Onam Festival – Part 1, The Story of Onam

Onam commemorates the homecoming of the great Asura king Maha Bali from Patala Loka. Maha Bali, the grandson of Prahalada, was a strong and learned king. The name Bali means strong. Bali was also a person who gave a lot of respect to knowledge. This is evident from the famous episode of his encounter with Vamana.

Maha Bali was performing a Yagna, a focussed and austere act, towards achieving a goal, by sacrificing one’s pleasures and possessions.

 At that time, a short, young, radiant boy entered the yagna shala. He seemed to be the epitome of true knowledge. Maha Bali as is the custom, welcomed this radiant youngster and enquired upon the reason as to why he had come to attend this yagna. The youngster requested for just that much space, as could be measured by three of His footsteps.

Bali and Vamana 

Vamana and Maha Bali

When Maha Bali thinks of this request to be very small for a man of his stature and immediately offers to give the youngster what He desires, Guru Sukracharya, the mentor of Bali and the Asura, intercedes, to restrain the Asura King Bali from granting the requested three measures of space, without giving the request a due thought.

Shukracharya advising Bali 

 Sukracharya advising Bali

Maha Bali does not pause to think, as cautioned by his mentor Sukracharya. Instead, brushing aside the warnings, he goes ahead and grants three measures of space, as asked for, by this radiant youngster Vamana.

As the legend goes, no sooner were the three footsteps granted, the youngster Vamana assumed a gigantic form known as Trivikrama and with the first step of His foot, measured the whole earth. Then with the second step of His foot He measured the whole sky. These two steps had covered the whole of Maha Bali’s kingdom, the earth and the sky. Vamana then asked the King, as to where he should place His third step.

Untitled 

Trivikrama

King Maha Bali recognizing the divinity of Vishnu in Vamana, understood his folly, bowed and offered his own head to Vamana, for placing His third step on.

Seeing Maha Bali’s sincerity and reverence, Vishnu forgives him, places his third foot on Maha Bali’s head and sends him “down” to Pathala Loka and offers to stay guard for Maha Bali, Himself.

      Trivikrama           

Vamana’s leg on Bali’s head

Acceding to the request of Maha Bali’s people, Vishnu grants Maha Bali permission to return to his kingdom from Pathala Loka, once every year to be in the midst of his people. This day is celebrated as the Onam festival.

Where is this Pathala Loka?

Read the next part in this Onam Series-  http://goo.gl/Rtvfuf

Onam Festival – Part 2, Pathala Loka

The Puranic legends of India speak of many worlds.

As per the Puranas, when Vishnu, in the form of a young scholar Vamana, humbled Asura king Maha Bali, Maha Bali was banished to Pathala Loka. When the Deva overcame the Asura in battles, the Asura were forced to migrate to the Pathala Loka, the netherworld or the world below.

 Where is this Pathala Loka?

 People have conjured up images of Pathala Loka as being vertically downwards inside the earth.

onam1

Asura going down to Pathala Loka

an incorrect understanding

The Puranic legends describe how the world is divided into different habitable regions. They list 14 regions, with 7 regions being the “nether worlds”, the Pathala Loka. The Puranic texts also give the notion of the Pathala Loka as being beyond the seas.

The words like location and locomotion are etymologically similar to the word, “Loka”.

There are other technical texts that mention the location of Asura and their adversaries, the Sura.  A sloka in Surya Siddhantha throws some light on the exact location of the Pathala. The relevant sloka is,

 Surasuranam anyonyam diva – ratra viparyayaha

For Sura and Asura, days and nights are interchangeable

According to this sloka, Sura and Asura would have lived on opposite sides of the earth as only then can their days and nights be interchangeable.  The region of the earth diametrically opposite to the Indian subcontinent is the central parts of South America which was the Pathala Loka of the Asura.

 PathalaLoka 

If we want a modern analogy, we have the British calling Australia as Down Under. That does not mean that Australia is in the underground areas of England. What the English really mean by the phrase “Down Under”, is that, for England, high in the northern hemisphere, Australia is on the other side of the earth, down in the south.

