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Hari-Hara, The Unity of Shiva and Vishnu

In the early centuries of the Common Era, sectarian strife was a major issue between the followers of Shiva and the followers of Vishnu. With the advent of Advaita or non-dualistic philosophy, the differences between these two sects and many others have been partially reconciled. The unity of the major gods Shiva and Vishnu has become increasingly popular, and many temples now house the image of Hari-Hara.

The iconographical depiction of Hari-Hara or Shankara-Narayana combines the two deities, Shiva and Vishnu, into a single body. The icon itself is aesthetically pleasing; however, the underlying philosophy is even more beautiful.

The Hindu trinity is comprised of Brahma, the creator, Vishnu the preserver, and Shiva the dissolver. Brahma represents the creation of the universe, this world, and everything within it. There is no way to refuse that the creation of all that surrounds us, as well as ourselves is astonishing. Therefore Brahma does not find himself to be the subject of sectarian division. The argument instead revolves around the relative greatness of Vishnu, the guardian of Brahma’s creation versus Shiva, the one capable of destroying the entire creation and providing a blank canvas for Brahma to begin again.

When looking at the descriptions of Shiva and Vishnu according to various texts, it is interesting to see the juxtaposition between them. Vishnu, who represents the Sattvic Guna is depicted as cloudy black in color, while Shiva who represents the Tamasic Guna is depicted as crystalline white. If that is not confusing enough, Vishnu who is responsible for the protection of the world is depicted as lounging on the back of a snake in the depths of the ocean while Shiva who is responsible for various culminations, one of which being sleep, is depicted as ever-awake and deep in contemplation.

 

While perplexing at first, the hidden symbolism is very significant. Vishnu is described to be the color of a dark rain cloud. In this context he is associated with water, which is appropriate because water is the basic necessity of survival. Only with water can plants grow to be later used for food, lumber, and clothing. Shiva is described to be the color of ash. From his third-eye emanates a ferocious fire. Fire is the basic element that causes destruction and stimulates renewal. After burning anything, the result is white ash, which represents the transient nature of life. The cycle of life can also be understood in the context of this symbolism. Vishnu resides in the bottom of the ocean while Shiva resides at the top of the Himalayas. This shows how man starts at the very bottom and is nurtured by Vishnu, then as he gains knowledge, prosperity, and energy (think Saraswathi, Lakshmi, and Parvathi!) he soars to the heights of this world and will eventually receive Moksha, another culmination granted by Shiva.

While this is only a drop in the vast ocean of symbolism and philosophy regarding these two major deities, it is an introduction to understanding the profound beauty behind the sculpture of Hari Hara. On the right stands Shiva, clad in tiger skins and yielding the axe that cuts our ties to this universe. On the left stands Vishnu clad in silk garments and yielding the conch that signals the victory of good and the mace that represents the power of the mind and body. Together on a single pedestal they stand and reassure us that our good qualities will be preserved and our bad qualities destroyed.

śivasya hridayam viṣṇur viṣṇoscha hridayam śivaḥ

Vishnu is the heart of Shiva; Shiva is the heart of Vishnu

~Svasti~

 

Hindu Goddess Ganga – Birth & Descent to Earth

Ganges (Ganga) is the most revered and sacred river in the Hindu Mythology. None of the rivers in the world has been able to win so much love and attention from people as Ganga. She is worshipped by the name Ganga Maiya (Mother Ganga) and the Gangajal (Ganga = Ganges; jal = water) is believed to wash away all sins and grant the devotee salvation.  No other river has been mentioned in the Puranas as much as the holy Ganges.

Here is how Lord Vishnu has narrated the importance of river Ganges to Garuda.

“DARSHANATSPARSHANATPANATTATHA GANGETI

KEERTANAT PUNATYAPUNYANPURUSHANA SHATASHOTHA SAHASRASHAH”

Meaning: Thousands of man’s sins are destroyed by the holy sight of the Ganges, and he becomes pure, by the touch of Ganges water, by having it, or by just pronouncing ‘Ganga-Ganga’.

