Category Archives: Hindu Significance and Symbolism

MAHA-RAASA: the Universal Dance of Life: A Celebration of Life!

(Sharad Purnima / Raasa Purnima falls on Saturday – 31st Oct 2020)

SHARAD PURNIMA is the full moon day in the autumn season. The full moon on this day is closest to the earth and therefore its influence and healing benefits are immense and profound. The moon represents the mind and the sun represents the Light of Knowledge. On the purnima day, all of the sun’s light falls on the moon unobstructed. Therefore the full moon in all its glory represents a pure satwic mind endowed with knowledge. The minds of the Gopis of Vrindavan are likened to the full-moon and Sri Krishna, the Personification of Knowledge (Sun) danced in their minds! This is the true inner RAASA-KREEDA. The entire inner Raasa-kreeda is externalised and dramatized beautifully as the dance-sport of Sri Krishna with the Gopis. Therefore Sharad Purnima is also called as RAASA PURNIMA. In some parts of the country, Karthik Purnima which comes in the next calendar month is also called as Raasa Purnima. 

On the full moon night (Sharad Purnima), Sri Krishna revelling in His own Ananda Swaroopa picked up His flute by name “Aakarshini” (the one which attracts) and started playing upon it. The flute represents the entire world of things and beings, macro as well as micro, through which Krishna – the LIFE flows, enlivening it and making it dynamic. SAARA means “essence”, the INCOMPREHENSIBLE “TOUCH-OF-LIFE” – the Ultimate Reality. When the word is reversed, it becomes RAASA, the COMPREHENSIBLE “PLAY-OF-LIFE” through the gross and subtle matter-equipments. KREEDA is “sport”. Hence RAASA-KREEDA represents the CELEBRATION-OF-LIFE: the play or sport of SPIRIT (Purusha) through MATTER (Prakriti): the Creation-Sustenance-Dissolution of the Universe. This Celebration is full of Joy and Happiness (Rasavath). This “Eternal Dance of Life-through-Matter” is both, at the individual (micro) as well as at the cosmic (macro) level, and hence it is known as MAHA-RAASA.

There is Naada (music), Nritya (dance) and Naataka (drama) very beautifully represented in the Raasa-Kreeda of Lord Krishna with the Gopis. The Nava-rasas (the nine moods) of the mind starting from Shringara (Beauty) to Shanta (Peace) are beautifully depicted. The GOPIKAS danced with KRISHNA. “Go” means “knowledge”. “Pi” means “to drink” and “Ka” means “happiness”. Therefore GOPIKA means “one who is revelling in the blissful spiritual knowledge”. GOPIKA hence symbolises all spiritual seekers. Infact, all things and beings created by the Lord are GOPIS – all for the Lord’s Leela (Sport). The Lord’s music enthralls the whole of Nature, the whole Universe.

In Sage Bharata’s Natya Sastra, RAASA has been defined as “a form of dance wherein a number of women, dance in a circle with their hands interlocked in the company of men who dance with them with their arms placed round the neck of their female partners.” In the Raasa-kreeda, though Lord Krishna stood at the centre, each gopi visualised the presence of Krishna next to her. Hence there were as many Krishnas as there were Gopis on the circumference of the circle. 
Krishna as the “motionless centre” represents the Absolute Reality: the UNIVERSAL LIFE, the BRAHMAN. All movement is at the circumference. Each Gopi representing the mind or the thoughts totally identifies herself with Krishna, and therefore sees Krishna next to her rather than at the centre. Therefore, the Krishna-and-Gopi pairs represent the “Individual Life expressing through the mental-thoughts”. Their dance of identifying and interlocking with each other, and their movement represent the INDIVIDUAL LIFE functioning through MATTER: the relationship between Prakriti and Purusha, the Vishwa and Vishwanatha.

According to Bhagavat Purana, Krishna is blue in colour representing Infinitude. Gopis are depicted as yellow (brilliant lustre) in colour. When they are dancing, the blue and yellow mutually overlap to yield green colour. Hence Krishna as well as the Gopis look like green emeralds! Green is the colour of balance, equilibrium and equipoise. In the infinite play of Prakriti and Purusha, there is divine equilibrium and balance in the cosmos (macro) and in each individual (micro). 
The Krishna-Gopi pair at the micro level represent “Consciousness+Thought” playing about within oneself – a mini Raasa! Infact, the Whole Universe is a MAHA-RAASA. From the celestial bodies, the planetary system, the silent mountain ranges, the rains, the roaring ocean, the flowing rivers, the passing breeze, the nodding fields upto the complex body system, the mind-intellect equipment – all are a play of Prakriti and Purusha – perpetual Raasa-Kreeda! So many…many mini Raasa-s in the Cosmic Raasa! 

