Ashwini Kumara – the Swift Gods of Light

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The Ashwinis seem to be the most energetically joyful of all the gods known to man. They hurtle through the cosmos in a dizzying effervescence of joy. They are the lords of speed, the swift rivers, the falcons of light, the riders of the fleet horse, agile and brilliant as Rig Veda says.  Speed is their keynote.  They bounce off the walls of heaven with a rush of energy, like young colts.  They are the most dazzlingly handsome personages in the universe, and they know it – ‘swift footed lords of bliss, much enjoying’. Later stories would elaborate on them as sensual gods. In some versions they marry jointly, Savitri the daughter of Surya the Sun God.  She was nominally supposed to marry Soma, lord of the moon and the sacred drink, but the Ashwins were much more handsome and cut a spectacular dash!  Other myths tell that they married the ten rays of the Sun, Surya’s daughters … But they had no time to lech like other gods.  Savitri was the only one who could keep up with their rapidity.

The Ashwini twins are Vedic gods who were once held in high esteem but have been all but forgotten. They were however, the prototype for the notion of Kumara the eternal youth, which is how both Skanda and the Buddha would be represented in future sculpture. AS healers they were emerged into Dhanwantri later.

“It is known to a few, that the Awhwinis were the first physicians, doctors to humanity as well as the gods.  They were one of many Solar deities in the Vedas; many of their attributes were taken over by Vishnu when his cult by a process of osmosis, engulfed all the solar gods in his vast embrace

“The Ashwins were not effete dandies, careering across the cosmos in solar powered Ferraris.  They were that rarest of heroes, intellectuals who could act decisively and swiftly. They were described as ‘effectual in action, the powers of movement, fierce-moving in their paths:  they embodied the Samurai dictum – ‘to think and to act are one and the same‘.  They are the power of movement itself, so speedy and firm were they perceived to be. They used their great knowledge to help the gods – which was appreciated – and also to alleviate the sufferings of Humanity – which was not. Like Prometheus they had to face an angry Indra, leader of the gods, who punished them by depriving them of the right to drink the sacred Soma, which conferred strength and immortality on the gods. Soma was only too pleased; they had cost him a wife. However, the angry gods could not punish the Ashwins – they moved too fast to be caught, and they were no pushovers. Nobody knew the extent of their strength, nor wished to risk finding out.

“The Ashwins did not care too much about being excluded from the sacred drink.  They were caught up in their experiments and always on the move, as an active life principle. They made an iron leg for the warrior named Vispala who lost his in battle.  They were physicians and worked tirelessly at their craft.  The jealous humans said they had forfeited divine honours by associating too much with humans!  In later medieval times, the physician’s job was regarded as greatly polluting as it interfered with the evil Karma which produced the disease – a cruel doctrine. It is greatly to the Ashwins’ credit that they chose compassion over the approbation of their fellows, and continued to do what they had always done. They healed countless numbers of the lame, and restored sight to many who were blind – an apt action for the Lords of the Light.  The similarities with events in Palestine many thousands of years later are also obvious.  One of the Ashwins’ most coveted boons was to restore youth and vigour to the aged and decrepit. That might explain why they did not need the Soma like the other gods did.

“The Rishi Chyavana was old, feeble and ugly. Constant immersion in meditation had covered his body with vegetation until an anthill arose around him. The beautiful Sukanya thought his still visible eyes were glow-worms and poked them out with a stick, to capture them. Instantly the people of that region were cursed with terrible pain; the only way out of this was to marry her off to the sage she had wronged.  Sukanya accepted the grotesque situation as being fair – the blind sage needed someone to care for him. One day however, at the riverbank (a liminal, threshold site) Sukanya observed the Ashwinis frolicking in the water, and sighed for her lack of such joys.

“The Twins had a rare moment of lust, and propositioned her, confident in their youth and beauty. But she rebuked them severely and abashed them.  Yet they still had their hats in the ring, and offered to cure her husband of blindness and senility, and give him a handsome form like their own.  This was the catch: she must pick out her husband correctly from the identical trio, or agree to go with them.  Sukanya consulted her husband who decided to teach the presumptuous gods that he may be old and blind, but did not become a rishi for nothing.  When they emerged from the water in which the gods dipped the old man, she instantly recognised her husband through his instructions; the gods do not blink, sweat, cast shadows or leave footprints – and the human was easily found out.

“The Twins were sporting about it, and Chyavana, grateful for his rejuvenation, instructed them in an esoteric part of the Vedic sacrifice that even the gods had forgotten.  Armed with this new knowledge, the Ashwinis marched back into the divine company and traded off the right to drink Soma for this new rite in the fire sacrifice.  They came full circle – rejected for their love of humanity and restored by it too.

“Some have mistakenly translated their name to be Horsemen, from Ashwa the horse they ride. The horse as a symbol of prana indicates the Ashwinis’ perfect control over the breath, as well as their dazzling speed. The word Ashwini is derived from a root word which means ‘to fill everything’. One of the twins pervades the universe with Light, the other with Moisture – another indication that they were proto-Vishnu, ‘he that pervades’.

“In another story, they rescued a great sage from a flood that threatened to drown his learned life. The Ashwins sent him a log to clamber up onto and float around until realising who was responsible for this providential intervention.  Then they appeared before him, blessed him and instructed him in spiritual matters.

