NAVARATHRI GOLU AND PUJA FESTIVAL

Navarathri Golu (Festival of Dolls) – The Southern Indian festival 

Golu

Golu – in Tamil means courtyard.  It is an important festival in the Hindu calendar that celebrates women power.  In South India, the occasion is celebrated with a beautiful display of idols and dolls, a.k.a. “Golu“.

DURGA PUJA

The festival also marks the victory of Goddess Durga over the evil demon Mahishasura.  Special prayers are offerred to worship Goddess Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswathi – the Goddesses of Courage, Wealth  & Knowledge, Fine Arts respectively. The Golu festival (celebrated as Durga Puja in Bengal) epitomizes the victory of Good over Evil.

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MORE ABOUT GOLU

Golu is observed over nine evenings, referred to as ‘Navarathri’ – ‘Nava’ means nine and ‘rathri’ means night. The festival commences with a Kalasha pooja on the first evening and continues for nine nights.

kalasam

Kalasha, also spelled as Kalash  and kalasa (in Sankrit: kalasa literally means “pitcher or pot”), is a metal (brass, copper, silver or gold) pot. Such a pot filled with water and topped with a coronet of mango leaves and a coconut.

This combination is often used in Hindu rituals and the entire arrangement is called Purna-KalashaPurna-Kumbha or Purna-ghata.  Each of these names literally means “full or complete vessel” and the Kalasha is considered a symbol of abundance and “source of life” in the Vedas.

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The highlight of the festival is to invite friends, neighbours and relatives during these Golu days.

It’s a fun way of acquainting with the neighbourhood and also an occasion to display one’s singing prowess and progress from being a bathroom singer to a living room singer! 🙂

Gujarat’s Navratri Festival, is “a circle of ecstasy” that throbs for nine nights with millions of fantastically costumed devotees swaying in a fusion of dance and devotion. A legendary and unique Folk Dance form known as ‘Garba’ is performed but in recent times this been heavily influenced by ‘Dandia Raas’ and these are performed with great splendour.

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DANDIAHappy-Navratri-Dandiya-4

Chick peas, black eyed peas or other lentils with seasoning is offered to the deity and shared with visitors on all the Golu days.  Among Indian festivals, Navarathri is one of the longest festivals celebrated in different styles across India.  The ‘Golu‘ festival is quintessentially South Indian.

Golu Setting Code 

There is a defined code in the setting up of the steps for Golu. The number of steps be in odd numbers 3,5,7 and should not exceed nine. The code for setting the Golu is as below:

From the top, for a 9 step Golu:

1st step                   –                 Kalasham and God’s idols

2nd and 3rd steps    –                 More idols of God.  Inevitably, the eight forms of Lakshmi and the Ten Avatars of Vishnu known as Dashavataram idols representing the ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu are placed.  The order of the Avatars – Matsya, Kurma, Varaha, Narasimha, Vamana, Parashurama, Rama, Balarama, Krishna and Kalki.

4th Step                  –                Saints, Gurus and enlightened ones

5th Step                  –                Freedom fighters, philanthropists’ and social workers

6th Step                  –                Householders, vendors, farmers and so on

7th Step                  –                Animals

8th Step                  –                Birds

9th Step                  –                Insects and crawling creatures

The above hierarchy should be followed if less than 9 steps of Golu is being put together.

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The 10th Day, known as Vijaya Dasami or Dussehra

The Golu or Navarathri festival culminates on the tenth day that is known as Vijaya Dasami or Dussehra. This day is considered as a very auspicious in the Hindu calendar. The day marks several things, viz.

  • the triumph of good over evil and is celebrated as victory of Goddess Durga over demons.
  • the day also marks the victory of Lord Rama over the demon King Ravana (epic : Ramayana); to mark this occasion effigies of Ravana, Kumbakarna and Indrajit are burnt; and

Dussehra

  • Finally, this day also is known as ‘Ayudha Puja’ day or ‘Vishwakarma’ day.  Vishwakarma – a divine engineer and architect from the Vedic age.  As a mark of reverence, he is worshipped by the engineering and architect community besides by all professionals. Artisans, craftsmen, mechanics, smiths, welders, industrial workers, factory workers, and workers of all kinds worship Lord Vishwakarma on this day and pray for a better future, safe working conditions and above all success in their respective fields.

Vijaya Dasami day is considered to be auspicious for commencing new ventures or enrolling into new programmes of learning or for that matter taking up learning of fine arts.

The Philosophy of Navarathri

The form of the doll arrangement is to show that we place Gods, saints and great men above the ordinary human beings and other forms of life. The philosophy behind this is that if ordinary human beings nurture good thoughts and pursue good deeds to others, they will be elevated as a result of such noble thoughts and actions, thus gain saint like qualities and finally attain oneness with God.

The Prayer:

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  • Ya Devi Sarva Bhuteshu, Matri Rupena Samsthita | Namastasyai
  • Ya Devi Sarva Bhuteshu, Shakti Rupena Samsthita | Namastasyai
  • Ya Devi Sarva Bhuteshu, Shanti Rupena Samsthita | Namastasyai
  • Namastasyai Namastasyai Namastasyai Namo Namah

Translation:

  • The goddess who is omnipresent as the personification of universal mother, Salutations to Thee
  • The goddess who is omnipresent as the embodiment of power, Salutations to Thee
  • The goddess who is omnipresent as the symbol of peace, Salutations to Thee
  • I bow to her, I bow to her, I bow to her.

Let us celebrate this Navarathri Golu, and harness the spirit of good within us and spread Peace and Harmony.

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VARALAKSHMI VRATHAM – SIGNIFICANCE AND PUJA PROCEDURE

Varalakshmi Vratham is an important Puja, dedicated to Goddess Varalakshmi, performed by many women in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra. Varalakshmi is another form of Goddess Lakshmi, the Goddess of wealth and consort of Lord Maha Vishnu.  Varalakshmi is believed to be the one who grants boons (Varam).

Varalakshmi Vratham falls during Shukla Paksha of Hindu month Shravan (Aadi) and it is observed on Friday before Shravan (Aadi) Purnima.  This year (2014) Varalakshmi Viratham falls on the 8th of August.

In North Indian states Varalakshmi Puja is not as popular as those of South Indian states. Shravan Purnima is observed as Raksha Bandhan in most Indian states.

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Varalakshmi Puja is performed by married women for the well-being of  their husband and the other family members.  It is believed that worshipping Goddess Varalakshmi on this day is equivalent to worshipping the Ashta-Lakshmi – all the eight Lakshmis’ namely Adi Lakshmi, Dhana Lakshmi, Dhanya Lakshmi, Gaja Lakshmi Santana Lakshmi, Veera Lakshmi, Vijaya Lakshmi and Vidya Lakshmi.

Varalakshmi Vratham is one of the most appropriate ways to propitiate and seek blessings of the Goddess Lakshmi.

The Story

According to Skanda Purana, once Goddess Parvati asked Lord Shiva about a viratham that will be beneficial to women. Lord Shiva then mentioned the importance of Varalakshmi Viratham­­­­, which is most beneficial Viratham for women. To illustrate the importance of the Varalakshmi Viratham,  Lord Shiva narrated the story of Charumati.

Pleased with Charumati’s devotion to her husband and family, Goddess Lakshmi appeared in her dream and asked her to perform the Varalakshmi Viratham. She explained to her the procedures of the Viratham.

