Professor Kumar has been very kind to share with us his some of his

religious views & writings on mythology. We look forward to some more of his work

which we will share with you. For any clarifications or  otherwise you can reach him at alokekumar@gmail.com 

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KALI

Kali is an embodiment of creative feminine force (Shakti). Kali exists in a state of svātantrya, independence from the universe. She is thus considered the fiercer, demon-fighting form of Shiva's wife.

Kali is the Hindu goddess associated with eternal energy. "She who destroys". The name Kali comes from kāla, which means black, time, death, lord of death, Shiva. Kali means "the black one". Since Shiva is called Kāla - the eternal time, Kali,, his consort, also means "Time" or "Death" (as in time has come). Hence, Kali is considered the goddess of time and change.

Although sometimes presented as dark and violent, her earliest incarnation as a figure of annihilation still has some influence. Various Shakta Hindu cosmologies, as well as Shākta Tantric beliefs, worship her as the ultimate reality or Brahman. She is also revered as Bhavatārini, literally meaning "redeemer of the universe". Comparatively recent devotional movements largely conceive Kāli as a benevolent mother goddess.

Kali is represented as the consort of Lord Shiva, on whose body she is often seen standing. She is associated with many other Hindu goddesses like Durga, Bhadrakali, Sati, Rudrani, Parvati and Chamunda. She is the foremost among the Dasa Mahavidyas, ten fierce Tantric goddesses.

The festival of Kali Puja is not an ancient one. Kali Puja was practically unknown before the 18th century, when it was worshiped by dacoits and the like. However as late 17th century devotional text Kalika mangalkavya by Balram mentions an annual festival dedicated to Kali. It was introduced in Bengal during the 18th century, by Raja Krishnachandra of Navadvipa.

Kali Puja gained popularity in the 19th century, with Krishanachandra’s grandson Ishvarchandra and the Bengali elite; wealthy landowners began patronizing the festival on a grand scale. Along with Durga Puja, now - Kali Puja is the biggest goddess festival in Bengal.

Kali puja , worshipers honor goddess Kali in their homes in the form of clay idols and in pandals (temporary shrines or open pavilions). She is worshipped at night with Tantric rites and mantras. She is prescribed offerings of red hibiscus flowers,sweets, rice and lentils, fish and meat. It is prescribed that a worshipper should meditate throughout the night until dawn.

Homes may also practice rites in the Brahmanical,mainstream Hindu-style, non-Tantric, tradition with ritual dressing of Kali in her form as Adya Shakti Kali. Animals are ritually sacrificed on Kali Puja day and offered to the goddess.

A celebration of Kali Puja in Kolkata is also held in a large cremation ground where she is believed to visit on this day.

It is interesting to note that in the Kalighat Temple in Kolkata, Kali is worshipped as Lakshmi on this day so as to reflect an essence of Vaishnava.

In the Kalighat Temple in Kolkata, Kali is worshiped as Lakshmi on this day so as to reflect an essence of Vaishnava in Kali worship.

It must be surprising to most, particularly, those who rush to offer Puja at Kalighat on this day, that this fierce Goddess, on her most exalted day, is worshiped as the daughter, Lakhshmi.

Goddess Lakshmi is also worshiped in Bengali homes on this day, particularly by the original residents of West Bengal, popularly known as ‘Ghoti’.  As per legends, Goddess Lakshmi came from the milky ocean on this day of and chose Lord Vishnu as her husband. Kali Amavasya is thus considered auspicious to appease the Goddess Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and  first the ‘O Lakshmi’ is bade a farewell and then Lakshmi the Goddess of prosperity is worshiped.

To reflect the essence of Vaishnava, Goddess Kali is also worshiped as KaliKrishna. The image is in keeping with the folk tale popular in Bengal of Krishna transforming himself into Kali when Radha’s husband, Ayan Ghosh, thought to have caught her red-handed with the blue god.The  image is different from the Kali worshiped in most households and pandals. Her tongue is exposed in a gesture of shame for standing astride her husband Shiva, but she is not in her usual martial mood. KaliKrishna is a benign deity, and instead of four, she has six arms, as she holds a flute, Krishna fashion, in her two extra hands. She is not undraped either. She wears a red silk sari like a dhoti. Shiva lies unconcerned underfoot on a lotus.

