Human and Divine

The Dashavatara, which chronicles the ten manifestations of Lord Vishnu, defines the Lord’s role very distinctly. Parashurama Avatara happens to be an exception. The manifestation as Parashurama which precedes Ramavatara finds presence in Krishnavatara also. Parashurama’s appearance in both Ramayana and Mahabharata has made some people wonder whether the two epics speak about the same person or different person who lived through the Treta Yuga and Dwapara Yuga.

Towards the end of Parashurama Avatara, Maha Vishnu had completed his mission and was reborn again as Rama. It is believed that in the last portion of Parashurama Avatara and the first portion of Ramavatara there was a combination of the human and the divine. The manifestation of Lord Vishnu as Parashurama lasted till he met Rama. An incident in the Ramayana speaks of a time when Rama was returning to Ayodhya with his bride Sita after his wedding, he was confronted by Parashurama.

The axe wielding Brahmin knew that Rama had broken the Bow of Shiva in the process of stringing it in order to win Sita’s hand in marriage. He was aware that the power of Maha Vishnu was split between the two Avataras. Parashurama waylaid Rama and challenged the prince of Ayodhya to prove his prowess by stringing the bow of Maha Vishnu. Rama was struck by the temerity of the Brahmin. He took the bow quietly and did the needful in a trice.

In that moment, the component of Maha Vishnu in Parashurama merged with that of Rama. However, the body of the Brahmin in which the Lord resided continued to live as sage Parashurama. As Raghava handed over the bow to Parashurama, he laid a condition. He told the ascetic that the latter could forfeit the merits of his penance or his physical mobility as a sign of his penitence.

Interestingly, Parashurama surrendered the Punya he had garnered over his lifetime and opted the power to be on his feet so that he could retire to the Mahendra mountains and spend his days in prayers. He went on to tutor great pupils like Bheeshma and Karna as he went on to live as the contemporary of Sri Krishna. The Lord reiterated the theory of Karma was applicable to one and all himself included!

The Purpose of Yajnas

Radha Prathi, Sep 25, 2015,

Angels and demons reside within each one of us. When we fuel the positive or negative traits in us, they transpose as our character eventually contributing to our personality.

For instance, the Hindu way of living believes that we feed strength to our Gods which happen to be the goodness in us through Yagas and Yajnas.

The Gods who have to be pleased could be either forces or nature or could be presiding over various qualities that we desire to acquire. During these times, the performer of the Yajna follows certain disciplines.

He has to be truthful, abstain from alcohol and cooked food, uphold integrity, and espouse celibacy, apart from reposing faith and belief in the action that he has proposed to perform.

In other words, the Yajaman, the performer of the Yajna cleanses himself physically, mentally and spiritually before setting out to empower the Gods or the natural elements, who actually reside within him.

Then an individual or a team of Yajniks, light a ceremonial fire in a spot which is conducive and feed it with Havis. Havis, is usually pure ghee sourced from cow’s milk cream and is poured in to feed the sacrificial fire.

This action is accompanied by appropriate acoustics by way of mantras invoking the Gods or the forces of nature in a sincere manner. When this action is performed for a couple of hours over a few days, the smoke emanating from the fire and the complementary sound bytes will have an effect on the overhanging clouds. They will get charged which will result in rains.

The periodic rains in an agricultural society will ensure bumper crops. This in turn will usher in prosperity followed by contentment, peace and harmony. Naturally the citizens of the country who live in such an atmosphere will develop a penchant for the development of self and society. Arts, science and commerce will thrive, paving the way for a better standard of living.

The logic behind Yagas and Yajnas has been lost on us for lack of comprehension. Even if people who do understand the underlying principle perform them by the book, the altered environment punctuated with pollution and deforestation seldom fetches the desired results.

However, the new age should not deter us from feeding the God within us.

Yajna can be interpreted as a metaphor. It is an exercise which can help understand that the means are as important if not more as the ends we hope to arrive at. Any project taken up with discipline, passion and perseverance is equivalent to a Yajna which is perfectly capable of delivering the results we look forward to achieve.

