Sunday, March 20, 2011

A Festival & A Bridge Across Mythology


The festival of Dasara, also called Navaratri [Festival for nine nights], starts this year on 12th October and after a 9-day festival concludes on the 10th day which is celebrated as Vijaya Dashami. The Hindus have been celebrating this festival from time immemorial. The scriptural texts prescribe the observance of Navaratri twice in a year: once in March- April in the spring season and again in October on the autumn season. The spring festival is called RAMA- NAVARATRI , being the occasion of the anniversary of Lord Sri Rama's birthday. The autumnal festival is called SHARAN-NAVARATRI, dedicated to the worship of DEVI, the Goddess of Energy, in Her several aspects as Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswathi. The observance of Sharan-Navaratri is more popular all over India.

The total period of 9 days is grouped into three divisions. Puja for the first 3 days is to propitiate Goddess Durga or Kali as Shiva-Shakti, the next 3 days to propitiate Goddess Lakshmi as Vaishnavi-Shakti and the last 3 days to propitiate Goddess Saraswathi as Brahmi-Shakti. On the 10th day, the Vijaya Dashami, a huge bonfire of the devils is made which marks the culmination of Dasara.

The term DASARA is the corrupted form of the word DASHA PAPA HARA which means the liquidation of 10 sins attributed to 10 sense organs through which man contacts and gains knowledge of the ephemeral world and also reacts to the stimuli received from the world. Hence the idea is that on the sacred 10th day, the Vijay Dashami, the 10 sins are ended when one becomes rooted in Transcendental Experience.

One can gain the experience of the Reality by following the right invocations in the required sequence. The invocation to the Goddess Durga is done with a particular purpose. In our Puranic literature, Durga is described as the “terrible power" that destroys demonic forces which terrorise the devotees of the Lord. Similarly, in the heart of man there are destructive monsters like greed, anger, passion, lust, jealousy etc which will have to be eliminated first. By worshipping Durga for 3 days, man merely invokes his own dormant power to destroy these negative forces lurking in him a desire towards the first step towards Realization.

The next step is to practice the positive aspect of the sadhana. This is done by doing Lakshmi Puja during the next 3 days. Lakshmi is the Goddess of Aishwarya. Aishwarya is not to be understood in the narrow sense of material wealth and worldly possessions. It means the Divine wealth like love, kindness, patience, charity, sacrifice etc which Adi Shankaracharya describes as SHATSAMPATH in his “Viveka Chudamani". By the end of these 3 days, these divine qualities would have replaced the earlier devilish tendencies.

At this stage, the seeker becomes fully eligible for philosophical studies, contemplation and meditation. The invocation to Goddess Saraswathi at this stage will fetch him to the final step in the spiritual evolution.

After these 3 stages are gone through, on the 10th day--Vijaya Dashami- the evil is burnt down completely. This indicates the transcedence of the EGO, when man attains the great VIJAYA over his sense life and revels in the ecstatic experience of the TRANSCENDENTAL REALITY.



In a country like India where it is the unbroken tradition of the land to honour and respect religious sentiments of the people, it is unfortunate that the Government of India is proposing to demolish the ancient monument of Sri Rama Sethu to make way for a channel which would cut across the Rama Sethu which presently connects India with Sri Lanka. The existing Rama Sethu, thousands of years old, is an ancient monument of national and international importance. It is a symbol of our Sanathana Dharma as it epitomizes the glory of Srimad Ramyana. It is a matter of national shame that some political leaders are now questioning the very existence of Lord Sri Rama and the credibility of the Rama Sethu as man-made .These leaders pay glowing tributes to Mahatma Gandhi on his birthday and in their very next breath bid good-bye to all the principles for which the Mahatma lived and died, including his eternal struggle to establish Rama Rajya in our country.

The creation of the Rama Sethu and its detailed construction has been vividly described by Maharshi Valmiki in his Ramayana in the Yuddha Kanda in its 22nd Chapter known as ‘Sethu Bandha’.Even the day to day progress of its construction has been explained, under the guidance of Nala, the Chief Architect of the Bridge. In Shloka No. 63 of this chapter, Valmiki says:

“ Dasha Yojana Vistaram Shata Yojana Ayatam
Nalaschakre Mahasethum Madhye Nadanadipathe”

This means that the Architect Nala constructed the bridge admeasuring about 100 yojanas in length and about 10 yojanas in width in the midst of the ocean. The chapter further describes how the army of monkeys lifted huge blocks of stones and put them in proper positions as directed It also reports about the day to day progress and how the entire bridge construction was over within five days. The chapter devotes nearly 85 shlokas about the bridge.

