Black Elk III

The fourth sacred rite of the Lakota is the sun dance and once again it is reminiscent of the Tungus Shaman. The dance is conducted around a tree or a pole that symbolizes the tree. In Lakota cosmology, the tree represents the center of the universe.

It is possible to draw parallels between the tree in the Lakota sun dance and the shaman tree of the Tungus shamans. It is difficult to speculate if Black Elk ascended a shaman tree during his life-threatening illness or otherwise but it is an accepted principle among Tungus shamans that a shaman acquires his or her abilities to see and communicate with spirits after he or she ascends the shaman tree. The top of the tree or its highest tier according to Siberian folklore is occupied by Gods of the highest level.

Among Yakutian (Siberian) shamans, each shaman is allotted his or her own tree and the well-being of the shaman is dependent on the tree. Chopping down the tree spells death for the shaman. In some instances, dead shamans are entombed in the hollow of a tree and this it is where the shaman’s spirit resides i.e. it becomes the shaman’s spirit tree.

In Altai shamanic circles the tree is symbolic of the world’s center and the tree is the dwelling place of many magical animals and each of these animals have a specific function. Like spirit guides, they have the ability to foretell the future, determine destinies and act as celestial guardians.

Sitting perched on the upper boughs of this tree are two birds who call out the days of the living and who have the ability to see where the spirits of the dead will go following their demise. In the middle branches sit two silver clawed eagles that act as guardians of the living. These eagles also call out to lost heroes directing them as to the proper cause of action.

At the base of this tree there are two black dogs, with flashing eyes that gaze constantly at the underworld. Altai folklore also suggests that all trees have spirits for example when a hero in an epic poem leaves his son in the care of the spirits of the birch trees.

Trees are also worshiped in Mongolian shamanic circles. These trees are like normal trees i.e. they are not the dwelling places of spirits but by virtue of worshipping these trees one is blessed with good fortune and therefore it is possible to say that it is the spirit of the tree as opposed to the spirits of the heavenly deities that reside on the tree that bring about a turn of good fortune.

It is also possible to equate the tree with the Hungarian Tree of life and draw inferences from the legend of the sky high tree. Interestingly enough the legend also mentions a horned buffalo. According to the legend the tree is divided into many tiers and the highest tier is occupied by the legendary bird-hawk, Turul, and other celestial and heavenly beings.

As a matter of interest it is import to realize that shamans are divide into white shamans and black shamans i.e. those that commune with white spirits and those that commune with dark spirits and as a result most shamans draw their energies from one source or another.

It is also further possible to surmise that the strength of the spirit that guides the shaman depends on the tier it occupies i.e. the higher the spirit is on the tree, the stronger its abilities and these are the spirits that guide warriors through the valley of dreams during vision quest or the seeking of visions.

The sun dance reaffirms the connection between spirits and nature. The dance is held every summer on the day of the full moon and is blessed by the radiance of Celeste. The festivities are accompanied by music and dance and various plain bands gather to perform during the dance. It is from all accounts a lively and entertaining occasion.

Dancers, pledge to make offerings of their flesh to strengthen the nation and to fulfill personal vows. The choice to participate is always at the discretion of the dancer and it is usually the result of receiving a sacred dream. It is also sometimes undertaken to seek the assistance of spiritual entities in healing a sick loved one.

Copyright © 2018 by Dyarne Ward

Vision Quest

Vision quest or the seeking of visions is undertaken to seek random visions. In most instances the seeker is searching for an event that will unravel or manifest itself in the future and the event at the time it appears to the seeker may or may not make sense to him and the seeker may require the help of an elder or a medicine man or a shaman to help him interpret his vision. He may or may not be part of the vision.

Let’s compare these visions to visions of clairvoyance or precognition and let us try and identify the common factors and determine the factors that differentiate vision quest visions from visions of clairvoyance or pre-cognition.

Clairvoyance and pre-cognition are abilities to see into the future and from that aspect they are sometimes comparable to visions that appear during meditation but the subject does not have the ability to control the visions that appear in the form of a dream. The visions often appear in sudden flashes or bursts of images and disappear as quickly as they’d come leaving behind a lingering memory and days, months or years later when the event does unfold the subject is left with a sense of déjà vu.

This in simplistic terms is what clairvoyance or pre-cognition really is. It happens to most of us at some time or other and we are often left searching for answers and we often put it down to the unexplainable or divine intervention.

Those who know what these visions really are, these visions more often than not occur when the body is asleep, are deemed to have the gift of clairvoyance and pre-cognition and they use it for their own benefit (which is the way it should be) and some use it to help others.

Vision quest or the seeking of visions however is slightly different in that, it not only reveals future events but it is also reveals past events, i.e. a vision from the past, and this becomes of use when we are trying to come to terms with the present. There is a valid reason for most things and the answer sometimes lies in the past.

