In the month of March-April we ring in the New Year as per Indian calendars. We use the word “calendars” because India has a variety of calendars, some are lunar based, some are based on the Sun, some are luni-solar and some are Jovian i.e. Jupiter based.
Ugadi is the New Year in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, and Maharashtra. In Maharashtra it is also known as Gudi Padva. This is celebrated on the first day after the new moon, which occurs closest to the vernal equinox. Since it is based on the moon it marks the New Year in a Chandramana calendar. Chandra is for moon and mana for measure.
Close on heels to this, is the observance of the New Year by the other communities of the land following the Sauramana calendar, the calendar that measures the movement of the sun.
In Kerala it is celebrated as Vishu, where first thing in the morning the family members are taken by the mother, to view VishuKani, an arrangement of flowers, fruits and a mirror – the first set of objects to be viewed on the start of a New Year.
In Tamil Nadu it is celebrated as Puththandu, New Year or Varuda Pirappu, birthof a new year. In Sri Lanka, the same day is celebrated as the Sinhala New Year, Aluth Avurudda.
In Orissa, it is celebrated as Bisuba, again coming from the root word Bisu or Vishu. In Nepal it is celebrated as Biska. In Bengal it is celebrated as Nabo Barsho.
In Assam it is Bohag, Rangali Bihu.
In Punjab, the New Year is welcomed as Baisakhi.
Vishu, Bisuba, Biska, Bihu, all come from the same root word Vishu which stands for equinox. An equinox is when the Sun is exactly over the equator and the day and night are equal.
The Indian word for equator is VisvadruttaRekha, meaning that which splits the world into two halves.
The word Vishu thus denotes equal and a sense of balance.
This point of balance of the sun, in its annual transit, served as an ideal point to start a New Year. It was an ideal time to take a reckoning of the skies and balance oneself, one’s accounts, one’s life, one’s relations and one’s goals before embarking on the next year.
Across the land of India and also in most ancient civilizations this period, window of balanced time, came to be celebrated as the start of the new calendar year.
It was the equinox, the sun being on the equator and crossing over to the northern hemisphere. So this was the right time for the start of a New Year across the world in the Northern Hemisphere.
This New Year celebration was based on the movement of the sun.
It was celebrated not only in different parts of India, but in Persia too, as Nowroz and also in different parts of Europe in the pre-medieval days.
This shows that the people then lived in consonance with nature.
What is interesting to note here is the use of the term Ugadi for this New Year.
Adi is start, beginning. So Yuga Adi or Ugadi, denotes start of a Yuga.
Even though it denotes the start of a New Year it is not called Varsha Adi but is instead called Yuga Adi. How does one come to terms with this term, since Yuga is usually correlated with a large span of time, whereas we are only moving into the next year?
A Yuga is just not a long period of time as is generally thought to be.
The word Yuga means alignment, like in Yoga which aligns body, mind and breath. Yuga is an alignment of astral bodies.
There are many such conjunctions, alignments that keep happening in the sky as the earth, moon and planets keep revolving around the sun, day in and day out.
Each of these alignments occur at varying frequencies ranging from 1 year to 5 years to 60 years to 360 years to 26000 years to 4,32,000 years.
Each of these alignments occur periodically and unfailingly.
Each of these alignments serve as a means to track time at different scales.
Each of these alignments is called a Yuga.
Yuga thus is a generic time unit. Depending on the scale, it denotes different alignments and different periods of time.
In the case of the New Year, a conjunction of the earth, sun and moon coming in alignment near the vernal equinox every year – a perfectly balanced point in the earth-sun-moon system, was deemed by our ancient, knowledgeable people as an apt milestone to usher in a New Day, a New Year and new hopes.
Earth, Moon and Sun in alignment near vernal Equinox – Ugadi
This day has come to stay and be celebrated as Yuga Adi or Ugadi.
If you have any questions please post it below
In Indian tradition, Shiva Tattva, is often represented in a distinct form of Shankara sitting in meditation holding implements such as Damaru and Trishul. He has a mark of vibhuti on His forehead. He wears a snake around His neck. He has a matted hair with Ganga flowing out from these locks. He has a crescent moon on His head as a ‘decoration’. He rides a Bull called Nandi, His Vahana, vehicle.
