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Kerala Puja Flowers

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I grew up in my hometown of Trichur, Kerala. Vadukkunathan temple, Kuttangulangara, Sankarangulangara, Paramekavu, Thiruvambady, Punkunnum Shiva Kshetram, Ponganam Ramaswamy temples and the temples in my ancestral village Trikkur were some of the temples we visited quite often. Early in the morning on any monsoon day, with the rain and the accompanying gentle breeze, visiting a temple was something special, something I treasure especially some of my visits to Vadukkunathan temple and Trikkur temples during this season. Kerala temples with their conical tile structures, burning oil and ghee lamps, the smell of sandal paste, turmeric paste, home grown local flowers and leaves as adornments are special - very earthy and powerful. No artifice is allowed here. One mandatorily has a hair bath before entering the temple. There is such an emphasis on purity(hence local flowers and ingredients) and cleanliness, that one can't help but feel pure and serene. The electric lighting within t

Amma, mother's love

I was reading the Sai Tapovanam today when one sentence caught my attention and stayed - Some people cannot understand the love of one mother, how can they understand the love of a thousand mothers?  This sentence has been in my thoughts. And I kept wondering what it means - mother's love. I spoke with my mother and the conversation stayed with me. I realised a mother is the only person who asks the question - How are you, are you happy? Santoshama iru, Santhosham ka undu - this benediction comes from her heart, genuinely asking for our happiness and well being. Before she talks about herself, it is always about her children, are they ok, are they happy? Always the children first. When we ask her, how are you - we do hear her problems, but somehow she brushes them away as insignificant and is all ears for our words and our well being.  There is never  - you didn't do this for me, you behaved badly, you are this , that, you didn't buy this for me or that, you did'nt supp

Handlooms of North and Central India

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While in Chennai, I had the opportunity to visit Tantuja and Mrignayanee in Luz Corner, Maylapore, my visit coming after a good 17 years, the last time I visited these were in 2005. Gurjari (Gujarat Govt. run) and Mrignayanee (Madhya Pradesh Govt. run) in Brigade Road, Bangalore were one of my favourite places to shop for dress materials, pre-2005. The showrooms are not fancy or well decked. But they are functional and full of beautiful print, hand-crafted, handloom, authentic fabrics and hand made artefacts. These are Government run and provide employment to cottage industries and support artists at the ground level. The sarees, dress materials etc are natural fibres, last well and are super comfortable to wear and what I called breathing fabrics. Pocket and environment friendly at the same time. Tantuja is the Govt. Of Bengal showroom and it showcases beautifully crafted sarees from all of West Bengal. If you love Bengal cotton sarees, this is the place to visit. https://tantuja.in

Turtle Walk, Besant Nagar Beach, Chennai

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 On one hand, I witnessed selfless compassion in action for students at the Ramakrishna Student's Residential School in Mylapore. A couple of days later, I saw the same extended by volunteers to sea turtles on the beaches of Chennai. Kalpana took me on a themed turtle walk led by Yuvan Aves, a teacher and expert in Marine Biology. We met at Besant Nagar beach on a Saturday afternoon. The sea breeze and waves washed away the afternoon heat and thoughts, making it a wonderful walk along the beach through the fishermen's village. We strolled in a leisurely fashion by their catamarans, looking for clues and treasures of the ocean - with child like joy when we found a special shell or foot prints, markings. We reached the turtle hatchery and waited with barely contained excitement to see the turtle hatchlings as they were dug up from their nests and gently released to crawl to the sea. It was emotional to see the tiny turtle hatchlings touch sea and swim in.  "Kadalora Kavithai

Palace for the Poor, Chennai

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The Ramakrishna Mission Student's Home in Mylapore, Chennai, adjacent to the Vivekananda College was established about a hundred years ago to provide education to boys who are eager for education but cannot afford it.  The school has a history of serving the community selflessly for more than a century, becoming a friend in need, providing quality education and vocational training to the poor and destitute. The institution affiliated with the Ramakrishna Mission, Belur Math is a proud landmark of Mylapore. The monks of Sri Ramakrishna Math offer selfless services. My brother Jayaraman, one of the many volunteers of the Mission, took me around the Student Home premises on my recent trip to Madras. He first took me to the prayer hall housing huge photos of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, Sharada Devi and an idol of Goddess Saraswati - more than 100 years old, a serene hall ideal for contemplation and meditation and quietening the thoughts. He then took me to the room where Swami Bramhan

Mahaswamy Padhuka Mandapam, Mylapore

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There is a Mahaswamy Padhuka Mandapam near CIT colony, Mylapore in Chennai, located at: Old #124, New #6, P.S.Sivaswamy Salai, Chennai.  A new temple for Maha Swamy or Periyava, Sri Chandra Sekara Saraswati, the 68th pontiff of the Kanchi Kamkoti Mutt is being planned in Mylapore. For more info, please visit:  https://www.mylaimahaperiyavatemple.com/