 DownUnder

Similarly, there is another popular term in the US, called the China Syndrome.

People often joke that, in case there were to be a nuclear mishap in America, then the nuclear explosion would burrow a hole beneath America, continue to burrow through the earth and come out on the other side of the earth, in China.

ChinaSyndrome

These phrases, Australia Down Under and China Syndrome, are examples of usage by people on one side of the globe to bring out the concept that, there is another side, opposite to them on the earth, which is also inhabited by people.

It is in this similar vein of expression that the ancient Indians had used the term Pathala Loka, as the area on the other side of the spherical earth. It is not to be erroneously understood as an underground cavern or kingdom.

To have had this knowledge, the ancient Indians must have known that the earth was not flat but spherical in nature.

Does this mean that Pathala Loka is for real and the story of Maha Bali, real?

Read the next part in the Onam series- http://goo.gl/qTdsGA

Onam Festival – Part 3, Significance of Onam

Onam-Bali Pada is an occasion for us to relate to the story of Vamana where Vamana grew from a short young boy to a giant form and with His 3 strides covered earth, skies and finally placed His leg on the head of Maha Bali, a good but arrogant king and pushed him into Pathala Loka.

This legend where Vamana measured the whole universe does sound like some childish mythology. Even from a cosmological perspective, it appears to be unscientific and self-contradictory. If with His first step, Vamana had measured the whole of the earth then it should have included Bali’s head too as he was also on this earth.

Next, with the second step of His foot, if Vamana had measured the whole sky, then “this earth which is also a part of that sky”, was also included in the second step.

onam2

Earth in the Solar System

Then where does Bali stand separately, to offer his head for the third measure?

 Is this not self-contradictory?

 Is there anything rational about this legend?

 We must bear in mind that the legend of Vamana avatar is Puranic, i.e. it is an expression of a deeper truth, a moral lesson from historical or scientific incidents, clothed in a story, such that the commoner can easily grasp the essence of the incident and model his conduct accordingly, right through the ages.

 What is the moral that lies behind this story of King Maha Bali?

 Maha Bali was a great Asura king and ruled over all the lands he saw. While he was basically a good person and his intention to honour the knowledgeable was great, there was also an arrogance in him because he owned all the expanse that he could see on land and was considered invincible. That ahankara, arrogance, ego, blinded him and so, despite his goodness and the keen intention to respect knowledge, his ahankara, ego, did him in.

While he had his preceptor, Guru Sukracharya, next to him, who had warned him to pause, think, take sagely advice and act with caution, King Maha Bali had brushed aside the warning in order to keep up his image, of one who was willing to give away everything. This ego and arrogance, got him banished to Pathala Loka.

 Knowledge and humility help one transcend ego which can grow as huge as this earth and sky. This ego can be conquered in three simple steps like Vamana’s.

 Step 1 – Measure the earth – Look around and be humbled by the sheer number of other living beings like you on this earth.

Step 2 – Measure the skies – Look up into the sky and be humbled by the sheer vastness and multitude of other worlds in the cosmos and how insignificantly small we are in this cosmos.

Step 3 – Place your hand on your head – Realize that in the cycle of births and deaths not only of living beings but the cosmos itself, the time span of each of our lives is very small and the role we play in the larger picture of the order of the cosmos, is even smaller. 

This story by example has had a timeless relevance in conquering ego, ahamkara which has also been timeless. A little ahamkara is essential but when ahamkara takes over, it just suppresses the person, however mighty he may be.

These 3 steps of Vamana will keep our ego, ahamkara limited to the necessary.

But why remember this story on Onam Day? Why choose this particular day?

Read the next part in this Onam series-  http://goo.gl/3nU3AP

 

Onam Festival – Part 4, Story From the Skies

Onam Festival, Shravan Month and Shravana Star

 This word “Onam” is the shortened form of Thiruvonam or Shravanam, since this event occurs in the Shravan month under the Shravana star in the Indian calendar.

