Monthly Archives: December 2012

Sun god visits his son, Shani

The festival of Makar sankranti

First major festival of the year

14th January is very auspicious from Hindu religion point of view. On this day, sun transits into capricorn(makar) rashi. Makar Sankranti thus means – transition to capricorn. On this day, new things are started and believed that new endeavours will be successful. This day is one of the harvest days for indians.

Kite flying is a major activity of this festival

Kite flying is a major activity of this festival

Almost all of India celebrate this festival with different culture and different names. Khichdi,  Uttarayan, Magh Bihu and Maghi are few of them. In neighbouring countries, this is celebrated as Magho or Maghe Sankranti (Nepal),  Songkarn (Thailand),  Thingyan (Myanmar) and Moha Sangkarn (cambodia).

Historical and cultural importance of this festival

This day is important for the following reasons:

1. Surya visits his son Shani, on Sankranti day. Though father and son do not go along well, but still, father visits his son’s house.

Sun god visits his son, Shani

Sun god visits his son, Shani

2. Bhagirath liberated his ancestors from curse after bringing Ganga on this day. Big celebrations are made on this day as Ganga sagar mela in west bengal. Sage Kapil ashram attracts lot of visitors on this auspicious day.

Sage Kapil ashram - Gangasagar

Sage Kapil ashram – Gangasagar

3. Bhishma left this earth on this day. He had the boon of iccha mrityu and he chose this auspicious day to depart from earth.

Bhishma leaving his body in presence of Shri Krishna on the day of Makar Sankranti

Bhishma leaving his body in presence of Shri Krishna on the day of Makar Sankranti

4. Lord Vishnu buried the asuras under Mandara parvata on this day.

 

Celebrations of this festival

Bihar

This day is celebrated as sankranti or Sakrat. People start doing new things from this day as this is believed to be auspicious day. People take bath in rivers and ponds and feast upon seasonal delicacies as a celebration of good harvest. The delicacies include Chura dahi, Gur(jaggery), various sweets made of til (Sesame seeds) such as Tilkut, Tilwa, Maska, etc., curd, milk and seasonal vegetables. Khichdi is consumed in the night. Rajgir is a holy place where devotees bath in brahma kund.

Devotees at Brahma kund

Devotees at Brahma kund

Uttar Pradesh

In hindu calendar, this is the first of the big bathing days. Over two million people gather at their respective sacred places for this holy bathing such as Allahabad,Haridwar(now in Uttarakhand) and Varanasi. Kites are flown on this day.

Punjab

In punjab, with Makar Sankranti, the advent of the new year is celebrated by lighting a bonfire. This festival is “maghi”. The bonfire signifies the burning away of all evils for a bright and auspicious new year.  Lohri is the harvest festival celebrated on 13th January, is an important festival of Punjab.

Gujarat

This festival is celebrated as Uttarayan. Kite flying is a major activity of this day. The delicacies undhiyu and chikkis are consumed all through december and january.

Andhra Pradesh

This is celebrated across four days, Bhogi, Pedda Panduga (“the big festival”),  Kanuma and Mukkanuma. People discard old things on the day of Bhogi.

Next day is Makara Sankrant, also called “Pedda Panduga” (పెద్ద పండుగ). Everyone wears new clothes on this day, prays to God, and make offerings of traditional food to ancestors.

Rajasthan

This is a major festival of Rajasthan. Makar Sakrat is celebrated with delicacies such as Ghevar, til paati, ghajak and kheer.

A delicay of Makar Sankranti

A delicay of Makar Sankranti

Tamilnadu

it is celebrated across four days.  The second day, Thai pongal is the most important.

  • Bhogi Pandigai (Bhogi)
  •  Thai Pongal
  •  Maattu Pongal
  •  Kaanum Pongal
Pongal

Pongal

Thai pongal is the first day of tamil month Thai.  It is celebrated by boiling rice with fresh milk and jaggery in new pots, which are later topped with brown sugar, cashew nuts and raisins early in the morning and allowing it to boil over the vessel. This tradition gives Pongal its name. The moment the rice boils over and bubbles out of the vessel, the tradition is to shout of “Ponggalo Ponggal!” and blowing the sangu (a conch), a custom practiced during the festival to announce it was going to be a year blessed with good tidings.

