The essence of the Vilva leaf

To the Great Lord Trimurthi
I see your reflection in my hand

I see your three eyes shine bright
I see the knowledge of life unfold

I see the trident of Love
Pierce my heart and kill my ego

I seek this moment to be with you

Your picture in my mind I hold

As I witness you dance within

A great hall of gold

The beats that echo within my walls
The world I do not know any more
I come with a simple offering my Lord
To Your heavenly abode.

The golden leaf inscribed

Your seed syllables of life

Hang down within my chamber

Ignite within my soul

The Lord resides for ever

Within my heart of gold

Gold Vilva cover my soul

Oh Lord, take me home.

Bilva patra, or vilva leaves otherwise known as the Bel leaf is the most sacred offering to Lord Shiva. Its a herb with very
high medicinal value. The vilva leaf has found its presence across the various Puranas and has played an important role in various mythologies.

Quoted from a few web sources:

In the Agni Purana it is believed that on any auspicious day in Bhadra, it is considered very sacred to worship Lord Shiva
with a day long fast and have vilva leaves to eat at night.
In the Padma Purana and the Brahma Purana it is believed that Shiva once hid from asuras by covering Himself with vilva
In the Skanda Purana it is believed that this plant grew out of the perspiration from Parvati when it trickled to the ground
while she was in penance worshipping Lord Shiva. It is also believed that the various incarnations of Parvati reside on different parts of the vilva tree.
Another Purana relates that Lakshmi used to pray to Lord Shiva everyday by offering Him lotus buds. On one such day, during
her worship she fell short of two buds. Reflecting that Lord Vishnu had once compared the beauty of her breasts with a lotus, she humbly offered one of her breasts to the Lord during her worship. When she was about to offer the second by cutting it off, Lord Shiva moved by her devotion appeared before her and stopped her. He made her cut breast the fruit of the vilva tree.
In the Bhavishya Purana it is believed that during the Samudra Manthan, after the poison had oozed out and Lord Shiva
swallowed it save the world, Goddess Lakshmi rose out of the sea. She carried in a gold pot the sacred seeds of the vilva tree associated with Lord Shiva.
(Please note - the details above may not be authentic)

The vilva leaf in essence is the very Lord Himself in the form of Lord Trayambakeshwar, whose third eye reveals to us the
truth of life an existence. The vilva leaf is a reflection of the Lord's eyes, bringing alive the presence of Agni, Surya and Chandra each of whom are a representation of each leaf of the Vilva offering made to the Lord. Therefore the offering of vilva to the Lord is always a sets of 3.

The vilva leaf finds its divine presence in the Golden hall at Chidambaram where it hangs down to reveal the presence of the
Akasha Linga. It is a beautiful delicate gold curtain of vilva leaves strung together with the Lord's beeja inscribed in it. The offering of the vilva patra when offered to the Lord grants the removal of sin committed over three janmas or births.

Last but not the least, the Loknath Shiv temple at Puri, was installed by Lord Ram and has a Shiva Linga that is constantly
under water. During the Saranti Samobar Mela held during Shivrathri the upper part of the main Shiva Linga is known to emit steam which symbolizes the Holy river Ganges, thereby revealing the Linga. This Linga is worshiped with flowers, a mixture of herbs and sandal paste, all of which are offered during abhishekam and they remain in the water that surrounds this Linga. The result is spectacular as this watery mixture tends to have a different "fragrance" with the offerings poured in and is believed to have a very high medicinal value and contains the essence of the Lord. This is considered to be the prasad of the temple and is called Bilva Patra.

Loknath Temple, Puri


Ravan Dahan and Dussehra

Ranchi, 1984 Ravan Dahan

The day came to a close with the rising moon and I shut out the lights for a good night sleep. But sleep, there was none, not even a wink, for the Ramlila next door ran right into the night. Folk
music clouded the atmosphere and left little room for anyone to try sleeping. It was a couple of years later that I went with my father to witness one such Ramlila and watched Hanuman running around the stage, performing to an enthralled audience.

Those days were exciting, as we prepared the next day to go to see the Ravan Dahan which was planned to start at Sunset. The puja vacation had been good so far, with Durga Maa pandals dotting the Ranchi landscape, each pandal profusely decorated with new found creativity.