Shravan is the month in the Indian calendar that typically falls between July-August in North and between August-September in the South. This period is characterized by heavy rains and many other festivals such as Narial Purnima, Raksha Bandhan, Ganesh Chathuthi, Krishna Janmashtami to name a few.

 This month is called Shravan since the full moon during this month occurs against the Shravana star.

 But why did this particular star get the name Shravana?

 Which is this star in the sky?

 The 3 footprints in the sky

Before we go to skies, let us recollect the story behind the Onam festival and why it came to be celebrated. How this festival marks the day when Maha Bali, the great Asura king was humbled by Vamana with His 3 giant strides.

 The star Shravana is the set of stars known in western astronomy as Altair the bright star in Aquila constellation along with Beta and Gamma Aquilae that flank it on either side.

Aquila constellation 

Altair-Shravana, Beta and Gamma Aquilae in Aquila Constellation

These three stars are pictured as the 3 footprints of Vamana in His gigantic Trivikrama form.

One may wonder what does the legend of Maha Bali and Vamana, have to do with the name Shravana for this star?

The word “Shravana” means to listen, to pay heed to. The legend of Maha Bali from time immemorial has been a moral story on how one should pay heed to one’s mentor, teacher, failing which one could fall into trouble. Hence these 3 stars which depict the outcome of Maha Bali’s disobedience stand as a constant reminder in the sky to caution people to listen and pay heed to good counsel.

Another way in which the name of this star is spelt is, Shrona, which means “lame” or “to limp”, in Samskrt. Shrona is one who limped. Trivikrama after measuring the 2 steps, stood limping, with one leg raised in the air, asking Maha Bali where He could place his foot for the third step?

Trivikrama 

Trivikrama with one leg up

Hence these 3 stars, as Shrona, also depict the footsteps of Trivikrama as He covered the earth and the skies with His foot.

Another Angle to the Triangle

There is yet another tale associated with how these 3 stars came to be called Shravana.

Much later, closer to the times of Rama, Shravan was a young lad who lived in the time of Dasaratha, father of Rama. He used to dote on his parents and take care of them with love and affection. Since they were old and blind, he would carry them in two baskets hanging on either side from a rod on his shoulders, like a weighing scale, balance.

One day, he was filling a pitcher of water from a pond for his parents. King Dasaratha, out on a hunting trip, mistook the gurgling sound of the pitcher for an animal and shot an arrow in its direction. He rushed to catch his prey but instead found young Shravan Kumar mortally wounded. Even in that state, Shravan requested the king to carry water to his thirsty parents. Dasaratha, approached them with trepidation in his heart and from the sound of his footsteps the old couple realized it was not their son. On being asked, he narrated what had happened. The bereaved father cursed Dasaratha that one day he would also have to bear the sorrow of his son leaving him. Strangely, the king expressed happiness on being cursed because he did not have children at the time and was pining for a child. For the curse to come true, he would have to have children. Just this thought made him so happy, that he took mud and grass from the ground and showered it on his head. As fate would have it through, Dasaratha was later blessed with 4 sons out of whom he loved Rama, the eldest dearly. But when Dasaratha grew old and had pinned his hopes on Rama to take over his kingdom, he was separated from Rama – a separation that took away his life.

Shravan Kumar, even today, is remembered for his dedication towards his parents. Altair in the Aquila constellation, in the sky has been named after Shravan.

Why is Altair equated with Shravana?

Altair, flanked by the two dimmer stars, Beta and Gamma Aquilae gives an impression of a balance, just like how Shravan Kumar carried his aged parents.

shravan Kumar and Shravana constellation 

Shravan Kumar and Shravana Constellation

 What lies in a name?

The ancient astronomers of India had a practice of giving scientific names to stars, names that denote their function, characteristic. Sometimes legends from Purana have been mapped to these objects to symbolically explain scientific principles or facts.

The story of how the Shravana star got its name is just one among many.

Does naming Altair and these 2 dimmer stars as Shravana indicate that the two stars flanking Altair are dying stars while Altair in comparison, a star in the prime phase of its life? This could be a lead for further analysis.

