LOTUS, SACRED FLOWER OF THE EAST

The lotus is considered a sacred flower by many eastern religious and is regularly offered in temple ceremonies

The lotus flower is more than just a beautiful bloom, it is richly symbolic in many Eastern religions featuring not only in worship and art, but in medicine and cuisine.

In Asia where it is widespread in swamps and lakes, it is considered a sacred plant, while murals from tombs in the Valley of the KIngs in Luxor, indicate its status in Pharaonic society..

The ancient Egyptians associated the lotus with the sun and creation. Their belief stems from the way the plant sends up a flower through muddy water to blossom in the sunshine. Then closing its petals at night, it sinks beneath the surface only to rise and open its petals again at dawn. Symbolic of rebirth.

Original mural Tomb of Nakht, the royal scribe, West Bank tombs of the noble in Luxor

The national flower of India, the sacred lotus, Nelumbo nucifera, is esteemed by Hindus who use it among other puja offerings to their deities. Artists often include a lotus in paintings of the gods Brahma and Vishnu and the goddess Lakshmi.

 

As well as being offered in Hindu worship rituals, the lotus has many uses in traditional Asian medicine. The root is used to treat a variety of ailments including skin rash and diarrhoea. Its large leaves act like cooling sheets to reduce a fever.

Wet lotus leaves, China

The lotus figures prominently in Buddhism where the pure, unblemished flower is considered to symbolise enlightenment. The “Noble Eightfold Path” —the Buddha’s guidance for righteous living— is believed to have been based on the eight-fold petals of the sacred flower.

Artwork of the Buddha frequently features him seated on an opened lotus flower. Hence the term “lotus position”, a cross-legged sitting asana originating from meditative postures in ancient India.

Buddha statue in Sri Lanka with flower offerings

Lotus flowers are offered in Buddhist temple ceremonies, above. Below, a monk places a flower at the foot of a sacred Bo tree in Sri Lanka.

Monk placing lotus offering under a sacred BO Tree in Sri Lanka

In Cambodia lotus leaves are used to sprinkle holy water on a bride and groom at a Khmer wedding. An excellent source of iron and fibre, the cooked root is used in many Buddhist vegetarian recipes.

Leaf brushes used to splash holy water on the bridal couple at a Khymer wedding ceremony.

The different colours of the lotus flower all have associated symbolism:

White represents a state of spiritual enlightenment and mental purity.

Red symbolises love and compassion.

Pink is reserved for the supreme deity: Lord Buddha himself.

Lotus flowers, Lake Toba, Sumatra

Blue symbolises the victory of the spirit over the senses, significant of wisdom and knowledge.

BlueLotusFlowerPosters_1435493093

Purple speaks of spirituality and mysticism.

"Blue" lotus flower

Gold links the purity of the lotus with the divinity of an enlightened person.

The golden lotus in the inner courtyard of the Meenaksi Temple in Madurai, Tamil Nadu, India

A GOLD LOTUS FLOWER IN THE MEENAKSI TEMPLE IN MADURAI, TAMIL NADU, INDIA


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VARANASI, CITY OF DIVINE LIGHT

As dawn breaks over the Ganges in Varanasi, flickering candles on banana leaf offerings drift past our boat.

Candle offerings on banana leaf boats, offerings at Varanasi

As the sun rises higher, the stepped ghats lining the riverbank become a hive of activity.

Hindu bathing ghats on the river Ganges at Varanasi, sacred pilgrimage site India

Early arrivals are flower-sellers, priests and sadhus. or holy men, who make a living from the thousands of pilgrims who visit the sacred city.

Hindu sadhu or holy man

Women wearing vividly patterned saris arrive to bathe.

Varanasi_HIndu_women_ghats_IDA123A9 copy

Seated on the steps of the Assi Ghat, youths lather themselves with soap.

HINDUISM bathing in the Ganges Varanasi HI114A3JW copy

Ablutions performed, prayers are said and smoke curls upwards from the first cremation of the day on the Manarkarnika Ghat, the principal burning ghat in Varanasi.

Varanasi, the holy city of India is also known as Kasi and Benares; considered as abode of Lord Shiva; situated on the banks of R.Ganges. Ganga Ghats are popular pilgrimage spot. Hindus cremate dead bodies at this ghat.

On Kedar Ghat, professional laundry men begin washing clothes, slapping them on large flat stones with such force that we can hear the echo out on the river. There is religious merit in having your clothes washed in Varanasi, but Brahmins, the upper class in Hindu society, employ their own dhobi-wallahs to avoid caste contamination.

