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Vedic Musical Instruments: A Gift from God

The string instrument veena, the primordial percussion instrument damaru, and the wind instrument flute form a special trinity among Indian musical instruments. These instruments can be categorized as divinity’s choice as far as Hindu culture is concerned, for they are played to create the three components of music – melody, rhythm, and expression – by an ensemble of divine instrumentalists. The veena of Goddess Sarasvati creates the vedic musical notes (swara), the damaru of Lord Shiva ties everything together with rhythm (tala), and the flute of Lord Krishna is the source of expression and mesmerization. It is believed that Lord Shiva’s child, Lord Ganesha, is the maestro of mridang, an offspring of the damaru, but we may choose not to count this evolved form of the damaru separately.

Influenced by this symbology, followers believe that God adores musical sounds and they should offer vibrations from musical instruments in temples as a part of their devotion. In this context, Hindu scriptures have given a preference to some instruments over others. For example, the Skanda Purana tells us that besides the sound of Pranava (Omkar), the sounds of the bell (ghanta), the mridang, and the conch (shankh) are the favorite of Lord Vishnu. Today, while the sitar and the tabla have replaced the veena and the mridang to a considerable extent, particularly in North India, music from the newest instruments continues to be offered to God by professional musicians of all faiths.

Incarnations of Vishnu: The astrological connection

In the opening chapter of his classic Brihat Parashara Hora Shastra, Sage Parashara, the founder of Vedic Astrology, declares that out of the ten incarnations of Vishnu, only four, namely Rama, Krishna, Varaha, and Narasimha, fully possess paramatma-tattva. Other incarnations, according to the book, possess fragments of jiva-tattva as well. In the language of contemporary Vaishnavism, the statement means that each of these four forms of the Lord fully represents the Supreme Person Narayana – the Absolute who is omnipresent, but transcends the universe.

We can find backing for this categorization of incarnations from Indian mythology as well. Varaha, Narasimha, Rama, and Krishna were responsible for annihilating evils in the form of Hiranyaksha, Hiranyakashipu, Ravana and Kumbhakarna, and Shishupala and Dantavakra, respectively. These forms of evil, according to a story in the Srimad Bhagavat Purana, were all rebirths of Jaya and Vijaya, Vishnu’s gatekeepers, who were born three times on earth with inherent demonic qualities to pacify a curse. Because complete eradication of evil may be difficult for a possessor of jiva-tattva, which is characterized by the presence of ignorance, only paramatma could have accomplished the task.

While matching energies of astrological planets with that of Vishnu’s incarnations, Parashara relates Rama and Krishna to the luminaries, sun and moon, respectively, giving them another advantage in astrological symbology which speaks out for itself. The divinity of Rama and Krishna, which resides in the hearts of believers, does not need astrological reinforcement, but it is worthwhile to observe how all Vedic subjects were intricately connected to underline the deeper reach of traditional knowledge.

Edited on April 18, 2019.

Agriculture in India: Role of an Incarnation

After Lord Krishna and His brother, Balarama, concluded their divine play on earth, things were a little different for India. The country had become an agricultural land that could value cattle and milk products. Krishna had honored cowherds by getting Himself nurtured by them, by spending His childhood with them, and by opting to be called “Gopal” by many. He had demonstrated His love for fruits by swallowing an uncooked banana peel, though it was mixed with selfless love of His devotees, Vidura and his wife.

Promotion of dairy products and implementation of technology in agriculture may have been part of Krishna’s plan to “establish dharma” on this planet. Dharma for an incarnation involves a lot more than we can imagine: it may include employment, food, and health for a majority of beings for ages to come. In the context of spiritual significance, cereals and dairy products make entries on Krishna’s list of sattva-natured eatables, which guide our instincts towards righteousness. They are offered to Krishna (and His other forms) with the belief that they are preferred by divinity. The trends He set up in agriculture have become permanent imprints on the Indian psyche.

