Hindu Festivals: Janamashtami

Today is Krishna’s Birthday! Yaay! Here are a few things you need to know about this festival and the god whom it is meant for.

Well, first of all, Krishna wasn’t technically a god. Yes I know he is worshipped as one and ISKCON devotees believe him to be the Paramatma, the great creator spirit. But in older traditions, Krishna is only an avatar of Vishnu, who lived here on Earth as a human many thousands of years ago. That is how it’s possible for him to have a birthday. He was born on the eighth day of Bhadrapada month – Hindus use a Lunar calendar when it comes to most celebrations; it’s around August-September in our calendar.

Born as one or not, he certainly is a very popular god with devotees. He is said to be very attractive, and is the god of compassion, tenderness and love. I would personally add ruthless politics and trickery to the list due to the role he played in the Mahabharata but that’s just me. Most people worship him as the innocent looking charmer with the flute and cows.

So. How do you celebrate a god’s birthday?

1. Clean the house. Just like you would when hosting a birthday party for a human.

2. Cook something yummy for Krishna. It must be vegetarian. He is said to love butter so you could leave some for him at his altar/statue. I normally cook chick pea curry with puri (deep fried breads) and some sweet dish – this year I have made date laddoos. I will leave a link at the bottom with the recipe for these.

3. Celebrate him! Chant his mantras, watch movies about him; keep him in your mind. A good movie that came out fairly recently and I really liked is OMG – Oh My God. It is in Hindi but you might find it with subtitles.

4. Go to a mandir or gather with friends and keep a vigil. Krishna was born at midnight, so people keep vigil to wait for his arrival and wish him happy birthday.

5. Many people fast on this day (I don’t but I make sure I only eat vegetarian food). If you decide to fast you can do it sunrise to sunset, or until the next day morning. You can also do a light-fasting, with eating only fruits and water. Hard core believers will not eat anything and won’t even drink water all day until the next sunrise.

6. If you are in India or in an Indian community, there are always dance and drama performances to honour him. ISKCON temples are a good choice to go as obviously Krishna is their main god. And of course there is a special tradition to commemorate his stealing butter from his mother’s kitchen: dahi-handi. A pot full of yoghurt is hung really high up. Then people have to make a human pyramid in order to reach the pot and break it. The group who manages to break it gets the blessings of Krishna – and some presents from the organisers.

Happy birthday Krishna, I’m sure you are having a blast this year too!

Chick peas curry:




Dates laddoo:


Everyday rituals

Hindus are big on rituals. They have a tradition for every occasion in life – and I mean it! From the day of a baby’s birth, he or she will have a naming ceremony, a ceremony at one year when they get their hair shaved off – same thing again when they are three so don’t get frightened when you see little girls going around with a bald head, hopefully it’s just her ‘mundan’ been done. Then, a ritual for when they got to school, for when they start writing, for when girls get their first period (yes, really!), for first job, first car, first house; in fact for anything valuable you buy or build there’s a ritual. Then there’s life’s big milestones; birth, marriage, death… and of course all the religious festivals have their own special traditions – and these change from state to state! 

But what about day to day life? Even in India, there are days when there aren’t any festivals or religious occasions going on! (I will have to fact-check this sentence though, I am not completely sure I’m telling the truth!)

In any case, here’s how to do a basic Hindu morning and evening ritual – what I do, anyway. There are people who do less, there are people who do more. These rituals – pooja – are highly customisable so don’t feel any pressure. 

