SIGNIFICANCE OF NAVARATHRI GOLU

Bommai Golu or Kolu is a Tamizh word that refers to the practice of the display of dolls during the Navaratri festival. Contextually and symbolically it can also be understood to mean “Divine Presence”

Known as “Bommala Koluvu” in Telugu and “Bombe Habba” in Kannada, this practice is an old tradition that is fast losing its significance and there are few families that continue this tradition today.

Often, this stems from a lack of knowledge with regard to the What, Why, and How of this tradition. The Navaratri festival is observed twice a year – once in the month of “Mesha” or “Chaithra” when the Vasantha Rithu segues into the Grishma Rithu (roughly corresponding to the beginning of summer) and then again in the month of ‘Kanya” or “Aswayuja” when the Varsha Rithu segues into the Sharad Rithu (Autumn/Winter) – it is the latter that is more popular and when someone talks about the Navarathri festival, it is this Navarathri that they are referring to.

In writing this post, I have largely relied on the Kanchi Paramacharya’s discourses on “Ambal” and “Goddesses of Navaratri” and to a lesser extent on Swami Sivananda’s (Divine Life Society) essay on the subject.

The “junction-points” mentioned above – “Vasantha-Grishma” and “Varsha-Sharad” are important periods of climactic and solar influence. These are periods when even a little sadhana done with sincerity goes a long way. During Navarathri we pray to the “Malai-Magal” (Daughter of the mountain, a reference to Parvathi who is the daughter of Himawan), Alai-Magal (Daughter of the waves, a reference to Laskhmi who emerged out of the ocean of milk), and “Kalai-Magal” (Daughter of supreme knowledge, a reference to Saraswati). The Navaratri festival begins on the Prathama tithi (first day) of Shukla Paksha (bright lunar-fortnight) of Kanya Maasa.

A small digression here – Why display the dolls at all? Why this nine-day celebration? The Paramacharya notes during his discourse (probably in response to a question, I am not sure). “It has become fashionable to question everything nowadays. Well, the most important purpose is Loka-kshemam (Universal welfare). When people focus all their energies on the divine – chanting, praying, singing, organizing satsangs and “Katha-Kalakshepas” (Hari Kathas), there is a tremendous release of the “Shakti of Ambal” The culture was that people displayed the dolls and prayed that the divine presence come and reside there in the Golu and Ambal is the most compassionate – she comes when called.” Then Satsangs were organized where the women from the neighborhood sat in front of the Golu and sang songs. Parents, grandparents told stories from the Bhagavatha, Ramayana, Mahabharatha to children – this released Shakthi into the atmosphere. Hari Katha’s were organized at temples and more Shakti…This Shakti of Ambal diffused into and permeated the atmosphere leading to Loka-kshemam. Today, it is this lack of Shakti, this failure to collectively work for Loka-kshemam that is sorely lacking amongst the Hindus of the country today.”

Coming back to the festival, during the first set of three days Para-shakti is worshipped as Durga, then as Lakshmi during the second set of three days, and as Saraswathi during the last set of three days. As the Lakshmi Ashtothram and Saraswathi Ashtothram state “Brahma-Vishnu-Sivathmikayai Namaha” it is the one Parashakti in different garbs functioning multi-variously.

The Golu is arranged on a “Golu-Padi” (Padi = steps). Usually 9 steps are built but odd numbers of 3, 5, and 7 are also seen. However 9 is the ideal number. The nine steps could be taken to refer to the nine ways of worshipping Ambal – “swarnam, kirthanam, smaranam, paadasevanam, archanam, vandhanam, dasyam, sakyam, atmasevadhanam” They are also representative of the Nava grahas, nine planets (nine planets as per the Hindu astrological almanac which includes the shadowy planets – Rahu and Kethu). From the bottom to the top the size of the steps progressively get shorter, with the top most step being the shortest – symbolically telling us how we must keep narrowing our focus in order to progress in our sadhana. The arrangement of dolls should also follow the pattern of progressive complexity with the dolls of Shiva, Vishnu, Devi etc. occupying the top most position, with the avatara-purushas and the Rishis occupying the next lower steps and so on.

The pride of place on the Golu-padi is reserved for the “Kalasham” or the “Kodam” because it is in the Kalasham that Ambal is invoked and it is in the Kalasham that she resides during Navaratri.

