Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Aswayujam-the seventh month of the Hindu lunar calendar (September28-October 26)

Aswayuja maasam is the 7th month of the traditional Hindu lunar calendar. Aswini nakshatra (star) falls on the pournami day of this month, hence Aswayuja maasam. There are many important festivals in this month. Lord Venkateswara Swamy Brahmotsavam coincides with Navarathri which starts from the first day of the month (the day after amavasya) for nine days and on the tenth day Vijaya Dasami or Dussera (October 6) is celebrated. Atla tadiya (October 14), a local festival of Andhra Pradesh. Most awaited festival of lights, Deepavali (October 26), is also celebrated in this month.
Sarannavarathri, popularly known as Navarathri.

'Nav' means 'nine' and 'rathri' means 'night'. Many legends are attached to the conception of Navrathri like all Indian festivals. All of them are related to Goddess Shakti (Hindu Mother Goddess) and her various forms. The first three days of Navrathri are dedicated to Goddess Durga (Warrior Goddess) dressed in red and mounted on a lion. Her various incarnations - Kumari, Parvati and Kali - are worshiped during these days. They represent the three different classes of womanhood that include the child, the young girl and the mature woman. Next three days are dedicated to Goddess Lakshmi (Goddess of Wealth and Prosperity), dressed in gold and mounted on an owl and finally, last three are dedicated to Goddess Saraswati (Goddess of Knowledge), dressed in milky white and mounted on a pure white swan. In South Indian states especially on Maha navami the ninth day “Ayudha Pooja” (tools and instruments) and “Vahana Pooja” (vehicles) is performed. Navrathri is celebrated to commemorate Goddess Durga victory over the demon Mahishasura, which symbolizes the victory of the good over the evil. In Hindus this festival is given immense importance and treated as a festival of eternal enlightenment.

 Dasara, the tenth day of navarathri, is also observed as Vijaya Dasami (victorious tenth day) in many regions in India. The most colorful and popular Dasara festival takes place in Vijayawada-the home of the famous Kanakadurga temple. Here the Goddess blesses each day in different form of decoration. Each day special naivedyam (food offering) is offered to the Goddess. Festivities in Mysore, Karnataka and in North India are celebrated in grandeur.  Navrathri is purely religious, although it involves many fun filled activities like scintillating dance performances of Garba and Dandiya. Vijayadasami is the victory of good over evil – Goddess Durga annihilating demon Mahishasura and Lord Ram defeating Ravana. Symbolically, these wars are the prolonged struggle against the ego and ignorance in each human being. After the struggle there is the day of new beginning – Vijaya Dasami. Vijaya Dasami is the best and auspicious time to start any new adventure or business.

Brahmotsavam is a nine-day festival in Tirumala Tirupathi Devasthanam. Brahmotsavam to Lord Venkateswara Swamy coincides with navrathri. Each day, Lord Venkateswara Swamy is decorated in a different form and is taken out in procession on a specially decorated vehicle on the roads circling the holy shrine. Thousands of people from all over the world visit during this special event. It is a special feeling to see the Lord in the procession. Garuda seva is visited by lakhs of devotees and is the most auspicious among all the decorated vehicles, for the reason, Garuda is the kshetra palaka (care taker of the temple) and the vehicle of Lord Vishnu.

Atla Tadiya is regional festival of Andhra Pradesh. Unmarried girls dream about their future husband and marital life. They observe many pujas and vratams to pray to God that they get a good husband and will have a prosperous life. Atla Tadiya is one of such festival celebrated on the third day after pournami. It is believed that if married women celebrate this day with devotion will have a blissful marital life. Unmarried women will get good husbands. One day before the festival, gorintaku (henna) is applied to the hands of the women and girls. The more their palms get red color the more love they will get from their husband, it is believed. On the day of the festival, they get up early in the morning and eat the rice that was cooked the previous night. Gongura pachadi, sesame seeds powder, and curd are had with the rice. They swing on swings. In the evening Goddess Gauri Devi is worshipped. After the moon is visible women break their fast by having the atlu (dosa). These are specially made and offered to the Goddess and later are given as vaayanam to the married women. 10 atlu along with lamp made of rice flour and ghee are given to them considering them to be the Goddess Gowri. Atla tadiya is purely a women’s festival. This festival is similar to Karva Chauth observed by North Indian women. The practice of fasting and breaking the fasting after watching the moon can also be seen in other religions. This clearly shows that though religions are different, the spirit of celebrations is same.