Saris dry on Kedar Ghat Varanasi

 Varanasi is the home of  Lord Shiva, one of the three main deities in Hinduism. Not only his Shaivite followers, but every devout Hindu hopes to die here and to have his ashes scattered on the holy river.

Lord Shiva shrine on the ghats at Varanasi

Throughout the day, corpses wrapped in gold-coloured bindings are brought for cremation. Another, then another, arrives on a litter borne through Varanasi’s narrow lanes by Doms —low caste untouchables, or Dalits.

The Jalasayin Ghat, the pricipal burning ghat of Varanasi, with a body laid out ready for cremation

Mourners stand watching the funeral pyres being built by other Dalits who perform all the unsavoury jobs at Varanasi.

Only male relatives attend a funeral. Normally the eldest son carries out the obsequies. He lights the pyre after first placing a burning stick in the mouth of the deceased.

Not everyone is cremated however. Sadhus, pregnant women and children under two are considered pure and do not need to be cleansed by the sacred fire.

They are either buried or set adrift on the river.

Old man worships the river Ganga

Read more:

http://factsanddetails.com/world/cat55/sub354/item1343.html

Photography by Julian Worker, Nick Dawson and Prem Kapoor.


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SACRED FOODS IN WORSHIP

wine wafers bread body communion eucharist mass christ dish silver chalice church service religious religions faiths christianity

CHRISTIAN HOLY SACRAMENTS

Food has always played a significant role in worship. Probably the best known sacred foods are the bread and wine of the Christian Eucharist, but puja offerings in Eastern religions are equally blessed.

Hands preparing a puja tray offering to a god in a temple in India

SIMPLE BUTTER LAMPS HINDU PUJA

While rooted in tradition and religious texts, the choice of sacred foods is clearly dependent on climate, availability and financial status. Hence a poor Hindu will light a simple butter lamp for a favourite deity while a wealthy Daoist family orders roasted suckling pigs for a grand send-off at a Chinese funeral.

Roasted suckling pigs for sale for Chinese funeral in Cambodia

ROAST SUCKLING PIGS FOR A CHINESE FUNERAL IN CAMBODIA

Edible offerings from temple ceremonies are not wasted being distributed among the less well off. Animals and birds also receive a share as do sacred eels in certain cultural beliefs.

Moon Vake festival Hokkien Temple

MOON CAKE FESTIVAL OFFERINGS AT A HOKKIEN TEMPLE

Special status is accorded some foods such as the honey used in Jain purification rites.

Jain priests bathe an effigy of Lord Mathavir with honey in a Jain temple in India

JAIN PRIESTS BATHE A STATUE OF LORD MATHAVIR WITH HONEY

The seder plate, displayed on the dining table at the Jewish Passover, contains seven symbolic foods recalling the Exodus.

JUDAISM Seder plate with shank, eggs, herbs JU1358 PG copy

A SEDER PLATE WITH SYMBOLIC FOODS

Simple water becomes sanctified in Christian baptismal ceremonies, sacred water from the River Ganga is flown to Hindu festivals far from its source.

Baby being baptised in a church Anglican

CHRISTIAN BAPTISM USING SANCTIFIED WATER

Beans are thrown during Khmer wedding rituals, eggs are offered to Taoist temple gods, milk is poured on Shiva linga.

Boy pouring milk onto Shiva lingam

HINDU BOY POURING SACRED MILK ON A SHIVA LINGUM

Once sacrificed on Aztec altars and pre-Islamic shrines, human beings were the ultimate in sacred offerings to the Divine.

Marae Arahurahu sacrificial site on the island of Tahiti

ANCIENT MARAE ONCE USED FOR HUMAN SACRIFICES IN POLYNESIA (TAHITI)

 


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PSALM 23: STILL WATERS

Jabal in spring, Dhofar province of Oman

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures.

He leadeth me beside the still waters.  He restoreth my soul.

He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness  for his name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil:

For Thou art with me; Thy rod and thy staff  they comfort me.

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence  of mine enemies:

Thou anointest my head with oil;  my cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life:

And I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

Cross overlooking the Dead Sea in Jordan

 

Psalm 23, from the Old Testament, often just referred to as “The Lord is My Shepherd,” is the most loved of all the psalms,  revered by Christians and Jews alike.

But while the language is soothing and as musical as a Shakespearean sonnet, one must look beneath the lines in order to discover their meaning.

Foremost is to accept the Lord as our guide to shepherd us through the undercurrents of life.

The green pastures and still waters symbolise the things He will teach us on the journey to set our spiritual lives in order.

Essentially to love one another and though at times we may walk through the “Valley of the Shadow of Death” to fear no Evil.

