On this day of Diwali, Hindu festival of light, my best wishes to all.. I think if we keep focusing on the beauty and creativity within, and not the monsters, we might just find that the monsters are just protective shells of yet more vulnerable and wonderous creatures within…waiting to be loved.. and lost inside their own shells, unable to break out!
Soora Por (meaning `Demon war) is a annual Hindu festival.. that takes place in late Autumn, after Diwali (festival of Light). It is the culmination of a highly sacred week of prayers and rituals called the `Kanthashasthy fasting’ dedicated to the warrior god Murugan (also known as Karthikeyan, Velavan and many other names).
Murugan is the son of Shiva & Parvathi, and brother of the elephant headed god Ganesh. Murugan was born by the act of god Shiva opening his third eye and 6 divine sparks shooting out, and settling on 6 lotus flowers in a lake. Each spark then became a small baby and were nursed by sacred nymphs of the lake. When Shiva’s wife the Goddess Parvathy went to visit them, she embraced them all, and all 6 children amalgamated and became one child – Murugan!
Sooran Porr is the day when Murugan defeated a major demon (`Sooran’) in a battle (`Porr’). Hence the name `Sooran Porr’ – meaning `Demon War’. During this war, the demon is said to have attacked the god Murugan several times, and each time was defeated by being beaded. And following each beheading, the demon sprouted another head and came to attack the god Murugan again. Finally the god not only struck his head off with his sacred spear (called `Vel’) but split his chest, where upon the demon shape-shifted into a mango tree. This too tried to attack the god, and Murugan split the tree truck open with his sacred spear once more. And from the split tree, a Cockerel and a Peacock flew out (aspects of the demon), to attack the god as a last resort. Murguan immediately tamed the Peacock and turned it into his carrier, and transformed the Cockerel into a Victory-flag.
This is why in all graphical representations, Hindus depict this Warrior God Murugan as being seated on a Peacock, and holding a flag with a picture of a Cockerel on it.
The battle itself is re-enacted every year in Hindu Temple grounds all over the world, using idols and large statues (Giants) of the god Murugan and the demon. Devotees fast for the 5 preceding days, and on the last day, attend the temple, and carry these idols and giant statues as part of the festivities and processions. The enactment can take anything from half an hour to a few hours, as each stage of the battle is carefully attended to. It is usual for the head Priest to stand by the idol or statue of the god Murugan and `use the sacred spear’ to attack the `Demon’. Usually it takes about 10-12 devotees (highly strong men) to carry he large statue of the Demon, and to put it through various rigorous battle movements – of attacks, withdrawals, threats, swings and turns.
The exact date of this `Sooran Por’ varies according to the Nakshathra positions (Hindu astrology has 27 Nakshathra positions through which the Moon passes through each month, in addition to the 12 zodiacs and 12 house positions), but it usually falls towards the middle of the month of November, which has the name `Karthikai’ and hence the god himself has another name deriving from the month,`Karthikeyan’.
[This article was originally written for `Gaian Times Magazine #6 November 2012].
ps. As this blog has now had over 35,000 views, and this happens to my 275th blog post..I thought a bit of celebration was in order. Being spiritual, I thought writing about this `Hindu festival of Victory’ was an appropriate blog 🙂
Shiva is a god with a 3rd eye on his forehead – which he keeps closed, as the opening of it can bring forth divine flames which no one can bear! Shiva’s son Murugan (Karthigeyan) is said to have been born of the flames that came from Shiva’s 3rd eye!)
Shiva wears a serpent around his neck, a Crescent moon on his hair, and the river Ganga flows from her heavenly origins down to Shiva’s head, and after being slowed down, flows down to Earthly realms. Shiva is often seen to be meditating – on mountain realms, or in Crematoriums and graveyards. He has a tribal look, and only wears a Tiger-skin cloth (or deer skin). He holds in his hands a Trident (powerful weapon that targets any evil), and in his other hand carries a Drum..which he drums to reach a trance state in his dance!
Shiva taking on Karma
The day before (9th Match) is Pradosham, when Shiva is said to have taken in the poison of a great serpent and swallowed it so that it would not harm the worlds! (This symbolises the bad Karma).