Deepavali literally means an array of lamps. We all know that is the most celebrated festival in Hindu communities not only in India but also in USA, UK, Malaysia, Singapore, Australia etc. In North India, the festival starts on Dhanteras (the thirteenth day after pournami). It is celebrated in the honor of Dhanvantari, the physician of the Gods. He is believed to have emerged from the ocean on this day during samudra manthan.

Naraka chaturdasi (fourteenth day after pournami or the day before deepavali)- festival starts this day in South India. It is the day on which Lord Krishna and his wife Satyabhama  killed the demon Narakasura. Observing abhyanga snana (ritual head bath) early in the morning is highly meritorious. It makes devotees free from all his sins and keeps him away from narakaloka after his death. In the evening a row of lamps are lit and placed in the front yard or adjacent to the main entrance.

Deepavali day Lakshmi puja is performed; Goddess Lakshmi blesses the performer with wealth, health, property and prosperity. In the evening an array of lamps are placed in the front yard of the house. Fun-time starts now; the waiting for the young ones begin with offering prayers to the lighted lamps and start cracking fireworks. Playing with fireworks goes past midnight and following days too. The tradition of exchanging gifts and shopping is also very popular during this festival. The basic motto of gifts exchange during deepavali is to accelerate the feeling of bonding, love, appreciation, wishes and blessings of near and dear ones! Exchange of gifts, not just limited within family and friends but also is an integral part of any business organization.

May the divine light of lights enlighten our understanding.
Wishing you a sparkling Deepavali!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Autumn is here!

Isn’t the weather pleasant this week? I felt the scorching sun finally decided to be kind to the Northern hemisphere. Looking at the colorful leaves in my neighborhood reminded me that fall begins promptly on the autumn equinox. The changing fall foliage never fails to surprise and delight us, don’t you agree? We wonder how the green color turns orange, brown etc. Autumn is more of British usage while ‘fall’ is more common in American English. The autumnal equinox marks the first day of the season of autumn.
Autumnal equinox is also referred to as the September or fall equinox in the Northern hemisphere, as well as the spring or Vernol equinox in the Southern hemisphere. An equinox occurs twice a year, the name "equinox" is derived from the Latin aequus (equal) and nox (night), because around the equinox, the night and day have approximately equal length. The seasons are not of equal length, because of the elliptical nature of the orbit of the Earth, as discovered by Johannes Kepler.
Like every season autumn has its unique events, festivals and celebrations of different faiths around the world. (Info collected from websites)
Today is the Autumn Equinox Day and it’s a national holiday in Japan!
In Japan, First Day of autumn is often celebrated with visit to the ancestral graves to pay respected to deceased relatives. People pay their respects at family graves during Higan. Higan means the “other shore” and refers to the spirits of the dead reaching Nirvana after crossing the river of existence. It celebrates the spiritual move from the world of suffering to the world of enlightenment and is a time to remember the dead by visiting, cleaning and decorating their graves and reciting sutras. It is a time for the Japanese to worship their imperial ancestors.
A similar practice of remembering and paying respects by performing rituals to the dead ancestors is much prevalent in Hindu communities, Mahalaya paksha, during September/October.
On the Mid Autumn day, Chinese families gather to admire the moon believed to be the most beautiful and the roundest on this night. It symbolizes the union of the family and Chinese families celebrate this event by eating moon cakes, and admiring the moon.
Chrysanthemum-autumn flower
In Greek mythology autumn begins as the goddess Persephone returns to the underworld to live with her husband Hades. It has also been believed that magically it was a good time to enact rituals for protection and security as well as reflect on successes or failures from the previous months.
European countries connect with harvesting the crops. Halloween and Thanksgiving are major holidays during this season. Some traditions mark it as the time to respect the impending dark while giving thanks to the sunlight.
Whichever tradition you follow, autumn is more of a fun and relaxing time as we anticipate the cold weather that is just around the corner. 
Oh! by the way if you are reading my post from Southern hemisphere enjoy "Spring"!

