When Braham Kamal (ब्रह्मकमल) Bloomed in our home

One of neighbours in ONGC colony Dehradun gave us a cutting of a cactus like plant in March 2013. She told that the plant is called “Brahama Kamal” and is considered very auspicious in Hindu mythology. It is said that a lotus bloomed from the navel of Vishnu who is the greatest of holy trinity of Brahama, Vishnu and Mahesh or Shiva and Brahama was created on this bloom. That is why it is called Braham Kamal (ब्रह्मकमल). Kamal means lotus in Sanskrit

It’s scientific name is Epiphyllum oxypetalum. It is a very interesting and unique plant. It belongs to Family Cactaceae. It is commonly known as Night blooming Cereus, Queen of the night, Lady of the night as its beautiful Lotus like flower blooms late night. In India it is called as Brahma Kamal ( ) and is treated as a sacred plant. It is popularly known as Orchid Cactus as the flower has orchid like beauty and plant resembles cactus in habit. It is known by different common names in different parts of the world viz. Jungle cactus, Dutchman’s Pipe.

The plant is native to Sri lanka where it is known as Kaduphul ,it is believed that plant blooms rarely and that too late night. People in many places of India have been successfully growing it in the pots. At least I know of two people in Mumbai and Dehradun.

In the meanwhile, we shifted to Panchkula near Chandigarh and brought the plant with us. It began to add on branches but no flower appeared on it for two years. Then in the last week of July, a strange stem like structure covered with pink threadlike structures began taking shape. Firstly it grew straight downward from the tip of a blade of plant. Then the lower part began swelling and becoming like bulb. On the evening of second August around seven o clock the bud began opening and flower unfolding. By ten o clock in the night, it completely opened up to show a pristine white lotus. It was mesmerising to see it.

We were very excited as we were told that flower blooms for one night only and had a life span of 10 hours. In the early morning, we again observed it. It was still there but had begun to shrink back. In the noon, it completely became like a thread. But after three weeks it again gave another flower.

It is said to blossom during mid July to mid October in India. Let us see that if it bless us more times during this season.

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Unesco World Heritage tag for Rani-ki-Vav

Rani ki vav or the Queen’s Stepwell at Patan, Gujarat has been bestowed with this honor a few days back under criteria i and iv which say. First criterion is the structure represents a masterpiece of human creative genius and second criterion says the item under consideration is an outstanding example of a type of building, architectural or technological ensemble or landscape which illustrates significant stages in human history.Rani-ki-Vav (le puits à degrés de la Reine) à Patan, Gujarat

Rani-ki-Vav (the Queen’s Step well) at Patan, Gujarat is located on the banks of the Saraswati River and was initially built as a memorial to a king in the 11th century AD. Rani or the queen Udayamati commissioned this vav or step well, in 1063 in the memory of her husband King Bhimdev I of the Solanki dynasty. Rani-ki-Vav was built at the height of craftsman’s ability in step well construction and the Maru-Gurjara architectural style, reflecting mastery of this complex technique and great beauty of detail and proportions. Designed as an inverted temple highlighting the sanctity of water, it is divided into seven levels of stairs with sculptural panels of high artistic quality. The vav was later flooded by the nearby Saraswati River and silted over until the late eighties, when it was excavated by the Archaeological Survey of India, with the carvings found in pristine condition. Rani Ki Vav is among the finest step wells in India, and one of the most famous legacies of the ancient capital city.

Rani-ki-Vav (le puits à degrés de la Reine) à Patan, Gujarat

The vavs of Gujarat are not merely sites for collecting water and socializing, but also simultaneously hold great spiritual significance. They were originally constructed quite simply, but became more intricate over the years, perhaps to make explicit this ancient concept of the sanctity of water by carving it out in stone deities thus representing a subterranean temple.

The steps begin at ground level, leading you down through the cool air through several pillared pavilions to reach the deep well below. There are more than 800 elaborate sculptures among seven galleries. The central theme is the Dasavataras, or ten incarnations of Vishnu, including Buddha. The avatars are accompanied by sadhus, Brahmins, and apsaras (celestial dancers), painting their lips and adorning themselves. At water level you come to a carving of Sheshashayi-Vishnu, in which Vishnu reclines on the thousand-hooded serpent Shesha, where it is said he rests in the infinity between epochs.

The fourth level is the deepest and leads into a rectangular tank of 9.5 by 9.4 meters, at a depth of 23 meters. The well is located at the westernmost end of the property and consists of a shaft, 10 meters in diameter and 30 meters deep.

