Navratri: One Festival, Many Traditions

Blog Navratri - 18th Sept

Navratri is a 9-day Hindu festival celebrated across the length and breadth of India in the months of September & October. This year, the festival falls between 21st September and 29 September. Navratri is the celebration of good over evil and is celebrated differently in different parts of the country.

Eastern & Northeastern India: Here, Navratri is celebrated in the form of Durga Puja. Goddess Durga who fights the buffalo demon, Mahishasura, and restores Dharma or right way of living or simply, the good in the universe, is venerated and prayed to for 10 days. Predominantly celebrated in West Bengal, Durga Puja includes putting up stage decorations/pandals which house beautiful clay idols of Goddess Durga. People gather at these pandals and worship the goddess, perform rites and recite chants & sing bhajans. One of the eye-catching traditions is what they call Dhunaachi Naach. Aarti or puja is performed using an incense burner called dhoop and sometimes men and women hold one or more than one dhoop and dance with them to the beats of a dhak (a kind of drum played in these parts of the country)

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Go Green and Back to your Roots this Ganapathi!

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While world leaders meet every year to discuss climate change and about how they can run their countries by causing least harm to the environment, why not we do our bit? Let’s start with one of the most awaited festivals of the year, Ganesh Chaturthi! The festival is just round the corner and while you, your friends and family prepare to welcome him to your homes, here are some tips for an eco-friendly Ganesh Chaturthi!

Begin with Ganesha himself: At the end of the festival, many rivers, lakes and even seas get clogged with plaster of paris (pop) Ganeshas. This chemical is toxic for fish and other living organisms under water. Whereas, Ganeshas made of clay or mud dissolve easily in the water and don’t leave behind any chemical waste. If you want to give him some colour, use water based paints or water colours. When you immerse your eco-friendly Ganesha, you will do so knowing that you are keeping alive creatures under water!

Ladoos and Modaks: It is that time of the year, when you can give a break to chocolates and sweets from shops and try some home-made ladoos and Ganesha’s favourite Modak. Besan and Rava ladoos are sweets which no chocolate can match ! Just like your momos, Modaks are steamed dumplings but instead of vegetables, they will be stuffed with jaggery and grated coconut-It is Ganesha’s favourite for a reason! [Read more…]

Happy Independence Day!

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Independence Day is celebrated every year on 15th August. This was the day when India was freed from the British Rule. It is a national festival and has equal importance for every Indian regardless of religion, class, creed or race. The way of celebration is also the same throughout the country and that is the day when you will find whole India celebrating and rejoicing. Many cultural programs are organized and children love to watch them and participate in them.

Different types of celebrations on Independence Day

Children have a different perspective. They like this day because they get sweets and holiday after flag hoisting in their schools. The National Flag is hoisted by the Prime Minister of India on the ramparts of the Red Fort, Delhi after which his speech is followed. Other politicians hoist the flag in their constituencies. Not only this, private organizations celebrate & declare holiday on Independence Day. Everywhere there is a scene of joy, pride and rejoice. No rituals but only festivities are to be seen.

Some people fly kites to express their feeling for the freedom that we have received from the British Rule. You can see hundreds of colourful kites in the sky that day and some of them in the colour of the National Flag. Some people and celebrities leave balloons of saffron, white and green colours, the colours of the Indian Tricolour, in the air.

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Reading is the fun way to go!

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Imagine waking up to a world without the internet, which for some inexplicable reason has ceased to exist forever. For most of us, a life without Google, YouTube, and Facebook is a scenario nightmares are made of.

Those of us who grew up reading books (and those who have taken up reading recently) would probably raise our collective eyebrows one eighth of an inch, yawn politely and pick up the juicy crime thriller we had been reading before the ‘calamity’ took the surfing millions by surprise and sent them into a state of deep shock and utter disbelief! However, the book lovers would be more interested to find out who really committed the crime in the whodunit we just mentioned: was it the butler or was it the hollywood star staying at the Haveli as the Maharajah’s personal guest!

The world is divided into two groups: Book lovers, and those who regard the activity as one that requires infinite amount of patience to wade through tonnes of the written word– one solitary page at a time. For book lovers, however, it was books that kept them out of mischief in childhood, it was books that provided them with a window to the world in college, and it was books that kept them entertained when they started fending for themselves. [Read more…]

Republic Day: Celebrating the Constitution of India

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The story of India’s independence from the British rule is a story without precedence that demonstrated to the world that adopting a strategy of nonviolence and civil disobedience could prove to be a potent force capable of bringing a mighty empire to its knees.