"How beautifully leaves grow old.  How full of light and color are their last days." 
-John Burroughs

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Happy Grandparents Day!

National Grandparents Day is celebrated on the first Sunday after Labor Day in the U.S. A West Virginia grandmother, Marian McQuade, campaigned for a national holiday to honor grandparents. McQuade made it her goal to educate the youth in the community about the important contributions seniors have made throughout history. U.S. President Jimmy Carter in 1978 signed a presidential proclamation making it official. In that original proclamation, Carter wrote that because grandparents "are usually free to love and guide and befriend the young without having to take daily responsibility for them, they can often reach out past pride and fear of failure and close the space between generations." Though not widely publicized around the world, as Mother's Day and Father's Day, is seen observed on different days of the year.
Before I write about grandparents Day in general, I would like to put few words about my grandparents. I was lucky to have my maternal and paternal grandma’s in my life. I was unfortunate for not having both of my grandpa’s in my life that left this world before I entered. I have known about my grandpa’s through my grandma’s words. They have taken care of the huge extended family and due to illness could not survive long to be with us. My relatives often mention that my features resemble that of my paternal grandma who was kind and courteous in her words. She shared stories, we, as her grandchildren could learn and helped strengthened the understanding of our previous generations. Unfortunately at young age she was paralyzed hip below but she used to tell stories and was fond of going to the village she lived in her last days. She had 20 grandchildren and had more than 18 great grandchildren. My maternal grandma is a ‘gem’ of all the grandmothers in the world. She has never directly advocated doing the things her way, but looking at the way she used to talk to people and handle the situations, I guess, we got a glimpse but could not catch all of it. She is the one to hand over ethnic and cultural tradition down while our parents were busy making new life in a new land. As a child she has taken care of me since my birth, then during my illness and till my delivery, also she had the joy of cuddling my little ones. I think we were able to tap the wisdom and heritage she provided to her 15 grand children and 14 great grandchildren. I sincerely need to thank them for sharing their experiences and wisdom and making me a better person.
Grandparents create special relationships and impart lessons that last a lifetime. Family tradition is kept alive. We can learn about our parents, old family traditions are passed on keeping up with new traditions and growing changes in the society. Just like parenthood, grand parenthood is an ongoing dance and so they keep learning new steps. Many households with employed mothers, preschoolers are regularly cared by their grandparent during the hours their mom is employed outside the home. I often keep hearing that, caring for their grandchildren makes them feel young and active. They say that the sacrifices are worth it. They feel it as a greater purpose for their lives. A study has revealed that children grow up happier under the care of grandparents. The children questioned in a survey said it did not matter how far away their grandparents lived, because they could keep in touch using technology such as phones, email, online messaging etc.
Official flower of Grandparents Day
The role of grandparents in a child’s life is varied. One important thing, which seems to be missing in the lives of children today, is the sense of family, values, religious beliefs and principles. This is where the grandparents step in; inculcating beliefs and values is not as easy as it was 50-60 years ago. No questions were asked and there was an implicit sense of belief. With changing times and changing outlooks, children have started to question the authenticity of everything. The parents who are already fighting constantly with time are perhaps not in a position to inculcate these values. Children are very demanding and grandparents without appearing to be pushy have all the time and experience to deal with tantrums and nagging questions. They appease, soothe, and impart values with tremendous ease. The ability to love, shower affection, and willingness to help and comfort their grand children has made grandparents indispensable. In India, the ceremonial rites and festive occasions in families are never complete without the grandparents, whose guidance is much needed. We still believe that the heart-felt blessings of elders go a long way in helping the grandchildren achieve what they want in life.

