Towards Understanding Hindu Culture, Rituals and Traditions….Part Fifteen (MUDRA VIGYAN)


(The ancient Christian pictures of Lord Jesus Christ often depict the right hand of Christ in a kind of mudra – which is, in essence, PRAN MUDRA – or a variation of Pran Mudra. The Buddha is often depicted with his right hand having the beads/rosary in a similar Mudra in many temples and sculptures. Many Hindu Gods and Goddesses have their hands in many mudras……The act of praying, which joins both the hands with the fingers of each hand touching each other, is actually an equalling/annulling of all the elemental energies in the human body to allow the cosmic power to enter the human body……)

pran mudraMudra Vigyan tells us that the five fingers represent the five elements. The thumb represents fire energy, the forefinger represents air energy, the middle finger represents Aakaash (or vacuum) the ring finger represents earth energy, and the little finger, represents water energy.

Yogis and Saints use the fingers to adjust or manipulate the different energies of the elements in the human body. Indian systems of alternate medicine often uses the science behind Mudra Vigyan to cure diseases or disorders. The collective human consciousness often adopts natural laws and natural truths to inculcate them in ordinary expressions in day to day existence. For example, the most common symbol for hitching a hike or asking a lift, is to raise the thumb keeping all other fingers closed. The five fingers represent the five elements – and among all the elements, FIRE is the most visible. Then is it any wonder that the collective human consciousness has adopted the thumbs up sign to signal a lift?

thumbs up

Again, when the student in the class wants to go for urinals, what finger does the student raise? The little finger! The little finger, represents the water element. Is it any wonder that the collective human consciousness has chosen the little finger to express the need to go to the urinals? And also, the most abnoxious use of the middle finger – used in many movies and which is a common expression of expressing distaste, tells the other, that the other person is “shunya” – zero – as the middle finger represents aakaash – vacuum – The person showing this mudra, is unconsciously telling the other, “I will consign you to nothingness” – I wonder how many of the people using this sign language know what the middle finger actually stands for.

index fingerWhen a person in “authority” speaks, he/she often uses the index finger, speaking with an “air” of authority! The “I” or the ego of the person is stimulated by the air element, while the person uses the index finger. The “air” of authority is derived from the index finger’s “air” element.
Mudra Vigyan teaches how to connect, short circuit, or enhance the five elements in the body using the fingers. The deities of various Hindu Gods and Goddesses express various mudras in their sculpted form, to denote various elements or forces – and praying to that God or Goddess, one gets attuned to that particular energy. Dance forms effectively enhances the various elements by various mudras performed during the dance.clapsSimple acts like clapping of hands release an enormous amount of elemental energy in the atmosphere – Is it any wonder that applauses always generate the much needed enthusiasm to appreciate? When a person applauds, he/she appreciates the person (on the stage/on the dais/on the screen- etc) from the bottom of his/her being – the elemental way! Clapping of hands is now incorporated in many yoga classes and laughter therapy classes. It is true that the sound of clapping of hands is one of the best antidotes for depression.

A person who does not give, closes his fists often – such a person will not receive much from the universe as well – because unless one opens his palms to GIVE, will he be able to RECEIVE! – Both giving and receiving requires the palms to be opened – to the forces, powers, and elements of the universe…….

MAHA SAMADHI…..The final merging


Samadhi is the withdrawing of the mind from the created world INTO the uncreated void…..The body and mind become immaterial or irrelevant when the realisation of spirit dawns on the soul. During the start of meditation, there is an object of meditation – but in Samadhi, all have become one – merging takes place. The self does not distinguish between the object contemplated and the process of contemplation thereby the mind/intellect becomes immaterial in the experience of all pervading spirit consciousness. Thoughts do not arise, as the mind is stilled by the experience of expanding consciousness. That is why in the Bible it is said, “Be Still, and know that I am God”  (Psalms, 46:10)

In Tamil, the word Samadhi has a profound meaning. In Tamil, Samadhi is interpreted as Samam + Aadhi meaning equal to the original being of Spirit –and Maha Samadhi means to merge into the Infinite spirit……

All of us, have to leave this earth one day, but none of us know when or where or how – but great saints, and evolved souls, know when their time comes. They silently prepare their followers to carry on without them. Some saints leave the earth in simple fashion; Some saints leave the earth in a spectacular fashion. Whether they leave silently or spectacularly, they greatly inspire the countless devotees who follow them in their path.

They say that the great Shirdi Sai gave his own life to save the life of an ailing disciple. Some years before his Maha Samadhi, he had come back from Samadhi after three days, when his devout disciples refused to part with the body even after the doctors have come and said that there was no life in the body. Their faith stood steadfast and Shirdi Sai returned. But in 1918, he did not return as he attained Maha Samadhi – even as he saved the life of a beloved disciple.

At the end of his life, Sri Ramana Maharishi the great sage of Tiruvannamalai, was afflicted with a tumour –  he refused the usual treatment, and allowed the wound to take a toll on his body – he was unconcerned by the suffering of his body and urged his devotees to look at the spirit behind the body. He graced all those who visited him during his last days with his eyes full of light. When Sri Ramana attained Maha Samadhi in 1950, many witnessed a comet moving across the sky at the exact moment of his Maha Samadhi and disappearing behind the Arunachala mountain.

