Wednesday, February 14, 2018

INTRODUCING FESTIVALS AND RITUALS POSTED ON HINDU REFLECTIONS





INTRODUCING FESTIVALS & RITUALS POSTED ON HINDU REFLECTIONS
(BY N.R. SRINIVASAN, NASHVILLE, TN, USA, FEBRUARY  2018)


We all need a religion which will stir the depths of the heart and give room for the exercise of faith, devotion and love.  In this Hinduism has the longest history and colorful tradition with built in religious discipline among all religions in the world being the oldest religion.  Hindu way of life is so knitted that no human activity is segregated from the divine and so are the Hindu Festivals. Hindu Reflections includes 72 discourses on Hindu Festivals and Rituals posted over the past seven years. We get tired of hard work or monotonous activity in the country of our migration.  We want some change or variety. We want relaxation. We want something to cheer us up.  Celebration of Hindu Festivals make us cheerful and happy and give us rest and peace.  Moreover it indirectly helps to promote Hindu culture in the minds of young generation who are born in a foreign soil and are constantly influenced by the   various cultures of the land forgetting our own. Hindu American Temples play a significant role in this to promote and perpetuate Hindu culture.

"In India Religion has entered into the cooking pot" said Swami Vivekananda once.  It is this that makes festivals and rituals   added attraction particularly to children! In the bargain they learn about the festival and turn religious too! Hindus eagerly wait for a particular festival or ritual looking forward to the Prasad (blessed food) delicacies. Tamils even name their festivals after food--Pongal with its spiced and flavored Kichadi, Karadiyan Nobu with its special lentil cake, Koodarai Vellam (though corrupted) for its  flavored sweet Kichadi.  Besides we have Ram Navami with varieties of Panakams (fruit juices) and spiced lentils though a fasting day, Krishna Jayanti with 32 types of sweets and savories, Hanuman Jayanti with crispy  pepper vada, Ganesh Chaturthi with sweet Modakams etc. Even we have special menus for Ekadasi when people can’t observe complete fasting based on their health and constitution for restricted sustenance diet. Perhaps this makes Hinduism spicy and so no proselytizing is required like other religions!  The list is endless. I wonder anybody has made a booklet out of it giving the recipe and explaining the significance? Only you need to visit Puri Jagannath Temple where every day is celebrated as a festival day with countless delicacies offered to Lord Jagannath. I could hardly see a priest skinny and famished there! So also Udupi. I believe Lord Krishna takes care of his devotees very well! You have to visit any ISKCON temple!

Celebration of Hindu Festivals and observance of Hindu rituals   takes one’s thought to Puranas.   All great Hindu Festivals have religious, social and hygienic element in them. In every festival there is bathing in the morning before sunrise. Every individual will have to do some prayer, Japa,  Kirtan, Recitation of Sanskrit verses and Meditation.  

All things in this vast creation function upon definite laws. There is always a beautiful system and sound rationale governing every phenomenon and process, mundane or mystical. Just as gross elements and physical forces operate  variously under different conditions, so too the subtler and higher  forces respond and react in the inner mystic planes and in the purely spiritual process like worship, prayer, meditation performance of rituals etc. Therefore we find definite injunctions for performing rituals and certain types of worship like Pradosham, Vratas, Eclipses, Ekadasi etc. Some are meant for morning observance, some for mid-day and some others for evening observance. Thus a sort of religious discipline is built in the worship and performance of rituals that indirectly influences our way of life and attitude to life.

I hope this collective reporting of all introductions will help those who are busy in their life’s pursuits to take a quick glance at them to understand the significance of Hindu Festivals and Rituals and then go to individual discourses at leisure to understand its full meaning and its socio-religious significance. This will also be useful guide to introduce the subject to young minds in our Baal Vihaar Schools and Hindu Heritage Classes.

With the help of my classified list of discourses you may pick your discourse of choice for your detailed study:


 E-MAIL INTRODUCTION TO HINDU FESTIVALS AND RITUALS

1. UPAAKARMA
On this day those  Hindus who have undergone Upanayana Samskaara (thread ceremony) atone for the sins committed during the year by repeating the abreviated   Vedic  mantra 108 or 1008 times  "Kamokarsheet manyurakarsheet namonnamaha", change their holy  threads, pay obeisance to all the sages as a sort of Thanksgiving Ceremony and start  the study  of Vedas. A detailed discourse has been circulated to all of you with elaborate explanation as posted on the Blog <nrsrini.blogspot.com>. I wonder why this day could not be venerated by all to atone for the sins committed at least once in a year, pay our homage to our scriptures and ancient sages even if they had not undergone Upanayana Samskara?

Those of you who observe Upaakarma, it makes more sense to repeat the whole Vedic Mantra understanding its meaning which is not too long 108 times, rather than the abbreviated one   of convenience  with no significant meaning as recommended by Vaideekas (Religiously devoted Brahmins), being an annual event. The mantras in Vedas which has been adopted by religious followers for convenience but not full significance read as follows:

KAMOKAARSHEET-MANYURA KARSHEET MANTRAAH FROM MAHAA NAARAAYANA UPANISHAD OF YAJURVEDA
Kaamoekaarsheennamoe namah| kaamoekaarsheet kaamah karoti na-aham karomi kaamah karta  na-aham  kartaa kaamah  kaarayitaa na-aham Kaarayitaa esha te kaama kaamaaya swaahaa ||

Manyur-akaarsheennamo namah | manyur-akaarsheen-manuyuh karoti na-aham karomi manyuh kartaa na-aham kartaa manyuh kaarayitaa na-aham kaarayitaa esha te manyo manyave swaahaa ||

These mantras could also be used for Homa (fire sacrifice) to devatas as the word "Swaaha" is included.  These Mantras with explanation can be found in the discourse: "Homa Mantras from Mahaanaaraayana Upanishad" posted on the Blog (Please see discourse no 5 posted on the blog in February 2012 and communicated by e-mail to participants). As you are aware all Sandhyavandana mantras are adopted from Maha Naaraayana Upanishad including Praanaahuti Mantras for thanking the Supreme before and after  consuming food or offering food to your favorite deities.  Sandhyaavandana mantras are daily prayers of repentance for the sins committed during the morning hours, evenings and nights and can be chanted by any; so also mealtime mantras given in the discourse. Vaideekas (Religously devoted Brahmins) made them specific to those who have undergone Upanayana Samskaara.

Hindu Temples of North  America have come out with a new set of special worshipful-days like New Year's Day, Mothers' Day, Father's Day, Valentine's Day, Thanksgiving Day etc and also  festivals suitable for all Samprdayas (traditions) drawn from different  religious cultures of India. Daily repentance, Gayatree prayer, Thanking the Supreme before and after  mealtime is needed for all as  described in Mahaa Naaraayana Upanishad Mantras whether they have undergone Upanayana Samskaara or not. If not possible on daily basis with our busy life it is worth making it obligatory once a year and paying our homage to all the sages (Navakaanda rishis) and pay our respect to Vedas and Upanishads as we do to Valmiki and Tulsidas Ramayanas and Bhagavadgeetaa.  This will also suit children of inter-racially married couples who respect both cultures.   We cannot question the wisdom of our pundits and temple authorities in India.  But certainly we can use our judgment and look into our practices here and dedicate this day to Kaamokaarsheet Manyurakaarsheet Homa, Navakaanda Rishis Homa and Japas as an annual  event for all. This would make lot of sense which will be pleasing to all.  Please visit the Blog: <nrsrini.blogspot.com> for a discourse on “Sraavan Poornima Rituals and Festivals (Upaakarma, Rakshaabhandan etc.)”

2. GARUDA PANCHAMI AND NAAGA PANCHAMI

\Why do Hindus venerate animals?  Why do they celebrate Garuda Panchami and Naaga Panchami? Who is Garuda? Who is Ananta? Which are the divine serpents? Why is serpent glorified in many cultures? Why is Bald Eagle chosen as Symbol of USA? Why Golden eagle is chosen as the Symbol of Vishnu? How does the Eagle and serpent co-exist under the care of Vishnu, being arch enemies? What could be the right Mother's Day for Hindus? Who are Nairs, Nagas? How is serpent worshipped in different regions? How  are they celebrated in Hindu scriptures?

Probably you are aware Naaga Panchami was celebrated even before the arrival of Aryans.  Garuda is glorified in Vedas and Vedic altar is modeled after Eagle. Did Greeks adopt their mythology based on Hindu culture as they did in the field of mathematics?  For all these and to know more about serpent and eagle Parivaara (family members) of Vishnu please visit<nrsrini.blogspot.com> Garuda Panchami and Naaga Panchami.

3. GURU POORNIMA

The Full Moon Day in the Hindu calendar month of Aasaadha falls on July 3rd this (2012) year. This day is very sacred to the memory of the great sageVedvyaasa who is also an incarnation of Lord Vishnu.  Puranas mention this day as his birthday. After worshiping him on this day Sanyasis (who have renounced worldly pleasures like Sankaracharya) settle down at one place to study and discourse on the Brahma Sootras composed by him and engage themselves in Vedantic and philosophical investigations. Spiritual aspirants and devotees perform Vyaasa Pooja on this day and disciples (sishyas) worship their preceptors (Gurus).  Saints, monks and men of God are honored on this day. It will be the appropriate Day to honor our priests who serve the community throughout the year. They conduct worship on our behalf, invoke the blessings of God on our behalf and always wish for our welfare. It could be a Gurudakshina day to create a welfare fund on their behalf to take care of them in their days of distress and hours of need.  Probably   this would make them permanently attached to the society wherever they live. They are our religious guides and selected few could be our spiritual and moral guides too in addition to parents. This is the day to remember all those who impart us Apara Vidya (religious and spiritual Knowledge) and guide our destiny like Sunday Spiritual and Religious Teachers. It can be aptly be said our Spiritual (or Vedic Cultural) Thanksgiving Day.

Vedavyaasa with his four disciples Sumantu, Vaismapaayana, Palia, and   Jaimini   has done unforgettable service to humanity for all times by compiling and editing four Vedas, writing eighteen Puranas, the Mahabhaarata and Srimad Bhaagavata.  To-day whole humanity have access to the  knowledge and wisdom of Vedas, Upanishads and Puranas in written form only due to him which otherwise was limited to few  deserving, chosen and fortunate few called their chosen Sishyas.  Today we have these funds of knowledge available to us through the electronic media. This  knowledge will be available to us as long as world exists or  until the  time the Supreme Principle desires to  withdraw the power vested in electronic media which we discovered  recently for assimilation and dissimulation.  All this was possible because of the foresight of Vedavyasa.

As Hindus we are grown with the culture of "Gurur Brahma, Gurur Vishnu Gurur devo Mahesvarah". Those who have undergone Upanayanana Samskara pay their homage not only to Vedavyasa but also others by way of Navakaandarishi Homa on Upakarma Day.  Why to deny this opportunity all others who do not observe Upaakarma? America can be called a Land of Appreciation Days. As Hindu Americans we are introduced to a new culture. America celebrates Administrative professional Day (April 25), Grand Parents Day (Sept. 9), Patriot Day (September 11), National POW/MIA Day (Sept. 21),   Boss's Day (Oct. 16), Veteran's Day (Nov 11) besides the highly commercialized Valentine's Day, Mother’s Day, Father's Day and Thanksgiving Day. Recently   Tennessee has introduced Teacher's Appreciation Day.  Why not think of these venerable Gurus on a specific day? We recently celebrated Akshaya Triteeya Day with our prayers "In Gold We Trust".  We Do many Lakshmi Poojas with this motive  Daridrya Naasaanam (eradication of poverty). Why not celebrate this day with Geeta's wisdom "Na hi Jnaanena Sadrisam"--Nothing in the World matches Knowledge" which is both secular and spiritual.

Guru Poornima Day appeals as the most significant Thanksgiving Day  not only thanking but  paying our obeisance primarily as Hindus paying our respect to all those  who impart Para and Apara vidya (secular and spiritual knowledge) in preserving and propagating our Hindu Culture.  This could include our Priests, Religious Heads, Sunday School Teachers, Yoga Teachers, Teachers of Fine Arts and others.

Please visit BLOG: <nrsrini.blogspot.com> for a detailed discourse on Guru Poornima Celebration.


4. KRISHNA JANMAASHTAMI

Vishnu descended on earth as Lord Krishna after six months of the descent of Rudra as Lingodhbhava Moorti on Mahaasivaraaatri Night in which form he is popularly worshiped. They both take care of us during the whole year and keep vigil on the vast Universe. It is customary to conduct Geetaa Paaraayanam (Holy reading), Vishnu Sahasranaama Archana and Vishnu Sahasrnaama Homa worship during the three days celebrations of Lord Krishna's descent on Earth.  Both Bhagavadgeetaa and Vishnusahasranaama (VSN) are the products of the Puranic period of Mahaabhaaarata cleverly introduced  into it by its author Vedavyaasa in glorification of Lord Krishna.  Bhagavadgeetaa belongs to the devotional school of Hindu Religion, the Bhagavata. This monotheistic school was founded by Krishna-Vasudeva, belonging to the Saatvata School of the Yadu class long before the arrival of Krishna, who was referred to as Bhagavaan, oft quoted in Bhagavadgeetaa. Bhaagavata records that Krishna sat up every morning for meditation, merging with the transcendental self. We read in Mahaabhaarata also that Krishna was in the habit of meditating on Brahma in the hours before sun-rise. Krishna (also his brother Balarama) in all probability belongs to history,   as confirmed by the excavations of Kambhata in Gujarat as circulated to you, a philosopher who harmonized the Saankhya-Yoga with the Brahamavaada of Upanishads (Kalpatharu Research Academy of Sankar Math).   Puranas mention that Raama lived for 10000 years while historic postulations reveal Krishna lived only for 126 years as is normal to humans like Historic Buddha who is also considered as one of the incarnations of Vishnu by many. The name Krishna existed long before his birth meaning "one who delights the world" referred to Brahman in Upanishads (MNU-- Varaahena Krishnena satabaahunaa).  Krishna actually meant Vishnu long before the birth of Krishna in Dvaapara yuga. Vishnusahasranaama is a bye-product of Bhagavadgeetaa.   Krishna mantra is also as popular as Raama mantra referred in VSN, like Vedic Mantra Om and often initiated by religious heads to seeking disciples.  Sankara's commentary on VSN draws lot of material from Upanishads and also from the Puraanic literature. We end all prayers with the words "krishnaarpanamastu".

What prompted the recitation of VSN for the first time?   Is god's name limited to 100 or 1000 as we often indulge (Ashtottara, Sahasranaama Ashtottara)? Why do we add 8 to make it Ashta uttara (later eight)? Origin of Ashtottara, Sahasranaama and Laksaarchana form of worship; Motivation behind Phalasrutis; Can we believe all that Phalasrutis guarantee? What is the origin and significance of the number 108 referred in Hindu Worship? What is a mantra?  What is sloka? Why the word Rama is used effectively as a Mantra by his devotees like Hanumaan, like OM? Why do we repeat mantras at least three times? What is the importance of 108th Sloka in VSN? Why did Lord Siva introduce Raamajapa instead VSN? (sri rama rama rameti);for such questions which may arise in our mind please refer to the detailed discourse on VSN.

Normally Krishna Janmashtami celebrations conclude on the third day after Astami which is called Uriyadi in Tamilnadu and Dahi Handi in the North. In the North young boys climb on each other's shoulders and make human pyramids to get the pot (matki) of yoghurt, fruits and money which is tied at a high place.  As you know Krishna   loved yoghurt and butter as portrayed in Puranas.  Quite often, he climbed up high to get the butter pot from the loft as described in Puranas.  This act of Krishna is being re-enacted on Dahi Handi or Uriyadi Day.

Please visit the Blog: <nrsrini.blogspot.com> for a detailed discourse on “Krishna Janmaashatami” and “Darsanodaya (Exposition) of Vishnu Sahasranaama.”

5. VARALAKSHMI VRATAM

Vrata is a special religious vow observed to ensure the prosperity and security of one's household. Unlike Vedic Yajnas and Brahmin worship, this ritual worship is open to all Hindu women and does not need the intervention of male priests. During a Vrata women purify themselves by bathing, wearing special clothes often keeping all-night vigils. They paint ritual diagrams on walls and floor, make floral or pastel decorations of Rangoli chant prayers of special verses, sing and dance to propitiate goddess and recite tales which extol the virtue of participation in the Vrata.
Glory of Vara Laksmi Vrata is described in the Skanda Purana. This Vrata is observed on the Friday immediately preceding the full moon day of the month of Sraavana by all ladies in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu in India. This Vrata particularly finds favor with the followers of Siva being celebrated in Skanda Purana and not very popular with Vaishnavites.  Lakshmi invoked in Kalasa is worshiped with all reverence.  I do not know why this Vrata is considered as auspicious and popular only in the Southern parts of India. Probably North Indians concentrates more on "In GOLD We Trust" festivals of Akshaya Triteeyaa and Diwali where Lakshmi is pampered and worshiped purely focusing on material wealth. Vara Lakshmi Vratam is more focused on spirituality and repentance than asking for a favor which may at best be confined to prosperity and security of one's household.

Many observe this Vrata as  Vara Mahaalakshmi Vrata. We find Mahaalakshmi Sampradaya (tradition) in Kolhapur in Maharashtra.  Mahaalakshmi is the most popularly worshiped form of Lakshmi. Visvakarma Saastra asserts that the real form of  Mahaalakshmi can be seen only in Kolhapur, even though she is worshiped as Mahaalakshmi in many places. Mahaalakshmi is not to be considered as the consort of Vishnu, but as the primordial energy manifesting herself as Mahaasarasvati (Satva aspect), Mahaalakshmi ( Rajas aspect) and Mahaakaali  (Tamas aspect), from whom the three gods, Brahma, Vishnu and Rudra took shape to create, preserve and dissolve the universe. Maahaalakshmi was the first to appear before everything and was of the nature of Three Gunas (Satva, Rajo and Tamo Gunas). She was both manifest and un-manifest. Mahaalakshmi herself  is all things and governs all things.

Vara Mahaalksmi in her boon (vara) giving mood is worshiped on Friday, July 27 in 2012. For a detailed discourse please visit the BLOG: <nrsrini.blogspot.com>: Vara Mahaalakshmi Vratam

Taantric Mantra:"Om sreem hreem  sreem kamale kamalaalaye praseeda praseeda sreem hreem sreem  mahaalakshmiee namah"

6. NARASIMHA JAYANTI

Prahlaada, a great devotee of Vishnu was severly tortured by his father, The demon Hiranyakasipu, who was a non-believer. Narasimha (Man-lion) appeared instantly (sadyojaata) responding to the prayer of Vishnu by Prahlaada out of the pillar shown by him and killed the demon. Being a combination of man and the lion   Narasimha represents best of creation from the two categories.
Narasimha   and Siva are both are worshiped as Panchaanana (five faced form) as Sadyojaata, Vaamadeva, Aghora, Tatpurusha and Easana and in this form meditated upon asPancahbrahma by Vedic Mantras. His Mantra is said to be powerful, capable of destroying enemies and exorcising evil. In Ahobilam, a famous pilgrim center in Andhra Pradesh Vishnu is worshiped in his dual incarnation Varaaha-Narasimha who destroyed the twin brothers Hiranyaaksha and Hiranyaksipu as described in Puranas. Narasimha is worshiped in several forms, both ferocious and pleasant. Saivites believe that Siva took the form of the most powerful form of Sardoola to close the fearful form of Narasimha after its mission was accomplished. Tantric form of worship of Jagannath in Puree is closely linked with the worship of Narasimha and Soorya. In Bhuvaneswarr there is sanctum for Narasimha which is not common in all Siva temples.
Narasimha Jayanti (Birthday of Lord Narasimha) falls on Vaisaakha Sukla Chaturdasi.  It falls on May 5 this year. Ardent worshipers of Narasimha observe fast   on all Sukla Chaturdasi days. There is an exclusive Upanishad called Narasimha Tapaneeya Upanishad which glorifies Narasimha as Panchaanana. Narasimha Karaavalmba Stotram by Sankara is chanted by all Narasimha devotees. There are very many exclusive temples for Narasimha in the South while individual sanctum for Narasimha is included in all North Indian Siva as well as Vishnu Temples.
Many of us may not be able to participate in the elaborate worship that is usually conducted in Hindu temples on this day conducted on behalf of all the devotees drawn from different traditions (Sampradayas). It would be therefore logical to conduct worship at home during the Pradoshakaala (twilight zone time) with the following guide-lines:
a) Begin the puja with Laksmee-Nrisimha Karaavalamb Stotram by Sankara or Prahlaada-krita   Nrisimha Stotram.
b) Chant the Vedic mantras Panchabrahmam/Panchanana. These are available with meaning in the discourse on the Blog under the title Pancha-Brahma--Panchaanana mantra: "Some Vedic Mantras used in Hindu Rituals"
c) End the Worship with Brahmopaasana. Mantras for the same are available in the discourse on the Blog under the title Vaisvadeva Mantrah: "Knowledge of Brahman and Prayer Mantras"
These Mantras are from Mahaa Naaraayana Upanishad and are appealing to all Sampradaayas, as their ultimate focus is on Brahman, the Supreme Principle.
For more details about this most ferocious at the same time most benevolent avataar of Vishnu visit the Blog: <nrsrini.blogspot.com> "Narasimha"

7. BASAVA JAYANTI OF KARNATAKA
Birthday of Basaveswara is celebrated on the same day of Akshaya Tritheeyaa festival. It falls on April 24 in 2012.  Many things are common in Ten Commandments and Basaveswara's Sayings. (Basveswara vachanagalu).  Let us remember and focus our thoughts on this day on the high principles he stood for and practiced throughout his life. It is a pity that this philosopher is forgotten by many in India to-day. Please go through the detailed discourse on his life and philosophy by visiting the Blog site: <nrsrini.blogspot.com> "Basaveswara the Philosopher Forgotten".

8. AKSHAYA TRITEEYA FESTIVAL OF NORTH INDIA
Akshaya means imperishable or which has no decay. To many this day means to rush for some new gold ornament purchase and then go to temple to get the blessings of Lakshmi, Goddess of Wealth. This day is significant for many other events and also opens the gate for spiritual awareness there-by signifying wealth does not stop at material wealth which is only Kshaya or perishable.  Bhagavadgeetaa talks about Sreyas and Preyas, permanent bliss and material benefit. We should all focus our thoughts   on Sreyas and strive for it in this life as per the advice of the Lord. For more details please go to my Blog: <nrsrini.blogspot.com> and read the discourse on Akshayaya Triteeya Festival and the Philosopher's Fortnight.  This discourse includes brief introduction to four great philosophers-- Rishabha, Basaveswara, Sankara, Ramanuja and Buddha. Detailed discourses will follow in continuation.   In my next introductory e-mail on this vast subject I will be talking about different philosophy schools and philosophers who inspired them.


9. PHIOLOSOPHERS’ FORTNIGHT
Basaveswara's Jayanti falls on April 24 the same day we celebrate Akshaya Triteeya IN 2012. This day also happens to be an important day for Rishabha another great philosopher king like Basaveswara. Basava was a revolutionary social reformer, an architect of a new classless and casteless society based on equality and social justice. He was an emancipator of Indian womanhood and savior of the downtrodden. Basava was the originator of a new economic order, pure and honest work being its cornerstone.  His philosophy combines ethics with economics, temporal well-being with spiritual happiness, and dignity of labour with the dignity of the human being. It is a pity that this great practical philosopher who showed the way to solve vexing problem of hunger amid plenty and grinding poverty and unemployment in the presence of accumulation wealth in the developed countries and the caste system that is plaguing Indian society today was soon forgotten except in small circles of Karnataka. A discourse on Basaveswara has been inserted on the Blog.

It is rather a strange coincidence the Birthdays of Adi Sankara and Ramanuja, the two great philosophers fall together after two days on April 26 (Vaisaakha Sukla Panchami), all on the same bright fortnight of the Hindu month Vaisaakha.  It will be appropriate to give a brief introduction on these three great philosophers as included in the discourse posted in the Blog: "Akshaya Triteeya Festival and the Philosophers' Fortnight". Sankara and Ramanuja disagreed to agree on Monoism called Advaita. Ramanuja elaborated mostly Sankara's latter approach to Bhaktimaarga while elaborating on Monoism called Vishishtaadvaita (Qualified Monoism) which later philosophers like Vallbha, Nimbalkar, Chaitanya and others followed.

In his life and teachings, Ramanuja upheld that all humans are born equal and the caste or social status has no role in determining one's relationship with Paramaatman. He accepted Kanchi Purna, who was not a Brahmin, as his guru, though coming from an orthodox Vaishnava Brahmin family.  One of his most trusted disciples, Dhanurdasa was from scheduled caste. Ramnuja upheld Bhakti (loving surrender to God) as the sole path to the realization of God. His school of philosophy is known as Vishishta-advaita (qualified Monoism) and his followers, the Srivaishnavas.  For Ramnuja, a Vaishnava (man of God) is worthy of respect and that Vaishnava is truly one who has abundant love for God.

Sankara's life may be compared to a brilliant flash of light that eradicated many areas of darkness in the life of man. He had an intellect that probed fearlessly,  a mind that questioned constantly and a heart that felt deeply. Out of these God inspired gifts, and thirty-two years of tireless inner-search, arose a great system of philosophy, Advaita, and an inspiring treasure of spiritual literature. I have briefly summarized his philosophy in my introductory discourse "AkshayaTriteeyaa Festival and the Philosophers' Fortnight" as every one of you are well acquainted with his life and philosophy.

Buddha refused subscribe to the caste system which had ceased to be upholder of social order and had become a tool of oppression. He questioned authority of Vedas, Vedic rituals and sacrifices. On enlightenment he returned to preach what he had known and experienced out of compassion to his fellow beings. He was neither a revolutionary nor did he start a new religion. He preached non-violence and practiced the same also. "All suffering and pain, fear and hatred, come from desire; the man who is free from all desires, need not worry or suffer" he preached.

Please visit the BLOG:  <nrsrini.blogspot.com> for the following discourses:  1) Basaveswara, the Philosopher Forgotten; 2) Vishitaadvaita Philosophy of Ramanuja; 3) Philosophy Schools of Hinduism. 4) Is it Bauddha or Buddha in Dasaavataara and 5) Historic Buddha is an Avatar of Vishnu, why not then Jina?


10. CHNDRAMAANA YUGAADI

March 23, 2012 heralds Yugaadi this year for many Hindus-- for those hailing from Karnaataka, Andhra Pradesh, Maharaashtra, Kashmir and others. In our Sankalpa (religious resolution) we refer to the 60 years' cycle beginning with the year Prabhava and ending with Akshaya and mention the particular year in which we perform our worship. Accordingly Nandana year will be starting on this day of March this year. In Sanskrit language Samvatasra is the name given to particular group of years, that is the 60-years cycle in Vedanta. Taitrtareeya Brahmana mentions five groups of such years. These are: Samvatsara, Parivatsara, Idavatsara, Iduvatsara and Idvatsara.  Our Saastras follow Samvatsara with 60-years cycle.

This New Year is based on Chandra Maanam or Lunar calendar. In this a year commences from the Shukla Paksha Prathama Tithi of Chaitra Month [ i.e., the first Tithi after the New Moon in Panguni (Meena) month according to Soura Maanam system]  and spans over 354 days, ending with the New Moon in the next Phaalguna (meena) is over. That is why this does not go well with Gregorian calendar.

Yugaadi is heralded as the New Year and this day is called Yugaadi. Yugaadi consists of two words Yuga+Aadi, meaning beginning of the Yuga. It is believed that Brahma started his creation on this day and therefore this day assumes religious importance. As many of us have already made our official New Year resolutions as per the Gregorian religious calendar, this day is for meditation on Supreme Principle and celebration as we always wish to combine  our devotion with celebration.

Why do we consider this day as a worshipful day from Vedantic point of view? Samvatsara in Sanskrit is derived from "samyak vasanti sarvabhooteshu asmin iti" all entities existing in this and so Brahman is Samvatsara. So we meditate on Supreme Principle as  "Samvatsara" or Kaala Purusha--Custodian of Time, for all good Times throughout the Year. Everything is created, destroyed and recreatedin Time followingorderliness (ritam in Sanskrit).  He is called Kaala, Kalavikarana-one who is   causing the divisions of moments like nimisha, muhoorta etc. Mantra Pushpa says "Samvatsarah eva apaam aayatanam aayatanavaan bhavati"-- he who approaches the source of support for the Year will obtain protection. That support is Naaraayana who rests on water; Samvatsara is water  and a Vyaahriti (compliment) of Brahman;  and so Samvatsara is meditated upon as Naaraayana or the Supreme Principle or Brahman.

