Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Light of Wisdom

While browsing the Internet,I came across a suggestion to divert the expenses incurred in celebrating the festivals to develop the Human Resources and build the nation to become a World Leader.Even the stalwarts of HRD may laugh at this suggestion. Such questions arise from the minds of those who do not understand the basics and significance of festivals.Instead of becoming an example for others they merely pretend to show interest in developing the nation.Let persons like him ask themselves by touching their heart the question"What percentage do I voluntarily donate from my income towards charity?"

Festivals are meant to unite people and create an atmosphere of brotherhood which is essential for peaceful living and development.Gradual drop in faith will foster hatred among people which is detrimental for national development.At the same time one must remember that it is extremely important to know the background of every festival instead of blindly celebrating it.Apart from regional festivals,there are National festivals like Deepavali wherein people from all parts of the country celebrate with joy forgetting all differences.Greeting each other through cards may be viewed as a waste but then one must look at the amount of goodwill it creates.If we take Ganesh Chathurthi as an example,we should admit that it provides income for numerous poor people who struggle for their daily wages.Austerity is always welcome but not at the cost of the festival.Hence it is important to celebrate the festivals in an affordable manner instead of criticising them.A rich person can afford to buy a costly silk sari whereas others can go for a dress which he can afford.The critic can not expect the rich to go for a cheaper one or buy a cheaper car or an ordinary house and divert his expenses towards developing Human Resources.

Affordability does not seem to be a constraint when we look at the poor section of people celebrating festivals.During the festival of Lamps, all people regardless of being rich or poor light lamps in front of their houses and celebrate the function. The only disappointing aspect is the absence of eagerness to know the significance of the festival they celebrate.On Karthikai Deepam Day,palm leaves are arranged like a cone in front of Shiva temples and lit. People in Tamil Nadu call it as "Sokkappaanai".I overheard a lady asking the other lady why it was lit.The former replied that it was customary and no significance was known to her. When Thiruvannamalai Deepam was telecast on TV,the commentator said the panai(Palm)leaves were used for Sokkan(Lord Shiva - whose beauty was unparallel),hence it was named as "Sokkappaanai" I do not know whether my interpretation is acceptable to many.Let me explain it in Tamil first. It is "Sokkappanai Jothiyaaga vazhipaduvadhu".It means Lord Sundareswara(Arunachaleswara)is worshipped in the form of Fire.

Festival of Lamps also signifies the need for Enlightenment in everybody.According to the legend,Vishnu and Brahma claimed superiority over each other and there appeared Lord Shiva in the form of a mountain between them.Both of them failed to reach the top and bottom of the Hill and finally accepted the supremacy of Shiva and worshipped Him when He appeared in the form of Fire on this day.

It was on this day Parvathi became the inseparable half of Shiva.This is the reason why Karthigai Deepam is lighted on top of the Hill at Thiruvannamalai as soon as the idol of Ardhanareeswara is brought near the flag post. The whole atmosphere is enchanting and it is difficult to enunciate.It has to be experienced.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Real or Myth ?

On the lines of the two well known Epics,Mahabharatha & Ramayana, the Eighteen Puranas authored by Sage Vyasa attract equal importance because of being treasure houses of Wisdom.One should understand that the sage is not merely interested in story telling but to tell much more than what is required from an epic.That is the reason why the puranas are aclaimed as the extracts of Vedas.They teach us how to lead the life. Apprehensions do arise when the reader finds strange things unheard of become a part of these works.Raising the eyebrows should not suffice. Instead of asking "how can it happen"one can also ask" why it can not happen".A child can ask the parent innocently whether it was a real story.An adult needs to think differently before challenging the ancestral works.

When Karigal Chola wanted to choose a place to build the capital for his empire he thought that the place must be known for bravery.He visited a place called Worayur,near Thiruchirappalli and saw a cock fighting an elephant. He thought that it could be the ideal place for building the capital. The place attained the name "Kozhi"on account of this incident.This is also narrated in the sthalapurana of this place. One may ask with disbelief whether a cock can oppose an elephant.As a result, the verdict turns against the purana as if the narration is exaggerated. No doubt,it is very difficult to defend the purana as we do not have answer on hand.

