Can Culture exist independent of Religion?

Last month I had been to the temple town Tiruchanoor (near Tirupati) to take part in the grand celebrations of Brahmotsavam of the Goddess Padmavati. I have been attending this festival fairly regularly every year. I often wondered why I attend this so regularly without fail. Is it because I am a great devotee? No chance. I do not consider myself as one. Do I love the elaborate rituals that go on and on endlessly? No way. I’m not much of a lover of rituals either. In fact I do not perform any rituals at home.  I discourage rituals, especially those that lead to wastage of food items like ghee which is poured into fire as an oblation or offering to Gods. In a country where so many poor go hungry without food, I believe it’s a colossal waste. It’s not just ghee that is wasted – the priests use a lot of other stuff like coconut water, honey,milk, curd, fruits and what not. OMG, the amount of food stuff that goes waste is mind-boggling. I’m aware that purists and traditionalists would vehemently oppose my views in this respect.

Then, why do I attend this festival so regularly? I’m trying to make sense of my annual visits.

I have two great reasons to take part in the festivities: The festival presents rituals, no doubt, but most of the rituals are performed to the accompaniment of certain mantras and Nadaswaram music. Music is a big attraction for me in this festival. One may wonder how this is different from what we get to hear in Chennai or Bombay. It’s indeed a very different kind of experience. It’s different especially when the royal procession of the Goddess seated in a decorated vehicle is taken around the small town. The procession takes about three hours to complete and one is fully entertained with one of the finest exhibitions of Nadaswaram recital by some very talented players. This is pure classical music. It’s uniqueness lies in the fact that it takes place in the cool hours of late evening out in the open. The beauty of the music and the ambience complement each other and one can easily lose oneself completely.  The spiritual experience one gets out of a great Nadaswaram recital in the cool hours of late evening is simply unmatched. Good music in the right ambience has the capacity to take one’s mind to a level where the real self is experienced.

The second reason for my annual visits relates to the celebration of Tirumanjanam or holy bath of the goddess conducted to the accompaniment of mantras from Upanishads. What a contrast – Upanishad mantras, describing reality on one hand and the ritualistic holy bath of the goddess on the other! The various actions performed are aesthetically pleasing and conducted with great reverence. This is accompanied by chanting of mantras which are declarations of the ultimate reality. The ritual is performed as dictated by the karma kanda of the Vedas while the mantras are straight from Upanishads which are at the end of each Veda (otherwise known as Vedanta). The beauty of the Upanishads is that it doesn’t deal with any Gods or Goddesses. In fact there is no mention of names of any gods. It gives only the vision of Truth. Let me illustrate this with an example from Tatriya Upanishad. It starts off with the famous statement – Satyam Jnanam Anantam brahma. This statement encapsulates the entire Vedanta beautifully, if understood properly. Let me try to explain. Brahman, in the Vedic terminology, refers to the ultimate reality. A simple translation of the mantra is : Brahman or Eswara is Existence, all-knowledge and limitless. Put differently, all that is here is Brahman. What does this mean? It simply means that you, me, the entire universe, our minds, the cosmic order, psychological order and every other order – conceivable and inconceivable – is Brahman. This necessarily leads to the inevitable conclusion of non-duality or Advaita. The beauty of this declaration is that it defines reality without naming any god. The god can be Jesus or Allah or Eswara or Narayana as long as one understands It as Satyam, Jnanam, Anantam.

In the light of such great mantras which go with a highly ritualistic Tirumanjanam, the ritual itself looks highly insignificant, wasteful and meaningless because the performer of the ritual, the materials with which you perform the ritual, the gods receiving the offerings in the ritual are all manifestations of  Brahman, the only reality. The mantras, if understood, can liberate even without the need to perform the ritual, while the ritual performed mechanically can only lead to deeper bondage.

Well, then, can one have such festivals without the rituals? It’s a tall order. Cultural richness comes with a price tag. Some even say that without religion there would be no culture. There may be some truth in it. The musical compositions of great saints like Tyagaraja were, after all, created in their great moments of ecstatic devotion to their favourite gods. Today, all great musicians rely heavily on Tyagaraja’s musical compositions to lend richness to their concerts.

So, it looks like we owe our rich cultural heritage to our religions. There is no way one can separate the two.

