Festival

FESTIVALS: URBAN CELEBRATIONS

Many a festival like Ganesh Chaturthi was once limited to a close circle within the family living in villages during the 50s and before. Things began changing slowly as the celebrations spread to towns during the 80s. Today as we move into the 21st century what we witness is the high-decibel extravaganzas that rock us

WORDS: MADHURI. Y

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Hindu festivals are linked to spirituality as according to Hindu Dharma, they increase the sattvikta (spiritual content or purity) in us to build a better society. However, modern man is a different man. Though he now celebrates festivals nearly with the same ardour as he showed in the past his spiritual inclinations sadly have gone down.

1950s
During the 1950s and in pre-Independence era, the country’s population was largely confined to villages. Festivals meant a family waking up early, bathing, cleaning the house, making rangolis with rice flour and performing the puja with bhakti and religious fervour.
Special food would be cooked and the festival would be a private and intra-family affair. Going to temples on festival days was limited to bigger festivals like Ram Navami in the South during which there was a special attraction as Ramayana would be recited for nine days by experts whose erudition and humour would be the talk of the town.

1980s
And 30 years later in the 1980s, families having lived in villages for centuries had moved to towns and cities.
Living not far from their villages, many of these migrant families were still bound to their roots and were intent on carrying their puja rituals and heritage with them.
Though the practice of buying new clothes, making rangolis, cooking festival delicacies continued, new forms of religious get-togethers came up like community dancing and singing that went with each festival.

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In the public mind, garba over shadowed the puja in Navratri; bursting endless firecrackers for Diwali and kite-flying and kite-fighting on Uttarayan. Though these were outward manifestations, the symbolism of religiosity was adhered to.
But, a change had begun and modern man was evolving. Puja and bhakti at home was giving way to festival ritual. Increasing numbers began visiting temples to witness mega celebrations and crowds began to swell. Celebrations counted over worship.

2010s
Came the 2010s. Worship at home continued with ardent devotion but there was significant drop in those doing puja. Worship was turning into symbolism and one was content with lighting a lamp or offering flowers rather than go the whole hog in following the rituals.
“Books are available which can tell you the entire story and the significance of the rituals. The point is not devotion in performing the ritual, it pertains to everything we do right from plucking flowers to getting things ready for the puja,” says Sujatha Garimella of Ahmedabad.
Fall in the number of people worshipping at home synchronised with a rise in people thronging to temples on festival days which led to heavy rush and stampedes. But what this meant was festival celebration was not restricted to families at home as it co-opted

the housing societies and brought communities together. Public pandals came into being as a mark of community affair overriding individual worship. It also brought in rivalry: bigger the pandal, larger the crowd and bigger the acclaim.
Navratri is probably the best example in which celebration is at its peak as opposed to worship. Once the mandatory aarti is done, what was meant to be a ritual circling around the lamp and the goddess had turned into mega fun and frolic. Over the nine days of Navratri, fashionable dress and colour codes are agreed upon; garba practice sessions would begin a month in advance; slimming centres making hay with promises of crash weight loss to give a lean look in the Navratri garb.
“A festival celebration is supposed to be about learning to do good to others,” says veteran Wing Commander Aran Kaul. “Since we have taken religion out of the festival, people seem to have dissociated goodness from festival.”
Yet, not all public celebrations are pointless. Those in housing societies get a chance to meet his unknown neighbour leading to knitting the social fabric. Living as we do close to others yet we seem to be strangers. Festival celebrations are probably the only means to bring back the lost personal touch with those who otherwise would be forgotten in an era of modern living.

FESTIVALS IN DEFENCE SERVICES
“In defence services, festivals are quiet affair,” says Wing Commander Kaul. “A small area is demarcated for a temple, mosque or a church and the respective priests conduct the rituals. In the Army, these priests are combatants. In the Air Force they happen to be outsiders. On festival days, while the priest performs the ritual, the Commanding Officer leads the prayer and the Officer may not represent either the region or religion of that festival.
It is heartening to see if for any reason, the priest of one religion is unavailable, the other two priests conducting the ritual. This, I feel is the perfect example of an India that is united socially and spiritually. That is the way a religion is supposed to be.”
GANESH CHATURTHI: PRIVATE TO PUBLIC CELEBRATION
The best example of worship at home turning into public celebration was the Ganesh Chaturthi festival. Around the time of the Sepoy Mutiny, Bal Gangadhar Tilak transformed this humble indoor festival into a social function, turning the small clay Ganesha idol immersions into one of huge Ganesha statues being taken around the town to be immersed. It attracted mammoth crowds serving to unite people of all communities at a time when the British had banned such large gatherings.
“During Ganesh Chaturthi, puja is done as per the viddhi (method). Religion is personal, and when we follow it with an understanding of each part of the ritual, it is meaningful and good for our peace and physical health,’ says Anima Palshikar, a resident of Ahmedabad.
PRESSURE ON ENVIRONMENT & SOCIETY

