poojas on ghats

 

 

These kids on Ghats of Varanasi, engrossed in offering jal [water] to Shivalinga, made me  think… what would have been their thoughts about God, worship or prayers. I felt they have imbibed it as a part of life, part of belief system from the elders in the family and the people around them. The unquestioning trust…. the purest form of devotion.

 

 

The lady here is performing ‘Tulsi Vivah’. Tulsi is the herbal medicinal plant Basil but it is considered to be a sacred plant by Hindus. The plant is worshiped like Goddess in Hindu households. Lighting a lamp near tulsi plant every evening is a ritual followed by almost every Hindu family. Tulsi Vivah celebration in the month of Kartik, specially on Ekadasi is considered to be very auspicious by Hindus all over India. On ghats of Varanasi during last five days of Kartik month this ceremony is conducted by many groups of women. There is a mythological story related to this ritual.

 

 

On several places on ghats we observed these squares made by flour. These were divided by twenty five smaller squares. These were kind of Chauk. On some places pulses, rice and other seasonal grains with colored cloth pieces were kept in each square while at other places flowers and sweets were kept. We could not ascertain the significance of this ritual but even then it filled the heart with a kind of reassurance. Unnamed, unknown it might be but faith can always be felt inside our souls.

 

 

The moments of silent communication with God — serene and peaceful. Prayers , the bridge of kinship with Lord.

 

 

From the depth of slumber,
As I ascend the spiral stairway of wakefulness,
I whisper
God, God, God!

When boisterous storms of trials shriek
And worries howl at me,
I drown their noises, loudly chanting
God, God, God!

by Paramhans Yoganand

All pics by Sunder Iyer.
Dev Deepawali …. 2016.

Rangoli, Alpana, Kolam,Muggulu, Puvidal, Mandana , Chauk….. you can call it by any name but different patterns adorned on ground on various auspicious occasions all over India speak one language and that is of celebration, welcome and devotion.

In South India drawing the geometrical patterns at the entrance and Pooja room is a daily ritual. Different states have specific design patterns for specific occasions and specific Gods too. In South India these patterns are drawn with dry powder or wet paste of rice powder while in North India it is made with dry wheat flour. With the passage of time various other mediums are also being used to draw Rangolis. Innovations and experiments with new design patterns are also seen but the spirit of these motifs still reverberate on the same tune.

The design galore on ghats of Varanasi on Dev Deepawali day was spectacular.The magnificent display of patterns, designs, colors and lights was mesmerizing.Ghats after ghats one could see old ladies to young girls busy in drawing designs, filling those with colors, decorating with diyas.  Witnessing  three generations involved enthusiastically to fill the world with beauty and sacredness gave a deep reassuring feel. Air was filled with Shlokas, Bhajans.Innumerable lighted earthen lamps in flower bowls floated slowly, rhythmically, steadily on quiet Ganges. These tiny dots of light on wide  waters of holy river bathed in inky darkness filled the heart with gratitude and peace. Big round moon in the sky smiled benevolently  as if granting boon.

deep_65

 

deep_66

 

deep_67

 

deep_68

 

deep_69

 

deep_75

 

deep_74

 

deep_73

 

deep_72

 

deep_71

 

deep_70

 

deep_76

 

deep_77

 

deep_78

 

deep_79

 

deep_80

 

deep_81

All pics by Sunder Iyer.

Long, lean bamboo poles with bamboo baskets dangling on the upper tips stood in clusters on Madhis (the platforms on both sides of the steps leading to Ganges.) on various ghats of Ganges at Varanasi. This is a common site on ghats in the Hindu month of Kartik. Every evening Diyas [earthen lamps] are lighted and placed in these baskets in the memories of ancestors, the symbolic significance being that these lamps light the path of the departed soul upto heaven. These are known as Aakash deep or Aakash kandeel. The tradition is said to run from as long as people can remember.

As twilight descends, the ripples on Ganges water hitherto bathed in golden sunlight, dancing merrily get sombre.Sky overhead dons it’s inky blue night gown and Ganges flows placidly absorbing the calm greys of atmosphere. Groups of men and women with their pooja baskets start gathering near these bamboo poles.

This was the Kartik month of 2016 and we were on Nepali ghat at that evening. Preparations for lighting diyas were on. The hanging  baskets were lowered with the help of thin ropes attached to pulleys and baskets. Diyas taken out, filled with oil and fresh cotton wicks,  the lighted diyas placed inside basket and the basket once again pulled up on the poles.  The dangling baskets facing the sky and the flickering lights of Diyas paying homage to departed souls, women making rangolis near poles, chanting shlokas, praying with folded hands, lighting few more diyas on ground near each pole in the name of Gods and Goddess…. the entire scene filled the heart with peace and content. It was like a bridge of bonds and emotions has been erected from earth to heaven.The lighted baskets overhead moved slowly, rhythmically on the tune of winds. It felt as if the souls of ancestors are expressing their happiness, bestowing their blessings. What a beautiful concept of remembrance, gratitude and duty.

