Saturday, 6 March 2021

Maharishi Valmiki Jayanti -The sage who authored Ramayana

The festival of Valmiki Jayanti is observed as the birth anniversary of Maharishi Valmiki, who penned the great Hindu epic Ramayana. According to the Hindu calendar, it falls on the full moon day of the month of Ashwin, which corresponds to September-October in the Gregorian calendar. It is also referred to as Pragat Diwas. The story goes that Maharishi Valmiki had met Lord Rama during his exile. He also rescued Sita after Lord Rama banished her from the kingdom of Ayodhya and provided her shelter. It was in his ashram that she gave birth to the twins, Lava and Kusha. During their childhood, the great sage became their instructor and taught them Ramayana, which contains 24,000 verses (shlokas) and 7 cantos (kandas). Valmiki was born as Agni Sharma to a Brahmin named Pracheta (also known as Sumali) of Bhrigu gotra.

There is another popular belief that Valmiki was a highway dacoit in his early years. He used to rob and kill people until the day he met Narad Muni, who transformed him into an ardent devotee of Lord Rama. After meditating for years, a divine voice declared his penance successful and bestowed him with the name Valmiki.

There also exist yet another legends about Valmiki having been a thief before turning into a rishi. The Nagara Khanda of the Skanda Purana a in its section on the creation of Mukhara Tirtha mentions that Valmiki was born a Brahmin, with the name of Lohajangha and was a devoted son to his parents. He had a beautiful wife and both of them were faithful to each other. Once, when there was no rain in the region of Anarta , for twelve long years, Lohajangha, for the sake of his hungry family, started robbing people that he found in the forest. In the course of this life he met the seven sages or the Saptarishi and tried to rob them as well. But the learned sages felt pity on him and showed him the folly of his ways. One of them, Pulaha gave him a Mantra to meditate upon and the Brahmin turned thief got so engrossed in its recitation that ant-hills came up around his body. When the sages returned and heard the sound of the mantra coming from the ant-hill, they blessed him and said, "Since you achieved great Siddhi seated within a Valmika (an anthill), you will become well-known in the world as Valmiki."

One day, Valmiki was going to the river Ganges for his daily ablutions. A disciple by the name Bharadwaja was carrying his clothes. On the way, they came across the Tamasa river. Looking at the river, Valmiki said to his disciple, "Look, how clear is this water, like the mind of a good man! I will bathe here today." When he was looking for a suitable place to step into the river- stream, he saw a crane couple mating. Valmiki felt very pleased on seeing the happy birds. Suddenly, male crane bird hit by an arrow died on the spot. Filled by sorrow, its mate screamed in agony and died of shock. Valmiki's heart melted at this pitiful sight. He looked around to find out who had shot the bird. He saw a hunter with a bow and arrows, nearby. Valmiki became very angry. His lips opened and he cried out,

मा निषाद प्रतिष्ठां त्वमगमः शाश्वतीः समाः।

यत्क्रौञ्चमिथुनादेकमवधीः काममोहितम्॥'

mā niṣāda pratiṣṭhā tvamagamaḥ śāśvatīḥ samāḥ

yat krauñcamithunādekam avadhīḥ kāmamohitam

You will find no rest for the long years of Eternity

For you killed a bird in love and unsuspecting

Emerging spontaneously from Valmiki's rage and grief, this is considered to be the first shloka in the Sanskrit lierature. Valmiki later composed the entire Ramayana with the blessings of Lord Brahma in the same meter that issued forth from him as the shloka. Thus this shloka is revered as the first shloka in Hindu literature. Valmiki is revered as the first poet or Adi Kavi and Ramayana, the first Kavya. His works, especially the great epic, is recited till date by the Hindu devotees. The exact date and time of Valmiki’s birth are unknown, but he is believed to have lived around 500 BC.

Valmiki Jayanti is celebrated with great enthusiasm in the northern parts of India, particularly by the Hindu devotees. On this day, people take part in great processions called Shobha Yatras and parade the representations of a priest dressed in saffron-coloured robes with plume and paper in his hands, through the streets of the Valmiki territory, accompanied by reverential singing. The temples of the sage are decorated with flowers and lights, and the devotees offer free food and recite prayers.

Maharshi Valmiki 's largest temple is located in Chennai, in Thiruvanmiyur. It is a temple of 1,300 years old. After penciling Ramayana, Rishi Valmiki rested at this location. The temple was later built in his name. Every year in March Brahmotsavam festival takes place. Each month special prayers are organised in full moonlight. Temple Marundeeswarar manages temple Maharshi Valmiki. There is also Shree Valmiki Mata Maha Samsthana in Rajanahalli, Karnataka. Similar such temples an samsthanas we get see in other parts of India too.

This article is also available in Indian Temples -Discover.Temples of India bi-Monthly magazine Oct-Nov 2020 edition. 

Thursday, 25 February 2021

Dakkebali -Sri Khadgeshwari Brahmasthana, Padubidre


Dakkebali is a form of the snake worship also known as Nagaradhane. Dakkebali ritual is practiced in the town of Padubidri in the Udupi district, karnataka, India. Padubidre Brahmastana as it is known is a place of Shakti worship in Parashurama Kshetra is located in the west coast of Southern India in Tulunadu of Karnataka State. The festival is held once two year. This poooja is performed for Naga, Bramha, Raktheshwari, Nandikonna, Haygulli, Kshetrapala, Bagilu Bobbarya, Motukalu Bobbarya, and Yakshi. The festival starts from the Makara maasa (normally 14th January) and continues till the end of Meena maasa i.e., 2nd week of March. It is a rare place of Shakti worship, which has retained the age-old custom and practices, which trace their origin back to the Vedic Ages. The belief system has manifested right from Vedic Age. However, there has been transformation in belief system that has gradually grown towards nature worship, naga worship, evolving customs, practices, ritualistic observations that has become part of the human life. Human beings besides creating progeny started worshipping nature borne things like water, fire, trees, stones, animals and naga, in safeguarding the progeny and human race. It is said that instruments like bells, Vaadya, Nagari, Didumbu, Dakke etc were made for these worships. Dakke bali is the amalgamation of man, history and nature taking place from times immemorial in this land. Nagabanas can be seen abundantly in this region. Nagaaradhana, Brahmaradhana are conducted with a lot of devotion and dedication.

