Akshaya Trithiya

Akshaya Trithiya or Akha Teej, is a highly auspicious day which falls on the third day after Amavasya (no moon) in the Hindu calendar month of Vaishakha.

This traditional festival seems insignificant in comparison to some of the more glamorous festivals of the land.

For whatever reason this festival came into being, today Akshaya Trithiya day is being marketed as a day for buying gold, even better platinum now.   Advertisements are being splashed all over urging one and all to buy gold.

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Gold and Platinum

Is this festival Akshaya Trithiya, a festival for buying gold or better platinum? We have also heard our parents telling us to start things on this day because anything started on this day is expected to grow.

So, what is this Akshaya Trithiya all about?

Let us examine the word Akshaya first.

We would have heard of the phrase Akshaya Pathra, for the vessel that provided unending supply of food, during the Mahabaratha period. Draupadi has this vessel with her to feed her husbands the Pandavas, while they were in exile. It was given to her on this day by Lord Krishna.

Kshaya is something that diminishes. Akshaya is one that never diminishes.

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Draupadi with Akshaya Pathra

So the word Akshaya denotes endless limitless provision of food, prosperity and wealth, wealth that never diminishes.

Why is this festival celebrated as that of limitless prosperity, Akshaya?

What is the event which gave this land this limitless prosperity, that is being commemorated as this festival?

There are quite a few reasons why this festival is celebrated, some of them being:

  • The day the Treta Yuga started.

  • Birthday of Parasurama the 6th avatara of Vishnu.

  • The sun and moon are seen at their brightest best from the west coast of India.

  • The day Krishna gave the Akshaya Pathra to the Pandavas and Draupadi.

  • The day Sudama, the poor childhood friend of Krishna met Krishna with just a handful of puffed rice and received a lot of wealth in exchange without asking.

  • The day Krishna Dwaipayana, whom we reverentially call as Veda Vyasa, started dictating his family biography called Jaya, which is now known to us popularly as the Mahabharata.

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Vyasa dictating Mahabharata

While all these are reasons enough to celebrate a festival, it still does not provide us any answers as to what is the limitless prosperity, that we are celebrating on this day.

In the Purana, the legends of ancient India, we have the story of Bhagiratha, an ancient king of this land belonging to the Surya Vamsa, Solar Dynasty. He was the illustrious forefather to Rama and Dasaratha, illustrious because he diverted the waters of the Ganga by his extraordinary effort, to the present day Gangetic plains.

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Bhagiratha Prayathna

This effort of Bhagiratha is celebrated in the legends as Bhagiratha Prayathna, the extraordinary or superhuman effort of Bhagiratha in bringing the waters to his parched kingdom.

Once the river Ganga was brought this side of the Himalaya and started flowing through the land, the waters gave prosperity to the land through the ages. So Ganga, with its waters has been giving unending prosperity to a civilisation for generations and generations to come.

Akshaya Trithiya is the day Bhagiratha cut through the rocks in the upper Himalaya and brought the waters of the Ganga, this side to give unending prosperity to his land, kingdom and people.

It is this event of bringing prosperity with the waters, that has been commemorated with the Akshaya Trithiya day.

Unfortunately today our thought has diverted from waters to gold and platinum.

Gold and platinum are only a result of prosperity and not the cause of prosperity itself.

Unending water supply is the cause of prosperity.

This is a key thought this civilisation seems to have forgotten in its hurtling haste.

Festivals like this are celebrated by us every year to recollect the yeomen efforts of our forefathers, to make our lives better in this world.

Ganga, the object of Akshaya Trithiya, today is being polluted by us continuously and is also on the verge of vanishing due to climatic changes, being hastened by our lack of concern and action.

Now, apart from appreciating their effort in providing for us a better life, the true way to honour them for their effort and surely a better way of celebrating, would be to safeguard our water sources – Ganga and all other sources, big and small, for ourselves and the future generations to come.

This would be a harbinger of everlasting prosperity.