River Ganga

River Ganga originates from the Gangotri glacier at Gaumukh in the Indian Himalayas. She flows 2,525 km across northern India before emptying to the Bay of Bengal in the east India and Bangladesh.

Birth of Ganga

As per Hindu Mythology, Ganga is the daughter of Brahma, born from his kamandala (a spout shaped vessel), when he was washing the feet of Vamana (The dwarf Brahmin incarnation of Lord Vishnu).

In Valmiki Ramayana, Ganga is depicted as the daughter of King Himavat and Queen Menaka. She is the sister of Parvati, Lord Shiva’s consort.

According to the Vishnu Purana, Ganga was created from the sweat of Lord Vishnu’s feet.

Among the various interesting stories of Ganga, the most popular story is from Bramha Rishi Vishwamitra’s Ramayana Bal Kand, where he narrates about Bhagirath and the descent of Ganga to Earth.

King Sagar – the ruler of Ayodhya and an ancestor of Lord Rama decided to perform the Ashwamedha (great horse sacrifice) to become more powerful. Indra, the king of Gods, became jealous and stole the horse for yaga. Indira tied the horse near Sage Kapila’s ashram, where the sage was meditating in the deep forest. The king along with his 60000 sons began to search for the horse in the nether world and at last found it near Sage Kapila.

Assuming that the sage had stolen the horse, the princes began to insult the sage and tried to free the horse.  The princes continued to disturb the meditation of the sage and made him angry. The furious sage with the yogic fire of his eyes burnt all the princes into ashes. King Sagar was disturbed and asked his grandson, Anshuman to search for the princes.

Ashuman’s search ended in the front of the yaga horse and a heap of ash. He also saw the Sage Kapila near to it. He bowed and inquired what happened to the princes. The sage narrated the whole incident and Anusham broke down in grief. He pleaded for forgiveness and for the salvation of the princes. Sage Kapila was pleased and instructed Anushman to bring the holy Ganga to earth as she can only help them to wash away the sin and attain salvation.

In order to attain salvation to his relatives, Anshuman started doing penance on the Himalaya, but it was in vain. His son Dilip also tried to please Lord Brahma and bring Ganga. However, he also failed in his mission. Bhagiratha, the son of Dileep, took penance after his father.  Bhagiratha was so dedicated that Lord Brahma was pleased and granted the permission to bring Ganga to earth.

Goddess Ganga was asked to descent to earth, but she felt it as an insult and decided to sweep away everything that came her way. Bhagiratha felt the fierce power in the flow of her current and understood that he needed to do something in order to stop the mighty river from destroying the world. In order to avoid this catastrophe, Bhagiratha prayed to Shiva and requested him to hold Ganga in his matted hair (jata).

At the request of Bhagiratha, Shiva agreed to hold Ganga in his hair locks. At first Ganga thought that no one would be able to withstand her power and descended to the Earth with all her power. Shiva decided to teach her a lesson and held her in his matted locks. Ganga tried to get free, but failed to escape from the Great Shiva. After one year of rigorous penance of Bhagiratha, Shiva was pleased and released Ganga. Ganga understood the greatness of Lord Shiva and asked for his forgiveness. Shiva is known as Gangaadhara as Lord Shiva absorbed the flow of Ganga and saved the earth from flooding, by receiving Ganga on his matted locks.

Shiva was pleased and released Ganga as seven streams – Bhagirathi, Alaknanda, Janhvi, Saraswati, Bhilangana, , Rishiganga, and Mandakini.  Ganga followed Bhagiratha, but with her tremendous speed destroyed almost all the nearby villages and forests.  Sage Jahnu became angry as his hermitage was drowned by Ganga.  By using his yogic power, Sage Jahnu drank the whole Ganga.  Bhagiratha pleaded for the Sage’s forgiveness and he released Ganga from his thigh by cutting it and for this reason Ganga is also called ‘Jahnavi’ or ‘Jahnusta’.

Maharishi Agastyaas has emptied all the oceans on Earth by drinking all the water, so Ganga first filled the oceans and quenched the taste to Earth.  Ganga touched the ashes of the sixty thousand ancestors of Bhagiratha and blessed them to attain eternal rest in heaven.

