Tuesday, March 13, 2012

SPRING FESTIVALS OF VASANTA NAVARAATRI AND OTHERS


SPRING FESTIVALS OF VASANTA NAVARAATRI AND OTHERS


(I-DISCOURSE BY N. R. SRINIVASAN, MARCH 2012)

 
The first nine nights of the waxing moon in the month of Chaitra are sacred to the Mother Goddess. This is the spring season (Vasanta Rutu) in India and therefore the festival is called Vasanta Navaraatri or Nine Nights of Spring. The first day of Vasant Navaraatri is celebrated also as Gudi Paadva or Ugaadi in Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Goa and Kashmir which is their New Year. In Maharashtra a bridal sari and pot (the gudi), both symbols of Mother Goddess are hoisted over a pole raised above the house. The Gudi is directed towards the Sun in the hope it will transform the bright spring sunshine into rays of prosperity.

 
Spring season is celebrated all over the world for it heralds eagerly awaited pleasant season after severe winter.  Spring brings beautiful sunrises, warmer longer days and foliage begins to come alive showing off God's marvelous  handiwork once again. Birds build nests, bees begin to buzz, butterflies appear, all letting us  know that another Springtime awakening has arrived.  Spring is perfect time to "be still and know that He is God" as you just enjoy communicating with God in His creation of such complex yet beautiful and awe inspiring world. It was also an ancient custom to dedicate this festival to female deities in all traditions. In literature this season is celebrated a lot. Thus Valmiki dwells at length describing Vasanta Ritu (spring season) in his Ramayana and also narrates how even Rama was suffering from pangs of separation during this romantic season. You might all be familiar about the famous quote "Vasanta kale sampraapte kakah kaakah pikah pikah". When spring arrives, nightingale heralds the season with its enchanting music and that is how you distinguish between a nightingale and a crow.

 
Many of us do not know the origin of what bunny and eggs have to do with Easter. All of us think that Easter is a Christian celebration of the season which brings back the memory of Jesus's resurrection. We also think it is a day for special worship and prayers during spring season in the West. But why then it is celebrated with making and giving Easter baskets filled with hoards of colored eggs, extra large chocolate bunnies and the egg dying kits to dye over three dozen eggs. America has successfully exploited the belief to commercialize and do a good business for the Easter season as it has done for another pagan practice of Halloween celebration both of which have nothing to do with Christian Faith. Easter dates back to the bunny being a symbol of the pagan festival of Easter long before the arrival of Christ. The Goddess Eastre was worshiped by the Anglo-Saxons through her earthly symbol, the rabbit. In a way Goddess Eastre symbolizes Mother earth. The Easter bunny has its origin in Pre-Christian lore. The Hare and the Rabbit were the most fertile animals known and they served as symbol of the new life during spring season. The German settlers who arrived in the Pennsylvania Dutch country during the 17th century introduced the Easter Bunny to America which tradition is more prevalent today than the sanctity to attend Easter Special Worship. Yet the Western followers of Christian Faith make fun of Hindu traditions and call it a pagan religion ridiculing many of its ancient traditional practices.

 
The last day of Vasanta Navaratri is Rama Navami, the birthday of Sri Rama. It is said, Rama decided to launch an attack on Lanka to liberate his wife Seetaa from the clutches of Raavana, the demon king at the end of the rainy season. For this, he needed the blessings of Durga, patroness of warriors and Mother of Difficulties. But Durga is traditionally worshipped in spring. Rama suffering from the pangs of love and separation could not wait that long and so did Durga Pooja in autumn itself asking her pardon. With the passage of time the autumn Navaratri (Dussera) overshadowed Spring Navaratri.

 
Closely associated with Vasant Navaratri is the festival of Gangaur, celebrated mainly in the Hindi speaking areas in the month of Chaitra. It commemorates the union of Siva (Gana) with Parvati (Gauri). So the festival is called Gangaur. Images of Goddess Parvati are carried in procession in Rajasthan. Parvati renounced her royal style and managed to domesticate the recluse Siva, the Hermit God and in the process admirably adopted herself to ascetic life.

