Saturday, February 25, 2017

I Salute You, Dear Mother

Each one on this earth, man or woman, is beholden to one's mother. "Maatrudevo Bhava"  is the first lesson for the young initiated, advising them to see the Lord first in their own mothers. There is no existence for any of us without our mothers. Some are fortunate to see their mother and live with her for several years. Some have the luxury of having her by their sides till their own ripe old age. A few are unfortunate to lose her at birth itself or before they are able to understand and acknowledge her presence. 

Many devout Indians go to Gaya in Bihar for offering Pindas to their forefathers. Pindapradan or sacred offerings is a way of remembering our elders and expressing our gratitude to them. Is there any place which is specially identified for remembering one's mother exclusively, the who makes innumerable sacrifices to give birth and nurture the child?

MatruGaya or Siddhpur in Patan District of Gujarat, located on the banks of the holy river Saraswati,  is the place for devout Indians to visit and make Pindapradan for the mothers. It is a two hour drive (110 KM) from Ahmedabad airport. Siddhpur has a very interesting history.

Kardama Prajapati was the son of Lord Brahma and chose Shristhal, earlier name for Siddhpur, for his penance. Pleased with his long penance, Lord Vishnu advised him that Manu and Shatarupa Devi will be approaching him for marrying their daughter, Devahuti. Lord Vishnu also told Kardama that he will himself take birth as their son in due course. Kardama and Devahuti had nine daughters and Lord Vishnu was born as their son Kapila later on. Sage Kapila is recognized as one of the main contributors of the Dualistic form of Indian Philosophy.

Kardama Prajapati renounced the world and proceeded to the forest after handing over the care of Devahuti with son Kapila. In due course of time, Devahuti approached Kapila to enlighten her about higher spiritual pursuits and reaching the Lord. The advice given by Kapila to his mother Devahuti is detailed in Bhagavata Mahapurana in the third skanda (canto).  Kapila lays emphasis on visualizing the Lord as a person and worshipping his lotus feet. As this discussion took place in Shristhal, presently known as Siddhpur, it has become an important pilgrimage center for those who remember their mothers and want to do Pindapradan in their honor and memory. While doing so, the sons remember the varieties of troubles they gave their mothers before, during and after their births. Sixteen pindas are offered by reciting a sloka for each of the pindas. The content of each of the sloka is indeed filled with profound feelings.

Siddhpur has some more history behind it. It is believed that Bramharshi Dadeechi gave away his backbone here to Lord Indra for making of "Vajraayudha" to enable him to kill Vrutrasura. There is also a lake here called "Bindu Sarovara" which is believed to have been formed from the drops of water that fell from the eyes of Lord Vishnu. Pindadaan is done around this holy lake.

What does the son tell his mother while offering the sixteen Pindas? Their rough translation is somewhat like this:
  1. I was responsible for the difficulty you experienced while walking on earth during pregnancy, when I was in your womb.
  2. I caused immense hardship for you while growing from month to month in your womb.
  3. I kicked you often with my legs without realizing that it would hurt you.
  4. I gave you trouble in the form of death-like pains while staying in your womb.
  5. I gave many other troubles till the tenth month, when you delivered me.
  6. I was the cause of all the suffering you faced as delivery date approached.
  7. You had to drink and swallow many bitter liquids and medicines before and during my birth.
  8. Your body suffered a lot after birth, while nurturing me.
  9. You were rendered miserable due my wetting the bed frequently, especially during nights.
  10. You always gave me food and water on priority even while ignoring your own needs.
  11. I caused pain and trouble while you breast fed me day and night.
  12. You suffered during summer and winter months due to my dependence on you.
  13. You suffered more than me whenever I was sick.
  14. You ate little and yet gave me full, always.
  15. There are no sons like me; I troubled you the most.
  16. As you cross the gates of heaven, I remember you and offer these Pindas.

While offering the sixteen pindas, the son mentions that it is for atoning for each of the sins mentioned above.

Kardama Prajapati, Devahuti and their son Kapila have become an integral part of the lives of people who remember MatruGaya or visit that place for sacred offerings.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

It Has Meaning!

The Chief Guest for the function of the day was interacting with the students at the University of Calcutta. The University was itself established in the year 1857, on the recommendations of The Court of Directors of the East India Company. The University was modeled on the lines of University of London. The distinguished guest asked the students a simple question. "What is your opinion about your epics?" he asked, with reference to Indian epics like Ramayana, Mahabharata etc. The students answered that "It is all fictitious and meaningless". To a further question as to whether they had read them, the answer was no. The visitor exclaimed, "Don't say it is meaningless without reading them. It may be good or it may be bad. But it has meaning!"

That was nearly a hundred years ago. The situation has not changed much over the years. 

Sir John George Woodroffe (1865-1936) was a British Orientalist and educated at the University College at Oxford. After his education and practice for a brief period, he was enrolled as an advocate at the Calcutta High Court. He was later appointed as the standing counsel for the Government of India. His books on Law are used as text books even now. His distinguished work took him to occupy the post of a Judge in Calcutta High Court for a period of 18 years. He was a Fellow of the Calcutta University and the above episode was during one of his visits to the University. John Woodroffe was knighted in 1915 in recognition of his invaluable services to the empire. On his return to England later he was a Reader in Indian Law at the Oxford University.