“Societies seem to be in competition with neighbouring societies,’ says Anima. This is evident from the noisier celebrations. ‘Sarvajanik’ (community) celebrations have nothing to do with God, retaining none of the original meaning. Festivals are part of the flow of culture from generation to generation, and celebrating these with filmy music and dance misses the spiritual point.”
The idea of making festivals knit the social fabric seems to have gone missing and what one sees today is a tendency to harm the environment, health of public and breach of peace and tranquillity. Following are dismal pointers when festivals turn into disturbance:
Environment turns smoky in Delhi for a week after Diwali from indiscriminate bursting of fire crackers, some of which are noise pollutants and health hazards.
Ganesh Visarjan (immersion) leaves toxic wastes behind in ponds, lakes, and rivers. These water resources are our priceless assets Nature has endowed. All one has done in the name of staging a “festival” is immersing giant, chemically painted Ganeshas, some of which remain partly submerged long after the immersions are over. Then there are the long-winding processions that halt traffic for hours. Religion is a sensitive subject and none dare to speak about the inconvenience it causes for fear of being branded an atheist.
Navratri usually sees high decibels for all the nine days with loud speakers blaring as garbas continue late into the night. Babies, infirm and the sick suffer the most.
Holi is another festival when bonfires are lit on the road that obstructs traffic. Sparks can be seen flying in all directions from these fires and a disaster could be in waiting.
During Uttarayan kite-flying, many birds routinely die as the glass-tinged kite strings (maanza) get entangled in birds’ wings. People too have died riding a two-wheeler when the deadly strings graze the neck. Children too have fallen from terraces, losing their balance over the parapet.
Janmashtami sees gamblers making a quick buck while bhang (edible form of cannabis) is the toast of Maha Shivaratri. The soul of the festival is gone. Instead, it is all about pomp and show and one-upmanship in staging the festival that reflects money and muscle power.

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ONAM

Legendary King Mahabali once ruled Kerala and had sacrificed everything to make his people prosperous and happy. To this day he is remembered for his magnanimity as the 10-day Onam festival is celebrated

WORDS: MADHURI. Y

Onam is one of the biggest cultural festivals of Kerala celebrated to commemorate the Vamana (dwarf) avatar of Lord Vishnu.
A festival of elaborate colours and rituals, the flower carpet or ‘Pookalam’ is the cynosure of all eyes. Women are attired in traditional sarees called “Mundum Neriyathum” while men in dhotis wear brocaded angavastram over their shoulders.
The first day of Onam starts with an early bath and prayers. The floral decorations continue leading up to Onam festival or Thiruvonam. Lots of cooking take place culminating in a grand feast called Onam Sadya. onamIn Thrikkakara Temple (temple for Vamana) Onam Sadya is served daily with thousands participating in this feast.
This is one of the cultural festivals in India which has plenty of events like grand processions, boat racing and Kaikottikali (one of the most famous group dances of Kerala performed by women).
Onam is derived from the Sanskrit word Shravanam, which is one of the 27 stars and is called Thiruvonam nakshatra in Kerala. “Thiru” refers to Lord Vishnu and Thiruvonam is the day when Lord Vishnu sent the great king Mahabali to the underworld placing his foot on the king’s head.
This year the festival falls in the Chingam month (the first month of the year) of the Kerala calendar and begins on August 25 and goes on till September 4.
To some, Onam is a religious festival; for others, it is a harvest festival. It is believed that King Mahabali ruled from Kerala and Onam celebratesonam_pookalam_india_september_2013 his return each year to the land. The first day marks the welcome to the King who is believed to meet his people on the second day.
Courtyards are plastered with dung and mounds of earth that look like square pyramids, representing Mahabali and Vamana.
The 10 days of celebrations begin with Atham, the first day, then Chithram, Chodhi, Vishakam, Anizham, Thriketa, Moolam, Pooradam, Uthradam, and ends with Thiruvonam. Of these, Atham and Thiruvonam are important.

POOKALAM
Beautiful flower arrangements, called onapookalam or pookalam are made in temple premises and at other entrances. Lamps are placed in the centre and at the edges and an umbrella placed over the arrangement. On Atham, only yellow flowers are used in a simple circular design. With each day, the pookalam’s size increases. Traditionally, 10 varieties of flowers were used.

TRADITIONAL DANCES
Dance forms traditional to Kerala, including the Thiruvathira, Kummattikali, Pulikali, Thumbi Thullal, Onam Kali as well as Kathakali are performed. Women perform the Thiruvathira in a circle around a lamp. Kummattikali is performed by dancers in colourful masks. In Thrissur, these dancers go in a procession along with elephants. For Onam Kali, dancers arrange themselves in circles around a pole, a tree or a lamp, dancing and singing songs from the epics.
People painted like tigers in bright yellow, red and black, dance the Pulikali, also known as Kaduvakali. The Theyyam dance too is part of Onam.nehru_trophy_boat_race_2012_7778

VALLAMKALI
Vallamkali, the snake boat race, is part of Onam celebrations. Particularly well-known are the races held on the Pampa river, the famous one being in Aranmula.

