Long-distance Raksha Bandhan : Celebrating Sibling Love

RAKSHA BANDHAN; The name says it all. ‘Raksha’ means to protect while ‘Bandhan’ stands for the bond.  One of the deepest and the noblest of human emotions is the love of a brother and a sister. Rakhi or Raksha Bandhan is a special occasion to celebrate this emotional bond by tying a holy thread around the wrist. Rakhi, a thread, pulsates with sisterly love and sublime sentiments. It means “a bond of protection.”  Raksha Bandhan signifies that the strong must protect the weak from all that’s evil.

While growing up, Raksha Bandhan was more loved because it used to be a holiday. Being a sister it was more like an occasion for receiving numerous gifts. Like every other sibling, I and my brother never went along while growing up. Now that we have shifted to different geographies and don’t stay together anymore, long-distance Raksha Bandhan keeps us connected.

The Rakhi envelope

When I pack Rakhi for my brother, it’s not just the Rakhi but a complete emotional package. I ensure that my parcel doesn’t look incomplete. I always keep a red teeka (kumkum), some rice, a pack of sweets and top the parcel with a small handwritten letter.  In the generation of internet and video calls, I cherish the joy a few old school ways give!

The ‘Rakhi’

On this special full moon day of the Hindu month of Shravan, sisters ensure that their brothers should have a rakhi on their wrist. Rakhis are ideally made of silk with gold and silver threads, beautifully crafted embroidered sequins, and studded with semi-precious stones.

Why Rakhi?

A Rakhi undoubtedly helps induce feelings of fellowship, it eases various societal strains, open up channels of expression, allow us to work on our roles as human beings and, most importantly, brings joy into our mundane lives.

The Rakhi ritual not only strengthens the bond of love between brothers and sisters but also transcends the confines of the family. The Rakhi tied on the wrists of closed ones, underscores the need for a harmonious social life, in which individuals co-exist peacefully as brothers and sisters. The Rakhi Utsav was popularised by the Nobel laureate and Bengali poet, Rabindranath Tagore.

Rakhi in History

Rakhi was the symbol of a strong bond that resulted in innumerable political ties amongst kingdoms and princely states. The pages of Indian history testify that the Rajput and Maratha queens have sent Rakhis even to Mughal kings who, despite their differences, have accommodated their Rakhi-sisters by offering help and protection at critical moments to honour the fraternal bond. Rani Karnavati, the Queen of Sisodia dynasty of Chittorgarh, the capital of Mewar sent a Rakhi to Mughal Emperor Humayun, calling him a brother and asking for help.

Rakhi Legends

Rakhi was intended to be an act of worship of the sea god Varuna. Thus,  ceremonial bathing, offerings of coconut to Varuna, and fairs at waterfronts accompany this festival.

Some myths describe the ritual as observed by Indrani and Yamuna for their respective brothers, Indra and Yama. Lord Indra was vanquished in a long-drawn battle against the demons. To enhance his powers, Indra’s Guru Brihaspati tied a sacred thread on his wrist, who then attacked the demons with renewed force and destroyed the evil.

Thus Raksha Bandhan symbolises all aspects of protection of good from evil forces. In Mahabharata, we find Krishna advising Yudhishthira to tie the powerful Rakhi to guard himself against impending evils.

When brothers seek Rakhi parcels

The feeling of receiving the Rakhi parcel is a feeling unmatched from all other joys for the brothers too. Tying the Rakhi sent by their sisters gives a personalised touch to the special bond. In return, brothers bestow gifts upon his sisters and they vow to honour and protect her, no matter the circumstances

Advertisements

Ashadhi Ekadashi 2019 : पंढरपूर वारी, वारकरी आणि विठ्ठलाची गाथा

Pune has witnessed people preserving Maharashtrian culture for ages.  Of various traditional practices, the ‘Pandharpur Yatra’ is a major event.  The Pandharpur Yatra is believed to be followed for more than a 1000 years now. As per beliefs, it is said that this custom was started way back in the year 1810.

