A Moment of Gratitude – The Birth of Shanmukha

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Lord Shiva was immersed in deep meditation after losing his wife Sati. Taking advantage of this state of Shiva was demon Tarakasura. He offered a long and hard thousand-year penance to Lord Brahma and obtained a boon, “Let my death come only in the hands of a young boy who is an offspring of Lord Shiva.”

Tarakasura’s atrocities on Gods, sages and devotees became unbearable after that. The harried Gods got together and hatched a grand plan. They got Shiva and Parvathi married with the help of Kama, the god of love.

However, after the wedding, even after several hundred years, there was no sign of the couple stepping out of their palace in Kailasa. The Gods, now desperate, debated their next move. “If Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvathi do not have a Son soon, then we will lose heaven to this demon Taraka. Let’s go talk to them.”

Nandi, the assistant of Shiva, guarded the palace door in Kailasa. He point blank refused entry to the visitors. Then they debated again, “Let us loudly sing praises of Shiva from here. He will certainly come out for us. He is a kind God.”

As they had expected, Shiva, after hearing the voices of the Gods and sages stepped outside and was taken by surprise, “What brings all of you to my abode?”  Shiva asked.

The gathering, now perked up momentarily, explained to Shiva how they were eagerly awaiting for his son to be born. Shiva thought for a moment and then he said, “I will unleash this energy from my body now. You nurture that and an able boy will be born out of it.”

The Gods’ happiness knew no bounds. But, when they realised that the energy emitted by Shiva was unbearably hot, they pushed the god of fire, Agni to the forefront. “Catch the energy, Agni!”

And he did. After a while, the very god of fire was on fire! “I have to get this out of me. This heat is hotter than anything I have felt so far.”  Agni transferred the energy into the bodies of six Krittikas (except Arundhati), the wives of Saptarshis.

The delicate Krittikas started burning with the heat of the white light they had enthusiastically received from Agni. They quickly released it on Mount Himalaya. When his snow started melting, Himavantha floated the energy on river Ganga. The river Goddess, drying up from the heat, gently deposited the energy on the lush Shara grass at her river bank.

And, the minute the energy touched the grass, an infant who exuded a bright light all around him, formed. When the baby’s cries reached Krittikas, they came running to nurture him. Then they fought, “He is my baby,” said one.

“How is it so? I bore him in me too,” said the next.

The baby, then magically grew six heads to appease each of his six surrogate mothers! The adorable little one soon grew up to be a valiant boy under the loving care of Krittikas.

In the meanwhile, Lord Shiva and Parvathi were on a frantic search for their son. Shiva’s men, Ganas, finally located the boy who shone with a brilliance that equalled the Sun’s.

“We will forever be grateful to you for raising our precious son,” Shiva and Parvathi thanked Krittikas, who, though very sad, sent their son to his rightful parents.

Shiva and Parvathi then declared, “This son of ours was raised by many kind-hearted people. We want to thank all of them. He will be called Kartikeya for being nurtured by Krittikas. He will also be called Agneya for being borne by Agni, Gangeya for being in the womb of Ganga, Saravana for being protected by the Sara grass.”

Young Kartikeya, then appointed the commander-in-chief of the God’s army by Shiva, fought with and killed the mighty demon Tarakasura, restoring peace through the entire the universe.

What is noteworthy in this story, apart from being highly imaginative, is how each one, from Agni to Krittikas, who nurtured Karthikeya is acknowledged and thanked. May be we can implement that too in our lives. Many times we are quick to forget those who help us. So this New Year, we can change that and be thankful to those who have helped us become better and stronger.

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Follow Your Inner Wisdom

saraswatiWhen Lord Brahma was in the middle of creating the universe, he went through a rough patch. He had created many worlds and he had created a few great beings, called the Manasa Putras, from his mind. He had even appointed seven of them as the custodians of the worlds and called them Saptarshis. “What do I do next? Wherever I turn, I see chaos. The oceans are wild, the worlds are collapsing because there are no inhabitants,” worry engulfed the Lord.