It is interesting to note that in the Prambanan [Brahmavana] Temple in Java, Indonesia, dating to 9th Century A. D., there is a beautiful panel which shows the Vanara Sena [ army of monkies] carrying stones in their arms and on their heads to build the Rama Sethu, followed by Sri Rama carrying a sword. The Sethu Bandha has been an integral part of the culture of Java, Bali and Sumatra etc which could be witnessed even today. During the annual Dasara celebrations in these places, festive activities like dance-ballets are never complete without mentioning and depicting the Sethu Bandha.

Apart from the Ramayana, there are so many other sacred scriptures of our country like the Mahabharata, the Vishnu Purana, and The Agni Purana etc which refer to the Rama Sethu. Kalidasa in Chapter 13 of the Raghuvamsham says:

“Vaidehi! Pashya Malayad Vibhaktam

Mat Setuna Phenilamambu Rashim”

That is, when Rama was returning from Sri Lanka to Ayodhya in the Pushpaka Vimanam, he tells Seetha “Vaidehi! Look at the foaming ocean, now divided as far as the Malaya Mountain, by means of the bridge built by me”

In a recent article, Swami Dayananda Saraswathi of Rishikesh has made a reference to the gazette published in 1803 by the British government about the Rama Sethu. .According to this gazette, the bridge has been differently mentioned as Adam’s Bridge, Rama’s Bridge and Nala’s Bridge. The gazette also specifies the bridge’s location in terms of latitude and longitude with its dimensions as 30 miles in length and 1.25 miles in width. The gazette further reports that the bridge was used by people to cross the Indian Ocean between Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka until the middle of the 15th Century when there was a breach due to a storm, causing a part of the bridge to be submerged. The Swamiji concludes the article with the words “With all these facts, we can safely assume that Rama Sethu is much more than a Hindu sentimental issue. It is an issue of national and human heritage”.

The present proposal of the Government of India, the Sethusamudram Channel Project, to create alternative shorter routes for ships to cross the Gulf of Mannar is a good idea. However, among the several alternative routes, the Government should avoid, at any cost, the route that warrants demolishing the Rama Sethu. This proposal is nothing new since it has been under consideration even during the British Rule. The channel, originally the idea of a British commander by name A.D.Taylor was put forth in 1860 and the idea just remained on paper. However, it took some shape only in 1955 when the Government of India set up the Sethusamudram Project Committee under the chairmanship of Sir Arcot .Ramaswamy Mudaliar, former Dewan of Mysore, to look into the feasibility of the project. The Committee suggested a few alternative routes but clearly and unanimously stated that any route that disturbs the Rama Sethu should be abandoned because of the problems of maintaining a mid-ocean channel and the turbulence of the Indian Ocean waters. It is strange that the present Government is considering this very route rejected by the Mudaliar Committee. It is also ironical that the Government which changed the Metro Rail Project in Delhi to protect the Kutub Minar, stopped a Corridor Project to protect the Taj Mahal is planning to destroy a unique symbol of national identity.

Apart from such issues as heritage and belief, experts fear the Tsunami’s impact increasing, if the Rama Sethu is destroyed. Prof. Tad S.Murthy of Ottawa, who is the Vice-President of the International Tsunami Society and a Member on its Editorial Board for their Journal “The International Journal of the Tsunami Society” and an expert who is engaged by the Government of India to set up a Tsunami Warning System, has warned that the proposed Sethu Samudram route may result in Tsunami waves hitting the coast of Kerala more fiercely. Local fishermen of all communities apprehend the destruction of marine life and corals which may result in affecting a trade with a turnover of over Rs.150 crores annually and have demanded an alternative route. Besides, invaluable deposits of thorium, required for the nuclear programme, get depleted.

For the countless Hindus across the globe, the Rama Sethu is not just a structure but a symbol of their genuine Sanathana Dharma on whose solid foundations the country’s civilization and culture have been built. It is therefore no wonder that Annie Besant [1847-1933] has paid the following glowing tribute to the greatness of Hindu Dharma and how it is absolutely necessary to safeguard it:

“Make no mistake. Without Hinduism, India has no future. Hinduism is a soil into which India’s roots are stuck and torn out of that she will inevitably wither as a tree torn out from its place. And if the Hindus do not maintain Hinduism, who else shall save it? If India’s own children do not cling to her faith, who shall guard it? India alone can save India and India and Hinduism are one “


Created: Friday, October 12, 2007 10:08 PM


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