Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Ceremonies, Symbols, Legends and Stories

The symbols, stories and legends of Nepal embody the the culture and the values of the Nepalese people. Symbols are important to leadership, as physical objects are given larger meaning and send a message to the people. Shared stories create a shared heritage and teach a moral lesson. In Nepal, many symbols, stories and popular divinities are rooted in Hinduism.

Religious Symbols
Shree yantra
Shree yantra is composed of two sets of triangles that reflect the unison of Shiva and Shakti; this unison exists within each and every being as the inner self; the state of existence, consciousness and bliss.
This universe and all it's contents are basically composed of or five basic elements: earth, water, light, wind, and sky. The unison of the individual bod with  the cosmic body, is beautifully represented by this great yantra.

The Satkon is composed of two sets of overlapping triangles. One is the symbol of Shiva, which stands for eternal being (static by nature), and the other is a symbol of Shakti, the most active female. The Satkon signifies the five basic senses and the extra sensory perception, that significantly makes it the six-pointed star.

Swastika is a Sanskrit word which means doing good for all. In Buddhism, the four hands of Swastika signifying friendship, compassion, happiness and indifference, and represent four ideal ways to Nirvana every aspirant should mediate on.

Shankha is a Sanskrit word used to denote a sleek and smooth conch shell. It is believed that if the Shankha is blown with skill, it can scare away evil spirits and is described as a killer of germs and enemies. The Hindus as well as the Buddhists drink water from a Shankha before they break a fast and almost all temple prayers are accompanied by the blowing of the Shankha.

Vajra and Bell
The Vajra is always accompanied by a bell, for Vajra stands for the male principle whereas a bell for the female principle. A Vajra accompanied by a bell is a ritualistic requirement for every Buddhist religious ceremony. In every Buddhist religious ceremony, the Buddhist priest holds a Vajra on his right hand and a bell on the other. The ringing of a bell has always been an integral part of prayers for most religions in Nepal.

Prayer Wheel
Almost every Buddhist temple have prayer wheels which was introduced by Tibetans. These cylindrical wheels have prayers carved on them. The prayer seen in almost all prayer wheel is- om mani padme hum (I bow down to the divine jewel or Buddha seated on the lotus).

Popular legends of Nepal
Why death is not seen
It is believed that death was a visible body. When the time for one to die would come, death would come to the person and the person would accept to go to the Yamaloka (the place for the dead). Death was thus accepted and was celebrated.
Once, while death was going through the list of people who had to die he came across a young blacksmith who was not ready to die. He still had a lot of dreams to fulfill, so, when he saw Death come to him he was polite with death for he wanted Death to leave him alone. Death would not leave him. He then told death that he wanted to show him his work and took him to a multi-chambered iron building, which he had built. He guided death to the innermost chamber and asked Death to relax there. He then locked Death inside the chamber, locking seven doors. The blacksmith told no one his secret. Lord Shiva found out that Death was trapped and entrusted his consort, Parvati, to carry out a plan to release Death. Parvati, disguised as a beautiful woman working in the place where the blacksmith went every evening to drink, went to the world of the mortals. She served the young blacksmith many fine drinks, acting very seductive, and tried to find out his secrets. The intoxicated blacksmith revealed all she wanted to know. Then, Death was released and from then on, death never went to the world of the mortals in its visible form.

The potters choice
There was once a potter, who was a great devotee of the lord Shiva. Once the lord, impressed by the potters` actions granted him a wish. The potter wished that all the pots he made would never break. The lord granted him the wish, smiling mysteriously. The potter tested the promised and he found out that his wish had indeed been fulfilled.
Soon, he was famous far and wide for his unbreakable pots and everyone came to buy them. This went on for a few years but since the pots would never break, people did not want new pots. His business suddenly stopped and his family went hungry. He could not understand how the boon given by Shiva had brought him misery.
One early morning as he was praying to Lord Shiva, with utmost sorrow in his heart. The Lord was moved by the hard times he was going through, thus the lord asked why he was unhappy. The potter, falling at the lords` feet, pleaded the lord to take the boon back and asked for forgiveness. The Lord was pleased and so he took back the boon. From then on, the potter happily made pots that would break and crack and would need to be replaced in due course of time.

When Laxmi changed her mind
Once Laxmi, the goddess of wealth, granted a wish to Vishwakarma, a great architect, for building a beautiful house for her. When Viswakarma told her that he would accept anything she would give, she told him that she would give him gold enough to cover his body and a luxurious life. Then she brought an enormous jar of gold-powder and started to pour it over his body. The jar of gold did not suffice and so she went to get more. This display of magnanimity started to worry Vishnu, the lord of balance and preservation. Vishnu was worried that the boon would make him lazy and forget his talents as an architect. He made a plan and accordingly put fleas and ticks inside the gold dust, which made Vishwakarma to move for relief.
On the other hand, Laxmi was tired of filling and pouring the gold dust without succeeding in completing her task. She finally decided that the Vishwakarma was moving because he wanted more and more gold. She, deciding that he was getting greedy, put a curse on him saying that he must work hard even on her ceremonial birthday (laxmi-puja day). At first Vishwakarma was confused, but he wasn't sad for he was relieved of the fleas. Thus, in this way everything went back into order as usual.

Popular Divinities of Nepal
Brahma, the self -created god of creation, is said to have created the cosmos.

Indra, traditionally regarded as the god of heaven, is the most worshipped and most popular Hindu god among the plethora of Hindu gods. The vedas describe him as the valiant fighter who destroys devils and drought and gives people rain and food.

Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge and fine arts, is often portrayed having a pure white form seated on a full blown lotus or mounted on a hansa (swan). The hansa is often regarded as our inner-consciousness and is said to be capable of driving away Avidya or ignorance.

Hanumana or the monkey god is worshipped as the god of protection. He is said to be full of shakti or strength, thus, his whole body is shown to be red. He symbolizes courage, strength and loyalty.

Ganesha, the god of good luck, wisdom and success, is a very popular deity worshipped by both Hindus as well as Buddhist's in Nepal. His upper right hand holds a hook, representing the right path to follow, and the lower hand is seen holding a noose, representing self- restrain. The rosary on his third lower hand represents concentration, which is very important for the development of spiritual knowledge, and his lower four hands are in a gesture that assures his devotees fearlessness, indicating that he is the protector.

Krishna is by far the most widely worshipped around the world. The devotees of Lord Krishna take him to be a spiritual guide, a karmayogi, a highly perfected man of good action, a supreme statesman, a protector of the poor, an eternal lover and so on.

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