11. SAURAMAANA YUGAADI

First generation Hindu migrants will know that Government of India adopted Indian Calendar based on Saka Era in the year 1957 which is the Chandramaana Yugadi Day.  Salivaahaana Saka used to be quoted in all official and religious Hindu records before this adoption which had traditionally enjoyed the royal patronage. It started on Chaitra 1, in 1879. Religious Pandits to the North of Vindhya Hills observe Brahaspatyam and Vadhyars, Pandits and astrologers to  the South of Vindhya Hills observe Souramaana and  Chandramaana  Calendars.  India has also adopted as official Calendar Gregorian Calendar to show it is secular. Thus we have quite a bit of confusion in observing religious dates which we try to interpret with Gregorian dates for various Hindu religious observances and celebration of festivals. Yet another Era that is prevalent in India is the Vikrama Era. Vikrama Era whichstarted in 57 A.D. falls in mid-April and coincides with Souramaana calendar. Souramaana Calendar   is adopted in Assam, Bengal, Cambodia, Kerala, Manipal, Orissa, Punjab, Sri Lanka, Tamil Nadu and Thailand.  In Western Parts of India Particularly Gujarat the fourth day of Diwali week is celebrated as the first day of Vikram Samvat (Chitra) calendar.  It is also considered the beginning financial year in North India by the powerful financial communities in the North where money speaks and it has to coincide with Lakshmi Pooja.  I don't know why Akshaya Triteeya which falls also in April, the day we rush to buy gold, was not considered? To top all this we have the Kaliyuga calendar which started on February 17 or 18th of 3102 B.C.

Accidentally Karunanidhi, the then Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu shifted Tamil New Year day in April to the day of Makara Sankraanti, when the Sun enters the zodiac sign of Aries. This is also the first day of the most celebrated Tamil Month Thai and is also the harvest season in many parts of India, celebrated as Pongal in Tamil Nadu. Often Tamils name their festivals after their favorite dish! Unlike Chaandramaana Yugadi which falls on different days of the Gregorian Calendar many of the Tamil festivals based on Souramaana calendar coincide with the same date as Gregorian calendar, for e.g. Pongal, Tamil Putthandu, Dakshinaayana Punyakaala etc. Makara sankranti is also the holiest day when Uttaraayana Punyakaala begins.  North American Hindu  Panchangam which has adopted   American timings and dates as  per Gregorian Calendar covers all Hindu Religious days from January to December. This Panchangam is published by The Council of Hindu Temples of North America. Souramaana based calendar seems to be more popular not only in India but also in many overseas countries and  is more adaptable to go hand in hand with Gregorian Calendar to which whole world is committed. Both these calendars have 365.25 days in a year. 12 Sankrantis (Aries to Pisces-Mesharasi to Meenarasi) in a year are cyclic and rhythmic and fit well into astronomical cycle. I wonder whether Karunanidhi had any such logic in shifting the Tamil New year Day to the Tamil month of Thai. (Probably Tiruvalluvar, the staunch Dravidian was in his  mind; not Agastyar though a favorite of Tamils but of Aryan descent).

Hindu Americans drawn from different Sampradayas, inherited from their land of origin, India, attend only Hindu Temple complexes which in principle has to cater to the religious aspirations  of all devotees participating in mass worship. It will be therefore logical to have American Hindu Panchangm from Makara Sankranti to Makara Sankranti.  If all the religious days could be fitted into it they will go hand in hand with Gregorian from which we cannot gET out.  Essentially it is a Souramaana Panchangam only the New year day being shifted from Mesha Sankranti to Makara Sankranti.

Makara Sankranti is the most significant and auspicious day, as it is the first day of  Uttaraaayana Punyakaala--Sun's journey towards northern solstice sacred  to all Sampradayas.  We may not then able to call this a year beginning in the 60 years cycle.  But Vedas mention also 5 different types of years.  We do not know much about the other four. North American Panchangam also does not stick to any Hindu year in the 60 years cycle.  Vedas proclaim five types of years--Samvatsara, Parivatsara, Idvatsara, Idaavatsara and Iduvatsara. Luckily we adopted Samvatsara only of 60-years cycle with so much confusion. Christians added one more Gregorian though moved it away slightly from Christmas, the day Jesus was born. What would have been our fate had we all the five? Supreme Principle wanted the confusion perhaps to prevail for the Maaya to be operative! We moved away from the conviction of "Tadekam" and OM" and caught in the world pool of confusion to struggle through Maayaa.   Samvatsara means Brahman ("Samyak vasanti sarva bhootaani asmin iti"--in whom all entities live) and is one of the names of Vishnu in Vishnu Sahasranaama is Samvatsara. That is why we chant "Samvatsaroe vaa apam pushpam'" during 16-step Pooja praying to Brahman.

Please visit the BLOG: <nrsrini.blogspot.com> for a discourse on "Souramana (solar) New Years  Day".

12. PANGUNIN UTTIRAM FESTIVALM OF TAMIL NADU AND HANUMAAN JAYANTI

This festival occurs on the auspicious day in the Tamil Month of Panguni. Panguni Uttiram is the most celebrated divines' wedding day in Tamil Nadu and wherever Tamils are settled. It is an auspicious day of Divine weddi onth of Panguni when Uttira nakshatram and Poornima come together.   This is the day on which Paarvati and Paramesvara married as also Murugan and Devayaani.  This festival has assumed greater importance to Tamils not only because of these two weddings but also because Ranganayaki and Lord Ranganatha in Srirangam are seen together on this day in the holy city for Vaishnavites.  This is celebrated as the day of coming together. Sage Valmiki glorifies this day as the day of marriage of Rama with Seetaa. On the same day Lakshmana married Urmila, Bharata married Maandavi and Satrughna married Srutikeerti. Lord Rama is always worshiped with Sita as Nitya Kalyaana Moorti like Radha and Krishna.  This day is celebrated with reverence by all prospective brides seeking suitable bridegrooms of their choices with divine blessings. In upper India it is customary to chant this sloka from Raamaayana when the bride is given away: "Iyam Seetaa mama sutaa sahadharamachaaree tava | prateechchha chainam bhadram te paanim grihneeshwa paaninaa | pativrataa mahaabhaaghaa chhaayevaanugataa sadaa || [This   Seetaa, my daughter is going to be your life time partner in discharging your sacred obligations (Nitya and Naimittika karmas). Take her hands in your own and accept her as your own. May good betide you!  She is highly fortunate and will remain exclusively to you and ever follow you as shadow.] This was chanted on Panguni Uttiram day when Seetaa married Rama.

It will be a good idea Hindu Temple complexes in USA celebrate this day as "Seeta Kalyaana  Day" on a grand scale to suit all Sampradaayas instead of sectarian Panguni Uttiram. Probably India is not celebrating that way as they consider Raama to be Nitya Kalyaana Moorti and in every wedding Seeta is glorified (Seetaa kalyaaname Vaibhogame).    It is also a  very sacred and significant  Poornima day among customary monthly observances of Satyanarayan Vratas.

Immediately the next day is earmarked for the celebration of the Birthday of Hanuman, Rama's devotee by all those who start the Tulsidas Ramayan Path.  On this day Hanumaan Chaleesaa of Goswami Tulsidas is repeatedly chanted with reverence 40 times by all devotees. Hanuman's life story is scattered all over in various Puraanas though he is introduced to us by Valmiki in Sundara Kaanda with a brief background in his Ramayana. You may all be interested in a detailed life-story of this great devotee of Rama who is adored and worshiped all over India. In South India and by some others Hanumaan Jayanti is celebrated on the Amaavaasya day in the Hindu calendar month of Dhanus. I wonder why he was not considered as avataar of either Siva or Vishnu though he is earmarked to be next Brahma? He was more suited to fit into Darwin's theory of evolution than Narasimha. Perhaps Raama avataar  over shadowed both him and Lakshmana! It is strange how Balarama got into the favored list? He is also an incarnation of Adisesha likeLakshmana. We cannot question the wisdom of Puraanas which had served the need of the hour!
Hanuman's story is scattered all over Puranas and various Ramayanas--Valmiki, Tulsidas, Ananda, Kirtivarma etc. Where was he born? Why is Hanuman anointed with vermilion mixed with oil? Why do we bathe Sani Bhagavan with Oil?  Why is he called Sankatharan? Why he is seen with five faces? For these and other interesting Puranic stories please visit the BLOG.

Please visit the BLOG: <nrsrini.blogspot.com> for my detailed discourses on “Panguni  Uttiram” and “Hanumaan”

13. RAMANAVAMI

Birth of Sri Rama took place in Tretayuga on Chaitra Sukla Navami in Ayodhya. This day is celebrated with great reverence all over India. Unlike Lord Krishna's Birthday which is celebrated with lot of sweets and snacks and merriment Rama's Birthday is celebrated with all simplicity. Rama was not a pampered child, like Krishna but a duty-bound son. The whole day is devoted in reading Valmiki Ramayana or Tulsidas Ramaayan. Some people start Ramayan Path (holy reading of Ramayana) on Vasanta Navaratri Day which is the first day of Chaitra Sukala and end the same on Rama Navami Day or on Chaitra Poornima Day. Rama Navami is also the Day when the Durga pooja comes to an end as the concluding day of Vasanta Navaratri. As you all know Rama worshiped Durga. You may be wondering how Rama's parents thought about his name not knowing he is Saguna Brahman?

Lord Siva is a great admirer and devotee of Rama. That is why he suggests to Parvati to chant only the Name Rama if she can't find time as a busy housewife to chant whole Vishnu-sahasranama.  You all know how Rama was a great devotee of Siva. Rama did Kumbhabishekam for Ramalinga in Rameswaram.  Upanishads are also considerate to us. MNU suggests that 3 mantras of Twarita Rudram and Pancha Brahmam are good enough if one can't find time to chant whole Rudram. Probably Supreme Principle is considerate to the busy nature of   Hindu American professionals who are always running against time to suggest these short cuts for meditation? Here are some quick fixes for your spiritual needs.

Puranaas say the sacred name Rama existed long before the birth of Rama.  Narada administered two alphabet mantras "Ma" and "Ra" to the way side robber, murderer and  hunter who later turned to  pious sage Valmiki who wrote Ramayana. In fact such conversion of capital crime personalities has taken place in all religions which inspires us to upgrade  our spiritual life even after late realization. Both Moses and David the celebrated prophets were capital criminals before their pursuit of religious life. So was murderous dacoit Angulimala who reformed to a Buddhist saint late. As the hunter started to chant the letters Ma and Ra repeatedly he ended up chanting Rama Mantra. Rama Mantra is made up of two seed letters (Beejaaksharas) of two famous Mantras:  "Na(ma)h Sivaaya" (Panchaaksharee) and "Om Namoh Na(ra)yanaaya" Ashtaksharee.   Namah Sivaaya without Ma conveys the opposite meaning and so "Ma" is a beejaakshara. Similarly in Naaraayana "Ra" is the Beejaakshara without which it will convey the opposite meaning. Hence Rama means Brahman or Satyam (tad Brahma tad Satyam).  Hence the Puranas say Ramanaama existed even before Rama was born and Valmiki started chanting them long before Rama's arrival. Therefore Ramanaama Japa is considered most sacred for Saguna Brahman. (Raama-taaraka or Raama-rakshaa Mantram)

One who does not know its deeper meaning may ask why a personal name of Rama  for Supreme and its chant as mantra ? Sometimes we are misunderstood and criticized by other religions for these as idol worshipers or idolators. Some names have divine powers like those stated above.  Christians end their prayers with the words "In Jesus' name".  Christian God has also personal name as in Hinduism. Yahweh is the  name of the God of the fore fathers of Jesus. Jesus is the Greek translation of the Hebrew name Yehoshua or Joshua which means "Yahweh saves" or "Yahweh is salvation". When Moses asks the burning bush "who are you?" the response was  Ehyeh-Asher- Ehyeh" (I am what I am).  This in shortened form   became "Yahweh" for English speaking people.   This is similar to "I am that" in Hinduism.  That is why the name of Jesus is mentioned at the end of all prayers like "Om" and is not a simple name of a human as people think it to be.

There is no Hindu who is not conversant with the story of Rama. I may not be able to add anything new to what you already know? I therefore take this opportunity to attach my discourse on Sant Tulsidas instead, whose life story may not be familiar to many from the South. He is considered to be an incarnation of sage Valmiki by many. His Ramayan in Avadh language is most popular in the Northern parts of India and its non-stop holy reading takes place  during Vasanta Navaratri.

"ja din te hari garbhahi aaye, sakal lok sukh sampati chhaye | Dashratha putrajanam suni kana, manhu brahmaanand smana" --Tulsidas.

Rama Gayatri: "Daasarathaaya vidmahe| seetaavallbhaaya dheemahi| tannoe raamah prachoedayaat |

"Om hreem sreem draam daasarathaaya seetaavallbhaaya trailokyanaathaaya Namah |"

Please visit BLOG: <nrsrini.blogspot.com for a detailed discourse on Goswami Tulsidas.


14. VASANTA NAVARAATRI

The first nine nights of the waxing moon in the month of Chaitra are sacred to mother Goddess. Vasantra Navaratri begins on the same day as Yugadi on March 23 in 2012 and is considered to be a very ancient festival. The last day of Vasanta Navaratri marks the birthday of Sri Rama, the seventh Avataar of Vishnu.  Puranas say Rama started Devi Puja on this day worshiping Goddess Durga to launch his war on Lanka, praying for its success.  As you all know Ganesha is not at all mentioned in Valmiki Ramayana while Kartikeya is celebrated in an exclusive chapter by sage Valmiki.  All Poojas in those days of yore should have been started with the worship of  Vedic  Durga  instead of the present day practice of  later Puranic  male deity worship of Ganesha introduced by the male dominated puranic society of Dwaapara Yuga.  In earlier days Bhoodevi worship was also very significant who is celebrated in Vedas. Uma and Sarasvati (Medha devi) were the two other Vedic Goddesses highly venerated for their intelligence. Mother Earth has  receded to the background these days in worship though she is invariably found with Lakshmi the dominating consort of Vishnu in processional icons of Vishnu assembly irrespective of who the main deity is in the form of Vishnu. Saraswati has not found favor with temple icons except in rare temples.  Durga Devee in Durgaasooktam refers to Mother of Difficulties (refer Durgaam deveem saranam aham prapadye in Durgaasooktam) and therefore meditated upon to overcome all the difficulties in our endeavor. Durga is referred as Kanyakumari in Durga Gayatree who has  decided to stay looking at the tip of the land's end as a virgin where all ocean and river  waters mingle and lose their identity reminding us to concentrate and meditate on one  Universal Primordial Energy (Saguna Brahman).
The sixth form of Nava Durga according to Puranas is worshiped as Kaatyaayini.   Some believe Durga derives the name form the lineage of Kata while others think she assumed the name to honor her first devotee Kata. Katyaayani name appears in Upanishads in the Durga Gaayatri.  Her nine Puranic names with which she is worshiped on nine nights of Vasnta Navaratri are: Shailaputri; Brahmachaarini, Chandraghanta, Koosmaanda, Skanda maataa, Kaatyaayini, Kaalaraatri,  Mahaagauri and Siddhidhaatri. Markandeyapurana and Skanda Purana glorify Durga.
With the passage of time, the Autumn Navaratri overshadowed Spring Navaratri in North India. There is also Ganga Dassera celebrated during first ten days of Jyeshta, at the height of Summer, dedicated  to the Mother Ganges  in the North,apt pooja for the right season to enjoy  holy dip every day.
Easter Festival celebrated in USA is also a Spring Festival and has its origin in a Devi worship!  It has nothing to do with the Resurrection of Jesus Christ the way it is celebrated with chocolate bunny and Easter eggs. Unlike here it is a National Public  holiday in India and is devoted to the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Please visit BLOG at <nrsrini.blogspot.com> for detailed discourses on "Spring Festivals of Vasanta Navaratri and Others" and "Durga, The Inaccessible"

15. PHALGUN POORNIMA FESTIVALS
Phalgun Poornima celebrates the Holi, Festival of Colors in the North and  Kaamana Habba in the South, in  Karnataka particularly. Prahlada blessed by Naaraayana escaped from the clutches of the demonness Holika who was burnt to ashes on the previous night of Holy.  Kaamadeva, Lord of Love had his defeat for the first time and got reduced to ashes the same night  but was restored to life by his devoted wife Rati by pleading to the same merciful Lord whom she approached  at the right time with great reverence.
Seven colors constitute white light. Fire is the source of light.   So before reveling in colors people start with fire. They enjoy fire that night being a cold winter.  In Vedantic sense they burn their ego and seek light scattered in seven colors. In the South they raise a bonfire in the night symbolically burning Kaama. This signifies burning of passion as well as ego.

Both Narasimha and   Siva are instantly born and are worshiped as Sadyojata.  Both are terrible to look at and formidable in their angry moods  by their enemies  but most benevolent in their pleasant moods to their devotees.  Both are worshiped as Jyoti or Jwala or Fire.  When Holika lit fire and entered it with  Prahlada in her lap Lord Narasimha arrived on the arena burnt Holika and rescued Prahlaada without feeling any pain from the glowing fire. You may here recall the story of Hanuman burning Lanka with his fire-lit tail feeling cool inside when Lanka was reduced to ashes due to the prayers of Sita.  Good Lord is concerned about his ardent devotees and takes care of them in their critical times and also destroys the evil to save the society.

This is a significant day for Rasleela. In spite of Siva's fury, Rati with her devotion and loyalty was able to prevail upon Siva and restore back her Love to the world. World needs love but with right approach and attitude and that is depicted in Raasleela.   Bhakti (devotion) is always associated with love.

This is also a day considered most auspicious to observe Satyanarayana Pooja. Sathya means Truth and that is Naraayana (Om Tat Satyam). So this Pooja is directed to the Supreme Principle.

It is a sacred day for Holy Dip and is particularly important for Tamils who call this day as Maasi Magam. Holy deep is significnat to immerse oneself in spiritual knowledge.  Please join the special Pooja on March 8, 2012.

Please visit BLOG: <nrsrini.blogspot.com> for details of  “Phalgun Poornima Festivals”.


16. KOODAARAI VELLUM FESTIVAL OF TAMIL NADU

Koodaarai Vellum festival is celebrated on 12th of this month, on the 27th day of Tamil month Maargazhi (Dhanus), by Tamilians wherever they are settled mainly Vaishanvites and followers of Saint Ramanuja. One hymn each day of the 30 hymns of Tiruppavai of the Saint Aandaal  (Aazhwaar) are dedicated  to each day of Maargazhi.

"Koodaarai Vellum" festival derives its name from the 27th verse of Tiruppavai, the  poetic  devotional esoteric composition by Andaal, the incarnation of Mother Earth and foster child of Vishnuchittar of Tamil Nadu in adoration of Lord Krishna. This is similar in approach to Geeta Govinda of Jayadeva. "Koodaarai Vellum" means you have the capability to win over all those who have been your enemies. You  all know how Lord Krishna vanquished his arch enemy Narakasura who before his death completely surrendered to him and gained  a favor from him which he granted that is to celebrate that Chaturdasi (14th Day) on which he died, by all,  as  a convert who became a devotee of Lord Krishna prior to his death. We all celebrate this day with merriment remembering him. Towards his end he realized the Supreme and also completely surrendered (saranaagati) to him. It was not too late for him to attain salvation though a last minute's thought like Ajamila. But why did Kamsa did not repent at his death bed? He ((being a cursed dwarapalaka of Vishnu in Bhooloka) desired death at the hands of the Lord to join him as soon as possible. So he instigated boy Krishna a lot to be killed by him soon.

Almost every Vaishnava Temple in Tamilnadu has a sanctum for Aandaal. The 27th compositon in Tamil Language is a mystic poetic composition. The first line of this devotional hymn reads "Koodaarai vellum seer Govindaa" after which this festival is named. With my limited spiritual knowledge I would have just translated it as: "Oh Govinda, You have the unique quality of winning over your arch enemies" if not calling the festival wrongly as  Koodaarai Valli or Kooda arai Vellam!  But let us hear what wise men say! The deeper meaning of Aandal's love to Lord Krishna and her divine inspiration is described vividly  by His Holiness Srimadaandavan Gopalachar, a   Vaishnava  saint  and scholar  of recent years as  follows:

"Oh Lord Krishna! You should shower the affection on us similar to the way you shower compassion on the cattle. We should indeed drown in the ocean of your compassion without reaching the shore. Even in your previous incarnations, you have won over all those who have been your sworn enemies, those who ran against you with the might of their strength or the might of their penance. You have given yourself to us after all this. Many a suitors tried in vain to win the hands of Sita by stringing the mighty bow, Sivadhanus. You came as Sri Rama and strung the bow with power, only to break it and bring the heads of others down in shame.  Oh Krishna! who won the hands of Sita  during Raama avataara, we  pray, shower benevolence on us. The adversaries quote: "The other world is delusion. The reality is this world alone. There are no celestial worlds. There are no Jeevaatmas. The Supreme exists neither. Everything perceivable is illusion". You by means of your imparts through Baghhavadgeetaa, have refuted all these adversaries thoroughly. Oh Govinda! You have affirmed with clarity everything perceivable is absolutely true and real. You are one who has won over your adversaries with arrows and weapons. At the same time, with your affection, mercy, beauty and high mindedness you have also won those devoting themselves at your lotus feet. We have been observing this festival for the past twenty-six days.  You are our sole object of attainment and means of attainment. We pray to you along with your consort to bestow upon us the highly acclaimed merit that benefit us duly."

So much for the first line of hymn 27--who can fathom her depth of love, affection and knowledge in 30 hymns of several lines? Visit the temple with this knowledge of Supreme Spirit and enjoy the festivities, not as a sectarian festival of a very small group celebrated in remote temples of Tami Nadu. I am sure someone will distribute the mouthwatering Sakkkarai Pongal (Sweet rice pudding) Prasadam (blessed food)of Lord  Radha-Krishna to attract you every year for this festival celebrated not necessarily on a Sunday because it has to be the   27th day of the month of Tamil month Margazhi. Please visit BLOG<nrsrini.blogspot.com> for a discourse on "Aandaal ((Kodai), Incarnation of Mother Earth".

17. TIRUVAADIRAI FESTIVAL OF TAMILNADU

This   festival very little known to many of the worshipers of Lord Siva other than in Tamil Nadu and Kerala.    Tiru is a sacred prefix added to the name of the Lord or anything associated with him. Balaji is known as Tiruvengadamudaiyan in Tamil, the great Lord from Venkatagiri (Venkata Hills).  Birthdays of Lord Siva and Lord Vishnu are celebrated by their ardent devotees on Tiruvaadirai (Asterism Aridra) and Tiruvonam (asterism Sravana).  Festival of Lights is celebrated in the Tamil month of Kaartigai is known as Tiru Kaartigai. Tiru is added to the month Kartigai for celebrating the Festival of Lights because it  is dedicated to both Siva and Vishnu. Tiru is not added to the month of Kaartigai at any other time.

 Nakshatra in astrology is translated as asterisk not star as is normally done because Nakshatra in astrology is not the twinkling star in the sky of astronomy.  Asterism is one of the 27 sectors along the ecliptic.   Atharva veda and Satapata Brahmana mention about 28 asterisks.  Unlike the 27 Nakshatras of modern astrology, Vedas mention 28 asterisks.  Between the last quarter of Uttara Aashaadha and first quarter of of Sraavana (Tiruvonam) there exists an asterik called Abhijit which is believed to be the birth-star of Vishnu, though in real sense Supreme Principle is Aja and Ayonija. So also Siva.  Vedik Nakshatras start with Krittikaa and end with Bharani with the inclusion of Abhijit.

Saivites go through Kailasa Vaasal or High Way to Heaven (Svarga) on the day of Tiruvaadirai as Vaishnavites do during Vaikuntha Ekadasi. So, saivites need not lag behind and our Temple can create a dramatic influence on devotees by creating a Svarga Vaasal on that day. It is the Birthday of Lord Siva as Puranas say. While celebrating Aarudra Darsanam on January 8 it is worth chanting at least the last Anuvaka of Chamakam of Rudraprasna wherein Brahman is meditated up on with many odd and even numbers. Vedas say "Eko viprah bahudaa vadanti" hence this address with several numbers without explaining what it is. Please visit my BLOG:<nrsrini.blogspot.com> for the revised text "What do odd and even numbers signify in Chamakam?" Lord Krishna says in Bhagvadgeeta "Rudraanaam  sivoham"  --among 11 Rudras I am Siva, the auspicious. Rudra in Vedas refer to Parabrahman whom Saivites have later adopted as Siva. Rudra means one who wipes out our miseries--"Rutaat traayate iti Rudrah"

In   our ignorance we  believe in Vishnu and Siva's birth  dates as hailed in Puranas and want to celebrate them  with all  pomp and show though they are both one and  the same unborn and  eternal.  I often wonder whether we should think of any birthday for Siva and Vishnu as Puranas only instigate the concept of Birthday celebrations. They both are   Saguna Brahman with different names.  May be we can to some extent celebrate the birthdays for their incarnations described in my discourses for they both took their birth here and lived with humanity for sometimes sharing the happiness and miseries as humans! I am not sure about Siva's Incarnations, but Vishnu did! As humans we make lot of mistakes. To err is human, the wise say.

It is interesting to recall here Lord Sankara's three mistakes that he declared before the  Lord Viswanath and asked for his pardon: 1)  "My first sin is that in spite of my knowing (and also teaching others) that God is beyond mind and speech, I have tried to describe you through the several hymns (stotras) composed by me. This betrays lack of conformity between my thought and my word".  2) Next, having been convinced of the scriptural sayings that God pervades and permeates everything in the manifested universe, I have been preaching this Truth to one and all. Nevertheless, I have come to Vaaraanasi to have your Darsan (viewing). This shows that my thoughts, words and deeds are at variance with one another. This is my second offence. 3) Thirdly, I have a firm belief in the teaching of the scriptures that the one and the same Aatman (Self) is imminent in all beings and there is no difference between the so called Jeevaatma and the Parmaatma (Supreme soul). While I have been proclaiming this Truth in all my discourses, I have come to stand before you as if we two are separate and different from each other. This is my third lapse. For a detailed discourse on

18. VAIKUNTHA EKADASI AND GEETAA JAYANTI DAY
Geetaa Jayanti Day heralds the birth of Bhagavdgeetaa, most  sacred scripture among Smritis, celebrated by Hindus all over the world on the 11th  day (Ekaadasi) of the bright half of the Hindu calendar month Maargaseersha (December--January). It is on this day Sanjaya narrated the dialogue between Krishna and Arjuna to the blind king Dhritaraashtra and made the glorious teachings availabe to humanity. It is Vedavyaasa , another Avataara of Vishnu who recorded it and presented it to us. It is observed as Geeetaa Paaraayana (Non-stop chanting the whole day) Day. Geetaa as is known to Westerners as "The Song of the Celestial" is a literary masterpiece conveying vividly the highest philosophy in the form of a poem which has acquired honored place in the scriptural literature of the Country  along with Brahmasootra and the Upanishads--Prasthaana Trayee. It is philosophical in outlook and very practical in intent.

The first six chapters of this divine gospel dwell  on Tvam--the soul. The next six chapters explain  Tat--the Supreme Principle and the last six union of soul and God (Jeevatman with Parmaatman). Together they reveal the deep meaning contained in Upanishad's Mahaavaakya Tat-Tavm-Aci (That Thou Art). Geetaa stresses the importance of Sreyas (Eternmal Bliss-Permanent happiness) over Preyas (temporary worldly pleasures). Geetaa leads one to happiness with a doctrine that is beyond national and religious boundaries in a language that surpasses all human imagination and admiration. The study of Geetaa alone is sufficient for the purpose of studying Upanishads like Mahaanaaraayan Upanishad for the study of Vedas.

As it is also a celebrated   Ekaadasi Day, Upavaasa vrata (fasting ritual)  is observed. It is a ritual because while fasting from sunrise to sunset we chant Geetaa. I often wonder why this day is not earmarked for Geetaa as Swami Sivananda thinks and only Vaikuntha Ekadasi Svargavasal (Highway to heaven) entry ritual is observed at 6.00 P.M in our temple. Probably they think that Mahbharata war would not have started on that Day because the very religious Drona, Kripacharya and Aswatthaama would be observing fast and whole night vigil to enter Svargavasal at early morning hours which is the prescribed saastric procedure than what it is in America modeled for busy executives and for short-cut entry to heaven at 6 P.M.! Evidently they seem to believe this is not the day of Birth of Geetaa as  I do.  Observing Geetaa Jayanti Day would have been more appropriate to the Hindu-American crowd than the observance of sectarian Srivaishnava Tamil Nadu ritual! This is like Sivaratri for Saivites where you will find no Vaishanvite.

