The word, ‘Panchangam’ refers to a calendar that records important dates and future events. Also called an almanac, the ‘Panchangam’ tracks the movement of the Sun, Moon and the other celestial bodies.
‘Panchangam’ is a Sanskrit word and means ‘five limbs’. It refers to the five attributes of the day. These five attributes or limbs of the day are Tithi, Nakshatra, Rashi, Karana, and Yog.
These attributes depend on the movements of the Moon and tell us about what is going to happen in future.
Hindu astrological table and demonetization
This Arcot almanac had predicted way back August 2015 about the ban on Rs. 500 and 1000 currency notes.
Please read this sentence on page no. 12 of this table;
New changes in banking sector will occur. Black Money will be unearthed
And sure enough, the Narendra Modi government banned the possession of the 500 and 1000 rupee currency notes on November 8, 2016! The prediction was true.
The same edition of the Arcot Panchangam had predicted heavy rains and floods in Chennai, Mahabalipuram, Melmaruvathur, Chengalpattu, Maduranthakam, Tindivanam, Villupuram, Cuddalore, Neyveli, Panruti, and Virudhacahalam.
These predictions were also proven right last year in December. All these places received heavy rains and were devastated by floods. Hurricane Vardha caused immense damage in Chennai, Tiruvallur and Kanchipuram districts. More than 50, 000 people had to be evacuated.
The Arcot calendar had predicted correctly about the Indonesian earthquake. And sure enough, in December 2016, there was a major earthquake in Indonesia that killed more than 100 people. Thousands of people were displaced and became homeless.
And that is not all…
The same Hindu astrological table had predicted heavy rains and cyclones in the Kanyakumari area of Tamil Nadu. And yes, this time also its predictions have come true.
Actually, I am horrified while telling all this to you. Imagine someone predicting things 2 years ago and those events actually happening!
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Have you heard the story of the Indian holy woman who breastfed the Gods?
Read this post on Indian culture and know more about the people and history of this marvelous country. I am writing this post because I wanted to cover the birthday of Lord Dattatreya. He is considered to be one of the most important yogis ever born.
Who was this holy woman?
Her name was Anasuya and she was the purest lady who ever lived on Planet Earth. By purity, I do not mean physical cleanliness only, I also mean mental purity.
How was she pure? She was pure because she used to consider her husband, Sage Atri, as God. He was a great sage and you will be happy to know that one of the stars of the Great Bear constellation is named after him.
But let us come back to Anasuya.
Since she was mentally strong and pure, the gods of Devalok used to fear her. They thought that someday Anasuya might remove them from their nice little perches and make her husband the king of Devalok.
So one day, they hatched a plan.
The plan to insult this holy woman
Led by Indra, all these gods approached the Holy Trinity of Bramha, Vishnu, and Mahesh and asked them to insult Anasuya in some way.
The Trinity agreed and decided to test Anasuya’s mental toughness.
Bramha, Vishnu, and Mahesh disguised themselves as ordinary human beings and one day reached the holy woman’s house.
Her husband was not around that moment and Anasuya was busy doing some work.
They called her out and requested some food to eat. She agreed and began preparing lunch for them.
But the Trinity had some other plans in its mind. It wanted to shame that great lady.
Please get naked
When she came out of her kitchen and laid out the food, the Trinity made a very stupid and insulting demand.
We will have food only if you serve it while being naked, the Trinity said.
Anasuya was a bit shocked but then quickly regained her senses. She went to one of her rooms and meditated deeply. Ultimately, she became aware of the identity of these guests.
She meditated again and established contact with her husband. Both of them planned a strategy to save the situation.
What was the plan?
She disrobed herself and when she entered the room where the Trinity was sitting, she made them into infants.
Now it was the turn of the Trinity to be horrified.
One by one, each infant was picked up by Anasuya and was suckled to its heart’s content. But the infants could do nothing, they were powerless. The Holy Trinity was now powerless infants.
This carried on for many days. Every morning, these small infants were picked up by the holy woman and breastfed.
Where are our husbands?
By now the wives of the members of the Holy Trinity had become worried. They could not find their husbands.
Finally, they came to know that their husbands had last gone to the house of Anasuya.
The wives rushed to her house and saw Anasuya feeding the three infants.
Excuse me, have you seen our husbands?
Err…I don’t know where your husbands are but right now I am busy feeding my three children, Anasuya replied.
But the small infants had noticed their wives and were now crying for their attention.
‘These are our husbands, why are they here as small children,’ the ladies cried.
Oh, are they your husbands? These kids…..? Are you sure?
Yes, yes, please give them back to us.
Ok, take them back, here hold them…
Can you please make them grown up men again? Please?
Sure, why not?
And here the tale ends
And sure enough, Anasuya, the holy woman had turned those small kids back into full grown adults.
The Holy Trinity was embarrassed but it asked the lady to ask for a boon.
I want you to be my children for a very long time, Anasuya demanded.
Sure mother, all three of us will merge into one human being who will become your son.
After a few days, Anasuya Devi was blessed with a baby whose name was Dattatreya. He is shown in images being accompanied with 4 dogs and a cow.
The dogs represent the 4 Vedas and the cow is a symbol of Mother Earth.
Many people consider Lord Dattatreya as the first Guru of mankind. He did not have any teacher but learned the philosophy of life by observing birds, animals, sky, moon, winds, Sun, oceans, elephants, deer, bees, beekeeper etc. Please read about the first Guru of the human race here > https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dattatreya
Did you find this tale interesting?
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This post will recap whatever has been written about this famous Shiva temple and add something more interesting for my readers who are spread all over the world. I hope that after reading it, some of you may like to visit this hauntingly beautiful place in Gujarat.
Magnificent Somnath Temple- what is the history?
Many Hindus believe that this temple is 8 million years old! That is crazy, isn’t it?
It was built by Moon or Chandra to cure himself of the dreaded disease of Tuberculosis!
But let us deep dive into the history of this fascinating temple.
The word Somnath means Lord of Moon and it refers to Lord Shiva.
Husband of 27 wives
Many millions of years ago, Chandra or Moon married the 27 daughters of Daksha Prajapati. Daksha is considered to be the originator of the human race. Would you like to know the names of the wives of Daksha?
It so happened that Chandra or Moon used to love Rohini much more than his other 26 wives. It is natural among human beings that we like one person more than the others in our family. Isn’t it?
Rohini, of course, used to relish this attention, but the other 26 ladies felt jealous. One day, they complained to their father, Daksha.
Don’t do this, please
Daksha understood the situation perfectly and one day met his son-in-law.
Don’t do this, dear son-in-law, the Lord of Mankind pleaded. Please treat all your wives- who are my daughters- equally.
Chandra said okay but did not change his behavior. This unfair treatment of the 26 ladies happened continued.
They complained again, and another meeting happened gain between Daksha and Chandra.
The latter promised to his father-in-law that he would change his behavior but went back on his promise.
The 26 ladies again approached Daksha to complain about their husband’s behavior
This time, Daksha felt insulted.
Angry at his son-in-law, he rushed to Chandra’s house and cursed him.
‘O Chandra, may you be afflicted with a terrible disease!’
Sure enough, the effect of Daksha’s curse had the desired effect on Chandra. The latter began to wither and die.
Seeing all this, the gods became very worried. They decided to visit Daksha’s father, Lord Bramha and request him to intervene.
After listening to the gods about Chandra’s misery, Bramha expressed his helplessness. But he suggested a way out.
‘Go to Lord Shiva, he will help you, O Chandra!’
Please help me
Now Chandra approached Lord Shiva who also happened to be his brother-in-law. Do you know who Lord Shiva is?
He is the God of Death and another member of the Holy Trinity.
It is very difficult to please Him, so Chandra worked very hard to please Lord Shiva.
He prayed and prayed to get Shiva’s blessings.He recited the Mahamrityunjaya Mantra ( a hymn that protects one from death) more than 10 million times.
Chandra also decided to do something exceptional.