Published in: on December 19, 2016 at 2:26 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Ganesha – The most Cosmopolitan among the Gods

My Ganesha is a Vaishnavite, said one showing the familiar mark of auspicious Tiruman on the forehead. Mine is a typical Shaivite with Vibhuti (sacred ash) spread out on the forehead, said another. Yet another quipped: ”My Ganesha can dance”, showing an idol with a dancing pose. My Ganesha does not mind wearing Jeans, said another proudly displaying a photo of an idol wearing Jeans.

I have not seen any Ganesha idol with Jeans except in a picture. However, here are a few pictures of various Ganesha idols which I am familiar with. Personally, I like the first picture with a simple decoration which looks extremely sathvik (calm & virtuous). This is from my niece.

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You cannot have a more Cosmopolitan God than Ganesha ( I use the word cosmopolitan in the sense of belonging to all sections of the society). Everyone loves him irrespective of caste, creed or culture. Ever since Tilak popularized the so-called SARVAJANIC GANESH festivals(public celebration) way back in late 19th century, Ganapati idols have evolved in appearance and the mode of celebration has also changed significantly. Starting with very simple and Sathvic looking idols to the most modern and fashionable idols of today, the variations are mind-boggling. It is as if the Lord can fit into any description and any imagination of a person. There is no rigid dress code either. I’m sure if He were to choose to appear before us, He will not mind dancing to our crazy tunes. Not just that – He is as happy with His favourite MODAK (Kzhakottai in Tamil?) as He is with, say, Halwa or Rava Kesari or Laddus or any sweet made with jaggery. For instance, our Pillayar(Ganesha)loves Seera with Sundal. Seera is Rava Kesari and Sundal is made from chana or black chickpeas. He doesn’t mind anything that we offer as long as it is offered with devotion. It’s this flexibility that attracts and inspires millions to worship Him. In Mumbai, for instance, even Muslims are known to visit and offer prayers to SARVAJANIC Ganesha. Politicians of all hues support and generously donate money for the celebrations.

This Hindu God in a sense captures the spirit of Hinduism. The way Ganesh Chaturdhi is celebrated reflects the Hindu way of life and our understanding of God. God, for us, is not someone sitting up there in the Heaven deciding our fortunes in life. God is right here in our midst manifesting Himself in the form of universal laws & universal order. Indeed the laws, the order, the dharma are Him. He is inseparable from all this. In that sense Hinduism is not a religion. It’s a way of life. You may call God by any name, Eswara or Allah or Christ as long as our understanding is not flawed.

I have only one complaint against the celebrations, though. Tilak might have started Sarvajanik Ganesh Utsavs with Pandals (temporary structures); however, he would never have endorsed noisy celebrations or traffic jams.

Published in: on September 5, 2016 at 11:27 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Santhara and the harm that theologies do

Last week the media was agog over the judgment given by the Rajasthan High court declaring the Jain practice of Santhara, which involves a voluntary fast-unto-death, an offence punishable under the Indian Penal Code. Most of the articles I read were highly critical of the judgment saying that Santhara cannot be equated with suicide. They argue that it is a religious practice prevalent over centuries and is entirely voluntary. They claim that in contrast to the act of suicide, it’s a peaceful way of laying down one’s body under the guidance of a Guru. The belief among Jains is that a person going through Santhara attains Moksha.

I have a slightly different take on this. I support the judgment. I’ll explain why. Let us examine the root causes for such superstitious beliefs or practices in any society. The answer lies in theology. Theologies, the world over, have played havoc with the lives of the gullible people. The word theology comes from two Greek words, theos (God) and logos (word). It’s the study of the nature of God and religious belief. Theology is airy-fairy stuff (myth is perhaps a more decent way of describing it!) that interests theologians, but normal people get sucked into the belief system due to the absolute control the religious institutions have on them.Theologies and the religions thrive on a system of concepts, ideas and rigid beliefs. The non-believers are asked to either fall in line or face the consequences. Fear among the followers is the main driver for the spread of such irrational religious practices.
The result is that today every religion has several theologies. We have the Christian theologies, the Hindu theologies and Muslim theologies. If one religion talks about swarg and narak or Vaikunt or Kailas as the destinations after death,another one would talk about paradise. Yet another one would promise heaven for a believer who kills people in the name of their God.