ONAM SADYA
Onam sadya marks the harvest festival with a lunch on Thiruvonam, the last day. Seasonal vegetables like yam, cucumber and ash gourd, among others are used to prepare a nine-course meal that is served on plantain leaves along with the traditional boiled Kerala rice. The full meal can include fried banana wafers, fried banana pieces coated in jaggery, papad, soups, vegetables and lentils, pickles and chutneys. Traditional dishes like thoran, mezhukkupuratti, kaalan, olan, avial, sambhar, erisheri, moloshyam, sadhya_dsw

rasam, puliseri, kichadi, pachadi and moru are part of the meal, ending with payasam for dessert.

The eleventh and twelfth days, that is, the two days after Thiruvonam are celebrated as third and fourth Onam. Avvittom, the eleventh day signifies Mahabali rising to heaven. On this day, the Onathappan statue, that is, Mahabali’s statue, which is surrounded by flower arrangements throughout the festival, is immersed in water and the flower arrangements are removed. Thrissur is famous for Pulikali, with men in lion masks, dancing through the city on this day. On Chatayam, the 12th day, all celebrations end.smitha_rajan-ananda_sayana

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KING MAHABALI
King Mahabali, popularly known as Bali Chakravarthy, was the great-great-grandson of sage Kashyapa and the grandson of Prahlada, who was the son of Hiranyakashyapa and a devotee of Lord Vishnu. When Hiranyakashyapa tries to kill Prahlada, Lord Vishnu appears in Narasimha avatar and saves him.
Mahabali, who was Prahlada’s son, defeats the devas and begins to rule the three worlds. The devas then approach Lord Vishnu, but he refuses to help since Mahabali was not only a just ruler, but also his devotee.
Lord Vishnu comes down as Vamana, a dwarf boy, to test Mahabali’s devotion. Mahabali was performing a yajna and was known to grant any request made during the yajna. Vamana refuses all other material gifts and asks for just enough space for him to place three of his footsteps.
The king’s advisor, Shukracharya advises him against granting the wish, but the king chooses not to go back on his word. When Mahabali agrees, Vamana grows to a tremendous size and in one step, covers the entire earth and in the second step, he covers the entire sky. With nothing left to offer, Mahabali offers himself and Lord Vishnu places his foot on Mahabali’s head, pressing him down to the netherworld, that is, pataal.
He also offers him a boon that the king can visit his lands every year. This is celebrated as Onam, marking his just rule and his humility. King Mahabali is also called Maveli or Onathappan in Kerala.
VAMANAMOORTHY TEMPLE
One of the few temples dedicated to Lord Vishnu’s Vamana avatar, the Thrikkakara temple holds the idol of Vamana, placing his foot on King Mahabali’s head. Thrikkakara is actually Thiru kaal kara, which means, place of the holy foot.
Athachamayam parade marks the beginning of Onam and it begins in Thrippunithura near Kochi and ends in the Vamanamoorthy temple here. Elephants march with drum beats, music and folk art performances, floats and masked people in colourful dresses. This procession was originally headed by the Kochi kings from their palace to the Thrikkakara temple. Traditional scenes from the Ramayana, Mahabharata and from the Bible too mark the parade.
Earlier, the Maharaja of Travancore organised Onam festivities at the temple. The festival begins on Atham, the first day when the temple flag is hoisted. It is lowered on the last day. The temple is the centre of Onam festivities and includes performances like Chakyar Koothu, which is a narration of the epics; Ottamthullal, a dance and poetic performance; as well as Kathakali and Mohiniyattam, Kerala’s classical dances. Celebrations include boat races, dances, martial arts, flower designs and Onam sadya is served at the temple for thousands of people.
The Vamana idol is decorated with sandal paste. On each day of celebration, the idol is dressed in each of the 10 avatars of Lord Vishnu, which are, Matsya, Kurma, Varaha, Narasimha, Vamana, Parasurama, Rama, Balarama, Krishna and Kalki.
On the 9th and 10th days, the Vamana idol is taken in procession atop a ceremonial elephant to the accompaniment of Panchavadyam.
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VARAHA JAYANTI

Chalukyas minted coins embossed with Varaha and it was also seen on their royal crest. Cholas and the Vijayanagar empire too adopted Varaha as royal symbols

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Varaha avatar is Lord Vishnu’s avatar as a boar and is his third avatar. Popularly known as the avatar that saves Bhudevi from Hiranyaksha, Varaha stands for the earth’s resurrection after the universe dissolves and marks the beginning of a new aeon.
He is worshipped for the triumph of goodness over evil. Varaha Jayanti falls on 24th August this year.