Food for Physical Sustenance, Character

Ancient Indians believed that “Shareeram eva Dharma Sadhanam” – which means the human body is the vehicle of spirituality.

In other words the intrinsic virtues of a person are directly related to the well-being of his physical self. It is said that once a great king cooked and served a humble meal to a Samaritan monk.

The well-fed monk rested for a while and furtively started helping himself to the silver cutlery from the royal kitchen. The king was aghast. He confronted the monk, who blamed it on the food. A little probing revealed that a thief who professed to be a merchant, paid toll tax to the king’s men by way of some food grains. It had been duly cooked by the king for the monk.

Since the monk had led a clean life, the morally soiled food had its effect on him on ingestion.

The food we consume not only lends us physical sustenance but also lends us our character. This is probably the reason why all religions subscribe to both feasting and fasting.

Fasting helps us to discipline our senses, cleanse our intestines and regulate our digestive system.

Ayurveda classifies food into three categories Satvic, Rajas and Tamas in the decreasing order of health quotient.

Satvic food consists of a healthy vegetarian diet of fresh fruits, vegetables, milk and bland food without many spices which keep the body in a good condition and help the mind to inch forth towards noble and spiritual thoughts.

Rajas food includes fried and spicy food sometimes including a non vegetarian diet which undermines and clogs the digestive system paving way to a lethargic way of living. Leftovers, stale or unpalatable food constitute Tamas food which degenerates the consumer physically, mentally and spiritually.

It is frightening to note that modern living which has bestowed us with refrigerators and microwave ovens are actually encouraging even the well to do and educated into consuming Tamas food, without giving it a second thought about its ill effects on the health.

The hazards of modern living are translating into unflattering medical reports. True, we cannot set the clock back or undo the damage. Unhealthy bodies have a tendency to breed weak psyches which in turn can prove to be detrimental to the society we live in.

Yet we can endeavour to “be the change we want to see” by incorporating some simple lifestyle changes in our lives and those of our children, so that we can alter things for the better in future.

Architects of our Karma

One man’s food is another man’s poison. We find our lives constantly riddled with the vagaries of life which offer contrasting situations. We often find people working on cross purposes sometimes defeating the very cornerstone of their goal.

For instance students are more interested in clearing or topping examinations than learning the subject. Teachers are busy finishing portions as against imparting knowledge. Businessmen, journalists, governmental and non-governmental organisations are more worried about meeting deadlines rather than investing quality time and research on their projects.

In other words, most people in every walk of life, no matter what their age, gender, occupation or station, are keen on working towards their goal. Little do they realise that the not so pleasant or positive side effects of the journey launched by none other than themselves  is the direct result of their own Karma.

A tale in the Puranas puts across this point ever so well. Once upon a time, king Shwetaki decided to perform a series of homas and yajnas for a period of a hundred years. He used several thousand pots of pure ghee as oblation to Agni the god of fire in order to appease all the gods in the pantheon.

As years passed by, Agni found it extremely difficult to digest the rich offerings. He lost his resplendence and became very pale and weak. He rushed to the creator Lord Brahma to seek a solution for his unique problem. He was asked to consume the green vegetation of the Khandava forest to restore his healthy appetite.

Accordingly, Agni spread his flames into the verdant area. The creatures of the forest appealed to Lord Indra to protect them from the raging fire. The area was doused by torrential rains by the grace of Indra. Agni found it difficult to continue with his treatment.

He sought the help of Krishna and Arjuna who were passing by to help him on his mission. The twosome was initially reluctant to interfere in a matter which did not concern them in the least. Yet the prayer, petulance and persistence of Agni made them consider his request.

Little did they realise that they would be inviting the fury and vengeance of Takshaka, the venomous serpent who lived in the forest. Long after the Great War of Kurukshetra, Arjuna’s grandson king Parikshit became the victim of the long-drawn animosity created through an inadvertent chain of events.

So, when the results of our endeavours are met with unsavoury situations and unexpected outcomes, we must trace back our steps and analyse our situation. We are most likely to find that we are the architects of our destiny.

