The Holy Lake Manasarovar!

Lake Mansarovar is a freshwater lake in the Tibet autonomous region. It is very close in distance to the sources of important rivers such as Brahmaputra, Karnali, Sutlej and Indus. The word “Manasarovara” originates from Sanskrit, which is a combination of the words “Manas” & “Sarovara”; manas meaning mind and sarovara meaning lake. According to the Hindu scriptures, the lake was first created in the mind of the Lord Brahma after which it manifested on Earth.

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When you reach Mansarovar Lake, the light blue expanse of water nestled amongst the high Himalayan Mountains looks heavenly.  One of the most serene and sublime beauty will be in front of you.  The first instinct was to go and touch the water and take a dip after the long arduous journey we had taken.

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This body of water is considered one of the last remnants of the Tethys Ocean, which was the crucible of human and other animal evolution.

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Mansarovar is of religious significance to four religions – Hindu, Bon, Buddhism and Jainism. In Hinduism, it is believed that one who drinks from this lake will reach the home of Lord Shiva upon death. In Bon religion, this lake is associated with Zhang Zhung Meri. The founder of the religion apparently washed himself in the lake. In Jainism, this lake is associated with the Thirtannkara, Rishaba.

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This lake is also the home for the Hamsa goose in the summer time. The Hamsa goose is a very important symbol of the mythology, representing wisdom and beauty.

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In Buddhism, this lake is considered holy because Buddhists believe their god was conceived near this lake and that he meditated here several times. Buddhists associate Mansarovar with the legendary Anotatta Lake, where Buddha’s mother, Queen Maya, conceived him. Legend says that the Queen, while in a dream state, was transported to Mansarovar by the Gods and bathed in the lake’s holy waters. When her body was purified and her womb thus ready to receive Buddha, he appeared from the direction of Kailash riding a white elephant.

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Given its mythical importance to Buddhists, a ring of eight Buddhist monasteries once surrounded the lake, which was visualized as the Wheel of Life. A complete parikrama of the lake, passing all eight monasteries, represented a symbolic turn of the Wheel. Through this act, a pilgrim would accumulate a variety of blessings and benefits.

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Even today you can witness the past of Tibet. You get to see many of the Buddhist temple remains on the shores of Lake Manasarovar.

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The Treat of Eid.

If you are in any Muslim community place during Eid, and if you are a foody, then rest assured to get treated to some really delightful food. All through my life I had Muslim friends and would enjoy treats at their places. But its the street food in all such places which attracts me more. Visit Jama Masjid area during Eid. Or in Hyderabad. All such places to me looks heavenly place for food. I enjoyed Eid in Turkey when posted in Israel. 

And it was same even at Hotan. A Muslim dominated place in South China. And yes, the street food is really yummy!!! 

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Jhator -Gruesome but confronts Death directly!

Buddhist religion has three schools of thoughts or branches and all three have different focus but follow the basic teachings of Buddha. The first one is Theraveda Buddhism, the second, Mahayana Buddhism and the third being Vajrayana Buddhism. Vajrayana Buddhism, which is mainly followed by the Tibetans, is also known as the Tantric Buddhism due to its reliance on sacred texts called tantras. Of many other rituals, I will stick to one followed by them as part of burial after death, called as “Jhator”.

When death occurs, three forms of burial are used: cremation, water burial, and Jhator. Because of lack of wood/forest, cremation is almost absent in Tibet unless rich. Cities which have flowing rivers do follow the water burial. But majority Tibetans follow Jhator, which means “giving alms to the birds,” or Sky burial, a phrase coined by Europeans.

Tibetan Buddhists believe life is not over at death, but merely entering a rebirth. Monks emphasise this cyclical nature of existence to dispel the fear of death in Tibetan society and help people prepare for a new beginning. They believe that the corpse is nothing more than an empty vessel. The spirit, or the soul, of the deceased has exited the body to be reincarnated into another circle of life. Tibetan people witness sky burial and confront death directly. They know the impermanence of life!!