FORMS OF VARAHA
Varaha is at times shown as a boar and at times as a human with a boar’s head. While the first two avatars of Lord Vishnu, matsya and kurma, are shown with a man’s upper body and the animal’s lower body, Varaha and the next avatar, Narasimha are shown with an animal’s head and a man’s body.
In his four arms, Varaha holds the Sudarshan Chakra, conch, mace and a sword or lotus or with the gesture of blessing. Varaha sculptures look towards the right and it is in Vaikuntha Vishnu portrayals that the head is shown turned towards the left.
As Adi Varaha, his right leg rests on snake Ananta with Bhudevi seated on his left lap. As Yajna Varaha, he is seated on a lion throne with consorts, Bhudevi and goddess Lakshmi on either side. As Pralaya Varaha, Bhudevi is depicted with him. When he is depicted with

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only goddess Lakshmi, his form is similar to Lord Vishnu’s and he can be identified as Varaha only by his boar’s head. At times, his consort is shown as Varahi, one of the Matrikas, that is mother goddesses. She too is shown with a boar’s head.

THE AVATAR
Varaha was a form of Lord Brahma, according to the Taittiriya Aranyaka and the Shatapatha Brahmana. In the Ramayana and the Vishnu Purana though, he is referred to as Lord Vishnu’s avatar and that narrative continues today.
When the four Kumaras who are sages, Sanaka, Sanatana, Sanandana and Sanat kumara, arrive in Vaikuntha, the gatekeepers, Jaya and Vijaya, not only stop them but also laugh at them since the Kumaras look like children and are naked. The Kumaras curse the gatekeepers that they will be born as rakshasas. Lord Vishnu appears before the Kumaras and also assures his gatekeepers that they will be released by one of his avatars.
Jaya and Vijaya are born to sage Kashyapa and Diti as Hiranyaksha and Hiranyakashyapa. After a long penance by Hiranyaksha, Lord Brahma grants him his wish that he cannot be killed by humans or a range of animals. Hiranyaksha with his brother creates havoc and hides Bhudevi in the primordial waters.
Lord Vishnu takes the form of Varaha since Hiranyaksha does not list the boar among the animals from which he is protected. Varaha lifts Bhudevi out of the primordial waters on his tusks and after a fierce battle with Hiranyaksha, kills the rakshasa. He, then places Bhudevi in her original position and marries her. Some sources say that they have a son, the rakshasa Narakasura.

WORSHIP

Performing the Dwadasi puja will bring health and eliminate fear, confusion and discontent. According to Varaha himself, it is not great yajnas but worship with detachment, concentration and devotion that brings his blessings. Devotees can pray at midnight, at the time of dusk or at midday. They can observe a fast on Dwadasi and offer water, facing the Sun while reciting the ‘Om Namo Narayana’ mantra.

They can offer white flowers with the mantra ‘Sumanah Sumana Grihnna Priyo me Bhagavan Harih, Itena Mantrana Sumano dadat’. Next, they can offer sandalwood paste with the mantra ‘Namosthu Vaishnavey Vyaktavyakta Sugandhi cha, Grahan Grahana Namo Bhagavatey Vaishnavey Anena Mantreya Gandham dadatu. They can then offer incense with the mantra ‘Pravishtey me Dhupadhupanam grihnath Bhagavan Achyutah Anena mantryena Dhupam dadatu’.
– http://www.kamakoti.org

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TEMPLES
Nav Toran Temple built during the 11th century in Jawad, Madhya Pradesh is said to have a tunnel that went to the Chittorgarh fort. Maharana Pratap is believed to have come periodically through the tunnel to worship Varaha.
Sri Varahaswami Temple in Tirumala, Andhra Pradesh is on the shores of the Swami Pushkarini, the temple pond towards the north of the Venkateswara temple. The location is known as Adi Varaha Kshetra and is based on the legend that when devotees requested Varaha to stay on earth after Satya Yuga, his mount Garuda brings his garden from Vaikuntha to the Venkata hills of Tirumala. Legend also has it that Lord Venkateswara himself had taken Varaha’s permission to reside in the hills. After worshipping Adi Varaha, devotees go for Venkateswara darshan.
Bhuvarahaswami Temple in Srimushanam to the north-east of Chidambaram in Tamil Nadu was built during the 16th century by Krishnappa II, a Thanjavur Nayak king. Varaha deity here is one of the eight self-manifested Swayamvyakta Vaishnava Kshetras.
Adi Varaha Perumal in Tirukkalvanoor in the Kamakshi Amman complex in Kanchipuram and Thiruvidandai near Mahabalipuram are among the divya desams, the 108 Vishnu temples.
HISTORY OF VARAHA WORSHIP

Mathura holds the earliest Varaha images, dating back to the 1st and 2nd centuries. Varaha sculptures are found extensively during the 4th to 6th century Gupta period.

