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Indian spirituality and Advaita philosophy

Not Many, But One combines knowledge from Sree Narayana Guru’s Advaita philosophy  and the latest findings of modern physics, astrophysics and life sciences to tackle some fundamental scientific and philosophical issues. Here is an excerpt from the second volume, which explores how Sree Narayana Guru revived the Advaita philosophy.

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In India, religion and spirituality are used very often as synonyms. While religion is more to do with rituals, spirituality has more to do with one’s self or, the spirit. In India, spirituality and religion are inherent parts of the day-to-day living of people in all walks of life. In India, people belonging to all the major religions of the world coexist in harmony for centuries. We begin with Hinduism since it is the dominant religion in the subcontinent.

front cover Not Many But One Volume I
Not Many But One Volume I||G.K.Sasidharan

For the study of Indian spirituality, it is essential to understand the basic tenets of Hinduism, a rich, complex and deeply symbolic religion. Hinduism is otherwise known as sanatana Dharma, or the eternal truth/tradition/religion. the Vedas are considered as superhuman-divine revelations, revealed to sages and seers in higher states of communion with ‘the one’—the Absolute. the Vedas are believed to be the world’s most ancient scriptures.

The Absolute is understood in three ways: one, as Paramatma or nirguna (unattributed) Brahman (the unattributed, all-pervading aspect of the supreme); two, as saguna (attributed) Brahman (the supreme soul as the aspect of God within the heart of all beings); and three, as Parameswara, the Absolute in the Jagrat or visual feature.

The entire universe is an illusion, a Vivartha (reflected image) of the absolute reality. the absolute reality can be seen only by turning inward as if it is you or inside you. the Indian philosophy differentiates between ‘belief’ and ‘faith’. A belief may or can be true, whereas faith can never be so; though faith is very often used to mean acceptance. For example, in earlier times, the earth was believed to be flat (belief). now, we know precisely that the earth is spherical (faith). According to Hinduism, experience is the key to faith.

The mother, father and the guru are akin to God. Ahimsa or non-violence to all forms of life is a basic principle. nothing is considered bad so long as it is within limits and the body accepts it. Hinduism believes in the following aspects: An absolute ‘one’, all-pervading supreme being both immanent and transcendent, the creator of un-manifest reality, though it is the only ‘Reality’.

According to Karma, the law of cause and effect, each individual creates his own destiny by his thoughts, words and deeds. Karma is not fate; for man, his deeds create his own fate. God does not punish anyone; one reaps what he sows. the effect of his acts makes him take several births until all the debts of his deeds—good and bad—are returned. still, prayer and nobility give Divine Grace. Man is not a born sinner. Divine grace is equal for all. Hindu philosophy believes in equality of well-being for all— Lōkā Samasta Sukhinō Bhavantu.

Reincarnation (where the soul evolves through many births) continues until all Karma is resolved. then only one attains Moksha or liberation from the cycle of rebirth. this destiny is common for all souls—the existence of divine beings in unseen worlds, temple worship, rituals and devotion lead to communion with the ‘Devas’ or gods in other worlds.

front cover Not Many But One Volume II
Not Many But One Volume II||G.K. Sasidharan

The history of spirituality and religion in India extends back to the end of the Palaeolithic period. this is evidenced by early traces of it excavated from different parts of India. there is evidence of ‘fire worship’ and ‘mother goddess’ worship as early as 10,000 BCe to 30,000 BCe. In Baghor situated near Kaimor escarpment Medhauli village in Madhya Pradesh, the excavated triangular stones and altars of fire worship seem to be 30,000 years old. A triangular stone was found incised with triangles, marked in red ochre, at an altar for a goddess. even today this practice continues in many villages in India, where similar stones, smeared in red and incised with triangles are offered to village deities. the triangular shape is generally taken as the basis for creating yantras, which are used for the worship of various deities. In the Indus Valley civilization (Harappan civilization) Kalibangan proto-Harappan age (3500 BCe–2500 BCe), they practised worship of the mother goddess, phallic worship and worship of a male god.

