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  • Living the Full Life: 50 Instructions from the Mahabharata

    Living the Full Life: 50 Instructions from the Mahabharata

    Living the Full Life: 50 Instructions from the Mahabharata Bhishma undoubtedly is one of the central figures of the Mahabharata. When he was at his deathbed after the great war, his grandson and would-be king Yuddhishthira approached and asked him numerous questions encompassing all aspects of life. The dialogue between the two is one of the highlights of the Mahabharata and the instructions imparted by Bhishma give us an immense opportunity to lead better and more fulfilled lives ourselves. One particular part of the conversation highlights how we can lead a fuller, longer and relevant life. This dialogue runs as follows: Yuddhishthira: "O Grandfather! The Vedas clearly stipulate that a man has a life of 100 years. If this is the case, why does a man often die before completing his full life-span? Also, tell me how does one obtain fame in this life? How does one obtain prosperity?" Bhishma replied: "I will now answer what you have asked. It is good conduct (achar) that ensures a long lifespan. Prosperity and fame are also obtained through good conduct only. The one who takes recourse to good conduct, even if his whole body be sinful, removes anything that is inauspicious. Actually, the sign (lakshana) of dharma is good conduct only. Now I will enumerate the rules of conduct which lead to a reduction in one's lifespan: 1). Those who are nastikas (non-believers in the Vedas), those who do not do anything (nishkriya), those who go against the word of the shastras or the guru, all these have their lifespan reduced. 2). One should never be stubborn against one's guru. If the guru is unhappy with us we should make all efforts to please him. There is no doubt that criticizing the guru burns down a man's age. 3). The one who crushes mounds of earth, uproots grass, bites his nails, eats food tasted by others and is restless, such a person does not obtain a long life. 4). A person must wake up at at brahma-muhuruta (roughly one-and-a-half hour before sunrise), and ruminate over his dharma and artha. Then he should get up from his bed, have his bath etc. and then with folded hands perform his morning sandhya, facing the east. In the same way, the evening sandhya should also be performed facing the west, it being imperative that no conversation should be made with others during the two sandhyas. The rishis of yore gained a long life only by performing the two sandhyas. Therefore, restraining speech at that time, one must respectively face the east (morning sandhya) and west (evening sandhya) daily. Those twice-born who do not perform the two sandhyas follow adharma. 5). One should never look at either the rising sun or the setting sun. Nor look at the sun during an eclipse or at the middle of the day. 6). Whatever be one's varna, one should never have intercourse with another person's wife. For a man, there is nothing which shortens a lifespan as much as having intercourse with another person's wife. 7). Dressing one's hair, applying kajal to the eyes, brushing the teeth and doing puja to gods, all these should be done only before noon. 8). One must never look at urine or excrement. One must not speak when passing urine. We should never do these two functions in water or in a cowshed. One should never pass urine while standing. If a person passes urine or excrement facing the sun, fire, a cow, a brahmin or alongside a road, then his lifespan is destroyed. Also, after performing these functions, one must wash one's feet. 9). One should not venture out too early in the morning, too late in the evening or when it is exactly afternoon. One should never travel with someone unknown nor should one travel alone. One should never set out without worshipping the gods first. 10). One must not speak while eating. One should not criticize the food one is having. For a long lifespan, one should face east while eating food; for fame south and for wealth west. Having finished eating one should mentally touch fire. One should eat only while sitting and never standing or walking around. One must wash one's feet before eating food (i.e. one should eat with one's feet wet). But one should not go to sleep with wet feet. The person who washes his feet before eating lives for a hundred years. In addition, one should not eat food cooked by a woman having her monthly periods. One should not eat food without sharing with someone who is looking at it intently. 11). Three things are personification of energy - fire, cow and brahmin. They should never be touched with a hand that has not been washed after eating. If one follows this precept, one's lifespan is not diminished. 12). One must never look at the following three objects when one is impure - the sun, the moon and the nakshatras. 13). When an elder person arrives, a young person's prana ascends upward (thus threatening his life). By standing up and greeting the elder person, the young person is able to regain his prana. After greeting the elder person, a seat must be offered to him. When he is seated, the young one must remain standing. When the aged person walks, one must must follow behind him, i.e. the younger person should not walk ahead of an older person. 14). One should never sit on a broken seat, nor ever use a broken brass vessel. 15). One must never eat while clad in a single garment, i.e. the upper garment would also be worn. 16). One should never bathe naked, nor should one sleep naked. One should never bathe in the night. 17). One should not eat food that has been eaten by another person (i.e. one should not share one's plate of food with any other person). 18). One should never touch the head (one's own or any other person's) with impure hands because all the pranas are concentrated there only. While bathing do not pour water again and again on your head. Then the lifespan will not be reduced. 19). After taking a bath one should not apply oil to one's limbs (i.e. oil massage is prohibited after bath). 20). One should never study in an impure state. 21). A person who desires to live long should never irritate the following three, even though they may be weak: a brahmin, a kshatriya or a snake. All three all extremely poisonous. Therefore, a wise person makes efforts to be at peace with all the three. 22). Those who, violating the ordinances of dharma, indulge in physical relations with women of a different varna than their own, their lifespan is shortened and they go to hell. 23). One must give way to the following: a brahmin, cattle, the king, old people, those carrying a weight, pregnant women and those who are weak. 24). One must never footwear or clothes worn by others. 25). One must not indulge in physical relations with one's wife on the following days: purnima (full moon), amavasya (no moon), ashtami (eighth day when moon is exactly half) chaturdashi (one day before full moon and also before no moon), and on all festivals and days of fasting (parva). 26). One must not pointlessly eat meat (i.e. one should only eat meat offered in sacrifices). 27). One should not utter cruel words that make another person feel inferior. One should not agitate others with our words. If a forest is cut down with an axe it grows again; but wounds caused by harsh words are never healed. 28). One must shun company of people who criticize the Vedas or slander the gods. 29). One should never hit another person with a rod; however, one can hit one's own son or disciple, but that too only for instruction purposes. 30). Sweets like kheer or halwa should never be cooked for one's own self; they should always be offered to the gods first. 31). One should not be in bed when the sun rises. If this happens, one must atone for it (prayashchitta). After waking, one must greet one's mother, father and other seniors. This is the way to attain greatness. Also, sleeping during the day reduces one's lifespan. 32). One must always eat according to the instructions of the shastras and fast on auspicious occasions. 33). One should never have physical relations with an unknown woman or a pregnant one. 34). One should not lie on a bed diagonally. 35). One should never wear wet clothes. One should never wear a garland of red flowers. The learned person uses white flowers. 36). One must wear a different garment when one goes to bed; a different garment for going outside and a different garment when worshipping the gods. Otherwise, the gods are dishonored. 37). A learned person should not lick salt out of his hands. 38). One should never eat curd in the night. 39). One must eat once in the morning and once in the evening, and avoid eating in between. One must not talk while eating. One should not eat without being seated. 40). One should not have physical relations with a woman during the day. Nor with a woman who has not bathed. 41). One should not be intimate with doctors, children, the elderly and servants. 42). If a wise person desires his benefit, he must live in a house constructed in consultation with architects and brahmins expert in the science of Vastu. 43). One should not sleep during the two sandhyas nor study during them. An intelligent person does not eat during the period of the two sandhyas. This is the way to obtain greatness. 44). Shraddha (ancestral rites) should not be performed at night. 45). One should not eat in excess at night. 46). One should never marry a woman from the same gotra. 47). Jealousy reduces one's lifespan, hence jealousy must be avoided. 48). One must not injure women and always protect one's wife. 49). One must have a bath after shaving or having one's hair cut off. 50). One must not do namaskar to the gods, brahmins or one's guru in an unbathed state. 51). If we are traveling, one must find shelter inside a house before the western (evening) sandhya arrives. 52). One must follow the commands of one's mother, father and guru, without thinking whether their instructions are desirable or not. 53). One should always hear the puranas , itihasas and the conduct of great-souled people." Conclusion: Then Bhishma ended his discourse with the following words: "It is good conduct which leads to prosperity, enhances fame, increases the lifespan and destroys anything that is inauspicious. Good conduct is the birthplace of dharma and dharma increases the lifespan. Above I have enumerated to you the nuances of good conduct. It was Brahma Ji himself who first gave this discourse on good conduct out of compassion towards the people of all varnas." (The detailed treatment of this specific dialogue can be found in the Mahabharata, Anushasan Parva, Chapter 104 Gita Press edition; and Chapter 1788 (107) of the Penguin edition). References & Further Reading: Debroy, Bibek. The Mahabharata: Complete and Unabridged (Ten Volumes): Penguin India, 2015. Pandey, Pandit Ramnarayandutt Shastri. The Complete Mahabharata (The Only Edition with Sanskrit Text and Hindi Translation) - Six Volumes: Gita Press, Gorakhpur, 2017. We hope you have enjoyed reading the article. Any comments or feedback that you may have will be greatly appreciated.Please send your feedback to feedback@exoticindiaart.com.
    by Exotic India on August
  • Understanding Dharma: The Four Authentic Sources

    Understanding Dharma: The Four Authentic Sources

    Whether our goal in life be material prosperity or Moksha, the way lies through Dharma. However, most of the time, let alone follow it, we are not even sure about what our Dharma is, or even how we can come to know about it. While it is generally known that Dharma has to be understood from the Shastras, due to their almost endless variety and diversity we are unable to get a clear and unambiguous picture of Dharma. However, when we understand that the sources of Dharma have been systematically divided into four simple categories, following a certain hierarchical structure, then not only does it become easier to understand what our Dharma is in a particular situation, but also makes it possible for us to live our life in accordance with it. It is the great Manu Smriti (2.6) which gives the most clear and unambiguous listing of the sources of Dharma, enumerating the following: Manusmrti 2). The law books put together by those who not only understand the Vedas but also follow them; these are known as Smritis1). The Vedas (Akhila Veda) 3). The conduct of cultured, good people, who understand the Vedas 4). The satisfaction of one's own conscience The Entire Vedas The word 'entire' signifies that the whole of the Vedas is a source of Dharma, i.e. there is not even a single word, consonant or vowel in the Vedas which is not a pointer to Dharma. Objection: There are problems in accepting all parts of the Vedas as authoritative regarding Dharma. This is because the Vedas also contain descriptions of violent sacrifices like the Shyena Yagya where a hawk is sacrificed. This sacrifice is performed to overcome one's enemies. Sacrifices like Shyena consist of malevolent mantras and consist of extreme violence like killing. It is the Vedas themselves which stress that all acts of cruelty are to be shunned. In fact, such acts are downright Adharma, because doing non-injury to others is a fundamental maxim of Dharma. Also, there are statements in the Vedas like: 'Do not kill a Brahmin.' This is an injunction against acting. How can it be said to expound 'what should be done', because Dharma has been defined as 'something do be done'. There is nothing to be done here. It is rather a statement against an action. Resolution: You have said that sacrifices like Shyena etc, because of them involving prohibited actions like violence must be Adharma. This is quite true. But even though such acts are prohibited, in certain cases it so happens that some people may have such strong animosity towards their enemies that the intensity of their emotions may not allow them to follow the general Dharma of non-violence towards all creatures. Such persons derive the pleasure of killing their enemies through the Shyena Yagya. Here we must understand the Vedas are not inducing anybody to perform this sacrifice. Rather, they are saying that if we are so much charged up inimically towards our enemy that we become blinded towards the general Dharma of non-violence, in that case our Dharma is the Shyena Yagya. It is not an unqualified instruction to everybody for performing this Yagya. Abhicara Rites in The Veda As regards the prohibitions (nishedha) mentioned in the Vedas, the acting upto prohibition consists in not 'doing' what is prohibited. This desisting from the prohibition is what constitutes the Karma, leading to Dharma. Thus all portions of the Vedas are connected to the performance of Dharma, directly or indirectly. The Law Books (Smritis) Put Together by Those Who Know the Vedas Assertion: The Smriti texts written by great people like Manu, Yajnavalakya, Gautama, Vasistha, Apastamba etc. are also authoritative sources of Dharma. Sixteen Minor Smrtis: 2 Volumes Objection: This cannot be correct. Isn't it unequivocally stated that only the Vedas are the sources of Dharma? See what Jaimini says in his Purva Mimamsa Sutras, the definitive text for understanding Dharma: 'Dharma is that which is known through injunctions in the Vedas.' (1.1.2) Resolution: The same Jaimini Sutras say: 'The Smritis are authoritative because the performers of both (Vedic and Smriti) Karmas are the same.' (1.3.2) Here Acharya Jaimini says that Smritis are authoritative because the Dharma propounded by them has always been followed since time immemorial by the same persons who have lived their life according to Vedic Injunctions. Complete Sabara-Bhasya (Set of 3 Volumes) (Old and Rare Book) Doubt: People might have been led to perform the Smriti karmas by giving them authority mistakenly? Answer: One man might commit such a mistake. That everybody has been deluded into this mistake, and this error has persisted since time immemorial is certainly a most extraordinary presumption on your part. Moreover, there are many Vedic Karmas which do not find mention directly in the Vedas but are found only in the Smritis. Additionally, Smritis are totally based on the Vedas themselves. There is always a close link between what is laid down in the Smritis and that what is prescribed in the Vedas. There is generally no difference either in the people who follow them (Smritis and Vedas), or in the nature of the acts enjoined by both. Indeed, the principal criterion for a certain text being labeled authoritative is its acceptance by persons learned in the Vedas, which certainly is the case for the Smritis. Therefore, the only reasonable conclusion is that learned persons, who formed definite and authoritative conclusions on all important matters of Dharma, have put together these Smritis, which are but a practical compendium of injunctions scattered around in numerous Vedic texts which otherwise would have been next to impossible for ordinary mortals like us to determine. By doing this great ones like Manu have thrown open to us the gateway not only to material happiness, but also the eventual path to Moksha. Question: What happens when there is an apparent contradiction between a Smriti and a sentence in the Vedas? Resolution: Why only between Smritis and the Vedas? There are sometimes contradictory statements in the Vedas themselves. For example, in the case of the daily Agnihotra sacrifice performed by Brahmins, it is said in the Vedas: 1). Agnihotra should be performed before sunrise 2). It should be performed during sunrise 3). It should be performed during early dawn, when the sun has risen Therefore, the Vedas prescribe three different times for the same act! Regarding this the Manu Smriti says: 'Whenever there is conflict between two Vedic texts, it means that we have the option of performing the act in either of the ways mentioned. The Agnihotra mentioned above can be performed at any one of the three times.' (2.14-15) Further Doubt: What about when there is a contradiction between two Smritis? For example, the Gautam Dharma Sutra says: 'The food into which a hair or insect has fallen is unfit for consumption' (17.9) While the Manu Smriti says: 'A food that has been polluted by hair or an insect fallen into it is purified by spreading a small amount of earth over it.' (5.125) How to reconcile them? Answer: In this case too, we have the option of going with either of the two maxims. Remember the golden rule of interpretation: 'When injunctions of equal force are in conflict with each other, it is an option to act either way.' (Gautam Dharma Sutras 1.6) This means that whenever two Vedic sentences are in contradiction with each other, or two Smritis are in variance, then we can act either way. However: 'If there is a contradiction between a Vedic sentence and Smriti, then we have to leave aside the latter and act according to the Vedic injunction only.' (Jaimini Sutras, 1.3.3) This is because the Vedas hold a greater force of authority than the Smritis. The Conduct of Cultured People, Who Also Understand the Vedas A cultured person is defined in the scriptures as having the two qualities of 'goodness' and 'knowledge of the Vedas'. Such a great man is known in Sanskrit as 'Shishtha'. When we see any action being performed by Shishthas, for which however there is no direct injunction in either the Vedas or the Smritis, then we have to accept that act too as Dharma, and follow it. Objection: We cannot accept the conduct of great men as a source of Dharma because many a times we see them transgressing Dharma. For example, Parashurama cut off his own mother's head at his father's instructions, without even pausing to reflect for a moment on what he was about to do. Answer: The Apastamba Dharma Sutra gives the answer to this query: 'Such extraordinary personalities, because of their extraordinary power, do not incur any sin by their actions. However, if people of later times try to emulate them, they perish.' (2.13.8-9) Why? Because: 'Men of later times are weak on all accounts. Hence they should not try to emulate the transgressions indulged in by great people.' (Gautam Dharma Sutra 1.4) In the Shrimad Bhagavatam, when King Parikshit expresses his reservations on Krishna's Rasa Lila with the gopis, this is what the great Shukadeva Ji says: Shukadev Ji Narrating The Bhagavata Purana to King Parikshit 'Those with extraordinary powers are sometimes seen performing exceptional deeds of valor transgressing Dharma. However, such acts do not all affect such luminous personalities, just like the fire which consumes all that is offered into it but is not tainted by any of it. Those who do not possess such powers should not even think of doing such deeds. If they do foolishly jump into such acts, they are destroyed.' Rasa Mandala 'Lord Shiva drank the deadliest poison easily. However, if anybody else did the same, he would be reduced to ashes. King Parikshit! Such extraordinary individuals are egoless. They expect no gain from any meritorious action, nor do they experience any loss from a transgression. They are beyond all duality.' (10.33.30-31) Shiva Relieving the People From the World of Poison In a particular situation, if there is an absence of any injunction in the Vedas or Smritis, and there is also no precedent of the conduct of 'Shishthas' regarding the same, in that case we are to take recourse to that action which appeals to the innermost depths of our conscience.The Innermost Satisfaction of One's Own Conscience (Atmanah Tushti) Conclusion: We thus realize that the primary source of Dharma are the Vedas (Shruti). Next in terms of hierarchy are the Smriti texts, which are scrupulously based on the Vedas. Where there is neither Shruti nor Smriti, there we can follow the conduct of great men, albeit with caution, as described above. Lastly, where there is no other authority on Dharma available, in such a situation we can take the innermost satisfaction of our own conscience as a guide. However, this is the weakest source of Dharma out of the four. References and Further Reading: Dave, J.H. Manu Smriti with Nine Commentaries: Bombay, 1975. Jha Ganganath. Manusmrti with the 'Manubhasya' of Medhatithi (Sanskrit Text with English Translation in Ten Volumes): New Delhi, 1999 Joshi, Laxmanshastri. Dharmakosa: Wai, 1988. Kaundinnayana, Shivaraj Acharya. Manu Smriti, Hindi Translation with the Commentary of Kulluka Bhatta: Varanasi, 2007. Musalgaonkar, Dr. Gajanan Shastri. Sabar Bhasyam with Hindi Translation: Varanasi, 2004. Olivelle, Patrick. Dharmasutras The Law Codes of Apastamba, Gautama, Baudhayana, and Vasistha: New Delhi, 2003 Olivelle, Patrick. Manu's Code of Law A Critical Edition and Translation of the Manava-Dharmasastra: New Delhi, 2009 Pandey, Dr. Umesa Chandra. The Apastamba Dharma Sutra with the Commentary of Haradatta Misra: Varanasi, 2006. Pandey, Dr. Umesa Chandra. The Gautama Dharma Sutra with the Sanskrit Commentary Mitaksara Commentary of Vijnanesvara: Delhi, 2007. Rai, Dr. Ganga Sagar. Yajnavalkya Smrti with the Mitaksara Commentary of Vijnanesvara: Delhi, 2007. Sandal, Mohan Lal (tr.). Mimamsa Sutras of Jaimini (Two Volumes): Delhi, 1980. Saraswati, Swami Akhandananda (tr). Shrimad Bhagavata Purana (2 Volumes): Gorakhpur, 2004. Shastri, Acharya Udyavir Shastri. Mimamsa Darshanam, Commentary on the Mimamsa Sutras of Jaimini: Delhi, 2008. We hope you have enjoyed reading the article. Any comments or feedback that you may have will be greatly appreciated. Please send your feedback to feedback@exoticindiaart.com.  
    by Exotic India on June
  • Sita - The Silent Power of Suffering and Sacrifice

