Friday, August 21, 2015


(Compilation for a discourse by N. R. Srinivasan, Nashville, TN,  August  2015)

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, Yugadi   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.

Let us examine a Special Religious Day like Sravan Purnima. Sravan month is mainly dedicated to the worship of Lord Siva.  Siva spent all his time as ascetic practicing Tapas even as a married person thus setting an example to humanity to devote their time for spiritual evolution.  Brahma is also known for his penance but there are no temples for him. Vishnu is not in the picture as there is hardly any temple for Nara Narayana known for their penance except in Badrinath.  Siva thus becomes important for temple worship on this day.  Jaganntha worship is the only worship directed to God Brothers and God sisters (Krishna, Balarama and Subhadra) in temple tradition.

There is yet another strong reason why this day should be dedicated to Jagannatha assembly worship. On the full-moon day in the month of Shrabana, the birth day of Balabhadra is celebrated by performing special Nitis In Orissa. Lord Baladeva (Balabhadra) is the presiding Deity in the Baladeva Jew Temple at Kendrapara in the heart of Tulasi Kshetra, although the three Deities Balabhadra, Subhadra and Jagannath are enshrined there. The name of the temple is such given that the temple of Jagannatha at Puri is named after Lord Jagannath.  According to Prof. Prabhat Mukherjee,  Sankarasana and Vasudeva came to be known as  Balarama and Jagannatha  in Orissa    in about 5th century A.D. Brihat Samhita of Varahamihira (6th century A.D) enjoins to place Ekanamsa [Subhadra] between Baladeva and Krishna.

Hindus are completely influenced by Puranic background and beliefs in temple visit and worships. This can be seen in Satya Narayana Vrata and the importance given to Prasadam forgetting the real meaning of Nivedyam about which I talked. Similarly we are so influenced by our commercially oriented astrologers and we run to temple to do  Navagraha Shanti forgetting the fact we perform many rituals and worship on wrong dates and time guided by false panchangams though  our sastras say date and time of performance of rituals  are very important for all our Samskaras and rituals.  We all consult astrologers and Panchagams but are we right in that act?

Of course Bhagavadgita and Puranas inspire us to have as many deities as desirable in worshipful forms.  But a highly educated multi traditional crowd can settle down to meaningful and symbolic few deities from practical focus of concentration point  of view in a temple though they can continue with their own choice of Ishtadevata at home.  Jagannatha is worshiped together with Subhadra and Balarama always.  Jagannatha is also worshiped as Rudra as already explained.   He is worshipped as Kalika in Tantric form of Worship in Puri Jagannah.  Jagannatha is clad in Saris and is worshipped as Devi or Mother Goddess. What other deity can be ideally worshiped symbolically than Jaganntha by a sister looking at the assembly of brothers and sister to pray for the longevity of her brothers? This is also in-a-way Universal Brotherhood Day for Hindus where a firm relationship is established as the lover or the loved one. Such a background Puranic thought helps while celebrating Rakhi festival seeking Lord’s blessings. Therefore in a multi-traditional temple Jagannath is a composite and compromising deity for all for worship on Sravan Purnima Day. A spiritual Seeker does not need a temple or Moorti Upasana.

Entire month of Sravan is filled with special puja's and Aarti's (worshiping Lord as Source of Light and Knowledge) in temples. Sravan Somvar (Monday) Vrats (Fasting) are one of the most important rituals observed by many during this month particularly in Maharashtra. Women observe fast and offer prayers to Goddess Parvati on Mangal Gowri Vrats which is observed on Tuesdays. Devotees offer prayers to Lord Siva and seek his blessings in this holy month of Sravan.  Sravan Sukla Panchami is an important Remembrance Day for Srivaishnava followers of Ramanuja who believe in Panchakarmas of Pancharatra Theology.  It is not possible to go to temple on all days in this month. But Sravan Purnima Day is the most important Day of the month when no one will like to miss going to temple. It is the day  on which Brahmin community in particular who have undergone Upanayana atone for their sins  by Prayaschitta Homa (expiation fire ceremony) change their sacred threads, pay obeisance to Navakanda rishis (Gurus, Preceptors and Vedas) by way of water oblations,    perform  a variety of  Homas  (fire sacrifices), meditate on deified Gayatree  as Savitar and Savitree and initiate study of Vedas for the season. Women pray to Lord for longevity of their brothers and tie Rakhi (sacred arm bands) on their hands blessed by Devi. Low caste fishermen pray to Varuna, the deity of the sea offering cocoanuts to sea and in its absence to any water source, while the spiritually oriented Hindus meditate on Varuna as Vyahriti of Brahman.

I am sometimes confused as to conflicting statements and practice in orthodox Hindu approach.  Ramanuja’s Guru was Nammazhwar who is an authority on Ubhaya Vedanta both Tamil and Sanskrit.  He was a Sudra by birth and Brahmana by Samskara. Then where is the question “Om” Mantra should be uttered only by the first three castes by Birth as some Gurus opine? Now-a-days Om is chanted even by female Muslim Yoga teachers, as I had previously narrated. It is liberally chanted in Shoedasa upachaara Pooja to Sai icons Buddha and Jina wherever they are installed in Hindu Temples or in exclusive temples.

Samaashrayanam is a Srivaishnava ritual. Please read my detailed discourse. Samaashrayanam means 'to approach (Achaaryaa) with all sincerity.'  In a nut shell, during 'Samaashrayanam', the Achaarya (Guru) initiates a person, irrespective of caste, creed or sex, as his sishya or disciple.  It is a commitment from the disciple that he or she will live as per the wishes of the Achaarya. Thus the person gets the link to the Sri Vaishnava Paramparaa (lineage). During Samaashrayanam, Pancha Samskaaram (five Purifications) is performed and he or she becomes a "Sri Vaishnava".  Then where is the question of Upakarma being restricted to Males only?  If there is no restriction for Samashrayanam, then why restriction on Upakarma? In Upanishads we hear of many celebrated Vedic scholars who have been initiated to Upanayana ceremony to begin Vedic studies.