The new ideas of spirituality built up through the last couple of centuries, combining Western materialistic ideas with mystical traditions of Asia; especially of Indian religions. the ultimate endeavour was to find the truth of the individual’s entity ‘I’. With the advent of translations of Hindu texts in the West, mostly during the last century, transcendentalist thoughts started influencing Western thought, which led to the endorsement of universalist ideas and to Unitarian Universalism.

The theosophical society that searched for sacred teachings in Asian religions contributed to the major influence on model spirituality. It was influential on several Asian religions, especially on neo-Vedanta, the revival of theravada Buddhism, and Buddhist modernism, which adopted modern Western notions of personal experience and Universalism and incorporated them in their religious perception.

The perpetual philosophy of Asian tradition furthered the influence on the Western model of spirituality. An important influence on Western spirituality was neo-Vedanta, also called neo-Hinduism and Hindu Universalism, a model interpretation of Hinduism which developed in response to Western thoughts and oriental thoughts. the Unitarianism and the idea of Universalism were brought to India by missionaries and had a major influence on neo-Hinduism. this universalism was further popularized and brought back to the West as neo-Vedanta by swami Vivekananda.

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The translations, explanations and commentary given in the two volumes of Not Many, But One are simple and conceivable by ordinary readers who may not be well equipped to grasp the complexities of the intuitional spiritual findings of Advaita and hypothetic conclusions of quantum physics-but without compromising on the authenticity of the works.

 

A reckoning with humanity: The Homecoming and Other Stories

Sri M’s writings are not concerned with doctrinal teaching; instead, they explore the core of humanity, looking at the nurturing dimension of spirituality. Get a glimpse into his captivating new book The Homecoming and Other Stories with this excerpt.

 

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The well-built, curly haired young man of medium height, dressed in blue jeans, red T-shirt and brown ankle boots, carried only one piece of luggage—a small-sized, glossy black Ecolac briefcase.

Krishna, with his twenty years of experience as a licensed porter at the Bengaluru City railway station and given to watching all kinds of people with all kinds of luggage, noticed that not once since he had entered the platform had the young man put down the briefcase. Unusual, because from the way he carried it there was little doubt in Krishna’s mind that the briefcase, though small, might be heavy.

‘Gold ornaments, may be even gold biscuits,’ Krishna said to himself. He had carried what he guessed was gold many times. Bangaru Chetty, the well-known jeweller, always engaged him to carry his luggage. Chetty trusted him.

Trust. A lot of people trusted him but what had he gained? Nothing.

He rubbed his fingers across the brass badge pinned to his red T-shirt which proclaimed that he was a licensed porter, licensed to carry other people’s luggage all his life, while he himself possessed nothing other than life’s burdens: a heavy load which he knew no one else would care to share. So much for trust and honesty.

Krishna wasn’t the type who coveted someone else’s property but under the prevailing circumstances, in sheer desperation, he was willing to deviate from the principled life he had led thus far. What had his high principles given him, as his wife once said, ‘except poverty, misfortune and eternal sorrow?’

Excerpt from The Homecoming and Other Stories
The Homecoming and Other Stories||Sri M

‘Just this once,’ he said to himself. ‘Let me give it a try. Must be a smuggler. The loss would be nothing to him.’

The station was crowded. Armed policemen stood outside a special coach of the Chennai Mail, guarding some politician, an ex-minister of Tamil Nadu who, for some strange reason, had decided not to spend the taxpayer’s money flying and go by train.

Krishna steadied his nerves with great effort and walked up to the young man with the  briefcase who was standing outside the second-class sleeper coach adjoining the minister’s VIP coach. Hardly ten minutes left for the train to start and he was still outside. Perhaps waiting for someone.

‘Porter, sir?’ said Krishna and gestured towards the briefcase.

The young man said, ‘No,’ and turned his face away.

Under normal circumstances, Krishna would have gone and found another traveller but that day he just stood beside the news-stand nearby absorbed in his own thoughts.

‘Krishna,’ he said to himself ‘You are not made out for that kind of stuff, see? You certainly can’t snatch the briefcase and run. Crime is not your cup of tea. You can’t do it. So, suffer. Be an honest man . . .’

