Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Symbolism of Vishnu

It has been a tradition in civilized nation to provide hidden messages in places where people will least search for it...

The best example would be art forms, which are used to convey messages to those who are ready to take it, or in the state where they would grasp the subtle meaning in the display. Sometimes the messages are not that subtle but very simple and yet we don’t seem to recognize them, maybe because of our ignorance or biased thinking.

One of the oldest civilization in the world is Vedic, and the art forms of this civilization has simple symbols, which had tons to say, but the essence of the art has been lost. I would like to discuss about the symbolism of gods, what the vedic saints would have thought about it while they created these images of god.

We would find lots of discrepancies in the mythology of vedic civilization concerning the origin of the universe and superiority of god. Yes the Vaishnavas and the shaivites fought over the superiority of their gods, but the attributes to their gods have been given well before this war started. When we consider the actual meaning of the gods and then reconsider the myths, it would become clear that they actually don’t contradict. They create an ambiguity only to those who don’t understand them, but then Physics in its extreme also creates Ambiguities and paradoxes.

The west think that the Vedic civilization was obsessed with wild animals, infact they will call vedic gods to be paganic, in a way they are, but they are more than what they appear.

Vishnu, the most patient, intelligent of the trinity has been symbolized in a very special way. He has a four arms like many of the other gods in this pantheon. He is represented with a blue skin, he is shown wearing the Kaustubha mani and a flower garland. On his chest there is a mark of srivatsa. He also has crown like all other gods(exceptions exists) in vedic civilization. He also wears two earrings.

He is always shown having the

1. Conch (Panchajanya ) in left upper hand
2. Chakra (Sudarshan) in upper right hand
3. Mace (kaumodaki) in left lower hand
4. Lotus (Padma) in right lower hand

He is sometimes shown standing Upright with Laksmi on a lotus. He is also shown reclined on the Sesha Naaga/Ananta naaga , with Lakshmi and the sesha naaga resting on the Ksheer Saagar (Ocean of milk), Here Brahma is shown sitting on the lotus which came out of Vishnu’s Navel. Another way this divinity is represented is while flying the Garuda.

Now the symbolism of all this representations…

Vishnu :
The name itself means the “All pervading one”, so he literally means everything that exists, this is nothing but one of the attribute of Brahman. Vishnu in technical sense is nothing but the space that exists, so he is the one who manifests space in the void or is the space itself.

Blue Skin:
He is shown with a blue skin, the reason is simple, he is the representation of Ether, so he has to be blue, the color of sky.

Kaustubha Mani:
He is the owner of the most precious of material possessions anyone can have, this is just another way to say that human life is not only about spirituality but also about materialism, or the dualism of being the everything and still having material possession.
Kaustubham is also were Sri Lakshmi(Consort of Vishnu) resides.

Srivatsa mark:
This mark is present on the chest, where Laksmi resides, venerating the goddess.

This is just to reinforce that he is “The Lord”.

He is shown wearing two earrings. This represents the extreme opposites, like knowledge and ignorance, pleasure and pain. He is the source of everything, the good and bad etc.

Panchajanya (Conch):
This is the conch, which is the source of creation. It is believed that the Universe is created by the sound “Om”, and Adi narayanan used this Conch to create the sound of creation. It can also be said that this conch is used to sustain the universe by creating vibration of life. Having the conch in his left upper arm symbolises that he is the creator or cause for everything that is. Or scientifically speaking The Vishnu (Space) has created the vibration of creation(symbolizing the self created universe). It may seem that I am applying naasthik ideals in the symbology, but this is just my rational approach. I believe it would be easy for the Saints to explain scientific concepts to the Disciples using symbols like this than some 3rd degree Differential equations.

Also Panchajanya represents the five basic elements of universe, thus reinforcing itself to be the source of origin.

Sudarshana Chakra:
This weapon is a Chakra (spinning discus) which symbolises Purity of mind. Su-Darshan means good/superior vision. This chakra has been used many a times by Vishnu to destroy the demons, The Chakra as such cannot destroy, infact its name suggests that it was used to destroy only the ego or bad element of the entities and provide a Superior vision to him towards Spirituality.

