Understanding Shiva and Maha Shivaratri

Maha Shivaratri is celebrated in honor of Shiva, one of the trinities of Hindus. Shiva occupies the highest level in importance in most of the Hindu texts, and is also acknowledged in many cultures beyond India and Hindus. Although there are more than one legend associated with Maha Shivaratri, such as the marriage of Shiva to Parvati on this occasion, worshipping of Shiva on this night to get rid of sins, or get enlightenment, the most common legend connects this night to the cosmic dance or tandav of Shiva that initiates creation, preservation, and destruction of the cosmos.

Attributes of Shiva in his representation (damaru, trishul, moon on his head, serpent around neck, etc.), sitting bare body in yogic posture, tandav dance, opening of third eye, and focus of worship by all, including devas and other members of trinities, particularly prominent incarnations of Vishnu, all indicate to the symbolism in gross, thoughts, and action (GTA).

GTA are all the features of the physical world, which gets created, remains sustained for a fixed period, and then ends. This phenomenon is entirely attributed to Shiva to initiate through the sound of damaru and movements of the dance. Shiva is fully part of the physical world, thus has a place of abode (Himalaya), marries to the daughter (Parbati) of Himalaya or Parbatraj (meaning mountain), and has children, just like any other mortal being on the Earth.

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Among the trinities, Shiva is thus the lord or swami of the physical world. Brahma is the lord of the subtle world where his thoughts are all that are needed to create the cosmos. Brahma does not have any physical possessions, although he has manasputra (created through thoughts of mind) like Indra, Narada, etc. Vishnu on the other hand does not have even mental creation, as He is the lord of the causal world, where cause of everything exists.  As per the common practice each of these trinities respect and differ to the lord of the world they enter. For example, Vishnu incarnation Ram and Krishna both worship Shiva when on Earth to signify the supremacy of the Shiva element in the physical world.

With the above understanding, one should approach the Shiva and Maha Shivaratri to rationally and practically understand their importance and practice. Many times Shiva is considered the destroyer, even though the literal meaning of Shiva is auspicious. Shiva is a yogi par excellence sitting bare body in the coldest place on Earth to indicate that He has mastered the physical world, thus proving his lordship beyond any doubt.

On a related note, Om symbol is used with many chants and rituals of worship, but is most commonly associated with Shiva, like in Om Namah Shivay! Linguistically, Om or more appropriately Aum is expressive meaning of Shiva. It starts with the ‘a’ sound as the open vowel with only aspiration of air, passes through the closed vowel ‘u’, still using the air but changing the shape of mouth in the middle, and finally the last letter ‘m’ of the last of the five classes (guttural, palatal, cerebral, dental, and labial) of the consonants of the Devanagari-aksharmala (alphabets) arranged in two dimensions. The Aum thus represents the sutra or formula with capacity to express the entire visible world (i.e., the expressed physical world). Therefore, this linguistic expression is also consistent with Shiva being the lord of the physically expressed world.

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Why is then Shiva considered as the destroyer of the world? He is not the destroyer of the world, he presides over the physical world that is by nature destroyed. Anything that is created is destroyed by nature. However, people mistakenly attribute Shiva to be the destroyer. Similarly, people attribute Shiva with intoxication, such as cannabis and bhang, even though Shiva is yogi, totally away from all these vices. People considered him to be the epitome of purity who can live without even food, and thus started giving up their vices by surrendering those items at his alter, which others thought was an offering to Shiva. And, this was taken to justify their vices citing Shiva associated with those habits.

On the occasion of the Maha Shivaratri, traditions have provision for fasting, chanting, night vigil to give up even sleep, to indicate sacrifice rather than indulgence. Maha Shivaratri is to remind us of the nature of our existence and its ultimate disappearance. It is a celebration of this understanding which makes us free from the fear of even death.

Om!

-Prof. Bal Ram Singh, School of Indic Studies, Institute of Advanced Sciences, Dartmouth, MA, USA

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The Idea of God (Part-I)

– Dr. Koenraad Elst

koenraadMarxDr. Elst, born in 1959 in Leuven, Belgium, studied Sinology, Indology and Philosophy and did his Ph.D. on the ideological development of Hindu Revivalism. He worked as a political journalist and as a foreign-policy assistent in the Belgian Senate, but mainly as a independent writer. He became fairly well-known in India with his argumentation in favour of the Ayodhya temple, now vindicated, and with his work on the Aryan homeland question, still controversial.

All known civilizations have a thing called “god”, plural or singular. They are a category of beings deemed endowed with far more power and a vastly larger longevity than us human beings. For the rest, their characters and functions may vary.

In writing, the idea of “a god” is first attested in the Sumerian ideogram Dingir, which has the physical form of a radiant star. It certainly has the meaning “god”, for it is used as the common determinative for a whole class of names signifying gods. That, indeed, was anciently how a divine being was conceived: as a radiant heaven-dweller. In Babylon and in Harran, each planet was worshipped in a temple of its own.

