Monday, October 29, 2012

Ayudha Pooja and Vijaya dashami

Marks the ninth day of the important festival Dasara or Dushera .
the ten day festival marks the victory of Godess DURGA over the demon MAHISHA. Hence she is called MahishasuraMardini . DURGA pooja the the most important festival in eastern india .
Also marks the victory of lord RAMA over RAVANA esp in northern  india  .
Marks the beginning of the north east monsoon and autumn .
Saraswathi goddess of learning and Hayagriva god of knowledge are worshipped on navami , the ninth day .
video
Tools of ones trade , vehicles and workplaces are worshipped esp in southern  india .
The tenth day marks Vijayadashami , the day of victory .
In southern india  many families display painted clay images  of the gods on temporary steps , esp different aspects of the divine mother .
One of the most important festivals in the calendar of the sanathana dharma , a ten day celebration and holiday .

Melukote

Lord Cheluvanarayana at Melukote

Lord Varadaraja at Kanchi

One of the four main Sri Vaishnava temples of south India , the others being SRIRANGAM ,TIRUMALA , and MELUKOTE.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Srinivasa , Venkateswara , Balaji , Lord of the seven hills

Presumed original picture with changed background , from half a century ago.
The most popular temple on earth with seventy five thousand visitors on normal days . open 24/7/365 . with minor breaks for special rituals .
My family deity , kuladevatha , and ishtadevatha .
Loving and compassionate beyond measure , grantor of boons .

   Venkatesha samam sthanam brahmande nasthi kinchana ,
Venkatesha samo devo na bhutho na bavishyathi .

Saturday, October 20, 2012

LORD RANGANATHA SRIRANGAM

The first of the 108 Divya deshams of Lord VISHNU -NARAYANA ,   Lord Ranganatha at Srirangam .

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Art of Giving




The Scriptures place great importance to giving or Dhaana .


Dhaana is a sacred ritual sanctified by the ceremonial pouring of water over the hands ...


There are nine  important points to keep in mind .


1. Give with the heart not with the head ...


 do not analyse it too much .

2. Give with Joy , not reluctantly .


3. Give only that is useful to the other person , not junk .


4. Give without expecting anything in return , there should be no expectation of returns or quid pro quo .


5. Give with humility love and compassion , not with pride or arrogance .

There is a story of a famous donor who would only give anonymously as far as possible , and even if he were face to face , he would not look at the face of the donee , only at his feet ..

when asked why , he said ... I do not wish to embarass the receiver ....


6. give in proportion to your capacity ...

 a 100 rupee gift by a person who earns a 1000 rupees is greater than a 1000 rupees given bya millionaire .

after your taxes , loan dues and savings , give at least 10% of your income .

7. Give unconditionally , not with numerous strings attached .

8. Give to the deserving , not to the undeserving.

there is no point conducting a function at a temple and feeding your already overfed relatives and friends ..
feed the hungry instead .

9. and finally , do not flaunt or boast about having given .

like those who paint their names on tubelights  donated to temples cutting off half their light .



Lets make the world a better place by Dhaana , Giving ...

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Supreme Being in the form of Lord Ananthapadmanabhaswamy - Vishnu Narayana



Lord Vishnu at Thiruvanathapuram ,Kerala , India .



If a man made image can be so beautiful with divine inspiration, it is no wonder that one needs divine vision ( as granted by Krishna to Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita ) , to see the Divine Being in celestial splendour .

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Brahman

The scriptures describe Brahman as comprising of


" Satyam ,Gyanam ,Anantham " .


Truth , Knowlwedge and Infinity .


The truth referred to is the ultimate truth ,

the knowledge is a complete knowledge of all that there is to know ..

and infinity indicates that Brahman encompasses everything .

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Years of the Gods - Hindu Cosmology


In the Cosmology of the Sananthana Dharma , there is a series of endless worlds passing as cycles within cycles .

The Universal Spirit Brahman encompasses all matter and energy . The entire universe and its matter is created out of only one quarter of Brahman .

Brahman also referred to as Narayana causes the appearance of a secondary creator - Brahma ..

One day of Brahma is 4320 million earth years , and is called a Kalpa . One night is of equal length .

His divine year consists of 360 such days and nights , and his life time is 100 divine years , or 311,040,000 million years . At the end of this period the universe dissolves into non manifestation until aeons later another secondary creator appears by the will of Narayana ..and the cycle begins all over again .

Each Kalpa is divided into 14 secondary cycles called Manvantaras ,with vast intrevals between the cycles .Each secondary cycle is headed by an advanced soul called a Manu . At present we are in the seventh Manvantara whose Manu is called Vaivasvata . Each Manvantara comprises 71 aeons called Mahayugas , each further divided into 4 Yugas or ages called Satya , Treta , Dwapara and Kali , consisting of 4800 3600 2400 and 1200 years of the gods ( each god year is 360 human years ). The ages are also referred to by metals gold , silver , copper and iron respectively .

The Satya age is of pure virtue , the Treta has only three qurters virtue in it , the Dwapara has only half virtue in it and the Kali age has only a quarter virtue .

We are presently in the Kali age which began with the Mahabharata war in 3102 BC .


These endless cycles are symbolised by a wheel whose axis is Brahman , and the cycles governed by Dharma .

Monday, December 28, 2009

The Shodasha Upacharas , the 16 ritual offerings

In the personal worship of God in a form of one's choosing , the Shodasha Upachara forms an important minimum part of the Puja or Aaradhana .

The list of the 16 ritual offerings vary from text to text, but I give here a often used expanded list of 36 Upachaaras . .

1. Avahanam and praana prathista ( or invocation of the Deity to manifest himself / herself )

2. Aasanam ( offering of a seat )

3. Arghyam ( water offering to the deity to wash hands )

4. Padyam ( water offering to wash feet )

5. Achamaniyam ( water offering to drink )

6. Snanam ( ritual bath 0ffering )

7. Vastram ( offering of robes )

8. Yajnopavitam ( offering of the sacred thread)

9. Gandham ( perfume offering)

10. Tulasi patram / bilva patram ( offering of Tulasi ( basil - osmium sanctum ) leaves or Bilva leaves ) to Vaishnava / Saiva deities respectively .

11. Chandanam ( sandal wood paste)

12. Pushpam ( fragrant flowers )

13. Dhoopam ( incense )

14. Deepam ( offering of lighted lamps )

15. Kumkumam ( red vermilion)

16. Haridra Churnam ( turmeric powder)

17. Alankaram ( decoration)

18. Aabharanam ( Jewellry)

19. Darpanam ( Mirror)

20. Chatram ( umbrella)

21. Chamaram ( fly whisk )

22. Punar Arghyam

23. Padhyam

24. Achamaniyam

25. Neivedyam ( food offering )

26. Madhuparkam ( a sweet mix of milk , curd , honey , butter , and ghee)

27. Tambuphalam ( offering of betel leaf and areca )

28. Mantra Pushpam ( recitation from the vedas )

29. Vadhyam ( playing of musical intruments )

30. Sangeetham / sankirtan ( vocal singing in honour of the deity )

31. Ashtothara Shatha nama Archanam . ( recitation of 108 different names of the deity )

32. Dhyanam ( meditation on the deity )

33. Mantra Japam( recitation of an important mantra connected with the deity 108 times , like ashtakshara or panchakshara )

34. Pradhakshinam ( circumbulation )

35. Namaskaram ( salutation )

36. Shayanotsavam / Paryankasanam ( Deity is offered rest )

Basically the Deity is treated as the seniormost member of the family, and all affection , love , courtesy and respect is showered upon him / her .

Temple rituals are similarly structured and can be more elaborate .
Household Puja could be simpler in form than described above.
What matters is the sincerity with which it is done .
Variations in method occur from temple to temple, from household to household , and from individual worshipper to individual worshipper .
As Krishna says in the Gita ,he is pleased with a offering of a simple leaf , flower , fruit , or water
as long as it is offered with devotion .

The Puja and Aaradhana is considered important in the Bhakti Marga or the path of loving adoration ... which leads to surrender or Sharanagathi . This is considered the easiest of all paths , and purifies one gradually making one more and more sattvic and detached . Through the discipline of the Puja ritual , ones heart and mind turns away from the temporary worldly distractions and gets fixed on the ultimate goal of Moksha or liberation which is the permanent state of Ananda or true happiness .