Early Varaha sculptures of the 5th century can be seen in the Udayagiri caves in Madhya Pradesh, of the 6th century in the Badami caves of Karnataka, of the 7th century in Mahabalipuram and Ellora and of the 8th century from Bago Pathari which is now in the museum in Gwalior. Although originally found in Southern and Western India, by the 7th century, they were found across India, including locations like Khajuraho, Udaipur and Jhansi.

The Chalukyas from the 6th to 8th century minted coins with Varaha on them and adopted the avatar on their royal crest. During the 9th century, Mihira Bhoja, the Gurjara Pratihara king took the title, Adi Varaha. He too had coins minted with the avatar. The Cholas, from 4th to 13th century, and the Vijayanagar empire from 14th to 17th century too adopted Varaha in their royal symbols. The Aihole pillar carving of Varaha has been identified as the Vijayanagar emblem.

DATTATREYA JAYANTI

Symbolically Lord Dattatreya is depicted with three heads, six hands, four dogs, standing in front of a cow and tree. In his hands He holds a drum (damaru), discus like weapon (chakra), conch shell (sankh), rosary (japa mala), water vessel (kamandala) and a trident (trisula).
Three heads represent Brahma Tatwa, Vishnu Tatwa and Shiva Tatwa. All powerful creative cause is Brahma, sustaining energy is Vishnu and annihilating energy is Shiva (Srishti, Sthithi and Laya energies) are the three heads.
Dattatreya is considered as the Grand Teacher or “Guru principle” in the universe

Dattatreya Jayanti or Datta Jayanti is the celebration of the birth of Dattatreya, who is revered as the highest of yogis and of monastic life.
The Jayanti falls on the full moon day of the month of Margashirsha.

Dattatreya, also known as Avadhut (one who is free from worldly feelings and obligations) and Digambar, is a form of Lord Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva.

When Anasuya, wife of Atri maharshi performed severe penance to have a son with the qualities of Lords Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, the lords decide to test Anasuya’s virtuousness. They appeared before her as ascetics and asked her to give them alms in a naked state.

Since guests are believed to be a form of God, Anasuya is unable to refuse them. She sprinkles water on them and chants a mantra, turning them into babies at which time, she breastfeeds them naked.
On his return, Atri maharshi transforms the three babies into one with three heads and six arms. The trinity revert to their forms and offer their blessings to the couple.

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The maharshi and Anasuya make a wish for the baby and their wish is fulfilled in the form of Dattatreya.
Although he carries the qualities of the three Lords, Dattatreya is considered an avatar of Vishnu and his brothers Chandra and sage Durvasa are believed to be forms of Lords Brahma and Shiva.

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The cow standing with Dattatreya is the kamadhenu and stands for creation and the earth. The four dogs stand for the four Vedas. Holding the Sudarshan chakra, Dattatreya controls time and is beyond time.
The conch stands for the eternal Aum and his japa mala with its beads contains all the mantras, the damaru contains all shastras and the kamandal offers food and water. The trishul indicates that he has transcended the sattva, rajas and tamas gunas.

WORSHIP
Dattatreya Jayanti is celebrated with fervour in Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and parts of Gujarat. Dattatreya is worshipped in the form of his footwear, the padukas, particularly in the datta kshetras.
People have an early bath and undertake a fast. After worshipping Dattatreya, they meditate and sing bhajans. Some read the Avadhuta Gita and Jivanmukta Gita, others also read the Datta Prabodh and Datta Mahatmya. Avadhuta Gita contains the secrets of Vedanta which Dattatreya revealed to Lord Subrahmanya.
Devotees recite Shri Gurucharitra seven days prior to Datta Jayanti. Before beginning the worship, devotees apply two vertical lines on the forehead, symbolic of Vishnu worship. The ring finger of the right hand is used to apply the tilak. This is meant to awaken the spiritual side and bring concentration to the devotee.
Sandalwood paste is applied to the deity, again using the ring finger of the right hand. Turmeric and vermilion are applied to Dattatreya’s feet. This is done using the ring finger and thumb and is believed to activate the anahat chakra which enhances the feeling of devotion.
Jasmine and tuberose flowers are offered at the feet of the deity. The flowers should be in multiples of seven and it is beneficial if they are in diamond pattern. Circumambulation around the deity is done in multiples of seven.
Agarbatti is lit, particularly with fragrance of sandal, kewda or ketaki and amber. Beginners of spiritual practice can light two incense sticks for greater benefit. The incense stick must be held by the right index finger and thumb and must be moved three times in clockwise direction in front of the deity.
Chanting the mantra ‘Shree Gurudev Datta’ on the day of Datta Jayanti is believed to carry great potency. It is recommended that devotees chant the mantra as long as they can throughout the day.

