Tuesday, April 20, 2010

A different geography

Like most ancient cultures, Indian too believed that life primarily existed on three planes. The heavens or swarg were home to celestial and light beings – devas, apsaras, gandharvas and the like. In the netherlands or palata lived the frightful asuras and serpent beings – nagas. The earth was home to manavas – humans, pasus – animals and vanaspati – plants.

- Swetha Prakash

Monday, April 19, 2010

Indian Cosmology

In Indian mythology, it is believed that many different types of beings inhabit the universe. Some of these beings are benevolent towards humans and others malevolent.
Some of the beings which form a part of Indian cosmology include
Devas – Or the nature deities who oversee the natural world eg Fire, Wind, sky, earth etc. Indra is the king of these gods.
Grahas – These are planetary deities who subtly influence human life – eg Sun, Moon, Mars, Mercury, Saturn, Venus, Jupiter, Rahu and Ketu along with the asterisms.
Yakshas – These are a class of forest deities who guard the treasure of the world
Apasaras – They are celestial dancers who live in Indra’s heaven
Gandharvas – These are a class of celestial musicians who also live in Indra’s heaven
Siddhis – These are a class of perfected beings
Nagas – They are a class of snake-people who live in the underworld
Bhutas, Picashasas, Betals – These are phantom spirits that mostly live in cremation grounds
Asuras, Daityas, Danavas – These are giants and demonic beings who oppose the devas
Rakshasas – These are monstrous beings that feed on human flesh and are experts in illusion or Maya.

- Swetha Prakash

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The mother goddess as the supreme power in the universe

The Devi Bhagvata Purana is one of the great puranas devoted exclusively to the glory of Devi or the mother goddess. This Purana emphasises that the energy that creates all the universes and permeates them is that of the supreme goddess at whose command all existence viberates. According to this Purana, it is Devi who empowers the trinity - Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva - responsible for creation, preservation and destruction of the worlds.

- Swetha Prakash

Friday, April 16, 2010

Guru Shishya stories

India too has its share of Guru Shishya stories. Similar to the Buddhist and Zen stories, these narrate how a student is initiated into an esoteric tradition or how he is enlightened about the essential truth of existence by his preceptor. The Upanishads which deals with the nature of the supreme consciousness, the non dual reality and its realization by the initiate are embedded with such stories. Famous Guru-Shishya pairs in the epics include – Arjuna and Krishna, Aruna and Dronacharya, Eklavya and Dronacharya, Rama and Vashista, Rama and Vishwamitra & Rama and Agastya – Agastya teaches Rama the sloka Aditya Hridayam which empowers him to kill the ten headed beast Ravana.

- Geeta Ramanujam and Swetha Prakash

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Twist to the tale

India’s vast storytelling traditions have produced a great deal of variety in its traditional tales. One of the most unusual Ramayanas is the Adhbut Ramayana, or the wonderful Ramayana. Here the slayer of the greatest demon the world has known is not Rama but rather Sita. Here, Janaki transforms into Mahakali and annihilates the villain of the piece - a thousand headed Ravana.

- Swetha Prakash

Saraba – An unusual form of Siva

When Narasimha killed the demon king Hiranyakashyapu his ferocity did not subside – after all he had drunk the blood of the demon. He started destroying all creation. The awestruck devas who oversaw the worlds rushed to Kailas to explain the situation to Siva. Siva assumed the Saraba moorthy avathar to pacify Narasimha. Sarabeshwara was frightful form combining a monstrous bird, human and lion body. He had four hands with sharp claws, huge wings, a sharp Garuda like beak, and protruding teeth like the Kali. He had eight feet and was known as ashtapada. His hands were held a deer, axe, serpent and fire. Sarabeshwara embraced Narasimha with his huge wings and legs. Narasimha calmed down and returned his peaceful form as Vishnu. Different versions of this myth exist.

- Swetha Prakash

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Symbolism of Kali in Indian mythology

Kali is Prakriti or the nature that gives birth to all beings. She represents the gory manifestation of reality - all the human sub consciousness impulses that ‘polite society’ doesn’t want to talk about. She represents that aspect of existence which is considered ugly, unaesthetic and unappealing. Daksha represents mainstream society – rules, codes of conduct, propriety etc. As Dakshayini – Kali is both Daksha’s daughter and the destroyer of his life’s greatest sacrifice or work. Kali as a Mahavidya or Great Wisdom Goddess asks us to consider reality in its totality – with both its pleasant, peaceful aspects as well as its unattractive and painful parts.

- Swetha Prakash

Thursday, April 8, 2010

What is education?

What is education? Teacher speaking
To the disciple seated by his side,
Wisdom between, discourse connecting them.

- From the Taittiriya Upanishad
Translated by Eknath Easwaran

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Railway stations as storytelling spaces

An interesting Indian storytelling custom is associated with the railway station. In parts of India, groups of people would assemble at railway stations and listen to stories from the Puranas as narrated by Pandits. Typically one Pandit would read the Sanskrit book in a sonorous tone while another Pandit would expound on the stories. The narration would take place by brass lamps lit with castor oil. The audience would squat on the ground, emotionally responding to the stories with joy and grief. A famous Pauranika named Suta used to expound stories at a railway station called Nimsar in Oudh. This tradition continues in some remote stations in Southern India.

Swetha Prakash

The Puranas – In the light of modern science – K Narayanaswami Aiyar