Thursday, March 26, 2009

The legend behind Vastu Sastra

Vastu Sastra is nowadays a very common term heard whenever a building is being built. This ancient science has gained more popularity nowadays as learned men have realized the scientific rationale behind it. The ancient Indian text Mayamata, describes Vastu Sastra - the science of ancient Indian architecture. There is an interesting legend behind the origin of this science.

It is said that Siva fought with Andhakasura and during the fight Siva’s sweat drops fell on the ground. From those drops of sweat arose a huge monster called Vastu Purusha. According to some sources, this monster was created by Lord Brahma himself while experimenting with his creations.

This monster devoured everything in his path and his appetite seemed insatiable. The demon was so huge that he cast an eclipse over the earth. Siva and Vishnu prayed to Brahma to do something to save the worlds. Brahma sought the help of Devas. The Devas could not control him. But they managed to push him to the earth. But his strength was too much for the earth that it started rotating at very high speeds. The Ashtadikpalakas who are the guardians of the eight directions, overpowered the monster and held him against the earth. Brahma himself joined this melee and took a position in the middle of the body of the demon. Another forty four Gods joined him and pinned the demon down to earth.

The demon complained to Lord Brahma that it was he who created all the creations. So why is he being punished by the Devas for being what he was created as. Brahma’s heart melted at the plight of the demon and he blessed him with immortality. He gave him the boon he would be worshipped by people who build a structure on earth. Those who don’t do the worship and offering to him will be his food. He was named Vastu Purusha.

The positions taken by the Devas and Brahma can be seen on the classic mandala of the Vastu Grid. The faith that Earth is a living organism called Vastu Purusha, throbbing with life and energy; is the fundamental principle of Vastu Sastra. Vasthu Sastra is about pleasing Vastu Purusha. Vastu Purusha has to be worshipped before the beginning of construction of a building, before starting to live in a new house etc. Vastu Shanti pooja is routinely performed before Grihapravesha by devout Hindus according to vedic tradition.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Worship of Serpent Gods in Kerala

Snakes have been worshipped since olden times especially in the state of Kerala. In olden times, the shikha of men were worn in such a way that it resembled the hood and tail of a snake. The Naga Phana Thaali of Nair ladies is a reminiscent of such snake worship.

There is an interesting legend behind the origin of worship of serpent gods in Kerala.

After the creation of Kerala, Parasurama wanted it to be populated. But the brahmins who tried to live there soon returned back as the land was quite uninhabitable due to the excess prevalence of snakes and hardness of water. Parasurama sought the advise of Lord Siva and accordingly pleased the serpent gods Vasuki and Anantha. The serpent gods informed him that if they are worshipped as guardians and protectors of the land, the problem will be solved. The serpent gods instructed the snakes to soften the water with their breaths.

It was according to Parasurama’s instruction; Sarpa Kavu was built in each courtyard of ancient households called Tharavadu and serpent gods were worshipped. The eight most important serpent gods called Ashta Nagas are Anantha, Vasuki, Thakshaka, Karkkotaka, Shankha, Gulika, Padma and Mahapadma.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

How to do Pradakshinam (circumambulation) in a temple

All the heavenly bodies rotate on its axis as well as circumambulates around other objects like earth around the sun. It is symbolized in the Hindu custom of doing Pradakshinam around the deities in a temple or during a pooja.

Circumambulation around sanctum sanctorium in the temple or deities is called Pradakshinam (Pradakshina). It has to be done always in a clockwise manner with the deity on our right side during circumambulation.

The number of Pradakshinam that has to be done in a temple depends on the deity to whom we are offering it. According to some sources it is as follows.

1 – Ganapathy
2 – Aditya, BhadraKali
3 – Shiva
4 – Vishnu, Devi
5 – DharmaShastha
6 - Subrahmanya
7 – Durga, Banyan Tree
21 - Swayambhu

There are four different parts in a Pradakshinam. Walk one step at a time slowly, like measuring the length with our foot. Keep the hands folded like a lotus bud holding it close to the chest. Chant the names of the respective deity. Keep the thoughts fixed on God. During a Pradaskshinam one must walk as slowly as a full term pregnant woman walking with a vessel full of oil, taking care that not a drop of oil spills.