When Sri Aurobindo attained Maha Samadhi on 5th December 1950, The Mother had to announce thus : “The funeral of Sri Aurobindo has not taken place today. His body is charged with such a concentration of Supramental light that there is no sign of decomposition and the body will be kept lying on his bed so long as it remains intact.” The body of Sri Aurobindo was interred on 9th December 1950. The Pondicherry Mother too, exhibited similar symptoms during her Maha Samadhi in 1973. The interred Samadhis of these two great saints draw people from all over the world even today.

Sri Ramakrishna, the great saint of spiritual renaissance in India, attained Mahasamadhi in 1886, uttering the name of the Divine Mother. In his lifetime, Sri Ramakrishna had laid the foundation for a very vibrant spiritual order, and Swami Vivekananda spearheaded the organisation and its ideals as Sri Ramakrishna’s worthy disciple.

Swami Vivekananda himself had a quiet Maha Samadhi – but he truly aroused the world from its spiritual slumber with his call of “Arise and Awake” – before he passed away at a young age of only 39. He is even supposed to have studied the alamanac, trying to choose a date for his departure!

Meera Bai, the great devotee of Lord Krishna, was often seen in Samadhi – the final merging came one day when she went into the Krishna temple of Dwarka and simply disappeared in the year 1547.

Meera Bai’s merging with the Lord bears a striking resemblance to Sri Andal’s merging centuries before Meera Bai’s advent. Sri Andal of Sri Villiputtur, the famous and only lady ALWAR, who composed the immortal 30 part hymn Tiruppavai and the 143 hymn Nachiar Tirumozhi  disappeared into the temple of Sri Ranganatha when the blessed Lord appeared in the dream of the temple priest and asked that Sri Andal be brought in bridal finery to the temple – she entered the sanctum sanctorum and disappeared in front of the waiting crowd at the temple sometime in 3020 B.C – a miracle seen by the locals of that time.

Sri Akka Mahadevi of Karnataka, defied every authority of the ancient patriarchal society by going around totally naked – her body covered only by her long tresses – she too, disappeared in a flash of light at Sri Sailam (present Andhra Pradesh) at a very young age, around 1160 A.D.

Sri Ramalinga Adigalar, the proponent of “Arut perunjothi” also disappeared into thin air on 30th January 1874 ( attained Soruba Samadhi ) which was even investigated by the British collector of Cuddalore at that time. After the investigation, the collector was convinced of the divine disappearance of the great saint.

The places where the saints attained Mahasamadhi are generally well preserved in India. There are many interesting stories where the saints speak from their tomb after their samadhi….

Sri Sadasiva Brahmendral, the great Avaduta’s Jeeva Samadhi ( he attained Jeeva Samadhi in the 18th century at three places – Nerur, Manamadurai and Karachi) just a few decades back, a great saint from Sringeri had a doubt about an aspect of yoga that he was practicing. As directed by Lord Siva in a dream, he came to Nerur, and Sri Sadasiva Brahmendral spoke to him from his tomb, and cleared the doubt of the saint of Sringeri.

The story of Sri Raghavendra appearing in flesh and blood several years after his Maha Samadhi (The saint attained Mahasamadhi in 1671 A.D)  to the British officer Munroe to show him the documents of the land at Mantralaya, is well known.

Sri Trailanga Swami (his famous meeting with Sri Ramakrishna is well documented by Swami Chetanananda’s books in RK Math publications) one of India’s greatest saints, attained Jeeva Samadhi at 7 places, including Varanasi, Madurai and Tenkasi – He was born in 1601 and attained Mahasamadhi in 1887 – and his penances when he was alive, is well known – Sri Paramahansa Yogananda writes in his famous classic, Autobiography of a Yogi, thus : “If Christ returned to earth and walked the streets of New York, displaying his divine powers, it would cause the same excitement that was created by Trailanga decades ago as he passed through the crowded lanes of Benares”

There is an interesting episode of the guru of Swami Rama (author of Living with the Himalayan Masters) who comes back to life after attaining Maha Samadhi to guide his disciples.

Sri Akkolkot Maharaj, after he attained Maha Samadhi in 1878 also came back to life for a few minutes out of compassion, unable to bear the misery of his devotees who were crying for him. He also appeared in flesh and blood to a few of his devotees who did not know about his maha Samadhi, five days after his Maha Samadhi.

The exemplary Maha Samadhi and subsequent resurrections of two of India’s greatest saints, Sri Lahiri Mahasaya and Sri Yukteswar Giri Maharaj, in Sri Paramahansa Yogoananda’s “Autobiography of a Yogi” is a well known inspiration to the devotees.