FB-Featured-Anu-36
Source: http://bit.ly/2JbFTLK

Ashadhi Ekadashi being just a few days away, on July 12 this year, is a day of great importance at Vithal( incarnation of Vishnu)Temple in Pandharpur, Maharashtra. Pandharpur Yatra is a classic example of unparalleled devotion to a deity, a great aspect of Bhakti.  The young and old travel barefoot chanting the holy names. The Pandharpur Yatra is a perfect amalgamation of all castes, creed, rich, poor, young, old and children.

Palkhi (palanquin), being a unique feature of the Maharashtrian culture, is a 1000-year-old tradition followed by the warkaris (people who follow the wari, a fundamental ritual). The Palkhis; Tukaram Palkhi from Dehu and Dnyaneshwar Palkhi from Alandi; start in the month of Jyeshtha (June) from Pune District.   The whole process lasts a total of 21 days and reaches Pandharpur a day before Ashadhi Ekadashi. 

The popularity of this ancient tradition has soared immensely along with time. A total of approximately 1.5 lakh devotees proceed along with the Saint Tukaram Palkhi from Dehu village, while a total of 2.25 lakh devotees march along with the Saint Dnyaneshwar Palkhi. This main procession is joined by other palkhis from other towns and villages carrying the images of saints. Saint Dnyaneshwar’s image is carried from Alandi, Tukaram’s image is carried from Dehu, Eknath’s from Paithan, Nivruttinath’s from Trimbakeshwar, Muktabai’s from Edlabad and Sopan’s from Sasvad.

18-Day-Annual-Pilgrimage-Of-Pandharpur-Ashadhi-Wari-End
Source: http://bit.ly/2JmYqVJ

(I belong to a traditional Maharashtrian household. A question that constantly troubles me is why do people go through such severe hardship to seek the blessings of the Almighty? Why do the rest of us sit at our homes and observe a fast on the day of ‘Ashadhi Ekadashi’? A persuading explanation was given to me by my Aaji! Here, I have tried to put it in her words)

आषाढी एकादशी हा दिवस महाराष्ट्रात अत्यंत महत्वाचा मानण्यात येतो. अनेक वर्षांपासून सुरु असलेल्या या परंपरेवर देशातच नाही तर जागतिक स्तरावरही अभ्यास सुरु आहे.महाराष्ट्राच्या कानाकोपऱ्यातून ठिकठिकाणाहून भाविक विठ्ठलनामाचा गजर करीत पंढरपुरला पायी चालत येतात. सार्वजनिक भजनाच्या पारंपरिक पद्धतीमध्ये एक भक्त टाळ मृदुंगाच्या ठेक्यावर अभंग गातो आणि बाकीचे सर्व टाळकरी ती ओळ तशाच चालीने समूहाने गातात.   यामुळे भजनामधील सर्व अभंग त्यांच्या मुखातून वदले जातात. अशा प्रकारे वारंवार ऐकण्या गाण्यामुळे हळूहळू त्यांना ते अभंग पाठ होतात. त्याचप्रमाणे त्यातील भावसुद्धा त्यांच्या मनाला जाऊन भिडतात.