People often pray to Shiva to ask divine help in breaking the karmic cycle or birth, death and soul’s reincarnation.. It is said that the worship and devotion to Hindu God Shiva enables a person to convert the negative karma from One’s life into positive energy – as Shiva is the remover of sin and and Lord or mercy. Mere words or worship are not always enough, as it has been known through mythological and religious stories – that Shiva has come in many disguises and incarnations and tested his worshipers …at times to extreme breaking points.. and revealed himself at the 11th hour (so to speak), before a crisis occurs, and rewarding his worshipers.
Tales of Shiva’s appearances to his devotees
In one story, Shiva came in the guise of a man being a guest at a family man who’s good deed and genuine honour was well known. In his guise, Shiva asked the man to `kill his only son, cook him and serve it as a meal.. The Host (worshiper) though extremely distraught was willing to do so.. as it is a rule in Hindu Vedas (sacred writings) that providing food for guests is a great thing in itself. Shiva, once satisfied, not only brought back the life of the child, but blessed his worshiper and family. This is an extreme story.
Another one tells of a King building a great Temple for Shiva and setting a date for the Temple Consecration, for which he had prayed Lord Shiva to appear. Shiva refused because he had already agreed to attend another even greater temple in another part of the country. The King was so puzzled but chose to attend the other Temple Consecration, and went to the said part in search of a person. It turned out that the said man was – though firm devotee of Shiva- very poor and had been building `an astral temple’ in his mind in regular meditations…and it was that Temple consecration which Shiva had chosen to attend.
A third story involves a Spider who was a devotee of Lord Shiva. In a forest, there existed a statue (Shivalingham) of Shiva. The dried leaves of nearby trees and other dirt often fell on the statue. So the Spider persisted daily and kept weaving webs above the statue, to create cover so that leaves and dirt will not fall on the statue. It is said that Lord Shiva appeared one day and blessed the Spider and gave it Moksha (ascension to divine realm at Shiva’s place).
The Hindu teachings highlight 64 of such specific stories of Shiva’s devotees – (not all human).
Dance of Destruction
Maha Shivratri falls on the 14th day of the dark half of ‘Margasirsa’ (February-March). The ceremonies take place at night. Some teachings say this festival is observed in honour of Lord Shiva’s marriage to Parvathi (Goddess Shakthi in one of her incarnations). On this festival people worship ‘Shiva – the Destroyer’. This night marks the night when Lord Shiva danced the ‘Tandav’- a cosmic dance of destruction. In the hindu stories, Parvati was said to have died, and pining for her and out of extreme sadness and anger, Lord Shiva began the dance of Destruction that shook the Cosmos and all of creation. (Parvati was then incarnated on earth as a King’s daughter, and Shiva eventually married her and brought her back to Kailasa – his dwelling on Mount Himalaya). [ Gods and Goddesses often leave their divine realms and incarnate on Earth in human form, and eventually return ].
Story of the Great Flame (Shiva’s night)
The Story of Maha Shivarathri that I am familiar with from my childhood involves the divine Male Triplicity – Lord Brahma (creator), Lord Vishnu (Protetor) and Lord Shiva (Destroyer and Re-creator). The story states that an argument arose between Brahma & Vishnu ..as to which of the two is the greatest God. They could not settle the matter, so they approached Lord Shiva. Shiva smiled mischievously, and offered a competition. Shiva took up form as a large flame, and he suggested that whomever finds the end of the flame first shall be named the greatest God (Brahma or Vishnu). Brahma took up form as a Swan and flew upwards, higher and higher, in search of the top of the flame. Vishnu took up form as a Wild Boar, and dug deeper and deeper into the ground, in search of the bottom of the flame. After a lot of effort, both Brahma (Swan) and Vishnu (Boar) gave up.. and it was then that realisation struck them both.
Both came to stand defeated, humble in front of the great Flame that is Lord Shiva, and praised him, as the greatest of all, as his was a form without beginning or ending. Shiva returned to hims normal form.
Shiva Rathree is said to be the night ..when this great search had taken place!
