The Chinese Calendar


Chinese New Year is the main holiday of the year for more than one quarter of the world’s population. Although the People’s Republic of China uses the Gregorian calendar for civil purposes, a special Chinese calendar is used for determining festivals. Various Chinese communities around the world also use this calendar. At right, a large dragon lantern glows at a festival for Chinese New Year at the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial. Taipei, Taiwan.

The beginnings of the Chinese calendar can be traced back to the 14th century B.C.E. Legend has it that the Emperor Huangdi invented the calendar in 2637 B.C.E.

The Chinese calendar is based on exact astronomical observations of the longitude of the sun and the phases of the moon. This means that principles of modern science have had an impact on the Chinese calendar.


What Does the Chinese Year Look Like?

The Chinese calendar – like the Hebrew – is a combined solar/lunar calendar in that it strives to have its years coincide with the tropical year and its months coincide with the synodic months. It is not surprising that a few similarities exist between the Chinese and the Hebrew calendar:

(+) An ordinary year has 12 months, a leap year has 13 months.

(+) An ordinary year has 353, 354, or 355 days, a leap year has 383, 384, or 385 days.

When determining what a Chinese year looks like, one must make a number of astronomical calculations:

First, determine the dates for the new moons. Here, a new moon is the completely “black” moon (that is, when the moon is in conjunction with the sun), not the first visible crescent used in the Islamic and Hebrew calendars. The date of a new moon is the first day of a new month.

Secondly, determine the dates when the sun’s longitude is a multiple of 30 degrees. (The sun’s longitude is 0 at Vernal Equinox, 90 at Summer Solstice, 180 at Autumnal Equinox, and 270 at Winter Solstice.) These dates are called the Principal Terms and are used to determine the number of each month:

  • Principal Term 1 occurs when the sun’s longitude is 330 degrees.
  • Principal Term 2 occurs when the sun’s longitude is 0 degrees.
  • Principal Term 3 occurs when the sun’s longitude is 30 degrees.
  • Principal Term 11 occurs when the sun’s longitude is 270 degrees.
  • Principal Term 12 occurs when the sun’s longitude is 300 degrees.
    Each month carries the number of the Principal Term that occurs in that month.
    In rare cases, a month may contain two Principal Terms; in this case the months numbers may have to be shifted. Principal Term 11 (Winter Solstice) must always fall in the 11th month.
    All the astronomical calculations are carried out for the meridian 120 degrees east of Greenwich. This roughly corresponds to the east coast of China.
    Some variations in these rules are seen in various Chinese communities.

What Years Are Leap Years?

    Leap years have 13 months. To determine if a year is a leap year, calculate the number of new moons between the 11th month in one year (i.e., the month containing the Winter Solstice) and the 11th month in the following year. If there are 13 new moons from the start of the 11th month in the first year to the start of the 11th month in the second year, a leap month must be inserted.
    In leap years, at least one month does not contain a Principal Term. The first such month is the leap month. It carries the same number as the previous month, with the additional note that it is the leap month.

How Does One Count Years?

    Unlike most other calendars, the Chinese calendar does not count years in an infinite sequence. Instead years have names that are repeated every 60 years.
    (Historically, years used to be counted since the accession of an emperor, but this was abolished after the 1911 revolution.)
    Within each 60-year cycle, each year is assigned name consisting of two components:
    The first component is a Celestial Stemm. These words have no English equivalent:

    1. jia 6. ji
    2. yi 7. geng
    3. bing 8. xin
    4. ding 9. ren
    5. wu 10. gui

    The second component is a Terrestrial Branch. The names of the corresponding animals in the zodiac cycle of 12 animals are given in parentheses.

    1. zi (rat) 7. wu (horse)
    2. chou (ox) 8. wei (sheep)
    3. yin (tiger) 9. shen (monkey)
    4. mao (hare, rabbit) 10. you (rooster)
    5. chen (dragon) 11. xu (dog)
    6. si (snake) 12. hai (pig)

    Each of the two components is used sequentially. Thus, the 1st year of the 60-year cycle becomes jia-zi, the 2nd year is yi-chou, the 3rd year is bing-yin, etc. When we reach the end of a component, we start from the beginning: The 10th year is gui-you, the 11th year is jia-xu (restarting the Celestial Stem), the 12th year is yi-hai, and the 13th year is bing-zi (restarting the Terrestrial Branch). Finally, the 60th year becomes gui-hai.
    This way of naming years within a 60-year cycle goes back approximately 2000 years. A similar naming of days and months has fallen into disuse, but the date name is still listed in calendars.
    It is customary to number the 60-year cycles since 2637 B.C.E., when the calendar was supposedly invented. In that year the first 60-year cycle started.

What Is the Current Year in the Chinese Calendar?

    The current 60-year cycle started on 2 Feb 1984. That date bears the name bing-yin in the 60-day cycle, and the first month of that first year bears the name gui-chou in the 60-month cycle.
    This means that the year wu-yin, the 15th year in the 78th cycle, started on 28 Jan 1998. The 20th year in the 78th cycle, started on 1 Feb 2003.
    The following are dates for Chinese/Lunar New Year’s day:
    Chinese year Zodiac animal Gregorian calendar
    4693 Boar January 31, 1995
    4694 Rat February 19, 1996
    4695 Ox February 7, 1997
    4696 Tiger January 28, 1998
    4697 Hare/Rabbit February 16, 1999
    4698 Dragon February 5, 2000
    4699 Snake January 24, 2001
    4700 Horse February 12, 2002
    4701 Ram/Sheep February 1, 2003
    4702 Monkey January 22, 2004
    4703 Rooster February 9, 2005
    4704 Dog January 29, 2006
    4705 Boar February 18, 2007
    4706 Rat February 7, 2008
    4707 Ox January 26, 2009
    4708 Tiger February 10, 2010
    4709 Hare/Rabbit February 3, 2011
    4710 Dragon January 23, 2012
    4711 Snake February 10, 2013
    4712 Horse January 31, 2014
    4713 Ram/Sheep February 19, 2015
    4714 Monkey February 9, 2016
    4715 Rooster January 28, 2017
    4716 Dog February 16, 2018
    4717 Boar February 5, 2019
    4718 Rat January 25, 2020

What about the year 2033?

    In the early 1990s, Chinese astronomers discovered that there was an error in the Chinese calendar for 2033. The traditional calendar claimed that the leap month would follow the 7th month, while in fact it comes after the 11th month. It is very unusual that the 11th month has a leap month, in fact it hasn’t happened since the calendar reform in 1645 (before 1645, all months had the same probability for having a leap month). But many Chinese astronomers still claim that there will never be a leap month after the 12th and 1st month. In addition, there will be a leap month after the 1st month in 2262 (in fact, it should have happened in 1651, but they got the calculations wrong!) and there will be a leap month after the 12th month in 3358. Since the Chinese calendar is an astronomical calendar, predictions require delicate astronomical calculations, so my computations for 3358 should probably be taken with a grain of salt.

When did the calendar really start?

    If the Chinese calendar started in 2637 B.C.E., why is the current year 60 years too late? (e.g., in 1999, the current year was 4697? and not 4637)?
    The Chinese calendar does not use a continuous year count! They used a 60 year cycle and a system of regional years (starting with each emperor). Before the 1911 revolution, Sun Yat-sen wanted to establish a republican alternative to the imperial reign cycles. According to Chinese tradition, the first year of the Yellow Emperor was 2698 B.C.E., so he introduced a counting system based on this. Under this system, 2000 is year 4698. An alternative system is to start with the first historical record of the 60-day cycle from March 8, 2637 B.C.E. Based on this system, 2000 is year 4637.

What was the Early Chinese calendar?

    Two oracle bones
    Shang Dynasty in China
    (c. 1800 – 1200 BCE)
    Evidence from the Shang oracle bone inscriptions shows that at least by the 14th century BC the Shang Chinese had established the solar year at 365 1/4 days and lunation at 29 1/2 days. In the calendar that the Shang used, the seasons of the year and the phases of the Moon were all supposedly accounted for.

    In China, the calendar was a sacred document, sponsored and promulgated by the reigning monarch. For more than two millennia, a Bureau of Astronomy made astronomical observations, calculated astronomical events such as eclipses, prepared astrological predictions, and maintained the calendar. After all, a successful calendar not only served practical needs, but also confirmed the consonance between Heaven and the imperial court.

    Analysis of surviving astronomical records inscribed on oracle bones reveals a Chinese lunisolar calendar, with intercalation of lunar months, dating back to the Shang dynasty of the fourteenth century B.C.E. Various intercalation schemes were developed for the early calendars, including the nineteen-year and 76-year lunar phase cycles that came to be known in the West as the Metonic cycle and Callipic cycle.
    From the earliest records, the beginning of the year occurred at a New Moon near the winter solstice. The choice of month for beginning the civil year varied with time and place, however. In the late second century B.C.E., a calendar reform established the practice, which continues today, of requiring the winter solstice to occur in month 11. This reform also introduced the intercalation system in which dates of New Moons are compared with the 24 solar terms. However, calculations were based on the mean motions resulting from the cyclic relationships. Inequalities in the Moon’s motions were incorporated as early as the seventh century C.E., but the Sun’s mean longitude was used for calculating the solar terms until 1644.
    Years were counted from a succession of eras established by reigning emperors. Although the accession of an emperor would mark a new era, an emperor might also declare a new era at various times within his reign. The introduction of a new era was an attempt to reestablish a broken connection between Heaven and Earth, as personified by the emperor. The break might be revealed by the death of an emperor, the occurrence of a natural disaster, or the failure of astronomers to predict a celestial event such as an eclipse. In the latter case, a new era might mark the introduction of new astronomical or calendrical models.
    Sexagenary cycles were used to count years, months, days, and fractions of a day using the set of Celestial Stems and Terrestrial Branches. Use of the sixty-day cycle is seen in the earliest astronomical records. By contrast the sixty-year cycle was introduced in the first century C.E. or possibly a century earlier. Although the day count has fallen into disuse in everyday life, it is still tabulated in calendars. The initial year (jia-zi) of the current year cycle began on 1984 February 2, which is the third day (bing-yin) of the day cycle.

Details of early calendars

    One of the two methods that they used to make this calendar was to add an extra month of 29 or 30 days, which they termed the 13th month, to the end of a regular 12-month year. There is also evidence that suggests that the Chinese developed the Metonic cycle (see above Complex cycles) — i.e., 19 years with a total of 235 months–a century ahead of Meton’s first calculation (no later than the Spring and Autumn period, 770-476 BC). During this cycle of 19 years there were seven intercalations of months. The other method, which was abandoned soon after the Shang started to adopt it, was to insert an extra month between any two months of a regular year. Possibly, a lack of astronomical and arithmetical knowledge allowed them to do this.

    By the 3rd century BC, the first method of intercalation was gradually falling into disfavour, while the establishment of the meteorological cycle, the erh-shih-ssu chieh-ch’i (Pinyin ershisi jieqi), during this period officially revised the second method. This meteorological cycle contained 24 points, each beginning one of the periods named consecutively the Spring Begins, the Rain Water, the Excited Insects, the Vernal Equinox, the Clear and Bright, the Grain Rains, the Summer Begins, the Grain Fills, the Grain in Ear, the Summer Solstice, the Slight Heat, the Great Heat, the Autumn Begins, the Limit of Heat, the White Dew, the Autumn Equinox, the Cold Dew, the Hoar Frost Descends, the Winter Begins, the Little Snow, the Heavy Snow, the Winter Solstice, the Little Cold, and the Severe Cold. The establishment of this cycle required a fair amount of astronomical understanding of the Earth as a celestial body, and without elaborate equipment it is impossible to collect the necessary information. Modern scholars acknowledge the superiority of pre-Sung Chinese astronomy (at least until about the 13th century AD) over that of other, contemporary nations.

    The 24 points within the meteorological cycle coincide with points 15º apart on the ecliptic (the plane of the Earth’s yearly journey around the Sun or, if it is thought that the Sun turns around the Earth, the apparent journey of the Sun against the stars). It takes about 15.2 days for the Sun to travel from one of these points to another (because the ecliptic is a complete circle of 360º), and the Sun needs 365 1/4 days to finish its journey in this cycle. Supposedly, each of the 12 months of the year contains two points, but, because a lunar month has only 29 1/2 days and the two points share about 30.4 days, there is always the chance that a lunar month will fail to contain both points, though the distance between any two given points is only 15º. If such an occasion occurs, the intercalation of an extra month takes place. For instance, one may find a year with two “Julys” or with two “Augusts” in the Chinese calendar. In fact, the exact length of the month in the Chinese calendar is either 30 days or 29 days–a phenomenon which reflects its lunar origin. Also, the meteorological cycle means essentially a solar year. The Chinese thus consider their calendar as yin-yang li, or a “lunar-solar calendar.”