    Sita - The Silent Power of Suffering and Sacrifice

    Devi Sita - The Silent Power of Suffering and Sacrifice All versions of the Ramayana are unanimous in reiterating Sita Ji's fidelity and devotion towards Rama even in times of extreme adversity. For example, when Shri Rama is preparing to go to exile in the forest all alone, she addresses him thus: "O son of an illustrious monarch, a father, a mother, a brother, a son or a daughter-in-law, all enjoy the fruit of their karma individually and receive what is their due. It is only the wife who actually shares the fortunes of her husband. When you depart this day for the dense forests which are difficult to penetrate, I shall walk ahead of you crushing under my feet, all the thorns that lie on your way." This is just one of the many expressions Sita used to convince Shri Rama to take her with him. She considered it her privilege to share in his misfortune and suffered the consequent trials and tribulations in equal measure throughout their sojourn in the forest. However, being exiled in the forests was the least of her troubles. In fact, not even her kidnapping by Ravana could break Sita' immense will-power, constantly nourished as it was by the memory of her beloved Rama. Ravana too, fearing the accumulated merits of a chaste woman did not dare touch her; he nevertheless did try to make advances. What was Sita's reaction to his overtures? The great sage poet Valmiki has captured her wretched condition vividly, through a series of inspired metaphors. For example, on viewing Ravana: "She seemed like a flame wreathed in smoke; a great fame which had dimmed; a lotus pool stripped of its blossoms; like Rohini pursued by Ketu (a metaphor for the eclipsed moon); a traditional text obscured by a dubious interpretation; a faith that has been betrayed; an order that has been flouted; a hope which has been frustrated and an understanding that has grown feeble." Witnessing her appearance, Hanuman says: "For a woman the greatest decoration is her lord, and Sita, though incomparably beautiful, no longer shines in Rama's absence." Although her physical beauty undoubtedly dims on account of the enforced separation; she keeps her mind fixed upon Rama, and thus radiates with an inner beauty as a result of this steadfastness. "Though that blessed one was shorn of her own beauty, yet her own soul did not lose its transcendency, upheld as it was by the thought of Rama's glory and safeguarded by her own virtue." Truly she remained chaste in both thought and deed and the various recensions of the epic recall episodes where even the mighty Ravana had to bow before Sita's piety. Once for example, when the demon approached her, she placed a single strand of straw in between them and challenged him to cross the "proverbial last straw." Predictably he did not dare to do so. He knew that the chastity of a virtuous woman was like a fire that could reduce to ashes anyone who tried to violate her against her will. Ravana Fails to Win Over Sita at Ashoka Vatika, Lanka City All of Sita's miseries in the confinement of Ravana however, pale in comparison to the emotional trauma she was subjected to after Shri Rama's victory over Ravana. In a bitter irony, what was to be her moment of deliverance, turned out to be the beginning of another trial. Standing before Rama, her eyes raised expectantly to his face, the innocent Sita wept, overwhelmed at the prospect of a joyful reunion with her Lord after his victory. The latter however remained formal and aloof and set out to articulate his heartfelt thoughts (hrdyaantargatam bhavam): "Today I have avenged the insult to my honor and fulfilled my promise. You stand unabashed before me, even though suspicion has arisen with regard to your character. Today you seem extremely disagreeable to me even as a light to one who is suffering from sore eyes. Therefore go wherever you like, O Janaka's daughter, the ten directions are open to you today. What man born in a noble family would take back with an eager mind a woman who has dwelt in another's house, simply because she has been kindly disposed towards him in the past? How can I accept you, who were touched by Ravana while being borne away by him and who regarded you with a lustful eye? There is no more attachment for you in my heart. You may therefore go wherever you like." Harsh words indeed, which pierced Sita's tender heart like arrows tipped with poison and shrinking within herself, the sensitive lady shed profuse tears, saying: "I was helpless when I came into the contact of Ravana and did not act of my own free will on that occasion. My adverse fate alone is to blame on that score. That which is under my control, viz., my heart, eternally does it abide in you." Addressing her brother-in law Lakshmana, she says: "Raise for me a pyre, which is the only antidote against this calamity. I no longer desire to survive, smitten as I am with false reproaches." Lakshmana looked at his brother, half-expecting him to put an end to this bewildering public spectacle. Scrutinizing his elder sibling's expression, Lakshmana realized, to his horror, that this was exactly what Rama expected. Not one of the assembled warriors, who just moments before had proved their mettle in the battlefield, had the courage to dare open his mouth opposing the grave injustice being perpetrated. The obedient Lakshmana set out to prepare the pyre. As a mark of respect, Sita Ji circumambulated Rama, who, as the ancient texts put it - stood with his head bent low. As she approached the blazing fires, the world went into a crisis: the immortal gods and living beings, the cosmic elements, the four Vedas and Dharma, all cried out in horror. Then: As if she were going home to her place on the lotus that rises up from the flooding waters, she jumped in; and as she entered, that fire was scorched by her burning faithfulness. The lotus here refers to Sita being an incarnation of the great goddess Lakshmi, who is typically associated with this auspicious flower. Here, to highlight the extremely pure bearing of Sita, the poet has depicted the moment as being one of an excruciating, fiery torment. Fire is burnt by the heat Sita holds within herself; generated by a lifetime of chastity, self control, faithfulness, suffering and sacrifice, which are represented here not as abstract ethical virtues but rather as part of the substantial and dynamic reality that suffuses the inner being of a faultless woman like Sita. It was this same heat that had earlier terrified Ravana against coming near her. Her trial-by-fire is portrayed evocatively in the ancient texts and she not only emerges unsinged, but also manages to scorch the god of fire (Agni) himself, who, according to Kamban, screams out in pain and protest. Lifting Sita in his hands, Agni points out that the beads of perspiration formed on her body due to anger directed at her husband were not dried up by his flames while the flowers she wore in her hair still continued to bloom as freshly as ever. Sita's accumulated spiritual force of concentrated energy (tapas) proved too much for even the fire-god, who emerged saying: "I had to materialize because I could not bear the blazing fire of faithfulness in this woman." He also asks Rama: Didn't you hear when the gods and sages and all that moves and is still in the three worlds screamed, as they struck their eyes? Have you abandoned Dharma and resorted to misery instead? Will rain fall, will the earth bear its burden without splitting in two, will Dharma go the right way, or can this universe survive if she becomes enraged? if she utters a curse, even Brahma on his lotus will die. Rama is overjoyed at the developments and the public display of his wife's unblemished character: "Sita undoubtedly needed this purificatory ordeal in the eyes of the people inasmuch as this blessed lady had lived for a long time in Ravana's confinement. The world would have murmured against me saying that my mind was so dominated by desire that I actually accepted the daughter of Janaka without proving her chastity. I too knew Sita to be undivided in her affection to me. Ravana couldn't violate her, protected as she was by her own moral power. In order, however, to convince the inhabitants of the three worlds, I ignored Sita even while she was entering the fire. She is as inseparable from me as sunlight from the sun." That Sita herself volunteered for the agni-pariksha speaks for the high volume of understanding between the couple since she understood Rama's wish without him explicitly stating it. Her action was not a surrender to the unreasonable whims of a husband rather a supreme act of defiance that challenged the aspersions cast on her, by the means of which she highlighted the superficiality of his doubts, so that even the gods had to materialize and point out the apparent fallacy in the trial so unceremoniously cast on her. She emerges as a woman that even Agni - who has the power to reduce to ashes everything he touches - dare not touch or harm. She was the victim twice victimised. Thus reconciled, the contended couple repaired back to Ayodhya and Rama continued to rule as an ideal monarch over his extensive rein. More misfortune however was in store for Sita. No sooner had the couple settled down than rumors started in the capital questioning the propriety of having a queen who had spent a year in a villain's captivity, putting her chastity under doubt. Surprisingly for a clear-headed individual, Rama took these allegations to heart and asked his younger brother Lakshmana to banish Sita (this time alone), to the forests. Rama did this even though he was well aware that his wife was well advanced into the family way. Thus Lakshmana carried Sita the next morning to the forests. The unknowing, innocent lady cheerfully boarded the chariot. Little did she know what travails lay in store for her. Once they reached the wilderness, her brother-in-law informed her thus: " You have been forsaken by the king who is afraid of the ill-report circulating among his citizens. You are to be left near this hermitage by me." Hearing these cruel words the crestfallen Sita fell swooning to the ground. However, it was not long before the valiant lady composed herself and addressed him thus: "This mortal frame of mine was indeed composed by the creator for bearing sorrow only. What sin was committed by me, that though being of good conduct, I should be forsaken by the king? I cannot give up my life since I carry within myself the seed which will carry forward the lineage of my lord. Do then as you are ordered O son of Sumitra (Lakshmana's mother), forsake me the miserable one, obey the orders of the king, but do tell him this on my behalf: If to preserve your good name among your people, I must be sacrificed, I am content to let it be so. As you serve your subjects, so I serve you." Sita - The First Single Mother in the World Thus abandoned, Sita gave birth to twin sons in the wilderness and brought them up all alone, without the protective presence of a father, hence becoming the first single parent in history. When these worthy sons entered their teens, tales of their valor spread far and wide, and it was not long before Rama realized that they were his own offspring. This knowledge prompted him to immediately call his beloved Sita and the two boys to his court. In front of the assembled subjects, tributary kings, ministers and merchants from all parts of his empire, he asked her to undertake the fire ordeal again for the benefit of these venerable gentlemen, who had missed the earlier one in Lanka. Sita's reaction however was different from that earlier occasion. The emotional scar had obviously not healed. This time she did not ask her brother-in-law to prepare a funeral pyre for her. Nor did she circumambulate her husband in meek submission. Rather, with folded hands, she merely uttered the following words: "If I have remained true to Rama in mind, speech and action, may the Mother Earth embrace me in her bosom." No sooner had she spoken than the ground beneath her feet split wide open, and before anybody had the time to react, she entered the depths. A dejected and helpless Rama was engulfed in grief. Thus did end the exemplary life of Sita, with fate pursuing her to the bitter end. In the televised version of the Ramayana, shown in serialized form on Indian television, the Earth Goddess is shown emerging from the ground seated on a bejeweled throne. Spreading out her arms she beckons Sita saying: "Come my child, this world is not worthy of you." Sita does as she is told, leaving behind her, the lamenting assembly.   Sita Enters The Earth (Based on the Ramayana of Valmiki)   Did Rama Really Doubt Her Chastity?Sita's appeal to Mother Earth to reclaim her was not the helpless reaction of slighted woman. It was a spirited, self-effacing statement of protest, when things went beyond endurance. Rama's conduct vis-a-vis Sita leaves many questions unanswered. The most significant is of course whether he really doubted her fidelity. There is a strong logical basis supporting the conventional view: 1). Some time after he abandoned her, Rama decided to perform the horse sacrifice (ashvamedha yagya) which is the highest ritual a king can strive to. There was a technical snag however. Of the hundreds of ceremonies a Hindu has to perform, not one can be performed without a wife. Therefore many in Rama's retinue suggested that he remarry. A suggestion he firmly rejected: "In the heart of Rama there is place for only one woman and that one is Sita." He therefore had a golden image of his wife made and completed the sacrifice. Would anyone thus give his wife a position of such supreme respect if he doubted her chastity? 2). Before entering the fire, Sita circled Rama clockwise, in respectful homage. What was Rama's reaction during her circulation? Well, he kept his head down (adhomukham). Is this not a gesture of self-indictment and contradiction? The ostracized victim is boldly performing what she has set out to do, while her accuser stands with a hung head. Conclusion: Who is Greater? Rama or Sita? Sita sets a high standard as an ideal wife who stays unswerving in her loyalty and righteousness, no matter how unfavourable her husband's response. Her refusal to perform a second agnipraiksha and her consequent reversion to mother earth is not merely an act of self-annihilation. It is a momentous and dignified rejection. By this act does she emerge supremely triumphant. If the defining scale for quantifying greatness is the amount of suffering one has undergone, it is undoubtedly Sita who is the clear winner. It is her dignified tolerance and self-effacing silence, which may even be termed as weakness by many, that turns out to be her ultimate emotional strength, far valorous than any assertive aggression. Rightly therefore does her name always precede that of Rama (as in Sita-Ram or Jai Siya-Ram). Whole world is Rama Sita I know, With folded hands to them I bow.   References and Further Reading:In the words of Swami Vivekananda, " There may have been several Ramas, perhaps, but only one Sita." - Gandhi, Mahatma. The Collected Works (Vol. 20): New Delhi, 2000. - Grimes, John.A Concise Dictionary of Indian Philosophy(Sanskrit - English): Varanasi, 2009. - Hawley, John Stratton and Donna Marie Wulff: The Divine Consort (Radha and the Goddesses of India): Delhi, 1995. - Kakar,Sudhir: The Essential Writings: New Delhi, 2002. - Kinsley, David. The Goddesses' Mirror Visions of the Divine from East and West: Delhi, 1995. - -Richman, Paula (ed). Questioning Ramayanas: New Delhi, 2003. -Richman, Paula (ed). Many Ramayanas The Diversity of a Narrative Tradition in South Asia: New Delhi, 2001. - Sastri, The Rt. Hon. V.S. Srinivasa Sastri. Lectures on the Ramayana: Madras, 1986. - Srimad Valmiki-Ramayana (2 vols. With Sanskrit Text and English Translation): Gorakhpur, 2001. - Vatsyayan, Sacchidanand. Jan Janak Janaki (Hindi): Delhi. - Vivekananda, Swami.The Complete Works (Vols 3, 4 & 6): Kolkata, 2003. We hope you have enjoyed reading the article. Any comments or feedback that you may have will be greatly appreciated. Please send your feedback to feedback@exoticindia.com.  
    by Exotic India on May
  • Dharma: The Only Remedy for Modern Man

    Dharma: The Only Remedy for Modern Man

    Except when in sleep, we are always in ceaseless activity. No one spends even a single moment without doing some action or the other (Gita 3.5). This action may be physical or mental. Why do we act like this even without a moment’s respite? If we closely watch ourselves, we can see our purpose: we are seeking happiness. We sit erect for happiness, change our posture for happiness, we eat for happiness, we fast for happiness, we marry or we are celibate, we seek company or solitude, all for happiness. In this way, happiness is the general goal of all activity and inactivity. Nevertheless, our activities towards this goal can be classified into three types: 1). To Avoid Grief (Taapah). Griefs are of three types: a). Adhyatmika: Within ourselves b). Adhibhoutika: Grief caused by others c). Adhidaivika: Due to natural causes like hot summers or cold winters.     The peace obtained by eliminating these three griefs is known as ‘Shanti’. That is why we say Shanti Shanti Shanti three times.         2). The second type of activity is done to acquire what is good for us, like health and affluence. This is called Yoga.   3). The third type of activity is to retain what we already have. This is called as Kshema. This third aspect should never be missed sight of. We generally notice in history that almost all civilizations acquire a lot of material affluence in the beginning and after sometime they go into oblivion. This is because affluence begets vices like profane sensuousness, arrogance and laziness and eventually the balance in life is lost. It is easier to retain equanimity in poverty than prosperity. Therefore one should know how to retain the good things after acquiring them once. Success in this needs the practice of spiritual moral and ethical values in the midst of affluence. In other words, Dharma is the only way to retain all that is good in our lives.   Doubt: “I am scrupulously practicing all Dharmic Values. I also worship God in total faith exactly in the way taught to me by pious Brahmins. However, I am not getting success. I am worried. Why so? Is it my fate?" Reply: Always remember that the Vedic philosophy is not fatalistic. The reason for not getting success is that our own previous Karma is stronger. Our present meritorious Karma should first annul our previous Karma (Prarabdha), and then exceed it quantitatively for getting success. Therefore, we should not despair; only improve the quality and quantity of our present Karma. There is no use in worrying. Query: “I am finding it difficult to avoid worry and work efficiently." Resolution: In order to give up worry, we should know its origin. Consider for example a lawyer or a doctor we employ to solve our problem. See the difference between us and him. While he works to solve our problem without worrying, we on the other hand only worry without working to solve the problem. This is the situation even if you are yourself a doctor. You employ a doctor to solve your problem and just sit only to worry about the problem. Why? You have an infatuated attachment to the people involved in the problem; but he does not have. So attachment is the cause of worry, which in turn disturbs our thinking. We very well know that it is only the work based on well thought plan that solves problems and not our worry. So, we should check and temper our attachment to our kith and kin with effort. Faith in rebirth alone can help us in this. (See Exotic India Article of the Month July 2011) Question: “My difficulty is different. I am not able to decide what is right or wrong. Only later, the success or the failure in my action shows what was right or wrong. How can I know it beforehand to avoid failure?" Answer: This is a most serious issue in life. Actually, human intelligence can never decide what is right or wrong. Notice that the success of any action depends not only on visible parameters but also invisible ones like previous Karma and God. While the latter ones are totally out of reach of human intelligence because of being invisible, the former ones too are partly out of our reach because they are generally too many. Normally people are skeptical or often even derisive about the invisible aspects. They look at some of the visible secular aspects and decide that something is right or wrong by inferential logic (Anumana). However, they too can never be sure enough to predict the outcome of any particular Karma with surety. Why Do We Get Into Jams? The fundamental requirement is to actually understand the conditions under which right and wrong get defined. Let’s start this with an analysis. Suppose you are asked the following: “What is it that you want to do today?" You may reply: ‘I have to go to pay the electricity bill; otherwise the power will be disconnected tomorrow.’ Of course paying the electricity bill is not the only job you will do today. You will do many other things also. But you will adjust everything else to this main purpose. You will say that anything that helps you pay the bill is right and anything that hinders it is wrong. Suppose you are then asked: “What is it that you want to do in the next five years?" To this you may reply: ‘I am disgusted of living in rented houses for the last 30 years. I want to build my own house.’ With this resolve, you cut down your expenses wherever possible. You work overtime in your office to earn more. For you, anything that helps you in building the house is right and anything that hinders it is wrong. This means that right and wrong are decided only relative to a desideratum. This can also be established from the reverse direction. Suppose you are asked: “What is that you want to do in your life?" Has anyone an answer? No. Why? Because people seldom have any specific goal for the life as a whole. That is why there is no direction in our activities. We do not have anything specifically good or bad. We go on doing whatever occurs to our mind without thinking either of the future or of the past. We are carried by the slogans of the times and move in the turbulent waters of life in a rudderless boat. Sooner or later, we get caught in a whirlpool or stranded in a quagmire. We do not know how to escape from there. We only end up cursing what we think is the reason for our predicament. Who Can Help Us Out Who can get us out of that jam? Obviously not ourselves; had we known how to get out of it, we would have known why we got into it and therefore we would not have got into it at all. So, who can bail us out? Those who can bail us out should have the following qualifications: 1). They should know the whirlpools, the high currents and quagmires of life, but be above them. 2). They should know why people get into them and how they can get out of them. 3). They should have sympathy and concern for people like us caught in the whirlpool of life.   Who are such people who can help us? They are the Rishis (ancient sages) such as Manu, Yajnavalkya etc. They suggest the methods of escape. They give different instructions for different people caught in different situations. They are broad-minded and melt with compassion as soon as they see someone in distress. They have the panoramic vision of life which we lack. Therefore, only they can say what is right or wrong for each one of us stuck in different situations.   The Criterion for Deciding Right and Wrong   Here we discuss the criterion on which the Rishis delineate an individual’s Dharma. As noted above, we do not have a specified goal for our life. The Rishis first prescribe such a goal for our life as a whole, which is to keep a constant bliss of happiness (Ananda) flowing to us. This unintermittent flow of happiness is known as Moksha. It is important to notice that Moksha is not something different from what we are already struggling for every moment of our life, namely happiness. However, compared to this temporary short-lived happiness, the ancient sages want to give us a state of pleasure which is constant and never ending.   The Unambiguous and Infallible Definition of Dharma Since Moksha is the ultimate goal of life, we now have the criterion for deciding what is right and wrong, i.e. Dharma and Adharma. An action which helps us or anyone else move towards Moksha is Dharma, and an action, which hinders our or anyone else’s movement towards Moksha is Adharma. Scrupulously following Dharma, we will attain the state of perennial happiness – Moksha - sooner or later. Objection: How fair is it to fix the difficult goal of Moksha as the aim for everybody’s life? Resolution: No. The scriptures do no force anyone to have Moksha as the aim of his or her life. They only point to us that sometime or the other, in this birth or perhaps a million births later, life itself will force us to work for that aim. The reason is this: Material pleasure is polluted. It is not only momentary, but also generally coupled with pain like causing disease etc. So, it causes disillusionment in due course, if not direct sorrow. Therefore, one’s attention would surely turn to thinking about a happiness that is unpolluted with any of these shortcomings. Of course, to a large extent, the veracity of this statement can be verified even in this life. Everyone enjoys material pleasures with total abandon in youth, but develops remorse in old age for what happened. So we may not want Moksha as our aim now, but we will surely want it later. Question: “What would be my Dharma if I am interested only in material happiness and do not adopt Moksha as my immediate aim?" Answer: You can certainly enjoy material happiness, but it should be within the ambit of Dharma. If you resort to Adharma in order to satisfy your desire, i.e. Kama – it will surely end up in causing utter sorrow definitely for you and perhaps for others too. That is why the Vedas refer to two types of Kama: One within the brackets of Dharma and Moksha and another which falls outside. Here, Moksha is only the distant aim indicated by the scriptures and not your immediate interest. However you have Shraddha (faith) in the Vedas. Therefore for you the first type of Kama is a Purushartha, i.e. something to be sought after by every common man. But the Kama which lies outside the brackets of Dharma and Moksha is to be abjured. For example, conjugal pleasure with your life-long partner is Dharma because while it satisfies our natural urges born out of Samskara, it does not put us way from Moksha. In fact, a joint pious life would even move both of you towards Moksha, even though you may not be aspiring for it immediately. On the other hand, the same pleasure out of wedlock is Adharma. Ultimately it lands you and your kin in grief. Conclusion: Dharma for All of Us Dharma ensures that we do enjoy the pleasures of family life, however they become incidental for us and not our primary concern. Remember that following Dharma automatically ensures our material happiness also. When there are problems in life we should remember the law of Karma and face them with fortitude. Some salient features of the householder’s Dharma, as propounded in the scriptures are: Work hard and earn well by honest means only. Do Dana (charity) to the best of our ability. Never deviate from righteous conduct. Never deviate from the daily Puja. Never consume food without first offering it to God. Be disciplined in our food habits. Take physical exercise and keep off disease. It is our duty to look after our parents and keep them happy with our conduct. One should never stop studying and gaining knowledge – both secular and spiritual. Share it with your children. Give them a good Samskara. Never praise them when they achieve anything; just hug them silently and bless. This will galvanize them to achieve more. Praising will only make them egoistical which, in turn, stunts their growth. Respect your wife and do not enjoy anything without her. Let her be an inseparable part of all your religious activities. Remember: Dharma Dharma Dharma. Dharma helps us avoid grief. Dharma gets us what is good for us. And finally, Dharma helps us protect and retain what we already have. This article is based almost entirely on the teachings of Param Pujya Swami Paramanand Bharati Ji. However, any errors are entirely the author's own.     References & Further Reading:Bharati, Swami Paramananda. Foundations of Dharma: Bangalore, 2008 We hope you have enjoyed reading the article. Any comments or feedback that you may have will be greatly appreciated.Please send your feedback to feedback@exoticindia.com.
    by Exotic India on April
  • Ananda: Analysis of Happiness in the Upanishads

