Indian Culture and Traditions - 10

Indian Culture and Traditions

Animals In Indian Culture Create An 'Inclusive Universe'
By Vimla Patil

Every civilization  looks at animals, birds and sea creatures in its own special way. In India,  generations over the millenniums have seen all species as their friends and  partners with whom they share the earth. They have been presented in beautiful  forms in paintings and sculptures as companions of deities, as symbols of power  and beauty or simply as decorative embellishments…
“The Romans saw  animals as fierce creatures which had to be killed or controlled for human  survival. The Greeks saw them as symbols of power living in a separate world of  their own. But ancient Indians saw them as they should be seen – friendly,  loyal and graceful.” says Dr. Kumud Kanitkar, who has conducted an exhaustive  study of animal sculptures and motifs in Indian culture, “Animals have not  undergone any major changes in their shapes or bahaviour, but their perception  by human beings has changed from age to age. The depictions of animals, birds  and sea creatures in sculptures, paintings and arts like dance and fabric  printing as well as architecture are expressions of human imagination and are  often used as religious symbols of power, grace, beauty, dignity, opulence and  wisdom.”
One of India’s  fundamental fables of creation concerns the churning of the cosmic ocean by the  gods on one side and demons on the other. The many sculptures or paintings of  this event show that they used a gigantic snake named Anant – the cosmic  serpent that entwines the whole world, to hold it together. This motif has  fascinated the entire orient and is seen in huge sculptures in Thailand and Cambodia. In addition, the cosmic  ocean yielded a divine elephant (Airawat), horse (Uchaisravas) and cow (Kapila)  during the churning. All these attained the stature of being divine companions  of the gods and thus were considered an integral part of the human as well as  the spiritual world.
Later in the Puranic  period, each deity represented one or more aspects of divinity and was thus  accompanied by one or more animals to ‘complete’ the bonding of gods, humans  and animals. Over a period of time, the Vahanas or vehicles of gods and  goddesses came to represent their qualities or a means of instantly recognizing  the deity which could be presented in different poses, forms or aspects. For  instance, any goddess accompanied by a tiger or lion is instantly recognized as  Durga. Archeologists have depended on animal sculptures to research sculptures  of divinities as well as the historical period during which they were created.  Animals and birds also became symbols of the duties and powers of gods and  above all, they were the artistic expressions of the human perception of the  animal world.
Most important, they  proved that animals, birds and sea creatures were considered an integral part  of the human universe as equal partners who shared the earth. Each animal,  stylized according to the form of the deity with which it was teamed, became an  instantly recognizable motif and was sometimes separately worshipped through  dance, music, paintings and sculptures. Animals or birds also were considered  protectors of shrines and human society.
  Many Western writers  like E M Forster have expressed wonder at the powerful presence of animals in  Indian culture. His novel ‘Passage to India’ portrays animals as inspiring  growth, promoting unity and love between animals and human beings and shown as exotic  symbols of Indian culture. The use of these symbols proves the incomparable  diversity of India’s  forest landscapes and wealth. Hinduism worships many animal-related deities. The  most popular among these are Ganesha with an elephant head and Hanuman, with a  monkey body. Ganesha is the auspicious remover of obstacles, the god of wisdom  and auspiciousness while Hanuman stands for strength, single-minded devotion  and power.
Important western  thinkers have wondered at the role elephants play in Indian culture. Apart from  being a part of Ganesha’s personality, the elephant is invariably seen as the  companion of Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and opulence. Buddhists venerate  the elephant as a symbol of the Buddha and thus this concept spreads across  many oriental countries where Buddhism is practised. The elephant plays a  cultural role beyond religion too. Researcher Heinrich Simmer says that  elephants are so omnipresent in Indian art that they have come to symbolize India as a  nation. Indeed, India has  highest population of the Asiatic elephants – over 33,000 – or 60 per cent of  all elephants in the world and the ‘elephant corridor’ from Kerala, Karnataka,  Andhra to Orissa, Assam  and then to Burma  is a famous concept among wild life lovers. Indians rarely kill an elephant  even if destroys crops because of their belief in its divine qualities.