The newly-gained freedom brought with it its own set of challenges: namely, dealing with the aftermath of the partition of the country, persuading the principalities to join the Union, and unifying diverse groups under a common theme—the idea that we are one nation and one people.

We also needed to frame a constitution based on modern ideas that was capable of delivering justice to all citizens regardless of caste, creed, language, ethnicity or religion as a matter of priority. Our laws until then were based on the modified colonial Government of India Act 1935.

However, our leaders rose to the occasion: A drafting committee was duly appointed to draft a permanent constitution, with Dr B R Ambedkar as chairman. 26 January, 1950 is the day on which India formally adopted the Constitution and is celebrated as Republic Day. [Read more…]

The Diverse Harvest Festivals in India – a closer look

 

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The Diverse Harvest Festivals in India – a closer look

With the harvest festivals like Makar Sankranti, Bihu, Lohri and Pongal right around the corner, we are all excited to see what this harvest season has in store for us. We were taught that these harvest festivals are one of the most fun-filled but equally important festivals for the farmers across India.

Therefore, it is our duty to educate our kids about these harvest festivals and their significance in India. This will be a fun-filled opportunity for them to see how these festivals are celebrated and why they are important.

Here are some ways that people celebrate these harvest festivals across India:

Pongal O Pongal!

Pongal is one of the most celebrated festivals in the state of Tamil Nadu. It is a 4 day long festival during the season when rice, turmeric, sugar-cane and other cereals are harvested. Typically, the celebrations consists of boiling rice in an earthen pot and making a sweet dish out of it, in the process allowing the rice to boil out of the pot while the people shout ‘Pongal O Pongal’.

The word Pongal means ‘to boil’ in Tamil. The first day is celebrated as Bhogi where useless house articles are thrown in the pyre and burnt.

The second day is when the rice is boiled in a pot outside of the house accompanied by sugarcane and other sweets for consumption. [Read more…]

Surya Namaskar for a healthy and happy life

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Technology has played an important role in raising income levels substantially in India and the rest of the world. But it has also brought with it a new set of challenges.

Economic prosperity is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it helps us to fight diseases better, it generates better incomes, and it provides access to better education. On the other, [Read more…]

Introducing Your Child to Karma Yoga and the Concept of Nishkama Karma

Introducing Your Child to Karma Yoga and the Concept of Nishkama Karma:

By Jayaram Rajaram

This post is for the parent only and must be used to guide children so they lead contented, healthy and happy lives.

The Bhagavad Gita has inspired millions of people for thousands of years and its teachings are timeless and relevant even today. A primary teaching by Lord Krishna to Arjuna on the battle field is the importance of Karma Yoga and Nishkama Karma.  The meaning of Nishkama Karma is to do ones duty without worrying about the results. Arjuna (Representing the Pandavas) had to fight the Kauravas who were his own cousins. While he felt emotional, Krishna who was Arjuna’s charioteer cleared his doubts by saying, fighting bad people had to be done to protect good people.  So, Arjuna felt relieved that fighting was his duty at that point and he had to do it to protect Dharma or righteousness.

krishna-arjuna

Now several children are committing suicide because they do not get good marks. This is very sad and parents and teachers are sometimes largely to blame for this sad state of affairs. As parents it is our duty to tell our children that it is their duty to study to learn. We have to reassure them that no matter what the outcome or results are, we will love our children. Whenever children study, emphasize the importance of learning rather than focussing on the outcome. If the child is merely by hearting things, step in and help him/ her understand concepts logically wherever possible.

Similarly ask your children what problem in the world they wish to solve when they grow up? Two or three generations have been spoilt and have become unhappy because they have been asked what they want to become and the narrative has been ambition based rather than duty based. Ambition and desire are the root causes of unhappiness as per Sanatana Dharma. Many people believe lack of ambition is laziness. Nishkama Karma and Karma Yoga is all about action for the benefit and well-being of the world (All benefit that comes to an individual is merely a by-product of action that is done without hankering after rewards and recognition). Today even many doctors and hospitals focus more on how much they can earn rather than patient care. At least the next generation should start focusing on how they can help others by acting in the right way and spirit.