Kaumodaki Mace:
This represents destructive nature of the god. It symbolizes the destruction of egos and negative traits or even the destruction of universe itself.

Padma Lotus:
The lotus represents Awakening consciousness and in hands of Vishnu it means that to awaken our consciousness we have to understand Vishnu or Vishnu is the source of individual awakening.

Now we will try to understand the meaning of one of the popular images of Vishnu, in which he is shown reclined on the Shesha naaga. Shesha Naaga is a representation of time. Shesha means remaining, shesha naga refers to the time remaining after each creation cycle, which is always Infinity. The other name of shesha naga is Ananta naga which means endless, thus saying that after each cycle what is left is endless time. Vishnu (Space) reclined on Time for me is a perfect way to show the relation between space and time. Space lying on the bed of time is a perfect analogy to our universe. This whole setup is shown on the Ksheer sagar, or the ocean of milk, this could be a possible analogy to Milky way as in Mayan civilization and also represent the Chaos outside universe(I know there is no outside universe, this is the chaos before universe is created). This picture shows that universe(space and time) is created or lies in the ocean of Chaos, and out of space and consciousness(Vishnu) the Material creator(Brahma on the lotus from the navel of Vishnu) has come into existence. Brahma here is not actually the God as such but the personification of creation process.

Vishnu is not the creator but Brahma is, but Brahma came out of Vishnu, this is a very subtle way of explaining the creation of Universe. Initially came the space and time, and then came the material existence.

Another popular image is where Vishnu is shown flying the Garuda. It is said that when Garuda flaps his wings a chanting sound of Vedas is created, this in essence means that Garuda itself is the personification of knowledge. Also Garuda is a strong enemy of snakes bringing him in a position against the Shesha naaga, in a way saying that knowledge is superior to time(illusion) or ignorance. Vishnu being on both of them shows his mastery over knowledge and his control on time.

Ekam sat, viprah bahuda vadanti

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Elizabeth Bathory the real Vampire

In the last post, we had seen the popular belief and image of Vlad the impaler.

In this post we will have a brief look on the life and story of Elizabeth Bathory. She was born on 7th August, 1560 and died in the year 1614 on August 21. She was the countess of a kingdom in Hungary. She is considered as one of the most sadist Mass murderer with an account of 650 murders of Young girls.

Again our character did not had a very happy childhood, she suffered from fits and exhibited uncontrolled rages, which proved that she had some brain disorder with a lot of aggression. There are stories of her being Promiscuous, she became pregnant at the age of 14 by a peasant and had to be secluded to avoid scandal during her Betrothal.

She was married to a great warrior Count Ferencz Nadasdy, who spent most of his days away from the family. Thus their marriage united the two strong family whose bloodline is stained with stories of cruelty. The Bathory’s aunt was infamous for being a lesbian(Elizabeth herself was one) and a witch (a crime in those days) and her uncle was an alchemist and a Devil worshipper (crime by some standards) and Bathory’s brother was a reprobate with whom no female or girl child was considered safe. To add more to this the nurse of the Elizabeth was Ilona jone one of those who were captured in 1610 for practicing black magick, her rituals required sacrifices of children.

After moving with her husband she started indulging herself more into torturing people, it is also believed that her husband also taught her few methods of torture and encouraged her activities. There are accounts of Elizabeth writing letter to Nadasdy when he is out for war explaining her new rituals. Since both of them shared similar ideals, her life became easy, this is evident by the mail she sent to her husband. The mail has reference to one of the Mentors of Elizabeth, who taught her rituals , it says "Thurko has taught me a lovely new one. Catch a black hen and beat it to death with a white cane. Keep the blood and smear some on your enemy. If you get no chance to smear it on his body, obtain one of his garments and smear it.". Nadasdy died in 1604, some even say that she poisoned him.