Few days back my attention was drawn towards a report that appeared in the local newspaper with a photograph of a frog trying to swollow a snake!! My mind immediately linked this report with Urayur puranam wherein the cock fought with an elephant. Had the newspaper not recorded the incident of a frog swallowing a well grown snake with photograph, no one will believe if the incident is recorded by a poet and read in the future.

It should be understood that the poet does not find pleasure in exaggerating events or creating a new one to make the epic interesting. They did not even bother for any appreciation or reward for their works.They simply recorded whatever they had studied/heard earlier.To believe it or not is therefore left to the readers.While praising the great qualities of the three tanks inside the Shiva Temple at Thiruvengadu near Sirkazhi,Thirugnanasambandar gave assurance for the childless couple to be blessed with a child.His Thevaram Hymns of this place bless such couples even today. When I suggested to recite these Hymns to my family friend who was childless for 8 years after marriage,the couple believed it and read it with lot of faith.Needless to say,they were blessed with a son in the following year.

Friday, September 18, 2009

A long Journey

A study circle was formed in my neighbourhood a few years back soon after completing the Vinaka Chathurthi celebrations.The aim was to recite the entire text of "Panniru Thirumurai",the sacred Tamil hymns sung in praise of Lord Shiva prior to the Chola dynasty.Initially it was thought to recite one Thirumurai every year within a week soon after Vinayaka Chathurthi. But this time it was decided to complete the remaining three Thirumurais within 12 days by devoting 6 hours in a day. Nearly 10000 hymns had to be recited during this period. Every thing went on well and the same was completed and I thanked the Heavens to be a part of the study circle. Meanwhile I took time to visit Kalahasthi and worshipped the Lord there.My cousin who is a surgeon also accompanied me.We were discussing many things all along the route.He told me his personal view on various ways of shedding ego.He narrated his own experience that took place during his visit to Thirupathi.Every one is familiar with the sight at Thirumala when people in long queues shout "Govinda".It is also an interesting observation that most of them who chant God's name are poor.It is rare to see the rich and middle class sections shouting Lord's names.My cousin inferred that it is because of ego the later do not fall in line with others although the inner faith may be the same as found in others.The shyness makes him to keep mum and feels as if the chanting is not meant for him as he will be looked by others.But my cousin wanted to break the silence in him and joined those who shouted "Govinda".He says that it gave him new thrust and power to move further in the queue and forget for a while that he was waiting for a very long time.

I was also going through an interesting book,"The Quest of the overleaf" written by Paul Brunton,published in 1937.The author's name is familiar to many in the south as he was an admirer of Kanchi Sankaracharya and Sri Ramana Maharshi. One has to take time to read this wonderful book.He talks about devoting time for spirituality thus:
" One must find,out of the twentyfour hours of the day,a fixed period of about half an hour when one is able to withdraw from ordinary personal activities and be alone,in quietude and stillness,with one's thoughts.The length of time devoted to the daily practice should be decided upon beforehand and will naturally be fixed only after taking into consideration the particular duties imposed upon one by his environment and status.One need not,and should not, neglect the normal everyday duties of business and home in order to find time for these spiritual practices,yet one shpuld not be so foolish as to assert that he is too busy to find any time for them at all." It is afterall an act to "self-regaining".

The wise man turns every opportunity in his favour.If the person starts cursing himself for having waited for hours he never conquers his mind.Instead,he simply worsen matters by dwelling overmuch on negative critical thoughts.He lives his beliefs and converts principle into practice.Paul Brunton adds: "It is not every man's duty to guide nations and rule people. It is every man's duty,however,to guide his personal life and rule his turbulent mind,to win for himself what the state can never give him."

An act of submission should never be viewed as a weakness. Surrender at the feet of Lord and His devotees is prescribed as the easiest way to attain salvation.The lives of 63 Nayanmars in Peria Puranam is highlighted towards this aspect throughout the masterly work in Tamil.It helps us to shed our ego and become not only more pious than ever but become a modest soul as well. A casual talk with my cousin was indeed a great learning to me personally to shed impatience,anger and ego.I admit that the journey has just started and it has to be a long one.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Flexibility and Deviation

To define and derive anything connected to religion becomes subjective as the interpretations vary between various schools of thought. Each one tries to enforce his thought and expects others to accept it. This happens mostly when the religion shows flexibility. Only when there is freedom to choose among various ways of worship, the right to woship gets extended to offer the right to ask questions.Denying the right will expose the religion's limitations and lead to fundamentalism and intolerence. If the fundamentals are strong, any question can be answered in an healthy atmosphere that can help binding people together.

