Thursday, 5 January 2017

Purity or Impurity

There is a concept of purity and impurity in many cultures. Certain things are considered pure, and are thus holy while some are considered impure and shunned. For instance, the clothes on a dead body is considered impure, so are spit, faeces, etc. That is to say, people wouldn’t want to touch the clothes on a dead person on their own accord, since it is considered impure and if they do, they might want to take a ritual bath to cleanse themselves. But nature does not discriminate between purity and impurity, and what we would otherwise deem impure turns into something most pure. Don’t believe me?

Spit.
Would you consume spit? Crinkling your nose, are you?
Well, bees suck nectar from flowers and spit it out in the beehive. In fact, the nectar is acted upon by chemicals in the bees’ mouth before being deposited. But look at the irony. This very honey that contains the spit of bees is considered to be most pure especially for offering to the Lord! Yuck or Yum?

Would you drink or eat someone else’s leftovers? No?
Milk, is considered to be pure and has religious significance. But isn't the milk from the cow first suckled by the calf? What we get to partake is its leftover mostly mixed with its saliva. 

Faeces.
Ughh! Yes?
The crow is known to eat the fruits of the peepal tree and excrete its seeds. These seeds grow into peepal trees that are considered most sacred by us.

Why just religion? Did you know that the most expensive coffee is the Kopi Luwak or Civet coffee, which is obtained by feeding the Asian Palm civet with coffee berries? These berries are then acted upon by digestive juices of the simian and then excreted as more flavourful coffee seeds. They sell for $3000 per kilogram!

There’s even a facial treatment that uses the poop of nightingales to give you a glowing and blemish free skin!

Clothes on a dead body.
Who would like to wear the clothes removed from a dead body? Not me, do you say?
Silk, the most expensive material is obtained from the cocoon of the silkworm. The cocoon contains the larvae or the young ones of the silkworm. They are harvested and put on boiling hot water vapours which kills the larvae and softens the cocoon. Silk is then spun from the cocoon. The irony is that silk clothing is considered to be the most auspicious and used during pujas.

Water impure.
Would you consider drinking a pot of water that has flowed over hair? No?
Well, ancient folklore mentions that the holy river Ganges flows from the hair of Lord Shiva. There is apparently nothing purer than the water of the Ganges. It is known to cure diseases and cleanse the body and soul.

See what I mean? How the most impure turns into the most pure before our very eyes? I do not want to turn you off or sow seeds that will make you consider these things as impure. The point is that, impurity and purity are a case in perspective. This post is just food for thought (pun unintended!) for those who squirm at every little instance of impurity or the religious fanatics who lay out elaborate purification rituals to be followed. Who is to say what’s pure and what’s impure? Purity and impurity are just in the mind, what say?    


Sunday, 25 December 2016

Significance of Christmas : A lesson in simplicity


“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
“And the Word became flesh.
~John 1:1 and 14:

This verse sums up the entire purpose of the festival of Christmas!

Christmas.

A celebration of the birth of the incarnation of God himself!

An incarnation who was fully god and fully man both at the same time.

A celebration of the Lord stepping out of eternity into time to become a man of flesh and blood, in the form of Jesus.

Jesus- the Savior, who had come to redeem his children of their sins and to bestow upon them his purest love.

The birth of Jesus was no ordinary birth. Yet, the birth that was prophesized hundred of years before he was born, happened in the womb of a virgin mother and in a lowly stable.
THAT, is the very essence of the festival!

The birth in a manger.

Effacing in simplicity.
Bathed in humility.

These are probably the two very qualities that every religion links to spirituality. Years have rolled by, sages and come and saints have gone and yet their basic teachings remain the same. Be simple. Be humble.

That is what the birth of Christ symbolizes too. Simplicity in thoughts and living. Humility in behavior.  The spiritual awakening comes to the seeker, who is perfectly humble and simple.

The birth happening of a virgin mother.

If Simplicity is in the intention, purity is in the affection; simplicity turns to God; purity unites with and enjoys him. ~ Thomas A Kempis.