What happens on Shiva Rathri
Hindus observe a strict fast on this day and keep vigil all night. The Shiva Lingam ( phalic symbol representing Shiva’s union with Sakthi) is worshipped throughout the night by Abishekam (ritual washing with milk, curd, honey, rose water, fruit mix, and so on). Devotees continue to chant the sacred mantra “Om Namah Shivaya” . Hymns in praise of Lord Shiva are sung with great devotion.
It is said that those who utters the names of Shiva during Shivratri, with perfect devotion and concentration, is freed from all sins, and will reach Kailasha – the abode of Shiva. Such devotees are liberated from the wheel of births and deaths.
What you can do on Shivarathri
Anyone interested in the spiritual work on this special night can worship Shiva in their own ways. Lord Shiva sees, hears and knows all.
Light a Lamp or Candle on Shivarathri ..and keep a vigil all night.
Fast for a day and night – if possible. Or consume only milk and fruits. Or just milk-rice.
Do not eat any meat (if you must eat). Do not consume any drugs or alcohol.
Keep your mind pure of distractions – as hard a sthis may be (doing so for a whole night can be hard!)
If possible, create an altar in a clean and sacred place. Light incense. Decorate with flowers. Have a glass of water or milk on the altar, as well as a Shivalingham or Shiva statue (or picture).
Cleanse the altar by ringing a bell over it a few times. You may also show Arthi (camphor blocks that are lit and burnt and wafted over altar or any statues).
If known, sing chants or hindu hyms.
Silent meditation and prayers are equally fine.
Chant `Om Shivaya Namaha’ – several times out loud, or softly in a meditative state.
Visualise Lord Shiva as a cosmic force – the light of every star and galaxies (Old stars explode and die that their plasma and dust may coalesce and form new Stars and planets).
Bright Stellar Blessings
ps. my late father’s name – Navasothy -is that of Lord Shiva ..and means `Nine Flames’ 🙂
Gaian Times eco-spiritual Magazine #6 came out back in November 2012, and had 3 special `covers’ (well, being an e-magzine, we can have as many covers as possible). Each cover gave attention to a special feature or a cause.
The Formal Cover had Rose Dixon in her `Urban London Witchy’ look, holding the Earth in her hand. The original photo was taken by the banks of river Thames in London, after a `Thames: River of Souls’ Samhain (Halloween) ritual, where about 30+ interested pagans attended.
Pamela Harvey, Rose Dixon, Vathani Navasothy, April Jonquil, Beth Murray, Debbie Galllagher, and Mani Navasothy (Editor/ Director) contributed features to Issue#6 of Gaian Times.
The Magazine featured the following special articles:
Witches in London
Disappointing Death at 16 (personal account)
Stag Watch: A bit of a Crush
Love the Badger Dance
GBH: Goddess Bodily Harm (discussing eating habbits of Pagans)
Books and failed Ideas (on creative writing)
Poppy Thoughts of an Army Gal’s daughter
NEWS on Australia creating largest Marine reserve
Poem: Island Earth
Soorna Por: Demon War (Hindu festival)
Gaian Times Social Initiative: Esoteric Enterprises
African Elephant Massacre
Magic & Meditation to protect the Taiji Dolphins from annual massacre
Major Pagan Festivals in 2013
Cover 2 highlights the `Remembrance Day’ article (Remembrance Day in Uk takes place on the 11th day of 11th month every year!)
April Jonquil wrote a special feature article for this titled `Poppy Thoughts from an Army Gal’s daughter’, reminiscing about her late mother Jean who had been in UK’s Land Army during the war.
Cover 3 featured the `Badger Dance’ – a protest event that took place right outside the Houses of Parliament in London, where Eco-activists held a good-natured `Badger Dance’ to protest against the Government move to cull mass amounts of Badgers in UK country side because of TB disease found in some Badger population. Rose Dixon wrote a special feature article on Badger Dance.
By the way Rose Dixon (one of the Key contributors to GT) has a magical / eco blog at http://RoseDixon.net
The next issue of GT is due to be published in March 2013, (subsequent issues will be in June, September & December (tbc). But before march’13, Gaian Times Special Volume#1 will be coming out later in Feb’13 (in a few weeks).
