All About Hinduism

Archive for the month “March, 2013”

How Indra Lost His Thunder

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Born of the Sky and the Earth, he was an Aditya, one of the first deities. He was the copper hued Great God of War, Rain and Thunder. Worshipped more than any other deity in the Vedas, he was said to protect the gods and men alike. Sitting atop the celestial Mount Meru he supported the heavens with its thirty-three gods and guarded the directions.

Riding his white elephant Airavat and wielding the thunderbolt he led the mighty Sun, Fire, Air and Water into many fierce battles with the demons. He was the slayer of the dark dragon Vritra who stole the waters from the earth. He even fathered Arjuna, the great hero of the epic Mahabharat.

So why do we no longer care about this King of Gods, the Great Indra ? At what point was he dislodged from our consciousness as Sakra, the powerful one, to become a lesser god with a bad reputation, to be remembered only in folklore?

He was quite simply traded for loftier gods.

The Hindu pantheon has continuously shifted and changed. As the Hindu philosophy evolved, so did the gods and goddesses.

The Vedic culture was based as much on worship of Nature as it was on trying to understand it. Since the earliest of times we see a civilization obsessed with science and the pursuit of knowledge.

Even the Rig Vedic hymns which seem like simple dedications to  Nature and its elements are full of very detailed and accurate astronomical observations.  This quest for knowledge did not stop at the visible Universe. The Creation Hymn hints at a ‘Reality’ that cannot been seen or known. A reality that existed even before the gods came.

The Upanishads, written long after the Vedas, are all about uncovering that hidden ‘Reality’.

By now, the rishis, seers, through centuries of meditation, had all come to a common conclusion that what is outside is also within. We are a part of the whole and each part is whole. ‘Aham Brahmasi, or I am Brahman ( cosmic consciousness) is one of the three “Truths’ explained in the Upanishads.

Such lofty ideas needed loftier gods.

The heavens were no longer the ultimate realm.  And, thus we see the rise of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, as the higher principles of the Universe.  In their shadow Indra, the God of War becomes quite irrelevant, even undesirable.

The focus had shifted from violent conquest of one’s enemies to conquering one’s mind; from pleasing god to realizing god !

But not all is lost for the once King of Gods. Untitled taishakuten

The legacy of Indra lives on in a benign form in Jainism and Buddhism wherein he is known as Sakra in Sanskrit or Sakka in Pali.

For Buddhists in Tibet, China and Japan he is Taishakuten, a powerful guardian deity and is often depicted riding a white elephant.

Legend has it that the city of Bangkok was gifted by Indra and built by the celestial architect Vishwakarma.

Perhaps it is for the best that in these times of war and conflict, we remember the warrior-god in his gentler avataars.

 

 

 

                                                      Statue of  Taishakuten at the Toji Temple, Kyoto

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Holi-The Colours of Joy

Red, blue, green, yellow….. bring on the colours, aaj Holi hai !!!

It’s time to welcome Spring and drench the world in colours of joy and laughter, love and romance! Today we let go of old grudges and embrace our neighbours and friends. Today we let love spring in our hearts.

Many a colourful tales of Krishna and the milkmaids playing Holi in Vrindavan have inspired poets and artists for centuries. And Bollywood movies!

There isn’t a festival to rival Holi for its sheer abandon. It’s the one day when a rather conservative society lets its hair down and men and women, girls and boys together join in the revelry.

And because a picture is worth a thousand words…..

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It’s Holi !!!

When the full moon rises tonight, bonfires will be lit in every square and street in India, signaling the end of winter.

As the dead wood and odd scraps of old furniture and other household bits go up in flames, it will be time to say goodbye to the old and hello to the new.

Darkness will give way to light and the cold will be replaced by warmth. Everywhere you look you will find faces lit up with a sense joy and wellbeing.

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Grains and coconuts will be offered to the Holi, the bonflre, as thanks for a plentiful harvest.

In some parts of India, especially in the North, this will be followed by singing into the night to the beating of the dhol.

And all little children will be told the story of a brave young boy who cheated death. When good once again triumphed over evil.

