Ennapadam Bhagavati

Bhagavathi at Ennapadam Temple at Kerala

Thursday, January 28, 2010

My wife Padma and myself offer our reverential salutations to our beloved Guru Shri T. Balan Nair. As a beacon light of Vedic knowledge, wisdom and compassion, he has guided us for the last 36 years through our joys and sorrows, through our trials and tribulations, through sunshine and storm. While offering our Pranaams to our Guruji, we also offer our prayers to Lord Shiva, Lord Vishnu, Bhagawan Vyasa and Sri Adi Shankaracharya.

Sankaram SankaracharyamKesavam Baadarayanam;Sutra-Kaarya-Kritau Vande
Bhagavantau Punah Punah

The meaning of the above age-old Sanskrit verse of Guru Vandana is as follows: ‘I adore Lord Siva, Lord Vishnu, Bhagavan Vyasa and Sri Sankaracharya. I again and again prostrate to Sri Vyasa who wrote the Vedanta Sutras, and to Sri Sankaracharya who wrote the commentaries thereon (Guru Vandanam)’.

The Guru’s mission in Vedic India appears to have been two-fold. The first and most important concern of the Guru was to awaken, elevate and transform the Sishya (seeker). The second and final purpose of the Guru was paradoxically to help the Sishya to transcend this state of complete dependence on the Guru, which dependence the Guru himself had taken such pains to foster. The final leap of realizing his true identity with God was exclusively the Sishya’s job and sacred mission.

Our Guruji Balan Nair belongs to this sacred Guru-Shishya parampara. Padma and I are very proud to have had the Divine Grace to be blessed with a Guru like T. Balan Nair.

In dedicating this blog to the cause of Sanatana Dharma through the Grace of our Guru, Padma and I cheerfully submit ourselves to the will of Durga Mata. We realise that our existance as embodied beings is purely momentary. What are a hundred years in Eternity? But if we shatter the chains of egotism, and melt into the ocean of humanity, we share its dignity. To feel that we are something is to set up a barrier between God and ourselves; to cease feeling that we are something is to become one with God. A drop in the Ocean partakes of the Greatness of its parent, although it is unconscious of it. But it is dried up as soon as it enters upon an existance independent of the ocean.

As soon as we become one with the ocean in the shape of God, there is no more rest for us, nor indeed do we need rest any longer. Our very sleep is action. For we sleep with the thought ot God in our hearts. This restlessness constitutes true rest. This never-ceasing agitation holds the key to peace ineffable. This supreme state of total surrender is difficult to describe, but not beyond the bounds of human experience. It has been attained by many dedicated souls, and may be attained by ourselves as well.

The science of astrology originated in India and has been practiced continuously for more than 8,000 years. Records of astrological knowledge are to be found in the history of all nations and among the relics of all civilizations, past and present. Besides India, rich astrological traditions have been discovered in China, Chaldea, Babylon, Egypt, Persia and Arabia. Apart from the Vedic records, perhaps the oldest records of astrological practice are to be found in China. The Chinese have been as scrupulous in preserving their records as the Hindus of Bharat.

The records that exist in India today point clearly to a highly developed knowledge of astrology as far back as about 6,500 BC and actual manuscripts are still extant which were written about 3,700 BC. Some of the originals have been destroyed or lost but actual copies of these originals were made by later astrologers. These are to be found in the libraries of Maharajas and in the libraries of certain states in India. Actual, detailed records of astrological science are continuous from about 6,500 BC. One of the earliest authors of Vedic astrology, copies of whose work are still to be found, is Pita Maha who wrote a treatise on astrology called Pita Maha Siddhanta. He lived and wrote this book about 3,000 BC.

Five hundred years later, another author-astrologer named Vashishta wrote several books on astrology, astronomy and philosophy. His most important work, and one which was used as an authority by all subsequent writers on the subject, is Vashishta Siddhanta, but he wrote many other equally erudite and authoritative texts such as the Panch Siddhanta Kosha, Soorya Siddhanta, Nityananda, etc. Yet, Parasara's Hora Sashtra and Varahamihara's Brihat Jathaka, constitute the core Vedic Astrology Texts.