The Twins were heralds of the dawn, lords of the fleetingly transient state between night and dawn, again an attribute of their great speed. This places them firmly as liminal or threshold deities, guardians of sacred and rare times when higher levels of consciousness may be accessed.  This peculiar aspect of their potency is acknowledged in verses where the Ashwinis are addressed as the children of the sun, of the earth, of the waters, and even as sons of the submarine fire.  All are conjunctions, especially the horizon where one space interacts with another, forming a natural threshold, and are key areas for the Ashwini to act.  They are the great facilitators of transition, but only to the Light.  They simply do not have the time for anything else.

They give that impelling energy for the great work which, having for its nature and substance the light of the Truth, carries man beyond the darkness.

“The Ashwinis represent a glorious phase of Indian culture, and there are very few gods who are so reverberant with light. They are action incarnate, joyful graspers of life and laughter, quick to act and determined in their courses, intelligent and compassionate. The thrill they get out of being alive, is magnificent; it is a great pity that India has lost the ability to be in sympathy with such an exultant use of talent, ability and power. This is life lived to the fullest, to delight in action and glory in the mind … ‘Take joy in the Word, the holders in the intellect, by the luminously energetic thought’ …

“It was a sad time when India forsook the speedy gods of Light for more sedate worship.

“In the Vedic constellations, the Ashwins are in Aries, the sign of the New.

Sri Guru Rohit Arya is a Yogi , Author and Polymath, being a Spiritual Mentor, a writer, a corporate trainer, a mythologist and a vibrant speaker. He has written the first book on Vaastu to be published in the West, {translated into five European languages} the first book on Tarot to be published in India, co-authored a book on fire sacrifice, and is the creator of The Sacred India Tarot {82 card deck and book}. He was the Editor of The Leadership Review, and on the advisory panel of Indiayogi.com, the first spiritual portal in the country. Currently he is the Director of Pro-Factor, a leadership and change facilitation corporate training outfit. He has been an arts critic and socio-cultural commentator for over two decades. Rohit is also a Lineage Master in the Eight Spiritual Breaths system of Yoga. He founded the Arya Yoga Sangha in 2013 and leads multiple meditation circles each week.

He can be contacted on Facebook at

https://www.facebook.com/aryayogi/

The videos of his talks on various subjects can be found here http://www.youtube.com/user/TheAryayogi

His blogs can be accessed here

https://aryayogi.wordpress.com/

http://actpersistintensify.wordpress.com/

http://creativeaye.wordpress.com/

http://zestandgrit.wordpress.com/

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Where Karma dies in the seed – Perur Pateeshwara Shiva temple

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A kshetram so powerful in dissolving karma that the sacred tamarind tree has seeds that do not sprout. The Perur Shiva temple near Coimbatore city in Tamil Nadu has sculptural marvels and is an unknown treasure for yogis. The Shivalingam is svambhu and of a quality and vibrational energy that is distinct and somewhat strange until you realize what it is doing… stilling the constant movement of karmic potential.  This temple is called Melai Chidambaram or Chidambaram of the West and while it may not match the peerless kshetram of Chidambaram it is of immense value in itself.

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Elaborate carving everywhere though the current structure seems to be of late Nayak period… 17 century or so

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Part of the Sthala Purana, Kamadhenu the divine cow worshiped a Shiva lingam inside an anthill hoping to become the next Brahma. Why she wanted such a thankless job is never revealed in the story. Her calf, annoyed at being neglected kicked over the anthill. Kamadhenu was appalled at this act but Shiva being Shiva was deeply amused and granted her a slew of wishes plus bonus blessings for mere mortals who visit the site. Our temples are always generous in the matters.

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It is the Kanaga Sabhai, the hall of Nataraja that is the stunning aspect of this temple. I had thought that the Elephanta caves Shivas were the pinnacle of Shaivaite art but something was left in the toolbox yet and this miracle of sculpture emerged. 8 larger than life murtis, part of the stone itself… just astonishing… or they would be were they not locked up behind ugly cages now.

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This comfort with the unaesthetic and ugly is a strange aspect of modern Hindusim…

the Kanaga Sabhai was built in 34 years, from 1625 to 1649 by the architect Kambanarchari… under the patronage of the Nayak kings. it is a deeply symbolic structure… suffused with Shaivaite theology…

The Kanaga Sabhai has 36 Pillars representing the 36 tenets of Saiva Sidhanta. There are fifteen steps situated at three different levels. Each set of five steps represents the Panchakshara –  the five letters of the sacred Mantra of Shiva, “Om Na Ma Shivaya” The garbha griha of Nataraja has four pillars representing the four Vedas…Nine windows stand for the nine grahas or celestial objects of Hindu thought and also the nine dvaras or openings of the human body. As explained before the temple is deemed to be capable of granting liberation from karmic influence. It is interesting to note that the Dhayana lingam created by Jaggi Vasudev at the Isha foundation which is about 20 kms from Perur is also supposed to plant a seed of liberation within you, which dries up all other karmic seeds. Must be something about Coimbatore that helps to drop karma….

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Nrithya Ganapati, the dancing form

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Urdhava Tandava murti, an esoteric aspect of Nataraja and his 108 karanas

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One of the most brilliant interpretations of Bhadrakali ever seen

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Skanda of the six faces, his sixth face is inside the pillar

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Veerabhadra in his wrath at the Daksha Yagya

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Old illustration showing Veerabhadra and also a rare form of Agni Veerabahdra, the one one the right

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the pics are sourced from the net as permission to shoot is a huge huge pain

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Bhikshantana moorti… Shiva as the nude yogi…it is also Interestingly called the Sarva Loka vaseekara murti, the enchanter of all the Worlds

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19th or early 20th century photograph, of veerabhadra… it now needs protection in a cage, such is so called progress

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Gajasamhara murti, just extraordinary in its power

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A senseless practice that the ASI of Tami Nadu is addicted to , slathering all murtis in the name of protection and making them dreadfully ugly and even shapeless

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Another old illustration

The Great Gorakshanth is also supposed to have spent significant time at this temple. His spot is a grove and is unmistakable in its fierceness. I have said this many times before, but the yogis and temples of South India are beyond belief, they actually succeeded in making a kshetram of the whole land. Today the consecrated space has fragmented but even spots remain for those who are serious about their yoga…

Sarvam Shivamayam!