…By now the train had gathered speed and had moved out of the platform. The ticket collector was at the other end and no one else seemed to give any serious attention to his movements. Taking advantage, Krishna jumped out of the train, adjusting his gait to avoid falling…He stood still for a while, briefcase in his hand, taking stock of the situation. It was clear that he couldn’t walk out of there or go home carrying an elegant, new briefcase. He would have to transfer the contents into his old worn-out airbag in which he carried his uniform and lunch-box every morning when he came to the station…He collected the bag from the shelf and walked back to the shed to collect the briefcase, which was locked, just as he had expected it to be. He decided to break it open after going

home, if it could somehow be fitted into the bag.

…He pushed open the door and went in. Apart from the tiny kitchen there were only two rooms. In one of them was an old hand-operating sewing machine his nineteen-yearold daughter used to earn a few rupees doing simple stitching and mending jobs for the neighbours. She had fallen asleep on a floor mat, waiting for him. Beside her was his dinner: Ragi balls, beans curry and tamarind chutney. Meenakshi was smiling in her sleep. Her dream world was perhaps happier than the real world he had brought her into. Tears came rolling down his eyes as he saw her torn skirt, plastic bangles and imitation gold earrings. Perhaps it would all change now. How lovely she would look with real gold ornaments! He was hungry but decided to eat later. First, he had to open the briefcase and he had better do it without waking them up. There was no light in the other room where Ambuja, his wife, seemed to be sleeping soundly, thanks to the sleeping tablets he had managed to get her in the morning. Carrying the briefcase, he tiptoed into the tiny kitchen. The electric light wasn’t working because the bulb had popped. He lit the kerosene lamp, softly pushed the door shut and sat on the floor. Holding the briefcase in his lap he examined the locks, trying to figure out the best way to pry them open with the least noise. That was when he heard the peculiar ticking sound coming from inside the briefcase. What happened next took only a split second. A fire-orange, dazzling flash, followed by an ear-splitting blast! Krishna couldn’t complete the scream that rose in his throat.

 

The same night, just as the train moved out of the station, the young man emerged from the canteen, walked up to the public telephone booth and dialled his boss’s number. ‘Okay sir, all done. Too much security for the minister, sir. Didn’t want to risk getting caught, so planted the briefcase in the next compartment. Range more than enough, sir.’ ‘Thank you, goodbye,’ said the man on the other side and hung up. Then with a smile on his lips, he poured himself a peg of Old Monk rum and drank it up straight, celebrating in advance the death of Enemy Number One.

 

~

 

The Homecoming and Other Stories is a collection of short stories by Sri M that explore the impact of human behaviour and the nuances of spirituality.

Six steps you need to follow to make your life a celebration

The universe has bestowed limitless powers and infinite siddhis on the human consciousness. Along with being effective and successful in the personal and professional spheres, the purpose of human life is also to ensure the complete blossoming of the individual consciousness. In Celebrating Life, Rishi Nityapragya shares the secrets that can help you explore your infinite potential. He offers an in-depth understanding of how to identify and be free from negative emotions and harmful tendencies, and how to learn to invoke life’s beautiful flavours-like enthusiasm, love, compassion and truth-whenever and wherever you want.

Here are the only six steps that you need to follow and inculcate in your life to become a master of your circumstances and lead a more meaningful and fulfilled life.

 

1) Play of universal consciousness

 ‘As science translates its findings into practical use, to make life more comfortable and convenient, spirituality is about beautifying the human consciousness and making it blossom.’

 ‘As there are laws governing the physical universe, there are specific laws according to which the human consciousness functions.’

 

2) Extraordinary Powers, Siddhis, of Your Individual Consciousness

‘Nature has bestowed limitless powers upon the human consciousness. The more you understand the technicalities, the scientific aspects of your consciousness, the more you realize that you already have all the abilities necessary to create the quality of life that you want.’

‘In the domain of consciousness, like attracts like.’

‘The way people relate to you is largely a reflection of your own mind.’