Marapachi dolls made of red-sandal-wood or silk-cotton-wood, or rose-wood are traditional dolls that are the first to go up onto the golu padi. They are the male-female”pair-dolls” and are handed down from mother to daughter

The Paramacharya also notes – “For, the nine days it is women who perform all the pujas. This does not stop the men from doing their share of pujas, it is just that during Navaratri women get the special preference and rights for doing the puja during Navaratri” – The Paramacharya shows here how there is no discrimination whatsoever in the Hindu religion and all these feminists who raise a hue and cry about the Shani-shingnapur temple and Sabarimala do it with no understanding of Hindu Dharma.
What the Hindus need more than anything else is to imbibe this spirit of Navaratri and build the collective Shakthi that the Paramacharya talks about. Too much energy is being expended in wasteful pursuits…

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The four vedas – The Rig Veda

The Rig Veda derives its name from the sanskrit root – “Rik“. What we now refer to as shlokas, stanzas, hymns was in the past referred to as “Rik“. The whole of the Rig Veda is in hymn form, hence the name.

Although we refer to the vedas as four in number, it is important to note here that there are several “Shakas” or branches or schools usually on the basis of different methods of chanting / recitation. These Shakas are like the adventitious (stilt) roots of the large Banyan tree with the four vedas being the 4 main branches.

Modern researchers talk about the Rig Veda being the oldest but within the Vedas themselves or amongst practitioners this is given little credence because the Vedas as we saw in post-1 are “Timeless” – “Anaadi” and Apourusheyam (not authored by humans).

This can be further confirmed by the fact that the Rig Veda itself makes reference to the Saama and Yajur Veda at many places. The famous “Purusha Sooktha” which appears in the 10th Mandala of the 90th hymn of the Rig Veda refers to both the Saama and Yajur Veda. See the shloka below:

तस्माद्यज्ञात्सर्वहुत ऋचः सामानि जज्ञिरे
छन्दांसि जज्ञिरे तस्माद्यजुस्तस्मादजायत ॥९॥
Tasmaad-Yajnyaat-Sarvahuta Rucahs Saamaani Jagnyire |
Chandaamsi Jagnyire Tasmaad-Yajus-Tasmaad-Ajaayata

From the Complete Offering of His (The Virata Purusha; the primeval being) Yagya (Sacrifice of Creation) was born the Rig Veda and Saama Veda,
The Chandas (Vedic Meters) too were born from Him, and so also the Yajur Veda.

This shloka debunks the theory of researchers who claim that the Rig Veda was the first of the Vedas and all other vedas came later.

Each Shaka is further classified into 3 portions – Samhita, Braahmana, and Aaranyaka. When we talk of Veda Adhyayana we actually refer to the Samhita portion of the Vedas – recitation/chanting. The word Samhita means collection, “put-together”. The Braahmanas can be seen as “explanatory notes” in prose form of the “Samhita mantras”. The Aaranyakas as the name signifies, refers to a “forest” and therefore consist of that portion of the Vedas that need to be studied/reflected upon in the forest – they are less ritualistic and were born probably based on the difficulties of conducting rituals in a forest-setting. The contents of the Aaranyakas include Brahma VidyaUpasana, and Prana Vidya and could be considered to be a bridge between the Karma-Kaanda portion of the Vedas (Samhita and Braahmanas i.e. Rituals) and the Jnana Kaanda portion of the Vedas (Vedanta or Upanishads, i.e. Spirituality). 

The Aaranyakas mark a definite shift from the religions to the spiritual with the culmination occurring in the esoteric and supreme truths presented in the Vedantas or Upanishads.

The whole of the Rig Veda Samhita is in “Rik” or “hymn” form. Several “Riks” together constitutes a “Sooktha”. For example the Purusha Sooktha is a compilation of several Riks.

The Rig-Samhita contains 10,170 Riks and 1028 Sookthas arranged into 10 Mandalas and 8 Ashtakas. It begins with an Agni Sooktha and ends also with an Agni Sooktha.

Many commentators have interpreted this as “Fire Worship” but according to the Kanchi Paramacharya Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswathi this has to be seen and interpreted as worship of the “light of the soul’s consciousness (Atma Chaitanya)

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Image Credit: http://globalhindus.com/rigveda/. Image copyright rests with the original creator. This image is not used for any commercial purpose.

The Rig Veda contains hymns to all major Devatas. It also details the marriage of Surya’s daughter and marriage rites of Hindus are broadly fashioned on the basis of the details given here.

