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Hinduism

Death....The final journey!!

In India, the concept of life after death is taken very literally. It is often said that the deeds of one’s life determine their life after death. The idea of death and afterlife evolved during the Aryan civilization and the researchers idealized this custom and culture into Hinduism. Hence, when someone dies the loved ones leave no stone unturned in performing the various rituals of Antima Sanskar, which we will discuss about in this blog.

  • Approaching death: Hindus believe that the near to dying person should be taken home where he is close to his loved ones because according to Hindu mythology, prolonging the illness is against the karma. A person should die happily and not stretch life by artificial methods. The person is laid on the floor with his head facing in the east direction and with a lamp lit near his body to spread aroma. The priest chants mantras from the Rig Veda and sings hymns to create a pious environment. If the dying person seems to be unconscious, a family member chants “Aum Namo Narayana” or “Aum Namo Sivaya” in the right ear to calm the soul.
  • The moment of death: The dead body is placed on the ground in the hallway with the head facing in the south direction. Placing the body on the floor signifies that the body returns Mother Earth, where it was initially created. The priest chants Vedic hymns and puts a few drops of milk or holy water (River Ganges) into the mouth and applies holy ash or sandalwood paste on the forehead to release the soul from the body. The thumbs and toes are tied together respectively and a white cloth is tied below the chin and over the head of the dead body.
  • The (Homa) Fire Ritual: This ritual involves creating a fire place under a shelter or inside the house. The priest performs the rite in the presence of family members whereby they honour nine brass Kumbhas (water pots) and one clay pot. The eldest son perform leads this rite in case of the father’s death and the youngest son preforms in the case of mother’s death. He is regarded as a chief mourner or karta.
  • Preparation of the dead body: The body is covered with white cloth and taken to homa fire where the eldest son or the chief mourner encircles around the dead body with a burning wooden stick in hand. The body is then offered rice puffs for better nourishment in his next life.

  • Cremation: In Hinduism, only men are allowed to attend the cremation ceremony (funeral). The body is placed on wooden stacks like structure (pyre) and the chief mourner takes three rounds in the anti-clockwise direction. He carries a clay pot filled with water on his shoulder making holes after each round to release water from the pot. This signifies that the soul of the deceased person is leaving into a new world with a whole new life.

 

  • Bone-Gathering Ceremony: After one day from the cremation ceremony, men in the family return to collect the remains of the body. The remains which include ashes and small pieces of bones are collected in a small clay pot covered by a red cloth and water is sprinkled on the ash to settle all the impurities and dead body’s remains into the Earth (the creator). As per the last wish of the dead person, the ashes are carried to the river Ganges or any other holy river or ocean along with flowers.

  • First Memorial: This ritual is usually organized on the third, fifth, seventh, ninth or thirteenth day of the death, where relatives and friends come to give condolences and eat deceased person’s favorite foods. A photo is placed in the centre of the hallway where people offer flowers and put garlands and a portion of food is offered too. This ritual varies from family to family. Some people offer pinda (rice balls) for nine days to the priests or others combine it into a one day ceremony.
  • One Month Memorial: This rite is performed to purify the home from the spirit of the deceased person. The priest performs the Sapindikarana ceremony in which 3 small pinda (rice balls) are made representing father, grandfather and great-grandfather; this shows that Hindu rituals revolve around the family tree. One large pinda is also made which is then cut into three pieces to join the three small pindas representing the males in the family. This ritual unites the deceaseds’ soul with the ancestors because Hindus believe in reincarnation.

Each Hindu family in India performs the rituals mentioned above in order to show their respect for the deceased. The concept of “Rest in Peace” is exercised by performing these rituals in the Hindu society.

The Big Fat Indian Wedding!!!

