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2.26.2008

Taraka Mantra - Passage to heaven

It was a mournful morning, as Srinivasan watched a family cremating their loved one at the Harishchandra Ghat. The Ganges flowed by in all her zest, the waters reflecting the sunlight as tiny droplets of fire on her watery veil, dotting her various ripples with glowing lights while the fire on the banks raged on consuming another man as his soul departed.

Srinivasan looked around, observing the sad faces of people who could not think or perceive life beyond the burning dead man who lay in front, reminding everyone that if they got lucky, they would get a chance to be cremated here too. Then Srinivasan turned and stared into the Ganges, through the clouded air wondering whether he could ever have set eyes on the silent presence of Lord Shiva whispering the Taraka Mantra into the ears of the dead, leading them to heaven and washing their karmas of this janma away into the pure chilling waters of the Ganges.

He stood and watched this world, distant to their emotions of sorrow, but aware completely of the reality of death that knocks at every door when the time comes. He heard the echo in the background.

Rama Nama Satya Hai Rama Nama Satya Hai

Low voices of men reverberated to the rhythm of the Ganges as the rising pyre ate into the dead. Srinivasan was at peace with himself, quite emotionless to the morose event taking place in front of him. Did these people even know why they were uttering those sacred words?

Srinivasan watched on as the words Ra Ma Na Ma began to echo in his mind. Rama Nama is the mantra that is called the Taraka Mantra. Taraka denotes 'tari' or the boat that takes the soul and crosses over the waters of samsara. Samsara, which means "flowing together" denotes the cycle of birth, death and rebirth, a constant cycle in time.

The Taraka Mantra is the name of Lord Rama himself. As the great Tamil poet Thyagaraja sings, 'Ra' is a syllable taken from the Ashtaksharam of Lord Vishnu - Om Na Mo Na Ra Ya Na Ya, and 'Ma' is taken from the Panchaksharam of Lord Shiva - Na Ma Shi Va Ya. The result is 'Rama', the beeja mantra of Lord Rama as named by Sage Vashishta.

The essence of the mantra is such. Sage Vishwamitra had done constant upasana and attained Sakshatkara over all the devatas of all the mantras. He gifted the outcome of these mantras to Rama be initiating him into it. With the utterance of this mantra Lord Rama attained Sakshatkara of all the devatas much sooner than the time sage Vishwamitra had taken. As the devatas appeared in front of Lord Rama while he did his upasana, Lord Rama did "avahanam", imbibing them into his being, and absorbed them into his heart. In this way, Lord Rama imbibed all the devas into himself. The Taraka mantra is the Rama mantra which is equivalent to worshiping all the devatas within him.

Ra in Rama is found in the ashtakshari (8 syllables) mantra of Om Namo Narayanaya. Ra is also the beeja mantra for Agni or fire, and could also be pronounced as Rum, Rm. Ra and Ma are jeeva-aksharas, or life giving syllables.

Interestingly, in Buddhist cosmology, Ma Ra (Mara) signifies ignorance and evil. Siddhartha conquered Mara and the world of illusions and seduction into materialism (samsara) to be finally enlightened as Gautama Buddha. Srinivasan thought on furiously, Ma Ra was the opposite of Ra Ma.

Srinivasan woke out of the echoing thoughts in his mind as the sun glowed through the engulfing flames at the Ghat. The air was cloudy and he almost imagined Lord Shiva whispering the sacred words through the flames of Agni, releasing the soul embarked with the Taraka mantra, in His divine voice, beyond all human awareness, and helping the boat sail into the other world.

Srinivasan got up to leave, watching the landscape as he walked back up the Ghats. Up ahead near the Ghat, glowing in bright sunlight and draped with flowers, the coppery hue of Lord Shiva glistened in the day light promising enlightenment to all who consciously seek the Taraka mantra upasana.

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2.18.2008

Manikarnika Ghat: Where life meets the world beyond

Varanasi, city of lights, city of color and city of spiritualism hosts the most ancient cremation grounds in the Indian subcontinent. Manikarnika Ghat and Harishchandra Ghat are the most ancient, of which the former is considered to have existed well before Bhagiratha went into penance to bring down the Ganges and have her flow over the cursed ashes of his ancestors. Since then, mere mortals have considered death and burning of their bodies sacred near these waters, a road to salvation.

