The fundas of Yugadi – and Chaitra Navaratri.

Death of Krishna. Public domain image from Wikipedia.

 

The Indian calendar can be baffling to many people.

The significant difference between the Indian calendar and the Western calendar (or the Gregorian calendar)  is that our calendar follows the phases of the moon. The Western calendar follows the revolution of the Earth around the Sun.

That is why Indian festivals seem to fall on different days each year, with reference to the Gregorian calendar.

In the Indian calendar, there are certain days that are especially important, since they mark epochal events in Indian history.

The death of Krishna marks the end of an era. Kaliyuga, the age of Evil, began from the moment of Krishna’s death, and according to the scriptures that day was during end-March in 3102 BC. Hence, this day is called Yugadhi, the first day of an Era.

Yugadhi also marks the beginning of a new year. Unlike the Gregorian calendar that calculates the passage of each year based on the Earth’s annual revolution around the Sun, the Indian calendar is based on the orbits of Jupiter and Saturn. As these two planets move through the heavens, they seem to transit across the twelve Zodiac constellations, starting with the constellation of Aries (Mesha rashi). Jupiter takes one year to move from one Zodiac constellation to the next and therefore takes twelve years to complete one round of the Zodiac. Saturn takes thirty years to complete one round. And once in sixty years, both planets wind up at the starting point, i.e. Mesha rashi, at the same time.

Hence, the Indian calendar follows a cycle of sixty years. Each year is called a Samavatsara and is assigned a specific name, like in the Chinese calendar. Last year was Hevilambi Samavatsara, and it began on March 28, 2017.

The 32nd year in the cycle begins today, i.e., March 18, 2018. The new year is named Vilambi. This is not predicted to be a good year!

Yugadhi falls on the first day of the first half of the first month in the Hindu calendar, i.e. the month of Chaitra. The official Indian calendar, that was adopted by India on March 22, 1957, and starts from that day, is based on the Shalivahana Saka.

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Shalivahana, also known as Gautamiputra Satakarni, was a mighty king from the Satavahana dynasty, that ruled much of South India for about four hundred years, from 230 BC to 220 AD.

Shalivahana was the greatest of them, and the date of his coronation is the beginning of Shalivahana Saka. This was during the year 78 AD. The month of Chaitra is reckoned from that date.

Therefore, the Indian national calendar officially began on Chaitra 1, 1879 (Saka era) i.e. March 22, 1957 (Gregorian era).

And therefore today, March 18, 2018 is Yugadhi, Prathami (first day), Shukla Paskha (Bright half), Chaitra (first month of the year), Vilambi naama Samvatsara, Shalivahana Saka 1940, Kaliyuga (age of Kali).

Also, Chaitra Navaratri starts on this day.  This nine-day festival is dedicated to the goddess Durga, just like the Navaratri festival we celebrate during October each year.

The ninth day of Chaitra Navaratri is Rama’s birthday, i.e, Rama Navami, hence it is also known as Rama Navaratri.

Happy Yugadhi everyone!

Cheers … Srini.

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Yay! It’s Dasara!

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Na yotsya Govinda! I will not fight, O Govinda.

It’s my favorite time of the year – the nine nights of Dasara. And once again, it’s time for my annual visit to the home of the Ravindranath family.

Year after year, this sweet Iyengar family in Basavanagudi, Bangalore, puts up their remarkable exhibition of Dasara dolls. There are well over four thousand dolls in this astonishing display.

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Chakravyuha. Note the attention to detail!

It is truly a labor of love – and faith. They spend a fortune and they make no money out of it – although there are unscrupulous dickheads who make money out of them.

Each year, there’s a special theme. And this year, the theme is the 18-day battle of Kurukshetra. Each day of the battle has been recreated in painstaking detail. They’ve done their research thoroughly. In fact, they’ve created the battle formations used by both sides, on each day of the battle. They’ve recreated the key events of the battle – like the Bhagavadgeetha, the fall of Bheeshma, Ghatotkacha’s death, Jayadratha’s decapitation by Arjuna, and several others.

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The end of Ghatotkacha, slain by Karna’s Shakti weapon.

Why do we celebrate Dasara? You can read about it in my blogpost, here.

Simply put, Dasara commemorates the epic battle between the goddess Durga and the demon Mahisha. The battle raged for nine nights. Each night, She took on a different form to do battle with Mahisha. On the morning of the tenth day, Durga slew Mahisha. This day therefore, is called Vijayadashami.

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Vijayadashami is an especially auspicious day. On this day, Rama killed Ravana in battle. Since Rama cut off Ravana’s ten heads, the festival came to be known as Dasa Hara or Dasara.

In modern times, we do not cut off heads! Instead, Vijayadashami is considered a very good day to start any new venture, like a business project, a new course of study, music lessons, and just about any good activity.

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And even at my age, I always make it a point to start something new on Vijayadashami. This year, I will start a new business venture on Vijayadashami.

Dasara is a celebration and an affirmation, of our culture and our traditions. Nowhere, and nowhere, in our traditional scriptures and our epics, does the word “Hindu” appear.

Dasara is not a “Hindu” celebration. It is Indian. That’s all.

No matter what religion you practise, enjoy Dasara. Visit a golu display. Have fun.

You can see the entire golu display of the Ravindranath family, in my Google photo album, here.