Worshiping vast water sources particularly Sea as God or Goddess is there in all the religious traditions of the world and not exclusive to Hindus alone.  Probably this tradition comes from the celebration of Saptasindhus (seven Oceans in Vedas) as Vyahritis of Brahman based on the wisdom of Vedas. MNU says “Aakraantasamudrah prathame vidharmam janayanpraja bhuvanasya nabhih”--The supreme represented as the Ocean has overflown to the whole creation. He has created at first creature according to the deserts of their past deeds. He is the ruler of the universe and munificent giver of gifts to the devotees.  Samudra or the Ocean is the cause of this Universe says the Mantra (samyak uddravati utpadyate jagat asmaat iti samudrah). The rivers are generally addressed as female deities and Samudra as King or as a Male deity while rivers as female deity.   All rivers ultimately merge with the sea (Nadeenaam saagaro gatih). This is the dual role of Parmaatman and Parasakti responsible for creation and motherly protection.

It is not possible here to describe the various Sea Festivals from different lands which would run to several pages. But Hindu Americans are thrilled to witness the American Taiwanese annual festival in USA.  Mazu is a Buddhist and Taoist goddess of the sea, protector of travelers and one of Taiwan's most popular deities. This year, a temple in her honor will rise above Black Rock City for the annual Burning Man festival -- only to be burnt to the ground at the end of the week. Almost a year is spent in building a temple   for that one week celebration, which will be enjoyed by 70,000 people   and watched as it burns to the ground.  The structure is 50 feet wide, Parker said, and is raised four feet off the ground on a pier. Around the temple will be an elaborate light display, which will be illuminated at night and give off the illusion of a moat. Two 12-foot diameter "islands" will emerge from the main structure at the end of 20-foot walkways, offering visitors a place to sit, drink tea and contemplate life. Surrounding the temple will be a string of lanterns 150 feet in diameter. 

I have dealt at length on all the Sravan Purnima festivals and rituals in a separate discourse as you all know. Therefore let us examine as to how to integrate all these events together and make the day a Special Religious Events day for celebration in temples and make it a very busy day for all and maximize temple collections.
Vedas define Upanayana as taking near to Vedas through Gayatri Mantra as can be seen from the following Veda Mantra. Thread Ceremony or Upanayana sacrament is a later development inspired by this Veda Mantra which was made  restrictive and regimental to  Brahmins by birth and by orthodoxy and  is of much later origin. 

Ojoci Sahosi balamaci bhrajoci devaanaam dhaamanaamaci viswamaci visvaayuh sarvamaci  sarvaayuh abhibhoorom gaayatrrem aavaahayaami saavitreem aavaahayaami sarsvateem aavaahayaami  chchandarsheen aavaahayaami gaayatriyaa gaayatree chchndo viswaamitra rishih savitaa devataagnirmukham brahmaa  siroe vishnur hridayah rudrah sikhaa prithavee yonih praana-apaana-vyaana-udaana-samaana sapraanaa svetavarnaa sankhyaayana gotraa gayatree chaturvimsatyaksharaa shatkukshih panchaseersha upanayane viniyogah ||

Oh Gayatree! Thou art the essence of strength. Thou art patience or the subduing power. Thou art physical capacity. Thou art splendor. Thou art abode of Gods and their name. Thou art the insentient Universe.  Thou art the full span of life or the lord of all.  Thou art every living thing.  Thou art the life span of all. Thou art the vanquisher of all that is hostile to us.   Thou art the Truth denoted by the Pranava OM. I invoke Gayatree into my heart. I invoke Savitri. I invoke Sarasvati. I invoke the meters, the    Rishi and the Gods. I invoke the splendor of all the Gods. Gaayatree is the meter of Gayatree; the Rishi is Viswamitra; the deity is Savitar. Fire represents the mouth; the four-faced Brahma, the head; Vishnu, the heart; Rudra, the crown of hairs. Earth is the source; the in-breath, the out breath, the diffused breath; the up-breath and the middle breath, and the breath.   Gaayatree is fair in hue and is of the same family as Paramaatman attained by the Sakhyaas—the illumined sages. The deity Gaayaatree has twenty four syllables, comprised in three feet, six sheaths or cavities and five heads. It is employed in Upanayana ceremony or the initiation into Vedic studentship.

[Vajasaneyins use this section for the invocation of Gaayatree instead of the verses beginning with Aayaatu varadaa devee.  These mantras were there for all even before Upanayana Samskaara procedures were formulated and made regimental to Brahmin Caste. Hence Vedas intend this for all humanity]

The central focus of Hindu Worship is to start the worship with Gatyatree Mantra headed by the mystic symbol OM. The mantra above has deified Gayatri along with Savitar and  Savitri as explained in detail. They in turn represent Trinity as Brahma, Vishnu and Rudra.