Magnificent Somnath Temple
To make Shiva happy, Chandra then decided to make a beautiful temple devoted to Lord Shiva. He also installed a Shivalinga ( an egg-shaped idol that represents the infinite nature of Shiva) there.
This marvelous building was made of pure silver and was the first edition of the present day Somnath Temple.
Lord Shiva became happy with Chandra’s devotion and granted him a boon.
Live another day, Chandra!
‘Ok, you will not die a horrible death, but I have to respect the curse of Daksha too,’ Shiva explained to Chandra.
For the first fifteen days in every month, there will be no moon in the nights, and in the next installment, you will start regaining your brilliance. Is that ok?’ Shiva asked his brother-in-law.
Yes, I am fine, Lord, Chandra replied in relief.
So that is the reason why every fortnight in a month you can see the moon but can’t see him in the balance part.
Gold, sandalwood, stones
The Somnath temple in the Saurashtra area of Gujarat has been rebuilt several times.
Some say that many thousands of years back, this place of worship was made of gold, and later of sandalwood.
The sandalwood temple was made by Lord Krishna to pay His respects to Lord Shiva.
In the more recent times, this glorious building was rebuilt by the Chalukya rulers of Gujarat which was later on demolished by successive Muslim kings who ruled Delhi and Ahmedabad. The first demolition of the magnificent Somnath temple was done By Mahmud Ghazni in 1024 A.D.
Ghazni carried away several gems and jewelry pieces from this temple on his way back to Afghanistan. He also captured several thousand Hindus from this temple town and wanted them to sell them as slaves.
The last demolition of this temple was carried out by Aurangzeb in 1702 A.D after which it lay in ruins for the next 200 years.
It was only in the 1950s when Sardar Patel, the first Home Minister of independent India helped in the reconstruction of this great temple. Today, it is made of stone and stands proudly on the Arabian Sea coast of the Gujarat.
It has a fantastic history, isn’t it?
Somnath temple and Lata Mangeshkar
Do you know that this magnificent Somnath temple and the legendary Lata Mangeshkar are connected with each other?
The story goes like this. When Ghazni attacked this magnificent temple, most of the singers and dancers of Somnath left Gujarat and headed to the Goa region. These people were ardent devotees of Lord Shiva and sand and danced only for Him.
When the resettled in the Goa region, the locals started calling these resettlers as Mangeshkars- meaning devotees of Lord Shiva.
Now you see the connection between Lataji and Somnath temple?
Frog weddings claim several victims in India every year.
This year, Geeta, a 25-year young girl from a village 170 kilometers from Chennai, will be marrying a frog against her wishes.
She doesn’t have a chance to escape this union because her father has been threatened.
Of course, she can run away but that will make her parents outcastes in her village.
Which means that there will be no communication between the unfortunate parents and the village society. This is a scenario that nobody wants, not even Geeta.
Frog weddings- queer but acceptable
I had first seen a frog marriage when I was very young. I was perhaps 10 years old and was excited to watch the drama unfold before me in a Rajasthan village.
I can still remember that a frog sat coquettishly on a small palm-shaped leaf, its lips smeared with red lipstick, while the bride sat opposite it. Her face was covered with a ghoonghut or a veil.
The bride was a human- she was a girl.
She was wearing very attractive clothes and had nice jewelry on her body. Probably she was crying during the marriage because I could see that her friends were consoling her.
Mr. Frog was perhaps enjoying the spectacle and the attention that he was getting. If it was thinking something, then it gave little away.
The panditji or the priest was uttering some mantras or hymns. After a few minutes, the bride and her ‘groom’ stood up and took seven rounds of the sacred fire. It was understood now by all those present that the frog and the girl were now husband and wife for the next seven cycles of birth and death.
If you thought that this ‘wedding’ was attended by a handful of people, then you are mistaken.
I can still remember that there were at least 100 people in the marriage party and everyone enjoyed as if the wedding was his personal affair.
Making gods happy
Let us now come back to our friend Geeta.
She is a college graduate and wants to become an important government official.
For the past few years, she is preparing for an exam that would help her achieve her aim. Her parents support Geeta but have limited means to fund her education. Geeta’s father is a retired postman and his government pension cannot support his family’s monthly expenses.
At times, he has to take loans from his neighbors who do not charge any interest from him.
Most of the people in this Tamil Nadu village are farmers and depend upon rains for their crop earnings.
YUnfortunately, for the past two years, rain gods have not visited this village and this is a cause of worry for its residents. They have tried every tactic in their book to make the gods happy, but have failed so far.
One day, the village priest told the villagers that frog weddings can help all of them in this crisis.
After a little bit of discussion and debate, all the villagers agreed to this idea. But there was just one problem- who will be the bride?
The reluctant bride
Panditji again came to the rescue of the villagers. The bride should have been born in August, be fair in appearance and must be approximately 25 years of age- he prescribed.
After a little bit of research, the villagers found out that Geeta fit the bill perfectly. But did, she like the idea?
No way. She simply laughed at that idea and said it was plain silly.
The villagers, however, had other ideas. Led by the headman, they told her father that this frog wedding was a must for the welfare of the village.
‘Else, risk a boycott by us….,’ the headman threatened.
Geeta’s father had no option but to obey the headman’s orders.
It is not necessary that frogs only marry girls. In many cases, such marriages take place between frogs. But in Geeta’s case, it was necessary that the bride be a girl of marriageable age.
Frog weddings- Shrouded in time
Panditji is partially right. Nobody knows when frog weddings started in India.
However, we do know that Lord Vishnu, one of the three Gods of the Holy Trinity, had once taken the form of an amphibian. Hindus believe that this avatar was necessary to save mankind from drought and floods. This was several millions of years ago.
Is that the reason why frog weddings are so important in certain parts of the country?
For example in Assam, frog marriages are organized with much pomp and show. Like in traditional marriages, the ‘bridegroom’ frog leads band party and its guests.
Frog weddings in Assam are called ‘Bhekulia Biya’.
Similar frog marriages are held in Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and a few other parts of the world. Brides are identified for frog ‘grooms’ according to some yardsticks and they are later wed to the selected amphibians.
Almost all these marriages are held to please the rain gods so that the farmers get a good crop. India still depends on farming to a large extent.
What happens to the frog later?
After the marriage is over, it is sent back to the well or the pond from where it was collected. It goes back to its original home, intact.
And the bride?
Also nothing. After this sham wedding, the village allows her to go back to her home and lead her normal life.
But I am sure that this sham wedding would leave a deep scar on Geeta’s psyche. Her friends and other who know her would always call as Mrs. Frog and this is not good for the girl’s health.
What do you say, my friends?
Do you want to read more amazing Indian stories? Click here.
Kumhar Gram of Delhi is perhaps the last surviving art eco-system of the city and may die out soon.The potters of this ‘village’, who make lamps, diyas and other pottery items for the city folk are on the verge of extinction. Can we reverse this culture ‘extinction’?
Last Sunday, I took a trip to this enclave that lies within the somewhat ‘ modern’ colony of Uttam Nagar. Accompanied by some researchers from the Sharda University, I was astonished at seeing the mental inertia of the potters of the Kumhar Gram.
Kumhar Gram- where time stands still
Translated into English, Kumhar Gram means ‘ Village of Potters’. The word ‘village’ here stands out like a sore thumb for, this habitat is very much a part of the thriving metropolis of Delhi. But once you step inside this enclave, you can’t stop yourself thinking how much its residents have fallen behind the rest of their fellow Delhiites in terms of adoption of modern management techniques.
The Alwar connect
It was difficult tracking the Village headman, Harkishan Prajapati. He is not only the most noticeable face of this potter’s village, he is also a National Award winner. A master of this ancient craft, Prajapati is also considered as the founder of this village.
He came to Uttam Nagar in the early 1970s, and since then, this colony is now home to more than 500 families. Some of the residents of this village also belong to Haryana, which is a neighboring state of Delhi. Almost all the residents of this quaint area sport the surname, Prajapati.