In Assam, it is celebrated as Bhogali Bihu. In Goa, women celebrate haldi-kumkum. In Himachal Pradesh, this festival is called Magha Saaja i.e. onset of  month magha (by Hindi calendar). People enjoy khichdi with chaas. In Karnataka, this is suggi. The ritual of Ellu Birodhu is observed here. Kite flying is also a major activity. In Uttarakhand, this festival is celebrated as Ghughuti and welcomes the migratory birds back from the plains.

Lohri bonfire

The festival of Lohri (The bonfire festival)

Lohri – The Bonfire festival of India

Lohri is the time when harvesting is celebrated. It is the Indian festival of bonfire, other being Holi.

Lohri is celebrated on winter solstice and it coincides with the festival of Makar Sankranti. This is an important festival of Punjabi’s.

According to the Hindu calendar, Lohri falls in mid-January (normally on January 13). The earth, farthest from the sun at this point of time, starts its journey towards the sun, thus ending the coldest month of the year, Paush. This festival announces the start of the month of Magh and the auspicious period of Uttarayan.

It is a harvest festival and especially important for farmers, but it is celebrated with great fervour by everyone. On this day, a bonfire is lit  people dance around it.

People throw rewaries, sugar-candy, popcorn, sesame seeds, gur, etc into the fire and sing and dance around it. People wear their colourful and brightest clothes and dance the Bhangra or Giddha to the beat of the Dhol. Lohri to farmers signifies the commencement of a new financial year.

According to the Bhagawad Gita, Lord Krishna manifests himself in his full magnificence during this time. The Hindus ‘nullify’ their sins by bathing in the Ganges and other pious rivers.

The ritual of Bonfire

A bonfire is an important activity of this festival. In night, after sun settles down, bonfires are lit in the harvested fields and in the front yards of houses. People assemble around the rising flames, pay respect by doing  parikrama of  the bonfire and throw puffed rice, popcorn and other stuff into the fire, shouting “Aadar aye dilather jaye” (May honor come and poverty vanish!), and sing popular folk songs.

Lohri bonfire

Lohri bonfire

This is a sort of prayer to Agni, the fire god, to bless the land with abundance and prosperity. After the parikrama, people meet friends and relatives, exchange greetings and gifts, and distribute prasad (offerings made to god). The prasad comprises five main items: til, gajak, jaggery, peanuts, and popcorn. Winter savories are served around the bonfire with the traditional dinner of makki-di-roti (multi-millet hand-rolled bread) and sarson-da-saag (cooked mustard herbs).

Sweets offered on Lohri

Sweets offered on Lohri

 First Lohri of a New Bride

The newly married women wear bangles, new clothes, wear a colourful bindi, apply mehendi on their hands and try to look their best. The husband also dresses up and wears new clothes and a colourful turban. The bride’s in-laws gift her with new clothes and beautiful jewellery.

Lohri festival bonfire dance

Lohri festival bonfire dance

 

A grand celebration is arranged for the newly wed couple where a lot of guests are invited. The bride is made to sit along with her husband and the parents-in-law gift her clothes and jewellery during this ceremony. Other guests like family, neighbours and friends also come and present clothes or cash to the newly wed. The couple also seeks blessings of the elders on this day.

First Lohri of a New Born Baby

The first Lohri of a new born baby is also considered to be an important occasion. The new mother sits decked up in heavy clothes, a lot of jewellery and with mehendi applied on her hands. She sits with the baby in her hands and the family and close ones gift her with clothes or cash. The baby’s maternal grandparents also send gifts of clothes, fruits, sweets, peanuts, etc.

The legend of Dulha Batti (our Robinhood)

Lohri is celebrated in remembrance and praise of Dulha Batti. Dulha Batti was a Muslim robber who lived during the era of King Akbar. He was a robber but a good person. He would steal from the rich and distribute the wealth among the poor. He rescued girls who were being forcibly taken away. He arranged marriages of young girls with Hindu Boys and paid the dowries. He was a hero among the local Punjabis there who loved and respected him. Most Lohri songs are sung in praise of Dulha Batti which expresses their gratitude to him.

This festival is immediately followed by another important festival – Makar Sankranti.

The guru of curse – Sage Durvasa (1)

Sage Durvasa – famous for curses

Durvasa is famous for his anger and his curses are mentioned frequently in ancient texts. Following are the few incidents  related with this trigger happy sage. The meaning of Durvasa is someone who is difficult to live with.

