D I D Y O U K N O W ?
Rajagopura, Mountain of the Gods
WHILE SOME ARE HUMBLE AND small, others tower over the horizon. The rajagopura is truly a sight to behold. These structures adorn most South Indian temples as their tallest element, built above the main entryway. They are layered towers, made of plaster and painted, or more rarely of stone, with hundreds of ornate sculptures on every side.
The term gopura is derived from the Sanskrit words go and pura. Pura refers to a raised or elevated grand structure which serves as an auspicious location for the presence of go—naming an assemblage of cosmic Lords, Gods, Deities, liberated sages or other great souls. Raja names that which is “exceedingly effulgent.” Thus, rajagopura precisely means “the resplendent superstructure housing hosts of Gods and Deities.” The rajagopura is a symbol of the transcendental Mount Kailasa, the eternal Himalayan abode of Lord Siva. The ornamental structures and images seen on its four sides represent the higher, supreme souls residing on the four sides of Mount Kailasa. On the east side of Kailasa are the Indras of bygone ages. On the south, Lord Dakshinamurti, Virabhadra and other Lords are present. Vishnu and His incarnations are present on the west side, while Brahma and the great sages reside on the north side.
My Journey Towards Hinduism
On the steps of Har ki Pauri Ghat in Haridwar, this young second-generation Indian woman from the UK finally connected with her faith
B Y H E M A R I S H I
I WAS BORN AND RAISED IN LONDON. MINE WAS A mixed and sometimes confused upbringing. Life away from home was markedly English, with English friends and English schooling. In kindergarten and first grade, my sister and I were even taught Christian hymns and prayers during morning assembly.
Home life was completely different, very Indian in culture, though Hinduism was not emphasized. My parents faced the same dilemma that many other immigrant couples did: How beneficial would it be to teach our young children Hinduism? Would it be better to teach them the skills and culture that would help them integrate into the society in which they now lived? Whatever the case, as a child I was happy with this mix, and there was a lot of love from family and friends.
I wasn’t formally taught religion at home or at school. There was, however, the strong influence of my grandmother who lived with us. Born in Shimla in North India in 1932, she came to London during the early 1970s, bringing many traditions of the time with her. Despite the generation gap, we seemed to find common ground. We would often sit together on a wet Sunday afternoon whiling away the hours. I watched as she stitched together her latest crafts project. Her fingers were almost meditative as they worked on every single stitch. Each hypnotic movement of the needle and thread was a representation of a relaxed and fully conscious awareness. This was the first and earliest lesson on Hinduism that I remember, although I did not know this at the time.
Cultural traditions featured in my young adult life more than religion, as would be the case with most Hindus born outside India. For example, the idea of an arranged marriage was drummed into my head as I reached my teenage years—a concept I found then, and still find, extremely suffocating. My English friends didn’t have such restrictions and struggled to understand why I couldn’t do the same social things that they could. Arriving home one evening after a long day at work, I found a young man gingerly sipping on a cup of tea and awkwardly nibbling on the corner of a biscuit. Later I was told that he came to “view” me for potential marriage material. Luckily, I was deemed unsuitable!
As a young woman brought up outside of what earlier generations of my family called home—India—I found it impossible to cast aside my Western upbringing at a moment’s notice. Resentment grew within me and I rebelled, adopting Western clothes along with the matching attitudes. I struggled long and hard trying to accept my Indian identity, but there was no one to answer my many questions. Finally, I wrongly concluded our religion was to blame.
In 2000 my grandfather passed away, and that year marked the beginning of my path toward Hinduism. Before he died, he had asked the family to take his ashes to Har Ki Pauri Ghat in Haridwar and scatter them in the river Ganga in accord with ancient Hindu practice. It was important to him that he complete this cycle of birth in the traditional manner.
This—my first pilgrimage to India—was a real eye opener! I was astounded to see the many holy men and women worshiping by the sacred Ganga. Thousands of pilgrims were there as well, each on their own personal journey. There was no sign of the petty everyday troubles that consume many of us. The day was extremely hot; this was no place for vanity. Those who could not walk were carried by loved ones. No one was a burden. Each individual was at the river for one reason: their faith, a faith strong enough to draw people from not only India, but from all over the world. I had never experienced such a powerful feeling before. All my prior ideas about Hinduism were challenged and changed in an instant. The immersion ceremony itself was short and modest, its elements beautifully simple—marigold flowers and water.
As I watched the thousands of pilgrims, I saw life in its purest form before me. Some adults were bathing in the river while children were playing, hanging from safety chains suspended from the bridges. Others had also come, as we had, to say goodbye to loved ones in the presence of the holy people worshiping here. The swift current washed everything downstream. A newfound release, a freedom from the restriction that had previously been associated with Hinduism was gone. From this moment I felt Hindu.