Is this the real form of Shiva or is it a visual representation with each of these aspects of His form having some significance?
Shankara etymologically comes from “Sham karothi ithi Shankara”, meaning, “that which does good”.
Thus the form of Shankara brings to bearing that Shiva, the auspicious and with the potential to manifest all goodness, can only be realized through deep meditation, a state when the sound of OM reverberates through our mind, being and senses.
The Trishul as the name itself suggests, is a trident, a spear with 3 spikes to it.
The Trishul of Shiva seems to be conveying the significance of 3 to us.
The 3 Forces of Trinity
At one level, this Trishul denotes the concept of Trinity in the Universe where the Trinity represent the divine forces of the Universe.
What are these three divine forces of the Universe?
In the ancient Indian texts, the Trinity or the divine forces have been expressed as Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva i.e. the creator, preserver and destroyer respectively.
Trinity – Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva
The Indian Rishi, seer scientists, have expressed that for the Universe to go through its cycles, this Trinity, these 3 divine forces are an essential requisite and it is essential for these 3 forces of the Trinity to work in tandem.
This concept of Trinity has also been discussed by different civilizations in their own variant forms.
The 3 states of Divinity
At another level, the Trishul or trident of Shiva is perhaps to remind us constantly of the 3 states of Shiva namely
Arupa - Formless,
Rupa-Arupa – Formless Form and
Sarupa – With form.
The 3 states of Man
Trishul also denotes the 3 modes of action in mankind and that which
drives these acts. They are;
1. Kayika, physical actions
2. Vaachika, speech
3. Manasika, to do with the mind
These 3 modes of action do find a equivalence in the 3 states of the
divinity as well, for example
Kayika with Sarupa or manifested form
Vaachika with Rupa-Arupa for the formless form
Manasika with Arupa for the formless
It is pertinent to note here that the ancient Greek divinity of Europe,
Poseidon, also had a trident in his hand.
The other prominent implement in Shiva’s hand is the Damaru.
The Damaru is a rustic, very ancient variety of hand held drum, with a central bead attached to string which swings and beats on both sides of the drum in an alternating manner.
What is the significance of this Damaru in Shiva’s hand?
Shiva represents the Cosmic being and the Cosmic power that causes the cycles of creation, dissolution and regeneration which happen in regular rhythmic intervals as the acts of Nature.
The implement that best exemplifies the beat of the rhythm is a drum.
The primeval drum is the Damaru.
As Shiva oversees the rhythmic of dissolution and regeneration, the Damaru best exemplifies the implement most needed by Shiva to keep up this rhythm.
The cosmic rhythmic beat is such that, it causes everything in this Universe to merge in unison with this beat and dissolve back into Shiva. This event is therefore called Pralaya. Thus when Shiva beats His Damaru, He causes the Pralaya or natural dissolution of this Universe.
Tryambaka comes from the roots tri meaning 3 and Ambaka which means eyes.
The name Tryambaka for Shiva thus is said to mean Shiva the 3 eyed.
3 eyed Shiva
Modern physiology indicates the presence of a gland called the pineal gland in the brain, behind and between the eyebrows which is considered to be the focal point for concentration. The 3rd eye of Shiva is also but a way to remind us to open our eyes and see, experience Shiva in all the three states, Arupa - the Formless state, Rupa Arupa – the Formless Form state and Rupa - the Formful state.
The third eye is to realize Shiva in His formless Arupa state which is at once vast, terrific and terrifying.
The Forehead Mark – Vibhuti
Of the 5 primordial elements, the Fire element, Agni, is associated with Shiva. This is exemplified by the story of the Lingodhbhava. Fire acts on anything and everything and reduces it to a state of ash or Bhasma. So Bhasma is a product of Agni or Shiva acting on it. It is considered symbolic of Shiva’s act of destruction for regeneration.
The word Vibhuti means resplendent or glowing, with extraordinary powers.
The smearing of the ash or Vibhuti is meant to destroy one’s ego and ignorance and give rise to a new self, glowing with the realization of Shiva.
Moon on head-Chandrasekhara
The moon weaves a magic in the sky every fortnight.
