Vijaya Dasami, the 10th Day of Navarathri

Posted on October 22, 2015 by śrīcaraṇāravindaṁ

Today marks the tenth day of the annual Navarathri festival. This tenth day is called Vijaya Dasami, which literally means “triumph on the tenth.”

Goddess Durga standing on the head of the buffalo demon Mahishasura
Goddess Durga standing on the head of the buffalo demon Mahishasura

It is commonly believed that Goddess Durga vanquished the buffalo demon Mahishasura on this day.  This victorious day also marks the day that Lord Rama defeated the demon king Ravana and made his journey home to Ayodhya.  Some narratives of Rama’s story describe Rama as having invoked Goddess Durga through the powerful Chandi Puja, or worship of Durga in her passionate and furious form.  Since Rama’s triumph over Ravana and Durga’s triumph over Mahishasura were both on this day, Vijaya Dasami has become a day synonymous with good beginnings. Many people around the world begin business ventures, musical study, dance, and other undertakings on this day.  While Navarathri is a festival dedicated to the Goddess in her various forms, the tenth day of the festival is a day on which both Durga and Rama are worshiped.  In North India, re-enactments of Rama’s life are portrayed in vivid theatre performances called Ram-Leela.  At the end of the play, a larger than life effigy of the demon Ravana is burst into flames to signify Rama’s victory.  Another key component of this day is the Ayudha Puja, or worship of weapons and instruments.  Children place their books in front of their home shrine, while others pay respect to the implements that make their livelihoods possible.  Cars, kitchen utensils, knives, hammers, chisels, computers, and other objects are cleaned and venerated by those who use them. In South India, there is a custom of erecting a doll display, which is worshipped for the nine days of Navarathi.  On Vijaya Dasami, the dolls are symbolically put to sleep after last minute visitors come and admire their beauty. These dolls, mainly of gods and goddesses, represent the same gods and goddesses that gave their power, Shakti, to bring Goddess Durga to life.  After the gods and goddesses gave their power to Durga in order for her to vanquish Mahishasura, they became as lifeless as dolls.  On the tenth day, after Durga killed the buffalo demon, she restored the life to the gods and goddesses and become reabsorbed into them.  This idea is seen in action in Eastern India, where large idols of the Goddess Durga and her retinue are immersed on this day after five full days of worship.  Wherever you find yourself in India, or abroad, this day is one of enjoyment and happiness. It marks the triumph of good over evil, and reminds us that we must cultivate the good in our hearts, and have victory over our not-so-good tendencies.



Kala Samahara – Shiva, Destroyer of Death

Posted on June 16, 2015 by śrīcaraṇāravindaṁ
Shiva emerging from the Linga
Shiva emerging from the Linga

The vast corpus of Vedic literature refers to various sportive forms, or leela murtis, of Lord Shiva. One of the most important of these forms is that of Shiva as the destroyer of death. Kalasamhara Murti or Kalantaka Murti is the form of Shiva in the act of vanquishing the god of death and righteousness, Yama-Dharma Raja.

The Puranas tell the story of Saint Mrikandu and his virtuous wife Niyati who yearned for a child. They performed austere penances to Lord Shiva to bless them with issue. Pleased with their devotion, Shiva appeared to the couple and asked them whether they wanted a wicked son who would live till old age, or a pious son who would live until 16 years of age. They requested the latter, and thus Markandeya was born.

On the eve of his 16th birthday, Markandeya embarked on a vigil to Lord Shiva. Yama – endeavoring to take Markandeya’s life away – entered the altar, as he was deep in meditation to Lord Shiva. Yama took his noose and threw it around Markandeya’s neck. Aghast, Markandeya grabbed the Shiva Lingam and began singing to his protector.

“Oh Shiva, adorning the moon as your crown, protect me! Save me!”

With the noose tight around his neck, Markandeya hugged the Shiva Lingam. Consequently Yama’s noose touched the Lingam, and enraged Parvathi. Immediately the Lingam split and Shiva emerged. Parvathi, who resides in the left side of Shiva, kicked Yama to the ground to protect her devotee. Shiva lifted his trident and pierced Yama’s chest, leaving the God of death for dead.

