Thursday, 29 January 2015

Banyan tree – A Symbol of Immortality

Banyan tree (Ficus benghalensis) is a huge,Magnificent, mystical, tranquil, amazing tree found in India and parts of asia. I remember as a child, I used to climb this tree at the     
Banyan Tree with its prop roots
backyard of my grandfather's house. It’s interesting that a house was built under the shade of this tree because, Banyan tree is known for its strong and stubborn aerial roots that grown into the ground and also the roots get into the foundations of the house making cracks in the walls and unsteady pillars. The tree must have been at least 200 years old. One day my Grandfather thought of cutting down the tree and he consulted some wise man to get their opinion. One them was a Ayurvedic doctor who suggested that the should not be cut down at any cost because, Banyan tree represents trimurtis - Trunk representing Lord Vishnu, roots Lord Brahma and branches Lord Shiva. It is also said that Lord Shiva sits under the tree facing south. It is also said that the sap of the tree, the leaves, the bark etc. are all useful in Ayurveda medicines. So, my Grandfather actually listened to the advice of the Kaviraj - the Physician and decided not to touch the tree. And, the house foundations, walls etc. started giving away due to the infiltration of the roots of the great Banyan tree. So, they left the tree and demolished the house to build a new one that's far off to the location of the tree. As a child, I was quite happy with this decision, because this Banyan tree used to be favourite outing place to watch numerous birds that come to feed on the fruits, Parrots that nest there regularly in the crevices of the branches and squirrels that run around on the branches. Interestingly the place where I currently work, there is a park and has about 5 Fig trees. (Which are Akin to Banyan trees).
Fig trees at Melbourne
During lunch time, I like to walk around them. There are also numerous folk tales and belief centered around this tree. It was believed that, Banyan tree is a place where Brahma Rakshas, Ghosts inhabit and in the famous Vikram Bhetaal story, The Bhetaal is a Vampire possessing occult powers, residing in the corpse of a dead body on the Banyan tree. A mendicant requests King Vikram to bring Bheetal to him and the king, a s a mark of respect for Saintly people and to show his chivalry carries Bhetaal from the tree to the Mendicant. In the processes Bhetaal starts talking to the king, tells him a story and questions (based on the Characters from his story)why a person acted in such a way. I can’t remember the whole story but, here is the Catch21- if the King knows the answer but doesn’t reply to Bheetal, the Kings head will be broken into 100 pieces and if the king talks, the Ghost will go back to his place think, think happens for 25 times and finally, Bhetaal is happy with the king and gives him a crucial information that the mendicant is not so pious and has plans of killing and sacrificing the king to Kali. So, the king actually kills the Mendicant before he could kill him and Bhetaal continues to him after words etc.
Coming back to the Banyan tree, this is called as Vata Vruksha.because of its huge roots and kalpavriksha, because it is said to fulfil the desires of the people. The way the tree got its name is also interesting. Apparently, during the time of British, when they came to India, they saw lot of Merchants (Banias) gathering and sitting under this Fig tree and hence, they called this as Banyan tree. But, it is a common practice in Indian villages that Banyan tree is associated with Lord Shiva. Many places, we see the Symbol - The Lingam of Lord Shiva is placed under this tree and worshipped. Also, this tree is associated with Buddhism as well. It is said that Lord Buddha sat under Banyan tree for 7 days after he got enlightenment.

In Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna says, "Of all trees, I am the Banyan Tree". By the way, Banyan tree is the national tree of India. Usually, in every village in India, there is a Banyan tree and it is a common practice that people come out in the evenings to sit under the tree for a chat or sometimes, the village courts are conducted under the tree. To give you an idea of how a giant Banyan trees looks like, I am giving you some link below,
1. The Great Banyan tree located in Kolkatta,
2. There is one in Andhra Pradesh, India which is spread over 19,107 sq meters,
3. Pillalamarri, Peerlamarri or Peerla marri is an 800-year-old Banyan tree located in Mahabubnagar, Andhra Pradesh, India.
4. There is one in Chennai, Adiyar.
This blog has nice photos of the tree.

Friday, 23 January 2015

This Too Shall Pass

Otaki River, New Zealand

This is a famous adage that finds its place in many religions of the world like, Hebrew, Arabic, Christianity and Hinduism. Of course, pronounced differently, these four words have a deep, philosophical meaning to the temporality of this world. Nothing in this world is permanent, always changing. There is happiness and there is distress. Everything comes on its own accord, according to time, place and circumstances. No one wants distress yet it still comes and everyone wants to be happy forever, yet it also stays for certain amount of time, based on ones Karma. Similarly, what is a pleasure for one person may be pain for another. A person smoking a cigarette might be enjoying the smoke and tobacco smell but, a non-smoker standing near him might actually get vomit with the smell. Even for a same person, within a matter of few months the same things that he enjoyed doing before might be repulsive. I have a friend who is a great fan of Candy Crush, the most useless mobile game. But, after he completed 300 or so levels, he got fed up and un-installed the game from his mobile and now completely hates it.