Here’s what you need on your altar:
1. A statue of the god of your choice – or anything to represent them. 
2. Candles – they can be simple tea lights or diyas. Diya is a kind of oil lamp, I make them for special occasions.
3. Incense sticks or cones
4. Some water
5. Some food offering. Make sure it’s vegetarian and hasn’t been tasted by anyone before you offer it. 
What to do:
After taking shower/bath and brushing teeth and hair in the morning you put on fresh clothes and you are ready to do pooja. It’s important to be as clean as possible, as a show of respect to the gods. It also helps you get tuned into the pooja. If you just come home from work and do it without anything beforehand, you are likely to rush it along so you can get on with other stuff. Do it when you have 10 minutes of peace for the gods. 
So now that you are ready, you go to your altar and light the candle. There are hundreds of mantras out there but I will share the two most popular ones: the Gayatri and the Maha Mrityunjaya mantra. When lighting the candle people often chant the Gayatri Mantra (see below). On the candle you light your incense stick, and  do three circles around your altar with it, consecrating it and offering the fragrance to the gods. 
Now, many people use little bells to get the gods’ attention. If you have one, you could ring it while doing your rounds with the incense. Any ordinary bell will do if you like the sound of it, but traditionally it should be made of brass. Brass has a special vibration that is said to clear the mind of any other thoughts and help us concentrate on the pooja. Don’t worry if you don’t have one though. I don’t use mine because it irritates the devotion out of me. 
After the incense, you go and change the water you have on your altar. I do this daily once, in the morning. If by chance you have chosen a Shiva lingam to worship, pour some water over it to keep its energies calm. Shivlings are said to multiply whatever emotions are present in the house, and too much is not good of anything so we try and keep the lingam nice and calm by offering it water daily. You could do this to any statue, just make sure it is waterproof and you have a dish under it to catch the water. 
This is optional, I do it only on special occasions but some people do it daily: now offer the food. It can be any fruit – peal it and/or cut it like you would for children. It could be something you cooked (but don’t taste it before offering!) or a bar of chocolate. Whatever you think the gods would appreciate. Now, there is a rule at certain states of India that this offering should be vegetarian and may not contain onions or garlic. This isn’t applicable everywhere but it is good to keep in mind, just in case. Try what suits your belief and do that. 
While offering the water and food you can chant the Maha Mrityunjaya mantra. If you like, you could just talk to the gods and ask them to accept your offerings, or tell them you love them and are happy to have them around… or pour your heart out to them. In my experience they love heartfelt interaction, so whatever you do, do it from the heart. 
Many people blow conch shells at the end of the pooja. It is great fun and its vibrations clear the energy in the house and blowing it is good for your organs – heart and lungs especially – so I do recommend getting one and learning how to blow it. 

When you are done with this, bow down and touch your forehead to the ground. Then put your hands together and say bye to them. You are free to go. 

A few notes more: 
Whatever you use on your altar, belongs to the altar. You don’t use the candles anywhere else, you don’t light those incenses just for the smell, and you don’t use the oil you’re making the oil lamps with for cooking. 
Food and drink offerings must be eaten or drank after the pooja. You can leave them on the altar for some time but throwing them out would be a big insult. These are called prashadam, sacred food/drink that have been blessed by the gods.
So to sum it all up, a basic pooja is:
1. Light candle (ring bell if you have one)
2. Gayatri Mantra
3. Light incense
4. Change water
5. Give food
6. Chant Maha Mrityunjaya mantra
(Blow conch if you have one)
7. Bow
Some people sing bhajans, some stay silent and meditate… there are many things you can add to your ritual. Whatever feels right, probably is. The most important thing is:


Link to the Gayatri mantra.

Link to the Maha Mrityunjaya mantra.

Why I Picked Up The Call

As I have explained in my previous post (The Calling of Shiva), I wasn’t born into a Hindu family and hadn’t had any exposure to Hindu culture up until I met my husband. My father still doesn’t really understand why I chose Shiva over the Christian God, so this post is as much for him as it is for the regular readers of the site.

To understand why I (and many others I have met later in my life) wholeheartedly chose Hinduism you need to take a look at its teachings of responsibility.

Personal responsibility

Hinduism does not have a Savior in the manner Christianity has. Yes, there are stories of gods and goddesses saving mankind and the world in general from various dangers. But on a personal level, one is not considered a good person simply because they are worshiping a particular god. One will not get a better next life, achieve moksha (no more births) or ‘go to Heaven’ simply because they worshiped a particular deity.

One needs to get a grip over one’s own life and actions and lead a mindful existence, paying attention to every action one makes and thinking over how that action will affect one’s – and others’ – karma.

