Sunday, July 31, 2011

Sravana-the fifth month of the Hindu lunar calendar (July 31-Aug. 29)

The fifth month of the lunar calendar is Sravana maasam, filled with auspicious days and numerous rituals. Sravana maasam is named after the janma nakshatram (birth star), Sravana, of Lord Vishnu. Worshipping Goddess Laxmi this month is highly auspicious. Mondays in Sravana maasam is dedicated to Lord Shiva and many people observe the famous Sravana Somvar (Monday) vrata. Mangala Gauri Puja is performed on Tuesdays. Sravana Sukruvara puja is performed on Fridays. Saturdays in Sravana maasam is dedicated to the worship of Lord Shani.
All Tuesdays (2, 9, 16, 23)
Mangala gauri vratham is dedicated to Goddess Mangala gauri who is also known as Goddess Parvathi. According to a legend, Drowpadi once asked her brother Sri Krishna, what women should do to prevent widowhood and lead a life of joy and prosperity. Lord Krishna told her about Sravana Mangala Gauri Vratham in which people pray to the Goddess to achieve their goal. Normally, this ritual is performed by women from the Sravana masam immediately after the marriage. This is continued for five years when it is said to be complete, with worship completed on all Tuesdays during the five years. The observance of vratham mainly comprises of puja, Mangala Gauri vratha katha (story of the ritual) is chanted during the end of the vratham. Prasadam, turmeric and kumkum, soaked whole bengal gram with betel leaves and betel nut is distributed to other married women.
August 12, 2011
Varalakshmi vratham is observed on Friday before pournami (full moon). Friday is the most auspicious day for Lakshmi Devi, the Goddess of wealth and prosperity. Puranas described that observing Vara Lakshmi vratham would bless a woman with all eight supreme forms of wealth for life-pleasure, food, courage, peace, strength, success, wisdom and money. This vratham is mainly observed in the south Indian states, also Maharastra and Goa. Though mostly performed by married women, even unmarried girls perform when the elders perform in their house. After performance of the puja Vara Lakshmi vratha story is read, different types of food and sweets are offered to Goddess Lakshmi. Later kumkum and turmeric with betel leaves and betel nut is offered to the invited ladies. I have been performing this since my childhood and continuing till date, which is close to my heart.
August 13
Jandyala purnima (full moon day) and Rakhi purnima
Rakhi purnima festival  highlights the eternal love and affection between brother and sister. Sister ties the rakhi (protective thread) to brother and brother in return gifts sister. Jandyala purnima is wearing of new Jandhyam means yagno-pavitham or the sacred thread by Brahmins in Andhra Pradesh, Tamilnadu, Karnataka and Kerala. After the first year of Upanayanam, Upakarma is observed on this purnima. Old sacred thread is removed and new sacred thread worn on this day.Gayatri Japam is performed with the new thread.
August 22
Krishna Ashtami or Janmashtami (eighth day after full moon)
Krishna Ashtami is the joyful celebration of Lord Krishna’s birthday. Lord Krishna is born more than 5000 years ago in Mathura, as one of the ten dasavatara of Lord Vishnu. Lord Krishna is worshiped with utmost pomp in many places of India. The significance of Sri Krishna is that he used his life to explain to us the great teachings in Bhagavd Gita. Sri Krishna will never automatically solve your problems, but guides and help make us understand the foolishness in expecting God to deliver the goods. We have to perform the actions and each action will have a fruit. He showed us the way to live in the modern society. He showed us the concept of Brahman – that life is continuity. Live in the moment and life will be a celebration. The true significance of Sri Krishna is that he is relevant in the present and even more relevant for the future.
As part of the celebrations, processions with children dressed as Sri Krishna, Radha and gopis are held. Stories of Krishna are also enacted on the day.
August 29
Polala amavasya (no moon day) - is an important vratham dedicated to Goddess Poleramma, observed on Sravana amavasya (no moon day). Goddess Poleramma is known as the protector of children. Symbolically Goddess is worshiped in the form of “kanda mokka” (suran or yam shrub) or “kanda dumpa”(suran or yam bulb). Women perform puja and raksha thoranam (sacred protective thread) is also worshipped during the puja. According to vrata texts, by performing this vrata one can safe guard their children from the clutches of death. Every year, offering prayers to Poleramma coincides on the amavasya day and hence the vrata is called Polala Amavasya. Women tie the sacred thread to her children after reading the story about a mother who prayed Poleramma to help bring back her dead young children. For the welfare of the male children (boorelu) fried sweet balls of chana dal and jaggery are made, for the welfare of female children (garelu) urad dal vadas are made and offered to Goddess Poleramma.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Happy Parents Day!