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Where is God ?


The scriptures say that God encompasses everything in this universe. They further go on to say that all matter in the universe with its millions of galaxies stars and planets consist of only one quarter of God , the rest three fourths of God remains as energy .


However God also manifests specially in five different ways .


As " Para " God is Para Brahman , who encompasses everything , is present every where , pervades everything.

( Vishnu means the "Pervader ")


As " Vyuha " God manifests as various divine beings and demigods .


As " Vibhava " God manifests as Avataras or incarnations or spiritually uplifted beings in human form who come to guide humankind.


As "Antaryamin " God is present inside all living creatures .


And finally as " Archa " or in the form of duly consecrated Images in temples , where God is ritually invoked , who answers the prayers of devotees .

Friday, October 16, 2009

Deepavali




First Day of Karthika Maasa Vikram Samvat 2066

Deepavali (or Diwali in north India ) is perhaps the most important Hindu festival of the year .
It is celebrated by all hindus , Jains , sikhs etc .
Deepavali ( which means row of lights )

marks the victory of good over evil ,

the victorius return  of Lord Rama to Ayodhya , marked by lighting of thousands of lamps   ,

of the victory of Lord Krishna over the demon king Narakasura .

 is celebrated by lighting lots of oil lamps ,lighting fire crackers ,

wearing new clothes , eating sweets , celebrating with friends and family , and prayer .

Its a three day festival , starting with Narakachaturdasi and ending with Balipadyami .

In the north , the first day is called Dhanteras and ends with Diwali on the third day .

In many parts of south India , people wake at 4 am ( 4 am to 6 am is the auspicious Brahma Muhurta )

take an oil bath with a few drops of water added from the river Ganga

and celebrate with lights and fire crackers before dawn .

The hindus have several calendars ...

Perhaps the most important is the Vikram Samvat , which began in 57 BC

when the celebrated Emperor of India Vikramaditya defeated the Sakas .

Deepavali marks the beginning of the new year in the Vikram Samvat calendar ,

the first day of the first month of Karthika .

Businessmen open their new account books on this day with Lakshmi Puja , and pray for prosperity .

Deepavali is a day of joy , of forgiveness , of starting afresh , of hope in the future .

It is a day of gratitude to the Gods and life itself .




Tuesday, October 13, 2009

from Nammalvar's Thiruvaymozhi

Instead of getting his praises

sung by the great poets...

he

comes here today ...

and gently ,

makes me over into himself ,

and gets me to sing

of him ,

my lord of paradise ....

---------Nammalvar , 8th Century , in Tamil .

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Guru

The Guru , or the Teacher , plays a crucial role in the Sanathana Dharma .

A spiritual aspirant finds his path far easier if he or she is guided by the right Guru .

Hinduism gives a very high status to the guru , he or she is only next to God , since the Guru leads us to Godhead .

I have been fortunate in having several good teachers .

My late Paternal Grandfather , who taught me the traditional Aradhana or the Puja as per our denominational traditions , and who also taught me the Sri Stuthi , the Sudarshana Ashtaka and the Hayagriva Stotra .

My late Maternal Grandfather who taught me the Vishnu Sahasra Nama and the Venkatesha Suprabhatha.

My late father in Law , who set a wonderful example and inspired me by the way he lead his life and by his constant equanimity , who reminded one of Siva Dakshinamurti , the divine Silent Teacher .

My weekend Gita Teacher who persuaded me to write the first two exams on the Bhagavad Gita .

My sanskrit teacher at school who taught me the basics of the sacred language , the most beautiful in the world .

My 82 year old Veda teacher ,
who formally taught me the basic fire sacrifices - the Agnihotra , the Aupasana , the Vichinna Aupasana , and the Sthali Paka Homa , and from the divine Vedas , the Pancha sukta , ( The Purusha Sukta , the Narayana Sukta , the Sri Sukta , the Bhu Sukta , and the Nila Sukta )
the Vishnu Sukta , the Pancha Shanti's , the Naasadiya Sukta , the Hiranyagarbha Sukta , and importantly from a philosophic point of view --- the Taitariya Upanishad from the Shukla Yajurveda .

And last but most importantly , my mother , who taught me all my basic prayers and slokas on her lap , who gently , but steadily , has reminded me of the importance of spiritual goals , and also of faith , of truth , of simplicity , of virtue , of detachment and so on .
( I am yet to make headway on the simplicity and detachment ).

Many many individuals, big and small, from PhD holders to our maid , have also taught me numerous little things by their actions , by their personalities , and their behaviour.

Last but not the least , I am profoundly grateful to the Supreme Being , the first Guru , who has shown me the right path .

For all my teachers , I am immensely grateful .

But I still have a very long way to go .......

However , I pray that I will continue to get guidance , directly or otherwise .

"Brahma praavaadhishma thanno maa haaseeth. "

"I have chanted the sacred Veda , may it not abandon me ."

Friday, October 2, 2009

Hindu Temples




With the coming of the Ithihasas - the Ramayana and the Mahabharata and Puranas ( such as the Bhagavata Purana ), the Bhakti or devotional traditions began to emerge out of Vedic Hinduism about 2000 years ago.

With them began the construction of Temples dedicated to various popular forms of the divine , as per the Agamas ( scriptures detailing the construction of temples and methods of worship ).

The earliest temples built of wood etc did not stand the test of time . Soon stone became the preferred method .

Today there are over a half a million hindu temples in worship around the world . about 4,50,000 are in India the rest in Nepal , Bali etc .

About 10% of them ( almost all of them in India ) or about 50,000 temples are very ancient , and of historical , archeological , architectural, cultural , religious and social importance .

About 3000 of the biggest temples in North India were razed to the ground during the 500 years of Islamic rule between the 13th and 18th centuries .

For that reason , north india does not have large ancient temples standing except in remote areas and forests .

Most are new, built in the last 300 years .

South India however ,has many huge beautiful ancient temples still standing , since the south escaped much of the devastation of the north .

Many have been in continous un-interrupted worship for 2000 years with the ancient daily rituals preserved intact .
Two pics have been added , one - a birds eye view of the temple complex of Arunachaleswara in south India and the other of a temple corridor in Rameshwaram also in south india .


Monday, September 21, 2009

The Hindu Diaspora

Hindus presently form a majority in 5 nations .

India , Nepal , Mauritius , Fiji , and Guyana .

Nepal was a traditional Hindu Kingdom , Guyana , Fiji and Mauritius have populations of Hindus who migrated in the 19th , 20th centuries .

At one time Hindu culture was dominant thruought SE Asia : Cambodia and other nations had Hindu civilisations .

Malaysia which is now muslim , uses substantial Sanskrit in the Malay language , for instance they refer to native Malays as Bhumi Putras ( sons of the soil ) .

The present King of Thailand is Bhumipol Adulyatej ( In sanskrit - Bhumi Pal Atulya Tej - Ruler of the Earth and of Incomparable Radiance ). The Ramayana is an important part of Thai folklore.

Cambodia has the worlds largest Hindu Temple measuring several sq km- Angkor Wat , dedicated to Vishnu .

The hindu island of Bali which is part of presently muslim Indonesia , has all its native population following ancient hinduism with devotion.

Hindus also live in 195 of the worlds 200 nations ,with substantial populations in the USA (nearly 2 million ), Canada , UK etc .

In India they officially form 79% of the population in 2009 , but acutally its closer to 65 %.

Officially the split is Hindus 79% , Muslims 15 %, christians 4% , others 2%. ( 2009).

Actually its Hindus about 65 % , muslims about 18%, christians about 6%, tribal beliefs about 7 % , and other religions about 4 %. ( sikh , buddhist , jain, etc)

The reason for this difference is that
1. Illegal muslim immigrants from bangaladesh are not counted in the official version .. .and they number about 2% offcially and 3 % unofficially . .
2. Tribals with their own unique beliefs are also officially counted as Hindus .
3. Poor christian converts from socially backward sections of society continue to call themselves Hindus on government records to avail of substantial sops given to socially backward Hindu groups .

