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.

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All pics 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.

 

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All pictures by Sunder Iyer.

Today in the evening enjoyed Sai paranjape’s ” Bhago Bhoot”, a film for children. I remembered Sai for Chasmebaddoor, Katha etc but this too was very refreshing ,lovely and meaningful. The film was screened in the hall of Anurag Library . There were grand parents and parents ,who brought the kids, children who came in groups, grown up children and adults like us too. It some how made me remember those days when there used to be one black and white T.V. in the neighborhood and all of us  gathered there on Sunday evening to watch the film on Doordarshan channel. More than the movie the gathering used to be the fun.

Now about the movie—-

The protagonist of the movie is Nanu, a boy of about 8 years of age. Nanu is a very good hearted but a naughty child like all other children of his age group. Even when the mischief was done by other kids or the fight was initiated by them,they put the blame on Nanu and being a simpler one he could not put forth his side smartly and was ultimately  got punished . Gradually all the adults of the village, his father and the school teacher all started to believe that Nanu is a good for nothing boy always indulging in some or other mischief and tricks. So like we grown ups. We usually do not pause to rationalize and analyze these matters of kids. It’s always easier to walk on the trodden path and go with the popular belief. But our this unconcern influences a child’s personality. It effected Nanu too.

Gradually he stopped even to try to defend him and bore the punishment of other children’s mischief even when he had enough proof to prove him innocent. The lizard incident proves it .

Opinion of other people and this injustice towards him also effected his academic performance. he gradually started loosing interest in studies.

But then he met his  Bhago Bhaiya , who took recluse in the dry well in the midst of forest near the village.  Horrific personal tragedies  were inflicted upon Bhago by a group of persons ,whose wrong deeds he tried to expose . At that grievous and dolorous times even his very intimate persons failed to provide him solace . In turn Bhago lost his faith in humanity and shunned humane company. He took comfort in the company of ever giver nature and the inhabitants of dense forest , the birds and animals. When villagers sensed a foreign presence in the forest ,a rumor started circulating that a ghost had occupied the dry well and villagers started avoiding the forest. This suited Bhago. But Nanu , the boy with a heart full of faith in all the good things was not carried away by this rumor and went to find out the reality behind it. This meeting blossomed into a wonderful bond between two good hearts. Both of them started flourishing in each others company.

Every child is a different entity and needs to be treated in different way. If encouraged in a way suited to their psychic and personality they can show amazing progress. Bhago’s encouragement and a little push restored Nanu’s faith in himself and he once again became interested in studies. Besides Bhago taught Nanu many things about the utility of herbs in forest, birds and animals of forest. All this knowledge imparted by Bhago in a practical way in nature class room fascinated Nanu and he imbibed all the the facts. True, Education does not mean rotting the prescribed syllabus.Scope of learning is beyond the indoors classroom. Nature is a great teacher. Innovative and illustrative ways of teaching can go a long way.

Kids have immense imaginative power. If given proper encouragement they can achieve a lot. This fact was conveyed in a very joyous manner when inspired by the city band playing at Sarpanch’s house, the team of young kids made their own musical band consisting of instruments created by waste material etc.

I loved the over all feel of the film. The simple life, the small pleasures, humorous anecdotes and the messages conveyed in a subtle way. No preaching like techniques to make it heavy and bore but everything going in a flow with the plot.

The best part was Nanu being successful in restoring principal Bhago Joshis faith in humanity. The innocence of kids, their caring and giving attitude has a magical power to transform the world into a better place.

 

I searched for the video of the film in net but could not find one. Would have loved to share it with you.

 

 

 

 

I feel, I have already talked about the permanent nest of doves above the entrance of my home but there is another nest in my home .This one is in the small open space in front of my kitchen.The nest belongs exclusively to sparrows and is also a permanent one. Many  residents have flown in and out from here for last almost thirteen years.

Every time the nest is to be occupied we know it in advance as a male sparrow starts frequenting it. First he will examine the strength of the nest then ponder on the security and safety issues by visiting it a number of times. Sometimes he sits in the nest  or perched on the grill above he will keep a watch over it. Once fully satisfied, the process to woo a partner starts.While working in the kitchen I am his constant companion sharing his efforts and anxieties. He calls with shrill voices. Sometimes he flies in with a partner on the toe. Lots of discussions go on and oh, on many occasions I am so disappointed as the female flies away perhaps not attracted enough by his arrangements or the ambience. He starts afresh. The day we find a female sparrow sitting at a stretch in the nest we heave a sigh of relief and start waiting expectantly for the new borns.

