Category Archives: Hinduism

Goddess Yamuna

The Yamuna River is the second longest tributary of the River Ganges and it is regarded in both Hindu mythology and theology as a representation of the Goddess Yamuna who is none other than the sister of the God of Death, Yama – the very personification of Dharma.

Yama and Yamuna are the son and daughter of the Sun God Surya and the grandson and the granddaughter of the Primordial Creatrix, Aditi, and therefore are Devas or descendents of the race of Gods.

Yama and Yamuna were born onto what could only be described as the Hindu Garden of Eden and were its first habitants. They were the sole occupants of this earthly paradise, a place that was unsoiled by the rigors and turmoil of the physical world and whose inhabitants were untouched by the birth and death cycle and were not subjected to the turning of the karmic wheel. It was a land where the sun never set and it remained perpetually and continuously in the sky.

The Epic of Gilgamesh gives us some clues as to its location and whereabouts. Following the death of his close friend, Enkidu, Gilgamesh goes in search of the hereafter so that he won’t be touched by old age or death and from all accounts the paradise that he was searching for was the Harappa Civilization or the Indus Valley civilization epitomized by Mohenjo Daro, or the “Mound of the Dead” that flourished between 2600 and 1900 BC.

The stone tablets that the poem Gilgamesh was inscribed on date back to about 2100 BC, so it’s more or less during the same time-frame, give or take a few hundred years.

Does the term or the phrase “Mound of the Dead” have any reference to the God of Death, Yama, or does it implicate him in anyway? – the answer in short is yes.

The supreme God of the Indus or Lord of the Indus was Shiva and in seals and other artifacts found in the Indus Valley there are depictions of Shiva and two other Gods that are synonymous to Shiva, Rudra and Yama. The three Gods (Shiva, Rudra and Yama) are also associated to another indigenous Harappa God – Kallan.

I’m not going to elaborate on Kallan at this stage and I’ll leave it for another day but it is clear that Yama was a significant presence in the Indus Valley and that implies a strong Vedic link or connotation because Yama is a Vedic God.

According to the Vedas, Yama is an Āditya (child or descendent of Aditi), and therefore was granted dominion over the world after death, not to be confused with the hereafter but a transitory world that is synonymous to Yama or the Kingdom of Yama.

According to the legend, after years of isolated existence Yamuna fell in love with Yama and sought a union between the both but the God of Death and Virtue refused and counseled Yamuna instead to seek the tender embrace of another.

Thus shunned, Yamuna undertook a journey of self contemplation and wandered far from her brother. She returned much later to find him asleep beneath a tree. She shook him and tried to awaken him, to let him know that she had realized the error of her ways, but Yama neither moved nor stirred.

His body had gone completely cold and despite the resplendent heat that pervaded the earthly paradise, his body was devoid of warmth. It eventually dawned on Yamuna that Yama was no longer alive.

Yamuna started to cry and the tears rolled down her cheeks like little streams and flooded the ground below her feet. Yamuna vowed to cry for as long as the sun remained in the sky.

Realizing that their kindred and sibling was in mortal pain and that the world was in danger of being drowned by her tears the Devas conspired to create night and day.

Yamuna would cry during the day and only at night when the sun sets will her crying stop or abate. The tears that flow down Yamuna’s cheeks are, according to legend, the water that fills the river Yamuna.

There are a few temples dedicated to the Goddess Yamuna. The most famous Yamuna temple is located in the state of Uttarakhand at an altitude of 10, 797 feet.

Copyright © 2018 by Dyarne Ward

Goddess Ganga

The river Ganges is the third longest river in India and it is home to a host of rare aquatic species including the endangered South Asian River Dolphin which is split or divided into two exotic species, the Ganges River Dolphin and the Indus River Dolphin.

Many ancient kingdoms were situated along the river or close to its shores including the non-Vedic Kingdom of Magadha which was located in present day Bihar, just south of the Ganges River Basin.

The river according to both Hindu mythology and theology is a representation of the Goddess Ganga who comes to light in the Vamana Purana and she is none other than the daughter of Brahma.

The story begins when Vishnu at the behest of Aditi reincarnates in the physical world to end the reign of Bali who despite being born in the asura clan is a pious devotee of Vishnu.

Because of his devotion, he acquires enough powers to usurp the Devas (those who belong to the race of Gods) and conquer the three worlds (Triloka) or the three spheres of existence. The Devas who are suspicions of Bali’s intentions and apprehensive of his sudden rise to power appeal to Aditi, the Primordial Creatrix, as far as the Devas are concerned, for help, and she in turn extols Vishnu to intervene on behalf of the Devas.

Vishnu refuses at first but Aditi continues to plead and the mighty God not unaware of the dangers that Bali could pose to the Devas eventually relents.

