Holi: The Festival of Colours

Holi_shopOne of the most popular festivals in India, Holi epitomizes the victory of good over bad, love over enmity. As the nation gears up to celebrate the Festival of Colours, let’s have a quick look at the origins of the festival. The Hindu festival is very old and some believed that Holi was celebrated even several centuries before Christ. Earlier it was a special rite performed by married women for the happiness and well-being of their families and the full moon (Raka) was worshiped.
Holi was originally known as ‘Holika’ and it finds a detailed description in early religious works such as Jaimini’s Purvamimamsa-Sutras and Kathaka-Grhya-Sutras. Historians also believe that Holi was celebrated by all Aryans but more so in the eastern part of India.
There are two ways of counting a lunar month- ‘purnimanta’ and ‘amanta’. In the former, the first day starts after the full moon; and in the latter, after the new moon. Though the amanta reckoning is more common now, the purnimanta was very much in vogue in the earlier days.
According to this purnimanta reckoning, Phalguna purnima was the last day of the year and the New Year heralding the Vasanta-ritu (with spring starting from next day). Thus the full moon festival of Holika gradually became a festival of merrymaking, announcing the commencement of the spring season. This perhaps explains the other names of this festival – Vasanta-Mahotsava and Kama-Mahotsava.
Reference in scriptures
Vedas and Puranas such as Narad Purana and Bhavishya Purana refer to Holi festival. The festival also finds a mention in Jaimini Mimansa. A stone inscription dating back to 300 BC found at Ramgarh in the province of Vindhya refers to Holikotsav on it.
King Harsha, too has mentioned about holikotsav in his work Ratnavali that was written during the 7th century. The famous Muslim traveller Al Beruni also referred to holikotsav in his historical memories. Other Muslim writers of that period have mentioned, that holikotsav were not only celebrated by the Hindus but also by the Muslims.
The festival of Holi is also finds a reference in the sculptures on walls of old temples. A 16th century panel sculpted in a temple at Hampi, capital of Vijayanagar, shows a joyous scene of Holi. The painting depicts a Prince and his Princess standing amidst maids waiting with syringes or pichkaris to drench the Royal couple in coloured water.
A 16th century Ahmednagar painting is on the theme of Vasanta Ragini – spring song or music. It shows a royal couple sitting on a grand swing, while maidens are playing music and spraying colors with pichkaris.
Legends
The literal meaning of the word ‘Holi’ is ‘burning’. There are various legends to explain the meaning of this word, most prominent of all is the legend associated with demon king Hiranyakashyap. Hiranyakashyap wanted everybody in his kingdom to worship only him but to his utter disappointment, his son, Prahlad became an ardent devotee of Lord Naarayana. Hiaranyakashyap commanded his sister, Holika to enter a blazing fire with Prahlad in her lap. Holika had a boon whereby she could enter fire without any damage on herself. However, she was not aware that the boon worked only when she enters the fire alone. As a result she paid a price for her sinister desires, while Prahlad was saved by the grace of the god for his extreme devotion. The festival, therefore, celebrates the victory of good over evil and also the triumph of devotion.
Legend of Lord Krishna is also associated with play with colours as the Lord started the tradition of play with colours by applying colour on his beloved Radha and other gopis. Gradually, the play gained popularity with the people and became a tradition.
There are also other legends associated with the festival. The legend of Lord Shiva and Kaamadeva and those of Ogress Dhundhi and Pootana.
Holi is also linked with Lord Krishna’s childhood plays with the gopis. Krishna used to play pranks by drenching the village girls, with water and colours. When Krishna grew up, the legend of Krishna’s courtship with Radha, and playing pranks with the ‘Gopi’s became more vocal.
The girls in Gokul were mostly milkmaids, and, hence locally known as the Gopis. The same tradition has transpired through the ages, turning it into a community festival of the masses. As time kept flowing, the culture spread roots to other regions of the country.
Holi Puja
During the festival, puja known as Holi Puja is also performed in many parts of the country. Holika Dahan preparations begin almost 40 days before the festival. People start gathering woods on the important crossroads of the city. Holi Pooja or Holika takes place on an auspicious time in the evening a day before the Holi festival. A piece of wood is kept at a prominent public place on the Vasant Panchami day. On the day of Holika Dahan, an effigy of Holika and Prahlad is placed on the huge heap of woods. Effigy of Holika is made of combustible material while Prahlad’s effigy is made of non-combustible material. On the eve of Holi, the heap is set alight and the people chant Rakshoghna Mantras of the Rig Veda to cast away the evil spirits. Left over ashes are collected by people next morning. These ashes are considered holy and are smeared on the limbs of the body as Holi Prasad. Smearing of body limbs is an act of purification.
Yaosang
In the northeastern state of Manipur, which has a rich tradition of Vaishnavite culture, Holi is celebrated as ‘Yaosang’, the five-day festival of colours. The festival reflects the state’s heritage of Vaishnavism.
The festival is celebrated in the spring season with colours and water, much like Holi. On the first day of Yaosang, a thatched hut is built and burned. The children go from door to door, asking for money, called ‘Nakatheng’, to celebrate the festival. On the fourth and fifth days, people play with colours and water.