Sri Guru Rohit Arya is a Yogi , Author and Polymath, being a Spiritual Mentor, a writer, a corporate trainer, a mythologist and a vibrant speaker. He has written the first book on Vaastu to be published in the West, {translated into five European languages} the first book on Tarot to be published in India, co-authored a book on fire sacrifice, and is the creator of The Sacred India Tarot {82 card deck and book}. He was the Editor of The Leadership Review, and on the advisory panel of Indiayogi.com, the first spiritual portal in the country. Currently he is the Director of Pro-Factor, a leadership and change facilitation corporate training outfit. He has been an arts critic and socio-cultural commentator for over two decades. Rohit is also a Lineage Master in the Eight Spiritual Breaths system of Yoga. He founded the Arya Yoga Sangha in 2013 and leads multiple meditation circles each week.

The videos of his talks on various subjects can be found here http://www.youtube.com/user/TheAryayogi

His blogs can be accessed here

https://aryayogi.wordpress.com/

http://actpersistintensify.wordpress.com/

http://creativeaye.wordpress.com/

http://zestandgrit.wordpress.com/

Bheesma Pitamaha is a very odd kettle of fish

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The founding story officially designated to be the reason for the catastrophe of Mahabharatha war has always struck me as peculiar. It makes no sense in an epic that is otherwise relentlessly accurate about human behavior. Consider the scenario – the young prince Devavratha finds his aging father has fallen in love with a fisher girl, whose father is withholding consent to the union. The old coot wants his grandson to be the next in line instead of Devavratha, and the crown prince not only renounces his claim, he swears eternal celibacy so that his children will not fight his step mother’s children. This Bheehma Pratigya – Terrible Vow – gives him a new name and a shower of blessings from the gods and his father. There is only one problem with this narrative. It is hugely improbable.

Consider who Bheehma was – son of the goddess Ganga and the foremost badass of his time. He held his invincible guru Parashurama to a draw in battle– and that avatar of Vishnu had wiped out 21 generations of Kshatriyas – so the scale of the achievement is staggering. Yet this man, widely acknowledged to be the most accomplished nobleman in eons, has a peculiar fixation on facilitating his father’s sex life. It is beyond creepy – it is such an incongruous note in all of Sanskrit literature. What guilt was he assuaging, if any? This thunderous haste to foreswear marriage and procreation, it never raised eyebrows? India has a superstitious obsession, to the point of delusion, about the supposed virtues of brahmacharya or voluntary celibacy. So Bheeshma has always been held as an exemplar instead of as a crank. There are natural celibates – Tesla, Newton and Vivekananda to name just three. It is not impossible, just rare. But Devavratha was always in line to marry and be fruitful. A fiery prince like him, when a smarmy fisherman is pushing his luck, is more apt to draw his sword and gut the fool rather than keep conceding point after point in this incredible manner. What exactly is going on?

He kidnaps the princesses Amba, Ambika and Ambalika to marry his half brother. Amba loves another man so he lets her go but that guy refuses to accept her. She gets his Guru Parashurama to order him to marry her and he refuses. He refuses!!! The man who is the pinnacle of the culture breaks its cardinal rule, obedience to the guru. Bheeshma fights his guru rather than obey – he knows his guru is the Avatar and he still refuses to obey! This is just about the most insane episode in Sanskrit literature and nobody sees it for the sheer magnitude of crazy it is. Again what the hell is going on?

Then years later, his half brother Vichitravirya dies without any princes to succeed. His stepmother Satyavati suggests he perform niyoga and beget princes upon his brother’s widows, a sort of Indian version of levirate, and he recoils again as if pushed into a snake pit. He had no problems attending the swayamvara of the princesses and beating all the assembled princes of India to win them for his brother but this gives him the willies. Satyavati turns to her older son, the Rishi Veda Vyasa, and he, a rishi no less, does not launch into lectures about brahmacharya but gets on with it. I think that is just superb. Our rishis were all sexually active men – and women. It is only now that this forcible celibacy is thrust upon them with the usual consequences. When one of the princesses, repulsed by his ugliness, substitutes her maidservant, Vyasa takes this unexpected bonus in stride with splendid insouciance. The child born of that was Vidura, the wisest man of his time. Years later Dhiritharastra also had a dalliance with a servant and that child was Yututsu who was the most decent of all the Kauravas and even fought on the Pandava side and ended up ruling as regent too. {Exactly how superior were the daasis of the time that they ended up having the virtuous and great children is another matter.}

To return to Bheeshma, this peculiar behavior he displays has another possible interpretation. He batted, shall we say, for the other team? Occam’s Razor – when a simple explanation exists that covers the known facts it is futile to keep creating fanciful explanations. Given what we know of the Greeks and the Samurai it is actually more psychologically plausible than all the vows and brahmacharya insistence. I do not insist upon it – it merely needs to be considered. Otherwise, from a cultural, even a spiritual context, his actions are completely weird.

