Sunday, November 25, 2012

Banares aka Kasi and Varanasi the holiest city of the Hindus - III

But Banares is not only temples and ghats.

Kasi has always been identified with Vedas and Sanskrit. It was a center of learning. It still continues to be center of Vedic learning. There are a large number of maths from all over India. And many of them have their own Veda Patasala. The Aarti in Viswanath temple reverberates with Vedic Agosham. In fact the terms the Pundits of Benares is true today as it has been for thousands of years. People came to Benares for studying Sanskrit and Vedas.

And the number of Sannyasis here. More than anywhere in the world. You have the headquarters of major Mutts like the Dhandi Math (all the sannyasis of this math carry a dhanda like what the Sankaracharyas carry.) But here it does not represent any official power. They are only Dhandi Sannyasis.

Kasi used to overflow with sadhus and sannyasis for a long time. The number is reduced now. I saw fewer sadhus compared to the number I saw twenty five years back.

You need a Guru. Vedic or Tantrik. Take a trip to Kasi and if you search sincerely you will get a guru. That is how it was. Though it is not as good now still your chances of finding a Guru here is higher than any place in India. Kasi was a Beacon of Hindu spirituality.

Since ancient times people have been coming to Varanasi to learn philosophy, Sanskrit, astrology, social science and religious teachings. In Indian tradition, Varanasi is often called "Sarva Vidya Ki Rajdhani" (capital of knowledge).

The Sanskrit college here was established in 1791. After independence this became Sampurnanand Sanskrit University.

Benares Hindu University (1916) was founded by Pundit Madan Mohan Malaviya with the cooperation of Dr Annie Besant.

Talking about Sanskrit, many of the old books in Sanskrit were published in Kasi. The Chowkamba series of Sanskrit books are well known. You can depend on them for correctness. Now we have a number of publishers from all over U.P. Still it is heartening to note that Chowkamba still continue the tradition. There are now three of them probably due to property division. Please visit the Chowkamba Book Stall in Benares. Now they are stocking not only their own books, but also books published in India and abroad about different aspects of Hinduism. A sloka book, a book giving the details of performing the different samskaras, a copy of the Rudra Yamala Tantra, Krishna Yajur Veda. You have them all here. Sannyasis and research scholars mix here in buying books. Keep at least an hour for the Book stall to browse through their collection.

A holy city, Varanasi does not take a backseat when it comes to fine arts and literature. Great Indian writers have lived in this city from Kabir, Ravi Das, Tulsidas who wrote much of his Ramayana here, Kulluka Bhatt who wrote the best known commentary of Manu here in 15th century and Bharatendu Harishchandra. Later writers have been Jayshankar Prasad, Acharya Ram Chandra Shukla, Munshi Premchand, Jagannath Prasad Ratnakar, Devaki Nandan Khatri, and others.

Sushruta, the great surgeon and author of Sushruta Samhita, the Sanskrit text of surgery, also lived in Varanasi.

Benares Gharana:

Benares has always been famous for Hindustani music. The Benares Gharana has produced many famous musicians like Pt. Omkarnath Thakur,P t. Ravi Shankar, Ustad Bismillah Khan, Girija Devi, Siddheshwari Devi, Dr. Lalmani Misra and his son Dr. Gopal Shankar Misra, Dr. N. Rajam, Dr. Rajbhan Singh, Pt. Anokhelal, Pt. Samta Prasad, Kanthe Maharaj, Pt. M. V. Kalvint, Sitara Devi, Gopi Krishna, Pt. Kishan Maharaj, Rajan and Sajan Mishra, Mahadev Mishra and numerous others.

Bharat Ratna Ustad Bismillah Khan, a devotee of Saraswati and Lord Vishwanath , regularly played at the Vishwanath Temple.

Numerous festivals are celebrated that preserve traditional styles of classical and folk culture. All night, open music concerts like ones organised at Sankat Mochan Temple, Hori, Kajri and Chaiti Mela, Budwa Mangal, are annual features that draw connoisseurs from all over the world.

Other than these festivals concerts are held frequently in places along the ghats. Please enquire.

The city was connected by a single road from Taxila going through Pataliputra during the Mauryan empire.

Taxila where Chanakya is reported to have studied . A center of Hindu learning.


This road was later renovated and extended by Sher Shah Suri during the 16th century and later came to be known as the famous Grand Trunk Road.

Benares Silk:

Banares is famous for Silk sarees. No self respecting Bride in North India would be seen in anything but a Benaresi Silk saree on the Wedding day. There are places all over the city selling these. There are also thousand of brokers who harass you with offers. Test the silk with flame test. The shopwallh will gladly do it for you. And they are expensive.

Benarasi Lassi:

Benares is famous for its Lassi. It is served in earthen pots. It is simply out of this world. Check up Chowk near Gowdolia. The best Lussi shops. This is the place where the Chowkamba bookstall is also located.

Benaresi Pan:

Benaresi Pan has been widely known all over India. The betal leaves used in this Pan is different from the one used in South India. The variety used in South India is green. Rest of India uses dark green. Try it. But tell the pan wallah that you do not want Jharda (Tobacco). There are connoisseurs in this Pan business. My Bihari friends hold long conversations with the panwala about how it should be made. According to them it is an art. You remember the Pan Benarasiwala song?

I have written this because I love the city. Once had an idea of spending 6 months every year there. But I have given it up because the Ghats are too crowded now and not suitable for Meditation on all the days.

2. Many people seem to consider Benares as a city only for Pithru Karyam. Though Pitru Karyam is important, that is not the only thing about Benares. Benares represents Hinduism, its history and culture. It has kept the tradition alive and will keep it alive till the end of time.


