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30 June, 2012

In Indian Culture..Why do we celebrate Ganesh chaturthi?

In Indian Cutlure...

Why do we celebrate Ganesh chaturthi?

As Indians, we are often asked how we worship an elephant-headed, pot-bellied, broken-tusked god who travels on a mouse. But as strange as it seems, every little peculiarity of Lord Ganesha's has a deep spiritual significance. As we go along in this article, we will look at the meaning of this symbolic representation of Lord Ganesha. Before we do, however, let's take a look at Lord Ganesha's mythological origin.

Mythological  anecdotes  of Lord Ganesha

Desiring to take a bath, Mother Parvati, Lord Shiva's consort, created a boy from dirt to guard Her home when She was bathing. As it happened, Lord Shiva returned while Mother Parvati was away. Surprised to see a stranger outside the home, the Lord demanded that He be allowed to enter His home. Much to His dismay, the boy refused to allow Him in. Infuriated at being barred from entering His home, the Lord cut off the boy's head. On returning, Mother Parvati was inconsolable when she found out what the Lord had done. To alleviate her suffering, Lord Shiva commanded his troops to get the head of the first living being they came across. The first living being they chanced upon happened to be an elephant calf. Finally, Lord Shiva, on receiving the head of the calf, placed it on the boy's body and restored life to him. Thus Lord Ganesha was created.

Lord Shiva represents the divine Self. Lord Ganesha, being His son, is symbolic of a person who has attained that state of Divinity. While representing the Divinity, Lord Ganesha also represents the way to attain that exalted state.

Elephant head

Lord Ganesha's elephant head symbolises the immense wisdom of a person of Perfection. Wisdom is something that comes out of manana, independent thinking and reflection. This manana can happen only when one has taken in spiritual knowledge i.e. the process of shravana has taken place. This process of shravana or intake of spiritual knowledge is portrayed as Lord Ganesha's large ears where one listens to a teacher. It also symbolises that even the wisest people are always open to hearing fresh ideas and opinions. In other words, the wise are those who always keep an open mind.

Broken tusk

Emerging from the Lord's head is the elephant trunk. This trunk visually depicts a well-developed intellect that arises out of wisdom, the elephant head. Our intellect is of two kinds, gross and subtle. The gross intellect is used to discriminate between pairs of opposites in the world; black and white, hard and soft, easy and difficult. The subtle intellect, on the other hand, discriminates between right and wrong; permanent and impermanent and is colloquially called the conscience.

In a person who has realised the Self, this intellect is extremely well-developed; both gross and subtle. Such people have clarity of thinking and a clear sense of right and wrong. At a relative level, even people who have made progress on the spiritual path experience this. Choices become clear and life becomes a lot simpler. Without clarity of thought, our worldview is bound to be confused and coloured by our own prejudices and preconceptions. Lord Ganesha's well-shaped trunk depicts a crystal clear intellect that a person of Perfection develops.

One of the key attributes of people who are Self-Realised is that they rise above their likes and dislikes and the pairs of opposites that world presents before them. Established in the permanent Divinity, they remain unperturbed by what the world has to offer; the joys and sorrows, the victories and losses. They understand the ways of the world and take to life as a sportsperson takes to sport. Giving their best at every juncture, yet understanding that, in the ultimate analysis, it is only a game. Relatively speaking, genuine seekers on the spiritual path also achieve this sense of peace to the extent that they have identified with the Self.

Two tusks

This transcendence over the pairs of opposites (two tusks) in a person of Perfection is indicated beautifully by Lord Ganesha's broken tusk. For it is only when we have risen above the play of opposites in the world that we can stomach the challenges that life throws at us. This idea is depicted by Lord Ganesha's large stomach. People who attained the supreme state have tremendous mental strength to brush aside the greatest setbacks while keeping their heads in the midst of immensely joyous experience.