Khadgeshwari Brahmasthana

It is a place of worship where these chaitanyaas Shaktis are said to be presided over by the deity Sri Khadgeshwari- Brahma, Naga, Rakteswari, Nandigona, Kshetrapala known as Panchadaivikas. The place, where the deity known as ‘Khadgeshwari’ or ‘Vanadurga’ or ‘Nagavesthithe’ presides over in the midst of the dense forest, is called the udbhava sthala where the deity appears swayambhu as Aadi Shakti with all pervasive powers. The place has lot of sanctity. Dakke, a small instrument, made of bronze and leather, is first placed in the holy place and then played by the possessed pathri moving spherically. Devotees carry their offerings, called 'Hore Kanike' in Kannada and 'Pude' in Tulu language, from the famous Padubidri Mahalingeshwara, Maha Ganapathi temple to the Brahmasthana, in a long procession passing through Padubidri town, which is more than a Kilometre. The offerings mainly consist of fruits, flowers, tender coconuts etc and hingara or pingara the arecanut flower is a must. Before the procession, 'Anna Santarpane' is held in which thousands of people are offered free meals near the Brahmasthana premises. The beating of Dakke is harmonized with the Tala play, giving a special musical blend that electrifies the atmosphere. Dakkebali is performed in other places also but the one Brahmasthana, Padubidri is exceptional and unique in that it involves Devi as well as Naga worship. While Nagamandala performed widely in south Karnataka to please Naga Devaru only and this held throughout the year. During Dakkebali both the Naga Pathiris and Dakke Pathiris are involved. It is the customary practiced at Padubidre that one person from each family does volunteer service during the Dakke Bali period either in flower decoration or in other service. Entire Brahmasthana is converted into a floral palace by the time the sacred function starts. Plantain stem sheathing cuts and designed green leaves are used to frame the "Devi Gudi" while all stone pillars are wrapped with Pingara flowers, fruits, tender coconuts bunch, plantain bunches, and flowers of various colours that transform the place into a royal place. The pathris who by custom belong to the Shivalli Brahmins of the place which is called Bengre in Padubidri. These pathris are not selected by the people nor compelled to play that role. They are in a way accepted as pathris by the presiding deity of the place Khadgeshwari. When the Shivalli Brahmins of the place feel that they must have a pathri according to the custom, they assemble together in the local Mahalingeswara and Maha Ganapathi Temple, pray and proceed to Khadgeshwari Brahmasthana in a Bhajana gosthi-singing devotional songs procession and arrive at the Brahmasthana. They continue to chant the sacred name of the lord Govinda!, Govinda! Till they reach Brahmastahan until they get a person of their community possessed by the holy Chaitanya. There is a customary procedure in accepting the pathri of the place. The Shivalli Brahmins of the place who have assembled there will have to extend their formal opinion before accepting a new pathri by the deity of the place. This opinion is called upon by a verdict given through existing pathri. When the Shivalli Brahmins of the place extend their consent, the family of the pathri is summoned to the holy place and is called upon to give their whole hearted consent. Thereupon, the pathri who is also called as koradu is accepted by the deity of the place blessed with 'abhaya'-assurance of protection of the deity. The pathris of the place cannot perform except at Brahmasthana. There used to be nine pathris once upon a time but now, only three. The ‘viniyogas’- work connected with worship of this place are supervised by three persons of different family called Gurikaras who represent the Shivalli Brahmin community of Padubidri from each of the three families viz., Kornaya, Balappa and Murudi. For performing the pujas the priests belonging to Rajapurohit class is chosen. The administrative work relating to the worship of this place is carried out by a trust called ‘Sri Vanadurga Trust’ which has a centralized administrative system covering all seva activities. The Shivalli Brahmins of this place elect the members of ‘Vanadurga Trust’ once in three years.

Brahma Mandala

This mandala – a special kind of rangoli called mandala depicts the divine union of male and female snakes and is drawn by the Panara community in the shape of a rectangle using five different colours. The area is also sanctifies and decorated with various Vanahan symbols that symbolically signifies the presence of ashtdikpalakass, vasus, subramanyana, MahaVishnu, Brahma and others.

A family by name Vaidya, of Udupi District are mainly involved in the performance of Dakke Bali. Dakke instrument, which is played by vaidyaas as a hereditary art. They reside in Nalkoor of Udupi District. Men dress up in a manner to symbolize as Naaga Kannike. The role of naaga kannike is usually played by senior vaidyaas. Dakke is played by the Vaidyaas in their hands, to invoke the spirits. They initially place the dakke at the holy place, pray and then play upon until the pathirs of the place get possessed. With this possession they move around spherically during the worship. This is known as Dakke Bali. This movement has a significance of male and female snakes meeting and number spirical rounds have a count which twists called ass mudi meaning knots. As initially, by signing songs and depicting in nartana style they evoke the pathris who are said to be the male snakes, which follow the nagakannike. Initially it is clockwise mudi till they unite. Then it is anticlockwise mudi that is to depict the separation.