As Vishnu’s next avatar starts to take shape, in the belly of the primeval ocean, the laments of the Devas grow louder, to the point that Vishnu is unable to complete the full term and is forced to manifest or appear prematurely and as a result his growth is stunted and he appears as a dwarf. Hence Vishnu’s Vamana avatar is also known as the dwarf avatar.

Vamana approaches Bali when the latter is performing an Ashwamedha and both Bali and Sukracharya, the Lord Preceptor of the Asuras, recognize Vamana for who he is but because Bali is a devote worshipper of Vishnu, he is pleased that the God has decided to grace the occasion with his presence, and offers to grant Vamana anything that he wishes for.

Vamana asks for all the land that he can cross in three steps and Bali readily agrees. As soon as Bali agrees Vamana grows in height and soon towers well above the sky and continues to grow indefinitely until he reaches the highest extremity of the present universe.

With his first step, he reaches Brahmaloka located in the highest precinct of the universe. As soon as Brahma senses that Vishnu has set foot on Brahmaloka he reaches for his water-pot to wash the foot of the mighty God. The water that flows from the sprout of his water pot is the Goddess Ganga.

Ganga swept through the heavens and through the celestial kingdom of Indra, her currents swift and strong, and she remained there until she was brought down to the earth to wash away the remains of Asamanjas and the other sixty thousand sons of King Sagara, with the help of Shiva, after they had been reduced to ashes by the sage Kapila.

According to the story, the spirits of Asamanjas and the sixty thousand sons of King Sagara remained behind and were prevented from crossing over because their last rites had not been completed in the prescribed manner. Kapila later granted the son of Asamanjas, Anśumat, the boon that his grandson will be able to wash away the sins of his father and his uncles.

By the time Anśumat’s grandson, Bhagirath, assumed the throne, the souls had turned malevolent and malicious and had begun to precipitate death and destruction in the kingdom of Kosala.

Bhagirath consulted the sages and discovered that the malady that had befallen his kingdom was caused by the restless souls of the sons of King Sagara and the only way he could rid the kingdom of the evil that plagued it was to wash away the remains of Sagara’s sons or as custom dictated have the ashes scattered in running water.

Unable to retrieve the ashes of Sagara’s sons, he asked Brahma for help who in turn told him that the ashes of Sagara’s sons could only be washed away by the Goddess Ganga. However, he cautioned that Ganga was a willful and turbulent river and should she fall directly onto the earth it would tear the world asunder and therefore he told him to seek the help of Shiva to bring Ganga down from the heavens without destroying the world.

Bhagirath meditated upon Shiva and in time the God appeared before him and agreed to help him. Shiva sat in the meditative full lotus position and with the aid of Brahma convinced Ganga to fall unto the world. In order to break the fall, she first fell on Shiva’s matted dreadlocks and then flowed from his hair to the mortal world. It is said that bathing in the cool, crisp waters of the River Ganges absolves one of his or her sins.

There are very few temples dedicated to the Goddess Ganga and she isn’t worshipped in orthodox or contemporary Hindu circles and that might be due to her forceful and uncompromising nature.

One of the most famous temples dedicated to the Goddess Ganga is in Bharatpur. It is an exquisite two storied red sandstone temple built at the turn of the last century.

Copyright © 2018 by Dyarne Ward

Chandika

Chandika is a Hindu Goddess of some significance but she is rarely worshiped in orthodox Hindu circles and though she is mentioned in various shlokas and in the Devi Kavacham (armor of the Goddess) her worship is anything but common.

She is more worshiped in Nepal, especially among the hill tribes than anywhere else, and many of the rites and rituals accorded to her are shamanic in essence.

Before I go any further let me first elaborate on the word Chandi and the various meanings attached to it. The word Chandi simply means mistress and denotes a feminine power of greater authority. It has different connotations or implications and its interpretation depends on the context it is used in but all of them relate to a higher feminine power, for example the Chandi Path (the path of the Goddess).

Chandi in South-East Asia refers to small places of worship constructed in some of the South-East Asian nations like Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia by visiting traders (most likely).

These places of worship include, in addition to intricate carvings and sculptures, clay and terracotta representations of Hindu deities and other heavenly and celestial beings associated to Hinduism (Chandi No. 11 – Lembah Bujang, Kedah). It is safe to say that these Chandis were constructed at least a thousand years ago, if not earlier.

In addition to being places of worship I am convinced that these Chandis were markers that marked a trade route that connected various parts of ancient India to Southern China and the initial voyage to the Malay Peninsula and the Isles of Indonesia was made by sea i.e. the route was part maritime and part land.

If the origins of these Chandis were uncovered or unraveled, it would most likely shed more light on the mysterious religious rites and rituals of Angkor. It is in reality a facet of Hinduism that we know very little about.