Edited on July 27, 2013. Clarification: Balarama is known as Haladhara because he carried and probably promoted the use of the plough. He did not discover the instrument; Indians knew it even prior to his appearance on Earth.

The Six Mystical Ragas of Indian Music

In addition to affecting the mood of its listeners, the vibrations of Ragas used to have their impact on material nature as well. In this context, the six primary Vedic Ragas used to be associated with mystical powers.

As I heard from music gurus of Jaipur, Raga Bhairav could create the energy to rotate a grinder called kolhu, a village machine typically driven by bulls to extract oil from seeds. Raga Hindol could induce movement in a swing, usually hung from the branch of a tree, probably by its effect on the atmosphere. Whereas Raga Deepak could ignite the wick of a lamp, Raga Malkauns could melt a stone. While Raga Megh could ‘invite’ clouds and condense water from them to bring a monsoon rain, Raga Shri could rejuvenate a dead tree to produce tiny green leaves again.

History of Indian Music tells us that two of Swami Haridas’s disciples in the 16th century, Tansen and Baiju, had developed the perfection, in terms of swara-lagaav (perfect application of notes), for such magical effects. Even to the present day, with a lot of knowledge lost, the tradition continues. We may not observe the promised magical response on the environment, but living beings still find it difficult to escape the influence of a Raga in a recital.

Dussehra Special: Lord Rama’s Chariot

On the auspicious festival of Dussehra, celebrated to honor the victory of righteousness over evil, we should take a moment to look at the chariot that Lord Rama used in His battle to defeat Ravana in the Ramayana. While a visible chariot was delivered as an aid by Indra, the actual chariot, made from spirituality, that Rama used is described by Goswami Tulasidasa in the Ramacharitmanasa. When Vibhishana inquires how Rama would fight a war without a chariot and armor, He responded that a different type of chariot is used for victory:

Valor and patience are the wheels of this chariot; truth and morality form its flag; strength, discrimination, control of senses and good deeds are its horses, which are fixed to the chariot though the straps of forgiveness, compassion and equanimity. While God remembrance is the driver, intellect is the energy that drives this chariot. After describing the rest of the ‘artillery’, which includes the shield of renunciation, a sword made of contentment, an axe of charity, a bow made of spiritual knowledge, a quiver symbolized by a clean and firm mind, an armor from faith in one’s gurus, and arrows represented by a controlled mind and the yam-niyam of yoga, Rama continues that with such a chariot, no opponent remains undefeated.

Bringing at least a couple of elements from this chariot in our own lives may be a fruitful complement to burning the effigies of Ravana on today’s special occasion.

Navaratri: Acknowledging Energy

The second Navaratri of the year, a nine-day festival of the lunar month Ashwin, is currently being observed. These auspicious days are sufficient to remind the entire Hindu population that God can be feminine as well. God is worshipped as Mother Goddess Durga, who is Brahman Herself and the combined form of Saraswati, Lakshmi, and Kali – the trinity of Shakti, the Primordial Energy.

If you are new to the concept of Shakti, you can grasp the concept from the material end. Whether it is the energy due to gravity, the nuclear energy of stars, the energy stored in black holes, the electromagnetic energy of a lightning bolt, or the chemical energy in living cells, together they all contribute to the total energy of the universe. Hindus like to believe that the total energy of the universe is a part and physical manifestation of a greater infinite energy. They personify this infinite source of all energy and power as Mother Durga, or Devi, and worship Her for what She does for us. Her acts include everything from nurturing us to ‘destroying’ the entire universe, though She later re-manifests it according to Her own calendar. For this reason, to some spiritual seekers, all natural phenomena represent the functioning of the Goddess.

Because the Devi can supposedly bestow anything the seeker wishes for, people, while acknowledging Her, often make requests for whatever is lacking in their own lives. At times, they may make requests for a power, such as money, intellect, or physical strength, which can lead to moderate amounts of success on this planet. Others request Her for realization and deliverance from the universe. A few of Her favorite kids leave it all to Her and adore Her just for being there for all of us.

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