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Everybody acts in the Mahabharata from motives that are completely clear; Bheeshma alone is perplexing. His supposed inflexibility on ethics did not extend to personal destitution in old age for doing the right thing. He admits as such to Yudhishtara on the ninth night of the war – “Eunuch like, I blabber, but Drona, Kripacharya and I have to repay the food we ate in comfort when we were with the Kauravas.” Now that is the real authentic note of the epic, human concerns, human weaknesses, not this queer unrelenting insistence on a strange vow nobody, least of all his father, had asked him to take.

Rohit Arya is a Yogi , Author and Polymath, being a Spiritual Mentor, a writer, a corporate trainer, a mythologist and a vibrant speaker. He has written the first book on Vaastu to be published in the West, {translated into five European languages} the first book on Tarot to be published in India, co-authored a book on fire sacrifice, and is the creator of The Sacred India Tarot {82 card deck and book}. He was the Editor of The Leadership Review, and on the advisory panel of Indiayogi.com, the first spiritual portal in the country. Currently he is the Director of Pro-Factor, a leadership and change facilitation corporate training outfit. He has been an arts critic and socio-cultural commentator for over two decades. Rohit is also a Lineage Master in the Eight Spiritual Breaths system of Yoga. He founded the Arya Yoga Sangha in 2013 and leads multiple meditation circles each week.

The videos of his talks on various subjects can be found here http://www.youtube.com/user/TheAryayogi

His blogs can be accessed here

https://aryayogi.wordpress.com/

http://actpersistintensify.wordpress.com/

http://creativeaye.wordpress.com/

http://zestandgrit.wordpress.com/

Ekapada Shiva – an unusual Yogic form

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A Shiva with only one foot, replicating a Lingam shape, sometimes with Vishnu and Brahma emerging from him, the Ekapada Shiva is one of the most striking creations of the Yogic aspect of working with forms. It has a Tantric variant also, found in Shakti temples, where he is more Bhairava than Shiva, and which may provide a clue as to the sadhana aspects of such a rupa. For the Yogis used to create devatas in specific rupam for very precise reasons, to help in particular types of transformations of consciousness. It is perhaps not particularly co-incidental that this form of complete stillness is most widely seen in the same areas where Shiva is also known as the Nataraja, the Lord of the Dance.

 

 

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I am not particularly concerned with the historical development of this rare form. The details can be found here. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ekapada.

My concern is why Shiva Nataraja would be depicted in such a manner. There had to be very good reasons indeed at a time when sectarian abuse of each others devatas was rampant and such a form was so easily open to  perjorative interpretations. Swami Vivekananda was the first modern Hindu to speak up against western psycho-sexual interpretations of the Lingam as a phallus alone – a process the West is still addicted to, ref Wendy Doniger.  He clearly stated that the lingam was the Yupa Stambha, the central pillar present in all yagnas, representative of the Axis Mundi, which in Yogic terms is the spine up which the kundalini travels. The energy body of a high level yogi automatically arranges itself into a lingam shape; it is incredibly stable as a side effect. Such forms are anthropomorphic representations of that yogic insight, rather like the mukha lingams, lingams with faces on them which would be a difficult task if they represented the phallus.

 

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Another form of Shiva also has this lingam like shape and is associated with Brahma and Vishnu. That is the famous Pillar of Fire Shiva, Lingodbhava ,which is an interesting name in itself. The bhava is the sensation, the vibration, the perception, the feeling. The bhava of a lingam is shown in forms that devotion creates.  [while also taking the opportunity to put down the worshippers of Brahama and Vishnu- sectarianism was always a reality.} The Ekapada implies stillness lack of movement, rather like the forms of the Jain tirthankaras, who according to some schools, freeze into these still forms after final attainment, for even the smallest movement is karma and they are free of that taint! The area where the Ekapada is found, South India, Rajasthan Orissa were very much the catchment area of Jainsim too and the theological idea must have been well known to all of them.

 

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There is certainly an aspect of asserting superiority over other sects in this Ekapada form. Or an attempt to assimilate them. Both processes could have gone on simultaneously. But the Tantric shrines where Bhairava is in Ekapada form shows that the process could flow the other way also. . We are told that it originates in the obscure Vedic deity Aja Ekapada which may be true. The yogic sandhana roots seem clear once we read that Aja Ekapada  – The unborn one footed – was almost always associated with Ahi Budhnya – the serpent of the ocean – so much so they were thought to be twin or the same god. This is formless consciousness associated with the creatrix serpent of the kundalini. So the roots are clear for those who know how to see it.

 

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The single form Ekapada {Vishnu and Brahma  attached is also called Tripada} is almost always associated with attendants who are tapasvis, so it is a hard sadhana aspect of Yoga. The unusual rigidity and stillness of the form is also a clue, this is like shambhavi mudra practice, where everything is stilled, every sensation, every external and internal input is stopped, and the experience of inner akasha is allowed. Brahma and Vishnu, creating and ongoing aspects have to be stilled to experience the essence of consciousness that is Shiva. At least that is what arose in my understanding and my samyama on these things is usually pretty accurate. I do not urge this conclusion upon anybody, it is my insight. The yogis of South India used to create rupams all the time and the clues as to the purpose of so doing were always available for those who meditated upon them. I am reasonably sure I am on the right track here!

 

 

Sarvam Shivamayam!

 

 

Rohit Arya is an Author, Yogi and Polymath, being a writer, a corporate trainer, a mythologist and a vibrant speaker.  He has written the first book on Vaastu to be published in the West, {translated into five European languages} the first book on Tarot to be published in India, co-authored a book on fire sacrifice, and is the creator of The Sacred India Tarot {82 card deck and book}. He was the Editor of The Leadership Review, and on the advisory panel of Indiayogi.com, the first spiritual portal in the country. Currently he is the Director of Pro-Factor, a leadership and change facilitation corporate training outfit. He has been an arts critic and socio-cultural commentator for over two decades. Rohit is also a Lineage Master in the Eight Spiritual Breaths system of Yoga. He founded the Arya Yoga Sangha and leads multiple meditation circles each week.

