After writing my blog this morning on the birthday & mythology of the Hindu (elephant headed) God Ganesh, I went to attend a training course – on interview techniques. Nothing I don’t know already (must write about that!) but this is one I had to attend. It was in Wimbledon. So afterwards I tried going to the Ganesh temple. It was packed, and no parking space anywhere!
So I was driving back with disappointment, and memories of my own personal experiences came back to me – which I thought I’d share here, as part of the festive celebrations (in my own way). After all, a temple is where you make it, and Hindu Priests have been known in ancient times to build `inner temples’ meditatively – efforts that had taken them years. It is known that Hindu gods had favoured such inner temples. (another blog to write!)
Back to Elephants – one of the sacred animals in Hinduism – an eastern pagan religion.
The Ride on Elephant
My earliest memory of Elephants, like for most people, was at a Zoo, and it was back in Sri Lanka. I do recall one occasion where my parents paid for me to go for a ride on a Zoo Elephant. They are big creatures, and once you mount them, on one of those people-carrier basket things that can hold about 5-6 people at a time, it’s incredible – especially when the Elephant starts walking – away from any tall stands. It gentle wobbles of course and walks slowly. I don’t remember much more, but that is a precious experience to have had. These days people who visit 3rd world countries and nature reserves (africa?) can quite easily have one of these elephant rides. If you get a chance, do have a go. I mean, how often can one say he or she had a ride on the largest mammal on the planet? !
The Temple Elephant
My second Elephant experience was at a Temple – and it was with a Temple Elephant, back in Sri Lanka. It was a sacred special temple, one that my grandmother & family had to hire a coach and drive a day to get to – as part of a pilgrimage. I remember then getting to the booked accommodation (large room, where all of us slept ..with just sheets on the floor). The part that still stays in my mind is the bathing in the nearby river in the evening. It was expected, and there were no other facilities anyway. And straight afterwards, while still wet, we had to make our way up the mountain paths to the temple – for worship.
It was the temple in Kathirkama, where Priests do not speak. They have their mouths covered by a piece of cloth! There is a similar temple in Wales, UK that I have been to, where they do this.
Well, after the Pooja, I was guided to the area where the temple elephant resided. As was tradition, I was `blessed by the Elephant’ (on the nudge of the Keeper, the Elephant places its trunk in a blessing manner on my head!) I was a very young boy and what came next was even more previous now to remember. My relatives told me to circle around the Elephant and pray, and also walk under it. So I did – went in from one side, walked under the Elephant, came out the other side from it’s body!
I don’t think it ever occurred to me that if the beast had decided to move in haste or upset, or anything of the sort, I would have been splatted in a second! At the time, I was focused on it as a spiritual experience- and still do.
There are many auspicious days pooja (prayers), fasting & festivals in the Hindu (religious) calendar. Today is one of them.
It is called `Vinayahar Sathurthi’ where Vonayagar is one of the names for the Elephant-headed Hindu God, also known as Ganesh and Pillayar. Sathurthi’s are special days that happen every month, but the one on this month is the most sacred of all, and belongs to God Ganesh.
Myth of the Elephant-headed God Ganesh.
Ganesh, son of Parvathi (Shakthi) and Shiva (in a manner of speaking) was not born with the elephant head! That came later. He was originally born as a human. Born is the wrong word, as he was `made’ or created by his mother – the great Goddess Shakthi (which means `power’ amongst other things).
The mythology goes that Shakthi was fed up of being intruded by her husband the God Shiva, whenever Shakthi was taking her bath (and he would just walk in). So she set a guard outside. But when the Lord Shiva came through, the guard was hesitant and did not stop him. How could he stop Shiva, who was not only the husband of Parvathi, but also the god of all gods?
Realising that she needs a guard who will not falter, Parvathi set about creating a statue of a boy, using her own skin fragments as clay! She brought this to life (she is Goddess!) and asked him to guard her privacy, and let none through. And so that is what the boy did – when Shiva tried to enter the Chambers.
