Thursday, August 11, 2011

Karma, It will consume you

Karma is something that is also very important amongst Hindu priest, the whole hindu population itself. Karma is apart of a few different religions.  A few of those religions are  Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism, but they mean very different things to one group than the other.  Karma follows everyone. It is of nature and it cannot be helped. Karma is something that happens to a person either because of what they did in their current life or a previous. For every cause there will always be an effect. Whatever action a person takes there will always be a reaction.  It is almost as if the person that you are, no matter how many times you are reborn, will always suffer the karma of your former life or former self.
 It is a very hard cycle to try to break, but some have achieved. There are some things that can be done to become liberated or be released from the vicious cycle of karma. This victory is also referred to as moshka. I try to live better and holier every day. I have also been on a pilgrimage. Lots of other hindu priest have been on pilgrimages.  You gain a lot of respect and knowledge for and from the higher powers.  It gives you a tremendous enlightenment and it gives you time to reflect on life and the things that you have done. Everyone should seek this amazing blessing. Especially during these times. The world today is a very different place. Lots of people are going to have to endure the decline in their value of life for many  many generations to come unless they start deciding to live right.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Fundamental Stages of Being Hindu

Although I am a priest I still follow the four stages of our Hindu society, known as Ashramas. These four stages are Brahmachari, Grihasta, Vanaprasta, and Sannyasi. They are similar to those of most cultures just have a few different implications.

The first, Brahmachari, essential is the student phase. It falls between the ages of 12 and 24, and upon initiation by Upanayan rites, I became a Dvija, or a twice born. I was then brought to a Guru and began to learn the mantras.  During this time I studied the Vedas, Upanishads, and the Sastras thoroughly. I was also taught several other traditions of Hinduism including the recitation of Gayatri, Ablutions, and Sandhya Vandanam. As I studied I was kept very discipline, as is the probation like quality of this period. Although I did not know the implications of these studies, when I came to the Grihasta stage they began to make sense.

The Grihasta period typically takes place between the ages of 24 and 48, and it represents the householder stage. This is when you take a wife and together perform our duties. This stage is said to be the most significant of the Ashramas, being a life long commitment that effects all the others. With this stage comes duties, including the performance of Panchmahayagna, or five great sacrifices. These are foud in the Manu Dharma Sastra. The first being Deva Yagna, or deity worship, which is a daily practice practice of worship and puja, visiting temple is also required in this. Brahama Yagna, or seer worship, is basically community service, this includes guru worship and studying the Vedic rituals. The fourth sacrifice is Pitru Yagna, or ancestor worship. This includes respecting ancestors and parents by getting their blessings by visiting with them and learning from them. The last of the Panchmahayagna is Bhuta Yagna, which the worship of living beings. This is done by offering food to animals and insects, and loving and watering plants.

The third stage called Vanaprasta Ahrama usually falls between the ages of 48 and 72. This stage is when, youth, business, and family have faded and should be left behind. At this time the person usually leaves behind material possessions to follow a life of meditation and spirituality in solitude or with his wife. This is thought to be a persons adult education. This is a time of self reflection and pondering on the ways of the world.

The fourth and final stage, Sannyasa Ashrama is the period of life usually at 72+. At this point in time one is supposed to have gone beyond worldly things, he is considered a persona non grata, one who exists almost without giving any thought to his being. He has no desire for recognition or social status. There are three types of Sannyasi, or people of this stage. The Vidvat, coming from real wisdom in the manner of an epiphany, the Vividisha, a person entering from a strong desire for self-realization via the study of Scriptures and religious practice. The third is the Markata, which is someone who has come to this phase as an escape from great misery, disappointment, or misfortune. This is the final stage of life and one day I hope to attain this stage in life and wisdom.

Nish Dhruba Explains Hindu Funeral Rituals

           As death approaches Hindu’s prepare for the inevitable and when that day comes the beginning of ancient, detailed rituals begin to prepare the body for cremation. This is where I come in. As a priest and pandit I perform the initial fire ceremony and assist the family during the rest of the ceremony. After the family completes the preliminary body preparation immediately after death I will be called to perform a fire ritual called “homa” during which I will bless 9 brass water pots and one clay pot to celebrate the persons fortunate events and in hopes they attain moksha. From here the chief mourner (usually the eldest son) will lead the rites for final preparation and cleansing of the body, I only offer guidance.

             Preparation starts by passing an oil lamp over the body then passing flowers the same way. Afterwards, the corresponding gender will carry the body to the back of their house remove their clothes, and cover the deceased with a white garment. Each member anoints the body with sesame oil and it is bathed from the blessed pots and carried to the homa shelter to prepare for cremation.