Navarathri (meaning `nine nights’ ) is an annual Hindu Festival that takes place in late Autumn. I wrote the following feature article in Issue#2 of Gaian Times eco-magazine last year (Sept’11). Here’s the full article again.. reproduced to mark this special Hindu festival.. -Mani
Navarathri celebrates and worships three of the many aspects of the Hindu goddess `Shakthi’, which means quite simply `Power’. She is the power and energy that permeates and moves the planets, stars, moon and all the worlds within and without. Navarathri means, `nine’ (nava) `nights’ (rathri) in Tamil language of the Indian continent. The dates are determined according to the lunar calendar. It begins on the new ( Libran) moon, often at the end of September and continues for nine nights and ten days. It is a period of purification and introspection, as well as spiritual depth. Devotees seek the divine gifts of protection, health, wealth and wisdom from the Goddesses. Navarathri is traditionally an auspicious time for starting new ventures for many Hindus.
Kolu – the stepped altar
This an altar construction of 3 or more steps, either specially created with wood, or in most households formed by placing varying sizes of boxes. A cloth is covered over them, and the whole steps then highly decorated with ritual and artistic implements – such as statues of deities, lights, small lamps, small plants and other items of special religious significance. It is a display of divinity and beauty. This `Kolu’ is kept in the altar room for the duration of the `Navarthri’ and special prayers (poojas) are conducted infront of it every night for the worship of the triple deities Durga, Lakshmin & Saraswathi. Names have power and important, especially when they are used to invoke energies and qualities, and as such the deity names of these should be properly pronounce as `Do-r-ga’, `Luck-sh-me’ and `Sa-ras-wha-thee’.
This is where the goddess Durga is worshipped. She is power and the spiritual force or energy that animates all of life. In a more darker aspect, she is also known as Kali, a naked Goddess of sheer ferocity who destroys our impurities. In the western world, people seem to treat Kali as a force they can just call upon, refer to and such. However a devote Hindu would take extreme preparations prior to working with Kali-energy, keeping body & mind pure, fasting or only eating vegetabls and fruits, meditating, vanquishing all personal thoughts of ill- before een beginning any sort of Kali `pooja’ (prayer). Kali is often shown with 10 or more heads, having 20 or more arms, each carrying tools and weapons, wearing a garland of severed demon-heads, with blood dripping from her mouth, and riding a Lion. In these aspects, she is seen to have similarities with the Egyptian lion-headed war Goddess Sakhmet, who was also supposed to have drunk the blood of many she had slain.
The divine force Shakthi is seen as giver of wealth and love, in her Goddess form Lakshmi. She is the consort of the protector God Vishnu, and is often seen seated on a red lotus flower, flanked by elephants in the same pond, showering her with gold. Gold coins are also seen emanating from Lakshmi’s hands. Symbolically, it is best to have an imagery where the coins coming from her hands fall and collect in a plate at her feet. Thus wealth is said to be held, rather than just disappear. Lakshmi originated from the froth of the divine sea that was churned by Demons (Ashuras) and Devas (souls who inhabit Heaven) when they used a mountain and a giant serpent as churner, in search of the elixiar of life. Many weapons were said to have spring from the sea which various deities procured, and Vishnu (protector God) married Lakshmi. In this respect, Lakshmi has close similatrities with the western deity Venus / Aphrodite.
The final 3 nights of worship and adoration belong to Saraswathi, goddess of wisdom, arts and education. She is seen dressed in white, seated upon a white lotus, with a peacock or Swan as her vehicle, and holding a musical instrument `Veena’ (similar to the Indian `Sitar’). She is the wife and consort of the creator God Brahma. Ninth night is dedicated to `Saraswathi pooja’ (prayer for Saraswathi).
Hinduism has many hundreds of deities, and so many of them are aspects or incarnations of one another. But Durga, Lakshi & Saraswathi are worshiped as a divine trinity of feminine energies, when devotees seek the blessings of power, protection, wealth and wisdom. Navarathri is dedicated to the worship of these deities.
10th Day: Vijayathasami & Weapons Pooja.