The Hindus , basically being a non-violent , broad-minded and tolerant people , have lost much ground thruought history . SE Asia, Sri Lanka, Bhutan etc was lost to Buddhism - a sister religion , Indonesia and Malaysia to Islam .

Large parts of India and its hindus were invaded and occupied at various points of time by

1. the Greeks -(Alexander)
2. Huns
3. Mongols
4. Turks
5. Afghans
6. and presently the chinese having occupied Tibet , are now nibbling at India .

Hindus in their traditional homeland - India ( from the Hindukush and the Himalayan mountains in the north to the Indian ocean of the south ) have lost the fertile Indus river valley to Pakistan and the fertile Ganga Brahmaputra delta to Bangladesh , the kabul river valley ( Gandhara ) to Afghanistan , ----three islamic states .

- recently Nepal, a part of traditional hindu culture, has gone to chinese sponsored Maoists - etc ,
....all totalling nearly a third of the area of traditional India .

In the remaining part of present day India , hindus are still on the retreat . As per the official census figures ..held every 10 years ,

hindus officially constituted

in 1961 - 84%
in 1971- 83%
in 1981- 82 %
in 1991- 81 %
in 2001 - 80 %
in 2009 - 79%( est )

Muslims in the same period have official figures as follows

in 1961- 10%
in 1971 -11%
in 1981- 12%
in 1991- 13%
in 2001- 14%.
in 2009 - 15% ( est )

these are official figures .

As per statistical analysis , unoffcially , Hindus are expected to become a minority ( less than 50 % ) in India in about 15 decades ie in about 150 years .

Yet , one is confident that the Santhana Dharma which has faced many challenges in the past , and has survived 500 years of islamic rule and 200 years of british rule ... will live on in some form or the other , somewhere or the other.

The worlds most ancient path of wisdom cannot be extinguished .

Friday, September 18, 2009

Sacred Waters


Oh Sacred Waters you are the one that brings life .


You give us norishment and strength . ....


We rejoice at your existence ....


We drink you with joy , as babies drink their mother's milk ....


And when we swallow you we recieve love - as babies do from their mothers ...


You give birth to us and you give us life in the service of God ..


You keep us happy and healthy in the service of God ...


May God always be our help and our preserver ..


You are the ruler of all ..


When we are sick you cure us ..


You are our armour protecting us from illness ..


We pray that we shall continue to see the sun rise for many years ..


Oh Sacred waters , carry away my sins and failures ...


all that has been bad in my life ..


Clense me of of deceit and malice ,


of broken promises ..


I seek you today ..


I shall plunge into your wetness ..


drown me in your splendour !!!


Rig Veda 10-9, 1-5, 7-9

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Puja , Aradhana

As mentioned earlier , the Bhakti Marga or the Way of Devotion ( to a personal Deity ) is considered the easiest way to the goal and that appeals to most . Christianity and Islam also resemble, in some ways , Bhakti Marga . However the fear of retribution by a vexed God , a belief that is part of other mainstream religions, does not form a crucial part of Hinduism or Bhakti Marga .

A Personal Deity , could be a Kula Devata ( family deity ), or a Grama Devata ( deity of the Village or locality ) , or a Ishta Devata ( a deity or personal choice ) .
or permutations of the above . All of the above could be different or represent the same deity .
One can also direct ones devotions to a variety of deities at the same time .
Worship or Puja or Aradhana can be done mentally with simplicity or with elaborate ritual .

Popular forms or aspects of devotion are

1. Aradhana or Puja ( worship ritual usually done daily or weekly with more elaborate rituals for special occasions or festivals )
2. Nama Japa ( chanting of the holy name )
3. Mantra Japa ( Chanting of a special Mantra or sacred phrase recieved by initiation )
4. Dhyana ( meditation on the chosen deity )
5. Stotra Paata ( recitation of sacred compositions in praise of that particular deity )
6. Archana ( Ashtothara or Sahasranama , recitation of 108 or 1008 different names in praise of the deity )
7. Sankirtana ( singing of Bhajans or songs in praise )
8. Parayana ( reading selections of scriptural writings from the Puranas or the Ramayana Bhagavata etc relevant to the Deity .)
9. Attending Satsanga or Pravachana , or Kalakshepa ( religious gatherings , discourses , etc )
10. Visiting Devastanas or Mandirs ( temples )
11. Tirtha Yatra ( Visiting sacred ancient pilgrimage spots , that may have temples , rivers , springs ,mountains etc )
12. and Last but not the least , Paropakara , ( serving the needy ).

The daily ritual Puja or Aradhana may consist of various permutations and combinations of the subsequent forms of Bhakti .

Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Fire Sacrifices or Yajnas

Note -

I have also put this information on Wikipedia since I found that it is very diffcult to obtain information on the following .

Yajnas in the Vedas

There are 400 Yajnas or fire sacrifices described in the Vedas . Of these, the first is called Aupasana , which is to be performed by all , twice daily . This is in a category by itself . 21 more are compulsory for the Dvijas or "Twiceborn " communities .The 1+21 are called Nitya Karmas . (The 21 complusory yajnas also form part of the 42 compulsory samaskaras or sacraments which are compulsory for all dvijas.) The rest of the yajnas are optional, which are performed as "Kamya Karma " i.e. for particular wishes and benefits. "Nitya" does not mean that all 22 rituals are to performed daily. Only the Aupasana and the Agnihotra are to be performed twice daily, at dawn and dusk. The remaining ones have certain allotted frequencies over the course of the year.

The more complicated the Yajna, the lesser the frequency. The largest ones need to be performed only once in a lifetime. The first seven yajnas are called Paka Yajnas, the second seven Havir Yajnas, and the third seven are called Soma Yajnas. Yajnas such as Putrakameshti (for begetting sons), Ashvamedha (to rule 'the earth'), Rajasuya (royal consecration), etc. are among the 400 which are not compulsory.

The Grhyagni or Aupasanagni is used in the Paka Yajnas; such rituals are described in the Grhyasutras, such as in the Ekagni Kanda of the Apastambha Sutra. Normally this fire is located in the north of the hall which accommodates the sacred fires . This fire may be circular or square .The rituals pertaining to the three Srautagnis are described in the Shrauta Sutras. Their performers are called Srautin. Fourteen of the 21 compulsory sacrifices are performed in the Srautagnis. They are called Garhapatya, Ahavaniya and Dakshinagni and collectively called the tretagni. The Garhapatya is circular in shape and is situated in the west of the offering ground. Fire is taken from the Garhapatya ( which is to be kept alive throughout ones life )and kindled in the remaining two fires as and when required for a particular sacrifice. The Dakshinagni is semicircular (halfmoon-shaped), is situated in the south and is used for certain rituals, mainly for offerings to the forefathers. The Ahavaniya is square, situated in the east, and is used as the main offering fire of most Srauta sacrifices. The last three Havir Yagnas and all the seven Somayajnas are performed in a specially built Yajnashala, since they are too elaborate to be performed at home . In such a situation, fire is taken from the Garhapatya , kindled in the Ahavaniya as required and then from there transferred to the specially built Altar at the Yajnashala.The individual's last rites and cremation are done with fire taken from the Dakshinagni , after which the sacred fires are extinguished .

Pakayajnas

Pakayajnas are minor sacrifices and are performed at home in the aupasanagni or grhyagni . These are seven in number .They are Ashtaka , Sthalipaka , Parvana , Sravani , Agrahayani , Chaitri , Ashvayuji. The sthalipaka is to be performed on every Prathama (first day of the lunar fortnight) "Sthali" is the pot in which rice is cooked; it must be placed on the aupasana fire and the rice called "Charu" cooked in it must be offered into the same fire. The Parvana is to be performed every month . The other five are to be performed once a year .

Haviryajnas

The haviryajnas are more elaborate (with the exception of the Agnihotra), though not as large in scale as the somayajnas. The haviryajna performed on every Prathama day ( every fifteen days )is "darsa-purna-isti", "darsa" meaning the new moon and "purna" the full moon. The two rituals are also referred to merely as "isti". The Darsapaurnamasa isti is the prakrti (archetype) for the haviryajnas. The first four haviryajnas - adhana, agnihotra, darsa-purna-masa and agrayana - are performed at home. The last three haviryajnas - caturmasya, nirudhapasubandha and sautramani - are performed in a yajnasala.The Agnihotra is to be performed twice daily at sunrise and sunset immediately after the aupasana .Though it is a Havir Yajna it is quite simple .The other five Havir yagnas are to be performed once a year , or at least once in a life time .The last two havir yagnas have animal sacrifice ( traditionally goats) as part of the ritual . However nowadays , packets of flour or butter etc are used as symbolic substitutes .