And if we believe, and follow His example for righteous living during out time on Earth, at the end of life there will be a place for us in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Read more:

http://newchristianbiblestudy.org/bible/story/the-23rd-psalm/latin-vulgata-clementina


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HOLI, THE FESTIVAL OF COLOURS

Hindu kids have fun at the holi festival India

HOLI SPRING FESTIVAL OF COLOURS

 

It is usual for people to dress up for a festival. To wear their best clothes. At the colourful Indian festival of Holi, however, it is the opposite. People put on their oldest clothes which will get soaked during the merriment..

Holi is commonly believed to have origins in the Hindu legend of Holika, the demon goddess in the 7th century Sanskrit drama, the Ratnavali.

Holika is said to have colluded with the demon king Hiranyakashyap to kill his son Prahlada who worshipped the God Vishnu, instead of his father.

 

Hinduism: children celebrating Holi, spring India

CHILDREN CELEBRATE HOLI IN INDIA

 

A  plan was hatched for Holika to sit Prahlada on her lap into the middle of a bonfire in the belief that he would perish and that she would survive.

But the reverse happened. Holika was consumed by flames and Prahlada was saved by Vishnu, the moral of the story being the triumph of good over evil.

Held in spring, the 11th month of the Hindu calendar, the festival celebrates new life and good fortune for the growing season. 

On the eve of the full moon, many villagers build a bonfire with an effigy of Holika. Known as Holika Daha, it is a reminder of the symbolic victory of the forces of good over evil.

 

Bonfire built to celebrate Holi in India

BONFIRES ARE BUILT ON THE EVE OF THE FULL MOON

 

While the theme is serious, Holi is filled with good humoured fun. Caste, age and religious differences are abandoned as revellers throng the streets singing and dancing and bombarding each other with water mixed with coloured powders.

Natural colours derived from burnt-yellow turmeric and ruby-red dhak have now been largely replaced by commercial pigments, but the effect is the same.

This is why Holi is known as the Festival of Colours:  red for love, green for prosperity, orange for success and pink for happiness.

 

Hoil procession Delhi

HOLI PROCESSION IN A TOWN IN UTTAR PRADESH


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2016: YEAR OF THE MONKEY

Chinese new year dragon

CHINESE NEW YEAR DRAGON

The Year of the Monkey─ninth animal in the 12-year cycle of the Chinese zodiac—begins with a bang on 8th February 2016.

Chinese New Year is celebrated with colourful pageantry by Chinese communities all over the world.  Sydney, where Chinese-born Australians and students make up some 5 per cent of the population,is set to stage the biggest festivities outside Beijing.

Chinese crowd offerings with incense and joss sticks for Chinese new year in Hong Kong

BURNING JOSS STICKS AND PAPER MONEY IS AN ANCIENT TRADITION

Red, the colour of Fire, one of the five elements in the Chinese zodaic, corresponds with the Monkey, accordingly 2016 is the Red Fire Monkey Year.

In Chinese culture, monkeys are considered intelligent and quick-witted and while it is illegal to breed and train them without a licence, one village is exempt.

Villagers in Baowan, in rural Henan province, have been training monkeys using harsh methods for many centuries. Macaques are taught to walk on stilts and to even catch knives while balancing on a board.

monkey-farm-baowan-village-China

MONKEY FARM IN BAOWAN VILLAGE CHINA

While the Chinese have a particular  reputation for animal cruelty,  I have seen monkeys riding bicycles in India and monkeys in fancy dress posing with tourists in Thailand. In Marrakech one morning, I saw a monkey defy its owner who swung it around on its chain and cracked its head on its box.

Amid the dancing, drumming and exploding fire-crackers for Chinese New Year, spare a thought for other primates such as the orangutan which shares 97% of DNA in common with humans. The World Wildlife Fund estimates that 3,000 orangutans have died in fires, a result of forest clearing to make way for palm oil plantations in Indonesia.

Chinese new year dancers London

DANCING IN THE CHINESE NEW YEAR

So in this Year of the Monkey with primates even more likely to be used as tourist attractions, do your bit by refusing to take photographs. And boycott products in your supermarket without an RSPO label certifying they were made using sustainable palm oil.

Harvesting palm oil nuts

PALM OIL PLANTATION

Orangutan burnt by forest fires

ORANGUTAN BURNT IN FOREST FIRES

http://www.onegreenplanet.org/news/photos-show-that-year-of-the-monkey-is-no-celebration-for-performance-primates/

http://www.1millionwomen.com.au/blog/not-sustainable-palm-oil-bandwagon-yet-might-convince-you/

http://www.worldwildlife.org/pages/which-everyday-products-contain-palm-oil


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