Light

Diwali, popularly known as the festival of lights, is an important five-day festival in Hinduism, Jainism, and Sikhism, occurring between mid-October and mid-November. During Diwali, lights illuminate every corner of India and the scent of incense sticks hangs in the air, mingled with the sounds of firecrackers, joy, togetherness and hope.

The celebration commemorates the return of Lord Rama from his fourteen-year long exile, and his vanquishing of the demon king Ravana. In joyous celebration of the return of their king, the people of Ayodhya, the Capital of Rama, illuminated the kingdom with earthen oil lamps and burst firecrackers.

While the Diwali is popularly known as the festival of lights, the most significant spiritual meaning is the awareness of inner light. The celebration refers to the light of higher knowledge dispelling all ignorance, the ignorance that masks one’s true nature.

In each legend, myth and story of Diwali lies the significance of the victory of good over evil and the lights that illuminate our homes and hearts. It is the light that empowers us to commit ourselves to good deeds; that which brings us closer to divinity.

Potentiality

A dakini is a tantric deity described as a female embodiment of enlightened energy. In the Tibetan language, dakini means she who traverses the sky or she who moves in space. Sometimes the term is translated poetically as sky dancer or sky walker.

Although dakini figures also appear in Hinduism, they are particularly prevalent in Vajrayana Buddhism where the dakini, usually of volatile or wrathful temperament, act as an inspirational thoughtform for spiritual practice. Dakinis are energetic beings in female form, evocative of the movement of energy in space. In this context, the sky or space indicates the insubstantiality of all phenomena, which is at the same time the pure potentiality for all possible manifestations.

In Hinduism, the dakini Chinnamasta is one of the ten Tantric goddesses and is associated with the concept of self sacrifice as well as the awakening of the kundalini or spiritual energy. She is considered both as a symbol of self control as well as an embodiment of sexual energy. She symbolizes both aspects of the Hindu Divine Mother, as a life giver and a life taker.

Due to her ferocious nature and her reputation of being dangerous to approach and worship, her individual worship is restricted to heroic, Tantric worship by Tantrikas, yogis and world renouncers. Chhinnamasta can be easily identified by her fearsome iconography. The self decapitated goddess is usually depicted standing on a copulating couple. She holds her own severed head in one hand and a scimitar in the other. Three jets of blood spurt out of her bleeding neck and are drunk by her severed head and two attendants.

Angle

In the Indian Hindu calendar, Tithi is the lunar date. A tithi is the time taken for the longitudinal angle between the moon and the sun to increase by twelve degrees. Tithis begin at varying times of day and vary in duration. As the moon rotates around the earth, the angular distance between the sun and the moon as seen from the earth increases from 0 degrees to 360 degrees. A lunar month consists of 30 tithis, whose start time and duration vary.

The lunar date, however, varies approximately between 22 to 26 hours based on the angular rotation of moon around the earth in its elliptical orbit. It takes one lunar month or about 29.5 solar days for the angular distance between the sun and the moon to change from 0 to 360 degrees. When the angular distance reaches zero, the next lunar month begins. Thus, at the new moon a lunar month begins; at full moon, the angular distance between the sun and the moon as seen from the earth becomes exactly 180 degrees.

Since the angular distance between the moon and the sun is always relative to the entire earth, a lunar day or tithi starts the same time everywhere in the world, but not necessarily on the same day. Thus, when a certain tithi starts at 10:30pm in India, it also begins in New York at the same time, which is 12:00pm on the same day. Since the length of a tithi can vary between 20 to 28 hours, its correspondence to a weekday becomes a little confusing.

Tithi is one of the most important aspects of the Indian Almanac, or Panchang, and therefore many Hindu festivals and ceremonies are based on the Tithi Calendar. Most Indians celebrate Kartik Shudha Prathama (the first day of the Indian lunar month Kartik) as their New Year’s day. Indians living in India, Europe, and the eastern part of the United States thus celebrate their New Year on that Monday, while regions west of Chicago do so on the preceding day, Sunday.

