Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Hare Ram Hare Ram, Hare Krishna Hare Ram....

This past weekend I found myself enjoying beautiful kirtans at Bhakti Yoga Shala in Santa Monica. 'Bhakti' means devotion and 'Shala', institution. Bhakti Yoga Shala is an institution of love and devotion to one another and to the almighty Lord.

In Sanskrit the word 'Kirtan' means to repeat. Kirtan involves chanting of the mantras and hymns single mindedly to worship and glorify The ONE. While we continue to participate in kirtans and bhajans and strive to make it a part of our lives, let's spend a few minutes getting introduced to the names we love chanting.

Rama: Rama is the avatar of the supreme protector Lord Vishnu (7th incarnation of Lord Vishnu). Rama is said to have taken birth on this earth to annihilate the evil forces of the age. He is widely believed to be an actual historical figure - a "tribal hero of ancient India" - whose exploits form the great Hindu epic of Ramayana.

Rama's life and journey is one of perfect adherence to dharma (duty) despite harsh tests of life and time. He is pictured as the ideal man and the perfect human. For the sake of his father's honor, Rama abandoned his claim to the throne to serve an exile of fourteen years in the forest. Unable to live without Rama, his wife Sita and brother Lakshman, decided to join him, and all three spent fourteen years in exile together. While in exile, Sita was kidnapped by Ravana, the demon monarch of Lanka. After a long and arduous search that tested his personal strength and virtue, Rama fought a colossal war against Ravana's armies. In the end, Rama slayed Ravana in the battle and liberated his wife. Having completed his exile, Rama returned to be crowned king in Ayodhya (the capital of his kingdom) and eventually became emperor, ruled with happiness, peace, prosperity and justice. The festival of lights 'Diwali' is to celebrate the return of Lord Ram to his kingdom.

Sita: is the wife of Rama. She is one of the principal characters in the Hindu epic, Ramayana. She is esteemed as the standard setter for wifely and womanly virtues for all Hindu women.

Hanuman: is a Hindu deity who is an ardent devotee of Lord Rama. He is also known as Maruti, Pavanputra, Anjaniputra, Bajrang Bali and Hanumat. He is the mighty ape that helped Lord Rama in his fight against evil forces to rescue his wife Sita. Believed to be an avatar of Lord Shiva, Hanuman is worshiped as a symbol of physical strength, perseverance and devotion. He is known for its astounding ability to inspire people to face ordeals and conquer obstructions in the way of the world.

The character of Hanuman symbolizes unlimited power that lies unused within each one of us. Hanuman directed all his energy towards the worship of Lord Rama and his only desire was to go on serving Rama. On Tuesdays and in some cases, Saturdays many people observe a fast in honor of Hanuman and give special offerings to him. In times of trouble, it is a common faith among Hindus to chant the name of Hanuman or sing his hymn (Hanuman Chalisa). Hanuman Jayanti is celebrated to commemorate the birth of Hanuman.

Ganesh: also known commonly as Vinayak, Ganpati, and Pillaiyar is one of the most widely worshiped deities in Hindu culture. He is the remover of obstacles and is commonly worshiped before starting any endeavor.

Ganesh is the son of Shiva and Parvati. He has an elephant head with a curved trunk and big ears and a huge pot-bellied body of a human being. He is also worshipped as the God of education, knowledge, wisdom and wealth. Ganesha's head symbolizes the 'Atman' (soul), which is the supreme reality of human existence, and his human body signifies 'Maya' or the earthly existence of human beings. The elephant head denotes wisdom and its trunk represents 'Om' the sound symbol of cosmic reality. In his upper right hand Ganesha holds a goad, which helps him propel mankind forward on the eternal path and remove obstacles from the way. The noose in Ganesha's left hand is a tool to capture all difficulties. The 'laddoo' (sweet) he holds in his trunk indicates that one must discover the sweetness of the 'Atman'. His fan-like ears convey that he is all ears to our petition. He is humble enough to ride the lowest of creatures, a mouse.

An annual festival honors Ganesha for ten days, starting on Ganesh Chaturthi. The festival begins with people bringing in terracotta idols of Ganesha, symbolizing Ganesha's visit and culminates when idols of Ganesha are immersed in water.

