Read the previous part here…
What does a birthday mean to you?
When you are born…you aren’t aware of it, and so it really doesn’t mean anything. You are more preoccupied with trying to understand why you have been pushed out of the ‘comfort zone’ in your mother’s womb – into a world of sensory confusion…
One year down the line, there is an awareness, a good feeling around it, but we still don’t know what it means.
During childhood, we equate birthdays with celebrations and gifts – it’s the day when parents give us stuff, when we take sweets to school and when friends come home, you cut a cake and blow out candles, and there is a lot of play and a lot of food.
Adolescence brings a different flavor to the celebration…and by the time you are in your late teens, and early twenties, the mild celebrations turn into “go-crazy” days…”it’s my birthday woohoooo!”
And then it’s usually downhill from there. Thirties – spent getting gifts from the wife and kids, forties – kind of too old for massive celebrations but we hang on nevertheless, and fifties and sixties – the ones who celebrate our birthdays have more fun that us. I am not counting people who refuse to grow up, but that’s another story.
So is this it? Are birthdays just a day to go nuts and celebrate, let one’s hair down and party? Or is there more to it?
The janma tithi, as mentioned earlier, is that time of the year when the celestial ingredients are the same as when you were born, your own personal set of inputs that led to the miracle that is you. We all are born into this world with endless possibilities and infinite potential…a blank slate. That is your moment…and that moment comes along every year.
Why not look at this as a milestone for new beginnings? A look back at how far we have come, and a recalibration to ensure that we are still on the right path?
And so many in India celebrate two birthdays. As one of my friends put it – ….Interestingly, in my family we celebrate both days. On the date of birth (Gregorian), it’s usually a cake, hang out with friends, get pampered with gifts and possibly dinner at a favorite restaurant. On the janma nakshtra, it’s more of family event. Temple visit and home cooked traditional feast served on a banana leaf is the norm.
The best of both worlds:)
So here a few things that you can try out on your next janma tithi. Remember, there is no right or wrong way to do this…the objective of the exercise is to connect with the spiritual aspect of your coming into being, rather than getting stuck in some sort of ritual. And so, feel free to add, modify or subtract from this list.
These are just a few things that may help make your janma tithi a more rewarding spiritual experience, where you can possibly connect to the “larger picture”…after all, don’t we all wonder why we came into this world? Maybe going back to that instant, year on year, can bring us some answers:)
Wake up before sunrise. If you know how to do it, and have the right ingredients, have a Abhyanga Snana. It is a bathing ritual which includes full body massage. In the western part of India a mixture of a variety of herbs and spices known as ubtan are combined and applied on this auspicious day whereas in the southern part of India the mixture is made of besan, oil and sandalwood.
Pray to your ishta devta. The good part in Sanatana dharma is that you can choose the devta that you like – that you feel a personal connect with. That devta (or devi) is your ishta devta. Do a small pooja once your bath is done. Nothing fancy, a heartfelt prayer works better than an elaborate ritual that you do not believe in.
Connect with the pancha bhuta – or five elements. A possible way would be to take an earthen pot with a wide mouth, fill in a layer of rice in it, and place a smaller earthen pot in it, filled with water. Float an earthen diya in the smaller pot (not a candle), and place a fresh flower in this arrangement, on the side. Light the diya and just sit with it for a few minutes…this your connection with the earth, water, fire, air and space – the pancha bhutas.
Light and maintain an akhand jyoti, or at least light a diya. An akhand jyoti is one that does not extinguish, and you can light this in the morning during your prayers, and maintain it for the day. At the least, light a diya during the morning prayer, and then again during the evening prayer around sunset.
By the way, have you wondered why we blow out candles on our birthdays? The rest of the year, we light diyas or candles – when in prayer, and in celebration. Then why blow them out on your birthday?
I did some research and found this to be an old Greek / German custom, where the candle was blown out to ward off evil spirits with the smoke. Well, doesn’t quite fit into the logical narrative of light being the metaphor for life, does it?
A lamp/source of light is known as deepa in Sanskrit. The root form of the word is deep which means ‘to shine’. The nirukta (etymology) of the word deepa can be given as दीप्यते दीपयति वा स्वं परं चेति, that which is light and enlightens others is known as Deepa…what a beautiful thought!
And so, on your janma tithi (or even on your date of birth), try to light a lamp, instead of extinguishing it. And I am not saying this because it is considered “inauspicious” or something – lighting a lamp sounds more positive and heartwarming. It is “lead me from darkness to light”, and not the other way around, after all.
शुभं करोति कल्याणं आरोग्यं धनसम्पदा । शत्रुबुद्धिर्विनाशाय दीपज्योतिर्नमोस्तु ते ॥
Shubham karoti kalyanam aarogyam dhanasampada shatrubuddhirvinashaya dipajyotirnamostu te
O the flame of the lamp, I bow to you, praying for my wellbeing, health and prosperity and also to remove evil thoughts that come to me.
to be continued…