“Tava kathaamrutam tapta jeevanam kavibhiriditham kalmashapaham; sravana mangalam srimadaatatam Bhuvi grhnanti te bhuridaa janaaha” (Lord’s divine glories in the form of nectarine stories, most auspicious to hear are recited and spread amongst the mortals by the great and compassionate sages which alone is the life-giving antidote to the miseries of samsara) ~ Gopika Geeta (Bhagavat Purana)

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Origin of Lalitha Sahasranama!

Surya and Aruna were the sons of Sage Kashyapa. Surya was beautiful and radiant whereas Aruna was deformed. However, Aruna was a great devotee of Lord Shiva, and pleased with his devotion the Lord made him Surya’s charioteer, and proclaimed that the time just before sunrise would be called as Arunodaya. 

Lalithambika

Surya always looked down upon Aruna and mocked at his body with deformities. When Shiva came to know about it, he cursed Surya to lose his brilliance and become dark. Surya realized his mistake and pleaded with the Lord. The Lord told him to undergo severe penance to regain back his lustre. Lord Sun came to the sacred kshetra called Thirumeeyachur (Tamilnadu) and worshipped Lord Shiva in Gaja Vimana. After months of austerity, when he did not get back his golden lustre, he cried out loudly to the Lord. His loud and thunderous voice disturbed the serenity of the place, and Parvati who was there along with the Lord became very angry and was about to pronounce a curse on Lord Sun.

Sankara immediately intervened and told her that Lord Sun was already under a curse and one more would be devastating for him. Shiva told Parvati to calm down and invoked the “shanta” (peace) aspect in her. She immediately became calm. The Lord gave her the name “SHANTA NAYAKI”. She also became known as SRI LALITHAMBIKA. From Shanta Nayaki’s mouth, the presiding deities of speech, the “Vak-Devis” manifested and glorified her through a thousand beautiful names. These thousand names came to be known as “LALITHA SAHASRANAMA”. Lord Sun was relieved of his curse and with the Lord’s grace, he regained his lost golden lustre. Since the Lord had removed the cloud of darkness covering the Sun, Shiva became known as “Sri Meghanatha”.

During the month of Chithirai, for seven days, the sun’s rays fall directly on Lord Meghanatha and this is considered as the devotional offering of Surya to Lord Shiva.
Sri Lalithambika, also known as Sundara Nayaki sits on the “Srichakraraja Simhasana” as the Empress (Maharani) with her right leg folded and placed on the left. The Lalitha Sahasranama which was given out by Vak-Devis was first revealed to Lord Hayagriva, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu and the “presiding deity of knowledge and intelligence”. Subsequently, Lord Hayagriva taught the Lalitha Sahasranama to his disciple, Sage Agastya, and asked him to worship Sri Lalithambika at Thirumeeyachur. Sage Agastya came to this sacred place and invoked Sri Lalithambika by chanting the Lalitha Sahasranama. The divine Mother was pleased and appeared in front of him as “Navaratnas – the nine gems”. Overwhelmed at this rare and unique darshan, Sage Agastya composed and sang the “Lalitha Navaratna Mala”. From Sri Lalithambika to Hayagriva, and then through Sage Agastya the sacred Lalitha Sahasranama reached the mortals. Even to this day, those who want to learn and chant the Lalitha Sahasranama, come to this sacred place to seek Devi’s blessings. 

A unique feature of this place is that even Sri Durga who is standing on mahishasura is “shanta-swaroopini” with a parrot in her hand! It is believed that the parrot carries the messages and pleas of the devotees to Lalithambika. Even to this day, in the evening, parrots can be seen flying from the temple of Durga towards the temple of Lalithambika!

Once Goddess Lalithambika appeared in the dream of a devotee, and asked for a pair of anklets for her bare feet. The devotee got them made and took it to the temple and asked the priests to put the anklets on Devi’s feet. The priest said that it was not possible and there was no provision for the anklets to go round the feet of the deity. The devotee felt sad and asked the priest to atleast place her offerings at Devi’s feet. When the priest took the anklets to offer it at Devi’s feet, he was astonished to find a narrow opening at Devi’s ankles just enough for the chain to go through! Lalithambika wears the anklets on Her feet. Hence devotees who come to the temple offer Devi a pair of anklets – a rare and unique feature of this temple!

