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Goddess Chandi

In Hinduism the goddess represents universal energy, Shakti, the power of creation from say the big bang, to its development into intricate creation, Galaxies, suns planets black holes and glorious creations of planetary systems, foremost the energies that make our planet so full of life. the goddesses all  symbolise the power and energy of the Gods. each has a consort representing his energy and ability. Shakti, the epitome of the Goddess is what makes the world active and meaningful. Energy in Hinduism has a female form. And worship of that form of energy is central to the inclinations in prayer. Energy then becomes Mother, the creator, Mother the sustainer and Mother that dissolves creation as well as protects it. for these reasons Shakti worship during the nine nights of her empowerment are sacred in worship. It is called Navratra or nine nights. and occurs twice an year in April and September. In April it concludes with the birth of Lord Rama the avatar, it is the power of the goddess as shakti that produces this miracle for mankind. In September it concludes with the empowerment of Lord Rama to slay the evil demon Ravana of Lanka who dared to abduct Sita his consort the embodiment of Shakti on the temporal plane, laxmi incarnated as Sita. Both events are the products of Shakti the goddesses energy which brings relief from evil or  the failure of equilibrium in the universe.

In Hinduism for this reason the Goddess as Shakti or divine energy is worshipped  to energise positively ones life and ward off calamities obstacles and misfortune which occur when ones equilibrium is disturbed either by physical forces or the effects of Karma. We all face such circumstances in temporal life and seek protection from their adverse effects. they could arise from simply the weather like storms earthquakes, intense heat or cold threatening life, or then the effects of Karma during this or past lifes, our good and bad deeds. So, during this period of the Shakti;s empowerment we seek protection. the nine nights provide just that. Prayer for protection from calamity, obstacles and misfortune.Hinduism provides a recipe through prayer to the goddess

The Markandeya Purana in which the Saptsati  and Devi Kavach are to be found dates back to the second or third  BC and are the oldest of the Puranas.

In scriptures she is the product of the combined powers of the great Gods, each contributing its strength to produce an entity that has super powers to rid the world of evil and demonic forces that have gravely disturbed the equilibrium of creation. Thus arises the figure of Durga. and from Durga arise her various forms innumerable and varied, an army of goddesses with different attributes and qualities. Chandi, Vaishnavi, Brahmini, Saraswati, Laxmi, Parvati, and so on. each form with special qualities weapons and vehicles on which they ride, each dedicated to protecting some aspect of a persons body, soul and life.

Thus we come to what is called in Navratri prayer the Durga or Chandi Kavach, the armour and shield. the Chandi kavach is recited daily morning and evening during the nine nights to ward off evil and provide protection to the devotee.

The chant begins by describing the nine goddesses, the first Shailputri, daughter of the mountains who married Lord Shiva,, the second is Brahmacharini, the celebate goddess of penance,  the third the goddess of strength  Chandraghanta who glows like the moon, fourth is Khushmanda the goddess of  creativity who dispels negativity, the fifth is Skandamata, mother of shiv;s son Kartikeya who became the commander in chief of the gods,  the sixth is Katyayeni who defeats hostile intensions, the seventh is Kalratri who overcomes enemies,  the eighth is Maha Gauri, the epitome of tranquillity, the last is Siddhidhatri who creates perfection, these are the nine goddesses worshipped.

Nav durga – the nine goddesses of Navratri

 

The prayer calls on the devotee to meditate on these forms of the goddess when in the midst of difficulties and trials.

The goddesses assume numerous forms to ward off evil and obstacles. each is armed with weapons, and seated on vehicles and are particular to the area of protection you ask for. thus Chamunda sitting on corpses, and  Varahi on the demon Mahishasur, Aindri on an elephant, and Vaishnavi on the eagle with Vishnu,  Maheshwari on a bull and Kaumari on a peacock, Laxmi on a lotus, Brahmi on a swan, all these goddesses derived from the primal energy of Durga are resplendent on their mounts fully armed and furious to do battle with evil forces. It is an overwhelming vision of Goddesses fair as the snows and dark as rain clouds having varied natures from the sublime to the terrible, each with a special acumen and ability.  The chanter of the hymn appeals to the array of goddesses  to protect him from evil and misfortune hailing their glory, radiance and yogic powers.

