Category Archives: A little about Hinduism

I will share insights, stories, and other information about Hinduism

Namaste | What does it mean? | Hindu greeting

President Obama says Namaste

President Obama says Namaste

With all the depths and charms of my mind and all the love and cordiality of my heart, the Divinity in me salutes the Divinity in you.

 NAMASTE is a Hindu tradition that is both a spoken expression (mantra) and a symbolic gesture (mudra). It is used as a salutation when first meeting someone you know or as a valediction when leaving his or her company. The gesture is performed by joining the palms of your hands together with your thumbs close to or touching your forehead or heart, and bowing down to the person you are addressing.

The term, Namaste, is Sanskrit in origin and is actually made up of two separate words: namaha and te. Namaha means I bow down in recognition and reverence. And te means to you. Combined, the term literally means I bow down to you.   However, it is assumed to mean the Divine Spark in me acknowledges and salutes the Divine Spark in you.  When people see each other in this way, they are inspired to treat each other with respect, kindness, and love.  Their disposition becomes one of cooperation and engagement.  And people are motivated to find peaceful solutions to their problems.

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Hanuman | The Monkey God – Part 2 of 2

Lord Hanuman, the Monkey God

Lord Hanuman, the Monkey God

 

(Go Back to Part 1)

Hanuman took a huge breath and slowly began to grow bigger and bigger. The heavy ropes that bound him snapped and fell away. And his burning tail grew into an awesome torch, with which he set the Island Kingdom on fire. The structures hissed and cracked as they burnt and fell, and the townsfolk screamed in fear. Satisfied, Hanuman took his leave and returned to the mainland, where Rama and Laxmana had been waiting for him.  He gave them valuable information on Ravana’s forces, and then the army crossed a bridge to Lanka that was made by the monkey leader and master architect called Nala.

During the great Battle of Lanka, Hanuman defeated the Demon Lankini, who was the principal guard of the city of Lanka.  But his greatest feat during the battle was to bring back the herb that cured Lakshman from a fatal wound. He flew all the way to the Himalayas to find it, and was harassed by many demons.  He could not find the herb and finally brought the entire mountain to Lanka.  The herb was found and Lakshman was saved.

After the battle, Rama, Sita, Lakshman, and Hanuman returned to their hometown of Ayodhya and Rama and Sita were crowned King and Queen.  When Rama offered Hanuman any boon he wanted, Hanuman asked to live for as long as men spoke of the deeds of Rama.

- Written by Neelam Wadhwani

Hanuman | The Monkey God – Part 1 of 2

Rama and Hanuman, great friends

Rama and Hanuman, great friends

Hanuman was believed to have been an incarnate of Lord Shiva, one of the three highest gods in Hindu Mythology. As legend has it, Lord Shiva descended on earth as Sri Hanuman to help Prince Rama destroy King Ravana and rid the world of his evil.

In the Ramayana, Sita (Rama’s wife) was abducted by Ravana (the King of Lanka). While Rama and Laxmana were looking for her, they met Hanuman. After ensuring that the princes were who they said they were, Hanuman offered them his help. After consulting with Sugreeva (the King of Monkeys), Hanuman used his supernatural powers and flew above the land in search of Sita.

Hanuman found Sita sitting under the shade of an Ashoka Tree, within the walls of Ravana’s palace. At an opportune moment, Hanuman approached the princess and introduced himself as Rama’s messenger. To prove it, he provided her with her husband’s wedding ring. Convinced, Sita greeted him warmly. Hanuman reassured her and told her that Rama was coming to rescue her soon.

Pleased for having completed his mission, Hanuman turned to leave. But he was spotted by Ravana’s relatives and had to fight the demon Meghnaath, son of Ravana, in the gardens of the palace. He won over Meghnaath but was captured. After being tied up in thick rope, Hanuman was marched to the palace. Ravana was incensed that he couldn’t kill Hanuman without defying the norms of society. So, instead, he wrapped Hanuman’s tail in cloth and set it on fire. By this time, Hanuman had had enough. Out of respect for Rama, he had tried to play by the rules. But no more.

(Go to Part 2)

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What is Diwali | The Five Days of Diwali and what they mean.

Happy Diwali to All

Happy Diwali to All

Diwali is the most joyous time of year for Hindus.  It is celebrated universally, by Hindus, Sikhs, and Jains, throughout the Indian subcontinent and the world. It is a 5-day event that is celebrated to commemorate the victory of the forces of Good over the forces of Evil.