Interestingly, this is the same teaching that Lord Vasudev passes on to us in Bhagavat Gita, Chapter-2, Verse-22. वासांसि जीर्णानि यथा विहाय नवानि गृह्णाति नरोऽपराणि। तथा शरीराणि विहाय जीर्णान्यन्यानि संयाति नवानि देही।। Meaning: As a person gives up old and worn out garments and accepts new apparel, similarly the embodied soul giving up old and worn out bodies verily accepts new bodies. Hence this physical body of ours is nothing when the soul leaves it.

When a person dies, a funeral procession takes the body of the person to the burial site. Family members sit afar, so that they are present yet unable to see everything. Whole process is done by few specialised monks and no one from outside world is allowed near the place to see. The Tibetan monk places the naked corpse on a sacred clearing and steps away to mumble a prayer, and then he cut the body into pieces. Performing a Tibetan tradition that has haunted these grounds for centuries, the monk strips flesh from bone and flay the body in order to expose the soft tissue. They also beat the bones and flesh against the rock to create a pulp, which is mixed with barley flour, tea, butter, and milk. This mixture is then left for the vultures to devour.

Even for Water Burial similar method is used whereby the body is similarly cut and then thrown in water for the fishes to devour. Jhator may seem very gruesome but actually it is a highly ecological method of disposing the dead. Also this way they make sure the body comes to some use even after death!

Here are few photographs of this ritual taken from a distance. They were taken at Sky Burial site near Seda Monastery. Last one is the Sky Burial site at the base of Mt Kailash.

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Even the children are made aware of this cycle of birth

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Subtle family member after Sky Burial gets over.

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Mysterious temple at the site.

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Skull Heads on a building at the site.

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The Sky Burial Site.

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Burial Site another view

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Sky Burial site at the base of Mount Kailash

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Kanha to bik jaata hai, Pyaar ke do bol se!

 

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Maakan churakar jisne khaaya, Bansi bajakar jisne nachaya
Kanha hai uska naam, Brijwasiyo ka dil jisne lubhaya

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Ek haath mein murli sohe, Duje haath chakra sudarshan
Kanha hi hain jinke ungli pe, Naache vishaal Govardhan.

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Journey of Swastika through years!

 The auspicious symbol of the swastika is very commonly used in Hinduism. It is usually a major part of the decoration for festivals and special ceremonies like weddings. The word ‘swastika’ is a Sanskrit word (‘svasktika’) meaning ‘It is’, ‘Well Being’, ‘Good Existence, and ‘Good Luck’. However, it is also known by different names in different countries – like ‘Wan’ in China, ‘Manji’ in Japan, ‘Fylfot’ in England, ‘Hakenkreuz’ in Germany and ‘Tetraskelion’ or ‘Tetragammadion’ in Greece.

The clockwise swastika is one of the 108 symbols of the god Vishnu as well as a symbol of the sun and of the sun god Surya. The anti-clockwise swastika (called a sauvastika) usually represents the terrifying goddess Kali, night and magic. However, this form of the swastika is not “evil” and it is the form most commonly used in Buddhism.

Vedas are possibly the oldest sacred texts and you find mentions of Swastika in Rig Veda, Atharva Veda and even Yajur Veda. Swastika has always been with the sanatan dharma. But when you do research on its journey, you realise how this has been prevalent from ages in different religion and civilizations. How and why did so many diverse countries and cultures, across many eras, use the same symbol and apparently with the same meaning, I do find it intriguing. In West, Swastika is now more associated with Nazis and Hitler. But use of it can be seen long before that and by different religion. What was common was the fact that everyone considered it as symbol of good luck. And it do proves a point – Humanity brings every religion together.

North Pole Star is called Dhruva Nakshatra in Sanskrit literature. Saptarishi are seven stars of the Big Dipper named after seven Rishis in our Vedic scriptures. North Pole Star is the center of Kalachakra around which Saptarshi Mandala revolves around a fixed centre on clockwise direction. Through the four seasons, the SaptaRishis form a swastika in the sky. I think this is the first Swastika of this planet earth.

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Mathematics Behind Dwadash Jyotirlings

When you look nature closely you realise Nature is more of an animated mathematical constructs. And when you start understanding and pondering on it, it leads to a new beauty and astonishment. It leads to a greater understanding of my place in the scheme of things in this creation! It’s hard to wrap your head around that animals, flowers, trees, mountains and galaxies and universe; even our bodies are nothing more than self-replicating fractals of an interactive biological software program. Yes that is how it is!!