Maha Shivratri: When every devotee recalls Lord Shiva

Om Tryambhakam Yajamahe
Sugandhim Pushtivardhanam |
Urvarukamiva Bandhanan
Mrityor Mukshiya Maamritat ||

Idol Worship in Hinduism

Idol Worship in Hinduism

Maha Shivratri is considered one of the most popular and sacred festivals by the Hindus. The day is auspicious for tens of millions of devotees of Lord Shiva. Maha Shivratri, the night of the worship of Lord Shiva, falls on the 14th night of the new moon during the dark half of the month of Phalguna, on a moonless night, when they offer special prayer to the Lord. This is the night, when the Lord of Destruction is believed to have performed the Tandava Nritya or the dance of primordial creation, preservation and destruction. The festival is observed for one day and one night. Lord Shiva himself told his wife Parvati that this is the ritual performed by his devotees that pleases him the most.
The 14th shloka of Shivmahimna Stotra says: “O three eyed Lord, when the poison came up through the churning of the ocean by the gods and demons, they were all aghast with fear as if the untimely end of all creation was imminent. In your kindness, you drank all the poison that still makes your throat blue. O Lord, even this blue mark does but increases your glory. What is apparently a blemish becomes an ornament in one intent on ridding the world of fear.”
On this day devotees offer prayers at various temples across the country and Shiva temples are specially decorated for the occasion as people begin thronging these places since previous night.
maha-shivaratriThe festival has been accorded tremendous significance in Hindu mythology. It says that a devotee who performs sincere worship of Lord Shiva on the auspicious day of Shivratri is absolved of sins and attains moksha.
Devotees observe day and night fast and give sacred bath to Shiva Linga with honey, milk, water etc. Hindus consider it extremely auspicious to worship Lord Shiva on a Shivaratri as it is believed that worship of Lord Shiva with devotion and sincerity absolves a devotee of past sins.
This auspicious day is celebrated by observing a fast dedicated to Lord Shiva. Shiva Lingas are bathed with water, milk and honey, signifying purification of the soul. Devotees then paste vermilion on the limgam. In addition, flowers, fruits and bel leaves are offered to Shiva Lingas across the country, marking gratification of desire. Incense is burnt and lamps lit to mark the occasion. People get together in temples, etc. and chant ‘Om Namah Shivaya’ all night long.
There is a legend for worshipping Shiva the whole night. Once, there was a poor tribal man who happened to be a great devotee of Shiva. One day he went deep into the forest to collect firewood. Unfortunately, he lost his way and could not return home. At night, he got scared at the growls of wild animals. Terrified, he climbed onto the nearest tree for shelter till day-break. To stay awake, he decided to pluck a leaf at a time from the tree and drop it, while chanting the name of Shiva. At dawn, he found that he had dropped a thousand leaves on to a Linga to keep himself awake.
The tree happened to be a wood apple or bel tree. This unwitting all-night worship pleased Shiva, by whose grace the tribal was rewarded with divine bliss. This story is also recited on Mahashivaratri by devotees on fast. After observing the all-night fast, devotees eat the Prasad offered to Shiva.
There is another plausible reason for the origin of the whole-night worship. Being a moonless night, people worshipped the god who wears the crescent moon as an adornment in his hair, Shiva. This was probably to ensure that the moon rose the next night.
According to a legend mentioned in the Shiva Purana, once Lord Brahma and Lord Vishnu, two of the Trinity Gods in Hinduism, were engaged in a fierce battle as to who was the superior of them. Petrified at the scale of the battle, the other gods asked Shiva to intervene. To make them realise the futility of their fight, Lord Shiva assumed the form of a huge column of fire in between Brahma and Vishnu. Awestruck by its magnitude, they decided to find one end each to establish supremacy over the other. Lord Brahma, the Creator, assumed the form of a swan and went upwards and Lord Vishnu, the Preserver, as Varaha went into the earth.
But though they searched for thousands of miles, neither could find the end.
While going upward, Lord Brahma came across a Ketaki flower floating down slowly. She told Brahma that she had been placed at the top of the fiery column as an offering. Unable to find the uppermost limit, Brahma decided to end his search and take the flower as a witness.
An enraged Shiva revealed his true form and punished Brahma for telling a lie, and cursed him that no one would ever pray to him. The Ketaki flower too was banned from being used as an offering for any worship, as she had testified falsely.
Since it was on the 14th day in the dark half of the month of Phalguna that Shiva first manifested himself in the form of a Linga and the day is celebrated as Mahashivaratri. Worshipping Shiva on this day is believed to bestow one with happiness and prosperity for the entire life.
Mahashivratri is held in high esteem by women and married and unmarried women observe fast and perform Shiva Puja with sincerity to appease Goddess Parvati who is also regarded as ‘Gaura’ – one who bestows marital bliss and long and prosperous married life. Unmarried women also pray for a husband like Lord Shiva who is regarded as the ideal husband.
