Archive for the 'Asia' Category

24
Mar
12

23rd of March 2012: ‘Vikram Samvat’ or Hindu New Year

Hindu New Year , also known as ‘Vikram Samvat’ is celebrated according to the Hindu Lunar Calendar. In the Indian Calendar, seasons follow the sun, months follow the moon and days both sun and moon. This era of Vikram Samvat began in 57 BC. To correspond with the solar calendar, 57 years are subtracted from the Hindu Year. Thus, the New Year begin with the first day of Kartik Maas following Deepawali Amaavasya.

“It is easy to talk on religion, but difficult to practice it.”

Ramakrishna

The origin of Hindu New Year relates to the legendary Hindu King Vikramaditya in 57 BC. According to the legend, King Gardabhilla abducted a nun by the name of Saraswati. She was the sister of the famous Jain monk Kalakacharya. The helpless monk looked for help of the Saka ruler in Sakasthana to defeat Gardabhilla. He was defeated and captivated by the Saka King. Though later released, but Gardabhilla retired to the forest where he was killed by a tiger. His son, Vikramaditya, who was brought up in the forest, later invaded Ujjain and pushed out the Sakas. Thus, to celebrate this event, he commemorated a new era called Vikram Samvat.

 

 

“The people, and the people alone, are the motive force in the making of world history.”

 

Mao Zedong
 

On this occasion people decorate their houses by lighting and flowers decorations of varied colors like pink, blue, yellow, red and purple, etc… People also designed rangolis. Rangolis are the main attraction of the decoration part.

 

“One of the greatest diseases is to be nobody to anybody.”

Mother Teresa
 

On that day it is a tradition to wake up early in the morning. People take a bath and they wear new clothes. Prayers are offered to goddess Lakshmi and to god Ganesh. Flowers, fruits and Prasad are offered to God. After the worship, prasad and fruits are distributed among the family members and neighbors. Prasad is a material substance that is first offered to a deity and then consumed.

 

“Honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom.”

Thomas Jefferson

 

The birth of a New Year is a whole new beginning and marks the time when the world awakens from its wintry slumber. So almost all the Hindu New Year festivals fall on the beginning of the spring months when nature turns bountiful and blesses the earth with fruitful greenery. The beautiful flowers that bloom in spring, the early bird songs, the fresh harvests which are the fruits of past labor and the commencement of a new agricultural cycle . All these symbolize the dawn of another year. Thus, every colorful spring festival of the Hindus, with all the expectations, apprehensions, hope and joy woven in the festivities, is essentially for a New Year celebration.

“The only source of knowledge is experience.”

Albert Einstein
Advertisements
18
Mar
12

Wisdom from Buddha

Siddhartha Gautama Buddha was a spiritual teacher from the Indian subcontinent, on whose teachings Buddhism was founded.  The word Buddha is a title for the first awakened being in an era.

“A dog is not considered a good dog because he is a good barker.”

Buddha

In most Buddhist traditions, Siddhartha Gautama is regarded as the Supreme Buddha of our age, “Buddha” meaning “awakened one” or “the enlightened one.”Siddhartha Gautama may also be referred to as Gautama Buddha or as Śākyamuni. The Buddha found a Middle Way that ameliorated the extreme asceticism found in the Sramana religions.

“Just as a candle cannot burn without fire, men cannot live without a spiritual life.”

Buddha

The time of Gautama’s birth and death are uncertain: most early 20th-century historians dated his lifetime as 563 BCE to 483 BCE.

“Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon and the truth.”

Buddha

UNESCO lists Lumbini, Nepal, as a world heritage site and birthplace of Gautama Buddha. There are also claims about birth place of Gautama Buddha to be Kapilavastu in Uttar Pradesh, or Kapileswara in Orissa. He later taught throughout regions of eastern India such as Magadha and Kośala.

“The wise ones fashioned speech with their thought, sifting it as grain is sifted through a sieve.”

Buddha

Gautama is the primary figure in Buddhism, and accounts of his life, discourses, and monastic rules are believed by Buddhists to have been summarized after his death and memorized by his followers. Various collections of teachings attributed to him were passed down by oral tradition, and first committed to writing about 400 years later.