These Chandis may have also served another purpose and I’m inclined to think that some of them were mausoleums that were erected to honor high-ranking members who died along the journey or local chieftains of some note.

They may have been an outflow of a unique blend of Hinduism that culminated in Angkor and the total shift outwards may have erased all tangible evidence of the source of these archaic rites and rituals that without doubt originated in the sub-continent. This can be adduced by the clearly discernible Vedic and Sanskrit influences.

The next meaning that is attached to Chandi is shamanic and it is tribal in essence. Chandi in this context refers to the returning spirit of a young maiden usually in the prime of her youth, deprived of the pleasures of existence because of an untimely death that occurred in a particularly brutal manner i.e. accidents or murders. It is usually the latter and it does not exclude ritualistic murders.

This is the reason why some sources refer to Chandi as a malevolent deity or a deity that is found in the most uncommon places. This type of worship is however limited only to specific hill tribes (Nepal).

Having clarified the meaning of the word Chandi, let me now elaborate on the Goddess Chandika. The Goddess is an extremely potent form or manifestation of the Goddess Durga and very much akin to the Goddess Chamunda (Chamundi), the slayer of the asuras, Chanda and Munda.

They are similar in that they both emanate from Durga but they are not the same. Chamunda is a Goddess that is worshiped in contemporary Hindu circles and this is made evident by the popular recital of her mantra “om aim hreem kleem chamundaye vichche”.

Chandika on the other hand is rarely worshiped in orthodox Hindu circles because it is, to put it mildly, difficult to channel the energy that one derives from her worship.

In most instances, she in only worshiped by those who are willing or competent enough to make the required sacrifices and in most cases this is limited to orthodox kysastrias including those who belong to the hill tribes of Nepal. She is a bali-devata and therefore she is a Goddess that is worshiped with offerings, often sacrificial in nature, made or performed in a stipulated manner.

According to most sources (shamanic) Chandika is a Goddess that picks or selects her worshipers and therefore her worship is not as popular as one would expect it to be.

Copyright © 2018 by Dyarne Ward

Hidimba Devi (Hidimbi)

Hidimba Devi (Hidimbi) is a Goddess who is primarily worshiped in the state of Himachal Pradesh. She is not an orthodox deity and she is from the race of rakshashas (giants) who according to the Puranas are descendants of the Sage Kashyapa, one of the 7 Saptarishis (according to the Mahabharata) i.e. the 7 sages who remain constant in each manvantara and the daughter of Daksha (one of the 10 manasa putras or those who were born from Brahma’s intellect) and Krodhavasha.

An interesting fact about the rakshashas is that, in addition to being gifted with tremendous strength, they also have the ability, though they look ferocious and intimidating in their natural state, to take human shape and form or assume any form that they desire for that matter, and they may appear as either male or female. In more contemporary terms, they are shape-shifters.

The next obvious question that springs to mind is that, is it possible to worship them? Well the answer in short, despite not falling into the folds of orthodox or conventional Hinduism, is yes.

In the Mahabharata for example, Amba in order to kill Devavrata (Bhishma as he was known after he’d taken the oath of celibacy or he who’d taken the terrible vow) meditates in a secluded forest and after years of silent devotion gains or acquires the power of the rakshashas and Amba in addition to gaining the strength of giants also acquires the ability to shift-shapes and goes from being a female to a male and is later appointed Arjuna’s charioteer in Kurukshetra.

Because Amba was born a female, she is untouched by Bhishma, who abided strictly to the kysastria code, which prohibited a warrior from inflicting any type of harm or injury to a woman and eventually she helps Arjuna defeat Bhishma. So it is definitely possible and it may be a facet of Hinduism that remains as yet unexplored.

Hdimba Devi’s story starts in the Mahabharata and to some extent it is safe to say that she is a Goddess who surfaced towards the end of Dwapara Yuga and at the start of Kali Yuga and from that aspect or perspective of things, her appearance does conform to the scriptures because Kurukshetra also signals the end of orthodox Hindu practices and the start or the beginning of more ritualistic types of worship (according to most sources Dwapara Yuga ends with Arjuna’s victory in Kurukshetra).

In the story, after the Pandavas escape from Lakshagraha (a house built from highly flammable material that was designed to be a death-trap) they found themselves in a dense forest occupied by Hidimba (male) and Hidimbi (female), who are siblings.

Rakshashas by the way, in addition to being savage looking also feed on human flesh and sensing that the Pandavas had entered their forest, Hidimba sends his sister to lure them into a trap. Hidimbi takes the form of a sultry woman and makes her way to where the Pandavas are resting.

She soon stumbles across Bhima or the second of the Pandava brothers and she instantly falls in love with him and instead of luring him into a trap, as she was supposed to, she asks him to marry her but not before revealing her true identity.