Initially Shiva’s attempts to talk his way through failed, so he escalated his efforts with force. But the boy was powerful enough to stand against that. Eventually Shiva had to call in all the other gods.. Brahma (the Creator god), Vishnu (the protector God) and more. All joined forces and the conflict became a big battle of magic. The boy defeated all their efforts, and still stood firm. In the end, using diverting tactics, the gods cut the boy’s head off! And rejoiced!
When Parvathi heard this, she was intensely angered. Out of her anger came two fierce war goddesses – Durga and Kali, and they began to destroy not only the gods, but the worlds!
The other gods pleaded with Parvathi for mercy. And she request that her Son be brought back to life! (and Shiva realised who the boy must have been..!) But as the head was missing, Shiva told the others to go in a direction, and bring back the head of the first animal they see. So the other gods travel, and find an elephant, ad brought its head – which Lord Shiva fixed to the headless boy, and brought him back to life. (It often bothers me that the Gods would go kill an innocent animal, but wold mythologies are full of all sorts of such violent acts by the gods!)
Shiva then takes the resurrected boy to his wife Parvathi, and she was semi-pleased. Shiva then proclaimed to all the worlds – that the first prayer in any ceremony or ritual should always go towards the boy, named Ganesh,
This is seen in any hindu ritual to date. People spend the first few minutes or seconds praying to God Ganesh. Sometimes they have images, in other cases, they use `Saani’ (the dung of a sacred cow!) or Tumeric powder-paste to make a small cone, and stick a sacred grass in it. This is treated as a divine symbol of Ganesh, and first prayers and respects are given, before proceeding with the main purpose of any pooja or festivities.
related link. Elephantom Origins – new story by Mani Navasothy
If there is a Father who is in Heaven, it’s most likely `our father’ (mine & my 2 sisters’ that is!), and not some bearded deity!
That said Hindus (people who follow Hinduism) do deify their dead ancestors and relatives. Well, not just Hindus, so do a number of other religious people – like the Chinese, Japanese, Africans and so on. So I am quite okay to make such a statement.
Today is the 71st birthday of my father – Mr Kanapathippillai Navasothy – had he still been alive. He had a road accident – way back in 1990 (4t
h January 1990) and passed away in hospital following head injuries, and being in a coma for a few hours. The accident took place, in the streets of `Elephant & Castle’ in SW London, when he was returning from his civil service work (as one the then-Poll-Tax officers!!).
He wasn’t always that of course. Educated to degrees – well, a B.A and then an M.A in Sri Lanka, he was working on his Ph.D thesis while in London when he died, so his work was never finished. We have stacks of all that research in cupboards – and at one point, both my sister Vathani & me vowed to finish his work – but life took us in different directions. It’s not our cause!. We have our own paths and works.. my sister in the direction of Psychology & Counselling (B.SC & M.Sc), and me in Physics (B.Sc) and esoteric and paganism. (We do have another sister, who went in the direction of Education, working with kids in schools, sign language etc until she got married and has now a baby boy – who incidentally is the same star-sign as my father. Magicians with soul-considerations will make what you will of this. Well, that;’s not all. All 3 of us – me and my 2 sisters have spouses who are all Aries- the same start sign as my father! Psychologists will have a field day on this, am sure!)
Back to my father – Navasothy – for that was his first name – meaning `Nine-lights’. In Tamil culture, the first name of one’s father / husband becomes one’s Surname. So his name `Navasothy’ became my surname and now that we are in a western country, that has become our family surname for ever! So in some ways, my father’s name lives on!
He was a Tamil Scholar, reading and writing so much on folklore and cultural matters. He’s written and published many books – and here I am proud to say, his children’s novel `Odiponavan’ (tamil for `(boy) who ran away’) became the first Children’s fiction book to be read in Tamil classes in schools – back in Sri Lanka. His next book was on folklore & poetry. He had attended many international Tamil conferences (last one was in Mauritius); his articles appeared almost every week on newspapers, and his voice was heard on tamil radio stations. We grew up with all that as `normal’ occurrences (he took me to a children’s radio `story telling’ programme recording, and I got to say a few words once !) I recall his first TV session ( a 15 min talk). And here in London, he started up one of the first Tamil Sunday Schools in Tooting Broadway, as well as a Monthly magazine.
