December 28, 2006

Snakes and snake festival

Nagpanchami is a very important Hindu festival and is celebrated on the fifth day of the moonlit-fortnight in the month of July /August. This is the time when serpents invariably come out of their holes that get inundated with rain-water to seek shelter in gardens and many times in houses. It is celebrated with more fervour especially in the rural areas. On that day women and children visit snake-pits and worship the snakes residing there by performing invocative prayer and offering milk and honey to the snakes. In urban areas where snake pits are rare, clay images of the deity are worshipped. Even snake-charmers carry captive snakes from door to door to enable city house-wives to worship the deity.

Right from the beginning of mankind, Sun and Snake have been invoked with prayers and ritual worship in most of the countries. In India even before the Vedic times, the tradition of snake-worship was in vogue.

In ancient India, there lived a clan by the name of "NAGAS" whose culture was highly developed. The Indus Valley civilization of 3000 B.C. gives ample proof of the popularity of snake-worship amongst the Nagas before the Aryans came. After the Naga culture got incorporated into Hinduism, the Indo-Aryans themselves accepted many of the snake deities of the Nagas in their pantheon and some of them even enjoyed a pride of place in the Puranic Hinduism. The prominent Cobra snakes mentioned in the Puranas are Anant, Vasuki, Shesh, Padma, Kanwal, Karkotak, Kalia, Aswatar, Takshak, Sankhpal, Dhritarashtra and Pingal.

The thousand-headed Sheshnag who symbolises Eternity, is the couch of Lord Vishnu. It is here that the Lord reclines between the time of the dissolution of one Universe and creation of another. Hindus believe in the immortality of the snake because of its habit of sloughing its skin. As such Eternity in Hinduism is often represented by a serpent eating its own tail.

It is an age-old religious belief that serpents are loved and blessed by Lord Shiva. May be that’s the reason Shiva always wears them as ornamentation around his neck. Most of the festivals that fall in the month of July/Aug are celebrated in honour of Lord Shiva. Along with Him Snakes too are worshipped. Live cobras or their pictures are revered and religious rights are performed to seek their good will.

December 23, 2006

Varna System

It is difficult to trace out when the caste system entered into the life of Hindus and how and why there occurred confusion between the Varna System and the caste creation. In fact in the Vedic era, there existed no such division and discrimination among the people.

In the later Vedic period, the Varna system showed its signs of appearance with the classification of Brahmin. The word Brahmin was not used out of any sense of respect. Devas were called kavi and also Brahman but not as Brahmin. The word Brahmin was out of place in the composition of Kavis. They came to be related to rituals and were called the Vedagya Brahmins. It was they who first created distinction in their ranks for financial gains in performance of rituals. This discrimination was based on professional competition. The Kavis began to challenge this discrimination since its very inception. They voiced their grave concern over it.

In the beginning of Rg Veda period, the word Brahman was used but it did not indicate any Varna. Then the word Rajanya followed it. The use of this word Rajanya indicates that even in the later Vedic period the word Kshatriya was not known. The word Rajanya was used in context of a divine power or the power of governance of the king or any other power. During those days, there existed two types of political orders. One based on Kingship and based on power of ganas or other type of peoples rule. Rajanya was used for kings and other ruling powers or even for a powerful person. It was never used in context of caste.

It can therefore be safely concluded that the caste was never known to exist in the Vedic era.

(to be contd)

December 05, 2006


OM is the symbol of essence of Hinduism. It denotes oneness with the Supreme, the amalgamation of the physical being with the spiritual. It is the most holy syllable, the first sound of the Almighty - the sound from which materializes each and every other sound, be it of music or of language.

In the Upanishads this sacrosanct syllable appears as a mystic sound, regarded by scriptures as the very basis of every other sacred mantra. It is the sound not only of beginning but also of termination. The past, present and future are all included in this one sound. The syllable OM also represents the TRIMURTI (triad) of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva.

Shiva's drum produced this sound and because of it came the notes of the octave, for ex., SA, RI, GA, MA, PA, DHA, NI. By this sound Shiva created and recreated the universe. OM is also the sound form of Atman.

The Upanishads state that everything, existent and non- existent, can be comprehended by uttering the sacred syllable of OM. Meditation on OM gratifies every need and ultimately leads to salvation. Nearly all the prayers and recitals of sacred passages are prefixed by the sound of OM.

Musically, it is also held that the term OM or AUM is made up by three base notes ' A ' 'U' 'M' or the basic 'SA' 'PA' of the fundamental scale and again Sa (the base note) of the immediately higher scale. When says these notes in continuity, all the basic notes from SA to NI are heard. Similarly when one pronounces AUM correctly, all the basic sounds also echo. It is the traditional way of clearing all the obstacles in the vocal chord to make one chant the hymns correctly. Their unison makes one not only sound resonating but also is essential for chanting a Mantra (Incantation) properly. All the Vedic Mantras have 'OM' or' AUM' as the first word.