According to another legend, during the samudra manthan, a pot of poison emerged from the ocean. This terrified the Gods and demons as the poison was capable of destroying the entire world, and they ran to Shiva for help. To protect the world from its evil effects, Shiva drank the deathly poison but held it in his throat instead of swallowing it. This made his throat turn blue, and he was given the name Neelakantha, the blue-throated one. Shivaratri is the celebration of this event by which Shiva saved the world.
Immediately after Mahashivaratri, almost like a miracle, the trees are full of flowers as if to announce that after winter, the fertility of the earth has been rejuvenated.
Mahashivaratri is thus not only a ritual but also a cosmic definition of the Hindu universe. The festival dispels ignorance, emanates the light of knowledge, makes one aware of the universe, ushers in the spring after the cold and dry winter, and invokes the supreme power to take cognizance of the beings that were created by him.
According to the Shiva Purana, the Mahashivaratri worship should contain six items: offering bilva (wild apple) leaves to the deity after giving it a ceremonial bath, which represents purification of the soul; applying vermilion paste on the linga after bathing it, which represents virtue; offering food, which is conducive to longevity and the gratification of desires; lighting incense, which yields wealth; lighting an oil lamp, which signifies the attainment of knowledge; and offering betel leaves, which marks satisfaction with worldly pleasures. These six items form an indispensable part of the Mahashivaratri worship, be it a simple ceremony at home or grand temple worship.
Shiva is the Supreme Consciousness that illuminates the three states of waking, dreaming and deep sleep. Offering the threefold bilva leaves to the Shivalinga heralds the return to a level of consciousness beyond the three states, which is the fourth state, turiya.
The absolute formless God, Sadashiv appeared in the form of “Lingodbhav Moorti” exactly at midnight on Maha Shivratri. That is why all Shiva devotees keep vigil during the night of Shivratri and do “Shivlingam abhishekham” (coronation of the phallic idol) at midnight.
God in his manifestation as Vishnu made his appearance as Krishna at Gokul at midnight, 180 days after Shivratri, commonly known as Janmashtami. Thus, the circle of one year is divided into two by these two auspicious days of the Hindu calendar.
Aum Namah Shiva
Aum Namah Shiva is accepted to be a powerful healing mantra beneficial for all physical and mental ailments. Soulful recitation of this mantra brings peace to the heart and joy to the Soul. Sages consider that the recitation of these syllables is sound therapy for the body and nectar for the soul. The nature of the mantra is the calling upon the higher self; it is the calling upon shiva, the destroyer deity, to aid in the death (destruction of ego) and rebirth achieved during meditation. This goes generally for mantras and chants to different gods, which are different aspects of the higher self.
It is also called Panchakshara, or Panchakshari, the “five-syllable” mantra (viz., excluding the Om). Panchakshari Mantra Namaḥ Śivāya is the most holy salutation to Śiva. The Panchakshara can be recited by Shiva devotees during pooja, Japa, Dhyana, homa and while smearing Vibhuti.
Lord Shiva was married to Devi Parvati on Shivratri. Remember Shiva minus Parvati is pure ‘Nirgun Brahman’. With his illusive power, (Maya, Parvati) He becomes the “Sagun Brahman” for the purpose of the pious devotion of his devotees.
During the Shivratri, Lord Shiva became ‘Neelkantham’ or the blue-throated by swallowing the deadly poison that came up during the churning of “Kshir Sagar” or the milky ocean. The poison was so deadly that even a drop in His stomach, which represents the universe, would have annihilated the entire world. Hence, He held it in His neck, which turned blue due to the effect of poison. Shivratri is therefore also a day of thanksgiving to the Lord for protecting us from annihilation.
The Maha Mrityunjaya Mantra
Om Tryambhakam Yajamahe
Sugandhim Pushtivardhanam |
Urvarukamiva Bandhanan
Mrityor Mukshiya Maamritat ||
The Maha Mrityunjay Mantra or Lord Shiva Mantra is considered extremely powerful and significant and it is chanted by the devotees during Shivratris. Also known as the Moksha Mantra of Lord Shiva, chanting of Maha Mrityunjaya Mantra is said to create divine vibrations that heals. Devotees of Lord Shiva further believe that Maha Mrityunjay evokes the Shiva within human beings and removes the fear of death, liberating one from the cycle of death and rebirth.
The Maha Mrityunjay Mantra has been taken from the Sukla Yajurveda Samhita III. 60.
Significance
Proper recitation of the Maha Mrityunjaya rejuvenates, bestows health, wealth, long life, peace, prosperity and contentment to us. Chanting of Shiva Mantra creates divine vibrations that ward off all the negative and evil forces and creates a powerful protective shield. The mantra protects the one who chants against accidents and misfortunes of every kind. Recitation of the mantra creates vibration that pulsates through every cell, every molecule of human body and tears away the veil of ignorance.