Tell children that duty for the sake of duty, no matter what job they take up, will keep them happy. Giving everything in life their best shot and not worrying about the outcome is the best way to nurture a stable, happy, peaceful and contented future generation.

This is a tough task, but this is must be the highest priority among parents if we are not to repeat the mistakes made by the west.  Modern examples of Karma Yogis are Dr. A.P.J Abdul Kalam and E Sreedharan (Delhi Metro).

You could ask your children the following questions:

What problem will you solve when you grow up?

If your child is younger, just ask them what they will do when they grow up and accept all answers while guiding them without putting too much emphasis on duty as their level of understanding may be limited till the age of 8. But use the word duty when they mess a room and make them put back their toys after they play etc.

Who will the work you do when you grow up help?

What is your duty as a kid?

Answer to this should be: Learn to the best of your ability (and don’t worry about marks), Be Good, Do Good, Be Happy

Do you know who the greatest and best people are?

Allow your child to answer and then emphasize that the best and greatest people in the world are those who help others by doing their duties wholeheartedly. So explain that even their grandmother / great grandmother are great for their selfless service to their families even if they never worked outside the home (This will remove money from the equation and recognize service and duty as something that is recognized and important). This way as parents we have to get it into the child’s subconscious that duty-bound action is better than ambition-based action and people with big bank balances, famous people and actors aren’t the real role models, unless of course they are good people who help others (Then they are worth emulating, provided they have all-round values worth emulating). Basically this will help your child treat everyone equally and understand that duties and rights are two sides of the same coin while slowly realizing that making money and becoming famous as a by-product is better than gunning only for riches and fame at any cost. They will also start understanding that an entitlement mindset* and fighting for rights without doing their duty is a sure-shot way to self-destruction and unhappiness.

*Children who grow up thinking the whole world owes it to them have very difficult lives.

Note: This has to be done carefully, as we should not paint a picture that money and rich people are bad, because this is not true at all. Nishkama Karma is about doing your duty well and not hankering after rewards. If you are an IT professional, by virtue of being in a job one must give it his / her 100% during office hours, go back home and play the role of a father/mother, husband/wife 100%. If a person is an entrepreneur he/she must work towards solving their customers’ problems and helping their employees and shareholders improve their lives (As a byproduct of this dedication to his / her duty the entrepreneur’s life improves, but that should not be the primary goal if one wants contentment and peace of mind). So Nishkama Karma and Karma Yoga is a shift in attitude and thought process which will definitely help anyone no matter what their background, ethnicity, nationality is, live a more balanced, happy, healthy, peaceful and fulfilled life.

Bring in the importance of dignity of labour by asking them to thank the bus driver / auto driver / maid for the service and help they render.

Build on this and as a parent keep course correcting based on the situation so your child knows what is expected of him / her.

Most importantly start practicing Karma Yoga and live the Nishkama Karma philosophy yourself (It is a liberating experience and definitely worth the effort). Also, our kids learn by watching us, so we have no choice but to live the life we want our children to learn and emulate!

Image Credits: www.blog.onlineprasad.com

Kindness, Love and Humility Always Beat Pride and Arrogance

Kindness and Humility Always Beat Pride and Arrogance

By Jayaram Rajaram

Narrate the following story to your child:

Kubera, the God of wealth went to to Lord Shiva and Parvati in Mt Kailash to show off his wealth to them. He invited Shiva and Parvati for a meal so he could show off all that he had. Since Shiva and Parvati were busy, they offered to send Ganesha for the meal. Shiva warned Kubera that Ganesha ate a lot. But Kubera haughtily and in an arrogant tone said “Let him eat as much as he wants!”.

Lord-Ganesha-Eating-Sweets

When Ganesha started eating, he ate and ate and ate till he ate up all the food. He then ate the furniture and Kubera’s palace and was still hungry. Kubera realized his foolishness and ran to Shiva and begged for his forgiveness. Kubera promised never to be so haughty and arrogant again. Pleased with Kubera’s realization, Shiva gave him a fistful of rice and asked him to give it to Ganesha. When Kubera gavve Ganesha the fistful of rice with love and humility Ganesha was satisfied and returned all his wealth to Kubera.

Ask your child: Are people important or things/toys?

If your child says “Toys”, ask him /her “Who gives you the toys?”