Day 1: Dhanteras

This day is dedicated to the Goddess of Wealth. On this day, Hindus buy utensils or other objects made of precious metals, for good luck. Businesses owned or operated by Hindus close out their financial records for the year and start anew.

Day 2: Chhoti Diwali

This day is dedicated to the Goddess of Time, Change, and Death. On this day, Hindus indulge in fragrant baths and then dawn new clothes. They share special Diwali foods with family and friends.

Day 3: Diwali

This day is dedicated to the Goddess of Wealth, Properity, and Beauty. On this day, Hindus perform elaborate ceremonies, worshipping the Goddess. Before any such ceremonies, Lord Ganesh is worshipped. Hindus clean their homes thoroughly and decorate them by placing rows of earthen oil lamps everywhere.

Day 4: Padwa/ Govardan Puja

This day is dedicated to Lord Krishna, who saved the world from floods by lifting Mount Govardhana and allowing all the people to take shelter under it. On this day, Hindus cook mountains of food, to represent Mount Govardhana, which are later distributed to devotees and other townspeople.

Day 5: Bhai Duj

This day is dedicated to the relationship in ancient India between brothers and sisters. On this day, sisters pray for the longevity and prosperity of their brothers, and brothers bestow their sisters with gifts and eat a meal together. It is meant to strengthen the ties between brothers and sisters.

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Festival of Lights | Diwali | Deepavali | Everything you needed to know

Beautiful Diwali Lights

Beautiful Diwali Lights

Diwali,

Known as the Festival of Lights, is one of the most popular Indian festivals. It is celebrated in India and throughout the world to welcome in the New Year. It is celebrated on the 15th day of the Hindu calendar month of Katrika, which falls at the end of October or the beginning of November every year.
The word, Diwali, is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘deepavali’, which means “a row of lights”. This explains why Diwali is often referred to as the Festival of Lights.

The First Diwali
The first Diwali was held to celebrate the return of Lord Rama, his wife, Sita and his brother, Lakshmana, to their kingdom in Ayodhya (India), after 14 years of exile. They had overcome many obstacles and successfully fought many battles. The last, and greatest, of these battles was the one against King Ravana, a powerful adversary of Lord Rama. He had kidnapped Sita, instigating war with his arch enemy. Eventually, Lord Rama won and rescued his dear wife. When they returned to Ayodhya, they were greeted with rows of lights to guide them home. When they got to the Palace, the whole city turned out to greet them. Music and flowers were everywhere. Houses were cleaned, new clothes were made or bought, and hundreds of sweets were prepared. Garlands hung from every balcony, and rows and rows of lights bordered the streets. A city that had gone to sleep over a decade before had been reawakened. This auspicious occasion symbolized the return of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance, and goodness over evil. Life began to flow again throughout the country, and prosperity returned once again.

Five days of celebration
The festival lasts for five days in many parts of India and can, in fact go on for a lot longer in some places. On the first day (Dhanteras), houses and shops are cleaned, whitewashed and decorated. The second day (known as Naraka Chatrudashi), marks the death of the tyrant king Narakusara who had imprisoned many men, women and daughters of various gods, saints and other holy men in his castle. Lord Krishna killed him, freeing his captives and this date is therefore seen as a day of rejoicing. The third, and most important day is Lakshmi-Puja and is devoted to revering the Goddess Lakshmi (the goddess of good luck, wealth and fortune). Hindus believe that on the night of Diwali, the Goddess Lakshmi will visit their home and bless every house that is lit with lights and candles.

The fourth day – called either Padwa or Varshapratipada – is looked upon as the most auspicious day to start any new venture.
The fifth and final day is commonly known as Bhaiya Dooj or the Teeka Ceremony. It is customary for men to visit their sisters’ homes where the sister puts a sacred mark on her brother’s forehead and prays for his long life and prosperity. The brothers give their sisters money and presents in return.

How it is celebrated
The day begins with Lakshmi puja in which the Goddess Lakshmi is thanked for all that she has given in the year gone by. For people with their own businesses, doing a puja in the office is a must as it is considered lucky and auspicious.
After puja, friends and relatives visit to give presents – generally dry fruits and sweet meats. Many families do a puja in the evening as well. This is followed by a display of fireworks and a sumptuous vegetarian dinner. It is an evening where families gather together and celebrate. A number of people host big parties and play cards well into the night as it is one night where even the most conservative Asians condone gambling, as it is considered lucky!
In Hindu custom, light signifies goodness and during Diwali, lights are kept burning throughout the day and into the night to ward off darkness and evil. This is a five days festival; each of the five days in the festival of Diwali is marked with a significant ‘puja’ of a certain God/Goddess.