Lord Ganesha's posture

The Lord's posture with one foot on the ground and the other folded up conveys to us that while we must operate in the world there must also be a constant alignment with Atman in and through all our experiences. In the relative, whatever we do, there must be an unwavering focus on our higher spiritual goal. Without this focus, it is impossible to make spiritual progress.

Food at the feet of Lord Ganesha

The food at the feet of Lord Ganesha symbolise material wealth and power. Through this, the Lord subtly indicates that the world rewards those live a life of truth. Those who turn spiritual acquire merit in their respective fields of activity and those with merit seldom go unacknowledged. They command respect and wealth even though they may not desire it.

Four arms which hold:-

ankush   - symbol for control over the mind.
ladu       - for happiness
pash      - axe to punish the indriyas and antakaran
ashirvad mudra - blessings for the well being of humanity.

Ganesha riding on his mount, mouse.


The mouse as the Lord's mode of transport magnifies the challenge that a spiritual person faces when trying to communicate the knowledge of the infinite Self through the finite equipments of body, mind and intellect. Atman cannot be touched with the body, felt through emotion or understood with the intellect. One can only become It through spiritual practice.

Common four-armed form of Ganesha.
Miniature of 
Nurpur school (circa 1810).
 Museum of 

Symbolism behind Lord Ganesha's four hands

In his four hands, Lord Ganesha holds an axe, a rope, a modak (sweetened rice ball) and a lotus. The axe represents the annihilation of desire with the axe of spirituality. The rope is spiritual knowledge which helps us to remove ourselves from the samsara , material world, that we are entrenched in. The modak symbolises the happiness and joy a seeker derives from the spiritual pursuit. And the lotus stands for that Divine state of Self-Realisation that every human being aspires for, consciously or unconsciously. The lotus sustains itself in dirty ponds but yet is above it all. Similarly, a person of Perfection can live in the world, enjoy life and yet be above it all by identifying with the Self.

The occasion of Ganesh Chaturthi gives us, as spiritual aspirants, an opportunity to remember what Lord Ganesha stands for. A chance to reignite ourselves in our search for Divinity.

Ganapati vivah (Marriage)

      When Shiva and Parvati decided to have their sons, Kartikeya and Ganesh, married, they stipulated that he who circumambulated the earth first would be considered the best deity and would be married first. Kartikeya flew off on his vehicle - a peacock.  Poor Ganesh's vehicle was a mouse; no match for a peacock!

       Being a matrubhakta, Ganeshji performed pradakshina of his parents.  He then stated: 'One who offers pujan and performs pradakshina of his parents, receives the same merit as performing pradakshina of the earth.  Thus he was married first, and boosted the glory of the principle that by venerating Bhagwan and one's parents, one also becomes venerable in the world.

       Ganesh is invoked first in all auscipious events, rites and rituals, such as marriage, opening ceremonies, ground-breaking rituals and yagnas.  (Shiv Puran, Rudra Samhita, Kumarkhand - 19).  The phrase "Shri Ganesh" itself is a synonym for "auspicious beginning".

       The Shiv Puran cites another story.  Prajapati had two daughters, Siddhi (wealth) and Riddhi (intellect).  He approached Parvati and Shiva for the girls' marriage to Kartikeya and Ganesha.  However, both girls wished to marry only the latter.  Thus, they married him.  Siddhi gave birth to a son named Shubh (auspiciousness) and Riddhi to Labh (merit).  

      Therefore, when businessmen and merchants offer pujan to Ganeshji and Lakshmiji, they write Shubh and Labh inside their ledgers to invoke the two deities (Shiv Puran, Rudra Samhita, Kumarkhand -20).

Source: 1]An Article by Smt. Jaya Rao.
2] Excerpts from the book "Hindu Festivals" by Sadhu Mukundcharandas

24 June, 2012

Why Do we celebrate Guru Purnima Day?

In Indian Culture

Why do we celebrate Gurupurnima Day?


       Just as you have Father's Day and Mother's Day, Gurupurnima is Guru's Day.  This is also called vyasa-purnima, the anniversary of Bhagavan Vyasa who occupies an exalted place in the hierarchy of teachers.  Although there were gurus for Veda Vyasa, we look upon Veda Vyasa as the link between teachers we know and teachers we do not know.