Kalighat is regarded as one of the fifty-one Shakti Peethas of India, where the various parts of Sati's body are said to have fallen, in the course of Shiva's Rudra Tandava. Kalighat represents the site where the toes of the right foot of Dakshayani or Sati fell.

The original temple of Ma Kali at Kalighat was a small hut. A small temple was constructed by King Manasingha in the early Sixteenth century. The present temple was erected under the patronage of the Sabarna Roy Chowdhury family of Barisha. It was completed in 1809. The Haldar family claims to be the original owners of the temple property and to this day they are the Shevaites.

The Haldars  are Brahman. The Surname is probably derived from Sanskrit haladhara 'one who holds a plow', an epithet of Balarama, the brother of the god Krishna. Balarama is said to have used a weapon shaped like a plowshare.

Though the Haldars  are the Shevaites of Goddess Kali, the powerful form of Shakti, one of the four subcategories of the Kulamārga, a category of tantric Saivism, they are Vaishnavs. Goddess Kali has been worshiped by devotional movements and tantric sects variously as the Divine Mother, Mother of the Universe, Adi Shakti, or Adi Parashakti.

Vaishnvism is centered on Lord Vishnu as the one supreme God. The belief in the supremacy of Vishnu is based upon the many avatars (incarnations) of Vishnu listed in the Puranic texts, which differs from other Hindu deities such as Ganesha, Surya or Durga.

To the devotees of the Srivaishnava Sampradaya " Lord Vishnu is the Supreme Being and the foundation of all existence. Vaishnavism is one of the major Hindu denominations along with Shaivism, Shaktism, and Smartism. It is also called Vishnuism, its followers are called Vaishnavas or Vaishnavites.

The tradition is notable for its avatar doctrine, wherein Vishnu is revered in one of many distinct incarnations. Rama, Krishna, Narayana, Kalki, Hari, Vithoba, Kesava, Madhava, Govinda, Srinathji and Jagannath are among the popular names used for the same supreme being.

The tradition has traceable roots to the 1st millennium BC, as Bhagavatism. The Vaishnava tradition has many sampradayas (denominations, sub-schools) ranging from the medieval era Dvaita school of Madhvacharya to Vishishtadvaita school of Ramanuja.

On the day of Kali Puja, Ma Kali at Kalighat is worshiped as Lakshmi and it is only at night she is worshiped as her Shakti Rupa.

Kālī also known as Kālikā, is the Hindu goddess associated with empowerment, or shakti. She is the fierce aspect of the goddess Durga. The name of Kali means black one and force of time, she is therefore called the Goddess of Time, Change, Power, Creation, Preservation, and Destruction. Her earliest appearance is that of a destroyer principally of evil forces. Various Shakta Hindu cosmologies, as well as Shākta Tantric beliefs, worship her as the ultimate reality or Brahman; and recent devotional movements re-imagine Kāli as a benevolent mother goddess. She is often portrayed standing or dancing on her husband, the god Shiva, who lies calm and prostrate beneath her. Worshipped throughout India but particularly Bengal, and Assam, Kali is both geographically and culturally diverse.

 

LAKSHMI

Lakṣmī puja is the most neglected and taken for granted puja in the Hindu Almanac. Since she has just visited us accompanying her mother in the Sharadotsav and coming back on the fifth day after returning to Kailash, her position is somewhat eroded like the married daughter coming home too early.

Though she is worshipped daily in Bengali Hindu homes and commercial establishments as the goddess of wealth, she is given a step motherly treatment in the Sarbojinin puja. Her puja in the pandals are a leftover of funds from the worship of her mother Durga and she is not given the pride of place to either create a new pandal or given the due which she deserves. Much of this neglect is subterfuged under the guise of muted decor and puja as Lakṣmī is believed to be in favour of ‘calm and quiet’. But that is just a lame excuse and she knows it too. She bears us no grudge

In the traditional Bengali home she is worshiped on the day of Diwali when her alter image, the OLakṣmī is driven out and Lakṣmī is ushered in. It was left to the migrants of East Bengal to celebrate Lakṣmī puja on Kojagiri Purnima and hoist her in the exalted position. First, to worship her in the Lakṣmī 'sara' and then moving to the idol. Having lost everything in the partition of 1947 and making the other part of Bengal their home, they continued their reverence, praying to give them prosperity. She did not disappoint them and showered them with her blessings. Seeing this their Western brethren followed suit.