It may seem tedious for the uninitiated to go through this compendium of goddesses at work to provide protection but I feel impelled to provide all their names, the diverse and glorious aspecrs of Shakti, energy or Durga to illustrate the ancient hymn of complete protection recited on the nine nights of her empowerment so that one has a glimpse of what detailed protection it is  created for in the ancient Vedas which become the substance of prayer to relieve the trails and tribu;llations of temporal life. There is great faith and devotion during these nights to seek solace from the source of universal energy symbolised by the goddess which may even have sub atomic relevance. I am aware that naming so many goddesses may be  unnecessary for a reader who is not a practising Hindu but there is no other way one can present the armour hymn so highly regarded here as a panacea for all afflictions and misfortunes. Names resound with vibrations and meaning helping to picture the particular form the Goddess has assumed to carry out a specific task. I trust the power of the Goddess her energy and symbolism so i will be mentioning all the names against specific needs.

 The armour and shield prayer proceeds first to provide protection from the various directions and  next to every part of ones body. Each part has a particular goddess incarnated from the supreme energy Durga in various forms and shapes dedicated to protect that part.

Aindri, daughter of fire protects  from the east, from the south Varahi, from the south west Khadgadharini, holder of the sword, from the west Varuni, , from the northwest Mrigvahini riding a deer, from the north Kaumari, from the northeast Shooldharini, one who wields a spear,  from above Brahmani from below by Vaishnavi, from all directions the great goddess Chamunda slayer of demons Chand and Munda, from the front Jaya (victory) and Vijaya( who cannot be defeated) from behind. To the left is Ajita (invincible) to the south Aparajita (undefeated). Having completed directional protection the hymn goes on to provide protection for all bodily parts.

Hair on the head is protected  by Dyotini (unchanging), the head by Uma (wife of shiva) , the tongue by Maladhari (who wears garlands),the eyebrows by Yashwini (successful), the space between the eye brows by Trinetri (three eyed), the nose by Yamaghanta, and Sugandha (the sweet smelling),  the space between  the eyes Shankini (holder of the conch shell), Dwarvasini (the one who dwells deep within) the ears, the cheeks by Kalika., the ear lobes by Shankri, the lips by Chandrakala (who wears the crescent moon), the teeth by Sarasvati (godess of wisdom and speech), the teeth by Kaumari, the throat by Chandika (who is immeasurable), the voicebox by Chitragandha, the palate by Mahamaya (the enchantress), the chin by Kamakshi, the neck by Bhadrakali, the backbone by Dhanurdhari, the nape of the neck by Nilagriva, the windpipe by Nalakuberi, shoulders by Khangini, arms by Vajradharini, hands by Dandhini (the punisher). fingers by Ambika (mother of the world), the nails by Sooleshwari (bearer of the spear), the belly by Kuleshwari, the breasts by Mahadevi,, mind by by Shoknashini (dispellar of sorrow), the heart by Lalita (easy to please_)), the stomach by Shuldharini (wielder of the trident),naval by Kamini (the lovable), Guheshwari (the secret one) protects the private parts, the reproductive organs by Kamika, the organs of excretion by Mahishavahini, the waist by Bhagwati, the knees by Vindhyvasini, the hips by Mahabala, the ankles by Narasinhi, soles of the feet by Vasini, nails by Damshatrakarili, hair by Urdhvakeshini, hair pores by Kauberi,, skin by Vagheshwari, blood marrow flesh and bones by Parvati, the intestines by Kalaratri, the bile and liver by Mukuteshwari, the Chakras by Padmavati, the phlegm by Chudamani, the lustre of nails by Jvalamukhi, the joints by Abhedia,, the semen by Brahmini, the shadow of the body by Chateshwari (one like an umbrella), the ego mind and intellect by Gharmdharini, the life breath by Vajrahasta, sense organs of taste sight smell hearing by Yogini, the three attributes of Satva, truth Rajas passsion and Tamas inertia by Narayani, life by Varahi, Dharma righteousness by Vaishnavi, success and fame by Laxmi, wealth and knowledge by Chakrini, ones lineage by Indrani, cattle by Chanika, spirituality by Supatha, protection for  being in any place not mentioned here by Jayanti and Apnashini.

The extent and minute detail of protection from all quarters and for bodily parts which the armour is to provide is mind boggling and amazing, each part protected by  a different aspect of the universal energy Durga or Chandi, when the devotee invokes her. The life force itself  spirituality wealth fame success knowledge the Chakras and the attributes of a soul’s nature on the temporal plane, truth passion and inertia are also not left out. One can imagine what a powerful hymn and mantra armour this is, recited daily during the nine nights of the goddesses empowerment. seeking protection in prayer. It doubtless also has an occult significance to harness that power as ones saviour providing protection for the physical, mental, spiritual directional and planetary afflictions if any.