The images appear, for those who have experienced them; in full Technicolor i.e. they are identical or synonymous to actual images, sometimes with sound and at other times without. These images are very real and sometimes the dreamer or the seeker experiences an outflow or an outpour of emotions and it may be love, anger, hate, or any of the other normal emotions that we are all subjected to.

This outflow or outpour of emotions can leave a person sagged, sapped or drained until he or she learns to appreciate them for what they are i.e. they are merely intimations for future events or a blast from the past, maybe from a previous existence (regressive hypnosis or past life regression therapy proves that we can remember or recollect instances from our past lives).

Someone may well ask the question, what is the significance or relevance of going over something that has happened in the past? Well the simple answer is if we knew what happened in the past then we can make amends in the future. Past life regression is also used to remedy lingering illnesses like joint pains which according to same sources may not be the result of an injury sustained in this life but a result of an injury sustained in a past life that makes itself evident in the present life.

Vision quest or the seeking of visions takes the innate ability that most of us have to another level in that it tries to stimulate or induce these images or visions i.e. they do not occur naturally during sleep or meditation but are the result of subjecting oneself to a rigorous process.

It can be done in the manner which the Lakota do it though I must admit that going without water does make me slightly apprehensive and therefore it should only be done with the help and guidance of a holy man or someone who is well versed with the process.

The seeker pledges to stay on an isolated hill for one to four days with a blanket and a pipe, but without food and water to experience these visions. During this time he may seek the guidance of spirits to help him with his quest and therefore it is somewhat possible to surmise that guidance from spirits helps us channel our innate abilities. The smoking of the pipe may also stimulate the process.

Copyright © 2018 by Dyarne Ward

Black Elk II

The third rite is the keeping of the spirit (Wanagi Wicagluha). Death is a transition from one existence to another. The demise of the body does not mean death of the spirit or the soul and the spirit or the soul continues to exist long after the body has turned to dust or has been reduced to ashes.

The third rite of the Lakota is similar to the death rites of many other ancient cultures in that the spirits or the souls of the dead linger around their families or their prized possessions for a period of time before they crossover. It is a time that is used to coax the spirit into continuing with the journey.

The spirit especially in cases and circumstances of unnatural deaths has to be made to come to terms with death. Normally a special place is erected in honor of the spirit and it is done to commemorate the passing and to remember the deceased.

This special place may or may not correspond with an altar (what an altar is or isn’t is a question of perception) and friends and relatives are sometimes invited to join in during what is called a feeding ceremony or an occasion during which offerings of food are made and shared with the spirit.

The rite continues for a year and after a year the spirit is freed or released. During this rather testing time close family members of the deceased are forbidden or prohibited from taking part in any celebrations or festivities.

It has to be made clear that the mourning period is undertaken with love for the departed in mind. It is a grieving period that allows both the family members and the deceased to say their goodbyes. It is in essence a period of letting go and abstaining from celebrations and other festivities allows everyone to come to terms with the passing in the appropriate manner. It is also a time for silent reflection.

In 1890 there was a religious movement that consolidated numerous Native American believes. It was called the Ghost Dance and among other things it advocated that proper practice of the dance would reunite the living with the spirits of the dead and would bring spirits to fight on their behalf. It is reflective of the importance that is attached to spirits in Native American culture and tradition.

Spirit keeping is also a common facet among many other shamanic cultures and features prominently in Tungus cultures and its variants. The Tungus people are of Siberian origin and the near-death phenomenon similar to the experience Black Elk went through when he was nine is a prerequisite to becoming a Tungus Shaman.

Now, if Black Elk had been born in Siberia he would not only have been a medicine man but he would also have been recognized as a capable shaman and would have been accorded a position befitting a shaman in the community.

In these ancient cultures that adhere to time honored traditions, the shaman is also a healer (it is possible that there were early Siberian migrants to the Americas. The distance between Siberia and Alaska is only 55 miles. The territories are separated by a body of water known as the Bering Strait).

According to the near-death principle, once a shaman prospect has gone through the near-death experience he or she would not only be able to see spirits but he or she would also be able to communicate with them.

Similar dynamics also apply to the Tamang shamans (hill shamans) of Nepal and they too acquire the ability to see and speak to spirits. Hence, the ability to see or commune with spirits is an ability that is accepted in certain communities and societies.

These spirits also require sustenance and it is the duty of the shaman to provide the spirit with the type of sustenance that is deemed suitable and that would differ from community to community or from society to society. Likewise, it is the duty of the deceased’s next of kin or the keeper of the spirit to provide the spirit with suitable food.

Therefore, the notion of relatives and friends sharing a meal with a spirit is not at all far-fetched and to the contrary it is, depending on the culture, something of a norm.

It is also an accepted principle that the spirit after death needs to be coaxed into undertaking the journey that follows and the mourning period or the “keeping of the spirit” is a time during which relatives of the departed help the spirit to cross over.