'Matha-pithru samo devo
Naasthi naasthi jaga-thrayee
Thayo-hu sevaa nadhika-punya vratham
Naasthi srunu priyee'
-Shiva Datta for Pandurangadu movie

Family is the starting point of life. A family begins with the joining together of man and woman as husband and wife, becoming father and mother-the parents. In 1994 President Bill Clinton signed into law the resolution unanimously adopted by the U. S. Congress establishing the fourth Sunday of every July as Parents' Day. This year it happens to be on July 24.  Parents’ Day is established for recognizing, uplifting, and supporting the role of parents together in the rearing of children. The role of parents is crucial in the nurturing and development of children. They inculcate fundamental values to help shape your character to be a good citizen. As I feel, from mother comes care and comfort, from father honor and legacy. When a child is taught to respect his parents, it is the beginning of a greater perspective on the world. By giving respect to his parents, a child begins to see that there are others worthy of consideration. Such thinking about others eventually leads a person to be respectful to others as him.
The moment I was born till I grew up and got me married, mom and dad, you were always there in every step of my life. You have put up with me for so many years and always managed me to uplift and bring smile on my face. I don’t know how you both do it but I am so grateful that you do and I am born lucky to have you as my parents. Thank you for being the best parents a daughter would ask for. I cannot limit myself to a day, Parents Day, to convey my heart felt thanks and show gratitude for all the love, care, affection, and support you shower upon me. 

"Good parents give their children Roots and Wings. Roots to know where home is, wings to fly away and exercise what's been taught them." -Jonas Salk

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Nieces dance performance

Kuchipudi, has a unique place among the Indian classical dance forms. Kuchipudi derives its name from the village of Kuchelapuram, in Andhra Pradesh, India. It was in the 14th century, however, that the ascetic Siddhendra Yogi appeared on the scene and gave Kuchipudi a new definition and direction. Kuchipudi was originally a male dance tradition.  It is only in the last century that women have been introduced to this art form. Kuchipudi in its present form is the result of the vision of stalwarts like Padmabhushan Vempati Chinna Sathyam and the late Vedantam Laxminarayana Shastry. Kuchipudi is characterized by fast rhythms and fluid movements, creating a unique blend of control, strength and delicacy. The actors sing and dance, and the style is a blend of folk and classical. Arguably this is why this technique has greater freedom and fluidity than other dance styles.
There is plenty of information about Kuchipudi, which I am not knowledgeable enough
to write. I have put just a few words to my nieces on their special performance (arangetram) to their grandparents, family and friends in Annamayya`puram. I appreciate, you both, for presenting your dedication to the dance in performing in front of the Lord and to the family and friends as well. I enjoy your subtle facial expressions, complicated rhythmic patterns, and melodic gestures. I am not just excited for both of you. I am also proud of your effort and achievements. I am sure the feeling of joy will stay with you forever, for many more accolades.

Anatomy of a dancer
A dancer's heart beats in eight-count
A dancer's eyes always shine
A dancer's soul is filled with music
So their feet always fall in time
A dancer feels like no other
The vibrant rhythm of life
And it all goes into the performance
All the joy and all the strife
So remember that with dancers
A little patience is what you need
Because their minds are otherwise engaged
Dancers are truly a different breed
- Jessica Bondreaux

"Good art is a form of prayer. It's a way to say what is not say-able."
- Frederich Busch

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Celebrating Birthday as per Hindu calendar

Birthday plays extreme important in our lives. Birthday traditions in different countries, though quite similar, vary in specific ways to that particular country. Many Africans do not celebrate birthdays but arrange initiation ceremonies and participate in ancient rituals. Most Asian children wear finest new clothes and seek blessings of their parents on their birthdays. Elders in the family and friends give them money and gifts. Many children visit shrines along with their families to thank God for their health and strength and ask to be blessed with continued well-being in the future. Each European country has its own traditions of celebrating birthdays. Native American tribes lay emphasis on milestones in a child's development rather than the day a child is born.
Gregorian calendar is widely used all over the world and so it is common and easier to remember and celebrate Birthdays. As per the Vedic tradition, there is a special place for birthdays as to when and how they are celebrated. Hindus celebrate birthday according to solar or lunar calendar followed in their communities. Birthdays are celebrated according to the Hindu month when the child was were born, the day (tidhi) that comes in either that of waxing or waning moon and/or the birth star (nakshatra). In some regions Hindus give importance to the tidhi and in some  the nakshatras. Celebrating a birthday is actually expressing gratitude to God.
In the first year of life every month and thereafter every year on the date of birth as per the Hindu calendar one should bathe after an oil massage. This should be, followed by application of kumkum (vermilion) on the forehead. Mother gives arathi and blesses the child. As an adult perform ritualistic worship to the family deity by lighting an oil lamp, offer namaskar to parents and elders in the family. At the end of this ritual unbroken turmeric- rice grains (akshataa) are sprinkled on the head of the one who is performed after venerating one’s family deity. Any gift given to the child is considered as a holy sacrament. There are benefits of celebrating a birthday as per the Hindu calendar (tithi) day or (nakshatra) star of the moon, as against the date of birth as per the Western calendar. When celebrating the birthday on this date, through the rituals and a prayer made unto the family deity, the supreme energy generated helps to combat the distressing energy attacks at various levels. I also read that physical body benefits 5% and subtle body 95%. Satva (quality of goodness) component of the subtle body increases and so does his/her introverted attitude.
Hindus who celebrate birthday with modern day practice of cutting cake and gather around friends to party, visit temples first and perform pujas. The blessings and good wishes of relatives and well-wishers bring maximum benefit to the individual celebrating the birthday as per the Hindu calendar. If your family follows Hindu calendar, the best thing for you is to celebrate as per the Hindu calendar. If you think calculating the days on Hindu calendar is difficult, use the technology, now there are many applications and software you can download to help calculate. A birthday is a time to celebrate birth itself, the joy of life.