The word, Prajapati, means Lord of People. This community of people believes that they are descendants of Lord Bramha, who is the Creator and the Master of this World.
Alwar is approximately 150 kilometers and is best known for its tigers.
Ever since Prajapati made Uttam Nagar his home, he has been followed by several other potters who wanted to strike gold in the pottery making business.
Initially, they did well, but with the numbers of potters in this colony swelling, competition among themselves is hurting them real bad.
The potters here live cheek by jowl and this is perhaps the greatest barrier to their success. Buyers of their products who come from Dwarka and other neighborhoods from Delhi are able to drive a hard bargain with these sellers.
‘There is little differentiation on offer here,’ rues Prajapati. People here are used to making the same style of diyas and other forms of pottery, he explains.
Even though the potters spend a little fortune on making their superbly designed products, their average price realization is very low. Interestingly, the demand for these products shoots up during Diwali or the Festival of Lights. Domestic buyers don’t find value in what we lovingly make, laments Prajapati.
But the silver lining is that foreign buyers find these products delightful and reflective of Indian culture. The price that they get from international travelers coming to this part of Delhi is very attractive.So, the obvious strategy is that the potters of Kumhar Gram should look out for foreign buyers.
It is not that the Government of India has not encouraged the potters of this village from adopting new marketing practices. Prajapati’s wife is also a National Awardee. He has been sent abroad by the Government on several sponsored trips several times to showcase his products.
But Prajapati and his wife are exceptions here. Most of the people whom we spoke to were reluctant in taking part in Government sponsored workshops and training sessions.
‘There is little value in attending these sessions,’ says Ram Prakash. ‘We will have to shut down our factories for a day or two and we will lose business, ‘ he says.
I think it is more about their mental inertia. Perhaps they think that the village headman will teach them this art and craft and make money. After all, Harkishan Prajapati is like the Moses of this community.
Modern Times at Kumhar Gram?
If you thought that the youth of this colony will take up this ancient art and craft of their ancestors, then perish this thought. Many of them want to join the swelling ranks of IT workers, Uber drivers and government employed peons. For them, pottery is a dying art with little revenue potential. It isn’t glamorous either for a generation that is very much into mobile phones, internet, cricket, and movies.
Fortunately, several organizations are offering their helping hands to the Kumhar Gram community to make pottery more relevant and profitable in these modern times.
Monica from Sharada University wants to change the community’s attitude toward this dying art. Armed with a sheaf of papers and a pen, she goes from house to house in this village, convincing elders and youngsters to join a training program.
‘The training program will help you find new markets and earn better profits, ‘ she explains to a bunch of curious onlookers. She repeats these lines many times as she visits houses and speaks to the ladies and men of this community. Monica is fairly successful in her efforts. More than 100 people consent to attending that training program, but she has doubts.
‘I wonder how many will actually pick up the phone when I call them up, ‘ she says. But, she is hopeful, nevertheless about the success of her mission.
Sonu, in the picture above, represents a young breed of potters who can revive this ancient art by making use of technology and new marketing platforms like Amazon and Flipkart.
His village has turned into a mini-tourist attraction for all those Delhiites who want to explore the city and move outside their air-conditioned cubicles. And therein lies another profitable opportunity.
Meanwhile, the potters of Kumhar Gram are still waiting for their Messiah to come and deliver them from their self -inflicted poverty.
Would you be interested in contributing towards the welfare of the potters of Kumhar Gram?
Or would you like to buy some good quality pottery from this place? If yes, please write me an e-mail and I will connect you with some of the better-known potters here.
These Varanasi festivals like Dev Dipawali and Kartik Purnima will delight you no end. If you are in Banaras (Varanasi) right now, then you must immediately reach the banks of the Ganga. Fabulous sights and experiences await you.
Varanasi festivals- let’s explain some terms
The word Dev means god or gods. Dipawali means ‘ a row of lamps’. ‘Kartik’ is a month (roughly corresponding to October/November) of the Hindu calendar, while ‘Purnima’ refers to the night of the full moon. So here we are, Dev Dipawali is a festival of lights in honor of gods and is celebrated in October/November, each year. Of course, it should be a full moon night on the day of the festival.
I won’t give anymore gyan on this subject. Have a look at some of the images that I have sourced from Flickr.com. Thanks, Flickr.
Though the traditional Dipawali just passed us a few weeks back, the ancient city of Varanasi has its own version of this festival.
Isn’t this surreal? Can you see those people standing on the waters holding big lamps and praying to the gods in the sky?
And many thanks, Anoop Keshari for this wonderful snap.
Story of Dev Dipawali
There are two reasons why this festival is celebrated in Varanasi this day.
According to one story, Dev Diwali is celebrated to remember the victory of Lord Shiva over the demon, Tripurasur. This rakshas or demon was a combination of three demons, actually.
If you have been following my blog, you will remember that Lord Shiva is also considered as the God of Death. Varanasi is HIS city. It is Shiva who brings people alive and it is HE alone who takes away their lives.
Another story about Dev Diwali goes like this. One day, Sage Vishwamitra thought that the gods needed to be punished. He then decided to send his disciple, Trishanku to heaven and take over its affairs.
The gods became afraid and thought of preventing Trishanku from entering their kingdom. As Trishanku was preparing to enter the heavens, he was stopped mid-way by the devas or the gods.
Now Trishanku had nowhere to go. He stood suspended in the sky for many years. Vishwamitra would not let him come back to the earth and the gods would not budge, either.
Frustrated, Vishwamitra then decided to create a new heaven altogether. He had the yogic powers to do so after all!
When the devas came to know about it, they pleaded with the Sage and after some time, a solution was reached between him and the gods. So, Dev Diwali celebrates that particular occasion when a peace agreement was reached at between the devas and the Rishi.
It is said that on Dev Diwali, humans and gods celebrate the occasion together. Interesting, isn’t it?
Go to any part of Varanasi today and you will find all the homes lit up like this.
Now that you have read about this Varanasi festival, you must know about how to reach the city and where to stay.
How to reach Varanasi?
Train- I would recommend that you take a train to this city. There is good connectivity to Varanasi with Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata and other major Indian cities. Aggod website for making reservations is https://www.irctc.co.in/eticketing/loginHome.jsf
Flight- If you don’t have time and would like to fly into Varanasi then there are a couple of online travel companies like www.makemytrip.com or Cleartrip. You can also book your tickets at Jet Airways, Indigo, Spicejet and of course, the state-owned Air India.
This is that part of the year when the whole world waits to watch Krishna’s celestial dance Maha Raas with its naked eyes.
I am not kidding but it is believed in many parts of India that Lord Krishna actuallycomes down to Earth in His mortal body and dances with Gopies!
Read this article to understand the philosophical meaning of this legend.
Actually, I should have written about this fascinating story a couple of years ago but God knows why I did not pen it down.
You know who Lord Krishna is, right?
For the benefit of my overseas readers, Krishna is the eighth avatar of Vishnu. I am writing about Him in the present tense because, though, He lived and died several thousand years ago, Krishna lives on in the hearts and minds of billions of people the world over.
Some people, particularly the ladies, consider Him to be a bubbly child, whereas others consider him to to be the perfect human being. For them, Krishna is devoid of desires, greed and other human imperfections. He was the embodiment of God or Bramha or Parmatma who came down to Earth to teach us about how to lead a good and virtuous life.
Krishna’s celestial dance Maha Raas
Every year, millions of Indians believe that Krishna comes back to Earth during these days of the autumn season and dances with His Gopies.
I think this is just a legend and nothing else. This legend has a philosophical underpinning that I will explain to you, but first, let me explain the meaning of ‘Gopies’.
This word means young maidens and girls in a simple sense. But do you think that Krishna would come down to Earth simply to dance merrily with young nubile girls?
Krishna is Parmatma or Supreme Being. Gopies are us the atmans of us mortal beings. We yearn to become one with God or Parmatma. We are unsuccessful in our attempt to become one with Paramatma because our atma is covered up with desires, wants, greed, lust, anger etc.
