Category Archives: Traditional Tales

Krishna Avatar – Part 13

By Nirooshitha Sethuram

Even though Krishna returned from Hastinapura in haste due to Satrajit’s death, he never stopped fulfilling his duties to the Kuru family.  Knowing in his heart that the Kuru cousins were safe, still he sent Uddhava to find them and report back to him.

So, who are these cousins of Krishna from the Kuru family?

The above question takes us into the epic of Mahabharata!  They were the Pandavas of the Lunar Dynasty.  We have to go back a few generations to start the story of the Pandavas.  Let’s begin with the name of the epic, “Mahabharata.”  While it is a long story, we will look at a concise version of it.

There once lived a king of the Lunar Dynasty, named Dushyanta.  He had a great passion for hunting.  On one of his hunting trips in the jungle, he found Shakuntala, the daughter of Menaka, a celestial nymph of Lord Indra’s court and the great sage Vishwamitra.  It is said that Lord Indra himself, frightened by Vishwamitra’s yogic powers and fearful of losing his position as Lord of the devas, sent Menaka from heaven to earth to lure Vishwamitra and disturb his intense meditation.  Menaka successfully inflamed Vishwamitra’s lust and passion; she succeeded in breaking his meditation.

However, she genuinely fell in love with him and had a baby girl.  The baby girl born to them was left at Rishi Kanva’s ashram with both the parents departing to follow their own pursuits.  Rishi Kanva found the baby surrounded by shakunta birds, so he named her Shakuntala.  Thus Shakuntala became the foster-daughter of Rishi Kanva.

Mesmerized by her beauty, Dushyanta married Shakuntala in a Gandarva marriage (love marriage with no rituals or witnesses), promising to return for her even though being with her in the jungle for only a few days.  He gave his royal ring, embossed with his name, as a token of love.  Shakuntala anxiously waited for Dushyanta, losing herself in thoughts of him.

One day Sage Durvasa, known for his fiery temper, visited Rishi Kanva.  However, Shakuntala was inattentive to Durvasa as she was thinking about Dushyanta.  Angered, Durvasa cursed that the person of whom she was thinking would forget her.  Shakuntala pleaded with Durvasa, but he said he couldn’t take the curse back, but that she could show Dushyanta something he had given her, such as the ring, and he would be freed from the curse.

Due to the curse, Dushyanta forgot Shakuntala.  He never came back for her.  Desperate, Shakuntala went to Dushyanta’s kingdom.  On the way, she lost the ring in the river.  A fish swallowed it and swami away.  As Shakuntala didn’t have the ring to bring Dushyanta out of the curse, he didn’t recognize her.  Shakuntala had to return to the forest and remain deserted by Dushyanta.

In time, Shakuntala gave birth to a baby boy.  Shakuntala’s son was brave and courageous.  His name was Bharata.  From an early age, he played with lions, tigers, elephants and other wild animals.  It is told that he opened a lion’s mouth with his bare hands to count the number of teeth it had.  Shakuntala, watching her son, was sure that he would become a great courageous leader one day.

A few years later, a fisherman found the royal ring in a fish in his catch.  He took it to Dushyanta, as his name was on it.  Upon seeing the ring, the curse was lifted.  Dushyanta remembered Shakuntala and rushed to the jungle to find her.  Arriving at Rishi Kanva’s Ashram, he found Bharata playing with the wild animals like toys.  He approached the little boy, asking who he was?  The little boy replied that he was Bharata, the son of the great king Dushyanta and Shakuntala.  Astonished by this answer, Dushyanta sadly realized his error of leaving Shakuntala.  He hugged his son with great love and affection.  He took Shakuntala and Bharata back to the palace.  Succeeding his father, Bharata became the king and soon an Emperor.  He became the greatest of all the kings, a universal emperor.  India’s original name came from him, “Bharat” or “Bharatavarsha,” before the European invasion.  Hence we see the name, “Mahabharata,” which is Maha + Bharata, meaning Great Bharata.

A number of descendants in Bharata’s line ruled Bharatavarsha.  In that line, King Hasti and his grandson King Kuru, were very popular.  Hastinapura was named after King Hasti and the Kuru family got the name after King Kuru.  Kuru’s son was Pratipa, whose son was Shantanu.  The saga of Mahabharata formally begins with the rule of King Shantanu, known for his valor and wisdom.