” Padmaasane Padmakare sarva lokaika poojithe
Narayana priyadevi supreethaa bhava sarvada ”

The pious Charumati invited all her neighbors, friends and relatives and performed the Varalakshmi puja as directed by Goddess Lakshmi. Soon after the puja, all the people who participated in the puja were blessed with wealth and prosperity.

Puja procedure

During this auspicious day, married women wake up early in the morning and decorate their front yards with Kolams (Rangolis). They take oil bath and prepare neivedhyam (offering) for the puja.

General Neivedhyam Items for the puja

Items Description
Salyannam Plain white cooked rice
Kruthakula Payasam Paruppu Payasam(Dal Kheer)
Mashapubam Ulundhu vadai (Urid dal vada)
Kudapubam Appam
Lattugam Pacharisi Idly
Sanagam Kondaikadalai Sundal(Chick peas sundal)
Modhagam Kozhukattai
Nalikerakandam Coconut break into half
Vazhaipazham Banana
Patharepazham Ilandhapazham (Ber)
Jambupazham Navarpazham  (Indian blackberry)
Peejapurapazham) Guava fruit
Narthapazham Orange/ sweet lime

Then all the women in the house wear new clothes and jewellery and get ready for the Puja.  A Varalakshmi silver pendant is required for performing the puja.

Preparation for the Puja:

The following items are required for the puja:

  1. Coconut
  2. Beetle leaf with nut
  3. 5 varieties of fruits, if not, at least banana
  4. Flowers (especially lotus petals and Ganera (Sev arali poo) are considered to be very auspicious)
  5. Neivedhyam Items ( Annam (Rice with dal and ghee), Pacharisi Idly, Kozhakattai, Payasam, Vadai)
  6. Nonbu Saradu (Holy yellow rope with a small flower tied in the middle of each rope). This nombu saradu has to be placed in Varalakshmi Amman’s Feet.
  7.  Panchapathram with water and udheerani.

Decorating Varalakshmi Amman

In a thambalam (Plate), plantain leaf (Vazhaiilai) is laid and over the leaf, put 1 cup of raw rice and spread it evenly. Keep a silver pot (Sombu) and decorate the silver pot with sandal and kumkum. The silver pot is filled with rice or water, coins, turmeric, betel leaf and a nut. Take a coconut, apply turmeric keep the coconut over the silver pot, decorate with karugumani bangles and cover the silver pot with blouse piece.

VARALAKSHMI

The Varalakshmi silver pendant is placed over the coconut and tied tightly to the back of the coconut to avoid falling.  Amman is decorated with different colors of flowers and gold chains.  Decorating the Amman with Cotton thread garland (Panju thiri malai) is very auspicious. A small table is decorated with thoranam (banana tree trunks) and maavalai(Mango leaves) and the kalasam (pot) is also placed.

On the morning of the Varalakshmi Vratham, the Amman is held in a thambalam and is placed on top of a clean floor that is decorated with kolam.

Songs are sung in the glory of “Varalakshmi” and then the  Amman thambalam is taken to the Puja room where a decorated table is kept  ready with thoranam and maavilai (mango leaves) on which the Amman thambalam is placed.

Perform Puja

 

Varalakshmi Puja stotrams are to be recited with devotion. These are available in books, CD’s or on the internet and can be used to perform the Vratham.

After the puja is done,  neivedhyam is offered which is followed by maha aarathi (deeparadhanai). Once the Neivedhyam is offered and the Aarati (Deeparathanai) has been performed,  all the women in the house including babies are tied the nombu saradu on their right hand.

Generally, the husband of the married woman ties the nombu saradu on the right hand of the wife. The elderly women will in turn tie the nonbu saradu to other unmarried girls at home.

After the saradu is tied to their right hand, everyone prays to Goddess Varalakshmi and seek her blessings.

CONCLUSION

As a conclusion to the festivities, bhajans and keertans are sung in praise of the Goddess and the Prashad is shared  with all the members at home.

In the evening, women from the neighbourhood are invited and offered tamboolam.  The women sing hymns in praise of Goddess Varalakshmi.

Varalakshmi is believed to be the one who grants boons (Varam).  It’s one of the auspicious days to seek the blessings of Goddess Lakshmi.

“Navavidha  Bhakti”– the 9 forms of devotion to attain the Supreme Lord

Introduction

god-abstract-wallpaper-72Lord Shri Krishna makes a beautiful statement about the significance of bhakti or devotion in chapter 18 of the Bhagavad-Gita as:  

bhaktya maam abhijaanaati yaavaan yas chasmi

tattvataha tato maam tattvato jnaatva vishate tad-anantaram

(Bhagavad Gita 18.55)

“By devotion he knows Me in truth, what and who I am; and knowing Me in truth, he forthwith enters into the Supreme.”

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In the 9th chapter Shri Krishna highlights the profoundness of true bhakti which pleases Him the most as:

patram pushpam phalam toyam  yo me bhaktya prayacchati

tad aham bhakty-upahrtam asnami prayataatmanaha

(Bhagavad Gita 9.26)

“Whoever offers Me with devotion and a pure mind (heart), a leaf, a flower, a fruit or a little water—I accept this as devotion.”

sudama krishna3 Samo’ham sarvabhooteshu na me dweshyo’sti na priyah

Ye bhajanti tu maam bhaktyaa mayi te teshu chaapyaha

(Bhagavad Gita 9.29)  

“The same am I to all beings; to Me there is none hateful or dear; but those who worship Me with devotion are in Me and I am also in them.”

Yona hrishyati na dweshti na shochati na kaangkshati

Shubhaashubhaparityaagee bhaktimaan yah sa me priyah

(Bhagavad Gita 12.17)

chaitanyalove“He who neither rejoices, nor hates, nor grieves, nor desires, renouncing good and evil and who is full of devotion, is dear to Me.”

shabari-2Tulyanindaastutirmaunee santushto yena kenachit

Aniketah sthiramatir bhaktimaan me priyo narah

(Bhagavad Gita 12.19)

 “He to whom censure and praise are equal, who is silent, content with anything, of a steady mind, and full of devotion—that man is dear to Me.”

The above slokas describe how even the tiniest of gestures in the name of  devotion and love for the lord, can be a transforming experience.When God is understood and realized through the process of bhakti the person becomes realized and enters the state of self-realisation.

How do we understand true bhakti ?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Narada Bhakti Sutra, a discourse on the nature of bhakti based on the experiences of Sage Narada vividly describes bhakti as:

Sa tvasmin parampremarupa” –bhakti is of the nature of perfect love for the lord devoid of any personal desires or external motives and conditions.

Amrita swarupa cha” – bhakti is like nectar, which when one drinks, leads to the experience of ultimate bliss, which is not subject to change (Sat Chit Ananda).

Yallabdhva puman sidhho bhavati amrito bhavati tripto bhavati” – having achieved bhakti one reaches the state of perfection, attains a God like immortality and all his desires are completely fulfilled.

Yat praapta na kinchit vanchhati, na shochati na dveshti, narmate, notsahi bhavati”- Once bhakti is attained, one has no other desires in life as he is freed from the pairs of opposites like pleasure and pain, likes and dislikes, hence he craves for nothing else and has no other purpose to fulfil other than serving the lord and His devotees.

Through devotion a devotee transcends the worldly desires and bondages. He remains a mere instrument in the hands of God. He becomes freed from the cycle of birth and death.

How can we cultivate this true bhakti for the lord?

b5fb52dc5d390a6fbf4056e5c48bbaef Bhakti is not a conditional state of mind. Bhakti has no pre-conditions or pre-qualifications. There is no prescribed method or formula in bhakti. On the contrary a devotee surrenders everything unto the lord and becomes free of ego.