 

3) Meticulous Refinement of Your Own Consciousness

‘Through optimum utilization of the instruments given to you by the nature of body-breath-mind-intellect-memory and ego; through your Committed Skilful Efforts you have the opportunity of tremendously accelerating the process of evolution of your own consciousness.’

Inherently, you already have all the powers necessary to create the life that you want. You are not designed to be a slave of circumstances; you are designed to be the master of situations.

 

front cover of Celebrating Life
Celebrating Life || Rishi Nityapragya

 

4) Being Free from All Bondages, Negativities and Harmful Tendencies

 ‘The incoming breath energizes the body, provides vital force and supports the soul so that it continues to live in the physical form; the outgoing breath removes impurities from the body and empties your individual consciousness. The secret is, the more empty, the more free the mind is, the more happy it is and more available it is to do anything that you want to do with it.’

 

5) Optimizing the Golden Opportunity of Being in the Human Body

 Every individual soul is giving these three precious instruments—of time-energy-mind—to the activities of their own lives. …though time and energy are extremely precious instruments of your life, it is the mind that plays the whole game. It is the mind that gives direction to your time and energy as well.’

Neither is Maya designed to give you higher insights, nor is it meant to enhance your energies or offer you any happiness. On the contrary, it is guaranteed to waste your precious time, drain your most valuable energy and is destined to contaminate your pleasant, happy mind.’

 

6) Designing Your Life

 ‘Your emotions, your choices, your actions, your decisions, your happiness, your Dharma, the blossoming of your consciousness, all of it is your own responsibility.’

‘The more you become an instrument in the process of someone’s learning, the more you teach, the more you learn.’

**

 

Of profound visions and a higher calling

Running Toward Mystery || Tenzin Priyadarshi, Zara Houshmand

At the age of six, The Venerable Tenzin Priyadarshi began having visions of a mysterious mountain peak, and of men with shaved heads wearing robes of the color of sunset. At the age of ten, he ran away from boarding school to find this place which he saw in his visions.

Running Toward Mystery is the Venerable Tenzin Priyadarshi’s profound account of his lifelong journey as a seeker. At its heart is a story of striving for enlightenment, the vital importance of mentors in that search, and of the many remarkable teachers he met along the way, among them the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and Mother Teresa.

Here’s an excerpt from the book.

 

**

 

I was six years old in 1985, when the dreams and visions had started. The very first time too, there was no question that I was wide awake. I was with a friend who lived in the same compound, at Evelyn Lodge, where our bungalow was. I had gone to his apartment to ask him to play and we were walking toward the cricket field when I saw what looked at first like streaks and patches of orange in the sky. Was it sun- set already? That would mean it was time to go home, but it couldn’t be. We hadn’t even started playing. Then the colors resolved into shapes and their outlines became clear. Men in robes of that saffron sunset color, with shaved heads, were milling about. There was a deer and a small hut. Some of the men went into the hut and came out again. It was as vivid as if I were watching a scene from life.

“Do you see that?”

My friend followed my gaze, squinting into the sky. “See what?” He swung the bat at nothing. I pinched myself. That was what you were supposed to do if you thought you were dreaming. It made no difference. Slowly, as we continued to walk, the scene faded into the sky and disappeared. Later, when I got home, I told my parents, but they said I must have imagined it.

I worried that there was something wrong with my eyes. But I had no trouble seeing the blackboard in class, or the ball when it was my turn to bat, or the mangoes hanging in the orchard, waiting for my arrows. And if it was my mind that wasn’t right? Well, it was right enough in all other depart- ments. My grades were excellent.

And so it was forgotten, no big deal, and the memory would have been lost in the jumbled closet of a child’s mind if I hadn’t seen the other things later. There was a place that I dreamt of again and again, but even when I was awake it ap- peared very clearly to my mind’s eye: A rocky peak loomed above a plain, wrapped in woods and scrub but with boulders and a cliff face exposed. I had a bird’s-eye view, but I could see no buildings, no human mark on the landscape, nothing to hint at where this place was or why it should rouse in me a lingering sweetness, a yearning. It was as perplexing as the man who kept visiting my dreams, and just as persistent. There were other people who appeared at times, some with shaved heads and some with dreadlocks, wearing different shades of yellow, orange, or red. But he was the one I saw most clearly.