King Pratipa had three sons; Shantanu was the youngest.  King Pratipa’s eldest son, Devapi, had leprosy and therefore gave up his inheritance to the throne and became a hermit.  The second son, Bahlika, abandoned Hastinapura, and lived with his uncle in Balkh, later inheriting his kingdom.  Thus, Shantanu was crowned as the king of Hastinapura.  He was young when crowned because his father had him later in life.

Shantanu was a benevolent and wise ruler, very much liked by the people of his nation.  One day, the young king Shantanu was walking along the river Ganga, and saw a beautiful young lady.  She walking on the water as though she was walking on the ground, then came ashore and continued to walk on the riverbank.  He was mesmerized and fell in love with her in an instant.  He told the beautiful lady that he had lost his heart to her, that he is the king of Hastinapura who wants to marry her.  He would make her the queen of Hastinapura.  She said she would accept his proposal under two conditions: 1) he must never ask her about who she is or where she came from, and 2) he should never interfere in what she does.  Continuing, she told him that if he violated either of these conditions, she will leave him immediately.

The conditions stunned Shantanu; they would never be agreeable to a king.  But, for the love stricken Shantanu, it was unthinkable to refuse any of her demands, in order to have her hand.  He accepted both conditions immediately.  The beauty married Shantanu under the Gandarva marriage rites (love marriage with no rituals or witnesses) on the spot.

King Shantanu left his ministers to take care of the kingdom and completely concentrated only on his wife.  He called her “Ganga,” as he had found her near the river Ganga.  Shantanu’s life went smoothly and happily for some time.  In due course, Ganga gave birth to a lovely baby boy.  Shantanu was overjoyed to hear the news and rushed to his wife’s quarters.  The queen was silently taking the newborn towards the river Ganga, where Shantanu had met her for the first time.  Shantanu was puzzled but followed her quietly.  When she arrived at the riverbank, she turned and smiled at Shantanu, then put the newborn into the river, letting the currents wash the baby away.  She started walking back to the palace with satisfaction in her face.  Shantanu was speechless, unable to believe what he had seen the love of his life do to their child.  He wanted to ask her, why she did it, but remembered the conditions and kept quiet.

A few weeks passed, then Shantanu came to know that Ganga was pregnant again.  His sadness about the earlier son faded away.  He was eagerly awaiting the birth of his child.  The day came and he was blessed with another son.  To his astonishment, Ganga marched with the baby in her arms towards the river again.  It was the same fate for the second son as the earlier one.  Shantanu was in great grief, but he could not say or do anything as he was bound by his promise.

Ganga did the same thing over and over again, giving Shantanu’s sons to the river.  After she drowned the seventh son, Shantanu was lost in deep thought all the time.  Life was very painful for him.  He couldn’t tolerate what Ganga was doing, but his love for her prevented him from saying anything as he didn’t want to lose her.

Running out of patience, Shantanu decided to stop the drowning of the eighth child.  The time came.  His eighth son was born.  As usual, the queen was off to the river.  When she was about to drop the baby into the river, Shantanu shouted “Stop!  You are murdering my eighth son, and I can’t allow it to happen.  Are you here to put an end to my kingdom and my dynasty?  Why, my love?”

The queen looked at Shantanu.  She said “Dear King, I am Ganga, the river itself, who came from the heavens.  Now that you have questioned me, you have broken your promise.  As for the conditions, I will not be able to stay with you any longer.  But before I leave, I will reveal the entire secret of what has happened here.”  She continued, “The children born to you were the eight Vasus, the eight elemental attendants of Indra, representing the aspects of nature.  Once, sage Vasishta got angry with them as they stole his pet cow Nandini.  He cursed them to be born as humans and undergo mental embarrassments.  Hearing this curse, seven of them implored the sage to be excused, but the eighth stood without any remorse.  Vasishta compassionately amended his curse for the first seven, so they would as soon as they are born on earth, to be able to return to Indra’s heaven.  But the eighth would have a very long miserable life due to mental suffering.  The eight Vasus came to me, asking me to be their mother on earth.  To fulfill their wish, I had to take a human form and free them from their curse.  I liberated the first seven.  My job is done here.  I will take your eighth son with me, to teach him to be potent enough to withstand what this world is going to throw at him, mentally and physically.  When he grows up to an age, studying everything he needs to know, I will come back and return him to you.”  Saying this, hugging her baby, she flashed into the sky.