When were foreign calendars introduced?

    Although the yin-yang li has been continuously employed by the Chinese, foreign calendars were introduced to the Chinese, the Hindu calendar, for instance, during the T’ang (Tang) dynasty (618-907), and were once used concurrently with the native calendar. This situation also held true for the Muslim calendar, which was introduced during the Yüan dynasty (1206-1368). The Gregorian calendar was taken to China by Jesuit missionaries in 1582, the very year that it was first used by Europeans. Not until 1912, after the general public adopted the Gregorian calendar, did the yin-yang li lose its primary importance.

    Western (pre-Copernican) astronomical theories were introduced to China by Jesuit missionaries in the seventeenth century. Gradually, more modern Western concepts became known. Following the revolution of 1911, the traditional practice of counting years from the accession of an emperor was abolished.

Published in: on December 6, 2008 at 5:24 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Mayan Calendar


Among their other accomplishments, the ancient Mayas invented a calendar of remarkable accuracy and complexity. At right is the ancient Mayan Pyramid Chichen Itza, Yucatan, Mexico. The Pyramid of Kukulkan at Chichén Itzá, constructed circa 1050 was built during the late Mayan period, when Toltecs from Tula became politically powerful. The pyramid was used as a calendar: four stairways, each with 91 steps and a platform at the top, making a total of 365, equivalent to the number of days in a calendar year. The Maya calendar was adopted by the other Mesoamerican nations, such as the Aztecs and the Toltec, which adopted the mechanics of the calendar unaltered but changed the names of the days of the week and the months.

The Maya calendar uses three different dating systems in parallel, the Long Count, the Tzolkin (divine calendar), and the Haab (civil calendar). Of these, only the Haab has a direct relationship to the length of the year.

A typical Mayan date looks like this:, 3 Cimi 4 Zotz. is the Long Count date.
3 Cimi is the Tzolkin date.
4 Zotz is the Haab date.



What is the Long Count?

    The Long Count is really a mixed base-20/base-18 representation of a number, representing the number of days since the start of the Mayan era. It is thus akin to the Julian Day Number.

    The basic unit is the kin (day), which is the last component of the Long Count. Going from right to left the remaining components are:

    uinal (1 uinal = 20 kin = 20 days)
    tun (1 tun = 18 uinal = 360 days = approx. 1 year)
    katun (1 katun = 20 tun = 7,200 days = approx. 20 years)
    baktun (1 baktun = 20 katun = 144,000 days = approx. 394 years)

    The kin, tun, and katun are numbered from 0 to 19.
    The uinal are numbered from 0 to 17.
    The baktun are numbered from 1 to 13.

    Although they are not part of the Long Count, the Mayas had names for larger time spans. The following names are sometimes quoted, although they are not ancient Maya terms: 1 pictun = 20 baktun = 2,880,000 days = approx. 7885 years
    1 calabtun = 20 pictun = 57,600,000 days = approx. 158,000 years
    1 kinchiltun = 20 calabtun = 1,152,000,000 days = approx. 3 million years
    1 alautun = 20 kinchiltun = 23,040,000,000 days = approx. 63 million years

    The alautun is probably the longest named period in any calendar.

When did the Long Count Start?

    Logically, the first date in the Long Count should be, but as the baktun (the first component) are numbered from 1 to 13 rather than 0 to 12, this first date is actually written

    The authorities disagree on what corresponds to in our calendar. I have come across three possible equivalences: = 8 Sep 3114 BC (Julian) = 13 Aug 3114 BC (Gregorian) = 6 Sep 3114 BC (Julian) = 11 Aug 3114 BC (Gregorian) = 11 Nov 3374 BC (Julian) = 15 Oct 3374 BC (Gregorian)

    Assuming one of the first two equivalences, the Long Count will again reach on 21 or 23 December AD 2012 – a not too distant future.

    The date may have been the Mayas’ idea of the date of the creation of the world.

What is the Tzolkin?

    • a numbered week of 13 days, in which the days were numbered from 1 to 13
    • a named week of 20 days, in which the names of the days were:
  • The Tzolkin date is a combination of two “week” lengths.

    While our calendar uses a single week of seven days, the Mayan calendar used two different lengths of week:

    0. Ahau 1. Imix 2. Ik 3. Akbal 4. Kan
    5. Chicchan 6. Cimi 7. Manik 8. Lamat 9. Muluc
    10. Oc 11. Chuen 12. Eb 13. Ben 14. Ix
    15. Men 16. Cib 17. Caban 18. Etznab 19. Caunac

    The diagram at right shows the day symbols, in the same order as the table above.

    As the named week is 20 days and the smallest Long Count digit is 20 days, there is synchrony between the two; if, for example, the last digit of today’s Long Count is 0, today must be Ahau; if it is 6, it must be Cimi. Since the numbered and the named week were both “weeks,” each of their name/number change daily; therefore, the day after 3 Cimi is not 4 Cimi, but 4 Manik, and the day after that, 5 Lamat. The next time Cimi rolls around, 20 days later, it will be 10 Cimi instead of 3 Cimi. The next 3 Cimi will not occur until 260 (or 13 x 20) days have passed. This 260-day cycle also had good-luck or bad-luck associations connected with each day, and for this reason, it became known as the “divinatory year.”

    The “years” of the Tzolkin calendar are not counted.

When did the Tzolkin Start?

    Long Count corresponds to 4 Ahau. The authorities agree on this.

What is the Haab?

    The Haab was the civil calendar of the Mayas. It consisted of 18 “months” of 20 days each, followed by 5 extra days, known as Uayeb. This gives a year length of 365 days.

    The names of the month were:

    1. Pop 7. Yaxkin 13. Mac
    2. Uo 8. Mol 14. Kankin
    3. Zip 9. Chen 15. Muan
    4. Zotz 10. Yax 16. Pax
    5. Tzec 11. Zac 17. Kayab
    6. Xul 12. Ceh 18. Cumku

    In contrast to the Tzolkin dates, the Haab month names changed every 20 days instead of daily; so the day after 4 Zotz would be 5 Zotz, followed by 6 Zotz … up to 19 Zotz, which is followed by 0 Tzec.

    The days of the month were numbered from 0 to 19. This use of a 0th day of the month in a civil calendar is unique to the Maya system; it is believed that the Mayas discovered the number zero, and the uses to which it could be put, centuries before it was discovered in Europe or Asia.

    The Uayeb days acquired a very derogatory reputation for bad luck; known as “days without names” or “days without souls,” and were observed as days of prayer and mourning. Fires were extinguished and the population refrained from eating hot food. Anyone born on those days was “doomed to a miserable life.”

    The years of the Haab calendar are not counted.

    The length of the Tzolkin year was 260 days and the length of the Haab year was 365 days. The smallest number that can be divided evenly by 260 and 365 is 18,980, or 365×52; this was known as the Calendar Round. If a day is, for example, “4 Ahau 8 Cumku,” the next day falling on “4 Ahau 8 Cumku” would be 18,980 days or about 52 years later. Among the Aztec, the end of a Calendar Round was a time of public panic as it was thought the world might be coming to an end. When the Pleaides crossed the horizon on 4 Ahau 8 Cumku, they knew the world had been granted another 52-year extension.

When did the Haab Start?

    Long Count corresponds to 8 Cumku. The authorities agree on this.

Did the Mayas Think a Year Was 365 Days?

    Although there were only 365 days in the Haab year, the Mayas were aware that a year is slightly longer than 365 days, and in fact, many of the month-names are associated with the seasons; Yaxkin, for example, means “new or strong sun” and, at the beginning of the Long Count, 1 Yaxkin was the day after the winter solstice, when the sun starts to shine for a longer period of time and higher in the sky. When the Long Count was put into motion, it was started at, and 0 Yaxkin corresponded with Midwinter Day, as it did at back in 3114 B.C.E. The available evidence indicates that the Mayas estimated that a 365-day year precessed through all the seasons twice in or 1,101,600 days.

    We can therefore derive a value for the Mayan estimate of the year by dividing 1,101,600 by 365, subtracting 2, and taking that number and dividing 1,101,600 by the result, which gives us an answer of 365.242036 days, which is slightly more accurate than the 365.2425 days of the Gregorian calendar.

    (This apparent accuracy could, however, be a simple coincidence. The Mayas estimated that a 365-day year precessed through all the seasons twice in days. These numbers are only accurate to 2-3 digits. Suppose the days had corresponded to 2.001 cycles rather than 2 cycles of the 365-day year, would the Mayas have noticed?)

    In ancient times, the Mayans had a tradition of a 360-day year. But by the 4th century B.C.E. they took a different approach than either Europeans or Asians. They maintained three different calendars at the same time. In one of them, they divided a 365-day year into eighteen 20-day months followed by a five-day period that was part of no month. The five-day period was considered to be unlucky.

Published in: on December 6, 2008 at 5:12 pm  Comments (3)  

The Fire Yogi of Tanjore

The Fire Yogi is a 47 minute documentary exploring a Yogi who has the extraordinary ability to use a unique breathing technique to get into union with Fire. This documentary portrays a rare and unusual Fire Ritual performed by the Yogi and the subsequent chemical analysis of his clothing & physical tests that examine this supernatural phenomenon. The Yogi has performed this Fire Ritual for a total of 1000 days over the last 45 years. The Yogi, weighing a mere 94 pounds (43 kilos), has been able to survive on only two bananas and a mere glass of milk with a few drops of water twice a day for the last 28 years. Many aspects of the Yogi are on the edge of unbelievability, while at the same time highlighting the power and endurance of human mind, body and spirit.

Yogi Rambhauswami, the 63-year-old yogi, claims that in 1975 he stopped drinking more than a few drops of water each day, that two years later he began limiting his daily diet to a banana and a cup of milk, and that he sleeps only three hours each night. By all rights the Sanskrit scholar should be malnourished and dehydrated, but in director and producer Mike Vasan’s documentary, he appears to be a relatively normal, if somewhat slender, senior citizen. Rambhauswami’s real claim to fame, however, is his elaborate fire ritual.

The ritual begins with his taking a bath, then moving on to meditation, pranayama, and a ceremony honoring Ganesha. The fire portion of the ritual is conducted over a sunken pit, into which Rambhauswami offers rice, coconut, sugar cane, and gallons of ghee. As he’s doing this, he goes into a deep meditative state. He enters the blaze and rolls around, protected by only a wool shawl, and remains there, in the fire, for up to 10 minutes at a time.

When Rambhau emerges from the flames, though, there’s little evidence that he’s just been charbroiled. Even his shawl is intact, its preservation credited to a protective aura. The shawl was later tested for fire retardant, and results showed that the material hadn’t been treated.

Published in: on October 2, 2008 at 2:33 am  Comments (2)  

250 Year Old Devraha Baba in Vrindavan

Devraha Baba was a siddha who lived for over 250 years, before entering samadhi in 1989. So elderly was he that the first President of India, Dr. Rajendra Prasad, more than fifty years ago, said that his father had sat at the feet of Devraha Baba as a child – that is, in the middle of the nineteenth century – and Devraha Baba was already elderly at that time. Devraha Baba never took food, and never set foot on the ground. He lived in a unique hut that was raised off the ground by bamboo poles.

Published in: on October 2, 2008 at 2:29 am  Comments (12)  

The History of the Electric Solid Body Guitar

The development of the electric solid body guitar owes a great deal to the popularity of Hawaiian  music in the 1920s and 1930s. Hawaiian guitars were solo instruments played with a metal slide. Electric Hawaiian guitars were the first instruments that depended entirely on their sound being amplified electrically not just acoustically.

A key figure was Adolph Rickenbacker who originally he was to make metal components for Dopera Brothers’ National Resonator Guitars. While at National, Rickenbacker met George Beauchamp and Paul Barth who had been working together on the principle of the magnetic pick-up. Together they formed the Electro String Company and in 1931 produced their first Hawaiian guitars. Their success prompted Gibson and others to start producing electric guitars,

In the 1940s Gibson new electric models became firmly established. People began to work on ways of applying the solid body of the Hawaiian and steel guitars to regular instruments. In 1944, Leo Fender, who ran a radio repair shop, teamed up with Doc Kaufman, a former Rickenbacker employee, started K & F Company and produced a series of steel guitars and amplifiers. Fender felt the large pick-up magnets in use at the time need not be so large. He incorporated a new pick-up which he wanted to try out into a solid body guitar based on the shape Hawaiian but, with a regular properly fretted fingerboard. Though only meant to demonstrate the pick-up the guitar was soon in demand. 1946 saw the formation of Fender Electric Instrument Company and the introduction of the Broadcaster.Leo Fender

At the same time Les Paul was working in the same direction. Paul experimented with pick ups throughout the 1930s but, had experienced feedback and resonance problems and began to think about a solid body guitar after hearing about a solid body violin by Thomas Edison.. Paul was convinced the only way to avoid body feedback was to reduce pick up movement and the only way to do that was to mount it in a solid body.

