Wednesday, 28 January 2015

A Glorious Hindu Legacy: Lord Shiva in Laos

Lord Shiva in Laos
The cultural roots of the present-day Lao lie in Indian civilization, not Chinese. From the first century AD, Indian traders began introducing Hinduism and then Buddhism to Southeast Asia. 
From about the 7th century to about the 11th or 12th century, there was a strong influence of Hindu culture and religion in Laos. This is reflected in the Lao national version of the Ramayana and archaeological finds, Shiva Lingas and similar icons in different parts of the countryLaos used to part of Khmer Empire. The Wat Phou is one of the last influences of that period.
Predating the temples of Angkor (some time before the 9th century), this stunning hilltop site is a highlight in Laos. Wat Phu was built in homage to the Hindu God Shiva. Some archaeologists posit that the temple is also homage to the Mekong and a copy of a similar site along the Ganges in India. The compound is symmetrical, with a broad causeway as the central axis and expansive reflecting barays, or ponds, now gone dry, as flanks. The approach to the main temple site passes between two pavilions, crumbling but still grand, before ascending the steep central stair.

Wat Phu temple, near Champasak. 
Laos used to part of The Khmer Empire. Its Sanskrit name was Souvannaphoum Pathet (Suvarnabhumi Pradesha) meaning regions rich in gold.
(For more refer to chapter on Greater India: Suvarnabhumi and Sacred Angkor).
Srestapura was ”founded around the middle of the 5th century, as suggested by an inscription of a king named Davanika, found in the modern village of Vat Luang Kau. Two inscriptions discovered recently in the same area inform us that as early as in the end of the 6th century AD, it was the capital city of King Mahendravarman, who later became the ruler of the Sambor Prei Kuk area …”
”Some inscriptions belonging to the 5th and 6th century do mention a sanctuary built on the hill, contemporary with the foundation of the city, but this building has gone and is replaced with the building we see today. This was built during the first part of the 9th century, with some additions and reconstructions in the 12th and 13th centuries”. ”Carved blocks (elephant, crocodile, staircase framed with two snakes) dating from after the 13th century"
”The remains of sandstone meditation cells (monolithic base, walls, and ceiling), maybe dating to the 7th century, are also seen here”.  (Project de Recherches en Archeologie Lao – Research Project in Lao Archaeology) Present day Laos lies entirely on the left bank of the Mekong River (Ma Ganga), and this was the northern most point reached by the Khmer Empire and at a distance from their capital. 

Hindu Trinity: Lord Shiva in center, Lord Brahma on left and Lord Vishnu on the right.
The temple of Wat Phu, near Champasak, can justifiably claim to be one of the most sacred sites in Southeast Asia. Dedicated to Lord Shiva near the Linga Paravata. Situated half way up the Lingaparvata, the “Mountain of the Linga”, the temple of Wat Phu is indubitably the most ancient and most holy of all the provincial foundation. An enormous rock crowns the summit; recalls a gigantic lingam, the manifestation of the creative powers of Shiva. 
”A small temple built in sandstone and bricks (11th century) wedged below the cliff, would sanctity the water from the southern spring and would probably have contained a Linga. Behind this temple under the cliff, small bronze Khmer statues of Vishnu and a female divinity representations were found”  (Project de Recherches en Archeologie Lao – Research Project in Lao Archaeology).
At Wat Phu, the whole monument can be taken at a single glance. The majestic approach runs up to the first slopes, passing between two side buildings whose long halls enclose twin courtyards. A staircase, now dilapidated, climbs the mountain between two rows of red jasmine trees, up to a terrace edged with naga.  

Lord Vishnu on Garuda lintel
Wat Phu has remained a sanctuary venerated by the Laotians. As the pilgrims pass, the faithful lay an offering of flowers and candles at the feet of a statue of Lord Vishnu riding on the shoulder of Garuda. 

Minor temples sanctify the approaches of the mountain. 
No one knows in which of them the silver statue of Lord Vishnu was worshipped, only its head has been found in the waters of a little stream, near the Lingaparvata. 
Wat Phu (or Vat Phou) is an ancient religious site of pilgrimage and a ruin of majestic proportions. It is also a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. Two red sandstone Khmer temples - a male and a female temple which mirror each other - guard a well beaten path through naga (snake) statues up to the Linga Parvata, the sacred mountain of the south.

From the cave at the top a natural spring gives water believed to purify the soul. The ruins date from the Late Angkorian period (12th-13th Century) and once a road connected Wat Phu with the great capital at Angkhor in Cambodia.

