Ganesh Chaturthi is one of the most popular festivals celebrated in India. Ganesha is the god of wisdom and prosperity, and Hindus joyfully and hopefully worship this god for an easy life ahead. Ganesh Chaturthi falls in the month of Bhadrapada, on Shukla Chaturthi. Ganesh Chaturthi is celebrated to commemorate Shri Ganesha’s birth and arrival to Earth.
A popular story behind the reason for this festival starts when Goddess Parvati goes to take a bath and makes a clay idol of a boy. She brings it to life and tells the boy to make sure no one comes in while she is bathing. Shiva, the destroyer, had tried to go through, but Ganesha would not allow him. In the heat of the moment, Shiva cut off the boy’s head. To make up for this sin, Shiva replaced it with an elephant’s head, representing animals, and granted Ganesha the power to create obstacles for the harmful deeds of the demons and remove obstacles for good deeds, hence his name Vighnaharta. Hindus celebrate Ganesh Chaturthi in order to gain wisdom and succeed in whatever auspicious task they choose to complete.
The worship of the god himself has been recorded since the fourth century CE, but it was freedom fighter Lokmanya Tilak who publicized this festival, around 1893. Because Ganesha represents all people, Tilak used this as a way to connect people and unite them as true Indians against the British, lighting a determinate fire in their souls. He used this as an opportunity to make plans with other leaders to overthrow the British government. Since the British could not deny the Indians of their religion, they had no choice but to let the Indians proceed. In this way, Ganesh Chaturthi became a public festival.
Ganesh Chaturthi is special mainly because he represents the union between nature, animals, and humans, and by worshipping the god, people symbolize the harmonious lifestyle between nature and humans, which help each other thrive by removing obstacles through their own work, and also helps remove their past sins.
In India, each area has its own way of celebrating Ganesh Chaturthi. In Gujarat, Ganesha resides in their homes for 10 days. A Ganesh idol is placed on a bed of rice and welcomed with showers of milk and water. Ganesh idol is decorated with chandlo which is made with kumkum and sandal paste and aarti is performed after lighting incense and saying many prayers.
In Andhra Pradesh, people perform a Ganesh puja and read mantras and stories about Ganesha. They throw rice mixed with turmeric onto the idol of Ganesha and offer prasad, which is tamarind rice and sweet Pongal.
In Rajasthan, people celebrate Ganesh Chaturthi publicly. People cover a large image of Ganesha with kumkum, then put a garland of red flowers around an idol of him. Motichoor laddoos are also made, as they believe it to be the god’s favorite food. A common tradition in India is to not look at the moon during Ganesh Chaturthi.
My family is from Maharashtra, where Ganesha Chaturthi is the most popular. We clean and decorate the house to welcome Ganesh for 10 days, though in different parts of Maharashtra, the day Ganapati goes back home depends on when his mother Parvati arrives, on Bhadrapada Shukla Saptami. We dress up in bright new clothes on this day. My mother makes twenty-one modaks, which is believed to be Ganesha’s favorite dessert, and are offered as “naivadyam”. We also offer durvaa-grass to Ganesha. My dad sets up the pooja. When everything is set up, we perform an aarti. Ganesha Chaturthi is my favorite festival of the year. There is always a happy environment in the home. Modaks are also my favorite food, and Ganesha is my favorite god. Most importantly, I continue to learn Indian culture even though I live in the US.
Ayurveda is the oldest known practice of medicine in India, about 5,000 years old. Ayurveda is a Sanskrit word, and it translates to “Science of Life”. As etymology goes, ayur means “life”, and veda means “science” or “knowledge”. What is the history behind this knowledge? What concepts lie in this science deeply rooted in Indian culture? Why is Ayurveda important and what are its benefits?
History of Ayurveda
Ayurveda has been around since c. 3300 BCE, from ancient Vedic culture. It is said to be an eternal science that started from Brahma, the creator and the universal consciousness, who then passed it down to Dhanvantari, who accepted the knowledge through meditation. In this way, Ayurveda has been taught orally and through example for years until it was written down in the well-known texts known as the Vedas and Ayurvedic texts were available in the 8th-century BCE. Some of these texts include Charak Samhita, Sushurta Samhita, and Ashtanga Hridaya. They discuss ayurvedic methods of healing and how Ayurveda evolved.