Varanasi has 98 sacred water fronts, which are believed to form the cosmic frame linking 14 bhavana kosas of the human body. Among 84 ghats, 5 are considered to be supremely auspicious. These are Asi, Dashashwamedha, Manikarnika, Panchganga and Adikeshava. These are the Panchathirthas, and are believed to be symbols of the cosmic body of Lord Vishnu; Asi at the head, Dashashwamedha at the chest, Manikarnika at the navel, Panchganga at the thighs and Adikeshava at the feet. Manikarnika is considered to be at the center of the 5 thirthas, the navel of the universe from which blooms life.


According to mythology, Vishnu went into tapasya (penance) that generated heat and being the source of life he created this world. Vishnu is known to have dug a pit here at Manikarnika with his chakra (discus) and the resulting sweat due to his severe penance filled this pit with sacred water. It is also believed that Shiva’s earring fell into this pit due to which the name of this Ghat came to be known as Manikarnika (jeweled earring), and the pit is called Manikarnika Kund. What remains here is the foot print of Vishnu, Vishnu’s Charan Paduka, which is a pair of feet on a lotus pedestal carved into marble, at the very same place where he is believed to have performed tapasya.


This ghat brings death and release face to face with the creation of the universe. While the power of life was generated at the charan paduka of Vishnu, the actual cremation of bodies takes place at Jalsayin ghat, the whole of which is called the Manikarnika Ghat. Jalsayin, or “the sleeper of the water” reflects the beauty of Vishnu asleep on Sesha Naga, during the cosmic deluge consuming the ashes of the cosmos, symbolizing the endless cycle of time, the flame of which burns continuously at the Manikarnika Ghat, a flame that never dies. Sesha also means remainder; the ashes that remain that get washed away by the Ganges, and lose themselves into the cosmic ocean. Vishnu is the seed of life, a lotus from whose navel grows and brings alive Brahma who creates the world. Cremation takes place here, where life and death meet, where creation meets delusion.


This ghat symbolizes that which is real with time bringing Lord Shiva and Vishnu to the same sthal (place). Apart from Vishnu’s sacred charan paduka, that contains the power of life in his toe, the Manikarnika Ghat also hosts Manikarnika Devi’s shrine and Lord Shiva in the form of Tarakeshwar linga.

As the story of Swami Ramakrishna Paramahamsa also reveals, when he traveled in a boat down the Ganges advancing towards the Manikarnika Ghat, he had a vision of Annapurna Devi holding a corpse in her lap. Lord Shiva in shining brilliance, bends over the corpse, whispering the Taraka mantra into the ears of the dead carving the path for them and helping them cross into the after life. Maybe that is why a person is considered truly dead after his kabala (skull) cracks when the body is cremated. The silent spell of the Lord whispering the Taraka mantra was visible only to Paramahamsa, revealing the real beauty of life, of death and of the journey beyond in the hands of Lord Shiva, Lord Vishnu and Devi.


Such is the reality of life, of death, a reminder every day with every corpse that burns, that there is a world beyond and death is not the end. This reality of living echoes all over Manikarnika Ghat and reverberates at the Charan Paduka of Lord Vishnu.

2.11.2008

Enlightenment on the streets of Varanasi

Varanasi, the land of lights, and host of one of Shiva’s Jyothir lingas has been celebrated through centuries as a place of high spiritualism. These crowded lanes leading to the temple give a feeling of purpose, of just one goal – a visit to the Lord hoping a million unfulfilled desires be granted or just an aspiration of attaining salvation from the high stress, low good will lives we lead.

In this desperate hurry, to squeeze out every bit of spiritualism this city offers for the time and money spent, most of us miss out on the inherent depth of knowledge that was once a dialog between two profound souls right here.