Saturday, November 24, 2012

Japa and Meditation

The different kinds of Japa are

1. Vaikhari Japa (audible)
2. Upamsu Japa (whispering)
3. Manasika Japa (mental)
4. Likhita Japa (written)

In Tantra a lot of emphasis is laid on Japa. For attaining Mantra Siddhi you have to do Japa of the mantra a particular number of times. But it is not that you stop with that. You are expected to do constant Mantra Japa so that the Mantra becomes part of you. The Mantra is always running in your mind. In Tantra the rituals are necessary for only the main Japa when you count. But otherwise you are free to do Mantra Japa without any restrictions.

The same attitude is taken in Nama Japa also where the Nama becomes part of you. Here here is no emphasis on the count. Still many traditions insist that you should do minimum number of times per day. This is to ensure that you do it regularly. It is good if you decide the minimum number that you will recite per day.

In Japa you progress from Audible Japa to Mental Japa over a period of time.

There is very little difference between Mental Japa and Meditation

Most of the Hindus know about prayers, and Nama Japa well, as these are part of the daily ritual. Though the term Dhyana (Meditation) is known, wherever it is mentioned Dhyanam we just said Dhyanam or recited what is called Dhyana Sloka of the Deity.

Meditation as is now known was only for the very few. I have not heard of anyone doing meditation in my village full of Brahmins. Meditation was associated with Tapas, which meant that it was beyond the reach of the common man. Because meditation was equated almost with Tapas, only those Hindus who were deeply spiritual took to meditation. Mostly these were Sanskrit scholars and students of Philosophy.

Meditation became popular in India mainly due to Bagavan Sri Ramakrishna, Bagavan Ramana Maharshi and Swami Sivananda. However it is still largely confined to the English knowing population. In India Bhakthi and rituals are considered superstition by the English educated intellectual class. Many of these people took to meditation.

When my father was a student of Swami Sivananda in the early 50s what he learnt was mainly Hatha Yoga, Japa and Hindu Philosophy. Swami Sivanananda's books give a lot of emphasis on Japa. Even In Hatha Yoga though we were taught all the Asanas, we were asked to do only Sirasasana , Sarvanghasana and other simple asanas daily. Even Sirasasana was to be done only if it suited you. Again Pranayama was learnt only through an experienced teacher. Sri. Kali Ghosh who was my teacher was very particular that I follow all the rules and also checked my progress regularly.

Though the development was like this in India, in the west it was the other way around. Meditation became almost synonymous with Hinduism. I saw someone writing that Meditation is Hinduism.

When we attend a course in Mountaineering, you are first taught rock climbing and then taught how to climb small mountain peaks. You do not expect to climb Mount Everest just by attending one Mountaineering course. You become proficient in rock climbing, climb a couple of peaks in the Alps, and then try the minor peaks in the Himalayas before attempting Mount Everest. Even in that I can never progress as fast as a man from Ghatwal because he is from the mountains and his heart is already accustomed to heights.

The reason why I am writing all this is that I find that, though in India we progressed slowly from prayer to Meditation over a period of years, most people in the west are directly initiated into meditation. It is my view that for most people it is like trying to climb Mount Everest without ever having done even rock climbing. Many of the instructions given for spiritual aspirants by Swami Sivanananda have been part and parcel of our daily life for generations.

Am I saying that all the courses in Meditation are fake? Definitely not. But if you are in New York and you attend a course in Rishikesh India you may have problems. If you stay in Rishikesh for six months then you have a better chance of success. Even then when you come back to New York you may have problems and you would not have anyone to discuss your problems. During my last visit to Dharamshala I found that for there are many people from outside India who come there regularly. These are people who are very serious students and practioners of Buddhism.

Similarly we find many people visiting India regularly. Even Swamijis who have reached great heights visit India regularly for spiritual regeneration.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Banares aka Kasi and Varanasi the holiest city of the Hindus - II

Visalakshi Temple:

There is a saying in Tamil " Kanchi Kamakshi, Kasi Visalakshi". But this is not known in Kasi. The Visalakshi temple is near Viswanath temple. You have to enquire around. Then they may ask "do you mean the Nattukottchetti temple? This is the local name as the temple was constructed by the Nattukottai Chettiars. A small temple in typical Tamil Nadu style. The temple seems to have existed for long as it is mentioned in Sherry's book.

Bindu-Madhava Temple: 

This is an ancient temple. Not well known to the pilgrims. This was built in the 5th century A.D and reconsecrated and a grand temple built by Raja Man Singh of Amber in the 16th century. This occupied the highest point in Kasi and was visible for miles around. The temple was destroyed by Aurangazeb in 1682 and a mosque was built in its place.

A new temple was built by the Raja of Aundh (Satara, Maharashtra) in the 19th century. This temple is popular among the Vaishnavites of South India.

This temple is at one of the ends of Varanasi called the Pancha Ganga ghat. A very steep climb from the Ganga river. I have not been able to get there by road.

Durga temple:

This temple was constructed by a Bengali Maharani in the 18th century. The name of the Maharani is not known. This is in the typical north Indian Nagara style. It is stained red with ocher and has a multi layered spire (shikhara) consisting of five segments symbolizing the five elements and supported by finely carved columns. This is a beautiful temple with a Beautiful MAA.

This temple was known as the monkey temple because of the presence of a large number of monkeys there. But the monkeys have disappeared. Talking about monkeys I remember the time when Tirupati temple was full of monkeys. I remember my younger brother was attacked by one (may be he was making faces at them).

There is a tank near the Durga temple known as Durga Kund. This is older than the temple and mentioned in old books.