Vaikuntha Ekaadasi also known as Mukkoti Ekaadasi, is the most important Ekadasi of the year. This also falls on the same day as Geetaa Jayanti Day. Geetaa Jaynti often does not match with Puranic predictions of Bishma's fall and final giving up his ghost on Makara Sankranti Day.  Vaikuntha Ekadasi  is also the most sacred day for Vaishnavites who observe whole day fast, keep whole night vigil (like Sivaratri for Saivites) and also  chant Vishnu Sahasranaamam. This is the day when the doors to heaven are said to open. All Vaishanvites living in Tamil Nadu Divyakshetras (sacred Vishnu pilgrimage centers) rush to the temple during early hours after whole night fast and vigil to symbolically walk through the door to Svarga. For details as to the importance of this day please visit the BLOG for discourse On "Vaikuntha Ekadasi"

What surmises me most is why this High way to Heaven should be available only in Sri Vaishnava temples and that too in Tamil Nadu and USA? Unless Siva gives clearance to the soul after declaring that the soul is free from all Karmas afte- its body of occupancy is turned into ashes at His will, we can ascend to heaven or reincarnate. Why then it is not important in Siva temples and also in other Sampradayas of North, South, East and West in India or in  other foreign lands where Hindus have migrated? Probably Tamil Nadu Vaishnava thought of such observance to force people to fast whole day, keep whole night vigil and then only rush to High Way where accidents do take place in India during the rush minutes of entry.  I believe Maharashtrians also attach importance to Ekadasi Vrata but Chooda (mouth-watering beaten rice preparation) and Ksheera are permissible. I don't know about their entering High Way, nor about the devotees of Jagannath and what they do on this day giving up 32 varieties of snacks in their famous temple! As a true Sri Vaishnava from Tamil Nadu and a direct descendant of Ramanuja I should not question any form of worship or observance of the ritual and so I simply participate if I can or fast at home chanting Bhagavdgeerta or Vishnu Sahasrnama.

For detailed information on Geetaa Jayaanti Day please visit the BLOG for my discourse on "Geetaa Jayanti Day".


19. DEEPAAVALI OR DIWALI

Hindu festivals have a deep spiritual import. They contain religious, social and hygienic elements in them. Deepaavali or Diwaali contains all these elements though people   concentrate mainly on merriments. It focuses on the goal of life and attainment of God-consciousness by noble thoughts and deeds.  

 Deepaavali or Divaali means “a row of light”.  Main festival of Deepaavali   falls on the last two days of the dark half of Aswin (Aswija Krishna Chaturdasi and the following Amavasya) month of the Hindu calendar during October or November. It is a great festival of rejoicing and merriment all over India with several traditions and cultures. People mix with one another without any reservation, all enmity being forgotten. They also worship their favorite deities on these days.  General cleaning, fireworks, illumination of all houses, exchange of sweetmeats and greeting one another make this festival an all India festival. In South India people take oil-bath and wear new clothes.

For a detailed discourse on Deepaavali or Diwaali please visit Hindu Reflections <nrsrini. blogspot.com> “Deepaavali or Divaali, the Festival of Lights.


20. UTTAANA DWAADASI AND TULASI WORSHIP
If Bilva is dear to Siva as you have seen in my discourse on Sivaratri, so is Tulasi for Lord Vishnu (Vanamali). There are many mythological stories connected with Tulsi and her association with Lord Krishna.  Lord Krishna recommends worship with at least a leaf, flower, fruit or water with devotion in Bhagvadgeetaa. Here the Vaishnavas have chosen Tulasi and Saivites Bilva based on the Puraanic story or history.  To a pious Hindu Puraana is history. History to him is His Story that is the story of the Lord. You are all familiar with Ganesha who is fond of Jambuphala, the rose apple (black berry like), violet fruit bigger in shape and Milk-weed flower (Erakkum Poovu in Tamil). Krishna is fond of Paarijata(coral) flower. Vishnu worshipers prefer Satvic flowers which are Arka, Nandyavartam, Drona, White Lotus, Jasmine, Coral flower (paarijaata).  We hear in Vedic literature flowers like Asoka, Kunda, Kumuda, Neel-kamal. In fruits co-coanut, banana and Mango are very sacred.  Some of the Vedic celebrated flowers are now not available. You also glorify Krishna as "Asatee pushpa sankaasam haaranoopura sobhitam''. Asatee pushpa is also the favorite of Lord Krishna.

Amongst all these Tulasi is the most celebrated and worshiped plant in every Hindu Vaishnava home in their court yards  or pots   besides its popularity in temple worship and medicinal and beauty-aid preparations.  Uttana dwaadasi is very important day for Tulasi worship.  On this day   the marriage celebration of Goddess Tulasi with Lord Vishnu is celebrated and revered by all Vaishnavites. Sometimes Tulasi is also worshiped with the myrabolan (amla) branch in this ceremony.  Special poojas are conducted in all Vishnu Temples.  Durga and Siva are not worshiped with Tulasi. Japaa Kusuma is the favorite of Durga. Ganesha is worshiped with Tulasi only on Ganesha Chaturthi Day.

This year Uttaanaana Dwaadasi falls on November 7, 2011. Please visit the BLOG: <nrsrini.blogspot.com> for my discourse on “Uttaana Dwaadasi and Tulasi Worship”which includes Vedic Mantras and slokas for chanting.

21. KARWA CHAUTH AND TEEJ FESTIVALS OF NORTH INDIA

Karwa chauth and Teej are regional traditions and festivals. Saturday, 15 of October in 2012 is the fourth Day after Sharad Poornima which occurred on last Tuesday this year. Karwa Chaut in most part of the North India and Teej in Rajasthan are celebrated four days after Sharad Poornima in the month of Kartik. Women wear their bridal dresses on this day, fast and pray for the prosperity of the household and longevity of their husbands. On this day married women do not eat until they see the reflection of the moon in the platter of water and paying their respect and love to their husbands.   The moon symbolizes Siva, the husband of Parvati. Siva is believed to be very handsome but unpredictable and also unconventional too in his ways.  He is a very care-free person as for as the family is concerned. He is always deeply involved in meditation and not a regular breadwinner for the family. It needs all the resilience and patience of Parvati to subdue him to bring back to family way of life.  Women pray to possess the resilience of Parvati so that they could develop an ideal temperament to tolerate their husbands and live in peace instead of fighting.

Karwa means a small earthen pot filled with sprouts, which is given by elderly married woman to new brides on this day. It is a gift symbolic of fertility passed from woman to woman as an offering of Devi's grace. Sprouts are symbolic of fertility and are used in paalika visarjan in Southern tradition (Please refer to the discourse on Hindu smaskaaras).

Teej is celebrated in North India, especially in Rajasthan dedicated to Goddess Parvati, the princess of Himalayan Kingdom who domesticated the recluse Siva and charmed him to become a householder. Parvati's image is bedecked with bridal finery (sola Singar) and carried in procession on this night.

Please visit the Blog for a discourse on “Karwa Chauth and Teej Festival” at <nrsrini.blogspot.com>


http://by152w.bay152.mail.live.com/mail/clear.gif12. MAHAASIVARAATRI

Whatever may be said in defense, Mahasivaratri is heavily Saivite sectarian oriented and is participated only by the followers of Siva in India. Even though we participate in all worships in
Temple-complexes of Overseas like in  USA,  worship on Mahaasivaraatri night  heavily leans towards Saiva Aaagamas and ardent followers of Siva  only go through the severe ritualistic practices of fasts and vigilance called for the night. Others by and large attend without active participation or without much interest grown with their own Sampradayas at homes and ignorance,  if they choose to attend or use the occasion just  for social meet.

The fight between Vaishnavism and Saivism still continues in India and mostly  Hindu temples  are sectarian only in worship patterns.  Advaitism is very strong.  Even Ramanuja had to live in exile for long and work on his philosophy from outside Tamil Nadu. He preached his philosophy irrespective of caste and creed and even to so called Harijans like Basveswara. His respected Guru Nammazhwar  and disciple Dhanurdasa were  from the low castes. His closest disciple Kuresaa (Kooratt-aazhwar)  was blinded cruelly by the Chola  King who was a staunch promoter of Saivism who got his eyes plucked for not accepting supremacy of Saivism.

We need not follow or recall the past history. Living in USA in a multicultural atmosphere and society how can we make such worships more broad based and also focus our attention towards spiritualism? We need also at the same time Aagama and Sakta trained priests to conduct our worships. One ideal example is to follow the traditions of Oriyan temples in India like Puri and Bhuvaneshewar. Here you can see worship conducted simultaneously to Jagannatha,   Siva, Naraismha, Devi and Soorya with no reservation at the same sanctum. Both Linga and Saalagrama are worshiped together in Bhuvaneswar where they  also have a sanctum for Narashimha in Tribhuvasneshwara  Temple.

We have been moving away from Srutis (Vedas) and concentrating more on Smritis. Vedas are the ultimate authority--Vedokhilam dharma Moolam. I therefore thought it best to draw your attention to an Upanishad which prescribes Vedic Mantras suitable for  all sampradayas to be chanted and to be  followed by everybody in common form of worship by properly understanding its Universal approach for all kinds of Sampradayic traditions.  I have collected exclusively all such mantras which are easy to practice by all and also employ in worship within the Aaagama and Tantric injunctions and forms of worship. This Upanishad's focus aims at repentance, meditation on Brahman and self-surrende(saranaagati) through its Vedic Mantras.

To quote an example Mahanarayana Upanishad (MNU) contains a Panchabrahma Mantras which are applicable both to Siva as Panchaanana or Sadyojata and also to Lord Narasimha and Rama. Similarly the famous Mritunjaya Mantra. These have been explained fully in the discourses posted on the Blog. Our priests could explain such mantras to the crowd and employ them on a great occasion like Maha Sivaratri or Narasimha Jayanti and direct their final prayers to Panchabrahman to concentrate and meditate upon Supreme Spirit.  Mantra Pushpa and Om Jagadeesa Hare carry the same message but many do not understand their meaning and significance but chant them mechanically. We are not focusing on this aspect at present because of our lack of study of Vedas with proper understanding.  It may not be possible to have a unified form of worship in India with all participation  due to vested interests in Temple Management,  but  here it is a necessity living together as a multi-cultural Hindu society and need to focus on monotheism through spiritual focus  as we are living as a minority among major religions of the land of adoption. We need a unified approach. I have stressed the same in my discourse "Hindu Mass Worship in Temples and the Need for Spiritual Focus". The idea is not to replace or revolt against present practices but suitably blend Vedic mantras to focus on spirituality and monotheism with proper explanation. Our worship procedures include lot of Vedic mantras and so this is not anything new suggested.  We usually go with long explanations following polytheistic cultural approach in our worship to show how we are monotheistic. Why not then in practice?

Please find on the BLOG a collection of Mantras for our daily use and worship with meaning and explanation. These are Vedic mantras.  These contain: Gayatri mantra on various deities; Bhudevi Mantras; Daily prayer Mantras for self-atonement (sandhyavandana Mantras for evening and Morning prayers); Mealtime prayers: Mantras for Aaarati (waving of Lights before deities); Panchaanana, Panchabrahma Mantras; Mantras on meditation of Siva; Shanti Mantras; Mrityunjaya Mantra; Trisuparna Mantras; Satru Nivaarana mantras (mantras for destruction of hostile influences) etc. Some more Mantras will appear in a different discourse all from the one upanishad which stresses the importance on meditation on Brahman and complete surrender to him. These appear as Sooktas--Purushasookta, Narayana Sookta, Durgasooka, Mrittika Sokta, Medha Sookta, Hiranyagarbha Sookta etc. from MNU.

Please visit the Blog   at <nrsrini.blogspot.com> for discourses: Prologue on Mahasivaratri and Pradosham; Mahaa Sivaraatri;   Vedic Mantras from Mahaanaarayana Upanishad: Sooktas from MNU; Homa Mantras from MNU  with meaning and explanations and the  discourse on Linga and Saalagraama.

23. MAHAA PRADOSHAM

Worship of Siva and Parvati every fortnight during the Twilight period after fasting is considered to be very auspicious. Staunch devotees take food only after the completion of  The worship. Devotees believe that they are catching Siva and Parvati in their happy hours during this period and would be blessed with  wealth, happiness, progeny and fame. There are in all 24 pradoshams in a year. The one preceding Mahaasivaratri   night is called Mahaa Pradosham (The great Twilight).
On the right hand wall center of Siva's sacrosanct as  one faces Linga there is a Gomukhi, the outlet for Abhishekha (divine bathing) water and the location for Chandrasekhareswara in all Siva temples. Soma-sootra Pradakshina (circumambulation) is considered to be auspicious and done by all Siva devotees who observe this ritual (Vrata). First pay your obeisance to Nandi (holy bull), go anticlockwise and salute Chandrasekhareswara (not crossing the Gomukhi); now return in the clockwise direction and pay obeisance to  Nandi and continue clockwise till the Gomukhi (do not cross it again); then return in anticlockwise direction salute Nandi and proceed towards Chandrasekahreswara; from their return back clockwise without worshiping Nandi and reach Gomukhi. Finally return back anti-clockwise from there to pay obeisance and continue Chandrasekhara and return back to Nandi and worship Sivalinga at the altar by viewing through the two horns of the Holy Bull. This is One circumambulation. Perform in all three such circumambulations (pradakshina). If we carefully observe this represents the periphery of the crescent moon.

Self-conditioned by Maaya is Easwara (maayopaadhih sah Easwarah Ityuchyate-Tattvabodha).  Here Nandi is Maya and together with Nirguna Brahman is Easwara. What you visualize through the two horns of the bull is Parabrahman.

When somebody comes as an obstruction while doing a job Tamils usually exclaim: "Why do you stand like a Nandi before Siva?"  What is meant here is Maaya is the obstruction standing before as a veil to realize Brahman which one should overcome to realize Brahman.

Mahaapradosham falls on February 19, 2012 a day prior to Mahaasivaraatri. Please visit the temple for this twilight ritual to catch Siva in his happy hours and meditate up on.  It is interesting to note that Lord Narasimha also appeared during the twilight period to his ardent devotee Prahlada and relieved him of his unsurmountable trouble and granted him immortality. Lord Narasimha and Siva are both instant born and are meditated upon as Sadyojata (Parabrahman).  They both area also worshiped a Agni (Jaataveda), Vyaahriti of Brahman,  in the form of Jwaalaa Narasimha  and Jyotirlinga.

"Jyotir-jwalati Brahmaahamasmi" --I am the self-luminous; I am Brahman (MNU).

Please visit the BLOG: <nrsrini.blogspot.com> for a detailed discourse on “Pradosham, Its Significance” and “Prologue on Pradosha and Sivaraatri w Worships”


24. THAI POOSAM FESTIVAL OF TAMIL NADU

Thai Poosam which falls on February 6 in  2012 is a Tamil Festival celebrated with great reverence all over Tamil Nadu  as well as wherever Tamils are settled in the world. The festival derives its name from the Tamil month "Thai" and Poosam (Pushyua), the asterism of the day on which it is celebrated.  It is the day on which the young boy Lord Muruugan was presented with an invincible weapon "VeL" (lance) by his mother Parvati and was appointed as "Deva Senaapati" Supreme Commander of all Divines by his father Siva to annihilate the evil and establish Dharma, World Order.
Murugan is known by several names as the son of Siva and Parvati--Kartikeya, Shadaanana, Shanmuka, Skanda, Guru Guha etc.  Though his name appears in Tretayuga celebrated in one complete chapter of Ramayana, glorified in Bhagvadgeetaa by Lord Krishna," among Generals I am Skanda" (Senaaneenaam aham Skandah) in Dwaaparayuga and celebrated in his famous drama by Kalidasa, Kumaara Sambhava, in Kali Yuga. There is no mention of Ganesha in either of these scriptures.

While North was troubled by too many wars and invasions from foreign tyrants Tamil Nadu had lot of time to develop more Puranas and also focus on spiritual matters.  Tamil religious literature abounds in scriptures and Puranas on Lord Murugan. North needed to pray more on Ganesha to remove their obstacles and to progress and so Ganesha was always in the lime light.  Even Lord Siva accepted Kartikeya as his Guru on Spiritual matters who earned the title of Guru Guha defeating his father in spiritual discussions.  It is strange though he was introduced through Ramayana by Valmiki from Ayodhya very early he is not at all popular in the North!

Please visit the BLOG: <nrsrini.blogspot.com> for a detailed discourse on Thai Poosam. Also go through the discourse on Subhramanyan previously posted on the BLOG, if you had not gone through the same earlier.


25. VASANTA PANCHAMI

Vasantu Ritu in India covers the Hindu months of Chaitra and Vaisakha.  One may wonder why Saraswati Puja celebrated mainly in Bengal  on Magha Shukla Panchami, in Sisira Ritu, in  the Hindu calendar  is called Vasanta Panchami.   In 2011this festival falls on Friday 27 January according to North American Panchangam published by the The Council of Hindu Temple Society of North America, for which Sri Ganesha Temple in Nashville holds the Secritariat. Yet they celebrate this on Saturday, 28. Probably this Panchangam is not for us though this Panchangam says Magha Sukla Shashthi is for the whole day of Saturday. May be Bengali religious calendar is different!
Vasant is one of the pleasant musical modes (Raag Basant) dear to Saraswati.  Probably the name is derived from it.  Sarswati  is considered to be the daughter of Shiva and Durga in Bengal.  Goddess Lakshmi is her sister and Ganesha and Kartikeya are her brothers, contrary to the general belief that Ganesha and Kartikeya are sons of Siva and Parvati (both of them are Ayonijas, born outside the womb). Lakshmi is the consort of Vishnu while Saraswati  is the consort of Brahma both born at different circumstances with different reasons and sources according to many. Durga is a Vedic deity like Rudra in Vedas and probably because of that she is not identified with Parvati. Parvati is identified with Uma another Vedic deity who is mentioned as daughter of Himavan. When did Durga marry Siva, it is best known to Puranaas. Anoher Puranic story tells Kausiki Durga emanated from the body of Parvati who herself became Kaali the dark one after this manifestation. Tantric people claim Subhadra in Puri is Durga and the presiding deity and not Jagannth. Probably we would have been   less confused and better had we remained with Vedic deities!

Saraswati does not find favor with temple worshipers, as she neither wields power nor wealth, except in Sringeri Saarada Peetham  and one or two lone temples in India. She is also not popular in Hindu complexes in USA as those who built the temples needed no further favor from her being highly qualified when they left their homes. They carry this tradition to their children too. But there is no Hindu home where she is not worshiped or preyed daily wherever they are settled. You always find her photos hanging somewhere in the Hindu homes.  She is celebrated in Vedas as a river and Medha Devi as you have seen in  Medha Sooktam in my discourse on Mahaa Naarayan Upanishad.  It is a pity we fight for installing Buddha or Jina or Saibaba apart from host of minor Puranic deities  in Hindu temples consecrated according to Aagama Saastras but do not think of Saraswati at all! Durga, Parvati and Lakshmi dominate all Hindu Complexes overseas. I do not know why poor Saraswati has not found favor with Aagamas and Tantras?

I often wonder why Puranas should have regional bias and differ so much?  Of course such variations keep the institutions of temple busy and financially sound particularly in temple complexes like those in USA. If we are serious we may fill the Hindu religious calendar for all the 365 days in a year for special Poojas.   But will that help more towards spiritual progress is any body's guess?

Please visit the BLOG: for the discourse on Vasanta Panchami at <nrsrini.blogspot.com>


26. MAKARA SANKRAANTI

When the Sun enters the constellation of Capricorn (Makara) it is called Makara Sankranti. It is also the beginning of Devayaana or Uttaraayana Punyakaala. This begins on January 15th and ends on July 15th this year. Then starts the Pitruyaana or Dakshinaayana Punyakala. Makara Sankranti  is a very auspicious day for all Hindus. Makara Sankranti signifies peace, prosperity and plenty.  Bhishma is supposed to have given up his ghost on this day? How did he reincarnate on Bhishma Ekadasi Day later  to impart Vishnu Sahasranaam to Yudhishtira is anybody's guess?  Panchangams, Puranas, Temple festivals and rituals confuse me a lot!

In Tamil Nadu this is a three day festival called Pongal heralding the harvest season and offering the first crop to Sun God by cooking fresh crop of rice in a mud pot, called Pongal (Kichadi, spiced rice and dal) and offering to God and sharing the blessed food with friends and relatives.  In Karnataka this festival is called Sankranti. It is also customary to read the influential effects of good and bad effects of Sankranti Devata for the whole year on this day. She is supposed to not only influence the life of individuals but also the nation like planet Saturn. Karnataka people keep Sankrtanti Devata  on their  good side by offering roasted sesame seed with copra  cubes, jaggery cubes and roasted peanurs which is her favorite snack called  "Sankranti Ellu" in Kannada and then distributing the same  to all their friends and relatives.

Sun god is supposed to ride on a Chariot with 7 horses and 12 wheels representing seven days of the week and 12 months in year. Seven also stands for seven colors in the white light.  Please read my Konark visit under "Pilgrim centers we visited" on the BLOG for more details. Sun God's horses take some time to get on to the track of Uttaraayana path (Highway to Heaven).  That occurs on Rathasaptami Day which is also a day for the worship of Aaditya. His charioteer is Aruna and wives Sanjana, Chaayaa and others.

Makara in Sanskrit means Crocodile. Sankranti means crossing over. These words remind  us of Indradyumna, the elephant inflicted with curs, crossing over from the clutches of the crocodile due to the timely intervention of Lord Vishnu moved by its cry and calling for his help called Gajendra Moksha. Probably he was under the bad influence of Makara Sankranti Devata in which Karnataka believes in.

This festival is directed toward Sun God. It would be appropriate to chant Aaditya Hridayam on this day and also several Vedic Mantras on Surya. Probably you are aware that Sage Agastya administered Aaditya Hridayam to Sri Rama before his final encounter with his formidable enemy Ravana.  Rama  succedded. So this stotra (hymn) is meant for those who seek freedom from evil and success in their struggle. This festival has more of festival content than the ritualistic part with lots of merriment, cattle race, open-air lunch, dance, singing etc.

The I-discourse on Makara Sankranti  is quite  elaborate dealing with various traditions all over India. Please visit the BLOG: <nrsrini.blogspot.com for details. Also go through the discourse on “Aiyappan”

27.  RATHA YAATRA OF JAGANNATH

Ratha Yatra of Jagannath is celebrated on 9th of July in 2012 in Hindu Temples of America. Many of you who regularly attend Jagnnath Puja every Saturday at the temple may like to know more about Lord Jagnnaath whom Jaydeva has glorified as none other than Lord Krishna as he was not happy of him being worshiped Just as an avataar of Vishnu.  He visualized all the avatars emanated from Lord Krishna only.

Indradyumana, the pious king performed a penance as a result of which Vishnu appeared in four-fold form which includes two of his Vyuha forms in his dream:  Purushottama (Vaasudeva), Balabhadra (Sankarshana), Kaatyaayani (Primordial energy) and Sudarshana (Divine flame). His dream and conceptualization Concritized as the famous temple of Jagannath in the temple town called Purushottama Kshetra (modern Puri). Its greatest event is Ratha Yaatra, Temple-car festival. Based on the pious king's dream Tantric worshipers call this place Srikshetra and consider Subhadra as the main deity on the Diaz, Rathna Singhaasana. Peculiarly all the deities are seen clothed in female attire with prominent ear-rings. Long before, the Diaz had accommodated Bhairava the fearful form of Siva which is no longer seen. Vishnu's circular weapon in circular flame form is here represented by a staff which reminds the form of Lingodbhavamoorti in a column of endless flame, though we miss Bhairava form of Siva today. Puri priests  in their worship offer their preliminary worship to Lord Narasimha and Soorya other Jawaala(Fiery flame) forms of deities of Vaishnavas and Sun worshipers (Saura) to remind us of the Bhairava missing from the Diaz.

Please go through the discourse on “Lord Jagaannath of Puri and Ratha Yatra” on the blog: <nrsrini.blogspot.com>    The English word "Juggernaut" coined and permanently included in the Oxford Dictionary originates from the word Jagannaath. In fact the British were struggling hard to find an appropriate name for their powerful military vehicle and were happy with the word "Juggernaut" though a wrongly spelt.

28. KAARTIGAI DEEPAM FESTIVAL OF SOUTH INDIA

"Kartika Poornima heralds the First Incarnation of Vishnu--Matsya, the dawn of Life and Animates; Kartigai Deepam also heralds the birth of Lord Subrahmanya, Guru Guha,  Peak of Knowledge"

In 2011 Siva Deepam is celebrated on December Eighth.  Siva Deepam somehow does not coincide often with Poornima day of the month of Kartigai, in Tamil. This is a great day of religious significance for Tamilians as it is the Birthday of Lord Murugan or Subhramanyan, known as Kartikeya in some parts of the North. That is why it becomes "Thiru Karthikaai Deepam" being the most venerated festival of Saivite Tamils. Somehow he is not very popular with the North Indian crowd. It is on this day that the huge beacon is lit on the holy hill Arunachala, in South India. On this day Siva is worshiped as Fire element by Tamilians. Tiruvannamalai Hill is the place that represents the Fire (Agni) element of Siva, that is as Tejo Lingam.

Once Lord Siva assumed the form of a hill at Tiruvannaamalai as the local legend goes. He quelled the pride of Brahma and Vishnu who were quareelling as to their relative greatness. Of course Vaishnavites may have their own story to tell how this is wrong and manipulation by Saivites! Unforunately no one will come to the rescue of Brahma as he is ignored in Hindu iconic form of worship except in Rajasthan! One day when Lord Siva was on meditation, love-lorn Parvati went away to the hill of Arunachala to perform penance. Siva often ignored Parvati and went on meditation as a recluse. She was the guest of Gautama there. During her penance there Mahishusara was killed by Durga hidden by Parvati. Bengalis may have their own version! Parvati saw Siva as Arunaachalesvara. She was welcomed back by Lord Siva to his side as Ardhaangi once more that is she occupied half the body of the Lord. This is the origin of Ardhanareesvara say the Tamilians. If you visit India you should take sometimes too visit Hyderabad Museum to see the beautiful sculpture of Ardhanareesvara.

To VaishnavitesVishnu Deepam marks the day of the First Avatar of Vishnu, Matsya (fish). A section of scientists strongly believe that humans are evolved from Fish. Therefore it is the day on which the light by way of human life was brought on Earth. Human creation is the essential step for Liberation. If Vaishnavites come to common terms with Saivites, which can never happen, then Narasimha would be the ideal replacement for Jyotirlinga as Jwaalaa Narasimha. Both can then agree to worship Fire as Vyaahriti (glory) of Brahman on this day. This would fit into Americanization form of Worship which is a new trend developing like worship in Hindu Temples in USA celebrating Mother's Day, Father's Day, Valentine's day, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day and New Year's Day as well as worshiping all traditional deities under one roof including some  Neo deitie (Saibaba, Swami Narayan, Mahaveer and Gautam Buddha etc.) in Hindu Temples. Guru Nanak is also of Hindu origin like Buddha and Jina and why not bring him also to Hindu Temple complexes? Perhaps Sikhism is sensitive to idol worship unlike Buddhism and Jainism! May be Sikhs in USA will compromise like Buddhists who initially were averse to idol worship!

Hindus in India, being conservative  have  only Sankritization combined with Vernacularization of worship regulated  by Aagama and Sakta  regulations of worship about which we will talk soon except some lone temples for Saibaba, Bharatmata and others. Swami Narayan and Hare Krishna temples have there own domination in India and do not come under the traditional category. They can attract faithful followers of Hindu Religion by their mouth watering prasaadams and tourist attraction if not for serious worship and  devotion.  In America founding fathers have good control  over priests and can interpret scriptures to suit local needs in their endeavor to preserve Hindu culture and honor Western  culture of USA too.

Please visit the BLOG: <nrsrini.blogspot.com> for the discourses on Kartigai Deepam, Lord Subhramanya, and Human Evolution from Fish.


29. CHITTIRAI POORNIMA FESTIVAL OF SOUTH INDIA

Tamils are particularly very careful not to offend any deity and therefore there are countless number of festivals and rituals unknown to many in other parts of India.