The 10th day is the day of victory, and culmination of all the prayers and festivities. Such deeply significant religious festivities have variations of purpose and underlying mythology, as India is a vast land with many religious sects (even within Hinduism – which is a collective name, and not a specific one).
Myth of Ramayana: As such, some celebrate the return of mythical Hero Rama (crown Prince) who was exiled with his wife Sita into the forest for 14 years, by some trickery of his step-mother. In his time in the forest, Rama’s wife Sita is abducted by a demon (Ravanan) and taken to an island and kept in prison. Rama gathers an army of forest beings – monkeys, apes, wild boars and even squirrels, constricts a mighty bridge to travel to the island of Lanka (now known as Sri Lanka) to wage war, defeat the demon and rescue his wife from her prison. By this time the 14 years have passed (supposed terms of the exile) and Rama returns to his father’s Kingdon, and takes up his rightful place on the throne. `Vijayathasami’ (great tenth day) symbolises this day of Victory and return to power.
Either on the ninth night or 10th day (morning) a special prayer / pooja called `Ayutha Pooja’ (Prayer for weapons) is conducted. This is when tools of the trade for all those of a household – pens, books, pencils, cheque books, house keys, financial ledgers, as well as the mote traditional items of agricultural equipments, machinery are symbolically decorated, placed on the foot of the stepped altar and worshipped. The idea is to seek the blessings of the Goddess Shakthi upon those tools of trade and life. Then those are taken and used. Many teachers/Schools in India / Sri Lanka (southern Indian nations) start teaching Kindergarten children on that day- first by taking them to the temple, and having the priest guide their fingers in writing the alphabets on a plate of rice grains!
This is a Tamil / sanskri name meaning Prayer. Hindu formal poojas in temples and homes take on highly ritualistic procedures. The statues / idols or pictures of Hindu deities –kept on the Altar (some simple tables, others highly elaborate) are decorated with fabric, fresh flowers and garlands, and flanked by oil lamps and incense sticks. During Pooja, a small bell is continuously rung to dispel any and all negative/ evil energies from the space. The conducting Priest or person(s) recite powerful chants and power words in the Sanskrit language. Observers stand in prayer positions, with palms touching to the chest (heart) and occasionally at key moments of Pooja, raise hands to their foreheads or over their heads in reverence and adoration, saying `Arohara’. In extensive festive poojas at temples, the statues of deities in the various central and sub-altars are given a ritual wash (called `Maha-abishekam’) with water, honey, milk and fruit juices. The idols are then dried, dressed in fine fabric, jewellery of gold, gems and garlands. Then the main pooja commences. The used milk, honey and fruits are then carefully collected with reverence, and shared amongst devotees as a token elixir/ blessings of the gods!
Temple Altar arrangements:
Hinduism is an ancient form of pagan religion found in the eastern world, originating from the Indus valley, and dated to over 12,000 years ago. It pre-dates pagan religions and civilisations of ancient Incas & Mayas, Egyptians and other such.
The Hindu Temple designs vary enormously, but have an underlying esoteric principle with which they are based on. Most large temples have 3 layers or boundaries. The outer walls & gates, middle temple space & sub-altar rooms, and a main altar room that is granite or painted black, where the dedicated deity statue of that temple resides. The layers represent the pathways to the Womb! And Hindu temple designs manage and lead the attention of the devotees from the outer world into the womb of the Great Divine. Only the Priest may enter the inner sanctum of the temple and conduct temple poojas. But during poojas, a screen covering it is removed so that devotees may witness and worship the deity in the altar.
Animals & Hindu processions:
Most temples with grounds will have a sacred animal living freely and taken care of by the temple priests or devotes. These can be Cows, Goats to Swans, Peacocks or as large as an Elephant! Many Hindu deities have an associated animal, some poets, or defeated forms of demons, and so their particular animal is seen as a sacred link to that deity, honoured, fed and even worshiped. At special festivals, these animals are decorated with luxurious cloths, and taken on a parade around temple grounds or indeed the village or town roads where the temple is located. Often these animals `carry’ a small altar and an idol of that deity on their back during festive processions.