“I never see what has been done; I only see what remains to be done.”

Buddha
11
Mar
12

Wisdom from Confucius

Confucius (28 September 551 BC – 479 BC) was a Chinese thinker and social philosopher of the Spring and Autumn Period.

“The more man meditates upon good thoughts, the better will be his world and the world at large.” 

 Confucius

The philosophy of Confucius emphasized personal and governmental morality, correctness of social relationships, justice and sincerity. These values gained prominence in China over other doctrines, such as Legalism or Taoism during the Han Dynasty. Confucius’ thoughts have been developed into a system of philosophy known as Confucianism.

 “I hear, I know. I see, I remember. I do, I understand.”

 Confucius

Because no texts are demonstrably authored by Confucius, and the ideas most closely associated with him were elaborated in writings that accumulated over the period between his death and the foundation of the first Chinese empire in 221 BC, many scholars are very cautious about attributing specific assertions to Confucius himself. His teachings may be found in the Analects of Confucius, a collection of aphorisms, which was compiled many years after his death.

 “Never give a sword to a man who can’t dance.”

Confucius 

Confucius’ principles had a basis in common Chinese tradition and belief. He championed strong familial loyalty, ancestor worship, respect of elders by their children (and, according to later interpreters, of husbands by their wives), and the family as a basis for an ideal government. He expressed the well-known principle, “Do not do to others what you do not want done to yourself”, one of the earlier versions of the Ethic of reciprocity.

“Wherever you go, go with all your heart.”

Confucius
18
Apr
11

Annapurna trekking circuit in Nepal, mountain views on the way.

Nepal has some of the best trekkings in the world, to and around several of the world’s highest mountains, including Mount Everest. Many people visit the country just to trek and the tourism industry is well prepared to facilitate all manner of trekking styles and destinations. On the one hand you could spend a year planning an expedition to wild and lofty places; on the other you could land in Kathmandu with no plans and be on the trail to Everest Base Camp (EBC) in a matter of days.

“Teahouse trekking” along the main trails is the most common style, with decent lodges in every settlement (and between), it is possible to trek in comfort with minimal preparation, equipment and support. There is no need to camp and a selection of western style foods are readily available from a menu system. No special permits are required, just national park entry tickets. The main areas for these treks are Everest, Khumbu and Annapurna.

Facilities available in remote areas are less extensive than in the more popular areas. Off the main trails where there are no lodges and food from menus a Nepali guide becomes essential, and it may be advisable to visit such regions with organized groups, including guide, porters and full support. Mustang, Kanchenjunga, Manaslu, Dolpo and Humla are in remote areas. Many of them require also special permits.

There are lots of agencies in Kathmandu and Pokhara who are always keen to broker the services of a guide and/or porter. During the main seasons the agencies run regular group treks, both teahouse and camping styles, and it generally possible to join a group doing a trek of your choice. Independent trekking is quite easy with straight forward preparations.

A trekking permit is required to trek in any part of Nepal. If you want to trek two areas, you will need two permits. Each permit requires details for the route and region. Police check points are set up in some areas so do not venture off the set route. Annapurna trail starts from the North of Pokhara, from lush middle hills into high mountains. A circuit leads up the Maryangdi river to Manang, over Thorung La (5400m) to the Hindu temples at Muktinath. Down the Kali Gandaki on the Jomsom trail enjoying Gurung and Thakali hospitality. Up through spring rhododendron blooms to Poon Hill for a dawn Himalayan vista. Trek up into the very heart of the Annapurna Sanctuary for an awesome 360′ high mountain skyline.

Altitude sickness is a significant risk when trekking on any trails above about 2500m. Be familiar with the symptoms and do not ignore them. If you keep to a conservative ascent schedule and drink plenty of fluids then most people can acclimatize. If you or anyone in your party begins to experience symptoms of AMS then do not ascent, and if they do not improve then descent to a lower altitude. This is the only option to consider.

17
Apr
11

Tashi Lhunpo Monastery in Shigatse, Tibet: The Panchen Lama’s seat

Tashi Lhunpo Monastery is seat to the Panchen Lama, the second most imporant leader of Tibet. It is one of the Six Big Monasteries of The Gelugpa (or Yellow Hat Sect) in Tibet.