Shri T. Balan Nair
Thus it will be clear that the roots of Indian Astrology can be traced back to the dawn of history. According to Indian Astrology, your true self & personality is defined by the position of the planets, at the time and place of your birth. The present and future positions of the planets are compared with those of your birth chart to predict your future. This is the basis of Indian Astrology. The traditions of Vedic Astrology in Kerala have been very strong and continuous for several centuries.About one week ago I had the privilege of interviewing Shri T. Balan Nair, S/o. Raman Nair, a practicing astrologer firmly rooted in the Vedic Astrological and Astronomical traditions of Kerala. He hails from Kuzhalmannam village near Palghat Town in Kerala. He belongs to a family of eminent Astrologers from Kerala. Several members of his family have been practicing astrology in Chettinadu in Tamilnadu from 1840. From his village Kuzhalmannam, one of Balan Nair's ascestors called Kunjan Nair first went to Valayappatti village in Chettinadu on the invitation of one N.R. Ramanathan Chettiar of Valayapatti. As he was childless for several years after marriage, he consulted Kunjan Nair on the prospects of his progeny. Kunjan Nair advised him to get married for the second time so that he could have children through both his wives! It happened exactly the way Kunjan Nair had predicted. N.R. Ramanathan Chettiar was overwhelmed by the astrological prowess of Kunjan Nair and requested him to take up his permanent residence in Valayapatti. There began the contact of Balan Nair's family with Valayapatti village in Chettinadu.

A few years later Kunjan Nair's brother Velayadum Nair also went to Valayapatti to practice Jothidam. Both of them were taken to Burma in the 1860s by Ramanathan Chettiar. It is a known sociological fact that several families belonging to Nagarathar community from Chettinadu started going to Burma for doing trade and commerce in the years after 1840 and this trend became very pronounced after 1860. Ramanathan Chettiar put Kunjan Nair and his brother Velayudham Nair in touch with all the leading Nagarathar families living in Burma at that time. This helped both the brothers to make a reasonable fortune. Velayudham Nair became famous in Chettinad from 1890 to 1930. It was Velayudham Nair who had correctly predicted the future greatness of Sir Annamalai Chettiar even in his childhood days.

Shri Kannan Nair and his wife
Later, Kannan Nair who was a nephew of Velayudham Nair and his friend Karunakaran Nair went together to Valayapatti to practice astrology in the 1920s. Kannan Nair's sister's son is Balan Nair. Right from the age of 5, Balan Nair, like all his predecessors, started learning Sanskrit, Malayalam, Sastras, Vedas,Vaidyam, Mandram and Jothidam at the Kuzhalmannam village school which was called in those days as 'Ezhutholi'. He was drafted to Valayapatti in 1943, at the age of 11 to learn astrology from Kannan Nair.
Balan Nair recalls one particular miraculous incident in his life with great spiritual fervour. At the age of 18, while learning Jothidam at the feet of Kannan Nair in Valayapatti village, some Devatha appeared in his sleep and drew something with a sharp instrument on his tongue. This thrilling experience is narrated by Balan Nair with great humility and reverence and the vertical lines can be noticed on the top of his tongue even now.

Balan Nair told me that learning astrology was a unique experience those days. One had to learn i) Jadhakam; ii) Golam; iii) Nimitham; iv) Prasnam; v) Muhurtam and vi) Kanitham. According to Balan Nair, one's full life is not enough to learn all these branches of astrology.

According to Balan Nair, it was only Varahamihira who in his timeless work called 'BRIHAT JATHAGAM' completely streamlined for all time the science of astrology. It contains 16 chapters with about 1000 slokhas. There are a few other things to be learnt which are not found in traditional books on astrology. They are called 'Vishesha vidhi' which are in the nature of exceptions not to be found in known treatises in the field of astrology and are meant to be communicated only orally by a Guru to a Sishya and in no other fashion. 'The complete knowledge and mastery of 'Vishesha Vidhi' is a matter of one's Guru's Grace and Divine Grace'. Balan Nair says with earnestness and modesty.

When I asked him about the fundamental texts which formed the basis of his astrological training, he named great astrological works like Kala Vidhanam, Muhurtha Madhaviyam, Jathaka Desam, Jathaka Parijadam and Phaladeepika, apart from the core Vedic texts like Parasara's Hora Sashtra and Varahamihara's Brihat Jathaka.

When I asked him what are the qualities of an outstanding astrologer, he listed them in the following order: Bakthi, Humility, Discipline, Intelligence, Equanimity of mind, capacity to treat everyone as equal, and above all a passionate concern not only for human but global welfare.

Balan Nair came to Chennai in 1985 from Valayapatti. Later he shifted to a village on the outskirts of Chennai. Thousands flock to him to get his astrological advice at Vengaivasal Village near Medavakkam in Kancheepuram District. He has built a beautiful temple for Goddess Mookambika. He is living in his own house adjacent to this temple making himself available for all those who need his astrological guidance or advice. A man of Himalayan learning in the world of Vedic Astrology, he wants to remain anonymous. He told me with great humility: 'In the ocean of Jothida Sastra, I am like a catamaran (a wooden plank) trying to cross the mighty ocean of the past, present and future'.