This clearly shows that Upakarma Day is meant for all—a day of atonement, Initiation, Inviting Brhaman as Gayatri, celebrated farewell, honoring Navakanda rishis and start the Vedic studies. The appropriate rituals are:
1) Paapa Nivaaraka Homa (pleading for release of bondage for) evil deeds
2) Kamokarsheet –Manyurakarsheet Homa (expiation for sins)
3) Jnaana-praptyarthaa Homas
4) Virajaa Homa (get rid of Ego overcoming Rajoguna)
5) Navakaanda  Rishi  Homa (gratitude to Rishis and obeisance to Vedas and Upanishads)
6) Mrityunjaya Homa (for longevity of life for brothers)
7) Veda Paaraayana

I would like to include here one particular Homa Mantra contained in MNU which is most appropriate for the day:

Jnaana-prapty-arthyaa Homa Mantraah (homas pleading for high IQ)

Paahi noe agna Enase swaahaa| paahi noe viswavedase swaahaa | yajnam paahi vibhaavaso swaahaa | sarvam paahi satakarto swaahaa ||
Paahi noe agna ekayaa | pahyuta dviteeyaya | paahyoorjam triteeyayaa | paahi geerbhischa tasribhi r- vaso swaahaa ||

 Oh Fire, preserve us from sin! Hail! Preserve us that we may attain full knowledge, Hail! O Resplendent One, preserve our sacrificial acts. Hail! O Satakratu, preserve everything that belong to us.  Hail!  (With this mantra I offer the oblation)

Oh Divine Fire, Oh settler of all creatures! Be gracious to protect us being praised by the hymns of the first Veda. Hail! Further, be gracious to protect us having praised by the hymns of the second Veda.  Hail! Be gracious to protect our food and strengthening essence of it having praised by the hymns of the third Veda.    Hail!  Be gracious to protect us having praised by the hymns of the four Vedas. Hail! (With this Mantra, I offer the oblation).”   

This is sacrificial worship which paves the way to divine knowledge.  These mantras remove the obstacles in the way of final illumination—the ultimate goal of the religious seeker.  The second group contains four mantras for offering oblations into the consecrated fire for the attainment of illumination as additional support to the previous group of Mantras.

All these mantras are in Maha Narayana Upanishad without any reference to caste or creed or specific sacrament. These mantras can be found in my discourses on Maha Narayana Upanishad and Sandhyavandan Mantras and in the discourse on Upaakarma.

While those who have undergone Upanayana ceremony and are Dwijas can directly participate in these homas others can witness and chant the mantras and derive the benefit.

It is customary to read Gita on Gita Jayanti Day or chant Vishnu Sahasranama. One of the easiest and most effective   Vedaparayana is reading Maha Narayana Upanishad. I do it every day. It is as   easy to chant as Vishnu Sahasranama.

Mahaanaaraayana Upanishad forms part of Krishna Yajurveda and also part of Taittareeya Aaaranyaka. This Upanishad is rich in collection of Mantras used in ritualistic contexts found in various Vedas and Upanishads.  This contains only 150 Mantras, a bit longer than Vishnusahasranaama, but very much smaller than Bhagavad Gita.   It is very convenient to use this for daily chanting (Paraayana).   The benefit that comes out of it   is that it will take you through all Vedas and other Upanishads from which various ritual mantras have been included in this Upanishad either in full form or as suitable extraction. At the same time it gives the exposition of Brahman and Creation in a masterly way in the beginning.  It concludes with various forms of worship discussing their merits but ultimately recommends Nyaasa or Saranaagati as the best. Is it not worth engaging all and initiate Vedic study with this on Saravan Purnima Day in our Temple worship?

Narali Purnima is a day to meditate on Brahman through the medium of Varuna deity or Sea. Varuna is the deity of Cosmic Sea.  Fishermen and others who depend on sea for their livelihood worship sea as Samudra Raja which to a spiritual seeker appeals as none other than Brahman. This festival is very popular in Maharashrtra and Gujarat. Vedas proclaim “Aapah Idam Brama” Water is verily Brahman. Sindhu in Sanskrit means River as well as ocean. All sacred water sources in Vedas are glorified as “Sindhavah” and worshiped as Brahman.  Offering of Nariyal to water is like Ganesha or Devi visarjan done in Hindu American temples on festive days and is easy to perform collectively. Sravan Purnima is a great day to worship Varuna by all.

Concept of thinking on Supreme is hard to many. To contemplate upon the formless and therefore the Transcendental Essence is given but to a few. The majority needs some grosser expression, of the Pure and the Infinite, for their mind to conceive IT (Brahman) and their intellect to contemplate upon IT.  IT here does not mean information Technology but Intelligence Treasure from which we draw our needs.  The symbols of the Supreme Truth are called idols. All religious idols are mystic symbols that leave wondering people drawn from other religions who come to Hindu American Temples.  Foreigners in Hindu Temples in India are prohibited in almost all temples in India and when they find a person suspected of foreign origin they hunt them down.  In this context with the background of Puranic stories and age long traditional worship of Lord Jagannatha as Universal Lord  at once contributes to various religious thoughts on worshiping as choice deity for the occasion from among 330 million deities.  Usually in Hindu American Tradition where One Temple caters to all Sectarian needs there are sanctums for Rudra, Venkateswara and Jagannatha who to a spiritual seeker appeals very ideal and easy to   meditate upon as Parabrahman and Parasakti. The ideal deity for this day’s worship is Jagannatha in the absence of which Lord Venkateshwara is the next best alternative as already explained above and in my previous discourse.  He is also Satyanarayana for whom this day is dedicate as He is Satya (Truth) and Narayana (Brahman in Pancharartra  concept). The colorful and dominating idol, the Puranic background and the age-long tradition based on it influences the young as well immature mind to rise to spiritual heights.  