 
Kaama, the God of Love, is also worshipped on this occasion because he sacrificed his life in the process of bringing Siva and Parvati together, but in the bargain lost his physical appearance permanently (he is called Ananga) to all others due to the curse of Siva. One sect in Rajasthan celebrates this festival by allowing boys and girls of marriageable age to mingle freely in a fair and allow them to choose their life partners. This is not only a festival dedicated to Devi but also a festival of romance, marital harmony and household joy.

 
There is also an interesting story connected with Vasanta Navaraatri in Devi Bhagavatam. King Dhruvasindhu, the king of Kosala was killed by a lion in his hunting expedition. King Yudhajit of Ujjain, father of Lilavati and King Virasena of Kalinga wanted to seize the throne of Kosala for their grandsons. In the battle of struggle that ensued Virasena was killed. His daughter Manorama with her son Sudarsana along with a eunuch took refuge under the kind hearted sage Bhargava. Satrujit, the grandson of Yudhajit was crowned king of Kosala at Ayodhya, the capital of Kosala. Yudhajit went in search of Sudarsana and wanted to kill him. He did not succeed as Sudarsana was under the protection of Sage Bhrigu.

 
Sudarsana got the blessings of Devi in a mysterious way. His eunuch companion was called Kleeba. Unable to pronounce his name properly he called him Kleem. "Kleem" is the most sacred syllable, Beejaakshara of Devi. The most sacred Mantra for Devi is: "Aim-Hreem-Kleem-Chaamundaayai Vichche". Pleased with the repeated utterance of his prayer though not intentionally, Devi appeared before him and granted divine weapons and everlasting number of quivers. King of Varanasi who once visited Bhrigu invited Sudarsana to the Svaymvara of his daughter in which Shashikala was to pick her man of choice. The lucky mantel fell on Sudarsana. Shashikal chose Sudarsana as her life time partner. Then on, fortune smiled on Sudarsana by the blessings of Devi. King Yudhajit started fighting with the king of Varanasi. Sudarsana and his father-in-law had Devi's support. Yudhajit mocked at Devi, thus invited her wrath and was reduced to ashes.

 
Sudarsana and Shashikala and her father praised Devi profusely. Devi was greatly pleased and ordered them to perform her worship with Homa and other means of rituals during Vasanta Navaratri. She then disappeared. They all celebrated Vasanta Navaratri then after in a splendid manner regularly. Sri Rama and Lakshmana were the descendants of Sudarsana. They too carried out the family tradition of worshiping Devi during the Vasanta Navaratri and were blessed with her assistance in finding Seetaa.

 
Valmiki devotes one chapter in his Ramayana describing the decent of Lord Kartikeya, popularly known as Subhramanyan and Murugan by Tamils but strangely does not mention about Ganesha anywhere. In those days probably Vedic Goddess Devi Durga was worshipped as Mother of Difficulties in place of Modern days Puranic male deity Lord Ganesha, the Lord of Obstacles. Devout Hindus perform the worship of Devi for both material prosperity and spiritual evolution during Vasanta Navaraatri following the noble example set by King Sudarsana and Lord Rama.

 
May the Divine Mother bless you all with Divine Wealth!

 
These stories make the followers of both Vishnu and Siva worship Durga as Vaishnavi and Saambhavi. It is also the time when Rama's birthday is celebrated reading non-stop Tulasidas Ramayan (akhanda path).

 
Closely follows Hanuman Jayanti (on Chaitra Shukla Poornima) according to some on which day they chant Hanuman Chalisa with all reverence to the greatest devotee of Lord Sri Rama and equally great Saint Tulasidas. Generally Hannuman Jayanti is celebrated during the month of Dhanus on Amavasya Day. In South India it is customary to read during Dassera Valmiki Ramayana and celebrate Rama Pattaabhisheka (ascending the throne of Ayodhya) on Vijayadasami Day.