Magical Madhubani: Painting pristine glory

madhubaniAlso known as Mithila art, Madhubani painting is concentrated on Mithila region of Bihar and this magical painting genre is marked by line drawings filled in by bright colours and contrasts or patterns. Earlier, the art genre used to be the exclusive domain of the female artists. However, nowadays even men are seen to be lending their hands to recreate the masterpiece.
This tradition is handed down from generations to generations and a golden past has been kept alive by the local folks reflecting their dedication and passion for artistic glory.
Initially, the womenfolk of the village drew the paintings on the walls of their home, as an illustration of their thoughts, hopes and dreams. With time, the paintings started becoming a part of festivities and special events, like marriage. Slowly and gradually, the Madhubani painting of India crossed the traditional boundaries and started reaching connoisseurs of art, both at the national as well as the international level.
Madhubani paintings are basically tribal art marked by the application of strong earthly colours. Madhubani paintings are done with mineral pigments prepared by the artists. The paintings are done on freshly plastered or a mud wall. But nowadays, to meet the growing commercial demand, such paintings are also done on paper, cloth and canvas.
Madhubani PaintingMadhubani which literally means “forests of honey” is a fine blending of divine and natural art that has over the years spread to various other parts of the country thanks to its growing popularity.
The paintings are intricately interwoven with traditions, folk songs and myths. These paintings mostly depict themes revolving deities, scenes from the royal court, social events like weddings, symbolic images of sexual pleasure and procreation. The ancient art which started as a domestic ritual by rural women is today appreciated the world over. Read on some interesting facts about Madhubani paintings.
The origin of Madhubani painting may be traced back to the Ramayana era. According to legends, it was Raja Janaka father of Sita who commissioned craftsmen to decorate the entire kingdom with Madhubani art on the occasion of his daughter’s marriage with Lord Ram.
The area of Mithila lies near the border of India and Nepal and carries a rich pastel of cultural legacy in art and literature. Its heritage goes back at least 2,500 years and its celebrated figures include the Buddha and Mahavira. It is also the birthplace of Sita, the central character in Ramayana. Hence, her life stories are frequently depicted in the local art.
However, this magical genre was unknown to the outside world until discovered by the British colonial William G. Archer. While inspecting the damage after the massive Bihar earthquake of 1934, Archer was amazed by the beautiful illustrations on the newly exposed interior walls of homes.
For creating this art genre, the artists don’t use any sketches. This feature makes each Madhubani painting unique.
The brush used for Madhubani paintings of Bihar was made of cotton, wrapped around a bamboo stick. The artists prepare the colors that are used for the paintings. Black color is made by adding soot to cow dung; yellow from combining turmeric (or pollen or lime) with the milk of banyan leaves; blue from indigo; red from the kusam flower juice or red sandalwood; green from the leaves of the wood apple tree; white from rice powder and orange from palasha flowers. There is no shading in the application of colors. A double line is drawn for outlines and the gap is filled with either cross or straight tiny lines. The linear Maithili paintings do not even require application of colors; only the outlines are drawn.
Lord Ganesh with Consort Madhubani PaintingThe colours used in the rich craft were traditionally obtained from natural sources. Black was derived by mixing soot with cow dung, yellow from turmeric, pollen or lime and blue from indigo. The crimson hue was developed from the juice of kusum flower, red sandalwood or rose. The green dye was acquired from leaves, white from powdered rice paste and orange from palasha flowers.
Madhubani images were coined by women on freshly plastered mud-walls of their huts during religious occasions and important events. The skill was passed from mother to daughter over generations. Today, this artwork has found an international platform and is created on paper, cloth, canvas, utensils, bangles papier-mâché products, wall hangings etc.
Themes of the Maithili painting of Bihar revolve around Hindu deities like Krishna, Rama, Lakshmi, Shiva, Durga and Saraswati. The natural themes that are used include the Sun, the Moon and the religious plants like tulsi. One can also find paintings based on scenes from the royal courts and social events, like weddings. If any empty space is left after painting the main theme, it is filled up with the motifs of flowers, animals and birds or geometric designs.
The paintings are traditionally based on mythological, folk themes and pastoral symbols. The central themes of most paintings are love, valor, devotion and fertility, though the approach may vary. So it is common to find scenes of courtship and marriages and symbols of fertility and prosperity like fish, parrot, elephant, turtle, sun, moon, bamboo tree, lotus, etc. in prominence. The divine beings are positioned centrally in the frame while their consorts and floral motifs form the background. The human figures are mostly abstract and linear in form.
Even though this art is centuries old, it has preserved its original style and content in its native land. Nowadays, however, synthetic colours are used but traditional artists still make their own colors by extracting them from plants. The colouring is of two styles – Kachni (hatching) and Bharni (shading.) Kachni uses delicate fine lines to fill the painting and not much color is used. Bharni (shading) uses solid colors to shade and fill the pictures. A variety of inventive patterns are used with hatching and stippling. These Madhubani paintings also carry a special social message as they played a key role in preventing trees from being cut down. The folk art is not just about decorations but is also used for worship. Artists in Bihar draw paintings depicting Hindu deities on trees and strong religious beliefs inhibit people from chopping them down.