    Ananda: Analysis of Happiness in the Upanishads

    According to the Upanishads, the happiness experienced by us during deep sleep is ParamAnanda (the highest happiness possible). There is no happiness equal to it and certainly not greater than it. In deep sleep we are alone, nobody is different from us, hence, in this state, we are free from fear. In deep sleep the individual soul (jiva) merges into the supreme soul (Param Atman). This is the highest destination for the individual soul, his highest treasure, his highest world. It is difficult for people to understand this description of deep sleep given by the Upanishads. They have no faith in these words and because the happiness of deep sleep is got without any effort it is taken very lightly. Some objections raised against what the Upanishads say are as follows: Objection: The maximum that can be said is that sleep is free from grief. Happiness however does not merely mean the absence of grief. Happiness is a positive experience. We all know that we become happy when we come into contact with the objects of our desire. We also know that one happiness is greater than another. Hence maximum happiness must result only after coming into contact with some object. But there are no objects at all in deep sleep. Therefore, how can happiness there be maximum? These objections are answered as follows: We assume that our happiness is the result of an interaction with external objects. But everybody knows that after being in contact with an object for some time, the happiness terminates. Afterwards, one does not even desire to come into contact with the object for quite some time. If it is true that happiness is the result of contact with objects, why should the happiness terminate even while the contact with object is still there? Or at the very least, why doesn’t the desire to come into contact with the object arise again soon after the termination of the happiness? A non believer may explain it like this: There is no question of reconciliation here, because that is the nature of the process. The only meaningful pursuit in life is to extend the duration of the pleasure by some means. Efforts should be made only to that end. This is not correct. Suppose that an individual is deprived of sleep and food and pleasurable objects for a long time and then all of them are simultaneously offered to him. It is known that the first thing he would seek is sleep and then food and then the pleasure from outside objects. Even when the pleasurable objects and food are in good supply and he is deprived of the pleasure of sleep, he would give up everything and take pills to get sleep. If there is an obstruction for sleep, he would rather reject his wife or children or wealth. Therefore, it is clear that the pleasure from outside objects, the pleasure from food and the pleasure of sleep are in their increasing order. Therefore deep sleep (Sanskrit Sushupti), is the greatest happiness. Objection: How can there be happiness when there are no objects at all? Reply: Are you not getting happiness in dreams where also there are no objects at all? Objection: The object of happiness in dreams is the vasana (impressions of desires) of objects. Resolution: But are you not happy in sushupti where there is not even a single vasana? Question: In that case it means that there is no connection at all between happiness and the objects. Then how is it that one gets happiness while in contact with an object? Answer: Actually, seeking the answer to this question is the most significant pursuit in life. One will have to make deep introspection to get the answer given by the Upanishads to this question. One thing is certain however; in the presence of objects there may or may not be happiness. Therefore, it cannot be unambiguously stated whether or not the happiness comes from the object. But the experience of happiness in sushupti (deep sleep without dreams), where the objects are totally absent is well known. This shows that happiness has no connection whatsoever with external objects. Without knowing this, the jiva in wakeful state hankers after pleasurable objects. When he comes into contact with the desired object, he gets happiness because of his identification with it (tadatmya). At the time of contact with it he is unaware of everything, even the object. Indeed, the transient happiness he experiences is a consequence of the removal of the veil on his own Ananda during that period. This happiness was triggered by his past good deeds (punya). The moment the punya that triggered this happiness is exhausted, the happiness terminates. The veil comes up again and the duality returns. Therefore, the reason for feeling happiness in sensual contact with an object is not the object, but the removal of the veil on one’s inherent nature of Ananda. Nevertheless, it is called happiness derived from external objects (vishaya sukha) because the process was triggered by contact with the external object (Taittiriya Upanishad 2.5.4). In this way, we realize that even sensual happiness is only a fragment of Paramananda and is not the result of contact with any object different from us. The Nature of Grief (Sanskrit: Dukha) In this background, we can now analyse the nature of dukha (grief). Dukha occurs when we are unable to attain a desired sensual pleasure or we are deprived of some pleasure which we already possessed. We have seen above that material pleasure is the result of the temporary removal of the veil over one’s own inherent nature (swarupa). This implies that grief is the result of the veil on our inherent nature. Thus we realise a significant difference between grief and material pleasure. In material pleasure, though the notion that it is coming from a particular object is wrong, the pleasure is only his inherent nature. On the other hand, grief has no connection with this nature at all. Conclusion: Right from Lord Brahma (the creator) to all the creatures, all are Anandis, i.e. those who experience Ananda (happiness). This experience is got only through an instrument like mind, brain etc. But there are no instruments in deep sleep. Therefore, the supreme happiness (Paramananda) there is natural. There is no experience of Ananda there. There is no division of Ananda and Anandi (one experiencing Ananda). The sleeper is Ananda itself, not one experiencing it. Actually, this Paramananda is always there in the cave of our heart (hrdya guha), but it is generally covered by darkness. When a desired object comes into contact, the ensuing mental form clears this mental covering and the already existing Ananda is just felt. But this mental form is not stable. Therefore, such a happiness is only momentary. For permanent happiness we need to be in constant realisation of our inherent nature as Ananda. This is achieved through Vedanta Sadhana under the guidance of an able Guru. The purpose of this analysis done by the Upanishads is to demonstrate that permanent happiness is not an abstract promise, but a fact which can be glimpsed everyday in our deep sleep. This article is based almost entirely on the teachings of Pujya Swami Paramanand Bharati Ji. However, any errors are entirely the author's own. References & Further Reading:   Bharati, Swami Paramananda. Vedanta Prabodha: The Most Exhaustive Book Ever Written on Shankaracharya's Advaita Vedanta, Bangalore, 2008.   We hope you have enjoyed reading the article. Any comments or feedback that you may have will be greatly appreciated.Please send your feedback to feedback@exoticindia.com.
    by Exotic India on March
  • Durga Puja - Worshipping the Wife of Shiva, Daughter of Bengal

    Durga Puja - Worshipping the Wife of Shiva, Daughter of Bengal

    An Untimely Invocation Durga Puja is more than the periodically observed navratra in the subcontinent, or a joyous autumn harvest festival. Spiritually, it runs so much deeper than that: it marks the battle of Devi Durga with the king of asuras, Lord Mahishasura. The great austerities of the latter had earned him from Brahma Himself the boon that he could be overpowered by no male, and it had filled the buffalo-king ('mahish' in Sanskrit means 'buffalo') with the kind of arrogance that is possible only at the realm of the asuras. So when the devaloka army succumbed to him in battle, they gathered in great solemnity to put together a nari-roopa (female form) that would be the death of him. While the very idea of it was laughable to Mahishasura, he ended up vanquished and bleeding at Her feet - a powerful image, the Mahishasuramardini (in Sanskrit 'mardini' means 'female annihilator'), that is traditionally reproduced in abundance across Bengal, Odisha, and Assam during the Durga Puja festival.   The iconography is unmistakable. The Devi is usually atleast a storey tall, with some of the most famous pandal-pujas commissioning idols that are the size of complete buildings. She is dashabhujadhari (ten-armed), the weapons She holds in each gifted to Her by the devas responsible for Her srishti (projection).   Her stance is decidedly ferocious, as She is mounted on an equally ferocious lion. She has brought the arrogant Mahishasura to his knees: the spear-end of Her trishool (trident) pierces the demon's body and draws blood, resulting in His vadh (killing). His defeated black mahish lies at Her feet. While Her beauteous countenance is famously wrathful, Mahishasura's face is contorted with pain. This central figure is flanked by Ganesha-Lakshmi to Her right and Sarasvati-Kartik to Her left, which are around half the stature. All five figures may be given a solid aureole (ekchala) or one to each figure. Above the crown of Ma Durga, at the crest of the aureole, is placed an image of Her Lord Shiva. In this light, Durga Puja is a celebration of the quintessential victory of devotion over arrogance, of divine love over worldly ego, of dharm over adharm. Purushottam Rama was the first to invoke the Katyayani-roopa of Devi Durga for His endeavour to slay Lankesh Ravana. The latter being the shishya (student) of none other than Lord Brahma, Rama would never have been able to destroy him and rescue His wife Seeta from his demonic clutches without calling upon Her. This is considered an untimely invocation because Durga Puja was originally observed in the spring navaratri. Called Basanti Puja (in Sanskrit 'basanta' means 'spring'), it is celebrated to this day on a similar scale but in limited pockets of the delta. The more iconic festival of the fall, when Bhagavan Rama is said to have evoked her upon Tretayuga, is called 'akaal bodhon', which literally means 'an untimely invocation'. The akaal bodhon Durga Puja has evolved into great socio-cultural significance in the Eastern Delta region, and is the lifeblood of Bengalis everywhere. It is said that Devi Durga is the daughter of Bengal; having been married to Lord Shiva, She pays this annual visit to Her maiden home with Her four children, Ganesha, Lakshmi, Sarasvati, and Kartika.   Her stay is commemorated with an abundance of ritual and art and feasting, which comes to an end in five days' time. Then She in Her image of Mahishasuramardini is immersed into the sacred Ganga, whose currents bear Her back to Her home in Kailash Parvat, which She shares with Her husband. The Making Of Mahishasuramardini Durga Puja is a socio-cultural phenomenon, of which traditional spirituality is an integral part. The first sign that the Devi Durga is making preparations to travel to her girlhood home is when the scent of shiuli (Asian jasmines) seeps into the air one morning.   Together with the petrichor of the retreating Bengal monsoon, the redolence is strong and heady; almost intoxicating. Durgotsav committees, called sarbojonin (public) committees, gather with great enthusiasm, and over the course of a few quick meetings begin to collect chanda (locally pooled resources) to put together the lavish arrangements to welcome Her home.   The members of these committees, usually a bunch of young men who have grown up together in the neighbourhood, come together by consensus - and just like that dissolve days after the last rites of the puja. They oversee the baroari, which literally means 'twelve friends' and refers to the public organisation of the puja: setting up the pandal (makeshift temple) in the respective territory of each committee, the ritual worship, and the accompanying cultural celebrations. The name owes itself to the first public Durga Puja in the late 1700s in Bengal conducted by twelve Brahmin friends - till then Durga Puja was a strictly family affair. Amidst the profusion of pristine orange-stemmed shiuli, schools and offices progressively declare vacation, and people dive into a shopping spree. Bamboo frameworks mushroom up at cross-walkable points across cities and villages, each marking the territory of the sarbojonin committee that is organising the puja. Girls and boys gather to rehearse folk song and dance routines for the big days of the festival, which include shashti (sixth day of the navratri), shaptami (seventh), ashtami (eighth), navami (ninth), and dashami (tenth). In truth, Durga Puja starts shortly after it ends. As the sharat (fall) of celebrations makes way for the region's winters and the soothing chant of 'ashchhe botshor abar hobe' (roughly translates to 'here's to next year's') creeps into the Bengali parlance, artisans in the Calcutta neighbourhood of Kumartuli quietly begin work on the pratima (idol) to be used in the puja of the ensuing year. In Bengali, 'kumar' means 'potter' and 'tuli' means 'colony'. Located in the heart of the sorrowfully fading, northern recesses of the city, it is in the studios of the traditional artisans residing here that the best of the pratima are made for sarbojonin committees the world over. Fashioned from compressed clay and painted with endemic pigments, the simplest pratima - a set of five idols comprising of Devi Durga and Her children, Ganesha-Lakshmi-Sarasvati-Kartik - takes months to be finished.   The size and complexity of the finished pratima depend on the commission of the sarbojonin committee in question (a single family of potters may be working on multiple commissions). For example, Ekdalia Evergreen Club and Rajdanga Naba Uday Sangha, sarbojonin committees from South Calcutta, are famous for their unconventional themed pandals and idols. Over the years they have made honeycomb pandals with clay honeybee installations in addition to the pratima inside, a Kailash Mansarovar pandal, and a burning white-saree pandal with a pratima inside that changed Her roopa from a sadhva to a vidhva depending on the light projections built into the walls.   No matter how early the work begins on these magnificent devotional pieces, artisans leave the painting of the pratima's eyes for the last. It is done at sunrise on the day of the mahalaya, and is said to infuse the idol with life (prana prathista).   The mahalaya is a relatively recent phenomenon in Bengal. It translates from the Sanskrit to 'great lyric', and refers to the wildly popular radio programme that is annually broadcast at dawn on an amavasya (no-moon hour). It comprises of the late Birendra Krishna Bhadra's iconic Chandipath (chanting of scriptural verses from Durga Saptashati), followed by devotional folk music celebrating the beauty and strength of Devi Durga. It is said that the day of the mahalaya is when She had taken birth amongst the greatest Devas of the Hindu pantheon. The date is calibrated from the local panchang (almanac) and usually falls around ten days prior to panchami (fifth day of the navratri). It is the day of much feasting and celebration, and is the point when the preparations begin in full measure. Schools and offices declare vacation; businesses flourish; and groups of residents of a single neighbourhood visit Kumartuli en masse in order to take a look at the finished pratima prior to delivery to their pandal. On Panchami, the pratima are installed in their respective pandals and the puja begins. At dawn the next day, the pandals are thrown open to the public for darshan and anjali (guided offering). Devipaksha, The Hour Of The Devi - From The Agaman (Arrival) To The Baran (Ritual Farewell) Between Mahalaya and the first day of the puja, which could be either panchamikalpa (puja starts on the fifth day of the navratri) or saptamikalpa (on the seventh day), the tarpan ritual is of utmost importance. It is done to cleanse oneself of one's attachments, satiate the ego and reign it in to make space for devotion to the Devi who is on Her way. It involves complex offerings and chants to reminisce one's ancestors, in order to draw from them the requisite strength for vanquishing the ego. A ghatpuja precedes the main puja, which in itself is a complete ceremony. The object of worship in this puja is a highly specific arrangement, at the centre of which is a ritual pot of baked clay painted over with brightly-pigmented mercury.   Besides that it comprises of a mound of the local moist earth of the delta, dhaan (wisps of paddy) that are said to become prasfutita (infused) with life upon mantrochcharan (chanting), and handpicked durva (locally gowing sacred grasses) whose three-pronged tips resemble the trishool (trident) of Lord Shiva. A sprig of the mango plant, which needs to be either five- or seven-tipped, completes the ghat arrangement, which is then placed within a network of red- or white-coloured bamboo sticks and yarn. The all-important ghatpuja is followed by the ahavaan, which is a heartfelt summon and ritual welcome of Devi Durga done at the dawn of panchami or saptami, depending on the kalpa chosen. The puja starts with Ganesha, for He is the lord of all beginnings, followed by worship of the guru of the presiding Brahmin. Then there is worship of the panchadevta (five lords of devaloka inclusive of Shiva, Vishnu, Brahma, Durga Herself, and Ganesha), to which a sixth entity, usually the ishtadevta, is often added. This is followed by worship of the panchabhoota (five elements), which are vyom (ether), vayu (air), tej (heat, agni or fire), jal (water), and prithvi (earth). It is worth noting that the typical Hindu puja comprises of each of these elements, to which Durga Puja is no exception. In fact, it is impossible to solemnise this puja without prithvi from multiple sources. Often, prithvi from all the prescribed sources are replaced by that from a single source, the tulsitala (the roots of the sacred basil plant), which is said to be replete with every imaginable divine quality. By the time it is mid-morning, the Devi Puja finally begins. It is then that Bengalis dressed to the height of folk fashion, the women clad head to toe in gold, step out of their homes for anjali and bhog at their local pandal puja. The anjali ritual is one of great charm and serves as a bonding exercise. Residents congregate before the pratima (in batches), and a basket of freshly plucked flowers is passed around amongst them. With a fistful of these flowers pressed in the namaskaram mudra, they repeat mantras after the priest and offer them at the the feet of the pratima. The ashtami anjali is considered the most auspicious, the ensuing bhog being sattvik in nature. While that is quite an exception to the Bengali diet, the navami bhog is more rooted in regional delicacies - sacrificial meats, rice, and puddings.   The streets are thronged with pandal-hoppers no matter the time of day or night, with darshanarthis queueing up at the most popular pandal-pujas. Cultural programmes - folk dances and drama and music, you name it - are hosted at the pandal each evening. Ashtami, called mahashtami ('maha' in Sanskrit means 'great'), is the most important day of the festival, with the choicest sarees and dhotis reserved for the day's anjali and pandal-hopping. For a few hours at dawn and at dusk every day of the puja, the earthy sound of dhaak (folk drums the size of a full-grown man) and kashor (folk gong of the handheld variety) fill the air.   Each sarbojonin committee appoints a group of dhaakees, amongst which is a kashor-guy, to come and play at their pandal for all days of the puja. Their arrival at the pandal, marked by a symbolic round of music, is looked forward to as much as the arrival of the pratima Herself. The aaratis are accompanied by ample dhaak and kashor, the sound of women's ulu (a trilling done from the base of the throat), and the mystical dance of the dhunuchi. The dhunuchi is a goblet of baked earth, within which is a slow-burning mass of coconut husk and camphor. When men and women carry out complex dance routines before the pratima with these goblets in both hands, the translucent silver smoke that emanates from them form around their figures an ethereal enclosure.   These days of heightened spiritual fervour, family gathering, and festive celebration and feasting sustain a lull at shondhikkhon. Shondhikkhon is the transition between ashtami and navami, marked by the quietly conducted Shondhipujo. It is a puja of that fateful moment, which kind of reminds devotees and revellers that the time for Devi Durga to return to Her husband is drawing closer. In this light, navami doesn't have the life and bustle of shaptami and ashtami; it bears the beginnings of a heaviness creeping into the air, a seriousness that is often distracted from by traditional games in the evenings. Residents of a neighbourhood, ie those who have done all the pandal-hopping they meant to do that season, gather for conch-playing, trilling, and diya-lighting competitions. The women compete to see who could play the longest note on the trill/conch or light the maximum diyas on a multi-tiered traditional lamp with a single match, while the men cheer them on with music and witty commentary.   On dashami the next day, one could sense the pall that descends upon the delta. The crowds of pandal-hoppers on the streets have thinned out, and the puja-anjali-bhog of the day are not half as lively as on the days past. A nap post the afternoon bhog, shortly afore twilight, the women of the neighbourhood could be found at the altar with the fully-laden dala (winnow) in their hands. This is for the baran (acceptance) ritual, which is of great importance in the Indian patriarchal tradition: shortly before her daughter's departure to her husband's home, be it prior to the bridal vidai or upon an annual visit, the mother does her shringar as an indication of the painful acceptance that she now belongs elsewhere. These women, with tears in their eyes, caress the pratima's face and touch homemade shondesh (sweets made from condensed milk) to Her lips, knowing full well that She will soon be gone from amidst them for a whole year.   It is during baran that the countenance of Ma Durga's pratima seems to take on a sombre composure, an inexplicable phenomenon that every Bengali knows in their heart to be true... Students gather at the feet of Devi Sarasvati with their books or at Devi Lakshmi's with their instruments, to touch them to the feet of the respective Devis and collect the anjali flowers from the pratima. Later in the evening, sadhvas (married women) of all ages and kanyas (girls yet to be married) get together for the famous shindoor-khyala, which is just smearing each other with ample proportions of herbal-made vermillion in good cheer. It is a sight to watch because the sadhvas are in their wedding sarees, the kanyas in red-bordered white ones, as they frolic in and around the pandal with platefuls of shindoor in their hands. All this goes on in the presence of the shindoor- and shondesh-smeared pratima, the music of dhaak and kashor and women's laughter filling the air. The red-bordered white saree is of especial significance to the Bengali woman, because it is said that these two colours define the life of a woman. This shindoor-khyala is the last of the one-of-a-kind festive cheer that defines the season.   Visarjan Blues - The Transience Of It All Ma Durga's time in Her girlhood home draws to a close. Now is the final throes of festive exuberance. Spirits are at the zenith of good cheer as the concluding puja is done, and the pratima painstakingly loaded onto trucks summoned for the purpose. It is at this point that an army of dhaakees start playing their drums and gong, not to cease making music till the night is out. Slowly and steadily the truck carrying the pratima heads to the nearest tributary of the holy Ganga in the form of a procession, at the forefront of which is the band of dhaakees followed by revelling devotees determined to give their beloved Devi a joyous farewell. It is mere moments before the signature visarjan (to give up the pratima), before the colours and the music and the fervour of the eve of dashami plunge into unspeakable sorrow. There is usually a queue of processions of other pujas at the ghaat (riverbank). Each one awaits their turn while continuing with the revelry, which begin to lose momentum as the waters come into view. The pratima, Devi Durga being the last, are taken turns to be borne off the truck. With Her on their shoulders, the men take three pradakshina (rotations) called teen-paak at the mouth of the current, while the women are trilling in unison with tears in their eyes. There is no denying that this is the most poignant moment of Durga Puja. Within seconds, the heart-rending sound of the back of the Durgapratima hitting the waters (niranjan, which means immersion) brings the trilling to an end.   The music of the dhaak-and-kashor gradually fade into the inky tropical night. The sorrowing women stare out into the current as long as She is within view, but are drawn away by their menfolk and helped onto the truck. The children are weeping for Her to not go, only to be shushed by their mothers who strike fear into their innocent hearts of a Shiva angered by His wife's prolonged absence, breaking into tandava. The journey back to the neighbourhood, to the now-empty pandal, is forlorn and painfully swifter. Dawn is yet to come. The pratima does not greet you any longer as you walk into the pandal. You look around, perhaps tearfully, to realise that it is going to be dismantled the following morning. In Her place stands a painted dia (clay lamp), whose flame is a poor imitation of the glamour of Ma Durga's mukhmandal (countenance). It makes you wonder, was it ever at all like this? Was it ever devoid of Her divine presence? Alas, it is Vijaya dashami, the victorious tenth day. Having been overcome by the transience of it all, it is time to return to a world which despite everything is pervaded by all that She stands for - the infinite strength of the self, the goodness of dharma. It is the only thing that lasts; neither this life that is entwined with such debilitating pleasures and pains, nor the akaal (untimely) stay of Bengal's daughter Herself. Within the lonely precincts sit a grieving party, helping themselves to rasgullas from a pot, seeking comfort in those seductive sweetmeats and the fact that 'ashchhe botshor abar hobe' ('here's to next year's)! This article is by Latika Lahiri. She was born and brought up in Calcutta, and considers Durga Puja as one of the most formative influences in her life. We hope you have enjoyed reading the article. Any comments or feedback that you may have will be greatly appreciated.Please send your feedback to feedback@exoticindia.com.
    by Exotic India on May
  • 50 Characteristics of Kaliyuga

