Friday, June 25, 2010

Myths in the Saundarya Lahari

Known for its aesthetic depiction of the mother goddess, the Saundarya Lahari by Sri Sankaracharya is complex and beautiful poem in Sanskrit. A study of Saundarya Lahri helps us understand the complex mythology surrounding the goddess. In it Tripura Sundari is depicted as the energy that pervades all manifestation creating, protecting and destroying everything that exists. Following are the myths in the poem that explain how this is done.
- According the Soundarya Lahari the world is created when Brahma collects a minute particle of dust from the goddess Tripura Sundari’s feet and then creates the wondrous, limitless and infinitely mysterious universe.
- The world is sustained when Adisesha, the ancient serpent and a form of Vishnu, supports the universe on his thousand jewelled hoods.
- The world is destroyed when Shiva takes the universe made of the dust of the goddess’s feet and crushes it into sacred ashes, which he smears all over his body.

by Swetha Prakash

Monday, June 21, 2010

Serpent Deities

India has a long history of worshipping serpent gods and goddesses. Serpents are supposed to represent wisdom - which can be both poisonous and regenerative. Serpents are known to cast off their slough periodically and hence represent immortality. As dwellers of the underworld they are understood to be guardians of the earth's hidden treasures.

- Swetha Prakash

Tamil Festivals in honor of Iravan

Iravan, also known as Iravat and Iravant, is a minor character from the Hindu epic of Mahabharata. The son of Pandava prince Arjuna (one of the main heroes of the Mahabharata) and the Naga princess Ulupi, Iravan is the central god of the cult of Kuttantavar—which is also the name commonly given to him in that cult—and plays a major role in the cult of Draupadi. Both these cults are of South Indian origin, from a region of the country where he is worshipped as a village deity and is known as Aravan.
The Mahabharata portrays Iravan as dying a heroic death in the 18-day Kurukshetra War (Mahabharata war), the epic's main subject. However, the South Indian cults have a supplementary tradition of honouring Aravan's self-sacrifice to the goddess Kali to ensure her favour and the victory of the Pandavas in the war. The Kuttantavar cult focuses on one of the three boons granted to Aravan by the god Krishna in honour of this self-sacrifice. Aravan requested that he be married before his death. Krishna satisfied this boon in his female form, Mohini. In Koovagam, Tamil Nadu, this incident is re-enacted in an 18-day festival, first by a ceremonial marriage of Aravan to Alis and male villagers (who have taken vows to Aravan) and then by their widowhood after ritual re-enactment of Aravan's sacrifice.
The Draupadi cult emphasizes another boon: Krishna allows Aravan to witness the entire duration of the Mahabharata war through the eyes of his severed head. In another 18-day festival, the ceremonial head of Aravan is hoisted on a post to witness the ritual re-enactment of the Mahabharata war.