Vasant Panchami: When the Goddess Saraswati is invoked

DSC_8491-Veena-Devi-Big_3Goddess Saraswati who is invoked on the occasion of Vasant Panchami (the fifth day of spring) is one of the most widely worshipped deities in India. The earliest known reference to Saraswati as a goddess is found in Rigveda.
She is the goddess of knowledge, music, arts, science and technology. Extremely popular among the Hindus, especially among the students, Vasant Panchami is also known as Shri Panchami and Saraswati Panchami.
Goddess Saraswati is part of the trinity of Saraswati, Lakshmi and Parvati. This trinity helps Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh to create, maintain and destroy (to regenerate) the universe. As per Devi Bhagwat, Goddess Saraswati is the wife of Lord Brahma and she lives in Brahmapura, the abode of Lord Brahma.
Lord Brahma who is the creator of the universe also created Goddess Saraswati. Hence she is also known as the daughter of Lord Brahma. Goddess Saraswati is also known by names such as Goddess Savitri and Goddess Gayatri.
Being the husband of Goddess Saraswati, Lord Brahma is also known as Vaagish which means Lord of Speech and Sound.
She is worshipped to get enlightened with knowledge and to get rid of lethargy, sluggishness and ignorance. This ritual of initiating education to children is known as Akshar-Abhyasam or Vidya-Arambham/Praasana which is one of the famous rituals of Vasant Panchami. Schools and colleges arrange special pujas in the morning to seek blessing of the Goddess.
In Book 2, Rigveda calls Saraswati as the best of mothers, of rivers, of goddesses.
saraswati2Saraswati is celebrated as a feminine deity with healing, purifying powers of abundant, flowing waters in Book 10 of Rigveda. (May the waters, the mothers, cleanse us; May they who purify with butter, purify us with butter for these goddesses bear away defilement; come up out of them pure and cleansed.)
Purvahna Kala, which is the time between the sunrise and the midday, is considered to decide Vasant Panchami day. Vasant Panchami is celebrated on the day when Panchami Tithi prevails during Purvahna Kala. Due to which Vasant Panchami might also fall on Chaturthi Tithi.
Many consider Vasant Panchami as Abujha day which is auspicious to start all good work. According to this belief whole Vasant Panchami day is auspicious to perform Saraswati Puja.
Although there is no special time to perform Saraswati Puja on Vasant Panchami day one should make sure that Puja is done when Panchami Tithi is prevailing.
Saraswati Ya Kundendu is the most famous stuti (hymn) dedicated to the goddess Saraswati and part of the famous Saraswati Stotram. It is recited during Saraswati Puja on the eve of Vasant Panchami.
Bhagawati Saraswati was born out of the mouth of Lord Brahma and so she became the Goddess of speech, including music and the knowledge. It is believed that Lord Brahma was so enamored with the beauty of Goddess Saraswati that he desired to marry her and many religious texts mention Goddess Saraswati as the consort of Lord Brahma.
Goddess Saraswati is depicted as a beautiful woman dressed in pure white with a calm and soothing face. In most iconographies, she is portrayed as playing a Veena while sitting on a blossomed white lotus flower. In most images a swan and a peacock accompanies her and in some images she mounts on a swan.
She is depicted with four hands. She holds a rosary and a book in two of her hands while playing a Veena with remaining two hands.
saraswati1Saraswati Vandana is invoked during the Vasant Panchmi. Here is the vandana:
Yaa Kundendu tushaara haara-dhavalaa, Yaa shubhra-vastra’avritaa
Yaa veena-vara-danda-manditakara, Yaa shweta padma’asana
Yaa brahma’achyuta shankara prabhritibhir, Devai-sadaa vandita
Saa Maam Paatu Saraswati Bhagavatee Nihshesha jaadya’apahaa.
Shuklaam Brahmavichaara Saara paramaam Aadhyaam Jagadvyapinim,
Veena Pustaka Dhaarineem Abhayadaam Jaadya’andhakaara’apahaam
Haste Sphaatika Maalikam Vidadhateem Padmasane Sansthitaam
Vande taam Parmeshwareem Bhagavateem Buddhipradaam Shardam.—-
Here is the English translation of the Vandana:
She, who is as fair as the Kunda flower, white as the moon, and a garland of white snow; and who is covered in white clothes; She, whose hands are adorned by the excellent veena, and whose seat is the pure white lotus; She, who is praised by Brahma, Vishnu, and Mahesh; and prayed to by the Devas; O Mother Goddess, remove my mental dullness!
The goddess is often depicted as a beautiful woman dressed in pure white, often seated on a white lotus. Lotus symbolizes light, knowledge and truth. She not only embodies knowledge but also the experience of the highest reality. Her iconography is typically in white themes from dress to flowers to swan – the colour symbolizing Sattwa Guna or purity, discrimination for true knowledge, insight and wisdom.
Saraswati is often depicted to have four arms. Her four hands mirror her husband Brahma’s four heads, representing manas (mind, sense), buddhi (intellect, reasoning), citta (imagination, creativity) and ahamkara (self-consciousness, ego). Brahma represents the abstract, she represents action and reality.
The four hands hold items with symbolic meaning — a pustaka (book or script), a mala (rosary, garland), a water pot and a musical instrument (lute or vina). The book symbolizes the Vedas representing the universal, divine, eternal, and true knowledge as well as all forms of learning. A mālā of crystals, representing the power of meditation, inner reflection and spirituality. A pot of water represents the purifying power to separate right from wrong, the clean from the unclean, and essence from the inessential. The musical instrument, typically a veena, represents the creative arts and sciences, and her holding it symbolizes expressing knowledge creating harmony.
Goddess Saraswati is also associated with anurāga, the love for and rhythm of music. This aspect of the goddess represents emotions and feelings expressed in speech or music.
A swan, which is her vehicle, is often located next to her feet. It is a sacred bird, which if offered a mixture of milk and water, is said to be able to drink the milk alone. The swan symbolizes the ability to discriminate between good and evil, essence from outward show and the eternal from the evanescent. Due to her association with the swan, Saraswati is also referred to as Hansvahini, which means “she who has a hansa /hans as her vehicle”. The swan also symbolizes spiritual perfection, transcendence and moksha.
So this Vasant Panchmi worship this god of learning and get enlightened with her blessings!
Here are few popular mantras chanted to invoke the Goddess Saraswati:
Aum Aing Saraswathye Namah Aum (Salutations to Goddess Saraswati)
Vidya Mantra for students: This sloka is found to improve memory, power and concentration in studies.
“Saraswati Namasthubhyam, Varade Kamarupini, Vidhyarambam Karishyami, Siddhir Bavathume Sadha.”
Another mantra is Mahasaraswati Mantra: Om, Aing Mahasaraswatyai Namah (Meaning Salutations to Goddess Maha Saraswati)
Maha Saraswati Mantra: This simple mantra is mainly used by students to make learning easy.
“Om Aim, Hrim, Kleem Maha Saraswati Devaya, Namaha”
Another mantra is Saraswati Mantra for Success in Education and Career
Om Vageeshwaryae Vidmahe Vagwadeenyae, Dhimahe Tannah Saraswati Prachodayat. This mantra is also known as Gayathri of Saraswati.
Another mantra is Saraswati Mantra for Acquiring Knowledge: “Vad Vad Vaagwaadinee Swaha.”
Saraswati Mantra for Enhancing Intelligence: Om, Aing Hreeng Shreeng, Vaagdevyai Saraswatyai Namah
There is another mantra for illumination. This mantra is dedicated to Goddess Saraswati to illuminate the minds of knowledge seekers. (Maho, Arnah Saraswati Pracheyati Ketuna, Dhiyo Vishwa Virajati)
So this Vasant Panchmi invoke the Goddess of Education and Learning and make your life enlightened.

