Sunday, 26 October 2014

Muharram is the first month of the Islamic calendar. On the first day of Muharram, the Islamic New Year is observed by Muslims. The Islamic calendar is a lunar calendar, and is 11 to 12 days shorter than the solar year. Hence it is a little different from the Gregorian calender that is used in the western nations. When compared with the Gregorian calendar, which is a solar calendar, the lunar month of Muharram shifts from year to year.
The month of Muharram is of great religious significance to Islamic people the world over. It is held to be the most sacred of all the months, excluding Ramadan. The word "Muharram" is often considered synonymous with "Ashura", the tenth day of the Muharram month.
"Ashura" is a highly important day for both sects of Islam - the Shias and the Sunnis. The Shia muslims believe that Husayn ibn Ali, the grandson of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, became a martyr at the Battle of Karbala on the tenth day of Muharram in 61 AH(680 AD).
The pre-Islamic period in the Arabian peninsula was the era of warring tribes. In the absence of a strong leadership, there were conflicts and battles on minor issues. But fighting was prohibited in four months of the year. These months, of which Muharram was one, were considered sacred. Muharram is so called because it was unlawful to fight during this month; the word is derived from the word ‘haram’ meaning forbidden. This period of inactivity was a necessity in heavily decorated replicas of the tomb of the Imam and his family are made for Muharram the era of warring tribes. The tradition was maintained even after the advent of Islam, though provisions to accommodate and accept war in special situations, like a threat to the sovereignty of an empire, were introduced. The gory battle of Karbala was fought against this law and tradition of Islam. The inhabitants on the banks of rivers Euphrates and Tigris were traditional rivals. Their animosity was contained to some extent by Muhammad. But when his son-in-law Hazrat Ali was the Caliph(Muslim civil and religious leader considered to be Allah's representative on earth), the old enmity re-surfaced. Hazrat Ali had two descendants, Hazrat Imam Hussain and Hazrat Imam Hassan. Hussain was the ruler of the part of the empire known today as Iran. The other part in modern Iraq was ruled by the Umayyads. Hussain was called upon by the Shiahs of Kufa, a small town in the Umayyad kingdom, to accept their allegiance and claim his place as the leader of the Islamic community. This was against the wishes of the ruler of Kufa, Yazid, who instructed his governor, Ibn-e-Ziad to take appropriate action. Meanwhile, in response to the call of the Shiahs, Hussain accompanied by his family members, headed for Kufa. When they reached Karbala, en route to Kufa, the forces of the governor surrounded them and their 70 men. Hussain, his family and his troops were tortured and killed, and Hussain's head was severed and presented to the king. They received no help from the Shiahs of Kufa.
As this tragic incident happened on the tenth day of Muharram, Shia Muslims consider this a day of sorrow. They commemorate the martyrdom of Hussain as a religious occassion called "Muharram" (named after the month of its observance). The occassion starts on the 1st day of Muharram and lasts for 10 days until 10th of Muharram. As Muharram approaches, they put on black clothes, as black is regarded as a color of mourning. During the entire 10 day period, they keep themselves away from music and all joyous events (e.g. weddings) that can distract them in anyway from the sorrowful remembrance of that day. During each of the first nine days of Muharram, "Majalis" (assemblies) are held where Shia orators vividly depict the incident of the martyrdom of Hazrat Imam Hussain and his party. Mainstream Shia Muslims fast until the evening. On "Ashura", devoted Muslims assemble and go out in large processions. They parade the streets holding banners and carrying models of the mausoleum of Hazrat Imam Hussain and his people, who fell at Karbala. Some Shia sects observe "Ashura" by beating themselves with chains in public, cutting themselves with knives and sharp objects and holding mournful public processions. This is an expression of their grief on the death of their favourite leader Hussain, considered to be the representative of Allah. (But no Shiite scholar affirms any extreme behavior that harms the body and Shia leaders consider such acts as "Haram", or forbidden.) It is a sad occasion and everyone in the procession chants "Ya Hussain", wailing loudly. Generally a white horse is beautifully decorated and included in the procession. It serves to bring back the memory of the empty mount of Hazrat Imam Husain after his martyrdom. Drinking posts are also set up temporarily by the Shia community where water and juices are served to all, free of charge.