As long as a belief system doesn’t harm a person concerned or others physically, the state can be a silent spectator. The beliefs Swarg, narak, vaikunt, Kailas, paradise etc fall into this category. The damage is limited to the extent of performing several meaningless rituals. However, the state has to intervene if the faith leads to loss of lives of people in a society.
There is an essential difference between religion and spirituality. While religion is rooted in beliefs, spirituality has its premise in understanding and experiencing. For instance, Vedanta encourages one to experience God in every experience – good and bad – and see the essential oneness.
The prevalence of religious practices such as Santhara only indicates complete bankruptcy of spirituality. One only hopes that the judgment will be an eye opener for those practicing such blind religious faiths.

Published in: on August 30, 2015 at 5:12 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Religious Conversion is violence – A Real Life Story

I heard this poignant story of a lady who was converted into Christianity early in her life:

When she was  very young (perhaps before she turned 7 years), she was converted to Christianity along with her parents. Christian missionaries are known to do this with aggression luring poor people with offerings of money and gifts. Once conversion is done, the missionaries leave them to fend for themselves after supporting them economically for a temporary period.This lady eventually landed in an NGO which provides nursing care services for the aged patients who are bed-ridden and staying home.These nurses have to keep hopping from place to place looking for similar assignments. In one of her assignments she happened to land into a cultured Brahmin household. The family is passionate about classical carnatik music. When this lady listened to Veena being played by the lady of the house, tears welled up in her eyes. When questioned, she started sobbing inconsolably. She said: “In my younger days I used to sing classical tunes along with my mother and I used to enjoy it thoroughly. However, after the conversion, I was forced to put a complete stop to singing classical music. And they even stopped me from going to temples. Instead, I started going to churches where I was forced to sing listless songs on the Christ. So when I saw you playing on Veena, madam, I was reminded of my childhood days. Now, I have decided to give up going to church completely, madam”.

It’s a rather sad story of a person being cut off from her roots. It’s, after all, one’s roots which gives one identity. Whoever deprives one of roots and identity is committing a grave crime and an act of violence. It’s a violence on the mind and the spirit. I feel there should be a legislation banning religious conversions of young people below the age of 18 years. After all, if a person is considered a minor below the age of 18 years for all economic transactions, why cannot we apply the same rule for religious conversions?

Some time back I read a book which discusses the issue of roots and how people can get affected emotionally if they are deprived of the knowledge about their roots. Slave trade in America made it impossible for people to trace their origins. As their identities were totally erased, today millions of African-Americans have no idea of where they come from. Today, Science is trying to undo the damage partly through DNA analysis. Geneticists have been able to trace the histories of several populations – African-Americans, Jews, Indian untouchables etc. The book describes a touching story of an African-American couple who before their marriage managed to trace their ancestry through DNA mapping by a company called ‘Roots for Real’. The couple managed to bring something from their ancestral traditions into their ceremony. They believed that their children can now grow up with a strong sense of identity and heritage.
DNA seems to be the most intact record of our families, our lands, culture and customs. The Hindu tradition of assigning a Gotra for every family seems to stem from the same need for preserving one’s identity.

Published in: on November 8, 2014 at 3:24 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Beyond Words and Meanings

“Truth is a pathless land” –  this is a famous statement made by J Krishnamurthy (JK)way back in 1929 when he dissolved the Order of the Star of the Theosophical Society for which he was made the head. Since then volumes have been written by several to unfold what exactly he meant by this statement. I venture to put forth my views on this with the aim of getting some clarity for myself. Let us first look at the context in which JK said this. As I mentioned, he made this amazing statement while dissolving the ‘order of the star’ which he was heading. By way of explanation he narrated a story: The devil was walking along with his friend and they saw a guy in front stooping and picking up something. The friend asked the devil: ‘what is it that the guy is picking up’. The devil said: The guy is picking up a piece of Truth. The friend said: Isn’t it bad business for you? Aren’t you worried that someone has stumbled on Truth and we will have no job from tomorrow’? The devil smiled and replied: “Not at all, my friend. I will make sure the guy organizes Truth before spreading it”. The rest is history.We have formed a variety of organizations in the name of various religions and started spreading different versions of Truth. No wonder that Truth stands completely distorted today. JK, like many of us, was totally disgusted with the organized religious establishments and hence this powerful statement.