This discourse is based on:
A.  Srinivasan N.R.,   1) Some Vedic Mantras Used in Hindu Worships and Ritulas 2) Homa Mantras from Maha Narayana Upanishad 3) Sravan Poornima Festivals and Rituals 4) Prologur to Sandhyavandana Rituals 5) Sandhyavandana—Worship Meet and 6) Multi  Traditional Hindu Temples in USA need Focus on Spirituality and Deities to suit all.
 B. Antonia Blumberg,   Sea Goddess Temple with Fire Breathing    Dragon, The Huffington Post, Religious Columns.
C. Swami Vimalananda, Maha Narayana Upanishad, Ramakrishna Math. Chennai, India. 


Balabhadra Upasana and Tulasi Kshetra
Posted by The Editor | Feb 18, 2012 | 

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On the full-moon day in the month of Shrabana, the birth day of Balabhadra is celebrated by performing special Nitis. Lord Baladeva (Balabhadra) is the presiding Deity in the Baladeva Jew Temple at Kendrapara in the heart of Tulasi Kshetra, although the three Deities Balabhadra, Subhadra and Jagannath are enshrined there. The name of the temple is such given that the temple of Jagannatha at Puri is named after Lord Jagannath.  According to Prof. Prabhat Mukherjee, in about 5th century A.D. Sankarasana and Vasudeva came to be known as Jagannatha and Balarama in Orissa. Brihat Samhita of Varahamihira (6th century A.D) enjoins to place Ekanamsa [Subhadra] between Baladeva and Krishna.
Meghasthenes, the Greek ambassador in the court of the Maurya Emperor Chandragupta, also refers to the satvatas and the worship of Vasudev-Krishna. Historian R.G. Bhandarkar observes thus, “If the Vasudev-Krishna worship prevailed in the time of the first Maurya, it must have originated long before the establishment of Maurya dynasty, and my assertion that it owes its origin to the stream of thought which began with Upanishads and culminated in the east in Buddhism and Jainism and arose about the time of the latter, is conformed.”   So we find that the cult of Vasudev-Krishna and Sankarshan (Basudeva) came into being long before the 4th century B.C
A Ghusundi inscription mentions Pujasila Prakaro narayanavatica, which has been translated as “enclosing wall of the stone (object) of worship called Narayana Vatika (compound)” and dedicating the same to Sankarsana Baladeva, who was Lord of all. Hence the indication that indications of worship of only two forms (or Vyuhas), Sankarsana and Vasudev, and not the four (Sankarsana, Vasudev, Pradyumna and Aniruddha) had developed by this time. Moreover Sankarsana has been mentioned first and evidently been given a prior position (cf. Sankarsana-Vasudevabhyam). Above Ghosundi, which is near to Nagari in the Chitorgarh district of Rajasthan (Rajputana), was also a seat of the Bhagavat religion. A stone image of Balarama, which is now preserved in the Lucknow Provincial Museum,   is a sure proof that his worship was prevalent in Mathura during the Sunga period (2nd century B.C). The Deity holds club (musala) in his right hand and plough in the left.
Balabhadra is known as the elder brother of Vasudeva. His sixteen other names are: Balabhadra Rebati Raman, Talanka, Musali, Hali, Kamapal, Kalandi Vedan, Pralaghna, Achutagranja, Bala, Rohineya, Nilambara, Sirapani , Halayudha, Baladeva, Balarama and Sankarsana  He is the God of Destruction for which strength (Bala) is necessary, so his name is Sankarsana, Balaram, Balabhadra and Baladeva for his vigor.
Not for the strength of the destroyer but for his wisdom, Balabhadra is the ‘Siva’ of the Universe. In the Agama (Tantra) sastra, Siva is the Paramaguru. When Siva describes the essence of tantras, he is knowledge, called Dakshina Murty. Balabhadra is white, as if He is pounded by Bhasma. So he is the incarnation of Siva.   In the 12th century A.D., Kavi Jayadeva of Orissa also described him in Gita-govinda as:
Bahasi Bapusi Bishade Basanga Jaladavang
Hala hati viti milita Jamunavang Keshaba dhruta
Haladhara rupa Jaya Jagadisha Hare
Lord Balabhadra was worshipped during 4th-5th century A.D. in Uttar Tosali. The entire ancient Uttar (northern) Tosali is named as Tulasi Kshetra, but the present Tulasi-kshetra is the modern Kendrapara.   The area extending from the Bay of Bengal in the east, the high hill of Lalitagiri as well as the Assia mountain range in the north-west, River Baitarani in the north and River Mahanadi in the south, is the part of north Tosali or UCHA (UDRA) of Hiuen-Tsang. The present Kendrapara district is surrounded by three major rivers of Orissa forming a deltaic region. The low delta region is submerged by sea water and river water during extreme rainy seasons, leaving high silt.
This deltaic region is very fertile for the production of agricultural goods. People here worship the God of Agriculture and oxen/bull. The Lord Balabhadra of Kendrapara was first enshrined by Gopal Siddha das, a cowherd boy of that area. It is very interesting to note that Siva is represented as a cultivator who ploughs his fields, sows seeds, takes out weeds, cut grass and carries it home on his head, as he appears in the medieval Bengali literature.  
Regarding the festival, it is stated that “In the half-Buddhistic and half-Saivite Gambhira and Gajan festivals, which appear to have originated at an early date and must have preceded Ramai Pandit’s work, there are references to the agricultural role of Siva on the Ahara puja, a feature common to both Gambhira and Gajana festivals. Cultivation by Siva is represented by bhakatas or devotees before the spectators.”   We know that the wisdom of Balabhadra is the Siva of the Universe, hence Siva-Balabhadra as the God of Agriculture has been worshipped since ancient times.
Iconographic representation showing the relation between Vaisnavism and Saktism is not uncommon in India, or in Orissa. The earliest representation so far available of the holy triad of Krishna-Vasudeva, Subhadra (Ekanamsa) and Sankarsana-Balaram is preserved in the Karachi Museum, Pakistan (2nd century A.D.).   Here, a two-armed Balarama is in standing pose and holding a colossal plough (hala) in his right hand. The utter absence of snakehoods above his head is to be noted with great interest. The association of Krishna-Balarama in a few Jaina reliefs from the Mathura Museum dated to the Kusan period, are also worth taking note of.  
It is said that after the death of Baladeva, his dead body was transformed into a stone image which was worshipped by Devatas at the door of Patalapuri, which is identified with Lalitagiri in Dwarpa Yuga. The area extending from the Bay of Bengal in the east, the Lalitagiri and Assia mountain range in the north-west, River Baitarani in the north and River Mahanadi in the south are called part of Patalapuri (nether world) in the Puranic literature  When Kali Yuga appeared and Buddha Dharma (Buddhism) spread over the area, the Devatas kept the image of Balabhadra in disguise, hidden underwater in the River Madhusagar, which is now called the River Gobari. After Gopal Siddha das discovered the image of Balabhadra near Siddha Sarovar, he worshipped him at Kendrapara.