Then the magic happened! A beautiful woman, clothed in simple white attire, riding a peacock, holding a Veena, the lute, in her hand, emerged out of his mouth. “Who would you be, beautiful?” Brahma was surprised to see her.

“I am wisdom. I am knowledge. Call me whatever you like – Savitri, Saraswati, or Vagdevi,” smiled the pretty woman. “I have come to solve your problem.”

Brahma, still enamoured by the beauty of the woman, stared at her in fascination. As the Goddess moved around, he sprouted a head in each direction to gaze at her. When she stood tall, he sprouted a fifth head to see her.

Saraswati, though a bit conscious of Brahma’s stares, continued to speak, “Lord Brahma, you are seeing destruction and chaos around you because you are not reacting to the situation wisely. When the knowledge is lacking, every little problem will appear chaotic and unmanageable. From now on, I will stay beside you and help you create the worlds.”

Brahma and Saraswati then got married. With the Goddess of wisdom by his side, Brahma’s entire outlook towards creation changed. To every problem, simple or complex, he found concise solutions through his inner awareness and calm thinking. Brahma and Saraswati’s children and descendants populated all the different worlds with worthy inhabitants.

What can we learn from this story? One is to use our judgement and think logically when we are faced with problems or when we need to make tough decisions. The scriptures say that Goddess Saraswati resides in all of us and we only have to remember to invoke her to help us make the right choices. (Source: Manu Smriti and Matsya Purana.)

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Be wise and escape Maya – says Lord Ganesha.

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There is an interesting story about the God Ganesha in the Puranas. Once, a demon named Gajasura (You can read another story about this demon here) was about to face Lord Shiva in a battle. He decided to pray to Ganesha, the remover of all obstacles, before the battle.

“Get an idol of Ganesha made for me quickly,” thundered the mighty Gajasura. This resolve of the demon got Lord Shiva worried, “If this demon worships Ganesha, then it will be impossible to slay him. He will become invincible.”

Shiva then asked the Goddess Shakti for help, “Assume your Maya form. Disrupt the demon’s thinking by clouding his mind. Make sure he does not pray to Ganesha before he starts the battle with me.”

Maya obliged and entered Gajasura’s mind. The demon, who had gone to the river to perform ablutions, looked at his image and felt immensely proud of himself.  Now under the spell of Maya, Gajasura thought, “Look at me! When I walk, the grounds shake. When I punch, big mountains crumble. When I stand tall, my head scatters the clouds. Why am I, the Lord of the three worlds, thinking of praying to an elephant-headed god!” He abandoned the thought of worshiping Ganesha. He went into the battle full of arrogance and got killed by Shiva with his trident.

Now Lord Ganesha got angry with Maya. “Goddess! You have prevented a devotee from offering his prayers to me. I curse you that from now on you will dwell only in the minds of the ignorant and not in the minds of the wise.”

Now, here is a point to ponder. Our scriptures say that any negative emotion – anger, attachment, greed, lust, or desire – is due to Maya or delusion of the mind.  So the next time we are angry, sad, or proud, let’s remember that we are being ignorant and delusional and get Maya out our heads as quickly as we can!

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Stay ego-free, says Lord Shiva.

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There are some questions that we never think of asking until someone points them out! Here is one such. Have you ever wondered why Lord Shiva has two forms? One, an image where he looks magnificent with moon-crested long matted hair, Ganga flowing down his topknot and a snake wound around his neck. Another where he is a Phallus or Linga, a humble looking rounded stone. No other deity in the Hindu pantheon has this dual form, by the way.

Here is one of the legends (from Shiva Purana) that explains how Shiva Linga came to be. Once Brahma and Vishnu got into a severe fight, with Brahma saying, “I am the creator of this universe and so I am greater than you.”