Bhima agrees to do so and with Hidimbi’s help he manages to kill Hidimba. The pair marry soon after and are gifted with a son, Ghatotkacha, who was later summoned to fight along with the rest of the Pandavas in Kurukshetra where he meets his end in the hands of Karna.

The above story tells us a lot about Hidimba Devi. To start with because she is a descendent of the race of rakshashas she is most likely a Bali-Devata. Though there is no harm in worshiping her with vegetarian offerings there might be instances where she would be worshipped with ritualistic (sacrificial) type offerings.

Because of her nature she is a strong Goddess, forceful in her approach and therefore diligent worship will reward the devotee(s) with both mental and physical strength.

She is a potent Goddess especially when it comes to removing hexes and maledictions and will no doubt have the power to forcefully eject any spirit that has invaded the body and thus she is extremely helpful during exorcisms.

Her temple is located in Himachal Pradesh and it is built, according to most sources at the spot where she sat in deep meditation, in Manali. It was built in 1553 but remains stolid until today.

Now, if we go by the Mahabharata, Manali or the area around Manali is most likely the dense forest that the Pandavas entered following their escape from Lakshagraha and the spot where the temple is built was the spot where she sat in silent contemplation with her brother Hidimba, next to her, when the Pandavas encroached into their territories.

It is also fair to say that she is a guardian deity who is peculiar to this part of the world or pertinent to those who originate from this part of the world.

Copyright © 2018 by Dyarne Ward

Arjuna’s Penance – Mahabalipuram

Arjuna’s Penance is a sculpture chiseled on two blocks of adjacent rocks that are located in the town of Mahabalipuram approximately 58 km from the capital of the state of Tamilnadu, Chennai. It is a rock carving that was done about the 7th century and it is a legacy left behind by the Pallava Rulers of the South. While some writers refer to the town as Mamallapuram I’m going to stick to the time-tested Mahabalipuram for the simple reason that the name does have some significance which is not only limited to the historic sphere but further extends to religious circles.

According to most sources the sculpture represents rock cut depictions of two myths both Mahabharata related in inference or in reference to the war between the Pandavas and the Kauravas.

The first myth or the most common interpretation of Arjuna’s Penance is that it refers to the austerities that Arjuna performed to gain Shiva’s weapon Pashupatastra, a Divya (celestial) Astra (bolt, arrow, missile) that could be fired by thought i.e. a mind controlled weapon.

According to the story, Arjuna set up a hermitage and started meditating while sitting cross-legged in front of a linga (an image or a representation of God) and while he was in silent contemplation and deep meditation he was attacked by a boar (some sources have the boar as an asura). Arjuna who had his bow Gandiva at hand (the bow was created by Brahma who was also its first user) quickly loaded his bow with an arrow and fired at the beast, killing it instantly.

Arjuna then walked over to inspect the remains and was surprised to discover two arrows in the carcass and this is when he first comes across Shiva or the hunter aspect or manifestation of Shiva.

The reason I have elaborated on the story is because there are other rock cut depictions in Mahabalipuram of Varaha (Vishnu’s boar avatar).

The second myth is also related to the Mahabharata and according to some sources the depictions on the adjoining blocks of rock tell the story of the descent of Ganga (the Daughter of Brahma) who first came to light when Brahma used the water in his water-pot to wash Vamana’s foot (the dwarf avatar of Vishnu) when his foot touched Bramaloka.

Ganga was brought down to the earth to wash away the remains of Asamanjas and the other sixty thousand sons of King Sagara, with the help of Shiva, after they had been reduced to ashes by the sage Kapila.

Among other things Mahabalipuram is also famous for its rock cut temples or mandavas (pillared halls for public rituals) including the Varaha cave (in honor of the boar-headed avatar of Vishnu) and like other Pallava cave temples these caves are famous for the stone engravings that have been chiseled out of sheer rocks that line their walls.

The question that has always come to mind or to my mind anyway is what were these cave temples or halls used for? The orthodox Hindu connotations are fairly obvious but I don’t think they were created for mere decorative purposes and I pondered on it for a very long time until strangely enough the answer or what I believe to be the answer was given to me by a cab driver (you’d be surprised as to who understands Sanskrit these days). He was a Maratha lad and probably had a different view or perspective on things then I did.

He said to me to try the literal interpretation of Mahabalipuram or interpret the word Mahabalipuram as it is. Well, Mahabalipuram is made up three words but it is pronounced as a single word. Maha which means great, bali which means offerings or sacrifices and puram which means city or fortress.

Mahabalipuram interpreted in the orthodox or conventional manner simply means city of great sacrifices or great city of sacrifices and the world bali here does not mean offerings in the softer sense of the word or as I normally use it to lessen the impact. It actually means ritualistic sacrifices.