Lord Ganesha

Tomorrow (15 September, 2007) is Ganesh Chaturthi Day, the birthday of Lord Ganesh (Ganesha), the God of Wisdom and Prosperity. Ganesh Chaturthi falls on the fourth day of the moon's bright fortnight, or period from new moon in the lunar month of Bhadrapada.

To quote the appropriate words of Yuvaraj Krishan: 'Ganesha is worshipped in all parts of India, being the most popular of all the Gods of the Hindu pantheon. He is non-sectarian in character inasmuch as followers of all sects and denominations, Saivites, Vaishnavites, Buddhists, and Jainas, pay homage to Him. Brahma and other Gods are also believed to pay homage to Him at the commencement of any of their enterprise or work. He is figured as a being with the head of an elephant and the body of a human being riding or surmounted on a rat.

He has numerous epithets: Gajajana (Elephant-faced), Lambodara (Pot-bellied), Ekatanta (one-tusked), Ganadhipa (Lord of Ganas and Hosts), Vinayaka (great leader or Lord), Vighneshwara or Vignaraja (Lord of obstacles), Vignakarta (creator of obstacles) and Vignaharta (remover of obstacles).

HE IS POPULARLY KNOWN AS THE REMOVER OF OBSTACLES AND IS VERY OFTEN INVOKED WHEN PEOPLE ARE BEGINNING A NEW ENTERPRISE. In States like Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra, Ganesh festival is celebrated for at least 10 days and is a very joyous event. While in the other places, it is celebrated on a grand scale for one day on the festival day of Ganesh Chaturthi. In all Hindu homes, hymns and songs are sung in praise of Lord Ganesha.

According to Hindu mythology, He is the son of Shiva and Parvati, brother of Kartikeya (the General of the Gods), Lakshmi (the Goddess of Wealth) and Saraswati (the Goddess of Learning). There are innumerable stories in Hindu mythology, associated with the birth of this elephant-headed God, whose vehicle is the Mooshak or rat and who loves Modakas (droplet shaped Indian sweet).

One of the Legends has it that Goddess Parvati created Ganesha out of the sandalwood dough that She used for her bath and breathed life into him. Letting him stand guard at the door, She went to have her bath. When Her husband, Shiva returned, the child who had never seen him stopped him. Shiva severed the head of the child and entered His house. Parvati, learning that Her son was dead, was distraught and asked Shiva to revive him. Shiva cut off the head of an elephant and fixed it on the body of Ganesha. Thus was Lord Ganesha born and created.

Another fascinating traditional tale tells us how one day all the Gods decided to choose their leader and a race was to be held between the brothers, between Kartikeya and Ganesh. It all started with the mischievous suggestion of Sage Narada to Lord Shiva that his two sons Lord Ganesha and Lord Kartikeya must be made to participate in a race to traverse the Mother Earth in order to ascertain who was the winner. Whoever completed three rounds of the Earth first was to be made the Ganaadhipati or the leader. Kartikeya seated on a peacock as his vehicle, started off to complete the task. Ganesh was given a rat, which moved slower than the peacock. Ganesh realised that the test was not easy, but He knew that He could not disobey his father Lord Shiva. He reverently paid obeisance to His parents and went around them three times and thus completed the test much earlier than Kartikeya. Thus, Ganesha declared in triumph: 'My sacred parents, Siva and Parvathi, pervade the whole universe and therefore, my encircling them would automatically mean not only going around the world but traversing the whole Cosmic Universe'. Everybody was pleasantly surprised and overtaken by Ganesha's transcendental logic, intuition and intelligence. Thenceforth He came to be known as the Ganaadhipati or leader, now referred to as Ganapati.