He was hardly home, but when he was, he’d be writing, or gardening! Those times with him (having tropical fish!), stalking lizards that ate our vegetables, or going for a walk in the forest (and trying to get me a `pet monkey’ ) are ones I still cherish – as well as the fact that he believed in my creative talents. He took my comic books to try and publish them (alas I now know they were not good or original).
I’ve been following in his footsteps for decades now- writing, art works, community events organising, public speaking, teaching.. even interests in books (he worked as a Government Archivist back in Ceylone), and archaeology (first few months in UK, he did some volunteer work in the roman town of St.Albans). Many of my writing projects have started to culminate, so I think that’s my best homage to him.
I must mention, it was his sudden death (I was just starting my Physics in University when that happened) that set me initially on an atheist path and then spun me around topsy-turvy – and finally into Paganism & spirituality.
It is time, 22 years after his death, that a memorial is built for him – for the world has almost forgotten him. But in true modern fashion, a website and online is where I’m building his memorial.
In Tamil, I call my father `Appa’ .. So here’s to you – `Happy Birthday Appa’.
Happy Thai Pongal.
That’s what Tamils and other Indians who celebrate this festival say to one another at this time.
It’s the same as wishing someone `Happy New Year’ – because for farmers in Indian countries, this is actually a new year. Well, not just for farmers – it is the beginning of the new calendar for Tamils and marks the first day of the new year. Thai is the name of the first month.
The rituals for Thai Pongal involve people clearing their homes of clutter and old unwanted items (sometimes burning them), sweeping of the whole house and washing the floors (if cement or concrete), then purifying the home with ringing of bells, incense and so on. On the day of Pongal, all household members will rise early, look to the rising Sun and make a prayer, then take a bath / shower (anointing themselves with special water blessed by priest from a nearby temple). All then wear new cloths. The matriarch or lady of the household will cook the special milk-rice in the heart fire, and bring it on a plate to the family altar. Here everyone gathers to offer prayer, songs and worship. Then the rice and other sweet food items are shared, and offered through out the day to any arriving guests. Chewing sugar-cane or sugar-candy is also tradition, as well as giving gifts to all – new cloths, religious statues or artefacts, furniture etc. Greeting cards are exchanged between family members, friends, relatives and work colleagues.
Here’s wishing you a fruitful year ahead. May all the seeds you plant be nurtured by the earth and rain, and energised by the Sun..
On the eve of New Year.. and there is one thing I have been meaning to write about – before I can move on into the future!
It began with a dream on the morning of 25th December – in which April and I visited a hospital, where I met her mother – who was dying! To cut a long dream short, in the dream, many things got resolved between all 3 of us. And then I saw the elderly lady (Jean) free of all the needles and tubes, glow and float, and fall! Bearing in mind, I once came very close to meeting her (who would be my mother-on-law) in a hospital few years ago – but never actually met her, and since then had only seen 1 photo of her – I think this was a remarkable dream. It had elements of magic – of aiding a suffering person to pass through the veil. Half a day later, when my back-pain issues started, I pushed this dream aside. But it was worth mentioning.
It wasn’t just in that dream that I had `performed’ a passing-through magical work. Few years ago, my sister and I did a very similar – albeit slightly Hindu version – ceremony for my uncle Sathyamoorthy who was suffering from cancer, and in a nursing home in Kent. That night he passed away. And going back about 7-8 years, the first time I did that sort of a ceremony was for Maureen Brown on Christmas Day (Wiccan High Priestess and Psychologist, who had taught me so much of magic and psychology). That evening, she passed away. Previously she and I had discussed portals and the voids.. and it suddenly came to the forefront of my mind that afternoon. A fellow coven member and HPS was part of the ceremony.
Some 20+ years ago, a few days after New Year, my father Navasothy (that was his first name, which in Tamil custom, become my Surname!) met with a road accident while crossing the road and died. It was a singular event that set me off – initially into a faithless spin- and brought me into the world of Paganism & Magical spirituality. And reaching further back, to when I was 5 years, I saw my paternal grandfather die, at home, in his bed, surrounded by family. I was in my father’s arms that moment, and I remember crying because I had seen my father cry!