Lakṣmī is the Hindu Goddess of wealth, prosperity, both material and spiritual, fortune, and the embodiment of beauty. She is also worshipped as the consort of Vishnu. She is also known as Mahalakshmi, is said to bring good luck and is believed to protect her devotees from all kinds of misery and money-related sorrows.

In Bengal, Lakṣmī is worshiped in autumn when the moon is full, the brightest night of the year. It is believed that she showers wealth on this night. She, along with her bahana, the great white owl, descends to earth and takes away the darkness of poverty, stagnation, anger, and laziness from our lives. Her bahana owl represents royalties, penetrating sight and intelligence. It serves as her mount over which she rides. Lakṣmī is also referred to as pranadayini,"giver of vital life-sustaining energy" who can turn a dull thing full of life.

One of the most compelling stories in Hindu mythology is that of the Churning of the Milky Ocean. It is the story of the gods versus the demons and their fight to gain immortality. It also tells of the rebirth of Lakṣmī . Devas, gods, and asuras, demons, were both mortal at one time, in Hinduism. Amrit, the divine nectar that grants immortality, could only be obtained by churning the Kshirsagar,the Ocean of Milk. The devas and asuras both sought immortality and decided to churn the Kshirsagar. The samudra manthan commenced with the devas on one side and the asuras on the other. Vishnu incarnated as Kurma, the tortoise, and a mountain was placed on the tortoise as a churning pole. Vasuki, the great venom-spewing serpent, was wrapped around the mountain and used to churn the ocean. A host of divine celestial objects came up during the churning. Along with them emerged the goddess Lakṣmī, the daughter of Bhrigu and Khyaati.

The last to come up was the Amrita. The avatar of Kurma, the tortoise, ended with this. Vishnu then took up the form of a beautiful maiden to distract the asuras and gave immortality to the devas. She is 'shakti-roopa' of 'parabrahma' or 'adi dev narayan' in the 'Mahalakṣmī' story. OLakṣmī the goddess of misfortune, is Lakṣmī's elder sister, her alter image.

Lakṣmī is called Shree or Thirumagal because she is endowed with six auspicious and divine qualities, or Gunas, and also because she is the source of strength even to Vishnu. She is commonly portrayed as a beautiful woman, standing on a lotus flower. There is her ‘bahana’ the white owl which accompanies her.

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Jagatdhatri

Jagatdhatri জগদ্ধাত্রী, 'Bearer of the World' is another form the goddess Durga, who is particularly worshipped in the Indian states of West Bengal. Her cult is directly derived from Tantra where she is a symbol of sattva beside Durga and Kali, respectably symbolized with Rajas and Tamas.

After creating goddess Durga all gods like Indra, Varun, Vayu and others thought they were very powerful. They thought they are almighty and can do anything with their power. So they forgot who is the real power of them. So Adi shakti took their test. She came before them as Maya and created a grass before them. She said, "Oh mighty deva's please take that grass". They were laughing, then Indra sent Vayu to take that grass out. Vayu tried and tried but failed. Every god one by one tried but failed. Then Goddess Adi Shakti came before them and told them that every power of this universe is her. She is the power of the whole world. So all the Gods understood their fault. Goddess came before them as Goddess Jagaddhatri sitting on a lion. And their ego became an Elephant. That's how we see Goddess Jagaddhatri sitting on a lion and an elephant under her.

The Jagatdhatri Puja was first started by Maharaja Krishnachandra of Krishnanagar, Nadia in Bengal. Jagatdhatri Puja is very popular in Krishnanagar, Rishra, Chandannagar, Bhadreswar, Hooghly, Boinchi , Ashoknagar-Kalyangarh. In Krishnanagar, Nadia, Raj Rajeshwary, Jagatdhatri Puja is one of the oldest Jagatdhatri Puja in Bengal.

Legend has it that once during the Nawab raj in Bengal Maharaja Krishnachandra was arrested by Nawab Siraj-ud-Dullah for not paying tax in time. He was released from Prison during the day of Vijaya Dashami due to which the entire festivity of Durga Puja in his kingdom was spoiled so to again rejoice Maharaja started the ritual of this Jagatdhatri Puja.

