Category Archives: Hindu Significance and Symbolism

Raksha Bandhan – Significance

Raksha Bandhan is a day on which sisters tie the sacred thread (rakhi) on the wrist of their brothers. A sense of responsibility, well-being, bonding between family members, sharing, etc., is inculcated into the family members through the ritual of raksha-bandhan. The ritual not only stands for the health, wealth, prosperity, happiness and long life for the brother, but it also represents the brother’s commitment to protect the honour and dignity of the sister.

However, in its larger perspective, “Rakhi” is known as “Raksha Sutra” (thread for protection). The day chosen, who ties the raksha-sutra, and to whom, etc., depends on the occasion and the purpose. The raksha-sutra is first placed at the altar of the Lord. It is sanctified by prayerfully invoking the Lord’s Grace and Blessings. It is then tied round the wrist of the individual.

The raksha-sutra is used to invoke the Lord’s blessings for protection from all dangers, harms, calamities etc. Usually, after invoking the Lord’s blessings, the sacred thread, is tied round the concerned individual by the priest or the eldest in the family. By tying the raksha-sutra round the wrist of relatives, friends and well-wishers it also encourages a sense of oneness and harmony in the society.

In almost all puja-sankalpas and vratas undertaken, during celebrations like marriage, namakarana, grihapravesha etc., tying of raksha-sutra is mandatory. The raksha-sutra symbolizes the sacred bonding between the individual (jivatma) and the Lord (Paramatma). The sanctified raksha-sutra is tied round his wrist with appropriate chants and rituals. In this case it is called “kankana”. The individual is “kankana-baddha”, meaning committed to his sankalpa or vow. When the sankalpa or vow is fulfilled, the “kankana-visarjana” (removing the thread round the wrist) is carried out with specific chants. The colour (red, yellow, black, etc) of the thread depends upon the sankalpa. Undertaking a sankalpa or vow demands discipline and earnest self-effort on the part of the individual. The thread or sutra or kankana itself represents the SANKALPA or VOW. It is a TAPAS, whether undertaken for one’s own self or for someone else. It is a reminder that the wearer should constantly engage himself or herself in noble and purposeful activities ensuring the well-being and welfare of everyone around including himself or herself.

The use of Raksha-Sutra or Rakhi goes back to the Puranic age. On the Poornima (full moon) day of Sravana, Goddess Lakshmi pleased with the hospitality of Bali Chakravarti’s tied the “raksha-sutra” round his wrist; and the divine couple, Sri Lakshmi Narayana bestowed upon him their grace and blessings. Hence the tradition of women tying the “raksha-sutra” not only to brothers, but to all their well-wishers, wishing them happiness, health, plenty and prosperity, and they in turn promise to protect the dignity of their mothers, sisters and daughters. Also, during Yudhisthira’s Rajasuya Yagna, Draupadi tore a part of her vastra and tied it round Lord Krishna’s finger which was injured and bleeding because of the sharp edges of the revolving Sudarshana Chakra which had just killed the evil Sishupala. The Lord reciprocated by protecting her with “akshaya vastra” in the Kaurava court. Therefore, Raksha Bandhan also represents Sri Krishna protecting Draupadi who considered the Lord as her brother.

O, Adimoola (Primordial One)! thou art my ANGA-RAKSHA (My Sole Protector & Saviour)! Lord of Sree, thou alone art my JIVA-RAKSHA (Protector of Life)! Purushottama, the consort of Bhudevi, thou art my BHUMI-RAKSHA (Protector from Terrestrial Calamities)! Lord who reclines on the vast ocean is my JALA-RAKSHA (Protector from Water Calamities)! Yagna-murthi, in the form of the sacrificial fire, thou art my AGNI-RAKSHA (Protector from Fire Calamities), Lord of Hanuman, the son of Vayu, thou art my VAYU-RAKSHA (Protector from Air Calamities)! Vishnu, the All-pervading One, who measured space with His lotus foot, thou art my AKASHA-RAKSHA (Protector from Spacial Calamities)! Lord of Venkatadri thou art my SARVA-RAKSHA (my All-in-all Protector)! The kirtan can also be interpreted as: “the Lord who supports, nurtures and nourishes the BEINGS in the form of the Elements of Nature – Earth, Water, Fire, Air & Space” ~ Sri Annamacharya (Poet-Saint).