The pre-Islamic religion was also largely star worship (next to ancestor worship and the worship of special stones like the Black Stone in Mecca’s Ka’ba). Thus, the three Meccan goddesses of Satanic Verses fame, al-Lāt, al-Uzza and al-Manāt, are roughly the Sun, Venus and the Moon. The Ka’ba was dedicated to the moon-god Hubal, and housed a stone fallen from heaven.

Stars were explicitly recognized as gods by prominent philosophers like Socrates and Plato. Some dissident freethinkers however, like the philosopher Anaxagoras and the playwright Aristophanes, thought stars were only burning rocks. After Christianization, when all divinity was invested in an extra-cosmic Supreme Being, the planets were desacralized and reduced to cogwheels in a cosmic machinery set in motion by the Creator and operated by his angels. Though numerically, a large part of humanity now espouses this desacralizing view, it is rather exceptional in the history of religions. The association of gods with stars was pretty universal.

Other properties of a god

Because a star is radiant and stands in heaven, near-permanently visible to all, it is a part of our collective consciousness, our shared frame of reference. This, then, is the operative meaning of “a god” in human life: the personification of an important collective factor difficult to negotiate, and which you have to take into account in the things you plan to do. Thus, Dyaus = heaven, Agni = fire, Indra (“the rainer”) = storm; Vayu = wind, Pṛthivī (“the broad one”) = earth. This principle is then generalized, and gods can be personifications of any category of beings. Thus, Śiva is the personification of the renunciants, unkempt and living in the mountains.

A god is powerful in that he can impact your life. But he is not all-powerful, because he has to share his power with other gods. Rarely if ever is he seen as “the Creator” who stood outside the universe and fashioned it from nothing. Rather, he himself is a part of the universe. Creation is normally seen as only a transformation from formless matter to the present world of form, and in that process, gods may play their part. In that limited sense, the Vedas and Puranas have plenty of “creation” stories. Yet they also assume that the universe as a whole has always been there, though it cyclically becomes unmanifest, only to reappear again. It is an exclusively Biblical-Quranic belief, further propagated by thinkers who elaborate the Biblical or Quranic assumptions, that a single Supreme Being, in a single moment never to be repeated, created the whole universe from nothing.

Gods are imagined to be endowed with personalities befitting the element of which they are the personification. As such, they are also sensitive to gifts and flattery, and may thus be influenced into exercising their power in a partisan, friendly way. That is why people who would never think of appeasing the stormy sea, do devise rituals to appease the sea god, hoping that he will guarantee smooth sailing.

Finally, a star or god is also, as far as a mortal can tell, eternal: it existed before we were born and goes on existing after we have died. As suggested by the extreme longevity of the physical stars, gods are proverbially deemed immortal. Hence the binary: us mortal earthlings versus the immortal heaven-dwellers.

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Deva

The same meaning of “star”, “radiant heaven-dweller”, is present in Vedic Sanskrit Deva, “the shining one”, hence “a god”. It is also etymologically present in cognate words like Latin Deus, “a god”. One of the Sanskrit terms for “astrologer”, at least since its mention in a 4th-century dictionary, is Daiva-jña, “knower of the gods”, or in practice, “knower of destiny”. Another is Daiva-lekhaka, “gods-writer”, “destiny-writer”, i.e. horoscope-maker. Obviously, the stars here were seen as gods regulating man’s destiny.

A parallel development, but omitting (or only implying) the original link with the stars, is found in Slavic Bog, “the share-giver”, “the apportioner”, “the destiny-decider”, related to Sanskrit Bhaga, and hence to the derivative Bhagavān. Other god-names are more derived from the practice of worshipping, such as the Germanic counterpart God, “the worshipped one”, Sanskrit Huta; or the Greek counterpart Theos, “god”, related to Latin festus, “festive”; feriae, “holiday”, i.e, “religious feast”; and to Sanskrit dhiṣā, “daring, enthusiastic”, dhiṣaṇā, “goddess”, dhiṣṇya, “devout”. But even here, a stellar connection reappears, for the latter word is also a name of Śukra / ”Venus”.

More examples of the personification of heavenly phenomena as gods are found throughout the Vedas. The deities Mitra and Varuṇa represent the day sky (hence the sun, here remarkably called “the friend”) c.q. the night sky, with its stable sphere of the fixed stars, with its regular cycles representative of the world order. The Nāsatyas or Aśvins (“horse-riders”) are thought to represent the two morning- and evening stars, Mercury and Venus, who “ride” the sun, often likened to a horse. Uśa (related elsewhere to Eōs, Aurora, Ostara, and hence to “east” and “Easter”) represents the sunrise.

The Vedic gods were personifications of natural forces, with whom you could do business: do ut des, “I give to you” through sacrifice, “so that you give to me” the desire-fulfilment I want. That type of relation between man and god is pretty universal. That was the ancient worldwide conception of gods. But in auspicious circumstances, religion was to graduate from this stage, and the gods would go beyond the stars.