आषाढीच्या आदल्या दिवशी पालखी पंढरपूरला पोहोचलीकी वारकरी चंद्रभागेत स्नान करून विठ्ठलाच्या दर्शनाची आस लावून बसतात. आषाढी कार्तिकी एकादशीच्या दिवशी पंढरपूरला विठ्ठलाच्या दर्शनासाठी महाप्रचंड रांगा लागतात. त्यात दहा बारा तास उपाशी तापाशी उभे राहून वाट पाहण्याची तपश्चर्या केल्यानंतर विठोबाच्या पायावर क्षणभर डोके टेकवण्याची संधी मिळते. पहाटेच्या काकड आरतीपासून रात्रीच्या शेजारतीपर्यंतच्या कालात खूप कमी भाविकांना प्रत्यक्षदर्शनाचे सुख प्राप्त होते. त्यांच्यामधील बहुतेकजण विठोबाच्या देवालयाच्या शिखराचे किंवा पायरीचे दर्शन घेऊनच माघारी जातात. असे जर असेल तर मग ते तर घरी बसूनसुद्धा करता आले असते, असेच ना? त्यासाठी एवढे कष्ट घेऊन उन्हातान्हातून आणि भर पावसातून पंढरपूरपर्यंत पायी चालत जाण्याची काय गरज आहे असे आपल्याला वाटते. त्यामागे अर्थातच इतर कांही सबळ कारणे असली पाहिजेत!  एक तर परंपरेनुसार दरवर्षी वारी करायची हे ठरून गेलेले असते. दुसरे कारण म्हणजे आपण देवासाठी कांही करतो आहोत या भावनेमध्ये एक प्रकारचे समाधान मिळते. तिसरे आणि सर्वात महत्वाचे कारण म्हणजे भाविकांच्या दृष्टीने तो एक अविस्मरणीय असा सुखद अनुभव असतो.आजकालच्या वैज्ञानिक प्रगतीमुळे आपण सतत जगाच्या संपर्कात राहतो. पण पूर्वीच्या काळात एकदा दिंडीबरोबर घर सोडले की परत घरी येईपर्यंत रोजच्या सगळ्या विवंचनापासून मुक्त होऊन दिवसरात्र परमेश्वराचे नामस्मरण आणि संतांचा सहवास यात एका वेगळ्या सात्विक वातावरणात राहण्याचा एक आगळा अनुभव त्यांना मिळत असे.

इतके दिवस ज्या विठ्ठलासाठी चालत आलो ते अखेर भेटल्याने आनंदी झालेले हे वारकरी उपवास करतात. जे भक्त वारीला जाऊ शकत नाहीत ते या दिवशी उपवास करुन मनोभावे विठ्ठलाची यथोचित पूजा करतात.

म्हणूनच हरी नामाच्या गजराने जेव्हा अवघी पंढरी दुमदुमलेली असते तेव्हा आपल्याला घर बसल्या विठ्ठलाचे नाम स्मरण करण्यात काहीच हरकत नसायला हवी!

Vasant Panchami:​ The festival that honours Goddess Saraswati

The word Hindu is derived from the Sanskrit term Sindhu (or Indus), which means river. Thus, people living in the Indus Valley of the Indian subcontinent were referred to as Hindus.  The Hindu pantheon includes many deities.  Although Hindu adherents practice their faith differently and venerate different deities, they share a similar view of life and look back on a common history. 

The Hindus are divided by cultures but united by religion.  Most Hindu festivals fall in either of the two seasons, summer and winter. The festivals are marked around those points of the year which are at or near the SUMMER SOLSTICE and WINTER SOLSTICE, during which light and warmth begin to increase and decrease,  respectively.  In pre-industrial times, humans survived through hunting, gathering and agricultural practices, which depend on the natural cycle of seasons. Thus, they created rituals to help ensure that they celebrated all the seasonal changes. Vestiges of many of these ancient practices are thought to have survived in festivals still celebrated around seasonal themes.

One such seasonal event is Vasant Panchami. Vasant Panchami is an important Indian festival celebrated every year in the month of Magh according to the Hindu calendar. Celebrated on the fifth day of Magh, the day falls somewhere between the months of February or March, according to the Gregorian calendar. The significance of the day lies in the worship of Goddess Saraswati, the goddess of learning, who bequeaths the greatest wealth to humanity, the wealth of knowledge. Mother Saraswati is the consort of Lord Brahma, the Creator. The divine couple together engages in creating mankind and imbuing self-awareness and intelligence in mankind.

Hindu mythology describes Goddess Saraswati as a lady dressed in pristine white attire, white flowers, and white pearls, sitting on a white lotus set in a wide stretch of water. The Goddess also holds a Veena, a string-instrument, for playing music.  The four arms of Goddess Saraswati represent the four aspects of human personality in learning: mind, intellect, alertness, and ego. She rides on a white swan. The swan is known for its peculiar characteristic of separating water from milk, indicating that one should possess clear vision and knowledge to discriminate between good and evil. Children are taught to read and write their first words on this day.  It is considered auspicious to begin a child’s education on Vasant Panchami. The grown-ups are educated about the oldest of the Hindu writings – The “Vedas”.