The manthra that is chanted during a Pradakshinam is

“Yaani kaani cha paapaani janmanthara kruthaani cha
Thaani thaani vinashyanthi pradakshina pade pade”

It means “Let the omissions and commissions done in this life and also in the previous births and the resulting afflictions perish with each and every step of a pradakshina.”

After the Pradakshinam, Namaskaram follows. If we do namaskaram to a deity inside the temple, we might inadvertently show our back to yet another deity. So in temples, it is safe to do namaskaram near the Dvajasthambam. It is believed that the divine chaitanya flows from the deity towards us in a serpentine fashion. Hence offer the namaskaram at about 30 degrees angle and not facing the sanctum sanctorum. It is better to do the namaskaram facing the north.

The mantra that is chanted just before the namaskaram after a pradakshinam is

“Thava thvam na jaanaami keedhrushosi mahaeshvara
Yaadhrushoasi mahaadaeva thaadhrushaaya namo namah”

It means “I don’t know your nature, Oh Maheswara. Whatever be your nature, I offer salutations to you who are of that nature.”

Then we offer salutations, chanting

“Pradakshina namaskaaraan samarpayaami”

It means “I offer you circumambulation and prostration.”

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Quotes from Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba

Sai BabaBhagavan in his twenties.
Image by Wolfiewolf via Flickr
"God is neither distant nor distinct from you."

"Whoever you are, you are mine.
I will not give you up.
Wherever you are, you are near me.
You cannot go beyond my reach."

"Love is my form, Truth is my breath
Bliss is my food, my life is my message
Expansion is my life, No reason for love
No season for love, no birth, no death"

"At first, name and form are essential. That is the reason why Avatars come, so that God can be loved, adored, worshipped, listened to and followed, and finally realized as nameless and formless.

This Sai has come in order to achieve the supreme task of uniting the entire mankind as one family through the bond of brotherhood; of affirming and illuming the inner reality of each being in order to reveal the divine which is the basis on which the entire cosmos rests; and of instructing all to recognize the common divine heritage that binds man to man, so that man can rid himself of the animal and rise to the divine which is his goal."

--- Quotes by Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba

Monday, March 16, 2009

Agastyakoodam (also known as Agastya Mala, Agastyarkoodam or Agasthyakoodam)

This is a hill in the Trivandrum District, south east to Nedumangad Thaluk in the Sahya mountain range. Agastya Mala is a pilgrimage centre for devotees of the Hindu sage Agastya. There is an idol of Agasthya Muni at the top of the hill where sage Agastya used to do penance.

Indian mythology has a number of references to the divinity of sage Agastya. He is the one who taught the famous Adityahrudayam mantra to Lord Rama. He could drink the entire oceans using his divine powers. He is considered to be one of the seven rishis (Saptarishi) of Hindu Puranas. The grammar of Tamil language is supposed to be a boon from this sage. Agastya rasayana is an ayurvedic medicine usually given to people who are asthmatics with constipation, sneezing, blocking of nostrils and congestion of throat.

The Agasthyamala Biosphere Reserve harbours rare herbs and medicinal plants. Tourists are permitted to the area only with permission from the forest department of Kerala. Annual trekking passes to the peak are issued from the forest department during January-February only. It is from this 1890 metre high hill ranges originates the Neyyar, Karamana and Kuzhithur rivers. Thousands of devotees and tourists flock to this spiritual and scenic hill every year.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Vettakkorumakan - Son of Lord Siva and Goddess Parvathi

There is a misconception among many people that Vettakkorumakan is Lord Ayyappa. Actually, Lord Ayyappa was born to Mohini and Lord Siva.