The human heart hungers for constancy- constancy in thoughts and actions, constancy in behavior and constancy in relationships. It is this purity or virginity of thought which leads us to the birth of goodness.

The birth happening in the darkest corner of a stable.

Jesus was God's child, and he could have chosen to be born in a palace. But he chose to be born in the darkest corner of a stable. Was he trying to tell us something? Perhaps he was.
The Christ spirit or the spirit of being one with the Lord takes birth in the deep and dark recesses of the human mind, corrupted by ignorance, superstition, greed, hatred and hypocrisy. When we look inward with total self-effacement or self-abnegation, it leads us to light or self-awareness.

How profound, isn’t it? 

Let me leave you with these thoughts to contemplate on.

Merry Christmas.


Saturday, 24 December 2016

Forgiving in the spirit of Yuletide.

“Be tolerant with one another and forgive one another whenever anyone of you has a complaint against someone else. You must forgive one another just as the lord as forgiven you.”
~ Colossians 3:13

The bible is full of verses that preach forgiveness. Verses that ask you not to judge others, verses that ask you to be empathetic, verses that ask you make allowance for the faults of others, and verses that tell you it is more peaceful to forgive than to carry the burden of hurt in your hearts. Most religious scriptures preach forgiveness too. It is not just scriptures, but psychologists would tell you the same thing too!

Many people would argue that forgiving is an act of cowardice, it is a sign of weakness, or it is an acceptance of someone’s misdeeds. They would say, it encourages them to keep doing what they do and hurt more people because we choose to forgive them. Shouldn’t we rather teach them a lesson? Aren’t they to be punished?

Unfortunately, neither the teacher nor the therapist seem to concur.

If the saints thinks forgiveness is an act of spirituality, the psychologists agrees that forgiveness is the most powerful thing you can do for your own self physiologically and psychologically. So should you really let go of your resentments and forgive the person who caused you hurt and misery?

Decide that for yourself after you read this post.

Forgiving is not a sign of weakness.
Many people think that forgiving means accepting defeat and thus it is a sign of weakness. On the contrary, forgiving is an act of strength. It is a way of saying, I am strong enough not to be cowed down by your behaviour. I am strong enough to forgive you in spite of the hurt. It doesn’t mean you welcome that person back into your life, but it does means that you are ready to let go of your pain and the person who caused it and have made peace with yourself.

“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong."
~M.K. Gandhi

Forgiving is empowering-
Forgiving makes you realise that the power to control your emotions is in your own hands and not with the world outside. When you forgive, you transfer the emotional baggage back to the other person and in the process you free your mind. Forgiveness does not mean you excuse the crime, it just means that you are no longer willing to be the victim. Forgiveness does not make the other person right, it makes you free.

“Forgiveness is unlocking the door to set someone free… and realising you were the prisoner!” ~ Max Lucado

Forgiving helps you to move on.
The burden of hurt that we continue to carry in our hearts not just impairs our growth but also makes us revengeful and thus difficult to move on. It festers negative thoughts and creates stereotypical associations in our other relationships. Just because one man broke your heart, you start rationalising that all men are the same. Just because one friend cheated you, you start viewing everyone else with suspicion. But when you forgive, it helps you to move on and leave the past behind. You are able to accept other relationships with an open mind.

“When you haven’t forgiven those you have hurt you, you turn your back against your future. When you do forgive, you start walking forward”. ~Tyler Perry

Forgiving heals better than anger or hate.
When you decide to consciously forgive past hurts, you will begin to heal. Even psychologists agree that anger causes negative physiological effects in our body while forgiveness releases feel good hormones that makes you feel instantly better.Bitterness can make us physically sick. Healing our self is in our hands entirely.

“When we allow hate in our hearts, it consumes us. It leaves no room for love. It doesn’t feel good at all. Release it.” ~ Penny Lee.

