Rendezvous with Sāgarmāthā (Everest)


Just returned from a 19-day Kailash-Manasarovar Tirth Yatra (pilgrimage).

We flew to Kathmandu, Nepal, got pinned in the midst of a mob-military firefight at the Nepal-Tibet border, and dashed across the Tibetan plateau. Here land cruisers go off-road, over hills, down valleys, through swollen streams, and over crumbling embankments. Five days later when we reached Manasarovar – the highest fresh water lake at an altitude of 15,000 ft, I was blabbering sick. High fever, body aches, and the ubiquitous high altitude-associated symptoms: chest ripping cough, persistent headaches, nausea and blurry vision. Throw in an asthma attack for good measure. And we were only getting started. Continue reading “Rendezvous with Sāgarmāthā (Everest)”

Meaning of Puja

What is a Puja?

I generally translate puja to mean a devotional service. But based on a query in my previous post, Pratik provided a beautiful and succinct explanation. Considering no single word or phrase comes even close to incorporating this meaning, I recommend not translating it, but using the word puja as is, in the english language. Interestingly, this meaning is not unique to Hinduism (or Sanatana Dharma) and applies to all religious beliefs.

Pratik writes:

Pu comes from the word Poorna in Sanskrit meaning complete, Ja comes from Aja meaning born. So Puja is that which is born out of completeness or fullness.

It signifies that you feel complete and happy, and you are grateful to the Divine for bestowing that completeness in life. In fact the offering that we give symbolizes all the good things bestowed upon us by the Divine. It (is) like we are imitating the Divine in gratitude.

Beautiful, no?

Baanganga: Satellite View

A satellite view of Baanganga. Its the dark green quadrangle on the left.

If you have Google Earth: enter the co-ordinates as above, or in fractional degrees as:
18.945454N 72.793612E
But first, in PREFERENCES and the default VIEW tab, select “Degrees.”

Baanganga: In the Heart of Mumbai

Baanganga in Mumbai by Arun Shanbhag
After a refreshing early morning run in Mumbai I recounted the route to my parents. I had run from Electric House, via Mantralaya, along the Chowpatty sea face, past Wilson College, to the top of the hill.

“That's Walkeshwar hill,” my father revealed, “and if you had gone a little further you would have reached Baanganga and the Walkeshwar devasthan (temple or mandir).” My father explained how the Baanganga – the fresh water spring only a few yards from the ocean – came to be by the grace of Shri Rama. Being a Mumbaikar, I prided myself on knowing every significant site here. How did I miss this important landmark, while growing up only a few miles away? Perhaps I was not ready to walk here; here where Shri Rama walked?

Next day, I continued running to the top of Walkeshwar hill and over to Baanganga. Here enroute to Lanka, Sita, Rama and Lakshman are believed to have rested. I too removed my shoes and stretched my feet.

According to legend, Shri Rama and Lakshman did not find drinking water on this spit of land surrounded by salty ocean. Lakshman then shot an arrow into the ground, springing forth a stream of fresh water. The water pooled forming the Baanganga, (see pic above) refering to the purifying waters of river Ganga brought here by an arrow Baan.

For his prayers, Rama fashioned a linga from the sand, giving the area its name Walkeshwar (Wallu – sand + Ishwar – God). The crudely fashioned linga, with petrified finger marks is now enshrined in the tiny Walkeshwar mandir right across from the Baanganga. The mandir is to the left on this schematic. For bearings, the above pic was taken from the steps by the Ganapati mandir.

The Walkeshwar mandir is a tiny shrine and I shot this pic from the doorway. You can see the Nandi (seated bull) in the small antaralaya – foreroom. Past the collection box on the left, the linga is slightly below ground level, under the watchful eyes of the Naga Devata (Snake God). Early in the morning, all visitors can pour water on the linga (performing abhishek) and pray.

My fingers traced the ridges on this linga, where Shri Rama’s fingers had crudely moulded and turned to stone. How many had touched this before me? The blessed Sita, Shri Rama and Lakshmana too! And the millions and millions of devotees before me, thanking the divine for her munificence. And then I realized, how insignificant my life is. A tiny being, a tiny droplet from the ocean of Brahman – the Paramatman. I let the water flow over my fingers over the linga, and watched it swirl away into the unknown. Another devotee had offered a few bael leaves on the linga. I picked one up as a blessing from the divine, touched it to my forehead and carefully placed it in my running shorts.