"A birthday is just the first day of another 365-day journey around the sun. Enjoy the trip."
- Unknown

Monday, July 4, 2011

American Independence Day!

Fireworks and celebrations mark the 4th of July across the country. My interest in US history made me collect some facts about American Independence Day. Here are some of them.
I am sure you were not born to view this patriotic trailer shown in theaters prior to the 4th of July 1940. View the trailer.

In 1775, people in New England began fighting the British for their independence. On July 2, 1776, the Congress secretly voted for independence from Great Britain. The Declaration of Independence was first published two days later on July 4, 1776. The first public reading of the Declaration of Independence was on July 8, 1776. Delegates began to sign the Declaration of Independence on August 2, 1776. In 1870, Independence Day was made an unpaid holiday for federal employees. In 1941, it became a paid holiday for them.

Most Patriotic-Sounding Place Names
Thirty-one towns in the U.S. have the word liberty in their names. The most populous one as of April 1, 2010, was Liberty, MO, and Iowa has more of these places than any other state (Libertyville, New Liberty, North Liberty and West Liberty).
Thirty-five towns have the word eagle in their names. Of those, the most populated is Eagle Pass, Texas.
Eleven places have the word independence in their names. The most populous one is Independence, MO.
Nine towns have the word freedom in their names, with the most populous one being New Freedom, PA.
Only one place in the whole country has the word patriot in its name— Patriot, IN.
Five towns have the word America in their names. The most populous is American Fork, Utah.

Cookouts on Fourth of July

More than 1 in 4 chances are that the hot dogs and pork sausages consumed on the Fourth of July originated in Iowa. The Hawkeye State was home to 19.0 million hogs and pigs on March 1, 2011. This estimate represents more than one-fourth of the nation's estimated total. North Carolina (8.6 million) and Minnesota (7.6 million) were also homes to large numbers of pigs.

6.8 billion pounds is the total production of cattle and calves in Texas in 2010, which accounted for about one-sixth of the nation's total production. And if the beef did not come from Texas, it very well may have come from Nebraska (4.6 billion pounds) or Kansas (4.1 billion pounds).
Georgia, Arkansas, North Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi or Texas — is the source of your barbecued chicken with production of $1 billion or greater between December 2009 and November 2010.

Over 1 in 3 odds is that your side dish of baked beans originated from North Dakota, which produced 36 percent of the nation's dry, edible beans in 2010. Another popular Fourth of July side dish is corn on the cob. Florida, California, Georgia, Washington and New York together accounted for 68 percent of the fresh market sweet corn produced nationally in 2010.
Potato salad and potato chips are popular food items at Fourth of July barbecues. Approximately half of the nation's spuds were produced in Idaho or Washington State in 2010.
More than three-fourths, of the nation's head lettuce production in 2010 that came from California.
Florida is the state that led the nation in watermelon production last year (750 million pounds). Other leading producers of this popular fruit included California, Georgia and Texas each had an estimate of more than 600 million pounds.

"Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves."
- Abraham Lincoln

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Ashada-the fourth month of the Hindu lunar calendar (July 2-30)

Ashada maasam is the fourth month of the lunar calendar followed in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra, and Gujarat. Poorvashada nakshatram (star) falls on this pournami day, hence Ashada maasam. This month is not a good time to perform any auspicious functions like marriage, house warming, upanayanam, annaprasanam etc. Some communities in South India, have a tradition that newly married daughter-in-law and mother-in-law and/or son-in-law and mother-in-law usually do not live in the same house during this month. It is such a pleasure to me and my son to share our birthdays this month.