The ruins of Wat Phu form the backdrop for this Magha Puja festival. The entrance to Wat Phu passes a grand but now derelict house where the King of Laos, Savang Vatthana, used to stay during the Festival
For many, this is an intensely religious experience. Wat Phu is a popular site of pilgrimage for Lao Buddhists even though the remains here hark back to an age of Khmer Hinduism and the temple sculptures depict the triumvirate of the Hindu Pantheon - Vishnu, Shiva and Brahma. The sheer grandeur, serenity and fragility of the place is immense. It has been a holy site since the Chenla Dynasty ruled the area in the 5th Century AD.

Silver head of Lord Vishnu 8th century, now in mutilated condition. 
(source: The Civilization of Angkor – by Mideline Giteau and Angkor: Art and Civilization – By Bernard Groslier)
This exquisite piece is probably of 8th century date. The sumptuous material, the fine workmanship, the nobility of the features and more than all else the infinite sweetness of its smile make this image, sadly mutilated though it is, one of the most extraordinary masterpieces of southeast Asia. It bears witness to the piety and splendor of the princes of Chenla from whom all the Khmer kings were to proclaim their descent. 
(source: The civilization of Angkor – by Mideline Giteau   p. 80 – 82 and

Lord Krishna killing Kamsa.
Wat Phou was initially associated with the city of Shrestapura, which lay on the bank of the Mekong directly east of mount Lingaparvata (now called Phu Kao). By the latter part of the 5th century the city was already the capital of a kingdom which texts and inscriptions connect with both Chenla and Champa, and the first structure on the mountain was constructed around this time. The mountain gained spiritual importance from the linga-shaped protruberance on its summit; the mountain itself was therefore considered the home of Shiva, and the river as representing the ocean or the Ganges River. The temple was naturally dedicated to Shiva, while the water from the spring which emerges directly behind the temple was considered sacred.

Wat Phou was a part of the Khmer empire, centred on Angkor to the southwest, at least as early as the reign of Yashovarman I in the early 10th century. Shrestapura was superseded by a new city in the Angkorian period, located directly south of the temple.

The temple of Wat Phu, one of the most important Hindu sanctuaries of the Khmer Empire. 
Wat Phu temple was built in homage to Lord Shiva. Behind is Lingaparvarta, resembling Shiva Linga. The site, called "Mountain of the lingam" owes its name to the rock overtopping it which is considered to be a lingam "which arose by itself" by the will of Lord Shiva.
(For more refer to chapter on Greater India: Suvarnabhumi and Sacred Angkor).
The Laotion adoption of the Ramayana is called Phra Lak Phra Lam. The title comes from the Lao names for Lakshmana and Rama. Phra Lak Phra Lam also exists in Northeast Thailand where there is a large population of ethnic Lao. There are several versions of this story, each slightly different but also similar to the Ramakien in Thailand. Originally written on palm leaf manuscripts, the story of Phra Lak Phra Lam has also been adapted to Lao ballet where it is known by the same title. 
The story is considered by Laotians to be a Jataka tale and regarded as very sacred. It is also believed that Prince Rama is actually an incarnation of the Buddha contrary to other versions which traditionally regard Rama as an incarnation of Lord Vishnu.  

Ramayana (Phra Lak Phra Lam) in Laos: The stamp of The Royal Ballet.
Universal to the literature and poetry of Laos, as well as to its dance, music, and sculpture, are oral myths and legends based on the Phra Lak Phra Lam, the Lao version of the Hindu epic, the Ramayana. This tale of Rama, a prince and the seventh incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu, is known and loved throughout Southeast Asia. Other popular Lao literature includes the Jatakas, stories of previous incarnations of the Buddha. Both the Phra Lak Phra Lam and the Jataka tales contain moral metaphors enacted through rigorous battles in which good always triumphs over evil. Favorite stories tell how heroic princes defeat powerful demons. 
Lao innovations include the tiered roof style that curves near to the ground, and a bronze roof ornament with five spires that symbolizes the Hindu Mount Meru. 
The classical music and dance of Laos was inspired by the court dances of India, Cambodia, and Thailand. Its themes draw from Hindu mythology, the Buddhist Jataka tales, and local legends.
The Ramayana in Laos 
Few people know that in earliest times the land known today as Laos was called Muong Xieng Thong or Laem Thong.

