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Archive for the tag “Vishnu”

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

 

Ramnavmi

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Ramnavmi celebrates the birth of Rama, hero of the epic Ramayana, who was born on the ninth day (navami) of the waxing moon in the month of Chaitra.

Lord Rama was the King of Ayodhya. He was the ideal son, the perfect King, the best of men. So virtuous that he became god. In him people witnessed the seventh incarnation of Vishnu, born on earth to destroy the demon Ravana.

Swami Sivananda writes, ‘He was the Lord of the mind and the senses.  He was a sage in counsel, kind and sweet in speech, and most courteous and handsome in appearance. He was master of all the divine weapons, and a great warrior. He was brave and valiant, yet gentle and modest. Ever devoted to the good of his kingdom and his subjects, he was a defender of the weak and protector of the righteous. Endowed with numerous wondrous powers of the mind, he was well versed in all sciences–in military science as well as the science of the Self.

Deep and unfathomed like the ocean, firm and steadfast like the Himalayas, valiant like Lord Vishnu, he was the joy of Kaushalya. Though fierce like fire on the battlefield, he was calm like the cool breeze of the Mandara Hills, patient like Mother Earth, bounteous like the god of wealth and righteous like the lord of justice himself.  Such a great person was the Lord Rama!’

When Rama was King, his subjects enjoyed heaven on earth. Ramrajya, the rule of Rama is now synonymous with an ideal state.

As loved today as he was in Ayodhya, Ram remains one of the most popular Hindu deities.

ImageAt mid-day, the time Rama’s birth, all Ram temples across India, will begin special poojas with chantings from the Vedas and readings from the Ramayana. But the largest celebrations will be in Ayodhya, the birthplace of Ram. A rath yatra is the highlight of the celebrations here. A procession with a chariot, rath, moves through the city carrying actors dressed as Ram, Sita, Laxman and Hanuman who enact parts of the Ramayan while crowds line the streets to watch.

In the south of India, the day is also celebrated as the wedding anniversary of Sri Rama and his consort Sita. Sitarama Kalyanam, the ceremonial wedding ceremony of the celestial couple is held at temples throughout region.

It is interesting to note that Ramnavmi has many elements of Sun Worship.

Ram was a Raghuvamshi, a descendant of the Sun Dynasty. Ramnavami is celebrated at the beginning of summer when the sun is moving higher up in the skies( of the Norhern Hemisphere).

Ram was born at noon, the time when the sun shines most brilliantly .On Ramnavami the prayers start not with an invocation to Rama but to Surya, the sun.

Rama is also known as Raghunatha, Raghupati, and has other names which begin with the prefix Raghu meaning sun.

The syllable Ra is used to describe the sun and brilliance in many languages. In Sanskrit, Ravi and Ravindra mean Sun.

The ancient Egyptians termed the sun as Amon Ra or simply ‘Ra’. And in Latin the syllable Ra is used to connote light as in radiance.

Could it be that Valmiki modelled his Rama on the mighty Sun? Was Ram a personification of the Sun? Or, did Ram simply embody the qualities of the Sun? I wonder.

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.

Vishnu Sustains the Universe

Vishnu is the second of the Trimurti( Brahma, Vishnu,Shiva) and he sustains and protects the Universe. His role is a lot more complex than Brahma’s.

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“The world rests as the lotus in the palm of my hand, the cosmos revolves around my finger like a discus. I blow the music of life through my conch and wield my mace to protect all creatures.” – Krishna Upanishad

While Brahma creates the Universe, Vishnu is the source of all Creation.

Vishnu is the All-Pervading One. His name is derived from “vis’ in Sanskrit which means both ‘to spread’ and ‘to be present everywhere’.

Even when there was Nothing, there was Vishnu, present as a nameless, formless, dormant energy. In this un-manifested (nirguna) state, even Vishnu was not aware of his own being. He just was. Just because he was not perceived, does not mean he did not exist.

In this Nothingness, when the first ripple of awareness stirred , spontaneously and of its own will, the formless energy became Vishnu, the Supreme Being, Parabrahman.

As Parabrahma, Vishnu lies in a dream like state on the serpent Adisesha Ananta who is Time, without beginning or end. Ananta floats for all eternity on the waters of the Ksheer Sagar ( the ocean of Cosmic Consciousness).

When Brahma begins the process of Creation, it is Vishnu who expands into everything and becomes part of everything. Now he is Brahman, the Cosmic Consciousness.

As if he is seeing a dream, Vishnu watches Brahma create the Universe. By the act of watching his dream, Vishnu sustains the Universe. When Vishnu wakes from his dream one cycle of Creation ends.

Vishnu who dreams up the Universe must also now protect it. To maintain the order of Creation, Vishnu becomes The Protector. He takes the form of Ishwara or God.

This form of Vishnu looks very different from the one reclining on Ananta. He is standing,radiant as the sun and has four arms. In his hands he holds the Conch, The Discus, The Lotus and The Mace.

From the Nirguna Brahman( formless energy) Vishnu thus becomes Saguna Brahman, a God with forms and attributes. Vishnu is now the Supreme Lord, Parameshwar.

At times, when world descends into total chaos, Lord Vishnu comes to its rescue in the form of an Avatar, or incarnation.

The ten incarnations of Vishnu in the physical world are:

  1. Matsya (fish)
  2. Kurma (turtle)
  3. Varaha (boar)
  4. Narasimha (man-lion)
  5. Vamana (dwarf)
  6. Parashurama (warrior-priest)
  7. Rama ( man who was like God)
  8. Krishna (God who was born as man)
  9. Buddha (the enlightened one)
  10. Kalki (horseman, who has not yet appeared)

References to Vishnu are found even in the Rig Veda, the oldest of the scared texts.

Almost all Hindus worship Vishnu, either in his original form or as one of his Avatars. Chanting the Sahasranama, the thousand names of Vishnu, describing his thousand attributes, is an ancient way of worshiping him, and  is still used today. A way that has no doubt re-enforced the  greatness of the Supreme Lord on the Hindu psyche since the early ages.

 

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….

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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.

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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….

http://www.wisdomportal.com/Enlightenment/IndraUniverses.html

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