       On this particulr day, the sannyasins take a vrata, a vow, to any in one place for two months and teach.  Gurupurnima occurs at the beginning of the rainy season in India when there are many small insects on the ground.  At the time of taking sanyyasa, one takes a vow of not hurting any living being.  In order to avoid killing even small insects on their path, the sanyyasins do not travel during these two months, starting from Gurupurnima day.  Even though they usually travel from place to place, they stay in one place during this period and teach.  Traditionally, the place they choose is located in a river and a stream.  They move within the area, without crossing the river or streams.

       The vow is called caturmasya-vrata.  A masa is a month or a fortnight, pakso vai masah iti.  So, a vow for two months is called caturmasyam, four fortnights.

       On this day of Gurupurnima, the start of the caturmasyam, they invoke the lineage of teachers, guru-parampara.  All the gurus in the parampara, tradition, especially in mathas, traditional monastic places of learning, are invoked.

       There are many mathas, including the sankara-mathas.  The head of each matha is like a pontiff, and has a certain following.  Each one of these heads performs a daily puja to invoke the gurus in the hierarchy.  There are at least 16 gurus in the parampara, and the grace of each is invoked in a vessel containing water.  That is the ritual aspect. 

      Guru Purnima is a day when we pay obeisance to the lifeline of this great, unbroken civilization of India -the guru-sisya-parampara or mentor-protege lineage.

       India achieved excellence in every field of endeavor because of the Science of Self Management kept alive by the unbroken chain of teacher and student. The word 'guru' means 'one who dispels darkness'. The guru removes the pandemic ignorance that is prevalent and gives us the light of knowledge. Knowledge of who we are, how to relate with the world and achieve true success. Most importantly, how to transcend the world and reach the abode of infinite Bliss which is the hallmark of excellence.

       On this day we re-dedicate ourselves to human Perfection. To study, assimilate and live Vedanta so that we may be able to pass it on to future generations as our forefathers did. It is an acknowledgement of the importance of Vedanta in our lives. Vedanta makes us rajarishis – kingly without, sagely within. Minus the rishihood even material success eludes us.
       The combination of the teacher’s wisdom and the energy of the student go towards making a vibrant, progressive society. Today students tend to undervalue the teacher and this day helps restore the balance. It stresses on the importance of the guru in every walk of life. A sportsperson’s natural gift and skill acquire direction under the expertise of the coach. A musician’s talent is honed by the dedication of the mentor. In the spiritual path it is the enlightenment of the guru that removes the ignorance in the seeker’s mind.

       The teacher-student relationship is accorded paramount importance in Indian culture. The guru occupies the same pedestal given to God. Spiritual growth is impossible without the help of a guru who is Brahma it and Brahmajna – established in the state of God Realization and has the teaching skills to impart the subtle spiritual concepts. Rare is the person who meets with these stringent qualifications. Yet India has been blessed with outstanding sages who have appeared in every generation to keep this unique tradition alive. It is to this singular endowment that we pay our respects. And as a mark of gratitude we offer ourselves as guru daksina and pledge to continue the tradition for generations to come.

       For this pranipata or total surrender to the guru is one of the foremost qualifications of a student. This does not imply blind following. The seeker must question, probe and analyze the truths taught so as to understand, absorb and transform his personality to the higher realms – prasna. And finally an attitude of service or seva is the hallmark of an outstanding student.

We invoke the Lord in Guru.

       The guru is a human being.  When the guru is praised, however, as in the following verse, the human element is not taken into account.

gururbrahma gururvishnuh
gururdevo mahesvarahh,

gurureva param brahma
tasmai srigurave namah

The guru is Brahma, the guru is Vishnu,
the guru is Maheswara (Siva), the guru
is the self-revealing limitless Brahman.
Salutations to that revered guru.