Once, the New Moon phase is reached, there is no moon visible from the earth. From there, it grows again and recreates a Full Moon again within the next fortnight as part of a beautiful celestial show of Nature. Shiva as the divinity of regeneration, in His pictorial form, has a very thin crescent moon on His head.
This thin crescent symbolically depicts the regenerative aspect in the monthly cycle of the moon from the thin remnants of the previous cycle.
Regeneration is also connected with fertility and what is interesting to note here is that, in humans, the women’s fertility cycle of 28 day period exactly coincides with the 28 day cycle of the moon.
The Chandrasekhara or Somasekhara form of Shiva brings out to us the intrinsic correlation between the phases of the moon, fertility and the humans.
Nandi –The Bull
Shiva’s Vahana, Vehicle is the bull called Nandi. A bull is called Rishabha in local language and it is a Pashu. The loose translation for Pashu is animal. But Pashu is also an encompassing term that includes all living beings or bodily forms.
Shiva as a principle of the Universe can only be realized through subtler means and not in a physical or gross form. Thus Pashu or bodily forms are a stumbling block in the way towards realizing Shiva.
Only when one is willing to go beyond the bodily level of understanding and hones the subtler senses, can one understand and realize Shiva Shankar and peace.
This Shivaratri, let us imbibe the significance behind Shiva’s visual form as we immerse ourselves in the Shiva Tattva.
[Selective excerpts from the book Understanding Shiva in the Bharath Gyan Series by D.K.Hari and D.K.Hema Hari]
Also watch the 19 Short Films on ‘Understanding Shiva’ here: http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL9QLcyiVla352leXqBX6smjKtdhJ7ZhOQ
Indian thought and practices over time immemorial have commemorated certain days and festivals as ways and means for people to understand, remember and reunite with the Universe and the divinities of the Universe.
These festivals become gateways for people to reach out and be in communion with the divinities.
Shivaratri is one such festival which is a gateway to reach out and understand the divinity called Shiva or Shiva Tattva.
Once we understand the meaning of Shiva Tattva and the celebration of Shivaratri, no doubt, our celebrations and the enjoyment of the Tattva of Shiva will be enhanced manifold. It will make our celebrations more relevant and meaningful.
Ithihasa Purusha-Historical Personages
Among the Indian pantheon of divinities, few are historical and many others are Tattva, principles, essence in nature.
The prominent historical divinities are Rama and Krishna for which reason they are called as Ithihasa Purusha, historical personages and Avathara Purusha, those who came down to this earth, to live with us.
Rama and Krishna – Historical Personages
Shiva, a Tattva
In contrast to this, Shiva is not an ithihasa purusha but is a tattva. .
What is Shiva Tattva?
Shiva – A Tattva
Meaning of the term Shiva
The word Shiva simply means Mangalam, auspicious. Anything that is auspicious is Shiva. This auspiciousness which is all pervading throughout the universe, is a constant presence during the lifetime of this universe, before the creation of the universe and continues to be so after the dissolution of this world, this solar system, this galaxy and this entire universe.
Thus this Shiva, auspiciousness is the very life of the universe. Not just the life we see around us in a very limited perspective of life in humans, animals or plants but the very concept of life itself.
The meaning for Shiva as auspiciousness is evident from the following examples.
The traditional way of wishing “Goodbye” was through a phrase “Shivaasthe Panthaanaha” meaning “Let your ways be auspicious”. Ways here, meaning your paths, your deeds and ways of life.
The term “Shiva” also has a much larger connotation which includes
having the potential,
being capable of,
being favourable, promising.
All of these meanings of Shiva are also attributed to the Indian term “Mangalam”, which also has a similar all encompassing meaning of denoting the potential to manifest something good.
From a metaphysical perspective, Shiva can be split as sha+ee+va where
sha stands for Shareeram, body,
ee stands for eeshwari, life giving energy and
va stands for vayu or motion.
Thus Shiva represents the body with life and motion.
If the “ee” is removed from Shiva, it gets reduced to sha+va or shava.
Shava means a lifeless body.
Anything with Shiva is with life and anything without Shiva is Shava or without life.
Here we see that while Shava is motionless or lifeless, Shiva is with the potential of life.