I was old enough to know that dreams, however weird they might seem, are normally rooted in the workings of our own minds and that waking hallucinations are not normal. I didn’t have a theory—not even a half-baked hint—about what these intrusions in my mind might signify. They seemed to come from beyond me, beyond the world of logical sense, a genuine mystery that begged to be solved.

Now I lay there in the darkened room, listening to the random snuffles and snores of a hundred sleeping boys, and felt a mounting sense of urgency. I wasn’t going to get any closer to the answer by lying here wide awake until the morning bell.

To find it, I needed to go out and search for it. After all, mysteries are how adventures begin.

It was time. I crept out of bed slowly. There was just enough shadowy light spilling over from the foyer to see by. Moving as quietly as possible, I put some clothes into a small daypack. I sat on the edge of the bed, so I didn’t have to risk the noise of pulling out the desk chair, and wrote a note to my parents. Just a few words that revealed nothing so much as a ten-year- old’s hubris—that I was leaving on a spiritual quest and didn’t know where it would take me, but they shouldn’t worry. I slid the note under the wooden lid of the desk.

** 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ICE with Very Unusual Spirits, An Excerpt

A devotee of Sai Baba of Shirdi, Ruzbeh N. Bharucha is one of the most influential spiritual writers of our times. His new book, ‘ICE with Very Unusual Spirits’ is about Irashaw Cawas Engineer (Ice), a world-renowned painter of Divinity, who turns his back on his Master and spirituality after the death of his young children. The book is derived from the sages and is about the wisdom of life and living, and understanding, accepting and seeking a higher purpose.

Here’s an excerpt from the book.
Why is he called Ice?’ his wife asked.
‘Apparently, at the boarding school where he studied, children had to write their initials on all their possessions—bags, clothes, etc.—to avoid misplacing them. His real name is Irashaw Cawas Engineer, thus I.C.E. Since then, he’s known by his initials. He signs off on his paintings as ICE too.’
‘What is he doing here? Wasn’t he in New York or somewhere abroad? I have a bad feeling, Ashish. It’s not going to be good with him living next door, you mark my words. This man brings doom with him.’
‘Don’t say this, Maya. It was this man’s painting of Lords Ganesh, Krishna, Jesus, and Hanumanji and Sai Baba playing together as kids with a small baby girl that helped you get through  your pregnancy. You yourself told me that if it weren’t for that painting, you would never have wanted to be a mother and undergone eight months of bed rest . . .’
‘Bed imprisonment, Ashish! All you men are dogs . . . ’
‘Breathe, sweetheart. Yes, bed imprisonment . . . and you used to bless Ice every day. Remember, when you went into depression after hearing about the accident and the death of his kids?’
‘I know, but he was a different man back then. This man here is a ghost of him. Trust me, Ashish, he walks with death itself. Why the hell did you help him get this flat adjacent to ours?’
‘What did you want me to do? Imran called me up saying Ice wanted to shift here. I couldn’t refuse him. He has stood by me through thick and thin.’
‘Imran I understand, but why do you feel so much for Ice?’
Ashish looked at his wife. By God, she was beautiful. He could never understand why she had agreed to marry him; she had every affluent man waiting in line to marry her. During those days he had no money, not much of a career, in fact nothing going for him. It had taken them years to get settled. But Maya had never complained. The only thing missing in their marriage was physical intimacy. Fortunately, he wasn’t too keen on getting into the sack himself and often thought that his disinterest in sex was probably the reason why she had married him. But she loved him and took care of him and their child, and yes, she had her issues and she could drive him up the wall, but he loved her in spite of everything.
‘Okay, I am going to tell you something I haven’t shared with you. Remember, how much I wanted to be a father? For whatever reason, you weren’t keen on getting pregnant. I know you love me, but there are certain areas in your life that you don’t share with me. Anyway, nine years ago, I had met Imran at his house for dinner and we had drunk a bit too much and during our conversation, I had mentioned that it would be a miracle if you ever agreed to become a mother. Ten days later, he came home and gifted you that painting. You fell in love with it and then slowly, over time, decided to be a mother.’
‘So?’
‘It seems Imran told Ice about our conversation and a week later, Ice presented him the painting to be given to “that neurotic woman and her daft husband who want a kid”. Do you know how expensive this painting is now? All our savings, investments and gold put together won’t be worth as much. If we were to sell it today, we would be able to buy this or any other house like this in the city. Ice gave it to us because he wanted his friend’s friend to be at peace. Come on, Maya, who would do such a thing for strangers? People don’t even help their families nowadays and here is a man who gifted us a painting that could have fetched him enough to live lavishly for a long time. Ice used to be a workaholic back then but he still took time to paint the portrait for us. Even now, whenever Ice has an exhibition, his paintings are sold out even before they are displayed. I am indebted to Ice for life. He had as much a role in Ayesha’s birth as you and I. And haven’t you noticed one thing? Look at the girl in the painting. Doesn’t Ayesha look like her?’
Maya looked at the painting. There was no doubt that the girl in the painting was a spitting image of Ayesha. Nobody could deny the similarity. It was as though Ayesha had posed for the painting herself. Damn that Ice! She looked down from the drawing room window. Ice was standing with a cigarette between his lips. He had lost a lot of weight. A huge black dog with tan stripes lay next to him. Both needed a haircut. Ice was wearing a pair of jeans and a light-blue T-shirt, both of which were soiled with paint. People stared at him. Passers-by turned around to get a better look. They recognized him but didn’t dare approach him for an autograph. He was temperamental, to put it politely. On good days, Ice would chat and laugh for a long time; on the  not-so-good days, it was rumoured that he had broken many a journalist’s camera and phone. Even now, he didn’t pay attention to anybody. He just stood there and smoked. After a while, he looked up, straight at her, and Maya felt her blood turn cold. This man was trouble. She just knew it.