Paul persuaded Epiphone to let him use workshop on Sundays, where in 1941  he built the historic “log” guitar

In 1947 Paul Bigsby in consultation with Merle Travis built a solid body electric guitar that shared certain design features with the Broadcaster that Fender  introduced in 1948. Bigsby wasn’t far from Fender operation in Fullerton and there is some question who was looking over whose shoulder

Fender was more concerned with utility and practicality rather then looks and wanted a regular guitar with the clear sound of a electric Hawaiian but, without the feedback problems. The result was the the  Broadcaster which he began  producing in 1948 later renamed the Telecaster.

In 1954, Fender began producing the Stratocaster. Along with the Telecaster and the guitars Les Paul was designing for Gibson, they set the standard for solid body guitars.

Guitar, object photograph, enlargement

From John Peden

Fender Broadcaster
with Amplifier
Fender Electric Instrument Company
Fullerton, California

The Broadcaster, Fender’s first mass-produced solid-body electric guitar, initially was derided by competitors as too simple and lacking in craftsmanship. Yet everything about its patented practical design, such as the bolt-on neck, was optimal for production in large quantities.

This guitar, serial number 27, was one of the first Broadcasters sold. In 1951, due to a trademark infringement claim, the model’s name was changed to Telecaster in honor of another popular invention—television.

The many famous artists who have played the Telecaster, such as Jimmy Bryant, Buck Owens, Keith Richards, and Bruce Springsteen, propelled it to the status of a classic.

Guitar, object photograph, enlargement

From Richard R. Smith

Fender Stratocaster
Fender Electric Instrument Company
Fullerton, California

The Stratocaster is arguably the most successful and influential electric guitar ever produced. It is easily identified by its double cutaways, contoured body, and three pickups. It also features Fender’s vibrato or tremolo system that allows players to raise or lower the pitch of the strings. In the hands of Buddy Holly, Jimi Hendrix, Buddy Guy, Eric Clapton, Bonnie Raitt, and many others, the “Strat” has become an American icon.

Bearing serial number 0100, this particular instrument was probably the first Strat to be shipped for retail sale. It features the standard two-tone sunburst finish used on early Fender models.

The History Of: Les Paul

The Gibson Les Paul guitar went into production in 1952 and was the first solid body electric that Gibson had made. Leo Fender, although not the first person to design or build a solid body electric, had proved that there was a market for such instruments with the commercial success of his Fender Telecaster, which had first been introduced a couple of years beforehand (albeit under a different name). Now Gibson, under the presidency of Ted McCarty, wanted to make sure they didn’t get left out of the market – so they approached player and guitar designer Les Paul with a view to collaborating on a Gibson/Les Paul branded electric solid body.

This must have been rather gratifying for Les Paul, as he had previously presented his ideas for a solid body electric to Gibson in 1945/46 and been promptly shown the door. As Les himself has said, “They called it the broom-stick with a pickup on it.”1965 goldtop

There are many different rumours and stories about exactly who designed what in respect of the Gibson Les Paul guitar – Ted McCarty, Les Paul & others have differing recollections as to who provided the design input for various aspects of the instrument.

Ted‘s version is that he and various Gibson staff had already finished designing the guitar that became the 1952 Les Paul even before they approached Les about an endorsement deal. In this account there were only two aspects of the production line 1952 Les Paul that derived from Les himself; the trapeze bridge/tailpiece and the name ‘Les Paul‘. In other words, the only reason that Gibson approached Les was to give the new guitar they had already designed and built added credibility by having it associated with a famous player.

Les Paul himself has said that when Ted approached him he, that is Les, quote, already ‘…had in mind the Gold Top standard and the black Custom.’ Les refers to Gibson giving him the ‘final say’ on every aspect of the guitar’s design. This account doesn’t entirely square with the story – told later – of how Gibson had implemented his trapeze tailpiece design incorrectly.

Nor does it square with Les recalling how, when he first examined a Gold Top and a Custom, he was displeased that the Gold Top had a maple top and told Gibson that this was not what he had intended. According to Les, the Custom was supposed to have the mahagony body with maple top, whereas the Gold Top was supposed to just have a mahagony body with no maple top at all. Gibson never implemented this idea on the Gold Top.

Whatever the uncertainties about who designed what in relation to the Les Paul guitar one thing is clear – the solid body combination of maple for the top and mahogany for the back proved to be a winner.

The 1952 version of the Les Paul had a gold top nitro-cellulose lacquer finish, no serial number, a Trapeze tailpiece (designed by Les), Kluson tuners, a pair of P90 pickups, and retailed for $210. Les Pauls began to be serial numbered (on the back of the headstock) in 1953.

These guitars were officially simply called ‘Les Paul‘ models, but quickly became known as Gold Tops due to the finish. Although most Gold Tops have exactly that, a gold coloured maple top with natural back, a few were made that had the gold finish all over. The gold finish was produced using a coat that contained bronze powder, as a result of which a greenish hue can be seen on many Gold Tops where, over time and with wear, the bronze particles in the finish have become oxidized. Two quirks of the very earliest Les Paul models are that they had fretboards with no edge binding and also lacked the rhythm/treble plastic surround on the pickup selector switch.

Les PaulLes Paul

The Trapeze tailpiece was a rather impractical design for two reasons. If the unit was knocked the guitar could go out of tune; additionally, the strings fed underneath the tailpiece, not over it, thus making the technique of palm muting with the right hand impossible. Les himself has said in relation to this latter design flaw that when he saw the first production models with this feature he did call Gibson to tell them they’d got it wrong. He apparently explained that the strings were supposed to wrap over the bar, not under it, and that the neck was supposed to join the body at a different angle to accomodate this difference in action at the bridge. But Gibson countered that it was not practical to change the neck join angle for technical reasons, so the wrap-under design had to stay.

In 1953 the Trapeze tailpiece was changed for a new, combined wraparound bridge/tailpiece and, contrary to the account from Les of what Gibson had previously told him, the neck join angle was also changed. This made for a much better instrument all round – the action was better (i.e. lower), the tuning more stable and the previous problem of the awkwardness of right-hand palm muting was solved.

But although this was an improvement on the previous design, it still had its limitations in respect of intonation and was replaced the following year with the separate tune-o-matic bridge and tailpiece that have remained a feature of the most popular Les Paul models ever since (though some vintage Les Pauls were fitted with a Bigsby B7 vibrato). The tune-o-matic bridge, designed by Ted McCarty, allowed for individual intonation adjustment for each string.

In 1954 Gibson also launched two additional versions of the Les Paul – the Les Paul Custom ($325) and the Les Paul Junior ($99.50).

The Les Paul Custom had an ebony fretboard as opposed to the Gold Top‘s rosewood, more elaborate bindings on the guitar body and headstock, gold plated hardware and a black finish, acquiring it the name ‘black beauty’ amongst some players. It was also actually the Custom that was first fitted with a tune-o-matic bridge and tailpiece, these units only later being added to the Gold Top. The Custom was also sometimes called the ‘fretless wonder’, due to the fact that the fret wire used was flatter and wider than on the Gold Top, which, combined with an ebony fretboard, made it seem easier to play.

The Custom was fitted with a standard P90 pickup in the bridge position but a newly designed single coil pickup in the neck position. The new pickup was visibly different from a P90 in that the polepieces were rectangular; it was also louder than a P90. Known as the Alnico pickup due to its use of aluminum/nickel/cobalt alloy, the unit was designed by Seth Lover.

Les Paul Junior Faded DC, Worn TV Yellow, New, Inc. Gig Bag The Les Paul Junior was more of a budget version of the Les Paul, having a flat, uncarved mahogany body with no binding, a single P90 pickup, plus the old wraparound combined bridge/tailpiece that would continue to be used on the Junior even after it had been dropped from the Gold Top.

Some Les Paul Juniors were made with a blonde/yellow finish instead of a sunburst, and these Juniors were referred to as the Les PaulTV‘ models – perhaps because they were supposed to look good on black and white television. A further variant on the Les Paul Junior was introduced in 1955: the Les Paul Special ($182.50) – basically a two pickup version of the Junior, but otherwise identical. In 1956 a smaller version of the Junior was manufactured – the Les Paul Junior 3/4. This guitar had a scale length (distance from bridge to nut) 2 inches shorter than that of a standard Les Paul (24 3/4 inches).

In 1957 another design change took place with the replacement of the single coil P90 pickups for the hum-cancelling ‘humbucker’ pickups. These were designed by the engineer Seth Lover, who sought a way of eradicating the 50/60 cycle mains hum and other interference that single coil pickups like the P90s, the Alnico and the Fender pickups all produced.

His design idea, like many great ideas, was essentially very simple; take two pickup coils instead of one and wire the two coils in series and out of phase so that the hum cancels itself out. The result of producing a pickup in this way was, however, not merely that the hum was gone, but also that the sound was different. Humbuckers generally produce a higher output signal and also a mellower tone with fewer treble frequencies.

The Seth Lover designed humbuckers fitted to the 1957 Les Pauls came to be known as PAFs; this was due to the fact that they were designated as ‘Patent Applied For‘ pickups. The patent for these was applied for in 1955 and granted in 1959, but Gibson still continued to label these as ‘PAFs‘ for at least another three years.

Gibson seemed to be in no hurry to apply the patent number to their pickups even after the patent was granted in the USA. And when they did finally get around to showing the patent number on the sticker underneath the pickup, they quoted the wrong number! Even in 1962 a Gibson humbucker with patent number sticker bore the number 2,737,842.

The correct patent number for the Seth Lover designed humbucking pickup was in fact 2,896,491. The number shown on the pickup is actually a patent for a Gibson bridge, not a pickup at all. It might be deduced from this that Gibson were not about to help the competition to copy their pickup design by telling them which patent to go and look up at the US Patent Office!

Although the first Les Paul Customs had two pickups, a P90 and an Alnico, when P90s were swapped for PAFs on Gold Top and Custom models the Custom was then made with three of the new PAFs, the guitar acquiring an additional middle pickup.

Original PAFs from the 50’s can vary signficantly in terms of their tone and output. Arguments rage as to the reasons for this, but one credible explanation is that the machines Gibson used to wind the coils around the pickup’s magnets did not have an automatic cut off at a set number of turns. Consequently, the machine’s operator would manually stop the process when they judged that it was ‘done’, causing some PAFs to have more windings than others. Differing effects of the passing of time on the magnets could also be a factor.

Although the PAFs were now being fitted to the Gold Top and Custom Les Pauls, P90s continued to be used on the Juniors, TVs and Specials. These latter guitars underwent some cosmetic modification when, in 1958, the Junior acquired a double cutaway body, and in 1959 the same change was made to the Special.

The neck pickup on the double cutaway Special was later moved further away from the neck after it was realised that with the neck pickup cavity so close to the new top cutaway the neck join area had been seriously weakened.

Another version of the Special was also made available in 1959 – the 3/4 size version. This had the same reduced scale length of the 3/4 size Junior.

A further change would take place to the Les Paul Gold Top‘s design in 1958; the gold top finish was replaced with a cherry red sunburst. This produced what have subsequently become the most sought after (and expensive) Les Pauls of all time: the ‘bursts’.

Often referred to as ‘Les Paul Standards‘, this description is not technically correct. At the time this model was named by Gibson simply as a ‘Les Paul‘; the description ‘Standard’ was never used by Gibson in any official literature until at least 1960. To call a 50’s Les Paul Sunburst a ‘Les Paul Standard‘ is, strictly speaking, to use an anachronism. However, as with the use of the term ‘Gold Top‘, it does provide a convenient label.

Many of Gibson‘s late 50’s red Sunbursts were sprayed with an ultra-violet sensitive dye and over time with exposure to sunlight often faded to a uniform brown known to collectors as ‘unburst’. The tendency for the red dye to behave in this way is the reason why late 50’s Les Pauls can now be seen in a variety of red and brown sunbursts.


1974, hand-numbered two-pickup cherry sunburst model.1974, hand-numbered two-pickup cherry sunburst model.

1974, hand-numbered #2, two-pickup Gold top model. 1974, hand-numbered ,

The extent to which the Sunbursts faded to brown depended not just upon how much UV exposure they’d had but also when they were made. The models from circa 1959 tend to have the red dye that was most susceptible to this effect; models from around 1958 can also be seen faded to brown but less so than those from the following year. Most 1960 models were finished with a red dye that was almost impervious to fading and are often still a cherry red sunburst. A few Les Pauls from the vintage era can be found with an all over, no sunburst, cherry red finish.

Published in: on July 19, 2008 at 3:31 am  Comments (1)  


The Goddess Isis originated in Egypt and has inscribed on Her temple in Sais, “I, Isis, am all that has been, that is or shall be; no mortal man hath ever me unveiled.” By the period of the Roman Empire, she had become the most prominent deity of the Mediterranean basin. She was a formidable contender with the newly founded Christian religion and Her worship continued well into the 6th century AD until persecution pushed Her into the shadows of religiosity.