The earliest known practice of Ayurveda comes from the Aryans, the people who formed the center of civilizations in the Ganges Basin. They had begun to practice positive spirituality taught in the Vedas, and were cultivating the rice, mung beans, urad dal, ginger, and turmeric that were included in the Ayurvedic diet.
However, its practice was not confined to India. As invasions by Genghis Khan and Mughals in the 13th and 16th centuries CE, respectively, made their way into conquering India, Ayurveda became the preferred way of medicine for many foreigners, and was able to rise to a higher standard throughout the world. Even as the British took control and tried to force a new way of life onto Indians, Ayurveda inspired the founding of the Indian Medical Institute in 1763, where botanists tried to understand the science behind Ayurvedic plants and methods. Even though the popularity of Ayurveda soon receded into the traditional outskirts of society, as India regained independence, its practices and beliefs were acknowledged and revived by the new government, and has continued to spread throughout the world.
The goal of Ayurvedic tradition is to maintain and balance health through the balance of the mind, body, and spirit, all of which are connected to the universe. This can be achieved by the right thought process, a healthy diet, and nutrient-rich herbs. When either the mind, body, or spirit is imbalanced by stress in a person’s consciousness, diseases are caused and the connection between the mind, body, spirit, and universe is disrupted.
What exactly could be defined as health? A person is made up of a unique pattern of energy of physical, emotional, and mental characteristics. This energy causes the nutrients to distribute within the body, keeps a high metabolism, and acts as a lubricant for keeping cell structures together. The five basic elements of nature, space, earth, air, water, and fire form the three basic types of energy, called doshas: vata, pitta, and kapha. They control body functions, bring in positive energy, and are used to define people of their strengths and weaknesses. Usually, one of these doshas is dominant in each person, another is secondary, and one of them is least prominent. Depending on which one is dominant, a person develops positive characteristics that pertain to that dosha. However, when one of these energies is imbalanced (due to stress on consciousness), the cells do not function properly; good health is ruined.
The Vata dosha controls the basic body functions and movements, such as cell division, breathing, blood circulation, heart functions, blinking, and defecation. This energy is the strongest of all three, and it is composed of the elements space and air. When in balance, the Vata dosha promotes creativity and flexibility. This positivity is disrupted by over-frequent eating, fear, grief, and staying up too late; this develops into anxiety, asthma, heart disease, skin problems, and rheumatoid arthritis. People who have a dominating vata dosha have a tendency to let go of things as easily as they can grasp them, such as having high energy but easily exhaustible, or earning money quickly but spending it almost immediately. Vata people are also less confident, weak planners, and susceptible to diseases. They are attracted to raw vegetables, but have to eat warm, cooked food and juicy fruits to keep their diet stable.
The Pitta dosha controls the body’s metabolic system, the absorption of nutrition, and body temperature. It is made up of fire and water, and when these are balanced, pitta promotes intelligence and understanding. This can be disrupted by eating extremely sour or spicy foods or spending too much time in the sun; this imbalance causes anger, hatred, and jealousy. People with a primary Pitta dosha externally have medium height and build, and have many moles and freckles on their face. Internally, they have sharp intelligence and penetrating ideas, strong metabolism and appetites, and have ideal leadership qualities. Pitta people like to exhibit their material prosperity and are easily agitated and aggressive toward hate. As for the diet, Pitta are attracted to hot spices and like cold drinks, but salads, dairy products, and sweet foods are best for them. In order to balance this dosha, people should avoid excessive heat, exercise during the cooler part of the day, and eat cooling, non-spicy foods.