Though bhakti is endowed as a result of God’s grace, yet it can be cultivated by us through constant practice of engaging ourselves in meaningful devotional activities that can bring us closer to the lord for His grace to flow through us.

Srimad Bhagavatham elaborates nine forms of bhakti which, if cultivated and practiced regularly will no doubt lead us closer to the lord: shravanam, kirtanam, vishnoh smaranam, paada-sevanam, archanam, vandanam, daasyam, sakhyam, aatma-nivedanam (Srimad Bhagavatham 7.5.23).

The nine forms of devotion are:

  1. Shravanam – Hearing the names and glories of the Lord
  2. Keertanam – Chanting His glories
  3. Smaranam – Remembering the Lord
  4. Paada sevanam – Serving the Lord’s feet
  5. Archanam – Worshiping the Lord
  6. Vandanam – Offering obeisance unto the Lord
  7. Daasyam – Serving the Lord as His servant
  8. Sakhyam – Developing friendship with the Lord
  9. Aatma Nivedanam – Total surrender of oneself to the Lord

A devotee can practice any of these nine forms of bhakti, whichever suits his nature best. Ramakrishna-Hugging-Murti Ramakrishna Paramahansa did not serve for long as head priest of the Kali temple at Dakshineshwar. From the first days of his service in the shrine of the goddess Kali, he was filled with a rare form of the love of God known in Hinduism as maha-bhava. Worshipping in front of the statue of Mother Kali, Ramakrishna would be overwhelmed with such ecstatic love for the deity that he would fall to the ground and immersed in spiritual trance, lose all consciousness of the external world.

These experiences of God-intoxication became so frequent that he was relieved of his duties as temple priest but allowed to continue living within the temple compound. During the next twelve years Ramakrishna journeyed even deeper into this passionate and absolute love for the divine. His practice was to express such intense devotion to particular deities that they would physically manifest to him and then merge into his being.

Ramakrishna attained samadhi in 1886 at the age of fifty but his life, his intense spiritual practices, and the temple of Kali where many of his ecstatic trances occurred continue to attract pilgrims from all over. Ramakrishna fully realized the infinite and all-inclusive nature of the divine. He was a conduit for divinity  and the presence of that divinity can still be clearly experienced at the Kali temple of Dakshineswar.

It is said that knowledge without bhakti is useless tinsel. Let us then know the nine forms of devotion that would take us closer to the Supreme.

1.   SHRAVANAM

shravanam_13194 Shravanam is the first and the foremost among the nine forms of devotion. It means ‘listening’ to the divine glories of the lord pertaining to His form, qualities, leelas or divine plays, His miracles and His spoken words like the Bhagavad Gita.

By listening to His glories, we begin to subconsciously develop love and reverence for Him.

Shravanam can be cultivated through regular satsanghs, by listening carefully to the words of the wise and that of the ancient seers and also regularly listening to the teachings of the scriptures. By hearing the stories of the lord’s divine activities, the devotee’s mind becomes purified from bad qualities like lust, anger, greed and envy. This process of transformation within the heart is described beautifully in the following five verses of Srimad Bhagavatam. This is actually the complete summary of the Bhagavata philosophy:

shrinvatam sva-kathah krishnah punya-shravana-kirtanah hridy antah-stho hy abhadrani vidhunoti suhrit satam  (Srimad Bhagavatham 1.2.17)

nashta-prayeshv abhadreshu nityam bhagavata-sevaya bhagavaty uttama-shloke bhaktir bhavati naishthiki (Srimad Bhagavatham 1.2.18)

tada rajas-tamo-bhavah kama-lobhadayas ca ye ceta etair anaviddham sthitam sattve prasidati (Srimad Bhagavatham 1.2.19)

evam prasanna-manaso bhagavad-bhakti-yogatah bhagavat-tattva-vijnanam mukta-sangasya jayate (Srimad Bhagavatham 1.2.20)

bhidyate hridaya-granthish chidyante sarva-samshayah kshiyante casya karmani drishta evatmanishvare (Srimad Bhagavatham 1.2.21)

“To hear about lord Krishna from the vedic literatures, or to hear from Him directly through the Bhagavad Gita is itself an auspicious and righteous activity. Such an ardent devotee, who keeps himself constantly engaged in hearing about the lord is blessed and purified by the Him, who is dwelling in his heart.

By cultivation of devotional service he is relieved from the modes of passion (rajas) and ignorance (tamas), and thus material lusts and avarice diminish. When these impurities are wiped away, the devotee remains steady in his position of pure goodness (sattva), becomes enlivened by devotional service and understands the science of God perfectly.

Thus bhakti-yoga severs the hard knot of material bondage and enables one to attain the state of ‘asamshayam-samagram,’ which means the total understanding and realization of the Supreme.” parikshit_15205

The story of King Parikshit given in Srimad Bhagavatham is an example of a devotee who exemplified shravanam. Due to a curse Parikshit had only a week to live, but he attained salvation by listening to the glories of Krishna in the form of Srimad Bhagavatham narrated by Sage Suka in the forests of Naimisharanya.

To cultivate shravanam three qualities are needed – an yearning to listen, listening with total faith and putting into practice what has been listened to. The act of listening itself becomes worship of the lord and the process of shravanam becomes effective as a form of devotion, leading us to liberation.

2.   KEERTANAM

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Keertanam is the second form of devotion which involves ‘singing’ the praise of the lord’s magnificence and omniscience with heartfelt devotion.

By constantly chanting the lord’s name, devotees like Dhruva, Draupadi, Prahalad, Meera, Chaitanya Maha Prabhu and Tukaram have achieved God realization. Chanting God’s name brings relief to the devotee’s mind.

It is said that Keertanam is the only way to achieve salvation in this kali yuga.

Given below is a short selection of verses taken from the different vedic literatures glorifying the significance of chanting the holy names of the lord.

bhagavata adi purushasya narayanasya namoccharana matrena nirdhta kalir bhavati [Kali santarana Upanishad verse 3]

“Simply by chanting the transcendental names of the lord Narayana, all the sins will be cleansed in Kali-yuga.” hare krishna hare krishna, krishna krishna hare hare hare rama hare rama, rama rama hare hare [Kali santarana Upanishad verse 5] iti shodashakam namnam, kali-kalmasha-nashanam natah parataropayah, sarva-vedeshu drishyate [Kali santarana Upanishad verse 6]

“The sixteen words-Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna  Krishna, Hare Hare; Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare – are especially meant for completely destroying all the contamination of Kali yuga. To save oneself from the evil effects of Kali-yuga, there is no other alternative that can be found in the entire vedas except the chanting of this Hare Krishna mahaa mantra.” harer nama harer nama, harer namaiva kevalam kalau nasty eva nasty eva, nasty eva gatir anyatha (Brihan-naradiya Purana, 38.126)

“In this age of quarrel and hypocrisy the only means of deliverance is chanting the holy names of the Supreme. There is no other way. There is no other way. There is no other way.” Sage Narada is the supreme example of one who realised the divine by continuously singing the glories of God in all circumstances and at all times. He also demonstrated to the world the supreme spiritual efficacy of singing the lord’s glories. One good example from our scriptures through which sage Narada explained the significance of Keertanam is that of the story of Mrigari.

Narada Muni Approaches Mrgari the Hunter Mrigari was a very cruel hearted hunter, yet sage Narada instructed him to chant the holy name of Rama. Being unable to appreciate the name of Rama, Mrigari was not able to chant.