Experience is a teacher. This moment of hurt is an experience too. Let it teach you to strengthen your boundaries and equip you to take better care of yourself in the future. Accept the reality of what happened so that you can find a way to deal with it. You don’t have to necessarily tell the person that you have forgiven them, just do it for yourself.


So this festive season, let the spirit of Yuletide fill your hearts with forgiveness; forgiveness to set your self free; forgiveness so that you may get well and move on. You owe yourself that peace, don’t you? 

Monday, 31 October 2016

Significance of Deepawali and post Deepawali celebrations


Bali Pratipada/ Deepawali Padwa / Govardhan Puja-
Ritual- This day celebrates the bond and devotion between a husband and wife. Husbands bestow thoughtful or elaborate gifts on their wives. Newly-wed couples are accorded a feast by the family of the bride in some regions.
Some people worship Lord Krishna. In some parts, the cow is also worshipped on this day. Some people worship King Bali on this day.
This day also marks the beginning of a new year in business communities. The old books of accounts are closed and new books are opened marking the start of a new fiscal year.
Some people gamble on this day and it is a custom to play cards with family and friends.

Story behind the celebration-
This day marks the killing of the demon King Bali by Lord Vishnu in his Vamana (dwarf) Avatar, by crushing him under his feet. But since Bali was a benevolent king, marred only by his arrogance, Lord Vishnu blessed him when king Bali begged for forgiveness and granted a boon that people would remember him on this day.
There’s another story about Lord Shiva losing to Goddess Parvati in a game of dice. Gambling is thus symbolic in some households, signifying the playfulness between spouses. Husbands also shower their wives with gifts as an acceptance of defeat.
The victory of Lord Krishna over Lord Indra and the puja offered by the people to the mountain Govardhan is celebrated as Govardhan puja.

Significance- The pardoning of Bali signifies that it is never too late to make a new beginning and that the Lord always pardons those who ask to be forgiven.
The ritual also signifies that the bond between couples should also include playfulness, apart from love and devotion.

Bhai Dooj / Bhau-beej / Yamadwiteya-

Bhai Dooj is the last day of Diwali.
Ritual- Sisters give gifts to their brothers and pray for their health and happiness. They also invite their brothers to a sumptuous meal including their favorite dishes. Women who do not have brothers, worship the moon god instead.

Story behind the celebration-
A popular legend has it that the god of Death Yama met his sister Yamuna (the river) on dwiteya or the second day after Deepawali.  There is another story about Lord Krishna, where he visited his sister Subhadra after slaying Narakasura and his sister prayed for his well being by applying a tilak on his forehead and treated him to a special dinner.

Significance- The day celebrates the undying love between a brother and sister. The ceremony signifies the duty of a brother to protect his sister as well the sister’s blessings for her brother.



Saturday, 29 October 2016

Significance of the Pre-Deepawali rituals


Deepawali is the “festival of lights”, and is one of the biggest Hindu festivals that is celebrated not just all over India, but all over the world and by many religions too. Deepawali is derived from the Sanskrit words- “Deep” meaning light or lamp and “awali” meaning a row or series. Deepawali thus means “a series of lights.”

The festivities are spread over five days, starting with Dhanteras and ending with Bhai Dooj.

Dhanteras –
Dhanteras is dedicated to the universal Lord of health and wealth- Dhanvantari.
Rituals- People pray to Dhanvantari for good health and wealth, thanking him for all that he has blessed them with. In some parts of the country, people also buy gold or silver articles, as it is considered to be an auspicious day for buying new things.
Story behind the celebration- Dhanteras celebrates the churning of the cosmic ocean of milk (Samudra Manthan), between the Gods and the Demons. The purchasing of gold and silver is associated with the treasures that were obtained as a result of the Samudra Manthan, including the birth of Goddess Lakshmi and Dhanvantari.
Significance- The day signifies a war between the good and evil forces. Both forces reside in our hearts. The Samudra Manthan signifies the turbulence created when the good and evil thoughts clash. The birth of Goddess Lakshmi and Dhanvantari signifies the prosperity we can achieve when we let good rule over evil.