For more pictures visit the Unesco page.

Ganjifa: Playing Cards

Original Ganjifa was brought to India by Moghuls. There is a district called Sawantwadi in Maharashtra. This touches the Goa state. When you travel by train to Goa from Mumbai, it is the last station in Maharashtra. Whole area which is adjacent to Arabian Sea is dotted with unending rows of Coconut palms. Ganjifa was popularized here by the ruler Khem Sawant Bhosle, who heard of it from scholars of the Telengana region. The Chitari community in Sawantwadi, known for their skill in shellac ware and wood craft, learned  to make these cards

Ganjifa are circular playing cards made from paper that is covered with a mixture of tamarind seed powder and oil, painted and coated with shellac. Darbari cards have decorative borders and Bazaar cards are without borders. It used to be a popular pastime at the Indian courts. The classic Mughal Ganjifa with its 96 cards and 8 suits penetrated into the social milieu of India and the Deccan that later, with its themes and characters from Hindu mythology, gained widespread acceptance. The most popular was the Dasavatar with ten different circular pieces depicting the ten incarnations of Vishnu. These form a set along with painted cards of Vishnu`s weapons. They are no longer used to play games but used as gift items and educational aids.

Dasavtar: Means ten incarnations of Vishnu. These are depicted in these cards

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Box for packing these cards

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Devi Lakshmi

Lakshmi means fortune. She is the wife of Vishnu and is often called Shri. She is the goddess associated with good luck and temporal blessing. Although she is considered coexistent with Vishnu, she appeared in full glory at the churning of primeval ocean. Thus ocean is considered her father.

She is usually portrayed as a woman of mature beauty, seated on a lotus, with a lotus in her hand and attended by two elephants who sprinkle water on her from their trunks. She is believed to incarnate herself as the wife of incarnation of Vishnu, thus worshiped as Sita, the spouse of Rama, as Rukmani or Radha being the chief queen and favorite of Krishna of his youth.

Visnu-Numero Uno of Hindu Trinity

English: Vishnu and Lakshmi on Shesha Nāga, c....
English: Vishnu and Lakshmi on Shesha Nāga, c. 1870. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the Hindu mythology, at the top sits an trinity consisting of Brahama, Visnu and Siva or Mahesh. They are responsible for running the whole universe. Visnu is the source of universe and of all things. He sleeps in the primeval ocean on the thousand headed snake Shesha. In his sleep a lotus grows from his navel and in this lotus the demiurge Brahma is born who creates the world. Once the creation of the world is over, Visnu awakes to reign in the highest heaven called Vaikuntha.

Visnu has the dark blue color and four arms and in his four hands he bears his emblems namely conch, discus, mace and lotus. His mount is a great eagle Garuda which is generally shown as half human face. His spouse is Lakshmi who is also a paramount Goddess in her own right.

He is always smiling and benevolent in contrast to Siva who has some fierce traits. He incarnates himself wholly or partially from time to time. We already know about his incarnations or Avatars as :

1.The Fish : Matsya

2. The Tortoise: Kurma

3. The Boar : Varaha

4. The Man-lion: Narasimha

5. The Dwarf : Vamana

6. Parasurama : Rama with Axe

7. Rama

8. Krishna

9. Buddha

10. Kalkin

The role has been played in all 9 avatars already. Now in Kaliyuga, to set the things right, to put the people on the path of righteousness and destroy the corrupt, Kalkin is awaited. It is said that in this Avatar he will appear as a man riding a white horse with a flaming sword in his hand and by eliminated all the vices, he will restore the age of Gold.

Incidentally, a Bollywood movie with the name Shahenshah featuring Amitabh Bachchan was based loosely on the theme of coming of Kalkin. With this film, Amitabh made a comeback after recovering from the fatal injury and the hype created by Tinnu Anand, the maker of the movie, helped the movie to become hit a the box office.