What happens next? Find out
in ‘ICE With Very Unusual Spirits.’

Devdutt Pattanaik on Mothers

Mothers have been an important mainstay in epics, folk tales and mythologies for generations. Today, as we celebrate Mother’s Day, here is an exclusive excerpt on mothers from Devdutt’s Devlok 2.
A mother gives birth to a child. But did god give birth to the mother or did a mother give birth to god?
As interesting as the question is, the answer too is not simple. In a temple, the space where a god’s image is kept is known as garbha griha; that is, god is residing inside the garbha. Garbha means womb. Whose womb is this? A temple itself has been seen as a woman, a mother. Spiritually, Prakriti is everyone’s mother. Prakriti has given birth to sanskriti (culture). God’s mother is also Prakriti.
The Rigveda has this interesting sentence that Daksha gave birth to Aditi and Aditi gave birth to Daksha; that is, the father created the mother and the mother created the father. When you go way back in the past, the division between father and mother collapses. With god, this concept does not hold because god is swayambhu—he has given birth to himself; he is his own mother. Two words are used often in the Puranas – Yonija (born of the womb) and Swayambhu (who gives birth to self). God is always swayambhu, but his avatars are yonija; they experience birth and death. For instance, Ram is an avatar, so he is born and dies. He has a mother, Kaushalya. Krishna, likewise, has a mother, Devaki. Shiva is swayambhu.
In Tantra parampara, where goddesses are given a lot of importance, the stories and folk tales speak of how in the beginning of the world there was only a devi/Prakriti called Adi Maya Shakti. She gave birth to three eggs from which were born Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. She is therefore called Triamba (one who gave birth to three children). This does not happen in puranic stories. In Shakt parampara, god does have a mother. In Vaishnav parampara, god gives birth to himself; and he creates the world and its creatures from himself. In Shaiva parampara, Shiva gives birth to himself; he is swayambhu, doesn’t have a mother, but gives birth to all mothers.
Devi is sometimes called a kumari (virgin) and sometimes mata (mother). How is that?
Christianity has a concept of the virgin mother who is Jesus’s mother. The word kumari, in India and in the world, does no necessarily mean virgin. It means a woman who is independent, who has no husband, and no man has a right over her. She has no ties and is completely liberated. So she is both mata and kumari, that is, an independent mother. Her hair is always depicted untied, to symbolize her freedom. No one can have dominance over Prakriti.
In Vaishnodevi or Kal Bhairav temples, the story is that of Bhairav wanting to have a relationship with the goddess; the goddess refused and cut off his head. ‘You cannot control me.’ Kal Bhairav then becomes her guard. In another story, when Brahma’s fifth head wanted a right over her, Bhairav cut off his head. Such are the violent stories associated with kumari.
The symbolic meaning could be that man’s ego prevents a devi from becoming a kumari, which is why he gets cursed or gets his head cut off. These are spiritual, metaphysical topics.
Shiva was swayambhu, but who was his son Karitkeya’s mother—Parvati or Ganga?