Here, this being the nagaloka or kshetra the deity who is seated as sarpavesthithe wants nagas to be pleased. Again, the union of nagas symbolises the union of atma or Jivastam with Paramathma –the union with universal energy. All the devotees who hail from different places in India visit the sacred place with devotion. Note:

The following article is available on Indian Temples-Discover. Temples of India Magazine

Feb-March 2021, Vol 7, Issues-43

Saturday, 6 February 2021

Sri Jangu Bai Pilgrimage

January month is the month of celebrations for Gonds and Kolams. Gond adivasis worship a month long traditional celebration of Goddess Jangu Bai. Raj Gonds, Kolams and their sub-tribes known as the aboriginal tribal communities worship the shrine of Jangu Bai which, according to Adivasis, is believed to have been formed

naturally 25,000 years ago. Jangubai, or Raitaar Jango, is the Sadar Pen or the chief goddess of eight Gond sagas or clans and therefore the most revered of all the mythological personalities in Adivasi ethos. The Jangu Bai deity, a wish-granting Goddess, pilgrimage occurs in the auspicious Poos month as per Gondi calendar and Pushyam month as per Telugu calendar. The Gonds have strong belief that the Goddess fulfills their wishes when worshipped with dedication and devotion. For the Gond Adivasis in the country, the Jangubai pilgrimage is a major event associated not only with their religion but their socio-cultural identity. The Pen da Dasra or Dev ka Dasara or the Dasara of the Gods celebrated by Raj Gonds at the remote Jangubai cave temple. The festival is a thanksgiving event to Goddess Jangubai and other gods like Persa Pen or Bada Dev for the harvested crop. The main beauty of this pilgrimage tribe is worshipping nature as Goddess Shakthi. It is also referred as ‘Shakthi Peetam’. Gonds perhaps, have unearthed the truth of ‘nirakar rupa’ worshipping which is considered as aiming the highest level of union with the universal energy. Jangubai, or Raitaar Jango, is the chief goddess known as Sadar Pen of eight Gond clans. It is a must for the priests of eight gotras to perform various rituals at the temple. Raj Gonds settlers from different states of India visit the Sri Jangubai temple as part of annual Pilgrimage in the month of January post Sankranthi festival. Goddess Jangu Bai has bestowed in the midst of the forest and caves for the upliftment of Tribes. Thus, the most revered of all the mythological personalities in Adivasi culture. The Jangu Bai deity located in the Telangana-Maharashtra boundary. The Telangana State and Maharashtra borders forestry hillock range are home of natural caves. Goddess Jangu Bai deity is believed to be manifested in the set of four caves on a cliff of the Sahyadri hills in the forests of Maharajuguda thanda in Kota Parandoli village panchayat, of Kerameri mandal which is 25 km away from Kerameri of Asifabad district, Telangana State. A stream flows adjacent to the hillock. Besides the Gonds, people of Pardan and Kolam tribes from Telangana, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra take part in the festivities. They look quite mysterious as little is known about the centuries-old hollow structures. The natural wonders known to the aboriginal people — like the Jangubai Cave Temple and the Kaplai Caves are the pilgrim centers of Gond tribes -- is maintaining the sanctity and purity as it is less explored by others and has remained hidden from the outside world.

