Durga is a Hindu goddess with both maternal and terrible aspects. Often depicted with eight or ten arms, Durga has been worshipped throughout India since at least 400 CE. As the consort of Shiva, some sacred scriptures called the Veda depict her as riding the back of a lion, symbolizing her immense power to confer grace on sincere seekers of God, and conversely, punishment on the ignorant and demon-deluded.
Prior to the annual fall celebration of Durga puja, a Hindu priest may conscript local youngsters to canvass for donations in order to construct an effigy of the goddess. For several days the life-size doll is promulgated throughout cites and towns on a cart, often accompanied with Hindi pop music blaring from a portable sound system. This event epitomizes India’s unique synthesis of the ancient, the sacred and the contemporary.
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The Sanskrit word yoga derives from the root yuj, which means ‘yoke,’ ‘bind together’ or ‘union.’
Hatha yoga is a set of bodily postures as well as breathing and mental exercises designed by Patanjali that ultimately aim to connect the ego and soul with God.
Although this yoga is popular in the West, there are other important Hindu yogas and the entire concept of yoga runs far deeper than fashionable stretch suits and inflatable balls.
Generally speaking, yoga for the Hindu means any technique or practice that links individual volition to the Divine Will.
The Bhagavad-Gita outlines four different but related types of yoga.
- Jnana yoga is the yoga of divine knowledge.
- Raja yoga is the yoga of right rule.
- Karma yoga is the yoga of sacred duty or action.
- Bhakti yoga is the yoga of pure devotion to God.
Depending on where the aspirant ‘is at,’ so to speak, in their spiritual journey, these four different yogas intermingle in various degrees and combinations.
For example, a hard working businesswoman (karma yoga) does puja in the morning (bhakti yoga). On returning home after work she meditates on spiritual lessons learned from the day’s activities (jnana yoga). At night she participates in a women rights group that works to eradicate sutee (raja yoga). In addition, she may also practice the bodily and contemplative postures of hatha yoga.
Another aspect of yoga relates to Tantricism and, depending on the particular path, is variously championed or denounced among the Hindu faithful. This type of yoga is generally called kundalini yoga.
Kundalini yoga involves awakening the spiritual ‘serpent power’ said to reside at the base chakra. Usually through intense and prolonged training with a spiritual master (guru), one eventually learns how to channel this power up the spinal column so it resonates within each of the seven chakras, in a balanced way among them.
The most noble chakra is believed to be located at the top of the head (crown chakra). When this chakra activates and is properly balanced with all the other chakras, one is said to be in a state of samadhi–i.e. complete and perfect union with God.
» Aurobindo (Sri), Ahimsa, Bhakti yoga, Caste, Chakras, Eliade (Mircea), Faith and Action, Jnana yoga, Karma yoga, Raja yoga, Rama, Shakti, Tantra, Yogi, Yogini
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