Seeing this, Narada told him to chant the word “mara” instead, meaning “death”. Mrigari was an expert at killing animals, and he especially enjoyed half killing the animals to watch them suffer to death. So when Narada told him to chant “death” (mara), Mrigari found it very easy and natural. He sat and started chanting the word – mara, mara, mara, over and over again.

When he kept doing this, the gap between the words disappeared and instead of chanting “mara“, he was actually chanting “rama“. The name of Sri Rama is so powerful that it developed love of God even in the heart of the cruel hunter Mrigari. He did not know he was chanting the name of Supreme Rama, whose name even accidentally chanted once, would purify the heart.

This very same Mrigari, by chanting continuously the name of Sri Rama, transformed into the great sage Valmiki. Such is the amazing power of chanting the lord’s name. It is not amazing that, by chanting His name, personalities like sage Valmiki have become purified and attained perfection.

3.   SMARANAM

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Smaranam is the constant ‘remembrance’ of the lord, reveling in the contemplation of His beauty, majesty and compassion. It is the third form of devotion. In the Narasimha Purana there is a statement about meditation on the form of the Supreme:

Bhagavath charana dwandwa dhyaanam nirdwandwamiritam, paapinopi prasangena vihitam suhitam param (Taken from excerpts of Bhaktirasaamrita sindu by Shri Rupa Goswami, sloka 179)

“Meditation focusing on the Lotus feet of the Supreme is transcendental and beyond the experience of material pain and pleasure. By such meditation, even one who is sinful can be delivered from all the sins he has committed in his life.”

In the holy book of Vishnudharma there is a statement about remembering the personal traits and qualities of the Supreme :

Ye kurvanti sadaa bhaktya  gunaanusmaranam hare: Praksheena kalushoughaaste pravishanti hare: padam (Taken from excerpts of Bhaktirasaamrita sindu by Shri Rupa Goswami, sloka 180)

“Those who always contemplate on the qualities of the Supreme with devotion are freed from all impurities and enter Supreme Hari’s abode.”

In the Padma Purana there is a statement about remembering the activities of the lord:

Sarva maadhurya saaraani  sarvaadbhuta mayaani cha dhyaayan harescharitraani lalithaani vimuchyate (Taken from excerpts of Bhaktirasaamrita sindu by Shri Rupa Goswami, sloka 181)

“A person who is always engaged in meditation on the leelas and the wonderful activities of the Supreme surely becomes freed from all material contamination.”

prahladaThe greatest example of a devotee who realized God through smaranam is Prahlad who was just a little child at the time he attained God realization. Though Prahlad was put into many difficulties and tragedies by his atheist father Hiranyakashipu, still he constantly remembered Supreme Narayana and in the end, the Lord gave His darshan in the form of the Narasimha avatar, killing Hiranyakashipu and protecting Prahlad.

Thus even in all the extreme sufferings and pain, Prahlad kept remembering the Supreme and never lost his faith in the lord. From this we understand that a true and pure devotee who constantly remembers the Lord in all situations is never unhappy in any situation of life. This is confirmed in Srimad-Bhagavatam in the following sloka:

narayana-parah sarve na kutascana bibhyati svargapavarga-narakesv api tulyartha-darsinah (Srimad Bhagavatham 6.17.28)

“Devotees solely engaged in the devotional service of lord Narayana, never fear any condition of life. For them the heavenly planets, liberation and the hellish planets are all the same, for such devotees are interested only in the service of the lord.”

4.   PAADASEVANAM

1341698976_0309ce7969_b1Paadasevanam is the worship of the lord by concentrating upon or ‘honouring’ His feet or Paadukaa (sanctified sandals). It is the fourth form of devotion. Paadasevanam is an innate sense of surrender to the Supreme leading to worship of the Lord’s lotus Feet. This form of intimate service to of the Lord is Paadasevanam.

But what is the significance of worshipping the Lord’s feet?

To approach a person’s feet is a sign of humility and that is why in Indian tradition, we are taught to touch our parent’s and elder’s feet as a token of respect. The feet of the Supreme Lord are so sweet and beautiful that they are known as paada pankajam or Lotus feet as they are so soft and red like the lotus petals.

Simply thinking of the Lord’s feet takes devotees to deep feelings of love, longing and ecstasy. Even the mighty devas were delighted when little Krishna wandered the forests of Vrindavan, leaving His footprints in the dust. And Krishna’s dear friends the gopis would press this dust against their heads and hearts, lost in ecstatic trance.

Srimad Bhagavatham (10.38.30) describes the Lord’s beautiful feet in detail- “The two great personalities, Krishna and Balarama, had both made the land of Vraja extremely beautiful by decorating it with Their footprints, which had many auspicious markings, such as the flag, thunderbolt, rod for controlling elephants, and Lotus flower”.

On Krishna’s feet there are 19 symbols of Narayana or Vishnu. On His right foot are a Lotus, flag, chakra, umbrella, four swastikas, uddhava rekha (upcurving line), barley corn, elephant goad, ashtakon (octagon), four blackberry fruits, and vajra. On His left foot are four water pots, a conch, an unstrung bow, cow’s hoof, fish, crescent moon, akash (sky), and a triangle. 001-Sri_Krishna_Lotus_Feet_-_1280x1024 The Skanda Purana states the particular places on His feet where Krishna carries the mark of the flag and also other marks, and the reasons for these marks:

‘At the base of the large toe on His right foot, the unborn Supreme carries the mark of a disc, which cuts down the six (mental) enemies of His devotees.

At the bottom of the middle toe of that same foot, Supreme Achyuta has a Lotus flower, which increases the greed for Him in the minds of the beelike devotees who meditate on His feet. At the base of His small toe is a thunderbolt, which smashes the mountains of His devotees’ reactions to past sins, and in the middle of His heel is the mark of an elephant goad, which brings the elephants of His devotees’ minds under control. The joint of His right large toe bears the mark of a barleycorn, representing all kinds of enjoyable opulence.’

Thus worshipping the Supreme’s Lotus feet by itself is a great spiritual blessing, because anyone charmed by those transcendental feet loses attraction to pursuits of short lived pleasures in life. Brahma explains the significance of Paadasevanam in Srimad Bhagavatham as –

For one who has accepted the boat of the Lotus feet of the Supreme, who is the shelter of the cosmic manifestation and is famous as Murari (the enemy of the demon Mura), for him the ocean of the material world is like the water contained in a calf’s hoof print. His goal is parama padam, or Vaikunta, the place where there are no material miseries, not the samsara; not the place where there is danger at every step.” (Srimad-Bhagavatam 10.14.58).

One of the beautiful examples of bhakti extolled in Paadasevanam is none other than Goddess Lakshmi Herself, the consort of Supreme Vishnu. Goddess Lakshmi is always seen massaging the Lotus feet of the Supreme. God-Garbhodakashayi-Vishnu This is remarkable, as noted in Srimad-Bhagavatam (1.11.33): “The goddess of fortune, although by nature very restless and moving, could not quit the Supreme’s feet.”

Goddess Lakshmi is often restless in nature in the form of wealth and good fortune; both of which are elusive and temporary. Mortals cannot control Goddess Lakshmi, although many waste their lives trying. As a devoted servant of the Supreme, the Goddess of fortune bestows her bounty only with the Supreme’s blessings.

Thus pada-sevanam offers a deep spiritual lesson. Though Lakshmi is the Goddess of wealth and presides over all forms of prosperity, she shows to the world that serving the Supreme’s feet is greater than all the treasures on earth. In present times, we often worship Shri (wealth) more than Hari (the Supreme). What we do not realize is that by worshipping the Supreme’s feet, even wealth is achieved automatically.  What foolishness is it to go after money, forgetting the Lotus feet of the Supreme, which are the fountain source of all prosperity!