Amidst the lush green paths that lead to the slivery cool waters of the Ganges, dotted with saffron clad men taking a holy dip in her waters, the sounds in the air were at one point in history, a mixture of nature and profound dialogs on philosophy between men of high intelligence! In this back drop of a river sweeping away the very ashes of life that burn away in the fiery flames of death, an ancient saint was stopped by a sweeper of low caste.

What came forth is a dialog of profound wisdom, which would render us truly enlightened souls if we ever lived by it; this is called the Manishapanchakam. 5 verses of beauty and rhythm, 5 pearls of profound wisdom have brought a different meaning into the lives of mere mortals. This was a dialog sparked between Adi Shankaracharya and a low caste sweeper, when the sweeper refused to move despite Adi Shankara asking him to clear the way as he headed to Kashi Vishwanath temple.


The sweeper just asked one question: Oh Great Saint, what do you mean when you say move, do you want one physical body to move away from another physical body or do you want consciousness to move away from consciousness?

Is there a difference between the reflection of the Sun in the holy Ganges or in the water flowing by the house of an outcaste? What is this illusion of difference between two forms that have the same atman within, that of a Brahman and that of an outcaste? Atman is pure consciousness, a part of a ripple free ocean of bliss.


Shankaracharya, surprised with this question, realized this was no ordinary man and replied:

If the wisdom of consciousness is realized, a person ceases to be an object of perception, and becomes a pure stream of consciousness which shines is deep sleep, dreams and when awake. He who has this consciousness, dwells in all be it Brahma or even an ant, he is my Guru, irrespective of whether he is an outcaste or a Brahman. This is my conviction.

I am Brahman, pure consciousness. This illusion around me is a making of my own ignorance and perception of my mind, a result of my own gunas; satwik, rajasik and tamasik. Brahman, which is bliss, is my Guru, whether he is an outcaste or Brahman.

Having come to the conclusion that the universe is perishable, he who with a calm and pure state of mind constantly meditates on Brahman, he who has burnt his past and future sins into the flames of knowledge, he submits his present body to his praarabdha karma. This is my conviction.

The self is pure consciousness and is experienced clearly within as “I”. It is by the reflection of this consciousness that the mind, body and senses appear to be sentient, though they are insentient. The real self is concealed by the mind, and senses like the sun is covered by clouds. The yogi who always meditates on the self is my Guru, this is my conviction.

The self or atman is an eternal ocean of bliss, a minute fraction of which is enough to satisfy Indra. One who meditates on the self with a perfectly calm mind, experiences Brahman. Such a person is not a mere knower of Brahman, but is Brahman itself. Such a person will be worshipped by Indra, he attains Jivamukta. This is my conviction.


A profound spell of words rained down these very noisy alleys that lead to Kasi Vishwanath temple, long ago in ancient India. The Lord himself graced these streets to test enlightened souls. Such was the pulse of Varanasi.

2.04.2008

Potency of Sri Chakra Yantra

When the heavens open
bring forth the force
the wilderness the heat
the power alive
the potency let lose
the divine embrace
such energy released
the Goddess arrives

The power of the Mother
felt through in history,
a power so strong
mere humans crumble
the heat so much
it scorches the soul
no one can survive this fury
the Goddess brings alive.

Such was her fierceness
her Ughra swarupa
the heart fears
this form of the Goddess
burns away to ashes
all mankind those alive
who witness her fury alike

One such form is known as the Kali swarupa, where though she has warmth and appears coy, her fierceness rules supreme. In the Tamil Nadu landscape, we revisit this Goddess at 4 Shakti sthalas which stand out for their strangely mystical stories bearing almost the same solution to control her fury. Thiruvotriyur, Thiruvanaikkaval, Kanchipuram and Mangadu have each seen this anger of the Goddess in the ancient days.

There is another possible explanation to this theory of controlling her fierceness. It could have been possible that blood(animal) sacrifices might have been performed at some these altars to appease the Goddess and this practice was curbed. Also, these shrines of the Goddesses existed well before they were formally consecrated into temple shrines. The Goddesses energy was felt and experienced more than her physical presence was seen in stone at some of these shrines.