According to Professor Christopher von Furer-Haimendorf, an Austrian Anthropologist who has spent a considerable amount of time with Gonds tribes describes about the Jangubai’s legend in some detail in his book ‘The Aboriginal Tribes of Hyderabad’ , its third volume being ‘The Raj Gonds of Adilabad’. According to him, the Gondi folklore and legend describes that the Jangubai and Pahandi Pari Kuphar Lingo gave the Gonds their social structure. Together they rescued Gods of the 12 Gond clans who were imprisoned in the caves at Kachargadh, now in Maharashtra, by Lord Shiva. Jangubai could not get a priest to serve her cult despite her effort in saving the Gond Gods, which made her seek favour for one from God Mahadev. It was Jangubai who founded the Sarpe saga or eight new clans of Gonds before making the cave temple at Kota-Parandoli her abode. “The Sarpe saga comprises the clans Tumram, Kodapa, Raisidam, Salam, Vetti, Here Kumre, Marapa and Mandadi, each of which has a Kathoda or a priest, all conducting proceedings during the holy month at the Jangubai temple, known as her Mahal or Palace. There is only an oil lamp which is lit for the period and represents the deity in her Mahal. The spot can be accessed from Lokari in Narnoor mandal and Kerameri mandal headquarters in Adilabad district besides from Rajura Tahsil in Maharashtra. It is said that the rituals associated with the worshipping the goddess are very tough. Nevertheless, the Gond tribes follow a systematic ritual of visiting the Goddess. They take a holy dip in the stream water locally known as Toplakasa before entering the abode. The stream is considered very sacred and bestowed with medicinal properties. A dip would cure all the ailments are the belief of the tribes. Most of the tribes trek all the way wearing no footwear to the cave from their village. Women devotees cover white shawl clothing around them while trekking to Jangu Bai Pilgrimage. They perform pooja with kumkum(vermillion) and haldi turmeric), offer coconut fruit. ‘Nobody has explored inside the cave, though it looks quite small. Inside it is pretty dark. Our ancestors would go deep in the cave and would also meditate’-opines Soyam Bheem Rao. According to Kodapa Gajanand, ‘the Kaplai caves are said to be much longer, than the other caves even running into a few kilometers deep as told by my Kolam tribe elders’. Kolam pilgrims from Jaduguda and Gundala in Narnoor mandal of Adilabad district, visit the place for giving the wooden ‘Ayyak’ –a traditional totem known as Bheem God the annual ritualistic bath in the cave stream. The pilgrims perform puja, and visit the temple of Lord Shiva located about 300 metres from Kaplai in another green valley. The Gond members Shri. Sidam Jangu, Shri Athram Laxman, Shri Arka Manik Rao, Shri Mesram Manohar, Shri. Soyam Bheem Rao, Shri. Mesram Nagu Rao, Shri HK Puneesh, Shri Kodapa Gajanand and many others have opined that the essential arrangements towards the smooth functioning of the pilgrimage. The priests of eight clans from various tribes perform the customary ritual of depotsavam to mark the beginning of the festivities. Devotees arrive at the temple by carrying a bamboo basket on their heads, beating drums and playing traditional instruments such as Sannayi, Kaliko and Tudum. The basket contains ingredients required for performing the prayers. The ingredients include rice milled through traditional methods, wheat, jaggery and oil extracted from either sesame or castor. The material needed for cooking is carried on bullock carts till the shrine. Women prepare special offerings called Garkang similar to the vadas and Podiyang Krenjang known as Burelu in Telugu by grinding the pulses and in traditional pestle and mortar that they carry along with them. After observing strict disciplines they grind the soaked black gram dal and chillies and deep fry hot and spicy Garkang and Podiyang Krenjang which are slightly sweet in taste. Similarly, they cook rice balls. The offering ‘nivodh’ is made of local variety of sesame, red rice or vanjin, green gram and black gram. They cook items like the ‘garkang’ with green gram in the sesame oil that they themselves produce. This they offer to the Goddess and present it to her by performing depotsavam. Later, in the evening they do engage in sacrificing hens and sheep to Goddesses Maisamma, Pochamma and Ravudk –well known as gram devatas. The mass dinning is arranged for all the devotees. They celebrate the festivities and dance to drum beats and sounds of musical instruments and as per the custom, meet priests after the rituals. Then, while returning from the cave there lays a big rock cut stone known as wish fulfilling one. With a wish if one succeeds in lifting the stone is confirmed of his wish coming true is a practice followed. Thus, Sri Jangu Bai Dheeksha as it is known –a vow that is followed with devotion among Gonds is symbolic with reverence to the salutation to Mother Nature. Soyam Bheem Rao concludes by saying that, ‘we Gonds worship Goddess Jangubai deity. This is a sacred cave temple dedicated to the deity in the forest land. However, no one is seen around this cave temple in the evening post-sunset. It is believed that whoever goes there at night does not return. The elders claim to have seen a tiger spirit that guards the temple at night. An interesting thing is that no torch or electrical light source can give light in the cave, only a fire light works. Other sources get extinguished on their own’. Today one can see many adoring a yellow colour dress code and undertaking Jangubai deeksha also known as ‘Jai Jangu Jai Lingu Dheeksha’ is taken at Jangaon (Ramjiguda) temple on Jan 14th on new moon day. This was initiated by a saint named Sri Hanumantha Rao Maharaja. This is followed by the Gonds even today. During the pilgrimage they wear the sacred dress code, attend camps, do fasting or take one meal, and visit the Jangu Bai and Kapley caves. For the Gond Adivasis the Jangubai pilgrimage is a major event associated not only with their religion but their socio-cultural progression.

----Smt. Trishal Sunman

-----New Delhi

Following article can also available on Indian Temples Magazine - Discover. Temples of India

Feb-March 2021 Volume 7, Issue 43


Saturday, 21 November 2020

Yellamma Devi Jatra

 Yellara Amma Yellamma

In southern parts of India, Goddess Yellamma is known for her abundance strength. She is also popularly known as Renuka, Jogamma, Holiyyamma, Ekvira and Ellai Amman. Her temples are located at Soudathi in Belgaum district, Chandraguthi in Shimoga district and Hulgi in Bellary districts of Karnataka State. In neighboring states like Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh , Tamil Nadu and Telangana there are the famous temples dedicated to Yellamma. Soudatti in Karnataka and Mahur in Maharashtra are considered as Shakthi Peethas. The legends of Renuka are contained in the Mahabharata , Harivamsa and in the Bhagavata Purana.

The Legend Story

King Reṇu father of Reṇuka performed a Yagna A fire ritual performed to maintain peace and good health in his kingdom. Pleased with his devotion, the celestial Gods blessed with a daughter, who originated from the fire of this yagna. Being the daughter of the King Renu, she was named as Renuka. When she was eight, sage Agastya, who was the guru of king Reṇu, advised him to have his daughter married to muni Jamadgni when she reached maturity. Jamadagni was the son of Ruchik Muni and Satyavati and had obtained the blessings of the gods by performing severe penance . Renuka and Jamdagni Muni lived in the Ramshrung Mountains, near the present day Saundatti area. Renuka helped the Jamdagni Muni in all of his tasks of performing various rituals and puja . Her devotion was so powerful that she was able to create a pot to hold water made only of sand, one fresh pot every day. She would fill this pot, on the bank of the river Malaprabha and would use a snake, which was nearby, turning it into a rope-like convolution and placing it on her head, so that it supported the pot. Thus, she brought the water to muni Jamdagni for his rituals of oblation. Renuka gave birth to five sons: Vasu, Viswa Vasu, Brihudyanu, Brutwakanwa and Rambhadra.