5.    ARCHANAM

images“Whoever offers Me with devotion and a pure mind (heart), a leaf, a flower, a fruit or a little water—I accept this as devotion.” (Bhagavad Gita 9.26) Archanam, the fifth form of devotion, is the complete “offering” in the form of pujas or ritualistic worship, chanting mantras, singing bhajans, offering arati, food, flowers and even clothes to the Supreme. Love expresses in giving and as love for the Supreme Lord grows in the heart of the devotee, he naturally wants to offer his best.  By doing this, the devotee derives inner satisfaction and inspiration.

Back to Godhead - Volume 01, Number 64 - 1974 Why is God worshipped in this way?

Vedic scriptures prescribe worship of the deity as a means to develop a relationship with the God as a person. While it is true that God is paramatma it is also true that, as the paramatma, He permeates all matter and is present in every atom be it living or non living. God cannot be separated from His creation, and so to worship His form, even if constructed of physical materials, is certainly to worship Him. Thus scriptures mention a variety of materials that may be used to create the deity, including earth, sand, and even the mind.

Yo yo yaam yaam tanum bhaktah shraddhayaarchitum icchati

Tasya tasyaachalaam shraddhaam taameva vidadhaamyaham

Whatsoever form any devotee desires to worship with faith—that (same) faith of his I make firm and unflinching. (Bhagavad Gita Chapter 7. 21).

There is only one God, yet He manifests in many different forms. As the Supreme, He enjoys relationships with all living beings; each relationship is intimate and unique. In His form as Supreme Rama, He enjoyed the role of a king and as a faithful husband to Mother Sita. In His form as Supreme Narasimha, He was the ferocious protector of His true devotee Prahalad. In His form as baby Krishna, He was playful and mischievous. All of these roles are manifestations of the same Supreme Personality, and thus all these divine avatars of the Supreme may be worshiped in a deity form.

Although each of these various forms of God is supreme, a devotee may feel a stronger attraction for a particular deity. Hence one can perform archanam to all the deities or to a particular deity personally preferred as the istha devata. Thus archanam can be done in a temple or also in one’s personal altar at home or sometimes even manasa pooja can be done at the mind level.  Archanam or deity worship combines an external ritual with internal meditation. We can do archanam by offering flowers to the lord, chanting His holy names like the Sahasranamas or the Ashtotarams.  6735267679_293d69cb59_zArati is one aspect of archanam.

In most of the temples after the ritualistic worship of the deity with flowers and other offerings, the sanctum doors are closed during alankaram or dressing up and neivedhyam or feeding of the lord. During arati, auspicious items like incense, a flame (ghee lamp), a conch shell with water, a cloth, flowers, a chamara (yak-tail fan), and a peacock fan are waved before the deity to offer protection by dispelling inauspicious influences.

2922059379_a3b100064e In the Skanda Purana there is a description of the result of seeing arati of the deity: ‘If someone sees the face of the Supreme while arati is going on, he can be relieved of all sinful reactions coming from all the thousands and millions of past births. He is even excused from the killing of a brahmana or similar prohibited activities.”

This explains the importance of regularly visiting temples for prayers and worshipping the Lord and witnessing the arati  in the form of archanam. In this form of worship, Prithu demonstrated the unique significance of Angaarchana or using each of his sense organs in worshipping the Supreme. “Netra kamalam samarpayami” (I offer my Lotus eyes to the Supreme). “Srotra kamalam samarpayami” (I offer the Lotus ears to the Supreme)”. “Hridaya kamalam samarpayami” (I offer the Lotus of my heart to the Supreme): in this manner Prithu regarded every organ of his body as the Lotus to be offered to the Supreme Lord in worship. One of the most wonderful aspects of archanam is that it employs all the four forms of devotional service discussed so far i.e hearing about the Lord, chanting His names, remembering Him, and serving His Lotus feet. Thus it is a very significant form of devotion that can be practiced as a routine in our daily life to seek God’s grace.

6.   VANDANAM

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Vandanam is supreme ‘reverence’ or ‘prayer’ to the lord and is the sixth form of devotion. In this form of devotion a devotee begins to see his favorite form of the Lord everywhere and in all beings and objects.

Vandanam is an intensely personal process and it may also be the most universal form of bhakti, through universal prayers that make up the traditions of the different religions and cultures of the world, creating our most ancient ties and our most common language- the language of a sincere prayer to the Supreme.

There are various forms of prayers – simple prayers of gratitude, prayers for the welfare of loved ones, prayers for speedy recovery of ill health and of course, prayers for some coveted desires to be fulfilled.

Chaturvidhaa bhajante maam janaah sukritino’rjuna Aarto jijnaasurartharthee jnaanee cha bharatarshabh Teshaam jnaanee nityayukta eka bhaktirvishishyate Priyo hi jnaanino’tyarthamaham sa cha mama priyah (Bhagavad Gita chapter 7.16,7.17)

“Four kinds of virtuous men worship Me, O Arjuna! They are the distressed, the seeker of knowledge, the seeker of wealth, and the wise, O lord of the Bharatas! Of them, the wise, ever steadfast and devoted to the One, excels (is the best); for, I am exceedingly dear to the wise and he is dear to Me.”

FB_Hindu-boy-praying-to-IdolThrough sincere prayers, great personalities like Akrura have realized the Supreme.  Akrura’s prayers are explained in detail in Srimad Bhagavatham 10th canto; one of which is given below: “O son of Vasudeva [Krishna], obeisance to You, within whom all living beings reside. O Supreme of the mind and senses, again I offer You my obeisance. O master, please protect me, who has surrendered unto You.”—Akrura (Srimad Bhagavatham 10.40.30)

Akrura Akrura, the uncle of lord Krishna was one of the courtiers of Kamsa who was sent as a messenger to invite Krishna to Mathura to be killed. Akrura considered this as the greatest of opportunities to meet Lord Krishna and was immersed in so much longing and devotion to meet Him in Vrindavan.

As soon as he reached Vrindavan, when he saw the  Lord’s footprints, he immediately jumped down from his chariot and saluted the sacred soil. His heart was filled with deep satisfaction even to see the footprints and prayed sincerely to the Lord, free from all kinds of fear and grief that was instigated by Kamsa. Thus he attained the lord through this form of devotion – vandanam. prayers-by-queen-kunti

Another great example is that of queen Kunti in the Mahabharata. Her prayer to Lord Krishna was: namasye purusham tvadyam ishwaram prakriteh param alakshyam sarva bhutanam antar bahir avasthitam ( Srimad Bhagavatham 1.8.18)  

“O Krishna, I offer my obeisance unto You because You are the original personality and are unaffected by the qualities of the material world. You are existing both within and without everything, yet You are invisible to all.” The Pandavas and queen Kunti were fortunate to be associated with Lord Krishna, who helped them endure death and separation of loved ones, financial ruin, and even humiliation.