The Story of Holi

 Once upon a time there lived an evil King Hiranyakashyap. He proclaimed he was the only God and that his people worship him alone and no one else. But there was one little boy Prahlad, the king’s own son, who refused to do so. Prahlad told his father that he would pray to no one but the Supreme Lord Vishnu.

Hiranyakashyap threatened and tortured Prahlad but nothing would shake Prahlad’s faith. So his father decided to kill him. However, every plot to kill the boy would fail as Vishnu would intervene.

Exasperated the King asked his sister Holika to kill Prahlad. Hollika had a boon. She could not be touched by fire. Knowing this Holika sat Prahlad on her lap and set fire to herself.Image

She had forgotten though, that the boon held true only if she entered the fire alone. So it was Holika who burnt to ashes and Prahlad escaped unscathed.

In Indian myths good always triumphs over evil but this story has another important moral. That which you use to destroy others will eventually destroy you. 

Tomorrow morning we welcome Spring by painting the town red and green and blue and every other colour.

Happy Holi !!!

Parvati -Daughter of the Mountains

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We‘ve looked at the bountiful Laxmi, then the learned Saraswati and now let’s cast our eyes on the bold and beautiful Parvati-Daughter of the Mountains and the consort of Lord Shiva.

In a way, Parvati is the ultimate Goddess.  All Hindu women want to be like her and all Hindu men worship her.

For she is none other than Shakti, the Cosmic Energy at play. Just as Shakti is experienced through her manifestations in Nature, so too is Parvati best understood through her various names and forms.

The stories of Parvati form a big chunk of Hindu mythology. Their charm and their ability to inspire has endured over many millennia. Parvati is worshipped in countless different forms and names all across India from the tiniest villages to cities. Devotees will scale high mountains and go deep into dark forests to seek her. She is the Mother Goddess and from her being spring myriad other goddesses.

I can’t possibly tell all her stories here in one post . Each one needs to be elaborated at length and relished slowly.  I look forward to writing them in separate postings at a later stage.

But  here, just as an introduction, are brief sketches of her most popular and widely worshipped forms.

Sati-Sati was the first wife of Shiva. His first love. She had married Shiva against her father’s wishes. One day hurt by her father’s insulting behaviour she immolated herself plunging Shiva into deep despair. Unable to bear her loss Shiva withdrew from the world into a cave. There he remained lost in meditation till Pravati came along and broke his trance.

Parvati-Shiva ParvatiSati was reborn as Parvati, the daughter of Himavan-Lord of the Himalayas. Parvati means ‘daughter of the mountains’. Strong willed as the mountains she won Shiva’s heart through many years of severe penance and deep devotion.

Gauri-Shiva and Parvati were married in a beautiful ceremony watched by everyone on heaven and earth and celebrated by gods and asuras alike. Parvati moved to Shiva’s abode in the Himalayas to live as his wife Gauri.

Gauri awakened Shiva’s interest in the world by questioning him on various issues. As he spoke, Shiva revealed the secrets of the Tantras and the Vedas to Parvati. Shiva the foremost yogi then taught his wife yoga and through her passed on the teachings to mankind.

Shiva enamoured by Parvati’s beauty sang and danced to the delight of the gods who named him Natraja, the Lord of Dance.

Parvati is literally Shiva’s other half, fused to him in his half man half woman form of Ardhanareshwar.

Shiva and Shakti – As the cosmic couple, they are worshipped together. While Shiva is Purusha, the latent masculine energy of the universe, Parvati is Prakruti, the vital feminine energy. The Ying and Yang of Hinduism. And, although they appear to be distinct they cannot be separated, just as one cannot separate heat from fire.

 

maaDurga smallDurga-Invoked by Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva to wage a war against the asuras and to kill the demon Mahishasur, Parvati becomes the powerful Durga.  Riding a lion and wielding weapons, she single-handedly vanquishes the entire asura army and restores peace.

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Kali- To help her son kill the demon Raktabija, Parvati assumes the form of the dreaded goddess Kali. Dark as death, gaunt with sunken eyes, her enormous tongue hanging out, and with long disheveled hair covering her naked body, Kali strikes terror in the very heart of evil.