    50 Characteristics of Kaliyuga

    We are living in the age of Kaliyuga. Both the Mahabharata and Shrimad Bhagavatam give a vivid description of how things are like in Kaliyuga. Many of these things we can see happening around us and we ourselves are also guilty of indulging in many of these actions. The following is a list of features typical to Kaliyuga according to these two shastras: 1). People will not think twice before cutting down trees or destroying groves. 2). Everyone will eat the same kind of food (i.e. will lack discrimination in matters of food and food-habits). 3). Even though having the outward appearance of saints, people will indulge in trade and commercial activity. 4). During Kaliyuga a man will be friends only with his wife. A man will consider only those people to be his relatives who are related to him through his wife. 5). Whoever has money will be considered of noble birth and as having good qualities. The one who has power in his hands will be able steer the course of justice in his favor. 6). The one who lacks money and cannot bribe will be deprived of justice by the courts. 7). People will consider far-off water bodies as pilgrimage but neglect pilgrimages near to them (for example living with parents and serving them). 8). Brahmins will start performing the tasks which otherwise shudras are supposed to perform. 9). Brahmins will abstain from sacrifices and the study of Vedas. 10). People will stop making offerings to their ancestors. 11). Brahmins will start eating anything (i.e. they become indiscriminate in their food habits). 12). Men will have shorter life span and be feeble in strength. They will be weak in energy and valour. 13). During Kaliyuga, women will use their mouths for copulation. 14). Under the burden of excess taxation, householders will turn into robbers. 15). In ashramas, brahmacharis will indulge in evil conduct and pander to the desires of the world. The ashrams will be full of show-offs who are experts in the art of living off the food of others. 16). When Kaliyuga degenerates even further, people who follow Dharma are seen to have an ever smaller life. 17). People will sell goods with false weights. There will be a lot of deceit associated with trade. 18). Towards the end of Kaliyuga, the young one act like the old. The conduct that suits the young is seen in the old. The old will think like children and the young will have the intelligence of the old. 19). In Kaliyuga, people abbreviate the truth; because of this harm done to the truth, lifespans are shortened. 20). Brahmins, Kshatriyas and Vaishyas will beget children with each other, and become like shudras, devoid of austerities and truth. 21). Because of the shortage of cows, people will resort to drinking goat and sheep-milk. 22). In Kaliyuga, rules about what is to be eaten are transgressed. 23). Brahmins will not observe sacred vows but will criticize the Vedas. Deluded by logic they will give up worship and yajnas. 24). At the end of Kaliyuga, the world will be overtaken by mlechha conduct. There will be no rites and sacrifices. There will be unhappiness everywhere and no festivals will be celebrated. 25). Men will rob possessions of others, even that of widows. 26). Men will happily accept gifts given even by the evil. 27). When the end of Kaliyiga is near, the Kshatriyas will be the thorns of the world. They will not protect others. 28). No one will ask for a girl's hand in marriage; no one will duly give away a girl in marriage. When Kaliyuga is fully ripe, men and women will choose their spouses themselves. 29). Kings, discontented with what they possess, will use every means possible to steal the property of others. 30). When kaliyuga is fully advanced, one hand will steal from the other. 31). Cowards will take pride in their bravery and the brave will be immersed in depression like cowards. 32). During the final stages of Kaliyuga, there will be no Brahmins, Kshatriyas or Vaishyas left. At the end of Kaliyuga the world will have only one varna. 33). Wives will not tend to their husbands. Men and women will eat whatever they wish. 34). People will adorn themselves with the marks of a sadhu, i.e. there will be profusion of fake sadhus. 35). (Cooked) food will be sold at all major thoroughfares (according to shastras selling of cooked food is a sin; this is because everyone has a right to food, whether he has money or not). 36). When Kaliyuga is fully advanced, each will act as he wishes (human rights). 37). Brahmins will be oppressed by Shudras and thus tormented the former will wander all over the earth looking for protection. 38). Shudras will expound on Dharma and the Brahmins will listen to their discourses and serve them. Everything in the world will be utterly upside down. 39). Discarding the gods, bones set into walls will be worshipped. 40). Men will be addicted to meat and liquor and will be weak in Dharma. 41). Rains will shower down at the wrong time. 42). Overcome by the burden of taxation, brahmins will flee in the ten directions. 43). Friends and relatives will act only out of love for wealth. 44). Women will be harsh and cruel in speech and will love to cry. They will not follow the words of their husbands. 45). Travelers in transit (guests) will ask for food and water but will not receive it. They will be refused shelter and will be forced to sleep on the roads. 46). People will leave their own countries and seek refuge in other countries, directions, regions, etc., and will roam around the world lamenting 'Alas, father!', 'Alas, son.' 47). Mutual liking between the boy and girl, and not family pedigree or social status etc. will be criterion for selecting a spouse. 48). Cheating will be the order of the day in business relations. 49). Sexual skill will be the criterion for excellence in men and women. 50). The only mark of evil will be poverty. 51). The one who can make a great display (of his austerities, occult powers etc.) will be considered the greatest sadhu. 52). Brushing one's hair and dressing up will be considered as substitute for bath. 53). The highest purpose of life will be to fill one's belly. 54). Maintenance of one's family will be looked upon as the highest skill. 55). Dharma will be followed to gain fame. 56). There will be no rule in becoming a king. Any Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya or Shudra, depending on who is the most powerful at the time, will become the king. At that time, the rulers will be so greedy that there will not any difference between them and robbers. 57). Houses will be desolate because of the lack of chanting of Vedas and absence of guests. References & Further Reading: G. P. Bhatt & J. L. Shastri (Tr). The Bhagavata Purana (5 Volumes): Delhi 2002 Debroy, Bibek. The Mahabharata: Complete and Unabridged (Ten Volumes): Penguin India, 2015 Pandey, Pandit Ramnarayandutt Shastri. The Complete Mahabharata (The Only Edition with Sanskrit Text and Hindi Translation) - Six Volumes: Gita Press, Gorakhpur, 2017 Saraswati, Swami Akhandananda (Tr). Shrimad Bhagavata Purana (2 Volumes): Gorakhpur 2004 We hope you have enjoyed reading the article. Any comments or feedback that you may have will be greatly appreciated.Please send your feedback to feedback@exoticindiaart.com.
    by Exotic India on July
  • Living According to Manu: God’s Manual of Instruction for Life

    Living According to Manu: God’s Manual of Instruction for Life

    Manu was the first human being. He is the ancestor of our ancestors. The code of life explained in his book Manu Smrti, was first given by Brahma the creator of the world himself. Thus this text, coming as it is from the highest authority, being full of wisdom and practical suggestions is nothing but an instruction manual for living a 'Vedic life'. Here are some gems: On Man and Woman: A man receives a wife given by the gods and not by his own choice. He should always look after that good woman,thereby doing what is pleasing to the gods. (9.95)   If they desire good fortune, the men of the house should always revere their women, honoring them them with ornaments and adornments. Where women are revered, there the gods rejoice; but where they are not, all efforts are unfruitful. Where female relatives grieve, the family soon comes to ruin, where they do not grieve (i.e where they are happy), prosperity reigns. Therefore, if men want prosperity, they should always honor women on joyful and festive occasions with gifts of ornaments, clothes and food. Good fortune smiles incessantly on the family where the husband always takes delight in his wife and the wife in her husband. When the wife shines, the entire household sparkles; but when she does not shine, the entire house loses its sparkle. (3.55-62) A woman is like a light within a home. Indeed, there is no difference between a woman and Goddess Lakshmi. (9.40) The following are reprehensible in relation to women: A father who does not give away his daughter at the right time to a worthy groom, a husband who does not have physical relations with his wife at the right time and the son who who does not look after his mother when his father is dead. (9.4) A girl should remain at her father's house until death rather be given to a groom bereft of good qualities. (9.89) A woman's mouth is always pure. (5.130) There is no difference between a daughter and a son. (9.130) Wife, offspring and oneself, these three are the full extent of a man. The husband, tradition says, is the wife, They can never be cut loose from one another. This is the dharma made by Brahma himself. (9.45-46) Man performs dharma in partnership with his wife. (9.96) Fidelity to each other till the end, this in nutshell is the highest dharma between husband and wife. A husband and wife, after they have performed the marriage rite, should always work hard to prevent their separation from each other. This is the dharma for man and woman based on love. (9.101-103) A mother, father, wife, or son can never be abandoned. (8.389) On Dharma: Gradually, like termites pile up an anthill, we should, without hurting any creature, collect dharma every day. It is neither our father, nor mother, nor wife, nor son or any other relative who accompanies us to the next world. It is only our dharma who stands by us. Alone a creature is born and alone it dies. Alone it enjoys the fruits of its good deeds, alone also the fruits of its evil deeds. While the relatives discard his dead body on the earth as if it were a piece of wood or a load of earth and depart with their faces turned away from him, it is only the dharma performed by him that escorts him. With dharma as his escort, he will cross over the darkness that is otherwise difficult to cross. (4.238-242) When a householder sees wrinkles on his body, his hair gray and grandchildren in his house, he should make his way to the forest. There are two options: He can entrust his wife to his sons or if she wishes she can accompany him to the forest. (6.3) The greatest purity is the purity of wealth (i.e. money earned through correct means). (5.105-106) With whichever bhava a person gives away something in dana (charity), he obtains the same thing with the same reverence in the next birth. When due respect is shown in giving and receiving, both the giver and the receiver go to heaven; but if the opposite is the case, both of them go to hell. (4.234-235) One must not do the following: Flaunt one's tapasya, lie (boast) about a sacrifice one has performed, insult a brahmin even though he may have aggrieved us or brag about some charity we have performed. A sacrifice is destroyed by lying about it, tapasya is destroyed by flaunting it, reviling a brahmin reduces our lifespan and merits of charity are destroyed when we brag about it. (4.236-237) Dharma destroyed destroys us. Dharma protected protects us. (8.15) All things are founded on speech; speech is the root of all things and from speech they proceed. Therefore a man who steals speech (twists meaning by lying) he is guilty of stealing everything. (4.256) After a man has freed himself from the debts he owes to the saints, ancestors and gods, then he should hand over everything to his sons and live in seclusion with his mind composed. It is only by reflecting alone does a man attain supreme bliss. (4.257-258) The body is purified by water, the mind by truth, the jivatma by tapasya and vidya and the buddhi is purified by correct knowledge of things. (5.109) Garlic, onions and mushrooms are forbidden for all twice-born persons. (5.5) Gold and silver came from the union of union of fire and water; they are therefore best cleaned using these very sources. (5.113) Common dharma for all the four varnas (Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra) is the following: Ahimsa, truthfulness, not stealing, purity and controlling the sense organs. (10.63) Liquor is the filth of various grains. Hence one should not drink it. (11.94) The Veda is the eternal eyesight for our ancestors, gods and humans. Vedas (being given by God), are beyond the powers of human logic or cognition. (12.94) On Kings, Kingship and Taxes: After getting up in the morning, the king should pay his respects to Brahmins learned in the Vedas, and rule according to their guidance. The king should make it a habit to look after elderly Brahmins who know the Vedas. The one who serves the elders is respected even by demons (what to say of humans). A king should always learn the art of discipline from Vedic Brahmins. A king who is disciplined in his habits is never destroyed. (7.37-40) Day and night a king should strive vigorously to control his organs for when he has subdued his organs only then is he able to bring his subjects under control. (7.44) Hunting, gambling, sleeping during the day, women and useless travel, these are most harmful for a king. (7.47-48) The king must always appoint worthy counsellors. Even an easy task becomes difficult when undertaken by a single person, what to say then of the task of running a kingdom? (7.55) The king who protects his people properly gets one-sixth of the merits of dharma performed by them. However if he fails to protect then one-sixth of adharma goes to him. (8.304) When a king collects taxes and fines without providing protection to his people, he immediately goes to hell. He is said to have gathered all filth (sins) of the entire population. (8.309) A king is purified by controlling wicked people and looking after virtuous people. Doing this, he gets the same merit as obtained by the performance of Vedic sacrifices. (8.311) The king, if insulted by the needy, children, the aged, or the sick, should forgive them. The king who bears patiently when those in anguish insult him will be exalted in heaven; but the one who does not forgive because of his royal power goes to hell. (8.312.313) A king should never fail to punish even his own father, teacher, friend, mother, wife, son or priest if they are not situated in dharma. (8.335) The following five kinds of people should not be forced to pay taxes by the king: A blind person, an idiot, a cripple, a man over 70 years and a person who takes care of Vedic scholars. (8.394) A king should always honor Vedic scholars, those who are sick or afflicted with any disease, children, the aged and poor people. A king should banish gambling and betting from his kingdom. These are the two vices that destroy a kingdom. Gambling is that which is done with inanimate things (like cards, dice etc.); betting is that which is done with living beings (racing-horses or cock-fights etc.). One-fourth of adharma goes to the perpetrator. One-fourth goes to the one who witnesses it (who does not try to stop it, or if unable to stop it doesn't go away). One-fourth goes to the ministers of his court and one-fourth goes to the king himself. However, the sin accrues solely to the perpetrator, if all the rest condemn the act. (8.18-19) Women over two months pregnant, wandering ascetics, former householders who now live in the forests, Brahmins and those wearing religious insignia, all these should not be forced to pay toll. (8.407) On Fines and Punishment: For the same crime, if an ordinary person is fined one unit, the king should be fined 1000 times, this is the irrefutable law. (8.336) For committing the same amount of theft , the liability of a Shudra is eight times, that of a Vaishya sixteen times, for a Kshatriya thirty-two times and a Brahmin sixty-four times the amount stolen. (8.338) For injuring any kind of tree, the perpetrator should be fined in proportion to the usefulness of the tree. (8.285) If the driver of a vehicle injures a man, animal or property, he needs to be punished along with the owner of the vehicle. However, in the following cases they will not be punished: in case of mechanical failure like snapping of ropes, breaking of the yoke, when the vehicle skids to one side, when it slides backwards, when the axle breaks, when a wheel breaks, when reins snap or when the driver has cried out "Get out of the way" - in these case there is to be no punishment. (8.291-292) When the vehicle veers off due to the driver's incompetence and it results in injury, the owner should be fined 200 units. But if the driver is trained , then it is the driver who will be fined and if he is untrained then all the riders will be fined 100 units each. (8.293-294) On Commerce: A washerman should wash clothes thoroughly but gently on a smooth cotton-wood board. He must not use of the clothes (given to him for wishing) to tie up or carry other such clothes. He must not let others wear the clothes (not give them on rent). (8.396) A weaver receiving thread weighing 10 units to make cloth, he must return cloth weighing 1 unit more. If he does otherwise, he should be made to pay a fine of 12 units. On Brothers: The eldest brother should look after his younger brothers like a father and they in turn should behave towards their elder brother as towards their father. (9.108) Brothers can live together (same kitchen) or they can live separately also. (9.111) On Knowledge: Those who rely on books are better than the ignorant; those who carry them in their memories are better than them; those who understand them are better than those who carry them in their memory; and those who resolutely follow their teachings are superior to those who only understand them. (12.103) Freedom is Happiness: Doing things under the control of others - that is suffering; being under one's own control, that is happiness. This in a nutshell, is the definition of suffering and happiness. (4.160) Final Summing up by Manu Ji: With a composed mind, a person should see everything in the self; for when he sees everything in the self, his mind will not turn towards adharma. All gods are but the self only; indeed the whole world abides within the self. When a man thus sees by the self all beings as the self, he is united with all and attains to Brahman, the highest state. (12.118-125) References & Further Reading: Shivraj Acharya The Manu Smrti with Commentary of Kullukabhatta: Varanasi 2014 Olivelle, Patrick. The Laws of Manu, Oxford: 2004. We hope you have enjoyed reading the article. Any comments or feedback that you may have will be greatly appreciated.Please send your feedback to feedback@exoticindiaart.com.
    by Exotic India on June
  • Krishna's Rasa Lila: The Vedantic Perspective