A true way to celebrate Akshaya Trithiya, apart from just buying gold and platinum!

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Hanuman Jayanthi

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Hanuman is one of the popular divinities across India. Hanuman is venerated by millions, for his intelligence, strength, devotion, faith and courage. He is one of the central characters of Ramayana and is worshipped as the foremost devotee of Lord Rama. It is often said that, Rama as an Avatar, could not fly on His own, but Hanuman could fly over the seas.

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Hanuman flying with the Sanjeevani Parvat

Hanuman, Meaning

Hanuman as the name suggests in Samskrt language, is a person with a long jaw. Hanuman is depicted as a human with a protruding jaw, which resembles that of a monkey. His imagery shows that he had a protruding jaw, prompting people then, to call him Hanuman.

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Hanuman

Hanuman is regarded as Vayu Putra or the son of the wind divinity. He is also called Maruti, the son of Marut, the divinity for a special type of spatial wind.

Anjaneya is another name for Hanuman, meaning, ‘the son of Anjana’, who was the mother of Hanuman.

Chiranjeevi

It is believed that Hanuman lives on even today, as he is one of the Chiranjeevi, living eternally in the physical body.

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Hanuman, the Chiranjeevi

We see his footprints in the Mahabharata. He is a distant cousin of Bhima, one of the Pandava. In the Kurukshetra battle, the chariot of Arjuna, another Pandava, has a Vanara Dwaja, with Hanuman in his flag.

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Bhima

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Arjuna’s chariot with Vanara Dwaja

Different dates of birth

The birth of Hanuman is celebrated on different dates in this land. This is probably due to different systems, scriptures and calendars in the country.

In North India, this day is observed on the 15th Shukla Paksha of Chaitra month.  In Tamil Nadu and Kerala, Hanuman Jayanti is celebrated in the month of Margazhi, Margashirsha, in the months of December-January, as there is a belief here that Hanuman was born under Moola Nakshatra, scorpio star of Amavasya.

Different birth Places

In the Tirumala hills of Andhra, also called Sapthagiri as it comprises of 7 hills, there is one hill called Anjandari. This is not the actual place of Hanuman’s birth, but was the area where Anjana, the mother of Hanuman resided.

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Anjanadri hill, Tirumala

There is one belief which suggests that Hanuman was born in Kishkinda at Anjaneya hill near Hospet, in north Karnataka. There is another belief which has Anjanari in Nasik district, as the birth place of Anjaneya.

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Hanuman statue at Hanuman’s birth place in Anjanari

Similar figure in Mexico

The image and story of Echtill in the Aztec legends of Mexico, is similar to that of Hanuman of the Indian legend.

The Aztec legends speak about Echtill, who is explained as the son of wind. The same legend further goes on to state that, it is his breath that moves the Sun.

A statue was found while excavating for a subway station in Mexico City and reported in the National Geographic magazine in the December 1990. This figure excavated in Mexico too, is that of a human with a long jaw face.

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       Mexican Image   

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 Indian Image

Observe the Jaw Protrusion in both

In the Aztec legend there is a link between the Sun and Echtill. In the Indian legend of Hanuman too, there is an interesting anecdote of Hanuman flying towards the sun to eat it.

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Hanuman Flying towards Sun

More on this in our book, “2012 – The Real Story”.

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Was Hanuman a monkey?

Now, Hanuman and other Vanara are commonly referred to as Monkeys. Were they really monkeys?

Monkey is a term that has been loosely used in the last couple of hundred years to explain the term Vanara in the English language. The term Vanara when analyzed, can give us vital clues, some of them being,

  • People of the forest or Vana –Vana nara, nara meaning man
  • Vanara could be an exclamatory! Word, Vah nara? “Are they human?”

So human like, yet different!

This may have been the way to express different varieties of people as is evident from other words in our ancient texts such as Kinnara or Kimpurusha. Kin, Kim here meaning, “Are they?” and Purusha and Nara meaning men or humans.