Afterwards, Shiva picked Markandeya up and placed him in his lap. He asked Markandeya to request a boon. Markandeya, from the kindness of his heart asked Shiva to resuscitate Yama.

Sculpture of Kala Samhara Shiva from Tanjore Temple, resembling the bronze icon at Thirukkadaiyur
Sculpture of Kala Samhara Shiva from Tanjore Temple, resembling the bronze icon at Thirukkadaiyur

After being revived, Yama – the king of righteousness – innocently asked what he had done wrong to warrant such a gruesome death. Shiva responded that Yama’s only fault was misunderstanding Shiva’s boon to Saint Mrikandu. Markandeya was to live only till age 16, and thereafter remain immortal and ever youthful as a 16 year old.

This event is said to have occurred in Thirukkadaiyur, Tamil Nadu, where the entire story is captured magnificently in bronze. The statue of Kalasamhara Murti in Thirukkadaiyur is the reference for South Indian bronze artists who wish to capture this beautiful form of Shiva.

Since the depiction of death is deemed inauspicious within the Vedic temple, in Thirukkadaiyur the body of Yama is covered with a silk cloth and removed only occasionally. Thus most idols meant for home worship do not actually depict Yama’s death, but rather the moments leading up to it. As is the case with any powerful form of Shiva, a statue of Parvathi is often kept to the left of it to bring peace to his power.


Surya – The Solar Deity

Posted on January 14, 2015 by śrīcaraṇāravindaṁ

Surya is one of the primary Rig Vedic deities, and his following is widespread. As the central Graha in the Navagraha Mandala, or group of nine planets, Surya is present in most Hindu temples. Surya is also the main deity of the Souram sect, which is one of six main denominations of Hinduism.

Surya with consorts
Surya with consorts

In the Navagraha Stotram of Vyasa, Surya is described as follows:

Japaa Kusuma Sankaasham Kaasya Peyam Mahaa Dyuthim |

Tamorim Sarva Paapagnam Pranatosmi Divaakaram ||

I pray to the creator of days, the destroyer of all sins, the enemy of darkness, the greatly lustered, the descendant of Kashyapa, and the one who shines like a red hibiscus.

Surya is also known as Aditya, as he is the son of Aditi and Kashyapa. When Surya married one of his consorts, Samjna, she could not bear his extraordinary radiance. Thus her father, Tvashtr, who was the artisan of the Gods, divided Surya into 12 parts of which Samjna spent one month of the year with each. Thus the 12 Adityas were born and represent a month each.

Surya’s chariot is balanced on a singular wheel, which represents time. Each revolution of the wheel marks the passing of one year. The chariot is driven by Aruna, the red one, and is drawn by seven horses. Each of these horses represents a day of the week as well as a Vedic meter, and is restrained by a rein that represents a season.

Surya with his chariot and charioteer Aruna
Surya with his chariot and charioteer Aruna

Iconographically, Surya is red in complexion, youthful, and golden haired. He faces east with two, four, or eight arms and one or three heads respectively. His three faces represent the three Sandhyas – dawn, noon, and dusk. When Surya is depicted with two hands, he holds two fully blossomed, red lotuses.

There is a close connection between Surya and lotuses. The Lotus is one flower that blooms upon the morning’s first rays of sunlight. Similarly the Hindu concept expounded through the symbolism of Surya is that God is the sun that triggers man, a lotus, to blossom.


Hari-Hara, The Unity of Shiva and Vishnu

Posted on September 10, 2014 by śrīcaraṇāravindaṁ

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.

South Indian Bronze Hari-Hara Statue

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.

Sayana Vishnu
Vishnu reclining on Adi Sesha

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.

Shiva in deep meditation
Shiva in deep meditation


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



Hindu Goddess Ganga – Birth & Descent to Earth

Posted on September 04, 2014 by Kyle Tortora

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.



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.

Bronze Shiva statue descending to the earth with Ganga
Shiva bringing the Hindu Goddess Ganga to the earth

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.

The Hindu Goddess Ganga in Shiva’s hair

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.