The word “Veda” comes from the Sanskrit word for knowledge. The Vedas, which were compiled from oral traditions contain hymns, instructions, explanations,  chants for sacrifices, magical formulas, and philosophy. Another set of sacred books includes the Great Epics, which illustrate Hindu faith in practice. The Epics include the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, and the Bhagavad Gita. Students keep their notebooks, pens and educational items near the statue of Goddess Saraswati and chant Ma Saraswati shlokas to get her blessings. They distribute sweets among the devotees and share their joy of winning Ma Saraswati’s blessings.

‘Yellow’ is the dominant colour of this festival as it signifies the ripening of fruits and crops. The mustard fields in North India bloom during this season giving a yellow coat to nature. People wear yellow clothes, offer yellow flowers to the Goddess and put a yellow, turmeric tilak on their forehead. They visit temples and offer prayers to various Gods. New clothes are purchased for this festival and many delicious dishes are specially prepared for this particular occasion. The colour yellow is deeply associated with teachers, with wisdom and also with auspiciousness. The other Gods who are shown wearing yellow attire in Hinduism are Lord Dakshinamurti, Lord Dattatreya and Brihaspati or Guru (Jupiter). Notably, all these God forms are associated with imparting wisdom. Hence we find that associating the color yellow with Mother Saraswati has a deep significance of portraying Mother Saraswati as the Goddess of wisdom.

And last but not the least, let our prayer go: May Maa Saraswati bless us all to attain enlightenment through knowledge and rid ourselves of lethargy, sluggishness, and ignorance. Happy Vasant Panchami!

The Navratri Story: An artisan who personifies Maa Durga through his art

Temple - Artisan crafting Mother Durga0.jpg

The artisan is perched at the edge of his studio; behind him are rows and rows of Maa Durga idols.  The rain has ebbed a bit.  Outside as the sun lies low on the horizon the luminescence effect of the rising sun throws an ephemeral glow on the faces of the Durga idols.  The artisan is keen on getting the biggest idol crafted today.

The art of crafting an idol. 

Myriad thoughts run through his mind. “Do my hands craft out these beautiful idols? And do the colours I use bring life to these lifeless eyes?  Of one thing I am certain: I don’t carve these idols; I don’t bring life to the lifeless; these idols take a shape on their own”.  

With a wooden base, he craft the basic structure of the idol with bamboo. Using straw and ropes he fashions the shape of the idol.  With fresh clay sourced from Ganga, he mixes it with rice husks till it is hard enough to hold yet pliable enough to mould. The body of the idol lovingly takes shape under his hands.   The face remains.  This is part of his work he loves the most.

The detailing: Artisan brings life to the lifeless 

The artisan continues, he creates a mould of the idols face, nostalgically remembering the making of a similar mould in the years gone before.   Mixing the past with the present creating the future, rapt in attention, he sits there quietly and carves the face of the clay Goddess. 

His fingers trail down the cheek of the freshly moulded goddess, caressing it, smoothing it.  The sweet smell of wet clay helps him etch a smile onto the face of the goddess. He adds a few finishing strokes to the large drawn out eyes.  There it is; the face looks soulful; radiant in a way he has never seen before.  Remarkable is the end result when you put your heart into something you love doing!  

Around the corner, a small shack is stacked with glittering crowns, arms and legs.  The artisan moves to his collection of a variety of zaris, beads, mirrors, motis and starts accessorizing.  A goddess is a mother, a woman, a warrior.  Keeping this universal role that the mother goddess plays in perspective, the artisan starts threading the beads, motis, mirrors accordingly.