In the previous blog we talked about the rites and rituals at the birth of the child. In this blog, we will talk about the Hindu marriage rituals. “Marriages are made in heaven” is one of the most common proverb said in India during marriages. Since ages marriage in Hinduism is considered as a very pure and pious union of the mind and soul of two individuals not only for a lifetime but might stretch up to seven lifetimes. Marriage also called the Vivaah Sanskar is a step from the first stage of a person’s life which he or she devotes to learning and education, to the second stage of life, devoted to having a household with their family. The married couple has to follow Dharma, doing all the right deeds; Artha, the way of acquiring money for their family for a living and Karma or Kama, how they end up fulfilling their natural longings. In Vedic scriptures, marriage is a ceremony with strong moral and ethical values with various steps and rituals involved in it. According to the Hindu culture, there are thirteen steps involved in this ceremony:-

Vara Satkaarah (Welcoming the Groom And his family) - It is the welcoming of the groom, his family and friends at the entrance of the wedding venue by the bride’s family with Aarati, Sweets, Garlands and tilak of vermilion and turmeric powder. This ceremony signifies the importance of shaping strong family bonds as the counterparts of each family meet and greet each other over Milni offerings.

Madhuparka Ceremony – The bride’s father bestows the groom with presents at the altar (mandap).

Kanya Dan (giving away of the bride) – Kanya’ means daughter and ‘daan’ means giving away. This is an important ritual in a Hindu ceremony, the bride’s father happily approves of giving away his daughter to the groom in the presence of relatives and the loved ones. The priest chants the mantras (in the Rig veda) and the father puts his daughter’s hand over the groom’s hands to willingly approve her of being the groom’s better half also called ‘ardhangani’.

Vivah-Homa (sacred fire ceremony) - This sacred fire serves as a witness of the nature signifying that all auspicious events of the marriage will begin in front of the fire God, Agni.

Pani-Grahan (acceptance of the hand) – The bride keeps her right hand on top of the grooms left hand, accepting her as his legally wedded wife.

Pratigna-Karan - The couple walks around the fire with the bride leading the groom making solemn vows of life-long trust, love and faithfulness to each other.

Shila Arohan - The bride is asked to step on a stone by her mother, where the mother advices her daughter for the new beginning in her new life. The stone signifies strength and trust. A married couple is likely to face certain ups and downs, prosperity, joy, sorrow, etc. during the course of their life. Despite of all the difficulties they face they are entitled to remain dedicated and true to each other. The bride has to place her right foot on the stone, while the priest chants a Mantra from the Atharva Veda.

Laja-Homah – Laja means parched rice or popcorn. The bride and groom offer rice into the sacred fire with the brides hand laid on top of the groom three times making promises to God for the bond they are going to share.

Parikrama or Pradakshina or Mangal Fera (circumambulation of the sacred fire) - This is an auspicious and important part of the marriage ceremony. The couple has to take seven circles around the sacred fire. This signifies that the marriage will be legalized according to the Hindu Marriage Act as well as the Hindu customs because they have eye-witnesses for the rounds that the bride and groom take. In this the bride’s parents ties a knot from one end of the groom's stole with the bride's dress.

Saptapadi – The couple takes seven steps representing sustenance, strength, wealth, happiness, offspring, long life and harmony and understanding, respectively.                                                                                   

First step, we will provide for and support each other.

Second step, we will develop mental, physical & spiritual strength.

Third step, we will share the worldly possessions.

Fourth step, we will acquire knowledge, happiness and peace.

Fifth step, we will raise strong and virtuous children.

Sixth step, we will enjoy the fruits of all seasons.

Seventh step, we will always remain friends and cherish each other.

Abhishek - The couple offer water while meditating to the sun and the pole star.

Anna Praashan - In this the couple offer food into the sacred fire and then a small piece to each other expressing their love and affection.

Aashirvadah – This is the last ritual of the marriage, the newly wedded couple bow down and touch the feet of the elders of the family to take their blessings for their new life married life.

In Hinduism marriage is considered the best way of continuing their family and practicing Dharma. Not only humans but the Gods have also followed this divine ritual of marriage in the same manner and lead it the same way humans have. Therefore, marriage in Hinduism is not just considered a mutual contract between a man and a woman but a social, physical and mental bond that they have to share for their rest of their life.

In our next blog, we will take you through the rites and rituals duting and after death in Hinduism.