Transcending the stars

Hindus often react to the above-mentioned view as insufficiently respectful to Hinduism. They insist that it is a Western “Orientalist” fabrication to see the gods as mere personifications of natural forces. In foreign countries, perhaps, but not in India. They think it treats religion as essentially childish, for in children’s talk, or in that by mothers towards children, there is a lot of personification. Yet, we insist that in the Vedic stage of civilization, this conception of gods still prevailed; perhaps already as a rhetorical device built on top of an earlier more primitive stage, but still sufficiently present to leave numerous traces. It shows a deficient sense of history to project the newest insights of Hinduism back onto its past, and to deny the amount of change that has taken place in the conceptual history of Hinduism.

But then two things happened. The first is that from the Upanishads onwards, in a distinctively Indian development, the notion of Self-Realization or Liberation arose. The way to this goal, the Sādhana or what is nowadays called “the spiritual path”, is not about the fulfilment of desires; instead, the point is to decrease your desires, to renounce, to abandon. This was initially conceived as a process in which no god or other being played any role (whether they were deemed to exist or not), making way for a focus on the Self (ātman), equal to the Absolute of pure consciousness (brahman). This Absolute was conceived as being above the pairs of opposites, as devoid of characteristics (nirguṇa). Gods were relegated to the background, to the world of desire-fulfilment through rituals. Self-Realization implied renunciation from desire-fulfilment, and hence a distance from the gods and their favours.

The second development is that the gods persisted or were revived, but in a transformed role. Stellar references are explicit in the case of Sūrya, the sun, and of Soma Candra, the moon; but less so in the case of Viṣṇu, “the all-pervader” (like the sun’s rays), though he has a solar quality; and Śiva (“the auspicious one”, an apotropaeic flattery of the terrible Vedic god Rudra, “the screamer”), the Candradhāra or “moon-bearer”, the Somanātha or “lord of the moon”, has a lunar, nightly quality. The classical Hindu gods Viṣṇu and Śiva represent a revolution vis-à-vis the Vedic worldview. You don’t bring sacrifices “for Liberation” to the Vedic gods, a notion presupposing renunciation from those desires. By contrast, the later “Puranic” gods of classical Hinduism take some distance from the naturalist meaning in which they originate, and do integrate Liberation. Very soon, devotional-theistic movements adapted this new notion to their cult of Viṣṇu, Śiva or Śakti (or elsewhere, Amitābha Buddha or Avalokiteśvara), gods with a distinct personality (saguṇa) but more spiritual. In Kashmiri Shaivism, Śiva gets abstracted as pure consciousness, Śakti as pure energy. With these gods, you could “unite” so as to terminate your susceptibility to worldly suffering, to delusion, to the karmic cycle. They would grant you Liberation, just like the Vedic gods would grant you wish-fulfilment.

But that doesn’t mean Hindus have given up on wish-fulfilment. They still perform rituals to help them get what they want, and often this involves explicitly stellar gods, but conceived as lower gods or “demi-gods”. Astrologers instruct their clients to say prayers before the planet that disturbs their horoscope. The client will get advice on what ritual to practise, when and how and for which god, to ward off the negative influences of the stellar configurations indicated in his horoscope. This will remove the obstacles to his well-being and the fulfilment of his desires. The navagraha or “nine planets” (sun, moon, their two eclipse nodes, and the five visible planets) as a whole are a normal object of worship.

To be continued….

Ritualistic Significance of ‘Magha-Masa’ in Hindu Calendar

– Prof. C. L. Prabhakar, President, WAVES, Bangalore Chapter

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Prof. Prabhakar obtained Ph.D. in Vedic  Studies (thesis on’ Sukla Yajurveda’) from  Poona University, Poona in 1968. He is former Professor of Sanskrit and has published many books and articles. Honored with the award ‘Veda Vaaridhi’, currently he is director of the Nada Veda Adhyayana Kendra, Bangalore. He is active to spread Vedic heritage and culture.

Magha-Masa is important among the months in Hindu calendar. This month is an opportunity to get reduced of our sins. ‘Maaghamsyaatitimaaghah’ meaning no sins more could be acquired further. Doctors know the reducing tablet to reduce pain. So like this month to reduce our sins.

Hindu calendar is invested with twelve months. Each month is covered by 30 days. Every day has the five (pancanga) elements viz. Tithi, Vara, Nakshatra, Yoga and Karanas. Everyday is important for spiritual Practices. But there is choice and special importance. We have twelve months beginning form Caitra-Masa and going upto the Phalguna-Masa. Every month has a connections of some significance and mythology to speak the importance of the month and marking auspicious days in it. Sun would be transiting every month in to one sign (rasi) to another sign. It occurs usually on the 14th day of each month called Sankramana technically. There are twelve zodiac signs to complete one year’s time.When Sun is in Makara-Rasi, from then, for six months it is called Uttarayanam and the remaining six months are known as Dakshinayanam. These indicate the direction of the Sun astronomically moving towards north and southern directions. As a result there would be effects upon the people and nature: good, bad and different due to the movement of Sun. Manasollasa of Somadeva is a source Book for us to know about the importance of days and months, festivals and more.

