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7.30.2006

The mark of a brahmin woman













It was a silent evening at home while I watched my mother prepare for Varalakshmi Nombu. The priced wooden temple came out of its bag and I proceeded with the yearly ritual of assembling the parts together. My fascination for temples made me look at this small mandapam in wood wondering whether I would be able to carve something similar.

An ancient bag, almost belonging to the previous century came back home from the bank with all silver items in it. Part of the booty was a silver pot, kuthi vallaku(lamps) and of course Amman herself wrapped in a red cloth which was her dress for the puja. Amman, wore necklaces made of semi precious stones, an elaborate nose ring, beautiful earrings that gave life to her bright eyes.

The following morning, Amma was draped in her madi saree (9 yard saree) reciting mantra and meticulously doing the puja. I watched Amma in her madi saree, a fairly complex outfit with innumerably tucks and twists to finally give the most gorgeous outlook to a brahmin woman - the virtues of Amman herself.

Amma was complete, with metti(toe rings) in her toes and golusu (anklets) to go with it in silver. They say these jewelery keep away all evil spirits and black magic, while she is free to tread on any ground, her purity being her only guard.

The madi saree itself is considered to be most pure as the yarn does not involve the killing of silk worms or pesticides as in the case of cotton. The yarn being pure and not bringing any "dosham" (sin) onto itself is considered the purest outfit a brahmin woman can wear. Hence worship of Amman is best done in a madi saree for it increases the spiritual power of the woman when she worships God.

Amma wore her bangles, a combination of emerald and rubies embedded in gold. She wore her six petaled "vairu thodu"(diamond earrings) embedded in gold and of course her nose ring. Gold is a significant metal worn on the human body, it has a power of its own. Being worn in the arms, ears and nose enhance the internal spiritual power of the brahmin woman. Puncturing of the nostrils allows the impurities in the inhaled breath to exit through the hole therefore allowing pure air to enter into the lungs. Puncturing of the ear lobes help similarly in health. Hence problems like sinus and headaches are minimized.

Amma never uses the hair dryer. She says our hair gets spoiled and it brings in side effects on the face. Most traditional brahmin women have long hair to comb, hence water should not remain on the head. Hair should be dried naturally ensuring there is no water accumulation. This reduces tension headaches and sinus. Amma always dries her hair by brushing it vigorously creating water sprays all around her with our most famous "thundu" - the brahmin absorbent white towel, completely functional but fairly lousy to look at after a while!!

Then of course the most fabulous mark of a brahmin woman is the big red bindi Amma wears on her forehead. With vibhuti smeared above it, it completes the picture. Amma looks like Amman just descended into the house, simply perfect. With jasmine flowers locked into her hair, the red madi saree brightens up the whole house as Amma runs into rhythm with her mantras to Amman. I feel so small when I look at Amma perform, still wishing every time I would get a chance to do the same puja with just as much devotion as she does it with.

Truly a divine form, with her feet richly colored with turmeric, subtly enhanced by the silver metti and anklets contrasting with the red madi saree with a thick gold border, she simply looks great! I sat back in my "paavaadai" wishing some day I would enter the divine category of brahmin women, a form of Amman relived.

7.17.2006

Dip in the sacred river.













Haridwar: Along the Ganges

Going back to the north after about 10 years was indeed very nostalgic as I walked out of Delhi airport to take a car to Haridwar. I had heard a lot about this place and it seemed to be my year for cleansing! If Rameshwaram was not enough, I found myself looking forward to a dip in the Ganges as well.

Ah! The Ganges, I had read so much about it in the books, the great River Goddess, the Goddess who washes off our sins, the river that takes a millions souls to heaven. The river that is now polluted, the river that purifies the soul, the Ganges. I wondered about the Ganges as I sat in the car and headed towards Haridwar. The land of the Kumbh Mela, the land where a thousand Rishis have come to sing countless praises of this mighty river. It felt strange as I thought of Shiva Gangadhara, as Ganges stayed locked into his knotted hair till she was finally set free to flow down to Bhuloka and wash away the sins of Bhagiratha's ancestors by flowing over their ashes and releasing them to heaven.

It was clearly the reason why we continue to burn bodies along its ghats... A hope we reach heaven and not come back in rebirth to suffer another life. Thoughts went by furiously about how mythology has shaped our lives, about how Rishis left stories behind for us to follow a way of life and about how we try so hard now to recollect all this and give up saying we dont need it in this age anymore. I looked out of the window to see the car zipping through greenery, with mad highway traffic almost killing people on the road.

And then the excitement mounted, I was reaching Haridwar, a land I had once visited, of which I knew nothing now but looked out expectantly from the car hoping to catch a glimpse of the Ganges. My heart started to pound, the excitement rising ever so high to see one of the most celebrated rivers in the Indian mind. Ganges appears every where. In ritual Ganges is worshipped first while bathing with the words "Aham Gangai Namaskaromi". Ganga devi is worshipped during ritual with certain hymns attributed to her. Ganges appears as a Goddess on the carved brackets of pillars at temple entrances as well as on cave temples across the country. Ganges stays locked in Shiva's Jatamukuta in ancient sculptures of Shiva Gangadhara and Ganges water is the purest in temple ritual.

