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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

                                                                                     

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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 !!

Parvati -Daughter of the Mountains

durga extra small

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.

                                                                                                                                                                                 Durga

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.

small kali

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 !

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