Monday, September 24, 2012

KEDARA GOWRI VRATA, WORSHIP OF DEVI AS SAKTI OF SIVA

KEDAARA GOWRI VRATA, WORSHIP OF DEVI AS SAKTI OF SIVA
(DISCOURSE BY N.R. SRINIVASAN, OCTOBER 2012)

INTRODUCTION
If Sivaratri is the night of the emergence of Siva as Lingodhbhava Moorti, Kedara Gowri Vrata Day is the day on which Siva emerged as Ardhanaareeswara. The 21 days observance of Kedara Gowri Vrata culminates on Deepavali Day, a day for grand Celebrations 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 which they believe will make them rich and prosperous.
Ardhanareeswara is very popular in Andhra Pradesh symbolizing the union of Siva and Sakti. 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 importance for Siva and Sakti 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, promoting the concept of polygamy if one can afford. 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.
The Ardhanaareeswara (half woman and half man) form with Paarvati as the left half represents the bipolar nature of the created world. It stresses the importance to look upon woman as equal and complementary in partnership with man. In Haryardha-moorti of Siva, the left half of is Vishnu and in the Ardhanareeswara form, Parvati forms the left half. The Haryardha-moorti also called as Hari-hara and Sankara-naaraayana is an obvious attempt at a happy reconciliation of the warring tradition of Siva and Vishnu. Hari–hara is popular in Kerala and Lord Aiyappan is the outcome of this happy union. Here the Vishnu part is the glorified Mohini Avatara equated with Parvati of Ardhanaareesvra. HINDUISM has thus reconciled the fight for equal status of woman as well as Siva-Vishnu conflicts that caused lot of pains to the society in the name of religion demonstrating its very conciliatory nature rising to the occasion.
MYTHOLOGICAL STORIES ABOUT ARDHANAARESWARA
Sage Bhringu was an ardent worshiper of Siva to the utter neglect of Sakti. To bring home the importance of Sakti to him Siva who later became a subdued and loving husband by the spell of charming beauty of Paarvati merged with Sakti as Ardhanareeswara. (Those of you who visit Hyderabad in India should not fail to miss the beautiful statue of Ardhanareeswara in Salar Jung Museum.). Egoistic Bhringu did not yield to his strong belief in Siva alone. He turned himself to be a bee (for Amba is called as Bhringa=bee) pierced the body of Ardhanareeswara in the middle and circum-ambulated only the side of Siva insulting Sakti. Enraged Sakti cursed Bhringu who could not stand on his own legs when he got back to his form being deprived of Sakti. Subdued and humbled he got back his strength praying to Devi and soon realized Siva without Sakti is sava (or lifeless body). In another story Adisankara went to Kashmir where Sakti worship is very popular to prevail upon Kashmiris to focus on Siva worship primarily and at the same advocating his Advaita Philosophy. He was soon down with dysentery and had no strength to move around to spread his mission. Devi appeared as a young girl and impressed upon him the importance of Sakti (strength) which he was lacking then. She also told how it was possible for him to ask followers of Sakti to ignore her and worship Siva alone. Sankara soon realized the little girl was none other than Paarvati. With her words of wisdom and enlightened vision Sankaracharya returned to South and included Sakti worship also in his Shanmata (six forms of worship) to include all the main faithful followings of those days--Siva, Vishnu, Soorya, Ganesha, Kumaara and Sakti. He thought reconciliation is better than a revolution after his return.
THE VRATA OR THE RITUAL
Kedara Gowri Vrata is observed with great reverence and celebrated on a grand scale in Andhra Pradesh. They believe that this ritual was started by Paarvati herself under the spiritual guidance of Sage Gautama as Puranas tell. She achieved her objective of sharing equal status with Siva who accepted her as the left side of his body emerging as Ardhanaareeswara. There are many mythological stories connected with this vrata prevailing in Andhra Pradesh glorifying this vrata and also the great benefits derived by observing the vrata. Under the advice of Gandharva Chitraangada an ardent devotee of Siva, Vajradanta became the Emperor of Ujjain by observing the vrata. Two Vaisya girls Punyavati and Bhagyavati were blessed with immense fortune and happy married life by observing this vrata. It also elaborates how by neglecting this vrata for some time the rich and prosperous Bhagyavati had to suffer for some time in life.