Its Sanskrit name was Souvannaphoum Pathet (Suvarnabhumi Pradesha) meaning regions rich in gold. Souvannaphoum Pathet was a large peninsula situated between the Indian Ocean and the China Sea. 
According to Maha sila Viravong (1905-1987) His History of Laos (‘Phongsawadan Lao’), tracing Lao history from its earliest time at Muang Lung and Muang Pa (before the year 843 BC) down to the end of the French occupation in the mid 20th century, is perhaps the best-known history of Laos written by a Laotian historian. He was the most reliable contemporary historian of Laos, this region included 2,500 years ago, parts of Burma, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. The entire landmass comprised by Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and some parts of Malaysia had strong cultural ties with India and represents the Indian part of the larger area formerly known as Indo-China. The culture of Laos, Thailand and Cambodia is made up of the earliest forms of Hinduism and Buddhism. Consequently it shows the deep meditative and philosophic aspect of the teachings of the Buddha coupled with the aesthetic imagination and literary aspects of the Hindu mind. This entire region is dotted with temples dedicated to Buddha, decorated with figures of Hindu gods and goddesses, united and protected as if within the mother-like embrace of long rows of gilded paintings on the wall depicting the story of the Ramayana. 
Indian culture began to spread in Indo-China from the 1st century AD onwards. During the next 500 years the Ramayana had gained enough popularity for its author Valmiki to be considered as incarnation of Lord Vishnu and the temples were dedicated to him describing his compassion and creativity. A stone image of Valmiki and a Sanskrit inscription have been found in a temple in Champa (modern day Vietnam) belonging to the period of King Prakashadharma (6530678 A D). The inscription read: 
Yasya sokar samutpananam Slokam Brahmabhipujati
Vishnuh pumsah puranasya manushasyatmarupinah
All of Malaya, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos have their own versions of the Ramayana story, or the Chroniclers of Rama as versified by sage Valmiki. In Laos The Ramayana is present in five forms – Dance, Song, Painting and sculpture and Sacred texts to be recited on festive occasions and manuscripts, and enjoy popularity in that order. The Ramayana as dance-drama enjoys the pride of place, in the Royal Palace at Luang Prabang and the ‘Natyasala’ dance school at Vientiane. With the dance drama goes its appropriate music and song. The Ramayana in painting and sculpture is seen within the temples. In its richest forms it is found in the court-temples of Luang Prabang and Ramayana frescoes are preserved in Wat Oup Moung.  
To quote Maha sila “the Khmer race is of ancient Indian descent. This race has given birth to various ethnic groups known as the Khmer, Mon, Meng, Kha, Khamu and Malay. The Khmer came to settle down in Souvannaphoum pathest even before the advent of the Buddha, 2, 500 years ago. But the largest migration took place in the reign of Ashoka Raja who ruled Pataribud (Pataliputra) from the year 218 to 228 BE. According to Mahasila Emperor Ashoka’s war in Kalinga was responsible for thousands of “Indians from the southern part of India to live in Indo-China.” 
In Laos two versions of the Ramayana are known, the Luang Prabang version as found in the Royal Capital and the Vientiane version as found painted on the walls of the VAT PA KE temple.  
Phonetic changes in the name of Ramayana characters: 
The proper names of the classical Valmiki Ramayana have undergone great change owing to the phonetic peculiarities of the Lava language. Thus, 
Rama                               became Lam or Lamma
Sita                                 became Nang/ Sida
Laksmana                          became Lak
Hanuman                           became Hanumone or Hullaman
Sugriva                             became Sukrip
Ravana                              became Raphanasuane or Phommachak
Lanka                                became Langka. 
There are 29 murals on the walls of the central hall of the Vat Oup Muong, describing the ‘Pha Lak Pha Lam’ (Beloved Lakshmana, Beloved Rama) story. Oup Muong means ‘underground hall’ or ‘tunnel.’
(source: The Ramayana Tradition in Asia  - Edited by V Raghavan. The Ramayana in Laos - By Kamala Ratnam p. 257 - 281).

Huei Thamo (Goddess Durga) temple
This temple dates from 889, and is dedicated to Rudani - Goddess Durga, consort of Lord Shiva in her terrible aspect.

Huei Thamo temple was - dedicated to Rudani - Durga, consort of Lord Shiva in her terrible aspect.
The temple is oriented towards the south-east. The course of the Huei Thamo and its now dry small tributary stream seem to have formed part of an effective moat. The best preserved gopura is that on the southwest side, and this is the first building that you notice as you approach along the forest trail.       
One of the most interesting pieces from Huei Thamo and surprisingly still in situ is an unusual mukhalinga. This stone linga has four large faces a the tip, and is in the southwest gopura. Other artifacts include a lintel featuring Indra on a three headed Airavata, and naga antefixes.
(source:  A Guide to Khmer Temples in Thailand and Laos - By Michael Freeman   p. 198 - 199).