Sankata Mochan Hanuman temple:

This is a modern temple without any historical significance. However now they are claiming that it was established by Tulsidas the author of the Ram Charith Manas (Tulsi Ramayana). It is a very popular temple. It is a fairly large complex unlike the other Kasi temples. There is also a Tulsi Manas Temple: A modern concrete temple in memory of Tulsidas.

Viswanath Temple, Banares Hindu University:

The foundation stone of this temple was laid in 1931. It took along time to complete the construction. This is said to be a replica of the original Kasi Viswanth temple. Worth visiting. You can see a photograph of the temple here.

Viswanath Temple

Bharat Mata Mandir: 

A temple dedicated to Mother India. No idols. Only a big relief map of India. The map has been carved out of white marble. It is situated in Mahatma Gandhi Kashi Vidyapeeth campus.

I will round off the temples of Kasi with two important temples.

Dhundi Ganapathy temple:

This temple is on the way to the Viswanath temple. It is a hole in the wall temple. Though it looks like roadside temple, it is actually one of the important ones. It is very near the place where the security check is done. You should come back after the security check and worship here. This is Ganesa with three eyes.

Sakshi Vinayaka Temple:

This small temple is not far from the Annapurna temple. It is a small temple and now it is in the middle of a shopping complex. It is customary to visit this temple after visiting the Viswanath and Annapurna temples. Sakshi Vinayaka is the witness to your pilgrimage.

This belief is similar to the Chandikeswara sannidhi in Siva temples of Tamil Nadu. He is supposed to keep a track of your pilgrimage to the temple. Chandikeswara is the person responsible for maintaining all the accounts of a Shiva temple. Chandikeswara was a great SivaBhaktha. And everybody snaps their fingers at this deity/devotee because they're supposed to be marking their attendance

The Ghats of Varanasi.

Though there are hundreds of temples in Varanasi, none of the old temples are existing. But what remains from the ancient days are the Ghats.

A Ghat is series of steps going down to a river or a tank.

You must take two boat trips one early in the morning before Sunrise and one in the night preferably on Purnima day along the river to view all the ghats. These Ghats represent the history of Hinduism. Many of them have historical and spiritual significance.

The most important Ghat is the 

Manikarnika Ghat.

"The great cremation ground" (Mahasmasana)

The name Manikarnika (Jeweled Earring) comes from the legend of Siva dropping his ear ring here during the Thandava dance. Another Legend has it that Vishnu dug a well with his chakra, and the sweat created during his meditation filled the well. Shiva shook his head and his jeweled earring fell into the pit, hence the name Manikarnika.

Tradition has it that those that die at Benares and get cremated at the Manikarnika ghat, get liberated from the cycle of life and death.

You can recite The Shiva Thandava Stotram here. It is supposed to be written by King Ravana who was one of the greatest Shiva Bhakthas. There is also a stotram called Manikarnikashtakam which is attributed to Adi Sankara.

There is well nearby called Manikarnika Kund which according to mythology, predates the arrival of the Ganges has its source deep in the Himalayas . It is said to have been dug by Lord Vishnu at the time of creation with his disc.

I will never forget the day when early in the morning before sunrise I took my bath in the Manikarnika Kund and participated in an Yagna conducted facing the burning pyres of Manikarnika Ghat.

You can get the details of all the Ghats of Varanasi here.

You can see the photographs of Manikarnika Ghat here.


Harish Chandra Ghat

This ghat is name after King Harish Chandra. This is one of the two cremation ghats, and some times referred as Adi Manikarnika. You remember the climax of the Harischandra story in the cremation ground. There is an electric crematorium here now. However traditional funerals of wood fire continue.

Hanuman Ghat

The ancient name of this ghats was Rameswaram ghat. Nothing great, but of lot of importance to Tamil Brahmins as the Brahmins who perform the ceremonies for ancestors stay in and around this ghat. Kanchi Madam has a branch here. They have also erected a Kamakshi temple. There is a Veda Patashala founded by a Tamil Brahmin Professor of Banares Hindu University.

Kedar Ghat

This ghat is near the Hanuman ghat. At the top there is a Shiva (Kedareswara) temple. You enter the temple and you will immediately be back in a Tamil Nadu temple. The reason is very obvious. This temple is attached to the Kumaraswamy madam. In late Sixteenth century Kumaraswamy, a Tamil Saivite founded the madam. Now this is part of the Tirupparanthall (Tiruvaippadi) math. Fairly large temple unlike the other

The ghat here is kept very clean and it is good to take a bath here and have Dharshan of Kedareswar. The Nayanmars were very much devoted to Shiva at Kedarnath. One of them wrote a poem called Kedarappan Pathikam. It is displayed prominently in the Shiva temple at Kedarnath. Most of Tamil Nadu are Shaivites. Other than the Veera Shaivas, Shivism is now almost exclusively Tamil.

Dasasvamedha Ghat

This is an ancient ghat and the busiest ghat. According to the mythology, Lord Brahma performed the ten-horses sacrifice (dasa-asvamedha) at this site. The historical sources infer that at this site the Hindu dynasty of the second century, the Bhara Siva Nagas had performed ten-horses sacrifice here. It is in the heart of the town with broad roads leading to it.

To be continued

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Banares aka Kasi and Varanasi the holiest city of the Hindus - I

Banares aka Kasi and Varanasi is the holiest city for the Hindus. In the words of M.A. Sherring who wrote about the city in 1868,

"It is acknowledged throughout the world as a core of the Hindu tradition and a seat of ancient learning. It is a city where where infinity, continuity, the past and present live together. There are few cities in the world of greater antiquity, and none that have so uninterruptedly maintained their ancient celebrity and distinction."

"Blessed is Kashi, the city of liberation, adorned by Ganga and the soothing soul-saving maiden of a river, the Manikarnika."
- Adi Sankaracharya.