Until we remove these bad qualities from our persona, we will never be able to achieve Nirvana or Moksha. The ultimate aim of every human being is to become one with Paramatma but for most of us, this task is near impossible.
So, when Krishna comes down to Earth to dance with his Gopies, it essentially means that the Lord is trying to help us become better human beings so that we can become one with Him. Unless we consciously remove our vices, we will never succeed in our efforts.
Watch this video and you will be zapped by this unknown facet of Indian culture ;
This is my interpretation. There can be thousands of other interpretations and each one of them may have a ring of truth to it.
Let’s read an interesting story about Krishna’s celestial dance Maha Raas
My dear Robert, John, Joseph, Lisa etc, what if I told that Krishna actually dances with the ladies these days in a secluded garden located in Central India?
You’d be zapped, isn’t it?
Well yes, many people believe that during this time of the year, Krishna cavorts and plays with his favorite Gopies in a small park in Vrindavan. This ancient town, Vrindavan is roughly 160 kilometers from Delhi.
Intruders turn to stone!
Yes, the same people believe that gatecrashers to this park- Nidhivan- face a terrible punishment for this crime. All of these ‘ unwanted guests’ turn to stone!
All of these ‘ unwanted guests’ turn to stone and nobody is spared.
You know what? I have been trying to visit this park for many years but I guess, Lord Krishna does not want me to visit this place.
Would you like to see Nidhivan? Let me know so we can plan a visit to this interesting place.
Carrying the Indian culture forward
I wrote this post on Maha Raas because I feel that more and more number of Indians and people living outside must know about it. Though Kathak is a popular form of dance, yet many people do not really know about Krishna’s celestial dance.
I will fail in my efforts if I did not tell you about the lady who is the driving force behind the Maha Raas dance. She is none other than Sushri Uma Sharma, one of the greatest experts in Kathak today. I have grown up watching her perform this dance in several shows.Read more about this wonderful person here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kum_Uma_Sharma
Nearing seventy, Uma ji still looks like a sprightly 25-year-old today. Surely, it was sheer joy in watching her speak and perform a little bit yesterday.
Venue of Maha Raas
If you happen to be in Delhi at the time of reading this article, then you should go to the Lakshmi Narayan temple or Birla Temple. This performance starts at 6.30 and goes on till 9.30 in the night.
The last day of this dance drama will be October 7, 2017. So rush to this magnificent place with your family.
I was there yesterday and a full moon shone brightly down upon the temple spires, the sight was truly enchanting.
Di you like this post about Krishna’s celestial dance Maha Raas? Did I answer all your questions?
Don’t you want to escape the cycle of birth and death?
Don’t you want to forever run away from this non-stop cycle of love, separation, anger, jealousy, greed, and attachment?
Who doesn’t? I, for one, would like to get salvation or, as they say, Nirvana, from this non-stop cycle of death, birth, death, and rebirth,
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If you are a Muslim or a Christian, you will find it difficult to relate to what I am saying. Non- Hindu/ Jain/ Buddhist philosophies do not believe in rebirth.
But, what if you hit upon a magic formula which makes it easy to escape this cycle? Yes, ladies and gentlemen, now it is really very easy to get salvation, moksha or nirvana.
How to escape birth and death?
You don’t have to perform mountain breaking feats for this, really. It is very easy and all you need to do is get a copy or a notebook from a bank.
This copy is available from the Bank of Rama in Ayodhya which is a city in Uttar Pradesh. Ayodhya is also the birthplace of Lord Rama, the hero of Ramayana. He lived on this planet several thousands of years ago and led a virtuous life. Some people aver that He lived several hundreds of thousands of years ago.
Because of His noble deeds, Rama is considered by millions of Indians as the avatar of Vishnu who is the protector of all the living creatures. They worship Rama and try to copy His good deeds and values in order to become better human beings.
Kaliyuga and birth and death
You see, in India, we have divided time into four main bands. These are Krityuga, Satyuga, Dwaparyuga, and Kaliyuga. The proportion of evil increases progressively in these yugas or bands of time from Krityuga to Kaliyuga. Our present era is Kaliyuga and that is why we see so many incidents of lust, anger, greed, and other forms of violence.
Attaining moksha or liberation from the birth and death cycle is very difficult in this age because of so many distractions.
To achieve our objectives easily, our epics say that all a person has to do to attain nirvana in Kalyuga is to chant the Sitaram. You don’t have to do any other work like performing pilgrimages or fasting. Simple chanting of the name of Rama and Sita is enough. This purpose can be also be served by writing Sitaram several times on paper.
The Bank of Rama’s value proposition
Clearly, this is a big business idea for the Bank of Rama in Ayodhya. This bank sells copies and notebooks to anyone who is interested in writing the names of Rama and Sita. More the number of times that you write Sitaram, the better it is for you.
So, So far, this bank has donated millions of notebooks to devotees who are spread in India, United States, Canada, Europe, Africa, and Asia Pacific. And in return, the Bank of Rama has received billions of names of Sitarama written down by His devotees in all those copies! Billions! Isn’t it amazing that faith and business come together in such a non-intrusive manner?
Now you may argue that the devotees have been conned into writing the name of Rama by this bank to make big bucks. Well, you have your own views but nobody is complaining! In fact, people have been writing the name of Rama on paper for a very long time. Even His favorite disciple, Hanumanji, is often shown writing his Lord’s name on a piece of paper. The Bank of Rama in Ayodhya is situated in the Mani Ram ki Chhaoni area.
Opening your account
To open an account, the account holder has to write “Sitaram” 500,000 times on paper and give it to the bank manager. Later, his name and address are recorded manually by the manager and an account is also created. Every account holder is also expected to write ‘Sitaram’ at least 8.4 million times to maintain his account. This is the total number of species in the world and we as humans get our human body after living as all these species. T
The idea is that when we write ‘Sitaram’ 8.4 million times, we will never enter the cycle of death and birth again.
And if you are wondering who Sita is, then let me tell you this- She is divine energy and was the consort of Rama. Rama is incomplete without Sita, to obtain HIM, you will have to utter the name of Sita first.
Why this ‘business’?
This bank was founded by Mahant Nrityagopal Das, one of the most important saints of Ayodhya.
One day he realized that most people are wasting their time doing useless things like gossiping or spreading rumors. The Mahant began encouraging these people to better utilize their free time to write’ Sitaram’ on paper and improve their chances of attaining moksha. And this how this bank started its ‘business’.
The manager of this bank is a retired engineer who says that he finds joy and peace in maintaining records of all these repetitions of the word ‘Sitaram’. I am pretty much excited by the value proposition of this bank. Are you too?
There is another bank like this one in Chennai, Tamil Nadu. The difference between these two banks is that the Chennai bank sells copies and textbooks. I guess it is okay to raise money for its operations. What do you think?
I did not know the significance of the Savan Somvar Vrat until yesterday when I got down to write a new blog post for my website.
For some time, I had been wanting to write on the ancient practice of offering milk and water to Lord Shiva by millions of Indians during July-August.
Fortunately, I got the inspiration to write this post on the second Somvar of this Savan i.e. yesterday.
Meaning of Savan Somvar Vrat
There are three words in Savan Somvar Vrat and I will explain each of them here, as simply as possible.
The word Savan represents a particular month in the Indian/ Hindu calendar. This month marks the beginning of the monsoons in India. Normally, Savan corresponds to July.
Somvar is Monday, the first day of the week. The word Som denotes moon and Var is a day. So, Somvar is the day of the Moon or Monday.
Vrat in Hindu terminology means a penance or a vow. People observe certain vows on Mondays during July.The idea behind these vows is to clean one’s body, mind and spirit.
This year, there are 5 Somvars in the 2017 Savan.
I hope it is now properly understood.