 
Spring is the time when nature gives us many gifts. Festivals help us remember the goodness of nature. They bring people together in friendship, love and joy. They teach us the message of unity and harmony and peace. With each swing of pendulum, God can make time beautiful. He turns snow into buttercups. There is a Time for Everything. God is the keeper of Time and He makes everything beautiful in its time. But He is beyond Time and Omnipresent. That is why he is called "Kaala" as well as "Kala Vikarana" (Custodian of Time who is responsible for distribution of time like kala, muhoorta etc.)

 
The Truth (Nirguna Brahman) when endowed with Maaya is called Easwara (Saguna Brahman), the Creator of the world. Maayaa the Creative power of Eaaswara is worshipped in the Hindu tradition as Sakti. Both the words Maaya and Sakti are feminine in Sanskrit language and therefore tradition of worship of Supreme Principle as feminine principle has begun. Sakti is Durga. That is why in Puri Subhadra is worshipped as Devi or Saguna Brahman and Puri is called Srikshetra by Sakta worshipers instead of Purushottama Kshetra.




APPENDIX I

Did Rama Worship Durga?
According to Valmiki Ramayana, Rama on the advice of  Agastya worshiped  Surya.   Bhagawan satys  in Gita during his Viswarupa darsana that among Luminaries  he is surya (Rasmibhih aham Suryah) There is no mention of Durga worship in Ramayana. But there are later many versions of Ramayana, the one by Kirtiwasa in Bengal quite famous with its Ahiravana and Mahiravana story.  This Ramayana has a reference to the worship of Durga by Rama   being a land  known for its Durga a worship as Primordial Energy.
Durga Puja is the celebration of the killing of the Mahishasura   who had become a threat to all the gods and humans and was invincible except by a woman, due to a boon. After a fierce battle, Goddess Durga kills the demon.
 According to the Bengali Ramayan by Kritiwasa, Goddess Durga was worshiped in the spring season (and thus Durga Puja was also referred as Basanti Puja, the festival in the spring season, and never in autumn. But after an inconclusive battle with Ravana for many days, the devas advised Lord Rama to propitiate Goddess Durga and seek her blessings. But Goddess Durga was never worshiped in autumn, and thus Rama’s propitiating the Goddess is referred to as Akal-bodhan, akal meaning out-of-turn or out-of-season and bodhan meaning worship or invocation. In due course of time, the region started celebrating Durga Puja during the autumn and thus the festival is also known as the sharad rutu-utsav or the spring-festival.
 According to the same version of Ramayana, Rama took the blessings of Durga on the sixth day (Sashti) and went into battle with Ravana on the seventh day (Saptami) and killed Ravana at Sandhikshana or during the crossover between the eighth (Ashtami) and the ninth (Navami) day, and cremated on the tenth day (Bijoya dashami).
 The worship of Durga by Rama too has an interesting legend. According to some versions, Rama was advised to worship the goddess as she was considered to be the patron deity of the land of Kubera, i.e. Lanka before Ravana ushurped it from Kubera and it would be in order to seek her blessings before invading the island. It is said that Ram needed 108 ‘neel kamal’ or blue lotuses to offer the goddess Durga and after a lot of efforts managed to get only 107 of them. Rama was also referred to as ‘rajiva-lochana’ or the one with eyes like lotus, and since he could not arrange for one more to complete a hundred and eight, he offered his eye by trying to pierce it with an arrow, but the goddess appeared at the right moment and granted him the blessings of victory. Some versions say that Ram did manage to get all the required lotuses, but the goddess hid one to test his devotion.