The Jagatdhatri puja of Bose family, Palpara, deserves a special mention in this regard. The puja of this family initially used to be held in their ancestral home in Murshidabad. Folklore has it that this puja was started in 1788. The puja was later shifted to its present location in Chandannagar, where many of the family members now live. The exact history of the deity is unknown, but family records date it back to 1640.

The beauty of the festival in Chandannagar is mainly due to the collaborative conception between the French and Bengalis. Remarkable feature remaining its procession, second largest in the world after Rio de Janeiro's, with its magnificent lightings.

Jagatdhatri figures in the semi-historical fictional work 'Anandamath' written by Bankim Chandra Chatterjee, from which book the national song of India "Vande Mataram" is taken. In the novel, Kali, Durga, and Jagatdhatri are depicted as three aspects of 'Bharat Mata' (Mother India) - Jagatdhatri as the mother used to be, Kali as the mother now is, Durga as the mother will be in future. The trio of goddesses are shown as the object of worship of a group of ascetics who form the protagonists of the story.

Image : Jagatdhatri. Dutch Bengal . Chandanagore. The term "Dutch-Bengal School" falls under the umbrella of Company School painting and refers to works made between the mid-18th and mid-19th centuries in Bengal. During this period, both British and Indian aristocrats in Bengal demanded works made by Indian artists in the Western academic style. "Dutch" suggests that practices in Holland influenced Indian artists, it actually refers to a confluence of this imposed Western realism and indigenous miniature painting practices. Paintings made in this style displayed certain elements of realism, such as light, shadow and perspective, and were stunning in scale and unique in execution. This 19th century Dutch Bengal School painting is significant for its stylistic execution and thematic relevance. Though the gentry demanded paintings in the academic style, they endorsed paintings that depicted scenes from Indian mythology, or borrowed from Indian tradition and values.

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SHIV

During my many sojourns abroad I used to be embarrassed with the question of worship of the Shiva Lingam. I could not answer it to my satisfaction and a lot remained unanswered. I tried my best , and among many a mumble and eating of words explained it as the worship of a form of the God.

Many summers later and after much education I wonder at the thought of the rich imagination the Hindus possess to worship a stone by the way side in which their god resides. I marvel at the flight of their imagination that the creator of this magnificent world lives in that single stone. It is not a form, the stone is the content. Just imagine the power of this imagination. Even to imagine this power it is fathomless.

Shiva is worshiped all over India in the form of a black block of stone known as a Shiva stone. It is a common sight. A black round stone under a tree and it is worshiped. Sometimes a whole temple comes up built around it. Sometimes there is nothing;under the blue sky a single black stone and it moves you to reverence. The devotees can see everything in it . The Lord God,the form and the content, the creator and the destroyer,the ethereal and the sublime.

Many a time I have stood before it in wonder. What power this stone possess to make the literate and the illiterate, the rich and the poor, the believer and the non-believer bow down in obeisance.

A Shiva stone, which is essentially a 'mark' or 'symbol' of Shiva, sometimes appears as an un-worked block of stone, but typically it is represented by a smooth, rounded stone which resembles the Shiva.

It might be embarrassing to many, that the Shiva Linga, not the stone, known as 'pinda'as shown here,  consists of two parts: the vertical stone shaft, which may be seen as the male component, Shiva, and the circular horizontal base, called a yoni or pitha which is the female component, Shakti. Together the linga and pitha form the Shiva-Shakti symbol of divine unity. The one who is commonly called "Shiva'' is seen in the linga as both Shiva and Shakti, male and female, divine spirit and divine matter. It is an ariel  view from inside of a human, the ‘atma’ of the male and female in union. But that is another story, which I will keep for another day.

The basic concept that a stone can be worshiped as a God is divine. This Shiva stone worship is superior because it makes the worship simple because of the form while maintaining the truth that God is not having any definite form. In Sanskrit, Linga means a 'mark' or a symbol, which points to an inference. Thus the stone is a symbol of Lord Shiva - a mark that reminds of the Omnipotent Lord, which is formless.