There are also some examples which state that Balarama worship was prevalent in other parts of India and even in the heart of Buddhist sites like the ancient site of Nalanda. An inscription of King Devapal is engraved on the pedestal of a bronze image of Baladeva discovered from there. So it appears that this Brahmanical Deity was worshipped at Nalanda during Devapal’s reign.  
Another interesting carving of Balarama belonging to the 2nd or 3rd century A.D. had been discovered from the Gwalior area at Tumain (ancient Tumbavana). Thus the locality of Gwalior state came under the influence of Vaisnavism at least by the Saka-Kusan period, or the early centuries of the Christian era (i.e. 3rd century A.D)
In the 5th-6th century A.D., the Pancharatra System of the Bhagabata Cult, which accept Sankarsana-Baladeva and Krsna-Vasudeva as the supreme Deities, was followed by the Sarabhapuriya kings of Western Orissa.   It is a very interesting fact that one inscription on the wall of the Nrusingha temple in the campus of Sri-Jagannatha temple Puri was discovered by late S.N. Rajguru. The said inscription is fixed in the southern wall at a floral-base under the Varaha shrine. It records that in the 37th Srahi of Anangabhima-III (i.e. A.D. 1241), a Mahamandalika had donated lands for Amrta Manohi (bhoga) of two Gods, namely Balabhadradeva and Kamalakshadeva (Sri Krsna). Hence it is noted that Balabhadra upasana was given prior importance even in Sri-Mandir, Puri
Kandarasura, a demon king and a destroyer of yajnas, was ruling over the area surrounding Lalitagiri and the Assian mountain ranges. Tulasi Kshetra Mahatmya   reveals that he lived near Lalitagiri-Alatigiri, and was terrifying the local people. Lord Balarama defeated him in a fight, as a result of which he left the place and went to Kapilash Mountain near Dhenkanal, where he lived in disguise in the nearby mountain ranges, as he was an ardent devotee of Lord Siva. Lord Baladeva thoroughly searched every nook and corner of the hill and lastly ploughed the hill with his plough (hala), as a result of which one perennial spring emerged from the hill. This is now called Langal Siar Jharana (spring of the plough). After persuading him from Kapilash, Lord Baladeva killed the wicked demon Kandarasura in a fight and threw his scattered body all over the nearby places.
The Deities of Kendrapara
It is every interesting to note that the present place names surrounding Kendrapara are known according to the names of the fallen body parts of the demon king. Asureswar is derived from the fallen cut head (Asura Sira) of the demon, Balagandi is derived from the fallen gandi (trunk) of the demon (i.e. Kandara padi), Kamar Khandi is derived from his fallen kamar (waist), and Navi Khanda Lahakhanda is derived from the fallen navi (Naval) of the demon. Besides these places, Lord Baladeva founded some Siva’ temples over the other fallen parts of the demon, like Swapneswar Siva temple at Kantia, Lankeswar Siva temple at Gualisingh, and Biuleswar Siva temple at Kajala, where demon’s body parts like feet, neck and part of the waist respectively were fallen. The demon’s body (gandi) is buried at Balagandi, which is Kendrapara proper. [18]
Some research scholars have the opinion that Kandarasura, who lived near Chandikhol, was not a demon but an ardent Buddha arhat (follower of Buddhism) and a tantric, and that he was a leader of an aboriginal race like the Kondha (Kondharasura). According to his name, the place name ‘Kandharapara’ or ‘Kendraparah’ has been derived. But other scholars think differently, that the name ‘Kendraparah’ is derived from the word ‘Kendra’ (a kind of musical instrument made of from the gourd) and ‘para’ means pada, or hamlet of a village.[19] This instrument is played by some sects of people called Natha Jogi (Yogi), who makes his livelihood by playing Kendara and by moving from door to door for alms.
After the advent of the new Nathism, some sects of people adopted Nathism and called themselves Natha or Natha yogi. It is worth mentioning here that an ancient stone image of Machhendranatha, one of the chief preachers of the Natha cult, is worshipped at Rajanagar (Pattamundai). It is understood from an inscription on the body of this image that the Natha cult was prevalent in Kendrapara area during the 9th century A.D. [20] Descendants of Natha family are now living in the area surrounding Kendraparah at Icchapur (Kendrapara), Choudakulat, Taradipal (Pattamundai) Chandiapalli (Aul), Nikirai, Kashati, Chandol, Rajanagar, Derabisi, etc. Kendraparah, being its Kendra (centre), the name derived Kendra-Pada or Kendraparah.
Kandharasura, the destroyer of Yajnas was finally killed by Lord Balabhadra. His head was cut five times, but again appeared, which indicates the Pancha-skandha of Buddhism, i.e., Rupa, Bedana, Sangya, Sanskar and Bijyan. This legend describes the culture of Buddhism. It is a conflict between Buddhism and Brahmanism.
At last the Brahmanism (Tulasi) won the battle. Lord Baladeva married Tulasi, the daughter of Kandarasura on the 12th day of the bright-fortnight of the month of Magha. This Magha Sukla Dwadasi day is observed as Tulasi Bihaba day (Marriage day of Tulasi) with great pomp and ceremony every year.
The war of Lord Baladeva with Kandharasura indicates the war of religious understanding. From the early times, worship of Nagas (snakes) was prevalant in Orissa, and Naga Puja mingled with Brahamanism. During archaeological excavations at Paharpur in Rajshahi districts of East Bengal (now Bangladesh), they discovered one gray sandstone sculpture of Lord Balaram, one of the ten incarnations of Visnu, depicted with plough (hala) and under snake-hood. [21] As this image is dated to the 9th century A.D, it is proved that the Balabhadra Upasana was fully developed from at least the 9th century A.D. in the neighbouring province of Orissa.
In the 13th century A.D., King Anangabhimadeva-III of Ganga dynasty constructed one temple for the worship of Lord Baladeva near the present Kacheri of old Kendrapara town, which is about 60 hands (28 meters) high, for the worship of Lord Baladeva Jew in the heart of Tulasi Kshetra.
The original temple was demolished by Khan-i-Dwina (1660-1667 A.D.), the then Subedar of Orissa during the time of Mughal Emperor Aurangazeb.   He constructed a Masjid on the foundation of the dismantled temple in the year 1663 A.D.
Devotees took the Deity in disguise in a boat through the river Govari by boat and kept the Deity secretly near Baranga (Chhedara) Jungle. Afterwards it was shifted to Balarampur village near the Luna River at Samkhi Bata, so this place is also sacred for Vaisnavas.
Because the original stone image (Manibigraha) of Lord Balabhadra was found in the Tulasi forest by the cowherd boy Gopal Siddha das, the name of the presiding Deity Lord Baladeva is “Siddha Baladeva Jew”.
