Monthly Archives: Sep 2011

The rain-god’s grace (satisfaction and conclusion).

In Disney’s film/extended music video Fantasia, Mickey Mouse plays a would-be sorcerer who animates his household tools to do his chores for him. He is delighted when the instruments respond to his (stolen) incantations, but panics when the excited tools spin out of control, because he doesn’t know the spell to stop them.

Lest a welcome downpour of rain become a deluge, and I become the enabler of Mickey-esque chaos, this post will discuss a few customs to stop the rain. Then, as previously promised, I’ll talk a bit about why rain customs are actually sort of important, and how they relate to devotion and personal growth and stuff.

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E. Washburn Hopkins, from “Indra as God of Fertility.”

“There is something that appeals to our imagination also in the realization that this god, who is older than Brahma, Vishnu, and Śiva, still has his worshipers. No other god, unless it be the rather impersonal Heaven of the Chinese, has been revered with uninterrupted devotion for so many centuries. The gods of Egypt and Babylon were born earlier perhaps, but they all died long ago. Indra, worshiped to-day, was already a notable god fourteen hundred years before the Christian era. His contemporaries, Varuṇa, Mitra, and the ‘healing’ Twins, who correspond to the Dioskouroi, have long since vanished from the mind of the people. But Indra perdures…”

And a few paragraphs later, this relevant observation is made:
“The expression ‘when it rains’ is indifferently ‘when the god rains’ or ‘when Vāsava (Indra) rains.'”
-E. Washburn Hopkins, 1916, from the Journal of the American Oriental Society.

The rest of Hopkins’ essay is available here.

The rain-god’s grace (invocation – part 2 of 2).

Prerequisite: The rain-god’s grace (invocation – part 1 of 2).

It’s truly astonishing how many different ways there are to invoke the rain – and these are just the practices devoted to one form of God alone!

Picking up where the last post stopped:

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The rain-god’s grace (invocation – part 1 of 2).

Suggested prerequisite: The rain-god’s grace (location and identification).

I discussed, earlier in this blog, that Indra’s worship seems to center in north and east India, and is particularly practiced in Orissa and Bihar. What intrigues me is that there are many hymns to Indra in the Vedas, and several rites (like Somayajña) in which he plays a pivotal role – yet much of his modern worship, that by village dwellers in particular, has little to do with the formal Vedic practices.

Let’s explore a little further. This essay discusses two infamous rituals to call upon Indra as god of rain.
(Since this post got pretty long, I’ll discuss all other customs in a second post.)

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A little verse, no title.

the shaded earth sweetens.
dust drinks in your splendour.

you fall, and so conquer.
the heart sighs surrender.

the wind breathes your praises.
the rain speaks, remember.

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© Arjunī and ridiculously reverent. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Arjunī and ridiculously reverent with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Rumi, “Lightning.”

Translated by Coleman Barks.

“This is no ordinary friendship.
I attend your banquet as wine attends.

Like lightning, I am an expert at dying.
Like lightning, this beauty has no language.

It makes no difference
whether I win or lose.

You sit with us in a congregation of the dead,
where one handful of dirt says,
I was once a head of hair.

Another, I was a backbone.
You say nothing.

Love comes in, I can deliver you
from yourself in this moment.

Now lover and beloved grow quiet.
My mouth is burning with sweetness.”

The rain-god’s grace (location and identification).

When an Indian news article or book refers to “the rain god,” I read those words to signify “Indra,” and I thought that this belief was the same throughout India. But it turns out that the rain-bringer actually varies by region, and that Varuṇa is just as likely to be invoked.

Why is this the case?

Some ideas, maps, pictures, and conjecture, beneath the cut.

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Untranslated mantras.

Unfortunately for me, my Sanskrit “knowledge” is such that I recognise many words individually, but cannot tell how they fit together grammatically and thus cannot precisely translate even a single line. This is frustrating when I find verses or mantras that seem beautiful.

Two of these are offered here. The first is from a Nepali manuscript and seems to be a Tantric invocation using bīja mantras. The second is known as the Devarāja stava (or the Devadeveṣvara stava). I only recognise four lines from Mahābhārata‘s Indra stuti (the same four lines given on the Indra mantra page of this blog). Otherwise, I have no information on the source or meaning of this verse.

I cannot offer translation for either, but perhaps others will understand them better than I do.

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Hazrat Inayat Khan, from the Gayan.

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The rain-god’s grace (education).

In the next several days, I want to write about some of the rituals performed to bring rain in times of drought. But while researching, this unusual and rather inventive story caught my eye.

On June 23rd of this year, a rationalist organisation in Karnataka decided to make a point against the performance of strange rituals according to outdated folk beliefs – and more specifically, to mock unscrupulous politicians who use religion to exploit people – by organising a rather unique “ritual” in a Mangalore school.

The (openly) fabricated story given to the press was this: “Baba Narendra Dev” – better known as Narendra Nayak, the president of the Federation of Indian Rationalist Associations – decided to go on a fast-unto-death between breakfast and lunch, since there had been no rain in Karnataka in several days or so. But during that critical wait between morning and mid-day meal, Baba was visited by Devendra. The God claimed that he had not yet brought rain because there were many schoolchildren at a Mangalore school who lacked umbrellas, and would suffer if the rains came. Indra instructed: O my son, supply umbrellas to the eighty-one of them and I shall give you rain.

Nayak and his associates promptly visited the place, Gandhi Nagar Higher Primary school, and distributed umbrellas to the students. But first, they asked the youngsters to think about whether rituals, prayers, or even the act of giving them umbrellas, would somehow bring the rains, and they asked that the students think, and evaluate such claims, now and in the future.

When the newspapers interviewed Nayak, he called the “ritual” Chatri Yagya – the Umbrella Yagya, and there’s a vaguely amusing pun embedded in the name. Chatri does indeed mean “umbrella” in Hindi and several other Indian languages; a chhatri in Kannada is a rogue, a cunning fellow.

It’s possible that Nayak chose a random date and time for this event; it’s also possible he checked the weather forecasts, or simply chose a date-during-monsoon, in order to demonstrate how easily leaders might arrange “miracles” for their own ends. But while Nayak and others were striking a solid blow against religious superstition by enlightening fertile young minds, I had to laugh when I read the rationalists’ post-script: that it rained the night of the 23rd. “You see!” they explained triumphantly. “This is how politicians exploit the people!”

I do understand the rationalists’ goal: to encourage people to exercise logic and sound judgment even with religion – a realm that for many is associated less with science than with inner revelation – and to not easily trust those who claim direct inspiration or communication from God, particularly if they have an agenda that would be furthered by that trust.

I also have a suspicion that one should not use Devendra’s name jestingly – especially in any matters involving rain and/or children – as he’s a bit of a chhatri himself. And I do wonder if even a single child from the Umbrella Yagya was surprised when it rained. If it had been kid-me, I would have said nothing, just stared, and prayed quite a bit.

Everyone must have the right to believe as they will, but I personally have one problem with atheists’ and skeptics’ claims that there is no God: that those who accuse religious folks of errors – of clinging to a religious agenda and promoting it above all else, of rejecting science in favour of dogmatic claims, and of being blind to obvious proof that religion is ridiculous – often don’t realise that they commit the same logical fallacies.

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The rain-god’s grace (quotation).

“For centuries, Indians have waited for the monsoons and in most years it has arrived like clockwork, bringing its life giving showers. Through the hot summer months, the earth is baked dry, the rivers turn into thin trickles, the trees are leafless skeletons. The people, the earth, the flora and fauna all wait breathlessly for the rains. Can you wonder that in Hindu mythology, the supreme Lord of the Heavens, Indra, is also the god of thunder, lightning and rain? Some of the most heartfelt paeans were sung to him in the Vedas: He whose magic powers, from earth withhold the genial showers.

Varuna, the god of oceans and rivers, is invoked too, but it is Lord Indra who plays an active role in bringing rain. Every year at the end of summer, Indra gets down from his celestial throne and takes a few draughts of the intoxicating drink, Soma, and thus fortified, rides out on his magic elephant Airavat, to give battle to the demon of drought, Vritra. This cloud-dwelling demon is the villain who is holding back the rains, so Indra uses his arsenal of booming thunder and bolts of lightning and watches in divine satisfaction as “the dying demon headlong fell, down from his cloud-built tower”.

Indra’s many names poetically echo his powers. He is Vajrin, who wields the thunderbolt, and Meghavahana, he who rides on the clouds. In later times he lost his eminent position, and in modern India there are no temples for him. But just let the rains fail, and old Indra is invoked again in elaborate yajanas and days of prayers.”

–Subhadra Sen Gupta, “Rain is like ropes of pearls,” The Deccan Herald

Homam ritual and meditation.

I read yesterday that the daily worship offered to Gaṇeśa, during this Gaṇeśa-Caturti festival, should ideally be performed at noon each day. This brought to mind another mid-day rite: while the ancient Soma was offered three times daily (morning, noon, and evening), the noon libation belonged to Indra alone.