Let me explain further on the flexibility offered by the religion that may lead to deviation. Those were the days when marriages were held at young age. The advocates of early marriage were of the view that this arrangement would help the children discipline themselves at the ripe age and prevent them from deviating from the tradition.The arranged marriages at young age were believed to create long married life for the couple. It took a turn when people came to understand that some girls became widows at young age due to the unfortunate demise of their husbands. The Government had to intervene taking advantage of the flexibility and adaptability of the religion and framed the Hindu Marriages Act.

We should not forget the fact that flexibility gives a long rope and provides a platform for deviation as a result of which the role of the parents to arrange a suitable partner for their ward is shrinking.There are cases where the boys and girls select the life partner of their choice beyond the boundaries of caste and religion to the utter disappointment of their parents. Many families get divided because of the dissent shown and the departure from the customary practice. By saying this one should not interpret as if the freedom of selection is denied by parents. The parents being the wellwishers of their children should discuss in detail before arriving at a final decision. The open forum will provide transparency to the issue and invite suggestions from all quarters. This discussion , in fact is a healthy one instead of arguing on examples of those deserted from their parents landing into the trap of divorce.

Our ancestors firmly believed that the bond created after marriage was inseparable. Little amendments are always welcome as long as they remain within the framework of the religious principles.

It is we who have introduced unnecessary expenses in marriages. The bash includes costly invitation cards,marriage halls that charge Lakhs of rupees ,jewellary,reception,
presentation and so on. Tradition takes a back seat and unable to dominate over affordability. As a result, the prices of all essential items like vegetables,fruits and groceries take a giant leap during marriage days. Although the helpless in such situations, the concerned marriage parties can act together and bring some reforms by eliminating unwanted expenses. It is definitely a hard nut to crack but the solution lies in the hands of like minded people so that it checks the rising prices and help the downtrodden section indirectly and bring some relief in their lives.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

New Ways Of Worship??

One has to be mentally prepared to listen/read about religion. All topics on religion cannot be read casually as a fiction. Some of them may demand high level of concentration of mind. But the objective of writing through this blog is to convey the reader in a simple form which may activate more reading later.

Although it calls for faith to proceed further and sustain it throughout the life, we should never adapt and adopt the practices of others who create /innovate new ways of worship. Let me explain this for better understanding. Most of us are familiar with the sight of people embracing Nandi and telling their wishes to his ears with the belief that it would be passed on to Shiva. I think that the practice has migrated from North India. On the other day, I saw a lady putting a garland of chocolates around the neck of Nandi which was quickly snatched by boys and girls who keep a watch(?) on the footwear left near the entrance. It is also not uncommon to see people writing Rama’s name in small bits of paper, tie them as a garland and offering to Hanuman’s idol. Some others use betel, coconut,”Kondai Kadalai” ,currency notes in garlands and offer to deities. While cow’s milk alone is recommended for “abhishekam”, people offer milk packets which may contain buffalo’s milk, milk powder and other ingredients.

Where are we going? Who will teach people the right things and correct their wrong beliefs? Dilution of rituals and departure from the tradition will ruin the foundation laid and practiced by our ancestors.

It is also argued that there is nothing wrong in diluting the tradition to suit the need of the modern world. All I can say is you cannot ask for short cuts for everything in life. The pseudo worship will be self centered and lead to selfishness. On the contrary we pray for the universe in our traditional worship. Dilution has come to “chocolate garland” and it is an ongoing process which will continue endlessly to suit everyone’s likes.

Will it help if Dos and Don’ts are printed and distributed to devotees? I am afraid very few of them will go through the lengthy list. Reluctance to change is another phenomenon that forbids people to correct the errors. I have seen big boards in major temples with appeals to devotees. Very few onlookers take serious note of it that they know that already and following the same perfectly (!!)