In 1761, the present Baladeva Jew temple was constructed at Ichhapur (Kendrapara) during the Maratha rule in Orissa. It was constructed by the king of Kujanga, Raja Gopali Sandha and Zamindar (landlord) of Chhedara killa, Sri Srinivas Narendra Mahapatra. One saint Santha, Gopi das, and Sairatak Giri convinced the then Maratha King of Janoji to construct the Jagamohan, Bhoga Mandap, etc. of the main temple of Gundicha and the compound wall. The viman and Jagamohan are built in pidha style of temple architecture. Afterwards Mukti Mandap, Ananda Bazar, Bhandarghara (store), Gouranga temple, Basudeva temple and Garuda pillar were constructed inside the compound wall.
Painting of some Hindu iconography was done on the roof ceiling and inner wall of Jagamohana. The entire area surrounding the Baladeva Jew temple is traditionally known as Tulasi Kshetra. The image of Tulasi Devi was worshipped in a temple near village Gochha on the northern side of the road from Kendrapara to Ichhapur. The stone image of Lord Balabhadra and wooden Forms of Jagannatha, Subhadra and Sudarsana are worshipped according to the rituals of the temple of Lord Jagannath at Puri. Tulasi Kshetra (Kendrapara) is very near to Lalitagiri, Udayagiri and Ratnagiri, where the famous University of Puspagiri and Buddha Vihar Buddhist flourished since 2nd-3rd century B.C. So the entire deltaic area from Lalitagiri to the River Mahanadi and the sea is full of scattered Buddhist antiquities. Other important places are Pancha Varahi (Satavaya), Laxmi-varaha (Aul), Chandra Mayuli (Chandan nagar), Rama Chandi (Ramanagar), Patharakani (Barua), Satavauri (Panturi) Maa Kalinaguni (Gangapara-Sanamanitia) and Gramadevaties.
The zamindar of Chhedara was worshipping one Buddha image in a temple facing north [23] in the deep forest of Baranga (Kendrapada), where the present shrine of Lord Balabhadra and other deities were worshipped. The same Buddha image is now worshipped inside the compound of the Valadeva Jew premises as Basudeva (father of Balarama). The present Tulasi Kshetra and its adjoining areas was once a great center of Buddhist and Saivite cultures. Some of the Buddhistic and Brahmanical images recovered from here have been preserved in the Indian Museum at Kolkata.  
Besides Viraja Kshetra and the Assia mountain ranges, the upper Baitarani river valley was also influenced by Buddhistic and Saivite cultures. One Siva-Nataraj image found at Asanapat (Keonjhar), which belong to the 4th century A.D, is kept in the State Museum at Bhubaneswar. Inscribed in the lower portion of the image is a description of the devotion of Maharaja Satru Bhanja towards Siva.  
A single copper plate grant was discovered from Deogaon (near Anandapur) Kosaleswar Siva temple. The donor is Sri Ranabhanja Deva of Bhanja king of Khijjinga kotta, who is described as Parameswara, which denotes that he was a devotee of Siva.   There is an ancient well in the campus of Kosaleswar Siva temple at Deogaon which is identical to a well found at the Buddhist site of Udayagiri. An Abalokiteswar (Padmapani) image was also found from there, from the Bhaumakar dynasty period. The Kosaleswar Siva of Debagram (Deogaon) was established by Jajatikeshari during the 10th century A.D.,   hence the area between River Baitarani and Mahanadi were influenced by Buddhism, Saktism, Tantric Buddhism and Saivism, side by side in the past.
During the 16th century, Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu visited the old temple of Baladeva Jew and remained there for five days. He took new rice (nabarna) at Chhedra. [28] As regards the spread of Vaisnavism in that period, we know that the religious movement was divided into two sects: Baikhanasa and Pancharatra. The sect of Baikhanasa depends on the Vedas, whereas the Pancharatra sect depends on Agama (Tantra). According to Pancharatra tradition, Lord Visnu has four Swarupas: 1) Para, 2) Vyuha, 3) Bibhaba, and 4) Antaryami
1. Para Swarupa – Lord Visnu is known as Parambrahma, Parameswar, having six virtues: Jnana Bala, Aiswariya, Virya, Sakti and Teja. But in some other text it is stated: Jnana (knowledge), Virya (heroism), Aiswariya (divinity), Yasas (fame), Sri (prosperity), and Vairagya (renunciation).
2. Vyuha Swarupa – Lord Visnu has four Swarupas, including: Vasudeva, Sankarsana, Pradyumna, Aniruddha. Here Vasudeva is understood to have possessed the six attributes as above, so he is regarded as God Himself. Sankarsan has Jnana (knowledge) and Bala (power) Pradyumna has Aiswariya (divinity) and Virya (heroism).  Aniruddha has Sakti and Teja. Here, according to Vyuha Swarupa, Jagannatha is Vasudeva and Balaram is Sankarasana. Jayadeva’s Gita-Govinda from the 12th century A.D. shows a new movement of Vaisnavism in full development on the soils of Orissa.
So in a very extensive area of the State of Orissa as well as India and abroad, the Lord Balabhadra, Subhadra and Jagannatha were worshipped in the temple called Baladeva Jew temple. These are several Baladeva Jew temples in Orissa, including Siddha Baladeva Jew of Kendrapara, Sri Baladeva Jew of Jignipur near Salepur, Sri Sri Baladeva Jew of Patapur under Dharmasala (Jajapur), Sri Baladeva Jew of Garadapur (Patakura), Sri Baladeva Jew of Indupur and Kanikagarh (Kendrapara district), Sri Baladeva Jew of Agarpada, Baladeva of Gud village, Sri Sri Baladeva Jew of Manjuri (Ranajit village) in Bhadrak district, Baladeva of Kupari hill (Balasore), Baladeva Jew of Keonjhar, Siddha Balaram of Dhenkanal, Baladeva of Dasapallah (Nayagarh), and Sri Balaram of Tumantara (Balipatana). This testifies to the prevalance of extensive Baladeva worship in the deltaic region and its suburb areas of Orissa.
The Car Festival of Lord Balabhadra in the Tulasi Kshetra is celebrated on the 2nd day of the bright fortnight in the month of Asadha just like the festival of Puri. He moves in a magnificent chariot called Taladwaja, which is 39 feet (12 mtrs.) in height and 24 feet (7.5 mtrs.) in diameter, having 14 wheels. Two black and two white horses are fitted in front of the chariot.
In the past the zamindar of Chhedaragarh was performing all royal duties of Puja like Chherrah Pamhara, etc., but now these duties are performed by the successors of Zamindar late Radheshyam Narendra of Kendrapara. Bhoga like Rasabali is famous in Baladeva Jew temple. Besides this, the festival of Makar Sankranti, Mahabishuva Sankranti (Pana Sankranti), Chandan Jatra and Snana Purnima, Shravan Purnima (Baladeva Janma) and Maghasukla Dwadasi (Tulasi Bibaha) are some of the main festivals observed in the Baladeva Jew temple at Kendrapara with devotion to Lord Baladeva:
Barsanam Bharata Shresthah Desanam Utkal Tatha, Utkale Shrestha Tirthani Krushnak Parvati Harah. Yatrayam Halayudha Gachheta Tulasi Kshetre Tisthatah, Utkale Pancha Khetrancha Badanti Muni Punga Bah. (Brahma Tantra)

