Hampi in Karnataka, India is an UNESCO site, a site of rich heritage of sculpture, architecture, culture and history. Hampi, the glorious capital of  the great Vijayanagara empire.The area of about 26 sq, Km. is studded with ruins of temples, small  and grand temples. Many of these are restored to great extent and others might have been buried under the ground completely destroyed.

Among this large bevy of magnificent temples Virupaksha temple holds a special place due to many reasons.

Virupaksha temple , we can trace it back to our mythological references. Hemkuta hills on which this temple is located is said to be the place where Lord Shiva was doing his penance[ tapsya, dhyan] when Kamdev, God of love disturbed Him in order to help the local girl Pampa who was deeply in love with the lord and wanted to marry Him. Pampa was ultimately successful in impressing Lord by her severe penance and deep devotion and He agreed to marry her but in the process Kamdev had to bear the burnt of Shivas anger and that too literally. Shiva opened His third eye in anger and Kamdev turned into ashes. So here Shiva opened His third eye. Does it have any relation with Shiva being worshiped here as Virupaaksha? Aksha means eye, Virup means formless- formless eye. In deeper sense it refers to consciousness — seeing without eyes, feeling without skin, means absorbing everything without the help of sense organs and that is the state of yoga samidhi. On these hills Shiva was in samadhi awastha.

The recorded history of this temple is from seventh century A.D. Inscriptions from ninth century are still there in temple premises. The inner sanctum of temple is older than the Vijayanagara empire. This temple has a history of active worship of more than 2000 years.It is believed that despite various attacks, destruction of mighty Vijayanagar empire, ravages of Hampi in the hands of time, the puja, archna in the temple continued uninterrupted. This in itself is very reassuring. It strengthens our faith in the Super being, the divine entity.

Exterior of temple-—The east facing gate is the main gate of the temple. In front of it is about one kilometer long bazar with shops on both the sides of wide path. The lines of colonnaded shop reflect on the great planning skills of the people in power at that time. At the end of the Bazar there sits a giant monolithic Nandi on high platform facing the temple. In Lepakshi too the big monolithic Nandi sits about a kilometer away from Virupaksha temple. What could have been the thought behind this? Why Nandis were not made just in front of the temples or inside the temples? In Brihdeshwara, Tanjore too the Nandi idol is mammoth but it is inside the temple. Though placed under a separate canopy, on a separate high raised platform but inside temple premises just outside the door leading to Garbhgrah but in these two Virupaksha temples they are placed at a distance. Does it have anything to do with this particular form of Shiva?

Gopuram of Virupaksha temple – The gopura on the bazar side was under renovation when we visited Hampi. However even the horizontally, vertically rods fitted all around the lofty gopura were not able to mar the grandeur, the majesty of the nine storied gopura. Another gopura is on the tank side. This too is built almost in the same style and grandeur. The progressively narrowing figure of gopuram is built of brick and mortar. there are exquisitely sculpted characters and figures on the lower tiers of the nine story Gopuram. In every storey in the middle is a small door like open structure. Somebody told that there is provision of going to the top of the Gopuram, May be there are stairs inside the structure. Not sure about that. just a thought. On the top of Gopuram there are two horn like projections at each end and in the middle is placed Kalash.

 

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The shape of Gopuram always remind me of hands with folded palms. The entire structure as if speaks on behalf of us…. we send our reverential salutations to Almighty, up there.

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This is Kanakgiri gopura side of the temple, the holy tank side of the temple. I spent an evening on it’s bank. The still waters of the tank with reflection of Gopura nestled close to it’s heart appeared to say a clear heart is the abode of the sacred and pious entities. How pacifying and calming was it’s impact. Far and wide the distant blue horizon invited one to drop all the binding chains and soar high with stretched wings and light heart to pastures unknown. The deep waters of tank locked the gaze and took it deep up to the core of the being. These are the moments when I forget that I exist.

Kalyan Madapam

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This Mandapam in the temple courtyard with carved pillars and painted ceiling is an exquisite example of the impeccable skills of artists of the Vijayanagar empire period. This mandapam is said to be the contribution of one of the most famous king of Vijayanagar empire, Krishnadeva Raya. It is known as Kalyan Mandapam or Rang Mandapam. The mythological figures carved on the pillars, the carving on the panels above the pillars and the colourful depiction of various mythological anecdotes leave one spellbound.Such treasures of our rich heritage not only fascinate us but prompt us to explore more, to learn more, to go deeper.

