Kashmiri Pandits' Association, Mumbai, India


Lalla-Ded Educational and Welfare Trust

  Kashmiri Pandits' Association, Mumbai, India

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October-November 2003 issue

Kashmir's Silk Embroidery with floral patterns

Table of Contents

Koshur Music

An Introduction to Spoken Kashmiri

  From the Pages of History

  J.N. Kachroo

Beyond Symbolism - Our Rituals

 Taking courage in my both hands, I have ventured taking a leaf from the age-old history of our rich heritage rather than from the usual temporal history for this column. At the very outset, I must confess that I have little knowledge or study of our scriptures, mythology or philosophy. Just as a seeker of truth, what follows is a layman's interpretation of a very common ritual. I also wish to convey my readiness to correction. If it comes, it could further may aim of finding as well disseminating the meaning of rituals to suit the modern mind of the growing generations.

     Since my childhood, I have been having birthday pooja and witnessing the same of other members of my family. On birthdays of the male-members of the family, the 'Kula Guru' would bring from his home an artistically made 'Raksha', the wrist-band of red thread, with seven knots. Even now, the audio cassette that substitutes the 'Guru' directs the 'Jejman' to tie seven knots on the wrist-band. This 'Raksha' is reverentially placed in a plate on flower petals. Each of the knot is to be applied a Tilak. While the Tilak is being applied on each by turns, the 'Guru' recites some mantras dedicating them (knots) to Aswathama, Bali, Vyas, Hanuman, Kripacharya and Parashurama, in that order. They are seven immortals in the Indian (Hindu) tradition.

     These seven knots thus personify the seven immortals whom we worship on our birthdays. It is commonly believed that prayers are offered so that the subject of the ritual is granted immortality - a long life - like the seven immortals. To a modern mind, it is often a Wishful Prayer. And therefore, non-belief. But if the values each symbolises are borne in mind even during the 'pooja' period year after year and reminded of on the birthday, celebrations/pooja one attends or is a witness of, perhaps human conduct would be more sublime.

     The values these immortals symbolise, are to be universal and basic truths which transcend time and space. The related truths or values to these immortals are derived from their actions in their 'lives'. They, ad-seriatim are:

1) Aswathama, the Consequence of an Unethical Conduct; 2) Bali - Valour and Charity with grace; 3) Vyas, the Continuity of erudition; 4) Hanuman, Righteous Conduct, Selfless Devotion and Courage; 5) Vibhisana, his Conviction in his ideal of righteousness; 6) Kripacharya, his Impartiality in the discharge of his duty; 7) Parashurama, his Humility, despite his prowess and might.

     There must be some logic in their order. Whatever the logic may be, let us examine each from a common man's interpretation, implication and pragmatic application.

     Aswathama had acquired mastery over the ultimate weapon. But he broke all the established ethical norms when he, along with a group of his companions, entered by stealth the Camp of Pandavas in their absence and got a number of men killed. He was caught but not killed. His Crown jewel - a gem - was prised out of his head. He was condemned to live for ever, the wound never to heal. He attained immortality, but not an enviable one. His name is a reminder to the mortals, never to resort to an unethical conduct however powerful he/she may be.  Every one has the potential to own and practise this truth, only if he/she wills. Hence perhaps, its pre-eminent position in aforesaid catalogue of values.

     Bali knew who Vamana was. Yet he was prepared to surrender all he had to his lord. King Bali stands for his valour and charity. Everybody may not be as prosperous as Bali. But one can be graceful while giving charity whatever one can afford. No show.

     It may not be possible for a common man to reach the height of scholarship and erudition of Vyas. But study of his works and understanding even a fraction of his wisdom, would be rewarding. His works belong to human race, irrespective of time and geographical boundaries. Truly immortal messages! Let the mortals discover them for their own benefit and elevation.

     Hanuman, embodiement of energy and strength should be revered for his courage, righteous conduct and above all his selfless devotion. He stands for potential that is inherent in all of us.

     Vibhisana's example of fearlessness and courage of conviction make him immortal. These dispositions are increasingly becoming rare in public life today. Therefore the chaos.

     Kripacharya, takes priority over a more renowned teacher Dronacharya, the Guru of 'Danudhar Arjun' to immortality. Kripacharya is a symbol of impartiality. He has no Eklavya episode to shadow his career.

     And lastly Parashuram, the master of martial arts, had no temporal ambition. He lived a hermit's life, though he could be a Samrat, if he had liked to be. He was one who was never hesitant to admit his mistake. He publicly apologised to both Ram and Lakshman for his mistake at the time of Sita's Swayamvar. Parashuram symbolises excellence and strength, tempered by humility.

     Going back to the ritual. After the Janam Divas pooja and invocations, the 'Raksha', the wrist band with seven knots is tied round the right hand wrist of the 'birthday boy'. This is supposed to be changed by a similar one at the next birthday. It has thus to remain a part of the person throughout his life. To what purpose? Evidently to remind the wearer of the 'band' constantly that the seven knots personify the seven immortals who symbolise a string of values. They are supposed to send cosmic vibrations to the individual to sublimate human behaviour by practising them.

     Let us consider one more practice. A new 'Jenu', the holy thread of three or six strands is renewed by the eligible on each birthday. He is expected to wash it everyday and to repeat the sacred 'Gayatri Natra'. There is no such prescription for the 'Raksha', the wrist band. The mere view of the seven knots is sufficient to rouse his conscience and act as governors. It can be effective only if the moral tenets they represent are conveyed for motor response by the sensory perceptions. Pre-requisite condition is the awareness of the message these symbols carry.

     All these truths/values are symbolised by no less than seven individuals, each endowed with extraordinary attributes. The Sceptics may doubt the practicability of observing all of them by an ordinary human in his/her mundane life. It is believed that the lessons derived from the examples of Asawathama (Ethical Conduct) and Parshuram (Humality despite prowess) are all encompassing.

     Is it not the right time to interpret the various symbols that our rituals represent so as to stem the waning faith of the growing generations exposed to the pulls and pressures generated in the global village they live in? Would it not enhance love of and loyalty to the faith and fold?




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