Bee hive has a geometric pattern, migrating birds travel in perfect formation just as schools of fish do in the ocean. Most of all these blueprints are based on the Golden Ratio and the Fibonacci spiral in this creation. The Golden ratio and the Fibonacci spiral Fibonacci_Spiraloccur everywhere in nature: in the spirals of DNA and in the dimensions of the earth and moon and planets. (Click Here to know about Fibonacci Numbers – LINK)  No matter where we look we see fractal geometry. An interesting example of fractal geometry is the human finger. A finger has three joints and is a fractal of our arm which also has three joints; and so it goes, big or small, repetitive fractal patterning is the same. Personally I feel nothing is random in nature, and nothing happens by chance. Continue reading

Five Kailash Yatra!

For past many years I had this wish of visiting all the five Kailash. It is said this gives you salvation. Frankly speaking I don’t think just visiting these Kailash can give you salvation, there’s lot more you’ll need to do. Getting salvation I feel is not so easy.

The Five Kailash Yatras are able to transfer devotees’s physical journey into a spiritual experience, a journey in search of truth. The five Kailash Yatras is perhaps one of the most arduous calling pilgrimages. It entails long pilgrimages to five holy sites in upper reaches of Himalayas to seek the blessing of Lord Shiva who, as per the Hindu scriptures and legends, supposedly reside on the holy mountain peaks. Surrendering yourself through Bhakti lets you experience the oneness of “Jiva and Shiva”, the union of jivatma with parmatma!

  1. Shrikhand Mahadev or Shrikhand Kailash

When Bhasmasur got the boon from Lord Shiva that he can turn anyone into ash by placing his palm on anyone’s head, the Asura wanted to test if the boon really works by testing it on Lord Shiva. So Lord Shiva started running from this Asura. Finally Lord came to Shrikhand and sat down in meditation in the 50ft stone shivling till Lord Vishnu came and killed Bhasmasura by tricking him in putting his hand on his own head. Later Mata Parvati did long Akhanda Upasana to break his Samadhi, whereby she filled Nainsar Lake with her tears; Lord Shiva came out after breaking the shivling. Shrikhand Mahadev is considered to be the abode of Lord Shiva. Its peak is 5155 meters high from main sea level. The journey passes through beautiful mist-laden forests filled with beautiful flowers and huge trees. Then the journey enters the difficult Himalayan terrain where you need to even cross few glaciers.

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Shrikhand Kailash

  1. Kinnaur/Kinner Kailash

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Adi Kailash – Lord Shiva’s oldest adobe!

Many think the Om Parvat is in itself the Adi Kailash. That is not the case. Om Parvat is located near Nabhidhang while Adi Kailash is located at different place, near Sin La pass and near Brahma Parvat. As per mythology, Pandavas had stayed here with Sage Vyaasa and meditated for a long period. Even Ravana, a great devote of Shiva, is said to have come from far off Lanka to pray to Lord Shiva here. This Kailash is considered to be the oldest adobe of our Lord Shiva and Parvati.

Adi Kailash area is full of great natural beauty, peace and serenity. Though in a very remote area, the Darshan (view) of Lord Shiva’s abode is well worth the effort it takes to get there. With the roar of urban life receding to the background one finds the healing quietude of this region conducive enough to turn inward and be one’s own listener.

The trek was really treacherous at places especially when you reach Budhi passing Malpa. It was like a test of our endurance. At Malpa we did stop for few minutes to pray for the souls of all those travelers who died while in sleep during the Uttarakhand deluge after a cloud burst.

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Art on Varanasi Ghats

Unsanctioned arts on streets have been condemned too many times. But for me they are always piece of art. Something we need to appreciate. I had earlier posted about same in Israel. Israel Graffiti. Now for another place!

The ghats of Varanasi have always been an attraction to visitors. You always find it buzzing with people busy in different activities. The boat rides along the colourful and lively ghats, funeral pyres by the river’s edge, twisting lanes full of people, cows, bicycles and hole-in-the-wall shops selling tea, local sweets, spices and devotional bling, that’s what you see here. And in all this you invariably fail to notice many wall arts on the ghats.