The present city is not very old. It lies along the bank of the river Ganga. There is a long line of ghats (a series of steps leading down to the river). You could read up something about the city here.

Now for the visitor old Banares is a maze of small lanes dotted with temples. The first time you land in Banares, the only word which comes to your mind is "chaos". If this is the feeling of an Indian, you can imagine the feeling of the visitor who has come to India for the first time. To add to to the confusion there are security personnel all over the place.

The most important temples are

Viswanath temple 

Annapurana temple 

Kalabhairava temple

The most famous temple in Kasi is the Viswanath temple.

But traditionally a pilgrim is expected to visit the Kala Bhairava temple first. It is because Kala Bhairava is the Lord of Kasi. He is the Kotwal or the magistrate. Adi Sankara in his Kala Bhairavashtakam calls him

"Kasikarapuratinatha KalaBhairavam Bhaje".

We take Kala Bhairava's permission and then proceed to other temples.

So I will start with the KalaBhairava temple. All our Siva temples have a Bhairava Sannidhi. Kala Bhairava is the Lord of Kala ( time) or Death. This is a temple which is believed to be not destroyed by the invaders. It is a beautiful but small temple.

Two things you will immediately notice in the temple. One is the presence of a number of dogs. Dog is the vahana of Bhairava and there is a statue of a dog also. Another thing is the number of people sitting around selling Black threads. If you go to them they will tap your head with peacock fathers and tie the black thread in your hand. This thread has a number of knots in it. It is a Rakshai and is supposed to ward off evils.

Long back this temple used to be frequented by Tantriks/Yogis who used to remove evil by uttering mantras and touching you with the peacock feathers. But now the Tantriks/Yogis have disappeared and these are traders. Talking about peacock feathers the Muslim holymen also use peacock feathers to ward off evil. But the learned Muslim holymen have also disappeared.

You might have heard of the term "Kasikkayiru". In the old days pilgrims to Kasi would come back with a number of Kasikayiru and tie them in the hands of all people especially children. I remember the time when my grandmother went to Kasi and got the thread for me.

You should recite KalaBhairava Ashtakam here. You can get books in Devanagari script in the temple in case you do not have a sloka book. But any pilgrim to Kasi should carry a book of slokas.

The last lines of the ashtakam are beautiful.

"kalbahiravashtakam patanthi e manoharam. Jnana mukti sadhanam vichtra punya vardhanam. Soka, Moha, Dhainya, Loba, Kopa, Tapa nasanam, te prayanti Kalabairavangri sannidim druvam."

There is another temple nearby called the Dhanda temple. Kala Bhairava's weapon is a dhandam or stick. You would have heard about Yama dhandam, the stick carried by Yama. This temple has a stone stick. You may not be able to see it as it is always covered by a silk cloth. Please do not be taken in by the priest telling you that it is Dhandapani or Lord Muruga. This is done to attract Tamil pilgrims. Muruga also carries a Dhanda. That is why he is called Dhandapani. But this temple is for Kala Bhairava's Dhandam. There were other dhanda temples in Kasi. None of them have survived.

You have to enquire about this temple which is not in the usual pilgrim's tour.

Viswanath Temple:

This is the famous temple visited by millions of Hindus. The old temple was destroyed by Aurangazeb who built a Mosque in its place. The new temple is adjacent to the Mosque. This was built by Rani Ahilya Bayi Holkar. The Holkars were Mahratta chieftains who ruled over parts of Madhya Pradesh with Indore as their capital. Kasi was in the possession of the Mahrattas.

The domes of the temple were covered with gold plates by Maharaja Ranjit Singh of Punjab. Yes, the same king who made Hari Mandir of Amritsar the Golden temple.

The temple is not very big. Except during the Aarti times, you are allowed to do the Abhishek of the Sivalinga. You can buy the Ganga water, Bhilva leaves, Dhatura, and other Puja materials favoured by Lord Siva near the temple. Because of the presence of the Mosque this is a high security area and there is vigorous checking. Better to leave your cell phone and camera at home. There are a number of shops which provide locker facilities. They are O.K. You may carry a lock with which you can lock the locker. But please note down the location of the shop carefully. Since the temple is in a maze of lanes, you may find it difficult to locate the shop later. I have seen people running around searching for a particular shop.

There are three Artis in the temple. Early morning 3.30 A.M, Afternoon and Evening. They sell special tickets for the early morning and evening Aarti. You can buy the tickets in the temple. They do not have any seating arrangements. People sit outside the Garba Graha and view the Aarti through the doors. Reach the temple at least an hour before time so that you can get a good seat. Do not miss the Aarti. It is a thrilling experience. I remember the good old days when we used to walk in and see the Aarti every day.

Lingashtakam by Adi Sankara is to be recited at this temple. You can add Chandrasekharshtakam also.

Near the temple is a well known as Jnana Vapi. The temple of knowledge. You should see this. When I was in Kasi last month, I saw a lot of new construction going on. They are adding to the temple. The construction is near the Jnana Vapi. Since Jnana Vapi is next to the Mosque, security is severe. This well is one of the series of holy wells in Banares.

One of the first things the British did when they captured Banares, was to clean up all the wells which were the major source of diseases and stench not having been cleaned for ages. More about wells later.

Hyuen Tsang, the Chinese traveller visited Varanasi in the 7th century. His travel accounts speak of the grandeur of the city and of its temples. This writer describes a hundred feet high statue of Shiva made of brass ( must be Shiva Linga) that adorned the city.

The Abishekams done in the morning and evening are a sight to behold. The prasadams after the Arti are taken off by the Pundits. You have to catch hold of one of them and give him Dhakshina (you know) to get the prasadams. Among other things like Milk, Curd, Ghee etc. one of the unusual Abhisekam is with Bang (cannabis). The Bang prasadam is very much in demand.