Also called the Heap of Glory, the monastery is located at the foot of Drolmari (Tara’s Mountain) in Shigatse. Founded by the First Dailai Lama in 1447, the monastery’s structure was expanded by the Fourth and successive Panchen Lamas. Tashi Lhunpo Monastery covers an area of nearly 300.000 square meters (3.229.779 sq. ft.). The main structures found in the Tashi Lhunpo Monastery are The Maitreya Chapel, The Panchen Lama’s Palace and The Kelsang Temple.

Standing on the entrance of the Tashi Lhunpo monastery, visitors can see the grand buildings with golden roofs and white walls. The remarkable Thangka Wall which is nine floors high was built in 1468. The wall displays the images of Buddha on the 14th, 15th and 16th of May every year following the Tibetan Lunar Calendar. The images are so humongous that one can easily see it from Shigatse City. Visitors can find The Maitreya Chapel by strolling into the monastery on the west side of Tashi Lhunpo. You can tour the upper floors of the chapel using a wooden staircase to appreciate the superb skill of the Tibetans.

The Kelsang Temple is one of the oldest and biggest buildings in Tashi Lhunpo. It is a colossal compound. The Main Chanting Hall is a place for lamas to learn the sutras and listen to the Panchen Lama’s sermon.  Besides the grand palace and gigantic statues, the Tashi Lhunpo Monastery also treasures characteristic wall paintings. Because of the variety of shapes, resplendent colors and exquisite painting, the murals are considered to be another masterpiece of Buddhist art.

16
Apr
11

Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, Myanmar: The mountain of gold (part 2)

Gleaming in gold and decorated with diamonds, the huge Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon is a spectacular work of Burmese temple architecture and is the holiest Buddhist shrine in Myanmar.

The legend of the Schwedagon Pagoda begins with two Burmese merchant brothers who met the Buddha himself. The Buddha gave them eight of his hairs to be enshrined in Burma. With the help of several nat (spirits) and the king of this region, the brothers discovered the hill where relics of previous Buddhas had been enshrined.  A chamber to house the relics was built on the sacred spot and when the hairs were taken from their golden casket, amazing things happened: there was a tumult among men and spirits… rays emitted by the Hairs penetrated up to the heavens above and down to hell… the blind beheld objects… the deaf heard sounds…the dumb spoke distinctly… the earth quaked… Mount Meru shook… lightning flashed… gems rained down until they were knee deep… all trees of the Himalaya, though not in season, bore blossoms and fruit.  Once the relics were safely placed in the new shrine, a golden slab was laid on the chamber and a golden stupa built over it. Over this was layered a silver stupa, then a tin stupa, a copper stupa, a lead stupa, a marble stupa and an iron-brick stupa.

Later, the legend continues, the Schwedagon stupa fell into ruin until the Indian emperor Asoka, a Buddhist convert, came to Myanmar and searched for it. Finding it only with great difficulty, he then had the jungle cleared and the stupa repaired. It is easy to see why the Schwedagon Pagoda is such a holy place for believers. Built on the site of the relics of previous Buddhas, containing the relics of the most recent Buddha, the site of miracles and of royal patronage, this is an important stupa indeed. Legend says, that the Shwedagon Pagoda is 2,500 years old, but archaeologists estimate it was first built by the Mon sometime between the 6th and 10th centuries (i.e. during the Bagan period). The pagoda emerges from legend into history in 1485, which is the date of an incription near the top of the eastern stairway that tells the story of Shwedagon in three languages (Pali, Mon, and Burmese).  It was around this time that the tradition of gilding the stupa began. Queen Shinsawbu provided her own weight in gold (fortunately she was a lightweight at 40kg), which was made into gold leaf and used to cover the surface of the stupa. The queen’s son-in-law, Dhammazedi, offered four times his own weight plus that of his wife’s in gold and provided the abovementioned 1485 inscription.