Even today, in this  age of hi-technology, owning an elephant is considered a symbol of wealth and  opulence. Reportedly, the King of Thailand owns the largest number of ‘white  elephants’ which are rare and considered lucky in India. Sculptures in Ajanta, Ellora and various schools of paintings including  the Maithili, the Kantha, the Mughal miniature and even folk style Warli  paintings feature elephants. Priceless textiles use the motif to celebrate good  fortune.
Similarly, other  animals and birds symbolize ideas and concepts. Some important symbols:
    1. The lion or tiger, the companion of Durga, the goddess of power.  They help her in destroying the demons of darkness and ensure the victory of  good over evil every year during Navaratri.
    2. Saraswati, the beautiful river goddess of knowledge and arts, is  accompanied by swans or peacocks – both symbolizing grace and beauty.
    3. Shiva, the lord of the Himalayas,  rides the powerful Nandi or bull who symbolizes power and strength.
    4. Krishna, the eternal lover, is  a cowherd and attracts cows with his divine flute music. 5. Karthikeya, the son of Shiva-Parvati, has a peacock with him.
Apart from these major  religious animal and bird symbols, Indians believe several birds and animals to  be messengers of good luck. When a koel begins her song, romantic poetry is  written to welcome the flowering of springtime. Her passionate cry heralds the  much-awaited fragrant mango season. Parrots are used in literature as  messengers of romance between lovers. Snakes are worshipped as holders of the  earth’s treasures and symbols of fertility. The graceful swan represents the  soul and its spiritual freedom.
Birds and animals in  Indian culture are also harbingers of seasons – they foretell coming events and  changing climate. They are also messengers between lovers. Just the koel sings  for springtime, cranes and other birds flying among black clouds symbolize  rain. The romantic Krishna himself is  portrayed as the dark clouds which rain and bring plentitude on a parched,  thirsty land. The swan is a messenger in the immortal love story of King Nala  and the beautiful princess Damayanti. Parrots carry love messages between  separated lovers. In all miniature paintings of India, birds and animals are  presented as an integral part of the human world – as graceful, loving, loyal  companions of human beings.
No wonder then that India has a  huge treasure of wild life. The country is home to a huge number of monkeys of  many species. The famous heritage Elephanta  Island off the coast of Mumbai alone has more than 10,000 monkeys that live on  the generosity of locals and visitors. India possibly has the highest  number of wild life sanctuaries in the world – a total of 551 – spread over the  sub-continent. Of these many are tiger habitats. Though declining due to poaching,  the number of tigers in India  is presently over 1400. The Asiatic lions in Gir, Gujarat  are also a huge international attraction.
Indophile E.M.Forster  says, "Indians believe that birds, animals and human beings – as indeed  everything else – are an integral part of divinity. This is the central belief  of all Indian religious and cultural thought and thus, all forms of life must  be respected equally. Thus human beings and elephants, horses, cattle and  birds like the mynah, the peacock, the parrot and the koel are woven into many  fables and religious treatises. Water creatures like the crocodile, the turtle  and fish are considered sacred and are associated with sacred rivers like the Ganga and Yamuna. India’s belief that animals, birds  and sea creatures are sacred is a dominant and beautiful aspect of Indian  culture for millenniums. They are earthly and spiritual companions of human  beings and thus equal sharers of the world and its resources.”
According to Western  thinkers, very few cultures are so deeply associated with animals, birds and  sea creatures as well as trees like the Indian culture – which is a confluence  of Hindu, Buddhist, Jain and Sikh thought. All these traditions recognize the  right of all living beings to co-exist peacefully and to be loved and cherished  for the welfare of the world. This is perhaps why animals are shown as  companions of gods and goddesses. Famous kings and emperors of Indian history  chose different animals in their emblems. Several festivals of India are  observed to pamper animals. Possibly, to engender love for animals among all,  animals have been made heroes in mythology and folk literature. Powerful rulers  also encouraged artists at their courts to promote animal motifs in their art  and architecture.
Unfortunately, today  we have forgotten both India’s  compassionate attitude and the alarm bells rung by present-day scientific  research about animals. We continue to ignore the desperate need to conserve  their habitats and their depleting populations. No wonder there is a sense of  panic all over the world!

