Festival

Hanuman Jayanti

There’s more to Hanuman than being the God who wards off evil spirits. He’s the perfect devotee, the symbol of wisdom, courage and immense strength. Yet, he doesn’t know his powers.

By Madhuri.Y

image1

The vanaras stood helpless, facing the ocean. Across the ocean, Sita was Ravana’s prisoner in Lanka. Who among them could cross the mighty ocean? None, it seemed.

Hanuman sat silent, gazing at the waters. Jambavanth, the wise one, knew Hanuman’s strength. He knew that when the mischievous child Hanuman had teased the sages, they placed a mild curse on him, that he shall not know his own powers unless reminded.

Now, Jambavanth reminded him of those powers, “O Hanuman, you do not know your own strength. Why do you remain silent? Son of Vayu, you can leap across the ocean.”

As the vanaras began praising him, Hanuman grew larger and larger and he remembered his strength. In all humility, he bowed to the elders and took off across the ocean.

image2

ESSENCE OF HANUMAN
When he was a child, Hanuman flew to the Sun, mistaking it for a ripe mango. It was the time of the sun’s eclipse, but Hanuman did not allow Rahu to cause the eclipse. On Rahu’s complaint, Indra flung his vajrayudh at Hanuman, striking his jaw and causing a permanent mark.

Hanuman fell unconscious to the earth. An upset Vayu withdrew air and went into seclusion. The devas then revived Hanuman and gave him many boons. Hanuman became chiranjeevi, blessed with immortality, protection from weapons and more.

Lord Hanuman moves with the speed of the wind itself. The symbol of strength and energy, he offers protection from evil spirits. For all the strength he possesses, Hanuman doesn’t know his own strength. He is all humility and wisdom and is a celibate.

He is the perfect devotee utterly devoted to Lord Ram. Hanuman represents the mind and Lord Ram, the soul. Hanuman’s devotion represents surrender of the mind to the soul that is, of matter to spirit.

HANUMAN’S BIRTH
Hanuman’s mother Anjana had been an apsara. When she angered sage Angiras, he cursed her to be born as a monkey. But, she was also given the blessing that a great devotee of the Paramatma will be born to her.

While Anjana was worshipping Lord Shiva for a child, King Dasharath of Ayodhya was performing the putrakameshti yagna to have children. When he received the sacred kheer, a kite swooped down and carried a part of it, dropping it in the forest where Anjana was worshipping Lord Shiva.

On Shiva’s instruction, Vayu, the God of wind, delivered it to Anjana’s outstretched hands. When she ate it, Hanuman, an incarnation of Lord Shiva, was born.

Thus, five divine factors led to Hanuman’s birth – the curse and the blessings of sage Angiras, blessings of Lord Shiva, blessings of Lord Vayu and the kheer from Dasharath’s yagna.

image3

HANUMAN JAYANTI
Hanuman Jayanti is celebrated on the full moon day in the bright fortnight of Chaitra. In some places, it is said to fall on the 14th day – chaturdasi – in the dark fortnight of Ashvin.

Discourses are held in Hanuman temples until dawn and prasad is offered at sunrise, the time of Hanuman’s birth.

To worship at home, you can install an idol or an image of Lord Hanuman. Wash it and offer orange sindoor with your ring finger.

You can then offer calotropis flowers and leaves in multiples of five. Light incense of kewda, chameli or ambar, make sure that you light two of them. Holding them between the thumb and the index fingers of your right hand, wave them three times in full circle in the clockwise direction. If you do pradakshina, do it five times or in multiples of five.

PANCHMUKHI HANUMAN
Ravana took the help of Ahiravana during the war against Ram. Ahiravana appeared in Vibhishana’s form, tricking Ram and Lakshman and taking them to patala as captives. Five lamps burning in different directions must be extinguished to kill Ahiravana.

