Thursday, March 25, 2010

Background info about Hinduism to understand Ramayana

Guys, before I delve into Ramayana, some definitions of some frequently used terms so that the story could be understood better. I know it would be quite confusing to absorb all this info in one go. But even if you dont grasp all the things at first, its fine. You would still understand and hopefully enjoy the story. But if you can understand this background info also, then you would be in a much better position to appreciate the essence of the story. So, lets begin:

Rishi: Rishi is a term used for someone who has left the material world to do spiritual excercises(like meditate, pray, do yagams..etc). Meditation is called as tapasya in sanskrit. It is believed that through tapasya and kundalini yoga, the rishis can attain super-human powers. The extent of tapasya determines the super-human powers. Though such powers are attained by the rishis, it is not the goal. The ultimate of goal of tapasya is god. It is believed that if someone(anyone) goes and does tapasya sincerely for enough time, then the god will appear to give him a boon. Ravana(the villian of Ramayana) had done tapasya for 10,000 years. Yep, 10,000 years!!

There are different stages of Rishi-hood. The stages are:


There is another kind of Rishi-hood: Devarshi. Devarshis are the divine rishis of Gods. They are supremely knowledgeble and always in meditation.

Yagam: It is a ritual where a fire is ignited and ghee is poured into it while uttering mantras(hymns that are supposed to contain powers). The ghee is called 'havisu'.
This is considered to please the gods. The ghee is poured into the fire(agni) while chanting mantras. And Gods come and take the havisu. They bless the person, region, nation who has performed the yagam. There are different types of yagams.

Gods: Gods are divine beings. They are young(the age of 30) forever, and they do not die(because they drink amritha). They have marriages as well. But they do not have children because of a certain curse. Gods also have to follow rules, they are not totally independent. They are like a cabinet which governs the universe. The Gods live in Heaven. The principled gods are:

Indra: the king of Gods.
Agni: fire god
Varuna: water god
Yama: god of death and justice
Kubera: King of gandharvas
Vayu: wind god
Surya: son god

There are supposed to be different races in the universe.

These races are:


Gods, Gandharvas, Kinneras, Kimpurushas, and Nagas are superior races with divine qualities and great powers(physical, mental, magical..etc). Generally, all of them are collectively called as Gods(Suras/devas). Their number is thirty-three crores.
Humans, Half-humans are normal races.
Animals and insects are lowly races.
Rakshas are demons. They are also have immense physical power but lack morals and have sadistic behaviour.

Generally, Rakshas(demons) and Devas(gods) are locked in one-up man ship. Rakshas dream of defeating the gods and ruling the universe.
Humans, Half-humans, Animals, and insects are not really taken seriously. They just live their lives.

Finally, there are three super gods: Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva. In simple terms: Brahma is the creator of the universe, Vishnu is the sustainer and protector of the universe and Shiva destroys or dissolves the universe at the end of four yugas. The four yugas, namely Krita(or Sathya) Yuga, Tretha Yuga, Dwapara Yuga and Kali Yuga collectively form one Kalpa. One Yuga consists of a certain number of years. Following is a pictorial depiction:

After four Yugas(that is on completion of one Kalpa), Shiva dissolves the entire universe so that creation can be started a fresh.

But its a very simplistic explanation.
These three super-gods rule the universe. The normal gods also run to one of these trimurtis( the three super-gods) when they face problems.

Trimurtis(The 3 Super-Gods)

Brahma, creator of universe:

Saraswati(Goddess of learning/intellect/education/skill/talent), wife of Brahma:


Sri Maha Vishnu, the sustainer and protector of universe:

Lakshmi(Goddess of wealth/wellbeing), wife of Vishnu:


Shiva, the dissolver of universe so as to recreate it from fresh:

Parvati(Goddess of strength/courage/power), wife of Shiva:


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