In Shiv Puran, the story is that after their marriage, Shiva says he has no need for a child. He says, ‘I am swayambhu, anadi, anant, without beginning or end; I will never die. So why do I need children?’ Devi says, ‘But I want children; I want to be a mother.’ An interesting conflict arises here. When Shiva is about to offer his seed, all gods and goddesses say that Shiva’s seed cannot be accommodated in just one womb; it should be placed in many wombs. The story goes that his seed is so hot that no one can touch it. First is is given to Vayu, wind, in the beliefe that he’ll be able to cool it down, but he fails. Vayu gives the seed to Agni, fire, who too cannot hold it. He passes it on to Ganga and her waters starts boiling. The reed forests (Sara-vana) near the river start burning. From the ash of those reeds, a child emerges. In some stories, it is six children who emerge. As the infants start crying, Krittika nakshatra, constellation of six stars, descend from the sky as the childrens’ mothers and feed them milk. Finally, Gauri, Shiva’s wife, joins the six children together. That child is Kartikeya, also called Shanmukha, or one with six heads.
The question arises, the father of the child is Shiva, but who is the mother? Vayu, Agni, Ganga, Sharavan, Krittika, Parvati all stake a claim. So, he has many mothers. Shiva’s seed has thus gone to many yonis; it shows that the child is so powerful, he cannot be born of just one womb. Kartik means son of Krittika. In the south, he is called Sharavanan, son of Sharavan. In images, he is sometimes shown along with six or seven matrika, mothers.
What is Ganesh’s story? Who is his mother?
In stories, although Shakti wants to become a mother, the gods don’t want her to give birth in the normal way. If the child is born from her yoni, it’ll be so powerful that it will defeat Indra, the king of the gods. So, Shiv-Shakti’s children are not born from Parvati’s yoni. Kartikeya is born of Shiva’s seed, from many yonis. Ganesh is born from the scrapings of Parvati’s body. Again, he is ayonija.
The story is that Parvati goes to Shiva, asking him to give her a child. He says he is not interested as he’s immortal. She tells him she’ll make it herself; she’s the goddess, after all. She first collects the scrapings (mull) of her skin, mixed with the applied chandan and haldi. Then she makes a doll of it and gives it life. In Vamana Purana, it is said the child’s name ‘Vinayak’ comes from ‘bina nayak’ (without a man); there are other stories about the word’s origin too. Shiva does not like the way Parvati has birthed her child, as he cannot recognize her image in it, so he cuts off its head. Parvati starts weeping, and insists he bring back the child to life. So Shiva gives him an elephant head and that’s how Ganesh is born. Again, it is ayonija.
In the Mahabharat, we see many ambitious mothers who want their sons to be king.
In the Puranas, the stories have more of a spiritual, intellectual concern, while in the Ramyan and Mahabharat, the focus is on wealth and property. For this reason, the men go to war, and the women want their sons to grow up and be victorious. This is presented in a fascinating way in the Mahabharata. When Shantanu wants to marry Satyavati, she first attaches a condition that her son inherit Shantanu’s kingdom. She claims she is securing her child’s future. Is that the real reason or does she want the high position of a rajmata (queen mother)?
There is also a competition between Gandhari, Kunti and Madri. When Gandhari is pregnant, she hears that Kunti has given birth to a son. Although Gandhari was pregnant from before, Kunti used her mantra to have Yudhisthir without the nine-month period. Gandhari gets so upset, she beats her belly with a stick. The mass that emerges from her belly is cold as iron. When Vyas creates 100 children from this mass, Gandhari is happy, because now she has more children than Kunti. Kunti begets two more children and uses up the power of her mantra. She gives the mantra to Madri who uses it once and calls Ashvin Kumar and gets the twins, Nakul and Sahdev. Pandu asks Kunti to let Madri use the mantra once more as she herself had used it thrice, but Kunti refuses. She fears that if Madri were to produce twins again, she’d have more children, and therefore more importance, than her. In the Mahabharat, this rivalry has been subtly depicted.
