Holi Special: The “Hori” style of Vocal Music

Holi, a greeting to the spring season, is joyfully celebrated to remember Lord Vishnu’s protection of Prahlada, one of his kid devotees, and to remember Lord Krishna’s exchanging of colors with his friends in Vrindavan. Nothing equals such remembrance of God when it is coupled with music. The traditional style of vocal music developed specifically to celebrate this arrival of spring with devotion is called “hori.”

Hori songs with a devotional theme are almost always related to Krishna. Depending upon the imagination of the devotee poet, while the lyrics of one hori may envision the colorful galaxies as Krishna splashing colors (playing holi) in the universe, the lyrics of another may express the longing (viraha) that arises from not finding Krishna around even on the festival of holi. Numerous hori songs that display a delightful feel illustrate gopis, who already have their souls irreversibly colored in his love, continually requesting Krishna not to throw more colors at them.

As for the musical specifications, all ragas with the “spring” mood or a devotional feel are apt for a hori. However, Raga Kafi, which beautifully expresses the mood of the spring season, like Basant and Bahar, stands out as the most popular selection for composing a hori. Similarly, the fourteen-beat rhythmic cycles of Deepchandi (tabla; usually fast-medium tempo) and Dhamar (pakhawaj; slow tempo; classical) are favored in this style of singing.

This mix of festivity, devotion for the Lord’s divine plays, and musical sounds is offered in temples throughout early spring along with colored powders (gulal), flowers, and sweets.

Happy Holi!

Maha Shivaratri Special: Lord Shiva’s Ancestry

Lord Shiva’s wedding anniversary is celebrated as Shivaratri on the 14th day (krishna-paksha; waning fortnight) of the lunar month Magha (Phalgun according to some calendars). Shiva’s wedding with Goddess Parvati forms a popular, beautiful devotional event and some of its retellings in the Puranas are associated with a few witty scenes, all saturated with the devotion of His followers.

According to the Skanda Purana, when Parvati’s father, Himavan (personification of the Himalayas), asks for Shiva’s gotra (lineage) while performing the marriage ceremony of kanyadaan, Shiva prefers not to respond to the question. Instead, Rishi Narada starts playing his stringed musical instrument, the Veena. Finding the moment unsuitable for a musical recital, Himavan politely requests the seer not to create instrumental sound.

Narada then reacts with a full-scale lecture: “Shiva’s lineage and family is the Nada – sound energy – for He becomes available to the individual soul by Nada (from chanting, mantra, or music), and Nada and Shiva are both positioned in each other. I was playing the Veena only to truly answer your question.” Continuing his speech, Narada explains that none, including Brahma, is aware of Shiva’s family background, for He is the unborn and formless one. “Because of His power of illusion, the other seers present here do not know Him as well. Moreover, you do not really know your own daughter. Parvati and Shiva are the cause of the universe and its sustenance,” concludes Narada.

Happy Maha Shivaratri!

What was Arjuna doing in the Mahabharata war?

Towards the end of the Drona Parva, Arjuna asks Ved Vyas, “When I was fighting the enemy forces, I envisioned a divine being who was releasing all the weapons for me. While everyone around assumed that it was me displaying valor, this great being was destroying the opponents; I was only following him. Who was this great personality?” Vyas replies that he had had a vision of Lord Shiva, the Sole Shelter and Universal Soul, Who had been continually walking in front of his chariot and battling his immoral opponents for him.

Similarly, at the conclusion of the war (Shalya Parva), as soon as Lord Krishna and Lord Hanuman exit Arjuna’s chariot, the chariot, along with the horses, instantly catches flames. Finding his chariot turned into ashes, Arjuna questions Krishna about this mysterious event. Krishna explains that his vehicle had already been destroyed by the unyielding missiles of his opponents, but it did not convert into ruins because of His presence on it. Now that He has left it, its actual state is observable.

Wait, if Krishna, Shiva, and Hanuman were battling for Arjuna, what was this jiva doing in the war? He was simply standing – standing with righteousness. This is all Krishna had expected from him while singing his renowned discourse. The rest was a play of the Lord Who always supports His righteous devotees to the ultimate extent. Because Arjuna had become a favorite of the Divine, His love resonated over him repeatedly as blessings of victory from Goddess Durga before the commencement of the battle, as the protection by Shiva and Hanuman, and as Krishna’s role as his chariot-driver, friend, and lifelong guide.

What does Hinduism expect from an Ideal Advisor?

While nothing less than realization of our eternal connection with Brahman is expected from a satguru — the spiritual guru who is trusted to guide our soul — the Indian culture has some guidelines for advisors and teachers of all subjects. Besides enough knowledge to clear a student’s doubts (jnana) and the yearning and energy to orally (and truthfully) communicate (vak-shakti), two major qualities that are repeatedly stressed include: fairness and optimism.*

Fairness is such a huge term that it can mean “equanimity towards all beings,” but let us limit it to “equanimity towards all disciples” for our purposes. Because oral communication of knowledge under the student-teacher relationship has been the strength of the ancient Indian knowledge society and the process continues in many fields to this day, mentors preferring to teach their own kids or a “favorite student” are responsible for the continual loss of knowledge in the world. To balance out their karma, serious seekers have to spend lives rediscovering lost treasures. Is selfish prioritization of goals by mentors a contributing factor in the tumbling of popular interest in areas like Indian classical music?