 

The videos of his talks on various subjects can be found here http://www.youtube.com/user/TheAryayogi

 

His blogs can be accessed here

 

https://aryayogi.wordpress.com/

 

http://actpersistintensify.wordpress.com/

 

http://creativeaye.wordpress.com/

http://zestandgrit.wordpress.com/

The Ambarnath temple a forlorn jewel

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India has too many great temples. Architectural genius has been recklessly expended out over the years. The Ambarnath temple, so close to Mumbai, {in Thane district and at the end of the old central line of the local trains,} is completely neglected. What other explanation can there be? In another country this would have been a center piece of tourism. With Elephanta close to the city and Ajanta Ellora taking up all the press, this temple, which rivals anything Mount Abu could offer, sits glumly next to a polluted stream. Perhaps that is also good, the ubiquitous crowds of India are mercifully absent. But it is still regretful…

 

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One goes down into the garba griha to worship the lingam, the usual story perhaps of svyamabhu – self manifest – lingams having temples constructed around them. It also feels a bit like Pataleshwar cave temple in Pune city, so the descent into the earth was perhaps part of the design and was based on tattva shuddi considerations. It is a lingam in worship, but that is about all that can really be said about it. It is for aesthetic and cultural reasons that one comes not spiritual ones. This temple in the hollow beside a hill with a stream flowing by is an ancient template in the Agama Shastras the texts for building so this is very classical indeed. Built in the Golden Age of mythological Hinduism, 1060 CE, when the faith was riding high and invasions and destruction only a nightmare yet to arrive, it is a little marvel in soft stone.

 

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As in most ancient temples in my state of Maharashtra it is neither purely Northern style nor Dravidan style but an eclectic and creative mix of the two. Technically it is the Hemadpanthi variant of the Vesara school of architecture named after a great patron, Prime Minister of the Devagiri kings who reigned over much of this part of India. The temple seeks to cram in as much sculpture as is humanly possible so they fluted or corrugated the outer wall, more than doubling available wall space for the classic relief sculpture of Indian temples representing the principle of Vyapta-Ayapta, manifest – unmanifest, a yogic concept that holds the universe and the gods are constantly emerging out of and merging back into primordial Consciousness. It is the reason sculptures are rarely 3 dimensional in our temples. The universe is Flux, and Time blurs everything.  The central tala or unit of measurement is also classic, humans 5 to 7, devas and so forth more than that, caryatid dwarfs and so one less than 5. In that sense this is not an experimental temple, but one that functions within well established conventions of sacred architecture.

 

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But only the Hoyasala temples and Mount Abu can match the sheer profusion of sculpture. You have to look at it rather like entering a forest. You have to sit still and gaze, and slowly the magnificence of the detail becomes clear as the eye grows habituated to so much detail. The Kirtimukhas tucked away on an higher level, visible but not conspicuous, placed for pragmatic not aesthetic reasons are one such delightful touch and of course the famous dancing Shiva on the roof level. The myths are the standard ones, with all the gods represented, though it is natural that they give prominence to Shiva. There are many bhairavas, even a Hari-Hara, and an unusual Narasimha using a dagger to kill Hiranyakahipu not his claws! Apsaras and other fertility symbols are  up to the usual complement in such temples.

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There is a really beautiful Gajasura moksha tandava panel that is unfortunately damaged now but is as good as the one in the famous Shiva temple at Ramappa near Warrangal in Andra Pradesh. The problem as I see it is that all the works here are of such uniformly high standard that they tend to be subconsciously devalued. This temple is so much better in every way than the incredibly overrated shore temple at Mahabalipuram but that gets the World Heritage status for location and visual appeal alone! Well at least it is still in worship and some rudimentary repairs have been done – that is more than most ancient temples get today. But such a jewel… and such neglect…

 

Sarvam Shivamayam!!

 

 

Rohit Arya is an Author, Yogi and Polymath, being a writer, a corporate trainer, a mythologist and a vibrant speaker.  He has written the first book on Vaastu to be published in the West, {translated into five European languages} the first book on Tarot to be published in India, co-authored a book on fire sacrifice, and is the creator of The Sacred India Tarot {82 card deck and book}. He was the Editor of The Leadership Review, and on the advisory panel of Indiayogi.com, the first spiritual portal in the country. Currently he is the Director of Pro-Factor, a leadership and change facilitation corporate training outfit. He has been an arts critic and socio-cultural commentator for over two decades. Rohit is also a Lineage Master in the Eight Spiritual Breaths system of Yoga. He founded the Arya Yoga Sangha and leads multiple meditation circles each week.

 

The videos of his talks on various subjects can be found here http://www.youtube.com/user/TheAryayogi

 

His blogs can be accessed here

 

https://aryayogi.wordpress.com/

 

http://actpersistintensify.wordpress.com/

 

http://creativeaye.wordpress.com/

 

http://zestandgrit.wordpress.com/

 

Brahma the forgotten creator god of India

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The story of Brahma is one of the most puzzling aspects of Indian religious evolution, for a god who had bid fair for supreme status, and seemed poised to achieve it, suddenly fell in the regard of men and has almost no worshippers today. He has not suffered oblivion like the other Vedic gods who were his contemporaries. He has just shrunk into insignificance, the god who was once great and is now living off past glories. Brahma is the god who used to be. His place in the myths of India is pan-Indian, he is a constant presence in all of them but almost always he is merely the opening act for the cosmic crisis that will follow. It is for other gods to perform heroics and save the universe; other gods bring meaning and value to the lives of the faithful, not Brahma. Not any more at least.

