All About Hinduism

Archive for the category “Story Time”

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



Parvati Creates Ganesha


Up on Mt. Kailash while Shiva sat lost in meditation, Parvati his wife was getting lonely.  She had Shiva’s subjects for company and his faithful attendant Nandi took good care of her. Yet, Parvati longed for someone to call her own. She longed for a child.

Once when she was bathing, scrubbing sandalwood paste on her body, Parvati decided to make herself a child. She mixed the scrapings from her body with the clay from the river and lovingly created a young boy with it. He was so fair and beautiful that she breathed life into him.

Many months passed and one day while Parvati was in her cave and Ganesha stood outside guarding the entrance, Shiva returned home. Ganesha had strict instruction from his mother  to not let anyone in, so he forbade Shiva from entering the cave.  Furious at being stopped from going into his own home and unaware that the young boy was Parvati’s son, Shiva in a fit of temper cut the boy’s head off. When Parvati came out and saw what had happened she was overcome with grief and rage. She summoned all the goddesses to avenge the death of her son. A terrible war ensued and Shiva soon realized his mistake. He tried to calm Parvati down but she demanded he bring her son back to life.

Now Shiva didn’t know what to do so he approached Brahma, the Creator, for help. Brahma suggested they get the head of the first animal they find which is lying down facing North.  Shiva’s servants went into the forest looking for such an animal and returned with an elephant’s head. Shiva then placed the head on Ganesha’s lifeless body and resurrected him. Parvati was overjoyed but soon her heart sank at her son’s plight. “What kind of life will my son have stuck with an elephant’s head?” she asked Shiva.

Shiva promised Parvati that their son would be called Ganapati, Lord of all beings. Loved and adored by all, he would be worshiped first, before any other god.

And so we’ve come to love and adore this playful, clever little potbellied boy, darling of his parents and guardian of all beings. He is the remover of all obstacles. We chant his name before any auspicious work is begun and before any kind of worship. To him we pray for peace and harmony.

Historically however, it was only around  the fourth or the fifth century that Ganesha rose in prominence. It was during the reign of the Gupta dynasty when Hindu traditions shifted towards Brahmanism that Ganesha was established as one of the five prime deities.

Nonetheless, he is today one of Hinduism’s most favourite gods. He has truly become Lord of the People. I wonder if the rather charming anecdotes of Ganesha’s life have been largely responsible for his popularity. Or, is it because humans have a strange affinity towards elephants? We love elephants because they are so much like us. Or perhaps we just like someone who is not so perfect but wears his imperfections so well. Well, whatever it is, no Hindu home or life is complete without Ganesha in it.

Ganesha’s is also worshipped as the remover of obstacles by Jains and Buddhists. As Hinduism gradually spread to south east Asia so did the worship and iconography of Ganesha. Modified forms of Ganesha continue to be worshipped in Nepal, Sri Lanka, Tibet, Burma Thailand, Combodia and in some Buddhist sects of China and Japan where he is known as Kangiten.


5th century “image of Ganesha, consecrated by the Shahi King Khingala.” found at Garddez, Afghanistan.

I look forward to exploring some of the  symbolism behind Ganesha’s birth and form in my next post.

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.

laxmi small

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.

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.


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.


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.

Brahma Creates the Universe

Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh( Shiva) are the three main Hindu gods. A Hindu Trinity of sorts.

Brahma creates the Universe, Vishnu sustains it and Shiva destroys it, so that it maybe created again.

To get to know these gods better, we have to understand the key roles they play.

So let’s begin with Brahma.

Brahma Creates….


Like all religions and cultures, Hindu texts are also full of Creation myths. Some more well known than others.

The Puranas ( Collection of God Stories) tells us that in the Beginning there was Nothing. All existence was hidden in the un-manifested waters of the Great Deluge, the Mahapralaya.

Vishnu lay in deep sleep on the Serpent Ananta( one without beginning or end), who was floating on these waters. In his dream, Vishnu dreamed of this Creation and a lotus sprouted from his navel. Sitting in the lotus was Brahma.


Brahma opened his eyes and was very surprised to find himself there, alone, in the middle of Nothing. He tried to find where the lotus was stemming from but it appeared to have no starting point. Just then he heard a voice asking him to create a universe.

Brahma was confused. He thought about many different forms and shapes he could create and then finally settled on the symmetric form.

He created the four Kumar Rishis, Sanaka, Sanatan, Sanata and Sanat, from his mind and asked the to help him with the Creation. But as children often do, they had a mind of their own. They wanted to do their own thing. So,instead of getting stuck with the job of creation, they  gave up the world and went looking for salvation.