Naraka Chaturdashi  / Roop Chaturdashi-
The second day is celebrated as Naraka Chaturdashi or Choti Deepawali. In some parts it is also celebrated as Roop Chaturdashi.
Rituals- Some people indulge in special ritualistic bath with fragrant oils followed by minor pujas. Some women also decorate their hands with hennas.  Roop Chaturdashi is a day to take care of oneself and beautify the self not just from outside but also from within in preparation of the festival.
The story behind the celebration- Lord Krishna’s wife Satyabhama killed the evil demon Narakasura on this day. Narakasura the tyrant demon had a boon that he could be killed only at the hands of his mother, Bhudevi. Satyabhama, who was an incarnation of Bhudevi or Goddess Earth, slayed the demon and restored happiness to the people of his kingdom. Lord Krishna and Satyabhama are said to have taken a ritualistic bath with fragrant oils to rid themselves of the travails of the battle.
Significance- The significance of the story is that, parents must not hesitate to punish their children if they happen to stray on the path of wrong doing. The ritualistic bath signifies the purging the self of evil and the beautification signifies not just beutifying one self from outside but also from within.


Tuesday, 11 October 2016

A liitle bit of royalty and a lot to rejoice!

Called Nadahabba or the festival of the state, Dasara is truly a festival that is celebrated with pomp and gaiety throughout Karnataka and also the southern part of the country. Among the various places where Dasara is celebrated in South India, the Mysore Dasara stands out as much as for its royal connections as for the abundance it brings to the common man.

Visiting the Royal palace in the city of Mysore, one is literally transported back to the era of kings and queens! Where else would you expect to see elaborately decorated elephants, horses and camels march in harmony with the dressed up senapatis, even as the whole city and visitors from the country and abroad cheer the royal processions! Added to that is the grand Durbar that the King of the palace from the Wodeyar dynasty, holds each year, chairing the gem studded throne and worshipping the royal sword. Even if it is just for ten days, the whole atmosphere metamorphoses into one of grandeur and splendor!

Goddess Chamundeshwari, the incarnation of Durga, the slayer of the buffalo demon Mahishasura and the demons Chanda and Munda, is brought down from her abode in the hills and taken in a huge procession around the city. As the Goddess majestically sits in a mantapa made of a whooping 750 kilos gold, carried atop a bejeweled elephant – the Jumbo Savari – as it is called, the audience cannot help but be dazzled by the exuberance of piety mixed with pizzazz! The colourful tableaux, dances, and music bands add color to the festivities.

Elsewhere in Karnataka and also in her sister states of TamilNadu, AndhraPradesh and Kerala, decorating the house with dolls, called Gombe, Golu, Kolu, or Gullu respectively, is a part of the ten day celebration. Articulately arranged dolls sit smug on steps made with wooden planks and covered with white cloth, giving vent to individual creativity and the art of story-telling, passed over to them as a part of their traditions. Gods and goddesses vie for place on the pedestal with toys depicting everyday scenes, court life, puranas, royal processions, rath yatras, and weddings.


An interesting and must have pair of dolls made of teak or sandal wood are the Marapachi Bommai or Pattada Gombe, which are an elegantly dressed couple, the bride and the groom, probably signifying Lord Vishnu and Goddess Lakshmi. What makes the festival fun are the contests, where households participate in a friendly competition for best decorated Golu and most delicious prasadams!
Saraswati puja marks the seventh day of the festival where books and musical instruments are worshipped and Ayudha puja on the ninth day when the tools used in individual professions are worshipped. The most important day is Vijayadashami, which is celebrated on the tenth day. Little children who are ready to begin schooling are inducted into writing their first alphabets on a plate of rice using a root of turmeric.

As much fun as this festival of dolls is, it also has its spiritual significance. It is a means of invoking the divine into our houses. It is a message that everything from the animate to the inanimate is connected to the Supreme. It also evinces your strengths and urges you to get rid of your inner demons.