The Rig Veda occupies the pride of place amongst the Vedas – the rituals and call to action in the Yajur Veda and the musical recitation of Saama Veda emerge from the basic “Riks” of the Rig Veda. The exceptional poetry of the Rig Veda is considered to be masterpieces of poetic beauty.


References:

  1. The Vedas – Sri Chandrashekarendra Saraswathi; Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan; 2014.
  2. http://indianscriptures.50webs.com/partveda.htm
  3. http://ignca.nic.in/vedic_heritage_Aranyakas.htm

The Vedas are the authoritative texts of Sanatana Dharma (1)

What is the authoritative book on which your religion is based? If this question was posed to a Christian, he/she would say “The Bible”, a muslim “The Koran”; a parsi “The Zend Avesta”; a Buddhist “The Dhammapada”; a Jew probably “The Torah” or “The Tanakh” or “The Hebrew Bible”; a Sikh “The Granth Sahib”

If we were to pose this question to a practitioner of Sanatana Dharma (erroneously referred to as the Hindus) what would his/her answer be? In all probability we would not receive one standard answer – some would say Bhagavad Gita, someone else the Ramayana, someone the Upanishads and so on.

The reason for this is very simple – Sanatana Dharma is the only religion in the world where parents of children do not provide even a basic foundation or grounding in the tenets and principles of their own “Dharma”. I choose not to use the word religion because the word does not capture the true essence of Sanatana Dharma – This “Dharma” was, is, and never will be a religion

Religion means rituals whereas “Dharma” refers to those principles one must follow in life to be CONTENTED and HAPPY. This is probably the reason why even the Supreme Court of India observed that Hinduism is a way of life. This is one major difference between Sanatana Dharma and all other religions.

Besides this, there is one other major difference between Sanatana Dharma and all other religions – All other religions are “Pourusheyam” i.e. “Revealed Texts” – there is one founder or Prophet, or Saint whose commandments form the core of that religion’s beliefs, principles, and practices. Sanatana Dharma however is “Apourusheyam” i.e. not revealed by any one “purusha” or human being – they are timeless, limitless “Truths” that have existed before the time of creation itself and will do so forever.

Therefore, if one were to look for a book or rather a single source of authority in the ocean of Sanatana Dharma then one must look for a book that is truly “Dharma-Pramana” (that which establishes the TRUTH). If this be the criterion, then the Vedas alone pass muster – the Bhagavad Gita is but a small speck in the ocean of Sanatana Dharma – it derives from the Vedantas (Upanishads) and is not even a commentary on the vedas in their entirety.

The Kanchi Paramacharya Chandrashekarendra Saraswathi in the second volume of his “Deivathin Kural” (The voice of God) uses the two quotes below (in Tamizh) to establish what constitutes “The Vedas” (Translation appears below the image)

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The Vedas are four (4) in number (Rig, Yajur, Sama, Atharva), then the six (6) Vedangas – angas or limbs or divisions of the vedas (more about each of these in subsequent posts), followed by Mimamsa (vedic interpretations), Nyaya (logic), Puranas (Mythology), and Dharmashastras (Codes of Conduct) making it Fourteen (14) in total. To these 14 may be added the 4 Upa-angas (ancillary limbs) namely Ayurveda (Science of Life), Artha-Shastra (Science of Wealth and Economics), Dhanur-Veda (Science of weapon-making and warfare) and Gandharva-Veda (Writings and treatises on the fine arts including music, dance, drama) bringing it to a grand total of 18 – these form the “Vidya-Sthanas” – “…that in which knowledge and wisdom are enshrined”

I will conclude this post with a beautiful conversation between Hanuman (representing the embodied Atman) and Rama (representing the Supreme Divinity – Paramatman) that appears in the beginning of the Muktiko-Upanishad of Sukla Yajurveda which epitomizes the great vastness of the Vedas…

Hanuman asks Rama: “Tell me Raghava, how many are the vedas, and how many their branches and how many the Upanishads?”

Rama replies: “The Vedas are four (4), their branches many and so also the Upanishads – The Rig Veda has 21 branches, the Yajur Veda 109, the Sama Veda a 1,000 and the Atharvana Veda 50 – each of these branches has its own Upanishad (Vedanta)…

Subsequent posts will look at other aspects of the Vedas.