Hanuman took the form of Panchamukhi with the faces of Hanuman, Hayagriva, Narasimha, Garuda and Varaha, extinguished the lamps, killing the rakshasa and rescuing Ram and Lakshman.

image4

Ram Navami

Celebrate the birth of Maryada Purushottama, Rama – listen to his story, meditate on his noble qualities or chant his name to ease suffering and to cleanse your soul.

By Madhuri.Y

The story of Lord Rama’s birth begins with Ravana.

After years of penance, Ravana, the demon king of Lanka, was blessed with Lord Brahma’s boon that amrit will be stored below his navel, making him almost immortal. Ravana also received Lord Shiva’s boon that he shall not die in the hands of devas, gandharvas, yakhshas or asuras.

lord_rama

Holding humans in contempt as weaklings, Ravana did not include them in the boon he had asked for. That proved to be his undoing.

Powerful beyond measure, he then wreaked terror on the people. Wherever he went, victory was his. He defeated the devas, destroyed sacrifices and killed the rishis. He even held Indra prisoner and mocked him. Unable to bear his wrath, the devas went to Lord Vishnu, pleading for relief.

Lord Vishnu agreed and took his seventh incarnation as a human. He was born to King Dasaratha as Rama at noon on the ninth day of shukla paksh (bright half) in the month of Chaitra. This is the day of

Ram Navami.

CELEBRATING RAM NAVAMI
On the day of Ram Navami, Ravana’s 10-headed effigy, filled with firecrackers, is paraded through towns and cities. At the end of it, it is pierced with an arrow and Ravana’s effigy is burnt. Chants of Jai Shri Ram reverberate.

Elaborate pujas and chanting of Rama’s name apart, temples conduct special services and bhajans through the day. If a temple or a congregation undertakes a discourse on the Ramayana with a pundit reciting the epic, it is a good idea to attend it. The discourse is usually held for nine days, beginning with Ugadi, the first day of

Chaitra and ends on Ram Navami.

While some devotees observe a fast from sunrise to sunset on the day, others fast the eight days preceding Ram Navami too, beginning with the first day of Chaitra. Ideally, you should observe the fast without asking for special favours. Seek perfection as a human being, the way Rama had been.

Rama is believed to be the perfect man, hence he is called uttama purusha or maryada purushottama. Listening to his story, the Ramayana, is believed to cleanse the soul. Meditate on his noble qualities, or chant his name like Valmiki did – it is believed to ease your suffering and lead you to liberation.

STORY OF RAMA
Rama, the first of King Dasaratha’s sons, is born to Kausalya. His half-brothers, Lakshmana and Satrughna, are born to Sumitra; and Bharata to Kaikeyi. When he is to be made the crown-prince, Kaikeyi forces Dasaratha to send Rama to the forest on a 14-year exile. Rama’s wife Sita and his brother Lakshmana accompany him. When Ravana kidnaps Sita, Rama with the help of Sugriva’s army of monkeys, including Hanuman, builds a bridge to Lanka, kills Ravana and brings Sita back.

When he returns to Ayodhya, he is crowned the king and rules for many years. Lord Rama’s reign is known as Rama Rajya, a period of peace, prosperity and based on dharma.

Rama_and_lakshman_worship_lord_shiva

AYODHYA
Ayodhya being Lord Rama’s birthplace, the celebrations are particularly intense here. If you happen to be in Ayodhya for the celebrations, you may want to do as the other devotees do – take a dip in the River Sarayu followed by a visit to the temple of Lord Rama. Ayodhya’s rath yatra is famous with people enacting the roles of Rama and the other characters from the Ramayana on the chariot through the procession.

Ayodhya_Ram_Paidi-Ghat-on-the-Banks-of-Sarayu

RAMESHWARAM
In Rameshwaram, you might end up taking the ritual bath in the sea before worshipping Lord Rama at the Ramanathaswamy temple. According to legend, Lord Rama built the bridge to Lanka from here.

It is here that Rama prayed to Lord Shiva to absolve himself of brahmahatya patakam, the sin he earned by killing Ravana who was a Brahmin*.