 

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A closure look of the paintings on the ceiling of the mandapam. The colours still retain their brightness though centuries have passed.

 

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Another look of the Kalyan Madapam

 

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Second Courtyard

A small three tiered gopura leads us to the second courtyard of the temple. The outer and the first courtyard houses architecturally beautiful structures but this second courtyard houses the soul of the temple. Not only the main shrines of Virupaksha Shiva, the consort of the local goddess  Pampa[ pampa is associated with river Tungbhadra] but also many shrines are fitted in between the collonaded pathway encircling the courtyard. Even when the day is sparkling blue and gold outside certain niches and antechambers in this section are dusky with some sun rays filtering  in at some places. A small shrine tucked in the wall, a lone deepak burning steady, devotees sitting here and there engrossed in their own inside world– the entire area pulsate with deep positive energy. You sit quietly with your eyes closed for few minutes and the murmurs of tourists gradually turns into whispers and then a complete silence engulfs you and a little blue glow suffused your inside. The pervading energy makes you feel secured and protected , a feeling of being in womb.

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Some other deities are Bhuvaneshwari, Pataleshwara, Navgrah, Nagas, and Ganesha, Hanumana

There are some shrines outside Kanakgiri Gopura, on the side of tank.

 

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The inverted  shadow image of the gopura on the wall of one of the ante image is another attraction of the temple. The pin hole camera effect.The shadow falls on the wall which is close to the rear end of the temple, quite far away from the entry gopura.

 

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Another special feature of the temple is a big kitchen and the water connectivity system here. Water from river Tungbhadra was carried directly to the the temple kitchen through underground canal system. I am not very sure whether the system is functional presently or not but the network of pipelines can be seen.

The annual chariot festival celebrated in February every year and marriage festivity activities of Virupaksha and Pampa too take place with great fervor.

 

Visiting Virupaksha temple at Hampi was an enriching experience for me in more than one way. It took me back to glorious pages of history of my land, my race and strengthened my being like that tree whose roots go deep inside earth and it faces the rough weather with  faith on bonds that hold it firmly.

All the pictures by Sunder Iyer (more…)

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.

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.

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

 

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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.

 

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Like me do you too find a Ganesha reflected here?

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We started from Bangalore at about 6 A.M and reached Lepakshi by 8 O’clock.Lepakshi is a small non-decrepit town in Anantpur district of Andhra Pradesh Veerbhadreshwara temple at Lepakshi  is one of the finest example of  artistry of craftsmen of that era.Grand, massive sculptures, delicate, intricate carvings on stone, ceiling adorned with murals depicting mythological tales…this temple has a lot to offer to leave us spellbound.

Standing below the high raised platform on which the huge splendid Shivlinga is carved, is a humbling experience.Three coils of Naga around Shivlinga led to its seven hooded magnificently carved head stretching over Shivalinga.Craning my neck as I tried to look at the topmost point of the entire sculpture, i had a sudden feeling as if the  canopy of those seven hoods is descending directly from the bright blue morning sky overhead. The Linga transformed into that mythical  pillar of light connecting the earth and the heaven, the  manifestation of limitless Shiva energy. Perhaps it is not just the grace, the magnificence of masterpiece carved by the great artists of yesteryear but all their commitment and devotion which to this day start resonating in our hearts once we stand there silently with our   heads bowed, imbibing the  sacred spirit.The open courtyard bathed in soft morning glow gave the entire scene a haloed touch. Shadows in the covered verandah walking along the courtyard appeared to be harboring many untold stories. Such are the moments when you feel at peace with yourself.

 

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Chiselled on the other side of the huge rock behind the Nagalinga is  Ganesha, calm, quiet and peaceful.I love Ganesha idol in this form – the big belly resting on the ground, the legs denoting the sitting posture and his small vahan mouse in front.  Various symbolical interpretations are available for His body parts and His Vahana but to me He radiates substance, faith, confidence and dignity, He always fills me with a kind of intrinsic joy, a kind of happiness you feel on being comfortable with your own being. And the tiny Vahana– more than anything else it’s our faith that make us traverse through the life.