This was not always the case. Brahma is perhaps unique in all the gods of India for never losing his primary function as the God of Creation. Every other god has evolved, changed, been assigned a different cosmic role but Brahma in all his various aspects has always been a God of Creation. This is an unchanged belief system for at least five thousand years in India now; India has never looked to any other god to bring forth creation. Other gods and goddesses may be nominally superior to him, but their part in Genesis stops once they produce Brahma. The real business of ordering and structuring the universe is always and forever Brahma’s. I believe this to be a unique myth structure in the entire world. No other Godly-function myth has endured so strongly with almost no change at all thus.

340px-Brahma_Statue_in_Prambanan In the Veda he is known as Prajapati, the All-Father, which is what Odin was called in Norse mythology too. He comes to our notice when he begins to people the universe with life forms engendered by an act of cosmic incest he is committing with his daughter. They take many animal and organic shapes and all the offspring take on the shape of the moment of copulation. Which is how a barren universe fills up with vegetable and animal life. This myth is not shocking by the standards of ancient cultures, many of which had as a Primal Cause an act of incest. However the other Vedic deities are not entirely comfortable with this action, but they are powerless to punish the All-Father. It is then that Brahma is overcome by the foe that will pursue him throughout the ages and will finally vanquish him – Rudra-Shiva, the dark outsider god, peculiar, outside the ambit of Vedic ritual, fearfully respected because grimly powerful. Rudra shoots his irresistible arrow at the Prajapati and wounds him into weakness, a punishment that reduces his stature. In this primary myth is already encapsulated Brahma’s fall from grace into an object of derision and the replacement of his values by the wilder and freer norms of Shiva.

By the time the Upanishads and the Brahmanas were being written, Prajapati was having trouble controlling his offspring who did not want any part of his mission to create, and instead chose to remain immersed in meditation. These were the Dakshas as well as the divine sage Narada, mind-born son of Brahma. In a fit of frustration Brahma curses Narada to fall and undergo the travails of human existence, for refusing to get married and raise a new race of humans. But Narada is a god too, as well as a great rishi, and he retaliates by cursing Brahma to lose his worshipers for this entire Cycle of Creation. It is only in the next Yuga that Brahma will again be worshiped. In this myth is given the first explanation for the loss of Brahma’s status, a matter that has lurked as an unacknowledged trauma in the Indian Psyche, for there are many stories which seek to explain away this totally unthinkable fact. He was the God of Creation, the All-Father and if he could fall, then what certainty was there in the universe. The second noteworthy aspect of this myth is the first acknowledgement in Indian thought that celibacy is superior to the expression of sexuality. With retrospective effect this notion served to tinge the original act of incest that Prajapati committed in even darker hues.

brahma-narada5 There was a time when Brahma seemed to have climbed out of this downward spiral. This was the time between the 3rd century to the 10th century. He was even part of the Buddhist pantheon at the time, as great as Indra, and the god who persuaded the Enlightened One to risk teaching what the Buddha regarded as a difficult doctrine that might confuse people. There were many temples built to him and I am reasonably certain there were some lost Puranas too. But once his decline was certain there was no incentive to preserve the texts and they died out. The Brahma Purana that survives today is named after him but it does not in any sense indicate his supremacy as a god. The only halfhearted exceptions are the Padma Purana and the Markandeya Purana. It was at this time that a key template in the perception of Brahma was created. This is the standard Brahma myth after stories of creation. There is a bellicose demon who performs great austerities and gains many boons from Brahma. Puffed up with this divine strength he assaults all creation and ascends to a temporary position of supreme dominance. The gods are cast out of heaven and hell is let loose on earth. At this stage one of the other gods – Shiva, Vishnu, the Great Goddess or any of their many variants take a hand and after some gory adventuring they destroy the demon. So typical had this become that Ravana, Hinduism’s Uber-villain, is actually the grandson of Brahma and always in good standing with him.

 

In the Pauranic period, Brahma, as befits a God of Creation, was granted Saraswati the goddess of learning as his wife. (See our section in Saraswati.) Brahma survived as an object of some respect by being aligned to Vishnu, albeit with a distinctively inferior status. He is supposed to perform his manifold tasks of creation while sitting on a lotus that grows out of Vishnu’s navel. This is a great degradation from his formal status as one of the Great Trinity, but Hinduism being an instinctual faith rather than an intellectual one, nobody seems to have realized what has happened. The conflict with the Shiva cult remained and Shiva is constantly visiting punishment upon the creator. Once he cuts off the fifth head of Brahma for his disrespectful and lustful behavior. In another version he acts just in time to prevent Brahma from acquiring supreme status. At one time Brahma did become the Supreme God. His fifth head began to glow with a luster that proved unbearably scorching for all the Worlds of Gods and men because it was shining with the light of understanding of the Vedas that it had heard from the other four heads of Brahma. Shiva therefore, to save the universe as well as to check such presumption, cut off this glowing head. Shiva is supposed to have pronounced the final curse that caused Brahma to fall forever from worship, an indication of the total triumph of the Shiva faction over the votaries of Brahma.