Lord Krishna in Bhagavad Gita says, Chapter 2, Verse14,
matra-sparsas tu kaunteya
agamapayino 'nityas
tams titiksasva bharata
O son of Kuntī, the non-permanent appearance of happiness and distress, and their disappearance in due course, are like the appearance and disappearance of winter and summer seasons. They arise from sense perception, O scion of Bharata, and one must learn to tolerate them without being disturbed.

Down below is an instructive story about this adage read number of versions of this story and liked this one.   
Once a king called upon all of his wise men and asked them,” Is there a mantra or suggestion which works in every situation, in every circumstance, in every place and in every time. In every joy, every sorrow, every defeat and every victory? One answer for all questions? Something which can help me when none of you is available to advise me? Tell me is there any mantra?”. All the wise men were puzzled by the Kings question. They thought and thought. After a lengthy discussion, an old man suggested something which appealed to all of them. They went to the king and gave him something written on paper, with a condition that the king was not to see it out of curiosity. Only in extreme danger, when the King finds himself alone and there seems to be no way, only then he can see it. The King put the papers under his Diamond ring. Sometime later, a neighbouring king attacked the Kingdom. King and his army fought bravely but lost the battle. The King had to flee on his horse. The enemies were following him. And, they were getting closer and closer. Suddenly the King found himself standing at the end of the road - that road was not going anywhere. Underneath there was a rocky valley thousand feet deep. If he jumped into it, he would be finished and he could not return because it was a small road the sound of enemy’s horses was approaching fast. The King became restless. There seemed to be no way. Then suddenly he saw the Diamond in his ring shining in the sun, and he remembered the message hidden in the ring. He opened the diamond and read the message. The message was “THIS TOO SHALL PASS”.The King read it . Again read it. Suddenly something struck him- Yes! This too will pass. Only a few days ago, I was enjoying my kingdom. I was the mightiest of all the Kings. Yet today, the Kingdom and all my pleasure have gone. I am here trying to escape from enemies. Like those days of luxuries have gone, this day of danger too will pass. A calm came on his face. He kept standing there. The place where he was standing was full of natural beauty. He had never known that such a beautiful place was also a part of his Kingdom. The revelation of the message had a great effect on him. He relaxed and forgot about those following him. After a few minutes he realized that the noise of the horses and the enemy coming was receding. They moved into some other part of the mountains and were near him. The King was very brave. He reorganized his army and fought again. He defeated the enemy and regained his empire. When he returned to his empire after victory, he was received with much fanfare. The whole capital was rejoicing in the victory. Everyone was in festive mood. Flowers were being showered on King from every house, from every corner.
People were dancing and singing. For a moment King said to himself. I am one of the bravest and greatest King. It is not easy to defeat me. With all the reception and celebration he saw an ego emerging in him. Suddenly the Diamond of his ring flashed in the sunlight and reminded him of the message. He opened it and read it again: THIS TOO SHALL PASS. He became silent. His face went through a total change -from the egoist he moved to a state of utter humbleness. If this too is going to pass, it is not yours. The defeat was not yours, the victory is not yours. You are just a watcher. Everything passes by. We are witnesses of all this. We are the perceivers. Life comes and goes. Happiness comes and goes. Sorrow comes and goes.
Now as you have read this story, just sit silently and evaluate your own life. This too will pass. Think of the moments of joy and victory in your life. Think of the moment of Sorrow and defeat. Are they permanent? They all come and pass away. Life just passes away. There is nothing permanent in this world. Everything changes except the law of change. Think over it from your own perspective. You have seen all the changes. You have survived all setbacks, all defeats and all sorrows. All have passed away. The problems in the present, they too will pass away. Because nothing remains forever. Joy and sorrow are the two faces of the same coin. They both will pass away. You are just a witness of change. Experience it, understand it, and enjoy the present moment - THIS TOO SHALL PASS.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Makara Sankranti

Makara Sankranti marks the day when sun appears to enter the zodiac of Makara (Capricorn). Traditionally, the day coincides with the northward movement of sun having reached its southern most point, the phenomenon known as Uttarayana in Vedic philosophy. It was an extremely potent day, marking a transition in energy. According to Vedic tradition the six months of Uttarayana are a single day of the gods; the six months of Dakshinayana are a single night of the gods. In Mahabharata, Bheeshma Pitamaha, choose to leave his body for the heavenly abode on it this day since it marks the onset of auspicious time.