Somayajnas

The name somayajna is called after the juice of the Soma plant, said to be relished by the devas, that is offered as an oblation. In these sacrifices, Samans from the SamaVeda are sung, and all Shrauta priests - the hotar, adhvaryu, udgatar and the brahman as well as their 12 helpers take part: each priest is assisted by three others. with a total complement of 16 priests . The Agnistoma, the first of the seven somayajnas is the prakrti (archetype) for the six others that are its vikrti. These six are: atyagnistoma, uktya, sodasi, vajapeya, atiratra and aptoryama. Vajapeya is often regarded as particularly important. When its yajamana (sacrificer) comes after the ritual bath (avabhrtha snana) at the conclusion of the sacrifice, the king himself holds up a white umbrella for him. "Vaja" means 'prize of a race' (but is nowadays also taken as rice, food) and "peya" means a drink, thus 'drink of victory'. This sacrifice consists of the offering of soma-rasa (juice), pasu-homa (offering of 23 animals) and anna- or vaja-homa. The sacrificer is "bathed" in the rice that is left over. Since the rice is "poured over" him like water, the term "vajapeya" is apt.Animal sacrifices are part of the ritual offerings in the soma yagnas . However , nowadays as and when they are rarely performed , substitutes made of flour butter etc are used instead of sacrificing live animals .

The Vedic sacrifices begain to decline soon after the Islamic rule in India began in the 13th Century ., especially the more public and elaborate and expensive ones .Today , a few of the basic ones are kept alive on important occasions like Weddings and so forth .However , by and large ,the Vedic Sacrifices are close to extinction . of nearly 200 million hindu families , the Aupasana is performed daily only in a few thousand families .Less than a hundred families perform the remaining 21 sacrifices as required and keep the sacred fires continously alive . Priests who are qualified to guide one through all the 21 sacrifices number less than a few dozen . Priests or scholars to guide one through any of the remaining 378 Vedic Sacrifices can be counted on ones fingers .It is a great loss to the Sanathana Dharma if ultimately no one remembers how these were performed .

Saturday, March 7, 2009

The sacred fires

This information is not easily available , hence to make it more easily accessible I have also put it on Wikipedia under Yajna .

The sacred fire of a man is lit from his fathers fire at the time of his wedding .

It is then divided into two fires by a ritual called the Agniyadhana .

The two fires thus obtained are called the Gruhyagni (or Aupasanagni ) and the Srautagni.

They are to be preserved throughout ones life .

The Srautagni is further divided into three fires called the Garhapatya , the Ahavaniya and the Dakshinagni , collectively called the tretagni.

The Gruhyagni and the Garhapatya fires are kept alive continously , fire is taken from the Garhapatya (one of the tretagni's ) to kindle the remaining two as and when necessary .

The four fires are located as follows .

The Ahavaniya ( square in shape ) to the east , the Dakshinagni ( semi circular in shape) to the south , the Garhapatya ( circular in shape ) to the West, and the Aupasanagni ( may be circular or square ) to the north .

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Humility

" Only men who -

live by the Vedas

( and ) qualify ...

can wear your feet

on their heads ..

O Lord ,

of blue black body ,

and eyes like lotuses ...

But you know ,

when the town's cattle moo

coming home ,

the blind one moos too ....

So I too speak of you ..

How else ? "

Nammalvar , mystic tamil poet saint , 8th century, in Thiruvaymozhi , divya prabandham .

Friday, February 13, 2009

She

She is Lakshmi , Saraswati , Amba.

She is Bhudevi of the mother earth , Neeladevi of the blue sky and Sridevi of prosperity .

She is Kamakshi at Kanchi , Meenakshi at Madurai , Vishalakshi at Kashi .

She is the Mata ,mother at Vaishnodevi , Padmavati at Trichanur .

She is the sacred waters of the Ganga at Gangotri and Kaveri at Talakaveri .

She has her own independent temples without male protection .

She is Shakti , Parvati, Durga , Bhuvaneshwari , Bhavani , Lalitha Tripurasundari .

She is Kali at Kolkata , Kanyakumari at the southern tip of India .

She is Sharada at Sringeri and Mookambika at Kollur .

She is Bhagavati at Kerala and Mahalakshmi at Kolhapur.

She is Rukmini at Dwaraka and Sita at Bhadrachalam and Andal at Srivilliputtur.

She is Gayatri of the sacred Mantra.

She is Annapoorneshwari at Horanadu who feeds thousands every day .

She is Devi .

She comprises the Ashtalakshmis- the eight Lakshmis and Nava Durgas -the nine Durgas .

She rules the festival of the nine nights- Navaratri .

She is grace and compassion incarnate .

I am fortunate to see her every day for nearly four decades in my own mother .

She is the Divine Mother ......

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Gods and Gods part 3

By the first Century AD most educated hindus were eihter Vaishnavas or Saivas , but they lived amicably side by side, since both Siva and Vishnu are both only aspects of Brahman . Amongst the Trimurti , the worship of Brahma the secondary creator never became popular , instead , with the coming of the Agamas ,or ritual temple worship guides, three important broad divisions evolved . Saiva , Vaishnava and Sakta . The followers of the Sakta cult worship God in the female form , as Sri or Lakshmi , Saraswati , Sharada , Kali , Durga etc all considered aspects of the divine mother , the attributeless Brahman in the female form .

Adi Sankara in the eighth century approved of the worship of God ( Brahman ) in 6 different categories /aspects .

1. As Vishnu , Narayana , Kesava , Rama , Krishna ,Narasimha etc and other avatars of Vishnu ;

2. As Siva , Rudra , Nataraja , Dakshinamurti , Iswara etc , aspects of Siva .

3. As Lakshmi , Sharada , Saraswati ,Durga , Kali , Parvati , Bhavani , etc as the Divine mother .

4. As Surya , the Sun .

5. As Ganesha the elephant headed God , the son of Siva and Parvati .

6. As Subramanya /Skanda /Muruga etc , also the son of Siva and Parvati , popular in south india .

Collectively known as Shanmatham , or the six systems of beliefs .

The Vedic gods did not dissappear completely since hinduism doesnt suppress any beliefs but merely adds new ones .
Today Vedic fire sacrifices are still a formal part of temple ritual and various domestic sacraments in most hindu denominations on the occasion of weddings and so on .

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Gods Part 2

From the mundane viewpoint , Brahman as the supreme deity remains linked with empirical measurement , the number "one ", but from the transcendental point of view ( the state of unchanging eternal being ) Brahman is the limitless and aattributeles Absolute where all opposites are reconciled .
Hence speculative monoism has existed alongside ritualistic polytheism from Vedic times to the present day thereby emphasising that reality is inexhaustible , beyond name and form , pervading and transcending all existence and earthly knowledge .
The vedic Gods were thought to rely on humankind's sacrificial offerings which sustained them ,and also kept the world process moving . But neither the Vedic Gods nor the other Hindu Gods are solely concerned with human welfare (in distinction with other religions ) for , Man is only a part of nature , in common with all other living things.

As classical Hinduism evolved out of a synthesis of Aryan , Dravidian, tribal and aborginal cults the old Vedic Gods of nature became less important and other Gods like Vishnu and Siva became important , by the 3rd century AD .
The formless Brahman in his personal form with attributes became Iswara ( for the followers of Siva ) or Narayana ( for the followers of Vishnu ). Along with Brahma ( "the secondary creator") , the three divine aspects of Brahman came to be known as the Trimurti , Brahma being the Creator , Vishnu the Preserver and Siva the Destroyer of the world .
Brahma is believed to grant knowledge , Vishnu liberation from rebirth , and Siva all worldly boons .

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Gods and Gods and more Gods Part 1

330 million, or 33 crores . Thats the official figure of the number of " Gods ".