This theory of personal responsibility is what I like the most in Hinduism. Expecting salvation from outside is, at least in my opinion, futile. In my opinion gods, angels, saints, all the beneficial spirits can give us help, they can give us strength and encouragement to do the best we can, but if we ourselves are not working on it, then it is not worth a peanut. In a simple example, think of a drug addict. They can attend rehab, go to meetings and listen to people who came clear, get help from specialist doctors. But if they themselves don’t want to come clear, none of these external influences will help them. We ourselves have to want to be ‘good’. We have to work on our faults and make the most of what we have. No worries if the most is not much. There are many lives ahead of us, we don’t need to do everything at once. But the most it should be.

Reincarnation aka Samsara

This brings me to the second thing I really like about Hindu philosophy: reincarnation and that eventually everyone will reach perfection and attain God. Hinduism teaches that we are born here to experience human existence as a whole: in all its darkness and glory. In my view, every soul comes here to Earth to experience a certain set of things in each life. In one life it might be being a serial killer who had abusive parents, in another to be a perfect mother of ten children, and anything in-between. A soul needs to experience every aspect of Life, and every emotion available to us humans. When one has experienced every facet of light and darkness then nothing ties the soul to earthly existence, it has no desires left, and it can peacefully return to the Creator – to draw an analogy, it can go to Heaven.

For some it might take just a few lives; for some, hundreds and thousands. But eventually, everyone will reach salvation, where they don’t have to be born again and can join the Creator once more, in perfect peace and contentment. Everyone.

That means even The Worst Person in History has the potential to achieve union with God, through hard work on themselves, possibly in the course of many incarnations.

That makes so much more sense to me than having Heaven and Hell and chucking everyone into the latter who wasn’t mature enough to lead a ‘good’ life at their first go. And it just isn’t fair to expect everyone to be on the same level of ‘good’, irrespective of their circumstances. Yes, some Christians believe in Purgatory so there’s that. But the expectations are still very high, knowing human nature.

Karma, dharma, and lessons

Another reason I like Hinduism is the theory of karma, dharma, and lessons we need to learn through lives. It ties in with both personal responsibility and samsara but I wanted to talk about it separately. I might even write a post about it later, who knows. But to cut it short, here’s what it all means to me.

Karma means in very simple terms the law of action and reaction. You are a jerk, you get people treating you like one. Now put a twist on it: you are a jerk in this life, but that’s what you came here to do, that’s how you advance on your journey and that’s how you help others on theirs: it’s your dharma, your life task. Therefore, you go on being a jerk and people who expect karma to work like a policeman are surprised that you lead a happy life despite being a horrible person. Alas, karma is not a policeman, but after you die, you might be assigned the task to suffer from a similar ‘jerk’ in your next life – and learn what you have to from it: humility, standing up for yourself, or active rebellion.

Again, this does not mean that you don’t have to try and become a better person because being a jerk is “your life’s lesson”; if you realise that you hurt others by being a jerk, and change your behaviour, then it might just save you a life’s worth of lessons right there.

I think that overcoming our basic nature is one big step upward on the ladder of samsara – but I’ll write more about this later. What I like about all this is that there are countless opportunities for us to see behind the curtains and understand why things are happening and accept our lessons with grace.

Polytheistic world view

Hinduism has millions of gods. To a Hindu person, one god extra does not make a difference, and that is why initially early Christians, Persians, and Muslims could live in India in peace. No one cares what you believe in, or if you believe in any god at all. If you are a good egg, you can stay and you will be welcomed. Of course, by now this notion has been corrupted and many people forgot how to be tolerant towards others. Why, now there are Hindu Extremists out there! What a laughable notion! Only a Buddhist extremist would be further off the edges of sanity. Anyway, this is Kali Yuga, the age of darkness for you. I do find it refreshing that none of the gods say that he or she is the only one people should worship. In Hinduism, only demons say such things, and they are punished for their audacity at the end. Not that I want to draw a parallel with any other religion. And this is why sometimes you can even find statues of Mother Mary on Hindu altars, like for example in Skanda Vale in Wales? If you haven’t heard of Skanda Vale yet, you must google them.