Parasuram Kund: Where Vishnu avatar Parashuram washed his sin

Lord-Parshuram-Avtar-Of-Vishnu-BhagwanNestled in the scenic Kamlang Reserve Forest area in Arunachal Pradesh, Parasuram Kund is located on the Lohit River. The place has strong mythological link with the legend of Parsurama, a Hindu sage and one of the incarnations of Lord Vishnu.
Legends say that sage Parshurama washed away his sin of killing his mother as well as the Kshatriyas in the waters of the Lohit River at Bramhakund. A holy dip in the sacred kund is believed to wash away one’s sins. The legend recorded in the Kalika Purana, is that the great sage Parashuram washed away the sins of killing his mother as well as the Kshatriyas.
Every year thousands of pilgrims from across the country and abroad gather on Makar Sankranti day, to wash away their sins. A fair (mela) is held during this period.
On Paush Sankranti, a Parshuram Mela is held here every year, which is attended by innumerable saints and devotees.
The Kund is surrounded by dense forest of sacred Ruddraksha trees, the fruit of which is sacred to Hindu ascetics as well as general believers of the faith.
The old site was completely changed by the devastating earthquake in 1950 that ravaged the whole of the North-East and the kund was completely covered. A very strong current is now flowing over the original site of the kund but massive boulders have in a mysterious way embedded themselves in a circular formation in the river bed thus forming another kund in place of the old.
parshuram-kund1There is an interesting story about the origin of the place. Once Parashuram’s mother went to the river to fetch water. She was attracted to a handsome prince busy in the water with women and desired his company. She lost all sense of time and forgot that her husband was awaiting her return for his fire sacrifice. When she finally arrived, her husband was furious to learn of her adulterous thoughts by means of his meditative power and ordered his sons to kill their Mother.
The sons refused and the sage asked his youngest son, Parashuram, to kill his disloyal Mother and disobedient brothers.
Parashuram thought that if he refused to carry out his father’s order he would be cursed, but if he carried out the order, his father would be pleased and would give him a benediction. He would then be able to bring his Mother and brothers back to life with that benediction. Parashuram therefore killed his own Mother and brothers. When Jamadagni, Parashuram’s father being very pleased, offered to give him a benediction, Parashuram requested that his Mother and brothers be brought back to life and that they would not remember having been killed by him. His Mother and brothers immediately came to life as if awakened from sound sleep. Parashurama was fully aware of his father’s power of austerity and had therefore decided to kill his Mother. However, the axe with which Parashuram killed his mother got stuck to his hand and he couldn’t get rid of the weapon.
Parashuram, after killing his mother, went all around the world for prayaschit but not a single place allowed him to get rid of his axe. Finally, it was here in the river Brahmaputra that he could finally get rid of it and wash his sins off. Thus this place is of great religious importance.
How to reach
Tinsukia in Assam is the nearest railway station from where you get direct cabs to Tezo. Tezo is the last district HQ on the Indian side, where I befriended a person in the DC office. I was looking to book an IB (Inspection Bungalow) but it wasn’t possible.
Vishnu Incarnation
The sixth incarnation of Lord Vishnu was a Parashuram who was born to destroy not one or two evil forces or demons but a whole social group. “Observing subsequently, that the Kshatriyas oppressed the earth, Hari assumed the mortal form, in order to protect the gods, brahmanas and mankind,” says Agni Puran.
As axe was his main weapon, Parshuram was known so.
Parshuram had four elder brothers; Rumanvat, Sushen, Vasu and Vishvavasu. Parshuram was the youngest but proved to be the greatest.
After his Upanayana, Parashuram went to mountain Shalgram and learnt all the vidyas (streams of knowledge) from sage Kashyap. He preferred Dhanurvidya (the art of war) than other streams of knowledge. He performed hard penance on mountain Gandhmadan and acquired Dhanurvidya from Shiva and gained 41 Astras such as Brahmh, Raudra, Vaishnav, Agneya, Wasav, Nairut and also his famous Parshu from Shiva.
Valmiki Ramayan describes Parshuram as follows: “King Dashrath saw Parshuram; descendant of Bhargav clan. The one who is huge, bearing jata and valkal (clothes made of tree barks) and the one who defeats and destroys kings. He was unattainable as mountain Kailas, unbearable as galloping fire. It was impossible for common people to look at him because of his aura. There was an axe on his shoulder and a bow like a thunderbolt. He also had a sharp arrow in his hand. He was looking like Tripurantak Shiva.”
(ValmikiRamayan, Balkand, 74.17-19)