To this day, even such things as very old bones I find on the banks of river Thames (in London) tend to have a strong psychic effect on me – anything from tingles in the head, a burning sensation of the face, heaviness of the chest area, or head-ache that takes half day to fade. All I have to do is touch an old bone! (This is a huge subject matter that I will write about another time).
My one regret is – I could not go and attend to a person who was pagan-hindu and dying – just about the time I was getting ready for my Handfasting / pagan wedding ceremony 2 years ago. Weddings are so hectic to organise, and I just could not bring my self to give up half a day that week. I am sorry that I did not. The guilt plagues me still- that I may have been able to help that Soul pass over easily and that I didn’t.
As I stand on the eve of the next year – 2012 – I shall remember the loved ones I have aided, other nameless dead-Souls , both human and animals, I have touched. I don’t only need to remember them on Samhain (pagan festival of honoring the ancestors), or on the day of their deaths, or on some special religious day (such as tomorrow when it is the day to do a special `moksha-pooja’ for my deceased father). I can remember them whenever I wish.
I once wrote a story titled, `Yesterdays’ Fathers..’. Time I dusted it, scanned it, and published it.
Exactly 2 years 1 month and 2 day ago.. I woke up on my 40th birthday, with the running of a small mouse over my naked back! There had been the odd sounds..but until that very moment, I had had no actual proof that a rodent had infested my room.. and I sleep on the floor on a futon-mattress (due to my bad back). For the next few weeks it was a disturbed time.. sleeping downstairs in the sitting room, on the sofa etc. Eventually the mouse went away (probably due to the ..ahem poison we carefully placed in corners of my bedroom).
Until the day before Christmas eve.. 5 days ago, that is!
Yeap, while I was doing this very blog (one about neighbours?) I heard scratching sounds by the wall..near the room’s fireplace (where my pagan altar is). I was disturbed several times that night…and around 5am while I watched in full room light, a mouse peeped out from just behind a potted plant next to the altar! Needless to say, irritably, I packed my beddings and went to sleep on the single bed in the spare room. Next day I went to stay with my partner for Christmas of course…(followed by the events of bad back injury etc). Today I returned, and while checking …the same mouse ran out from under one cupboard ..across the floor (2 meters) and under my altar!
There were 3 sets of plastic containers on various parts of the room floor.. with mouse-poison (you know the stuff.. greenish coloured grains).. which had been placed there few days ago by my mother and sister.. But obviously, it hadn’t worked! The mouse was still there, having left evidence of chewing bits of news paper and carpet in corners!
Am in the small room tonight.. nursing a bad back that’s been through the hands of an osteopath and quite raw.. but I’ve taken care to mix grated cheddar cheese with each of the poisoned grain-packs in my room floor. Hopefully it will entice the rodent forward. It’s some sort of anti-coagulant. (Interestingly, on the box it came from..there are clear instructions on what sort of treatment medical doctors should give a human.. if a human accidentally ingests the poison!)
The thing is.. I have had discussions with people…. They ask of me- how could a nature loving pagan like me think of killing a mouse?! Such an argument can only come from a person who never had a mouse run over their back in the early hours of the morning! My childhood was in an ordinary urban household near crowded capital in Sri Lanka- where I’ve seen dangerous snakes fall from the roof into the house (once into my sister’s cot), or very large rats run about the house (and some get entombed into the walls by my grandmother who seals their burrows!). Some keep mice as pets, yes. But I don’t have to- and I don’t have to let them run about my back either.
Even in Hindu mythology, the mouse / rat is a demon in disguise who attacked the elephant headed god Ganesh..who promptly tamed the demon and made it his personal `vehicle’! (That’s why you always see Lord Ganesh seated on a large mouse!)
2 years ago I had the problem, and it has returned- demon strikes back?! But then I have poisoned grains just under the altar. Now that one is weird even for me.. an actual tool of death, right under my sacred place. But that’s the fireplace…through which the mouse is coming out. In some ways, I see it as my sacred space being invaded by a demon… or rather, the mouse is a symbol of an alien unwanted energy trying to permeate my inner sanctum. So I will fight it.. in the way best can.. and I’ll tell you when I have won!