TOWARDS UNDERSTANDING HINDU CULTURE, RITUALS AND TRADITIONS…..

PART ONE

(This is being written for some of the almost “western” Indians who read, breathe, and  live in western concepts, and, armed with an university degree, often “question” the various traditions and customs, without bothering to know the real value of these traditions and customs…)

In every religion, there are customs and rituals that are practiced for some purpose. Most of the time, these customs and rituals lose their meaning when they are not understood. Most of these customs and rituals are intertwined with societal customs and habits, and they become a tradition….

Hinduism, also known as Sanatana Dharma, is a wonderful religion and a way of life. Most of the core concepts of Hinduism are hidden behind abstractions, rituals and customs. Great Truths are often hidden in all these abstractions, rituals and customs because the person who walks the path, is supposed to know. In Hinduism, most of the beliefs are not read in books. They are lived. However, unlike written books in other religions, Hindu Dharma largely has many unwritten rules and concepts that are passed on from generation to generation as traditions, rituals and customs. And soon enough, the meaning behind those rituals is lost…

One of the things that often confounds a westerner is the plethora of Hindu Gods. They say that there are 330 crore Gods and Godesses in Hindi religion. This diversity also define the democracy that one finds in Hinduism. Hindu religion is very democratic. In a household, for example, one member may worship Ganesha while another may worship Kali and yet another may just worship God as “Jothi” like Sri Ramalinga Adigalar. Again, one may follow the Gita, one may follow the Ramayana, or one may not even be able to read – yet, all of them may be Hindus. The Hindu way of life is so broad minded that you’ll find Jesus Christ or Allah or Guru Nanak in many a Hindu household, for the Hindu believes in the “diversity” of Gods and “unity” of the concept of One God. And from the plethora of Gods, the Hindu often picks and chooses that form or aspect of God needed for him/her at that moment of time. For example, when he/she is leaving the house for a journey, he/she may pray to Lord Ganesha or Lord Hanuman as they are more heroic Gods – best suited to protect the traveler. Or, if he/she wants to pray for good health of a family member, he/she may pray to Dhanvantri – the physician of the Gods – Or if he/she wants to do well in studies, Goddess Saraswathi may be the best bet – and so on. At the same time, the Hindu religion does not specify roles very strictly. For example if a person likes to worship only one God or Goddess for everything, that is also fine. The finest aspect of Hinduism is it’s flexibility and adaptability.

Hinduism lives in its rituals and customs. By following the rituals and customs, the Hindu is supposed to know the abstract truths behind the rituals and customs. Often, Abstractions like a lingam, define the Hindu’s logic of life. Unfortunately, the average modern Hindu in India is an educated and knowledgeable person who does not want abstractions to define his/her religion. He/She wants Hinduism to be out in the open, baring all the truths that it has concealed for centuries. And sometimes, when such truths are laid bare, they not only lose their charm, there is also the danger of misuse, using those very truths….

Again, in Hinduism no one agency or individual has the right or knowledge or power to unleash the wisdom of Hinduism to the masses – This will be decided by Kala Bhairavan, the God of Time. Like the Greek God of Time, Chronos, (chronology is derived from this word) the Hindu religion has Kaala Bhairavar. Kaala Bhairavar is an ascpect of Shiva the fearful. Again, Maa Kaali is known as the God of time in some sects – So one should not ask as to whether Kaal Bhairavar is the actual God of Time, or is it Maa Kaali? – The answer is found again in many puranas, stories and traditional customs. The important thing is to worship either one who suits our temperament.  Again, it is not important whether the Hindu worships the male or female variation of the Time God, as long as he/she understands the concept of time, and the role of the Time God in his/her life. So, when the time comes for the blossoming of the Hindu religion, in whatever fashion decided by collective Karma, the Time God, Kaala Bhairavan, acts – he acts according to the tenets of Time. (There is not one single Guardian of Hinduism – there are 330 crore Gods and Goddesses, it is a huge collective army of Gods and Goddesses!)

Hinduism does not prescribe that the person practicing Hinduism should follow this book, or wear these kind of clothes, or speak only Sanskrit, etc. The practicing Hindu is a very ordinary person, who follows many things apart from Hinduism, since Hinduism is so flexible to accommodate other ideas also.

The core concepts of Hinduism are very close to Nature. Pancha Boothams – the five elements of earth, water, fire, air and akash* – occupy a very important place in the average Hindu’s life.  During Ganesh Chathurthi and Durga Puja, it is the worshipping of the earth element at home and strengthening of the earth element that is being done ritually. The 5 elements are associated with Chakras and the Root Chakra supposedly get charged to the full when the earth element is brought home and worshipped.

(* – the fifth element is known as akash, space, ether, vacuum, etc – the tamil equivalent of the fifth element is “VIN” – Vinveli for short)

( To be continued….)

 

The Japanese Earthquake and what it can teach us…..