The Maha Samadhi of Sri Paramahansa Yogananda itself is a great inspiration to the countless devotees on the path of self realization…..many years before his Maha Samadhi the great yogi had predicted, “ I will not die in bed, but with my boots on, speaking of God and India” and on 7th March, 1952, the great Guru of SRF/YSS did exactly that, as he left his bodily temple, talking of God and India……

( Sri Paramahansa Yogananda’s last words on earth echoed his love for God in no uncertain terms: ”Where Ganges, Woods, Himalayan Caves, and Men DREAM God – I am hallowed; my body touched that sod”  As he finished those words he looked up and consciously exited the world…..Sri Paramahansa Yogananda’s body remained in a state of perfect preservation for nearly three weeks before the casket was finally sealed)


Towards Understanding Hindu Culture, Rituals and Traditions….Part Fourteen (THE CONTRIBUTION OF SAINTS AND SIDDHARS)

(We go to the Museum and see the remains of ancient human civilizations dating back to thousands of years. We get overawed by these artifacts. These modern museums serve as channels for the present day humans to go back in time, mentally, to those times when civilization was primitive. But what about those times when there were no museum? Also, we are able to pre-date human history for thousands of years. What if we are wrong, and that our human history dates back to much more than a few thousand years? Difficult questions…..)

Modern man buries space capsules containing material that can be dug up in the future. In 1939, a time capsule was buried in the ground as part of the New York World Fair as part of their exhibit. It weighed about 400 kgs and was made from an alloy of silver, chromium and copper to withstand the eroding qualities of soil over time. It contained many things like a newsreel, a microscope, a dictionary, a calendar, and other texts, including some crop seeds and even a doll with a book detailing the creation and the purpose of the time capsule. It is supposed to be opened by the year 6939 A.D. Many countries, including India, have buried time capsules at many places. At present, four time capsules are floating in deep outer space, lest some alien or our own mankind discover it in some distant future. Debate has been raging on regarding the exact use of time capsule, mainly due to the challenge of preserving the articfacts or data contained in the time capsule.

The Ancient Siddhars of India have long transcended these problems of preserving data and culture. They never had any time capsules. They have done a remarkable job of preserving data, culture and practices of yoga and other key knowledge resources THROUGH THE PASSAGE OF KALI YUGA. It is said that just before Kali Yuga started, the 18 siddhars convened astrally on a mountain in South India to determine how to guide mankind during the dark ages of Kali Yuga. The works that they have left, are testimony to the high thinking of the siddhars. If Hinduism is still able to retain many of its ancient culture and traditions, due credit must be given to the invisible Siddhars who have influenced Indian culture subtly and silently.

Many of their messages were left in their works of literature, or monuments. The Chidambaram temple dedicated to Lord Shiva is supposed to be built according to various measurements like the number of breaths a human being breathes on an average in a day, and the number of nadis in the body, (72,000) etc. In the Palani Temple dedicated to Lord Muruga, the Nava bhashana idol of Lord Muruga, made by the great Saint and Guru of Maha avatar Babaji, Boganathar, has mystified even scientists. Bogar had made the idol using 9 different secret herbal mixtures that has defied the test of time and has withstood the passage of Kali Yuga admirably well. It was Sri Bogar who advised the architects during the building of the Great Temple at Thanjavur.

Sri Bogar, who went to China, became the great Lao Tsu when he took on the dead body of a Chinese youth. Such incredible stories abound about all the 18 Siddhars – but all the siddhars had only the welfare of mankind at heart and were greatly concerned about where exactly mankind was going.

There is a debate on the exact number of siddhars. Some books suggest 18 as the number. Others suggest much more, as even today, many siddhars live in obscure privacy, away from public knowledge. However, Agasthyar, Bogar, Thirumoolar, Ramadevar, Konkanvar, Karuvurar, Pambaati, Macha muni, Nadi devar, Goraknath, are some of the siddhars who have kept the destruction of culture at bay. The present living siddhar is Maha Avatar Sri Babaji, made famous by Sri Sri Paramahansa Yogananda’s “Autobiography of a Yogi”. Books by Sri Marshall Govindan and Yogi Sri S.A.A.Ramiah offer one a closer view of the great siddhar, Sri Sri Babaji Nagaraj and the siddha tradition.

The culture, traditions and rituals of Sanatana Dharma are not there in any one book, they are interwoven in the everyday ordinary lives of millions of Indians, and also helped by enlightened beings such as Siddhars from time to time…..


(This is a picture of one of the saints who lived in Vasanthapuram, Vellore – near the Railway cantonment. I do not know his name. But I often saw him as a child. He is not there anymore. Sometime during the 1970s, we were told that he went into an underground chamber to attain Maha Samadhi and asked the entrance to the underground room to be closed. The temple is still there, and the entrance, still closed……No one knows whether he is alive or not. But people in and around the locality often get guidance from him in the form of dreams……)

Towards understanding Hindu Culture, Rituals and Traditions Part Thirteen : KARMA (Understanding Organisational Karma)

(In this part, we take a look at Organisational Karma, even though it is far removed from the original concept of Karma, since almost everybody today is working in an organization, and is affected by organizational karma)

A chandelier represents a collection of lights – like in collective karma – alone, it gives a different light, and collectively, the intensity and colour are different…..