This in itself is an impressive achievement for a fact. But Sir John Woodroffe's contribution was much more. He was highly interested in the study of the Indian epics and philosophy. He learnt Sanskrit and made a study of Indian epics. His friends called him a "Public Judge and Private Student". He made a scholarly analysis of the various aspects of Indian Philosophy and was highly influenced by the richness of the diversity and multi-dimensional Yogic practices. Under his pseudonym Arthur Avalon, he translated 20 Sanskrit texts to English and was instrumental in bringing the richness of the Indian Yogic practices to the west. His book "The Serpent Power" on Kundalini Yogic practices is highly valued even today. The Garland of Letters is another of his scholarly works.

Woodroffe's lectures and essays opened the doors of Indian practices and philosophy to the westren world. His collection of essays titled "Is India Civilised?" is an example of his many essays on Indian Philosophy. He also translated Mahanirvana Tantram into English. Study of these translations influence many westren scholars later on and helped in giving wide publicity to Indian Yogic Practices in other parts of the world. 

Many psychologists have used John Woodroffe's works to further the study of mind and its impact on body. Notable among them is Carl Gustav Jung, the Swiss Psychologist and Psycho-analyst. Carl Jung is recognized as the founder of Analytical Psychology. It is on record that Carl Jung was greatly influenced by the readings of the works of Sir John Woodroffe which opened the gates of Indian spiritualism and mind studies to him. Jung's principles of "Individual unconscious" and "Collective unconscious" have influence of Indian Yogic Practices.

We have to be grateful for the services of scholars like Sir John Woodroffe for bringing the treasures of Indian spiritualism to the rest of the world. It is also time that we recognize the worth in our own backyard instead of always quoting westren scholars in psychology studies.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Three Mountains and a Stone

The young ascetic had a solitary goal in his life; the one of learning as much as possible during his lifetime. He started his pursuit at a young age and never looked back. He renounced all earthly pleasures and moved forward in his life's mission without interruption. All his time was spent in learning, mastering whatever was learnt and further learning. Days flew fast and he was not even aware of it. Days became years and decades. He continued on his path unmindful of all other things.

Father time waits for none. The ascetic was now at the end of his life span and was a hundred year old. There is a limit to human body and the end for his body was near. Pleased with his application and dedication to learning, Lord Indra appeared before him and wanted to bless him before his separation from the human body. The sage realized that the Lord of the Devatas, Indra was standing before him. He now knew that his end was near. He had no qualms about embracing certain death and renouncing the body. But he was unhappy that he had not succeeded in his mission to learn everything that is there to learn. 

"Time has come for you to leave. You have achieved a lot in your lifetime. You are a model to other learners. You are eligible to enter higher worlds due to your achievements", said Lord Indra.

"Thank you, Lord Indra. I am indeed grateful. I have no worries about death. How I wish I had finished my learning! Unfortunately that is not to be.", said the sage.

"I will make a special boon for you. I will extend your life span by another hundred years. This is not generally done. However, I am impressed by your urge to continue learning. Finish your studies. I will come after another hundred years.", saying so Lord Indra disappeared. 

The sage continued his goal for another hundred years. Time flew and he was not even aware of limitations of time. Lord Indra again appeared before him and repeated his lines. 

"Time has come. You are to move to higher worlds now. I will provide a place of choice for you in heaven", said Lord Indra.

"I am again beholden to you, my Lord. But my learning is not complete. How I wish I had some more time to finish my learning!", said the sage.

"I am extending your life span by another hundred years to complete your learning. But remember, this is the last chance. I will be back after hundred years.", said Lord Indra and disappeared.

Another hundred years flew in learning new things. Time was gone but learning was not complete! Lord Indra dutifully appeared before the sage and asked whether he was now finished. The sage said that still there was a lot to learn and he was far from finished. Lord Indra asked the sage to turn back and look at the scene behind him. As the sage turned, he saw three big mountains before him. Lord Indra asked the stage to pick up a small stone lying near his foot. His instruction was followed by the sage.

"The stone in your hand represents what you have learnt in three hundred years. The three mountains before you represent the amount of unfinished learning. However much I extend your life span, you may not be able to finish your learning.", said Lord Indra.

"I appreciate the enormity of the task, my Lord. But there must be some method of achieving this task. You are the one capable of helping me in this pursuit. Please guide me.", said the sage. 

Lord Indra was pleased with the approach of the sage. He advised him to appeal to the Sun God to help him to learn the essence of all knowledge. The sage sat in penance and prayed for the blessings of the Sun. He then succeeded in his mission by guidance of the Sun.

This is the story of Rishi Bharadwaja. Due his unquenchable thirst for knowledge and achieving the essence of all knowledge, he is recognized as one among the seven top most rishis of the present period. The seven sages are collectively called as "Saptarshis" (The seven sages) and have the responsibility of protecting all knowledge sources till the end of present times (Manvantara).  

Rishi Bharadwaja is credited with texts of many branches of knowledge including Rigveda and Ayurveda. He is a highly revered and loved sage. His reference can be seen in both Ramayana and Mahabharata. Rama and Seethe visit Bharadwaja Ashram and spend some time with him during their Vanavas (life in the woods) period. Sage Bharadwaja had a son through a celestial Nymph by name Ghrutachi. This son was named Dronacharya and was given training in use of weapons and warfare, a training he received from his father initially. Dronacharya had a major role in Mahabharata as a Guru to the Kauravas and Pandavas and the Kurukshetra war.

Sage Bharadwaja's story has many lessons for us. There is no end to learning, is one of them. Continued perseverance in achieving the set goals is another. Finding a short path to understand the essence of learning is one more. There can be many others as well.

We may sometime feel proud about our achievements when certain things we do succeed and bring a sense of elation. Remembering Sage Bharadwaja at such times tempers our sense of pride and instils humbleness in our approach.