16 Step Puja Worship in Hinduism

puja worship

A Hindu brahmin priest performing puja on a bronze Nataraja in Kanchipuram, Tamil Nadu, India

There are numerous forms of worship among Hindus, of which Puja is one of the more popular. The most widely accepted and followed system of Puja is the Shodasa – Upachara Puja, or 16 – Service worship.

The main purpose of this type of Puja is two-fold. Primarily it is to uplift the five senses of the worshiper, and by doing so elevate him to a higher level of consciousness that will promote good thoughts and actions. Secondarily it draws upon the Indian traditions of honoring a guest, wherein each upachara is a service to the deity who takes presence in the sculpture for the duration of the Puja.

  1. DhyaanaMeditating on the deity that is being invoked.
  2. AavaahanaInviting the deity into the altar.
  3. AasanaGiving the deity a seat.
  4. Paadya Washing the deity’s feet with clean water.
  5. ArghyaOffering the deity water to rinse hands and mouth.
  6. AachamanaOffering the deity water to drink.
  7. SnaanaBathing the deity with various auspicious items.
  8. VasthraDressing the deity with clean clothes.
  9. YagnopaveethaOffering the deity a clean sacred thread.
  10. GandhaSpreading fresh sandalwood paste on the deity.
  11. Pushpa Offering fresh flowers while chanting the deity’s names.
  12. DhoopaSpreading incense smoke throughout the altar.
  13. DeepaWaving a lamp to illuminate the freshly decorated deity.
  14. NaivedyaOffering the deity food.
  15. Taambula ­– Offering the deity a refreshing mix of betel nut and leaves.
  16. Pradakshina & NamaskaraCircumambulating the altar and bidding farewell to the deity.

Among these sixteen services, five hold more importance than the rest. Together these five services are referred to as the pancha – upacharas, and include gandha, pushpa, dhoopa, deepa, and naivedya. Collectively, these five services engage the five senses.

  • Gandha – Touch
  • Sandalwood paste cools the skin and is a natural insect repellant.
  • Pushpa – Hearing
  • The recitation of the deity’s names that accompanies each flower engages the ears.
  • Dhoopa – Smell
  • Incense envelops the entire temple with a refreshing fragrance for the nose.
  • Deepa – Sight
  • The lamp illuminates the deity and brings out the beauty of the icon to the eyes.
  • Naivedya – Taste
  • Food that has been offered to the deity is eaten and entices the taste buds.
ganesh, puja ceremony

Bronze Ganesh in opening eye ceremony at the Cleveland Museum of Art

15 Mantras for Appeasing Goddess Saraswati

The Hindu Goddess Saraswati is known as the mother of Vedas and the synonym of knowledge, music, craft, wisdom, arts and auspiciousness. It is believed that appeasing Goddess Saraswati will remove all the obstacles that one will encounter during his or her career or education. Saraswati is known by different names, such as Vak Devi, the goddess of speech and Sakala Kaladhistatri, goddess bestowing all the arts.

Here, are lists of mantras that are widely used by students to score high in exams. It is believed that students, who after working hard failed to succeed in exams and these mantras, have helped them to attain their goal.

1. Bija Mantra of Saraswati

Aum

Aing Saraswathye Namah

Aum

Meaning: Salutations to Goddess Saraswati

2. 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

3. Saraswati Vandana

Yaa Kundendu tushaara haaradhavalaa,

Yaa shubhravastraavritha|

Yaa veenavara dandamanditakara,

aa shwetha padmaasana||

Yaa brahmaachyutha shankara

prabhritibhir Devaisadaa Vanditha|

Saa Maam Paatu Saraswatee

Bhagavatee Nihshesha jaadyaapahaa|

Meaning: May the Goddess Saraswati protect me. She is fair like the jasmine-colored moon, and whose pure white garland is like frosty dew drops. She is adorned in radiant white attire, on whose beautiful arm rests the veena, and whose throne is a white lotus. She is surrounded and respected by the Gods. Please remove my weariness, sluggishness and ignorance.