This speaks to the devotee in the unmistakable language of silence, and it is only the outward symbol of the formless being, Lord Shiva  who is identical with the supreme 'Brahman.'The shape is like an egg, and represents the 'Brahmanda' or the cosmic egg. The Shiva stone is an object of “ultimate power, the power of transmutation that lies dormant within each of us” and is a sacred symbol of divine creation.

The stone is a symbol of the God Shiva, the supreme God of the Hindu pantheon who is formless and omnipresent.

 

M A H A L A Y A and Debi Paksha

I am most surprised at many of my friend wishing Shubho Mahalaya. Most of them are educated and many of them well read.

Just to be on the same page and to bring to context it is like wishing someone a Merry Christmas on the All Souls Day. All Souls' Day is a day of prayer for the dead, particularly but not exclusively related to Christianity.

Mahalaya falls on no moon day known as Sarvapitri Amavasya, Mahalaya  Amavasya or simply Mahalaya.There is nothing Shubho in Mahalaya. It is like telling me that you are happy that I have lost both my parents. That you are happy that I am deeply in prayer for my deceased ancestors. How ugly is that ?

How can Ma Durga decend on Amavasya? That too a No moon Day.The 10 day  Durga Puja begins with the end of Mahalaya marking the start of Debipaksha ,the next day. But since it is the cusp we mistake Mahalaya with Debipaksha.

The general belief is that Mahalaya is the curtain raiser to the Durga Puja.

It is not. In fact it is the drop curtain to Pitru Paksha, considered by Hindus to be inauspicious, given the death rite performed during the ceremony, known as Shraddha or Tarpan. In Bengal it falls in the Hindu lunar month of Bhadra, September–October, beginning with the full moon day, Purnima that occurs immediately after the Ganesh festival and ending with the No Moon Day known as Amavasya.

Mahalaya has No connection to the Durga Puja and solves the riddle for many of us as to why Durga Puja starts on a no moon day. It does not.

Debi Paksha is heralded at the wee hours, 24 hours in advance by a radio broadcast of the legendary Birendra Krishna Bhadra's Mahishasur Mardini recital and now a number of TV programmes which leads us to the confusion.

Most believe that we start Durga Puja by sincerely expressing our love, respect and  gratitude to the departed souls of our family and dear ones. Incidentally, only we people of Bengal believe that it is beginning of Durga Puja because from our earliest childhood we have always eagerly awaited to hear the mesmerizing chants of of  Durga Saptashati or Chandi, by legendary Pandit Bhadra, on radio, early in the morning, on this day of Mahalaya. Most Bengalis believe that paying obeisance before the departed Souls of our family for 15 days, we bow to the Divine Mother for next 10 days.

I had this deep feeling that with the elaborate national telecast of Mahabharata making us more familiar with the epic the concept of Mahalaya is clear in our mind. Mahalaya comes from the obeisance of Karna to his ancestors.

Let me narrate the story of Karna and Mahalaya. When Karna, the brave warrior whose acts of giving are legendary even today, died in the epic Mahabharata war, his soul transcended to heaven, where he was offered gold and jewels as food. However, Karna was thirsty and parched for water and asked Indra, the lord of heaven, the reason for serving gold as food. Indra told Karna that he had donated gold all his life, but had never offered water to his ancestors in. Karna said that since he was unaware of his ancestors, he never offered anything in their memory, not even a drop of water.. To make amends, Karna was permitted to return to earth for a fifteen day period, so that he could perform Shraddha and offer food and water to his ancestors. This period is now known as Pitru Paksha ending in Mahalaya.

According to Hinduism, the souls of three preceding generations of one's ancestor reside in Pitru–loka, a realm between heaven and earth. This realm is governed by Yama, the god of death, who takes the soul of a dying man from earth to Pitru–loka. When a person of the next generation dies, the first generation shifts to heaven and unites with God, so Shraddha offerings are not given. Thus, only the three generations in Pitru–loka are given Shraddha rites, in which Yama plays a significant role. According to the sacred Hindu epics , at the beginning of Pitru Paksha, the sun enters the zodiac sign of Thula (Libra). Coinciding with this moment, it is believed that the spirits leave Pitru–loka and reside in their descendants' homes for a month until the sun enters the next zodiac— Vrichchhika (Scorpio)—and there is a full moon. Hindus are expected to propitiate the ancestors in the first half, during the dark fortnight.