The hymn , in chaste sanskrit with precise meters, millennia old concludes with sage advice-

Do not take a single step in the journey of your life without this armour which fulfils all desires and goals in life. The supreme mother is always by your side making you fearless victorious and long lived for a hundred years, in good health unaffected by poisons (from snakes scorpions and enemies) and accidents and possession by evil spirits and aliens from outer space!

The hymn will also empower the mind and light an inner radiance conferring fame and everlasting progeny and enlightenment in afterlife to be in the divine company of lord Shiva (freed from reincarnation Karma and the trials and tribulations of temporal life

Durga image made of clay in their thousands worshipped on Navratri and consigned to the ocean after nine nights with devotion celebrations hoping she will return again.

 

Mahagauri worshipped on the most auspicious eighth night of Navratra and my favourite goddess aspect

The prayer claims to be the only one of its kind superior to all others which even the gods would like to provide them protection and is sung and chanted daily by devotees throughout India.

For those who wish to hear the original in Sanskrit a video courtesy u tube

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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From my earlier posts we are already familiar with the universal prohibitions arising from the nature of the Tithi ( Hindu Lunar day), the daily Chaughadias ( hourly change in auspicious and inauspicious phases of the day) eclipses etc. The longer term prohibitions become more significant as they affect Hindu social life and commercial activity over extended periods as contrasted with the shorter term prohibitions which pass quickly from hour to hour or Lunar day to Lunar day. These prohibitions relate to ‘universal effects’ as contrasted with ‘individual effects’ which are the concern of the horoscope of an individual or sometimes of a national unit.These universal prohibitions, applicable to all are governed by the following astrological or astronomical events:

DAKSHINAYAN

The fundamental precept of long-term prohibitions arise from the belief that when the Sun is in Uttarayan (Norther swing) moving from the tropic of Capricorn to the tropic of Cancer, it is an auspicious time  as the Sun becomes stronger and empowered with every passing day. The commencement of this process is marked by the great festival of Makar Sakranti ( entry of the Sun into Capricorn) mid January, with great rejoicing, kite flying and feeding cattle around town. When the Sun is in Dakshinayan ( southern swing) moving from Cancer to Capricorn, its rays grow weaker, losing power and the time is less auspicious. This is marked by Kark Sakranti ( entry into Cancer), mid July. If this were strictly observed or enforced, no auspicious activity like marriage, inauguration of temples , entry into a new home, ceremonial tonsure of a child’s hair, coronation or assumption of important office etc etc  would be astrologically recommended during a six month period during each year. Fortunately, relief has been provided in the month of Margsheesh ( November-December) but only till the Sun enters Sagittarius ( Dhanu Sakranti) in mid-December when the prohibition becomes total as in this month the Sun is at its weakest in the year.  This period is called the Malmas, the dark month.The prohibition ends with Makar Sakranti and suddenly there are marriages everywhere once again. Even a former Governor of Rajasthan state waited till Makar Sakranti before assuming office.

SHRAAD

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Soon after the Dakshinayan phase commences, come the further prohibitions on account of Shraad. These are observances which are not festive but equally essential. We are said to be born with two types of obligations: debts to the gods ( Dev Rinn) and those to the ancestors ( Pitri Rinn). Dev Rinns are discharged through prayer and ritual and the first half of every day is for that. Pitri Rinn is discharged through ritual observances for ancestors and the latter half of the day is appropriate for that. Both are to be undertaken with the Sun as witness, therefore preferably between sunrise and sunset.

The Shraads commence with the full-moon of the month of Bhadrapad and end with the no-moon of the month of Ashwin, generally falling in the month of September each year, prior to the Sharad ( Winter) Navratra ( discussed in the post on fasts). This is a fortnight during the year which is reserved for deceased ancestors. Ancestors include three generations of parents, grandparents and great grand parents and uncles, aunts and siblings who have no progeny other than yourself to honour them. That which is done with Shraddha, faith, is Shraad. During the Shraads all other auspicious and festive events are prohibited. Each of the fifteen Shraad days is dedicated to the ancestor who died on that Tithi. Prayers and offerings to ancestors consist of preparations of rice, lentil and milk and the favourite food of that ancestor if known and then distributed to five beings – a cow, a crow, a dog, ants and a beggar – called the Panch Gras. Thereafter Brahmins are fed. This upholds an ancient tradition of feeding all manner of beings before consuming ones righteous repast. Through the mouths of these beings the ancestors are satisfied and honoured. mahalaya-ama-nIt is believed that the ancestors are permitted to visit the mortal world from their realms as spirits during this period to observe whether they are still loved and remembered. Most people observe these rituals meticulously as it is believed that one will be blessed with progeny and they will be assured long life and a successful career only if the ancestors thus honoured bless the family. The principle is that you are only entitled to future generations if you care to remember and honour your past generations – sounds quite logical.