Using this alternate interpretation of the word it is possible to come to the conclusion that the rock-cut caves or mandavas were there for people to either observe ritualistic sacrifices or were sacrificial chambers where ritualistic sacrifices were performed and I can’t help but wonder what one would find if they excavated the ground beneath the rock-cut temples or mandavas.

Copyright © 2018 by Dyarne Ward

Pooja (Puja) II – Items at an altar

Having acquired some understanding of the altar and having gained some knowledge as to how to set it up, it is now time for us to take a closer look at the other items that are used to make the altar more presentable and more acceptable or suitable for worship.

Let us start with the oil lamp which is crucial to worship. The lamp is fueled either by ghee, gingelly oil or unadulterated coconut oil. Under no circumstances must palm oil or groundnut oil be used to fuel the lamp. Gingelly oil is probably the cheapest, ghee and unadulterated coconut oil are fairly expensive and therefore it is far more economical to use gingelly oil.

The wick is lit prior to the Pooja being started and it is kept alight for the duration of the Pooja. Once the Pooja is over, after a reasonable time (at homes it is usually half an hour to an hour after the Pooja has been concluded) it is put out and the Pooja area cordoned off.

The lamp is put out using either a flower or by drowning the wick in the ghee or the oil that fuels the lamp. The flame cannot be put out by blowing at it or by fanning at it with the hands. It is also inauspicious to allow the lamp to burn out by itself.

According to orthodox Hindu practices the wick must be lit by the lady of the house, failing which someone who has attained the status or is on his or her way to attaining the status of a priest or a religious guru or a teacher may light the wick.

Given the orthodox Hindu requirements it may be easier for a person to just attend Poojas at a temple especially if the person is staying close to a temple.

It is also relevant at this stage to elaborate on some of the flowers and leaves that are used during Pooja. God resides in the lotus of our hearts and therefore God is best worshipped in the presence of flowers and sacred leaves.

It is important to know which flowers and leaves are appropriate for worship and which are not. There is normally a flower, a leaf or a blade of grass (there are various types of grass) that corresponds with the deities at the altar (each deity has a flower, leaf or grass that is associated or specific to him or her) and therefore it is essential to have some knowledge of the flowers, leaves and grass that are used in worship.

For starters flowers that do not fade should not be used for worship, for example plastic flowers. It also includes flowers like bougainvillea and Crossandra infundibuliformis (firecracker flower) or kanagambaram. It is essential that the flowers that are used fade and that they fade within a specified period.

Other items that are found at the altar include a small bell. The bell is rung at the start of the Pooja (in temples there is usually a huge brass bell located in a bell tower and the bell is rung by pulling a long rope) to alert everyone that it is time for worship and that they should make their way to the altar.

In addition to a small bell there is also a camphor holder to light camphor, an incense stick holder for incense sticks and a benzoin resin holder for lighted benzoin resins, all of which are considered essential items for a Pooja.

It is common practice to light incense sticks and benzoin resins just prior to the start or towards the completion of the Pooja and to leave the wick lighted until the incense sticks and the benzoin resins burn out. Camphor is lighted towards the end of the Pooja.

It is also customary to offer the deities at the altar food. God is the provider of all things and therefore it is only fitting and proper that we offer our food to the deities who are in fact representations of the omnipresent supreme-being before consuming the food ourselves to receive God’s blessings.

Food that is presented to all Hindu deities must be strictly vegetarian, unless it is presented to a Kaval Deivam (Guardian Deity) or a bali-deva or a bali-devata.

Even if a photo or a small statute of a bali-deva or a bali-devata is kept in the main altar the offerings must still be strictly vegetarian and there are no exceptions to this rule.

If the photo or a small stature of the bali-deva or bali-devata is kept some distance away from the main altar (usually outside the house) as it is with a Kaval Deivam then non-vegetarian offerings may be presented.

Disposing of Pooja items

Items used for the Pooja especially dried flowers, leaves and dried blades of grass are to be released in running water i.e. rivers. Under no circumstances are any of the items to be throw in drains or disposed of in the conventional manner. All Pooja items are nontoxic and therefore are not in any way harmful to the environment.

Copyright © 2018 by Dyarne Ward

Pooja (Puja) I – the Altar

The traditional or orthodox Hindu rite of worship is called Pooja and ideally it should be conducted at least twice a day i.e. once in the morning and once in evening (as per the instructions given by Lord Shiva). The first Pooja was conducted by Shakti when she worshiped Shiva and in so doing the Goddess paved the way for all Hindus to worship and venerate the Gods.

The morning Pooja is the most important, followed by the evening Pooja. However, if work commitments or health limitations prevent a person from attending two Poojas per day then it is best to attend or be part of at least one Pooja on a daily basis.

The word Pooja itself comprises of two syllables, Poo means Joy and Ja means attain and the therefore Poojas are a means for all Hindus to attain joy and liberation.