We have seen many young ones growing and flying away. Though there have been sad moments as well. The place is safe and secured from cats or bigger birds but  once a lizard crept up to the nest and tried to rampage the nest. One of the eggs fell down. We could not know the fate of other egg but the mother flew away the very moment not to return . After some time we found the nest inhabited once again and this time things went on smoothly for quite sometime but one day in the morning we found one of the very small sparrow chick lying on the floor under the nest. After this repeated casualty the nest was empty for quite some time. The silence in that part of house was heartbreaking.The empty nest looked desolate.However  we made a point to shoo away the lizards from that side of the wall even though the nest was unoccupied .

few days ago we were happy to note the hustle bustle of  new occupants of nest. This time the chicks hatched properly and we could hear constant chirping of different frequencies. Parents were busy keeping watch in turns and fetching the food. Our space was full of life .Then we watched mom sparrow coaxing kiddies to fly out of the nest but they appeared to be reluctant to leave the cozy security of the home.To face the harsh world, to fend for ones own chores is definitely not such an alluring temptation. The kids were  enjoying and loving indulgence of parents.They perhaps knew the scaling of heights, venturing into new pastures always demands certain sacrifices but then the course of life has to be followed. Yesterday the kids ventured out of the nest.we captured one of the kid’s moments of his first flight.you also enjoy the same…

 

It flew from nest and sat on the vertical grill. Beyond the horizontal grill at roof level was the blue sky. Is it trying to fathom the expanse, imagining about the voyages it will take. After some time mother came and sat on the grill above and tried to encourage it to take a higher flight.

 

When it did not fly mamma came down. Is she giving a piece of her mind to the little one. some serious conversation going on. parenting definitely is not an easy task.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ah ….the pains and pleasures of motherhood. She coaxed, was stern, provided incentives….

 

And finally our little one took its flight to the open world.

Bon Voyage…….

 

(pics- sunder iyer)

Nowhere on earth, the day unfolds in a way it does in this sacred city of Benaras. Bathing on the ghats on the sacred hours of dawn is like participating in an ethereal, divine phenomenon. As the sun emerges on the eastern sky on the far end of horizon, it pays obeisance to holy mother Ganges. The city of light, Kashi glows with divine radiance. It’s the moment of transition from mundane to the divine.
Sitting there on the ghat facing the stretch of ganga upto the reach of vision, one can feel the pulsating energy of unseen in the flowing waters. Ganga here is as if a flowing form of shiva’s energy. Despite the numerous activities going around you and the prevailing disorder and chaos, you can be with yourself here. The tolling temple bells, blowing conches, the mingled impact of mantras and shlokas recited in many voices ,the backdrop of pinnacles of age old temples, the sky as if arching to take a dip in ganga on the faraway bank, you can listen to that beckoning from another world, can feel the soul lifting and soaring. The presence of ‘beyond’ becomes so real. It takes time to get acquainted with your own new self.
On ghats every person is a testimony to one’s own journey and search. Every symbol present there is what it is but at the same time points towards a bigger unseen reality. Everyone is influenced by the manifestation of spiritual force in own way. One day when we arrived at Assi ghat, an old man sitting on the stairs of the ghat was addressing Lord Shiva loud and clear. Naked upto waist, oblivious of his surrounding , gazing towards river he was saying , “are bhole baba, kah to diye ki kashi chhod ke nahi jayege par kuchh kashi ki fikr bhi karoge ki nahi ki bas bhole ban sab takte rahoge” As per mythology Lord Shiva had given his words never to leave kashi, that is why kashi is also known as avimukta. Old gentlenman was referring to that fact and was ‘warning’ the lord that it is not enough just to be present in the city, he should interfere into the changing scenario as well and take the matters in his hands. Well, this is living devotion. At the ultimate level of devotion the devotee as if becomes one with the God.
Kashi is where divine manifests itself. One can visualize, experience and feel it. Even when we are not able to comprehend it we love the vibe and let us submerge in it. That foreigner couple appeared to be experiencing something like this. I saw them sitting on the ghat for about two hours but seldom caught them talking. They were lost in themselves.
There was this family from south India on Kedar ghat……husband and wife in late forties or early fifties and their parents. Father was so frail and fragile that my eyes stuck there, lean, thin and unable to stand without a support on the wet and slippery stairs of the ghats. Despite the cloudy sky and mighty current of the Ganges, the ghat was full of people from all over the country. I was wondering how did they manage to get that old gentleman down the steep stairs of Kedar ghat, the couple held father from both the sides tightly and gently made him stand in the water. It was a bliss to watch the old gentleman……eyes sparkling with uninhibited joy of experiencing the fulfillment of a long cherished desire. The pull to get absolved of all the wrong doings, to get purified by taking a dip in Ganges is so great that no odd seems big enough to stop oneself and the faith is accepted unquestioned. The holy faith commands an unflinching regard. It would not have been easy for the family to bring the old gentleman on the threshold of the divine city but they did all within their powers to fulfill his wish. Standing on the last step the mother was watching the scene. She could not restrain the tears of joy. The son now held the gentleman by waist and he took the holy water in his cupped palms, poured on his head and splashed on his face. Gradually a calmness spread over his whole being. His face was so calm as if he has experienced nirvana. Bowing to mother Ganges with joined palms he was ready to go back to steps. The whole thing was mesmerizing . It was experiencing Kashi.
That day while travelling on boat from Assi to Raja ghat ,we had several such experiences.every where we were reminded of that vast ,unseen,limitless world of divinity which exits and breaths in every atom on this earth.mind id invariably pulled to the invisible dimension.
Number of boats plying to give tourists a glimpse of the ghats but you get attracted almost with a magnetic force to that faraway boat slowly floating on the water with only the boatman on the board, as if that can take you across to the world beyond. A plethora of symbols which assert the presence of that world, which drags you to the circular complex lanes inside your-self, instigating you to get lost in the maze and then find the self.

