Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Summer solstice-Dakshinayana

The ‘summer solstice’ occurs exactly when the earth’s axial tilt is most inclined towards the sun. The term solstice is derived from Latin words ‘sol’ (sun) and ‘sistere’ (to stand still). During ‘summer solstice’, June 21, the northern hemisphere witnesses its longest of the year while the southern hemisphere sees its shortest day. It is this day when the sun is at its most northerly point and this is why it is ‘the longest day’, means we receive the most hours of daylight. The sun is closer to North Pole as it reaches its northern most latitude and therefore appears at its highest in the sky at noon and also the warmest day of the year.
 The solstices have been celebrated by many traditions over the ages. No matter where you live, or what you call it, you can connect to a culture that honored a sun deity around this time of year.
At Britain’s ancient monument Stonehenge, biggest stone circles, the main axis is aligned to the solstice sunrise.  A lot of stones are ten or twelve meters high. The earliest part of Stonehenge is nearly 5,000 years old. Every June 21st hundreds of people go to Stonehenge to watch the sun rise. The sun shines on one famous stone-the Heel stone. The Druids were the priests in Britain 2,000 years ago. They used the sun and the stones at Stonehenge to know the start of the months and seasons.
Karka sankranti (‘san’ means to come together and ‘kranthi’ means radical change) is the summer solstice of Sun, which means sun enters cancer or karkataka rashi (zodiac sign) and it marks the beginning of the dakshinayana period in traditional Hindu Solar calendars. Dakshinayana starts on June 21 for calendars followed in north India, for calendars followed in south India dakshinayana begins on July 16, 2011. The term dakshinayana literally means southern journey. It seems to accentuate the idea that we are entering the darker part of the year – less sun, more rain, longer nights. On this day, performing rituals to pay our respect to pithru devathas (departed ancestors) is considered as highly meritorious deed. 
Enjoy your summer!

“Then followed that beautiful season... Summer....
Filled was the air with a dreamy and magical light; and the landscape
Lay as if new created in all the freshness of childhood.”
-Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Happy Father's Day!

“Pithrudevo Bhava” – Father is an essential and the most influential person in our lives. He provides us with care and protection, guidance and support. We rarely thank him for all the love he shows in shaping us as an individual in the society. We are the one who carry the legacy of the family name. Whether we can recognize or not we not only carry the legacy we imbibe his personality, qualities and his lifestyle. We hardly realize that his influence impacts us and unknowingly we pass it on to our future generations. Any individual is lucky to have a father to protect him/her while growing up, most of them may be close to their mother but a dad’s role is unique in a person’s life. He holds you when you cry to show he is there for you, scolds when you break rules to discipline you and is the happiest person on the earth when you succeed.
I have read that, Mother’s Day tradition inspired Sonora Dodd in the establishment of Father’s Day. In 1910 she dedicated her father’s birthday in the month of June as Father’s day, her father a civil war veteran raised 6 children after her mother passed away. Unlike Mother’s Day, it gained gradual momentum and finally President Richard Nixon established the third Sunday of June, as a permanent national observance day of Father's Day in 1972. From USA it has spread to other countries, but Father’s Day is celebrated in various countries in various dates for various reasons.
It is universal fact that the first word we utter is ‘mother’; dads are often the unsung heroes in our lives. He is the person who brings smiles by teaching you first bike, first car, or even being there for you when you are in trouble. Sometimes he may be harsh in words but they are to keep you on right track and make you a good person, which you realize later in your life especially when you become father. As mentioned in my previous posts, I am thankful to my dad who guided me in my studies, in getting me a job and finding me a wonderful husband. I still remember the days he used to take me on his bicycle be it to school, shopping or for his banking transactions. I remember the way he taught me easier way of computing mathematics and required life skills. There are so many things he taught me and guided me so far and still continuing. I know, now it is my responsibility to reciprocate the love, care and guidance my father has bestowed upon me all his life.
As per Hindu epic, Ramayana, a person has five father-like persons in one’s life, his own father, father of the spouse, one’s own guru (teacher), the king (ruler) and elder brother. Father's Day is the day to honor your own father, and all the other men who have played the father figure in your life who are really special. It is the time to let them know how much you love them and care for them. Bring joy to them with a box of happiness. 
Happy Father's Day!

