Sunday, September 21, 2008

Ganesh Chaturthi

Ganesh Chaturthi is celebrated on the birthday of Lord Ganesh (Ganesha), the god of wisdom and prosperity on the fourth day of the moons bright fortnight, or period from new moon in the lunar month of Bhadrapada. The celebration of Ganesh Chaturthi continue for five, seven, or ten days. Some even stretch it to twenty one days, but ten the most popularly celebrated. In the tradition of the right hand path the first day is the most important. In the left hand path tradition the final day is most important.

Ganesha is the god of wisdom and prosperity and is invoked before the beginning of any auspicious work by the Hindus. It is believed that for the fulfillment of one's desires, his blessing is absolutely necessary. According to the mythology, he is the son of Shiva and Parvati, brother of Kartikeya - the general of the gods, Lakshmi - the goddess of wealth and Saraswati-the goddess of learning. There are numerous stories in Hindu mythology, associated with the birth of this elephant-headed god, whose vehicle is the Mooshak or rat and who loves Modaks (droplet shaped Indian sweet).

Legend has it that Parvati created Ganesha out of the sandalwood dough that she used for her bath and breathed life into him. Letting him stand guard at the door she went to have her bath. When her husband, Shiva returned, the child who had never seen him stopped him. Shiva severed the head of the child and entered his house. Parvati, learning that her son was dead, was distraught and asked Shiva to revive him. Shiva cut off the head of an elephant and fixed it on the body of Ganesha.

Another tale tells of how one day the Gods decided to choose their leader and a race was to be held between the brothers- Kartikeya and Ganesh. Whoever took three rounds of the earth first would be made the Ganaadhipati or the leader. Kartikeya seated on a peacock as his vehicle, started off for the test. Ganesh was given a rat, which moved swiftly. Ganesh realised that the test was not easy, but he would not disobey his father. He reverently paid obeisance to his parents and went around them three times and thus completed the test before Kartikeya. He said, " my parents pervade the whole universe and going around them, is more than going round the earth." Everybody was pleasantly surprised to hear Ganesha's logic and intelligence and hence he came to be known as the Ganaadhipati or leader, now referred to as Ganpati.

There is also a story behind the symbolic snake, rat and the singular tusk. During one of his birthdays, His mother, Parvati, cooked for him twenty-one types of delicious food and a lot of sweet porridge. Ganesha ate so much that even his big belly could not contain it. Mounting his little mouse, he embarked on his nightly rounds. His mouse suddenly stumbled upon seeing a huge snake. To adjust His belly, Ganesha put the snake on as a belt around his stomach. All of a sudden, he heard laughter emanating form the sky.

He looked up and saw the moon mocking him. Ganesha infuriated, broke off one of his tusks and hurled it at the moon. Parvati, seeing this, immediately cursed the moon that whoever looks at it on Ganesh Chaturthi will be accused of a wrong doing. The symbology behind the mouse and snake and Ganesha's big belly and its relationship to the moon on his birthday is highly philosophic. The whole cosmos is known to be the belly of Ganesha. Parvati is the primordial energy. The seven realms above, seven realms below and seven oceans, are inside the cosmic belly of Ganesha, held together by the cosmic energy (kundalini ) symbolized as a huge snake which Ganesha ties around Him. The mouse is nothing but our ego. Ganesha, using the mouse as a vehicle, exemplifies the need to control our ego. One who has controlled the ego has Ganesha consciousness or God-consciousness.


Pongal is the only festival of Hindu that follows
a solar calendar and is celebrated on the fourteenth of January every
year. Pongal has astronomical significance: it marks the beginning of
Uttarayana, the Sun's movement northward for a six month period.
In Hinduism, Uttarayana is considered auspicious, as opposed to
Dakshinaayana, or the southern movement of the sun. All important events
are scheduled during this period. Makara Sankranthi refers to
the event of the Sun entering the zodiac sign of Makara or Capricorn.

In Hindu temples bells, drums, clarinets and conch shells herald the
joyous occasion of Pongal. To symbolize a bountiful harvest, rice is
cooked in new pots until they boil over. Some of the rituals performed
in the temple include the preparation of rice, the chanting of prayers
and the offering of vegetables, sugar cane and spices to the gods.
Devotees then consume the offerings to exonerate themselves of past

Pongal signals the end of the traditional farming season, giving
farmers a break from their monotonous routine. Farmers also perform puja
to some crops, signaling the end of the traditional farming season. It
also sets the pace for a series of festivals to follow in a calendar
year. In fact, four festivals are celebrated in Tamil Nadu for four
consecutive days in that week. 'Bogi' is celebrated on January
13, 'Pongal' on Jan 14, 'Maattuppongal' on Jan 15, and
'Thiruvalluvar Day' on Jan 16.