Triumph of good over evil

A few meters away is the artisans home.  His 12 – year – old daughter, whom he lovingly addresses as Durga, walks in to help her father.  She looks up at him and asks curiously “Baba, why do we worship the Goddess Durga?”  The artisan, still engrossed in his craft, replies “Dear Durga, as your name suggests, it’s the warrior aspect of the Divine Mother.  Durga means something that is inaccessible, invincible or who can be a redeemer in situations of utmost distress.  Mother Durga represents strength, morality, power, and protection.  She protects humankind from dark forces like selfishness, jealousy, hatred, anger, and ego.  She is an embodiment of the feminine force and creative energy.  It is believed that she is the supremely radiant goddess who destroys the evil forces and brings peace.  These are the reasons why we worship Mother Durga.”  

“Baba, why do they say that a woman shouldn’t touch the goddess?” It was first time in a while that the artisan’s hands stopped working.  He looked upon his little daughter and said, “ It is said so because people believe that they want to keep the women into a mould. But, you my little girl, you are set free to do whatever you feel like doing.  I want you to touch every idol your baba makes. I want you to feel the art.  I want you to break the shackles that are put upon women and recognize your own worth.  Maa Durga is a woman herself. She will never object to children, whether they be girls or boys.”

The artisan’s little girl hugged him with a trusting smile. Her baba has never lied to her. As the sun goes down and the darkness engulfs the area of the studio, the artisan smiles with content for understanding the true meaning of worship.  He is not breaking the traditions but indeed preserving them in the best way he knows.  Every girl, woman we come across is in some form or the other a symbol of love, strength, weakness, motherly – care. She must be worshipped next to every divine goddess. 

Conclusion 

As the artisan heads back home with his little girl, skipping behind him, trying to keep pace, he sees her stumble.  He rushes to help her when she stops him saying“ No Baba. Please, don’t help me.  I want to fall and rise on my own. I’m the Durga of tomorrow.  Maa Durga has given me enough strength.”   The artisan has created a difference.  His well-put thoughts are now deeply engraved on his daughter’s mind.  He sees his daughter stand up all by herself.  And behind her rises the shadow of Goddess Durga; the one that’s coming from an idol standing tall far behind her.  Such is the blessing of the Mother.  She comes home for a short span but empowers each individual.  

The voice behind this article is Ashwini Gaikwad, Content Writer, Investronaut.

Gauri Ganapati- The festival of Maharashtra

Temple - Gauri Ganapati Article ImageLike Durga Puja is to Bengalis and Raavan Dahan is to North Indians; similarly, Ganapati festival is to Maharashtrians. As September comes, every Maharashtrian starts preparing for the festival. It is celebrated by families, communities, societies, and in public places as well. Although celebrated across Maharashtra, Pune and Mumbai record the grandest celebrations of this festival. The life-like spectacular story models, decorations, Dhol-Tasha, immersion ceremony (Visarjan) everything makes for an enthusiastic environment all through those ten days.

Everyone welcomes Lord Ganesha like he is one of their own; like a respectable family member. For those seven to ten days, every household welcomes this deity by preparing sweets (especially modak), decorating the house, and offering majestic puja every morning and evening.  Some families even organize Aarti competition like who recites the most ancient, unknown aarti, or how many aartis can one recite.

There are some households that welcome Lord Ganesha’s sisters, Jeshtha Gauri and Kanishtha Gauri. Every little thing about the festival is celebrated like a fun activity and creativity. Be it bringing in the deity, installing the deity at home or in public, offering everyday Puja and bidding farewell to him afterward. Some families bid him farewell in just one day, some after five days, some along with his beloved sisters Gauri which is after seven days, while some after ten days. 

Many ancestral homes follow this tradition of Gauri Pujan where the sisters of Lord Ganesha come to celebrate their homecoming. Like Ganapati, Gauri Pujan is also a pompous celebration by itself. 

The two sisters of Ganapati Bappa, Jeshtha Gauri and Kanishtha Gauri are welcomed by imprinting kumkum and haldi footsteps and chanting, “Mahalakshmi Aali, sonyachya paulanni aali.” Along with the Jeshtha Gauri, accompanies her toddler son as well. While some families install toddler son, some families install both son and daughter. Once settled, the Gauri sisters are then decorated by draping new sarees, garlands, jewellery etc. They are then offered a big feast consisting of 18 items; one of which is the sweet beetle-leaves which is considered as a prasaad or naivedya for that day.  Apart from the big feast, The Gauri sisters are offered different snack delicacies like Shev, Chakli, Chivda, Anarse etc. (Snacks that most Indians prepare for Diwali). 