DEVSHAYAN

images (9)Growing up in an Indian home one often hears the remark ‘sorry we can’t celebrate the wedding for the next few months, the god’s are asleep’. This was always intriguing. how possibly did the gods go to sleep? Of course one was familiar with the strict timings observed in temples when the gods awaken in the morning to the chanting of Mantras and the afternoons when the curtains are drawn or gates closed when they are resting, bathing or being presented with offerings of food. The timing for worship and divine audience  Darshan, was fixed in the morning and evening hours. If you came at the wrong time your worship would be without viewing the deity of the temple. Thus one was familiar with the concept of divine rest periods. But the prolonged rest for months on end in the lunar calendar was another matter and once again had stellar origins.

The period of divine rest or inactivity falls between two Ekadashis ( eleventh Tithis). Beginning with the Ekadashi in the Indian month of Ashad, Shukla Paksh ( lunar ascending phase), falling generally in June-July, it extends to the Ekadashi falling in the month of Kartik, Shukla Paksh. The first Ekadashi is popularly known as Devshayan Ekadashi ( Divine rest Ekadashi), signalling commencement of Devshayan Dosh (divine inactivity affliction) and the second one is called Devauthni Ekadashi ( Divine awakening Ekadashi) signalling end of the afflicted months.

Hindu-God Vishnu imageAs the Devshayan Dosh runs more or less concurrently with the Dakshinayan, the prohibition becomes strengthened further and no one dares to breach it by arranging any auspicious activity then. After the Devuthni Ekadashi, cities in India suddenly spring to life for a month, squeezing in a spate of marriages and events. Roads become so crowded with marriage processions and bridegrooms on horseback and elephants moving with their dancing and singing entourages that traffic happily comes to a standstill, unless of course you have to take a flight or a train. Mass marriages are also the order of the day for people of humbler means.

MALMAS

A month later, despite the prohibition arising from ‘divine rest’ having been lifted, another prohibition arises on account of the Sun entering Sagittarius and once again there is a complete lull on the Hindu social calendar. The entire sub-continent pauses till the Sun leaves Sagittarius and enters Capricorn on Makar Sakranti when its Uttarayan phase begins. Then all is well again for another six months, though short-term prohibitions do crop up from time to time. the Pundit is your trusted guide through all this. The question arises why the Sun’s entry into Sagittarius is deemed unfortunate. Of course the obvious explanation is that it is the month in the year when it is the least empowered having moved to its southernmost point and therefore inauspicious. But there is also a mythological basis for Malmas being inauspicious.

Jupiter, lord of Sagittarius, is the divine mentor and Guru of the demigods. When a royal personage, like the Sun enters the abode of his Guru, he must humbly conduct himself as a disciple and assume a lower seat from him, which he does not find pleasant. This causes him discomfort and being thus reduced in stature he is not his radiant self and in such a state cannot be expected to confer auspiciousness on celebrations. Marriages therefore are avoided during this period. also deferred are important trading and commercial transactions. Indeed, the Indian stock market itself is affected by these distant and invisible cosmic events and it is only after Malmas has passed that the stock market assumes full momentum again.

  Once, being in a hurry I installed a statue of my father in the village square at considerable cost with a stone carved canopy, despite warnings by the Pundits. Within days I was informed that a wayward truck had hit the canopy and that it had shattered, though the statue only suffered minor damage as it too was toppled to the ground. Could have been an unfortunate co-incidence – who knows? 

While the presence of a visible Full-Moon engendering a feeling of auspiciousness and a clearly visible eclipse or transit of a comet arousing fear and being interpreted as evil, may be understandable, the occurrence of a cosmic event which is not visible and can only be known through calculation of movement of the Sun affecting something as mundane and material as the stock market is most remarkable and shows the dominant influence of stellar phenomena on Indian culture and civilization. One cannot escape the feeling that India invisibly reels under a stellar spell.

ADHIKMAS

The third major prohibition period is the additional  month which we saw had to be inserted within  a month in the lunar calendar every three years. Generally Adhikmas ( additional month) falls in late summer or monsoons and therefore in the period of Dakshinaya and the Devshayan, thus not creating an additional period of prohibition but this may not always be so, when the prohibition period would grow even longer than it is. Apart from the prohibition of marriages, during this month, the scriptures  demand that one prays more, fasts, sleeps on the floor, eats only once a day and is charitable.