This angered Brahma and he frowned. From this spot between his brows a fifth son was born, wailing as babies do when they are born . Brahma named him Rudra, (Rud, meaning ‘a wail’).

Brahma asked Rudra who was filled with fear of the world and born in the shadow of his anger, to go dwell in all things. The sky, the air, the water, the sun and moon.

Brahma created ten more sons from his body. Angira, Atri, Bhrigu, Daksha, Kratu, Marichi, Narad, Pulastya, Pulaha and Vashista.

Then Saraswati was born from Brahma’s mouth.

Seeing the beautiful and wise Saraswati, Brahma forgot she was his daughter and began to pursue her. This upset Saraswati so much that she  got up and left. Brahma came back to his senses and realised his serious folly. He was  so ashamed and filled with such remorse that he dissolved himself into space.

Having messed up the first attempt at creation Brahma decided to try again.Properly.

He first created a brilliant body for himself and then divided it into two, the primordial man, Manu and woman, Shatrupa.

They were  married and had two sons Priyavarta and Uttanpad and three daughters:Aakooti, Devhooti and Prasuti.

Aakuti was married to Ruchi Prajapati, Prasuti was married to Daksha and Devhooti was married to Kardam rishi. It is their children who went on and populated the Earth. This creation came to be known as ‘Maithuni Shrishtai’. Maithun is Sanskrit means, the union of male and female.

Brahma also sprouted the four Vedas from his mouth and created such things as Dharma( righteousness or Truth) and Adharma( un-Truth ), anger, desire, fear, attachment, joy and suffering.

He then grew so proud of all that he had created, he began to think he owned Prakruti( Nature ). Then he began to fear the many forms that Nature took. The whole process of creation seemed to be spinning out of control. Brahma sprouted four heads looking in four directions in an attempt to control Prakruti. He forgot that Nature had created him in the first instance. She was his mother and she would not be controlled by him.

So full of himself  was Brahma that he sprouted a fifth head, his Ego. With Brahma growing too big for his boots, the very balance of nature was threatened and Shiva had to step in. He chopped Brahma’s fifth head off.

Without his ego gone, Brahma no longer associated himself with Prakruti. He neither feared her nor wanted to control her.

Prakruti( Creation) was now left to follow her own natural course and obey her own natural laws.

This is the reason why not many people worship Brahma anymore.

PS: A delightful version of this story is narrated by Joseph Campbell in his wonderful documentary, Power of Myths. It is from the point of view of Indra. I may post it at another time but meanwhile here it is….

Samudra Manthan

The Churning of the Ocean is one of the most popular stories in Hindu mythology  and has been celebrated for centuries in the form of the famous Maha Kumbh Mela.

It describes the second incarnation of Vishnu- the Kurma Avatar . It was when Vishnu took the form of a turtle to save the earth.

Beautiful carvings and sculptures depicting scenes from this story have been found in many ancient temples in India and  in other parts of the world.

Like this one from the Angkor Wat temples of Cambodia.


                                                                                                               photo courtesy                                    

And, even in a modern day airport  like this one!

                                                                                                            Buddhist monks admire the attractive sculpture of the Churning of the Milk Ocean, which measures about 30 meters wide and 5.5 meters high, too big for fire regulations, requiring it to be moved out of the Suvarnabhumi Bangkok airport in 2008. The Churning

                                                                                                                Suvarnabhumi Airport, Bangkok.


For those who haven’t heard or read the story before, here it is….

The Full Story...

                 One day when Indra,  the King of Gods, was out riding on his elephant, he met Durvasa Muni, a very learned sage. Durvasa offered Indra a divine garland of flowers. Indra who was lost in his own grandeur did not understand that Durvasa had honoured him by doing so. In his ignorance, he took the garland and placed it on his elephant’s trunk. The elephant intoxicated by the heady scent of the flowers took it and flung it to the ground and trampled upon it.

Durvasa was enraged at the insult. He cursed Indra that all the devas( gods) would lose their powers. Indra quickly realised his mistake but the curse once spoken could not be revoked.  The devas became weak and powerless while their arch enemies the Asuras became stronger with each passing day.

Desperate and now fearing for their lives, the gods approached Brahma and Shiva for help, who in turn sent the devas to Vishnu, the Protector of the Universe.

Vishnu saw the plight of the devas and knew that the balance between good and evil had to be restored.

There was a way, Vishnu told the devas, to get their powers back. They would have to churn the great cosmic ocean of milk, Ksheer Sagar and bring out the nectar of immortality that was hidden within it. On drinking this nectar ( Amrit), they would become invincible.

