Monday, October 13, 2008

Navaratri Experience -11- Dusshera

The tenth day of Navaratri – Dusshera or Vijaya Dashami celebrates the victory of good over evil. Whether one considers it the celebration of the Devi’s victory over Mahishasura, or Rama’s victory over Ravana, we celebrate the end of tyranny and evil, and usher in a new era of goodness and righteousness. This is the reason it is considered auspicious to begin new ventures on this day. Be it buying a new house, opening a shop, or starting a course of study, this is one of the most auspicious days to do so. People studying the arts, especially the classical forms like music and dance, begin their classes on this day.

This year, Samhith stepped into the vast world of classical music, joining a music initiation course for Tiny Tots at the Chembur Fine Arts Society. It was a beautiful sight at the hall, which was lined with musical instruments of every kind.
From Miscellaneous

From Miscellaneous

The prayers began at 9 AM sharp, followed by a symbolic beginning of each class. I had been wondering what my little one would do in a music class when he doesn’t sit still for five minutes, but my fears were dispelled when I saw some other kids even more hyper than mine, and the teacher, who seemed perfectly at ease with them, and capable of handling these cute, adorable monsters. Wonder how she is going to teach them!
From Miscellaneous


In the evening, we went to the temple as usual, preparing ourselves mentally that there would be no new decorations. Samhith was excited when he saw that the decoration pandal was still there, but a little upset when he saw that the decoration was the same as the day before- Saraswati and Brahma. The decoration had been left undisturbed, for the Vidyarambham (beginning of studies) programme in the morning. But we had a pleasant surprise to see that the Devi was being readies for the final day’s procession. The Devi comes out in a procession only on the last day, when there is no other programme in the temple. She goes up to the border (end) of the colony – a tradition similar to what Maharashtrians call ‘Seemolanghan’. We asked permission and took a photo which I am reproducing below. The Devi is seated on a horse, all decked up, looking gorgeous.

From Miscellaneous

This brings my series of blogs on Navaratri to a close. Even though we were at home, seeing all the decorations gave an experience of virtuall travel, and i hope all those reading these posts too would have experienced the same.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Navaratri Experiences – 10

Navami – the ninth day of Navaratri is dedicated to Saraswati, the goddess of learning. At home, we place books and writing implements near the altar of the God, and place an image of Saraswati over it. We do not read or write the whole day, taking the books out and reading them only on the next day, Dusshera, when it is auspicious to begin studies. We pray not only to the goddess of learning, but also to those things which aid us in learning. In the south, students welcome this day, as it gives them a respite from studies, but for us, it has never been so. I remember, we not only had school, but also exams during this period, and had no choice but to study on this day too. My mother used to make me keep textbooks of those subjects whose exams I had already completed, and had to use the other books to study. Not once did I get a break from studies as my cousins in Chennai did. Today, Samhith has no exams, so thank God; we can keep his books for the puja, but just for a couple more years. Then he too will experience the same things that I did.

Navami is also the last day for the decoration at the temple, and predictably, it was of BRAHMA and SARASWATI.

From Miscellaneous

From Miscellaneous

Meanwhile, where ever I went, I could see preparations for seeing off the Devi underway. Here is a photo I clicked of a vehicle being decorated to carry the goddess on her journey to her home, via the sea. It looked beautiful even as they were decorating it. It will look fantastic in the night with all the lights on…..

From Miscellaneous

The festival dedicated to the goddess comes to an end with Dusshera –the tenth day. The images of the Devi all over India will be immersed in the water, Kolus will be dismantled, and this series of blogs on Navaratri will also come to an end. We have much planned for Dusshera, but to read about it, you will have to wait one more day. Goodbye until then………

Navaratri Experiences – 9

Ashtami – the eighth day of Navaratri is celebrated as Durgaashtami all over India. We too celebrated this day remembering the Devi in her avatar as MAHISHASURA MARDINI, for this was the decoration in the temple yesterday.

From Miscellaneous

According to the Devi Mahatmyam, the Asura named Mahisha (who took the form of a wild bull) performed great penance to Brahma, who, pleased with him, offered a boon. Mahisha asked for immortality, which Brahma said was impossible. Mahisha then asked that he should not be killed by men, Devas, asuras, or any other creatures, and this boon was granted by Brahma. In his arrogance, he did not name women, for he considered them inferior to him.