(“In an hierarchy, every employee tends to RISE to his level of INCOMPETENCE” – Peter Principle. The Peter Principle offers an additional perspective in understanding organizational Karma.)

Organisational Karma is of two types – One, the individual portion of the Collective Organisational Karma that the person carries, and two, the individual’s karma that he/she relegates to the collective organizational Karma. Either way, the collective organizational Karma affects individual Karma, and Individual Karma affects the collective organizational karma. The way an individual moves up in an organization is largely determined by the ability of the person to carry more Karma. The capacity of the individual to carry a part of the organizational karma determines where and in which position he/she works.

Similar to the Peter Principle, the organizational karma too, decides where we are, at any point of time – This is the reason why, some people, despite their academic brilliance may not get the kind of breaks in their vocation whereas some others may overtake even CEOs – We often term it as their good luck or destiny. Often these persons who rise very fast in the organizational hierarchy may just be having very good individual karma which is strong enough to take “on” the organizational Karma.

We may find many instances where one person may get one lucky break after another – and someone else, on the verge of even heading an organization, may lose the chance and someone, totally not in the race thus far, may overtake him/her. These inexplicable situations can best be understood by understanding organizational karma.

What one does for the organization, is returned to him/her in their other spheres of life. For example, a person who uses his organization to earn bribes, finds that he is betrayed by his loved relative or friend in his personal life at some point of time. Similarly, a person who tries to uplift his/her organization sincerely without expecting anything in return, also gets a similar favour from his friends or family. In other words, the organizational karma affects a person’s personal karma by the way he/she functions in the organization.

Not only does the place of work, but also the position of work, is determined by karma. Organisational karma determines the rise and fall of a person. Leaders who use their armies to conquer land/countries and who deliberately create war fall prey to the organizational karma they create. People in business and various other vocations who use illegal means to garner wealth using their organization fall prey to the same karmic effects. Often these people may be carrying the burden of their organizational Karma on themselves and their families. For example, an automobile manufacturer who manufactures defective vehicles that kills people in accidents would be carrying the bad karma of the persons who lost their lives using the vehicle – like this, the list is endless, to the responsibility of karma in various professions, vocations or jobs.

Every decision that a person takes in an organization, carries good or bad karma depending on various factors – and that, consequently affects his/her individual karma. Very few persons are able to match their individual karmic tastes to their organizations and vice versa. The very fact that a person may be working in an organization not suited for him/her itself may be his/her karmic fate. Sometimes, individual karma may totally not match with the organizational karma – in which case, a change in organization may sort out matters.

Organisational karma and mass karma are similar – the only difference is that in organizational karma, all the persons are working for an organization whereas in Mass Karma, various different types of individual karmas get linked to one major mass karmic reason. The Tsunami that occurred on 26th December 2004 in the Indian Ocean that killed more than 2,30,000 people  has a common mass karmic link. Stories abound of many people who escaped the Tsunami of 2004 – Most of them, would not have come under the mass karma link. Again, there are many stories of how people travelled for a long distance from areas totally unaffected, to the seashore just on that day, and got killed. These unfortunate people were attracted to the seashore by virtue of their mass karma.

Organisational Karma affects the health of the organization, and the persons heading the organization. Often, a change in organizational leadership can effect karmic changes in the organization itself. Persons of similar individual karma get attracted to an organization and their collective karma forms the organizational karma. This collective organizational karma keeps accumulating persons or individuals with similar karmic leanings. This is the reason why some persons would be unable to get a job anywhere except in a particular industry/area/sector/organization. The fact that organizational karma attracts people of similar karma is well known among hiring agents and recruiters.

Karma is all about teaching lessons of life. So, if a person gets the learning he/she needs, then, the karmic effect may simply drop off.

(To be continued….)

Towards understanding Hindu Culture, Rituals and Traditions Part Twelve : KARMA (Understanding Suicides)

Foreword: People committing suicides have increased in the recent past – especially young people  – over love or exam failures. This post is only to enlighten about the bad karma associated with suicide….(i.e., What kind of Karma does a person committing suicide carry?)

(Let us have a look at one of the world’s earliest DOCUMENTED suicides : “Early in the morning, all the chief priests and the elders of the people made their plans how to have Jesus executed –  So they bound him, led him away and handed him over to Pilate the governor. –  When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders.  “I have sinned,” he said, “for I have betrayed innocent blood.” “What is that to us?” they replied. “That’s your responsibility.” –  So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself. –  The chief priests picked up the coins and said, “It is against the law to put this into the treasury, since it is blood money.” – So they decided to use the money to buy the potter’s field as a burial place for foreigners. –  That is why it has been called the Field of Blood to this day” – THE BIBLE – according to Mathew)  

Young people, including students committing suicide over love and exam failures have alarmingly risen in South India, recently. It is because of the mistaken notion that with death, all responsibility ceases. On the contrary, with death, the responsibility increases. It is by karmic decree that a person leaves this earth at a certain time, at a certain place. We, as human beings, do not have the luxury of leaving the earth as and when we wish, except for very advanced souls who know the time of their death in advance.