Beauty

Nelumbo is a genus of aquatic plants with large, showy, flowers commonly known as sacred lotus. There are two species in the genus, the better known of which is the well known national flower of India.

Hindus associate the lotus blossom with creation mythology and with the gods Vishnu, Brahma, and the goddesses Lakshmi and Sarasvati. From ancient times the lotus has been a divine symbol in Hindu tradition. It is often used as an example of supreme beauty. Its unfolding petals suggest the expansion of the soul. The growth of its pure beauty from the mud of its origin holds a benign spiritual promise. Particularly Brahma and Lakshmi, the divinities of potency and wealth, have the lotus symbol associated with them. In Hindu iconography, deities are often depicted with lotus flowers as their thrones.

The lotus plant is cited extensively within Puranic and Vedic literature. In the Bhagavad Gita it is said that one who performs his duty without attachment, surrendering the results unto the Supreme Lord, is unaffected by sinful action, as the lotus leaf is untouched by water.

Borrowing from Hinduism, in Buddhist symbolism the lotus represents purity of body, speech, and mind, as if floating above the muddy waters of attachment and desire. The Buddha is often depicted sitting on a giant lotus leaf or blossom. According to legend, he was born with the ability to walk and everywhere he stepped, lotus flowers bloomed.

The flowers, seeds, young leaves, and rhizomes are all edible. In Asia, the petals are used sometimes for garnish, while the large leaves are used as a wrap for food. However, in Korea, those can be made as a tea with dried petals of white lotus. The rhizomes are used as a vegetable in soups, stir-fried and braised dishes. Petals, leaves, and rhizome can also be eaten raw, but there is a risk of parasite transmission, therefore it is recommended that they be cooked before eating.

The lotus seeds or nuts are quite versatile, and can be dried and popped like popcorn. They can also be boiled until soft and made into a paste. Combined with sugar, lotus seed paste becomes one of the most common ingredient used in pastries such as mooncakes, daifuku, and rice flour pudding. Lotus seeds called Phool Mukhana are also used in Indian cooking.

Various parts of the Sacred Lotus are also used in traditional Asian herbal medicine. The traditional Sacred Lotus contains the alkaloid aporphine, which is used to treat Parkinson’s disease, erectile dysfunction and sexual arousal disorder.

Researchers report that the lotus has a remarkable ability to regulate the temperature of its flowers to within a narrow range just as humans and other warmblooded animals do. Physiologists at the University of Adelaide in Australia found that lotus flowers blooming in their gardens maintained a temperature of 86 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit, even when the air temperature dropped to 50 degrees. They suspect the flowers may be turning up the heat for the benefit of their coldblooded insect pollinators.

Luminaries

William Walker Atkinson was a very important and influential American figure in the early days of the New Thought Movement. He was an attorney, merchant, publisher, and author, as well as an occultist and an American pioneer of New Thought. He is also known to have been the author of the pseudonymous works attributed to Theron Q. Dumont and Yogi Ramacharaka. Atkinson’s 1906 book Thought Vibration or the Law of Attraction in the Thought World is associated with the thinking behind the recent phenomena surrounding the 2007 movie and book, The Secret by Rhonda Byrne.

Due in part to Atkinson’s intense personal secrecy and extensive use of pseudonyms he is now largely forgotten, despite having obtained mention in past editions of Who’s Who in America, Religious Leaders of America, and several similar publications and for having written more than 100 books in the last 30 years of his life.

Atkinson pursued a business career from 1882 onwards. While he gained much material success in his profession as a lawyer, the stress and overstrain eventually took its toll and during this time he experienced a complete physical and mental breakdown, and financial disaster. He looked for healing and in the late 1880s he found it with New Thought. From mental and physical wreck and financial ruin, he attained perfect health, mental vigor and material prosperity, which he attributed to the application of the principles of New Thought.

