Diwali: Worshipping Lakshmi

Possessors of wealth generally feel empowered. While wealth as a power can be used to nurture ourselves and others or to fulfill our personal desires, it can also hurt others. A popular Sanskrit proverb paropkaraye punyaye, paapaye parpidnam, which distinguishes good karma (punya) from bad karma (paap), can also be interpreted to distinguish “good” wealth from “bad” wealth: If our wealth is used to help others, it is good; if our wealth, in any way, hurts others, it is bad [1].

Now that the Hindu world is approaching Diwali, we will soon be worshipping Mother Goddess Lakshmi as a part of the festivity. If we aspire for wealth and abundance, what can we do to ensure that we use wealth wisely? Most easily, we can scrutinize our prayers for Lakshmi and see if they have the elements to attract bigger blessings [2]. In fact, during our Diwali worship, considering Goddess Lakshmi the “goddess of wealth” alone can be our biggest mistake, for such an assumption, being very limited in scope, may also limit her blessings on us. As I have mentioned earlier [3], “For selfless worshippers, who surrender themselves to Goddess Lakshmi with devotion and look upon her as Goddess Shakti or an equal of Vishnu, Lakshmi is Brahman. On the other hand, when we chant her name for wealth…we are in fact worshipping only a limited aspect of the Goddess.”

By developing a better spiritual paradigm, like the one presented in the Vishnu Purana, where Goddess Lakshmi is seen as the sole mother of the universe, we can enhance our worthiness for receiving bigger blessings from her. With a bit of surrender in our prayers, we will see that Lakshmi blesses us with not only abundance but also the disposition to use wealth wisely.

Happy Diwali!

[1] The guideline may be extended to include how wealth was created in the first place.

[2] You can also check out this related post on developing a Diwali wish list.

[3] Devotional Hinduism, page 34.

Makar Sankranti: Celebrating good karma

All forms of Brahman have at least one particular day in the Hindu calendar for their remembrance. Though Sun, the “star” which nurtures the earth and protects all life, is worshipped daily by many Hindus at both dawn and dusk, his presence in the universe is celebrated as a festival on the day it enters the astrological sign of Capricorn (Makar).*

Makar Sankranti is known for bathing in rivers, chanting, flying kites in the sky, and giving gifts to the underprivileged. According to the Padma Purana, any good karma** performed on this day becomes “eternal” and brings bigger karmic returns. Giving away (dana) of winter clothing and food items made from sesame seed (til) has been especially recommended by this scripture.

Happy Makar Sankranti!

*The sun travels through 12 signs every year and therefore causes 12 sankrantis, out of which the transits in Cancer and Capricorn have religious significance.

**Astrologically, Capricorn, the tenth sign of the zodiac, is the sign of karma. And it is ideal to begin the sun’s entry in this sign with a good act.

Deepavali: A celebration of Darshan

In the treta yuga, the people of Ayodhya celebrated their first Diwali (Deepavali) on Sri Rama’s return to his hometown. The lighting of lamps on this occasion was subsequently followed by the darshan of Rama. In our age, we can see this most popular Indian festival as an opportunity to welcome Rama in our lives. It reminds us that by dispelling darkness from our mind, we too can be blessed with a darshan of Rama.

It is not surprising that Diwali follows Dusshera, the victory of dharma, and is a bigger festival than Dusshera. If Dusshera is the defeat of unrighteousness, Diwali signifies the Lord’s revelation to the jiva. Interestingly, this face-to-face meeting of Ayodhya’s subjects with their ideal king and an incarnation of God was the result of fourteen years of longing (remembrance). This tells us something about the natural sequence of events in devotion: Remembrance and alignment with dharma are the precursors to God’s darshan, which is a major aim of devotional Hindu spirituality. Once a jiva who adores the Lord sees him, separation again from the Divine may not be possible. According to the Adhyatama Ramayana, the residents of Ayodhya became so attached to Rama that they never separated after celebrating their first Diwali. When Lord Rama left the globe for his abode, all his subjects and beings who were devoted to him, except Lord Hanuman, Vibhishan, and Jambvant, renounced their bodies and were guided to the higher worlds (loka).