Egyptian Aset, or Eset, one of the most important goddesses of ancient Egypt. Her name is the Greek form of an ancient Egyptian word that is perhaps associated with a word for “throne.”

Little is known of Isis’ early cult. In the Pyramid Texts (c. 2350-c. 2100 BC), she is the mourner for her murdered husband, the god Osiris. In her role as the wife of Osiris, she discovered and reunited the pieces of her dead husband’s body, was the chief mourner at his funeral, and through her magical power brought him back to life.

Isis hid her son, Horus, from Seth, the murderer of Osiris, until Horus was fully grown and could avenge his father. She defended the child against many attacks from snakes and scorpions. But because Isis was also Seth’s sister, she wavered during the eventual battle between Horus and Seth, and in one episode Isis pitied Seth and was beheaded by Horus during their struggle. Despite her variable temperament, she and Horus were regarded by the Egyptians as the perfect mother and son. The shelter she afforded her child gave her the character of a goddess of protection. But her chief aspect was that of a great magician, whose power transcended that of all other deities. Several narratives tell of her magical prowess, with which she could even outwit the creator god Atum. She was invoked on behalf of the sick, and, with the goddesses Nephthys, Neith, and Selket, she protected the dead. She became associated with various other goddesses who had similar functions, and thus her nature became increasingly diverse. In particular, the goddess Hathor and Isis became similar in many respects. In the astral interpretation of the gods, Isis was equated with the dog star Sothis (Sirius).

Isis was represented as a woman with the hieroglyphic sign of the throne on her head, either sitting on a throne, alone or holding the child Horus, or kneeling before a coffin. Occasionally she was shown with a cow’s head. As mourner, she was a principal deity in all rites connected with the dead; as magician, she cured the sick and brought the dead to life; and, as mother, she was herself a life-giver.

The cult of Isis spread throughout Egypt. In Akhmim she received special attention as the “mother” of the fertility god Min. She had important temples throughout Egypt and Nubia. By Greco-Roman times she was dominant among Egyptian goddesses, and she received acclaim from Egyptians and Greeks for her many names and aspects. Several temples were dedicated to her in Alexandria, where she became the “patroness of seafarers.” From Alexandria her cult was brought to all the shores of the Mediterranean, including Greece and Rome. In Hellenistic times the mysteries of Isis and Osiris developed; these were comparable to other Greek mystery cults.

Prayer to Isis

Nehes, nehes, nehes,
Nehes em hotep,
Nehes em neferu,
Nebet hotepet
Weben em hotep,
Weben em neferu,
Nutjert en Ankh,
Nefer em Pet!
Pet em hotep,
Ta em hotep,
Nutjert sat Nut,
Sat Geb,, Merit Auser,
Nutjert Asha-renu!
Anekh hrak
Anekh hrak
Tua atu, Tua atu,
Nebet Aset!

Awake, awake, awake,
Awake in peace,
Lady of Peace,
Rest thou in peace,
Rise thou in beauty,
Goddess of Life
Beautiful in Heaven.
Heaven is in peace,
Earth is in peace
O Goddess,
Daughter of Nut,
Daughter of Geb,
Beloved of Osiris,
Goddess rich in names!
All praise to You,
All praise to You,
I adore You,
I adore You,
Lady Isis!

Published in: on July 2, 2008 at 4:40 pm  Leave a Comment  


“In a hundred ages of the gods, I could not tell thee of the glories of the Himalaya”

.. Thus does tradition call down to us from the Puranas. The Himalaya, is a spectacle of awesome dimensions… ranges upon ranges, tiers of rock, sharp sky piercing peaks and canyons, deep beyond measure…….how did this come about, whence rose these citadels of ice…how did this three thousand kilometer long mountain range come into existence?, for the Himalaya is not only the most impressive of all the mountain chains, but also the youngest.

You have to stretch your imagination a bit to comprehend the cataclysmic events that led to the formation of the Himalayan ranges.

According to the most accepted geological theories, India once belonged to an Island continent called Gondwanaland and was separated from the Eurasian continent by the primordial Tethyan ocean. One billion years ago, the Aravallis, whose eroded remnants are visible around Delhi, formed a chain higher than the Himalayas today. Over millions of years these mountains suffered the forces of erosion and their sediments were deposited in the Tethyan ocean. Then 140 million years ago, India began it’s northward movement, on a collision course with the Eurasian continent.

The point where the two continents were joined is known, appropriately, as the Indus- Yarlung Suture zone, marked by the courses of these two greatest rivers of the Kailash. After 60 million years, the Indian and Asian plates became closely welded along this suture zone. The northward movement of India continued but at a slower rate – 2-3 centimeters per year.

And what birth pangs…. as a result of the collision itself, and the related contraction of the Tethyan ocean, all the rocks of this area, from the mountains of then northern India to the oceanic crust, and the deep sea sediments of the Jurassic and Cretaceous ages, joined in the formation of the Himalayas.

This then is the result of those ancient events ….. each layer tells the story of the play of millions of years of brute force by nature.

The Himalayas as we see them today went through some distinct epochs of uplift. First came the Trans. Himalaya. South of this is the high Himalayan region, where the range reaches it’s highest points. Here we find old crystalline rock, the oldest core material in the entire Himalayas, almost 2 billion years old, the bottom layers of the compacted Tethyan sediments. This is known as the main central thrust.

As the Himalayas rose the forces of erosion kept pace, leading to the formation of a contiguous lower range of hills known as the Shivaliks. Made of erosion material from the still rising Himalayas, their sediments reflect the history of the up thrust of the emergent Himalayas. Numerous fossil finds allow the Shivaliks to be dated with accuracy and provide evidence of the comparative youth of the Himalayas.

In the second phase of upheaval, further uplift of the central axis took place. It was now that the great peaks of the Garhwal himalaya..Nanda devi etc achieved their present eminences. In this period, intrusions of young granites, known as leucogranites because of their whitish colour, took place in the highest peaks.. such as the Bhagirathi sisters and Shivling.

The last up thrust affected not only the Himalayas, Transhimalaya and the Karakorum, but also the whole of the Tibetan region. With an area of 2.5 million square kilometers, this region is the highest land mass on earth and in the last 1 million years it has risen by nearly 5,000 meters, an average of 4-5 millimeters per year.

The uplift continues even today at a measurable 10 meters every hundred years. Mount Everest has itself risen 8.2 meters in the last 100 years.

Very little is known about the start, duration and extent of the Ice ages in the Himalayas. Geologists have however determined that the second last was the most severe. The period after this major ice age saw a marked retreat of the glaciers and this was also the period that most Himalayan lakes came into being, amidst the ice polished rock landscape. The Pangong and the Chandratal are classic examples of such glacial remnants.

Large lakes were also formed as rising rivers were blocked by the emergent ranges. As the rising Pir panjal blocked the Jhelum it turned, what we know as The Vale of Kashmir, into a lake. This primeaval lake, called the Karewa, drained, and from it’s sediments, pieces of primitive tools have been recovered – our only evidence of a pre ice- age culture in the Himalayas.

All the major rivers of the Himalayas have their source in the holy Kailash region. The Indus to the north, the Yarlung -Brahmaputra in the east, the Sutluj in the west and the Ganga, Karnali streams to the south and southwest. This amazing situation, making Mt. Kailash the literal lynchpin of the Himalaya, is the result of a 30 million year old upthrust of the Kailash range at a time when the Himalayas were in the slow, initial phase of their formation.

Two of these great rivers, the Indus and the Yarlung-Brahmaputra, were forced to flow along the lines of the suture zone in an east west direction, only penetrating the range at it’s eastern and western extremities.

To further confound matters, this penetration takes place at points of highest uplift, Nanga Parbat in the west and Namche Barwa in the east. The cutting action of the other rivers kept pace with the rising Himalaya and they come right through the range at some of the highest points.

In the East, the Yarlung Tsangpo parallels the Himalaya till it comes to the great axial bend at Namche Barwa. Then, cutting one of the deepest gorges on earth, three times as deep as the Grand canyon, it enters the plains of Assam.

The sources of all major Himalayan rivers lie, therefore, on the north side of the great range and besides the Kailash group, include most larger Himalayan rivers.

These rivers are the principal architects of the Himalayan landscape and each river system has created it’s own unique geomorphology. The Indus and it’s tributaries like the Zanskar and the Suru in the transhimalaya. It’s major Himalayan tributaries which are river systems in their own right … the Chenab, Ravi, Beas and the Sutlej. Further east the Garwhal himalaya is the domain of the Ganga and it’s feeder streams while the Teesta drains the Sikkimese himalaya. Beyond, in Arunachal is the true lower catchement of the great Brahmaputra river system.

The gradual rise of the Himalaya took place in a series of long, curvilinear, parallel folds, and in this stupendous upthrust of the earth’s crust, was created a mountain range that contains all the worlds mountains over 7,000 meters in height, and constitutes the line of demarcation between two of the world’s great faunal realms – the Oriental to the south and the Palearctic to the north. Here we find compressed into a few tens of kilometers, the most abrupt environmental changes in the terrestrial world.

Geographically the range has been traditionally divided into :-

  • The Punjab Himalaya……. consisting of the catchement basins of the Indus, Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, Beas and Sutluj.
  • The Garhwal Himalaya …… consisting of the catchement basins of the the Yamuna and the Ganga.
  • The Kumaon Himalaya
  • The Nepal Himalaya
  • Sikkim ….. the basin of the teesta
  • The Eastern Himalaya…. the Brahmaputra and it’s left bank tributaries.

Broadly they are classified into western, central and eastern Himalaya.

The Western Himalaya, from Himachal Pradesh onwards, has a much greater depth or width, than the Eastern Himalaya. A transverse section drawn from the plains of Punjab, through Kashmir, onto the Karakorums is three times longer than anywhere in the Eastern Himalaya.

The Eastern Himalaya is also climatically very different. High rainfall and gentler conditions make the eastern Himalaya a recognised haven for biodiversity.

Although we tend to talk of the Himalaya as a monolith, nevertheless the fact remains that in their 3000 kilometer length, they present endless variation in terms of climate, geomorphology, flora and fauna. From the tropical jungles of Arunachal to the cold desert of the Nubra.. ..primulas and rare orchids to the equally rare edelweiss… frozen waterfalls and verdant forest ……bare rock and glacial wastes …the Himalaya have it all…..

Published in: on June 29, 2008 at 5:35 pm  Leave a Comment  


Lord Shiva represents the aspect of the Supreme Being (Brahman of the Upanishads) that continuously dissolves to recreate in the cyclic process of creation, preservation, dissolution and recreation of the universe. As stated earlier, Lord Shiva is the third member of the Hindu Trinity, the other two being Lord Brahma and Lord Vishnu.

Owing to His cosmic activity of dissolution and recreation, the words destroyer and destruction have been erroneously associated with Lord Shiva. This difficulty arises when people fail to grasp the true significance of His cosmic role. The creation sustains itself by a delicate balance between the opposing forces of good and evil. When this balance is disturbed and sustenance of life becomes i

mpossible, Lord Shiva dissolves the universe for creation of the

next cycle so that the unliberated souls will have another opportunity to liberate themselves from bondage with the physical world. Thus, Lord Shiva protects the souls from pain and suffering that would be caused by a dysfunctional universe. In analogous cyclic processes, winter is essential for spring to appear and the night is necessary for the morning to follow. To further illustrate, a goldsmith does not destroy gold when he melts old irreparable golden jewelry to create beautiful new ornaments.

Lord Shiva is the Lord of mercy and compassion. He protects devotees from evil forces such as lust, greed, and anger. He grants boons, bestows grace and awakens wisdom in His devotees. The symbolism discussed below includes major symbols that are common to all pictures and images of Shiva venerated by Hindus. Since the tasks of Lord Shiva are numerous, He cannot be symbolized in one form. For this reason the images of Shiva vary significantly in their symbolism.

