He is Eka-vachani, a king who always keeps his word; Eka-bani, an archer who strikes his target with the first arrow; and Eka-patni, a husband who is eternally and absolutely devoted to a single wife.
He is maryada purushottam Ram, the supreme upholder of social values, the scion of the Raghu clan, jewel of the solar dynasty, the seventh avatar of Vishnu, God who establishes order in worldly life. Hindus believe that in stressful and tumultuous times chanting Ram’s name and hearing his tale, the Ramayan, brings stability, hope, peace and prosperity. Reviled by feminists, appropriated by politicians, Ram remains serene in his majesty, the only Hindu deity to be worshipped as a king.
In this book, Devdutt Pattanaik explores the relevance of Ram in modern times by examining him in his various roles: as Dashrath’s son, Lakshman’s brother, Vishwamitra’s student, Sita’s husband, Ravan’s enemy, Hanuman’s master, Ayodhya’s king, Vishnu’s incarnation, Valmiki’s inspiration, the Ramayan’s protagonist and Hindutva’s icon.
Devdutt Pattanaik is a medical doctor by education, a marketing consultant by profession, and a mythologist by passion. He has written and lectured extensively on the nature of sacred stories, symbols and rituals and their relevance in modern times.
His books include Myth=Mithya: A Handbook of Hindu Mythology (Penguin India) and The Pregnant King (Penguin India). The Book of Kali (Penguin Viking) is based on his talks.
Devdutt’s unconventional approach and engaging style are evident in his lectures, books and articles. To know more visit www.devdutt.com.
Any discussion of Ram today is dominated either by academic analysis or political debate. The former thrives on portraying Ram as a patriarchal poet’s fantasy. The latter either asserts Ram or rejects Ram, transforming him into a potent political lever either way. In the din of these discourses of power, the discourse of love is lost. One forgets that for hundreds of years, for millions of people, across history and geography, Ram’s name and Ram’s story has been a window to the divine.
Ram’s name, the Ram-nam, is repeatedly chanted to tide over a crisis, for the name, Ram, when reversed becomes Mara, which means ‘die’. Ram is the opposite of Mara. Ram is life-with all its demands and desires and destinies. Ram’s calm repose in the face of all adversity, so evident in the Ramayan, has made him worthy of veneration, adoration and worship.
Ram’s story has reached the masses not through erudite Sanskrit texts but through theatre, song and dance performed in local languages. All of these retellings of the Ramayan have their own twists and turns, their own symbolic outpouring, each one valid in their respective contexts.
Lakshmi is the goddess of all that is good -wealth (dhana), beauty (saundarya) and happiness (sukha). As Vishnu’s consort and in her incarnations as Sita and Rukmini, she represents the ideal of feminity in Hinduism. She is also Shri, the goddess of fertility and grain, and Mahalakshmi, the amalgam of the goddesses Kali, Lakshmi and Sarasvati. She is benevolent and generous, yet it takes surprisingly little to offend her. And when she leaves, her place is taken by Alakshmi, all that Lakshmi is not-poverty, pestilence and ill fortune.
How did this popular and accessible goddess come to represent these qualities? R. Mahalakshmi presents an evocative picture of the mythical and historical development of the goddess Lakshmi. Using a range of sources, from ancient texts to sculptures and everyday religious customs and prayers, this fascinating and deeply insightful book sheds new light not only on the figure of Lakshmi, but also on the fundamental tenets of Hinduism as it is practised today.
R. Mahalakshmi studied history at Osmania University and Central University, Hyderabad, and holds a doctorate from Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi. Currently, she is Assistant Professor at the Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, where she teaches ancient Indian history.
You are Mahalakshmi in Vaikuntha and Lakshmi in the milky ocean’ Svargalakshmi in the celestial abode of Indra and Rajalakshmi in the king’s dwelling place; the householder’s home is blessed by Grihalakshmi and all residences are protected by you as guardian deity; you are the celestial cow of plenty Surabhi amidst cows, and the mother Dakshina, the wife and fruit of the sacrifice.
