: not ‘everlasting life’ but beyond death and life alike.

It must be understood here that Upanishads present no system. When much later India’s mystics and philosophers built structures based on these foundations they found they had produced points of logical disagreement. But they all understood that in practice all systems come to same thing. From one point of view the world is God, from another there will always be a veil of difference between the embodied person and the Godhead. Both are true, and neither is the whole truth. Reality is beyond all limitations.

In the end then, the Upanishads belong not just to Hinduism. They are India’s most precious legacy to humanity.

Upanishads -Part 3

ImageLat year when I was visiting Bombay, I saw someone wearing a t-shirt which proclaimed, I was an atheist till I realised I was God.  It made me chuckle. It was a clever spin on the now well known Vedanta philosophy of non-dualism which states – That which is without is within. The same One pervades everything. The Self is God.

But is it really that simple and how did we come to this understanding? What does it really mean?

This brings us to the most fundamental discovery made by sages of the Upanishads.

You Are That –Tat Twam Asi

As the rishis delved into the depths of human consciousness peeling layer after layer of awareness they found that the mind is not consciousness, it is only an instrument of consciousness.

When the concentration is so profound that the mind-processes have come to a stand still and awareness has been consolidated even beyond the mind, little remains except for the awareness of “I”.   Space and Time vanish and you rest in meditation in what the Taittiriya Upanishad calls the “body of joy”, a silent, ethereal inner realm at the threshold of pure being.

In this silence, Shanti, you become aware of something vast, intimately your own but not the finite limited self you had been calling “I”.

No amount of will can erase this “I”, the thin veil of personal identification that seperates us from infinite consciousness. Yet, in deep meditation it suddenly vanishes.

This state the Upanishads call turiya – literally “the fourth” for it lies beyond waking, dreaming and dreamless sleep. Turiya, the Upanishads say, is waking up in dreamless sleep.

In later Hindu thought this awakening came to be know as samadhi, complete absorption or moksha, liberation, for it brings freedom from all conditioning and the limitations of mind and space.

The Upanishads tell us that when the  ‘I’ has dissolved and the observer and the observed become one, just chit remains. Pure undifferentiated consciousness. This is our real Self. And, it is identical with the undifferentiated unity which the sages called the Brahman.This is not a reasoned conclusion but something that is experienced at the very centre of one’s being.

The Self is Brahman – is the central discovery of the Upanishads which gave birth to Its most famous mahavkya, formulation : “Tat twam asi” – You are That.

“That” is the characteristic way in which the Upanishads point to a Reality that cannot be described; and “you’ is not the petty, finite personality but the pure consciousness that ‘makes the eye see and the mind think’ – the Self.

And thus we come to the basis of the non- dualistic Vedanta philosophy – The Atman is Brahman, the Self is God.

To understand Self then is to understand God.

So what is the nature of this Self? The Upanishads go to great lengths to show it to us and we will look at some of the explanations in the next post.

(extracted from The Upanishads by Eknath Easwaran.)


Upanishads – Part 2

                                   The Supreme Science.

The Upanishads are not a philosophy. They do not explain or develop a line of argument.They are darshana, ‘something seen’ or ‘experienced’.

In this context it is clear that the questions the Upanishads record – “What happens at death? What makes my hand move, my eyes see, my mind think? Does life have a purpose or is it governed by chance?” – were not asked out of mere curiosity. They show a burning desire to know the underlying principles of life.

A fervent desire to know is what motivates all science. And,  “All science,” wrote Aldous Huxley, “is the reduction of multiplicities to unities.” Nothing is more characteristic of Indian thought.

The Vedic hymns are steeped in the conviction of rita, an order that pervades creation and is reflected in each part – a oneness to which all diversity can be referred. From this conviction follows a highly sophisticated notion: a law of nature must apply uniformly and universally. In renaissance Europe this realisation led to the birth of classical physics. In ancient India it had equally profound consequences.

While the rest of Vedic India was trying to know and understand the natural world and making great strides in medicine, mathematics and astronomy, the sages of the Upanishads  focussed on knowing the medium of knowing: the mind.

The sages wanted more than explanations of the outside world. They sought principles that would explain the whole of human experience, including the world within the mind.

The sages of the Upanishads show a unique preoccupation with states of consciousness. They observed dreams and the state of dreamless sleep and asked what is’ known’ in each and what faculty could be said to be the ‘knower’ .  

The study of the consciousness was called brahma-vidya, which means both “the supreme science’ and ‘the science of the Supreme’.  Brahmavidya is in a sense a lab science: the mind is both object and laboratory. Attention is trained inwards, on itself, through a discipline the Upanishads call Nididhyasana: meditation.

In the Brihandaranyaka Upanishad there are long and haunting expositions of the states of  mind the sages explored. They called them waking, dreaming, and dreamless sleep and somehow made the brilliant observation that these were also layers of awareness. Different strata of consciousness.

In dreaming, the Upanishad observes, we leave one world and enter another. Which to the body and mind seems as real as the waking world. So when we wake up from a dream we do not pass from unreality to reality, we pass from a lower level of reality to a higher one.

If the waking experience is impermanent should there  not be something more abiding to support it? Might it not be possible to wake up into a higher state, a level of reality above this world of constantly changing sensory impressions?  The sages found a clue: in dreamless sleep the observing self detaches itself not just from the body but also the mind.

This still world they found is always present in the depths of the mind. What if we woke up in the very depths of the unconscious when thought itself has ceased? Here the Upanishads are like pages from ancient log books recording journeys into the uncharted waters of the world within.

And, the discoveries they make are just as amazing….( to be continued)

( Extracted from The Upanishads by Eknath Easwaran. Edited, and slightly modified for the purpose of the blog)

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: