Back to the self

I was not feeling well. The rigorous coughing started once I lied down. My hands and legs were getting weak as if there is no blood flow to these parts. It started hurting me. Must be the medicines I was taking for my severe cold and cough. I sat up from my bed often to cough to my hearts content and lied down again to sleep. Soon it was morning and I woke up to help the kids get ready for school. I decided to take a nap after having breakfast and morning dose of medicines.

By 10:30, I was back in the bed. Body was tired and wants to rest. The sun was shining through the windows and sneaking in through the curtains. The roads have gotten busy and the noise of vehicles passing became painful for the ears. The phone was notifying me of the messages and Facebook updates coming in. I decided to ignore it until this afternoon. Construction in nearby plots – seemed they are keen to finish the whole building by today. By this time our local hero also has arrived – fish vendor Sukumaran. He comes in a mini bike, armed with a horn that can be heard miles away. He is keener than the construction workers to sell all his fish in a record time. He can be seen blowing the horn in between serving his existing customers.

I am still in bed trying to take a nap. With closed eyes, straight posture I was listening to all these sounds. A few minutes later, the sun was not bothering me. The sounds of the vehicles seemed distant. Sukumaran and construction workers were still merciless. Few more minutes passed by. I couldn’t hear the fish horn anymore. Maybe today was his luck day and he sold all his fish to the first customer. Only the hammering, pounding and drilling sounds. Since I had my eyes closed for a while now, it felt like the construction was happening within me. I started imagining.

What if I am myself building a road that leads somewhere? I started clearing the mountainous path and making way. If its a small path, one can walk through. But vehicles cannot pass through. Maybe animals can walk through. I kept moving in that single lane and saw that there is an exotic place at the end of this road. Will need a tiny bridge at the end of the road. I hurriedly cleared the path to make a small road. Built a small bridge – didn’t work on the details – just jumped from the bridge to the exotic land. Lost myself.

The place was filled with lush greenery, beautiful flowers that smelled great. There were tall trees that gave shade and resting place. The pond had lilies and lotus in full bloom. The fish in the pond seemed to be very happy and swam around. Butterflies were flying in groups and enjoying the nectar of the flowers in the garden. Cool breeze from  the south caressed my hair and carried the wonderful aroma of blooms in the air.

Don’t know how long I was there. Was awakened by a phone call. The first thing I felt was jumping back into that road I built using the bridge. Looked back to see that the road and bridge are broken and closed again. Need to build them again if I wanted to go to that exotic place. I don’t remember now what I saw or heard in that special place – but would like to go back there again and enjoy that feeling.

The roads were busy again, construction going strong. Sun was getting hotter and shining with vengeance.

I realize I need to build permanent roads and bridges within myself to the exotic land which is also within myself so that I can stay there peacefully and come back into our worldly place only whenever needed.

 

 

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Yoga, Spirituality in South India Series – Part IV

Criss-Cross Applesauce……………………

When I was growing up, we always sat down on the floor to have our meals. We bought a dining table in the late 90’s in my home so that guests and my grandma who was unable to sit on the floor could have their meals a bit more comfortably. We would sit on the floor like you would for your meditation (Padmasanam). In the olden days, people used banana leaf for a plate. Banana leaves were available in abundance in the backyard and you could always get a fresh one. It was also believed that if you serve your guests in the leaf, you are honoring them. If you think of it, banana leaves are eco-friendly too.

Indians eat their food mostly with their hands, preferrably right hand. This allows you to touch it and enjoy the feel of the food you are eating. The taller you get, it will get tougher to eat in the sit down position because you need to bend more – to let your mouth meet the food in your hand mid-way since you are not allowed to spill the food on the floor.  In most of the houses, men will eat first and the women will have their food later on. And also, men are not allowed to serve the food by themselves. Women will wait on them and serve them as necessary. Women are not equal to men and so they are not allowed to sit down with the men and serve them. They will be standing and serving with their hip bent.  This is a rigourous exercise and the intensity will depend upon the number of men in your household.

Does this sound interesting and funny to you? You should try this at home and see how hard it is to serve people sitting down on the floor. We have hundreds of guests who turn up at weddings and other gatherings and they are all served their meal this way. To make it more interesting for the folks helping you with this exercise by sitting down, serve them soup on a banana leaf. South Indian meals consist of rice and curries that are runny and are fluids.

Now, you know that Criss-Cross Applesauce is the same as Padmasana. This posture is assumed when we do any kind of religious rituals including our Poojas and meditation. When you are meditating, you sit down criss-cross applesauce and keep your back straight. This helps your breath to travel easily and deeply. Your palms will rest on your knees and facing upwards. Keeping the palms open and facing upwards is symbolic of your readiness to recieve.

Times have changed and people do not sit down on the floor for their meals anymore. The middle class have gotten richer and everyone fancies classic furniture and style in their houses. More and more, people find it hard to sit down on the floor even for a special occasion let alone three times everyday for their meals.

Yoga, Spirituality in South India Series – Part III

Pooja, Chanting, Mantras, Prostrations……. 

Most homes would have a separate area or room in their home for placing the idols and pictures of the dieties. The prayers will also be offered in that area. In Hindu mythology, there are quite a few varieties and forms of Gods that you can pray to. There will be an oil lamp that will be decorated with red dots and flowers. The lighting of the lamp is symbolic of igniting the spiritual lamp inside you. Any Hindu home that does pooja in the morning would have the intense smell of incense sticks, flowers and sandalwood.

The person doing the pooja will chant and offer flowers to all the gods as they chant. The mantras that they will chant will be mostly in the Sanskrit language and will be in the praise of the Lord. When chanted clearly and loudly, each letter of the mantra will create a specific vibration in the environment which is bound to create positive energy. That is why the mantras are created and chanted.

Most Hindus will make a trip to the nearby temple in the morning. The men will visit the temple on their way to work or earlier in the morning. Children will visit the temple on their way to school and they will pray really hard when getting closer to the exams. The temple will have a sanctum sanctorum of the main diety of the temple where only the preists of the temple can enter. It is also symbolic of allowing only the purest forms to come into contact with your soul. One would make three rounds of the sanctum sanctorum of the temple and offer their respects by prostrating before the God. The priest will offer sandalwood paste and flowers to all the devotees. The sandalwood paste will be worn on the forehead and the flowers are promptly put in the hair by the women folk. A visit to the temple makes your soul at peace inspite of anything going on in your life at that time.

I want to talk a little bit about Prostration. You will bend your knee and sit down on your knees and bring your forehead to touch the floor to do this. This is how you would offer your respects to God or any elders in the family. In my house, this is something which will not be compromised. We have to offer our respects to our uncles and aunts when they arrive for a stay and also when they leave. It is believed that everything that happens to you in your life is for good and all the goodness in your life is because of the blessings of your ancestors and elders of the family. In the olden days, the whole big family lived under one roof. These days, it is very rare and people live isolated lives. But when the elders visit, you are supposed to offer your respects and thank them for their blessings. When they leave, you seek their continued well wishes until you meet next time. We would offer our respects to elders also on special occasions like birthdays, when you achieve something personally and professionally  and even when you wear your new clothes for the first time.

I would say the prostrations could be considered Yoga. Everyday, you would do this at least twice, in the morning and evening in front of the dieties at your house. A mother is considered to be the God you can see and hear. So, in many households, people offer their respects to their mother everyday. If you ever did the prostrations before a diety or anyone you would know that it is hard – not physically. It is just hard mentally – you would feel smaller than the other person. In essence, your Ego takes a hit. According to Sri Sri Ravishankar, EGO is Edging God Out – if you nurture your EGO, you are moving away from God. Prostrations make you surrender fully to the other person and leaves you hollow which is the essence of spirituality.

Check this out: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prostration

 Criss Cross Apple Sauce……………..in Part IV

Yoga, Spirituality in South India Series – Part II

Guests, Soul, Kolam…… 

Unlike in other parts of the world, guests often show up without advance notice in South Indian homes. So, one need to be prepared for guests anytime of the year, anytime of the day. It will be quite understandable if you think of it this way – When does God visit your house? Do you know ahead of time? We should always be prepared to let God in when He visits. Do you know what God looks like? Are you sure you will recognize him when He appears in front of you? He could come in the form of your friend or relative. That is why any guests who come to your house are treated with respect. In fact, it is expected that you enquire the wellness of your guest, get them seated comfortably, feed them if they are hungry before you ask them of the reason for their visit.

For the same reason, you would not keep the front door of your house shut. You do not want to keep God / Guest waiting at the door. They might get tired of waiting for you to open and leave. Old houses in South India were built in a linear structure – that is there will be room after room in a line. From the front of your house, you can see the backyard. For that reason, you need to keep the backdoor shut. You do not want the Godliness that has entred your house to escape through the back door before blessing you with health and wealth. This is true for your soul as well. Keep your soul pure and open for God. Be aware of the evil forces who do not dare to enter your soul through the heart.

 

Everyone in the household is expected to wake up early in the morning which is usually before the daybreak. The first thing to do in the morning would be to take a bath and cleanse your body of sins from the previous day. You are not supposed to eat or drink anything before your bath. My mother was very strict about this rule and made no exceptions even when we were feeling sick.

Water is considered to be holy and sacred in Hinduism. It could also be considered as analogous to Baptism in Christianity. Hindus travel to the River Ganges in Varanasi to take a dip in the holy waters and wash away all of their sins. Not everyone can travel to Varanasi in their lifetime. So the holy water is bottled in copper urns and brought back to those who are unable to travel. The urns are sealed and the water is sprayed on the head. The urns are also opened when someone in the household is nearing their death. The urn will be opened and the water will be offered as a drink. This is supposed to help the dying travel directly into heaven without any re-births. The ashes of the dead are also taken to the Ganges and drained into the river for salvation of the dead.

There will be a small verandah or something of that sort in front of most of the houses. This space will be dusted and washed with water everyday in the morning and evening. So, after the bath, the female folk of the house will decorate that space by drawing designs with a fine powder of rice. This is called ‘kolam’ in some of the South Indian languages – also known as ‘Rangoli’ in Hindi. Rangoli is colorful whereas kolam is just with white rice powder. There are some standard patterns that are used by people most of the time. The deisgn gets bigger on special days and occasions. Kolam is considered very auspicious. If a house verandah is not cleaned and does not sport a kolam then, that is probably due to a recent death in the household. So, that is probably not a good time for casual visits and an indication to the guests arriving without advance notice. Old folks say that you should always begin your day by doing a good deed. What is a better deed than feeding hungry?  By putting kolam, ants in the earth get their food for the day since it is rice powder! Also, the posture you need to take to complete this design on the floor could be considered Yoga.

Check this website out for more details on Kolam: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kolam

 

Pooja, Chanting, Mantras, Prostrations……….in Part III

  

Yoga, Spirituality in South India Series – Part I

Yoga and Spirituality in typical middle class Hindu homes of South India 

I was recently asked by a friend whether we (Indians) always practiced Yoga at home and whether we were taught this as young children. We discussed in great length about Yoga and Spirituality in India. I decided to make some random notes about my thoughts on this topic and spiritual practices we had in my home when I was growing up. I will be publishing tids and bits and decided to do it as a series.

My home in India was a typical South Indian Hindu home which belongs to the middle class tier of the society. Most of our neighbors, friends and relatives also fall into this category. My observations and understandings are based on the community that I have described above. There is also a huge difference in culture between the families in South India and other parts of India.

 

In South Indian Hindu homes, Spirituality and Yoga are instilled in the daily activities and they don’t stand separately from everyday lives. Most of the people do not sit down for a Yoga or meditation session. It should also be noted that most of the customs and rituals of everyday life is multi dimensional – it would have more than one meaning to it.

Someone asked Sri Sri Ravishankar, founder of the Art of Living Foundation about Yoga. He said we all do yoga everyday – we just don’t realize it – when a baby is in the womb, it curls up in mother’s tummy – that is yoga. When the baby is a few months old, it kicks up the legs in the air – that is yoga. When the baby is 6 months or so, it gets a hold of its feet and brings it to the mouth – that is yoga.

 

Guests, Soul, Kolam…….in Part II