July 3-Jagannadha Swami ratha yatra
Ratha yatra (chariot festival) at the world famous Puri Jagannath Temple in Orissa is more than five thousand years old.  The making of the rathas for the annual festival begins on the Akshaya Tritiya day (Vaisakha maasam). The three chariots (rathas) used for the annual ratha yatra are constructed new each year. The chariots are a classic example on indigenous engineering marvel. Three chariots with the idols of Lord Jagannatha (Krishna), Balarama (Balabhadra) and their sister Subhadra are pulled by the devotees through the city.  Millions of pilgrims attend the festival and to pull the three new huge chariots Devotees of Jagannath believe that if one pulls the ratha of Jagannatha, Lord Jagannatha pulls his life-ratha. It means one who pulls the ratha, his life will be guided by mercy of Lord Jagannatha. Symbolical meaning of the chariot is: “The body is the Chariot and the soul is the deity installed in the chariot. The wisdom acts as the charioteer to control the mind and thoughts.”
Similar ratha yatra takes place in Gujarat on the same day. The Ahmedabad rath yatra has been taking place for more than 130 years.
July 11-Chaturmaasam (four holy months)
Chatrurmaasam, the four holy months start on ekadasi (eleventh day) of Ashada maasam and lasts till Kartika sukla ekadasi (eleventh day of waxing moon) Nov. 6, 2011. Chaturmaasam occurs during the monsoon season and most of the important festivals in Hinduism take place during this period. The first month in Chaturmaasam, Shravana maasam is dedicated to Lord Shiva, especially the Mondays. The next month is Bhadrapada, the month of festivals including the Ganesh Chaturthi and Krishna Ashtami. Then comes Ashwayuja month and the important festivals include, Durga Puja, Navratri, Diwali etc. Finally, Kartika maasam, Diwali celebrations end in this month, Hindus also observe different vows and fasting during this period. I believe that followers of any religion have some daily routine to attain the high abode. In puranic times, this was the period when wandering spiritual masters and their disciples used to settle down at a place to study and discourse on the Brahma Sutras composed by Vyasa and engage themselves in Vedantic discussions. Another significance of this day is that of a famous temple of Vittala, a form of Lord Krishna in Pandarpur, Maharastra. Thousand year’s old tradition of the famous Pandarpur yatra (pilgrimage), pilgrims travel annually to visit the Lord on this day. Not on this particular day, but I was lucky to visit this temple during a different time when I was young. 
July 15-Vyasa poornima (full moon day)
“Vyasaya Vishnu roopaya, Vyasa roopaya Vishnave
Namo Vai Brahma Vidyaya, Vasisthaya Namo Namaha”

Vyasa who is Vishnu, Vishnu who is Vyasa
Bow who taught Brahman texts, bow again to the one born in the family of Vasistha.

It is popularly known as Vyas Purnima after Sage Vyasa. Sage Vyasa is the son of Parashara muni and Satyavathi (daughter of a fisherman). He was born in on an island in the river Yamuna on the purnima in the month of Ashada. Sage Vyasa is the greatest editor and compiler of holy texts in Hinduism. Sage Vyasa is considered the Adi Guru or the first Guru in Hinduism. Sage Vyasa is called Veda Vyasa - or the Compiler of the Vedas, he compiled the Vedas into four parts - the Rig, Yajur, Sama and Atharva Veda. He authored epic Mahabharatam and Srimad Bhagavtham. He wrote the Puranas so that the common people could also benefit from the knowledge of the Vedas - he conveyed the same spiritual principles through the medium of stories and parables. He is also the author of the Brahma Sutras - the quintessence of Vedanta.
Vyasa Poornima is popularly known as Guru Poornima. The day is dedicated to Guru and he/she is honored and given due respect. Gurus are often equated with God and always regarded as a link between the individual and the Immortal. Just as the moon shines by reflecting the light of the sun, and glorifies it, all disciples can dazzle like the moon by gaining from their Gurus.
July 17-Dakshinayanam
Six months constitute an ayana and two ayanas a year. The names of the two ayanas are Uttarayana (winter solstice) and Dakshinayana (summer solstice).  In simple terms, Dakshinayana Punyakalam or Karka Sankraman or Karkataka Sankranti marks the southern transit of the Sun. The Uttarayana period began on January 14 or 15 ends with Dakshinayana Punyakalam. The Dakshinayanam period will end on Makar Sankranti or Uttarayana day. As per Hinduism, one year for humans is equivalent to a time span of one day and one night for the gods.  Humans pass through uttarayanam, the gods pass through only one day. Similarly, when humans pass through dakshinayanam, the gods pass through merely one night. When the Lord is in yoga-nidra it is befitting to set aside mundane activities and participate in special religious pursuits. Major Hindu festivals occur during Dakshinayanam.
Traditionally, Upanayanam or thread ceremony is not performed during Dakshinayanam but performed only in the Uttarayana period. Transit of Sun is not considered as auspicious as there will be certain disturbances in the organization of solar forces and generally such times are not recommended for any good work. This day is chosen by many Hindus to perform rituals for forefathers.