"Nobody can do for little children what grandparents do. Grandparents sort of sprinkle stardust over the lives of little children."
- Alex Haley
”Grandchildren are the dots that connect the lines from generation to generation.”
-Lois Wyse

Monday, September 5, 2011

Happy Teacher's Day (India)!

Dr.S.Radhakrishnan (1888-1975)
Teacher’s Day commemorates the birthday of Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, born on September 5, 1888. He was a philosopher and as a teacher his contribution towards Indian education system was excellent. He also served as Vice President and President of India. Dr Radhakrishnan believed that "teachers should be the best minds in the country". The origin of celebrating his birthday as Teacher's Day goes like this. One day, some of his students and friends requested him to allow them to celebrate his birthday. In reply, he said, "instead of celebrating my birthday separately, it would be my proud privilege if September 5th is observed as Teacher's day".  India has been celebrating Teacher's Day on 5th September each year, since 1962. On this day, we gratefully remember the great educationist, apart from honoring all the teachers that have made our life much more knowledgeable and fulfilled. The regular school day is replaced by activities of celebration, thanks and remembrance.
To any child mother is the first teacher, not only teaches ABC's of life but also literally starts the foundation of education by introducing to the books. In a classroom, a teacher encourages, motivates and reinstates energy in the classroom and each student to succeed. For many students teacher is a role model.  A good teacher has ambition for oneself, class in general and student in specific. Teachers provide academic education and demonstrate the advantages of honest and conscientious living. In the course of our education, from elementary to college we have been guided by many teachers. Some of them are imprinted in our memory and certain things we keep remembering even today.
Science class to me, got interested in my 6th grade. I still remember some of the classes she taught, the bench I sat. We had 2 periods at a time, like a block period. She used to ask questions of what she taught the previous day, we had to be prompt and ready with the answers. The moment she asks questions some of the students used to lift their hands to be called, but she used to pick the ones who have not lifted their hands. She knew those student who did not lift was not out of not knowing the answer but were shy. My young mind did not understand back then, later I realized along with teaching the subject she brought our inner strength out by removing shy or fear. I am sorry, I don’t remember her name but I can’t forget her face that instilled love of biology in me.
I can’t forget my geography teacher in high school. We had huge country maps and world maps charts in our class. During the class while learning about a particular country, that country chart was hanged on the wall and she had to show us a particular place in the map, if it was hard to find right away, she used to just point out somewhere on the map and say "the city is somewhere here". After few repetitions, the next time the class would whisper “it is somewhere here”, making sure our words would not travel in the air. Later, we felt sorry knowing the fact that she had some vision problem. She is the one who taught me the art of map pointing and understand the legends on the map.
In my college classes I had a very nice history professor, who could make history class lively. She encouraged us to read special news item from the newspaper and each day a topic was discussed in the class. We were quizzed on the general knowledge and current events, which motivated me, read out-of-the-curriculum books to acquire the required knowledge. She truly helped nourish my imagination in guiding us read international magazines. I can remember her by the jokes she used to crack and, as young girl I was fascinated to see her neatly groomed and well dressed in gorgeous saris.
          Thanks to all my teachers who have filled my life being creative and inspired me to be what I am. Each country celebrates Teacher’s Day on different days either to celebrate local educator or a milestone in their educational system. Teacher’s Day is intended for the appreciation of teachers. Here's a short clip.

The importance of education is not only in knowledge and skill, but it is to help us to live with others.
-Sir S. Radhakrishnan
"A teacher's purpose is not to create students in his own image, but to develop students who can create their own image."
- Anonymous