I also realized that I had for many years mistakenly linked culture and religion, when in fact they are two entirely separate entities. The culture was a framework that for many of our ancestors kept society together and which they brought with them when settling in other countries. It was a form of identity, if you like, a way to safeguard who they were in a strange land.
My journey to Hinduism continues. I have learned it is simply “being” rather than “trying to be.” Hinduism does not ask me, as a woman, to satisfy certain cultural demands. There is no raging super power that will punish me because I have not carried out a certain ritual on a particular day. It is not controlled by a set of stringent rules dictating how one should live. It is instead a deep breath of cool fresh air for those who embrace it. Meditation, reflection and thought to enhance one’s beliefs are much more productive than half-hearted actions. Hinduism is now more relevant to me and my life than ever, part of my chosen path rather than a system of beliefs forced upon me.
(EMA RISHI, 32, is a freelance writer currently based in the United Kingdom. She currently writes for search engine Yahoo as well as other online sites. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)
Voices of the Saints
“Emphasis on Brahmacharya”
IT IS UNFORTUNATE THAT INSTEAD of sadhus impressing or influencing people, people are exerting influence on the sadhus. Sadhus listen patiently to what people have to say, but people are not listening as patiently to what sadhus are telling them. It is even happening that corrupt people are influencing the sadhus. Sadhus should be careful to choose the company of good people.
Many of our saints preach good things via TV channels and kathas which are watched and attended by hundreds of thousands of people, but still they have not been able to bring about any improvement in the society. Why?
The government has only laid down the basic infrastructure for this Kumbh Mela city. All other arrangements have been done by saints and akharas. Each has put up their own tents out of their own money.
Yesterday I was visited by some youth from an engineering college. They were only interested in showing their palms to me and wanting to know their future through palmistry. Finally, I told them that it was better they focused on using their hands for working, which will get them success, rather than being much bothered about the lines in their palms. There are very few seekers among the youth.
I lay a lot of emphasis on brahmacharya. If you do not preserve the sacred seed, how will there be grace and light on your face? When the seed is preserved and utilized for a higher cause, then we see there is a certain grace and light on the face of the person. A regulated and disciplined daily life is a must for maintaining brahmacharya. Sometimes students tell me their memory fails them. I tell them to observe brahmacharya and see how their memory improves.
Our scriptures say that where women are worshipped, devatas roam.
Ramayana and Mahabharata happened because of the disrespectful behavior meted out to Sita and Draupadi. Something similar happened recently, when a girl was raped in Delhi and all those powerful and educated people were helpless to save her honor.
This was just one example. Besides this there have been so many incidents of injustice done to women. Crimes against women are happening on a big scale, while only a few are highlighted by the media. The rest do not get much attention and prominence.
The big positive change after the Delhi rape case is that people have become awakened, and now they have decided to raise their voice in a big way. However, women also must maintain a certain code of conduct, which will strengthen them, make them more empowered and get them better respect overall.
“Proud I Am a Hindu”
IN THE PAST, WHEN TRAVEL WAS DIFFICULT, the Kumbh Mela was mainly a gathering of top saints and acharyas as a symbol of unity. They would consider the various problems faced at district, state and village levels. Are our daughters and mothers being victimized? Is there an attack on our Vedic culture and literature? If the problem was among the intellectuals, then the intellectual saints of very high level were sent. If it was with the common people, then those adept in bhajans and kirtans would go and improve the situation. This is how the traditions of our Sanatana Dharma were kept alive by our top seers through these Kumbh Melas. Today only around 65 percent of the pilgrims are deeply religious and have come here with total devotion, while the remaining 35 percent have come to the event in the spirit of a mela or a fair.
Pollution of the Ganga
For this mela, the message is that the saints and pilgrims here are highly concerned about the pollution of our Mother Ganga. This can be solved only when each and every Hindu becomes aware of it and keeps their local small rivers and tributaries free of pollution. The quality and quantity of water in successive Kumbh Melas is under severe pressure. The time has come to take this matter very seriously. All Hindus must join this movement to clean Ganga.
Proud to Be Hindu
I will end by saying I am proud that I am an Indian and I am proud that I am a Hindu. I salute our men and women who, once married before the Fire God, remain with each other throughout their life.
Om Tat Sat
(My humble salutations to Sadguru Sri Sivaya Subramuniyaswami ji, Satguru Bodhianatha Velayanswami ji, Hinduism Today for the collection)
(The Blog is reverently for all the seekers of truth, lovers of wisdom and to share the Hindu Dharma with others on the spiritual path and also this is purely a non-commercial blog)