       Only the truth element is taken into account because the guru teaches that you are Brahman, you are limitless.  When he teaches, 'you are limitless,' he does not mean, "I am limited; you are limitless."  In fact, you are limitless and he is limitless.  The limitless is Brahma, the limitless is Visnu; the limitless is Rudra, or Siva, and the limitless is you.

       Everything is this limitless Brahman.  So, when you praise the guru, the human element is just completely absorbed in the total.  You either relegate the human element to the background, or you absorb it into the total.  It is the total that is worshipped.  In that way, the guru, the person with a human body who teaches, becomes a kind of an altar of worship, but what is being invoked is the Lord.

       When you worship the form of Sri Daksinamurthy in the temple, it is not the form you are worshipping, but the Lord.  You invoke and worship the Lord in a particular form.  Similarly, when you praise the person who teaches you and for whom you have sraddha, it is not the individual person you praise, but the teaching itself, for what he teaches is not separate from him.

       Praise of the guru is praise for the truth of the teaching.

akhandamandalakaram vyaptam yena caracaram,
tatpadam darsitam yena tasmai srigurave namah.

My salutations to that guru who showed me
the abode of the one who is to be known,
whose form is the entire universe and who
pervades all that moves and all that does not move.

       Tasmai srigurave namah, unto that guru; my namaskara, my salutation; tatpadam darsitam yena, by whom that pada, that end or abode, was shown very clearly darsitam.  And what is that pada?  Yena padena caracaram vypatam, by which pada the whole universe is pervaded.  Here, pada is BrahmaYena, by which Brahman, this entire universe, akhanda-mandalakaram, of living beings and inert things, caracaram, is pervaded, vypatam.  My salutations to the teacher who has shown me the Lord (the vastu, the reality) in the form of the great universe.

       The gaining of any knowledge is the greatest miracle.  How is the mind able to grasp a new fact or concept?  If you are ignorant by nature, you cannot know and if you know by nature, you need not be taught.  The fact is that you cannot see more than you know, yet you keep increasing your existing knowledge; you keep on shedding ignorance.  It is because under certain conditions you are able to see.  The teacher is the one who creates those conditions.  He does so by using reason and by citing your own experiences.  In that way, he helps you see.  In fact, the teacher creates an inner environment in which you cannot but see.  That is what teaching is about.  It is a miracle, an impossibility that happens.  You cannot see more than you already know; yet you always do.  That is how you know more and more.  How can that happen?  The answer is very simple: you are all-knowledge.

       We say that the Lord is all-knowledge; that all-knowledge is in the Lord.  Yet, who is this Lord?  If the Lord were to say, "I am the Lord," that 'I am' is not going to be any different from the meaning of your statement, 'I am.'  When you say, 'I am,' it is exactly the same as the 'I am' of the Lord.  There is one limitless consciousness.  Consciousness cannot be limited because it is one, and it is formless.  The Lord is a conscious being, and the limitless consciousness is the same for the Lord and for you.  I am limited only with reference to my body, mind and sense organs.  As consciousness, I am limitless.  The  Lord is also limitless consciousness.  Being limitless, there s only one consciousness.  If the Lord is all-knowledge, that all-knowledge rests in the consciousness that is one, that is limitless, that is you.  This means that all-knowledge rests in you.

Sources: (1) Eassay on "Gurupurnima" by Swamy Dayananda Saraswati &
              (2) Article by Smt. Jaya Rao.

10 June, 2012

Why Do We Complain?

You can complain because roses have thorns, or you can rejoice because thorns have roses.-- Ziggy.

       Many of us pass through certain phases of life, 'rough patches' as they are called, when everything seems to go wrong for us.  In such circumstances, people do tend to become negative, and at such times, we need to offer them help and support to carry them through, and the inspiration and incentive to cultivate faith and repose their trust in God.

       But, there are some people who complain no matter what happens to them!  It seems that complaining has become a way of life with them, that they simply cannot stop cribbing!  It seems to have nothing to do with pessimism or optimism, pain or suffering: it just seems that complaining has become second nature to them!.