Legendary Stories of Raksha Bandhan

(By courtesy: Sundar Rajan, India)
Raksha Bandhan is a term from the Hindi language which means a relationship or an association based on protection.This is a festival which has a long standing Indian heritage. More commonly known as Rakhi, this Indian festival signifies the sacred bond of love between a brother and sister. 
The festival also finds a mention in most of the epics and its origin can be traced to as far back as the ancient times.
Alexander: The Great and King of Puru: Alexander, the great (as he was called) was on a mission to conquer the world. On his crusade through the Indian subcontinent somewhere around 300 B.C., King Alexander of Macedonia was shaken by the fury of the Indian king, Porus. It was then that Alexander's wife approached King Porus as a sister. On Alexander's next attempt, King Porus, as a tribute to the sacred bond of Rakhi, did not oppose King Alexander and let him have his way.

Rani Karnavati and Emperor Humayun: One of the most popular tales that come to our minds when we think of Rakhi is that of Rani Karnavati and Emperor Humayun. This dates back to the medieval era when Rajputs were fighting Muslim invasions. When Rani Karnavati, the widowed queen of the king of Chittor realized that she could not defend the attack by the Sultan of Gujarat, Bahadur Shah, she sent a Rakhi to Emperor Humayun. The Emperor, touched by this gesture of sisterly love immediately set off with his troops to defend Chittor's honor.