Chittirai Poornimai is a sectarian Tamil festival to honor Chitragupta, the divine record keeper and Tamils have found a good day to keep him on the right side to reduce their load of sins as well as increase the merit of good deeds.  They have a found a good example and friend in Indra who often gets into trouble in Hindu Mythology.  They worship him too on this day! This is a great day of grand festival in Madurai in Tamil Nadu and a day of reverence to Tamils and their neighbouring   people from Kerala. For a discourse on "Chittirai Poornioma Festival" please visit tha Blog: <nrsrini.blogspot.com>. In the North this day is earmarked for Hanumaan and his Jayanti is celebrated with chanting of Hanumaan Chalisa of Goswami Tulsidas.



30. KAARADAIYAN NONBU OF TAMILNADU AND VATASAVITRI VRAT OF THE NORTH

North American Panchangam 2012 indicates the festival of Kaaradian Nonbu on March 13, this year.  It is celebrated on 14th in Nashville Hindu Temple. This is a sectarian Tamil Festival observed more as a ritual to pray for the longevity of their husbands by married woman in Tamil Nadu mainly by certain communities than celebrated as festival.  Married women remember Savitri on this day, who brought her husband back to life. This ritual derives its name from a special cake prepared for the occasion to offer to Devi called Kaaradai in Tamil (cake made out of black-eyed pea). Nonbu means ritual in Tamil.

It is rather intriguing why the same festival is celebrated in the month of Jyeshta (on the previous New Moon Day) in Orissa and other parts of Eastern India. People in these parts believe that Satyavan died on this day under the banyan tree and so this tree is worshiped with flowers, incense and sweets. Women go round the trees seven times and tie threads round it in the hope that their husbands will live as long as the Banyan tree. Banyan tree is supposed to be one of the long living among trees. The ritual in these parts derives its name from the tree and is called Vata Savitri Vrat.

Hindu Puranas celebrate five great women known for their chastity and devotion to their Huisbands. One couplet on Sanskrit glorifies these women as follows: "Ahalyaa Draupadee Taaraa Seetaa Mandodaree tathaa | Panchkanyah smaren nityam mahaapaataka naasaanam" --You get rid of all your sins if you remember these five great women--Ahalya, Draupadi, Taaraa, Seetaa and Mandodari.  I wonder why Gandhari and Savirtri were not   included  in this Roll call of Honor for Great Womanhood (Pativratas) !

I also do not know how Satyavan could have died on different Days? As you all know Hanuman was born on Chaitra Poornima for those hailing from Rama-janmabhoomi and Dhanur Amavasya for South Indians. South Indians claim they are right as Hanuman is of Deccan Plateau origin. North American Panchangam published by  "The Council of Hindu Temples of North America" mentions only the latter date.  Sri Ganesha Temple holds the Secretariat for this Council but yet does not follow this Panchangam ! Our Saastras say that such rituals and   religious festivals should be   performed only at specified times in the space-time continuum. If these Naimittika and Kaamya Karmas  performed otherwise, although may not cause harm,  they certainly will not be efficacious. How do we go about it? One option is to celebrate it both the days as per the regional traditions.  Go by North American   Panchangam for all festivals and rituals as another option or get these clarified by the authors of this Panchangam published every year for Hindu Aamericans' use and issued by the Council. Unfortunately North American Panchangam does not talk about Vata Savitri Vrat? Why? I do not know. Probably Hindu Americans can't grow a Banyan tree wherever they are located!

In typical American practice birthdays are celebrated as per convenience to attract maximum participation. There is a Presidents weekend celebrating the birthday of Great Presidents together irrespective of when they were born.  Probably Hindu Americans have adopted this concept for celebrating some of the Religious Festivals and Rituals too as cited above!

Please visit BLOG at <nrsrini.blogspot.com> for a brief discourse on the subject: Kaaradiyaan Nonbu--Vata Saavitri Vrat.


31. RATHA SAPTAMI AND SURYA NAMASKAARAM

Ratha Saptami is celebrated on Monday 30 January 2012. It is the day on which the planet Sun-God slowly moving after entering Makara brings his seven horses to position to continue his Journey  Northwards. It is celebrated in Vishnu temples  also  with a procession of the deity displayed with orb of the sun (sooryaprabha) at the back. All Siva temples where Navagrahas are installed special worship is carried out to Soorya Devata on this day with the chanting of Aadity Hridayam found in Raamayana.

Closely following Ratha Saptami Hindu temples here on Sunday 5 February 2012 conduct special Pooja to Soorya Devata  by performing Yoga assanas chanting Soorya mantras for the twelve aspects of Soorya. It looks as though this day is arbitarily fixed by Yoga enthusiasts who assemble in the morning hours before sun rise  on the designated day for yoga practice in the open air though it is a cold day in winter. I understand Madhya Pradesh in India conducted mass Soorya Namaskara worship on Vivekanand Birthday  in January  amid  protest from Muslim Leaders who  issued also fatwa stating it is anti-Islamic. This would not be possible in USA where we enjoy the religious freedom from The Bill of Rights. It happens in India. That is the reason why I had suggested celebration of this day during Festival of Lights Season which is shown in our religious calendar as Christmas Week-end in my discourse  "Hindu Mass Worship in Temples and the Need for Spiritual Focus" which call for your close study and serious thinking.

These discourses on" Ratha Saptami" and "Obeisance to Sun-God" include some customary mantras from Vedas for offering prayers to  Soorya and also Sooryaashtakam.
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Please visit BLOG for discourses on Ratha Saptami and  Soory Namskaaram (Obeisance to Sun-God) at <nrsrini.blogspot.com>


32. NAVARAATRI, DUSSERA AND KOLU (DOLLS’) FESTIVALS

Navaraatri is celebrated predominantly as a festival dedicated to Devi as Primordial Energy in her emanations as Durga, Lakshmi and Sarasvati as well as Ramleelaa celebrations, celebrating the termination of Ravana, the purpose for which the 7th incarnation of Vishnu took place. In the South it is celebrated as colorful Festival of Dolls and also celebration of Rama's ascending the throne on Vijayadasami Day. They complete the holy reading of Valmiki Ramayana during these ten days.

Durga poojaa, Aayudha Poojaa, Vidyaarambha are also celebrated besides others as per the traditions prevailing in different parts of India. In North India particularly U.P., and Delhi this is also celebrated as Ramleelaa celebrations with the burning of the effigies of Ravana, Kubhakarna and Indrajit, the stars of evil that stood against the practice of Dharma which needed divine intervention. This symbolizes dawn of spiritual wisdom and destruction of ego.

This is an exclusive festival dedicated to Goddess Durga (sometimes in the form of Nava Durga and Kaali) in Bengal, the most important day being Durgaashtami on the eighth day. Gujarat celebrates these days dedicated to Amba with reverence, Garba dances and merriment. It is customary to chant Lalita Sahasranaamam and read Vaalmeeki Ramayanam during Navaraatri.

Please visit BLOG: <nrsrini.blogspot.com>. For detailed description and symbolism of these festivals and for a detailed discourse on Navaraatri,   Kolu(Festival of Dolls) and Dussera Festivals.

33. GANESHA CHATURTHI

Ganesha Chaturthi falls on September 19 in 2012. Tamils observe all Chaturthi days as special worshipful days for   Ganesha and all Shashti days   for Skanda every month though in the North it is only an annual event. To Tamils Chaturthi comes first and Ganesha next. Therefore they call it as Chathurthi Pillai-yaar. Pillai-yaar is the Tamil favorite word for Ganesha which means SON-WHO?  Ganesha has also two mothers Ganges and Parvati and so called Dvai Maatura.   Siva gave his ruling that Ganesha is Parvati’s son. That raises the question whose son he is? Pillai-yar is worshiped with 31 names starting with Baalaganapati and ending with Mahaaganapati. Mudgil Puraana mentions 32 names where   Mahaaganapati is repeated twice. Generally odd numbers are preferred for the divines.

You will be surprised that when OM is written artistically in Tamil script it represents Vakratunda, curved Ganapati graphically. So also the Sanskrit letter OM they say.  But Tamil OM is closer. Tamilians always claim Ganesha and Murugan came from Pre-Aryan culture which belonged to them and later merged with Sanatana Dharma.  The rogue elephant that was destroying their cane sugar fields was caught by the Ganaas of Siva and its separated Head was taken to the headless body of the child for grafting by Siva. Elephant's head represents Macrocosm and the headless body of the child Microcosm.  Ganesha also got the name Vighnaraja because he was a great obstacle to their sweet crop. Later they started worshiping Man-Elephant God and had plentiful crops all the year round.  They also then on agreed to pay their first respect to Gajanana and not to Murugan as per their earlier practice who was their Hill-God. Therefore they claim Ganesha more as their God but Maharastrians do not agree for they took care of him all the while, got him married etc. and also claim that the Elephant belonged to them and went to Tamil Nadu.

It is customary to make figures of Ganesha out of clay, worship him on Bhadrrapada Sukla Chaturthi Day, take him out in procession (3 to 10 days) and immerse the idol in sea or river. Ganesha is the most popular deity in the Hindu pantheon in Kaliyuga. He is the most lovable of the Puraanic Gods. His stories are scattered all over the Puranas. Please go through the following discourses posted on the Blog; <nrsrini.blogspot.com>: 1. Ganesha Worship—Origin and Popularity; 2. Sri Ganesha; Ganesha (Janma) Chaturthi; 3. Ganesha curses Moon; 4. Naming Ceremony of Man-Elephant God;  and 5. Squeezing the Ears in Ganesha Worship


34. BHEESHMA EKADASI AND VISHNU SAHASRANAAMA

Maagha Sukla Ekadasi is called Bheeshma Ekadasi.  It is on this day Vishnu Sahasranama was imparted to Yudhishtira by his beloved grand-father lying on the bed of arrows. Bhagavadgeetaa came out of the discussions that took place between Lord Krishna and Arjuna on the first day of the Mahabharata War and Vishnu Sahasranaama on the day when Bheeshma departed from   the mortal world to join his team of Vasus.  On that day Krishna showed for the last time His Viswaroopa to Bheeshma and Bheeshama gave up his ghost chanting his name. Vedavyasa is the author of both of these who managed to include them in the Great Epic Mahaabhaarata while composing it. This day is observed as a Vrata Day fasting all day and chanting Vishnu Sahasranaama.
Truth is one. The Infinite is   one.  It manifests in the world of plurality with its endless varieties of names and forms. Thousand names of Vishnu provide us with thousand clear arrow-marks rising from the known, pointing to the unknown. These thousand and odd names, with which Vishnu is addressed are contained in 108 Slokas of Vishnu Sahasranaama contained in Mahaabhaarata.  This has given us the support to worship him daily with ashottaara archana form of worship if we do not find time to chant all the 108 Slokas. Ashtottara is the short form for satanaama asshtotaara (meaning 100+8). Vishnusahasranama ends with Vishnu Gaayatri contained in Vedas and alsom contains the powerful Rama Mantra whose Guru is Lord Siva and the recipient disciple Paarvati, who has left  it behind for the benefit of mankind.

For a detailed discourse on Bheeshma Ekaadasi and Vishnu Sahasranama please visit the Blog: <nrsrini.blogspot.com>

35. THIRU AADIPPOORAM FESTIVAL OF TAMIL NADU

This sectarian Tamil Festival is celebrated in some Hindu Temples in USA.  In 2012 Thiru Aaadi pooram falls on July 22 this year which is also the Tamil month of Aaadi. The asterisk Pooram falls on this day. It is considered sacred (Thiru in Tamil) because it is the birthday of Tamil Saint-Poetess Aandaal of Tiruppavai and Thirumozhi fame.  Invariably you will find an exclusive sanctum for her shrine in all Srivaishanva temples in Tamil Nadu as she is considered to be an avatar of Goddess Mother Earth. Aadi Pooram is celebrated on a grand scale in the Vaishnava shrines all over Tamil Nadu and in some of the neighboring states as well wherever Tamils are settled.


Aandaal is one among the 12 Aazhwaars (Tamil Vaishnava Saints) who were the most ardent devotees of Lord Vishnu and the authors of Naalaayira Divya Prabhandam--4000 verses in praise of Lord Vishnu. This is considered as Tamil Veda and invariably sung along with Sanskrit Veda in Tamil Nadu in all Vishnu Temples.

Aadi pooram is a ten day festival in all Vishnu Temples in Tamil Nadu which starts before the actual date.  It is most most famous in Sri Villiputhur, birth place of Aaandaal. The tenth Day is celebrated as Thiru Aaadi Pooram. Special worships are conducted on this day with bridal decoration of Aandaal. It is believed that if unmarried girlls observe this day as Vrata (Religious Vow) they will soon get married to a boy of their choice.

Please refer to my discourse on "Aandaal (Kodai) Incarnation of Bhoodevi" posted on the Blog <nrsrini.blogspot.com> in November 2011. This discourse also associated with Aandaal was delivered during the festivla of "Koodaarai vellum Festival" another Sectarian festival celebrated by Srivaishnava sampradaaya. As you all know we do not have Aandaal Shrine in Sri Ganesha Temple at Nashville but with deft touches Lakshmi shrine is decorated by priests  as Aandaal in her bridal attire. Vishnu processional idols are always accompanied by Sridevi (Lakshmi) and Bhoodevi (Mother earth) as his inseparable consorts in temple traditions. Aandaal and Paarvati are always seen in their bridal attire with 'sola singar' (16 steps of beautification) wherever they are installed, in Hindu Temple Traditions.


36. THIRUVONAM FESTIVAL OF KERALA

At the end of the monsoon, and also in the month of Sraavan, comes Onam, the harvest festival of Kerala.  Thiruvonam popularly called Onam is usually celebrated for ten days.   During these days the prosperous rule the people enjoyed during the reign of mythological King Mahaabali is being celebrated with all pomp and show to commmorate the golden period.
Onam comes in August-September. June, July and up to the middle August are rainy months. September sees the skies bright and blue. The countryside hedges are pretty with flowers and sweet with song of birds. Padddy is almost harvested and bananas are everywhere in plenty. The farmer living close to nature feels the surge of new life in the soil and in the air. It is but natural to celebrate this festival with music and dance. Like nature putting on the new garb, Keralites go in for new clothes for the entire family. During these festival days Kerala comes alive with multifarious  activities. Katkakali dancers tell stories from Ramayana and Mahabharata through dance movements. At Kottayam, boat races are held. The huge snake-boats have about a hundred oarsmen rowing each boat. As they row, they keep up a joint rhythm by singing songs about  famous  people of Kerala. 

Malayalees wherever they are settled make this festival an opportunity for reuniting their family ties.   Relatives from distant places visit their homes. The family members get new clothes and presents from the head of the family. The children and adults too play a lot of indoor and outdoor games. Rich food is prepared and lavishly served to all, especially to the poor and the working classes. The farmers bring presents to their landlords, and in turn get presents for themselves in the form of clothes, cash and food.  All these external hilarity and customs produce the salient effect of bringing a sense of oneness among the people with no caste, status, age or sex considerations.  People of other faiths  too apart from Hindus actively participate in this festival. The social fabric of Kerala is so knitted that no human activity is segregated from the divine. Therefore this festival is called Thiruvonam or the sacred Onam. 

For a detailed discourse please visit the Blog: <nrsrini.blogspot.com> "Thiruvonam Festival of Kerala" 

37. SANI PEYARCHI RITUAL

Sani Peyrchi is a Tamil word like Tirukaartigai.  Sani Peyarchi is the periodical transit of the planet Saturn from one zodiac sign to the other in our birth charts. According to Vaakya Panchangam Sani moves from Kanya Rasi to Tula Rasi on Dec 21st December 2011 in the early hours. As is usual with Panchangam predictions, according to Drigganita Panchangam this is on 14th November 2011 at 12.45 P.M. Saivite Tamilians follow Vaakya Panchangam. It looks as though Tamilians like me are most affected than other Hindus. In fact all over India Hindus have strong belief in astrological predictions and many should be following Drigganita (mathematical) Panchangam also. I do not know why they were left out in November?

Of all the deities Hindus are scared of two deities Yama and Sani who are the sons of Soorya whom they love and worship all the time. Yama is cleverly avoided by prying to Rudra or conducting Mrityunjay Homa or chanting Japa. He is also propitiated as one of the Dikpalakas (Guard  of the Quarter) in all worships and rituals.  Sani needs to be propitiated in a special manner. There is a lone temple for Sani in Maharashtra near Shirdi, Shinganapore. All other temples for Sani are in Tamil Nadu--Kuchanoor; Thirunalla; Thirukodikaadu. The scare starts from these temples where grand poojas are conducted. One may do it by telepathy also to appease Saturn.

This transit of Sani may cause few changes in our life style, bad or good. The most affected are those whose Janma Rasi is Tula. This pertains to those whose Janma Nakshatras are Chitra 3rd and 4th quarters, Swaati (all quarters), and Visakha 1st  2nd and 3rd quarters. All those who are having Tula Rasi as their Janma Rasi and who believe in Astrology will run to the temple to seek the blessings of Sani Bhagavan. Temples usually conduct what are known as Shanti Homas or appeasement worship. Our priests and astrologers strongly advise that all should participate in this in spite of being a busy week day. Unfortunately this cannot be celebrated like Thanksgiving at our convenience, for they have not yet found a method of   Hindu temple worship the American Way.  It has to be 14th November or 21st December. The choice lies with the founding fathers. The necessity for participation by all is because every one will be affected by this transitory movement. Some may even be rewarded. But you need to pay your gratitude to Sani Bhagavan in order to keep him on the good side for these goodies.

Hindus also believe that one has to go through his Praarabhda Karma and he cannot escape it under any circumstance. Perhaps such Shantis prepares one psychologically to undergo those hardships when the severity of the suffering may not be felt for long. It is strange why Vaishnava temples are not concerned so much about it? You will find Navagraha installations only in Siva temples. Probably they have a special association with Siva? In migrant countries though these are  temple complexes housing all deities, if the presiding deity is from Saivism and if founding fathers are Tamil biased, Sani Peyarchi worship is conducted with the usual piety and dedication.

Such occasional events celebrating planetary movements, and Janma Nakshatras of great personalities and indication of events by orthodox dates in scriptures  have helped in arriving at the historic dates from the orthodox dates as you see from my discourse. Nakshatra is only one of the 27 segments of the Zodiacal Belt where  as   Nakshatras in astronomy are stars, twinkling heavenly bodies. 

Please visit the BLOG: <nrsrini.blogspot.com> for a brief discourse on Sani Peyarchi—saturns Transit Through our Birth Charts. It is also helpful to go through in detail my discourses on Navagrahas—Nine planrtary Hindu Deities delivered in the past to understand the significance of the special planetary worship and also the discourse on Orthodox and Historic Dates of Hindu Scriptures, Events and Personalities of India. These are posted on the BLOG. Your suggestions and additional information are welcome. 

*38.  INFLUENCE OF PLANETARY MOVEMENTS ON HUMANS

Many of the Hindus who are born in India and have lived long there may know the role of planets in human life. They might also have their horoscopes. Many who are born here may not have given a thought to it. If you know the exact time of the birth down to the minute, the place of birth, longitude and latitude of the place you may be able to prepare a horoscope for your child with a knowledgeable astrologer in India. There are too many fakes too and you should be watchful!
The condition of an individual corresponds to changes in the position of the nine Grahas (planets). One may be pushed up to high position today or may be thrust down to the depths tomorrow.  It is not the people alone that are subject to changes of fortune. Establishments too have their ups and downs, so also nations. Our ancient sages saw relationship between the position and movements of the planet and destiny of man, the sorrow and happiness experienced by him. This was the origin of astrology. 

If our horoscope is cast on the configuration of the planets at the time of birth our fortunes over the entire period of our life can be predicted. I had such a horoscope made out for me by my very religious and pious grand-father from his friend astrologer. While I was young  I did not believe in horoscope as many of you who are born and brought up here and had all condemnation for it.  After many years of my grand father's demise I had a chance to go through my full-life prediction  horoscope. To my surprise many things said in it had come true. It even predicted my life up to 2002 and beyond, followed by a great risk at 72, and predicted that life will continue  further and closed the horoscope. I survived my first stroke and my bye-pass surgery in 2002 and I am healthy and back to life at 81.This prediction was at a time when an average Indian lived up to 46 years only. I do not even now know who that astrologer was. When I started believing in my predictions and wanted to thank the astrologer,  my grand-father was not there to tell me who he was; may be the astrologer was also not there! If we know the planetary position at the time of commencing a job or enterprise, with its  help we should be able to find out how it  could take shape and how we would fare in it. Here again we can't  go by general predictions; it is bound with the person. Hence correct guidance by a knowledgeable astrologer is needed. With one of the priest-astrologer's reliable predictions to start the business at the right time, a business man built a fortune. The astrologer knew his own future too; he too was  blessed with fortune and though a migrant poor priest, he now owns a helicopter of his own in which he flies around. Obviously he knew his future also and so associating with the businessman at the right time migrated to USA at the earliest opportunity and rose  to riches. He has also raised a Hindu Temple with the active support of his business magnet friend in USA and with  his own contribution.

The course of the planets governing our life is in accordance with Karma. We come to know the consequences of our actions in previous births in various ways and astrology is a powerful tool. Astrological calculations help us to find out such consequences as indicated by heavenly bodies. Saturn is one such powerful Planet. That is why people think of appeasing Saturn by rituals called Shaanti Homa and worship in temples or at home. Those who can't participate on such mass rituals and have the faith and belief chant the Navagraha Stotra all day or at least 28 times on 21st December. Sani Peyarchi is a Tamil word but it does not mean that Tamils only are affected. Planetary movements influence all human beings, all over the world. Hindus are cognizant of it while others are ignorant of it or indifferent to it. That is why in Western culture people do not bother about it.

It is left the individuals to believe it or not. For those who believe correct data and particulars at the time of birth are needed as well as well as good luck to get correct predictions by a well learned astrologer to have a horoscope. 

Detailed discourse on " Sani peyarchi” are posted on the BLOG. If you need navagrahstotra with its meanings please visit my discourse "<nrsrini.blogspot.com "Navagraha Devatas and Planetary deities" where you will find the Stotras in the end.
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39. MAHAALAYAPAKSHA—HINDU MEMORIAL DAY
Hindu Saatras proclaim due to the grace of God of Death, it has been ordained that offering oblations to the departed, whether they are connected or not to the performer of the ceremony, benefit all the departed souls during this sacred fortnight of Mahaalayapaksha irrespective of the date and time of the deceased. In a way Mahaalayapaksha can be called Hindu American Memorial Fortnight for all Hindus living in USA. Many of us who have visited the holy city of Gaya in India, know that mass ceremony is conducted every day to assist the faithful pilgrims to offer oblations to 31 generations of their ancestors, all their deceased relatives, friends and the desired ones irrespective of the date and time of their death.  The sacred fortnight of Mahaalayapaksha has the same mandate. That is conducted in a holy place and this is conducted on a sacred fortnight. Hindu Temples in America could promote similar mass participation and also run Annadaana Fortnight (Food Charity Fortnight) as an act of charity. Hindu Americans influenced by the major culture of the land and their busy pursuits may not be able to carry out the same at their own homes and also may not know the spiritual benefit behind it. They may not also be able to perform their naimittika (specific ordained)  sraaddhas on  the stipulated dates.  For them the mass participation in Mahaalayapaksha sraddha will be a blessing in disguise.  Let us avoid also the costly mistake in life made by Daanasoora Karna, Champion of Charity, to whom there is none equal in charitable disposition and repent for it! I am not sure whether any such mass program runs in India. But almost all famous temples run Annadaana (Food Charity) Programs as a routine feature. Also plentiful priest services, fake and genuine,  are available to guide the faithful to conduct such rituals at homes.
In some of these religious ceremonies and rituals, we are most focused on  heaven one day  and seem least focused on making this  earth more like heaven to-day. One of the wisdom thoughts in Sanskrit   says; "atyutkataih punyapaapaih ihaiva phalamasnute"-- we experience  the fruits of our extreme  good as well as bad  actions in this very  earth itself.  While it is great to think about  heaven  let us think of our task here:  let us feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, heal the sick, love our neighbors, be sympathetic to our enemies, promote peace, show mercy, seek justice for  others, be humble and do unto others as we would have them unto us.  Let us ennoble the world with our thoughts (Krinvantoe Viswamaaryam). Let us look upon all beings as our own self (Aatmavat sarvabhooteshu). Then we need not worry too much if someone dear to us is not able to think of us for uplifting us on Mahaalyapaksha Day when we leave this world   for pitruloka. Many of us often worry what will happen with future generation and the culture when we leave this world.
Please visit the Blog Hindu Reflections: <nrsrini.blogspot.com> for a detailed discourse on "Mahhlayapaksha--Hindu American memorial fortnight". Also please do not miss to go through my article: “Hindu Rites for the deceased Parents and Ancestors”

40. KEDAARAGOWRI VRATAM

We have recently gone through Swarna Gowri Vrata or Gowri Habba popular in Karnataka and neighboring States. There are many such vratas performed by Hindus in India essentially following the same ritual practices. But Kedaara Gowri vrata is the longest where Siva is also propitiated side by side.  If Sivaratri is the night of the emergence of Siva as Ligodhbhava Moorti, Kedara Gowri Vrata Day is the day on which Siva emerged as Ardhanaareeswara. The 21 days of observance of Kedaara Gowri Vrata culminates on Deepavali Day as Kedaara Gowri Vrata grand Celebration in the Southern States of India with spiritual values and contentment while North India concentrates on Kubera  Pooja on that day followed by Lakshmi Pooja next day aspiring to be rich and prosperous.

Ardhanareeswara is very popular in Andhra Pradesh symbolizing the union of Siva and Sakrti. Tamil nadu also celebrates this day as the union of Kamakshi and Siva. South abounds in many popular Puranic stories Making it a day of imporrtance for Siva diverting the attention of Vaishnavites who celebrate Deepaavali as the day of return of Rama to Ayodhya or Krishna getting rid of the demon Narakasura and giving shelter to 16000 girls kept under his captivity and marrying them supporting polygamy if one can afford without partiality.  In Ramayana days a ruler was supposed to have three wives, one from Kshatriya the other from Vaisya and the third from Sudra community though Dasaratha had all three from Kshatriya clan.

All Hindu rituals have a deep spiritual import based on strenuous religious observance and ritualistic formalities and contain social and hygienic elements in them.  But many seem to miss  their spiritual focus  for heaven one day with  their main focus on making this earth heaven  to-day,  misled by  the benefits  (Phalsrutis) glorified by mechanically observing the Vrata.  Week long Deepaavali or Diwaali celebrations imply lot of spiritual thoughts though people concentrate mainly on immediate benefit and merriment. It focuses on the goal of life and attainment of God-consciousness by noble thoughts and deeds.  

The New Moon Day marks the worship of blood-thirsty Kaali in Bengal and the worship of Lakshmi in rest of India. Devi is worshiped as Dhana Lakshmi, Goddess of Wealth, Dhanya Lakshmi, Goddess of Food, Vaibhava Lakshmi, Goddess of Fame and Aiswarya Lakshmi, Goddess of Success. Those who observe Kedara Gowri Vrata, must remember that they worship her as Sakti, Primordal energy on that Day, giving main importance to her as the Sakti of Lord Siva, the motive force behind creation and all his actions.