When the Devas could no longer bear the atrocities of Mahisha, they went with Brahma to Shiva and Vishnu, and asked them to relieve them of their troubles. Vishnu and Shiva’s anger presented itself in the form of a lustre, to which was added the lustre of the other gods – Brahma, Indra and all the other Devas. This divine lustre assumed the shape of a woman – the Devi, and was given the ornaments and the weapons of the gods.

The Devi fought with Mahishasura for nine days and nine nights – the period which we now celebrate as Navaratri. On the tenth day, she killed the Asura, just as he was transforming into his Asura form from his Bull form. Thus, under the feet of the Devi, we can see the head of a bull, while the Asura is seen being killed.

From Miscellaneous

We also took the opportunity of visiting the Bengali Durga Puja Pandal at Chembur, where the same form of the Devi is worshipped. Samhith loved seeing the beautiful decoration at the Durga Puja, especially since it is his first visit.



Here is the view of the wonderful setting for the Devi, where the organisers have tried to create a replica of the Victoria Memorial at Kolkata.

From Miscellaneous

From Miscellaneous

Here are the images of the deities…..

From Miscellaneous

And here is the main deity – Mahishasura Mardini, again….

From Miscellaneous

Here is the photo of a chandelier inside the hall, which Samhith was fascinated by…..

From Miscellaneous

We also visited the Fine Arts Society, Chembur, to see their Bommai Kolu, which is one of the best in the area. Here is the golu - with 11 steps……..

From Miscellaneous

Most of their toys are old ones, handed over by old patrons, and hence of much better quality than is available these days. Take a closer look at some of them………..

From Miscellaneous

Their Dasavatharam set is especially beautiful…..

From Miscellaneous

And take a look at this figure of Vamana (the Vamana avatar) from the temple at Thirukolvilur near Thiruvannamalai. The beauty of the toys is amazing!!

From Miscellaneous

The decoration around the golu is based on Kailas, the abode of Shiva. The snow capped peaks of the Himalayas have been made with cotton, and around it are gardens, with statues of goddesses kept here and there. It is a beautiful sight, which Samhith enjoyed, and wants to replicate at home next year…

From Miscellaneous

Well, that was the end of the eighth day of Navaratri. Looking forward to Navami and Saraswati puja and what it brings along………

Navaratri Experiences – 8

The seventh day of Navaratri, the temple decoration was that of SIVA – KAMESHWARI or Kameshwara- Kameshwari, as they are also known.

From Miscellaneous


Kama – the god of love was burnt to ashes when he tried to make the meditating Shiva fall in love with Parvati, born as the daughter of the mountain king, Himavan. When at last Shiva married Parvati after years of austerities, he also brought back Kama to life. However, at the same time, an Asura by the name of Bandasura was born from the smoke. The Devas pleaded to the Devi to rescue them from this Asura, and she appeared in the form of Kameshwari, and put an end to Bandasura. Siva married her as Kameshwara, and this is the form depicted above. I have also appended a Tanjore painting of Kameshwara and Kameshwari (which I found on the net) so as to understand this depiction better.

From Miscellaneous

Well, that’s all for today. Looking forward to being back tomorrow with (hopefully) more photographs….

Navaratri Experiences – 6 and 7

Weekends during Navaratri are busy, for these are the days of hectic socializing – these are the days we have more visitors at home, and we have to go to others’ houses as well. At least, Samhith was happy as he got to see a lovely golu at one of our friends’ houses. They also have a young son, and he had enthusiastically exhibited a cricket team as well an airport.

From Miscellaneous

From Miscellaneous

From Miscellaneous




Navaratri is a time we pay obeisance to the Devi in her each and every form. It was one such form that was depicted in the temple on Saturday, the fifth day of Navaratri – SAKHAMBARI.


From Miscellaneous


In the Devi Mahatmyam, Durga prophesies that when the earth has been dry for a hundred years, the wise ones who continuously meditate upon her will cause her to be born in a superhuman fashion and she will bring forth from her body; fruits, flowers, vegetables and herbs to take away our hunger and thirst and our fear of death. She calls herself SHAKAMBARI. We pray to her for abundance of fruits and vegetables.

From Miscellaneous


She is depicted as being covered with fruits and vegetables, and as you can see from the photograph, apart from the face, every inch of the Devi is made up of vegetables, including the decoration around her.



Sunday, the 6th day, which signifies the completion of the phase celebrating Lakshmi, had a decoration that pleased Samhith very much – GANDAKI Devi of Muktinath.

From Miscellaneous


The Gandaki Devi temple is at Muktinath in Nepal, and is one of the 51 Shakti Peethams. It is believed that Sati’s nose fell at this place.