 

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The story is that Vishnu and Brahma were debating which if them was superior when Shiva manifested himself as a great pillar of fire with no end in either heaven or the nether world. Vishnu took the form of a boar and burrowed down for countless ages to seek the source of this strange fiery pillar. He failed to do so and recognized that Shiva was not only the pillar, He was superior to him. He gave up the quest therefore. Brahma however, flew up as a swan and came back many aeons later with the report that he had seen the summit. An angry Shiva curses him for claiming credit for achievements not his own. He is cursed with perpetual old age and the total desertion of all worshippers. That explains why Brahma is always depicted nowadays as a senile old man who is so decrepit you wonder if he is not going to expire instantaneously. But as our illustrations show that was not always the case with Indian art.

 

The furious Shiva is popularly supposed to have relented and allowed Brahma one spot on all the earth where he has a temple dedicated solely to his worship. This is the famous Pushkar temple situated in the middle of a lake and an unusually serene spot. However the common perception of there being only one temple to Brahma is untrue. There are at least four major temples to him still in use today. They are Pushkar in Ajmer, Rajasthan; Dudhai in the state of Madhya Pradesh; Khed Brahma at Idar, also in Madhya Pradesh and Kodakkal in the Malabar region of Kerala-Karnataka. Remember you heard it here first! I would not be in the least surprised if more temples came to light tucked away in remote and obscure spots. Brahma worshippers are not desirous of the limelight. In vindication of this hunch just recently, July 2004, I came to know of a fifth Brahma temple in the state of Andhra Pradesh. This temple is part of a group of predominantly Shiva shrines at Kaleshwaram, 130 kilometers from Karimnagar, and is in the middle of nowhere in particular, so that explains its anonymity. I am certain more temples exist to Brahma and will be discovered in due time.

 

Here is the complete list of brahma temples courtesy of Wikipedia as on September 16 2013.

 

Temples devoted to Brahmā

 

 

  • Chaturmukha(Four Faces)BRAHMA temple at Bangalore, Karnataka, India

 

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Brahma is depicted as a four or five-faced man with four hands. He is the epitome of Vedic learning and hence has the Vedas in one hand, prayer beads in another, the sacred water pot in the third hand and a ladle for the Vedic fire sacrifice in the fourth hand. In some versions he is depicted with a bow. This would be consistent with mythology as the supreme weapon is a missile called the Brahmastra, and it is a much sought after boon of Brahma. His vehicle is the swan, like that of Saraswati, and his complexion is supposed to be red. The Male Trinity too are a Red, Black and White (primary colors of spirituality) trio like the goddesses are. A day of Brahma is a span of creation and lasts for 2,160,000,000 human years! Creation is in abeyance during the night of Brahma, which lasts for the same length of time and then the Cycle is repeated. Brahma lives for a hundred years thus, and then he too dies and all creation is finally dissolved. Only Shiva, Vishnu or the Goddess, depending upon your cult affiliation are eternal and bring about the next Cycle of Creation. His various epithets represent his ancient creative role. Amongst them are Sanat, the Ancient One, Adi-kavi, the first poet and Srashtri, the creator.

 

 

Rohit Arya is an Author, Yogi and Polymath, being a writer, a corporate trainer, a mythologist and a vibrant speaker.  He has written the first book on Vaastu to be published in the West, {translated into five European languages} the first book on Tarot to be published in India, co-authored a book on fire sacrifice, and is the creator of The Sacred India Tarot {82 card deck and book}. He was the Editor of The Leadership Review, and on the advisory panel of Indiayogi.com, the first spiritual portal in the country. Currently he is the Director of Pro-Factor, a leadership and change facilitation corporate training outfit. He has been an arts critic and socio-cultural commentator for over two decades. Rohit is also a Lineage Master in the Eight Spiritual Breaths system of Yoga. He founded the Arya Yoga Sangha and leads multiple meditation circles each week. The videos of his talks on various subjects can be found here http://www.youtube.com/user/TheAryayogi

 

His blogs can be accessed here

 

https://aryayogi.wordpress.com/

 

http://actpersistintensify.wordpress.com/

 

http://creativeaye.wordpress.com/

 

http://zestandgrit.wordpress.com/

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Vamana Avataar

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The first human form that Vishnu takes in his cycle of avatars is a deceptively simple and, at first glance, rather disappointing one. He comes as a little dwarf! Many fanciful interpretations of the avatar cycle being an embryonic theory of evolution have been bandied about. In this view, the Vamana or dwarf is evolutionarily correct, the first humans were indeed dwarfs as compared to our present stature.

The core story as narrated in various Puranas is simple. It is a highly expanded version of a single sentence in the Rig-Veda that,”Vishnu strode over this universe: in three places he planted his step”. By the time the Puranas got hold of that, it had become a great narrative. This avatar takes place in the Treta-yuga or second age of the Universe. The king of the Daityas or Asuras, one Mahabali (literally, greatly strong) had become powerful with the force of his austerities and he was showing up the gods in a very poor light indeed. They even had to vacate heaven for him, as they could not stand up against his might or his force of personality. It was very humiliating, but in terms of virtuousness they had to admit the Daitya had a better right to rule over heaven than themselves, who had habits and behaviors that were slippery and more than a bit reprehensible.

In this, Mahabali was very different from his notorious ancestors. He belonged to a family that was capable of causing trouble only on a cosmic scale and twice before Vishnu had to incarnate as an avatar to stop his ancestors from overrunning the universe. He was the grandson of the great Devotee of Vishnu, Prahalada. To rescue Prahalada and the gods from his persecuting father, Hiranyakashipu, the Narasimha avatar came in to being. And Hiranakashipu’s brother was the even more terrible Hiranyaksha, who had to be taken out by the Varaha avatar. So all in all, Mahabali had a very respectable pedigree when it came to universe conquering. However he was different in that even the gods had to accept his overwhelming virtues.