Shiva and Parvati
On these Mondays in July, people offer milk and water to Lord Shiva. This year, there are 5 Mondays in the Savan month when devotees can offer milk and water to the Lord and observe penances and vows. The Savan Somvar Vrat tradition is tightly linked to Lord Shiva.
Shiva is one of the three Gods of the Holy Trinity. He is the God of Destruction but is also the primordial source of all creation.
The Vedas say that billions of years ago, there was a Golden Egg which burst open all of a sudden and created our Universe and Solar System. That Egg is represented by Shiva whom we represent in the form of a Shivaling.
When we all die, then our souls go and rest in that Egg.
Isn’t all this mystical?
Parvati is the wife of Shiva. He has an entire family which comprises Parvati and two sons- Ganesh and Kartikeya.
Why is Shiva worshiped?
First of all, Shiva is the God of Death so many Indians pray to him so that death doesn’t visit them.
But there is another reason why Shankar or Shiva is worshiped .He is selfless and friendly and does not harbor any ill will towards any creation.
In fact, Shiva is so selfless that He once drank poison for the benefit of all His creations! That poison made His throat blue and that is why another name of Lord Shiva is Neelkanth or the One whose throat is blue.
However there was a problem. The bridegroom was blind by one eye and did not want to tell the King about his disability. This marriage was going to be a sham affair and the King was unaware of this plot.
The indecent proposal
When the bridegroom saw the handsome young man standing by the road, he came to the latter and made a proposal; why don’t you marry the girl in my place? I will reward you with lots of gems and jewellery. Once the marriage is over, you can go back to your house and leave the girl with me.
I think our young man was tempted by the lure of money for he agreed readily.
When he sat down for the marriage rituals, the young man reflected on his stupid act. He fished out a handkerchief and began writing a small message for his ‘wife’- I am not your bridegroom, the real person is somebody else.
Alas, the young boy could not hand over his note to the girl and finally both of them were married.
Nevertheless, the young man finally explained the situation to his wife and told her that he was leaving for his house to pursue studies. Of course, the girl was shattered upon hearing all this and she too decided to go back to her parents’ home. She simply did not want to continue her life with her one-eyed husband.
The clock was ticking..
We all have limited lives on this planet but we don’t know when our time will be over.
In the case of our handsome young man, the clock was ticking all the time.
One day, tragedy struck finally.
It so happened that on that fateful day, the uncle was feeding some guests in house and his nephew was studying in another room.
All of a sudden, the nephew experienced a pain in his chest and in the next few minutes, passed away. The time of the nephew was well and truly over. The God of Death had come and taken away the young man’s life.
When this information reached the young man’s parents, they were stunned. While the father had prepared himself for this eventuality, the mother went into a painful silence.
Tragedy had revisited this couple.
Seeing all this, Goddess Parvati again requested Shiva to intervene. But, the Lord merely said,” Dead men can’t be brought back to life”.
But She persisted and later the Lord had to concede to her request.
Lo and behold, the young boy came back to life once again !
You can imagine the happiness that swept through the hearts and minds of the couple.
But why did Shiva bring back the dead boy to life ?
The Lord says to his consort, ” All those who keep the Savan Somvar Vrat make me happy and contented. I return that happiness to my devotees”.
This is also one reason why many Hindus practice this Vrat on Savan Somvars as it keeps death away.
Do you know that Shiva is also offered milk , leaves, and water to cool HIS throat? After consuming poison, His throat is always burning and one way of thanking him is to offer cold milk, leaves and lots of water.
What a way of thanking the gentle Shiva!
Did you like this post?
If you have any other information on Savan Somvar Vrat, please write back to me.
If you are a traveller to India, you will find lots of temples celebrating Ram Navami today. Ram Navami is the birthday of Lord Rama or Ram who was an incarnation of Lord Vishnu. He was born more than 7, 000 years ago and is the role model of millions of Indians.
We celebrate Ram Navami by fasting and feeding young girls who have not attained adolescence.
What does ‘Navami’ mean?
In the context of Ram Navami, the word Navami means the ninth day of the month of Chaitra ( corresponding to late March/early April). Chaitra is one of the months in the Indian calendar. This month marks the onset of summer in the northern plains of India.
Why is Rama the role model of Indians?
Rama has impacted the lives of millions of Indians in many ways. He gave a lot of respect to women during his lifetime which was a great thing in those days. Even though, Rama was born in a powerful royal family and was the next in line for kingship, he married only one woman all his life- Sita.
Rama’s father, Dashrath had 3 wives and if Rama wanted, he too could have married other women as well.
Rama is an ideal son, father, brother, friend, king and husband for all of us Indians.
Rama was an obedient son and renounced the kingdom of Ayodhya when his father ordered Rama to do so. Unlike others, he too could have revolted against his father and occupied the throne by force but he did nothing of this sort.
Rama was deeply attached to all his three brothers. He never bore any illwill to any of his brothers.
When he came back from exile after a turbulent 14 years, Rama ruled his kingdom as an ideal king should. Everybody in his kingdom was happy and contented and lived a fruitful life.
Rama was banished by his father to spend 14 years in the forest. Dashrath wanted to honor his word that he had given to one of his queens, Kaikeyee. She wanted her son, Bharat to be the next king and also desired that Rama leave the kingdom for the forests.
Rama never wanted to see his father unhappy. As soon as he got his father’s orders, Rama immediately left the kingdom for the forests. Isn’t this gesture great? How many people obey their parents unquestioningly?
Tell me about his family?
Rama, his wife Sita, and three brothers- Bharat, Lakshmana and Shatrughna. His father was Dashrath, the king of Ayodhya. Dashrath had three queens- Kaushalya, Kaikeyee and Sumitra.
Ram was the son of Kaushalya while Lakshman and Shatrughan were the children of Sumitra.
You were saying something about Lord Vishnu
Yes. Vishnu is that part of the God almighty who protects and preserves all the righteous people. When there is a lot of evil around, then Vishnu comes down to Earth in one of the forms ( human, animal, tortoise etc.) and removes the evil. Vishnu is always given company by his consort, Lakshmi-the goddess of wealth.
If you and I lead virtuous lives then we will be blessed with lots of wealth.
What evil did Rama remove?
Rama killed Ravana who had kidnapped many women around the world and kept them in his harem as his slaves.
This man, Ravana had also kidnapped Sita and wanted her as his wife.
It was not an easy task to defeat this demon. He had terrified the world to such an extent that nobody wanted to confront Ravana.
I see, and who was Hanuman?
Hanuman is the trusted follower of Rama. He is immortal and cannot be found easily by us lay folks. Hanuman is the embodiment of wisdom, power and virtue. Rama is incomplete without Hanuman.
Millions of Indians pray to Lord Hanuman to deliver them from fear and desperation.
I am embedding one of the prayers to Lord Hanuman here. This prayer was written by Sant Tulsidas, one of the greatest poets that the world has seen. https://youtu.be/QmvBZmBHNRg
Do you know that even as I write this post, Lord Hanuman is sitting close by and reading this article? He is such a great fan of Lord Rama. He is is never tired of reading the stories of Lord Rama.
Where is Ayodhya?
This city is roughly 700 miles north-east of Delhi. If you want to travel to Ayodya, you can take a train or drive down the road.
Now this might come as a shocker to you guys. Varanasi is also called Mahashamshaan or the final resting place of humans.
You see, this city is closely associated with Lord Shiva, the God of Death. It is said that anyone who wants Moksha- liberation from Birth and Death, should come to this holy city at the time of his or her death. That is why you see so many funeral pyres burning all the time on the ghats of Varanasi. People who are just on the verge of dying express their desire to their friends and relatives to spend their last days in Varanasi.
Strange? Very strange indeed!
Who is Lord Shiva?
Travelers to India may not know who Shiva is. So here is a bit of gyan to them.
You see, Indians have three main Gods. Brahma is the creator and he is also called Prajapati. Vishnu is the preserver of all things virtuous. He has several temple devoted to himself in not just India but also in many parts of South East Asia as well.
Shiva is the Lord of Death and his job is to remove and destroy all bad and deleterious things from the world.
Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva represent the various functions of the Supreme Almighty who is formless and has no quality.
Like Vishnu, Shiva too has several temples across India and the world.
Why is Varanasi associated with Shiva?
It is said that Banaras was founded by Lord Shiva! I have never heard of any other city in India that has been founded by God. Have you? I would love to know. Should you want to to write to me, you may send an e-mail to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Ok, let me make a tall comment- Varanasi is associated with the dawn of time! No body knows when this city was actually founded.
In Rigveda, Shiva is the source of the prime energy and the Big Bang Theory is closely associated with His creation of the Universe.
Can we say now that the origins of this city are covered in the mists of time ?
An interesting tale
There is an interesting tale as to how this city, also called as Kashi, came to be associated with Shiva. It is said that one day, the God was expelled from his home (Himalayas) by his wife, Goddess Parvati.
Upon his banishment, He came to this city with his followers and begun living there. While He lived in exile here, Shiva sent his two friends , Brahma and Vishnu to persuade the Goddess to take him back.
After some time, Goddess Parvati allowed Lord Shiva to come back and live in the Himalayas. During all that time, his home in Himalayas was guarded by hsi two attendants- Kalbhairav and Dandapani.
I don’t believe in Moksha and all that, do you?
In fact, I have a different take on the theory of Moksha. It is this.
You and I and the rest of the world can get liberation because of knowledge. This knowledge can come to us only if we have a good guru. Since Kashi in the ancient times had a lot of gurus, many people came to this city in search of knowledge.
Over time, Kashi- the City of Light- lost its initial significance and became associated with the idea of death. I find this notion ridiculous. Do you?
Various names of Varanasi
By the way, did I tell you that Banaras is the corrupt form of Varanasi? When the Britishers came to India, they had trouble spelling this name, hence the word Banaras or Benares.
Another name of this city is Kashi which means “the City of Light”.
My favorite name of this town is Anandvana- the forest of Bliss.
Since Lord Shiva (Rudra) resides in this forest, it is also called as “forest of Rudra”
What does the word, Varanasi mean?
Friends, the word Varanasi is made up of two parts, Varuna and Asi. These are two rivers that merge together in this ancient holy town, hence the name Varanasi. It is much like Budapest of Hungary. Get the drift?
The City of Great Debates
In the ancient times, Varanasi was the center of knowledge and learning. This city housed men and women of the highest intellect.
Not surprisingly, these men and women were all the time engaged in debates and arguments on the finer points of life, philosophy , language etc. If some person in any other part of India had any doubt on any aspect of life, he could come to Varanasi and seek a solution.
No wonder, another name of Varanasi was “City of Light” in ancient times.
The Buddha connection
Have you heard about Gautam Buddha?
He chose Varanasi as the place for his first sermon. If you have Benares on your travel radar, then make it a point to visit Sarnath, the place where he delivered his first sermon. Preserved wonderfully well by the Archaeological Survey of India, Sarnath gives you goosebumps. Imagine, this place, Sarnath, has a history of more than 2500 years!
Probably he chose Varanasi as the place of his first sermon because he felt that his teachings would be easily accepted in Kashi, the land of the open minded.
City of Ghats
Now you will ask me- what are ghats? Well, my dear, ghats are stairs that lead down to the river. The river in this case is Ganga.
Varanasi is also called City of Ghats as it has a lot of them.
Many Indians use these ghats to cremate their dead relatives. The ashes are then immersed in the river Ganga. This is o because many of us believe that this immersion liberates the soul from the cycle of Birth and Death.
Other ghats are meant for the people to bathe in the Ganga. It is quite a sight to watch the devotees take their holy dips in the river early in the morning.
The evening aarti of Maa Ganga on the ghats of Varanasi are a sight to behold. It is a surreal experience and I hope to watch that spectacle one day.
Watch this Ganga aarti on the Dashashwamedh Ghat, Varanasi;
An aarti means an invocation to God or Goddess. We consider Ganga as Maa or mother because she tends us like a mother.
Don’t stay away, more stories on the way
I must confess, I am a compulsive storyteller, so I want you to be around….
Story No. 1-This one is about Manikarnika Ghat. Many 100,000 years ago, the wife of Lord Shiva, Parvati once wished to go over to her parents’ house to attend a ceremony. When she told her husband about her intention, Shiva advised her to not to go.
When you haven’t been invited to this party, my dear, why do you want to go, Shiva asked.
But Parvati was insistent and later left for her parents’ house.
Daksh Prajapati , her father, was not too pleased at seeing Parvati at his house. He considered Shiva as inferior to his social standing. There was no question of Daksh inviting Shiva and Parvati to his house.
Why did Daksha not invite Shiva to this ceremony?
You see, Daksh had never wanted his daughter, Parvati marrying Shiva. According to him, Shiva did not have a social standing. But she was strong willed and went ahead and later married Shiva. Daksh felt offended.
Feeling insulted, at the behavior of her dad, Parvati immolated herself at her parent’s house.
What followed was hell and fury. The Lord of Death was enraged at seeing her wife die in such circumstances. He carried Parvati’s body and started dancing in a manner that shook the entire world.
This dance is called Tandava and represents the cosmic dance of the Lord.
Alarmed, Brahma and Vishnu, decided to calm him down. Vishnu took out his celestial discus and began dismembering the dead body of Parvati. He thought that Shiva could be calmed down this way.
One of her parts fell in Varanasi. The Manikarnika Ghat marks the exact spot where one of her body parts fell down on the earth. There is a temple that marks that spot and is called the Kashi Vishwanath Temple. This temple radiates energy and is one of the most important religious sites of the Indians.
There are several such temples in India which mark the places where the body parts of Goddess Parvati fell down.
Aghoris are a set of people who worship Lord Shiva (Lord of Death) and aim to achieve simplicity in their lives. You will not find these people easily in Indian villages and towns. Discovering an Aghori in a city like Delhi or Mumbai is nearly impossible.
For many Indians and foreigners, they conjure a feeling of awe, fear and revulsion. Thanks to the controversy generated by a CNN program, there is a new found curiosity about this secret cult.
These people can generally be found in the cremation grounds. Not all the Hindu cremation grounds have Aghoris, though. If you are lucky, you may find them either entering a pre-designated cremation ground or exiting it.
If you really want to see Aghoris, then you can see them in Kumbh Melas that are organized every four years in India.
Do they really eat human flesh?
It is difficult to answer this question. I haven’t seen even one Aghori consuming human flesh. But this much is certain- members of this sect interpret life and death in very simple means. For them, it is impractical to distinguish between what is pure and what is not.
What is their philosophy in life?
These people lead a very simple life. Nothing is impure for them. Their needs are few and they live to attain Moksha or salvation.
Moksha means escape from the cycle of life and death. We never escape this cycle because, we are always full of desires. Aghoris are always trying to escape this web of desire.
So they practice Tantra?
Yes, they do.
Aghoris chant occult mantras that resonate with energy. It is not easy for everyone to possess that secret because in order to be powerful, one has to subsume every desire of his.
I know that mantra but won’t reveal it here and now.
Are Aghoris dangerous?
No, they are not. It is an incorrect notion that these people kill others at will and eat their flesh. No, it is not that way.
These gentle people love everything that the society detests. Rather, the operative word is ‘accept’. If we loathe a dead body, they will accept it. If we detest a leper, the Aghoris will accept the leper too.
The point is, these people defy conventional logic and wisdom and that is why, it is difficult to understand this Indian sect.
We consider dead bodies impure but the Aghoris are ready to consume them too, for their subsistence.
What all do these people eat?
Everything that is available as long as it does not contain life. You will find an Aghori eat human excreta as well as the choicest dairy products.
They never eat cows, though.
Why do they visit the cremation grounds?
An Aghori believes that to practice tantra, the best place is the cremation ground as there is no disturbance. As part of his tantra practice, the Aghori tries to understand death and the migration of the human soul.
Is it possible to speak with the spirit of a dead human being?