Religious symbols and architecture

Have you ever looked at a portrait of any god or goddess and wondered about the reasons behind their appearance and in particular, thought about the rationale behind their postures? We certainly had not until we had taken this module! It has made us question many things in the past few weeks and is still making us question many things at present! As such, we chose to explore why certain gods and goddesses are portrayed in a specific manner and decided to focus on Hinduism and Buddhism. We found out that in Hindu and Buddhist arts and architecture, gestures and postures of sculptures were displayed in specific manners as they were utilized to indicate diverse human functions. Each gesture and posture had its own meaning. One example would be the Buddha.

From the above picture, you may have noticed the pose held by his hands. “What could be the plausible reason for this?” we had wondered. His hand positions were depicted in this manner to symbolize enlightenment, meditation as well as teaching!

We also looked at Guan Ying, the Goddess of Compassion.

 

 

From the picture,

  • Flowing, white robe: a symbol of purity.
  • Necklaces: Accessories worn by Chinese and Indian royalties (Buddhism started out in India and was later, influenced by China)
  • Sacred Vase: Contains pure water which is seen as the divine nectar of life in Buddhism.
  • Bent willow branch: To bless followers with physical and spiritual forms peace and also represented the ability to bend and adapt without breaking.

 

 

As such, we can see how the interpretations of Gods and Goddesses can have a positive influence on their followers and lead them to a better path by showing them the right way to live.

Furthermore, similar items are found in the portraits of other Buddhist deities as well. These items are considered to be the Eight Buddhist Symbols.

Likewise, these Buddhist symbols are also found in several Hindu sculptures such as in those dedicated for the Lords Vishnu and Krishna.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In most portrayals of Hindu Gods and Goddesses, we can see that they always have multiple hands (more than the typical human) and each hand usually holds different items. This showed that these deities were able to multitask very well and also reflected how society viewed the Hindu Gods and Goddesses as being superior as they could perform more and better than we human beings ever could. When these sculptures are placed in official or religious buildings like a Hindu temple for example, these religious icons were used to symbolize the consecration of a building to praise a certain God or Goddess. These sculptures were also used to glorify teachers. We found that how these sculptures have been used and are still being used in Hinduism is similar to what baptism is for humans in Christianity.

 

Hindu Temples

Beginning from the 6th century, the Hindu dynasty had a bit of a comeback which brought about the spread of Hindu temples all over India. One characteristic that has been found to be common for most Hindu temples is that they are built with an entrance portico that directly leads to a pillared hall (which is also called “Mandabam” in Tamil). Furthermore, all temples have a shrine on top of possessing a large tower. Another interesting thing to note would be the fact that South Indian temples created in a Dravidian style all had a series of towers which had been arranged as a terrace. What was the rationale behind this? Each tower represented a distinct diverse divine force (like different Gods and Goddesses) and the purpose of these towers was for them to remind followers of Hinduism about how religion is present in daily life and about the power that gods and religious teachers have to affect daily customs. Most Hindu temples take the form of either a house or a palace. The palace-themed temples are more elaborate whereas the house-themed temples serve as a simple shelter or sometimes, even a home for the deities! However, both themes reflect the ideals of dharma, good beliefs, values and the way to lead life. The temples, as a result, served as a link between humans and deities.

 

The image above shows the Parama Sayika which is a layout plan found in most Hindu temples.

In this layout, each layer has their own significant aspects:

  • Paisachika Padas (Outermost layer): Asuras and evil
  • Manusha Padas: Human life
  • Devika Padas: Devas and Good
  • Brahma Padas: Creative energy
  • Purusa Space (Innermost layer): Universal Principle present in everything and everyone

This layout, therefore, indicates that Hindu temples are not just sacred spaces, but also that their meanings and purposes have extended beyond spiritual life all the way till social meaning. Thus, some temples, serve as venues for celebrations and festivals.

Inside the temples, pillars with carvings and statues depict the four most important principles of human life which are the Pursuit of Wealth (Artha), the Pursuit of Pleasure (Kama), the Pursuit of Ethical Life (Dharma) and the Pursuit of Knowledge (Moksha). These temples have carvings on their outermost walls too and these illustrate vital rulers, deities as well as large animals, like elephants.