Gautam Buddha

The founder of Buddhism, the religion practiced by millions in this world. Hindu religion considers him as an avatar of Vishnu. Born to Mahamaya the chief wife of King Suddhodhana of Sakyas. His mother had a dream in which she was carried by demigods to divine lake called Anavatapa in Himalayas. She was bathed by heavenly guardians. A great white elephant holding a lotus in his trunk came and entered her side. The dream was interpreted by king’s astrologers that a child would be born to her who shall either become a great emperor or a great teacher. Other interpreted the dream that the boy will see four sad events and decide to renunciate the world’s wealth and luxuries and riches.

picture of a wallpainting in a Laotian temple,...
picture of a wallpainting in a Laotian temple, depicting the Bodhisattva Gautama (Buddha-to-be) undertaking extreme ascetic practices before his enlightenment. A god is overseeing his striving, and providing some spiritual protection. The five monks in the background are his future ‘five first disciples’, after Buddha attained Full Enlightenment. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

He was born as Siddhartha and Gautam was his Gotra. When he was born he immediately stood up and walked 5 steps and declared that this is his last birth. King was worried and tried every means to keep the boy away from all the events that can pain the boy and make him take up the path of renunciation. He married his cousin Yashodhara in a contest showing great skills and strength.

As the destiny would have it, he happened to see the four events predicted by the astrologer. First was when he saw an aged man in last stages of infirmity and decrepitude- actually the God himself in the disguise. Siddhartha asked his charioteer Channa who was this repulsive man. Channa explained that everyone who is born has to pass to this state. Then he saw very sick man, then a dead man which was the last straw to break his resolve and last one was a ascetic in red robes with peaceful face.

He returned to his palace and was in great pains. Even the news of the birth of his son Rahul did not bring any peace to his mind. That night he left his home with Channa and his dear horse Kanthaka and on reaching the forest cut off his flowing hair and removed his jewelery and robes and gave it to Channa to give it all to his father. The horse died instantly on parting with his master.

Then for years he wandered here and there. He practiced great penances and tortured his body and was reduced to a skeleton. He realized that this is not leading him anywhere. He began begging for food and regained some strength. He sat under a Bodhi tree in Bodh Gaya and a village girl Sujata gave him rice boiled in the milk. He partook them and bathed and for next 49 days sat in meditation and at the end truth was revealed to him and he became Buddha.

After initial reluctance he started spreading his peace message and made so many people his disciples and many Kings who could not appease the Brahmins as they did not belong to warrior caste patronized Buddha. He toured all the North India from one end to another. He also converted his father, son Rahul to Buddhism and allowed his mother and other women to become Buddhist nuns.

Buddha in Bodh Gaya, India.
Buddha in Bodh Gaya, India. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When his end was near, he knew it and told his followers not to continue with the process of new successor. As was his nature, he would beg one house and whatever they gave him never refused. He was given contaminated pork meat by Chunda the smith. He ate it and was attacked by dysentery. He moved to Kusinagara and left this world there.

What is Maya?

In the Hindu mythology, universe or the Maya is the dream of Vishnu which he dreams when lying on the bed made of serpents on the lake of infinity. Then, there was Narada, who was a very erudite sage. With his intelligence, he impressed so many Gods and Gods often discussed their problems with him and used his services as a messenger for communicating with each other because one of them may be in Himalayas while another in the down South.

One day Vishnu called upon Narada and offered him a single wish. The Narada asked him to understand the Maya that is the dream Vishnu dreamed and which as we know is the universe. Vishnu said Ok and took him on a walk. Now they are walking and walking beginning with Calcutta which is teeming with millions of people. They cross the Sunderbans where the fabled “White tiger” lives in the swamps and Sundari trees. They turn towards west and enter Bihar and then towards Uttar Pradesh. The weather is turning hotter and hotter and they are feeling more and more thirsty. The land is parched and Narada is finding it very difficult to go on. Now they reach the desert where the sand is burning with the heat from Sun.

Vishnu calls Narada and asks him to fetch some water for him as he is feeling very thirsty and weak. He pointed towards an oasis with its green shady trees and a village. The Narada went there in search of water and saw a well. He went and knocked at the door of first house to ask for the permission to draw water from the well. But when he saw the face of the woman who opened the door, he forgot everything about him and fell instantly in love. He married the woman and they lived together with great happiness. He and she worked in their fields and in the passage of time they were blessed with two children.

But the happiness was not everlasting. After twelve years, dark clouds thunder in the sky. Then the rain comes in thick sheets and there follows a deluge of such intensity that there is a flood which hurls everything that comes in its way. Swirling currents of water separates his family. He sees them consumed by the water one by one. He is crying and calling his beloved wife and children but to no avail. There after he also drowns in the water.

Narada wakes up after one hour with his face on the sand. The Vishnu is standing over him and asking him why he had been so late and where is the water he had gone to fetch for him. On hearing this Narada said “O God, now I have understood the meaning of Maya”