Arjuna was doing a penance to please Lord Siva to get boon which would help him during the war of Kurukshetra. Arjuna had in fact become too proud of his archery abilities and Lord Siva and Goddess Parvathi wanted to teach him a lesson. Vettakkorumakan was born from the union of Lord Siva and Goddess Parvathi when they took the form of hunters to test Arjuna.

This boy born to Siva and Parvathi becomes extremely naughty and was a menace to the people including saints. Based on their request, Maha Vishnu disguises as a hunter and invites him for a duel. During the duel Vettakkorumakan sensing a divinity in his opponent, asked, "Daivathil aar?" To which he received the reply "Daivathar". Vettakkorumakan soon became interested in a novel weapon which he observed in the waist band of his opponent. Sensing his desire to possess the weapon, Daivathar put forth a condition. Vettakkorumakan can have the churika on his right hand provided he will never put it down on the earth. Vettakkorumakan soon realized that the churika is increasingly becoming heavier. His pride soon vanished and entered a truce with Daivathar.

This is a legend associated with Sree Oorpazhachi Kavu. It is a temple in the Edakkad grama panchayat in Kannur District of Kerala, India. Vettakkorumakan has a fierce form carrying bow, arrows, swords etc. This war Lord is easily pleased with offerings of coconut.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Thoppukaranam (alias) Super Brain Yoga

I found a very interesting blog article which I couldn't resist to reblog. Hinduism - The Scientific Religion: Thoppukaranam (alias) Super Brain Yoga: "As you can understand, this exercise, called 'Super Brain Yoga' by the Americans, is nothing but the simple 'Thoppukaranam', the reverential practice done by Hindus in front of Lord Ganesha's temple."

Conches in Indian tradition

The conch ( chank shell or Shankha) has special significance in the Hindu tradition. The conch represents the sky and the sound it produces represents the pranava i.e. Om. When a person blows a conch, it gives him the effect of doing a pranayama. Lord Vishnu carries a conch called Panchajanya in his left hand. Goddess Durga also carries a conch as a decoration and also as a tool in war. The warriors of ancient India blew conch shells to announce battle. According to some legends, Lord Vishnu touched the right cheek of Dhruva by his divine conch and that sparked off a beautiful poem of praise of the Lord called Dhruva-stuti.

The water from a conch is supposed to be as sacred as water from Ganges and other sacred sources. If the conch is shaped in such a way that it opens towards the left side, it is called Vaamavarti Shankhas and is considered as fit for regular use during prayers to blow through it. It is considered as Devi swaroopa. In fact, most of the conches are Vaamvarti, that is, their bulge opens towards left side. But if it is right sided, it is more sacred and is called Dakshinavarti Shankhas considered fit for worship as Vishnu swaroopa and is not used to blow.

The glory of Rudraksha

The ancient Hindu texts refer to the glory Rudraksha and the beneficial effects of wearing it. It is believed that the Rudraksha trees arose from the teardrops of Lord Shiva. It is also said that twelve different types of Rudraksha arose from his “Sun” eye, sixteen types from his“Moon” eye and ten different types arose from his “Fire” eye. The beneficialeffects of Rudraksha depend on the number of faces it has got. A Rudraksha can have any number of faces. Each type is described as a swaroopa (Symbol of) of differentHindu Gods. The effect of wearing each different kind of Rudraksha is different depending on the number of faces.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Quotes from Mahabharata

"To save a family, abandon a man; to save the village, abandon a family; to save the country, abandon a village; to save the soul, abandon the earth."
-Vidura quoting Kavya

Janaka said: Unlimited is my wealth. At the same time I have nothing. If the whole of Mithila (his kingdom) be consumed in a conflagration, I shall incur no loss of wealth.

He is a fool that practises truth without knowing the difference between truth and falsehood.
-Krishna to Arjuna

The intoxication with power is worse than drunkeness with liquor and such, for who is drunk with power does not come to his senses before he falls.