You can read about the bang tradition here.


The other hallucinating drug associated closely with Shiva worship is Datura.

The full abishek and Aarti lasts for more than 11/2 hours.

The You tube video does not give the real chanting at the time of Aarti. First I had assumed that it is Vedic chanting. later on I realized it is not a Vedic chant but a chant created by the pundits. Though impressive it is a choreographed item. Having watched the Aarti in 1983 when Bhakti was flowing, I find the present Aarti contrived to impress the tourists and pilgrims.

Annapurna temple

This temple is in the same lane as Viswanath temple. You have to pass by this temple to reach Viswanath temple. Annapurna is the bestower of food and prosperity. Annapurana is supposed to haven given Bikshai to Shiva in the form of Bikashadanar. Adi Sankara had composed the famous Annapurnashtakam about this Deity. A beautiful sloka. You should recite it here.

The present temple was constructed by Balaji Baji Rao one of the Mahratta Peshwas. Peshwas were Brahmins. At present this temple is owned by the Annapurna Mutt with a Mahant in charge. The idol is a small one made of black stone. Normally you do not see the idol because it is covered by the Silver Kavacham and flowers. You see only the face of the silver kavacham.

But if you are particular to see the image, you can buy an Abhishekam ticket. The Abhishekam takes place in the morning and you are allowed to do the Abishekam. But the ticket may not available for all the days. Enquire in the office.

On Diwali day they take out the Golden Annapurna and she comes around in a Laddu chariot. Worth seeing. We go round on Diwali day enquiring "Ganga snanam accha?". Imagine having a bath in the real Ganga on Diwali day and having dharshan of Maa Annapurna in her golden splendour riding in a Laddu chariot.

When you reach the temple, you will notice

1. The crowd is very thin when compared to Viswanth temple. There is practically no queue.

2. Once you enter you are greeted by notice boards in Telugu and Tamil. The crowd is mostly from Andhra Pradesh.You do not find many local people.

3. The temple serves free food in the afternoon. You get your token in the office. There is a huge rush and a melee. Then when the food comes you find it is South Indian (Andhra) food.

This seems to have become a Telugu temple. You will find that most of the Donors and the Management committee are from Andhra Pradesh.

You can donate for Anna Dhana here. One day's Anna Dhana costs Rs. 1500.

As a student of religious history, I have also been interested in tracing the evolution of temples. Annapurna temple is an example of how a temple evolves and changes over a period of time. Annapurna temple was a favourite temple of the Bengalis. The Bengalis are very much attached to Kasi. Annapurna is mentioned as a form of Maha Kali in the Adhya Kali stotram. This stotram envisages Maha Kali as the Supreme Deity. That is why the name Adhya. Rani Rashmoni had planned to come to Kali for dharshan of Annapurna. But MAA appeared in her dream and asked her to construct a temple for her in Kolkata. That is the genesis of the famous Dhakshineswar temple.

The temple which was built the Mahratha Peshwa is a temple for Maa Annapurna who gives alms to Shiva in the form of Bikshadanar.

The Bengalis who came later worshiped her as a form of Kali.

The Telugu people who came much later in the 1950s have established a Meru and made her Rajarajeswari.

They have a Maha Meru (Sri Chakra) in the mandap of the temple. (Removed now) Pilgrims conduct regular Lalita Sahasranama archanai there. You have to bring your own Sasthirigal. Local Telugu/Tamil pundits do it. If you pay well you can do the archanai to the main deity also.

This Vigraha and the Sri Chakra in this temple were consecrated by Sri Abhinava Vidyatirtha Swamigal, the 35th Pontiff of Sringeri Sarada Peetham on Diwali day in 1977.

To be continued

Do all Hindus need a GURU?

Do all Hindus need a GURU?

The answer is NO. NO. NO.

Do all Hindus have a Guru?

The overwhelming majority of the Hindus do not have a Guru. Even among the small minority of the people who claim to have a Guru most of them do not have a Guru as defined in the scriptures.

Definition of the term Guru:

Based on a long line of philosophical understanding as to the importance of knowledge, the guru is seen as a sacred conduit, or a way to self-realization. In India and among people of Hindu, Buddhist, or Sikh belief, the title retains a hallowed meaning.

Kula Guru: The Guru of a clan or tribe. Sukracharya was the Guru of the Asuras. Brahaspathi was the Guru of the Devas.

Raja Guru: The Guru of the King.

These are the only terms used in the Puranas. Only individuals who were seeking a way to self-realization had a Guru. Such seekers were called disciples.

The Bhakthi and Guru (Social Reform) Movements:

The Bhakthi movement started around 700 A.D in Tamil Nadu with the Nayanmars. It spread later all over India. The basic principles of the Bhakthi movement was the break from Rituals and the Varnashrama system. Later on this movement resulted in many Guru mevements.

Some of the major ones are:

Nath/Siddhas: Matsyendra Nath (Maccha Muni in Tamil), Gorakshak Nath/Gorak Nath (Gorakkar in Tamil), Thirumular and others.

Saint Kabhir:

Guru Nanak and his disciples: Which later on became a seperate religion. This movement included some of the teachings of the earlier Saints like Kabhir and the Nath/Siddhas.

These are called social reform movements because they were founded by non-Brhmins and were against the Rituals and Varnashrama Dharma.

These movements placed a lot of emphasis on the Guru. The Guru became the leader of the movement. More like a Kula Guru than the original concept of a Guru. All those who followed these Saints took them as their Guru. Of course this intepretation of a Guru originated in the concept of a Gotra or a clan which followed cerain Pravara Rishis or Gurus.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Gurus, Gurus and Gurus _ 3

I have the personal experience of knowing spiritually evolved persons whose Gurus have been accused/convicted of rape/murder. How come? The explanation could be that these people have absorbed only the good things from those Gurus. Or these people knew the Gurus at a time when they were good. I do not know.