The question then is what is Truth and how does one know it.? Truth is something that comes into existence when we completely negate the man-made psychological order. The psychological order consists of mere words and meanings. Eswara or God’s order cannot be understood in terms of man-made order. For instance when we see a Rose flower, we don’t see it as it is. We see it through the lens of our past memories about flowers and that makes us compare and make a judgment on the flower in front of us. In other words, our memory pollutes the present experience of a flower at any given time. The challenge before us is whether we can enjoy a flower or for that matter any object without using words and meanings. This is what is meant by negating the mind with all its contents of envy, jealousy, anger, expectations, fear, anxiety, insecurity etc.

Our Upanishads write volumes about Truth and finally conclude that what has to be understood and experienced is beyond words. However, we cling to words and meanings and miss the substance. In other words, can we see or experience a thing as it is without  words and meanings? Our Shastras refer to this as a moment when the seer, seen and seeing merge into one – the seer. I could see a practical demonstration of this recently while taking my grand-daughter for a stroll. I saw her watching the naked, stark bare winter trees stripped of all leaves lining the avenue without blinking an eye lid. I tried to distract calling her name out but she wasn’t bothered. That was the moment of Truth for her. This happens automatically for infants since they have no memory to interfere with their act of seeing. If we can do that, it will be a great beginning to our journey to understand and experience Truth.

Sufi mystics’ ‘Fana’ & Saint Thyagaraja’s song Terateeyagaraada…

In this post I’m going explore the close similarities between the Sufi ideal of FANA and Saint Thyagaraja’s song titled TERATEEYAGARAADA. Let me explain what triggered my thought process. I usually take my morning walk in a garden nearby in Mulund, a suburb in Mumbai. This is a huge garden and it takes about 3 minutes of brisk walk to complete one round.The garden is surrounded by man-made concrete jungle on all 3 sides while the 4th side offers a grand view of a Hill. Usually, I reach the garden very early in the morning when it’s pitch dark and foggy. One cannot see the hills with any clarity. We just know it’s there. The clarity of view improves gradually with every round of walk I take and after a while as the day breaks and the fog clears, all of a sudden one would see the majestic and imposing hill facing you. Today as I was circling round the garden, I suddenly recollected a famous song of the Saint Thyagaraja – “Tera teeyagarada……”.  Let us see the connection now.

This is a composition sung in the Raga GowliPanthu. The tune is melodious and meanings are profound. (Here is  one more link to the song sung by my favourite musician MD Ramanthan). The saint is seeking the Lord’s grace for removing the screen of ignorance covering his mind. The ignorance is exactly like the darkness and the early morning fog acting as a screen to the majestic mountain. Just as the sun breaks out and clears the fog enabling us to see the hills, the Lord’s grace is being sought by the saint to clear his foggy thinking. The ignorance is turning the mind into a veritable hell of anger, jealousy and arrogance, which effectively diverts us from our pursuits of absolute happiness, bliss, freedom, Nirvana or Moksha. The saint further elaborates the point with a number of interesting metaphors. For instance he compares the ignorant mind to that of a hungry fish falling prey to an angler’s hook. It’s like darkness at the base of a lamp and so on .
Now let me say something about  a Sufi mystic’s ideal of ‘Fana’. It’s the Sufi term for annihilation, destruction or extinction of the self with its negative values. And it’s the very same annihilation of our ego-centric value system that the Saint Thyagaraja talks about in the composition. In such a state where one achieves complete freedom from the arrogant self, a Sufi is said to have attained oneness with Allah. It’s the same thing as Nirvana in Budhism, Moksha in Hinduism or Mukhti in Sikhism.

Viewed in a completely different context, the composition offers yet another insight. Let us try to understand why the Saint is seeking the grace of God to remove the screen of negative qualities? Because the origin or source of many of the negative qualities are not even known to us. While Hindu scriptures describe this as ‘Vasanas’ or Kashaaya, Western psychologists refer to this as the UNCONSCIOUS. The latter term is an invention of the famous psychologist Carl Jung who talks extensively about Personal Unconscious & Collective Unconscious. According to Carl Jung, the Unconscious keeps projecting these negative qualities without our knowledge and is the cause of our misery. While a Jungian would advocate psychotherapy and counselling, a Hindu would look upon the Lord (Eswara or Narayana) as the psychotherapist and invoke His blessings and grace to destroy the negative qualities of the self.