Some suggest a story that, ’Ganapati has two homes- One in Kailas, which is his parents’ place and the other one which is his devotees’ place. The story suggests, once there was a fight between father and son, that led Lord Ganapati to leave. After leaving, he came and resided in his devotee’s home. But, after a few days, both the parents and Lord Ganesha started missing each other. In order to make amends, Lord Shiva, Father of Lord Ganesha and Gauri, requested Gauri to go and bring back their son. So, the Gauris set to bring back Lord Ganesha. While they were at his devotees place, Lord Ganesha, Jeshtha Gauri and Kanishtha Gauri were so overwhelmed that they promised to return every year to accept the devotees’ services. And from then on, every year Lord Ganesha returns to his beloved devotees to accept their services to him.’

Most commonly Ganapati Bappa resides in his devotees’ home for five days. They offer their prayers, conduct their religious duties and after bidding him farewell, visit the different pandals to watch the uniqueness and majesty it depicts. Of all the cities of Maharashtra, the cultural city Pune is most famous for the decoration and life-like shows. Apart from the Ganesha exhibits, Pune is famous for the farewell procession as well, which is known as Visarjan. The main attraction of the Visarjan is the traditional art forms and the Dhol Tasha Pathak which has a record-breaking time of 32 hours. In Mumbai, it goes beyond 36 hours. 

The festival was first publicly initiated by Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, to unite all the cultures and castes during his rule. As the kingship receded, the festival found its place in selective homes (Brahmin families). However, during the British Raj, Lokmanya Tilak resumed this tradition with the same purpose as Shivaji Maharaj. As the festival became public, the spirit of devotion and piousness resonated all through the world. Although it might be a festival, both the leaders Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj and Lokmanya Tilak knew that festivals are the only instances which can unite the masses. Therefore, it was one of the successful strategic moves that these patriotic leaders acted upon to create a better society. 

Today, although we are not repressed by some foreign rulers, there are some lingering societal problems like gender inequality, illiteracy, domestic violence, adultery etc. that need to be addressed. Public Ganapati pandals try to address such problems through their skits, spectacular exhibitions and majestic arrangements. In regard to this objective, the Ganapati festival has become a good way to invoke social awareness. While we enjoy the spirits of this festival, we should also empower each other by being a responsible citizen to make a better society, just like every pandal tries to spread this message.  

-Written by Snigdha Keskar

Art of Living through Yoga

Ashtanga Yoga Creative (1)

Ahead of World Yoga Day, which is on 21st June, lets try to understand the basic idea of Yoga. The more common practise that we know of yoga, has driven the whole world towards it, like some mystical form of the Holy Grail. Yet, Yoga is not limited to exercise alone. This 5,000 year old wellness pursuit is the art of living that ignites positivity in everyone.

Yoga is a beautiful forum to explore, practise and experience the universe through oneself. Ashtanga Yoga, has been misinterpreted as eight ‘limbs’ in yoga. However, Anga in Sanskrit it means sections or levels. Thus, ashtanga actually  translates to  eight levels of yoga. It demands a complete control of the mind, body and soul, once you start evolving through it. It includes mastering the control of your inner self, your body and creates a positive attitude through yourself. Many know Yoga as a self-healing process and  it helps in curing different ailments of the body. It allows you to recognize your true potential and  spiritually awakens your soul. Of course, this is  all true. However, in order to achieve this exalted state, entirely, it should be practised in a systematic manner.

The Eight Stages of Ashtanga Yoga

Ashtanga Yoga Creative2 (1)

YAMA: Yama means moral observance that helps one to attain harmony with the universe. Yama is a result of five liberal principles that when practised regularly, will direct you towards being in harmony with the universe. When one masters these principles, unknowingly, you attain the next level of Ashtanga Yoga.