I will give the example of two Gurus.

1. A SriVidya Guru who has been practicing SriVidya for more than 50 years. She is a housewife with husband and children. She has attained Siddhi of many mantras. She has given Mantra Upadesa to countless number of people. She has not made any money out of this. She does not seek fame or wealth. When you sit n front of her you feel her Tejas.

2. A learned Tantric gives Mantra Upadesa to people who consult him for their problems.He listens to the problem of a person, finds out which Mantra and Yagna will alleviate their problem. He initiates the person into the Mantra and also conducts the Yagna with the active participation of the person concerned. Only good Mantras.The Yagnas are all big ones and conducted adhering meticulously to the procedures laid down in the Tantric texts. The yagnas are a delight to watch. But the solution is very expensive. He also seeks fame. He has Tejas.

Now tell me are these two not Gurus? No violation of any laid down norms. People are benefited. The first person gives only Mantra initiation and then it is upto you. The second one leads you further. If you can afford the second Guru you go to him.

My experience of seeking out Holy people of all kinds allover India  has been very good. I have met mostly unknown Gurus who are approachable. I firmly believe that the tradition of the Gurus is flourishing in India.

Jai MAA !!!


"With enjoyment, comes fear of disease

With social position, fear of disfavor

With riches, fear of hostile people (Kings)

With honor, fear of humiliation

With power, fear of enemies

With beauty, fear of old age

With scholarship, fear of challenges

With virtue, fear of traducers

With identification with the body, fear of death

Everything in this world is done with fear

Renunciation alone makes one fearless."

-- Bhartrihari


I have a question, which has been bugging me for a long time. I give up all desires. Desire for fame, wealth etc. I am not a realised soul. The only thing left is total surrender to MAA. I do not want anything. Now I wonder at times what am I living for? Since I do not follow Vedanta or Advaita I do not seek self-realisation.

I am at peace. But you should realise that peace can be very boring. Should I take Vanaprastha and retire to a secluded place. Why not take jalasamadhi at Rudraprayag and end it all?

Someone may suggest service to humanity. There is politics and ego clashes in service/religious organizations and ashrams. Even postings on the internet leads to ego clashes. I do not want to knowingly or unknowingly hurt anyone's ego. That is why I have cut off all contacts with humans except my family.

My reading of the books on Hinduism made me understand that I should give up all desires. The ultimate object is to give up even the desire for God-realisation. O.K. Then what? Take Sannyasa and become a wandering monk or wander into the beautiful Himalayas where MAA lives? Why a wandering monk? Because even in Ashrams of Sannyasins there are ego clashes.

When you progress in your God-realisation or spirituality the desires will leave you. Bht by giving up desires you do not become spiritual. It could be Vairagya or Virakthi. Vairagya does not give you Jnana automatically.

What do you think?


Thursday, January 26, 2012

Gurus, Gurus and Gurus _ 2

I was warned that any discussion on Gurus tends to become acrimonious. I do not understand why any message on Gurus should be taken by some people, as an attack on Gurus in general and their Gurus in particular. I know that because of this, no one wants to discuss the institution of Gurus. Though quite a few books have been written on Gurus it is more from the point of view of the West. They invariably fall back upon the definition and writing in our old texts and very rarely reflect the realities of the present times.

A friend had posed a question

"What then happens to the hungry, traveler, saddened by life's trials, desperately seeking for guidance; a guide, a father, a mother, a manifestation, a personalization of the ultimate "God"? . "

This is the crux of the problem. Whenever we talk about Gurus invariably it is about Gurus who lead the disciple to Self- Realisation.There are Pravritti and Nivritti margas. There are Mumukshas as a class of society. Even in spirituality the goal could be Prathiba, Sahaja and Samarasa. Why talk only about self- realisation as if it is the only goal for which a Guru is required. Why dismiss all other Gurus as non- Gurus?

There are other gurus who deal also with the type of people enumerated above.

Tantric Gurus

The concept of Gurus is emphasised in all Tantric texts. By its very nature Tantric practices need a guru to initiate a person the Mantra, and also teach the various and elaborate rituals prescribed for attaining the Siddhi of the Mantra. These Gurus have a long lineage running to generations. Many of the Sampradhayas also believe that the Guru should be a Grahastha (householder) and not a Sannyasin.

There are hundreds of Sampradhayas and most of these Gurus are householders leading the life of a householder. There are thousands of disciples who have been initiated into these Mantras. Most of them are householders. It is again generally an accepted principle of these Sampradhayas that the initiate does not take any other Guru. Those who belong to the Great SriVidya Sampradhaya have Diksha names.

When we were discussing mantras and Siddhis earlier there was an attempt to dismiss all Mantras other than those, which lead to Moksha. Unfortunately most of the mantras in Mantra Mahodhathi and Mantra Maharnava are for attaining certain powers or Siddhis. A Tantric who attains a Siddhi of any mantra will get power. How he uses this power depends on him. Misuse of the Powers will result in losing the power gradually and also prevent him from attaining higher powers.

We find a number of these Tantrics making money out of these powers. They help the common man in overcoming obstacles, winning court cases etc. You may say that this is Black magic or dhurmantra. The Tantric scriptures do not make any such distinction and Tantrics have always for thousands of years used their powers for material benefits.

Hereditary Gurus

There are many families in India (especially among the Vaishnavites) where your family has accepted an individual or the head of a particular Math as your Guru. These Gurus could be either householders or Sannyasins depending upon the tradition. There are hundreds of gurus of this kind in India. The families consult the Guru on a regular basis regarding their problems.