Magha-Masa is the eleventh Month of each Year. This year is called by name Manmatha and the next would be Durmukha year by name. Out of the cycle of sixty years, this is the 29th/30thYear of the cycle. Each month is characterized with the Nakshatra-name. For example, if Sravana-Nakshatra is there on the full moon day then it is called Sravana-Masa. Likewise the Magha-Masa is the name derived from the Magha-Nakshatra on the Purnima. Similarly the other months go by the name of a Nakshatra. Although we have many numbers of years, we have only seven days of life. One day to take birth and another some day to exit from the body and the world. However seven are the days of life beginning from Sunday to Saturday. These days too go by the names of the planets Ravi, Candra and so on. Rahus and Ketu are the two nodes who entered the count among the planets as Chayagrahas. They follow the main planets. Moreover they do not have any orbit .They are simply ascending and descending nods of ecliptic and moon orbit

Magha _3

Let us know the prominent festivities in this month. At first, on 5th day of Shukla-Paksha it is called Sri Pancami or Vasanta Pancami. This is the first festival when Goddess Sarasvati is worshipped. She is known also as Sarada Devi, Syamala Devi and Vag Devi. She is called Jnanasarasvati. On this day Sarada-puja is done. She is a Goddess who blesses good knowledge and good education (sadbuddhi and vidyanaipunya). On this day many people observe the important samskara namely Aksharabhyasam to their children with a belief that the child would be good in education, learning and prosperity.The child is introduced to writing the alphabets and salutation to Lord Siva well known as Dakshinamuty, a guru to all. On this day Goddess Sarasvati is offered Payasa as food. And the child is made to write ‘Om namahsivayasiddhamnamah’. In Devi Bhagavata details of Sarasvati Aradhanaare given. We have prayer to Sarasvatiin a length of a Veda-Sukta by name Sarasvati-Sukta that could be recited on that occasion specially.The sixth day of the month namely Shashthi is festival of Lord Subrahmanya. He is born on this day and so his puja is done. Abrahmacari (unmarried Boy) is fed and worshipped symbolically on this day to get the grace of the Murugan. The next day is Rathasaptami, when Sun turns to the northern direction fully and gallops to pick up more and more heat. On this day Suryaradhana is done with offering of payasa (naivedya). Arunaprasnapurvaka Surya-namaskaras could be done to get the grace of this deity. Arunaprasna is the first section of Taittiriya Aranyaka. It contains thirty two passages reciting which 32 namaskaras are offered to Suryadeva. Surya loves prostrations (namaskarapriyobhanuh). On the Eleventh day we get Bhishma Ekadasi when Bhishamacarya gave up his body (bhautikasarira) in the presence of Sri Krishna. He is the avatar of one of the eight Vasus. This ekadasi is virtuous and people get their desires fulfilled. This day is called ‘Bhishmaikadasi’. Bhishma had the boon from his father Santanu Maharaja to leave the body whenever he desired (svacchandamarana scope). Then we get the Purnima, the full Moon day. Every month we get Full moon days (Purnimas.) But this is one of the three special Purnimas of each year. Actually Asvija Purnima, Kartika Purnima and Magha Purnima are best. Especially on this Purnima day, there would Magha Nakshatra. On this day when bath to Siva is done, it is highly fetching and beneficial. Siva Purana extols more details on this aspect. Texts like Padmapurana, Nirnayasindhu, Krityatattva elaborate on the importance of bath at early hours of the day before sunrise. Very auspicious would it be if the bath and dip is taken in the sacred river Ganges at Kasi or elsewhere where the Ganga flows. Even other sacred rivers too remain helpful for the ritual of Maghasnana with sankalpa. In Bhagavata too the merit of taking dip in Ganga is described, It is said there that no other river but ganga waters has exclusive power to undo the sins at that time. In this month not only the Devataradhana even Pitrutarpana is also recommended to be significant as it pleases the Manes (the Pitrus). Magha-Nakshatra is the constellation of Pitri-devataa (deity of ancestors).

After Purnima, New Moon days begin. On eighth day it is called ‘Anaghashtami’. Lord Dattatreya is worshipped. Anagha Devi is revered as the goddess Lakshmi herself. She is called Anagha Lakshmi. We can get the blessings of Guru as well as Goddess with this worship. He is known as Dattaguru. We recite amantram ‘Dattagurumbhaje’ simply to get his grace. Dattatreys is the avatar of three Murtis Brahma, Siva and Vishnu who are three forces and Powers creation, annihilation and maintenance of the Universe. Therefore, Dattatreya is the preceptor who blesses all the three abilities in the upasakas. Also Natya Ganapati is worshipped on this day. He provides expertise further in the performing arts and excellences in the professional career. Ganapati is known in 32 forms and therein Natya Ganapati is special.

Actually every thirteenth day (trayodasi) of each month we get Pradosha Puja when Siva is worshipped. That day is called as Masasivaratri. The next day on the caturdasi at midnight Sivaratri actually dawns. But this month alone that day is called Mahasivaratri when Siva is worshipped strongly all the time. It has three durations (yamas) of night. People worship Lord Shiva with Mahanyasapurvaka Rudrabhishekas and other pujas. They also recite many Siva stotras. All this activity provides benefit and hope for liberation and mundane prosperity. After all one of the most important is to a get masa-punya as far as possible in the given calendar of Life to everybody including gods and others. Everybody is born but never the Brahma who is Lord Purusha Narayana who is described as ‘ajayamanobahudhavijayate’ in Purushasukta of RV. It is said here that the Lord does not take birth but causes births to take place.