Certainly a noon-time pūjā would be easier to perform in modern times than a noon-time Soma-pressing and fire-offering! The ancient yajña ceremonies that honour Indra and the other Vedic Devatās are seldom done nowadays, requiring huge expenditures of time, money, and effort by the organisers and priests. And indeed, in this Kali Yuga such rites are considered unnecessary, and many Hindus believe that japa – chanting of the Lord’s holy names – is the most appropriate, or even the only, path of truly effective worship in these dark times.

However, there are some who actively work to keep the Vedic rituals alive. One such group is the Vedic Society, an organisation providing education and resources for the twice-daily fire offering known as Agnihotra. The society also resolves to perform 108 somayajña rituals as an offering for peace and harmony in the world, and after completing their first yajña in Pondicherry last year, they are organising a second in Panauti, Nepal for November this year.

Another group, though not an organised society (yet?), is the vedic-wisdom group on Yahoo-groups; the members are (mostly) Hindus who believe in fire-worship as transformative, magical, and intensely devotional, when performed with the right effort and attitude by the practitioner. Many perform the daily fire-worship of homam, as instructed by P.V.R. Narasimha Rao and his guru, Dr. Manish Pandit. They share a vision – as seen by Dr. Pandit – of lighting a great spiritual fire, through the energies and efforts of many fire-worshippers world-wide.

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P.V.R. Narasimha Rao: One god, many gods.

A teacher whom I greatly esteem is P.V.R. Narasimha Rao; I so admire his accessible, lively writing, the clear-minded simplicity with which he answers questions, as well as his dedication to teaching fire-worship to everyone.

Today he posted a wonderful analogy to the vedic-wisdom e-mail group, to simply explain the Hindu view regarding “one god,” versus the “many gods” that people see when looking at Hindu altars and temples. I thought to share his post here, since I know that most of my readers are not Hindu and may be confused about this particular point.

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Gaṇapati and Rig Veda mantra.

Gaṇeśa’s birthday – Gaṇeśa Caturti – is today, beginning the eleven-day “Ganeshotsav” festival. Appropriately, Hindu Blog this morning quoted some questions and answers about Gaṇeśa:

“What is the meaning of the name Ganapati? Where are the Ganas? What is their form? When you investigate this, you find that the five organs of perception and the five organs of action are the Ganas. The mind is the master over these ten organs. Buddhi or intellect is the discriminating faculty above the mind. The ten senses, the mind and the intellect together constitute the Ganas.”
–Sathya Sai Baba

The word gaṇa (literally, “group”) also refers to followers or devotees. In a sense, Gaṇapati means not only the lord/master/leader of his followers, but simply the Lord. We are all part of God’s gaṇa!

At the beginning of this festival, Gaṇeśa is called into an idol that is installed in the home, and he is asked to stay for the duration of the festival. (Preferably this idol for Gaṇeśa-caturti is made of natural materials, because it is immersed in water on the festival’s last day.) The ritual mantra(s), which breathe life into the idol and invite God’s presence to suffuse the image, are called prāṇa pratiṣṭha. There are two Ṛgvedic mantras that are used to do this for Gaṇeśa on this day: II.23.1 followed by X.112.9.

Ṛgvedic wisdom is expansive, timeless, and universal; the mantras carry knowledge for all time, all places, and as such, some of its mantras are precursors to the worship of later Devas, or contain hidden wisdom about a form of God not widely honoured until after the Vedic period, or even serve as direct hymns to those Devas under different names or forms.

However, each Ṛgvedic mantra does have a Devatā honoured by the hymn. And we know that Gaṇeśa was/is not the only one known as the Lord of the Senses, nor the only one to be called Gaṇapati.

Ṛgveda X.112.9 is translated for Gaṇeśa prāṇa pratiṣṭha as, “Sit down among the worshippers, O Gaṇapati, the best sage among the sages. Without You nothing can be done here or far. Accept with honor, O wealthy One, our great and variegated hymns of praise.”

But this is not the only translation possible, for the original Devatā of Ṛgveda X.112 is Indra.

ni ṣu sīda ghaṇapate ghaṇeṣu tvāmāhurvipratamaṃkavīnām |
na ṛte tvat kriyate kiṃ canāre mahāmarkaṃmaghavañcitramarca ||

“Lord of the hosts, amid our bands be seated: they call thee greatest Sage among the sages.
Nothing is done, even far away, without thee: great, wondrous, Maghavan, is the hymn I sing thee.”

I love this verse. In fact, I made it my Gmail-chat status a couple of days ago – not suspecting that I would be encountering it again, and blogging about it, so soon. I adore the knowledge that nothing is done without God, regardless of which form one honours as “thee”!

May all enjoy a blessed and delightful Gaṇeśa Caturti!

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© Arjunī and ridiculously reverent. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Arjunī and ridiculously reverent with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.