(This is for all my friends who sent me mails asking as to HOW exactly to send peace vibrations to Japan)

Habits. How easily we form habits! We get up daily, brush our teeth, bathe, get ready for work, eat – and with what precision! – all these things, come out of habit. Similarly, our personal choices. Each and every moment of our lives, we are confronted by personal choice – of like or dislike, of love or hate, of embrace or wrestle, of smile or growl, of give or take, of patience or haste, of compassion or indifference, of virtue or vice   – in order to carry on in life, we have to CHOOSE. And once we start choosing a particular choice, it becomes a habit, over a period of time. So, why not DELIBERATELY choose happiness and joy and understanding for sometime, so that it becomes our habit to be happy, joyful, and understanding?

Sounds easy, but it is not so when it comes to practicing this. We take something like 1440 decisions a day if we calculate a decision a minute, in our everyday lives. And each of this choice, influences WHO WE ARE by the end of the day. We must be able to practice love, positivity, understanding, joy, happiness, compassion, etc, in all these decisions, to become a better person.

But what exactly has this to do with the earthquake?

What we think, influences our environment. There is a tribe in Africa, who do not cut trees. When they want a tree to be not there, they simply go and abuse it. The tree dies after a few days. Similarly, our great scientist Jagadish Chandra Bose proved that plants have feelings, with the help of instruments that recorded the plants emotions. Luther Burbank, a great American horticulturist, was able to produce cactus plants without the mandatory thorns, by suggesting to the plants daily that they are protected and that they don’t need the thorns for protection. When our thoughts can affect plants and trees, they certainly can affect the environment! All these only point out to the fact, that our environment, REACTS to our thoughts. In other words, our environment, REFLECTS our thoughts.

When individual thoughts of similar frequency gather in the ether, they become our collective thought, and when the collective thoughts become epidemic in nature, they effect a mass movement. Many examples are quoted in the book, “Tipping Point” by Malcolm Gladwell. ( I am grateful to my ex.boss Shri V.Anand who suggested this book to me many years back)

Many are the movies that had hit the screens recently, on the possible end of this world, like 2012. Most of us who see these movies or hear such theories, harbor fears in our subconscious mind. These individual fears become our collective fears in times of such Natural calamities, resulting in more such events taking place.

If we continue to send out positive thoughts, loving thoughts, and peaceful thoughts, our collective thoughts can turn the tide in favour of Mother Earth. Our collective POSITIVE thoughts are needed by Mother Earth, more than ever now. Our earth appears huge to us, but seen from the universe, it is not even a speck.

In this ever expanding vast vast universe, earth appears to be just a dot from a distance of 6 billion km, when Voyager One took a photo and sent it to NASA as it exited the Solar System. And Carl Sagan says, “Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there–on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.”

And it becomes our responsibility to protect this tiny speck called earth, in this vast universe, by fostering positive, loving, peaceful thoughts. The responsibility, amazingly, is LIMITED to just ourselves! If we think positive, loving, peaceful thoughts, without bothering about others, it will automatically affect our environment, and gradually, pave the way for a better world, is the analogy.

There is a video on youtube titled, “The revolution has begun” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NvoRat-Tl_Q)  that shows how the earth’s geophysical statistics got altered drastically when nothing physical was actually happening. The video went on to say that the maximum disturbance that was seen from satellite imaging was during September 2001 when the entire world watched in horror the terror attack on the twin towers. The video was making a case that our collective thoughts altered the geophysical pattern and went on to focus on loving thoughts, asking the viewer to choose love over fear.

Even though we need to see the TV news to know what is happening, let us not get influenced by subconscious fears fanned by the frenzied TRP pitches. During Natural calamities like the Japanese earthquake, most of us sit glued to the television, sympathising with the victims but also at the same time, retaining the fear – the BEST THING THAT WE CAN DO at these times is to CALMLY send waves/vibrations of PEACE and LOVE sitting quietly for sometime. WHEN WE DO IT INDIVIDUALLY, EVEN FOR A FEW MINUTES, IT WILL BECOME A COLLECTIVE EFFORT EVENTUALLY – and ultimately affect the world in a more POSITIVE WAY.

There are many teachers/videos/books/lessons/websites/pages available that teach us the exact way to do it. I follow a simple way : I sit calmly in a chair, spine straight, close my eyes. Then I IMAGINE the globe/earth in space in between my open palms, and then imagine light emanating from my palms to envelope the world in the light of LOVE and PEACE. I hold onto that thought for sometime, and then leave it – it gives me a sense of peace as well.

For earthquake affected Japan, we can imagine the map of Japan or the outline of Japan, and also mentally affirm or say,”I send vibrations of peace and love to the people of Japan affected by the earthquake”

(Readers may kindly note that this technique is different from prayer. I pray too. But this is the technique I practice when I meditate.I am sure that there are more advanced and better ways to do this, and I am sure that there are many masters who teach this – but among many methods that I have come across, this has been the easiest for me for some years now)

Dubious Designs….