" Gods " in the above context referring to the sum total of " Devas " or radiant ones ,lead by Indra , as well as various other categories of divine beings and spirits , like Gandharvas , Yakshas , etc . 33 Gods are described in the Rig Veda ( as in the iranian traditions )which are mainly personifications of the powers of nature , like the Sun , (Surya )the Wind (Vayu), Water ( Varuna ), Fire (Agni ) etc , but another passage says that they are all manifestations of the one Supreme Being .
Multiple levels of divine beings exist with varying powers . Humans can aspire to become one of the Devas through sufficent merit , which is a position held for a time till the merit is exhausted . Such aspiration is merely worldly and the real goal is to realise Brahman .

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Dvaita


Dvaita ( Dualism ) is the third and last of the principal Vedanta doctrines , the chief exponent is Madhvacharya. ( 1197-1276 AD).

According to Dvaita , God and the individual souls are eternally different ( hence dualism ). God is eternal, and both immanent to the world and transcendental to it . The world and souls are also eternal but distinct from one and another and both are entirely dependent on God , who establishes their various states of liberation according to their Karma . Liberated souls perpetually adore God but never attain complete union with God .

Adi Sankara ( of Advaita ) hailed from Kaladi in Kerala , Ramanuja ( of Visistadvaita ) hailed from Sriperumbudur in present day Tamilnadu , and Madhva ( of Dvaita ) hailed from Udupi in coastal Karnataka , all in south India .

Monday, December 29, 2008

Manasarovar




Manasarovar is the most sacred of all lakes .


Located on the northern flank of the Himalayas at the base of Mount Kailash , at an altitude of about 4500 metres it is the largest freshwater lake on the planet at this altitude . It is about 90 Km in circumference , 90 metres in depth and about 320 sq km in area .


Born of the mind of Brahma the Creator ,- Manas ( mind ) and Sarovar ( lake ) . The sacred lake is connected to another spectacular lake Rakshastal by a channel .


Two great rivers of the Indian Subcontinent - Brahmaputra ( the son of Brahma ) and the Sutlej take birth from the twin Lakes of Mansarovar and Rakshastal . The origin of the Sindhu ( indus ) river is also near by . The origins of the Ganga and the Yamuna are also not very far away .


Hence this region is special and a place of pilgrimage , along with Mount Kailash . Those who drink the clear waters are cleansed of all sin . The Devas ( the radiant and shining ones) are divine beings who bathe in this lake during Brahma Muhurta ( the auspicious time ) of 4-6 am . The sacred Swans , birds of knowledge and wisdom associated with the Goddess Saraswati spend their summers here. The place is also sacred to Buddhists .




Currently this area falls under occupied Tibet .

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Visishtadvaita of Ramanuja

Ramanuja's School of Visishtadvaita or "Qualified Monoism " came into being in the 12th/13th Century .
As per this school of thought , Brahman is the One Reality , in which the multiplicity of conscious souls exist , as well as unconscious material objects . Matter exists eternally in Brahman , from which is spun the material world (like a web a spider spins from its own body ).Individual souls are infinitely small , eternal , conscious , and self luminous , each endowed with a material body in accordance with its past karma . This confinement within a body constitutes bondage , release comes with the seperation of sould from body . Ignorance causes the soul to identify itself with the body and its desires , causing attachment and rebirth . The only object worthy of love and devotion is God , and comstant meditation on God liberates the Devotee . When liberated, the soul is similar to God but not identical , since that which is finite cannot become the infinite , but it still shares the same essential nature . Yet nothing exists outside God since both souls and matter are within God . The world and its creatures are as real as God , and hence this system is called monoism of the One qualified by the presence of the many parts . God is the infinite ocean , we are the creatures that live inside the ocean .
Visishtadvaita is based on the concept of a loving personal God with perfect attributes . The human spirit is seperate and different from the Supreme Spirit , because love requires a relationship between the lover and the loved .

To Ramanuja , Karma and Jnana are means to Bhakti which gives Moksha .
To Sankara , Karma and Bhakti are menas to Jnana which is Moksha .

To Ramanuja , Moksha is freedom from Samsara . To Sankara , Moksha is also freedom from the concept of a phenomenal world.

To Ramanuja , The Jiva or the individual soul is distinct and real although within God . To Sankara the Jiva is only relatively real its individuality lasts only as long as limiting conditions exist .

To Ramanuja the world is real . To Sankara the world is real only until the soul realises otherwise .

and so on .

But then, these debates are more for scholars . For ordinary people like us , God is there , and sincere efforts to move towards God will always bear fruit . (regardless of philosophical hairsplitting )

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Vedanta

Vedanta is the last of the six astika ( believing ) orthodox philosophical systems . Also referred to as the Uttara Mimamsa as against the preceding fifth system of Purva Mimamsa also known just as Mimamsa . Vedanta forms the bedrock of modern Hinduism , and derives considerable authority from the Upanishads .

The name indicates the " end of the Veda " or the culmination of the philosophic thought process and speculation .
The bsaic text is the Brahma Sutra or the Vedanta Sutra of Badarayana , composed between 200 and 400 AD.
It comprises of about 500 verses which are open to intrepretation , therefore requiring commentaries , the most famous ones being that of Sankara , Ramanuja and Madhva .

Advaita

Sankara's school, 8th century AD , is that of pure monoism or Advaita . As per this view only God or Brahman is the ultimate reality and the world is an illusion or Maya .
There is a ordinary truth and a higher truth . From the empirical stand of the ordinary truth , Brahman is Saguna ( with qualities ) and is concieved of as a personal God and creator , such as Vishnu or Siva .
The higher truth is that of transcendental Brahman or an absolute without attributes or qualities, called Nirguna Brahman . Removal of the veil of illusion of Maya , results in one identifying oneself with the Nirguna Brahman and thereby attaining liberation . The aspirant begins with worshipping a personal deity , which diminishes his ego , until the collective identity of all beings in Brahman is experienced . Training under an enlightened Guru is part of the process , who will say to the successful aspirant " Tat Tvam Asi " or " thou art that " , who will meditate on that till he attains liberation .

Ramanuja's school ( 12th and 13th Centuries ) is that of Visishtadvaita or qualified Monoism and Madhva's school (14th Century AD) is of Dvaita or dualism which will be dealt with in due course .

Friday, November 14, 2008

Keshava




Keshava is another name of Vishnu , one of the trinity of Brahma , Vishnu , and Siva .


Brahman or God , the ultimate reality is often referred to as Narayana by the Vaishnavas or followers of Vishnu .


The great Sri Adi Sankara said " Akashath patitham thoyam , yatha gachathi sagaram , sarva deva namaskaram Keshavam prathigachathi"


"Just as the water that falls from the skies ultimately reaches the ocean , similarly prayers to all the Gods ultimately reaches Keshava . "

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Sharada at Shardi in Kashmir












As mentioned earlier , the original Temple of Sharada, the Goddess of learning is in Kashmir , in a village called Shardi , which is situated in the beautiful neelum valley on the banks of the kishenganga river .

Unfortunately it is now 8 km beyond the LOC . No worship takes place there now but it is an ancient and sacred spot where a 1500 year old temple stands in ruins . Once a thriving centre of Hindu scholarship , it was the seat of the throne of transcendental wisdom , the Sarvajna Pitha, which Sri Adi Sankara ascended . The stone platform , the Pitha covers a sacred spring , the fount of knowledge .
Sri Adi Sankara composed the Sharada Bhujanga Stotra in praise of the divine mother here .
The scriptures say " Namaste Sharadhe Devi , Kashmira pura Vasini " , Salutations to Sharada who lives in Kashmir . Kashmir was a centre of Hindu civilisation for thousands of years till the onslaught on Islam in the 14th century , when people were converted by the sword .

Its truly a great pity that this area was not recovered from the pakistanis in 1971 as part of the Simla accord ,when it could so easily have been done .