One day when Renuka went to the pond, she saw gandharva a heavenly being's reflection in the pond that was flying over the pond with his wife. She just thought that the gandrava is beautiful for a moment. She lost her concentration and devotion to her husband for a moment as she started thinking about another man. As she was distracted, she lost her power of collecting water in unbaked pots, which she had gotten from her chastity. She lost the water which she had collected. Disappointed by this, she returned to the ashram in worry. Jamadagni saw all these events through his yogic power. Jamadagni became furious and angrily ordered her to go away. After being cursed by her husband, Renuka went east and sat in the forest to meditate. In her penance, she met with the saints Eknath and Joginath; she prayed for them and asked to gain the mercy of her husband. They first consoled her, and then instructed her to follow their advice exactly as told. They told her to purify herself, first bathing in a nearby lake, and then to worship a Shivalinga , which they had given to her. Next, she should go to the nearby town and beg for rice from the houses. This ritual, even today called "Joga Bedodu", is still carried out by women during October to January months in Karnataka. "Jogawa" in Marathi, and "Yellamma Jogu" in Telangana. 

After collecting the rice, she was to give half to the saints and cook the remaining half, adding jaggery, partaking of the cooked rice with full devotion. They said that if she performed this ritual for three days, she would be able to visit her husband on the fourth day. Knowing the anger of Jamadagni, they warned her that she may not be fully pardoned by him, and that she would have to experience the most difficult time of her life for a few minutes. "After that," they said, "you will be eternally revered and will be blessed with your husband. You will be worshiped by all the people henceforth." After blessing her this way, they disappeared. Renuka followed their instructions with devotion and worshipped the Shivalinga with full care and reverence. On the fourth day, she went to see her husband. Jamadagni was still furious with Renuka and ordered his elder four sons to kill Renuka Devi but all of them refuse to kill their mother. Jamadagni, cursed his four sons to become stone for disobeying his order. Jamadagni called his fifth son Parashurama who was meditating on Lord Shiva and ordered him to behead Renuka devi. Parashurama immediately obeyed his father's words and beheaded his mother with his axe.

Though Parashurama is devoted to his mother he didn't wish to disrespect his father's words because father's words are superior to Vedic mantras .Jamadangi was very much pleased by Parashurama's devotion towards him. He then offered a boon to Parushurama, who asked for his mother and brothers to be brought back to life. Here, there is a twist in the story, one story goes like this- “To everybody's astonishment, Renuka's spirit multiplied and moved to different regions. Renuka was back as a whole too. This miracle inspired her sons and others to become her followers, and worship her” Another version goes that “Renuka apparently fled to a fisherman community and took a shelter in one of the fisherman’s houses. When her son Parushurama came over, the fisherwoman stopped Parasurama from entering her house, thus Parasurama even beheaded her and his mother Renuka’s head. Pleased with his devotion, Jamdagni granted a boon to Parasurama. Blessed with the boon Parasurama prayed for When he later brought them back to life, he is claimed to have mistakenly attached the woman's head to Renuka's body, and vice versa. Jamadagni is alleged accepted the former as his wife Renuka, while the latter remained to be worshipped by all caste people as Yellamma, the mother of all. This miracle made her four eunuch sons and others to become her followers, and worship her head.

Even today it is a practiced by the followers of Yellamma, who are mostly poor, and illiterate, takes a vow to dedicate themselves, their spouses, or their children in the service of Goddess Yellamma when they are unable to face the hardships of life. The typical situations include life-threatening diseases, infertility, and dire financial troubles. These are the people who are primarily responsible for propagating Goddess Yellamma's virtues and achievements and glorify the Goddess. An elaborate ceremony is held in order to initiate the Jogathis (female) and Jogappa (male) volunteers in the service of Goddess Yellamma. New followers have to bathe in three holy ponds and proceed to the head priest accompanied by community elders and other members of the family. The priests give them a long sermon on what they have to do please Yellamma. They have to identify themselves with the very poor and unfortunate ones and serve the society. They visit twice a year to the Yellamma shrine on full moon days to express and confirm their obedience. During this semi-annual ritual, they have to observe preferably total nudity or partially covered with neem leaves. The devotees of Yellamma decorate their forehead by smearing turmeric (Haldi) and vermilion (Kum-kum). Crowns, earrings and necklaces are made out of cowries and shells . Some of them do not wear any ornaments at all. The male devotees dress like men, but many Jogappas prefer to dress like Jogathis (symbolic of the sons of Renuka who became impotent).

Most of the time, the Jogathis carry a metal vessel or a bamboo basket on their headwhich stays stationary without any support. Hence it looks like its part of their body. The followers of cult believe that it is their deity's blessings that made it possible. The basket or the vessel is meant to carry a brass bust of Yellamma. It is very artistically decorated with a great variety of flowers. Some Jogathis use different colored cloth for the same purpose. It is a sight to see them dance carrying the icon on their heads. They dance rhythmically in a predetermined pattern. One or two Jogappas play drums.

About 37Km from Dharwad is this temple, dedicated to Yellamma or Renuka Devi on a hillock known as Yullummanguda at Soudatti in Belgaum District of Karnataka, India. October- February is usually the festival time in this temple. This 16th Century temple was constructed by Chalukya and Rashtrakoota dynasties. There are shrines for Ganesha, Shiva and Parusurama in complex. It has been a tradition of farmers (devotees) of the region to travel in bullock carts and attend the jatra over decades. More than 70,000 bullock carts were at Saundatti. Special bus services have been arranged from Belagavi, Dharwad, Bagalkot and Gadag districts. All routes connecting to the temple from Saundatti, Bailhongal, Yargatti, Munnoli, Nargund and Navalgund were full of devotees travelling to attend the fair. The government makes “All arrangements have been made for the devotees, like drinking water, lodging, public toilets and more. Special mobile clinics have been stationed to provide free
medical aid.’’