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Kali

Jagadamba –In this form Parvati is the guardian of the Universe. She is the Divine Mother who protects and nurtures her children, her devotees. Anyone who seeks her attention shall have it.

Mother of Ganesha and Karitkeya-Parvati is also the mother of her two sons Ganesha and Kartikeya. One she fashioned from her own self and the other was born from Shiva’s seed but not her womb. She raised both with loving care and attention.

Festivals

The Goddess is celebrated during Navratri all over India in different ways. For nine nights India revels in her power and energy.

Gangaur is another major festival, dedicated to Gauri and is celebrated in Rajasthan for eighteen days, starting from the last day of Holi.

Speaking of which, It’s Holi tomorrow. And it’s a whole other story which you can read about tomorrow !

Saraswati-The Goddess of Knowledge and Learning

She is the sublime Goddess of Knowledge. From her flows all learning. She is ‘Vac Devi’, the goddess of speech who ‘dances on our tongues’ to create the magic of words. It is she who incarnates as Art in all its forms.

While Brahma is the Lord of Creation, Saraswati his daughter is Creativity itself.

You will find her by the river or seated on a lotus flower, dressed in white and gold, radiant like the moon. In her hands she holds the veena, the vedas  and a mala of beads . Lost in contemplation she sits alone with only peacocks and swans for company .

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Her Origin

Saraswati means ‘to flow’, as is the nature of knowledge and creativity. It cannot be contained and must flow freely. Saraswati is also the Goddess of Purity, for the true purpose of knowledge is to purify the mind and lead it to wisdom.

It is also the nature of a river to flow, to purify and to nourish. And, ultimately to merge with the ocean.

No surprise then that the Goddess Saraswati as we know her today started off as the holy river, Saraswati, which once flowed from the East to the West in northern India.

Today only a small part of it remains as the Ghaggar river in Rajasthan; the rest of it long lost under the vast Marusthali desert.

However satellite images and geological mapping show that the Vedic Saraswati was indeed an enormous river, about 1500 kms long and eight kms wide in her prime.  Archeologists believe she played a major role in sustaining the Indus Valley civilization.

Which explains why Saraswati is praised so lavishly in all the Vedas with several hymns dedicated to her. One hymn describes her as the ‘best of the mothers, best of the rivers, best of the goddesses’.

The river was an important part of all Vedic worship and rituals and continues to be an integral part of Hinduism even today.

Around 4000 BC when the Saraswati dried up, the people who had settled on her banks moved eastwards. Thousands of years later, by the time the Upanishads and Puranas were written, the River Ganges had become the most important river and the Saraswati had faded into a memory preserved in myths and stories.

In the Mahabharat she is mentioned as the river which upon entering the desert ‘dived under it’ and disappeared into the sea.

One story in the Puranas tell us how the Saraswati disappeared.

Once upon a time the Gods wanted someone to carry Agni, the scared fire, to the sea. But, no mortal or god would dare to touch the fiery Agni lest they be burnt to ashes except the mighty Saraswati. At the request of the devas Saraswati gathered up all her waters and taking the form of a woman held Agni within her and rushed off to the sea. Agni’s fire was gone and so was Saraswati, lost forever to the sea.

Another tale from the Bhagwat Puranas speaks of Saraswati being born from Brahma’s mouth. Wise and pure, she gave the gift of learning and knowledge to man.

These stories tell of a major change in beliefs and rituals in post Vedic times.

With Saraswati returning Agni to the sea the sacrificial fire appears to have lost its power. The material and animal sacrifices that were once offered to Agni came to be replaced by a sacrifice of self or the (ego), through the pursuit of creativity and knowledge.

This transformation in attitudes is clearly seen in the Upanishads wherein Saraswati now becomes the Goddess of knowledge who leads man to the ocean of Truth.

This idea of Saraswati was later incorporated into Jainism and Buddhism. Through Buddhism it spread beyond India to the far east.

