A work of art is the unique result of a unique temperament. ~Oscar Wilde

Posts tagged ‘Hindu’

Etching The Significance

My daughter  and I went for a walk today. It was a cool morning, with the sun behind the clouds, and beside the river, the geckos had not ventured out. Stepping along the paths and listening to her chatter, I realised, however adult she has become, she is still the little girl with whom I shared the awesome feeling of wonder at the beautiful universe which surrounds us.

 She shares a home with fellow students, and one of her friends was very taken with the festival of Diwali which was recently celebrated by Hindus all over the world.

Certainly one of the more glamorous festivals with lights and fireworks and the ever present sweets, and new clothes, it tickles the curiosity of many people. Even the recently re-elected “leader of the free world” has gone on record wishing the revellers well in televised speeches from the White House. My daughter’s friend was interested in how to say “Happy Diwali” in Indian. My daughter, not having such a fascination, went on to BBC online to glean what was happening elsewhere. And on BBC’s “This week in Pictures, she found this, (Note the picture of the iPad being offered flowers and being prayed to.) 

It outraged her fastidious soul. It took me a while to understand why.

She wanted to know why some people prayed to accounting books at Diwali? Is that not Saraswati Puja (The festival of Knowledge) which is celebrated some time in January February? 

It took me a while to understand her context.

From her childhood, growing up in Australia, being sporadically educated in Indian culture,  she has been taught that the Festival of Lights is the triumph of Good over Evil, the celebration of Rama coming back to Ayodhya after vanquishing the demon Ravana, and here was a  story about praying to accounting books!!!

“Is that not Saraswati Puja?”, she asked.

No… It is Lakshmi Puja. People do pray to Lakshmi, Goddess of Wealth, during Diwali.

“I like the idea of Saraswati Puja!” she said, eyes open wide and forefinger raised. “you dedicate all your studies and pursuit of knowledge to the Divine. You set all your intentions. And all year that feeling of dedication carries you through!” (Nerd radar out, anyone?)

Yes… her point being?

“You don’t pray to books at Diwali! You don’t pray to books, anyway, it is a symbol!”


She was saying books and I was hearing accounting.

So we had a chat about the belief  that this was the start of the accounting year, and how traditional business men start new accounting books, after dedicating their business intentions to the Goddess of Wealth, Lakshmi.

So now, of course, she wanted to know how Lakshmi got into the picture. We are from the East of India, Diwali is at the same time as our festival of Goddess Kaali! It is not the start of  a new year for us, and we do not start new accounting books at this time. “We” encompassing the general populace of Bengal.

Once back home, I went on to BBC Online, and found the BBC school offshoot of the website. There were pages of descriptions of the Hindu festival of Diwali, and while they were all correct, I was left cringing at the superficial nature of the definitions. It was all about new clothes, sweets, lights and gambling. All the folklore and none of the philosophy. Kaali does get a mention, so there was that to be appreciative of.

The image of Indian dance and music has become encapsulated in the Western mind as “Bollywood” dance. Similarly, the knowledge of Indian festivals have become condensed into a few traditions that really have nothing to do with what they supposedly symbolise.  There is nothing wrong with this. Living is as much fun and gaiety as it is deep and meaningful. But I am glad that there are people around the globe who understand and love the sublime philosophy that has also taken birth amongst the loud, flashy, colourful, breaking-into-a-dance-at-the-drop-of-a-hat civilisation. Perhaps that is the nature of an all rounded life? It is what we draw in the air around us, and live within. 

How do you celebrate your favourite festival? How important is the symbolism? Would you rather celebrate the rituals only?


 PS Photos courtesy Raka Mitra, my very good friend. 


“Narayan! Narayan”

Narada, the celestial bard prided himself on his devotion to Lord Narayan. He spent all day creating songs in His praise, and singing them lustily. He took The Word to the corners of the Three Worlds, and smilingly spread it everywhere, tunefully, rhythmically, cosmically.