Incidentally Beta Aquila, also known as Tarzed though not very old, has burnt up all its fuel and has entered its dying phase. It has swelled into a giant and is expected to blast and later become a white dwarf.

Delving into understanding the detailed description of Puranic legends in connection with the stars they point to in the skies, could perhaps help provide more clues to understand these stars better.

We will understand why our ancients chose to name the stars what they did?

We will understand our ancients and our heritage better!

Thus concludes the story of Onam from Kerala, to Pathala Loka, to the skies.

Celebrating Ganesha with Knowledge

Ganapati-Visarjan-New1-2016

The festival Ganesha Chathurthi has arrived, the festival to invite the divinity Ganesha to our homes and bless our homes with prosperity and happiness.

Ganesha is a fun loving, dancing, frolicking divinity from the Indian pantheon. Ganesha has been symbolically and graphically illustrated and modelled in different forms, from riding on His vahana, vehicle, the mouse Mooshika, to the modern day figurines, showing Him speaking on the phone, typing on the computer etc. Interestingly, all these caricatures seem to suit Him well and only go to make Him dearer and more loveable.

Ganesha

Who is this Ganesha?

His name Ganesha, has two components, Gana plus Esha.

Esha means “the lord of”.

Gana stands for count, numbers, multitude. Which is why, the subject mathematics in the Indian knowledge system is known as “Ganitham”. The name Ganesha denotes Him to be the lord of multitudes and numbers and the faculty that is needed to count, deal with multitudes, is knowledge, intellect.

It is this intellect which can help man overcome obstacles as man’s obstacles primarily stem from his mind.

Ganesha is therefore also called Vigneshwara, the one who removes obstacles. And to channelize our mind, our thoughts and energies in the right direction to ensure successful completion of any task, we pray to Vigneshwara before we embark on any important activity, before all beginnings.

With this intellect to discern good from bad, knowledge and strength to overcome obstacles and act wisely and purposefully, it is but natural man will be endowed with prosperity. Hence Ganesha is also considered to usher in prosperity and good luck. And to embody the humility that should go with all these wealth and wisdom, He is also called Vinayaka or the humble, approachable one.

Such a concept of praying for mental strength, wisdom, prosperity and to ward off all obstacles before embarking on any important activity, is not unique to the Indian culture alone.

Janus and Ganesha

In ancient Rome too, the pre-Christian era had a divinity known as “Janus.

This Janus was a divinity who was propitiated to, during all beginnings. Images of Janus were also installed on doorways as a guardian. This  Janus had 2 faces, one to look at the past and one to look at the future.

Janus

 The God Janus

Janus and Ganesha both seem to be associated with two faces.

Ganesha had a human face before He got an elephant face. There are many interesting similarities between Janus and Ganesha including the aspect that phonetically their names are also similar. Janus is also a divinity associated with numbers, which is why, the first month of the calendar is named January after Janus.

Ganesha, Ganesha Everywhere

It is not only in Rome, but in different other parts of the world, that we find the knowledge, appreciation and reverence to the concept denoted by Ganesha.

We have sculptures of Ganesha in Central America, Persia, Afganisthan, China, Japan, Thailand, Cambodia and in many other South-Eastern Asian islands.

Kangiten Ganesha

Kangiten Ganesha, Japan                                                

Ganesha as warrior

Depiction of Ganesha as Warrior in Persia               

Indonesia is the largest Muslim country in the world and forms the major part of the south eastern archipelago. The currency, the Rupiah note of Indonesia too, has an image of Ganesha, depicting him as a divinity for numbers and knowledge.

Indonesian currency

From this example, we can see that the concept of Ganesha was prevalent far and wide from faraway Central America to Europe to Asia, more than 2500 years back itself.

This commonality and the prevalence of the concept of Ganesha across the world, brings to our attention that Ganesha is not just a Hindu divinity in the limited sense, but a divinity of knowledge and numbers, not just of India but of the multitudes across the world.

On this Ganesh Chathurthi, let us repledge ourselves to bring forth this knowledge so that, we can unite all the people of this world so that this world can once again grow as a knowledgeable society,  apart from just counting its monies, its luxuries and its several goodies.