Besides all these festivals and vows (vratas) etc. in this month, the Sundays are auspicious and important. They are best days for Surya Anushthanas. The forms of rites and devotion like Arunaprasnaparayanam, Arunahomam and recitation of Surya Sahasranama, Adityahrudayamand more are observed these days depending on the convenience and time-scope. This is technically called as Maghabhanuvara.

All the days of this month bath before sunrise is precious. This is called as Maghasnanavratam. That itself brings merit, unknown cleansing, peace and prosperity (punya).

Thus this Magha-Masa is a month well liked by gods and more so the Goddess Saradadevi, Subrahmanyaswamy, Bhismacarya who is Vishnu Rupa only. On Purnima, Siva Parvatis, Goddess Anagha Devi, Anjaneya, Lord Narasimha, Lord Kumaraswamy etc. can be worshipped.

We have Magha Purana where we come across the super importance of this month. So let us get the special grace of the deities to smoothen our life free from hurdles and unwanted things.

Om namahsivayasivataraya ca.’

Concept of New Year (or Calendar) in Vedic System (Part- II)

Continued from Part-I

Vikram Samvat (Chaitraadi):

After winter season, agriculture starts with spring, so spring equinox is generally a starting point of another system of calculating years. It coincided with sun’s entry in Mesha (0 degree in the zodiac) in 285 AD. Now it is on 14th April. After 25 years since his coronation, Vikramaditya (82BC -19 AD), the king of Ujjayini, started Vikrama samvat in 3044 kali or 57 BC from spring equinox when the sun entered in Mesha (at the initial point of Ashwini) in the lunar month of Chaitra Krishna paksha (Dark half). But later on, the commencement of Vikrama Samvat was postponed to 15 days and celebrated from auspicious Chaitra Shukla Paksha Pratipada, the starting day of Vasant Navaratra (9 sacred autumnal days of Goddess Durga).

In present time, it falls 15 days after Holi (on Phalgun Shukla poornima or full moon). This tithi (i.e. the 1st day of Chaitra Shukla) is known as epoch and copiously termed as Kalpadi (the 1st day of Kalpa) & Yugadi (1st day of Yuga) in Hindu scriptures and astronomical texts. In ancient astronomical texts, this tithi is referred as the first day of creation. It is also celebrated as the Matsya-Jyanti since according to Puranas, it was the day when lord Vishnu reincarnated himself as Matsya to sail the ship of Manu across the Pralay (the great flood). In north-west region of India especially in Rajasthan this tithi is also celebrated as Gana gaur or Gana gauri. Couples offer their prayers to goddess Gauri (manifestation of Durga). In Maharashtra and south India this tithi is also celebrated as Gudi Padawa. Currently, Vikram Samvat 2072, known as Keelaka, is moving on the verge of its end on 7th April 2016. The New Vikram Samvat 2073 will be started from 8th April 2016. The name of New Vikram Samvat is Saumya.

Do’s & Don’ts of this month:

  • Offer prayers to the goddess Durga.
  • According to various Grihya-Sutras, oil-massage considered as an auspicious work in this month.
  • Eat Neem leaves with Gud (the condensed form of Sugar cane).
  • Milk, Curd, Ghee & Honey must be avoided in this month.

Vikram Samvat (Kartikaadi):

There is another Vikram Samvat which is being practiced in Gujarat, starts from Kartika Shukla Pratipada and thus called as Vikram Samvat Kartikadi. It is believed that keeping the suitable conditions for trading through sea voyages in mind, King Vikramaditya himself started this calendar as well for the trading purpose in Gujarat from this month. It begins from the 1st day of Kartik Shukla Paksha, just after Deepavali. Apart from Vikram Samvat there are; Srishti (creation) samvat, Parashuram-samvat, Yudhishthir Samvat and Kali Samvat.

Let's Explore Science... Space

Parashurama Samvat (6177 BC):

Parashuram Samvat started from the time of killing of Kartveerya or Sahasraarjun by lord Parashuram.  Incarnation of Lord Vishnu in the form of Parashurama took place in the Treta of descending period which started from 9,102 BC. Since he born in 9th treat during this period, thus his period starts from 9102-8×360=6,222 BC. According to Mahabharat, in 6177 BC he killed the Kaartiveerya Arjun which is the advent of Parashuram Samvat. It is called Kollam in Kerala, starting in 6,177 BC.

Yudhishtihir Samvat(3139 BC):

According to Brihat Samhita(13/3), when Saptarshi (Ursa Major) was in Magha Nakshtra (Regulus), Yudhisthir was crowned in 3139BC. Hence the Yudhishthir Samvat started from 3139BC.