 Since then, this has been a practice to propitiate Goddess Durga before heading for a war and the same is seen in Mahabharata, where Arjuna and Yudhishtira are mentioned to be worshiping Goddess Durga for the boon of victory. Later in history, we have seen Shivaji worshiping Goddess Bhavani, a form of Durga before heading for any battle.
 It is interesting to see gods in their own right seeking blessings from goddesses prior to a battle. The cult of Mother Goddess was prevalent from the ancient times and Goddess Durga has always had a unique place in the pantheon. Though she is a goddess created by the gods to fight a demon, she does it without the direct help of any gods. She fights a relentless battle, till she eliminates the evil force, Mahishasura, who was threatening the universe and all the gods with his power. To sustain such a dominating feminine power, Shakti, it was imperative that the later puranic texts perpetuated her position of someone who has been victorious in battle.
 Another interesting theory is that Goddess Durga was associated with mountains, (she is also referred to Vindhyavasini, one who resides in the Vindhyas, Parvati meaning daughter of the mountain or parvat, Vaishno devi, again residing in the mountains, to name a few) and was probably a deity of the locals who resided around mountains, where the terrain was tough. Such regions were at the periphery of civilizations and thus many a tribal community or marginalized sections of the societies dwelt in such regions. According to this theory, Goddess Durga is seen to have had her origin in such areas. Puranic heroes, like Rama, Arjuna, etc. worshiping the goddess indicates the assimilation of such goddesses in the mainstream pantheon, leading to the assimilation of the marginalized sections of the society into mainstream civilization.
 It is interesting to note Siva and Rama were mutual admirers in Puranas. Siva glorified Rama in Vishnusahasranama. Rama worshiped Siva in Rameswaram which is called Ramaligam, a very popular name in Tamil Nadu. Siva though often described as ascetic not interested to lead a life of Householder and Parent of the world (jagatah Pitarah)  seems to have parented Hanuman  in Treta Yuga  as  the husband of  Mohini (Siva Purana) passing on the seed to to Anjana through Vayau and also parented Aiyappan in union with Mohini in Kali Yuga.    Probably these were myths unthinkable at divine  level,  created later to bring a compromise between fighting factions of Siva and Vishnu followers. Krishna and  Siva  are known for their extra marital relationships  wirth Radha and Mohini respectively. Our religious pundits  and  ISCON followers have their own  spiritual  explanation for such extra marital relationships though consider it  as a taboo in normal human activity! Kamadeva  had his own magic spell even on these Puranic divines.
The above can be seen as an interesting example of mythology having a laudable function at its core, besides telling interesting myths.