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In Jainism, she became Saraswati, the dispeller of darkness and ignorance. Tibetan Buddhists know her as Yang Chenmo who bestows wisdom and learning.
In Mongolian she is Keleyin ukin Tegri, in Chinese she is called Tapien-ts’ai t’iennu or Miao-yin mu, and in Japan she is Dai-Ben-Zai-Ten, meaning ‘the great divinity of the reasoning faculty’.

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Festivals

Saraswati puja is celebrated on Vasant Panchami, the fifth day of the month of Magh which falls anytime from mid-January to mid-February. On this day all children place their books and musical instruments at Saraswati’s feet and seek her blessings while very young children will write their first letter in her presence with the help of an adult.

She is also worshipped in a big way during the festival of Navratri, the nine nights of the goddess.

This lovely prayer composed by Sage Agastya is chanted regularly by Hindus in their homes, schools and any place of learning.

या कुन्देन्दुतुषारहारधवला या शुभ्रवस्त्रावृता

 या वीणावरदण्डमण्डितकरा या श्वेतपद्मासना ।

या ब्रह्माच्युतशंकरप्रभृतिभिर्देवः सदा पूजिता

सा मां पातु सरस्वति भगवती निःशेषजाड्यापहा ॥१॥

Yaa kundendu tushaar haar dhavalaa

Yaa shubra vastra avrita

yaa vina var danda mandita kara

yaa shweta padmasana

yaa Brahmachyutashankarprabritibhir devai sadaa pujita

Saa maam paatu Saraswati Bhagawati nisheshjaadyapahaa

 

Translation:

Salutations to the one who is pure white like jasmine, with the coolness of the moon and brightness of the snow and shines like a garland of pearls

One who is dressed in white

Whose hands are adorned by the veena( stringed musical instrument)

And the boon-giving staff,

And who is seated on a pure white lotus

One who is adored by Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva and worshipped by all devas.

Goddess Saraswati , I pray, dispel my ignorance completely.

( Can you see how these words could easily be describing the River Saraswati ? !)

You can hear it  sung here  just as I learnt it in school.

Same Blog , New Name

 Hinduism for Children will now be called All About Hinduism to include the adults too.

All else remains the same. Keep reading !!

Laxmi -The Goddess of Wealth

While Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva  uphold the laws of the Universe, the Goddesses, Laxmi, Saraswati and Parvati are the soul, the colour and joy of the Universe.

Dressed in luxurious silks and adorned with gold ,Laxmi is the resplendent goddess of wealth. Seated on a full bloomed lotus flower she showers wealth and glory on her devotees. A cascade of gold coins flows from one hand while the other is raised in blessing. Her four hands signify the four goals of human life: dharma or Truth, Arth or wealth, Kama or desire and Moksha or liberation.

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Laxmi’s name is derived from the Sanskrit word “lakshmye” which means ‘goal’ or ‘purpose’. Laxmi is the giver of not just  material wealth but spiritual wealth, glory, virtue, greatness and joy. All the goals sought by human beings.

The desire to seek these things drives Creation and keeps the wheel turning. Hence, while Vishnu is the source of all creation, Laxmi his wife is the driving force behind it. The Creation comes from Vishnu but Laxmi his wife represents its abundance. She represents the ‘wealth’ of Nature.

This is how they met and were married…

During the Samudra Manthan, when the asuras and devas were churning the Milky Ocean to obtain the nectar of immortality, many treasures rose from its foaming waves. One of them was Laxmi, borne on a full bloomed lotus flower, wearing red and gold clothing, holding in one hand a jar of gold and in the other a lotus bud.

The devas and the asuras watched, mesmerized, as this divine beauty rose from the waters. Her radiance it is said, dazzled heaven and earth and all living beings.

With a smile on her lips, Laxmi stepped gracefully on to the shore, her anklets tinkling. Like a golden creeper swaying gently in the breeze she made her way through the crowds that had now gathered to see her. As she walked past everyone sought her attention but Laxmi was looking for someone else, someone more worthy of her. Then she spotted Vishnu, bright as a thousand suns and she knew him at once to be Narayan, he who grants salvation. In him all things came to rest. His virtues were eternal. He was beyond the failings of mere mortals and even the gods.

laxmi wedding smallSo she walked up to him and placed a garland of lotus buds around his neck. In the Vedic times it was the women who chose their husbands by placing a garland around their necks. It was called Swayamwara.