What about the mothers in the Ramayana?
Kaikeyi’s story is the most well known. When she had saved Dashrath’s life during a dev-asura battle, he had promised her two boons. The day before his eldest son, Ram’s, coronation, she throws a tantrum and demands her boons. She asks that Bharat be made king instead of his first-born Ram, and that he send Ram into vanvas (life in the forest) for 14 years. Ram’s mother, Kaushalya, is pained and asks Kaikeyi why she had to be so cruel to a son who’d treated her like his own mother.
An interesting aspect of this story is that when Dashrath marries Kaikeyi, he does not have any children. The astrologer says that Kaikeyi will definitely have a son. At that time, Dashrath promises her that her son would become king. So, in a way, Kaikeyi is only asking for what is rightfully her due. It’s like a court case, a settling of an agreement, where the lines are not clear. Whether Kaikeyi is ambitious or merely asking for her right is hard to say.
Krishna is called Devakinandan and Yashodanandan. Who was his mother?
There are some who believe that Krishna is not an avatar (of Vishnu’s) but himself an avatari—from whom avatars emerge. Others see him as an avatar. But he is born from Devaki’s womb, so he is yonija and experiences death. Mausala Parva in Mahabharat describes Krishna’s death. He is born from Devaki’s womb in Mathura, but is raised by Yashoda in Gokul. So he has two mothers – birth/blood mother and milk mother.
In folk songs, Krishna is asked who his real mother is—Devaki who has birthed him or Yashoda who has raised him? Krishna replies, do you think my heart is so small that it cannot contain more than one mother? I can handle both. But the question is who has the maternal right over him? Who is to answer that—it’s a complex world. The story suggests that relationships are not built by blood alone. Another aspect is that Devaki is a princess, while Yashoda is a milkmaid. So Krishna’s claim that both are his mothers shows that he has a relationship with the palace dwellers as well as cowherds, with the city as well as the village. He is large-hearted and this is why Krishna is associated with love.
In Puranas, is there a story of single mothers?
Bhagwat Puran has a story of Devahuti whose husband is Kardam rishi who says he doesn’t really want to have children, but has been told by his ancestors that he won’t achieve moksha (liberation from life and death) until he has children. But he doesn’t want any part in raising that child. Devahuti agrees to raise the child alone, and the child grows up to be Kapil muni who develops the Sankhya philosophy. It is also well known that Sita raises Luv and Kush on her own. Shakuntala too raises her son Bharat by herself in the forest, without the support of her husband.
Is there a story in our Puranas where a father plays the role of a mother?
When apsaras have children, they abandon them. Shakuntala’s mother Menaka had abandoned her in the jungle, and Shakuntala was raised by Kanva rishi who is like a single father. When Sita goes back to her mother, and disappears inside earth, she leaves her children behind with Ram who becomes a single father.
This is an excerpt from Devdutt Patnaik’s Devlok 2.
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6 Quotes from Nadeem Aslam’s Searing New Book that will Leave You in Awe

Against a background of violence and fear, two outsiders in Pakistan try to find an island of calm in which their love can grow. In his characteristically  enchanting prose, Nadeem Aslam reflects Pakistan’s past and present in a single mirror—a story of corruption, resilience, and the hope that only love and the human spirit can offer.
Here are six quotes from his  new novel – The Golden Legend.
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Struck by the searing instances above?
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