On the auspicious VIJAYADASAMI day, in the sanctum, plantain leaves are spread over an area of 15ft in length and 5ft in width. It is divided into three sections. In the first section closest to the deity, 100 kg of sweet pongal (chakkara pongal) is spread. In the next section, 100kg of tamarind rice and in the third section 100 kg of curds rice is spread – all one behind the other. In the middle of the sweet pongal, a huge hollow or trough is created and a large amount of liquid ghee is poured. It is called as “ghee well”. After the special alankara of Sri Lalithambika, the curtains of the sanctum are drawn apart and arati is performed. The reflection of Sri Lalithambika can be seen in the “ghee well!” This unique, most beautiful and awesome darshan is considered to be extremely auspicious. Devotees throng the shrine in large numbers on Vijayadasami day to have a glimpse of Sri Lalithambika in the “ghee well!” 

The “ghee-well” represents a pure and satvic mind. The rice pongal around the “ghee-well” represents the gross layers of matter of the individual personality. The reflection of Sri Lalithambika (Parabrahma) in the “ghee-well” (mind) represents the “vision of the Divine” (State of Enlightenment). This is the real and everlasting Victory (Vijaya).

“Sarva mangala mangalye shive sarvartha sadhike; saranye tryambake devi narayani namostute”

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Dussehra : Sri Rama’s victory over Ravana!

Seeta, Lord Rama’s wife had been abducted by the ten-headed Ravana. She was held captive in Lanka. Rama and Lakshmana along with the army of vanaras headed by their King Sugreeva, his wise minister Hanuman and others crossed the ocean and reached Lanka and waged a war against Ravana. When Ravana lost all his mighty warriors, his brother Kumbhakarna and his sons, he finally came to the war-field to fight Lord Rama. There was a fierce battle between the two of them which was incomparable. A divine chariot and charioteer descended from the heavens for Lord Rama. Every time Rama cut off one of Ravana’s head, another one manifested in its place! Ravana countered Rama with all his might and strength.

When Rama became exhausted, Sage Agastya came forward and taught the “ADITYA HRIDAYA” (a powerful invocation glorifying Lord Surya Bhagavan) to Sri Rama. As instructed by Sage Agastya, Lord Rama invoked Lord Surya by chanting the ADITYA HRIDAYA. With the grace and blessings, the power and strength of Surya Bhagavan, Rama was able to defeat and kill Ravana. Accompanied by Seeta and others, Rama went back to Ayodhya. He was crowned the King of Ayodhya. RAMA RAJYA was established.

Significance: Rama represents the INTELLECT and Lakshmana represents the MIND. Seeta stands for ABSOLUTE PEACE. The ten-headed Ravana is the EGO in the seeker with the ten heads representing the five sense-organs of perception and five organs of action. All of them are turned outward and hence Ravana is known as DASHAMUKHA. To conquer and destroy the EGO is extremely difficult. When one head is cut off, another one appears. When one sense impulse is conquered, another one gets strengthened. At that point of time, the Guru (Man of Realization) represented by Sage Agastya appears. Agastya Rishi is “Kumbhodbhava” (born out of a pot). Kumbha represents POORNATVA or “fullness”. He points out, directs and guides the advanced seeker to the “INNER (Hridaya) CONSCIOUSNESS (Aditya)” – Aditya Hridaya!

At this stage, the process of INTELLECTION is taken over by INTUITION and the seeker is able to liquidate the EGO (Ravana) within himself. This is the real DUSSEHRA or DASHA-PAPA-HARA which happens within the spiritual seeker and bestows on him the ETERNAL and EVERLASTING VICTORY – the VIJAYADASAMI. INNER PEACE (Seeta) is restored back. The couple SEETA-RAMA represents a Man of Inner Quietude or a Man of Realization. He alone can reach the REALM OF NO-CONFLICT (Ayodhya or A – yudha). Seated on the SEAT OF DHARMA (simha-asana) within himself, he is able to establish RAMA-RAJYA within! The VICTORY of GOOD over the EVIL within oneself and over the external circumstances is the real CELEBRATION OF DUSSEHRA!

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Significance of Navaratri!