Sikhs
Sikhs celebrate Diwali to express joy at the return of the sixth Guru to Amritsar in 1620, after his release from Gwalior Jail. Emperor Jahangir had imprisoned him along with 52 Hindu kings. When the Guru was granted freedom, he refused to leave until he had gained the release of the 52 Hindu kings too. Sikhs on this day (which generally falls in November) hold a one-day celebration in the Gurudwara. In the evening, lights are lit in their homes and firework displays are held.

Jains
The Jain communities of India celebrate Diwali as a New Year’s Day. Lord Mahavira, the founder of Jainism, attained his Nirvana on the day of Diwali. His followers celebrate the occasion with a festival of oil lamps, symbolizing their Master’s light of knowledge.

DIWALI Soundbites

Diwali is celebrated for five consecutive days in the Hindu (lunar) month of Ashwayuja, usually around the end of October or the beginning of November. It is one of the most popular festivals in the Hindu calendar, a holiday celebrated by Hindus, Jains and Sikhs alike. It is celebrated on a grand scale in almost every region of India, and it is looked upon as the beginning of the Hindu New Year.

 DAY 1 – Dhun Teras (13th Day)
‘Dhun’ means money or wealth. Traditionally people would wash their money on this day. In their homes, people literally wash coins in milk and water and worship Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth. It can also be said that to give or distribute money to the poor and needy, is a way of ‘washing your wealth’.
DAY 2 – Kali Chaudas (14th Day)
Some say that those who are into tantra, learn their ‘mantras’ on this day. Alternatively, people offer Nived (food) to the goddess that is local to where they are originally from. This goddess is called their ‘Kul Devi’, in order to cast off evil spirits. Some families also offer food to their forefathers on this day.

DAY 3 – Diwali (15th Day)
Diwali is the last day of the Hindu year and thus also the end of the Hindu financial year. Many businessmen close their account books and do rituals to open their new account books for the next financial year, in order to gain prosperity in the next financial year. In the Ramayana, Rama, Sita and Lakshmana returned to the kingdom of Ayodhya on this day as it was the last day of the last year of their 14 year banishment. As it was so dark, the subjects of the kingdom, lit ‘divas’ (little wicks doused in ghee) to light the path. The lights are seen as a triumph of good over evil, light over dark, happiness (the homecoming) over sadness (the banishment).
DAY 4 – New Year’s Day (1st Day)
The new cycle of days now starts with Bestu Varush or New Year’s Day. Everybody greets each other with good wishes and a happy new year, ‘Saal Mubarak’. The young bow down and touch the feet of their elders to gain blessings. Money or gifts of clothes are also given. At the temples 56 different foods are offered to the deities, this is known as Annakut Darshan, the food is blessed and offered as prashad to the people who come to worship at the temple and to the poor and needy.

DAY 5 – Bhai Bhij or Bhai Duuj (2nd Day)
Sisters call their brothers and his family to their homes for a meal. Brothers normally take a gift or leave money under their plates when they have finished their meal. Traditionally this was so that the brother could check that all was well with his sister in her marital home.

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The Ramayana | Invocation of the Muse | Valmiki | Part 2 of 2

 

Valmiki and Ganesha

Valmiki and Ganesha

(Go back to Part 1)

Such is the case for the Ramayana, the epic life story of Rama, the king of Ancient Ayodhya and who many believe was an incarnate of Lord Vishnu, who materialized on Earth to kill Ravana and purge the world of his evil.

Praise to Valmiki,2 bird of charming song,3
Who mounts on Poesy’s sublimest spray,
And sweetly sings with accent clear and strong
Rama, aye Rama, in his deathless lay.

Legend has it that the Great Sage asked Lord Ganesha to transcribe it while he narrated it to him. Lord Ganesha agreed on one condition: He would transcribe it only if Great Sage Valmiki tells the whole story in one sitting. The Great Sage agreed and the story began.   Every word that dripped from Great Sage Valmiki’s lips was so sweet that Lord Ganesha recorded EVERYTHING! In his excitement, the Lord broke his writing instrument.  Remembering what he had told the Great Sage before they started, He broke one of his tusks off and used it to continue writing.  It is said that this is how Lord Ganesha lost his tusk.