I picked up my running shoes and walked around the numerous shrines, which have sprouted around this hallowed tank.

Baanganga in Mumbai by Arun Shanbhag

In front of the Walkeshwar Mandir, these steps lead to the tank itself. There is a tiny shrine to Ganesha in the niche in the wall, behind where the lady in the red saree is praying to Nandi. The rest of the family appeared to be enjoying their outing here.
Baanganga in Mumbai by Arun Shanbhag

The little girl and the younger brother she held, were both mesmerized by the glinting waters of the Baanganga.
Baanganga in Mumbai by Arun Shanbhag

Yes, its the shoes! It’s my running shoes which bring me to fascinating places, where I meet fabulous people and take away great memories. Everyday I run is a day to remember! If you see me smiling, its because I am running today!

Durga Puja – Dussehra

Durga as Mahisasura mardini from Badami by Arun Shanbhag

Most compassionate and beautiful,
Yet relentless in battle against evil,
Shower us with your grace!

M&m amp; A

Durga as Mahisasura-mardini, Cave Temples of Badami (6th century).

See Durga Stotram (Ode to Durga Devi) from my book Prarthana: A Book of Hindu Psalms

Other Durga Devi / Dassara Posts:

Ganapati Bappa

ganapati ganesh chaturthi Arun Shanbhag

Ganapati from our home, 2002.

On this occasion of Ganapati
Wishing Everyone
Days full of Peace and Good Cheer!


Recent Ganapati Greetings

Sandhya Vandan

My nephew Varun, learning to do the Sandhya Vandan, a service in preparation for reciting the Gayatri Mantra. It was about 3 weeks since his Upanayana (thread ceremony) during which he was invested with the sacred thread (see it on his left shoulder) and had his head shaved, marking his re-birth as a student of the scriptures, seeking the ultimate truth.

Sandhya Vandan

Happy Gudi Padva


Celebrating Ugadi & Gudi Padva
Wishing Everyone
Joy, Peace and Contentment in
the New Year
M & A

Other Gudi Padva Greetings:

Book: Explaining Hindu Dharma

I am always on the look-out for good books on Hinduism. And I have seen several requests here for recommendations for good books. Generally I have not been pleased with the books I have bought or browsed. Either they were so academic that they bored me to death, or they were so superfluous, badly written and horribly presented. I think I have found a book I can confidently present to colleagues and friends, and you.

Over the weekend, a friend gave me this copy of “Explaining Hindu Dharma: A Guide for Teachers.” It's a coffee table sized (~ 8.5 in x 11 inches) hardcover book. This is a British publication and targeted for UK school teachers. Essentially teaching teachers about Hinduism, so they can teach school students. So it does have some info on British school regulations, which are easily skipped.

The information is provided in a very efficent manner. No boring research, or indepth treatment of the scriptures. Just the essence. Many a times, I only have simple queries regarding some aspect of our religion and this book seemed to have it. There are innumerable short stories and information provided in text boxes and lots of pictures – which makes it ideal for my short attention span. I could randomly flip the pages and start reading. Very well done. This will make an ideal book to give as a gift.

At first I was uneasy that the book was published by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council), but then I considered, who better to organize the resources and knowledge from the 1000s of sects and temples of India, than the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. I would not expect the Christian Coalition, or a gathering of Islamists, or some individual with suspect motives, to do justice to MY religion.

This local gentleman bought a large shipment directly from the publisher and is selling the book from his home essentially at his cost for $28.50 ($25 + 3:50 Shipping). BTW, the original price is 25 UK pounds. I was searching for it on and saw someone selling a 'used' copy for $215. What a rip-off! Ofcourse I told my friend to sell it on Amazon as well. I don't know when he will get around to posting it there.

In the meantime, if you are interested, you could contact him directly at: Brij Garg, 15 Ticklefancy Lane, Salem, NH 03079. his email is bgarg AT

PS: I have no financial stake in the book or the publisher 🙂

Which Hindu God or Goddess are you like?