Curse on Indra

His most famous curse is on Indra, which led to churning of ocean. Once, Durvasa presented Indra a garland. Indra put that on Airawat’s (Indra’s elephant) head. The elephant has thrown the garland on the floor. Enraged by this incident,  Durvasa cursed indra. As a result, the devas become weak and went to vishnu for help. Vishnu helped Devas which resulted in gods getting hold of amrita.  The complete story is available in Kurma avatar – Vishnu dashavatar. 

Churning of ocean due to curse of Durvasa

Curse on Shakuntala

May be hindi movies are inspired by this incident. Manmohan desai made lot of hindi movies on lost and found formula. We have similar incident in mythology as well. Durvasa cursed shakuntala that her lover would forget about her. She could not notice the sage as she was thinking of Dushyant. She begged for forgiveness.  Durvasa, softened his stance that he would remember her after seeing the ring he has given to her.

Durvasa curse on Shakuntala

Durvasa curse on Shakuntala

The incident which consumed Laxman ( an incident from the Ramayana)

Durvasa one day visited Rama. He wanted to meet Rama and asked Laxman to let him meet. Laxman denied him because Rama was in a confidential meeting with death. It was understood that who so ever appears during that meeting, will die. Durvasa was adamant and he was threatening to curse whole of Ayodhya. Fearing this, Laxman thought that it is better to sacrifice his life instead letting Ayodhya suffer.

There are other incidents where incidents related to Durvasa sage are worth mentioning. These will be detailed in next article:

1. Curse on Ambarish

2. Curse on Durvasa by sage Orga.

3. Curse on Shri Krishna

4. Pandavas were on the verge of receiving a curse from Durvasa, but they were rescued.

 

Durvasa’s boons

Boons granted by Durvasa

Though Durvasa is notorious for his flying temper and curses, there are few boons which had a great impact in indian mythology. For example, the pandavas, who are at the centre of the epic Mahabharat were born due to a boon from Durvasa to Kunti.

Boon to Kunti

Durvasa was a sage who blessed liberally when happy. This is evident when Kunti got the boon from him. This boon gave the power to summon any god she wished. This boon became helpful when she was unable to give birth to babies and summoned Surya, Pawan and Indra for herself and Ashwini kumars for Madri. Thus they conceived sons who were later known as Pandavas.

Promise to Duryodhana

Once Duryodhana did great service to sage Durvasa. He became very happy and asked Duryodhana for a boon. Duryodhana thought of a plan to do something so that pandavas get to face the wrath of sage. He asked him to visit pandavas when everyone has eaten. Thus he thought that Pandavas will not be able to serve him with food and out of anger, sage durvasa will curse his enemies. Durvasa visited Pandavas but with the help of Shri Krishna, pandavas were saved.

Duryodhana and Durvasa – Indian mythology

Pandavas saved from curse – Duryodhana’s plan

Pandavas were once in a situation where Durvasa may have cursed them. As per the advice of Duryodhana, Durvasa with his ten thousand disciples reached panadavas. they reached at a time, when everyone had taken their meal. Draupadi has an akshaypatra which was able to feed anyone till the time she has not eaten from it.  That day, unfortunately, she ate from the patra. Durvasa demanded food for himself and devotees. Draupadi sought help from Krishna. Krishna found a grain in the patra and ate that. After that Durvasa and his disciples were not hungry.

Saving Draupadi from cheer haran

Contrary to the general Mahābhārata version, the Shiva Purana attributes her miraculous rescue to a boon granted by Durvasa. The story goes that the sage’s loincloth was once carried away by the Ganges’s currents. Draupadi quickly tore a piece of her garment to cover him. The sage was pleased with her. He granted Draupadi a boon which caused an unending stream of cloth to cover her when Dushasana was trying to strip her in Hastinapura’s royal dice-hall.

Birth of Swaminarayan – by curse of Durvasa

Narayana took birth as the saint Swaminarayan due to a curse by Durvasa. A great debate had been held in Badrikashram, the divine abode of the deity Nar-Narayan. They were discussing the great pain, the good and honest souls were suffering at the hands of the evil demons on earth. Durvasa Rishi stood at the back of the assembly. Several hours passed, but none noticed him. Durvasa Rishi got very angry and cursed the assembly, “May you all take birth on the earth. Let those evil demons harass you and make you suffer.”  On behalf of the entire assembly, Dharmadev and Bhaktidevi asked for forgiveness and pleaded with Durvasa Rishi to take back his curse. Durvasa Rishi replied, “The curse cannot be withdrawn. However, the supreme Lord will come with you onto the Earth. The Lord will destroy the evil demons and save you from your troubles.” This mythological episode has been stated in the scriptures to describe the reason why the supreme Lord Swaminarayan manifested upon this Earth.  The Akshardham temple houses Swaminarayan.