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Mimamsa

Mimamsa is the fifth system of the Asthika systems . Mimamsa and Vedanta are often dealt with as the last pair . Also referred to as Purva Mimamsa and Uttara Mimamsa .
Mimamsa literally means "critical examination" or solution of a problem by reflection . It is an atheistic system founded by Jaimini as summarised in th Mimamsasutra , 1st century AD , but also contains earlier material .
Mimamsa theory contradicts many aspects of the other systems .
The Vedas are divine , eternal .The world has no beginning or no end . Matter is eternal . Bodies are formed from matter , as per the Karma of their individual souls . There are as many souls as bodies . Souls are also eternal and do not perish with the body . When liberated souls are without consciousness .
There are no cycles of creation and destruction. One should perform only good acts and the required rituals embodied in the Vedas without desire for reward . This automatically destroys the effects of Karma and leads the soul to liberation . God has no role .
The initial view was that liberation is a state of heavenly bliss , rather than the release from rebirth , which is an upanishadic notion .

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Yoga

Some aspects of Yoga have been dealt with in an earlier post .
However , it is being dealt with again here in the series of the Six orthodox systems of philosophy for continuity.
Yoga accepts most Samkhya epistemology including the 25 principles and adds one more ie Ishwara or God. Yoga applies the Samkhya to everyday life as mentioned in the Svetasvatara Upanishad , "Samkhya is knowledge , Yoga is practice" .
Yogic practice consists of the eight steps mentioned earlier .
In Yogic philosophy, the Supreme being is eternal ,all pervading and and omniscient and is able to bring about the association of the principles of Prakriti ( later regarded as feminine ) and Purusa ( later regarded as Masculine) which results in the unfolding of the cosmic process . The same Being brings about the dissolution of the universe by seperating the two forces . For centuries yoga taught that there are many levels of consciousness than is generally realised , ( which western philosophy has discovered recently ) and that only when these levels are actually experienced , can man achieve his full physical and psychical potential .
Devotion to God is often considered to be a part of yogic practice, and is believed to be the best means to attain concentration , mind control and the purification of consciousness ,which prepare the way for liberation .

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Ganga Aarti at Haridwar


Haridwar is situated at the gateway of the Himalayas where the sacred river Ganga enters the plains .
"Haridwar " means in Sanskrit the gateway to God (Hari) , the Himalayas being the abode of the Gods .

The aarti ( waving of holy lights in clockwise circles ) worship of the Ganga is done here every evening at sunset .

Gratitude is expressed to the river Ganga for sustaining life for 200 million people , a fifth of India's population .

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Samkhya

Literally meaning "enumeration ", it is a system of dualistic realism founded by sage Kapila , and closely related to Yoga . Yoga provides the practical techniques of liberation while Samkhya provides the metaphysical background .

The basic ideas of both are from an ancient pre vedic period , and they were later included in the list of the orthodox systems after they nominally accepted the authority of the Vedas .

Samkhya talks of two ultimate eternal realities - Spirit ( Purusa ) and Nature ( Prakrti). Prakrti is a single all pervasive unconscious complex substance which evolves the world into countless different shapes . Its three main constituents or elements are the Gunas , Sattva , Rajas ,and Tamas ( dealt with earlier ).

The unfolding of a new world occurs when Prakrti and Purusa associate , whereupon Prakrti begins to differentiate .Purusa is non matter or pure spirit , its mere presence activates Prakrti , but Purusa itself remains unchanged .

Samkhya originally lists twenty five tattvas or categories that make up the world .
The first twenty three emerge from Prakrti , the Purusa is the 24rth category and Prakrti is the 25th . Prakrti and Purusa are eternal .
Such a concept did not require a creator god so Samkhya was intially atheistic .Later under the influence of Yoga , a 26th tattva was added called Ishwara or God.
Basically there is only one Purusa , but when manifestation occurs it breaks up into numerous souls , some are liberated others are bound to bodies in nature and go through the cycle of rebirth , in human animal or other forms .
In essence the Spirit is always free , but when bound , it can be liberated from entanglement with matter only through knowledge , virtue , and the practice of Yoga .

The lack of knowledge of the distinction ( viveka) between Self and non Self , is the cause of suffering rooted in material existence .
When liberation is attained by spiritual training , the individual self ceases to be affected by life's vicissitudes and obeserves the world with dispassion . Liberation may be attained in this life ( Jivanmukti ) or inthe next world (Videhamukti). When finally released from the psycho physical organism ( including the intellect ) , the spirit remains eternally unconscious.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Vaisesika

Founded by Kanada , 100 AD , with the work Vaisesika Sutras .

Initially atheistic , the system talked of an atomised universe like the Buddhists and Jains . Later when it joined hands with the Nyaya boths systems became theistic .

As per the Vaisesika , everything in the world is composed of atoms , except soul , consciousness , time , space and the mind . The atoms being uncreated , invisible , eternal . When the world dissolves the atoms exist individually .

During this interim period , good and bad karma remain latent , until objects in the universe begin to form again through various combinations of atoms , in a cyclical process .

When the systems of Nyaya and Vaisesika becaome theistic , God was introduced as the Supreme Soul , Paramatman ,who became a secondary Creator , creating worlds from eternally existing matter .

Friday, September 26, 2008

more on the Asthika Systems, Nyaya

The six asthika systems are often discussed in pairs . Nyaya and Vaisesika , Samkhya and Yoga, Mimamsa and Vedanta .

Nyaya is the logical view based on dialectics , and Vaisesika is the experimental point of view based on sensorial experience.

Samkhya is based on intellectual knowledge and Yoga on the control of the senses and inner faculties .

Mimamsa is a deistic and ritualistic point of view based on the sacred texts and Vedanta is based on metaphysical speculation .

Nyaya

This is based on the Nyayasutra of Gautama , 2nd century AD . It was initially atheistic , and did not mention God because souls and matter are both eternal and uncreated and destiny was related to Karma . However , when the Vaisesika was linked with the Nyaya in the eighth / ninth century , the Nyaya became theistic , saying God ( as a distinct soul differing from other souls ) created the world out of eternally existing atoms , individual souls experience their Karma , but sooner or later attain liberation through right knowledge of themselves and the world , whereupon devoid of consciousness , the individual soul exists as pure substance .

The other systems will be dealt with very briefly , and then the Vedanta will be dealt with in greater detail , which consists of Advaita , Dvaita and Visistadvaita .

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Kailash



Kailash is a beautiful snow clad mountain on the northern edge of the Himalayas on the edge of the tibetan plateau .

Kailash is the abode of Shiva and is therefore especially sacred . Sacred also to buddhists for various reasons it has for that reason never been climbed . Unfortunately the area now falls under Chinese occupation . Limited numbers of pilgrims are allowed , who do the sacred parikrama or walk around the the mountain in a clockwise direction out of respect and devotion .

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Kedarnath


Kedarnath in the Himalayas is an ancient shrine of pilgrimage .

Visited by Adi Shankara , it is more than 1400 years old and one of the 12 Jyothir linga temples dedicated to Shiva .

Closed six months a year during winter , it is reachable only after a 15 km trek by foot ( or pony) through the beautiful Himalayas .

It is one of the Char Dham ( four ) pilgrimage spots of Uttaranchal .

It is a beautiful structure built entirely of stone .

Monday, September 15, 2008

Famous temples -Srirangam




The second image shows the tallest temple tower in India , at Srirangam ,Tamilnadu . The temple is about 2000 years old and one of the oldest in the world . Dedicated to the reclining Vishnu , called Ranganatha , it is situated on an island in the river Kaveri in southern india . The temple complex is the largest in the country and one of the largest in the world after Angkor Wat . It is the largest in use , measuring one square kilometre in area . The temple has the full ideal complement of seven enclosures as mentioned i n the scriptures . The four innermost ones consist of the temple proper ,the outer three have homes .
The first image shows the golden dome over the sanctum .

The temple is one of the bastions of Sri Vaishnava Culture and philsophy .

Saturday, September 13, 2008

More on the Six Systems of Philsophy etc

Ancient Indian Philosophical Systems are classified into nine categories .

Six are called the orthodox systems ( mentioned earlier ),also called "Astika " or systems that believe .( belief here refers to the Vedas ( at least formally ) , Dharma , Karma and reincarnation , not necessarily to a personal God ) .

The remaining three are called heterodox , also Nastika ( non believer) systems . ( primarily because they reject even the formal or nominal authority of the Veda ) .

These three are the Boudha , Jaina and Charvaka Philosophies .

The Boudha ( of Buddhism ) and Jaina ( of Jainism ) are considered Nastika not because of their agnostic or atheist approach ( which also exists even in the orthodox systems) but because they reject the formal authority of the Veda , even though they accept Dharma , Karma and reincarnation .