Nath/Sidddha/Avadhoota Gurus.

We have all heard of the wandering monks, mad monks, and naked Sadhus of India. Most of these people belong to the Nath/Siddha tradition. These kinds of Sadhus do not follow the norms of the society. They are called mad because they do not conform to the norms of the society. But many of them had achieved the ultimate Siddhi. By mere look they could elevate the disciple to a higher level. Many Siddhas also were masters of indigenous medicine and alchemy. There is a system of medicine called the Siddha Vaidhya. They went around healing people. I can write & write about the greatness of these Siddhas without end. We talk about Prathiba, Sahaja, Samarasa, and not self- realisation here. These Gurus attained Sahaja and Samarasa.

It is in the Nath/Siddha/Avadhootha/Tantric tradition that the Guru is held in absolute reverence. In aishnavism also the Guru is venerated. The Guru does not hold this exalted position in the Advaita marga.

If we look at our history you will find that our great Gurus came from all traditions.

If you prepare a list of Gurus like

Bagavan Ramakrishna Paramahamsa
Swami Vivekananda
Disciples of Ramakrishna
Bagavan Ramana Maharshi
Mata Anandamayi
Paramahansa Yogananda
Swami Nityananda
Swami Muktananda
Swami Sivananda
Swami Chinmayananda
Bagavan Shirdi Sai Baba
Bagavan Sathya Saibaba
Mata Amritanandamayi
Shree MAA of Kamakya
Swami Sathyananda Saraswathi
His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
Swami Rama
Maa Rama Devi
Maharshi Mahesh Yogi
Papa Ramdas

You will find that everyone had his/her own path. As Bagavan Ramakrishna said there are as many paths as there are men. I had prepared the list of only those Gurus whose teachings and path I know something about. There are hundreds whom I am not fortunate enough to know.

I am sure some of you would have seen the web site referred by one of my friends here. (Let Us Reason ). I am giving below a paragraph from one of their pages.

" They learn spirituality by experience. Marilyn Ferguson states it this way,"The radical Center of spiritual experience seems to be knowing without doctrine ... the teacher does not impart knowledge but technique. This is the 'transmission of knowledge by direct experience.' Doctrine on the other hand, is second-hand knowledge, a danger .... 'Do not get entangled in any teaching." (The Aquarian Conspiracy, Marilyn Ferguson, Pages 371, 377.)"

They are right. The Guru teaches from his personal knowledge. So most of them taught the path they had experienced.

One of my friends had asked about the general qualifications of a guru. I do not think you can have one. There is an ocean of difference between a Vedantic guru and an Agora guru. Between a Spiritual guru of the Advaita marga and a Vama marga Tantric Guru. Instead of spending time in finding out about Conmen (calling them fake Gurus is an insult to Gurus) we can learn about all these gurus and their teachings. Most of the information is available on the net. Many of them also have ashrams all over the world. If you like the teachings of a Guru and would like to join their community you can visit their ashrams. If you want a Tantric or Nath/Siddha guru you have to really search hard as these kind of Gurus are not easy to find. You hear more about Con men masquerading as Gurus because Con men make better copy for newspapers and magazines than real Gurus.

If you are a spiritual or religious explorer/adventurer you can explore different margas, exoteric and non exoteric. All explorers do not discover the source of the Nile. Similarly spiritual explorers may never find the ultimate. Like in exploration the path can be dangerous also. But there is always a thrill in exploration.

We are blessed that Hinduism has produced so many great gurus. One of our friends had written that tolerance is the basis of Hinduism. It is not tolerance. It is acceptance of all paths. Most of us are yet to accept this concept of acceptance. Some of you may not consider some of the people on my list as Gurus. The principle is to be inclusive and not exclusive. Find out what is good in all men and if you find some good teachings try to absorb them. Lookout for Con-men and you will find one in every corner. It is a question of attitude and conditioning.

By then are we qualified to judge these great men? It is like a toddler in the Nursery class passing judgment on the Head teacher of the school. I would say it is worse. The difference in level is so high like a deep hole in the ground and the peak of the mountain. As I said earlier the only people who can give you an opinion are the disciples. Ask different disciples (beginners and advanced) and the dissenters (there are always some) and then may be you can decide. Even this I am not so sure. But do not put yourself in a straight jacket by going by any definition.

Gurus, Gurus and Gurus _ 1

Nowadays people are not satisfied with mere Gurus. So we have Maharshis and Paramahamsas.

In India we find that people approach a Guru for the following purposes.

1. For spiritual guidance (very few).
2. To get initiated into a Mantra.
2. Guidance and help in solving their problems.
3. To know about their future.
4. To get cure for their illness.
5. For wealth, fame and prosperity.

The Guru phenomenon also complies with the economics rule of demand and supply. So as there is a pent-up demand for all kinds of Gurus for solving all kinds of problems, all kinds of Gurus spring up. In fact the demand far exceeds the supply. That is why people have to search for Gurus.

We can be very puritanical and say that all these people are not genuine Gurus. I have some experience of meeting Gurus of various hues and shades all over India. The common factor among all of them
is (I am not talking about the Con artist)

1. They invariably have some power or attraction, which distinguishes them from the common man.
2. They are able to win the faith and devotion of many members of the public.

Anyone who fulfills the above qualification could become a Guru. I am not a Guru, as I do not fulfill any of these qualifications.

They could be good soothsayers, good healers, religious pundits who conduct yagnas for propitiation of Gods/Goddesses on behalf of their customers, good astrologers, good teachers etc. etc.

So depending upon your need you find a Guru. It is also possible that you want a Guru to belong to a particular section of society or an informal club.