 

Speaking of elephants, who has not seen the elephant god from Hinduism? Questions about Ganesha, the Hindu elephant god, is one of the top-most asked questions by non-Indians to Indians living in Singapore. And why not? His appearance has always been out of the ordinary compared to most deities who almost always appear human-like.

Ganesha is one of the best known and loved deities in Hinduism and that is saying something considering the thousands or even millions of deities Hinduism has! Why is he so popular then, you may ask. Not only is he the Lord of Good Fortune who provides success, fortune and prosperity, he is also the Lord of Beginnings and the Remover of Obstacles of both the materialistic and spiritualistic nature.

''So, how did Ganesha come to have an elephant head?” you may wonder.

  1. Parvati, a main goddess in Hinduism, sculpted a child for herself and her husband (Lord Shiva) out of clay.
  2. Lord Shiva had not known about it when he had first encountered Ganesha (his son) and had beheaded Ganesha in a moment of anger as he had seen Ganesha standing outside the Goddess Parvati’s room and Ganesha had repeatedly prevented him from entering the Goddess Parvati’s room as he had been made by her to protect herself while the Lord Shiva had been gone.
  3. Upon finding out about his error from his wife, Lord Shiva and his troops left to the forests to find the first animal they could get their hands on to find a new head for the now headless Ganesha.
  4. They found an elephant and fixed its head for Ganesha. The symbolism of the body parts of the Lord Ganesha are shown in the diagram below.

 

 

Fun Tidbit!

In Buddhism, ladies sit on the left side in religious ceremonies while gentlemen sit on the right. In the iconography of multiple-armed deities, most of them hold weapons in their right hands while left hands were usually viewed as the hand of wisdom. The right hand, as a result, illustrates more masculinity while the left hand illustrates a female’s receptive attitude.

 

Siti Hafizah, Shankari, Kiki

The Sacred Elephant

Earlier this year in March, a baby girl born in a village in Aligarh in the Northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh attracted flocks of worshippers yearning to catch a quick glimpse of the girl and make their offerings. What is so special about this girl? She was born with a trunk-like protrusion between her eyes, obscuring her nose. Doctors state that it was most likely due to gene mutation triggered by malnutrition and high pollution levels. However, villagers believed that she is an incarnation of the elephant god Lord Ganesha, one of the well-known deities in Hinduism, as the protrusion looked similar to Lord Ganesha’s trunk. ad_164531241

Figure 1: Girl worshipped as reincarnation of Lord Ganesha

Hinduism is often labelled as a religion of 330 million gods. Each God and Goddess is symbolic as they offer an aspect of a principle. The entire array of deities is needed to complete the picture of God’s manifestations. Therefore, we hope that this post about Lord Ganesha will be able to help you people gain a deeper understanding of Hinduism as a religion in India. There are many interpretations and myths surrounding Lord Ganesha’s birth, form and duty as a deity. Nonetheless, what we will cover is only one of the many interpretations available, and why we chose those interpretations is because we deem them to make the most sense. It is subjective and not the absolute truth.

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Figure 2: Lord Ganesha along with his parents, Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati

Birth Story

Ganesha was created by Goddess Parvati as a guardian for her privacy. Ganesha was the son of Lord Shiva (Hindu God of Destruction) and Goddess Parvati (Goddess of Love and Devotion). In order to have a bath privately, Goddess Parvati ordered Nandi (Lord Shiva’s Bull) to guard the door and allow no one to pass. However, when Lord Shiva returned, Nandi allowed him to enter due to his loyalty. Angered, Goddess Parvati created Ganesha by breathing life into sandalwood paste used for bathing, declaring Ganesha to be her own loyal son.

Ganesha took up the post of a guardian faithfully, and denied the entry of Lord Shiva when Goddess Parvati was bathing. Lord Shiva, unaware that Ganesha was his son, was furious and fought him, resulting in Ganesha’s head being severed off. Upon seeing her headless son, Goddess Parvati was outraged and threatened to destroy the heavens and the earth. In order to pacify his wife, Lord Shiva sent his gana (followers) to bring back the head of the very first living thing they encounter, facing north. They brought back an elephant head. It was then joined to the body, forming Ganesha. Gana represents followers of Shiva, while isha represents lord. Therefore, Ganesha was appointed as the leader of Shiva’s ganas, worshipped by many.