    Krishna's Rasa Lila: The Vedantic Perspective

    Krishna's Rasa Lila: The Vedantic Perspective One uniqueness of our Vedic religion is that it allows for salvation not only through renunciation (nivritti) but also through the path of material happiness (pravritti). We can certainly enjoy material happiness, but it should be within the ambit of dharma. If we resort to adharma in order to satisfy our desire, i.e. kama, it will surely end up in causing utter sorrow definitely for us and perhaps for others too. For example, conjugal pleasure with our life-long partner is dharma because while it satisfies our natural urges born out of samskaras, it does not put us away from the path of moksha. Indeed, a joint pious life is conducive to take us towards the path of moksha, even though we may not be aspiring for it immediately. On the other hand, the same pleasure out of wedlock is adharma, which ultimately lands us and our kin in grief. Doubt: If dharma makes it mandatory that conjugal pleasure be restricted to the life partner, how is it that Krishna indulged in the amorous sport of Rasa with others' wives?   Resolution: This is a great misconception in vogue about Bhagawan Krishna. Its clarification begins with a brief summary of the Rasa as described exactly in the Shrimad Bhagavatam. It was in the dead of the night that Krishna played on the flute in the forest. The gopis who heard it went crazy. They ran to the forest leaving anything they were doing then and there instantly. Some stopped cooking, some stopped feeding, some stopped eating, some stopped washing clothes etc. and ran away. The moment they reached the forest, He asked 'What brings you here? What help do you need? Is it not wrong for noble ladies like you to meet anyone other than your husbands at this odd hour?' They cried out aloud: ' Krishna! We have have come with great difficulty to join you here. You should not reject us like this.' Then He condescended to play Rasa with them among blooming lotuses. At one stage a gopi even took in her palms the betel leaf he was munching. And so on.   This episode was being narrated by the sage Shuka to king Parikshit. At the end of the narration, the king raised the same doubt as above.Then the saint answered: ' Tejiyasam na doshaya - No fault in this for the tejiyans' and concluded that indeed, the next morning their husbands saw the gopis just sleeping by their side. So the clarification hinges on the word tejiyan and its meaning should be internally consistent with the description of the Rasa. Notice that nobody will be washing clothes or cooking, or feeding or eating in the dead of the night. Lotuses also do not bloom at night. And the little boy Krishna would never munch tambula (betel leaf). Also notice that the next morning their husbands saw the gopis just sleeping by their side. This gives us a clue that the Rasa was dream. This is confirmed as follows: 'Tejiyan' means more lustrous according to Panini's grammar. Who is more lustrous than whom? Upanishads call the jiva in waking state as Vishwa and the dreaming jiva as Taijasa (Mandukya Upanishad Mantras 3-4). This Taijasa is tejiyan - more lustrous than Vishwa. Therefore, the sage Shuka's reply means that there is no fault in the activities of the dreaming gopis. This is exactly what the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad says. For that matter, we all know it ourselves. Nobody deprecates anyone for the faults committed by him in his dreams. Why? Because, while the external world keeps the mind under leash, it becomes totally free during dreams. So, the mind mixes the experiences of the real world with wild imaginations and creates the dream. The little boy Krishna can talk and behave as an adult and can even chew a betel leaf; lotuses can bloom at night. Nevertheless, He has to admonish the gopis for their conduct! This article is based almost entirely on the teachings of Pujya Swami Paramanand Bharati Ji. However, any errors are entirely the author's own. References & Further Reading: Bharati, Swami Paramananda. Foundations of Dharma: Bangalore 2008 We hope you have enjoyed reading the article. Any comments or feedback that you may have will be greatly appreciated.Please send your feedback to feedback@exoticindiaart.com.
    by Exotic India on May
  • Iconography of Vaishnava Deities: Goddess Lakshmi

    Iconography of Vaishnava Deities: Goddess Lakshmi

    Lakshmi In early Puranic texts like the Devi-Mahatmya in the Markandeya Purana she is seen as the most valorous warrior of battlefield and eliminator of the demon Mahisha.   Lakshmi is also a Vedic divinity with her origin in the Rig-Veda that identifies her as Sri and devotes to her three independent Suktas. The great text identifies her as the goddess of fertility who blessed with progeny, rich crops and abundant food-grain.   It seems that Lakshmi had her proto form in the Indus Mother Goddess who represented fertility, blessed with progeny and was also a protective deity. The Atharva-Veda is the earliest known textual source and Sanchi reliefs her earliest manifest image that give some idea of Lakshmi's beauty and her power to procreate and feed. The Atharva-Veda alludes to her form containing an abundance of milk the same as have Mother goddess statues and Lakshmi's Sanchi reliefs. Besides, the reported range of Mother goddess statues exhibit a wide range of costume fashions suggesting that she also represented absolute womanhood. Interestingly, Lakshmi imagery - the medieval and the modern, also displays elaborate costume and jewelry fashions and was seen as representing the highest form of womanhood.   Her early model: four-armed Mahalakshmi form It was perhaps such long tradition of Lakshmi's divinity that there developed around her a cult wider than that of Vishnu or rather any Vaishnava deity so much so that from a rich man's coffer to an alcove of a tribal's hut - depository of his day's earning, Lakshmi's presence is everywhere seen. Apart her manifestations in the Buddhist and the Jain pantheons and other early sources the Devi-Mahatmya also represents one of her early forms. Her epithet in the Devi-Mahatmya is Mahalakshmi. She is the wrathful four-armed goddess of battlefield represented holding in them various weapons. She is seen plundering death on demons, the demon Mahisha being the foremost. Except her four arms the classical tradition dispensed with her warrior form and Mahalakshmi name; however, in the folk tradition and in rural India the goddess's 'Mahalakshmi' epithet still continues though her nature has undergone complete transformation. Instead of being the ferocious goddess of battlefield she is now a torch-bearer lighting his dark hutment and path. This tribe's or the village man's Mahalakshmi is modeled as carrying lamps on her palms, head and sometimes even on her shoulders. Such Mahalakshmi icons are cast in clay especially on Diwali, the festival of light. Earlier such Mahalakshmi icons were immersed in a river or pond after seven days of Diwali worship but exceptionally artistic now these icons are often preserved.   Gaja-Lakshmi form A form of Lakshmi seated over a lotus laid over a golden seat and a pair of white elephants - sometimes multi-trunked, pouring on her milk believed to have been brought in their trunks, or gold-pots carried in their trunks, from the Kshirasagara - ocean of milk, the abode of Vishnu, is a favoured image of Lakshmi commonly known in art tradition as Gaja-Lakshmi.   This form of the goddess, when cast riding an elephant, is also called Mahalakshmi. Otherwise also Mahalakshmi images are cast riding an elephant usually having a multi-trunk form. Dually auspicious for assimilating, besides the goddess herself, many auspicious entities - white elephants symbolic of Indra's mount Airavata, lotus, milk � and hence more prompt in bestowing riches and accomplishing all desired this Mahalakshmi form is more favoured for worship during Diwali rituals. In rituals Lakshmi is invariably invoked as Mahalakshmi. Lakshmi as Vishnu's consort : now a unanimous position Now Lakshmi's status as Vishnu's consort is unanimously accepted. Initially the goddess seems to have been two-armed   but subsequently she began having four arms - ordinarily, votive images being four-armed, and aesthetic, two-armed. Except in some classical forms in Lakshmi-Narayana imagery Lakshmi is ordinarily two-armed. When Lakshmi enshrines a sanctum independently she has a four-armed form.   Whatever Vishnu's authority he is Narayana only when Lakshmi is along him. Except Badrinatha like few pithas - shrines, that Vishnu enshrines independently, as also in other forms such as Shesh-sayana or Shesh-sayi, in Commander's disposition or in Yogasana, most of his sanctum images are along Lakshmi, obviously as Lakshmi-Narayana. In Shesh-sayana imagery she is often represented as massaging his feet. In such icons she is invariably two-armed.   Incarnation theory is the crux of Vaishnavism. Vishnu incarnates alone but Lakshmi also incarnates in simultaneity. When he incarnates as Rama, Lakshmi incarnates as Sita,   and when as Krishna Lakshmi incarnates as Radha.   As Rama, Vishnu was required to eliminate Ravana and the ranks of his demons, Sita leads to accomplish that end; as Krishna, Vishnu was required to lead to the path of devotion through love. Krishna could not accomplish it without Radha. Krishna also eliminates numerous demons but not being his primary objective Radha is not his partner in his act of demon-eliminating. Model of beauty The model of supreme beauty, images of Lakshmi are always lavishly bejeweled, richly costumed and elegantly crowned.   She is endowed with unearthly beauty and timeless youth which also reflect in her imagery. Her presence is always graceful and benign. The supreme good incarnate, she invariably carries a full blown lotus, sometimes more than one.   Lotus is in Indian tradition the symbol of good and auspice. She is often seen as sitting on a lotus seat and sometimes also bears a garland of fresh lotus flowers. Lakshmi has her own system of symbols. In her iconography pot symbolizes the earth and the riches that the earth contains, and the lotus, besides good and auspicious, also growth, grace and beauty. 'Abhaya' is the usual gesture of the goddess; on the other hand, 'varada' is far rarer perhaps because she assures abundance and a happy life, not so much the release from it. 'Abhaya' imparts fearlessness but in her imagery it stands for assurance of a happy prosperous life. Lakshmi in Vishnu's Ardhanarishvara imagery Though very rare some enthused artists have conceived on Ardhanarishvara line also Vishnu's Ardhanarishvara images. In such images Vishnu's left half consists of Lakshmi's left half. In such images Lakshmi has a normal two-armed form with one arm visible. Such form is relatively plain though with appropriate jewelry and costume well distinguished from the other half. This left half does not have such towering crown as has the other half. Vishnu's Ardhanarishvara images are reported mostly in paintings; such form is not reported so far in sculptures or statues in any medium. She is also represented through a few of Tantric diagrams. Sri, Padmavati, Kamala, Dharini, Vaishnavi, Narayani � are some other names of Lakshmi. She has been named Padmavati and Kamala after lotus, Dharini, after the mother earth, and Vaishnavi and Narayani, after her consort Vishnu who is also Narayana.   Lakshmi as Padmavati Padmavati is Lakshmi's transform popularly worshipped in South. The four-armed tall goddess is the enshrining principal deity of many temples in Southern part of the country. She is as popular as Vishnu himself. Unlike Lakshmi-Narayana imagery Padmavati enshrines the sanctum independently without Vishnu. Vishnu-like standing image of Padmavati bears a Vishnu-like towering crown and Vaijayanti and carries lotuses in her hands. The Padma Purana carries a legend as to how deserting Baikuntha Lakshmi reached South and settled there forever.   According to Padma Purana gods wished to settle the dispute as to who among Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma had a superior position and prayed sage Bhragu to decide. Before giving a judgment sage Bhragu decided to personally visit the Great Trio. He first went to Shiva, but busy in cajoling Parvati he did not pay attention to him. Brahma was rather rude, but Bhragu lost his temper when he found Vishnu asleep. The angry sage hit him on his chest with his leg. Vishnu, instead of punishing the sage, only apologized for being asleep. He decided to hold forever the mark of his leg on his chest as Shrivatsa which later became the symbolic identity of Vishnu's images. Lakshmi who was in the bed along him felt insulted and abandoned Vishnu and his Baikuntha. Unable to bear separation Vishnu also left Baikuntha and descended on the earth. After yugas - cosmic ages, of repentance and yearning, one day Vishnu realized that like a lotus Lakshmi was sprouting within him and thus the two were re-united. This spiritual realization of Vishnu was consecrated as Padmavati. Padmavati was, thus, Vishnu's spiritual realization, not a physically manifesting form.   Sriniwas, literally meaning one in whose heart Sri dwells, is one of Vishnu's names in South. It suggests that Lakshmi as Padmavati is a spiritual entity, not a physically manifesting form, that dwells in Vishnu's heart. The symbolism goes further. Lakshmi who had a physically manifesting form had already deserted him after the Bhragu incident and never returned. It was Padmavati who lotus-like sprouted within and was Vishnu's spouse by realization. She was thus part of Vishnu but was also a divine entity by herself and is, hence worshipped with him but also independently. It is different with Lakshmi. The legendary king who had found Vishnu from under the earth and built for him the world-wide known Venkateshvara temple could see Vishnu alone, not Lakshmi dwelling within his heart as she was Vishnu's spiritual realization. Shrines devoted to her independently in the north are very few. In most other Vaishnava shrines, she shares sanctums with Vishnu. In South she is the deity in her own right and is independently worshipped. For Further Reference: Rigveda : (ed.) Vishvabandhu : Vishveshvananda Vedic Research Institute, Hoshiyarpur Atharva-Veda Vishvabandhu : Vishveshvananda Vedic Research Institute, Hoshiyarpur Padma Purana : Venkateshvara Press, Bombay Neeta Yadav : Ardhanarishvara in Art and Literature : New Delhi O. P. Mishra : The Mother Goddess in Central India : New Delhi Shrimad Devi Bhagavata, Chaukhambha Sanskrit Pratishthan, Delhi Devimahatmyam, tr. By Devadatta Kali, Delhi Menzies, Jackie : Goddess, Divine Energy, Art Gallery, NSW Kinsley, David : Hindu Goddesses, Delhi Rosen, Steven J. (ed) : Vaishnavi, Delhi Vishnupurana : Bombay, 1889; Gita Press, Gorakhpur, 1980. P. C. Jain & Usha Bhatia : The Magic of Indian Miniatures Dr. Daljeet & P. C. Jain : Krishna : Raga se Viraga Tak Suvira Jaiswal : Origins and Development of Vaishnavism D. O. Flaherty : Hindu Myths Devdatta Pattanaik : Vishnu We hope you have enjoyed reading the article. Any comments or feedback that you may have will be greatly appreciated.Please send your feedback to feedback@exoticindiaart.com.
    by Exotic India on February
  • Iconography of Vaishnava Images: Vishnu

    Iconography of Vaishnava Images: Vishnu

    Vedic position in regard to form of Godhood There is Rama, the son of Ayodhya’s king Dasharatha in his human birth, and there is Rama’s divinity, his divine aura that overwhelms the Tulasi’s entire Ramacharit-manas, one manifest – with attributes, and the other, unmanifest – without attributes. Thus, Rama is both, ‘Saguna’ – born with attributes, and ‘Nirguna’ – one beyond attributes or form. Ravana saw in him a form, as any normal human being would, and decided to try his strength against him, Vibhishana, his brother, saw him beyond attributes – his divine aura : the flame, and dedicated him to his service. This is the crux of Indian vision of Godhood. The Rig-Veda and the other Vedas invoked Him as unmanifest but at the same time the Rig-Veda also realised Him in numerous manifest forms – both male and female : Surya, Agni, Varuna, Indra, Vishnu, Vak, Ushas, Sita – the furrow-line, Ratri, Mantra-shakti power of hymn, Mahi – the earth…, that is, in whichever form His divinity revealed enshrined Godhood. Hence, when there emerged in their completeness ‘saguna’ and ‘nirguna’ lines of thought, the Vedas were in the roots of both. Multi-formal Godhood and incarnation cult Thus, in Indian thought Godhood, with attributes or without attributes, was a realization of the faithful mind – essentially a vision, an image, which vested even the unmanifest with attributes; as regarded the manifest Godhood was endowed not only with an anthropomorphic form but was also completely humanized and had a human being like lifestyle and day-routine. Pushti-marga like sub-sects of worship through ‘sewa’ – service, were the result of the zeal that saw in service the accomplishment of worship. This gave to Indian theology a highly colourful culture and versatile imagery with the result that Godhood exploded beyond anthropomorphic image – male and female, or even man and animal, giving seers engaged in composing Puranas and other religious scriptures ample scope for discovering not only unique forms of His image but also those of His ensembles, adornment, jewelry, ambience, as also an appropriate human frame. Perhaps this multi-form perception of Godhood was in the root of incarnation theory that perceived Godhood taking a form not of man alone but also that of an animal the first three of the ten incarnations of Vishnu – one of Trinity Gods, being animals. Such perception of Godhood inspired alike respect for all species of living beings and discouraged animal killing. This all-inclusive vision emphasized that any form could be the God’s form and that Godhood is not confined to a particular form or even to a form at all. This formal perception of God gave to Indian theology a highly colourful religious culture with the result that there emerged for His image millions of shrines and even the image, being essentially conceptual, was extremely diversified. Divine image : essentially a concept evolved over generations Not the product of camera but as evolved in the faithful mind, far from being realistic but conceptual, so much so that even the images of divinities born with a definite chronology, represented only a concept or an idealized version of such divinity. The founder of Jainism Tirthankara Mahavira and the founder of Buddhism Buddha were historical figures – the real persons born with flesh and blood; however, the images of neither represent the real persons. Almost identically conceived images of all twenty-four Tirthankaras were ‘dhyana-murtis’, that is, images conceived for helping the meditating mind to centre on a form, the Tirthankara icon, that accordingly shaped their lives. Buddha’s images were conceived more on aesthetic principles. The images of Buddha sought to represent the essential Buddha that certainly was not in flesh and bones. Divyavadana, Uttaratantra of Maitreya and other Buddhist texts mandated to represent Buddha beyond physical likeness also the Buddha’s spiritual inner. The Lankavatara Sutra goes further ahead requiring the artist to paint Buddha beyond aesthetic surfaces 'the picture that is not in colours'. Obviously, to the Indian mind the divine image is not a realistic or even aesthetic representation of likeness. It is as it has evolved in the tradition – ritual or spiritual, and often manifests the faithful mind’s version of the divine and each manifestation of this vision has now largely rigidified as an independent divinity. Revering each of such divinity the faithful mind has built its own hierarchy of God’s manifest forms and has fixed for each a specific imagery to include the image’s anthropomorphism, type of ensemble, jewelry and other components. Highly diversified the divine image has hundreds of manifestations that a single essay like this cannot encompass; hence this series of essays proposes to allude to just five of Vaishnava images, Lord Vishnu himself, his consort Lakshmi, his mount Garuda, Hanuman, his most trusted and efficient servant and Brahma, the Creator and the second of the Great Trinity. Vishnu Evolution of image   Except in his manifestation as Vishnu-Vaikuntha the images of Lord Vishnu are conceived with a single normal anthropomorphic face.     brimming with timeless youth, great majesty, vigour and divinity. Vishnu’s image, as fixed in people’s mind, is four-armed   in a few manifestations also six and eight-armed, and blue-bodied clad in yellow ensemble: an ‘antariya’ essentially but sometimes also an ‘uttariya’. His blue body is seen as symbolizing the ocean and the space, and the yellow ensemble, the sun that in early scriptures is seen alternating Vishnu. Sometimes the Rig-Veda not only substitutes Vishnu for the Sun but perceives him as circumambulating the earth in every twenty-four hours as does the sun. Stone-sculptures and reliefs, terracottas, metal-casts … restrict to the colour of the respective medium; however, when enshrining a sanctum even such images are adorned with yellow costume and his essential jewelry, almost rigidified in the tradition.   Other components of his attire are his large ‘vaijayanti’ – the garland of fresh Parijata flowers trailing down the knees, a pair of ‘makara-kundalas’ – ear-rings designed like crocodiles, a majestic crown over his head and Vaishnava ‘tilak’ on his forehead.       With main emphasis on his majesty in South Indian tradition this crown is taller than usual.   As a rule his images are four-armed and the attributes that he is represented as carrying are lotus, conch, mace and disc. Sometimes the disc is alternated with thunderbolt and lotus with the gesture of ‘abhaya’ – assurance-granting posture. In such images his palm held in ‘abhaya’ has on it a graphic mark symbolic of lotus. Except in a few painted versions of his image that portray him as holding his mace weapon-like in one of his hands while rushing to redeem a devotee in crisis he holds all his attributes as formal identity motifs. Conch and lotus are merely symbolic; and, unless released the disc has merely the status of an identity mark. In most images mace is represented as laid along the ground; when represented as reclining mace is represented as lying close-by.   Standing or reclining Vishnu essentially pervades the cosmos by his presence     The Vaishnava tradition perceives Vishnu pervading the cosmos by his presence. Accordingly, his images are conceived either as vertical, that is, stretching from the earth into the space – a standing posture;     or lying fully stretched horizontally, that is, reclining. In some Shilpa-shashtra traditions the standing posture is known as ‘khadgasana’, and reclining, as ‘sayanasana’.   His ‘khadgasana’ images are usually in three modes; one with his right foot moved forward represents him in a commander’s disposition ready to rush for protecting a devotee in crisis or redeem him from some calamity. In such images his normal right hand is held in ‘abhaya’-granting posture. Sanctum images of Chaturbhuja, a form of Vishnu so named for being four-armed, are as a rule in ‘khadgasana’. In such images the primary focus is on his four arms, attributes carried in them and his majesty. As Narayana with Lakshmi in his Lakshmi-Narayana manifestation also he is represented in standing position. His sanctum images are by and large as Narayana enshrining a sanctum with Lakshmi. Such images are essentially Chaturbhuja.   Vishnu’s ‘sayanasana’ image pervades the cosmos horizontally. He is represented as reclining over the coils of the great serpent Shesh that symbolizes earth. Kshirasagara – the ocean of milk, is the abode of the great serpent. As the Devi Bhagawata has it, while upholding the earth on its hood the great serpent breathes out milk like substance which transforms the oceans’ water into milk and thus the Kshirasagara. Vishnu preferred Kshirasagara for his abode. Thus, covering the ocean from one end to other he is symbolically represented as commanding, and thus guarding, the entire existence – the ocean and the earth. Further, the great serpent is represented as unfurling its five hooded head, like an umbrella or royal canopy, over the head of reclining Vishnu. In a ‘sayanasana’ image Vishnu reclines but does not sleep; as in the commander’s disposition fully alert he is always ready to rush to protect a devotee.  An essential component of a ‘sayanasana’ image Lakshmi, the goddess of riches and well-being, serves him by massaging his feet. She symbolizes means by which Vishnu sustains life and promotes well-being, that in the Trinity of Gods he represents. Another usual feature of ‘sayanasana’ image is the lotus rising from his navel with Brahma, another Trinity God – the Creator, mounting it. The lotus is symbolic of Creation. Despite such great symbolism a ‘sayanasana’ image rarely enshrines a sanctum. Instead, Vishnu’s ‘sayanasana’ images are carved, most of them in relief, on the outer walls of many early temples its earliest known example being the Gupta period Dasavatara temple at Deogarh in Lalitpur district, Uttar Pradesh. In South Indian iconographic tradition, as Balaji or Venkateshwara, images of Vishnu are quite differently conceived.   Some other forms of his image Besides these two regular forms, one, manifesting his active aspect, while the other, his auspicious presence, Vishnu is also represented in Yogasana – seated position. Though his Yogasana images are rare, they are not unknown to his iconographic tradition. This form is known as Yoga-murti, that is, engaged in ‘yoga’. One such Yoga-murti image enshrines the known Badrinatha shrine, one of the four pilgrimage sites in Himalayan hills in Uttarakhand. Vishnu’s ten incarnations, though the number of his incarnations varies from ten to many thousands, constitute another significant group of his imagery. Besides temples like the Gupta temple at Deogarh in Lalitpur district that are constructed on Dasavatara theme and have large size icons of Vishnu’s ten incarnations many early temples have the panels of Dasavatara imagery on the lintel of the main entrance.   These ten incarnations are Great Fish, Kurma, Boar, Narasimha – half man and half lion, Vamana, the dwarf, Parasurama, Rama, Krishna, Balarama – sometimes Buddha, and Kalki, the first three, animals, fourth, man-animal combine, next five, human beings, and the last, yet to emerge. In iconographic tradition among the first three animal forms Boar has, such as at Vidisha and Khajuraho, large size independent statues with independent shrines.     Narasimha images enshrine a larger number of sanctums and are also worshipped.       Vamana imagery, usually as Tri-vikrama pushing Mahabali into nether world, adorns outer walls of many early temples.   Images of Rama and Krishna are more popular than Vishnu who they incarnate. There are millions of shrines world over dedicated to them. Images of Balarama and those of Buddha as one of Vishnu’s incarnations are hardly seen. Vaikuntha-Bhairava : extension of incarnation-cult and some other forms of image   His manifestation as Vaikuntha-Bhairava is perhaps the condensation of his ten incarnation form – a form cohesive and absolute encompassing man, animal and animal-man combine. Vaikuntha-Bhairava has three faces, one in the centre being a human face, on the right, half lion half man, and on the left, a boar’s face. Literally too the term ‘Vishnu-Vaikuntha’ means ‘Vishnu Samagra’ – absolute. Not illustrative of a myth Vishnu-Vaikuntha relates to the principle of Vishnu’s cosmic breadth, his ability to expand and be inclusive.   On the same principle as Vishnu-Vaikuntha the iconographic tradition has visualized Vishnu’s cosmic form representing his totality. Such image perceives him with sixteen arms and eleven faces : besides his own face enshrining great majesty and aura in the centre the image has five faces on either side. Usually such faces are Bhragu, Narsimha, Ganesha, Rama, Shiva, Balarama, Hanuman, Yama, Parashurama and a human being, often a saint. Besides the normal right and left held in ‘abhay’ and ‘varad’ the other of the fourteen hands hold various divine weapons.     Harihara, a form in which he shares with Shiva half of the body,     and yet another, in which he shares half of his body with Laksmi, a Vaishnava vision of Ardhanarishwara and a far rarer concept of his image, are also seen in Vishnu’s imagery.   Representation of some of Vishnu’s exploits Puranas have woven around Vishnu innumerable legends that portray the image of Vishnu as protector and savior in crisis. This image which is now the people’s image of Vishnu quite often reveals in art, specially painting, does not as emphatically reveal in his sanctum or temple sculptures. Apart his independent image in ‘sayanasana’ or ‘khadgasana’, or even as Narayana, alone or with Lakshmi, legends like subduing Bali or Mahabali as Tri-vikrama, or redemption of elephant, also figure in stone-reliefs more often on the walls of some early temples besides in a number of miniatures. Now and then he is also seen with Sridevi and Bhudevi. However, many of Vishnu’s legends, such as rescuing his devotee Dhruv … or his exploits against various evil powers, mainly the elimination of Hayagriva, Madhu and Kaitabha, Andhaka, Vritrasura, Nemi, Sumali, Malyavan and many others constitute the theme only of some miniatures or painted walls in temples. Garuda, Vishnu’s mount The great bird Garuda, the mount of Vishnu, is an essential element of Vaishnava imagery. Garuda-dwaja – a column with an icon of Garuda atop it, is the essential identity of a Vaishnava temple. Some Vaishnava states, especially in Rajasthan such as Kota, have Garuda as their state’s official logo. A few most beautiful miniatures also portray Garuda, a couple of them the bird’s portrait while some with Vishnu rushing to protect a devotee riding on the bird and a few other with Lakshmi and Vishnu riding it.   Basically a bird Garuda is seen for ages as Vishnu’s ardent devotee, a learned human being and an auspicious presence, and in iconographic tradition often conceived with a man’s face, anatomy, ornaments and ensemble. The Puranas are replete with tales of Garuda’s divine exploits.   This article by P.C. Jain and Dr Daljeet   For Further Reference: Rig-Veda Samhita: ed F. Maxmuller; English translation by H Wilson, Poona Shatpatha Brahmana: ed by Albert Waver, Leipzig Etareya Brahman: Gita Press, Gorakhpur Taittiriya Samhita: Gita Press, Gorakhpur Taittiriya Brahman: Gita Press, Gorakhpur Linga Purana: Poona Matsya Purana: Poona Mahabharata: Gita Press, Gorakhpur; Critical Edition, Poona; English translation by Pratap Chandra Rai, Calcutta. Valmiki Ramayana: Gita Press, Gorakhpur. Padmapurana : Gita Press, Gorakhpur. Bhagavata Purana: Gita Press, Gorakhpur. Vishnupurana: Bombay; Gita Press, Gorakhpur. Harivansha Purana: Gita Press, Gorakhpur Vayu Purana: Gita Press, Gorakhpur P. C. Jain & Usha Bhatia: The Magic of Indian Miniatures Dr. Daljeet & P. C. Jain: Krishna : Raga se Viraga Tak Suvira Jaiswal: Origins and Development of Vaishnavism D. O. Flaherty: Hindu Myths Veronica Ions: Indian Mythology Devdatta Pattanaik: Vishnu We hope you have enjoyed reading the article. Any comments or feedback that you may have will be greatly appreciated.Please send your feedback to feedback@exoticindiaart.com.
    by Exotic India on December
  • Shiva, the Nataraja