These Gurus come from all social strata of society and have different levels of spiritual advancement. They could be renunciates, or Grahasthas. They have different goals in life. Many of them want to construct big ashrams, temples, hospitals, schools etc. Once anyone wants to construct an ashram, hospital he has to necessarily acquire land, money for construction. So they get involved in mundane matters. We call it Loukika. This could prove to be a quagmire. There are plenty of highly evolved Gurus who have stagnated and sometimes came down in their spiritual level because of their involvement in these activities. This is what is illustrated by the story of the Sannyasin and his kowpeena.

What is the relevance of all this to the question raised? One of our friends has echoed the feeling of every one of us when he said that we want our Guru to have all the comforts. He said that the Guru should live like a king. I am in total agreement. But the question is does the Guru want that? If that is his wish as his disciple you should offer whatever you can. Sometimes the question I raised might crop up. There is no correct answer to that question. We can only pray that we are not placed in such a predicament. You cannot wish away the problem.

Soomeone had said about a Guru arranging the marriage of a disciple. As I said earlier we run to the guru with all kinds of problems. Do you expect your Spiritual Guru to be a marriage counselor, career counselor, astrologer, and pranic healer? Sort of omnipotent. In my opinion the Guru was not right in arranging the marriage of a disciple. Just because he is Gurudeva he does not become God. I do not think even in the days of the Puranas Gurus decided whom the chelas should marry. This is sheer exploitation of the faith reposed in the Guru. I think the guru had an inflated Ego. This has nothing to do with culture. I find that the westerner takes his Guru more literally than the Indians. That is the reason why western disciples are preferred over Indian disciples.

You can quote books galore to say that the Guru has that right. But these books also give the father of a son/daughter absolute right to decide whom he/she should marry. Even now in India many parents claim that right. Most of us now believe that the father does not have that right. If it is so neither does the Guru. The scriptures also gave a lot of rights to the King even if he was a tyrant. We threw out the kings and are better for it. We are always selective in our reading of the scriptures.

Books which were written in an age when there was no appreciation of individual rights, when hereditary rights of ruling was the norm, when the society was feudal, cannot be taken to be the voice of God. What is written about spirituality is timeless. But the same cannot be said about code of conduct and other non-spiritual matters.

I find that the younger generation of today is more religious than my generation. I am sure they will become more spiritual as they grow older. Without being very rigid in our definitions and qualifications of a Guru, we can search for a Guru. You will definitely find a Guru to your liking. You should have absolute faith in your Guru. But you should also realise that Guru is not God or omnipotent. He is also a human being and also has desires, wants etc. You cannot expect him to solve all your problems. If you have a problem say about switching jobs you cannot expect your Guru to get you a job or decide which job
you should accept.

You go to the Guru. You state your problem either orally or mentally. The Guru either by a word or glance will give you the inner strength required to find a solution to your problem. The idea that the Gurus are also human and are bound by the same samskaras, ego etc. will enable us to understand the Guru and serve him better. This will also enable us to cope with the situation in case someday we discover that the particular Guru was a Con Man.

The people to decide whether a guru is genuine/authentic or not, are the disciples not the journalists and general public.

My Pranams to All the Past, Present and Future Gurus of the world.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Mantras and Siddhis


The discussion about whether one should give the Mantra in print on
paper or over the Internet and whether one should utter these Mantras
has been discussed in many forums especially over the Internet. But
what we should understand that there is no forum in India where such
matters are discussed. Unfortunately there is very little opposition
to the commercialisation of Mantras and Tantras in India. We find not
only books but also cassettes and magazines, which give Mantras and
advise people to chant them for various benefits. Not one Acharya or
religious head has raised his voice against these practices.

Before I go into Mantra Sasthra I would like to say something about
Tantra, Upasana, Sadhana and Siddhi

We generally use the above terms whenever we talk about Tantra and
Mantras. Now there is a lot of confusion about these terms. I would
like to present a simple definition of the above terms. I am always
open to correction as I am not a Guru.

Upasana: Upasana is devotion to a particular deity or mantra. It
means approaching the Divine step by step till the self attains
identity with her. When somebody says I am a Durga Upasak, it means
that he is a worshipper of MAA DURGA. Upasana is different from
Bhakthi in that you concentrate on one particular Deity or Mantra.
The deity is normally called Ishta Devata. When you do mantra Upasana
you follow the procedures laid down for that Upasana.

Sadhana: is the method by which you do Upasana. Mantra sadhana means
the method followed is by recitation of a specific mantra. Tantra
sadhana means you follow Tantric procedures, which include Mantras.

Siddhi. - Means power or attainment. The common forms of Siddhi are

Ashtamaa Siddhi - eight great powers
1. Anima -To become tiny as the atom within atom
2. Laghima - To become light as vapour in levitation
3. Mahima - To become big in unshakeable proportions
4. Prapti- To enter into other bodies in transmigration
5. Prakamyam- To be in all things, omni pervasive
6. Isatvam-To be lord of all creation in omnipotence
7. Vasitvam- To be everywhere in omnipresence
8. Kamaru Tattva (Kamavasyitva) -Attainment of whatever you desire*

Source: Thirumandhiram- verse no.668 to 693

* Some books give it as Garima (the power of becoming heavy)
The minor Siddhis are
Doora Dharshan (clairvoyance)
Doora Sravan (clairaudience)
Iccha Mrityu (death at his will)
There may be others also.

Kariya Siddhi - Getting your heart's desire. This is what most of us
aim for. We pray to God to beget children, get promotion in job, get
wealth, remove unhappiness etc. etc. If you pray fervently you get
things done. This is also the easiest of the Siddhis to get. Pray for
a specific purpose and your prayers are granted.