For a detailed discourse  on Kedarareswara Vrata and  to know the spiritual aspect of the iconic representation  of a Ardhanareeswara  please visit the Blog; Hindu Reflections <nrsrini.blogspot.com> : " Kedaara Gowri Vrata, worship of Devi as  Sakti  of Siva"                                                                                         

41. MAHAALAYAPAKSHA—HINDU MEMORIAL FORTNIGHT

Hindu Saatras proclaim due to the grace of God of Death, it has been ordained that offering oblations to the departed, whether they are connected or not to the performer of the ceremony, benefit all the departed souls during this sacred fortnight of Mahaalayapaksha irrespective of the date and time of the deceased. In a way Mahaalayapaksha can be called Hindu American Memorial Fortnight for all Hindus living in USA. Many of us who have visited the holy city of Gaya in India, know that mass ceremony is conducted every day to assist the faithful pilgrims to offer oblations to 31 generations of their ancestors, all their deceased relatives, friends and the desired ones irrespective of the date and time of their death.  The sacred fortnight of Mahaalayapaksha has the same mandate. Hindu Temples in America could help in similar mass participation and also run   Annadaana Fortnight (Food Charity Fortnight). Hindu Americans influenced by the major culture of the land and their busy pursuits may not be able to carry out the same at their own homes and also may not know the spiritual benefit behind it. They may not also be able to perform their naimittika (specific) sraaddhas on the stipulated dates.  For them the mass participation in Mahaalayapaksha sraddha will be a blessing in disguise.  Let us avoid also the costly mistake in life made by Daansoora Karna, Champion of Charity, though there is none equal to him in charitable disposition and repent for it! I am not sure whether any such mass program runs in India. But almost all famous temples run Annadaana (Food Charity) Programs as a routine feature. Also plentiful priest services are available to guide the faithful to conduct such rituals at homes.
Please visit the Blog Hindu Reflections: <nrsrini.blogspot.com> for a discourse on “Mahalayapksha—Hindu Memorial Fortnight”
(September 2012)

42. SHARAD POORNIMA FESTIVALS

Aswayuja Sukla Poornima (full Moon d Day) comes in Sharad Ritu before winter and hence called Sharad Poornima. After killing the powerful Mahishaasura (Dwemon-Buffalo) in Dussera, Devi needed rest. She sheds her fierce form and awakens as the charming and benevolent goddess Lakshmi on Sharad Poornima to some.  As you all know in Bengal Lakshmi is considered to be the daughter of Parvati, whose spinsters are Kartikeya, Ganesha and Saraswati. So this night is celebrated as Lakshmi’s birthday in some Hindu traditions and is heralded by beating drums.  It is believed that Lakshmi goes this night around to find out who is awake and shows her  pleasure when one is awake and celebrates it as Kojagarti night. Maataa Kaali pooja begins on this day and ends on Diwali night with Nishaa Pooja to many Bengalis.

Even though ardent worshipers of Murugan do not agree Hindus in Orissa celebrate this night as Kumar Poornima heralding the birth of Kartikeya. Swami Narayana worshipers all over the world rush to their exclusive temples to celebrate the birthday of Swami Narayan and so do not find time to visit Traditional Hindu Temples.

Ardent followers of Lord Krishna  (like Hare Krishna devotees)  in Brindavan and in some parts of  North  India are busy with  Rasakreedaa  on this night  singing and dancing feeling the presence of Lord Krishna and  colorful Gopis around. Puranas say that Lord Krishna and Gopis engaged in traditional folk dance on this romantic night and called it Mahaa Raas poornima. Some Gujarrati devotees of Krishna celebrate it with their colorful Garbha Dance.

Essentially it is a significant Poornima for many Hindus hailing from the North. They eagerly look forward to the Chaturthi moon after four days to observe Karva Chauth Vrat and they need the co-operation of moon very much. South Indians however do not lag behind. They call this night Tula Poornima and make it a special day for their worship of Siva or a holy dip. Any thing associated with Tula is sacred to them. 

Hindu American Temples, confused by many traditional poojas of significance of this night inherited from different traditions of India some ancient and some unknown resort to Annabhishekam for Sri Siva. It is a house cleaning day for all deities in some traditions when all idols get a fresh look under the plea of Abhishekam. Usually Rudra is Abhisheka Priya with water or milk with constant flow which we do not grudge but on this night he gets a special Abhishekam with milk pudding (payasam or Kheer). What better day can there be for Hindu Temple Complexes in America to please all traditions! As you know some Temples in America have also installed Swami Narayan idol in their Temple complexes though they cannot match the variety of Sweet Prasadams of  exclusive Swami Naraayan Temples.

For those who observe Satyanaarayana Vrata this is a special Poornima Night calling for delicious Prasadam and lengthy story telling praising the glory of  the Lord. This also gives an idea as to how many priests we need on this night to keep with the busy schedule to please all sampradayas.

A spiritual seeker who visits the temple this night goes with his own mental make up chanting”Om tad Brahma, Om tad Vaayuh, Om tat Satyam, Om tad Aaatma, Om tat Sarvam, Om tat puror namah’’ and is not confused like the curious visitor of Western Culture to the temple on this special Poornima night baffled with many worships not knowing which to attend in a temle comlex? May be the distortion is due to the special effects of Moon on this night as Hindus believe Moon has strong influence on the minds of people but the spiritually inclined is not affected! 

43. GANAPATI VISARJANAM—SEND-OFF TO GANAPATI
It is customary to give a warm send off to Lord Ganesha in Maharashtra with the words “Ganapati Bappa Moriya! Puduchya varshi laukar yaa—Oh Lord Ganapthi, My Lord!  Soon return next year, where Ganesha worship is very popular and then immerse the idol deep in running waters or deep sea. In Tamil Nadu where he is equally popular Tamils send off with affectionate words Ganapati Appa, Poria? Oh Father Ganesha, are you going away? But why this send-off of repetitive or cyclic nature symbolized in action and worship? Aavaahan brings the Lord from the concept of Niraakara (formless) to Saakaara (form) and again in Visarjan from Saakaara to Niraakara as the idol which came from the clay of river bed goes back to the river bed as clay.  Saakaraa needs physical medium. This comes out of elements, earth, water, air, fire and ether. After Visarjan this form merges with nature reminding us of the cyclic nature of life.  As is usual with Hindu concept there are deep ygienic, ecological and spiritual significance in Hindu form of worship. It is necessary to revive the bed of the rivers and lakes exposing fresh soil by removing surface soil. When it returns with antiseptics like turmeric and vermilion it helps the living water creatures. That is why there is the orthodox view to make Ganesha idols out of clean river-bed clay and natural colors and not plaster of Paris. Of late bio-degradable   paper mache idols are also popular. 

Goddess Gowri molded Ganesha’s form from exfoliates of her skin. She is mother earth and clay symbolizes her body’s exfoliates from which Ganapati was formed. In simple symbol worship,   Ganesha is made with vermilion, turmeric, flour or are-ca-nut and betel tied with a sacred thread all being  natural elements. These go back to nature when invoked deity is withdrawn by visarjan, being biodegradable. In Hindu Moorti Upaasana  worship where permanent deities are installed with elaborate consecration ceremony extending over 48  days,  God is invoked or woken up before worship and is given a warm send off to rest, the way we treat an honored guest regularly  .  In the temporary installations of Ganesha Puja the idol is invoked by prayers and given a warm send off by Visarjan. When Visarjan is completed the idol gets back to a lifeless art piece. An idol is not fit for worship if signs of deterioration or cracks are developed in the consecrated idol. Hence the need forquick send off. Those of you, who are familiar with Jagannath worship, know such a system is built in as the idol here is of wood. We have learnt about it in detail in the discourse on Jagannth. Probably this is the origin for this type of Visarjana form of worship from Nava kalebar. Jagannath tradition is very old and pre-dates Ganesha worship. Even if the permanent idols become defective or damaged they are suitably disposed off and new deity installed as happened in ancient Guruvayur Temple of Kerala recently. The other orthodox form of invoking deity is in Kalasa of an earthen pot filled with water. These also go back to nature after visarjan when the invoked deity is withdrawn after final pooja.

In the concept of Puranic religious worship Lord Ganesha comes to us heeding to our prayers to take care of our worries and troubles during Ganesha Chaturthi time and goes back to his abode Kailasa building comfort and happiness in us and after the religious visarjana ceremony joins his mother, Gowri (Mother Earth). That is why the idol is immersed in deep waters and in running waters.
(September 2011)


44. ELEPHANT FESTIVAL OF IYENGARS OF KARNATAKA (YAANAI PANDIGAI)

A year before last I briefly explained about this sectarian festival like Thirivaadippooram festival we celebrate in Hindu temples where there is not even a sanctum for the Popular Vaishnava saint deity of  Tamil Nadu,  Aandaal.  We have a temple complex which has to cater to the religious need of wide variety of traditions  and it is but natural to  base the sanctums to  meet broader interests.  But we can also plan our  common festivals  and rituals  to the deities  presented and also on broad based deities not consecrated  like Earth, Brahmaa, Viswakarma etc.,  that could be followed by all in spirit and  thought. It is not because I belong to this community I present this discourse  of a minor festival but because  of  its   focus  on Wild Life and  Forest Preservation  and Hinduism ‘s  concern for environmental protection and preservation  of the pristine beauty of  flora and fauna. I had also described to you about the Paalikaa Visarjan ritual during Upanayanam and Wedding ceremonies observed by the Brahmin community with the same objectives which could be followed by all Hindu Americans. Such festivals are meant to bring our awareness  to social   problems and our duty towards animals and nature.

This festival is celebrated along with Kartigai  deepam in Karnataka  Iyengarn Community worshiping clay made elephants for three days and send  them back   to their natural habitat religiously and ceremoniously.  Ladies fast for three days during daylight and worship Goddess  Gajalakshmi in the night with lights  and   pray for the health  and longevity  of their husbands. Thus it is both ritual and festival for three days. On the last day at the conclusion of the ritual and worship the elephants (usually a pair) are given a warm send off after token feeding to its natural surroundings with the request to revisit again during Karthigai.   Visarjan ceremony brings our focus to recycling. Natural clay taken out of river beds revives the soil. The clay after having served its purpose returns to  soil with disinfectants like turmeric and vermilion after use and helps to make the soil healthier.  The motive behind the festival is to promote Wild Life and Forest Preservation with a prayer to the Goddess. Elephant has the longest life among animals and so this worship also appeals to the Goddess to grant long life to their beloveds. Please go through the attached discourse for details. Most Hindu festivals focus on our duty towards different planets and  living beings besides basing them on Puranic lore.

My mother was a dedicated religious woman and very orthodox. She implicitly followed her equally religious and orthodox parents however wrong they may be? I always questioned blind beliefs and orthodoxy extended to the point of ridicule! She failed miserably to convert me to her line of thinking. She passed away peacefully after elephant Visarjan on the third day after Karthigai without any suffering chanting the name of God. Her formidable faith guided her all through her struggle in life.  I left her at the age of eight and was not there also when she gave up her ghost. I thought of making her last days comfortable but He willed otherwise! This discourse is dedicated to her and to her firm belief in  Hindu Festivals and Rituals. I started understanding the meaning and motivation behind these rituals and festivals and their broad based appeal later in my life.
(November 2013)

Veneration of Elephants in Hinduism

I was fascinated by an incident about the elephant herd in South Africa that walked 12 miles to the rural home of their master Lawrence Smith, a conservationist, to mourn his death who was their human friend in spring 2011.  People saw visibly their hung down head and tears in their eyes. He had befriended and helped them in their re-habitation in the Zulund Bush. He died of heart attack. They arrived in a single file, and hung around for two days--apparently a period of mourning--before turning around and heading back. Feeling the poignancy of an elephant funeral march, I felt it is not a bad idea to observe Mahalaya Paksha as a fortnight for praying for the souls of the departed some near and many distant but deserving. If animals can be so concerned why shouldn't not we as humans?

I often wondered why Ganesha and Vishwaksena, iconic representations of elephant head on human body is so popular and so venerated. Of course Hinduism believes in the same Self residing in all living beings (antascharati bhooteshu).Therefore Hindus believe that respect for the natural world is respect to God. Hindus therefore have built into the system a number of  natural worships showing our veneration. Elephant worship seems to be one such popular worship. This   celebration started as Festival of Elephants, before Ganesha worship became popular.  Elephant   is considered to be the most powerful, intellectual and humane being. Its long life symbolizes prosperity and healthy living for a long life. It is grateful to its master as seen above.  it has excellent memory. The trunk of an elephant represents the intellect, the faculty of discrimination which arises out of wisdom. It uses its trunk as powerful tool in all it’s   intelligent and life-supporting actions. 

Puranas say that along with Lakshmi came the six-tusked, white skinned elephant Airavata.  She also came with all boon-giving things--Kamadhenu, Chintaamani, Kalpataru, Akshayapaatra etc.The Gods (devas) wisely claimed the elephant while asuras (demons) missed the opportunity. Sacred elephants (Ashta-dik-gajas) that held up the sky from the eight quarters of the Universe  raised their trunks and consecrated her with life-sustaining water. This is the origin of Abhisheka ritual in Hindu worship of icons.  Elephants are invariably found in the company of Lakshmi. She is therefore called Gajalakshmi (co-born with elephant in creation) and worshiped along with her two elephants. Vaishnavites consider elephant as Vyaahriti (emanation) of Lakshmi, a symbol of prosperity. Hence Some Vaishnavites worship elephant for three days during the Vishnudeepam about which I talked about recently.

Probably this elephant worship gave rise to later popular worship of Ganesha and Viswaksena, which icons combine both human body and elephant head, a symbol of supreme intelligence and might. For a simple aboriginal living in a group near a forest or mountain, the mighty elephant might have provided the clue as to the form of almighty God which they started worshiping.   As the group became more refined and cultured, the elephant God might have been transformed into the present forms to symbolize more qualities.  Puranas have fantasied and exaggerated as to their birth and active participation and projected them as very powerful deities for general worship. Some even have  gone to the extent of bringing  forth Upanishadic style  religious texts to  impress upon religious worshipers that their worship only means worship of the Supreme principle  drawing support from Bhagavadgeetaa another product of Puranas which consolidated all Upanishadic thoughts   and conveyed them through powerful spokesman Bhagawaan who  is believed to be Lord Krishna.  These texts also promise heaven and beyond for all devoted worshipers in their elaborate religious texts unlike the major Upanishads that contain no promises but show the path for Self-realization. That has turned Hinduism today very complex in rituals and worship moving away from spiritual evolution.

45. ALL HINDU WORSHIPS AND RITUALS AIM AT HAPPINESS FOR ALL--SARVE JANAAH SUKHINO BHAVANTU; AATMAVAT SARVA BHOOTESHU

We have come to the conclusion of all discourses on Hindu Samskaras, Rituals and Festivals as generally observed or followed in migrant countries by Hindus which are accessible on the Blog: Hindu Reflections.  Every Hindu is expected to do his or her Nitya Karmas (daily duties) like daily atonement for sins committed, mealtime prayers,  daily prayers to the Lord etc.,  as well as Naimittika Karmas, duties for specific occasions  like Vratas  (rituals) and samskaras.  While these Samskaras, rituals and pujas refine and purify the performer, the mantras chanted at the time create benign vibrations in the world. While each Karma is apparently meant for the performer as an individual, it also brings benefits to the entire world. So all Hindu rites begin with the prayer "Jagat-hitaaya Krishnaaya"   (for the comfort of the world and to the Lord) and all prayers to the Lord end with "Sarve Janah sukhino bhavantu" (may all live happily!). Hindus often include in their prayers: "Sarve bhadraani pasyantu | maa kaschid svabhaag bhavet"--(may all perceive good; may not any attain unhappiness!).  You find many such quotes of Mantras in my discourses as often as possible and as appropriate, but it may not be possible to repeat them here. Let me therefore  give below two examples one from the popular Nitya Karma referring to Sandhyaavandana Gayatri mantra  and the other from the naimittika karma referring to the present Mahaalaya paksha ritual.
When we chant the Gayatri   Mantra "Bhargo devasya dheemahi dheeyo yo nah prachodayaat"-- we do not say "May the Sun God quicken or inspire "my intelligence", but "our" intelligence. So the Gayatri is a prayer made on behalf of all creatures. Brahmin, Kshatriya and Vaisya boys including girls from Namboodri Brahmin community who have undergone Upanayana ceremony must chant Gayatri Mantra not only for their own good but for that of all castes, all creatures and all sentient beings.
It is considered most appropriate for all communities to observe Mahalayapaksha vrata irrespective of the date of the deceased person. It is customary to perform tarpana---pay water sesame seed oblation to the deceased ancestors called Pitru Yajna as a part of Mahalayapakasha Sraadha.
Tarpana is the most important part of Sraaddha.  The opening prayer of Tarpana runs as follows: From the highest  point to the lowest point so far as this Universe extends, let all divine sages and patriarchs, all deceased father’s and mother’s side be worshiped. Let this humble offering of sesame seeds and water go to the benefit of the whole world from the highest heaven to lowest earth to benefit inhabitants of the seven continents belonging to unlimited families in the past.
“Aa Brahma stamba paryantam devarshi pitru maanavaah | traapyanta pitarah sarve maatru maata mahaadayah || ateeta-kula-koeteenaam sapta dweepa nivaasinaam | aa Brhama bhuvanaat loekaadidam astu tiloedakam ||
Tarpana ritual ends with the following Mantra: "Yeshaam na pitaa na bhraata na bhandu naanya goetrinah | te trupti makhilaa yaattu mayaa tyaktai kusaih sthitaih || May all who are neither my father, nor my brother, nor my relative nor belonging to my gotra (leniency) may get the satisfaction by this water librated by me through the medium of Kusa grass and sesame seeds! Thus this is a Universal prayer which is very common way to end all Hindu prayers, praying for the welfare of all.
You may thus see how in all these rituals Vedic mantras are chanted for the benefit of all human beings including all sentient beings. Please keep this objective while discharging your daily duties as well as observing rituals and Vratas and conducting worships. "Aatmavat Sarvabhooteshu"--Look upon all beings as you alone.


46. SPECIAL MODE OF PAYING OBEISANCE TO LORD GANESHA
It is a common sight to witness Ganesha being worshiped in a posture called Dhobit Karana based on a mythological story. The most venerated Ganesha is a mythological product as you all know. Dhobit karana has now been corrupted into "Thoppu Karanam" by Tamilis who invariably worship him in this form. Devotees force themselves to kneel with their hands holding their ears cross-wise as also their legs.  You may often witness priests doing Dhobit Karana within Sanctum Sanctorum. No Shastaanga Pranaama (paying obeisance   body touching eight parts to the ground) is done within the sanctified area as along the border of that square various deities are invoked and installed during Kumbhabishekam.  No offence should therefore be meant pointing legs at any direction from within. Shasshtaanga Pranama is completed at the flag-post. That is why you see devotees doing Atma -pradakshina (Self circum-ambulation)  only during Jagannatha Puja. By mistake and with good intentions some do Saashtaang Pranaama with added reverential attitude.  Dhobit Karana has also additional medical benefits.

Religious Hindus pay their obeisance to Ganesha by standing before the deity with legs crossed and hands also crossed along the breast, with their fingers squeezing the air lobes. In this posture  one has to sit down touching the floor and then get up and repeat this exercise as many times as one has vowed to do. This exercise is not easy. It purifies vital plexus which tunes the psychic power of the worshiper. Though many make fun of this practice there are medical studies made in U.K. which show health benefits.

Squeezing the ear could be useful in treating heart problems according to an Indian Medical Team, working at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital for Children in London. The simple procedure of squeezing the ear produces a temporary effect on heart dynamics, causing a small reduction in pulse rate, a profound drop in the amplitude of the pulse and a drop in the peak and mean flow velocity.

Orthodox Hindus tie around their ear tightly their holy thread worn in the fashion of a garland.  According to Dr. Saxena working at Queen Elizabeth’s Children Hospital, London, the act of tying the thread on the ear enhances spasmodic movements of the intestines enabling easy and complete evacuation of fecal matter. At the same time the bladder evacuates the urine completely without hindrance.

In the opinion of Ayurveda, Indian Medicine, the nerves around the right ear are linked with muscles controlling evacuation of the bladder and those on the left are linked with anus. Orthodox Hindus tie their long holy thread worn in the form of garland around their neck round their right ear when passing urine and when passing stools on the left side. These keep one free of diseases like excessive urination, diabetes, piles, fistula and other ailments pertaining to passing urine and stools.
(August 2011)


47. PHILOSOPHY OF NAVARAATRI KOLU CELEBRARION (FESTIVAL OF DOLLS OF TAMILS) 

Once upon a time King Surata sought the advice of his Guru Surata ways and means to get rid of his enemies. As advised by him he made the idol of Kaali out of the river-bed clay, consecrated the icon and worshiped Kaali by observing fasting. His successful story started the tradition of   making dolls of all kinds out of clay, painting them and decorating them, arranging them in orderly fashion on steps and worship them during Navarathri celebrated as Kolu in Tamil Nadu.  Sarasvati worship during Navaratri is the most important and significant worship.

All human beings should focus on gradual and progressive spiritual evolution which philosophy is reflected in the arrangement of Kolu and worship. The ninth step is allotted to beings with single sense like trees, plant creepers etc. The eighth step is allotted to beings with two senses like dolls of snails, sankha (conch), tortoise etc. The seventh step is allotted to beings with three senses like dolls of ant and other crawling insects.   The sixth step is allotted to beings of four senses like dolls of crabs, wasps, birds etc. The fifth step is allotted to dolls of five senses like cow, goat, tiger, lion, elephant, dog etc. The fourth step is allotted to beings with six senses that are human beings. The third step is allotted to dolls of elevated beings like Rishis, sages and saints. The second step is allotted to dolls of divine beings like Navagrashas, deities symbolic of five elements, Vedic deities etc. The very first step is allotted to Brahma, Vishnu, Siva, Ten Incarnations, Durga, Lakshmi, Sarasvati, Ganesha, Kartikeya, Venkateswara etc.  

It is believed that if we follow this order and worship Devi in her emanations of Sarasvati, Lakshmi and Durga we will be blessed with knowledge, wealth and valor or strength. The philosophy behind Kolu steps arrangement is as follows: In the last three steps we find material and household world representation of Taamasic nature (Ignorance or dullness). In the next three middle steps we focus on things of Rajasic nature (active or egoistic or worldly concerns). In the first three steps we concentrate on Saatvic nature (noble, brightness and divinity).

Sarasvati who is celebrated in Vedas is the Guardian of all fire worships and sacrifices (yajna) and she is invoked with the word Swaaha at each oblation. She is worshiped for all household happiness and grant of wisdom. Durga is worshiped as Sakti during Vasanta navaratri during the Hindu month of Chaitra. The Navaratri observed in The Hindu month of Bhadrapada for all round happiness is called Saarada Navaratri. In the Tamil month of Purattasi Kolu Navaratri is started on the first day of bright half fortnight and completed on the tenth day called Vijayadasami. This worship is believed to help young girls to find suitable partners.  Married women are blessed with long and happy married life. Elderly ladies will be blessed with happiness and contentment.  Durga is worshiped as Navadurgas, Lakshmi as Ashta Lakshmis and Sarasvati as Ashta Sarrasvatis by Tamils. They are the emanations of Devi in the presiding   role of Durga, Lakshmi and Sarasvati.
(September 2011)

48. SRIVENKATESA SATANAAMA ASHTOETTARA, SAHASRANAAMA aSHTOETTARA AND THEIR NAAMAAVALIS

Hindu Temple Complexes overseas invariably have a separate sanctum for Lord Viswanatha and Lord Venkateswara wherever they are settled. "When you have lost  your eyes of wisdom, have none to depend upon and perturbed join the crowd of devotees, cross the seven hills  and worship Lord Srinivasa in his abode which is the seat of Sridevi, Lakshmi--Araayi  kaane vikate girim gaccha sadaanvay | Sirim peethasya satvabhih tebhishtvaa saatayaamaci  (Rigveda 8-8-3)" says a Rigvedic Hymn.   Incidentally there are seven lokas and Puranas say there are seven steps to heaven. Srirangam temple has seven Prakaaras and Tirupati seven hills. So it seems   Lord Venkateswara worshipwas prevalent even in Rigvedic days like that of Indra, Agni, Varuna, Vaayu and Prithvi. Later Puranas describe Laksmidevi left her abode insulted and angered by sage Bhrigu and resided permanently in Karaveerapura (modern Kolhapur). She was then born as Padmaavati to Kasiraja and Married Venkateswara. That is how she lives in seclusion in Tiruchanoor as the Purana tells and not seen by the side of the Lord.

Brahmaandapurana includes Venkatesa sahasranaama stotra and Varaha Purana includes  Venkatesa satanaama stotra which are not known to many but chanted in worship of the Lord in Tirumala Tirupati (TT). TT Devasthaanam came out with the publication of these in 1969 and has again reprinted it in 2011. They have also come out with Venkatesa Ashtottaram and Venkatesa Sahasranaamaavali in their publication. It is logical and appropriate to employ these in Lord Venkateshwara Archanas rather than the usual Vishnu Sahasranaama of Mahabharata days. 

Unlike Vishnun Sahasranaamam, Venkatesa Sahasranaamam elaborately glorifies all the Dasaavataaras of Vishnu. Bhaktimaarga followers may like to familiarize with Venkatesa Sahasranaamam and derive the benefit of Lord Venkateswara’s blessings by chnting them daily as promoted by igveda.

Please visit the Blog:<nrsrini.blogspot.com> for an English transiliteration of Venkatesa Sahasranaamam, Venkatesa Sata Ashtoettaram, Venkatesa Sahasranaamaavali, Venkatesa Ashtoettara Sata Namaavali, Venkateswara Govinda Naamaavali, and Venkatesa Satanama Ashtoettaram and Namavali rendered by Swami Narayanananda Saraswati of Chaitanya Kuteer, Swargaasram, UP, India.
(February 2013; March 2013)



49. KALYAANOETSAVA SERVICE IN VENKATESWARA TEMPLES

It is a tradition in all Vishnu temples to celebrate Kalyanoetsava (wedding ceremony) with Sridevi (lakshmi) and Bhudevi (Mother earth) accompanying Lord Vishnu or his incarnation Krishna with his twin consorts. There are some gods celebrated in Puranas with consorts on either side--Vishnu with Sridevi and Bhudevi: Krishna with Rukmini and Satyabhama; Subrahmanya with Valli and Devayani etc. Lord Vishnu suffering the pangs of love   came to Seshachalam with the fond hope to join Lakshmi who was residing in Karaveerapura, the modren Kolhapur. He did succeed in uniting with Lakshmi with all pomp and show by marrying Padmavati who was the daughter of Akshyarja. Padmavati was none other than Lakshmi descended on Earth as Padmavati, daughter of Akshayaraja as Puranas narrate.    He married Padmavati through the good offices of his foster mother Vakuladevi who approached the king with a marriage proposal. This wedding is re-enacted and celebrated on
 a grand scale once a year. This year it will be celebrated from May 19 to May 21 in Tirumalai Tirupati.    

But why then all Kalyoenotsava services in Tirupati are only with Sridevi and Bhudevi, and also in all temples where Venkatesa sanctums are found? As you all know Sridevi is Rukmini and Satyabhama is Bhudevi.  According to Puranas Vakuladevi   was an incarnation of Yasoda, the foster mother of Lord Krishna. Lord Krishna had promised to reveal to her at all times as Kalayanamurti with his two consorts Satyabhama and Rukmini.  In order to cherish the memory of his past life to his foster mother Vakuladevi He always appears with his twin consorts which is more pleasing to his beloved mother than the present alliance with Padmavati who has still chosen to live separate in Alamelamangapura but for her customary annual visit on the Wedding Day in The Hindu month of Vaisakha.  

It is also a common feature that the main deity in all South Indian Vishnu Temples  is invariably seen  alone without   His consorts  while the processional deity is always seen  with the twin consorts Bhudevi and Sridevi making it possible for the devotees to conduct Kalyanoetsavas to fulfill their desires.  Such lonely immobile main deities are designated as Kevala Vigraha.  Sri Rama Temple in Madurantakam and Parthasarathy temple in Chennai are few exceptions. It is unusual to find the Linga form among the mobile icons. When the main object of worship is Linga(aniconic form) in the sanctum , its  mobile form will be Siva or Devi in a human iconic representation.  One wonders why in Siva temples the processional deity is always seen with the chosen consort  Parvati only and not with  Bhudevi as in Vishnu temples!  There is a temple for Siva where he is worshiped as Element Earth.

Polytheism being an essential characteristic of Hinduism has provided ample opportunity for Indian iconography to use its imagination and in turn makes the  Hindu temple as a monumental record of the Puranic religion.

Please read my detailed discourse Kalyana Utsava for the Lord in Temples on the Blog: <nrsrini.blogspot.com>   while we are busy with Venkatesa Laksharchana, a traditional annual worship for world peace during winter months. 
(February 2012)

50. MAHAASIVARAATRI, AN AUSPICIOUS NIGHT FOR FASTING, VIGIL, AND  PRAYERS TO THE SUPREME PRINCIPLE

Sivaratri, the important festival of Lord Siva is celebrated with great solemnity and piety on the night of the fourteenth day after full moon, this year on 10th. This is the day on which Maheswara took the form of Sivalinga,(Lingodbhava) He is the Supreme Being without beginning or end. Mandukya Upanishad says that Siva is:"Prapanchoepasamam Saantham Sivam Advaitam"--The Emancipator of the World, the embodiment of peace and bliss, the most auspicious and the one without a second. The central Idea emerging from this and all other religious scriptures on Lord Siva is that He is not a sectarian God but is the Supreme Being who is omnipresent and all pervasive who manifests in all matter, energy and motion, and the entire Universe the smallest of the small and biggest of the big beautifully brought out in Sri Rudram, Tevaram (of Tamils) and Saundarya Lahari, a beautiful poetic composition by Sankaracharya. 