Marvelling The Garden’s Metaphysics

Marvelling The Garden’s Metaphysics
RADHA PRATHI on the relevance of Marvell’s notes on the garden.

Green is the order of the day. Just about everybody, who matters or doesn’t, appear to be saying the right things about our environment and ecology. Research reveals the wealth of goodness a well-planted garden can have on man. At this juncture, the 17th century poem titled, The Garden, written by the metaphysical poet Andrew Marvell, caught my attention.

It is perhaps the most complete poem on the subject, as it traverses through every conceivable aspect of greenery and garden with great precision. Though this piece of verse is a couple of hundred years old, each and every word of it is strikingly relevant.

To Marvell, The Garden was not merely a place full of flowering plants and trees, but a blend of sensuous fulfillment, intellectual appeal and spiritual elevation. You must have realized all over again the importance of, “the leafy crown”, apart from the medals in the recent past, when the Olympics was going on. The poet has captured this wonderful vanity of men, who crave for a bunch of leaves when they can have a whole flowering tree for themselves.

When the poet says:

How vainly men themselves amaze
To win the palm, the oak or bays,
And their incessant labours see
Crowned from some single herb, or tree,
Whose short and narrow-verged shade
Does prudently their toils upbraid;
While all flowers and all trees do close
To weave the garlands of repose!

Even as one ruminates on the harsh truth of ephemeral fame, the poet draws our attention to a very universal and commonplace occurrence. Wherever you live in the world, if you have visited any park or garden, one very general observation is that lovers eternalize their mutual love by carving their names on to the bark of a tree. This serves as a memorabilia of their love for each other, nourished and sheltered under that particular tree.

The poet, a lover of these trees, is positively distressed by the action of these heartless lovers, who do not appreciate the beauty of these trees, which are far more beautiful than their partners. He proclaims that if a situation should arise when he is forced by circumstances to write something on the trees, he would:

Fair trees, wheresoever your barks I wound,
No name shall but your own be found.

Marvell then resorts to Greek mythology to put across the value of trees. He alludes to the legend of Apollo and Daphne with a vein of humour to support his line of thought. It is said that Apollo chased Daphne, in order to attain her sensuously. Daphne, who was running away from him, could not bear the strain any longer. So with the grace of mother Goddess, she turns into a tree, thereby escaping the amorous reach of Apollo.

The poet feels all the passion of the God was exhausted in the race and his love culminated by way of a tree. In his other allusion the poet refers to the legend of Pan and Syrinx, where the latter was sought after by Pan not in the capacity of a nymph but as a material for his reed; soon after she turns into one. Andrew Marvell interprets the legends to achieve his end of enhancing the value of trees.

When we have run our passion’s heat,
Love hither makes his best retreat.
The gods, that mortal beauty chase,
Still in a tree did end their race.

The poet, quite simply, concludes pursuance of worldly pleasures even by the Gods themselves who find their nemesis in a tree as a retreat. It encapsulates the religious endeavour and fervour, which in turn leads to an ethical enhancement of the personalities of the celestial beings who are saved from sin. It is in the tree that the poet sees a transition from sensuous love to the love of solitude and peace. According to him, there could not be a better retreat than a tree to get away from the passions of the world. Perhaps Gautama Buddha realized this truth and chose the pipal tree to seek his truth.

The poet, who experiences perfect contentment and happiness, is suddenly saddled with a sneaky feeling that God perhaps felt a little green about Adam’s double happiness. Adam seemed to be enjoying the best of both the worlds — by enjoying his stay in paradise and in The Garden.

Marvell appears to be rather certain, when he remarks casually that God made Eve to spoil the boundless joy of man in the Garden. Though one feels enraged by his misogynistic attitude, one cannot but help forgive his thought, as he is preoccupied with The Garden rather than anything else. One cannot but help praise the superior metaphysical wit and the ever so subtle remark by Marvell.

Annihilating all that is made
To a green thought in a green shade.

All at once, the poet is able to comprehend the timelessness of eternity, the mortality of man and man’s need to go beyond the physical and realize life’s ultimate truth.

The poem stands like a beacon to the present world that is choking at its gills.