 "A Man's children and his garden both reflect the amount of weeding done during the growing season."
– Anonymous

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Jyestha- the third month of Hindu calendar (June 2- July 1)

The month names in Hindu calendar are given with the nakashatram which falls on the full moon day in that particular month. As the Jyeshta nakshatram (star) falls during Pournami or Full Moon day in this month, hence known as Jyeshta maasam. Some of the festivals performed in this month.
Bhagirathi Jayanthi – June 11, 2011
Bhagirathi Jayanthi is believed to be the day when River Bhagirathi appeared on earth. The word ‘Bhagirathi’ in Sanskrit literally means caused by Bhagiratha.  It is observed on the 10th day during the waxing phase of moon in Jyeshta month. It is believed that King Bhagiratha succeeded in bringing Ganga down to earth on this day after a long penance. Bhagirathi, the source stream of Holy River Ganga, was brought down on to the Earth to find salvation for his 60,000 ancestors, who were cursed by Saint Kapila. Therefore, Ganges descended to the Earth through the lock of hair of Lord Shiva to make whole earth pious, fertile and wash out the sins of humans. For Hindus in India, the Ganges is not just a river but a mother, a goddess, a tradition, a culture and much more. Bhagirathi Jayanthi is observed on the Ganga Dashara day and both celebrates the origin of Ganga River on earth. 
Nirjala Ekadashi (11thday of waxing moon) – June 12, 2011
Nirjala means ‘without water.’ Ekadashi is the eleventh day of waxing or waning moon. Vishnu devotees fast every Ekadashi of a fortnight. There is a story that Bhima, the second of Pandava brothers, wanted to observe Ekadasi fasting but still eat food. He never used to fast as he could not control his hunger. He always had a guilt feeling of not observing fast every Ekadashi as his mother and brothers used to fast. Then his grandfather, Sage Veda Vyasa advised him to fast on Nirjala Ekadashi day in Jyeshta maasam as it has the benefits of observing all the 24 Ekadashis. Thus Bhima was able to get the benefits of all Ekadasis by observing Nirjala Ekadashi. Observing it is also equal to going on pilgrimage.
Lunar Eclipse-June 15 
The Chandra Grahan is a lunar eclipse. According to NASA website it is visible in India along with most middle-eastern countries, Singapore, Malaysia and western parts of Australia. The Chandra grahan will be taking place in India between 11:53 PM on June 15 to 03:32 AM early morning on June 16, 2011.  We all are well aware of how eclipses are formed in our science class; I guess I don’t have to go over here again. Right?
Hindu holy scriptures mention about the Surya Grahan (solar eclipse) and Chandra Grahan (lunar eclipse) in the Samudra Manthan (churning of the ocean) episode in the puranas. Vishnu in the form of Mohini(female form) was distributing the amrutham (holy nectar) after the Samudra Manthan to the Devas (Gods) and Asuras (demons). Both were sitting on each side and Rahu the planet played mischief by sitting in the Devas line, Sun and Moon god’s recognized Rahu so Vishnu severed the head of Rahu. Since then Rahu in the form of snake takes revenge on Sun and Moon by gobbling them partially and periodically. Sun and Moon fight back to free themselves.
Usually fasting is observed few hours before the start of the eclipse until it is cleared. Special bath is taken and mantras are chanted dedicating to Lord Vishnu and Shiva. Pregnant women are taken utmost care and advised to be indoors so the bad rays during the eclipse are not fallen on the baby in the womb.
Vat Savithri Vratha
Vat Savithri Vratha is an auspicious day observed during the full moon day or new moon day, in some regions, by married women for the welfare of the husband and children. Vat Vraksha or Banyan tree symbolically represents the Trimurtis – Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. The root is Brahma, the stem is Vishnu and the upper portion is Shiva. The whole tree is also symbolically taken as Savithri. The incident is mentioned in the Mahabharata.
It is described that Princess Savithri, the daughter of King Ashwapati of Bhadra Kingdom, fell in love with Satyavan, a woodcutter. But Satyavan was destined to die within a year and Savithri was made aware of this fact by Rishi Narada. But Savithri decided to get married to Satyavan and live with him in the forest. As predicted, Satyavan fell from a tree and died within a year. Yamraj, the god of death, arrived to carry him away. Savithri made it clear to Yamraj that she will follow Yamraj along with her husband. Yamraj tried several ways to deter Savithri from following him but all his efforts were in vain and Savitri remained adamant. Finally, Yamraj was moved by Savithri’s devotion and he brought back Satyavan to life. It is believed that Satyavan spend his last moments under a Vat or Banyan tree on the full moon day in month of Jyeshtha. And Yamraj appeared right near the banyan tree and Savithri pleaded with Yamraj under the Banyan tree. In memory of this event, women go round the Banyan tree for 108 times tying threads and fast for the health and longevity of their husbands.
      It is the beginning of peak summer season indicated by 'greeshma ritu' that will continue for two months starting Jyestha maasam.