There are five Navaratri-s in a year. Vasanta Navaratri, Ashada Navaratri, Sharad Navaratri, Pausha Navaratri and Magha Navaratri. Amongst all of them, Vasanta Navaratri and Sharad Navaratri are considered to be important because they represent the arrival of Spring and Autumn and are associated with creative activity in Nature along with major climatic changes and solar influences. Sharad Navaratri (Sharannavaratri) is also known as Maha Navaratri and is considered even more important because it comes just after the rainy season. During this period, Mother Nature is at her creative best! Sharad or Autumn season represents newness, freshness, plentiful-ness, change and creativity. Most of the seasonal and non-seasonal flowers, fruits and vegetables are available during this period. Sharannavaratri comes in the month of Aaswayuja.

The autumn season is very conducive for environmental changes; everything in Nature is changing for the better; everywhere creative activity is going on. Nature is but an extension of our mind. As in the macro, so in the micro. Therefore, it is easier to align the mind to its universal aspect in this season and bring about constructive changes in the mind, train it and redirect it in purposeful sadhana to reach the ultimate fulfillment of human life. Hence the importance of Upasana during this period.

Nature is in “creative-activity”, and Mother represents the Power of Creation. Therefore, during Navaratri, the Ultimate Reality or Supreme Universal Power is invoked and worshipped in feminine form, as DEVI – “Mother Goddess”. On the Mahalaya Amavasya day, prior to Navaratri, Devi is worshipped as the “Mother who brings forth or delivers the Universe”. On this day, the alankar for the deity in the temple is known as “Jagat Prasuti Alankara” (One who has just delivered the universe – post natal alankara). The alankara of the deity as “mother” includes a child (represented by a doll) in her lap. The doll in Mother’s lap not only represents the entire universe of things and beings (macro) delivered by Her, but the doll also represents each one of us (micro) who has come into existence by Her grace alone.

The nine days of Navaratri along with Mahalaya Amavasya and Vijayadasami (9+2 days) represent a seeker’s spiritual pilgrimage, from the darkness of ignorance to the Light of Spiritual Knowledge. Amavasya means “clothed in ignorance”. Mahalaya means “total dissolution”. Mahalaya Amavasya therefore means “total dissolution of spiritual ignorance”. To accomplish this pilgrimage within ourselves, the Navaratri Puja (9 days of Upasana) is undertaken. Ratri (night) again represents darkness or ignorance. Nava means Nine – the nine “steps” to be taken by a mortal to reach the State of Immortality, by discarding or transcending the nine material-wraps (nava-avarana) around oneself. Nava also means New or Fresh. Every day through spiritual sadhana, the seeker works upon himself so that he improves and evolves and “today he is a better person than what he was yesterday – he is a NEW PERSON (nava)”. The entire pilgrimage fulfills itself in Vijayadasami – the Everlasting and Ultimate Victory – the State of Enlightenment. Therefore, Navaratri Puja is an inner spiritual pilgrimage from Mahalaya Amavasya to Vijayadasami. 

The first three days, MAHA DURGA is invoked to destroy the negative qualities and rakshasic impulses in us. The next three days MAHA LAKSHMI is invoked to instill in us positive, noble and divine qualities. The last three days MAHA SARASWATI is invoked. With her grace and blessings, the seeker is initiated into the scriptural knowledge. Through intense contemplation, the seeker realizes the God State of Consciousness within himself, which is Real and Everlasting. This fulfillment is represented by the tenth day – the Vijayadasami (Ever Victorious). The auspicious Vijayadasami is also known as the Day of Vidyarambha. Akshara Abhyas is performed on this day and children are initiated into the Aksharas (alphabets). Elders are initiated into the study of scriptures. Those who wish to pursue the Art-forms like music, dance etc., are also initiated on this day. The sequence of worship of the three deities (Maha Durga, Maha Lakshmi and Maha Saraswati) varies from State to State. However, the significance remains the same.

Navaratri Upasana is also known as Dasara or Dussehra Puja. This is an abbreviation of “Dasha Papa Hara“. Therefore Dussehra Puja is that upasana which when undertaken helps an individual to liquidate the effect of karmas performed through the five sense-organs of perception and five organs of action. It is basically the Victory of Good over the Evil.
Ya Devi Sarvabhuteshu Mathru Roopena Samstitha; Namah Tasyai Namah Tasyai Namah Tasyai Namo Namaha“.

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