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The Ravindranath family.

And remember:

All golu displays are free and open to the public. Do not entertain self-styled “experts” and touts. Just call up the host, and go. If you want to take photographs, it’s generally ok. But as a courtesy, ask the host first. And do not forget to profusely thank the host and her family. Golu displays take a lot of effort and time.

I am an agnostic myself. But that doesn’t stop me from enjoying any of our traditional festivals – including Christmas and Id!

So. Screw the “rationalists”.

Enjoy Dasara. It is your festival.

Cheers … Srini.

 

Melukote. No cleanliness. No Godliness.

 

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Cows, dogs, hawkers, shops, cars, garbage. Where is the room for God?

What the eff am I doing here, I ask myself as I trudge barefoot in the heat, through the filthiest temple town I have been in.

This is Melukote. Global hub of Shri Vaishanavism, second only to Sriperumbudur in importance. A world-renowned center for Sanskrit learning. The scriptures say that Rama and Krishna themselves worshipped the ancient deity here. The temples you see today are a thousand years old, built stone by stone by Shri Ramanuja and his disciples.

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To visit temple, just follow the garbage.

This is Melukote. And it is filthy.

Cleanliness is next to Godliness, we are told. If that is true, then please be assured that God would keep His distance from Melukote.

Due to my being born a Thenkalai, I am a follower, albeit a reluctant one, of Shri Ramanuja and a Shrivaishanavite by default. Melukote is therefore “my” place. Each year, I find myself drawn to this place. And year after year, I find myself being repelled by the general filthiness. This year, the filthiness was just intolerable.

The history of Melukote is truly Vedic. The temples are merely ten centuries old. The primary deity here, Cheluvanarayanaswamy or Thirunarayana, has been worshipped at this place since the time of Rama. After the long-lost metal idol was rediscovered by Shri Ramanuja in 1100 or so, Melukote was heavily patronised by the Hoysalas, the Wodeyars, even by Tipu Sultan, and in modern times, by Shrivaishnavites across the world and by all other sects. With all that patronage, past and present, there is no excuse whatsoever for Melukote’s current state.

It’s not a question of money. There is no shortage of money, I have no doubt. It’s not a question of government support. You need neither money nor political support just to be clean. It’s a question of attitude and it’s a question of arrogance.

At no other major shrine have I seen cars parked right at the temple walls, nowhere else have I seen so many hawkers peddling their wares so close to the main temple. No where else have I seen garbage so carelessly strewn about. Sullen watchmen at the gates and sundry people expecting money at every nook are common features in all temples. One expects Melukote to be different, but no. One is totally wrong. Give me twenty rupees, insists an elderly priest inside the temple, and I tamely hand over the money, not due to piety, but due to pity.

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Don’t worry. It’s a “protected” monument.

My visit there yesterday coincided with an “abhishekam” of Ramanuja’s idol. The term “abhishekam” means a ritualistic libation of  a religious idol with various sanctified liquids like milk, ghee, honey and sandal paste.

There were innumerable Iyengar mamas and mamis inside, in traditional vestis and 9-yard sarees respectively. Technically, I am an Iyengar mama too, and I ought to have been in a vesti too. But my priorities are crystal clear.

Cleanliness first. Godliness next. Hygiene first. Spirituality next. Sanctity of body first. Purity of mind next.

Three years ago, my elderly mother ate the food here, came back that evening to Bangalore with acute gastroenteritis and had to spend a full week at Fortis hospital. That horrible week comes back to my memory, and I bluntly turn down the offers of puliogare and annadana that I am plied with.

History and divinity both get buried under the filth of Melukote.

As a Shrivaishnavite, I am not just angry. I am filled with a cold rage as I make my way through this ancient town. In vain do I tell myself that Rama and Krishna might have walked down the same lanes that I walk now, and that Shri Ramanuja definitely did. All I can see are the piles of garbage, the plastic bottles everywhere, the stray dogs, the hawkers, the growling monkeys – and the devotees who create all this filth.

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The ancient Kalyani (water tank). This is the only angle from which the garbage is not visible.

Enough. I call up the driver (who is of course parked right next to the temple wall) and we make our way back to the Garbage city, also known as Bangalore.

Garbage outside. Junk inside.

The newly laid road from Mandya to Melukote does little to soothe my rage, since I’ve seen the hundreds of old trees that once stood on either side of that road, and were butchered for no reason.

In comparison, Tipu’s tomb in Srirangapatnam is a pleasure to see. Gumbaz is immaculately maintained, and more important, it is clean. There’s no entry fee although there is a stiff parking fee – but no parking lot. The outside is no doubt dirty and hawker-infested. But the inside is just the opposite. Manicured lawns, old trees that date back to Tipu, and the tomb itself is shining white – and clean.

So. This is “my” Melukote. I don’t feel good, I feel ripped off. I don’t feel sanctified, I feel dirty. I am not filled with spirituality and enlightenment, I am filled with dark anger.

Next time I feel the desire to commune with God, I won’t take the expense to hire a cab and drive 150 kms through dense traffic to end up at a place that is filthier than the urban slum I live in.

I’ll either visit the small temple at my street corner, which is far cleaner, or just stay at home and visit Wikipedia, which is far safer.

Absolutely no cheers … Srini.