This all happened when accidentally Elizabeth had a smear of blood on her skin, she found that the particular part of skin, which has been covered by blood, seemed to be cosmeticized. She then summoned her witch, and asked her to explain the effect. The witch fearing execution or might be for some other reason made up a theory that the blood of young women is an elixir for skin and increases the youthfulness. This made the queen to get young girls from the country and kill them and take bath in their blood. It seems that she found immense pleasure in torturing these young girls. She used to torture them in many ways most of them cannot be explained here, people interested in it can google it and you will find them easily. Elizqabeth started with the girls from the Aristocrat families then turned towards the poor.

The story came to an end when once one of the aristocratic girls had gone missing from Elizabeth’s castle and later she tried to project it as a suicide. There were already rumors about her going high in the country. So the king who was indebted to her as he had borrowed some money, so he would have considered the option to get rid of that problem. The trial began and all evidences were collected, she was found guilty, but because of her royal background her sentence was postponed indefinitely, meanwhile she has been kept under house arrest. The officials who searched her castle said tht there were lots of bones of human parts all around in the her castle. There dogs were running with human parts in their mouth. Many of the bodies din’t had arms, eyes. Some of the bodies were left half burned, some left half buried.

The workers who helped Elizabeth also came forward and accused her of torturing them and using them for her weird pleasure activities.

Now you may think, why have I written about these two people, Vlad III the impaler and Queen Elizabeth Bathory. The reason is they are the actual character who later became the famous Dracula and Vampires. Vlad’s another name was Dracula, the reason being his father was one of the people who was in the order of dragon. And his father was called Dracul and his son the Dracula. The famous author Bram stoker combined this two characters in his novel Dracula and created the most famous myth of Europe. Many people still believe that Dracula actually exists and there are lots of priests who claim to have seen vampires and killed few. So the vampires and Dracula as we have heard of it never existed except for this two people who framed the image of our present Dracula and Vampires.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Vlad III The Impaler

This Post is about one of the two different people of two different Eras, whose life story(allegedly) is the inspiration for the greatest Victorian period Myths. The story is not very beautiful to be admired but surely is unbelievable and deserves attention, read on your own .

Vlad III the Impaler:

He was the Prince of Wallachia and the Military commander for Wallachia. He reigned Wallachia thrice, 1448, 1456–1462, and 1476, during his period of reign he became famous for his Cruel punishments (Though some say he was not cruel, but a distorted image of his).

He and his Father Vlad II(again disputed, he supposedly joined the turks) were instrumental in fighting the Ottoman empire and saving the Christian rule over the region. Vlad III’s Childhood was not like what other prince’s of his time would have had. But lets not get into the History but to the reasons what forged this image into a popular belief.

Vlad got the title of Impaler because this was his favorite method of killing, the main reason could be because it assures a slow and painful death, his list of killing has all kind of people, merchants, peasants, Ambassador, women, children. He used to impale the stake through bottom till reaches the mouth, but this was not the case always, other body orifices were also used. He used to have Stakes in different geometric patterns around the city in the outskirts. The height of the spear showed the rank of the victim. In 1461, Muhammad II the ruler of Constantinople returned back after seeing the rotting corpse of 20,000 Turkish prisoners on the outskirts of the city.

Tales about Vlad III

Killing of the poor and Sick
Vlad wanted his kingdom to be healthy and rich and took care that everyone contributed to the development of the country. He noticed that the poor and sick were not doing anything but only draining the country’s resources, so he called all the sick and poor for a grand feast. He explained to them that he dint want anyone to sleep hungry and be sad, so he has arranged this feast. After the feast he asked them if they wanted to be without cares and lack nothing in this world, and as they nodded their heads in agreement, he set the room on fire and left. No one escaped the fire, he justified his act to his subject as the cleansing of the city and they will further not be burden on other humans.

Nailing the Hats
It is believed that once a foreign ambassador came to his court, where he disagreed to remove his hats, in the presence of the prince. So Vlad ordered to nail the hat to his head, such that he never has to remove them.