Making this potential manifest as matter, life and the cosmos, is Shakti the energy tattva, the female counterpart of Shiva. Without Shakti, Shiva stays as the potential. It is Shakti that triggers Shiva into manifesting as life.
This body is composed of many cells. It is the Preeti, the forces of attraction which keep the cells together to produce a body with life or with Prana. When this Preeti is gone, the cells disintegrate and Prana goes away from the body and the body is considered to be dead.
Thus Shiva along with Shakti together go to produce the universe as we can and cannot see it.
So, Shiva is auspicious, Shiva is potential and Shiva is Life. Shiva is all encompassing – the universal soul or consciousnss, Chaitanya. Realizing this Shiva Tattva leads to Ananda, bliss.
Understanding Night, Ratri
This Creation resonates with a rhythm or a natural heartbeat. Every object in this Creation has its own cycle or rhythm, in which it rises to a peak and ebbs to a low. This low is called the night, ratri.
The word Ratri means “comfort giver”. It is derived from the root word “ram” meaning “to be content”, “to give contentment”.
3 Levels of Activities
Ratri is that which gives one comfort or rest from the 3 types of activities namely:
• Kayika or bodily actions,
• Vachika or speech
• Manasika or thoughts.
A person is afflicted physically, mentally and spiritually by 3 types of agents, namely
Adhyatmika – pertaining to the self, the Atma
Adhi Bhauthika – pertaining to the elements of Nature, the Bhuta
Adhi Daivika – pertaining to the cosmic, the Divya
During night, as man sleeps and gets regenerated, all 3 types of actions are subdued and mind is completely at rest, free from all types of afflictions.
Hence night is called ratri or the comfort giver.
What a beautiful way to form a word such that its very formation implies its meaning and function.
It is during the ratri or night of any being, that the being gets rejuvenated and refreshed for its next cycle or day.
The Natural Rhythm
For man, this natural rhythm is daily day and night. Every night, the body gets regenerated and refreshed for the next day. The old cells are discarded and get replaced with new cells every day. Blood in the body is purified and circulated every day. New blood cells are born each day. This is Nithya Pralaya or daily Pralaya.
What is a Pralaya?
Only when there is dissolution of the old, can there be scope for regeneration of the new.
There is a continuous cycle of dissolution and regeneration going on in the Universe.
The process of dissolution is called Pralaya. Pralaya is limitedly understood as waters or fire engulfing everything.
Infact there are 4 types of Pralaya defined in ancient Indian texts, they being,
Nithya Pralaya, daily Pralaya
Naimitika Pralaya, occasional Pralaya
Avantara Pralaya, seasonal Pralaya
Maha Pralaya, the great Pralaya
Laya means to merge or dissolve into. Music that makes one forget everything and makes one blend with the music is said to have Layam. It is also a rhythm.
The prefix Pra denotes special as in Prakrithi which is primordial or ultimate Nature. Pralaya thus simply means the rhythmic, special dissolution or merging back into ultimate natural form.
Shiva, being the potential to manifest, is the divinity for dissolution and regeneration. Hence the time one readies for rejuvenation and regeneration that comes with a Pralaya, is associated with Shiva as Shivaratri.
Not so commonly known is the monthly celebration of Shivaratri, which falls on the Krishnapaksha Chaturdasi every month or the night preceding the New Moon.
Maha Shivaratri or the Great Shivaratri is celebrated annually on the Krishnapaksha Chaturdasi night. i.e. the night preceding the New Moon, in the penultimate month of the year, the month of Magha or the month of Masi in Tamil calendar, which typically occurs in the month of February – March these days.
History of Shivaratri
Rishi Kahola Kaushitaki in his Kaushitaki Brahmana records that Maha Shivaratri was celebrated even during the Mahabharatha times, i.e. 5100 years ago.
In cosmology, when the entire Creation starts contracting, it is expressed as the start of the night of Brahma and the final collapse is called the Maha Pralaya. This Maha Pralaya then leads to the start of the next cycle of Creation and is thus a regeneration of the entire Srishti, Creation.
The interim state between a dissolution and a regeneration is a period of both serenity and tranquility when all bodies are calm and preparing for regeneration. Following this tranquility is the joy and celebration which comes with having been regenerated and refreshed.
Change through celebration
The change that comes with dissolution can primarily be accepted in two ways,