AVATARS OF DATTATREYA
1. Shripada Shri Vallabha who lived during the 14th century is believed to be Dattatreya’s first incarnation during the Kali Yuga. He lived in Pithapuram of Andhra Pradesh.
2. Narasimha Saraswati who had lived during the 14th-15th centuries is said to be the second avatar of Dattatreya, according to Shri Guru Charitra.
3. Shri Manikya Prabhu is said to be the next avatar and had lived during the 19th century.
4. Shri Swami Samarth Maharaj of Akkalkota in Maharashtra is the next avatar and lived during the 19th century.
5. Some believe that Shirdi Sai Baba who lived during the 19th-20th centuries is the fifth avatar.
6. Shri Vasudevananda Saraswati ‘Tembe Swami’ Maharaj of Maangaon who lived during the 19th-20th centuries and Shri Gajanan Maharaj of Shegaon of the 19th-20th centuries are also believed to be his avatars.
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DATTATREYA TEMPLES
MAHARASHTRA
 Mahur in Nanded
 Panchaleshwar in Beed district near Rakshasbhuvan Shani mandir
 Karanja in Washim which is the birthplace of Shri Narasimha Saraswati Swami Maharaj
 Audumbar in Kolhapur
 Narsobawadi in Kolhapur in which Dattatreya temple is at the confluence of Krishna and Panchaganga rivers
 Akkalkot in Solapur in which Shri Swami Samarth Maharaj stayed for many years
 Shirdi in Ahmednagar
 Maangaon in Sindhudurg, birthplace of Shri Vasudevananda Saraswati Tembe Swami Maharaj
 Shegaon in Buldhana
ANDHRA PRADESH
 Pithapuram in East Godavari which is the birthplace of Shripada Shri Vallabha Swami Maharaj
 Srisailam in Kurnool with temples of Mallikarjunaswamy and Bhramaramba. Shri Guru Narasimha Saraswati completed his avatar nearby
KARNATAKA
 Gokarna in Uttara Kannada in which Shripada Vallabha Swami stayed for three years.
 Kurwapur in Raichur where Shripada Vallabha Swami completed his avatar
 Gangapur in Gulbarga
 Maniknagar in Bidar in which Shri Manikya Prabhu Maharaj stayed.
GUJARAT
 Atop Girnar in Junagadh is Guru Dattatreya temple to which one must climb 10,000 steps
 Garudeshwar in Narmada with its Dattatreya temple and samadhi of Shri Vasudevananda Saraswati Tembe Swami Maharaj.
NEPAL
 Bhaktapur in Nepal

LOSAR Tibetan New Year

From being a farmer’s festival to a Buddhist festival it now represents a time of cleansing and evaluation

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Known as the Tibetan new year, Losar is also celebrated in Bhutan and by certain ethnic groups in other nations as the new year. The word translates to new year or fresh age. It is also known in Tibet as BalGyal Lo with Bal standing for Tibet, Gyal for king and, Lo for year. As such the Tibetan new year has been celebrated since the time when the first Tibetan king ascended the throne.
The Himalayan tribes of Yolmo, Sherpa, Tamang, Gurung, Bhutia, Monpa, Sherdukpen among others celebrate Losar. In India, regions with a concentration of Buddhist population, states like Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Himachal Pradesh and Ladakh, celebrate the festival.

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ORIGIN & EVOLUTION
Some celebrate it for three days and others for 15 days. In earlier times, it had occurred on the winter solstice. The Bon religion is said to have risen in the 11th century in Tibet and it was during this period that Losar rose in significance. According to belief, a woman named Belma gave the measurement of time based on moon phases and this measurement gave rise to Losar.
It is believed that during the ninth Tibetan emperor, PudeGungyal’s reign, it evolved from being a regional
festival into a Buddhist festival.

CELEBRATIONS IN MONASTERIES

The Tibetan calendar has 12 lunar months. In monasteries, celebrations begin on the 29th day of the twelfth month, which is the Tibetan new year’s eve.A ritual is performed to the protector deities and celebrations for Losar begin.

A special noodle soup called Guthuk is made. After a thorough cleaning, monasteries are decorated and elaborate offerings known as Lama Losar are made.

When it is early dawn, monks at the Namgyal monastery offer a sacrificial cake atop the Potala temple in Tibet to PaldenLhamo, the goddess protector of Dharma and invoke her. The Dalai Lama would lead the abbots of three great monasteries, lamas, monks, officials and dignitaries in prayers. At the end of it they would assemble in the hall of the Excellence of Samsara and Nirvana and exchange the traditional greeting – TashiDelek.

Representatives of three great monasteriesand others offer sacred pills made of roasted barley dough to the Dalai Lama to wish him good luck for the new year. Entertainers perform a dance of good wishes. Two senior monks conduct a debate on Buddhist philosophy after which a specially composed recitation takes place in which the entire Buddhist teaching is reviewed in brief. The Dalai Lama would retire to his palace after the ceremonial farewell.

