"Full many a ray of purest ray serene the dark unfathomed caves of ocean bear:
Full many a flower is born to blush unseen, and waste its sweetness to the desert air."
from "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard" by Thomas Gray

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Lalitasahasranama - 001 - Waiting for Lalita

There are many levels of understanding – each name of Lalita can be discussed at various levels for hours, I have limited myself to the literal meaning here.
The story is told in the Brahmandapurana of the sage Agastya, who lived in Kashi, and wanted to subdue the arrogance of the Vindhayachala mountain range that was growing higher every year. The sage asked the mountain range to bow down, so he could cross easily to the southern parts of the Indian subcontinent, and to stay low till the sage returned. Agastya then settled in the south with his wife Lopamudra, and is believed to be still staying there. And the Vindhyachala range, to this day, stays put in reverence, waiting for the sage to return.
Agastya, as an immortal, lived through the various eras on earth. With the advent of Kaliyuga, the current era, human beings were misdirected and no longer followed the path of Dharma. Agastya was very sad at the pathetic state of affairs, and he performed penance at Kanchi to Vardaraja, a form of Vishnu. Pleased with his devotion, Vishnu appeared in the form of a sage, Hayagreeva. Agastya asked how he could help the population living an unrighteous life, to attain salvation. Hayagreeva told him there were two paths – the difficult path of renunciation and attainment of the attribute-less Brahman, and the easier path of worshipping the form of the Mother who is the Divine with attributes. Intrigued, Agastya asked for the story of the Mother - who is she?
Hayagreeva told the story of Prakriti, born of Brahma. The creative power is Brahman's inherent energy, which ema- nates from Him during the period of creation. Prakriti herself is born of Brahma.
The second time, the Mother was born as Mohini and helped the celestials in their battle with the demons during the churning of the nectar. The eminent sage Durvasa was a devout follower of the Mother. Once on his way to meet Indra, a celestial dancer prostrated to him and presented him with a garland that she had just received from the Mother. Extremely happy, Durvasa presented the garland to Indra who in his arrogance, did not pay his respects to the plain-looking sage and threw the garland down, and Indra’s elephant Airavata trampled on it. An angry Durvasa cursed him that he would lose his prosperity. Indra regretted his behavior and asked for forgiveness but Durvasa walked away.
The celestial guru Brihaspati then told Indra a story about a robber named Vajra who dug holes in the forest to hide his stolen wealth. A hunter called Veeradanta saw this and took away some of the stolen goods so that Vajra would not be aware of the theft. Veeradanta’s wife convinced him to use such unearned wealth in charity, and Veeradanta used the money to build temples to Vishnu and Shiva, water tanks for public use and other charitable projects. When Veeradanta and his wife died, the messengers of Yama, Vishnu and Shiva battled for the jeevas.  Narada told them that since the hunter had done immense charity, his only sin was to use ill-gotten gains, so he should remain a ghost till all those whose money he had used, died as well. But his wife could immediately go to a shivaloka as a Shiva devotee, having done nothing wrong. Veeraadanta’s wife refused to go anywhere without her husband. Narada, pleased with her devotion, initiated her on the Shiva mantra, so that the couple ultimately attained salvation. When the robber Vajra and the people from whom he had stolen died, Yama asked them whether they would first take the benefit of their money being used for charity, or they would pay for their sins first. They chose to first mingle with the saintly as a result of the unintentional good deeds, and with this satsanga (company of the pious) they were purified, and ultimately went to Kailash.
Brihaspati then reminded Indra of his former unrighteous actions. Indra had killed Vishwarupa, the son of Brahma and Rupavati, the daughter of sage Kashyapa. Indra had suspected that Vishwarupa may favor the demons over the celestials. Afflicted now with the sin of brahma-hatyā (killing of a Brahmin) and the curse of Brahma that followed, Indra had taken refuge at Vishnu’s feet. Vishnu distributed his sin to the earth, the trees and women, and compensated them with the re-filling of pits on the earth’s surface, the ability of trees to revive despite being cut, and the ability of women to procreate. And he intervened with Brahma on Indra’s behalf, and got the effect of the curse postponed. Indra again grew in arrogance after this, and had now incurred Durvasa’s wrath, and was afflicted with losing his prosperity.
Vishnu counseled Indra to churn the ocean and acquire wealth. Unimaginable wealth came from the churning of the ocean, and finally a pot of nectar! The demons and the celestials fought for it. Then Vishnu focused on Lalita who dwells in him, and took on the form of Mohini, an attractive woman who managed to lure the demons away and wait in line, while she served the celestials with all the nectar. The divine Mother has helped the celestials.    
Agastya now asked Hayagreeva how he could invoke the divine Mother to help people get sustenance and salvation in Kaliyuga. Hayagreeva then told the story of the divine mother also known as Uma, born on earth as Sati to the prajapati Daksha. She married Rudra, whom the arrogant Daksha did not invite to a yajna. Sati, uninvited, went to the yajna regardless, and was so incensed by what her father said about her husband, that she self-immolated herself. In a rage, Shiva danced the fierce Tandava dance with Sati’s corpse till Vishnu hit it with his Sudarshana chakra – Sati’s body fell in various parts of the Indian subcontinent where there are temples to Shakti now.
The divine Uma was re-born as Parvati to the king Himavat and his wife Menaka. She performed severe penance to get Shiva as her husband. Brahma, whose plan it was all along to get Shiva to marry again, had his mind-born son Manmatha, the deity of love, shoot an arrow at Shiva. The arrows of Manmatha create desire in the minds of people and celestials, but Shiva opened his third eye and burned Manmatha on the spot. Vasant, the deity of spring, reminded Ratidevi that Manmatha’s death had been due to a curse. Earlier, Brahma had created a beautiful woman Tilottama to create ill-will between the demon brothers Sunda and Upasunda who were creating havoc in the three worlds. Manmatha played a practical joke on his aging father, Brahma, and shot an arrow at him, so that Brahma, blinded by passion, was filled with passion for his own daughter. Tilottama took the form of a doe and ran, but Brahma took the form of a buck and followed her, till Shiva took the form of a hunter and halted Brahma in his tracks. Brought to his senses, Brahma cursed Manmatha for shooting arrows irresponsibly which could only cause unrighteous behavior. Brahma said that one day Shiva would burn him to ash. When Manmatha asked for forgiveness, Brahma prophesied that Lalitadevi would marry Shiva one day, and revive Manmatha.
The stage is now set for Lalita to be born.

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