Let me cite the practices of another ancient culture as an example. Let us briefly go to Leh and Ladakh in Western Tibet. Here the mourning period is forty-four days i.e. it takes forty-four days for the spirit of the departed to cross-over and during that time a priest is close at hand and he or she reads verses from the Tibetan Book of the Dead or the Bardo Thodol to help the spirit to cross-over.

According to the death rites of many of these ancient cultures, the period following death and prior to the crossing over is a perilous time for the spirit and it is confronted with a series of images conjured by the mind that are a result of its fears and inhibitions and therefore it needs the assistance of its family members to help it along the way.

It is slightly different from the Ghost Dance which according to my understanding is more akin to the summoning of the spirit and this normally applies to spirits of some fortitude or spirits that have been around for some time and it is more or less like the induced trance state. It is practiced to this very day.

The mourning period differs from one culture to another and from people to people but the one year period is similar to that of the East Indian culture where relatives of the dead are required to mourn the dead for a period of one-year and during the mourning period they are prohibited from taking part in any festivities. Therefore, we won’t be wrong in stating that the mourning period among the Lakota is strikingly similar to that of the East Indians.

Another amazing similarity is the feeding of the spirit. In the East Indian culture offerings of food are made at periodical intervals at an altar over the duration of a year. It includes offerings of vegetarian dishes and the favorite sweets of the deceased and relatives and friends are invited to be a part of the somber occasion.

Copyright © 2018 by Dyarne Ward

Black Elk I

Black Elk was a famous medicine man from the Oglala Lakota (Sioux) and second cousin to the famed Native American warrior Crazy Horse who rebelled against the Federal Government for intruding on Native American territories.

Born on December 1st 1863 in Little Powder River Wyoming he was a medicine man of substance and his experiences, during which he becomes aware of the Seven Sacred Rights of the Lakota, reaffirms the outer body experience as propagated by Jung, which occur as a result of either natural sleep or induced sleep i.e. hypnosis. It confirms what parapsychologists like Jung have asserted for years in that the mind is a vast untapped resource and has never been fully explored.

When Black Elk was nine years old he was struck by a sudden illness that left him unconscious and unresponsive. During this time, he experienced visitations from cosmic entities who he described as thunder beings (Wakinyan) and who he perceived to be the forefathers or the ancestors of the Oglala Sioux. According to his accounts these spirits were kind and loving, and were very giving in their paternal affection.

His experiences further reaffirm the shamanic principle ardently advocated by well-known exponents of shamanism like Mircea Eliade in that, the shamanic gift is bestowed upon a person or an individual after a prolonged and sustained life threatening illness or experience. From all expert accounts, Black Elk’s narrative of his experiences are most likely true. He died on August 19th 1950 in Pine Ridge, South Dakota.

According to Black Elk, it started with repeated visitations from an ancient man, whose head was filled with white hair and who was wise beyond reason. The man was always alert; his eyes were constantly looking in all directions and he was full of fatherly affection. The old man surprisingly enough bears a striking resemblance to the heavenly father. He then imparts the Seven Sacred Rites of the Lakota to Black Elk.

The first of the Seven Sacred Rites is Inikagapi or Inipi (the rite to renew life). A sweat lodge is held in a dome shaped structure made of saplings and covered with hide or tarps and it symbolizes the shape of the universe or the womb of a pregnant woman.

Heated stones are placed in a large crevice located in the center of the lodge and water is poured over the stones by an itancan (leader) to create steam. The purpose of the ceremony is to pray for the spiritual and physical wellbeing of all sentient beings. The lodge utilizes all the powers of the universe: earth and the things which grow on the earth and powers derived from the other elements, water, fire, and air.

Before embarking on any type of spiritual journey the body has to be detoxified, and any remains of toxic residue in the body will be removed by sweating. The result of sitting or meditating in a dome shaped structure with heated stones placed in the middle is excessive sweating.

It is also important to realize that Black Elk specifically mentioned the shape of the structure. Dome shaped structures are symbolic to all religions and theologically the dome acts as a transmitter. Any vibrations resulting from chanting in this type of structure will be carried to the heavenly father.

The second rite is Hanbleceyapi (crying for vision). The vision quest is undertaken by an individual with the help and guidance of a holy man. A person elects to go on a vision quest to pray, communicate with the spirits, and to gain knowledge, strength, and understanding.

The person pledges to stay on an isolated hill for one to four days with a blanket and a pipe, but without food or water. Upon returning, the vision may be discussed with the Wicasa Wakan (holy man). Often the meaning of the vision is not readily apparent and the individual may be told to wait for knowledge and understanding.

The second rite is the seeking of visions or an attempt to bridge the gap between the conscious and subconscious mind, through the medium of sleep or deep meditation or dreamtime, whereupon, the subconscious mind will reveal the mysteries of the world to the dreamer in the form of vivid images.

Experts in the field have suggested that implanting the thought of bridging the gap between the conscious and the subconscious mind or seeking visions prior to falling asleep will help the subject achieve dream quest more easily.

Copyright © 2018 by Dyarne Ward

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