I believe that from every religion, each and every god exists, and each and every one of them are facets of the one creator that has no personality nor a name, who we cannot imagine or describe by human words. Which facet you worship makes no difference.

The gods

Until now I wrote about philosophy and things that are more or less understandable why someone like me would be impressed by them. But here’s the thing: Hindu gods are weird. They have extra limbs, extra eyes, extra heads – sometimes that of an animal – they dress strangely – if they are dressed at all… it’s all very confusing to someone not versed in art history or art interpretation. One day my dad called me up and asked me why does Shiva have four arms and snakes all over him. My first, somewhat dumb reaction was… why not? He’s a god, he can look like anything he wants to! Or rather, any way the artist sees him.

It doesn’t really matter how an artist has painted the portraits of gods; they don’t really have bodies the way we do, therefore they don’t really have a form the way we do. They can appear to us humans any way they like, be it a man with four arms or a talking pillar of scorching fire.

And especially Shiva is said to be formless energy – that’s why he is represented by the lingam, or a pillar of fire too. Of course, his four arms on pictures have a meaning, as have all the other weird stuff, too. That belongs to art interpretation, and I will get to it in another post. So to ask why Hindu gods look the way they do is the same thing as asking why the Christian God is an old man with a beard sitting on top of the clouds. It’s because this is the image that over time has been widely accepted to represent that particular spirit. Nothing more, nothing less.

But why did I choose one of the weirdest of the weird gods, the one full of contradictions? Why not the (seemingly) simple Vishnu with his protective nature? Why not cute Ganesha who would remove all obstacles from my way? Why the dangerous Destroyer?

Well, as for myself, and many other ladies as I came to know later, the energy of Shiva has a magnetic effect on us. There is a certain primordial strength radiating from him, the suggestion of power, control over himself, a feeling of ancientness, of wisdom and fairness, of serenity and boundlessness. He is beautiful, inside and out. Some might even say, the perfect man – in India, girls pray to Shiva for a good husband because he is considered to be the best husband there is even though his true form is pure energy. More on this in a later post. As I said in the “Calling of Shiva“, his image as Nataraj grabbed me by the collar from early childhood, and the more I know about him the more I love him.

I have never got the same feeling of safety and peace from any other god what I have now with him. This is something no one can take away and something I would never want to give up. I may work with other deities, I might even keep an icon on my altar (I do actually). But Shiva has his place deeply embedded in my heart, for this life and the rest.

©Katalin Patnaik 2019

The Calling of Shiva

I was born in Hungary into a not too religiously Catholic family. I was baptised at my grandmother’s insistence and loved religious studies (that mainly consisted of study of Jesus and no other religions were actually mentioned) in primary school, although I have to admit it was mainly because of the pretty stickers and mini-pictures of icons that the nun who taught us distributed amongst the children who paid attention. I was one of the few who received these because I always loved stories. Good old days.

Hungary is not big on ‘exotic’ religions. If you are a Mormon, you count as an alien. One is expected to be an atheist or belong to one of the well known, good old forms of Christianity. You can be a Catholic – Greek or Roman. You can be a Protestant. Even a Baptist or a Methodist. But Jehovah’s Witnesses are frowned upon by everyone other than the witnesses themselves, and the few Mormons who have reached Hungary to preach and convert are mostly looked upon as comic relief. I actually like them because they are very polite and take the effort of learning our language in order to be able to preach, but I wouldn’t prod that sect with a two-meter-long pole. (A saying we have here, meaning I don’t want anything to do with it.) What I want to say is, when people are asked about other religions – like, not-Christian stuff – they first list the Muslims and Jews, and only then do they remember Far Eastern stuff. You know, Buddhism and whatever the “Harekrishnas” believe in.

So, you might ask, how did I get into Hinduism in such a monotheistic environment? I like to say it was fate. That it called to me and the gods led me down the rabbit hole. They are very good at finding the way for us when they want us to do something, as I have learned later on.