A man should avoid these six like a leaking boat in the ocean: a teacher who does not teach, a priest who has not studied, a king who fails to protect, a wife who is abusive, a cowherd who wants a village, and a barber who wants a forest.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Bharatasavitri - Essence of Mahabharata

matapitrasahsrani putradarasatanica
samsaresvanubhutani yanti yasyanti capare
harshasthanasahasrani bhayasthanasatani ca
divase divase mudham avisanti na panditam
urdhvabahur viraumyesa na ca kascicchrnoti me
dharmadarthasca kamasca sa dharma kim na sevyate
na jatu kaman na bhayanna lobbhad
dharmam tyajejjivitsyapi heto
nityo dharmah sukhadukhe tvanitye
jivo nityo heturasya tvanityah

It is translated as following by Sri. Kisari Mohan Ganguli.

Thousands of mothers and fathers, and hundreds of sons and wives arise in the world and depart from it. Others will (arise and) similarly depart. There are thousands of occasions for joy and hundreds of occasions for fear. These affect only him that is ignorant but never him that is wise. With uplifted arms I am crying aloud but nobody hears me. From Righteousness is Wealth as also Pleasure. Why should not Righteousness, therefore, be courted? For the sake neither of pleasure, nor of fear, nor of cupidity should anyone cast off Righteousness. Righteousness is eternal. Pleasure and Pain are not eternal. Jiva is eternal. The cause, however, of Jiva's being invested with a body is not so.

To read the 100 sloka version of Bharata savitri and to know more about it, visit the following link.

Raksha Bandhan (Rakhi) and King Maha Bali

King Maha Bali is known to all the Keralites through their most important festival of the year called Onam. But not everyone knows that Maha Bali is behind the origin of Rakhi a.k.a. Raksha Bandhan which is a predominantly North Indian festival.

It is a well known story that Lord Maha Vishnu sent Maha Bali to Patala during his incarnation as Vamana. Maha Bali was a great and a favorite devotee of Lord Vishnu. The Lord has granted a boon that Bali will be the next - that is, the eighth Indra (King of Devas) during the time of the eighth Manu, Savarni Manu. Till that time, the Lord Himself decided to protect him in person. The Lord transformed himself into Bali's doorkeeper!

Goddess Lakshmi wanted her husband back in Vaikuntha. She disguised herself as a brahmin woman and went to Patala. She informed King Bali that her husband is away, she has no relatives there and she needs shelter. The generous king offered her shelter and treated her as his sister. He noticed that after the arrival of the brahmin lady his prosperity has multiplied many times.

One day, during the purnima festivals, the brahmin lady tied a knot around the king's wrist with a colored piece of cotton and prayed for the protection of the king. King Bali was touched and asked her to make a wish. She asked the king to send her husband back with her to their home. Perplexed, King Bali asked how he can make this happen. Goddess Lakshmi and Maha Vishnu revealed their original divine form to the king. The virtuous king's joy knew no bounds to see his Lord's love towards his devotees and willingness to forsake Vaikuntha and even Goddess Lakshmi for their sake.

Maha Bali requested Lord Vishnu to return to Vaikuntha with Goddess Lakshmi. But every year Lord spends about 4 months of the monsoon season in the Patala with Bali, from Vaikuntha Ekadashi to Prabodhini Ekadashi.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Purandara Dasa - "Sangeeta Pitamaha" (grandfather) of Carnatic music.

Purandara Dasa is aptly called the "Sangeeta Pitamaha" (grandfather) of Carnatic music. He systematized the method of teaching Carnatic music which is followed to the present day. It was a miraculous incident in his life which changed him from a greedy merchant to an ardent devotee and devotional music composer.

Inscriptional evidence suggests Purandara Dasa was born in 1484 AD in Kshemapura, near Tirthahalli, Shivamogga district in Karnataka state. He was the only son of Varadappa Nayaka, a wealthy merchant, and Leelavati and was named Srinivasa Nayaka, after Lord Venkatachalapathy (an incarnation of Lord Vishnu). He married Leelavathi when he was 16 years old and inherited the family business of jewellery at the age of 20 when his father died. He was immensely rich and was called "navakoti narayana" (abundantly rich man). His wife was extremely God fearing and pious lady and in contrast to her, he was extremely greedy and miserly.