There is also another interesting story behind the symbolic snake, rat (Ganesha's vehicle) and the singular tusk associated with the childish pranks of Ganesha. The symbolic mythology behind the story of the mouse, the snake and Ganesha's big belly and their relationship with the Moon on Ganesha's birthday is highly philosophic. The whole cosmos is known to be the belly of Ganesha. Parvati is the primordial energy. The seven realms above, seven realms below and seven oceans, are inside the cosmic belly of Ganesha, held together by the cosmic energy (Kundalini) symbolised as a huge snake which Ganesha ties around Him. The mouse is nothing but our EGO. Ganesha, using the mouse as a vehicle, exemplifies the need to control our ego. According to our Vedanta, one who has controlled ego enjoys the transcendental bliss of Ganesha-consciousness or God-consciousness. Rajaji wrote brilliantly as follows: 'All culture in India has been rooted in Vedanta. Whatever courage, heroism, self-sacrifice or greatness is to be found in our history or seen in the lives of our people has sprung from Vedanta which is in our blood and tradition. It is in the air, so to say, of India and of Asia. The mysticism involved in the Vedanta relates the good life to truth and science. The conflict between religion and science is replaced and healed by harmony and integrated thought. Vedanta has a contribution to make to enduring civilisation. No polity based entirely on exploitation or force, even though it is administered by able and well-intentioned men, can last or be elevating even during the period it lasts.

Vedanta offers a religious faith that can have no quarrel with the scientists who work in the laboratory or with the geologists who do research in the history of the physical world on lands and oceans, and yet it offers a firm spiritual foundation for the just polity of a new world. The Vedantin is indeed a citizen of the world and a soldier in the world's army in a totally non-martial but no less heroic war against evil, the more heroic since he seeks no personal reward. Bewildered by the beauty of the Universe, the Vedantin seeks real enlightenment in the realms of the spirit.

The festival of Ganesh Chaturthi is celebrated the in States of Maharashtra, Tamilnadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh and many other parts of India. Started by Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaja, the great Maratha ruler, to promote culture and nationalism in the 17th century, the Ganesh festival was revived by Lokmanya Tilak (a freedom fighter) to spread the message of freedom struggle and to defy the British who had banned public assemblies in the last decade of the 19th century. Tilak wrote in his 'Kesari': "We are at present being inspired by the spirit of patriotism. We have learnt from our lessons in ancient and modern history, what were the fruits of patriotism among the ancient Greeks and the Romans. We have also learnt from their histories how, when they lost their patriotism, they were subjected to foreign domination and became ignorant and superstitious. Patriotism is not our national quality, it is a product of the influences to which we have been subjected after the introduction of British Rule. The spirit of patriotism has not as yet permeated all the classes in India."

In order to diffuse the spirit of patriotism and nationalism among the masses, Lokmanya Tilak revived the tradition of two great festivals in Maharashtra- the Shivaji festival and the Ganesh festival. Thus, he requisitioned into national service two of the great forces which are calculated to deeply stir the national mind, namely, religion and history.

Thus Tilak transformed the traditional worship of Lord Ganapathi into an altogether new form. The Ganesh festival organised by him in the 1890s in Maharashtra gave the Indians a feeling of unity and revived their patriotic spirit and faith. This public festival formed the background for political leaders who delivered speeches to rouse the Indian people against the atrocities of British rule in India.

One of the most glorious moments in India's cultural history was the martial leadership provided by Dr K B Hedgewar when he started the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS.) in 1925. From that moment, no difficulty was ever experienced by the Hindus of Nagpur in organizing the Ganesh festival on a grand scale year after year, in an atmosphere of peaceful security, without any danger of being vandalized by the Islamic fundamentalists in the area.
The Ganesh festival has become so popular that the preparations for this festival begin months in advance in States like Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Tamilnadu and Karnataka. Thousands of Ganesh statues are installed on street corners in the cities and towns and villages in different parts of India. At the end of the festival, these statues are carried on decorated floats to be immersed into the sea. In Chennai city, hundreds of processions converge on the beaches on the concluding day to participate in the holy practice of immersing the Ganesha idols into the sea. These processions are marked by drum-beats, devotional songs and dancing.

Even beyond India's frontiers, Ganesha has been and still is a popular God. In Nepal, Sri Lanka, Myanmar (formerly Burma), Indonesia (Jawa and Bali), Indo-China (Cambodia and Champa), China, Japan and Mongolia. In all these countries, there are innumerable temples dotted with several exquisite carvings and idols of Lord Ganesha. Thus the cult of Ganesha can be seen exercising its living influence throughout the length and breadth of South East Asia. It will be more appropriate to say that as a pan-Asian God, Ganesha is India's permanent cultural ambassador to the various countries of Asia. The spread of His influence is a grand chronicle of Ganesha Digvijaya. His pan-Indian character brings out that, next to Buddhism, He is an important cultural link between different countries of Asia.

The importance of Lord Ganesha in the life of Indians has been beautifully expressed by Edwin Arnold in his famous 'The Light of Asia':
'And on the middle porch God Ganesha
With disk and hook-to bring wisdom and wealth
Propitious sate, wreathing his sidelong trunk'