While Shia Muslims consider "Muharram" to be a sorrowful occassion, Sunni Muslims observe it as a festival and look at "Ashura" as a happy day though the religious aspect remain intact. Pious Sunnis keep a fast("roja") on "Ashura" as per the "Hadith"(a tradition based on reports of the sayings and activities of Muhammad and his companions) of Prophet Muhammad. According to the "Hadith", the Prophet saw the Jews fasting on the 10th of Muharram to commemorate their liberation from Egyptian slavery and the extermination of the army of the Pharoah in the waters of the Red Sea. Prophet Mohammed liked the custom for he believed that it was Allah who saved the Israelites from their enemy in Egypt. He started to fast on the same day as the Jews but he planned to fast on the 9th and 10th from the following year. But death came in between him and his pious wish. Usually, Sunni Muslims are recommended to fast either on the 9th and 10th of Muharram or on the 10th and 11th of Muharram.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Diwali is the time for fun and festivity. Regardless of age, anyone from six year old to sixty year old enjoy firing crackers and having their favourite sweets on a Diwali day. However we also see and hear a lot of accidents related to Diwali crackers in the the newspaper and TV news channels. Most of these unfortunate accidents can be prevented by following these basic tips. Hope you take some cues from this page and have a safe and joyful Diwali.
Do It
  1. Make sure you buy Fireworks from a licensed shop.
  2. Always keep the fireworks in a closed box.
  3. Store crackers away from sources of fire or ignition; also keep them away from the reach of toddlers.
  4. Read the instructions and follow all safety precautions instructed with regard to the use of fireworks.
  5.  Burst crackers in open spaces like playgrounds and fields.
  6. While lighting the crackers, stand at an arm's length, away from the Cracker.
  7.  Discard used fireworks in a bucket of water this way you can avoid people from stepping on to and hurting their feet from used fireworks which are thrown on the ground.
  8. Keep buckets of water and blankets ready, in case a fire breaks out.
  9.  Wear thick cotton clothes while bursting crackers, so as to ensure maximum safety from fire.
  10.  While igniting Diwali aerial fireworks like rockets, ensure that they are not facing any opening like a window, door or an open building gate. If the rockets zoom into them, it may cause fire accidents.
  11.  Wear footwear while lighting Diwali fireworks.
  12.  Light only one firework at a time and one person should do it. Others should watch from a safe distance.
  13.  Put your vehicles in a garage.
Don't
  1. Don't burn crackers in crowded, congested places, narrow lanes, near sources of fire or inside the house.
  2.  Don't let children burst crackers unaccompanied by an adult. Keep an eye on them constantly.
  3.  Don't put fireworks in your pocket. Careless smoking is the leading cause of fire deaths in North America.
  4.  Don't dare to examine un-burst crackers.. leave it!! Light a new cracker.
  5. Don't show the Dare-devilry of lighting crackers on own hands. One tends to light bombs, by bringing them close to the candle or incense, rather than bringing the incense close to the bomb. Avoid doing such feats, as there are chances of the firework falling on someone passing by.
  6. Avoid long loose clothes, as they are fast in catching fire.
  7.  Strictly avoid using matches and lighters for bursting crackers for Diwali as they have open flames that can be dangerous.
  8.  Never ignite aerial fireworks (like rockets) if there is any overhead obstruction present like trees and wires.
  9. Never ever leave a lit match, agarbatti (incense stick) or sparkler near unused crackers.
  10. Never experiment with crackers or make your own fireworks.
  11.  Avoid bursting crackers on the roads-it could cause a major road accident.
  12. Never ever light a cracker while holding it in your hand. See to it that you put it down and then ignite it.
  13. Don't keep your face close to the cracker while trying to light it.
  14. Do not throw fireworks at people.
  15. Never give any firework item to small children.
  16. When crackers take time or do not ignite immediately, do not keep in trying to burst them. Move away immediately. Throw some water to diffuse them.