The Power of Mantras – A Story

Lord Siva was once expounding the intricacies of Yoga and how it could ultimately result in enlightenment through correct understanding of Jnana. One Jnani who was listening to the discourse with all attention was thoroughly impressed as it appealed to his sharp intellect. But this understanding made him vain as he took pride in his knowledge. He then looked around and was amused to see lots of people eulogizing Siva and chanting aloud: ‘Siva Sambho-Siva Sambho’. The Jnani was quite annoyed with the crowd. He turned to the Lord and asked: Oh Lord, you have given such a great discourse explaining various philosophical issues critically. How is it that you are tolerating or even encouraging the ignorant masses who are chanting ‘Siva Sambho’ madly as though possessed? Should you not put an end to all this nonsense?

Siva smiled and replied: This is a ‘mantra’ they are chanting.

Jnani: What can the mantra do in the absence of proper understanding, my Lord?

Siva: Let me demonstrate to you what it can do. Please do as I tell you. Can you see a tree and a leaf over there?

Jnani: Yes I do – what about it?

Siva: Can you see a small worm crawling on the leaf?

Jnani: Yes – I do

Siva: Go near it and say this mantra- Siva Sambho

The Jnani did as he was told and to his dismay the worm fell dead instantly. The Jnani was  taken aback and looked at Siva confused.

Siva said: Don’t worry- continue to do what I tell you.

Siva, then, pointed to a butterfly asked the Jnani to go near it and chant the same mantra.

This time the Jnani was reluctant. He said: My Lord, I am not going to do this experiment again. I don’t want to be instrumental in killing another living being. Siva said: Don’t worry- just go ahead and do as I tell you. The Jnani went ahead and uttered the mantra in spite of himself. And predictably this time the butterfly also fell dead instantly. Now, even as the Jnani was shaking with fear and guilt, a man with an infant came to see the Lord to take His blessings. Siva looked at the Jnani and prodded him again to chant the mantra to the infant. This time the Jnani was determined not to yield and even told the Lord: What is the earthly use of such a mantra which makes living beings dead?  Saying so, he refused to oblige.

And……… surprise of surpises, at that very moment, the infant got up told the Jnani: Please chant the mantra for my sake, for, on the two previous occasions that you chanted the mantra, I evolved from a worm to a Butterfly and then to a fine human being. If you chant this mantra again, it will give me a chance to become divine.

For the Jnani it was indeed a humbling experience!

Siva, then, explained that mantras have the power to do creative destruction. They have the power to destroy our lower nature represented by all negative tendencies and help us to evolve towards divine nature.

PS: I heard this story on a TV Channel on the Shivratri day.

Published in: on March 16, 2013 at 10:16 pm  Comments (1)  
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Of Miracles and Faiths

What makes us believe in miracles or the hand of God?  Rather, what is the stuff of which miracles are made up of?  One answer could be that something  unusual happens which is seemingly difficult to explain logically but readily fits into a belief system.

Ancient Egyptians believed that frogs were generated out of fertile muddy soil itself. Medieval Europeans thought that flies or maggots(larva of household fly) and even mice were self-generated.This argument was extended to conclude that God created everything out of nothing! I read an interesting story about medieval times about a christian priest who created a recipe for making mice. The recipe : Take a dirty underwear, place it in an open pot  and dump a few wheat grains. And wait for 21 days! Yes, this recipe worked beautifully and confirmed the spontaneous creation theory!! Here is yet another equally incredible miracle story. By beginning of 18th century, microscope was invented and for the first time people could see  unfamiliar unicellular organisms such as bacteria on spoiled foods such as chicken broth. Many believed that the invisible hand of God was responsible for the creation of these organisms, which lent further support to their religious theory of spontaneous creation by God. It took almost 150 years for dispelling this myth. Louis Pasteur proved that air-borne microorganisms invaded the broth and spoiled the same!

Now turn the clock back to 4000 BC. What did our sages say? They said pretty much the same thing about  creation…..that God created the entire universe with just one thought. In fact there is one entire Text , Purusha Sooktam in Vedas, devoted to nitty-gritty of creation – the sequence of creation, which species came from which part of the Lord etc. Other religions developed similar theories of creation. Darwin debunked the myth of creation with his theory of evolution, which has been tested and verified repeatedly by scientists. As a compromise religious leaders came up with a theory of Intelligent Design. This was also falsified by scientists, who said there is nothing intelligent about this design. They proved that evolution is a random process supported by Natural Selection.