Having chosen her groom she stood by his side, bashful and poised and became Vishnu’s ardhangani, his other half. Now they were complete as Laxmi-Narayan.

Laxmi is worshipped daily in Hindu homes and offices but particularly during the festivals of Diwali, Navratri and Kojagiri purnima.

As Ashtalaxmi she is worshipped in eight forms:

Adi Laxmi- Primeval goddess

Dhana Laxmi- goddess of material wealth

Dhaanya Laxmi- goddess of food grains

Santana Laxmi- goddess of children

Gaja Laxmi-goddess of elephants ( fame and glory)

Veera Laxmi- goddess of courage

Vijaya Laxmi- goddess of victory

Vidya Laxmi- goddess of knowledge

Laxmi is also a form of the Mother Goddess, the Devi or Shakti, which I will talk about in another post dedicated to the Devi.

Worshiping The Sun God-Surya

While I am desperately praying for the sun to come out in a grey and freezing London, I understand more than ever why praying to the Sun has always been such an important part of Hinduism. The sun is essential not just for life but for our general well-being too.

The Sun enjoys a special place in the Hindu pantheon and is one of the five main deities that are meant to be worshiped daily . It is the only pratyaksha Brahman, the only deity that can be seen with the naked eye.

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Several hymns from the Rig Veda, invoking the Sun, are chanted as a daily ritual in many hindu households even today.

I need this one today….

sarva mangalya maangalye sarva pap pranashanam

Chinta Sok prashamanam ayuvardhanam uttamam

‘The Sun Lord is auspicious and bestows auspiciousness.

He subdues grief and worries, and nourishes life.’

I am sure all of us, in places further away from the equator, can identify with the above hymn. We know what a little bit of sun can do to lift our spirits and how much the lack of it can weigh us down. It is  a well accepted fact that people living in warmer places tend to be happier.

The ancient seers obviously knew what they were talking about. Furthermore ,they understood the impact the sun has not just on us, but the earth as well.

One poem states- ‘at his command even the waters are still, even this wind comes to rest in its circling’  Science tells us today that all weather changes are caused by the Sun.

They saw him as the mover of the solar system and the prime source of Agni ( fire) . In the earliest poems, the sun is worshipped as Agni itself, the Universal Fire.

Later on he is depicted as Surya, the Sun Lord, riding a golden chariot pulled by seven white horses.

In praise of the Sun God one hymn says…

Upholder of the sky, Lord of the creatures of existence,

The seer spreads out a variegated mantle.

Far-sighted, extending, filling space

Savitar (Sun) has created a boon worthy of holy song.

Undeceivable, overseeing beings,

Divine Savitar guards the holy laws.

He has stretched out his arms to the creatures of existence,

He whose command is firm rules shining over the great course.

The bringer to life, the source of rest, of high benevolence,

Who holds sway over both the moving and the standing world,

May he, divine Savitar, extend refuge to us,

With three-fold security for us, for home, from trouble.

 

The Gayatri Mantra, the most important of all mantras, also from the Rig Veda, worships the sun not just as the giver of physical light but also spiritual light.

Although this mantra deserves a post of its own, here is a brief translation:

“We meditate upon the spiritual radiance of this Supreme divine reality
Who is the source of the physical, the astral and the heavenly spheres of existence.
May that supreme divine being enlighten our intellect, so that we may realize the supreme Truth.”

The Rig Veda, the oldest of the vedas is full of songs in praise of not just the sun but the moon, the planets, the  wind, thunder and lightning, the ocean,the rivers, trees and rocks.

It is an expression of a people in awe of the world around them and I think it is the forgotten core of Hinduism. The rituals came later when the elements were enshrined as deities. Perhaps the rituals were just an elaborate ways of preserving that sense of awe and reverence.

Worshipping nature is not a primitive or superstitious act. It is a recognition of the wonder of nature, a respect for its forces which cannot be controlled and an understanding that we cannot exist without it .