4. Mahasaraswati Mantra

Om

Aing Mahasaraswatyai Namah

Meaning: Salutations to Goddess Maha Saraswati

5. Saraswati Mantra

Shuklaam Brahmvichaar

Saar Paramaadyaam Jagadvyaapineem Veennaa Pushtak

Dhaarinneebhamay Daam

Jaad Yaapandhkaaraapahaam

Haste Sfatik Maalikaam Vidhateem

Paramaasane Sansthitaam Vande Taam

Parameshwareem Bhagwateem Buddhi Pradaam Shaaradaam.

Meaning: I plead to Goddess Saraswati who is fair in color, the first and foremost divine energy, who is present in the world in the form of knowledge, who wields a Veena, Vedas, Sfatik rosary in her hands and one of whose hands is raised in blessing. She is the one who is capable of eliminating ignorance and bestow intelligence.

6. Maha Saraswati Mantra: This simple mantra is mainly used by students to make learning easy.

Om Aim  Hrim

Kleem Maha Saraswati Devaya

Namaha

7. Saraswati Mantra to recite before study

Saraswathi Namasthubhyam,

Varadey Kaamarupinee

Vidhyarambham Karishyami,

Sidhir bhavathu mey sada

Meaning: O, Goddess Saraswati, my humble prostrations unto Thee. She is capable of fulfilling all my wishes. I request you to bestow thy blessings on me, before I start my studies.

8. 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

9. Saraswati Mantra

Saraswati Mahabhage

Vidye Kamalalochane

Vishwaroope Vishaalaakshi

Vidyam dehi namosthuthe

Meaning: Oh great Goddess Saraswati, the lotus-eyed personified knowledge. Oh, I request you to shower me with all the powers and glories of all knowledge that exist. She has large-eyes, taking the form of the whole universe.

10. Saraswati Mantra for Acquiring Knowledge

Vad Vad Vaagwaadinee Swaha

11. Saraswati Mantra for Enhancing Intelligence

Om

Aing Hreeng Shreeng

Vaagdevyai Saraswatyai Namah

12. Saraswati Mantra for Wealth and Knowledge

Om

Arham Mukha Kamal Vaasinee

Paapaatma Kshayam Kaari

Vad Vad Vaagwaadinee Saraswati

Aing Hreeng Namah Swaaha

 

13. Saraswati Ashtakshara Mantra: This mantra comprises of the 12 names of Goddess Saraswati and it is advised that all knowledge seekers should practice it, to gain high and pure knowledge.

Pratham Bharti naam l

Dwitaya tu Saraswati l

Trutiya Sharda Devi l

Chaturth Hansavahini l

Pancham Jagatikhayata l

Shasth Maheshwari tatha l

Saptham tu Kaumari l

Astham Bhramacharini l

Navam Vidhyadhatrini l Dasham Vardayini l

Ekadasham Rudraghanta l

Dwadasham Bhuneshwari l

Atani Dwadsho Naamami l

Y Patcchrnuyaadpi l

Nach Vidhna Bhav Taysa Mantra Siddhiker Tatha l

14. Mantra for Knowledge: Reciting this mantra will increase the mental capability and will considerably increase the knowledge gain.

Om

Namo Bhagwati Saraswati Parmeshwari

Vaagvaadini Mam Vidhya Dehi Bhagwati

Bhans Vaahini Hans Samarudha Buddhi

Dehi Dehi Pragya Dehi Dehi

Vidhya Parmeshwari Saraswati Swaha

15. 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

Life of the Buddha – The Light of Asia

The Buddha brought the world a philosophy in which to navigate the world of suffering.  Here is a brief account into the life he led and the experiences that showed him the middle way to the cessation of suffering and samasara.

Birth

Siddhartha Gautama, known as Buddha, the “Awakened,” was the son of Suddhodana, ruler of the Sakhyas, a region lying to the northeast of Oude, in northern India and now this place is inside the border of the Himalayan Kingdom of Nepal. It is believed that Queen Maya, wife of the King Suddhodana, had a dream that a shiny light appeared in the sky, gradually approached her, and melted into her body. The queen filled with joy described the dream to her husband and both of them met a wise man to know the meaning of the dream. The wise man’s words made the king very happy as the man explained that the king is going to have an heir to the throne. The prophecy came true and the queen gave birth to a beautiful son in the Lumbini gardens. All the people experienced great happiness and peace of mind. The joyous parents named the cute little Prince “Siddhartha”, which means “the one who has brought about all good.”