May this festival shower you with abundance in every aspect of your life!

When the Mother Goddess comes visiting!




A Bengali neighborhood beset with colorful pandals.

Imposing idols that leave you awestruck. Rows upon rows of colorful lighting that is a feast to the eyes.

T
he fervent beating of the Dhaks and the Dhols amidst the blowing of conches and ululations reaching a crescendo with the simultaneous thumping of your heart.

The smells wafting in the air, leading you to the sumptuous bhog and the mouth-watering delicacies.

Beautifully dressed ladies in traditional crisp, white sarees with red borders and sporting huge vermillion bindis on their foreheads.

That pretty much sums up the biggest festival of the eastern part of India- DurgaPujo!

As behind all Indian festivals, there is an interesting story behind the installation of these huge idols. The festival is said to mark the annual visit of Sati to her parents’ house.

King Daksha’s beautiful daughter Sati nursed a desire to marry Lord Shiva. She undertook a difficult penance, worshiping the Lord. Pleased with her devotion and worship, Lord Shiva married her. This invoked the wrath of her egoistic father, who abhorred the marriage of his daughter to the ascetic Shiva. To register his displeasure, Daksha conducted a yagna but purposefully did not invite Lord Shiva. Humiliated and angered Sati jumped into the sacrificial fire giving up her life.

The saddened and enraged LordShiva took on a fierce avatar and slew Daksha though the Lord later forgave him and brought him back to life giving him the head of a goat. Daksha's pride was shattered. 

Sati was reborn as Parvati and reunited with her Lord. Since peace had been restored between her husband and her father, she is believed to visit her parents annually in the month of Ashvin along with her entourage.

This is brought alive in form of beautiful clay idols depicting scenes from the stories of Goddess Durga.

What greets you at the pandal is the captivating idol of the Goddess with thick, long flowing hair, alluring almond shaped eyes, bedecked in all her finery, strikingly beautiful in her rage, riding a lion. With ten outstretched arms, she holds war weapons; slaying a demon with a glistening trident.Accompanying her, are her sons- Lord Ganesha and Lord Karthik, along with Goddess Lakshmi and Goddess Saraswati and her two Sakhis- friends Jaya and Bijaya.

The whiff of flowers and incense is surreal and the rhythmic beats of the dhaks and dhols transport you a different world. It is amazing how your physical self seamlessly transcends into a spiritual realm, even as you stand before her with folded hands and closed eyes.

As you soak in the abundance of art, colorful lights and music, coupled with the delicious aroma of food and the sound of laughter, you can feel your senses bloom in delight!

The festivities that begin with Mahalaya, reach a crescendo by day six, called as Soshti. The seventh-day isMahaSaptami. Navapatrikapujan is an important ritual on this day, marked by offering a bunch leaves from nine different plants representing the nine forms of the Goddess Durga.

Durgashtami is celebrated on the eighth day.Pushpanjali or worshipping with flowers amidst chanting of mantras is done. Bedecked, pre-pubescent girls are worshipped as an embodiment of Goddess Durga during the Kumarika Pujan.

The ninth day is MahaNabami. Ayudha Puja is also celebrated on this day, where people worship tools, implements of their livelihood and place it before the goddess and pray before her.

The tenth day is Bijayadashami which brings the festivities to an end. Devi Boron marks the final sendoff of the Mother to her abode amidst throwing of the vermilion on each other in a ritual called te Sindoor Khela. 

After this elaborate ritual, all those beautifully sculpted pandals are brought down and it is time for the Visarjan and the idols are immersed in the river. 

Whether it is the unbelievable pageant of lights or the elaborate Maha-aartis at pandals, the aroma of the food or the perfume of incense and flowers, the beating of the dhaks or the ululations and conch blowing, the glitter of the deity or the glamour of womenfolk, the Durga Pujo has it all!

The boisterous spirit of the festival never fails to cast a spell or leave you charmed, the spirituality behind the revelry striking a chord deep within.