Ganesha with all His multitude of forms, symbols and stories, is a concept, Tattva, epitomising the winning formula for a good mind, intellect, knowledge, strength and prosperity, which is the direction we all need to progress in.

 

5128th Birthday of Lord Krishna

janmashtamii

The people of this country never had any doubts about the historicity of Krishna until the colonial invaders projected Krishna as a mythical figure cooked up by wonderful stories.

The story of Krishna is deeply embedded in the cultural fabric of India and the people of this land revere Him as a Divinity. The colonial hangover has however left a doubt on the historicity of this highly adored Divinity.

The science of Archaeo-Astronomy has enabled us to go beyond the boundaries of conventional archaeology in tracing the historicity of some well known personages of this land, such as Rama, Krishna, Buddha, Mahavira and Shankara. Planetary configurations mentioned in the ancient scriptures pertaining to major events and personages connected, help us date events that happened around these personages, centuries and millenia ago, either manually or with more ease and accuracy, using Planetarium software.

As per the scriptures, Lord Krishna was born around midnight. That night was the eight phase of the moon known as Ashtami Tithi. The moon was near Vrshabha, the bull, i.e the Taurus constellation that houses the star Rohini. The star Rohini is known as Aldeberan in modern astronomy. The month was Shravana, one of the 12 months in the Indian calendar.

Krishna's birth in prison

Krishna’s Birth in Prison

 These details are clearly mentioned in the 10thSkanda, 3rd chapter of the Bhagavata Purana. The relevant sloka is,

Shravana vada ashtami, Rohini Nakshtra, uditam Lagnam

 This detail combined with details of sky configurations for events that happened around Krishna’s lifetimes, namely the Mahabharata, leads us to the exact birth date for Krishna.

Sky Chart of Krishna's birth

Krishna’s Birth Chart

 Courtesy Prof.Narahari Achar, Memphis University, USA

Such a search leads us to 27th July, 3112 BCE as Krishna’s date of birth in the Gregorian Calendar.

In Indian tradition, Krishna’s birth is also called as “Sri Jayanthi”. The word “Jayanthi” has an interesting connotation in Indian Astronomy. Indian astronomers have accorded special names to lunar phases occurring at certain stars.

The lunar phase occurring at Punarvasu star in Gemini constellation is called Jaya. The lunar phase occurring at Pushya star in the Gemini constellation is called Nasini. The lunar phase seen at Shravana star in the Capricorn zodiac is called Vijaya. Similarly, the phase of the moon occurring at Rohini star is called Jayanthi.

Krishna’s birth which happened when the moon was at Rohini star is called Sri Jayanthi.

Jayanthi also means celebrations and the word has thus come to be used to indicate birthday celebrations. Thus, the word “Jayanthi, over time, has also come to be used for the birthday celebrations of other great personages and we today celebrate Buddha Jayanthi, Mahaveer Jayanthi, Shankara Jayanthi, Shivaji Jayanthi, Gandhi Jayanthi, Ambedkar Jayanthi etc.

 “Jayanthi” became popular because of association with Krishna.

Every year, for millennia, Indians have been celebrating Krishna’s birthday in the Shravana month, on Rohini Nakshatra, Krishna Paksha Ashtami (8th phase of the waning moon) based on these details in scriptures.

It is the year of birth however, which has been the missing piece in common knowledge.

Not only from Archaeo-astronomy, but also from a wholistic analysis of data across various disciplines, today we can conclude that Lord Krishna was born in 3112 BCE.

So, this year, 2016 CE, makes it the 5128th year since His birth, Sri Jayanthi. Let us celebrate this 5128th birthday of Lord Krishna, keeping in mind that India’s most beloved Divinity was indeed also a historical figure who had walked this planet about 5000 years ago.