Why Is 'Akshaya Tritiya' A Day For GOLD
By Ram Lingam

India is probably the only country where a religious day is linked to a  practice of gold buying. It is the ‘gold’en day of ‘Akshaya Tritiya’ and we are  talking tons of gold here.  According to  estimates, Indian consumers bought about 20 tonnes of the gold on this festive day  in 2010. However this was much lower than the buy in 2009 due to soaring prices  when India, the world's largest consumer of the yellow metal, bought some 45  tonnes of Gold in 2009. So what makes Akshaya Tritiya a day for GOLD?
According to gold  industry pundits, in 2011 GOLD is all set to offer fourth best returns to  investors in last 10 years as it has so far gained 18 per cent in price since  the festival day last year. For Indians buying gold is a popular activity on  Akshaya Tritiya day, as it is the ultimate symbol of wealth and prosperity. According  to the Hindu calendar, this most auspicious Akshaya Tritiya day falls on Friday  next week. This year the date of Akshaya Trithiya is Friday May 6.This day is  important to both Hindus and Jains. According to the traditional panchāng Akshaya  Tritiya falls on the third day (Tritiya) of the new moon of Vaishākh month  (April-May) every year.
Akshaya in  Sanskrit means one that ‘never diminishes’ (a—kshaya) and the day is believed  to bring good luck and success. Hindus who imbibe what is originally called  ‘Sanātana Dharma’ believe they can get lasting prosperity by buying precious  metals on the day. Akshaya Tritiya is traditionally earmarked for beginning new  ventures, for investing and purchasing valuables especially gold, jewellery and  diamond. It is no surprise Indians buy gold on Akshaya Tritiya as it is  considered very auspicious and a safe investment. It is also believed that any  meaningful activity started on this day would be fruitful.
Economically  this day is quite productive for marketers as they cash in on the festivity to  boost their sales. Marketers indulge in high voltage advertisement campaigns especially the jewellery stores. In fact  people in India and overseas book jewellery in advance and take delivery on  Akshaya Tritiya day. It’s a day of frenzy buying for all precious metals  especially gold. Sales on Akshaya Tritiya day usually increases four to five  times compared to normal days. Traditionally the preference for customers is to  buy light-weight jewellery, diamond jewellery but today’s economic superpower  India sees several buyers preferring diamond jewellery purchases.
According to ‘Jyotisa’-  the ancient Indian system of astronomy and astrology, the entire Akshaya  Tritiya day is auspicious. So there is no need to look for an auspicious time  i.e. no ‘muhurat’ required on this day. This is the only day in any year when  the Sun which is the lord of the planets and Moon which is the lord of  creativity are in exaltation meaning at their peak of radiance. During the  month of vaishaakha, the sun is in the Mesha (Aries), the first sign of the  zodiac, where it is in an exalted or most powerful position to give benefits. The  moon is also in a powerful position. This combination of the planetary energies  is believed to create abundance whereby any auspicious activity commenced on  this day leads to continued growth of beneficial results throughout the year.  Astrologically this is extremely auspicious.  That also makes this day one of the most popular dates in Hindu calendar for  marriages and partnerships.
It is also  believed that people born during this time shine bright in life due to the  exaltation of Sun and Moon in the native’s horoscope. Many greats were born  during this period like Basaveshwara, Ramanujācharya, Ādi Shankarācharya, Swāmi  Chinmayānanda and Lord Buddha.
Glance through  the annals of ancient Indian heritage and one finds that on this tritiya day of  Vaishaka month many significant things of great spiritual importance happened. According  to Jain tradition this day is auspicious as people from Ayodhya bought gold and  jewellery to offer to their Tirthankara Rshabhdev who was the King of Ayodhya  centuries ago. Even today Jains observe long term fast to commemorate their  first Tirthankara Rshabhdev and break their fast on Akshaya Tritiya day with  sugar cane juice just as Rshabhdeva broke his fast with that juice after one  year.
According  to the ancient Hindu religious texts like the Puranas, this day marked the beginning  of the "SatyaYug" or the Golden Age - the first of the four Yugas. It  is believe that on this day Lord Krishna gave Draupadi a bowl - akshaya pātara  (where food came in abundance) when the Pāndavas were in exile. Traditionally  this third day in the bright fortnight of Vaishākh is also the day of the sixth  incarnation of Lord Vishnu, Parshurama, and the ‘preserving’ manifestation of God  in the Hindu Trinity. Parshurama is considered to be the  personification of valour and of devotion.
On  this day of Akshaya Tritiya, Maharishi Veda Vyās along with Lord Ganesha  started writing the great epic Mahabharata. It is also the day the most sacred  river of the Hindus, Ganga descended to earth. On this day Sudāma visited his  childhood buddy Lord Krishna with a hearty gift of a handful of beaten rice (pohā).  The good returns (prasād) he got in return for his devotion to the Lord is a classical  story told in Hindu households. On such a day associated with Lord Krishna the  story of Sudāma’s offering is mentioned along with Lord Krishna’s affirmation  in his Holy Gita ~ “Whoever offers a leaf, a flower, a fruit or even water with  devotion, that I accept, offered as it is with a loving heart “.
Thus, many are  the reasons for Akshaya Tritiya to be considered a wish fulfilling day. Any  worship performed or daan (donation) given on this day is considered extremely good  karma. Good karma is considered meritorious and is supposed to bestow  beneficial results. So what are the some recommended things to do on Akshaya  Tritiya day? During this day it is considered auspicious to:
•Start or initiate any beneficial activity for  family and community  
•Visit temples, worship Lord Krishna or Lakshmi  Narayan to invoke abundance in oneself  
•Participate in spiritual activities like satsang 
•Make offerings to and seek blessings of elders  and spiritual teachers 
•Donate food, clothing to the needy 
•Buy safe and secure investments
Happy Akshaya  Tritiya day to ALL.

Om Tat Sat

(My humble salutations to  Ms.Vimla Patil ji, Sri Ramalingam ji, and hindu samskrit dot com  for the collection)


Post a Comment