Karadaya Nombu - in memory of Savitri

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Gam Ganapathaye Namaha,  Sree Saraswathyay Namaha Today is Karadaya Nombu, a day celebrated in remembrance of Savitri Satyavan, a highly devoted wife. The story goes about how Savitri followed her dead husband, and Lord Yama seeing her devotion and steadfastness granted her three boons. She used the boons wisely asking for children and grand-children and Lord Yama was outwitted and he granted her husband's life back. The day is celebrated by women in South India(similar to Karva Chauth in the North of India), by observing a fast and praying for the wellness and long life of their husbands.  A steamed sweet called Nombu is made out of rice powder, jaggery and karamani(white coloured peas). The nombu is done at the time when Tamil month ‘Masi’ ends and the next month ‘Panguni’ starts, this in between few minutes are considered highly auspicious ( the Meena Sankranthi) and the women offer the Nombu with butter and offer it to the Goddess praying: "Urugatha Vennayum Oraduyum Vaith

Sangfroid

Some words say it all, a simple word yet they mean so much. One such words for me is sangfroid, the pronunciation is a struggle for me, as is embodying it. The word means being unflappable, having composure in dangerous or trying situations. Angela Merkel, the ex-Chancellor of Germany, had it in plenty. She was not easily excited or excitable, it was so remarkable how calm and collected she was, the poise.  Same with Queen Elizabeth. They hold it all together even in the most trying of situations, and under constant media glare. Closer home, my Amma has it in plenty. I have never seen Amma say anything out of turn or anything harsh or something she would regret later, ever in public. Tears and emotions, insults and quarrels, Amma is a witness to all. Yet, Amma always has a smiling, gentle demeanour and is soft-spoken.  A big joint family: with many people, conflicting interests, shifting inter-group dynamics, dilemmas; needs tact and diplomacy, sacrifices done quietly and a fair deal o

Sharada Navaratri

Of the 4 Navaratris in the Hindu festival calendar, two are widely celebrated, the first one being Vasantha Navarathri that comes in spring and SriRama Navami is the 9th day of this Navaratri.  Sharada Navaratri, the autumn Navaratri culminates in Vijaya Dashami. The Sharada Navaratri is devoted to the three Goddesses - MahaKali (Parvati) MahaLakshmi and MahaSaraswati, the first three days as Parvathi, the next three days as Mahalakshmi and the last three days as Saraswati. The tenth day of Sharada Navaratri is called Vijayadashami to signify the victory on the day of Dashami, this day being especially auspicious to commence new ventures, activities.  For most of us, Navaratri brings memories of Golu (Bommal Koluvu), Sundal (chickpeas savoury), Kolams(Rangoli), social visits and kutcheries. Though the Navaratri has morphed into a social bonding festival, it is more an important spiritual undertaking with fasting, austerities and chanting. Golus or Bommala Koluvu (telugu) are an import

The Kon Mari Method

I was gifted the book –  The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up – Marie Kondo , by a friend who said it changed her way of organizing/de-cluttering for ever. My chosen method of both cleaning, de-cluttering(can’t call it organizing) is to tidy up one cupboard a time or one room at a time. Well, I start with gusto but mid-way energy dries and well the last few things just go. The  KonMari Method : Go through your entire house,  category  by  category  and purge.  Kondo  recommends doing this in the following order: clothes, books, papers, komono (miscellaneous things ranging from cleaning products to cooking spices), and then sentimental items. (source: the internet) – Marie KONDO When I started reading the book,  my first take-away  was the difference between cleaning and organizing. Cleaning is about hygiene and cleanliness. Organizing is where you decide to store/put something. Somewhere my definitions overlapped and I had added words like de-cluttering, minimalism to this mix. With t

Experiences with Periyava

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Experience With Maha Periyava By : HH Mettur Swamigal : (about Gopu Mama) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hkx6SPJsoyA ************************************************** Experience With Maha Periyava By : by T.P. Sriraman (Appa) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jvWyv5kPQ7I ************************************************** Experience With Maha Periyava By : by Ramian Chitappa https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lJXWhqhthao

Thai Poosam - a festival for Lord Murugan, in January

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Thai Poosam or Thai Pooyam: The word Thaipusam is a combination of the name of the Tamil month -Thai, and the star - Pusam (Pushya;or Pooyam). It is a festival for Lord Murgan and commemorates the occasion when Parvati gave Murugan a spear or Vel to vanquish the evil demon Soorapadman and his brothers. Neivedhyam : Paal Payasam and Panakkam My grandfather was a great Pazhani Murugan devotee, so we had Unchi vruthi the previous day to collect rice and grains from our neighbours and on Thai Poosam, the whole village got together in our home to worship Lord Murugan with Bhajans, Kavadi and had lunch(Prasadam) together. Hara haro hara