Your child will invariably say people. Then ask again -“So are people important or toys?”

Ask your child: Is showing off good?

Do your friends show off?

Do you like it when they show off?

You show off too sometimes.

Will Umachi / Bhagwan (God) like it if you show off?

Do you want to make the same mistake Kubera made?

What will happen if you show off?

Always share with your friends and be kind, or like Kubera you will lose friends and all your good things/toys.

Tell them: If you do good, you get good. If you do bad, you get bad. This is the rule of the universe and it is called Karma! Ask your child to repeat after you.

Image Credits: www.enjoyfestivals.com

The Importance of Women and How To Teach Your Son to Treat Them Well

The Importance of Women and How To Teach Your Son to Treat Them Well:

By Jayaram Rajaram

This is a very important story to narrate to children, especially to young boys:

A princess Savitri fell in love with a poor man called Satyavan. When Narada Muni (Saint) found out, he warned her that Satyavan had a short life and that he would die at an early age. Savitri said since she loved Satyavan very much, she would still get married to him. They tied the knot and after a few years as predicted by Narada Muni, Satyavan fell ill and died. On the day of Satyavan’s death, Savitri saw Lord Yama (The God of Death) himself and pleaded to him to give her her husband back and not take him away. Yama unmoved said nobody could stop death and carried on.

savitri_satyavan

Savitri, without giving up easily, followed Yama for miles and miles. Yama, impressed with her determination and perseverance gave her two boons. He said, “Ask for any two things other than the life of your husband and I shall grant them to you.”.  Savitri thought for a bit and asked 1. For the well-being of her father-in-law (Satyavan’s father), and 2. 100 sons!  Yama said ‘so be it’ without giving it much thought. No sooner had he done so the clever Savitri said, “how can I have any sons without my husband?”. Yama conceded defeat and returned Savitri’s husband to her.

Ask your child what they understood from this story? Accept all answers as there are no absolute right or wrong answers, but correct them in case they say anything totally wrong by using your discretion.

You Ask: Do you know that women are very strong?

Your son may say, no boys are stronger.

You say: Do you think Savitri was weak? She even helped her husband come back from the God of death! Is that not strength? We call this Shakthi or mental power in India.

Also, boys may be physically stronger than some girls, but really strong boys are the ones who never hit or hurt anyone. Boys who hit and hurt girls are actually the weakest because those who hurt people and especially girls have no friends and are not liked by anyone.

You Ask:

Where did you come from?

How would life be without your mother?

Who prays for your well-being every single day?

Who do you go to when you feel sad?

Wouldn’t it be good if you can be good friends with boys and girls?

Do you know you can pray to Durga Ma to destroy your fear when you are scared? Durga and Kaali are women, but super strong! They protect us.

This story can also be used effectively with your daughters to teach them that strength is not merely physical and that Love and being kind is a woman (girl’s) biggest gift. Teach them that boys and girls are on the same team and can work together to achieve anything they wish for.

Note to Parent: Let’s nurture a generation where women Love for their rights and men fight for women’s rights whenever there is discrimination in mundane material/household matters, but without the compulsion where women feel the need to do everything men do and make men do everything they do, to prove their worth (Neither women nor men need not prove their worth and must be free to pursue anything they wish to for their personal satisfaction but in a manner that impacts their family, society, country and world at large positively rather than negatively). Equality today has become merely for materialistic things, but In India we worship the feminine as it is every man’s duty and responsibility to balance the feminine energy in his body through Yoga, Pranayama and meditation (Crimes against women and rapes can be greatly reduced if only our education system embraces traditional yoga and meditation daily from the age of 8 for all children. Even if your child’s school doesn’t offer it, I recommend all parents to enrol their child -son or daughter in a good yoga program with a proper Guru). All good and beautiful things like creativity, intuition and aesthetics are feminine and yoga and the finer aspects of life nurture this energy. All human beings have masculine and feminine energy within and balancing these energies leads to harmonious coexistence has been the belief in Sanatana Dharma for eons (Masculine and feminine are subtle energies and are very different from male and female in the gross physical sense). Somewhere along the way we forgot the essence of worshipping the feminine and made it just another ritual. One of the most powerful mantras in the world is the Gayatri Mantra and that mantra brings about a feeling of contentment and inner peace as it harmonizes these subtle energies within.

Image Credits: hinduism.about.com