The Devi has been depicted as holding in her hands, two heads, one of a male, and the other a female, and standing on another figure.

From Miscellaneous

Samhith got all excited, and shouted out “Mamma look! The Devi has killed three asuras!” (He notices only asuras these days, not the gods). The temple priest hastened to correct him, saying that the Devi was not holding the auras’ heads, but the bad thoughts and bad habits of normal people like us, which is what we should pray to her for – an explanation which he accepted for the moment, though not full satisfied yet. He wants me to find out who those asuras are, and I must say, till now I have been unsuccessful. Even the internet, which provides most of the answers to my son’s questions, has let me down. If any of you reading this has any more information about this form of the goddess, please do let me know.



That’s all I have for the moment. Looking forward to sharing more news with all of you tomorrow….

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Navaratri Experiences-5

Fridays are always auspicious for the Devi, and Fridays during Navaratri are even more special. Normally, when we perform the puja at home, we invite everyone home for Haldi – Kumkum on a Friday, but this year, we were busy visiting others, as we did not have the puja ourselves.


Here is a photograph of the kolu at one of our neighbours’. Samhith went to see it first and told them that they had very few toys, as compared to his grandmother. He also gave them suggestions about what they could do to make it look even better. Of course, his interest in the golu is great, but I don’t know what I am going to do if the chap keeps talking like this!



From Miscellaneous

The decoration in the temple was of CHOTTANIKKARA BHAGAVATHI. The Devi looked beautiful amidst a number of oil lamps, which had been lit to give a wonderful effect.


From Miscellaneous


The Chottanikkara Bhagavathi temple is one of the most important and famous temples of Kerala, and needs no introduction. The Devi here is prayed to as Saraswati in the morning, as Lakshmi at Noon, and as Parvati in the evening. It is believed that goddess Saraswati as Mookambika resides here early in the morning, and hence the first prayer is to Saraswati. Moreover, it is said that the temple to Mookambika at Kollur in Karnataka opens only later in the morning after the prayers here are completed, and she returns to her abode at Kollur.

From Miscellaneous

Well, today, Saturday is going to be a busy day, as I have to visit more people. I hope I shall be able to get more material to write about, especially more photographs…. Until then, Goodbye!!!!

Navaratri Experiences-4

The first three days of Navaratri are dedicated to the goddess Parvati, and yesterday was the last of this phase. When I told my son about this, he decided that since he could not dress up as Parvati obviously, he would dress up as Shiva, his main interest was in being allowed to hold a Trishul. Of course we refused, so he compromised by agreeing to wear a ‘Veshti’ and making a Trishul with his blocks. We hosted the Navaratri Bhajan at our place yesterday, and this gave him an added reason to dress up. “If you all can wear lovely sarees and dress up, why can’t I dress up too?” was his legitimate question. You can see the results in the photographs below.

From Miscellaneous

From Miscellaneous


At the temple, the decoration was dedicated to BHUVARAHA SWAMY – this is the form of Vishnu when he too the form of a wild boar – the Varaha Avatar. The lord took this form when the demon Hiranyaksha hid Bhoomi Devi (Mother Earth) in the ocean. In the form of a wild boar, the lord Carried Bhoomi Devi out of the water and placed her carefully in her place before going back to kill the demon. Here, He is depicted as carrying Bhoomi Devi in his arms. This form of Vishnu is seen at Tirupati, where He is believed to have given the land to Lord Venkateswara, allowing Him to reside there. It is customary to have darshan of Varaha swamy before having darshan of Lord Venkateswara.

From Miscellaneous

People who want to buy a house or land pray to BhuVaraha Swamy or participate in the Bhu Varaha Yagna. In Tamilnadu, there is a famous temple of Bhuvaraha swamy at Srimushnam near Chidambaram. In Karnataka, there is a gigantic 21 feet high image of Pralaya Varaha Moorthy with a 6 feet tall Lakshmi sitting on his lap, at Kalahalli in Krishnarajpet Taluk in Mandya District.

From Miscellaneous

That’s all for today folks. Hope to get back to all of you tomorrow with lots more photographs.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Navaratri Experiences-3

It is just the 2nd day of Navaratri, and already Samhith is looking forward to our temple visit. He is normally bored in the temple, and runs around, troubling everyone, but now, the daily decoration seems to be exciting him. He looks forward to the evening, and keeps asking whether it is time to visit the temple.

This second day of Navaratri, the temple priests had made a wonderful image of GARBARAKSHAMBIGAI, as she is seen at the Thirukkarugavur temple near Thanjavur.