By the early 1890s Chicago had become a major centre for New Thought, mainly through the work of Emma Curtis Hopkins, and Atkinson decided to move there. Once in the city, he became an active promoter of the movement as an editor and author. In 1900 Atkinson worked as an associate editor of Suggestion, a New Thought Journal, and wrote his probable first book, Thought Force in Business and Everyday Life, a series of lessons in personal magnetism, psychic influence, thought force, concentration, will-power, and practical mental science.

Throughout his subsequent career, Atkinson wrote and published under his own name and many pseudonyms. It is not known whether he ever acknowledged authorship of these pseudonymous works, but all of the supposedly independent authors whose writings are now credited to Atkinson were linked to one another by virtue of the fact that their works were released by a series of publishing houses with shared addresses and they also wrote for a series of magazines with a shared roster of authors. Atkinson was the editor of all of those magazines and his pseudonymous authors acted first as contributors to the periodicals, and were then spun off into their own book writing careers, with most of their books being released by Atkinson’s own publishing houses.

One key to unravelling this tangled web of pseudonyms is found in Advanced Thought magazine, billed as A Journal of The New Thought, Practical Psychology, Yogi Philosophy, Constructive Occultism, Metaphysical Healing, Etc. This magazine, edited by Atkinson, advertised articles by Atkinson, Yogi Ramacharaka, and Theron Q. Dumont, the latter two being pseudonyms of Atkinson, and it had the same address as The Yogi Publishing Society, which published the works attributed to Yogi Ramacharaka.

Advanced Thought magazine also carried articles by Swami Bhakta Vishita, but when it came time for Vishita’s writings to be collected in book form, they were not published by the Yogi Publishing Society. Instead they were published by The Advanced Thought Publishing Co., the same house that brought out the Theron Q. Dumont books and published Advanced Thought magazine.

In the 1890s, Atkinson had become interested in Hinduism and after 1900 he devoted a great deal of effort to the diffusion of yoga and Oriental occultism in the West. It is unclear at this late date whether he actually ever converted to any form of Hindu religion, or merely wished to write on the subject. If he did convert, he left no record of the event.

According to unverifiable sources, while Atkinson was in Chicago at the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893, he met one Baba Bharata, a pupil of the late Indian mystic Yogi Ramacharaka. As the story goes, Bharata had become acquainted with Atkinson’s writings after arriving in America, the two men shared similar ideas, and so they decided to collaborate. While editing New Thought magazine, it is claimed, Atkinson co-wrote with Bharata a series of books which they attributed to Bharata’s teacher, Yogi Ramacharaka. This story cannot be verified and, like the biography that falsely claimed Atkinson was an English author, it may be a fabrication.

No record exists in India of a Yogi Ramacharaka, nor is there evidence in America of the immigration of a Baba Bharata. Furthermore, although Atkinson may have travelled to Chicago to visit the Columbian Exposition, where the authentic Indian yogi Swami Vivekananda attracted enthusiastic audiences, he is only known to have taken up residence in Chicago around 1900.

Atkinson’s claim to have an Indian coauthor was actually not unusual among the New Thought and New Age writers of his era. Atkinson was not alone in embracing a vaguely exotic orientalism as a running theme in his writing, nor in crediting Hindus, Buddhists, or Sikhs with the possession of special knowledge and secret techniques of clairvoyance, spiritual development, sexual energy, health, or longevity.

The way had been paved in the mid to late 19th century by Paschal Beverly Randolph, who wrote in his books Eulis and Seership that he had been taught the mysteries of mirror scrying by the deposed Indian Maharajah Dalip Singh. Randolph was known for embroidering the truth when it came to his own autobiography, but he was actually telling the truth, or something very close to it, according to his biographer John Patrick Deveney, when he said that he had met the Maharajah in Europe and had learned from him the proper way to use both polished gemstones and Indian bhattah mirrors in divination.