You might have probably had a chance e to go through Twarita Rudram (Fast-track-Rudram), Panchabrahma mantras as well as Sivoepaasana Mantras in my discourse  Vedic Mantras from Mahanarayana Upanishad(MNU). These Panchbrahma Mantras are related to the Supreme Brahman. Saivites have adapted it as Panchaanana mantras for the Siva celebratd in Puranas. Srivaishnavas have adopted in the worship of Lord Narasimha as in Narasimha Tapaneeya Upanishat. Parabrhman is addressed by the five epithets, Easaana, Sadyojata, Vamadeva, Ghoraaghora and Mahadeva. These names are often addressed to both Siva and Narasimha, an incarnation of Vishnu. Rama is also addressed as Sadyojata in Skanda Purana. Yet the sectarian fight continues.  

Who is a Siva Bhakta (devotee)? Siva Bhakta is usually identified by five things, viz 1) Wearing Vibhuti; 2) Wearing Rudraksha; 3) Performing Japa chanting Namassivaaya; 4) worshipping with Vilva Leaves and 5) Always having Lord Siva in his heart. The Rudraaksha is a seed from a holy tree in the Himalayas symbolizing the eye of Rudra. It is said that the seeds which resembles tears represent the tears of   Siva when He sees his devotees with benevolence. All Sivabhaktas fast and keep vigil on Sivaratri Night. Srutis say:"Raatrim jaagarayanta aasate                    suvargasya lokasya samashtaih ||--Night vigil leads one to highest world. It is strange that in Siva temples there is no Prasadam distribution like in Vishnu temples and so there is no food temptation.  Narayana sooktam describes Vishnu as "Agra-bhuk"--one who consumes food first.  Therefore the tradition has started among Vaishnavites to offer food first to Vishnu in worship and then only consume food. Even at home the initial offering is to Jataraagni (Stomach fire) first with a prayer"Amritopastaranamaci". Any how there is no temptation on Sivaratri night as there is no offering of food to Siva which also gives relief to house-wives to concentrate on worship.

Please chant Brahmopasana Mantram on Sivaratri night from MNU which will be pleasing to  both Saivites and Vaishanvites which  at the same time is  directed towards Brahman for spiritual progress particularly when all sampradayas visit temple on this holy night as is in vogue in temple complexes of USA. This is easier and simpler than Rudram and least time consuming for those who are busy and have not practiced Rudram. It pleases all those devotees who are accustomed to pray to their Puranic Ishtadevatas but at the same time helps to spiritually elevate their thoughts. Please go through my discourses on Mahaa Sivaraatri, Pradosham and Vedic Mantras from MNU on the Blog: <nrsrini.blogspot.com>

(February 2012)

51. HANUMAN IS PARABRAHMAN
Someone among you who participated in the non-stop chanting of Hanumaan chaaleesa on Hanumaan Jayanti Day should have listened to the mantra Trayambakam Yajaamahe from Srirudram chantedn ten times..  It did appear to be divine   inspirational  and not intentional,  and chanting it  ten times was also inspirational. This Rigvedic mantra is an appeal to Parabrahman which Saivites effectively use in all the worship of Siva. Though I am brought with Srivaishnava tradition this did not appear strange but with my spiritual bent of mind appeared logical drawing support from Puraanas and Vedas.  As most of the participants were followers of Siva  they could easily chant this mantra though the priests stood wondering! If you all recall my past discourses the logics behind this inspiration would be clear.

Srirudrm is directed to Brahman though apparently it looks directed to personal deity Siva.  I have also given two different interpretation of this Trayambaka  mantra,  one as it is generally understood as applicable to Siva the other to Paraasakti and Parabrahman if you recall my past discourse on the subject.  My thinking is based on yet another group of mantras called Panchabrahma mantras found in Vedas.  Saivites use it as Panchanana mantra for the five faced Siva, Sadyojaata, Aghora, Vaamana,  Easaana and Tatpurusha. With the same epithets and sectarian Vaishanava tradition Lord Narasimha is addressed with these five epithets. But in actual sectarian worship these mantras are never focused as Panchabrahma mantras and the devotees are not guided in that direction for spiritual advancement, but focused on mostly for short term gains and benefits.

Many of you would have had a cursory glance of my lengthy discourse on Hanuman. If you closely study I have projected Hanuman as a composite deity to all traditions for worship like Aiyappan of Kerala even from Puranic point of view. Hanuman is said to be an incarnation of Siva born to Punjikasthala who  by a curse was born as a monkey. By another story Hanumaan is a brother of Rama, Lakshmana, Bharata and Satrughna.  He is also Vayuputra as you know from Valmeeki Raamayana. His Guru was Soorya by choice. Both Vaayu and Soorya are aggregate (vyaahriti) of Supreme Principle Brahman talked often in Rigveda and so he is Prabrahman himself as Jayadeva thinks about Lord Krishna.  Hence Trayambaka mantra was appropriate for the occasion and most appealing to the multi-traditional crowd chanting Hanuman chaleesa. Only thing lacking was the understanding that there focus was on Brahman through Hanuman and this awareness to the crowd who were blindly chanting motivated by Bhakti. Here blending of Jnaana with Bhakti is needed to make the participation effective.

Drawing a lesson from such a situation I often wonder why we cannot draw the attention of such a cosmopolitan crowd in which there were also some from western culture and inter-racial descendants as to our concept of Universal Oneness, One God and Spiritual goal.  I also wonder why we cannot employ Purushsooktam for Ganesha Abhishekam, Rudram for Venkateswara Abhishekam ansd Sreesuktam for Paarvati Abhishekam though we go round about explaining we  are not idolatrous, we direct all our worship to one God and yet show our sectarian approach in all worships?. As Hindu Americans it is necessary to bring such concepts in all our worship guided by the Wisdom of Vedas.


I was impressed by the spiritual approach of a Trinidad Hindu  temple of Siva In Sacramento which attracted mostly Spiritually starved  Western crowd whereas in the traditional Ganesha Temple of Sacramento there were hardly any!
(March 2012)


52. SRAAVAN POORNIMA RITUALS AND FESTIVALS
Yajur Upaakarma, celebrated on August 20 this year on Sraavan Poornima Day in USA, is  considered as a  ceremony to herald the  commencement of Vedic studies annually. Thus it is a helpful reminder to start Vedic studies, neglected by almost all Hindus.  Besides this ceremony has two other significant aspects which are side tracked--annual day of repentance for desire and anger motivated acts and the fire sacrifice (Homa) offered to Brahman.  Every Hindu chants knowingly or unknowingly Gayatree mantra or at least Om. Symbolically this is the  reverential starting point of  the study of Vedas, though religious view is only those who undergo formal Upanayana Samskara should observe this ceremony.   In practice, this ceremony is performed by all who have undergone thread ceremony whether they study Vedas or not as per religious mandate. Everyone is expected to  offer  prayers to Supreme Principle in one form or other,  which in essence is Sandhyaavandana or daily prayer in a prescribed form for those who have undergone Upanayana.     Upaakarma ceremony is observed by Rigveda followers in the   Hindu month of Sravana  on Sravana Nakshatra (star) Day; Yajurveda followers observe on Sraavan Poornima Day; Saamaveda followers observe on Hastaa Nakshatra  (star) in the month of Bhadrapada. I wonder why  this should be on different dates?  In order to help the Hindu community, where priest services or elderly  guidance is lacking as in India, Hindu Temples overseas conduct this ceremony  in Hindu temple complexes  for all drawn from different traditions but limit it  for those who have undergone thread ceremony.

There is a religious injunction that Praanaayama and Gaayatree Mantras as administered at the time of Upanayana Samskaara is exclusive to those who have undergone Upanayana Samskaara and others are prohibited. MNU mentions one shortest Gayatree Mantra "Om tadbrahma | Om tad Vaayuh | Om tadaatmaa | Om tatsatyam | Om tatsarvam| Om tat puroernamah || This is universal prayer mantra and can be used by all including girls, women and so called low caste with reverence, for both Praanaayaama and Gaayatree Japa. (Please see the meaning and explanation in the discourse).

Sraavan Poornima Day, packs many events and is as important a day as Diwali extending for two days for many rituals for many traditions as detailed in my discourse attached.  Should this important spiritual meaningful day of worshi  be restrictive or  can be broad based for all to actively participate? We can understand how broad based even Upaakarma is, if the meaning of the mantras employed in this ritual are understood.   According to Hindu Saastras all married women are presumed to have undergone Upanayana Samskara. This is obvious by the investiture ceremony during marriage. The bridegroom undergoes investiture ceremony with sacred thread (jahnoo) and the bride a girdle of Kusha grass (mounjee dhaarana) in lieu of sacred thread during marriage ceremony, whether they have undergone Upanayana samskaara or not. Both are administered Gaayatree mantra also at that time.  Upaakarma rituals consist of Changing of thread, Tying of Mounji (grass girdle), Kamokarsheet japa as well as Homa, Rishi Tarpana (oblations to sages) Gayatree Homa (fire sacrifice) 1008 times etc. In modern practice performer just chants abridged mantra "Kamokarsheet Manyurakarsheet Namoh namah" as a quick fix without chanting full mantra. This shortened form makes divinity of both Desire (Kaama) and Anger (Manyuh)  to whom obeisances are paid (namah) as the apparent  meaning goes. This is not the intention of full mantra. We are not paying obeisance to Anger and Desire but to Savitar (Brahman). Could it  mean to say we are bidding good bye to anger and desire by salutation in  a fit  of anger! Ignorant people in a fit of anger call name of God, like Jesus in Western culture! It will be therefore more meaningful to chant the whole mantra which is not long 108 times instead of parrot chanting of the meaningless abridged form 1008 times. Full mantras have been explained in the discourse attached. This mantra is just a repentance mantra for all sins arising out of desire and anger. Why should this be exclusive to some and women be excluded? Gayatree mantra and Homa are directed to Brahaman (Supreme Being)  praying for sharpening the intelligence. Who does not need this? Repentance (paschattaappa and  praayaschitta), Dhyaana (meditation) and Nyaasa (Surrender) are the essential steps  promoted by all Upanishads for attaining liberation from  repeated births. Who does not need this? Who will not like to pay homage to our great Rishis, who gave us Upanishads  and were the pioneers of science, which is done in Navakaanda  Rishi Tarpana on this day?

In India Upaakarma  ceremony is a  home affair mostly and is popular in the South only among Brahmins claiming the status by birth, not by pursuit of Vedic studies. Overseas, this is a mass ceremony for obvious reasons and  limitations of Hindu immigrants. Why then not make it more universal to suit all sampradaayas (traditions) particularly Kamokaarsheet Homa (fire sacrifice),   Gayatree homa (fire sacrifice) and Navakaanda Rishi Tarpana,  at least once a year for the spiritual involvement and focus for all. This is also a popular day for expressing love for universal brotherhood in the North (Rakhee). This day could also be a day offering prayers to Supreme through sacred fire sacrifice praying for the well-being and long life for all brothers for promoting universal brotherhood seeking peace all around--Aaatmavat sarvabhooteshu, love thy neighbor as thyself is the Universal maxim in all religions. It makes more sense for Hindu Temple complexes overseas to celebrate this day as  Sraavan Poornima Day, a day of great religious and spiritual significance conducting mass  Navakaanda rishi tarpana,  Gayatree Homa and Kamoekaarsheet homa   in which all can participate and focus the ritual on Savitar (Vyaahriti or attribute of Brahman heralded in Rigveda) instead of restricting to sectarian worship of  Aavani Avittam Day or Rakshaa Bandhan Day.  Kamoekaarsheet Mantra is mainly a  Fire Sacrfice (Homa) Mantra as it ends in Swaaaha and not a Japa as practiced with wrongful  abridged mantra. Yet another day is Mahaalaya Amaavaasya Day on the eve of Navaraatri   which could be observed as All Souls Day following Danasoora Karna as already explained.
Please visit the Blog for a discourse on the subject; <nrsrini.blogspot.com>   (August 2013)


Top of Form

53.  KRISHNA JANMAASHTAMI
Krishna Janmaashtami (birth tithi-eigth day of the dark fortnight of Sraavana) is celebrated on 28th of this month in all Hindu temples in USA. This is also celebrated as Krishna Jayanti or Sree Jayanti ( birth star date Rohini) on 29th of this month, the difference being some consider Tithi and others Nakshatra as important for His descent.  The Incarnations of Raama, Krishna and Buddha  are historical in Hindu belief assigned to Treta, Dwaapara and Kali Yugas and they  are called Yugapurushas--men of the Eon. The Puraanic account of Buddha incarnation, however, is at variance with the historical details concerning the founder of Buddhism.  His worship is diplomatically avoided by Hindu temples in India  to avoid controversy though some Hindu Temples in USA do celebrate his birth day on Buddha Poornima Day having installed his idol in Hindu Temples. Mahavira Vardhamana also joins Buddha for worship in some Hindu Temples of America. It is also customary to celebrate the birthdays of religious visionaries who are Jeevanmuktas like Aandal, Sankaracharya, Ramanuja, Madhva,Swami Narayan, Chaitanya etc. who are raised to the level  of divines. Sai devotees do not lag behind. and have even built temples with ceremonial worship!

In Vishnu Temples   or Temple-complexes (Club House of Gods) as in USA, it is customary to observe with special worship and festivity the "days of appearance or descent" of the ten avataaras. These may be aptly called Avataara Jayanti Tithi; These are as follows: Matsya--the third day of the bright half of Chaitra A/N; Koorma--the full-moon day of Visaakha, evening; Varaaha--the third day of the bright half of Bhaadrapada, afternoon; Narasimha--the thirteenth day of the bright half of Vaisaakha, evening; Vaamana--the twelfth day of the bright half of Bhaadrapada, noon; Parasu-Raama--the third day of the bright half of Visaakaha, noon; Raama--the ninth day of the bright half of Chaitra, afternoon; Krishna-- the eighth day of the dark half of Sraavan, midnight; Buddha--the tenth day of the bright half of Aasvin, evening and  Kalki-- the sixth day of the bright half of Sraavana, evening. Of the ten Avataras of Vishnu, the most widely celebrated and popularly worshiped all over the country are those of Raama and Krishna. Next in importance is Narasimha. Worship of the other avataaras, with the exception of Kalki, are not non-existent, but are rare. Followers of  Siva celebrate Ganesha Chaturthi, Skandha Shashti and Mahaa Sivaraatri (Lingodhbhava night).  Birthdays of Lakshmi (Phalguna, Poornima or Uttira nakshatra) and Hayagrieva (Yajur Upaakarma day) are also celebrated though not  on a grand scale. I often wonder why we should earmark particular day  for particular Lord as Birthday? As soon as I get up I  become conscious that He who cannot be identified by any  name Is said to be unborn and eternal (Geetaa) and is within us to  guide us  in all our wakeful moments  and sleep and that calls for celebration and praise each day by morning prayers and Aaraadhana.  Janma Jayanti  thinking indicates multiplicity of God heads diverting our thoughts   from spiritual focus to Puraanic lores and beliefs.  We pride in saying Hinduism is not a religion of beliefs and yet we believe in such births and celebrate with all pomp and show! Are we running a popularity contest  with various religions of the world?

Lord Krishna is not considered as an Avataar by the followers of Jagannath. Yet Krishna Janmashtami is celebrated with all pomp and show and reverence at Puri Jagannath as in Mathura. Probably they do not know the time  Indradyumna dreamt about the  appearance of Rigveda celebrated log of wood and  so consoled to the idea of celebrating Krishna Janmaashatami with others. They are probably influenced  in their thinking by the Veda mantra "Krishnena Satabaahuna" in the Upanishads. The word Krishna existed long before the birth of Lord Krishna. Here Krishna means one who delights the world. Satabahunaa means one who has innumerable arms having his hands in everything in this Universe.   Therefore Krishna in their concept refers to Viratpurusha or Jaganntha, glorified in Purushasookta as  Sahasraseersha, Sahasraakshah and Sahasrapaat and not an Avtar.

True to the word Krishna in Vedas  Lord Krishna of Puraana continues to delight our hearts  with his historic stories and brains with his Bhagavadgeetaa. His birthday is celebrated with thirty-two varieties of snacks and sweets, though he is happy with  only one fruit, one flower or even little drops of water offered with devotion, with a remote thought to delight the starving at least on Janmaashtami day. We do not plan any food charity on this day. As Hindu Americans with over-eating habits we may beat our counterparts in India in our offerings  to the Lord on this day and enjoy the Prasaadam (blessed food) later!

Krishna as a historic figure is most  popular  even with  kids.  As  a Spiritual Guru he is beyond my comprehension. So as a matured adult and with my little knowledge I thought it safe to leave this subject for your study and imagination though I tried  to touch upon  few topics on Bhadgavadgeetaa  and a few anecdotes here and there as posted on the  blog Hindu Reflections. Of course we have our Hare Krishna friends around us who carry the Encyclopedia Krishna with them whenever you are curious to know more about Him.  We have talked about Hare Krishna Movement too in April 2013 as posted on the Blog <nrsrini.blogspot.com>.
KRISHNA JANMAASHTAMI MESSAGE

Top of FormTill this day Sri Krishna's timeless and eternal, infinite and universal message, his light, and his grace continue to shine on us. The message of his life is: never lose ourselves to external circumstances, never lose our smile and never lose our song. His life was full of trials and tribulations, beginning with his birth in a jail cell. But no matter what the challenges were, he always smiled. He always played his divine flute - the song of Krishna's flute was always on, wherever he went. The song emanated from His very being. The word Krishna in Sanskrit means one who delights the world.
(October 2011)

54. FASTING AND FEASTING ON KRISHNA JANMAASHTAMI DAY
Krishna's Birth according to Puranas took place in the midnight of a Wednesday. So Janmaashtami  this year (2013)  falling on a Wednesday assumes greater significance and so also  Krishna Jayanti to the followers of Krishna Jayanti.
Why do we have to fast on Gokulaashtami Day, on  a day when we are expecting the birth of the Lord, a happy occasion? Fasting is considered to be a Tapas. Complete fasting helps to control sleep. Fasting is a natural process of controlling sleep and praying while waiting for the Zero hour like New Year's Day. Fasting is one of the ten cannons of Yoga. Fasting control passion. It checks the emotions. It controls senses. It purifies the mind and heart. Fasting overhauls the respiratory, circulatory, digestive and urinary systems. It destroys the impurities of the body and all sorts of poisons. Impure mind is rendered purer by resorting to repeated fasting like gold is rendered pure by melting in the crucible again and again. Urine tests of the same person before fasting and after fasting showed negative tests for poisonous materials like lead arsenic, uric acid deposits etc of poisonous materials before and positive immediately after thereby indicating positive fleshing out of poisonous substances. Occasional fasting thus helps the system.  But excessive fasting should be avoided. Sri Rama advocates in Raamaayana duration of fasting should be based on one's constitution. If you cannot fast for full twenty-four hours, at least fast for 10 to 12 hours and then take some milk and fruit.  Gradually increase your fast to 15 hours and then to 24 hours. Hindus on and off observe Upavaaasa Ritual. Upavaasa means going   without food--aharbhoejana nivrittih. Puraaanaas strongly recommend this ritual on specific days of the month and during special occasions like Krishna Janmaashtami.  Naarad Puraana says: "Upoeshya janma chinhaani kuryaaj-jaagaranam tu yah  |  Ardharaatrayuta-ashtamyaam soe-asvamedha-phalam labhet|| [If you fast on Krishna Jayanti Day and keep vigil till midnight You derive the same benefits as performing the horse sacrifice]. Religious observers will be delighted to hear the same. Hindu Religion offers lot of goodies for your Bhakti content!
So, observe fast, keep vigil and raise your spiritual level while meditating upon the Supreme who delights the world, as the word Krishna implies in Vedas. One question remains why they make so many varieties of food to Krishna and offer on this night   while Rama is offered only soaked beans, sweet juice and buttermilk on Rama Navami Day?  Krishna revealed himself as Vishnu with mace, disc and conch to Vaasudeva with the customary weapons of Vishnu in the jail showing his strength and power and also showed to Yasoda he had the stomach to contain the whole world in his stomach according to Puraanaas. He would therefore prefer these varieties everyday but the devotees cannot fulfill his request as a child. They go by his advice in Geetaa --patram, pushpam, phalam and toyam on regular days when he turned a Guru. But in Puri Jagannath, Temple kitchen is busy day in and day out with 32 varieties of food offerings. May be that is why it attracts so many everyday particularly from Bengal which is famous for its famines! People do not fail to enjoy midnight snacks Prasadam after strenuous fasting! Rama never realized that he was an Avatar of Vishnu only when Narada reminded him in the end, before his asacxwent.                                                                        (OCTOBER 2011)         

55. AS MANY GANAPATIS AS YOU DESIRE AND AS MANY HOMAS AS YOU NEED DURING GANAPATI   WEEK
This year Ganesha Chaturthi falls on Monday September 9. It is an annual event extending over many days as per convenience and needs culminating in Ganesha Visarjan, a grand send off. Hindu Reflections includes many informative discourses on Ganesha, the most popular deity with majority of Hindus.  Please refer to them at your convenience. They include the description of different forms of Ganesa as given in Mudgil Purana, stories connected with Ganesha including Syamanthakopakhyaana and an Upanishad.  The letter "Ga" and Ja" in Gajaanana assumes great spiritual significance. Therefore temples conduct Gakaara homam and sahasranaamams to match with Vishnu Sahasranaamam to meditate upon Supreme Principle. "Ga" indicates gati, the final goal towards which the entire creation is moving whether knowingly or unknowingly. "Ja" stands for Janma, birth or origin. Hence Gaja means God from whom the worlds come out and towards whom they are progressing to ultimately dissolved in Him. Hence in Gakaara Homa the focus is on Supreme Principle through the medium of Puranic figure of Ganesha with his elephant head and human body. Again these two are symbolic of Macrocosm and Microcosm as explained in my discourses. While Ganesa is One,  the Wise say Ganapatis are many!
It is also customary to conduct Homa in temples for Ganesa during the week-long and beyond festival culminating in ratha Yaatra or visarjan. Ganesha Temple in Nashville has decided to conduct this year many Homas for six emanations of  Ganesha-- Swetaarka Ganapati; Uchchishta ganapati; Vidyaa Ganapati; Lakshmi Ganapati; Heramba Ganapati besides the main deity Mahaa Ganapati, the great and glorious. Some of these forms of Ganapati are not listed in Mudgil Puraana where Mahaa Ganapati is one of the emanations in its 32.  It is also customary to name the temple after these emanations celebrated in Mudgil Puraana. Tamil Nadu enhanced the popularity of Ganesha beyond imagination by breaking his idols on streets in Tamil Nadu by DK and later Tamil Bhaktas of Ganesha have widened their vision and increased the number of emanations indicated as 16 by Nashville Temple Bhajan book even beyond 32 of Mudgil Purana to include Vidya Ganapati of Sringeri Bhaktas' vision from Karnataka. Every street in Chennai has a Ganesha idol ignoring traffic hazard and looking forward for housing in the middle of the street by a donor. Hanuman is closely competing elsewhere in the North.
Swetaarka Ganapati is believed to be one who dissipates all Vaastudoshas and one who accomplishes all desires. Lakshmi Ganapati as the name suggests is the one who bestows wealth and prosperity to his devotees like Goddess Lakshmi. Vidyaa Ganapati imparts knowledge--both para (spiritual) and apara (secular). Vidyaa Ganapati of Saaradaa Peetham in Sringeri is quite famous and is equated with Goddess Saraswati for learning by the devoted Ganesha followers. Hermaba Ganapati is the protector of the weak and handicapped. In fact everyone is born handicapped with his load of Praarabhda Karma!  Ucchishta Ganapati is a Taantric deity associated with impure substances and remnants of meal.  Taantric philosophy is known for its Makaara tatva and the loaded impurities. This name may look repulsive. Maayaaprakriti consists of three Gunas--Sattva, Rajas and Tamas.  Sattva is stated to be pure; as compared to it  Rajas and Tamas are impure. Since creation is impossible out of pure Sattva it has got to be mixed with Rajas and Tamas to effect it.  This seems to be the import of the story of the impure substances being used by Mother Paarvati to shape Ganesha. Making Ganapati preside over impurities and handle dirt scientifically and religiously seems to be the philosophy behind the concept of Uchchishta Ganapati who is there for our soul cleansing.  Mudgil Puraana did not apply Avataara concept to Ganesha like Buddha or Jina. Later, an Upanishad came out offering lot of goodies as benefits by chanting. Half of this Upanishad is Phalasruti.  We have a homa for that too with recommended 1000 Modakas.  Hanumaan misses an Upanishad, 1000 Vada Homa and has to be content with Maala of 108 Vadas.  But following the Vaishnava tradition of Chaturvimsati Murti corresponding to 24 letters of Gaayatree, Puranas   came out at first with 32   Emanatory Forms of Ganesha. Today there are as many Ganapatis as our desires and impurities  making it possible to have  number of homas, but  with my limited knowledge and ignorance I will  limit myself to Mahaganapti  homa to grant me what is good for me, for he is the best judge of my devotion and needs. But such multiplicity of homas is good for the sound economy of temples which have to function to cater to the religious hunger  of the people with so many wants. Charity comes often with matching rewards only! Same person may also have many desires and may need more soul cleansing and so may like to participate  in many homas too! We may not be  surprised  if one day our temples come up with 24 Homas for Chaturvimsati Moorti form of Vishnu if not Sahasra homas based on Vishnu Sahasranama! Of course that will keep the temple and devotees busy throughout the year and beyond! At present they are confined to few Avatars of Vishnu and Lord Sudarsana. Sudarsana Homa is the most popular in Vishnu Temples as Ganesha Homa in Saivite Temples. What happened to Vishwaksena, Vaishnava version of Ganesha, I can't tell!
"Viswaani deva savitar duritaani parraasuva | yad bhadram tanma aasuva ||" Oh resplendent Lord Savitar, the cause of this universe!  Do destroy our sins! Grant us that which is ultimately good! [Ganesha is equated with Brahman by his devotees as Savitar of Rigveda. Ganesha is celebrated   as Koetisoorya-samaprabha in prayer slokas if not found in Vedas. The word Gana in Vedas is conveniently transferred to Ganesha from Indra! May be He is the elephant of Indra, Airaavata in human form like Nandi. Indra is Brahman as Rigveda depicts—described as  vyahriti  like Varuna, Soorya, Agni etc.]

*56. AARATI--WAVING LAMP BEFORE THE LORD
There  are 16 upachaaras  ( items  of uses in regular  life)  which are  offered  to those  who you  respect, like  or  worship.  Each of them is offered has a sequence and procedure:
For example, Bathing: all over the body, specially all corners. Flowers on the top of the head; Sandal paste on the chest; Dhupam (incense smoke):  near the nose (Male deities right side  first; female  deities, left  side  first); Food right  in front of you; Aarati or waving of Light: Between both the eyes first and then all over the body. This goes with the prayer “aatmaa deepoe   bhava (Oh Self! Please start glowing!)--you get enlightened through your eyes  which   spreads  all over the body.

The sanctum sanctorum in Hindu Temples known as Garbha Griha (Housing of the womb) is purposely kept dark to be made visible by the waving of the light. In traditional sacred temples no electric lighting in garbhagriha is allowed except for a lamp on the sides.  The South Indian icons are   of black granite. The temple represents a human body and garbagriha the Self within us. Standing before Lord Viswanatha in Varanasi Sankara said “I am making a big mistake standing before you thinking You and I are different though I preach they are one and the same in my Advaita philosophy”. This Aatman or Self is the Light of all lights and is not even comparable to thousands of Suns you see in the sky as said In Geeetaa (divi soora sahasrasya). Oppenheimer quoted this hymn from Geeta when he exploded nuclear bomb. This light is the cause of Dissolution (at the time of Pralaya) and the cause of Creation. The little  light symbolically reveals that fact and brings our focus on Supreme Light. This is the same light Moses saw in the bushes while receiving Ten Commandments. These facts are reminded while revealing Self through waving of light and worshiping.