Saundatti is an old town that rose out of the river basin of the River Malaprabha. Its skyline is dominated by a fort and the many temple towers. The history of the town goes back more than a thousand years ago when it was an important part of the Ratta Dynasty. The Jain religion flourished here once upon a time - known as Temple Town of Malaprabha River. The historical name of the Savadatti was Sugandavarti "Sougandipura". It was the capital of the Ratta dynasty (from 875-1230), until the capital shifted to Belgaum . The Ratta clan was one of several names of the Rashtrakuta dynasty.

Yellamma Devi is also identified with the Goddess Kali. Kali is known as the punisher, who destroys evildoers, but she is also the kind mother who showers love and blessings on her devotees. It is in this aspect that she is worshipped here. A Jain inscription in the temple, in Sanskrit and Kannada, refers to the Rashtrakuta kings Krishna and Vikramadithya. This temple was constructed in 1514 by Bommappa Nayak. It is built in a combination of Chalukyan and Rashtrakuta styles. There are smaller temples for Ganesha, Mallikarjuna, Parashurama, Eknaath and Siddheshwara in the temple courtyard. The Government now takes care of the temple management. The Renuka Saagura, formed by the Navilu teertha Dam, touches the low-lying areas of Saundatti. There is a spot called Jogullabhaavi here, where there is a temple. Pilgrims take a holy dip here before visiting the Yullumma hill.

Wednesday, 18 November 2020

Shree Narayana Guru- a Great Saint and great Social Reformer (1856–1928)

Shree Narayana Guru well known as Shree Narayana Guru Swami was a Hindu saint & a social reformer of India. Narayana Guru was born on August 20, 1856, in the village of Chempazhanthi near Thiruvananthapuram to Shri Madan Asan, a farmer, and Smt. Kutti Amma in to an Ezhava family, a backward community in Kerala. Billavas of Karnataka, Irava in Tamil Nadu racially same as of Ezhava community of Kerala.

 He was fondly called as Nanu. His father was also a teacher, learned scholar in Sanskrit , Astrology and Ayurveda. As a child, he was exposed to narratives and stories from the Puranas and Itihaasas lik- Ramayana and the Mahabharath- He was also initiated into the traditional formal education Ezhuthinirithal by Chempazhanthi Pillai, Sanskrit, Tamil, traditional subjects such as Siddharupam, Balaprobhodhanam, and Amarakosam and Ayurdeda from his father and Uncle Sri Krishnan Vaidyan-an Ayurvedic Physician. 
As a young boy, he would criticize his own people for social discrimination and segregation practices of, lower castes. During his childhood there existed not just untouchability, but also prevailed unshadowability. A lower caste person’s very shadow would pollute an upper caste person. So they maintained 5to 30 feet of physical distances. Unbelievably, there was even ‘Unseeability’. At least one caste of lower hunter was considered as inauspicious that the very sight of them causes people to be polluted. Poor people would shouting when they step out of their houses ‘I am coming this way, please look away, my masters to avoid being seen’. Lot these disturbed him a lot. 

He preferred solitude and would immerse in meditation for hours on end. At the age of 21, young Nanu, was sent to a famous scholar, Sri. Kummampilli Rāman Pillai Asan in Karunagapally. There along with co-students he mastered Veda, Uapnishads, Sanskrit and Drama & Poetry, Literature and Nyaya Shastra. He began teaching at a nearby school. The knowledge gained, earned him the respect of many and he was then known as “Nanu Asan”. 

Later, he returned to his village and served his father till his death. In the meanwhile he also got married to Kaliamma, the daughter of a traditional village doctor. Though he got married, still he travelled far and wide as a wanderer leaving his wife at her parent’s place. After his wife’s sudden demise, he journey was steadfast in search of truth. He was known as wandering Sanyasi- a ‘Parivrajaka’. 

It was during one of these days that he met a Spiritual Guru Sri. Kunjan Pillai, known as Sri.  Chattampi Swamigal . Sri. Kunjan Pillai, who discovered and appreciated Nanu Asan’s philosophy and passion for yoga, introduced him to Thycattu Ayyaavu, a ‘Hatha yogi’. Under the yogi, he mastered various Yogic practices, including Hatha Yoga . He then moved into a hermitage deep inside the hilly forests of Maruthwāmala, where he led an austere life immersed in the meditative thoughts and yogafor eight long years and is believed to have attained a state of Enlightenment. 
He was given the name as ‘Nanarayana Guru’by his preceptor Sri. Kunjan Pillai. He continued his wanderings in quest of Truth. By and by, he came to a beautiful place called Aruvippuram a forest area. There he installed a Shiva Linga which was opposed by Brahmin and other forward communities. To which he replied, his famous quote ‘I installed my Siva; not a Brahmin Siva’ and to those who questioned the timing of the consecration saying it was not an astrologically auspicious time, he replied ‘Horoscope is to be cast after the birth of a child, not before’. This incident later came to be called the Aruvipuram Pratishta.

A new phase began in the Guru’s life in 1904. He decided to give up his wandering life and settle down in a place to continue his Sadhan –a spiritual practice. He chose Shivagiri, twenty miles north of Thiruvananthapuram. Goddess ‘Amba’ became his deity of worship. In 1913, the Guru founded an Ashram at Aluva . It was called the Advaita Ashram. The Ashram was dedicated to a great principle – Om Sahodaryam Sarvatra -all human beings are equal in the eyes of God.

His teaching for common people was on cleanliness, education, and equality is extremely important for societal growth. Sri Narayana Guru is a name that evokes respect - not just in Kerala - but across India and Sri Lanka as well. He propagated the ideals of compassion and religious tolerance. His writings in "Anukampadasakam" extol various religious figures such as Krishna, The Buddha, and Adi Shankara. People of all castes and communities came to realize how evolved Narayana Guru's teachings were. Right from Ramana Maharshi, Rabindranath Tagore, to Mahatma Gandhi, social reformers and spiritual leaders met Narayana Guru to express their shared beliefs in his works.