The Kapha dosha controls muscle growth, weight, body strength and stability, and the immune system, and it holds bones, muscles, and cells together. Since it has formed from Earth and water, it also supplies water for all parts and systems in the body. When in balance, the Kapha dosha expresses love, calmness, and forgiveness. However, by sleeping during the day, eating too many sweet foods or foods with too much salt and water, Kapha will provoke attachment, greed, and envy. With a dominant Kapha dosha, people have excellent strength, endurance, and stamina, yet they gain weight easily and have a slow metabolism, as they do not like exercise. These type of people are also calm, tolerant, and forgiving, and have a reliable long-term memory, but are vulnerable to flu, sinus congestion, and other diseases involving mucus. As for their diet, Kapha people are attracted to sweet, oily, and salty foods, but are balanced by bitter, astringent, and pungent foods. They also avoid sweet and sour fruits, and beans, raw honey, garlic, and ginger are best for Kapha people. To balance this dosha, people need to get plenty of exercise and avoid heavy foods.
Ayurvedic treatment helps regain balance and harmony with life, by increasing resistance, reducing stress, and removing impurities within the body, cleansing it to prevent disease. Ayurvedic treatment falls under 8 categories, as it depends on where the imbalance has occurred:
Kaayachikitsa – Internal Medicine
Baalachikitsa – Pediatrics
Bhuta Vidya – Psychiatry
Shalakya Tantra – Ear, Nose and Throat Treatment
Shalya Tantra – Surgery (not practiced in the United States today)
Vishagara Vairodh Tantra – Toxicology
Jarachikitsa/Rasayana – Geriatrics and Rejuvenation
Vajikarana — Aphrodisiac Therapy, Fertility, and Conception
Usually, herbs, common spices, and oils are used in treatments, and these ingredients can be cooked into foods that possess specific healing properties. A common Ayurvedic food is Kitchari. The cooling spices used in it, cilantro, cinnamon, coriander, mint, and fennel help reduce inflammation in the body.
Ayurveda is a science containing deep knowledge about the human body, but it is definitely not magic. It simply states that keeping stability in life the only way, and really the simplest way, to maintain excellent health.
In Marathi, there is one saying
“दसरा सण मोठा,
नाही आनंदा तोटा”
This means that Dasara is such a festival which is full of joy, happiness and commemorates the triumph of good over evil. We celebrate the nine days beginning from Ashvin Shuddha Pratipada as “Navaratri” and the tenth day is celebrated as “Dasara / Vijaya Dashami”. In 2020 अश्विन शुद्ध प्रतिपदा falls on Saturday October 17th.
During this vowed religious observance, a pot is installed (घटस्थापना) at a sanctified place at home. A lamp is kept lit in the pot for nine days. The pot symbolizes the universe. The uninterrupted lit lamp is the medium through which we worship the effulgent Adishakti, i.e. Shree Durgadevi. During Navratri, the principle of Shree Durgadevi is more active in the atmosphere.
There are a lot of anecdotes relevant to Navatri and Dasara. They say the demon “Mahishasur” started terrorizing Swarga Loka (Heaven) and Prithvi Loka (Earth) after Brahma granted him a boon that no man or god would be able to conquer him. . He invaded Swarga Loka and defeated the king of gods Indra and took control of Swarga Loka. He drove all the Devas (Gods) out of heaven. Eventually, they created his nemesis in the form of a young woman, Durga, also known as Shakti or Parvati. She combined the powers of all the gods to fight Mahishasura. The goddess then attacked Mahishasura’s empire, and after nine days of fighting, during which Mahishasura’s army was decimated, he was finally killed on the tenth day of the waxing moon by her incarnation Kali (which appeared from her forehead). Durga was henceforth called Mahishasuramardini, the killer of Mahishasura.
Navaratri is celebrated to worship nine forms of Durga Maa with fervour and devotion. Navaratri is celebrated in different ways throughout India. In Gujrat, they try to please the Goddess by a special dance called “Ras-Garba”. In Bengal the festival of Durga Puja is celebrated. In Kearala, the “Onam” festival represents Navaratri and Dasara. They believe that Bali raja was so kind, that even if he was pushed to Patal lok (The nether world), he would come to the earth to see if everybody is doing good on Dasara.
In Mysore (an ancient city in the south Indian state of Karnataka, around 125 Km from Bangalore) there is a tradition of holding a grand procession through the streets of the city with the idol of the goddess Chamundeshwari riding in a golden Ambaari (elephant-seat).
In North India, Dasara is the day when Prabhu Shree Ram killed the demon Ravan. So the nine days are dedicated to Ramlila i.e chanting Rama Bhajans and on the tenth day statue of Ravan is burnt. The burning of the effigies is symbolic to cleanse society of all evil by burning it.