Anyway, you know the Nataraj statue? The Dancing Shiva? Yes. It’s beautiful, isn’t it? Powerful, enigmatic, magnetic. I always loved that statue but never knew what it was. It popped up in movies and video games; remember Disney’s Aladdin PC game? The Genie’s lair had similar statues in it. Yes, after 20+ years I still remember, that’s how much I loved it!

Now, one day in History class we opened the textbook and there it was! That statue! Written under it the vital information of what, or rather, who it actually was! I was so happy! After class, I ran to the school library and got all the books I could find on mythology. And I read and read and just gobbled up everything there was to know about Lord Shiva. Unfortunately, it wasn’t much – Hungary just came out of Soviet rule so esoteric or occult books were still very rare, and even then, Hinduism was so obscure that the few mythology books that existed haven’t bothered to go into big details. Still, it was enough for me to start worshiping Him.

My mom was chill about it, she was never big on monotheism anyway. My dad, on the other hand, might still be a bit upset about my transition after all these years. I had a perfectly useful god just on the doorstep, why do I have to worship such a strange, four armed, three-eyed thing? Then, my granny doesn’t really understand the concept that there are many gods other than The God of the church. So when she asks whether I believe in God I say yes, and that’s enough for her peace of mind and I don’t have to lie, nor do I have to try and explain myself. Win-win.

Since then, I have seen what I have seen and experienced what I experienced and my belief, no, my trust in Shiva has multiplied manyfold. I worship Him daily and have a deep, unchanging love for him that I could not feel for anyone else, be it a Hindu, Christian or any other Pagan god. Only the Norse Trickster Loki comes close but I don’t worship him and he’s an entirely different cup of tea anyway.

Well, in a nutshell, that’s it! This is how I got into Hinduism: through Shiva. He called, I came, and I love Him.

©Katalin Patnaik 2019


Cosmic hierarchy

This section will be all about hierarchy and who is who in Hinduism.

With millions of gods around, there must be a clear hierarchy that puts everyone to their place. Usually every creature is satisfied with this order, except some of the demons and the occasional deluded human, but other than this negligible threat the order of things is quite fixed. 

Let’s start from the top:

The Trimurti

The Trimurti consists of Bramha, Vishnu and Shiva: the Creator, the Preserver and the Destroyer. They are the Hindu version of the Holy Trinity and you could view them as the parents or bosses of all the lesser gods (the deva). They don’t actively influence mundane things unless and until they have to; it usually happens when things get so out of control that they must put a foot down and get “the kids” to stop misbehaving – this means us humans too. Each god has his female counterpart and consort: Brahma has Saraswati, Goddess of culture. Vishnu has Lakshmi, Goddess of wealth and fortune, and Shiva has Shakti, Goddess of Power. Together they control the universe and make sure cosmic balance is held up. 

The Deva/Devi

They are your general gods just like in any other polytheistic religion. They are the ones who control the smaller details of the universe that are related to humans: the weather, the elements, rivers, planets and stars; the oldest of the vedas, the Rigveda mentions 33 of them. That number swelled to millions since the last few millennia, but don’t worry, most are local deities of a specific village, who is not known anywhere else.

Devas are beneficial beings and most of them are descendants of Brahma. As well as being majestic gods, they can display very human treats such as jealousy, lust, fear, vice; you name it. 

Hindus worship specific gods for specific purposes. You go to Indra for rain, to Lakshmi or Kuber for wealth, to Hanuman for strength… and each one of them have their preferred prasadam (offerings). Favourite fruit, flower, colour… Hindu gods are very individualistic!