*Ravana’s father was the brahmin sage Vishrava while his mother was a daitya (asura) princess Kaikesi.

Ramanathaswamy-Temple-in-Rameswaram

BHADRACHALAM
If you happen to be in South India, you can watch the Sita Rama Kalyanam, the wedding of Rama and Sita on the day of Ram Navami. Panakam – a jaggery-peppery drink is prepared and the deities taken out in procession in the evening. For a true view of the kalyanam, visit Lord Rama’s 17th century temple in Bhadrachalam, situated on the banks of the River Godavari in Telangana.

Bhadrachalam_temple_gopuram

SITA SAMAHIT STHAL
Yet another holy place you may want to visit is the Sita Samahit Sthal temple between Allahabad and Varanasi. It is believed to be the place where Sita descended into mother earth.

Sita-Samahit-Sthal---Wiki

Celebrating Holi

Festival of colours and love, which heralds spring and a signifier of the triumph of good over evil – Holi carries many connotations like the many colours used to celebrate the festival.

By Madhuri.Y

Goodbye winter, welcome spring!

With a rainbow of colours, Holi brings new energy, marking the beginning of a new season and of a new year. Colours, song and dance give Holi a particularly lively and energetic aura.

As with other festivals, Holi’s real importance lies not just in its connotations from the past, but in its current relevance. In signifying the victory of good over evil, it exhorts us to rid ourselves of past mistakes and wrongdoings, burning them in the symbolic fire, reminding us to forgive others for their mistakes, to end conflicts and to strengthen our relationships.

CELEBRATIONS
Celebrated on the last full moon day of Phalgun, which occurs in February or March, the festival falls on March 6 this year.

To many, it is a three-day festival. On the first day, the eldest member of the family sprinkles colour on his family members. On day two, the Holika bonfire is lit with people praying, singing and dancing around it.

Day three is Holi, also called Dhuli in Sanskrit or Dhuleti. People spray gulal – water with colour mixed in it – with pichkaris. Others smear dry powdered colours, abir, on one another. Water balloons have become a part of Holi too. Gujiya, mathri, malpua, puran poli, dahi vada, other delicacies and chilled drinks are part of the celebration.

Although synthetic colours have made their entry, traditionally, natural plant-based colours have been used, with flowers of flame of the forest, sandal wood, hibiscus, radish, pomegranate, beetroot, saffron, turmeric, mehendi, gulmohar,

Indian berries, tea leaves, gooseberry, grapes and more.

In many regions, young boys form human pyramids to break the pot of buttermilk hung high above while girls throw coloured water on them. This is symbolic of the play between Krishna and the cowherds with the gopikas.

DIFFERENT PLACES – DIFFERING CELEBRATIONS
In Gujarat, where Krishna is said to have migrated with the Yadava clan, it is a two-day festival. Raw coconut and corn is offered in the Holika fire. The second day is Dhuleti, the festival of colour. The festival is of particular significance in the Dwarkadheesh temple of Dwarka on Gujarat’s west coast.

Just as Holika Dahan marks the festival, Kama Dahan is celebrated in some regions and is called Rangpanchami, occurring on the fifth day after the full moon.

Barsana_Holi_Festival

In Mathura, Vrindavan, Nandgaon and Barsana, which are associated with Lord Krishna, Holi’s importance is visible in the fact that it is celebrated for about a week until Rangpanchami, marking the divine love of Radha and Krishna.

Barsana near Mathura sees the celebrations as Lath mar Holi in the Radha Rani temple in which women symbolically beat men with sticks while the latter protect themselves with shields.

Of modern significance is the celebration in the Kanpur area where it

is a seven-day festival. Ganga Mela or Holi Mela, the grand fair is held on the last day. The mela has its origins in India’s freedom movement. Freedom fighters under Nana Saheb’s leadership were instrumental in starting the mela. It is celebrated on the ghats along the Ganga in Kanpur, marking the resistance by Hindus and Muslims against the British in 1857.