Nevertheless, they complained to their nominal mother, Aditi, the wife of the great rishi Kashyapa. Aditi’s fervent pleas convinced Vishnu to do something and remedy this situation, especially as Mahabali was beginning to show signs of being corrupted by power. He agreed to be born to Aditi and Kashyapa as a dwarfish son, so as to disguise the potential threat he was. By now Mahabali was having delusions of grandeur and he also thought that he was greater than the creator. For he was holding a great festival-sacrifice, and he announced that he would satisfy the desires of all who turned up. Vishnu appeared as this extremely charming little Brahmin boy. His speech and intellect captivated the poor unsuspecting Daitya, who wished to reward the little man for his formidable display of learning. He rashly and proudly promised to grant any wish of the visitor.

By now his guru, the wily and suspicious Shukracharya, had worked out that this Brahmin was none other than Vishnu and he was here to play mischief with the glory of the Daityas. He urged Mahabali not to go on with this fatal generosity, as Vishnu was sure to ask for something that would destroy them. Mahabali however, would not budge from his pledged word. Such exemplary fidelity to truth was going to destroy his race, and his guru was angry that he was putting his personal reputation above his duty to his people. This refusal to listen to good advice is indicative in the Hindu Worldview of a wilful desire for self-destruction. In any case, the dwarf was only asking for as much land as could be covered by three paces of his feet. It was almost insulting that he was asking for so little when the riches of the great Mahabali were at his disposal. However the dwarf answered that he who could not be satisfied with three paces of land would never have satisfaction in anything, with no end to his desires.

maha005 Mahabali promised him his three paces, whereupon the dwarf suddenly assumed a cosmic galaxy spanning size and covered the universe in two paces. The third pace was thus a debt upon Mahabali and he asked Vishnu to place it upon his head, as that is the most valuable possession he owned, Vishnu having already achieved dominion of all else. In some versions of the myth, Vishnu uses his three paces and covers the triple worlds. Mahabali is thus deposed from his position as ruler of the universe and Vishnu, like all good leaders of such revolutions, exiles the former ruler to the nether regions, called Patala. There is a sneaking sense of regret at such scurvy treatment towards a ruler who had done no wrong and kept his word to boot. Vishnu is supposed to have given him the eternal dominion of Patala as some sort of compensation for being cheated in such a fashion.

onam_festival In fact Kerala’s Onam festival is based upon just this aspect of the myth. Once a year, Mahabali comes back to see how his former subjects are faring, and they put on a gorgeous spectacle to reassure him and not cause him any unhappiness that his people are suffering! In this rather naïve outlook is clearly represented the fact that public opinion felt Mahabali had been done a dirty trick. That however, is the nature of Vishnu who is the Trickster God of mythology par excellence. One very unusual version of the myth says that Vishnu felt remorse at this treatment of a pretty decent king and asked him to choose between a place in heaven and hell. The only catch was that his companions in heaven would be five fools, while in hell he could have five intelligent and wise sinners. Mahabali chooses the latter feeling that hell is the company of stupid people. Vishnu was enchanted by this perception and granted him the dominion of Patala. So strongly is the injustice done to Mahabali felt that it is also written that he will ascend to the position of the leader of the gods, Indra, in due course after the present incumbent’s term is over.

In this myth there is also a curious aspect of the Avatar cycle which is passed over, and that is the fact that some avatars are double avatars. The Vamana form is what the avatar is known as, but when he transcends it and grows, he becomes Trivikrama, the Triple Victor of the three worlds. In a sense therefore, it’s the most complete avatar, there is nothing greater than this. This is Vishnu’s greatest form, in no other avatar, not even as Krishna, did he ever manifest such glory. It also is an allegory on the latent potentiality in every living thing as well as a warning never to underestimate anything because of its appearance. The insignificant looking dwarf, a butt of ridicule and fun, turns out to be the World Overthrower. It Illustrates an old Sanskrit saying, Yatha Pinde, Tatha Brahmande. Which means, “As with a man, so with the Universe”. It is the same thing as the old mystical definition of man as a Microcosmos, which mirrors and is in essence the same as the external Macrocosmos. Or – As within, so with out; As above, so below and so on and so forth. We are all, in potential, the Universal Man.

Vamana Avatar However, this lesson seems to be slightly more than the average mind could easily take within and the Trivikrama form has only been used to illustrate the walls of temples, almost never worshipped. A sympathy with such a transcendental form would have caused a social revolution, and it was quietly put aside in favor of the more manageable Rama and Krishna or the placid Sleeping Vishnu

 

Rohit Arya is an Author, Yogi and Polymath, being a writer, a corporate trainer, a mythologist and a vibrant speaker.  He has written the first book on Vaastu to be published in the West, {translated into five European languages} the first book on Tarot to be published in India, co-authored a book on fire sacrifice, and is the creator of The Sacred India Tarot {82 card deck and book}. He was the Editor of The Leadership Review, and on the advisory panel of Indiayogi.com, the first spiritual portal in the country. Currently he is the Director of Pro-Factor, a leadership and change facilitation corporate training outfit. He has been an arts critic and socio-cultural commentator for over two decades. Rohit is also a Lineage Master in the Eight Spiritual Breaths system of Yoga. He founded the Arya Yoga Sangha and leads multiple meditation circles each week. The videos of his talks on various subjects can be found here http://www.youtube.com/user/TheAryayogi

 

His blogs can be accessed here

 

https://aryayogi.wordpress.com/

 

http://actpersistintensify.wordpress.com/

 

http://creativeaye.wordpress.com/

 

http://zestandgrit.wordpress.com/