  • The unclad body covered with ashes: the unclad body symbolizes the transcendental aspect of the Lord. Since most things reduce to ashes when burned, ashes symbolize the physical universe. The ashes on the unclad body of the Lord signify that Shiva is the source of the entire universe which emanates from Him, but He transcends the physical phenomena and is not affected by it.
  • Matted locks: Lord Shiva is the Master of yoga. The three matted locks on the head of the Lord convey the idea that integration of the physical, mental and spiritual energies is the ideal of yoga.
  • Ganga: Ganga (river Ganges) is associated with Hindu mythology and is the most sacred river of Hindus. According to tradition, one who bathes in Ganga (revered as Mother Ganga) in accordance with traditional rites and ceremonies on religious occasions in combination with certain astrological events, is freed from sin and attains knowledge, purity and peace. Ganga, symbolically represented on the head of the Lord by a female (Mother Ganga) with a jet of water emanating from her mouth and falling on the ground, signifies that the Lord destroys sin, removes ignorance, and bestows knowledge, purity and peace on the devotees.
  • The crescent moon: is shown on the side of the Lord’s head as an ornament, and not as an integral part of His countenance. The waxing and waning phenomenon of the moon symbolizes the time cycle through which creation evolves from the beginning to the end. Since the Lord is the Eternal Reality, He is beyond time. Thus, the crescent moon is only one of His ornaments, and not an integral part of Him.
  • Three eyes: Lord Shiva, also called Tryambaka Deva (literally, “three-eyed Lord”), is depicted as having three eyes: the sun is His right eye, the moon the left eye and fire the third eye. The two eyes on the right and left indicate His activity in the physical world. The third eye in the center of the forehead symbolizes spiritual knowledge and power, and is thus called the eye of wisdom or knowledge. Like fire, the powerful gaze of Shiva’s third eye annihilates evil, and thus the evil-doers fear His third eye.
  • Half-open eyes: when the Lord opens His eyes, a new cycle of creation emerges and when He closes them, the universe dissolves for creation of the next cycle. The half-open eyes convey the idea that creation is going through cyclic process, with no beginning and no end. Lord Shiva is the Master of Yoga, as He uses His yogic power to project the universe from Himself. The half-open eyes also symbolize His yogic posture.
  • Kundalas (two ear rings): two Kundalas, Alakshya (meaning “which cannot be shown by any sign”) and Niranjan (meaning “which cannot be seen by mortal eyes”) in the ears of the Lord signify that He is beyond ordinary perception. Since the kundala in the left ear of the Lord is of the type used by women and the one in His right ear is of the type used by men, these Kundalas also symbolize the Shiva and Shakti (male and female) principle of creation.
  • Snake around the neck: sages have used snakes to symbolize the yogic power of Lord Shiva with which He dissolves and recreates the universe. Like a yogi, a snake hoards nothing, carries nothing, builds nothing, lives on air alone for a long time, and lives in mountains and forests. The venom of a snake, therefore, symbolizes the yogic power.
  • A snake (Vasuki Naga): is shown curled three times around the neck of the Lord and is looking towards His right side. The three coils of the snake symbolize the past, present and future – time in cycles. The Lord wearing the curled snake like an ornament signifies that creation proceeds in cycles and is time dependent, but the Lord Himself transcends time. The right side of the body symbolizes the human activities based upon knowledge, reason and logic. The snake looking towards the right side of the Lord signifies that the Lord’s eternal laws of reason and justice preserve natural order in the universe.
  • Rudraksha necklace: Rudra is another name of Shiva. Rudra also means “strict or uncompromising” and aksha means “eye.” Rudraksha necklace worn by the Lord illustrates that He uses His cosmic laws firmly – without compromise – to maintain law and order in the universe. The necklace has 108 beads which symbolize the elements used in the creation of the world.
  • Varda Mudra: the Lord’s right hand is shown in a boon- bestowing and blessing pose. As stated earlier, Lord Shiva annihilates evil, grants boons, bestows grace, destroys ignorance, and awakens wisdom in His devotees.
  • Trident (Trisula): a three-pronged trident shown adjacent to the Lord symbolizes His three fundamental powers (shakti) of will (iccha), action (kriya) and knowledge (jnana). The trident also symbolizes the Lord’s power to destroy evil and ignorance.
  • Damaru (drum): a small drum with two sides separated from each other by a thin neck-like structure symbolizes the two utterly dissimilar states of existence, unmanifest and manifest. When a damaru is vibrated, it produces dissimilar sounds which are fused together by resonance to create one sound. The sound thus produced symbolizes Nada, the cosmic sound of AUM, which can be heard during deep meditation. According to Hindu scriptures, Nada is the source of creation.
  • Kamandalu: a water pot (Kamandalu) made from a dry pumpkin contains nectar and is shown on the ground next to Shiva. The process of making Kamandalu has deep spiritual significance. A ripe pumpkin is plucked from a plant, its fruit is removed and the shell is cleaned for containing the nectar. In the same way, an individual must break away from attachment to the physical world and clean his inner self of egoistic desires in order to experience the bliss of the Self, symbolized by the nectar in the Kamandalu.
  • Nandi: the bull is associated with Shiva and is said to be His vehicle. The bull symbolizes both power and ignorance. Lord Shiva’s use of the bull as a vehicle conveys the idea that He removes ignorance and bestows power of wisdom on His devotees. The bull is called Vrisha in Sanskrit. Vrisha also means dharma (righteousness). Thus a bull shown next to Shiva also indicates that He is the etemal companion of righteousness.
  • Tiger skin: a tiger skin symbolizes potential energy. Lord Shiva, sitting on or wearing a tiger skin, illustrates the idea that He is the source of the creative energy that remains in potential form during the dissolution state of the universe. Of His own Divine Will, the Lord activates the potential form of the creative energy to project the universe in endless cycles.
  • Cremation ground: Shiva sitting in the cremation ground signifies that He is the controller of death in the physical world. Since birth and death are cyclic, controlling one implies controlling the other. Thus, Lord Shiva is revered as the ultimate controller of birth and death in the phenomenal world.

Nataraja – symbolism

Nataraja is the Cosmic Dancer. Nothing remains static in dance, or to that matter of fact, in any performing art. That dynamsm is identifiable with naTana, not exactly playuacting, but ‘doing something’  ‘dynamism’ is metophorically termed as naTana, or for an easy identification, ‘dance’ of shiva, and this dynamism is the manifestation of the entire universe.

The manifestation,  maintenance, and dissolution of the entire universe being dynamic, it is represented in shiva’s dsances. and he does various kinds of ‘dances’ for the uplkeep of karmic cycle. Iconographically, he is depicted to be performing various dances at various stages of the existence of universe. This is one among the twenty five types of iconographic representations of shiva.

His dance itself is the personification of his eternal dynamism of the universe, and that dance, or the stage of universe is arranged into five categories: (1) adbhuta taanDava – amazing dance, amazing causation of universe; (2) aananda taanDava – blissful dance – blisful existnce of universe; (3) anavarata taanDava – incessant dance – incessant nature of universe; (4) samhaara taanDava – elimination time dance; (5) pralaya taanDava – dissolution time dance.

The fifth kind of dance is associated with rudra, the annihilator. shiva‘s name is five lettered panchakshari. The five syllables are na, maH, shi, va, ya and recited as Om namaH shivaayaH, and this is indicative of five capabilities for the divine functions, pancha kriyaa shakti-s namely,  sR^iSTi– creation; sthithi – maintenance; samhaara – destruction; tirobhaava – illusive; and anugraha – blessing. The five elements of creation, pR^iithivi, aapa, teja, vaayu, aakaasha, viz. solidity, liquidity, fire, ether, air, are also denoted by this five lettered name of shiva, which are the essential elements for formation of any being, either living or material.

Cosmic Circle

Nataraja is encircled by the ever glowing and flaming Cosmic Circle, which is termed as jwaala maala prabha maNDala, where jwaala = tongues of flames ; maala = garland [of flames]; prabha = glowing; maNDala= nimbus – a nimbus of a garland of tongues of glowing flames – surrounding the entire cosmos.

Nataraja is the embodiment of the resplendence of ever burning, flickering, glowing Cosmic flames like a garland around the deity. This whole universe is filled by him. The entire aspect is to be visualised as dynamism, radiance and glow of the Cosmic Fire, which is present ever and anon.

Nataraja need not be taken iconographically as a dancing god or a god who is designated for destruction. The Cosmic Being, Nataraja, is garlanded by the clusters of galaxies that glow and flicker like heavenly flowers. This Cosmic Entity is depicted by the arch around Nataraja, and with icons of flames studded therein. This glowing galactic circular arch around Nataraja is deciphered as OM, where OM is the sonic source of all the uttered words, to be used later by the living beings for communicating their pains and pleasures.


Nataraja’s head is adorned with tufts of hairlocks, in which the ferocious, fleeting River Ganga is locked . Though locked up, Ganga is allowed an ordinary flow like any other river, thus she gave pasture lands to the peasantry. Ganga in the hairlocks of Nataraja represents sampat samvR^iddhi, where sampat is wealth; sam vR^ddhi is abundance. Thus River Ganga is an ever growing phenomena of according abundant wealth and material prosperity.

As a perennial river from the Himalaya mountains, Ganga is flowing across the country, enriching the natural resources of the country, even today, and hence she is revered as a goddess.

Crescent Moon

There is a Crescent Moon in these tufts of Nataraja. This moon is in the rising order to become a full moon, This chandra rekha; chandra = moon; rekha = crescent; is there for anugraha i.e., to bestow; to bestow the material pleasures. The Moon is also the deity of Time, according as his increasing / decreasing digits. Thus, Nataraja is designated as the presiding deity of Time, and called mahaa kaala or tri kaala, where kaala is time. Because he created the immeasurable time, he is regarded as a god who controls the time factor of living beings, hence shiva resorts to dissolution at the end.

Three Eyes

shiva has three eyes. Of which one is suurya = Sun; the other is chandra = moon; while the third eye is j~naana netra = wisdom eye. This third eye is in the centre of the forehead. Here is where the Hindus apply a decorative vermilion color spot, kumkum or tilak, lest the wise eye might see unwise things in the life.

Draw an imaginary line from here through to the centre of the brain. There is pituitary in there. It does the same function as that of the wise eye. The attributes of sun and moon to two eyes symbolise the light and darkness, good and bad, greed and content, or any pairs of opposites. But the wise eye shall pre-process this objective material before passing it to the central processor, the decision making manas = conscience. While these three are just the attributes to the Cosmic Being, the real living beings will also have these three eyes, physically and psychologically.

Right Earring

On the right ear lobe of Nataraja, there hangs an ear ring called makara kuNDala; makara = crocodile; kuNDala = ear-knob hanging. A golden ear hanging in the shape of a crocodile, usually worn by males will be there on the right ear of shiva. This denotes  shiva’s sagaciousness, as such he is the Supreme guru – in his manifestation as dakshniNAmUrty.

In the bygone centuries the pundits were awarded with the certain ornaments to let others recognise them as pundits of some order. The then universities of traditional education used to award Kashmiri shawls of a particular color, say green to one level, and red to higher level and gold or silver embroidered shawls to highest level of pundits. There were bracelets and anklets also, called simhatalata-s golden bracelet with lion’s head crafted on it. And anklets called gaNDa penDera-s. They were the ornaments of that day to indicate the social status of wellread pundits. The face being the index of the mind, the ear ring is the subscript of that mind’s IQ. These ear rings were also graded according to their studded diamonds, emerald or rubies, to indicate the educational grade with which they are bestowed.

shiva is the supreme symbol in education, which is symbolised by this ear-hanging on right ear.

While elucidating the guru attributes of shiva, the scripts call him dakshniNAmUrty. In sculputures and images we will be generaly seeing a picture of a young guru teaching octogenarian students under a big bayan tree, ashwattha vR^iksha, and we get a laugh about such a reversal of depiction. The teacher in such pictures is shiva in his role of supreme guru, called dakshniNAmUrty, and the silver-bearded students are the wisom-hungry sages and saints. Supreme intellect is always young and imparts wisdom untiringly, which is to be received properly at any age.

Apart from punditry, Nataraja’s single makara kuNDala of males on one earlobe, and an eloborate earhanging worn by females on the other earlobe, indicates his half-male-half-female entity. It indicates that his right half is a masculine while the left is a female – symbolised as artha naariishvar concept.

Left Earring

On the left earlobe hangs an earhanging, called taaTanka, which is the jewellery of females, The earhanging of ladies will not indicate scholarly status, but have beauty and decorative values. Hence taaTanka on left earlobe is symbol for a divine feminine beauty. Thus the feminity of left side of shiva’s body is indicated, suggesting that he is both male and female, artha narii iishwaraartha = half; naari = female; iishwara = lordship; he is both the lord and the lady.

This “halfness ” is not attributable to iishwara. If done so, he will become half God. As Supreme Being is not described thus, but it is said that a female is his part – say the better half – is contained in him. He is not some entity made up of parts, but he created parts from himself. Thus, the Supreme Being who is the whole macrocosmm also accommodates a feminine attribute in his entity – the Supreme Nature. Modern science validates this through X-Y chromosome theory.

The femalehood is given a place of equivalence with the Supreme.When we say, maatR^i devo bhava; pitR^i devo bhava;aacharya devo bhava – it is not just saluting the three, the mother, father and the tutor. These three, put together, are available in Nataraja; say shiva – the father; his half entity – the mother; and the guyru in his  dakshniNAmUrty variation. He is the father in his naïve being, and the tutor when he is in the role of guru, or dakshiNaamuurti and he is also the mother  called prakriti, lalitha, paarvati etc – symolised just by left ear-hanging. Thus, the two kinds of ear hangings of Nataraja emphasise that shiva is father-mother-guru. This is his family.