The festival goes by the name of Holi in Punjabi and Hindi; Fagu in Nepali; Phakuwa, Phagwah, Dol Jatra in Assam; Dolajatra in Odisha and Basantotsav in West Bengal.

Holi_Festival_of_Colors_Utah,_United_States_2013

Abroad, Hindus in Bangladesh, Pakistan, Suriname, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, South Africa, Malaysia, Mauritius, Fiji, United Kingdom, United States and other nations celebrate Holi.

STORIES BEHIND HOLI
Holika & Prahlad

After long penance, Lord Brahma appeared to the demon king Hiranyakashyap, and gave him a boon that made him invincible. The king could no longer be killed during day or night, inside his home or outside, on earth or in sky, neither by man nor by animal, not by astra or by shastra.

The king now demanded that people worship him as God. But his own son, Prahlad, a devotee of Lord Vishnu refused. The furious Hiranyakashyap tried to poison Prahlad, made elephants walk over him, locked him in a room full of poisonous snakes, but he remained unharmed.

Hiranyakashyap then turned to his sister Holika, ordering Prahlad to sit on a burning pyre with her. Since Holika had the boon that protected her from burning, the king believed that his son would die in the pyre. Sitting in Holika’s lap, Prahlad prayed to Lord Vishnu who protected him while Holika burned to ashes.

Narasimha_oil_colour

At this point, Lord Vishnu made his appearance in the form of Lord Narashimha and killed Hiranyakashyap. The word ‘Holi’ emerges from ‘Holika’ and symbolises the victory of good over evil.

Holi_kele_nanda_lala,_A_painting
Radha_celebrating_Holi,_c1788

Radha & Krishna

When the she-demon Putana poisoned Lord Krishna with her breast milk, his skin turned dark blue. As he grew up, Krishna worried whether Radha and the gopikas who were fair-skinned would like him. Tired of his questions, mother Yashoda asked him to colour Radha’s face with his choice of colour.

Krishna’s playful colouring of Radha’s face is celebrated as Holi, giving it importance as the festival of love.

Maha Shivaratri

Lord Shiva’s favourite day, Maha Shivaratri is celebrated on the 13th night and 14th day of Krishna Paksham (new moon) during the month of Phalgun. This year, the day falls on February 17

By Madhuri.Y

A day’s fast and night vigil mark Maha Shivaratri, Lord Shiva’s favourite day, according to legends. The ascetic lord is worshipped with fervour for the blessings he is believed to bestow. Many legends are associated with Maha Shivaratri.

On this day, Lord Shiva is said to have married Parvati, marking the convergence of Shiva and Shakti. According to another legend, this is the night when Shiva performed Tandava, the cosmic dance. According to the legend of Samudra Manthan, Shiva consumed the poison that emerged when the ocean was being churned for nectar. He stopped the poison in his throat and his neck turned blue, giving him the name Neela Kantha.

The Lord’s favourite day, Maha Shivaratri is celebrated on the 13th night and 14th day of Krishna Paksham (new moon) during the month of Phalgun. This year, the day falls on February 17.

Shiva_as_the_Lord_of_Dance-1
siva-&-sakthi-images-(1)

FORMS OF SHIVA

Of the Hindu trinity, Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh; Lord Shiva is the destroyer that is the transformer. He is unchanging and formless. In his benevolent form, he is the ‘adi’ yogi (first yogi) and the patron of yoga and arts. He lives as an ascetic on Mount Kailash. As Ardhanarishvara, the lord who is half-woman, he represents the blend of masculine and feminine energies.

Lord Shiva is largely worshipped in the form of the linga, the symbol of auspiciousness and of God himself.

Bangalore_Shiva-1

WORSHIP

The story of King Chitrabhanu of the Ishvaku dynasty depicts the power of worshipping Lord Shiva during Maha Shivaratri. When the King was observing a fast with his wife on Maha Shivaratri, sage Ashtavakra asked him the reason for the fast.