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Ganga – the Flow of Spiritual Knowledge!

River Ganges is respected and adored as Mother Ganga. As a river she is the main source of water especially for the northern part of Bharat. Apart from being a source of water, she has unique properties. Since she flows down through the Himalayan ranges, she carries along with her the inherent and unique properties of the soil, minerals and foliage through which she flows which gives her waters distinctive features. A dip in her waters or to drink her waters is extremely beneficial. Her oxidation level is also very high and therefore the Ganges water can be stored for years together – it still remains fresh and uncontaminated. 

King Bhagiratha of the Solar dynasty performed intense tapas to bring the sacred Ganges from the higher realms down to the plains to redeem his forefathers of their sins. Pleased with his tapas, Ganga appeared before him and told him that the force of her descent from the Higher Realms can be very devastating and everything within her reach will be totally wiped out. The only person who could withstand and contain the impact of her mighty descent was Lord Shiva. So Bhagiratha performed penance to propitiate Sankara. The Lord appeared before him. Bhagiratha narrated everything to Lord Shiva. The Lord agreed to take the tremendous impact of Ganga when she descends upon himself. Lord Shiva came to Gangotri and on the auspicious Ganga Dussehra day, Mother Ganges descended down from the higher realms with full force. Lord Shiva received Ganga into his open “Jata” (locks of hair). Subsequently the Lord released Ganga slowly in the form of small streamlets from His Jata. The Ganga from the Lord’s Jata followed Bhagiratha from the higher altitudes to the lower terristrial plains and then finally reached the lower realms to redeem the forefathers of Bhagiratha. After traversing the entire Northern plains known as the Gangetic Plains, Ganga reaches the ocean (Bay of Bengal) at Ganga Sagar and merges to become one with the ocean.

GAM means “knowledge”. GA means “to move”. Therefore GAMGA or GANGA represents “the eternal flow of Spiritual Knowledge”. She is the personification of Mother Sruti (scriptures). She is worshipped as AKASHA GANGA, wherein she represents the Highest, Subtle and Incomprehensible Spiritual Knowledge. The ‘vahana’ (vehicle) of Ganga is crocodile. The crocodile represents ‘spiritual ignorance’. Ganga signifies ‘Spiritual Knowledge’. Ganga seated on the crocodile represents the destruction of ignorance with the help of Spiritual Knowledge. To partake a DROP OF THIS KNOWLEDGE is to transcend and move beyond name, form, attributes, activity and reach the realm of Highest Experience: the State of Enlightenment.  King Bhagiratha represents a spiritual seeker. BHAGA means “glories”. RATHA means “chariot”. BHAGIRATHA therefore means “personification of all divine qualities”. He is born in Solar dynasty meaning “he is endowed with spiritual knowledge”. 


When the seeker invokes the spiritual knowledge within himself in his seat of meditation, it descends down with such an impact that in one sweep the entire world of plurality and multiplicity becomes non-existent for him, leaving behind only the experience of Absolute Oneness. The seeker in the present moment may not have the ability and capacity to take on the impact. Only Lord Shiva who represents the Highest State of Meditation can contain the knowledge and revel in the experience of Absolute Oneness. Therefore Ganga (Divine Knowledge) descends onto his head (intellect). Hence Shiva also represents the Guru who has not only the Knowledge of the Higher State, but has experienced it within himself. When the seeker approaches the Guru, depending upon the constitution of the seeker and his ability and capacity to absorb the Higher Knowledge, the Guru slowly initiates him which is represented by the flow of Ganga from Lord Shiva’s tresses. Just as Ganga on reaching the vast shoreless and depthless ocean, loses her individual identity to merge and disappear into the ocean and becomes one with it, so too the spiritual seeker (jivatma) slowly progresses on the path of meditation to reach and become one with the Highest State (Paramatma). This is the State of Mukti or Enlightenment.