There is a cobra creeping around his neck, upper arms, or chest. This snake is called kuNDalini. The serpent represents a coiling power, kuNDalini shakti; kuNDala = coiling, shakti = power; the innate power of any being. Physiologically this serpent is identified with the sympathetic and para-sympathetic nervous systems creeping along the vertebral column, or resting in a coiled form near at coccyx. The insignia of allopathic medicine may be remembered wherein two serpents entwine a trident like spear. This innate power is the one that keeps the system working by its coiling and uncoiling powers. Yoga, a physio-psychological system has vastly enriched in its tenets basing on this kuNDalini shakti, and brought into real life many of the hidden practices of good and great living.

Sacred Thread

A holy thread hangs from the left shoulder to the downside of right flank, called yaj~nopaviitam symbolising the Purity of Being. This thread is the basic requirement to perform a Yajna, a Holy Vedic ritual, performed for the purification of inner self as well as the society at large. Any person without this thread is not eligible to perform certain rituals. Thus the Supreme Being is attributed with the right to perform Universal Rituals, may it be creation and dissolution or maintenance of the Universe, He has the authority to perform them.

This sacred thread reminds them who wear it, to live a purified life and undertake a holy attitude towards his own living and that of others.

Divine Drum

Nataraja is depicted with four arms. It is the sculptor’s way of showing the personification of ambidexterity. He is not a person nor a created being. He is no effect of any cause, but a cause in himself. Thus his four arms are to be visualised for multitude of works performed for the creation, maintenance and dissolution of the universe. It is not like watching an octopus or a centipede, but a cosmic entity who can perform omnifarious deeds.

In the upper right hand there is a drumming instrument called Dhakka or Damaru. It is a double sided drumming instrument which gives out sonorous rhythm, too devastating to contain. Nataraja sounded it for fourteen times resulting in creation of roaring and thundering sonic boom in the skies, which in turn created the Universe. This drum is the symbol for the entire creation and perhaps the much discussed Big Bang might have emanated from this drum beat. In this sonic boom, dhwani, there emerged root sounds of aa, ii, uu etc., wherefrom the first letter a of Sanskrit is taken by mankind. Thus Nataraja is called naada brahma. This letter is common across universal languages, say Alpha of Greek or A of English or Aleef of Arabic or any other first letter. It is from this dhwani, the sonic boom, the Vedas etc., have emerged. Thus Natataja’s hand still bears that drum lest the uttered word is not dead.

Eternal Fire

The left upper hand holds Eternal Fire. He is already surrounded by devastating cosmic fire, then why handling this fire like a torchlight… This handheld fire is the essentail principle of life, with which everything transforms, either biological bodies to ashes, or seawater to raincloud etc. The process called Five-Fire Process, pancha agni vidya stems from this fire alone, which in a rudimentary way is this:

When humans on earth oblate watery substances like curds, ghee, milk, or at least water for gods, gods receive it and in turn oblate it in the celestial fire, called dyu loka agni, mixing with soma, the nectarious principle. Again when gods oblate that nectarian soma into parjanya agni, fire in raincloud, it becomes rain, and showers the same in the fire of earth, bhuumi agni, whereby earth yields food. Then the gods oblate that food in the fire of males, puruSha agni, i.e., they destine males to consume that particular food with nectarian principle in it, which gets transformed as a fruitful seminal fluid in males. And fianlly the same gods oblate the same fruitful fluid, via their fortunate males, in the fire of females called yoShita agni, whereby that soul which originally oblated liquids to gods takes birth as an offspring of that couple. Thus the cycle of birth and death becomes continuous.

This eternal fire keeps on burning from birth to death, causes Five-Fire Process, and thus it keeps the Universe on its wheel, as such shiva holds it, rather controls it.

Blessing Hand

The lower right hand is called abhaya hasta, the blessing hand, symboling safe existence. The creation shall exist till its sojourn is complete, which is blessed with this hand.

Apart from abhaya-mudra, hand-gesture during dance,  j~naana –mudra, hand-gesture of gnosis, is also depicted indicating shiva’s stature as supreme guru, dakshiNamurty.

Bestowing Hand

The dance-gesture, mudra of left lower hand is called Dola hasta, a munificent hand. This gesture indicates that benefits of living are bestowed as well as the benefit of dying, i.e. moksha, final liberation, from the cycle of birth and death, if the seeker is a correct knower of truth. Hinduism has no fanatic beliefs in religion. Hinduism itself is not an ardent religion, but it is a dharma, Way of Living. That is why a correct knower of the truth is required rather than a fanatic follower. Bhagavat Gita, the Divine Song, also says this. For that matter, every Hindu script iterates this: “just KNOW me, you are absolved of the birth-death cycle.” So, an honest seeker will get all he wants, not material gains, but spiritual upliftment, from this Dola hasta.

Firm Foot

The posture of right leg is called sthita padam, firm foot, firmly staying on its ground, meaning that the Supreme Being is Omnipresent. There is a dying demon underneath this firm foot. He is a dwarf demon representing Rug, jwara, maraNa; i.e., Rug= rugmata, roga = disease; jwara = fever, any febrile condition ; maraNa = death, decay; which are natural to the living beings, but most cruel at the same time.

To get rid of these evils, the demon is to be suppressed by the Supreme Being who created them along with the living beings. Living itself is a disease.

Notice that the demon is not dead under the thumping right foot of that powerful Supreme Being. That demon is suppressed, because living without these evils will tantamount living in heaven, which is promised only to the correct Knower, but not to all. This may be called the Spiritual Realism.

Dancing Foot

The posture of left leg is just raised from the ground, as a dance posture, and this foot is termed as anugarha pada or moksha pada, bestowing foot. In Indian culture saluting to the feet of elders or teachers is a symbolic representation of utter submission to elders. It is not like the kneeling posture of subjects at a throne or a monarch. Nataraja’s raised left foot is made available to the seekers for salutation in order to obtain knowledge of the Supreme Being and thereby to get moksha, he salvation.

Dress and Jingle Bells

Nataraja will be shown  either naked, digambara, means one who has quarters as his dress, or in a tiger’s skin, or in an elephant’s skin. This depiction is, viirata chihna, symbol of Omnipotence. He has chains of small ringing bells decorated at his ankles, thighs, waist, wrists etc.,  producing lilting sounds.

His Cosmic Dance in its totality is called pancha kriya shakti; pancha=five; kriya=functions; shakti= power; i.e. the absolute power to make the function of any pentad, say the creation of five elements of nature, pR^ithivi, aapa, teja, vaayu, aakaasha, viz. solidity, liquidity, fire, ether, air; or, to make the functioning of five sensory organs to work; or, the power to maintain pancha-agni-vidya… etc.

Unlike dialectical materialism, spiritualism needs some spiritual power as ” a priori “, which does all the creation, maintnance and dissolution of the universe. Thus, the pancha kriya shakti is vested with Nataraja.

Saivism: Six Schools


Saivism is not a single, hierarchical system. It is a thousand traditions, great and small. In the broadest sense Saivism is life itself. Philosophically it may be understood as six major traditions with many similarities and a few differences.

In the search for peace, enlightenment and Liberation, no path is more tolerant, more mysticaL, more widespread or more ancient than Saivite Hinduism. Through history Saivism has developed a vast array of lineages and traditions, each with unique philosophic-cultural-linguistic characteristics, as it dominated India prior to 1100 from the Himalayas to Sri Lanka, from the Bay of Bengal to the Arabian Sea. Here we seek to present the essential features of six major traditions identifiable within the ongoing Saiva context: Saiva Siddhanta, Pashupata Saivism, Kashmir Saivism, Vira Saivism, Siva Advaita and Siddha Siddhanta.

It should be understood that this formal and somewhat intellectual division, however useful, is by no means a comprehensive description of Saivism, nor is it the only possible list. In practice, Saivism is far more rich and varied than these divisions imply. Our discussion of these six schools and their related traditions is based upon historical information. There are wide gaps in the record, but we do know that at each point where the veil of history lifts, the worship of Siva is there.

The Saiva Agamas form the foundation and circumference of all the schools of Saivism. The system of philosophy set forth in the Agamas is common to a remarkable degree among all these schools of thought. These Agamas are theistic, that is, they all identify Siva as the Supreme Lord, immanent and transcendent, capable of accepting worship as the personal Lord and of being realized through yoga. This above all else is the connecting strand through all the schools.

Philosophically, the Agamic tradition includes the following principle doctrines: 1) the five powers of Siva: creation, preservation, destruction, revealing and concealing grace; 2) The three categories, Pati, pashu and pasha-God, souls and bonds; 3) the three bonds: anava, karma and maya; 4) the three-fold power of Siva-iccha, kriya and jnana shakti; 5) the thirty-six tattvas, or categories of existence, from the five elements to God; 6) the need for the satguru and initiation; 7) the power of mantra ; 8) the four padas : charya, kriya, yoga and jnana.

As we explore the individual schools and lineages within Saivism, keep in mind that all adhere to these doctrines. Our discussion necessarily focuses on the differences between one school and another, but this is not meant to obscure the overwhelming similarity of belief and practice among them.

Agamic philosophy and practices are conveyed to the common man through other channels, one of which is the Saiva Puranas. These oral collections of stories about the Gods are interspersed with Agamic philosophy.

A second channel is the Saivite temple itself, for the construction of the temples and the performance of the rituals are all set forth in the Agamas-in fact it is one of their main subjects. The priests follow manuals called paddhati, which are summaries of the instructions for worship contained in the Saiva Agamas, specifically the shodasha upacharas, or sixteen acts of puja worship, such as offering of food, incense and water. A third channel is the songs and bhajanas of the sants, which in their simplicity carry powerful philosophic import. A fourth is the on-going oral teachings of gurus, swamis, panditas, shastris, priests and elders.

Such matters of agreement belie the fact that Saivism is not a single, hierarchical system. Rather, it is a thousand traditions, great and small. Some are orthodox and pious, while others are iconoclastic and even-like the Kapalikas and the Aghoris-fiercely ascetic, eccentric or orgiastic. For some, Siva is the powerful, terrible, awesome destroyer, but for most He is love itself, compassionate and gentle.

For nearly all of the millions of Siva’s devotees, Saivism is not, therefore, a school or philosophy; it is life itself. To them Saivism means love of Siva, and they simply follow the venerable traditions of their family and community. These men and women worship in the temples and mark life’s passages by holy sacraments. They go on pilgrimages, perform daily prayers, meditations and yogic disciplines. They sing holy hymns, share Puranic folk narratives and recite scriptural verses.

Still, it is useful for us all to understand the formal streams of thought which nurture and sustain our faith. Now, in our brief description of these six schools, we begin with today’s most prominent form of Saivism, Saiva Siddhanta.

Jyothir Lingam – its Revelation


Om Visveswaraya Mahadevaya Triyambakaya Trupuranthakaya Tripuragni kalaya Kalagni Rudraya
Neelakantaya Mrutyunjayaya Sarveswaraya Sadasivaya Sriman Mahadevaya Namaha:

Once the sages living in Naimicharinya requested Saint Soodhar to explain how Jyothir Lingams came to this universe.
Soodhar began to tell the Mahatmiyam to the sages “O virtuous men of God I will tell you the epic of Siva Puranam as far as I know and If there is any mistake Maheswar should pardon me.” Soodhar narrates as follows:

The great philosophers saw with their spiritual vision the phenomenal Image of Lord Shiva as in Linga swaroopam (incarnation) which no one can explain and no one can understand.

Brahmam ( as distinct from Brahma ) has no beginning and also it has no end. This is neither sthulam (body) nor sukshumam.(concepts) Everything is Brahmam and Brahmam is everything.
Brahmam lovingly created prakruthi (Mayadevi) with eight hands – bright luminous and resplendent in all fine jewellery. At the same time he created a handsome man also.

As the man and the Devi who thus came into being were contemplating why they had been created an invisible voice told both to do penence. Accordingly they did penence for long number of years as advised by the voice. In the process they both were sweatting and the sweat flowed like a stream from their body and the water became an ocean. The man and the Devi created by Brahmam went into ‘yoga-nidra’. From that time the man was named Narayana and the prakruthi devi was called Narayini.

( Prakruthi is the primordial matter which became the universe through the process of evolution.)

From the navel of Narayana came out a nice frangrant lotus flower with an immeseasurably long and wide stalk and innumerable petals. Brahma – the creator incarnated in the lotus.
Brahma saw around him. He could’nt understand anything – who he was, where-from he came, why he was created and so forth. Hence he went down through the lotus stalk to find answers to these questions. He was going on and on for years and years but he could not reach the bottom. He became very tired and turned round and began going up the stalk again for years and years. He could not reach the top either. He was bewildered when he heard an invisible voice which asked him to do penance.