Turning the clock back to the modern times, we still find lots of people who turn a blind eye to scientific findings. Today, most of us are ready to look at science objectively as long as the findings do not shake our basic beliefs. The moment it questions one’s fundamental beliefs, science is not welcome!

Spirituality says there is a grand design and purpose behind the creation of the universe. Science says that as the Universe keeps expanding, it will grow colder and dilute and eventually head towards a simple and lifeless end.

We all love our little stories, right? Our minds love to make up a story out of random events and find a philosophical message even where there is none. A psychologist once screened a short film wherein 3 geometric shapes (one circle, one big triangle and one small triangle) were chasing each other randomly and after a while two figures just vanished from the screen. People were asked whether they saw any meaning in the film. Interestingly, every one had a story to tell using each figure as symbolic of different aspects of human nature.

If you read my story a couple of weeks back in the post on logic and faith, it is the same mental phenomenon at work. The Mind will never accept the happening as a random event without any significance. (There was a small twist in my story which I didn’t mention in that post. After TTD staff  threw me out from the senior citizen’s Q, I returned to Bus Stand frustrated. I got into a waiting bus, bought a ticket and settled down in a seat. But before the bus left, a TTD employee got chatting with me and assured me that there was no crowd in the ‘300Rs Q’ and that I should go back and try again. I went back and had to spend another 3 hours in the Q for darshan. When I shared this with some people, an explanation was promptly provided! I was told that this was again the handiwork of Lord Balaji who, it seems, was bent upon playing the joke on me!).

However, we miss the real big miracles in life. For instance can anyone explain the miraculous or magical effect classical music has on our minds! It casts a spell on the mind when you listen to Rag Jog or Darbari rendered by a great musician. Within a few seconds of starting the Rag , a restless mind turns meditative and as the Ragalap progresses, one experiences complete bliss. It stirs one’s consciousness as one is transported from a mundane world to an ecstatic world! (By the way, in the last 3 days I had this wonderful experience as I attended several Hindustani concerts organized by Gunidas Sangeet Sammelan in Mumbai). If this is not a miracle what else is? It is this kind of experience that make one believe in some higher consciousness or Life Force and this belief is, in many ways, quite different from the beliefs surrounding personal Gods.

Published in: on December 9, 2012 at 4:11 pm  Comments (1)  
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The Power of Maha Maaya

On the eve of  NAVARATHRI,  I remembered this insightful story about the power of Maaya on our lives. This story appears in Devi Mahatmyam:

A King and a businessman (a ‘vaisya’) met in a forest. Both were deeply depressed for their own good reasons and therefore wanted to share their stories of misery with each other. The Vaisya began his story first: ‘I worked very hard & amassed a lot of wealth for the sake of my kith & kin. But one fine day they(my children & wife) felt that I would be a hindrance to their enjoyment of the wealth and therefore threw me out of the house. And here I am in the forest. I am now in depression on several counts. I worry about my wife and keep wondering whether she is being treated well. My youngest son is another source of worry for me since he does not know the value of money. I am also not too sure whether my other sons are capable of growing my business with the same zeal and enthusiasm. And what about my loyal servants? I hope they are being given due roles in the business matters……’

The king listened attentively and said: ‘Oh, No, these are all problems of your own creation. Why should you worry about people who disowned you?  Relax & focus on the future’. Then the king continued, ”Now listen to my heart-rending story. Then you will know how trivial your problem is. I lost my kingdom having been defeated by an enemy king. I had to flee leaving behind my family, friends, servants, army of soldiers, horses, elephants  and my entire wealth. Here I am in the forest having lost everything. I don’t care about what I lost and that is not my cause of my depression.  I am worried about my mightiest elephant which is so attached to me that it won’t even eat if I don’t feed it. I wonder how that elephant is managing now. Likewise, I had developed such an army of mighty soldiers who were well taken care with all facilities and prompt payment of wages. Now I worry whether they are being well fed and taken care. Also my sympathy goes out to the people of my kingdom whose welfare was uppermost in my mind. I wonder whether the new king is going to be generous enough in his rule’.

After hearing the story of the king, the vaisya exclaimed: ‘Hey, your problem is equally trivial. How,  on earth , can you keep worrying about your folks who no more belong to you. Now, your existence & future itself is in jeopardy in this lonely forest; it is foolish to get restless about  issues on which you have no control. At least my troubles are more real’…

Thus they trivialize each other’s troubles. Isn’t this a story of each one of us living in our own small worlds. We always treasure our experience as far more significant and superior to some one else’s. Our joys are more meaningful and our sorrows are more profound than our neighbour’s. Our problems are more real than those of others. In short, our stories are of greater significance  and value than someone else’s. We all love to live in our own ‘petty stories’ shunning reality.