Gange Hara Hara! Gange Hara Hara!! 

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Devi Karpagambal of Mayil-puri!

Lord Brahma, the Creator had five heads and therefore he considered himself to be superior to Lord Shiva. Once when he went to Kailasa, he disrespected Lord Shiva. To teach him a lesson, Lord Shiva plucked off one of the head of Brahma and made the skull (kapala) into his begging bowl. Lord Brahma realized his mistake and undertook severe penance to atone for his mistake in a place called Shukra-puri (Shukracharya performed penance here and regained his lost eye) or Veda-puri (Vedas worshipped Lord Shiva here). Brahma installed a Shiva-linga over there and named it “Kapaleeswara.”

Parvati once asked Lord Shiva to explain to her the importance of the “Shiva Panchakshara”: Na Ma Si Va Ya which can be spelt in the reverse order also as Si Va Ya Na Ma! The Lord started explaining to her the significance of the mantra. However, Parvati’s attention got diverted to a flock of peacocks dancing beautifully. Her mind got carried away. Shiva was annoyed at her attitude and cursed her to become a peahen. She was ordered to go down to bhu-loka and perform tapas to redeem herself of the curse. Parvati came to Veda-puri and performed severe penance in the form of a pea-hen under a Punnai tree. After years of penance, Lord Shiva granted her darshan and she regained back her original form. The place became known as Mayura-puri (Mayura means peacock). Later the place came to be known as Mylapore, in Chennai.

Parvati after regaining her most beautiful and enchanting form decided to make Mayura-puri her abode along with Sri Kapaleeswara for the sake of devotees. She is known as Karpagambal (Karpagam: Wish-yielding tree and Amba: Mother). She stands there to fulfill all the wishes of her devotees. Lord Karthikeya prayed to Sri Karpagambal over here before fighting with Surapadma, and she blessed him and gave the sacred Sakti-Vel to him.  

Sivanesa Chettiar was a wealthy tradesman residing in Mylapore. He was also a great devotee of Lord Shiva. He had a beautiful daughter by name Poompavai. One day while plucking flowers in the garden she died by a snake bite. The grieving father collected the ashes of her dead body and preserved it in a pot and waited for the great Saint Thirugnanasambandhar to come to Mylapore. When the Saint came to Mylapore, Chettiar met Thirugnanasambandhar and told him of his daughter’s demise. He pleaded with him to restore her back to life.

Thirugnanasambandhar prayed to Lord Kapaleeswara and Devi Karpagambal. Thirugnanasambandhar addressed the pot of ashes, “O Poompavai! The very purpose of human birth in this world is to be of service to the Lord and his devotees, and to witness the grand utsavam of Lord Kapaleeswara. If this be true, arise in the presence of all. Do you want to go away without witnessing the Lord’s utsavam?” The great Saint then sang the glories of the Lord and when he had just completed the tenth verse, Poompavai rose up from the ashes as though she had woken up from sleep! Everyone gathered there were overwhelmed at the grace of Lord Kapaleeswara and Sri Karpagambal and the greatness of Thirugnanasambandhar.

“O Devi Karpagambika, residing in the sacred kshetra of Mayil-puri (Mylapore)! You are the embodiment of Sat-Chit-Ananda! Pray, cast your divine compassionate glance on thy devotee!”

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Vatapatrashayee – Significance!

 

VATAPATRASHAYEE signifies a Man of Realisation – a Jeevanmukta. He is none other than Lord Mukunda: One who gives Mukti to the spiritual seeker.  