Accordingly he did penance for 12 years. Atlast Sri Narayana appeared before him. Brahma asked him who he was and why he had appeared before him. Narayana said ” I am the one that created you to do work of creation”. Brahma was disbelieving and retorted ” you say that I have been created to carry on the work of creation. But I did not create you. Then how did you come into being ?” They were quarreling hotly when suddenly there appeared a bright Jyothi (light). They both looked at the four directions for the source of the brightness. A big Lingam appeared in front of them. They were stunned and stoped the quarrel. Narayana said to Brahma “you go up and see where this begins at the top and I go down and see the end at the bottom”

Narayana re-incarnated as a white boar and drilling the earth went deep down. From that time he was called ‘Swedha Varaham’ and the ‘kalpam’ became ‘swedha varaha-kalpam’.
(When we do any pooja ‘sangalpam’ this word ‘swedha varaha kalpe’ is mentioned) Brahma went up on his Hamsa vahanam (meaning: ‘Hamsa’ is a swan ‘Vahanam’ is vehicle). Years passed and they could not locate the end nor the begining. and they became humble and realised that there was one above them .

When they were doing prayer they heard sound “AUM” . They were searching for the source of the divine sound and they saw the letters ‘agaaram’ ( a ) on the south, on the north they saw ” ugaaram ” ( U ) and inbetween the “Magaaram” ( M ). and the The first letter ‘ Agaaram’ was like ‘Surya Mandalapradesam’ ( sun ) ugaram was like the brightness of Agni ( like fire) and ‘Maagaram’ was like the Chandra mandala pradesam ( moon the sattelite). Over that there appeared the “brahmam” bright like spadigam (pure crystal) with five faces and ten arms and with priceless jewels. God Aadhi sivam appeared in Jyothi swaroopam.

Thus appeared “JYOTHIR LINGAM”.
Narayana and Brahma bowed to Easwara and asked him ” My lord, who are you ? Please explain to us about your avathar.” Shiva said ” I am the one that created Narayana and Narayana created Brahma. I am everything and every-thing is I. I am the “Brahmam”. He told Brahmah ” I made Vishnu create you to carry on the task of creation.” he told Vishnu ” I have created you to sustain the universe. Rudhra who will be the destroyer is also my aspect.” Vishnu asked ” My Lord we now know the purpose of our creation how will be get the ‘sakthi’ to do our duties.”

Shiva was very happy and taught them “Om Thatvamasi” ‘Maha-vakyam’ (Mahavakyam means the great sentences) and Mrithyn-jayam, Pancha-ksharam, Chinthamani, and Dhakshina-moorthi Moola Jabam Brahma and Vishnu bowed to the lord. Shiva told them “Narayana, I am in ‘Lingam’ exactly how I appear now before you with 5 faces. I will fulfil the desires of all my devotees.

On my right side is brahma, on my left Vishnu and in center Rudran – all three united in me. You three are only my ‘swaroopam’ created to carry on the three duities of creation, sustanence and destruction. Though you are my ‘swaroopam’ I have no bondage with you. You should pray to me so that the universe you will create in future will be prosperous and people will take you as an example and be devoted to me.

at Kasi
at Triyambakam
at Bovagiri
at ujjain
Lord mallikarjuna
at Srisailam
at Taruka-vanam
at Rameswaram
at Vindya
at Prabasa-patnam
at Vaidhyanatham
at Badrika-ashramam
at Devagiri

at Tiruvanai-kaval
at Kalahasti
at Thruvanamali
at Chidhambaram
at Kancheepuram

Gandha Lingam It is made of three ingredients — four parts of sandal paste, three parts of kumkumam and two parts of musk. Size determines the quantity and cost to be put in, but the ratio remains constant. If worship is made to that sandal paste lingam, one gets blessed with Sivasayujyamukti – merging of his jivatma into the Paramatma. Then the cycle of birth after death comes to dead end.

Pushpa Lingam

This is made of various kinds of fresh, fragrant, multi-coloured pleasant flowers. It blesses the adorer with kingship and acquisition of lands.

Gosakru Lingam

It is made of the dung of brown coloured cow. The adorer will be blessed with wealth, if he worships that lingam.

Valuka Lingam

It is made of fine sand and the worship confers the status of Vidhyadhara, belonging to one of the denominations of worshipful angels, besides Sivasayujyaprapti.

Yavagodhumasalija Lingam

It is made of rice, maize and wheat flour, and if adored, it confers santanaprapti in addition to wealth..

Sitakhanda Lingam

It is made of sugar candy and blesses the adorer with robust health and disease free easeful life.

Lavana Lingam

It is made of salt mixed with the powder of Hartal and Trikatukala. It blesses the adorer

with Vasikaranasakti — the power that subdues other with the help of spells and charms.

Tilapista Lingam

It is made with the paste of gingili seeds. The desires of the adorer are fulfilled, if worshipped.

Bhamsa Lingam

It is made of ash and confers all desirable merits.

Guda Lingam Or Sita Lingam

It is made of jaggery or sugar and confers blissful life when adored.

Vamsankura Lingam

It is made of the tender leaves of bamboo, and confers a long line of genealogy.

Pishta Lingam

It is made of rice flour and blesses the adorer with education.

Dhadhidhugdha Lingam

It is made of milk and curd, on separating the entire quantity of water, and blesses the adorer with property and happiness.

Dhanya Lingam

It is made of grain and blesses bumper crops to the adorer.

Phala Lingam

It is made of fruits and blesses the owner of orchards with good crops of fruits.

Dhatri Lingam

It is made of a kind of acid fruit – phyllanthus Emblica and bestows liberation

Navanita Lingam

It is made of butter and confers fame and wealth.

Durvakadaja Lingam Or Garika Lingam

It is made of a kind of grass – agrostis linaries and saves the adorer from untimely or accidental death

Karpura Lingam

It is made of camphor and bestows emancipation.

Ayaskanta Lingam

It is made of magnet and confers siddhi – super natural powers.

Mouktika Lingam

It is made of the ashes obtained by burning pearls and confers auspiciousness and fortune

Suvarana Lingam

It is made of gold and confers mukti — deliverance of soul from body.

Rajita Lingam

It is made of silver and confers fortune.

Pittala Lingam Or Kamsya Lingam

It is made of an alloy of brass and bell metal and confers the release of soul from body.

Trapu Lingam

It is made of tagara metal and makes one’s life free from enemies, if adored.

Ayasa Lingam

It is made of vitroil of sulphate and relieves one from the menace of enemies.

Seesa Lingam

It is made of lead and makes the adorer invulnerable to foes.

Ashtadhtu Lingam

It is made of minerals and bestows sarvasiddi – all super natural powers.

Aahtaloha Lingam

It is made of eight metals and cures one of the leprosy.

Vaidurya Lingam

It is made of a precious stone called vaidurya – lapis and protects one from the enemy’s arrogant prattle.

Spatika Lingam

It is made of crystal and bestows fulfilment of all desires.

Padara Lingam

It is made of mercury and bestows inestimable fortune.

Published in: on June 29, 2008 at 8:55 am  Comments (1)  


The History of Hinduism

The term “Hinduism” was coined by Greek and Persian travelers to the Indus Valley in the 16th century. Though many Hindus have adopted the name for themselves, they also use the terms “Veda,” or “Vedic religion,” which refer to the ancient texts at the core of the tradition, or Sanatana Dharma (Eternal Law).

Hinduism originated in the Indus Valley in modern Pakistan. The Vedic texts were not written by any single person, but “heard” by rishis, or seers, and passed down orally until they were recorded in writing. The oldest of the texts is the Rigveda (Wisdom of the Verses), a collection of 1028 hymns thought to have been recorded around 1500-1200 BCE. Other important Vedic texts include the Yajurveda (Wisdom of Sacrificial Formulas), Samaveda (Wisdom of Chants), and Ataravaveda (Wisdom of Atharvan Preists) were also recorded. The Upanisads, secret teachings concerning cosmic equations, were recorded from 1000-600 BCE. From the 2nd century BCE to the 4th century CE two great Hindu epics were recorded: the Ramayana and the Mahabarata. The Mahabarata contains the Bhagavad Gita (“Song of the Lord”) that describes three paths to salvation: the path of duties (karma-marga), the path of knowledge (jnana-marga), and the path of devotion (bhakti-marga). Though the Upanisads emphasized renunciation and asceticism, these later dharma texts emphasize that these three paths can be used simultaneously for the maintenance of the world order (dharma) and release from the the world (moksha). Thus the goal for many Hindus is an equilibrium between social and ritual duties and the stability of the cosmos.

For a long time it was popularly believed that the Vedas originated from an Aryan people who invaded the the ancient Harappan civilization of India around 1500 B.C. However, there is no literary or archeological support for the theory and it has become associated with the racist ideology of colonialism.

Basic Beliefs of Hinduism

“When you hear about the Self, meditate upon the Self, and finally realize the Self,

you come to understand everything in life.”

-Brihadaranyaka Upanisad 4.5

Hinduism is a diverse religion found primarily in India. Ganesh There is variation in local practices and the worship of particular deities. However, there are central tenants that unify it as one religion. The core of Hinduism is the belief in Brahman, the underlying universal life force that encompasses and embodies existence. According to Hindu scriptures, one’s ignorance of the true nature of the self (atman) as one with Brahman is what traps one in the cycle of endless death and reincarnation (samsara). Thus, the highest goal of Hinduism is liberation (moksha) from the karmic cycle of death and rebirth.

krishnaHowever, Hinduism is much more than an esoteric practice. For the millions of people who practice this religion, it is a way of life that encompasses all aspects of life including family, social life, politics, business, art, and health behaviors. The sacred scriptures contain instructions on these aspects of life and have a strong influence on art and drama. While the ascetic practices of yoga are a well-known aspect of Hinduism, family life is also considered a sacred duty.

Most households have a shrine to a particular deity. Women conduct a household puja, the offering of fruit, raw rice, flowers, incense, and other items to the deity, on a regular basis. People may be invited to join puja on occasion, making it a communal event. After the food has been offered it is considered to have been spiritually consumed and blessed by the deity’s power. It is redistributed as a way to share the deity’s blessings.

Hindus are very conscious of Shivathe paradoxes that make up the universe. Siva is simultaneously the creator, maintainer, and destroyer of life. All phenomena is a constant interplay between hot and cold, male and female, light and dark. Vedic medicine teaches that keeping these opposing forces in balance is central to the maintenance of bodily, social, and cosmic well-being.

GsarawtThe belief that one’s karma determines one’s birth in the next life has supported the structure of the caste system in India, made up of four varnas that determine one’s occupation: Brahmins (priests), Kshatriyas (nobles and warriors), Vaishyas (commoners) and Sudras (servants). Though the former colonial government officially abolished the caste system and implemented affirmative action policies to rectify imbalances in wealth and education, there are still socioeconomic advantages to belonging to a higher caste. The hierarchy of caste is a contested subject. There is evidence in the Upanisads that Brahmanhood is attained by depth of learning rather than birth. The tradition of bhakti (devotion) is sometimes an expression of criticism against caste and other practices such as image worship. Bhakti is associated with devotional poems composed across all social classes and emphasizes loving God over any practice or doctrine.

Hindu TermsCopyright 2008

Ātman The real self, the eternal life principle which underlies physical human form.

Brahmā The god of creation. A member of the triad (trimūrti) of principle gods, which includes Visnu and Siva.

Brahman The Ultimate Reality that underlies all of existence.

Dharma “Law,” or “Truth” that is eternal and all-encompassing. The order of the universe and the way to maintain that order.

Karma “Action.” The universal law that every deed has a consequence that will come back to the doer. Good actions will reap good life circumstances and bad ones will do the opposite. The cumulative effect of one’s karma can influence one’s position in future rebirths.

Mahaābhārta A national epic of India.

Māyā “Supernatural power.” The power that produces the phenomena of physical existence.

Moksha “Release,” or “Liberation” from the cycle of endless death and rebirth. The ultimate goal of Hinduism which is attained by overcoming ignorance and desire.

Purānas “Ancient.” Non-Vedic Hindu scripture containing mythological accounts of ancient times. It is thought they were compiled between 500 and 1500 CE.

Pūjā “Respect, homage, worship.” The offering of food, flowers, incense, and other items to a deity. Often the food will be distributed and consumed afterword and is thought to impart the goodwill of the deity.

Samsāra “Wandering.” The continuous cycle of death and reincarnation caused by karma.

Siva “Auspicious.” A god of the Hindu trinity that is simultaneously creator, destroyer, and preserver. His creative powers come to life in conjunction with Sakti, his female aspect. He is the supreme yogi and lord of the animals.