References:

  1. Deivathin Kural Volume-2; Vanathi Publications; 2016 edition/Reprint
  2. Thirty Minor Upanishads – Translated by K. Narayanaswmi Aiyar; 1914 edition. Printed by Annie Besant, Vasanta Press; Adayar; Madras.

Krishna tames the 7 bulls (3)

The Paramacharya of Kanchi Shri Chandrashekarendra Saraswathi while discussing the differences amongst the Vedas, Vedantas (Upanishads), and Puranas called the Puranas “Bootha-Kannadi” a Tamizh word for “Magnifying Glass” His point being that while the Vedas to a certain extent are ritualistic the Upanishads (also called Vedantas because they occur at the “anta” or end of the Vedas) are metaphysical, spiritual, philosophical and therefore may appeal to only a few sections of the society and to that extent they may be considered elitist. The Puranas on the other hand teach these very same spiritual and philosophical truths through myths, allegories, and stories – the heroes and villains here are larger than life, the demons and Asuras are huge, pot-bellied, with bulbous noses, and of gargantuan proportions. The heroes are mythical, handsome, pristine in character, and no matter what the difficulties always emerge victorious in the end. However, the underlying truths and morals these stories teach are closely related to and/or are similar to that expounded in the Vedas and Vedantas.

While in the Mahabharata, Krishna is portrayed more as a human being with shades of grey along with occasional hints at his divinity, in the Bhagavata he is elevated to the status of the supreme indwelling divinity, the supreme personality of Godhead – it is this dichotomy in characterization that has led to the clash of ideologies between the Rational-Secularists who can’t accept the Krishna of Mahabharata as divine versus the Bhakta (devotee) for whom the supreme personality of Krishna floats like an untainted leaf above the murky waters of the universe…

In all of this, the take home message is this: It all depends on what path you want to take to approach the divinity within – If it is Karma or the path of action, then it is the Vedas. If it is Jnana or the path of the discriminating-intellect and Spirituality then it is Vedanta (Upanishads). If it is Bhakti or devotion then it is the Bhagavata/Puranas. A combination of any of these or all of these is also par for the course.

In this particular story, Krishna travels to the city of Kosala to ask Raja Nagnajit to give his daughter Satya* (also known as Nagnajiti) to him in marriage. Raja Nagnajit however lays a condition that whoever wants to marry his daughter Satya must first tame 7 unruly bulls – these bulls were wild, nasty, uncontrollable beasts that had gored and badly wounded or killed many a brave kshatriya warrior. Krishna agrees without a moment’s hesitation, girds his loins and jumps into the arena. He easily tames the bulls, passes a rope through each of their noses and literally leads them by their noses around the arena and ties them to a large post in the middle of the arena and wins Satya’s hand.

Let’s now see if we can draw some allegorical lesson and/or moral from this story:

Seven (7) is a magic number in religion and spirituality across all religions/sects. In Hinduism / Sanatana Dharma, the number 7 is almost ubiquitous (found almost everywhere) – the 7 worlds or planes of existence (Bhu to Satya that appears before the Gayathri Mantra and during Sankalpa), 7 chakras, 7 notes of music, Saptha-padhi (7 steps in marriage), 7 Maha-Nadhis (rivers) and so on. Although several lessons can be drawn from this story, I prefer the following interpretation:

The 7 unruly bulls are symbolic of:

  1. The 5 sense organs / Pancha Jnanendriyas (Shotra = Ears; Chakshu = Eyes; Grahna = Nose; Jihva = Tongue; Tvak = Skin)
  2. The 5 sense perceptions (The corresponding sensory centers in the brain that perceive what the above 5 sense organs gather during their interactions)
  3. The 5 organs of action / Pancha Karmendriyas (Paada = Feet/Legs; Pani = Hands; Payu = Anus/Rectum; Upastha = Genitals; Vak = Mouth/Speech)
  4. Avidya (Ignorance)
  5. Kama-Krodha (Desire-Anger)
  6. Karma (Fruits of action / Expectation)
  7. Vaasanas (Tendencies / Habits)

Control and sublimation of all of the above leads to the revelation of
TRUTH (SATYA) – the ultimate reality

Note: In the South Indian Azhwar (Alwar) tradition, Satya becomes Nappinnai.

Photo Credit/Attribution: http://www.eegai.com/gallery/krishna-64/page-5 (Copyright if any belongs to the owner of the image. Image is not used for any commercial purpose)