Sage Markandeya undertook intense tapas to propitiate Lord Vishnu. Pleased with the Sage’s austerity, the Lord appeared before him. Overwhelmed with joy at the divine and glorious darshan of the Lord, Markandeya put forth a unique request to the Lord. He wanted to ‘see’ the LEELA or the Sport of the Lord-of-Maya! Sri Narayana smilingly acknowledged. A few days later, the sky opened up, clouds burst, winds swept, thunderstorms and torrential rains created floods, the ocean rose and in a short time all the worlds including the entire earth was engulfed with water – it was Pralaya. In the darkness of the Deluge, drifting along in the dangerous and swirling waters, Markandeya who was ever well-established in the Higher State of God-realization beyond all traces of duality, now went through the gamut of hunger and thirst, fear and sorrow, pain and grief! He was unable to come out of it – the Play of Lord’s Maya! And suddenly, to his utter surprise, he found a small lone infant also drifting in the waters. Curious to know who it was, he swam towards the infant. Extremely divine was the vision! Markandeya saw a dark-blue hued child exquisitely charming and captivating lying on a banyan leaf. The infant held its lotus-like foot in its beautiful hands. And he was blissfully sucking at the toe which was in his mouth – Lord VATAPATRASHAYEE! Markandeya was sucked into the body of the infant along with its in-breath. There in the body of the infant, Markandeya saw the outer and inner space and all the worlds, including himself! With the infant’s out-going breath, Markandeya was thrown back to the surroundings. And suddenly the deluge-vision disappeared. Markandeya was back in his hermitage. Nothing had really happened. It was all Lord’s Maya – a mere delusion created illusion! Sage Markandeya had witnessed the Play of Lord’s inscrutable Maya!!

Significance: The waters all around represent pralaya (deluge) or dissolution, which is the Destructive Aspect of Nature. The infant on the banyan leaf represents the Constructive Aspect of Nature. At the Cosmic level, Nature balances the destruction-construction phenomena. If the dark waters represent disaster, trouble and spiritual ignorance, Sri Krishna (Vatapatrashayee) represents relief, hope and Light of Knowledge. 

The Lord’s ‘breathing-in’ represents the DISSOLUTION of the worlds. Hence Sage Markandeya was sucked into the Lord’s mouth. The Lord’s ‘breathing-out’ represents the CREATION of the worlds; the sage was thrown back into the surroundings. Between creation and dissolution, the Lord nurtures, nourishes and MAINTAINS all that He has created. Therefore BALA-MUKUNDA represents the Powers of Creation, Sustenance and Dissolution – the Ultimate Reality, BRAHMAN. The Lord’s face, hands and feet are compared to the LOTUS. The Lotus represents Beauty, Knowledge and Truth. The Lord is a personification of, an embodiment of Beauty, Knowledge and Truth. An infant/child always “lives and responds” in the PRESENT without the conditionings of the PAST and FUTURE: the Highest State in which a Man of Realization is revelling. Hence, the Lord is depicted as an “infant”. 

The waters represent the “troubled waters of samsara” – the ups and downs. To balance ourselves safely and sail through them we need knowledge. The banyan leaf represents “spiritual knowledge” and its green colour represents “balance or steady mind”. The banyan tree has long life and vast spread with roots hanging down from above. Hence the banyan tree represents the Eternal, Timeless Spiritual Knowledge which transcends all other knowledges, yet includes everything. It flows from the Higher to the lower.

Krishna lying down on the banyan leaf tossed up and down by the waves represents the Man of Steady Wisdom in perfect balance within himself and in absolute harmony with Nature. Krishna holds the big toe of His leg with both His hands, draws it towards Himself and is depicted as sucking the toe by putting it in His mouth. Feet is what one stands on. The Master’s Feet represent Spiritual Knowledge in which he is well-established and rooted in. The big toe is equivalent to the thumb and it signifies the essence of spiritual knowledge which the Man of Realisation is constantly experiencing and revelling in, after turning his attention within himself in his seat of meditation.This inward gaze is represented by the Lord pulling his leg inward, towards Himself. The blissful smile on the Lord’s face signifies the State of Sat-Chit-Ananda which the Jeevanmukta is constantly experiencing within himself!

“Karaavindena Padaaravindam Mukhaaravinde Viniveshayantam; Vatasya Patrasya Pute Shayaanam Baalam Mukundam Manasaa Smaraami” – Baalamukundashtakam

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