Happy Birthday, Son of Mahadev!

When you adhere to a religion that recognizes the Divine in virtually every conceivable form, you’re bound to have a calendar filled to the hilt with holidays celebrating all manner of holiness. Welcome to Hinduism! So far, the most unfortunate aspect of this is that most of these holidays – even all of them – go pretty much officially unobserved in the United States. Sure, some actually be named on printed calendars and we’ll see media coverage of the holiday’s celebration at the White House, but none are “business closed” holidays. It makes me a little sad, particularly when Ganesha Chathurthi rolls around – it’s unquestionably my favorite holiday next to Diwali – which itself is only in first place for me personally on account of its broader application as a holiday that very Hindu would celebrate, without sectarian concern.

However, if any one god in the Hindu pantheon could be considered “unifying,” then it’s Ganesha. My knowledge is limited and imperfect, but He’s the only god I know of who is worshipped, as He is, by all Hindus. Every god has its own collection of stories and many overlap in ways that could be offensive to some. For example, in some circles Hanuman is understood to be Shiva in disguise and is Vishnu’s biggest fan. I’m not sure I’ve heard stories paralleling this kind of thing that apply to Ganesha. He’s always who He is, and everyone loves and respects Him – to greater or lesser degrees.

Most years, Ganesha Chathurthi falls very near to my own birthday. Although this year it feels like it’s happening later in the year than it has in the recent past (I could be wrong – I haven’t checked on this to be sure) and next year I think it doesn’t occur until very near to the end of September. This year the holiday started on 20140829 and culminates on 20140908 with Ganesha Visarjan.

This link to a page from the Huffington Post does a decent job at explaining the holiday and includes photos for your viewing pleasure. Wikipedia also has an info page on it, of course. That can be viewed here. This Huffington Post Religion page displays a number of photos. On this page, one can find a basic explanation of how the holiday is celebrated. And lastly, here’s a site apparently dedicate solely to the holiday that offers info on how to “do” the holiday.

Below I’ve included a couple videos for your enjoyment and education and below the videos, also for your enjoyment, is a random selection of Ganesha photos – some pertaining to the holiday, some not. These have been pulled from a range of sources including friends’ pictures, Facebook posts, online image searches, and YouTube.

Happy Ganesh Chaturthi!
Aum Shri Mahaganeshaya Namaha
Aum Shanti

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Ganesha Loka

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Many things have been on my mind lately. Many quite heavy things. If you ask anyone who knows me well or is in my daily life, they’ll probably tell you that this is the norm for me, and they often express a mix of worry and annoyance when I take a “break” from those heavy things to study other things like religion or linguistics … which they also consider “heavy.”

This post, is meant to be such a break. I thought to share a bit from a recently-bought book that I brought home from Chicago and have been working my way through in my free time. It’s all about Ganesh and is rightly called, “The Ganesha Book,” by Royina Grewal. I’ve (recently) been accused of being a little extra biased when it comes to Ganesha (this is indeed part of the heaviness of what’s been rolling through my noggin of late), and this is likely to fall thereunder. It’s a description of Ganesha’s Loka (kingdom, realm, heaven, dimension, …whatever). Although other Ganapatyas might disagree with me, I’m not of the opinion that this is the heavenly destination of all Ganesha worshippers. The value I find in this Ganesha-loka description, though, is the same as I find in Ganesha Himself – a sweetly poetic, deep and deeper-pointing, sublime accounting of the Destination Ganesha not only points to but brings us to.

According to the book, his celestial kingdom is called Swaanda Dhama, the abode of bliss. His palace is seated on a “wish jewel” island, which itself is surround by a forest of wish-fulfilling trees, which is in turn surrounded by an ocean of sugar can juice. Ganesha sits on a lotus made of the letters of the Sanskrit alphabet, indicating His supremacy over wisdom and learning. This lotus is positioned on the back of His lion throne – borrowed by His Mother.

His kingdom has four gates, each guarded by two of His eight special attendants, Paarshadaas, who are probably adaptations of the eight Dikpalas – the guardians of the directions within the Hindu tradition. Like Ganesha, they are all short and four-armed and the tip of their thumbs and index fingers touch, a mudra which signifyies their unity with god.

Also in residence within this kingdom is His mouse, given to him at birth as a gift from the Earth, according to one story. According to another, this mouse is Agni, the god of fire. (That story indicates that there was once a feud among the gods during which Agni assumed the form of a mouse and disappeared into the earth. The conflict was eventually resolved, and the gods gave the mouse to Shiva to energize him for the production of His son, Kartikeya. With that task complete, Shiva passed the mouse onto His oldest son, Ganesha, who had been without a mount for a long time.)

Sadly, the descriptive story of Ganesha’s kingdom stops pretty abruptly right there. And so, this post will also.

Om Shri Mahaganeshaya Namaha
Om Shanti

The Mandir and the Murti

vinayaka-chaturthi

Every month has a full moon. Rare ones have two. Four days after every full moon I do the same thing: vrat & abhishekam.

Vrat means fast – Not the “speedy” kind of fast, the abstaining from food kind. On the fourth day after Purnima (the full moon) a fast is held all day, as one’s circumstances allow. Sometimes I’ll fudge things a little, depending on what I have planned, and will have fluids like juice or something. Otherwise the vrat is meant to last the duration of the day – until the moon is first sighted that evening. Then puja (church for Hindus, technically a ritual) is performed and the fast is broken with dinner.

For me, that evening’s puja usually involves abhishekam or snan for the mahamurti in my home mandir. Abhishekam and snan are virtually the same thing, but for me they hold slightly different implications. In my brain, abhishekam is deeper and prolonged and more complex. It happens regularly but doesn’t happen as often. In my understanding, abhishekam translates as “ritual bathing,” including the panchamrit (“five nectars”) and snan feels more like a simple “bath” and while it also happens regularly, it happens more frequently as a part of puja and is generally simpler.