After the Kurukshetra war, when finally the trials of the Pandavas came to an end,  Krishna prepared to leave. Kunti prayed to Him thus: “Oh Krishna let our sufferings come again, for when we see them, we see You, and then our birth and death are through.” Later she prayed, “Please cut the ropes of my attachment to my family so my love can flow to You alone, like the Ganges to the sea”. Most of us would be reluctant to offer such prayers, but not the fearless Queen Kunti! krish2

The significance of this form of devotion is that it is not just for humans to practice, but even animals and other beings can offer this form of devotion to attain the Lord. The best example of an animal that attained the Lord through vandanam is Gajendra, the elephant king who, once, while bathing in a river was suddenly encountered by a ferocious crocodile. The crocodile caught Gajendra’s leg in his mighty jaws, and despite Gajendra’s own massive power and the assistance of his elephant herd, he was unable to free himself. As Gajendra saw his death approaching, he realized that no one could truly save him except the Supreme. From deep within the elephant’s being arose the words to a prayer learnt in a former life, and he sang it out with devotion. Moved by the pure-hearted song of surrender, Krishna appeared and killed the crocodile and Gajendra attained moksha.

Thus prayer is a reflection of our spiritual realization and our unique relationship with God. Prayer is everything from our most intimate conversations with the lord in our hearts to the universal expressions of praise and gratitude echoing through time. It is not a language of words, but a language of heart. Beautiful prayers uttered with no feelings mean nothing to the Supreme. The beauty of a prayer, however articulated, lies in its sincerity.

7.   DAASYAM

hanuman- dasya bhakti

Daasyam is the seventh form of devotion where the devotee sees himself as not just the ‘servant’ of the Lord but also the servant of the Lord’s devotees, with no sense of inferiority. Daasyam refers to a heartfelt yearning to be of personal service to the Supreme. It is the ultimate expression of humility, yet it is bold in its aspiration to such a lofty position.

To attain daasyam one must completely understand that God is a person. He is not our creation. Rather, He is a person of such wonder and magnitude that this vast, imponderable world is just a tiny spark of His creative ability.

To serve Him we must come to know this magnificent person and understand His desires. And while He kindly recognizes all attempts at service, the self-centered cannot attain the intimate experience of true service to the Supreme. Service to God is so intimate that He offers it only to the most trustworthy souls.

images (1) The Ramayana offers an extraordinary example of personal service. Rama did not have to instruct Hanuman or offer endless encouragement; as Hanuman’s pure love for the lord itself enthralled him, when he got the opportunity to serve Rama.

During his search for Sita, Hanuman was captured and ill-treated by Ravana. Yet Hanuman’s desire to serve Rama remained unchanged.  Hanuman prayed to Rama with no expectations whatsoever, but prayed only for His blessings to be with him forever.

He prayed to Rama asking: “My dear Lord, if You like You can give me salvation from this material existence, or the privilege of merging into Your existence, but I do not wish any of those things. I do not wish anything which diminishes my relationship with You as servant to master, even after liberation.”

Thus Hanuman is the supreme example of daasya bhaktha or the one who realized God through serving Him wholeheartedly.

So for us, daasyam means not only to serve the lord directly, but to serve even those who serve Him.  Our aspiration should rather be to serve the servants of the servants of the servants of the lord, stretching our humility as far as our realizations will allow. It is said that the servants or the devotees of the Lord are even kinder than the Lord Himself. That’s one reason we need a guru to attain daasyam. True humility thus naturally appears in a true guru, whose heart is ever-satisfied as the servant of Lord’s servants.

8.   SAKHYAM

krushna-sudama

Sakhyam is the eighth form of devotion wherein the devotee considers himself to be the ‘friend’ or sakhaa of the Supreme. Just like the body that we see and feel around us is temporary and fickle, so is this material world. But there is another world, composed exclusively of spiritual energy, in which everything is sentient and full of love for the Supreme -for example Vrindavan where Krishna enjoyed His childhood. Even the blades of grass there have a vibrant relationship with the lord, who spent His days taking care of His cows and playing with His friends. Think of those friendships!

ka1_098Krishna’s friends chased Him in their games, massaged His legs when He rested, and tossed sweets into His mouth while having food together. Their love for Krishna was so complete that they were blind even to His divinity and only knew how much they loved their wonderful friend.

Who else can be our best friend other than the Supreme? arjuna-krishna-chariot Arjuna is another classic example of a devotee who achieved perfection through friendship with the lord.

Krishna was so familiar to Arjuna that he even asked Krishna to drive his chariot in the battle of Kurukshetra! And yet, when Arjuna became confused as he faced his relatives on the battlefield, he turned to his friend and charioteer for help.  Because Arjuna had such a friendly rapport with the lord, his turning to Krishna for instruction was a shift in the relationship.

When Krishna reveals His magnificent universal form to His friend Arjuna, he was aghast, and stammered out an apology. “I have in the past addressed You as ‘O Krishna,’ ‘O Yadava,’ ‘O my friend,’ without knowing Your glories. Please forgive whatever I may have done in madness or in love.” (Bhagavad Gita. Chapter 11.41)

Krishna is so kind and merciful that in spite of such opulence He played with Arjuna as a friend. Such is the transcendental loving reciprocation between the devotee and the lord.

Although Arjuna had seen the opulence in Krishna’s universal form, he could not forget the friendly relationship with Him. This is the beauty of having an eternal friendship with the Lord!

Completely pure souls in the spiritual world enjoy a friendship with the lord because they have no desire for anything else. In the text Madhurashtakam it is stated –how sweet is lord’s friendship with us – “sakhyam madhuram”! Recognizing that the lord has already extended Himself to us, it is left to us to reciprocate His friendship.

9.   AATMANIVEDANAM

onam

Aatmanivedanam is the ninth form of devotion which means yielding fully or the ‘complete surrender’ to the will of the Supreme, with no traces of ego whatsoever left in the devotee’s heart. Completely filled with devotion to God, the devotee gains the knowledge of his true self in this form of devotion where the devotee and the lord become one.

In the Narsimha Purana, lord Narasimha says, “Anyone who prays unto Me and takes shelter from Me becomes My ward, and I protect him always from all sorts of calamities.”

The same is stated in the Bhagavad Gita by Krishna as:
Ananyaaschinta yanto maam ye janaa paryupaasate  teshaam nityaabhiyuktaanaam yoga kshemam vahaamyaham (Bhagavad Gita,9.22)  “He who constantly remembers me and worships me at all times, is protected and his welfare is taken care of by Me at all times.” King Bali is the perfect example of Atmanivedanam or complete self-surrender unto the lord.

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In Vamana avatar of Lord Vishnu, King Bali welcomed the Lord disguised as a young Brahmin with open arms and promised him that he would offer him whatever he desired. He offered to wash the feet of Vamana and sanctify himself by sprinkling that water on his own head. Bali’s preceptor, Sukracharya was an all-knowing counselor. Aware that Vamana was an incarnation of Vishnu, he advised Bali to go back on his offer to Vamana.

But Bali’s magnanimity and greatness may be seen in the fact that he refused to accept his preceptor’s advice. Bali said, “When the Supreme lord Himself has come to me with out-stretched hands asking for a gift, what greater good fortune I can have than making the gift from my humble hands? I am prepared to give away everything regardless of what happens to me.”

Bali told Lord Vishnu: “I offer to you, Oh lord, all my wealth and possessions, as well as myself. I take refuge in you, protect me, Oh lord.” (Srimad Bhagavatham 8th canto). This was the sense of abnegation with which Bali offered himself to Lord Vamana. Thus he attained the lord through his selfless devotion and surrender to the Supreme.

Mahabhawa Swaroopa Radha Ran  A jpg

In other words, we should learn how to cry for the lord in tears of bhakti. This is called laulyam, and such tears are the price for the highest perfection.

This feeling of ‘oneness’ with the lord and all His divine beings is achieved only in the spirit of the final form of devotion to the Supreme–aatmanivedanam.