Now, let me continue with the story. Ultimately both the king & the vaisya saw the pointlessness of their imagined fears but yet couldn’t help worrying!  So, they approached a sage in an ASHRAM nearby and sought his guidance. They asked the sage: ‘In spite of the knowledge that our problems are trivial, why is it that we still fall into the trap of misery and depression?’  The sage said: ‘It’s the influence of MAHA MAAYA’. He elaborated further, ‘MAAYA is that invisible power of Devi by virtue of which people lose clarity when confronted by a crisis in life. One may have an excellent theoretical clarity about knowledge & ignorance -one may even give an excellent discourse on  Jnana, vairagya etc but at a crunch time in life, one will fall prey to weaknesses due to bondage. It is only through the blessings and grace of Devi that one crosses the barriers created by Maaya’.

Published in: on October 14, 2012 at 8:36 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Irrelevance of Certain Rituals

Here is a funny story on how rituals lose their original significance.

There was a certain orthodox Brahmin family who had the tradition of performing puja daily in their house taking help from a professional priest. The priest would religiously come every day and the preparations for the puja would take place meticulously with the involvement of all members of the family. The priest would dictate every small detail to be taken care before the start of the puja. He would also ensure that things are done in the right sequence. For instance, the following sequence was meticulously followed as part of preparation for the ritual:

– First a pattern (Rangoli) was made using rice flour

-Then a plate filled with flowers & fruits was kept on Rangoli at the centre as offerings to the God

-Tulsi leaves & coloured rice (akshatai) was also prepared  in a small plate

– Next a jar/jug full of water was  kept ready as the medium for purification

– The Gods & Goddesses were nicely decorated with flowers, kumkum & turmeric

– Incense was lit up to purify air

– Water, Milk and Payasam in separate glasses were also kept ready as offerings

– Camphor was kept ready for the final ‘Aarti’

– Last but not the least, the priest would take a huge basket made of cane and meticulously use it as a cover on their domestic cat to keep the pet quiet and away from all the puja ingredients including, of course, milk.

Having completed all operations in a sequence, the priest would call out for every one to assemble for performing puja. The assembled family members would religiously repeat whatever mantras were recited by the priest and finally perform grand ‘aarti’ which would bring the puja to completion.

This went on for 3  generations. As it turned out, a new generation of priest took over from the old for continuing with the family ritual. Although he knew each and every step of the puja quite well, he missed out on one critical step. That was the very last act in the above sequence of steps – he didn’t feel the need to keep the domestic cat covered under a basket merely because there was no cat around.. The new generation family head, who happened to know every step of the ritual, immediately took objection to this act of omission and said:  “How come you have forgotten an important part of our family ritual”?  To his amusement, the astonished priest was told that covering the pet cat with a basket was after all an important family tradition and could not be dispensed with even if it meant that a new cat had to be procured for the purpose! The poor priest had no choice but to continue with the  old tradition in the family!

While the story may be an exaggeration, the basic point being driven should not be missed. Even today, I am sure there are several family traditions and rituals which are being practiced without really understanding the practical significance to the modern times. Consider, for example, the recent festival known as the ‘Thread Ceremony” (referred to as AVANI AVITTAM in Tamil). As part of the ceremony, we are supposed to do ‘japa’ of a certain mantra (KAMOKARTHIT  MANYURA KARSHIT) 108 times. I was told by some one knowledgeable in these matters that this ‘mantra japa is meant to be an atonement. Atonement for what, one may wonder. He said it is an atonement for committing the sin of studying vedas during the prohibited period of the year. To elaborate, in the ancient times this festival marked the beginning of the period for initiating studies of vedas. The studies would go on for just 6 months since the study of vedas for the remaining 6 months of the year is prohibited. Therefore, the mantra KAMOKARSHIT mantra is chanted 108 TIMES to neutralize the sin of  studying vedas during the prohibited period, in case some one has committed such a sin. One can now clearly see how irrelevant this particular ritual is in the modern time!!

Published in: on August 5, 2012 at 3:56 pm  Comments (1)  
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