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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ShubhRakhi : 2-in-1

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When I was very young, I almost invariably played by the rules in every instance. As a first born and closeted young person, my way in the world was found in being a good boy. To this day, the thought of disappointing my parents in any way causes me to cringe and break out in a sweat.

However, in my teen years some of that changed. This shift occurred primarily when I was forced to part with the first religious community I formally knew. It was a time of immense pain for me. From then since, it’s been of high value to me to always engage in the effort needed to know my heart, and then to follow it.

One way this manifests, yearly in fact, is a Hindu holiday known as Raksha Bandhan. I don’t know if, like many other Hindu things, there are multiple versions of this holiday’s origin, but the one I’m most familiar with involves Krishna (I think?) protecting his sister, which she then returns with a gesture of devotion by tearing part of her sari and making it into a bracelet around his wrist. Since the time of this supposed event, every year Hindu brothers and sisters celebrate their affection and devotion to each other. Brothers bring their sisters gifts and sweets and promise to always support and protect them. In turn, sisters tie a bracelet of sorts around their brother’s wrist, offer him treats as well, and likewise promise to support and be devoted to that sibling relationship. But that’s not exactly how I roll.

There are a number of people in my life, of no blood relation per se, who I value truly very much-ly actually quite-ly and immensely. Every year, for Raksha Bandhan (and in fact for months ahead of time) I purchase gifts to the best of my ability and bestow them upon my loved ones. If I can be honest, it’s the second most expensive time of the year for me, after the American Christmas holiday. Gift bags are assembled and packages are placed into the post… and when it’s all said and done, my wallet is usually, literally, more than empty. But my heart is so full. This holiday, celebrated almost entirely backward by yours truly, is my personal mahabhakti celebration.

More along the traditional lines of the holiday, though, is my relationship with my only blood sister. We’re about six years apart in physical age, and if ever a big brother had a baby sister… oh boy! Of the children brought here by my birth mother, my sweet sister and I are the only siblings remaining in the state. You can look at us and tell we’re related (because of a fine mix of Native American and European, we both have almond-shaped eyes and high cheek bones). I’ve included a photo of her in this post. Another likeness we share is our birth mother’s sheisty, feisty attitude. I think my sister’s absolutely beautiful, and I’m certain she hasn’t yet realized her tremendous worth to the world. I’m committed to helping her see this value and using it for her betterment and for the benefit of those others in her life. We talk/text regularly, and I love that we talk about boys. 🙂 If ever a sister expressed her devotion and support to a brother, it’s when my sister speaks to me. And if ever a brother was committed to protecting his little sister, it would surely be the brother who threatens to break the legs of any guy who causes her heart pain. Probably half of the communication between us is simple exchanges of “I Love you, bubby” and “I love you, too!”

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More than anything in this life, people need to know how much they mean. The value found in the simple fact that they are breathing is something lost on most. Generally, I’m good about telling others how I feel about them – for good or bad! But this is the one day of the year when I really mean it when I say I’m glad you didn’t die when you fell down the stairs, or that I’m glad you are who you are and that you are amazingly beautiful whether you’re closeted or not, or how truly important our times in the rivers means to me, or that you are my sweet sweet little sister and I will always be here for you.

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When it comes down to it, I really have no words. Not any that are adequate, anyway. Every morning and every night when I sit in my temple room before my mandir, my heart becomes obese – absolutely obese – as it sings the song within it. My sincerest hope, my brothers and sisters in this life, is that you know you are the very song of my own heart.

Jai Shri Mahaganeshaya Namaha
Om Shanti

The Mandir and the Murti

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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