It has been rebuilt many times since then due to earthquakes (including eight in the 17th century alone); the current structure dates from the rebuild under King Hsinbyushin in 1769. After the First Anglo-Burmese War in 1824, British troops occupied the Schwedagon Pagoda complex, which stands high over the city like a castle. In 1852, during the second war, the British occupied the pagoda for 77 years and pillaged its treasures. In 1871, King Mindon Min from Mandalay provided a new hti (the decorative top), flustering the occupying British. As a symbol of national identity, the Schwedagon Pagoda was the scene of much political activity during the Myanmar independence movement in the 20th century. Amazingly, the huge earthquake of 1930 (which destroyed the Schwemawdaw in Bagan) caused only minor damage to the Yangon stupa. But the following year, it suffered from a disastrous fire. After a minor earthquake in 1970, the main stupa was fully refurbished.

The great Schwedagon Pagoda stands on a platform covering over 5 hectares on a hill 98m above sea level. It can be seen from virtually anywhere in the city, and the citizens of Yangon literally live out their everyday lives in its shadow. The large platform that supports the great stupa contains a variety of other stupas, prayer halls, sculptures and shrines. A number of these are associated with eight “days” (Wednesday is divided into morning and afternoon), based on one’s day of birth. Each has an associated planet, direction and animal sign. FYI, the Buddha was born on Wednesday morning. One must always walk around (circumambulate) stupas clockwise, so visitors take a left from whichever entrance to the platform they’ve chosen.

15
Apr
11

Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, Myanmar: The mountain of gold (part 1)

Myanmar has been called The Land of Gold, and that is not surprising at all when you consider just how beautifully the capital city sparkles. Giant, golden and glittering pagodas will take your breath away in this friendly city. Myanmar is a densely populated land with a population of approximately 48 million people. The capital city of Yangon itself boasts a population of 5 million. The people of the land are predominantly Buddhist, though there are many other ethnic groups represented. All in all, there are 135 ethnic groups in Myanmar, each possessing their own proud culture and language. In the green, tree-lined streets of Yangon you will find all these hospitable people and places, and you will find other things as well. You will find food that has been described as some of the best in the world. And you will find the glittering and vast Shwedagon Pagoda, full of history, spirituality and lore.

Sitting high atop the sacred shrine of Singuttara Hill, housing relics of The Buddha and three Buddhas that preceded him, encased in gold and in jewels, the Shwedagon pagoda is a wonder to see. The beauty if the architecture and design will take your breath away, as will the sparkling, light catching jewels. This wondrous holy place, filled with history and legend, is not to be missed on your journey.

The origins of Shwedagon are lost in antiquity, its age unknown. Long before the pagoda was built, its location on Singuttara hill was already an ancient sacred site because of the buried relics of the three previous Buddhas. According to one legend, nearly 5000 years had passed since the last Buddha walked the Earth, and Singuttara hill would soon lose its blessedness unless it was reconsecrated with relics of a new Buddha. In order that such new relics might be obtained, King Okkalapa of Suvannabhumi spent much time atop the hill, meditating and praying. A series of miracles ensued, and eight hairs of the historical Buddha were, somewhat magically, brought to the hill. To enshrine the relics, multiple pagodas of silver, tin, copper, lead, marble, iron and gold where built one on top of the other to a height of twenty meters.

During the following centuries, passing from myth to historical fact, the pagoda grew to its present height of ninety-eight meters. Much of the continued construction of Shwedagon was actually reconstruction following disastrous earthquakes. During the 17th century the pagoda suffered earthquake damage on at least eight occasions. A particularly bad quake in 1786 brought the entire top half of the pagoda to the ground and its current shape and height date from the reconstruction of that time.

While much of the pagoda’s beauty derives from the complex geometry of its shape and surrounding structures, equally mesmerizing is its golden glow. The lower stupa is plated with 8.688 solid gold bars, an upper part with another 13.153. The tip of the stupa, far too high for the human eye to discern in any detail, is set with 5.448 diamonds, 2.317 rubies, sapphires, and other gems, .1065 golden bells and, at the very top, a single 76-carat diamond. Surrounding the pagoda are a plentitude of smaller shrines housing pre-Buddhist spirits called Nats, miracle working images, and even a wish granting stone. The entire temple complex radiates a palpable sense of beauty and serenity.