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6.30.2008

Shiva within the sacrificial fire



To Lord Lingodbhava within the wall of fire I pray
To Lord Rudra, the vanquisher of evil, I bow
To Lord Nataraja who dances with grace within a ring of fire
In adoration I pour my heart in the form of flowers

Shiva has been depicted with fire as Lingodbhava, as Rudra, and as Nataraja. Fire, Agni, Surya denote Shiva, as the very flame of wisdom within our heart. How do we in this life and at these times connect to this divine fire? The secret of this is in the worship of the Lord through fire sacrifice.

Tantra 1 in
the Thirumantiram reveals the beauty of this sacrificial flame as well as its potency. As the words in Tamil poetry roll out the worship of this sacred flame in rhythmic verses, the Thirumantiram also brings out its value to us.

Prosperity springs from sacrifice, for fire is a unique method of conversation with the supreme. Fire, is not just an element, but a path that connects the mortal with the supreme. Fire cannot be created, it can only be discovered and its true potency can only be realized by that aspirant who worships its very flames. Fire doesn’t die, it just appears and disappears, it is the very presence of the Lord, that we fail to realize. Fire is sacred, its pure, it is the power of life revealed.

Fire is the path that through which every mantra recited is purified. When mantra is recited feeding the fire with ghee, it burns away all our karma, both good and bad. This fire that rises out of the sacrificial pit, burns our ego in its divine flames. It purifies our thoughts and kills the ego within our heart. It is the path to salvation; its flames are our door to ever lasting bliss. Within the inner flame of the heart, all karmic evils accumulated are a wick that burns in this divine flame. All diseases that karma brings in its presence, fade and fall into the sacrificial fire that rapidly rises within us.

Sacrifice brings with it wealth, wealth and honor of a different kind. While accumulated wealth brings lack of peace and constant greed, its a grievous curse we live with. The fire of the sacrificial pit brings wealth to us, beyond the limited materialism of our mind. As fire sacrifices are performed, undying wealth is attained.

Lord Shiva himself is the fire, he is that burning flame that resides within my heart. He is the Lord who has fire in his eyes, each flame is denoted by Surya, Chandra and Agni. The Lord is the master of the holy fire sacrifice. The fire of Agni that of enlightenment is the fire in his third eye. The Lord is the fire within all fires, he is the inner flame, the inner fire. He is that which burns, He is the heat, He is the light, He is the flame that dances, He is that life giving flame within my heart. The Lord is the fire I trigger in the sacrificial pit, growing His warmth with twigs and ghee, reciting His various names with mantra, calming His climbing flames with honey.

Lord Shiva is in the fire of the funeral pyre. He raises the soul to a higher realm, to the truth of existence. He whispers the Taraka to the dead and holds the flaming Kali over Himself, leading the dead through transit from life to that beyond.

Within this limited time of my life, I raise the sacrificial flames of the Lord within the yagna kunda. Bless me with prosperity Lord, bless me with new life. Keep this fire within my heart alive, day and night, render me immortal with these flames.

Another interpretation of the sacrificial fire is given in the 3rd chapter (verse 14) of the Bhagavat Gita. Lord Krishna says, that Karma has to be performed, one cannot escape it. Its within these undying flames that the same Karma is burnt.

Chapter 3 verse 14, Bhagavat Gita:

Annaad bhavanti bhootaani parjanyaad anna sambhavah|
Yajnaad bhavati parjanyo yajnah karma samudbhavah||

From food comes forth being, and from rain food is produced, from the fire sacrifice arises the rain and sacrifice is born of action.

Lord Krishna says, it is the fire sacrifice that sustains us, for its through the flames of this sacrifice that the rain is brought. When it rains the parched land awakens, and blooms into prosperity. When there is abundance, food is produced and from this life sustaining food comes the being.

The Bhagavat Gita renders the meaning of this prosperity most beautifully and it requires Karma to get these riches. Without karma we cannot live and by accumulating it we do not attain salvation. The only way out of this karmic cycle is the offering of the self to the sacrificial fire.