The cremation ceremony starts by carrying the deceased three times, counterclockwise, around a pyre then placed on top of it, at this time the men offer rice, cover the body in wood, incense, and clarified butter. Then the chief mourner walks around the pyre with a fire pot in his hand preparing to start the cremation, with each circle another family member knocks a hole in the clay pot releasing the water representing how the soul is leaving the body. After completing the third lap the chief mourner starts the fire without looking at the body than exits the homa shelter without looking back.
A few hours after the cremation the ashes are collected ant taken to a river, preferably the Ganges at which time the family and loved ones gather to release the ashes into the river with offerings of flowers. The Ganges is the most holy river in Hinduism and maybe the most holy place anywhere.
Thirty-one days after the cremation I will return to the home to purify it and perform sapindikarana a ritual that represents reunion. During the sapindikaranaI ritual I will make pinda’s (balls of rice) to represent the deceased and their ancestors, then by mixing pieces of the separate pindas together the reunion is represented. The pinda’s are then offered to nature by means of being fed to birds, cows or fish. This ritual to reunite the recently deceased with their ancestors will be repeated one year after the death and sometimes every year as long as the sons of the deceased are alive.

Death for Hindus is not a bad thing. Yes, we mourn the loss of our loved ones and tragic death is always tragic, but death produces new life or release from samsara and suffering. If moksha is not achieved than our loved ones will be reborn so death is not permanent and is to be celebrated. Just as we rejoice at life we should also rejoice at death.       

Sunday, August 7, 2011

One of My Favorite Festivals: Holi

        Today I am going to give an insight on one of my favorite festivals. Not only is it one of the most ancient festivals, but is also the most popular. Let me give you a little bit of history, don’t worry this part is interesting, not boring. So, here it goes.

        This festival was originally named “Holika.” The festival of Holi was and is celebrated to this day. People have tried to find information containing the exact origin, but cannot be found.  This festival has changed over time. In the early days, and I mean early days, Holi was a rite that was usually performed by married women for the happiness, well-being, and prosperity of their families. Holi is also mentioned in some ancient texts, including “Narad Purana” and “Bhavishya Purana.” There was also a stone that was found at Ramgarh and this stone mentions Holi. This may have been a celebration that was celebrated before even Christ, which is weird and cool at the same time. This festival is referenced in ancient paintings and some murals. A temple has a panel with the scene of Holi on it. Pretty cool, right? There are also other illustrations and paintings that reference Holi. Since Indians, including myself, strongly believe in mythology, there is a cultural significance to this festival. All the stories show the victory of good versus evil. The tales instill faith in God and his mercy. This festival Holi also gives us a sense of unity and brotherhood. Holi is a festival of spring. It is celebrated on the full moon day of Phalguana.  
        Now for the fun part, the celebration and the customs! People light bonfires and will dance and sing around it. This is to welcome the spring. The next morning is the main festival of colors. Everybody takes part in this festival. They smear colored powder on each other and splash water jets on everybody. It is a tradition to use only natural colors from various herbs and flowers. As the years go on, most natural products turned into artificial ones. This festival serves to bring the community closer. There are also many mouthwatering sweets and drinks. People can consume as much as they want on this day, after all it is a celebration. I hope to have some great sweets, including Thandai, which is a cool drink made by mixing almonds, spices with chilled milk, and sugar. Music and songs are also vital parts of the Holi festival. My favorite is “Rang Barse.” It means shower of colors. It goes like this:
Rang barse bheege chunar wali, rang barse
Are kaine maari pichkaari tori bheegi angiya
O rangrasia rangrasia, ho
Rang barse bheege chunar wali, rang barse!

Sone ki thaali main jona parosa
Are, sone ki thaali main jona parosa
Haan, sone ki thaali main jona parosa
Are, khaye gori ka yaar ,balam tarse, rang barse!
Holi hai!!!
O, Rang barse bheege chunar wali, rang barse!

Launga ilaichi ka, are launga ilaichi ka
Launga ilaichi ka? Haan
Are launga ilaichi ka beeda lagaya
Haan, launga ilaichi ka beeda lagaya
Chabe gauri ka yaar, balam tarse
Holi hai!!!
O, Rang barse bheege chunar wali, rang barse!

Are, bela chameli ka sez bhichhaya
bela chameli ka, sez bhichhaya
Are, bela chameli ka sez bhichhaya
Haan, bela chameli ka sez bhichhaya
Soye gori ka yaar, balam tarse, rang barse!
Holi hai!!!
O, Rang barse bheege chunar wali, rang barse!

It is hard to translate the entire thing, so I won’t. It talks about all the colors and how important they are.

        Holi is one of my favorite holidays. We are able to stuff ourselves with food and have fun with colors. And we don’t have to worry about day to day life. I truly enjoy this holiday, and can’t wait until next year to participate in it!