Though many like me might like these arts/paintings but they might get removed from the ghats soon. Varanasi is considered as the heritage city of India. There are many heritage buildings on the ghats. The ghats itself are considered to be part of heritage status of this city. Defacing century’s old stone walls of the ghats along the Ganga by random graffiti, paintings and designs made of harmful chemicals is causing harm to the structures. Removal of these paintings has already been initiated with ASI, BHU and few other organization joining hands. Continue reading

The Little known Masroor Rock Cut Temple!

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30 odd km from Kangra town, there is this rock cut temple, which is hardly known to even people of that district. It is the Masroor Rock Cut Temples which many call as Himachal Pyramids or Elloras of Himachal.

These rock cut temples of Masroor have been carved out of the sandstone monoliths which make up the landscape. No one seems to know who carved them. There are many legendary stories that go round.  Few locals say it was built by Pandavas. There’s another legend attached to the construction of this temple, it is said that these temples were carved out at night, and work had to be halted when it was morning, which is why some shrines remained unfinished. Historians have identified that sculptures in the Masroor temples have been shaped in late Gupta style, most likely in the second half of the 8th century. There are not known inscriptions in the temple and no written accounts about this temple – thus it is rather a guess.

Legends apart, it is the architecture of the temple that is awe-inspiring. It has been built in Nagara style. This is very important style in Hindu temple architecture, with characteristic beehive formed towers. Every design is intricately carved. The temple has black stone idols of Ram Lakshman and Sita. But in the centre of the temple is a figure of shiva which brings a theory that possibly the temple originally was of Mahadev. The shikhars of some of the temples remain standing and are a supreme display of the craftsmen of the 7th -8th century who overcame the limitations of the existing rock structures to shape and carve their creations. The rock-cut style started in the reign of the Pallava King, Narsingha Varman (630-668 AD) during the 1st half of the 7th century.  It reached its climax in the Kailasha Temple at Ellora.  Though rock-cut caves are common in South India, yet, temples cut out of free standing rocks, known to archaeologists and art critics, are only 4 in number – Rathas of Mammalapuram, Kailashas at Ellora, Dharmanatha temples in Dharmnar and this one as Masroor. The Rathas & Kailashas are built in the Dravidian style, whereas the Masroor and Dharmnar ones are in the Nagara style. Continue reading

Breaking illogical tradition taboos in Vrindavan!

Our traditions are nice to follow, feels great too. But what about the orthodox traditional practices, those that are harsh and follows discrimination? Most of the times you’ll find the “Thekedars” of these traditions saying it’s in shastras knowing well that common man might not have in-depth knowledge about our shastras. Nowhere in our shastras there is any sort of discrimination. And many such discriminations are attached to our Widows.

We had the shameful tradition “Sati Pratha” at one time. Thankfully it has been eradicated now. This too was marked as a “Hindu Ritual” and widows were made to follow. But that is nowhere true as far as our shastras goes. The term Sati is derived from the original name of the goddess Sati, who self-immolated because she was unable to bear her father Daksha’s humiliation of her husband Lord Shiva. Later Sati became a term in our shastras for women in Hindu mythology who were exceptionally devoted to their husbands and righteous. Property tussles was the root reason behind this practice, with male heirs preferring to do away with a widow, leaving the inheritance entirely in their hands. The Brahmin who helps in the burning would get a hefty share so they brought forward all theories on glorifying Sati Pratha.

Sati Pratha was ended but there still remained many discriminatory practices. A widow was expected to stay away from all festivities, renounce all earthly pleasures, wearing only white, shave off hair, and eat veg food. For big majority of widows life was more like “Living sati”. Many of these taboos have been reformed but complete reform is still awaited. Continue reading

Happy Holi 2016 – Lathmar Holi of Braj

All of us in India must have celebrated Holi – the very joyful, energetic  festival of colour. Holi – Popularly known as “Phagwah” in Assam, “Dol jatra” in West Bengal and “Fagu” in Nepal, the festival is celebrated with different names and traditions across India.