Unfortunately, today we seem to be lost in the rituals alone. How wonderful it would be if every time a prayer was chanted, we could pause to ‘listen’ and look around us with the same sense of awe as our ancestors and see this amazing blessing that is Nature.

I hope in revering it with our prayers we may learn to treat it well and preserve it better.

A Story for the Day

On the occasion of Shivratri I have to share with you a story so beautifully told,  it moves me every time I read it-The Great God Shiva from The Cradle Tales of Hinduism.

I was planning to read it with my nine year old today and thought all you readers would enjoy it too.  Read it today or bookmark it for another day .It’s a delightful little gem.

Written by Sister Nivedita, in her inimitable style, it captures the essence of Mahadev, The Great God Shiva, like no other story. Her style reminds me of my grandmother’s stories. For both Sister Nivedita and my grandmother spoke of the gods as if they knew them personally. And there in lies the charm.

THE STORY OF THE GREAT GOD, SHIVA

by Sister Nivedita, a disciple of Swami Vivekananda.

In wild and lonely places, at any time, one may chance on the Great God, for such are His most favored haunts. Once seen, there is no mistaking Him. Yet he has no look of being rich or powerful. His skin is covered with white wood-ashes. His clothing is but the religious wanderer’s yellow cloth. The coils of matted hair are piled high on the top of His head. In one hand He carries the begging bowl, and in the other his tall staff, crowned with the trident. And sometimes he goes from door to door at midday, asking alms.

High amongst the Himalayas tower the great snow mountains, and here, on the still, cold heights, is Shiva’s throne. Silent-nay, rapt in silence-does He sits there, absorbed and lost in one eternal meditation.

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When the new moon shines over the mountain-tops, standing above the brow of the Great God, it appears to worshipping souls as if the light shone through, instead of all about Him. For He is full of radiance, and can cast no shadow. Wrapped thus into hushed intensity lies KaiIas, above Lake Manasarovara, the mountain home of Mahadeva, and there, with mind hidden deep under fold upon fold of thought, rests He.

With each breath of His, outward and in, worlds, it is said, are created and destroyed. Yet He, the Great God, has nothing of His own; for in all these that He has created there is nothing-not kingship, nor fatherhood, nor wealth, nor power-that could for one moment tempt Him to claim it. One desire, and one alone, has He, to destroy the ignorance of souls, and let light come.

Once, it is said, His meditation grew so deep, that when He awoke He was standing alone, poised on the heart’s centre of all things, and the universe had vanished. Then, knowing that all darkness was dispelled, that nowhere more, in all the worlds, was there blindness or sin, He danced forward with uplifted hands, into the nothingness of that uttermost withdrawnness, singing, in His joy, “Bom! Bom!”And this dance of the Great God is the Indian Dance of Death, and for its sake is He worshipped with the words “Bom! Bom! Hara! Hara!”

It is, however, by the face of the Great God that we may know Him once for all, beyond the possibility of doubt. One look is enough, out of that radiance of knowledge, one glance from the pity and tenderness in His benign eyes, and never more are we able to forget that this whom we saw was Shiva Himself.

It is impossible to think of the Great God as being angry. He “whose form is like unto a silver mountain” sees only two things, insight and want of insight, amongst men. Whatever be our sin arid error, He longs only to reveal to us its cause, that we may not be left to wander in the dark. His is the infinite compassion, without one shadow or stain upon it.

In matters of the world, He is but simple, asking almost nothing in worship, and strangely easy to mislead. His offerings are only bael-leaves and water, and far less than a handful of rice. And He will accept these in any form. The tears of the sorrowful, for instance, have often seemed to Him like the’ pure water of His offering.

Once He was guarding a royal camp at night, when the enemy fell upon Him, and tried to kill Him. But these wicked men were armed with sticks of bael-wood, and as they beat Him again and again with these, He, smiling and taking the blows for worship, put out His hand, and blessed them on their heads!

He keeps for Himself only those who would otherwise wander unclaimed and masterless. He has but one servant, the devoted Nandi. He rides, not on horse or elephant, but on a shabby old bull. Because the serpents were rejected by all others, did He allow them to twine about His neck. And amongst human beings, all the crooked and hunchbacked, and lame and squint-eyed, He regards as His very own.