       I must say that some of the people who suffer from pain and illness, some of the patients I have met in hospitals are not always of this type.  They discover a lot to be grateful for in the midst of their pain and affliction; they enjoy what little respite they get from pain; they discover that such and such movements of their limbs can be accomplished without strain, and are very happy about it.  They are happy to have visitors; they are grateful to the nursing staff; they thank their doctors for the relief they feel.

       But some of us simply cannot stop complaining.  Regardless of where they are, what they are doing, or what is happening to them, they keep on complaining!  The traffic is too bad; the telephone lines are congested; the weather is too hot or too cold; people are rude or indifferent; servants are lazy and inefficient; the subordinates are insubordinate!  And I could go on and on nobody understand me; nobody appreciates me; nobody knows what I am going through; nobody cares; nobody helps, nobody knows...

       Of course I feel sorry for such miserable people: but when I offer them a remedy for their misery, they refuse to take it!  I say to them, "You try to be what others are not; you must try and appreciate others; you must care; you must understand; you must help others..."

       They look at me as if I have suddenly switched over  to Latin or Greek.  They simply cannot register what I am saying to them.  They want only to be at the receiving end of care, compassion, understanding, help, appreciation and sympathy.  They do not want to give away any of those beautiful feelings to others!.

       Selfish people are born complainers.  Nothing will ever convince them that a lot of people are far worse off than they are; nothing will persuade them that they have a lot to be grateful for; they prefer the martyr's syndrome:  I am the most misunderstood, unappreciated creature in the entire world!

       Complaints stem from a sense of unhappiness and dissatisfaction with life.  But the way to meet this dissatisfaction is to set things right.  Complaining constantly will only make things worse; and let us not forget -- when we complain constantly, we become difficult and unpleasant to deal with and people would definitely like to keep their distance from us.  Thus, we are cutting off the source of help and support that we feel we need so desperately!

       All of us complain at one time or another: we are fed up with waiting interminably in a traffic jam or in a doctor's waiting room; we are angry when flight schedules are disrupted and our carefully laid travel plans are messed up completely; we react with indignation when government offers treat us with disrespect and callousness.  This is but natural:  in such situations, complaining, even loud complaining becomes a way of letting off steam, as we say.  But the trouble starts when we make complaining a habit, and that that complaining is the best way to deal with life and its problems.  Compulsive complainers make it their way of reacting to life.  No  matters what happens, they complain; they cry; they express their unhappiness volubly; they protest; they feel very sorry for themselves; they leave very little room for anyone else to step in and do anything for them!

       People start complaining when they are unhappy; but complaining sometimes becomes a bad habit which they cannot get rid of.  It is like those little children who get into the habit of sucking their thumb, and cannot thereafter give it up when they are scolded or pulled up.  The worst thing is that many of them actually begin to feel better when they complain persistently:  let me hasten to add, this is an entirely illusory feeling.  They have managed to make the others miserable with their cribbing; they have unburdened themselves of all their negativity, and are entirely satisfied with their session:  but the trouble is, their problems are no nearer to being solved.

       People who complain constantly do not wish to take the responsibility for themselves and their actions.  Ask  them why their goals are not accomplished, and they will come up with excuses.  What they don't realise is their energy and intellect is so focused on finding faults with others that they cannot concentrate on achieving their goals.  They do not realise how tedious and futile their constant complaints are: they have effectively undermined their own power and efficiency, and have retained control only by constant complaining.

       Constant complainers also suffer from a false sense of superiority because they are finding fault with everyone except themselves.  They think  others love listening to their complaints; they do not realise that they are actually driving away their friends, and will soon have only themselves left as their sole audience!

       Just look at some of their complaints:

1.   I am overworked and it is the fault of my boss.  (What about your time management?)

2.  I am late, and it is the fault of the public transport system.  (Why don't you try leaving home early?)

3.   My targets have not been met and it is the fault of my subordinates.  (Why don't you lead from the front?)

4.   My job is the most difficult and unpleasant.  (Why don't you make way for someone who can handle it?)

5.   I have been overlooked for promotion because the system is corrupt.  (Have you looked at your own performance record?)