Navaratras: Nine days of festivity and fasting

“Sarva mangala mangalye shive sarvaartha saadhike
Sharanye trayambake Gauri
Narayani namosthute”
(Meaning of the mantra: To auspiciousness of all auspiciousness, to the Good, to the accomplisher of all objectives, to the Source of Refuge; tryambake; to the Goddess who is Rays of Light; Exposer of consciousness; We bow to you again and again. We worship you.)
Ma sherawaliOne of the most auspicious and widely celebrated festivals in India, Navratri or Navratra or nine nights reminds us to rededicate our lives to the great spirit of Mother Goddess Durga.
Navratri, Navratra in North India, is a nine day holy festival, which is celebrated to propitiate Goddess of Shakti or Divine Mother. The common norm is to keep fast on all the nine days of the festival.
Devotees also visit temples dedicated to goddess all over India. The festival is observed very enthusiastically in the state of Gujarat where all nine nights of Navratras are spent in vibrant Garba and Rasa dance. In West Bengal Durga Puja is the most important festival and is celebrated with gaiety and enthusiasm.
There are some important mantras to invoke the Goddess. During the Nine-day-long festival, chanting of these mantras gives us maximum benefits.
Ya devi sarva bhutesu, shanti rupena sansitha
Ya devi sarva bhutesu, shakti rupena sansthita
Ya devi sarva bhutesu, matra rupena sansthita
Namastasyai, namastasyai, namastasyai, namo namaha!
(The goddess who is omnipresent as the personification of universal mother
The goddess who is omnipresent as the embodiment of power
The goddess who is omnipresent as the symbol of peace
I bow to her, I bow to her, I bow to her again & again.)
durgaAnother mantra to Goddess Durga: Yaa Devi Sarva Bhooteshu Buddhi Roopena Samsthita
Namastasyai Namastasyai Namastasyai Namo Namaha
(Meaning: OH Goddess (Devi) who resides everywhere in all living beings as intelligence and beauty
I salute to you. Take my salutations again and again.)
Namoh devyai mahadevyai shivayai satatam namah
Namah prakrutyai bhadraayai niyataah pranataahsma taam
Jagdamb Vichitramatra Kim Paripoorna Karunaasti Chenmayi I
Aparadha Parampara Param Na Hi Mata Samupekshate Sutam II
(O mother of the world Jagdamba, you are the one who looks after her children. Your love and kindness towards me is no surprise O mother goddess. Being a mother you forget all our sins and correct us without abandoning your children)
Navratras mark the onset of festive season in India. The festival is followed by Diwali, the Festival of Lights. Life is full of devotion and trust. People take this opportunity to rededicate their life for the cause of sacrifice and humanity.
According to Hindu mythology, Goddess Durga is the Mother Goddess or Shakti, the divine female energy.
Legends say that Lord Brahma granted a boon to Mahishasur who was king of the demons. Armed with the prowess of the boon, Mahishasur wrought havoc in the universe, and no one could defeat him or kill him. He became so relentless that he didn’t even spare the god and started terrorizing the Gods (Devtas) as well.
Long time back, a demon (Asura) named Rambha was the King of the Asuras. One day he saw a beautiful she-buffalo, and was immediately fallen in her love. The son born of this union was Mahishasura. After Rambha, Mahisha became the King of the Asuras. Mahisha was very powerful and after a rigorous penance, he could satisfy Lord Brahma. He wanted immortality which was turned down by the Brahma.
durga-puja5330Mahishasura said, “Since it is not possible for me to be immortal, may I not die at the hands of Men. May I not die at the hands of my foes, the Devas. May I not die at the hands of the great Trinity. If death has to approach me, may it approach me only through a woman since woman is weak, woman is powerless. How can a woman kill all powerful Mahisha? If you grant me this boon, I shall be as good as immortal.”
The Lord said, “O best among the Asuras. You shall become all powerful among men and Gods. You shall lead a long life, but it shall come to an end, through the means of a woman. There is no escaping fate. You shall not die, except at the hands of a woman.”
Armed with the boon He one day reached Heaven to kill Indra (King of Gods). Totally helpless, Indra asked Lord Brahma to help him. Lord Brahma was enraged at such blatant misuse of his boon and the power associated with that boon, he along with Lord Vishnu and Lord Mahesh, released their energies and combined these shaktis (powers) and out of the combined energies of all the gods was born a magnificent Goddess with many arms. This form of Shakti was called “Durga”. Goddess Durga armed rode on a Lion (Singh) and fought a fierce and a bloody battle with the Mahishasur.
The legends further say that for nine days and nights, Goddess Durga fought a fierce battle with Mahishasur. In order to deceive the goddess, Mahishasur changed his form many times.
On the tenth day, Goddess ultimately overpowered him and trapped the demon and killed him and the world heaved a sigh of relief.
Her victory symbolizes the triumph of good over evil. During these nine days, the devotees are totally the propitiation of the Mother Goddess or Shakti . Hinduism is the only religion the world which has emphasized to such an extent the motherhood of God.

During the Navratri festival, every night is dedicated to one form of Goddess Durga. Thus Navratri corresponds to worship of different forms of Goddess Durga.
Maa Shailputri: The daughter of Parvatraj Himalaya (King of the Mountain Himalaya). She married Lord Shiva and is known as mother of Lord Ganesha (The Remover of obstacles) and Kartikeya (The God of War).
Maa Brahmachaarin: She gives the message of pure love to the world.
Maa Chandraghanta: She establishes Justice. She wears the crescent moon on her head.
Maa Kushmaanda: She provides the basic necessities, and every day sustenance to the world.
Skand Maa: She gives the gift of differentiation & discrimination of right from wrong to the world.
Maa Kaatyayini: She persistently & relentlessly battles against the evil and deceitful & devious entities.
Maa Kaalratri: She killed Raktabeeja (A demon who had the power to produce a demon from every drop of blood that fell from his body. Goddess & Divine Mother eventually licked the blood before it could reach the ground and hence conquered & over powered him).
Maa Chaamunda: She killed two demons–Chanda and Munda and restored tranquility & order in the world.
Maa MahaGauri: She also liberated the world from the evil forces.
Mata Sidhidaarti: She is a treasure house of Mystic Powers (Yantra Tantra) and Knowledge (Gyaan).
The nine days are also divided and devoted to the Trinity of Gods worshipped in a female form. First three days are dedicated to Maa Durga (Goddess of valour, power and energy). The next three days, Maa Lakshmi (Goddess of Wealth & Prosperity) is invoked and the last three days for Maa Saraswati (Goddess of Knowledge, Learning and Art).
Rituals during the nine days:
Rituals for first three days:
During the first three days of Navratri Maa Durga is worshiped in its manifestations as Kumari, Parvati and Kali. These three forms represent three different nature or classes of woman – as a young virgin girl, as a wife and mother and as an old mature woman respectively.
On the first day of Navratri, barley seeds are sown in a small pot in the Puja (worship) room.
On the tenth day when these seeds grow into small shoots these are pulled out and given to devotees as a blessing from god and are received as Prasad.
Rituals for Fourth – Sixth Days of Navratras:
During these three days, Mother Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity is worshiped. This is done to rekindle divine qualities in a devotee’s mind. Prayers, kirtans and Jagratns are organized in various temples. On the fifth day which is known as Lalita Panchami, it is traditional, to gather and display all literature available in the house, light a lamp or ‘diya’ to invoke Saraswati Maa, the Goddess of knowledge and art.
Rituals for Seventh – Eighth Days of Navratras:
On the seventh and eighth day, Goddess Saraswati (Goddess of Knowledge, Learning and Art) is worshiped. It is believed that worshiping Maa Saraswati enhances the spiritual knowledge of a devotee and makes a person free of all bonds of the life. This in turn will free a devotee from all earthly bondages. On the eighth day of this colourful festival, Yagna or Homam (holy fire) is performed. Pure Desi Ghee (clarified pure butter), kheer (rice pudding) and sesame seeds form the holy offering to Goddess Durga Maa (Divine Mother). The eight day is also known as ashtami.
Rituals of the Ninth or Mahanavami Day:
The festival of Navratri culminates on Mahanavami, the most important day of the festival, when ‘Kanya Pujan’ is performed in Hindu households. Nine young girls representing the nine forms of Goddess Durga are worshiped. Their feet are washed and then they are offered new clothes as gifts by the worshiper. They are also treated with a Prasad of Puri, Black Chanas (Chhole) and Halwa, small token of money, red bangles and red scarf. On this day these girls usually move from house to house and enjoy and relish this special treat. This ritual is performed in most parts of the country.
During the Navratri days, people eat pure vegetarian food. Some people eat food without any form of cereal and some fast for all the eight days.
People also visit the world famous holy shrine of Maa Vaishnodevi, located on Trikoot Mountain near Jammu during this period. Lunches and Dinners are also organized in temples and community places which are known as bhandaras. In Gujrat and West Bengal, Navratras are celebrated with great pomp and show.
In West Bengal during Navratras, Goddess Durga is worshipped. The pujas are held over a five day period, which is viewed as the home coming of the married daughter, Durga, to her father, Parvatraj Himalaya’s (Mountain King Himalaya) home. Durga Puja is considered to be the most important festival of the Bengali people. During these days, Bengali people buy new clothes, exchange sweets and most of the new purchases are made.