It is said that corresponding to the Diya in Aakash deep one more Diya is lighted on the ground near the respective pole. As if denoting that the lineage is alive and continuing. This one Diya is essentially lighted while rest are optional. one can light as many as one wants in the names of kul devtas, devis and other Gods.

On one of the ghats these Aakash deeps were lighted in memory of martyrs, who lost their lives defending our country  during various terrorists attacks.

We also witnessed lighting of Aakash deeps at Ganga Mahal Ghat on the terrace of Krishna temple. on ghats the poles were erected on Madhis (मढ़ी) near the steps of Ghats and the reflection of lighted Diyas could be seen in the Ganges water. View of Aakash deeps on terrace of temple from the ghats looked like a group of fireflies.

Aakashdeep are like lighted verse of prayers reaching zenith.

This month long event culminates on the day of Kartik Poornima.,when the glorious moon steps out in it’s most magnificent form, smiling and assuring the lamps that the journey of light will go on for ever.

 

deep_39nw

 

deep_59w

 

deep_60wdeep_57w

 

All pictures by Sunder Iyer.

Few days ago I got to spend few hours with this ninety two year old gentleman with varied experiences of life. He takes care of this ages old temple but does not hold a good opinion of so called Sadhus and babas. He prefers to communicate with we grahasth [family] persons, who according to him happen to be more enriched spiritually.
He lived with Sri Govind Ballabh Pant, the first chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, when he practiced as an advocate and Our country was under British rule.He started his first government job with salary of Rs forty per month, did his char dham yatra on foot from Haridwar.He shared lots of memories of the days when entry of Indians was banned in Hazaratganj after four P.M. as that was the time British offiicials and their families used to come there for enjoying their evenings.He also shared how there was scarcity of educated people and posts in government offices, seats in higher educational courses lay vacant for want of candidates.
This temple where he now resides is ages old. He told us that no body knows who built it originally. years ago it lay surrounded by dense forest on the bank of river. Dacoits, bandits and freedom fighters too took shelter here.When he arrived here then also it was surrounded by dense forest and forty to forty five snake couple resided in the vicinity…and why not after all it is an ancient shrine of Lord Shiva.It is said that plastering of the temple structure has been done by the mixture of Urad dal [ black lentil] pulp of Ber [ indian plum / jujubi] and chasani [syrup of Gur[jaggery]

Talking to him was like turning pages of a old history book nay more interesting and enthralling. He created wonderful imagery while narrating his travel experiences of mountains and the underlying spiritual essence provided hope and strength.

 

img_3887

 

img_3856

 

img_3834

 

img_3831

 

new3

 

new

 

All pictures by Sunder Iyer.

It’s raining heavily . Outside the glass-pan of window the down pour has created a hazy screen.No wind is blowing at all. The single tree visible from my seat stands facing the lashing silently. It was a green, blooming tree few days ago. The green wide canopy interspersed with bright yellow delicate bunches of flowers filled the heart with dream and romance. With every wisp of air the hanging chandelier like flowers danced rhythmically. Some times few flowers from the bunch came down dancing softly with the wind and on a really windy day the ground below was carpeted yellow. The tree was a source of joy to us. but that day people from electricity department arrived and cut all it’s outstretched arms as those reached the high voltage wire running above. Now the stem with few butchered branches and leaves hanging desolately stand bare . But the tree has not lost it’s dignity. Under the incessant lashing rain it stand firmly holding it’s ground as if bearing with equanimity it’s fate and look there is this small bunch of three-four fresh green leaves peeping out from that bleeding crevice. To me they feel like angels of hope…..if calamity falls upon, the bright time can’t be far behind.

In Hindu Mythology Shivalinga and Nandi are inseparable. Wherever there is a temple dedicated to Lord Shiva, an idol of Nandi is sure to be found  inside the temple complex.Nandi at Lepakshi is a bit different in the way that it is outside the temple enclosure, say about five hundred meter away on the road side. But then so is the big majestic Shivalinga in the temple. Infact the main deity of this temple is Veerbhadreshwara, a form of Lord Shiva only and the very artistically carved Nagalinga is  in the open courtyard of the temple outside the sanctum. The Nandi faces this Shivalinga.May be during the time both these were sculpted there were no high buildings in that five hundred meter stretch and Nandi even from that distance was able to continuously gaze his beloved lord and master.

This splendid Nandi bull is of gigantic dimension, approximately 4.5 meter high and about 8 meter long.This monolithic bull is a spectacular example of prodigiously talented artists of the Vijayanagar empire period.The massive Nandi bull like a guard presides over the entrance of Lepakshi town.

The exquisitely carved details of ropes, belts and bells over the body of Nandi are one of the finest example of stone craftsmanship.

lepa-2

For ages it sits elegantly under the open sky rapt in the bhakti of the supreme Lord.

 

lepa_4

Look at those intrinsically carved details of all the ornaments…and the expression of Nandi Maharaj…I can almost see a delicate smile lingering on His face. Are you able to make out the mythical bird with an elephant in it’s claw, hanging as a locket from the chain? Well, it is said to be an insignia of Vijayanagar kings.