May I appeal to the archakas, temple authorities and scholars who give discourses at temples to focus more in stopping/plugging the breach in the religion? Magazines should concentrate on this by allotting few columns and guide people on the right path. Unfortunately many magazines are commercial and assume they would survive only when they write differently.

When I was in the midst of relatives & friends in a marriage hall recently, an elderly person of about 80 years came to me and requested me to pray for everybody during the puja. I realized the need for it and subsequently appealed to the Lord Parameshwara to depute an acharya who can take the task of putting back the house in order. It happened once when Shiva appeared as Aadi Shankara and reestablished the vedic faith. Now we have to jointly pray Him to save the universe.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Be Inspired

Who teaches the fish to swim? How does the bird learn to fly? Look at the mother who demonstrates to them how to catch the prey.The human beings have the advantage of learning from others.Some people follow the rolemodel of their choice and some others set their own standards.In any case,an inspiration is required to shape one's course of actions.

Let me introduce a person whom I have never met and not even spoke to her over phone. I merely came to know about her while going through the mails in a yahoo group. In that mail,she corrected the mistake of a person who gave the name of a district in Tamil nadu incorrectly.She had attached a google map to locate the place for better understanding. Later,she sent me a breath taking photograph of a dwarapalaka ,taken at Gangaikondacholapuram.When I wrote a blog on the dilapidated temple at Kollumangudi,near Mayiladuthrai,she readily came forward to help rebuilding of this ancient shrine.All I understand from her mails is that she had visited many historic temples of Tamilnadu and acquired lot of information on temple architecture. Her name is Katherine (Nationality not known)whom I introduce to the readers with pleasure with the strong feeling that she will become an inspiration for many of us who have not turned towards the glorious temples built by our ancestors.

During my visit to Sirugudi,some 30 km off Mayiladuthurai,I met two ladies who came from U.S. Surprisingly,they handed over a palm leaf manuscript to the priest and asked him to keep it at the feet of the main deity and conduct archana in their names.I was stunned when I came to know that these foreigners had Indian names and gave their nakshatra(Star) for performing the archana.During my interaction with them they disclosed that the manuscript was the gateway to know about their previous birth. The palmleaf had indicated that they had an association with this place in their previous birth.

Similarly,my friend's brother who lives abroad (whom I have not met so far) came forward to help for the noble cause of renovating the dilapidated temples.
I sincerely hope and pray that these examples would bring more awareness and inspiration for many people.

Creating interest is of prime importance in our agenda before expanding our horizon.
Let us be inspired and ready to keep our eyes and ears open to grab good thoughts.
(To be continued)

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Hinduism is so flexible that it advocates the worship of God in His various forms to suit the likes and maturity of the worshipper.These forms are meant to realise the formless God at a later stage.As the concept may be difficult for a layman it never compels anyone to accept God only in a particular form.It simply teaches him to accept the ever existing Almighty. It even sets goal for the individual to attain the state where there is no birth or death.In other words, it is described as "jeevan mukthi".

As God is described as omnipresent he can not be confined to one particular form or shape. However,the devotee can choose any form of his like for the purpose of concentration and regularisation of his worship. The faith gets moulded at this stage and remains as a strong platform. Failure to understand the basics right may lead to the extent of blaming the religion without even making an attempt to know the Truth.

Critics simply comment without going deep into the subject. But it is a pity that even the so called believers whose faith is shaky are unable to silence the critics by their wisdom. The inability to answer makes the faith taking a back seat. They start doubting the numerous forms described as the weakness.But it indeed is the strength of the religion in the sense that it is so kind to all human beings in giving opportunities and choices which can fit them best.
The next question would be to tell the benefit of knowing the fundamentals.
As stated earlier, the blind faith would terminate if the shaky platform is collapsed in difficult times. The greatest benefit one would derive is to understand what he is practising. The next feeling would be to rejoice what he has experienced.The refined step would be to share his experience with others. The ultimate step would be to reach those who need to be taught. All are expected to be familiar with the often quoted sentence from Thirumoolar's Thirumandiram,

நான் பெற்ற இன்பம் peruha இவ்வையகம்

It is with this message/introduction we move on to share the basics of this great religion.
To be continued