Vlad was popular for his insistence of Honesty and truth. He even had a Golden cup open in the city which was never stolen or damaged during his reign. Knowing the honesty of the region once a merchant left his gold laden cart in the streets unguarded for the night. When he turned up the next morning he found that 160 ducats were missing from the bags. He went to Vlad to report of the theft, where he was assured by the king that his money will be returned to him. Vlad then sent a proclamation to city that return the thief or the city will be destroyed. Meanwhile he ordered to place 160 + 1(extra ducat) in the merchant’s cart in the night. When the Merchant found that his money was returned with an extra ducat he went to king to report of the return of the money. By then the thief was caught and stolen money returned and he was impaled. The merchant was told that if he had not returned that extra ducat he would also had been impaled alongside the thief.

St Bartholomew’s Day in 1459
On St Bartholomew’s Day in 1459 Vlad ordered for the impalement of 30000 Transylvanian merchants and noble men just to enjoy his feast among the corpses, he was joined by a noblemen (Identity disputed, some say he was sent to ask the Vlad to spare the cities and its men and some say it was one of his boyars). Whilst the man was appealing Vlad was enjoying his feast and the agony of the dying few on the stakes. After this the story has two versions,

1. The man was holding his nose to alleviate the smell of blood and Emptied bowels. The vlad being unhappy about this ordered for his impalement on the longest stake so that the stench doesn’t reach him.
2. In another version the nobleman was almost overcome by the ordeal and so Vlad asked him if he found the stench oppressive. The nobleman, seeing an opportunity to get on Vlad’s side of things responded that his only concern was for the health and welfare of the prince. Vlad was then angered at the nobleman’s dishonesty and of course (I bet you’ve guessed already) had him impaled once again high above the stench.

Vlad kept a mistress in the back streets of Tirgoviste. The woman was madly in love with the prince and would do anything for him. One day Vlad came to her depressed and to cheer him up and claimed to be pregnant with his child (she did this knowing full well how upset he got over dishonesty). Vlad warned her that she should not joke over a matter so serious but she stuck with her lie. Vlad then ordered her to be examined by the bath matrons to determine if she was telling the truth or not. He was soon informed of her lie and then slit the poor woman open from her groin to her breasts leaving her to die a slow horrible death and wishing for his people to see what happens to a liar.

Polish Nobleman
Benedict de Boithor, a Polish nobleman in the service of the King of Hungary, visited Vlad The Impaler at Tirgoviste in September of 1458. At dinner one evening Vlad ordered a golden spear brought and set up directly in front of the royal envoy. Vlad then asked the envoy if he knew why this spear had been set up. Benedict replied that he imagined some boyar had offended the prince and that Vlad intended to honor him. Vlad responded that the spear had, in fact, been set up in honor of his noble, Polish guest. The Pole then responded that if he had done anything to deserve death that Vlad should do as he thought best. Vlad The Impaler was greatly pleased by this answer, showered him with gifts, and declared that had he answered in any other manner he would have been immediately impaled.

The two monks
There is some discrepancy in the telling of this anecdote. The various sources agree, however, as to the basic story. Two monks from a foreign land came to visit Vlad The Impaler in his palace at Tirgoviste. Curious to see the reaction of the churchmen, Vlad showed them rows of impaled corpses in the courtyard. When asked their opinions, the first monk responded, "You are appointed by God to punish evil-doers." The other monk had the moral courage to condemn the cruel prince. In the version of the story most common in the German pamphlets, Vlad rewarded the sycophantic monk and impaled the honest one. In the version found in Russian pamphlets and in Romanian verbal tradition Vlad rewarded the honest monk for his integrity and courage and impaled the sycophant for his dishonesty.

Lazy Woman
Vlad pointed out a man working in a field who was wearing a too short caftan. The prince stopped and asked if the man had a wife. He replied “yes”. Vlad ordered the wife be brought before him and asked her how she spent her days. The terrified woman answered that she spent her days washing, baking and sewing. Vlad pointed out to her the husbands short caftan as evidence of her laziness and dishonesty and ordered the poor woman impaled despite her husband’s protest that he was well satisfied with his wife and she certainly was not lazy. The woman was not spared and Vlad ordered another woman to marry the peasant warning her to work hard or she would suffer the same fate.

These were some of the anecdotes about the king. The post is to be continued by the second person's story.