You are closest to the Lord Ganesha. Althogh he has an interseting feature of looking like and elephant, his power makes him strong and faithful. Lord Ganesh is the God to remove all obstacles in life. And because of his unique figure, one of his forces is that he looks beyond one's outer apearance. You are most like this Great God because you are strong and not all that judgemental but, you are human and it can be something in you like all the rest of us. Well Lord Ganesh like many other gods and goddess are just all incarnations of the one almighty god.

What Hindu God or Goddess are you like?
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RadhaKrishna – Miniature Painting

Miniature Madhubani painting of RadhaKrishna dancing in Vrindavan pic by Arun Shanbhag

I found this exquisite miniature painting of RadhaKrishna dancing in Vrindavan. Its about 5 x 10 inches on heavy stock paper. The bright colors and fine details are captivating.
Continue reading “RadhaKrishna – Miniature Painting”

Worship at a small shrine

Here and on I posted pics from the Chicago Balaji Temple and the Durga Devi Shrine within the Atlanta Temple. These are both very elaborate temple structures. However, not all worship occurs in such embellished temple complexes. On a regular basis worship takes place at the simple home altar. Routinely folks worship at small road side shrines in rural India. They offer an opportunity to slow down from our hectic pace, take off our shoes and give thanks.

Near my ancestral home along coastal Karnataka, we prayed at an outdoor shrine to Naga, the snake deity. In a small clearing in someones backyard, was a simple cement pad on which were consecrated two stone tablets. A few, roughly hewn red sandstone blocks act as an altar, which even collects moss during the monsoons.

As part of the puja (or service), the priest poured water over the tablets, placed flower garlands and sprinkled vermillion. A bundle of hand-made cotton wicks, soaked in oil, were lit and waved in front of the deity in a clockwise direction. This represented aarti, an offering of fire and light. Following the aarti, family members walked clockwise around the shrine (see pic) in pradakshina. A dried palm frond on the ground in front of the altar, formed a biodegradable mat to stand on.

Very simple!

Durga Devi – All Powerful Shakti

Durga Devi the all powerful Shakti by Arun Shanbhag
After my earlier post on the Chicago Balaji Temple, reminded me about the Balaji Temple in Atlanta, GA. I was fortunate to visit the temple in Dec of last year. More than the main deity, “Durga Devi” in the seconday shrine intrigued me. Durga manifests the fertile woman, as the all powerful shakti, full of energy and ever in action. The earth is her body, and its regenerative ability and energy are apparent to even the common farm worker.

When Shiva, Vishnu and the other Gods were threatened by the demon mahisa, it is Durga, endowed by their weapons and her many arms to yield them, who slays the demon and restores the cosmic equilibrium. Durga is usually depicted as being calm and serene, with the demon trapped under her feet with its throat pierced by her javelin. The depiction of red represents the spilt blood and also alludes to her fertility.

Sri Venkateshwara (Balaji) Temple in Atlanta
Balaji temple in Atlanta pic by Arun Shanbhag

See Balaji temple in Chicago, IL.

Other Durga Devi posts:

Balaji Temple in Chicago

While recently in Chicago, I visited the Balaji Temple . Truly a magnificent temple. And you feel the 'presence' of the Supreme Being very strongly. The services are performed in traditional Tirupati style and despite the crowds, the priests take their time chanting the mantras clearly. There are no short cuts here. Inside the temple all my worries seemed to disappear and I felt very relaxed. I even wondered if they would let me spend the night there. I understood what it would be like 'to surrender.'

They have a very nice canteen as well, which serves idlis, medhu vadas, dosas, upma, tamarind rice, curd rice, sambar rice and of course the delicately compacted rich soft boondhi ladoos. Guess what I got?

It is in the midst of a major expansion and thus these odd angle pictures. I was trying not to get the scaffolding and the unfinished parts. Even for this expansion they have brought in the “shilpis” from south india who are well versed in the art.

Visit it and know what it would be like 'to surrender.'

See visit to the Hindu Temple of Greater Chicago, IL.

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