TheCharvakas include all pure atheist and materialist groups who deny the Veda , as well as Karma Dharma rebirth etc .

Darsana , the word for philosophy in Sanskrit literally means "to see "( the truth )
The philsophies evolved for over 1000 years from 1000 BC before being sorted and classifed from the first to the fifth centuries .

Indian Philosophy is primarily concerned with religious beliefs and liberation or freedom , but in theory it is still possible for a orthodox Hindu to be a technical atheist . But such atheism is different from the anti religious stand of the west , he may for instance accept the doctrine of rebirth but may reject the theory that a personal god created the world at a point in time out of nothing .

Most ancient Hindu thinkers despite their diverse views accept some basic suppositions such as Karma , rebirth, dharma , liberation and the unity of spirit underlying the apparent diversity.
They also accept the idea of periodic unfurling of universes and their disintegration . We are but mere specks on the planet earth, which is but a mere speck in the vast infinite universe . A human lifetime is but a mere ripple in the ocean of cosmic time . During recurring cosmic cycles
civilasations rise and fall , species appear and become extinct , great nation states rise and pass, religions develop prosper and fade , periods of barbarism alternate with peace and culture .

This broad all encompassing view enables the indian philosopher to take a detached view of existence , and to realise the insignificance and transitory nature of all things and beings , he then ceases to cling to the fleeting and strives for the ultimate freedom and reality of knowledge , for even though mans body is limited in time and space, his soul or spirit is believed to be eternal .

Atheists , Agnostics and Hindus

According to many scholars one can be an atheist and still a Hindu .

Most scholars agree that one can be agnostic and still a Hindu or a follower of the Sanathana Dharma .

Some say that belief in Dharma , Karma and reincarnation is more important in defining a hindu than belief in a personal God .

As a result , out of the six systems of Hindu Philosophy , only the last ie Vedanta is really concerned about the relationship between God and us .

Mimamsa is more about ritual and its obligatory performance for your good , family, society , and the world in that order .

Nyaya , Vaiseshika , Samkhya , Yoga etc are largely not concerned with God , but are more to do with the philosophy of life .

For those to whom bhakti and god do not appeal , hinduism still has a lot of useful stuff to offer .

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Karma

Karma may be the second most important word after Dharma in hinduism .

Karma again has many meanings, but to put it simply , means deeds acts , works , or action , and the accumulated merits / demerits that accumulate as a result of such actions .

Karma is a fundamental concept in Hinduism , Buddhism etc . Closely linked to Karma is the belief in reincarnation , where all souls go through of thousands of rebirths into various living things . The highest birth is human , which gives one the opputunity and intelligence to make spiritual progress and release oneself from the cycle that binds and attain eternal freedom . Every act produces an effect which leaves behind a psychic residue called karman which binds the soul or atman to the world of existence .

The law of Karma governs the world where every action has its effect . In a way Karma assumes even more importance in Buddhism, since Buddhism is a bit agnostic in its approach ( especially the Hinayana form ) and is not too preoccupied with God . Karma and Dharma form the foundations of Buddhism.

The concept of conditioned rebirth also implies the eternity of the cosmic process , every existence being conditioned by a multitude of prior thoughts and acts done either in the present or in past births , whre there is no first beginning or definite end to the world , but a series of cosmic cycles . Every thing and every being is interdependent , each having its own place in the scheme of things . This knowledge also prevents the seperation between humans and animals , and humans and nature , which is unfortunately the case in other religions , thus leading to exploitation and cruelty .

A persons karma is a subtle substance that belongs to him yet which may be detached from him, as can fame , beauty etc . Just as the conduct of an individual is determined by his present and previous acts , so too does collective karma of all beings influence the type and quality of the world we live in , and will further condition the worlds to follow .

Karma should however not be confused with the western doctrine of divine retribution by an angry god for evil done by us ; since the effects of Karma are not decided by a deity but are immanent in all cosmic phenomena and processes and present in every deed .
One should not look upon the law of karma as fatalistic , since although ones present state is determined by past actions , ones future state is determined by present actions over which we have control .

Types of Karma - Sanchita , Prarabdha , and Agami .

Sanchita Karma is one's accumulated baggage of Karma .
Sanchita Karma can be destroyed through Jnana , or by bhakti leading to divine grace .

Prarabdha Karma is that portion of Sanchita Karma that has begun to bear fruit in the present life .
One cannot prevent the effects of Prarabdha karma .

Agami karma is the Karma that we are creating now , which is under our control , which will have its effect on future lives .

God is the Karmadhyaksha , the Supervisor of the Natural Laws of Karma .

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Dharma

Entire volumes have been written about the word " Dharma " , which is one of the most important terms in Hinduism Buddhism etc . The term is infinitely rich in meaning and symbolism.

In short , however ,

Dharma is The sacred law , universal custom , Justice , morality , ethics , duty , truth ,nobility , etc all combined.

Dharma governs the the eternal wheel of time , being the axis of wheel .

The Vedas talk of Rta or Divine Law , which deals with the correct performance of sacrifices .

This concept later expanded and evolved into Dharma .

Dharma is Brahman .

In Theology Dharma is Divine Law.

In Epistemology Dharma is Truth .

In Ontology Dharma represents the balance of all Cosmic Manisfestation .

Sunday, August 31, 2008

The ancient Sages

The term Saptha Rishis , refers to a list of seven very important ancient sages .

As per the Mahabharata they are

1. Vashistha ( Guru to King Dasharatha and Rama of the Ramayana)
2. Pulastya
3.Kratu
4.Pulaha
5.Angirasa
6.Marichi
7.Atri.

The Vishnu Purana adds Brighu and Daksha to the above list and calls them the Nava Prajapatis ( ie the Nine Brahma rishis ) .

The term Brahma Rishi is given to a sage of the highest attainment who has realised Brahman, the supreme spirit , and is a perfect being .

The four levels of rishis , in increasing order of attainment are

Rishi , Maharishi , Rajarishi , and Brahmarishi .

The Sathapatha Brahmana has a different list

1. Gotama
2. Bharadwaja
3.Vishwamitra
4. Jamadagni
5.Vashistha
6.Kashyapa
7. Atri

other lists include sages such as Kanva , Vyasa , Valmiki , Manu , Vibhandhaka etc .

Other famous sages who also play a major role in history and mythology are
Agastya , Durvasa , Parasara , Ashwathama , Garga , Kanada , Kapila , Pathanjali, Jaimini , Badarayana etc .

Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Seven Sacred Cities and other important places

God is everywhere and is part of everything . The Vedas say the entire material Universe with its energy is formed out of only a small part of God.,and all matter , energy , objects animate and inanimate , living and non living are part of the Infinite Spirit.

So the realized soul sees God in all things . For most ordinary people however , the Divine is more easily felt and experienced in some small way, ( at the very least) at some places compared to others . These places are sacred , and include ancient temple towns , Teerthas ( points at rivers where ritual bathing is spiritually uplifting , ) ancient places of religious significance etc .

The indian subcontinent is dotted with hundreds of such places , indicating the importance of the Sanathana Dharma's role in defining the nationhood of India .

The seven ancient sacred cities is one example of a list .
They are
1. Kashi
2. Haridwar
3.Mathura
4. Ayodhya
5. Ujjain
6. Dwarka
7.Kanchi

These cities are important pilgrim centres , but only a few of many examples .

Another list called Char Dham ( the four holy places ) in four corners of India is

1. Badri Kedar in the himalayas
2. Puri in the East
3. Dwaraka in the West
4. Rameshwaram in the South

The Himalayas has its own list of Char Dham

1. Badrinath
2. Kedarnath
3. Gangotri
4.Yamunotri

The Sri Vaishnava followers of Sri Ramanuja , have a list of 108 very important sacred temples to Vishnu ( as sanctified by the poems of 12 mystic tamil saints called Alvars ) .

Saivaites ( followers of Siva ) have a list of (Dwadasha Lingas ) twelve temples spread all over india.

Another list comprises of 274 temples of Siva (as sanctifed by the 64 tamil saints called Nayanmars )

Worshippers of the Divine Mother , called Shakti , Durga , Amman etc also have there own lists .