This day is dedicated to Ardhanareeswara as Kedaareswara focusing mainly on the Sakti aspect of the Supreme Principle. In Southern States this vrata is observed by ladies at home where Lord Kedareswara is invoked in a water filled pot (Kalasam). A roof (Mantapa) is made above the kalasam. Holy vrata threads - 21 strands having 21 knots are made. 16 customary worships are done in 21 days starting from the Tamil month of Purattaasi shukla paksha dasami to Amarapaksha Chaturdashi or Amaavaasya. On the culmination day (21st) the area is decorated with Rangoli, a Kalasam is installed on the clean decorated area with reverence over the grains spread on a banana leaf and Lord Ardhanareeswara is invoked into the waters contained in the Kalasa. Various food and fruits are offered to the Lord and the Prasadam (blessed food) is distributed to all the participants as well as those who are not able to participate. Prasadam is given too much importance in all vratas, and its consumption is necessary before breaking the vrata. The main focus of this vrata is on Sakti propitiated as Kedara Gowri, the better half of Ardhanareeswara. As is usual with every vrata this vrata also abounds in lot of beliefs as to the benefits derived by observing the vrata and also the sufferings caused by its neglect. It is believed by all followers of Siva that Vishnu became Lord of Vaikunta observing this ritual; Brahma got Hamsa vehicle by observing this ritual; the guards of the eight directions got rid of the curse they got from Brahma; Bhagyavati and Punyavati got lots of wealth all due to the glory of this ritual. From this it is very clear that sky is the limit as to the benefits to be reaped by observing this vrata for 21 days!
SPIRITUAL CONCEPT OF ARDHANAREESWARA
Let us now consider the spiritual aspect of this Puranic creation of Ardhanareeswara in art form of iconic representation and the consequent vrata (ritual). Knowledge is the expression of our body-mind-intellect equipment (BMI) while Praana (Vital Force) is the expression of Objects-Emotions-Thoughts or Perceiver-Feeler-Thinker (PFT). Praana in Vedantic sense does not mean mere breathing. We often speak of them as Pancha praanas. Praana receives all things into the body; Apaana excretes what is not required; Samaana assimilates it; Vyaana carries all assimilated food to all parts of the body; and, Udaana protects and serves as bodyguard to the individuality, (ego in us) helping it to lift its thoughts to greater heights and better understanding. This Praana is behind all transactions of a living being and therefore is its power or Sakti. It is this power that becomes sense organs, the mind and the intellect and controls all the activities. When Praana stops functioning, all activities stop. Yet this Sakti is inert, it has neither the knowledge nor the consciousness in it. For example; the sunlight must fully illuminate the object; the eyes and object must contact each other; then only seeing can be accomplished with the help of the mind.
The Self, the Consciousness is termed as Siva and the Non-Self, the group of inert equipment etc. are termed as Matter, Sakti. This is the Purusha and the Prakriti couple we often talk about as Hindus. The Spirit, Siva is Knowledge (Jnaana) and Light of Consciousness called Chaitanya. Matter is ignorance (Ajnaana) and darkness Tamas. The Primordial matter, Moola Prakriti, tickled by Conciousness in the Spirit, later on expresses itself as the gross and subtle, the objective and subjective world of beings and things; thoughts and feelings.
Knowledge-Consciousness is Purusha or the male Siva, the Self. The equipment of the individual and the confusing world of endless plurality constitute Prakriti or Sakti, the female component Non-Self. The Non-Self or Sakti cannot function without the Self playing through her or without the spark from Self. Combination of Siva-Sakti (Male—Female) is Ardhanareeswara artistically displayed and celebrated in Puranas as responsible for creation.Yaa Devee sarva bhooteshu Sakti roopena samsthitaa namas tasyai namas tasyai namas tasyai namo namah ||
REFERENCES:
1. Swami Sivananda, Hindu Fasts and Festivals, The divine Life Society, Sivanandanagar, India
2. Swami Nityanand, Symbolism in Hinduism, Central Chinmaya Mission Trust, Mumbai, India.
3. Swami Harshananda, Hindu Gods and Goddesses, Ramakrishna Math, Chennai-4, India.