Friday, August 5, 2011

A Day in the Life of Nish Dhruba

        I bet you all are wondering what I actually do in a day? Well, I will tell you, along with the technical names, but those will be explained. How many of think it is very easy to do every single day? It is not, but it gets easier. Here it goes.
        I begin with waking up two hours before sunrise. How many of you wake up that early? I have to. After getting up, I brush my teeth thoroughly, bathe in cold water, and perform Japa, which is a ceremony that involves mediation and repetition. Next, is agnihotra, the Vedic prayer and worship. Then, I have a daily chanting and studying of the Vedas, which are extremely important. This is called Brahmayajna. The first part of the day is now over.
        The next part of the day is time for me to teach my disciples the Vedas, which is called adhyapana. After the teaching I must gather flowers so I can perform puja, which is a type of worship. In order to get my food and materials needed to perform rituals, I must beg for all of these. I do have the right to beg, but I can only take what is needed, no more. I am allowed to receive gifts and give them.
        After the second part of the day and a portion of the third day, I have to bathe again and then perform madhyahnika, which is a Buddhist tradition. Continuing on, I do pitr-tarpana, which is that I offer libations to the fathers, followed by homa (fire worship) and puja, which I mentioned earlier. By now, it has been the fourth part of the day, which means midday.
        There are two of the five great sacrifices. The first one is Manusyayajna, which is honoring and feeding the guests. The last one is Bhutayajna, which is feeding the poor and the creatures. Rice is offered in the sacrificial fire. Guests are entertained, the technical name is Atithya. Only then is he allowed to eat, but a very light meal. Then, I have to read the Puranas. After that, I have the fabulous duty of teaching other caste members their vocation, arts and crafts. 
        Finally, for the evening stuff. I must bathe again; perform sandhyavandana, sacrifices, and japa. All of those I explained earlier. I am able to have another meal, but again it is light. I am then able to go to bed, to wake up around four AM tomorrow morning. This day to day thing is very hard, but over time, becomes easier. I chose this life for all the things that are important to me, not because I wanted a life that was not easy and not comfortable.

Arranged Marriages Now and Then

        As you know, arranged marriages were a very integral part to India in my time. I have not yet been married but I know the process of marriage very well. First, some history on arranged marriages. The arranged marriage has been a part of the Indian culture and the Indian world starting as early as the fourth century, very early right? Many of the people even consider this process to be a very integral part of Indian society as it serves six functions in the community. They are 1) it helps maintain the satisfaction system in the society 2) it will give the parents control 3) preserve the ancestral lineage 4) strengthen the kinship group 5) allows expansion and consolidation of family property 6) enable the elders to preserve endogamy ( which is the marriage within the tribe or social unit). A lot of information, but it was necessary for this world to live. This type of arranged marriage lets the upper caste unite and maintain its families. It eventually spread to lower caste families as well. Today, there is still arranged marriage, but it is a little different from my time.
        I am not married, but I know the process very well. The male’s family seeks out the female, and most females are married before they have hit puberty. The male’s family is also responsible for arranging the marriage. Most times, a matchmaker, called a nayan, is used. The nayan is usually a family friend or distant relative. Matchmakers help seek out the female and are negotiators to help with the match. Anyways, once the arrangement and match has been made, the two families meet to discuss various things including, dowry, time, and location of the wedding, the birth stars of the boy and the girl, and the education. While all this is going on, the couple-to-be are able to glance at each other. Most Hindu pre-wedding ceremonies take place on the very important day of acuta, the most spiritual day for marriages. After the ceremony, the female goes back to her house, and I know what you are thinking, what, they just got married? The male will then summon the female and life will begin at his house. The mother of the male will teach her the ways of his house and all that is needed. She is not allowed to interact with males, because she is still considered pure until the consummation. After the consummation, the male and female will begin life together and will live happily ever after. Now isn’t that a long process?
        Arranged marriages years after my time are very similar, but with one major difference. The male and female will be able to marry for love, not like in my time. The actual ceremony takes place during the night and it five to six hours long. The priest, me in this case, is summoned to preside over the marriage. The wedding adheres to all the rules and is made sure by the priest. There is a lot of festivity and all the family members come. The male makes his promises and so does the female and then the marriage is over. I am hoping that my family will one day find that perfect woman for me and will live life happily ever after.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

A few of my favored rituals to partake in

 There are many different ceremonies that I enjoy partaking in. After all they all celebrate some vital point in one's life. But one of the ceremonies that I enjoy is the marriage ceremony(vivaha). Marriage marks the beginning of life as a householder. There are many different denominational variations, but most features are mostly the same. In this ceremony the bridegroom is welcomed, they exchange flower garlands, and the daughter is given in marriage.The marriage becomes confirmed by the tying of the sacred thread called Mangalsutra around the brides neck by the groom. The marriage can also be confirmed by the bride and groom walking 7 steps (septi padi) around the sacred fire. At night we then show the bride and groom the Pole Star. Then of course of the couple is blessed by the elders, and presented with gifts. It is a very memorable chapter in one's life.

Following marriage is the birth of a child. This ceremony is called Jatakarma. It welcomes the child in to the world. Once the child has been born, the father place a small amount of ghee,which is a type of butter, and honey on the baby's tongue and whispers the name of God in his/her ear. Then comes the name giving ceremony. After the child has been in the world for 11 days the parents partake in Namakarana. They dress the baby up beautifully in new clothes. The family astrologer then tells the family of the child's horoscope. The child's name is given based on the position of the moon in the birth chart.  Then there is another huge feast that accompanies this ceremony.

It is so many different ceremonies that are performed by priest it is hard to describe every single one of them. But every single one of them has a very sacred and dear meaning. I am glad I chose this path in order to bless others throughout their different walks of life.