While Divinity is a matter of faith, historicity is a matter of existence. With the unravelling of the dates for Krishna, what comes out for all to see is the beautiful blend of Divinity and Historicity in Krishna.  One does not preclude the other.

janmashtamii-1

 

Lakshmi, Lakshya, God Particle

Indian thought since eons ago has delved deep into what causes Creation of the Universe and drawn out far reaching insights. These indescribable understandings were scaled down to a common level using metaphors and symbolic personages / divinities.

One such is the feminine divinity, Lakshmi.

Lakshmi, is the embodiment of wealth, prosperity and has her origins in the primordial waters from which came the Universe.

Lakshmi

Lakshmi coming forth from primordial Waters

Lakshmi, the Lakshya – Goal, Purpose

The etymological root for Lakshmi is Laksh meaning goal, target. From Laksh comes lakshya. Lakshmi is the goal that people chase continuously in their life for their basics as well as comforts.

The purpose of Creation, Srishti, the Big Bang, Brahmanda Visphotak, is to create this Universe. It is to create all the astral bodies, the galaxies, the sun, the earth and the planets dotting all over the universe.

Creation of all this, is the very purpose of the creation of the universe. This is the Lakshya, the goal of the Big Bang. In a way, creation of matter is not a by-product of the Big Bang, but is the very goal, the purpose of the Big Bang.

Life in the Universe is a continuous cycle driven by the goal to incessantly construct, destroy and reconstruct. Be it at the scale of wealth or sub-atomic particles, cells, all living beings, stars and the very cosmos itself.

 Contrary to the oft expressed statement that the cosmos is chaotic, the cosmos is driven by an order. It has a purpose. It has a Lakshya.

 This Lakshya of the cosmos, is embodied by Lakshmi.

Lakshmi as the Lakshya of the cosmos is also regarded as the consort of the divinity Vishnu overseeing the sustenance and order in the cosmos.

 Life is driven by Lakshmi, the goal, the will to live, live well.

This goal, this will, forces the cosmos to go from a state of being inert and quiescent to a state of liveliness and activity.

In the Indian pantheon of divinities, Goddess Lakshmi represents prosperity and wealth as it is the will, the intent, the goal that incites and forces things to act to create and multiply. The essence of wealth and prosperity is denoted by plentitude, the ability to multiply.

So, at a gross level, Lakshmi stands for all forms of movable and immovable assets, be it in the form of gold, silver, currency, property etc. Lakshmi denotes not just wealth but material that sustains life on earth such as food grains, cattle, water etc.. She represents that material which sustains the cosmos itself.

The basic nature of Lakshmi though, is impermanence.

Impermanence of Lakshmi

In Indian tradition, Lakshmi is shown seated or standing on a lotus in a pond. The lotus is typically shown with large leaves and droplets of water rolling on them.

lakshmi2 Lakshmi standing on Lotus

 When you put droplets of water on a lotus leaf, the water keeps on rolling. The water globules do not show an attachment to the lotus leaves.

Banyan leaf

 Similarly, wealth, matter has no attachment to people, time. It is constantly rolling.

 Lakshmi never stays in one place. She moves along, in the process distributing wealth as she moves.

This role of Lakshmi is exemplified by the proposal and discovery of the God Particle.

 The God Particle

The Higgs-Boson particle commonly referred to as the God Particle, is expressed as that which enables matter to get created by enabling mass based particles, i.e. matter, to come into being. The presence of the God Particle, forces massless sub atomic particles called quarks, gluons to come together and form a stable particle with mass.

  God Particle

God Particle – A Representation

 Impermanence of God Particle

Having achieved the purpose for which it came into existence, its goal, the Higgs-Boson, self-destructs itself to appear again at another place to create fresh matter.

 The God Particle thus seems like a catalyst, inciting the creation of matter in the Universe. There is a purpose, a goal, a Lakshya to the God Particle.

 We see a similarity between the God Particle and the role being discharged by the impermanent, constantly on the move, Lakshmi with Her Lakshya too.

 Lakshmi shows the way

Will this understanding of Lakshmi, act as a catalyst to induce us to learn more about our cosmos and its Creation, from the metaphoric expressions of our ancients?

Where there is a will, a Lakshya, there is a way.

 Lakshmi