For loneliness and deformity and poverty are passwords sufficient to the heart of the Great God, and He, who asks nothing from anyone, who bestows all, and takes nothing in return, He, the Lord of the Animals, who refuses none that come to Him sincerely, He will give His very Self, with all its sweetness and illumination, ‘merely on the plea of our longing or our need!

Yet, this is not the only form in which Shiva may come to the soul of man. Sometimes the thing that stands between us and knowledge is unspeakably dear.The Great God is ever the Destroyer of Ignorance, and for this, when our hour comes, He will arise, as it were, sword in hand, and slay before our eyes our best beloved.

In the middle of His brow shines forth the great Third Eye of spiritual vision, with which He pierces to the heart of all hypocrisy and shams. And with the light that flashes from this eye, He can burn to ashes at a glance that which is untrue.

Two things there are which we see as God. One is knowledge, insight- Jnana, as it is called in India , and this, carried to its utmost height, is Shiva or Mahadeva.

But some see God rather in power, energy, beauty, the universe about us. Indeed, without both of these, either becomes unthinkable. Hence Shiva has ever a consort in Maha Shakti, the Primal Force.

Amongst the pictures made, and the tales told, of Her, are those of Sati, and Vma, and the Great Death. She is Gauri, the Golden One, the fair, the light of the sunrise shining on the mountain snows. And she dwells ever in Kailas , as the wife and devoted worshipper of that Mahadeva, or Spiritual Insight, who goes amongst men by the name of Shiva, the Great God.

Celebrating Shivratri

Tomorrow is an important day in the Hindu calendar. It is Maha-Shivratri- the Great Night of Shiva.Image

Shivratri is celebrated with great fervour across India, Nepal, Mauritius and parts of Indonesia every year, on the Fourteenth day of the month of Phalgun. It is the moonless night, in dark fortnight of the waning moon.

Millions of  Shiva devotees will wake up today before dawn and make their way to the nearest Shiva temple, carrying with them offerings of water, milk,honey, bael leaves, fruits, flowers and incense.

According to the ancient text, the Shiva Purana, Mahashivratri worship must include six items.

  • Bathing the Linga with water, milk and honey followed by bael leaves, representing purification of the soul
  • The vermilion paste applied on the linga after bathing it, representing virtue
  • Offering of fruits, for long life and gratification of desires
  • Burning incense, yielding wealth
  • The lighting of the lamp which is conducive to the attainment of knowledge
  • And betel leaves marking satisfaction with worldly pleasures.
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Many will fast through the day and prepare themselves to keep vigil all night. This is the night to lose one’s self in thoughts of Shiva. Chants of Om Namah Shivaya will be heard in temples and ashrams all through the night.

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The story goes that it was on this day, that Shiva swallowed the deadly poison Halahal which rose from the Churning of the Ocean. The poison was so strong that Shiva had to be kept awake all night to stop him from losing consciousness. Hence tonight all his devotees will keep awake and remember the night Shiva chose to bear the intense agony of the poison in order to save the world.

It is believed that the Great God Shiva( Mahadeva) will bless any devotee who seeks his blessing today and grant them their heart’s desire. Unmarried girls will pray to get husband as devoted as Shiva, married women will ask Shiva to bless their husbands with long lives, those seeking children will ask to be blessed with them, men will pray for Shiva’s strength and seek his protection.

But, the spiritual aspirant will seek Shiva himself.  For it is said, that tonight Shiva will make himself known to those who lose themselves in his thoughts  and will enlighten them like the crescent moon that appears at dawn after the dark New Moon night. ( In India no moon is visible on the new moon night)

The twelve Jyotirlinga temples situated around India will see the biggest crowds.

These stone lingas are said to be Swayambhu( appearing naturally,not man made) and belong to the pre-historic times. They are mentioned in ancient texts like the Puranas and are said to embody the Jyoti, the flame of Shiva. The temples were built around them much later.

For more information on the Jyotirlingas you can check this link

http://www.shaivam.org/siddhanta/sp/spjyoti.htm

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