Significance of Lord Ganesha’s form

Just like most Deity stories, the body of deities has a significant role or symbol to play in human’s society, especially the body of Lord Ganesha. I will discuss the significance of Lord Ganesha’s form according to the body arrangements.

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Figure 3.1: Depiction of Om Symbol        Figure 3.2: Om Symbol

Firstly, we have to start from the head of Lord Ganesha. Its unique elephant head gave it a distinct feature of Lord Ganesha. Elephant represent wisdom and knowledge. Therefore embracing Lord Ganesha with such elephant qualities. His trunk and his head is shaped into an Om, which is one of Hinduism’s most sacred symbols. It represents the primeval sound of creation and also the most powerful mantra in prayer and meditation.

His human body signifies the earthly existence of human being. The belly of Lord Ganesha represents generosity and total acceptance, where we are supposed to digest either good or bad experiences. Lord ganesha’s has four arms that each arm would hold an object that symbolizes a significant teaching. Lord ganesha’s right hand holds a hook or Ankusa and the left hand holds a noose or Paasa. These 2 tools are used to tame elephants and Lord Ganesha’s mind is of an wild elephant. With these two tools, he is able to calm and allow the mind to concentrate, contemplate and meditate. Another arm would holds a dish of sweetmeats which imply the sweet gains reaped by practicing good deeds. As Bhagavad Gita makes it clear that a person should always focus on the karma and not the fruits of it, Ganesha is never shown enjoying the dessert he holds in his hands, thereby making it clear that he is not attached to the outcome of his good deeds. His last arm is always seen in an blessing post which means an ideal person would wish for societal well being.

Role as a deity

Lord of Learning and Knowledge

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Figure 4: Lord Ganesha writing Mahabharata with Vyasa

 

In many images, Ganesha is depicted as one-tusked. It is believed that one missing tusk was used to write the epic of Mahabharata while Vyasa recite it. Mahabharata has been seen as one of the two pillars that create the Hindu culture of India today. With such an accomplishment and importance of his role in Mahabharata, Ganesha is revered to as the lord of learning and knowledge.

The Lord of Beginnings and Remover of Obstacles

Ganesha has many names, one of them is Vighnaharta, meaning "remover of obstacles". Although many pray to him to remove obstacles, Ganesha is also believed to be the one who create the obstacles (Vighnakarta). Why? One tusk also symbolizes showing a single way to God, giving Ganesha the nickname of Ekadanta. In addition, another name of his is Vakratunda, meaning "he who straighten the crooked". Vakratunda, Vignakarta and Ekadanta together are interpreted as Ganesha putting obstacles to straighten the crooked behavior and ideas of humans and therefore showing the right path to God.

 

 

Lord Ganesha’s importance is so prominent that many people worship him, albeit in different ways. Ganesh Chaturthi is a celebration of Ganesha’s birthday; the main event include immersing a new Ganesha statue in water, symbolizing Ganesha washing away your troubles. Some students who believe in the role of Ganesha would also chant Ganesha’s mantra to ask Ganesha to help them in their studies and obtain good scores in school. Although the interpretations of Ganesha changes and developed throughout generations, Lord Ganesha still place an important part in Hindu society today.

NAMASTE

The Kingdom of Wonder

 

Hi guys! As some of you already know, Malin and I (Malen) come from Cambodia; therefore, it is only appropriate for us to share our knowledge of Cambodia and dig deeper into its wonderful history! The Khmer Empire was the largest and most powerful state in Southeast Asia, based in what is now Cambodia. The empire could be traced all the way from 802 CE to 1431 CE. At its apex, it encompassed of what is now Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, and Southern Vietnam. The Khmer’s art and culture were significantly influenced by India because of the long established sea trading networks with that subcontinent. This brings us to the topic of this blog post, which is architecture and religion. The Khmer people were amazing architects and builders, and one of their legacies was the Angkor Wat, which I am sure many of you have heard or seen somewhere as it is one of the UNESCO World Heritage sites. Throughout the capital city of Angkor, there were more than 100 stone temples, enormous reservoirs (baray) and canals, and setting up of an extensive road network with all sorts of bridges. In fact, satellite imaging showed that during its time, Angkor was the largest pre-industrial urban center ever in the world and apparently, even larger than today’s New York!