Kali Samvat (3102BC):

KaliYuga Started after 36 years of lord Sri Krishna’s demise in 3102 BC on Magh Shukla Pratipada (17/18 February). Hence, 5117 years have passed since the Beginning of Kali Samvat or Era.

Shaka and Samvatsara are 2 different Scenario:

As the word Samvat has been used in previous paragraphs, one must know that Samvatsar and Shaka; these two words are being used in same meaning because of ignorance. Even Shalivahan- shaka is frequently called as ‘shaka-samvat’ which has no meaning. It can be either ‘shaka’ or ‘samvat’. The word Shaka is used in astronomical texts for calculation. In Vedas the word Shaka is used for ‘the bundled form of kush’. A kush (straw) is a thin line shaped object and a symbol of small unit in counting. By making bundle, ‘kusha(Panini 4/108) becomes stronger, and is called shaka {powerful (Panini 5/16)}. Thus total count of days (ahargana) is called shaka, and the year system starting from a point is also called ‘shaka’. Shaka is considered related to Shaka tribe or the Shaka–dvipa (continent) which surrounds or is adjacent to Jambu-dvipa as per puranas. But no Shaka in India, was started by Shaka invaders. It is only a misconception of ignorant historians. Actually it was Shalivahana, the grandson of Vikramaditya who started the ShalivahanaShaka in 78 AD after defeating the Shaka invaders. Apart from Shalivahana, there are shakas in name of Shudraka in 756 BC, Shri Harsha shaka in 456 BC, Kalchuri or Chedi shaka in 248 AD etc.

The Christian Era or Eesavee Samvat:

The Julian, now Gregorian calendar does not start with the exact points of sun’s entry in the zodiac signs. This is commonly called Christian calendar. It was started by Julius Caeser, emperor of Roman Empire in 45 BC after 10 years of Vikram Samvat. He wanted to start the year on winter solstice, but the practice was to start month from new moon day all over the world. So despite his order, the year started 7 days after winter solstice in Puash Krishna of 10th Vikram Samvat. The original intended day of start of year was called Christmas.

-Dr. Shyam Deo Mishra, Assistant Professor, Rashtriya Sanskrit Sansthan, New Delhi

Scientific Significance of OM

              – Dr. Raj Kumar, Assistant Professor, Institute of Advanced Sciences, Dartmouth, MA.

IMG_5362Dr. Kumar has developed a broad multidisciplinary background in analytical chemistry, biochemistry, spectroscopy, biophysical studies, cell culture, cell and animal assays. He is an alumni of Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi where he completed his bachelor and master in science. He completed his Ph.D. from University of Massachusetts, USA, in the field related to Botulinum Neurotoxin. Before joining to the institute, he worked as a lecturer in UMASS, Dartmouth. Apart from his own field, he has also developed the interest in studying the various aspects of Vedas. He already published an article about Ayurveda. As a rational thinker, he emphasized more on scientific aspects of Vedas.

From the very words of the Krishna Yajurveda, Kapisthala-katha-Samhita (42.1) —–Prajāpatir vai idam āsīt: In the beginning was Brahman. Tasya vāg dvitīya āsīt; with whom was the Vāk (or Sound)… Vāg vai paramam Brahma; and the Vāk (Sound) is Brahman”. According to the “Shabda Yoga”—– The Science of Light and Sound, creation came into being through the light and sound of the creator. This sound is called OM. There is no scientific evidence which can provide proofs whether OM is a sound of creation or not. Although all the spiritual thoughts/aspects/truth cannot be verified with modern scientific tools, a few fundamental bases can be tested with modern scientific instrumentation (may not be appropriate all the time). In this blog, my efforts will be more concentrated on the scientific basis rather than the spiritual one.

First look into the phonetics of the word. According to Mandukya Upanishad (Johnston, 1923), OM is the manifestation of all states of time, Atman, consciousness, and knowledge. In Sanskrit, the sound “O” is a diphthong spelled “AU”.  A diphthong is a mixture of two vowel sounds and can be separately heard. This is why OM sounds “AUM”, which represents the 3-folds division of time.

A (apti) represents the waking state (symbolizes darkness, inertia, ignorance).

U (utkarsha) represents the dream or creative state (symbolizes passion, activity, dynamism).

M (miti) represents the state of deep sleep or meditative state (symbolizes purity, truth, light).

When we sleep we dream and this dream state is part of bigger dream state which we experience in waking state. The dream which we see in the meditative or sleeping state is the dream within dreams, and the life is a big dream or illusion. At the end of OM chanting, there is complete silence.  This represents the state of Turiya, the fourth state; infinite or pure consciousness. Achieving this state evaporates all dreams and one faces the reality (dream disappears and truth emerges). Chanting of OM symbolizes a journey of darkness to pure light—–

The symbol of OM is also representation of these four states (Johnston, 1923). The large bottom curve symbolizes the waking state, A. The middle curve signifies the dream state, U. The upper curve denotes the state of deep sleep, M. The dot signifies the fourth state of consciousness, Turiya. The semi-circle at the top represents “Maya” and separates the dot from the other three states. The illusion of Maya due to the materialistic world is an obstacle to the realization of the pure consciousness (Fig. 1).