Photo courtesy:
Ermes's Public Gallery, Picasa
Copyright © community.webshots.com/user/ancientcoinsofindia
Copyright © Britannica

6.23.2008

Lajja Gauri and the Tree of Life

Disclaimer - Content of this post needs to be understood with an open mind.

The complexity of India art, ritual and belief system can be simplified into two forms of worship and adoration. One is for the miracle of death which is realized in the worship of ancestors in which the quest for afterlife and rebirth are dwelled upon and the other is for the miracle of life that is realized in creation and its constant presence around us in the world. This is pronounced in the depth of both Hinduism and Buddhism.


Indra with a staff
Going back to the ancient days of the Ashoka era, when vedic deities held supreme power, Lord Indra was accepted into both Buddhist and Hindu pantheon of Gods. Indra is often depicted with a staff and is believed to have released life giving waters to earth after slaying the demon and also released the Sun into the sky thereby starting the cosmic cycle. This placed Indra as one of the supreme deities who brings to earth the miracle of life, and his releasing water to the earth is associated with water cosmology. Indra's staff therefore became the potent symbol of life spiritually, and denoted supremacy and proliferation of race and rule politically.

This potent belief of Indra's staff was further explored by Ashoka in the kingdom of Magadha, where he spread his faith on Dharma by placing edicts across his kingdom in the form of Ashoka Pillars. The Ashoka pillars stand for spiritualism and pure living, they teach the value of dharma and exude his imperialism across Magadha. But what were these pillars and what was their significance?


The pillars were not just a list of rules for better living surmounted by a lion signifying imperialism. These pillars in their very construct were the symbolism of the "Tree of Life" that stems from the pot of water placed at the bottom from which rises the shaft( yashti) of the pillar(stambha). The "Tree of Life" flowers into a lion capital or into an architectural unit depicted on temple walls in later years(photo below with pillars marked in white) but primarily re-emphasizing on the root principle of water cosmology.



Airavateshwara Temple, North wall, Darasuram near Kumbhakonam

The "Tree of Life", was symbolized by Ashoka when he erected his pillars with engraved edicts and placed them into the earth by digging a pit and covering it with water or placed an earthen pot full of water at the base inside the pit from which rises the shaft of the pillar. This architectural unit of a water-pot based pillar signifies the potency of the miracle of life and its constant presence in this world as we know it.


Meanwhile far away in the interior forests of the Hindu Brahmanical countryside way back in an era even before Ashoka probably, another version of the potent "Tree of Life" took shape. Going back into the realm of Lord Shiva, there runs a mythical story on Lord Shiva and Parvati (Mother Goddess). After their wedlock they returned to Kailasa and retreated into the caves of this divine mountain. For eons they remained here, in union away from all the worlds. Meanwhile, there was trouble in Devaloka and on earth as the Asuras had again begun to harass the devas and other mortals. This disturbed the Rishis, Devas and other Gods and they came to the cave entrance seeking Lord Shiva's help to vanquish the charging Asuras. Realizing that they were unable to awaken Lord Shiva out of his marital bliss, they decided to step into the cave. Deep within the cave, the Lord and His consort, lay in union. Parvati was taken by surprize on the sudden entry of the heavenly folk, and in order to save her embarassment, she picks up a full bloomed lotus and covers her face.


This moment, of Parvati attempting to cover her embarassment (Lajja) has been depicted in sculpture as Lajja Gauri showing her face covered with the lotus as well as her holding a lotus bud in each hand signifying fertility, life and creation. Her raw beauty has been depicted without any subtlety, her moment of union with Lord Shiva has been captured by the scuptor. Dr. Ramachandra C. Dhere in his book "Lajja Gauri" describes her womb to represent an earthen pot.
This representation brings alive the original concept of the miracle of living where the "Tree of Life" is represented by progeny and lineage. The potency of the life giving waters in water cosmology is metaphorically represented by the waters within the yoni of the woman.

This echoes the same symbolism with which Ashoka erected his edicts around Magadha. These waters are considered enpowering and they render the living all powerful and brings prosperity. Such was the depth of belief in Indian iconography and representation in Indian art.