Goddess Shailputri is worshipped on first day of Navratri

वंदे वाद्द्रिछतलाभाय चंद्रार्धकृतशेखराम |
वृषारूढां शूलधरां शैलपुत्री यशस्विनीम् ||
Vandē vāddrichatalābhāya candrārdhakr̥taśēkharāma |
vr̥ṣārūḍhāṁ śūladharāṁ śailaputrī yaśasvinīm ||

Durga MataOne of the most popular festivals in India, Navratri is celebrated with fervor and gaiety across the country. During Navratri, Goddess Durga is worshipped in nine forms. The first form of Goddess Durga – Maa Shailputri is worshipped on the first day of Navratri. Goddess Parvati took rebirth as the daughter of Lord Himalayas and was known as Shailputri. In Sanskrit, Shail means mountain and hence, Goddess Parvati was known as Shailputri (daughter of the mountain).
The festival holds tremendous significance for the devotees. While, Navratri is marked by celebrations, fasting as well as relishing on various delicacies, dance and prayers, this festival also includes certain myths and a number of do’s and don’ts.
According to legends, Lord Shiva allowed his wife Goddess Durga to visit her mother for nine days during this time and hence, Navratri is celebrated nine days; “nav” means nine and “ratri” means night.
During this auspicious festival, one should not get hair or nail cut; should not stitch clothes; should not consume alcohol, and non-vegetarian food items including onion and garlic and students should not study on the last day of the festival that is Dussehra.
durga-puja5330On the other hand, devotees must strictly follow some rituals during the festival. Some include offering milk and food to Goddess Durga, having a shower early in morning, reciting mantras related to the Goddess, among others.
According to legends, Goddess Durga fought a battle with demon Mahishashura during this time and killed him. Thus the festival is celebrated to show devotion towards the Goddess for protecting her devotees from evil forces.
Goddess Durga, who epitomizes power, has nine different forms; two of them are Laxmi and Saraswati. The nine-day-long festival also witnesses worship for Laxmi and Saraswati, who symbolise wealth and knowledge, respectively. The last day of Navratri, called Dussehra, ends with huge effigies of Ravana being burnt as it symbolises Lord Rama’s triumph over the lord of demons.
The Legend
According to legends, Ma Bhagwati in her previous birth was the daughter of Daksha Prajapati and was called Sati who was married to Lord Shiva but in a ceremony organised by Daksha, she self-immolated in the yogic fire as she couldn’t bear the insult meted out to her husband by her father. Lord Shiva was not invited to the ceremony but Sati went against the wishes of her husband.
Vaishno DeviLater Sati was reborn as Goddess Parvati, the daughter of the Parvat Raj Himalayas. She got married to Lord Shiva. She is the first and the most significant among the Nava Durgas worshipped during Navratri.
During the puja, one must place red cloth on a chowki where Goddess Shailputri’s picture is placed. Write ‘Sh’ with kesar on it and place Gutika there. One must take red flowers in the hand and pray to Goddess Shailputri while chanting this mantra: Om Aim Hreem Kleem Chamundaye Vichaye Om Shailputri Dewya Namah
While chanting the mantra, offer flowers and gutika to the Goddess and place them on her picture. After that, one must offer bhog and chant the mantra (Om Shan Shailputri Dewya) at least 108 times.
Pratham Durga Twahi BhavsagarTardeem Dhan Aishwarya Dayini Shailputri PranmabhyahumTrilojanani Twahi Paramanand PradiyamaanSaubhagyarogya Dayini Shailputri PranmabhyahumCharachareshwari Twahi Mahamohvinashin Mukti Bhukti Dayini Shailputri Pranmabhyahum.
One of all nine forms of Devi Durga is worshipped every day in Navaratri. The first form of Maa Durga is Shailputri, who was born to the King of Mountains. “Shail” means mountain and “putri” means daughter. So she is called Shailputri – the daughter of mountain. Maa Shailputri, an absolute form of Mother Nature, is worshipped on the first day of Navratri.
Maa Shailputri is shown as a divine lady, holding a trishul in her right hand and lotus flower in her left hand. She rides on Nandi, a bull.
Maa Shailputri is the goddess of the muladhara chakra or root chakra, and upon awakening this Shakti one begins their journey to spiritual awakening and to their purpose in life. Without energising the muladhara chakra one can’t have the power and strength to do anything worthwhile. One should worship Maa Shailputri to make full use of the precious human life.