There is a very interesting story about why we give the leaves of “Shami” to each other on Dasara. They say that when Pandavas went to “Adnyatwas” they hid their weapons on Shami tree. And when the Adnyatwas was about to end the Kauravas took away the cows of Raja Virat under whose shelter Pandavas lived. So to save the cows Arjun got his weapons back from the “Shami” tree and that was “Dasara”
There is another very interesting story about the “आपट्याची पानं” (Leaves of Shami tree).
It goes like this:
Once there was a boy names Koutsa, who wanted to offer Gurudakshina to his Guru. his guru after Koutsa insisted, asked for 14 crores (140 Million) of gold coins. now Koutsa didnt have as many coins so he went to King Raghuraja. To fulfill his demand, Raghuraja decided to attack Indra and get the money. But when Indra came to know that Raghuraja was going to fight him he was scared, later he knew the main reason of the fight. So he requested Kuber (Treasurer of God) to load the “Shami” tree with gold coins. Now Koutsa offered all the coins to his guru but Guru accepted only 14 crores of coins nad asked Koutsa to put the remaining back on the tree. Later on those coins were distributed among people, and since that day was “Dasara” we give each other the “Shami” leaves symbolically.
Indians give a lot of importance to start any project, journey, activity or make a purchase at an auspicious time. According to Hindu Mythology there three and a half very auspicious days (साडे तीन मुहूर्तांपैकी एक) in an year on which you can start any project or make any purchase without waiting for an auspicious moment. Dasara is one of those days. Therefore many people buy jewellery on the occasion of Dasara. The 9th day is “Ayudha Pooja” when everyone gives their tools of the trade — pens, machinery, books, automobiles, school work, computers etc. a rest and ritually worships them. They start afresh from the next day, the 10th day which is considered as ‘Vijaya Dashami’. Many teachers/Schools in south India start teaching Kindergarten children from that day onwards. Students also pay homage to their respective teachers as they are considered the third god (माता, पिता, गुरू आणि दैव – Mother, Father, Teacher & God).
A long running episode has just turned an important page right now. Robert Mueller finally testified in front of the congress and as I expected provided almost nothing to the lawmakers outside his report. The focus of media and most of the public was around collusion and obstruction of justice. Indeed, that was the most newsworthy story but in my opinion not the main story or threat to the democracies of the world. It was only Rep. Adam Schiff brought out the question of integrity and security of elections. Director Mueller had already highlighted it in his monologue of a press conference in May 2019. How will the elections look like in the new world?
It is an important aspect that all the democratically elected governments of the
world should be really worried about. In fact there are questions being asked of the validity of the Brexit referendum vote and even some of the assembly Elections results in India. Now defunct Cambridge Analytica is being suspected as being involved and even instrumental in altering the outcome of both the results.
Just imagine if the Pakistani intelligence agency ISI decides to engage itself in Indian politics. It can ensure a party that is sympathetic towards Pakistan comes to power. Or even worse, it can ensure that an incompetent leader becomes the prime minister of India. That would be a disaster not only for India but to the stability of the region and I daresay, even the world. I can’t think of India being ruled by Congress party led by an inept leader like Rahul Gandhi.
With the world becoming more and more digital and online, governments of the world should take infinitely more care about ensuring the data security and integrity to ensure fair and correct results. We all see in day to day life how easy it is to hack any computer system and bring it down. The private companies of the world realize it and spend a fortune on securing their IT infrastructure. The governments also should realize it. The bureaucrats must eliminate of reduce bureaucracy to a large extent and actually care about the security and integrity of the election process and the integrity of the results.
It is very easy to ensure the security of elections in the new world if you think about it. First of all, Government must appoint competent people to key positions with reasonable autonomy to perform their function. As a result of strong and fair oversight, it will ensure that the right policies and procedures are implemented. Politicians must be kept at more than an arms length from the entire process. State of the art technology should be implemented. Most importantly, the people involved in the process at the grass roots level should be provided training and right incentives.
This is the just the starting point. But we don’t have a lot of time to get it right. The bad actors are already off the blocks and the race is on!!!