We reached early, and my father made it a point that my sister and I get the best view. Ranchi is a small little town, we just have one big Ravan back there standing in all his finery with
Kumbhakaran and Meghnath on either side. All three stood center ground as the crowds began to gather around them. Ravan had his heads dominating the skyline and as I watched him, perched on the roof of one of the apartments, my childish heart sat back watching him loaded effigy wondering why he was so evil - a big bad evil king, loaded with paper and fire crackers, ready to be burnt.

As the sun set, three huge trucks drove into the maidaan(ground) with the great Lord Ram and his vaanar(monkey) army zooming around the effigies of the three evil kings. A much much smaller army and smaller men, displayed their might against these static effigies representing evil. And then it happened, Ram shot the first burning arrow right into the stomach of Kumbhakaran while Lakshman took Meghnath. Two fiery arrows flew into the air from the truck below and lit the anxiety in every one's heart. Will it reach the effigy?

Sure it did, and Kumbhakaran and Meghnath ran into flames, spreading light and color into the air as they burnt down. Then Ram struck again from the truck, and it hit Ravan straight in the
heart and the crowds cheered! The most evil king had been hit on this day, and he fell into flames as the rising fire burnt into him sending sparks and crackers into the air. It was just beautiful, living the Ramayan a top a roof as the smoke rose into the air.

And here I sit, looking at the same Ravan, who is also one of the greatest devotees of Lord Shiva. He excelled in playing the veena, such was his devotion that he played the tunes from the veins of his hand. Such was his greatness, that the Ravana Anugrahamurthi describes him to have had the will power and strength enough to shake mount Kailasa, because he wanted to take Kailasa back to Lanka, but Lord Shiva pressed down the mountain with His toe. Its strange Ravan has been unsuccessful in uprooting Kailasa, and in bringing back one of the Jyothir Lingas. Much as Lord Shiva appreciated his worship, He never went to Lanka with Ravan. My question is, was Ravan really all that evil?

Courtesy: Glossary of Indian art.


Divine dialog with Lord Shiva

To Lord Nandikeshwara I pray
O Drummer to the Lord's dancing feet
One of Lord Shiva's divine sons
His mount, His vehicle
An inmate of His paradise
Constantly in the world of Dhyana
Silent syllables of power
The very seed of life, perfect life
You breathe out every moment
Within your space
At the doorstep of the Lord.

Nandikeshwara, more commonly known as Nandi, the bull, is barely known for being more than just a Vahana. Found at the entrance of every shrine to Lord Shiva, He is seated there always in Dhyana, in silence and in constant meditation. An example of complete devotion, of beauty in selflessness, of peace and the destruction of the ego, of the self, of "I".

Nandi, seated there with a benign look, is in constant dialog with the Lord, where the only exchange is the very beeja mantra of the Lord. He is always present with the Lord, in front of Him with His mind seeped in divine concentration.

The world around Nandi!

A bustling crowd of people probably rushing in and out, unaware of this divine dialog. If only they stopped their hurried lives and tried to listen, the music and rhythm would touch their souls. There are ways to stop and listen, to breathe the same air that Nandi breathes, to listen to the jingle in His feet, to listen to the resounding mridangam as the Lord Dances in Ananda Tanava.

In all the noise and crowds that visit, the arguements that flair up for a better view, the blaring loud speakers that deafen the ears there is still a way out. It is to move the mind away from the world outside and move to the world inside. The purpose of this shrine is to invite all to forget their lives and live a moment in space, where time or people dont matter.

As the fire of the arti rises within the chamber lighting up the walls and bringing alive the Lord, after divya darshan is received through agni, one needs to walk out with that vision in their mind. As the eye rolls over the other deities in their shrines, the mind remains within the shrine chamber. Taking the path around the chamber it is advised not cross between the Lord and Nandi, or break into this divine dialog, invisible to all and silent to the ears. Being a part of this divine dialog, is a higher form of worship.

Walk up to Nandi, come to His left, and join the dialog and then you can hear the music, the rhythm and feel the potency of dhyana. Raise your left hand and place it over Nandi's horns, your thumb on one and your ring finger on the other, with the middle finger and index finger folded in. Place your right hand on Nandi, near His tail and bend over. Its the best view and the most sacred. The divine form of the Lord stands straight ahead, with no one in the way. The divine form glows ahead and we begin to see the Lord through Nandi's eyes. Stay, dont move, feel His presence. Smell the air, see the flames and listen to the rhythm of the Lord in your heartbeat. Its oneness with Nandi, oneness with the Lord most favourite deciple. Merge into the time, merge into the moment and cease to exist as the self.