Advertising design, in persuading people to buy things they don’t need, with money they don’t have, in order to impress others who don’t care, is probably the phoniest field in existence today. Industrial design, by concocting the tawdry idiocies hawked by advertisers, comes a close second” says designer Victor Papanek in his book, `Design for the Real World’. We are often reminded of this wisdom many times a day whenever we use some product or service more because they are there and not because we need it. Most of us are victims of these designers who have succeeded in dumping things on us we never need. But the most prominent example of industrial design thrust upon us, is the toilet that we use everyday. Toilets. When I wanted to write about it, my wife screwed up her face. Yes. That is the typical reaction of almost anybody when it comes to discussing toilets.  Which is why we have such horrible, never can be used toilets in most public places, because the designers who design those public toilets never had the aim of providing clean and dry toilets in the first place. All that the designers were interested in was the provision of colorful basins, push buttons, or taps that looked like a snake spitting venom and which you have to screw at the neck, and scream, “Ahhhh” for it to let water onto your hands, or “imported” marble or clay designs that presumably comes straight from Pablo Picasso or Dali’s Workshop, and if some of the ads are to be believed, you wouldn’t need a living room in the house if you have some of “those” fittings in your bathroom. These designers never bother to consider the basic essential of design: Purpose. Which brings us to the basic question of the purpose of a toilet.  A system to take care of human waste, and nothing more.

The purpose of a toilet, especially in public places, is to allow for a large number of people to use it without the toilet failing. Our desi designer, wearing only western glasses, seeing only western concepts, will install a brand new Western commode which requires certain other accessories such as tissue paper, along with water, and which will never be in stock once the toilet is commissioned. If only the providers of the toilets think as to the purpose of those toilets, they will go in for Indian toilets, which are far more safer, and superior to Western toilets in many ways. Falling for the “You can sleep in the bathroom” variety, most of these designers, with the help of ads, convey such fine toilets through the ads that most of us find hard to disbelieve. Until we start using these toilets in hotels and other public places, we can never appreciate that simple toilet that we once called the “Bombay Commode”. Today, “Designer toilets” are the norm, and these designer toilets have so many accessories like flushing out of a pliable metal tube, etc, and if you are not having a designer toilet in your home, you better consider yourself outdated. I am writing this in the small hope that this may cause our toilet designers to stop and think. Yes, THINK. Because, once a public toilet is installed, it usually stays for atleast a decade after installation. Whatever may be the advantages of the modern commode, especially for aged people, unless it has the proper accessories and unless it is maintained properly, it will not serve the purpose. Modern technology like electromagnetic waves or radiation to kill germs should be studied and used in public places, and new designs to keep the toilet clean despite many users using it should be created. Toilets at public places have the additional responsibility of catering to all kinds of users – hence the distance between the commode and the user, should be a parameter of the toilet’s efficacy. If a person with a skin infection uses a western toilet, and another person uses the same toilet, the infection will definitely spread. Not so in an Indian or Bombay commode, where the contact is only through the soles of the feet, which are protected by the shoe or sandal. But still, a proper cleanliness manual for both the type of toilets is very much needed for public toilets.

( Most of today’s generation who grow into couch potatoes, given the propensity to sit at the computers and TV instead of playing outdoors games, would know the advantages of sitting down, bending the knees atleast once a day, if they use the Indian toilet or Bombay Commode.)

Again, most of the urinals in public places cannot be used easily by handicapped persons.  Most of them will be so high that slightly short persons will have to heave themselves up before relieving.  Some time back, many public toilets were introduced to long urinals that could cater to persons of any height right from children, by having a uniform basin for four feet, to the ground – allowing almost anybody to use it with least effort. I don’t know who was behind it – Whoever was behind it, has my appreciation and thanks.  However, in many of the regular urinals you will have to be very careful of the water spilling over on to you – you will relieve yourself so carefully and suddenly – slosh! – the common flush they have for all the toilets, decides to go suddenly and all your carefulness goes down the drain. At those times, you feel miserable.These problems are encountered by users of products and services not because research is not being done on the end use, but because most of the time, the designer himself is ignorant about the purpose of a product. For example, what colour designs are there on a toilet is of least consequence to the user unless he is a freak who paints in his toilet. Most of our products and services are designed by people who never really use them the way we do. Design of even small things as inconsequential as a tap, for example, matter. Recently, a new tap was installed at our house – the new tap always threw such a jet of  forceful water that whatever dirt and soap was there on the hands was all over the bathroom wall – when I attempted to reduce the flow, the water wouldn’t come out at all – when I asked the plumber, he said that these new taps are designed to throw water forcefully, and if less inflow is there, the water valve inside the tap won’t open at all!

It is not just toilets – All kinds of products are manufactured and marketed, which we buy, unmindful of the fact whether they are useful or not. One good example is the ipod or the cellphone with music adapters – Half the younger generation in India, are wired upto their ears – damaging their hearing every minute. But who cares? It is style, and technology, that is important to Gen X – and purpose is the last thing on the mind of designers. And because of these factors, you end up with a number of gadgets you could do well without – If you are not convinced, just ask yourself one simple question : How many cellphones do you have in your home? If the answer is NIL or just one, you are really lucky. You DO have a proper perspective in life. 🙂