The words of hermit Asita

Asita was a Holy teacher and he came to visit the newborn. He saw many good signs in the child and told the king that if the child chooses to stay with the king, then he will be one of the greatest rulers in the history, who will rein a large kingdom and keep the people happy. However, if the child chooses to leave the palace, seeking a way to end all suffering of humanity, then he will attain the greatest knowledge and will become the greatest spiritual leader ever.

Childhood

The queen Maya could not stay long with Siddhartha and she asked her sister to take care of the little prince. The Prince grew up to be a handsome and kindhearted young man. He always loved to remain alone in the garden, when other children of his age group were busy with harsh games. He spent his childhood in Kapilavastu and its vicinity, and was very passionate to all the living beings; even the wild animals were friendly with him. Many instances that took place during his childhood describe the passion, love, and kindheartedness of the prince. The prince was very bright and intelligent in studies, but never liked to learn how to rule a kingdom.

Marriage

The king was so happy to know about the intelligence of his son, while sad that the prince was very gentle. Therefore, he along with minister made a plan and found the perfect match for the Prince. Siddhartha was married to Princess Yasodhara at the age of sixteen.

Path of renunciation

Prince Siddhartha was happy with his wife and they were blessed with a son, named Rahula. At the age of twenty-nine, the prince wanted to know more about his people and world outside his palace gardens.  He managed to get out of the palace and roam in the streets, with his servant Channa. The sight of a decrepit old man, a sick man, and a corpse changed the life of the prince and turned him to the path of renunciation. These sights made him leave the palace, wealth, power, father, wife, and the his only child to find a way to renounce the world of miseries and sorrows.

Enlightenment

The prince reached Magadha, and met the saints Arada and Udraka and learned from them. He was not satisfied with their teachings and moved to Nairangana River, near the holy town of Gaya. He then began to practice yoga, severe austerities, and Pranayama for several years. He finally tried to attain supreme peace by practicing self-mortification. He sat below the sacred Pipal tree or fig tree at Bodhi Gaya, abstained from all temptations, his mind became calm and relaxed, and by midnight, he attained nirvana. He woke up very happily with a calm and peaceful smile, and his face shone with divine splendor and effulgence. He became the Buddha, meaning the Awakened One. He was also known as Sakhya-Muni.

His Teaching or Dharma

Buddha travelled to different villages and farms of Banaras and wanted to spread the knowledge to all people and relieve all from the sufferings of this worldly life. His teachings were so powerful that regardless of the conditions, caste, creed, or types of men and women, people began to listen to his teaching and found that self-realization is the only way to get supreme peace of mind and happiness. Buddha treated all people as one, without any discrimination for the rich or poor, simple or intelligent, of noble birth or low. His first teaching, known as “Turning the Wheel of the Dharma,” given to five monks, who pleaded for knowledge to Buddha in the Deer Park, at Sarnath around 527 BC. He also revealed the four noble truths of life. People were attracted to him and he used different ways of teaching, which included interesting stories that will appease the children.

King Bimbisara was a disciple of Buddha and always visited Vulture’s Peak, where Buddha and his disciples lived. Buddha returned to his kingdom and by his great teaching converted his father, wife, son, and all his dear ones to his disciples.

Final Journey

At the age of eighty, Buddha felt that it is time to return to the palace where he grew up.  He summoned his faithful Ananda, and started to Kapilavasthu. On the way, Buddha and his disciples passed through the village of Kushinagar. Buddha told Ananda that this is the place where he shall pass away.

Buddha, “the enlightened one,” traveled preaching the Dharma and was successful in saving many people from sacrificing the life of innocent animals, as a part of their religious customs. Buddha is the founder of Buddhism and his teaching are known to fill with excessive intellectualism and agnosticism. The great historian Edward Arnold referred the great legend Buddha as the “Light of Asia.”