One day, Narada was sitting at the Lotus Feet singing his latest poem, and he happened to open his eyes to look upon The Lord, and he saw Him smilingly shower a blessing. But, it was not for him, Narada, that the blessing was intended. Unperturbed, but curious, Narada bowed low, and asked “ O, Wise One! O Preserver from all evil, who is the lucky mortal You bless at this moment?”

The Lord smiled. “I have just blessed my greatest devotee of all time!”

Narada was astonished! Who was this mortal? He tried to go back to his singing, but the words stuck in his throat, and the tune fell flat. He wondered, who could be a greater devotee than himself? Was he not a mortal, who through his devotion had gained immortality? Had he not been given the boon of the ability to go anywhere in the Three Worlds, chanting The Lord’s name in prayer?  Did he not own the rights to sing His name through all eternity? Then who was this.. this usurper?

“My Lord, please! Please tell me who this person is? I would love to learn at his feet, so that I can become your greatest devotee! That is all I live for!”

His smile broadening, the Lord replied “Certainly!” He then furnished Narada with the name and direction of an obscure farmer in an insignificant village living in anonymity.

Grumbling under his breath,  at the audacity of a mere village non-entity, stealing his title of the greatest devotee, Narada made haste and appeared in the village within moments. He followed the man indicated to him from dawn to dusk. He made sure not to miss a moment of his day, and as he followed this farmer about his daily duties, Narada felt a bewildered anger rising within him.  After a whole day and night  of dogging each footstep of  this so called devotee Narada’s astonishment knew no bounds. He whooshed himself back to the Ever Benign Presence.

Folding his hands and bowing till his nose touched the ground, Narada tearfully asked the Lord, ”O Eternal One, please explain! This farmer arises in the morning, and even before he has performed his ablutions, he raises his hands in prayer and recites Your Name twice. He then rushes off, without bothering to perform any ritual whatsoever, and as soon as he has eaten something, off he rushes to his farm. At the end of the day, he comes home, eats a little, asks after his children and wife, and as soon he has recited Your  Name twice, he drops off to sleep.”

“Yes, “ said the Lord, sighing happily.

“But!!!!….” Narada fell to the ground weeping. “What about me, I spend all day singing your praises! I never do anything but glorify your name to all the Three Worlds! How can this.. this .. measly little…. be your greatest devotee?”

The Lord chuckled, and said, “Son, please do me a favour, and I will answer your question. Please take this bowl of oil and deliver it to my good friend Lord Brahma. When you get back from your chore I will answer  your question.”

Scrambling up, Narada saw that he was being handed a small brass bowl filled to the brim with oil.

“Mind! You need to go as fast as you can. It is awaited. Please make sure that you do not spill even a tiny drop, that will be a massacre”

Carefully accepting the bowl, Narada started to turn. The little bowl was so full, even the tiniest movement caused the oil to start spilling over.

“Take care, do not spill a single drop!”….

The Lord’s warning ringing in his ear, Narada carefully went to Brahma. Each step was excruciating, even a deep breath endangered the mission. Narada could not take his eyes off the tiny bowl of oil in his hands. His whole world became consumed with the swaying, swelling, almost overflowing bowl of oil. Sweat dripped from his brow, his heart pounded and each muscle quivered, but his eyes never wavered and the bowl remained steady. At his destination, Narada, trembling in his heart and feet, but steady in his arms and hands, passed the bowl to Brahma, and gasped, “I did not let a single drop spill!”

Accepting the bowl, Brahma gave Narada his blessing.

Tired but triumphant, Narada raced back to Narayan on winged feet.

“I did it, O Lord! I did it!”

Smiling and exhausted, he flung himself at His feet, and gasped, “Please, my Lord, please explain!”

The Lord Narayan, looked benignly down at the excited bard.  Quietly, He asked,  “How many times during the time that you had the bowl in your hand, and since, have you recited my name, O beloved?”

As Narada’s eyes widened and head bowed with understanding, the Lord smiled, leaned back, and shut His Lotus Eyes.

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