After Randolph’s death in 1875, the floodgates opened, and from the 1890s until well into the 1950s, the West was inundated by a tide of all seeing, all knowing, all telling swamis, yogis, fakirs, and mahatmas. Some of these representatives from the East, like Paramahansa Yogananda, were genuine teachers who represented known lineages of Indian and Asian spiritual and philosophical tradition. Others, such as the so called blind albino seeress from Ceylon, Millie Lammar, and Claude Alexander, The Crystal Seer, were vaudeville and stage mentalists who dressed in oriental garments.

In any case, with or without a coauthor, Atkinson started writing a series of books under the name Yogi Ramacharaka, ultimately releasing more than a dozen titles under this pseudonym. The Ramacharaka books were published by the Yogi Publication Society in Chicago and reached more people than Atkinson’s New Thought works did. In fact, all of his books on yoga are still in print today.

Atkinson apparently enjoyed the idea of writing as a Hindu so much that he created two more Indian personas, Swami Bhakta Vishita and Swami Panchadasi. Strangely, neither of these identities wrote on Hinduism. Their material was for the most part concerned with the arts of divination and mediumship, including oriental forms of clairvoyance and seership. Of the two, Swami Bhakta Vishita was by far the more popular, and with more than 30 titles to his credit, he eventually outsold even Yogi Ramacharaka.

The high point of his prodigious capacity for production was reached in the late 1910s. In addition to writing and publishing a steady stream of books and pamphlets, Atkinson started writing articles for Elizabeth Towne’s New Thought magazine Nautilus, while simultaneously editing his own journal Advanced Thought. During this same period he also found time to assume the role of the honorary president of the International New Thought Alliance.

Atkinson died November 22, 1932 in Los Angeles, California at the age of 69, after 50 years of simultaneously successful careers in business, writing, occultism, and the law. Many mysteries still surround Atkinson’s life, including the fact that a certificate of copyright issued three years after his death is said to have been signed by the author himself.

Durga

One of most widely worshiped Hindu deities is Durga. She frequently appears in household shrines where she is worshiped as having the power to create life and encourage the growth of grains.

It is said that “Ma-Durga” may have been worshiped during the Harappan period. Tribal peoples in non-Aryan areas have early myths in which Durga is associated with mountains, usually the Himalayas or the Vindhyas. By the fourth century B.C., images of Durga slaying a buffalo became common throughout India. She had become a warrior goddess, a many-armed battle queen who combated the demons who threatened the stability of the cosmos.

At a certain point in her history, Durga also became thought of as Shiva’s wife. In this role she is often called Parvati, and is more domestic and more restrained. As the warrior goddess, however, Durga is unmarried and does not lend her power, or shakti, to any male. She is not seen as a submissive god, but one who can hold her own against any male on the battlefield. Like the god Vishnu, it is believed that she can create, maintain, and destroy the world.

The best known account of Durga is of her victory over the destructive, wicked god Mahis. Stories from ancient India describe struggles between gods and the demons, between good and evil. In these conflicts, which have been going on since the beginning of creation, the hope is that in the long run divine forces will triumph over the forces of evil. Here is the story of Durga’s victory.

The evil god Mahisa was the son of a goddess who had given him magic powers. Once she asked the Brahma, the creator, to give her son the gift of immortality. “Impossible,” said Brahma. “He who is born must die!” Mahisa then said, “Grant me that a woman alone can kill me.” This wish he got. Sure that now he would never be killed, Mahisa gathered up a great demon army and marched on Amarapur, the capital of heaven and home of the gods. Indra, the king of the heavens, tried to defeat the demon army. A terrible battle ensued, lasting nearly a thousand years. Finally the gods were defeated and had to flee. All was in chaos.