Thirumoolar in the Tamil classic Thirumanthiram says that when the union between a man and a woman takes place, the age of the child is determined by various factors, including breath of the man immediately after the union. Thirumoolar further explains that a person is born endowed with a pre-determined number of breaths, and that person lives on this earth only for that many breaths. If a person, on an average, breathes 24 times a minute, which translates to 1440 times an hour, which comes to 34,560 a day, and in an average life span of 60 years, a person would breathe atleast  75,68,64,000 – imagine a machine pumping 75 crore times without fail! And imagine this figure being predetermined at the time of birth for each and every person?  Which is why they say, that Brahma writes on the forehead, the amount of life or the number of years a person will live when he/she is born, at the time of his/her birth itself…..

The question is, are we entitled or empowered to break this predetermined lifespan by committing suicide? The simple answer is, NO.

Almost all religions dwell on the aspect of the AFTER LIFE. We, as human beings, are so engrossed in living the present life that we often ignore or don’t come to know about the Afterlife until it is time for us to go. In the case of suicide, it is a deliberate attempt to cut off the karmic debt by forcibly cutting off life. It is like a debtor trying to end his/her debt by running off – in which case the debt only becomes bigger – with added interest. Suicide increases the karmic debt of the person committing suicide, and also affects the karma of his/her close relatives or others affecting his/her life.

There is also the case for euthanasia or mercy killing of persons who are suffering very badly due to illness. In the case of euthanasia, the person who is put to death, normally does not take the decision of dying – it is often taken by his/her relatives or loved ones who take on the karma of taking the life. These are all very sensitive issues that can only be seen through case by case study as generalizations will not be possible in such grey areas.

Farm suicides in India are a shame for the nation, for the causes are mostly man made – Debt ridden people with no way out, and adaptation to changing environmental factors being two major areas to look into.

There was this case recently of a man who committed suicide when his wife and child died in an accident – True, that he also died when they died, but he would not be able to go to the same sphere as that of his loved ones. The very purpose for which he committed suicide, that is, to be with his loved ones, is lost since he will be on a lower plane because he committed suicide, and his loved ones would be on a different plane. The separation may continue, or it could be worse than when he was on earth, alone.

There are various books in various religions/philosophy that give a detailed account of how exactly life is, in the afterworld. And each one will give a different perspective depending on his/her faith and his/her beliefs and his/her experiences which will become the points of reference.

According to Hindu belief, a person committing suicide cannot go to the Astral world, where all humans go after death. The person committing suicide, has to remain on earth till the time of his/her normal death, in which case, he/she roams around the places where they lived, as ghosts. These unfortunate souls suffer because they can neither go to the astral world and join their dead relatives nor can they connect with the living relatives on earth because they are not in physical form. Among the Vedas, Yajurveda deals more with this aspect…..

According to Hindu mythology, there are 14 worlds, of which seven are higher worlds and seven are lower (paatal) worlds. Planet Earth is the lowest of the seven higher worlds. The evolution of the souls depends on his/her good/bad karma, and accordingly, he/she gets the world of his/her status. Thus status of the karma defines the status of the world we go to. And if a person commits suicide, he/she has to start from the lowest world, after his/her time on earth.

Which is why, if a person commits suicide, he/she would have to carry a huge burden of unwanted karma which could enmesh the soul for a very long time in this or a lower world.

Suicide. This is such a huge, huge, topic that needs more attention in today’s media.

(To be continued….)

Towards understanding Hindu Culture, Rituals and Traditions Part Eleven : KARMA (Understanding the importance of thoughts)

( “Every person, all the events of your life, are there because you have drawn them there. What you choose to do with them is up to you.”- Richard Bach, in ILLUSIONS )

Among the many factors that determine Karma, THOUGHTS are the most important. What kind of thoughts we have determine everything else in our life.

A popular Indian fable told and retold in different versions, illustrates the importance of thoughts : Two friends, shared a common journey. Along the way, there was a dispute as to where to spend the night. One wanted to spend the night in a temple, and the other wanted to spend the night with a prostitute. They parted ways to rejoin and resume their journey the next day. The one in the temple was having unkind thoughts about his friend, and the one with the prostitute was full of repentence, and was having very high thoughts about his friend who went to the temple. That very night, an earthquake occurred and both the friends died. In the other world, the friend who went to the temple was sent to hell, and the one who went to the prostitute was sent to heaven. The one who spent the night with the prostitute, protested, saying that he was the one who sinned, and the one who spent the night in the temple, should be sent to heaven. He was told the nature of thoughts of both of them – while with the prostitute, he was full of repentence and held very lofty thoughts of his friend, whereas, while in the temple, his friend held very low thoughts about his friend, and self righteous thoughts about himself –  about how right he was in staying back at the temple!