JUPITER IN LEO

The entry of Jupiter in Leo is another signal for prohibitions. Again we go back to the relationship of Jupiter and the Sun in Indian lore. As the Guru of the Indian Olympus enters Leo, abode of the Sun, the Sun begins to feel the same discomfort having to act deferentially to his Guru and marriages are once again avoided during Jupiter’s sojourn in Leo. However as this would mean no marriages for a whole year because that is the period that slow-moving Jupiter remains in the Sign, the Pundits have found a way out of this impossible prohibition by restricting it to a shorter duration when Jupiter enters a segment of three degrees of Leo from 13 degrees 20 minutes to 16 degrees 40 minutes called the Navmansh of Leo, thereby limiting the prohibition to less than two months.

COMBUST JUPITER AND VENUS

Other prohibitions are associated with periods during which Jupiter or Venus become ‘combust’ ( get too close to the Sun as viewed from Earth). A ‘combust’ planet cannot exert its benefic influence and becomes a source of negativity, therefore inauspicious during such phases. During such phases also, marriages are avoided. fortunately with the Sun’s movement onwards as also that of faster moving planets, the combust status remains only for a short duration.

From the foregoing it should become abundantly clear that planning a calendar event in India is no joke and the astrological almanac is the arbiter for fixing the timing of auspicious and inauspicious events with the assistance of the Pundit – those who take this lightly do so at their own peril!

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According to Hindu astrology the effects of stellar phenomena can be divided into two categories. The first is general, applicable broadly to all people universally and the second is particular, affecting only the individual.  The particular effects are determined on the basis of the individual’s horoscope ( more on this in a later post). The general effects for the entire populace are determined by the ascending and descending phases of the Moon, the nature of the Lunar Day ( Tithi ), the movement of the Sun on its northern and southern journeys, the movement of certain planets in certain constellations, the presence of the Moon in certain Asterisms ( Nakshatras ) on a particular day of the week, the passage of the eight sections of a day ( Chaughadias ) each of an hour and forty minutes duration, with different auspicious and inauspicious characteristics and effects.

SindhiTipno20121-248x300The general effects are annually made available in a traditional calendar ( Panchamg ) , which declares the effects for each day of the year.These effects also determine festivals, prohibitions and fasts and auspicious timings to undertake social, economic and personal activity and times and periods when certain activities are to be avoided.

Thus for instance the full-moon is auspicious, the no-moon is not. The Moon’s ascending phase is more auspicious than its descending phase. Certain Tithis ( days of the Lunar month ) are auspicious, others are not. Most of the months on the Sun’s northern journey are favourable whereas many months on its southern journey are not. The movement of certain planets in certain constellations are favourable while other movements are not. The presence of the Moon in certain Asterisms on certain days are auspicious while its presence in others are not. Some sections of the day are favourable for certain activities while others are not and so on.

Let us first look at one of the most important of the general effects which determine the festivals, which gladden the heart of the poorest and the richest equally throughout the year and become the heart, soul and inspiration for Indian culture, religious observances and joyous celebration, ones very raison d’etre.

HINDU DEVOTEES CROWD AROUND CHARIOTS IN PURI

juggannath festival for Krishna, Puri – Orissa

India is a land of numerous festivals – it is a wonder that any work ever gets done – if you are not careful more often than not you would arrive at a bank on a festive holiday about which you had no clue. There are festivals of colour, festivals of light, of prayers and processions, pilgrimages, holy dips and fasts. By and large this is a pious land immersed in faith. Processions of the goddess astride a lion slaying a demon in the east at Kolkata, of giant images of the elephant headed god Ganesh in the west at Mumbai, blessing the congregations as they are carried to the sea for immersion, of Shiva and Shakti ( creative force and its energy ), symbols of fertility at the Gangor festival as they are carried in palanquins preceded by musical bands and dancing worshippers in the north at Rajasthan and the great chariots of Krishna at Jaggannath ( from which the English word juggernaut is derived), lord of the universe, pulled by thousands of devotees at Puri in the east, to name only a few. Celebrations of the birth of Rama, Krishna, Shiva, Ganesh ( deemed astrologically rather than historically), Buddha, Mahavir (Jainism), Nanak (Sikhism) and a host of lessor known deities and saints fill the calendar with festivities and fasts. But behind this apparent diversity of celebrations is the unerring hidden pattern which is again determined by stellar configuration on the one hand and earthly seasons on the other. the two combine to provide relevance to seemingly unrelated celebrations of succeeding festivals. It is the lunar almanac that determines the day on which the festival arrives.