But what if I tell you that there is a village in Mathura district, Barsana where people play Holi with wooden sticks? Yes, this village near Vrindavan is the birth place of our dear Radha Rani and lies just beside Nand Gaon, our Kanha’s village. Here, men from Nand Gaon come to play Holi with the girls of Barsana and hope of raising their flag over Shri Radhikaji’s temple. But, instead of colours they are greeted with sticks by the gopis, the women folk of Barsana village. Hence, the Holi get its new name here Lathmar Holi. As the name suggests, “Lath” – Stick, “Mar” – To hit, this is Holi played by hitting sticks.

As per Hindu mythology Lord Krishna visited his beloved Radha’s village on this day and playfully teased her and her friends by applying colours to them. The Gopis took offence and chased Lord Krishna and his friends away by running after them with lathis (Sticks). Men and Women of Braj even today clash in a colorful display of battle. Men of Nand Gaon raid Barsana with the hopes of raising their flag over Shri Radhikaji’s temple. Continue reading

Punno Maati – Not so Uplifting Custom of Durga Puja

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There are many rituals and traditions that we follow blindly without really knowing the true reason behind them. And one I would address today is connected to Durga Puja, especially the making of idol. So many times I have visited the Kumartuli of Kolkata just to watch the Kumors making different idols of Gods and Goddesses. Kumortolas across Bengal is most busy before Durga Puja when they are busy making n-number of idols of Maa, each one as beautiful as the other.

Kumartuli-2But this idol making of Durga has a custom, soil collected from a prostitutes home is used to partially make the idol. This soil is called “Punno Maati” or the pure soil. It’s said that when a man enters the porch of a prostitute, the “Nishiddo Palli” meaning the forbidden territory, he leaves behind outside all his purity and virtues. Hence the soil outside is considered pure. There’s another view that because Maa does not make difference among human beings. So the soil from outside a prostitute’s home is used to show inclusiveness. The destitute sections of society are shunned by all and through this process; it makes them feel a part of society and shows them that they too belong to the world as much as the others. Continue reading

Rani ka Vav – The Unesco World Heritage Site

Ancient architectures have always fascinated me. In Gujarat I am getting to see some really great spellbinding architecture that is bound to leave anyone in awe. Rani ka Vav is among those which was built more than thousand years ago. Vav means stepwell and because it was built by Rani Udayamati in memory of her husband the Solanki ruler Bhimdev between 1022-1063 AD , it’s called Rani ki Vav. In reality, it is so beautiful I guess it would be equally appropriate to call it Vav ki Rani!

The step-well later got flooded and eventually remained buried under the earth for many hundred years! Believe it or not, it was excavated by Archaeological Survey of India only in the recent 1980’s! You will not believe your eyes (I did not, and you may feel free to blame me in case I underestimated your capability by an unwarranted extrapolation) to see how the carvings still looked so fresh, no way look to have been buried under earth and how on earth ASI has carried out such a marvellous work of excavation without damaging the structures! Continue reading

Somnath – The Spectacular Resurrected Temple.

The temple city of Somnath or Prabhas Patan is situated in the state of Gujarat on the Arabian Sea. This is the first among the twelve Jyotirlings. Since ancient times, Prabhas Patan has been a pilgrimage center, being the confluence of the mythological Saraswati, Hiranya and Kapila. Legend has it that Lord Shiva’s Kalbhairav linga is situated at Prabhas. It is also associated with the moon as the Moon God is also said to have worshipped this Shivling. This is also the reason why this temple is popularly known as Somnath, the one named after the moon. The present temple, Kailash Mahameru Prasad is built in the Chalukya style of temple architecture and reflects the inherent skill of sompuras, Gujarat’s master masons. It has the shikhara, the Garbhagriha, the sabha mandap and the nritya mandap.

On the Southern side of the temple, on the wall at the sea shore, there is a pillar. It is called “Baanstambh” बाणस्तंभ्. On the top of the pillar is placed a globe of Earth and an arrow pierces through it. On the pole is inscribed “Aasmudrant Dakshindhuvparyant Abaadhit Jyotirmarga”. It means If you start travelling from Somnath Temple towards South in Arabian Sea, you will not meet any land until you reach the South Pole or the Antarctica. The temple has been built in such a position that there is no land between the Somnath temple and Antarctica.

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Baanstambh

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