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

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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.

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Art of Living through Yoga

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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

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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.

 

Lakshmi : Patron of Fortune, Affluence and Prosperity

 

The serene existence of magnificent Maha-Lakshmi temple amidst the commotion of a busy traffic signal across Sarasbagh in Pune might strike as rather odd. Built with pristine white marble in Dravidian architectural style, the temple opened to public for worship in 1984 and has since been held of great religious significance in the city. Devotees can instantly feel a sense of calm and peace dawning upon them as they walk through the elaborately carved entrance. Tranquility takes over as their bare feet touch the cold marble beneath. They are mesmerized as they take each step through the line of pillars and walls carved in intricate patterns leading up to the Idols of Sri Mahsaraswati, Sri Maha-Lakshmi  and Sri Mahakali. Pune’s Maha-Lakshmi temple is a site worth visiting.

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Lakshmi is the goddess of affluence and abundance and her pictures adorn shops, business establishments and homes. She is said to be the goddess of 16 forms of worldly wealths including fame, courage, victory etc. Maha-Lakshmi is an incarnation of goddess Lakshmi. While Lakshmi is the goddess of wealth, portrayed as standing on a lotus, Maha-Lakshmi’s iconography portrays her riding a lion like Durga.  She is particularly popular in Maharashtra. She is said to be the root of all creations.

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Goddess Lakshmi is often taken to be a “restless” goddess who comes and leaves without warning! Good fortune come and leave without apparent reasons! That is why in order to please Vaibhav Lakshmi (goddess of riches) some people observe a fast on Fridays. It is considered to be an auspicious day to invite Lakshmi home to replenish wealth and fortune.

The person observing the fast has to wake up early in the morning, clean the house, bath and wear clean clothes. Cleaning the house is an essential part of the fasting ritual for Lakshmi is known to abhor untidy homes and lazy people.

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The ritual of puja is performed which begins with the decoration of the puja alter with flowers. There are three ways of performing the puja. Either an idol of Lakshmi, or a four sided oil lamp or a copper kalash filled with rice is placed on the alter. If a lamp is used, it is lit and decorated with vermilion and rice. In case of a kalash, it is filled with rice and decorated with mango leaves and inverted dry coconut. Incense sticks are lighted and a sweet is offered as a prasad. With folded hands the person has to chant Lakshmi mantras or a single mantra is to be chanted 108 times on a Rudraksha mala or Kamal gatta mala.  The puja culminates with an arti and distribution of prasad. If a rice filled kalash is used, after the puja the rice is mixed with the stock of rice in the house. The person who is fasting has to give up food during the day and eat a simple meal at night.

Popular festivals of Diwali and Kojagiri Purima are the two main Hindu festivals when Lakshmi is celebrated and worshipped in all its grandeur.

Her popularity is evident from the fact that the Indian equivalents of English titles Mr. and Mrs. are the prefixes Sri and Srimati, the sacred names of Lakshmi. It signifies that the married men and women have the blessings of goddess Lakshmi to sustain and perpetuate life. If you are seeking affluence in something, the prefix or suffix Lakshmi or Sri is added to it e.g. Shanti Sri (abundance of peace), Rajya Lakshmi (wealth of empire).

Numerous equivalents of Lakshmi are found in other Asian cultures. Kishijoten in Japan, Vasundhara in Tibet and Nepal and Dewi Sri in Indonesia are some of the close analogues of Indian goddess Lakshmi.

Interestingly and ironically, in religions like Buddhism and Jainism which preach and practice worldly renunciation, Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth is greatly revered and worshipped.