One of the most important festivals is the Navratra, the nine nights ( currently in progress). These ‘nine nights’ occur twice during the year. Basant Navratra, the nine nights of spring and Shardi Navratra, the nine nights of winter. It happens that every year as we look at the Gregorian calendar, unlike christmas arriving regularly on 25 december, Navratra commences on different days of the solar year as the timing is fixed from the lunar calendar on the basis of Tithis, lunar days. The lunar year commences on the first day of the lunar month of Chaitra, in the Shukla Paksh, the ascendant phase of the Moon. The month of Chaitra occurs in April. The month is named after the Asterism in which the Moon is located on Full Moon in any month.  In April on full moon day the Moon is located in the Asterism ( Nakshatra) Chitra and the month is christened Chaitra. Other months also likewise derive their names from the Asterisms. During that month the Hindu New Year begins on the first day after No-Moon or Amavasya, when the moon begins its journey of empowerment till the following full Moon. That first day , the New Year’s day is also the first day of Navratra, the nine nights of spring. This New Year Day celebrates the onset of spring and the empowerment of good through the worship of the nine goddesses of the nine nights. the devout engage in fasts. During his current official visit to the USA Prime minister Modi of India appears to be observing precisely such a fast.

Obama_Modi_Dinner

Credit: coastaldigest.com

When President Obama invited him to a private dinner at the White House, Modi accepted only hot water, enjoining all present to enjoy their dinner in his honour! Modi was observing the Navratra fast.President Obama however in deference to his Indian guest also chose not to eat.

The Navratra festival signifies the onset of the New Year, not just prayers to the goddesses. it is not surprising that the Government of India’s financial year begins not on the first of January but on the first of April, conforming to the arrival of the harvest and the commencement of the Indian lunar Year.

On the ninth day, furthermore, a major festival is celebrated, the astrologically determined birth of Lord Rama, Ram Navmi. The empowerment of the goodnesses bears fruit with an event which connects the spiritual world with the mortal one through the incarnation of the Formless Absolute ( Nirakar) into a mortal being, one with form ( Akar), in the person of one of India’s most popular spiritual personages, Rama, the human incarnation, the Avatar, the ideal man, the perfect husband, the exemplary King, the archetype of selflessness, sacrifice and morality and no less a god, visible and incarnate in flesh. Thus the lunar year begins with nine nights of empowerment of the forces of good culminating in the commemoration of the birth of the divine spirit into our imperfect world, the birth of Rama. Indeed an auspicious way to begin the year.

The second Navratra arrives after the passage of six months on the first day of the ascendant phase of the month of Ashwin called the Ashwin Shukla Pratipada, generally falling in September/October and culminating on the tenth day in the great festival of Dussehra, commemorating the victory of Lord Rama over the demon king of Sri Lanka, Ravana. Ravana is the archetype of vanity, hauteur, egotism, hedonism, arrogance, indiscretion, lust, immorality and disregard for righteousness. Rama’s ultimate victory and slaying of Ravana becomes the victory of good over evil. Ravana had abducted Rama’s consort Sita  confining her in Sri Lanka, enamoured by her beauty. Here again the process of empowerment of the forces of good through prayers and fasts to the nine goddesses culminates in the burning of giant effigies of Ravana and his two brothers amid much rejoicing the length and breadth of India. The Prime Minister of india stands by at a public celebration at  the Ramlila grounds in Delhi as Rama’s symbolic arrow is released by him piercing the giant image of Ravana which goes up in flames and fire crackers to general rejoicing. Astrology, mythology, spirituality and the seasons come together to define yet another landmark in India’s lunar calendar and national life.

1376755521-devotees-immerse-an-idol-of-goddess-durga-in-the-buriganga-river_1545636During Navratra in West Bengal, numerous prayer enclosures called Pandals are erected in cities, villages, hamlets and homes to worship the goddess Durga. Clay images of great artistry, clothed in brochades and adorned with ornaments show her riding a lion and slaying the demon Mahisasur ( the buffalo demon  who emerges from the head of a buffalo) a form assumed to dupe her. She holds a spear in one of her numerous hands carrying all manner of weapons and thrusts it into his muscular chest as her lion steed sinks its teeth into his buffalo form. Her face radiates extraordinary beauty and firm resolve to rid the world of evil. virtually every street and quarter vies with the other to erect a more magnificent tableau of the goddess. Every night worshippers congregate and make offerings amidst chanting, wafting incense and lighting lamps. The Shakti cult is strong here, the cult of pure female energy personified by the goddess, the active principle of the Universal absolute.

immersion

immersion of the goddess

After nine days of intense worship during the ascendant phase of the Moon, on the ninth, the tableaus of the goddess are carried to the Ganges for immersion in great processions. In the North in Punjab, Rajasthan and Gujarat and elsewhere likewise the goddess assumes great significance and daily prayers are performed in every home and temple.