 

Conclusion

When cattle try to devour a newly planted sapling, the plant struggles to live and grows more leaves. But surpassing these struggles, when the plant grows into a tree, then the cattle is no longer a threat to the tree. Likewise, when our devotion is in its initial stages, the ill effects of the material world affect us to a great extent. But when we continue to involve ourselves in various forms of bhakti, with patience and perseverance, we soon become strong enough and the ill effects of the material world do not affect us anymore.

We gradually attain the states of Saalokya, Saaroopya, Saameepya and Saayujya. bhakti1 When we worship the lord, we attain the world/plane (loka) of that deity. This is called ‘Saalokya’.

We then attain ‘Saaroopya’ or the form of that deity like Krishna’s dear friend Uddhava who had the exact form of Krishna due to his devotion.

Then, we attain ‘Saameepya’ or the proximity to that deity. Finally, we become one with that deity which is known as ‘Saayujya’.

Practically speaking, what it means is that when we do incessant chanting of the lord’s name in the same place, divinity is created in that place around us.

Bhakti is bliss and more blissful would be our lives when we cultivate and practice the above discussed navavidha bhakti or nine forms of devotion in our journey of life towards the Supreme.

b5fb52dc5d390a6fbf4056e5c48bbaefWe can take up any of these paths and reach the highest state. The path of bhakti is thus the easiest and if practiced regularly , it would gradually uplift us in the progressive realization of the Supreme.

Let us keep remembering and chanting the names of the lord at all times! Let our hearts bloom into beautiful flowers of divinity, by drinking the daily dosage of the divine nectar of eternal bhakti!

Jai Shree Krishna! Hari Om!

Vithoba Temple – The Stories of Pundalik, Namdev and Narahari

SyayambhuvithobaVithoba temple,  Pandarpur is the main centre of worship for  Vithoba, form of Vishnu or Krishna and Rukmini (Rakhumai). It is the most visited temple in Maharashtra. Vithoba or Vitthala of Pandarpur has lured many a great saints and the place stands testimony for the unparalleled devotion to the great Lord Panduranga.  On the banks of river Chandrabaga,  the Almighty Krishna, along with His Consort Rukmini, stand atop a small brick for the sake of his devotee Pundalik.

vittal-pandharpur-puja-prasadEvery divine place has devotees revel in the bliss born out of singing the Divine Names of the Lord, and Pandarpur is no exception. The Divine Name of ‘Ramakrishna Hari Vasudeva Hari’ is ever reverberating in this holy town. Devotees are delighted to see Lord Panduranga, the enchanter of the Universe, wearing the ‘Makara Kundala’ (fish shaped  ear stud) in his ears, Peethambara (clad in yellow silk), wearing exquisite ornaments, a bewitching smile playing on His lips and having the insignia of Goddess Lakshmi on His chest, His two palms on His hips, as if awaiting Abhangs and Nama Kirtans of the Saints and devotees.

Pandharpur-Photos-On-the-bank-of-River-Chandrabhaga-Pandharpur-10721-3-jpg-destreviewimages-500x375-1324603887Great Saints like Namdev,Tukkaram who had immense love for Vitthala, spent their entire life immersed in Kirtans and Bhajans.

Undeniably, Lord Vitthala is an embodiment of love and devotees offer their love profusely, seeking in return, only enhanced love for Him!

The Legend of Pundalik

The saga of Pundalik is one of the most important Mahimas (legends) about Vithoba. Pundalik is a devoted son to his parents Janudev and Satyavati, who lived in a forest called Dandirvan.

But after his wedding, Pundalik begins ill-treating his parents. Tired with their son’s misbehavior and ill-treatment, the elderly couple decide to leave for Kashi. Upon hearing his parents’ plans, Pundalik and his wife decide to join them on pilgrimage. While the youthful son and his wife ride on horseback, the frail old couple walk in bad weather and the ill-treatment continued. Every evening, when the party camps for the night, the son forces his parents to groom the horses and do other jobs.

On the way to Kashi, the group reaches the ashram (hermitage) of a pious and venerable sage, Kukkutswami. Exhausted, the family decides to spend a few days there. That night, when all were asleep, Pundalik by chance is awake and sees a remarkable vision. Just before dawn, a group of beautiful young women, dressed in soiled clothes, enter the ashram; they clean the floor, fetch water and wash the venerable sage’s clothes. After finishing their chores, they go to the prayer-room. When they reappear after prayer, their clothes are spotlessly clean. Then, they vanish as inexplicably as they had appeared. Pundalik feels a deep sense of peace witnessing the scene.

It remains on his mind the whole day and he resolves to remain awake the next night, and confirm it was not merely a dream. Pundalik is very curious and approaches the beautiful women and asks them of their details. They reply that they are the Ganga, Yamuna and other holy rivers of India. Pilgrims wish to take a dip in their holy waters to wash away their sins, and that is soiling their clothes. Then, the women say: “But O Pundalik, with your ill-treatment of your parents, you are the greatest sinner of them all!”

Pundalik is utterly shocked and his conscience transforms. He realises his misdeeds, becomes entirely devoted to his parents and ensures their comfort. Devotion in any form reaches God swiftly and impressed by Pundalik’s devotion to his parents, Lord Vishnu plans to bless and pays a visit to Pundalik’s ashram. Lord-Krishna-comes-in-search-for-Rukmini-in-Dindirvan

Vishnu knocks at Pundalik’s door, while he is busy serving his parents. Pundalik does realise that God is at his door, but such was his devotion to his parents, he wants to complete his duties and then attend the visitor. Then, Pundalik does something strange but out of real devotion. He pushes a brick outside for God to stand on and wait for him until he finishes attending to his parents. Vithoba_Pundalik

Seeing this act, Vishnu is extremely pleased and the ever-loving God waits for his devotee.

When Pundalik comes out,  he begs for pardon from the Lord but far from being displeased, Vishnu is overtaken by Pundalik’s love for his parents and grants him a boon. Pundalik requests Vishnu to stay back on Earth and bless all his devotees.

The Lord agrees to take the form of Vithoba, or God who stood upon a brick, and a temple was built there. Along with Vithoba, Rakhumai (Rukmini, the consort of Krishna) is also worshipped here.  

The Story of Namdev Chi Payari (Step of Namdev)

namdevAn interesting tale is that of the temple’s first step called “Namdev Chi Payari” (step of Namdev). The child and future saint, Namdev was an ardent devotee of Vithoba. One day his mother asks him to complete the ritual of “naivedya” (food made in the house is first offered to God, the ritual comprises placing the offering plate before the deity and sprinkling water around the plate and with a prayer to God).

Namdev faithfully does “naivedya” and waits for God to appear and take the offering. But he is disheartened. He keeps praying and requests God to come in person and accept the offering. With no answer, the child starts banging his head at the feet of God.

Seeing this utmost devotion and innocence of a child, God appears, eats the offering and blesses Namdev.  Namdev asks for being present as the “first step” at His temple, so that his innumerable devotees will touch him before having the “darshan” of the Lord. So, this first step is called “Namdev Chi Payari”.

The significance of Ashadi Ekadashi – Dindi Yatra

Ashadi Ekadasi is a religious procession and is celebrated during the months of June- July (Aashaadh Shukla paksha). It consists of a beautifully decorated Palkhi (Palanquin) having the “padukas” (feet) of the Lord and the Palkhi procession consists of people collectively walking, singing and dancing the glory of the Lord in what are called as ‘Dindis’. This custom of taking out a holy procession is said to have started in 1810.