 

lepa_1

Like me do you too find a Ganesha reflected here?

 

lepa_2

The green lawns. shady trees and rocks here and there… a perfect setting to set you on pondering mode about our rich cultural heritage…the bygone times….almost tempting you to jump into a time machine and live that era for some time.

 

bedni1_2nnnnn

The lotus ponds and the rocky terrain stretched around makes it a perfect spot to spend leisurely time.

Nearby this spot is Andhra Government guest house with fooding and lodging facilities.

All the pictures by Sunder Iyer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sri Dakhinmurthy is the form of Shiva that depicts Him as cosmic guru, imparting wisdom which enlightens and enriches. The iconographic depiction of the form though not consistent mostly illustrates Shiva in a seating posture, under a Vat Vriksha, His right leg stretching down resting on a dwarfish demon.This demon symbolically represents lack of knowledge. In the fresco at Lepakshi though Shiva’s foot does not rest on demon but he can be seen near His foot. As Dakhinmurthy extolls Shiva in supreme teacher form, His one hand is shown in gyan mudra. Normally Rishis, munis are seen sitting on the ground near Him imbibing the divine words.But in this mural at Lepakshi the artists have mingled the prevelent local cultural influences. On Shiva’s head rests a cap like Sufi saints. Jana receiving/ arriving to receive the Gyan are seen dressed like Sultans and Muslim saints. Creatures from Hindu mythology too can be seen and near the demon is perhaps standing goddess Parvati. The creative liberty mixed in right dozes with mythological references makes this mural an interesting document of history, culture, spiritual beliefs and interpretation.

 

lep_14w

 

Kiratharjuniyam is a sanskrit Mahakavya composed by Bhairavi narrating the story of severe penance by Arjun to obtain weapon Pashupatha from Lord Shiva in order to defeat Kaurava in the battle and the in between incidents till he finally becomes successful in his mission.

Fresco below depicts one of the scenes from Kiratharjuniyam.Perhaps a scene from the very beginning of the story where Vyas muni advises Arjuna to obtain weapon Pashupatha. Though fresco has suffered a lot through ages yet muni can be seen clearly.The lady in black can be Draupadi and the figure next to her one of the Pandavas.Or may be it depicts Arjuna asking permission of Yudhisthara to leave to forest for doing penance.Whatever it might be despite the damage due to vagaries of time the intricacies of human features, ornaments etc is very endearing.

 

.lep_20w

This one is the boar hunt scene from Kiratharjuniyam — Arjun tried to attack boar from one side while Lord Shiva, disguised as  Kirath attacked from other side. During hunt Arjun realized that it is not any ordinary Kirath and Shiva appeared before him in His real form and later on granted the boon of weapon Pashupatha.

lepa-w

Below are the scenes of Draupadi’s svayamvara. On leftmost side is shown Kala-Bhairava  with eight arms holding a severed human head and a bowl and His vahana dog is depicted nearby. Two persons, one short and another tall are shown in front of him, one of them would be Drupad worshiping his tutelary God. Next on right is King Drupad , Draupadi, his daughter is shown seated on his lap.This made me remember a ritual of marriages in South India being carried out till date, where the bride sits on the lap of father while the bride groom ties the Thali [ Mangalsutra} and Kanyadan is performed. How deeply rooted and connected are our rituals, customs etc. Next on right, in front of Drupad, Arjuna is shown shooting the matsya-yantra (fish dial) with an arrow looking its reflection in the water below the dial. This follows by the marriage of Arjuna with Draupadi.

.

lepakshee (6)_1 Draupadi swayamvara

lepakshee (1)_1

Draupadi Swayamvara.

Here are shown Virupanna and Viranna  worshiping their tutelary deity, Veerbhadra, with their family members.As per a legend, the Veerbhadra temple was constructed by Virupanna using the state treasury. The king came to know about it and announced the punishment that Virupanna  be blinded. When Virupanna heard this order, he executed it on his own on the same spot. Local guides will show you the place inside the temple where they say Virupanna threw his eyes.

 

lepakshee (2)_1

Virupannas retinue

Here is Goddess Parvati with her friends and attendants. May be a scene before marriage of Shiva – Parvati. It is a lively piece of painting. The attires, the hair styles…variety is astonishing and reflects the skill of artist to capture trends of the time beautifully.

 

lepakshee (3)_1

Parvati with friends and attendants.

This one next to the above one depicts the most favourite theme of the artists of yester years India….Shiva – Parvati marriage

 

lepakshee (5)_1

There are many others mythological anecdotes painted there —a mural depicting King Muchukunda, the monkey-faced legendary Chola king who is attributed to have established Lord Thyagaraja at the Tiruvarur temple from the heavens,   Shiva and Parvati playing Chess, coronation of Rama,Nataraja dancing while other demi- Gods played various musical instruments and a large panel depicting the story of the legendary just king Manunidhi Cholan etc.

Veerbhadreshwara temple at Lepakshi is one of the greatest treasure of murals and frescos .These jewels of art not only depict the mythological themes but also documents the prevalent trends of social life of that time.

 

All the pictures by Sunder Iyer.