Then whisper your wish into Nandi's ears and pray to Him, that the Lord would hear you through the divine dialog mingled with your mind, with your words, with your presence.

Its a moment felt, a feeling of peace to be cherished. Its a divine dialog between the Lord, Nandi and you.


Religious Tolerance in India

Click on the photo to enlarge.

The traditional world: Chidambaram

An ancient temple, seeped in its old orthodox ways of living, is precise with its timings of ritual to Lord Nataraja. This is Chidambaram Nataraja temple, an ancient temple that seems to show far more openness to religious tolerance than our political counterparts.

And within this temple a rare unbelievable event happens almost every day, one that is part of living in this temple city but one that you wouldn't find anywhere else in the world. Two women burkha clad, hold their slippers in their hands and walk through this temple. It seems like they take this route as their regular short cut through the temple courtyard.

They walk on with no hesitation, with freedom in their minds and no fear that they will be stopped. We looked at them and smiled, as I captured the moment, a moment that the world needs to see today, a truth that echoes in our little towns that there is communal brotherhood.
It was a glitter of respect and mutual honour as a safron clad man walked by with the same peace as did women clad in black covering thier identity to the world at large.

The Corporate World: Iftar party at Chennai

It's the month of Ramzan and a group of muslims got together to surprize a largely hindu audience of an IT company targetted to meeting its goals. In the middle of all the hussle and crunching timelines, they decided to treat an audience of 150.

It was an event in the history of corporate living where everyone is trying to get the better of the other and only position and money largely does the talking. It was an event conducted at work, involving people from all other faiths instead of leaving for home early and keeping the festivities limited to their community.

Everyone participated as the group served the food, catering to vegetarians and non vegetarians at the same time. They gave out the delicious dishes that they had gotten together and sponsored for the entire division.
They helped in serving bringing in a feeling of brotherhood, making sure everyone irrespective of position got a good mouthful. They fed a crowd of 150 before they broke their own fast.

Here is a living truth that we as a society are all Indians irrespective of religious or language barriers.
These are small things in a big world both ancient or modern. The feeling of brotherhood is best brought out when people from different faiths come together and harmony rules the land. It is in the hearts of the common folk.

If you want to know what religious tolerance is, learn it from an Indian.

Click on the photo to enlarge.


The voice of a billion people

An atheist decided to blow up a bridge, a bridge that holds the belief of one billion voices. A bridge that stands as a legacy to the most ancient mythology in this world. If we don't voice our belief now when will we?

An insensitive man claimed that Valmiki said Lord Ram was a drunkard. Yes, Valmiki was living next door when he said it. One billion hearts took a beating that day; one billion people were angered. Isn't it time to shout back?

The Sethu Samudram belongs to a billion voices of India and not to the current ruling government. Governments will come and go, but the reverberating sound of a billion voices will continue to ring in the y"ears" of history.

A construction company claims that they are doing good by "rebuilding" an ancient temple at Omkareshwar along the Narmada, without adequate historical or architectural research. It is a temple that carries one of the most ancient Jyothir Lingas. If we don’t protect out legacy now when will we?

Our culture is at stake; an ancient world is almost forgotten giving way to new world culture at the cost of questioning centuries of belief and destroying what ever little we have for economic gain which we can live without. If we don’t realize that now when will we?

A masjid was broken down mercilessly. Babur's only surviving legacy to this country's ancient heritage was pulled down. If we don't save what is left of our history now when will we?

This is an age that sees no rule to dharma, no rule to goodness, no rule to goodwill and no rule of ahimsa. If we don't check our values now when will we?

Today the ancient bridge built by Lord Ram is questioned for its worth, because they don't see money in our heritage. Tomorrow they may want to break down a standing temple claiming real estate. If we don’t save our identity who will?

Do we need the west to sell Yoga back to us?
Do we need the west to teach us the value of turmeric?
Do we need the west to save our heritage by proclaiming them world heritage sites?

Who are we then? What are we then? What is our identity?

Isn't it crazy that an IT park is on the list of places to show when a white man shows up here to experience the legacy called India.

As Rabindranath Tagore said:

Where the mind is without fear and the head held high;
Where knowledge is free;
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls;
Where words come out from the depth of truth;
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit(or materialism);
Where the mind is led forward by Thee into ever-widening thought and action;
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.