b_id_417315_ganeshIn the west particularly in Mumbai, the Lord Ganesh who has a beatific, charming and endearing elephant head, is the principal deity and during the month of Bhadrapad on the fourth Tithi of the ascendant phase of the Moon, generally falling in September, the festival of Ganesh Chaturthi is celebrated. Here again giant clay images with numerous others in all sizes are carried to the ocean for immersion. it is interesting that the festival is celebrated on a Chaturthi ( fourth Tithi ) which happens to be ‘Rikt’ or ’empty’ Tithi and therefore most inauspicious. however, being the lord of all things auspicious, his celebration on such a day is quite appropriate because he helps to dispel the negativity of the empty Tithi with his august presence.

Diwali-diyasThen arrives the festival of lights, Divali when Indian homes stir with a myriad earthen lamps lining wall after wall from mud huts to princely mansions and the night awakens with fire crackers which sound like guns and mortars being fired during a war throughout the night. If one did not know better one might think that war had been declared. That is the visible part of the festival. What is not so visible is the alter at the heart of every home, the hallowed temple corner. Laxmi the goddess of wealth and prosperity sits enthroned amidst flowers and incense, bejewelled and resplendent. This is the most holy of nights, a celebration which combines the spirit of Christmas and Thanksgiving all rolled into one. but strangely on this night the Moon is not auspicious at all being absent. Dipavali the festival of lights falls on an Amavasya. Generally Amavasyas ( No-Moon) are reserved for thoughts of departed ancestors and is a time when dark spirits are believed to roam the pitch black night. Why have the premier celebration of the year on such a night? Well, it is not because lighting lamps and flooding the place with lights would look good on a night that is really dark. Again one could argue that like Ganesh, the goddess Laxmi would dispel all dark forces with her enormous resources of positive energy. But that again is not the reason for the paradox.

VanvasiRam

Lord Rama sita and Laxman in exile

It is explained that this is because it commemorates the return of Lord Rama from exile, to his kingdom of Ayodhya, after slaying the demon king Ravana and gaining victory over the forces of darkness. But why should Rama decide to return at such an inauspicious time like No-Moon? The answer is simple. His first duty was to his deceased father who died of grief in his absence during his years in exile. An exile to which king Dashrath himself had sent his son, with anguish. It happened at the time when Rama was to be anointed heir to the throne and the kingdom and palace were preparing for the joyous event. The night before the grand ceremony for which the waters of all of India’s sacred rivers had been collected for the annointment, Manthara the evil maid of Dashrath’s youngest of three queens, Kaikeye  told her that she was being naive in showering so much love on Rama ( the son of the queen-mother Kaushalya and eldest son of Dashrath) and giving support to his succession, which she should try to wrest for her own son Bharat. This produced a change of heart and she finally sought the fulfilment of two boons  promised her by Dashrath in the past after she saved his life during a battle. The first boon was that Rama be exiled to the forests for fourteen years. The second that Bharat be declared the heir.  Incidentally this evil turning of the mind of the righteous and favourite  step-mother of Rama, on whom she had always doted, was not of her own doing but providentially ordained to unfold the legend of the Ramayana for the benefit of mankind. Dashrath was distraught, unable to retract his promises to his wife and unable to countenance the exile of his most beloved son. Rama refused any suggestion of opposing the unwarranted punishment and  to honour his father’s word prepared for exile shedding his princely robes for that of a monk and prepared to leave armed with a bow. The tragedy was compounded when Sita his bride, despite much persuasion, insisted on accompanying him barefooted into the forest. Sita, who had always enjoyed the comforts of a princess was ready to sacrifice all wordly comforts to be with her beloved spouse. To add to the gloom, Rama’s inseparable step-brother Laxman, always impetuous, furious with his father, decided to join the exile. The great tragedy of the Ramayana had begun.

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Credit: india-forums.com Dashrath inadvertently kills Shravan Kumar the ideal son

After their departure, Dashrath pined away for his son repeating the word Rama from morning to evening and hating himself for having sent his saintly son into exile. Ministers were later despatched  to trace them and enjoin them to return but Rama refused to dishonour his father’s word to Kaikeye. Dashrath died of grief and too late Kaykeye realized her fatal folly. Dahshrath’s death in fact fulfilled a curse placed upon him in his youth by an aggrieved blind sage. Then, on a hunting expedition he let fly an arrow towards a movement in the bush. Alas, it was no animal but a boy fetching water from a pond for his thirsty blind parents. In dying the boy Shravan Kumar ( an ideal son) reproached  the King and asked him to carry the water to his parents. When the boy’s father learnt of the tragedy he cursed Dashrath that he too would suffer separation from his son and die in anguish.