Photo courtesy:
Indra with staff:
Christopher Tadgell is Senior Lecturer in Architectural History at the School of Architecture, Canterbury College, Kent Institute of Art and Design 1996, http://www.ellipsis.com/history/
Ashoka Pillar:
© Lexicon of Greek Personal Names. All rights reserved.
Lajja Gauri:
Naganatha Temple, Naganathakolla, Bijapur District, India. Badami Museum, Item B36 Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), government photograph. Date c. 650 CE. Image scanned by uploader from Bolon, Carol Radcliffe, Forms of the Goddess Lajja Gauri in Indian Art, The Pennsylvania State University Press (University Park, Penn., 1992)
This image is in the public domain in India because its term of copyright has expired.
Airaveteshwara temple:
commons.Wikipedia.org

6.17.2008

Alidhanrita Shiva: Victory dance over evil

Click of the photo to view the complete form of
Alidhanrita Shiva, Kailasanatha temple, Kanchipuram
The most famous form of Nataraja that we know envelops the Panchakriyas, i.e. the five activities comprising of:
Shristi - the process of creation and evolution,
Sthiti - the process of continuous maintenance,
Samhara - the process of destruction,
Tirobhava - the curtain of illusions by his various incarnations, and
Anugraha - ultimate salvation and release.

The form of Alidhanrita Shiva is the expression of victory or Samhara brought out through natya and shilpa shastras. This form of Shiva has been described in sculpture, painting and dance as the victory over evil, over the cities of Tripura. Alidhanrita Shiva is the culmination of the dance form of Tripurantaka Shiva and depicts a warrior's victory over one's own evils.

What does the form of Tripurantaka Shiva signify?

While destroying the three cities of Tripura, Shiva plays the warrior who rides the chariot into space to destroy the three flying cities. This celestial chariot vividly paints Brahma as the charioteer who rides the earth, one of Shiva's Ashtamurtis* that makes up the chariot. The Sun and the Moon who also are a part of the Ashtamurtis and are the very eyes of Lord Shiva Trayambakeshwara, take up their significant roles as the wheels of this celestial chariot. Shiva's ornament Vasuki, the snake plays the bow-string and Mount Meru is the very bow that twangs sending reverberations of victory over the three cities. Vishnu, is the arrow that is aimed at Tripura along with Agni who is again a part of the Ashtamurtis of Shiva. The four horses that pull this divine chariot are the Vedas that are the very breath of Brahma. Shiva, the great warrior rides this divine chariot. This is described in the dance form of Alidha depicting Tripurantaka Shiva vanquishing the three cities.

Raghuvamsa describes: (Raghuvamsa 3, 52)

atishthad alidhaviseshasobhina vupuhprakarshena vidambitesvarah

Lord Shiva Tripurantaka destroys the three cities in terrific rage, the furious emotion that is expressed in his gaze is called Raudra Drishti in the Natya Shastra. This expression is depicted in only the paintings at the Tanjore temple murals and is not captured in the sculptural version of this form, where the expression is more of Karuna or compassion. His fury is vividly described in the painting, where his eyebrows are raised and his eyes are wide open displaying pupils that are depicted as wide rounded balls. The eyes are crooked and depict the severe fury raging out of the being of Tripurantaka Shiva.

How do we relive the experience of Tripurantaka Shiva and the victorious dance of Alidhanrita Shiva when we worship the Lord?

With emotions tuned into the realm of Shiva we as a Bhakta surrender to Lord Shiva during puja. As the sacred syllables roll out into mantras in rhythmic flow, in the light of the ghee lamp we offer flowers and vilva leaves to the Lord.