Sree Narayana Guru overturned the entire social system in Keraka without creating much animosity and reverse oppression. Sree Narayana Guru was a Yugpurusha. His words and actions are universal and an inspiration to the oppressed anywhere in the world, and his singular exhortation to them to gain self respect. Guru published 45 works in Malayalam, Sanskrit and Tamil languages which include Atmapadesa Satakam , a hundred-verse spiritual poem and Daiva Dasakam , a universal prayer in ten verses.

It was he who propagated the motto, One Caste, One Religion, One God for All (Oru Jathi, Oru Matham, Oru Daivam, Manushyanu) which has become popular as a saying in Kerala. His writings still inspire people. It was in Sarada Mutt, this great social reformer attained the Samadhi –the abode of the Almighty on 20 September 1928, at the age of 73. The Shree Narayana Jayanthi , a birthday of the Guru, and the Samadhi day are befittingly celebrated in August and September respectively every year. On these days colourful processions, seminars, public meetings, cultural shows, community feasts and special rituals are held. In the last week of December, devotees of Shree Narayana Guru, donned in yellow attire stream to Sivagiri from different parts of Kerala and outside, in what may be called a pilgrimage of enlightenment.

Sunday, 15 November 2020

Bandi Chhor Divas

History and Significance of Bandi Chhor Divas

Bandi Chhor Divas -"Day of Liberation" is a Sikh celebration that commemorates the day the sixth Guru of Sikhs, Shri Guru Hargobind was released from Gwalior Fort. Emperor Jahangir had held him at the Gwalior Fort for several months. The word "Bandi" means "imprisoned", "Chhor" means "release" and "Divas" means "day" and together "Bandi Chhor Divas" means Prisoner Release. According to Sikhs, Bandi Chhor Diwas and Deepawali are separate festivals and the events actually fall on different days. Nevertheless commonly in the popular calendars, they are celebrated on the same day. For this reason, many people often think of these events as if they are the same day. It is celebrated with great joy as it was a time when "right" prevailed over "wrong".

Deepawali is just not limited to grand celebration of all on the return of Ayodhya Naresh Sri Ramchandra , but also a big day of celebration for Sikh by lighting homes and Gurudwaras. These two celebrations represent two quite different events in history. On Bandi Chhor Diwas, the long imprisoned Guru Hargobind was released from Gwalior, taking with him 52 long imprisoned Rajas, whose release was a result of the Guru's wit. On Deepawali day, it is said that on the day when the Guru reached Amritsar . On the arrival of the Guru in Amritsar, the people lit up the whole city with thousands of candles, lights and lamps like they had never done before; there was much celebration and joy.

Bandi Chhor Diwas falls on the night of Amavas/ Amavasya  in the month of Assu. A few days before Deepawali, the actual Bandi Chorh Diwas is celebrated each year at Gurudwara Data Bandi Chor Sahib, Gwalior with much cheerfulness and joy.

Bandi Chhor Divas, celebrated when Guru Hargobind sahib ji was released from Gwalior prison with 52 Hindu kings and princes holding on to his robe or cape with 52 ropes. The guru let all 52 innocent rulers to safety without any signs of war or battle. In addition to Nagar keertan (a street procession) and an Akhand paath . Akhand path is a continuous reading ofGuru Granth Sahib and celebrated with a fireworks display.
Guru Hargobind's father Guru Arjan was arrested under the orders of the Mughal Emperor Jahangir and he was asked to convert to Islam. His refusal led to his torture and execution in 1606 CE. This event is a defining moment in the history of India and Sikhs as the martyrdom of Guru Arjan. Shri Guru Hargobind revered as sixth Nanak was the sixth of ten Gurus of Sikh religion. He became Guru at the very young age of eleven after the execution of his father GurubArjan by the Mughul Emperor Jahangir. Well, again as the history goes, there are many added versions too for his imprisonment. 

Guru Hargobindji was arrested on trumped up charges of failing to pay taxes due from the time of his deceased father. The other version suggests that when Murtaja Khan, Nawab of Lahore, noticed that the Guru had constructed the Sri Akal Takhat Sahib, 'The Throne of the Almighty', at Amritsar, and was also strengthening his army, he informed the Mughal Emperor Jahangir about this. He also emphasized that the Sikh Guru was making preparations to take revenge for his father's torture and martyrdom. When Jahangir heard about this he at once sent Wazir Khan and Guncha Beg to Amritsar to arrest Guru Hargobind. But Wazir Khan, who happened to be an admirer of Guru Hargobind, rather than arresting him, requested the Guru to accompany them to Delhi telling him that Emperor Jahangir wanted to meet him. The young Guru accepted the invitation and soon reached Delhi, where Jahangir interned him at the Gwalior Fort in 1609. A Sikh Gurdwara, Gurdwara Data Bandi Chhor Sahib, is located at the place of the Gurus internment in the Fort. There were several other noblemen and kings who were in the Gwalior fort jail along with Guru Hargobindji. The "bandi" or inmates were held in prison for political reasons.

On Deepawali day, it was decided that Guru Hargobindji would be released. He insisted that the 52 kings wrongfully held like him, will walk out along with him to freedom. He was granted that wish. The 52 Hindu "Bandi" (imprisoned) kings and princes held on to his robe or cape with 52 ropes and walked out for liberation.