Lord Krishna and Draupadi: Legend goes that during the war that Krishna fought and won against the evil King Sari where he killed King Sari, Krishna was hurt and his hand was bleeding. Seeing this, Draupadi tore a strip of cloth from her saree and tied it around his wrist.
Lord Krishna, seeing her affections and realizing her concerns about him, declared himself bounded by her sisterly love. He also promised that he will be at her side whenever she needed a brother. Many years later, when Pandavas lost Draupadi in a game of dice and Kauravas were removing her saree (cheerharan), Krishna helped her. He did so by continuously adding to the length of her saree and thereby saved her from a public disgrace.
King Bali and Goddess Lakshmi Mahabali, the demon king was also a great devotee of Lord Vishnu. It was thus that Lord Vishnu left Vaikuntham, his dwelling to protect Bali's kingdom. But, Goddess Lakshmi (Lord Vishnu's wife) became sad because of the Lord having left her alone. So, she went to Bali as a Brahmin woman and took refuge as in the King's palace. On Shravan Purnima, she tied a Rakhi on King Bali's wrist. She then revealed her true identity and told the King of her real reason for coming. The king was touched by Her and Lord Vishnu's good will and affection towards him and his family. Following which Bali requested Lord Vishnu to accompany her to Vaikuntham. It was thus that the festival of Rakhi also came to be known as Balev (as a reference to Bali's devotion to Lord Vishnu).
The strong bond represented by Rakhi has resulted in innumerable political ties among kingdoms and princely states. The pages of Indian history testify that the Rajput and Maratha queens have sent Rakhi even to Mughal kings who, despite their differences, have assuaged their Rakhi-sisters by offering help and protection at critical moments and honored the fraternal bond. Even matrimonial alliances have been established between kingdoms through the exchange of Rakhi. History has it that the great Hindu King Porus refrained from striking Alexander, the Great because the latter’s wife had approached this mighty adversary and tied a Rakhi on his hand, prior to the battle, urging him not to hurt her husband. 

 Mata Savitri by Lord Vishnu

A short and sweet prayer on Mata Savitri by Lord Vishnu taken from Skanda Puranam, Prabhasa Khandam, Chapter 165.

As we all know, Gayatri is the essence of Sanatana Dharma. The following verse from Chandogya ParishiShta elucidates this point:

Sarveshaam  eva vedaanaanm guhyopanishdaam  tathAaa | saarabhootaa  to  gaayatree nirgataa brahmabo  mukhaat ||

(Meaning : The essence of all Vedas and the inscrutable Upanishads is verily Gayatri, which emanated from the face of Lord Brahma")

Yathaa cha madhu pushpeshu ghritam dugdhaad rasaat payah | evam hi sarva-devaanaam gaayatree saara  || (Brihad Yogi Yaajnavalkya Smriti)

(Meaning : Like honey is the essence of flowers and ghee is the essence of milk/curd, Gayatri is the essence of all Vedas)

Vedas and Sastras are unequivocal about the need for Gayatri Japa as the very basic qualification of one to do any other religious activities. There are lot of misconceptions about Varnas and Brahmin-hood and their duties in today's world - because we foolishly degenerated Varna concept into a caste system. But apart from the same name, there is nothing common in between Varna Caste. The following verses provide chapter and verse to what they stand for:

Janmanaa jaayate soodrah sanskaaraad dvija uchyata (Atri Smriti)

(Meaning : By birth everyone is a Shudra. One becomes a Brahmin by Samskaras only) Compare this with Lord Krishna's verse in Bhagavad Gita Chaatur varnyam mayaa shrishtham guva karma vibhaagasah - The four Varnas, based on Guna and Karma (and not birth), were created by me.

Kin vedaih pathitaih sarvaih setihaasa-puraannakaih | saa~ngaih saavitree-heeno yo na vipratvam avaapnuyaat  || (Brihat Parashara Smriti)

(Meaning : What is the use of studying Vedas, Puranas, Itihasas and other Vedangas? One who is devoid of Savitri worship never attains Brahmin-hood. )

Gaayatreem yah parityajya cha anya-mantram-upaasate | na saaphalyam avaapnoti kalpa-koti-shatair api || (Brihat Sandhya BhAshya)

(Meaning: One who leaves Gayatri Mantra Upasana and goes after Upasana of other mantras will never get any fructification even after crores of Kalpas.)

 || śrīsāvitrī stotra- śrīviṣṇu-kta- śrīskanda purāṇam ||
Sri Savitri Stotram Lord Vishnu Skanda Puranam

The following is a rare and short hymn on Goddess Savitri by Lord Vishnu and is taken
from Skanda Puranam, Prabhasa Khanda, and Chapter 165.

śrīviṣṇuruvāca -
namo'stu te mahādevī bhūrbhuva-svas trayīmayī |
sāvitrī durga-taraṇī tvavāṇī saptadhā smtā || 1 ||
sarvāṇi stuti śāstrāṇi lakaṇāni tathaiva ca |
bhaviyā sarva-śāstrāṇāṁ tvatu devī namo'stu te || 2 ||
śvetā tvaṁ śveta-rūpo'si śaśāṅkena samānanā |
śaśi-raśmi-prakāśena hariorasi rājase || 3 ||
divya-kuṇḍala-pūrṇābhyāṁ śravaṇābhyāṁ vibhūṣitā |
tva-siddhis tva-tathā-ddhikīrtiḥ śrīḥ santatir mati|| 4 ||
sandhyā rātri prabhātas tvakālarātris tvameva ca |
karukāṇāṁ yathā sītā bhūtānāṁ dhāriṇī tathā || 5 ||
|| iti śrīskānde mahāpurāṇe prabhāsa-khaṇḍe śrīviṣṇu-kta
sāvitrī-stotrasampūram ||
 (BY Courtesy: Muralidharan Iyengar)