Poojas are divided into two types – Aanmatha Pooja and Parartha Pooja. The former is conducted for the benefit of the self i.e. to attain spiritual or material rewards and the latter is conducted for the benefit of the universe.

Among the millions of life-forms that inhabit the planet, the human race is the only life-form with the ability to think and reason and therefore it is only fitting that we pray for the well-being of all living entities, heavenly, celestial and mortal (Parartha Pooja).

The Hindu shastras require that we attend Poojas at temples but if that is not possible then we can perform or conduct Poojas in our homes (God is omnipresent and thus God can be worshipped anywhere at any-time) but there are certain stipulations that we must observe with regards to Poojas.

It also does not mean that we should not go to temples to worship. To the contrary, we should do so whenever it is possible and permissible.

The altar where the Pooja is conducted should be kept impeccably clean and therefore it should be located in the part of the house that can be cordoned off with the exception of Pooja times. The size of the altar is irrelevant, as long as it is kept clean and remains untouched by dust or dirt.

The altar may be made of wood or precious metals like gold or silver, but it should not be made of cement or metals like iron or aluminum. The base of the altar should be at least 2 ft. from the ground or above the ground.

The altar should be placed in the middle of the room, facing the east and ideally there should be a window that can be opened during Pooja times to allow sunlight to come streaming through and to flood the altar with its radiance.

This is one of the reasons why Hindus generally prefer to buy homes that face the east. The house should face the rising sun and the setting sun should be at its back. Under no circumstances should the altar be placed in any corner of the room or the home.

The altar must take into account all three aspects of existence i.e. the powers of creation (Brahma), the powers of procreation (Vishnu) and the powers of destruction (Shiva) or their female equivalents.

At the start it is best to have just pictures of deities but once a person has been initiated by a guru or a teacher it is possible to have statutes at the altar.

Statues must be less than 12 cm in height and must not be made from black granite. Statutes made from black granite are suitable only for temples. Statues in home altars should ideally be made from gold, silver, copper or brass.

Prior to installing the statute(s) at the altar, one must learn the proper means of bathing the statutes and the proper means of caring for them including making the appropriate fruit and flower offerings.

The photo of the Ista Deva or Devata (preferred deity) must be placed at the center of the altar and photos of other deities may be placed to the right and left of the Ishta Deva or Devata. One may have a photo of a Kaval Deivam (guardian deity) but that must be kept some distance away from the main altar.

Central to the altar is the oil lamp which is made from either gold, silver, copper or brass and when it is lit it represents the flame of righteousness or Agni. All Hindu worship is conducted in the presence of Agni.

Copyright © 2018 by Dyarne Ward

Tara-Kurukulla

Despite the polytheistic nature or aspect of the Tibetan faith, many of the deities that are peculiar to Tibet especially Bon deities, remain unknown and it is safe to say that these deities may differ from village to village or from territory to territory and are distinguishable by locality. The worship of numerous deities is a common feature or trait in the Himalayan states and the religious schools that these states belong to are very different from contemporary or orthodox Hindu schools or sects.

There are however 5 Tibetan deities that seem or appear to have an universal appeal and they are Tonpo-Shenrab, Padmasambhava or Guru Rinpoche, Avalokiteśvara, Tara and Mahakala. Here we are concerned solely with Tara.

Tara first appeared during a battle between the devas (the race of Gods) and the asuras (the race of anti-Gods. I hesitate to use the word demon here because asuras are significantly different from western demons or the western interpretation of the word demons).

It might be easier to perceive devas and asuras in the following manner: – devas are divinities who wield positive powers and asuras are their negative equivalent. The universe as we know it is a combination of both positive and negative energies and as such it is possible to draw strength from either source.

The opposing forces are in constant conflict and in one of the many battles that raged between them, the asuras wrested control of the oceans from the presiding deity Varuna (deva) and poisoned the waters of the world.

The people cried out in anguish and the devas heard their pleas. Indra himself ventured forth from his kingdom of heaven astride his war elephant, Airavata, to champion the human race.

Indra however was defeated in the battle that ensued and his defeat posed a direct threat to the devas who were then forced to call upon the Hindu Trinity for help. In response to their pleas Shiva, the third God in the Hindu trinity descended from Mt. Kailash to save the world.

The God with the matted dreadlocks consumed all the poisoned water and churned the water in his belly, separating the poison from the rest of the water. He then spat the clean water out to replenish the oceans.

As a result of absorbing the poison from the water, Shiva fell ill and his body assumed a bluish hue (this is the reason why Shiva is sometimes depicted in blue. This aspect of Shiva is worshipped as Nilakantha).

Shakti, Shiva’s wife and consort, alarmed at the fate that had befallen her husband appeared in the form of Tara to nurse him back to health and this is the first mention of Tara in the Puranas.