Durvasa curse and birth of Swaminarayan

Durvasa curse and birth of Swaminarayan

Barbarika surprises Sri Krishna

Barbarika and his three arrows

When Shri Krishna mocked Barbari that how he is hoping to win the Mahabharat war with three arrows? (Read the story of Barbari)

He responded that a single arrow was enough to destroy all his opponents in the war, and it would then return to his quiver. He further explained that, the first arrow is used to mark all the things that he wants to destroy. On releasing the third arrow, it would destroy all the things that are marked and will then return to his quiver. If he uses the second arrow, then the second arrow will mark all the things that he wants to save. On using the third arrow, it will destroy all the things that are not marked.

In other words, with one arrow he can fix all his targets and with the other he can destroy them. Krishna then challenges him to tie all the leaves of the peepal tree under which he was standing, with those arrows.

Barbari accepts the challenge and starts meditating to release his arrow by closing his eyes. Then, Krishna without the knowledge of Barbari, plucks one of the leaf of the tree and puts it under his foot. When Barbari releases his first arrow, it marks all the leaves of the tree and finally starts revolving around the leg of Krishna.

Barbari sacrificing his life as a true warrior to Shri Krishna in mahabharat

Then Krishna asks Barbari, as why was the arrow revolving around his foot? For this, Barbarika replies that there must be a leaf under his foot and the arrow was targeting his foot to mark the leaf that is hidden under him.

Barbari advises Krishna to lift his leg, since, otherwise the arrow will mark the leaf by pricking Krishna’s leg. Thus, Krishna lifts his foot and to his surprise, finds that the first arrow also marks the leaf that was hidden under his foot. Of course, the third arrow does collect all the leaves (including the one under Krishna’s foot) and ties them together.

With this, Krishna concludes that the arrows are so infallible, that even if Barbari is not aware of his targets, the arrows are so powerful that they can still navigate and trace all his intended targets. The moral of this incident is that, in a real battle field, if Krishna wants to isolate someone (for example: the 5 Pandava brothers) and hides them elsewhere in order to avoid them from being Barbarika’s victim, then Krishna will not be successful as the arrows can still trace the target and destroy them. So, nobody will be able to escape from these arrows. Thus Krishna gets a deeper insight about Barbari’s phenomenal power.

Chinese new year

New year – across the world

Happy new year to everyone!!!

Every year, new year is celebrated across the globe. There are different ways to celebrate the beginning. In following paragraphs, we will find that how this is celebrated across different regions and countries.

New year all over the world

Christians all over the world celebrate this day on first january, the first day of the year. This is the first day of the year as per the Gregorian and Roman calendar.  Now, the most countries using the Gregorian calendar as their main calendar,  First January can be treated as the de facto new year across the globe.

On New Year’s Day, people in some countries gather on beaches and run into the water to celebrate the new year. This is very popular in United Kingdom , Canada, the Republic of Ireland, , the United States and the Netherlands.

These events are sometimes known as polar bear plunges, and are sometimes organized by groups to raise money for charity. In Greece and Cyprus, lights are switched off at midnight.In Russia and in former republics of the Soviet Union, the celebration of Old New Year is accomplished by fireworks and drinking champagne. The year is also known as Novi God.

Indian new year

Though January first is the practical new year date across India, still following festivities traditionally considered to be the new year dates. Following regions celebrate various festivals.

Bihar – In eastern part of india, Holi marks the new year. The new years begins on  Chaitra, 1st day of the Krishna Paksha. For them on this day the last year has died. For this reason in some provinces like Bihar and UP.  Holika dahan is also called ‘Samvatsar Dahan’. On this day all the bitterness and evil memories of the last year are burnt in the fire and the New Year is begun with a celebration.

 

Kerala – This is celebrated on 14th April. This is Kerala’s summer harvest festival Vishu. Vishu Kani – In the wee hours people woke up to see the ‘Vishu Kani’, the ceremony of looking at auspicious articles such as rice, gold, the glowing seasonal flower ‘konna’ and fruits and vegetables tastefully arranged in platters.