The story illustrates the power of one’s thought. Also, the one who thinks superior of himself or herself, and does not possess humility, somehow relinquishes the right to God’s Grace…. (the rivers of God’s Grace gather in the valley of humility…)

The law of karma helps the evolution of the soul – and each and every thought of ours gathers the powerful effect of good or bad karma which, accumulated over a period of time, becomes “destiny” and “fate” – Hence in essence, it is we who determine our destiny by our thoughts……Which is why, thoughts are held paramount for spiritual progress…..

(to be continued….)

Towards understanding Hindu Culture, Rituals and Traditions Part Ten : KARMA (the inevitable death)

(There is an interesting Arab story of a servant in Baghdad who goes to the market and gets startled to find the messenger of death looking at him – He then rushes back to his master, and asks for a horse. When the master asks the reason, he tells that the messenger of death is there in the market, and he suspects that he is looking for him, and to avoid him, wants to borrow the master’s horse so that he could go to Samarah, another town, and thereby avoid the messenger of death, and his fate. So saying, he grabs the horse, and mounting it, gallops out of Baghdad to Samarah in full speed. The master then had to go to the market for the provisions himself. He too, saw the messenger of death at the market, and he enquired as to why did the messenger of death startle his servant in the morning. Says the messenger of death, “I was very surprised to see him here at Baghdad because I have an appointment with him at Samarah later today”)

In the Hindu mythology, there is a similar story of how Garuda, after he brings Lord Vishnu to Mount Kailash for a visit, is waiting for the return of Lord Vishnu when his eyes fall on a small bird sitting on the gate of Lord Shiva’s abode. Just as he was admiring the bird, in walks Lord Yama, the God of death – he looks intently at the bird, and goes inside. Garuda, instantly comes to know the reason for Lord Yama’s look – that the bird’s time is up – he then decides to save the bird from its  fateful destiny since Lord Yama had “marked” him by his look, and hence, taking the bird in his arms, flies many hundreds of miles and leaves it next to a pond, and comes back just in time to see Lord Yama come out of Lord Shiva’s abode. Unable to contain his curiosity, Garuda asks Lord Yama as to why he looked at the bird before he went in – Answers Lord Yama : I was surprised to see the bird here, as it’s destiny is to die near a forest pond, swallowed by a snake, hundreds of miles from here”

Both these stories illustrate the inevitability of fate, karma, or destiny.  The law of Karma operates mechanically, with mathematical precision – “justice be done, at any cost” is the theme of Karmic law. It is unrelenting in its pursuit of justice.

But the law of karma operates without fear or favour or prejudice, and is often misunderstood because of its rigidity. This very rigidity has often been adroitly exploited by wise men, saints, astrologers, and others who have learnt to circumvent the law of Karma by satisfying it – the relief one gets may be temporary or permanent, depending on various factors.

Case Study : Shri Z is a clerk in a govt office. He often goes late to office, and is never bothered about his late attendance.  One day, his son was injured in an accident, and he rushed his son to the local govt hospital, where, the doctor was not there. On enquiry, Shri Z learnt that the doctor always comes late. He suffers the late coming of the doctor in painful repentence of his own late coming – his very act of immediate repentence, sets the law of karma in action – the doctor arrives, and saves his son – but the lesson for him is to come to office in time – in future – but has he learnt his lesson? If he mends his ways of coming late to office, he may escape further karma – but if he gets back into the old habit of coming late, another incident may come up where his repentence may NOT work the magic it did earlier.

In this case study, even though the late coming alone of Shri Z seemed to attract the karma of the painful wait for the doctor, other factors such as past karma of Shri Z, his son, and the doctor, will also have a say, and has to be taken into account. It is precisely because of this complexity, that understanding of karma is very difficult and has to be seen always in context.

The law of karma has one basic purpose – to teach some valuable lessons to us. Once we learn the lesson, the effects of the law of karma may become less or sometimes, due to God’s Grace, altogether fades away….

( to be continued….)

KARMA – Towards Understanding Hindu Culture, Rituals and Traditions…..Part NINE (Karma – Cause and effect)

(The great physicist Sir Isaac Newton discovered that “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction” – This third law of Newton is best explained by a rifle firing a shot and the rifle recoiling – however, the recoil is not so huge as the firing of the bullet since the mass of the rifle bears down upon the recoiling acceleration. Even though various forces such as mass, density, volume, gravity, etc act and influence on the physical nature of a substance when it is subjected to the laws of physics, the fact that there is a reaction for every action, could never be ignored…..)

The third law of Sir Isaac Newton, when applied in the world of metaphysics and life, becomes, the LAW OF KARMA. Boy George’s song of two decades back, titled, “Karma Chameleon” is a good definition of Karma’s effect on individuals, since Karma “changes” the personality of a person according to the weight and intensity of the karma, good, bad or neutral.

The Hindu way of thinking is deeply entrenched in the belief of Karma. “What one sows, one reaps” is the central thought of such belief. Among the various definitions of Karma and the theories of Karma, the simplest understanding of Karma is conveyed well by the law of Cause and effect.