Helpless and afraid, the gods turned to Brahma for advice. Brahma admitted that it was he who had given Mahisa his power by letting him know that he could be slain only by a woman. “What will we do?”, cried the gods. “In our tradition women will not fight!” Brahma then took them to Lord Shiva, who in turn took them to Lord Vishnu. After listening to the tales of the defeat of Indra and the gods at the hands of the demon Mahisa, all three – Brahma, Vishnu and Lord Shiva – grew red with anger. From this anger they produce a divine energy which streamed from their mouths, creating a single mass of light. Into this light a woman appeared, her body shinning with the brilliance of a thousand suns. Thus was Durga born. At once, each of the gods gave her their weapons – a trident, a disc, a sword, an axe, a conch, a mace, a discus, a rope, a bow and some arrows. They also gave her a fierce tiger to ride on. Holding the weapons in her many hands, Durga let out a terrible roar and her tiger responded with one of his own.

Armed with the strength of all the gods, the many armed Durga went to her home in the Vindhya mountains. Mahisa, hearing of the radiating beauty of a mysterious woman who had arrived in the mountains, sent her a message. It said that as lord of the worlds, he planned to claim her for his bride. With a smile Durga responded; “I can only marry the man who can defeat me in battle.” “She is only a woman,” thought Mahisa, “I’ll accept her challenge,” and he and his demon army set off to conquer the haughty Durga. When they met, Durga called out to him, “O wicked Mahisa, I am not an ordinary woman. I am your death. Do you remember that you wished to die at the hands of a woman? Now get ready to die!”

That said, Durga lifted her weapons and mounted her tiger. Mahisa and his army advanced. Durga’s weapon arms swirled. The mountains were torn in two. The clouds were scattered in the sky. Her tiger pounced upon the demon army, killing many by the thousands. Mahisa responded. Able to change shapes, he at once gave up his real form to become a maddened black buffalo. Bellowing and stamping the ground, he ran at Durga.

Mahisa turned himself into many forms during the battle, becoming sometimes a lion, sometimes an elephant. He uprooted rocks and hills and hurled them at Durga. She shattered them with her sword, sending them into the wind. Again, Mahisa was a buffalo, snorting a mighty wind from his broad nostrils and killing her army by the swirling of his powerful tail. Durga used her rope, throwing it around his neck. The buffalo God tried to free himself, but the more he struggled, the tighter she made the rope. Durga played with the demon; to her, fighting Mahisa was nothing more than a sport. At last she dismounted and sprang on his back. With her foot on his neck, she thrust her trident into his chest. With this final blow he fell dead. At once his armies fell senseless, defeated.

Seeing her victory, the male gods hailed Durga: “We salute you O Great Goddess! But for you, even we, who are immortals, could do nothing. But for your coming, heaven itself would fall down.” By destroying evil, Durga had protected divine law, or dharma. It was understood that those who worshiped her would receive her help in times of distress. Wealth and power would be granted them as well.

Ganesha

Ganesha is one of the best known and most worshipped deities in the Hindu pantheon. His image is found throughout India. Hindu sects worship him regardless of other affiliations. Devotion to Ganesha is widely diffused and extends to Jains, Buddhists, and beyond India.

Although he is known by many other attributes, Ganesha’s elephant head makes him easy to identify. He is widely revered as the Remover of Obstacles and more generally as Lord of Beginnings, patron of arts and sciences, and the deva of intellect and wisdom. He is honoured at the start of rituals and ceremonies and invoked as Patron of Letters during writing sessions. Several texts relate mythological anecdotes associated with his birth and exploits and explain his distinct iconography.

Ganesha has been represented with the head of an elephant since the early stages of his appearance in Indian art. Puranic myths provide many explanations for how he got his elephant head. While some texts say that Ganesha was born with an elephant head, in most stories he acquires the head later. The most recurrent motif in these stories is that Ganesha was born with a human head and body and that Shiva beheaded him when Ganesha came between Shiva and Parvati. Shiva then replaced Ganesha’s original head with that of an elephant.

In another story, when Ganesha was born, his mother, Parvati, showed off her new baby to the other gods. Unfortunately, the god Shani who is said to have an evil eye, looked at him, causing the baby’s head to be burned to ashes. The god Vishnu came to the rescue and replaced the missing head with that of an elephant. Another story says that Ganesha was created directly by Shiva’s laughter. Because Shiva considered Ganesha too alluring, he gave him the head of an elephant and a protruding belly.