One day a brahmin came to their house begging for money to perform the sacred thread ceremony (upanayanam) for his son. He was at his work and his wife was in a dilemma. Finally she decided to give him her nose ring to sell. But unfortunately the brahmin went to Srinivasa himself to sell the jewellery. He immediately recognized his wife's nose ring and was boiling with temper when he came back to his home to enquire his wife about her nose ring. But to his astonishment, he found the same ring on his wife's nose! She told him what happened and they knew that God played a miracle on her because of her devotion and to teach him a lesson in life. He was moved and realized his folly in sticking to a life of attatchment to worldly posessions. At his age of 30, he gave away all his belongings and dedicated his life in devotional service to God.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Sruti and Smriti

The entire body of scriptures in Hinduism is divided into Śruti and Smṛti which means heard and remembered in Sanskrit respectively.

Sruthi denotes a category of texts that is divine in origin. They were traditionally transmitted orally by Brahmins and learned people which preserved the purity of the tradition. Because of it's divine origin, the importance is given to the preservation of the text in the original form by recitation with emphasis on intonation and preservation of its divine attributes. The Sruthis include the four Vedas and supplemented by Brahmanas, Aranyakas and Upanishads.

The Smritis are based on the teachings of the Vedas. The Smriti stands next in authority to the Sruti. Smrtis consist of non-Vedic literatures that portray the rules of dharma e.g. the Dharmasastras, Itihasas, and Puranas. There are eighteen main Smritis or Dharma Sastras.

There is a very engaging article on this by Sri Swami Sivananda, the founder of Divine Life Society.

Even atheists can be religious - answer to a blogger

PhD Musings: From Hinduism to Atheism: One person at a time
I would say that I was a believer initially, then became an atheist and now back to Hindu beliefs. If you had studies Hinduism carefully, you would have realized that even if you don't believe in all the Gods in Hindu mythology, you can still be a Hindu. Advaita, Bhakti and even Arya Samaj like thoughts are all different forms of Hinduism. The faith in God is a waxing and waning phenomenon for many. The true reason could be just as simple as lack of in depth knowledge in their religious faith. In times of doubt, only a realized guru can clear all the doubts in mind and guide the soul towards divinity.

I remember a friend of mine who was a practising Hindu. I asked him if he believed in God. He said no. Then why do you go to temple and follow customs; I asked. The reply he gave me made me think about faith in religion. Hinduism is a way of life and he found it comfortable to live that way. He could not think about living without going to temples, rituals and all the traditions. He himself believes that one day he might get his faith in God back. You don't have to be a christian to celebrate christmas. People of all faith celebrate Hindu festivals like Onam in Kerala.

It is natural for people to have less faith or no faith to God in times of happiness and prosperity. It is for the same reason, there are instances in Hindu mythology where devotees have prayed to God to give them misery and sadness so that they can always live in the remembrance of God.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Holi - the origin of the festival's name

According to Narada purana, the demon kind Hiranyakashipu constantly tried to kill his son Prahlada by various tactics but failed every time. One of the tactic was to ask his sister Holika to sit with Prahlada in a bonfire. She had a boon that no fire can harm her. But this time the devotion of Prahlada towards Lord Narayana worked wonders and Holika was burned alive in the fire, while Prahlada was untouched. The Holi festival derives its name from Holika.

According to some scholars, the festival derives it's name from the parched grains called Holka in Sanskrit. It is used for some rituals like Hawana. The sacred ashes (vibhuti) obtained from this offering is called Bhumi Hari and is smeared on the forehead.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Basic Puja - A how-to video for the very beginners

I happened to come across this video on Howcast. It is focussed on those with little or no idea about how to worship in a Hindu way.