 

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The Natya Mandapam of Veerbhadreshwara temple at Lepakshi is a sculpted ode to the artistry of carvers and chisellers of sixteenth century Southern India.Impressive sculptures of divine dancers, drummers and other musical instrument players in half-reliefs on the granite pillars are so intense and alive that you almost feel them in actions. The rhythm in shapes, palpable emotions, glorious manifestations impart the stones a dream like feel. Early morning sunlight tip toes the mandapam from one side and the shadows in the pavilion simmer, the dark corners get suffused with golden dust and the bygone era as if awakens…..

 

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This Natya Mandapam has about seventy pillars and one of these is an architecture wonder beyond comprehension.The hanging pillar– this pillar like all other pillars is attached to the ceiling but does not touch the floor below. Such heavy granite pillar…how can it hang ! Presently it stands a bit dislodged from it’s original position. It is said that during British times certain enthusiastic engineers tried to fathom the secret behind this marvel and in turn, the pillar suffered. However faith of people put it on divine pedestal. It is believed if you pass any cloth underneath it,the wish you sought will be fulfilled.

 

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All pictures by Sunder Iyer

 

Lolarka Kund near Tulsi ghat in Varanasi can be traced back to the Purans. Reference of lolarka is found in Kashi khand of Skand Puran. The description says that Lolarka is located at the confluence of Ganges and Assi.

Presently it is a pond about 15mt below the ground level and steep stairs from three sides descend to the  rectangular water pool .On the fourth side there is an arc shaped gate on a high wall. Water through this gate flows into a nearby well.

On lolark shashthi, falling on sixth day of the bright half of Bhadrapad, corresponding to later half of August devotees in large numbers throng at the kund to take a dip. The popular belief is that if issueless couples take a dip in the pond on this particular day, they certainly will be blessed with a child. The custom is that couple take bath together tying their knot and then leave their clothes and all other possessions on their body at the time of taking bath there at kund only. While worshiping at the kund they have to offer one fruit also and then they are not supposed to eat that particular fruit whole of their life. After birth on next lolark shashthi the child is brought there for God’s blessings.

The most sustainable feature of our culture is definitely faith and what varied way of expression we have got. Every thing is steeped in symbolism. The things, the customs and traditions are not just what we perceive through eyes, the meaning goes much deeper. This custom of leaving clothes and all other possessions on body there on the steps leading to kund, does it not instigates /inspires or asks the couple to leave their differences, ego and clashes there itself. It beckons for a new beginning with renewed faith in that supreme power and in each other.

Lolark Kund is located in Bhadaini near Tulasi ghat. The day we visited the place was quiet and gates leading to pond were also locked. We were told that gates are unlocked for public on Lolarka Shashthi only. Near the well is a small temple and a covered verandah. Inside the verandah earthen furnaces in a row were the mute testimonies of the activities of the festival days when people from far flung places visit the place and stay and cook here.

Lolarka is a holy seat devoted to Sun God. Literal meaning of lolark is trembling. The  story  in vamana purana which throws light on this name of lolarka aditya goes like this.

Sukeshi, the son of demon king vidyutkeshi was blessed by lord Shiva that he could neither be defeated nor slain by his enemies. Happy with his devotion Shiva allotted Sukeshi an aerial city between heaven and earth. Under the pious leadership of their devout king the demons became very righteous and holy. This was not  in keeping with the duties allotted to asuras by virtue of their birth. Besides that the glory of the aerial city of Sukeshi started to outshine the brilliance of sun. This invited Surya’s wrath. With his angry glare he sent the aerial city reeling down to earth. As sukeshi was Shiva’s ardent devotee, some celestial bodies call out to shiva telling him that his devotee is falling. Shiva’s anger was directed towards Sun. He focussed all his fire towards him proving that his single stare has more brilliance than his fire. Such was the fire of shiva’s anger that the trembling sun hid at the cool, holy confluence of ganges and assi to avoid lord shiva’s wrath. This mythological tale not only establishes Shiva’s supremacy over sun god but also postulates that Shiva did not give much importance to the rule of karmas by virtue of varna rather he believed that one’s destiny is guided by one’s karmas.

Fire and water are two most revered elements of Hindu religion, hence the place of their meeting was considered to be one of the most sacred places on earth. Both these elements are essential to fertility perhaps that lies behind the faith of boon of fertility i.e. birth of child.

The temple near the pool, on the same platform is located the well.

The Lolarka Kund and the steep steps descending to  the pool

The earthen furnaces [chulha]where devotees cook during their stay here

The Arc shaped gate through which water from the pool enters the well.

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

 

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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.