Upanishad Literally, “To sit close by,” referring to the method of transmission from guru to student. Part of the Vedic texts containing esoteric teachings on the nature of the self (atman) as one with the Ultimate Reality (Brahman) and the way to liberation from the cycle of samsara.

Veda “Knowledge.” The scriptures that are the basis of Hindu belief and practice. The Vedas were “heard” or “seen” by priests from a divine source and passed orally through the family line.

Visnu “The pervador.” A god of the Hindu trinity that preserves the universe and embodies goodness and mercy.

Yoga “Yoking, joining.” The path to liberation from samsara through focusing the mind to experience higher states of consciousness.

Hindu Scripture

The Hindu scriptures are massive, and were written between 1400 B.C. and A.D. 500.  The oldest of the Hindu scriptures is the Veda, which literally means “wisdom” or “knowledge.”  The Vedas contain hymns, prayers, and ritual texts composed from about 1400 to about 400 B.C.

The Upanishads are a collection of writings composed between 800-600 B.C.  Over one hundred of them still exist.  These writings marked a definite change from the sacrificial humans and magic formulas in the Vedas, to the mystical ideas about man and the universe – specifically the Brahman, and the atman (the self or soul).  The Upanishads had a great influence on Gautama Buddha, the founder of Buddhism.

The Ramayana is one of the two major epic tales of India, the other being the Mahabharata. A sage-poet named Valmiki wrote the Ramayana. The work consists of 24,000 couplets based upon the life of Rama, a righteous king who was supposedly an incarnation of the God Vishnu.  The Mahabharata is the second epic.  It is an the story of the deeds of Aryan clans, and consists of some 100,000 verses and was composed over an 800-year period beginning about 400 B.C. Contained within this work is a great classic, the Bhagavad Gita, or the “Song of the Blessed Lord.”

The Bhagavad Gita is not only the most sacred book of the Hindus, but it is also the best known and the most read of all Indian works in the entire world, despite the fact it was added late to the Mahabharata, sometime in the first century A.D.  The story revolves around man’s duty, which, if carried out, will bring nothing but sorrow. The significance this story has on Hindu belief is its endorsement of bhakti, or devotion to a particular god, as a means of salvation, since Arjuna, the story’s main character, decides to put his devotion to Vishnu above his own personal desires. The Gita ends with Arjuna devoted to Vishnu and ready to kill his relatives in battle.

Published in: on June 29, 2008 at 4:59 am  Leave a Comment  

The River Ganga (Ganges)

The Ganga, especially, is the river of India, beloved of her
    people, round which are intertwined her memories, her hopes
    and fears, her songs of triumph, her victories and her
    defeats. She has been a symbol of India's age-long culture
    and civilization, ever changing, ever flowing, and yet ever
    the same Ganga.
	- Jawaharlal Nehru, First Prime Minister of India, born
	  in Allahabad on the Ganges. 


he Gangotri Glacier, a vast expanse of ice five miles by fifteen, at the foothills of the Himalayas (14000 ft) in North Uttar Pradesh, is the source of Bhagirathi, which joins with Alaknanda (origins nearby) to form Ganga at the craggy canyon-carved town of Devprayag. Interestingly, the sources of Indus and the Brahmaputra are also geographically fairly close; the former goes through Himachal Pradesh and fans out through Punjab and Sind (Pakistan) into the Arabian Sea. The latter courses for most of its tremendous length under various names through Tibet/China, never far from the Nepal or Indian borders, and then takes a sharp turn near the northeastern tip of India, gathers momentum through Assam before joining the major stream of the Ganga near Dacca in Bangladesh to become the mighty Padma, river of joy and sorrow for much of Bangladesh. From Devprayag to the Bay of Bengal and the vast Sunderbans delta, the Ganga flows some 1550 miles, passing (and giving life to) some of the most populous cities of India, including Kanpur (2 million), Allahabad, Varanasi, Patna, and Calcutta (14 million). Dacca, the capital of Bangladesh is on a tributary of the Brahmaputra, just before it joins the Ganga to form Padma. A large number of tributaries join and flow from the Ganges to drain the Northern part of India and Bangladesh.

The Yamuna, which originates less than a hundred miles east of the Bhagirathi, flows parallel to the Ganga and a little to the south for most of its course before merging with the Ganga at the holy city of Allahabad, also known as Triveni Sangam (literally, Three-way Junction, the third river being the mythical Saraswati which is also supposed to be an underground river). New Delhi, capital of India, and Agra, site of the Taj Mahal, are two of the major cities on the Yamuna.

The largest tributary to the Ganga is the Ghaghara, which meets it before Patna, in Bihar, bearing much of the Himalayan glacier melt from Northern Nepal. The Gandak, which comes from near Katmandu, is another big Himalayan tributary. Other important rivers that merge with the Ganga are the Son, which originates in the hills of Madhya Pradesh, the Gomti which flows past Lucknow, and the Chambal made notorious by the ravines in its valley which are noted for lawlessness and banditry, including the recent Phoolan Devi, and earlier bandits who held sway over large territories (to the extent of having their own currency).

The delta of the Ganga, or rather, that of the Hooghly and the Padma, is a vast ragged swamp forest (42,000 sq km) called the Sunderbans, home of the Royal Bengal Tiger , who still kill about 30 villagers each year. The silt-carrying waters of the Ganga stains the Bay of Bengal a muddier hue for more than 500 km into the ocean.

Dams on the Ganga

There are two major dams on the Ganga. One at Haridwar diverts much of the Himalayan snowmelt into the Upper Ganges Canal, built by the British in 1854 to irrigate the surrounding land. This caused severe deterioration to the wateflow in the Ganga, and is a major cause for the decay of Ganga as an inland waterway.

The other dam is a serious hydroelectric affair at Farakka, close to the point where the main flow of the river enters Bangladesh, and the tributary Hooghly (also known as Bhagirathi) continues in West Bengal past Calcutta. This barrage, which feeds the Hooghly branch of the river by a 26 mile long feeder canal, and its water flow management has been a long-lingering source of dispute with Bangladesh, which fortunately is likely to be resolved based on discussions held with the new Hasina government in Bangladesh in 1996 when I.K. Gujral was the Foreign Minister in India, Failure to resolve this has caused harm to both sides of the border for nearly two decades now. Bangladesh feels that the lack of flow in the summer months causes sedimentation and makes Bangladesh more prone to flood damages. At the same time, proposals for linking the Brahmaputra to the Ganges to improve the water flow in the Ganges is hanging fire. Also, the water management problem may actually involve a number of other riparian countries such as Nepal (where there has been tremendous deforestation, leading to greater silt content). (Click here to read about causes of floods in Bangladesh [long].)

It is likely that Ganga carried more water around the time of the Roman Empire, when Patna was the major port city of Pataliputra. Even in the eighteenth century the ships of the <!– East India Company would come to call at the port city of Tehri, on the Bhagirathi, one of the main source river of Ganga.

Another dam is proposed to be built on the upper reaches of a tributary of the Ganga, Mahakali, This Indo-Nepal project, the Pancheswar dam, proposes to be the highest dam in the world and will be built with US collaboration.

The upper and lower Ganga canal, which is actually the backbone of a network of canals, runs from Haridwar to Allahabad, but maintenance has not been very good and my personal experience is that it probably trickles out into a small river a little beyond Kanpur.


The major polluting industries on the Ganga are the leather industries, especially near Kanpur, which use large amounts of Chromium and other chemicals, and much of it finds its way into the meager flow of the Ganga. Unfortunately, this is a boom time for leather processing in India, which many view as a form of eco-environmental dumping on the third world, and with the lax and lubricable implementation systems of the U.P. Government, it does not seem likely that this will go down. The world bank report 1992, which focussed on the environmental issues, mentions the dissolved-oxygen and riverborne decomposing material at two points on the Ganga.

However, industry is not the only source of pollution. Sheer volume of waste – estimated at nearly 1 billion litres per day – of mostly untreated raw sewage – is a significant factor. Also, inadequate cremation procedures contributes to a large number of partially burnt or unburnt corpses floating down the Ganga, not to mention livestock corpses, which I have personally counted at about one every two hours at the Ganga in Bithoor, a holy site where Sita was supposed to have lived for a period during the Vanaprastha, and site of much of the Indian savagery during the Civil War of 1857.

The Ganga Action Plan has been set up under the Indian Government bureaucracy, and is attempting to build a number of waste treatment facilities, under Dutch and British support, and to collaborate with a number of voluntary organizations. Surprisingly, the Hindu political parties in India are not very active in the efforts to clean up the Ganga, and it is not very high in the general religious agenda. If you are looking to donate money to some organization, there may be a number of deserving groups I can find out about (send mail to the address below).


The Ganga has an exalted position in the Hindu ethos. It is repeatedly invoked in the Vedas, the Puranas, and the two Indian epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. Ganga is a goddess, Ganga devi, one of two daughters of Meru (the Himalayas), the other being Uma, consort of Shiva. In her youth, Indra had asked for Ganga to be given to heaven to soothe the Gods with its cool waters. The story of its descent to earth appears in slightly different forms in Ramayana (Bala Kanda: Vishwamitra narrates it to the child Rama), Mahabharata (Aranya Parba: Agastya narrates it to Rama), and in the Puranas. These myths are variously dated between 2000 to 400 BC (you may be interested in this over-detailed dateline for Rama’s life). The general outline of the story is:

The king Sagara had two wives. By a favour of the lord Shiva, one wife bore him sixty thousand sons, all of whom were to die simultaneously, and the other bore him one son, Asamanjas, who would continue the dynasty. The sixty thousand sons grew to be great warriors, while the mighty Asamanjas caused so much misery to the populace that his father the king had to expel his own son, though a grandson, Ansuman, was left behind. King Sagara once performed the horse ceremony, in which a horse is allowed to roam at will, and is followed by warriors. Stopping the horse is a challenge to war; not stopping it is a compact of obeisance. In this instance, the sixty thousand sons were following the horse, but surprisingly, the horse was lost. After much recrimination, they dug up the entire earth and the underworld, the oceans, searching for the horse. Eventually it was found in a deep cavern, loitering close to where the sage Kapila sat in radiant meditation. The sons gathered the horse but they disturbed the great Kapila (Vasudeva), who was very annoyed, and instantly burnt them to ash with his fiery gaze.

Sagara heard of this fate through Narada, the heavenly wanderer, and sent the grandson Ansuman to undo the harm. Ansuman descended to the underworld and met Kapila, who was much pleased with the youth’s bearing and conversation. He granted that the soulse of the sons of Sagara may be released by the waters of Ganga, then resident in heaven. Despite much austerity and prayer, neither Sagara, nor Ansuman after him, nor his son Dilipa, could get Ganga to appear on earth. Finally it was Dilipa’s son Bhagiratha, who after severe austerities, propitiated the Goddess, and she agreed to come down to earth. However, the impact of her fall would be so severe, that it could be borne by none less than Shiva himself. Therefore Bhagiratha went into meditation again and obtained Shiva’s consent after many more austerities. Finally, the river came down and fell into Shiva’s matted hair, and thence to earth. This is the presumed site of the present-day temple at Gangotri. Bhagiratha led the way on horse back and the river followed. In this manner they reached the spot where lay the ashes of the six thousand sons. They were thus liberated, and an ocean formed from the waters there. This is the Sagar Island of today, where the Ganges flows into the Bay of Bengal (“Sagara’ is also Sanskrit for ocean).

Many other tales are associated with the Ganga and points on it. Hari (Lord Vishnu) himself bathed in its waters at Haridwar, which is so holy that sins as great as the murder of Brahmins may be washed away by bathing here. Hindus to this day use the water of the Ganga to cleanse any place or object for ritual purposes. Bathing in the Ganga is still the lifelong ambition of many of India’s believing masses, and they will congregate on its banks for the tremendously overcrowded Sangam, Sagar Mela or Kumbh Mela which are held on auspicious dates every few years.

The Ganges has many names associated with its many roles in Sanskrit mythology. Bhagiratha himelf is the source of the name Bhagirathi (of Bhagiratha), which is its initial stream, but is also another name for the Hooghly. At one point, Bhagiratha went too close to the sage Jahnu’s meditation site, and the disturbed hermit immediately gulped up all the waters. Eventually, after more persuasion from Bhagiratha, the sage yielded the waters, but Ganges retained the name “Jahnavi”. Another explanation for the same name is based on the word for knee in Sanskrit, Janu (akin to genus in latin), + the case form for “born of” yield Jahnavi; this is from a version of the story in which the saint released it through a slit at the knee.

Water from the Ganga has the recursive property that any water mixed with even the minutest quantity of Ganga water becomes Ganga water, and inherits its healing and other holy properties. Also, despite its many impurities, Ganga water does not rot or stink if stored for several days (This is true, I think, though it may have alternate explanations).

Published in: on June 28, 2008 at 4:40 am  Comments (3)