There probably were people in those days, very similar to what we now understand as normal humans, but who had a minor but perceptible variance, which raised exclamation. This could well have been a part of the evolution process.

Vanara were known as Rama Banta, meaning “A follower of Rama” in the Andhra and Karnataka regions of South India. The word Bantu was used for singular form and Bantlu for plural. This word Bantlu was used by people as respect and formed a part of many surnames in these regions.  In ancient time, these regions in South India comprised of the geography of Vanara region. The people who lived in the forests of Andhra were called Banajara.

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Geography of Vanara region

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                                                                 Rama Bantlu                                                                            

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 Banjara

More on this and the various incidents involving Hanuman in the Ramayana, the dates pertaining to these events are discussed in our book and Film ‘Historical Rama’.

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On this Hanuman Jayanthi, let us take inspiration from Hanuman and follow in His footsteps. Then Hanuman will live on in our hearts.

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Statues of mighty Sri Hanuman in Bali, Indonesia

Ugadi

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Ugadi is the New Year in Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, 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 equinoxAn 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?

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.

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Earth, Moon and Sun in alignment near vernal Equinox – Ugadi

This day has come to stay and be celebrated as Yuga Adi or Ugadi.

February – A Lovely Month

February is a short sweet month. It is a time when the cold winters have just receded.  A month which is not yet hot.  A transitory month.  A month of spring in some parts of the world. A month where trees, plants and over all nature bloom forth with life after the cold, when they were in hibernation.

This is the month, when nature begins to bloom. In recent times, this month is much awaited for, for the celebration of Lovers’ Day, Valentine’s Day on February 14th.

Why is this day alone celebrated as Lovers’ Day? And what is its connection with Saint Valentine?

There are at least 3 Saint Valentines in the early part of the first millennium.  These three different Saints were all known by the name Valentine or Valentines.

Emperor Claudius of Rome thought that single men made better soldiers than married men with wives and families.

 Emporer Claudius II

Emperor Claudius

So he outlawed marriages for young men. Saint Valentine defied the decree of Emperor Claudius and got young lovers married, in secret. When this act of Valentine was discovered, he was put to death. This probably could be the reason for linking Saint Valentine to young lovers.

 Saint Valentine

St.Valentine getting a couple married – A painting

In all the old cultures of the world, including India, this transitory month between winter and summer, February and March, was earlier celebrated as the Vasantha Utsav month. The Vasantha season was considered fit not only for humans to fall in love this month and marry, even the divinities thought this month fit to marry in. Thus Rama married Sita, Shiva married Parvathi, and in South India, Kartikeya married Devasena during this period.

It is a season of celestial marriages when nature is more pleasant and conducive for endearing thoughts and deeds. It is in this month that Krishna played with the Gopika.

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Krishna playing Holi with Gopika – a painting

The Vasantha Utsav, the  month long celebration culminates in the Holi festival, festival of colours, festival of joy when people come together, forgive each other, bond with each other, forgetting the mistakes of the past.

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Colours of Holi

In Punjab it is celebrated as Basant Panchami, also has “Hola Mohalla” festival.

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Mustard Fields in Spring

In Rajasthan as “Gajh Shingaar”, “Jamboo Holi” and in Bengal as “Nabanna Utsav”. In Goa it is celebrated as “Shigmotsav”.

In down south, in Tamil Nadu, from time immemorial, it has been celebrated as “Indira Vizha” or the festival of Indra, for the whole month.

In Tamil Nadu, one of the descendents of the Maratha King, Chatrapati Shivaji, a king by the name Sarfoji Maharaja of Tanjavur, used to visit the Manmada temple, the temple of Cupid, with his wife everyday of this month and encouraged young lovers to visit the riverside and enjoy the beauty which nature has to offer.

What comes forth to us from this, is that,  much in contrast with a single evening, spent in pubs or night club parties or hotel dinners,  it is not  February 14th alone that is the Lovers’ Day, as celebrated in the limited sense now, but it is a ageless tradition of a whole month of celebration of the beauty that nature has to offer us.