Mythology holds that Shakti manifests Herself as Thripurasundari at the current temple of Thiruvotriyur facing south. Her counterpart Vattaparai Amman resides in the north of the temple.

At Thirvanaikkaval the Goddess manifests herself as Akhilandeshwari in the ughra form, so fierce is her form that her devotees could not withstand the power.

At Kanchipuram, the Goddess takes the form Kamakshi Amman and manifests herself in ughra form, sending ripples of fury around, so much so that it could be felt among her devotees who walked along what is now the temple precincts.

At Mangadu (meaning Mango grove), Parvati was reborn as Sri Adikamakshiamman in repentance of her act of covering the Lord's eyes playfully which turned the whole universe into darkness for a short while causing unrest and fear in all creatures alive. Kamakshi is known to have waited here for Lord Shiva, to be wedded to Him as promised and when he didn't come she is believed to have performed the Panchagni Sadhana*, a fire ritual with five sacred yagnas, four yagnas burning around her each in a cardinal direction while she stood in the center of the fifth on her left toe, with the rising flames engulfing her right leg bent upwards as her hand stayed raised above her head holding the japamala(picture below). She came to be known as Sri Tapas Kamakshi at Mangadu. So fierce was her anger before She went to Kanchipuram to be finally married to Lord Shiva, as instructed by Him. The heat of these fires could still be felt by her devotees.

One thing is strangely common among all these forces of the Goddess. It took just one form of Lord Shiva to calm her fury down. Adi Shankaracharya mastered the art of conquering the fury of this Goddess and brought her back into the world as a warm and endearing mother to all her devotees, rather than as a fierce Goddess. Battling her Ughra form, he brought down this fury, this wild energy of the Goddess purely by a science unknown to all but felt within the self. He placed the potent Sri Chakra yantra with the Mother bringing down her fury across the lands.

This has been a divine dialog, one that Adi Shankara has with the divine mother Parvati in her various forms, this has been illustrated in recent times by Paramacharya Sri Chandrasekhar Mahaperivar, who also had enough and many dialogs with the divine mother before he finally took Samadhi and merged into her divine light. This also marked the end of possible sacrifies and brought into existence a more potent and friendly form of ritual practice that appeased the Goddess and depicted her as a Divine mother within her shrine chamber.

At Thiruvotriyur, Adi Shankaracharya installed the Sri Chakra Yantra opposite the shrine of Vattaparai Amman. At Thiruvanaikkaval Adi Shankarcharya is known to have made two sets of earrings called Tatankam, a pair of powerful Sri Chakra Yantra studs adorning both the ears of the Goddess, within her sacred shrine. At Kanchipuram, Adi Shankaracharya established the Sri Chakra yantra at the feet of the Goddess, within a gold metal plate that is installed and worshiped everyday. Adi Shankaracharya requested the Mother never to leave the temple complex, and hence symbolically the "utsavamurthy" of the Goddess takes leave of Shankaracharya at his shrine within the inner prakaram, before she leaves for her daily procession. At Mangadu Adi Shankaracharya is known to have installed the Ardhameru Sri Chakra yantra to appease the power and heat of the flames left behind by the Goddess.

Dwelling more into the form and power of the Sri Chakra, its value lies further and beyond mere material satisfaction. The Sri Chakra within the temple of every house in India brings alive the Goddess who resides within her shrine chamber and its not a mere Hindu manna machine for health wealth and happiness. A complex mystical diagram to calm the very fury of the Goddess, when the Gayathri mantra is chanted brings power and peace to the worshiper. Its a science of spiritualism, divinely illustrated by Adi Shankara that resides within our very own homes, at the center of which the bindu holds the seat of the Goddess Kamakshi, the Mother, in an endearing "Soumya" form.

*The Panchagni Sadhana is performed to kill five evils which dominate the mind leading one towards misery. The five evils are Kama (Desire), Krodha (Anger), Lobha (Greed), Madha (Ego) & Maacharya (Attachment). If one wins over all these five evils they can attain the supreme bliss and union with the Lord. This is depicted by Kamakshi Amman before she marries Lord Shiva.

Please excuse the audio in the embedded video, it appears to be Buddhist.