Om Trighalam trigunadharam trinetram chakrayuttam
Trijanmapapa sangharam yega vilvam Shivarpanam

With this prayer to Lord Shiva residing within the chamber of my heart, I offer myself to the Lord, and to the divine three eyed Lord I give up my sins and karma of the last three janmas. I take on the very same warrior like form of Alidhanrita Shiva and destroy my own three cities of evil and dance my own victorious dance of liberation destroying my own karma. I am Him, I am alidha, I am what remains when I vanquish my own desires and bad thinking with my own furious gaze and burn those thoughts to ash. And after giving up myself into an egoless existence, I pray to the Lord to free me off this misery. In pure adoration to the Lord I offer myself, and with my chariot symbolized by Agni, Surya and Chandra, each signified by the three leaves of the Vilva, the very embodiment of Trayambaka, the three eyes of the Lord Himself, each defined by Chandra, Surya and Agni, I embark on my chariot to destroy my own demons, with every offering of Vilva leaves I make during my worship.

Thus, having imbibed the very form of Tripurantaka Shiva and having destroyed our own karma, one enters the realm of Alidhanrita Shiva where one is in union with the Lord dancing the joyous dance of victory after severing (samhara) one's own deep desire of self pride.

*The Ashtamurtis are Prithvi, Chandra, Surya, Agni, Vayu, Water, Varuna and Dikpalas.

Photo courtesy:Origin of photo unknown
Reference: Nataraja in Art, Thought and Literature - C.Sivaramamurti

6.08.2008

The realm of Shiva, the meaning of Atman

Shiva is a state of mind, Shiva is Atman, Shiva is you, and Shiva is me.
Shivaya nama Shivalingaaya nama om|

What happens when two drops of Atman meet in the realm of ether, in this world, in this Maya?

I am the mystic you look for; I am the mystic you discover within you. I am the rhythm of the Lord in my heart, the lotus blooms within my soul. I am the tune you wish to sing, I am the heart beat within you. I am Atman I am me I am you, I am where you too exist, in this divine ether between the earth and space, within this Maya we meet, an egoless existence, pure music, pure soul, the constant in my breath is the constant in yours, Atman in pure form is felt at last.

Atman is pure love, Atman is soul,
Atman is the constant that makes me, make you.
Atman is what gives a circle its form,
Atman is what gives the flame its glow
Atman is what makes the world arise.
Atman is the sheen on your skin,
Atman is the twinkle in my eye,
Atman is the bliss that swells your heart,
Atman is that of which you and me are a part.

Atman is what you admire in me
Atman is what brings us close
Atman is what makes the nerves tingle
Atman is that energy that flows
Atman is what brings life to our breath
Atman is the darkness beyond the light of reason
Atman is that which stays constant
Atman is that which i admire in you

Oh Lord Shiva, so divine is your love
Your presence felt when two Atmans meet
In your admiration we drown our self
In your realm we cease to exist
In your fire does our ego burn
In your beauty do we realize our own
In your ocean does our goodness flow
In your blooming lotus do we feel your warmth
In your realm do we admire
My Atman as well as yours.

Atman is that word that truth
Atman is what merges you and me
Atman is not man nor woman
Atman is our ocean of love
Atman is my beauty and yours
Atman is my mystic and yours
Atman is my character and yours
Atman is my mind and yours
Atman is what IS when we merge
Atman is what will be when we part.

In this drama of life, Atman is my ode to the Lord. In this breath i take in Atman is the soul within. In the sunlight of the day, Atman is what glows on my face, In this cruel world of egos, Atman is my saving grace. In this realm of murderous war, Atman is what binds my tears of love. In this jumble of words that unfold, Atman is the garland of letters untold.

Aatmaaya nama atmalingaaya nama om||

Atman is the zone of mutual admiration, it is the zone of no ego, it is the zone of no age or gender, it is the zone of single pointed concentration on the self, on other selves. It is the zone where "I" doesn't exist. It is the zone where only goodness is felt, a zone where human beauty in the self is appreciated. Atman is present in this moment, now, within us waiting to be realized.

This post has been inspired by Maanikkavaachakar's Thiruvaachakam. The author Maanikkavaachakar was a poet and a mystic of his time and his works date back to 3rd cen A.D.