APPENDIX II
Spiritual Secrets of the Fierce Wisdom Goddess Bhairavi
(Through courtesy, The Editor, IndiaDivine.Org)
All spiritual phenomena in the universe tread the twin paths of beauty and danger. Goddess Bhairavi is the terrifying aspect of the Dasha Maha Vidya representing divine wrath and anger. With her piercing shrieks and petrifying rage she dispels negative forces that try to curb spiritual growth. Her name itself denotes terror or the one who is awe-inspiring. Although a frighteningly raw energy, she is mankind’s guide and protection. She signifies the proverbial wrath of a mother towards beings that threaten her children.
Goddess Bhairavi’s riveting appearance in the battlefield itself makes the dark forces scatter in pure horror. She glorifies the supreme power of speech, which is empowered by the ferocity of burning fire, Tejas. Goddess Bhairavi depicts the Word in its unarticulated elemental form, which appears as a powerful yet crude sword ready to slay the menacing opposition of evil and ignorance. She is regarded as the Goddess of Sparsha due to her attributes of speech. She is very fond of the contact of her followers and loves elaborate worship. The worship of the Warrior Goddess can be made in the form of five types of offerings. These include madya (wine), matsya (fish), mamsa (meat), mudra (gestures) and maithuna (spiritual union using inner consciousness).
She embodies the flame (Jataveda) of the conscious self (Chidangi) as the supreme power of light and heat, which is the ultimate purified fountain of knowledge. She is the blazing flare in the prime triangle of Muladhara (Trikonantara Deepika), the seven chakras sacred to tantric Hinduism.
Fused with the form of Tejas bonding to the linkage between the five organs and the five elements, The Goddess thus denoted the power of life and masters all of its manifestations in beings and in the world at large.
Goddess Bhairavi is depicted as uncontrolled, hissing, gushing power of Kundalini (the fundamental energy whose actions purify souls). She is the latent divinity as the masked Godhead, appealingly illustrated as the sleeping coiled serpent in deep slumber. When awakened or provoked the immobile serpent, starts moving unleashing wild fury, which is unmatched. The Goddess is the maddening of deep joy and ecstasy and is not concerned about serenity. She is linked with the external activity of epic poignant outbursts. The Kundalini seeks to release it self and reserves her energy during tapas or penance, by concentrating passionately and producing the heat of energy. The sincere tapas can enable one to taste the honey-bliss (ambrosia) of immortal delight. The caged animalistic state gives away to incessant blessedness.
Just like Goddess Sri Lalita, she resides in three planes: awareness, existence and eternal bliss. The difference lies in the spectral region of sound that one concentrates upon. She is also sometimes adulated in the form of Goddess Shubhamkari, the one who does good things. In this avatar, she acquires a more benevolent face, wherein she is portrayed as holding a book, a rosary while making the mudras of abhaya and varada with her hands.
In the Durga Saptashati, there is an interesting tale about Goddess Bhairavi in the form of Chandi. Chandi goes on to kill the wicked demons Shumba and Nishumba, who troubled mankind and the gods. She is also said to have killed and devoured the overlords of the asuras, Chanda and Munda in her most violent form. In the fearful avatar referred to as Chamundeshwari she is depicted with a mouth oozing with blood as she sits atop her loyal vahana, a donkey. The blood drinking goddess is covered with tiger skin and a skeleton. The reason why she drinks blood is not because of a cannibalistic portrayal but as she wishes to prevent the bloodline of the demons. If their blood trickles on the ground, it will create more horrific demons. Apart from her customary mudras, she also carries with her a trishool or trident, parashu or axe and vajra or thunderbolt, the forces of Lord Shiva, Lord Rudra and Lord Indra. The main mantra to invoke this supreme goddess is the Bhairavi mantra that is ‘Hsraim Hskalarim Hsrsauh’.
When Goddess Bhairavi is inebriated with knowledge, she takes the shape of Goddess Saraswati. In her tamasic form she also has the will to procreate. The fierce goddess sees all men as her lovers and consumes all sins in the fire of her knowledge of non-duality. She becomes Svaha in the delirium of the fire. ‘S’ is for Shakti, ‘va’ for amritam and ‘ha’ for Lord Hari or Shiva. Her consort is Kala Bhairava an equally blood curdling avatar of Lord Shiva. They are together forms of Lord Rudra and Goddess Rudrani.
Like Goddess Tripura Sundari, she is also known as Goddess Tripura Bhairavi, due to her three-city origin. Her manifestation as speech and fire helps cleanse the hearts of devotees, streamlining them towards moksha. She irons put all obstructions in their road to salvation by elevating their inner consciousness. In her aspect of Cahndi, she can invoke great cosmic powers and bring forth prosperity, pleasure and spiritual freedom. She is also Goddess Durga as Mahishasura Mardini, the ten-armed conqueror of the demon Mahishasuras and helps shatter all the negative karma with the strength of potent female goodness. The tantric traditions state that beings go on the path from beastly to beauty. Hence, on cooling down the heat and light of the spiritual fire, Goddess Tripura Bhairavi becomes Goddess Tripura Sundari or Goddess Sri Lalita.
The three-fold aspect of the warrior goddess refers to agni (fire), vidyut (lightening) and surya (sunlight); again she encompasses gods like Lord Agni, Lord Indra and Lord Surya. These entities the superior world reflect the physical, astral and causal universes.
Hence, the fearful mother goddess is in fact the pathway to spiritual bliss and harmony for ardent seekers of knowledge and enlightenment. With the right understanding of her powers and the unfaltering devotion, one can please the goddess to no bounds and be blessed with a bounty of benefits.