NIYAMA: Niyama allows you to  attain  harmony with your body through another five principles of moral observance. In a way, it intends to purify the inner elements of the body. When we speak about the body, it does not mean the physical form but, the identity of an individual in the universe.

Yama and Niyama are two fundamental facets of Ashtanga Yoga that work in unison to emancipate oneself. Therefore, when you start practising Yama, in a way, you start practicing Niyama as well. The 10 principles of moral observance to be in harmony with universe and yourself are an initiation towards bringing a positive shift in your life.

Link for 10 Principles of Yama and Niyama:

ASANA: If you Google Ashtanga Yoga,  the images thrown up, show people in  impossible poses, flexing and toning their bodies. Asanas are, in fact, a mirror to learn about yourself. But, Asana is just a stage amongst the other eight stages that comprise  Ashtanga Yoga. When you start practising Asanas, you learn unknown things about the body and about yourself as a whole.

Unfortunately, when one commences  learning yoga, the first thing you learn are the limitations of your body that can deflate  your ego. It forces one to have  feelings of inadequacy and mental intolerance. However, it is at this time when you have to be consistent and self motivated. As you move through these three stages onto the next, you will have taken the  first step towards  better living. When you practise Asanas, you learn a lot about your body. You are more aware of your body and you gradually start focusing on your existence.

PRANA: Prana here means the awareness of pranic energy. It is the art of regulating your breath, learning how to use breath to your benefit. Breathing is something that we do naturally. However, we have never learnt a systematic form of breathing. When you learn how to regulate your breath, your body starts responding in a completely different manner. It washes out the impurities, accepts only what is best for the body and processes it accordingly.

PRATYAHARA: The ultimate control of the five senses of the body means Pratyahara. The fundamental objective of this stage in Ashtanga Yoga, is to stop abusing the body – physically, emotionally or mentally. Getting addicted to food, toxic substances, ill thoughts, self-doubt are some ways how we abuse ourselves.

Pratyahara teaches us to end these addictions and take control of ourselves. Remember, when our elder folk used to preach – ‘your body does not control you’? In a way, sometimes,  too much dependability on our physical being has led us to abuse it dangerously. When one practises Pratyahara, this dependability is reduced and we attain the next stage of Yogic livelihood.

DHARANA: Once you have mastered all these stages, Dharana teaches you to control your mind. The above stages teach you to attain satisfaction one by one, gradually streamlining us towards one single point which is The Mind. It helps us in our focus, keeps our undivided attention on things that matter, and takes control of our restless behaviour, which reflects in our lifestyle as well.

DHYANA: ‘Maun’ which is eternal silence, is something that you learn to master in Dhyana. Just as different poses of the asanas comprise  ‘Asana as a stage’, Maun is that facet which comprises Dhyana. When you consistently practise Dharana, you gradually  reach towards Dhyana. Dhyana or meditation helps us to achieve silence in our mind.

SAMADHI: When you have established Dhyana for a very long time, you reach the stage of Samadhi. As this is the final stage of Ashtanga Yoga, many repudiate from this stage. Mostly, because it is misunderstood as the end of living. However, this is the most pure, unblemished stage of Yog Sadhana. Samadhi leads to control of  life and death. You can choose to live or die when you have mastered all the seven stages in Yog Sadhana.

Many of us attempt to master Ashtanga Yoga and all its stages simultaneously, because of which, we forget the significance of a methodical manner. Ashtanga Yoga is a method that gives a new way of life to those who practice it. So, on this World Yoga Day, lets understand the importance of a Yogic lifestyle whilst also using it as a form of exercise alone.

 

Adhik Mahina- The Thirteenth month of Hindu Calendar

adhik-maas-with-text

Imagine when you get extra time to complete your test paper during exams? Or when working on an important project or when you are time bound and have to crack a deal? Isn’t the 29th day of February extra time during a year? And if that’s not enough, how about a month extra? What would you do if you were given such an extra-ordinary gift of time.