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Tirumala




Tirumala is the most popular temple ever . Seventy five thousand pilgrims on an average day pass through its portals , and one hundred and fifty thousand on festivals . The temple is open almost 24 hours , from 2.30 am to 2 am the next day , closing ceremonially only for half an hour . Being nearly 2000 years old , it is also the oldest temple in the world which has been in continous worship as per very ancient rituals . Over fifty thousand pilgrims are fed free of cost by the temple every day . (Even the vatican , which is far richer does not do that ).


One old sanskrit verse goes -


"Venkatadri Samam Sthanam Brahmande Nasti Kinchana ,


Venkatesha Samo Devo Na Bhuto Na Bhavishyati."


ie


There is no place like Venkatadri ( Tirumala Hill ) in the whole universe ,


and there is no deity like Venkatesha , nor will there ever be .


Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Yoga , Bhakti , Karma , and Jnana

Yoga means " to harness " . Also sometimes described as " union" . Yoga as per a narrow definition , is one of the six systems of philosophy mentioned earlier , but it also has a greater scope , with a broader definition . Yoga , very broadly is often taken to mean all techniques intended "to harness " and discipline energies , in order to perfect our physical and mental powers , the ultimate goal being in liberation , by uniting oneself with the universal being .
The Patanjali Yoga Sutras ( 2nd century BC) deal with this system of philosophy.
The eigth steps of yogic practice are
1. Yama - ( restraint ) abstention from vice , unchastity , falsehood , theft , , greed etc .
2. Niyama ( discipline) - cultivation of virtues , deep study of the scriptures etc .
3.Asana ( posture) - adoption of the right physical posture.
4.Pranayama ( breath control ) deep breathing exercises to be taught by a qualifed teacher .
5. Pratyahara ( withdrawal of the senses ) detaching oneself from external stimuli
6. Dharana ( concentration ) on a specific object of contemplation .
7. Dhyana ( meditation ) single pointed focus on a particular object / thought.
8. Samadhi ( total absorption ) merging with the universal spirit/ consciousness.

Since Yoga is not easy ,and not for everyone , Vedanta , which is the last of the six systems of philosophy , reccomends Bhakti and Karma for ordinary individuals , and Jnana for only those who can understand it .

The three paths , mentioned earlier in the cardinal principles ,and described in the Vedanta , namely
Bhakti ( devotion ) , Karma( duty ) , and Jnana ( knowledge )
are , as per a broader definition of Yoga , also referred to as
Bhakti Yoga ( spiritual progress through intense devotion to a personified chosen deity ),
Karma Yoga ( spiritual progress through performance of duty , dharma , right conduct ,right action , good works ,discipline ,ethics etc )
and Jnana Yoga ( spiritual progress through deep study and knowledge of the sacred texts )
There are other forms of Yoga , such as
Raja Yoga (control of the mind by the intellect ,through meditation ) ,
Hatha Yoga ( development of energies through physical exercise ) ,
Kundalini Yoga , ( a method of reintegration, by awakening the cosmic energy of unlimited potential within oneself ,(kundalini shakti))
etc .
Buddhism , Zen Buddhism , some aspects of the Tao and Confucious principles , Jain spiritual practice , are all forms of Yoga as per the broader definition of Yoga .

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The three Gunas or Character tendencies

The three main Gunas are described as Sattva , Rajas and Tamas .

The Sattva Guna is characterized by truth , purity , virtue , nobility , lightness , peace and so on .

The Rajo Guna is charecterized by emotions, attachment , ambition , action , restlessness , desire etc

The Tamo Guna is characterized by the forces of darkness , sloth , negativity , violence , anger , vice ,etc

We have a combination of these gunas , and one is expected to aspire towards Sattva and elimination of the other two .

Food is also divided into Sattvic ,Rajasic and Tamasic , based upon the influence it has upon us .

Similarly personality characteristics ,behaviour patterns , actions , thoughts etc are also described and sorted into the three Gunas .

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Saptha Sindoh , or the Seven Sacred Rivers

All rivers are considered sacred in Hinduism , since they bring us life through their waters .
The Ancient Vedic Aryans when they first settled in the Punjab referred to the saptha sindoh or the seven sacred rivers . At that time the seven rivers were the Indus , its tributaries - Sutlej, Beas , Chenab , Ravi , Jhelum ( that formed the fertile plain of the Punjab ( land of five rivers ) and the Saraswati which once flowed in a basin between the Yamuna and the Sutlej . The indus formed the north eastern boundary of aryan civilisation at that early time and the Saraswati formed the diagonally opposite south western boundary , with the other five rivers flowing in between . Many hymns in the Vedas are in praise of the sacred Saraswati .

Now the Saraswati unfortunately no longer flows visibly , and is considered to flow underground and merge with the Ganga and the Yamuna at Triveni Sangam (meeting of the three rivers ) at Prayag .

Pride of place later was given to the Ganga among the sacred rivers .

As the Vedic culture spread all over India , the list of the seven sacred rivers changed , as reflected in the sloka , used to sanctify water ,
" Gange cha Yamune chaiva , Godavari Saraswati , Narmada Sindhu Kaveri, jalessmin sannidhim kuru"
May the ( rivers) Ganga , Yamuna , Godavari , Saraswati , Narmada , Sindhu ( indus ) ,Kaveri ,come and make their presence felt in this water ( before me ).

When two rivers meet , the place is considered specially sacred , called Sangam . These places are used for ritual bathing , and can wash away sins , and are pilgrimage spots .They are also considered ideal locations to build temples , as also are islands in the middle of rivers . The larget temple complex in India , the ancient Ranganathaswami ( reclining Vishnu)Temple at Srirangam , is located on an island in the Kaveri river .
Thousands of temples in India are located on the banks of rivers .
Hinduism recognised the importance of nature and the environment for civilisation very early on.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Sloka in praise of Sri Adi Sankara ,celebrated Guru and exponent of Advaita

Shruti Smriti Puranaanaam Alayam Karunalayam ,
Namami Bhagavad padam Sankaram lokasankaram .

I salute the divine feet of Sri Sankara , who is the temple of learning of the Shruti , Smriti , and the Puranas , the temple of compassion .

Sloka in praise of Sri Ramanuja ,the celebrated Vaishnava Guru and exponent of Vishistadvaita

Yo nityam achyuta padambhuja yugma rukma , vyamohatas taditarani trinaya mene.
Asmad gurorh bhagavatosya dayaika sindhoh, Ramanujasya charanou sharanam prapadye.

I take refuge at the feet of my divine Guru , Sri Ramanuja , who is the river of mercy , who is daily immersed in devotion at the two lotus feet of Achyuta ( Lord Narayana ) , and for whom all worldly things are merely equivalent to wisps of straw .

Monday, August 4, 2008

The ashramas or stages of life

The Sanathana Dharma talks of four Ashramas or "Stages of Life".

The first , from birth to about the age of 25 years is called Brahmacharya , where one is a student , and celibate .

The Second is called Gruhastha , from the age of 25 to about 50 , when the individual marries , begets children , and leads the life of the house holder , aspiring to the four Purusharthas ( already mentioned ) .

The third stage is called Vanaprastha ( literally means proceeding to the forest ) from the age of 50 to 75 , but is symbolically taken as an instruction to the householder to complete his duties towards his family , see his children married and well settled in life , and then gradually give up attachment to worldly things , and along with one's spouse lead a philosophical detached life , of simple living and high thinking .

The last stage is called Sanyasa ( to become a renunciate , or sage ) ,between the ages of 75 to 100 .
This is where , one renounces the world completely , and becomes absorbed in meditation , prayer and spiritual pursuits , in preparation for the final departure.
Even within a possible extended or joint family, one is prepared to live alone , physically and mentally , if one outlives one's spouse , which is inevitable for one of them .

Hinduism being a practical religion , does not contemplate renunciation and spritual pursuits from day one for all .
Instead , it contemplates the above four stages of practical life for the vast majority , and renunciation at a young age only for the miniscule few who are clearly beyond doubt born thus inclined .

Friday, August 1, 2008

Quote

" The Upanishads are the solace of my life . They will be my solace after my death ."

Arthur Schopenhauer, German Philosopher , 1788-1860.