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Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Deepawali or Diwali is certainly the biggest and the brightest of all Hindu festivals. It's the festival of lights (deep = light and avali = a row i.e., a row of lights) that's marked by four days of celebration, which literally illumines the country with its brilliance, and dazzles all with its joy. Each of the four days in the festival of Diwali is separated by a different tradition, but what remains true and constant is the celebration of life, its enjoyment and goodness.
Diwali can be traced back to ancient India, when it was probably an important harvest festival . However, there are various legends pointing to the origin of Diwali or 'Deepawali.' Some believe it to be the celebration of the marriage of Lakshmi with Lord Vishnu. Whereas in Bengal the festival is dedicated to the worship of Mother Kali , the dark goddess of strength. Lord Ganesha , the elephant-headed God, the symbol of auspiciousness and wisdom, is also worshiped in most Hindu homes on this day. InJainism , Deepawali has an added significance to the great event of Lord Mahavira attaining the eternal bliss of nirvana. Diwali also commemorates the return of Lord Rama along with Sita and Lakshman from his fourteen year long exile and vanquishing the demon-king Ravana. In joyous celebration of the return of their king, the people of Ayodhya, the Capital of Rama, illuminated the kingdom with earthen diyas (oil lamps) and burst crackers.
Naraka Chaturdasi marks the vanquishing of the demon Naraka by Lord Krishna and his wife Satyabhama. Amavasya , the second day of Deepawali, marks the worship ofLakshmi , the goddess of wealth in her most benevolent mood, fulfilling the wishes of her devotees. Amavasya also tells the story of Lord Vishnu, who in his dwarf incarnation vanquished the tyrant Bali, and banished him to hell. Bali was allowed to return to earth once a year, to light millions of lamps to dispel the darkness and ignorance, and spread the radiance of love and wisdom. It is on the third day of Deepawali — Kartika Shudda Padyamithat Bali steps out of hell and rules the earth according to the boon given by Lord Vishnu. The fourth day is referred to as Yama Dvitiya (also called Bhai Dooj ) and on this day sisters invite their brothers to their homes.
All the simple rituals of Diwali have a significance and a story to tell. The illumination of homes with lights and the skies with firecrackers is an expression of obeisance to the heavens for the attainment of health, wealth, knowledge, peace and prosperity. According to one belief, the sound of fire-crackers are an indication of the joy of the people living on earth, making the gods aware of their plentiful state. Still another possible reason has a more scientific basis: the fumes produced by the crackers kill a lot of insects and mosquitoes, found in plenty after the rains.
The tradition of gambling on Diwali also has a legend behind it. It is believed that on this day, Goddess Parvati played dice with her husband Lord Shiva , and she decreed that whosoever gambled on Diwali night would prosper throughout the ensuing year. Diwali is associated with wealth and prosperity in many ways, and the festival of ' Dhanteras ' ('dhan' = wealth; 'teras' = 13th) is celebrated two days before the festival of lights.
In each legend, myth and story of Deepawali lies the significance of the victory of good over evil; and it is with each Deepawali and the lights that illuminate our homes and hearts, that this simple truth finds new reason and hope. From darkness unto light — the light that empowers us to commit ourselves to good deeds, that which brings us closer to divinity. During Diwali, lights illuminate every corner of India and the scent of incense sticks hangs in the air, mingled with the sounds of fire-crackers, joy, togetherness and hope. Diwali iscelebrated around the globe . Outside India, it is more than a Hindu festival, it's a celebration of South-Asian identities. If you are away from the sights and sounds of Diwali, light a diya , sit quietly, shut your eyes, withdraw the senses, concentrate on this supreme light and illuminate the soul.
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