From Miscellaneous



Garbharakshambigai, or Karu Kaatha Nayaki as she is known in Tamil, represents the One who protected the Womb. The story behind this temple is as follows – Nidhruva Maharshi and his wife Vedhika were ardent devotees of Shiva and by the grace of the Lord, Vedhika became pregnant. Once, when her husband was out, tired after all her household chores, she lay down to rest, and fell asleep. The rishi Urdhvapada arrived at this time, and asked for alms, which she did not hear, being fast asleep. Not understanding her situation, the rishi cursed her to be afflicted with a foul disease, which also affected the foetus. When she prayed to Parvati, the goddess appeared and transferred the foetus to a pot where she herself nurtured it till it was fully grown. When the sage returned, he was overwhelmed, and prayed that the goddess must reside at that place and protect the womb of anyone who prayed to her. Till this day, it is said that no one in the village has a miscarriage or an abortion. She is prayed to by devotees seeking a child, and also for safe childbirth.

From Miscellaneous


The temple to Garbharakshambigai is at Thirukkarugavur, 22 Kms from Kumbakonam and 7Kms from Papanasam. The main deity in this temple is Lord Shiva, known as Mullai Vana Nathar, or the Lord of the forest of Jasmines. This lingam is a swayambhu, which appeared in forest of Jasmine creepers, and was found covered with the creepers. The imprints of these creepers can be seen on the lingam.



This temple is one among the Pancha Aranya Sthalams – five temples situated amidst forests. It is considered auspicious to visit all the five temples, situated within a radius of 15Kms from this one, in one day. The Thirukkarugavur temple is the central one, to be visited early in the morning between 5:30 and 6AM. The second temple is at Avalivanallur, about 13 Kms from Alangudi (famous as one of the Navagraha Sthalams). This temple is to be visited in the morning between 9:30 and 10:00 AM. The third temple is at Haridwaramangalam, 22Kms from Kumbakonam and 10Kms West of Alangudi, and is to be visited between 11:00AM and Noon. The fourth temple is the one at Alangudi, 17Kms South of Kumbakonam, 35 Kms East of Thanjavur, and is to be visited between 5:30 and 6:00PM. The fifth and final temple is at Thirukkollambudhoor, 7Kms East of Alangudi on the road to Thiruvarur, and is to be visited between 8:30 and 9:00 PM.



Well, this brings me to the end of today’s post. Looking forward to getting back to all of you with more news of Navaratri celebrations…………..

Navaratri Experiences-2

The 30th was officially the first day of Navaratri, and wherever I went, I could see people bringing home the Devi. It signals the beginning of a hectic week, where we have to carry out our normal routines, while making time for prayers and Parayanams, attending Bhajans in the colony, and also finding time to visit the temple. Things were further complicated with Samhith’s classes, as well as my sister’s birthday. I had to have a quick darshan at the temple before rushing off to Thane to wish my sister.

The decoration at the temple depicted the Devi as LALITAMBIKAI, at the Thirumeeyachur temple, near Kumbakonam. This temple is about 13 Kms from Mayiladudurai, on the Mayiladudurai- Thiruvarur road, and is home to 2 Thevara Padal Petra Sthalams (i.e. 2 songs sung by the saints). The main deities here are Aruneswarar and Lalitambikai, who were worshipped by Surya the Sun God at this place. The Lalita Sahasranamam is said to have originated here from the Devi herself, and hence this is considered one of the holiest temples in this area.

From Miscellaneous


Thanks to my visit to my mother’s place at Thane, I can share photos of a beautiful ‘Bommai Kolu’ with all of you.

The kolu is an elaborate affair at my mother’s place, and you can see that the whole room is covered with toys made of mud. To begin with, here are the traditional five steps……..


From Miscellaneous

The top step (the fifth) is dedicated to the Devi in her various forms. At the outset, I must inform all readers that this is not the traditional way of distributing the images on the steps. In our house, it is simply an attempt to classify the idols we have and fit them on the shelves.





From Miscellaneous
The fourth step has the main Kalasam, accompanied by the images of Men and Women made of wood, Over the years, my mother and aunt have collected enough such wooden dolls to fill a step by themselves. They put in a lot of time and effort to clothe and decorate these dolls, and the results are there for all of you to see and enjoy


From Miscellaneous
.The third step is dedicated to Lord Vishnu in his various forms- the central idols are of Lord Venkateswara of Tirupati and his consort Padmavati. All the other idols are of His various incarnations, and the smaller idols in the front depict the Dasavatharam.