Figure 1Figure 1: A representation of word OM.

Now, examine the significance of the above explanation scientifically. Heisnam Jina Devi and colleagues analyzed sound related to OM (A, U, M and AUM). They observed that A is flat, U is initially flat but finally tapered off or flattened off abruptly, and M is the synchronized sound of U which gradually tapered or flattened off. Thus, OM sound is a mixture of all three sounds (A, U, and M) (Fig. 2).

Figure 2 Figure 2: Spectral analysis of Vedic mantra OM (AUM) (Taken from Heisnam Jina Devi et al., 2004).

In another experiment, scientists analyzed fMRI before and after OM (Kalyani et al., 2011). Chanting of OM affects the vibration and generate resonances near to the ear, very close to the cranial nerves. These resonances are transmitted through the auricular branch of the vagus nerve. Chanting of OM has significant deactivation of amygdala, parahippocampal and hippocampal brain regions.

Chanting of OM mantra sequentially activates the stomach, spinal cord, throat, nasal and brain region. The energy moves from stomach all the way to the brain. Resonance observed in fMRI in the vagus nerve supports the above point. So, chanting OM has several benefits – therapeutic, physiological and spiritual.

Om is also called Pranava, meaning it sustains life and runs through the breath or Prana. The ‘O” or ‘AU’ sound makes all the bones of the thoracic cage vibrate, which leads to the vibration of lungs and finally to the delicate membranes of the alveolus. This can stimulate pulmonary cells and enables a proper exchange of air in the lungs.  These vibrations produce a much accentuated effects in the endocrine glands. This leads to the balance activation of several glands and organs. Besides this vibrational message, which results from the emission of the vowels ‘AU’, the latter acts especially in the abdominal and thoracic cage, whilst the vibration of ‘M’ in the skulls induces a vibration of the cranial nerves. Gurjar and Ladhake (2008) concluded, based on their research, that OM chanting steadys the mind, which ultimately helps in reducing stress of the human mind.

Based on the above data OM can be represented as a model (Fig. 3), summarizing the above arguments as follows. By chanting ‘A’ we activate communication of body and mind, whereas chanting ‘U’ and ‘M’ activates conscious and unconscious mind which finally connects to infinite or pure consciousness.

Figure 3(1)Figure 3: A model representing different components of OM.

In my view, there are two important components which are the basis of Vedic philosophy: a) The unmanifest (avyakt) gives rise to the manifest (vyakt), and b) Sound vibration is a tool which provides a medium for this transformation. The primordial sound is a medium (pure consciousness) from where everything emerged and to which everything will return. Thus, sound vibration has a profound effect on the physical, conscious/unconscious, astral, and spiritual body. This is one of the reasons why Vedic philosophy considers OM as a primordial sound.

References

Devi, HJ, Swamy, NVC, and Nagendra, HR (2004). Spectral analysis of Vedic mantra. International Journal of traditional knowledge, 3, 154 – 161.

Gurjar, AA, and Ladhake, SA (2008). Time-Frequency analysis of chanting Sanskrit Divine sound “OM” mantra. International Journal of Computer Science and Network Security, 8, 170- 175.

Johnston, C (1923). The Measures of the Eternal – Mandukya Upanishad. Theosophical Quarterly, October, 1923, 158-162.

Kalyani, BG, Venkatasubramanian, G, Arasappa, R, Rao, NP, Kalmady, SV, Behere, RV, Gangadhar, BN (2011). Neurohemodynamic correlates of “OM” chanting: A pilot functional magnetic resonance imaging study. International Journal of Yoga, 4, 3–6.

Sanskrit : A Language Sculpted to Perfection

– Dr. Sampadananda Mishra, Director, Sri Aurobindo Foundation for Indian Culture, Pondicherry, India

 Sampadananda Mishra

Dr. Sampadananda Mishra is passionate about Sanskrit. He has spoken at various conferences both nationally and internationally, conducts workshops, teacher training programmes and authored many books. Dr. Mishra has launched the first ever 24 hours Sanskrit Radio called Divyavani. The Govt. of India has conferred the President’s award (Maharshi Badarayna Vyasa Samman 2011) on Dr. Mishra for his outstanding contribution to Sanskrit.

Sanskrit, as many conscious learners have experienced, generates joy, clarity, purity and peace. It is indeed a perfect harmonizer (saamarasyaparaayanaa) that balances the body, mind and soul. It leads to true happiness and fills the heart and mind with a perfect sense of immortality. Its purity draws us, inspires us, constantly reminds us of the true aim of our life, and makes us conscious of the Truth that exists within us. The rhythmic beauty and melody of this language, vibrational purity of its sounds, richness of its phonetic quality, transparency of its root sounds and their senses, richness of its vocabulary and thought content, all these have made Sanskrit truly great.