Vishnu refuted Brahma’s claim, “You came out of my naval! How can you be greater than me?”

The argument got heated. Soon a severe war broke out with both the Gods drawing their powerful weapons. Now with the world burning over, Shiva decided to intervene. He took the form of a glowing flame and appeared between the two warring Gods.

The flame which started gobbling up every arrow shot by the mighty Gods soon got their attention. However keenly they examined, they could not see the beginning or the end of the flame.

Then Vishnu came up with a plan. “Brahma, you go up and find where this flame begins. I will go down and find out where it ends. Whoever completes the task first, will be the winner of our argument.”

So Brahma took the form a swan and flew up. Vishnu took the form of a bore and went down. But even after several hundred years, they could not reach the top or the bottom of the flame. Vishnu gave up and returned.

Brahma too almost gave up but then he saw a Ketaki flower waltzing down from above him. “Ketaki!”Brahma called out. “Have you seen where this flame begins?”

“No idea. I was on Shiva’ hair until he shook his head. Now, I here I am.”

Brahma thought of a rather wicked plan, “Will you please come down with me and tell Vishnu that you saw me at the top of this flame?”

Ketaki agreed after an initial reluctance and corroborated Brahma’s claim. When Vishnu was about to accept his defeat, Shiva appeared. “Brahma! You are a God and how can you resort to lying?”

Out of Shiva’s anger sprouted a fierce form called Veerabhadra. “Cut off the head of Brahma who lied,” thundered Shiva. Brahma who had realised his folly accepted the loss of one of his five heads.

“I want all of you to remember how harmful and destructive ego-based fights are. So I will take the form a Linga which will symbolize the flame that you both chased,” said Shiva to Brahma and Vishnu, “and stay atop this mountain Arunachala. I want people to cast aside their ego when they worship me. This day will be marked as Shivaratri.”

Through this story, are our ancestors hinting us to keep aside our false pride for at least a few minutes when we pray or meditate? And an ego-free life is certainly easy and hassle-free – so no harm in trying!

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Start the day well and it will end well

gajasura-editA story in the Puranas goes like this. Gajasura, a mighty demon, wants nothing but revenge on Gods. “They have killed my father Mahishasura. I will not rest until I make these very Gods my slaves,” he vowed to himself.

He first obtained a boon from Brahma by offering a severe penance that spanned thousands of years. The boon guaranteed him an almost-eternal life – he asked Brahma that he be killed only by a Jitendriya, someone who had complete control over his sense organs.

Armed with this boon, Gajasura started harassing the Gods and sages to no end; he killed them, defiled their Yagnyas, and even kidnapped their wives and daughters. None of the Gods could kill him since no one qualified as a true Jitendriya, except Lord Shiva. But he was immersed in his meditation unaware of this calamity.

But Gajasura brought on his own peril when he started troubling the devotees of Shiva in Varanasi. “How dare he torment my devotees,” an angry Shiva got ready to face the demon in a battle.

Gajasura, while readying himself for his colossal fight with Shiva, had a fleeting thought. “Should I pray to Ganesha before I start the battle? They do say he wards off the obstacles in the path if we begin the day by praying to him.”

But then he shushed the thought and destroyed the clay idol of Ganesha that was quickly made for him. “I am a might Asura. I should be demented to even think that an elephant-headed God can help me.” But little did he know that Lord Shiva had sent Maya, the goddess of delusion, to cloud the demon’s thoughts and dissuade him from offering a prayer to Ganesha. Shiva feared that such a prayer would make the Asura invincible.

Gajasura, after a fierce battle, was eventually killed by Shiva who wore the demon’s skin around him as a mark of victory. And, life returned to normal in all the worlds.

When you read this story, you can sweep it aside with a, “It is just a superstition that praying to Ganesha will ward off the obstacles.” But think more about what the story is asking us to do. Rather than jump out of bed, throw on clothes, guzzle some food and start the work day in a tearing hurry, you are being asked to bathe, wear fresh clothes, spend a few minutes in a calming place like the Pooja room, and think about your day. Then ask the God to give you the strength to handle peacefully all that is hurled at you during your day. Not so bad, right? All that starts well ends well, after all!