For the biggest chunk of four weeks’ time, every morning and evening when I’m at home in my temple room doing puja I can feel a sort of “building” or compilation. There feels like an increased energy every additional time I’m before the mandir and the murti. (A similar phenomenon occurs during other sadhanas like japa. That’s for another post.) Then the full moon arrives (purnima, remember?) and it feels like a crescendo of sorts. For the three days immediately following purnima, pujas are still held as well as regular sadhanas, but the “vibe” of those three days is noticeably… softer. Then comes Sankashti.

The fourth day after every full moon/purnima is called Ganesha Sankashti Chaturthi. A simple internet search on those words will inform you plenty. You can get some information here or there. Everyone can benefit from fasting on the fourth day after a full moon. Depending on the source you’re maybe reading, the benefits might vary some. At any rate, those benefits are likely to be something anyone’d enjoy.

Depending on which day Sankashti Chaturthi falls on, it might have more or less significance. I understand it to be particularly auspicious for this day to land on a Tuesday. During the current four-week period, Sankashti happens to land on Easter Sunday.

I’m obviously not Christian. And I have particular feelings about the “theft” that was involved, historically speaking, in the “Christian” holiday of Easter. However, within the context of Easter/Ostara, I find additional value to this Sankashti. Christian or not, Ostara/Easter is about renewal (not the same as rebirth, which is as much a curse as a blessing). The middle of last week brought the Hindu holiday of Holi which has parallel meanings. We’ve survived the darkest time of the year. Daylight each day is visibly growing and we can feel our own energies growing with it. All of that, added to the energetic context mentioned earlier about the monthly cycle experienced in the daily pujas conducted, and this Sakashti is loaded with goodness.

Whether you see tomorrow as a celebration of your guru’s victory over the death-tool that is the cross, or if you decorate eggs and worship fertility as found in rabbits, or if you’re a devotee of Ganapati wrapping up another four week cycle … in fact whether you’re all or none of these …enjoy the day for what it means to you, allow yourself to do some cleansing – of your home or your soul – and set yourself up to look forward to the next immediate cycle in your life.

Jai Ganapati!

Om Shanti

HTCI, or the best I have for now

For just about ever the Hindu Temple of Central Indiana has existed as a beige box with a long hanging banner stating, “Hindu Temple,” and most folks here don’t even know about it. When I first began attending, there didn’t exist an actual, identifiable Hindu temple in Indiana. At that time, there was only the India Community Center, which is smaller than most homes here. Some time ago, land was bought and a box-shaped building was built to be the temple. The goal has always been to build a “real” temple, and a little over a year ago the reality of this dream began to manifest. What’s happening, is that the beige box is turning into a stone temple…and as far as I’m able to tell, it’s looking remarkably like the Sri Ganesha Temple in Nashville, TN. For me, it’s still hard to tell how the exterior of the temple will end up, although there are already many big and obviously changes. But on the inside, things are turning out incredibly and I’m excited for its completion.

I was at our temple just yesterday with my husband to catch the very end of the annual Temple Fest, but mostly to have a hand in the Ganesha Visarjan, which concludes a ten-day holiday of Ganesha Chaturthi. While we were there, I snapped a few pics of the temple’s developing interior with my phone. I’ve decided to post them here to share. I’ll see if I can’t provide periodic updates whenever there’ve been big changes.

This is the beginning of the actual temple, prior to the congregation moving from the India Community Center. This is what would eventually become the beige box I’ve referred to. I think this construction began in 2005.

The two photos immediately above, are of the beige box after construction was completed. One floor, you walk in and store your footwear, and aside from an open-sided kitchen, gender-specific restrooms, and two small classrooms, the whole place is one open space.

The two photos above show, somewhat, the newest construction from the exterior. You can plainly see the beige box that existed before. On the ground level, the new construction houses the main worship hall. There are photos of that following. Along with this new construction, below the worship hall are subterranean classrooms and rooms for other purposes.

The above photo is take from the middle area of the worship hall, looking back through the entry that leads from the beige box into the hall. As you enter the worship call, as the father and his daughter are here, to your right is a sealed room where the havan/homa/yagna pujas will take place. The room is austere and has a huge ventilation system immediately over the havan-kund.

In the above photo, you see my husband, thrilled as ever to be dragged to these places by me. This photo is taken from about the same place within the worship hall as the last photo, with a 90-degree turn to my right. Here you can see most of four minor garbhas that will eventually house murtis, although I’m not yet sure which ones. You can also see the marble floor is interrupted by large areas of carpet. I can verify that this carpet is quite comfy!

The above photo is a partial view of the 5-part skylight that makes up the worship hall’s ceiling. Here you can see the center aisle, the immediate left aisle, and part of the far left aisle. There are two other aisles on the right side of the center.

Coming directly down from taking the picture of the skylight, 180-degrees from the direction the first photo of the new construction was taken, is the head of the worship hall and where the three main garbhas are located. You can see the pillars of the center garbh aren’t yet complete. You can also see here, more of the carpet seating on the floor and also mini-garbhas behind the main ones.

The last two photos here are of the planned appearance of the temple after construction is complete. The first photo is the side elevation and the bottom photo, the front elevation. To me, in both photos it’s easy enough to determine where things started with the beige box, which highlights how far things will have come when these phases are finished. The recent Temple Fest is the first time since the new construction began that so many people were able to see how things have progressed, and I’m hoping this will have a positive effect on devotee attendance going forward.

So there you have it! Hindu Temple of Central Indiana (HTCI) in the making!