The devas were worried now. How could they possibly churn the great ocean ?

“You must use Mount Meru, which stands at the centre of the Universe, as your churning staff and request Vasuki, the King of Snakes to be the churning rope,” Vishnu added.

The devas looked to the ground in embarrassment, “We no longer have the strength to take on such a difficult task.”

Vishnu had a plan.

He asked the devas to join forces with the Asuras and  promise them an equal share of the nectar, if they helped with the churning.

“But that would make the asuras immortal too! ” cried the devas.

“The asuras will not get the nectar,” Vishnu assured them.

The devas bowed down to Vishnu and left Vaikunth.

On hearing about the plan to obtain the precious nectar, the asuras got all excited and readily agreed to help.

Together they set upon the task. First they gathered many precious herbs and added them to the milky waters. Then they went to Mount Meru and lifted it in an attempt to carry it to the ocean  but the devas could not hold it up and the mountain collapsed upon them, crushing thousands of devas and asuras.

Seeing this terrible calamity, Vishnu appeared on his celestial vehicle Garuda, the eagle. With one finger Vishnu lifted Mount Meru and placed it on Garuda’s back, who then flew it to the centre of the ocean.

With Vasuki coiled around the mountain, the churning finally began . The asuras insisted on pulling from the head of the snake so the devas took the tail. They heaved with all their might, tugging back and forth till the ocean began to turn, its waters rising in enormous waves.


However, now the mountain began to sink, dragging everyone with it. Once again, Vishnu came to their rescue in the form of a gigantic turtle. This was Vishnu’s third incarnation, the Kurma Avatar.

Vishnu slipped into the depths of the ocean and lifted the sinking mountain on his back. Now with the mountain supported, the churning resumed with such vigour that Vasuki, struggled under the strain.                                                                                     (illustrations  from an Amar Chitra Katha comic)

He started spewing smoke and fire from his thousand mouths, engulfing the asuras in poisonous fumes and choking them. But no one would give up.The churning continued.

Then a large cloud of the deadly poison Halahal, arose from ocean and spread all over the Earth, threatening to destroy all creation. Cries for help reached Mount Kailash where Shiva sat in deep meditation.


Hearing the commotion , Shiva woke up from his trance. He saw the poison spreading and quickly gathered it all in his hands and swallowed it. So deadly was the poison that it burned Shiva’s neck turning it blue. ( Since then Shiva is also called Neelkanth, the one with a blue neck).

The devas and asuras pressed on with the task.  Before long, a number of different treasures emerged from the Milky Ocean.

These included Kamdhenu, the divine cow; Kalpavriksha, the wish-fulfilling tree; the wonderful Parijat  whose blossoms never wilt and the precious gem Kaustubh worn by Vishnu. They were followed by a bevy of beautiful nymphs  and Varuni the goddess of alcohol. Then came the radiant Laxmi, Goddess of wealth who married Vishnu.

Finally , there arose Dhanavantari, the divine physician holding a pitcher of nectar in his hands. Seeing the pitcher the asuras rushed ahead and took it by force.


Vishnu then disguised as the bewitching maiden Mohini,  appeared before the asuras and cast a spell on them.  So enchanted were they by her extraordinary beauty that the asuras asked her to distribute the nectar. Mohini  smiled and took the pitcher, offering to help them on one condition- they could not question her actions. The asuras agreed.

As they sat in two rows, opposite each other, the devas and asuras waited to be served the nectar. With her smile fixed upon the asuras, Mohini served the devas one by one.

Rahu one of the asuras understood that Mohini had no intention of the serving any nectar to the asuras so he took the form of a deva and crossed to the other side. He had just drunk the nectar when Surya, the sun god  and Som, the moon god saw who he really was. Their shouts alerted Vishnu who threw his discus at Rahu and chopped his head off, flinging it into  the sky. Although Rahu was killed, his head which had taken the nectar, became immortal and even today he takes revenge on the sun and moon by swallowing and eclipsing them.

The asuras realised they had been tricked and a tremendous fight broke out. By now most of the devas had had the nectar and regained their powers so Vishnu flew away with the pot spilling some drops of the nectar on Earth. These fell on  Prayag, Ujjain, Nashik and Haridwar. (For this reason the Kumbh Mela is celebrated at these places every twelve years.)

For twelve days and night ( twelve human years) the fight raged. Eventually the devas won  and restored Mount Meru to its original position.

The deeper you look into this story, the more intriguing it gets. It hints at so many hidden meanings. But, that’s a whole other post – Secrets of The Milky Ocean !


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