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The Ramayana | Invocation of the Muse | Valmiki | Part 1 of 2

Maharishi Valmiki

Maharishi Valmiki, writer of the Ramayana

In ancient times, only the great sages and seers were priviledged enough to hear the stories of the mythological demigods (Devatas) and demons (asuras). So,  because he wanted to share the Story of Rama with the rest of the world, the Great Sage Valmiki created a script, which we now know as Sanskrit, and recorded the story on stone tablets (similar to those found in ancient Egypt).  Because Great Sage Valmiki had the inspiration and desire to share this story with the world, he was called its Muse.  In Ancient Greece, they called this person a Rhapsode, as in the case of Homer, who originally recorded the epic poem, the Odyssey.  These ancient storytellers were called Bards in Old England, and  Reconteurs in Medieval France.  Today, this person is called an author, the originator of a written work.

If you were to look at a work of fiction today, you would notice that most have a page dedicated to the author.  You might call this page the Introduction to the Author, and you would generally find it at the end of the novel. In ancient times, they called this page the Invocation to the Muse, and they placed it at the very beginning.

(Go to part 2)

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Rangoli during Diwali | Deepawali | Kolam | Alpana | Mandana – Part 2 of 2

Peacock Kolam, Rangoli

Peacock Kolam, Rangoli

This is a continuation of the discussion of rangoli.  (Go back to part 1)

On a mythological level, they are created to welcome Goddess Lakshmi, the Goddess of Wealth and Prosperity, into their homes and businesses to bless with good fortune throughout the coming year.  On a metaphysical level, these designs act like sieves to filter the energies in the atmosphere and allow only the positive ones to enter. On a philosophical level, rangoli symbolizes the Hindu concepts of the Impermanence of Life and the Interconnectedness of the Universe.

For many, rangoli is a form of meditation, used as a tool to redirect the mind from worldly concerns to the singular task of creating a rest stop for Divinity. Other people, like those who live in Shanti Niketan (a city which was founded by Rabindranath Tagore over one hundred years ago) near Kolkata, study it as an independent subject in school.

Rangoli is known by different names in different parts of the subcontinent. For example, in Maharashtra, it is called rangoli, but in Tamil Nadu and Kerala, it is known as kolam. Bengalis call it alpana, and the people of Rajasthan call it madana. Whatever people call it, this traditional art form is rich in symbolism.

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Rangoli during Diwali | Deepawali | Kolam | Alpana | Mandana – Part 1 of 2

Beautiful Diwali Rangoli depicts an oil lamp

Beautiful Diwali Rangoli depicts an oil lamp

Rangoli is made up of ornamental lines and figures drawn with various powders on the floor, the walls, in front of the house, or in front of the idol of a deity.     -Rev. Kittal

 

Rangoli is a traditional Indian art form, which is made up of dots and lines, and is created with rice powder, flour, chalk powder, or sand.  It’s an ancient Indian art form that is practiced to celebrate Diwali (Hindu New Year) and other auspicious occasions throughout the Hindu calendar year. In a secular sense, Rangoli is decorative in nature and designed to welcome visitors and guests. In a religious sense, it serves as a metaphor for the Hindu concept of the Impermanence of Life and the Physical World.

The term, Rangoli, originally comes from the Sanskrit words, ranga, which means color, and avali, which means rows or lines. When put together, Rangoli can be translated as the expression of artistic vision through the creative use of color.

Intricate designs are applied onto the ground in front of homes, temples,  and businesses to welcome visitors.   Whole parties are thrown for the auspicious event of creating beautiful, original rangoli design for all to see.

(Go to part 2)

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Story of Diwali | Rama, Sita, Laxmana, Ravana, Hanuman | Deepavali – Part 4 of 4

Rama, Sita, and Hanuman

Rama, Sita, and Hanuman

And here is the final segment of this story…

Soon they came upon a great monkey sitting under a tree and singing devotional hymns. The two brothers approached him and asked him what he was doing. When the great monkey (Hanuman) told them that he was singing the praises of the exiled prince of Ayodhya, Rama stepped forward and introduced himself.

Rama and Hanuman, great friends

Rama and Hanuman, great friends

After learning of Rama’s dilemma, Hanuman offered to help. Over time, he located Sita and informed Rama of her whereabouts. Then he helped Rama and Laxmana build a mighty army. Together, they constructed a floating bridge from the forests of Kosala to the island kingdom of Lanka, and then waged war on them.

The war lasted seven days and seven nights. In the end, Prince Rama killed King Ravana and won the war. After Rama and Laxmana reunited with Sita, they all returned home.  Upon arrival, all the people of Ayodhya decorated their homes and the whole city with little oil lamps to welcome their beloved Rama and Sita home.  After great celebration Rama took his rightful place as King.

And ever since then, people all over India light lamps on Diwali to remember that light always triumphs over dark, and good always triumphs over evil.

(Go back to part1, part 2, part 3)

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