The Adhik Mahina of the Lunar Calendar is nothing but that gifted month for the Hindu people who follow the Lunar Calendar. Just as the Solar Calendar gets an extra day in the month of February every 4 years, the Lunar Calendar has an entire extra month after every 3 years. Ever wonder how does the Lunar Calendar gets an entire month whereas the Solar Calendar just one day?

The Astronomical Significance

Time is calculated as per the orbiting movement of the Earth and The Sun and The Moon. The Solar Calendar is calculated as per the Earth’s movement around the Sun while a Lunar Calendar is calculated as per the Moon’s orbit around the Earth. Thus, a Lunar Calendar comprises 32 months, 16 days and 24 minutes. Lunar Calendar which has 354 days has a difference of 11 days every year as compared to the Solar Calendar which has 365 days. This difference thus becomes Adhik Maas or Mal Maas or Purushottam Maas (different names of Adhik Mahina) in the Hindu Calendar.

The Devotional Significance
As Adhik Mahina occurs after every three years, it does not have special festivities or celebrations under it. The Hindu pandits and sages have ordained it with prayers, blessing and sacrifices. However, small functions like devoting the celebrations to the number 33 that symbolizes extra days that have been gifted are followed religiously. If we calculate the 11 days of every year, they total up to 33 for all three years. Therefore, the number 33 has a huge significance in this month. The most important ritual that most Hindus follow is the Adhik Vaan wherein the sons-in-law are showered with gifts like 33 delicacies, 33 sweets, 33 dresses or Rs. 33,000 worth of gold. Generally Adhik Maas falls around the month of May, that is mostly known for summer weddings and celebrations. Once the daughters have been married, the grooms are showered with different gifts. This additional month of the Hindu Calendar is a way to continue this gifting practice in the form of ritual and hence a special significance is given to Adhik Vaan.

The Mythological Significance
Long ago when the months were created, all 12 months were associated with a deity and accompanying celebrations and rituals. And as Hindu mythology likes personifying everything, the months became the holy maidens of the God of Time – Chandra (As Hindus follow Lunar Calendar). Adhik Maas was named as Mal Maas at that time as she had no celebrations, no rituals and no divinity. Feeling dejected, she went to Lord Vishnu and pleaded that she also be given some divine association if not feasts and celebration. Moved by her plea, Lord Vishnu assured her that she has a special significance in the coming time and that she will be remembered with pious deeds and prayers.

Soon time went by and one of the kings of the then times, King Hiranyakashyapu prayed to Lord Brahma asking for an unusual and mystical boon making him virtually immortal. The boon was on condition that, “No man nor any animal could kill Hiranyakashyapu. He would not die in broad daylight nor in night time. Furthermore, he could not die inside the house nor outside, nor on land, or water or in the sky, and lastly never ever in the 12 months of the year.” Little did King Hiranyakashyapu know, that this dark scheme of his was not supposed to work. Thinking he had become immortal and the most powerful person, Hiranyakashyapu started creating havoc on Earth and Lord Vishnu had to intervene. Respecting Lord Brahma’s boon, Lord Vishnu decided to reincarnate himself as Narsimha in Adhik Mahina, the thirteenth month of Hindu calendar. Narsimha was neither a man nor an animal, he was a deity with head of lion and body of a man. So, he ended the life of King Hiranyakashypu on his lap in the thirteenth month i.e. Mal Maas. With the remorseful attitude King Hiranyakashyapu’s wife conduced a pure environment in her realm with prayers, charities and different religious practices.

Thus, with his reincarnation Lord Vishnu fulfilled his commitment to Mal Maas of being the most divine and ritualistic month of the year. Due to Lord Vishnu’s reincarnation and different religious practices, Mal Maas later came to be known as Purushottam Maas or Adhik Maas.

This year, Adhik Maas falls on 16th May 2018. Enjoying its piousness and arranging different kirtans, bhajans or religious lectures during this auspicious time of the year adds to our spiritual journey. So, cherish this extra time and make the most of it with gratitude and humility.