The power of Ganges was just fictitious till now until I entered Haridwar to take a dip in this Great river. The first sight of Ganges sent goose pimples through my skin. She spoke pure volume and power. The ghats at Haridwar seemed to be built to just direct her carefully but not enough to try stopping her.

As I descended into the river down the Ghat steps, the chilling waters of the Ganges just ate into my marrow. Oh God this was not simple and I was there for a "Darpanam" in the Ganges and it suddenly appeared tougher than I thought. The steps are steep, and the iron rods are too far away to reach. My knees and feet had to brave it, the current was a little too strong.

Six steps down and shivering in the water with the temples of Haridwar towering above at the other end of this vast river was an experience in itself. I felt small, weak and shivered as I held onto my dear self and prayed to the Goddess to not get any stronger on my knees.

While I said my prayers I admired her. Ganges has character, she is wild and furious and reveals the same power that Bhagiratha had prayed to Lord shiva to help control. They say she would have destroyed Bhuloka and washed away this world... I would believe that. She had the power to do anything as I watched her flow by so fast. She was not going to stop.

She is mind blowing and daring at the same time, challenging anyone to enter her waters. She is beautiful and defines the power of a Goddess in a single force. She is well respected and speaks a world so different from what we live in. A world so pure, so full of faith, so close to my heart and yet so far away. I am speechless when it comes to describing the Ganges. She is an experience, blessed are those who step into her waters for her waters just cleansed the mind and soul.

Ganges is truly a Goddess well worth worshipping. Simply Divine.

"Aham Gangai Matha Namaskaromi"

7.10.2006

High spirits and mind power.

Do spirits exist? Is there a world out there we are unaware of because we just don't want to know it?

There was an incident recently in some one's house where there seemed to be a spirit hovering around the house, though interestingly not disturbing the inmates. A few learned men came by and refused to enter the house because they insisted there were spirits inside.

The saga ended pretty fast when one of the learned men came over and decided to "capture" the spirit and send it packing.

It was an interesting story and hard to believe but when it happens so close to home, you are really left with little choice to go against this reality.

Spirits are typically the souls of those people who die earlier than the expected date. Hence someone who commits suicide typically ends up as a spirit and hangs around till the actual time of death when they move further up the heavenly chain namely Yamaloka where Chitragupta brings out their deeds during their life times and decides their fate at Yamaloka - so try to be good.

Subsequently they are taken to Devaloka where they shall continue performing puja and go through penance to reach Lord Shiva and Vishnu and hope for the day they will head to Vaikuntam or Kailasa. While this is not so easy in Kaliyuga, lets see what happens to spirits.

Good and bad spirits have always dominated our imagination. Well is it imagination? Its more fact than imagination. Spirits if left alone hang around on Neem or tamarind trees. Else they are found near water bodies like lakes and rivers and the sea coast. They love darkness and cannot handle light. They love water but cannot handle fire. Hence the superstition - Do not go out in the night near any water body.

What would they do? Spirits tend to come and settle on you, when you venture out in these places by night. When a spirit rests on you, you don't get to see it, but feel as if a whole ten ton stone has been placed on you. It affects you physically and psychologically. Spirits who come can go just as fast. Hence the truth in the story of Vikram and Vetal.

Spirits react to smell or odour. They love the smell of jasmine and roses, the smell of food and incense. This is the reason for the superstition - women shouldn't go to bed with flowers in their head because it attracts spirits.

Spirits are attracted to various odours, so should some real smart guy want to hypnotise a spirits, its through smell. The attraction levels towards smell is so high that a spirit can succumb to any task assigned once they are intoxicated by the odour. Hence the world of black magic came in.

How do they look? Well spirits have a mind, largely appear translucent and do not have feet. The most beautiful spirits appear with lovely eyes, open hair, and look like a bride who is just five days into her marriage. Spirits are basically good and harmless. They do have a weird sense of humour and are playful. Maybe they would just jump on your back and slap you when you venture out at night! There are situations where you can see them and your friend can just hear them. They have a weird laugh and sound really strange during communication (am not referring to plan chit). Spirits understand languages.

So when do they turn evil? When a bad guy offers blood(chickens) instead of flowers and food to eat. Yes, gory as it may sound, spirits are by nature gentle beings, but its a human who diverts a spirit's mind and makes it do weird/evil things. Spirits can do good things too like predict immediate future and give you hints for something you lost.

Spirits come to homes where regular worship is not done. When spirits enter the house, there is a strong breeze before they come in with shreaks. Spirits can stay endlessly in your house until they are finally made to go away. Once out of the house, spirits wait for instructions from the bad guys who sent them there for around two days before they move on.

Last but not the least, spirits suck out the essence of any food offered. Meaning when you place a cube of sugar and invite a spirit over, it takes out the essence of the sugar cube. Should you attempt tasting the cube later it will be insipid and not sweet as expected. Strange but true!