Traditional Tales:  Shiva’s Guru

by Nirooshitha:Sethuram

It was a beautiful day on Mt.  Kailasa, where Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati were spending time together with their two children, Ganesha and Skanda.  The two children went off to play in the foothills of the mountain while Shiva and Parvati were giving blessings to devotees.

On that day Lord Brahma, the Creator-God, decided to visit Mt.  Kailasa to worship Shiva.  On his way, he saw Skanda at the foothills of Mt.  Kailasa, but ignored him, and went past him without paying his respects.  Lord Skanda got angry and, mischievous as he was, wanted to bring Brahma out of his egoism.

He patiently waited until Brahma returned from worshipping Shiva, heading back to Satya Loka where he resides with his wife Goddess Saraswati.  When he passed Skanda, ignoring him again, thinking that he is just a child, the little boy Skanda ran to Brahma, asking who he was, what he does, and what he is proficient in?

quora.com

Brahma replied that he is Brahma, the creator of the beings of the three worlds and that he is proficient in the Vedas.  He proudly said that he was creating the beings who have knowledge of the Vedas, and started to recite the Rig Veda text, beginning with the pranava (the primordial sound “OM”),

Immediately Skanda interrupted Brahma, and asked him to explain the meaning of the pranava.  Brahma couldn’t explain the meaning.  Skanda said, “Without knowing the meaning of the first word you use to do your job, you are incompetent to create the beings!”  He knocked Brahma on his forehead with his knuckles, and imprisoned him in Skanda Giri.  Skanda took up the role of Creator and continued with the creation.

The Devas (Divine Beings) were worried and surprised by the absence of Brahma.  They went to Lord Vishnu complaining that his son, Brahma was missing, asking for Vishnu to help them find him.  Vishnu, the Protector-God , came to know what had happened. He wanted to leave it to Shiva to attend to this matter, since Vishnu couldn’t win the argument with Skanda.  Vishnu, with the other Devas, went to Shiva and explained the situation.

Shiva decided to deal with this himself and went down to see his beloved son, little Skanda.  He with all three of his eyes stood watching Skanda play.  Then he went near his little boy with affection, embraced him and requested him to release Brahma.  Honoring his father’s request, Skanda released Brahma immediately.  Shiva was pleased by his son’s obedience and sat him on his lap.

Then, Shiva asked, “Do you know the meaning of the pranava?”  Being the son of the Supreme Being, Skanda smiled.  He mischievously replied that he does but will only tell the meaning if Shiva was prepared to learn the mantra in a proper manner, as a shishya (disciple) learning it from a Guru.

Agreeing to Skanda’s conditions, giving the proper respect to a Guru by a disciple, Shiva knelt with folded hands and bowed head, before his young son Skanda, the Guru, with great veneration and learnt the mantra from him.  Then Shiva blessed his son, giving him the name Swaminatha, meaning “Guru to the Guru himself.” Brahma went back to his duties, never to ignore anyone again, no matter how young they were.

The hillock on which this took place thus came to be known as “Swamimalai.” Today, thousands of devotees yet go to this holy place, seeking “True Knowledge” from Swaminatha.

Through this act of giving the proper respect to Skanda, Shiva, wanted to show the importance of the Guru.  He also wanted to show that we should never disrespect anyone however young, small or insignificant you may think they are.

Om Namah Shivaya.

 

Mystical Meaning

By Swami Nirmalananda

Devas, Gods and Goddesses, oh my!   Is the Creator-God really different from the Protector-God?  And who is Shiva anyway?

Mythology activates a part of your brain that nothing else touches, which is why superheroes are so popular.  I read Ovid’s Metamorphosis to my children, followed by the rich and meaningful tales from ancient India.  But the Western-trained mind asks, “Just how many Gods are there?”

The answer is simple.  One.

Though called by different names in different languages, different times, traditions and religions, the One is still the One.  Just like water, agua and pani all refer to the same liquid, each name points to something beyond the word being used.