Pongal and Kanu

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Om Surya Narayana Swamine Namaha. PONGAL: the festival worshipping the Sun God, usually 14th or 15 th January Mango leaves for decoration, Betel leaves and areca nut for vethalai pakku, Coconut, Bananas, Sugarcane, Turmeric plants with leaves and root, Banana leaves For Sweet Pongal: Rice, Pasi paruppu(split mung dal, optional), jaggery, ghee When: Pongal is celebrated on the first day of the Tamil month Thai, according to the Tamil calendar. Thai masam or month comes after Margazhi, the month of music and devotion and the festival marks the end of winter solstice - Dakshinayanam, and the start of the sun's six-month-long journey northwards, Uttarayanam. Why: In ancient India, the Sun God is considered Pratyaksham Bramha or the God that can be seen. Look up to the skies and you can see the life giving, nourishing God. One need look no further. Life in India revolves around the Sun God. Surya Namaskaram, daily prayers are centered around dawn, noon, dusk to coincide with sunrise

Character Building vs Competence tasks

Many of our tasks are mundane and boring. And yes, routine - be it washing dishes, picking after oneself, laundry, cleaning, putting things away once done. Or office work like records, accounts. Or exercise and meditation, music practice etc. And at home the tiny arguments continue. And we see it around us, especially the younger gen eagerly gearing up for the next great project on the career front and working for hours on their fav project but unwilling to take their coffee mugs to the kitchen or sort their laundry or keep their room clean or lend a hand even when the parents are sick. This is rarely the case with greats like Gandhiji who had no problem cleaning toilets himself every day. We  also see this when working in voluntary service teams and get-togethers (informal settings, where structure is poorly defined), there are the exemplary few who choose the boring over the shiny, the few who do what needs to be done rather than the high-visibility tasks. I have been reading somewhe

Gods and Demons

Indian epics and Puranaas are tales of good vs evil and so thoroughly enjoyable(Amar Chitra Kathas of our younger days for example or Chandamama) and also have such hidden gems/nuggets. My son is especially fond of the story of Bhasmasura. He finds it hilarious. We often talk of the Law of Karma, what we sow we reap if not in this life, in the next. And he asks why did Gods grant boons to the asuras who were wicked by nature. And I often say(with my limited knowledge) it is Law of Karma, if you meditate with single point focus whoever you are, the Gods have to grant boons.  Action begets response. But the difference lies in the choices made once the Gods appear. Asuras invariably chose boons that granted them great power - and they used it to destroy the world and themselves in the process, be it Bhasmasura or Ravana or others.  The saintly, wise chose closeness to God on the other hand. And this automatically led to enlightenment and greatness without their seeking. They served the wo

Trayi, the three Goddesses

We just finished celebrating Navarathri, 2021. I received many forwards about Navarathri - the significance, dress colour code, stories and more! The energy during Navarathri is generally high - it is a festival where women tend to dress in rich bright colours, the music slokas, pujas all add to a general lift in energies. Meeting friends, singing/chanting together, sharing prasadam, subtly we are all uplifted and in higher spirits, more smiles, more laughter, more singing, it is an uplift of energies. When we feel good about ourselves and our spiritual energies are high, we can handle any setback with greater dignity and grace. We can handle successes also with a greater balance and grace, both ways. Either success or challenges, we handle them with a grace. Vice versa, when our energies are low, even a tiny challenge can shake us more than it should. We do go through cycles. When my 12 year old asked about the three Goddesses - Parvati, Lakshmi and Saraswati, and asked me if they are

Appa's 108 slokas on Trikkurappan

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My Appa, Sri T.P. Sreeraman composed many slokas on Trikkurappan, the Shiva deity of our temple Trikkur, a cave temple in Trichur district.  Appa also taught Rudram to many after his retirement. Appa chanted Rudram daily as part of his prayers.  From left, Appa, Vaidyanatha Vadhyar, Ramachandran Mama Drukpuresha or Trikkurappan temple is a temple on top of a small mount in Trikkur, a picturesque village with the Manali River flowing through it. Legend has it that the small mount fell off as Hanuman carried the mountain with Sanjeevani to Lanka. There is a small Hanuman carving on the walls of our temple. The temple is a cave temple with a Lingam and worshipped as Soma (Shiva + Uma). Appa said there is a carving of Ganapathi on the cave walls.  One can climb the mount and the scenic beauty of the area is revealed in complete from this elevation, the green tapestry of coconut trees, paddy fields, the Western Ghats in the distance, the cool breezes, the feeling so serene and complete.  Th

God's icing on earth - SNOW!