Sanskrit always starts from a deeper base. It believes that the Sound and the Word are at the origin of creation. It believes that they have light, consciousness and power – the sound has potency. Therefore the meaning of the fundamental Sanskrit roots is not arbitrary but based on a deeper truth. Through a process of deep contemplation and intuition, it is possible for one to enter into the heart of a sound vibration and discover its meaning. This was the way of the Rishis when they gave meaning to the roots. Thus each seed-sound and each root-sound in Sanskrit has a fundamental meaning associated with this. Further the fundamental meaning can give rise to many other meanings related to the root-experience. By a deeper analysis of the Sanskrit sounds and words derived from root-sounds one can arrive at the fundamental experiences associated with those sounds and words. In this manner each word in Sanskrit has its own connotation, its definite shade of meaning, its special nuance.

Let us look at a few examples.

A letter in Sanskrit is called akshara (a + kshara) which literally means imperishable. This is not merely attributive. The term akshara reveals the whole secret of the speech process or the sound system. It says that the sound is eternal. It does not perish. Shabdonityah. Nityaavaivaak. Na vaakkshiiyate. It shows that the moment one makes a sound, it remains forever and can be retrieved by special yogic power. This is how the Veda Mantras are revealed to the Rishis in their meditation. The word vyakarana (vi + aa + kri + ana) is not limited simply to grammar. It shows the development and growth of speech from its undistinguished stage to the distinguished stage, and while doing so it leads to the Sound-force, the eternal shabdabrahman. The word darshana (from root drish to see) is not philosophy, but a seeing revelation; svaadhyaaya is not mere reading but the process of going deep into self contemplation. The word chatra is not an umbrella but anything that covers. The Sanskrit word for beauty is sushama. In its true sense it means superbly (su) equal (sama). This shows that true beauty is full of harmony. To remain svastha is not just to be healthy but to remain stable in one’s own state of being. When someone falls sick he becomes asvastha which means he has fallen from his own state of being. These are few examples showing not only the high connotative power of the Sanskrit words but also how Sanskrit has derived meanings of its words from their very depth. It shows that the meaning of the word is inherent within the word itself. And it is always discoverable by going back to the root of the word. And further the word and the meaning are inseparable. They fuse into one another and give life to one another. An in-depth study of many Sanskrit words shows that in this language a word is not just a conventional expression for an idea, but itself the parent and the creator of ideas. This transparent system of formation of words from the root sounds follows a natural process and is one of the important factors that makes Sanskrit an ever-creative language.

The resonating power and vibrational purity of Sanskrit make it a perfect instrument for an integral spiritual growth. Its very name Samskritam means ‘polished’, ‘refined’, ‘sculpted to perfection’. The physical structure of the language is flawless. Its construction follows an organic and logical development. In Sanskrit, all the sounds are articulated through five distinct places of articulation located in the mouth: throat, palate, cerebrum, root of the upper teeth and lips. Therefore, the sounds are guttural, palatal, cerebral, dental or labial. Though the letters of one group are pronounced from one location, yet each sound of that group differs from the other because of its internal efforts. For example: ka, kha, ga, gha and nga belong to the guttural group. Here ka is a hard unvoiced consonant with minimum breath; kha is also hard and unvoiced but it is pronounced with maximum breath; ga is soft and voiced with minimum breath while gha is soft and voiced with maximum breath; nga is the last sound in the group which is soft and voiced but nasal. For this sound, the breath gets released through nostrils and the mouth. The arrangement of the rest of the consonants in the Sanskrit alphabet follows the same order. The importance of this scientific organization lies in the degree of resonance created by each sound. Thus, the sounds of Sanskrit are amazingly capable of bringing clarity of articulation. And because of this refinement, perfection and structure, Sanskrit is capable of infusing into its conscious users a sense of completeness, scientific spirit and, at the same time, a sense of beauty and harmony.

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The mere speaking of or listening to the sounds of Sanskrit generates joy, clarity and inspiration. It has a refining influence on one’s consciousness. By a conscious use of this language one gets the result of doing Pranayama. Thus, Sanskrit, with its power of great resonance is highly powerful and potent for creating a happy and peaceful atmosphere in and around the one who uses it consciously. Furthermore, each language has its own dharma, its uniqueness, and when its growth and development are in harmony with that, then the language becomes capable not only of sustaining itself but also of enriching its users in many ways. An intimacy with Sanskrit also reveals that in its journey it has always been in harmony with its svabhava and svadharma.

The seers and sages (rishis) of ancient time were minutely discerning in their observations, and were highly conscious in the matter of using the language. They did not use the language just for the purpose of communication, they used it as a tool for discovering the true nature of their selves and all that they saw in and around themselves. Herein lies the sacredness of Sanskrit—it helps to discover the nature of everything; it helps to discover the sacredness of life. It is a force that functions at many levels of consciousness, ever purifying, ever formative and creative. It has tremendous potentiality to make the Divine Life possible on the earth.

However, the most practical value of learning Sanskrit lies in the fact that it trains the mind to think logically, brings clarity of expression, develops intellectual strength, and provides keen insight into the meanings of the words. The vibrational quality of Sanskrit has a direct impact on the functioning of the brain, and can help in enhancing memory and the ability to concentrate. Moreover, it helps in the growth of consciousness, has immense power in bringing a greater transformation.