The second day is the King’s Losar, in which the Dalai Lama and the government exchange greetings with monastic and lay dignitaries, including foreign visitors. The celebrations are open to the public from the third day.

SIGNIFICANCE OF GUTHUK

Guthuk, a noodle soup with nine ingredients, including Asian radish, mushrooms, celery, cilantro, dried cheese, green peas among other ingredients, is made on the eve of Losar. The noodles are small, shell-shaped and hand-made. A large dough ball is added to each bowl of soup, large enough that it is not mistaken for the normal noodles. It has one of the following ingredients hidden in the centre, each symbolising a certain trait which is meant to refer to the person’s character:

festival-3Wool – kind-hearted
Thread rolled inward – the person attracts luck and money
Thread rolled outward – the person spends luck and money
Sun –goodness of light
Moon – goodness of light
Chilli – sharp tongue or talkative
Salt – lazy
Glass –person is happy during fun times, but disappears when work is to be done
Coal – black-hearted
Prickly ball – prickly person

You can find the recipe on https://www.yowangdu.com/tibetan-food/ guthuk-recipe.html.

It occurs on or near the Chinese New Year since the Mongols and Tibetans adopted the Uyghur calendar and the Uyghurs themselves had adopted the Chinese calendar.
For the farming community it holds a special significance. Apricot trees flowered in autumn and Losar may have been the beginning of what later became the farmers’ festival. Cultivation and irrigation was undertaken at the time, iron ore was refined and bridges were built for the first time in Tibet. Thus when Losar evolved it became a festival for farmers signifying the panchamahabhutas or the five elements – wind, water, air, space, fire.
SonamLosar which is the Tamang New Year falls on the Chinese New Year while Tamu Losar, the Gurung New Year falls in December. In 2017, Losar is said to fall on February 27. In 2018, it falls on February 16.

CELEBRATIONS
On the last two days of the old year, which is called Gutor, preparations for the new year begin. On the first Gutor, houses are cleaned, particularly the kitchens. Since food is prepared here, kitchens are considered an important part of the house. At night, straw torches are burnt at crossroads and firecrackers are burnt to drive away ghosts and evil spirits. On the second day of Gutor, people undertake religious ceremonies and visit the monastery to worship and to give donations to monks.
Windows are covered with fragrant curtains. Barley shoots, fried dough balls and dried fruits are placed in shrines within houses.
On the new year day, people wake up early, have a bath, dress in new clothes and place offerings of animals and demons made of dough in front of the household shrines and pray as a family. The first water of the year is drawn very early in the morning and meals are prepared with this water, which is considered auspicious. Families have a reunion meal and
give gifts.

On the second day, they visit friends and relatives, carrying gemar which is filled with fried barley, barley powder, tsampa – roasted flour, usually of barley – strawof barley and flowers made of yak butter.
On the third day, people visit local monasteries and make their offerings. Pine tree branches, cypress and other herbs are burnt as an offering. People hang new prayer flags on housetops or on top of the mountain. At the same time, they splash tsampa in the air to bring peace and happiness during
the year.

Rama Navami

Lord Rama is recognised as the ideal human being. Chanting his name is believed to destroy sins leading to emancipation.

Words: Madhuri. Y

The day of Rama’s birth is celebrated as Rama Navami which falls on the ninth day of the bright half (Shukla Paksha) in the Hindu calendar month of Chaitra. Lord Rama is considered the seventh incarnation of Lord Vishnu. People celebrate Rama Navami as the day on which Rama married Sita.
Known as maryada purushottam, Lord Rama is seen as perfect example of a man who espoused moral virtues and exhibited compassion and respect to elders. He is suryavanshi or belonging to the solar dynasty. Rama Navami celebrations are organised when the Sun is overhead and at its peak. Some devotees begin their prayers on the day with invocation to Surya.

LEARNING FROM LORD RAMA
Ramayana is a story of compassion and righteousness; victory over pride and greed. In leaving the palace despite being the crown prince to honour his father King Dasaratha’s promise given to wife Kaikeyi, Rama teaches us dharma is not only superior to worldly pleasures it must strictly be adhered to.
Even though Kaikeyi had asked for an unfair boon (for banishment of Rama to the forest), he continues to treat her with respect. As a devoted husband, he goes to great lengths to rescue Sita. Yet, when her presence conflicts with his duties as a king, he sends her away, giving greater importance to his duties as a king than as a loyal husband. In doing so, his people and kingdom came first ahead of his personal likes. Despite his victory over Ravana, he remains humble.