You probably have many names, from a childhood nickname, relationship names like “Sis” or “Mom,” screen names, a professional name, pet names used by those closest to you, and maybe even a Sanskrit name to invoke your deepest sense of spirituality.  Each name brings forth a different quality from you, while you are more.

In India, the One Reality is called by different names when performing different functions.  When creating, the One is called Brahma, expressing qualities that makes creating possible:  innovative, focused on the moment instead of the future, and with quick-trigger reflexes.  Yoga’s sages described Brahma, even seeing him in Divine visions, thus making us able to depict him in paintings, statues and stories.

………Rama………………………Shiva……………………….Krishna……….

Vishnu is the name of the One Reality while nurturing and protecting that which Brahma created.  And the Goddesses are the energies that they use in their various tasks.  Since we’re talking about the One Divine Reality, how many functions are possible?  Thus, how many names are possible?  Millions!  But they are all forms of the One.  The Sanskrit word, “deva,” is the root word for the English word, “divine.”  Devas are Gods, Devis are Goddesses, each of which is the One Reality in a different guise.

This glorious multiplicity is not limited to the celestial sphere, for the One has become everything that exists, including you and me.  The goal of yoga is to know yourself as the Divinity you are, thus being able to see the One shining as all.  Yogis usually name the One as Shiva, which is technically “Paramashiva,” meaning the One who is beyond your idea of who the One is.

Skanda on Shiva’s lap – yogaxtc.com

In this story, the many forms of the One play out a drama complete with insult, confrontation, imprisonment, a “presidential pardon,” all superimposed on against a mystical background of the ever-reverberating primordial sound.  Then sweetest of all, the great Shiva takes on the role of a humble student, learning from his own son, Skanda, while knowing that Skanda got everything from Shiva himself.

Nirooshitha says that she chose this story because it’s all about the Guru principle.  “This story is from Skanda Purana, as is Shree Guru Gita.  This is one of the stories, which I was told and read many times while growing up. For me this story is about Shiva being himself and being his own son.”

It’s really a picture of your own condition.  While you are currently experiencing the limitation of human individuality, you are more.  To find the more, you go to one who knows, one who serves by sharing that knowing with you – the Guru.  While bowing to the Guru, you’re bowing to your Self, one really you but simply in another form.  It’s all done with mirrors!

OM svaroopa svasvabhavah namo namah

Traditional Tales and Mystical Meanings

By Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati

The mythic dimension of our lives is a doorway to the mystical dimension of our beings.  Today we welcome a new writer to our blog team, a yogi who grew up with these stories in her native Sri Lanka.  The classical Hindu tales always offer a yogic teaching, which I will draw out in each blog, both to warm your heart as well as to expand your understanding.

Nirooshitha Sethuram is a Svaroopa® yoga teacher in America, bringing both western and Hindu perspectives to our profound yogic tradition.  She explains, “The Mango Story is the first story that most Hindu children hear from their parents.  Very simple, yet very rich in its essence.”

 

The Mango Story

By Nirooshitha Sethuram

It was another beautiful day on Mt.  Kailash, where Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati were with their two children, Ganesha and Karttikeya.

On this day Sage Narada was visiting.  Narada is the son of Brahma, the creator, also known to be the creator of problems which end in goodness to the world.  Narada brought a special mango in his hand, claiming he had come to pay respects to Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati, but they knew that it was not the case.  He was there to start some mischief.  They were right; he had come to test the two children, Ganesha and Karttikeya.

Sage Narada offered the special mango to Lord Shiva, saying it was a very special mango, sweeter than the nectar of any fruit there was.  Narada also said it was to be eaten by one person only and should not be shared.  With a smile, Lord Shiva asked, “Have you started to execute your mischief yet?”  Then Shiva said, “I can’t eat it, as I share everything with Parvati,” so He offered it to Parvati.  Parvati said that She can’t have it either, as She also shares everything with Lord Shiva.

Sage Narada pretended to be sad because they rejected what he offered, though he was happy that his plan was working.  He says, “Oh my Lord, please, one of you in your family should eat it!  Maybe it can be one of your children.”  Knowing what was happening, Lord Shiva called for his sons, Ganesha and Karttikeya.