Tradition has it that two of the greatest devotees of Lord, Sant Jnyaneshwar and Sant Tukaram had set out on a pilgrimage to Lord Vitthala from their respective places and reached the Divine Abode in fifteen days time on the auspicious day of Ashadi Ekadasi. Following this set tradition by these great souls, even after their merger with the Divine, devotees from different parts of the country set out for Pandarpur, wearing basil beads and singing His glory on a pilgrimage to reach on this auspicious day to have Divine Darshan. This pilgrimage is traditionally called Dindi Yatra.

pandarpurUpon reaching Pandarpur on Ashadi, these devotees take a holy dip in the sacred River Chandrabhaga before proceeding for the Darshan of Lord Vitthala.

The Palkhi procession has remained unbroken since it began despite wars, famines and floods. More than Fifty Palkhis of saints assemble at Pandarpur every year.

The ‘Bhakti Marg’ (the path of devotion) as propounded by Sant Jnyaneshwar, teaches us to forget the physical self in pursuit of the Lord. When the Varkaris(farmers from the region) sing and dance during the pilgrimage, they forget the material world around them. A dip in the holy river Chandrabhaga on whose banks Pandarpur resides, is believed to have power to wash all sins.  All the devotees are allowed to touch the feet of the idol of Vithoba. In May 2014, the temple has begun to invite women and people from backward classes as priests.

Along with the Dindi procession, Seva to the poor and needy is done reflecting that Lord is in all forms. This is called ‘Seva Dindi’. Participation in Ashadi Dindi and Seva Dindi helps an individual in many ways by bringing good health, peace and prosperity in his life.

Chanting the continuous glory of the God in the Ashadi Dindi procession and Seva Dindi purifies an individual, an inner cleansing that takes place in Mind, Body and Spirit and the participants tend to lose their individual identities and experience bliss. It develops all aspects of human personality and helps us understand the true purpose of Life.  

The Story of Narahari

Once, there lived in Pandarpur, a devotee of Lord Shiva by the name Narahari. He was a goldsmith, a craft man par excellence. He was known for his skill and craftsmanship in the art of jewel-making and renowned for his wonderful ornaments. Though he lived in Pandarpur, he never had the darshan of Panduranga.

He was such a staunch and ardent devotee of Lord Shiva that the glorious form of Lord Vittal did not fancy him at all. He would never listen to Vitthala Nama Kirtan and would shut his ears if a group of Saints engaged in Namakirtan ever passed by his shop. He would never allow anybody to sing the praises of Vitthala in his presence and would try to surpass them by his lectures on Lord Shiva. He used to visit a small shrine of Lord Shiva situated on the banks of Chandrabaga and offered his worship. He always envied the popularity of Lord Vitthal who had a huge crowd of devotees not only from Pandarpur but also from other parts of the country.

The Lord had his own plan of drawing Narahari closer to His lotus feet and making him His ardent devotee!

Once, a wealthy devotee desired to make an expensive girdle of gold studded with precious stones and gems for Lord Panduranga. He approached Narahari and expressed his desire assuring that he would adequately reward him for his befitting skill and craftsmanship. No sooner did he hear that the girdle was for Lord Vitthal than Narahari turned down his request. He said that he would never in his life make an ornament for anyone other than Lord Shiva.

The rich man argued that this was just a business deal and a business man should never allow his prejudices to intrude on his business. He further asserted that Narahari would be paid sufficiently just as any of his business deals and this would no way shatter his ideals. Narahari reluctantly accepted the deal but was very firm that he will execute based on the specifications given. As Narahari was very firm in not entering the temple premises of Vittal, he wanted the rich man to bring the measurement of the waist of Lord Panduranga. The rich man went to the temple with great joy and had the priests of the temple measure the waist size of the Lord and came back to Narahari with exact measurement.

Narahari made an excellent ornament studded with precious stones and gems of the same size and gave it to his wealthy customer on the promised day. The wealthy man had arranged for a grand pooja on that day and took the girdle to the temple in a big procession. Sadly, the girdle measured bigger and it slipped out of the waist of the Lord when offered! Crestfallen, the gentleman immediately rushed to Narahari’s shop. Explaining that it measured bigger, he requested Narahari to alter it to the exact size of the idol of Panduranga.

Though Narahari protested that this was exactly to the measurements provided, he immediately made the necessary adjustments. But when this was offered to Vittala, the girdle seemed small and it would not fit! The devotee rushed to Narahari. All attempts of Narahari to make the girdle fit Lord Panduranga proved futile. The devotee felt frustrated and was at his wit’s end. Narahari, who took great pride in his workmanship, was left flabberfgasted by the whole incident.

The rich man forces Narahari to visit the Temple and take the measurement himself.  Narahari was forced to accept this idea; but he placed a condition that he would not look at the Lord Panduranga and insisted that he should be carried inside blindfolded. Narahari was carried into the Temple Sanctum Sanctorum. Narahari had never, even in his wildest dreams, ever imagined entering the Vithoba Temple.

Though he entered the Temple with an air of indifference, the Lord of the Universe was highly pleased to see Narahari enter His Sanctum. Blindfolded, Narahari entered the sanctum and set to measure the Lord’s waist. When he touched the deity and started to feel it, he felt matted hair, the moon and also the third eye on the Lord’s forehead, snake in His neck and the trident in His hand! Narahari was startled. ‘How could it be Lord Shiva?, he thought and touched again. narahari-sonar2Overwhelmed with joy he cried out, ‘Oh! this is My dear Lord – Lord Shiva!” and immediately removed the cloth that blinded his eyes.

But he was dumbfounded to see the lotus eyed Panduranga standing along with His Consort Rukmini! Narahari was dumbfounded by the divine sport of the Lord.

He realised the truth that there was no difference between Lord Vittala and Lord Shiva. He at once fell at the feet of Panduranga.

He then took the measurement of the waist of the Lord and this time the ornament fit the Lord perfectly.

Adi Sankara, in one of his verses, says that Lord Panduranga is none other than the Nirguna Brahman (the formless Brahman) which has assumed a beautiful form by it’s sheer mercy upon the mankind and hence worshipping him would tantamount to the worship of all the other deities.

Narahari’s story stands as an illustration to this.  Both the Panchaksharam and the Ashtaksharam leads to HIM!

Om Nama Shivaya! Om Namo Narayanaaya!

Finite and the Infinite – A poem by Divya Anand

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Flying high on top of the world,

Swelled with vanity and feeling proud,

Sings the colourful, bright kite  in beguile happiness,

Forgetting the subtle, string of life holding it rigid,

Down comes the strong wind of premonition,

Giving it a tight jerk in upbraid,

And  SNAP!! The string breaks as a reprimand…

The kite cries resentfully, deeply abashed,

Its tinkered colours of paper torn apart in the bushes of time caught,

The string laughing in mirth at the kite’s hard lesson,

Settles down on the cosy green garden of bliss beneath!

 

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Flying high in this world of material riches,

Soaked in gushing spring of inferno and ego,

Dances this adorned body, mind and intellect in elusive happiness,

Oblivious of the subtle hand of GOD holding it behind,

Down comes the coerce typhoon of time, experiences and laws of Nature,

Giving it a fatal blow of pain and chastisement..

The vanquished body, mind and  intellect mourns in ignominy,

Its illusioned notions of  “I” ripped apart in the wheels of Karma caught,

God smiling ever sweetly at Man’s capitulation,

Blesses him with HIS grace abundant to lift him in the knowledge of the Infinite!!

At His feet,
Divya Anand