King Chitrabhanu who could remember incidents from his previous birth explained: “I had been a hunter in my previous birth. One day, while hunting, I didn’t have anything to eat. Although I had shot a deer, night had fallen and since there was no time to return home, I climbed a bilva tree for shelter. To pass the night, I kept plucking bilva leaves and dropping them to the ground.”

The king continued: “I couldn’t help thinking of my hungry family and I shed tears too. Unknown to me, a Shivalinga lay hidden at the root of the tree and the leaves and my tears fell on it. When day dawned, I sold the deer and bought food. But before I could eat, a stranger begged for food. I gave him some and then I had mine. Even though I had not known it while doing so, I had worshipped Lord Shiva. This earned me good karma and I am now born as Chitrabhanu.”

Lord Shiva is worshipped with the leaves of the bilva to the chant of Om Namah Shivaya, to the Maha Mrityunjaya Mantra or to the other chants of Lord Shiva. Abhisheka is performed with milk for purity and piety; yoghurt for prosperity and progeny; honey for sweet speech; ghee for victory; sugar for happiness; and water for purity. A strict day-long fast and night vigil mark Maha Shivaratri. And devotees who observe the fast, break it in the morning with the prasad offered to Lord Shiva.

TULSI VIVAH

The wedding of tulsi and shaligram is more than just a ritual. It signies purity and is believed to shower blessings on those conducting the wedding.

Tulsi Vivah, the wedding of the tulsi plant with either Lord Vishnu or his avatar, Lord Krishna, marks the beginning of the wedding season in the Hindu month of Karthik. Depending on the region, the vivah is celebrated on Prabodhini Ekadasi (11th day of the bright half of Karthik), or Ksheerabdi Dwaadasi (12th day) or on Karthik Purnima (full moon day). In some regions, it becomes a ve-day celebration, beginning on Ekadasi and ending on Purnima or on any of the days during this period.

Story of Tulsi Vivah

Tulsi, in her previous birth was Vrinda, daughter of the giant Nemi and wife of the demon king Jalandhar. When Vrinda prays to Lord Vishnu for her husband’s protection, Jalandhar is granted the boon of freedom from death as long as Vrinda remains chaste. The demon declares war on the gods and when the gods seek Vishnu’s intervention, Lord Vishnu approaches Vrinda in the disguise of
her own husband and stays with her. When Jalandhar dies, Vrinda comes to know of Vishnu’s role and curses him, turning him into a black stone (shaligram). Vrinda’s chastity and piety impresses Vishnu and he transfers her soul into the tulsi plant with the promise that he will marry her every year during the month of Karthik. Hence, Vishnu in the form of shaligram marries tulsi during tulsi vivah.

tulsivivah

rishi

The Ritual

The marriage is conducted at home and in temples with the tulsi plant as the bride and the shaligram as the groom. If a shaligram is not available, the image of Lord Vishnu or his avatar, Lord Krishna is kept as the groom. The tulsi plant itself is usually three or
more years old. The ceremony begins in the evening and follows the Hindu wedding rites of the region. Vrinda’s soul is said to be in the plant at night, leaving only in the morning. The tulsi is adorned with a sari and ornaments. The groom, the shaligram is clothed in a dhoti.

The kanyadaan of tulsi is considered auspicious for childless couples and it is usually they, who bear the expense of the wedding. Fasting is undertaken on the day, until the vivah is complete. A full wedding meal is prepared and prasad distributed.

The ritual itself consists of vivaha prayog (dressing the bride and groom), kanya sampradaanam (giving of the bride), mala dharanam (exchange of garlands), sindhur daanam (anointing the bride with sindhur), mangal sutra dharanam (placing of the sacred mangal sutra), vastra bandhanam (tying their cloth to make the bond strong), laja homa (offering puffed rice for husband’s long life and wife’s fertility), saptapadi grahanam (seven steps of the Hindu wedding) and pani grahanam (joining them in marriage).

Tulsi is the incomparable one, and in weddings, a leaf is placed on the bride’s hand when the father of the bride offers her hand to the groom. This makes the kanyadaan permanent and auspicious.