Yesterday once more

Watching today’s children play “Fairy, may I cross the river” sets this writer musing on how things remain the same despite the many changes over the years.

The angst of Gen X, Y et al lies in the realm of GG or generation gap. Super-cool kids cannot see eye to eye with antiquated adults. It does not matter if the elder is only a few years older. They beg to differ on almost everything because they live in different times and circumstances. Their mentality seems to be justified. After all, didn’t all of us “older people” go through this phase when we were younger?

Yet, if one scratches the surface, it is easy to see nothing much has changed. It is just a case of old wine in new bottles. While it has made sense to me in various contexts, it gained a haloed status after a particular incident, when I observed a couple of children respond to situations in a way unchanged across time and space.

Once, I was assigned the responsibility of babysitting an eight and nine-year-olds for a while. I planned on keeping an eye on them as I let them play. So I asked whether they enjoyed playing games outside of school. They smiled in assent. Then I asked them whether they enjoyed indoor games or the outdoor variety. Pat came the answer, “That depends on the weather, aunty.” So I plied them with another query about their favourite game. This time, they answered animatedly. I gathered that they enjoyed different versions of playstation and online games while at home and enjoyed “gaming” outdoors, preferably at a videogame station. They did play cricket on the streets occasionally during bandhs and at cricket camps in summer, besides a bit of bowling or so. It was clear that they were completely innocent of creative fun games that involved the mind and body and cost next to nothing.

I asked tentatively if they would care to play a game, which we played at their age. They nodded politely. I explained that the game was called, “Fairy, may I cross the golden river?” Here, the youngest was chosen to be a fairy and he/she would have to stand in the centre of the ground with two lines drawn about 10 feet away on either side. These represented the banks of the river. The other young people had to stand on one side and ask “Fairy, May I cross the golden river?” The fairy would reply in the negative. Then the little ones had to ask “Why?” and the fairy would say, “Because you must have a certain colour!” The children would chime together in chorus, “Which colour?” The fairy would look carefully at the group and name a colour that none seemed to possess. If a child had the colour, he/she had a safe passage to the other bank. If not, the fairy would turn into a crocodile and catch the kids who tried to rush to the other bank. The unfortunate one who got caught would be crowned the next Fairy!

The young ones got the hang of the game and set the ball rolling. I observed that the fairy’s colour palette had an exotic range from beige, mauve to cyan. The children checked even the inside of their pockets to claim safe passage before they tried to scoot across. Just like we did all those decades ago!

After a couple of rounds, they decided to take a brief break and disappeared into the house. Post-break, some of them looked particularly colourful, wearing multi-hued scarves, hairbands and bracelets, completely armed to stride across the river.

I could not help reminiscing how some of us would whip out dozens of colourful bangles and wear them on either wrist as some kind of an amulet to please the fairy. The boys would carry coloured yarns in their pockets to cross the river without incident. Now, when we played the game as children, the fun would cease once the game reached this saturation point. I could see the waning signs in these kids too!

I remembered how one enterprising teacher suggested that the fairy conduct a quiz of sorts. The ones who gave the right answers could cross the golden river without incident. In the event of a wrong answer … you know the drill. We accepted the idea and played for a while, till it became tedious. Besides, the new rules led to arguments about the right answer and we had to rush to find an encyclopaedia or a knowledgeable adult to clear our doubts and sort out our squabbles. We gave up playing the game after the initial charm was lost.

Nevertheless, I suggested the subsequent sequel to the kids when we parted ways. And history repeated itself. I learned that the kids passed on the game to novices at their schools and birthday parties. The game, invariably, took the same predictable turns and met the same end, but never failed to inspire players to pass the legacy on.

What is true of this game is true of many aspects of life. Times have changed, so have people and their mindsets. Yet, in a given situation, our reactions and responses are more or less likely to be the same for we seem to go through the same motions of life albeit in different times.

When white light is passed through a prism, it diverges into rainbow colours. The converse is also true. The philosophy of this experiment reveals that all colours are components of white light and vice versa. If it is a principle of nature how can man be an exception?

Original Here