Ancient Temples of Bengaluru

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Someshwara Temple, Bengaluru.

A few months back I took a tour around the ancient temples of Bengaluru. The first temple I went to was the gorgeous Someshwara temple in Ulsoor, which looks like a miniature Madurai Meenakshi temple – both in architecture and in the vastness of its premises. It is a Chola temple built around the 10th century AD and restored by the Vijayanagar kings under the chieftain Kempegowda, around the 15th Century AD.

You enter the temple through a passageway with intricately carved granite pillars. On top of these pillars sits the impressive  multi-storied Gopura.

As you enter the temple premises, you are surprised by a large flock of pigeons happily feeding on the grains scattered by the devotees. The temple is built on a fairly large area with ample space all around it.

Then there is an outer enclosure beyond which you can see the deity in the inner sanctum. Yalis, a symbol of the Vijayanagar Kings, greet you as you enter the outer hall. Here the mythical animal Yali and its rider sit haughtily on an elephant’s trunk!

Next you see at least fifty carved pillars, placed at regular intervals in the outer precinct. At the bottom of each pillar is a cute crouching lion, the Chola stamp. It goes to show that the Vijayanagar Kings have renovated the original Chola structure.

The deity is the Shiva Linga that dates back to the 10th century. As I stared at the image of the Shiva Linga in the sublime light of the oil lamps, heard the priest chant an Ashtottara, and inhaled the fragrance from the burning camphor and the flowers, life suddenly seemed  surreal!

I did the Pradakshine, circumbabulation, right around the deity inside the temple. This again is a feature of the Chola temples. In most Vijayanagar temples you can go around the deity only outside the temple.

Around the main Shiva temple are many smaller temples for Shakti, Ganesha, Shanmukha, and Veerabhadra. The priest at the Kamakshi temple showed me the Shree Chakra carved at the foot of the Goddess. “The first prayer for the Goddess was offered by guru Shankaracharya. The only other place where there is an ancient Sri Chakra carved in stone is at the foot of the Devi in the Kadu Malleshwara temple.”

If you are in Bangalore, do not miss seeing this magnificent temple.

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Daenerys’s Dragons Vs Our Garuda

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I am a huge fan of George R.R. Martin and his epic saga, Game of Thrones (GoT). His characters, plot, and imagery are exemplary. But having said that, any exotic character Martin brings in, I can’t help but think I have already seen it in one of our Hindu texts.

If there are Dragons in GoT, we have our birds Garuda and Jatayu, who are not only mighty but also extremely intelligent.

If GoT has got giants, we have plenty of Daityas and Danavas to match – from the very well-known Kumbhkarna and Hiranyakashipu to lessor known ones like Gajasura (there is an impressive description of Gajasura in Shiva Purana – his head touched the clouds, his breath caused the oceans to surge up, his fist reduced many mighty mountains to mere dust…and the descriptions go on!).

White walkers in GoT?  We have our Pishachis! Jaqen H’ghar, the Faceless Man? We have the Asuras who are great magicians. You get my drift!

Game of Thrones, Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings and other such fantasies are certainly to be read and enjoyed, but if you haven’t yet given the indigenous Hindu texts a try, then start now! Each story from our scripts – big or small – has an ingenious plot and is filled with magic, valour and great characters that you will grow to love or abhor. These stories entertain you but also educate you with their deep wisdom.

A good place to start reading the Hindu texts is with Ramayana and Mahabharatha. C.Rajagopalachari’s translations are always a delight. There is also Kathasarisagara and Panchatantra. My personal favourites are the Puranas.

PS: I have stuck only to the exotic characters in GoT here but if you want a discussion on the similarities between GoT and Mahabharatha, do go ahead and Google!