Shiva: in sanskrit means 'the auspicious one'. Shiva is a major Hindu deity and is considered the destroyer or transformer amongst the trinity (Brahma, Vishnu & Shiva). In images he is represented as a handsome young man immersed in deep meditation or manifested in the form of the dancing God: 'Nataraj'. Shiva is also known by the name Maheshvara (Maha = Great + Ishvara = Lord) hence the Great Lord.

Shiva is often depicted with a Third Eye, with which he destroyed desire (Kama) to ashes. The crescent moon is shown on the side of the Lord's head as an ornament. Shiva wears a crescent moon on his head. The waxing and waning phenomenon of the moon symbolizes the time cycle through which creation evolves from the beginning to the end. Since God is eternal reality, he is beyond time. The wearing of the crescent moon in His head indicates that He has controlled the mind perfectly. He has a blue throat symbolizing that he drank the poison churned up from the world ocean. Finally the sacred Ganges river flows from his matted hair symbolizing immortality. He sits on a tiger skin (tiger skin symbolizes lust) thereby signifying that he has conquered lust. The serpents around his neck denote wisdom and eternity while the deer in his hand symbolizes that he has tamed his flickering mind. His abode is the mount Kailash in the Himalayas. Maha Shivratri is a festival celebrated every year on the 13th night or the 14th day of the new moon in in the Hindu calendar. It marks the night when Lord Shiva performed the 'Tandava' (dance) and married Parvati.

Lakshmi: is the Hindu Goddess of wealth, prosperity (both material and spiritual), light, wisdom, fertility, fortune, generosity and courage. She protects her devotees from all kinds of misery and money-related problems.

Lakshmi is depicted as the Goddess bestowing coins of prosperity and is flanked by elephants on either side signifying royal power. The Goddess is described as eighteen-armed, bearing a string of beads, battle axe, mace, arrow, thunderbolt, lotus, bow, water pot, cudgel, lance, sword, shield, conch, bell, wine cup, trident, noose and the discus (sudarshana). She has a complexion of coral and is seated on a lotus the symbol of fertility. Lakshmi is worshiped daily but special focus is given to her in the month of October.

Durga: in Sanskrit 'Durga' means inaccessible or the invincible. 'Maa Durga' means mother Durga, is one who can redeem in situations of utmost distress. She is the Hindu Goddess of strength, energy and force (shakti). Durga is depicted as having eight arms, riding a tiger or a lion, carrying a lotus flower and weapons with a smile on her face and practicing hand gestures and mudras (postures). Each of her weapons were given to her by various Gods.

According to a Hindu narrative, Durga was created as a warrior Goddess to fight a demon who had created a reign of terror and death on earth and the heavens. Unfortunately he could not be destroyed by either God or humans anywhere. All the Gods went to Brahma for help but he couldn't do much as he had given the demon the powers of not being defeated by a man. When all the Gods gathered and heard about the terrors of this demon they became very angry and in their anger they emitted beams of fierce light. Goddess Durga emerged from this sea of light. She was compassionate and patient and decided to help the Gods. She fought the demon for 10 days who took various forms. Finally at the end of the 10th day she chopped of the head of the buffalo version of the demon and this victory is celebrated annually all throughout the country in the form a festival called Durga Puja.

Krishna: is the eighth incarnation of Lord Vishnu and is identified as a historical individual who participated in the events of the Mahabharata. He is also known by the name of Govinda, 'finder of cows', or Gopala, 'protector of cows', referring to his childhood. He is the embodiment of love and divine joy, that destroys all pain and sin. He is the protector of sacred utterances and cows. Krishna is an instigator of all forms of knowledge and born to establish the religion of love.

In the great Mahabharata epic, Krishna spoke memorable words on the essence of Bhakti Yoga or the yoga of pure spiritual devotion. During the battle of Kurukshetra, Lord Krishna revealed to Arjuna the essence of Bhakti Yoga and love for God. This revelation is found in the famous Hindu scripture called the Bhagavad Gita. The Deity is the beloved and the devotee is the lover. When the Bhakta is blessed by divine grace he feels undivided union and non-dual consciousness.

Radha: also known as Radhika is the childhood friend and lover of Lord Krishna. She is almost always depicted alongside Krishna.They are the divine couple that rules love, romance and the aesthetic sense. Radha was foremost among the milkmaids of Vrindavan, as the incarnation of Lakshmi, Vishnu's spouse and Krishna's obvious favorite.


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