Optimism includes encouragement of new ideas and the ability to transfer good wishes to the classroom. People who seek amusement in communicating but say, “No!” to every idea that originates in a student can never become advisors, for advising is about opening new channels for growth in a student’s life; it is not about blocking the existing ones. While information is transferred from a guru’s mouth to a disciple’s ears, optimism is the positive energy (good wishes) that is transferred from a heart to a heart. Revealing knowledge is not mere mechanical data transfer that needs some intellect for processing, but it involves positive thinking which the ideal advisor uses to ‘donate’ knowledge-energy to a deserving student, who accepts it in an optimistic mind with gratitude.

Fairness and optimism are not theoretical attributes for an endorsed advisor alone. Whenever we communicate with our family and friends, we can assess if our speech embraces these qualities. As we learn to pay attention we will find that chatting is easy, but advising is difficult.

For your contemplation:
In spite of his expertise in the chosen field of study, what went wrong with Dronacharya, the guru of archery, in the Mahabharata? Why are Sage Vasishta and King Janak recognized amongst the best gurus of ancient India?

*Just as a fun fact, fairness and optimism (along with education) are signified in the horoscope by Jupiter (Guru), the planet known as “the advisor to the gods” in Vedic Astrology.

The body-mind-soul in a Vedic Astrological Chart

The Lagna (ascendant) is the heart of our physical life and the placement of planets with respect to it is used by astrologers to analyze the energies influencing our body (appearance) and our visible personality. The moon, the significator of the mind, is the focal point of mental level experiences, including our instincts and emotional nature, while the sun represents our soul (ego) – our spiritual or the inner world.

The concept of Sudarshana Chakra by Parashara prescribes a close look at all the three viewpoints for a holistic chart analysis. This chakra is sketched by aligning the ascendant-sign (or lagna kundali), the moon-sign (or chandra-kundali) and the sun-sign (or surya-kundali) with each other in concentric circles so that planetary placements from all the three reference points may be simultaneously studied. Because our life is an aggregate of influences at all the three levels, an area of life (a house), say creativity, may stand activated if the fifth house from the moon or from the sun sees beneficial influences even as the fifth house from the lagna is relatively weak.

Normally, most significance in predictive astrology is given to the Lagna, for our questions are mostly directed towards the physical plane and the ascendant changes frequently enough to label the lagna-kundali ‘unique’ for an individual in a small neighborhood. Next in popularity is the chandra-kundali, which may be used to learn what we enjoy, how we relate to sorrow and peace, and which planetary flavors support or harmonize our thinking processes. Least focused is the relative placement of planets from the sun, which may illustrate our self-improvement plans, alignment with universal dharma, and whether our aptitude actually helps our self-growth.

While emotions and attachments reside in the mind, not the soul, certain beneficial classical combinations of planets involving the sun have also been correlated with money-oriented expansions in life to make chart analysis multidimensional and a little puzzling. Is it possible for many of these beneficial encouragements to direct our soul into selfish endeavors if we allow emotional attachments to the areas they feature? On the other hand, does a deeper focus on self-improvement harness the higher blessings of the sun-chart to even overcome the materialistic negativities in the ascendant-chart or the moon-chart? I guess only our personal experiences can answer these questions.

Lord Rama meets Shabri: Devotion is the sole reason for ‘darshan’

According to the Adhyatma Ramayana, when God-incarnate Lord Rama visited Shabri’s hermitage, Shabri told Rama that she had been waiting for his visit ever since her guru, Rishi Matang, left for Lord Brahma’s abode. Her mystic guru had foretold her that the Eternal Supreme Soul, who had incarnated on Earth for the preservation of dharma, would bless her with his darshan (face-to-face meeting with God) one day and had instructed her to maintain her life till that moment. After pleasantly receiving Lord Rama and offering him some fruits, Shabri asked a question, “When even my guru, a great sage, could not obtain your darshan, how could I — a socially disadvantaged person — attain it?”
In reply, Lord Rama explained that his remembrance is not influenced by gender, caste, title, or age but finds its source in bhakti (devotion) alone. In the absence of bhakti, virtuous actions like sacrifices, charity, asceticism, and learning are fruitless in leading to his darshan.

Chanting, God remembrance, and prayer are interrelated devotional techniques for spiritual connectivity, and they can also antidote some of our bad karma while transforming us. Once love of God gets triggered, we may achieve the grace of God (kripa), which should generally include guidance for our liberation from the universe. Grace may also be seen in the spiritual guidance that we already possess — from religious scriptures, from discourses by saints, and from our learning experiences in temples. And grace may also be seen in our interest in spirituality.

In Goswami Tulasidasa’s retelling of Shabri’s meeting with Lord Rama in the Ramacharitamanasa, Lord Rama gave Shabri a discourse on the nine kinds of devotion through which an individual soul (jiva) can reach God. Rama concluded by clarifying that devotion leads to the experience of the Divine which, in turn, leads to emancipation: “I am here because you are endowed with bhakti. And my darshan will unquestionably lead to your liberation.” Lord Rama explained that his darshan has a unique result for an individual soul (jiva): the attainment of one’s true nature.

Because Hinduism allows multiple approaches to God, devotion and faith in God are not seen as prerequisites for liberation. If we choose to approach God through Bhakti Yoga, we can add devotional elements like forgiveness, patience, perseverance, and enthusiasm to our favorite devotional techniques to shape our spiritual path to God. It is interesting to note that some members of Hinduism’s devotional schools do not cherish liberation as highly as a darshan. It is the face-to-face meeting with God that the devotee seeks. Transcendence of the karmic field and permanent proximity to God consequentially follow a darshan.

Edited on July 24, 2019.

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