Karma is nothing but the law of Cause and effect acting on our lives. We reap what we sow. But such simple definitions are able to give us only the basic understanding of Karma. Even though the concept of Karma is simple, its functioning is very complex. And understanding Karma in its fullest sense is very difficult for any of us since our ego does not easily permit understanding and knowledge to blossom from suffering. But then, to overcome the ego and understand Karma is to unlock the mystery of life, and living itself.

Karma is of many types. Sanchita Karma is the stockpile of karma from many lives – Prarabdha Karma is the karma that we have undertaken to undergo in this life. An apt analogy would be : A bank Account. Just as we have a bank account, and we take small amounts of the bank account in daily doses, and when we don’t exhaust the entire amount withdrawn for a day, put it back in the account, similarly, the Sanchita Karma of an individual lies in the Karma Account of that individual – and for each life, he/she withdraws a particular amount of Karma for spending in that life – according to the will of the person, the karma gets expended – if the Prarabdha Karma is exhausted much before one’s lifetime, one can even withdraw from the larger Sanchita Karma Account and spend it in this life or, if by that person’s will, the karma does not get expended much, at the end of that life, that person puts it back into the Sanchita Karma account, as the case may be.

Even though the analogy is simple, the working is not. In this diverse world, the complex interlinking of the karma of various individuals is done at various levels, that if one looks at the overall picture, one understands that NOTHING happens by chance.

Case studies can help the understanding of the complex concept of karma, better.  A certain individual, used to steal pen/pencil/papers/ etc from the tables of his colleagues in office. Many a time, the colleagues will suffer the tension of having lost something like a pen or pencil because of the activities of this individual. But nobody suspected that he was the cause of this problem, and he himself guarded this truth safely from others. But every time someone lost something, he used to secretly feel happy and he derived a sadistic pleasure out of it. This went on for years, and one day, suddenly, he had kept a bag containing a few lakhs on the table, and somebody had stolen it! Karma, had caught up with him. Like that, in quick succession, he lost a number of things – he kept lamenting, and when he confronted his own self one day, he was distraught with what was happening. And yet, he could never understand that he was the victim of his own Karma when he used to filch small things like pens and pencils. But, the question arises, whether the loss of a pen or a pencil and the loss of a few lakhs of rupees be the same? On the face of it, it appears that a losing a pencil and losing a few lakhs are two different things. But if we take into account the pain that is caused when one loses the pencil or money, it is the same. So, the pain is the same even though the physical value of each, differs. The law of Karma would not be bothered about how big or small the value is – it only sees that the pain of losing a few lakhs of rupees equals the pain of losing a pen/pencil – for if the person loses a pencil or a pen, he may not feel the intensity of pain that was originally felt by the person who lost the pen/pencil – thus, the law of Karma has to be understood in its entirety and by the amount of pain/pleasure caused, and not by physical or material value.

Karma can also be interpreted in terms of astrology, and astrology is often  used to manipulate/deviate/regulate/lessen/escape from Karma. But such use of astrology without understanding and unlocking the actual reason as to why the Karma is there in the first place, actually increases the overall karmic burden of an individual, even if it is lessened by astrological tools in this life…..

                                                                Even animals have Karma…..

(To be continued….)

Towards understanding Hindu Culture, Rituals and Traditions…Part EIGHT (The role of stars in our Karma)


(When Ancient Rome was invaded by the Etruscan army, three brave  soldiers, led by Horatious Cocles (ref : Lord Thomas Macaulay) fight at the entrance of the only bridge across the River Tiber – At one point of time, when he alone is left defending the bridge, and before plunging into the river Tiber, brave Horatius, tells thus :

“To every man upon this earth

Death cometh soon or later.

And how can man die better

than facing fearful odds,

For the ashes of his fathers,

And the temples of his Gods”

and then plunges headlong into the Tiber river, goes the legend of Horatius. One of the most important thing to note is this – “For the ashes of his fathers, and the temples of his Gods” – for the karma left by his forefathers and for his faith…..)


The Hindu calendar is replete with when to do what – the infamous Rahu Kaalam, and the famous “Kuligai” Kaalam are often consulted when the Hindu does something important. Indian astrology follows the lunar year which is determined by the movement of the 27 stars/planets based on the moon and not the sun.

These 12 lunar months are divided into 6 months  of  “Uttaraayanam”  (when the earth moves towards the sun in its elliptical orbit)  and  six  months  of  “Dakshinayanam”, when the earth moves away from the sun in its elliptical orbit. However the zodiac signs of Hindu astrology remain the same as that of western astrology – except for the difference in the time periods, since the Hindu astrology follows the lunar calendar and the western astrology follows the Solar Calendar. The Hindus call the twelve Zodiac signs as RASI which are  : Mesha, Vrishabha, Mithuna, Kataka, Simha, Kanyaa, Tulaa, Vrishcika, Dhanus, Makara, Kumbha, Meena.

In the vast, vast cosmos, earth is but a tiny speck of a planet and yet, occupies a very important place as it is at the border of the physical and astral worlds.  (Reminds one of the Bermuda Triangle   –  even if the mystery is solved ! ) When  the “Dakshinayanam” starts, it is considered the start of the night time for the astral heaven, and this period, known as “Aadi” in Tamil, is considered inauspicious for many activities.