At the end of the aarati, waving of the lamp before the Lord, we place our hands over the flame and then touch our eyes and the top of the head. It means—may the light that illuminated the Lord that merges with Lord light up my vision and, may my vision be divine and my thoughts noble and beautiful rising to spiritual   heights.   Aarati is one of the sixteen steps of the Pooja ritual. It is referred to as auspicious light. Aarati is often performed with camphor. Camphor when lit burns itself completely without leaving a trace. Camphor represents our inner tendencies. When lit by the fire of knowledge which illuminates the Lord (Truth), our inherent tendencies (called Vaasanas in Sanskrit) also burn themselves out completely, not leaving a trace of the ego which creates in us a sense of individuality that keeps us separate from the Lord. Also when camphor burns to reveal the glory of the Lord, it emits a pleasant perfume even while it sacrifices itself. In our spiritual progress, even as we serve the Guru and society, we should willingly sacrifice ourselves and all we have is, to spread the fragrance of the Lord. 
The sun, moon, stars, lightning and fire are the natural sources of light. The Lord is the source of all these wondrous phenomena of the universe.  It is due to Him alone that all exist and shine. As we light up the Lord with the flame of the Aarati, we turn our attention to the very source of light, which symbolizes knowledge and life. The Lord is the Supreme Consciousness.  As we perform Aarati, we chant:“Na tatra sooryoe bhaati na Chandra taarakam; Nema vidyutoe bhaanti kutoeya-magnihi; tameva bhaantamanubhaatisarvam tasya bhaasaa sarvamidam vibhaati-- “He is there where the sun does not shine; nor the moon, stars and lightning; Then what to talk of this small flame (in my hand)! Everything in this universe shines only with    His light alone and with this light alone we are all illuminated.”(Sveta 6-14; Katha 2-18; Mundaka 2-2-11).
In all our prayers we touch some vital parts of our body like in aachamana,aarati, chharan spars etc. This is to magnetize those parts to rise to spiritual heights. Head is called Sahasraara through which the soul departs at the time of death with the help of Udaana, the up-breath on its onward journey. This again is the desire to express thinking   towards heaven and merge with the Supreme when the soul is liberated by the act of worship. This is Tantric Concept of Kundalini  Power which needs deeper study.
There are a number of discourses on Temple Traditions, Temples and 16 Steps Worship Ritual, on the website Hindu Reflections<nrsrini.blogspot.com> on the internet.  

     
57. AAYUDHA POOJAA DAY, VISWAKARMA POOJAA DAY AND SRAMIK DIN POOJA DAY—THREE-IN-ONE WORSHIP DAY FOR HINDU AMERICANS
Worshiping their tools is an age old tradition with Hindus. It all started with the concept of Sastras and Astras mentioned in Puranas sought after by the divines and the demons.  All these weapons have their birth in Sudarsana Chakra known as Aayudha Purusha. These weapons need divine invoking of the  presiding deities of  weapons of war  by appropriate mantras initiated by their Gurus. WMD need computer assistance (Invisible Guru) now-a-days. Even a blade of grass could be  turned   to  a powerful steel blade with a mantra and could be  used as a weapon as we learn from Puraanas. Slowly this worship  got extended to all tools in the hands of   Labor so needed for earning his livelihood in their peaceful life.  Society started honoring Labor, users of tools,  serving the society. This dignity of labor started with Brahma, the Creator himself. He in his role as Viswakarma was the divine architect, builder, craftsman, carpenter etc. Hindus started worshiping Supreme in his emanation of Viswakrma or worshiped him as Brahman Himself honoring tools and the man behind the tools. Honoring labor force and worship of tools became a regular annual event in a Hindu's life. 
In North India Labor Day and Aayudha Pooja Day concepts are combined together  prominence being given to the Universal Man behind the tools, Viswakarma with his tools. He is a favorite of labor force and considered as their Guru if not the leader. His idols match with that of Brahma. So He and the working tools are worshiped together. his extends to factories and machines as in Aaydhapooja in the South.
In the South commercial enterprises largely remain in the hands of non -Vaishnavites. Majority Labor force is  Saivism oriented. Hence Ganesha is elevated to be the presiding deity on Aayudhapooja day. Ganesha with his powerful animal goad used to drive elephants symbolically idealized using his tool  to goad people out of their ego. While Ganesha represents Viswakarma for them his goad represents tools.   Sudarsana who is hailed as Aayudha Purusha and is in control of all Aayudhas in the world has gone to the background who became popular with Vaishnavites who are mostly study oriented. There are many powerful slokas on Sudarsana and he is a popular deity in Orissa too. South Indians however have taken to Saraswati worship restricting their worship to books and   musical and art instruments which are tools for artists. May be computer will join them too! Labor is honored by declaring Aayudhapooja Day and Viswakarma Day as a Labor Holiday for all factories, industrial establishments and shops in India.
However highly educated or materialistic a Hindu American may be he never fails to rush to a temple to get a pooja done for his new car. He starts working on his new computer only after a pooja if he is not an atheist.  I have seen Hindus keeping an icon of their chosen deity in car and start driving only after paying obeisance even in USA. Hindu Temples though have their reasoning,  do not fail to keep the temple open all day long with special worship on Labor Day  in  September which is a National Holiday which all American Hindus  celebrate and enjoy. The concept of Aayudha (Tool) and Labor coming together( cannot be easily dismissed. Hindu Americans however do not conduct separate Aayudha pooja as in India for they rarely own commercial and industrial units, which remain with Western culture or dominated by their culture.  They combine it with Saraswati Puja as indirect or token worship. Why not then combine all these concepts and celebrate Labor Day in Hindu Temples dedicating Labor Day to Lord Viswakarma or the Creator? This will appeal to all traditions; to South Indians as Ayudha Pooja and North Indians as Viswakarma Pooja. Orissa will be thrilled to remember Viswaakrma's hands in shaping Jagannath's icon to pay their obeisance on this day, so also Aiyappa worshipers who owe their temple to  him!
Please go through my discourse on Aayudha Pooja posted a Hindu Reflections: Hindu Worship of Weapons, Tools and Universal Crafts Person led to Labor Day Celebrations  (Aayudha Poojaa; Viswakarma Poojaa; Sramik Din Poojaa)
(OCTOBER 2013)

58. A FESTIVASL NAMED AFTER FOOD AND FOOD WORSHIPED AS BRAHMAN--PONGAL OF TAMILS
American Hindus are drawn from various Hindu Traditions prevailing in India. To them to watch the way Tamils do worship and celebrate Makara Sankranti calling the festival by the name of their favorite food- stuff Pongal looks bizarre. To North Indians this means Kichadi which is the food for the sick and recovering patient. This as it was originally intended was a very healthy diet food which is prepared by boiling rice and green gram together with pepper corn, curry leaves, ginger and turmeric with no oil, though  it is today  made rich and  spicy as desired by food lovers. 
Why the Tamils alone think it proper to name their most important festival after their favorite food Pongal and also worship the cooking pot which is enjoyed after worship as prasadam (blessed food),  with another favorite side dish from the neighboring state of Kerala to make it popular as PONGAL—AVIYAL. Swamy Vivekananda famous Vedic scholar generally known as Vendantin in India lamented that “in India Religion has entered the kitchen”. He should be referring here to the boiling pot of kichadi on the Makara Sankranti Day,   which the Tamils worship and name the festival also Pongal, as no other Hindu Tradition name their festival after food. Of course Tamils have one more festival called Kaaradiyan Nonbu and are trying to make Koodaarai vellum as Koodaarai Vellam meaning additional Jaggery. Of course our Ganesha Temple has renamed it as Koodaarai Valli pleasing Lord Muruga. Murugan has two wives one a tribal woman called Valli the other a divine Damsel called Devayani. 
Swami Vivekananda however forgot  the Vedic mantra "Annam na  nindyaat" don't abuse food from Taittareeya Upanishad which glorifies food (annam) as the root cause of creation and prescribes mantras for worship of  food as Brahman alone. This divine worship of food coming from Tamils who are very knowledgeable on Vedas should be spiritually motivated.
There are a number of mantras singing the praise of food and worshiping food as Brahman found in principal Upnishads, Katha, Prasna, Taittareeya and Mahaanaarayana Upanishads. Manu Smriti as well as Bhagavadgeetaa has also dealt at length on nature and values of food. These will be elaborately discussed in a separate   discourse.
(JANUARY 2014)

59.  UNIVERSAL PRAYER OF KANU PONGAL FESTIVAL OF TAMILS
You might have gone through my discourse on Pongal, the great Tamil Festival named after the favorite food Pongal of Tamils. Here I had described Kanu  Pongal as being an act of worship praying for the longevity and happiness  of all at parent’s home, all at parent-in -laws home and the brothers with the following couplet in Tamil whose actual meaning I had not explained;
 “Kaakkaaiku pidi vaithen kanukku pidi vairthen Pukkaam pongi vaazha  pirandaam  tirandu vaazha  udanpirandhavaal usandu vaazha pongalo pongal” 
This means I am praying o the crow with this food ball, I am praying to the one I am visiting with this food ball, I am praying for my parents-in–laws’ family to be  overflowing in their living, my parents’home always kept open and welcome for me,  and my siblings to reach great heights of prosperity  in life”
This festival is essentially like “Bhai dhuj” celebrated in North India during Diwali season praying for brothers and in turn sister’s being honored with gifts on a magnified scale covering all family members and others who are visited, as the couplet explains. It is also extended to all beings through the medium of crow.  But why particularly crow? In fact the girl or lady who performs this worship eagerly waits on the crows to consume the food she offered before breaking the fast. Crows appear in large numbers and part-take the food.  It is very interesting to note that before the crows eat, they call their mates to part-take the food that they are about to eat.  Valuable lessons are conveyed here, to share what one has with his near and dear and friends.  This bird spirit is reflected in celebrating Pongal.   
What does this mean to-day to an American Hindu Tamil? There are no crows seen in America in daily life. But they carry the crow-spirit with them by sharing their food and caring for others in this great celebration. In fact Kanu is the corrupted form of Kaanum in Tamil. Kaanum means visit, the day of visiting all those they are acquainted with and exchange greetings. It is also customary to call affectionately a young one as tambi or tangachi, the older one as anna or akka  (brother and sister ), the elderly aged ones as Maama (uncle) and Maami (aunt) irrespective of their caste or creed.
So the prayer above is universal in nature and belongs to the entire humanity. It is much more appropriate for an American Hindu Tamils while they celebrate this festival amidst people drawn from different cultures. Here pukkaam means immigrant country and Pirandaam means India her  (udan pirandavaal) home of   origin in the above prayer. The prayer is thus directed to all as universal brothers and sisters.
(JANUARY  2014)
60. VASANTOTSAVA OR MADANOTSAVA
We celebrated Vasanta panchami on February 4, in USA in the midst of severe winter and it went without much fanfare. But in certain parts of India Vasnta Panchami is considered  the first day of spring. In most of the country Vasanta Rutu or spring is assigned to Chaitra Vaisakha March-April. That is why in my description of Vasanta Navratri earlieR  it was mentioned that Vasanta Navaratri concludes with Rama Navami.  On Vasanta Panchami Day all wear yellow clothes. Even the food is colored yellow using saffron. It goes well with Pongal festival and pongal food color of yellow about which I talked about while describing Makara Sankranti.  People start practicing vigorous Yoga on this day. It is customary to take a dip in Ganges on this day as the next sacred day after Makara Sankranti. This is the day lord Kamadeva who was sent by gods to tempt Siva was reduced to ashes but resurrected later.  Bengalis call this festival Sarswati Puja. They worship the Goddess Saraswati on this day. The image of the Goddess is taken in procession and immersed in the holy Ganges. In Bengal, Durga is seen as the manifestation of Parvati, Siva's consort. Lakshmi and Saraswati are considered as daughters of Parvati and Ganesa and Kartikeya as sons of Parvati.  On the sixth day of Durga puja Parvati is believed to visit her father ‘s house along with her daughters and sons. That is why Sakta concept mostly remains within the fold of Saivism and looks like it has branched out of it. In all logic Sakta tradition should have focused more as Trinity Saktis of Trinity male power of Brahma, Vishnu and Siva. In the South of India more focus is on Saivism only along with Vaishnavism though Parvati is worshiped as Parasakti.
According to traditions and beliefs in Andhra Pradesh Siva after his marriage with Parvati  assumed Pasupata vrata and went into deep meditation. Anxious to enjoy the pleasures of the newly wedded life and motherhood Parvati was quite upset and annoyed at the prolonged self-absorption of her Lord. She solicited Indra’s help who sent his specialists Manmata and his consort Rati to obstruct the penance of Siva and make him Parvati-minded. Then these two came to the spot and played all their veils on Siva. Siva perturbed opened his eyes and found  Manmata with his favorite sugarcane stalk and five flowers arrows taking a good aim at him. At Siva’s behest Bhairava burnt Kamadeva and was given the title of Damanaka. But Bhairava got the displeasure of Parvati whose plans were foiled because of the burning of KamAdeva. She therefore cursed him to be born as a tree on earth. That is why tree before the Siva temple is worshiped in the South. Siva again favored him with a blessing that his day be celebrated as   Damanka Parva. Madana’s wife was plunged into grief at the demise of her companion. Moved by this Parvati approached Siva and submitted that   Madan was her agent; all Devas including Indra joined with their appeal to the ever merciful Siva who has the weakness for his devotees.  Siva was ultimately moved and revived Madana but ordained that one day in the year,  that is thirteenth day of bright half of Chaitra, he would assume the bodily form and for the rest of the year he would be Ananga. Vasantotsava or Madanotsava was a celebration in honor of the resurrection of Madana blesssed by Siva and Parvati. It is popular spring festival during the most pleasant and best season of the year.  It is the mating seson for animalsa and birds.
The science of astrology ascribes the great importance of Vasanta or the spring, when the sun the Lord of all planets and greatest giver of health wealth and prosperity would be in the sign of Aries (Mesha) his most exalted place during the two months of Vasanta and would be most favorable for human welfare. Vasntotsava is a festival celebrated in the country for a very long time and therefore historical significance. References found in Bhavishya  Purana and Kamasutra of  Vatssyayana, Dharmasindhu, Nirnayasindhu, Sakuntala, Malvikagnimitra and Ratnavali testify the hoary antiquity and great popularity of this festival beginning from Vasant Panchami; the Vasantotsava celebration lasts nine days called Vasanta Navaratri, the nine nights of Spring Season in many parts of India.
This period of celebrations runs parallel to the religiously celebrated St. Valantine’s Day in the Western circles on February 14. Just as Christians observe this day as a religious day honoring St. Valentine we could also celebrate on the same day Madanotsava as ordained by Siva and Parvati. Intentional or otherwise Vasanta Panchami is a great day for Saraswati worship in Bengal. Saraswati   is considered as the daughter of Parvati unlike in the South and so it can be safely assumed she joins Parvati to honor Kamadeva on this day. Thus worship of Kamadeva, Saraswati, Bhirava, Celebration of Birth of Ramayana  which had the inspiration from love bird mates  misfortune  all  indicate American Hindus  have a strong reason to observe February 14th as a special religious day like religiously inclined Christians who  celebrate it as  religious St. Valentine’s Day. As Christian worshiped days like Mother’s day, Father’s day  etc., have been appropriately adopted by American Hindus as worshipful days, St Valentine’s day which is so popular could also be jointly celebrated in the  same  way.  In a devout Muslim society where adultery is punishable, by death and public displays of love are forbidden, the young are increasingly popularizing Valentine’s Day celebration. In India it’s celebration is a popular and permanent feature. Vasantotsava and Madanotsava are  religiously observed and celebrated   and are popular. 
61. WHOSE ABHISHEKAM ARE WE WATCHING ON MAHASIVARATRI—IT IS OF SAGUNA BRAHMAN ONLY
Mahasivaratri is the last winter  festival that announces the end of cold winter according to Tamils. According to Vedic scholars  the Siva linga  that you see in temples is actually Vyakta-Avyakta form of TRINITY. This form of consecrated Lingam has Pedestal  base known as Brahma Bhaga (part), Pedestal  middle portion (yoni or female component) known as Vishnu bhaaga,  which are  normally not noticed  in worship as the focus is on the decorated Linga above (antya Bhaga) the pedestal.  Devotees focus on the top portion known as Linga (male component) of visible half Linga part (of the ellipsoid) in worship in all Shiva temples, thinking they are praying to Siva only.  On Mahasivaratri night individuals perform Abhishekam on a miniature Linga  also which is just an oval shaped icon.  These worships are  considered as exclusively  for Siva because on that night Hindus go to temples to worship the Lingodbhava Moorti whom they consider as Siva only  glorified in Siva Purana as superior to Vishnu and Brahma among the Trinities. In fact Brahma was even condemned as to not to receive temple worship.  Similar is the belief about ice formed Lingam in Amarnath  focused on  Siva only. Vaishnavites usually go on pilgrimage to Badrinath and do not include Amarnath in their itinerary. If you think deep these are Jyotis and represent Saguna Brahman as fire column or bright white column. Among the miniature Siva-Lingam, normally occurring Narmadesvara Siva-Linga  like Salagrama is considered to be the holiest that can only be found in Narmada River bed that flows through Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and then into Arabian Ocean. It has been said that these Lingas were created millions of years ago when a meteorite collided with the earth at a place that is now the source of the Narmada River. The Narmadesvara Linga  has red marking on them representing crypto crystalline quartz, the meteorite material. These unique materials’ blending from earth and space has excellent density and rhythmic vibration that brings positive energy and fertility which are popular in house worship like salagrama which is also naturally occurring and not hand sculpted; Pedestal Lingas are hand sculpted.Narmada lingas are considered very sacred for individual abhishekam on Mahasivaratri night.  
We learn from the Puranas that when the deadly poison Haalaahala or Kaalakoota  came up during the  churning of the ocean Siva saved the disaster by swallowing the poison to become Neelakantha. There is a story behind this incidence. When the Devas requested Siva to save the world, Siva told Ganesha who was nearby, “Listen, Ahamkaraa (ego) is influencing the world. The spirit of time has made the qualities of Sattva, Rajas and Tamas”. Hardly were these words were spoken, when Sakti manifested Herself in Siva, who  immediately entered into Her and came out as a Linga. Ganesha,  an eye witness to these miracles found Brahma, Vishnu and Siva and other divinities in the Linga and also beheld the Linga and Sakti without any change of identity and also as powerful as before. The whole universe was seen merged in it—Lingamoorti.  It is most enigmatic that  the Linga was seen immersed in Prakriti and Prakriti was completely permeated with Linga—Sakti and Linga were found intertwined mutually and this is the origin of Lingodbhavamoorti whom you worship on Sivaratri night. In reality whom you are worshiping on this night is Trinity and their domain and that is Sadguna Brahman. That is the Abhishekam you witness on Pedestal Lingam which is the Vyakta-avyakta form of  Sadguna Brahman and not Siva alone. Those who are staunch Saivites do Abhishekam on Narmadeswara miniature whole  Linga  with red streaks with the firm belief that it has  exclusive Siva  (black ) and Sakti (red streak) components.
Siva devotees rush to Amarnath on the holy  Sraavan Poornima day in August to worship Siva  thinking that is the most sacred and pure form of Siva Linga. As you know Siva Icons are always seen with white face (Siva, the white skinned) unlike Vishnu who is dark faced (Vishnu, the blue skinned).  The sacred river Amaraavati flows at the root of the cave in whose waters a few very devout, sturdy and strong take a dip. Inside the cave is the  six foot Lingam of ice resting on a platform of ice. On the left side of the ice pedestal are two shapeless blocks of ice,   believed to be representing Parvati and Ganesha. Skanda (Murugan) likes warm weather and remains in Pazhani for Tamils.This natural phenomenon of drops of water shaping like a Linga is remarkable. Amazingly it dwindles in size till on the New Moon Day when  the outline of the base of the Lingam  alone remains on the pedestal. It is on the Full Moon Day in the month of Sravana (August) the Linga is at its maximum and crowds attending also the maximum. It cannot be said to be a stalagmite, for in that freezing atmosphere the stalagmite must increase in size and not get reduced and vanish except the platform. Science has no explanation! Siva and Vishnu complement each other—Vishnu, the custodian of Sattva Guna is dark outside and white inside while Siva custodian of Tamo-guna is white outside and dark inside. Brahma is their inseparable companion as there can be no  temple without a niche for Brahma in the northern wall of the sanctums in all temples. All our worships in reality is  thus directed to Nirguna Brahman through the manifestation of Saguna Brahman in Trinity form in all temples. 
Please go through the discourse  "Whose Abhisheka is done on Pedestal Linga on Sivaratri night? It is Saguna Brahman only" as attached and posted on Blog;<nrsrini.blogspot.com>. Your comments are always welcome as my discourses are subject to constant revision based on new information.
(February 2014)
62. ABHISHEKAM OUTFLOWS ARE SACRED; TREAT THEM WITH RESPECT
 American Hindu temples do not lag behind Hindu Temples in India in performing Abhishekam with tons of materials being rich and affluent-- more  the quantity more the benefits. This mode of worship has inspiration from Bhagavadgeeta—“Patram, pushpam, phalam   toyam  yo me bhktya prayachchati” . One fruit, one flower, one leaf and little water with lots of devotion, was Lord Krishna’s recommendation for  16-steps pooja (worship).  Devotees on the other hand think more of all these materials and little or no Bhakti. Temples have to satisfy the religious hunger of these devotees; so the materials flood the drains and find their way to sewers to mingle with  other polluted effluents. In this process we indirectly disrespect  and abuse the Prasadam (blessed materials), not being properly disposed of after worship.   Hindus are expected to do with reverence all visarjanams like Ganesha Visarjanam.   We take all care what goes into Abhishekam. It is equally important to focus what happens to the  sacred effluents generated. This has hurt someone as Internet reveals.  Abhishekam is done with rich nutrient and healthy products like oil, honey, yogurt, milk etc. Abhishekam is the most popular and  colorful of the  services of the temple performed  on  behalf of individuals to fulfill their vows. Besides, temples also conduct it once a week as scheduled worship attracting large gatherings.  This is a good source of income to the temple also.
In olden days, these products after Abhishekam were collected and absorbed in the soil that helped bio-degradation and served as soil nutrients to feed the earthworms, ants and plants or fed to cows.This was considered as one of the Yagnas (sacrifice) called Bootha yagna, in   serving God’s creations. In America they drain into sewer system. It was also customary to distribute Abhishekm liquids after worship which devotees used to consume with reverence as Abhisheka teertha prasadam. This prasada  distribution  is given up in America to comply with health regulations.
Please recall my remarks about the outburst of a young Hindu American boy questioning his father watching Abhishekam on Lord Ganesha : “Dad, why do we have to waste so much milk on Lord and send it to sewers, why not feed the poor? Dad silenced the boy but I do not know whether he satisfied the  inquiringmind. It is worth going through here the Internet message of www.livinghindu.com drawing attention of American Hindus reproduced in the Appendix of attached discourse which has gone into detail pros and cons of such a wasteful ritual overloading the sewers and wasting valuable nutrient food which could very well be diverted to feed the hungry.  At the same time the message respects the sentiments of Hindu religious devotees and has made some suggestions which would not go against the injunctions of Hindu Saastra. 
Abhisheka on Salagrama is considered more sacred than Abhisheka on the consecrated idol.Therefore it is would be a great religious idea to conduct Abhishekam on Salagrama or even the processional icons symbolically  and regularly  to conserve the waste and divert the excess collected material to feed the needy after worship creating a food Bank to adjust to the present day conditions without lessening the ritualistic aspects or effectiveness of Mantras following the steps adopted by a celebrated pilgrimage center Melkote  in the South  and Puri Jagannath in the East. Once a year Grand Abhisheka can be done as Brahmostsava. Salagrma or miniature Linga worship   is easy in Vishnu and Siva temples. I understand that there are also salagramas of Ganesha and Devis. In Mangalore Devi is worshiped in Linga (Vykta-avyakta form) form as also as natural stone in Assam and natural stone form in Koorma-varaaha in   Simhachalam as well as in other places.
The discourse attached above suggests how to minimize  use of materials  and    generate less religious effluent and also if that is not possible how effectively and cheaply it could be effluent treated and disposed respecting the  mandates of Upanishads if we still want to continue grandeur of  present day practices.
Vedas say "Annam na nindyaat" (Don't abuse food). Modern Abhisheka excessives and its disposal to municipal sewers go  against this Vedic mandates and Mantras. If limited to small quantities the sacred material could be distributed as prasadam and the excess conveniently discharged on the lawns or flower gardens or foliage maintained on the temple grounds manually and large quantities could be effectively treated and discharged on vegetation if not avoidable. Please go through the detailed discourse as attached or posted on the blog Hindu Reflections <nrsrini.blogspot.com>
(February 2014)
63. HOLI, THE FESTIVAL OF COLORS
Holi is observed with great fanfare by Hindus all over the world. Holi celebrations begin on the eve of the festival with bonfires and prayers. On the day of Holi, people throw colored powder and liquids at each other. A common greeting during this time is, "Happy Holi."
Holi celebrations are particularly riotous in India as social rules are relaxed. Colored water is squirted on passers-by, and people are dunked into muddy water. Many people consume bhang, an intoxicating drink made from the female cannabis plant. Social barriers are broken as people of all ages, genders, castes, and wealth gather together and celebrate the festival. In fact, it is said that one can get away with almost any kind of behavior on the day of Holi by saying "bura na mano holi hai," or, "don't take it bad, it is Holi." In addition to the boisterous nature of the festival, this is a time for family members to get together, give gifts, eat special foods and decorate their homes. Overall, this is one of the most spirited and beloved festivals of the Hindu calendar.
The celebration of Holi is recounted in Hindu sacred texts and stories that have passed from generation to generation. Holi commemorates the miraculous story of Prahlada, a young boy and a devoted follower o thef Hindu god Vishnu. According to Hindu texts, Prahlada was born to Hiranyakashipu, the king of demons. Unable to tolerate Prahlada's devotion to Lord Vishnu, Hiranyakashipu attempted to kill his son several times by poisoning him, throwing him from the top of a mountain, etc. but failed each time. Finally, he ordered his son to sit on a pyre on the lap of his demoness sister, Holika, who was protected from fire burning her. Prahlada accepted his father's command and survived unharmed from the fire while Holika burned to death. The burning of Holika gave rise to the tradition of lighting bonfires on Holi eve. Holi also celebrates the immortal love of the divine couple, Radha and Krishna. And Holi immortalizes the story of Kama, the Hindu god of love, his incineration to death by Lord Shiva, restoration and his love and sacrifice for all. These are three of the most popular stories, and as with most Hindu festivals, the stories vary slightly in different parts of India.
(MARCH 2014)