bharat-and-paduka1Bharat was away during these tragic developments, on return was anguished by what his mother had done, refused the throne and set off to find his brother and bring him back, adding ‘had Bharat never been born”. But Rama refused to return before the passage of the stipulated fourteen years of exile and Bharat returned to administer the kingdom carrying Rama’s footwear clasped to his breast and placed them on the throne of Ayodhya.

ram killing ravan

Rama slays the demon Ravana

It is to such an Ayodhya that Rama returned after the exile and slaying of Ravana on the No-Moon night, grieving over his father’s torment and wishing first and foremost to pray for his soul. This is the explanation for Divali occurring on an Amavasya, when prayers are offered for the dear departed. However, his return from exile and victory over Ravana is a cause for much celebration and India rejoices with lamps fire-works crackers and prayers.

The paradox is thus explained. Once again we have mythology, lunar configurations, religious ritual and festive celebration joining together in the formulation of a festival, holding multiple meanings and having many depths. and yes, Divali arrives every year precisely on the night of the No-Moon of the month of Kartik, generally in the month of November. Very precise timings are indicated for commencement of prayers to the goddess of wealth. Tradesmen open their new ledgers for the ensuing year. In many parts Divali also marks the commencement of the New Year for trade and commerce among traditional merchant communities. Prayers are held not only in homes but also at shops and factories where the picture of goddess Laxmi hang near the safe and at counters for receiving payments.

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Credit: sanatansociety.com LAXMI goddess of wealth

Things are never precisely what they seem in India. The goddess Laxmi is not merely the consort of Lord Vishnu, the maintainer of the universe but has a link to Lord Rama too. We must not forget that Lord Rama is in fact an incarnation ( Avatar ) of Lord Vishnu and Laxmi his consort is incarnated as his spouse, Sita. Many levels, many worlds, many meanings enrich the fabric of the celebrations. All these diverse impressions, stellar, mythological, religious, transcendental, ritualistic, commercial, sociocultural, stir constantly in the Indian psyche, whether rustic or elite, naive or sophisticated, traditional or modern, with equal viguor.

holi3_2518539kAnother seasonal festival is Holi. This festival of colour is celebrated at the end of March on the day after the full moon, the first day of the month of Chaitra. At Holi people dance in the streets throwing colour at one another, drink spicy milk laced with Marijuana and throw all inhibitions to the winds. You may well encounter rowdy youths moving around town in open trucks and wagons totally smeared in colour, dripping wet, occasionally stark nude and fully inebriated.

Holi-revelry-via-fotopedia.com_ Disguised in vivid colours, groups of revellers lustily embrace all and sundry in anonymity.

No one really minds being thoroughly wet, coloured and high as they have the sanction of the festive season. At this time the winter harvest has been collected and there is time and reason for merriment.

A day before Holi at every street corner Holika fires are lit and residents circumambulate them placing ears of green corn and barley fresh from the harvest against the smouldering embers. The legend goes that the demonic king Harinyakashyap weary of his son Prahlad’s unrelenting devotion for Lord Vishnu, sought to destroy him. His sister Holika had the boon of being impervious to fire and so he asked Prahlad to sit in her lap in a ritual fire in the hope that Prahlad would perish – such was his hatred for his god fearing son. Prahlad an exemplary Bhakt ( loving devotee) in Hindu lore, remained untouched by the flames by divine grace whereas the aunt despite her boon, perished on account of her evil intentions. The ashes of Holika fires symbolize the purity of faith and are considered holy ( no pun intended).

teejprocession-4_080311042944With these ashes, prayers for the festival of Gangor commence. This is the worship of Lord Shiva and his consort Parvati also known as Gan – Gor, the male and female creative principle, icons of productivity and fertility, conferring progeny on worshippers. The prayers conclude about a fortnight later on Chaitra Shukla Tritiya ( third Tithi of the month of Chaitra’s ascendant phase).  This is a festival mainly observed in Rajasthan with great processions of Shiv and his consort. In Jaipur capital of Rajasthan the procession carries a magnificent image of the goddess in a palanquin through the streets to the delight of tourists. Women fast to create love in the hearts of their husbands and to ensure that widowhood never befalls them, while unmarried girls fast to find the perfect spouse, much like Gauri’s spouse Lord Shiva.

These are some of India’s famous festivals in the North, though there are numerous other festivals the length and breadth of this holy land. If you are a tourist you would not want to miss joining in the amazing spirit and spectacle of the festivals.

 

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