The most important devas are:

Indra, king of the devas and god of Lightning and Rain.
Surya, the Sun god
Chandra, the Moon god
Kuber, god of Wealth
Ganesha, remover of obstacles, god of knowledge
Kartikey, god of war
Hanuman, god of devotion
Bhumi, goddess of Earth
Ganga, goddess of the river Ganges
Vayu, god of air and wind
Varuna, god of water
Agni, god of fire
Kama, god of love and lust
Mangala, the god of Mars
Budh, the god of Mercury,
Brihaspati, the god of Jupiter and teacher of the deva
Shukra, the god of Venus and teacher of the demons
Shani, the god of Saturn and karma
Rahu, the god of Neptune*
Ketu, the god of Uranus,
Yama, the god of Pluto and death

*note that the planets beyond Saturn were assigned to their gods relatively recently after the discovery of those planets. In traditional vedic astrology there are only nine heavenly bodies (navagraha), counting the Sun and the nodes of the Moon as well as all the planets until Saturn. Rahu and Ketu are in fact the North and South Lunar Nodes, respectively. In good time I will try and explain these gods one by one in their own posts. Now let’s move on to the next group.


Asuras and Rakshasas/rakshasi

Parallel to the gods there are the demons who are equally powerful- sometimes even more powerful than the gods. In Pre-Puranic Hinduism the word asura meant nature spirits like the god of air or fire. But by Post-Puranic times this evolved into the idea of anti-gods who are lusting for power and want to overthrow the deva. 

Famous asurs are: Maheshasur, Bhasmasur, Andhak, Jalandhar, Tarkasur, Tarkaksh, Vidyunmali and Viryavana. 

Rakshasas are said to have been born from Brahma’s breath when he was sleeping. They were bloodthirsty demons; right after their creation, they started eating Brahma, who woke up and shouted for help – the word rakshas derives from his cry for help, Sanskrit: “Rakshama!” Vishnu came to the rescue and exiled them to Earth. Famous rakshas are: Ravana, Vibhishan, Kumbakarna, Ghatotkacha, Hiranyaksha and Hiranyakashipu.

Although both asuras and rakshasas display mean characteristics, both of the groups have positive, benevolent representatives as well as demon like. The main difference between the two groups is that while Asuras have their own world (lok) to live in, the Rakshas are living on Earth with us humans. An interesting fact-snippet is that some Buddhist traditions regard the Buddha a rakshas descendant, while there are groups of brahmans who trace their lineage back to Ravan. 

Rishi and rishika

Rishis(male) and rishikas(female) are great sages who have dedicated their lives to the gods and meditation and composing hymns, especially those of the Rig Veda. They are not devas but not quite humans either: they have reached a special status through their austerities or by birth – many of them are the mind-born sons of Brahma. They are regarded with great respect by all, even the devas. The most well known rishis are:
Kashyapa, Atri, Vasistha, Vishvamitra, Gautama Maharishi, Jamadagni and Bharadvaja – they are associated with the stars of Ursa Major.
Marichi, Agastya, Dadichi, Atharva, the four Kumaras and Vashistha are also famous rishis.

Notable rishikas are: Yami, Indrani, Savitri, Devyani, Romasha, Lopamudra, Apala, Kadru, Visvavara, Ghosha, Juhu, Vagambhrini, Paulomi, Nodha, Akrishtabhasha, Sikatanivavari and Gaupayana.


Munis are rishis who seek the knowledge of existence through self realisation. There are two types of munis; one who spends his/her life in meditation and another who is liberated from rebirth in his/her lifetime. They are equal to the rishis. 


Guru means teacher. Gurus are humans but are treated with great respect – next to gods – by people who have accepted them as their teachers. Gurus are not like simple school teachers but they help form one’s spirituality, share their experiences and thoughts on spirituality and also act as counsellors. Even today, people treat great gurus like they are incarnations of gods. Famous gurus are:
Shri Prabhupada, Asaram Bapu, Baba Ramdev, Shri Shri Ravi Shankar, Swaminarayan, Shirdi Sai Baba

Sadhus, sanyasis

Sadhus or sanyasis (female: sadhvi) are religious ascetics or monks who seek enlightenment and devote their lives to worship. They are treated with respect just like a monk or a nun would be. 

Humans in general

Well, that’s us! We are below all of the above categories but we do have the chance to reach all of the above (preferrably not the rakshas though), through hard work on ourselves!

Better get cracking!

©Katalin Patnaik 2019