64. RAMA NAVAMI AND RAMAYANA OR SUNDERKAND PARAYANA OR PATH
Ramanavami is celebrated on  April 18th  this year. For all Hindus the Ramayana is an important religious text. Among the Seven Kaandas (Cantos) of Ramayana,   Sunderakaanda is considered the most important.  Why did Valmiki titled other kaandas   describing the event or Status (Baala Kaanda, Yuddhakaanda etc.),  while he did not call this “Hanumad_vijaya-Kaanda”,  for this  entirely deals with  Hanuman’s  adventure. But that would not have gone well to Hanuman’s liking with the humble nature of Hanuman.  It would not have pleased Hanuman stealing the show from Rama while his name is glorified. Hanuman throughout Ramayana presents himself as a humble servant and devotee of Rama. The Key sloka of Sunderkaanda is in chapter 13:
Namostu raammaya salakshmanaaya devyai cha tasmai jankatmajaayai |
Namostu rude rendra yama-anilebhyo namostu chandraarka marudganebhyaha || 60 ||
Obeisance to Rama! Obeisance to Lakshmana! Obeisance to the daughter of Janaka! Obeisance to Rudra, Indra, yama, Vaayu, Chandra, Soorya and Maruts”.
Thus in  the above sloka devotees Join Hanuman in paying their obeisance to the Supreme Lord, Devi and his Brother Lakshmana,  avatars of Vishnu and Adisesha).
Tulsidas was no less a devotee of Sri Rama. Sunderkaand of  his  Ramachrait Manas ends with the   verse:            Sakal sumangal daayak raghunayak gun gaan | saadar sunarhi te tarahim bhava sindhu bina jalajaal  [Sunderkaand sings the praises of Sri Rama. It helps  to achieve all that is good and auspicious, both worldly and spiritual. Whoever hears it with devotion shall without any means be able to cross the ocean of life. Thus devotees here also join Tulsidas to worship Rama, Lakshmana.Sita nad the then known Vedic Gods. We have now gone up to 33 crores latest being Saibaba.
The  seven parts of Tulsidas Ramayan are equated with seven great pilgrim centers in India that lead to salvation –Ayodhya, Mathura, Maya, Kashi, Kanchai, Avantika Puri (Ujjain) and Dvarvatin (Dwaraka). Sunderkand is equated with Kanchi known for its Shiv Kanchi and Vishnu Kanchi. So it is appealing to all; both Siva followers and Vishnu followers. Also Rama and Siva are closely associated. It is strange Rameswaram is not in the list!
Beauty and inspiration of the verse of Sunderkand of Tulasidas Ramayan directs one towards attaining spiritual knowledge and is attractive to all from the worldly and spiritual point of view.
Hanuman is Chiranjeevi(immortal) and will become the next Brahma when the present tenure of Brahma ends.  Devotees chant the Sunderkand as an unfailing ritual and seek the blessings of Hanuman.N He is the one living God for all times, simple and easily accessible. Faith and devotion are the key virtues he builds in us.  “Do you seek god? Then see him in Man. His divinity is manifested more than in any other object. Man is the greatest manifestation of God” says Ramakrishna Paramhamsa. Then you see how hard it is to explain the manifestation of Hanuman who has chosen to live with us when Rama left for his Vaikuntha to help and guide us forever!
My grand-father used to read Ramayana every day after bath before even consuming his morning coffee. He always used to keep a plank before his Ramayan path Peeth (seat). I was curious to know whom it was for? He told me that  seat was for Hanuman to take his sea, he comes every day to listen to him and he is visible only to a true devotee and I should concentrate and listen with Sraddha (faith). Immature as I was then, not that I am anything better now, I was always fascinated with his monkey pranks and values. I always felt there was lot of time for liberation and it is time for me to enjoy  life-like Hanuman in his childhood. I now know how wrong I am as I reach my 84!
(MARCH 2014)
*65. HINDUS CELEBRATE THE BIRTH OF KRISHNA
I have pleasure in forwarding  a write-up "Hindus celebrate Birth of Lord Krishna" as appeared in Huff-post which most of you are familiar with. I have not made any special attempt to cover it with a discourse as you all know more about it than I do:
"Hindus around the world are observing Janmashtami, a holy day that celebrates the birth of Krishna, who is believed by devotees to be the eighth avatar of Vishnu (the Hindu deity of cosmic maintenance) and the Supreme Lord of the Universe. The holiday falls on August 17 in 2014.
Krishna is the teacher in the Bhagavad Gita, a 700-verse scripture set on a battlefield that contains some of the most important teachings of Hinduism. He is often depicted in the form of a dark-skinned young boy playing a flute, wearing a peacock feather crown and yellow garments.
Krishna, whose name is often translated as “all-attractive,” is honored and worshiped in many ways. To his devotees, he is not only the Supreme Lord and a wise teacher, but also a dear friend, beloved child, and a handsome lover.
According to Hindu teachings, Krishna was born at midnight on the ashtami or the 8th day of the Hindu lunar month of Shravan in a prison to Vasudev and Devaki in the town of Mathura. Moments after his birth he escaped to the village of Gokul, where Krishna was raised by Nanda and Yasoda, his foster parents. The stories of Krishna’s childhood and youth paint the picture of a mischievous and endearing flute-playing cowherd who loved to play pranks on everyone and flirt with the gopis, or cowgirls.
Janmashtami is a festive occasion and celebrations on this day re-enact popular tales from Krishna’s childhood. Many devotees fast on this day and stay up all night worshiping, listening to stories about Krishna’s childhood and singing devotional songs. In Krishna temples across the world, a statue of the infant Krishna is bathed and placed in a cradle which is rocked by devotees amidst the chanting of devotional songs.
One particularly popular Janmashtami tradition in India is dahi handi. In this observance, a clay pot filled with butter or curd is hung high on a rope while a human pyramid is formed underneath it. The person on the top tries to catch and break the pot with a blunt object. This tradition is based on popular Krishna narratives according to which he would steal butter, prepared by the women of the village and hung on handis. In fact, one of Krishna’s many names is maakhan chhor, meaning one who steals butter.
Many Hindus believe that one night when Krishna played the flute, all the gopis of the village were so entranced that they left their houses and families to come and dance with him in the forest for the entire night. In bhakti or devotional paths of Hinduism, the supreme form of devotion is understood to be the soul’s ecstatic love for Krishna, who is believed to be the Supreme Lord. On Janmashtami, young boys and girls dress up as Krishna and his gopi lovers, and in this spirit of devotion, perform Rasa Lila.
Have you been to a Janmashtami celebration in your local temple? Share your experience with us in the comments section".
66. KARTIKAI DEEPAM FESTIVAL OF SOUTH INDIA
Friday 5, 2014 and the week end is Kartikai Deepam Festival in the South and Kartik Pournima Festival  in the North. This Festival is the most sacred festival of lights and so Tamils and Malyalees call it Thiru Kartikai or sacred Kartikai. Deepaavali is not called Thiru Deepaavali though it is the one that is recognized by Hindus as Festival of lights and often compared to Christmas Holiday Season   Lighting. Diwali,  Kartika Pournima and Makara Sankranti are known for their Divine lights by the way of welcoming Rama  or viewing divine lights of Arunachaleswara on the Hills of Arunachala in Tiruvannamali or Makara Vilakku in Sabarimalai of Kerala or at Amritasar Golden Temple. It will be a good and thoughtful idea  Hindu  Americans start their lighting on Diwali day and end it after Makara Sankranti day Makara Vilakku of Sabari Malai or Sun's journey in the direction of Northern solstice (as Hindus believe if not scientifically correct) and call the period as  Festival of Lights Holiday Season as  Hindu culture always love Long Holiday Seasons unlike the Western culture.

The lighting activity for Festival of Lights in Western culture starts after Thanksgiving Dinner night and ends on January 19th which day is celebrated as Epiphany by Eastern Orthodox Church. They celebrate Christmas on January 7th.  Christmas is a 12 days celebration and is not confined to Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.  Epiphany is the celebration of the three miracles that manifest divinity of Christ and January first is the most sacred day of Circumcision of Christ. This is the day Hindu Americans rush to Hindu Temples as the auspicious day to make New Year resolutions and seek prosperity and peace which makes no sense to a religious Hindu.  It would be worth performing New Year Day worship in Hindu Temples on Makara Sankranti day the holiest day for Hindus and also the most significant for all people in the world as the day on which the Sun starts his Northern solstice Journey.  January 1 , holiest Christian Day was pushed as International New Year Day by Western Powers which was earlier devoted to God Janus by Romans. To postpone New Year Day worship to January 14 is quite appropriate with Hindu American practice as they often push their celebration like Durga puja, Holi etc to convenient week ends brought up with the wisdom of American culture of celebrating Holidays and President Birthdays. Makara sankarati celebration as New Year Day   will fulfill the sentiments of religious Hindus also and will fit into their social practice of celebrating religious holidays. of course our priest will come out with proper mantra for "kaalaateeta durita prayaschitta" atoning for late performance in Sankalpas (resolutions)  if we feel we are belated to celebrate New Year Day.
Incidentally January 14, Makara Sankranti Day is also Circumcision Day for Jesus as observed by Eastern Orthodox and will be pleasing to interfaith married couples in which one partner is Christian and the other Hindu mostly which trend is becoming more popular in Hindu weddings celebrated in temples for interfaith couples. Hindu American lighting may as well start on Diwali Day carried through the peak Kartikai festival and culminated on Makara Sanktranti Day to match with the Western culture with which they live. If they put up Christmas tree which often they do to please their kids this can be done on Christmas Eve.
(DECEMBER 2014)

67. WHY NOT CELBRATE KARADIYAN NONBU AS SAVITRI VRATAM?
Kaaradiyaan nonbu or Savitri Vratham, is a vow observed in Tamil Nadu on the last day in Maasi masam or the Masi month in Tamil calendar (Phalguna Krishna Navami). This festival also marks the Meena Sankramanam or the transition of Sun into Meena Rasi (Pisces) from Kumbha rasi (Aquarius). In 2015, Karadayin Nonbu date is March 14.  Married women worship Mahalakshmi, Goddess Gauri or Parvathi or Shakti for marital bliss and better health of husband and children. Unmarried girls perform the vratam to get ideal person as their husband. Tamil ladies wear the sacred thread called Saradu  in Tamil at the auspicious time determined by the astrologers for the day, usually morning hours.
 Kaaradiyin Nonbu falls on March 14 this year for Hindus in USA.   For those living in USA CST Zone it is 6 A.M. in the morning though it is  tied  at one's convenience. Karadaiyin Nonbu is observed on the day of the conjunction of the Tamil months Masi and Panguni. It is to remember the great battle won by Savithri - a mythological character - over the God of Death - Yama, not by arms or ammunition but by her clever arguments to regain her husband's life. Married women observe fast till the auspicious time arrives, whether it is late evening or midday or afternoon. The fast for Karadayan Vritham is observed from sunrise on the transition day when God Surya moves from Kumbha Rashi to Meena Rashi. Fast breaking time for Savitri Nombu might fall any time between current day Sunrise to next day Sunrise depending on time of Meena Sankramana. Please note that duration of fast depends on local Sunrise and Sankramana moment and varies for all locations.  Kaaradayin  Nonbu is similar to that of Soubhagya Gauri Vratam or Gauri Tritiya vratam of Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, Gangaur vrat of Rajasthan, Jyeshta Gauri Vrat of Maharashtra, Jitiya Puja of Bihar, Karva Chauth of all other North Indian states’ festivals celebrated on different months and dates of the Hindu Calendar year. This vratam is the same as Vat Savitri vrat observed in Raajasthan,  Bengal, Orissa and some other places of India, the date for which is not the same as Karadiyan Nonbu.  I do not know why Puranas do not agree on the death date of Satyavan while Panchangas are so particular about the auspicious date and time as per Hindu calendar?  This shows again how astrologers mislead us about astronomical facts. Similarly Hindu confused astrologers also do not agree on the birth day of Hanuman.  Hanuman Jaynthi is celebrated on Poornima day on April 4, 2015 in USA by North Indians while South Indians celebrate it on Amavasya day in the Hindu Calendar month of Dhanus. South Indians claim Hanuman is the son of the  soil of South India and they are right  while  North Indians say Hanuman is Rama Bhakta and Rama knows better and celebrate it immediately after Rama Navami.   Vata Savitri Vrat in the North falls on the previous New moon day in the month of Jyeshth. The Tamil festival derives its name from the special sweet cake made out of black-eyed pea lentils and jaggery by Tamils. Kaaradai means kaaraamani (blackeyed pea)  adai meaning  cookie or cake. Probably Yama loves Kaaradai and  it is the best way to please Yama who pardoned Satyavan and restored his life impressed by the devotion of Savitri to her husband. Probably Tamils call Yama as Karadiyan? Hindus know how to please their gods or buy gods with special dishes for each festive occasion which list is too elaborate and may need a special discourse. Jagannatha of Puri enjoys all these varieties everyday based on Oriyan culinary skills. Even one of the Sankaracharyas has given a detailed spiritual discourse on Tamil food for the festivals and their significance which I sent to you long time back. Tamils often name their festivals after the special food item they prepare and offer to God as Naivedyam, like Pongal and Karadiyan Nonbu. Many do not understand the meaning of Naivedyam but enjoy Prasadam including  even  the coconut broken on ground for warding off evil when the deity is taken on procession? Such ignorance is unfortunate but we frown when someone says it is all blind belief?
I often wonder why it is also called Saradu Pandigai by Tamils  who call the holy yellow three stranded thread tied around their neck as Sharadu? Probably Sharadu comes from the Sanskrit word Sharad means winter.It is customary to bless any one or seek blessings to live for hundred winters--Pasyema Saradassatam. It is the wish of the lady who keeps the Vrata to plead to the deity to grant a life for her husband to survive hundred winters!
Hindu Americans drawn from several traditions may make this festival more broad based and call it Savitri Vratam instead of calling it Kaaradiyan Nonbu, named after a food item. It could also be celebrated in Hindu American Temples  on the day earmarked  in the North   in many States rather than observing it in March which could be left to  Tamils to celebrate at homes as  they do many such  special and exclusive festivals of their own tradition. Please go through my detailed discourse published on the Blog Hindu Reflections titled "Kaaradaiyin Nonbu--Vata Savitri Vrat"
68. CHAANDRAMMANA YUGAADI AND PANCHAANGAM (ALMANAC)
Nearly every festival in Hinduism has an astronomical basis. Most ancient cultures had festivals based on astronomical events, especially the Sun or Moon.  There are four landmarks in the Sun's journey in the heavens: Vernal Equinox; Autumnal Equinox; Summer Solstice; Winter Solstice which are religiously celebrated by world cultures. Astrology is a part and parcel of everyday life in India even to this day whether people realize it or not. Hindu mundane astrology gives prime importance to Moon though Sun has never been undermined or left out. Tamil, Malayalam and Bengali Hindus who are more inclined towards religion attach importance to Sun.
A Chandramaana New Year commences from Shukla Paksha Prathma Tithi of Chaitra Month  and spans over 354 days ending when the New Moon in the next Meena is over. The first day of Chandramana New Year  is the first Tithi after the New Moon in Panguni of Tamils or Meena according to Soura Maanam System which I have described earlier.  The principal religious contents of the Chandramana Panchaangm like others are Nakshatras and Tithis, both of which are calculated on the basis of positions of the Sun and the Moon in relation to the Earth. It is important to observe that the framers of the various systems   have universally adopted the convention of forecasting the ending moments of daily celestial phenomena such as Tithis and Nakshatras, applicable to place for which the Panchaangam is prepared. People living in North America cannot blindly follow the Indian Panchaangams which has to be adjusted to specified place/time in the space-time continuum. This void is fulfilled by the American Hindu Panchaangam which at the same time continues to carry certain lapses as in all Hindu Panchaangams. If there is a will this can be corrected? Find out what Nakshatra means?  
Panchaanga is almanac that serves two purposes: 1)  It provides a dating system which can be used in civil affairs such as dating of documents, letters etc., maintaining accounts. 2) It also forecasts the occurrence of daily celestial phenomenon such as Thithis and Nakshatras, the dates and times religious festivals are to be observed and the auspicious moments for other  religious social functions such as wedding, Upanayana etc., based on duration of tithis and nakshatras and on planetary positions.
There are thirty different calendars in India. Indian National Calendar Committee in 1957 brought out a National calendar aligning it with the Gregorian calendar basing it on Salivahana Saka Era and Chandramana Calendar which was popular with majority traditions but not close to Gregorian official calendar. Their task was complicated by the fact that with calendar reform religion and local sentiments were involved.  India's first Prime Minister  Jawaharlal Nehru  in his preface to the Report of the Committee, which was published in 1955, wrote: “They (different calendars) represent past political divisions in the country…...now that we have attained Independence, it is obviously desirable that there should be a certain uniformity in the calendar for our civic, social and other purposes and this should be done on a scientific approach to this problem.” This National calendar was therefore brought in line with Gregorian calendar.
Hindu Americans drawn from different Hindu traditions will be better advised to go by the Indian National Calendar of 365.25 days which will slowly go into archives torn in politics and religious prejudices.  They need not follow any one religious panchaangam \from India which are all inaccurate and do not comply with scriptural injunctions to perform rituals and worships as per time, date and place of living. This needs a proper aligning of Hindu American Panchangam of today with Indian National Calendar or even better base it on Sauramana Panchangam taking into consideration its serious neglect in not correcting for astronomical facts that has moved Makara Sankranti by 23 days from actual day of December 22 Winter solstice day when the Sun’s direction changes actually towards North (Uttarayana). As highly enlightened and religious conscious society with lot of computer geniuses they have to base things on astronomical facts which were the basis on which our Rishis carried out their worships and rituals. We should not go by blind faith and faulty Panchaangams of astrologers which have certain missing links. 
Even the present Hindu American Panchaangam which is unique in many respects and easy to use in USA brought out by the Hindu Temple Society of North America published since 1997 with its unique features  is not followed by all of its Members of the Council. Hindu Americans in spite of their broader outlook still are as religiously biased as Hindus in India and tradition bound who have not adopted Indian National calendar prepared for the benefit of the country by experts and are not concerned with astronomical corrections over centuries needed because of the influence of family trained astrologers who have not studied astronomy like our ancient Rishis.  Hindu American Temple authorities are also guided by these family trained or family tradition oriented priests imported from India. Living in USA American Panchaangam needs alignment with Indian National Calendar or follow solar calendar with  the astronomical correction needed for the   lapses over centuries. It should not be difficult for Mr. R. Kumar, Author of Hindu American panchaangam to correct the situation and provide Americans with an accurate religious Panchaangam aligned to Gregorian calendar, being an author of several books on astronomy and astrology and is also recipient of several awards if only our worries and requirements are placed before him. 
69. DAKSHINAAYANA AND AADI FESTIVALS OF TAMIL NADU
I was blessed to witness the Abhirbhav Utsav of Jagannath Parivar on July 17 which day also happens to be Thiru Aadippooram to Tamils being the Birthday of Aandaal  or the Day Vishnuchittar found a baby lying on Mother Earth like Sita. This is a Grand celebration day  in all  Tamil Nadu Temples like  Koodaarai Vellum  and Panguni Uttiram on  which subjects  I have   given  my discourses  direct  to audience as well as my E-mail Participants.   As a Sriviashnava and Tamil, though I do not follow the tradition, I was doubly blessed on this day  because Mother Earth as Bhoodevi also joins Jagannath Parivar. Though neglected in Temple   Traditions to enjoy popular temples all over the country She makes her dominant presence as Aandal to have separate sanctums in all Srivaishnava temples in Tamil Nadu as Tamils believe Aandaal is an incarnation of Bhoodevi.   Some Tamils have been successful to push the sectarian festivals of Koodarai Vellum and Panguni Uttiram in Hindu American Temples which makes other traditions bewildering, but I enjoy along with few Iyengars who claim their title by birth. 

Happily,  Tamil Month Aadi 1 coincides with  South Indian  Asrtrological DakshinayaPunyakala  (North Indian Panchangs wisely align with Summer solstice day on June 21) and so an important day for all South Indians  and probably to  North Indians who do not  anyhow worry much for Dakshinaayana Day,  as Observance Day.  Probably this day could also be a significant day to pay our tributes to Sage Patanjali who brought all cultures and world together by his magical Yogasastra while June 21 will continue to be official International Yoga day. As Hindu Americans we believe in actual days as well as observance days. Thus this day happens to be an important day for all traditions.  We could also make this day significant to pay our respect to all Gurus  since by the end of July month we are going to have Guru Purnima day. Guru Poornima, we do not observe as a Special Religious Day though it is in India.  The Month of Aadi is very sacred to Tamils who at the same time also say it is inauspicious month like Kartigai for  auspicious samskaras like wedding.  So we can also make this day significant to pay our respects to all philosophers--Vyasa, Dattatreya, Sankara, Ramanuja, Madhwa, Basaveswara as the observance day  for respecting Gurus, all dedicated to Mother Earth.  Our Odisha friends will lend their support too being an important period for them. I have therefore pleasure in bringing out a discourse  " Daksinayana Punyakala and Thiru Aadippooram" focusing on the thought to make it a Special Day of Worship for all Traditions of Hinduism as attached. This Day has much more significance and meaning like All Divines'  Wedding  Day of Panguni Uttiram.  Koodarai Valli  is an insignificant day for others  but for Iyengars from South. 

Please go through my detailed discourse as indicated.


70. KUMBHAMELA—THE LARGEST RELIGIOUS MASS IN THE WORLD
Kumbha means pitcher and Mela means Fair. When the Asuras and the Devas churned the milky ocean, Lord Vishnu appeared bearing the pot of nectar which blessed all with ever- lasting life. Thus the Kumbha or Kalasa also symbolizes immortality. Before Brahma the Creator and the creation came into being, Lord Vishnu  was reclining on Adisesha in the milky ocean. From his navel emerged a lotus from which appeared Brahma and started his creation.  The water in Khumba symbolizes the primordial water from which the entire creation emerged. Hindus start all worship establishing a Kumbha filled with water and invoking Sapta Sindhus or SevenHoly river spirits. This is their microform of worship. Kumbhamela is the Macroform of that worship with the participation of all humanity on an auspicious day and time.
Kumbhamela is held this year in Nashik from July 14 to September 25 and expects a much larger crowd than in 2003; devotees will be busy with holy dips on several days in River Godavari which is considered to be Southern Ganga, meeting   holy   people (sadhus, listening to their speeches and worshiping the  Jyotirlinga   of Tryambakesvara.  Kumbhamela is not restricted to North Indian Traditions alone and can be seen in South Indian temple traditions too. Mahamasi Magam in Kumbakonam and the annual holy dip in Tirupathi Swamipushkarani  are the same kind of celebrations  as Kumbhamela. 
Over centuries, Vedic sacrifices gradually found their way out due to their inherent difficulties in   performing them including animal sacrifices. Their place was soon taken up by ritualistic worship, simple Homas by way of oblation into consecrated fires associated with popular puranic deities, religious vows called Vratas and Teerthayaatras, visit to pilgrim centers located on sacred river banks.  These were eulogized as easy to perform, but, giving equally good and quick results.  Kumbhamela celebration was an outcome of these developments .
The Global Mother Earth  (Prithvee Kumbha) holding water (Aapah) in her pitcher containing life sustaining Praana (Vaayu) releases the same through  the heat (Agni) generated by Tapas to the atmosphere (Aakasa) to make its journey further or  return back if unsuccessful.  This is the  philosophy of Kumbhamela  and  the purpose behind this great ritual and worship.  Water is the ruling deity in the body around 70%, keeping the life’s flow with Praana (vayu). So we revere all flowing waters.  Why so many Kumbhamelas?  We know definitely the pitcher we live in called Mother Earth and the solar system. Science has just discovered its cousin recently.  There may be many such Kumbhas to match  at least  12 Aadityas (Suns)  mentioned in Vedas.
The new Prithvee Kumbha is described as follows: “Called Kepler 452b, the planet orbits a 6 billion-year-old sun-like star about 1,400 light-years away. Kepler 452b is about 60 percent larger than Earth, and perhaps five times as massive. With a year lasting 385 days, it sits in the region around its star where temperatures are just right for maintaining liquid water on a world’s surface”—National Geography
 Please recall my E-mail on the subject with a priliminary draft. This has been developed to a full and  detailed discourse including all the Kumbhamelas with special focus on the current one  in Nashik.  Please  go through the discourse as  attached.
71. SRAVAN PURNIMA IS IDEAL FOR MASS WORSHIP LIKE DIWALI
 Hindus often go to temples on special Religious Events Day to get the blessings of the Lord both as a community and as individuals. We   may mentions here festivals like Sivaratri, Rama Navami, Krishna Janmashtami, Ganesh Chaturthi,   Vaikuntha Ekadasi and others.  Here again these are sectarian based and people go to their own familiar temples. Individuals often go to temples with their desire motivated worships as individuals. Mass worship on specific days like Diwali, Makara Sankranti, Navaratri    indirectly   helps in   economic running of the temples and also in bringing the community together. It becomes more complicated to celebrate such days in Hindu Temples Overseas to suit all traditions where we often find One Temple for All Traditions.
Sravan Purnima day is the day on which Brahmin community goes to temple in USA to perform Upakarma ritual for changing the  sacred thread.  It is the day ladies go to temple with the Rakhi  to get the blessings of the Devi  which they later tie on their brothers as well as others who they consider as  their brothers for a long time relationship.  It is also a day for Satya Narayan puja.  It is the day when poor and ignorant people worship water offering coconuts  most popular in Maharashtra (Nariyal Purnima) while the enlightened  meditate on it as Brahman. Thus it is an important day for many events.
A detailed discourse is available on the subject as posted on the Blog and earlier circulated. The present discourse deals with  Upakarma, Rakhi  and  Nariyal Purnima that could be made more broad based to benefit all. There is a wrong notion that Upakarma is exclusive to Dwijas or who have undergone thread ceremony. The origin of Upanayana initiation and the purpose is in Vedas. Vedas talk of atonement for our past sins and meditation on Supreme Being for all and  the need for the study of Vedas by proper initiation  to  Vedas.  Upakarma day is also a day on which we pay our indebtedness to sages and Vedas. This is also common to all.  All these are needed by all though it is mandatory for  those who have undergone Upanayana samskaras. So this day could be a great day for Kamokarshit Homa and Navakanda Rishi homa and initiation of Vedic studies Sindhu (Water)  Puja for all.  We have created  Bhagavadgita Day and Ramayan Path Day. Why not Veda Parayana Day? Upanayana samskara was a later development from     the act of Upanayana mentioned for all  in Vedas.   Regimentation of Upakarma only to  the chosen few is a  later development enforced by orthodoxy.  This day could also be celebrated as Brother's day for all ladies seeking the blessings of Lord Jaganntha and need not be restricted to North Indians only drawing inspiration from Jagannatha Assembly of Gods where we see Krishna, Balarama and Subhadra together worshiped promoting brother -sister relationship.  This is a  unique concept. In Chennai Krishna assembly is seen as family assembly promoting son-father-grandfather-brother-friend relationship.  Mostly we see Radha-Krishna  in many temples though their wedding never took place like that of Andal with Ranganath.  This worship and celebration of wedding  send a wrong message to critics based on Puranas who do not go deep into Vedanta.  Very few go deep into spirituality in our popular worship  but are influenced by blind faith in puranas. They say it leads the way but when will that day come? Brother-sister relationship of Krishna is very much glorified in Puranas and this day is very ideal to promote that concept. The discourse deals with these details and explains how this day can be made as important as Diwali for Mass Participation instead of ending as lame-duck worshipful day with few participating. 
http://nrsrini.blogspot.com/2015/08/how-can-we-make-sravan-purnima-temple.html


*72. KARWA CHAUTH AND TEEJ FESTIVALS OF NORTH INDIA
Karwa chauth and Teej are regional traditions and festivals celebrated on Sunday 8,   October in 2017  on the fourth Day after Sharad Poornima which falls on October 4  this year. Karwa Chaut in most part of the North India and Teej in Rajasthan are celebrated four days after Sharad Poornima in the month of Kartik. Women wear their bridal dresses on this day, fast and pray for the prosperity of the household and longevity of their husbands. On this day married women do not eat until they see the reflection of the moon in the platter of water and paying their respect and love to their husbands.   The moon symbolizes Siva, the husband of Parvati. Siva is believed to be very handsome but unpredictable and also unconventional too in his ways.  He is a very care-free person as for as the family is concerned. He is always deeply involved in meditation and not a regular breadwinner for the family. It needs all the resilience and patience of Parvati to subdue him to bring back to family way of life.  Women pray to possess the resilience of Parvati so that they could develop an ideal temperament to tolerate their husbands and live in peace but not in pieces instead of fighting.
 Karwa means a small earthen pot filled with sprouts, which is given by elderly married woman to new brides on this day. It is a gift symbolic of fertility passed from woman to woman as an offering of Devi's grace. Sprouts are symbolic of fertility and are used in paalika visarjan in Southern tradition (Please refer to the discourse on Hindu Samskaaras).
 Teej is celebrated in North India, especially in Rajasthan dedicated to Goddess Parvati, the princess of Himalayan Kingdom who domesticated the recluse Siva and charmed him to become a householder. Parvati's image is bedecked with bridal finery (sola Singar) and carried in procession on this night.
 Both Karwa Chaut and Teej attach great religious significance though a cultural, and social harvest and rain festival like Pongal in Tamil Nadu.  The social fabric of a Hindu wherever he is settled is so knitted that no human activity is segregated from the divine. Hindus wherever they are settled tried to continue with the tradition, whether relevant or not, but also promote it to their children.  Here they have additional support from major culture. Please recall my discourse on Valentine’s Day being observed as a Special Worshipful Day in American Hindu Temples. No Aagamas come into picture on these days but our priests  suitably adopt   to make it religious within their frame-work.  It is no surprise Nashville Ganesha Temple has also rushed to celebrate this day as a Special Worshipful day with its theme of Love as the Universal  Binding Force (Kaamaaya swaahaa). These religious and community celebration of festivals help in strengthening relationship between married couples.   This is particularly of great significance to American Hindu couples where divorces and single parental care for children is slowly influencing the Hindu society also,  living amidst major culture where it is difficult to hold on to even first marriage though sprung  out of love for more than five years and where children often are forced to be raised by a single parent based on research studies! No doubt every truthful husband would be influenced by this devotion visibly and sincerely expressed calling divine presence and intervention to lead a Happy and Prosperous Marrieds Life with Heaven’s choicest Blessings! This makes Kaduva Chaut Meethaa Chaut!

*These have not been covered by exclusive discourses but may   be supplementary e-mails reflecting thoughts on  discourses already covered.