       I said, all of us complain at one time or another.  Dynamic complainers find a way to solve their problems; they give vent to their negativity through complaints and then go on to find a way out of their difficulties.  Cribbers are far from dynamic; they are in fact defeatists who are more interested in making excuses and shifting the blame on to others.  They are happy and satisfied just complaining: they do not want to lose control over their pet excuses.

       Let's stop focusing on all that is wrong and focus instead on all that's right; let's stop cribbing about what we don't have and look stead what's there for us; let's take the time to appreciate people for what they are and what they can do, instead of focusing on their defects.  When we complain and criticise constantly, we are drawing negativities into our lives.  Each time we utter something negative about your life, we actually begin to believe it more and more, and make it come true in our lives.  Our imagined ills become our reality.  Needless to say, the reverse is also true.  When we believe things are going good, they become better, actually.  When we visualise success and talk about all that is positive, success actually begins to take shape for us.

       So, let us stop complaining, start thinking, appreciating and feeling good about ourselves.

Source: Excerpts from the Book on "Stop Complaining:  Start Thanking!" by J.P. Vaswani.

01 June, 2012

Dassera : The Triumph of Good over Evil

Celebrated in the month of Ashvin (September/October) according to the Hindu calendar. Dassera is an important festival that is celebrated across the length and breadth of India.

Also known as Vijayadashami, Dassera marks Goddess Durga’s victory in battle over the mighty asura demon, Mahishasura who was part animal. The holy trinity comprising Brahma, Vishnu and Maheshwara had created goddess Durga to kill the powerful Mahishasura who had been harassing the devas (gods). Dassera has immense mythological significance. As per the Ramayana, Lord Rama invoked the blessings of Goddess Durga by performing ‘chandi puja’ to kill the ten-headed king of Lanka, Ravana, who had abducted his wife, Sita. Dassera marks the day on which Lord Ram vanquished Ravana. This is why effigies of Ravana are burnt at various places across India on Dassera.

In the stories above, Mahishasura and Ravana represent people who have taken the unrighteous path. They represent those who do not listen to the voice of their conscience. Lord Rama and Goddess Durga, on the other hand, represent those who live by truth. Follow the voice of their conscience. The victory of Goddess Durga and Lord Rama over Mahishasura and Ravana respectively reinforces our belief that those who live by truth acquire the strength to overcome corrupt and unrighteous forces that come in their way.

At a subtler level, Mahishasura and Ravana represent our lower, base instincts, our vasanas (desires). Goddess Durga and Lord Rama represent the nobler, divine tendencies, the immortal Spirit in each one of us. Their victories epitomise the triumph of good over evil, the destruction of vasanas and the realisation of the Self.

The nine days of worship, Navaratri, preceding Vijayadashami are divided into three days of worship for each of the three goddesses Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswati. These signify that the spiritual journey needs to be undertaken at all three levels of the personality - physical, emotional and intellectual. At the physical level, we must dedicate our actions to a higher purpose. At the emotional level, the yearning and feeling for our spiritual goal must be kindled. And finally, at the intellectual level, we must strive to acquire spiritual knowledge to take us closer to the Goal.

The celebration on Dassera signifies the complete sublimation of desires and the re-discovery of the Divinity within. Thus Dassera is not simply about feasting and catering to the frailties of the senses. It is a reminder to each one of us to commit ourselves to the spiritual pursuit. The ten-day festival is symbolic of the lifelong search for the Divinity within each one of us, of the battle that we fight everyday against our own lower tendencies. If we haven’t yet embarked on the pursuit, the festival serves as an inspiration to take that first step. And for those of us already on the path, it is an opportunity to take stock of the situation and maintain focus on our sadhana (spiritual pursuit).

Source: From the article by Smt. Jaya Rao.