Ganesha’s earliest name was Ekadanta (One Tusk), referring to his single whole tusk, the other having been broken off. Some of the earliest images of Ganesha show him holding his broken tusk. Ganesha’s protruding belly appears as a distinctive attribute in his earliest statuary, which dates to the Gupta period during the fourth to sixth centuries. This feature is so important that two different incarnations of Ganesha use names based on it: Lambodara (Pot Belly) and Mahodara (Great Belly).

The number of Ganesha’s arms varies. His best-known forms have between two and sixteen arms. Many depictions of Ganesha feature four arms, which is mentioned in Puranic sources and codified as a standard form in some iconographic texts. Forms with 14 and 20 arms appeared in central India during the 9th and 10th centuries.

The serpent is a common feature in Ganesha iconography and appears in many forms. Depictions of snakes include use as a sacred thread wrapped around the stomach as a belt, held in a hand, coiled at the ankles, or as a throne. Upon Ganesha’s forehead there may be a third eye or sectarian mark, which consists of three horizontal lines. Specific colors are associated with certain forms. Many examples of color associations with specific meditation forms are prescribed. For example, white is associated with his representations as Heramba-Ganapati (Ganapati Who Releases from Bondage). Ekadanta-Ganapati is visualized as blue during meditation on that form.

A Vahana or a Hindu vehicle, sometimes called a mount, is an animal, mythical entity or chimera closely associated with a particular deity in Hindu mythology. Ganesha is often shown riding on or attended by a mouse. The mouse is interpreted in several ways. Some say it symbolizes those who wish to overcome desires and be less selfish. Others note that the mouse is destructive and a menace to crops. It was essential to subdue the mouse as a destructive pest, a type of impediment that needed to be overcome. According to this theory, showing Ganesha as master of the mouse demonstrates his function as Lord of Obstacles and gives evidence of his possible role as a folk village deity who later rose to greater prominence. It is also suggested that Ganesha, like the mouse, penetrates even the most secret places.

Ganesha is worshipped on many religious and secular occasions, especially at the beginning of ventures such as buying a vehicle or starting a business. There can hardly be a home in India which does not have an idol of Ganesha. Ganesha, being the most popular deity in India, is worshipped by almost all castes and in all parts of the country. Devotees believe that if Ganesha is propitiated, he grants success, prosperity and protection against adversity.

Ganesha is a nonsectarian deity, and Hindus of all denominations invoke him at the beginning of prayers, important undertakings, and religious ceremonies. Dancers and musicians, particularly in southern India, begin performances of arts such as the Bharatnatyam dance with a prayer to Ganesha. Mantras such as Om Shri Ganeshaya Namah (Om, salutation to the Illustrious Ganesha) are often used.

Devotees offer Ganesha sweets such as modaka and small sweet balls. He is often shown carrying a bowl of sweets, called a modakapatra. Because of his identification with the color red, he is often worshipped with red sandalwood paste or red flowers. Durva grass (Cynodon dactylon) and other materials are also used in his worship.

An annual festival honours Ganesha for ten days, starting on Ganesh Chaturthi, which typically falls in late August or early September. The festival culminates on the day of Ananta Chaturdashi, when images of Ganesha are immersed in the most convenient body of water. In 1893, Lokmanya Tilak transformed this annual Ganesha festival from private family celebrations into a grand public event. He did so to bridge the gap between the Brahmins and the non-Brahmins and find an appropriate context in which to build a new grassroots unity between them in his nationalistic strivings against the British in Maharashtra. Because of Ganesha’s wide appeal as the god for everyone, Tilak chose him as a rallying point for Indian protest against British rule. Tilak was the first to install large public images of Ganesha in pavilions, and he established the practice of submerging all the public images on the tenth day. Today, Hindus across India celebrate the Ganapati festival with great fervour, though it is most popular in the state of Maharashtra.