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RAMA MANTRA
Sri Rama Rameti
Rame Raame Manorame
Sahasra Nama Tat Tulyam
Rama Nama Varaanane
Sri Rama Nama Varaanana Om Nama Iti
Reciting the Vishnu Sahasranama Stotra during Brahma muhurtha (one hour 36 minutes before sunrise) is considered auspicious. Chanting the Rama Mantra, which is part of the Vishnu Sahasranama, is believed to offer the same effect as chanting the entire Sahasranama. In fact, reciting Rama mantra as above thrice is considered equal to reciting the entire Vishnu Sahasranama.

CELEBRATING RAMA NAVAMI
Fasting during Rama Navami is believed to destroy one’s sins leading to liberation from birth and death cycles. The fast begins the previous night and continues through the day of Rama Navami. One can fast until noon, eat once during the day, fast until midnight or fast for nine days, starting the fast with the new year, which is celebrated in some regions, and ending it on the day of Rama Navami. Fasting devotees can also take fruits or milk.
Ram bhajans are held at home, in temples and in pandals. Some recite Rama Mantra and Sri Rama Ashtottara Shatanamavali (the 108 names of Sri Rama).

It is believed that repeating Rama’s name − Rama Nama − brings peace, wisdom, joy and liberation. Often, Rama Katha, or story of Lord Rama is narrated. Many undertake Akhanda Ramayana reciting the entire Ramayana which can take up to 24 hours. Others read just the Sundar Kand.
Homes are washed clean and pictures of Lord Rama, Lakshman, Sita and Hanuman are placed for the puja. Flowers, lighting lamps and incense sticks, offerings and puja items like rice, water, flowers, bell and conch are placed.
The youngest female member of the family applies tilak to males and red bindi to females. After puja and aarti, waters of the Ganga are sprinkled on everyone.
In many places, Rama’s wedding is re-enacted in pandals and temples. Couples take turns sitting for the puja.

TEMPLES OF LORD RAMA

SITA RAMACHANDRASWAMY TEMPLE
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This temple at Bhadrachalam in Telangana is known for the deity, Vaikuntha Rama, the only one of its kind. The deity is Lord Vishnu who descended in the form of Lord Rama to keep the latter’s promise to a devotee. Vishnu forgets that in Rama’s form, he was a human and descends with four hands.

SITA RAMACHANDRASWAMY TEMPLE
This temple at Bhadrachalam in Telangana is known for the deity, Vaikuntha Rama, the only one of its kind. The deity is Lord Vishnu who descended in the form of Lord Rama to keep the latter’s promise to a devotee. Vishnu forgets that in Rama’s form, he was a human and descends with four hands.

KODANDA RAMASWAMY TEMPLE
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The temple in Kadapa district of Andhra Pradesh, is said to have been built by two robbers who had turned into Lord Rama’s devotees. They are then believed to have turned to stone.

SREE RAMASWAMY TEMPLE
Also known as Thiruvangad temple, it is situated in Thalassery, Kerala. During the 18th century, part of the temple was damaged by Tipu Sultan’s army, although the main temple remained intact.

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festival3RAMASWAMY TEMPLE
Built by the Nayakkar kings during the 16th century in Kumbakonam, Tamil Nadu, the temple walls depict the Ramayana in pictures. When taking the three parikramas, devotees can go through the Ramayana.

KALARAM MANDIR
This temple in Nasik is named after the black statue of Lord Rama. The statue of Lord Hanuman too is in black. Sardar Rangarao Odhekar is said to have dreamt of Lord Rama’s statue in the river Godavari from which he retrieved it and had the temple built.

RAM MANDIR
Ram Mandir in Odisha is known for the tall spire of the main temple. The spire can be seen from many parts of Bhubaneswar.

festival4RAM CHAURA MANDIR
Lord Rama is believed to have got his first mundan, head shaving, done here in Hajipur, Odisha. The temple is said to have been built on his footprints.

PATTABHIRAMA TEMPLE
Well-known during the period of the Vijayanagara Empire, today the temple does not have an idol. Yet, it is one of the most beautiful temples in Hampi and is as large as the renowned Vittala temple.

RAM RAJA TEMPLE
In this temple in Orchha, Madhya Pradesh, Lord Rama is in an unusual posture, holding a sword in his right hand and a shield in the other. He sits in padmasan with his left leg across the right thigh. It is believed that devotees’ wishes are fulfilled if they get a glimpse of the left toe.

RAMTEK RAM TEMPLE
Lord Rama is believed to have rested here in Nagpur. When demons were disturbing the rites of the sages, Rama is said to have taken a ‘tek’ – a vow – to rid the world of demons.

festival5RAGHUNATH TEMPLE
A complex of seven shrines, each with a shikhara, this temple in Jammu was built by the order of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. While the main shrine follows Sikh architecture, the others follow the Mughal architecture.

festival6RAMANATHASWAMY TEMPLE
Ramanathaswamy temple in Rameswaram, Tamil Nadu is actually a Shiva temple. Lord Rama is believed to have worshipped the Shivalingam here to atone for his sin of having killed Ravana who was a Brahmin.

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