Happy Diwali!

Raksha Bandhan Special: Does the Hindu trinity celebrate this festival?

Raksha Bandhan, the sister’s day for Hindus, is celebrated on the full moon of the lunar month Shravana and involves a small ceremony in which a sister ties a sacred thread (rakhi) on her brother’s wrist to symbolize her affection and obtain good wishes in return. Do the unborn members of the Hindu trinity have sisters to send them rakhis? According to the Durga Saptashati, they do. The scripture specifies that Goddess Saraswati, Lakshmi, and Parvati (Kali) are the sisters of Shiva, Brahma, and Vishnu, respectively.

Hindu spiritual tales and symbology tell us how these three pairs of divine siblings, all forms of the same Brahman, share some common tendencies. Both Lord Shiva and Saraswati (Brahma’s spouse) reflect pure consciousness. While Shiva can engage in meditation forever, Saraswati can remain immersed in Nada-Brahman (music) ceaselessly. Playing musical instruments, lecturing, teaching, meditating, and distributing jnana (spiritual knowledge) is what they like the most.

Similarly, Goddess Lakshmi (Vishnu’s consort), like her brother Brahma, is seated on a lotus. Both fully devote their time serving Lord Vishnu; while Brahma creates the universe for him, Lakshmi controls it for him.

Finally, Devi Parvati (Shiva’s spouse) and Vishnu like to regularly appear on earth for their devotees. While Parvati’s appearances include the Navadurga (nine forms), who are worshipped during Navaratri, and the ten Mahavidyas, Vishnu takes ten major incarnations in every cycle of the four yugas. Nurturing the universe is their favorite pastime. Moreover, they both adore Lord Shiva and are his top devotees. And it probably takes more than realization to understand their divine plays.

Happy Raksha Bandhan!

Rama Navami Special: Remembering the name of Lord Rama

Just like the Ashwin Navaratri concludes with the victory of Rama (Dussehra), the Chaitra Navaratri concludes on Rama Navami, the birthday of Sri Rama, Lord Vishnu’s incarnation as the ruler of Ayodhya as well as the Creation. On the occasion of the Lord’s birthday, let us partially revise the distinction his name has acquired in Indian culture.

Most Hindus would acknowledge that following the impact of the Bhakti Saints, there is only one name of the Divine more popular than the terms Brahman (the Absolute Reality), Paramatama (the Supreme Soul), and Ishvara (the Personal God). And that name is — “Rama.” Popularly talked about as the chant which worked wonders even when chanted backwards (from Valmiki’s biography), the name of Purushottam* Rama, the easiest mantra possible, remains an endless support to the weakest in terms of intellect, financial status, and power in Sanatana Dharma.

The image of a mantra or chant of a manifestation of God in a culture is often correlated with the quality of saints that are produced by its remembrance. Some of Rama’s devotees in recent times, while chanting his name and evolving themselves in non-possessiveness, peace, bliss, and knowledge, have excelled in at least one “extracurricular activity.” While Samarth Ramadas became the guru to the greatest Maratha ruler, Ramananda raised students like Kabiradasa and Raidasa. While Tulasidasa authored the most popular book of North India, Thyagaraja became one of the “Trinity of Carnatic music,” as experts call him, and Mahatma Gandhi** became India’s “Father of the Nation.”

The list of souls engaged in remembrance of Rama just goes on and on — from the exclusive devotee saints of Sita-Rama to the Vaishnava saints who find Rama and Krishna identical to the common person. And when this list comes to an end, a new one begins — a list of “intellectuals” who utter his name while criticizing him, constructively or with hatred.

*While selected Hindu individuals who find Rama an ideal person but not the Divine would translate the term Purushottam as “the best amongst humans,” the Gita has a different interpretation: Whoever is beyond nature (prakriti) and superior to the eternal soul (purusha) is called Purushottam (15.18).

**Though Gandhi’s Rama remembrance in his final moments on earth became debatable some time ago, his remembrance of Sita-Rama throughout life, beginning from an early age, should hopefully be unquestionable.

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!

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