A beauty to be enjoyed in the company of our loved ones, adhering to the norms of a civilised society, in a civilized manner.  It is a time for re-establishing the sense of harmony between loved ones and with nature.

Jaisalmer Desert Festival

Jaisalmer

Desert Festival of Jaisalmer is celebrated every year in January February. Jaisalmer is a World Heritage Site located in Thar Desert, in Rajasthan.

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Jaisalmer, Rajasthan

The city is nicknamed ‘The Golden City of India’, for when the sun light is reflected on the sands of the desert city, it appears Golden.

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Jaisalmer, the Golden City of India

Raja Maharaval Jaisal Singh

Jaisalmer City is named after Rajput king, Raja Maharaval Jaisal Singh who established this city in 1146 CE.

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Raja Maharawal Jaisal Singh

The word Jaisal refers to the King and the word Mer, Meru, means ‘Hill’, ‘Pyramidical Hill’. The word Jaisalmer literally means, “Jaisal’s Hill Fort”.

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Jaisalmer fort

A Desert

The dry bed of Sarasvati River flows near Jaisalmer. This whole region became a desert since the drying up of the river 4500 years ago.

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Dry Channel of River Sarasvati near Jaisalmer

The Festival

The Jaisalmer Desert Festival is organized by the Rajasthan Government Tourism Department.

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This festival was started to attract foreigners to the state, who want to experience the culture of the state. This festival is celebrated over three days, when visitors from all over the world attend. The rich cultural heritage of Rajasthan is showcased. The audience is treated to the state music and folk dance.

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Jaisalmer Desert Festival

Camel Race

One of the main features of this festival are the Camel Races.

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Camel Race

Other Contests

Apart from these Camel races, other contests like Turban Tying contest, Best Mustache contest and Mr Desert contest are conducted.

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Mr Longest Mustache

The festival culminates at Sam sand dunes with scintillating performance by folk artists under the Full Moon, reflecting light on sand dunes, making for a wonderful ambiance.

Beating the Retreat

The Republic Day festivities last for four days until the 29th of January, since 30th January marks the day when the Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi was shot dead. Therefore 30th January is also observed as Martyrs’ Day in India besides being remembered as Gandhi Martyrdom Day.

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Beating the Retreat Ceremony

On 29th January, Beating the Retreat, starts at sun down, from Amar Jawan Jyothi, the memorial for martyrs, who lost their lives during the freedom struggle. It is a march to the tune of mellifluous music, signalling the end of Republic Day festivities, with which the armed forces return back to their respective duties.

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Beating the Retreat Function

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Military Bands Sound Beating the Retreat

Ratha Sapthami

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Ratha Sapthami – the day the Sun turned

The day on which the sun turned northwards to greet Bheeshma so that he could breathe his last, has aptly come down across millennia by the name “Ratha Sapthami”.

Sun in India is expressed as travelling across the skies in a chariot, ratha.

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Sun depicted as a chariot

Uttarayana is the day the Sun turns northward in its journey.

The day this chariot turned northward during Bheeshma’s times, according to Mahabharata text, was on Sapthami i.e., the 7th phase of the moon. Hence, the momentous Uttarayana that was awaited by Bheeshma is also known as “Ratha Sapthami”, the Sapthami of the Sun’s Ratha, chariot.

Ratha Sapthami – The Day Dedicated to a Great Warrior

Another perspective comes from a different angle, that of the character of Bheeshma.

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This 7th day of moon, Sapthami, was the last day in the life of Bheeshma – an elderly, wise, righteous and brave warrior of all times, who stood by his vow of safeguarding his kingdom. To keep the memory of this compelling personage, a Maha Ratha, alive across generations, through the land, this Sapthami probably came to be called Ratha Sapthami, the Sapthami of Bheeshma a great Ratha, hero, warrior.

Bheeshma breathed his last on the day after Ratha Sapthami, which day is commemorated as Bheeshma Ashtami, “Ashtami” meaning the 8th phase of the moon.

More on this in our book, Historical Krishna.

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