At their first meeting when Jahangir saw the Guru, he was completely won over by his youthful charm and holiness. Jahangir asked the Young Guru whether the Hindu or Muslim religion was better. The Guru quoted some lines of Kabir. Jahangir was very impressed with this answer. Deciding to become friends with the Guru he gave him a royal welcoming. Learning that the Guru was also an avid hunter he invited Guru Hargobind to accompany him on his shikars (hunts).

On one of these hunts the Moghul Emperor was hunting a lion which had been terrorizing a small village. Suddenly, out of the bush the ferocious beast charged at Jahangir. Gunshots and arrows failed to end the attack of the lion. The beast was almost upon the Emperor when Guru Hargobind jumped between them. Yelling to the lion that he must first deal with him, he raised his shield to deflect the lion and with a single stroke of his sword, the lion fell dead. The appreciative Emperor and Guru Hargobind were now becoming good friends. The story further develops that there was a rich merchant named Chandu Shah, who have great influence in the court of the emperor Jahangir, who was quite unhappy of the emperor getting close with the Guru Hargobind. It is opined that he tried his best at playing the wicked conspiracy in breaking the newly growing fondling relationship between the two. While in Agra, the Emperor fell seriously ill. The royal physicians tried their best, but they failed to cure him. Chandu Shah now saw his chance, conspiring with the astrologers; he asked them to tell the Emperor that his sickness was due to a bad convergence of the stars.

Jahangir was told that the disease could be cured, only if some holy man would go to Gwallior Fort and continuously offer prayers to the deity there. He suggested that there could be none more appropriate than his new friend Guru Hargobind Ji and that he should be asked go to Gwallior Fort. At the Emperor’s request the Guru readily agreed and left for the Fort with several companions. In the meantime Sai Mian Mir, a renowned Sufi Saint and friend of both the Guru and his father, had travelled to the Emperor's Court to meet with Jahangir asking him to release the Guru and the rest is the story…..




Monday, 19 October 2020

Namaste-The Indian Gesture of Greeting

Namaste is a traditional Indian gesture of greeting. "Namaste" is the customary courtesy greeting. It is often used as a salutation to end an encounter as well. The etymology of the word Namaste is derived from Sanskrit. Námas, meaning “bow, obeisance, reverential salutation” and Te, meaning “to you”. In, other words, "greetings, salutations, or prostration to you." The word namaha can also be literally interpreted as "na ma" (not mine). It has a spiritual significance of negating or reducing one's ego in the presence of another. Hence, it implies bowing to the others and not self and this implies being open to the person being greeted. In a broader sense, the word namaste means “the divine within me bows to the divine within you.” Although this is normally understood to mean prostration, it actually is the means of paying homage or showing respect to one another. This is the practice today when we greet each other. 

In Kannada, the same greeting is ‘Namaskara and Namaskaragalu ’in Tamil, ‘Vanakkam’ and ‘Kumpiṭtu’ in Telugu, ‘Dandamu’, ‘Dandaalu’, ‘Namaskaralu’, ‘namaskaramulu’ and ‘Pranamamu’ in Bengali, ‘Nōmōshkar’ and ‘Prōnäm’; and in Assamese, ‘Nômôskar’.

The greeting reflects the respect that Hindus have for the divinity all around them. The gesture of ‘Namaste’ is called ‘Anjali Mudra’-by bringing palms together in the middle of the chest with a bowed down head and saying namaste. This represents the belief that there is a Divine spark within each of us that is located in the heart chakra. The gesture is an acknowledgment of the soul in one by the soul in another. In common man’s language, it is a  salutation; a greeting used for most purposes including ‘Hello, good morning/afternoon, and goodbye’. It is a customary practice of all Hindu irrespective of caste, creed, position, place of stay, a normal course of greetings when meeting people known or strangers with whom one wants to initiate a conversation. It is often used as a salutation to end an encounter as well. The reason Indians use Namaste has a deeper spiritual significance as well. It recognizes the belief that the life force, the divinity, the Self, or the God within is the same in all. Acknowledging this oneness and equality with the meeting of the palms, is honour to the god in the person we meet. It is quite common to see Hindus during prayers and worships, they not only do Namaste, they also bow and close their eyes, in effect to look into the inner spirit. This physical gesture is sometimes accompanied by names of gods such as Hari Om,  Ram Ram  Jai Shri Krishna  , Namo Narayana, Jai Sriman Narayana, or Jai Siya Ram. It may also be used with Om

 Shanti. Yet, another quite equivalent to Namaste very fondly used in rural India is “Ram-Ram” with Anjali Mudra. “Ram-Ram Sa” or “Ram –Ram Dada” and so on. Nevertheless, Namaste is different from Pranam.

Pranama, again a Sanskrit word. It is made up of two words 'Pra' and 'Anama'. Pra means "forward, in front, before, very, or very much", while Anama means "bending or stretching". Combined Pranama means "bending, bowing in front" or "bending much" or "prostration. It is a respectful salutation among Hindus. It literally means "bowing forward" in reverence for a deity or an elder.

Namaskar is one of the six types of Pranamas:
Ashtanga (Ashta-eight; Anga-body parts): Touching the ground with knees, belly, chest, hands, elbows, chin, nose, and temple.
Shastanga (Shashta-six; Anga-body parts): Touching the ground with toes, knees, hands, chin, nose, and temple.
Panchanga (Pancha-five; Anga-body parts): Touching the ground with knees, chest, chin, temple, and forehead.
Dandavat (Dand-stick): Bowing the forehead down and touching the ground.
Abhinandana (Congratulations to you): Bending forward with folded hands touching the chest.
Namaskar (Bowing to you). The same as doing a Namaste with folded hands and touching the forehead.

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