The festival is celebrated for four days. On, the first day, Bhogi, the
old clothes and materials are thrown away and fired, marking the
beginning of a new life. The second day, the Pongal day, is celebrated
by boiling fresh milk early in the morning and allowing it to boil over
the vessel - a tradition that is the literal translation for Pongal.
People also prepare savories and sweets, visit each other's homes, and
exchange greetings. The third day, Mattu Pongal, is meant to offer
thanks to the cows and buffaloes, as they are used to plough the lands.
On the last day, Kanum Pongal, people go out to picnic.

A festival called Jalli kathu is held in Madurai,
Tiruchirapalli and Tanjavur,all in Tamil Nadu, on this day. Bundles of
money are tied to the horns of Pongal ferocious bulls which the
villagers try to retrieve. Everyone joins in the community meal, at
which the food is made of the freshly harvested grain. This day is named
and celebrated as Tamilian Tirunal in a fitting manner through
out Tamil Nadu.

Thus, the harvest festival of Pongal symbolizes the veneration of the
first fruit. The crop is harvested only after a certain time of the
year, and cutting the crop before that time is strictly prohibited. Even
though Pongal was originally a festival for the farming community, today
it is celebrated by all. In south India, all three days of Pongal are
considered important. However, those south Indians who have settled in
the north usually celebrate only the second day. Coinciding with Makara
and Lohri of the north, it is also called Pongal

Maha Shivaratri

Maha Shivaratri falls on the 13th day of Krishana Paksha
of Maagha Maasa (February-March). It is a night of fasting and prayer in
honour of Lord Shiva in His aspect of destroying sins and bad things. The
night is called Shivamaya, i.e. a night to spend with thoughts of Lord Shiva.
As the Lord of the universe He is full of compassion and only punishes out
of Love and for the good of mankind. It is on this great night that Lord
Shiva redeems the world. He swallows poisons and sins to save His devotees.
During this holy night the devotees of Lord Shiva fast, meditate, pray and
sing the glory of the Saviour. Whatever is offered to Lord Shiva with devotion
is pleasing to Him. On this night He showers blessings abudantly.

The Symbol of Lord Shiva, is the Shiva Lingam, it is a form to represent the formless and it is worshiped with great splendour during Maha Shivaratri. This Lingam is the symbol of the one who is All - Pure, All -Perfect, All - Bliss; Lord Shiva. When contemplated with adoration it becomes a mirror of the soul. It becomes a cosmic window that opens to allow the devotees to touch the All - Pure One.

The Shiva Lingam in the Ashram was found many years ago and named Sachchidanandishwara by Sri Swamiji. During Maha Shivaratri the devotees themselves can do water abishekam to this Lingam with water collected from the holy rivers of India. It is followed by Ekadasha Rudrabishekam (pouring different ingredients on the sacred Lingam: milk, honey, ghee, curds, coconut water, sugar, flowers and bay leaves). Beautiful decoration of the Lingam with flowers, vibhuti, sandalpaste, turmeric, kumkum, rudrakshas, butter etc. crown the abishekas. Everything has a deep meaning. During the ceremonies you can hear the huge crowd of devotees chanting the famous Shiva-mantra:

Om Namah Shivaya...
Om Namah Shivaya...

A memorable part of Shivaratri is Sri Swamiji's Agni Puja, the worship of the Fire God, which He has inherited from his ancestors and has been performing for many years. Sri Swamiji does Puja to the Firegod standing in the pit (Homa Kunda) unmindful of the leaping flames which surround Him. The flames are powerless before Sri Swamiji; they cannot even touch a hair on His crown. It is a case of spiritual fire conquering material fire, and it benefits the whole world!After performing Agni puja, His Holiness brings out Shivalingams and other forms of deities from the fire pit, which are the prasadam (gifts) of Lord Agni. These sacred objects provide the basis for Sri Swamiji's predictions and advice to His devotees for the coming year, as well as His long term forecasts.