Whereas  “Uttaraayanam”  is  considered  very auspicious  as  it is the day time for the astral heavens. The tilt of the earth’s axis at 23.45 degrees, and the elliptical orbit (rather than a circle) of the earth around the sun accounts for a number of reasons why vernal equinox and autumnal equinox are important in calculating the position of the stars/planets viz a viz the earth in both astronomy as well as astrology.

The basis of the month comes from the lunar cycle of nearly 30 days. (The Egyptian hawk- god is also known as “Monthu”) Calendars based on the moon are used in traditional Indian astrology rather than the SUN SIGNS of western astrology. Because of the various factors like an ellipse instead of a circle, and because of tilts of the planets (even moon’s position is tilted at an angle?) the period of lunation (lunar cycle) ranges from 29.18 days to 29.93 days – which is why the exact period of “ammavasya” and the exact period of “poornima” is taken into account while doing pujas and other rituals. But it is this very accuracy that has made the lunar calendar unpopular since the solar calendar (also the Gregorian Calendar which is used all over the world today) provides a more easily understandable calendar with less calculations. However, for reasons of astrology, the lunar calendar is important.

Many confuse “Ammavasya” with the New Moon – Actually, “Ammavasya”   (Ammavasai in Tamil) is the absence of the moon – and only the actual sighting on the second/third day is considered the actual New Moon. During Ammavasya the ritualistic worship of the dead ancestors is done, signifying the ever present bond with the souls that we know on this earth, even after death takes them away. Pithru darpanam is an important aspect of Ammavasya.

Tharpanam/Dharpanam means “Offering” – The basis of this Pithru darpanam is very interesting. It is believed that the Pithru loka or Pithru “world” (astral world) is on the other side of the moon and when it is Ammavasya, the other side of the moon receives sun light and hence they are able to connect to their descendents on earth. Could it be that the position of the moon during Ammavasya enables the frequency of the astral world to match the physical or vice versa so that the connection between the living and the dead are established?

But why are the concepts of Ammavasya/tharpanam/etc important to the Hindu? Because they are deeply connected to the concept of Karma.

(To be continued – Next : Concept of Karma)

Towards understanding Hindu Culture, Rituals and Traditions….Part SEVEN (Namaskar is a mudra!)

( Shaking hands often involve touching an other person. Even though it is a very friendly gesture, it can often transmit unfriendly germs. Sometimes, we might be uncomfortable shaking hands with a person who has a sweaty palm, or whose cleanliness we may not trust. But shaking hands in the corporate world is an accepted norm everywhere. Shaking hands is the most trusting gesture that we can see in day to day life, and is part and parcel of our everyday life. But is shaking hands the only way to greet? No. Just the other day, I was visiting a patient in the hospital, and the attendant was telling everyone NOT to shake hands, as it might transmit germs. This is especially true since we travel in buses, touch the doors, knobs, handles, purse, etc, and we do not know how much of germs we may carry….Whereas the Indian way of greeting by doing Namaste is so clean, and…! ) 

The symbolism of Namaskar and its relevance to Mudras….

The Indian way of greeting, Namaskar, (Pranam, Pronam,Namaste, vanakkam, Namaskaram, swagatham, etc) by joining the hands together is now gradually being adopted in the west. The joining of hands at the level of the heart symbolically signifies the greeting from the heart/soul/atman. Both hands join together at the palms straight across the chest signifies a salute from the soul, or a welcome from the heart.

There are other interpretations of the symbolism, like the right hand representing higher nature and the left, lower nature, and the joining signifying the meeting of the two natures to form a single mind of the person. Some others interpret it as a greeting from one mind to another also. Some others say that it signifies, “I bow to the God in you” or “I bow to you” or “my soul bows to your soul” – Like this, the interpretations for the symbolism of the NAMASKAR is different for
different regions and different beliefs –  But what is little known is that the five fingers represent the five elements – this is best expressed in Mudras. Mudras are very common in various dance systems like Bharatha Natiyam, Kathakali and Kuchipudi. One can find various Gods and Goddesses assuming some mudra or the other. Even Lord Jesus Christ is often depicted in India with his right hand in Pran Mudra. In Mudra Vigyan, Namaste or Pranam or Namaskar is known as Anjali Mudra. Anjali Mudra increases the peace and poise of the person practicing it.

The significance of the five fingers is that Thumb stands for fire energy (which is why we have the thumbs up sign for success or victory?) Index finger stands for Air/Wind energy, Middle finger stands for space/Akash/Shunya – the ring finger stands for Earth energy (another reason for putting the ring on this finger) and the little finger stands for water energy.

The true meaning of Namaskar is the neutralization of all the energies by bringing both the hands together so that each finger of one hand touches the corresponding finger of the other hand, to denote that the person does not have any powerful positive/negative energies to affect the other person. Thus, it is a true gesture of friendship and welcome.

     Praying Hands. We approach the almighty in this gesture…..

(To be continued)

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