Is it also possible to bring the dead back to life?
These are just a few questions that always trouble an Aghori.
Why is an Aghori always angry?
This is not true. He sports and angry visage to discourage common people to come near him.
Though his eyes are always red, the Aghori has always words of reassurance when when he speaks.
Which are the most important places in India for Aghoris?
There are 3 main cremation grounds for these people to pray and practice tantra;
Kamakhya Devi temple cremation grounds n Assam
Tarapeeth cremation grounds near Kolkata, Bengal
The cremation grounds of Rajrappa
To sum up, the Aghoris are not at all a dangerous set of people. They practice tantra to achieve Moksha and do not believe in discriminating between ‘pure’ and ‘impure’ things.
For them, every thing can be eaten for subsistence, except the flesh of the cow.
Watch this video to get a sneak peek into the world of Aghoris.
The Surajkund Mela 2017 for you in pictures. For foreign travelers visiting India around this time , this is the place to go to and take pictures. You will find a riot of colors, some out of the world folk music and dance and a lot of happy people.
Colors galore at Surajkund Mela 2017
We just could not resist starting our tour of the Surajkund Mela with a cup of chai. Ha, I am sure even you too would do the same which we did!
“Be pure, buy pure’, is the message of this jolly Panditji here. I agree with him. Do you?
You can’t help looking in amazement at the gateway to this fair. This image represents the traditional icons of Chhattisgarh, one of the states participating in the Surajkund Mela.
If you try to escape music, it will find you somewhere. And , we have lots of music. Why don’t you check out the Surajkund Mela to find out the kind of music these people are playing?
The amazing life of the Banjaras
We found a group of nomads, called Banjaras, in this fair. They have lived in bullock carts for more than 450 years now.
These people are also called Gadia Lohars, meaning iron smiths who live in their caravans. I have written a post on them elsewhere in this blog.
Us Indians have this crazy habit of smiling at any random stranger and this child is no stranger to this phenomenon.
Lord Ganesha rides a mouse and is one of the most lovable gods in India and we invoke his blessings before very initiative.
Our artisans and craftsmen work really very hard and use a lot of creativity to bring such statues to life!
I thought of joining these well dressed village folk but realized, I did not have enough money…Ha ha ha
You have time till February 15 to be a part of this spectacle. Don’t miss this show.
These lovely women are from the Indian state of Jharkhand.
If you are planning to travel to offbeat destinations in India, then Jharkhand is the place to be in.
This gentleman is one Mr. Mohammad and plays the role of Ravan in Ramleelas. Thank you Sir, for posing with me.
The Jallikattu Story is an interesting reading material for all those interested in India’s hoary traditions. This one has more than 2, 500 years of history behind it.Read it to understand how a lovely tradition changed for the worse.
What is the Jallikattu Story?
Jallikattu refers to the age old practice of embracing the bulls by people of Tamil Nadu. This practice is a sight to watch during Pongal.
Can I see how this Jallikattu thing is played out?
Sure, watch the video.
What is Pongal?
The Pongal season marks the arrival of the fresh crop in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu.
But, heck, what is the connection between Jallikattu and Pongal?
Since ancient times, Indians have used oxen and bulls for farming purposes. Jallikattu provides the reason for the farmers to thank their animals.
But, why is the Jallikattu Story creating such a ruckus?
You see, over a period of time, people started using their bulls in a wrong way. Rather than thanking them , the farmers started using the occasion as a spectator sport.
So, what is wrong in that?
Good question. What went wrong in the Jallikattu Story was that animals began to be teased, agitated and beaten in such fairs. The bulls and oxen were fed with great food and on Pongal, were used by the villagers as toys. The animals were caged in closed places and teased so much that they had to escape from the hordes of people.
Sometimes, the bulls escape to busy roads and other inhabited places and this scares the drivers of the vehicles.
Did the animals die in this Jallikattu Story?
An emphatic no. There is no record of any animal dying because of this practice. However, according to PETA, more than 1, 000 people have been injured because of trampling by the animals.
Got it. So, how do you prevent this cruelty to the animals?
The Supreme Court of India has ordered a ban on this inhuman practice. Not surprisingly, the people of Tamil Nadu have opposed this ban.
They say that the Jallikattu tradition has been in vogue for more than 2,500 years. It also helps the state get tourists and also helps in breeding superior quality of milch cattle.
Really?2,500 years?You must be joking!
No way. Here is an image of an ancient sculpture of Jallikattu.
But, so many people kill animals for food. Is that not cruelty?
It is, definitely. I have seen so many birds and animals dying a slow and painful death in the name of religion! And here, PETA, one of the petitioners has failed to establish that Jallikattu leads to animal deaths!
So, when is Pongal?
Tomorrow, i.e. January 14th, Saturday!
Holy Moly, isn’t it also Makar Sankranti day?
Yes, indeed. In North India, Makar Sankranti means flying kites, but the underlying reason is the same- new harvest!
If you are travelling to India this time and happen to be in Varanasi or any other North Indian town, do drop in any of the several Ramlilas being enacted there..Trust me, this will be an experience of a life time. Today is Dussehra and many Ramlilas will come to an end. So, pack your bags and head to the nearest Ramlila and soak up that experience.
Several thousands of years ago, there was a prince, Rama who was banished from the kingdom by his father, King Dashrath on the advice of his headstrong queen, Kaikeyi. Rama, the dutiful son that he was , spent the next 14 years of his life in the forests of India and was accompanied in his travails by his brother, Lakshmana.and wife, Sita.One day, she was kidnapped by Ravana and while taking her to Lanka, he was attacked by Jatayu, the King of Birds. Jatayu failed to help Sita and was killed by Ravana.
The story of Rama and Sita spans several countries- Afghanistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka and of course, the present day, India.
Rama was born in Ayodhya, a small North Indian town located on the banks of the mighty Saryu river. He was the eldest of the 4 sons of Dasaratha and the natural claimant of the throne. Fortune had other things in store for him and the machinations of Kaikeyi- Dashrath’s favourite queen- ensured that Rama spent 14 years of his life in the vast and intimidating jungles of India and fighting the enemies of humanity. Rama fought and defeated Ravana, the King of Lanka and the mightiest king of his times. Ravana had almost all the devatas in his thrall and even had an aeroplane to fly around.
While, Rama was all alone when he started his journey of banishment, over the years, he collected a vast army comprising the subdued and oppressed people of the various parts of India. The most trusted commander of Rama was Hanuman, a member of the forest dwelling tribe of India. Though Hanuman was born in a low class family, he had a tremendous intellect and was also blessed with a phenomenal strength.
Many Indians remember Hanuman daily in their thoughts and regard him as the remover of all obstacles. Hanuman is immortal and lives everywhere.
Rama is considered an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, the preserver in the Holy Trinity in the Indian thought. Many people believe- and I am a member of that community- that the mere utterance of the name , Rama, delivers us from evil and gets us Moksha or salvation. The final endeavour of Hindus is to attain salvation – escaping the cycle of birth and death.
Ravana was a terrible foe and possessed the strongest army in the entire world. He was near immortal and had his formidable brother, Kumbhakarna and son, Meghanad as military commanders. His other brother, Vibhishana crossed over to Rama’s side before the start of the war.
Ravana had a pitcher of nectar placed in his navel area and nobody knew this secret but Vibhishana. He shared this important piece of information with Rama and this led to the death of Ravana.
The war lasted for 10 days in the island of Lanka. To cross over to the island, Rama and his army constructed a bridge across the Palk Strait, that divides India and Sri Lanka. This bridge is visible from the outer space.
On the 10 th day of this war, Rama vanquished Ravana. The 10th day of the war is celebrated as Vijayadashami or Dussehra. Indians celebrate Dussehra by erecting effigies of Ravana and his son and his brother and lighting them with fire. The effigies are stuffed with crackers. This year, another effigy has come up alongside those of Ravana and his kin- the effigy of terrorism.