Shiva said, “I have a mango which cannot be shared, so one of you can have it.”  Both Ganesha and Karttikeya said, “I want it, I want it…”  Sage Narada, pretending to be shocked, said, “I had no idea that the children will fight for it.”  Lord Shiva smiled and said to Narada in a low voice that only he can hear, “You purposely brought this mango, knowing this would happen…” Goddess Parvati continued, “Yes, I agree, but we need to resolve this now.”

Lord Shiva said, “My dear children, this is the time in your life in which you must face the world.  Unless you know your world, you cannot lead your life in prosperity.  Both of you must travel around the world three times.  The first one to return will get the mango.”  Narada was extremely happy that his plan was being executed.

Karttikeya was a beautiful strong boy born to defeat demons, whereas Ganesha had the head of an elephant, with a potbelly and short stubby legs.  Kartikeya’s vehicle was a peacock and Ganesh’s vehicle was a mouse.  Karttikeya was thinking his brother didn’t have a chance, so without a word he jumped on his peacock and off he went.  With great determination Karttikeya flew around the world.  Along the way, he faced terrible storms, fought with demons and helped people in danger.  His journey was much more difficult than he thought.  His thoughts went back to his brother, “Oh, my poor brother.  How is he going to survive all this while competing for the mango?”

Ganesha knew he will not be able to win the race on his mouse and started thinking.  Then an idea struck him.  He said, “My parents, Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati, are my world, therefore I will go around them thrice.”  Ganesha fastened a tiny harness around Mushika, his mouse.  He went thrice around his parents and was just receiving the mango from Goddess Parvati when Karttikeya returned after circling the world thrice.

Karttikeya saw Ganesha holding the mango in his hand.  He was so angry!  He said that Ganesha had done nothing while he traveled around the world.  “So have I,” replied Ganesh.  He said, “I traveled all around my father and mother.  They are my world.”

Karttikeya knew what had happened, and though he knew his brother won it fair and square, he still got angry with his parents.  Seeing this, Ganesha offered the mango to Karttikeya.  But Karttikeya flew away on his peacock, leaving all his luxuries, including all his clothes.  He went to a hill known as “Palani” in the south of India (palani = palam + nee in the Tamil language, meaning, “you are the fruit”).

Goddess Parvati came right behind Karttikeya to bring him back to Kailash.  When She arrived, She said to him, “You both have won in your own ways.  Karttikeya, you won by your single-minded determination and endurance, while your brother Ganesha won by balance of heart, mind, love and intellect.”  Hearing this from his beloved mother, Karttikeya was satisfied and lifted out of his anger.  He became calm and happily went back to Kailash with his mother.  He apologized to his father, Lord Shiva, and to his brother Ganesh, for his earlier behavior.

Lord Shiva, through Sage Narada’s drama, wanted to show everyone that their parents are their first world.  He also wanted to show that you could gather knowledge and answers by traveling the world as Karttikeya did, or stay in the same place looking inward to get them as Ganesha did.  Om Namah Shivaya.

 

Mystical Meanings

By Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati

My Guru told us this story many times, but with one small alteration.  Ganesha decided to circle his parents three times because they are the source and container of all the worlds.  Shiva is the primordial reality, who has taken form within this universe, sitting on Mt. Kailasa so that He is in the world that He has created.  He is not merely an observer; He is a participant-observer.  That makes Him available to us!

Shree Parvati is a human girl who became a Goddess, specifically for the purpose of marrying Shiva.  She had a head start, of course, for She was an incarnation of the primordial energy, Shakti, drawn into human birth by the pleas of humankind.  Her intense practices transformed her into a Goddess, which She already was, as are you.  But you need to do some work on yourself before you discover your inherent Divinity.

Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati sit on Mt. Kailasa, both in the world and beyond the world.  They are the substance and energy of which the world is made, which means the world is within them, while they are within it.  Ganesha used this mystical truth to win the race, and his boon was not only a mango, but that he would be invoked at the beginning of every ceremony and every venture.  It is Ganesha that opens the doorway to the celestial and cosmic realms, so every puja (classical ceremony) begins with worship of Ganesha .

This mystical truth is true of you as well, you are in the universe, but the universe is within you.  When you look outside, you can see only part of the universe, plus you get ensnared in it,  When you look inside, you see the whole, which is the universe and the One who has become it, who is Shiva, who is you.