I remember as a kid, Sankranti was a time for flying Kites, which would actually start a month before and it is a exciting sport with competitions between different kite flyers , Huge colourful Rangoli in front of the houses, A Haridas - person dressed in traditional clothes carrying a tambura (musical instrument) singing songs glorifying Lord Vishnu and going house to house asking for alms, accompanied by beautifully decorated Cow. Sankranti marks the victory of Good over evil. This was the day, when the demon Mahishasura was killed by Durga. This day marks the beginning of Sunny days with days being longer and the end of winter season. Sankranti is actually a four day festival. Day one is called Bhogi, where people light fire in front of the houses and discard old, unused items in the fire. Day two is the Sankranti and day three and four are called Kanuma and chinna kanuma, which is a festival of herds of cattle a farmer has which is usually Cows and Bulls. On this day, the farmers clean their cattle, colour the horns and decorate them etc. And then, there are number of sweets and snacks are prepared with the new harvest that was received like, new grains of rice, a preparation called chakilam is made, which rice flour is mixed with other mild spices. The semi-solid rice flour is coiled into circles and fired in oil, the result being a wonderful crispy snack which stays good for months. Kids Shower - On Bhogi, the infants and small kids are made to sit together and showered some fruits like, Jujube fruit mixed with small balls of rice snacks etc to protect them from evil eye.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

New Zealand Trip Photos

Here are some of the photos that I took on my recent visit to New Zealand.
Mesmerizing mist filled green mountains, Rivers with crystal clear water... 

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Trip to New Zealand - Wellington, Otaki and Auckland

SH1 - State Highway

Otaki River
It was a sweet and memorable trip for 8 days with my family. We landed at Wellington, went around the city a bit and headed off to Otaki in our rented car. Our destination was the New Gupta Vraj at Kaitawa Road; Otaki. It was a straight forward drive of following the SH-1, State Highway, bypassing some of the towns that come up.
Retreat Center

First thing, I noticed about New Zealand was that its greener and felt safe, people are friendly, helpful. There is also this thing about road signs, especially there are number of small bridges in the interior roads and generally its one way, you either give way or drive on depending on which side of the road you are. Some of the Signs didn't make sense to be no speed limits one, but just used my common sense.One thing to note though was, if you are buying a Prepaid SIM card, don’t buy Vodafone because the coverage is terrible, especially the rural, country areas it’s almost nil. The two reliable options are Skinny and Telecom which have a decent coverage.
Mist Covered Mountains
Our destination was about 80K from Wellington. Wellington City has a population of 400,000 and it is a compact city with most of the places within walking distance. The purpose of our visit was to attend a Spiritual Retreat. We stayed in Otaki for 7 days. We drove to number of nearby beaches and towns like, Otaki, Waikane and Kapiti Coast. On the day, when we went to Kapiti Island, the weather was bit rough and we could take a ferry to the Kapiti Island - which it was said to be beautiful with a Bird Sanctury, Nature walks etc.
The place where we stayed was an amazing Homestead called Strathean set in 3 hectares of lawns and mature, mainly native Totara trees at Te Horo.

Otaki River @ Otaki Gorge


Sri Sri Radha Giridhari

Sri Sri Radha Giridhari temple

Sri Sri Radha Giridhari temple

My Boys

At Auckland Airport with Jhulan Yatra Prabhu

 The main house offers comfortable country house living, a large lounge with wood burner, ample seating and a small library. The conservatory-like dining room opens on to a sunny deck for alfresco eating. It has modern Kitchen with utensils, Gas Stoves, Refrigerator etc.
The place of retreat center at Otaki is beautiful with lush green forest, Mountains topped with Clouds, mist and the beautiful Otaki River. When, we went to the river, we were accompanied by a friendly Labrador Dog with a name tag - Mickey. Mickey loves to escort us to the river and the surrounds and would play and swim in the river along with us.
Then, from Wellington we flew to Auckland. The first thing we noticed about the City is that it is more spread out and bigger. We preceded to the Iskcon temple which is a 100 Acre farm about 40K to the Airport. The temple and the surrounds are beautiful with the temple overlooking the estuary, and in itself "is a million dollar view”. The breeze that comes from the estuary is so refreshing and the surrounding area is with beautiful gardens of flowering plants and green grass. Interior of the temple was beautifully designed with picture of pastimes of Lord Krishna.
The other place of our visit was the Goshala - Cow Farm which is supplying the pure Cow Milk to the temple and couple of restaurants in the city run by ISKCON.
Overall, the trip was enjoyable and the kids simply loved it. The weather was absolutely wonderful, I guess because it’s the summer time. What I found interesting was the Local – Maori people and their rich culture and history. Also, the New Zealand Haka.. I love it. There are many of them, the common one is,Ka Mate

The "Ka Mate" haka generally opens with a set of five preparatory instructions shouted by the leader, before the whole team joins in:
"Ka Mate"
Ringa pakia!
Slap the hands against the thighs!
Uma tiraha!
Puff out the chest.
Turi whatia!
Bend the knees!
Hope whai ake!
Let the hips follow!
Waewae takahia kia kino!
Stomp the feet as hard as you can!
Ka mate, ka mate
I die, I die,
Ka ora' Ka ora'
I live, I live
Ka mate, ka mate
I die, I die,
Ka ora Ka ora "
I live, I live,
Tēnei te tangata pūhuruhuru
This is the hairy man
Nāna i tiki mai whakawhiti te rā
...Who caused the sun to shine again for me
A Upane! Ka Upane!
Up the ladder, Up the ladder
A Upane Kaupane"
Up to the top
Whiti te rā,!
The sun shines!