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Archive for the category “Hindu Goddess”

Kali the Fierce Mother

Parvati watched her son, Skanda, struggling to defeat the demon Raktabeej on the battlefield. The demon was winning. A worried Parvati knitted her brows. From the centre of her brows emerged Kali, dark as death, long disheveled hair covering her naked body. With bloodshot eyes and her enormous tongue hanging out, she rushed to strike terror in the hearts of  all the demons.kali 2

Kali is thus the terrifying face of a loving mother. But so often she is mistaken for the terror she portrays.

The Encylopedia Britannica describes Kali as the “ Major Hindu goddess whose iconography, cult and mythology commonly associate her with death,sexuality,violence and paradoxically in some of her later historical appearances, motherly love.” This description is an ill-informed, gross misinterpretation of a sublime idea.

To understand Kali, we must get to her roots, look beneath the dark veneer.

Kali comes from the Sanskrit word Kala meaning time. Time is ultimate leveler. Nothing escapes the all-consuming march of time.The Mahanirvana Tantra says,”Just as all colours disappear in black,so all names and forms disappear in her.” Kali is All and Nothing. Everything ultimately dissolves in to infinite Nothingness.

For Kali is none other than Parvati, the timeless Shakti, the creative energy that is constantly manifesting around us.

Just as Shiva destroys so that he many create, so does his consort Kali. As Mahakala and Mahakali ( the masculine and feminine principles of the Great Time), they are the regenerative forces of Nature. Nature, both within and without.

In Hindu mythology demons often represent the evil with us. Parvati could not see her son losing in his fight against the demons so she came to his rescue. So does Ma Kali, the dark mother, help her children who seek her refuge. But a mother’s love is tough. She will let her children fall and be bruised so that they may learn to walk.

So yes, in a way Kali brings death but by way of transformation. She destroys the ego, the illusory view of reality. We are more than just this body, she reminds us by wearing garlands of skulls and dismembered limbs.

Hence there is the practice in some fringe cults of offering animal sacrifices (goats) to Kali by her devotees who seek to be liberated. Then there are those devotees who have shunned society and rejected everything to do with the material world and are found praying to Shiva and Kali on cremation grounds. With ashes smeared on their bodies, they meditate on the impermanent nature of the world.

This is not to say that they worship Death. In none of the stories or scriptures is Kali associated with cannibalism as some non-Hindus believe. Nor is Kali associated with human death in any stories or scriptures. Contrary to common belief, Kali is not the goddess of Death. Yama is the Hindu god of death.

Kali’s naked form and the tantric practice of worshiping Shiva and Kali as the divine couple are often associated with sexuality but Kali’s nudity is primeval and her connection with Shiva is fundamental, like nature.

Kali is first mentioned in the Vedas as one of the seven tongues of the fire Agni. She was described as the black tongue of Time.

In time, Kali herself has evolved and transformed into the fierce Mother, timeless and all encompassing, who with her compassion destroys our veil of ignorance.

Contemplating Ganesha

ImageGanesha the elephant-headed god, one of Hinduism’s most well known faces, is steeped in symbolism.

Over the ages, the story of Ganesha’s unusual birth and his unique form have been interpreted in various ways. For the purpose of this post I have taken the most widely accepted versions and in the true spirit of Hinduism given you my own intuitive understanding of them.

Ganesha is said to be the physical form of the symbol Aum. Aum is the symbol of Creation. It represents the unmanifest Shakti which manifests as Prakriti or Nature. Thus Ganesha born of Shakti represents all Creation.

The mantra Aum is also Pranava, the prime mantra through which all existence is known. ‘Pra’ means Prakriti and ‘nava’ is the boat which helps us navigate the endless ocean of Creation called Prakriti. So it is through her son that we may know the mother.

Hence, Ganesha is also associated with the Muladhara Chakra which is the seat of Shakti. By meditating on Ganesha the Kundalini Shakti is realised and awakened to remove all obstacles and transform us.

As Parvati created Ganesha by herself with no help from Shiva, he is our direct link to Nature of which we are also a part. Ganesha leads us to ourselves.

Parvati created Ganesha so that he may guard her honour. Hence Ganesha is portrayed as the typical mother’s boy who adores her and above all protects her.  Thus he is ‘Ganesha- Guardian of all Beings’. In protecting all of Creation, he protects Prakriti his mother.

Adi Shankaracharya who established Ganesha as one of the five main deities said this of Ganesha,

“Though Ganesha is worshiped as the elephant-headed God, the form (swaroop) is just to bring out the formless (parabrahma roopa).
He is, ‘Ajam Nirvikalpam Niraakaaramekam.’ This means Ganesha is unborn (ajam), he is without attributes( Nirvikalpa), he is formless (Niraakaar) and he symbolizes the consciousness which is omnipresent.” Which brings us back to why Ganesha is associated with Aum.

As for Ganesha’s form, the big elephant head symbolizes intelligence and wisdom. His big ears pick up on the softest of prayers whispered by his devotees. His small shrewd eyes miss nothing and his trunk represents discretion. An elephant may use his trunk to fell trees or pick up a blade of grass depending on the situation.

He is Ekdanta, the one with a single tusk. This stands for single mindedness.His big belly holds all the knowledge of the Universe.

An elephant is not hindered by any obstacle in his path. He simply steps over it or goes around it. Hence Ganesha is the remover of obstacles and of his four arms one is raised in the Abhaya mudra, which says to his devotees, ‘fear not I shall protect you.’

The second hand holds a noose to rein in the wandering mind while the third has the goad to push people onto the path of righteousness. Finally, the fourth hand holds a sweet modak which shows his eternal childlike nature.

 Om Gan Ganapataye Namah !!

Gangaur Festival -Rajasthan

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Every state of India has one festival, more than any other, that truly captures its spirit.

For Rajasthan it is Gangaur- the Spring Festival dedicated to Gauri, the loving wife of Shiva and the Goddess of Fertility.

When Parvati married Shiva she accepted all his followers (gana) as her own and became Gana Gauri, goddess of the people. Hence the name Gangaur.

For eighteen days from the day of Holi which signals the start of Spring, the women of Rajasthan lose themselves in the legend of the Goddess.Image

Beautiful clay or wooden idols of Gauri and Shiva are made in every home and lovingly dressed in fine clothes and jewelry.  As the women prepare the goddess for her wedding to Shiva, they honour her by fasting as she had once done to win his heart. The days are marked by pujas and evenings by colourful processions.

At sunset the women dressed in their colourful ghagras walk down the streets, carrying earthen pots with the lamps on their heads, singing songs of Gauri and collecting gifts and sweets from elders.

After a fortnight of celebrations the festival ends on the first day of the month of Chaitra, the first day of the Hindu New Year. On this day the beautifully decorated idols of Gauri are carried around the towns and villages before being taken to a lake to be immersed. Gauri is thus bid farewell as she leaves for her husband’s home in the Himalayas. Image

While Gangaur fairs are held in many towns and villages, those in Jaipur and Udaipur are most well known and hundreds of locals and tourists gather to watch the final processions.

This year Gangaur will be celebrated on the 13th of April.

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.

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