(pics by sunder iyer)

As 4.30 am alarm cooed in the darkness of room, we jumped out of the bed. By 5.30 we were at Assi ghat. Assi is the ghat nearest to BHU campus and after the new extension perhaps it is the most convenient and spacious one to seep in the aura of the place.
The dawn was yet to break. Atmosphere was wrapped in that translucent mist which added to the mystique aura of the place, but even at that early hour the place was pulsating with a feel of awakening. Yes, awakening inside out. Old bent forms with pooja baskets and bags had started flowing on the ghats ………those fragile contours/silhouettes of body forms appeared exuding a kind of firmness……..perhaps, it was the firmness of faith, the driving force was the belief which made them carry on their daily ritual of bathing in Ganges in brahm muhurt, irrespective of vagaries of weather….be it biting cold or lashing rain, they tread on their path unfailingly day after day…….where from they derive such strength?
The belief is that this brahm muhurt snan is the most purifying one which will absolve them of their sins. If anywhere on earth the unquestioning faith can be felt and lived, it is here, in Benaras, the abode of Lord Shiva.
As the morning unfolded, Assi got busier. The pitra paksh period was on. The fifteen days of the dark phase of ashwini mas are an important phase as per the Hindu religion. This period is devoted to remembering , thanksgiving and praying for the peace and wellbeing of the souls of the departed ancestors. It was an amazing experience to watch people from far and near to arrive on the banks of ganga and follow the rituals with intense devotion.
Those two aged gentlemen, may be in their early sixties and seemingly from a humble financial background were there from a neighbouring state chanting shlokas dictated by the pundit in chest deep waters, with full faith. At that advanced stage of their lives, it certainly must not have been easy for them to travel to the place, physically as well as financially. I simply wonder the force that drives them to these ghats. It is believed that performing these rituals at river Ganges in Benaras helps the souls of the departed ancestors attain peace. Do all of them really hold to their belief, so many questions popped up in my mind but just one look at their faces and all my doubts, apprehensions were laid to rest. The peace, the serenity that prevailed on their faces, the satisfaction of performing the ritual was so evident. For me, the entire experience was truly enriching. One could feel that long held sigh of relief of their ancestors and they definitely might have felt the blessings being showered on them.
Hindu religion believes in immortality of soul. The body perishes but the soul never dies. After death the soul houses another body, another form, till it attains liberation from the continuous cycle of rebirth. The rituals are performed with the belief that the souls of ancestors still exist on earth. we may not know them, see them or find them but it still binds us. We can not shrug off our indebtedness to them. They contributed to our lives and wellbeing of the earth in their own ways, now its our turn to pray for their wellbeing, wherever they are, in whatever form……bird, animal any form of life, but the bond continues. What a reassuring and beautiful feeling, the cosmic bond.

 

 

The lord

 

 

 

 

 

under a tree

 

prayers on pitr paksh

 

for the ancestors

 

 

 

The offering of food is considered to be accepted by ancestors if a crow arrives and devours the food.The crow is considered to be a messenger from the world of spirits.

 

A world beyond beckons……

 

 

pics by sunder iyer.