    Shiva, the Nataraja

    An image or an aspect of Shiva’s person   The question ‘Is Shiva’s manifestation as Nataraja an aspect of Shiva’s person or just one of the types of his image in art or worship tradition’ has always haunted the minds of thinkers. As for art critics they have invariably confined themselves to his various manifestations as reveal in his iconographic forms – image-type, and there ends their quest. Contrarily metaphysicians and theologians perceived his form as it manifested in the Upanishads and Puranas. They perceived him as representing one of the ‘Tri-murti’ – three forms or functional aspects of God, namely, creation, preservation and dissolution, that is, bringing the cosmos into existence, sustaining it and finally withdrawing it. Lord Shiva was seen as representing the last of these three aspects, that is, dissolution. Prajapati, or Brahma, and Vishnu were seen as representing other two aspects, creation and preservation. In some contexts the Rig-Veda mentioned Prajapati and Brahma as two independent gods but sometimes also as two names of the Creator. Hence, they were often seen as representing one and the same functional aspect of God.  Shiva in Vedic literature   The Shiva-related worship tradition showed two trends. Under one, Shiva was seen as ‘ling’ – his aniconic manifestation;       and, under the other, he was seen and worshipped with a very wide range of imagery Nataraja being one of such forms.   He was seen as Sadashiva, One beyond time and beyond ‘kalpa’ – the scheduled tenure of the Creation, that is, time that spanned everything – manifest or unmanifest, was not Shiva’s measuring scale. In Indian cosmological tabulation Shiva's life-span is double of Vishnu, and Vishnu's, double of Brahma. Thus, in one kalpa Brahma emerges twice, Vishnu’s tenure ends with every kalpa; Shiva has tenure beyond kalpa.   The underlying mystic vein effectively working in the Shaivite worship cult saw Shiva as seed – the root of all things and all beings, male or female, and this gave to his visual image, both in art as well as to enshrine a sanctum a new image form known as Ardhanarishvara – half male and half female. The mystics contended that it was after Shiva split that there came forth both life and matter – ‘pran’ and ‘bhuta’. The Rig-Veda proclaimed in one of the Suktas ‘he (the Rig-Veda does not link this ‘he’ with Shiva but generalizes it) is as much male, as the female’. The ‘Advaita’ philosophy also contends that the entire Creation is just the extension of One.   All forms of dance initiated   Expressive of two basic tendencies of mind – wrathfulness and delight to include amour and enjoyment of beauty, dance was later classified as ‘tandava’ and ‘lasya; that is, what revealed wrath was classified as ‘tandava’, and that which revealed delight, also amour, ‘lasya’, ‘tandava’ revealing destructive mood, and ‘lasya’, creative. Theologians contend that dance is Shiva’s instrument for both, to create and to dissolve. They hold that his body wrathfully whirled as in dance when he destroyed Tripura – the cluster of three cities sheltering three demon brothers.     They also contend that immenseness of his ire was absolute when in it the entire universe dissolved. Thus, immensity of wrath determined the class of ‘tandava’, if it was the dance of dissolution or the dance that destroyed an individual or some particular object. Shiva resorted to a dance form similar to 'anandatandava' also when destroying elephant demon Gaya, demon Andhaka and when accomplishing Trailokyavijaya – victory of three worlds.   In similar vein metaphysicians hold that universe, his manifestation, creation and dissolution, wherever occurring, occur in him. If a leaf falls and decomposes, it is he who decays, and if a new shoot bursts, it is he who re-emerges. It is he who effects creation as also dissolution and is yet above both.   Thus, unlike a conceptual deity-image for sanctum an image of Shiva engaged in dance, despite that it also involves a lot of symbolism and is highly artistic, portrays an essential aspect of his being. Dance illustrates one of the ever-first cosmic acts with which Shiva seems to have tamed violent motion and separated from it rhythm, moves that communicated emotions and states of mind – human mind and the cosmic, and disciplined and defined pace. Cosmos emerged with roaring horizons, tempestuous winds, turbulent oceans, rocking mountains and moving earths. Shiva arrested their unruliness into his limbs and noises into the beats of his drum.   His feet re-cast the unruly skies and violent waters, and all their cries and commotion. Thus, unruly sounds were set to syllabic discipline, and cosmic disorder, having been reduced to measured pace, was transformed into ordered movement. A man of stage from his body gestures and movements he revealed, and perhaps guided how to reveal, different emotions and states of mind. He danced in delight as also to destroy. Thus in his case neither a dance-image nor any is an artistic manipulation or just an image for sanctum. Each of his images represents one of his aspects, an aspect of mind but more truly that of the flesh.   Dimensions of tandava and lasya manifesting in Shiva    Shaivite thought – metaphysical as well as devotional, abounds in numerous myths of dance performed by Shiva and his consort Devi in her various manifestations.     Unlike Vishnu who resorted to dance for accomplishing a contemplated objective, Shiva has been conceived more or less as a regular dancer performing for accomplishing an objective as also for pure aesthetic delight. The tradition hence reveres him, besides as 'Adi-nratya-guru' – the originator and the first teacher of dance, also as Natesh or Nataraja – the king of dance.     In him revealed both faces of dance – 'lasya' as well as 'tandava', of which all subsequent dance forms were offshoots. 'Lasya', the dance of aesthetic delight revealed beauty, grace, love and all tender aspects of existence. 'Lasya' is the mode that defined many of Shiva's iconographic forms – Kalyana-Sundara, Vrashavahana,       Yogeshvara,       Katyavalambita,   Sukhasanamurti, Chinamudra, Anugrahamurti, and Chandrashekhara.   Vyakhyanamurti   Chinamudra, Anugrahamurti, and Chandrashekhara. 'Tandava' – more correctly 'ananda-tandava', was the dance of absolute bliss, for after the Great Age had ended and dissolution had become imperative, He – the Great Shiva, Who alone remained to effect 're-birth' of life on the cosmos, danced in absolute bliss over the head of dissolution. In visual arts dissolution has been represented as Apasmarapurusha, the demon of forgetfulness and darkness, which prevailed after dissolution. Sound, which vibrated the space – the first of the five elements – the basic constituents of creation, fire, the symbol of final conflagration as also of the re-birth of energy – the main source of life, and gestures of re-assurance, fearlessness, release and liberation, accompanied 'ananda-tandava' as its organs. These aspects largely concretized also his image in ananda-tandava as it manifested in art and worship tradition especially in South where Shiva is widely worshipped as Nataraja.     In ananda-tandava imagery Shiva carried a damaru – double drum suggestive of sound – an essential component of ananda-tandava.     Ananda-tandava conceived Shiva’s image with flames of fire bursting from one of his palms and as running through entire cosmos – symbolized in Shaivite imagery in the form of a fire-arch.   Similarly, assurance, freedom from fear, release … are revealed in the gestures of Shiva’s hands. It was in 'ananda-tandava' that the fivefold activity – creating, maintaining, veiling, unveiling, and destroying, and the six celestial 'bhavas': 'shrishti' – creation; 'sanhara' – dissolution; 'vidya' – knowledge; 'avidya' – ignorance; 'gati' – motion; and 'agati' – inertness, revealed. 'Ananda-tandava', thus, encompassed the entire cosmos and its phenomenal existence.   Informal image In almost all manifestations Shiva’s images are informal though in a dance form such aspect is best revealed. In a dance form the impassioned Shiva is as a rule portrayed as passionately engaged in it each body-part involving in its ecstasy. Unfurling locks of hair and his snakes floating into space portray the dynamics of the act. Usually he his right leg planted on the figure of Apasmarapurusha, and the left, turned to the right and shot with sublime force into the space.     Shiva is usually a figure with normal two arms         though his images portraying him as engaged in dance are often four-armed.   Besides the normal right and left hands held in ‘abhay’and ‘varad’, the upper right hand carries a double-drum, and the upper left, a flame of fire. The term Nataraja, composed of’Nata’ and ’Raja’ literally means ’king’ of ’natas’. However, in its width the term ‘nata’, an ’acrobat’, means stage-performer. Thus, Nataraja means king of stage-performers or dancers. Shiva danced to destroy and to create or to delight, but containing unruly motion and to make it the instrument of expressing ‘bhavas’, an impulse that required him to teach it to others, also made him the ever first teacher – 'Adiguru' of dance.   Some other significant image forms of Shiva in dance Later, Shiva was celebrated also as Nratya Dakshinamurti – one who is 'daksha' or expert in dance and also as Natesh. Though the terms Natesh and Nratya Dakshinamurti had greater breadth for these terms also included ‘lasya’, besides ‘tandava’, his form that the term Nataraja denoted is largely rigidified, has a better defined iconography and in common perception is seen as better representing Shiva in 'Ananda-tandava' – the dance of dissolution. Various forms of Apasamarapurusha – as variously decoded by Shaivite thinkers, present also some variants of this form. Though ruthlessly trampled under the feet in most cases the image of Apasamarapurusha lies well contented as if awaiting the end of the dance and complete dissolution of the cosmos for after the dissolution is absolute its reign – the reign of inertness, begins. Sometimes Apasamarapurusha is thoughtfully inclined as if meditating on how it shall act after dissolution has taken place, and sometimes carries a flower or some object assuring that soon the process of re-creation shall begin.   This article by P.C. Jain and Dr Daljeet   For Further Reference: Rigveda : (ed.) Vishvabandhu : Vishveshvananda Vedic Research Institute, Hoshiyarpur Shiva Purana, Gita Press, Gorakhpur Upanishad-anka, Gita Press, Gorakhpur Linga Purana : (ed.) J. L. Shashtri, Delhi Natyashashtra by Bharata Muni A Concise Encyclopaedia of Hinduism, Ram Krishna Math, Benglore Shivaramamurti : Nataraja in Art, Thought and Literature V. S. Agrawal : Shiva Mahadeva, The Great God : Varanasi Stella Kramrisch : The Presence Of Shiva : Delhi Devdutt Pattanaik : Shiva, an Introduction We hope you have enjoyed reading the article. Any comments or feedback that you may have will be greatly appreciated.Please send your feedback to feedback@exoticindiaart.com.
    by Exotic India on September
  • Auspicious Symbols in Indian tradition