The Mahalaya Amavasya is mistaken as the beginning of Durga Puja. Actually, is a special day dedicated to making an offering to express our gratitude to all the previous generations of people who have contributed to our life.

Scientists say that human beings and their ancestors have existed on this planet for 20 million years. That is a lot of time. All these hundreds of thousands of generations that lived on this planet before us have given us something or the other. The language that we speak, the way we sit, our clothes, our buildings – almost everything that we know today has come to us from generations before us.

We have taken all the things that we have today for granted. But without the generations that came before us, firstly we would not exist here; secondly, without their contribution we would not have all the things that we have today. So instead of taking them for granted, Mahalaya is the day when we express our gratitude to all of them.  It is done as a ritual to pay homage to one’s dead parents, but is actually an expression of gratitude for all those generations of ancestors who lived before us.

It is interesting to note that during this time, in many parts of the Indian subcontinent, new crops would have just begun to bear yield. So their first produce is offered to the ancestors as a mark of respect and thankfulness, by way of 'pinda', before the whole population breaks into celebration in the form of other festivals like Durga Puja, Navaratri, Vijayadashami and Diwali.

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DURGA on Ashtami

Devi Durga, the cosmic power principle of the Absolute manifested herself in response to the collective prayer of the gods for subduing devilish death-bound demons creating perpetual disharmony in creation. As a part of this cosmic play , where good triumphs over evil, Durga Puja is celebrated.

A society and culture undergoing a critical period is characterised by drastic slide in social, moral and human values. Rule of vice over virtue and shameless evildoing, abandoning all positive teachings tend to cast a shadow over all that ought to have great potential for good. In this context Durga Puja is exceptionally significant with its theology , mythology, scriptures, customs, festivities and rituals with cultural variations that provide deep insights into life and living.

Durga being Shakti or power personified remains neutral till devotees invoke her intervention. Even Rama sought her blessings before fighting with Ravana. In social life she brings prosperity and power of knowledge. In cultural life she endows us with fine arts. In the domain of defence she gives power to combat evil attackers.In spiritual life she annihilates our endless desires multiplying like Raktabij and finally subdues our last enemy , the sense of separateness, the ego, hidden like Mahishasura so that we can progress towards the goal of Self-realisation.

The concept of Durga Puja went through a prolonged process of cultural evolution. In pre-Christian era she used to be pictured alone, riding a lion.Later on she was contemplated as spouse of Shiva as the dynamic power principle with her offspring and Shiva as passive consciousness. She is also worshipped as Dasamahavidya, the ten-wisdom-embodiment. Durga embodies Shakti, the dynamic aspect of ultimate reality and its role in creation, protection and transformation.Durga also embodies empowerment of women and reverence for them. Durga gives the eternal message of hope and assurance for divine intervention in times of trouble.

Durga Puja intermingles the various parallel legends.Although essentially a spiritual metaphor, the legend of the homecoming of Uma, daughter of the Himalayas inspired innumerable devotional songs called Agamani. Another legend relates to Sati destroying the Shiva-less sacrificial ceremony of Daksha. In Chandi of Markandeya Purana she first represents herself as Mahamaya, the goddess of cosmic delusion. In the second part, as Mahishasuramardini, the vanquisher of the buffalo-demon and then as Kalika, the killer of Chanda and Munda and their masters Shumbha and Nishumbha, she is seen as protector.

Shakti and Shiva symbolise energy and consciousness. Although Ganesh, Saraswati, Kartik and Lakshmi have been associated with her in the battlefield symbolising wisdom, learning, prowess and wealth, the four refer to human pursuits. Ten weapons in her ten hands symbolise subjugation of tenfold sense-attractions before finally overcoming the ego.

Apart from spiritual significance the magnificent socio-religious ceremony as a part of traditional ritual engenders a feeling of oneness among all, despite all differences. It provides a great opportunity for socio cultural bonding of everyone in society via cultural, religious and artistic programmes performed in attractively decorated pandals, with people turning out in their festive clothes. From once being an exclusive celebration by those who could afford it, Durga Puja is now `sarbojanin' or belonging to the community.