Kerala new year - Vishu

Kerala new year – Vishu

 

Punjab – Baisakhi, which falls on 13th or 14th April, is the new year for the region of Punjab. This day is also celebrated as the beginning of the Hindu solar new year. This date is celebrated by people across Nepal, the Assam Valley, Kerala, Orissa, West Bengal and other regions of India.In Himachal Pradesh, the Hindu Goddess Jwalamukhi is worshipped on Vaisakhi. In  Bengal,  Poila Baisakh is celebrated.  Assamese celebrate this day as  Bihu.

Baisakhi - Punjabi new year

Baisakhi – Punjabi new year

Chinese new year

This is also the spring festival which marks the end of winter. This is the most important chinese festival. Families gather to celebrate this festival. They take the dinner together. Food will include delicacies such as pigs, ducks, chicken and sweets. The family will end the night with firecrackers. This festival is the longest and most important festivity in the Chinese calendar. This is a fifteen day long festival. Since China follows the lunisolar calendar, Chinese new year is also referred as Lunar New Year.

 

Chinese new year

Chinese new year

The dragon

Chinese dragons are legendary creatures in Chinese mythology. Contrary to European dragons, which are considered evil, Chinese dragons symbolize potent and auspicious powers, particularly control over elements, such as, water, rainfall, hurricane, and floods. The dragon is also a symbol of power, strength, and good luck.The worship of the Dragon Kings as rulers of water and weather continues in many areas, and is deeply ingrained in Chinese cultural traditions such as Chinese New Year celebrations.

Japanese new year

Japanese celebrate their new year on January first. Long time ago, they were aligned with Chinese new year. They have adopted the gregorian calendar, and now they celebrate this on January first. An important custom is Bell Ringing, where on new year eve, Buddhist temples all over Japan ring their bells a total of 108 times to symbolize the 108 human sins as per the belief, and to get rid of the 108 worldly desires regarding sense and feeling in every Japanese citizen. A major attraction is The Watched Night bell, in Tokyo. Japanese believe that the ringing of bells can rid off their sins during the previous year.

On this day, Japanese people have a custom of giving money to children. This is known as otoshidama . This is given in small decorated envelopes called ‘pochibukuro,’ similar to Goshugi bukuro or Chinese red envelopes and to the Scottish handsel.

Japanese-new-year-christmas-illuminations

Japanese-new-year-christmas-illuminations

 

Jewish new year – “Rosh Hashanah” 

Rosh Hashanah is celebrated on the first two days of Tishrei, the seventh month of the Hebrew calendar. In Jewish thought, Rosh Hashanah is the most important judgment day, on which all the inhabitants of the world pass for judgment before the Creator. Next date for this is  Jewish Year 5773: sunset September 16, 2012 – nightfall September 18, 2012.

Rosh Hashana is a two-day holiday. Special services are held in synagogues. The hight of services is the blowing of the Shofar (ram’s horn) according to the commandment in the Torah. We pray that God forgives our sins and inscribes us in the book of life, planning a good new year. At home, families get together for festive meals featuring many traditional foods. Mostly it is costumary to eat sweet things on the New Year, bread dipped in honey, apples in honey etc.
The head of a fish or lamb is also costumary. During the meal many symbolic foods are eaten, each with a wish for a good new year. It is customary to eat a fruit you have yet tasted that year on the second night. People dress in their best outfits for this holiday, many times – wearing new clothes. People salute each other wishing a good year or sweet good year – Shana Tova or Shana Tova uMetuka.

Although Rosh Hashanah marks the change of the Jewish calendar year, Nisan is considered the first month of the Hebrew calendar. The Mishnah indicates that the year of the reign of Jewish kings was counted from Nisan in Biblical times. Nisan is also considered the beginning of the calendar year in terms of the order of the holidays.

 Zoroastrian new year – “Nowruz”

Nowruz marks the first day of spring and the beginning of the year in Iranian calendar. It is celebrated on the day of the astronomical vernal equinox, which usually occurs on March 21 or the previous/following day depending on where it is observed. As well as being a Zoroastrian holiday and having significance amongst the Zoroastrian ancestors of modern Iranians, the same time is celebrated in parts of the South Asian sub-continent as the new year. The moment the Sun crosses the celestial equator and equalizes night and day is calculated exactly every year and Iranian families gather together to observe the rituals.

 

People across the world exchange new year cards to wish every one on New Year. Nowadays, after the advent of internet , e-cards are also used to exchange new year greetings. This day is celebrated on different days on different regions, but universally this day is seen as the onset of good things to come.