    Auspicious Symbols in Indian tradition

    Simple graphics or an iconic image, in his symbols man has sought across ages a moral-boosting energy and support. In art or in the course of day-today life, man has been using for millenniums symbols for portraying probabilities – the course that things might take as they occur or progress, and also for embodying the divine forces that steered his efforts into desired direction. The ‘desired’ being the goal of man’s efforts he would resort to anything that takes him nearer to it. He would not hesitate tying an ordinary black thread around the arm or wearing it on his child’s neck if it protected him against an ailment. Black was perhaps his means of infusing into his child’s being as much negative/immunizing energy as defeated the adverseness of a disease. Tying a rag of her used wear – a sari, to a tree a woeful woman has been lodging since ages her petition to the unseen powers of nature. She has always believed that this would redeem her of her distress. The tradition saw, perhaps, her wear, being long on her body, becoming her integrated part and by tying its fragment to the tree – a part of nature, she believed her woes shall shift to the tree and from the tree to the nature. The concept re-affirms when the mother of a newborn seeks to clothe her child in someone’s used garments preferably of the person whose character and ability she wished the child inherited. A few green chillis and a lemon, stringed and hung on a truck, crane, road roller or a mini tempo, secures his vehicle from every kind of mishap. In early morning when the eye has not yet divorced drowsiness some unseen messiah would emerge and hang the chilli-lemon chain along the bumper of his carrier, and soon after it is hung it acquires such magical powers as secures the vehicle against every mishap.   Whatever its operational area, the strength of a symbol or any such magical instrument – even a common man’s ‘totaka’ – charm or spell, such as chilli-lemon chain, or rags tied to the tree, is still the same as ever. A mud-figure of Ganapati, or the motifs of the sun and the moon on the hut’s mud-wall, or a Ganapati or Dasavatara relief on the lintel of the entrance of a royal mansion are believed to secure both, and their inmates, against every misfortune, calamity and everything untoward. Symbols, or such cumulated beliefs that time has often questioned and tested for their validness, have a very wide range and an unseen mechanism ensuring deliverance of the ‘desired’. This world of unmanifest powers that commands man’s life as effectively as – or more effectively than, his manifest world, is as wide as his manifest world. Besides mystic destiny, unseen forces of nature, planetary positions, cosmological diagrams, graphic condensations of universe this world consists of deity-images, auspicious signs, and a number of material things defining a status, such as a crown, the kingship, or a ‘mangal-sutra’, whatever its form, even a humble black thread, a woman’s marital status.   Ordinary material objects having a symbol’s status   A coconut, otherwise an ordinary dried fruit or the source of edible, or at the most, beauty oil, has always been revered as an auspicious object effecting good and well-being and the food that gods most loved, and hence some kind of divinity enshrining it. One shall always take care that he does not touch or hit it with foot.   Similarly, objects like conch, lotus, lamp, pot, book, birds like goose, peacock, aquatic creatures like fish, tortoise, animals like lion, cow, elephant among others, are believed to possess, besides their normal attributes, transcendental strength effecting good. As the attribute of Lord Brahma book is the symbol of Vedas; otherwise that of knowledge and man’s desire to learn and know. In Vaishnava tradition conch represents the end of demonic powers that the demon Shankhachuda, killed by Lord Vishnu, represented; otherwise, conch is the symbol of declaring a beginning of an event, a war or a rite, that effects a change. Besides the mount of goddess Saraswati goose is the symbol of purity and adherence to values. Most other things listed among symbols have besides a legendary context also independent symbol-status.   Omens, good or bad, ‘totakas’ – charms or spells, black magic, tantric practices among others are also the constituents of this unmanifest world; however, while a spell or charm, the crude local ‘totakas’, or even a tantric instrument, accomplishes the practitioner’s objective more often in an opponent’s destruction, damage or loss, a symbol is always auspicious doing good to oneself without harming any. Motifs representing sun, moon and other celestial bodies, tantric diagrams – various yantras, kumbha, or purna-kumbha – pots, simple or ritually accomplished or consecrated, conceptual or graphic icons like Shrimukha or Kirttimukha,                     among others are the objects in which man has seen since ages the charismatic good-delivering power. Besides accomplishing the desired most symbols are also components of one ritual or other. They are often his means for defining a status, identity, cultural ethos and nationalism. Summarily, many of the symbols are representations of objects always held in utmost reverence; others are conceptual or those as evolved in the course of time, tradition of faith or by adoption such as national flag, emblem, currency, national song …, ritually nurtured or consecrated as the purna-ghata, or those inherited from other traditions even such as reached Indian land with invaders such as the mythical dragon form. Attributed with due rites and accomplished with auspicious components an ordinary earthen pot is elevated to the status of purna-ghata, and thus, that of a sacred symbol.   Deity images, the timeless symbols   In almost all religious cultures divine imagery to include besides anthropomorphic deity images also their names, characteristic verses or hymns lauding them, their mounts, attributes or an object inseparably associated with a divinity or such objects as the tree in the Buddhist tradition.       Anthropomorphic imagery also includes graphic representation if it represents a deity such as Sri-yantra, a representation of the Hindu goddess Lakshmi,         the part of an image used for representing the total image, such as Vishnu-pad – image of feet symbolic of Lord Vishnu, or foot-prints, symbolic representation of goddess Lakshmi.         Such objects as are integrally associated with a divinity such as cross – scaffold Jesus Christ was hung on in Christian culture. In contemporary times artists have represented Mahatma Gandhi by representing his glasses. The tree in the Buddhist tradition was later identified as Bodhi-tree, seated under which Buddha had attained Enlightenment.       Besides the Bodhi-tree the sacred syllable ‘Om Mane Pamne Hum’ and ‘chakra’ or the ‘dharma-chakra’, wheel also has a sacred symbol’s sanctity. Any Buddhist, a monk or a lay follower, might be seen wearing an amulet with the four words of this holy hymn embossed on it.     For a Christian a cross, or any cross-like form, even a neck-tie, or tie-pin, or a pendant in the shape of cross, is his most sacred symbol defining his Christian identity. A form of mihrab – arch in the mosque architecture, defining qu’bla – arched recess in a mosque’s western wall, the direction of the holy Mecca, holds in Islam a sacred symbol’s sanctity. The motif of a Kirtti-stambh with words that Lord Mahavira first uttered after attaining ‘Kewal-jyana’ – absolute knowledge, inscribed on its base-part, is the most pious symbol of Jainism. The Kirtti-stambh is the representation of Tirthankara Mahavira’s ‘Samavasarana’ – first sermon that he delivered after his twelve years penance. Nishan-sahib’ – the icon of double edged khadga with which Sikhs’ tenth pontiff Guru Gobind Singh had founded Khalsa, is Sikhs’ essential identity symbol. Besides, syllables like ‘Sat Sri Akal’ or even ‘Sat Guru teri ot’ have also a symbol-like sanctity for the people of Punjab.     In view of great breadth of Hindu pantheon the number of symbols related to deity images, attributes, mounts, hymns among others has far greater enormity. Though anthropomorphic icons of all deities, Vaishnava, Shaivite or any, have a symbol’s status, an image of Ganesha and even that of the monkey god Hanuman, Goddess Durga’s mount lion, ritual artifact bell among others have as symbols universal identity. Ganesha is the symbol of auspiciousness,      Hanuman, of redemption from a crisis,       Durga’s mount lion, of dauntless courage and valour, and bell of cosmic sound.       The American President Barak Obama had revealed after his historic victory that one of his inspirations leading him to his victory was the idol of Hanuman that he always carried with him. Elephant and lotus, the essential attributes of Goddess Lakshmi’s icons, are esoteric but as symbols of prosperity and accomplishment they have quite wider acceptance.     Among anthropomorphic icons the images of Vishnu, Durga, Kali, Lakshmi, Mahakala and yogi form of Shiva, icons of Shiva’s mount Nandi, the bull, Durga’s mount lion, Krishna’s cow, Karttikeya’s mount peacock, Indra’s mount Airavata, besides a number of attributes that various gods carry, have symbols’ status. Lotus is the foremost symbol among flowers, thunderbolt, khadga – double-edged sword, conch, bell and bow, in weapons, mango among fruits etc have symbols’ status. Tri-punda sign – three horizontal lines on the forehead, is the identity symbol of a Shaivite, whereas a vertical strip, a Vaishnavite’s identity. Though not exactly symbols, some classes of amulets, at least those with deity icons for they portray the wearer’s religious identity, are like symbols. Amulets with icons of Durga, Kali, Lakshmi, Hanuman, Ganesha, Shiva, Vishnu, Shiva mostly seated while Vishnu always as standing and also as Narsimha … are in wide use among Hindus.   Symbols prevalent since Vedic days : sun, foot-print, AUM Body gestures and symptoms, signs, indications among others must have been the early man’s tools of communicating oneself and knowing and understanding the world around. Thus, his initial communicative mechanism must have evolved out of signs and body gestures. Symbols were only the sophisticated version of some of such signs, state of things or those obtained by decoding of mystic riddles of the cosmos. Such sophistication had begun taking place right since the period of Vedas. Seven of such symbols, namely, the sacred syllable AUM, sun, foot-print, purna-ghata or purna-kumbha, lotus, naga – serpent, and conch, are found occurring in the Vedic literature. Sun   In Vedic literature the sun is hardly ever a planet or a celestial body but the source of entire cosmic energy and the supreme deity that accepts ‘havya’ – offering made to Agni of the ‘yajna’. Sun, the Rig-Veda’s ‘urugay’ walked with long strides and spanned entire universe every day. Later, the status of the sun was reduced to a subordinate deity; however, sun always remained an auspicious symbol in art to also include floor-drawings – alpanas and rangolis, decorative art embellishing various spaces on auspicious occasions and folk art, and entire architecture. Soon, the sun jointly with moon emerged as the symbol of time.   Foot-print Foot-print was another important Vedic symbol. Initially foot-print was a symbol of the sun that the Rig-Veda saw as interminably spanning the universe, and hence, as foot, the most characteristic symbol of the ceaseless moving sun. The yajnika – performer of yajna, invoked the sun for accomplishing the yajna by accepting the ‘havya’ and placed the foot-print symbol on the entrance of yajna-shala – the yajna premises, believing that having accepted his invocation the sun is walking in. Later, Vishnu emerged as the yajna’s presiding deity who spanned the universe in three strides. Now he was the texts’ ‘urugay’ and the presiding deity of the yajna. Obviously, the foot-print symbol on the entrance door was also shifted to Vishnu. Now the symbol is widely known as ‘Vishnu-pada’ – Vishnu’s feet. The tradition later developed also another foot-print symbol, tender and feminine, perceived as the symbol representing the feet of Lakshmi, the goddess of abundance, prosperity, fertility, fecundity … On her first entering her in-laws’ house the new-wed would dip her feet in red dye and print the floor of the house with foot-print marks. Equated with the goddess of prosperity she is believed to harbinger riches and good luck to her new abode.   AUM   Also spelt as OM the sacred syllable AUM is the symbol of Supreme. It is also the symbol of cosmic nada – sound, and Vedic seers seem to have developed it as an instrument of meditation. AUM – the most effective regulator of breathing, is the sound that resounds across all three cosmic regions, the earth, the sky and the ocean. Practically it puts the entire vocal region to act, that is, properly pronounced its AAH part requires the mouth to open, its OOH part, the lips to pucker and fold ring-like, and MMMM part requires the lips to purse together. From there the sound moves to the top of the palette. Here it ascends to further height, and then it descends into the throat. In equation lips define the middle level, that is, earth, palette, the top level, the sky, and throat or the root of the tongue, the bottom which is the ocean. The sound of AUM is strangely resounding and echoes all through the vocal region and beyond. Hence, it precedes recitation of all hymns so that the hymn echoes across all regions and enhances the quality and strength of breath. Purna-ghata, naga, conch and lotus   An ordinary pot, purna-ghata or purna-kumbha is required to be consecrated by due rites and procedure to rise to a symbol’s status. It appears that to the Vedic seers purna-ghata was a component of paraphernalia used in the course of yajna. Later in Puranic era it was attributed a regular form, status and symbolic stretch. Naga was taken to illustrate the being’s dormant energies; later besides illustrating such energies associated with top divinities of almost all sects, Vaishnava, Shaiva, Buddhist, Jain and lately, Sikhism, naga was used for defining their supreme divine status.   The Vedic seers used conch for declaring initiation of yajna, and lotus, initially as a sacred flower. Later, both, the conch and the lotus, linked with different divinities acquired symbols’ status. Kirtimukha, the universal symbol of auspices Kirttimukha, also known as 'Shrimukha', is universally revered as an auspicious symbol. Almost all ancient cultures of the world discovered 'the auspicious' in something awe-inspiring and conceived a dreadful symbol which stood for good. It is obviously the symbol in which man sought immunity from fear and protection from the outside evil. Kirttimukha was initially conceived as a mystical mask. Kirttimukha symbol, often translated as the 'Face of glory', is composed using a dreaded animal form combined with some attributes of human anatomy. In India the Kirttimukha is a composite lion form. In China and many other countries it is composed of a dragon form – a python’s body and a demon head. This dragon form of Kirttimukha reached India with Greek and other invaders in early days but was not accepted immediately. Its best use is seen in later temple architecture, the temples of Chandelas in special, their temples at Khajuraho alone having eighteen kinds of them. They are composed of eighteen different animals all with ferocious bearings. In early contexts it was conceived to display the illusion and hide the 'real'. It seems to have some relation with devil worship for winning its favour or evading its wrath. In Tibet its form is almost like Tibetan Bon-po, the devil whose worship prevailed until the introduction of Buddhism. Though 'Kirtimukha' or the 'Face of glory', its name, Kirttimukha is a grotesque, ferocious and terrifying form. In Buddhism, the 'Kirttimukha' like looking fierce deities are revered as the Buddha’s guardians. In China, Nepal and many other countries Kirttimukha is revered as holy protector and guardian.   Bell, lamp, wheel and lion Bell, lamp, wheel and lion are other objects that have symbols’ status. Used in rites of almost all religions lamp and bell have universal acceptance, though wheel as symbol, not as component of a mechanical device, is strictly of Buddhist origin. The lamp that breaks monotonous darkness, and the bell that breaks the monotonous silence are auspicious symbols operating against demonic forces of monotonous quiet and darkness. Wheel is essentially contextual to Buddhism and is symbolic of his first sermon that he delivered at Sarnath to his five fellow-pupils after he had attained Enlightenment. In Buddhist tradition the moment was named ‘dharma-chakra-pravartana, that is, putting the wheel of Law in motion. The wheel marks its presence in entire Buddhist iconography. Wheel motif is one of main attractions of the famous Surya-temple at Konark in Orissa and Indian Republic had incorporated it when designing her currency and is now its permanent feature. Now the identity symbol of Jain Tirthankara Mahavira and goddess Durga’s mount, Indus people seem to have been little familiar or friendly with lion. Lion does not figure in the wide range of animal toys or figurines excavated from Indus sites. Even the yajna-performing Vedic seers seem to have been quite indifferent to lion as the Vedas are completely silent to the animal. As a matter of fact even in Buddhism lion gets eminence only in Mauryan era when Emperor Ashoka adopts Buddhism and for spreading the Buddha’s message of non-violence erects pillars with animal capitals topping them. Now the Indian Republic has on her entire currency the lion-capital which is now the national symbol of India. However, far more than India’s national symbol, lion has been to an Indian the embodiment of India’s most fundamental values – humility, balance, non-violence, respect for life, not taking more than what one needed and the like. A lion embodies all them. Besides, the lion-motif further stands for a mighty sovereign nation that believes in peaceful co-existence, respect for life and human values. Unlike the common perception, and despite entirely feeding on animal flesh, lion is never violent and does attack unless provoked or unless its own security is endangered. Blood-shed, violence, vanity, rage, enmity, revenge, rivalry, envy … are not his nature.   This article by P.C. Jain and Dr Daljeet   References & Further Reading: J R Santiago : Sacred Symbols of Buddhism J R Santiago : Mandala Ganga Somany : Shiva and Shakti Mythology and Art Veronica Ions : Indian Mythology Devadatta Pattanaik : Shiva Dr Daljeet & P C Jain : Khajuraho C Shivaramamurti : Nataraja in Art, Thought and Literature Ajit Mukharjee and Madhu Khanna : The Tantric Way. P C Jain : Magic Makers, Folk and Tribal Art Dalai Lama : A Meditation on Compassion Tucci Guissepe : Sacred Symbols - Buddha We hope you have enjoyed reading the article. Any comments or feedback that you may have will be greatly appreciated.Please send your feedback to feedback@exoticindiaart.com.
    by Exotic India on July
  • Krishna's Dance with the Female Cowherds - A Joyous, Spiritual Narrative

    Krishna's Dance with the Female Cowherds - A Joyous, Spiritual Narrative

    After having returned the clothes of the unclad maidens bathing in the sacred waters of river Yamuna, Krishna congratulated them for their unflinching devotion towards him and promised that he would sport with them during the forthcoming autumn nights. True to his word, when he observed the blooming jasmines, and the moon smearing the eastern sky a brilliant crimson red (like a lover returning after a long absence makes his beloved blush withhis touch), all being conducive, Krishna let forth from his flute a breathtaking symphony, which stole the hearts of the beautiful women of Vraja (modern day Mathura and Vrindavana).   Krishna as Venugopal   In the enchanting process, he made them so excited to join him that they did not even bother to finish whatever chore they were performing at the moment. Thus, for example, the milking of cows;suckling of infants; serving of food to the family (or themselves) or waiting upon husbands, all such businesses were left unfinished as they rushed out to meet Krishna. In their eagerness, the gopis did not, as much as take a second look at their outward appearances. Some, for example, were cleansing or painting their bodies, a few were applying collyrium (anjan) to their eyes, these cosmetic attempts at adorning themselves were left in between, and in their anxiety, some even put the lower clothes on their upper bodies and vice versa.   VIVEKACUDAMANI of Sri Sankaracarya   This vivid description from the Bhagavata Purana (29.10.1-7) makes it obvious that in their enthusiasm to meet their beloved lord, the gopis gave no thought to their physical appearance, however awkward, nor did they think twice before giving up their worldly duties. The revered guru Shankaracharya says in his philosophical poem, Viveka Chudamani: 'There is no liberation for the being attached to the body, and the liberated being has no attachment to the body. One who is asleep is not awake, and one who is awake does not dream, for these refer to two different states.' (Verse: 338)   An Inspiring Instance of Women's Liberation: The gopis' escape from the shackles of worldly life was not however without event. Their husbands, fathers and brothers, all tried to restrain them but to no avail. As per the Manu Smriti, the ancient text laying down a model code of conduct: "A female should be under the control of her father during childhood, the husband in youth, and her children after the husband dies." (Manu 5.148) "A woman should follow life-long a husband whom she is given to by her father, or her brother in consultation with the father." (5.151) By disobeying every enumerated male relative, paying no heed to their supposed authority, the women of Vraja successfully unburdened themselves of each link of the chain binding them. Thus says the Brhadaranyaka Upanishad (4.3.22) The Enticing Hook   '(In such a state) the father is not a father, mother not a mother, the world not the world, the gods not the gods and the Vedas not the Vedas. At that time, such a being, has no relation to either virtue or sin.' Truly, Krishna is the ultimate attraction, much like a magnet draws iron files towards it, so does he attract his devotees, who care two hoots for their worldly duties, however pressing they may be. Indeed, some have imagined the first letter in his name, rendered in Sanskrit as symbolic of his 'grip' over his devotees, because of the hook-like shape in its lower half. Transcending Karma:  Some of the women however, were physically detained from leaving their houses, being locked up inside. These closed their eyes and imbibed Krishna in their hearts. The intense suffering produced by the unbearable agony of separation was sufficient enough to wipe over the negative residue accumulated due to unfavorable karma over all their previous lives (and the present one). No sooner had they meditated upon their lord than they felt themselves embracing him and the ecstatic bliss thus generated similarly washed off the positive effects of all their meritorious karma. Thus united with the Supreme Soul, who is the self of all (param-atma), even as a beloved would do with her paramour, they were completely relieved of all karmic bonds.  Ancient commentators have believed that the Bhagavata Purana, on which the above narrative is based, is actually a commentary on the most exalted text of Indian philosophy, the Brahma Sutras. Consider what the latter has to say on the destruction of karmic residue:  "On attaining the highest reality (Brahman), the earlier and later sins are destroyed, which do not originate again." (4.1.13)  "The good deeds also do not cling to the one who has attained Brahman." (4.1.14)  Indeed, authoritative texts are unanimous on the point that one who has attained union with the Supreme Soul is free from the effects of karma. The Chandogya Upanishad says:  "As water does not cling to a lotus leaf, so will future sins not cling to him." (4.14.3)  "The accumulated sins of the past will be destroyed, as the fibers at the tip of a reed are burnt up when laid on fire." (5.24.3)  The Mundaka Upanishad puts it clearly:  "All the actions of a such a soul are destroyed." (2.2.8)  Here, it is interesting to observe that, even though the innocent ladies of Vraja did not recognize Krishna as the Supreme Soul, the very fact that they had intense desire for him led to their emancipation and release from the bondage of karma. It is said:  "Persons who continuously cherish love, anger, fear, affection, identity and friendliness unto the lord, ultimately attain one-ness with him." (Bhagavata Purana 10.29.15)  The idea being that whatever emotion is directed towards god, it should be intense and continuous. Sage Vyasa has the following to say in his commentary on Patanjali's Yoga Sutras:  'Virtuous deeds ripen quickly when brought to completion with intense force (tivra sam-vega). Evil deeds too come to a speedy fruition when repeatedly performed due to intense afflictions (tivra klesha).' (2.12)  The Gopis Meet Krishna:  For those of the gopis who managed to get away, Krishna's reaction on seeing them was a far cry from what they had expected. He welcomed them in extremely formal terms calling them "Highly blessed ladies," and then enquired of what service he could be to them. Krishna Admonishes the GopisKota, 1725-50   The women felt dejected at his words. Formality is not for those intimate with each other, where being taken for granted is the usual norm. Krishna however, by making himself dearer, was only aiming to intensify the gopis' desire. In shringar rasa (aesthetics of love and beauty), it is most often the female who acts pricey. Here, the situation is reversed.   Love on the Terrace   In either case, the fulfillment of any intimate situation is naturally heightened when one partner feigns restraint, kindling the other's desire to an elevated, aggressive pitch.   Mother and Child    He, further on, explicitly discouraged them, even mildly chiding them for the negligence of their duty:  "It is the supreme duty of women to render service to their husbands with sincerity of heart, and to look after the well-being of relatives and nourish children." (Bhagavata Purana 10.29.24) "Resorting to illicit intercourse with a paramour by women of noble families is fraught with miseries and dangers." (10.26)   The Gopis' Reaction: Hearing Krishna's unfavorable words, the cowherd women grew despondent, as their expectations were frustrated. With downcast faces they started scratching the ground, as if imploring mother earth to gobble them up to save them from shame. Their breath, heated due to distress, dried up their otherwise juicy, red lips.  The perfumed saffron they had lovingly applied on their breasts, so that the offending sweat from their bodies would not bother their beloved Krishna, was washed off by a torrent from the eyes. The tears became black on account of the collyrium (kajal). It was befitting that they attained this color, since they were weeping for Krishna, who is himself dark. Indeed, in true love, we have to forgo our own hues, and instead get drenched in the colors of our beloved. Thus did the gopis wash off the soothing red (their own) from their chest and instead rendered it black (Shayama-ranga), the color of Krishna (also known as Shyama), loudly proclaiming that they had wiped off their own egoistic identities, establishing the one Universal Soul into their hearts. Or perhaps, frustrated by his refusal to make love to them, the gopis thus symbolically smeared off the ornamentation on their bosoms and instead blackened them. However, the tears dried up as soon as they reached the breasts, due to the excessive inflammation generated in their hearts. The two black lines, from the eyes to the breasts, seemed to trace a carpenter's saw, out to hack them into two, such intense was their emotion at the rejection. Tormented, restless and shivering with affectionate wrath, the gopis wiped their tears and urged Krishna:  Dear lord, we have taken the refuge of your feet only after renouncing the material world and its desires. True indeed are your words that we women should perform our duties towards our families. But O Supreme Person, do tell us what, when your eternal presence is available to us, are we to gain by serving our husbands or sons who are nothing but a source of misery (due to their mortality)?"  Our hearts, which were lodged happily in our households and the hands, engaged in serving them, have all been enchanted by your magic and leaving your lotus feet we do not wish to move one step. Dear friend, do defuse the fire in our hearts by the torrential flood of nectar flowing from your lips (since the blaze is enormous it requires a flood rather than a mere sprinkle to quench it)." "Having seen your face covered with curling locks of hair, cheeks shining with refulgent earrings and lips brimming with nectar, your charming smile, sidelong glances and mighty arms reassuring protection, we have become your committed servants. Which woman in the three worlds could resist the ravishing melodies of your flute and not deviate from the noble path of the ancients (arya-maryada). O friend of the distressed, do place your lotus hands on the love-fired breasts of your humble servants (you will not be scorched by the heat in our bosoms, just like the burning sun does not hurt a lotus) and keep your hands on our heads (blessing us that you will never ever reject us again)." Listening to their distressed voices, even though he is self-contended and revels solely in his own self (atman-ram), Krishna smiled and mercifully began to sport with them.   Krishna's Love Games (Initial Installment): The Crowd of Charming Girls Seduces Hari With their faces now blooming, the gopis gathered around Krishna, whose magnificent smile radiated the splendor of his jasmine-like teeth. He looked like a full moon surrounded with stars. The gopis sang of his glory, and sometimes Krishna reciprocated with his own compositions praising them. The lord next embraced them by spreading out his arms wide. He then excited the women by pressing their arms, hair, thighs, waists, breasts, and indulged in light jokes, pricking them gently with his nails.   Pride Emerges in the Gopis: Receiving such enormous honor from Lord Krishna, the gopis puffed up with pride and each regarded herself as special, superior to all women on earth. Perceiving their conceit at having betrothed the lord and their misplaced pride at their beauty, Krishna, for curing them of their malady, immediately vanished from their midst.
    by Exotic India on June
  • The Light That Enlightened Millions (The life of Buddha in the popular mind)