There are two salient points that I’d like to make here in that firstly Tara is a form of Shakti and secondly Tara is a healing Goddess and she embodies the powers of compassion. Hence, she is worshipped especially in Tibet as the Goddess of mercy and clemency.

Tara is sometimes alternatively known as Arya-Tara or Jetsun-Dolma. The prefix Arya may or may not denote an Aryan connotation but she doesn’t appear to be a Vedic Goddess and she appears to be more Puranic in substance.

The word Arya (Sanskrit) denotes someone with all the qualities of an Aryan. Alternatively it could also be interpreted as someone from the Aryan race or someone who is favorable to the Aryans.

I’m also going to elaborate briefly on the aspect of Tara that’s worshipped as Jetsun-Dolma. According to most sources, Jetsun-Dolma is a bodhisattva i.e. an enlightened person who has attained liberation but has chosen to remain behind to help others.

Tara as Jetsun-Dolma gives us another perspective of the Goddess in that she may have once existed in human form and was elevated to the status of bodhisattva or goddess because of her deeds.

It is a long standing principle of Hinduism that anyone can achieve the status of “enlightened being” or bodhisattva as a result of actions that benefit others.

Tara is also synonymous to Kurukulla or Red Tara so called because when Tara is depicted as Kurukulla she is depicted in Red. Tara-Kurukulla is a more complex Goddess and her worship is more ritualistic in nature.

For starters, she is a bali-devata the word bali (Sanskrit) denotes offering and the word devata (Sanskrit) connotes Goddess i.e. she is a Goddess who accepts offerings and this aspect of Tara-Kurukulla is analogous to the Goddess Lalitha Devi.

She is one of the 15 Nitya Devis, all of whom are parallels of the Goddess Lilitha and as such are best worshipped on the 15 days of the waxing moon i.e. the first 15 days after the full moon.

This is when she is most potent and devotees make quicker gains when they worship her on these days. It is also worth mentioning that all the 15 Nithya Devis are depicted in red.

Tara’s association with Kurukulla give us some indication as to her origins and if I were to hazard a guess, though she has grown to iconic proportions in Tibet, I’d say that her worship originated in either Tripura, Bengal, Assam, Manipur or Bihar.

The worship of Tara as Kurukulla is also tantric in essence and therefore it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone if Kurukulla is sometimes depicted as a naked Goddess with disheveled hair.

Interestingly enough I haven’t come across any representations of Tara-Kurukulla from the north-western sector of the subcontinent which corresponds with the Indus-Valley Civilization and territories that were part of the ancient Kingdom of Gandhara which reaffirms my belief that Tara originated from the north-eastern sector of the subcontinent.

Tara is also one of the 10 Mahavidyas or one of the 10 knowledge givers, all of whom embody a different quality of Shakti (this corroborates what I said earlier in that she is a manifestation of Shakti). The Mahavidyas are worshipped for purposes of obtaining spiritual, tantric and occult knowledge.

Copyright © 2018 by Dyarne Ward

The soul

Having acquired some understanding of the twofold nature of the human body it is only appropriate that we examine the transparent and translucent entity that fuels the body or the soul. The soul is best described as the energy that drives the body and like all forms of energy it can neither be created nor destroyed but it can change from one type of energy to another just like the soul after the death of the physical body either achieves liberation or migrates to a new body that is entirely different in shape and form.

The migratory nature of the soul may also explain the possession phenomenon from the perspective that while a majority of the souls, that leave the body at death, are either liberated or acquire a new body by being transferred to the body of an infant when it is in the womb of the mother, a small portion of souls choose to remain behind and inhabit the body of a grown person.

This usually occurs from the time the child is an adolescent until he or she completes her youth. This is the most precarious time for any person i.e. the time he or she is growing up and while the affects of possession may appear later, actual possession normally takes place between the ages of 10 to 24.

It’s also one of the reasons why pregnant women, are prohibited from going to funeral houses or being a part of the mourning process and while it is reasonable to mourn the death of a loved one in their hearts, all things must at times be within reason, it is not advisable to be part of the funeral proceedings or visit the graveyard frequently.

According to Hindu theology, the mourning period for the departed, if they die a natural death, is one year and after one year the soul is deemed to have either attained liberation or is on its way to being reincarnated. The mourning period however is longer for those who die as a result of accidents and even longer for those who die as a result of suicide.

The mourning period is essentially the time the soul comes to terms with death and while it retains its memories from its past existence, mourners try and coax the soul into letting go and try and persuade it to move on.

When the soul assumes a new identity or migrates to a new body the soul still retains the memories from its past life, but as the body is formed and the mind develops, the conscious mind takes over and the older memories, while they are still there, are pushed so far back that the new body hardly remembers them with the exception of random images that appear out of nowhere and disappear just as quickly, in sudden flashes, and unless the body is subjected to hypnosis or one decides to practice the ancient art of yoga to become more acquainted with the mind, one might never really uncover details of one’s past existence.