From Miscellaneous
On the second step is the family of Lord Shiva- the central idol is one of Dakshinamoorthy. He is accompanied by images of Shiva and Parvati on the Rishabha Vahanam, and also images of His sons- Ganesha and Karthikeya. There is also an idol of Shirdi Sai Baba.
From Miscellaneous

The first step has small images of gods and goddesses, mainly Ganesha and Gowri.
From Miscellaneous


Due to lack of place on the steps, other idols have been placed all over the room – this table has been covered with images of Krishna - as a cowherd, with the gopikas, and even killing Kamsa.

From Miscellaneous



This shelf is coved with the Chettiar Bommais – the grocers and merchants, with vessels and all kind of grains.

From Miscellaneous

This one is of a snake-charmer……..

From Miscellaneous


And this one is of a king of Thanjavur - Manu Neethi Chozhan, who was famed for his justice, and who made the right judgement for anyone who rang the bell outside his palace. When his son ran over a calf while riding his chariot, the cow came and rang the bell asking for justice. The righteous king judged that his son should be run over the same way in order to atone for his deed. The Gods, who had tried to test him this way, were pleased, and returned his son alive, as well as gave him a place in Heaven.

From Miscellaneous


And finally, this one is of a group of musicians and performers.

From Miscellaneous

With this I can call an end to the first day of Navaratri. Lets wait and watch what the forthcoming days bring.........

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Navaratri Experiences-1

Navaratri- the nine nights dedicated to the mother goddess is here. Call her by what name you will - Durga, Kali, Parvati, Lakshmi, Saraswati- the names are endless, and so are the types of prayers offered to her. All around me, I can see people of different communities praying to her in their own way, but there is one thing common - the dedication and their belief that the mother will solve all their problems.
Every year, we celebrate these nine days with prayers, parayanams (reading the stories of the Devi), and our traditional 'kolu'. This year, the kolu is missing, for some close relatives have passed away, but the prayers will continue uninterrupted.

These nine days, let me invite you to my neighbourhood, where the temple is the hub of activity. Every morning, the air resounds with the sound of the Devi Mahatmyam being read by the devout, followed by the chanting of slokas. Every evening, special Yagnas are conducted, and again the sound of the priests chanting the sacred mantras reverberates all over the place.

Every evening, the priests put in a lot of effort in putting up a sort of tableau depicting a form of the Lord and the Devi. This is not just decorative, but also informative, seeking to educate youngsters in our spiritual and cultural traditions. This year, the temple authorities have allowed us to take photographs of this decoration, and it is a desire of mine to visit the temple everyday and share my photographs with you all.
Here is my first photograph, taken on the 29th, when the celebrations began.......

From Miscellaneous

Here is Shiva as SOMASKANDAR, as he is seen in the temple at Thiruvarur (near Thanjavur in Tamil Nadu). Here he is seen with Parvati and his young son, Kartikeya. This is one of the rare forms of Shiva where he is seen with his family. In the Thiruvarur temple, even when the Lord is brought out of the temple for a circuit of the town, he is accompanied by his family.

From Miscellaneous



Incidentally, for those who are interested in such things, let me share a little more information about the Thiruvarur Temple. This temple is one of the Saptha Vidanga Sthalams in the Thanjavur district of Tamil Nadu. The story goes that King Muchukunda once helped Indra in a fight against the asuras. Happy with the victory, he asked Muchukunda what he wanted. The king replied that he wanted the Lingam which Indra worshipped. Indra was in a dilemma- neither did he want to part with his prized lingam, nor did he want to dishonour his promise. He showed Muchukunda seven identical lingams, and asked him to find the right one. Muchukunda, being a smart king, asked Shiva for help, and correctly identified the right lingam. Pleased with him, Indra offered him all the seven lingams, which Muchukunda consecrated in different temples. The original lingam was consecrated at Thiruvarur. The other lingams are at Nagapattinam (Kayarohanaswamy temple), Vedaranyam, Thirukkuvalai (On way from Thiruvarur to Thiruthiraipoondi, 5Kms from Kachinam), Thiruvaimur (5Kms on road from Thiruvarur to Thirukkuvalai), Thirukkaravasal (12Kms from Thiruvarur) and Thirunallar. Together, these are called the Saptha Vidanga Sthalams. In all these temples, the main deity is called 'Thyagarajar' along with other local names. Also, in all these temples, one can see a shrine of Somakandar.

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