 

108 Lotus on Sandhi Puja

During Durga Puja, the transition from Ashtami (eighth day) to Navami (ninth day), the period of 48 minutes, Goddess Durga is believed to take the form of Chamunda. The belief is that these are final moments of the battle between two demons Chanda and Mundo, and Ma Durga. The demons are killed in these moments. Intense prayers are offered during this period and it is called the Sandhi Puja.

108 Lotus flowers and 108 lit lamps form a major part of the offerings made to the Goddess. For long I thought why 108 ?

But 108 has long been considered a sacred number in Hinduism. Traditionally, malas, or garlands of prayer beads, come as a string of 108 beads.

Renowned mathematicians of Vedic culture viewed 108 as a number of the wholeness of existence. This number also connects the Sun, Moon, and Earth: The average distance of the Sun and the Moon to Earth is 108 times their respective diameters. Such phenomena have given rise to many examples of ritual significance.

According to Hindu tradition, there are 108 pithas, or sacred sites, throughout India. And there are also 108 Upanishads and 108 marma points, or sacred places of the body.

Can primes help me to understand the significance of the number 108 in Hinduism? My first instinct would be to pull the number apart into its prime divisors to see how it is made: 108=2x2x3x3x3.

As it turns out, this does relate to one of the explanations of the significance of 108 in Hinduism. Hinduism believes  we have six senses, compared to Western thinking limiting it to five and leaving the sixth as an extra. These senses can be experienced in three ways: good, bad or indifferent. They can also be internal or external to the body. Finally they can be in the past, present or future. Which gives (2x3)x3x2x3=108 different categories of senses.Mindblowing. Is 108 linked to our senses.

When we offer 108 lotuses are we offering one for each of our senses.

As we began to explore the number further, we found more mathematical connections. In Hindu temples we have 108 stupas,108 steps. We began to think about how the stupas might be arranged. If one views 108 geometrically then it has nice properties because of its high divisibility. Take a 3x3 grid and in each square, place 12 stupas arranged in a 3x4 pattern and you get a very satisfying arrangement of 108 stupas.

Facinating. To say the least.

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Shri Shri Sarawatyashtakam

Composed by Swami Satyanand Brahmachari

 

Shri Shri Sarawatyashtakam is a sanakrit stotra composed by Swami Satyanand Ji Maharaj in honour of Devi Saraswati, the Goddess of knowledge, wisdom & enlightenment.

Swami ji was a great Sanskrit scholar and this composition is a perfect example of his strong command over the language.

Here’s a brief translation of the stotra:

I seek refuge from Devi Saraswati who's always surrounded by demi-gods and holy celestial beings, the one whose complexion is like that of a radiant rhinestone coloured self-illuminating precious diamond

 

I seek refuge from Devi Saraswati who plays the Veena (playing the Divine song of creation), carries a book in her hand (imparting knowledge and wisdom to all), and wears the akahay sutra (providing abhaya: fearlessness: to her devotees)

 

I seek refuge from Devi Saraswati who’s ever compassionate, ever contented and eternally happy, the one who sits on a swan (a bird signifying enlightenment), the one who's the prime creation of Brahma (the creator)

 

I seek refuge from Devi Saraswati who resides in the hearts of the yogis (meditators, devotees and seekers of Truth), the one who's also the focus of the yogi’s endeavors, the one who's Yoga itself

 

I seek refuge from Devi Saraswati who’s worshipped by enlightened sages like Narada and is the source and incarnate of true wisdom and all the sciences

 

I seek refuge from Devi Saraswati whose lotus like face always radiates happiness and she’s the one who grants fruition & enlightenment to Her loving devotees

 

I seek refuge from Devi Saraswati who’s the remover of avidya (ignorance) and provides deliverance from the entrapment of maya (illusionary world), always adorning white coloured clothes (signifying peace & tranquility)

 

I seek refuge from Devi Saraswati who’s body is adorned with beautiful and precious ornaments, who generously fulfills all desires and grants fearlessness and in who's feet Lord Shiva & Krishna pay their salutation

 

We now conclude this prayer to Goddess Saraswati, composed by Swami Satyananda Brahmachari in honour of the Goddess of Sound & Voices (Naad), seeking her affection, Grace & proximity.