Lord Shiva in Laos

Lord Shiva in Laos

O Shiva! Your Maya does not give me up even when I have given it up. In spite of my resistance it clings to me and follows me! Lord of infinite mercy, your Maya frightens me.....................

O Shiva! Your Maya does not give me up even when I have given it up. In spite of my resistance it clings to me and follows me! Lord of infinite mercy, your Maya frightens me. O Lord Mallikarjuna, bestow your grace on me. Teach me Your secrets so that I will not fall into this enticing trap laid by Maya. It attempts to cloud my mind and play with my heart. The reflected Truth is not what I seek. Surely You already know what lies ahead of me. Hence, with strengthened conviction, I will stand up after every fall and continue to take tiny steps and will not stop till I reach Your Lotus Feet.! ~ Om Namah Shivaya Om Namah Shivaya Om Namah Shivaya! Shiva is beyond Death, while maya is Death itself. People who chase maya are bound to the cycle of birth and death. Meditate in remembrance on His name, These false entanglements last for only a few days. then, one must surely move on to the world hereafter. We have come from dust and will again be dust, so why indulge in false pride? this world is an opportunity to please Him. Draw close to him, only then u will find true peace. All else is delusion. People forget the Lord, and weeps for the sake of Maya. He alone is known to weep who weeps in the Lord's Love. One who weeps for the sake of worldly objects weeps totally in vain.!!
Love, Light & Gratitude ~ Shubh Prabhat ~ Namaste!

“The curious mind, which has, so far, identified itself with its conditioning, thoughts, and own conceptions, yearns to transcend itself, to know the truth about the truth, to reach the unreachable. Meditation, is a step to introduce this mind to the truth. "

“The curious mind, which has, so far, identified itself with its conditioning, thoughts, and own conceptions, yearns to transcend itself, to know the truth about the truth, to reach the unreachable. Meditation, is a step to introduce this mind to the truth. "


Shiva, the Yogi,
ever immersed in Shiva,
the Tattva, we call Bhagvan.
Meditating upon pure consciousness,
devoid of any form
and yet,
and yet so in love with Tattva as Parvati!
She, who is devoted from the moment she is born
making too the mightiest meditator understand
God is both!
Nirguna and in Saguna,
In Yin and in Yang,
for such is the very stillness and the dance
the posture and the stance
of Shakti and her eternal Lord , Shaktimaan.
Ah, The deep hypnotic glance..
..gateway to Mahadeva's trance.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

"He alone will be happy who has the disposition that he needs no more. If desires are allowed to multiply all the objects in the world will not suffice to meet the needs of even one man. Hence one should give no quarter to greed."

"He alone will be happy who has the disposition that he needs no more. If desires are allowed to multiply all the objects in the world will not suffice to meet the needs of even one man. Hence one should give no quarter to greed."

Lord Rama..his name, which is more powerful than an arrow. Chant and do Namasmaran. Do it anywhere, anytime. You dont need anything for it.

Ram Se Bada Ram Ka Nama! Yes, Lord Rama..his name, which is more powerful than an arrow. Chant and do Namasmaran. Do it anywhere, anytime. You dont need anything for it. The complete principle of Lord Rama is contained in His name, and as your namasadhana becomes rigourous, the principle starts imbibing itself into you, at the end there remains no difference between you and Him. Darshan is a one time experience while Namasmaran is a lifetime process ending in the sadhak losing his ego and personality into his deity. The word Ram is an embodiment of bliss and salvation. Ram mantra is considered to be Taraka mantra. The word 'taraka' means the one that helps us cross. It helps us cross the ocean of 'samsara'. It helps us cross the cycles of birth and death. If it is chanted as 'Rama', then it is a Nama. If it is chanted 'Ram', then it is a Mantra. "There are two powerful 'araka Namas'. One is Om and another is Ram. All mantras have to be prefixed with Om for obtaining the benefits of those mantras, whereas there is no need to prefix Om when the name 'Ram' is recited because the name itself is 'Tarka Namam'. Lord Shiva himself mediates on Rama Naam. He whispers “Ram" in the ears of his dear devotees to liberate them! "Ram Nam Satya Hai" ~ “The name of Ram is truth (Breath)” is chanted by Hindus while carrying a dead body to the cremation. This recitation implies that the dead body no longer sustains the Truth (Breath) which is Ram Nam. The dead body devoid of the breath or Ram Nam has no value whatsoever.! Sins are completely washed away by the utterance of all Namas BUT IT IS ONLY 'RAMA NAMA' THAT SHIELDS AGAINST SINS IN THE FUTURE ALSO.! Jai Sri Rama ~ Shivaya Namah Har Har Mahadev!