After this win, Rama returned to Ayodhya and ascended the throne. His father, the king Dashratha had expired by then of grief.
Rama is considered to be a man who stayed within his limits and was the epitome of human perfection in qualities. He was the ideal son, ideal king, brother, friend etc. The great sage , Valmiki penned his story in the eponymous, Ramayana. Valmiki was a robber in his earlier days. Moved by the sight of a stork crying out in anguish after its consort was hit with an arrow, Valmiki became a poet. The resultant of his pain and anguish came out as Ramayana.
Many centuries later, another sage, Tulsidas wrote another story of Rama- Ramcharitmanas. He followed it up by starting Ramlilas- dramas on the life of Rama, Lakshmana, Sita and the other characters.
During the 10 days that the Ramlilas are on, the atmosphere in the cities is electric. It is believed that Lord Rama himself comes and resides in the bodies of the characters enacting his role. These 10 days are a journey for millions of Indians to once again start living in a virtuous way. But, it is really difficult for most of us. to even copy even 1 % of his ideals. I am uploading here a video of one of the episodes of Ramlila.
I have included a short clip of a Ramlila which I visited yesterday. The armies of Lord Rama and Ravana are poised to fight each other. Have a look at this Ramlila video.
Ramlilas also provide a short time business opportunity to many small time as well as established businesses. Now wonder, Rama is a source of succour to so many famished souls even after thousands of years after his death.
Today, even though several thousands of years have passed since Rama walked this earth, his name finds resonance in several geographies. Rama is the title of the Thai rulers. Many people are of the opinion that the King Rameses of Egypt borrowed the name of Rama and appended it to his title. Mahatma Gandhi considered Lord Rama as his spiritual guide and mentor.
Millions of Indians have this fervent wish that the word “Rama” should be on their lips at the time of their deaths.
The Story of Rama’s Death
Well, one day, while he was the king of Ayodhya, a man came to meet him. The meeting happened in private and nobody knew what was being discussed. After the meeting was over, Rama stood from his seat, opened the door of his room, walked to the door of his palace, exited it and walked all the way to the river Saryu. He continued walking all the way to its banks. He did not stop even even when the water reached his knees. He continued walking to the middle of the river . Now, the river was engulfing him. He did not stop and reached the deepest part of the river. Now, only his crown was visible, shimmering in the afternoon Sun.
And, in an instant, Rama was gone. After performing his earthly duties as the ideal king, husband, brother, father, son, friend and warrior, Lord Rama had left this material world.
The ghat or the steps from where Lord Rama descended into the river at Ayodhya is the Guptar Ghat.
Today marks the end of the Fortnight of the Dead in India. If you are travelling to India right now, you will probably see several Indians, Hindus particularly, paying obeisance to their long dead ancestors. This is an age old custom in India and has several interesting facets .
This fortnight plugs the gap between the monsoon or the rainy season and the festive season. So, after a fortnight of solemnities, we are back to our happy selves.
This period is also known as Shraadh Paksh in Hindi or Sanskrit. The word Shraddh means “devotion” or “respect”. The word Paksh means ” fortnight”. So, this period of fortnight is meant for paying respect to our ancestors who are no more with us.
We believe that our ancestors have made us what we are today. Their values have shaped us into being better human beings. We owe our existence and identity to them.
There is another angle to this period of paying obeisance to them. Us Hindus believe that after death, our souls are held up in suspended animation. The souls keep wandering from one body to another , after death, for countless number of years. There is always a constant yearning for salvation or mukti from the cycle of birth and death. Mukti is also known as Nirvana in Buddhist thought.
In the Indian philosophy, the aim of every individual should be to attain salvation.
So, in this fortnight, we pray to the almighty to liberate the souls of our ancestors and give them salvation.
It is thought by many Hindus that the souls of some of our ancestors live in the bodies of crows, dogs and other animals. By feeding these life forms, we are essentially respecting our long dead ancestors.
Going to Gaya
My blog on Shraadh Paksh would be incomplete if I did not tell you about the town of Gaya.This is an ancient town in the Indian state of Bihar and is famously associated with the preachings of Gautam Buddha.
A lot of Indians visit this town during this fortnight to pay their obeisance to their ancestors. The local population benefits from such trips because it helps the local economy. Hotels have come up there and there is a good number of people in Gaya who specialise in taking you through the various rituals.
It is a sweltering 45 degrees celsius here in Delhi and the roads are smoldering hot.There is a not a soul in sight and my throat is parched with thirst.Travelling in Delhi , particularly during the summers, is quite a challenge of keeping an everlasting supply of drinking water.Would I collapse of thirst?O God, where is water?Water, dear water, where are thou!
Help is at hand in such situations and it comes in the form of modestly shaped and built water huts or “pyaoos” Fast yielding ground to the bottled water available in PET bottles, Pyaoos define the selfless helping nature of us Indians.Yes, these structures , often built of thatch, are very little seen these days. A typical traveller on the road has a backpack that contains 2 or 3 water bottles , so who actually needs a pyaoo!
Cut to 30 years ago, pyaoos were a familar sight in the town that I grew up in-Jaipur.As we returned home after a long day at school, we had our customary drink of cool (not cold) water in at least 3 pyaoos in a 2 kilometer area.Most often, these pyaoos were serviced by elederly ladies from the ‘not so well off backgrounds’ .In their late fifties, these ladies had a grizzled look and spoke the rural dialect.As you, the thirsty traveller, approached the pyaoo, the lady of the hut would silently fill up the stainless steel glasses with water and offer one of them to you.No words were exchanged but, the lady would secretly get a deposit of good wishes in her spiritual bank account.
And , if you thought that water could be wasted by spilling it while drinking, you were in for a mild verbal spanking in chaste Marwari.
Often , there were no steel glasses at all.All you had were a couple of earthen pitchers upon whom rested steel made “dongas” or long handled spoons.All you needed to do was ask for one “donga”, dip it in the pitcher, take out some water and take that in your mouth “without your lips touching the donga”.It was a delicate exercise, I must say.
The ladies and the old men hardly asked for money but some good souls indeed left a few coins as a matter of gratitude.
In Delhi, you are hardly left with any piaoos. There is one in the famous Chandni Chowk , in the Shiva temple premises.Pink in colour, the piaoo is managed by an elderly gentleman who is probably in his eighties.This one is made of stone, though.
Another piaoo in Delhi can be seen in the Mehrauli area.This one is an abandoned structure and is located roughly diagonally opposite to the Mehrauli Bus Stand.I am sure there would be some other piaoos as well in Delhi.At least Dwarka doesn’t have any.I would surmise that East and North Delhi still would have some piaoos left. There is some tradition left in those ancient parts of Delhi.
In Jaipur, where I grew up, there was one particular piaoo that was housed in the premises of a wealthy businessman.The man who serviced this piaoo was blind and sang the verses of Ramcharitmanas while serving water to the visitors.He sang so soulfully! And, his water was laden with kewara, a herbal product that has a lingering aroma and has antioxidant properties. A stroll after our dinner to this good soul was a must every evening.
But, why do ordinary people open up piaoos? The answer is simple- to improve their after lives.In India, there is this custom to offer a glass of water to each and every visitor to our homes , whether he or she is thirsty or not. And the culture to offer free and pure drinking water to travellers is not just limited to ordinary folk, even the rich and wealthy people do it.. So, this practice is all pervading.
Though the piaoo culture is fast disappearing in Delhi, there are occasions in the year when free water is dispensed to the traveller on the road by devout Sikhs.You will see such see sights during the birthdays of their Gurus.The devotees will actually stop the traveller and request him to take the cooling fluid.It is such a graceful and delightful sight!
A few days ago, I was in a suburb of Delhi and the ambient temperature was a mind boggling 45 degrees. While I was looking for a shade to stand in, a young man came to me and offered a glass of cool water.Sir, why don’t you have some water, he asked. Thank you, I said, what is your name, Mister, I enquired. Sir, he replied, I have no name and my work is just to ask passersby for water.