It is normally easier to persuade the soul to cross over when death is natural or occurs at the stipulated time and a lot more difficult when death is premature. There are some schools of thought that believe that the soul will linger around its loved ones or its favorite possessions until the appointed or stipulated time of death and this once again to some degree explains the possession phenomenon.

Normally at the time of death, if the body accepts death as a foregone conclusion and is willing to come to terms with it than there isn’t a problem and the cycle continues until the time the soul attains liberation or is reunited with the source.

The problem only arises when the dying body refuses to accept death or the spirit that leaves the body refuses to cross over and what remains is an unquantifiable amount of energy that has no shape or form and has a propensity or tendency to possess. While there are some who would put it down to a disease of the mind, the answer is far more complex than that.

The soul in short, according to Hindu theology, is an unquantifiable amount of energy that drives the body that separated from the source at the start of time or the beginning of the universal cycle and seeks to reunite with the source. The journey between separation and reunification, or the bit of it that concerns the body, is existence as we know it. As for its qualities, we can safely say that the soul has all the qualities and attributes of energy.

Copyright © 2018 by Dyarne Ward

The subconscious mind

The subconscious mind is the vast depository that stores all our memories from the past and the present and the mind that hypnotists resort to for answers and solutions during hypnosis. It is also the mind that is most utilized by ascetics and mystics and it is the mind that rewards them with the ability to foretell the future and bestows upon them the powers of clairvoyance and precognition. The full potential of the subconscious mind remains unknown and in most instances, it’s never fully realized or utilized.

We are all born with our subconscious faculties intact but a majority of us choose not to use it and we are more reliant on the conscious mind because it works towards fulfilling the needs of the senses especially given the fact that we live in a day and age where we are all prone to giving in to our cravings and desires. In fact, we are driven by our ambitions and aspirations and that coupled with the rational thinking process or logic driven thought leaves almost no room for the subconscious mind to maneuver. It remains a hidden unexplored facet of the mind that is rarely or never used.

In addition to that our habits, for example, excessive indulgence in alcohol or smoking alters the composition of the chemicals in our mind, sometimes so drastically that we may never realize the full potential of our mind which at the end of the day is a waste because having lived, it is only fitting that we try to attain the higher truths before we die and our soul passes on to another body.

It is not only cigarettes and alcohol that impede the workings of the subconscious mind. The environment that we live in also plays an important role especially with regards to the food that we consume. Food that is grown with the use of chemicals or animals that are raised with steroids retain the chemicals and steroids and when the meat and vegetables are cut, cleaned, cooked and consumed, the chemicals that are retained in the meat and vegetables make their way into our bodies and in addition to causing illnesses like high blood pressure and diabetes, to name a few, they also disrupt the chemical balance in our bodies and that makes it all the more difficult for us to utilize the subconscious mind.

Ideally if we want to go on the path of self-realization and explore our inner selves it is best to consume only organic food or food that is grown or cultivated organically. Cow urine and dung make ideal manure for food cultivation.

Having said that, some people are born with the nexus to the subconscious mind stronger than others and these are the people that display the highest propensity to be either clairvoyant or precognitive. In addition to that they also tend to excel in other facets of life.

Because no one really knows the extent of the knowledge that is stored in the subconscious mind, when someone with his or her link to the subconscious mind intact starts exploring their subconscious mind, there is no telling what the person will uncover.

There are also schools of thought that suggest that the subconscious minds of all persons, past and present, are linked and when one taps the subconscious mind, one is able to draw on the memories of someone else, Einstein perhaps, or some little known mathematical genius that no one has ever heard of and therefore the knowledge that one gains when one builds the nexus with the subconscious mind can’t be defined or quantified.

Initially however like all things related to the subconscious mind, this knowledge appears in random flashes or images and it often happens when the conscious mind is relaxed, tired or just too exhausted.

The conscious mind when it is active keeps the subconscious mind at bay and leaves it with almost no room or scope to maneuver and the only time that the subconscious mind can make any sort of an impression is when the conscious mind is asleep or too tired to react and this is when people receive images or flashes from the subconscious mind or in other words when they least expect it because the conscious mind is just too relaxed, tired or exhausted to be bothered.

We have all experienced these random flashes of images at some time or other and that just tells us that our subconscious faculties are working perfectly well but in order to harness its full potential we need to put the conscious mind to sleep, so to speak, or keep it in a relaxed state or a state where one doesn’t have to think and the best way to do that is through meditation, using the techniques prescribed by yoga. There is no telling what one will uncover when one successfully builds that bridge between the conscious mind and the subconscious mind but whatever it is, rest assured it will be rewarding.

Copyright © 2017 by Dyarne Ward