SURYAVARMAN II & ANGKOR WAT

Angkor Wat represents the miniature version of the Hindu universe and is in fact the world’s largest religious monument, encompassing an area of about 200 hectares. It was initially built as a Hindu temple dedicated to the god, Vishnu, but in the 14th century, it was converted into a Buddhist temple, and Buddha statues were added to its existing lavishing artwork. The construction took place around 1122 CE and lasted for over 30 years. It was initiated by one of the greatest kings of the empire during that time, Suryavarman II.

Suryavarman II was a usurper that came into power after killing his great uncle, Dharanindravarman I, while he was riding an elephant. He honored the god Vishnu, a deity often represented as a protector, and this is reflected in the central tower of Angkor Wat as we shall see later. His devotion to Hinduism can also be seen in one of the most astounding reliefs (the carved stones) in Angkor Wat, located in the southeast of the temple. The relief depicts a chapter in the Hindu story of creation called the “Churning of the Sea of Milk”.

Angkor Wat’s main entrance faced the west, a direction that is deeply linked to the god Vishnu. The heart of the temple was the central tower, accessible by a (very!) steep staircase with a statue of Vishnu at the top. The central tower is estimated at about 65 meters tall and is also surrounded by four other smaller towers with a series of enclosed walls. The influence of Hinduism on Angkor Wat is also reflected through the geometrical shape of the temple. In fact, Angkor Wat mirrors the Hindu cosmos. The five towers of the central shrine are the peaks of the mythical Mount Meru, a legendary and sacred place in Hindu mythology that is said to lie beyond the Himalayas and where the home of the gods is.

JAYAVARMAN VII & ANGKOR THOM

The Angkor capital of Khmer Empire was later on replaced by Angkor Thom, which is a city built within a city of Angkor. The greatest king of the empire, Jayavarman VII, who reigned from 1181 CE to 1215 CE, administered a large scale construction programme, building many temples, monuments, highways, hospitals, and the magnificent Angkor Thom complex. He was also the one who extended the empire’s territorial claim the furthest. His construction program concurred with the conversion of the empire religion from Hinduism to Mahayana Buddhism as King Jayavarman VII himself, adopted Mahayana Buddhism as his personal faith. The reign of Jayavarman saw many alterations of Hindu temples to display images of Buddha and Angkor Wat did for a short period of time became a Buddhist shrine.

The following list describes a few other well-known temples that were built during the King’s reign:

  • Ta Prohm (AKA ‘Royal Vihara’) - built 1186 as a Buddhist temple, contained statue of Jayavarman VII’s mother, Srirajacudamuni, represented as Prajnaparamita (the Mother of All Buddhas).
  • Preah Khan - contained his father’s statue, Dharanindravarman II, represented as Lokesvara (the Bodhisattva (“buddha-to-be”) of infinite compassion and mercy).
  • Neak Pean - contained statue of the Buddha called Bhaisajya-guru, who is the healer and protector against sickness.
  • Bayon temple - official state temple of the King, a Mahayana Buddhist shrine dedicated solely to the Buddha.
  • Banteay Kdei & Banteay Chmar - dedicated to his son, Srindrakumara.

After the King’s death, there was a huge campaign to revive Hinduism through means of vandalizing and defacing of Buddhist images, until finally, Theravada Buddhism became established as the land’s dominant religion starting from the 14th century.

Reference Links for Images in Gallery

FUN FACTS!

 

The movies Lara Croft: Tomb Raider starring Angelina Jolie and Transformers 3 had many breathtaking scenes that were shot at the various temples of Angkor showing its magnificence after all this time.

TOMB RAIDER Scene

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X2J8CK5EhEY[/embed]

TRANSFORMER 3 Scene

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mp7apXDjz-w[/embed]

Check out these cool interactive websites for more information!

http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2009/07/angkor/angkor-animation

https://www.aboutasiatravel.com/cambodia/guide/angkor-temple/angkor-wat-maps/interactive-temple-map.htm