6.02.2008

Essence of the Shiva Kavach

Mantra kavacha coupled with a sword to fight, sacred ash and a conch to subdue the enemy is all that is required for victory over problems and enemies in ones life. This armour is woven out of sacred syllables, which call on Lord Shiva to protect, through the magic of Rishi Rishabha's penance.
Shiva Kavacha is revealed to mortals through the divine dialog between Rishi Rishaba and prince Suta. Offering his worship to Lord Shiva Neelakantha, the beloved of Uma, the 3 eyed and thousand armed Sambhu who destroys all enemies. Here is the supreme secret of all penance, possessing which you will be ever successful and redeemed from all pain and sin.


Worship of the Lord involves Karanyaas, which is the method of energising the fingers by mantra (mudra). It is followed by Hridayadi Anganyasah which is the process of energising the heart and the whole body with single pointed concentration on the Lord, concentrating on the heart, head, crown of the head, eyes, the third eye, and by circulating the right hand giving a click of the finger. One is ready and moves into a deep state of Dhyanam or meditation. Seated in composure, in a sacred place, one should contemplate upon the imperishable Shiva with all his senses subdued and pranas controlled.

Having invoked the Lord in the lotus of your heart, whose presence is bliss that is beyond the senses, having disentangled yourself from the bonds of action one is ready to wear the Kavach Om Namah Shivaya.
"

May the supreme divinity raise me from the clutches of Samsara
May He render me free of all fears
May the eight fold form of Shiva save me from all earthly deseases
May Kala Rudra who dances the Tandava after destroying all at the end of the yuga, protect me
May Trinayana, four headed who is replendent in lightening like gold look after me in the east and the south
May the Lord, spotless like the jasmine who bears the moon and crystals protect me in the west and north
May the five faced Iswara protect me from all evil
May Lord Chandramauli protect my mind, Phalanetra protect my forehead and eyes and destroy my lust
May Lord Vishvanatha who breathes the Vedas protect me
May the Lord who holds Pinaka protect my throat and hands
May the Lord who destroyed Daksha protect me from all evil
May my hip, waist, stomach and navel be protected by Dhurjati, the destroyer of cupid.
In the first watch of day may Mahesha protect me
In the second watch of day may Vamadeva protect me
In the third watch of day may Trilochana protect me
In the fourth watch of day may Vrishaketu protect me
May Lord Sashishekhara protect me in the dark
May Lord Gangadhara protect me in the night
May Lord Gauripati protect at dawn and Lord Mrityunjaya protect my all the time
May Lord Neelakantha dispel my fears at all times
My prayers to Virabhadra, who is as fierce as Yama

I bow down and surrender to Lord Sadashiva
Who is supreme truth
Who is the incarnation of Rudra and Brahma
Whose very eyes are the Sun, moon and fire
Who is smeared in white holy ash
Who is studded with diamonds and jewelery
Who kills the tide of time
Who resides alone in the Muladhara
Who is the permanent abode of the Ganges
Who wears the eight serpent kings round his neck
Who is the very form of Pranava
Who is the embodiment of pure consciousness
Who wears a universal necklace of stars, planets and galaxies
Who is spotless and pure
Who is the supreme witness of the entire universe
Who is the supreme secret of all the Vedas
Who bestows boons upon his devotees
The merciful Lord Who is free from all lust, greed and sorrow
Who is devoid of desire, disease, ego and attachment
Who is beyond the chains of cause and effect
On whome doubts fade and action ceases
O Lord Sadashiva, Mrityunjaya, Thrayambaka I pray to you again and again
"
Having revealed the sacred syllables to invoke Lord Shiva, Rishi Rishabha blesses Suta and gives him a conch, a mighty sword purified by the sacred mantra Kavach, sprinkles holy ash on him and blesses him with magic that renders him supreme.

The Kavach renders itself in a unique way in today's world. The mantra kavach renders the enemy lifeless, meaning even if someone plans to attack you, they will forget the reason at the time of confrontation. When they interact, the protection of the Lord will keep them at bay. The metaphorical reverberating noise of the conch will deafen their minds with their own thoughts and confuse them thereby rendering you victorious. Clad in the syllables of Shiva Kavacha Om namah Shivaya, you can conquer the world and destroy your enemies.
Saying this Rishi Rishabha departed.