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 After many years, Zurich saw about a feet or two of heavy snowfall in day. In a few hours, Zurich and around were transformed from a desolate gray in to a luminous winter wonderland. Some makeover! The beauty both breathless and serene, the air so fresh.. the trees bending under the weight of snowfall like a heavy fruit laden branch.. the white of the snow so bright, so luminous.. what magic! Such a pristine, pure sight to behold! Just seeing the snow, feeling it in the hands and just being with it.. a silent communion with Nature and God! The stillness so poignant! There are times when I think God or the higher intellect shows his/her hand in overt ways (usually this is subtle like a bud blooming) and snow is always one such experience! I feel God is playing with his sieve, dusting icing sugar on planet earth, one of his play times.. We humans can at best capture these moments and bow in humility to the creator above, the artist who with a few strokes can create such magic! For the l

A call for Soma Yagas

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Periyava Thunai My esteemed Appa Sri. T.P. Sreeraman and my Chitappa Sri T.P. Gopalakrishnan participated in many Soma Yagams and were directly involved in the 1990 Athirathram at Kundur and in 2004 Apthoryagam at Mulangunathukavu, both in Kerala.    Maha Periyava gave Appa two duties when Appa visted Periyava after his retirement in April, 1988. One was to take care of my grandfather and the second was to work on the rejuvenation of Yagams in Kerala. Appa thus became an instrument of Periyava in this lofty endeavour and devoted his energies completely to this. My Chitappa was like Lakshmana to Rama, accompanying Appa and assisting Appa in every way he could. Together, they went to Sengalipuram, Koneru Rajapuram and other villages in TamilNadu which in the early 1990s saw many yagams.  In the software and manufacturing world, we have Lean, Six Sigma, TQM, ISI and other standards which layout processes and methods for measuring quality. When it came to our daily life and prayers, we had

The Business of Bhakthi

 The Bhakti tradition in India has seen a renaissance in the last few decades. With the rise in the Bhakti and pujas, the conduct of ancient Vedic rituals like Soma Yagams have declined to almost zero. Most Puja rooms in our grandparents times were simple rooms with a few pictures of Gods/Goddesses, the oil lamp, the kolam or rangoli with home grown flowers and fruits and the food cooked at home being offered as neivedhyam. There was no room for ostentation. There was an emphasis on personal hygiene (madi/acharam), simplicity and individual practice/ritual be it Shiva Puja to the Saligramam or daily prayers.  With the rise in material prosperity, the temples became yet another way to display wealth especially by families who came into wealth recently - be it as the 1008 prasadams, manicured lawns, silk clothes and jewelry to the Gods/Goddesses, the many change in ensembles(Alankarams) to the Gods with fruits, vegetables, savouries etc. And the annual ustavams/functions with many lights

Swami Gurukripananda, GK Mama alias Chami

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Hari Om Swami Gurukripananda, GK Mama alias Chami (24.Feb.1927 to 12.Dec.2020) A Shraddanjali  from GK family Compiled by T. S. Jayaraman , s/o Smt. G.K. Anandavalli, (poorvasram) younger sister of GK Swami.   Swami Gurukripananda, Chami Mama attained Samadhi in the dawn of 12 Dec at 4 a.m. At 3.45 am he wanted to get up to go to the bathroom. He could not get up. He called Mahender for help. It was all over in 15 minutes. As per the custom of Sri Sivananda Guru's Divine Life Society all rites were completed on the same day by 9.30 am. Mama's Sodashi is on Dec 27, when the Ashram does Annadanam to the Ashram inmates. Lineage: G K Kailsanatha Iyer, my maternal grand-father was a great Vedantin who lived in Gangaikondan village in Thirunelveli District. An ardent disciple of Sringeri Sri Chandra Sekara Bharati, Thatha himself wanted to live the life of a renunciate (Mama followed this tradition). Swamigal however advised Mama against it and gave Thatha two d

The Minimalist religion

Hinduism, pre-independence and a couple of decades after, was mostly a religion of subtraction. From material wealth to the reduction/subtraction of the six evil tendencies, it was about subtraction.  --- Lust or desire ( Kama), Anger (Krodha), Greed ( Lobha), Attachment (Moha) , Arrogance (Mada), Jealousy (Matsarya)  The four Ashramas/life-stages in life was about subtraction   --- Brahmacharya (student), Grihastha (householder), Vanaprastha (retired) and Sannyasa (renunciate)  A way of life to move from outer experiences to inner! Ostentation was eschewed. Appa used to jokingly remark that silk sarees were worn to create jealousy and want in other women. And how his mother had only 2 silk sarees and she was content with it, though she had the resources to buy more.  Wise words, jokingly said, but so true!  On a serious note, Kanchi Maha Periyava, Jagadguru Chandra Sekara Sarawati and also Sringeri Maha Periyava Chandra Sekara Bharati, Ramana Maharishi are living examples of Gurus we