    The Light That Enlightened Millions (The life of Buddha in the popular mind)

    'None else but fear is thy enemy, thy death, disease and distress. Overcome fear and then for thee there is no death, no disease, no distress. Not death, fear of death is thy problem and redemption from fear is thy redemption from death', said Buddha, the Enlightened. Compassion for suffering mankind was the Buddha’s inspiration and removing the veil of darkness – ignorance that enshrouded the ‘light’ within, the Buddha’s crusade against death and all that frightened the mind. Buddha taught that the light was within everyone, inherent and inborn; he said, remove the veil of darkness, defeat fear, and thou art all light. ‘Live thy way’, he said. Not strict austerities or path of renunciation, a middle path will do. This middle path lies in between extreme asceticism on one side, and extreme indulgence on the other. Walk in between, in the middle, temperate, quiescent and tranquil. Buddha does not object to acquiring or stocking wealth but one should acquire what he truly needs. Similarly he should not be tempted by others’ things nor take any without its owner’s permission. His middle path was ordinarily the path of a normal ethical man requiring him to be truthful, not indulging in theft and to have due control of his senses.   Buddha incorporates into his doctrine also such Vedic tenets as Brahmacharya and has in common with Jainism tenets like those as ‘asteya’, ‘aparigraha’ among others, He talked of a three-fold path for all – monks or lay-followers : ‘Buddham sharanam gachchhami, Dhammam sharanam gachchhami, Sangham sharanam gachchhami’, that is, let Buddha be thy refuge, let Order be thy refuge, let Community of seekers of Light be thy refuge. As the Buddha is the Light, not individual unless such individual has attained Enlightenment, ‘let Buddha be the refuge’ meant dedicating oneself to the Light – ultimate knowledge and freedom from ignorance and fear of death. Apart, it was the magic of Buddha’s model of life that even in his lifetime he had millions of followers who could lay at his feet everything, even life. Sudatta, one of his disciples known as Anathapindaka – sustainer of orphans, once prayed him to have at Savatti, his place, his ‘chaturmasa’ – four months camp for rains. Buddha consented. Jet-vana, a grove outside Savatti, was selected for the camp. However, the landlord wanted for his land as many gold coins as would cover his entire land. As illustrated in Buddhist sculptures, Anathapindaka paid him as many gold coins for the land. Thus, the Buddha’s life was itself the ‘light’. It is said the night Mayadevi, Buddha’s mother, conceived, dreamt of a white baby elephant descending from heavens, and after circumambulating her bed thrice entering into her womb. Besides its divine links in Indian tradition elephant symbolises auspiciousness. White symbolises purity, and its tender age, innocence. When in the morning Mayadevi narrated her dream to her husband king Suddhodana, the chieftain of Sakya clan who ruled Kapilavastu, he summoned wise of his state known for their ability to interpret a dream. They concluded that the queen had conceived and that her son would be a ‘chakravartin’, the king of kings and shall rule millions of people across the land. Lumbini miracle   A mandate of the tradition, Queen Mayadevi proceeded to her father’s house for her first delivery though when passing across Lumbini in Himalayan foothills a grove of Sal trees on the roadside drew her mind and she wished to rest there for a while. When standing under a Ashok tree, tired and exhausted, she raised her right hand for seeking support of a branch of the tree.     Though being too high her hand could not reach it, the other moment all its branches lowered covering her canopy-like. With a branch in her hand, Queen Mayadevi delivered her child later named Siddhartha, and finally the Buddha. Immediately after its birth the child stood up and walked seven steps.   On all seven spots he laid his feet at grew lotuses. Dumbstruck the maids accompanying her saw the miracle. When back to their senses they put on the child proper apparels and bed. As was obvious, from Lumbini the queen returned to Kapilavastu. Lumbini episode was a picture of the child’s future life. He preferred emerging where neither his father nor his maternal grandfather ruled – away from palaces he chose the nature’s kingdom calm and quiet. Later the Buddha – the Enlightened, also emerged under a tree. Ashok, one beyond passions – grief or delight, ever defined him – his Buddhahood he attained later. With the sky his roof, and the earth, his bed, the child was born not for pleasures of palace-life. In palace but far beyond it he was nature-born. The unique balance that defined his entire life was pre-determined in this duality. He shared also material aspects of the palace-life but discovered himself – the Buddha, in the forest. Age was irrelevant in his case. A few minutes his age, he stood up and walked. Even after more than 2500 years of his ‘nirvana’ for millions he still lives. Wherever the newborn laid his feet lotuses grew; wherever he went he infused into mankind grace and glory of gods. Death of Mayadevi When only few days his age, his mother passed away leaving him into his aunt’s care. His own observation apart, the king received reports that his son was often seen immersed into deep meditation. Around then Asita, the known sage those days, came to his court. He observed that Siddhartha possessed all 32 auspicious marks, a rare thing happening once an eon. He spontaneously declared that the young prince was born to rule a world with no borders to circumscribe it – kingdoms of minds of millions of suffering mankind. Child Siddhartha’s introvert nature and sage Asita’s forecast deeply upset the king who always wished that he inherited him and as predicted was a ‘chakravartin’. To keep him to the worldly path he made all arrangements in the palace itself to evade his interaction with the outside world and its bitterness. Marriage However, Siddhartha’s mind did not change. One day, in the palace garden he frightened his attendants. He mounted a roundabout around a jambu tree, and sat in padmasana and immersed in meditation. Absolute calm and utter serenity enshrined his face and his mind seemed to have reached the state where all worldly thoughts cease to exist. Amazed they witnessed the shadow of the jambu tree gathering umbrella like over him though the sun had moved into other direction. When reported, king Suddhodana did not fail to see its underlying warning. The wise and the family’s elders thought a wife and children would tie him to worldly path. Siddhartha agreed to the proposal and after due tests he was married to a Sakya nobleman’s daughter Gopa, also known as Yashodhara. Besides marriage, his palace was packed with luxuries, comforts, opulence, pleasures… He lived with Yashodhara for several years and had from her also a son named Rahul but neither the luxuries of palace-life nor the son’s or the wife’s fascination, or the authority of the kingship, could engage his mind. His encounter with three truths One day, sometime after Rahul’s birth, Siddhartha went out for a round from the eastern gate of the palace. There he saw a man unable to walk straight and without support. He carried a stick he leaned on when walking. A mere skeleton that his loosely hung skin was unable to contain he could hardly walk a step and heaved pitiably. Broken, decayed and deep socketed eyes, he looked miserable. Question in eyes, he turned his face to Dunpa, his charioteer. Dunpa told that he was an aged man; with age everyone decayed. The youth was only a passing phase. Siddhartha realized that the old age was inherent and neither the king’s command nor the palace-walls, could revert its passage. Similarly, one day when on a round on the southern side he saw a man ailing and crying with pain. He had lost his glow, his face bore a piteous look and was in rags. Deserted by all he looked at everyone for help. Dumpa told that he was sick and fearing that his disease could entrap them all had deserted him. Siddhartha realized that sickness was part of life and everyone was destined to suffer from it sometime or other. A third time when he was on the western side of the palace, he saw a procession of wailing and lamenting crowd following a human body wrapped in cloth and tied along a bamboo frame that four persons carried. The body lied motionless. This was his ever first encounter with death. Dunpa told that the crowd in the procession was mourning the death of someone close to them. They were taking the corpse for last rites. The prince realized that however dear life had finally to terminate into death. The compassionate Siddhartha was buried within determining how the suffering mankind could be redeemed of old age, disease and death. A ray of light in utter darkness : Siddhartha’s fourth encounter One day when on a round on the northern side of the palace, his eye fell on a saffron-clad man walking in full confidence and fearless. He was well contented and his face burst with some light within. The curious prince turned to Dunpa. Dunpa told he was an ascetic. He had renounced the world and now he was beyond its passions, infatuations and desires. He had no possessions and lived on whatever people gave him. Back in palace Siddhartha concluded that whatever its form the ascetic’s was the way wherein lied answer to his questions. He was convinced that all luxuries and possessions, even his wife and the son, were fetters that bound him to this illusive world. He had a feeling that he should see how far the saffron-clad man’s path went – would it redeem mankind from old age, disease and death. Mahanishkramana – Great Departure   King Suddhodana had doubled Siddhartha’s security; however, one day at midnight he decided to leave the palace. He summoned Chandak, he confided most, and left the palace with him and with his favourite horse Kanthaka without others knowing it though the Buddhist tradition claims that he went to his wife’s chamber and bade her and his son a silent goodbye before leaving. The Buddhist literature and art have identified the event as Mahanishkramana’ – Great Departure. Adding mythical element the Buddhist tradition claims that divine powers managed that the king’s men securing the gates had fallen into deep sleep and the gate had opened of its own and even the horse’s hoops were not heard. So far a prince, he dismounted his horse only after the territories of the Sakya kingdom had passed. Here he removed all his ornaments and cut his hair and handed them to Chandak to take them to his father along the message that his son had chosen a new path. Myths contend that a team of celestial beings emerging from heaven carried away the prince’s crown when he removed it. A long time companion, he bade Kanthaka goodbye before handing it to Chandak. When the grateful prince pated the horse, it put its head over his shoulders and bade him goodbye. With wet eyes Chandak and Kanthaka saw the prince departing and after he disappeared with heavy feet they began moving towards Kapilavastu.   Transformation and journey ahead, though the goal yet far off Taking their leave Siddhartha moved ahead but in royal clothes his transformation was yet incomplete. Suddenly he saw a poorly clad hunter. He requested him for exchanging with him his ensemble that he happily did and now Siddhartha was completely transformed : the Sakya prince vanished and the Sakyamuni emerged. With singleness of objective the Sakyamuni moved ahead. He heard of a known teacher and philosopher Kalapa Arad. With 300 pupils Arad had his seat at Vaishali. He headed towards Vaishali and joined Arad’s academy. In little time he learnt all that the great sage had to teach and whatever injunction he imposed. However, he soon realized that Arad’s was not the path he sought. After taking his leave he left Arad. From Vaishali he came to Rajagriha in Magadha. Calmness and divine glow on his face attracted everyone. When king Bimbasara, Magadha’s ruler, heard of him, he sent his ministers to invite him at his court. However, when they reached, Sakyamuni’s meditation had begun and they returned empty handed. In the morning king Bimbasara himself went to invite him. Highly impressed with his divine look he prayed him for making Rajagriha, his seat. However, the Sakyamuni declined the offer. He, however, assured to visit Rajagriha soon after he had attained his goal. Near Rajagriha the great sage named Ramputra Rudrak had his seat. He had seven hundred disciples. The Sakyamuni also joined them. He mastered Rudrak’s system of meditation and whatever he instructed but he soon realized that Ramputra Rudrak’s was not the path he sought. After his permission he left his seat also. Five of Ramputra Rudrak’s other disciples also left with him. With them the Sakyamuni reached Gaya and stayed here at Gayashirsha hill for some time. He was convinced that torturing body by rigorous penance was not the path to enlightenment. Rather, in meditative moments he often realized that a still and tranquil mind fully detached from material desires alone could harbor it. River Niranjana : the last destination of the seeker of light   After Gaya they reached the village Uruvilva. Here a kind of gentle tranquility around river Niranjana flowing passed the village caught his mind. Though he had rejected rigorous penance as a means of enlightenment, he felt an inner force dragging him to it. As of his own, on the Niranjana’s bank he sat under a tree. As spontaneously his figure resorted to ‘padmasana’. In disagreement his five companions left him. However, unperturbed the Sakyamuni kept seated in absolute calm. Days, weeks, months and years passed, as also shivering cold, parching heat and torrential rains, but he sat unmoved. He ate less and less till his diet reduced to a sesame seed, and himself, to a mere skeleton. He had sat for six years but only to realize that sever penance was not the path to enlightenment. He hence broke his fast with a little pudding that a tribal girl Sujata offered. He bathed and then again moved on his errand though now he was always around river Niranjana.   The Light He had regained his lost health and strength. His six years of austerities have shown that his rejection of such methods was not a mere thought of mind but a conclusion arrived at after indulging into it for long six years. Contrarily, it also showed that absolute detachment from material desires was the only path to enlightenment. He hence decided to submit himself to meditation – transcending the world while being in it. Choosing a spot on Niranjana’s bank under a Peepal tree he sat down in ‘padmasana’ on grass that a grass cutter gave him. When close to his attainment of ‘light’, temptations of different kinds with fascinating faces, as well as awful, emerged for disrupting the oneness of his mind. In the Buddhist tradition they have been identified as Mara, and his sons and daughters – embodiments of demonic forces. When ineffective in disrupting the oneness of the Sakyamuni’s mind Mara commanded all his daughters and sons to launch a joint attack and confound his mind. This time the Sakyamuni invoked the mother-earth to testify that he remained fixed into his objective with an unswerving mind and did not falter. The Buddhist tradition contends that the mother earth emerged and Mara along its sons and daughters was dispelled and there emerged the ‘light’. From Sakyamuni to Buddha With the attainment of ‘light’ the Sakyamuni was the Buddha, the Enlightened. As the tradition contends, the material being of the Enlightened was in his seat at Niranjana’s bank for a week more. However, his all-knowing self was on a journey across three thousand regions of the world – earth, ocean and sky. Seven days after the attainment of enlightenment gods sent food for breaking his fast. As provided, a caravan of five hundred bullock carts of two traders, named Trapusha and Bhallika, was passing across. Here the bulls driving the leading cart refused to move ahead and dragged the cart, and thus the entire caravan, to the Peepal tree. The curious eyes of the traders saw a divine presence with glowing countenance seated under it. Some kind of inner compulsion they unknowingly bowed their heads in reverence. They offered him food, honey, sugarcane etc and with that the Buddha broke his fast. Buddha, the teacher Compassion for suffering mankind had designed Siddhartha’s journey from darkness to light – from Siddhartha, a mere composition of some elements to an all-knowing Buddha beyond elemental existence. Now with the mission of defeating the darkness – ignorance, and spreading the light – right knowledge, he went from one place to other. He first went to Sarnath near Banaras where at Deer Park those five fellow pupils who had left Ramputra Rudrak along him were engaged in austerities. The divine look and serene tranquility that enshrined the Buddha’s face left them spell bound. They bowed to him, washed his feet and offered him a seat and sat on the ground facing him. The Buddha spoke of the Four Noble Truths and Eight Fold Noble Path – the core principles of the Buddha’s doctrine, as also of his Middle path, the path of temperance, calmness and tranquility. The sermon continued the whole night. By the morning the five were the first converts to Buddhism. With these five Buddha established the Buddhist Sangh for taking his message to entire mankind. Spontaneously they chanted ‘Buddham Sharanam Gachchhami, Sangham Sharanam Gachchhami, Dhammam Sharanam Gachchhami’. This gave birth to the Buddhist ‘tri-ratnas’ – three jewels, the Buddha, the Sangh and the Dhamma. The Buddha did not perform miracles nor granted boons; he simply talked of some simple codes with ethical thrust. They sought to correct man’s overall conduct and made him nobler. His simple corrective principles, not even injunctions or taboos, attracted everyone who heard him. A young nobleman Yasha, rich and well-provided but sensitive to human suffering, heard him speak and was so overwhelmed that he joined the Sangh as its seventh member. Mother, father and other family members of the young man came to persuade him to return; but the moment they heard the Buddha they too got converted to his path. They were the first lay-followers of the Buddha. Thus, there came hundreds of men and women, young and old, and joined the Buddha’s path, some, the Sangh itself, while others, as lay followers. Among them were also converts from other lines. The Buddha commanded them to take the message to other parts of the land, even beyond; and, thus, the Wheel of Law set in motion at Sarnath had begun gaining momentum. He also went to Uruvilva. At Gaya, he delivered his famous sermon, ‘burning fire’ – the fire of lust and worldly desire that inflicted suffering. He said, extinguish it with a restraint and chaste life and that would be the end of suffering and of the cycle of births and deaths. Recollecting the words he had given to king Bimbasara he went to Rajagriha. Here he stayed for some time. Deeply impressed by his doctrine king Bimbasara became not only his lay follower but offered him a bamboo grove that Buddha accepted and promised to spend his ‘chaturmasa’ – four months of monsoons, at Rajagriha. It was at Rajagriha that his three best known disciples, Sariputra, Katyayana and Maudgalyayan, joined the Buddha’s Sangh. On an invitation from his father king Suddhodana Buddha visited Kapilavastu. King Suddhodana also joined Buddha’s Order though only as lay-follower, though his son Rahul joined the Sangh. Noticing that his wife Gopa did not come out to greet him, he himself went to her chamber. Seeing him she bowed at his feet and along Buddha’s foster mother Prajapati joined the Sangh and were the first to found the Buddhist Order of nuns. However, the Buddha’s fame also activated his one-time rival Devadatta, his cousin, who wanted to kill him but with strong support of king Bimbasara he could not. He hence got king Bimbasara killed by his own son Ajatashatru. After the assassination of king Bimbasara Buddha shifted to Shravasti, not for fear of death but for peace. Later, with thirty-one servants of Ajatashatru he attempted to kill Buddha though when the soldiers of Ajatashatru saw Buddha, a serene, quiescent calm face, they bowed their heads on his feet. Devadatta made a number of other attempts on the Buddha’s life but did not succeed. Later even Ajatashatru joined Buddha’s path and confessed about killing his father and attempting to kill Buddha. Final extinction For forty years, Buddha along his disciples moved from one place to other spreading his message. He was now quite old as also weak. As the Buddhist tradition has it, Buddha had emerged to keep the world lighted with his presence for the whole eon and had thus an eon’s life-span, yet he wished he relinquished this mortal body. However, he postponed his ‘nirvana’ for three months till he visited the places he had reminiscences of. The first place that struck his mind was Rajagriha he had longest association with. When returning from here he mounted on a square rock on the banks of river Ganges and turning his face towards Rajagriha he murmured ‘this is the last I am visiting the city’ and thus bade it an emotional farewell. He then visited Vaishali and bade the town similar farewell. When on his way to Kushinagara, almost close to it, his vital energies began failing. He halted, laid some grass for a bed between two Sal trees and facing the north lied on his right side. He had instructed all not to weep but every eye welled with tears. Ananda was in his constant attendance. He spoke to all who accompanied him but to Ananda in special : ‘Behold now, brethren, I exhort you, saying, Decay is inherent in all component things. Work out thy salvation with diligence’.   For Further Study: 1. Life of Buddha in Indian Sculptures – Ratan Parimoo2. Life in Sanchi Sculptures – A L Srivastava3. Buddha, the Enlightened, Dr Daljeet4. Buddhism, the path to Nirvana – Swati Chopara5. The Life of the Buddha –A Floucher6. The Life of the Buddha, Retold from Ancient Sources – De Silva Vigier7. The Image of the Buddha – ed. David L Snellgrove8. Indian Buddhist Iconography – B. Bhattacharya9. India : Land of the Buddha – Chhaya Haesner10. The life of the Buddha and his legend – NHK, Japan11. The Light of Asia – E Arnold We hope you have enjoyed reading the article. Any comments or feedback that you may have will be greatly appreciated.Please send your feedback to feedback@exoticindiaart.com.
    by Exotic India on June