 

Swami Ji prays repeatedly to Devi Saraswati who resides in the gardens of Vrindavan that she bestows the dwellers of this place with pure and clear intellect which makes them dear to the Lord (Hari)

Saraswati Puja

Saraswati is the everday Goddess of our household. She is the Hindu goddess of knowledge, music, arts, wisdom and nature. She is a part of the trinity of Saraswati, Lakshmi and Parvati. All the three forms help the trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva in the creation, maintenance and destruction of the Universe.

The Goddess is also revered by believers of the Jain religion of west and central India and in Nepal. She is known in Burmese as Thurathadi or Tipitaka Medaw , in Chinese as Biàncáitiān,in Japanese as Benzaiten  and in Thai as Surasawadee.

The earliest known mention of Saraswati as a goddess is in the Rigveda. She has remained significant as a goddess from the Vedic peri. Some Hindus celebrate the festival of Vasant Panchami, the fifth day of spring, and also known as Saraswati Jayanti in so many parts of India and mark the day by helping young children learn how to write alphabets on that day.

Saraswati, sometimes spelled Sarasvati, is a Sanskrit fusion word of sāra which means "essence", and sva  which means "one self", the fused word meaning "essence of one self" and Saraswati meaning "one who leads to essence of self-knowledge". It is also a Sanskrit composite word of surasa-vati which means "one with plenty of water".

The word Saraswati appears both as a reference to a river and as a significant deity in the Rigveda. In initial passages, the word refers to the Sarasvati River and is mentioned as one among several northwestern Indian rivers such as the Drishadvati. Saraswati, then, connotes a river deity. In Book 2, the Rigveda describes Saraswati as the best of mothers, of rivers, of goddesses.

Her dhyana mantra describes her to be as white as the moon, clad in a white dress, bedecked in white ornaments, radiating with beauty, holding a book & a pen in her hands. The book & the pen represent knowledge.

She is generally shown to have four arms, but sometimes just two. When shown with four hands, those hands symbolically mirror her husband Brahma's four heads, representing manas (mind, sense), buddhi (intellect, reasoning), citta (imagination, creativity) and ahamkāra (self consciousness, ego). Brahma represents the abstract, she action and reality.

The four hands hold items with symbolic meaning — a pustaka (book or script), a mālā (rosary, garland), a water pot and a musical instrument (vīnā). The book she holds symbolizes the Vedas representing the universal, divine, eternal, and true knowledge as well as all forms of learning. A mālā of crystals, representing the power of meditation, inner reflection and spirituality. A pot of water represents the purifying power to separate right from wrong, the clean from the unclean, and essence from the inessential. In some texts, the pot of water is symbolism for soma - the drink that liberates and leads to knowledge. The most famous feature on Saraswati is a musical instrument called a veena, represents all creative arts and sciences, and her holding it symbolizes expressing knowledge that creates harmony. Saraswati is also associated with anurāga, the love for and rhythm of music, which represents all emotions and feelings expressed in speech or music.

A hamsa or swan is often located next to her feet. In Hindu mythology, the hamsa is a sacred bird, which if offered a mixture of milk and water, is said to be able to drink the milk alone. It thus symbolizes the ability to discriminate between good and evil, essence from outward show and the eternal from the evanescent. Due to her association with the swan, Saraswati is also referred to as Hamsavāhini, which means "she who has a hamsa as her vehicle". The swan is also a symbolism for spiritual perfection, transcendence and moksha.

Sometimes a citramekhala (also called mayura, peacock) is shown beside the goddess. The peacock symbolizes colorful splendor, celebration of dance, and - as the devourer of snakes - the alchemical ability to transmute the serpent poison of self into the radiant plumage of enlightenment.

She is usually depicted near a flowing river or other body of water, which depiction may constitute a reference to her early history as a river goddess.

In some regions of India, such as Vindhya, Odisha, West Bengal and Assam, as well as east Nepal, Saraswati is part of the Devi Mahatmya mythology, in the trinity (Tridevi) of Mahakali, Mahalakshmi and Mahasaraswati. This is one of many different Hindu legends that attempt to explain how Hindu trinity of gods (Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva) and goddesses (Saraswati, Lakshmi and Parvati) came into being. Various Purana texts offer alternate legends for Maha Saraswati.