Ganesha, the elephant-headed god, is easily the most recognizable and loveable of Hindu deities. But pinpointing his various attributes is not quite so simple. He is at once the portly, merry, childlike god and the sage, complex philosopher. He is the presiding deity of material wealth and the lord of spirituality. He removes all impediments for his devotees but creates all manner of difficulties for the transgressors, men or gods. And associated with every aspect of Ganesha- be it his extraordinary birth, his elephant head, his broken tusk, his vehicle (the mouse), his appetite or his anger- are scores of myths, each more colourful than the other.
In this thoroughly researched and delightfully narrated book, Royina Grewal gives us the many stories of Ganesha, exploring their significance and cultures in which they originated.
Royina Grewal is the author of two travel books, Sacred Virgin: Travels Along the Narmada and In Rajasthan. She has conceived, scripted and directed son et lumiere shows at Gwalior, Anandpur Sahib, Chandragiri (near Tirupati) and Khajuraho. She is also the first person in India to create audio-guided tours to historic sites and has so far completed guides to Orchha, Khajuraho and Amber.
Royina Grewal and her husband divide their time between Delhi and Rajasthan.
Shree Ganeshaaya Namaha
(Salutations to you, O Ganesha)
All Hindu prayers, all new endeavours, all the simple routines of daily life and especially all new books are preceded by this invocation.
Since Ganesha is very specially the patron deity of writers and since all books, particularly this one that attempts to grasp some nuances of his elusive essence, exist in his mind, the invocation to the elephant-headed god used by the Chalukya king Someshvara Malla at the beginning of his work Manasollasa is appropriate:
I prostrate myself before you, O Ganeshvara,
Your icon is a hallowed charm
That assures fulfillment of all desire.
With the fanning of your broad ears,
You scatter away all obstacles,
As though they were weightless as cotton.
To call upon Ganesha at the beginning of a new book is particularly important, for as Ganesha made it possible for sage Vyasa to complete the Mahabharata, so too did he impede the sage’s compilation of the Puranas when he was not invoked.
Ganesha is one of the most widely worshipped deities in India, regarded by millions with love and adoration. Simple everyday routines, a new business, a journey, even an examination- all are preceded by a prayer to Ganesha, beseeching his benediction. Even little children in some parts of the country begin their writing lessons with the invocation Harih Sri Ganapataya namaha (Salutations to Ganesha, son of Shiva).
The elephant-headed deity transcends the boundaries of sect and caste, even of religion and geography. He is worshipped in many destant countries, invoked by Buddhists, Jains and all Hindus, high as well as low caste. Indeed, the emphatically non-sectarian temper of Ganesha worship inspired freedom fighter Bal Gangadhar Tilak to use Ganesha as an icon of concord. In the late nineteenth century, he initiated a community festival of Ganesha in Maharashtra, deliberately designed to bring people of various castes together and to forge a new unity in the freedom movement.
Ganesha is many things tom any people. He is the portly, merry and mischievous childlike god, as well as the abstract philosopher. To his devotees he is the creator of the universe (a role more generally ascribed to Brahma) and also Siddhidata, the one who bestows blessings. He is the lord of obstacles, who removes impediments, but also creates all manner of difficulties if not propitiated. He is the presiding deity of material riches, and also the lord of spirituality. He is the guardian of the threshold who combats evil influences. To some he is also their primary personal god, their ishtadevta. Above all, Ganesha, more than any other deity, satisfies human aspirations for worldly success and fulfillment.
Ganesha is also a most accommodating deity, easy to please. He does not demand lengthy penance or austerities of his devotees but is contented by simple devotion, provided only that it is sincere.
The elephant-headed deity is one of the most frequently encountered icons of the Hindu pantheon. Images of Ganesha are often installed over the entrances to homes, shops, restaurants, office buildings- indeed almost any structure where people live or work- and many a framed picture presides over their interiors, He is present in every family shrine, where he is usually placed to the south, the direction of the demons, to defend the other gods from their baneful influences. He also wards of evil from the intersections of roads and the boundaries of villages, where he is often simply represented, like Shiva, as a rough stone daubed with red paint.
Icons are sculpted in most temples- at the threshold, in inches, in shrines, or in temple friezes associated with the mythology of Shiva. And today a living craft tradition revolves around the fashioning of clay images of the god, sold in the thousands during celebrations of Ganesha Chaturthi.
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